Category Archives: Publications and Papers

Death Rituals (Douglas Davies, video)

I need to save this for later. And I want to share.

Professor Douglas Davies, Department of Theology and Religion, discusses the development of rituals in crematoria, and woodland and natural burials.

what if Jesus died for God’s honor?

I realize this thesis has never been proposed before so bear with me…

In reading through what Jarvis Williams calls “martyrdom theology” I come across Eleazar of 2 Maccabees:

Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. 19 But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, 20 spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life.

21 Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. 22 Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. 23 But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!”

Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-fi...
Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC. Said to be from Vulci. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

24 “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. 25 If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. 26 Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. 27 Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, 28 and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”

He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. 29 Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. 30 When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” 31 This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.

Note specifically v.26-28. There is a connection between honor and blasphemy. If Jesus died as martyr, or with the theology of martyrdom on his side, then he died in response to the honor of God.

I don’t necessarily believe that is the case, as you should know by now; however, the story does give us a sense that there exists a connection, just as in suicide, for a chosen death and a sense of honor. Eleazar dies devoted to God — as a devotion to God — to avoid dishonoring God.

Moving to Martyrdom

English: "Martyrdom of St. Paul", fr...
English: “Martyrdom of St. Paul”, from an 1887 copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs illustrated by Kronheim. Français : Le martyr de Saint Paul. Illustration par du Livre des martyrs (Book of Martyrs) de Foxe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

thoughts, unedited. Many of my commentators are helping me so thank you. 


Self-inflicted death is not the only sort of chosen death mentioned in Scripture. Likewise, there is the death chosen in lieu of violating God’s law or as a witness to one’s system of belief. It is too neat a dichotomy to suggest the suicides above occur because of internal motives but the martyrdoms below are easily external. While the suicides are clearly a result of the choice of the individual based usually on some sense of honor, we cannot too easily separate the notion of blasphemy of a deity from that of personal honor. Indeed, to dishonor one’s parents (Leviticus 24.15–16) was conflated with blasphemy against God. While this development is not easily seen in the Mosaic Law, it becomes apparent with later writings, such as Ben Sira who writes, “ὁ δοξάζων πατέρα μακροημερεύσει, καὶ ὁ εἰσακούων Κυρίου ἀναπαύσει μητέρα αὐτοῦ. (3.6)”[1] In verse 3, honor is equated to an atonement. By the time we get to Rabbinical Judaism, the connection is fully developed so that Rabbis could say that God worked with parents to create the child. 1 Clement treats the mutiny of the Corinthians as a dishonor to the Apostles and a blasphemy to God (1 Clement 47). However, what may separate suicide from martyrdom is the perception that suicide is for self-regarding reasons (internal) while martyrdom is for God or another good besides themselves (external). Even then, we have those who cross the gray area such as the case of Ahithophel who may have died to preserve his estate rather than his honor. Regardless, even in martyrdom, a choice is often present even though it is not self-inflicted.

The use of martyr to describe death because of religious persecution is not found in Jewish thought until the beginning of Christianity. However, there are stories of those who suffered and died because of their religious beliefs.[2] During the Second Temple period, suicide and martyrdom become somewhat mingled. For instance, the Jewish threat to Emperor Gaius includes not only promise of a slaughter of the innocents but so too suicide in protest of the proposed statue. “,Aποθανόντων τὸ ἐπίταγμα γενέσθω μέμψαιτʼ ἂν οὐδὲ θεὸς ἡμᾶς ἀμφοτέρων στοχαζομένους καὶ τῆς πρὸς τὸν αὐτοκράτορα εὐλαβείας καὶ τῆς πρὸς τοὺς καθωσιωμένους νόμους ἀποδοχῆς· γενήσεται δὲ τοῦτο ἐὰν ὑπεκστῶμεν ἀβιώτου βίου καταφρονήσαντες.”[3] This has a recognizable history as part of the New Testament canon (specifically Hebrews 11). There is, of course, the religious death of the figure mentioned in Isaiah 52–53. Daniel records a possible massacre (11.29–34) with the promise of resurrection (12.1–3).[4] In the latter author’s case, it is probable he is referring to the time of the Maccabees. The same series of casualties is recorded in the Testament of Moses. Perhaps the best-known execution tales escaping Second Temple Judaism is the story of the mother with seven sons (2 Maccabees 7, cf 4 Maccabees 8; perhaps referenced in Hebrews 11.35–36) and Eleazar (2 Maccabees 6.18–31). Likewise, there is the death of John the Baptizer, Stephen, and even Paul — all considered martyred. Josephus (BJ 7.320–406) records the suicidal martyrs at Masada, although in tones barely above that of his previous speech condemning those who take their own life.


In this section, I will examine briefly the Maccabean martyr tradition followed by the death of the Jews as Masada. Rather than delving into canonical examples of martyrdom, I believe it is better to focus on that which has already been identified as aiding the developing notion of an atoning death. “…The concept of Jesus’ death as saving event had as its creative source a tradition of beneficial, effective human death for others…this concept originated among Christians who not only spoke Greek but were also thoroughly at home in the Greek-Hellenistic thought world.[5]

[1] Blidstein, Honor Thy Father and Mother: Filial Responsibility in Jewish Law and Ethics, 2–5.

