It's widely accepted that the history of Christianity is steeped in martyrdom. Jesus died on the cross. Most of his Apostles met gory and untimely ends. Many of his early followers were relentlessly and gruesomely persecuted for their beliefs.
But what if this history is false? What if many of these stories were systematically exaggerated, forged, and fabricated?
In THE MYTH OF PERSECUTION: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom (HarperOne; Hardcover; March 2013), Candida Moss, a leading scholar of Christian history and Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, argues that the widely heralded "Age of Martyrs" is pure fiction. Examining the true history of religious persecution-from its origins to its ongoing idealization in Christian culture-she finds that the early church both inflated and outright invented stories of martyrdom as a means to fight heresy, inspire the faithful, and fund individual churches.
According to Moss, the rhetoric of persecution endures today, especially in the language of the religious and political right. It is taught in Sunday school classes, celebrated in sermons, and employed by church leaders and media pundits alike, who insist that Christians face an ongoing campaign of discrimination from a hostile, secular world. Christians continue to use this tradition to compel their fellow "soldiers" to fight the ongoing war against their faith-rhetoric seen today in Mitt Romney's accusation of Barack Obama of waging a "war on religion," and Rick Santorum claiming the gay community "had gone out on a jihad" against him.
This notion of Christian victimhood has been carefully honed and fostered to silence dissent and galvanize new generations of culture warriors to take action, and its dangerous legacy has legitimized centuries of aggression, prejudice, and even violence. In THE MYTH OF PERSECUTION, Moss dismantles this perception of Christian martyrdom, urging the faithful to abandon a conspirital "us versus them mindset," and to embrace instead the moral instruction and spiritual guidance that these stories of martyrdom can provide.