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Christ was persecuted, but what about Christians?
Roman persecution of Christians was depicted in paintings such as "The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer" by Jean-Leon Gerome.
March 30th, 2013
10:00 PM ET

Christ was persecuted, but what about Christians?

CNN examines the tumultuous early years of Christianity in a special narrated by Liam Neeson. Watch “After Jesus: The First Christians,” Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) She walked into the Roman arena where the wild beasts awaited her. She trembled not from fear but from joy.

Her name was Vibia Perpetua. She was just 22, a young mother singing hymns as the crowd jeered and a lion, leopard and wild cow encircled her.

One of the beasts attacked, hurling her to the ground. She covered an exposed thigh with her bloody robe to preserve her modesty and groped in the dust for her hair pin so she could fix her disheveled hair.

And when a Roman executioner approached Perpetua with a sword, her last words before collapsing were aimed at her Christian companions: “Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another and do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you.”

Millions of Christians worldwide will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday. But the story of how the church rose to prominence after Jesus’ death is being turned upside down.

According to a belief passed down through the centuries, the church grew because of Roman persecution. The blood of Christian martyrs such as Perpetua became “the seed of the church,” said third-century church leader Tertullian. It’s the Hollywood version of Christianity reflected in epic biblical films such as “Ben-Hur” and “The Robe.” Vicious Romans relentlessly targeted early Christians, so the story goes, but the faith of people like Perpetua proved so inspiring that Christianity became the official religion of Rome, and eventually the largest religion in the world.

But that script is getting a rewrite. The first Christians were never systematically persecuted by the Romans, and most martyrdom stories with the exception of a handful such as Perpetua's were exaggerated and invented, several scholars and historians say. It wasn’t just how the early Christians died that inspired so many people in the ancient world; it was how they lived.

“You had much better odds of winning the lottery than you would have becoming a martyr,” says Joyce E. Salisbury, author of “The Blood of Martyrs: Unintended Consequences of Ancient Violence.”

“The odds were pretty slim. More people read about martyrs than ever saw one.”

Do Christians have a martyr complex today?

The debate over exactly how many Christians were persecuted and martyred may seem irrelevant centuries later. A scholarly consensus has indeed emerged that Roman persecution of Christians was sporadic, and that at least some Christian martyrdom stories are theological tall tales.

But a new book by Candida Moss, a New Testament professor at the University of Notre Dame, is bringing that message to the masses.

Moss says ancient stories of church persecution have created a contemporary cult of bogus Christian martyrs. She says too many American Christians are acting like they’re members of a persecuted minority, being thrown to the lions by people who simply disagree with them.

Professor Candida Moss, author of "The Myth of Persecution," says most stories of Christian martyrs were fabricated.

She cited former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney claimed last year that President Barack Obama was waging a “war against religion,” and Santorum said the gay community “had gone out on a jihad” against him. Other Christians invoke images of persecution when someone disagrees with them on controversial issues such as abortion or birth control, says Moss, whose "The Myth of Persecution" was recently released.

The problem with invoking persecution is it implies your opponents are evil and no common ground can be found with evil,  Moss says.

“When someone is persecuting you" she says, "there is no room for dialogue."

Others say Moss’ claim is dangerous.

People such as Perpetua did die because of their beliefs. The first Christians were tortured, reviled and held in contempt by Romans and their example helped the church grow, they say.

The Rev. Robert Morgan, author of  "On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs and Heroes, " says it’s true that some of the accounts of martyrdom were “undoubtedly embellished” and that many of the persecution stories were “handed down in an atmosphere of confusion and pressure.”

Still, being a Christian in the first century was a risky move persecution was significant. Jesus and most of his apostles were executed, he says.

“To deny the history of the movement is a way of attacking the movement,” Morgan says.

Some opposition to contemporary Christians is indeed evil, Morgan says. Christians are being killed today in places such as Nigeria and North Africa.

“Christians do not have a victim’s mentality,” Morgan says. “They take their stands, they know what they believe and they do good in this world. They are the ones who have established orphanages, hospitals and charitable institutions. For some reason, there’s this animosity against them.”

Hatred of Christians is woven into much of the New Testament. Jesus constantly warned his followers to expect persecution. The Apostle Paul wrote many of his epistles from jail. And the death of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is dramatically recorded in the New Testament book the Acts of  the Apostles.

