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The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom Paperback – May 13, 2014
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“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)
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study. For preaching on the early martyrs Moss reveals a more accurate understanding of
how the acts, legends of myths of ancient classical accounts in the pre-Christian world influenced
the way the stories of the early Christian martyrs was (is) told.. An excellent book, not just for teaching,
but a good red for anyone interested in early Christian history. I recommend also Candida Moss's
Ancient Christian Martyrs.
This revisionist evaluation of the myth of “persecuted” Christians has two virtues: One, it is a good revisionist history. A good revisionist history will lift the layers of self-serving historical lies and reveal the historical record. In this case the historical lie is that on a regular basis Christians were fed to the lions, tortured, persecuted and mistreated by cruel, godless pagans.
The historical record is more nuanced. The historical truth is that persecution of Christians were at least exaggerated or at worst fabrications. Prosecutions did in fact exist. Much like today where whenever possible hegemonic empires will use the legal process to prosecute terrorists, in ancient times Christian groups and movements engaged in illegal activities; in other cases, on an individual level, legal authority was sometimes challenged; and in other instances, persecutions on a larger scale went on. These activities paled in comparison to pogroms practiced by Christian authorities against minority groups or beliefs deemed to be “heresy.”
This book also contains no filler material, It represents the best of both worlds. Historical accounts written by academics intending to reach a wide readership often fall flat on their faces. The reason, for a variety of reasons, usually the absence of existing historical facts, the accounts are positively stuffed with filler material. These academic attempts to tell gets bogged down with a load of material extraneous to the story. That is not the case here. The account given by author, Candida Moss, here is relevant and sticks to the facts.
This is a book of cogent historical analysis. She perhaps overstates the case about the myth of Christian persecution. At times I personally wondered if she was engaging in Christian bashing. Every time that occurred, however, there she was, supporting her assertion with a historical reference.
This book is a dose of fresh air. Highly recommended.