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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. Coram Sanctum

    This is what we call Revisionist History. Numerous names and dates have been recorded throughout early church history. To say it was all a fabrication would be the equivalent of taking the victims of Nazi Germany, with names and dates, and say there deaths were exaggerated or never happened. This is offensive. Nero's Persecution was only in the city of Rome, it was not Roman Worldwide, but still many died brutally. The Emperor Domitian's persecution was more severe. I would call raids on random churches and cutting of Pastor's heads in front of their congregations if they refused to worship the emperor extreme. It was also common. It is also true that more Christians have been Martyred in the last 100 years than all of the rest of Christian history combined. This does not mean the numbers weren't high before. It simply means that it is much higher now around the world. I am all for historical scholarship, even if I disagree with some of the conclusions. But it puzzles me ho these revisionist historians get any acknowledgment. Just because someone graduates from a prestigious University does not mean they are a reputable scholar. With all do respect to the author. Have respect for the countless historians that have come before and have been faithful in their interpretation of History. Don't dishonor them by reinterpreting history according to your own personal agenda.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • .

      God, you tard. She isn't saying that it didn't happen. Read the article, will you??

      April 1, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      What about Christian vs CHristian persecution....how worked up do you get about that?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • Austin

      Coram Rectum, You is a fool boy

      April 1, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • Coram Sanctum

        haha, I actually thought that Coram Rectum jab was pretty funny. Good one Austin! Seriously though, I wish we were able to discuss and disagree within the public square without one party feeling the need to resort to insults. But, if your gonna stoop to insults at least you were witty about it. Love you bro! Have a good week!

        April 2, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • ME II

      " equivalent of taking the victims of Nazi Germany,"

      There is no comparison between the levels of docu.mentation between the Holocaust and 1st – 2nd century persecution. Get over yourself.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:35 am |
    • Poor christian

      Just go to Iran or Saudi Arabia and say loud that you are christian and see what will happen to you! why do you deny the history if the present is so vivid.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:59 am |
      • Coram Sanctum

        ? I agree with you. I am not sure why you are critiquing my response to the article. I am not denying anything. I agree with you. I disagreed with the author's assertions that "persecution wasn't as bad as history has recorded" it has been that bad and it has only gotten worse

        April 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • CosmicC

      History written prior to the modern era is seen through the eyes of the victor. The idea that history should be factual and accurate is an early 20th century introduction. In order to view pre-20th century history through 20th/21st century lenses is through "revisionist" history.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  2. skinsfan66

    I am never surprized at people trying to re-write his history to suit their own view of the world. The author says persecution was 'rare'. I guess the holioost was a rare event since it only happened once. But 6 million Jews died. So does 'rare' make it any less horendous? I'm not sure what sources the author used to draw her conclusion but I think she needs to do further reseach. Christians are still being persecuted today.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • SixDegrees

      You should read the article before criticizing it. You're making a fool of yourself. Try to do more than just look at the pictures.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • ME II

      Why the constant comparison to the Holocaust?
      There are mountains of evidence for the systematic slaughter of Jews and others during WWII, by nominal Christians, by the way. There is no comparison – there is a difference between persecution and directed genocide.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      skinsfan666, I think her focus was persecution of christians, specificically that it wasn't as bad in Roman times as we are led to believe.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • .

      Sigh. You didn't read the aticle, did you? And Christians ARE being persecuted today, just not in America; ANOTHER point you glossed over.
      Please, do address the thousands of pagans that Christians killed. Address the thousands of natives to the Americas that were slaughtered. You won't, because in your timy mind, Christians can do no wrong.
      Christians died in the Holocaust, also, dimwit. Another point you gloss over when comparing apples to oranges.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      How "horendous" is it that Christian vs Christian pesecution is responsible for what Christians believe about god today?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Jesus freaker

      "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."

      Thanks for proving her point.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  3. Choir Loft

    More Christians died for their faith in the twentieth century than in all the years of Christendom combined. Lies published by media puppets cannot sponge away the blood that has been shed.
    ***
    Lies do sell books, however, and college professors like Candida Moss today enjoy a very lucrative income from publishing the rubbish they require their students to buy. College text books and instructor required reading have long been corrupt in fact and presentation by publishers and authors alike. Students and their parents who pay these professional con artists suffer most from the traffic in fiction and misdirection. Even scientific books suffer. For example, you'd be surprised to learn how many ways the Periodic Table of Elements can be twisted so as to require students of science to buy new text books.
    ***
    Check it out for yourself. Ask an honest instructor for their opinion. Higher education in America is a joke.
    but that's just me , hollering from the choir loft...

