A common thing I've heard growing up is that women living in Israel in the 1st century couldn't be witnesses in a court of law because [reasons].

The times that I've heard this said it has also normally been preceded by something along the lines of "...the first Christian evangelists in the world were women because Jesus appeared to Mary and Martha first and instructed them to inform the other disciples, who were men. This is amazing because..."

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    What has your research revealed?? – Mark C. Wallace Oct 17 '17 at 16:09
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    Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. – sempaiscuba Oct 17 '17 at 16:09
  • Uhh....my research? Well so far I've asked one question on the History stack exchange :D – LCIII Oct 17 '17 at 17:09
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    @LCIII Mark asks that because on History.SE "I heard that..." is not accepted as a sufficient starting point for a question. – called2voyage Oct 17 '17 at 18:44

In the 1st century, Judea was a Roman province. There were actually a wide range of systems in use in Judea in the first century AD, but the Graeco-Roman system was the one available to everyone in the province.


Roman law was quite explicit in permitting women to swear oaths and testify in court.

The Digest of Justinian states:

The fact that the Lex Julia [legislation introduced by Augustus in 23 BC] on adultery forbids a woman found guilty to give evidence shows that women have the right to give evidence at a trial.

A number of other references to women being able to appear in court as witnesses appear in Book 12 of the Digest of Justinian.

[Although the Digest of Justinian is a compilation that was put together much later (in the 6th century), the laws were often enacted much earlier - as in the case of the Lex Julia mentioned above].


Furthermore, in his trial against Verres in 70 BC, Cicero called several women as witnesses. In his speech, he shamed Verres for having forced him to compel respectable women to appear in court to testify against him. Cicero's objection here is clearly against disturbing women of station, and not against trusting their testimony, otherwise why would he have called them as witnesses?


Indeed, we have a number of examples from ancient Egypt (another Roman province, but one where we generally have more surviving epigraphic evidence from the period) of women being allowed to testify in court:

One example (P.Oxy. 1.37) dated to 49 AD, which was copied from an official government archive, shows that a woman's testimony was entered into the court record.

Another example (BGU 4.1105), from a case in Alexandria in 10 BC, records the testimony of a woman who testified in court against her husband for divorce on a charge of wife-beating and squandering her dowry.

(The translations appear in Greek, but Google Translate should be able to make a decent fist of translating them into English. I'll try to locate English versions & update the answer later, when I'm not typing on a phone screen.)

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    All true. But not necessarily a comprehhensive answer to the question. Romans were known to tolerate some customs of their subjects. Judea was a very special province with all kinds of privileges granted to the Iudaios. – LangLangC Oct 17 '17 at 19:12
  • @LangLangC There were actually a wide range of systems in use in Judea in the first century AD, but the Roman (or Graeco-Roman, if you want to be picky) system was the one available to everyone in the province. – sempaiscuba Oct 17 '17 at 19:31
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    Just pointing out that the Pharisean ideal, picked up again in the story of the OP, was not the reality – even in local customs. (Babatha archive, P. Se'elim 13… ) – LangLangC Oct 17 '17 at 19:42

In Jewish Law, women are not valid witnesses, as it states in the Mishnah (Shevuot 4:1):

שְׁבוּעַת הָעֵדוּת נוֹהֶגֶת בַּאֲנָשִׁים וְלֹא בְנָשִׁים

The oath of testimony is conducted with men and not women

The Talmud expounds on this and says (Shevuot 30a):

מנהני מילי דת"ר (דברים יט, יז) ועמדו שני האנשים בעדים הכתוב מדבר

How do we know? Because our Rabbis taught: "Two men shall stand." (Deuteronomy 19:17)

So during First Century Israel, where these laws were practiced by the Jewish community, it would be logical to say that women would not be valid witnesses. (Even today this is Jewish Law.)

If you have any other questions concerning Jewish religious practice or law, feel free to ask at Mi Yodeya, the Judaism Stack Exchange of which I am an active user.

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