Archive for the ‘Candida Moss’ Category

Review of "The Myth of Persecution" by Dr. Candida Moss

April 9, 2013

Dr. Candida Moss has provided a popular-level (as distinct from scholarly-level) account of what she calls the “myth of persecution.” Unfortunately, popular-level readers may be misled by the scholarly-style nuances that Dr. Moss uses to make her case. Nevertheless, there are a number of interesting features in her work.

The overall purpose of the book seems to be disabuse readers of the idea that until Constantine Christians hid in catacombs, always fearful that Roman soldiers were about to arrest them and throw them to the lions. There may have been times it was like for certain groups of Christians in certain cities (such as in Rome during the time of Nero after the great fire).

Dr. Moss points out that the vast majority of Christian martyrdom accounts from the ante-Nicene are not historically reliable. Dr. Moss points out the work by the Bollandists who, since the 16th century, have been applying historical methods to the accounts of the lives of the saints. She then takes the six accounts deemed most reliable by the Bollandists and shows how even here the accounts are not strictly historical (see my separate discussion on Polycarp).

In the process, she notes many of the tools historians use, such as looking for anachronisms and legal or other improbabilities. She observes some of these in her criticism of Eusebius, who – in her view – was trying hard to elevate the role of bishops through a variety of techniques (see my separate discussion of her comments regarding ante-nicene bishops).

Dr. Moss also points out that many of the stories of saints and martyrs are either fictions or appropriations. She points out the example of “Saint Josaphat” as relatively indisputable example (see my separate discussion on Josaphat).

Dr. Moss seems eager to address the argument that Christians are the best and/or Christianity is true, because only we Christians have martyrs. She points out that were pre-Christian martyrs (though not called “martyrs”), such as Socrates and Maccabees. She also points out a number of pagan martyrdoms, such as Achilles’ giving of his life as described in Homer’s Iliad. This seems to miss the argument that martyrdom does establish the sincerity of the early followers of Christ (see my separate discussion of the truth value of martyrdom).

Dr. Moss unfortunately de-emphasizes the role of Jesus and of the author of Hebrews in discussing both the certainty of Christian martyrdom to come and the unity of that martyrdom with the past (see my separate discussion of Dr. Moss’ surprising omissions).

Dr. Moss is careful in how she defines “persecution” as distinct from “prosecution.” Thus, for example, a law making it a capital crime to deny that Zeus reigns in Olympus would be one that might lead to prosecution of Christians, even if the author of the law had no idea what Christians are. Likewise, Dr. Moss distinguishes between hatred, prejudice, and the like, and actual attacks. Moreover, Dr. Moss distinguishes between regional persecutions of limited duration and officially sanctioned imperial actions.

While the distinctions are understandable and even, in many ways, legitimate distinction, they can lead to popular-level confusion. For example, some may come away thinking that she is saying Christians are just cry-babies who claim to be persecuted even though they are not. Rather, I think her point is intended to emphasize the need to be cautious in how we employ persecution rhetoric (see my discussion on rhetorical excess here).

Dr. Moss’ book has a number of useful remedies for those with an excessively hagiographic view of church history, notwithstanding her ironic use of a little persecution rhetoric of her own (see my discussion here). Dr. Moss seems to represent a moderately liberal/modern view of the New Testament (she is a professor of New Testament at Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana) and her religious views are not clearly stated (she mentions attending a mass with a colleague, but nowhere explicitly states that she is a Roman Catholic). So, naturally one should use appropriate discernment in reading.

-TurretinFan

P.S. I don’t intend the above to be a comprehensive review of Dr. Moss’ book. There is certainly much more that could be said, though for now, I have said what I plan to say.

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St. Josaphat aka Buddha

April 9, 2013

At page 88 of The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Moss drew attention to a particularly glaring case of false saints in the case of St. Josaphat. The story of “Barlaam and Josaphat” became popular in Europe after being translated into Greek, probably around the 11th century.

The name “Josaphat,” as it turns out, is derived from Arabic Yūdhasaf or Būdhasaf, which is derived from the title Buddha (enlightened one) and refers to Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B.C.).  The story is essentially a retelling of the life story of the Buddha.

The story was popular and eventually Josaphat managed to get assigned a day in the calendar not only in the Roman church, but also in the Greek and Slavic churches.

You have to wonder if the Serpent was laughing at professing Christians unwittingly asking Buddha to “ora pro nobis.”  While the fact that Josaphat = Buddha was not discovered until the 19th century, the Reformers warned against the veneration of saints, not only on the general grounds that such veneration is wrong, but also on the specific ground that many of the saints were not true believers.

