The Myths Behind the Age of Martyrs

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For the first three hundred years of its existence, tradition maintains, Christianity was a persecuted and suffering religion. Members were hunted down and executed, their property and books burned by crusading emperors intent on routing out the new religion. Women and children were thrown to the lions and boiled alive in caldrons, as maddened crowds bayed for blood. Jesus, Stephen, and the Apostles were only the beginning.

As Christianity grew, so did the ranks of martyrs. According to the fourth-century historian Eusebius, early Christians were racked, whipped, beaten, and scourged. Tens of thousands were condemned to the amphitheaters to face wild animals, forced to fight gladiators, beheaded, strangled quietly in jail, or burned publicly as a mark of shame.

The history of early Christianity, as we have received it, is a history of victimization and pain. It underwrites the idea that Christians are at odds with their world, engaged in a continuing struggle between good and evil.

But that narrative has very little basis in the documentary record.

There is almost no evidence from the period before Constantine, traditionally called the Age of Martyrs, to support the idea that Christians were continuously persecuted. That idea was cultivated by church historians like Eusebius and Sozomen and by the anonymous hagiographers who edited, reworked, and replicated stories about martyrs. The vast majority of those stories, however, were written during periods of peace, long after the events they purported to describe. Even those that are roughly contemporaneous with the events have been significantly embellished.

Early Christians, like virtually everyone in the ancient world, expanded, updated, and rewrote their sacred texts. The problem lies not with the use of these texts as religious stories­—but with their acceptance as historical records. The account of persecution and martyrdom encoded in these texts makes claims about the motives of non-Christians and the place of Christians in the world. It is easily adopted to justify vitriol and polemic in other contexts.

Written By: Candida Moss
continue to source article at chronicle.com

15 COMMENTS

  1. The liars for Jeebus have been practising their art for a long time. Eusebius was a master of lying along with Saul of Tarsus. The passage on Jeebus originally attributed to Josephus is considered to be his handiwork. He is associated with Caeserea from which Origen also came and both this pair were familiar with the story of Jesus of Nazareth but couldn’t locate nazareth in their time because it didn’t exist. Nazareth 1st mentioned in the 4th century is only 30 miles from Caeserea!

    There are far too many lies about Jeebus and virtually no evidence that the character even existed.

    I can’t imagine what making up stories about persecution achieves though. If you are devotees of the one true powerful doG why advertise the fact that he is incompetent at protecting his followers? Scaring peole with stories of how they will die if found to be xtian is hardly a recruitment campaign? 72 virgins sounds a slightly better idea.

    • In reply to #1 by Vorlund:

      I can’t imagine what making up stories about persecution achieves though. If you are devotees of the one true powerful doG why advertise the fact that he is incompetent at protecting his followers? Scaring peole with stories of how they will die if found to be xtian is hardly a recruitment campaign? 72 virgins sounds a slightly better idea.

      Well my new apologist friend over on that other thread is convinced that it is a copper bottom argument in support of the resurrection myth. He contends that no one in their right mind would succumb to such heinous persecution if they hadn’t witnessed a risen Jesus. He doesn’t accept that the NT is errant. He doesn’t get it that it is a lot of invention to serve an agenda. Of course every other religious follower saying the same thing of their particular silly books mean nothing because he has the ‘wan troooo faiff’, as A4D would say.

      • In reply to #7 by Ignorant Amos:

        In reply to #1 by Vorlund:

        Well my new apologist friend over on that other thread is convinced that it is a copper bottom argument in support of the resurrection myth. He contends that no one in their right mind would succumb to such heinous persecution if they hadn’t witnessed a risen Jesus.

        The problem with resurrection is that at the time of the crucifixion all the graves opened up and zombies were running around jerusalem greeting their relatives so it seems resurrection was somewhat of a banality in Palestine at that time.

        • In reply to Vorlund:

          The problem with resurrection is that at the time of the crucifixion all the graves opened up and zombies were running around jerusalem greeting their relatives so it seems resurrection was somewhat of a banality in Palestine at that time.

          Indeed. If you’ve read Richard Carrier, there is nothing special about resurrection at all. It is as common an occurrence as muck. I put a comment up using the vampire yarns as analogous, vampires are resurrection from the dead also.

          Carl Jung describes resurrection myths as “archetypal”, he says deities are also “archetypal”.

          “As fantastic as the world’s resurrection stories are, they can’t hold a candle to the legend of a friendly rabbit who dispenses colored chicken eggs to children once a year.”…or that that buck eejit with the big white beard and red velvet suit that spends all year manufacturing toys in one of the coldest places on the plant in order to race round the world in a single night to deliver said toys via chimney stacks. How ridiculous, but then again, it’s only kids and they eventually grow out of the ridiculousness as the evidence of the folly comes in.

          I think we had better stop taking yet another thread in the wrong direction, it is getting a bit tedious and the mods are probably ready to explode.

    • In reply to #1 by Vorlund:

      I can’t imagine what making up stories about persecution achieves though. If you are devotees of the one true powerful doG why advertise the fact that he is incompetent at protecting his followers? Scaring peole with stories of how they will die if found to be xtian is hardly a recruitment campaign? 72 virgins sounds a slightly better idea.

      Ah! But having a persecution complex, allows the wishful thinker’s cognitive bias, to dismiss challenges by projecting bigotry on to critics!

      They are not criticising hopelessly incompetent claims and flawed views! It is their “persecution” of Xtians which motivates the criticism of the clueless preaching posers with their airs of superiority! (Our clueless posers look more “authoritative” than your research experts. – Some other Xtian poser said so, so there!)

  2. I’ve been trying to find the source where Eusebius talks about “Tens of thousands were condemned to the amphitheaters to face wild animals, forced to fight gladiators, beheaded, strangled quietly in jail, or burned publicly as a mark of shame.”. Can anyone point me in the right direction? thanks!

  3. The biggest persecutors of christians are christians.
    Robin Lane Fox’s book “Pagans and Christians” is a thoroughly good read covering the same ground after first describing the prevailing pagan context of the Roman World.

  4. This article couldn’t have come at a better time. The persecution spin doctoring by the unscrupulous has been the focus an argument by an apologist over on the “non believer to believer” discussion.

    I hardly expect Robert to take much heed of this article, he is a hopelessly lost cause who is drowning in his own pool of Kool-Aid. It is just nice to see an OP that puts some of the arguments I’ve been trying to make over there in a more eloquent and articulate manner than I could ever.

  5. “The problem lies not with the use of these texts as religious stories­—but with their acceptance as historical records.”

    and next on the History channel the 10 part special – “The Bibble” FFS give me strength. The History channel lost its credentials many years ago but this isn’t helping the fight for reality and common sense.

    • In reply to #9 by alaskansee:

      and next on the History channel the 10 part special – “The Bibble” FFS give me strength. The History channel lost its credentials many years ago but this isn’t helping the fight for reality and common sense.

      Damn straight. Purportedly, that program ranked number one with u.s. viewers. Worse, a popular u.s. morning show fussed and fawned about it (ad nauseum), then segued to “good” bibles for children. aye aye aye

      • In reply to #12 by bluebird: “Worse, a popular u.s. morning show fussed and fawned about it (ad nauseum), then segued to “good” bibles for children. aye aye aye”

        In 1951 my grandfather, a presbyterian minister, gave me a copy of “The Junior Bible”. I have since noticed that all the “bad” parts have been edited (redacted) out, leaving mostly harmless bed-time-story-worthy versions of the actual book.

        Steve

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