The Easter message itself is a story of martyrdom Jesus, unjustly executed by the Romans. The idea that Christians are at war with demonic forces in the world is reflected throughout the New Testament, says Bryan Litfin, a theology professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

“If Jesus was just a soft moral teacher who taught us to love one another and petted little babies, the Romans wouldn’t have crucified him,”  Litfin says. “Jesus is a polarizing figure, then and today. The early Christians weren’t foisting a narrative out of the blue about being martyrs. ”

'Like the action heroes of the ancient world'

If the first Christians pictured themselves as waging war against the world, the martyrs were their version of the Navy SEALs. They were the elite Christians who inspired and united others of their faith.

There was a purpose behind spreading stories of persecution: Nothing brings a new group closer together than a common enemy, Moss says.

“The idea that you are persecuted forges a concrete identity,” Moss says. “It really solidifies your sense of group identity.”

The stories of Christian persecution were so popular that they spawned a market during the first centuries after the crucifixion. The places where martyrs were born and died became early tourist stops. Towns competed with one another to draw rich pilgrims seeking martyr memorabilia, Moss says.

“People would go and buy the equivalent of a T-shirt,” Moss says. “You’d have all these little combs with saints on them that people would buy, and lamps with saints on them. People would also buy fruit from trees that grew in the vicinity of martyrs’ graves. Of course, the prices were completely jacked up.”

Church leaders began to embellish and invent stories of martyrdom to inspire the faithful but also to settle theological feuds, Moss says. If, say, a bishop wanted to denounce a rivals’ theology, he spun a story in which a martyr denounced the same doctrine with his last breath, Moss says.

“Martyrs were like the action heroes of the ancient world,” Moss says. “It was like getting your favorite athlete endorsing your favorite brand of soda.”

But how often did Romans force Christians to endure torture or die for their faith? Christianity took roughly 300 years to conquer Rome. The emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 and gave Christians religious freedom.  Christianity became the official religion of Rome by the end of the fourth century,  scholars say.

For the first 300 years of the church, Christians were often ridiculed and viewed with contempt. But Roman leaders spent about "less than 10 years" out of the first 300 actually persecuting Christians, Moss says. There are only six reliable cases of Christian martyrdom before A.D. 250 out of “hundreds of stories,” including Perpetua’s, she says.

Many scholars have greeted Moss’ contention that Roman persecution of Christians was exaggerated with a shrug. They say it was common knowledge in the academic world.

“There weren’t that many Christians who were persecuted,” says Gail O’Day, dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity in North Carolina. “When you actually read the Roman historical records, the Christians just weren’t that important to them. Most Christians just got along with empire.”

When Roman persecution did occur, though, it was vicious. The Emperor Nero covered fully conscious Christians with wax and used them as human torches. Other Christians were skinned alive and covered with salt, while others were slowly roasted above a pit until they died.

Perpetua’s passion

One of the most famous martyrs was Perpetua.

She lived in Carthage in North Africa (modern-day Tunisia) and was arrested in March 203 with four others as they prepared for baptism. The Roman Emperor Septimius Severus had decreed that any new conversion to Christianity would result in death.

History remembers Perpetua because she kept a diary during her imprisonment. It’s called "The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity" (Felicity was a slave girl arrested with Perpetua). It’s the oldest-surviving document from a Christian woman. The emotion in the diary is almost unbearable. Perpetua describes the pain of leaving her infant son, who she was still nursing. She describes a prison visit from her weeping father, who kissed her hands while trying to get her to renounce her faith.

Perpetua's father visited her in prison, begging her to think of him and renounce her faith.

A narrator picks up the story in the diary after Perpetua was sent to her death. He says in the diary that Perpetua’s faith was so inspiring it caused the prison’s warden, a man called Pudens, to convert. The narrator also describes Perpetua's death.

While she was imprisoned, Perpetua says God gave her visions to reassure her. After one, she wrote:

“I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil. But I knew that mine was the victory.”

You can’t discount the power of such stories, even if persecution “wasn’t extremely common,” says Litfin, the Moody Bible Institute professor.

Persecution was central to the rise of the early church, he says.

“How many people in your church would have to be pulled out and executed and tormented for it not to have a tremendous effect for many years on your memory and self-perception,” Litfin says. “The early Christians are not foisting a narrative out of the blue about being matyrs.”

The early Christians' secret weapon

Other scholars say it wasn't simply persecution that helped the church grow. Instead, they say, Christians had a secret weapon.

