The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

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by Candida Moss
     
 

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According to cherished church tradition and popular belief, early Christians were systematically persecuted by a brutal Roman Empire. In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss reveals that the "Age of Martyrs" is a fiction—there was no sustained three-hundred-year-long effort by the Romans to persecute Christians. While there were some martyrs

Overview

According to cherished church tradition and popular belief, early Christians were systematically persecuted by a brutal Roman Empire. In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss reveals that the "Age of Martyrs" is a fiction—there was no sustained three-hundred-year-long effort by the Romans to persecute Christians. While there were some martyrs, most of these stories were pious exaggerations and even forgeries designed to marginalize heretics, inspire the faithful, and fund churches. Moss encourages modern Christians to get the history of persecution right and embrace the consolation, moral instruction, and spiritual guidance that these martyrdom stories provide.

Editorial Reviews

—Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“Compellingly argued and artfully written, Moss reveals how the popular misconception about martyrdom in the early church still creates real barriers to compassion and dialogue today. An important book and a fascinating read.”
—Diarmaid MacCulloch
“This is the best sort of history: delightfully accessible yet based on prodigious scholarship, deeply serious, yet entertaining and enlightening. Above all, it shows the reader the importance of sweeping away myth, in order that we do not behave badly in the present, using the past as our excuse.”
—James Carroll
“A tour de force addition to the literature of sacred violence; a case study in how bold scholarship can dismantle it. Candida Moss’s religious history will change religion, and, if Christians heed it, history, too.”
—Sister Simone Campbell
“Moss dismantles the wall of righteousness that some Christians erect in order to justify their conflict with others. Without this persecution narrative, we will be better equipped to work together in our complex and pluralistic world.”
—Harvey Cox
“This is a timely and eye opening book. Moss’ carefully researched and readable account corrects and clarifies an important feature of a history that has been fictionalized for too long.”
—Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers
“Not only has Candida Moss reminded us that much of what we accept uncritically is pious legend, but that such myths poison the religious and political rhetoric of our time. There is something here to offend everyone, which is the first sign of groundbreaking work.”
—Booklist
“Historical argumentation at its most cogent.”
Christian Century
“Like the ancient poets, Moss at once instructs and entertains. She also transgresses the boundary between historian and theologian and calls the church to repentance. She contends that the martyrdom narrative poses grave dangers, having contributed to everything from mild alienation to outright atrocity throughout the church’s history.”
—Salon.com
“Fascinating…One of the most enlightening aspects of “The Myth of Persecution” is Moss’ ability to find contemporary analogies that make the ancient world more intelligible to the average reader.”
U.S. Catholic
“Fascinating….beyond simply recasting ancient stories in a new light, the book provides a hopeful outlook for a world in which modern Christians could drop the myth of their persecuted past.”
Portland Book Review
“Exhaustively researched, yet accessible…Moss’ book lays bare that truth and presents us with the opportunity to, instead of retelling myth, begin to explore the actual history of this era.”
--Salon.com
“Fascinating…One of the most enlightening aspects of “The Myth of Persecution” is Moss’ ability to find contemporary analogies that make the ancient world more intelligible to the average reader.”
Publishers Weekly
According to traditional interpretation, early Christian believers were fed to the lions, killed by gladiators, and otherwise savagely persecuted by the Roman Empire for centuries until the time that the Roman emperor Constantine established Christianity as an accepted and tolerated religion. In this brilliant and provocative book, Moss (Ancient Christian Martyrdom), an award-winning scholar of early Christianity, cannily challenges this standard view. Drawing on close readings of traditional martyr stories and on deep historical research, she convincingly demonstrates that little evidence exists for the widespread persecution of Christians by the Romans. Only six accounts of martyrdom from these years—including the well-known stories of Perpetua and Justin Martyr—can be considered reliable, and even these, she observes, were significantly modified over time to reflect later theological ideas important for establishing the authority of the Christian church. By the time the church historian Eusebius writes down many of these stories in the fourth century, they have become rhetorical tools used to “exclude and suppress other groups, to identify them with demonic forces, and to legitimize... violence against them.” Moss raises significant questions that help us reconsider the nature and role of martyrdom in any religion. (Mar.)
Archbishop - Desmond Tutu
"Compellingly argued and artfully written, Moss reveals how the popular misconception about martyrdom in the early church still creates real barriers to compassion and dialogue today. An important book and a fascinating read."
Diarmaid MacCulloch
"This is the best sort of history: delightfully accessible yet based on prodigious scholarship, deeply serious, yet entertaining and enlightening. Above all, it shows the reader the importance of sweeping away myth, in order that we do not behave badly in the present, using the past as our excuse."
James Carroll
"A tour de force addition to the literature of sacred violence; a case study in how bold scholarship can dismantle it. Candida Moss’s religious history will change religion, and, if Christians heed it, history, too."
Sister - Simone Campbell
"Moss dismantles the wall of righteousness that some Christians erect in order to justify their conflict with others. Without this persecution narrative, we will be better equipped to work together in our complex and pluralistic world."
Harvey Cox
"This is a timely and eye opening book. Moss’ carefully researched and readable account corrects and clarifies an important feature of a history that has been fictionalized for too long."
Booklist
"Historical argumentation at its most cogent."
Kirkus Reviews
A prickly, uneven survey of Christian persecution that delves into modern-day fundamentalist intolerance. The notion that early Christians were meek, passive and unrelentingly persecuted for their religious beliefs has been manufactured by early church historians like Eusebius, writes New Testament scholar Moss (Early Christianity/Univ. of Notre Dame; The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom, 2010, etc.), disguising the true violent, militaristic tone of the early Christian message. The author addresses deeply troubling aspects of an us-vs.-them mentality she sees rampant in today's secularized world, from Islamic suicide bombers to the use of Joan of Arc by the French political right to Republican Christian voters viewing themselves as a persecuted minority. First, Moss wades through examples in the ancient world, including the high-profile cases of Greek and Roman heroes like Achilles, Socrates and Lucretia, who died for their beliefs, offering a model for the early Christians to borrow from. The author then moves into the early Christian era, when accounts of martyred apostles like Stephen and converts like Polycarp and Perpetua established a rich literary tradition after the imitation of Christ, with details altered and shaped by later Christian apologists. Key to Moss' narrative is the history of Roman persecution of Christians, which she finds overblown, explaining the "sporadic" persecution as a politically motivated, entirely understandable move to suppress a pesky group of insurgents who constituted a threat to order and piety. The myth of martyrdom--and the expectation of huge rewards in heaven--was effective in organizing a cohesive early Christian identity, which involved the notion of being "under attack" and justified a violent reaction. While none of Moss' arguments are particularly new or striking, she provides an intriguing venture that begs for more research and focus. A strongly worded polemic on the dangers of defensive exceptionalism.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062104557
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/13/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
545,523
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.50(d)

