Wednesday, March 16, 2016

David Weaver-Zercher's "Martyrs Mirror"

David L. Weaver-Zercher is a professor of American religious history at Messiah College. He is the author of The Amish in the American Imagination and the coeditor of The Amish and the Media.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Martyrs Mirror: A Social History, and reported the following:
In many ways, page 99 of my new book, Martyrs Mirror: A Social History, is not representative of the book as a whole. Whereas my book is largely a history of the reception of Martyrs Mirror (a seventeenth-century Anabaptist martyrology that continues to be read today in Amish and Mennonite communities), page 99 gives priority to the actual content of Martyrs Mirror.

In particular, page 99 examines the illustrations that appeared in the 1685 edition of Martyrs Mirror. The initial edition of the martyrology, published in 1660, did not have any illustrations, but twenty-five years later, an updated edition appeared that included 104 copper etchings by the renowned Dutch artist, Jan Luyken. In realistic fashion Luyken depicted a host of Martyrs Mirror accounts. Taken as a whole, Luyken’s images depict Anabaptist martyrs at various points in the drama of martyrdom: capture, separation, imprisonment, inquisition, torture, and execution. On page 99, and for a few pages thereafter, I categorize and count Luyken’s illustrations before moving onto an analysis of them.

So again, page 99 is not representative of the book as a whole, which is much more concerned with the ways the book has been appropriated by different audiences—and with the conversations about Christian faithfulness it has spawned.

That said, the material on page 99 sets up the analyses that appear later in the book, some of which explore conversations catalyzed by Luyken’s illustrations. For instance, few conversations about Martyrs Mirror have been more spirited than the ones that revolve around a Dutch Anabaptist martyr name Dirk Willems, who was arrested as he sought to rescue his drowning pursuer. No Luyken image is more renowned in Amish-Mennonite circles than is the image of Dirk rescuing his eventual captor. In fact, in some times and places the image has gained iconic status. Still, there are some who question whether Dirk’s example of sacrificing his life to save his pursuer is a good one to emulate. As I write later in the book, “Even as Dirk had become a pan-Anabaptist icon—much like a fraternal handshake that, without any words, establishes one’s insider status—some Mennonite found his story too tragic, and his example too troubling, to reduce them to platitudes” (p. 283).

These are the kind of conversations I explore in my book, which runs chronologically from the collection of martyr stories in the sixteenth century, to the book’s initial publication in the seventeenth century, to the book’s reproduction and reception in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Although my book focuses mostly on this one aspect of the Anabaptist tradition—the tradition’s most revered text—my consideration of that text provides a readable history of the Anabaptist tradition as a whole, helping readers see both the unity and diversity in this nearly 500-year-old, nonviolent Christian tradition.
Learn more about Martyrs Mirror: A Social History at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue