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How an apocalyptic plague helped spread Christianity
Remains of victims of the Plague of Cyprian, discovered in the funeral complex of Harwa and Akhimenru in Egypt.
June 23rd, 2014
09:01 AM ET

How an apocalyptic plague helped spread Christianity

By Candida Moss, special to CNN

(CNN) - Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed relics from an apocalyptic plague that some Christians believed heralded the end of the world - an idea that likely helped spread the faith centuries ago.

A team from the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor unearthed the remains in a funerary complex in the ancient city of Thebes. (The city is now known as Luxor.)

As archaeologists excavated the site earlier this month, they found remnants of bodies covered in a thick layer of lime. The lime was significant, as it was used in the ancient world as a form of disinfectant to prevent contamination.

Nearby, there was evidence of an enormous bonfire, used to incinerate the remains of plague victims, and three kilns used for lime production.

Pottery located in the kilns enabled the scientists to date the discovery to the middle of the third century, the time of a gruesome epidemic known as the “plague of Cyprian.”

Cyprian, the mid-third century bishop of Carthage, provides us with the most detailed description of the plague’s terrible effects. In his essay “De mortalitate” ("On Mortality"), Cyprian wrote:

“The intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; the eyes are on fire with the infected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction.”

In many cases, Cyprian went on to say, blindness and deafness would ensue.

At its height the epidemic is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in the city of Rome alone. Among them were two Roman emperors: Hostilian and Claudius II Gothicus.

The effects were just as extreme elsewhere in the empire. Sociologist Rodney Stark writes that as much as two-thirds of the population in Alexandria, Egypt, died.

Modern scientists may believe that the disease was smallpox, but to Cyprian it was a portent of the end of the world. Interestingly, this belief may have actually helped the spread of Christianity.

Cyprian noted that Christians were also dying from the plague, but suggested that only non-Christians had anything to fear.

His compatriot Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria - one of the most hard-hit areas - wrote that it was a period of unimaginable joy for Christians.

The fact that even Roman emperors were dying and pagan priests had no way to explain or prevent the plague only strengthened the Christian position.

The experience of widespread disease and death and the high probability that they themselves might die made Christians more willing to embrace martyrdom.

And that, somewhat paradoxically, helped the faith thrive, providing early publicity that Christianity is worth dying for.

Add to this the fact that the epidemic coincided with the first Roman legislation affecting Christians, and martyrdom became both a possibility and a more reasonable option: When death is always around the corner, why not make yours count?

As the martyr Apollonius is reported to have said at his trial, “It is often possible for dysentery and fever to kill; so I will consider that I am being destroyed by one of these.”

The harrowing images of putrefying bodies and burning pyres of corpses also influenced early Christian descriptions of hell and the afterlife, which were already filled with fire and brimstone.

With the spread of the plague, these threats seemed increasingly real. Now that hell had become a place on earth, Christians were increasingly eager to avoid it in the afterlife.

The epidemic that seemed like the end of the world actually promoted the spread of Christianity.

Candida Moss is a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and author of "The Myth of Persecution."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: archaeology • Christianity • Death • Egypt • End times

soundoff (660 Responses)
  1. ragansteve1

    There were many reasons for the spread of Christianity, including religious persecution. But missionaries traveled the known western world lone before either the larger persecution or this plague.

    June 23, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
  2. clubschadenfreude

    so, fear was, and is, all that religions have. threats that we are doing something wrong and some god is petty enough for revenge and fear that these gods might do it again. But no actual information from these gods on how to cure the disease, nothing on the simple washing of hands to cut infant and mother mortality, no antibiotics, etc. So much for religions that claim to have the "wisest" man in the world in their faithful, just the same old ignorance and death.

    June 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm |
    • paulford0

      I think if you open your heart and read the Word you'll find it more about love than fear. Faith and Grace are difficult concepts to understand; and more difficult yet to accept. The Confessions of St Augustine is a good place start for those of a more cynical nature.

      June 23, 2014 at 11:15 pm |
      • tallulah131

        Here is a nice list (including books and verses for your convenience) of many of the wonderful things you can find in the bible.

        http://infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/atrocity.html

        June 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm |
        • i12bphil

          Haven't read it yet, but I'll give you 5 to one odds that 90% of it is in the Old Testament.

          Let me point something out to you: There is nothing Christian in the old testament.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:31 pm |
        • tallulah131

          Yet christians have used it as an excuse for atrocities for 2000 years.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:48 pm |
        • tallulah131

          Also, Jesus commanded that you still obey the laws of the old testament, so maybe he disagrees with you:

          "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)"

          June 23, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
      • clubschadenfreude

        Sorry, Paul, but I have read the bible and know it well. I've read entirely as a believer and as not. It's full of violence and threats by a supposed god who is so afraid of people that it can't have them speak the same language. It has a god that works with its supposed arch enemy to kill more people *after* all of the people who opposed this god were killed (Revelation 20-21) and after its supposed "son" ruled on earth for an eon. The Confessions of St. Augustine is by a man who says that it's perfectly okay for children to be sent to hell if they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and weren't baptized in the "right" way.

