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.”
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.
Reblogged this on inkblotsofindecision and commented:
This is an intriguing article on the existence of Jesus Christ. Instead of pulling my faith down from me, the skepticism actually greatly supplied me with stronger faith percceptions.
Sounds more like a case of stubbornness and of being "stiff-necked".
no- just optimistic 🙂
The myth of "John Blake" on Communist News Network continues. One might only wonder if this mythical "writer" is a pseudonym for someone else. The blogger appears repeatedly on CNN yet there is no bio, no picture, no information about him. Google him and you'll find nothing. His blogs focus typically on attacks and divisions and have included the "welfare queen" piece, allegations of generalized racism against Obama and quick and cheap attacks on Christianity. The very opening of this blog is about an extremely well-known 3rd century image that only proves considerable evidence and influence of Jesus Christ that 3 centuries later pagan cults had actually copied and imitated Him. God bless you, John Blake, whoever you are. Someday your knee will bend before the true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, born about 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, walked and preached on the actual soil of Galilee and crucified at Golgotha. He is risen indeed. Happy Easter.
I imagine Christian people said the same thing back when Galileo made his findings. The problem is science and evidence move the world forward slowly disproving one page of the Bible at a time.
The opposite is true. Science proves the Bible more and more each passing day. Archaeology proves more each passing year . What is disproved are man's false interpretations of the Bible. God bless
Sorry just sayin, but you're still wrong. There was no global flood. There was no mass exodus from Egypt of 2.5 million jews. The earth was not formed before any stars. We don't treat leprosy by using a live bird to sprinkle the blood of a dead bird around a house. Rabbits do not chew their cud. Grasshoppers do not have 4 legs. Pi is not 3.
35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out......44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. -John 6.
25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” -Matthew 11.
“For many are called, but few are chosen.” -Matthew 22:14.
the historic comic books of religion are not believable.
the bible and all other holy books are fiction, mostly bad fiction.
Oh, Jesus existed all right. In fact there were several of them roaming the Holy land during that turbulent time.
I'm not sure why there's even such calamity over this. Beliefs are exactly that .....what one believes to be true. Pretty simple to me. Why does either side feel the need to 'prove', and in some cases 'disprove', His exiatance? Either you believe or you don't. Period. I recently read this in a book ... 'It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.'
you're right, but i feel like people's beliefs hold them back sometimes, and society as a whole. the sooner we can face reality and our ability to decide what's right and wrong for ourselves, the more progress we'll make towards doing the right thing intrinsically.
Vino – as time progresses we Do 'decide for ourselves' more and more, but I'm not convinced that there is progress. Accepting all people as equally valid and lovable is the best thing to come of modern thought, but we also have so much greed and incredible violence all around us – while innocent people die by the millions ... just so a few men can amass obscene wealth and wield an unnecessary degree of power over the lives of others.
get over it people, there's no such thing as the easter bunny, virgin births, the tooth fairy, or god.
Over 6000 comments... If people put this much energy into their lives and their relationships with fellow humans we wouldn't need "rule books" written, changed, and fought-over by men with an agenda.
But without religion, what would people do with their Sunday morning? I assume most people are religious just for the holidays too. Christmas is pretty delightful after all.
All religion is myth.
Rag headed men living in caves invented spirits.
10,000 years of religious evolution.
Socially accepted insanity.
The use of supernaturalism to manipulate and control people is the world's oldest confidence scheme, it relies on the ritual abuse of children at their most impressionable stage by adults who have themselves been made childish for life by artifacts of the primitive mind.
the myth of religion has too long influenced humanity.
Couldn't have said it better myself!
This is a very deep comment you made and I could not have even thought about saying it better myself. Agree 100%. What's crazy is that up until about a year ago, I was one of those that was raised believing blindly. I started to ask questions and all the answers I received came straight from bible passages. Being one that has a hard time believing things I cannot see only made me doubt more. I said to myself, from now on, I'm just going to keep treating people with respect and be as nice and helpful to my fellow man and let the past stay in the past. Especially if it's something that happened 6,000 years ago, or NOT!!
I do wish, however, that politicians and government would remember that Jesus was not a politician.
jesus never existed.
jesus was and is nothing.
If only people removed the whole God aspect of Jesus, nobody would talk bad about him. For the same reason, almost no one ever talks bad about Buddha. He was also a man who preached peace and living happily.
But once you say Jesus is a divine spirit, everyone has their own say on the issue and as such hundreds of sects are born and the dark ages follow.
This is really simple
Just ask yourself what is more likely to occur:
1) A human being telling a lie
2) Something that defies the laws of nature occurring
Of Course Jesus existed, definitely yes, but definitely Not a Son of God or even God himself. As a I Muslim sharing the celebration of Jesus on Easter day, I attended Easter service on Sunday invited by a Christian neighbor.
Islam & Quran reinforces the existence of Jesus. Christian should find solace in that concept that Muslims support them but instead of doing that they just try to convert them to become Christians worshipping Jesus instead of God the Almighty and replacing God with Jesus. It is a very confusing and unnatural concept. The pastor during the sermon talked about Jesus the Son of God and the next sentence saying Jesus was God himself. It a concept that pastors and Christians find hard to understand and absorb and consequently explain it to others curious for an answer.
