1. Perkins, Judith, The Suffering Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era (London: Routledge, 1995); Boyarin, Daniel, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999); Castelli, Elizabeth A., Martyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004); Young, Robin Darling, In Procession before the World: Martyrdom as Public Liturgy in Early Christianity (Milwaukee, Wise.: Marquette University Press, 2001); Shaw, Brent D., “Body/Power/Identity: Passions of the Martyrs,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4 (1996): 269–312. The scholarly bibliography on martyrdom is vast and cannot be surveyed here. A useful listing of earlier scholarship can be found in Seeliger's, H. R. entry, “Martyrs, Acts of the,” in the Dictionary of Early Christian Literature, ed. Siegmar, Däpp and Wilhelm, Geerlings, trans. O'Connell, Matthew (New York: Crossroad, 2000), 405–7.
2. For details of the debate over the extent and nature of Roman persecution of Christians before the reign of Decius, see Croix, G. E. M. Ste., “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?,” Past and Present 26 (1963): 6–38; Sherwin-White, A. N., “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?—An Amendment,” Past and Present 27 (1964): 23–27; Croix, G. E. M. Ste., “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?—A Rejoinder,” Past and Present 27 (1964): 28–33; Barnes, T. D., “Legislation Against the Christians,” Journal of Roman Studies 58 (1968): 32–50. A more recent summary of this debate can be found in Robinson, Olivia F., “Repressionen gegen Christen in der Zeit vor Decius—noch immer ein Rechtsproblem,” Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung für Rechtsgeschichte 112 (1995): 352–69.
3. Perkins, , Suffering Self, 32. While Perkins concentrates on the role of suffering in creating a particular mode of Christian subjectivity, Boyarin's Dying for God (esp. 93–126) emphasizes the role of martyrdom in the production and contestation of Jewish and Christian identities.
4. Versions of this essay were presented at the 1999 annual meeting of the New England Region of the Society of Biblical Literature and the 2005 annual meeting of the North American Patristics Society. I am grateful to Judith Perkins for her kind words of interest and encouragement back in 1999; to David Levenson, whose careful reading saved me from some (though probably not all) grievous errors; and to Shelly Matthews and the anonymous reviewers at Church History, whose insightful comments and criticisms have greatly improved both its form and substance.
5. Harris, William V., Ancient Literacy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989), 22, 282–85. On subsequent scholarly attempts to nuance and challenge what she calls Harris's “minimalist interpretation of literacy,” see Clark, Elizabeth A., Reading Renunciation: Asceticism and Scripture in Early Christianity (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), 45–47; and Gamble, Harry, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), 4–10.
6. The social status of Christians in the Roman Empire has been the subject of many studies. See, for example, Kyrtatis, D. J., The Social Structure of the Early Christian Communities (London: Verso, 1987); Meeks, W. A., The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983); Malherbe, A. J., Social Aspects of Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress, 1983).
7. Gamble, , Books and Readers, 5.
8. As Elizabeth Clark has observed, however, situating early Christians in the more general discussion of literacy in the ancient Roman Empire “has proved a vexing question”: Clark, , Reading Renunciation, 45.
9. Gamble, , Books and Readers, 203: “in the Greco-Roman world virtually all reading was reading aloud; even when reading privately the reader gave audible voice to the text.”
10. Gamble notes, however, that early Christian literature says very little about “the private reading of Christian texts.” Most such references deal with the private reading of scriptural texts, as his brief survey suggests: Gamble, , Books and Readers, 232–37.
11. This phenomenon is studied by Delehaye, Hippolyte, Les origines du culte des martyrs, 2nd rev. ed. (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1933), 24–49.
12. Greek/Latin texts and English translations of martyr acts are from Musurillo, H., ed., Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972); some translations have been modified slightly.
13. This is certainly the case in subsequent centuries, when homilies about the martyrs were composed specifically for the occasion of the annual panèguris, or martyr festival. On this issue, see Leemans, Johan, Mayer, Wendy, Allen, Pauline, and Dehandschutter, Boudewijn, “Let Us Die that We May Live”: Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria (c. AD 350–AD 450) (London: Routledge, 2003).
14. Stewart, Zeph, “Greek Crowns and Christian Martyrs,” in Mémorial André-Jean Festugière: Antiquité païenne et chrétienne, ed. Lucchesi, E. and Saffrey, H. D. (Geneva: Patrick Cramer, 1984), 124.
