Woman Thiering, Barbara Elizabeth (1930 - )

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Barbara Thiering was born in Sydney in 1930. She graduated with a BA from the University of Sydney in 1952 and became a secondary school teacher. Following her marriage to an Anglican clergyman and the birth of three young children she returned to study, focusing on the area of theology and biblical studies, in which she obtained a PhD in 1973. She was appointed to the staff of the University in 1967, initially in Semitic Studies and later in Divinity, and remained in this position until her retirement in 1993.

Influenced by second wave feminism, Thiering became a critic of the status of women in the church. Asked to give a series of talks at a conference exploring the role of women as helpers within the church she spoke out against the dominant stance. She was then invited by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to give broadcasts on this theme, the results of which were produced as a book, Created Second in 1973. While rejecting what it saw as the more extreme demands of women's liberation, the book argued strongly that 'churchwomen wanted to be treated as persons in the terms of the Gospel itself, which taught equality' pointing out that ' many churchwomen were dissatisfied with the subsidiary roles they had been allocated. The first expression of Christian feminism in Australia it provided inspiration to a generation of women who were to lead the struggle to incorporate the changes wrought by the women's movement into the church.

Thiering developed a substantial media profile as a spokesperson on the church's attitude to women. Religion, she argued, had been 'used as an instrument of oppression' for women, because of a 'failure to distinguish between eternal truths and the translation of those truths into the idiom of a particular time and place' (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 1972, p. 39). Arguing that other outmoded Biblical teachings were being quietly discarded, she accused opponents of women's ordination of harbouring a fear or even a hatred of women, seeing them as 'a contamination, an impediment to holiness' (Sydney Morning Herald, 3 August 1975, p. 46). Challenged that attractive women priests could be a distraction in the church she retorted, 'Why don't they prevent the ordination of handsome young men?' (Age, 8 July 1967, p. 2).

Later in life Thiering achieved international fame, or in some circles notoriety, for her book, Jesus the Man, which, using a controversial interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, questioned much of the conventional readings of the Gospels. While widely condemned by traditional Biblical scholars, Thiering's worked earned her membership of the Jesus Seminar, an international network of scholarls involved in a critical reading of the Bible.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Barbara Thiering interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection, 10 November 1976, ORAL TRC 1/964; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Thiering, B. E. & Family Life Movement of Australia, Created second?: aspects of women's liberation in Australia, Family Life Movement of Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, 1973. Details
  • Thiering, Barbara, Jesus the man: a new interpretation from the Dead Sea scrolls, Doubleday, Sydney, New South Wales, 1992. Details

Journal Articles

  • Thiering, Brabara, 'Looking back - and forward', Women-Church, no. 40, 2007, pp. 15 - 16. Details

Online Resources

See also