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In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss, a leading expert on early Christianity, reveals how the early church exaggerated, invented, and forged stories of Christian martyrs and how the dangerous legacy of a martyrdom complex is employed today to silence dissent and galvanize a new generation of culture warriors. According to cherished church tradition and popular belief, b In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss, a leading expert on early Christianity, reveals how the early church exaggerated, invented, and forged stories of Christian martyrs and how the dangerous legacy of a martyrdom complex is employed today to silence dissent and galvanize a new generation of culture warriors. According to cherished church tradition and popular belief, before the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the fourth century, early Christians were systematically persecuted by a brutal Roman Empire intent on their destruction. 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. While violence against Christians does occur in select parts of the world today, the rhetoric of persecution is both misleading and rooted in an inaccurate history of the early church. 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.


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In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss, a leading expert on early Christianity, reveals how the early church exaggerated, invented, and forged stories of Christian martyrs and how the dangerous legacy of a martyrdom complex is employed today to silence dissent and galvanize a new generation of culture warriors. According to cherished church tradition and popular belief, b In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss, a leading expert on early Christianity, reveals how the early church exaggerated, invented, and forged stories of Christian martyrs and how the dangerous legacy of a martyrdom complex is employed today to silence dissent and galvanize a new generation of culture warriors. According to cherished church tradition and popular belief, before the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal in the fourth century, early Christians were systematically persecuted by a brutal Roman Empire intent on their destruction. 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. While violence against Christians does occur in select parts of the world today, the rhetoric of persecution is both misleading and rooted in an inaccurate history of the early church. 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.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Shepherd

    It’s probably important to note that the author, Candida Moss, is a graduate of both Oxford and Yale universities. She taught Christian History and the New Testament at Norte Dame and is currently a professor of theology at the University of Birmingham. She is herself a Christian and refers to Christians with pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘us.’ we /wē/ pronoun: we • used by a speaker to refer to himself or herself and one or more other people considered together. “What if Christians weren’t continually It’s probably important to note that the author, Candida Moss, is a graduate of both Oxford and Yale universities. She taught Christian History and the New Testament at Norte Dame and is currently a professor of theology at the University of Birmingham. She is herself a Christian and refers to Christians with pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘us.’ we /wē/ pronoun: we • used by a speaker to refer to himself or herself and one or more other people considered together. “What if Christians weren’t continually persecuted by the Romans? ...would we be more compassionate? Would we be less self-righteous? How would we think of ourselves if that history were not true? ...without this posture and the polarized view of the world upon which it relies, we might - without compromising our religious or political convictions - be able to reach common ground and engage in productive government, and we might focus on real examples of actual suffering and actual oppression.” Moss methodically and meticulously dismantles the myth of christian persecution by scrutinizing and analyzing church histories. Some are obvious plagiarisms of pre-Christian texts. Others are borrowed from Jewish and Pagan traditions. Most were written decades or even centuries after the fact, and those that purport to be firsthand accounts are often forgeries or complete fabrications. It is undeniably true that, over the centuries, there were indeed Christians that were put to death, some in horribly hideous and painful ways, but never in the numbers purported by the church. And there was never any sustained, state sponsored persecution that specifically targeted Christians. None. Nada. Nope. There is but one brief period of time that even comes close to the popularly held perceptions about Christian persecution. In the year 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian issued the first of a series of edicts making Christian gatherings, Christian places of worship, and Christian scriptures illegal. This period, known as “The Great Persecution” lasted until Diocletian retired in 305, a period of less than three years. Making a clear distinction between ‘persecution’ and ‘prosecution,’ Moss puts Roman governance in perspective without minimizing or condoning Roman brutality: “From an ancient perspective, the presence of a religiously noncompliant group in any community was a threat to that community.” Still further, “If the Roman emperors had a problem with Christians and Christianity, it was because they threatened the stability of the empire and appeared to make divisive political claims. Roman emperors did not take issue with nonthreatening things like baptism or hymns; they had problems with those aspects of Christianity that sounded like treason or revolution.” The evidence Moss presents is overwhelming. The fashionable presumption of a sustained and relentless persecution of Christians, still taught in American Sunday schools and perpetuated at republican party rallies, is a fiction. It is nothing more than rhetorical propaganda, a tool used for political gain and to advance agendas. In worst cases, it becomes a call to arms for unnecessary violence and tragic bloodshed. “No longer are reasoned argument, good judgement, or logic able to win the day... Framed by the myth that we are persecuted, dialogue is not only impossible, it is undesirable... Heaven help us if this worldview, which pervades political commentary and activism as well as religion, wins the day.” ~Candida Moss, 2013 ************************************* Notes: “...most of the pagan opposition to Christians during the church’s first two centuries happened on the grassroots level rather than as a result of organized, official Roman persecution. Contrary to what many people appear to think, there was nothing “illegal” about Christianity, per se, in those early years. Christianity itself was not outlawed, and Christians for the most part did not need to go into hiding. The idea that they had to stay in the Roman catacombs in order to avoid persecution, greeted one another through secret signs such as the symbol of the fish, is nothing but the stuff of legend. It was not illegal to follow Jesus, it was not illegal to worship the Jewish God, it was not illegal to call Jesus God, it was not illegal (in most places) to hold separate meetings of fellowship and worship, it was not illegal to convince others of one’s faith in Christ as the Son of God.” ~Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 2005 (pg 196)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Markus

    First off: I'm disappointed that Goodreads got this title, and its subtitle, flat-out wrong. It's printed correctly on the cover they show; but in case you can't see that, the actual title of this book is: The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story Of Martyrdom. And that's important, because Candida Moss is making a strong case against popularly accepted ideas of Christian persecution, past and present. [UPDATE: GR corrected the title after I first posted this review. Thank y First off: I'm disappointed that Goodreads got this title, and its subtitle, flat-out wrong. It's printed correctly on the cover they show; but in case you can't see that, the actual title of this book is: The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story Of Martyrdom. And that's important, because Candida Moss is making a strong case against popularly accepted ideas of Christian persecution, past and present. [UPDATE: GR corrected the title after I first posted this review. Thank you, watchful GR librarians!] Moss is Catholic, and professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. She starts off with some anecdotes about contemporary American Christians who claim to be persecuted -- Rush Limbaugh's brother David, for instance, who published a book titled Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity. She goes on to ask a few simple questions: "If there had never been an Age of Martyrs, would Christians automatically see themselves as engaged in a war with their critics? Would Christians still see themselves as persecuted, or would they try to understand their opponents? Would the response to violence be to fight back or to address the causes of misunderstanding? Would we be more compassionate? Would we be less self-righteous? The history of Christianity is steeped in the blood of the martyrs and set as a battle between good and evil. How would we think about ourselves if that history were not true?" She goes on to present solid, detailed evidence for the case that claims of constant anti-Christian persecution are exaggerated at best. To be blunt: not only is the body count significantly lower than the ancient stories would lead us to believe, but the definition of persecution has to be examined. "Just because Christians were prosecuted or executed, even unjustly, does not necessarily mean that they were persecuted. Persecution implies that a certain group is being unfairly targeted for attack and condemnation, usually because of blind hatred. We have to know, then, why Christians were being arrested and executed and whether the reasons were a part of general legal practice or whether the Christians were being singled out. As we look at episodes of 'persecution,' we need to constantly ask ourselves: Is this religious persecution or is this ancient justice?" Moss' prose is smooth and her writing voice quite natural; she is at once scholarly, engaging, and a good read even for non-academics. She has occasional spikes of humor. When discussing ancient rumors about those scary, baby-eating, incest-committing Christians, she points out that if you want to discredit a group, you have to be willing to go all the way. "For slander to be effective it has to have some teeth -- there's no point in accusing someone of going over the speed limit." I guess I could have kept this review shorter and more effective by simply pointing out that Sister Simone Campbell, one of those fantastic Nuns On The Bus, gave it a glowing back-cover review. If she liked it, you should read it. I don't believe in God. I do believe in nuns.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gary Patton

