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.
CNN: IF YOU READ THIS GO TO HELL FOR YOUR ANTI-CHRISTIAN BIGOTRY THIS EASTER SUNDAY!!!!
Now, now there little jesus
I found this article very biased. Jesus is NOT a myth. He is a real flesh and blood person who payed for our sins. Those who don't believe that , I think have a hared time admitting they are a sinner and don't want to give Jesus a chance in their lives.
Well Happy Zombie Jesus Day anyway.
And I bet he thinks it's the atheists that are haters.
How can we go to hell if we don't belive in hell? Heaven and hell are both in the Christian book of magic–the Bible. What you may not realize is that there is a very good argument for the existence of hell right here on earth. Hell for atheists is having to live with so many hypocritical hate-mongering Christains.
Get over it.
Very typically Christian of you....way to show the hate found in your religion.
Neurotheology and neuroscience have already demonstrated all religions affect the brain the same way - as does any group activity in which the person invests belief: they lower anxiety.
But if they all do the same thing - despite preaching markedly different faiths - then none of them can be right, as there would be no purpose to a religion that is deliberately incorrect have a positive effect on human brain chemistry.
So the whole thing is ridiculous.
Human beings are addicted to the self-interested perspective of any surviving pack animal; any group affiliation we have that lowers our insecurity is potentially addictive, whether it's religion, politics, cults of personality, success cults and even family traditions.
Probably the most damning evidence against the people that argue against Jesus' existence is that they pick and choose which parts of the Bible they think are credible or not. Like Richard Carrier pointing to Stephen's martyrdom as evidence people are willing to die for a belief. But if he grants the truth of not only Stephen's existence, but Stephen's story, why doesn't he grant the same for Jesus' personhood?
Lack of contemporaneous historical evidence. Nuff said?
Are you admitting/suggesting that some parts of the Bible are less believable than others? Which parts are we allowed to question/doubt?
The burden of proof isn't on me. I am not arguing in support of the Bible's validity. I'm pointing out the hole in Richard Carrier's argument. He can't pick and choose what he wants to believe is true or not on nothing more than his own personal whims.
There's less historical evidence for Stephen's existence than there is for Jesus.
Sorry, Adam. I misread you.
Come on, CNN, stop censoring me!
@pastel bunnie eggs
You said, "Come on, CNN, stop censoring me!"
CNN uses automated censoring that looks for words, or fragments of words, that are considered offensive. My guess is that your post had had a forbidden word in it.
Repeat posts, even those that were previously censored and not displayed, will show a message stating that you posted it before.
The following words or word fragments will get your post censored (list is incomplete):
To circumvent the filters you can break up the words by putting an extra character in, like: consti.tution (breaking the oh so naughty "tit").
My post had none of those offending words in it. Nor was it a repeat post. It was topical and shouldn't have offended anyone. It was about this being a secular nation, not a Christian nation.
How'd you get past the censors posting those words??? LOL
And thanks for the info!
Ahhhh... Consti.tution! That was it! LMAO!!! So that's a bad word because it has ti.t in it? OH. MY. NOGOD! Got it!
The great debate! What's interesting is that the risen Jesus can be experienced immediately by seeking God with earnesty and contrition. I know with certainty He is real just as well as I know that I am alive.
How long have you been in a coma?
What is "earnesty"?
HAPPY EASTER AND GOD BLESS ALL CHRISTIANS!!!
What about us non-believers?
According to scientist in physics the chair you sit on right now do not exist till observed! would you believe that, im sure atheist must believe it since science is there Bible
Elena, you are confused about what science says and does not say.. Educate yourself somewhat.
Lol...what a classic! I hope you're really just pretending to be a fundi imbecile Christian.
It is hilarious that you try and marginalize science for stupid beliefs but you believe that god would have to sacrifice himself to himself in order to get around a loophole god created.
Looks like people will fight/kill each other regardless if the reason is sports, religion, politics, food, land, economics, race, environment, ect.. Go to Youtube and see the number of views on videos of fights vs. people speaking of peace. People love violence. We say we don't but I don't believe that's the case.