        I understand faith fine, it's belief in something that has no evidence to support it, like Santa Claus. Grace is the entertaining idea that one god picks and choose who gets to go to heaven with no concern with what the person did and send people to eternal torture on a whim. Your god is no different than any other Iron/Bronze Age gods, all very powerful and very human, stupid, petty, ignorant and ridiculous. A god that kills someone for keeping its magic box upright (see Uzzah), A god that says that it's okay to commit genocide, but hey, if you want to keep the little girls as virgins for your own use, why that's fine. A god that says slavery is fine, that it's okay to force a man to choose between freedom and his family.

        I'm quite happy that I know what Christianity is and how horrible it is. I was a Presybyterian, those lovely folks who are sure that predestination is the way to go and who are sure that Catholics are Satanists along with all other Protestant denominations. I am quite glad that I can see that none of you, Catholic or Protestant, Hindu or Muslim, Shintoist or Wiccan, have anything true at all. You all form your gods in your own image and want to pretend that some magical being agrees with you and only you. Pity that none of you can show any evidence that your gods exist at all.

        June 24, 2014 at 8:19 pm |
        • idiotusmaximus

          The Confessions of St Augustine is a good place start for those of a more cynical nature....

          Why worry and read something that someone that NEVER EXISTED WROTE......that's a form of INSANITY.

          June 25, 2014 at 10:52 am |
  3. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Are viruses the most perfect servants of God, being unable to do do anything but what God wills (since surely they are devoid of will)?

    June 23, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
  4. elgatoysuperra

    They swapped one plague for another, apparently.

    June 23, 2014 at 9:14 pm |
  5. ugetthefacts

    god loves his pen!s

    June 23, 2014 at 8:49 pm |
  6. karek40

    God wants a relationship with his creation, he is holy, we are not. Therefore no relationship. He allowed his son who was without sin to take man's sin. He is going to have a relationship with his creation, you can accept him or reject him. As far as why does he allow all the deaths, you might as well ask why does he allow you to step on a sticker. Read the bible, he tells you why.

    June 23, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
    • Athy

      Wow! Do you really believe that shit, Karek?

      June 23, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
      • nepawoods

        I thought he was just summarizing the plot of a popular work of fiction, but you might be right – he may believe it.

        June 23, 2014 at 9:27 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      SO tell us again why he "allows" innocent 3 year olds to suffer and die from cancer.

      June 23, 2014 at 8:44 pm |
    • realbuckyball

      BTW, if gods *want* relationships, but something stands in the way, then they are subject to Reality, not the creator of Reality.

      June 23, 2014 at 8:45 pm |
    • awanderingscot

      Candida Moss is a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame and author of "The Myth of Persecution."

      "professor of New Testament and early Christianity" – well there you have it folks, a professor of history rewrite who says persecution of Christians and more specifically the early church never happened! of course anyone who knows church history will learn nothing from this woman. it's obvious a publisher came to her with a lucrative offer to make money and of course she said yes.

      June 23, 2014 at 9:37 pm |
    • awanderingscot

      so i guess the soviet gulags, chinese re-education camps, and Islamic attacks should also be treated as a figment of our imagination. i guess we should hypothesize and say the Christian woman falsely imprisoned in Sudan was actually there in jail because she is a thief. this so-called NT scholar is yet another opportunist looking to make a buck.

      June 23, 2014 at 9:57 pm |
      • awanderingscot

        'As for organized persecution by the Roman Empire, she says that Christians died as the result of the imperial government only immediately following the burning of Rome in 64, briefly during the reign of Valerian 257-258 and during what is called the “Great Persecution” under Diocletian 303-305 - with an renewed period under Maximus Daia between 311 and 313. That all the apostles died as martyrs cannot be verified.' – from the national catholic reporter review.

        so we are supposed to now believe that somehow there was absolutely no persecution in between these admitted periods of persecution? simply incredulous.

        June 23, 2014 at 10:39 pm |
    • readerpan

      Anyone who worships a being who punishes people for being born with the supposed sin of a wayfar ancient ancestor is certifiable.

      June 23, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
      • idiotusmaximus

        If we could catch the nonexistent we could prosecute......lolol

        June 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
    • speediejoe

      Very strange, a god that wants a relationship with mankind, yet is completely silent. He talked to man all the time back centuries ago when the only way to record such events was indistinguishable from any other myth. Yet turned completely silent when man developed the means to actually reliably record events. Strange how that works....

      June 24, 2014 at 10:31 am |
      • idiotusmaximus

        Isn't that and many other things strange...but people who chose to believe anything to be real are not interested in logic or common sense...they just stupidly believe.

        June 24, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
  7. danab1234

    The plague was all over Egypt like a priest on an altar boy.

    June 23, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
    • Athy

      How do you get a nun pregnant? Answer: dress her up as an altar boy.

