Re: Veils, women, angels, and Oster

From: Bruce Terry (
Date: Mon Apr 22 1996 - 18:13:26 EDT

On Sun, 21 Apr 1996, Marty Brownfield wrote:
>The passage in question (1 Corinthians 11:1-16) is most often assumed to have
>as its background some Jewish custom of dress, but it may be more fruitful to
>consider the background to be a case of Greek vs. Roman cultic head covering
>practices. A valuable reference is the article by Richard Oster (under whom I
>studied at Harding Graduate School of Religion) in _New Testament Studies_,
>volume 34, 1988, entitled "When Men Wore Veils to Worship: The Historical
>Context of 1 Corinthians 11:4". In this article Dr. Oster provide numerous
>documented evidence that the Greek custom of cultic worship (e.g. praying or
>prophesying) in a pagan context was for the men to be bare-headed but the
>women to wear a covering.

I have read the excellent article in question, but I fail to recall any such
evidence of this nature. Surely I would have noticed it, since it contradicts
one of the points I made in my dissertation, namely, that in Greek pagan
religion, both men and women prayed bare-headed.

For those interested in the evidence from the ancient world outlined in my
dissertation, it is also found on pages 26-31 of my book:

Terry, Ralph Bruce. 1995. _A Discourse Analysis of First Corinthians_. Dallas:
     Summer Institute of Linguistics and the University of Texas at Arlington.

> It is true that the word for veil is not used in
>this chapter, but the phrase "kata kephales" is an idiom for a head covering in
>Greek secular literature; Dr. Oster cites Plutarch and Josephus as examples.

Actually this phrase often refers to pulling one's cloak up over the head so
that it hangs "down off the head" (cf. Plutarch _Moralia_, Sayings of Romans,
Scipio the Younger, 13 [Loeb vol. III, pp. 190-191]).

>On the other hand, the Roman custom was for both men and women to cover their
>heads in worship. This fact seems to be largely ignored or unknown, but it
>quite well documented, both in Latin literature and in Roman coins and
>Bear in mind that although Corinth was the capital of Achaia, it was founded by
>Julius Caesar a mere 100 years before Paul's day as a Roman colony, and as such
>had a significant Roman population (perhaps a majority). It seems reasonable
>to me that any exegesis of this passage will have to take these facts into
>account. The article is very enlightening at any rate.

If I remember Oster's point, it is that this passage is often used to refer to
the proper headwear of women, but Paul is also addressing the proper headwear
of men in worship, a fact often overlooked. The male Roman Christians at
Corinth might be likely to follow the Roman customs and cover their heads
during prayer, thus violating the Christian practice.

Do you think this might apply to baseball caps? :)

Bruce Terry E-MAIL:
Box 8426, ACU Station Phone: 915/674-3759
Abilene, Texas 79699 Fax: 915/674-3769

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