Socrates and Jesus

The stories of Jesus and Socrates share many common elements. Most overtly:

Prophecy: Jesus is the Christ, prophesied to do great things. Socrates is… well, according to Apollo, no one is wiser than Socrates!

Poverty: Both Socrates and Jesus live frugal lives.

Teaching: Both Socrates and Jesus taught the public their radical beliefs, much to the frustration of religious authorities, gaining a following and several especially close `disciples.’ During this period they find themselves in conflict with religious authorities, frequently making fools of them.

Death: Both Socrates and Jesus were killed, prosecuted by religious authorities for religious reasons but executed by the state. In both cases the public had a chance to save them. Both had a a chance to avoid death and chose not to. Both have gruesome deaths (with drugged wine involved). In both cases, their executions would be looked back at as horrible crimes.

Legacy: Both of their beliefs spread throughout the world, having a tremendous impact on history.

As you can see, they’re eerily similar.¬† Not only that, but a lot of Christian philosophy comes from Socrates and the Stoic tradition (which deeply revered Socrates). In fact, the early Church declared Socrates a pre-Christian saint!

One might suspect that Christianity borrowed some of its content. If you (living in the Roman Empire) want to convince your friends that this Jesus figure was executed unjustly, it would be very tempting to make him as similar as possible to Socrates…

By the time of Christ, Greek philosophy had spread around the ancient world. Most people would have a passing knowledge of it, and anyone educated would have studied them. Paul confirms his knowledge when he quotes a Stoic philosopher when debating with them  in Acts 17. This makes it seem quite likely that the similarities between his teachings and those of the stoics are not coincidental.

Before writing this, I came across a story `Socrates Meets Jesus.’ It was very disappointing in that such an interesting premise was used as an opportunity to bash Christianity and present Jesus as an idiot, rather than explore the commonalities and differences…. I think most of us can agree that Jesus must have had the capacity to at least debate decently.

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