The Myth of Candida Moss

Candida Moss, a Professor in the Theology Department of Notre Dame, no surprise there, has a political tract disguised as a work of history entitled The Myth of Persecution in which she contends that the early Christians greatly exaggerated their persecution at the hands of the Romans.  The book really isn’t about history, which Ms. Moss mangles, but is rather aimed at current political battles which can clearly be seen in the promo video at the beginning of this post.

The blog Seeing the Sword has a first rate response to this waste of wood pulp:

What’s most problematic is that she is engaging in special pleading to make her case appear solid. However, she’s finagling her definition of “persecution” in order to suit a preconceived verdict. Miller continues by saying,

This is not to deny that some Christians were executed in horrible ways under conditions we’d consider grotesquely unjust. But it’s important, Moss explains, to distinguish between “persecution” and “prosecution.” The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song. Moss distinguishes between those cases in which Christians were prosecuted simply for being Christians and those in which they were condemned for engaging in what the Romans considered subversive or treasonous activity. Given the ‘everyday ideals and social structures’ the Romans regarded as essential to the empire, such transgressions might include publicly denying the divine status of the emperor, rejecting military service or refusing to accept the authority of a court. In one of her most fascinating chapters, Moss tries to explain how baffling and annoying the Romans (for whom ‘pacifism didn’t exist as a concept’) found the Christians — when the Romans thought about them at all.

The word “persecute” is derived from the Latin persecut- meaning ‘followed with hostility’. Persecution, or the subjection of someone to harassment or ill treatment, does not, by definition, require the use of physical violence or imprisonment. But according to Dr. Moss’s arbitrary standard, anything less than being burned at the stake or imprisoned does not count as real persecution in her book. This would include having one’s property confiscated or being the object of mockery and derision. To deny as much would be tantamount to suggesting to blacks that racial slurs don’t really count. According to Moss’s standard, in the days of the Jim Crow laws, only lynchings, rapes, and violent beatings would qualify, but being subjected to thinly veiled threats, hateful looks, and demeaning slurs should be treated as if they are inconsequential or irrelevant.

Likewise, just because Christians didn’t spend three hundred uninterrupted years in catacombs doesn’t mean that they didn’t often feel threatened or worried that the calm would dissipate and, once again, give way to another round of merciless bloodshed. It’s true that Christians were able to flourish at times, but that isn’t proof that Christian persecution was predominantly a fanciful fabrication of the early church. Again, it would be like pointing to Booker Washington, who had an illustrious career that even included advising Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, or George Washington Carver and his celebrated scientific accomplishments that, likewise, won the affection of President Teddy Roosevelt, and then deducing that blacks must making much ado about nothing

Miller continues a bit further:

Christians wound up in Roman courts for any number of reasons, but when they got there, they were prone to announcing, as a believer named Liberian once did, ‘that he cannot be respectful to the emperor, that he can be respectful only to Christ.’ Moss compares this to ‘modern defendants who say that they will not recognize the authority of the court or of the government, but recognize only the authority of God. For modern Americans, as for ancient Romans, this sounds either sinister or vaguely insane.’

I particularly liked that last bit. It’s always been the case, says Dr. Moss, that Christians who refuse to heed the sinful demands of government are “either sinister or vaguely insane.” She would have made a good Roman. This further displays her contempt toward the immutable holy nature of God (Mal. 3:6) which is exactly what the law of God reflects. Was Paul wicked or psychologically disturbed to uphold the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God’s commandments (Rom.7:12, Rom. 3:31)? Even more importantly, given that Christ actively obeyed the entire law of God, that idolatry is a sin He never committed (Ex. 20:4, 1 Cor. 10:14), and that Christians are to be conformed to His likeness, then how is refusing to worship Roman idols a sign of wickedness or insanity?

Lack of Evidence?

However, it’s not just her arbitrary definitions that I find vexing; her insistence of there being scant evidence also seems to smack of special pleading.