    As a trained Historian I find it hard to understand how Ms. Moses' thesis and her alleged 'evidence' have eluded the investigation of Historians and other scholars ...secular as well as Christian ...for nearly 1600 years. I find in this book revisionist history at its most obfuscationist. It's a perversion of clearly documented historical truth. Do you want to know why the Roman Empire really crucified Jesus and, then, horribly persecuted his loyal followers for at least 300 years, until the time As a trained Historian I find it hard to understand how Ms. Moses' thesis and her alleged 'evidence' have eluded the investigation of Historians and other scholars ...secular as well as Christian ...for nearly 1600 years. I find in this book revisionist history at its most obfuscationist. It's a perversion of clearly documented historical truth. Do you want to know why the Roman Empire really crucified Jesus and, then, horribly persecuted his loyal followers for at least 300 years, until the time of Emperor Constantine? Then, check out the helpful and interesting article at http://goo.gl/vcPrCE Here also is what Raymond Ibrahim, a Copt and an expert in Arab history who was raised in both Egypt and the U.S., says about Ms. Moss' book: "In short, the merit of Moss’ thesis rests in the fact that it satisfies a certain anti-Christian sentiment—that it satisfies a modern-day political perspective—and not that it offers any facts or serious arguments. Indeed, by projecting cynical postmodern perspectives onto the mentalities of people, both Romans and Christians, who lived worlds and centuries away, the thesis is ultimately farcical. "Even so, let’s tackle the myth charge from a different angle. Let’s leave the question of eyewitnesses, texts, and traditions, and instead rely on common sense—that which is in short supply in the academic community—by considering the following question: If at least 100 million Christians are currently being persecuted today, in an era when Western ideas of humanitarianism and religious tolerance have permeated the rest of the world, thanks to globalism, is it not reasonable to conclude that 2,000 years ago, when “might made right” and brutally prevailed, that Christians were also being persecuted then, especially when contemporary sources clearly indicate as much? "Consider the modern Islamic world alone, where today’s overwhelming majority of horrific Christian persecution occurs, as documented in my new book Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians. Today in the 21st century, Christians under Islam are still being tortured, imprisoned, enslaved, and killed; their churches and Bibles are routinely banned or burned. "Why is that? Because Islam is a supremacist cult, which brooks no opposition and demands conformity, one way or the other: Islamic law (see Koran 9:29) teaches that those who come under its hegemony must either convert, or keep their faith but live as ostracized third-class citizens (d'himmis), or die. "The supremacist culture of the Roman Empire—an even older martial cult devoted to the gods of war—was not much different and demanded compliance from the subjugated, regardless of how modern, armchair historians try to romanticize it. "If today’s Muslims—who are acquainted with modern ideas of humanitarianism and tolerance—are still brutally persecuting the Christian minorities in their midst, are we seriously to believe that the warlike Roman Empire, which existed at a time when brutality and cruelty were the expected norm, did not persecute Christians, especially when the records say it did? The Roman punishment of crucifixion alone sheds light on the ruthless severity of the ancient empire. "Moreover, Christianity was and still is the one religion that refuses to comply with its supremacist overlords, that puts its beliefs above the preservation of life. Unlike other religions which approve of dissembling and outward conformity—Islamic law permits Muslims to outwardly renounce Muhammad, if doing so will save their lives—Christians have long had a habit of “annoying” their superiors by refusing to comply, even to save their lives. "Thus, just as Christ irked Pilate, the representative of the supremacist Roman Empire, by refusing to utter some words to save his life, his disciples and countless other ancient Christians did the same; and today, countless modern day Christians are doing the same. And in all cases, their supremacist overlords—whether pagan Romans or modern Muslims—persecuted, and continue to persecute, them for it. (Most recently in Iran, Islamic authorities are trying to force an American citizen to abjure Christ, even as he resists under torture.) "Historical texts aside, today’s Christian persecution is a clear indicator of yesterday’s Christian persecution." Blessings all! GaryFPatton (© gfp '42™ 2014-02-02)

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    I did not want to like this book. The story of Christian martyrdom in the early church is widely accepted and oft lifted up today. The common belief is that Christianity existed as an illegal religion for centuries, with Christians constantly dodging Roman hunters and fearfully meeting in secret. Those who were found to be Christians were gloriously martyred. In other words, they demonstrated their commitment to Jesus by following him the whole way to his death. Candida Moss argues that much of th I did not want to like this book. The story of Christian martyrdom in the early church is widely accepted and oft lifted up today. The common belief is that Christianity existed as an illegal religion for centuries, with Christians constantly dodging Roman hunters and fearfully meeting in secret. Those who were found to be Christians were gloriously martyred. In other words, they demonstrated their commitment to Jesus by following him the whole way to his death. Candida Moss argues that much of this story is fiction. Some of the fiction she exposes is not surprising, or ought not be, to any who took a church history course in seminary. The myth that Christians were constantly hunted down is just that, a myth. When persecution did happen it was localized and often driven not by the government but the whims of the mob. The first empire-wide persecution was not till 250 AD under Emperor Decius. Yet even this more measured story that you learn in church history class comes under criticism by Moss. For example, she argues that there is no evidence that Decius was specifically targeting Christians. Many of her arguments are strong. Occasionally she seems to go beyond what the evidence she presents demonstrates. She seems to draw conclusions based on mere similarities that could be coincidences. In one case she comments that the author of the Martyrdom of Polycarp "wants to make Polycarp into the kind of hero any Greek or Roman might admire". Her argument is based on evidence of similarities between this story and that of great Greek heroes who laid down their lives. But it seems a large jump to go from these similarities to get into the author's head and conclusively say this was done on purpose. How does she know what the author was intending? Perhaps such stories were so common that the author couldn't help but write in a similar way, or maybe it was just a coincidence. Another time she comments that the Christians saw the Maccabean martyrs from the centuries prior to Jesus as Christians too. This seems sloppy and no evidence is offered that any Christians thought such people who lived before Christ were Christians. Perhaps they lived in ways the later Christians admired, but no one said, as Moss states, that they too were Christians. Later she questions whether we can trust Christian documents that borrow from ancient myth and philosophy. Why should such borrowing cause us to question whether the stories actually happened? That seems a bit anachronistic, reading our modern concern for literal historical fact into a time when authors were more willing to modify details to fit a purpose. I also thought her argument that stories of persecution and martyrdom were the impetus for Christians to later harm others was a bit off. Prior to the conversion of Constantine in the 300s, Christianity was nearly universal in refusing to use violence. A few Christians did join the military, but all the evidence points to Christianity being a vigorous way of life that emulated Jesus even to death. Perhaps later Christians would use a fear of persecution to rally the troops to fight, but the earliest Christians for over 200 years followed Jesus' call to turn the other cheek and not strike back. All that to say, though I did not want to like this book and though I found some parts questionable, I did like it. I think one of the reasons I liked it was that Moss is concerned with how ancient martyrs are used today. Many evangelical Christians in America do have a persecution complex which is ironic considering how powerful evangelicals are politically. Moss shows how martyrdom stories took off in the post-Constantine era when martyrdom had ended. The martyrs were used to support various theologies - get a martyr on your side of an argument and it helps you win. The same thing happens today, so wealthy and comfortable Christians in America can claim martyrdom when not everything in the world goes their way. The problem with this is that it diminishes those who truly suffer for their faith. There really were some in the ancient church who suffered and died, just as there are many in the world today (a point Moss touches on but only too briefly), and claims of persecution by American Christians takes the focus away from real persecution. When Americans get all up in arms because a celebrity loses his job because of comments he made or a because baker gets sued because they do not want to serve a cake to someone whose lifestyle they disagree with, and when such cases lead to cries of persecution, those who truly are suffering lose. Overall this is a challenging and thought provoking book, a good work of history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Justin Powell

