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.
There is no question that the biased and politically correct mud packers of Belief Blog like to suppress all Christian witness, but on the other hand they like to promote their own godless agenda by allowing a barrage of two-syllable nonsense coming from the lips of dumbbells, mouth defecators, cretins, simpletons, half-wits, and imbeciles.
Ooooo-Ooooooo!!!! Can I be the 'mouth defecator'? Sounds like a cool role to play.
So since your post made it which godless version are you......
"coming from the lips of dumbbells, mouth defecators, cretins, simpletons, half-wits, and imbeciles."
You said, "There is no question that the biased and politically correct mud packers of Belief Blog like to suppress all Christian witness, but on the other hand they like to promote their own godless agenda by allowing a barrage of two-syllable nonsense coming from the lips of dumbbells, mouth defecators, cretins, simpletons, half-wits, and imbeciles."
I agree that the best way to show the patent nonsense of religion is by encouraging the christians to continue the "barrage of two-syllable nonsense". There really is no easier way than to lead them where they are dying to go. These "dumbbells, mouth defecators, cretins, simpletons, half-wits, and imbeciles" are by far the best examples of how morally corrupt religion is.
Thanks for pointing that out.
Boy, I've been away from church too long. When did it become OK to call people "mud packers"? Classy!
Nope that still didn't do it, still do not believe in Jesus.
Not even for a 20% off spiritual discount redeemable in heaven?
Nope, that didn't do it. Still believe in Jesus.
Yeah, I see your point; walking on water and coming back to life is way more cool.
"and coming back to life is way more cool."
Exactly all hail Mithra!
Hercules was way cooler. He got to fight monsters and got to sleep with the queen of the Amazons. Dude was a PLAYER!
I watched the moon rise last night. I actually watched it moving across the sky using a stationary reference point. A humbling experience for me.
The universe itself has become aware through us. We are the energy of the original big bang in a different form 15 billion years later. The cosmos is far more complicated, multidimensional and interwoven than we ever imagined. You fools arguing over gods is also the universe speaking. People can’t help the conclusions they draw and the mental beliefs they subscribe to as it comes down electro chemical processes. The need for religion is nothing more than an ego fueled, neurological disorder.
Indeed, but then that mental disorder is part of and one with the universe.
So basically the universe is schizophrenic....
"The need for religion is nothing more than an ego fueled, neurological disorder." – Or maybe just a comforting thought for those who are afraid to die.
What a boring and useless article. Unless a god shows up and starts answering prayers, we'll all go on assuming there's no god and using it as a political advantage. Remember, vote my way or burn in hell!
If you are not a Christian then you will burn forever.
How can you possibly worship such a horrible being?
Even Kim Jong il, Stalin, and Hitler had their supporters. Some people seem to really get off on being the bully's toady. They love watching people suffer, but are too cowardly to do it themselves. That's why I think a lot of Christians can't wait for us to supposedly go to hell, and why they hang with God to begin with. Either that, or they're too cowardly to stand up to God, so they tag along with him. Cowards, either way.
There's one book in the Orthodox canon that actually deals with syncretism and where Dionysus and The Mysteries are mentioned. That book is called the Third Book of the Maccabees and was written 100 years before Christ.Therefore when Mr.Freke says that Jesus is a myth created by first century Jews who modeled him after dying and resurrected pagan gods,he is undeniably wrong and totally misinformed.Clearly his desire to prove his point is bigger than any historical knowledge in his hands. Let me introduce you to this book,the author of Maccabees 3 is an Alexandrian Jew who wrote it in Greek in the early first century BC and recounts the struggles of Egyptian Jews under Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203 BC).Now read carefully the following verses: Those Jews registered are to be branded by fire on their bodies with the Ivy Leaf symbol of Dionysus,and they will also return to their former status.But if some of them prefer to join those initiated into the Mysteries,they will have equal rights of citizenship with the Alexandrians.3 Maccabees 2:29,30 Having read that how come Jewish Christians knowing this scripture since 100 years before Christ were going to believe a myth in the first century after Christ, that will definitely be to soon for two very different religions to be united by syncretism.
Why would they think it was a myth again? Remember that Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes so the folks they were preaching to didn't think these gods were just myths, right?
Atheists and other non-religious people are trying to make the world a better place by waking people up. If in your heart you want to better understand where they are coming from watch this video:
"Be therefore as a fig all dried up and wrinled away."
You mean like when your savior cursed the fig tree even though it was out of season even though he was god and all powerfull?
1 Corinthians 1:
21For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
24But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
So, the "wise" refused to believe in Christ because they saw it as "foolishness". Seems about right to me.
