Catalogue


Perfect martyr : the stoning of Stephen and the construction of Christian identity /
Shelly Matthews.
imprint
New York : Oxford University Press, 2010.
description
viii, 226 p.
ISBN
0195393325 (Cloth), 9780195393323 (Cloth)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : Oxford University Press, 2010.
isbn
0195393325 (Cloth)
9780195393323 (Cloth)
contents note
Situating Acts -- Perfect martyr: situating Stephen within Acts -- Disrupting Acts: reading Stephen alongside James, the brother of Jesus -- "Father, forgive them": the place of the perfect prayer in the construction of Christian identity.
catalogue key
7299530
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2011-03-01:
Perfect Martyr is a sophisticated academic study of great value to scholars and graduate students interested in the social construction of early Christian identity through ideology and rhetoric. Matthews (Furman Univ.) is the author of First Converts: Rich Pagan Women and the Rhetoric of Mission in Early Judaism and Christianity (2001). She is also coeditor of Violence in the New Testament (2005), a chapter of which has been expanded into the present book. The scope of this book includes a broad survey of Luke-Acts, an assessment of Stephen's martyrdom account in its literary and historical context, and a study of how early Christians used this martyrdom account to construct a distinct sociological identity vis-a-vis Judaism. Perfect Martyr builds on similar works such as Daniel Boyarin's Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (CH, Nov'00, 38-1500). Those interested in a more general survey of early Christian martyrdom might consult the dated yet foundational work by W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church (CH, Feb'68). Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students and researchers/faculty. J. P. Blosser Benedictine College
Reviews
Review Quotes
"The big circle of her argument takes up the problems of normatively seeing ourselves as innocent victims, of sanctifying violence, and, specifically, of narrating violent deeds of others as justification for violence. Any who are not uncomfortable about one or more of these issues are not listening. . . .Perfect Martyris a scholarly book that also faces pressing contemporary issues."--Review of Biblical Literature(reviewed by Richard Pervo, authorACTS: A Commentary) "Seldom have I learned so much from a book and simultaneously dissented so much. The book is a pearl of research, thoroughly and astutely annotated. Matthews makes the best case I have read for a second-century anti-Marcionite setting for Acts."--Review of Biblical Literature(reviewed by Robert Brawley of McCormick Theological Seminary) "Theoretically sophisticated and historically grounded, Shelly Matthews'Perfect Martyris the most compelling study ever produced of Stephen, Christianity's first martyr. More than that, it exposes the ideological investments of the author "Luke" who establishes his Christian self-identity at the expense of the fictitious Other, the fabricated figure of the violent Jew." --Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill "Building upon her earlier ground-breaking study of women in the Lukan narrative, here Shelly Matthews pushes the envelope even further. Through a detailed study of the texts and traditions related to Stephen, she shows how early Christian self-definition is predicated on the disfiguration of the other. One will not think about early Christian constructions of and interactions with Judaism in the same way after encountering such thoughtful and engaging analysis." --Todd Penner, author ofIn Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography "Perfect Martyris an innovative and utterly persuasive reading of the account of the death of Stephen in the New Testament. Matthews shows how the narrative insulation of Roman authorities from culpability produces Jewish guilt and Christian innocent victimhood simultaneously and asks trenchant questions about the theological reverberations of this troubling rhetorical move across time. A must read for scholars and non-specialists alike." --Elizabeth A. Castelli, author ofMartyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making "Brilliantly challenging regnant scholarly assumptions concerning the historicity of the stoning of Stephen, Matthews shows how this narrative perfectly encapsulates the anti-Jewish rhetoric of Luke-Acts and traces its seminal role in the construction of Christians as distinct from Jews and of Jews as murderous and savage. Matthews's important contribution to the study of early Jewish-Christian relations thus also demonstrates a broader truth: the act of narrating the violence of others is a potent strategy for legitimating one's own use of violence." --Ra'anan S. Boustan, author of FromMartyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism
