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.
Some of us know when we have painfully separated ourselves from God and the growing numbers of rude, evangelical atheists will probably never know the pleasure of their spirit rejoicing in the Savior.
Too bad because everyone has been invited to the party.
The Christian Passover was modified to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Christ. It is still Passover not the pagan fertility festival. They do coincide maybe but this weekend is Pesach Shabbath. The same time Christ died n resurrected.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
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 † ............
oh really! You Christians are the #1 hypocrite in the the world. They say all other religions are false, but can't take the heat when their mythology is exposed. Fools!
And then they have the gall to insult my Christian religion by posting athiest videos in the article as well.
Where are the Muslim videos?
We should all be beating CNN's doors down in protest.
If they could gain an ounce of courage, they would tear Mohammed apart like this to be fair and balanced.
I have never seen such a disgusting article on CNN.
They should be ashamed.
Let others bask in the warmth of your christian love and compassion.
I know I know,,,, Love God in the ways you Love other things this Life of living bequeeths you to so love. I love the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the wii hors of the morning! I love the first toke of a filtered cigar in the mornings when I have my first cup of Java. I love the time I spend ever so aimlessly blogging on CNN's Belief Blog. I love going to pool league nights and playing pool with other folks who like me love to play the game. I love my brother what's his name and will ever be at his side until the day I die. I love the once a month talk to my psychiatrist and picking up my much needed meds. Not much of a Life but at least I still have one! When I do fimally die, I am very hopeful that God does truly exist and all His Sons are real! If not then I will become part of Nothingness to sleep and hopefully be awoken when God needs me once again!
Atheism -- is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.
Agnosticism - non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims
There is a big different from what people think. Atheism can still practice other religion, just the one without god.
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 or big bang theory.
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.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.
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.
Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”
who can predict the economy this year??
But God can tell us the future 4 thousands years before it happened. Jesus of Nazareth is REAL!!
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head, --> Gogotha
And you shall bruise His heel.” --> Crucifixion
I don't really love, but i don't really know you. So this Jesus die for me on a cross.....okay, I don't know how that save me. Is this one of those Vampire belief with cross, cause twilight is still here.
where is the source of life--chemical reaction is my best guess.
is there anybody on this earth can create "one seed" that can grow-Everyone is create by one seed/sperm
it is easy to believe in anything, which is sad– i can make some people believe in Alien and the Bigfoot.
Dying for something is really easy, but making something work is hard. It nice that someone die for me, but i really don't think that work, because everything die and nothing happen in death.
Typical CNN – questioning the historical truth of Jesus on Easter Sunday – they couldn't run this story on any other day of the year. Little do they know that this story affects both Christian and Muslim as both believe in Jesus. I wonder if they'll have the courage to post a similar story about Mohammad on Eid?
Well, they have in the past.
Non-Christians makes me throw up
Your Jesus loves them. You do not sound at all like your Christ.
Spoken like a typical elitist christian.
If you are a true Christian, how can you not have love and compassion for them?
They are lost.
Jesus has love for them, as he does for you..
They just haven't met Jesus yet.
Maybe it's time that you helped them with that.
The reason there are no writings of Jesus outside the Bible is because the Bible is a compilation of all the writings about Jesus. It
Funny; the bible does mention several historical events and figures, but in those cases there is abundant independent evidence supporting the information given in the bible. In the case of Jesus, nada. And the "evidence" given in the bible is, at best, riddled with contradictions and rather obvious myth-making that attempts to hammer contemporary recitatives into messianic prophecy given in the old testament, with often ludicrous results.
Dear Susie, Jesus did not write any part of the New Testament. As far as we know, he did not leave us any writing. Hope this helps.
No one said Jeseus wrote anything. and again the Bible is a complilation fo the writings of (about) Jesus.
Please note that the Pagan, Moslem n Christian Arabs all have Allah as the Creator of the Universe. However the pagans and Christians believe He has humanoid form but Moslems have an Allah who is formless rather like a force. They will have a hard time understanding your concept of sonship
God is God is God.
He may be known by some as Allah.
He may be known by others as Yahwe
One and the same.
Matthew 24:34 "This generation shall not pass until all these things be fulfilled." The most difficult of all Gospels passages. The generation that heard this spoken by Jesus in the flesh all passed away by the early 2nd Century AD, leaving a written or dictated account, perhaps hoping until the last moment "these things be fulfilled", converting their worthwhile pagan friends in what little time remained. Except it's now been two millenia, and these things are still on the to-do list. Rational thought is not found in scripture, but in philosophy.
If you read the big names in philosophy beginning with ancient Greece, you will find an abundance of foolish ideas. Your intent, however, is correct. Faith is not bound by the laws of logic, and that is sad.
† Happy Easter everyone and may our Lord & Saviour bless us all who believe in him †
You still haven't explained how Jesus's was a virgin birth when Mary was a married woman who had previously given birth to another son....remember Jesus' older brother? I'd really like to know. Was Mary a "born again" virgin?
TOTALLY AGREE WITH THIS POST – CNN (COMMUNIST NEWS NETWORK) – NO SURPRISE!