The martyrs may have gotten all the press, but it was ordinary Christians who got it done by the way they treated friends and strangers.

Life in ancient Rome was brutal and nasty, says Rodney Stark, author of "The Triumph of Christianity." Stark’s well-regarded book gives one of the most detailed descriptions of the early church and ancient Rome.

Forget those antiseptic portraits of Roman cities you see in biblical moves such as “The Robe.” Roman cities were overcrowded, raw sewage ran in the streets, people locked their doors at night for fear of being robbed and plagues were rampant. Soap had not yet been invented, Stark says.

“The stink of the cities in the summertime must have been astounding,” Stark says. “You would have smelled a city miles before you got to it.”

Christians stood out because they created a “miniature welfare state" to help the less fortunate, Stark says. They took in infant girls routinely left for dead by their parents. They risked their lives to tend the sick when plagues hit and others fled in terror. They gave positions of leadership to women when many women had no rights, and girls as young as 12 were often married off to middle-aged men, he says.

Ordinary Romans might have thought Christians were odd but liked having them for neighbors, Stark says.

“If people had really been against them, I don’t think they would have grown like they did,” Stark says.

Christianity became so popular that when Rome did unleash one of its sporadic waves of persecutions, the empire couldn’t stop the church’s momentum, Stark says.

“If you knocked off a bishop, there were 20 guys waiting to be bishop,” Stark says

Christian belonging, not blood, is what drew many people, another scholar says.

The Easter story of a risen savior wasn’t distinctive in Rome’s competitive religious marketplace. Dying for one’s beliefs wasn’t considered heroic; it was expected in the Roman world, says Selina O' Grady, author of "And Man Created God: A History of the World at the Time of Jesus."

The early church, though, was radically inclusive. First-century Rome was undergoing globalization. The peace of Rome had made travel easier. People left homes and tribal ties for Rome. The empire was filled with rootless and excluded people: immigrants, traders, slaves.

The Christian message offered guidelines for living in this strange new world, she says.

“Its universal message, its proclamation of equality, unconditional love, offered everyone in the Roman Empire a new family, a new community, and a way to live,” O’Grady says.

Roman rulers eventually found reasons to support the church, she says.

The Christian message of obeying earthly masters “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" reduced the potential for social unrest, O’Grady says.

“Christianity told the poor and lowly that their status was noble and that there would be recompense in the afterlife,” O’Grady says. “It was a wonderful recipe for creating good, obedient Roman subjects.”

A turning point for the early church was the conversion of Constantine. Scholars still debate Constantine’s motive. By that time the empire was rife with division, and Christians had become a major political bloc with members in the highest reaches of Roman society, says Stark, the sociologist.

“Constantine was interested so much in church affairs for the rest of his life, but I don’t think there’s a reason to not think he was a sincere Christian,” Stark says. “But he was also an egomaniac and an emperor.”

The growth of Christianity was too complex to be attributed to any one factor whether it be Constantine, persecution or Christianity's message of compassion and inclusion, Stark says.

“I don’t think there was a primary reason,” he says. “It was a collection of things. It was all part of a package.”

Wrapped in that package, though, were the persecution stories of people such as Perpetua.

Today, churches have been named after Perpetua; films and graphic novels have been made about her life. She is considered a saint.

Her words still inspire. People still read her diary. There’s probably a Christian somewhere in the world now facing danger who is taking courage from Perpetua’s ordeal.

One passage in Perpetua’s diary is particularly luminous.

Perpetua stopped keeping her diary just before she was sent into the arena. No one knows for sure what she felt when she faced her moment of death, but she did write what she expected to see afterward.

She wrote that God gave her a reassuring vision while in prison. In the vision, she saw a great bronze ladder ascending to heaven. At the foot of the ladder was a great serpent surrounded by swords and knives.

Perpetua said she ignored the serpent and climbed the ladder. When she arrived at the top, she saw a great garden and a white-haired man in shepherd’s clothing milking a sheep. He was flanked by thousands of others Christians dressed in white.

“And he raised his head and beheld me and said to me: Welcome child.”

The man gave Perpetua curds from the milk of the sheep, and she said it tasted sweet.

She then wrote:

“And I took it with joined hands and ate it up: and all that stood around said, Amen.”