    The polarization of American politics is not news to anyone. So with that in mind, it shouldn't be surprising to hear Candida Moss' thoughts on martyrdom and how it affect's everyone in society, Christian or not. The us or them, or God vs Satan mentality is the result of a false sense of persecution. Moss shows, thoroughly I might add, how many of the popular martyrdom stories of the Church are mostly myths, if not all myth. By extension, she shows the reasons as to why these stories were constr The polarization of American politics is not news to anyone. So with that in mind, it shouldn't be surprising to hear Candida Moss' thoughts on martyrdom and how it affect's everyone in society, Christian or not. The us or them, or God vs Satan mentality is the result of a false sense of persecution. Moss shows, thoroughly I might add, how many of the popular martyrdom stories of the Church are mostly myths, if not all myth. By extension, she shows the reasons as to why these stories were constructed and when they were constructed. Dismantling the false belief of a forever persecuted Christian Church is one of the hallmarks of this book, and for that alone it's worth reading! Understanding and accepting the common perception of Christians, evangelicals in particular, helps us be more productive in our discourses. Being an Atheist, I find myself in dialogue with Christians constantly, yet I've completely ignored the idea of the theological division these Christians have. The world is two parties, one backed by God(them) and the other by Satan(myself and everyone else). "And everyone knows that you cannot reason with the devil", as Moss puts it. When efforts to negotiate or even reason with one's persecutors(secular society) are interpreted as collaboration and moral compromise, how do we expect to have meaningful dialogue? She summarizes the problem very well, “The myth of Christian martyrdom and persecution needs to be corrected, because it has left us with a dangerous legacy that poisons the well of public discourse. This affects not just Christians, but everyone. We cannot use the mere fact that we feel persecuted as evidence that our cause is just or as the grounds for rhetorical or actual war. We cannot use the supposed moral superiority of our ancient martyrs to demonstrate the intrinsic superiority of our modern religious beliefs or ideological positions. Once we recognize that feeling persecuted is not proof of anything, then we have to engage in serious intellectual and moral debate about the actual issues at hand.” I'd also add that the false concept of interpreting any challenge to your belief system as validation of it is eroding any hope we could have of dialogue. It not only makes me pessimistic about having conversations with these branch of Christians, but it depresses me to think how popular its become in society. A challenge to your belief system should cause you to reexamine from an outsiders perspective, i.e. The Outsider Test For Faith by John Loftus. It should not force you to go back into the echo chamber and discuss things among those only wanting to defend the party line.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Excellent, well documented argument. Beautifully clear, concise writing that's even appropriate for undergrads. Exceptionally useful for demonstrating use of and evaluating of evidence to students NB: "myth" in Moss' title means MUCH MORE than "oh that's just a myth." She considers the critical role stories about martyrs held in the development of ancient Christian collective identity and values, and in building the categories of insiders/outsiders (or us/them). This book does exceptionally well Excellent, well documented argument. Beautifully clear, concise writing that's even appropriate for undergrads. Exceptionally useful for demonstrating use of and evaluating of evidence to students NB: "myth" in Moss' title means MUCH MORE than "oh that's just a myth." She considers the critical role stories about martyrs held in the development of ancient Christian collective identity and values, and in building the categories of insiders/outsiders (or us/them). This book does exceptionally well at translating scholarly work into "lay" language & writing style.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Domhnall

