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" just give me one name even close that can bring so much hatred from the sceptic and so much reverence to the Believer. Here is the deal to all the sceptics who don't have to believe in Jesus, you can take your chances that He does not exist. I believeHe does. We won't know the truth until we get to the grave. If in fact Jesus does not exist and require us to believe before we die then I lose nothing and will never know I was wrong. If Jesus does exist what will be your fate?
Look up "Pascal's wager".
OH nooees!! But wait, what if Islam is right, thoiugh?!?!?!?
That might be true if Christianity were the only religion in the world that preached the existence of a hell. What if Islam is real and you spent your life as a Christian.. then you'd be the one in trouble. This old idea that its better to believe in something to be safe than not believe and be sorry is a really sad reason to believe something.
Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of the zombie messiah from outer Nazareth?
Why are you stealing my nickname? Get a life your moron
Thanks for telling me that you trust in God though :)
The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Psalm 25:14
ok it truth, lord voldemort is my god...
Cool. Want to hold my wand?
Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things...
† Atheism is a religion that makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
† Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
† Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here are posted by closet Atheists)
† Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
† Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
† Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
† Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
† Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Hitler (Denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
† No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
† Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
† Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
† Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
† Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
† Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
† Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
† Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
† All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
† The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
† Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
**Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**
†† Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator ††
You have mental problems and need help.
Im an Atheist and I'm considered very sweet, generous and friendly. I am very intelligent, highly educated, and involved in the community.
Religions promote hate and discrimination! The bible says slavery is ok and that women are subserviant to men! Get a life!
I just thunk this stuff up and it is true because I thunk it. Jesus himself puts in in my head. Jesus speaks to me. He just did it again! He said "Please pass the catsup, my hovercraft is full of eels." I wonder when he wants me to stab stab stab again?
You need a straight jacket and padded room!!!
^ ^ ^
Fake troll (In God We Trust)
The bible also says unwed mothers are damned, and their offspring for 3 generations are damed. Heavy penalty for having a baby out of wedlock. I wonder how many unmarried mothers are christians? They better hope there is no god.
You have any sources for those or did you just make them up yourself?
I have a Bible that may well be very interesting to afew peeps! It is bound with white leather and on the front there is a landscape and in the sky is a cross right smack in the middle of the sun! Could it be a sham or could someone be telling me something of importance?
The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world, and ALL who live in it. psalm 24:1
America is a Christian country...
yes as christian is the largest religion in the country, but not create for them.
Says the hillbilly lady!! Gawd
You did not pay attention in Civics class. The separation of church and state was expressly created to protect us from people like you, who would IMPOSE a theocracy on all of us if you could. You just spew ignorance.
I am a Christian. I have faith in God and believe that Jesus Christ was God's own begotten Son born of the Virgin Mary. I believe in the Trinity. This is my FAITH. I cannot point to scientific evidence. I have no DNA samples, etc. That is why it is called faith, the act of believing in or accepting something intangible or unprovable, or without empirical evidence.
And that is also why it is almost certainly not true.
Any this is why CNN printed this article. But your fellow believers have been brainwashed to think what they believe is FACT.
So they have heartburn, when their pseudo-fact comes in the way of questioning.
This article is garbage!
Atheism is such an irrational religion. Atheists must cling to their irrational dogma in spite of its having been proven wrong by science. The traditional atheist argument has been the universe is eternal. That has been thoroughly disproved by the observations of the Hubble telescope/COBE satellite. That leaves them with the claim that the universe produced itself out of a steady state of absolute nothing, a scientific impossibility. The collapse of communism and the irrationality of the atheist positions has resulted in the cult being in worldwide decline.
@Robert, Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you'll be able to convince yourself of yet another illusion.
Atheism is NOT a religion!!!
wow, talking about getting your fact wrong. Hubble telescope/COBE satellite don't have a way to detect if the universe was create by anything. It was design to see far away and detect radiation....
Atheism is the worst and most hatred religion in the world
Hubble and COBE established that the universe had a definite beginning. That was the death of atheism as any pretense of a rational religion.
@Lisa, So what is our deity that we worship? Reason?
Hubble and COBE was a device that study the universal. There is nothing in our timeline is powerful enough to do anything to make a fact about the universal. It like saying with my graphing calculator, i can find a way to make faster than speed travel.
The words of YHWH are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times Psalm 11:6
I am certain of the existence of Jesus Christ! You may ask me how do I know. Simply, I know Him because He lives within my heart. I communicate with him through prayer every day and He is blessing me. You can know Him too! If you really want to prove that Jesus is real, just ask Him to reveal himself to you and He will. Why don't you just go ahead and give Him a try? The scripture in Matthew 7:7-8 says "ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. He loves you very much and is waiting just for you. Go ahead and give Him a try, you will never regret it!
Schizophrenics are certain they are speaking to their friend in their head. Luckily we demand evidence in the real world.
I am certain of my belief in leprechauns.
