Queer I Stand
When Persecution Isn't, and What To Do About It
3) Of the roughly three-hundred-year period in which Christianity existed and was not "legal" in the Roman Empire, only twelve years at most during that time were there any organized "persecutions" of Christians as such, mostly in the later 3rd century under the Emperors Decius, Valerian, and Diocletian.
4) Christianity was not looked on favorably by Jews or Gentiles in those early centuries; but while there were certainly some trials of Christians and executions that resulted from them, they were generally cases of prosecution (i.e., illegal behavior on the part of Christians that had nothing to do with their faith or the judgments about it that the Greek or Roman political authorities had), rather than persecution.
The notion that Nero persecuted Christians after the great fire in Rome in 64 C.E. is often cited as the first Christian persecution, but it's somewhat questionable in itself. The only record of it comes from Tacitus around fifty years later, and that is itself anachronistic because the term "Christian" didn't even exist in the mid-60s C.E. Moss even indicates that between the writing of the Gospel of Mark (assumed to have been around 70 C.E.) and the Gospel of Matthew (a decade or so later), there was already revisionism occurring in how Jesus' crucifixion was portrayed as a "noble death" modeled on that of Socrates and others.
(While Moss does not discuss this issue, the Gospel of Mark does set up the followers of Jesus as potentially in danger and apt to be persecuted. If the dating of the text to roughly 70 C.E. is correct, does that mean this was in reaction to the situation under Nero? Conventional wisdom might indicate such, but I find it difficult to even accept that possibility given the new evidence.)
While all of this information is excellent, some of Prof. Moss' points later in the book are even more important. The stories of the Christian tradition being built "on the blood of the martyrs" is a shaky notion at best from a historical viewpoint. Yet it has been used to assert the "Truth" of the Christian faith: no one would show the kind of courage it takes to die a martyr's death if the undeniable "Truth" of the Christian Gospel were not true. It is, therefore, a kind of axiom that if one is persecuted for one's Christian faith, then that demonstrates how "right" one is and how "true" one's faith happens to be. In light of Moss' historical investigation, this is a completely untenable position. Why, then, can't the truth of Islam be claimed by the fact that various Muslim terrorists decide to blow themselves up on behalf of it? Double standards do not work in this case, or in any case where martyrdom is used as proof of a religion's veracity.
While there is much more of value in this book to explore and contemplate, it is this point that I think is the most important—not just for us as Pagans (and queer people!) to know in our dealings with Christians, but to know in our dealings with the rest of the world as well. Let me explain.
We are well aware that in the modern world, Pagans come under persecution on a regular basis. Pagans do get killed in other countries for being Pagan, and we have been attacked (including recently) in our own country for being Pagan. We lose our children in custody battles; we lose our jobs; we lose public accommodations; we lose friends and family who cannot tolerate our religious identities. Persecution is a daily reality for modern Pagans; and, oftentimes, prosecution also results from it.
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender and a founding member of the Ekklesía Antínoou (a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist religious group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and other related gods and divine figures). E is a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the filidecht and gentlidecht traditions. Follow Lupus' work on the Aedicula Antinoi blog.