A Philosopher's Blog

Review: The Myth of Persecution

Posted in Philosophy, Politics, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on March 6, 2013

The_Myth_of_PersecutionThe Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom
Candida Moss (WebsiteFacebook page, and Twitter account. )
$25.99 Hardcover
308 pages

In her book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, Candida Moss argues for her claim that the early Christians created a myth whose legacy still impacts the world today.

She begins the book with the story of the December 31, 2010 murder of Mariam Fekry and this sets the stage for the discussion that follows. Mariam, a Coptic Christian, was cast by some as a martyr and the bombing that killed her was presented as an attack on Christianity itself.  This attack, some claimed, warranted divinely sanctioned retribution. Moss contends that this way of thinking is grounded in the myth of persecution and she spends the remainder of this book examining this subject.

Moss’ main claim is that the commonly held view that “Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs” is simply untrue. She spends much of the book endeavoring to support her claim.

She starts her argument by considering martyrdom before Christianity and tracing its likely influence on the Christian views of martyrdom.  Naturally, she notes that there was no ancient word for “martyr” but makes an excellent case that the concept was well understood even in the ancient world.

As a philosopher, I found her analysis of the deaths of the philosophers (most notable Socrates) interesting. I Candida_Mossdid, however, find her assessment of the death of Socrates problematic in some ways (such as her claims about his philosophical views). On the whole, however, Moss does a reasonably good job tracing the likely influences on the Christian concept of martyrdom from the ancient world. This is, of course, not new—philosophers have noted the connection between Socrates (and Plato) and Christianity for quite some time (some thinkers referred to them as being “Christians before Christ”). However, Moss does a good job focusing on the specific connection as it relates to martyrdom (rather than, for example, metaphysics).

Moss then shifts to examining the pagan and Jewish martyrdom traditions and connects the dots between the pre-Christian martyrs and the Christian martyrs. Her approach is quite sensible: she looks for relevant similarities between the stories of the non-Christian martyrs and the stories of the Christian martyrs and uses these similarities to support her claim that Christians borrowed heavily in creating their stories of martyrdom. While this sort of approach does have its weakness, she does a reasonably good job making her case. After all, if the Christian stories significantly replicate the tales of the earlier non-Christian martyrs, then this suggests a clear influence. It also provides evidence that the Christian stories are, at the very least, embellished with details from the older stories.

After considering the non-Christian influences, Moss then turns to making a direct case that persecution is a myth. She does this by considering the available evidence and takes it to show that the Christians were not, as a matter of fact, persecuted in the manner that has become the received view. She notes that from the death of Jesus to the time of Constantine Christians were only sporadically subject to the attention of the Roman authorities and that this attention was not consistent in terms of its harshness or lack thereof. That is, the Roman Empire did not engage in what would legitimately count as persecution of Christians.

Moss then focuses on the six allegedly “authentic accounts” of the first Christian martyrs, such as Polycarp and Felicity.  One of her methods in assessing the plausibility of these accounts is to look for anachronisms such as attacks on heresies that post-dated the story or references to traditions that did not exist at the time when the story allegedly took place.  Another method she employs is to look for errors in the stories in regards to what we now know about Roman society (or details that are inconsistent with likely behavior). While these methods do not provide complete support for her case (after all, such inconsistencies could be explained away), they do lend credence to her claims.

Another important method she employs is what can be regarded as an argument by definition. That is, she considers what would actually count as persecution and examines the available evidence to see if the treatment of Christians would count as persecution rather than prosecution.  She carefully makes the case that although some Christians were sometimes subject to brutal punishments this does not entail that they were persecuted. A key part of making this case is arguing that the Christians who were prosecuted were treated in such a manner not because of a campaign of persecution against Christians as Christians. Rather, it was because the specific Christians in question acted in ways that were punishable under general Roman law (like refusing to accept the authority of the Roman officials).

Obviously enough, this approach is only as good as the historical data used to make the case. As such, a potential weak point lies in the fact that our information about this time is far from complete. Of course, this is also a problem for those who would claim that Christians were persecuted—they, too, have to draw on limited resources and engage in speculation. However, the weight of the evidence (at least as presented by Moss) seems to favor the view put forth in the book.

Moss heads into the end section of the book by arguing that the notion of Christianity as a persecuted faith was manufactured almost entirely in the fourth century and later. Interestingly enough, this was when the faith was doing quite well. Moss claims that the reasons for the development of the myth included the desire to have a rhetorical tool against heretics (having a martyr praise the orthodox and condemn the heretic was the equivalent of a celebrity endorsement and condemnation) as well as to provide the equivalent of a horror story to entertain the faithful.

