Prior to 250 AD How Many Christian Martyrdom Accounts Can We Treat As Reliable?

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.

Myth of Persecution

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to Prior to 250 AD How Many Christian Martyrdom Accounts Can We Treat As Reliable?

  1. Roger Penney says:

    How many stories do we need? We know Stephen was stoned to death and that Nero used human torches. Tacitus tended to retail gossip and so did Suetonius but here is a matter of fact extract from a list of Nero’s reforms by Suetonius. “Punishments were also inflicted on the Christian, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief…”
    Trajan’s letter to Pliny shows that Christians were believed to be subversive in that they refused to sacrifice to The Emperors deity. Those who were ‘inflexible’ were executed.
    The more unbelievable stories come from Roman Catholic sources and may be accounted for by the tendency of any authoritarian regime to make heroes a heroines of anyone to boost their image. Horst Wessell in the Nazi era for instance. It seems certain that many Christians as well as Jews were sentenced to the arena, especially after the Jewish war.
    In more recent times, after the death of Wycliffe and the rise of a Christian movement in Britain, particularly in England, many Lollards were burned alive. This continued into Tudor times and the three hundred or so who perished under Queen Mary are well documented.
    It is now popular to reinterpret the Roman Catholic persecutions of Christians and, inspite of the recent scandals among the Roman priesthood the Roman Church is being whitewashed. It is also clear that secularism and materialism are in the ascendant and so will use any stick to beat Christianity with.
    In addition we see unprecedented persecution of Christians in North Korea, some Far Eastern countries and particularly in Muslim countries all over the world. I cannot imagine any tears from Richard Dawkins if Christians were again sentenced to barbaric punishments.

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