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  • Was the Pilgrim from Bordeaux a Woman?A Reply to Laurie Douglass
  • Susan Weingarten

In an interesting and thought-provoking article, "A New Look at the Itinerarium Burdigalense" (JECS 4 [1996]: 313–33), Laurie Douglass takes up Joan Taylor's suggestion that the author of this work, an anonymous pilgrim from Bordeaux, may have been a woman. This is quite clearly a possibility that had not occurred to male scholars before. Information about the lives of women in antiquity is regrettably all too scarce, and it would have been a considerable achievement if Douglass could have given us conclusive proof that the author of the Itinerarium Burdigalense was a woman. Unfortunately, it seems to me that some of the evidence brought by Douglass is open to different interpretation.

Douglass writes that the "pilgrim's interpretation of several of the biblical sites and the details which particularize them seem to reveal an idiosyncratic interest in women—specifically in female scriptural figures whose character includes what we would call their sexuality. There in that place, is where Elias begged a meal from a widow; where Dinah was raped; where Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman (who, we know, had many husbands); where Rahab was a harlot" (325).

However, it is possible to suggest other reasons for the mention of just these sites. Not all sites mentioned by the pilgrim were necessarily the result of planned visits. Douglass quite reasonably suggests that the traveler used the cursus publicus. This included stopping at certain places for the facilities they provided, such as meals and inns. It may simply have been an added bonus if such a site provided a biblical reference, such as Sarepta with its associations with Elisha (or Elijah) and the widow, as opposed, say, to mutatio Bettar which had no such associations. Sarepta is also the first identifiable site of the biblical Holy Land—an added reason for the traveler to have noted it. The pagan traveler Theophanes,1 who travelled from Antioch in Syria to Caesarea in Palestine along the same route as the pilgrim from Bordeaux a decade earlier, seems to have stopped for the night at Sarepta too, so it may well have been a regular station on the cursus. As well as stops dictated by the cursus, we would note that, as against the mere [End Page 291] eight mentions of sites connected to women,2 there are at least fifteen places which mention a well or water source.3 (Some sites have both.) Water is extremely important for all travelers in the Holy Land, even in the few winter months. Travelers would naturally stop at sources, and then be reminded of the stories associated with the site.4

Other sites were probably visited deliberately, such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but we should note that the traveler does not make any effort to visit Christian sites off the main Roman roads—there is no visit to Nazareth or Mt. Tabor, which lay some way off the main road across Galilee, and even today involve a considerable ascent with hairpin bends.

Once a site was decided on for a planned visit, it would be natural to note all its associations with the Bible. Douglass suggests that perhaps the rape of Dinah is recalled because of the traveler's interest in women's sexuality. However, it could just as well be simply because the very name of the town, Sechim, was a reminder that the rape of Jacob's daughter was committed by Shechem himself, the town's eponymous founder. In Sechar (which Jerome notes was often wrongly separated from Shechem) the traveler notes the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, which Douglass would see as evidence of an interest in women's sexuality, as she had had many husbands. However, here once again it could simply be that it was the well, which was so necessary to travelers, which was of primary interest and the Samaritan woman is only there secondarily, to connect the well with Jesus' life. We would note that the episode in John 4.5f. tells not [End Page 292] only of the woman's many husbands but also that Jesus had been "wearied with...


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