Jan W. van Henten

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:

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Martyrdom in the Greco-Roman period is a scholarly construct. Which writings are relevant sources depends on the definition of martyrdom. Broad definitions imply that various forms of noble death among Greeks and Romans can be considered martyrdom. More strict definitions suggest that martyrdom first occurred among Jews in the 2nd century bce during the oppression by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (168–167 bce) or only in the context of imperial Rome. The occurrence of the witness vocabulary (martys and related phrases) in the documents is often considered a decisive factor in this discussion. Van Henten and Avemarie 2002 (cited under Anthologies) consider martyrdom a specific form of noble death and define a “martyr” as a person who in an extremely hostile situation prefers a violent death to compliance with a demand of the (usually pagan) authorities. Middleton 2006 (cited under General Treatments) defines a martyrdom as “a type of narrative which describes a death which reinforces a group’s (whether religious, political or national) view of the world.” Middleton 2014 (cited under General Treatments) considers a definition elusive because martyrdom is a contested phenomenon (cf. Rajak 2012, cited under General Treatments). Recla 2014 (cited under General Treatments) argues that martyrdom is an intentional and violent act of self-formation by self-death. The early Church considered Daniel and his three companions (see Daniel 3 and 6) as well as the so-called Maccabean martyrs models for Christian martyrs. The Maccabean martyrs were even included in the official calendar of martyrs of the Roman Catholic Church, with 1 August as their anniversary. Relevant primary sources include Daniel 3 and 6 (with the Greek additions); 2 Maccabees 6:18–31, 7:1–42, 14:37–46; 4 Maccabees; the acts and passions of Christian martyrs; and rabbinic passages about martyrdom. The New Testament has no elaborate sections devoted to martyrdom, but there are interconnections with this theme in several ways.

Article.  11251 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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