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The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth
Does Easter celebrate a man, a savior, or a myth? Some say Jesus never existed and was a myth created by early Christians.
April 7th, 2012
08:32 PM ET

The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN)– Timothy Freke was flipping through an old academic book when he came across a religious image that some would call obscene.

It was a drawing of a third-century amulet depicting a naked man nailed to a cross. The man was born of a virgin, preached about being “born again” and had risen from the dead after crucifixion, Freke says.

But the name on the amulet wasn’t Jesus. It was a pseudonym for Osiris-Dionysus, a pagan god in ancient Mediterranean culture.  Freke says the amulet was evidence of something that sounds like sacrilege – and some would say it is: that Jesus never existed. He was a myth created by first-century Jews who modeled him after other dying and resurrected pagan gods, says Freke, author of  "The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?"

“If I said to you that there was no real Good Samaritan, I don’t think anyone would be outraged,” says Freke, one of a group of mythicists who say Jesus never existed. “It’s a teaching story. What we’re saying is that the Jesus story is an allegory. It’s a parable of the spiritual journey.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

On Easter Sunday, millions of Christians worldwide mark the resurrection of Jesus. Though Christians clash over many issues, almost all agree that he existed.

But there is another view of Jesus that’s been emerging, one that strikes at the heart of the Easter story. A number of authors and scholars say Jesus never existed. Such assertions could have been ignored in an earlier age.  But in the age of the Internet and self-publishing, these arguments have gained enough traction that some of the world’s leading New Testament scholars feel compelled to publicly take them on.

Most Jesus deniers are Internet kooks, says Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who recently released a book devoted to the question called “Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.”

Your comments on Jesus deniers

He says Freke and others who deny Jesus’ existence are conspiracy theorists trying to sell books.

“There are people out there who don’t think the Holocaust happened, there wasn’t a lone JFK assassin and Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.,” Ehrman says. “Among them are people who don’t think Jesus existed.”

Does it matter if Jesus existed?

Some Jesus mythicists say many New Testament scholars are intellectual snobs.

“I don’t think I’m some Internet kook or Holocaust denier,” says Robert Price, a former Baptist pastor who argues in “Deconstructing Jesus” that a historical Jesus probably didn’t exist.

“They say I’m a bitter ex-fundamentalist. It’s pathetic to see this character assassination. That’s what people resort to when they don’t have solid arguments.”

 The debate over Jesus’ existence has led to a curious role reversal. Two of the New Testament scholars who are leading the way arguing for Jesus’ existence have a reputation for attacking, not defending, traditional Christianity.

Ehrman, for example, is an agnostic who has written books that argue that virtually half  of the New Testament is forged. Another defender of Jesus’ existence is John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar who has been called a heretic because his books challenge some traditional Christian teachings.

But as to the existence of Jesus, Crossan says, he’s “certain.”

He says some Jesus deniers may be people who have a problem with Christianity.

“It’s a way of responding to something you don’t like,” Crossan says. “We can’t say that Obama doesn’t exist, but we can say that he’s not an American.  If we’re talking about Obama in the future, there are people who might not only say he wasn’t American, but he didn’t even exist.”

Does it even matter if Jesus existed? Can’t people derive inspiration from his teachings whether he actually walked the Earth?

Crossan says Jesus’ existence matters in the same way that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s existence mattered.

If King never existed, people would say his ideas are lovely, but they could never work in the real world, Crossan says.

It’s the same with an historical Jesus, Crossan writes in his latest book, “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus.”

“The power of Jesus’ historical life challenges his followers by proving at least one human being could cooperate fully with God. And if one, why not others? If some, why not all?”

The evidence against Jesus’ existence

Those who argue against Jesus’ existence make some of these points:

-The uncanny parallels between pagan stories in the ancient world and the stories of Jesus.

-No credible sources outside the Bible say Jesus existed.

-The Apostle Paul never referred to a historical Jesus.

Price, author of “Deconstructing Jesus,” says the first-century Western world was full of stories of a martyred hero who is called a son of God.

“There are ancient novels from that period where the hero is condemned to the cross and even crucified, but he escapes and survives it,” Price says. “That looks like Jesus.”

