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.
I have never understood the whole idea that he died for our sins. The idea is that the Christian god impregnated a virgin with himself, to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to negate an original sin of Adam and Eve we now all know never happened.
This single concept is riddled with a plethora of logical inconsistencies. It’s God. It makes the rules. Why did it “have to” go through the gruesome act of the crucifixion to forgive us? Why not just forgive us? Why did we need forgiving anyway? Holding us accountable for things that happened before we were born is ludicrously unjust. What about when we realized Adam and Eve was a myth and there was no original sin? What does it even mean for a god to have a human “son” and then demand him as a sacrifice? The whole thing is preposterous.
Let's be honest. Early Christians had to come up with a way to explain why their messiah got executed as they were having trouble converting Jews and pagans.
Don't try and think rationally about religion. Rationality and logic have no place in religion and you will just get a headache.
Why are you asking logical questions to these people? They don't know the answers to any of them anyway. They will just make up something they heard or think they heard... They questions you have don't have answers because it's all bull-oney.
People of the 21st century: Nothing happens when you die. You just die. You won't be upset of disappointed because you will be dead. Stop with all of the fairy tales. (This is what religion is all about-right? You want to live on a cloud for eternity? Not gonna happen). Have faith in yourself and your fellow mankind-not little invisible people who do not exist. You've made it this far with just real humans. Stop wasting the finite time you have in your life on fairy tales-life is FABULOUS without religion. You don't need religion to be a good person. You are a good person without god because there isn't one.
Reality=atheist=reality=atheism=reasonable=free thinker=knowledge=atheist=reality=science=this beautiful life.
It's very important for CNN to post an article today – the holiest day in Christianity -just to get the God haters frothing at the mouth. Great job CNN. Christ is risen! May CNN dive.
I thought Easter was supposed to be a time of introspection and reflection. Apparently, it's instead become a time to lapse into a chocolate egg induced stupor among the faithful.
Here is CNN's predictable yearly Easter article casting doubts on the validity of the Christian faith. Gee, I wonder why CNN never questions the legitimacy of the Muslim faith?
Probably because this is an American, english speaking news outlet, not Arabic.
Actually, the gist of the article is that only kooks deny that he existed. As an atheist, I believe he existed. I just reject the supernatural mumbo-jumbo they claim for him
Did you ever notice that non believers are bitter people.
Have you ever noticed that all 'believers' are delusional?
They are angry. They dress up for Easter but have no place to go.
Not nearly so much as believers, who seem completely beside themselves whenever others do what they themselves say they oughtn't. Witness the ongoing attempts to establish a theocracy in the US that would force a particular brand of belief on the entire populace, and the great wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensues whenever anyone points out that they have a right to their own beliefs and lifestyle that runs counter to evangelical orthodoxy. Believers will never, ever be happy until everyone thinks exactly like them, and will be filled with rage so long as there are those who don't.
Atheists and other non-religious people are trying to make the world a better place by waking people up. If in your heart you want a better understanding of where they are coming from watch this video:
I'd call it determined. I'm only relentless when dealing with theists. In my personal life I am extremely satisfied with an awesome job, wonderful and beautiful wife, and precious son. I'm only upset when I see logical reasonable human beings behaving unreasonably, illogically, and irrationally. Today is a prime example.
Have you ever noticed that Easter was a Pagan Goddess???
So where are the bones"? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.
Jesus was historical. It is proved by science of history!
There was a very famous historian of the Roman Empire, which lived in the first century after Christ (AD 56 – AD 117), that means extremly near-term to the events, which had came to pass in Palestine. He, Tacitus, was a pagan, which had no reason at all to promote Christianity and to tell us lies about Jesus. We can be sure that it was historical, what he wrote about Jesus, because he was an enemy of Jesus:
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superst-ition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multi-tude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind".
This passage is a clear evidence for the historicity of Christ Jesus.
Tacitus is discussed in the article. His accounts are thought be less than believable, and quite likely altered after the fact to suit a particular historical narrative.
You haven't a clue what prayer is about!
Religion is a comfort and control for the masses. If it makes you happy, then I say, believe in it. Perhaps it is true, perhaps not. None of us will truly know until we take our last breath. I will not argue that you are wrong if you do not inflict your faith on me.
