Ancient Christian Martyrdom


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Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions

Candida R. Moss

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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.

Candida Moss is Edward Cadbury Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham, UK.

“Candida Moss’ well written book puts the study of ancient martyrdom on a completely new footing by her questioning of received datings and persuasive insistence on the diversity of the sources, practices, and ideologies of martyrdom. It is a milestone in the field.”—Jan Bremmer, University of Groningen

“This is a valuable study on a very important topic and offers a fresh reading of the pre-Decian martyr Acta by a brilliant young scholar who has taken the trouble to gain mastery of the scholarship in both English and German going back to the early modern period, and who is not afraid to go back to the first principles to re-assess the date and context of the sources.”—Kate Cooper, University of Manchester

“Moss successfully overturns longstanding assumptions in reconfiguring our picture of pre-Decian Christian martyrdom, combining erudite awareness of divergent contexts with sophisticated analysis of important texts.  Ancient Christian Martyrdom shows that we didn’t know what we thought we knew—but we now know more and see with fresh insight, thanks to her striking illumination of the vibrant, varied discourses of martyrdom in relationship to ancient Mediterranean attitudes about death, suffering, power, and order.”—Brad S. Gregory, author of Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe

“An insightful new history of early Christian martyrdoms and the social realities that shaped them. Tertullian's famous line that the blood of martyrs was the foundation of the Christian Church takes on new dimensions as Professor Moss carefully traces the complex history of the death of Christian witnesses from the second century through Constantine. This volume will make an important contribution to our understanding of the early church.”—Harold Attridge, Yale University

“Intriguing, fresh, and thought-provoking”—Diane Fruchtman, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 

“Insightful and important”—W. Brian Shelton, Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism

“This book topples what we thought we knew and, in the process, proposes new ways of reading martyrdom literature and thinking about the place of the martyr in ancient Christianity.”—Kyle Smith, Journal of Early Christian Studies

Ancient Christian Martyrdom . . . offers important challenges to some traditional assumptions.”—Amy Brown Hughes, Books & Culture
ISBN: 9780300154658
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
272 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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