A point of discussion has arisen between myself and Grant White with regard to Testamentum Domini 1.37. Here the translation following Cooper and McLean:
If any woman whatsoever suffer violence from a man, let the deacon accurately investigate if she be faithful and have truly suffered violence; if he who treated her with violence was not her lover. And if she be accurately thus, and if she that suffered mourn about the violence that happened to her, let him take it up to the hearing of the bishop, that she may be shewn to be in all things in communion with the Church. If he who treated her with violence be faithful, let not the deacon bring him into the church for partaking, even if he repent. But if he be a catechumen and repent, let him be baptized and partake.
The key term here is that translated “suffer violence”. The Syriac root is ܩܛܪ.
For White the passage concerns spousal violence. Thus he refers to Norman Russell Underwood, The Professionalization of the Clergy in Late Antiquity (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Berkeley: University of California, 2018), 106, who suggests that the deacon is here adopting the role of medical examiner.
In my own version I translated as “suffer compulsion”, and understood this to refer to an allegation of rape, which may prove not to be rape but consensual sex. Thus I understood that the deacon, on establishing that it is not consensual, reports this to the bishop so that no blame attaches to the woman. Then the deacon does not allow the perpetrator into the church, as he is doorkeeper, but the woman, who is a victim and not a fornicator, is permitted to communicate. The deacon’s investigation is not, therefore, the investigation of injuries to the woman but of the circumstances.
This uncertainty was a good enough excuse to pay a visit to Fr Darrell Hannah, and to consult regarding the Ethiopic text. He informs me that the Ethiopic root is ḥyl, which like the Arabic cognate حيل is suitably vague. Alas we are none the wiser as a result, though I did enjoy my trip to Ascot!
One piece of evidence which might offer support to White (and Underwood) is a brief statement of Epiphanius De fide 21.10 in which he states that deaconesses are appointed only to assist women “for modesty’s sake… if there is a need because of baptism or an inspection of their bodies.” The nature and purpose of this investigation is not stated. However, I have a recollection that the bodies of catechumens might be inspected for signs of demonic infestation, which would link in with the role of female deacons in baptism.
Here I have to ask the help of my readers as I cannot remember where I came across this! Can anyone help?