Mara Bar Serapion

Mara Bar-Serapion

Writing in the first century A.D., Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian writer, is believed to be the provider of one of the earliest non-Jewish, non-Christian references to Jesus. His letter, first edited in the nineteenth century by William Cureton, has been dated to sometime after 73 A.D., some 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Writing to encourage his son to pursue wisdom, he uses examples of Socrates, Pythagoras and a "wise King" who was executed by the Jews.

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given

The British Museum preserves the text of this letter which gives early evidence of a historical Jewish King fitting the description of Jesus. However, Bar-Serapion does not explicitly mention Jesus, which leaves some doubt as to the identity of this "wise king".

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