Religious martyrdom is considered one of the more significant contributions of Hellenistic Judaism to western civilization. Out of the conflict between King Antichos Epiphanes IV and the Jewish people, it is believed, the concept of voluntary death for God unfolded. With few exceptions, this assumption has lasted from the early Christian period to this day, accepted both by Jews and Christians. To mention one example, W. H. C. Frend followed the opinion that from early times “Judaism was itself a religion of martyrdom.” In his view, it was the “Jewish psychology of martyrdom” that inspired Christian martyrdom.
An exception to this long-lasting scholarly consensus is G. W. Bowersock's Martyrdom and Rome. Focusing on non-Jewish documents, Bowersock viewed martyrdom “alien to both the Greeks and the Jews.” In his opinion, “like the very word ‘martyr’ itself, martyrdom had nothing to do with Judaism or with Palestine. It had everything to do with the Graeco-Roman world, its traditions, its language, and its cultural tastes.” According to Bowersock, martyrdom is a Christian concept that developed in the Roman cultural climate. Subsequently, this Christian notion made its way into Judaism. Bowersock's view, however, still remains the exception among scholars.
My approach is compatible with Bowersock's, although with less defined borders with respect to cultural and religious separations. By focusing on the Jewish texts of the Greco-Roman period, I intend to show that voluntary death for religious purposes emerged in the Roman environment in a process that internalized the Roman “noble death” ideal and that was accelerated by the arrival of Christianity.