15. It is important to remember that martyr acts are rhetorical rather than documentary in nature, which means that descriptions of the martyrs and their actions should be understood as prescriptions for how things ought to be instead of descriptions of the way things are. Nevertheless, it is still possible to use the martyr stories insofar as they work to cultivate a Christian ideal and represent that ideal to their readers and hearers.
16. M. Pol. 17. Similar athletic imagery is used to describe martyrdom in sections 18 and 19.
17. M. Carpus, Papylus and Agathonice, Recensio Graeca, 35: ὡς γ∈νναῑος ⋯θλητ⋯ς ⋯π∈δέχ∈το τ⋯ν θυμ⋯ν το⋯ ⋯ντικ∈ιμένου. Recensio Latina, 3.5: sicut fortis athleta spectabat furorem inimici multo silentio. Discussed in Stewart, , “Greek Crowns and Christian Martyrs,” 122–23.
18. Young, , In Procession before the World, 36.
19. Text and translation in Stewart, , “Greek Crowns and Christian Martyrs,” 122.
20. Ad Martyras 3. Bonum agonem subituri estis in quo agonothetes Deus vivus est, xystarches Spiritus Sanctus. Thompson, Leonard L., “The Martyrdom of Polycarp: Death in the Roman Games,” Journal of Religion 82 (2002): 42.
21. Origen, for example, exhorts his readers to “enter the contest” of martyrdom in Exhortation to Martyrdom, 31: Greer, Rowan A., Origen (New York: Paulist, 1979), 62.
22. Droge, Arthur J. and Tabor, James D., A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 140.
23. Droge, and Tabor, , Noble Death, 130–52.
24. A detailed exploration of this issue is beyond the scope of this essay. For a summary of these efforts, see Seeliger, , “Martyrs,” 405–7. He notes (405) that “the concept of ‘Acts of the Martyrs’ is a recent one,” introduced in the late sixteenth century.
25. Seeliger, , “Martyrs,” 407.
26. I owe these points to the very helpful comments and criticisms of an anonymous Church History reviewer.
27. Thompson, , “Martyrdom of Polycarp,” 41.
28. Young, , In Procession before the World, 2, 9. On page 10 she poetically describes the martyrs as “like letters meant to be read by the community and the world, letters from Christ that were recognizably like Christ.”
29. Lieu, Judith, Neither Jew nor Greek? Constructing Early Christianity (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 2003), 218.
30. Lieu, As (Neither Jew Nor Greek, 226), and Boyarin, (Dying for God, 93–126) have noted, the martyr acts also work to establish and maintain boundaries of orthodoxy and identity. As Lieu puts it, “By the creative commitment of them to writing, by their circulation, and by their preservation, the Martyr Acts become vehicles of power.”
31. This argument—that the reading of texts produced a particular kind of self—is perhaps best known from recent studies of Christian literature on asceticism. Clark's, ElizabethReading Renunciation, and Krueger's, DerekWriting and Holiness: The Practice of Authorship in the Early Christian East (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) are two noteworthy examples. On page 95 Krueger argues that “Texts played a crucial role in the promulgation of ascetic beliefs and practices. Oral traditions and written texts often served as road maps toward this new identity. Fittingly, the perfected self conformed to models embedded in writings. Exegetes drew ascetic lessons from scripture, reading patriarchs, prophets, and apostles as models of moral rectitude and self-control.” This same thing might be said of martyr texts and the construction of Christian subjectivity.
32. Perkins, , Suffering Self, 104.
33. See, for example, Perkins, , Suffering Self, 104–23; Young, , In Procession before the World, 1–61; Shaw, , “Body/Power/Identity,” 269–312.
34. An important exception is Riddle, Donald L., The Martyrs: A Study in Social Control (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931).
35. This is certainly the case with works on martyrdom (for example, Castelli, , Martyrdom and Memory, and Boyarin, , Dying for God) but also true of scholarship in other areas (for example, Krueger, Derek, Writing and Holiness).
36. Foucault, Michel, The Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality, trans. Hurley, Robert (New York: Vintage, 1986), 3:37–68, is indebted to Hadot's line of thought. For Hadot's assessment and critique of Foucault's work, see Hadot, Pierre, Philosophy as a Way of Life, ed. and intro. Davidson, Arnold I., trans. Chase, Michael (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 206–12.
