During this new phase of the history of the church (A.D. 65-96), the position of womanhood was theologically and ethically altered. The ambiguities entertained be the second generation of Christian leaders hardened into a male one-sidedness, which excluded women from the governing bodies of the church and eventually produced in the second and subsequent centuries–to this day in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman denominations of Christendom–an all-men ecclesiastical hierarchy (p. 175).
Samuel Terrien in Till the Heart Sings has argued that the first generation of the church gave women a more prominent role and did not exclude them from leadership.
He notes that at the head of Paul’s list of friends in Romans 16 is Prisca and Aquila (v. 3). Prisca comes before her husband. This is unusual and means that Prisca was the more prominent of the two. How did the second generation deal with such a prominent woman at the leading church in Rome?
Her role seems to have been forgotten. Also forgotten very early on–so as to leave no trace–was the authorship of the Letter to the Hebrews. Why was the author of an important, canonical book forgotten? One plausible answer is that someone suppressed the authorship of Hebrews precisely because the second generation could not deal with a female author of so important a book.
So Terrien makes a detailed argument, not so much that Prisca is conclusively the author of Hebrews, but that she very well could have written it.
Tradition identifies Pudens (mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21) as a Roman senator who converted to Christianity. One of the oldest churches in Rome seems to have been named for a martyred daughter of Pudens named Pudentia. Archeologists have exposed the walls of a private house under the church. So perhaps the church was built on the site of a house church hosted by Pudens. An ancient tradition says that both Peter and Paul stayed at Puden’s house when they were in Rome.. There is also a Byzantine era church of Saint Prisca in Rome. A 3rd century bronze tablet found under it links this place with the Pudens family. There is also an ancient Cemetary of Priscilla where two of the graves are of women named Priscilla. It is on land that was owned by the senatorial family of Pudens.
So, from several converging lines of tradition with some archeological backing, Terrien thinks Prisca may well have come from this prominent Roman family.
But she married Aquila, a Jewish businessman. In other words, she married down, which may explain why she gets listed before Aquila more than once in the Paul’s letters and in Acts.
There have been a number of scholars who have argued that Apollos wrote Hebrews. But Prisca was a teacher of Apollos (Acts 18:26). So many of the arguments that apply to Apollos also apply to Prisca. From within the letter itself (mostly chapter 11) there are some signs a woman might have written it. There is the mention of Sarah as parallel in faith to Abraham (11:11). Also there is the surprising inclusion of the prostitute, Rahab, among the heroes of faith. Then there is the reference to women whose loved ones came back after resurrection (v. 35).
The letter probably came from Italy (13:24), where we would expect Prisca to have lived.
Of course, we don’t know who wrote Hebrews. But the question of why the name of the author was lost is a good one. If it was Apollos, why would his name be removed? But we can imagine why Prisca’s might have been.
1 Peter, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles are from the time after the year +65. They all show some of new limiting of the roles of women. They may reflect a reaction to the rising influence of Gnostics. Esoteric speculations may have fascinated women more than men and led to this reaction.
But Terrien sees this as an overreaction. Just as he thought Ezekiel and the priests during and after the Babylonian Exile overreacted to goddess worship, so he thinks the writers in the late 1st century and in the 2nd century overreacted to Gnosticism. It is regrettable that the position of women in the church bore the brunt of the polemic against heresy.