Centuries later, millions of people who look to Perpetua are still saying amen.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Christianity • Easter • Faith • History • Jesus

soundoff (6,965 Responses)
  1. Rick

    Funny thing is, most so-called christians don't even know what "amen" actually translates to. Just like their parents, and grand-parents, and others around them who have been programmed by bs, they just say it at the end of prayer. Pathetic. Another example is how christians, without regard for the potential lack of faith of someone who sneezes, hastily declare "bless you". What if I don't want to be blessed a**hole?

    March 31, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Austin

      May God bless you with faith. That is from above and cures a bitter heart and enmity towards God. We need the comforter and healer.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:45 pm |
  2. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    The beginning of christianity featured Christians persecuting other Christians for what they thought of the nature of Jesus. The winners of that war of persecution shaped what you believe today about your religion. In a sense Christian beliefs are a product OF Christian persecution.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • G to the T

      Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner. You are exactly correct. Most christian theology was defined in opposition to other beliefs. One side said – Jesus was a man. One side said – Jesus was a god. "Orthodox" said – your both wrong, he's both!

      April 5, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  3. Fundies Gone Wild! They are panicking!

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0-04VDrCbM&w=640&h=390]

    March 31, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Crazyis

      You're wasting your time, as House said, "if Religious people were rational there would be no religious people."

      March 31, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Prehistoric shark captured on film

      Something smells fishy !

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mneDhOtVEQw&w=640&h=390]

      March 31, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Austin

      Is it decrepit or deformed?

      March 31, 2013 at 10:47 pm |
  4. Name*K

    And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans

    March 31, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Pall

      Re: Romans

      What makes you think that Paul of Tarsus knew anything special about the supernatural?

      (is it because he *said* he did?)

      March 31, 2013 at 10:53 am |
    • Dumbster Baby

      What Paul said is the truth.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • G to the T

      Let's see who can answer this one – Did Paul meet with the other disciples after his "damascus" experience? I'll give you a hint – the answer depends on which story (letters vs acts) you read...

      April 5, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  5. 21k

    oh for x sake. the number of xtians persecuted compared to the total number of grisly mass murders and genocides in human history if probably less than 1%. they just had the best marketing plan and bizness model.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Dumbster Baby

      How many people do you know that are willing to face lions for the brand of tire on their car? Any? That says something about what they believed... and knew about God.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • 21k

      pretty sure they would have had no choice either way, if it even happened.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Dumbster Baby

      All they had to do was deny Jesus having died on the cross and raised again. That's all they had to do and they'd be free to go. How many people do you know willing to die for the brand of tire they'd buy? They bought into Jesus dying for sins and raising again, and it's pretty clear that they knew it was right. God was making it known to them through the Holy Spirit, and they didn't let go of that belief in Jesus because of it.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • The real Tom

      How do you know that any of these events actually occurred? What corroborating evidence is there?

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
  6. Christian7

    President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. How can anyone think that Obama is a Christian at this point. Easter is Cesar Chavez Day? No real Christian would take Easter and give it to anyone other than Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ day.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • The real Tom

      The election is over, dear. Try to recover. The only idiots who think Obama isn't Christian are too stupid to tie their own shoes.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Saraswati

      You have to be a fake, because I can't really believe any minimally literate Christian is unaware that Easter falls on a different day each year. Please tell me you are kidding and not actually that stupid.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Christian7

      Saraswati, This year and every 7 years it falls on Easter. A real Christian would make sure that did not happen. That is the least he could do.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • JB

      You do realize Easter falls on a different day every year.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Crazyis

      No truly intelligent person can honestly believe in such BS. So my guess is Obama doesn't believe in your skydaddy either, but he has to pander to all the religious nuts out there and pretend for a while.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Roger that

      That was in 2011 when Easter was on April 24th. Nice try loser.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Melissa

      You do know that today is Saturday, right? And that easter is on SUNDAY (as in... April 1, which is also by irony, April Fools Day). Can you count the days of the week and use a calendar?

      March 31, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Christian7

      The real Tom, Prove your intelligence is as great as you say. Easily prove Obama is a Christian.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • Christian7

      Melissa, No I do not know today is Saturday. I am so stupid I think it is Easter Sunday.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Saraswati

      Ah, yes, a time machine should definitely be brought in to go back and alter the inconvenient birth dates of historic figures. Come to think of it, we should probably punish parent who are irresponsible enough to have children on Christian holidays...who knows what havoc that could cause in the future. The child tax breaks could be based on giving birth on convenient calandar dates, particularly those that align with holidays of nasty, unpopular religions.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • Agnes of Dog

      Don't worry about it 7, Chavez didn't know how to read the lunar calendar, and still doesn't know how from the grave.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Pall

      C7,

      March 31 is/was Chavez's birthday - that's all.

