What Lucian of Samosata Wrote About Jesus

Lucian of Samosata, who was hostile to Christianity, referenced Jesus in his writings, which supports the simple fact that Jesus existed.
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Read this article at its new location here: https://reformedwiki.com/lucian-of-samosata-and-jesus-existence/

Who was Lucian of Samosata?

Lucian of Samosata was a Greek satirist during the second half of the second century (about 170 CE). Lucian had contempt for Jesus and Christians and wrote with the assumption that Jesus existed.

What did Lucian write?

Lucian wrote the following:

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account... 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 faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. (The Death of Peregrine, The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Translated by Fowler, H W and F G. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1905.)

Here is the full text of Lucian of Samosata's The Passing of Peregrinus.

How does Lucian of Samosata prove Jesus existed

There are three things of particular note in this passage:

  1. Lucian is a trustworthy source because he is hostile to Christianity. He has no reason to lie about what he is saying about Jesus.
  2. The "man" whom Christians worship clearly refers to Jesus. Even though Jesus is not mentioned by name, Jesus is the only person who would fit this description.
  3. Lucian corroborates the Bible's teaching that Jesus was crucified. His writing is especially trustworthy because he is actually mocking Christians in this passage, not praising them. So, Lucian clearly heard and believes that Jesus not only existed, but also was crucified, which corroborates the gospel accounts in the Bible.

This passage from Lucian's writings is strong evidence that Jesus not only existed, but was also crucified.

Answering objections

Some argue that Lucian of Samosata's writings do not prove that Jesus existed, but are rather indeterminate. These attempts to undermine Lucian's writings are weak and unconvincing.

RationalWiki

Let's first examine the arguments presented in RationalWiki's article on Lucian.

1. Time

Time: Lucian's statement was written near 170 CE (about 140 years after the crucifixion), and Lucian himself was born in 125 CE (about 95 years after the crucifixion). It seems rather unlikely that Lucian was an eyewitness.

One does not need to be an eyewitness to know the facts of relatively recent history. Jesus' existence and crucifixion would not have become a myth or legend in a mere 95 to 140 years.

Today, we have no doubt about significant historical events that happened 100 to 150 years ago. It would have been no different for Lucian of Samosata during his time.

2. Sources

Sources: Lucian never specified his sources on Jesus. Given that Christianity had been going on for over 100 years, it's easy to believe that Lucian used Christian sources, common knowledge, or even an earlier pagan reference (such as Tacitus). Yet Lucian can only count as evidence of Jesus' existence if he used independent and reliable sources; neither is known.

The big problem with this argument is the unjustified assertion, "Lucian can only count as evidence of Jesus' existence if he used independent and reliable sources." Says who? Why are "Christian sources, common knowledge, or... earlier pagan reference[s] (such as Tacitus" ruled out as "independent and reliable sources"?

The main takaway from Lucian is that he strongly corroborates the facts that Jesus existed and was crucified. To dismiss Lucian's writing because of an arbitrary and made-up standard for what would "count as evidence" is disingenuous.

Some have responded the Lucian disdained Christians, which makes it unlikely that he'd have used them for information. There are numerous issues: First, just because you think a religion is stupid, doesn't mean you necessarily question the believers on the origins of their religion—namely, where the "Christ" of "Christian" comes from. (ie, even if you think Mormonism is stupid, you likely wouldn't question Mormons on the origins of the word "Mormon".) Second, there's no evidence that Christianity was significant at the time, making it unlikely that Lucian would have either cared enough to investigate or that other writers would have extensively investigated the issue.

Lucian obviously felt no need to question the existence of crucifixion of Jesus. It can be assumed that Jesus' existence and crucifixion were accepted as simple fact during this time. There is no need to "extensively investigate" what everyone already understands to be true.

Instead of taking what Lucian says at face value and believing that it is highly unlikely that Jesus' existence and crucifixion would have been such tenuous historical events during this time, RationalWiki seems to be desperately grasping at straws by creating arbitrary and unnecessary standards for what would constitute reliable and trustworthy evidence that Jesus existed and was crucified.

3. Lack of skepticism

Lack of skepticism: Just as with Tacitus, it is plausible that Lucian would have accepted Christian claims that their founder had been crucified, etc. Further, there is no evidence that Lucian doubted the historicity of Jesus, or investigated it. His concern for accuracy is irrelevant if he had no reason to believe that his statements were inaccurate.

Why does Lucian need to "doubt the historicity of Jesus, or investigated it," for his writings to be a reliable source for Jesus' existence and crucifixion? Perhaps the fact that he felt he did not need to doubt or investigate these "claims" demonstrates that they were simply historical facts that were universally accepted at the time.

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

Let's now examine the arguments presented in the article, "Why Lucian's View of the Christians and Jesus is Indeterminate," by Frank Redmond in 2013. We will respond to the arguments presented in this article point-by-point. The emphases in the quotes have been added.

1. Lucian was not super hostile against Christians

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.

This is such a weak argument. We don't need to prove that Lucian was "dead-set" against Christians to find his writings about Jesus to be trustworthy. As long as we know that Lucian had a negative view of Christians, which is undeniable, then we know that Lucian had no reason to try to help Christians in what he wrote about Jesus. His writings are trustworthy not because his critique of Christians is "extremely scathing and personal," but because he critiqued Christians at all.

2. It was the character speaking who disliked Christians, not necessarily Lucian himself

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.

Again, this argument is completely irrelevant and unconvincing. Even if Lucian had "little antipathy for the Christian sect," it remains that "the interlocutor in the dialogue did," and so the same fact remains—the character in the dialogue would have no reason to say anything that would help Christians.

Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that either Lucian or the character were lying in their description of the historical facts about Jesus. They are merely describing what happened to Jesus in an objective, historical manner. Jesus' existence and crucifixion are presented as a historical fact, not as an unbelievable myth.

3. Lucian was not an expert on Christianity

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?

This argument exposes the desperation of Redmond to discredit Lucian's writings, which we have so far demonstrated are strong evidence that Jesus existed and was crucified.

Lucian does not need to be an "expert on Christianity" to know a fact as simple as the fact that Jesus existed and was crucified. One does not need to be "well versed" or "a well researched individual on the Christian sect and Jesus" to know the most basic of historical facts about Jesus.

Regarding the point that "Lucian's writings expose any prejudices that may have existed concerning the Christians and Jesus, not actual facts about them," this is just ridiculous. Lucian of Samosata's writings reveal both the prejudice against Christians and historical facts about Jesus' existence and crucifixion. There is absolutely no reason for Lucian to have fabricated these facts, and it is extremely unlikely that Jesus' existence and crucifixion would have gained any myth-like or legend-like status in this short a time.

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