The early history of Christianity is a history of persecution, with pagans zealously defending their own faiths through torture and martyrdom and Christians being mauled by lions for the entertainment of the crowd. Or is it?
Biblical scholar Candida Moss reviewed the evidence of early Christian persecution for her new book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, and found it mostly lacking. From the publisher’s description:
As the story goes, vast numbers of believers were thrown to the lions, tortured, or burned alive because they refused to renounce Christ. These saints, Christianity’s inspirational heroes, are still venerated today.
Moss, however, exposes that the “Age of Martyrs” is a fiction—there was no sustained 300-year-long effort by the Romans to persecute Christians. Instead, these stories were pious exaggerations; highly stylized rewritings of Jewish, Greek, and Roman noble death traditions; and even forgeries designed to marginalize heretics, inspire the faithful, and fund churches.
The traditional story of persecution is still taught in Sunday school classes, celebrated in sermons, and employed by church leaders, politicians, and media pundits who insist that Christians were—and always will be—persecuted by a hostile, secular world. Moss urges modern Christians to abandon the conspiratorial assumption that the world is out to get Christians and, rather, embrace the consolation, moral instruction, and spiritual guidance that these martyrdom stories provide.
Moss joins us this Sunday to talk about her book and about how this narrative of persecution hurts Christians in the world today.
- Candida Moss at Notre Dame
- The Myth of Persecution at Amazon
- Kirkus review of The Myth of Persecution
- “The long shadow of the martyr myth” at the National Catholic Reporter
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