cover image The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

Candida Moss. HarperOne, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-210452-6

According to traditional interpretation, early Christian believers were fed to the lions, killed by gladiators, and otherwise savagely persecuted by the Roman Empire for centuries until the time that the Roman emperor Constantine established Christianity as an accepted and tolerated religion. In this brilliant and provocative book, Moss (Ancient Christian Martyrdom), an award-winning scholar of early Christianity, cannily challenges this standard view. 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. Only six accounts of martyrdom from these years—including the well-known stories of Perpetua and Justin Martyr—can be considered reliable, and even these, she observes, were significantly modified over time to reflect later theological ideas important for establishing the authority of the Christian church. By the time the church historian Eusebius writes down many of these stories in the fourth century, they have become rhetorical tools used to “exclude and suppress other groups, to identify them with demonic forces, and to legitimize... violence against them.” Moss raises significant questions that help us reconsider the nature and role of martyrdom in any religion. (Mar.)