The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth
Does Easter celebrate a man, a savior, or a myth? Some say Jesus never existed and was a myth created by early Christians.
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.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Art • Belief • Books • Church • Culture wars • Easter • Easter • Faith • History • Jesus • Uncategorized • Virgin Mary

soundoff (8,773 Responses)
  1. Jesus Is Lord!!

    Jesus Is Lord!! Deal with it all of you! We don't attack your beliefs!!

    April 9, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Elliot

      You seem kinda pushy to me, could come off as an attack to some degree.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Sounds like an attack to me.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • Ed

      Believers routinely vilify non-believers, and they usually characterize arguments for non-belief as personal attackes even when they aren't.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Ania

      bcuz of ppl like you i have no dealings with any religion.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  2. jessebrass

    It is very interesting that you post so many articles questioning the authority of Christian scripture. If Jesus doesn't exist, you are wasting a lot of time trying to defeat Him.

    April 9, 2012 at 9:53 am |
    • Rebel4Christ

      Oh your just going to make fun of me instead of finding out for yourself. How foolish! Since you don't believe in anything what possibly can you lose by finding out if there is a God!

      April 9, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Rebel4Christ

      Sorry I didn't mean to comment on this

      April 9, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • Ed

      Was Galileo wasting time when he queationed the authority of Christian scripture? Much progress is made when we toss out ancient wisdom and rely on modern analysis.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  3. Rebel4Christ

    Atheism is one of the most foolish beliefs! You believe that life has no purpose. How stupid can you be!!!! Jesus loves you! But instead of finding out for yourself that there's a God you go to smarter Atheists who tell you he's not real. Pathetic!

    April 9, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Somehow, "it's true because I say it's true" just doesn't hold up well to rational analysis.

      April 9, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Cq

      Everybody finds their own purpose in life. What makes yours, to be a slave to an idea, any better than mine?

      April 9, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Rebel4Christ

      Why don't you find out for yourself if I'm right. What can you lose!!!!!!!!

      April 9, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Ed

      By all means, enlighten us. What is the purpose of life?

      April 9, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • Rebel5Christ

      Bahahhahahaha... the bible is what it is... the largest business scheme known to man. Science proves everything, but I'm not going to fault you for your beliefs. sounds like a ticket to hell for you. tis tis

      April 9, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • PMS

      You are truly ignorant. Please go get an education.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      @ Rebel4Christ

      Pascal's Wager. You better hope you picked the right belief/God.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Ania

      Being an Athiest isnt really a belief. I choose not to practice any religion. My choice is to live my life without having the need to believe in some god. There is too many gods. How do you for sure know that yours is real? Does he talk to you? or do you talk to him? Because if you do, in the real world you would be considered crazy.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  4. oppo

    It is already quite well proven that all Mid East religions are summarized from the 4,000 years old Babylonian texts, which are in turn summarized from the 6,000 years old Sumerian text. For instance, the floods (a natural disaster) was predicted by GodA but kept it secret to destroy all humans. GodB (godA's brother) secretly told that guy to build the ark to save humanity. The Babylonian texts merged the gods to reduce conflicts that arose from divided loyalty created by the conflicts between those gods. Thus if you believe in a Mid East religion, you cannot run away from the Sumerian version of human history. It seems they already have some archaeological evidence – see crow's project.

    The thing is this, GodS (sister) created modern humans (talking apes) by merging their DNA with an animal (ape?). All these happen less than 50,000 years ago. Isn't this interesting? It seems that all they have to do is find the timeline when the genes were modified and you may just have a merger of religion and evolution. If that doesn't work out, the believers and free thinkers can continue to bash each other's brain out.

    People should read the Sumerian text, they provide elegant explanation in so many specific areas where modern religious texts create confusion. They describe the lab that GodS worked called Edin and why and how humans were created, who has 23 and who has 24 chromosome pairs, how all those animal fit into the ark, why GodA was so angry, and why GodB helped the human race, etc, etc. It really is chicken soup for the soul.

    April 9, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  5. Jim Burke

    The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. - J Scott

    April 9, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • momoya

      So, God appeased himself by sacrificing himself to himself in order to exploit a loophole in a plan he made himself whereby a magical and invisible disease (sin) entered a magical and invisible body part (soul) because a rib woman sinned before she knew what good and evil was because the sin was finding out what good and evil was because she was tricked into it by a talking snake-and that's just the start of it–yeah, makes perfect sense. O.o

      April 9, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • sam stone

      Including man speaking for god?

