Alexandrian Martyrs, Acts of

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ALEXANDRIAN MARTYRS, ACTS OF , genre of patriotic Alexandrian literature containing heavy overtones of antisemitism. This is known also as the "Acts of the Pagan Martyrs" (mistakenly, since the martyrdom has nothing to do with religion). Fragments of this literature were first published at the end of the 19th century. At that time the fragments were understood to be of a strictly official nature, in effect the protocols of numerous trials of Alexandrian representatives before the Roman Caesars. These missions would inevitably end in the execution of the delegates, thus arousing further the Alexandrians' hatred both of the emperor and his presumed allies, the Jews, although a number of specimens make no mention of their part in the proceedings. With the publication of additional fragments, this view was modified, and it is now accepted that "this genre has nothing to do with official documents, and the protocol form… is merely a literary disguise" (Tcherikover, Corpus, 2 (1960), 56).

The background for the various trials covers a period of 150 years. The earliest embassy is associated with *Caligula (37–41), the latest (Acta Appiani) probably refers to the emperor Commodus (180–192). However, the most widely discussed fragments are those belonging to the Acta Isidori et Lamponis (for literature see ibid., 66–67). Isidoros, the head of the gymnasium of Alexandria, launched a vigorous attack against the Jewish king *Agrippa i, and summoned him before the court of Claudius. The dialogue between the emperor and Isidoros is heated. At one point Claudius refers to Isidoros as "the son of a girl-musician" (i.e., a woman of loose morals) whereupon the latter immediately rebuts: "I am neither a slave nor a girl-musician's son, but gymnasiarch of the glorious city of Alexandria. But you are the cast-off son of the Jewess Salome!" (ibid., 80f.). Isidoros and his colleague Lampon were immediately sentenced to death. The trial probably took place in 41 c.e. (although many scholars favor 53), for in that year a series of debates on Jewish civic rights came before Claudius. It would be mistaken, however, to conclude from this document that all the Acts were aimed solely at arousing anti-Jewish sentiment. Tcherikover has shown clearly that antisemitism in the Acts "plays a secondary part only, the major theme of the work being the clash between the Alexandrians and Rome." The author's main purpose was to ridicule the Roman emperors, and for this purpose it was often sufficient to allude to the alleged cordial understanding between the emperors and the Jews.


H.A. Musurillo, The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs (1954); Tcherikover, Corpus, 2 (1960), 55–107 nos. 154–9.

[Isaiah Gafni]

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Alexandrian Martyrs, Acts of

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