The "myth" of Christian persecution

Candida Moss' new book "The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom" addresses the exaggeration of claims of martyrdom in the early church, and the effect it has in modern circles concerning the way Christianity is taught and perceived.

Religion News Service, in an article by Lauren Markoe, interviews Moss about "the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today".

Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame.

Comments (6)

The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner has a thoughtful response up here:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/04/unmythical-martyrs

Jason Ballard's comment points to a review by Ephrahim Radner. Ballard characterizes the review as "thoughtful." Thank you for the link. I just read it.

Radner's review, in my opinion, is less than useful.

It is not useful to call the author names or to characterize the argument in ways designed only belittle the research.

Radner does nothing to refute or clarify the author's thesis. He does not enter into a discussion of the realities of persecution or the use of persecution language in our civic and religious discourse. To do that would be to discuss the heart of the author's purpose.

Instead he cites Gibbons and claims the author somehow sympathizes with Imperial Rome. I say again, not useful.

By using words like "sad" and resorting to name calling, what come out is a kind of unintentional irony. Because by calling the book a politically-motivated propaganda tool, and it's author a hack (a word he does not use but in his sarcastic tone certainly implies), he actually makes Moss' case for her.

To be fair, I am not sure that he really wanted to write a review in the truest sense. Rather, his intent was to amuse, rather than enlighten, the readers of a site whose aim is decidedly political.

Andrew Gerns

Why is it so important to Christians of a certain sort to feel that they are or have been persecuted?

Susan Forsburg

@ Jason Ballard: if you're going to link to Ephraim Radner (at "First Things" no less!), you might want to put into an HTML (so we don't go into it w/ a "Consider the Source" caveat)

That said, I opened it, and began:

The tedium of repeated déjà vu in this sad little volume did at least send me back to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. It is as if a publisher came to Candida Moss, a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, with a proposal for a quick buck, relying on the political twitter of the times: “You’re an expert: Reframe Gibbon’s notorious chapter on the Romans and the Christians with some contemporary scholarship and cultural fillips, and we can put out a nifty pamphlet that’ll sell.”

Good heavens! Even for Radner... }-X

JC Fisher

Is it not generally true, however, that a direct attack makes people feel more vulnerable than they actually ARE? The numbers killed in terrorist attacks are small - even in 9/11 - compared to the numbers who die each year in RTAs, yet the deliberate nature of the attack leads to a sense of grief which is disproportionately larger. Living knowing that almost arbitrarily a governor or an Emperor might decide that the answer to his problems was to deflect blame on YOUR faith, and that one MIGHT need to decide to either become apostate or be tortured or die ... well the psychological impact of that must be huge. Deliberate myth making or not.

Why is it so important to Christians of a certain sort to feel that they are or have been persecuted?

Of course Christians aren't persecuted in the US. But surely it isn't hard to see why those "of a certain sort" feel they are. Their preferred lifestyle is under a attack. Their views about homosexuality, abortion and a number of other issues aren't viewed as reasonable dissent but as unacceptable bigotry. And currently, religion is collapsing. I don't agree with their politics or ethics, but I can see where they're coming from: they believe, correctly, that people are contemptuous of them or, even worse, patronizing.

Just think of Obama's remark about people who "cling to guns and religion"--how patronizing that is. Of course I'd bet that most Episcopalians don't think he means US--surely he means those other guys, the conservative evangelicals. But I'm sorry to say that he, and most others who hold this view, DO mean us. To them, all Christians are ignoreamuses who believe in an imaginary sky-fairy.

I don't know what to do about this. But a start might be to recognize that Christians who complain of persecution, even if that's a gross hyperbole, have a legitimate complaint--that they're despised and patronized, and are being demonized for holding views which, while completely wrong-headed, don't reflect adversely on their moral decency. Holding that Jews should be gassed or that women should be sex slaves reflects adversely on a person: these are views that no reasonable, morally decent person can hold. Supporting capital punishment (and I speak as an avid opponent!) is wrong-headed but still a view that reasonable, morally decent people can hold. And that also goes for opposition to abortion, to gay sex, and a variety of other issues. I think that's an important distinction.

Add your comments

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Reminder: At Episcopal Café, we hope to establish an ethic of transparency by requiring all contributors and commentators to make submissions under their real names. For more details see our Feedback Policy.

Advertising Space