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.
God didn't create man. Man created God. Those poor people, yes, let's all get down on our knees and pray...pray?? Pray for what????? Because we were told from one generation to another, and another generation to another that God's up there. Yeah, eh why not believe in Unicorns and Leprechauns?
I'm proud of HIM who died on the cross for my SIN and my sins. He gave His life for you and me so that we can have eternal life. Without HIM I don't have hope in the future. He is our creator and He is our Redeemer. Give glory to Him because He is worthy to be praised for ever and ever. Amen. –>
2 Tim 3:1-4: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
1 Cor 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
WHY DON'T CNN POST MYTH ARTICLES ABOUT PASSOVER?!
Because Jews aren't in your face about how everyone except them is going to "hell".
lets throw eggs on each other fighting over whether Jesus existed. how is that ?
that would be funny, kind of, but it would not help Christians at all
Only religious people and Christians become violent over discussion of religion.
Love to! I'll put my eggs in the freezer first!
Jesus as a man is not important. It is faith that is important. Believing in something is what matters.
does it matter what it is that one beliefs in, or does it just have to be anything?
Personally, I believe in reality.
HOW DARE CNN POSTING THIS NONSENSE ARTICLE ON EASTER SUNDAY!
The more unGodly and unbiblical people turn into, the most bad things will happen !!
Absolutely! Spit on the face on Christians everywhere posting this on Easter Sunday CNN why dont you? I would love for CNN to go to Muslim countries on important Muslim Holiday,or better yet go to MECCA and write Mohammed is a MYTH!!!
Bad things will happen? Like the inquisition?
If your faith is so fragile that your offended by a debate of both sides of the question of Jesus's historical origins, you've got bigger problems than a little article posted on a a news site.
Try reality for a change. Bronze age mythology is irrelevant.
Einstein’s address at Princeton Theological Seminary
Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?
Einstien was a Jew, not a Christian. Get your facts straight.
Ahhhh, what fact didn't I get straight? That is part of Einstein’s address at Princeton Theological Seminary, verbatim.
GyStgG keeps asserting that all of Einstein's quotes of a god were in reference to the Christian God, which they weren't.
Sam Harris explains it very well.
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 -
No we are not paying you any attention, and CNN is to be congratulated on discussing a topical religious issue at a relevant time. Applause for CNN!!!!!
ISN'T AMERICA A GRAND PLACE TO LIVE? WE HAVE FREEDOM OF RELIGION ONLY BECAUSE WE HAVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
I'm glad that you love Jesus, and all power to you, but don't bother those who perhaps don't believe in Jesus. Or even those who are neutral on the subject when posting it on CNN. GOOD JOB CNN!
It's not like questioning the holocaust or like questioning the existence of Mohamed, it's like questioning existence of Jesus.
Yes you poor Christians, who have forced your way into government to enforce your twisted family values on everyone, are now forced to endure a discussion about the evidence for and against the existence of your zombie lord. You poor people how do you cope with having no evidence outside the Bible? I guess you call CNN to complain.
Counteract this zealot by calling CNN to congratulate them on writing a balanced article for a change.
If I believed in god I would want him to bless the whole world, no conditions.
If your god is offended by this, he should call CNN himself, or make it disappear....he should not need your help.
Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
bingheidy, if your god is omniscient, he must have known it was going to happen. If he did, and he is omnipotent, he meant it to be like so. If he did, he is still evil.
God killed him. Just like he flooded the Earth, killed every newborn in Egypt, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. I never understood why Christians pray to Jesus and not God himself. Is Jesus God? Why would God, such a powerful being, need to sacrifice anybody to save humanity from sin. A sin that he imposed on humanity because he couldn't get over the fact that Adam and Eve ate a fruit from the tree of knowledge. He wanted humans to be stupid so they would be easier to control.
CNN is RACIST and could go to HELL !!!!!!!
How very christian of you.