      My daughter's b-day is today too and has hit on Easter a few times. Mine is April 7, and I've had an Easter bday a few times too. So?

      The date of "Easter" is: The first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox.

      The earliest possible date for Easter is March 22, The last time it occurred was 1818 and the next time will be 2285.

      The latest possible date for it is April 25. The last time it occurred was 1943 and the next time will be 2038.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Christian7

      JB, Do you realize that March 31 falls on Easter every 7 years? It is an insult to Jesus Christ that Obama would set this up.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Roger that

      Saraswati, This year and every 7 years it falls on Easter. A real Christian would make sure that did not happen. That is the least he could do.

      I'm sure you live every moment of your life Biblically. Don't tell me that you've worn clothes woven with two different types of thread. A "real" Christian would not.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • The real Tom

      Look, Captain Stupid, Easter isn't always on March 31, as any REAL Christian would know, so can it, troll.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • The real Tom

      You're nothing but some brat who doesn't have enough to do, Christian7. Get a job and work nights.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Christian7

      The real Tom, It will fall on March 31 every 7 years forever. How much is infinity divided by 7? Answer = infinity.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Agnes of Dog

      One source says Easter will fall on March 31st on the following dates in this century: 2013, 2024, 2086, and 2097.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Christian7,

      7 years ago (2006) Easter was on April 16.

      7 years from now (2020) it will be on April 12.

      The next time Easter will be on March 31 is 2024.

      Get outta here...

      March 31, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • Agnes of Dog

      Plus – we know those Christians are conflicted: Easter is on May 5 for Eastern Orthodoxy.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Agnes of Dog

      (The first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.)

      March 31, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • The real Tom

      "How much is infinity divided by 7? Answer = infinity."

      My word. How did you get to be this stupid? Did you have to have surgery or something? Do you really think anyone believes that you're actually upset? You're so obviously a troll that you couldn't BE more clumsy at it.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • The real Tom

      You're such a lousy troll that you aren't even convincing in your stupidity. Do you have any clue how moronic you look when you fvck up this badly?

      Sad, really. Try to figure out how the church calendar is constructed and think about how the date Easter is celebrated is determined. Then read some history and learn that dates of events were arbitrary.

      Chavez's birth date isn't arbitrary. Dates of the church calendar are.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:33 am |
  7. jose R fernandez

    every man is Jesus if is human a humanitarian who give they life the soldier the real citizen other are person and people we all are a family GOD is the woman we all had a mother think Obama mama is all our mama this nation brain wash because greed and ignorance everyday in deception and manipulation is world order that is why 9/11 call the police the CIA explain all in movie in deception the rich few know all is in the moral ,respect and honor the president is correct all in the education but ignorance is bless because we all have greed ,they want dome is shipper that is why gay a lot in this nation ignorance..

    March 31, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  8. Will

    He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings! Jesus Christ our Lord has RISEN !

    March 31, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Christian7

      Amen

      March 31, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Rick

      Oh, spare me. In a thousand years, everyone will actually believe what Joseph Smith was "preaching" as well.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • sqeptiq

      The biscuits I made this morning has risen also.

      March 31, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  9. TMac

    EVERYONE READ THIS SO YOU UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH. Me being a man and believer in all faiths b/c all core values of faith are the same I do have to say that this article is an absolute lie. Christians were absolutely persecuted, Jesus place of worship was torn down stone by stone by the romans and jews. After some time that happened Jesus followers had enough and rose up and fought the romans and they were all slaughtered. They were persecuted no doubt about it, jesus followers decided to rise up for there beliefs (not impose there beliefs on people, they werent allowed to have beliefs at that time) and were slaughtered for it. Them being slaughtered in masses actually spread christianity bc then people heard there message b/c people had risen up and the romans wanted to know why. Jesus had the message and when they found out why, christianity spread like a wild fire. This is fact. And im a believer in all faiths. They didnt persecute everyone by hanging on them with a cross, which is why this writer doesnt understand to much of anything. She thinks persecution means they hung everyone on crosses. Jesus beliefs against the rich empires started b/c they severed the head of John the Baptist. They definetly persecuted people who let there beliefs be known. Dont pay any mind to people like this they are trying to make money off of religion. People that deny the unjust actions of the past and present will feell the wrath of god, no worries! Believe me b/c I believe in the cores of all religions, Christianity, Judiasm, Islam, Buddism etc.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Saraswati