      June 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
      • truthfollower01

        Answer a few questions for me if you would.
        1. How many lies would you say you’ve told in your life?
        2. Have you ever stolen anything regardless of its value?
        3. Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word? (called blasphemy)
        4.have you ever looked at a woman/man lustfully?(if so, Jesus said you have committed adultery with that person in your heart.)
        If you’re like me, you are a self professed lying, stealing, blaspheming adulterer at heart or some form thereof. A holy God must punish wickedness, otherwise He wouldn’t be just. Given your confession, will you be guilty or innocent? If you’re like me and everyone else on this board, you are guilty. However, God provided a way for salvation through the blood of His innocent Son who took the punishment on the cross, that we might be declared innocent. Think of it like this. You’re in a court room. you’re guilty as you’ve professed. Someone walks in and pays your fine for you. Now the judge can legally dismiss your case and let you go. This is the gospel message. What you must do is repent (turn from your sins) and follow Jesus as Lord. This following is enabled by God when He gives you new desires and a heart that wants to please God instead of the flesh.

        June 23, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
        • Athy

          1. A few, but they were all small and white.
          2. You should see my Las Vegas ash tray collection.
          3. Only occasionally. Unless there are religious people around, in which case it is as often as possible with gleeful abandon.
          4. Of course. It's a perfectly natural instinct, why fight it.
          Am I going to hell?

          June 23, 2014 at 7:56 pm |
        • James XCIX

          truthfollower – You paste this same bad example all the time. Nobody is perfect. Nobody expects other people to be perfect. Those who don't expect themselves or others to be perfect don't feel anyone needs to be "saved" from their imperfections.

          June 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
        • Athy

          How can I repent if I've yet to pent?

          June 23, 2014 at 8:45 pm |
        • realbuckyball

          Not THIS crap again, One Trick Pony. You've posted that SO many times, one might be tempted to think you actually think it's worth reading . You are hilarious, (and boring).

          June 23, 2014 at 8:47 pm |
        • 13monkees

          Even if you were at all correct, and I am not granting that, couldn't an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful creator come up with a better forgiveness plan than to kill his only son that is also magically himself? Seriously, the brutality of this religion that claims to be peaceful astounds me.

          June 23, 2014 at 8:49 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          James ,

          " You paste this same bad example all the time."

          It's the Gospel message.

          "Nobody is perfect."

          Other than Jesus, no one is perfect. We need a Savior.

          "Nobody expects other people to be perfect."

          It doesn't matter if other people do not expect you to be. All that ultimately matters is one's standing before a holy and perfect God.

          June 23, 2014 at 10:29 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Athy,

          " Of course. It’s a perfectly natural instinct, why fight it."

          What if a child molester says the same. On your thinking, is there anything wrong with this if it's there "natural instinct"?

          June 23, 2014 at 10:32 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Bucky,

          Are you Observer in disguise?

          June 23, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
        • observer

          truthfollower01

          "You’re in a court room. you’re guilty as you’ve professed. Someone walks in and pays your fine for you. Now the judge can legally dismiss your case and let you go"

          Yep. No FAIRNESS there. No JUSTICE.

          That's how the Bible seems to operate. Hitler killed MILLIONS of people and can get off without punishment thanks to a 3-day "death" of Jesus, but the kindest, most generous person who never heard of God is sent to hell.

          Brag about that all you want. It's BARBARIC.

          June 23, 2014 at 10:35 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          "Yep. No FAIRNESS there. No JUSTICE"

          Please elaborate.

          June 23, 2014 at 10:41 pm |
        • observer

          truthfollower01,

          In your example, you brag about a guilty criminal getting a "Get Out of Jail Free" card because Jesus "died" for 3 days. Meanwhile the GOOD person who worked hard and cared for others goes to Hell because they NEVER heard of God.

          Brag about that system all you want. It's logical in your world.

          June 23, 2014 at 10:44 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Observer,

          "In your example, you brag about a guilty criminal getting a “Get Out of Jail Free” card"

          I certainly wouldn't say it was free. It cost God His life.

          "Meanwhile the GOOD person who worked hard and cared for others goes to Hell because they NEVER heard of God."

          People who have never heard the name of Jesus have general revelation (creation itself) that testifies to their being a Creator. They also have the moral law written on their hearts. I believe that if they truly seek for God, God will not forsake them (perhaps God may send a missionary to their village bringing the good news of Jesus). In addition, how do you know that God hasn't so providentially ordered the world that those who never hear the Gospel message wouldn't have believed it even if they heard it? Acts 17:26,27 says: "From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us."

          By the way, do you also go by realbuckyball?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:00 pm |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @truthfollower01

          "I certainly wouldn't say it was free. It cost God His life."

          Ok, you can all stop worshiping now, God is dead. Now go be nice to each other. You're welcome.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:07 pm |
        • observer

          Observer,

          In your example, you brag about a guilty criminal getting a “Get Out of Jail Free” card" because Jesus "DIED" for 72 hours.
          Sure sounds fair to you to make up for Hitler's killing of MILLIONS of people.

          Creation could "show" them that one of the THOUSANDS of other gods did it or NONE. Your illogical statements are amazing.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:08 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Rambling,

          "Ok, you can all stop worshiping now, God is dead."