Those who argue for the existence of Jesus often cite two external biblical sources: the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote about Jesus at the end of the first century and the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about Jesus at the start of the second century.

But some scholars say Josephus’ passage was tampered with by later Christian authors. And Price says the two historians are not credible on Jesus.

“Josephus and Tacitus – they both thought Hercules was a true figure,” Price says. “Both of them spoke of Hercules as a figure that existed.”

Price concedes that there were plenty of mythical stories that were draped around historical figures like Caesar. But there’s plenty of secular documentation to show Caesar existed.

“Everything we read about Jesus in the gospels conforms to the mythic hero,” Price says. “There’s nothing left over that indicates that he was a real historical figure.”

Those who argue for the existence of Jesus cite another source: the testimony of the Apostle Paul and Jesus’ early disciples. Paul even writes in one New Testament passage about meeting James, the brother of Jesus.

These early disciples not only believed Jesus was real but were willing to die for him. People don’t die for myths, some biblical scholars say.

They will if the experience is powerful enough, says Richard Carrier, author of “Proving History.”

Carrier says it’s probable that Jesus never really existed and that early Christians experienced a mythic Jesus who came to them through visions and revelations.

Two of the most famous stories in the New Testament – the conversion of Paul and the stoning death of Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs - show that people seized by religious visions are willing to die, Carrier says.

In both the Paul and Stephen stories, the writers say that they didn’t see an actual Jesus but a heavenly vision of Jesus, Carrier says.

People “can have powerful religious experiences that don’t correspond to reality,” Carrier says.

“The perfect model is Paul himself,” Carrier says. “He never met Jesus. Paul only had an encounter with this heavenly Jesus. Paul is completely converted by this religious experience, but no historical Jesus is needed for that to happen.”

As for the passage where Paul says he met James, Jesus’ brother, Carrier says:

“The problem with that is that all baptized Christians were considered brothers of the Lord.”

The evidence for Jesus’ existence

Some scholars who argue for the existence of Jesus says the New Testament mentions actual people and events that are substantiated by historical documents and archaeological discoveries.

Ehrman, author of “Did Jesus Exist?” scoffed at the notion that the ancient world was full of pagan stories about dying deities that rose again.  Where’s the proof? he asks.

Ehrman devoted an entire section of his book to critiquing Freke, the mythicist and author of “The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?” who says there was an ancient Osiris-Dionysus figure who shares uncanny parallels to Jesus.

He says Freke can’t offer any proof that an ancient Osiris figure was born on December 25, was crucified and rose again. He says Freke is citing 20th- and 19th-century writers who tossed out the same theories.

Ehrman says that when you read ancient stories about mythological figures like Hercules and Osiris, “there’s nothing about them dying and rising again.”

“He doesn’t know much about ancient history,” Ehrman says of Freke. “He’s not a scholar. All he knows is what he’s read in other conspiracy books.”

Craig A. Evans, the author of “Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence,” says the notion that Paul gave his life for a mythical Jesus is absurd.

He says the New Testament clearly shows that Paul was an early enemy of the Christian church who sought to stamp out the burgeoning Jesus movement.

“Don’t you think if you were in Paul’s shoes, you would have quickly discovered that there was no Jesus?” Evans asks.  “If there was no Jesus, then how did the movement start?”

Evans also dismissed the notion that early Christians blended or adopted pagan myths to create their own mythical Jesus. He says the first Christians were Jews who despised everything about pagan culture.

“For a lot of Jewish people, the pagan world was disgusting,” Evans says. “I can’t imagine [the Gospel writer] Matthew making up a story where he is drawing parallels between Jesus’ birth and pagan stories about Zeus having sex with some fair maiden.”

The words of Jesus also offer proof that he actually existed, Evans says.  A vivid personality practically bursts from the pages of the New Testament: He speaks in riddles, talks about camels squeezing through the eye of a needle, weeps openly and even loses his temper.

Evans says he is a man who is undeniably Jewish, a genius who understands his culture but also transcends his tradition with gem-like parables.

“Who but Jesus could tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan?” Evans says. “Where does this bolt of lightning come from? You don’t get this out of an Egyptian myth.”

Those who argue against the existence of Jesus say they aren’t trying to destroy people’s faith.

