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 The Trough.
Many would like to think Jesus did not exist. I say if Jesus did not exist there would be no Jews on the earth today. They are hated far too much by all the non-believers in the world for them to even be on the earth today. The Jews will be with us until the end. But for sure if there was no Jesus no one today would even know what a Jew was. Jews still on earth prove with no doubt that he was real and was hung on a cross and came back to life. If this one fact was not true there would be no Christians or Jews on the earth today!
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Sorry, I just found this to be so stupid, I had to type my laughter!!
"People don’t die for myths, some biblical scholars say."
This is my favorite line. I've heard it a hundred times. I respond with figures from Islam, Hindu, or other religions that died for their religious beliefs and claims. Even from Christianity (followers of David Koresh who claimed to be a prophet and 76 people who died after protecting him for 50 days) or other cults (39 suicides for Heaven's Gate, anyone?) and the response is always one of flustering back-peddling or pathetic justification. Well of course THOSE people died for myths, THEY were mistaken/misled by Satan/etc.
"go around and lie like you do about the origin and purpose of the universe" – Tell me where I said I knew where we came from?
"No credible sources outside the Bible say Jesus existed."
Ok, no credible sources written within 100 years of his death, except some very brief references in Josephus and one or two letters.
I guess the whole first hand historical question sort of skipped right past you?
That's like saying: Fast food is healthy because McDonalds says it is. Oh, McDonalds isn't a valid enough source for you? Well, Burger King says it's healthy too, SO THERE!!!!
The Quran was written after the New Testament so you are wrong buddy. The truth is we will never know, the roman emperor Constantine the Great decided what gospels would be in the New Testament and left out those gospels that did not revolve around a centralized Church. Whatever message Christianity had was perverted by the creation of the New Testament.
Anyone who cannot see the parallel between the egyptian god Horus and the mythology of Jesus is just fooling themselves.
And where do you think Mohammad got that info? His book was written over 600 years after this Jesus legend began circulating. If you think that it was imparted to him by some "angel", you have another think coming.
Wow. Just wow.
You entirely missed the point of the whole thing, didn't you?
All of you who disbelieve in God will still see the Kingdom. You will first have to go through the fire of the Holy Spirit (which the Catholic church calls hell...the made up all consuming trap) You must be cleansed before you may see God. Society has become to full of itself to understand the truth. Human beings are all fools. (yes even the author of this message) Unlike popular lies the church makes you believe about Christians...we are all not the same. Some of us know the truth. We are not weak nor timid. We believe in both the law and Christ. It will come to pass. The closed religion of islam and its followers will see the light. Jesus even become violent when he needed to be. Thinking we will always turn the other cheek is foolish and unwise. There are others like me. The church wishes not for us to exist. We will provide the truth to you. We will show you the truth even in a country where you forget his ways and laws. A country where you claim people become open-minded and those who are not tolerant of others beliefs are viewed as fools. We are going to show you the way, the truth, and the life. May God Bless all of you and those you hold dear. We will only employ violence if violence is used against us. Glory to Yeshua.
I highly doubt it. Please provide some shred of evidence that any of that garbage you posted is true. Sorry, but Im not going to be tortured for eternity for not believing your myth, no matter how bad you want that to happen.
I'm going to go with "especially the author of that message."
"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?"
I do so love how some people refer to "proof" in regard to religion when it is nothing more than conjecture, supposition and assumption.
The bible as a history book leaves much to be desired. It's a great story, but in the end it's just that....a story.
CNN and the Rothchilds setting up the stage for the antichrist.... Most Americans are stupid and too blind to see. Their hearts are cold and need the warmth of OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. Repent the time is near
Who was the greatest man to have ever been born out of a mothers womb or the greatest man to have ever lived? Jesus is the Son of God, so the obvious answer would be Jesus. However, Jesus says that John the Baptist was the greatest. Jesus was not a liar, so why did he say the John the Baptist was greater than the Christ born of a virgin womb? John the Baptist is associated with loving God, since he prepared the way for Grace. If you are a Christian and you think that Grace is above the greatest commandment you are wrong. Don't take my word for it, read Luke 7:28. Jesus makes it clear that even those who love God the least in the Kingdom of God is greater. Talk about humility, that is remarkable humility by Jesus Christ. Jesus is associated with Grace, one can only get to heaven through the son. This fact alone should make Jesus the Greatest man to have ever come from a mothers womb. John the Baptist condemned Herod to Hell for being an adulator, since he had no desire to change his ways and Love God. (Mark 6:14-29) John the Baptist is associated with loving God, since he prepared the way for Grace. Why does this matter? John the Baptist got his head cut off for speaking the truth about consequences. It is obvious that Herod used his position as King to do whatever he wanted with complete disregard to God’s Word. That is why John rebuked King Herod! Herod was sinful and unrepentant for his actions. If a preacher tells his congregation that all they need to do is accept Jesus and be saved by Grace without informing them of the consequences of not being born again, then why should they have any regard to God's word? John the Baptist was not afraid to speak the truth about the importance of loving God! Money made Herod appear to have authority. How much authority does he have now?