"Theoretically sophisticated and historically grounded, Shelly Matthews' Perfect Martyr is the most compelling study ever produced of Stephen, Christianity's first martyr. More than that, it exposes the ideological investments of the author "Luke" who establishes his Christian self-identity at the expense of the fictitious Other, the fabricated figure of the violent Jew." --Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill"Building upon her earlier ground-breaking study of women in the Lukan narrative, here Shelly Matthews pushes the envelope even further. Through a detailed study of the texts and traditions related to Stephen, she shows how early Christian self-definition is predicated on the disfiguration of the other. One will not think about early Christian constructions of and interactions with Judaism in the same way after encountering such thoughtful and engaging analysis." --Todd Penner, author of In Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography" Perfect Martyr is an innovative and utterly persuasive reading of the account of the death of Stephen in the New Testament. Matthews shows how the narrative insulation of Roman authorities from culpability produces Jewish guilt and Christian innocent victimhood simultaneously and asks trenchant questions about the theological reverberations of this troubling rhetorical move across time. A must read for scholars and non-specialists alike." --Elizabeth A. Castelli, author of Martyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making
"Theoretically sophisticated and historically grounded, Shelly Matthews'Perfect Martyris the most compelling study ever produced of Stephen, Christianity's first martyr. More than that, it exposes the ideological investments of the author "Luke" who establishes his Christian self-identity at the expense of the fictitious Other, the fabricated figure of the violent Jew." --Bart D. Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill "Building upon her earlier ground-breaking study of women in the Lukan narrative, here Shelly Matthews pushes the envelope even further. Through a detailed study of the texts and traditions related to Stephen, she shows how early Christian self-definition is predicated on the disfiguration of the other. One will not think about early Christian constructions of and interactions with Judaism in the same way after encountering such thoughtful and engaging analysis." --Todd Penner, author ofIn Praise of Christian Origins: Stephen and the Hellenists in Lukan Apologetic Historiography "Perfect Martyris an innovative and utterly persuasive reading of the account of the death of Stephen in the New Testament. Matthews shows how the narrative insulation of Roman authorities from culpability produces Jewish guilt and Christian innocent victimhood simultaneously and asks trenchant questions about the theological reverberations of this troubling rhetorical move across time. A must read for scholars and non-specialists alike." --Elizabeth A. Castelli, author ofMartyrdom and Memory: Early Christian Culture Making "Brilliantly challenging regnant scholarly assumptions concerning the historicity of the stoning of Stephen, Matthews shows how this narrative perfectly encapsulates the anti-Jewish rhetoric of Luke-Acts and traces its seminal role in the construction of Christians as distinct from Jews and of Jews as murderous and savage. Matthews's important contribution to the study of early Jewish-Christian relations thus also demonstrates a broader truth: the act of narrating the violence of others is a potent strategy for legitimating one's own use of violence." --Ra'anan S. Boustan, author of FromMartyr to Mystic: Rabbinic Martyrology and the Making of Merkavah Mysticism
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, March 2011
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Summaries
Bowker Data Service Summary
This book analyzes Stephen's perfection, both his rhetorical fittingness & Christian tradition concerning the significance of his dying forgiveness prayer. It questions the historicity, underscores Acts' rhetorical violence, and reads Acts against narratives of the martyrdom of James as a means to a richer history of early Jewish-Christian relations.