The problem is that faith is not innocent and issues like denying women their right to safe and legal abortion or denying equal rights to gays are examples of how it is harmful to others in society even when they want nothing to do with it. Forcing irrational superstitious beliefs on others is not innocent.
The killing of babies that 'reason' promotes is not innocent. It is the #1social justice issue of the day, and yes Christians are at the forefront of this. As far as mud packing goes, just don't try to force me to accept it as normal. It is an illness. Nothing more, nothing less.
I believe in pixies.
Because it is written in the Pixie Chronicles that they exist.
And why do you believe the Pixie Chronicles?
Because they were written by Pixies.
One must engage in circular reasoning to believe in God.
I believe in God
Because it is written in the Bible.
And why do you believe the Bible.
Because it was written by God.
Thank you Colin, that's the most reasonable thing I've read all morning!
God didn't write the Bible. The various books of the New Testiment were writtem by various men and it wasn't until the 3rd or 4th century that peopel decided to start putting it all together. At that point they picked and choose which books they liked and decided which books, like the Book of Mary, got left out.
Well, for me as a Christian, it's more like this:
Why do you believe in God?
Because of what the Bible says about Him.
Why do you believe in the Bible?
Because I've read it (and still do) and it speaks to me. I've taken God up on His promises that I've read about, and He has proven himself to me.
So for me, it's about the experiential angle. That is, I've tried Him, and He's real, even though I can't prove Him to you. You have to try for yourself and see.
It is a strange thing that unbelievers take such an interest into that which they believe not. The way it usually works is that a person will speak of and take interest into the things that they believe in, not in the things which they believe not in.
Those who you are conveniently lumping under the rubric of "non-believers" are believers in history and rational thought.
I agree with you .. and often wondered that myself .. why do some go to such lengths to prove something isn't real. If
I don't think something isn't real, or ever was real, I'm sure not going to go around trying to make other people not think it's real, or ever was real. If someone said they saw a purple moose, well, all right, I'm wouldn't try to make them think differently. What I want to do is try to make people realize that something is real or true, if I can. That would be more productive.
Ok, I get it, the need to question, probe, explore, etc. But of all the days of the year, you had to publish this article on Easter, one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar? C'mon guys, think next time.
Think about what? Is there some better time of year to think about such things?
Look up Easter...? She's a Pagan Goddess...!!! You don't even know what it's all about????
Watch what today's anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:
Christianity will go extinct like all religions because of its/their absurdity.. It is time to replace all religions with a few rules like "Do No Harm" and convert all houses of "worthless worship" to recreation facilities and parks.
Some of these absurdities:
THE INFAMOUS ANGELIC CONS AS THEY CONTINUE TO WREAK STUPIDITY UPON THE WORLD
Joe Smith had his Moroni. (that statue on top of Mormon temples).
"Latter-day Saints also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah."
Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;
Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tinkerbell" got around).
Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day demon of the demented.
The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.
Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.
And as a good student, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" (flaws, errors, muck and stench) of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!
So this is the best story CNN could come up with on the holiest day of the the Christian faith?
Prayer is delusional.
I like CNN's touch of class by posting an article debating the existence of Jesus on Easter.
I do as well, except I am not being sarcastic. Here's sand in your eye!
Next they are going to tell us Santa Claus does not exist on Christmas!
Why not, Jason?
I can't think of a better time to post it, frankly. Isn't Easter supposed to be a time of great introspection and reflection? Or has it simply become a time of lapsing into a chocolate egg stupor?
Easter is a Pagan holiday...Wake up fools...!
How wrong to run a piece of garbage like this on the holiest day for Christians. What are you doing?
No doubt the guy wrote this in English, too...
These doubters are the same type of people that believe we didn't land on the moon, that it was all made up a hoax. Yet look we can see the landers on the lunar surface from new LRO photos. Many facts point to Jesus' human existence. Some will see them for what they are and some like the moon doubters will go on believing otherwise.
These doubters are people who have reviewed historical evidence without the bias of religion. It's religion that is the hoax.
Have you noticed that most " birthers" believe in " J.C. "..? That should tell you something...!
That he lived seems likely. That he had any supernatural powers, survived his own physical death or was God is, well, simple Iron Age mythology.
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.