this is a work of sensationalism, which distorts known historical fact in order to generate attention for the book/author. Anyone who has more
than a superficial knowledge of early church history (and I would count myself among them) knows that there was no "300 year persecution", and that
many martyr tales cannot possibly be true, but those facts do not diminish the fact that unknown thousands of Christians were killed for their faith
in the early days of the church.
We're not going to agree on this one, but we drifted pretty close after your unjust shot at Professor Moss' scholarship and until the phrase
"killed for their faith."
We seem to agree that over a stretch of hundreds of years, thousands of Christians were killed by Roman civil authority, for an average of dozens per
year over the period, in an empire that stretched from the Scottish border to the shores of the Black Sea.
And why were they killed? In Nero's persecution, they were killed as group punishment for charges of arson. On the one hand that's unfair, but on
the other, it had nothing to do with what they believed about supernatural matters. Other practical causes of friction appear to have included
differences of opinion over liability for extraordinary taxes on Jews, despite claiming to be an offshoot of Judaism and exercising the Jewish
exemption from public civil sacrifice.
Pliny couldn't have been clearer: he is obviously open to the idea that Christian weekly secret meetings aren't political, but decides to punish the
Christians anyway. Why does Pliny proceed? "I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely
deserve to be punished."
Very offensive to any libertarian, of whom I am one, but whatever the nature of their creed
says, in black letters, that it is the behavior of
Christians, and not their Christianity, that is his motive for civil enforcement. The personal quality of Christians, not Christianity, was also noted
by Marcus Aurelius (Mediatations
, 11, paragraph 3), "... this readiness (to die well) comes from a man's own judgement, not from mere
obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show."
In the Twenty-first Century New World, we call what many Christians did "suicide by cop." Behave in a certain way, and you will be killed where you
stand. The Roman cop-response threshold was lower than today's developed-world peace officer, but the principle is the same.
There probably is no modern equivalent, because no modern state implements the approach to politics that the post-republican Roman Empire did. There
certainly are modern examples of persecuting members of a religious group, but not because of their religious beliefs. Another poster mentioned
China-Tibet, but the Holocaust would also serve: what landed someone in the camps was not the practice of Judaism, but having a recent ancestor who
practiced. The beliefs, then, had nothing to do with the persecution, which was group punishment for imagined and false charges of anti-social
behavior - just like Nero's persecution.
The main reason for getting the history right is to come to terms with the uses that are made of these stories. One specific use deserves special
mention. Christians, when they were able to, after they became the Imperial state religion, witheringly persecuted those who kept faith with their
outlawed native religion. These Christian stories played their part in justifyng those acts.
There is an uncomfortably long lapse of time between the last Christian to die under color of state authority, perhaps sometime in the 320's, and the
first Christian to kill under that color, no sooner than sometime in the 380's. That's two generations. No Christian persecutor was formerly
persecuted; no pagan persecuted was a former persecutor.
What bridged those two generations of religious liberty for Christians? These stories did, keeping hatred alive. These stories are what came to
justify the "revenge" killing of pagan martyrs, the children and grandchildren of what few persecutors as there actually ever were. These stories,
then, are murder weapons.