      April 9, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • oppo

      Read the Sumerian text to find out what is this eve, Adam, apple, snake thing. I promise you, a pleasant scientific surprise.

      April 9, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  6. like that

    A lone JFK assassin? You've GOT to be kidding me. Someone still believes that?

    April 9, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  7. simple simon

    A paradox:

    1) I'm a devout Christian.
    2) I don't know if Jesus actually existed as a living person.

    Whether Jesus was a living person or not isn't ultimately important to me. Christianity, like all religions, is allegory. The material world isn't the subject of religion. Religious questions are about our sense of our place in the universe, in the world, and with each other. The story of Jesus, real or fantasy, leads me down a path of self-realization and good service in the world.

    Did Jesus exist? He exists in every breath I take.

    April 9, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • Cq

      Would you march against same-se.x marriage, abortion rights, and evolution in the name of an allegory?

      April 9, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • momoya

      Yep, that's a paradox, alright.. I don't think that many christians would think you're a christian if you only believe in the bible as allegory..

      April 9, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Lamparo

      @simple simon

      Add the following third item to your paradox.

      3) I don't know that I'm living in 2012 (AFTER CHRIST).

      April 9, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • momoya

      "After christ?!?" Anno Domini maybe?

      April 9, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • just sayin

      Based on your statements you are not a Christian of any kind, devout or otherwise. According to the Bible your statement is the words of anti Christ. 1 John 4 : 2-3. God bless

      April 9, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • Lamparo

      The meaning of the latin phrase "anno domini" in english is "the year of the Lord". And the Lord is Jesus.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  8. simple simon

    The story of a baby put in a basket and put in a river, found downstream by a princess and raised in the royal household to become an adopted son to the ruler and a close advisor – this is the story of Moses...

    but this too is an Egyptian story predating Moses by 1,500 years. Did the Jews simply take older stories and rewrite them as their own? Seems like it. This isn't my pet theory, this is the thinking of many scholars.

    April 9, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • reason

      The video posted below on the history of god may be of interest to you. The god of Abraham seems to have a lot of myths that were ripped straight from previous pagan religions.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  9. Starzzman

    I don't know if all this stuff is true or not. I don't even know how to get started in learning about it.Its to confusing and the rules of religion are not practicle for regular life.It seems we only do it out of fear,not love.Is that what its all about?

    April 9, 2012 at 7:48 am |
    • reason

      Based on my experiences growing up in the church the biggest motivations to be religious seem to be fear of mortality, finding meaning or purpose, and a social support structure. It does not have much to do with seeking the truth or even love.

      To love is human. Most people do not need religion to love.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • simple simon

      Good question. But the answer isn't what other people say. If you're looking for the right answers among the many voices around you, you'll never get farther than THEIR minds.

      To find the answers to such spiritual questions, you can only ask yourself. What do you tend to believe? Then pursue that line of thinking and test it. That leads to more formative thought, and you keep testing your own viewpoint. Eventually, presumably, you feel an answer so convincingly (whether for or against), that you ascribe to that and live by it. Yet we must remain open to revisions in our beliefs. That's just part of remaining free and continuing to grow.

      But I can tell you this: I followed this path, and came to my own conclusions, and have lived mindfully of them, and I've been fulfilled and have never regretted the beliefs I hold. It's personal. Don't let others tell you what's true for you.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  10. Pat

    It is amazing.....the entire world keeps its calendar based on HIS life and we still question whether he lived? CNN is an embarrassment.

    April 9, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • momoya

      So, you believe in Thor because of a day named "Thursday?"

      April 9, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Kim

      ...or in the god Saturn because we have saturday?

      I mean seriously, Evans actually argues that Jesus must have existed because he was depicted as weeping or losing his temper or telling the good Samaritan parable...really?! So basically every character in every book ever written was an actual historical figure because no fiction writer would ever think to make their characters behave like real people. Right....