    This is a fine demonstration of the way history is constructed around a mixture of facts and inventions in order to tell a story, in this case the story of the persecution of early Christians, which the author sets alongside modern day examples in American politics to demonstrate its continuing significance and practical impact. Christianity is conceived as an army in constant battle against terrible forces - both worldly and demonic - threatening its destruction, with which no negotiation or co This is a fine demonstration of the way history is constructed around a mixture of facts and inventions in order to tell a story, in this case the story of the persecution of early Christians, which the author sets alongside modern day examples in American politics to demonstrate its continuing significance and practical impact. Christianity is conceived as an army in constant battle against terrible forces - both worldly and demonic - threatening its destruction, with which no negotiation or compromise is to be tolerated. This myth serves a crucial ideological function, which is to identify those authorities, beliefs and traditions that represent orthodoxy and those which represent heresy or the works of Satan. Around 196 the Christian lawyer Tertullian complained that the Roman hatred for the Christians was so great that they would use any excuse to persecute them. He wrote: "If the Tiber rises to the walls, if the Nile fails to rise and flood the fields, if the sky witholds its rain , if there is earthquake or famine or plague, straightway the cry rises: 'The Christians to the lions!'" [p128] On April 14 2012, Daniel R Jenky, the bishop of Peoria, Illinois, ...challenged his audience to practice "heroic Catholicism. " Heroic Catholicism in this case meant standing - and voting - against the Obama administration... "Barack Obama - with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda - now seems intent on following a similar path" as other governments throughout history who "have tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches." Jenky singled out the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as antecedents to Obama's health-care reforms....."For 2,000 years the enemies of Christ have certainly tried their best. But think about it. The Church survived and even flourished during centuries of terrible persecution...." [p10] ...the use of this language of persecution is discursive napalm. It obliterates any sense of scale or moderation. This stymieing, dialogue-ending language is disastrous for public discourse, disastrous for politics, and results in a more deeply poisoned well for everyone. When all areas of modern society and politics are recast as a battle between God and Satan, good and evil, "us" and "them" then people are compelled to fight. Evil must be identified, resisted and uprooted. Resisting this "evil" might mean resorting to physical violence or outright war, but if Christians are being "attacked" and "persecuted" then what else can they do? Just as in the early Church, today's innocent, victimized Christians should stand their ground rather than seek compromise or resolution. It's what the martyrs would have done. It's what Jesus would have done. Persecution has always been a part of being Christian and it always demands the same response." [p13] The language of martyrdom and persecution is often the language of war. It forces a rupture between "us" and "them" and perpetuates and legitimizes an aggressive posture towards "the other" and "our enemies" so that we can "defend the faith." Without this posture and the polarized view of the world upon which it relies, we might - without compromising our religious or political convictions - be able to reach common ground and engage in productive government, and we might focus on real examples of actual suffering and actual oppression. [p14] The book reviews historical evidence that Christian martyrdom is no different to Greek, Roman and Jewish conceptions of heroic deaths, and Christians were not different to others in their willingness to die terribly for their beliefs and values. It shows another similarity, which is the extent to which their martyrs were mythical and rarely historical. For the most part, it defers to other sources for detailed evidence that the martyrdoms never could have taken place in the manner described by Christian writers, concentrating on a few cases which are considered the most well established and reliable, and showing that even these cannot be accepted as historically accurate. The book also reviews evidence that Christians were not in fact persecuted under the Roman Empire outside a period of at most a dozen years, and indeed demonstrably occupied positions of prominence and high status. Christians did fall foul of occasional efforts to promote the political interests of specific emperors, not because they were directly identifed to be victims, but because indirectly they felt inclined to resist the necessary displays of loyalty, which were religious in their nature. Local rulers within the empire also were capable of occasional acts of brutality and discrimination against specific, local Christians. Christians were, however, often intensely disliked, because of their truculent behaviour and their antagonism to prevailing religious values. Sometimes, they are also shown to be actively seeking martyrdom and provoking retaliation, to the point of being suicidal. Between different groups of Christians there were also many examples of serious aggression and mutual violence. The often repeated suggestion that early Christians were typically mild, passive, apolitical and kindly people is not well supported by this evidence. In the absence of sound historical evidence to support claims that the early Christians suffered sustained and extreme persecution, the alternative explanation emerges that it was useful to the Church to perpetrate the myth, and indeed one writer, Eusebius, turns out to be the primary source of information for a great many of the [fictional] martyrs in question. His history of the early Christians is carefully structured so that its elements reinforce each other. Martyrs are not simply victims, but also provide statements that support orthodox teaching and expose heresy. The narrative of persecution serves a purpose in his overall thesis of the development of a single, orthodox Christian Church rooted in the work of the original disciples of Jesus. This book does not attack Christianity and the author identifies herself as a practising Christian. This does not prevent her including the death of Jesus as an example of a mythical story, with elements borrowed from pagan and Jewish traditions. She explores for example a number of significant discrepancies between the gospels of Mark and of Luke in their account of the passion. She notes that Luke would have had Mark's Gospel before him when writing his own version and made alterations for specific reasons to suit his purposes. She recognises that it is quite reasonable for writers to set out their accounts of real historical people and events in mythical terms, in the manner of all good story tellers. In itself that does not discredit the stories they tell. However, the historical record is simply too much at odds with the stories told by Christians about their early history and the discrepancies are of more than incidental importance. It is important to acknowledge that the story of persecution and large scale martyrdom is actually mythical, that early Christianity did not in fact develop in the way proposed and that the myths have come to play a disfunctional, poisonous role in the way Christianity is presented to us in the modern world. The author is not attacking Christianity but pleading for a different type of Christianity. She developed a useful analogy as she proceeds. She spends some time exploring the reasoning behind the way Roman authorities dealt with Christians and shows that, from a Roman point of view, they were generally handled fairly and with justice, as that was understood in that period of time. Indeed, for the most part, the Roman authorities - as prudent administrators - took pride in finding workable arrangements to avoid the need for violence or disorder. She proceeds to suggest that there are modern day issues in which comparable negotiation and compromise could be achieved. She gives the example of abortion, pointing out that religiously motivated drives to make abortion more difficult or even illegal typically result in an increase rather than a reduction in the number of abortions actually taking place. A religious compromise with secular authorities might well permit significant reductions in the total numbers, while accepting a need to allow some abortions in the context of a fully resourced womens health service. This would entail recognising that advocates for abortion are not pathological child killers possessed by Satan. The flaw in that attractive vision of a more compassionate, tolerant form of Christianity is pretty well everything the book has demonstrated about the role of the myth of persecution and martyrdom for Christianity. It simply is not the case that Christianity is inherently charitable or compassionate. It never was. Yet in its one reference to Nietzsche the book sadly falls into the lazy trap of saying he was simply being antiSemitic, instead of picking up seriously Nietzsche's insight that the Christian notion of hell is no better than an unhealthy revenge fantasy, and that "only those who suffer are good, only the poor, the powerless, the lowly are good; the suffering, the deprived, the sick, the ugly are the only pious people." [p206] If this book shows anything it is that Christians have from the outset been aggressive, opinionated and intolerant. This book will hit the brick wall of religious intolerance and evasion. Its evidence and arguments will be discounted with every device of logic chopping, confusion and distraction. Even so, for those who have escaped the magic net of religious faith, it does provide a powerful analysis of the nature of the tools used to weave that magic net. Appeals to a period of primitive Christianity when true believers were close to Jesus and endured persecution with grace and courage are mythical and even if they were true, at least in part, they are not a logical justification for modern intolerance, bigotry and aggression. It is about time the myth was exposed to be untrue and harmful. If it transpires that #NotAllChristians share the same faults and that it is possible to take Christianity in new and more tolerant directions, then that will be a fine thing. This is after all the aspiration of the author, who never does accuse all Christians of anything. Still, it seems a major challenge and I wonder when it might even begin?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    Disclaimer I only perused it. The book is long and tedious it needs an editor, of course I believe that true for at least half the books I read. Yes, there are exaggerations of persecution, and some Christians really do believe the persecution was continuous and non-stop, but exaggeration the other way does not help. Two wrongs will not fix the problem. When I got to the part on page 139 concerning Tacitus (A Roman pagan who knew of persecution) and he was not quoted directly and then when you r Disclaimer I only perused it. The book is long and tedious it needs an editor, of course I believe that true for at least half the books I read. Yes, there are exaggerations of persecution, and some Christians really do believe the persecution was continuous and non-stop, but exaggeration the other way does not help. Two wrongs will not fix the problem. When I got to the part on page 139 concerning Tacitus (A Roman pagan who knew of persecution) and he was not quoted directly and then when you read the end note stating some scholars believe Christianity was illegal across the empire from Nero to Constantine I knew there was a problem. "Some scholars", how about none or at least list them. I had never heard that claim from a scholar. Maybe there are some but that type of statement with out sourcing shows the bias to facts, that she does not like. Here are some other rebuttals to her thesis, they are all Christians and so biased but then I would say Moss is also biased. So read the book and theses reviews and decide. Paul L. Maier is professor emeritus of ancient history at Western Michigan University and a much-published author. He has translated new editions of Josephus and Eusebius, and written the best-selling A Skeleton in God’s Closet (Thomas Nelson, 1994). His latest book is The Constantine Codex (Tyndale, 2011). http://www.equip.org/article/the-myth... Bible scholar Ben Witherington is Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary and on the doctoral faculty at St. Andrews University in Scotland. A graduate of UNC, Chapel Hill, he went on to receive the M.Div. degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from the University of Durham in England. He is now considered one of the top evangelical scholars in the world, and is an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleand... Ephraim Radner, a member of FIRST THINGS’ advisory council, is professor of historical theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto http://www.firstthings.com/article/20...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    Good lord, what a load of rubbish! As a fellow female Oxonian who also attended Harvard, I know all too well the lure of an ivy-league title when attempting to convince. However, it is exactly that education that made me want to hit my head against the wall when reading this book. I get the appeal of academic-work-geared-to-the-masses thing that made Ehrman a household name, but at least that guy could write! Well, in his first works anyway. With sentences like “Perpetua even has her own word-pr Good lord, what a load of rubbish! As a fellow female Oxonian who also attended Harvard, I know all too well the lure of an ivy-league title when attempting to convince. However, it is exactly that education that made me want to hit my head against the wall when reading this book. I get the appeal of academic-work-geared-to-the-masses thing that made Ehrman a household name, but at least that guy could write! Well, in his first works anyway. With sentences like “Perpetua even has her own word-processing font, graphic novel, and animated movie”, when trying to “debunk” the veracity of the text, I honestly wonder how this book made it to print. Don’t get me wrong, for the average reader this will likely be a treasure trove of brand-new information, but Moss uses this information (historical basics of a Roman vestal virgin, for example) to draw ridiculous conclusions. “Rich man saw people suffering and decided to abandon his wealth and live a spiritual life” is a theme that recurs frequently throughout history. That doesn’t mean Christians took the story of Buddha, slapped a Greek name on it, and sold it as a hagiography, as she suggests. Rags to riches is also a ludicrously common trope. Does that mean every time we hear of a poor man making it we should be like “nope. Nope. You’re lying. There’s this other poor man that once made it, and you’re just copying his story”. It’s just poor scholarship from beginning to end. A perfect example of a person that decides on a point, and then digs up evidence to back it up. And because she (and I) know more about Christian history than most, she uses the cherrypicked nonsense to try and awe the masses into thinking that the church has had this big conspiracy all along to hide the truth. She’s the non-fiction Dan Brown, and while she will certainly give many people something to think about, anyone who has actually studied Christian history and knows anything about the eras will be left with the same sort of headache scientists are left with when they read a fellow scientist’s book on how the earth is flat, and how the scientific community has been trying to hide that fact. Long story short, of course certain hagiographies use exaggeration. All texts, regardless of era, must be read with studious caution, but to say “lions don’t eat people in these stories, so they’re clearly bull****, as everyone knows lions always eat people” is the worst kind of catering to the lowest common denominator. A few fellow Harvard students and I, in our senior year, put on a bet to see how many people we could convince that Jesus was actually Russian. Using names of actual ancient texts, and interspersing real information with flat-out lies coated in “in the original Greek, the word actually translates to...” I got three people in one day. I still lost to my friend who got 5. My point is, you can make texts and facts say anything you want them to if you have an agenda, and you can sell them even more successfully with a few years of Ivy League under your belt, but just because it’s served at a Michelin-star restaurant, it doesn’t mean the meal will necessarily be good.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    I came across this book as I was weeding the religion section at the library, and thought it sounded interesting. Lo and behold, I actually read it. While I'm not surprised by the evidence that the stories of martyrs are inaccurate, embellished, or at their worst fabricated, I found the book most instructive in how it explains the narrative that Christianity in America today is under attack. I came across this book as I was weeding the religion section at the library, and thought it sounded interesting. Lo and behold, I actually read it. While I'm not surprised by the evidence that the stories of martyrs are inaccurate, embellished, or at their worst fabricated, I found the book most instructive in how it explains the narrative that Christianity in America today is under attack.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Maness

