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.”
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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.
If you were to write something that offends Jews on a Jewish holy day you would be called anti-semetic. If you were to write something that offends Muslims on one of their holy days you would be dead or at the very least threatened. Christianity, however, is and always has been fair game. Go ahead take your pot shots. You've been taking them since the time of Christ, and we, like he, have perservered......He has risen!
He has risen indeed !!
So it's okay for a Christian to call someone that doesn't accept their beliefs a "kook", but not okay for non-believers to speak their mind?
Very well written.
"I am the resurrection and the life." John: 11:25
It is important to understand that believing in Jesus has more to do with the epiphany people go through once they realize that God sent his son to help us understand how to live our lives so we can be happy. Once the Holy Spirit which is alive inside all of us recognizes our spirit has changed, then people experience many miraculous changes in their personal lives. While the Bible is the greatest book ever written, Most importantly is our personal affirmation to accept Jesus Chris as our Lord and Savior. It's a simple thing to do, just as Jesus Christ to come into your life and it is then the Bible will make better sense. So in summary, it is a feeling, an understanding that Jesus is real that will put to rest any details in the Bible we may not understand which isn't that important since scripture is taken out of context all of the time anyway.
Rebecca – no offense, seriously, no offense, but this epiphany you speak about sounds very much like processes people with certain psychological conditions experience. Often times, people with psychological problems experience epiphany-like symptoms. This has been seen in people with social anxiety, anti-social personality disorder, psychosis, even depression, and many more.
Of course Jesus is a myth. It's just so obvious. The whole bible is just ancient mythology, written thousands of years ago by members of a primitive culture. All primitive cultures had their own mythology, creation myths, afterlife myths etc. etc. It was primitive man's attempts at explaining existence and giving comfort to people in the face of their mortality.
Jesus was a martyr and because of the nature of his teachings and the manner of his death, his life was blown all out of proportion as often happens with martyrs. Characteristics were borrowed/stolen from earlier myths and incorporated into the bible as well. Any intelligent person who uses logic, reason and objectivity can see that it's just so utterly obvious that it's nothing but ancient mythology. This is the 21st century, not the 12th. Science and logic should guide our lives, not ancient mythology.
But.but.but, my mom wouldnt have lied to me. And it beleiving in zombies makes me feel good inside. And so does beleiving that 80% of all people are going to burn in hell forever.
...spoken as someone who obviously doesn't have a clue.
Hopefully you will someday.
Ad hominem attacks by experts defending their turf agains "internet kooks" are sort of pathetic. This article puts such words in the mouth of Bart Ehrman, but I'm not sure those words are true either. So maybe in disbelieving this CNN article, I am a "kook".
Just on the face of it, Ehrman is mistaken to accept every myth that comes down the pike in its original form. There are definitely questions about all the things he discusses as stories which we have in their complete form from authority. At one time, it was probably accepted by the majority of Christians that the Gospels were written by people who knew Jesus. Now we understand that they were created decades after his death. The Epistles were older and were directed to the earliest congregations of believers. If the Gospels are how most of us know Jesus, then most of us know something which is subject to the same questions any second-hand account by non-eye-witnesses ever has. The Osiris-Dionysius cult is something modern people were discussing long before the internet. It just happens to be one of the many religions flourishing in ancient Rome (among legionnaires who brought it to other parts of Europe).
Prayer changes things .
Coming from you, who clearly don't appear healthy. Posting the same thing over and over and over is clearly a sign of mental instability.
christianity,lead by thieves from vatican,is the biggest swindle in history.
To clarify prayer changes otherwise intelligent and rational people into believing they can talk to an imaginary super friend.
Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things
Or the sign of an unchanging Truth. God bless
@just saying: Or signs of a naive and very gullible mind that believe bronze age fairy tales to be true.
`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!".
Jesus was historical. It is proved by science of history! Science of history proves Christ's historicity.
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.
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!
Jesus and all religions for that matter are learned behaviors, just as racism is a learned behavior. It can be unlearned. Have a back bone and some forward thinking and you won't need the crutch that is religion.
No, science has not proven Jeebus existed.
of course you wont see cnn call into question islam, don't want to upset your fans
80% "christians", 3% "muslims" in the US...
Soooooooo those who don't believe a man died and then 3 days later "came to life" then went to heaven are the "kooks"? And the one's who believe the story are NOT the kooks? I would certainly consider this an attack on atheism, to call those who don't believe "kooks".
Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things
Well thereho deny he existed kooks, noit those who deny he was a magic are two things here. Ehrman is calling those who deny he existed kooks, not those who deny he had magic powers or survived his own death to float up to heaven like a child's balloon
Colin – that's no better. To deny his existence at all (which, lets admit has never been scientifically proven), still doesn't make one a "kook" for having a doubt that a man existed over 2,000 years ago. If you were to be rational about this, you'd realize that those who are CERTAIN beyond any reasonable doubt that he existed display a greater sign of being "kooks" than those who aren't quite sure a man lived 2,000 years ago.
