A martyr (Greek: μάρτυς, mártys, "witness", or μαρτυρία, marturia, stemμαρτυρ-, martyr-) is someone that suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, or refusing to renounce or advocate, a religious belief or cause as demanded by an external party. In the martyrdom narrative of the remembering community, this refusal to comply with the presented demands results in the punishment or execution of an actor by an alleged oppressor. Accordingly, the status of the 'martyr' can be considered a posthumous title as a reward for those who are considered worthy of the concept of martyrdom by the living, regardless of any attempts by the deceased to control how they will be remembered in advance. Insofar, the martyr is a relational figure of a society's boundary work that is produced by collective memory. Originally applied only to those who suffered for their religious beliefs, the term has come to be used in connection with people killed for a political cause.
Most martyrs are considered holy or are respected by their followers, becoming symbols of exceptional leadership and heroism in the face of difficult circumstances. Martyrs play significant roles in religions. Similarly, martyrs have had notable effects in secular life, including such figures as Socrates, among other political and cultural examples.
In its original meaning, the word martyr, meaning witness, was used in the secular sphere as well as in the New Testament of the Bible. The process of bearing witness was not intended to lead to the death of the witness, although it is known from ancient writers (e.g. Josephus) and from the New Testament that witnesses often died for their testimonies.
During the early Christian centuries, the term acquired the extended meaning of believers who are called to witness for their religious belief, and on account of this witness, endure suffering or death. The term, in this later sense, entered the English language as a loanword. The death of a martyr or the value attributed to it is called martyrdom.
The early Christians who first began to use the term martyr in its new sense saw Jesus as the first and greatest martyr, on account of his crucifixion. The early Christians appear to have seen Jesus as the archetypal martyr.
The word martyr is used in English to describe a wide variety of people. However, the following table presents a general outline of common features present in stereotypical martyrdoms.
A person of some renown who is devoted to a cause believed to be admirable.
People who oppose that cause.
The hero foresees action by opponents to harm him or her, because of his or her commitment to the cause.
Courage and commitment
The hero continues, despite knowing the risk, out of commitment to the cause.
The opponents kill the hero because of his or her commitment to the cause.
The hero's death is commemorated. People may label the hero explicitly as a martyr. Other people may in turn be inspired to pursue the same cause.
In the Baháʼí Faith, martyrs are those who sacrifice their lives serving humanity in the name of God. However, Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, discouraged the literal meaning of sacrificing one's life. Instead, he explained that martyrdom is devoting oneself to service to humanity.
Martyrdom was extensively promoted by the Tongmenghui and the Kuomintang party in modern China. Revolutionaries who died fighting against the Qing dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution and throughout the Republic of China period, furthering the cause of the revolution, were recognized as martyrs.
In Christianity, a martyr, in accordance with the meaning of the original Greek martys in the New Testament, is one who brings a testimony, usually written or verbal. In particular, the testimony is that of the Christian Gospel, or more generally, the Word of God. A Christian witness is a biblical witness whether or not death follows. However, over time many Christian testimonies were rejected, and the witnesses put to death, and the word martyr developed its present sense. Christians believe that where death ensues, the witnesses follow the example of Jesus in offering up their lives for truth.
The concept of Jesus as a martyr has recently received greater attention. Analyses of the Gospel passion narratives have led many scholars to conclude that they are martyrdom accounts in terms of genre and style. Several scholars have also concluded that Paul the Apostle understood Jesus' death as a martyrdom. In light of such conclusions, some have argued that the Christians of the first few centuries would have interpreted the crucifixion of Jesus as a martyrdom.
In the context of church history, from the time of the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire, and Nero it developed that a martyr was one who was killed for maintaining a religious belief, knowing that this will almost certainly result in imminent death (though without intentionally seeking death). This definition of martyr is not specifically restricted to the Christian faith. Though Christianity recognizes certain Old Testament Jewish figures, like Abel and the Maccabees, as holy, and the New Testament mentions the imprisonment and beheading of John the Baptist, Jesus's possible cousin and his prophet and forerunner, the first Christian witness, after the establishment of the Christian faith (at Pentecost), to be killed for his testimony was Saint Stephen (whose name means "crown"), and those who suffer martyrdom are said to have been "crowned". From the time of Constantine, Christianity was decriminalized, and then, under Theodosius I, became the state religion, which greatly diminished persecution (although not for non-Nicene Christians). As some wondered how then they could most closely follow Christ there was a development of desert spirituality, desert monks, self-mortification, ascetics, (Paul the Hermit, St. Anthony), following Christ by separation from the world. This was a kind of white martyrdom, dying to oneself every day, as opposed to a red martyrdom, the giving of one's life in a violent death.