[2] F.F. Bruce suggests Abel is the first known martyr, a tradition in the Old Testament culminating with Zachariah. “In particular, it appears that Chronicles came at the end of the Bible which they used: when our Lord sums up all the martyrs of Old Testament times He does so by mentioning the first martyr in Genesis (Abel) and the last martyr in Chronicles (Zechariah). (See Lk. xi. 51 with 2 Ch. xxiv. 21).” F.F. Bruce, “The Canon of Scripture,” Inter-Varsity (Autumn 1954): 19-22.

[3] Philo, Legatio ad Gaium, 236.

[4] The Book of Daniel contains two more stories of martyrdom, albeit unsuccessful martyrdoms (Daniel 3 and 6).

[5] See Sam K. Williams, Jesus’ Death as Saving Event: The Background and Origin of a Concept,” 230. Further, I will rely on Jarvis Williams’ recent work (Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul’s Theology of Atonement) in developing some of the allowance that martyrdom could be an atoning death — while maintaining the devotio (contra to Williams) is not a type of martyrdom.

Suicide – A Defence by Simon Critchley


Samson Captured by the Philistines
Samson Captured by the Philistines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

notes. not edited. notes. 

In attempting to decide whether or not to place him and his self-inflicted death as a devotio, I examined his status before death (explained in chapter ____ below) as well as the intent. The story of Samson, I maintain, does not fit easily into our already too-gray categories. Because of that, I will place Samson first in the category of self-inflicted death and examine him as such, but will use him in a later chapter as a type of devotio.[1] Before Samson’s life begins, it is announced via the angelical proclamation (Judges 13.2–20); however, there is nothing divine about him as a person. He does have great strength and a great mind, but this is due more to his vows than to a seminal merger of human and divine. After years of success against the Philistines, he succumbs to a trick by Delilah. Sometime later:

וְסַרְנֵ֣י פְלִשְׁתִּ֗ים נֶֽאֱסְפוּ֙ לִזְבֹּ֧חַ זֶֽבַח־גָּד֛וֹל לְדָג֥וֹן אֱלֹהֵיהֶ֖ם וּלְשִׂמְחָ֑ה וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ נָתַ֤ן אֱלֹהֵ֨ינוּ֙ בְּיָדֵ֔נוּ אֵ֖ת שִׁמְשׁ֥וֹן אוֹיְבֵֽינוּ׃

This is another event in Judges where a Jew dies in a contest between God and some foreign but cosmic adversary. In this case, the point is made clear when the mocking of the God of the Israelites precedes the death of Samson (Judges 16.23–24).[2] If we compare this to the other suicides presented herein, it is the only one bearing the marks of a narrow definition of suicide. It is pre-mediated and planned. He is led out and is placed between two pillars, feigning weakness – which should lead us against the notion of a noble death. After imploring God’s help for vengeance against those who had blinded him, he says begs that his death be counted amount the Philistines:[3]

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שִׁמְשׁ֗וֹן תָּמ֣וֹת נַפְשִׁי֮ עִם־פְּלִשְׁתִּים֒ וַיֵּ֣ט בְּכֹ֔חַ וַיִּפֹּ֤ל הַבַּ֨יִת֙ עַל־הַסְּרָנִ֔ים וְעַל־כָּל־הָעָ֖ם אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ֑ וַיִּהְי֤וּ הַמֵּתִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר הֵמִ֣ית בְּמוֹתֹ֔ו רַבִּ֕ים מֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר הֵמִ֖ית בְּחַיָּֽיו׃

While the blindness may be symbolic here, it should be noted the revenge motive is rather personal. He dies not to save Israel or as an action devoted to God, but as a way to kill others for the wrong that had been enacted against him.[4] The whole of Samson’s story is rather important because it not only summarizes the history of Israel’s judges, but so too the cyclical formation of the Book of Judges. Ironically, it is God’s help allowing Samson to commit suicide, another cycle since it is God’s assistance that brings Samson into the world.

[1] I have to agree with Mays, et al., that “Samson’s death is not, strictly speaking, a suicide, since God grants his prayer for death, accepting him as an instrument through which to carry out the divine plan, (Harper’s Bible, 258);” however, with a broad definition of self-inflicted death is employed, then it does.

[2] Compare this to 1 Kings 18.40.

[3] Because of this statement, Samson’s death could be seen as a type of noble death. The Homeric Hecktor cries out just before his death, “Μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην, Ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι” (Illiad 23.304) while Arrians says of Alexander, “Μεγάλα ἔργα, καὶ τοῖς ἔπειτα πυθέσθαι ἄξια ἐργασάμενος οὐκ ἀσπουδεὶ ἀποθανεῖται” (De Exped. Alexand., 6.9).

[4] It should be noted that chapter 16 begins with a different situation for Samson. In previous chapters, the Spirit of God was present yet here, it is made clear that the Spirit of God had abandoned Samson, if not Israel as a whole.