37. As Castelli observes, “the texts that remain for us to interpret from the early Christian world are overwhelmingly rhetorical in their character, and they require approaches that treat them in their textuality rather than approaches that presume their documentary status”: Castelli, , Martyrdom and Memory, 26. That stories of the martyrs served as disciplinary tools was recognized already by Riddle, , Martyrs, 43.
38. Plato, , Phaedo 67e. English translation (slightly modified) is from Plato, , Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, trans. Fowler, Harold North, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), 234–35. On the implications of Socrates' position for the philosophical problem of self-inflicted death, see Droge, and Tabor, , Noble Death, 20–22, which is part of a larger chapter (17–51) on the philosophical background of “suicide” in antiquity.
39. Hadot, , Philosophy, 94: “If it is true that philosophy subjugates the body's will to live to the higher demands of thought, it can rightly be said that philosophy is the training and apprenticeship for death.” Cf.Nehamas, Alexander, The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).
40. The question of whether Socrates can be considered a martyr is one element of a larger discussion about the origins of martyrdom: is it an exclusively Christian phenomenon (so G. W. Bowersock and H. von Campenhausen), or can the Christian instantiation be traced back to Jewish and Greco-Roman precedents (so W. H. C. Frend and Jan Willem van Henten)? Bowersock, G. W., Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 5–9; von Campenhausen, H., Die Idee des Martyriums in der alten Kirche (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1936); Frend, W. H. C., Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1967); van Henten, Jan Willem, The Maccabean Martyrs as Saviours of the Jewish People: A Study of 2 and 4 Maccabees, Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 7. For a discussion of this issue, see Boyarin, , Dying for God, 93–97.
41. Hadot, , Philosophy, 93–94.
45. It is true, of course, that Stoics, Epicureans, and Platonists differed in their views about the body, the soul, and the passions; they are sufficiently well known that I need not enumerate such differences here. See Long, A. A. and Sedley, D. N., The Hellenistic Philosophers, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 1:25–467. At the same time, these philosophical schools shared the idea that spiritual exercises allow for a transformation of the inner self and a reversal of the usual way of looking at things: Hadot, , Philosophy, 83.
46. Philo, , Allegorical Interpretations 3.18, commenting on Gen. 31:20: “Jacob, therefore, the mind in training, when he sees passion grovelling low before him, awaits its onset calculating that he will master it by force, but when it is seen to be lofty, stately, weighty, the first to run away is the mind in training, followed by all his belongings, being portions of his discipline, readings, ponderings, acts of worship, and of remembrance of noble souls, self-control, discharge of daily duties”: Translation from Colson, F. H. and Whitaker, G. H., Philo, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1929), 1:313.
47. Hadot, , Philosophy, 83.
48. Ibid., 95. In other words, philosophy prepares one for the Good. Plotinus takes the idea of a spiritual exercise one step further by describing a way of life whose goal was not merely to bring one to knowledge of the Good—one was to become identical with it as well. On this point, see Plotinus, , Ennead 6, 7, 33–34.
49. Newman, Robert, “Cotidie Meditare: Theory and Practice of the Meditatio in Imperial Stoicism”, in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, ed. Wolfgang, Haase (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1989), 2.36. 3:1473–1517.
50. Perkins, Judith, “The ‘Self’ as Sufferer,” Harvard Theological Review 85 (1992): 266. I disagree, however, with Perkins's subsequent assertion on page 268 that the Meditations reveals that Marcus Aurelius was “barely adequate to the task” of mastering “the pain of life's vicissitudes and the melancholy of death.” She argues that “the effect of this repeated textual attention to death … is not a sense of the author's peaceful acceptance, but rather a feeling that death held a smothering omnipresence for him.” This assessment, in my view, contravenes the meaning and purpose of the meditatio form as an extended meditation on life's problems. The Meditations is best read as a spiritual exercise, not a reflection of its author's neuroses. On this point (and for a history of psychological approaches to the Meditations), see Hadot, Pierre, The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, trans. Chase, Michael (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 244–57.
51. Rabbow, Paul, Seelenführung: Methodik der Exerzitien in der Antike (Munich: Kösel-Verlag, 1954), 169–70, as mentioned in Hadot, , Philosophy, 85.
55. Clark, Elizabeth A., “Women, Gender, and the Study of Christian History,” Church History 70:3 (2001): 424. This point is reiterated and expanded by Castelli, , Martyrdom and Memory, 26–32, and passim.