While the majority of the book makes a reasonable strong case for Moss’ thesis, the end of the book is somewhat disappointing. In fact, it almost feels as if it were hastily tacked on in an attempt to make the book more relevant to today and to appeal to a more diverse audience.

Disappointingly, Moss moves rather too quickly through her short examination of the legacy of this myth. While she does briefly note some of its harms (such as how it enables powerful Christians to claim that they are being victimized and thus feel justified in refusing to tolerate their critics), this section is more of a lost opportunity than a significant success.

While I do agree with her assessment of the matter, her case is not particularly strong. She spends a significant portion of the last section involves a personal anecdote about overhearing two students condemning a nine year old girl who received an abortion after being raped by her stepfather.  While I do understand the rhetorical power of an anecdote, such an appeal to anecdotal evidence is at best logically weak. It is not for nothing that the appeal to anecdotal evidence is a classic fallacy.

If the anecdote had been backed up by more significant evidence of the effect in question, then her case would have been considerably stronger—after all, this is an academic work rather than a discussion of her personal experiences. It also has the unfortunate potential of creating the impression that she is relying so strongly on an anecdote because she lacks solid evidence.

Moss ends on an optimistic note that revealing the myth as a myth will help undo its legacy. Somewhat ironically, she makes a strong case against her optimism in the preceding chapters by noting how eager some people are to embrace and employ the myth.  Perhaps the greatest irony is, of course, that those who give her case due consideration are already reasonable people while those who most need to be “cured” will probably just regard the book as a work aimed at persecuting Christians.

Overall, I found the book informative, well-reasoned and approachable. I would certainly recommend the tlc_tour_hostbook to anyone who would like to consider a rational case aimed at exposing the myth of persecution.

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68 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 6, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Sounds like she had her mind made up before she began her research, and cherry-picked references to fit her thesis, as opposed to studying all the written history with an open mind and then writing about what she found in her research.

    The first method was favored by Plato: deduction. The second method was favored by Aristotle: induction.

    Research is best done by induction, as Bacon believe as well, especially historical and scientific research.

    Much of what passes for legitimate theory, thesis, and science today are simply assertions backed up by cherry picked evidence which fits the theory while ignoring a mass of evidence to the contrary, because it doesn’t fit the theory.

    The evidence be damed! The theory is right!

    This “We already know what the truth is, so now let’s find the evidence that proves it” deductive methodology applies to the thesis of her book and to the theories of biological evolution, string theory, and relativity, which all require faith in place of a multitude of missing facts, because the evidence reveals the theses and theories cannot be proven, and worse: are in fact disproven by evidence, which is rejected by true believers in these theses and theories, because they don’t fit the deductive assertion-truth claim.

    Cherry picking indeed.

    I suggest you read Kuhn on scientific revolutions again.

    Theories of cosmology, because they attempt to deal with the world as a unified whole, must go beyond the physical sciences and into the realm of metaphysics (from the Greek: meta, meaning: beyond, beside, or after; and phusis, meaning: physical) which (traditionally) belongs to theology and philosophy. As philosopher and ethicist Mary Midgely explains:

    “Without this unifying urge, science would be nothing but mindless, meaningless collecting [of facts]…this is why the sciences continually go beyond everybody’s direct experience, and does so in directions that quickly diverge from that of common sense. . . inevitably in the end they require metaphysics, the attempt to see the world as a whole, to harmonize [the facts]…these intellectual constructions present problems of belief which are often quite as difficult as those of religion, and which can call for equally strenuous efforts of faith. This happens at present over relativity, over the size and expansion of the universe, over quantum mechanics, over evolution and many other matters.” [6] (Mary Midgely, Evolution as a Religion, (London: Routledge, 1985, 2002) p. 120)

    See: http://wp.me/pPnn7-12o

    Read my book online regarding this: http://archive.org/details/TheWorldPerceivedATheologicalAndPhenomenologicalApproachToThinking

  2. [...] Moss’ new book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, here. I haven’t read it yet, though it’s in the rotation, so I want to just point toward a [...]