    April 1, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • The real Tom

      Knock off the screeching. Your tag line sucks.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Choir Loft

      Hey Tommy:
      What I wrote is true. I am employed by a college and know several professors whoose royalites from modified text books surpass their salary/stipend. I also know several instructors who have pointed out to me the deliberate modifications to text books for the sake of publisher profits that are forced upon students every year. These changes cause a great deal more work on the part of honest instructors, not to mention the loss of resale value for old textbooks from students who've passed the course and need the money. Old textbooks become worthless very quickly.
      ***
      In the end it's all about the lie in college and the lie is that what students are being forced to learn is of value in life or profession. There is a direct link between lies such as the one Moss publishes and student checkbooks. Don't believe me? Check it out yourself.
      but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

      April 1, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Mark From Middle River

      Thanks for continuing to prove me right over and over TomTom.

      TomTom, the Westburo Baptist of the Atheist Cause.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • ME II

      I don't know about religious textbooks, but science is constantly changing through the continuous advancement of scientific knowledge. Up to date science textbooks are necessary for up to date learning. I'm not saying all changes are absolutely necessary nor that there aren't some deceptive practices in book publishing, but scientific knowledge does advance and needs to be reflected in the textbooks.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • The real Tom

      Well, if it isn't the Piddler, back again. And what, precisely, did you contribute here, Marky-poo? Anything? No, you're here because you're all butthurt that nobody is backing up your little hate-fest.

      "All I want to do is say "hi" ;)"

      Bozo.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • The real Tom

      Hey, Piddler, did you ever manage to find the wording about a "jury of his peers" in the Const itution? Or did you finally figure out how to read?

      April 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
  4. Faith

    It is hard to deny that persecution was integral to the life of the early church. Even today in non-Christian countries, Christians are being persecuted. Jesus predicted the suffering of His followers. It surely makes it unreliable, if not “dangerous,” to just turn part of Church history upside down and ignore the almost 2 millennia held facts and claim that it did not happen.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • FrankRotiroti

      I agree, Paul was running around persecuting Christians until that fateful day on the road to Damascus

      April 1, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  5. I AM

    I think I could learn a lot from this professor if I was to study under her.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • FrankRotiroti

      I am in total agreement. I have throbbing head she can satisfy.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • ARE NOT

      dream on

      April 1, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • You wish

      April 1, 2013 at 11:21 am |
  6. michael

    What hogwash! The article says on 6 credible martyrs, then states Nero lighted his garden with Christians (I believe more than six died there, not counting the others whom he blamed for burning down Rome) Then we have 11 apostles who were martyred in the Roman empire (more than six there also). SOUNDS LIKE A ATHEIST OR AGNOSTIC IS TRYING TO REWRITE THE HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH WHICH WAS NOT CATHOLICISM! CATHOLICISM STARTED AROUND 220 AD.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Presumably you are a protestant. They came after catholics. Get used to it.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • CosmicC

      Sorry, but Catholics came along later. Check out the Orthodox church.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  7. DoctorKnow

    The real Tom wrote: " The Garden never existed and Adam and Eve are myths."

    How is it logically possible for you to know this? Please explain.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • midwest rail

      You never answered how "interference" (whatever that means) equals persecution.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Evolution shows that mankind was not produced as described in the bible, no one has ever seen a talking snake; so how likely is it that the garden story is not a myth?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • The real Tom

      Doc, I'll be happy to explain, just as soon as you answer the question about the defunct gene for yolks.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • The real Tom

      Oh, and Doc, honey? Before you answer, post your qualifications.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      midwest rail, that is a very strange question given that the line before it said :"the reason persecution does not exist.." How could you miss it? If persecution does not exist and interference does exist that does not imply equality. It implies they are different. How could they be equal if one exist and the other does not? Why did you somehow come up with this idea that I said they were equal? Your response should be interesting.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • The real Tom

      "if one exist"

      Did you fail to develop that pinkie finger, Doc, or did you lose it in a manufacturing accident at the plant?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:27 am |
    • midwest rail

      If I misread your post, mea culpa. You appeared ( to me ) to be inferring that the two were equal.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Definitely "doing a Chad". Avoiding questions, going off on tangents, splitting hairs to avoid the inevitable truth. Oh dear.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      In Santa we trust, We do not have any proof that talking snakes never existed. You can't prove an unrestricted negative. You can show the probability of a change of one species to another is next to impossible given the combinatorial complexity involved and show how that fits the fossil records. Macro-evolution is like winning the power ball lottery every week for 20,000 years. That is not an actual figure that was calculated, it is to give the idea. Biologist need to take higher mathematics. That is the problem. Macro-evolution is mathematical nonsense.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • The real Tom

      "Biologist need to take higher mathematics."