      Maybe Jesus did exist but the case for it isn't nearly as iron-clad as mainstream biblical historians would have you believe. Like Price said, the ad hominem attacks are especially telling. If you have good evidence for your position, you should have no need to accuse legitimately credentialed scholars of being wackjobs just because they disagree with you.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • sam stone

      Yet, Pat, you are here and commenting on the story

      April 9, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      So to prove your sky daddy as false we should stop following the present calendar? Rather stupid ana.logy on your behalf.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • SixDegrees

      The whole world also honors caesar in both July and August. Hail, Caesar!

      April 9, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • JT

      @Pat, you're the embarrassment. See what only drinking kool-aide does to you?

      April 9, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  11. Master

    Damn rabbits! Trying to take Easter from Jesus!

    April 9, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  12. Joseph

    CNN shows bias for Christianity!!! Why not just try and put some questions regarding Koran or Mohammed during Ramadan? Why always Christian being single out? It's a very special day for 2 billion Plus Christians around the world and their home page and mostly 90% of topics of Belief Blog focus of Christianity.....I'm not a fan anymore of CNN

    April 9, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • reason

      Because about 80% of America identifies as Christian. Do you think CNN readers would be as interested in questioning a Brazilian tribe's animism traditions?

      April 9, 2012 at 7:46 am |

      ...and because CNN and the left media is owned by Muslim investors...so guess what, we can expect more attacks on our beloved Jesus in any day of the week and twice on Sunday (Like in the case of this article) from similar media outlet...my advice to my Christian brothers/sisters: Stand-up, be counted, lets not take any more of this abuse, like any other religion, we are allowed to stand up and defend our beliefs. So let’s do that..maybe if we make the same noise as the rest of the religions constantly do..maybe CNN will think twice before publishing similar articles

      April 9, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • sam stone

      "Left Wing Media" "Muslim Investors". You present a very convincing case. For paranoia.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • sam stone

      what do you suggest your christian brothers and sisters do? i suggest public self-immolation

      April 9, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Joseph: I'm sure CNN does not care what your opinion on them is. He counter fairy tales with reality and the truth somehow bother's you. FAUX news is the better place for people who are afraid of the truth...hope you enjoy it there!

      April 9, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @Joseph: I'm sure CNN does not care what your opinion on them is. They counter fairy tales with reality and the truth somehow bother's you. FAUX news is the better place for people who are afraid of the truth...hope you enjoy it there!

      April 9, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • John

      Queation the k
      oran and you can be killed. True Christianity is tolerant and forgiving. The way thing are going, pretty soon you won't be able, legally, to question the koran anyway.

      April 9, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • captain america

      canada would be the better place for a butt in pos like liar prevails, try minding your own business you phony and leave America to US. There's your sign

      April 9, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things. .

    April 9, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Master

      STFU! Idiot!

      April 9, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things
      Prayer changes things

      April 9, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Alyssa

      Prayer does have a particularly insidious capacity for inducing delusion, I'll give you that.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • Prayer changes things

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things.Proof provided by alyissa directly above.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

    Once, an officer, Pliny the Younger (reign 111-113 AD), of the Roman Empire had a conversation with his emperor Trajan:

    "It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

    Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

    Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous docu-ment was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

    They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive supersti-tion.

    I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both se-xes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this supersti-tion has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multi-tude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

    Emperor Trajan to Pliny

    You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspi-cion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age."

    This passage is a clear evidence for historicity of Christianity. Consider it is from the beginning of the second century. Hence, Christianity could not be invented by any impostor later, but it was oviously a real thing.

    April 9, 2012 at 7:25 am |
    • Alyssa

      I don't think anyone doubts that Christianity was a real thing. The article is about whether Christ was a real thing.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Cq

      Rainer Braendlein
      Nobody is disputing that there were Christians around when Pliny was writing to Trajan, which was around 111 CE. What is disputed is that they were worshipping an actual god. Sure it could have been invented by an impostor. Just think of all the cults and new religions that have popped up within the past 200 years or less: The Unification Church, Transcendental Meditation, Scientology, Rastafarianism, Raëlism, Bahá'í Faith, Mormonism, Wicca and New Age just to name a few. Were they all founded on the same level of "truth" as Christianity at the time your letters were written?

      Your passage is interesting in that the emperor is willing to forgive people the political association of being a Christian, and you have to remember that it was a drastic lapse in loyalty not to give the emperor and state gods due homage, but that Christians themselves, when they rose to power, thought nothing of torturing to death pagans and even heretics, who were just Christians of a different stripe. Ask yourself who provided a better example of forgiveness and redemption: the emperor, or the Christians?