      The article never said Christians weren't persecuted, just that the numbers were exaggerated.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      No one is denying persecution happened, just not to the extent christians claimed or necessarily for the reasons claimed. By the way, essentually every minority group has been persecuted, throughout history, christians are not special in that regard.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Unintelligent Designer

      So just because it's your belief automatically means it's the truth? What about everyone else that claims they speak the truth. I recall a saying about religion, "They can't all be right, but they can all be wrong."

      March 31, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • Melissa

      Wow, christian imagination is extremely selective. No one said that christians weren't persecuted, just that its not in the numbers they like to claim.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:58 am |
  10. History Of Easter

    History Of Easter

    Easter is one of the most celebrated festivals of the modern Christian church. According to St.Bede, an English historian of the eighteenth century, Easter owes its origin to the old Teutonic mythology. The name Easter was originally derived from the word Eostre. Eostre was the ancient Greek goddess of spring. It was believed that every year, Eostre returned to Earth after a long, cold winter and brought along with her the light and warmth of Spring. Thus, ancient Greeks held pagan festivals to welcome Eostre and herald the onset of spring.

    The Pagan festivals always coincided with the vernal Equinox on the 21st of March every year. Though the Greek were not fully cognizant of why and when spring comes, they believed Eostre must be pleased to ensure that she returns year after year. The festivals were lavish feasts that celebrated the booming of new flowers, the chirping of birds, butterflies, and sunshine and in general the feeling of rejuvenation that is inherent of spring.

    The Christian church however, changed the Pagan festival from a celebration of spring to a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. In 325 A.D. the church also changed the date of the festival. The festival was no longer held on the spring equinox. Instead, as per the Church Council of Nicaea henceforth it was to be held on the very first Sunday following the full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Thus, today Easter is celebrated on different dates every year and can occur as early as March 22nd or as late as April 25th.

    Some people even believe that Easter is related to the Hebrew celebration, the Jewish Passover. Passover is celebrated to mark the freedom of the Israelis from bondage and slavery after 300 years. It was during Passover in 30 A.D. that Christ was cruified for being blasphemous. The resurrection happened three days later on what is today known as Easter Sunday. The early Christians, many of whom were raised as Jews considered the resurrection and Easter as a new part of pascha. Thus the early celebration of Passover came to be celebrated as Good Friday and Easter.

    Today grand scale events mark the celebration of Easter in the United States and across the globe. Many traditional symbols of Easter continue to dominate the scene while new traditions are being part of the festival too. Thus, Easter is a festival that denotes life, rejuvenation, renewal, rebirth and restoration of all beings on Earth.

    There are many traditions and symbols associated with Easter that have survived and indeed flourished over the centuries. The most visible symbol of Easter that comes to mind is of course the Easter bunny with his Easter eggs. Other symbols of Easter include chicks, lilies, sunrise services and new pairs of clothing.

    Easter Eggs

    The Easter eggs represent the beginning of a new life. This was symbolic of the advent of Spring which brought with it a new life for flora and fauna. Easter eggs were first colored by the pagans to resemble the rising sun and announce the return of light. The northern lights were also painted on the Easter eggs.

    Later, an ancient Christian legend spoke of Mary giving the eggs to Roman soldiers and begging them not to kill her son. Subsequently, Easter eggs became a popular gift to give on Easter to bring luck and welfare to the family.

    The most popular Easter eggs are definitely the Faberge eggs. The Russian Czar wanted to give his wife, the Empress Marie an extremely unique Easter gift. So he commissioned the famous goldsmith named Peter Faberge to create a special ornamental Easter egg for his wife – now known as the Faberge egg.

    Some myths also came to abound about the Easter egg during the late Christian period. It was believed that eggs laid on Good Friday, if kept for a 100 years would become diamonds. Also, if Good Friday eggs were cooked on Easter they would promote fertility of crops and prevent against sudden deaths. And last but not the least, two yolks in an Easter egg meant you were going to be rich very soon!

    Easter Bunny & Chicks

    Rabbits and chicks represent the rebirth of Earth. Spring is a time when the Earth is literally reborn. Barren fields become lush green, trees get new foliage and flowers and fruits abound. The Easter bunny is definitely the most beloved symbol of Easter and extremely popular with children.

