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Martyrdom, Jesus' Passion and Barbarism

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Martyrdom passages highlight complicated webs of power relationships to which both martyrs and oppressors contribute. This article focuses upon one aspect of the nexus of martyrdom and power that is important for the analysis of torture: the failure of communication between martyr and oppressor. It applies the concept of barbarism to ancient and contemporary presentations of martyrdom (2 Maccabees 7 and the movie Paradise Now) as well as the New Testament passion narratives. Barbarism holds within itself a double tension: it carries a persistent dichotomist logic and sustains existing power-relations; at the same time barbarism also disrupts power-relations, as it also implies acts of misunderstanding, confusion, stuttering, and thereby registers and produces processes of "discursive slippage, the repetitions and doublings, that the articulation of binaries can never completely close up" (Neilson 1999). The article focuses on the prominent feature of dialogues in martyrdoms and passion narratives, which are non-dialogues at the same time. The oppressor fails to communicate his goals, scorns his victims and uses excessive force. The martyrs despise their oppressors, refuse to talk to them and revile them, address their opponents in a foreign language, and sometimes even announce a terrible punishment for them. Torture is an important tool for the oppressors in the power game with their victims, but the martyr's sustaining the tortures seems to reverse the power relationship between the two. Finally, the martyr figure itself may be considered barbaric, because being commemorated as a martyr legitimates the protagonist's actions and elevates him/her to a level that cannot be criticized.

Affiliations: 1: Universiteit van Amsterdam


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