Shapur’s Great Persecution

I posted on the topic of early Christian martyrdom, arguing that the phenomenon was as widespread as Christian writers claimed, and that it truly was driven by religious motives. That was especially true in the Persian Empire. One of the great church historians of antiquity was Sozomen, who was born near Gaza, in Palestine, around [Read More...]

The Reality of Persecution

Rome was not the only empire in antiquity, nor the only one with a sizable Christian population. I stress that repeatedly because of the number of times we read about Christian engagement with the secular world, which seems to be defined as the Roman Empire. In fact, the Persian Empire also had plenty of Christians, [Read More...]

Christians and Communists


There is an odd but very useful source on early Christianity that remains strangely unfamiliar to many historians of that topic. Even less known is the discussion by a totally unexpected nineteenth century source, which provides many insights that are still valuable. In the late second century, the pagan satirist Lucian wrote the story of [Read More...]

The Passions of Perpetua and Frans van der Lugt

The martyrdom of Perpetua, Felicitas, and others, from a ca. 1000 illuminated manuscript

Jesus warned that those who wanted to be his disciples would have to take up their crosses and follow him, at the risk of losing their lives. During Holy Week, Christians rightfully focus their meditations and prayers on the passion of their Savior, but especially at this time it seems appropriate for us to remember [Read More...]



Visual art can be a terrific source for the history of religion, and that is especially true when we look at Christian missions through the centuries. Those visuals don’t just reflect our idea of a topic, they do much to shape it. For many people today, the word “missionary” is faintly ludicrous, and conjures up [Read More...]


I have been writing recently about the methods by which a government really can destroy or eliminate a faith, no matter how strongly we believe that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” In particular, I described the extraordinarily efficient combination of terrorism and secret policing by which seventeenth century Japan destroyed [Read More...]


I have been describing the Japanese campaign against Christianity, which peaked in the early seventeenth century. That story has a bizarre and quite moving aftermath. Notionally, the Christian church was utterly destroyed by about 1650, and the authorities sought out possible underground believers by making them defile the cross. Yet their success was not as [Read More...]



I posted about the deadly Japanese persecution of Christians in the thirty years or so after 1614, and how this violence effectively destroyed organized Christianity in that nation. In 2014, we are commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the worst of the persecution. In describing Japanese acts against the Christians, I am [Read More...]



This year marks a singularly grim anniversary in Christian history. In 2014, it is exactly four hundred years since the start of the horrific persecution that destroyed the once flourishing church in Japan. When we think of persecutions on this scale, we normally tend to set them in an ancient or medieval context. The world [Read More...]


This past week has been horrible for Egypt’s Christians. I offer this quote from the New York Times: In Sohag, Bishop of Mar Girgis [St. George] Church Moussa Ibrahim told Mada Masr that the church was set ablaze by Muslim Brotherhood supporters at 9:30 a.m. in the absence of police forces, despite repeated threats against [Read More...]