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Polycarp's Cup: Imitatio in the Martyrdom of Polycarp


  • L. Stephanie Cobb

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    • Stephanie Cobb is George and Sallie Cutchin Camp Professor of Bible, Associate Professor in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Richmond.

  • The argument contained in this article was first presented at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in the Hellenistic Moral Philosophy programme unit. It was also subsequently presented at the Columbia New Testament Seminar and at the Late Antiquity Workshop sponsored by the Departments of Middle Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, and Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. I wish to thank the audience members in these venues for their comments. In addition, I wish to thank the anonymous readers for Journal of Religious History for their invaluable suggestions. I am especially grateful to the following individuals for their thoughtful comments on drafts of this article: Adela Yarbro Collins, Kate Cooper, Jennifer Ebbeler, Diane Lipsett, Candida Moss, Claudia Setzer, Emma Wasserman, and L. Michael White.


While imitatio Christi has widely been recognised as a narrative element of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, other possible literary allusions have been under-explored. This article examines the presence of allusions to the death of Socrates in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. Socrates was often used in Christian apologetic contexts, thus its possible presence in Martyrdom of Polycarp is not surprising. This article seeks to understand the narrative function of Socratic allusions, especially relating to the text's construction of martyrdom and its Christology. It posits that imitatio Christi and imitatio Socratis function together apologetically to demonstrate the reasonableness of Christian worship of Jesus.