      Which "biologist"? Is there only one?

      You're an idiot who needs to take an English class.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      The real Tom wrote:"Oh, and Doc, honey? Before you answer, post your qualifications."

      Now I need qualifications to post on the CNN website? LOL

      April 1, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      DoctorKnow,
      We do not have any proof that unicorns never existed. We do not have any proof that Khrishna never existed. We do not have any proof that Odin never existed. Yet you do not believe in them. Why believe in a talking snake when you've never seen one or any indication that one could exist say another reptile talking.
      Your probability model is fatally flawed. DNA shows that we have common descent through fish, mammals, and apes (among many others) so whatever the probability – it happened. As I said before most skeletons do not become fossils.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Vic

      @In Santa ..

      Evolution Is So Improbable That It Is Biologically Impossible! Mathematically, anything less probable than 10^49 IS IMPOSSIBLE!

      http://www.icr.org/article/evolution-biologically-impossible/

      April 1, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • The real Tom

      So, DocKnowNothing, you have no qualifications as a scientist, then? Good to know.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  8. Godoflunaticscreation

    Christians are the persecutors not the persecuted. Just ask the Jews.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • FrankRotiroti

      Wrong.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • David

      Just ask a gay person.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Frank, That is the truth of Europe and the USA.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Choir Loft

      No church ordered the deaths of 6 million Jews in the 1940's. It was an atheist government that did that.
      But then, no atheist would dare admit to such an aberration in history. They prefer their bigoted opinion to the truth.
      but that's just me, hollering from the choir loft...

      April 1, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • Doobs

      @ Choir

      You mean the "atheist government" that had "Gott Mit Uns" on the belt buckles of it's military uniforms?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • ME II

      @Choir Loft,
      "No church ordered the deaths of 6 million Jews in the 1940's. It was an atheist government that did that."

      Germany was not an Atheist government.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:51 am |
    • The real Tom

      Choir Loft, you are incorrect. And the Catholic church turned a blind eye to Hitler and the Nazis.

      Do you lie about things when you're screeching off-key, too?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • ME II

      "The German census of May 1939 indicates that 54% of Germans considered themselves Protestant and 40% considered themselves Catholic, with only 3.5% claiming to be neo-pagan "believers in God," and 1.5% unbelievers."
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_Germany#Religions)

      April 1, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • ME II

      FYI
      "For [tax] reason[s], membership in the Catholic or Protestant (evangelische) Church is officially registered. It is important to keep this official aspect in mind when turning to such questions..."
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Nazi_Germany)

      April 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
  9. anonymous

    I just finished this last night. I could not put it down. think that John Blake and Rev. Morgan are misrepresenting Prof. Moss's work. She clearly states:

    1) That Christians did die
    2) That persecution happened and was rare
    3) That christians are persecuted today but that misuse of persecution distracts us from real examples of persecution.

    She's saying that OUR understanding of the extent of persecution is overblown. You should all read the book before misrepresenting it. She has evidence and is a scholar at Notre Dame. She's obviously not attacking Christianity she just wants us to "get the history right" (her phrase).

    April 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • FrankRotiroti

      So that means that the collective works of Theologians and Historians over the centuries has been all wrong and walla, here comes this Professor and she has it all right in one book.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • SixDegrees

      "So that means that the collective works of Theologians and Historians over the centuries has been all wrong and walla, here comes this Professor and she has it all right in one book."

      Well, no; as noted in the article, this is common knowledge in the academic world.

      More importantly, why does this surprise you? Ancient historians – notably Josephus – are notoriously unreliable; the whole notion of objectivity and accurate recording didn't even enter their minds. And huge volumes of what is written about past persecution is transparent christian propaganda spun out of sheer lies.

      When it comes down to real, verifiable facts, it turns out they are very thin on the ground. If you have actual historical evidence for more than what is known by scholars in this field, you should absolutely contact them, perhaps even prepare your own tract and submit it for peer review. Because it will come as a huge surprise to actual historians to learn of such sources.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Doobs

      @ FrankRotiroti

      So that means that the collective works of Theologians and Historians over the centuries has been all wrong and walla, here comes this Professor and she has it all right in one book.