He's completely made up. It is quite obvious. There were historians at the time that recorded all the deeds and misdeeds of nobility and all the happenings. Why did they leave out anything to do with someone who was "known throughout the lands" who supposedly could walk into a town and everyone would drop what they were doing for days. He's a historical write-in, a fantasy materialized by a maniacal group gaining power, burning books and altering history to suit themselves. He is a great LIE.
Even if heaven and hell did exist and Jesus were the son of God (for the sake of argument), I would want no part of it. I would gladly take my place in hell rather than spend eternity with Christian hatemongers. And I truly believe that Jesus himself would don a disguise and join me just to get away from the fools who corrupt his message.
Excellent! Most excellent point of view!
Happy Easter! God Bless all of you- including the atheists!!
Clock Knock to you too!
Happy Jesus-Is-A-Zombie Day to you too.
That's big of you. We baby-eating Atheists wish you a very merry Sunday.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18
Our human minds could never comprehend the exsistence of God, the creator of it all.
We think we can, we think we are wise, we actually think we know more than God.
But we are nothing, we all are born the same & we all die the same. We turn to dust.
Every human has a void in them, every human wants to know where it came from, every human will search for the truth in their life time.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
(Think about it this way, when you see a painting...do you even ever question there was a painter? When you see creation, everything from the world ,to the universe to our bodies, do you question there is a creator? God?)
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:25
19 For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
1 Corinthians 1:19
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
1 Corinthians 3:18
12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,
1 Timothy 2:5
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
If we can't understadn the mind of god then what use are scriptures?
New King James Version (NKJV)
12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Why is that people who cannot think for themselves, who cowardly submit their will to that of others, sheepishly quote verses from the bible as though they were making a wise declaration, when in truth they wallowing in ignorance? Anybody can transcribe a bible quote, prove you are capable of stating your own opinion?
When you can prove the existence of a soul or spirit, I'll take a listen.. Until then, it just seems like a bunch of stupid hooey.
till science can prove i don't exist till observe then i will be an atheist!
God IS God howeve! He can be seen in His Word, the Gospel, the Holy Bible. God is the aboveness far away from this universe within a Celstial Cosmos filled with way-to-many to be counted universes! We are labouring together with God as scripture dictates. We are God's husbandry in that He, God buildt us. We are God's Buildings in He and His Sons will ever inhabit these buildings of Life now and forever!
1Cointhiansr 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
Elena, you are an atheist, you just don't know it yet. Don't worry, you'll evolve, too. It just takes some of you a little more time than others to come around to the truth. Remember the day you realized Santa didn't exist? It'll be kinda like that. I must say, it's nice to see so many non-believers coming out today to enlighten those left in the dark ages!
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it.
God's word is the truth, that is why I choose to quote bible verses. I am not a coward, but I do know that I am nothing before God, why would I insist to type out words that come from my own understanding?
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 Corinthians 1:25
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct[a] your paths.
THE GIFT OF STRONG FAITH REQUIRES STRONG WILLFUL IGNORANCE NURTURED BY ANTI-HONEST INQUIRY AND ANTI-SCIENCE. Then the bliss of blind faith can be savored.
CNN I want to read an article as to why the europeans jews have the right to exterminate the Palestinian people based on ancient Jewish tale!
Where did your "Palestinian People" come from? Where was their capital? What were the boundaries of their country? Who was their leader? When did they become a "People" distinct from all the neighboring lands?
We have to thank some great critical thinkers for our 1st amendment and the establishment clause. This clause has been upheld over and over again in courts of law. Why is that Christians?
The religious types trying to disguise their beliefs and agendas in the form of intelligent design and have been caught planning the conspiracy to write books that look and seem like science but are just the opposite. Repulsive brainless idiots.
What's REALLY funny here are opinions trying to pass themselves off as fact. This is a complex issue. Anyone who has the pretense to think that he or she knows for sure what the truth here is, is the nut.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
I suspect "Jesus" was actually several ordinary men over a period of time who were later spun into a single myth,like how other myths have passed.
I'd like to believe the Jesus story. Lord knows I certainly tried for a very long time. But here's my problem.