          Care to provide any support for your statement?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:15 pm |
        • observer

          truthfollower01,

          I never use any other name here.

          Using other names seems to be the tactic of some believers on here.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:20 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Observer,

          The Holocaust was a horrible event in history. Obviously, it was neither truly right or wrong on atheism but that's another conversation we've had in the past. Those who were killed and knew the Lord went to a place where there is no more suffering or death. If Hitler never humbled himself before God and followed Jesus as his Lord, turning from his sins, there is no forgiveness from God for him.

          "Creation could “show” them that one of the THOUSANDS of other gods did it or NONE."

          Reread my post carefully.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @truthfollower01

          "Care to provide any support for your statement?"

          Yes, your statement I quoted, from June 23, 2014 at 11:00 pm...

          "I certainly wouldn't say it was free. It cost God His life."

          Correct me if I'm wrong, but when most people use the term "it cost them their life", they are speaking of death.

          Was that really that hard to follow, truthfollower01?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:23 pm |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @truthfollower01

          "If Hitler never humbled himself before God and followed Jesus as his Lord, turning from his sins, there is no forgiveness from God for him."

          But, if he HAD, then you and he could eventually be breaking bread and worshipping God together. My, wouldn't that be beautiful and wonderful.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:28 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Ramblings,

          Jesus' death wasn't the end of the story by any means. Are you familiar with the Christian doctrine?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:28 pm |
        • observer

          truthfollower01,

          "The Holocaust was a horrible event in history. Obviously, it was neither truly right or wrong on atheism"

          It's safe to assume that the VAST MAJORITY of atheists thought that the self-professed Christian Hitler was a monster.

          Are you actually dim-witted enough to claim that atheists have no morals?

          Why not learn basic English and stop looking like such an ignoramus by constantly saying "on atheism"?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:29 pm |
        • observer

          truthfollower01,

          Are you actually dim-witted enough to claim or hint that atheists have no morals?

          By the way, please learn basic English so you will realize how IGNORANT you are to keep saying "on atheism".

          June 23, 2014 at 11:32 pm |
        • observer

          duplicate entry above.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:34 pm |
        • Athy

          What if a child molester says the same. On your thinking, is there anything wrong with this if it's there "natural instinct"?

          How serious should I take a comment from someone who doesn't know the difference between "there" and "their"?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:36 pm |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @truthfollower01

          "Jesus' death wasn't the end of the story by any means. Are you familiar with the Christian doctrine?"

          Yes, I'm quite aware of the doctrine. What I don't get is how you keep using this "death" of Jesus as some big deal. So He suffered a human physical death for 3 days; so what? At what point was there ever a spiritual death never to return? That would be a sacrifice, not this bull you keep claiming to be some big freaking deal.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:40 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          "How serious should I take a comment from someone who doesn’t know the difference between “there” and “their”?"

          Ad hominem replies make for weak arguments.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:43 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Rambling,

          There is no indication that Hitler was saved. Let's take a look at Paul, who originally set out to destroy the church. When God saves a person, He changes their life. See Paul's conversion.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:46 pm |
        • observer

          truthfollower01

          "There is no indication that Hitler was saved."

          Your example shows that the self-professed Christian Hitler COULD be completely forgiven and in heaven now. Tough luck for all the BILLIONS of people who never heard about God and are in hell because God sent them there. You even bragged about how good this system is. People being punished for THEIR actions isn't important to you. Pathetic.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          "It’s safe to assume that the VAST MAJORITY of atheists thought that the self-professed Christian Hitler was a monster."

          The scary thing is that on atheism, Hitler's view of what is morally good and evil carries EQUAL AUTHORITY as your view of what is morally good and evil.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:51 pm |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @truthfollower01

          What if a child molester says the same. On your thinking, is there anything wrong with this if it's there "natural instinct"?

          I'll take a stab at this as well.

          So you think the actions of a child molester, and the thought of lust towards a woman is comparable? Thoughts are not crimes in my book. But I do understand to your God, they are. Must suck having to be afraid to have certain thoughts.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          "Your example shows that the self-professed Christian Hitler COULD be completely forgiven and in heaven now. Tough luck for all the BILLIONS of people who never heard about God and are in hell because God sent them there. You even bragged about how good this system is. People being punished for THEIR actions isn’t important to you. Pathetic."

          Have you even been reading my posts? Please reread or read for the first time.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
        • truthfollower01

          Goodnight everyone.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:55 pm |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @truthfollower01

          "There is no indication that Hitler was saved."

          Never implied he was, was just saying, as @observer pointed out, that it is totally possible for such a scenario to happen.

          June 23, 2014 at 11:57 pm |
        • observer

          truthfollower01

          "You’re in a court room. you’re guilty as you’ve professed. Someone walks in and pays your fine for you. Now the judge can legally dismiss your case and let you go"

          Do YOU read what you wrote? Where does it exclude the self-professed Christian named Adolph Hitler?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:59 pm |
        • observer

          ramblingsofnihility,

          Whenever truthfollower01 is taking another logical beating, he/she runs off. Nothing new.

