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 a Christian god truly exists he should be put to death rather than worshipped for all the horror and inhumanity he has set loose upon the face of the earth (if you believe the Christian myth, God is responsible for the angel Satan and all the evil attributed to that creature, he is responsible for all the wars, all the disease, all the depravation, etc that humanity has been subjected to).
you're uninformed. God gave humanity free will as a divine gift. People choose to turn their backs and sin. He will not interfere with your free will. You must choose the good, Jesus Christ or be lost.
Its one thing to say that a preacher and prophet named Jesus actually existed. Admitting that is not admitting the virgin birth, the passion or the resurrection. Through modern history, people have been unable to accept the death of a popular figure. When Charlie Parker died, "Bird Lives" graffiti appeared all over. Elvis is still seen in suburban shopping malls. That believers, unwilling to accept the death of Jesus "saw" him after his death is not miraculous, just human.
Ok, but how many people do you know who are willing to DIE for their belief that Elvis or Bird are still alive?
How many Heaven's Gate members were willing to give their lives? Probably thee same ratio.
I'm a hard agnostic, but have NO DOUBT in my mind that Jesus lived, breathed, walked the Earth, and was crucified by the Romans. Forget the Bible, there's just too many historical manuscripts mentioning him, even from the Romans themselves to deny it.
All the books of the bible were written many decades after the events described therein, and by persons far removed in time and place; moreover there was a gnostic tradition of finding a one-on-one personal connection to God, whereupon these people would write their own gospels (i.e. they made things up).
Is there such a thing as a SOFT agnostic?
Grayson23....you do know that gnosticism was an early Christian sect that was persecuted and eradicated by the church in Rome don't you? A gnostic is not the same thing as an agnostic (a gnostic believes in a Christian god whereas an agnostic acknowledges they simply don't know if the divine or supernatural exists).
Really? Name any of these historical manuscripts that aren't part of the gospels.
I was a member of an online Christian chat room and a non believer wrote back and asked ," How can you believe in a God who will not show himself?" I wrote to her very sad for her that," We do not feel, see, hear nor touch air but we do know it exists as it does sustain our life and God is the same." She never replied and I do hope she is at peace with her beliefs... Sandy Boletchek
'god' is an idiotic idea promoted by immoral people to control and pacify the weak minded. The reason god won't show himself is because he's a figment of your over-active imagination.
You can't feel pressurized air? So you can't feel the wind then? I'm pretty certain her net cut off, hence the lack of a reply to your inane reply.
Jesus is real and loves all of us. Open your heart. you know love is real, yet you cannot photograph it, even describe it as a color.
" We do not feel, see, hear nor touch air but we do know it exists as it does sustain our life and God is the same." If we couldn't feel, see, hear, nor touch air then we wouldn't know that it exists. But we can indeed feel it on a windy day, see it bending light in the distance on a hot day, hear it rattling our windows, and touch it when we breathe into our hands on a cold day. The Christian god, on the other hands, actively hides from us.
Love is an emotion. Jesus on the other hand was supposed to have appeared in human form and yet can't be substantiated with verifiable evidence.
As for the whole 'air' issue...we can test for air, we can't test for god.
This post only presented half the argument. Ehrman isn't a Christian New Testament scholar. It was stated, "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." Presenting this on Easter is a shame. If you want a Christian scholar, check out http://mikewittmer.wordpress.com/
I think this confirms that CNN is marketing themselves to a group that I do not belong. They include so many articles that are not news on the home page it has become a joke. Have you noticed there is at least one article about Kim Kardashian on the home page each week?
It appears to me their target audience is non-Christian, young adults who are looking for tabloid news. Goodbye CNN.
I have to say... I am NOT a CNN fan although I glance at their website from time to time. I have my homepage set to Fox News. I must admit that I was surprised this morning when I found NO mention of Christ on Easter morning on Fox. CNN's article could be taken as negative or anti-Christian for sure, but at least they found the space on their page to address SOME kind of story about the most significant person in history on the day He resurrected.
This is the most ignorant comment I have EVER heard from a supposed scholar. Seriously? First of all, I highly doubt that Freke is proposing that Osiris is an actual historical figure. He is pointing out that the motif of the Jesus story was already in exisitance as a MYTHICAL story before Jesus' supposed birth.
Secondly, check out ANY source on the mythology of Osiris. I really mean any source. All of them will tell you that central to his story is the fact that he was murdered by his brother and was temporarily raised from the dead by his wife Isis. They concieved their son Horus before he died again. This is really basic stuff that you can find in ANY book or web site about ancient mythology. Ehrman seriously claims that there is nothing about the resurection of Osiris in ancient stories? Who is the kook here?
Jesus was not born on December 25. That is when we celebrate Jesus birth. There would not be any records because Mary and Joesph were getting counted and taxed at that time. Then Herod tried to kill all the male babies so the family fled to Egypt. If he was registered they would have been sought out and killed as a child. Using the calendar and the bible it could have been in April.
CNN would never run such an offensive story about Islam because it doesn't fit their left wing socialist agenda.
True story! I don't think I've ever seen an article questioning the existence of Mohammad.
Left wing socialist agenda, CNN? Either you don't watch CNN, or you don't know what socialism is! get an education before you start regurgitating internet-fed garbage.