It seems fairly incredible to me that NO One wrote about this guy who could walk on water, raise the dead, and feed a crowd of thousands from a handful of loaves and fishes, NOT DURING HIS LIFETIME. The first written account (the first gospel) was written about 40years after Jesus supposed death and resurrection, and that was written down by someone who never actually saw Jesus. The other gospels weren't written until a couple of CENTURIES had passed, again obviously not be anyone who actually witnessed the events.
How could the Jesus of the New Testament be real, and NO ONE, not one of his admirers nor even one of his enemies, would write about him during his own lifetime? All we are left with are 2nd, 3rd, and even 10th hand accounts (hearsay) written by people who've never seen him.
Maybe this is why so many Christians are so unlike the man upon whom their faith is supposedly based. Perhaps, for all their protestations, they're not all that convinced themselves.
Very well thought out, thanks Howard.
how could any human being write the gospels? You read them and you can tell it was through devine intervnetion as the holy spirit.
The Jews didnt believe in him and Crucified him, his own people.
What message Christ had? To be humble, love one another, and have one God..and to recognize him as the son that will be back to judge the living and the dead. For his kingdom will come.
Read the bible. You will see some erie similarities as the world financial collapse- look at whats going on in the world and how money has lost all its value.
Its correct we cant prove Christ but thats faith, he left his mark and his word. Its how we chose to live.
well scientist said you don't exist how about that would you believe that!
I'd also like to know what happened to the other apostle's books that mysteriously disappeared from the bible in modern times. I understand there were a couple of other books that were so bizarre that Christians just deleted them from the bible because they knew no one would buy what was in them. Where are they and what was in them? These, too, supposedly written by men who knew Jesus but didn't write about him until several decades after he lived. Anyone know anything about these missing books?
Sorry, zeus, but the question is whether the Jesus story is real, and you can't cite other invisible and unproven deities as proof that it was. That's called "circular logic." It's the refuge of those who refuse to strain their brains to question what they've always held to be unquestionable.
If you "believe," good for you. I respect that. I truly do. But you'll never convince those, like me, who want to believe, but refuse to simply brainwash themselves into it.
Pastel, it's my understanding that at least one or two of those discarded books and gospels dispel the argument of a divine Jesus.. They make no claim of a resurrection or ascension. They simply assert he was an ordinary man with extraordinary message of peace and love.
By the way, it's also my understanding that there were no mentions of a Blessed Trinity until the middle of the 4th Century. It appears the concept was born in the Council of Nicea, which sought to convert Christianity into the official Roman state religion (the ROMAN Catholic Church, you've heard of it?). The problem was, the Romans had been practicing a polytheistic religion, including worshiping the Sun. Sooooo, some compromises were made.
By the way, once the deal was done, every Roman citizen had to swear allegiance to the new state religion ... under pain of death. How's that for becoming like your persecutors? And to this day, the Roman Catholics still recite that oath at every Mass. It's called "The Nicene Creed," or more popularly known as "The Apostles' Creed."
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It warms my heart to see how many non-believers are actually out there! The voice of science and reason will someday prevail. For all those Christians that are about to blast me...I respect your beliefs.
science says that you don't exist, do u believe that i assume then!
No religion thank you,
"I respect your beliefs."
Really? Think about that...
Perhaps you respect their *right* to believe, or you respect them as human beings, but *respect* outrageous zombie beliefs... hmmmm.
If a man, a tyrant just like those in history, were to say to you "I am a god, worship me and be rewarded, oppose me and be destroyed.", would you bow to his will or oppose him at risk of your life? Suppose the Christian god really exists, this supernatural force whose scripture also says to you "Worship me and be rewarded, oppose me and be destroyed", is it not the same cowardice to bow to his will rather than oppose him? Frankly, it seems our own human insecurity and anxiety...human cowardice...is the basis not just for adopting a religion, but also for surrounding your will to others. Bah, bah, black sheep.
Happy Belated Easter!We had a lovely time in Cincy viintsig family.Now trying to play catchup...it'll prob take a week! LOL Have a great week!
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.