Couldn't the media please just take today off from trying to influence the masses. Religion is about faith, and it is personal. It isn't exactly polite to question the existence or significance of Jesus on Easter Sunday, or running stories that that a theoretical physicist says there is no God during Passover. This site would never run stories about the misogyny of Islam during Ramadan, for fear of appearing disrespectful to Muslims, but seems to bend over backwards to offend Christians in America. Just give it a rest and let everyone believe whatever they choose to. Be tolerant, and respectful of the beliefs of others by leaving them alone. Everyone has a right to choose for themselves and that is what is at the heart of what it means to be an American. So when your neighbor celebrates a holiday that you feel ambivalent about just leave them to it and be glad you live in a country that doesn't jail or kill people for what they believe. Trust me, they don't care what a talking head has to say about their traditions or how they celebrate their faith with family and friends.
Actually, this site has run numerous similar stories on a variety of religions in the past, most often around their own high holy days. It's when attention is focused most sharply on the topic, after all, and it makes sense to time them this way.
The only ones complaining, however, seem to be evangelicals, who don't like to see their version of events subjected to any sort of actual scrutiny or rational discussion.
It does not matter if Jesus existed or not. The belief in Jesus is related to the belief in God. For Christians, who believe in the Jewish God, Jesus must exist or Christians believe in Jesus, therefore the Jewish God must exist !
Jesus was not fabricated by Jews as the author suggests, he was fabricated by the Greeks. The first writings of Jesus are in Greek and is dated some 60 years after the death of Jesus. The birth story of Jesus is also the birth story of Hercules, which was taken from the birth story of Krisha, the Hindu religions figure. Angel visitation, virgin birth and killing of the first born are common elements in the birth story of Jesus and Krishna. Many ancient Greek scholars studied math and science in India and knew the religion well. All the Greek Gods are Hindu Gods. Hindu Gods stories are said to be older. It does matter which is older in this context.
All good but then Jesus brother James was the Bishop of Jerusalem at the time at least the first Gospel was written. The Greek used was Koine, not Attic Greek of actual Greeks, and the lingua franca of the Eastern Mediteranean. Also the Jews were in India before the Greeks and Krishna.
Well said. What you are describing is very much possible.
The modern world forgets that the real cradle of civilization, culture, religious traditions were east. Mainly India and China. Most of the 'first' that happened with science and religion/culture happened over there. There was a time when India was the most advanced country in the world in terms of knowledge and wealth. Many scholars form rest of the connected world (i.e. greek/ionians, chinese, etc.) visited India and leaned their knowledge. With the spread of Hinduism/Buddhism the knowledge spread.
However some where over time, the east was stalled in its progress due to thousands of years of repeating foreign (arab, muslims, europeans, etc.) invasion and subsequent occupation. However the knowledge that the greek/europeans/arabs acquired from India/east, they reused and build further on them and published them as their 'original' findings. Which lead to historical recordings in their little european centric world.
Jon, Kyle et al, I learned some years ago that some people have a lifestyle that requires them to mold a belief system to support it and others investigate a belief system and use that to drive their lifestyle. Which one are you? I have discussions with agnostics from time to time who have made the decision not to believe in Jesus after careful research. They have no problem with jesus as a historical figure. Unfortunately, more often then not the atheists I meet are who they are because of either a lifestyle choice or growing up in a legalistic environment. Sorry about that.
Are you saying that Jesus is just a head game?
This is a neutral and scientific question.
CRISIS OF FAITH
Basically if u say 2 a Jew that u r de Son of God u r declaring yourself to be God(John10)
Also since God is eternal His Son is not of another generation but a manifestation. Christ is more of an idol than a new god. This was God's arguement that other gods have lifeless idols.
Christians, put on your thinking caps and go directly to this site:
I would suggest two books for you. The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. The Case for Faith has some good stuff that might address your question about amputees. How dare you use somebody's issue such as being an amputee as an argument against Jesus. You might also pick up a book called More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell.
@Search for Truth
I get it. You didn't even bother to check the website. You don't want to face the questions there. That's pretty much what I expected.
HERE'S WHAT MORMONS BELIEVE:
Elohim (God the Father in Mormonism) was once a mortal man and that he was not always God.
God has a body of flesh and bones.
God is married in heaven.
Men can become Gods.
Temple participation is necessary to become exalted.
Jesus and Lucifer are brothers.
The blood of Christ does not cleanse us from certain sins.
A person can lose his salvation if he is not baptized on behalf of dead relatives.
There is more than one God.
“Celestial polygamy” (Mormon men will have many wives in heaven) is approved by God.
Faithful members of the church must wear sacred undergarments that have the power to protect them.
I don't see how that's any more ridiculous than any of the stories of the Bible. I wonder if the only reason people are certain sects of Christianity is because their parents forced their views on their kids.
That was informative. I knew Mormons must be some kind of Morons !
Is that biblical? and if so please provide texts. Thanks
If you think that is ridiculous, scientology believes nonmaterial alien beings came to earth eons ago and inhabited the primitive apemen who then became us, and that L.Ron Hubbard is god.
The key here is that Mormons do not believe in the atonement of the blood of Jesus. They do not believe it was sufficient. This is quite different from the belief of Christians. This is why Mormons cannot be considered Christians.
"Is that biblical? and if so please provide texts. Thanks." Of course those items that are listed are not Biblical. They are part of the Mormon beliefs not the Bible.
Unlike CNN, I will not tear your beliefs apart.
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.