Lucian on the Christians and their crucified sophist.

On the passing of Peregrinus, cynic philosopher and Christian dabbler.


One of the ancient pagan testimonia.

Middle of century II.

The Passing of Peregrinus treats of the philosophical career of the title character, also known as Proteus, who passes in the story through several stages of philosophical attachment. The stage that concerns us here is his essay into Christianity. After murdering his own father for living too long, he sets out and roams various foreign lands, and it is during his wanderings that he learns of Christianity. Passing of Peregrinus 11-13 (English translation modified from that of A. M. Harmon in the Loeb edition; the Greek text is his also):

Οτεπερ και την θαυμαστην σοφιαν των Χριστιανων εξεμαθεν, περι την Παλαιστινην τοις ιερευσιν και γραμματευσιν αυτων ξυγγενομενος. και τι γαρ; εν βραχει παιδας αυτους απεφηνε, προφητης και θιασαρχης και ξυναγωγευς και παντα μονος αυτος ων, και των βιβλων τας μεν εξηγειτο και διεσαφει, πολλας δε αυτος και συνεγραφεν, και ως θεον αυτον εκεινοι ηγουντο και νομοθετη εχρωντο και πρστατην επεγραφοντο, μετα1 γουν εκεινον ον2 ετι σεβουσι, τον ανθρωπον τον εν τη Παλαιστινη ανασκολοπισθεντα οτι καινην ταυτην τελετην εισηγεν ες τον βιον.

1 It is Cobet who has επεγραφοντο, μετα. The manuscripts have επεγραφον· τον μεγαν, which makes little sense.
2 The manuscripts lack ον, which Harmon supplies.

It was then that he learned the marvelous wisdom of the Christians, associating with their priests and scribes around Palestine. And how else could it be? In a trice he made them all appear like children, for he was prophet, cult leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself, and he exegeted and clarified some of their books and even composed many himself, and they regarded him as a god and made use of him as a lawgiver and wrote him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he brought this new cult to life.

Τοτε δη και συλληφθεις επι τουτω ο Πρωτευς ενεπεσεν εις το δεσμωτηριον, οπερ και αυτο ου μικρον αυτω αξιωμα περιεποιησεν προς τον εξης βιον και την τερατειαν και δοξοκοπιαν ων ερων ετυγχανεν. επει δ ουν εδεδετο, οι Χριστιανοι συμφοραν ποιουμενοι το πραγμα παντα εκινουν εξαρπασαι πειρωμενοι αυτον. ειτ, επει τουτο ην αδυνατον, η γε αλλη θεραπεια πασα, ου παρεργως, αλλα συν σπουδη εγιγνετο· και εωθεν μεν ευθυς ην οραν παρα τω δεσμωτηριω περιμενοντα γραδια χηρας τινας και παιδια ορφανα, οι δε εν τελει αυτων και συνεκαθευδον ενδον μετ αυτου διαφθειραντες τους δεσμοφυλακας. ειτα δειπνα ποικιλα εισεκομιζετο και λογοι ιεροι αυτων ελεγοντο, και ο βελτιστος Περεγρινος, ετι γαρ τουτο εκαλειτο, καινος Σωκρατης υπ αυτων ωνομαζετο.

Then at length Proteus was apprehended for this and fell into prison, which itself made up for him no little worthiness as an asset for his future life and the charlatanism and glory-seeking of which he was enamoured. Well, when he had been imprisoned, the Christians, making the matter out to be a misfortune, did everything they could in the effort to rescue him. Then, since this was impossible, every other form of attention was shown him, not in any casual way, but rather with assiduity, and straightway from the break of day aged widows and orphan children were seen waiting near the prison, while those in command over them even slept inside with him after having bribed the prison guards. Then elaborate suppers were brought in, and sacred words of theirs were read, and excellent Peregrinus, for he was still called this, was named by them the new Socrates.

Και μην κακ* των εν Ασια πολεων εστιν ων ηκον τινες, των Χριστιανων στελλοντων απο του κοινου, βοηθησοντες και συναγορευσοντες και παραμυθησομενοι τον ανδρα. αμηχανον δε τι το ταχος επιδεικνυνται επειδαν τι τοιουτον γενηται δημοσιον· εν βραχει γαρ αφειδουσι παντων. και δη και τω Περεγρινω πολλα τοτε ηκεν χρηματα παρ αυτων επι προφασει των δεσμων, και προσοδον ου μικραν ταυτην εποιησατο. πεπεικασι γαρ αυτους οι κακοδαιμονες το μεν ολον αθανατοι εσεσθαι και βιωσεσθαι τον αει χρονον, παρ ο και καταφρονουσιν του θανατου και εκοντες αυτους επιδιδοασιν οι πολλοι. επειτα δε ο νομοθετης ο πρωτος επεισεν αυτους ως αδελφοι παντες ειεν αλληλων επειδαν απαξ παραβαντες, θεους μεν τους Ελληνικους απαρνησωνται, τον δε ανεσκολοπισμενον εκεινον σοφιστην αυτον προσκυνωσιν και κατα τους εκεινου νομους βιωσιν. καταφρονουσιν ουν απαντων εξ ισης και κοινα ηγουνται, ανευ τινος ακριβους πιστεως τα τοιαυτα παραδεξαμενοι. ην τοινυν παρελθη τις εις αυτους γοης και τεχνιτης ανθρωπος και πραγμασιν χρησθαι δυναμενος, αυτικα μαλα πλουσιος εν βραχει εγενετο ιδιωταις ανθρωποις εγχανων.

