Anna-Liisa Tolonen

tolonen-al Anna-Liisa Tolonen, Doctoral student
A Popular Story from the Past: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Witness to the Mother and Her Seven Sons

My dissertation project concerns popular traditions of the story of the mother and her seven sons, the earliest dated versions of which are found in the apocryphal books (2 Maccabees 7 and 4 Maccabees 8:1ff.). The reception of these ‘Maccabean martyrs’ has been analyzed in several case studies and a few monographs, mainly in light of Christian evidence. As for my thesis, I would like to emphasize insights derived from a historical comparative analysis of the story in its various versions.

Central themes to be explored in my thesis:

(1) The early versions of the story are contextualized in the in late Second Temple Jewish and early Christian literature. I analyze the narrative constructions and the main characters by comparison with other relevant popular narrative sources which circulated at the time. Moreover, I evaluate the historically significant roles given to them in ancient historiography and compare the results with excerpts from later historiographical, both Christian and Jewish, sources.

(2) The recognition of ‘the Maccabees’ as Christian martyrs is accounted for in several late antique Christian homilies. I analyze the issue as part of the Christian identity formation of the time, in connection with Christian attitudes and relationships toward Judaism and Jews.

(3) The story of the mother and her seven sons is best known as a story of martyrdom and various notion(s) of martyrdom are attached to it in some early Christian, Islamic, and rabbinical sources. I exhibit these notions – such as, of witness, persistence, and adherence to true religion – and analyze comparatively the ideologies of the martyrdom which the characters of the story are made to model.