    In fact, history indicates that it may have been the hare and not the rabbit that was associated with Easter. The hare is legendary because it is believed to never close its eyes – not even to blink. Rabbits on the other hand are born blind. Hares were thought to be staring at the full moon all through the night. The hare was also a symbol of fertility linked to the Greek goddess of fertility – Eostre. However, rabbits are more fertile than hare and far more prolific reproducers. Thus, the transition from the hare to the rabbit as a symbol of Easter.

    Easter Lily

    The white lily is thought to be pure as Christ and a symbol of the purity of the new life that comes from being resurrected. The white lily did not gain popularity in America until the 1800s.

    The Native American lilies were summer flowers. They could be made to bloom early in time for Easter using hothouse conditions but the hassle did not seem worth it. It was in the 1880s that Ms. Sargent on a trip to Bermuda, fell in love with the Bermuda white lily, which blooms in springtime. She brought home some bulbs to Philadelphia and a nurseryman called W.Harris fostered its popularity. Subsequently, the white Bermuda lily became the accepted symbol for Easter and is the most popular flower for Easter decorations today.
    Other Symbols Of Easter

    A new Easter outfit supposedly symbolizes a new life. It stands for shedding the old and welcoming the new. Sunrise services are more of an event that happened in the days when people woke up at the crack of dawn. It was a way to welcome the light after a long, dark winter. Some churches still hold sunrise services.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Melissa

      The Easter egg was originally a fertility symbol from the PAGANS, long before the christians got their grubby little hands on it and changed the meaning.

      Easter is actually Eoster in one of the many Pagan calendars. Oester is a pagan goddess of ferility and her holiday fell at the same time we have Easter today. Coincidence? I think not. It was taken by the christians and twisted so that it meaned something different, just like christmas. The whole point was to convert people and the early christians were having difficulty convincing people to give up their old holidays so they moved the celebration days to the already existing pagan holidays.

      I can easily keep going but you get the point.

      How about you stop listening to what your lying religious leaders tell you is the truth and go learn the actual truth.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  11. Locus

    Lead article is the same as the one last year on CNN insulting just to be so.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  12. Ziggy2003

    It's amazing that the author can make these claims since she never lived during those times. How can she give an accurate account of what happened if all she can go by is old historical manuscripts even if that. Therefore her satatements are just as speculative as the stories of the so-called martyrs. Of course there was persecution, Christians are persecuted to this very day. They are mocked, called weak, delusional or crazy even by the people who claim they are Christians. One example is the mob of Atheist and agnostics who congregate to this website whenever there is any doubt about religion or God. Satan fans the flames of their doubt causing them to become Persecutionist. Another example is this article....

    March 31, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Crazyis

      For you and all the faithful sheep out there drinking the cool aid today and with all due respect YOU'RE IDIOTS, or just completely INSANE! Just stop for a moment and THINK, REALLY THINK about your beliefs for a minute. How in the world do you make any sense of it? You're all nuts IMHO!

      March 31, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • flfx

      .....Crazyis says as he(she) performs persecution

      March 31, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • sqeptiq

      It's amazing that the author can make these claims since she never lived during those times. -Ziggy

      It's amazing that [Ziggy] can make these claims since [Ziggy] never lived during those times. -ME

      March 31, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  13. PerceivedReality

    Hello

    March 31, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  14. Kirke Holmes

    I can't believe that CNN's lead article on Easter is about an idea from an obscure book that hardly anyone will read.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Crazyis

      You mean the Bible?

      March 31, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • RJ

      Interesting how it is one of THE most read books in the world.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • PerceivedReality

      The Bible has been the best selling book for millenia!

      The shroud of turin is empirical physical evidence of the resurection of Jesus!
      Don't believe it? I invite you to read this thread with an open mind with logic and reason.

      http://discussions.godandscience.org/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=225

      March 31, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Just because it's "best selling" doesn't mean many people have actually read it. Dictionaries have been best sellers for years with only a handful having read one.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  15. caligulia was he evil?