  3. Alan said, on March 6, 2013 at 9:35 am

    The Chinese government insists that it is free of religious persecution and that where Tibetans, for example, are punished they are only prosecuted for breaches of the general law. Are we then to conclude that the Chinese government does not persecute Tibetans? I am reluctant to say more before I finish the book, but the persecution/prosecution distinction seems fairly contentless to me.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      If the Chinese are enforcing general laws (that is, laws that are not designed to target people based on their religious views) then they would not be engaged in religious persecution. However, if they are going after Tibetans because of their religious views and doing so under the guise of the law, that would seem to be persecution.

      The distinction probably would not matter a great deal for the individual, but the distinction does seem important. After all, if a person is tried and punished for a crime and they just happen to be in religion X, this is rather different from targeting people of religion X for mistreatment. To use a concrete example, if a person is on trial for a terrorist act and they happen to be a Muslim, that is rather different from targeting Muslims in general for “special attention.”

      • Anonymous said, on March 7, 2013 at 1:20 am

        And where the state, as in both the Roman Empire and China, prohibits some conduct and mandates other conduct in terms of the religious nature of that conduct? Can that also be characterised as prosecuting offences in terms of the general law?

        • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

          In the US people are allowed to believe whatever they want, and are not persecuted. It’s only when people act on those beliefs that they are persecuted. Protest the unjust war or abortion sometime and see if you don’t get arrested and locked up. People can sit at home and in church and say whatever they wish and never be bothered. Jesus wasn’t arrested and crucified until after he drove the money changers out of the temple and damaged their property.

      • domy said, on April 12, 2013 at 4:11 am

        OK, so a law stating “Jews are prohibited circumcision” is a persecution; a law stating “all citizens are prohibited circumcision not justified by medical reasons” is not a persecution even if all we know that mainly Jews are the target of such a law.
        And if a Jews family transgresses this law and is prosecuted this would not be called a persecution because the government can respond that the law applies to all.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 12, 2013 at 8:57 am

          A single law against circumcision would not be persecution in the strict sense. What would be needed is widespread and systematic oppression. So, if laws were passed (and enforced) against circumcision, kosher food, building synagogues, speaking Hebrew and so on, then that would be persecution.

          Naturally, we do throw around the word “persecution” in a loose sense.

          • domy said, on April 22, 2013 at 8:57 am

            Do you realize that a Jewish community can not live in a country where it is no allowed the circumcision?
            Do you see any alternative than leaving that country?

  4. Jane said, on March 6, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Do you really think this is an academic work? I haven’t read it, but I read her second book and there were no personal anecdotes there. It seems like this is “popular scholarship” aimed at educating the general reader.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 6, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      I’d classify it as popular-academic. It is clearly aimed at a more general audience than professors of religion, but is more scholarly than a typical “pop” work.

  5. T. J. Babson said, on March 6, 2013 at 9:55 am

    She could have concluded by noting that the “myth of persecution” is being actively constructed by Islam today, especially in the U.S.?

    Lots of talk about “Islamophobia” which effectively makes any criticism of Islam hate speech.

    And has anybody noticed how many “hate crimes” against Muslims turn out to be hoaxes?

    • WTP said, on March 6, 2013 at 10:46 am

      The whole “hate-crime” thing has bled into an attack on free speech. A crime is a crime. A belief that the law can look into someone’s “heart” to determine if the crime was further influenced by hate is absurd. As to the Islam point, while this author has a legitimate point of focusing on Christianity, as that is what she chose to address in the first place, it never ceases to amuse how those who attack Christianity seem so self-satisfied, self-congratulatory, and perceive themselves as brave for spitting in the eye of convention, yet when faced with an adversary who can do them real harm, like say Islam, they are either quiet, subdued, or back down from their assertions. Did you see Richard Dawkins recent appearance on Al Jazeera?

      BTW, where you been lately? No opinion on the “good death” post? Mike said:

      I will close with a question well worth discussing, namely what is a good death?

      yet no one worthy of him was willing to discuss. Didn’t seem like the question was rhetorical, I mean after all it was posed as being “well worth discussing”. Just curious.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 6, 2013 at 10:58 am

        I guess I don’t think the concept of a “good death” has much relevance today.

        • WTP said, on March 6, 2013 at 11:15 am

          Ah, so you disagree that it is “well worth discussing”. ;)

        • T. J. Babson said, on March 6, 2013 at 11:50 am

          Not unless you want to start asking the question if a “good death” really means “saves the government money on medical care.” Then you might be able to get me started :-)

          • WTP said, on March 6, 2013 at 12:33 pm

            Fair enough…So lemme ask this tangential question…Do you suppose Mike will be paying taxes on his Kickstarter income? I mean, seeing has he like taxation and all. Though doesn’t look like he figured the taxes on that income into the request. I could be wrong, I suppose. Surely a philosopher would be able to look that far ahead, he just didn’t choose to itemize.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 6, 2013 at 12:57 pm

            So, Good Death Panels?

