Saturday, 2 May 2015

Ryan Bowley: The Death of Christ and His Martyrs: Instances of a Hellenistic Archetype

In "Jesus' Death as Saving Event," Sam Williams contends that the origin of the Christian concept that persons could die on behalf of others is properly to be found in the Hellenistic archetype of the hero who dies for his compatriots. Accordingly, I intend to examine this Hellenistic motif as a discursive element with significant currency in the earliest centuries of Christianity. I contend that in early Christian texts, the meaning of Christ's death is decidedly underdeveloped, and therefore that these texts reflect a climate in which that element of the Christian imagination was greatly in flux. I wish to further scholarship by incorporating into the discussion of death's efficacy, typically limited to Christology, the much-debated question of the meaning of the suffering and death of the martyr. I will reexamine passages in the Gospels, Colossians 1:24, the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, and 1 Clement, regarding them as separate invocations of this same archetype of one who dies on behalf of another, regardless of whether the death is that of Christ or of an ordinary Christian. Recent scholarship has limited itself to the consideration that martyrs understood themselves to be mimicking Christ or participating in the original efficacy of the cross. My approach seeks to expand this discussion by locating it in view of the Hellenistic notion that one could die for another, which I contend might have provided the basis, through various interpretive implementations, both for interpretations of Christ's death and for the deaths of the martyrs.

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