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.
the eistein quote i used came from the princeton eistein papers and an interview with Albert in 1953 for thePrinceton University Press . so do some research. they are accurate.
God without science is ignorance, but Science without God is pointless
When the solution is simple, God is answering.
God does not play dice with the universe.
God is subtle but he is not malicious.
It sounds like Einstein never studied the problem of evil... of course that's philosophy and not physics
Nice cut and paste job Gunny. How about trying to come up with some original thoughts?
my point is smarter people than you believe.
I'm not disagreeing that he made those quotes. What I do disagree with is that his reference of "God" has no relationship whatsoever to the "God" you are referencing. Pretty pathetic for you to try and make it seem that way.
And again, regardless, whether Einstein, You, the Pope, Obama, or my own mother says that YOUR God exists, without any evidence, ya got nothing.
"my point is smarter people than you believe."
And without evidence there is a reason to believe, the point is meaningless.
Just because he was a genius in physics doesn’t mean that he was right about there being a god.
YEAHOK what is pathic is your sorry attempt to change the meaning of comments that one of the greatest minds has made and you have ZERO proof to this so called intent. nice try.
"What I do disagree with is that his reference of "God" has no relationship whatsoever to the "God" you are referencing."
Sorry, that should be "...has ANY relationship..."
On 24 March 1954 Einstein answered in English as follows:
I get hundreds and hundreds of letters but seldom one so interesting as yours. I believe that your opinions about our society are quite reasonable.
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
I have no possibility to bring the money you sent me to the appropriate receiver. I return it therefore in recognition of your good heart and intention. Your letter shows me also that wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.
Gunny, you're the one that is straw manning the entire argument. There is NO evidence that your god or Jesus exists. That is the argument. Your argument from authority is a thinly veiled attempt at a straw man. Either come up with some evidence or STFU.
There is in the Einstein Archives a letter dated 5 August 1927 from a banker in Colorado to Einstein in Berlin. Since it begins "Several months ago I wrote you as follows," one may assume that Einstein had not yet answered. The banker remarked that most scientists and the like had given up the idea of God as a bearded, benevolent father figure surrounded by angels, although many sincere people worship and revere such a God. The question of God had arisen in the course of a discussion in a literary group, and some of the members decided to ask eminent men to send their views in a form that would be suitable for publication. He added that some twenty-four Nobel Prize winners had already responded, and he hoped that Einstein would too. On the letter, Einstein wrote the following in German. It may or may not have been sent:
I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science.
My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance-but for us, not for God.
A Chicago Rabbi, preparing a lecture on "The Religious Implications of the Theory of Relativity," wrote to Einstein in Princeton on zo December 1939 to ask some questions on the topic. Einstein replied as follows:
I do not believe that the basic ideas of the theory of relativity can lay claim to a relationship with the religious sphere that is different from that of scientific knowledge in general. I see this connection in the fact that profound interrelationships in the objective world can Ije comprehended through simple logical concepts. To be sure, in the theory of relativity this is the case in particularly full measure.
The religious feeling engendered by experiencing the logical comprehensibility of profound interrelations is of a somewhat different sort from the feeling that one usually calls religious. It is more a feeling of awe at the scheme that is manifested in the material universe. It does not lead us to take the step of fashioning a god-like being in our own image-a personage who makes demands of us and who takes an interest in us as individuals. There is in this neither a will nor a goal, nor a must, but only sheer being. For this reason, people of our type see in morality a purely human matter, albeit the most important in the human sphere.
On 17 July I953 a woman who was a licensed Baptist pastor sent Einstein in Princeton a warmly appreciative evangelical letter. Quoting several passages from the scriptures, she asked him whether he had considered the relationship of his immortal soul to its Creator, and asked whether he felt assurance of ever lasting life with God after death. It is not known whether a reply was sent, but the letter is in the Einstein Archives, and on it, in Einstein's hand writing, is the following sentence, written in English:
I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.
Einstein "About God, I cannot accept any concept based on the authority of the Church. As long as I can remember, I have resented mass indocrination. I do not believe in the fear of life, in the fear of death, in blind faith. I cannot prove to you that there is no personal God, but if I were to speak of him, I would be a liar. I do not believe in the God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil. My God created laws that take care of that. His universe is not ruled by wishful thinking, but by immutable laws.
