The British Museum owns the manuscript of a letter written sometime between the late first and third centuries AD. Its author was a Syrian named Mara Bar-Serapion, who was writing from prison to motivate his son Serapion to emulate wise teachers of the past:^52 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 statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.^53
From this passage we learn (1)that Jesus was considered to be a wise and virtuous man. (2)He is addressed twice as the Jews’ King, possibly a reference to Jesus’ own teachings about himself, to that of his followers or even to the wording on the titulusplaced over Jesus’ head on the cross. (3)Jesus was executed unjustly by the Jews, who paid for their misdeeds by suffering judgment soon afterward, probably at least as reference to the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman armies. (4)Jesus lived on in the teachings of the early Christians, which is an indication that Mara Bar-Serapion was almost certainly not a Christian. Rather, he follows Lucian and others in the popular comparison of Jesus to philosophers and other wise men in the ancient world.