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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. The land of the dead

    Somebody (science or religion) really needs to look at this post death stuff...pretty quick. Please, I'm begging you. We on the sidelines need real answers not arguments.

    Atheists: Your telling us there is no such things when we are seeing ghosts, having visions of hell/lower astral whatever.

    Christians: Your telling us that people can defy gravity.

    Neither answer makes any sense to me, but you guys keep arguing it's gotten both of you nowhere.

    April 15, 2013 at 1:23 am |
    • tallulah13

      The brain is a complex organism. Stress, be it physical, emotional or chemical can produce very compelling delusions, leading people to believe they've experienced all sorts of events. Alien abductions, near-death experiences and hallucinations can generally be attributed to functions of the brain.

      Of course, not all is known yet, and there is certainly an outside chance that a god exists, that aliens are abducting people and that ghosts are real, but for the most part there is no evidence to indicate anything other than chemical reactions and overactive imaginations.

      April 15, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • Science

      The land of the dead....................the promblem is smarts..................are you as smart as a 5th grader ?

      Listening to the Big Bang - In High Fidelity

      Apr. 4, 2013 — A decade ago, spurred by a question for a fifth-grade science project, University of Washington physicist John Cramer devised an audio recreation of the Big Bang that started our universe nearly 14 billion years ago.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404170154.htm

      April 15, 2013 at 7:09 am |
    • Science

      Oops ..............problem

      April 15, 2013 at 7:11 am |
    • Science

      Hey The land of the dead ..................the miracles are in the soup !

      The smarts issue agian................gets old !

      Origin of Life: Power Behind Primordial Soup Discovered

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130404122234.htm

      April 15, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  2. Elvix

    I'm gonna read Prof Moss' book, The Myth of Persecution, because she so beautiful.

    April 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Cora

      Reading a book because the author looks good is a dumb reason to spend the time. And to her, we have only to point out what Christians are enduring today because of hate. In Nigeria 80% of Christian churches have been burned down by Islamic rebels. Many of them are without family anymore. Also Valerie Marchenko was a Russian preacher who died in the 1980's for his faith. Two pastors were killed in Turkey for their faith a few years ago. If you were a Christian and a soldier in Russia for the last several decades, God help you. If they are dying today, they died yesterday too. Things haven't changed that much. To play the race card, why is it that so many beautiful blondes have a case against Christianity? Could it be that they have exactly zero Jewish in them? Or if they do it is Danite such as the Danes, Swedes or Germans who often have a penchant for hating God?

      April 15, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      Cora
      Why don't you start by trying to stop the persecution of atheists in America at the hands of christians. Fix home before fixing your neighbors.

      April 15, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • Huebert

      What happened Cora? Did your panties get all knotted up because you aren't as pretty as picture of the lady attached to this story? You might want to work on those self confidence issues.

      April 15, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • sam stone

      cora: when christians in the united states stop trying to deny gays equal rights, get back to me.

      April 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  3. Stephen Hawking is an Idiot

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ylnx0NA9X4&w=640&h=360]

    April 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Sad

      Life is short, and as a fellow non believer I can tell you we both only get one and rather than being out today in a speedboat or parasailing you and I are wasting our collective time lurking here. You, worse as your compelled to do an obvious frame up of people who have a belief system.

      April 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Science

      Sounds like fun the sailing, but it is still snowing in this part of the woods !

      April 14, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  4. Science

    The review of facts !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/

    Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

    Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

    Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
    bears his name as the “God particle.”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/08/atheist-prof-peter-higgs-stop-calling-higgs-bosen-the-god-particle/

    Pope praises science, but insists God created world updated Thur October 28, 2010
    Stephen Hawking is wrong, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday – God did create the universe. The pope didn't actually mention the world-famous scientist, who argues in a book published last month that the laws of physics show there is no need for a supreme... \

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/28/pope-praises-science-but-insists-god-created-world/

    Science

    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
    By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when...

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/17/heaven-is-a-fairy-story-scientist-stephen-hawking-says/

    April 7th, 2012

    08:32 PM ET

    The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/the-jesus-debate-man-vs-myth/comment-page-137/#comment-2281915

    April 14, 2013 at 8:24 am |
  5. HUH!

    Another face begging to be noticed...Another fool selling her own soul in hope of gaining $$$$$ and popularity among the fools of this world. Hell will be hot, dear soul....No way out of it. You know better than deny even Christ's own words!

    April 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      What kind of disgusting azzhole would allow a place of eternal torture to exist when he could destroy it? Terroristic biblegod, that's who!

      April 13, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • HUH!

      What kind of azzhole of created being would be so ungrateful to the one who created him, to rebel and denounce his creator, and then call Him evil when He demands justice?

      April 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • MyLifeMyWay

      My creators are my parents, not some sick, sadistic evil sky daddy who "demands justice". Love me or burn, baby. Yeah, great god.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
    • Third party

      There is a side theory that God = whatever is pleasant, Absence of God = whatever is unpleasant, therefore "hell" itself is in that theory the absence of God.

      However the word "God" does not have an exact definition so where does that leave the argument..suspended in that which is no longer relevant I suppose.

