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-   -   “The Myth of Persecution”: Early Christians weren’t persecuted (http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=84428)

snopes 25 February 2013 07:17 AM

“The Myth of Persecution”: Early Christians weren’t persecuted
 
The Romans did not target, hunt or massacre Jesus' followers, says a historian of the early church.

http://www.salon.com/2013/02/24/the_...ted/singleton/

hambubba 25 February 2013 03:50 PM

I have a copy of "Foxe's Book of Martyrs" that disagrees with him.

(I can't read the article right now, blocked), but don't most historical accounts show there was some persecution? Nero's madness and persecution of Christians was well known. Per wikipedia:

Quote:

He was known for having captured Christians to burn them in his garden at night for a source of light

Lainie 25 February 2013 03:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by hambubba (Post 1716369)
I have a copy of "Foxe's Book of Martyrs" that disagrees with him.

You're not seriously suggesting that's an objective source, are you? :)

Re: stories of early Church martyrs:

Quote:

Moss carefully points out the inconsistencies between these tales and what we know about Roman society, the digs at heresies that didn’t even exist when the martyrs were killed and the references to martyrdom traditions that had yet to be established. There’s surely some kernel of truth to these stories, she explains, as well as to the first substantive history of the church written in 311 by a Palestinian named Eusebius. It’s just that it’s impossible to sort the truth from the colorful inventions, the ax-grinding and the attempts to reinforce the orthodoxies of a later age.
and:

Quote:

This is not to deny that some Christians were executed in horrible ways under conditions we’d consider grotesquely unjust. But it’s important, Moss explains, to distinguish between “persecution” and “prosecution.” The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song. Moss distinguishes between those cases in which Christians were prosecuted simply for being Christians and those in which they were condemned for engaging in what the Romans considered subversive or treasonous activity.

mags 25 February 2013 04:00 PM

And (insert ethnic group here) eat babies. Just because something was written about doesn't make it true.

Lainie 25 February 2013 04:04 PM

That particular "claim" in the Wiki article isn't sourced, not even attributed to one of the contemporary writers the article mentions in the same paragraph.

Sylvanz 25 February 2013 04:08 PM

You should read the article when you get home ham. It's actually a critique of the book and the author. It sounds like the author made some good and interesting arguments, and makes some connections to modern day myths. I think I'd like to read the book.

hambubba 25 February 2013 04:09 PM

I found a huffpo article on it. It's pretty brief.

I still disagree with the premise, ha!

Lainie 25 February 2013 04:10 PM

On what basis?

And wouldn't it be good news that Christians weren't persecuted?

A Turtle Named Mack 25 February 2013 04:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Lainie (Post 1716374)
You're not seriously suggesting that's an objective source, are you? :)

and:
Quote:

This is not to deny that some Christians were executed in horrible ways under conditions we’d consider grotesquely unjust. But it’s important, Moss explains, to distinguish between “persecution” and “prosecution.” The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song. Moss distinguishes between those cases in which Christians were prosecuted simply for being Christians and those in which they were condemned for engaging in what the Romans considered subversive or treasonous activity.

What is 'just following one's conscience and what is subversive to culture/the state has been a recurring theme in human culture. In the play Antigone, the dilemma was Antigone's desire to give her brother's body a proper religious funeral when the regime which had overthrown her family had decreed that the body should be left out to be eaten by animals. Socrates was prosecuted and sentenced to death for subverting the culture. Even today, there are frequent enough reports of Christians being prosecuted in Muslim countries for distributing Bibles, sometimes just for owning Bibles, without any other 'subversive or treasonous' activity. Similarly China prosecuted various religions, including Fulan Gong and those Christians that worshiped in churches not organized under the state's auspices and control, without any other 'subversive or treasonous' activity. I would be surprised if there were not quite a number of prosecutions in imperial Rome with charges of treason or similar where the offensive behavior was things like preaching Christianity or refusal to acknowledge the Roman gods. Is that prosecution for treason or just for being a Christian?

Avril 25 February 2013 04:26 PM

What the Romans thought was subversive or treasonous was not participating in Roman religion, primarily. One could suddenly declare that not being a Christian was treasonous in America and start executing everyone else, and say that isn't religious persecution, by this standard.

There is a tendency in New Testament and early Christian studies to say something shocking to get attention, because there is just so much that's already been done and every scholar needs something new to say.

hambubba 25 February 2013 05:10 PM

My reasoning for disagreement is that there is much in the historical non-Christian documents that point out there WAS persecution of Christians. And, per Avril, the non-belief in the Roman emperor as "God" was simply not allowed. By any religious belief. Persecution, prosecution, torture and the like were common for unbelievers of the Emperor.

