I just started a new book called The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss. I knew going in that she believes that the persecution of Christians has been greatly exaggerated. However, after finishing the Introduction I was not quite ready for how exaggerated she believes it is. Here are just a few quotes (the second quote contains the answer to our question):
“There are literally hundreds of stories describing the deaths of thousands of early Christian martyrs, but almost every one of these stories is legendary.” (15)
“For the first two hundred and fifty years of the Christian era there are only six martyrdom accounts that can be treated as reliable.” (16)
“There’s almost no evidence from the period before Constantine, or the Age of Martyrs, to support the idea that Christians were continually persecuted.” (18)
“. . . although prejudice against Christians was fairly widespread, the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.” (15)
The premise of her book is that the prevailing notion that Christians have always been persecuted creates a “us-versus-them” mentality and is used as justification to retaliate in equally violent measures against those who are perceived as the persecutors of the church. As she says, “It creates a world in which Christians are under attack; it endorses political warfare rather than encouraging political discourse; and it legitimizes seeing those who disagree with us as our enemies. It is precisely because the myth of persecution continues to be so influential that it is imperative that we get the history right.” (21)
This will be a fascinating book.
The Myth of Persecution is from HarperOne. It is a hardcover with 308 pages and sells for $25.99.
Candida Moss is professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame. A graduate of Oxford University, she earned her doctorate from Yale University.