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.
Oh I see brave and provocative CNN is Christian bashing again (BTW I'm agnostic). They don't have the Kahoonahs to question the existence of Mohammed though. If the New Testament has contradictions take the time and try to get through the biggest and most dangerous lie that has been forced upon a billion people: The Koran. If Jesus did or did not exist his message was love and free will. Mohammed on the other hand was simply – submit or die.
you get your info about Islam from who? Submit or die?
The Holy Qur'an
Say: O ye that reject Faith! (1) I worship not that which ye worship, (2) Nor will ye worship that which I worship. (3) And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship, (4) Nor will ye worship that which I worship. (5) To you be your Way, and to me mine. (6)
The Holy Qur'an: Surah Baqarah
Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out clear from Error; whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. (256)
cnn=zionist talmudic joo
I get my information from the "trilogy of death". The Koran, the Hadiths and the Surrahs. It's all in there. I know all about abrogations. Islam is a dangerous death cult as bad or worse than Nazism. Do yourself a favour and become an apostate – or ya you can't – it means death.
The Holy Qur'an: Surah Maeda
And behold! Allah will say "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, `worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah"? He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden. (116) "Never said I to them aught except what Thou didst command me to say: to wit, `Worship Allah, my Lord, and your Lord'; and I was a witness over them whilst I dwelt amongst them; when Thou didst take me upThou wast the Watcher over them and Thou art a Witness to all things. (117)
blah blah blah, that is all this story is about. Everyone is going to "believe" what they want and this story is about generating traffic to an entertainment web site. What better way to get people's attention than to create divisive conversation like the recent killing in Florida.
The bible was written by man and edited by man. Man chose what to leave in and what top leave out.
More people have died in the name of organized religion than for any other reason in history.
Organized religion is a business and the leaders of some are rich beyond my wildest dreams.. Religion is the opiate of the masses.
What a scam.
And that's YOUR opinion; thanks for sharing.
Christine: It's not just an opinion...it is fact. Just because you have failed to research the history of your buybull does not mean everyone has. Your gullibility is what makes you fall for the book...nothing more. As Tom stated, it is written by man for man...no evidence that it was god inspired and no evidence that god exists.
However, Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationships with God, through the His Son Jesus Christ.
TRUTHPREVAILS. Fact? And you have facts that God doesn't exist? Please share these facts because 95% of the world's population would like to hear about these FACTS. Again, it's an opinion...you believe what you want, I will believe what I want.
I found a yellowish!t that depicts a ramapheticus. Evolution must be a piece of crap.
Jesus is a made up fictional character that helps gaulable, weak minded people act better. It's a good thing. Yes there is a God. And no there isn't a heaven or hell but there is an afterlife. The Bible is the greatest piece of fiction ever created which helps people lead better lives. The truth hurts sometimes and only a true realist can see the forest through the trees.
Oh, thanks for clarifying. Been dead, have you?
Flip – And, just how can you be so certain that there IS a god or an afterlife?
Jesus was a vampire hunter. His faith helped renew the fight against the underground immortals and keep the darkness in check. Without him, ours would be a land of the undead or the walking dead. Check for yourself, the holy book is called "33 A.D."
Here's the bottom line; you either believe he existed or you don't. It doesn't matter who writes what, what visible proof anyone shows...it literally is blind faith. You can sit here day after day after day arguing your points to one another, but who cares?? Prove to me that George Washington existed and was the 1st president. PROVE it beyond a reasonable doubt. Or prove to me that you love your mother with all your heart and soul. Don't tell me what you do for her to show her your love...PROVE your love. You CAN'T prove it. I just have to take your word on it. Let people believe what they want!!! This is why there are freaking stupid wars and crap. LET PEOPLE LIVE THEIRS LIVES HOW THEY CHOOSE! WORRY ABOUT YOURSELF!
"LET PEOPLE LIVE THEIRS LIVES HOW THEY CHOOSE! WORRY ABOUT YOURSELF!"
Then why don't Christians allow gays to have their civil rights...that's because you don't practice what your preaching.
I never said I was a Christian. Gays should have equal rights...and I'm not gay. Who is our government to tell anyone what's right or wrong??
easy, we didn't rely on story tell without docu–mentation with G Washington. Had we, then George would have healed the sick.
and religion is the LAST group to be telling anyone what is right or wrong.
And George Washington is actually a good example of how mythmakers can turn a historical person into phoney baloney. The evidence that GW existed is about as good as it can ever be for someone who lived centuries ago. But much of what one HEARS about GW is indeed myth, eg the cherry tree silliness and his not being able to tell a lie, etc, etc.
