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Posted April 22, 2013

Book: The Myth of Persecution
Author: Candida Moss
HarperOne. New York. 2013. Pp. 262

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

According to cherished church tradition, early Christians were uniquely and systematically persecuted by a brutal Roman Empire intent on eradicating this illegal religion. Vast numbers of believers were thrown to the lions in the Coliseum while others were routinely tortured or burned alive. In spite of these horrors, so the story goes, these heroes of the early church chose to die rather than denounce their faith in Christ.

In The Myth of Persecution, Candida Moss reveals that the "Age of the Martyrs" is a fiction --- there was no sustained three-hundred-year-long effort by the Romans to persecute and kill Christians. Instead, these stories were exaggerated, invented, and forged, often centuries later, in order to fight heresy, inspire the faithful, and fund churches.

Moss makes the compelling case that the rhetoric of martyrdom endures today, expecially in the language of the religious and political right. Just as the early church employed the martyrdom myth to exclude heretics, she details how it is still used today to silence dissent and galvanize a new generation of culture warriors.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Throughout this book 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 the bishops, financing religious buildings, and marginalizing the views of heretics. The myth of Christian martyrdom is not only inaccurate; it has contributed to great violence and continues to support a view of the world in which we are under attack from our fellow human beings.

What I would like to suggest instead is that we abandon the conspiratorial assumption that the world is out to get us and that Christians are always persecuted and instead ask how Christians would fare differently without this narrative of persecution. How would the church look different if we put aside the idea that we are, by definition, persecuted?

In the political and religious arenas, it would allow us to find common ground in debates that are currently sharply polarized. Rather than demonizing our opponents, we could try and find points of agreement and work together. This is not a book about abortion, and I am not an ethicist, but I find it hard to believe that anyone would truly like to see more abortions. Given that resolution to this issue does not seem to be immediately forthcoming, bipartisan collaboration on the underlying causes of so many pregnancy terminations --- limited access to health care, and maternity leave, poverty, lack of education, and sexual violence --- would seem to be one such step in the right direction. Refusing to work together to achieve common goals because we do not agree on all points with our dialogue partners would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Table of Contents:

1. Martyrdom before Christianity

2. Christian borrowing of Jewish and Pagan martyrdom traditions

3. Inventing martyrs in early Christianity

4. How persecuted were the Christians?

5. Why did the Romans dislike the Christians?

6. Myths about the martyrs

7. The invention of the persecuted Church

8. The dangerous legacy of the martyrdom complex