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.
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 †
You claim to be christian but you are profane: "BS". You are a false christian!
My head exploded. I guess the atheists win. Who would have thought that I would finally reach total insanity on Easter?
What the heck is that symbol you are attempting to display, looks like something from one of the earliest computers!
That is a cross for lopsided messiahs.
It is terrible to say Jesus never existed. What do we know about him,nothing. Not enough even about ourlselves as humans. Stop making fun of Spirituality and faith. Is this the only thing left to make fun of?
There are many gospels other than the 4 that show the existence of Jesus as an historical figure such as "The gospel of Mary Magdalene", "The gospel of Thomas", "The gospel of Philip"
No, they don't. These apocryphal books are fiction, just like the New Testament gospels.
You are correct. Those gospels do suggest a historical Jesus existed. That being said, the Jesus they portrayed is far from being miraculous. He was just a man and nothing more. This takes it back to the question in the article....does it matter if a historical Jesus existed if there are no miracles associated with him?
I guess it would be too much to ask of the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish clergy to admit they've played the myth card, very successfully, but now would like humans to partisapate in a Rational Reformation in Religion?
Listen and learn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN_TeUQjoiU
SHAME CNN SHAME SHAME
THIS IS SO WRONG THAT PUSS IS OOZING FROM MY EARS AND DROOL FLOWS FROM MY MOUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!! I MUST SHOW YOU HOW MUCH I HATE CNN BY BEING HERE ALL THE TIME! GOD WANTS ME TO SCREAM ON CNN BLOG ALL DAY TO SHOW CHRISTIAN LOVE!!!!!!!!!!
I AM FINE. REALLY
Dear Atheist, I love you. I will not say anything harsh to you. Your soul is so precious that Jesus died on the cross for you.
Please consider this: where is the source of life?? Is there anybody on this earth can create "one seed" that can grow??
It is easier for me to believe that there is a God who created this universe, than to believe to the evolution.
I stopped after soul...
Your IQ is?
"It is easier for me to believe that there is a God who created this universe, than to believe to the evolution."
It's easier to believe that an all knowing, all powerful god from unknown origins created the universe from nothing?
And btw, evolution has nothing to do with the creation of the universe, just evolution. You can not believe in evolution AND God.
On the day of the holocaust anniversary, do you think they would put an article that stated – "holocaust, truth or myth"???
You all know the answer to that question. So why would CNN post such an offensive story on Easter???
Every Christian on CNN, ban this station from here on out for thier bigotry.
Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary on December 25th in Bethlehem, his birth was announced by a star in the east, which three kings or magi followed to locate and adorn the new savior. He was a child teacher at 12, at the age of 30 he was baptized by John the Baptist, and thus began his ministry. Jesus had 12 disciples which he traveled about with performing miracles such as healing the sick, walking on water, raising the dead, he was also known as the "King of Kings," the "Son of God," the "Light of the World," the "Alpha and Omega," the "Lamb of God," and many others. After being betrayed by his disciple Judas and sold for 30 pieces of silver, he was crucified, placed in a tomb and after 3 days was resurrected and ascended into Heaven.
[Born of a virgin
Born on Dec. 25
Star in the East]
First of all, the birth sequence is completely astrological. The star in the east is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which, on December 24, aligns with the 3 brightest stars in Orion's Belt. These 3 bright stars are called today what they were called in ancient times: The Three Kings. The Three Kings and the brightest star, Sirius, all point to the place of the sunrise on December 25th. This is why the Three Kings "follow" the star in the east, in order to locate the sunrise — the birth of the sun.
The Virgin Mary is the constellation Virgo, also known as Virgo the Virgin. Virgo in Latin means virgin. The ancient glyph for Virgo is the altered "m". This is why Mary along with other virgin mothers, such as Adonis's mother Myrra, or Buddha's mother Maya begin with an M. Virgo is also referred to as the House of Bread, and the representation of Virgo is a virgin holding a sheaf of wheat. This House of Bread and its symbol of wheat represents August and September, the time of harvest. In turn, Bethlehem, in fact, literally translates to "house of bread". Bethlehem is thus a reference to the constellation Virgo, a place in the sky, not on Earth.
There is another very interesting phenomenon that occurs around December 25th, or the winter solstice. From the summer solstice to the winter solstice, the days become shorter and colder. From the perspective of the northern hemisphere, the sun appears to move south and get smaller and more scarce. The shortening of the days and the expiration of the crops when approaching the winter solstice symbolized the process of death to the ancients. It was the death of the Sun. By December 22nd, the Sun's demise was fully realized, for the Sun, having moved south continually for 6 months, makes it to it's lowest point in the sky. Here a curious thing occurs: the Sun stops moving south, at least perceivably, for 3 days. During this 3 day pause, the Sun resides in the vicinity of the Southern Cross, or Crux, constellation. And after this time on December 25th, the Sun moves 1 degree, this time north, foreshadowing longer days, warmth, and Spring. And thus it was said: the Sun died on the cross, was dead for 3 days, only to be resurrected or born again. This is why Jesus and numerous other Sun Gods share the crucifixion, 3-day death, and resurrection concept. It is the Sun's transition period before it shifts its direction back into the Northern Hemisphere, bringing Spring, and thus salvation.
