Did Jesus exist? While a robust case can be made by appealing to the NT documents (see Evidence Unseen “Part Four,” 2013), we have chosen instead to appeal to hostile non-Christian sources. In earlier articles in this series, we have considered the works of Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Josephus. In this edition, we will consider the works of Lucian and Thallus.
Lucian (Greek satirist)
Lucian of Samosata was a second century Greek satirist (AD 115-200), who was highly critical of Christianity. He wrote The Death of Peregrinus around AD 165. Peregrinus was a (pseudo?) Christian convert who returned to Cynicism and politics, committing suicide on a pyre near the Olympic Games in AD 165. When the authorities placed Peregrinus in jail, the Christians visited him and brought him food. Lucian thinks they were duped by Peregrinus. Van Voorst writes, “Lucian’s point is to warn readers against the kind of life led by Peregrinus, whose emotionality and theatricality were opposed to the reasonable moderation that Lucian advocated.”
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.
Was this a forgery? Lucian was no friend of Christians, calling them “misguided creatures.” Moreover, Lucian’s language is dissimilar to NT language. Van Voorst writes, “The use of the non-New Testament words ‘patron,’ ‘lawgiver,’ and especially his characteristic word for ‘crucified’ also argues tellingly against a New Testament source. So there is no literary or oral connection between Lucian and the New Testament and other early Christian literature in regard to the person of Jesus.”
What can we learn from Lucian? (1) Christians worshiped Jesus after his death. (2) Jesus died by crucifixion. Van Voorst writes, “Lucian’s verb originally meant ‘to impale, fix on a stake,’ but unquestionably refers here to crucifixion. He uses this verb exclusively for crucifixion; it also occurs in his Prometheus 2, 7, and 10, and in Iudiceum vocalium 12.” (3) Christians believed that they had received eternal life, giving them courage over death. (4) They sacrificially served others and visited prisoners (Mt. 25:35; Heb. 13:3; Acts 2:44-45). (5) Christians believed that they were spiritual brothers with one another (Mt. 23:8). (6) Christians denied polytheism and paganism.
Thallus (Mediterranean historian)
Thallus (a Mediterranean historian) wrote sometime in the first century. His writing does not exist, but Julius Africanus (a Christian historian) quoted Thallus in AD 221. Evans writes that “the value of this fragment is slight,” but it shows that someone in the first century knew about the darkness and was trying to refute it.
JULIUS COMMENTING ON AND QUOTING THALLUS: “On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”
Why should we view this as authentic? Julius Africanus doesn’t seem like he is inventing this excerpt from Thallus, but instead he is arguing with Thallus’ claim that an eclipse could’ve caused the darkness. He is arguing that “at full moon a solar eclipse is impossible, and the Passover always falls at full moon.”
Tertullian claimed that this darkness was a “cosmic” or “world event,” which he boasted was known by the Romans. Africanus recorded Phlegon of Tralles (a Greek author from Caria), regarding the “world darkness” in AD 137. Phlegon wrote that in the 202nd Olympiad (AD 33) there was “the greatest eclipse of the sun” and “it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.”
This passage shows that the message of Christ had reached the Mediterranean by AD 50. Van Voorst places Thallus in the 207th Olympiad (AD 49-52), and states that “most scholars” date him to this time: around AD 50.
 Van Voorst, Robert. Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2000. 58-59.
 Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13.
 Van Voorst, Robert. Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2000. 64.
 Van Voorst, Robert. Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2000. 63.
 Evans, Craig. The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Volume 4. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. 2004. 381.
 Julius Africanus, History of the World.
 Van Voorst, Robert. Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2000. 20.
 Tertullian writes to the Roman governors, “You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives.” Tertullian Apologeticus Chapter 21:19. These were lost, but this passage shows that they were known to the Romans at the time.
 Maier, Paul L. Pontius Pilate,. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968. Footnote. Cited in Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: a Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. 85.
 Van Voorst, Robert. Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2000. 22.