I believe that the Leprechaun King created the entire Universe about 6,000 years ago. I know there is a substantial amount of evidence suggesting that the Universe is significantly older than this, but I think a lot of that evidence comes from bad science, or from a worldwide conspiracy of scientists who want to deny Leprechauns. I know this because it is written in the Leprechaun Chronicles, a book cobbled together from various authors, most unknown, by our church during the Dark Ages.
The Leprechaun King lives in Leprechaun Heaven, where he where he busies himself answering prayers, running the Universe and recording the lives of humans for their final judgment before him. He is surrounded by an entire society of magical beings – his son Merlin, the Holy Leprechaun Spirit, the good fairy Mary, thousands of Leprechaun saints, fairies, pixies and the souls of many millions of dead people.
Each Leprechaun saint and pixie has a special task. For example, Saint Christopher is the patron-pixie of travelers and it is his job to intercede with the Leprechaun king on behalf of travelers to keep them safe. Most countries and professions similarly have a special Leprechaun who pays them special attention – even lawyers. There are strict rules governing the roles, responsibilities of the various Leprechauns, elves, pixies and other heavenly beings.
I believe that the Leprechaun King loves me and hears my prayers. He intervenes in my life periodically by saving me from various ills. All I have to do is think to myself and he reads my mind and answers my prayers. He loves me and when I die, provided I have lived a good life, I will go to Leprechaun Heaven, where I will live happily ever after with all other humans who have ever led good lives.
I know there is not a lot of evidence to support my beliefs, but that is just the point. The Leprechaun King wants us to have “faith,” so he never reveals himself. To make an unambiguous appearance and settle once and for all the question of his existence would deprive us of free will and, even though he is all-knowing, he would not know who his true believers were.
In fact, I believe that the Leprechaun King is “beyond understanding”. He is “outside the Universe” and any time I am faced with something about my Leprechaun belief that makes no sense, I don’t dare question it, I just close my mind and tell myself that my mind is too small to understand the greatness of the Leprechaun King. These answers are satisfying to me.
Some people are called “atheists,” and they are skeptical of my belief in the Leprechaun King. They point out many inherent contradictions and unsupported assumptions that underwrite my belief in Leprechauns. But, they can’t prove he doesn’t exist, so he must exist. And so what! Even if I am wrong, and go my whole life believing in Leprechauns and it turns out I am wrong, I have lost nothing. However, if they are wrong, the Leprechaun King will send them to hell to burn forever in the presence of the Evil Ground Troll.
Am I convincing you to believe in Leprechauns yet?
Been down that road, I regret it.
I believe in pixies.
Because it is written in the Pixie Chronicles that they exist.
And why do you believe the Pixie Chronicles?
Because they were written by Pixies.
One must engage in circular reasoning to believe in God.
I believe in God
Because it is written in the Bible.
And why do you believe the Bible.
Because it was written by God
You sure, mine have a copyright on it saying it not...
The Bible was written by man. I know people say that God told them what to write but that's pure BS! I'm guessing some guy was jealous of his brother's farm so he wrote in the Bible that you can't eat pork, just to stick it to him. Man is corrupt, therefore everything in the bible may be corrupt as well.
Collin, God reveals himself through his creation, his word, and then when you believe and follow him you have a relationship where you know you have the creator of the universe behind you.
How can you come here and say otherwise if you don't know or even want to know?
Christianity is built on relationship not religion.
2 Corinthians 4
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Why can't Jesus eat M&Ms?
They fall through the holes in his hands! hahaha!
Happy Zombie Day!
The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men. Psalm 12:8
Does it matter if Jesus existed? Jesus of Nazareth brought mankind the truth there is but one single overall great spirit of life and out of pantheism & Paganism – All of Life is contained within vessels of matter animated by the spirit and on this fish tank/terrarium planet, as so to speak, whether of air or water, or on land or sea. Jesus of Nazareth brought us that there is but One, Single Universal Spirit Of Life
Todays "Ministries" should embrace this and augment with simplification this one single spirit common in us all. God has hidden himself in deepest darkness, having simply incorporated himself into every living animated being, fish, animal, plant, bird, insect and living thing inside this fish-tank biosphere mutually shared by all of life. The gateway to God is found within. Men look for God in people, things, strange shaped rocks, events and in all places everywhere but for within, where he may be found by those who will simply open up. Not by pursuing banners with names or Icons but found inside the peaceful mantra of prayer. The gateway to God is found within each living soul
Prayer changes things ..
I think that math you talking about.
So gullible. They wouldn't let christianty go for nothing. These churchs have a purpose. Nor would they let atheist and gays go. No its divide and conqeuor while they run off with everything while your fighting your neighbor over the red meat. Or indoctrination into america 101 or more indoctrination into america 102 with an election that never ever ends. Then the election itself where 80 million people who can't agree on much get 2 choice and whoever tips the bucket over first wins.
The One enthroned in heaven terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6)I have installed my KIng on Zion, my holy hill." 7) I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, Your are my Son, today I have become your Father. 8)Ask of me and i will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9)You will rule them with an iron scepter, you will dash them to pieces like pottery." Psalms 2:5-9
Is this a mad lip game?
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.