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.
I will not fail to tell atheists this. Most of the so-called mythical Jesus ideas did not come from atheists. It came from Christian theologians. Myth is specufically defined in theology. Unlike what your Grade school teacher taught u. Just love your neighbor as yourself. No need to fight.
Christ is the Creator and Redeemer of worlds so numerous that they cannot be numbered by man. As to his infinite and eternal creative and redemptive enterprises the divine word attests: “And worlds without number have I created,” saith the Father, “and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. … But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you.” As to all of the other worlds of the Lord’s creating we know only that it is his work and his glory “to bring to pass”—through the Redeemer—“the immortality and eternal life” of all their inhabitants. (Moses 1:33, 35, 39.) THE KEY HERE PEOPLE IS "WORLDS" PLURAL – DON'T JUST THINK OF OUR EARTH BUT THERE ARE BILLIONS OF GALAXIES OUT THERE WE IN THIS LIFETIME WILL NEVER FULLY UNDERSTAND, NOR ARE WE SUPPOSED TO UNDERSTAND HOW IT ALL CAME ABOUT. ONLY GOD KNOWS AND IN HIS TIME WE WILL LEARN!
"Christ is the Creator and Redeemer of worlds so numerous that they cannot be numbered by man. "
Really that is why Christians came to America, killed millions and millions of people and stole the land. If Christians are representatives of their Christ they show why this cult is so bad for our society.
From the bible, psalms 15:20
And if any man doubts my existence, I'll send a catholic priests to his parish and have him abuse the doubter's son. And if hatheth no son, I'll have him do the doubter's wife. And if he hatheth no wife, I'll have him do the doubter's ass.
Skeptics and believers alike should check out Josh McDowell's updated "Evidence That Demands a Verdict."
If Jesus was an invention by the Jews it has to be the greatest and epic achievement that would lead to the 70 AD massive Jewish rebellion against Rome and the destruction of the Jewish Temple with the expulsion of all Jews from occupied ancient Israel or Jerusalem. It is really very absurd to say that Jesus Christ is just a myth base on ancient pagan stories. Historical and archaeological artefacts have been discovered to proof the existence of a historical man name Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified because he refuse to admit he is not the Son of God. Jesus of Nazareth who taught about equality, freedom, love by teaching and educating the people that all are children of God not just the Jews. This is the man that Jesus deniers want to destroy or disbelief he didn't existed? It takes greatness and it is a privilege to be a Christian that is why we Christians will always be attack and persecuted by all means and from all angle no matter what Jesus does even if He appears today there will still be doubters. Jesus need not proof himself to those who ask for proof as a form of temptation not because of faith just like Satan tried to tempt Jesus to proof himself to be God by jumping the cliff, and the Pharisees who demand that Jesus save himself from the cross, or Harold demand that he change water to wine today we see the same group of people who ask for evidence as to mock not as faithful believers, God will provide proof just like He did with the great floods, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the punishment to the Egyptians and with that proof only a few will truly be save with many will join Satan.
Ask any three year old if they believe in Santa Claus. Same mentality, same results.
Hey don't mess with my Flying Speghetti monster!!! You will burn in Speghetti sauce for all of eternity!!
The creation of the universe?
The universe was created? Well, how does something come from nothing?
The universe is eternal? If so, shouldn't there be an 'infinite' number of past events?
Read a science book.
The Holy Qur'an: Surah Waqia
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)
So where then did your invisible man in the sky come from? Did he just poof himself into being from nothing?
On a day that billions of people consider Holy, I am not sure why CNN would chose such a controversial posting, TODAY, instead of simply reporting that its EASTER. Shows in incredible journalistic lean on their part!
.....atheism is the fastest growing group led by the most brilliant minds. Christianity,, old bronze age concoctions where the world is flat and bloodletting cures
Because #3 (below) says your full of it, and just because your the majority, does not give you a right to make your religious observance days state holidays in the good ole USA.
Major Religions of the World
Ranked by Number of Adherents
#1 Christianity: 2.1 billion
#2 Islam: 1.5 billion
#3 Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
No amount of belief makes something a fact.
Oh panic! They're actually reporting a view that millions of people have so they must be on a mission to turn everyone into(gasp)ATHIESTS! This just emphasizes the danger of reporting views that differ from the mainstream. When we are a theocracy we will deal with these blasphemers!
I am not christian. However, I even take offense to the timming of this article on CNN. Firstly ALL major religions recognize the existance of Jesus. The Muslims recognize him as a prophit and jews recognize his existance and even the fact that he was educated by great scholars and teachers. Would CNN question Muhamad on the Muslims holliest day? I have never seen it but I will be waiting. If they do not one can only say that their objectivness is out the window.
There is no point to this article as their are questions to all religions and their traditions. To single out christianity is wrong and reflects more on the writter John Blake and CNN than anything else.
joos deny his being a prophet, They use the word heretic
I agree. They should have saved this article for Christmas Day. And by the way,Muhammed left a family to prove that he was real. What did Jesus leave as proof?
jesus wore a hoodie..
Here we go again. CNN coming out with a story against Jesus. If you don't believe Jesus existed or that Jesus was God in the flesh, fine. Be sure you say hi to Him for me when you stand in front of Him. When are they going to come on here and have an article as to whether or not Mohammed existed?
sorry, no jesus
Nobody questions the existence of Mohammed. That would be a very short article.
Gee I don't know, maybe because it is EASTER? Think that has anything to do with an article on Jesus? And the article isn't against jesus, it is presenting two sides of view.
You poor, poor oppressed Christians.
