A martyr is a witness.
The word “martyr” appears three times in the King James version of the Bible. It is a translation of the Greek word martus (μάρτυς), which is translated many other places as “witness.” Perhaps standing up for what is right always requires some courage, but when a person is willing to sacrifice his or her life for what they believe, that is a powerful testimony.
The prophet Abinadi declared in the court of King Noah, “I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day” (Mosiah 17:10).
After Alma and Amulek preached to the people of Ammonihah, the men who believed in their words were driven out of the city, and the women and children were questioned. “Whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God…[was] cast into the fire” (Alma 14:8).
Mormon called it “the place of martyrdom” (Alma 14:9). It was a horrific and cowardly act on the part of the leaders of the city, vividly displaying their callous lack of respect for human life. Alma testified to Amulek that the painful deaths of these women and children would stand as evidence against the men who killed them at the Last Judgment (Alma 14:11).
But as I’ve thought about this story today, the word “martyrdom” has given it new significance for me. This is not only a horrific account about a massacre of innocent victims. It is also a story of courage. The women and children who lost their lives were not only witnesses to the unspeakable cruelty of their leaders. Like the prophet Abinadi, they were also powerful witnesses of the truth of the gospel.
We don’t have a lot of detail about how they were chosen, but the text does imply that they self-identified as believers. They may not have known the specific consequence of that declaration of belief, but they must have known that they were placing themselves in jeopardy. They, like all martyrs before and since, valued their faith more than their lives, and that testimony should not be ignored.
Today, I will remember the commitment, the faith, and the bravery of the martyrs at Ammonihah. I will remember that some things are more important than life itself, as evidenced by those who have been willing to pay the ultimate price for their testimony.