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Ancient Christian Martyrdom

Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Christian Martyrdom
    Book Description:

    The importance of martyrdom for the spread of Christianity in the first centuries of the Common Era is a question of enduring interest. In this innovative new study, Candida Moss offers a radically new history of martyrdom in the first and second centuries that challenges traditional understandings of the spread of Christianity and rethinks the nature of Christian martyrdom itself. Martyrdom, Moss shows, was not a single idea, theology, or practice: there were diverse perspectives and understandings of what it meant to die for Christ.

    Beginning with an overview of ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish ideas about death, Moss demonstrates that there were many cultural contexts within which early Christian views of martyrdom were very much at home. She then shows how distinctive and diverging theologies of martyrdom emerged in different ancient congregations. In the process she reexamines the authenticity of early Christian stories about martyrs and calls into question the dominant scholarly narrative about the spread of martyrdom in the ancient world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15466-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the study of ancient Christianity, no figure polarizes the scholarly world as effectively as the martyr. Study of the martyrs is as often a disdainful preoccupation as it is a preoccupying delight.¹ The martyr commands attention, fascinates the skeptic, and confounds the rationalist. How and why people would immolate themselves for Christ are questions that consume scholar and layperson alike. Even when viewed in light of modern terrorism, martyrdom is extreme and removed, either necessitated by dire historical circumstances that arise in far-flung places and at distant times or instigated by aliens and outsiders.² The exceptionality and otherness of...

  6. 1 Cultural Contexts: The Good Death and the Self-Conscious Sufferer
    (pp. 23-48)

    For much of the Christian era, martyrdom was viewed as particular to Christianity and as an indication of Christianity’s unique possession of religious truth. If Christians alone were prepared to die for their beliefs, it was thought, then there must be something special about Christianity. The widespread literary caricature of early Christians as fodder for lions in the Colosseum contributed to the notion that Christianity invented martyrdom, an idea that was in part a product, as already discussed, of the philological debt that martyrdom owed to theGreek martys.¹ What ever the reason, until relatively recently Christianity held both a...

  7. 2 Asia Minor: Imitating Christ
    (pp. 49-76)

    Many consider Asia Minor to be the cradle of Christian martyrdom. The area of the Roman empire that stretched from Bithynia in the north to Lycia in the south, and from the coast of the Mediterranean in the west to Cappadocia in the east, was one of the first regions of the empire to be evangelized by the followers of Jesus. The earliest Christian literature from the region refers, explicitly and obliquely, to the important role of suffering in the life of Jesus’s followers. In the potentially pseudonymous letter to the city of Colossae, Paul joyfully delights in and even...

  8. 3 Rome: Contesting Philosophy
    (pp. 77-99)

    The Jesus movement came to Rome in the mysterious pre–New Testament period, and by the time of Irenaeus’s visit in the final quarter of the second century, the group there had become the largest assembly of Christians in the empire.¹ The paucity of information about this period means that the contours of early Christian history in Rome can be only lightly sketched. Like other religious movements, it is reasonable to assume that members of the Jesus movement entered Rome, sometime in the 40s CE, via the trade routes that passed through the port of Puetoli.² While there is considerable...

  9. 4 Gaul: The Victors of Vienne and Lyons
    (pp. 100-121)

    By the middle of the second century, Gaul, previously something of a cultural wasteland and backward outlier of the Roman empire, had begun to prosper. Lugdunum (Lyons), the capital of Gaul, had been founded as a Roman colony by Plancus in 43 BCE. The town subsequently became a bustling metropolis, and inscriptional evidence demonstrates its trade ties with the rest of the Roman world.¹ The province was agriculturally rich, which gave rise to a thriving community that in turn attracted immigration and trade. The arrival of Christianity is shrouded in obscurity. Our only textual and material evidence from the second...

  10. 5 Roman North Africa: Apocalyptic Ascent
    (pp. 122-144)

    The history of Christianity in North Africa in the second century is shrouded in mystery. Carthage, the capital of the Roman province of Africa (Africa Proconsularis) and the epicenter of Christian literature, was a bustling city by the time of Christianity’s arrival.¹ Perched on the Bay of Tunis, the city’s location made it a valuable center of commerce, trade, and administration from the Punic period onward. In contrast to the origins of Christianity in other major urban centers, for Carthage there are not even myths of apostolic foundations to eye with suspicion; almost abruptly, with the writings of the prolific...

  11. 6 Alexandria: Clement and the True Martyr
    (pp. 145-162)

    For many ancient Christians, as for ancient Romans, Greeks, and Jews, dying a noble death was something to be embraced, valued, and perhaps even coveted. Yet despite the general high regard in which martyrs and martyrdom were held, some Christians were more interested in avoiding untimely death. Amid the spectacular din of the confessions of martyrs, the roar of the crowd, and the clamor of the courtroom, there were quieter, hesitant voices. Many martyr acts present martyrdom as a sharp choice that cut to the core of Christian identity—life or death, salvation or damnation, Christ or apostasy—but things...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 163-168)

    In the historiography of martyrdom, the singular, binding character of martyrdom is everywhere asserted. Celebrated Protestant hagiographer John Foxe boldly addresses his best-sellingActes and Monumentsto the true and universal church and describes his martyrs more than one hundred times as witnesses to truth.¹ Foxe’s statement exemplifies the Christian belief that in martyrdom the truth of individual Christian beliefs, practices, and doctrines is made known. Foxe sees the courage of the martyrs and their willingness to give up that which is assumed to be most valuable—their lives—as a testimony to the truth of the Christian church, or...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 169-204)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-230)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 231-240)
  16. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 241-247)
  17. Index of Ancient Sources
    (pp. 248-256)