“I don’t have any desire to upset people,” says Freke. “I do have a passion for the truth. … I don’t think rational people in the 20th century can go down a road just on blind faith.”

Yet Easter was never just about rationale.

The Easter stories about the resurrection are strange: Disciples don’t recognize Jesus as they meet him on the road; he tells someone not to touch him; he  eats fish in another.

In the Gospel of Matthew, a resurrected Jesus suddenly appears to a group of disciples and gives them this cryptic message:

“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

And what did they see: a person, a pagan myth or a savior?

Albert Schweitzer, a 20th-century theologian and missionary, suggested that there will never be one answer to that question.  He said that looking for Jesus in history is like looking down a well: You see only your own reflection.

The “real” Jesus, Schweitzer says, will remain “a stranger and an enigma,” someone who is always ahead of us.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Art • Belief • Books • Church • Culture wars • Easter • Easter • Faith • History • Jesus • Uncategorized • Virgin Mary

soundoff (8,773 Responses)
  1. Chrism

    One more point – look at the people today persecuted in Asia and in the Middle East for their beliefs, for carrying a Bible or for simply gathering in His name, and yet despite the threat of death, still gather together. No one does that for a myth – sorry.
    I have no problem with people challenging things because it just makes my faith stronger – but I agree that the website would probably be shut down if someone questioned Islam or another faith.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • bernie

      Sure people do stupid crap for myths... like flying a plane into a building yelling god is great

      April 10, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • momoya

      Chrism, people are persecuted for their faith based on what the dominant culture believes about that faith.. Muslims have been "persecuted" in America as recently as last week.. Christians get persecuted when they live in a land that makes christianity illegal or considers it to be deception against the truth of Islam or whatever religion they most use..

      People die for their myth-beliefs all the time.. If dying for a religion made it true, there's thousands of true religions.. Do you have any idea how many Muslims have died for their religion???

      April 10, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • mandarax

      "despite the threat of death, still gather together. No one does that for a myth – sorry."

      Boy, do you need to read up on some world history. Countless throngs of people do that for myths.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • bernie

      You ever hear of Jonestown? Drinking the cool aide?

      April 10, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • momoya

      I think Chrism may have just used this thread as a convenient port-a-potty on his way to other parts.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Cq

      Chrism
      You just have to visualize how many pagans and heretics the Christians put to death because of their beliefs to realize how ridiculous that argument is.

      April 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  2. Chrism

    "hilreal

    I find it interesting that the Jews, who are arguably the most intelligent race of humans to have lived, were "eyewitnesses" to Jesus and don't believe it. Nothing beats a first hand account.

    "

    In response to this – this is not true. ALL of Christ's earliest companions and followers were other Jewish people. The earliest Christians were Jews, then word spread to the gentiles.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • momoya

      Chrism, please prove that one race (the jews) are "arguably the most intelligent race of humans to have ever lived.".

      But first, let me help you out a little:

      1. There are no "races" of people.. It's an antiquated idea in today's world of genetic discovery.
      2. If the Jews ARE more intelligent, why didn't more of them convert to christianity by now?
      3. There are very intelligent people in every religion; however, intelligence seems to correlate with atheism and agnosticism.

      Read that #3 again.. You see how I said, "seems to correlate," instead of "proves" or "demonstrates" or something like that?. That's called intellectual honesty.. You should look into it.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  3. Ezra

    You can read any Novel and read about real places and people and it is still a work of fiction with fictional characters. The Romans were meticulous record-keepers – there are extant records of the price of bread etc. No records exist of Jesus being crucified. None of the people who wrote about him had ever met him.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Cq

      Yes, there's even a novel about Lincoln being a vampire hunter. By the logic that whatever was written down must be true vampires are real.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • BigOIl

      There is no doubt Jesus was a myth. The Romans were a very reasonable people who interacted and traded with many cultures and religions including pagan Europe, ancient Persia (Zoroastrian) and India (Hinduism). There are no records of religious tensions with these groups. The bible as stated today was written 300 years after Jesus alleged death using rumors and stories passed down over generations. The probability of it being accurate is very low.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • J.W

      So are the records in a museum somewhere? Is the record just a list of names or what is it?