            • T. J. Babson said, on March 6, 2013 at 3:14 pm

              Death panels are coming as a mathematical certainty. Just yesterday on the news there was a story about a test that predicts whether or not you are likely to live for the next 10 years. Docs plan to use this test to determine who will get expensive medical procedures.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 6, 2013 at 12:57 pm

          Really? Why would it not be relevant? People still die and how we die would seem to matter. We still do praise people for facing death with courage and condemn cowardice.

          • T. J. Babson said, on March 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm

            I think moral courage is more important than physical courage in today’s world. Physical suffering is a scourge to be eliminated and as far as I am concerned has no redeeming features. I plan to keep going as long as I can, and when my time is up go to the hospital and let the docs make my death as painless as possible.

            One could argue that the ability to endure physical pain is a virtue as you did in your post about pain meds. I can agree with this, but would not elevate pain tolerance to the dramatic level of a “good death.”

      • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 6, 2013 at 12:33 pm

        “Lots of talk about “Islamophobia” which effectively makes any criticism of Islam hate speech.”

        “Lots of talk about “Anti-Semitism” which effectively makes any criticism of Judaism, Jews, and Israel hate speech.”

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

          True, people presenting legitimate criticisms can be hit with mere ad hominem attacks accusing them of bigotry.

          • WTP said, on March 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm

            So you’re good with discussing philosophy with the 9/11 Truther and Jew basher? Interesting.

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 10:31 am

              WTP – Your ad hominem attacks are tiring and intellectually dishonest… not to mention childish and foolish. Just because you have no argument doesn’t mean you should call me ugly and untrue names like “Jew basher”. You’re a real ass buddy, and not a seeker of truth, but a fool. Since when does being someone who seeks the truth become a bad thing? Yet you use “Truther” as an epithet. Rather odd is it not? Do you prefer “Liars” when it come to 9/11? I think you do.

            • WTP said, on March 7, 2013 at 10:38 am

              Your own words from your own blog. Jew bashing:

              This agenda is right on with John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and Christians United for Israel. Hagee’s $150 million dollar empire is entirely devoted to the Empire, and the Empire’s strategic alliance with the Zionist State, Talmudic racial supremacy, and a Jewish driven International Banking System fueling the advent of the global New World Order. One may be forgiven for seeing Hagee as a version of the second beast with two horns in the Apocalypse, providing religious legitimacy to the Dragon and The First Beast with his satellite television audience of 100 million awesomely mesmerized. ‘Who is like the Beast? Who can make war with him?’ seems to be making its way to the forefront of Evangelical and Pentecostal Television in a nightly paroxysm of moral and political obscenity differing from the ancient offerings of Al Goldstein’s Midnight Blue only in Mr. Hagee’s insistence on thankfully covering his rotund temple with tailored clothes, and in his avoidance of the ‘F’ word. Paradoxically, in terms of absolute and ultimate evil, he may have trumped Goldstein in spades.

              Not to mention other “thinkers” whom you have praised who endorse the Protocols of The Elders of Zion. Get over yourself.

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 10:58 am

              Cherry picking quotes doesn’t represent my position on Jews. I love all peoples, even you, including Jews and Muslims, but I do not tolerate criminals, whether Christians, Jews, Muslims, or atheists. Jewish power in Washington, Hollywood, abortion, pornography, and banking is a fact Jews brag about. It’s not Jews bashing to quote, as I have, Jews who have written on these fact. You, however, bash Muslims who are being armed and funded by the US government and blame them, instead of the US government, for 9/11, which is a false accusation. I am not scapegoating Jews or anyone for all the evils of the world, which would be Jews bashing, and neither is the writer you quoted from my blog. Again, your being intellectually dishonest, and like the author of this book on persecution, your mind is already made up, so you cherry pick quotes to back your position rather than seek the truth with an open mind.

              Take the time to read my writings on Jews and Israel and Christ instead of reacting without thinking.

              Please and thank you.