Praise God from the whom all blessings flow! Jesus lived, died, rose from the grave, and is alive today. Praise his name for salvation! Thank you Jesus for loving God someone as wretched as me!
boy if this world is what god and jesus consider blessings and love, we need a new supernatural being to praise.
No, silly. This world is about as corrupt as it can get, in my opinion. But I do have things I'm thankful for. I woke up healthy and so did my children. I have food to eat and a nice home. There are flowers blooming all over my yard. I have a wonderful loving husband. I am nobody's slave and I live in a country full of freedom. I have clean water to drink. I have everything I need and even a few things that I want. I have good friends a good job and a loving family. But more importantly I have the freedom to go to church wherever I want to with out persecution. I have the bible which I believe is the word of God and I am free to read it whenever I want. and best of all I have salvation that comes from a mighty God! These are my blessings!
No god, no Christmas, No Easter, . . . . .
Just an endless progression of COLLECTION PLATES and buildings with gold leaf on the walls, that a truly powerful god would obviously not need.
Agreed! God wants our hearts, not our $. I believe he is more concerned with our sincerity.
He wants our HEARTS? That sounds like a great horror movie.
Does he keep them in his basement?
No matter if you believe or not it is up to you . What I do question is WHY keep pushing Jesus or God for that matter doesn't exist ? I have known many non believers that called on God at the end of their life . You can be extreme at either end but I don't find that believing in Jesus or God to be a bad thing . I don't fear the Ten Commandments nor the Bible . I do find the Koran disturbing ! While people say they are for Life ,Liberty and the pursuit of happiness , They seem to do all they can to make sure one side or the other doesn't achieve it ! Just when you think you have the answer something else happens to change your mind again ! One thing I do know , YOU will know one way or the other when your life ends ! I also know that those who believe don't push you away in your time of need . Most are caring loving people . Nothing wrong with that !
...or you "won't" know when your life ends.
Why do Christians feel the need to push THEIR beliefs on others? I, for one am sick and tired of Christians pushing their mythology on everyone else. Trying to get legislation passed such as restoring school prayer so they can push their myths even more to innocent children. I have no problem with anyone's beliefs as long as they keep them to themselves. But when you try to force your beliefs on others, it becomes a problem.
Shady, meet the Republican Pharisees. Loving and caring aren't even on their list unless you are one of their clones, and even then I doubt that it goes very deep.
It's all conjecture. Total BS.
You either have faith or not.
so you either blindly follow or you question what you are told and seek answers. Yup you got it down.
OK Gotcha, then please explain free will and consciousness in the context of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and entropy.
Thanks in advance.
Exactly, blindly follow ancient mythology or use logic and reason and THINK for yourself.
Many people, including scientist and other intellectuals, did not believe, but later did. Not something you are born with.
It's been a while since I had AP chemistry but if I remember correctly, entropy is the disorder in a system or "chaos". And that the 2nd law says that entropy does not change except get more chaotic. Something like that I think. As for free will and consciousness I have not studies anything about it and it its pointless to argue what I think they are. Your welcome.
Blah blah blah. This is a rude article on one of the most important Christian holiday. Jesus did and still does exist in millions of believer's hearts. Easter is about his resurrection not the Easter Bunny. Have some respect for other's belief's and stop being a wet blanket. Would be nice if you could believe and I pray for non believer's but quit trying to make it your life's goal to disprove what we believe in. Thanks and Happy Easter to All!
"This is a rude article on one of the most important Christian holiday. "
No, it was a holiday long before your Christ came along, it's just another holiday you stole from history.
I am surprised to see so many people say "blah blah blah" and then say whatever they think as fact. Interesting pattern I see.
That's silly OhPlease.
It's like saying that I stole Independance Day if I was born on July 4th. Although there was another holiday before Easter, Christians made Easter Easter.
So the rabbits and the colored eggs are Christian ideas?
I don't respect the beliefs of mentally ill people claim to be the target of some vast, shadowy government conspiracy. Why? Because they are irrational and potentially destructive. So why should I give YOUR irrational, potentially destructive beliefs any more respect? You're not special. Religious people have to learn that. You've been spoiled by preferential treatment for too long.
By the way, Easter was a Roman holiday which your lying predecessors stole.
"Christians made Easter Easter" – also, perhaps you should look up the origins of the word "Easter". You really have no idea what you're talking about.
"Although there was another holiday before Easter, Christians made Easter Easter."
You have no idea what your talking about that it's hilarious. The Saxons believed in a maiden goddess of fertility named Eastre or Eostre . Many pagan religions had gods who were depicted as dying and being reborn. Yeah, Christians really made Easter – Easter...LOL! NOT!
It's also interesting to note how many holidays line up with a solstice or an equinox. These practices predate Christianity by many thousands of years.
Why don't people just let other people believe in what they want, then maybe the world wouldn't be so quacked up!! Happy Easter to you all, no matter what you believe. And CNN thanks for this article, I would never have believed you would have written an article about Easter, I was shocked when I saw it, so I will give you a little kudo.
Christianity is the religion of forgiveness. Why then, are so many Christians angry and offended by this article coming out on Easter. I'd think you'd use this time to highlight the quality of your faith by being forgiving – forgiving of CNN for actually bringing up the subject, forgiving of people who are disagreeing with you, forgiving of people who aren't Christians.
Naw, y'all just through that forgiveness stuff right out the window at the first opportunity.
Unfortunately, 90% of Christians don't practice what they preach. I think it's because deep down in their subconcious, they know it's just ridiculous old myths and superst!tions.
@kevin. look up book of romans about doing what you know is wrong but not being able to stop. it is called the sinful nature. this is why Christ died for us
Praise the Lord!!! He has risen. Happy Easter to all.
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.