April 7th, 2012
08:32 PM ET
The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth
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.”
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.
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About this blog
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.
King James Version (KJV)
23But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
Wow, the father seeks worship? A bit of an ego problem, eh?
Deuteronomy 22:28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and ra.pes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.
Not weighing in on the religious aspect of Jesus, but...
Is it just me, or did anyone else catch the fact that they are trying to use a THIRD century amulet to somehow discredit FIRST century claims?
SURE Osiris-Dionysus and other deities were said to have the power of resurrection, but it seems to me that the amulet is nothing more than a representation of that deity, updated for the time (which was 200 years after the claims of the early Christians).
If I found a 1800's cartoon of an Incan deity building the pyramid with his big toe... You would think I was nuts if I spent my time trying to invalidate the claims of the early Egyptians of building it.
Their contention is that the osiris-dionysus beliefs are very old and predate christianity. The artifact is just a manifestation of them.
Jesus do exist & it is well agreed by Islamic Scholars and in Quran there are many verses on Jesus. You can't argue on something that more than half of the world agree on.
Jadhullah, thanks for your Islamic portrayal, proves the point very clearly.
I have often wondered how we learned what Jesus did and said in the garden of Gethsename. He was all alone. His followers were some distance away mostly asleep???
Copernicus did. Galileo too.
Though to assume the mantle of Galileo you must be opposed but you also must be right. The number of people accepting Jesus as a historical character is irrelevant. The majority of people also tend to think that Moses and David are historical figures too, but the actual scholarship on that is generally opposed now because the stories they take center stage in are fictional.
yes you can
The Quran is even worse source of historical context for Jesus, as it was written more than a millennia after Jesus' supposed life.
Two of the biggest religions in this world talks about Jesus Christ – Christianity and Islam. Both religions says that He will come again. Both religions are at odds against each other and hundreds of thousands have died on both sides defending their religions...but still both agree that Jesus will come again, hence Jesus is real. The article does not tell this. If two of the greatest religions of the world with a combined population of over 3.5 billion people can believe in Jesus, it should mean something. Yes, man will see only what he wants to see, but you cannot expect 3.5 billion people to be fooled. Lets look at it this way – for the creator/s of Jesus to fool mankind for over 2000 years and the present 3.5 billion believers...he/they has to be some really powerful human being is it, where in human history have we come across such a person or people? The only way to do this is if they/he was God himself. Then again, he does need to fool us but only show what's real. This proves that He is real, was in this world and will be coming again. Man's desire to not believe is his problem and for his convenience for worldly desires he wants but only until he dies and turns to dust.
Hardly compelling. Not so very long ago, everyone on earth thought that the earth was at the center of the Universe. Facts, however, are not determined by popular vote, but by actual evidence and rational examination.
Sixdegrees – Yes, perhaps not very compelling if you dont consider that present day human's have the brains to even smash atoms to replicate the birth of the universe...I dont think you can compare present day humans with those who believed the earth was flat. I still hold the argument that we are talking of 2 of the greatest religions talking of one man and over 3.5 billion people's faith, i dont think you can call the faith of 3.5billion people – blind faith!!
Facts are what you see in every day. Facts are what is written and verified by millions of people around the world. Spiritual matters can't be proved with some kind of theory of a mad man. What was written in Gods books are happening in today and what more fact do you need to prove the existence of Prophets. Jesus will surely be back.
I do believe that Jesus existed but not that he was the son of God. There is no supreme being.
By their membership in christianisty and islam your 3.5M witnesses have demistrated they are weak minded and easly fooled
And 99% of American 4 year olds believes there's a man named Santa Clause who will bring them presents on Christmas Eve if they are good. Popularity of a belief does not make a belief true.
Also, the thing about people that say 'so what if we believe in Jesus' is that you are basing all of your moral and ethical decisions on a false premise. You 'do the right thing', but only because you think that you will be eternally punished if you don't. Plenty of people also 'do the right thing', and they don't need an ultimatum held over their head to do so.
For humanity to grow and mature as a species, people need to learn to do the right thing WITHOUT this kind of crutch, and only because it is the right thing to do. "The Golden Rule" is the only law of ethics/morality that anyone really needs to follow, and it is something that people learn in kindergarten.
"He says Freke can’t offer any proof that an ancient Osiris figure was born on December 25" – Erman
I don't know that much about the history of Christianity(I always want to study it, but never get around to it). But even I know that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th. Or anywhere near December, for that matter. The closest you can come to 'factual information' regarding Jesus is that he was born in September/October. Christianity didn't even celebrate 'Christmas' until after 400AD. At which point they 'declared' that his birth was December 25th.
It is really pitiful that a self-proclaimed Christian scholar would not know this. It is completely inexcusable, and destroys any shred of credibility that Erman might have.
Christianity on the whole is simply amusing. The more time passes, and the more science is able to debunk various aspects of the BIble, the more that Christians just say 'oh that part was just a metaphor'. 'Oh it doesn't matter that Jesus wasn't actually born on Christmas, that is just when we choose to celebrate his birth'. Seriously, how is it that Christianity can fail EVERY fact check and people still just happily believe in it anyway? This kind of ignorance is an indictment against mankind.
