Saturday, April 06, 2013

Candida Moss' Surprising Omission of Jesus and Hebrews' Appeal to Abel

One surprising omission from Dr. Candida Moss' book, "The Myth of Persecution," is discussion of Jesus' own framework for persecution. Jesus, you recall, stated:
Matthew 23:29-36
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, "If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets." Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
Here Jesus connects his own persecution and the persecution of his followers with the persecution of the righteous beginning with Cain's murder of Abel, and extending down to Joash's murder of Zechariah.

Moreover, while the term "martyr" is not used there by Jesus, the author of the book of Hebrews makes the identification:
Hebrews 11:4
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
Although God is testifying initially, the "he being dead yet speaketh" refers to Abel. Moreover, it is apparent that Abel is the leading example in the Hebrews 12:1 reference to the great cloud of witnesses (μαρτύρων). Of course, it must be conceded that some of the "martyrs" here are witnesses who testified through their life, rather than strictly through their death, like Abel.

This is a surprising omission by Dr. Moss, given that she is quick to attempt to minimize the uniqueness of Christian martyrdom.

Indeed, except briefly at page 5 and then again at page 135, Dr. Moss virtually remains silent regarding Jesus and the relation between Christianity and persecution.

Another surprising omission is the discussion in Revelation (which is Jesus' revelation to John, do not forget) about the voice of the martyrs crying out for judgment. Here the term is being used in its more technical sense:
Revelation 2:12-13
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Revelation 6:9-11
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

Revelation 17:6
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
Frankly, I suppose there may be a variety of reasons for Dr. Moss' omissions of the Biblical data, mostly because she feels that Christians feeling persecuted has strong negative consequences, and she wishes to minimize those feelings.

The one theme she mentions is Jesus' comment about his followers taking up the cross, which is not just reported once, but numerous times:
Matthew 10:38
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

Matthew 16:24
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 8:34
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 10:21
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Luke 9:23
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
Moreover, while she mentions that some people spiritualize this, other passages cannot be so easily dismissed.  For example, Jesus often referred explicitly to coming persecution:
Matthew 5:10-12
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Matthew 5:44
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Matthew 10:23
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

Matthew 13:21
Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Matthew 23:34
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:

Mark 4:17
And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.

Mark 10:30
But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

Luke 11:49
Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:

Luke 21:12
But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake.

John 5:16
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

John 15:20
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
And Paul's explicit statement:
2 Timothy 3:12
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
While I'm sure Dr. Moss is right to criticize Eusebius for embellishing or even possibly fabricating martyrdom stories from the pre-Constantine era, he is certainly not the author of the Scriptures that teach Christians to expect persecution.  Furthermore, Dr. Moss may rightly be critical of those who sought voluntary martyrdom (although surprisingly I did not see Dr. Moss object to Ignatius' nearly quasi-voluntary martyrdom).  Nevertheless, Dr. Moss seemed to downplay the Biblical data in her critique.


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