Friday, December 18, 2009

a martyrological discussion of Ignatius

I started reading Clayton Jefford's The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), an easy-to-follow introduction to this disparate corpus of texts from sundry times, locales, and occasions. Of course, I'm especially interested in these texts' participation in traditional universes, and in particular how those universes relate to those of the NT texts. As I've stated elsewhere, Ignatius seems to be remarkably detached from the universes defined by and populated with Hebrew biblical traditions, traditions which seem to inform and contextualize just about every word of the New Testament.

So I was very intrigued when Jefford's begins his discussion of martyrologies in the Apostolic Fathers (a discussion that first turns to Ignatius' letters) by briefly mentioning 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees. The utility of these Jewish texts for framing Ignatius' letters isn't immediately apparent, as Jeffords notes (e.g., p. 47, n. 16). Jefford writes,

The matter of martyrologies within early patristic literature is most interesting in that the roots of this genre surely must lie within late [sic] Jewish and early Christian literature. At the same time, however, those roots are perhaps vague at best. For our present purposes, I will initiate the discussion of the genre "martyrology" with the works of 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees. . . . I begin with these texts because it is evident to me that the bishop Ignatius envisioned himself and his predicament within the borders of the philosophy of "reason over passion" extolled by the author of 4 Maccabees. (Jeffords 2006: 47)

I want Jefford to be right, but two points give me pause. First, I'm just not sure how Jefford conceives ancient Judaism that he can refer to Roman-era texts as "late Jewish literature." This, of course, was the standard way of referencing Jewish texts among NT scholars of a previous generation, and I hope Jefford is not falling into that way of thinking. This is a deceptively significant issue; Does Jefford conceive Judaism as coming to an end (and therefore no longer interacting with) the early church? I don't think so, but I can't explain the language otherwise.

Second, the link between Ignatius and 4 Maccabees is very tenuous: "The terminology that Ignatius employs in his letters and the position that he assumes with respect to his captors seem to betray his dependence upon the perspective of this text" (viz., 4 Maccabees; 2006: 47–48; my emphasis). Jefford only explicitly names one link: Ignatius' famous reference to his captors as "leopards" [λεόπαρδοι; leopardoi] at Ign. Rom. 5.1 (cf. 4 Macc 9.28). Otherwise, notice that the dependence is merely "upon the perspective of" 4 Maccabees. If this is all the two share, I'm inclined to side with Bowersock, "who argues that Ignatius and the author of 4 Maccabees simply are the common participants of their times" (Jefford 2006: 47, n. 16; citing G. W. Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995], 77–82).

If we prefer Bowersock to Jefford here, then it strikes me as all the more surprising that Jewish tradition, biblical as well as post-biblical, offered such robust resources for Ignatius to comprehend and respond to his world. But he doesn't utilize those resources in any significant way. And coupled with Paul's immersion in a biblical universe—Paul, of whom Ignatius is demonstrably fond—I am "doubly all the more surprised" at Ignatius lack of reference to Israelite tradition. Could this be intentional? If so, why? What does this say about the Antiochene bishop's conception of Christianity and the church? Questions questions everywhere!

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