      April 10, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  4. Steve

    "Ehrman says that when you read ancient stories about mythological figures like Hercules and Osiris, “there’s nothing about them dying and rising again.”

    I'm sorry, but that is EXACTLY what the myth of Osiris is. He is killed and dismembered by his brother Set and the parts scattered throughout Egypt. Isis then gathers the pieces, reassembles then and sings over them bringing him back to life. Osiris then becomes the Lord of the Underworld and of the Afterlife... Sound familiar?

    April 10, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • BigOIl

      You are right, it's not a coincidence. Even more interesting is the influence of Zoroastrian from Persia and even earlier from Hinduism in India (Read the story of Krishna).

      April 10, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • BigOIl

      I also suggest you read about "matsya avatar" which is the first avatar of Vishnu and compare it's story to the one about Noah's Ark.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  5. Nii

    I find it laughable when people try to discredit Josephus n Tacitus for accepting myths. At the time Josephus was a Pharisee. James the Just, Jesus' brother was also a Pharisee. Even if they didn't know each other persomally he could easily have known it from his peers.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Cq

      Why did they write about Hercules, a figure almost universally accepted as being purely mythical now, as if he were a real historical figure? Besides, these guys wrote about Christians, only mentioning that these people worshipped a figure called "Christos" or whatever. That isn't any confirmation that Jesus was an actual person, let alone a demigod.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Steve

      The way I learned it, James was thrown off of a building and stoned to death by the Pharisees and the Scribes from not telling early Christians that Jesus was not the Messiah. It can be reasonably assumed that after Jesus' death circa 33 AD, James would not have been a Pharisee (if he had been at all) since he was by all accounts running the early Christian Church. Josephus was not born until 37AD and did not become a Pharisee until 56AD. I find it difficult to simply accept without question that they knew each other or any of eachothers compatriots. That is a pretty big leap.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  6. Nii

    Simple Simon
    Who do u think I was trying 2 impress? If u spend time impressing people rather than saying what u think u'll end up a hypocrite. I understand what these atheists are talking about cos seminaries teach it to strengthen the faith of ministers. Some even lose their faith in de process.

    April 10, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  7. Hart

    Jesus is a living and loving God and lucky are those who have accepted him as their saviour and know him.
    Jesus enlightens, and provides peace of mind, heart and soul.
    God Bless

    April 10, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • bernie

      How? It's just samantics what you just said.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Al

      Others would say that the Buddha enlightens, and provides peace of mind, heart and soul. Still others would say that of yoga, Dr. Phil, or FaceBook. The self-help isles are full of similar stuff, much of it without superst.ition or judgmental att.itudes.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Samantha

      I love your enthusiam:) and as a fellow follower of Jesus, i love what you said:)
      God Bless:)

      April 10, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Hart

      As humans we are always searching for the truth, for peace, for love ....etc. But as a follower of Christ I feel I have found just that. I can only humbly share my view and experience without judging or condeming others.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:53 am |
  8. simple simon

    Jesus Christ has certainly lived on this Earth for the past 2,000 years.

    April 10, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • bernie

      Where?

      April 10, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Reality or fantasy

      Where was he during the crusades, holocaust, 911, etc? Why isn’t he doing anything about the 25,000 children who will die of starvation today? He must be imaginary or impotent.

      April 10, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Hart

      Without doubt.

      April 11, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  9. BASEDGOD

    I THINK USA IS TRYING TO BRAINWASH THE AMERICAN PEOPLE BY GIVING US FALSE RELGION INFORMATION. THE WORD USA ITSELF IMPLYS LUCIFER MOVEMENT THE NEW WORLD ODER INVOLES IN ONE RELIGON AND ONE RELIGON ONLY DON'T GET BRAINWASHED BE WARN THIS IS A MEIDA ATTENTION POLICAL IS ALL CORRUPT WAKE UP GUYS!!!!!!!!

    April 10, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • simple simon

      After reading what you wrote, I need to get my brain washed!

      April 10, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • kamanakapu

      Where did you learn to write? Really poor, boy, really poor.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  10. Benjamin Griffith

    http://ebookbrowse.com/pagan-origins-of-the-christ-myth-pdf-d44219323

    April 10, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  11. hilreal

    As I was sitting in church with my wife on Sunday admiring the babes all decked out in their Easter best, the preaher kept going on and on about the ONLY way to get into heaven was to believe to become a Chrisitan and believe his Jesus story. My first thought evertime I hear that is, well then that means Hitler is in heaven (a very devout Chrisitian) and Ghandi is in Hell. I find it hard to rationally support that notion.......

