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by Raymond Ibrahim
Christian martyrdom under the militant Roman Empire has long been an unquestioned historical fact, but Candida Moss in her new book The Myth of Persecution (HarperOne, March 2013) claims that many of history’s best known narratives of Christian martyrs were entirely fabricated.
This thesis, as most modern-day academic theses concerning early history, is fundamentally based on conjecture, projections, and above all, anachronisms—the sort that earlier turned Christ into a homosexual hippie and Muhammad into a humanitarian feminist. Neither Moss nor anyone else can prove or disprove what the primary historical texts say—that Roman persecution of Christians was real, widespread, and brutal.
We weren’t there.
But from an objective point of view, is it not more reasonable to accept the words of contemporary eyewitnesses than it is the conjectures of a politically charged book that is separated from its subject by 2,000 years?
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Among other ideas unintelligible and inapplicable to the ancient world, Moss invokes “T-shirts,” “favorite athletes,” and “brands of soda” to “prove” that the ancient narrative of Christians tortured and killed for their faith was all a gag to make a profit: “Martyrs were like the action heroes of the ancient world,” Moss says. “It was like getting your favorite athlete endorsing your favorite brand of soda. … Of course, the prices were completely jacked up.”
In short, the merit of Moss’ thesis rests in the fact that it satisfies a certain anti-Christian sentiment, a modern-day political perspective—and not that it offers facts or serious arguments. By projecting cynical postmodern perspectives onto the ancient Romans and Christians, the thesis is ultimately farcical.
Even so, let’s tackle the myth charge from a different angle. Let’s leave the question of eyewitnesses, texts, and traditions, and instead rely on common sense—though it’s in short supply in the academic community…
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