Forgive my sinfulness, but personally for me, an Orthodox Christian, I have the written and oral Tradition of the Church, and the overwhelming witness of the apostles, martyrs, confessors, asthetics, teachers, and saints over the centuries as evidence that Christ, the God-Man, born of a Virgin, walked this earth. But what is difficult for all of us to grasp and accept, is the mystery of the Cross. For it requires that we abandon all earthly reason, logic, and wisdom to comprehend its paradoxical meaning. But once understood, and once taken up, it is the great Illumination, helping us to see things in this world as they truly are, and returning us to what we were intended to be.
See, this is what L. Ron Hubbard learned from comments iek this. If you want to enslave minds with religion, you have to change their communicative framework so that their language does not allow for rational thinking. His religion tells him in no uncertain terms that its ok not to think too hard about whether or not the myths are true. it's all a system of linguistic and memetic traps designed to keep you from questioning the input.
I am not enslaved by my religion...I am given the freedom to choose the cross, or to deny it. Christianity does allow for rational thinking...but the rational thinker has to be open to doing things God's way (as revealed by Christ), and not his own. And this way is the Cross. Through the Cross, we must be humiliated, in order to be glorified, we must die to this world (the body needs to be broken and the blood spilled) to live in paradise. Now this kind of thinking could be considered "madness" in this world, but for those who believe in the power of the Cross, it is the path to true joy and life!
Methinks you misunderstand what evidence actually is.
I only know that just because you cannot see the wind does not mean it does not exist. You can only see what the wind can do. That is who Jesus was, is and always will be. If He is spreading good and love, why question it. It is a gift from the triune God. God the Father Son and Holy Ghost. He is offering the Grace of forgiveness and eternal life.
I don't believe in wind either
There's a difference in what can be detected and what can't be detected.. Sight is only one sense, and it's not very good.. Why isn't god as obvious as gravity, math, or chemistry? Why is it that there's thousands of different beliefs about god and who he really is and what he really wants–but all those people use the same math and chemistry??
How do we know that any historical figure existed? Because there are written accounts and stories about that person's life and times. Why are people so quick to discount the Bible as a valid, historical writing? Because it is "religious" in character? People believe other historical writings yet for some reason, the Bible is seen as a truthless sham.
Because other historical sources the feature characters like talking snakes, angels with flaming swords and the casting out of demons are often taken with a grain of salt when it comes to their veracity.
Because any book as full of the supernatural as the Bible is obviously fiction.
"Because there are written accounts and stories about that person's life and times..."
Accounts which were written long after the Jesus character had supposedly died and risen from the dead...by people who weren't even around at the time that the Jesus character was purported to have lived and existed...which were then embellished upon and were re-written many times over.
For a true, historical account of the past, those accounts must be marked at that time, not decades or centuries later. And as history records go, there is only one version of what happened....if you can find even one contradiction in the overall story, of which the bible holds many, then it should not be viewed as anywhere near an accurate account of history.
Professor John Allegro. Look him up.
Prayer changes things. .
Ever think that the pagan paralells came much later? From the article it seems that there is an assumption that Chistmas was celebrated on 12/25 from the get go. A lot of these traditions are adapted from multiple cultures and not from the original founders of the movement. A lot of dates and customs come from pagan and non-Jewish cultures either because it was used to spread the movement to other cultures. Plus, there's nothing that inidicates the divinity of Jesus until about 300-400 years after his existence.
Andrew – I agree with everything you've said except one thing – The talk of Jesus' divinity came as early 30yrs after Jesus – It was written down about that time. You can easily argue that the church and politicians of the day did not write it earlier because those in power during Jesus' life didn't want to legitimize this "new Movement" and didn't want it to spread. This was a very common tactic – similar to the idea that "The Victor writes the history of the war".
Listen up yall, I believe in Jesus Christ. You don't? That's fine that's your choice. Everyone needs to quit bellyachin. Religious people as well as everyone else. Quit arguin about who's right or who's wrong.
People for Jesus, there is always going to be people that don't believe. Quit banging em over the head with a King James Bible and telling them if they aint gonna turn there gonna burn. Yalls doin more harm than good.
