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.
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.
- Review: The Myth of Persecution (Candida Moss) (earliestchristianity.wordpress.com)
- Review: The Myth of Persecution (aphilosopher.wordpress.com)
- Candida Moss: The Myth of Persecution (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- The Myth of Persecution (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- “The Myth of Persecution”: Early Christians weren’t persecuted (salon.com)