Thomas Newton, in the 18th century, expressed it this way (source):

It is impossible to relate or enumerate all the various falsehoods and lies which have been invented and propagated for this purpose; the fabulous books forged under the names of apostles, saints, and martyrs; the fabulous legends of their lives, actions, sufferings, and deaths; the fabulous miracles ascribed to their sepulchres, bones, and other relics; the fabulous dreams and revelations, visions and apparitions of the dead to the living and even the fabulous saints who never existed but in the imagination of their worshippers. And all these stories the monks the priests the bishops of the church have imposed and obtruded upon mankind it is difficult to say whether with greater artifice or cruelty with greater confidence or hypocrisy and pretended sanctity, a more hardened face or a more hardened conscience.

-TurretinFan

Rhetorical Excess – Religious Persecution and Idolatry

April 9, 2013

Rhetorical flourishes are like any other form of emphasis.  They work well when used occasionally and accurately, and not when used constantly and diffusely.

In her book, The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Moss complains that the religious right in the U.S. is too quick to decry leftist politics as religious persecution.  Claiming that “Christianity is under attack” when Christians suffer any minor harm overshadows the very serious persecution of Christians in places like Africa (the “Voice of the Martyrs” website, which I mention for information only, not endorsement, has many details).
The same thing is true when call everything “idolatry.”  An idol is a manufactured likeness or image of something.  It can be a painted likeness, an engraved likeness, a carved likeness, a molten likeness, etc.  Worshiping even the true God using idols is strictly forbidden.  Moreover, through metonymy we refer to the worship of false gods as “idolatry,” since they are normally worshiped in this way.
But not every sin is literally “idolatry.”  The X-Box game console that your son hasn’t stopped playing for the past ten years is not literally an idol.  It’s sinful that he hasn’t bothered even to try to go get a job, and it’s wrong for him to be so obsessed with something so trivial.  The sports team that your brother can’t get enough of is not an “idol.”  American Idol features living human beings, made in the image of God, not idols.
Not every form of devotion is religious devotion.  While the American Idol contestants are honored in some sense, they are not honored religiously.  Even if someone skips church to go watch football, he is not engaging in a religious observance of football.  
His church skipping is a violation of the 4th commandment (Remember the Sabbath Day) not the 2nd commandment (Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image …).  The X-Box aficionado is probably violating the eighth commandment through indolence and sloth.  When we call a Muslim an “idolater,” we should feel how odd the claim sounds, since Islam is not closely associated with idols.
There is a place for rhetorical flourishes.  The Scriptures actually do this with idolatry in a couple of places.

1 Samuel 15:23For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

Samuel is condemning Saul.  Saul tried to eliminate witchcraft and idolatry from the land.  Then Saul turned around and was stubborn and rebelled against God.  So, Samuel drew a comparison between rebellion and witchcraft and between stubbornness and idolatry.

The point here is to emphasize the heinousness of rebellion and stubbornness, by tying them rhetorically to the heinous and well-recognized sins of witchcraft and idolatry.

Colossians 3:4-7 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: for which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: in the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.

Here again, the point of referring to covetousness as “idolatry” is to emphasize its heinousness.  It’s not saying that the 10th commandment is the 2nd commandment (or the 1st commandment).  It’s saying that covetousness is a serious sin.

These are legitimate rhetorical uses of the term “idolatry.”  Yet we can risk watering down the word “idolatry” for using it gratuitously for every sin.  Anything that leads us into sin becomes an “idol” in this rhetorical soup, and thus every sin is “idolatry,” the serving of the thing (the “idol”) that leads one to sin.

At which point people lose sight of both the very real problem of making images supposedly of God (2nd commandment) and of the very real problem of actually worshiping false gods (1st commandment).  By constantly associating less heinous sins with the more heinous sins, we actually can lose sight of the heinousness of the heinous sins.

Christians in the U.S. are not suffering under Diocletian persecution, even if Christians lack full religious freedom, or even if they are being forced to endure laws that bear decreasing resemblance to the laws given to Old Testament Israel in terms of the ideals of Justice.

While some of Dr. Moss’ concerns are probably oversensitive, she makes a good point about the need to avoid rhetorical flourishes.  If we call everything “persecution,” what will we call it when we are forced to pay a “Christian tax” in order to be Christians?  What will we call it when our churches are required to meet secretly and in groups of 20 or fewer?

