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.
JESUS CHRIST WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH
Oh Fake Jesus Myth, we hate so many of your idiotic and nasty followers for all the obvious reasons!
Isnt Christian oppose to group/gay love?
I may be a few clowns short of a combination plate, but I love my invisible friend.
Huggable invisible Jesus buddy keeos me calm, so go burn in hell you hate-filled nose-picking atheist monkey boys!!!!!!!!!!!
will how do you think i will read it like? Who this WE, Jesus is a guy, right?
Still looking for the holy pin cushion to save you from his virgin raping daddy's temper tantrum, pendejo?
Oh lord Jesus Please Come Soon! This world is so evil and filled with ungodliness!
wait does this mean you want to start the Rapture therefore the end of the world part of the bible??? Really who the evil one, asking to destroy the world?
don't wait up.
brianna wants the mass-murder and eternal torture of non-Christians, because she is a Christian who loves her neighbor.
brianna: get off your a$$, take some initiative and go meet jeebus yourself. eternal bliss is only one tall building away. do you have faith, or are you just blathering
May I have your car?
"Prayer changes things"
You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs! .
And so as this bias article.
It sure is, Satan is for sure using this for himself. Uhh! its so maddening! Someday tho people will see the truth
And so as this bias article."
What a hypocrite because so is your post. LMAO!
CNN has been promoting the Islamists (Muslim Brothers, Al-Qaeda, Wahhabis) and their hate ideology even supporting the Islamist terrorist rebels in Syria and calling them "peaceful protesters". At the same time, it is posting a controversial article questioning the authenticity of Jesus!!!
CNN, you have insulted me when you kept pushing a propaganda against the secular Syria to promote war and Islamist take over. As a Christian, you have insulted me today and insulted all believers in Jesus Christ and his mission to the world. Jesus is symbol of peace, love and forgiveness for most people and not just Christians. By insulting Jesus, you have insulted peace and love and promoted war and revenge.
They should start talk about Buddhism just to balance it out.
So you are willing to fight and die for your fake myth. Welcome to Nazi Germany, where we did the same thing with strong Christian values and religious zeal!
Heil Jesus! Gott mit uns! We will kill those nasty Jesus-killers with our Christian gas chambers! The Pope gives us full support!
Dada duh! Dada duh!
NEXT TIME YOU LOOK AT THE CALENDAR...... THINK THAT 2012 IS BASED ON APPROX. JESUS CHRIST' AGE!
I see the year of the Dragon.
It's based on the Roman Calendar. The Roman Emperor Constantine deified Jesus in the 4th century. The new testament was written in 4th century AD by Constantine and his council at Nicea.
It's the wrong year of course, and it is only universally accepted because invasions and conquest made it so, but that means something to me!
They say I am a taco short of an elevator that doesn't go to the chandelier, but I aggressively concur.
How can that be? Since He is Eternal/have Existed since before the Creation of the World!
Chuck, you are two centuries late. Constantine didn't have to deify Jesus. He is deity. Constantine was wrong to force Christianity. However, the 66 books of the bible were written between Early Israeli history (old testament) and up until 90 A.D.
The Nicea council merely decided which books belonged in the bible...
Sorry chuck, you have been reading too much fiction. They just found a fragment of one of the early letters dated back to late first century. The gospels and the letters of Paul were pretty much accepted by 150 AD. I would encourage you to view the debate series between Daniel Wallace and Bart Ehrman on YouTube.
CNN never fails to attack Christianity in every way it can. And what DIDN'T make the news? Easter Bombings in Nigeria by Muslim Extremists. Of course not, CNN thinks they are a religion of "Peace".
He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!
He doesn't exist! He definitely doesn't exist except as a possible idiot cult leader mystic bullshltter. That's it. Sorry.
I'm not seeing any attacks on christianity. Did I miss something?
You are the one I am sorry for. Here is the truth though. Jesus claimed to be God. "I and my Father are One".... He did not sin. So, he was either:
1. A Liar
2. A Lunatic who believed what he said.
3. He WAS who He said He was.
There are plenty of outside of the bible texts one can read to know that He was real, including the Historian Josephus.
I do not think he was even a Christian, but wrote about the events of his day.
There is only one way to God... and that is through faith in Jesus Christ His Son who died on the Cross for YOU and for ME.
"And this is the way that God showed His Love to the World, He Sent His Son, that whosoever would believe in Him, would not die but have eternal life."
The disciples of Christ SCATTERED in FEAR when Jesus was arrested. They hid, Peter denied him 3x's, cursing that he never met him, as Christ predicted he would. And then, he Resurrected, just as he said he would. What happened next ?
Those same fearful disciples, understanding finally why Christ came, each one shared the good news, and 10 out of 12 were martyred. John, was dipped in boiling oil and survived. He was exiled to Patmos where he wrote several books in the bible. And Judas, well he killed himself after the arrest of Jesus Christ.