This article that cnn posted is absolutley rediculous. This is why its so hard these days to win people to Christ, because of this garbage!! I beleive the media is all part of the devils plan to get people confused. I know 100% in my heart that there is only one God, and he sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins! Wake up people!!! and stop posting this garbage!
Did you even bother to read the article? It simply presents two sides of a debate.
Just because you don't agree with it doesn't make it ridiculous or garbage, does it?
Even more people with just as much conviction as you and others believe that Allah lives, that Yahway lives, that hundreds of Hindi gods live, and so on. It is also true of followers of religions that died thousands of years ago. Zeus had many true believers.
Yes, I read the article. The problem with it is, that there is no other side of the debate. There is only Jesus! Happy Easter to you! Remember Jesus died for all of our sins including yours, and mine!
Jonathan Hawkins, you are a typical religious nut, Refusing to even consider the possible validity of any argument against your fanatical belief in something for which there is NO evidence, and which no reasoning being would give any credence to. Keep your religion to yourself, and no one will bother you. Try to recruit intelligent people into your cult and you will be ridiculed.
I will ask this again: Why is it that we don't allow religion to be taught in our public schools?
Because religion is BS and contributes exactly NOTHING (aside from some great art) to the advancement of the human race. Instead, it holds us back. Religion is not taught in school because the objective of school is to produce intelligent and rational young minds prepared for the realities of this world (whether or not it actually accomplishes that is a debate for another time), not to produce ignorant fools that believe in fairy tales and imaginary beings.
Do you really want Islam and Satanism and Mormonism taught to your children?
Thank you for your answer. It makes perfect sense.
I would thank you for your answer but it was a question not an answer.
Bye Bye CNN..... Hello Fox News!
Would you take the rest of the nincompoops with you when you go? Thanks.
FOX News is no more Christian than CNN. If they were they would not lie for profit on a daily basis. How about accept the fact that no news source is Christian all seek to make money over holding moraly to Christian ethics.
Yeah Tina, I'm sure CNN will crash not that you're going with FOX
The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from iron age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.
Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you live your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.
I totally agree. Mankind has been inventing gods for thousands of years. Isn't it time that we moved on?
So.. you, like most people, are giving arguments for there not being a God based on what YOU would do if you were God.. and because you wouldn't do something such and such way.. then clearly it's a lie.
Many questions concerning religion can be difficult to answer – but simply because you don't have the answer, or you disagree with something about a religious view... doesn't mean it isn't so.
In otherwords, yes billions of people could be wrong about religion and could go to hell.... or not – It's not something I can answer.. but simply because you don't understand that it could be possible.. doesn't mean it isn't. Science had trouble buying the craziness of quantum physics – and they still do have trouble with it – but the math works... and it's (at least from what they've see so far) true.
Bad argument. It's bad because you're stating that if these Gods exist that they are devilish and evil. Here's the problem with that. Let's take the Christian God. He is alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. The creator of all. To accept that he exists is to accept that he is omnipotent, and knows all that has been and everything that will be. The point I make here is the same point that I give to people who ask if he exists why does he let terrible things happen? The answer is that you are applying your version of morality and your logic to claim them to be evil. The concepts are not set. People in the past have seen slavery, anti-semitism, and other things as just and moral. So to compare an always changing human view of morality and apply it to the actions of a supreme deity doesn't work. Same as people who wonder why something happened. If God exists, you are basically telling something that has created everything, knows everything, and has power over everything that you know the big picture and what is right and what is wrong better than they do.
It's pretty clear to me that Jesus was a real man. However, that's all he was: a man. He was the greatest charlatan to ever walk the earth, and I do admire him for that. It takes a man of great skill to fool otherwise intelligent humans into believing his ridiculous fairy tales 2000 years after his death.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
The apologists here are just priceless.
The definition of Apologetics: Trying to explain how something doesn't really mean what it says, but rather says what you want it to mean.
Seems hell is going to be full of CNN commenters.
I'll thank your god when I get there
According to the Qur'an, hell will be full of people who don't believe in Islam.
Oh no, woe is me, woe is me...
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.