-TurretinFan

Candida Moss and the Truth Value of Martyrdom

April 8, 2013

In The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Moss repeats the assertion that martyrdom is used as proof of the truth of the martyrs’ views. For example at page 43 she states, “The notion that her innocence is proved by her death is uncomfortable to us, but it is the same idea that we saw with Socrates: individuals’ worth and the truth of their claims are irrefutably proved by their deaths.”

Likewise, at page 17 she poses the question: “Why would the apostles have been willing to suffer and die for Jesus if he hadn’t really been resurrected from the dead? Why would early Christians have been martyred if Christianity weren’t true?” At page 23, Dr. Moss puts virtually the same words in the mouth of her divinity teacher.

At page 80, Dr. Moss states “the adaptation of paganism into Christianity threatens the idea that Christianity alone has the truth. Those who reject the classical tradition for religious reasons and hold Christian martyrs in high esteem tend to ignore Greek and Roman antecedents to martyrdom.” Likewise, at page 81, Dr. Moss states “The problem is that this isn’t what Christians have said about martyrdom. They have said that it is unique to Christianity, thoroughly new, and a mark of Christianity’s sole possession of the truth. Christianity is true, it is said, because only Christians have martyrs.”

At page 137, Dr. Moss states “The result of this is that the fact of the apostles’ deaths cannot be used as evidence for the truth of Christianity, the resurrection, or any other detail of Jesus’ ministry. We know that the apostles died, but how they died, on what charges, and in what manner are far beyond our grasp. Without that information it is impossible to state that their deaths prove anything.”

At page 250, Dr. Moss states “In Christian terms, if you’re being persecuted, you must be doing something right. It’s a rather easy trick: if anyone can claim to stand in continuity with the martyrs and be victims of persecution, and if being persecuted authenticates one’s religious message, then anyone can claim to be right.”

These form a seemingly central aspect of Dr. Moss’ book – her argument that martyrdom doesn’t prove anything. Yet martyrdom does actually establish the sincerity of the martyr. It’s not infallible, to be sure. A person may suffer martyrdom because they are suicidal, rather than because they really hold to the forbidden view.

Dr. Moss is definitely correct in rebuking those who argue “he died for Christianity, so Christianity must be true.” But that is certainly not the right way to appeal to the martyrs. J. Warner Wallace is an example of a more correct use of the argument from martyrs (link), although I would point out that the source reliable historical information about the death of the apostles is canonical Scripture.

Almost none of Dr. Moss’ arguments would respond to Wallace’s usage. The one argument that might apply is this one: “The result of this is that the fact of the apostles’ deaths cannot be used as evidence for the truth of Christianity, the resurrection, or any other detail of Jesus’ ministry. We know that the apostles died, but how they died, on what charges, and in what manner are far beyond our grasp. Without that information it is impossible to state that their deaths prove anything.” (p. 137)

It seems that Dr. Moss has forgotten about the martyrdom of James.

Acts 12:1-3
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

Likewise, Dr. Moss seems to have forgotten about the prophecy of Peter’s death:

John 21:17-19
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Or perhaps Dr. Moss simply does not trust Acts (she seems rather uncertain that the author of Acts is Luke) or John.

It’s difficult to say what her argument is, on points where she offers no argument.

-TurretinFan

The Myth of Whose Persecution?

April 8, 2013

Ironically, in the acknowledgments section, Dr. Moss portrays herself as feeling persecuted! She writes (p. 261):

I might not have had the courage to see this book through to completion, were it not for the friendship of Dan Myers, who directed me to various relevant news items, encouraged me to stand my ground, and assured me that I wouldn’t be fired.

And, of course, I certainly hope Dr. Moss is not fired. But this kind of description certainly serves to paint Dr. Moss as a crusader, risking negative consequences for the Truth!

I don’t question that Dr. Moss’ concerns are legitimate. After all I’m sure that many traditionalist Roman Catholics will be unhappy with the contents of her book.

Rather the comment is simply rather ironic in the context of a book that seems to condemn Christians for having a persecution complex.

– TurretinFan

Candida Moss on Bishops and the Bishop of Rome in the Early Church

April 7, 2013

In The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Candida Moss (professor of New Testament at Notre Dame) makes two interesting comments regarding the early church and the papacy. First, at page 227, she states:

According to the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, bishops can trace their line in an unending succession all the way back to the earliest days of the Jesus movement. The most famous example of this is the pope in Roman Catholicism, who is believed to be a direct spiritual descendant of the apostle Peter. Yet recent archaeological and historical studies of the church before the conversion of Constantine have shown that bishops were not very powerful and that the church was thoroughly disorganized.

I assume she means “unbroken” rather than “unending” (but compare my previous comments).  Moreover, she’s right about the lack of power of the bishops and the lack of organization.  Part of that, though, is the environment of persecution and hostility that Dr. Moss is reluctant to acknowledge existed.