    Basically, I don't find it hard to accept the author's thesis, which is actually a bit sprawling. She argues, first, that martyrdom is a pillar of Christian church history and Christian practice for the last 2000+ years, and that the resulting Christian persecution complex has had devastating consequences not just in discourse, where those affected by the complex are apt to see the world in terms of good (us) vs. evil (those who criticize or appear to dislike us) but also for innumerable forms o Basically, I don't find it hard to accept the author's thesis, which is actually a bit sprawling. She argues, first, that martyrdom is a pillar of Christian church history and Christian practice for the last 2000+ years, and that the resulting Christian persecution complex has had devastating consequences not just in discourse, where those affected by the complex are apt to see the world in terms of good (us) vs. evil (those who criticize or appear to dislike us) but also for innumerable forms of violence and oppression and how people (fail to) understand their causes and effect as well as how Christians justify them when the violence is against our persecutors. Her argument, then, is that, since so much death and destruction and polarization and ignorance is built on the foundation of Christian persecution and martyrdom, if that history is false, then perhaps the complex itself can be undermined and eventually eliminated. She proceeds to show that the history of Christian persecution and martyrdom is problematic at least, in that persecution was not as pervasive in the first centuries of Christ followers as the myth of martyrdom suggests, and that the vast majority of martyr stories are so compromised by sensationalism, editorial agendas, and less-than-pure motives (including those that have much in common with modern advertising and propaganda—that latter of which is a word based on techniques for propagating faith) that we can't really say that there is much of a history of Christian martyrdom. After 40+ years in the Christian I realized I'm a secular humanist who sees the Bible as an elaborate set of very human texts, so this book is not threatening to me in the least. In fact, most of the author's arguments are so close to things I believe about the Bible and its authors and editors that it's no real stretch to see how they extend into early church history. What Christians call the Old Testament seems to me to be a story justifying nation-building in the case of Israel, while what we call the New Testament is a story justifying church-building in the case of the larger Christian church. Both, therefore, are about the establishment and maintenance of institutions of power, including hierarchies of people groups with relatively more or less power. To read that the stories of martyrdom furthered the legitimizing project of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, and went further by doing the work of recruiting for specific "Christian" churches and groups, seems to fit. If I disagreed with the author, I'm not at all sure that her textual analysis would convince me of the merits of her argument. A good deal of the work she does seems to consist of using textual analysis to conclude that "we can't be sure of the accuracy of this account," which is a strange argument to base so much upon when studying an era when concepts like fact, accuracy, history, and knowledge were so much different from what they've become after centuries of mass literacy and the scientific revolution. The process of reading through story after story only to show that each is, in actuality, a story concealing an op-ed rather than a straight news article gets old after the end of the author's introduction. This book is worth a read, but I ended up skimming a lot, and I don't feel that I missed a ton by doing so.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    Putting aside the fact that Candida Moss is a total babe, this book of revisionist history is quite entertaining and, well, impassioned. I don't know that I believe in everything Moss espouses, particularly as she is so passionate about her topic, but she presents, for the most part, a compelling argument. (It was less compelling when she said, Christians weren't persecuted, because it's not persecution when it's prosecution, and okay, if it's persecution, it wasn't that long anyway. <--That's n Putting aside the fact that Candida Moss is a total babe, this book of revisionist history is quite entertaining and, well, impassioned. I don't know that I believe in everything Moss espouses, particularly as she is so passionate about her topic, but she presents, for the most part, a compelling argument. (It was less compelling when she said, Christians weren't persecuted, because it's not persecution when it's prosecution, and okay, if it's persecution, it wasn't that long anyway. <--That's not a compelling argument for non-persecution.) I must have apparently missed all this talk on Christians being persecuted, because the last I heard, the Christians of Western civilization have been persecuting others, or, ahem, converting lesser beings for quite a long time now. (But I recently ran across a BBC segment entitled "Are Christians Being Persecuted?" and although I didn't finish listening to it, the title would suggest that they are.) Also, regarding her interesting definition of persecution v. prosecution, I do think her definition tended to downplay persecution as persecution when it's a byproduct of political goals. I don't necessarily think it's not to be considered persecution on those grounds, but it may shed a different light, perhaps. In general, I find revisionist histories amusing and interesting, especially when the authors can make a pretty coherent argument to support their thesis. I much prefer it to dry recitals of facts, therefore, I did like this book. This book was also written in a very colloquial tone, which made it easier to read in some parts, but was also jarring in others. (In particular, the line referring to the writings of some apostle, Luke, I think it was: "He does this all the time." That line was so jarring that I kept thinking about how informal it was all throughout that chapter and the next.) Aside from that, the book is good reading just for a beginner's intro to writings of the period and history, all the writings of the Apocrypha that had apparently passed me by before and now I am slightly more acquainted with. Good stuff. Very colorful. She did a good job presenting these documents without having the audience go to read it. And though I may have thought her impassioned tone tended to take away from the credibility of her thesis, the last chapter did explain her bias against people not sympathizing with victims (say, the 9 y/o who got pregnant with twins as a result of rape by her stepfather was excommunicated with her doctor for the abortion which saved her life. But not the twins. Obviously.) Apparently, there are some people who believed had the 9 y/o died from giving birth, she would have instantly hit the jackpot by becoming a martyr. Instant crown-in-heaven and skipping-of-judgment-on-high and vengeful-sainthood-with-right-to-laugh-at-others. I did quite enjoy Moss's colorful depictions.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    Christians have long cherished stories of martyrs and their persecution, particularly from the first three centuries CE before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Stories of the early church rising above sustained, violent suppression by authories through the heroism of members willing to die for their faith is considered to prove the truth of Christian doctrines (who would die for something that wasn't true?) and the moral superiority of believers over others. The fir Christians have long cherished stories of martyrs and their persecution, particularly from the first three centuries CE before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Stories of the early church rising above sustained, violent suppression by authories through the heroism of members willing to die for their faith is considered to prove the truth of Christian doctrines (who would die for something that wasn't true?) and the moral superiority of believers over others. The first historian of the church, Eusebius in the time of Constantine, wrote a narrative that identified martyrs and orthodoxy as opposed to heretics and the forces of Satan. Surprisingly, some Christians today, even when in the majority, continue to view the world through this same narrative and perceive themselves as persecuted by any individual or group who opposes or disagrees with them, opposition which by definition is satanic or heretical and so cannot be compromised with. The author wrote this book to counter this "us vs. them," no compromise attitude by showing that in fact Christians in the early centuries were not constantly persecuted by the Roman state; that virtually all of the stories about the martyrs date from after Christianity became an accepted and then a dominant religion in the Roman Empire; that most of them are of questionable factuality, many being outright fiction; and that Eusebius is a propagandist rather than a reliable historian and invented the idea of the persecuted church to bolster the claims of the orthodox party allied with the Roman Emperor. The author, a specialist in the Christian martyrs, is presenting scholarly material for a general audience, and she discusses some of the scholarly controversies. Among the findings are that there are only six stories of martyrs from the first 250 years of the Christian movement that scholars hold to be authentic – that is, accounts of actual events written during the period they claim to be written in, which does not mean that these accounts are necessarily accurate. Also, that in the first 300 years of the Christian movement the Roman imperial government had capital laws affecting Christians as religionists for only twelve years, and some of these laws weren't addressed to Christians as such but to anyone who refused to carry out the civic religion that bound the Empire together. Most Romans didn't like Christians but didn't go out of their way to persecute them either. This is an worthwhile read for those interested in early Christianity, issues of justification through persecution in religion (Islam has martyrs too, and a somewhat similar narrative about them), or the disproportionate reactions of some Christians to any criticism or opposition.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Patty