          June 24, 2014 at 12:01 am |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @observer

          "Do YOU read what you wrote?"

          Logic and reason does not seem to be particularly strong with @truthfollower01.

          June 24, 2014 at 12:03 am |
        • Doris

          I'm coming to this late, so I'll save my stock answer to tf for another time, but this exchange:

          truthfollower01: "I certainly wouldn't say it was free. It cost God His life."

          ramblingsofnihility: "Ok, you can all stop worshiping now, God is dead. Now go be nice to each other. You're welcome."

          is "comedy gold" as they say...lol..

          June 24, 2014 at 12:36 am |
  8. danab1234

    Can we limit the religious nonsense to one day per week please?

    June 23, 2014 at 7:11 pm |
    • Athy

      Unfortunately, religious nonsense appears to be unlimited. But stay tuned, it's tapering off.

      June 23, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
    • theoldfool1950

      You're right. It doesnt add much substance to the conversation.

      June 23, 2014 at 9:49 pm |
  9. unsername1

    and now Christianity has become a different kind of plague,,,,,,plaguing peoples mind from rational thinking..

    June 23, 2014 at 7:04 pm |
  10. danab1234

    "an apocalyptic plague that some Christians believed heralded the end of the world – an idea that likely helped spread the faith centuries ago"

    This explains a lot but why do they KEEP believing in this absurd magical nonsense?

    June 23, 2014 at 7:04 pm |
  11. basehitter

    The (false) promise of life after death. Works every time.

    June 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm |
    • fiftypercenthollow

      No afterlife seems to have the same effect.

      June 24, 2014 at 2:04 am |
  12. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Greater love hath no man than one who lays down his friends to die.

    June 23, 2014 at 6:29 pm |
  13. owensrichard2014

    Christians don't generally know, or care about, the history of their religion. And, the more they learn about it, the harder it is for them to maintain their fantasy of living forever in Heaven with their God thingy. So, they don't even want to hear about this.

    June 23, 2014 at 6:24 pm |
  14. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Heads up Alaska...

    June 23, 2014 at 6:22 pm |
  15. Reality

    On the other hand:

    Why would your god allow the following?: (for the new members of this blog):

    Strong circ-umstantial evidence that there is no god (or did they all die as martyrs?)

    Number of god's creations who died horrible deaths from the following diseases:

    1. 300,000,000 approx.
    Smallpox to include the topic plague?

    2. 200,000,000 ?
    Measles

    3. 100,000,000 approx.
    Black Death

    4. 80,000,000–250,000,000
    Malaria

    5. 50,000,000–100,000,000
    Spanish Flu

    6. 40,000,000–100,000,000
    Plague of Justinian (more info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Justinian)

    7. 40,000,000–100,000,000
    Tuberculosis

    8. 30,000,000[13]
    AIDS pandemic

    9. 12,000,000 ?
    Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague

    10. 5,000,000
    Antonine Plague

    11. 4,000,000
    Asian Flu

    12. 250,000 or more annually Seasonal influenza

    June 23, 2014 at 5:53 pm |
    • goinmad2009

      Let me provide you some insights here. God does what He wishes, how is that a reason for God not to exist. The only thing this proves is that God does not fit your criteria. If that's not acceptable, that's your problem. You meet God on His terms, not on yours. Hope this helps.

      I'm a Christian, and I very well know that I'm far from trouble free. I have debt, I have illnesses, I have issues all around me. Nothing makes me immune to that. But what I know and the only thing I care about is my life after this.

      Let me ask you a question now. Explain the issues we have in this world. Why is there illness and death and pain?

      June 23, 2014 at 6:07 pm |
      • Dalahäst

        He generally just copy and pastes the same things over and over.

        June 23, 2014 at 6:11 pm |
        • theemptyone1

          Religions are very good at making their followers feel that they are living in the most important time. It's simple use of the natural tendency toward the ego-centric.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:00 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          That is not what my religion is proclaiming. As individuals the present is what matters. It is not this time in history that is important.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:05 pm |
        • danab1234

          Dalahäst, you just proved his point.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:10 pm |
        • danab1234

          Below

          June 23, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          How so?

          June 23, 2014 at 7:15 pm |
      • kudlak

        goinmad2009
        "But what I know and the only thing I care about is my life after this."
        Are you seriously saying that you don't have anything or anyone to care about in this life?

        From my viewpoint as an atheist, why shouldn't there be illness, death and pain? There's arguably less of it now than in the past. People can expect to live a lot longer, and many diseases have either been cured, or are not treatable. That's almost all due to improvements in medicine, health care, and technology, but we still have a ways to go. Who knows, you might get to live long enough to get a new android body, which might make immortality of a sort actually feasible, although why anyone would want to live forever escapes me. I guess I'm not as afraid of death as some people, I suppose?

        June 23, 2014 at 6:26 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          This is the bloodiest time in human history. Our technological advances seem to just create new ways to kill others.

          As MLK said: "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."

          June 23, 2014 at 6:31 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I'm not afraid of death. We will all die.