      "walla"??? Did you mean "voila"? LMFAO!

      April 1, 2013 at 11:46 am |
  10. luckyducksmokester

    What this article doesn't mention is that many early Christians were persecuted by OTHER CHRISTIANS as well. Paul himself was.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Paul was a Pharisee. A noted one. His conversion on the road to Damascus is a fundamental description of how worldly knowledge and power are illusions that often enable us to persecute the Church but that, by grace ones vision may be put right.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • The Demon Deacon

      Bill Deacon Is irrelevant. Billy is an obsequious papal apologist troll.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  11. Sense0326

    What kind of god wants a young mother to leave her infant child and die a horrible death? The Christian glorification of suffering disgusts me.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • FrankRotiroti

      I think you did not read the Bible.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:12 am |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      They are sick individuals who believe suffering brings one closer to god. They used to whip themselves and many still do, to be closer to god. They are mentally damaged.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Doobs

      @Frank

      I think you did not read the Bible.

      I've read the bible many times. It fosters an attitude of self hatred and slave mentality to a vengeful, petty god. Suffering and martyrdom are held up as "proof" that your god is the true god.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      She didn't leave her child. She was forcibly taken from her by the government. Ever been to divorce court?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • The Demon Deacon

      Bill Deacon
      Is irrelevant. Billy is an obsequious papal apologist troll.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  12. Godoflunaticscreation

    Christians have an extreme persecution complex, but they enjoy it. They worship persecution through Jesus and equate persecution with holiness. They are so dysfunctional that they claim persecution while they persecute others. Just look at how they complain when someone asks for them to stop sticking their nose in EVERYONES business, even shunning the separation of church and state. They want a theocracy and a totalitarian government where all must obey. They are a sad lot. Soon they will be listed in DSM and will get the help they sorely need.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Truth.

      Atheists, too.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • FrankRotiroti

      Nonsense.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Atheists actually are a persecuted minority and the science backs it up. Try again.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • LoonieAthiestWebsite

      There is a replica of the 10 Commandments at city hall: I'M BEING PERSECUTED!

      April 1, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "There is a replica of the 10 Commandments at city hall: I'M BEING PERSECUTED!"

      If the law of the land says our gov't is to be nuetral on the question of religion, your 10 commandments, most of which are in direct opposition to the consti.tution, has to go.... put it in your front yard.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  13. FrankRotiroti

    What is it with CNN constantly putting up stories trying to discredit Christianity? I used to like CNN very much for their journalism, but now it seems to be on a mission to putting up false stories from no name historians, where are the historians with a lifetime of credentials? CNN you are losing me as a viewer.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • ME II

      Didn't they just spend several weeks on wall to wall Papal coverage?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

    The stories of the Bible are true. We have so much historical evidence through accounts from Tacitus, Flavius Josephus, Pliny, Cassius Deo. Last but not least Israel really exists, or it is delusional to claim that there is a state of Israel who still celebrates the festivals of the Old Testament (for example Passah instead of Easter)?

    April 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      None of those are contempoary accounts, most of them don't refer to Jesus directly. The historical evidence is neither.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Dark_Lord_Prime

      London, France & Bulgaria really exist, therefore, Harry Potter is true.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:33 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      The writers of the bible had to put some truth in there. Yes Israel, Egypt, etc. existed. Not much else can be verified and much is proven untrue.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • CosmicC

      There is little, if any, independently verifiable "history" in the New Testament. That is unremarkable. Jesus was not royalty. Although much of the Old Testament does have historically verifiable occurances, the lead characters are heads of state or high priests or the stories are about the nation as a whole. That is the nature of most history written prior to 1900. The presence of Jesus in accounts that were written 200 years after his death do not prove his existence any more than the lack of contemporaneous accounts disprove it. If you want to have faith, go ahead and believe. If you need proof, you're out of luck.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  15. Topher

    I like how the author of this "blog" insinuates that early Christian persecution didn't exist. Ever heard of Foxe's Book of Martyrs? It doesn't take much historical research to find out persecution was starting as early as 60 AD under Nero.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • The Brown Note

      Ever heard of the catholic church?