The greatest evidence is that all of the apostles save Judas and John were martyred. However, even John was banished to Patmos during the rule of Domitian as punishment for his Christian convictions. Therefore, eleven of the twelve apostles were persecuted.

Then there are the numerous accounts from the Church Fathers.

For example, there’s Clement of Rome‘s first letter to the Corinthians from the late 1st or early 2nd century, where he speaks of Peter and Paul having died honorably at the hand of Nero and encourages other Christians to look to their example:

Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves.

And there’s Marcus Minucius Felix’s remembrance from the 2nd or 3rd century of his fellow Christian, Octavius, debating the Roman pagan Caecilius. Caecilius, speaking in terms that were likely commonplace among pagan Romans, said of this nascent Christian faith,

And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought to be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another. Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.

Tertullian presciently wrote in 203/204 AD in Scorpiace, as if in anticipation of the likes of Dr. Moss, ”And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Cæsars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith.”




Go here to read the rest.  Everyone is entitled to their political beliefs, no matter how inane, jejune and predictable they may be, but the next time that Ms. Moss wishes to bash her favorite bogeyman, the “Religious Right”, I hope that she will leave history out of  her vendetta.  No doubt even the Emperor Trajan would wish that she keep hands off a historical record she willfully distorts:

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those  who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down  any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought  out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this  reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves  it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the  past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations  ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of  precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.


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  1. Her argument is so utterly weird — especially in that she is apparently arguing that if Christians were being persecuted for something they did as Christians (like, say, not sacrificing to the emperor) that this somehow didn’t count as persecution so long as the Roman’s weren’t going after them specifically for believing in Christ.

    The Romans were broadminded folks when it came to adding a few gods here or there, so obviously they didn’t mind if people worshipped Christ. Their issue was usually “only” with people acting like Christians, whether that meant not sacrificing to the emperor or ruining the profitable trade in temple offerings.

  2. Leaving aside the historical issues Darwin which attracted my original ire that led to this post, we have just finished the last century which featured the bloodiest persecution of Christians in the history of the planet and which led to millions of Christians being murdered because of their faith in Christ. Ms. Moss ignores this elephant in the living room in her eagerness to make her political point that Christians aren’t being persecuted. The book is truly bizarre even by the standards of academia.

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  4. We should be accustomed to this by now, but it still turns our heads in dismay. To think that she is a professor of Theology at Catholic University is more than deplorable. Yet, this same school rationalized having a pro abortion politician as the main speaker at their commencement ceremony. She should not be entitled to her own set of facts on any issue, but she seems to believe she is. This same type of remaking of history is being foisted on us daily and in all facets of our lives. Thanks for calling her out!!

  5. Thus she must agree with Jim Crow Laws requiring three generations of literacy to vote. After all, they weren’t *specifically* aimed at black people whose fathers were slaves and not allowed to read.

  6. I wonder if this goes along with that school curriculum being used in Texas (and a few other states) that teaches the early Christians were literally cannibals because of the Eucharist!

    It seems to me that there is some sort of big mis-information campaign out there, to put out as many lies, and garbage as possible about Christianity (Catholicism in particulary) as possible.

  7. “literally cannibals because of the Eucharist”

    A common accusation against the Christians by anti-Christian Roman writers. Often time incest was tossed in for good measure because Christians referred to each other as “brother” and “sister”. I have actually been rather fond of the cannibal accusation myself as it is a left handed bow to a belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

  8. “From Minucius Felix. Octavius

    And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought to be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another; everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.

    Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were at the bottom of it. I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion, a worthy and appropriate religion for such manners. Some say that they worship the genitals of their pontiff and priest, and adore the nature, as it were, of their common parent. I know not whether these things are false; certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve.

    Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily – O horror! they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness of wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence.”

  9. Judging from this post by Robert Moss, Candida’s father, at Patheos, the acornette did not fall far from the tree:

    “Moss returns, with informed passion, to her central thesis. The belief in a persecuted and therefore morally righteous church continues to distort and inflame public debate, encouraging an us-versus-them mentality that makes dialogue impossible because it demonizes those of differing opinions. If you think you belong to a persecuted community, that may lead you to think it is okay – even essential to survival – to attack others. As Moss argues, the rhetoric of persecution legitimates retributive violence, depicting it as divinely approved self-defense.

