The Religious A priori
III.Ancient Secular Historians
E. Lucian of Samosata
Satarist and Playwrite of the second century. He wrote "The Passing of Peregrinus" about a cynic who comes to join the ranks of the Christians, takes advantage of them, and than leaves to go back to his former philosphy. [Alli.Luc,99]
From this satirist and playwright of the second century, we have two quotes from a play entitled "The Passing of Peregrinus." The hero of the tale, Peregrinus, was a Cynic philosopher who became a Christian, rose in prominence in the Christian community, then returned to Cynicism. Lucian's attack is not so much on Christianity, but on the person of Peregrinus, who took advantage of the Christians' simplicity and gullibility. [Alli.Luc, 99]
There are two quotes of primary interest in this play: the first states that Peregrinus (the fictional character) rose thorugh the ranks to become reverenced as a god, "next after taht other, to be sure, whom they (the Christians) still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine becasue he introduced this new cult to the world." [Harm. Luc, 13] The second states: "Their first lawgiver [Peegrinus being the second] persuaded them that they are all brothers...after they have thrown over and denied the gods of Greece and have done reverence to that crucifed sophist himself and live according to his laws." He doens't mention Jesus by name, but this is clealry who he means.Note the phrasing, "the man who was crucified in Palestine..." As if to say "You know, that guy we have all heard about..." He clearly assumes common knowlege of the story, at least in essence on the part of his audience.
One might be tempted to supposse that Lucian was merely writting a play, it's all fiction. Who would know or care if he got something wrong, so he didn't bother to check his facts. But this is contrary to everything we know about Lucian. He was a maticulous scholar, he loved history and insisted that the historian adhere strictly to the facts. In fact, he was almost religious in his devotion to the facts! A letter he wrote to his friend Philo demonstrates. The letter is in the form of a treatise entitled "The Way to Write History." [Fowl.LucSam, 126, 128]
"History...abhors the intrusion of any least scruple of falsehood; it is like the windpipe, which the doctors tell us will not tolerate a morsel of stray food."
"The historian's one task is to tell the thing as it happened."
"(The historian) must sacrifice to no God but Truth; he must neglect all else; his sole rule and unerring guide is this - to think not of those who are listening to him now, but of the yet unborn who shall seek his converse."
In speaking of Thucydides, "speech-in-character," (i.e., creating appropriate words for someone to say on a certain occassion, not knowing what it is that they actually said), the funeral oratory for a centurion named Afranius, Lucian writes (ibid., 122):
"...the flood of rhetoric which follows is so copious and remarkable that it drew tears from me - ye Graces! - tears of laughter; most of all where the elegant Afranius, drawing to a close, makes mention, with weeping and distressful moans, of all those costly dinners and toasts. But he is a very Ajax in his conclusion. He draws his sword, gallantly as an Afranius should, and in sight of all cuts his throat over the grave - and God knows it was high time for an execution, if oratory can be a felony."
J.P. Holding writes of Lucian:
- "there is good reason to believe that he would not acknowledge the existence of Jesus if there were any doubt in his mind that Jesus actually existed. He would certainly have satirized Christian belief in a fictional or historically doubtful personage mercilessly, if any such arguments existed at the time. Finally, he was in a good position to have known of such issues, being that he moved in the most educated of circles and very likely corresponded and consulted with leading figures of his day. In short, Lucian was a person who was "in a position to know" whether or not Jesus had genuine historical roots, and was exactly the sort who would raise any relevant doubts in order to enhance the impact of his satire!" [website--Teckton Apologetics]
The skeptic may answer that the passage is very late, Lucian probably consulted chrstiains for his information, and so is just coplying their errors. Holding again states, "Meier [Meie.MarJ, 92] indicates common knowledge as the source. Allinson [Alli.Luc, 95] says that Lucian was 'evidently acquainted, by hearsay at least, with some of the facts of the crucifixion of Christ.' Evans [ChilEv.Stud, 461-2] does regard Lucian's use of an unusual word to describe crucifixion ("to impale") as evidence of derivation from a non-Christian source. The evidence thus points towards derivation of this knowledge from a non-Christian source."
Even more important than where he got his information, or even his love of histircal accuracy, however, is the implication that he expected his audience to understand and already know that Jesus was a man and that he was crucified in Palestine:
1) The fact that he was a man is probably the one of the major reasons that he disdained Christians. Look at the nature of the play! A philosopher becomes a religious huxter and tricks these gullable people, as their original founder did?
2) How could he have expected the audience to understand this or find it humorous had Jesus been unknown or known to be mythological? The notion that Mercury or Saturn, or even some totally foreign God, Osiris or Enkidu would become a con man and fool a bunch of gullable people, looses all the aspects necessary to make the production comical. It would be incredulous.
3) The fact that this would be another god, the god of some other religion would not have meant anything to a Roman audience. They were use to a flood of foreign gods from other lands. That is not what they would have found distasteful about Christianity. In fact it is a strong reason why they would have found it attractive. Asian and mid eastern cults were very popular in Rome and the southern rim of the Mediteranian contributed to Rome in many cultural ways. But to find that a mere mortal man would be worshiped as a god, one who was not emperor or Cesar but just a philsopher would be absurd to them (notice the impoication also that Chrst's reputation as a philsopher preceeded him).
4) Had Christ been unkown it would be meaningless for Lucian to say "the man who was crucified in Palestine" as though "you know..."
5) There is something wrong with the argument that he is just repeating a misconception, that they thought he was real but he really wasn't. If they knew him as an histoircal character it is probably because they never knew him as "the Cosmic Chrsit" of suppossed mythology. Had he ever been in that role first it seems absurd to think that he could then change and take on this new role as an historical man. The statments seem to imply no knowlege of this other notion, but show a common knowlege of his histoircal existence.>
The Religious A priori