Review of Candida Moss’s Book, The Myth of Persecution

Posted By on October 4, 2013

A book of this nature is a bit tangential to what I normally do on this blog, but this book has gotten a lot of recent attention. In fact, it’s own history is a good object lesson.

When Moss’s book was published months ago, the popular media picked up on it right away since it enraged a lot of Christians. No surprise there. Consequently, its arguments, mediated uncritically via uninformed journalism, have now been absorbed by multitudes who will never bother to read academic discussions of the work, discussions that have been quite critical. That’s one of the costs of living in an information age where anyone who can type and whose website doesn’t feature a black background with green lettering can look like a legitimate authority.

I highly recommend this recent review of Moss’s book: The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. The review does an excellent job of showing how Moss’s work is agenda-driven and plays a sleight-of-hand game with relevant data. That’s unfortunate. Here’s part of the reviewer’s general conclusion:

“Despite the author’s considerable erudition, this is a deeply flawed book, a work of revisionist history. One might judge that conservative Christians in the West have sometimes overplayed the persecution card, but they have not created instances of cultural hostility out of whole cloth, and they certainly did not create the “Age of the Martyrs” out of thin air. More important, Moss largely overlooks modern Christianity in the two-thirds world, especially in the Middle East and in Communist states. Here we find not just cultural insensitivity but old-fashioned persecution: arrests, beatings, and
decapitations. . . . While conservative Christian rhetoric is sometimes guilty of excesses, this book swings hard in the opposite direction, revising history and denying much of the evidence for early Christian persecution. Modern ideology drives Moss’s thesis more than ancient testimony, and the result is a distortion of history more severe than the caricature she wants to expose.”

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

About The Author


13 Responses to “Review of Candida Moss’s Book, The Myth of Persecution”

  1. Patrick says:

    Seems to me the cultural home for the 1st century church almost had to be in a persecution mode.

    By the time the church had been seen as “not of Judaism” , it’s people had to either face persecution or sign the witnessed document stating you believed Caesar was “lord,God and Savior”.

    Refusing that meant charges of sedition. Except for the Christians who buckled under the pressure, the others had to be persecuted and likely murdered after sedition charges were proffered.

    That was the law.

    I don’t need church history or Tacitus to figure this out. As soon as Rome entered an area, the people had to worship Rome’s gods, simple as that.

    • MSH says:

      yep; they weren’t religious egalitarians (especially when you had an emperor that took his own divinity seriously).

  2. Seth says:

    Have you seen her interview with Bill O’Reilly? Goodacre has a video of it on NTBlog.

    No question that Bill O’Reilly needed to be brought down a peg or two for his eisegesis. But her’s isn’t ANY better! She does the exact same things that she accuses Bill of doing. She quotes Luke 6:20 but ignores Matt. 5:3. And gives a grotesque misreading of Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler.

    Reading this review after seeing the interview, I would say there is a definite pattern with this woman.

    Everyone expects Bill to be wrong, but a PhD in New Testament Studies? For shame!

  3. Stephen says:

    I didn’t read the book, but everything I’ve heard from her and about the book seems to almost(?) solely focus on death as persecution. Meaning she ignores (or greatly minimizes) exclusion from the community as a means of persecution.
    Which especially in the Jewish community would have been very serious. Is that a fair criticism of the book?

  4. aeneas says:

    I’ve read more than one negative review of this work by academic reviewers, but you’re correct that the media has hyped it. Recently, Moss appeared on the O’Reilly Factor and sparred with Bill over his book Killing Jesus. I happen to be a fan of O’Reilly’s news opinion coverage, but I haven’t read any of his popular history books. In my humble opinion, I think he ought to stick with analyzing the news. Nevertheless, I find it ironic that the academic in this instance writes a book that demonstrates suspect academics but is praised for it by non-academic reviewers. On the other hand, the amateur historian writes a book that is only meant to be popular history and is criticized for it by the same group. I suppose it is all about politics and perception.

    • MSH says:

      the book fits a media template with respect to “Bible believing Christians”; so she gets a pass. It’ll be interesting to see if she’s celebrated this year at SBL.

  5. KP says:

    We have the first-person testimony of one of the persecutors himself: the apostle Paul, which shows that persecution of Christians began immediately with the birth of the Church. In fact, one of the giant beacons of truth of the Christian faith is that during times of intense persecution, the disciples held firm to their testimony that they had witnessed Jesus executed, entombed, bodily resurrected, and rise in to the heavens.
    They paid with their lives for that testimony when a simple denial of the resurrection would have generally been all that was required to save their lives. When you’re being tortured and killed for your testimony, I’d say it is safe to say that persecution is occurring.

    To claim that this persecution did not occur is to undermine one of the foundation stones of the Christian faith. Disciples enduring torture and death for their eyewitness testimony builds faith in those of us who were not eyewitnesses to the risen Christ. While painting a picture of Roman tolerance (for those they termed godless atheists) makes it sound like the disciples were safe to spin their tales throughout the safe and tolerant Roman Empire with nothing more than philosophical disagreement to worry about. You can perpetuate a lie, for whatever reason, if you’re only receiving public and political scorn, but anybody being tortured will recant on a lie just to make the torture stop.

  6. Patrick says:


    When she insisted to Bill that to go to heaven all rich folks must give up all their wealth or go to hell, I couldn’t believe she was a professor at Notre Dame.

    Bill’s retort was awesome. “Guess Jesus will be real lonely in heaven then cause who’s ever done that”?

    Maybe 3 people in history?

    • Seth says:

      Yeah. It’s a pretty absurd thought. “If you have possessions, you’re going to hell. Give all your possessions to the poor, go to heaven.” So, you give your possessions to those destined for heaven, but now they have possessions. You just condemned them to hell!!

  7. […] Mike Heiser reivewed Candida Moss’s The Myth of Persecution. […]

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up. Patience is a virtue; there is no need to re-submit your comment.