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. 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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About the Author
Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. A regular contributor to The Daily Beast, Moss has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, CBS News, FOX News, the History Channel, National Geographic, and the Travel Channel, and has served as an expert commentator for the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other national media outlets.
Table of Contents
1 Martyrdom Before Christianity 23
2 Christian Borrowing of Jewish and Pagan Martyrdom Traditions 55
3 Inventing Martyrs in Early Christianity 83
4 How Persecuted Were the Early Christians? 127
5 Why Did the Romans Dislike Christians? 163
6 Myths About Martyrs 189
7 The Invention of the Persecuted Church 215
8 The Dangerous Legacy of a Martyrdom Complex 247
What People are Saying About This
“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.”
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
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
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
“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.”
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
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
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
“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.”
“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.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The 1 star reviewer hasn't read this book as the very first thing the author does is talk about persecution in egypt. This book is not about contemporary persecution, it's about the early church. It's fascinating, informative, and very easy to read. I recommend it to anyone interested in history, christianity, and persecution.
Candida Moss presents a much-needed clear-eyed presentation of the legitimate, fact-based challenges of the early Church and why the idea of Christian-as-victim is so harmful to Christians as well as others.
A good read for the religious and atheist, alike. The book reveals the 'victim' mentality of early Christians and how they used it to their advantage long ago and still today. The scholarship of this work is excellent. I look forward to more from this author.
This book goes against all known history of first century. Read at your own risk
Another Jew-approved mainstream book that is an attack upon the integrity and truthfulness of Christianity. The claim of this book can more accurately be applied to the Jews: they have always whined about persecution throughout the centuries but we're never supposed to ask WHY they have been so subjected.
Funny, the posted reviews don't mention the persecutions going on today in the Middle East, China, Africa, and mildly, in a marginalizing manner, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Nor do they mention the results of the French Revolution, the persecutions in Russia, the Spanish Civil War, and in Mexico under Calles. I am unaware that it has ever been argued that the Roman persecutions lasted 300 years straight. But that there were persecutions under Emperors such as Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Decius, Diocletian Julian, and others cannot be seriously argued against.