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Moss has written several well-received volumes and articles on issues related to discipleship and martyrdom in the early Church, but here she is seemingly excited by what are hardly new discoveries: that accounts of Christian martyrdom in the early Church made use of non-Christian literary forms; that many legends grew up around martyrs, saints’ lives, and the details of their memorials; that Christians of the past communicated in the forms of their non-Christian neighbors and culture.
She wants us to think that these realities ipso facto turn martyrdom in the early Church into a fabrication, a “myth,” a “fraud.” How does she draw this conclusion?
“I am a Christian,” these unruffled martyrs would state before an unsympathetic judge, often while their families stand to one side pleading for them to relent, after which they are condemned to gruesome, torturous deaths.
Especially after the start of the reign of Decius in 249 , martyr stories exploded in popularity.
It’s all here, borrowed from the eighteenth-century master of an English prose far more wicked in its irony than Moss’s: the fraudulent numbers of the persecuted and killed, the “artful pen” of later Christian tricksters who embellished both the past and the inner vices of the early Church’s faithful, the self-serving formation of a culture of righteous resentment and hostility by pusillanimous Christians, and, of course, the proposal that the fictions and attitudes they engendered turned the Church into the world’s worst persecutor.
So here’s the pitch: Conservatives in America think that traditional Christians are “persecuted” for their positions against abortion and homosexual marriage, but this is only a latter-day expression of an early Christian “myth” that relies on fraud to demonize opponents and stoke the fires of intolerance. Those who know some Christian history will learn little here except, perhaps, something about the continuing intellectual dead ends of historical criticism.
Our author defines persecution and martyrdom as the respective infliction and suffering of violence upon members of a religious group because of the victims religious identity.
Instead, they are often painted in helpless, anguished positions. ) of Perpetua comes close by showing her at the moment she pulls the sword across her throat.
[Here is a excerpted portion of the very recent RBL review of Candida Moss’s recent book on martyrdom by Clayton Croy, a fine NT scholar at a Lutheran Seminary in Ohio.
I at once told this to my brother, and we realized that we would have to suffer, and that from now on we would no longer have any hope in this life.
Artistic renderings of women martyrs often fail to represent the calm and control the women exert over their deaths.
Permission to post the excerpt was granted by the Society of Biblical Literature. My view is that her book is revisionist history at its worst.