Home > Early Christianity, History > Martyrdom and Noble Death: Selected Texts from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Antiquity (The Context of Early Christianity)

Martyrdom and Noble Death: Selected Texts from Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Christian Antiquity (The Context of Early Christianity)

Routledge | 2002 | ISBN 0415138906 | PDF | 160 pages

This volume explores the fascinating phenomenon of noble death through pagan, Jewish and Christian sources. Today’s society is uncomfortable with death, and willingly submitting to a violent and ostentatious death in public is seen as particularly shocking and unusual. Yet classical sources give a different view, with public self-sacrifice often being applauded. The Romans admired a heroic end in the battlefield or the arena, suicide in the tradition of Socrates was something laudable, and Christians and Jews alike faithfully commemorated their heroes who died during religious persecutions. The cross-cultural approach and wide chronological range of this study make it valuable for those interested in ancient history, religion and literature.

Today’s society is uncomfortable with death, and willingly submitting to a violent and ostentatious death in public is seen as particularly shocking and unusual. Yet classical sources give a different view, with public self-sacrifice often being applauded – the Romans admired a heroic end in the battlefield or the arena, suicide in the tradition of Socrates was something laudable, and Christians and Jews alike faithfully commemorated their heroes who died during religious persecutions.

Martyrdom and Noble Death explores the fascinating phenomenon of noble death through pagan, Jewish and Christian sources. The authors look at Jewish and Christian articulations of noble death as martyrdom, asking how we construct the figure of a martyr, and what makes a passage a ‘martyr text’. The book combines accessible introductions with a wide range of relevant translated texts, dating from the eighth century BCE to the rabbinic period (up to the fifth century CE).

The cross-cultural approach and wide chronological range of this study make it valuable for students and scholars of ancient history, religion and literature.

This book primarily aims at offering undergraduate students in various disciplines (Religion, Classics, Jewish Studies, etc.) a survey of ancient sources about those kinds of noble death that can be called martyrdom or are rather similar to martyrdom. It is designed as a sourcebook, but has fuller introductions to the texts than most sourcebooks.

The Introduction discusses the phenomenon of noble death as represented by pagan, Christian and Jewish sources and the Jewish and Christian articulation of noble death as martyrdom. Each of the following four chapters is devoted to one body of literature: Chapter 1 to pagan forms of noble death dating from the eighth century BCE to the third century CE; Chapter 2 to Jewish passages from the Second Temple period; Chapter 3 to the earliest Christian documents of martyrdom up to the Constantine era; and Chapter 4 contains introductions and translations of the most important early rabbinic stories about martyrdom. Thus, the reader is offered a representative survey of passages about noble death in a wide range of socio-cultural ancient contexts: Graeco-Roman, early Jewish and Christian, as well as rabbinic-Jewish. The broad horizon of the book enables the reader to make cross-cultural comparisons.

The general introductions to Chapters 1–4 offer accessible syntheses of the relevant textual material, which have not been available for the pagan and rabbinic documents. Readers who intend to use this book just as a sourcebook can easily skip these introductions, as all information strictly necessary for understanding the texts is given in the introductions to the individual passages and the notes to the translations. The translations of the selected passages are our own except in the case of the Ascension of Isaiah.

The Introduction and Chapters 1–3 were written by Jan Willemvan Henten and Chapter 4 was written by Friedrich Avemarie. In the translated passages square brackets indicate lacunae in the manuscripts filled by the editor or by us; sometimes round brackets indicate words that have been added for reason of clarity.

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