'Christian Martyrdom' Never Happened

New book by Candida Moss assails an old story

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 25, 2013 7:22 PM CST

(Newser) – Were early Christians martyred en masse? That notion is key to Christian history, but in The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, Candida Moss assails the idea that Christians spent centuries hiding from godless Romans who wanted them thrown to the lions, Salon reports. The book's strong point is inconsistencies Moss finds in early accounts of Christian martyrdom and surviving Roman records.

For example, Moss describes one undeniable Roman anti-Christian campaign between 303 and 306—but explains that Christians were kicked out of public offices, meaning they were respectable enough to hold public office. Moss concedes that some Christians were executed, but says that was normal in a society embracing capital punishment for even minor offenses. Moss argues that the "martyr myth" lies behind modern conservative rhetoric about the "war on Christianity": "You cannot collaborate with someone who is persecuting you,” she writes. “You have to defend yourself.”

Old illustration of Saint Sebastian martyrdom. Created by Pecher, published on L'Illustration Journal Universel, Paris, 1857.   (Shutterstock)
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