    April 10, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • Mike

      Hitler a devout Christian? Really? He oversaw the mass (MASS) genocide of millions! Proclaiming oneself to be a Christian does not a Christian make. Deeds, not words, make one a Christian. Hitler was NOT a Christian!

      April 10, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • reason

      The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from iron age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.

      Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you live your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • simple simon

      Hitler wasn't Christian. He was only using religion to manipulate public opinion. Don't be a twit.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • Luke Skywalker

      Hey simple simon, welcome to, uh.....RELIGION!!! I hate to break it to you, but this is how all "non-believers" view religion.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Th30be

      Wow, a christian that thinks logically. That is refreshing. Christians just say forgive me god, and boom in heaven.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Cq

      simple simon
      But how many self-labeled "Christians" are only using religion to manipulate public opinion here? Many suspect that our politics are simply teeming with opportunists playing for the Christian vote and, let's not forget, Hitler was first elected democratically by the good German people, the Christian ones we assume and not the Jewish.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Al

      @Mike
      I think you have to read your Billy Graham again because doesn't he teach that Justification by Faith alone is all it takes to be a Christian, and that a person's deeds are not the measure of that?

      April 10, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ Mike – considering your god's track record at committing genocide, why wouldn't he get off watching Hitler, and then taking him home to heaven?

      April 10, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • momoya

      So Hitler wasn't a christian because he committed violent atrocities and killed and tortured people??

      Okay, fine, then.. Your GOD can't possibly be god because he commits violent atrocities and kills indiscriminately (that means lil, tiny, cute babies and other innocents), and your god tortures people forever in a pit of fire that he built and maintains..

      Pretty cool how that works, eh?. You disqualify a person from being christian if they commit actions of which you don't approve.. I'll grant you that option, as long as you grant me the same exercise.. If you can declare a person "unchristian" for behavior, then I can declare your god "ungod" for behavior, too..

      Good game! I like it!

      April 10, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • BigOIl

      You are right that Hitler was a devout Christian. Infact his book Mein Kamf and ideas are borrowed heavily from another devout Christian, Martin Luther, who stated in his book "On the Jews and their lies" that the Jews were "brood of Vipers".
      Martin Luther is widely seen as a great Christian leader today.
      Infact Jews were reguarly seen as the "Murderers of Christ" and that they use "Christian children's blood for their passover bread". Such ideas were deeply accepted.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Hart

      Jesus came to show and teach people to care, to show love, understanding, kindness, to be noble, selfless, non-judgemental and accepting of others and their environment. Calling oneself a Christian means trying to follow his teachings even though being human we will make mistakes. Being a Christian does not mean being perfect or the best or the only worthy of God’s love. It means being humble and non assuming no matter what position or achievements one has in life.
      Jesus is a forgiving and loving God he knows our true weaknesses & with his spiritual guidance people will achieve true inner peace.
      However unfortunately there are people who use Jesus’ and God’s name in vain for their own gain. People who might call themselves Christians but do not know the meaning of being a Christian.
      Jesus existed and exists, there is so much that people cannot comprehend but need to have faith. "We walk by faith, not by sight." (I Corinthians 5:7)

      April 11, 2012 at 2:31 am |
  12. Rainer Braendlein

    Jesus was a real man!

    There are accounts of Jesus and Christianity outside the Bible and the Christian Church. Scientifically seen, accounts of Jesus and the faith from outside the Bible and the Church are more valueable, because Christian writers could always be tempted to invent stories about Jesus and the apostles, in order to promote the Christian faith.

    The text bellow is a conversation between two enemies of Christ and his Church. They had no reason at all to invent stories, which could promote the faith. Hence, the text below is extremly valueable, because enemies (Trajan and Pliny) of Christ tell of the Christian Church. The text below is a clear proof for the historicity of Christianity. Regard how close to Jesus' and the apostles lifetime the text emerged.