    With ringing clarity, Moss offers a choice to her Christian readers:“Christians can choose to embrace the virtues of the martyrs without embracing the false history of persecution that has grown up around them.” The Myth of Persecution is essential reading for everyone who wants to understand the true history of Christianity and of violence in the name of religion.”

    His disapproving reference to my Bishop, Daniel Jenky, at the beginning of his post, is unintentionally humorous since Bishop Jenky came from Notre Dame and is on the board of fellows there.

  10. I often wonder what the University thinks it is accomplishing by having people like this teach there. It is not like this stupidity could not be taught someplace else and ND is making a statement in support of academic freedom.

    I have always thought Notre Dame should be a place where the best Catholic minds are cultivated to defend the Church against the forces of secularism and pseudo-Catholicism. Instead of having books like this issuing from profesors teaching in the theology department, the theology department should be refuting the nonsense issuing from people like Moss. Unfortunately, it appears other alumni and the people running the school have a very different vision.

  11. It was released on March 5. I’ve read about a quarter of the book on Amazon and other sites. I will be picking up the book this weekend and then I will give it a full review after I have read it from cover to cover, although I have a very good sense of her argument from what I have thus far read.

    She gives a condensed view of her argument in this post:

    I found this part of the post interesting:

    “In the fourth century, for example, Eusebius described how the early Christian bishop-martyr Polycarp once denounced the Roman heretic Marcion as the “firstborn of Satan.” The historian later reports how a group of martyrs from Lyons wrote letters to other churches condemning the views of an ancient group of Christians called the Montanists and endorsing the candidacy of Irenaeus, the future bishop of the city. Those anecdotes allowed Eusebius to legitimize the succession of bishops in France and to demonstrate the proper attitude toward religious subversives.”

    Actually the anecdote of Saint Polycarp and Marcion was written by Saint Iraneus writing in the second century. He came from Polycarp’s hometown of Smyrna. Polycarp was martyred in 155. Iraneus was writing in 180, and had been a pupil of Polycarp. Presumably Ms. Moss knows this but chose to mention only a late source like Eusebius.

  12. “They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another;” These Christians commit the crime of LOVE. The absence of LOVE in this statement is appalling. Defamation, discrimination and false witness.
    Candida Moss’ book and teaching therein is her particular opinion. The fact that the author did not attempt to get an “imprimatur” or “nihil obstat” is very telling. Moss, her father and Notre Dame need to get the teaching approved by the Vatican to call it teaching. Perhaps it will suffice that for the University to use the name CATHOLIC, the teaching books ought to bear the “imprimatur” and the “nihil obstat”. It is not censorship as much as quality control. After all, the CATHOLIC needs to be CATHOLIC, as the government’s laws for truth in advertizing demand, impose and proclaim.
    Leonardo Da Vinci’s opinion in his painting of The Last Supper was hijacked, elaborated and used as fact by Dan Brown in his film The Da Vinci Code. Based on the opinion of a deceased Da Vinci, who could no longer testify as to why he painted as he painted, Brown’s interpretation of Da Vinci’s opinion is scurrilous. What proof of fact is there to assert except by asking: who, what, when and where?
    The Catholic Church has the writing of the witnesses, their bones and their testimony and Jesus Himself said “You will be hated”.

  13. It is quite obvious where Moss is going with this: If the Church doesn’t get on board with the Obama agenda regarding the HHS Mandate, same-sex “marriage”, and the like, and thereby suffers government or legal sanctions as a consequence of not getting on board, not only would it NOT be persecution, but the Church would just be reverting to it’s past “persecution myth” – once again “crying wolf” – by calling it persecution.

  14. “It is not like this stupidity could not be taught someplace else and ND is making a statement in support of academic freedom.”
    An education teaches a person how to think, not what to think. How to cheat the truth and plagiarize Satan, Candida Moss’ Catholic students need to get their money back.