    I am by no means any manner of religious/Biblical expert. I do have a fascination for the study of religions and their histories. I was baptized Catholic and for my first 6 years of school I had a Catholic education. My commentary on this book might offend some but religion is one of those divisive topics. I found Ms. Moss's writing style to be very easy to read and the book was well laid out. I especially found the section on the etymology of the word martyr to be fascinating. I love learning ho I am by no means any manner of religious/Biblical expert. I do have a fascination for the study of religions and their histories. I was baptized Catholic and for my first 6 years of school I had a Catholic education. My commentary on this book might offend some but religion is one of those divisive topics. I found Ms. Moss's writing style to be very easy to read and the book was well laid out. I especially found the section on the etymology of the word martyr to be fascinating. I love learning how words come to mean what they do. Many of the stories of the martyrs were part of my religious education at school; we were all taught of the glory of dying for your belief in God. Instant ride to heaven, that! In fact I still remember the fear - I grew up in Philadelphia in a time when the city was having crime issues and "motorcycle gangs" (according to the nuns anyway) were running rampant. If one of these evil types were to invade the school and ask us to renounce our God we were to die rather than do so. I'm not kidding. This is what went through the nuns' heads and what they passed on to us. I only went through sixth grade so I could not have been that old. And people wonder why I have no religion.... But I digress. Although the above anecdote does prove the power of the martyr legend. But back to the book. Ms. Moss goes through the history of Christianity and of the more famous martyrs. The facts are presented in a straightforward manner with her various positions in support of her topic. I found it fascinating. To me organized religion is more about consolidation of power than anything else so I would expect that the Romans or any other power base would see a growing "cult" as a threat. As that threat grew into the largest power base in the known world one could understand why the Romans might have been nervous. The power struggles continued as the church broke with the East and then the Reformation. Everyone's God was "the one true God." Persecution of Christians became persecution of the opposition's power base. But without the martyr aspect dying for one's God was not as motivating as dying for power. That's not to say that religious persecution has not/does not exist. But this book is about Christianity. For someone like me who is a casual reader of religious history and books about religion it was an easy, well constructed book. It was written in a style that was comfortable for the non-scholar to comprehend but I suspect that my interest in the topic and working knowledge of Catholicism helped with full understanding.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Clearly written for the layperson but meticulously researched by a Catholic historian who has made her career studying martyrs and martyrdom, this book examines the evidence for the persecution of Christians under Roman rule and finds that with the exception of a few years under particular emperors, there really never was a persecution. Instead, it seems that Christians occasionally were prosecuted for real crimes (mainly what we'd call contempt of court). The vast majority of the martyrs descri Clearly written for the layperson but meticulously researched by a Catholic historian who has made her career studying martyrs and martyrdom, this book examines the evidence for the persecution of Christians under Roman rule and finds that with the exception of a few years under particular emperors, there really never was a persecution. Instead, it seems that Christians occasionally were prosecuted for real crimes (mainly what we'd call contempt of court). The vast majority of the martyrs described in early Christian writings were inventions, and the sources of martyrdom and persecution stories came later, as particular Church leaders bolstered their side's case against various heretical movements. The introductory and concluding chapters, which look at the psychology of the myth of persecution, could have been better developed, but are still convincing. The central thesis does not come as surprise to me; having done some research on saints, the early Church, and the catacombs of Rome, I'd been finding many indications that the picture of a persecuted Church in Roman times was a later invention. For example, many catacomb graves are decorated with a palm leaf, which was simply a symbol meaning the deceased was Christian; however over time the palm leaf became interpreted to mean "here lies a martyr." Likewise small chambers in the catacombs could be used for memorial gatherings, and centuries later they were misinterpreted as being secret churches for surreptitious masses. The question may be, what's the big deal -- so what if the stories of martyrs and persecution are false? Moss's answer is that this myth is dangerous and damaging because the narrative of 'Christians always at odds with and persecuted by the forces of Satan' has created a mindset that forbids discussion, dialogue, or compromise and instead justifies rhetorical and actual war. After all, to be persecuted is to be attacked without reason, so why reason with your persecutors? The toxicity of this view of the world becomes clear when combined with the rhetoric of the Church being in opposition to the world, and the identification of everyone except "us" as the forces of Satan. The fact that Christians themselves began persecuting pagans, heretics, Jews, and supposed witches as soon as they were in the majority is more understandable as a corollary to the myth of Christianity persecuted, because this can be presented as merely "fighting back."

  16. 4 out of 5

    Trey Nowell

    I have to say this book has excellent scholarship, 5 star even! However, the title of the book I believe is more for shock value than anything. Yes, there is somewhat a myth of persecution, but I feel this book is completely undermining and downplaying all accounts of persecution. It seems that every story told hinges on "this story is a farce and therefore persecution never happened". I think it is very plausible early Christians ran with the idea of "we are being oppressed", much like her Glen I have to say this book has excellent scholarship, 5 star even! However, the title of the book I believe is more for shock value than anything. Yes, there is somewhat a myth of persecution, but I feel this book is completely undermining and downplaying all accounts of persecution. It seems that every story told hinges on "this story is a farce and therefore persecution never happened". I think it is very plausible early Christians ran with the idea of "we are being oppressed", much like her Glen Beck example she illustrated towards the end of the book. The book seems to me to be an argument over definitions of what persecution truly is. Most Christians I know have little interest in identifying themselves as "persecuted" or wishing to persecute others. I feel that the persecution of Christians as "a myth" basically is calling Paul (the most influential writer of Christianity) as even a false prophet. She even concludes that in Acts, Stephen truly does not fit the criteria of "martyr". I must agree that many were getting killed to enter the kingdom of Heaven as a martyr, but she goes beyond the limits to insist people were truly not martyrs. She seems to feel that since Christians were prosecuted or executed by unjust manner, it does not mean that they were in fact persecuted, which makes no sense to me. The book definitely presents facts well, but the conclusions appear far fetched and more of a "we must unite altogether" (which is ok in a protesting context) rather than looking at the facts and presenting a viable conclusion. I am all for various types of people putting aside feelings of persecution (especially since usually they are not personally persecuted) to promote co-existence, but I feel this book goes out of its way to basically question every single instance of Christian persecution and side with the Romans in majority of the instances. Just because the Roman scribes were more educated and prolific writers does not mean the Christian writers were making up stories to garner sympathy. I think this is a good book for all to read interested in scholarship, however it seems an awful lot like a book trying to cause controversy that is not truly necessary.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    From our childhood, most of us have been taught that the early Christians had to hide in catacombs or meet in secret to avoid arrest, torture and death by the Romans. All because they refused to renounce their faith in their new religion. But Candida Moss explains in this book how the "Age of Martyrs" is a fiction. For the first 300 years of Christianity there were only a handful of true Christian persecution incidents. The rest were PROSECUTIONS by the authorities for violations of Roman law. S From our childhood, most of us have been taught that the early Christians had to hide in catacombs or meet in secret to avoid arrest, torture and death by the Romans. All because they refused to renounce their faith in their new religion. But Candida Moss explains in this book how the "Age of Martyrs" is a fiction. For the first 300 years of Christianity there were only a handful of true Christian persecution incidents. The rest were PROSECUTIONS by the authorities for violations of Roman law. Sedition, arson, fomenting rebellion and refusing to sacrifice and show respect for the Emperor were crimes that could weaken the strength of the empire. The penalty for such crimes was death. And there was the recurring problem of Christians who WANTED to die...who flocked to Roman magistrates and demanded arrest and death so that they could emulate and join their crucified Christ in heaven. Such a death was considered the greatest sacrifice (just like Christ's death). And thus the stories of Christian martyrs were born. The author shows readers that these are pious exaggerations promoted by the Church. Create the mystique of noble martyrs and people will flock to your cause (think suicide bombers of the modern world). Such stories were used to inspire the faithful, solicit funds for building churches, and create "holy" wars of vengeance. Even today, religious and political pundits insist that Christians were--and still are--persecuted just because they are Christians. There are occasional, isolated attacks on Christian groups today but there is is no concerted effort to persecute ALL Christians just because they are Christians. The author is a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. A graduate of Oxford University, she earned her doctorate from Yale University. She has thoroughly researched this book in order to methodically peel back the "propaganda" of the centuries and reveal the naked truth.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Fred Kohn

    It is fashionable today (and easy enough to do) to call into question the traditional views that Christianity has of itself, and I think it is quite fair to do so. But if it is fair to do that, it is also fair to call into question the views of the questioners. Unfortunately I wasn't in a position to do so in this case, because I didn't have the author's main source material available to me. She relies heavily on six certain early persecution accounts that having read this book I now have to rea It is fashionable today (and easy enough to do) to call into question the traditional views that Christianity has of itself, and I think it is quite fair to do so. But if it is fair to do that, it is also fair to call into question the views of the questioners. Unfortunately I wasn't in a position to do so in this case, because I didn't have the author's main source material available to me. She relies heavily on six certain early persecution accounts that having read this book I now have to read, and I suggest that anyone reading this book read them first, or at least have access to them: 1. Martyrdom of Polycarp 2. Acts of Ptolemy and Lucius 3. Acts of Justin and Companions 4. Martyrs of Lyons 5. Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs 6. Passion of Perpetua and Felicity While the book seems well written and the main points well supporter, I have the sneaking suspicion that the author often overreaches. In the very short discussion of the Neronian persecution, she says both, "It's highly unlikely that, at the time the Great Fire occurred, anyone recognized Jesus followers as a distinct and separate group," and, "Yet with the exception of Nero's tempestuous accusations against the Christians..." These statements are irreconcilable. How could Nero have made accusations against Christians if he didn't recognize them as a distinct group? Furthermore I was very troubled by the complete lack of discussion of the Revelation of John here and throughout the entire book. Many believe that the Revelation was written largely as a response to the Neronian persecution, and this section would have been a perfect opportunity to discuss this possibility. Nevertheless, this book is a great overview of the early Christian literature about persecution. If not for the flaw mentioned above, I would give it five stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David Pacheco

