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.
LIKE WHAT ISRAEL? Ok lets see. It was a miricle. The camps. The nuclear bomb. Return to Israel all at the same time. Well, well aint that cozy. That pretty much "locks in". your countries for that end time senario dosen't it? Lets see here. The hebrews that were out of their land for over what 1800 years are all cleaned up now and are good with God. I like that part. I like this one even more. Because it show what kind of fakery is really taking place here.
They can sell land in Israel. The land is free to them. They don't have to buy and sell land. However it gets even better. Usury amoung the Hebrews in Israel. 17 banks countem. Their terms are worse than yours. Home loans in Israel. Credit cards, boat loans, student loans, Auto loans, commerical loans. So you don't believe me. Go look it up. Theres your brand news Israel going in backwards. That fake mess down there has caused more trouble than anything you could guess except oil and its a pivot for oil. There are 9 different kinds of Semites and they are all in there not just hebrews and turks not to mention other things. I suggest you people wake up.
If it looks like a duck and feels like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be quackery!
Ehrman is a really bright guy. I have read several of his books and he knows his Christianity. He obviously knows nothing about Osiris or Mithras.
It is actually more reasonable than not to conclude that Jesus was an actual living person. Whether or not he was "the Christ" is the only worthwhile point of debate. Regardless, many of the teachings of Jesus are worthy of people to take to heart whether they are Christians or not. As an agnostic, I take those things that are wise from any and all religions, and leave behind those things that are destructive.
Keith...no need to be an agnostic any longer...Jesus was real...he was a Norwegian.
Here's the email. SaleYourSoul@hotmail.com Just send your name and address, sign the papers. That all you need to do to recieve your $100.
So Keith, are you the arbiter of what's worth adopting and incorporating?
Jesus claimed to be God. If He was not and knew He was not, He was a fake. If He was not, but thought He was, He was a kook. Why would you follow any teachings from someone you believe to be either a fake or a kook? Jesus' teachings have any value only if He was who He said He was.
Setting up an email address that I will share in a little while for non-believers to send me their name and address. I will then send you contracts for you to sign that will allow you to sale me your soul. I will in return pay/send you $100.
Raise the price and send half in advance. I don't trust you.
You can get a free debaptize certificate from freedom of religion.
Here's the email. SaleYourSoul@hotmail.com Just send your name and address, sign the papers. That all you need to do to recieve your $100.
Sold! Be sure to contact me when the site is up. I could use the $100. Also, I will sell you my aura for $79.95 and my Thetans for $10 each.
If the Story is a fake, then why has it been a Best Seller for 2,000 years?
Because it invents explanations to what we can't explain and it offers a path of hope that can universally be followed. For many it makes life easier.
Why do people in North Korea or Syria follow Jesus? For them, it does not make life easier.
God is not a mockery for people's delights even though many a child has become taught to be bigotrous addicts to throw imbellishing and resentful commentaries toward the Faith filled and faithfully taught!
You don't have to believe in Jesus believe in yourself. No one on the planet can explain our existance so I would just try to get along with each other and seek peace and happiness within.
A Christian could not have said it any better! Are you sure you don't have any Christian blood in you? :-)
Labels only polarize people
Very well put. This is what people should focus on.
Robstated, "Labels only polarize people." ,,,,,,,,,,,
Without my "labeling" you how else do you want me to know of you and your ways? Do you want to be labelled an "atheist"? OR,,,,,? We have little choice in the labelling markets Rob. Either one is or one isn't. The choices one has in being viewed by others is determined by one's Faith and Faithfulness in one's Word of spoken or written witticisms. Agreed Rob?
I have setup an email address SaleYourSoul@hotmail.com for non-believers to send me their name and address. I will then send you contracts for you to sign that will allow you to sale me your soul. I will in return pay/send you $100.
If you want a label I am a free thinking individual with a concioience and a respect for all life.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
This might have more impact if you would stop spamming the board with it several times each hour.
Did you watch?
Even a cursory examination of historical facts would show the reality of how religions evolve to meet the needs of society but are not meant to be a factual account of reality. They are simply a collection of metaphorical folklore meant to teach sociological lessons. When people believe the omnipotent, metaphysical, virgin birth or resurrection stories as fact is when it becomes delusional and scary.
