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1 - Intolerance and martyrdom: from Socrates to Rabbi ‘Aqiva

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2010

Graham N. Stanton
Affiliation:
King's College London
Guy G. Stroumsa
Affiliation:
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Summary

The terms used in the title of the present paper point to the moral polarization of philosophical norms and historical inevitabilities. Philosophical principles aim at setting clear moral norms and standards of behaviour. They are expected to guide people in their practical decisions even in the face of adverse historical and personal events. However, as is well known, adhering to one's philosophical convictions often leads to head-on clashes with practical needs and the will to survive. Thus, it turns out that matters are not as simple and as clearly defined in the cases which will be discussed in the present essay as one would wish them to be.

Martyrdom results when attempts at maintaining moral integrity in the face of evil and acts of despotism end in death or personal disaster. Those who are exposed to the martyrological ordeal are likely to become master-models of moral perseverance and standing. Their personal agony is turned into a display of public heroism. If they do not succeed in securing for themselves physical survival, they still survive in the memory of people as models of courage and moral integrity. Martyrs are likely to be viewed as heroes who could look into the face of death without succumbing to selfish desires of physical survival.

Socrates and Rabbi ‘Aqiva are victims whose deaths received the limelight of historical attention. They were executed for different reasons and at different times. Their respective deaths are almost minutely recorded. Their names stand out in history as heroes whose moral standing and steadfastness are of exemplary importance.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1998

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