    Arguments can be made for decades with no conclusion on how many of the stories of religious martyrs were true, or how many of them were embellished, copied from previous myths or completely invented. Presumably there is some truth to the stories, although we may never know how much, considering how intervening authors have edited, added and removed the details that helped bolster their own stories and beliefs. But the martyr complex is poisonous to rational discussion: if you feel that being per Arguments can be made for decades with no conclusion on how many of the stories of religious martyrs were true, or how many of them were embellished, copied from previous myths or completely invented. Presumably there is some truth to the stories, although we may never know how much, considering how intervening authors have edited, added and removed the details that helped bolster their own stories and beliefs. But the martyr complex is poisonous to rational discussion: if you feel that being persecuted somehow means your cause is just and your beliefs are true, then you will be in no mood to negotiate or have a fruitful exchange with those on the other side. They are dehumanized by their casting as the persecuting opposition, and therefore not worthy of the debate. That is the issue presented by Candida Moss in this interesting book. The important point is not so much about whether particular martyrdoms occurred or were made up from whole cloth, but the damage the myth of persecution causes to the debate that we require in order to live together peacefully. Presenting the opposite side as the Devil (metaphorically, or in many tellings, quite literally) is not conducive to that kind of co-existence. A fascinating book, but one which I fear many readers will miss the point of: any review you see which focuses on the probability of any of the recounted stories actually being true, rather than understanding the polarizing effect of the persecution complex, will have missed the valuable lesson.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Drew Martin

    All religions have myths and legends, but those deal more with the beginning of the world, life, and the individual religion. Christianity is an anomaly, an exception to the rule. The religion borrows from the Jewish tradition found in the Old Testament to explain the beginnings of the world and life and use the New Testament to account for the birth of the religion. Christianity, while not built upon, is at least propped up by a tradition of persecution and martyrs going back to Jesus. Is it a All religions have myths and legends, but those deal more with the beginning of the world, life, and the individual religion. Christianity is an anomaly, an exception to the rule. The religion borrows from the Jewish tradition found in the Old Testament to explain the beginnings of the world and life and use the New Testament to account for the birth of the religion. Christianity, while not built upon, is at least propped up by a tradition of persecution and martyrs going back to Jesus. Is it a true tradition, or a myth like so many? Is there any truth? In her 2013 book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Christian Martyrdom, the brilliant and beautiful Candida Moss goes in search of the truth. I know I don’t say much about the author, but she’s beautiful, and more than that, she’s a professor at Notre Dame. Go Irish! To read the rest of this review go to https://drewmartinwrites.wordpress.co...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pierre A Renaud

    “The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom" http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15... Early Christians weren’t persecuted and the Romans did not target, hunt or massacre Jesus' followers, says historian of the early church Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame http://www.salon.com/2013/02/24/the_m... “The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom" http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15... Early Christians weren’t persecuted and the Romans did not target, hunt or massacre Jesus' followers, says historian of the early church Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame http://www.salon.com/2013/02/24/the_m...

  22. 5 out of 5

    sam

    What if the history you grew up with about the Christians being thrown to the lions,constantly in danger, wasn't true? How would that change your view of your faith and how you viewed others reaction to you? This fascinating book addresses why and how this could have happened.Prepare to have your eyes opened. What if the history you grew up with about the Christians being thrown to the lions,constantly in danger, wasn't true? How would that change your view of your faith and how you viewed others reaction to you? This fascinating book addresses why and how this could have happened.Prepare to have your eyes opened.

  23. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Error Has No Rights In 1832 Pope Gregory published an encyclical, Mirari vos, in which a traditional view of not just the Catholic Church but also most other Christian sects was made an explicit part of their teaching: Error has no rights. In fact this encyclical was part of a series of directives by various popes over the next century that denied almost every human right we take for granted - from freedom of conscience to the importance of democratic institutions. These are all still ‘on the boo Error Has No Rights In 1832 Pope Gregory published an encyclical, Mirari vos, in which a traditional view of not just the Catholic Church but also most other Christian sects was made an explicit part of their teaching: Error has no rights. In fact this encyclical was part of a series of directives by various popes over the next century that denied almost every human right we take for granted - from freedom of conscience to the importance of democratic institutions. These are all still ‘on the books’ and are promoted as authentic doctrine by many to the present day. The connection between this Christian denial of human rights and Christian martyrdom, Moss’s topic of investigation, is straightforward: self-induced Christian paranoia. From the writers of the New Testament, to the earliest apologists, through the crusades and pogroms of medieval heretics, and into today’s evangelical warriors, the persistent trope of Christian culture is one of actual or impending persecution. According to Christian ideology (consistent but distinct from its theology*) the world is out to get its adherents; and always has been. What Moss shows very clearly is that this narrative of persecution is fictional from its earliest versions. It persists because it is functional. As she says, “The rhetoric of persecution legitimates and condones retributive violence. Violence committed by the persecuted is an act of divinely approved self-defense. In attacking others they are not only defending themselves; they are defending all Christians.” This ideology is the rationale behind every political (and, historically, military) move by all Christian churches. It justifies the most inhumane actions - from widespread persecution of others to the denial of the right to even object to such persecution. This is institutional paranoia on a massive scale. Christian paranoia is most acute when it is least justified. Just as the tales of primitive martyrs mainly emerge only after Christianity is legitimised by the Emperor Constantine, so modern evangelicals claim oppression by the democratic state as they wield their considerable political muscle on issues as diverse as abortion, voting rights, and gun control. Its martyrs include foetuses, disgraced preachers, and politicians who have lost their seats because they have espoused ‘Christian causes.’ Always on the lookout for opposition, real or imagined, Christianity is an inherently divisive ideology. According to Moss: “The recognition that the idea of the Christian martyr is based in legend and rhetoric, rather than history and truth, reveals that many Christians have been and remain committed to conflict and opposition in their interactions with others.” And as Moss notes in passing, “some Christians argued that the crucifixion was an elaborate magic trick and that Christ never really died.” Is it any surprise therefore that so many American Christians believe that Trump actually won the recent election and is governing the country from Florida? *The ideological evolution of Christian thought moves from suggestions of forbearance to directives of terrorism in approximately the following steps: 1. Jesus died. 2. Jesus died for your salvation. 3. Others have died to prove that Jesus died for your salvation. 4. All the faithful, too, must be prepared to die for Jesus in order to promote his message of universal salvation. 5. Jesus’s message of universal salvation must be defended, if necessary by oppressing or even killing those who reject it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marlowe

    The central argument of the book is that, while there were some periods of actual persecution of Christians in the early centuries, they were very few. Most of the martyrdom accounts we have are unsubstantiated, or refer to prosecution (where Christians were breaking laws that were not drawn or enforced with Christians specifically in mind). And this matters because it is the narrative of martyrdom that excuses horrifically callous behaviour. Specifically, the fudging between disagreement and per The central argument of the book is that, while there were some periods of actual persecution of Christians in the early centuries, they were very few. Most of the martyrdom accounts we have are unsubstantiated, or refer to prosecution (where Christians were breaking laws that were not drawn or enforced with Christians specifically in mind). And this matters because it is the narrative of martyrdom that excuses horrifically callous behaviour. Specifically, the fudging between disagreement and persecution. If Christians are always and have always been under attack from worldly forces, and people wanting to get gay-married is an attack on Christianity, then the Christian fight against gay marriage becomes a fight of self-defence. I would also add, though Moss doesn't, that there is also a fudging between chosen martyrdom and imposed martyrdom. Part of the veneration of martyrs also promises greater heavenly reward for greater earthly suffering, which is the logic used by people like Mother Teresa in denying palliative care to terminal patients. By increasing their suffering in their last days - without their consent (informed or otherwise) - Mother Teresa sought to purify their souls. The book does have some weaker moments, such as when Moss hitches much of her argument against the reality of persecution in the earliest period on the fact that the group in question was not yet called Christians (largely around p.130-134). Which is just an argument from semantics, and not particularly useful. But for the most part, Moss constructs her arguments well, She also strikes a good balance between being readable and being informative. I think that much of this book will appeal to the "New Atheist" types, who will make much of the occasional 'gotcha' sound bites. I also think it's a valuable (though perhaps uncomfortable) read for Christians who currently believe that early Christians were persecuted, especially if they believe that this persecution has been ongoing. This book won't hold any hands, though, so I suspect that most readers from this group will simply dismiss it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marta