I think I'll write a book and put something like that in it: Hear ye, hear ye, if the words of this book seem stupid to ye, fear ye not, for all who say this book is foolish are wrong, and all say this book is wise are correct.. If thou dost not find the book wise, ye art stupid; and if thou dost find the book stupid, ye are stupid; and if thou dost doubt the book, then it be verily true; and if thou dost not doubt the book then it be verily true.. 2nd Appealicles 3:7-11
"Hear ye, hear ye, if the words of this book seem stupid to ye, fear ye not, for all who say this book is foolish are wrong, and all say this book is wise are correct.. If thou dost not find the book wise, ye art stupid; and if thou dost find the book stupid, ye are stupid; and if thou dost doubt the book, then it be verily true; and if thou dost not doubt the book then it be verily true.. " I'm pretty sure thats not Appealicles but is found in 1st Moe 4:15 and referenced again in 3rd Curly 14:23 and cross referenced in Shemp 2:37 but most scholars deny the book of Shemp as a real book of the Holy Stooges. But, if it says its true wisdom, then it must be true.
Sānge Chòu Píjiàng!!!
For those of you who doubt if Jesus lived and was the Christ, I invite you to go to the link below and read the testimony of living apostles called by Him to be special witnesses throughout the world.
I know that Jesus lives and that He is the Christ. Every person can know this independently from God through scripture study, sincere prayer, and a desire to do His will.
And I urge you to check my link as well for proof Jesus was not god...
Mikey, does your mommy know you're playing with the computer?
And sincere belief in Scientology will lead you to believe that the Galactic Emporer Xenu was real as well. What does your post actually prove: That believing anything enough will lead you to believe ANYTHING?!?
My friend used to talk to Jesus all day. One day Jesus told him to rob a minit mart. He still talks to Jesus in jail.
It looks to me like this book is poorly written,misinformed,and based in pure speculation with no historical facts or basis whatsoever. But,there's one book in the Orthodox canon that actually deals with syncretism and where Dionysus and The Mysteries are mentioned. That book is called the Third Book of the Maccabees and was written 100 years before Christ.Therefore when Mr.Freke says that Jesus is a myth created by first century Jews who modeled him after dying and resurrected pagan gods,he is undeniably wrong and totally misinformed.Clearly his desire to prove his point is bigger than any historical knowledge in his hands. Let me introduce you to this book,the author of Maccabees 3 is an Alexandrian Jew who wrote it in Greek in the early first century BC and recounts the struggles of Egyptian Jews under Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203 BC).Now read carefully the following verses: Those Jews registered are to be branded by fire on their bodies with the Ivy Leaf symbol of Dionysus,and they will also return to their former status.But if some of them prefer to join those initiated into the Mysteries,they will have equal rights of citizenship with the Alexandrians.3 Maccabees 2:29,30 Having read that how come Jewish Christians knowing this scripture since 100 years before Christ were going to believe a myth in the first century after Christ, that will definitely be to soon for two very different religions to be united by syncretism.
Why would they think it's a myth again? Remember that Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes so it's not exactly like the people they were preaching to knew what was a myth and what wasn't, right?
God is God and He was and is and will ever be but God. No matter one's denying faithlessness regarding God, His Brethren and people and His Generationed' children, God will ever be the One and Only Creator and Curator of all Creationisms everywhere!
Pure horse manure, my feeble-minded friend.
You are what you say and I am what I am so be that which you scribe,,,, for I will not worry about your lamentaion's so-called witt. Be therefore as a fig all dried up and wrinled away.
"I AM RIGHT, NO ONE CAN PROVE ME WRONG AND EVEN IF THEY COULD I WOULDN"T LISTEN ANYWAY!"
is it the same dude who sacrificed himself to himself to appease himself so that he doesn't fry everybody in a lake of fire that he built and maintains??
28Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Verily I say unto you, "Enough of this nonsense."
One's physical body is but a building wherein God and His Brethren do inhabit and live there inside the people's bodies but on such a microscopic scale we will never truly know of Him and His People so to say. Our civilization may or might not be around for millions of years within this Celestial Cosmos of Chasm'd relativities.
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
Once again, quoting ancient scripture doesn't prove anything.
your god is irreducibly complex,,,,,
And once again you fell outta the boat! Do me and others a favor,,,,,, Stop wanting to ferry across the waters without a life-jacket!
The Great Mutant Cosmic Star Goat (braise Him!) laughingly bleats at your puny pseudo deity!
You're full of it, Poop Dreamer. You sputter nonsense pure and simple. I feel with all my heart and soul that unicorns once roamed the earth. Unless you can prove they didn't, they did! Serve up your proof or forever hold your peace. You doubters make me sick. I puke on you! Let the scales fall from your eyes that you might see. Accept the blessed unicorns or you will be cast down into a fiery hell of kicking mules.
"One's physical body is but a building wherein God and His Brethren do inhabit and live..."
Never have a heard a more compelling argument in favor of exorcism! 🙂
"One's physical body is but a building wherein God and His Brethren do inhabit and live..."
