Round Two of @CandidaMoss’s The Myth of Persecution. The Stories aren’t Unique

I wonder what the author might think if I suggested Glen Bowersock (who suggests only Christians had martyrs) persecuted martyr mythology to reap is own rewards?

Bowersock has argued, an argument followed by others, that Christians were the first to suffer martyrdom due to their own system of rewards eternal (not to mention a naming scheme). In chapter 1 (“Martyrdom Before Christianity”), Moss takes apart this rather anachronistic view advocated by Bowersock to show pre-Christian martyr tradition exists. For me, I find this chapter a rather easy chapter to accept. Of course, I’ve read the Maccabean books and Hebrews 11, leaving me to wonder why such a theory of the Christian invention of martyrdom is actually considered worthwhile. I do not mean to deflect from the achievements of Bowersock, but to suggest a Christian invention of martyrdom is to generally stand against Hebrews 11, even if you do not have the Maccabean books.

Moss is not hesitant in his chapter to suggest Christianity did not spring up in a vacuum. Indeed, Christian tradition inherited both Plato and the Maccabees, something we seem to forget. While I do not wish to completely divulge the author’s argument, we must remember that before the heavenly system of rewards, immortality was promised as continued remembrance in the society. We see this not just in the Greek philosophers, but so too in Hellenistic Jewish books such as Wisdom of Solomon. To suggest, then, martyr stories didn’t exist because earlier groups did not have heavenly rewards is to not fully appreciate the lineage of Christian thinking.

English: "Martyrdom of St. Paul", fr...

English: “Martyrdom of St. Paul”, from an 1887 copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs illustrated by Kronheim. Français : Le martyr de Saint Paul. Illustration par du Livre des martyrs (Book of Martyrs) de Foxe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me break for a moment. Atheism promises us a reward/fear-free life were we are judged by our actions in the moment. Yes, this is something of a simple notion, but you get the point. When we look at Socrates, we do not find a system of heavenly rewards, only the insistence Athenians and Philosophers will remember Socrates because of his right stances, his testimony to truth. A few years ago in Atlanta, I had the pleasure of speaking with a well-known Canadian blogger about atheism. His point was clear. If you take away people’s gods, then they will replace it with the State, such as what we see in the history of Soviet Russia and the soldiers who died for the Mother Land. People will die for what they believe in, regardless of eternal rewards; these are martyrs, regardless of name or doctrine.

Throughout this chapter, Moss brings to light parallels to Christian martyrdom found in both Greek philosophy and Jewish tradition. Beginning with the Greeks and ending with the Jewish martyrs under Antiochus, the idea of a noble and gallant death at the hands of a ruling enemy is examined as something not unique to Christianity, but found in the ancestry of the faith. Moss even goes so far as to suggest a certain mimetic connection between Socrates and Eleazar (2 Maccabees 6). This last example is one I suspect we’ll see again, at least in thought, because for her, the death of the Jew mimics (even subversively) the death of the philosopher. In other words, a tradition has been taken over, expanded, and becomes a new meme of tradition itself. There is borrowing because there is something to borrow from. I have to agree with this premise.

An easy chapter for my maximalist friends to handle, I would think. Be warned though, you may need to read one of those “Catholic books” (you know, 2 Maccabees) along the way. Something ironic there, but if I have to spell it out, it might ruin it. Anyway, if you haven’t already, get the book.

 

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Post By Joel Watts (10,059 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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1 thought on Round Two of @CandidaMoss’s The Myth of Persecution. The Stories aren’t Unique

  1. I completely agree with you here, and I guess with Moss as well (though I don’t get the book until tomorrow; then I can get started on a good read). But Bowersock’s book was strong enough to garner a need by others (e.g. Robin Darling Young, Brad Gregory, and others) to counter his claims. And I think it has to do with many evangelicals/protestants avoiding the Catholic books/Apocrypha to the point where they have no idea who them Maccabees were. The Macca-who?

    I am at least happy to know Moss is not in the Bowersock camp there.

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