Otto, if you asked for a stake you will get a steak, what is the prediction! if you ask for a steak and then you predict you will get a salmon fished in Russia then may be
I really did not think I would have to tell people I was being sarcasic, obviously I needed to.
elena, science, as a whole, provides proof of processes foreign to the writers of the bible.. The bible functions just fine as a myth, but absolutely horrible as a book of truth..
Why don't you express the scientific hypothesis that proves your belief is correct? Are you afraid, or what?
Seek Jesus and he will reveal himself to you. Its not about religion. Its about him. The Bible is the only "considered religious" book that has correctly predicted prophecies in Our Time. Do your research.
"The Bible is the only "considered religious" book that has correctly predicted prophecies in Our Time."
Do our research? Do yours, the Bible has predicted nothing.
Please provide a list of unambiguously fulfilled prophecies. I don't believe you can.
I did my research and it says there's only room for 144,000 in heaven.
YeahOk, i am still waiting for you to tell me what the scientific fact that your body is mostly empty space and the that probability it doesn't exist exactly tells you,
I read the Bible, that is why I am an atheist.
Well! John predicted a corporate dictatorship and I see it coming right now, alone with the great tribulation! lol
Elena, our bodies are mostly empty space because all physical things are mostly empty space.. Atoms have a lot of empty space, but at the quantum level there's a lot going on in there.. Who cares? What's your point?
No religion thank you, i read science that is why i am a believer!
Like i said. "Do Your Research"
I went to a restaurant and ordered a steak. I then predicted the waitress would bring me a steak. I then GOT a steak. I am a prophet!
MOMOYA, So really you believe our bodies are empty space but you said before there is no room for emptiness in science! what about the fact that you body do not exist till observed!
"YeahOk, i am still waiting for you to tell me what the scientific fact that your body is mostly empty space and the that probability it doesn't exist exactly tells you"
Please Elena, I am nowhere the scientific intellect you are, I bow in your presence. I do not have the groundbreaking scientific proof that souls or spirits of conciseness, and a higher supreme consciousness or being, which is the fountain of creations exists as you do.
So please enlighten us all to your superior scientific knowledge.
Elena, while you may "read science," you don't have a very good understanding of it.. As a whole, science invalidates the bible and christianity.. Look into it.
Elena, it's obvious that you like to play stupid word games.. Stop it and try honesty for a change..
I said "empty space" that had a lot going on in the quantum level.. Until you can prove that there is such a thing as "nothingness" it's stupid to assume it.. Stop it and try honesty for a change.
You believe the sci-fi / fantasy / horror story of an insane or hallucinating prisoner on Patmos?
hint: many ideas from the minds of sci-fi authors have come to fruition (especially if you tweak them a bit)
Yes, science and reason are very scary, therefore I see how it is much easier for you to believe in a fairy tale.
Fulfilled Bible prophecy: That Israel would become a nation many years after its inhabitants were scattered among the nations. Jesus's prophecy that Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed.
Also, the Bible does not say there is room for only 144,000 in heaven.
momoya, no credible scientist ever, not even Newton or Einstein who by the way were masons, have said they disproved the Bible, of course if you take the Bible literally then you wont understand it, and you still did not answered me!
Shak, you made a claim you cannot support. This suggests you are delusional or a liar – most likely both. Happy Jewish Zombie Day!
And you don't think that the Hebrews/Israelis KNOW those old-timey stories and made/make a concerted effort to make it so?
"of course if you take the Bible literally then you wont understand it, "
If the bible is not taken literally it is then subjectively interpreted and therefore no real objective truth can be taken from it. At that point it is just another collection of books and lacks any connection to divinity.
Show your groundbreaking scientific proof that souls or spirits of conciseness, and a higher supreme consciousness or being, which is the fountain of creations exists and they'll all go cowering.
@0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls. Good luck with that theory of yours.
So Shak, you haven't backed up your claim. Are you mentally ill, a liar or both?
What If: No, I do not think the Hebrews made a concerted effort to get the Romans to destroy Jerusalem. As for the founding of Israel: most of the founders were non-religious Jews who were not try to fulfill the Bible. Most of the religious Jews at the time though that their non-existence as a nation should be accepted as God's punishment.
