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.
Im an athiest or what most people would call one my views of god abstract.
However I do know that Jesus existed. The Romans killed him and kept good records of who they killed. Thats how we know he existed.
As for if the Abrahamic god across Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam is good or bad doesn't really matter its a book. The Message is Love god from his benevolence or by the threat of eternal damnation. It doesn't matter just love god is the message.
Dude, you are no atheist.
I don't believe there are any records of Jesus' existence other than the bible. There was no Herod and there was no census where people were required to go to the place of their birth to be recorded. It is all a fabrication. Having said that, it is a good idea to treat others as you would like to be treated, be benevolent, etc.
The "Christians" fail to live the one simple message Love one another as I Loved you, oh they can judge, shame, hate, beat, steal and destroy and still wave their Bibles and Crosses. Hypocrits, people who torture others to believe in a Jesus who they have turned into a monster if you saw the way they live "the world". They go to Church for their Ego not their healing of their Souls.
This debate has been going on for centuries. Nothing new posted here. Jesus is either who he said he was and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". Or, he is a liar. Be careful how you decide, What if it is true?
"What if?" That's your best argument?!?! LOL!!
What if Islam is true?
There is a third option that you conveniently leave out. That he never existed to spout truth or lies.
"And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God." Matthew 27:51-54
HOLY BALLS! HUNDREDS OF SAINTS APPEAR IN MASS RESURRECTION IN A CITY OF TENS OF THOUSANDS WITH A ROMAN GARRISON!!!!! I BET THERE ARE TONS OF ROMAN RECORDS ABOUT THIS!
What? There are no records? Well snap!
Just for the record: that gospel according to Matthew ... WASN'T WRITTEN BY MATTHEW! He was dead and gone when someone wrote it down an put his name to it. It's called "word of mouth," and anyone who's played that children's game of whispering a secret to the first child in a row of ten, and asking each child to whisper it to the next, knows the the secret received by the 10th child bears no resemblance to the one whispered to the first child. It's just human nature to distort and embellish.
When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).
Let's hope not.
Are you capable of explaining to us what this means, or can you only transcribe chimpanzee-like a verse from the bible? Are we supposed to think you are wise because you copied a bible verse? Seriously, what's you point and are you capable of making it?
Faith abounds in abundant measurings almost everywhere! We are living ashes of God's Creations built by the hands of God's sons who do dwell inside us. We are forever to labour with God and Hs Sons! We are of God's Husbandry Ways! We are God's Buildings!
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
It is ironic that so many christians are "offended" at a dialogue about religion sponsored by CNN instead of greeting the opportunity to express their views. Perhaps they are shamed that we all know they are surfing the web when they should be worshipping on Easter Sunday/
That is just the dumbest comment I have seen all day.
Funny it's always Jesus that's the "myth." Mohammad, Buddha, Zarathustra, etc. are all real no matter what their religions claim about them, but Jesus is a myth. LOL.
You must be one of those slacker "christians" who isn't surfing the web on Easter Sunday.
There is so much stupidity among religious people, it makes all religions look stupid.
Until scientist can prove i dont exist till observe i will remain a believer, actually that makes me even more of a believer!
I'll repeat that for you: Could you write that in English please?
you know nothing about the dual nature of particles
Do you equally believe in everything you do not see, fairies, leprachuns, unicorns, etc.?
Elena will now be presenting her groundbreaking scientific proof that souls or spirits of conciseness, and a higher supreme consciousness or being, which is the fountain of creations exists! All of you will be pwnd!
Physicists say that nothing really exist till observed, do you believe that!
No, Elena.. You need to study science more if you plan to use its principles in debate.
"Physicists say that nothing really exist till observed, do you believe that!"
momoya, you must be an expert in physics working at CERN, are you
"momoya, you must be an expert in physics working at CERN, are you"
This is sooooo exciting people, we have an expert here that is going to tell us her groundbreaking scientific proof that souls or spirits of conciseness, and a higher supreme consciousness or being, which is the fountain of creations exists!...
Biocentrism by Lanza and Berman.
The Third Principle of Biocentrism, The behaviour of subatomic particles, indeed all particles and objects is inextricably linked to the presence of an observer. Without said observer, they at best exist in an undetermined state of probability waves.
Hmmm? Quantum theory? Quantum mechanics? Once observed, do we really need to care how we got there mathematically?
Do we really need to consult Deepak Chopra?
