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The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom Hardcover – March 5, 2013

3.4 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Countering politicians’ and interest groups’ claims that Christians are as persecuted now as they were before Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity (313 CE), Moss, an expert on martyrdom, shows how right they are by demonstrating how wrong they are. They’re wrong, first, when they say martyrdom is particularly Christian, for the early martyrdom literature is, besides wildly improbable, modeled on accounts of the deaths of Socrates and other philosophers, of noble Roman suicides like Lucretia, and of faithful-unto-death Jews in the Maccabean period. Christians experienced anything resembling persecution in a mere 12 nonconsecutive years between Jesus and Constantine; only in the last bout of so-called persecution were Christians targeted, and even then it was for political nonconformity, not religion. Eusebius, the early-fourth-century historian of the faith, invented the still-prevalent concepts of persecution and martyrdom to bind the faithful together in support of the rising institutional church. The downside to this effort was that it encouraged among Christians an us-versus-them, all-or-nothing attitude that can lead to violence, for example, against abortion providers. Historical argumentation at its most cogent. --Ray Olson

Review

“Brilliant and provocative…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.” (—Publisher's Weekly)

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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)

“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)

“In engaging prose and with scholarly acumen, Moss pulls back the curtain on one of Western history’s best-kept secrets-that Christians were never subjects of sustained persecution. Read this book and rejoice as Moss turns history on its head and points the way beyond religious violence.” (—Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion)

“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)

“Historical argumentation at its most cogent.” (—Booklist)

“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.” (--Salon.com)

“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.” (Christian Century)

“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.” (U.S. Catholic)

“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.” (Portland Book Review)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 37641st edition (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062104527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062104526
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #649,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus." ~from the Te Deum

When I wrote to Dr. Moss requesting her latest work The Myth of Persecution, I received a prompt and gracious reply assuring me of a copy. Dr. Moss hoped that I would not see the book as an attack upon the Church. I responded that I did not see the book as an attack on the Church and even if it was, the Church has been through worse. We have nothing to fear from the truth of history.

After reading the book my reply is not altered. It is a well-written book with clear explanations indicative of a skilled teacher. However, I recommend Myth to others with reservations, since in spite of the genuine scholarship which Dr. Moss shares with us, there is a contemporary political slant given to the narrative which clouds the objectivity of how the historical evidence is presented. For instance, my cognitive processes are strained to envision St. Justin Martyr (pp. 109-112) and Glenn Beck (p. 250) as confreres in a long battle of paranoid right-wing true believers to demonize the opposition. And the whys and wherefores of the legend of Saints Chrysthanus and Daria (pp. 83-88) are intriguing enough without dragging Ann Coulter into the mix. (p. 255)

The main premise of Myth of Persecution is that the early Christians, and those generations who followed immediately after them, exaggerated the Roman punishment of those who refused to comply with the laws of the Empire. (p. 16) Dr. Moss claims that the Christians made it appear that they suffered one long relentless persecution for over three hundred years, which made them see themselves as victims and everyone else as the enemy. (pp.
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Format: Kindle Edition
On p. 256 the author sums up her argument: “…I’ve argued that the view of the church as continually and unrelentingly persecuted throughout history is a myth, a myth that was solidified after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine for the purposes of retelling the history of Christianity, supporting the authority of bishops, financing religious buildings, and marginalizing the view of heretics.”

From the (negative) reviews I’ve perused on Amazon, I take it that much of the discussion has centered on the “facts” of persecution. Now, it is interesting that the same people arguing facts here might refuse to discuss facts in evolution - but this certainly is a disingenuous and invidious comment on my part.

The author argues, quite modestly, that we cannot decide the facts (one fact can hide another, and most relevant facts are in any case hidden if not obliterated). While the real facts may be beyond our reach, we might aver a plausible reconstruction of the intent of those who wrote down the “facts” well after the fact. Their intentions were not innocent, the author surmises – they followed a recognizable agenda of control of the narrative.

I find the insight that we can recover agendas long buried in texts quite sensible. It is at first counter-intuitive: how can we, in ignorance of “all the facts,” move on to “intent,” which by definition is hidden in one’s soul? While historical facts are infinite, the author argues, the rhetorical devices to which we harness them are relatively few. I would concur. As descendants of apes, our minds are simple vehicles. People have learned to manipulate our illusions early on (psychologists are catching on and systematizing the techniques – it is called marketing). This is so easy - the methods have hardly changed over time.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fantastic introduction and discussion of this topic. As someone who loved early Roman history, I was already very familiar with much of the content, though no one had ever before collected it together into a form that an average reader could read and enjoy. The Christian persecution complex is a very important historical/cultural issue that still has ramifications today, especially as the Religious Right appeals to mythology and tales in order to somehow prove that the mean gays, and atheists, and liberals, and Muslims, and whoever else, are persecuting them and being mean to them.
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Format: Hardcover
A friend took a photo of this book in a bookstore and sent it to me asking if I'd review it. Naturally, I said I'd see if I could find it and fortunately, I found it at the local library and ordered it eager to find out just how exactly Candida Moss had found out something that no other historian had found out in all these years. What I found out rather was that like many other revisionists, Moss sees all the evidence in favor of her position as ironclad and everything contrary to it as reason to be skeptical.

Moss actually plays her hand throughout the book saying how she wants there to be more constructive dialogue and that can't be had as long as one side is saying that they are persecuted. Now if all Moss had said had been that the persecution card is played way too easily by both sides, there would have been no complaint. Indeed, Christians have too often played the persecution card. If you're told to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" when you work at a department store, that could be silly and irrational and anything else, but it is hardly worth calling persecution when other Christians are losing their lives elsewhere.

But if Christians can play the card too lightly, Moss's problem is she only plays it in one situation. If people are being killed, then that's persecution, but if the government is not actively killing Christians, then she says persecution wasn't going on. Much of the persecution going on would have been social It could occur in being ostracized from society, being treated as shameful and deviant, loss of property, not being given basic rights in society, etc. This would have resulted in killing in severe cases.
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