  15. The post from her father is pretty rich.

    Among other bits, I’m particularly struck by:

    “Moss tracks the evolving Roman response to the spread of Christianity. She doubts that Nero (contrary to Tacitus) made Christians the scapegoats for the great fire of Rome, since he probably did not know who they are. ”

    Tacitus is the classical (pagan) author here. Where exactly does Moss get to question Tacitus’ account of Nero’s actions? Just because she thinks that two millenia’s remove she can better imagine what “really” happened?

    I’m hesitant to waste money (or time) on the thing, but I’m half curious to read it just to see how she tries to put some of this together.

  16. Darwin the interesting thing about Bob Moss is that he was the co-author of a novel The Spike that was written in 1980 along with Aranaud de Borchgrave. It was a two-fisted attack on liberal bias in the media and attracted a fair amount of attention. In 1986 he reinvented himself as a New Age guru. The more I look into this the more fascinating it gets.

    Good point in regard to Tacitus. He was writing at a time when men were still alive who had witnessed the Great Fire of 64AD. Tacitus himself would have been eight at the time of the Great Fire. Tacitus is quite well informed as to Pontius Pilate and the sentencing of Christ and I have always assumed that he was consulting official records. The idea that he would make up the fact that Nero used the Christians as a scapegoat is simply laughable, especially since Tacitus, to put it mildly, is clearly unsympathetic to the Christians:

    “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

    Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

    I can see why Ms. Moss needs to attack this since it accords ill with her ridiculous thesis.

  17. Yeah, it’s arguable that Tacitus could have been passing on untrue stories that made Nero look bad (though why bother when there were so many true ones that made him look bad) but it’s unclear why Tacitus himself would have seen the Christians as unusually sympathetic. I’d be curious to know why she claims Tacitus would make such a thing up, and what evidence she provides.

    I suppose this might be one of those trumpted up textual claims were you just pick the bits you don’t like and claim they were later interpolations, but unless there’s a really good explanation, that’s basically assuming your answer.

    If you pick up a copy, let me know.

  18. Ah, Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature is my friend. Her discussion of Tacitus is on pages 138-139, and it’s basically hand waving. (Search for “Tacitus” and you’ll get these pages viewable online.) She announces that “We need to exercise some caution when it comes to dealing with Tacitus” and then bases her argument on Tacitus’s use of the term “Christian” which she claims only started to be used by Christian authors in “the very end of the first century”. From this she jumps to saying that if Christians were not yet calling themselves Christian, it’s unlikely that they were well known enough for Nero to single them out as scapegoats. Then she theorizes that perhaps Tacitus was taking the persecution of Christians under Trajan (when Tacitus was writing) and projecting it back to Nero because… Well, she never gives a reason.

    The slight of hand becomes complete when she says:

    “In popular imagination as well as some scholarly literature the Great Fire of Rome and Nero’s subsequent persecution of ‘Christians’ begins the so-called Age of Martyrs. Our earliest martyrdom stories date to this period, between the Great Fire and the persecution of the emperor Decius. Yet with the exception of Nero’s tempestuous accusations against Christians, there’s no evidence to suggest that Roman emperors themselves were that interested in the Christians during this period. For almost all of the first century, it’s unclear that Roman emperors even knew that Christians existed.”

    Well, of course, she’s just admitted there is evidence that the Roman state in the late 1st century was in some sense interested in persecuting Christianity — she’s related Tacitus’ account of Nero accusing the Christians and also admitted more vaguely that Christian accounts of persecution also date from this same period. But then she waves her hands and announces that once you leave all the evidence aside, there’s no other evidence that the Roman’s were persecuting Christians in this period.

    And it’s true: Once you make a point of discounting all contemporary evidence, all you have left is your own conjecture, which in this kind of “scholarship” is generally what the author prefers.

  19. She also has the problem of Suetonius also stating that Nero persecuted the Christians:

    “During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made. A limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale. Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city.”

