Death and Disease as a Christian Recruiting Tool

23 Jun

It’s nice when mainstream media utilizes people who actually know what they’re talking about. This morning CNN had an article from early Christian historian Candida Moss, “How an Apocalyptic Plague Helped Spread Christianity” in which she talks about a significant disease (she mentions smallpox, I’ve also seen measles proposed) affecting the Roman Empire during the middle of the third century.

In the article she discusses some themes I’ve talked about over the past few months. Chief among them is that Christians saw the terrible death from this disease as a sign that the apocalypse was imminent. As non-Christian Roman Emperors died from the disease, and with Christians believing that death from this was a gateway to heaven, this may have inspired many conversions. And it’s not hard to believe that a period where death by disease was so common made it easier for Christians to endure martyrdom during the Decian persecution. 1

I’ve been waiting for something to come up which I could quickly comment on so I could apologize for my long absence. The house thing is continuing but winding down as I expect to close at the end of this week. But that will still leave me with a bunch of buying furniture, landscaping, putting in a lawn, etc., to work on. I estimate that it will be a month or so until, when I have a few spare hours, I’ll feel that I can put a post together rather than do something house-related (I am currently boxing up books – there’s a surprise). However I haven’t retired from blogging, am currently reading up on Neoplatonism, and have a bunch of half-started posts to finish up, some of which should be pretty cool.

1 The persecutions of Christians was real and did happen but was almost certainly far less widespread than Christian sources portray. Once I get past Diocletian I figure this will make a nice post. The Decian persecution, beginning in 250, appears to be the first formal, systematic persecution in the Empire.


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3 responses to “Death and Disease as a Christian Recruiting Tool

  1. Candida Moss

    June 24, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for posting! I have to admit that I agree with James Rives that the Decian Persecution was not (strictly speaking) persecution in that it didn’t target Christians and wasn’t about Christianity. It was about empire building. That said it was the first legislation to affect Christians and I think that it would have been easier for Christians to accept martyrdom when death from illness was so gruesome and likely.

  2. Curt Emanuel

    June 25, 2014 at 6:34 am

    Thank you for your comment. This looks to be another area where I need to refine my language, or at least specify what I mean when I use the term, far from the first time I’ve done this. BTW, I haven’t read Myth of Persecution yet but have read The Other Christs and Ancient Christian Martyrdom and found both of these to be interesting and useful.

  3. Cecelia O'brien

    August 22, 2014 at 4:09 am

    tend to agree – after all many people today see things like increases in tornado or extreme weather as signs of the coming zombie apocalypse. We have not changed that much. I do wonder though – given high rates of death in the influenza pandemic of the early 1900’s – or even the Ebola deaths right now in some African countries – what did that look like in terms of either conversion or an increased scrupulousness in observance? Would be interesting to know.

    I also wonder – plaque could also be taken as the displeasure of the ancient gods/godesses with Christian conversion – one might also see a return to the old religions.


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