              See: Goats, not Scapegoats – Jesus on Jews (and Gentiles) who reject him as Messiah (Savior) – http://wp.me/pPnn7-xy

            • WTP said, on March 7, 2013 at 11:46 am

              So, Mikey, no flaws or fallacies in your friend’s argument here? Do you agree with AJ’s take on the Jews or are you afraid to debate him also?

              TJ, you’re welcome to join in. Or you can sit it out and keep your hands nice and clean.

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 1:12 pm

              Jewish Hero? or Jewish Terrorist?

              March 7, 2013 – Tablet Magazine – “An atheist hunts for a shul to call home; Kinky Friedman on Begin as Israel’s Churchill”

              “Like a martyr who refused to die, Begin came to belong in the firmament with Churchill and Mandela” ~ Kinky Friedman

              See: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/126173/menachem-begin-lives

              Wikipedia – “Begin ordered the bombing of the British administrative and military headquarters at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, in 1946. The attack was conducted as part of a joint response to the British Operation Agatha, during which many Jews were arrested, weapons were seized and the Jewish Agency, from which many documents were removed, was raided. Irgun later claimed that warnings to evacuate had been sent but were ignored. 91 people, British, Arab and Jewish, were killed.”

              See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menachem_Begin

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm

              WTP – You’re the one afraid to debate me and using logical fallacies. In fact, your deductive method is the same as the author of this book – you first decide what “the truth” is, then you cherry pick proof texts to “prove” this “truth, and you ignore all the evidence that doesn’t fit your a priori “truth” claim. Sad bro. You need to shut up and learn from the professor and me and quit making a fool out of yourself :(

            • WTP said, on March 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm

              I’m not afraid to debate you. I’ve been doing it for a while now. I notice how you avoid answering questions, however. Tell me, are you familiar with the above mentioned Protocols…, their origins, and tell us your thoughts on them. Do you believe that there is a Zionist conspiracy that controls the US government? Just a Yes or No on the latter. Let’s debate. But resist the temptation to go off on tangents of multiple paragraphs, let’s try to stick to establishing a finite number of discrete, discernable facts or opinions.

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm

              I’ve never read the protocols and have no opinion on them. Zionist’s do set the agenda in Washington, yes. To be anti-Israel is the same as being anti-American as far as Washington politics is concerned. The Washington politicos do the bidding of those who fund them. See: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/jews-do-control-the-media/

            • WTP said, on March 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm

              Hmm…Not familiar with PoTEoZ, fair enough. Two questions, do you believe the Jews were behind the 9/11/01 attacks? What solid proof do you have that, as you state, Zionist’s do set the agenda in Washington? Not a link to an anonymously written article. Solid proof. And don’t skip over that first question.

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 3:33 pm

              I’ve never linked anything to anonymously written articles.

              I believe the US government perpetrated the attacks of 9/11.

              Politico – AIPAC – http://dyn.politico.com/tag/AIPAC

              So, just how powerful is the Israel lobby in the US?

              Out of America: Perhaps no more than a dozen out of more than 400 Representatives are pro-Palestinian

              See: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/so-just-how-powerful-is-the-israel-lobby-in-the-us-8478432.html

              ‘Israel Lobby’ Author Addresses State Department

              Coauthor of ‘The Israel Lobby’ tells State Department why ‘American foreign policy fails

              “Jewish lobby” “intimidates” elected officials on Capitol Hill.”

              See: http://freebeacon.com/israel-lobby-author-addresses-state-department/

              The Israel Lobby

              John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt

              “For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel.” ~ London Review of Books

              See: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby

              AIPAC 101 — What Every American Should Know (Anthony Lawson)

              See: http://youtu.be/2EJrBu5S31Q

            • WTP said, on March 7, 2013 at 10:05 pm

              At the bottom of your “Times of Israel” link, it clearly states

              This article was written under an assumed name.

            • ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 7, 2013 at 10:22 pm

              I’m not wasting my time with a fool, meaning you. Do your homework if you’re serious. It’s easy enough to do. My connection is not good, so I’m not going to the article you say is anonymous. Perhaps it is, there are enough articles and books concerning the Israel lobby and 9/11 for honest researchers. A fool, like you, is never satisfied, except in his own mind.