Something that can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. The burden of proof is on those that believe, not those that don't. And as far as some biblical scholars saying that people don't die for myths? Well, yeah except the millions that did. I'm wondering if they missed the history part of world history class.
Sorry, but there is no evidence that Jesus was ever born on Dec. 25. http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/was-jesus-born-on-december-25-faq.htm
Most scholars attribute the December 25th date to the Persian war god Sol Invictus adopted by Roman soldiers as thier patron god. This took place during the early Chrisitian times of Rome, and curiously it was in effect a monotheistic pagan religion. Some think the early Christian church leaders around the time of Constantine feared confusion of aspects of this pagan myth with the Christos. They suppressed the cult, and copted the 25th as a christian holiday.–The point here is that in fact relgions do cross pollinate and borrow from each other.
"Ehrman says that when you read ancient stories about mythological figures like Hercules and Osiris, “there’s nothing about them dying and rising again.”"
When Hercules was in agony after his wife doused his shirt centaur blood, he threw himself onto a pyre to end his suffering. The fire burned away his mortal form and he became a full-fledged god.
Did this Ehrman guy even graduate high school?
who was APOLLONIUS OF TYANA
Both sides are ignorant 1 believes in flying meatballs another in something that is not consistent. hints i am going to college with a physics major and a minor in micro biology I know little secrets both sides don't know. Agnostic all the way.
my grampas wise words "you just dont know till you die."
Excellent scholastic choices. Microbiology is a blast, and physics is a life changing experience.
one of the dumbest kids I've ever met was a physics major.
At d smh
well, he was...
he also thought he would get a job with it.
Thats why i have a minor in micro biology more options
good call there...you also might consider a masters
That is what I am planning on doing.
Microbiology is constantly full of surprised. Our understanding of the microverse changes weekly as new publications come out challenging what we thought we knew took place at a molecular level. Evolution itself is constantly surprising us in the micro world. I'm majoring in Biology and Anthropology, but focusing more on microbiology and biotechnology. The science is simply a joy!
Thats really cool
If I live my life believing in Jesus, and following the Word, and then I die and find out it that it was all a big fantasy story, I have lost nothing. but for those who don't believe, want to put others down who do believe, die and find out that God and Jesus are very real, they have lost everything. I believe in Jesus and go to church every Sunday, and I have a peace in my heart that no one can take from me. I firmly believe my life is far better than those that want to live a life with no god, no faith.
This is the "faith as a shell game" argument. It is hollow.
That is Pascal's Wager, which is a horribly flawed argument. Following the Christian god (instead of the hundreds of others which have equal chance of being a real god) requires that you give up your own morals and take his on faith. Your morals are probably better than the god that you follow. Look up Pascal's Wager and the problem of evil for more information.
Actually Lisa, you lost everything. You gave up your entire life in the pursuit of nonsense. When you find out that it was all for nothing...that a |Universal God cares nothing for your concepts of morality, of your ideas about 'right and wrong' ... well;l, you wasted your whole life torturing yourself. Congratulations. But there is no prize for self flagellation. You cant beat the monks at that anyway. No matter how you go, you still lose. The Universe is too large... and the God of some small land in some tiny corner of planet Earth... is PUNY. The God of Israel vs the God of the Universe. Good luck with that one. If there is a God...then that God is far beyond your puny little stories...and does NOT think that you are 'the chosen people.' That...is just your own Ego. Get over it.
lisa: what if after death, you find out you worshipped the WRONG god? aren't you as $crewed as you claim non believers would be under your scenario?
When you were a kid you BELIEVED in the easter bunny and had the miracle of easter eggs. And the miracle of santa claus. As adults some people cannot fathom living in the reality of the true horror that is our human plight. We are just intelligent enough, a little smarter than monkeys, and we are smart enough to begin to understand the horror that we await. If we live long enough we will have to suffer the agony of seeing our loved ones die. If it makes you feel better to BELIEVE go ahead. But don't feel high and mighty and become a pompous azz thinking that you are holier than though.
What about Shroud of Turin and many more mystical evidences in Bethelhem and around. For that matter before resurrection Jesus was reported to be in Kashmir . Even if He did not exist how does that affect anyone?. If one does good to another, share the grief and sorrow, feed the poor, educate atleast one child, tend an elderly one, does anybody need a Jesus to prove that he is a better human being let alone a good christian etc etc. The God lives in us and once we realise we can be one with Him and we do not require his presence always. Well to reach that level after the seven chakras of Kundalini, you yourself can become Jesus.
The shroud is a medieval forgery, no different from the thousands of pieces of the "true cross" or pig bones sold as saintly relics at the time. It isn't even particularly convincing, given that corpses were never prepared as the shroud is supposed to indicate.
The rest of your post is rubbish.
Is this the best you got? A sheet? Yes, this is proof beyond belief. Proof you are a mindless sheep looking for a purpose in life, as you can not find it on your own. Are you sure this wasn't a halloween costume, maybe a ghost?