Hey, don't be dissing my girl Elena, she has groundbreaking scientific proof that souls or spirits of conciseness, and a higher supreme consciousness or being, which is the fountain of creations exists! You'll see, you'll all see!
There are no gods, and I DO NOT respect your silly faith.
But you believe you don't exist till observed right, because that is what physicist say!
When the Son of God cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).
You 'know it all' fruitcake athiests always come out of the woodwork on Holy Easter and Christmas, don't you? And your sin is worse than your lack of faith, in that you try to spew your lies to others.
"But you believe you don't exist till observed right, because that is what physicist say!
It might be better if you got educated before you really embarrass the Christian faith. Thanks for showing how stupid people who believe like you are, wow.
HeyYou, you are another morron and arrogant redneck who have to punch because lacks intelligence to debate, you are so ignorant that you not even have a clue of what i am talking.
"you are another morron and arrogant redneck who have to punch because lacks intelligence to debate, you are so ignorant that you not even have a clue of what i am talking."
You really have no clue and based on your sentence structure, you're an idiot.
Elena? Really? Elena? This is actually Borat...right?
It is amazing that this Easter holiday changes every year! One year it is April, next year in March and then year after in April again, never falling on the same dates. Why the change because you are not celebrating the anniversary death and resurrection of Jesus, but the "Spring Equinox" , the relationship of the Sun (not Son), Earth and equator. Easter has everything to do with fertility(bunny rabbit and eggs), new garments( a sign of spring weather from winter) but nothing to do with Jesus. Can you say Pagan!! The facts are evident!! Furthermore, the Bible says that Jesus died on a Friday evening (Good Friday) and rose on the 3rd day Sunday morning(Easter), but if you study this closely it DOES NOT add up to three days!! Can you say Pagan!! Jesus said no one will tell you the kingdom of heaven is here or there because the kingdom of heaven is within you, so, I say believe in your heart to do what is righteous and not follow these mythical religious zealots who refuse to tell you the truth in your worship. Do I believe in Jesus, yes, but not the mythical Jesus that society has shaped us to believe in. Jesus said you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. Thank God I know the truth and he has set me free from the LIE!!!!PEACE BE UNTO YOU ALL!!!
Is it possible that you are deluded?
an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.
As if Christians don't know that the Western date was set to replace a pagan holiday that falls at approximately the same time of year. LOL. Of course we do. The Eastern Church does, however, celebrate during the Passover feast, which is more historically accurate and, oh yeah, also happens to coincide with this year's western date.
till science can prove i dont exist till observe i will remain a believer, actually that makes me even more of a believer!
Could you write that in English please?
no wonder it looks like Chinese to you since you know nothing about the dual nature of particles!
Could you be experiencing a mental disorder?
Elena, your words have proved that you are a moron.. Belief is the better option for you, and I'm sure most atheists would agree!
again momoya, the moron is you since you can debate like an educated person you must punch because you are still a arrogant redneck
"again momoya, the moron is you since you can debate like an educated person you must punch because you are still a arrogant redneck"
Pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot, That log in your eye is HUGE!
Ah, so now we see that you are nothing more than a common troll.. Enjoy your ignorance!
Elena? Really? Elena? This is actually Borat...right?
Do you 'unbelievers' think that so many of us follow a myth blindly? That we just accept something? I was a skeptic of skeptics until I did what the Bible says do. I figured that I owed myself at least the time to put His claims to the proof test. I was 'born again' of His Holy Spirit that night in 1970. Since then I have had the privilidge of leading hundreds to Christ in prayer, and each has known the reality of His presence. One was a MD that had searched the world over, and when I spoke with him on July 19, 07 in a large hospital, when he realized the reality of what I told him, he bowed his head and received the gift of eternal life. I have never seen electricity or understand how it operates, but will not sit in darkness until I do.
No, it's not "blind acceptance," but acceptance based on the dominant myth of your culture and upbringing.. You didn't turn away from and then towards some idea of god that is unknown, but away from and towards a god that you knew from your upbringing and society.. Had you been raised in Saudi Arabia, you'd have been a skeptic of Allah and then turned back to him instead of Jehovah of the bible..