      April 14, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • sam stone

      thirdparty: it seems to me that petty, vindictive people find comfort in a petty, vindictive god.

      HUH! is yet another data point in this theory

      April 15, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • faith

      "Moby Schtick
      What kind of disgusting azzhole would allow a place of eternal torture to exist when he could destroy it? Terroristic biblegod, that's who!"

      how "could" god destroy it?

      May 4, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  6. faith

    we are all going to die, very, very soon. some of will be in heaven quicker than the speed of light

    some, not

    April 13, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Science

      Come on faith ........................you should know better by now find dorothy !

      April 14, 2013 at 6:48 am |
  7. Observer

    Everybody persecutes everybody else for their religion or lack there of. Ever wonder why? Maybe because we are all going to die, we all know it and we all feel like we are on an airplane slowly crashing and there's nothing we can do about it.

    Still no reason to take it out on eachother.

    April 13, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • faith

      "Observer
      Everybody persecutes everybody else for their religion or lack there of. Ever wonder why? Maybe because we are all going to die, we all know it and we all feel like we are on an airplane slowly crashing and there's nothing we can do about it.
      Still no reason to take it out on eachother."

      if a christian says the same thing, nazi god-haters would freak out.
      unfortunately, nazis fail to consider more than one option. practically all the time. there is something that can be "done" but it demands humility which god-haters misunderstand. to them, humility equals humiliation and they are not at all the same thing. humility in this context means that we may not know everything.

      at the same time u r right. excellent analogy. we r all plunging head-long to our deaths. no escape. no matter what. jobs was going to die at some point no matter how much his money could buy. Carnegie, ford, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, dead, buried, gone. bones.

      we all sense that that isn't all there is. something whispers (sometimes it screams) to us that we cannot cease living on in some sense, "in being" altogether, even if we wanted to.

      May 4, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
  8. Paul

    Who the hell is this Moss guy? CNN never lets its own writers say the controversial things, just "quotes" them to make sure we read them. Early Church leaders embellished and invented martyr stories? Really sir, which ones? What evidence do you have of this? And most of all, how dare you?

    April 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • clarity

      Well, since SHE's an author referenced by the author of the article and not here to defend herself against your charges, therefore it's your responsibility to show evidence why you feel she is out of line. If you the point from my first sentence, then maybe you didn't read the article?

      April 13, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  9. Yeast

    I can't believe this author's name is actually "Candida".

    April 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  10. SS

    Jesus is REAL, God is REAL, the Holy Spirit is REAL. Those who are not convinced by these Christians should actually get to know the Bible more better. You guys may have your own perspectives on the Bible, but don't change and try interpretating your own version of the Holy Bible. PERIOD.

    April 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • MyLifeMyWay

      There are thousands of sects of christianity, all with a different interpretation of your ancient text. What makes your specific interpretation of the bible better than others? I doubt you have read your bible cover to cover and really examined it.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
    • sam stone

      "more better"?

      April 15, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Billy

      And if you'd been born in India you'd be saying "Krishna is REAL, Shiva is REAL, Rama is REAL..." (and you'd keep going for a long time because they have a lot of gods). The point is, my guess is that you are a Christian only because your parents were.

      April 22, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • oOo

      Wow, Billy – you've given me unpleasant thoughts. I'm seeing that somewhere in India there is the Aghora version of "Austin" who twirls his penis on a stick and drags rotting bodies out of the river to use in cannibalistic ritual.

      April 22, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  11. Roberto

    Christ wasn't "persecuted." He likely didn't even exist. There are no records of his crucifixion. And the Bible stories are poor fabrications that don't even coincide.
    Mark 15:25 says Jesus was crucfied in the morning on the day of Passover, the morning after the Passover meal was eaten.
    John 19:14 says Jesus was crucified about noon on the day of Preparation for the Passover.
    In Matthew, there's no manger story and Jesus was born in his "house" in Bethlehem with "wise men" present instead of "shepherds."

    In John 20 only Mary went to Jesus's tomb
    In Matthew 28 there were 2 Marys
    In Mark 16 it was Mary, Mary Magdalene and Salome
    In Luke 24 there were other women

    The gospels are inconsistent on almost every part of the account. And the historical events they try to weave together with Jesus' story did not happen at the same time. Either Jesus was a real man in history who we know absolutely nothing about, due the the Bible's completely innaccurate and conflicting accounts, or he didn't exist at all and was a lesser god that was created based on many of the tenets of the Cult of Osiris.

    April 13, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      The Christian Church, particularly in Europe, was the center of intellectual life for over a millennium and had a powerful influence over it until recent times. That weight of that kind of history is not easily overcome. It's good to see that more and more people are beginning to throw it off.

      April 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Michael Aloscious

      Yet another Easter-season-Christian-bashing book! . I would dare this author (sic) to write a similar report on any other religion say Islam. Of course Christ basing is risk free and sells the book- after all $ talks. The author in her 'wisdom' seem to think that Roman empire was the only place where Christianity spread, what about other locations in the world, including India where Christianity spread right in the First century.

