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.
The historical evidence for the existence of Jesus is as good as the existence for any man two thousand years ago. We have four separate written accounts of his ministry, death, and resurrection. The testimony of witnesses places him at a very specific place in the history of the Roman empire, whose records were the best available for that time period. All Jesus deniers are kooks and conspiracy theorists.
There are at least as many docu.ments supporting the existence of many other alledged gods. Do you accept the existence and divinity of Zeus, Thor, Mohamed, etc.?
The Mythicist Position | What is Mythicism?
Jesus was probably some guy who had new ideas which people liked, then after the fact the powers that be found him much more useful if he were divine.
Essentially very much the same as the current religious climate. If today's scientists and philosophers that were hurting the established christianity, could be traced back to one person, you could see how the religious nuts on this comment board would hunt him down and crucify him. I find many things in the bible reasonable with enough physical evidence to believe it was true. I'm fairly certain there was a man who taught against the established judism of the time and upset enough jews to get himself killed. The miracles and stuff require much more evidence to make me swallow it.
This is why nobody reads CNN. A blatant anti-religious article on Easter Sunday when millions of followers celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
you finally only now realize who owns the media? United States of israel.
I must admit that even though I am an atheist, I admire Christians. I truly admire a religion that would create a holiday that celebrates a zombie resurrection and a rabbit that lays eggs.
I admire the courage of Christian parents who teach their children to pick up and eat the little egg-shaped things bunnies leave behind (you never know – Jesus might miracle the "eggs" into chocolate).
Sarcasm is the last refuge of a weak mind.
@Brennon, not really, but religion is for sure one of the first refuges for the very, very weakest of minds.
Prayer changes things..
Prayer doesn’t not; you are so full of crap and lies. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!" . . ..
God answers prayer but sometimes the answer is no.
There ate millions around the world who could give testimony to miracles. By the way you can't measure a chicken with a yard stick, yet you materialist always insist on it, like some kind of religion.
And sometimes when god answers no, millions of children starve or die miserably of diseases that I guess Noah stashed on the ark for safe keeping. God is kind of a schmuck. But as long as he's the biggest, baddest schmuck in the universe, all glory to him, eh?
hawaiiduude, sometimes I make a wish when I blow out my birthday candles, and the wish comes true. And sometimes the answer is no.
In fact, choose any random system of chance, and sometimes the result is positive, and sometimes it's negative.
That's called confirmation bias, and your aware of it. Scientific studies have looked into intercessory prayer and found little to no difference.
So the reasonable question when someone says, "sometimes god answers no" is this. IF positive and negative answers are given "from god" at the exact same rate you would expect from random chance then exactly how do you know he heard your prayers and answered?
Jesus said "blessed is he that have not seen but yet believe.". Jesus in my heart is as real as the day has light. Eveyday I see the works of God and how God sent his son to this earth to die for our sins. The Bible states that "as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the comming of the son of man." There is going to be disbelief and noncontent with Gods word. As it was during Noah's time, people ridiculed and said that God did not exist but you can read what happened. Even those things that people scauf in disbelief are now being dug up as artifacts, i.e. Noahs Ark etc. The Bible is Gods infowlable truth. I confess to the entire world that Jesus is real and will one day return to an unbelieving world. Some will see and welcome his coming but others will still not believe and will be decieved by the devil. Even now, as it was, "he came to received his own unto himself and his own received him not". This too will happenI am sure of it. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord My God and Jesus his Son will be rule in our lives.
uh, where would I find information on these Noah's Ark artifacts that people used to "scauf" at? Somehow, those didn't make the news. Must be the bigotry of the liberal press.
well said john. we must never lose our faith. the liberals and secularists will always try to take god out of society but we will never allow them to change us.
I'm not a liberal and I think your god is an expression of your petty fears and even pettier hatreds.
You said it exactly right big bob. Keep your god out of my society. Keep him to yourself, and out of my child's classroom. Keep him in your heart, and outside of the courtroom. Keep him in your church, and away from my government.
I think that would make for a lot less friction, don't you think?
Nice, respectful article to have as your headline on EASTER, CNN. You liberal Jews and Athiests really know how to win the "hearts and minds".
cnn=zionism-=synagogue of satan
According to your book, Jesus was a liberal Jew.
Faithless are the foolish who throw Cain-like wieldings toward the Faithful! God knows full well about those of you who clamour and try to climb out of their darkened pitts of jealousies!
Your silly book says the world is 6000 years old, but, Dinosaur bones exist :( If what it says couldn't be further from the truth on a minor detail such as that, why should anyone listen to anything else it says?
Sounds like the Lame Lion, Richard Kaiser, is back!
Fools are people that refuse to believe things without actual evidence, these fools critique people that believe in things (God, Aliens, Bigfoot) without any evidence and just because of a whim / childhood indoctrination.
