Lucian of Samosata: THE FIRST ANTI-CHRISTIAN SATIRIST

24 Nov

Lucian of Samosata (circa 115-200 AD) was a Greek satirist. He wrote On the Death of Peregrinus, also translated as Passing of Peregrinus.  Lucian parodies what he sees as the inherent naïveté in Christians and in their doctrine; he depicts Christians as lackeys and dolts. Lucian directs no small amount of mockery towards Christians, calling them “poor wretches” who have “persuaded themselves that they will be immortal”.

lucian

Lucian says Christians are gullible and accept “all their doctrines without accurate demonstration”. In fact, “any charlatan or trickster” who comes to them “quickly becomes rich by imposing on simple people”. Lucian’s satire features Peregrinus Proteus – one such huckster who takes advantage of the Christians stupid generosity. The Cynic-philosopher-turned-religious-hustler lives it up for a while until he is caught eating (forbidden) food that was sacrificed to idols; this results in his expulsion from the community.

Lucian says the Christians “revered him as a god … next after that other whom they still, worship, the man crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world”. The “him” in this passage is the character Peregrinus who had infiltrated the Christian community in order to take advantage of these “misguided creatures”.

In another portion of the work, Lucian tells the story of the fraud leader Peregrinus being imprisoned. Lucian says the Christians rushed to help him immediately and “at daybreak one could see aged widows and orphan children waiting by the prison”. It is interesting Lucian specifically mentions these two groups of people (widows and orphans) as comprising the church, especially when Lucian tells us that Peregrinus gets rich off the church. Lucian says the church officers bribed the guards to sleep in the prison with Peregrinus.

Lucian speaks of Christ as “their first legislator” who convinced them that “once they have transgressed by denying the Greek gods” then they “are all brothers of one another”. Lucian says the Christians “have thrown over the gods of Greece”, instead “worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws” (Peregrinus 13). 

One reason why this sarcastic satirist’s works are noteworthy is his word for crucifixion: anaskolopisthenta. This word does not mean “crucified” but rather “impaled”, which technically can be said of a crucifixion victim. This word is not the same word used in the gospels for crucifixion, which was usually stauroo (σταυρόω). This shows Lucian may have received his information from a non-Christian source. It is also one more subtle way for Lucian to parody the silliness of this simple superstition based around a sophist who had been crucified in Palestine.

Lucian is an interesting critic because he almost has more sympathy than disdain for Christians. He portrays them as generous, gullible, and guileless except for their leaders, who are comprised of sophists and charlatans. Even more notable, though, is the fact that he “thought his readers would have heard something about Christians and would enjoy a story told at their expense” (Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003, 490).

For more on Lucian, see Francis G. Allison, Lucian: Satirist and Artist (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1963) and H.W Fowler, The Works of Lucian of Samosata (Oxford: Clarendon, 1905).

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 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Vocab Malone is a semi-retired hip hop artist and slam poet. He is Pastor of Teaching  and Evangelism at Roosevelt Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. He has been married for 10 years and has adopted three boys. Vocab and his wife enjoy going to Comicon in full cosplay. He can be heard every Sunday night on Backpack Radio on 1360 KPXQ. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone
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