To people who don't believe or etc. You all make pretty good points. How do we know that there isn't a God or Jesus? Honestly we have no proof, but the bible. And who's to say that's telling the truth? People raising from the dead, blind people seeing, crippled people walking? It all sounds farfetched to me. I don't know 110% that there is a God, (For my sake i hope there is.) but can any of you prove to me 110% that there isn't? Let me ask this...What if you're wrong? What if He really does exist?
@ Twix ~~ If he really does exist and is the kind, compassionate god that you would like to believe, then I'm sure he will judge me justly for having lived a good life (regardless of my faith or lack thereof).
I can appreciate your argument and your demeanor about it. My answer is simple, due diligence. Once you begin studying history and other religions and not just the limited point of view of one religion you begin to see where all the christian elements are branched from. So you quickly see it is a mix of other religions. Then when you study the history of the bible rather than just the bible itself, you see how often its been changed, you see books have been taken away or its been edited to suit the politics and leaders at the time. Then you realize its lost so much in the editing and translations over time that Its nothing like it began as. Then you find older scriptures that predate the bible with similar stories that the bible took from. The church constantly makes concessions as proof arises. First the earth is the center of the universe, its flat, there are no dinosaurs, now they even say there may be aliens in the universe. But all these were contradictory to religious beliefs in the past. The religion is in an ever evolving state. Why? because the truth is not absolute. Which means it is inherently wrong. Now one can say they arent denying the existence of a god, just any organized religion. Christianity is wrong. But there may very well be a god. And if there is, we can only hope they understand the logic of those that question.
Jesus existed on Earth for one sole reason: To bring everyone peace with God, our Creator. Peace? Yes, because we are all sinners (we do immoral things and have wicked thoughts here and there) thus deserving God's wrath and punishment of eternal death for our souls. How did Jesus bring us peace with God? He came to be our atonement by dieing on a cross. Atonement? He took the punishment we deserved on himself (He died in our place). This sacrifice was accepted by God, our Creator. Now what? Now we can enjoy God's grace, love and peace if we accept Jesus's death on the cross. What a beautiful exchange!!!
...and all the little babies and everyone else who died before Jesus gets to Burn In Hell For All Eternity™. That's why it's the religion of peace and love!
sixdegrees if you read the bible it states any man that never heard of Jesus in there time get a chance at heaven... Research it
Before Jesus, salvation was obtained via sacrifices of animals; sins were covered by the shedding of blood. There was a way to God for those people before Jesus time...but it all involved good works and obedience to a set of laws that were humanely impossible to fulfill. For God so LOVED the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Jesus's sacrifice on the cross is ENOUGH for everyone, anytime, and any sin. There is hope now for us!
The faith brings comfort to some who have no other comfort or hope. In some cases it allows people to forgive themselves for thier questionable or even terrible acts, and move on with their lives. Whether Jesus of Nazareth was simply a philosopher and teacher, or whether he is an invention in mythology probably ultimately does not matter. These fictions allow people to continue to live their lives in the face of absurdity and pain.
So religion is just a coping mechanism for life?
In some cases, it allows an evil person to oppress a weaker person . In some case, it allows a person to easily swindle/pimp 10% and then some of another's salary.....
Yes, you could say it's a coping mechanism. There are plenty. And sure, a lot of bad things are done in the name of religion. Lots of bad things are done in the name of politics too. And because of bigotry. And because of economics. These too are all beliefs and values. It's part of being human. We're not advanced animals; chronicled "civilization" goes back only 5000 years or so. We live at the beginning of things. So it surprising that some people still embrace divinities? Aren't you expecting a little much from creatures not too many steps away from apes in evolution?
"What about those Jewish historians ( Josephus for one) non- Christian who lived in Jerusalem in the first century and wrote about Jesus.?"
NO historian alive at the time Jesus supposedly lived ever mentioned him in their writings. Jjosephus lived after Jesus and thus is not an eye-witness. The famous quote attributed to him is questionable – there are scholars who think it's a forgery, written centuries later by the monk Eusebius.
Ehrmann is speaking nonsense btw. Questioning the historicity of an ancient religious figure is NOT equivalent to Holocaust denial. By his "logic" saying Zeus or Thor didn't exist would be the same as saying Auschwitz didn't exist. It's just ridiculously stupid to compare the two. For a professor , he should know better....
Would jesus be a greeter at Walmart?
Nah...I think he'd let you keep your greeter job.
I have answered your stupidity on page 109
Yep. He might do that.
@momoya – No you didn't. You don't understand the true difference between Atheists, Theists and Agnostics so you cannot possibly answer anything.
I've replied yet again to your stupidity on page 109.. Can't keep up?
Jesus is God and God is everywhere.You on the ither hand are just metally retarded.