Main Description
A number of recent studies have examined martyrdom as a means of identity construction. Shelly Matthews argues that the story of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, should be brought into this scholarly conversation. Stephen's story is told in the biblical book of Acts. He has, with near unanimity, been classified as unquestionably a real historical figure, probably because of the narrative coherence and canonical status of the book in which he appears. Matthews points to multiple signals that Stephen functions for Luke (the author of Acts) as a symbolic character. She suggests reframing the Stephen story not in terms of the impossible task of ascertaining "what really happened," but in terms of rhetoric and ethics. All aspects of the Stephen story, she argues, from his name to the manner in which he is killed, are perfectly suited to the rhetorical aims of Luke-Acts. The story undergirds Acts' hostile depiction of the Jews; conforms largely to Roman imperial aims; and introduces radical identity claims of a "marcionite" character. Stephen's role as a typological martyr also explains this 2nd-century text's otherwise eccentric treatment of Christian martyrdom. Matthews juxtaposes the Stephen story with related extra-canonical narratives of the martyrdom of James, thus undercutting the perfect coherence and singularity of the canonical narrative and evoking a more complex historical narrative of violence, solidarity, and resistance among Jews and Christians under empire. Finally, she looks at the traditional reason Stephen is considered the perfect martyr: his dying prayer for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Noting that this prayer was frequently read as idealizing Stephen, while having no effect on those for whom he prayed, she discovers a parallel the Roman discourse of clemency. Any other reading, she says, poses a potentially radical challenge to the cosmic framework of talionic justice, which explains the prayer's complicated reception history.
Main Description
A number of recent studies have examined martyrdom as a means of identity construction. Shelly Matthews argues that the story of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, should be brought into this scholarly conversation. Stephen's story is told in the biblical book of Acts. He has, with nearunanimity, been classified as unquestionably a real historical figure, probably because of the narrative coherence and canonical status of the book in which he appears. Matthews points to multiple signals that Stephen functions for Luke (the author of Acts) as a symbolic character. She suggestsreframing the Stephen story not in terms of the impossible task of ascertaining "what really happened," but in terms of rhetoric and ethics. All aspects of the Stephen story, she argues, from his name to the manner in which he is killed, are perfectly suited to the rhetorical aims of Luke-Acts. Thestory undergirds Acts' hostile depiction of the Jews; conforms largely to Roman imperial aims; and introduces radical identity claims of a "marcionite" character. Stephen's role as a typological martyr also explains this 2nd-century text's otherwise eccentric treatment of Christian martyrdom.Matthews juxtaposes the Stephen story with related extra-canonical narratives of the martyrdom of James, thus undercutting the perfect coherence and singularity of the canonical narrative and evoking a more complex historical narrative of violence, solidarity, and resistance among Jews andChristians under empire. Finally, she looks at the traditional reason Stephen is considered the perfect martyr: his dying prayer for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Noting that this prayer was frequently read as idealizing Stephen, while having no effect on those for whom he prayed, shediscovers a parallel the Roman discourse of clemency. Any other reading, she says, poses a potentially radical challenge to the cosmic framework of talionic justice, which explains the prayer's complicated reception history.
Main Description
Recent studies have examined martyrdom as a means of constructing Christian identity, but until now none has focused on Stephen, the first Christian martyr. For the author of Luke-Acts, the stoning of Stephen-- even more than the death of Jesus-- underscores the perfidy of non-believing Jews, the extravagant mercy of Christians, and the inevitable rift that will develop between these two social groups. Stephen's dying prayer that his persecutors be forgiven-the prayer for which he is hailed in Christian tradition as the "perfect martyr" plays a crucial role in drawing an unprecedented distinction between Jewish and early Christian identities. Shelly Matthews deftly situates Stephen's story within the emerging discourse of early Christian martyrdom. Though Stephen is widely acknowledged to be an actual historical figure, Matthews points to his name, his manner of death, and to other signs that his martyrdom was ideally suited to the rhetorical purposes of Acts and its author, Luke: to uphold Roman views of security and respectability, to show non-believing Jews to disadvantage, and to convey that Christianity was an exceptionally merciful religion. By drawing parallels between Acts and stories of the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus, Matthews challenges the coherent canonical narrative of Acts and questions common assumptions about the historicity of Stephen's martyrdom. She also offers a radical new reading of Stephen's last prayer, showing the complex and sometimes violent effects of its modern interpretations. Perfect Martyr illuminates the Stephen story as never before, offering a deeply nuanced picture of violence, solidarity, and resistance among Jews and early Christians, a key to understanding the early development of a non-Jewish Christian identity, and an innovative reframing of one of the most significant stories in the Bible.

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