Moss, Martyrdom, and my friend Michael

Moss, Martyrdom, and my friend Michael April 19, 2013

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.


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  • Janet

    This is just untrue though. Moss doesn’t take the most skeptical view. She acknowledges that people died and that there were persecution. We studied her earlier books in seminary and this description of her work seems inaccurate.

  • Janet

    Plus she wrote a whole book on Christian self-understanding of self as martyrdom. maybe your friend should have read it before misrepresenting one of the world’s foremost scholars of early Christian martyrdom.

    • What she said.

      The question Moss addresses in her book is whether that self-understanding was consistent with other historical evidence. Simply citing the self-understanding is completely non-responsive to her points.

      • Jane

        Her analysis is flawed, and she simply repeated older scholarship. Nothing new here. Real scholars of martyrdom are just rolling their eyes at this not so subtle attempt to make money whilst pretending to care about politics and ordinary Christians.

        • Her analysis may well be flawed, but attacking her motives is not sufficient to demonstrate that it is.

    • Dave

      There’s more important and impressive scholars out there on martyrdom. Radner’s review was spot on. Her attempt to comment on modern politics in America is naive and foolish.

  • Nick

    There is a better response to the historical mistakes in Moss’ one-sided scholarship by Ephraim Radner in the most recent edition of First Things.