Christians dont have a right to be angry but atheists do right? Aatheists are the most moral people in the world right? Why don't u extend us some compassion today? Love as like yourself today. Forgive us only today.
'Most Jesus deniers are Internet kooks, says Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar ' – excuse me, most would say they are probably atheists and hence rational intelligent people. It really is about time that these religious maniacs got a healthy dose of reality.
As for me, I'm off to pray to the easter Bunny which is at least as real as any other god out there :)
Can you give me a reason why that is true?
The fact that you are angry at a scholars assessment of your activity is simple. You hate to be told u r wrong. a rational, intelligent person will sit back n evaluate his behavior. loving yourself makes u blind. love others as u love yourself n become rational n intelligent.
Just like you can make something out of nothing. Keep on praying to the Easter Bunny, at least you have some faith.
Most of this nonsense is a form of far left liberal hatred towards those that have religion in there lives. It can be a form of racism or religious discontent. A friend of mine married a jewish woman whose son asked that they don't play Christmas music at the family Christmas celebration. He told him to go FFFF himself and stay away if he was unable to accept others religious beliefs. Supposedly, this young man that was headed to be a rabbi but instead is now a devout atheist. Very wealthy, on his way to be married to a non Jewish woman and now wants to raise the children jewish instead of Christian even though he is an atheist.
I get confused by the program they stand for. Most prejudice people I know that claim to be for all but mainly for Jewish conservation. Awful people, some of these chosen ones ready to build their golden idol at the expense of anyone. What I think is this, let people love and worship the God that they believe in and if you don't believe in God, keep your annotations in the bathroom talking to the mirror.
State of Emergency in the Churches
Sadly some people will do anything to make a buck even tarnish the true story about the most remarkable man who ever walked upon the face of this earth. He treated everyone he met with forgiveness and kindness and spoke words of encouragement to the down trodden. So what target do co artists question the authenticity of? Jesus Christ the Son of God. We have enough problems in the world as it is and if more people followed the teachings of Jesus there would in fact be far less turmoil in the world. Don't give the people who sell these fairy tales thew time of day. A time will come when they will have to account for their devious behavior.
Sadly, some people will follow any stupid cult that comes along. It doesn't need facts, it doesn't need actual history. A nice story, a few good songs, ans some pretty pictures help though.
When the Son of God cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).
You 'know it all' 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. I shall pray for your soul.
I beg your pardon! I don't only come out on Easter and Christmas. I'm here every day of the year.
You can go ahead and pray for my soul if you like, but you're just expending calories that could have been better spent washing the dishes, or doing some laundry.
The dates on which you celebrate Easter and Christmas were "borrowed" from Pagan traditions by the early church. So, isn't it you that is stepping on others beliefs?
And what do you mean by the statement that I spew lies? All I ever do is to try to sort out the truth from all the stories. The fact that I don't immediately believe everything I'm told, and that I encourage others to think critically as well, is not a lie.
I think... checking my dictionary... yes, I think that is the opposite of lie.
Typical CNN (Christ Not Needed). Headed by John Blake. Isn't he an atheist? I expected a leading story like this here today.
Agreed. CNN is not an objective news organization.
You must be a prophet then!
Blindly believing the word of the Bible is the complete opposite of objectivity.
well done cnn. post a story to raise doubt into christ' existence to help further the secularism in society. do it in a subtle way
so as to not angrily upset the masses. amazing how news organizations can put doubt in people with their stories by somehow legitimizing their own agendas and the mases buy it. revelations said this will all happen as it is and feel sorry for the non believers because when that day finally comes they will have no recourse but to accept their ignorance that had lead them down the devils path. you should all ask who owns and therefor directs the big news organizations and you will see how craftly the devil works his ways.
How do you define "ignorance"?
You really are a big boob. U, did I misread that...
Bring on secularism! Sounds good to me.
And I don't believe that there is a little red devil slithering around trying to turn people from god. The scary monster approach used to work in the middle ages, but it just sounds ridiculous in the 21st century.
Lol, so the problem with historical research and study is that the people are reasonable and not raving lunatics frothing at the mouth?