      The defense rests its case.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • anonymous

      Have you read the book profiled here? I doubt it as the author deals with both Nero and the Book of the Martyrs. She's not saying that persecution never existed, she is saying it was rare.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:08 am |
    • Topher

      The Brown Note

      "Ever heard of the catholic church?"

      I have. And I'm not a fan. But what does this have to do with persecution?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Topher,

      The historical evidence is coming out that Christian persecution did exist, just not to the level and not the way it has been claimed by Christians to this point.

      Oh and by the way Christians persecuting Christians directly affected what you believe about god and CHristianity. History is written by the winner.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Topher

      anonymous

      If that is what she says, I wouldn't read that book. It would be revisionist ridiculousness.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Doobs

      She did no such thing, but then lying for Jeebus is your modus operandi.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • The real Tom

      How do you come to the conclusion that it is "nonsense," Gopher? This is just hilarious-you refuse to read something because it contradicts your views?

      Ahahahahha. SO open-minded.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Topher

      Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      "The historical evidence is coming out that Christian persecution did exist, just not to the level and not the way it has been claimed by Christians to this point."

      What evidence?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • The real Tom

      Why not read the article, Gopher. Then research the question. Or are you afraid of what you'll discover?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • ME II

      @Topher,
      I don't think the article is claiming that persecution did not exist.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:29 am |
    • Topher

      ME II

      Maybe not directly. But it's pretty thinly veiled. "According to a BELIEF passed down through the centuries, the church grew because of Roman persecution." So after 2000 years of it being a fact, it's suddenly a belief. Either it happened (and happened in the numbers it has been historically) or we're calling every historian and scientist a liar.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      The evidence that Rome did not outlaw CHrisitianity, which it would do if it wanted to completely get rid of CHristianity and the claimed persecution was all encompassing as Christians have claimed. Just one point, read a book about the history of your religion besides the bible, one written by an actual educated scholar.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Topher

      Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Actually, I'm taking a class on the history of the church right now.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • ME II

      @Topher,
      "So after 2000 years of it being a fact, it's suddenly a belief. Either it happened (and happened in the numbers it has been historically) or we're calling every historian and scientist a liar."

      The growth of the religion being due to persecution was never a fact but an opinion. I think the author is just saying that persecution was not as important to the growth as was the inclusive nature of Christianity.

      Also, why are Christians not happy about this? It seems very pro-Christian to say its growth is due to the virtues of the religion rather than the evils of its opponents.
      This sounds like a good thing, to me.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Toper,

      Are you taking a class from an accredited school or are you taking a class from a disciple of Ray Comfort or your church?

      April 1, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • The real Tom

      You can pretty much bet your life savings that Gopher isn't taking a class in which the instructor insists that the students investigate anything at all that might contradict what the babble says.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Topher

      ME II

      "Also, why are Christians not happy about this? It seems very pro-Christian to say its growth is due to the virtues of the religion rather than the evils of its opponents."

      I wish this is what she was saying. But the problem is it's revisionist ... saying the people gave their lives for nothing. It's just plain insulting.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • ME II

      @Topher,
      "I wish this is what she was saying. But the problem is it's revisionist "
      Well, if she is inaccurate, then I can understand being upset. I wouldn't want inaccurate history being spread, however this does not seem all that clear cut. She is not claiming that there was no persecution, just that the inclusiveness of the belief was a larger factor in its growth.

      "... saying the people gave their lives for nothing. It's just plain insulting."
      I don't think she was saying this at all. I think that is the view you have because of the weight you give the early martyrs in validating your beliefs, e.g. 'people would not die for what they don't believe'. But that is not what she said.

      April 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
  16. The Brown Note

    Biblically illiterate people believe the bible is factual. If you read it a few times you start to find some serious problems with it. These problems prove it to be a work of fiction.

    "But it's an instruction manual for life!"

    An instruction manual will not tell you how to put half of a desk together, smash it with a hammer and then end with, "Enjoy your finished product!"

    April 1, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Topher

      The Brown Note

      "These problems prove it to be a work of fiction."

      Which "problems?"

      April 1, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • Truth.

      It is honest.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • The Brown Note

      Topher, you have asked this very question numerous times, and each and every time, people have explained it. Why do you continue to ask the same question when you have been given the answer?

      Look up "Ebonmusings 2000 years late." If you have any more questions after reading that short bit of information taken directly from the bible IN CONTEXT, then you just, don't, get it.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:11 am |
    • Topher

      The Brown Note

      No, no one has ever explained it. All they can ever give me is that there's "errors" or "inconsistancies" ... and if I get someone to give me an example, it's garbage like "bats aren't birds" that has been explained over and over again.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • The real Tom

      Noah.

