Monday, May 20, 2013

Real Persecuted Christians

Author Candida Moss, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and a Catholic, has detailed the history of Christian persecution in the early years of the faith in a new book that points out much of it never happened.

In the The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom, she notes that “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”

Her thesis is not going over well with such pundits as Bill O’Reilly and others who insist Christians are being persecuted today and have been from the beginning.

The truth can have an unsettling effect on lots of people.

Unfortunately, much of what we think about the past is facile and wrong.  In many ways, that’s understandable.  Early people didn’t have our concept of history.  They didn’t necessarily draw on sources or any kind of research.  Herodotus, the “father” of history, simply wrote down what people told him.  He was often skeptical, but he recorded the data anyway.

Other historians didn’t identify sources.  Still others had hidden agendas that warped their accounts.  Most early historians were sponsored; their books often constituted key components of public relations’ campaigns.  

Just because someone wrote about Julius Caesar, for example, does not mean that the information is an accurate biography of the famed Roman leader.  Caesar’s own books on the wars in Gaul are not completely truthful.  They were intended as propaganda, written to boost his status.  

Multiple accounts that have survived often contradict each other.  An historian has to choose the most plausible and compare facts with material uncovered from the correct time period.  

In truth, much of what we know about the past can only be drawn from inferences.  That’s particularly true in time periods when historical documentation is nonexistent.  There may only be a few ruined buildings still around, but little else.  Fortunately, modern technology combined with known facts have helped clarify otherwise murky situations.

Nevertheless, historians and archaeologists try to be very careful when they find something to avoid sensationalist claims. The general public has less control.  So an old home near the Sea of Galilee
Peter's home?
was introduced as the Apostle Peter’s resident because it is located near where he supposedly lived and includes a cross etched into the wall.

Now, it’s a site often visited by pilgrims to the Holy Land.  It could be just a house.  It could be an early Church building; it could be Peter’s house.  Or, it could be just a home where someone etched a cross into the wall.  After all, there may never have been an Apostle Peter, who appears only in the New Testament.

We may never know the truth.

Some things have been figured out.  The story of the Tower of Babel in the Bible is fiction.  It was created around a real tower to eviscerate claims that the massive ziggurat in Babylon was the “gateway to heaven” as Babylonians claimed.  The writers of the Bible assigned that title to Jerusalem and so wanted to ridicule the Babylonian belief.

Ancient holy city of Shechem
They promoted Jerusalem in another way, by debasing claims of the rival northern city of Shechem.  The writers went so far as to change the name in the text of Shechem’s founder, Gershom, the son of Moses.  The authors of the Bible didn’t want Shechem so elevated, so added a letter to convert the name Moses into Manassas.  

There are many more examples like that.
However, that kind of history doesn’t go well with pious readers.  So, they don’t bother to read farther into the background research on the scriptures.  They accept the loud pronouncements of so-called experts who have their own agenda.  People who believe are more willing to open their purses.  Give to stop the centuries of persecution, even if there never was much.  Give to make sure people follow Jesus, even if he wouldn’t recognize anything said today in his name.  Give to support efforts to find Noah’s Ark, even if the story is a myth, and there is no ark on any mountain.

Ironically, realists today are the ones being persecuted – by "true believers" refusing to face reality as carefully and accurately delineated by modern scholarship.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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