Nonetheless on "Easter Sunday"........where do they bring this gall and audacity from?
Jesus' existence, unlike Mohammed, will always be brought into question because of the claim that He is in fact God incarnate to roughly 1/3 of the world. Of the three largest religions, Christianity is the only one whose believers basically maintain that God directly founded it. All the rest have all too human founders inspired. It is a pretty bold claim and almost a challenge to any skeptic.
Game. Set. Match. Atheism
President George H W Bush said an atheist is not a patriot and shouldn't be a citizen of America. We are one nation under God.Atheists do not "win" anything, they undermine corrupt and destroy the nations they infest. God bless
@just sayin: A religious belief of ANY KIND IS NOT a prerequisite to be a defender of your freedom. You'd probably be VERY surprised at how many Athiests are in foxholes RIGHT NOW defending YOUR freedom.....then you'd deny it typically. How about we just agree to disagree and you say "Thank You" to the soldiers like myself and my sons.....you're welcome, nevertheless.
Prayer changes things .
To clarify prayer changes otherwise intelligent and rational people into believing they can talk to an imaginary super friend.
Neither are pedophile priests.
No it doesn't. It never did.
May God bless all of you. Believers and non believers.
I humbly refuse, but I offer the blessing of my magical unicorn to you! Did you know? He also came back from the dead but after being tied to a rainbow! Sound believable? Neither does your version.
The Roman authorities in Palestine kept extensive records of trials and executions. There is no mention of Jesus in these records.
Do you have a source Jason that negates the claim?
Show us the evidence.
You're mistaken. Though the New Testament has many historical errors, the fact is that many of its points have been proven historically correct. Roman historians, Jewish historians, the finding of the Gnostic materials at Nag Hammadi and now the finding of Caiaphas' burial cave, establishes an historic fact that Jesus lived and died in a time and a place described in the New Testament. http://dmc.members.sonic.net/sentinel/naij3.html
Proving the historic Jesus. http://dmc.members.sonic.net/sentinel/naij3.html the finding of the Gnostic materials at Nag Hammadi and now the finding of Caiaphas' burial cave, establishes an historic fact that Jesus lived and died in a time and a place described in the New Testament.
And do you have copies of those records?
That a man named Jesus existed and was crucified for his ideas, yes is possible....
but... That was conceived from a virgin and god, made miracles (unnatural) and then resurrected??????
zeus must be mad........that we believe this nonsense
ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:
Saving Christians Infamous Resurrection Con/- (assuming JC existed)
From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."
Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.
From a major Catholic university's theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:
"Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.
Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.
Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.
The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.
Only Luke's Gospel records it. ( Also included in Luke's Acts of the Apostles).
The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "
"In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."
The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.
With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:
o An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
o "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."
o p.168. by Ted Peters:
Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. "
o So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.
Hit report abuse on all reality garbage !
Happy Co-opted Spring Fertility Ritual!
This little story was meant to keep people in line thousands of years ago. They were pretty simple then so they would believe anything. I see that some people have not evolved much.
Tell that to God on judgement day Dan. Jesus Christ died to save the human race from sin, his love is really real. Call on him and he will answer. He can give you peace beyond the cares of this world.
Yet another assault on Christianity by the left wing gay-theists who call themselves journalists at CNN. And yet another opportunity for small minded, hate filled people to proudly profess their bigotry against Christians because they know it pleases the haters at CNN. On Easter Sunday.
Go put your head back in the sand.
I have to agree, this article is in bad taste on Easter Sunday. Way to split up the American public CNN. I can see where your loyalties lie. Especially with apologists like Anderson and Christian Ananpor. I'm insulted, but I'm not going to riot, burn images of the American flag and kill infidels.
Vent some more hate, Dana. It pleases your socialist overseers at CNN.
But it does make you look stupid.
Jesus never existed, and America is not a christian nation.
America is as christian as Nazi Germany was.
Deal with that reality.
the christian majority appears nothing less than pathetic when they whine and complain about bigotry and ostracism... Easter is just another Sunday, with a made up name, pastel colors, and a fairytale tied to it. It is still just an ordinary Sunday.
You complain about an assault with lies and name calling. You have nothing important to say.
What better time to examine the Jesus Cult than on the most important day in the Christian Calendar. If you cannot take it by name calling then get out of the golden throne in St. Peters.
Is it not written, "you reap what you sow"? When preachers teach that Jesus died for the people's sins and Jesus died so that they might be saved, they are prosecuting Jesus. That's why Judeo blue coats have to crawl on their hands and knees into their temple because they prosecuted Jesus. Do people think he will not return to judge them? Isaiah 56:1 KJV
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
Anyone may say whatever they like, but if you have ever gone through a spiritual conversion that changes you then and there for the rest of your life, you would not doubt. If you had ever sat with a person who died in profound faith, you would not doubt. Jesus lives.
Even more people with just as much conviction as you and others believe that Allah lives, that Yahway lives, that hundreds of Hindi gods live, and so on. It is also true of followers of religions that died thousands of years ago. Zeus had many true believers.
So once again, all the proof is simply in faith and belief? No. Try again.
Nita,You really are an inrtpsaiion to me. My life has had so little trauma and I complain about so much You're teaching me to be grateful and thankful in a whole new way. I am thinking of you always!
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.