      Never was a flood that covered the earth. Never was an ark that held two of every kind.

      The earth was not created in 6 days.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • Topher

      The real Tom

      You can't know those things for sure. There's evidence in favor of these things just like there's evidence against. So it really comes down to you picking a side. But just because you don't believe what the Bible claims doesn't disprove it at all.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • The real Tom

      Nonsense, Gopher. There is NO evidence that Noah existed or that there was ever a flood that covered the earth. NONE.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:45 am |
    • The real Tom

      And Gopher, the fact that you "picked a side" and believe the babble doesn't make what it says any more true than what the Brothers Grimm wrote about Little Red Riding Hood.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • JMEF

      Topher
      You personify the seductive power of absolute belief, the inscrutable va-garies of biblical interpretation, and how our minds can shape reality to fit narrative. In short you will twist the bible nonsense to suit whatever pops into your mind from time to time.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • In Santa we trust

      Topher. The amount of water on earth is pretty much constant. There isn't enough to cover the highest mountains. Presuming that there were enough water then the Ark and all the animals and birds on it would have been above Everest – thin air and very cold. That's ignoring the practicalities of getting animals to and from Australia, North and South America let alone the more remote parts of Europe and Asia. Fairy tale dude.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
    • Smithsonian

      "No, no one has ever explained it."

      The stories found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1-12, such as the flood story, the record is quite different: the time period under consideration is much more ancient. The factual bases of the stories are hidden from our view archaeologically. The stories remain a part of folk traditions and were included in the Bible to illustrate and explain theological ideas such as: Where did humans come from? If humans were created by God (who is perfect and good), how did evil among them come to be? If we are all related as children of God, why do we speak different languages? It must be remembered that the Bible is primarily a book of religion, a guide to faith. it was not a book of history, poetry, economics, or science. It contains all sorts of literary genre, which are used to teach about the relationship between God and mankind. Even biblical history is edited history: events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible. The Biblical writers did not pretend they were giving a complete history; instead they constantly refer us to other sources for full historical details, sources such as "The Annals of the Kings of Judah" (or Israel).

      It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of checking its historical or scientific accuracy. The only "proof" to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship? In the best analysis, the Bible is a religious book, not an historical document.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  17. Marcus Tridellas

    Was funny to read this story yesterday while watching the History Channel discussing in detail about the persecution of Christians. What time will the anti-Latino story be posted today? It is Cesar Chavez day and all.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:02 am |
    • The Brown Note

      They got their payback with the torture and murder of millions as the catholic church layed the almighty smackdown on the peasants.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Show your sources on "millions smacked down by Catholics" please

      April 1, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • The Demon Deacon

      Bill Deacon
      Is irrelevant. Billy is an obsequious papal apologist troll. I know you are in denial about the ugly history of the RCC and do not have movie night in your church. The Mission is a factual account of the barbarity of the church when conquering the Americas but you would probably deny that also, hypocrite.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
  18. The real Tom

    Hey, DocKnowNothing, when are you going to tell us all about the defunct gene? You ignored an excellent question about it yesterday. I'm SURE it was just an oversight on your part and not an intentional evasion, right?

    April 1, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • DoctorKnow

      What is the big deal? There are many similarities in the genetic code of humans and bananas too. Why don't you just state your speculation about the meaning of it. Make sure to avoid using any type of probability calculations. If it seems like it could happen to a biologist, then next week biologists will say it is a fact regardless of how improbable it is.

      April 1, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  19. dominedeus

    A little knowledge is dangerous. Not much different than denying the holocaust where even after they are dead they continue to be persecuted through blind denial.

    April 1, 2013 at 11:00 am |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    @Vic

    Leave the Anabaptists, and become a real Christian. Worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, that means to overcome the lust of your body through the Holy Spirit or the power of Jesus death and resurrection, and love your neighbour in Jesus power. If people want to harm other people, defend the disadvantaged people.

    April 1, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • .

      Does the function of a reply button escape you, rainman? Does it give you pleasure to decimate other denominations of Christianity? You are no "real" Christian. You are just another religious bigot; against people who believe in the same Christ you do. Horrible.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • sam stone

      Ooooh, a REAL christian.

      April 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Doobs

      Christian catfight! Rawr!

      April 1, 2013 at 11:28 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.