In chapter eight of The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, Catherine Nixey wrote:
While it might take months of effort, years of training and centuries of accumulated knowledge to build a Greek temple, it took little more than zeal and patience to destroy one. At the end of the fourth century, as the laws against [the Hellenes] were reaching an aggressive crescendo, the bishop Marcellus was said to have destroyed the vast and still hugely popular temple of Zeus at Apamea with prayers and the help of a man who was ‘no builder, or mason, or artificer of any kind’. Today, Marcellus is worshipped as a saint in the Orthodox Church.
Today, histories of this period, if they mention such destruction at all, hesitate to condemn it outright. The 1965 edition of The Penguin Dictionary of Saints records with little more than amused indulgence that Martin of Tours ‘was not averse to the forcible destruction of heathen shrines’.
In modern histories those carrying out and encouraging the attacks are rarely described as violent, or vicious, or thuggish: they are merely ‘zealous’, ‘pious’, ‘enthusiastic’ or, at worst, ‘over-zealous’. As the academic John Pollini puts it: ‘modern scholarship, influenced by a Judeo-Christian cultural bias’ has frequently overlooked or downplayed such attacks and even at times ‘sought to present Christian desecration in a positive light’.
The attacks themselves are diminished in importance, both implicitly by the lack of attention they are given, and at times even explicitly. We should not make too much of these events, one influential academic has argued; we should not ‘amplify them unduly’ as such desecrations ‘may have been the work of a determined few, briskly performed’.