What People are saying about this

Simone Campbell
“Moss dismantles the wall of righteousness that some Christians erect in order to justify their conflict with others. Without this persecution narrative, we will be better equipped to work together in our complex and pluralistic world.”
Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers
Not only has Candida Moss reminded us that much of what we accept uncritically is pious legend, but that such myths poison the religious and political rhetoric of our time. There is something here to offend everyone, which is the first sign of groundbreaking work.
— Rev. Dr. Robin R. Meyers, UCC Minister and author of The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus
Diarmaid MacCulloch
This is the best sort of history: delightfully accessible yet based on prodigious scholarship, deeply serious, yet entertaining and enlightening. Above all, it shows the reader the importance of sweeping away myth, in order that we do not behave badly in the present, using the past as our excuse.
— Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University and author of Christianity: the First Three Thousand Years
Cox
This is a timely and eye opening book. Moss' carefully researched and readable account corrects and clarifies an important feature of a history that has been fictionalized for too long.
— Harvey Cox, Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard, and author of The Future of Faith
Harvey Cox
“This is a timely and eye opening book. Moss’ carefully researched and readable account corrects and clarifies an important feature of a history that has been fictionalized for too long.”
James Carroll
A tour de force addition to the literature of sacred violence; a case study in how bold scholarship can dismantle it. Candida Moss's religious history will change religion, and, if Christians heed it, history, too.
— James Carroll, Author of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Compellingly argued and artfully written, Moss reveals how the popular misconception about martyrdom in the early church still creates real barriers to compassion and dialogue today. An important book and a fascinating read.
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Sister Simone Campbell
Moss dismantles the wall of righteousness that some Christians erect in order to justify their conflict with others. Without this persecution narrative, we will be better equipped to work together in our complex and pluralistic world.
— Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK
Robin R. Meyers
“Not only has Candida Moss reminded us that much of what we accept uncritically is pious legend, but that such myths poison the religious and political rhetoric of our time. There is something here to offend everyone, which is the first sign of groundbreaking work.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“Compellingly argued and artfully written, Moss reveals how the popular misconception about martyrdom in the early church still creates real barriers to compassion and dialogue today. An important book and a fascinating read.”

Meet the Author

Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. A regular contributor to The Daily Beast, Moss has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, CBS News, FOX News, the History Channel, National Geographic, and the Travel Channel, and has served as an expert commentator for the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other national media outlets.

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The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The 1 star reviewer hasn't read this book as the very first thing the author does is talk about persecution in egypt. This book is not about contemporary persecution, it's about the early church. It's fascinating, informative, and very easy to read. I recommend it to anyone interested in history, christianity, and persecution. 
KathleenBrady More than 1 year ago
Candida Moss presents a much-needed clear-eyed presentation of the legitimate, fact-based challenges of the early Church and why the idea of Christian-as-victim is so harmful to Christians as well as others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A good read for the religious and atheist, alike. The book reveals the 'victim' mentality of early Christians and how they used it to their advantage long ago and still today. The scholarship of this work is excellent. I look forward to more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another Jew-approved mainstream book that is an attack upon the integrity and truthfulness of Christianity. The claim of this book can more accurately be applied to the Jews: they have always whined about persecution throughout the centuries but we're never supposed to ask WHY they have been so subjected.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Funny, the posted reviews don't mention the persecutions going on today in the Middle East, China, Africa, and mildly, in a marginalizing manner, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Nor do they mention the results of the French Revolution, the persecutions in Russia, the Spanish Civil War, and in Mexico under Calles. I am unaware that it has ever been argued that the Roman persecutions lasted 300 years straight. But that there were persecutions under Emperors such as Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Decius, Diocletian Julian, and others cannot be seriously argued against.