Really? on Easter Sunday? Let's call into question the religion of millions of Christians on the most important day of observance.
No secular liberal BS here. "unbiased journalism".... there is the myth.
Yea, if you look and read the article, you'd actually see that it is the pro Jeebus crowd actually throwing insults at those who don't believe in fairy tales.
your myths dont deserve special rights
Ten million prayers + a nickel = $0.05
assuming time is money, not even the nickel shall remain
You cannot buy salvation. God bless
I drop a comment weenhver I especially enjoy a article on a site or I have something to contribute to the discussion. Usually it is caused by the fire displayed in the post I looked at. And after this article Most important people in history | SHANE TALK.. I was excited enough to drop a thought I do have 2 questions for you if you don't mind. Could it be just me or do some of these comments look like they are left by brain dead visitors? And, if you are posting on additional social sites, I'd like to follow you. Would you make a list every one of all your shared sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?
@mswinston- His teachings of love, tolerance, and compassion? The guy condemned a fig tree? Hello, a fig tree. Was it the epitome of E V I L? No. Examples of PI**ing matches abound in that book, all through it. God and Satan in a PI**ing match using Job...HEY, I'll kill his entire family, THEN WE'LL see which one he loves more. There is no way you can say one thing, behave another, and then expect blind obedience- all the while being a P E R F E C T, all knowing being! NO WAY! And in the old testement, killing another innocent creature, a lamb- to appease something you did wrong? Sorry little lamb, God wants blood? I don't think so. It's quite disgusting.
Absolutely correct Bill. Noone can ever tell me why an all powerful deity would require a shed blood sacrifice to "atone" for misbehavior. They will give you the history of the "scape goat" and the history of passover etc, but no decent explanation why their god's requirements of blood sacrifice sounds exactly like ancient pagan religious activities. That one question is the main issue that started me down the road of athiesm.
Blessed was I on the day I was born, and blessed I shall be on the day of my death and on the day I shall be raised to life.
Such was Jesus son of Mary. That is the whole truth, which they still doubt.
Read the quraan and you shall learn:
Jesus was blessed on the day he was born. and I "SHALL" be blessed on the day of my death. We all die and are risen again on Judgement day correct? So why will Jesus (pbuh) not be risen up again also? This verse refers to the day he shall die it does not say on the day he died, its not pas-tense, for being risen also says "SHALL" not was, shall meaning future. We are all born, we all die and we will all be risen again. Jesus (pbuh) being a man is no different
When will we see an article questioning the validity of Mohammed? Or is it only ok to question christianity? We'll see if this is posted.
of course this is the article CNN writes on easter sunday
I don't know if the man was a true historical figure, but I do know that, if he was, he was just a man.
Another predicable anti-Christian story from CNN on a Christian holiday. Every Christmas and Easter I log on just to see if they keep the streak alive.
You only have to start reading the second paragraph to see that this is nothing more than a lightweight article designed to attack the tenants of Christianity on its holiest day. Did the author even question the fact that a third-century amulet, dated hundreds of years AFTER Jesus' earthly ministry, could simply have copied its theme FROM Christianity?
Where are all of the critical stories of Mohammed during Ramadan, CNN? Not cool to question them, huh? How about treating Christians with some respect for once?
Leave the Christians alone for once? Yeah because Christians left so many good people alone during the Inquisition. Christianity is a religion of hate, violence, and fear created by man to control a populace and make as much profit as possible. Christian hate and bigotry is apparent all through out history and even today. Christians are not and never have been the victims just the instigators.
Why is it that people don't want to believe in Jesus? I mean, look at his promises: eternal life, peace, joy, reconciliation. Even if you had difficulty with some of the claims, why would you not be looking for a way to believe this instead of a way not to believe?
My observation is that belief is an act of the will. So we are responsible for what we choose to believe. Better make it the right choice, friends.
So, what if Zeus REALLY is the one true god (out of the many hundreds in which people have believed and do believe) and you chose Jesus instead. Then YOU made the wrong choice, didn't you?
To say a random jew named jesus who slogged around the middle east pulling a donkey and living in a stone hut was the creator of the universe and everything in it is the absolute height of ignorance. "IF" there is and thats an almost impossible "if", single creator, he, she or it, would be beyond anything a human mind could crasp or comprehend. Best to stick with science, and forget about myths, fables and stories.
That's the whole point of Jesus: to be an ordinary man so that God's love of mankind could be shown. Whether you believe or not, I understand that it is generally accepted that Jesus's life and suffering were to show that even such common clay could have a spark of the divine and so do we all.
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Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
St. Peter, the first Pope, was actually a rabbit. South Park said so. ;)
"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" of course, he is so omnipotent that he has to kill people to prove it. Not only that, he creates humans in sin and expects you to redeem yourself. Additionally, he presents no proof for his existence. How convenient..... No thanks, keep your celestial dictator to yourself.
I think Jesus was just another dude nailed to a cross like so many thousands before him-son of God,well...?
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.