      April 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Don

      Virtually all modern scholars of antiquity agree that Jesus existed and was crucified by Pontius Pilate. For references check out wikipedia's article on the historicity of Jesus. The difference in times in Mark 15:25 and John 19:14 are likely because Mark was recording time in a Hebrew fashion (3rd hour from sunup =~ 9am) and John was recording the time of Pilates sentence as Roman time (measured from midnight) 6th hour was 6am with the crucifixion to follow 3 hours later. The fact that the narratives differ is natural and expected from different witnesses but they are not contradictory. All of the Gospels have women as the first witnesses to the empty tomb which is unheard of for that time period as women were not considered legitimate witnesses so if the story was fabricated they would not have used women as the first witnesses.

      April 21, 2013 at 1:05 am |
    • faith

      "In John 20 only Mary went to Jesus's tomb"

      where does it say that?

      May 4, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  12. Pravda

    Another clueless "Christian history" professor quoted on CNN... When will it end?

    April 13, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  13. Emmanuel Samuthram

    Even if one soul is presecuted for his/her religious conviction is a BIG number for me.

    April 12, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
  14. Sean

    Atheists are stupid!

    April 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Joe Smith

      im perscuted even on the internet for my religion.

      sick of this crap

      Our founding fathers said we get to have freedom of religion so stop trying to take my god from me

      April 12, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  15. Steve

    anyone can publish something controversial to cast history in what they want to hear. any "scholar" can stick their head i the sand, ignore facts in order to pan to those they want to impress, and call it "history". much of the New Testament includes statements to christians to endure under persecution and statements to comfort those being persecuted. What sense would that make to people NOT being persecuted? Furthermore, Christians are being persecuted around the world today for their faith - even here in the good ole USA.

    April 12, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • midwest rail

      Please elaborate on persecution in the United States.

      April 12, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  16. Austin

    John 15:26-27

    The Work of the Holy Spirit

    26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

    April 12, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • sam stone

      wow, austin...a quote. how incredibly impressive.

      so, you dropped consuming alcohol and started taking shots of jeebus?

      April 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  17. jungleboo

    This article is so genuinely whacked, I don't know where to begin. Let's start at the very beginning:

    Perpetua kept a diary? So her words are taken at face value with no corroboration whatsoever, and then embellished over the centuries by motive-driven commentators, novelists and artists? The prose describing her noble encounter with lions and tigers and cow, oh my! was nothing short of purple. If these are facts, I'll eat my hat.

    April 12, 2013 at 4:46 am |
    • Science

      jungleboo .....If these are facts, I'll eat my hat.......................facts below

      Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

      Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
      bears his name as the “God particle.”

      http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/08/atheist-prof-peter-higgs-stop-calling-higgs-bosen-the-god-particle/

      April 12, 2013 at 6:40 am |
    • Austin

      @ science
      "Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
      bears his name as the “God particle.”

      There you go "science" you have left the circle of science and entered the worship of satanic religion. I allready knew that you were no scientist.

      April 12, 2013 at 8:23 am |
    • Science

      Maybe they should not have created the wedge !!!
      The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Insti-tute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Insti-tute manifesto known as the Wedge Docu-ment,[1] which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to defeat materialism, naturalism, evolution, and "reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic
      convictions.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedge_strategy

      April 12, 2013 at 8:32 am |
  18. Robospa

    How sad she had to die such a horrible death. Perhaps she to is a Jesus and her spirit haunts those who took part in her killing to this day.

    April 12, 2013 at 12:34 am |
  19. U.S. Catholic

    If you look at a list of the Popes from St. Peter on, during the early centuries of Christianity ALL the early popes were martyred. P.S. For those who don't know, the Pope is the Bishop of Rome.

    April 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm |
    • Truth

      And the antichrist mentioned in Daniel and revelation. Open your eyes!

      April 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  20. Alger Dave

    I guess we didn't live in the first century AD, so it may be hard to substantiate the actual facts of that era. However, we live in the 20th century (and now 21st century) AD, and it's not hard to substantiate the facts today. Some estimates place the number of Christian martyrs in the 20th century at 100 million. Various groups keep track of Christians being persecuted around the world today, and there are certainly hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Christians who live in countries where their beliefs are not welcome, who daily fear for their very lives. We saw this most recently in Egypt, but it happens daily around the globe. So...maybe the facts about early church martyrs are sketchy, and maybe they are not, but there's no disputing that Christians today are persecuted around the world for their beliefs.

    April 11, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Steve

      "Some estimates place the number of Christian martyrs in the 20th century at 100 million".

      Sorry, but the fact that you thought you could get away with posting that "estimate" will cause any thinking person to dismiss anything else you may have to say.

      April 11, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • sam stone

      100,000,000?

      Are you daft, man?

      April 11, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • sam stone

      Who is making these estimates?

      Did you just pull it out of your rectum, dave?

      April 11, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Christians are such dram queens

      Ever since 300 AD when christiantiy became the state religion of Rome they have, in the name of their religion, persecuted, tortured and slaughtered way more of their opponents then christians have ever been persecuted for being christians

      April 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
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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.