Our standards of equality of belief did not play well in the Roman empire, until Constantine made Christianity legal by becoming one himself. That was 300 years or so into Christianity's history.

Lainie 25 February 2013 05:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Avril (Post 1716391)
There is a tendency in New Testament and early Christian studies to say something shocking to get attention, because there is just so much that's already been done and every scholar needs something new to say.

Understood. Is that what Moss is doing, though, or is she making a finer distinction that is being misrepresented by journalists, as often happens in the hard sciences?

ETA: Hambubba, I don't think anyone here is laboring under the delusion that the ancient Romans valued religious tolerance. :-)

Avril 28 February 2013 08:15 PM

I've encountered summaries of her research in scholarly journals, but I haven't read them thoroughly yet. However, I think her choice of title was deliberately provocative.

wanderwoman 28 February 2013 11:06 PM

I would grant, as Moss does, that there were some horrendous executions and that the Romans were not tolerant of other religions. However, subjectively, I look at the bogus claims of Christian persecution in my country in modern times, and subtract accordingly from the undocumented historical claims.

Avril 01 March 2013 02:41 PM

Huh? So if the ADL says that antisemitism means saying anything bad about what Israel does, it means Jews have never had problems with antisemitism?

Lainie 01 March 2013 02:47 PM

Wanderwoman said "subtract accordingly from the undocumented historical claims," not "completely discount well-documented historical claims."

ganzfeld 01 March 2013 03:27 PM

I was kind of ready to accept this because, yeah, after the fact stories often get exaggerated and so forth. But what makes me think is this part:
Quote:

But it’s important, Moss explains, to distinguish between “persecution” and “prosecution.” The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song. Moss distinguishes between those cases in which Christians were prosecuted simply for being Christians and those in which they were condemned for engaging in what the Romans considered subversive or treasonous activity.
It sounds a lot like "he wasn't beaten for being black but for acting in a 'certain' way". (Or, as the racists who I used to live among used to say "I don't dislike black people unless they act black.") So it sounds like the Romans were just making excuses for their bigotry, which is a normal part of bigotry. That's not to say a lot of after-the-fact storytelling and exaggeration probably didn't go on or that some martyrs actually were prosecuted based on nothing to do with their religion. I just disagree with discounting stories based on what the alleged perpetrators of persecution claimed they were prosecuting.

The other thing I disagree with is what seems to be an argument that the Romans were pretty intolerant of all kinds of people therefore the Christians weren't particularly persecuted. That's like the argument that "Nazis hated gypsies too." Well, yeah, some people have enough hate for many groups. It doesn't make their hatred any less terrible or terrifying.

Lainie 01 March 2013 03:36 PM

When I bring up the brutality of the Romans to other groups, I'm not doing so to discount or minimize what Christians suffered. I'm doing it to discount the claims some Christians make that their suffering at the hands of the Romans was an indication of their specialness, their holiness, or the correctness of their beliefs.

IOW, Romans didn't persecute Christians because G*d loved Christians and the Romans hated G*d. Romans persecuted Christians because Christians didn't toe the Roman line, and Romans persecuted everyone who didn't toe their line.

Similarly, when The Passion of Christ came out and people were talking about the brutality of Jesus's crucifixion, I found myself constantly reminding people that the Romans crucified lots of people. They didn't create a uniquely torturous way to kill Jesus, and their crucifying him was indicative of how cruel the Romans were, not of how holy Jesus was.

ETA: I also think claims that the Romans targeted Christians specifically, hunting them, etc., may suggest that the Romans found the Christians more important/threatening than they actually did.

ganzfeld 01 March 2013 03:44 PM

Yes, Lanie, I can totally agree with those points. Also, since many Saints and martyrs were definitely myths, it stands to reason that at least some of the ones thought to be true are as well. (I don't see why the word myth is oh so provocative nor do I see why it would be strange for a book title to have a provocative title. Most authors don't get to choose their titles, anyway.) Once on this board when I pointed out all the urban legends on these pages as proof that many completely untrue stories could be part of the canon, I was told that, no such stories would have been less likely before the Internet. Really.

Lainie 01 March 2013 03:48 PM

You can't use a printing press to print untruths. I know, because I read it in a book.

Seriously, though, Jehovah's Witnesses have been known to quote a specific Bible verse to prove that the Bible is directly inspired by G*d. :rolleyes:


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