One interesting thing about this rather prosaic passage is that it highlights once more the important leadership and resources offered by women in the early Christian community - and even lets us know her name: Lydia!
Lydia is described as a God-fearer or a worshipper of God. ("God-fearer" should be heard as slangy street language and not as a formal term.) This means she was a Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) adherent of Judaism. Scholars believe there were a significant number of such God-fearers, and that these were among the first of Paul's Gentile converts to the way of Jesus.
Things I wish I knew about the setting of this passage:
- Why were only women present at the prayer gathering?
- Why were the women meeting by the river instead of in someone's home or a synagogue?
- How would the presence of Paul and his male companions be viewed, at least initially, by the women, and by the community?
- How had Lydia, a woman, come to do what was normally only something a man could do - trade in cloth?
- I understand that purple was an expensive dye in those days, so what does that imply about Lydia's social status and standing in her community?
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.