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.
Hmm sad that on Easter Cnn would take the time to demean the reason for the season and not celebrate it. You continue to head down the path that will only end with the end of your network.
There is no "debate." A debate implies there are two sides who each have valid points to argue. The only "debate" is in the minds of Christians. In the reputable archaeological and historical field, the "debate" has long been over. Jesus is a figment of your imagination.
Dare you write an article which questions Mohammed?
There are a wealth of insane prophets and religious heroes that litter our world, but Christianity is the biggest pain in our ass here in America. Thus, they are a natural focus for the attention of the educated and evolved minds.
There are those ill-hearted people out there, as well. They just wait for a better time spew their hatred and fat-tongued dialogue when there is less of a defense – say on Ramadan.
unfortunately, it seems that Christians had a fake faith all this time.
Who is John Blake other than a man trying to make a living by offending millions of people on the most important day of the year for Catholics
doughnuts wrote to me on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm stating rather profusely, "You know little of philosophy, and even less of cosmology."
doughnuts for brains please tell me your slants on Ancient Roman and Greek Theological Philosophies and while your at it write me your brief summation regarding Fractal Cosmology and particle physics or the "real" times!
America has the world's largest Christian population of 247 million (Search on CNN/Google – Christianity goes global.)
I'm so happy living in a religious country
You could live in Thailand and still be living in a predominately religious country
You could be living in Iran or Pakistan, and still be living in a religious country. The fact that you buy into this particular religion is simply a matter of geographical chance and indoctrination at a vulnerable moment in your life.
Jesus does exist the people who doubt will find out soon enough.
Threats come from terrorists.. Nobody should feel right worshiping a god who would torture his own creation..
The Easter Bunny exists! Those who doubt will find out soon enough!
Please consider this: where is the source of life?? Is there anybody on this earth can create "a seed of Mung Bean" 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.
Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.“
It's called Evolution and Natural Selection -when you get around to reading the bible you quote form, read about this as well – Natural Selection is anything but chance, but a real scientific explanation for life. Now talk about improbability – a god being created out of thin air? Where did the creator come from? I won't say anymore, as you can't argue fact, reason, and logic with someone who hasn't accepted nor understands either. Like I said, actually take the time to read the bible – as opposed to listening to sound bites every Sunday. And then read about evolution and natural selection. In other words, do what religious people seem opposed to – study, think, think, think, reason, and then come to a conclusion.
Well said! I am convinced that these people are beyond repair. They are closed minded and offer nothing but nonsense.
Jesus is the answer. He is the ONLY way to the Father in Heaven. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent, obey and be saved!
Be an unthinking slave! Serve a jealous and wrathful master! It is only by abandoning reason and logic, and embracing insanity that you will find an eternity of peace! Embrace cannibalism and vampirism, and eat and drink of the body and blood of our master! Become the eternal revenants of our blood-lustful lord, and join us for eternity in perpetual slavery!
...thanks, but no thanks!
Amen Brother! Preach it – I'm sick of all these heathens being heard. Let the truth be spoken!!!!
If there is a God then God should be perfect. If God is perfect then everything God makes should be perfect. If it's not perfect then God either didn't intend it to be or we just can't understand that it is and everything is fine. It seems that everything in the Universe has an opposite, up down, possitive negative, good bad, or is it that only thinking makes it so?
It certainly seems that there is positive and negative fundamentally, yes.. Why?
Everything was perfect until Adam and Eve decided (because God gave them free will) to disobey God and do what Satan ( working through the serpent) tempted them to do. But God in His wisdom gave us a Way to be reconciled and that is through Christ the Savior. If you really want to understand read the gospel of John but ask God to reveal His truth to you first. Those who really want to know and are ready to receive the truth may understand.
Voice of Reason: "Tell us that you are not this by definition: delusion |diˈlo͞oZHən|
noun: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.
Voice of Reason and other atheists, tell us that atheism isnt a religion by these definitions:
1. A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially [Note: especially, but not limited to – see other defs] when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. [Note: atheists are generally into the humanist moral code].
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects. American Atheists, et al.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: [Note: Atheist orgs.]
1150–1200; Middle English religioun (< Old French religion ) < Latin religiōn- (stem of religiō ) conscientiousness, piety, equivalent to relig ( āre ) to tie, fasten ( re- re- + ligāre to bind, tie; compare ligament) + -iōn- -ion; compare rely.
Note: conscientousness, humanism, the moral code of the atheist, where they remind us that they're as conscientous as the religious or even more so.
Also note the root from Latin: To bind, tie and rely. They recently had a national 'coming-out' gathering together, a body in unity, celebrating their world-view. They've also had atheist and humanist org official membership for years.
Conclusion: by definition, ALL the hallmarks of religion, just omitted the supernatural, that's all.
Atheism isn't a religion by those definitions.
a person who does not believe in the existence of God or gods
I do not lack reality, rational argument and I do not believe I am being watched, therefore I am not delusional, you are.
So we see how that, by definition, they are a religion of sci en tif ic hu man ism.
They merely replaced deity with material ism.
You make absolutely no sense.
Has it ever occurred to you to try to make some kind of sense?
Don't dodge the issue asking questions about some rally.. Why in the world do you think atheism is a religion, and what good does it do you to call it one?
Republicans are going to hold their convention soon and fit your definition. Is the republican party a religious organization?
Kiss the cross. Pray before bed.
Kiss a barbaric torture device? No thank you.
You don't know where that cross has been!...or, maybe you do. Naughty, naughty!
Btw, momoya, voice, did either of you get to go to the big national atheist gathering in DC?