          June 23, 2014 at 6:35 pm |
        • bostontola

          By any measure I can think of, we don't live in the bloodiest time. You could argue that as technology advances, we live in riskier times. There have always been misguided men, with technology they can do more damage. We also have men that regard life as valuable and try to protect it with technology. The jury is out on which wins in the end.

          June 23, 2014 at 6:52 pm |
        • kudlak

          Dalahäst
          Actually, I thought that the wars we've had before Vietnam had far higher casualty rates.
          Revolutionary War – about 25,000
          War of 1812 – about 20,000
          Mexican-American War – 13,283
          Civil War – 625,000
          World War I – 116, 516
          World War I – 405,399
          Vietnam War – 58,209
          Persian Gulf War – 258
          Afghanistan – 3,441 ongoing
          Iraq – 4804

          Seems like fewer people have been dying in war since MLK's time, perhaps due to other technological advances such as kevlar, laser guidance, and stealth? It's also arguable that the technology has gotten too expensive and deadly to support the mass death rates common of past wars. Soon, drone technology may provide for wars with few, if any deaths. That's the way the trend appears to go.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:14 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Aren't mass shooting and school shootings on the rise in the US?

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

          "Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007."

          June 23, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Don't we, the US, also have the highest incarcerated rate of citizens in the world? Many charged with violent crimes?

          June 23, 2014 at 7:18 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          kudlak

          Deaths that resulted from crimes against humanity, not war from around the WWII time:

          China 7,000,000 to 11,000,000

          Soviet Union 7,000,000 to 12,000,000

          Poland 4,880,000 to 5,080,000

          Germany 1,100,000

          I think you should add such things to your list. There is a lot of violence that exists outside of war. Look at China and the Soviet Union.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:32 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Iraq – 4804

          That is just US casualties. We have killed more than we have lost in Iraq.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Classified US military doc.uments released by WikiLeaks in October 2010, record Iraqi and Coalition military deaths between January 2004 and December 2009.
          The doc.uments record 109,032 deaths broken down into "Civilian" (66,081 deaths), "Host Nation" (15,196 deaths),"Enemy" (23,984 deaths), and "Friendly" (3,771 deaths).

          3,771 "friendly" deaths?

          June 23, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
        • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

          "Don't we, the US, also have the highest incarcerated rate of citizens in the world?
          -----------–
          Yes – caused by long mandatory sentencing and 'zero tolerance' policies.

          Many charged with violent crimes?
          ------------–
          Not in the context of your comment. Sure there are "many" violent offenders, but not necessarily most. There are lots of long mandatory sentences for possession of small amounts of recreational drugs, there are lots of even longer mandatory sentences for so called 'violent crimes' that weren't really very violent.

          I'll give you an example of a crime I am familiar with. An oddball, quirky guy snapped. He held up a Subway sandwich outlet with his finger in his coat. He was sentenced under a mandatory sentence for armed robbery. The sentence was six years. The judge had no discretion. Did he commit a crime? Yes. Should he have done time? Sure – that's how we treat criminal behavior, but an index finger is not a gun.

          The system is also designed to create recidivism. Once released a former criminal is unemployable. They need money so they return to crime because without work they can't get it any other way. Sometimes they do so because once inst.itutionalized for long stretches it's easier for them on the inside than the outside.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Think of the number of people that have committed violent crimes that were never charged. I witnessed a mugging a few years ago. We chased after one suspect (the other 2 were in a car). He pretended like he had a gun so we didn't risk approaching him and returning the items stolen from a woman punched in the face. A lot of victims of violent crimes don't want to press charges. It can be dangerous, time consuming and costly. I've been attacked and didn't press charges.

          June 23, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
        • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

          "Think of the number of people that have committed violent crimes that were never charged."
          ---------------------------
          You have personal experience, and doubtless it happens. Is this worse than say 19th century New York or 18th century London before the invention of police? (The Metropolitan Police Service, the world's first, was created in 1829.)

          I imagine life in Dicken's London to be more crime ridden than cities today. There's parts of cities like Chicago where this would not be true, but the vast majority of us are not subject to that. In western port cities in the 19th century there were networks of saloons that "Shanghaied" sailors with underground tunnels.

          There's a temptation to think that what we see around us is the most (your topic here) that there ever was. We can't accurately imagine another time and place since we weren't there.

          No matter what the society people can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and bad things can happen to good people.

          June 23, 2014 at 8:55 pm |
        • Reality

          Obviously, some here did not read the list of horrible diseases created by their god. And you might want to put a time frame on these diseases as most have been eliminated by medicine and sanitation i.e. this is not the bloodiest of times unless of course you live in Iraq and Syria at the moment and that could be cured by simply deporting all the imams and cutting off all the Saudi and Iran oil money fueling these civil war idiocies.

