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Martyrs Mirror

, 440 pages

37 halftones

February 2016



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Martyrs Mirror

A Social History


Approximately 2,500 Anabaptists were martyred in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Europe. Their surviving brethren compiled stories of those who suffered and died for the faith into martyr books. The most historically and culturally significant of these, The Bloody Theater—more commonly known as Martyrs Mirror—was assembled by the Dutch Mennonite minister Thieleman van Braght and published in 1660. Today, next to the Bible, it is the single most important text to Anabaptists—Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites. In some Anabaptist communities, it is passed to new generations as a wedding or graduation gift.

David L. Weaver-Zercher combines the fascinating history of Martyrs Mirror with a detailed analysis of Anabaptist life, religion, and martyrdom. He traces the publication, use, and dissemination of this key martyrology across nearly four centuries and explains why it holds sacred status in contemporary Amish and Mennonite households. Even today, the words and deeds of these martyred Christians are referenced in sermons, Sunday school lessons, and history books.

Weaver-Zercher argues that Martyrs Mirror was designed to teach believers how to live a proper Christian life. In van Braght’s view, accounts of the martyrs helped to remind readers of the things that mattered, thus inspiring them to greater faithfulness. Martyrs Mirror remains a tool of revival, offering new life to the communities and people who read it by revitalizing Anabaptist ideals and values. Meticulously researched and illustrated with sketches from early publications of Martyrs Mirror, Weaver-Zercher’s ambitious history weaves together the existing scholarship on this iconic text in an accessible and engaging way.

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.

"Expansive and thought-provoking...The book's percipient and fascinating analysis of the origins of anabaptism in Europe, including Mennonite and Amish sects, highlights sectarian differences within the Protestant Reformation and how questions of political power shaped and sustained those differences...Martyrs Mirror: A Social History is a significant entry in religious scholarship that deepens our understanding of anabaptism and Christianity in general."

"Required reading for those interested in religious history."

"Waever-Zercher is to be congratulated for his contribution to Anabaptist and Mennonite history, but also for his excellent example of work in book culture, in a fashion both enlightening and engaging."

"Well-conceived, well-written, and well-researched, Martyrs Mirror is a terrific book and an absolute pleasure to read."

"An ambitious and unprecedented undertaking, this book brings together an accessible summary of scholarship about the Martyrs Mirror with fresh interviews and comments from diverse Anabaptist groups. Weaver-Zercher has a knack for highlighting conflicts and dramas associated with the text's history."

"Presently in religious history there is a critical discussion afoot to understand religion and print culture. This is an important book that significantly advances the way scholars consider not only Martyrs Mirror, but also how texts help to create communities, how religious communities create and sustain memory, and how the roles of narrative production and audience reception are organically related."

"... an enduring classic..."

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