What is the meaning of the martyr’s sacrifice? Is it true that the martyr imitates Christ? After the “one and eternal” sacrifice of Jesus why are from time to time new (and often quite numerous) sacrifices necessary? What is the underlying concept concerning the divinity? How do these ideas survive in present times?
These are the kind of questions behind the inquiries in this monograph. The author investigates martyrdom as a (voluntary) human sacrifice and wishes to demonstrate how human sacrifice has been turned into martyrdom. The two emblematic figures of this transformation are Iphigeneia and Isaac. Pesthy argues that all the peoples in the environment in which Christianity came into being are characterized by a very ambiguous and hypocritical attitude toward human sacrifice: while in theory they condemn it as barbarian and belonging to bygone times, in concrete cases they accept, admire and practice it. The same attitude survives in Christianity in which martyrs replace the human sacrifice of olden days: they are real sacrifices, not symbolical ones.
Our feelings about martyrs can be very different: we may admire their unbending courage and heroism or be irritated by their stubbornness, or even feel disgusted at the fanaticism with which they strove for death. But whatever our feelings may be, we must admit that a very strong motivation is needed to accept voluntarily or even seek death (and, in the majority of cases, a very painful death at that).