Some of you might be familiar with the work of Candida Moss on martyrdom. Her monograph Ancient Christian Martyrdom: Diverse Practices, Theologies, and Traditions and her more popular piece The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. The her most recent work, Moss argues that Christians invented or inflated stories of martyrs.
A good response to Moss is made by my friend Michael Jensen in a piece at ABC Ethics and Religion on-line entitled Christian Martyrdom and Modern Identity: Against Candida Moss and Salman Rushdie. Jensen writes:
[I]t must be said that Moss takes the most sceptical reading of these texts as a matter of course – indeed, she is far more sceptical of their historical veracity than other scholarly readers have been. This has the effect of minimizing the fact that the experience of persecution enters the Christian psyche very early on. The texts themselves are evidence at least of what the Christians understood themselves to be experiencing – and that is a piece of historical evidence in itself. Martyrdom is, as the Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar once wrote, “external representation of the inner reality” of the Christian life. It is evident throughout the New Testament itself: Jesus himself is reported to have warned the disciples that they would be “persecuted on account of my name” in the Sermon on the Mount. This perception of the group as a persecuted group did not simply appear from nowhere. In fact, it is difficult to think of an expression of Christianity that does not see itself as potentially the subject of rejection and persecution.