The Maltreatment Of Early Christians: Refinement And Response -- By: Paul Hartog

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 18:1 (Spring 2014)
Article: The Maltreatment Of Early Christians: Refinement And Response
Author: Paul Hartog

The Maltreatment Of Early Christians:
Refinement And Response

Paul Hartog

Paul Hartog is a Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies at Faith Baptist Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago. Besides several edited volumes and numerous articles and essays, he has also authored Polycarp and the New Testament (Mohr Siebeck, 2002) and Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Many individuals have a simplistic view of the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. As Laurie Guy laments, “Despite mountains of contrary evidence, many myths are so deeply embedded in consciousness that they are almost impossible to dislodge. Such is the case with the mountains of myths surrounding the topic of the persecution of the early church.”1 For example, many individuals retain thoughts of Christians being hunted down until they take refuge in catacombs, popular lore abandoned by historians.2 Joseph Lynch declares, “Countless modern books, films, and sermons have found a theme in the Roman persecution of the Christians. But the history of persecution is more complicated than it might seem.”3 In reality, neither the situation of early churches nor the approach of the Roman government nor the social-cultural milieu remained static.

A year ago, Professor Candida Moss of the University of Notre Dame amplified the conversation with her book The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom.4 The tenor of her provocative volume is directed by a desire for a specific modern application (254-56), summarized in a recent interview: “As I say in my book, the myth of persecution

gives Christians that use it the rhetorical high ground, and using the myth makes dialogue impossible. The view that the history of Christianity is a history of unrelenting persecution endures in contemporary religious and political debate about what it means to be Christian. We must get history right, and if we can eliminate the rhetoric of persecution, we can have productive dialogue without the apocalyptic rhetoric of good and evil.”5

This present essay will use the publication of Moss’ news-catching work as an opportunity to re-examine the “persecution” of early Christianity. It will not interact with all facets of her book, but it will conclude with ...

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