          With respect to human-caused horrors: bloody body counts and the time frame of each:

          The Twenty (or so) Worst Things GOD'S CREATURES Have Done to Each Other:

          M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

          The Muslim Conquest of India

          "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

          Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Century……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

          1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

          2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

          3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

          4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

          5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

          6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

          7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

          8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

          9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

          10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

          11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

          12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

          13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

          14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

          15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

          16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

          17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Christians)

          18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

          19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

          20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

          June 23, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Our society is way too violent. From the food we eat to the number of people we kill over seas. There are places in Mexico I went to 20 years ago, today it would be unwise to without protection. Maybe your world is getting less violent. Or you just don't see it in your neighborhood. But you do contribute to it.

          June 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          Kudlak

          http://www.necrometrics.com/tyrants.htm

          June 24, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
        • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

          Our society is way too violent.
          ---------------
          I don't have any argument with this statement.

          I think people are reacting to this comment you made earlier:

          This is the bloodiest time in human history.
          -------------------–
          Which I think is an unfounded assertion. The real question is "Is violence getting worse or is it getting better?" which inevitably can only be answered by opinion.

          In Mexico it is getting worse. Firearm violence "feels" like it is getting worse in North America, but hard data lags behind. The 20th century is behind us. Notwithstanding a nuclear war which hopefully is less and less likely, wars (while they continue to be constant) are more 'constrained'.

          June 24, 2014 at 12:42 pm |
        • idiotusmaximus

          Wow...so many people live for their hope to be happy in SOME AFTER LIFE THAT DOESN'T EXIST.....the Laws of Physics forbids an after life regardless of what some people wrote 2000 years ago ....so sad to waste this one and only life anyone ever has whether they believe this to be true or not...of of course there is a peace in death...lol

          June 25, 2014 at 9:57 am |
        • Dalahäst

          Is it just my imagination, or do you skip over other people's errors (Kudlak's war numbers for example) because they come from atheists to comment and criticize mine?

          June 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm |
        • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

          Is it just my imagination, or do you skip over other people's errors because they come from atheists to comment and criticize mine?
          -----------------–
          It's just your imagination. You both quoted the necrometics site – which is as good as any for such statistics – so I'm not sure what your point was.

          Kudlak's earlier numbers were for United States casualties and his later numbers appeared to be those from necrometics and as such are, to me, within the margin of errors for such things. Claims of casualties vary wildly by source.

          There was a poster here who once claimed 800,000,000 killed by Mao in the 20th century. This was complete BS.

          June 24, 2014 at 5:56 pm |
      • In Santa We Trust

        If there were an omnipotent god, why would it have created disease and suffering and why would it allow its chosen people to suffer? Why create a worm that feeds on the human eye?

        June 23, 2014 at 6:27 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          I don’t pretend to know why, but I’ll share a couple of thoughts on your first question. If you never experienced bad, you wouldn’t know good. Suffering leads people to call on and depend on God.

          June 23, 2014 at 9:08 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          God's goodess is not perfect unless there is evil, Robert?

          June 23, 2014 at 9:26 pm |
        • Robert Brown

          Hey Tom, I hope you are fairing well. I think it has more to do with our perception or recognition of Gods goodness. I'm not sure I would be able to recognize perfection.

          June 23, 2014 at 10:18 pm |
        • ramblingsofnihility

          @Robert Brown
          "If you never experienced bad, you wouldn’t know good. Suffering leads people to call on and depend on God."

          Then why didn't God want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge?

          June 23, 2014 at 11:12 pm |
      • theemptyone1

        Your god is pretty reckless and careless, which is one reason I don't buy the myth. The other reason is that it is just that; myth.

        You can believe what you want, but you are missing out on your real life in exchange for something that isn't going to happen. This is perhaps the cruelest thing about your religion. But it's history reveals some real sick cruelty, too. You ought to do some looking around before you walk like a sheep to your end.

        Excuse me, the guy with the Spaghetti God complex is calling....

        June 23, 2014 at 6:42 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          My religion teaches that right now is the most important time. We are to have hope for the future. But for now we are to focus on helping and serving others. What we do matters. Jesus has done the work for our future. All we have is today. "Give us this day, our daily strength..."

          June 23, 2014 at 6:52 pm |
        • realbuckyball

          But that's what they've always said. So. Why can't you people make up your minds ?

          June 23, 2014 at 8:48 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I haven't always said that. And I know people who believe in God that have never said that. Also, each anti-theist person on here has told me various reasons and theories for why I believe in God. And no 2 are alike. "You people" do it, too.

          June 23, 2014 at 10:41 pm |
      • danab1234

        Let me provide you some insights here. There is no god (except in your feeble, brain-washed mind) so he doesn't DO anything. You just change the rules to fit the topic.

        June 23, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
        • Dalahäst

          I'm not feeble minded nor brainwashed. How do you know you aren't brainwashed?