Jan Luyken's drawing of the AnabaptistAnna Utenhoven being buried alive at Vilvoorde (present-day Belgium) in 1597. In the engraving, her head is still above the ground and the Catholic priest is exhorting her to recant her faith, while the executioner stands ready to completely cover her up upon her refusal. This engraving was part of a major Protestant outrage praising Utenhoven as a martyr.
In Christianity, death in sectarian persecution can be viewed as martyrdom. There were martyrs recognized on both sides of the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England after 1534. Two hundred and eighty-eight Christians were martyred for their faith by public burning between 1553 and 1558 by the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I in England leading to the reversion to the Church of England under Queen Elizabeth I in 1559. "From hundreds to thousands" of Waldensians were martyred in the Massacre of Mérindol in 1545. Three hundred Roman Catholics were said to be martyred by the Church authorities in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Even more modern day accounts of martyrdom for Christ exist, depicted in books such as Jesus Freaks, though the numbers are disputed. There are claims that the numbers of Christians killed for their faith annually are greatly exaggerated, but the fact of ongoing Christian martyrdoms remains undisputed.
Despite the promotion of ahimsa (non-violence) within Sanatana Dharma, and there being no concept of martyrdom, there is the belief of righteous duty (dharma), where violence is used as a last resort to resolution after all other means have failed. Examples of this are found in the Mahabharata. Upon completion of their exile, the Pandavas were refused the return of their portion of the kingdom by their cousin Duruyodhana; and following which all means of peace talks by Krishna, Vidura and Sanjaya failed. During the great war which commenced, even Arjuna was brought down with doubts, e.g., attachment, sorrow, fear. This is where Krishna instructs Arjuna how to carry out his duty as a righteous warrior and fight.
Shahid originates from the Quranic Arabic word meaning "witness" and is also used to denote a martyr. Shahid occurs frequently in the Quran in the generic sense "witness", but only once in the sense "martyr, one who dies for his faith"; this latter sense acquires wider use in the hadiths. Islam views a martyr as a man or woman who dies while conducting jihad, whether on or off the battlefield (see greater jihad and lesser jihad).
The concept of the martyr in Islam had been made prominent during the Islamic revolution (1978/79) in Iran and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war, so that the cult of the martyr had a lasting impact on the course of revolution and war.
Martyrdom (called shahadat in Punjabi) is a fundamental concept in Sikhism and represents an important institution of the faith. Sikhs believe in Ibaadat se Shahadat (from love to martyrdom). Some famous Sikh martyrs include:
Guru Arjan, the fifth leader of Sikhism. Guru ji was brutally tortured for almost 5 days before he attained shaheedi, or martyrdom.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of Sikhism, martyred on 11 November 1675. He is also known as Dharam Di Chadar (i.e. "the shield of Religion"), suggesting that to save Hinduism, the guru gave his life.
Bhai Dayala is one of the Sikhs who was martyred at Chandni Chowk at Delhi in November 1675 due to his refusal to accept Islam.
Bhai Mati Das is considered by some one of the greatest martyrs in Sikh history, martyred at Chandni Chowk at Delhi in November 1675 to save Hindu Brahmins.
Bhai Sati Das is also considered by some one of the greatest martyrs in Sikh history, martyred along with Guru Teg Bahadur at Chandni Chowk at Delhi in November 1675 to save kashmiri pandits.
1920 - Yusuf al-Azma, Syrian army commander whose refusal to surrender to the French, his insistence on entering battle with inferior forces and his death commanding the Syrians in Maysalun made him a hero in Syria and the Arab world
1957- Larbi Ben Mhidi, an Algerian Revolutionary leader also one of the 6 leaders of the FLN that fought for the independence of Algeria against the French. He was captured, arrested and tortured to death by the French.
1961 – Patrice Lumumba, born in 1925, assassinated in Mwadingusha in Katanga, Prime minister at the time in 61. He is considered the symbol of the independence of Congo.
1977 – Steve Biko, a South African activist killed in Police Custody for his anti-Apartheid activism.
1978 – Harvey Milk, the first openly gay city council member of a major US city (San Francisco), murdered by fellow city council member Dan White who had previously expressed prejudiced views against homosexuals.
The term "revolutionary martyr" usually relates to those dying in revolutionary struggle. During the 20th century, the concept was developed in particular in the culture and propaganda of communist or socialist revolutions, although it was and is also used in relation to nationalist revolutions.
In India, the term "revolutionary martyr" is often used when referring to the world history of socialist struggle. Guru Radha Kishan was a notable Indian independence activist and communist politician known to have used this phrasing.
In Algeria, 132 years of Colonialism and Algerian War for independence leading up to 20 million Martyrs. Algeria in the Arabic world is knows as the land of a million and a half martyrs. Algerians for the last 6 years leading to 1962 gave 1.6 million martyrs. Today there is a famous movie The Battle of Algiers is seen as a classic and a controversial movie for many people depicting the last 6 years of the Algerian Revolution including Famous revolutionary leader Ali La Pointe .
