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Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, challenges some of the most hallowed legends of the religion when she questions what she calls “the Sunday school narrative of a church of martyrs, of Christians huddled in catacombs out of fear, meeting in secret to avoid arrest and mercilessly thrown to lions merely for their religious beliefs.” None of that, she maintains, is true. In the 300 years between the death of Jesus and the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, there were maybe 10 or 12 scattered years during which Christians were singled out for supression by Rome’s imperial authorities, and even then the enforcement of such initiatives was haphazard — lackadaisical in many regions, although harsh in others. “Christians were never,” Moss writes, “the victims of sustained, targeted persecution.”
Much of the middle section of “The Myth of Persecution” is taken up with a close reading of the six “so-called authentic accounts” of the church’s first martyrs. They include Polycarp, a bishop in Smyrna during the second century who was burned at the stake, and Saint Perpetua, a well-born young mother executed in the arena at Carthage with her slave, Felicity, at the beginning of the third century. 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.
Moss also examines surviving Roman records. She notes that during the only concerted anti-Christian Roman campaign, under the emperor Diocletian between 303 and 306, Christians were expelled from public offices. Their churches, such as the one in Nicomedia, across the street from the imperial palace, were destroyed. Yet, as Moss points out, if the Christians were holding high offices in the first place and had built their church “in the emperor’s own front yard,” they could hardly have been in hiding away in catacombs before Diocletian issued his edicts against them.
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. Given the “everyday ideals and social structures” the Romans regarded as essential to the empire, such transgressions might include publicly denying the divine status of the emperor, rejecting military service or refusing to accept the authority of a court. In one of her most fascinating chapters, Moss tries to explain how baffling and annoying the Romans (for whom “pacifism didn’t exist as a concept”) found the Christians — when the Romans thought about them at all.
Christians wound up in Roman courts for any number of reasons, but when they got there, they were prone to announcing, as a believer named Liberian once did, “that he cannot be respectful to the emperor, that he can be respectful only to Christ.” Moss compares this to “modern defendants who say that they will not recognize the authority of the court or of the government, but recognize only the authority of God. For modern Americans, as for ancient Romans, this sounds either sinister or vaguely insane.” It didn’t help that early Christians developed a passion for martyrdom. Suffering demonstrated both the piety of the martyr and the authenticity of the religion itself, and besides, it earned you an immediate, first-class seat in heaven. (Ordinary Christians had to wait for Judgment Day.) There were reports of fanatics deliberately seeking out the opportunity to die for their faith, including a mob that turned up at the door of a Roman official in Asia Minor, demanding to be martyred, only to be turned away when he couldn’t be bothered to oblige them.
originally posted by: windword
Gee, I don't know. Unicorns and satyrs are in the Bible too, not to mentions dragons.
Christianity and the Roman Empire
By Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe
Last updated 2011-02-17
Beginnings of persecution
The story of Christianity’s rise to prominence is a remarkable one, but the traditional story of its progression from a tiny, persecuted religion to the established religion in the medieval West needs some debunking.
Although in the first few centuries AD Christians were prosecuted and punished, often with death, there were also periods when they were more secure. Secondly, the rise of Christianity to imperial-sponsored dominance in the fourth and fifth centuries, although surprising, was not without precedent, and its spread hardly as inexorable as contemporary Christians portrayed it.
Christians were first, and horribly, targeted for persecution as a group by the emperor Nero in 64 AD. A colossal fire broke out at Rome, and destroyed much of the city. Rumours abounded that Nero himself was responsible. He certainly took advantage of the resulting devastation of the city, building a lavish private palace on part of the site of the fire.
Perhaps to divert attention from the rumours, Nero ordered that Christians should be rounded up and killed. Some were torn apart by dogs, others burnt alive as human torches.
Over the next hundred years or so, Christians were sporadically persecuted. It was not until the mid-third century that emperors initiated intensive persecutions.
If...if...if. At this stage it's not certain that any of them were even written in the 1st century.
If I was writing religious propaganda/folkloric stories about Judea in the 70's, I imagine I would get a lot wrong.
In fact the gospels so heavily plagiarise each other, no one can really agree on which one was written first. Yet even while heavily plagiarised, they are still wildly contradictory. There are passages that try to align it with prophesy, that seem to be a result of a poor understanding of hebrew.
It's likely Josephus was used as a major source (at least for some of them).
The "census" claim was written by people who had no understanding of how and why (possibly even when) such things were conducted.
We don't know when jesus was born (conflicting accounts).
The "star in the east" account is clearly mythology.
The "slaughter of the innocents" is clearly mythology, probably lifted straight out of the OT.
We know nothing of the first 30 yrs or so of jesus life.
There is doubt as to the viability of the Nazareth, as described, even existing at the requisite time (to all but a few "biblical archeologists").
The "miracle worker/healer" who drew great crowds from far and wide, was unnoticed by every relevant social commentator/historian.
The temple incident is fiction. Next time you're at a large marketplace, try throwing the many hundreds of merchants out. Tell them you're "jesus" see if it makes a difference. When you wake in hospital, imagine doing this in 1st century Judea contending with armed guards. This 'badass' jesus is fiction.
The "third person" stories of when jesus was alone have no possibility of being other than fiction.
The Sanhedrin trial breaks so many Jewish laws it is clearly christian propaganda. It didn't happen.
The dramatic trial with Pilate, where he allowed himself to be a pawn in petty Jewish squabbles, is every bit as ridiculous re genuine history. The only meeting jesus might have had if Pilate decided he was persona no grata, is with the pointy end of a gladius. There was no "custom" of letting enemies of Rome go.
This is leaving out the "miracles", as we know they are folklore.
Can you glean one personal fact about the man jesus from any of this?
Richard Carrier, New Atheism activist and proponent of the Jesus myth theory wrote a scathing review of Bart D. Ehrman's book Did Jesus Exist in 2012 resulted in lengthy responses and counter-responses on the Internet. Carrier holds the view that it is more likely that the earliest Christians considered Jesus to be a celestial being known only through revelations rather than a real person. In 2014 Carrier released a book, On the Historicity of Jesus, where he gave a probabilistic estimate that Jesus was a historical figure: "With the evidence we have, the probability Jesus existed is somewhere between 1 in 12,500 and 1 in 3".
But the fact is that even though religion is based on "faith", there is evidence that does corroborate Jesus Christ did exist.
Only after the Resurrection did the title gradually pass into a proper name, and the expression Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus became only one designation. www.newadvent.org...