    I wanted to like this book, I really did. I will not hide my bias: I'm no fan of religion, and Christianity - chiefly in its Catholic form - especially. I'd love to be convinced that Christians invented the whole prosecution thing out of the blue, being from the very start a conniving and dangerous bunch. Even if it was so, Moss' book fails to convince the reader. It contains a lot of fascinating analysis of early martyrdom texts, an interesting discussion of martyrdom in Greek antiquity, and a I wanted to like this book, I really did. I will not hide my bias: I'm no fan of religion, and Christianity - chiefly in its Catholic form - especially. I'd love to be convinced that Christians invented the whole prosecution thing out of the blue, being from the very start a conniving and dangerous bunch. Even if it was so, Moss' book fails to convince the reader. It contains a lot of fascinating analysis of early martyrdom texts, an interesting discussion of martyrdom in Greek antiquity, and a thought-provoking overview of Roman attitudes towards religion and civic duty - and makes a very convincing argument that martyrdom was from the very start used for political purposes by Christians. And yet, Moss seems often to use the argument that if narratives around martyrs were shaped and adjusted according to the needs of the one telling the story, not according to whatever facts known, then the stories are as good as invented. But this is hardly so - turning stories of actual events into tools of persuasion and politics is as old as story-telling itself, and knowing that early Christians cared much more for persuasion and their theological disputes than for mere facts doesn't mean they didn't base their stories on true events. It doesn't, of course, mean they did - but I'm very much unconvinced that they just went and invented martyrdom without at least some basis in reality. The other problem with the book is that the author holds a clear conviction that the martyrdom myth is a cause of many of society's problems, especially the desire to separate people into 'us' vs 'them' and to view oneself as at war with the dangerous others. I find this causal effect to be a little too simplistic, too reductive and extremely western-centric; whenever the thesis appeared on the pages, it distracted me from otherwise well-written and engaging book. I don't regret reading "The Myth of Persecution" - it contains a wealth of information on early Christianity's narratives and Greek and Roman attitudes on religion and martyrdom. It's clear, readable, entertaining and interesting; but tragically, it's not convincing and often far too simplistic.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    This book does a very thorough job of deconstructing the oft-repeated ideas that Christians have always been persecuted, showing not only that it is a false narrative, but ultimately a dangerous one. Professor Moss- herself a Christian- states early on in the book that the work of debunking stories of martyrdom in the first centuries of the Christian church was largely done for her by a group of Jesuits starting in the 17th century. That group, the Bollinists, declared that only a handful of thes This book does a very thorough job of deconstructing the oft-repeated ideas that Christians have always been persecuted, showing not only that it is a false narrative, but ultimately a dangerous one. Professor Moss- herself a Christian- states early on in the book that the work of debunking stories of martyrdom in the first centuries of the Christian church was largely done for her by a group of Jesuits starting in the 17th century. That group, the Bollinists, declared that only a handful of these early martyrdom stories were reliable. The book then takes a closer look at those stories, then expands into the rise of the myth of constant and systemic persecution of Christianity to reveal the flaws about the narrative itself. This is no mere screed, however. Her message- especially for her fellow Christians but also instructive for anyone- is one of looking at these stories as sources of inspiration and comfort, but doing short of using them to demonize our opponents, literally or figuratively. It shows how the inherited persecution complex among Christians can result in the so-called "war on Christmas" in the US overshadowing the very real and dire circumstances faced by Christians (as well as other religious groups) in China, Nigeria, and other parts of the world. It is, above all, a call for compassion. In a divided age which was already in full swing when the book was published seven years ago (and which had only gotten worse since then) it is a message that everyone needs to hear and sincerely consider.

  27. 5 out of 5

    George

    Where do some Christians, against all evidence, get the idea that there is a war on Christmas? This book explains the origins and impact of the belief that Christians have been singled out as a target for torment. It helps explain the roots of the tactic of demonization of the opposition so common on the Right. Tonight, the same day that the death of Rush Limbaugh was announced, I read in the final pages of the book, “During the 2012 election season, in a radio show in which he questioned whethe Where do some Christians, against all evidence, get the idea that there is a war on Christmas? This book explains the origins and impact of the belief that Christians have been singled out as a target for torment. It helps explain the roots of the tactic of demonization of the opposition so common on the Right. Tonight, the same day that the death of Rush Limbaugh was announced, I read in the final pages of the book, “During the 2012 election season, in a radio show in which he questioned whether African Americans have been persecuted, Rush Limbaugh said, ‘Defeating these people [African American voters] is what’s paramount, not getting along with them and not trying to find common areas of agreement.’” And in the last page of the book, “When Christians are invested in the history of martyrdom, they see themselves as persecuted, make their opponents into enemies, and equate disagreement with demonic activity....We can choose to embrace the virtues that martyrs embody without embracing the false history of persecution and polemic that has grown up around them.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The history of classical martyrs turns out not to be as simple as may at first be believed. The stories were frequently written down centuries after the events, edited to suit the theological and doctrinal ways of the day, and subsequently frozen by 'tradition' - even when earlier, more authentic versions of classical martyr stories are shown to exist, the faithful cling to the non-canonical myths of their grandparents' childhoods, it would appear. Candida R Moss covers the classical martyrdom na The history of classical martyrs turns out not to be as simple as may at first be believed. The stories were frequently written down centuries after the events, edited to suit the theological and doctrinal ways of the day, and subsequently frozen by 'tradition' - even when earlier, more authentic versions of classical martyr stories are shown to exist, the faithful cling to the non-canonical myths of their grandparents' childhoods, it would appear. Candida R Moss covers the classical martyrdom narratives in detail, then shows the idea of the persecuted church growing after the emperor Constantine when Christians were persecuting pagans and destroying pagan temples and culture, and concludes with a brief exploration of the idea that by claiming to be persecuted, some who claim to be Christian close down avenues of engagement and discussion, and create a 'them and us' mentality. This mentality, Candida suggests, needs to be set aside, instead embracing the idea of suffering for Christ.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Dr. Moss is an excellent scholar and shows a good knowledge of the sources in her scholarly treatment of the subject. We both agree that the extent and intensity of Christian persecution in the Ancient world is often exaggerated. Persecution was more often localized. However, scholars have known this for a long time. I think Moss goes too far in her dismissal of persecution which is mainly driven by her faulty definition of persecution. I also take issue with her analysis of certain sources espe Dr. Moss is an excellent scholar and shows a good knowledge of the sources in her scholarly treatment of the subject. We both agree that the extent and intensity of Christian persecution in the Ancient world is often exaggerated. Persecution was more often localized. However, scholars have known this for a long time. I think Moss goes too far in her dismissal of persecution which is mainly driven by her faulty definition of persecution. I also take issue with her analysis of certain sources especially the Trajan-Pliny letter. Overall, I recommend the books. I think we as Christians can't overstate our case on the subject of persecution and that we should think harder about the putative criteria for genuine persecution.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Robert Narojek

    After reading Candida Moss's book, two main words come to my mind that best describe my impressions. The first is delight and the second is respect. The delight comes from a careful and very detailed study of the myths about Christian martyrs and a transparent presentation of all, often unfavorable for Christianity, conclusions. However, my respect and great admiration are inspired by the courage of the author, who is a Christian theologian, to tackle such a "politically sensitive" topic. Having a After reading Candida Moss's book, two main words come to my mind that best describe my impressions. The first is delight and the second is respect. The delight comes from a careful and very detailed study of the myths about Christian martyrs and a transparent presentation of all, often unfavorable for Christianity, conclusions. However, my respect and great admiration are inspired by the courage of the author, who is a Christian theologian, to tackle such a "politically sensitive" topic. Having a theological education, I know how extremely inconvenient for theologians it is to conduct research on myths rooted in the history of the church.

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