Speaking to the intent in your message, not hacking at the words, I agree. There is nothing better than to do and be good; to love and respect yourself and your fellow man. I see you are a man of understanding.
I am so jealous of you devoutly religious blessed future angels that are going to heaven when you die. I know I will go to heIl. It's going to be hot but I deserve it. I was raised in a cage and didn't get to attend sunday school when I was a child and I grew up under the wrong conditions to be worthy of being with you good people in heaven. I'm so bad. On the day I was born, the nurses all gathered round, to gaze in wide wonder at the joy they had found. The head nurse spoke up, said leave this one alone, she could tell right away that I was bad to the bone.
you should believe in your self; you are worthy and are capable of good in the world. And we all know the world is in need of good, capable people. Peace.
I liked this so much, I just had to show it again:
And again, and agaqin, and again.....have an original thought, why don't you?
That was a stupid response. It's only the second time it was posted, and the first time was at the closing of the current page where many were unable to see it. As for an original response, you must be mistaking me with a Christian that copies and pastes scripture as a part of their defense.
oooo, sounds like I hit a nerve! lol. immaturity in the pouting and flouting expression!
Yes, you're relentless assault against my post was cruel and unjust, and you have wounded me so gravely that I can no longer resist the temptation to break down into a quivering bowl of jelly! Damn you for constructing such a brilliant attack against an exposed flank, you little devil! 😛
Even in my current "mortally-wounded" state, I must be precise in my spelling. You cannot take that away from me, you brutish beast of terrors! ACK!!! (Cough, cough.)
lol! It sounds very much like you may have a compulsion going there guy! Watch out or you may be compelled to reply.
And then, as I was lying there in a grievous state, heavy with the burden of a tumultuous mind, the truth finally tumbles out from my trembling fingers and onto this sweat-drenched keyboard: your fangs are about as worrisome as those of a drunken, snaggle-toothed hobo. Do be gentle with me, my suckable-candied friend. I bruise easily!
I'd love to play with you some more, my child, but the Sandman approaches at this dreadful hour, and I must be on top of my game as I endure a Calculus, Anatomy and Physiology, and Geology class back to back. I do hope to play again sometime soon. You seem like such a delectable little treat: one that just melts in your mouth! Or perhaps the metaphor is more akin to one that dissolves completely in a solution. Perhaps I shall seek out a game with you in the future. I do so enjoy playing games! 😉
Nighty night! 8)
There is proof that Jesus existed. The bloody cloth with the imprint of Jesus' face.
Read that back to yourself. Do you know how ignorant that sounds? A religious relic? Next you'll claim some church holds the thigh bone of Christ.
You mean the Shroud of Turin, which was radiometrically dated to be between 1260 AD and 1390 AD with a 95% confidence level? Yes, the shroud has a face. The claim that it is the face of Jesus does not hold up to the actual dating of the artifact.
The shroud is a diaper.
I checked my drawers when I was changing clothes today and found an exact image of our savior in the arms of the virgin. I'm selling the miracle on ebay tommorrow if you're interested.
forgery-read some updated material
A shroud of a man's face that is dated somewhere between 1260 AD and 1390 AD with a 95% confidence level passes as proof for the supernatural? I'd love to see a Monty Python skit about that one!!!
hes a myth.
just like the rest of christianity, and the thousands upon thousands of religions before it.
IIT TAKES JUST AS MUCH FAITH to say there is no God as it does to say there is one.
That's a fact not an opinion.
More often than not, you will find that Atheists do not take a position that there is no conscious source that matter is derived from, but that we have no evidence for it, and that if there is one, it certainly is not the laughable interpretations of what one must be like, which have been created by and interwoven into religious supernaturalism. Many Atheists, such as myself, are atheistic in terms of man made religions and holy books written by man. That's what we clearly do not believe in. As for the question as to whether there is another state of consciousness of which we are derived from? Who knows. That's philosophy and is without evidence either way. We concern ourselves with that which there is evidence for and that which can be tested.
Which is exactly why I think extreme Atheists are just as bad as extreme Theists. Both try to convince other people their belief is correct instead of live and let live.
That is not “fact”. That is not even “opinion”. That is pure drivel.
yeah...too often Christians seem to forget that christianity is all about hoping and believing – not knowing and certainty. It seems like they talk about 'faith' all the time whilst forgetting the meaning of the word.
@TR6 that's your opinion
justageek, you hit the nail on the head! It is the egoits striving to be right of both extreme ends of the spectrum that is so predictable, imbicillic and tiresome.
Your an idiot.
Is there a flying teapot orbiting pluto?
it takes as much faith to say there is isn't, as it does to say there is.
obviously theres no teapot orbiting pluto, but if i were to tell you that, i would have to prove that there is a teapot. you wouldn't have to prove that there is no teapot.
the same goes for god.
There has been proof over the years that Jesus existed. The bloody cloth with the imprint of Jesus' face.
That has been clearly shown to be a medieval forgery. But thanks for playing.
Is this the best you got? A sheet? Yes, this is proof beyond belief. Proof you are a mindless sheep looking for a purpose in life, as you can not find it on your own.
I hate to see you so confused, Peggy.