* Dindorf and Jacobitz suggest κακ; the manuscripts have και again.

And indeed, certain ones came even from the cities in Asia, sent by the Christians from their common expense, to help and defend and encourage the man. And they show incredible speed whenever any such public action is taken; for in a trice they lavish their all. And also for Peregrinus much money came from them by reason of his imprisonment, and he made not a little revenue from it. For the poor wretches have convinced themselves, all in all, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into imprisonment, most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once [for all], by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living according to his laws. They despise, therefore, all things alike and regard them as common [property], receiving such things without any accurate evidence.* So, if any imposter and trickster, able to use such situations, comes along to them, in a trice he suddenly becomes very rich by imposing upon simple men.

* Literally, without any accurate faith.

The ruler of Syria, however, deigns to free Peregrinus at this point, and he returns home to find that many are pressing for charges against him for the murder of his father. To escape judgment, he dons the garb of a cynic in chapter 15: Εκομα δε ηδη και τριβωνα πιναρον ημπειχετο και πηραν παρηρτητο και το ξυλον εν τη χειρι ην (he wore his hair long by now, dressed in a dirty mantle, and had a bag slung at his side, and the staff was in his hand),* and relinquishes his paternal estate, at which gesture the people praise him as the only true philosopher.

* Confer the following from Peregrinus 24: Ου γαρ εν πηρα και βακτρω και τριβωνι ο ζηλος (for zeal is not in the bag and the walking-stick and the mantle), and note the parallels with Matthew 10.9-10 = Mark 6.8-9 = Luke 9.3; 10.4.

We return again to his friends the Christians in Peregrinus 16a:

Εξηει ουν το δευτερον πλανησομενος, ικανα εφοδια τους Χριστιανους εχων, υφ ων δορυφορουμενος εν απασιν αφθονοις ην. και χρονον μεν τινα ουτως εβοσκετο· ειτα παρανομησας τι και ες εκεινους, ωφθη γαρ τι, ως οιμαι, εσθιων των απορρητων αυτοις, ουκετι προσιεμενων αυτον απορουμενος εκ παλινωδιας απαιτειν ωετο δειν παρα της πολεως τα κτηματα.

He left home, therefore, for the second time to roam about, possessing an ample source of funds in the Christians, through whose ministrations he lived in unalloyed prosperity. For a time he battened himself thus; then, after he had broken some law even against them, for he was seen, I think, eating of something forbidden to them, they no longer accepted him, and so, being at a loss, he thought he must sing a palinode and ask his possessions back from his city.

For the notion of forbidden foods amongst Christians, refer to Acts 15.29.

From Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 25 (Greek text from A. M. Harmon; English translation likewise from A. M. Harmon, slightly modified and formatted):

Επει δε ηδη πολλοι των νουν εχοντων ωσπερ εκ μεθης βαθειας αναφεροντες συνισταντο επ αυτον, και μαλιστα οσοι Επικουρου εταιροι ησαν, και εν ταις πολεσιν επεφωρατο ηρεμα η πασα μαγγανεια και συσκευη του δραματος εκφερει φοβητρον τι επ αυτους, λεγων αθεων εμπεπλησθαι και Χριστιανων τον Ποντον οι περι αυτου τολμωσι τα κακιστα βλασφημειν, ους εκελευε λιθοις ελαυνειν ει γε θελουσιν ιλεω εχειν τον θεον.

When at last many sensible men, recovering as it were from profound intoxication, combined against him, especially all the followers of Epicurus, and when in the cities they began gradually to detect all the trickery and buncombe of the show, he issued a promulgation designed to scare them, saying that Pontus was full of atheists and Christians who had the hardihood to utter the vilest abuse of him; these he bade them drive away with stones if they wanted to have the god gracious.

From Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet 38:

Και προς μεν τα εν τη Ιταλια ταυτα προεμηχανατο, οικοι δε και τα τοιαυτα. τελετην τε γαρ τινα συνισταται και δαδουχιας και ιεροφαντιας τριων εξης αει τελουμενων ημερων. και εν μεν τη πρωτη προρρησις ην ωσπερ Αθηνησι τοιαυτη· Ει τις αθεος η Χριστιανος η Επικουρειος ηκει κατασκοπος των οργιων φευγετω οι δε πιστευοντες τω θεω τελεισθωσαν τυχη τη αγαθη. ειτ ευθυς εν αρχη εξελασις εγιγνετο και ο μεν ηγειτο, λεγων· Εξω Χριστιανους. το δε πληθος απαν επεφθεγγετο· Εξω Επικουρειους. ειτα Λητους εγιγνετο λοχεια, και Απολλωνος γοναι, και Κορωνιδος γαμος, και Ασκληπιος ετικτετο. εν δε τη δευτερα Γλυκωνος επιφανεια και γεννησις του θεου.

He made these preparations to meet the situation in Italy, and also made notable preparations at home. He established a celebration of mysteries, with torchlight ceremonies and priestly offices, which was to be held annually, for three days in succession, in perpetuity. On the first day, as at Athens, there was a proclamation, worded as follows: If any atheist or Christian or Epicurean has come to spy upon the rites, let him be off, and let those who believe in the god perform the mysteries, under the blessing of heaven. Then, at the very outset, there was an expulsion in which he took the lead, saying: Out with the Christians! And the whole multitude chanted in response: Out with the Epicureans! Then there was the child-bed of Leto, the birth of Apollo, his marriage to Coronis, and the birth of Asclepius. On the second day came the manifestation of Glycon, including the birth of the god.