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Martyrdom and Rome (Wiles Lectures Given at the Queen's University of Belfast) Paperback – October 3, 2002

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Product Details

  • Series: Wiles Lectures Given at the Queen's University of Belfast
  • Paperback: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (October 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521530490
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521530491
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"...an interesting book with numerous insightful details....vital for any discussion of early Christian martyrdom." The Journal of Religion

"...a significant contribution to the reawakened interest in the political and social dimensions of Christian martyrdom, as well as in the martyrological narratives themselves....argued with the clarity and magisterial command of the original sources that is characteristic of the author....a pivotal work in the impending debates over the meaning of Christian martyrdom." Brent D. Shaw, Catholic Historical Review

"This is a succinct yet engrossing study, appropriate for both general and specialist audiences." Craig L. Hanson, Church History

Book Description

This book examines the historical context of the earliest Christian martyrs, and anchors their grisly and often wilful self-sacrifice to the everyday life and outlook of the cities (mostly Greek) of the Roman empire. By exploring the remains of contemporary documents of martyrdoms in the centuries before Constantine, it provides a historical explanation of why martyrdom occurred when and as it did, and thereby tries to expose the fundamental assumptions of a radical new form of religious and political dissidence that has been a powerful influence down to our own times.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Horatio5 on February 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Bowersock is a distinguished scholar- particularly of the Greek world- who delivered the Wiles lectures at Belfast- upon which this book is based- in the early 90's.

The book is terse, readable and compelling and it is clear that it would have made an effective lecture series. The importance of marytrdom is set in its cultural context- and its importance for the development of Christianity is analysed. The key mistake of this book is the highly controversial notion that the approach to death of Christian martyrs- because of the etymological development of the greek 'martyr'- was original and is divorcable from previous attitudes to self sacrifice. This rules out the highly likely role of the self sacrifice of the Maccabees of the second century as a formative influence for Christian notions of self sacrifice. This notion has not been approved by scholars- before and since. The Macabees were an important precursor to Christian martyrdom in the shaping of their religious identities.

This said, the book makes an important contribution to awareness of the etymological development of the word 'martyr' itself and problematises its ascription to instances of self sacrifice before the late second century. To call self sacrifice 'martyrdom' before this is shown to be a linguistic anachronism, since the term 'martyr' had not developed this aspect before then.

In summary, Bowersock's book is provocative and well worth reading for anyone interested in the construction of a Christian identity and in the self-definition of the early Christian community in antiquity. Bowersock's powerful knowledge of all things Hellenic generates some startling cross-cultural observations which are of integral importance to conceptions of the development of Christianity and of religion in general throughout antiquity. To be - qualifiedly- recommended.
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