THE role of women in the early days of Christianity has been "suppressed", according to a leading historian who has questioned the traditional depiction of God as a man.
Bettany Hughes, an expert in ancient history, claimed that Christianity "was originally a faith where the female of the species held sway".
"By suppressing the true story of the connection between women and religion, we etiolate both history and the possibilities of our own world," she wrote in Radio Times.
"Consider this: throughout the history of humanity, 97pc of all deities of wisdom have been female. Who knows whether God is a girl, but mankind has turned to the female of the species for good ideas.
"Our own monotheistic institutions might do well to take a leaf out of the book of human experience and build on this consensus when it comes to reaping the benefits of a close relationship between women and the divine."
Hughes is the presenter of a forthcoming BBC Two series, Divine Women, which explores the hidden history of women in world religions and challenges the belief that women should not be priests.
As evidence for her argument she cited the fact that, in the first 200 years of Christianity, over half of all churches in Rome were built by women. It was a woman, Phoebe, who was invited by Paul to take the word of God to Rome, Hughes said.