‘Who Were the Maccabees?’ The Maccabean Martyrs and Performances of Christian Difference

Book Section (Chapter)

Jennifer Knust surveys the gradual canonisation of the Maccabean martyrs within a collection of Christian sacred texts. The eventual adoption of these martyrs as proto-Christian models of faith were clearly the result of a complex but now lost process of reconfiguration and appropriation. This march forward of a Christian Maccabean cult also coincides with a post-Julian consolidation of Christian ascendancy that began during Julian’s reign and was then further advanced during the ramping up of Christianisation following his death. The introduction of the Christian cult of the Maccabean martyrs can be interpreted both as an anti-Jewish Christian response to changing circumstances under Julian and as evidence that the traditions associated with the Maccabees endured as a continuing site of Christian-Jewish interaction even as these same martyrs were spiritualised. The fourth-century re-signification of these martyrs as Christian participated in what Andrew Jacobs describes as the ‘historicisation’ of the Jew, a process that renders living Jews merely ‘historical’ by transferring the Jew or the Jew’s remains into an embodied, living Christian past. Once the martyrs were detached from earlier commemorative contexts, they served to buttress particular, disputed formulations of Christian rather than Jewish identity. According to Knust, the reverberations of this process reach beyond their initial settings and Christian anti-Judaism, rhetorical or real, and have persisted within ongoing and contested histories of difference.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Wright Knust, J

Cited Editors

  • Willem van Henten, J; Saloul, I

Published Date

  • January 31, 2020

Book Title

  • Martyrdom: Canonization, Contestation, and Afterlives

Start / End Page

  • 79 - 104

Published By

Place of Publication

  • Amsterdam

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.5117/9789462988187_ch03