Walgreen's has Fleets Enemas on sale. Perhaps you should stock up and flush that godbug down the toilet?
All religions have to be compelling enough to manipulate human behavior. Look to the animal kingdom and learn what life is all about in this planet. The real question is whether you know where consciousness comes from. It certainly does not come from some scripts or beliefs. It just "IS". I am the living conscious universe, and so are you. Stop distracting yourselves from what IS. Be still and know everything. C
Someone earlier did post regarding a recurring theme of hell,,,, but never did they mention an ever recurring theme of heaven,,,,, I diegress in my summonation and yet, any individual ever does harken many times to consider the hellbent and/or the heaven-sent. For one to deny this, I say to you, "You are liars and hippocrits and even blasphemers!"
Get a grip on the logic of truly understanding humanisms' psyche for anyone's psychological meanderings is ever an aloofness of variable thoughts including hell's kitchens and heavens' mansions so to say. You would be aliar if you were to say you didn't ever think about hell and/or heaven!
You would be a liar if you said you didn't think about a hippopotamus, now that I've mentioned it.
Circular is and are the relativisms of psychic gnosticisms. Traversing one's psyche thru other's comprehensives will ever make the challenges more worthy of disputabilities. I am but a lover of God and do ever fear God's wrath. I find that being next to God's kindness ways is way better then being afar off the mark of Godly exuberances. Would you not agree Yakobi?
Phosphorus wrote to me on page 92 on Easter Sunday Night, April 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm, stating, "To confuse social statistics and demographics with numerology is a rather remarkable mistake. Nice try, Pipe-Dreamer. Keep smoking your pipe, and leave the actual science and math to us adults. Besides, it's probably passed your bed time. With the lines I've seen you spitting out in this blog and some of CNN's previous religious blogs, you may want to brush your teeth for an extra few minutes. Talking that much (I'll be polite) can really make one's breath wreak. Nighty-night!
FYI Phosphorus, I smoke no pipe,,, haven't for many so many years,,,,,, I do however smoke filtered cigars. Science you say? Here's a weenie of science for ya! Long ago in the ancient timeperiods of Greek and Roman civilizations, there were these Theological Philosophers who made stories as to just exactly what was the smallest things and their roles in the meanings of Life. In their still known to us writings they did write that the smallest things known were the "elemental gods".
Todays scientists do scoff at such an idea and they have renamed an old fling to call these "elemental gods as being atoms putting to bed the ancient Theological philosophers' understandings. So much for pragmatisms' lamentations!
Another tid-bit to ponder upon is the exact size of this "Celestial Cosmos we find ourselves living within. Just how big is it really? Do you agree with our sciences' rather mundane stand that the universe is all there is out there? If you do then you get the booby prize! This Celestial Cosmos is riddled with way more than just our knowable to us universe! The actual size and immensity of the Celestial Cosmos is beyond thye perceptions of many science ladled folks!
Another diddy to feast upon is called "Fractal Cosmology" Ever heard about it? Probably not so here is the main jist of it!
Fractal Cosmology deals with the very real possibiliy that there are places where there are universes within universes. These places where there are "inner-universes" must and I dare say again, must be sheltered from the outward universes blasts of stellar radiation. What a better place to hide Micro-universes than within all forms of living bodies! Here's the clincher! All Life Forms and Life Formations are all made up of cellularized universes that are living places for the elemental gods' ever so smalled living generations of inward living life forms and life formations! Many verses of the KJVB does back up this diddy of thoughts!
Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is INSIDE you.
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building
We are merely the summations of our parts!
Circular is your "logic", Pipe-Dreamer.
It's quite natural to associate finding chicken eggs hidden by a giant rabbit with Jesus, isn't it?
You're obviously not a member of the Hare Club for Men.
They're the ones that meet at the airport, right?
Ahh religion – the world's ultimate dividing force.
Divide and conquer...
That way people are too busy fighting amongst themselves to worry about the buzzing of the shears as they are fleeced.
Blind faith restricts objective thinking on the subject.
It is Truth Joe76 that "Blind" faiths are a personal subjectives' relevance understood by no one or many. People who have "blind" faith in the current days' sciences knows very little about their contrivances. If you Joe76 are a blinded-by-faith science-related individualist have you kept up with its' ever increasing rationalisms of theories?
@ Pipe-Dreamer; There's no 'blind faith' when it comes to science. It's 'prove' or be 'disproven'. You have attempted to associate approval in the scientific method to religion. They're not in the same category at all. Science is always up for debate. Not religion. Science works on what can be proven. Religion doesn't.
Yeah, but that's how all religions work; nothing special there.
Blind Faith was also a great band!!! Clapton, Baker, Winwood......hey wait a minute....Clapton is God, right? They told us that in the 1960's.