Faith sees the invisible. believes the increible and receives the impossible. So every human being needs to see to believe and faith is believe without seeing. Jesus is what it is, the son of our supreme maker. The entire world is the explanation of what GOD and Jesus is.
Sorry, but waxing poetic doesn't make it so.
not one piece of evidence from when this human was supposed to exist. not one
Something tells me CNN won't publish an article questioning the legitimacy of Mohammad on Ramadan.
All religions should be looked at from an objective, historical, evidence based perspective.
zionists will always try to put down jesus but you never hear them criticize talmudic judaism. True to form for the most anti christian religion/cult.
islam is the truth. We have evidence and faith
read matthew or thomas ' gospels.
jesus never claimed to be gd, and frankly controverted this contention – he was made a mythic roman/pagan type figure to absorb the masses into this burgeoning religion. this is historical fact.
jesus said he was one of m any sent by gd to spread his message – like the thousands before him.
he said he was the messiah. He said no one can get to the father except through him. God is a triune deity. Father, SON and Holy Spirit.
I believe that Y'Shua bar Yusef was an actual person. He was a failed Messiah (King) who died trying to accede to the throne of Israel as was his birthright. He was after all of Royal lineage (told by Matthew and John).He was buried in the royal tomb at Talpiot with his brothers Yose, and James, his mother Maria, his wife Miriamne Mara, and his Son. Too much money from Christians and Christian tourists comes in to Israel for the IAA to ever reveal it's known truths.
jesus called the jewish leaders at the time evil, and that their father was the devil and they worshipped in the synagogue of satan. Pretty much sums up for me the dead religion/cult of modern talmudic judaism.
As I was reading this article, I felt i needed to share this scripture verse. I don't think the writer of this religious blog realizes that he has fulfilled a prophesy in the Bible unintentionally. For it is written:
Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' He promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 2 Peter 3-6
there have always been scoffers – according to that scripture you could just as easily proclaim that every day is the last day.
Matthew 12: 38-40
Luke 24: 36-43
Explain those verses. It debunks everything Christianity stands on. Study the sign of Jonah. Jonah's miracle was that he was *alive* in the belly of the whale for 3 days and 3 nights. Jesus said he'd be like Jonah, but the Christian world says he was dead in the sepurcha for 3 days and 3 nights.
And then Luke 24 makes the case even stronger that Jesus never died. He says, "For a spirit has no flesh and bones as you see I have", which debunks the notion that his physical body died and he was a spirit.
it doesn't matter what the bible says, it was written by men.
Earth was not formed by water...And will most like due when the sun burns out or when humans pollute it to death..
No one knows the day or the time of Christ's return
The Holy Qur'an: Surah Waqia
Is it such a Message that ye would hold in light esteem? (81) And have ye made it your livelihood that ye should declare it false? (82) Then why do ye not (intervene) when (the soul of the dying man) reaches the throat (83) And ye the while (sit) looking on― (84) But We are nearer to him than ye, and yet see not (85) Then why do you not if you are exempt from (future) account― (86) Call back the soul, if ye are true (in your claim of Independence)? (87)
The argument over whether Jesus actually existed bears no relation to holocaust denial or Kennedy assassination theories. There are mountains of evidence to be sifted through in the latter cases and the questions turns on how that evidence is interpreted. In the case of Jesus, there is no evidence except ancient testimony which is notoriously unreliable. Christians argue vehemently that Jesus existed, with nothing but blind faith to back them up, because they can then make the illogical leap that if he actually existed then all the miracles attributed to him must have really happened. The question actually bears similarities to the Shakespeare authorship debate. Growing numbers of scholars doubt that the Stratford man was the actual author of the works attributed to the name William Shakespeare. The initial reaction of mainstream scholars was dismissive ridicule. But the closer the actual evidence is examined, the thinner their argument becomes. We'll never know whether an actual, physical Jesus ever really existed. The available evidence clearly points to a mythical man based on early legends of god figures. But perhaps it's not that important. The real question is whether the miracles attributed to him can be taken seriously. The answer is clearly, immediately, and finally NO! Jesus, if he ever actually existed, was NOT the brown-haired Caucasian typically depicted in paintings, he was NOT born of a virgin, He did NOT walk on water or perform any other supernatural miracles, if he actually died on the cross he was NOT resurrected. Belief in such nonsense has caused grief and hardship to millions down through the centuries. It's time for humans to grow up, stop believing in fairy tales, extract the true wisdom from the Bible and other sacred books, and get on with the business of understanding themselves and their universe.