    In his life of Claudius Suetonius states this:

    “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome. He allowed the envoys of the Germans to sit in the orchestra, led by their naïve self-confidence; for when they had been taken to the seats occupied by the common people and saw the Parthian and Armenian envoys sitting with the senate, they moved of their own accord to the same part of the theater, protesting that their merits and rank were no whit inferior.”

  20. “and then bases her argument on Tacitus’s use of the term “Christian” which she claims only started to be used by Christian authors in “the very end of the first century”.:

    At approximately the time when Tacitus was beginning to write. His use of the term says nothing about the veracity of his account of the persecution of Nero. As indicated by Suetonius with Claudius, the Romans were aware of the “Christians”, followers of Christ, as a faction causing problems with the Jews quite soon after the time of the Crucifixion. Her work reminds me of Eighteenth and Nineteenth century skeptics who labored mightily to discredit Tacitus. At least she has not resorted to, yet, the hoary chestnut that the entire passage is a later “Christian interpolation”, which is still argued ludicrously on many atheist websites.

  21. I encounter persecution everyday, it is called state university. I not only encounter age discrimination, but also religious persecution, if I let it occur. Usually after I answer with my beliefs’ succinctly stated, the person or person goes away, but it is there on campus.

  22. The Roman persecution of the Christians throws a strong light on the nature of the early Church.

    The Imperial authorities were largely indifferent to the religious opinions of their subjects, but they were deeply suspicious of associations of all kinds. Following the disastrous fire in Nicomedia, Pliny wrote to the Emperor Trajan, asking permission to establish a volunteer fire brigade. The Emperor’s response is instructive:

    “You have formed the idea of a possible fire company at Nicomedia on the model of various others already existing; but remember that the province of Bithynia, and especially city-states like Nicomedia, are the prey of factions. Give them the name we may, and however good the reasons for organization may be, such associations will soon degenerate into dangerous secret societies.”

    To the authorities, the Church was, first and foremost a “collegium illicitum,” an illicit society, organized and disciplined, and one that included men and women, free and slave, from every rank of society, who met in nocturnal assemblies, with branches in every city of the Empire, in close correspondence with each other. No wonder that magistrates harked back to the Senatus Consult against the Bacchanals of 186 BC or that they should accuse the Christians of similar practices.

  23. The Romans always had difficulty dealing with the Jews, as the history of the Roman occupation in Judea with three massive rebellions in 75 years indicates. With the Christians the Romans saw the religion of the Jews morphing into something that made non-Jews into a people set apart and caused riots among those troublesome Jews. From the Roman point of view this must have seemed inexplicable, and not a little frightening, especially to religiously sceptical Roman elites who were just as tone deaf about religion as their modern counterparts today.

  24. Donald R McClarey

    That may well be right.

    Some scholars have suggested that Juvenal’s references to Jewish proselytes among the upper echelons of Roman society may, in fact, mean (or include) Christians, whom he never mentions. If that is right, then as late as the early 2nd century, Christians were still seen by some Romans, at least, as a Jewish sect.

    I don’t find that suggestion very persuasive myself, but I thought it worth mentioning.

  25. Another sad attempt at rewriting history to accommodate one’s political agenda. At least hers is so blatent that we can point to it as say ….”see, this is what we are talking about … “. Fortunately, on what appears to be the back cover “endorsements” … none are “real” catholics.

    Ronald, suggest you post a “customer review” on Azom … to refect a more truthful review.

  26. In all of the back and forth concerning Professor Moss’s work, how is it that no one has pointed out the Miller’s review is dated 2/26. “The Myth of Persecution” did not go on-sale until 3/5 (see any online retailer as evidence). As such, Miller is responding to an un-read book.

  27. It was a response to the book not a review of it. Ms. Moss has not been shy, a la the promotional video, of saying what the book is about and her overt political purpose. Additionally, it is easy to find on the internet plenty of articles and advance reviews indicating the arguments made by the book. Additionally one can read a fair amount of the book on Amazon.