56. Clark, Elizabeth A., History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004), 159.
57. Castelli, , Martyrdom and Memory, 28.
58. Hadot, , Philosophy, 242. Although this formulation perhaps sounds characteristic only of Stoicism, my argument depends on the notion that Stoic thought—especially during the first centuries of Christianity's existence—was not so much a well-defined orthodoxy as a philosophical lingua franca. As Brent D. Shaw puts it, “Its principal claims, even if not fully understood or comprehended by all who availed themselves of Stoic doctrine, formed a general background for all other philosophical claims”: Shaw, Brent D., “The Divine Economy: Stoicism as Ideology,” Latomus 44 (1985): 18.
59. Droge, and Tabor, , Noble Death, 29.
60. Hadot, , Philosophy, 242.
61. As Droge, and Tabor's, analysis makes clear, it is problematic to speak of a single Stoic position on voluntary death: Noble Death, 29–39. On 4 Maccabees, see esp. van Henten, The Maccabean Martyrs as Saviours; and Aune, David, “Mastery of the Passions: Philo, 4 Maccabees, and Earliest Christianity,” in Hellenization Revisited: Shaping a Christian Response within the Creco-Roman World, ed. Helleman, Wendy E. (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1994), 125–58. On the connections between Jewish and Christian martyrologies, see Aune, , “The Martyrs as Heroes of the Christian People: Some Remarks on the Continuity between Jewish and Christian Martyrology, with Pagan Analogies,” in Martyrium in Multidisciplinary Perspective, ed. Lamberigts, M. and Deun, P. van (Louvain: Leuven University Press, 1995), 303–22.
64. M. Apoll. 27–28 (Rom. 14:8, modified).
65. Perkins, , Suffering Self, 117, 111.
66. Others have noted the ambiguous social and political significance of Christians' deaths at the hands of the Romans: “Actions performed at exactly the same time, in the same place, by the same people, are read as rites of criminality by the authorities and spectators and as rites of martyrdom by Polycarp and other Christians”: Thompson, , “Martyrdom of Polycarp,” 41. Judith Perkins writes about Christians' exploitation of this ambiguity in some detail in chapter 4 of The Suffering Self. “Bruises, wounds, broken bodies, provided unassailable, palpable evidence of realized power. But Christian discourse reverses this equation and thus redefines some of the most basic signifiers in any culture—the body, pain, and death. Moreover, these radical redefinitions function to create politically subversive texts”: Perkins, , Suffering Self, 115. On the sociopolitical significance of the trials (as opposed to the executions), see Potter, David, “Martyrdom as Spectacle,” in Theater and Society in the Classical World, ed. Ruth, Scodel (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 53–88.
67. Lieu, , Neither Jew nor Greek, 213.
68. Among Christians who employed the vocabulary of impassibility, not all authors used the term apatheia in ways that were equivalent to its usage in Stoic circles. As a result, we should not assume an exact correspondence between Stoic and Christian treatment of such ideas. On this point, see Maier, Harry O., “Clement of Alexandria and the Care of the Self,” Jounal of the American Academy of Religion 62:3 (1994): 737–39.
69. Boyarin, , Dying for God, 95–96. I thank Shelly Matthews for bringing this point to my attention.
71. A TLG search reveals that apath- words occur some 56 times in Clement of Alexandria, 78 times in Origen, 169 times in Gregory of Nyssa, 126 times in Epiphanius, 98 times in Athanasius, 94 times in John Chrysostom, 159 times in Theodoret, and 93 times in Evagrius.
72. On attempts to distinguish Christian martyrs from Socrates, see Droge, and Tabor, , Noble Death, 139–40. Though it strikes me as much less likely, another possible explanation stems from an internal debate among fourth- and fifth-century Christians concerning the propriety of attributing apatheia, a divine characteristic, to human beings. Jerome, for example, objected to Evagrius's argument that human beings can achieve apatheia, since that would mean that “man must either be like a rock or like God.” Pagan philosophers likewise questioned whether apatheia was an attainable goal for human beings. Although the martyr stories under consideration here originate in earlier times than Jerome and Evagrius, perhaps their authors shared philosophers' skepticism that apatheia was within the reach of humanity: Bøcher Rasmussen, Mette Sophia, “Like a Rock or like God? The Concept of apatheia in the Monastic Theology of Evagrius of Pontus,” Studia Theologica 59 (2005): 148.
