Subscribe to Christianity Today
Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library)
Candida R. Moss
Yale University Press, 2012
272 pp., $50.00
The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom
320 pp., $14.99
Amy Brown Hughes
Candida Moss has distinguished herself over the last few years as a productive scholar, especially on the subject of early Christian martyrdom. Ancient Christian Martyrdom (ACM) is a rereading of the early martyrdom texts that offers important challenges to some traditional assumptions. Since ACM presupposes a certain level of familiarity with the texts as well as with historiographical and literary methods, the primary audience is students and scholars of early Christianity. The Myth of Persecution (MOP), on the other hand, takes most of the same ancient material and repackages it in a more broadly accessible form. MOP challenges a stream of modern Christian discourse that, according to Moss, perpetuates a false narrative of early Christian persecution and martyrdom that not only abuses the historical narrative but also misuses it in contemporary contexts. MOP is certainly provocative and challenging, but it leans heavily on Moss's own polarizing corrective of reducing Christian suffering in the first three centuries to "myth." As a result, she all but undermines her call for Christians to stop clinging to a polarizing narrative. This is unfortunate, since her aim is a laudable one. Reading the two books together is probably the most fruitful approach, as the nuance Moss displays in ACM helps to balance the bold instigation of MOP.
Instead of focusing on what makes a martyr, Moss asks in ACM how martyrs are created, drawing attention to the symbiotic connection between the formation of Christian identity in late antiquity and the telling and retelling of martyr stories. She expands her exploration of martyr texts beyond those that categorize the protagonist as a "martyr" so as to include non-traditional accounts. Moss starts by destabilizing Christianity's exclusive claim to martyrdom by exploring the influence of the Greco-Roman tradition of noble death, most notably epitomized by Socrates, and the underestimated Jewish influence of ...