  28. Anyone with serious critical thinking skills should have alarm bells ringing all the way through: it’s a sweeping thesis, under an inflammatory title, on the basis of no new evidence, pitched directly to the populace, of a ‘ myth’ that does not seem to be widely held in the form she characterizes it. (It’s fascinating reading excerpts of the book and seeing how often Moss characterizes the ‘myth’ as three hundred years of nonstop, unrelenting, violent murder, which is not what anyone I have ever known, Catholic or Evangelical, has meant by the ‘Age of Martyrs’. I was taught exactly the opposite in Sunday School growing up Southern Baptist in a small town — it was necessarily a part of standard discussion and criticism of preteritist accounts of Revelation.) Any intelligent person would go in skeptical; this is not how serious arguments are made.

  29. “as three hundred years of nonstop, unrelenting, violent murder, which is not what anyone I have ever known, Catholic or Evangelical, has meant by the ‘Age of Martyrs’.”

    Quite. Not even Hollywood which constantly gets history wrong, got that point wrong. In epics where bad Emperors, like Caligula, were murdering Christians, they were followed by a good tolerant emperor. This was the theme in Demetrius and the Gladiators, the sequel to The Robe, where Claudius is shown preaching tolerance after Caligula is assassinated. Ironically of course Claudius may well have been the first Emperor who persecuted Christians, but Demetrius and the Gladiators followed a common Hollywood trope that it was only bad Emperors who persecuted Christians. Alas, that was not the case, but it helped cement in the public mind that the Romans were not always hostile to Christians, and that is accurate. In the movie Quo Vadis when Nero is persecuting Christians we see some ordinary Romans appalled, including one who turns to a neighbor in the arena and declares, “I tell you that this is a blot on Roman justice!”

    Ms. Moss is fighting against a strawman of her own construction as to both the accurate historical scholarship on this period and as to how the persecution has been portrayed in the popular culture.

  30. I have a few suggestions for sequels. Ms. Moss may have a “franchise” here.

    Debunking the myth of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages.

    Debunking the myth of the (Irish) Great Famine.

    PS: Pacem, gentlemen, I never had a Theo prof that looked like her. I may go back to skool.

  31. Maybe she’s looking for a job as a “Persecution Czar” in the Obama Administration? Never know when that one will be opening up….

  32. Brandon Watson

    You are right. The church has traditionally counted ten persecutions, in the two and a half centuries from Nero to Diocletian and many of these were local and sporadic. The first universal and organized persecution was that of Decius (249-251) and created the problem of the “libellatici,” people who purchased false certificates of conformity to Imperial worship and the Donatist schism.

    Donald R McClarey

    Persecutions did occur under “good” emperors – The third, fourth and fifth persecutions occurred under Trajan (98-117), Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and Septimus Severus (193-211) and the ninth under Aurelian (270–275), all generally considered good emperors. The only persecutions that took place under really “bad” emperors was the first, under Nero (54–68), an almost comical narcissist, the second under the gloomy, suspicious and really sinister Domitian (81–96) and the eighth under the incompetent Valerian (253–260), until he was captured by the Persians.

  33. Interestingly, there’s a medieval myth that Pope Gregory the Great so admired Trajan for his justice and mercy that he prayed that Trajan would be restored to life so that he could be converted and thus saved. According to the legend, God did in fact grant this request, the emperor accepted Christianity, and this is why in Dante’s Paradiso the emperor Trajan appears in the heaven of the just rulers.

  34. It deeply saddens me that an instititution bearing the identity of ‘Catholic’ would retain such a professor. Whether an early Christian was put to death for merely being a Christian, or in acting upon beliefs as Christian – beliefs that ran counter against the laws and society of the Roman Empire – a Christian was still put to death for their lived out Christianity. It is of no surprise that she is a consultant for various secular portrayals of Christianity – hardly ever is there an orthodox Christian on such shows; on occasion there might be an evangelical fundementalist, but mostly as a ‘straw man’ in which to show forth how ‘enlightened’ the ‘experts’ in religion / biblical studies are.

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