If so, did you feel inspired by any of the speakers?
I am inspired daily by living not by speakers.
Reblogged this on Keri Williams and commented:
What if the truth is just the opposite? What if the ‘Pagan God’ was Jesus? If all cultures and people groups originated from a historical Adam and Eve who saw God face-to-face (probably Jesus), wouldn’t the story of God have been disseminated generation after generation? Wouldn’t the stories of gods be deviations of the original story of God still having remnants of truth? It seems to me, if many cultures and people groups have a myth that’s similar, it’s more logical to believe that they are based on a truth, than that they are all false. C.S. Lewis believed that myth was a form of general revelation and in fact was a proof of God’s existence, not a refutation.
Sweet! Then that means I'll be getting a pet Gryphon soon!
God is a horrible communicator, don't you think? I mean, so many people believe so many different things about him and none of them can prove any view more correct or incorrect than any other of them.. Myth is about humanity being very frail in a sea of mystery..
What if Jesus had a brain tumor and screwed up his neurochemistry by experimenting with way too much with psychedelic drugs? What if prophecy, insanity, and powerful hallucinogens were all intimately connected? You'd be surprised how many individuals in insane asylums think they are prophets or avatars of deities.
Greek philosophy (in particular Plato's forms) so underly christianity that at one time CHRISTIANs were declared heretic for doubting Plato. The early church fathers knew were their underlying myths came from.
JESUS WAS GOD/Trinity, AND HE IS WHY . . .
Google – "SpiritWorldBlog" and click on label: Jesus Christ
His Miracles and Power Explained LIKE NEVER BEFORE + Science.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksnjKKeJSXw&w=560&h=315] GOD REVEALS IT ALL.
I believe in the one God thing. The three equals one is about as ignorant as you can get
People died for their beliefs, so it must be true. Really? Every religion has its martyrs, so they must all be true.
A ghost impregnates a virgin. She gives birth to a magical baby with magical powers. The magical man does magic miracles to others. The magical man is murdered. The murdered magical man magically comes to life and magically flies into another dimension.
and you don't believe or least have faith?
Christianity: 2.2 billion and growing by a million new converts every year worldwide
Way to go :)
"Christian" means many different things to many different people. So that number is completely meaningless.
But there is only room for 144,000 of them. Now what?
Over a hundred million are being born per year, and the pace at which nonbelievers is growing exceeds that of believers. The growth rate for believers has been shrinking for decades. Evolution is showing that this religion is becoming unfit for our current environment, which is such a relief!
So you're saying the majority is always right. Interesting. The majority used to believe slavery was right. The majority used to believe sickness came from demons. The majority used to believe the earth was flat. It's merely proof that the majority of humans are idiots.
And that why other counties are making more scientific progressing than the USA. Why USA is 10th country in math and worst in science.
Absolutely 100% natural selection
You are 100% absolutely correct
These people are sheep – they desperately need something to believe in so they buy into this ridiculous fantasy. The numbers don't mean a thing except how sad that people are such sheep. I haven't yet met someone who purports to be a christian and knows anything about christianity. If they did know anything, they surely wouldn't call themselves a christian. Jesus Christ and Christianity are some of the biggest hoaxes !
It doesn't mean it is right it means People are still capable of majical thinking. You god is no more real than Zeus
If Jesus were real and who he claimed to be, you wouldn't need to have that "truth" revealed to you by other PEOPLE. God should be fully capable of personally revealing truth to every human. Anytime you believe in a religion, you are putting your faith in the words of MEN – not God. That is why I am no longer a Christian. It's all about trust in other people. Nothing but a bunch of human opinions.
Right on! Wish I'd figured it out earlier, myself.
You are correct about one thing. You should not put your trust in people. They will always disappoint. In order to be a Christian you put your trust in Jesus. He will never disappoint.
To put your trust in Jesus you have to first put your trust in the book that has the stories about him. The book written by MEN.
Why would I trust Jesus? He was a liar. "And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14 NAB)" How many prayers go unanswered every day?
Many have experienced unexplainable events in our lives, surely you have also ( I hope ). Those acts of miracles from those watching over us are truly wonderful and would easily make anyone a believer.
He that believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself.
LOL That's a nifty word trick, isn't it?
So, Joe, you're telling me anything that is unexplained is supernatural in origin? Why? Diseases was once unexplained. Stars in the sky were unexplained. Eclipses were unexplained. They were all acts of gods. We now know the truth. And personal miracles of visions and voices mean nothing. The human brain is too easily fooled by both environmental and health factors. And that doesn't even account for people who will lie outright for their own purposes.
I think it is clear from the existing evidence that Christianity originated outside of Palestine somewhere in the asia minor region. It is likely paganized jews (probably Essenes or those influenced by the Essenes) who mixed (synergistically) pagan savior god mythology with Jewish Messianism. I think the fact that there is no record of Jewish writings mentioning jesus (Yeshua) is probably because there was no such person.
Yes there is record of Jesus mentioned in Jewish ancient writings. He is mentioned in the Talmud. You say it was clear from the existing evidence that Christianity originated outside Palestine. No it is anything but clear. The gospels and scriptures are indistinguishably Jewish.
concerned, you really need to do your research. to begin with, jewish people reject the NT, and rightfully so as the teachings are glaringly different from the OT ones. The god of the NT is completely different from the god of the OT. Even the teachings within the NT contradict eachother (Pauline Christianity vs. everything else).
Concerned just writes what he would like to believe and pretends it is true.
The fact that you say Yeshua proves it. The statements you make saying Jews didn't mention Yeshua and then say the Jewish word for Jesus in contradictory.
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.