Mary, Mother of Martyrs

How Motherhood Became Self-Sacrifice in Early Christianity

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Kathleen Gallagher Elkins
  • Cambridge, MA: 
    Feminist Studies in Religion
    , August
     178 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Alison Downie forthcoming.


The Virgin Mary has been idealized as a self-sacrificing mother throughout Christian history. But she is not the only maternal figure from early Christian history whose story is connected to violent loss. Thus, this book examines several ancient representations of mothers and children in contexts of socio-political violence (including Mary in the canonical gospels, the female figures in the Revelation to John, the Maccabean mother with seven sons, and the co-martyrs Perpetua and Felicitas) in order to demonstrate the ways that notions of early Christian motherhood, as today, are contextual and are produced for various political, social, and ethical reasons. In each chapter, the ancient maternal figure is juxtaposed with an example of contemporary maternal activism (the madres de Plaza de Mayo, Pussy Riot, women in the FMLN, and women suicide attackers), to highlight the ways that maternal self-sacrifice can be understood as strategic, varied, politically charged, and rhetorically flexible.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Kathleen Gallagher Elkins is assistant professor of theology and religious studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. In 2013, she completed her doctoral studies in New Testament and early Christianity at Drew University, with a concentration in women's and gender studies.


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