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Janowitz, N. (2006). Lusting for Death: Unconscious Fantasies in an Ancient Jewish Martyrdom Text. Psychoanal. Psychol., 23(4):644-653.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(4):644-653

Lusting for Death: Unconscious Fantasies in an Ancient Jewish Martyrdom Text

Naomi Janowitz, Ph.D.

We examine the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons from Second Maccabees 7:1-42, a Greek text from the first century BCE. The story recounts the sons' refusal to eat pork, their torture at the hands of the king, the king's attempts to recruit the mother, her admonition to the sons that they should better die, and finally their deaths (all in one day). The mother and sons gain eternal life (merger) through their submission to the violent human king, an earthly father figure. Unlike animal sacrifice, which completely excluded women, the willingness to sacrifice one's life via martyrdom gives women an odd sense of agency. The mother plays a major role, but it is the role of giving away “motherhood” while instantiating the idealized object of the divine father. Martyrdom fulfills the same unconscious role as animal sacrifice, displacing the human mother in favor of a divine father, and in this case, a father who offers eternal life.

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