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E06956: The Homily (memrā) on the Maccabean Martyrs (pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch, S00303) is written in Syriac during the late 5th/early 6th c. by Jacob of Serugh (c. 451-521). It celebrates the story of the martyrdom of the nine pre-Christian martyrs, while putting emphasis on the relevance of their martyrdom for Christians.

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posted on 2018-10-19, 00:00 authored by sminov
Jacob of Serugh, Homily on the Maccabean Martyrs


The main body of the Homily (pp. 349-358) recounts the story of the martyrdom of the seven Jewish young men, their mother Shmuni, and priest Eleazar under the king Antiochus, and constitutes a paraphrase of the biblical account as it appears in the Books of Maccabees. The primary theological rationale of the Homily, expressed in the introductory (pp. 347-349) and concluding sections (pp. 359-360), is that although the Maccabees suffered before the coming of Christ, no Christian should undervalue their martyrdom, because they sacrificed their lives out of love for Christ.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Maccabean Martyrs, pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch : S00303

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Liturgical texts - Hymns Literary - Sermons/Homilies


  • Syriac

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region


Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Serugh Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Major author/Major anonymous work

Jacob of Serugh

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Chant and religious singing

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts


The Homily on the Maccabean Martyrs is a poetic celebration of the martyrdom of the nine Jewish martyrs under the Seleucid king Antiochus IV (r. 175-164 BCE). The Homily belongs to the literary genre of memrā, a narrative poem that employs couplets all in the same syllabic meter. Such poems, which appear to have been recited rather than sung, were presumably used in the liturgy, though there is no evidence from Late Antiquity of exactly how it happened. There is a critical edition of the Homily, prepared by Roger-Youssef Akhrass and Imad Syryany on the basis of four out of five existing manuscripts. Syriac text: Akhrass & Syryany 2017, vol. 1, 347-362. For general information on Jacob and his oeuvre, see Brock 2011; Lange 2004; Alwan 1986.


The Homily bears witness to the enduring popularity of the Maccabean Martyrs among Syriac-speaking Christians of Mesopotamia during the late 5th and early 6th centuries.


Main editions and translations: Akhrass, R.-Y., and Syryany, I., 160 Unpublished Homilies of Jacob of Serugh. 2 vols (Damascus: Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, 2017). Further reading: Alwan, K., “Bibliographie générale raisonnée de Jacques de Saroug († 521),” Parole de l’Orient 13 (1986), 313-384. Brock, S.P., “Ya‘qub of Serugh,” in: S.P. Brock, A.M. Butts, G.A. Kiraz and L. van Rompay (eds.), Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011), 433-435. Lange, C., “Jakob von Sarug, † 521,” in: W. Klein (ed.), Syrische Kirchenväter (Urban-Taschenbücher 587; Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 2004), 217-227.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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