However, they did not celebrate the resurrection of the Sun until the spring equinox, or Easter. This is because at the spring equinox, the Sun officially overpowers the evil darkness, as daytime thereafter becomes longer in duration than night, and the revitalizing conditions of spring emerge.
I wonder why CNN doesn't post a report of Mohammed and raping young girls? Why don't you post the lies of the Koran on the Muslim Holy Days? BECAUSE YOU KNOW THEY WOULD BURN YOUR BUILDINGS DOWN! But you have no problem slamming Christ on Easter. WOW!
Happy Easter everyone. Hope we all try to live a good life. Conflict is a good thing..
I love that all the Christians here call it "attacking" Jesus, while it's simply stating the UNCANNY resemblances between the two icons.
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.
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.
"For God so loved the world......" and the world has always, from Old Testament times onward, turned its back on God and walked away, with nothing but hatred and unbelief in the hearts of the people. And yet there are some with faith. Jesus is God's Son. He gives us eternal life as a free gift. Why the hatred?
For god so loved the world...
He created evil – Isaiah 45 : 7
He gave all of mankind sin for the acts of two people, then forces all of mankind to beg him for forgiveness for them or burn in eternal damnation
He wanted Abraham to murder his own son to prove his love
He made a bear maul children for teasing a bald man
He murdered his son as a cheap parlour trick instead of just removing sins with a wave of his hand and giving you eternal life just to show he's a good guy
He said both shellfish and ho mo se xua lity were wrong, two paragraphs apart, but seems to only care about the latter one
He committed painful genocide on thousands and thousands of innocent people (the flood) because they were, gulp, the way he created them to be
He created Satan and chooses to this day not to destroy him, even though he has the power to do so
He allows pain and suffering on innocents and condemns them to eternal damnation even when they haven't the chance to even hear of christianity
And the kicker? He requires you all to beg him for salvation, which in essence means, you must ask him to save you from..., yes, that's right, HIM! HIS wrath! WOW! Or forever burn.
Yep, that's some mighty BIG love!
pastel zombie (your name suits you!)
Most of what you say here is not true, and misrepresents the Bible. You need to read more. (And no, we do not beg for salvation. It is a gift that comes freely from God, without any "begging" at all.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
Jesus probably existed, and he was most likely a great man, but just a man–not a god nor a son of a god, just a man.
Skeptics and people who know for a "fact" that Jesus is a myth always make me chuckle. They're like that arrogant co-worker who knows everything about anything and claim to be "rational". Puff your chest out a little more guys, it makes you look completely believable.
LOL! People who act superior make me chuckle!
2/8 you seem not to understand what an atheist or a skeptic is....
Until there is some kind of compelling evidence otherwise, Jesus the Son of God will remain a myth. I give you that Jesus the man is plausible.
Yes 2/8 lets all pray for those people. Why not believe in Leprechauns or Unicorns???
All bow to the godly "Zombie Critter" on this holiest of worship days. The holiest critter worship day on the xian calendar. Afterwards, please eat an Easter Egg in remembrance of its Wonderfulness!
Act your age Smuckers not as a 7 year old!,,,,,,,,Oh you are 7,,,, So sorry I am for your sakes,,,, :-)
Isn't it great how worked up and angry prayer troll is today? If anyone deserved to get thrown into a total hissy fit, it's justsayin/in God/Atheists are/Heaven Sent/Prayer Changes/person of the and all the other lame names she goes by.
She is just ever so mad! She actually called CNN, and got hung up on. Priceless!
Nothing new to see here guys. Just another article attacking Christianity by the Jewish based CNN. You ever see an article like this attacking Judaism???? Happy Easter everyone, and remember, organizations like CNN and many others are always attacking our Lord and Saviour, so be strong and keep your faith.
– Happy Easter everyone and may our Lord & Saviour bless us all who believe in him -.............
Look at this article, think about the whole context of what it’s covering, and ask yourself again if this is an “attack”. You’re about as open-minded as the Taliban. Seriously, go away. If you don’t like CNN what are you even doing here??
Do I agree with this?-Yes-Wonderful! God is great!
Stop attacking Christianity!
All religions are ludicrous – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, whatever. I don't see any particular anti-Christian bias in this blog....
– Happy Easter everyone and may our Lord & Saviour bless us all who believe in him -..................
JESUS IS RISEN, you need to learn verb conjugations.
And lo, the lord saith unto his flock, "Your grammar sucketh."
You are a mess! You must be typing by smashing your cat into the keyboard and the froth and spittle come flying from your contorted mouth.
Remember everyone, when you question something as taboo as religion it's bad. For everything we don't know, we have to accept the only answer to be fed to us as is. We should not question, because that inevitably exposes the truth, which no one wants. Don't trust in yourself, because you are incapable of making choices for yourself. Instead trust a deity that you never seen or heard. Because clearly that deity knows best and always wants 10% of your income tax free.
We have made it to page 69 unscathed, non-believers! Maybe there is a god! Yes! And his name?
George Carlin. Wait, he's dead.
ha.. funny that you should conclude unilaterally that you are unscathed.. For anything others say, you simply reply, "No, you are wrong and so my argument has more weight" .. doesn't make you right..makes you a douch..
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.