              Psychological help for 911 truth deniers – http://youtu.be/mEGgAk1AbA4

              See: http://www.ae911truth.org/

              AE911Truth Experts Speak Out – http://youtu.be/YW6mJOqRDI4

              9/11 as Sacred Myth – Prof. David Ray Griffin – 911 – The Myth and the Reality – http://youtu.be/k3OGuEJtTOM

              Kevin Ryan – http://911review.com/articles/ryan/index.html

              Crisis initiation – Israel Lobbyist – We Need a False Flag to Start War with Iran! – http://youtu.be/PfoaLbbAix0

              See Jaques Elluhl on crisis initiation – http://www.amazon.com/Propaganda-Formation-Attitudes-Jacques-Ellul/dp/0394718747

            • WTP said, on March 7, 2013 at 11:52 pm

              And now that I’m back from shooting pool and drinking beer and whiskey, let me address other points in your response….

              So, just how powerful is the Israel lobby in the US?
              Out of America: Perhaps no more than a dozen out of more than 400 Representatives are pro-Palestinian

              Just because one does not support the Palestinians, of whom I’m not the first to notice how they never pass up an opportunity to pass up an opportunity, does not make one a lackey of the Israeli lobby. This is a logical fallacy which Mike would, had he any cajones, point out.

              The rest of your post is a hodge-podge/mish-mash/what have you of links from people of dubious authority and unfounded statements. I’m reminded of our previous discussion on 9/11 conspiracy theories. I pointed you to an article refuting the conspiracies point by point in published in Popular Mechanics. Your response was essentially that because an editor at PM had the same last name as someone in the State Department, the link was all lies. Then you start calling me a fool, etc., not that I mind as I’ve been called far worse by far better. Perhaps a little self-reflection would do you some good. Just a suggestion.

            • WTP said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:49 pm

              Somehow I missed this…
              My connection is not good, so I’m not going to the article you say is anonymous.

              Haven’t heard an argument that weak since the 6th grade. What are you, 12?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      She could have, but her focus was on Christianity. While the idea of a Muslim myth of persecution is worth writing about, that would be the subject for another book. Which she might very well be writing now.

      • T. J. Babson said, on March 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm

        Seems reasonable to point out that Christianity is not the only religion that celebrates martyrdom.

        • T. J. Babson said, on March 6, 2013 at 1:14 pm

          “She spends a significant portion of the last section involves a personal anecdote about overhearing two students condemning a nine year old girl who received an abortion after being raped by her stepfather.”

          This anecdote, at least the way you described it, seems to have little to do with the main thesis of the book. At least pointing out that Islam also constructs persecution myths is on topic.

          • WTP said, on March 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm

            That anecdote sounds very, shall I say, imagined. Anyone of substance, even if they did overhear such an extremely unlikely discussion, would refrain from including it without corroborating proof.

            • magus71 said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

              Sounds contrived. “Let’s think of the most extreme example and use anonymous people in a conversation to carry my message.”

              And besides, would Candida condone her own mother having aborted her if she were the result of rape? Or is it only right for other “fetuses”?

              How abou this: Rape and abortion are bad.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:57 am

              The example could well be real. However, the weak point is that she relies so heavily on an anecdote. This raises the concern that you have expressed, namely the question of the extent of the belief she is addressing in her book.

              I do not know her actual stance on abortion-for all I know, she may be morally against it in general and yet not wish to condemn a 9 year old girl who has an abortion because she was raped by her stepfather.

            • WTP said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:37 pm

              Now if some author who had appeared on Fox News a few times related a story that she was in the Harvard, or FAMU, faculty lounge and overheard a sociology professor and a philosophy professor discussing subversive means of introducing socialist ideology into their course curriculum, do you suppose Mike would say, “The example could well be real”? Though I suppose you know Mike better than I.

            • WTP said, on March 9, 2013 at 8:42 am

              Alas, my sarcasm fails as I overestimate the world yet again.

  6. FRE said, on March 6, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    There is religious persecution here in the U.S., and it can be quite serious.

    I just finished reading the March 2013 issue of “Church and State,” which is published by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. In it was an article about a teacher who objected to subjecting students to official prayers in public schools. As a result, her car was twice vandalized and she and her husband received threatening messages on their answering machine. Upon reading that article, I recalled reading about similar cases of persecution in the past.

    There are places in the U.S. where people who are atheists or who follow a religious belief different from what the majority follow are persecuted, and it is Christians who do the persecuting.

    A number of years ago, In Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, a local politician accused a candidate of being an atheist. He did that so close to an election that the candidate had no time to respond. At that time, Brooklyn Center was a hot-bed of fundamentalism and atheists or people who did not support fundamentalist beliefs were ostracized. That same politician, who was a member of the Covenant Church, was at one time the president of the Brooklyn Center city council. An invocation was, before each council meeting, delivered by a clergyman. However, that politician would permit only clergy of acceptable denominations deliver the invocation; a Roman Catholic priest was not considered acceptable.