    Trying to rewrite history dosent change thnigs. The real travesty is that out of the early Roman Empire emereged the Catholic church which in the past 1000 years has doe more to persecute followers of Christ then any other group. The churches stand on birth control to a life of poverty while the Vatican abuses ad covers up abuse of children through the ubiblical practice of celibacy. The all Cnn can do is revew a book on how follwers of Christ may ot have been persucuted before you rewrite story do a little fact checking,

    March 31, 2013 at 10:44 am |
  16. charles darwin

    As P.T.Barnum or someone said, there's a sucker born every minute.
    Don't forget to send money! Religion needs it and if you don't send it you will go to hell.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Dumbster Baby

      Looks like you fell for the oldest con out there. Please provide the source for the big bang, life, and the species. Given that you reject God, you have nothing left for a source... literally... and science has yet to show nothing doing anything... even admitting reverse evolution is possible... negating evolution. You've been conned out of eternal life. Good job genius.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Ziggy2003

      Finding God is one of lifes's greatest moments at leas it was for me. To describe it is like the attainement of puberty or having your first child. Your whole outlook on life changes at that very moment. You are a new creature Born Again. Some people never reach that stage(spiritual puberty)so they complain, or attack the people who have achieved this experience, it's unfortunate.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Dumpster and Ziggy
      Which god did you discoveer...there are thousand of them.
      Do not deny yourself all that the thousands of gods have for you.

      You see you reject all but one of the gods so you are almost as much an atheist as I am...I have just gone one more god than you.

      March 31, 2013 at 12:59 pm |
  17. Paul

    This article is filled with so many inaccuracies "soap had yet to be invented." Soap was invented 2500 years before the establishment of the Roman Republic. Come on CNN.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Don Camp

      And how did the Roman baths disappear from history?

      Everything you read on the Internet is true.
      - Abraham Lincoln

      March 31, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Really Paul/? Evidence? When soap was first used during the Roman Empire, it was thought of as effeminate and scorned by real men.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  18. gunper

    The problem isn't so much how many persecutions, but the common beliefs of non-informed, modern day Christians. My son told me of a conversation with my mother just yesterday that she said she would have hated to have been Julius Caesar because he fed Christians to the lions! We looked it up for verification, but apparently he died in 44 B.C.E. and was thus long dead before the Jesus figure was supposed to have lived. But since my mother only knows of Julius Caesar as a Roman emperor, she connects the two ideas – leaving my son very confused.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  19. consiousness

    Consiousness is the only religon. accept it or not. it has no beginnings, it has no ends. it is ever present, present everywhere. and pervades all living, non living. the downfall of human race started with religion and will end with religion. belive in your consiousness...

    March 31, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Name*crossbreed

      What are you talking about? Consciousness begins at birth for every human..

      March 31, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • 123

      You are so stupid it hurts to read what you have written.

      How can a non-living object possess consciousness? Please stop trying to think like a normal person.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • consiousness

      Consiousness begins at birth for YOU. but it exists always and everywhere whether YOU exist or not. your body mind and intellect is a tool YOU use to explore this world. but consiouness always exist... religion is a proffession..

      March 31, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • consiousness

      123..Non-living does not possess Consiousness, how do you know that. as a living being you are not even able to understand yourself consiouness and believe in religious leaders to tell you what to think and not to think. how can you even talk about non living when you are one of them

      March 31, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  20. js

    the Romans were tolerant of all religions as long as followers paid taxes to the roman state.
    They had simple laws against preaching in certain places that christians could not help but break.
    They were then punished under the laws of Rome.
    They chose to be criminals. They chose their persecution and pretend like it was forced upon them. Lawbreakers. plain ans simple.

    March 31, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • Locus

      I assume you believe the Jews were law brakers in nazi Germany?

      March 31, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • caligulia was he evil?

      using your argument we would had civil rights in this country just because goverments make certain practices illegal does tat mean that what the goverrmet s doing is moral and just, The fact s the goverment attempted to use Christaniaity to bolster it claim to power through this we have the start of the Roman Catholic Church one of the most insidious evil organzations on this planet which as doe more to oppose ad kill true follewers of Christ then ay group o this planet. Just look up the Jesuits.

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. (h.c.) ©™

      @ Locus:
      There were many breakers of laws in Germany during World War II.
      Why not make your point directly?

      March 31, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • Rick

      Good POINT, JS. Breaking the law is what got JC pinned to the T. Even religious zealots today think it's ok to break the law because their faith tells them its ok. Yet, all of them are interested in power and panties. David Jones, David Koresh, and that weirdo out in Texas who met his date with the legal system.

      March 31, 2013 at 11:10 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.