GolfPro, you have never seen lightning?
i doubt you do what the bible tells you. if you did you would be a mass murder/serial killer. anyone who actually read and followed the bible to the letter would be among the worst people ever to live. the bible says to kill anyone that works on the sabbath. the bible is not ambiguous about this. it says it straight up. so if you follow the bible, you should go to the mall this weekend and murder everyone working on the sabbath. yep, teenagers working at the gap and in the food court should be put to death.
no christians actually follow the bible these days - thank god. christians practice christianity-light. otherwise you would also have to murder g.a.y.s, disobedient wives and children.
that book is an awful guide to good living. Humanism offers a much better set of ethics to live by. in fact i challenge any christian to show how the morals offered by the bible are superior to the ethics offered by Humanism. and you can leave out the "yer bad cause you don't worship god, derp!" compare the two. Humanism doesn't tell you to murder anyone, for starters....
Yes, I do believe that you folllow the myth blindly.
Electricity can be measured, controlled, is understood in the backdrop of physical laws, and thorougly explained using both logic and mathematics. I don't challenge the existence of god because I can't see him. I challenge the existence of god because I cannot detect him in any way. The electricity metaphor is inadequate.
CHRISTIANITY – The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie that was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib woman was convinced from a talking snake to eat from a magical tree... yeah, makes perfect sense.
yep, that about sums it up.
I believe the Easter Bunny is a myth.
But technically you can not prove he doesn't exist.
i'd much rather meet the easter bunny than jesus. cult leaders don't get invited to dinner.
Hi ! I'm one of those Internet kooks... Feel better now? Feel righteous? Feel superior? Holier? Well done scholars. You certainly have made a well articulated point here...
It amazes me that mankind has wasted so much time pondering this stuff and resultantly so many wars have been faught over it. Utterly insane!
The thing that I needed to add was that so many have gotten rich blowing on and on over it. Religion is truly the Devil's masterpiece of propaganda!
Reblogged this on Equivalence Principle and commented:
I don't particularly care one way or another whether Jesus is an actual historical figure, but the arguments are interesting. Happy recycled pagan myth day!
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
this article could read:
The Heracules debate: Man or Myth.
funny how christians are so sure jesus existed when there is no proof of him actually having lived.
Do you have any ancestors? Do you know who they are? Did they ever exist? Why and to what purpose should you exist? Vanity is cheap and nurtures nothing of any more worth than the dirt we are made of. Having an aspiration for something greater is a bigger motivation than being reduced to the worth of the dirt we are made of.
Having a trust and faith in a seemingly intangible 'Benevolent' God frustrates those that want us to worship or be devout followers of them or 'their' temporal ideology. God gets in their way and frustrates them because the only way to slay him is to strip the people of a belief and faith in him.
The belief in God has unified people in ways that have helped us overcome the mentality of simply being creatures of the animal kingdom and has even given even the weakest among us the ability to contribute to 'civilization'.
The obvious price to having intellectual or physical prowess is arrogance and a vain trust in one's own physical or mental strength.
This debate isn't about whether there is a God. But whether people can be compelled to give up hope or faith in something perceived to be better than what a compelling human or temporal ideology 'inflicts' upon us.
"benevolent"? hahaha. you obviously haven't read the bible. how many millions did god drown in his great flood? drowned babies. read that again. he drowned BABIES. babies cannot possibly deserve it. but god murdered every human, every animal and plant on earth in his child-like rage. only an insane cult of christianity follower could say a god that murders innocent children is "benevolent".
and i don't approve of cults of personality either.
"Better" is questionable. "Perceived" is exactly correct.
I can believe in your God. But God that create destruction and has no solution for pressing problems faced by the believer is like having a pretty, knowledgeable, hard working wife that will nto go to bed with husband. What use is such a God?
When a garden is choked with weeds and the purpose of the garden is frustrated to the point where its purpose cannot be fulfilled, it gets tilled under. Too often people have chosen to be weeds that choke out those that have hope and faith that their lives have potential and of more worth than taking up space. Must you continue your effort to choke out the hope and faith that gives people strength and tolerance to put up with people of ill will? Yes people are weak minded and physically challenged. And their hope and faith helps them cope with it. Must your vanity of self be so intent upon bullying them?
RAJ PATEL – This life isn't to prove God. It is to prove ourselves. What we inflict upon each other is our choosing. It is easy to place the blame for our own actions upon others. Natural disaster or illness humbles us and reminds us of or mortality and dependence upon what we have been 'given' to fulfill our purpose in proving that we will choose goodwill for others or ill will upon others for our own gain.
Having a perspective of hope or faith in life before and after our temporal existence is what gives us encouragement that we can be and obtain a better society.
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.