    Perhaps I should not name names. But if you do a google search on Dean Nyquist, who is the Brooklyn Park politician who did those things, you can verify what I have written.

    Again, there is religious persecution here in the U.S., but for the most part, it is fundamentalist Christians who are doing both the persecuting and complaining about being persecuted. Roman Catholics do some of the persecuting.

  7. magus71 said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:10 am

    The persecution of Christians is not a major aspect of the teachings I received in CCD. In fact, Pontius Pilate is regarded as a rather fair judge in many cases. He made it clear to the crowd of jews that he could find no fault in Jesus, and that he was carrying out the wishes of the Jews, becuase it was Roman custom to allow cultures to maintain their own religious laws.

    Secondly, while it is true that Christians suffered, many times in spectacular fashion, it is hardly a central theme of Christianity. Moss has done what Mike does: Make a claim about Christians’ facade of persecution and prove why it is not true, without ever proving that Christians in fact think they are heavily persecuted. Moss treats the subject as if it were what Christianity is all about. To me, Christianity expressed itself as the defining moment of my life when I no linger lived the “unexamined life.” I finally perceived my true nature, and theat nature was not pretty.

    Fact: Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire until the Edict of Milan in 313. That’s a long time for what is the world’s (Now) foremost religion to have been underground, and I think that is tantamount to persecution.

    Moss is not revealing a new belief here. THere are others who believe that persecution is a central theme in Christianity. Do I believe that CHristians weere hunted mercilessly by the Romans? No. They were not a militant group, so why bother? And Romans were q

    • magus71 said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:11 am

      quite liberal is their acceptance of other religions. Never the less, the Christians were easy scape goats when things went badly in Rome.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:51 am

      When I respond to claims that Christians are persecuted, I don’t claim that all Christians think they are persecuted. Rather, I am careful to note the source of the claim, such as Fox News and their claims about the war on Christmas.

      I would say that the quiet majority of Christians do not feel persecuted and do not make such a claim. However, the notion of persecution is employed by some (see Fox News and their associated politicians) as a political tool.

      One unfortunate aspect of this approach is that it gets the attention of the media while actual persecution of Christians in other countries gets little attention.

  8. magus71 said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

    “Moss’ main claim is that the commonly held view that “Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs”

    Like I said, who believes this crap. Sounds like the entire book is a strawman argument.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

      She is a reasonably careful scholar. While she is not addressing every Christian’s view, she does document and support her claims. Naturally, it is fair for specific Christians to note that her claims do not apply to them. For example, I asked my colleague in religion if he felt persecuted because he is a Christian minister (in addition to being a scholar of religion)-he assured me that he did not.

  9. magus71 said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Again, persecution is not a central theme. But what does Candida say about the fact that Paul talks often about how he persecuted Christians before his conversion?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

      She does discuss Paul. However, her view is that while the Romans occasionally had short episodes of going after Christians, the tale of persecution is mostly a myth.

      • magus71 said, on March 8, 2013 at 1:23 pm

        “However, her view is that while the Romans occasionally had short episodes of going after Christians, the tale of persecution is mostly a myth.”

        I’m really not sure this is revalatory.

  10. Alan said, on March 8, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    The problem is that once you dissect what the author is actually saying, it is not seriously different from the standard account. Persecution has always been understood to be episodic. It may just be a case where the cover and blurb has been set up by an excitable publisher.

    On the other hand, I think her distinction between prosecution and persecution is absurd. Constantine and Licinius (and Galerius shortly before them) thought they were repealing something when they issued edicts of toleration. Constantine and Licinius provide in some detail for reversing property seizures. Admittedly they were emerging from the Diocletianic persecution which seems to have been the most intense episode.

  11. ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 9, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I still say she has an axe to grind… her work is a deductive thesis in search of proof texts. You should be able to see this professor. Hers is not the inductive work of a scholar seeking historical truth… she is a woman who wants create a new myth: that Christians were never persecuted. She’s no different than Elaine Pagles, who has decided (read: deduced) Christians made Jesus into a God and sets out to prove what she’s already concluded. The difference is between honest and dishonest scholarship. Discuss the difference between a priori and a posteriori reasoning professor, because this is where the difference between her work and the work of an honest seeker of historical truth lies. Which method of reasoning is she using? Deduction or induction? Which is better for studying history, or anything for that matter. The difference is one between Plato and Aristotle.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 12, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Her methods are inductive, at least in the sense that I use the term (that is, reasoning that yields likelihood rather than certainty). She is using the usual methods of her field: looking at the available textual evidence and making inferences from them, plus the usual use of inferences about human behavior.