^Gölz, Olmo "Martyrdom and the Struggle for Power. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Martyrdom in the Modern Middle East.", Behemoth 12, no. 1 (2019): 2–13, 5.
^Gölz, Olmo "The Imaginary Field of the Heroic: On the Contention between Heroes, Martyrs, Victims and Villains in Collective Memory." Archived 2020-01-03 at the Wayback Machine In helden.heroes.héros, Special Issue 5: Analyzing Processes of Heroization. Theories, Methods, Histories. Ed. by N Falkenhayner, S Meurer and T Schlechtriemen (2019): 27–38, 27.
^See e.g. Alison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, ISBN 0-521-60934-8 and ISBN 978-0-521-60934-0.
^Frances M. Young, The Use of Sacrificial Ideas in Greek Christian Writers from the New Testament to John Chrysostom (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004), pp. 107.
^Eusebius wrote of the early Christians: "They were so eager to imitate Christ ... they gladly yielded the title of martyr to Christ, the true Martyr and Firstborn from the dead." Eusebius, Church History 5.1.2.
^Scholars believe that Revelation was written during the period when the word for witness was gaining its meaning of martyr. Revelation describes several Christian reh with the term martyr (Rev 17:6, 12:11, 2:10-13), and describes Jesus in the same way ("Jesus Christ, the faithful witness/martyr" in Rev 1:5, and see also Rev 3:14).
^ abA. J. Wallace and R. D. Rusk, Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation (New Zealand: Bridgehead, 2011), pp. 217-229.
^From A. J. Wallace and R. D. Rusk, Moral Transformation: The Original Christian Paradigm of Salvation (New Zealand: Bridgehead, 2011), pp. 218.
^ abWinters, Jonah (1997-09-19). "Conclusion". Dying for God: Martyrdom in the Shi'i and Babi Religions. M.A. Thesis. Retrieved 2007-01-23.
^See Davis, R."Martyr, or Witness?" Archived 2011-05-11 at the Wayback Machine, New Matthew Bible Project
^J. W. van Henten, "Jewish Martyrdom and Jesus' Death" in Jörg Frey & Jens Schröter (eds.), Deutungen des Todes Jesu im Neuen Testament (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) pp. 157 – 168.
^Donald W. Riddle, "The Martyr Motif in the Gospel According to Mark." The Journal of Religion, IV.4 (1924), pp. 397 – 410.
^M. E. Vines, M. E. Vines, "The 'Trial Scene' Chronotype in Mark and the Jewish Novel", in G. van Oyen and T. Shepherd (eds.), The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), pp. 189 – 203.
^Stephen Finlan, The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors (Atlanta, GA: SBL, 2004), pp. 193 – 210
^Sam K. Williams, Death as Saving Event: The Background and Origin of a Concept (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press for Harvard Theological Review, 1975), pp. 38 – 41.
^David Seeley, The Noble Death (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), pp. 83 – 112.
^Stanley Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (Ann Arbor: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 212f.
^Jarvis J. Williams, Maccabean Martyr Traditions in Paul's Theology of Atonement (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2010)
^S. A. Cummins, Paul and the Crucified Christ in Antioch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
^Stephen J. Patterson, Beyond the Passion: Rethinking the Death and Life of Jesus (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004).
^Gölz, "Martyrdom and Masculinity in Warring Iran. The Karbala Paradigm, the Heroic, and the Personal Dimensions of War.", Behemoth 12, no. 1 (2019): 35–51, 35.
^See Philippe Bobichon, « Martyre talmudique et martyre chrétien », Kentron : Revue du Monde Antique et de Psychologie Historique 11, 2 (1995) and 12, 1 (1996), pp. 109-129
^Sandeep Singh Bajwa (2000-02-11). "Biographies of Great Sikh Martyrs". Sikh-history.com. Archived from the original on 2019-04-03. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
^"Sacrifice and Martyrdom - Gateway to Sikhism". Allaboutsikhs.com. 28 June 2006. Retrieved 2014-08-22.
^The French Revolution Page 95 Linda Frey, Marsha Frey - 2004 "He was immortalized by the painter David in the famous painting of the death scene that became the icon of the revolution and an emblem of revolutionary propaganda. The revolutionary martyr was commemorated not only in painting and in ..."
^Revolutionary Mexico: The Coming and Process of the Mexican ... - Page 250 John Mason Hart - 1987 "They popularized Ricardo Flores Magon as a revolutionary martyr who was harassed by the American and Mexican ..."
^Vietnam At War Mark Philip Bradley - 2009 "As the concept of 'sacrifice' (hi sinh) came to embody the state's narrative of sacred war (chien tranh than thanh), the ultimate sacrifice was considered to be death in battle as a 'revolutionary martyr' (liet si)."
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