    Once, an officer, Pliny the Younger (reign 111-113 AD), of the Roman Empire had a conversation with his emperor Trajan (reign 98-117 AD):

    "It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

    Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

    Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous docu-ment was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

    They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive supersti-tion.

    I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both se-xes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this supersti-tion has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multi-tude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

    Emperor Trajan to Pliny

    You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspi-cion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age."

    This passage is a clear evidence for historicity of Christianity. Consider it is from the beginning of the second century. Hence, Christianity could not be invented by any impostor later, but it was oviously a real thing.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • Cq

      Again, nobody is questioning that Christians were around at that time; what's up for debate is the historical Jesus. It is interesting, however, that Trajan was willing to forgive people from the disloyalty of being a Christian but, when Christians came to power, they brutally put down pagans and even fellow Christians of a different stripe, ones who had differences in belief, ones they called heretics. Today it would be like evangelicals killing Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists. Great group were those early Christians.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:29 am |
    • TR6

      I call BS on you. It sounds like a bunch of Christian propaganda trying to bolster the religion’s dubious pedigree. Or did god revile this to you in a holy vision? How about some information on where it came from and a few references would be nice too.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  13. Rainer Braendlein

    Jesus was historical. It is proved by science of history! There are accounts of Jesus from outside the Bible.

    Scientifically seen, the accounts of the Bible of Jesus and the apostles are not as trustworthy as accounts from outside the Bible and the Church. The writers of the Bible were Christians and could have been tempted to invent stories about Jesus and the Church. However, there are accounts of Jesus and the Church from outside the Church, even drafted by enemies of Christ and the Church. Why should an enemy of Christ and the Church invent stories about Christ and the Church, which would promote the faith, which he hates. Hence, the texts below are very trustworthy, because they are drafted by enemies of Christ.

    Firstly, there was a very famous historian of the Roman Empire, which lived in the first century after Christ (AD 56 – AD 117), that means extremly near-term to the events, which had came to pass in Palestine. He, Tacitus, was a pagan, which had no reason at all to promote Christianity and to tell us lies about Jesus. We can be sure that it was historical, what he wrote about Jesus, because he was an enemy of Jesus:

    "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superst-ition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multi-tude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind".

    This passage is a clear evidence for the historicity of Christ Jesus.

    Secondly, there was a famous Jewish historian of the first century, who gives acount of Jesus Christ. Jews have no reason to promote Christianity and thus we can be sure that Flavius Josephus told us the truth about Jesus:

    "And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus... Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned."

    A Jew confirms the historical reality of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. That is very great!

    April 10, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • Cq

      Rainer Braendlein
      Jesus, the man, may very well have been a historical person, but that is as far a cry from his being a god as any of the historical Roman emperors being one, right?

      And again, because you keep repeating this post over and over, nobody is disputing that there were Christians around at the time of Tacitus and Josephus. Christians have always been real, it's their mythic founder Jesus that's up for debate. You also seem to forget that these two mention Hercules, the half-son of Zeus according to myth, as a real historical person as well, so their reports are hardly compelling.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  14. Nii

    Jon
    As a spiritual Christian it wudn't matter a whit if Christ never existed. Fact is he did. That is what we r pointing out to you atheists not to take Christian history sceptics serious. We know what we r studying but take care that u uNderstand the basics first or u will misjudge the info.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • simple simon

      You sure know how to make a poor impression.

      April 10, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Huh?

      No one could possibly take this poorly written crap seriously. Haha...hahahahahhahaa

      April 10, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things. .

    April 10, 2012 at 7:09 am |
    • hilreal

      I find it interesting that the Jews, who are arguably the most intelligent race of humans to have lived, were "eyewitnesses" to Jesus and don't believe it. Nothing beats a first hand account.

      April 10, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • just sayin

      I find it interesting that the first followers of the way that became later known as Christianity were exclusively Jewish, including the first three thousand converts. God bless

      April 10, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Jesus

      `Prayer doesn’t not; you are so full of crap and lies. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs! ~,~

      April 10, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • momoya

      @Just sayin

      Why are you surprised about that?? The christian myth piggybacked nicely on the Jewish tradition/religion, and it arose from within the Jewish culture.. It wasn't until Paul and other figures started reaching out to the Romans and other ethnic groups that it spread outside of the Jews.. Christianity (as we assume it was at that time) couldn't have affected any other group but the Jews since "the messiah" and his works ONLY make sense on the foundation of the Judaism.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  16. reason

    The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from iron age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.

    Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you live your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4or90cmyhk&w=640&h=390]

    April 10, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • mandarax

      Nicely worded, as always.

      April 10, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Dear reason
      There is only one crucial problem with message of this video, one essential thing that's left out....

      The Spirit of God , the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth does NOT bear witness to "allah' and his messenger Mohamed, nor does He bear witness to Krishna, Buddha, Zeus or any other "god" of man's imagination.
      But He bears witness to Yeshua, the Messiah, Jesus Christ His Son, who came down to to live among us and became one of us, so that by His sinless life He would become sacrifice for our sins and reconcile us to God. He arose again, because the Death couldn't hold Him, so that we may LIVE through believing in Him and trusting in Him.

      To HIM The Spirit of Truth testifies, and He is the plum-line, the Standard, the measure of all things. Every man, woman and child has been given a CONSCIENCE, so that they with that God given conscience are able to recognize this truth. BUT, it is according to what is in their hearts, will they recognize It or not.
      That's where God doesn't play man's game!
      That's the missing part, which those who say things as the man in this video says, fail to acknowledge. But God's Spirit, the Spirit of Truth testifies OTHERWISE!

      April 10, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Cq

      PRISM 1234
      And Muslims would argue that Christians are without the influence of Muhammad. Any way you slice it, it's the same.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Cq, there is a post for you on pg.18.

      April 10, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • momoya

      Page 18?!?!? Are you serious? There's conversations happening on pages more than 100 back?

      April 10, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • mandarax

      @momoya: this guy is arguing based on logic that was cutting edge 2000 years ago. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that he's also still arguing 100 pages ago!

      April 10, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Cq

      PRISM 1234
      Which one is for me on page 18?

      April 10, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Cq

      Guys
      Prism actually meant to say page 118. I suppose, anyway, because he did have a post there for me. Mystery solved.

      April 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Thanks, Cq.... It was pg 118!
      To the rest of you.... how quickly you take your stab on someone just for a typo?! Does this make you smarter than you were before you've done it? LOL!

      April 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  17. tcat117

    Its a fairly common practice for new religions to be based off of a patchwork amalgamation of little bits and pieces of previous religions. They are usually born out a dissatisfaction with the societies current dominate religion. Look at Buddhism, it was originally born because people got sick of the corruption of the Hindu priests and combined new ideas with bits of Hinduism. It would not surprise me in the least if Christianity was born in a similar manner. And hey, even if you don't believe in god, that Jesus dude made some decent points, divine virgin baby or not.

    April 10, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • littleblackcar

      They already borrowed all the holidays. You think rabbits and eggs are Christian symbols? Can we say "pagan fertility rites"?

      April 10, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  18. eamon

    Did Jesus the man exist? Possibly. Did Jesus,son of God, AND ,at the same time , God himself(That takes some beating) exist. Pull the other one. What I find really hard to understand is why Christians, who I suppose believe all that they are told by their churches, feel that no less than an ALMIGHTY GOD needs them to defend HIS existence. It is simply laughable. Duplicate? If I have said this already, where is it.In heaven?

    April 10, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  19. eamon

    Did Jesus the man exist? Possibly. Did Jesus,son of God, AND ,at the same time , God himself(That takes some beating) exist. Pull the other one. What I find really hard to understand is why Christians, who I suppose believe all that they are told by their churches, feel that no less than an ALMIGHTY GOD needs them to defend HIS existence. It is simply laughable.

    April 10, 2012 at 6:40 am |
  20. Jon

    I find this interesting, because the article is pretty even handed in presenting both sides of the argument, yet the mere mention of the possibility that Jesus might not have existed, let alone been some kind of cosmic magic man irritates the christians immeasurably. Why does this bother them so? Because at the core, even they know the story is ridiculous. I feel like I need to throw a human physiology textbook at some of these commenters.

    The argument should be "did Jesus exist" it should be, "Do you understand enough about human neurology to grasp why brain death is irreversable" ?

    April 10, 2012 at 6:31 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.