Those who submit their will to God believe in Jesus for sure. The message of Jesus was the same message of Adam, Noah, Ibraham, Moses and Mohammad. They all submitted their will to God, Allah the Almighty.
God is One
Say Not God has a son
Say Not God is three
For you have no proof whatsover that Jesus is the son of God or even he is God himself except the changed overtime Bibles and your own imginations, fabrications and lies.
The new testaments is a punch of fairytales and stories that do not make sense and that's why there is growing skepticism in the US and West about the story of Jesus.
Christians do disservice to their own cause by spreading the fairytales and myth about Jesus nature as a son and a God..
There is God but Allah and Mohammad is his last messenger....
Allah has warned Christians to stop their lies and follow Jesus as a prophet but despite the warning Christians continue to distort the message of Jesus......
Your own Quran teaches that Jesus was sinless. Muhammed was not. If it is difficult to comprehend, but that does not make it not true. People want God to be easy to understand, but since He is God He cannot be put into a box. Think out of the box. Look into Jesus' teachings, miracles, fulfilled prophecy, etc. You will soon realize why Jesus is God.
for all those who do not believe in Religion, this post will not matter. For those who do, I'm a bit surprised that there is no mention of Muslim views on Jesus, and how the Quran talks about Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the miraculous birth of Christ, miracles of Jesus, his message on earth, the fact he is the messiah, and other events in his life that happen to coincide with recently discovered Christian texts. Fact like this should not be ignored.
In history there is little that is certain but there is also a level of scepticism that makes the task of the historian impossible. Furthermore, the thesis that Jesus never existed requires selective scepticism about which sources are reliable and how others are interpreted. In the end, if Jesus did not exist, it makes Christianity a much more incredible phenomena than if he did.
Jesus was born in human fashion, as a Jew, and had a ministry to the Jews. (Galatians 4:4)
Jesus was referred to as "Son of God". (1 Cor. 1:9)
Jesus was a direct descendent of King David. (Romans 1:3)
Jesus prayed to God using the term "abba". (Galatians 4:6)
Jesus expressly forbid divorce. (1 Cor. 7:10)
Jesus taught that "preachers" should be paid for their preaching. (1 Cor. 9:14)
Jesus taught about the end-time. (1 Thess. 4:15)
Paul refers to Peter by the name Cephas (rock), which was the name Jesus gave to him. (1 Cor. 3:22)
Jesus had a brother named James. (Galatians 1:19)
Jesus initiated the Lord's supper and referred to the bread and the cup. (1 Cor. 11:23-25)
Jesus was betrayed on the night of the Lord's Supper. (1 Cor. 11:23-25)
Jesus' death was related to the Passover Celebration. (1 Cor. 5:7)
The death of Jesus was at the hands of earthly rulers. (1 Cor. 2:8)
Jesus underwent abuse and humiliation. (Romans 15:3)
Jewish authorities were involved with Jesus' death. (1 Thess. 2:14-16)
Jesus died by crucifixion. (2 Cor. 13:4 et al)
Jesus was physically buried. (1 Cor. 15:4)
Matthew 11 (sorry)
Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This is really simple.
Just ask yourself what is more likely to occur:
1) A human being telling a lie
2) Something that defies the laws of nature occurring
Still trying to figure him out, eh? Try accepting him a Savior and you'll find out who he is...God with us.
Lol so all I have to do is say, "I accept Jesus", apologize a few times, and I'm all set for Heaven? No wonder Religion is so popular. Zero accountability is quite popular these days.
We can know Jesus – but not all can know Jesus.
MATTHEW 25 At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. 26 Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. 27 All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This article wasn't enough to really make it worth defending or standing up for Christianity (as I always have and will). It does, however, make it evident that CNN and the media alike have an agenda against biblical Christianity, against the biblical Christ and against any bible believing Christian.
This bias and ridicule haven't been seen toward Islam and other anti-biblical belief systems.
Yes, because anytime anyone ever cites facts that dont agree with your personal unevidenced fairy tale, it MUST be evidence of a grand conspiracy.
Except that people can trash talk about Christianity. You can't trash talk about Islam because they are a very fickle people who hate America and like blowing up buildings.
Ridiculous beliefs deserve ridicule. Especially so when one of their proponents is trying to be the GOP nominee.
And how is this distinguishable from fiction?
It is patently ridiculous to suggest that Paul never refers to a historical Jesus. He may never have seen Jesus in person before his death, but that doesn't mean he did not "refer to a historical Jesus."
1st Corinthians 15
15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, 1 brothers and sisters, 2 the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance 3 what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised 4 on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 15:6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 5 at one time, most of whom are still alive, 6 though some have fallen asleep. 7 15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 15:8 Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, 8 he appeared to me also. 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 15:11 Whether then it was I or they, this is the way we preach and this is the way you believed.
This is one of the oldest dated books in the New Testament. Does this sound like a guy who's talking about something that he doesn't think actually happened?
"When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.
"Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure."
Does this sound like a guy who's talking about something that he doesn't think actually happened?