—W. Hermanns, Einstein and the Poet—In Search of the Cosmic Man (Branden Press, Brookline Village, Mass., 1983), p.132, quoted in Jammer, p.123.
ATTENTION !!!! ATTENTION!!!! ATTENTION!!!!
!! Shame on CNN for posting this ridiculous article on Easter Sunday and attacking Christianity on this holiday !!
(CNN would never do this to any Jewish/Muslims during their holidays – poor Christians are always on the targeting during their holidays, and luckily they always forgive. It's same as questioning whether the holocaust or Muhammed existed!)
*** Do like me and many others: CALL/E-MAIL CNN & COMPLAIN ABOUT THIS BS ***
– Happy Easter everyone and may our Lord & Saviour bless us all who believe in him –
Evidently, your faith is so weak that you can't tolerate a simple discussion of both sides of the argument about who Jesus was.
HOLOCAUST MIGHT BE FAKE AND NEVER HAPPENED........... HOW'S THAT FEELING CNN?
The difference here John is that the holocaust happened in our lifetime.
CNN would never run an article about Muhammad being a real person or not during Ramadan. The atheists at CNN know that the Jewish faith and Christianity are fair game because of the liberties Jews and Christians brought to this country.
There is infinitely more evidence of the Holocaust than of Jesus's existence. Try again Skippy.
Chris" Your statement is truly laughable. The christians brought liberties to this country? Really? Like burning people who had other views? Like the treatment of the Native American? And I could go on from that period or before about the so called"liberties' you speak of.
That statement is at best laughable,if not just plain insulting to the millions who lived it.
When CNN says: "Some say Jesus never existed and was a myth created by early Christians." You have to realize that the majority of the "Some say" group are males who enjoy... how shall I say it? ..."eating the prong".
I don't know what you mean, can you explain yourself better?
Please do explain what you mean. And please do back it up if you can.
Thank goodness for Jesus Christ. The Latter-day Saint view is that many knew of Him from other cultures besides just the Jewish culture.... even long before he was born. It is thus no surprise that there are other "legends" of a Christ-like figure from other cultures as prophecies existed elsewhere as well (even if details of this have mutated over time). God loves all of His Children, Jesus did rise again. Happy Easter, everybody!
What's pathetic is the fact that he does a character assassination of the Christ and then complain about his own character assassination !
ATTENTION !!!! ATTENTION!!!! ATTENTION!!!!.
– Happy Easter everyone and may our Lord & Saviour bless us all who believe in him -.
AWESOME JOB CNN!! THANK YOU!!
Did you even bother to read the article? It presents both sides of a debate. That is all. Shouldn't you be out burning books or something?
What a freakin' m oron.
If prayer worked, all you would have to do is pray.
Okay,who's "God"? And why should you have any more say over what is written,than me or anyone else.
If your faith is so weak that it can't tolerate objective, historical, inquiry, this article is the least of your problems Skippy.
Really JM, where in the OT does it say the messiah will be rejected by the jews and championed by the gentiles?
You are very brave to post this. I've gained some respect for CNN because of you. Thank you for not sugar coating this to stop the adult-babies from throwing temper tantrums because someone dared to disagree. :D
You sound like a zionist
sorry jim but this is only part of your life.
what happens next? even non believer unstand that the sole is energy and energy does disappear it goes somewhere.
and yes my life is perfect. i am blessed with so much.
You seem to have difficulties with the reply feature.
What happens next? When I die,it will be the end. Nothing more,nothing less.
What happens next is that we die, ALL OF US, and then rot away becoming one with the Earth. Simple as that. I know that you want there to be more but that doesn't mean that there is.
like i said your life is pointless.
There's sufficient historical evidence to establish that there was a Jewish tradesman named Jesus who lived in ancient Palestine and evidently enjoyed talking about scripture. That much is certain. What he said about scripture, why he died, and whether or not he was the Messiah, those are matters of faith.
If you are offended by this article's objective, historical, evidence-based treatment of the Biblical character Jesus, your faith is weak and you should examine why you really believe what you believe.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
Atheism showed its true nature when they gained control of the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, Cambodia, Cuba and North Korea. More humans were killed by atheist teachings in the 20th century than religion in 2000 years. After 80 years of atheist education in the Soviet Union people flocked to churches after it collapsed. Atheism offers no hope, it is soulless and it is know by its fruits.
