A book of this nature is a bit tangential to what I normally do on this blog, but this book has gotten a lot of recent attention. In fact, it’s own history is a good object lesson.
When Moss’s book was published months ago, the popular media picked up on it right away since it enraged a lot of Christians. No surprise there. Consequently, its arguments, mediated uncritically via uninformed journalism, have now been absorbed by multitudes who will never bother to read academic discussions of the work, discussions that have been quite critical. That’s one of the costs of living in an information age where anyone who can type and whose website doesn’t feature a black background with green lettering can look like a legitimate authority.
I highly recommend this recent review of Moss’s book: The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. The review does an excellent job of showing how Moss’s work is agenda-driven and plays a sleight-of-hand game with relevant data. That’s unfortunate. Here’s part of the reviewer’s general conclusion:
“Despite the author’s considerable erudition, this is a deeply flawed book, a work of revisionist history. One might judge that conservative Christians in the West have sometimes overplayed the persecution card, but they have not created instances of cultural hostility out of whole cloth, and they certainly did not create the “Age of the Martyrs” out of thin air. More important, Moss largely overlooks modern Christianity in the two-thirds world, especially in the Middle East and in Communist states. Here we find not just cultural insensitivity but old-fashioned persecution: arrests, beatings, and
decapitations. . . . While conservative Christian rhetoric is sometimes guilty of excesses, this book swings hard in the opposite direction, revising history and denying much of the evidence for early Christian persecution. Modern ideology drives Moss’s thesis more than ancient testimony, and the result is a distortion of history more severe than the caricature she wants to expose.”