          June 23, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
    • markcatronmusic

      God gives us warnings in His Word. In the Pentateuch, the very first 5 books of the Bible, in Deuteronomy I believe, there is a mention of the mountains of blessing and cursing. In that scripture, God says to the children of Israel, "If you obey my commandments, none of these illnesses will come near you..." and it goes on to say how he will prosper them. Disobedience came with the repercussion of the exact opposite. We are cursed, because, though some profess to follow Jesus, all they really follow is themselves while they ask for forgiveness on a daily basis for "sinning" ... True religion; true discipleship of Christ is to follow His teaching and forsake the world.... Today's "Christian" church does nothing but embrace it. We have worldly laws we obey gladly to avoid a ticket or imprisonment... and there are outer worldly laws that we disobey gladly, thought to obey them would mean eternal life and an escape from Hell. The teachings of Jesus are not untrue; they carry much weight. "Love your neighbor as yourself" "Forgive your brother" .... I mean... are those awful teachings to follow? "Let God be true; and every man a liar" meaning... obey God over man, and don't try to change Him... He's a little set in His ways

      June 23, 2014 at 6:21 pm |
      • theemptyone1

        You sure are good at leaving out a lot of juicier stuff: For my sake son shall rise up against father, brother against brother, mother against daughter and nation against nation," "I wert that you be either hot or cold, for the warm water, I will spew from my mouth," and then there's the Book of Revelations where Jesus revels in the suffering and death of humanity.

        Good News: None of the Gospels agree – read them.

        This and a gazillion other zingers await those who actually read the Bible.

        June 23, 2014 at 6:47 pm |
      • kudlak

        The Hebrews blamed Eve for releasing pain and suffering into the world, and the Greeks blamed Pandora. What else would you expect from misogynistic cultures?

        June 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm |
        • theemptyone1

          Maybe they noticed that women are pretty gossipy and conniving?

          June 23, 2014 at 6:57 pm |
      • realbuckyball

        The Judean priests assembled the Torah of Moses in Babylon. Humans. Not a god. It's a mish-mash of the traditions of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, + the Priestly material, and a couple other traditions. It's about human politics. Nothing else.

        June 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm |
    • derekj63909

      I fully support your views. If there really was a god who loved all of his children, then I don't believe he would cause the wide spread epidemics that have plagued this earth for many years. I am not religious and my views are more aligned with science because it is practiced everyday by people who are trying to find answers to numerous things including our introduction to this planet. I choose not to believe what is written in "old" texts that were made up thousands of years ago by people who wanted followers for a specific religion. Life on this planet is not a guarantee, you don't know when your last day will come, and there is no god who decides your fate. Some get cancer, some get aids, some pass from other conditions, old age, food poisoning, etc. We live and we die, such is life, but it was not created by a god, he does not show his face, he cannot receive a letter in the mail nor send one to you or even a birthday card. The idea of a god existing is just that, an idea that has been floated through the numerous generations that have passed on this planet over the years. The bible is a bunch of old stories made up by people and thrown together in a book, but that doesn't make it real. As to why I prefer science over a religion any day.

      June 23, 2014 at 6:28 pm |
    • theemptyone1

      Yes, I was afflicted by them all. I have lived many lives and each time God saved me from Satan's curse. That's because I am so righteous. All those others that died just didn't have it right, you know?

      Lo! My God be a fickle god,...... so look out!

      June 23, 2014 at 6:29 pm |
  16. angeson

    2000 year old plagues are always best left undisturbed.

    June 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
  17. insi10

    I would bet that Jews had a significantly higher survival rate than the population at large. So much of what now seems quaint about Jewish religious practices with food were simply sanitation survival skills back then.

    June 23, 2014 at 5:36 pm |
    • theemptyone1

      Yep, since religion was the main focus and political thread in ancient times, the Jews wisely made good sanitation part of God's Law as further proof of his wisdom and care for his people. Clever, back then. There's no excuse for it now (except perhaps in a third world country).

      June 23, 2014 at 6:31 pm |
    • theemptyone1

      During the Bubonic Plague in 14th century Europe, after all prayers of the Church and followers had failed, it was noticed that the Jews were faring better. Someone claimed the Jews were poisoning wells. And so the modern epoch of anti-Semitism began and found it's conclusion in the 20th century.

      Funny thing is that the European, Christian nobles were doing better, too. The peasants died most because they lived in such dirty and crowded conditions. The loss of so many peasants caused a labor shortage and this ended up causing the rise of a middle class and the end of serfdom. Many nobles became farmers who had to work their land. So by the 18the century, my noble ancestors were landless and had to come to Montreal, Canada! (Praise be to DOG).

      June 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm |
  18. ptneely

    I hope they found some DNA. This is an excellent opportunity to create a new WMD.

    June 23, 2014 at 5:05 pm |
    • angeson

      Lets not. Mankind finds enough ways to kill one another without ancient plagues.

      June 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm |
      • theemptyone1

        An ancient plague then is your sniffle today.

        June 23, 2014 at 6:32 pm |
  19. sdfrankie

    Not much has changed. Christianity stills relies on primal fear and ignorance to spread belief.

    June 23, 2014 at 5:02 pm |
    • fiftypercenthollow

      Not much has changed, mankind still relies on primal fear and ignorance to spread belief.

      June 24, 2014 at 2:06 am |
  20. thecamw

    http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/68808206816/what-is-the-bible-part-16-awkward

    This is probably the best explanation of the Bible and why it elicits so many problems for people.

    June 23, 2014 at 4:48 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.