LOL I called CNN and the lady listened to my complains and hung up the phone!
What a zionist
What are your complaints?
Are you complaining because you disagree? That is your right,but do not ask to have it banned based on your beliefs,as not everyone feels the same way,and may enjoy reading the article.
Why not just relay to message directly to jesus yourself in prayer tonight?
I mean, I realize that praying to jesus is about as fruitful as asking the greeter at walmart if she could send you a spaceship of time-traveling dinosaurs to give you tonight’s winning lotto numbers, but hang in there. You have faith, right?!
Step out of the churches,the temples and mausoleums. Stop letting men dictate to you. If you proclaim to be a true believer,then do what your Jesus said to do. Help the less fortunate,help your fellow man,be of moral character(no religion needed),stay far from the politics of the very day world.The "facts' that these preachers,priests,televangelist's spout are what they perceive the way it should be. Fact is,noone knows for sure what"jesus" said or did,as it has become watered down,twisted to suit a religion,and even had parts omitted if not agreed upon.
Greek Mythology and Christian Mythology – one in the same
How do u plan to pass for a rational and intelligent person when you don't know that your grammar is wrong?
Judging from your post you cannot make sense of them n thats why you insult Ancient Greek polytheism and Christianity.
Nii, I've read plenty of your posts. You should be the last one to talk about grammar.
Thank goodness for the establishment clause in the first amendment!
Most christians don't understand that the separation of church and state was meant to protect the citizenry FROM the religious abuses of christian zealots (the founding fathers had had enough with the religious bigotry and excess of their puritanical forbears).
# IN REASON WE TRUST #
When was the last time you randomly floated off the planet Earth? Heard of anyone else floating away? What about the last time you hit your head right after you felt the pain? Better yet, when was the last time someone you know had a baby without any paternal DNA?
The laws of physics don't suddenly disappear to make way for your fairy tales. Sorry..
Ha. Unless someone actually created the laws of Physics.
The scientific method = you must actually prove something. No one is able to prove the existence/non-existence of God w/o just saying "I don't believe" He exists. That's a belief system; not a scientific statement.
those things happen when a god wants to make sure that we can't test them
JM, put down the bottle. You're making absolutely no sense to anyone but yourself.
I love the Bible. Such incredible wisdom. The Psalms are so comforting; Isaiah is so inspiring; Jesus' teaching is radically loving...
Yea, great stuff:
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
"Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. Matthew 10:34 "If a divorced woman marries she commits adullty" Matt 5:32
Nice Zombie Jesus
=> Pick and choose what you want from it w/o looking at the big picture? Brilliant.
"Let him who is w/o sin cast the first stone."
“All right,” the Lord said. “You may bake your bread with cow dung instead of human dung.”
What a silly book.
Yes jim in context 16 Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.
You are a plague and take the counsel of Balaam, and try to tresspass against the Lord.
The Old Testament Laws are tough when they came against wicked evil people, so Beware!!
JM....the point is we don't believe your silly book, thus there is NO sin, there is simple rational subjective morality, and criticizing an irrational belief in a myth in no way fits into a rational person's definition of "wrong"
Nope, the OT doesnt matter anymore. We use the nicey nicey NT now. None of what the OT says matters. None of the condoning of slavery, marrying your rapist, or any of that.
If he existed, Jesus was a Jew and so any religion derived from his teachings would simply be a Jewish sect; yeah, Christianity is just an sect of Judiasim. It's funny how "Christians" are offended by this truth; for ethnocentric reasons they would deny the Jewish nature of their faith even as they name their children John, Rachel, James, etc...all Jewish names. "Christianity" is the most hypocritical and internally inconsistent religion that has ever existed.
I do not deny that Christianity is an extension of the Jewish faith.
Who is denying that? That's the entire point of the Bible. The OT predicts Jesus' birth and the fact that the Jewish people would reject him as the messiah and that, instead, the Gentiles (the rest of us) would accept him as the Christ, the Messiah.
Ha ha ha. Funny.
How does the OT "predict" anything that is written in the NT? When you write a sequil to a book and know about the previous book it is called a continuing plot line. NOT a prophecy.
You think the OT (the Jewish text) was written after the New Testament?
Are you more of an idiot than you sound?
The NT was written by men AFTER the OT. They could have it say whatever they wanted it to say. It is a work of fiction. There is no fact and no history in it.
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.