Second, at pages 230-31, she states:

The picture we get from Eusebius is that Irenaeus, the keen fighter of heretics and chronographer of episcopal traditions, was a friend of the martyrs and was recommended for the rank of bishop by the martyrs themselves. By the time this letter reached Rome, its authors would have been dead already and moved from the category of confessors to that of martyrs. It is interesting that these Christians were writing to the Bishop of Rome, because this assumes that the Bishop of Rome had influence and perhaps even authority over ancient France in a manner similar to the pope’s influence and authority over the church today. This is a charming picture of order and harmony in which martyrs defer to and support the bishops. Eusebius is able to establish, quite concretely, the lineage of episcopacy in Gaul and to justify its origins.
This romantic picture of harmony and hierarchy is anachronistic. In the late second century the bishop of Rome had nothing like the power that the pope has today. The famous passage from Matthew in which Jesus promises Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (16:18), which is today used to legitimize the papacy, was never quoted in full in any Christian literature until the third-century writer Tertullian. Even then Tertullian does not cite the passage in order to demonstrate the authority of the Bishop of Rome over the entire church. If the imprisoned confessors in Gaul wrote to the bishop of Rome, it was because they had strong ties to Rome, Rome was a center of finance and commerce, and the bishop of Rome was an important figure there. It was not because they were asking the head of the church for guidance. For many centuries bishops struggled to find their footing as authority figures in the church. They found themselves at odds with confessors, monks, and those who controlled the shines of saints in their regions. The picture that Eusebius gives us is incorrect, but it does valuable work in supporting church hierarchy and unity.

These are pretty much the same things we’ve been saying to Roman Catholics, but it as at least nice to see them being said by a professor at a major Roman Catholic university.  Dr. Moss mentions going to mass in her book, but I cannot recall her ever specifying whether she is Roman Catholic.

– TurretinFan

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

April 6, 2013

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.

-TurretinFan

Martyrdom of Polycarp

March 29, 2013

The work called “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,” is a story of martyrdom that is itself more historical fiction than historical account. That is not to say that Polycarp was not martyred. Rather it is to say that many of the details of the story are not accurate.

In The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Candida Moss makes several interesting observations, but one that particularly struck home (pp. 103-04):

In a similar way, the author describes religious devotional practices that didn’t really take hold until the third century. At the conclusion of the piece, after Polycarp’s body is burned for a second time, the Christians steal the fragments of bone and ash that remain and deposit them in an appropriate place for safekeeping. This is not just a concern for proper burial; the author describes Polycarp’s remains as “more valuable than precious stones” and says that the remains were placed somewhere that Christians could gather to remember the saints and prepare themselves for their own martyrdom. The situation envisioned here is the veneration of relics.

… Apart from the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the practice of collecting and venerating the bodies of martyrs is completely unparalleled in the second century. Our next earliest references to relics are from the third century and are much less developed. They may not even be firm references to relics so much as references to the distribution of mementos. In contrast, the Martyrdom of Polycarp does not just refer to relics; it provides an explanation for why the church in Smyrna doesn’t have the whole body. That it was necessary to apologize for the absence of relics again presupposes a situation in which relic veneration was already booming. It’s difficult to imagine the need to offer this explanation, if the audience wasn’t expecting more, and it’s difficult to imagine that the audience would have expected more before the third century.

Dr. Moss has a full paper on the dating of “the Martyrdom of Polycarp,” which can be accessed for free (at this link). Ultimately, Dr. Moss concludes that the current version of the story was probably composed in the early third century.

For people looking for examples of the kinds of problems that readers of patristics face, I encourage people to check out Dr. Moss’ paper. The work should also help confirm our position on the reliability of the New Testament itself, which is not subject to the same textual transmission difficulties as the story of Polycarp’s end.

I think it is worth noting that Dr. Moss dates the work earlier than some of the scholars whose work she is addressing. That said, as Dr. Moss notes in the paper (p. 19): “To my knowledge, no scholar who has regarded MPol as a forgery has ever been convinced that the extant version was written in the middle of the second century.”

All the above dove-tails with a point I was noting to someone (in the comment box at GreenBaggins, if I’m not mistaken) that the cult of the dead was not part of the apostolic tradition and only arose later. Even by the time of Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries, it was not so highly developed as it was in later centuries, such as under King Philip II of Spain (1527-98), who apparently housed 8,000 relics (and over 1,000 paintings) within his palace, el Escorial (see discussion here).

-TurretinFan


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