Losing the Faith: Peregrinus

Anxious Bench | 7/8/2019 | Staff
ditranian (Posted by) Level 3
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I posted recently on the subject of apostasy, abandoning the faith, or defecting from it. I offer one unusual case study here, which comes from a period where we have very few sources for Christian history, but which remains little known to non-specialists. (I originally discussed this case some years ago).

Around the 160s, the Greek satirist Lucian posted on the life and times of one Peregrinus (c.90-165), whom he depicted as a rogue and confidence trickster of dubious sanity. It’s a rollicking story, but one with serious implications for reading and teaching Christian history.

Lucian - Account - Peregrinus - Incarnations - Criminal

According to Lucian’s account, Peregrinus went through multiple incarnations: as a criminal on the run, as a Cynic philosopher, and for some years, as a Christian, who was supported by other Christians on the grounds of his supposed faith and record of persecution. He eventually burned himself alive, perhaps in a philosophical gesture to show his contempt for human sensations, and the material world. To put this in chronological context, Peregrinus’s martyrdom/suicide occurred within at most a decade of the far better known martyrdom of Polycarp.

Here is Lucian’s account of Peregrinus’s Christian career:

Lore - Christians - Priests - Scribes - Palestine

It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And—how else could it be?—in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set 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 introduced this new cult into the world.

The specific words used in the original...
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