      April 9, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  15. Wayne

    As a christian, I find this article deeply offensive and evidence of CNNs rampant anti-christian bigotry. I dont see any articles called "The Muhammed debate: man vs. myth" or "The Abram debate: man vs. myth". No, you just insult and offend christians while pandering to other faiths you find more politically correct. Jesus asked Paul on the road to Damascus, "Saul why do you persecute me?" Jesus predicted that the world wold hate us "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." And he told us "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."

    April 9, 2012 at 7:13 am |
    • sam stone

      Christians make up the vast majority of the country, and are attempting to codify their religious views into law. So, let's all feel sorry for the poor, poor, put upon christians

      April 9, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Wayne: Jesus predicted nothing. Those stories are all stories told by man and none of which were even written until 30 years or so after jesus died.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Wayne

      I do not associate my faith with any party or political agenda. For me, the gospel is its own agenda. I agree with Jesus who said "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's". For me, our government is Ceaser. I also agree with Paul "Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience." There are currently more christians being persecuted and martryed for their faith than at any other time in history, http://www.persecution.com/public/newsroom.aspx?clickfrom=bWFpbl9tZW51. The persecution of the chruch and of christians has come to america and will intensify. I am ready to give my life for Christ. I agree with Paul who said "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." We have always grown stronger when persecuted. Remember that history has forgotten those who have persecuted us but we are still here after 2000 years. Jesus said "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." No, you will not overcome nor defeat us because you cannot defeat him. You will destroy yourselves trying.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • John

      Sam andTruth. The premise that the gospels are irrelevent because they were written 30 years after the death of Jesus is ridiculous. that woudl make anything written about the civil war after 1900 false, The revolution after 1810 false, etc. As far as trying to take over with laws, Jesus was the first and probably only major religous figure to acknowledge the seperation of church and state and His words, whether from Him or not, inspiried and guided most of what we call western civilization.

      April 9, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Alyssa

      CNN presented both sides of the debate. In what universe is that anti-Christian bigotry? If your religion can't stand up to educated analysis, then it's not worth the bible it was written in.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • Double R


      Did you know that the first written account of Alexander the Great was written 300 years after his death? Do you believe he existed? At least the written accounts of Jesus, the Gospels, were written by people who were actually there with him. Whether they were written 40 to 100 years after the death of Christ, the were written by individuals who actually walked, lived, broke bread and later died for him. One significant account of the story of the Apostle Paul that was not mentioned, aside from him originally persucuting the early church, was that after his encounter with Jesus, he was blinded for three days.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  16. reason

    Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:


    April 9, 2012 at 6:49 am |
    • Alyssa

      I highly recommend this YouTube series! I was an atheist before I saw it, but this is an emotional and stunning account of an educated man coming from a devout Christian world and his path to acknowledging his atheism.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  17. the believer

    i'm pro Jesus existence,,, Jewish people exist, Romans exist, Pontius Pilate was in the history book, apostle Paul who never met Jesus believe in Him and even called Jesus Lord and saviour, Existence of Jesus is the foundation of Christianity.

    April 9, 2012 at 6:45 am |
    • Alyssa

      Shouldn't the message be the foundation? Why should it matter if a particular man exists?

      April 9, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • Double R


      Because, without the resurrection of Jesus, there is no Christianity. His resurrection proves his divinity, proves that he was God's only begotten son. The message and the person go hand in hand. That is why it is important to know that the man Jesus did exist.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  18. Rainer Braendlein

    Someone could remark that the Bible could not be neutral, because it was written by Christians, and thus the stories about Jesus in the Bible may be invented. However, there are accounts about Jesus outside the Bible and the Christian Church. The accounts, I quote below, are even drafted by enemies of Christ and thus historically trustworthy. It should make us minding that Jesus was mentioned even by non-Christians or pagans, which hated him.

    Jesus was historical. It is proved by science of history!

    There was a very famous historian of the Roman Empire, which lived in the first century after Christ (AD 56 – AD 117), that means extremly near-term to the events, which had came to pass in Palestine. He, Tacitus, was a pagan, which had no reason at all to promote Christianity and to tell us lies about Jesus. We can be sure that it was historical, what he wrote about Jesus, because he was an enemy of Jesus:

    "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superst-ition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multi-tude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind".