Please read the openning testimony of the book of Mormon. Joseph Smith has witnesses claim they saw the golden tablets brought by the angel Moroni. There is no archeologicical proof of any of the lost tribes of Isreal coming to America, even the LDS church has stopped looking, yet there are people who are convinced these teachings are true. So the evidence of mass delusion exists...pick your belief that is predicated on a wish. Mohammed the conquerer wanted peace. My offerings to the Budda helps my restaurant. My Shinto emperor is a god. Religion is a psychosis, but we are so immersed in it that it is like trying to convince a fish realise that they breath water. The key understanding to our psychosis is that we can abstract... our senses don't perceive pi, tomorrow, radio waves, the back of the moon, our dead granparents, but we "know" they exist. It is no wonder that our brains/minds can conceive and make sense of something greater than ourselves. The issues come from when our compasses to do what is "right" are deflected by texts written by people and acribed to deity. How do I become an Operating Thetan 8, with this engram ? Should I help the Maitreya's arrival or the 12th Imam ? Should I drink the Kool-aid Jim ? Sadly it seems, we individuals go with the collective we are with and let their consenses make the truth...even as far as saying that the war was worth it, that one is exceptional because one says it is true...
So God doesn't exist because we are all psychosis. So let me ask you, why should I listen to you? How do I know then, what you just said isn't your psychosis? Just curious and would like you to show me the light.
Listen liver lips, until you can prove there is a god (that is what you claim, right?), don't ask me to disprove it, moron. How's that for some light?
I love this article, but even more so – I love reading the comments. Christians get so angry when something doesn't agree with them and lash out in terrible ways. It's good to see and how my eyes were first opened to the truth – how could there be a god with such terrible and wicked followers as you?
we defend god . if thats wicked than you need to start soul searching.
Why does god need your defense? Has god asked you to defend him? Why don't people have to defend math or chemistry? Why do people of all different faiths use the same math and chemistry? Why do we debate god and not gravity?
We get so angry because you "atheists" are lying about the man who came to save your soul! You spit at Him and YOU nailed Him to the cross. Take this post down or suffer God's rath.
momoya, you got be an expert in physics working at CERN, are you or are you not, please tell me that particles don't exist till observed
The majority of the responses I've read thus far are simply derogatory attacks. If you want to defend god then defend him with sound arguments, not by petty bashing. If you disagree with that might I suggest you do some intelligence searching. It's a pointless argument though – to believe in god you have to suspend rational comprehension and make a "leap of faith". Perhaps it's my own inability to bridge this gap between what I can experience with my 5 senses and a rudimentary understanding of mathematics and science, but I can't understand how there can be a god that would allow people to sit on their asses on Easter Sunday, gorging themselves till completely stuffed while babies die in Africa from aids, malnutrition, and a host of other diseases. Your god is an awesome god indeed.
You didn't answer my question. Do you think you may have a mental disorder?
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.
Easter on CNN, I agree with your comment the root of the problem is that both religious and atheist people have a very distorted idea of what god is! the more I read about quantum mechanics and how the brain processes information the more i believe that the reality of existence is way more different than what both sides have claim since the down of humanity!
elena, I don't see the sense in presenting logic to a being who scorns it like you do in every one of your attempts at communication.
and for you, Voice Of reason, we all must have mental disorders in order to live this live, otherwise a totally sane person will shoot himself on the head!
Actually I wasn't alive at that time so I couldn't of nailed Jesus to a cross, nor could I have produced saliva to spit on him. Jesus (according to the bible) was handed over by Jewish people (monotheistic religion) and was nailed to a cross by Roman's (most of which were polytheistic). All of them believed in a god or gods. Atheists would of simply seen the man as a quack on the corner of a street prattling on with nonsense and would of ignored him.
Now I'm not bothered by your belief system – by all means color your Easter eggs, hide them for your children and celebrate your messiah being nailed to a cross then turning into a zombie three days later – I'm perfectly fine with that but can you respect the belief system we have? It's very simple and not complicated at all.
As a child you're told if your naughty Santa won't bring you presents, the Easter bunny won't bring you candy & eggs, and that leprechauns will cause havoc to naughty children on St. Patrick's day. Eventually we grow up and realize these are all just stories and allegory to steer children in the right direction and to making just and correct decisions.
Now as a man I have put away with childish things (see what I did there?) – you realize that no, there isn't a large bearded man in a red suit who breaks into your house to leave presents, – there isn't a 6ft giant rabbit that defecates colored eggs into my lawn and there isn't a cross nailed zombie who comes back from the grave to live forever.
Why are you so offended by my non belief?
While I am an advocate of spiritual exploration – by atheists to disprove or by the faithful to validate – running an article questioning the very core of a religious belief system on a holy day is indelicate, to say the least. Will you question that Muhammad received the word of God, running similar articles during Ramadan? Or on Yom Kippur, draw on conjecture to argue that the Book of Life is for fools?
This is not journalism. This sensationalist pander.
You're a pantyhose wimp, get over it!
"running an article questioning the very core of a religious belief system on a holy day is indelicate, to say the least."
Only 33% of the world is Christians so you don't have a monopoly on this day. Plus, it is the celebration of spring by the the goddess Ēostre!
Article Reads: "Can’t people derive inspiration from his teachings whether he actually walked the Earth?"
Very very stupid question....
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.