3 months to build a house if the borrower is the slave to the lender. Than that is no small deal. This country is filled with it. Everyone trys to get a house or a car with credit. Now do you get the game?
If most Christians wer anything like Christ, everyone would be a Christian.
But since most Christians are nothing at all like Christ nor do they even bother to follow his teachings, most of the world is not Christian.
I agree...and even though I say this to Christians until I am blue in the face, most I talk with would rather just continue "debating" than actually go out into the world and evoke change through the life and teachings of Christ.
You sound like a great candidate for purchase I setup an email address SaleYourSoul@hotmail.com for non-believers to send me their name and address. I will then send you contracts for you to sign that will allow you to sale me your soul. I will in return pay/send you $100.
Just think someday when your body is no longer to biologically function on this planet, you will know the answer. I hope you all find what your looking for.
Assumption.. when you die you will know nothing (as the bible verse says).. You christians won't even get to find out you were wrong!
Won't be too late for me I'm not a sucker for the paper swindlers and the usuors
The atheist propagandist are so funny at times. Where did writing start. In Sumeria aka Iraq. Science started in Egypt. The Hebrews were literate. they started banking and are still good at it. I dare say who is going to confuse the Hebrews with Bedouins. Only people who don't know how to love.
Instead of debating, how about just trying to live your life by these principles, knowing that what happens after death will take care of itself:
Practice compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, love, inclusion, honesty, integrity.
Seek to know the humanity in all of us.
Try to make the world a better place from having lived in it.
Show your appreciation for life by taking care of each other and our home, the earth.
I'm down with that.
I couldn't agree more!
A nice ideal but not real. Tell that to the woman that wants an abortion but the law says she can't.
what about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you? How far is too far?
Why certain people refer to atheist as "hating" religions when many times they just move reasonable objections? What they are really saying is that we can not doubt what they believe in? That CNN should have not published this article?
The bible was written by the people of Rome. Again it had purpose. They didn't write it because they were crazy. They wrote it to pacify and put people in their place.
Uh – if the Bible was written by the people of Rome, I'd have expected it to feature Zeus and various Emperors a lot more. Instead, they're barely mentioned, and when they are it isn't in a very favorable light.
I pray for the nonbelievers of Christ. When they are finally convinced of the truth, it will be too late.
Why pray for what will be "too late" by your own reckoning?
Christ is a metaphor and religion is cultural. "God" is big enough to get beyond the surface of things and see that no matter what the ritual and names (or lack thereof), good people living just and loving lives are part of God's creation.
The god you believe in is immoral and does not deserve worship.
May be the stupid moron is you! did you know that when one lacks the ability to debate with intelligent thoughts must punch and insult, that is all cave people like you can do! I am sure you cant even figure out how a bulb give light!
What makes you think that it will ever be "too late"?
I return that favor hoping that one day before it is too late you will gain a sober view of life
Thank for David Koresh for praying for me. I guess this means I can skip doing it. Thanks!
I have read @momoya's posts on these blogs for months. Guess what? She knows more than you do... in quite a few areas of expertise.
Elena, *you* have not provided one intelligent thought yet! Just a bunch of jumbled up words and pseudo science that only makes sense to you. Please take your medication!
Wat iF, really! so momoya its an expert in Physics and the mind, did she know we dont see with our eyes, i want to see her answer!
Com'n Elena, blow them away with your groundbreaking scientific proof that souls or spirits of conciseness, and a higher supreme consciousness or being, which is the fountain of creations exists then we'll see who's laughing!
It amazes me how people are very logical in the daily lives, suddenly turn delusional when it comes to talking about Jesus.
Of course he was a myth.
Is it possible that you are dilusional about Christians?
T, you are just another "internet kook" from the story.
Take a look at all of the mythological figures of ancient times. Which one has hundreds of millions of followers today who not only follow him, but insist he is alive? Not a single one! Those who believe that Jesus was a myth never explain how it is that this particular myth has had more influence on the world, by orders of magnitude, than all other myths combined.
Obviously, Christianity gained converts beyond the original disciples. How did the disciples make converts? By appealing to what their hearers knew about Jesus. If Jesus had been a myth, the hearers could not have known anything about him and would not have become Christians - certainly not at the potential cost of their lives.
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.