    This passage is a clear evidence for the historicity of Christ Jesus.

    There was a famous Jewish historian of the first century, who gives acount of Jesus Christ. Jews have no reason to promote Christianity and thus we can be sure that Flavius Josephus told us the truth about Jesus:

    "And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus... Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned."

    A Jew confirms the historical reality of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. That is very great!

    April 9, 2012 at 6:34 am |
    • like that

      That is indeed very great. Thank you, Rainer.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Runwita


      April 9, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Cq

      Have you read the article Rainer? That would be the same Josephus who mentions Hercules, the half-son of Zeus, as a real life person, and you cite him as an authority of people being historical?

      April 9, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  19. Jessica

    I was an atheist at one time. And like many atheists, the issue of people believing in God bothered me greatly. What is it about atheists that we would spend so much time, attention, and energy refuting something that we don't believe even exists?! What causes us to do that? When I was an atheist, I attributed my intentions as caring for those poor, delusional people...to help them realize their hope was completely ill-founded. To be honest, I also had another motive. As I challenged those who believed in God, I was deeply curious to see if they could convince me otherwise. Part of my quest was to become free from the question of God. If I could conclusively prove to believers that they were wrong, then the issue is off the table, and I would be free to go about my life.

    I didn't realize that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue. I have come to find out that God wants to be known. He created us with the intention that we would know him. He has surrounded us with evidence of himself and he keeps the question of his existence squarely before us. It was as if I couldn't escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God's existence, my prayer began with, "Ok, you win..." It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them. The months that followed i was amazed by his love.
    Jesus Christ is king (: humble yourself , seek his face, and find yourself in his arms. Godbless (:

    April 9, 2012 at 6:25 am |
    • simple simon

      Beautiful. A pleasure to read.

      April 9, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • John

      Thanks you Jessica. I've always wondered why athiests are so determined to refute something they don't acknowledge. You post gave me some insight.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Alyssa

      Hogwash. You want to know why atheists persist in refuting the existence of a god? Because there's no evidence that there is. This would similar to the medieval church claiming that the earth was the center of the universe, and even used torture as a means to continue the dogma. Atheists are like those early scientists who would not let the church's clearly wrong position stand.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • JT

      Everone was born an atheist and then you are indoctrinated into the religion of your parents. Or...you suspend reason later in life or get brain damage and become suseptible to hearing voices.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Ania

      As an Athiest i have NEVER been upset over others believing in any religion. I choose not to follow anything and i dont try to make ppl see the way i do. We are here on this planet with one life. You choose to do religion and i dont. You are the reason why ppl dont like Athiest. You give us a bad name. I simply dont care to be a part of any religion or have my kids believe in something they never see or hear. That is my choice. I dont try to throw my beliefs on anyone (thats kind of annoying). I come from a VERY religious family VERY CATHOLIC and as an adult i made my decision not to follow it or any other one for that matter. Im glad you have found God and i wish you well.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      I spent most of life in a brainwashing Christian cult. Of course the subject of religion is going to interest me. It was such a big part of my life for so long. I like reading articles like this because it helps me really appreciate that I was finally able to free my mind of the shackles of religion.

      I hate when people get on me because I don't believe in the same God as they do. I try to be as nice to these people as I can but when people insult me because I don't believe in Jesus or act like there is something wrong with me, it gets me so angry. Always saying "If you would just come to my church" and when I tell them no they feel like I personally insult them and get mad at me.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • oppo

      Be ready to sit on the fence again this time. Read what the 6,000 years old Sumerian tablets have to say. They predate the bible and merge religion and evolution theory – read crow's project.

      April 9, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • noel

      Exquisitely written sister...Amen

      April 9, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Cq

      I don't believe in pyramid schemes as a viable means of investing money so I guess I should just keep my mouth shut and let people be taken in, I suppose? How about faith healing Jessica? Are you willing to just let people forgo surgery just to let some nut pull chicken guts hidden from their hand and say that everything is going to be OK, but pay me now? Come on now, is there anything you'd take a stand on in order to save people from being taken in?

      April 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Last Call

      Beautiful. You were called by God to proclaim the Truth!!

      April 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  20. thebiblereader

    Reblogged this on The BitterSweet End.

    April 9, 2012 at 5:56 am |
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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.