Lucian of Samosata and Jesus’ Existence

ReformedWiki Post

Lucian of Samosata is used as evidence for Jesus’ existence. He is a reliable source because he was hostile to Christianity and so would have no reason to help Christians. His writing demonstrates that Jesus’ existence was simply an assumed fact, contrary to what some atheists purport.

For a fuller article on whether Jesus existed or not, see Did Jesus Exist?

Who Was Lucian of Samosata?

Lucian of Samosata was a Greek satirist who lived during the latter half of the second century, around AD 125 to AD 180. He writes about Jesus in The Passing of Peregrinus.

Quote About Jesus from The Passing of Peregrinus

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-dåevotion 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.

Lucian of Samosata, The Passing of Peregrinus

Analysis of Lucian of Samosata’s Writing

The passage above is strong evidence for Jesus’ existence for the following reasons:

  • Lucian of samosata was hostile to Christianity, so he would have absolutely no reason to write anything that would benefit Christians. In the passage above, Lucian is actually mocking Christians for believing in a man who was crucified.
  • The “man” who was “crucified” and “the crucified sage” in the passage is clearly Jesus, since no other person fits these descriptions.
  • Lucian of Samosata not only demonstrates that Jesus existed, but he also corroborates the fact of his crucifixion. His writing demonstrates that from a very early time, it was simply assumed, and a known fact, that Jesus existed and was crucified.

Answers to Objections Against Lucian of Samosata’s Writing

RationalWiki on Lucian of Samosata

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.

RationalWiki

It is not necessary to be an eyewitness to know that particular events occurred in the relatively recent past. 100 to 150 years represents only about two generations. This means that during the time of Lucian’s life, people Lucian’s age could have had grandparents who were alive during the time of Jesus’ life and crucifixion. Because of this, it is extremely unlikely that Jesus’ life and crucifixion would have become a myth by the time of Lucian’s life.

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.

RationalWiki

Here, RationalWiki imposes an arbitrary and unnecessary standard to attempt to undermine the clear meaning of Lucian’s writing. Why should it be the case that since we do not know his sources, he essentially does not count as evidence of Jesus’ existence? That is simply ludicrous.
Even if Lucian of Samosata used “Christian sources, common knowledge, or… Tacitus,” his writing demonstrates that Jesus’ existence and crucifixion were assumed, and “common knowledge.” If there was any doubt concerning Jesus’ existence and crucifixion, Lucian would surely have mentioned that.

Especially because 100 years is not a very long time (two generations, or one’s grandparents), the most reasonable understanding of Lucian’s writing is that at this time, it was simply known (“common knowledge”) that Jesus existed and was crucified. If something was “common knowledge,” that means that basically everyone believed it, which is, again, strong evidence for Jesus’ existence and crucifixion.

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.

RationalWiki

I

f there is a fact of history that everyone simply knows is true (for example, World War I, which occurred about as long ago as Jesus’ crucifixion would have occurred for Lucian), then there is simply no need to question its existence.
There is absolutely no writing at all during these ancient times that cast doubt concerning Jesus’ existence and crucifixion, so it is most probable to assume that nobody investigated the issue “extensively” because there was simply no need to do so. Jesus’ existence and crucifixion were settled fact.

It is only a relatively recent phenomenon, probably due to modern arrogance and extreme skepticism, that some people now cast doubt upon Jesus’ existence, and this is an extremely minority view.

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.

RationalWiki

The objection above ignores the fact that there is simply absolutely no writing during this time period that casts ”’any”’ doubt concerning the Christian claim that Jesus existed and was crucified.

Again, the most reasonable interpretation of history is that Jesus’ existence and crucifixion were assumed and known to have occurred. To demand skepticism concerning this widespread belief is completely unwarranted and demonstrates a desperate grasping for ”’anything”’ that ”’might”’ undermine the Christian faith. However, this attempt by RationalWiki to undermine the meaning of Lucian’s writing simply fails.

“Why Lucian’s View of the Christians and Jesus Is Indeterminate” by Frank Redmond

Frank Redmond wrote the article, “Why Lucian’s View of the Christians and Jesus is Indeterminate”. Here is an examination of his arguments. Emphasis has bene added.

Lucian of Samosata’s Focus Was Not On Attacking Christianity

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.

Frank Redmond

That Lucian was “not dead-set on exposing or demonstrating how monstrous the Christian sect was” has absolutely nothing to do with a general assumed knowledge of Jesus’ existence and crucifixion, which Lucian’s writing demonstrates. If there was absolutely no doubt during these early times, then the only reason to cast doubt on Jesus’ existence now suggests desperation and requires historical gymnastics.

The Character, Not Necessarily Lucian of Samosata, Disliked Christians

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.

Frank Redmond

The fact remains that even if Lucian did not personally dislike Christians, he had absolutely no reason to write anything that would help Christians. He is simply writing about what was apparently considered objective historical facts concerning Jesus’ existence and crucifixion.

Lucian of Samosata 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?

Frank Redmond

One does not need to be an “expert” about a topic to know about basic events related to the topic. In other words, Lucian did not need to be an “expert” about Christianity to know that it was a widespread, generally known fact that Jesus existed and was crucified.

The statement, “If anything, Lucian’s writings expose any prejudices that may have existed concerning the Christians and Jesus, not actual facts about them,” is completely unjustified. If anything, Lucian’s writings demonstrate that it was general knowledge and widespread belief that Jesus existed and was crucified.

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