Of note is that most secular or modern sources discount the Roman Christian persecutions, such as Gibbon, who was an unbeliever; Wikipedia; and The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martrydom by Candida Moss. (The Fifth Seal, 303-313, pp. 34-35.)
“The deaths of a few eminent martyrs have been recorded with care; and from the time that Christianity was invested with the supreme power, the governors of the church have been no less diligently employed in displaying the cruelty, than in imitating the conduct, of their Pagan adversaries. To separate (if it be possible) a few authentic as well as interesting facts from an undigested mass of fiction and error, and to relate, in a clear and rational manner, the causes, the extent, the duration, and the most important circumstances of the persecutions to which the first Christians were exposed, is the design of the present chapter.”
Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2, Ch. XVI, “Conduct Towards the Christians from Nero to Constantine,” Pt. 1.
“Gibbon’s apparent antagonism to Christian doctrine spilled over into the Jewish faith, leading to charges of anti-Semitism. For example, he wrote: ‘From the reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jews discovered a fierce impatience of the dominion of Rome, which repeatedly broke out in the most furious massacres and insurrections. Humanity is shocked at the recital of the horrid cruelties which they committed in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the unsuspecting natives; and we are tempted to applaud the severe retaliation which was exercised by the arms of legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but also of humankind.’ Gibbon is considered to be a son of the Enlightenment and this is reflected in his famous verdict on the history of the Middle Ages: ‘I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.’”
“Edward Gibbon,” Wikipedia.
The Wikipedia article “Persecution of Christians,” contained the quoted statement without citation on June 17, 2006, when I first accessed it. I have a record of the quote on that date at “Christian Martyrs of the Roman Empire.” However, it has since been changed to read,
“The New Catholic Encyclopedia states that ‘Ancient, medieval and early modern hagiographers were inclined to exaggerate the number of martyrs. Since the title of martyr is the highest title to which a Christian can aspire, this tendency is natural’. Estimates of Christians killed for religious reasons before the year 313 vary greatly, depending on the scholar quoted, from a low of 10,000 to a high of almost 100,000.”
(Verified April 30, 2015).
When I searched for this statement at The Catholic Encyclopedia to verify it myself, I could not find it. If a reader finds the reference, please send me a note.
See Leroy Huizenga’s critical academic review of Moss’ book published at First Things.