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Why Lucian's View of the Christians and Jesus is Indeterminate

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This work (by, identified by Frank Redmond, is free of known copyright restrictions.

Authored by Frank Redmond, 2013

One of the main reasons why anyone today reads Lucian is to see his passages on the Christians and Jesus. Although Lucian's view on the Christians and Jesus comprises a very small part of his ouevre, it still is given prominence considering that it is one of the earliest written references of the Christian sect and Jesus. While a lot of websites and articles out there like to try to probe Lucian's account for historical accuracies about Jesus, there a few problems with this viewpoint.

1. Lucian was a satirist whose main objective is to delight his audience even if the references to the Christians and Jesus are contained in a personal letter to a friend and are not part of a public speech. Lucian still tried to impress and entertain his friends as seen in Alexander and How to Write History amongst other letters. Lucian was not dead-set on exposing or demonstrating how monstrous the Christian sect was. He just tried to show that they are like any other religious or social group in that they can be lampooned and exposed. Lucian's work Alexander is a long tract on exactly this same topic. But Alexander was some sort of Neo-Pythagorean. Alexander's lampooning doesn't hold much prominence with today's audiences even though it is extremely scathing and personal while the critique of the Christians is fairly tame and impersonal.

2. The evidence for the Christians is not exactly straight from Lucian's mouth. The speech in which the reference is made is given by a character in the dialogue. Lucian liked to play-act with his characters and it is perfectly reasonable that he personally had little antipathy for the Christian sect, but the interlocutor in the dialogue did. A good example of this sort of interlocutor based conversation would be Homer. Homer sung of characters that were meant to be truthful to the speaker and were not necessarily Homer's own beliefs. A good example of this is Book 9 of the Iliad where Achilles trades barbs with other leaders of the expedition, each with their own personal opinions. It is not clear what Homer thought.

3. Lucian by no means was an expert on Christianity. If we take his writings at face value, his insights into Christianity could be bunk considering that he was not well versed in their teachings. Knowing things from hearsay is much different than actually being a member of a group or being a well researched individual on the Christian sect and Jesus. If anything, Lucian's writings expose any prejudices that may have existed concerning the Christians and Jesus, not actual facts about them. For actual viewpoints of Christians it is best to stay with reading the texts written by the Christians themselves. Lucian does confirm the Christians and Jesus, but how much of Lucian's view can be taken to be accurate?


The Death of Peregrine


It was now that he came across the priests and scribes of the Christians, in Palestine, and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he pretty soon convinced them of his superiority; prophet, elder, ruler of the Synagogue–he was everything at once; expounded their books, commented on them, wrote books himself. They took him for a God, accepted his laws, and declared him their president. The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. Well, the end of it was that Proteus was arrested and thrown into prison.


This was the very thing to lend an air to his favourite arts of clap-trap and wonder-working; he was now a made man. The Christians took it all very seriously: he was no sooner in prison, than they began trying every means to get him out again,–but without success. Everything else that could be done for him they most devoutly did. They thought of nothing else. Orphans and ancient widows might be seen hanging about the prison from break of day. Their officials bribed the gaolers to let them sleep inside with him. Elegant dinners were conveyed in; their sacred writings were read; and our old friend Peregrine (as he was still called in those days) became for them “the modern Socrates.”


In some of the Asiatic cities, too, the Christian communities put themselves to the expense of sending deputations, with offers of sympathy, assistance, and legal advice. The activity of these people, in dealing with any matter that affects their community, is something extraordinary; they spare no trouble, no expense. Peregrine, all this time, was making quite an income on the strength of his bondage; money came pouring in. You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. Now an adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who has seen the world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is pretty soon made; he plays with them.


'To return, however, to Peregrine. The governor of Syria perceived his mental warp: “he must make a name, though he die for it:” now philosophy was the governor's hobby; he discharged him–wouldn't hear of his being punished–and Peregrine returned to Armenia. He found it too hot to hold him. He was threatened from all quarters with prosecutions for parricide. Then again, the greater part of his property had disappeared in his absence: nothing was left but the land, which might be worth a matter of four thousand pounds. The whole estate, as the old man left it, would come perhaps to eight thousand. Theagenes was talking nonsense when he said a million odd. Why, the whole city, with its five nearest neighbours thrown in, men, cattle, and goods of every description , would never fetch that sum.


–Meanwhile, indictments and accusations were brewing: an attack might be looked for at any moment: as for the common people, they were in a state of furious indignation and grief at the foul butchery of a harmless old man; for so he was described. In these trying circumstances, observe the ingenuity and resource of the sagacious Proteus. He makes his appearance in the assembly: his hair (even in these early days) is long, his cloak is shabby; at his side is slung the philosopher's wallet, his hand grasps the philosopher's staff; truly a tragic figure, every inch of him. Thus equipped, he presents himself before the public, with the announcement that the property left him by his father of blessed memory is entirely at their disposal! Being a needy folk, with a keen eye to charity, they received the information with ready applause: “Here is true philosophy; true patriotism; the spirit of Diogenes and Crates is here!” As for his enemies, they were dumb; and if any one did venture an allusion to parricide, he was promptly stoned.


'Proteus now set out again on his wanderings. The Christians were meat and drink to him; under their protection he lacked nothing, and this luxurious state of things went on for some time. At last he got into trouble even with them; I suppose they caught him partaking of some of their forbidden meats. They would have nothing more to do with him, and he thought the best way out of his difficulties would be, to change his mind about that property, and try and get it back. He accordingly sent in a petition to the emperor, suing for its restitution. But as the people of Parium sent up a deputation to remonstrate, nothing came of it all; he was told that as he had been under no compulsion in making his dispositions, he must abide by them.

2013/why-lucians-view-of-the-christians-and-jesus-is-indeterminate.txt · Last modified: 2015/12/16 15:42 (external edit)