I serve a LIVING SAVIOR, who died for ALL sin. He became SIN on that cross, even for those who mock him today.
You are saying there are zombies afoot?
I dont think Muhammed exists either.
Oh he existed, there is plenty of historical evidence of that. The difference is that Muhommad was just a prophet, whereas it is claimed that Jesus was divine, a demigod (i.e. the spawn of a mortal and and god). There were lots of people believed to be demigods, i.e. probably fictional creations such as Hercules and Achilles, and real people such as Alexander the Great. Once again, Christianity steals from pagan religions.
Oh he existed - but he was a wacked out crazy person who took hallucinogens before retreating into a cave.
Hardly qualifies you as a prophet...
AMERICA IS A CHRISTIAN COUNTRY AND IT SHOULD BE A CRIME TO ATTACK CHRISTIANITY!
Didn't the fore father come to the "New World" to escape christian Zealot and make a law to never combine religion and government.
Tom Paine was an atheist. Ben Franklin was an agnostic. Jefferson and Washington were deists. John Adams was the sort of Christian with whom you'd have disagreements. Are you a better American than these men? We move some words around, but as far as ideas are concerned, they did all the heavy lifting.
You are truly an asshole.
Wrong on both counts there, chief.
I'm definitely not the sharpest bulb in the taco plate
The separation of church and state was expressly designed to protect us from people like you.
Liar. You just made baby Jesus weep again! America is a secular nation, and majority rule doesn't apply according to our Const itution. Now go ask for forgiveness again. You guys aren't very good at your religion, are you?
Gosh, your belief is so week you want to jail people who challenge it? What a gash
"week" = "weak"....
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
Spam. Are you ever going to have an actual thought, or are you merely going to regurgitate the same post from someone else over and over and over again?
STOP POSTING THIS NONSENSE BS VIDEO
Nice video, thank for posting that.
Thanks Allen, I have posted it before but a lot of people have not seen it.
ATTENTION !!!! ATTENTION!!!! 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 †
[yawn] It must be nice to just turn your brain off and just keep pasting the same drivel over and over again. You've been doing this for weeks now – how's the uprising coming along?
When did fact turn to attack?
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities.
Atheism also figures in religious and spiritual belief systems, including Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Neopagan movements such as Wicca and nontheistic religions. Jainism and some forms of Buddhism do not advocate belief in gods, whereas Hinduism holds atheism to be valid, but difficult to follow spiritually.
You keep reposting this, too. Kindly stop, because it's not true and it's annoying to read the same thing over and over. Wicca is a pagan religion and they are polytheists (many gods). They worship and invoke several gods and goddesses in their rituals and spellwork. Please get your facts straight before reposting again. At least google it for christ's sake, er, doggone it.
They not god, but spirit, different when compare to god. Mostly base on scale of the being. Therefore not god.
Reblogged this on reneeestephens.
Atheists and other non-religious people are trying to make the world a better place by waking people up. If in your heart you want to better understand where they are coming from watch this video:
ATTENTION !!!! ATTENTION!!!! ATTENTION!!!!
† Happy Easter everyone and may our Lord & Saviour bless us all who believe in him †
You are taking this a smidge too serious.
To discuss or even debate the existence (or not) of Jesus =|= an attack, unless blind obedience and non-questioning are the only acceptable terms in your world. Thankfully the rest of us feel otherwise, so grow up, please. Thank you.
Its a shame that the rapture will never happen... we will never be rid of the ignorant fearful fools that cling to a god that doesn't exist. Which god? ALL OF THEM.
And may his good friend, the Easter Bunny, bring you plenty of chocolate today!
What is truly maddening about CNN's blogs are the number of things that can get a comment stuck in permanent "moderated mode." If this was truly a free comment space, or one that was actually moderated by a human, I would be able to shoot down each argument the pro-Jesus folks made. (People don't die for myths? Are you kidding? There are thousands of Americans who are dead because of a myth regarding Iraq and WMDs.)
Instead, I'll just have to hope others make the numerous arguments for me, because I am too frustrated to do it myself.
Let's see if CNN is brave enough to attack Muslims and Jews on their high holidays?
No they won't, because they are afraid
...and yet another case of fatwa envy raises its ugly head.
What I believe about Jesus is as Important to me as believing in HIM!
Though the literary style may resemble that of myth to some, that alone does not make Him a myth.
He is Real and He is Royalty, He is KING!
Our LORD God is the Almighty King of all Creationism and His Sons, Christ is their King of the other Sons of God and they do in earnest sakes obey Christ Jesus without question.
Parallels are irrelevant. There are uncanny parallels between Mormon's Joseph Smith and Islam's Muhammad but that does not mean Joseph Smith or Muhammad never existed. There are uncanny parallels between ISCKON Hare Krisha and Sufi Islam beliefs but that does not mean that they copied each other. There are only so many ways to tell a story, live a life, or set up a belief system, therefore it is only natural to share some similarities but that does not discredit validity or the truth.
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.