      She doesn’t claim that her conclusion is deductively proven (that is, she doesn’t claim that she has established an argument such that if her premises are true, then her conclusion must be true).

      She actually doesn’t claim that Christians were never persecuted-rather, she claims that a mythology of persecution has been created on the basis of an inadequate historical foundation.

      Of course, I’m just speculating on her views. I had some slight hope that the author might might a comment or two since this post was part of a “blog tour” in which I was asked to participate.

      • apollonian said, on January 7, 2014 at 1:34 pm

        History & Truth Well Served By Induction & Analogy

        This is useful passage and dialectic, begun by AJ. Induction is moving fm particulars to general. Deduction assumes a general and then concludes to a particular case of that general. Not having read the book, and judging only fm this blog, it would seem Moss merely sucks up to the Jews and anti-Christs, asserting persecution of Christians is over-blown.

        But the spirit of necessary induction for history, looking at and working fm particulars, is well and effectively, though still only partially served by ANALOGY. Are Christians, defenders and worshippers of TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH (Gosp. JOHN 14:6), persecuted nowadays?–UN-QUESTIONABLY. Are present times, so Jew-dominated, similar to the Roman times?–UN-QUESTIONABLY.

        So observe the present satanically-dominated USA, ruled by a regime of criminals, dominated by Jews, esp. by means of their COUNTERFEITING scam, the US Federal Reserve Bank (“Fed”)–see RealityZone.com, Mises.org, and LewRockwell.com for expo on Fed fraud.

        Roman times didn’t quite have the same central-banking as we have today, but the Jews still tried and succeeded in numerous ways for their networks. And the Christians have always opposed the Jews and their lies, frauds, and criminal activities, which Jews always dominated. So of course there was persecution of Christians, just like ANYONE who opposed established criminals–JUST LIKE TODAY.

        So the argument fm analogy well serves the necessary inductive method of history–the rest is mere details (which details, of course, are of paramount importance).

  12. Heather J. @ TLC said, on March 10, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful review of this book for the tour.

  13. [...] Review: The Myth of Persecution (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) [...]

  14. http://tlcbooktours.com/ said, on March 18, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Hello, I’m Lisa with TLC Book Tours. I have tried and failed to locate an email address for you on your site! I’m probably looking in the wrong place. In any case, I’d like to talk to you about another book we have coming up on tour, the latest by Paulo Coelho. Please let me know if I might send more info. Thanks!

  15. http://lisamm.wordpress.com said, on March 18, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    You can contact me at lisamunley@ca.rr.com

  16. [...] Verenna, James McGrath,  Tim Henderson, John Byron, and others review of Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution. I appear to be the only blogger who did not review [...]

  17. [...] Review: The Myth of Persecution (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) [...]

  18. magus71 said, on January 7, 2014 at 10:20 am

    Mike, what do you say of the Roman historian, Tacitus’ account of what happened to Christians under Nero?

    “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”.

    Or to Pliny the Younger’s letter to Trajan, inquiring as to what constitutes a crime among Christians. Trajan’s response is that merely being a Christian is a crime.

    “Pliny then details the practices of Christians (sections 7-10): he says that they meet on a certain day before light where they gather and sing hymns to Christ as to a god. They all bind themselves by oath, “not to some crimes”, says Pliny, as though that is what he would have expected; rather, they pledge not to commit any crimes such as fraud, theft, or adultery, and subsequently share a meal of “ordinary and innocent food”. Pliny says, however, that all of these practices were abandoned by the Christians after Pliny forbade any political associations (hetaerias or “club”). These clubs were banned because Trajan saw them as a “natural breeding ground for grumbling” about both civic life and political affairs. One such instance of a banned club was a firemen’s association; likewise, Christianity was seen as a political association that could be potentially harmful to the empire.[16] However the Christians seem to have willingly complied with the edict and halted their practices.’

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pliny_the_Younger_on_Christians

    So again we see, just as with America, as Rome sunk in to tyranny, the government targeted those most likely to obey its laws.


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