73. All translations of biblical texts are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. See also Exod. 20:11; 2 Kings 19:15; Isa. 37:16; Jer. 10:11; Neh. 9:6; Acts 4:24, 14:15, 17:25; Rev. 10:6, 14:7. I thank Andrew McGowan, whose helpful comments on a very early version of this paper prompted me to refine a previous incarnation of this argument.
74. This is according to my own calculations using the citations (Exod. 20:11, 2 Kings 19:15, Jer. 10:11, and Acts 4:24) in Musurillo's index of scriptural references. According to the index, these passages are quoted a total of 16 times.
75. M. Apoll. 2. Daniel Boyarin observes that the declaration Christianus sum, seen in this text and in several other second-century martyr acts, was “an element of martyrology that had taken root firmly in the earliest Christian traditions of martyrdom itself.” He goes on to argue that this declaration of Christian identity has a functional parallel, and indeed a rabbinic “response” of sorts, in the Unification of the Name found, for example, in narratives that detail the martyrdom of Rabbi Akiva: Boyarin, , Dying for God, 121.
77. A. Euplus, Latin Recension 2.5.
79. M. Pion. 16.2–3. A very similar exchange occurs in the Latin and somewhat fragmentary Greek versions of the Acts of Phileas (P. Bod. col. ix.150–col. x.157; Recensio Latina 3.4).
81. M. Crisp. 1.7. Crispina no doubt refers to the impending sacrifice of her own body. On the sacrificial aspects of Christian martyrdom, see Young, , In Procession before the World, 1–61.
83. M. Carp., Greek Recension 10: θ∈οί, οἱ τ⋯ν οὐραν⋯ν κα⋯ τ⋯ν γ⋯ν οὐκ ⋯ποίησαν, ⋯πολέσθωσανLatin Recension 2: Dii, qui non fecerunt caelum et terram, pereant.
84. Riddle also lists the use of reward and punishment scenarios and the “discipline of church customs” (such as common worship, common liturgical meals, and other social features of Christian life) as other instruments used in the production of attitudes toward martyrdom: Riddle, , Martyrs, 29–52.
85. Hadot, , Philosophy, 85.
86. There are, of course, several places in the martyr acts where the protagonists declare their Christian identity without invoking any attendant scriptural citation; see, for example, Acts of Ptolemaeus and Lucius 10–11; Acts of Justin and Companions 4–6,9. See also Tertullian, Apology 2; Cyprian, Treatise 5.13. According to Riddle, such textual declarations of Christian identity were intended to train Christians to respond properly in the event of persecution: “By circulating representations of the cases of successful witness, and in them citing the questions asked by the court and the answers given by the confessor, the first necessity, namely, that of suggesting the proper answer to the question of guilt, was met”: Riddle, , Martyrs, 55.
87. Lieu, , Neither Jew nor Greek, 220.
88. Young, , In Procession before the World, 15.
89. As Judith Lieu argues, such assertions of Christian identity, which are usually framed as oppositional declarations, serve “as a total and ultimate, an exclusive act of definition and so of redefinition,” which “affirms a new, all-encompassing, non-negotiable, and even non-communicable identity”: Lieu, , Neither Jew nor Greek, 215.
90. It is at this point that the analogy breaks down a bit, since the vocabulary of apatheia does not allow (strictly speaking) for the idea that it is appropriate to fear some things (for example, God) and not other things (for example, death).
91. Castelli, , Martyrdom and Memory, 51.
93. Ignatius, of course, developed the idea of martyrdom as imitation of Christ quite explicitly. See, for example, Ep. Rom. 6.3, where he begs, “Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God.”
101. On Christian interpretations of Jesus' death, see Droge, and Tabor, , Noble Death, 114–19.
103. While the connection with Jesus' death certainly served to give purpose and meaning to martyrs' deaths, the reverse is also true: “The notion of blood being exchanged for remission of sin may well have been in the Christ story prior to martyrdoms, but the value placed on martyrdom highlighted the death of Christ as a vicarious suffering for sin. … The death of martyrs brought to the fore the death of Jesus, and their sacrifice for sin enhanced the redemptive meaning of his death”: Thompson, , “Martyrdom of Polycarp,” 51.
104. Castelli, , Martyrdom and Memory, 34.
105. For a psychological analysis of ancient Christian martyrdom as psychopathic, masochistic, and sexually deviant, see Riddle, , Martyrs, 60–76.
106. Young, , In Procession before the World, 11. A nuanced account of Clement's understanding of apatheia can be found in Maier, , “Clement of Alexandria,” 719–45.
107. Young, , In Procession before the World, 59.