Whether Jesus actually existed or not is not my concern, it is how religious leaders are selling their product to the world. They transformed what was perhaps an ordinary man Jesus, who meant well to have people get along into a son of god, born from a virgin, with powers of healing, who died for everyones sins, who has risen from the dead and will rise from the dead again. This propaganda brainwashing nonsense originates from a movement that initiated the Crusades killing and stealing in order to obtain power to rule the world. Popes sold confessions, demanded the right to make love to all newlywed women before the husbands, had those that opposed their ideas murdered. This fantasy of a god has been the greatest con job perpetrated upon mankind.
Now the Vatican instead of using the money donated for its original purpose to help the poor and sick built their own city in marble with a basement full of riches in art, jewels, manuscripts, books, icons, gems, gold etc.. They own stock in major companies, they own part of a weapons factory, they own an observatory, It is frightening to me that here in the 21st century where many are well educated still believe this god nonsense, Jesus son of god propaganda and refuse to face reality and use logic. Fantasy and fairy tales of angels, gods and son's of god belong in the fiction section or mythology section with Zeus and Thor.
The difference between Jesus and the Holocaust is that we have pictures, eyewitnesses, and videos of the Holocaust....there is not ONE SHRED of evidence that Jesus existed...the Bible does not count, because there is no proof provided there. Internet kooks? So believing that there is an invisible dude that watches everything we do, gave us the ability and desire to 'sin' and 'lust', yet condemns us for it (which also disproves "god's omnipotence", by the way)...this is the same as believing in historic events that we have physical, tangible proof of. Shame, shame, shame. Also, maybe CNN should quit biasing their stories towards Christianity....news should be unbiased. This isn't even really news at all.
Ever play Sim City?
Yes. Anyone who has taken logic or higher college math that requires proofs will see that using the bible to prove Jesus existed is not adequate proof.
I'm not sure how you guys can say that this article shows a CNN bias for christianity or a media bias generally for christianity for that matter. Bart Ehrman is an atheist. those arguments that Jesus was made up based on pagan myths has been around for centuries. trolls just looking for something they think is a "new" discovery.
Allen Davies, you said.
"The difference between Jesus and the Holocaust is that we have pictures, eyewitnesses, and videos of the Holocaust....there is not ONE SHRED of evidence that Jesus existed"
Are you saying that the first pfotographic devices was invened in early first century A.D.? NOT in 1836? And it was Pontious Pilate who invented it NOT Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre Mande?
When will some people be able to grasp that ancient people relies only on testimonies and writings using papyrus and piece of stones?
Too bad they won't, using their half-quark brains.
Molly, you said:
"I'm not sure how you guys can say that this article shows a CNN bias for christianity or a media bias generally for christianity for that matter. Bart Ehrman is an atheist."
Very simple, posting without reading OR, reading using the half-quark brain. And relying on atheists scientific way of determining all things around them, which is called..HYPOCRITICAL GUESS.
I believe and that's all that matters, and if he doesn't exist then all that's left is the devil. So if the devil exists, then you're back to square one.
Perhaps if Jesus doesn't exist, the devil doesn't exist either. Then what you are left with is making moral choices yourself as a man.
That is mind numbingly hollow logic. "all that's left is the devil", lol. I'll have what you're smoking!
People still ignore the fact that an entire following of Jesus started at the time of his death, and fearing for their very lives, scattered throughout Europe, but still remained followers devotedly. Some would argue that these people would not have done so without some pretty compelling evidence.
People following all types of religions can say the same thing, doesn't make it real or true.
Jim Jones's followers as well as Koresch killed themselves for their beliefs. People work against their own self interest all of the time...look at Tpublican voters not in the top 1%. All you have pointed out is people with sad existences look for something else.
Wrong. Study actual history of early Christianity. The first Christians were thought of as just another sect of Judaism and were not in fear for their lives. That wasn't until later.
What is wrong with just saying "I don't know"? If a belief in Jesus is what helps you maintain a happy and peaceful existence, than that's great. If you have other methods of spirituality….that's fine too. Only our egos (some call it the devil) want us to be "more right" than our fellow human beings. But it doesn't matter. Regardless, it's likely that we all end up in the same place when it's all over. But……we don't know for sure……do we?
Ohplease – no doubt fanatics today believe what they believe but the disciples knew whether jesus was the truth or a lie. no one is willing to be tortured and ultimately killed for something they know is lie.
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.