April 7th, 2012
08:32 PM ET
The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN)– Timothy Freke was flipping through an old academic book when he came across a religious image that some would call obscene.
It was a drawing of a third-century amulet depicting a naked man nailed to a cross. The man was born of a virgin, preached about being “born again” and had risen from the dead after crucifixion, Freke says.
But the name on the amulet wasn’t Jesus. It was a pseudonym for Osiris-Dionysus, a pagan god in ancient Mediterranean culture. Freke says the amulet was evidence of something that sounds like sacrilege – and some would say it is: that Jesus never existed. He was a myth created by first-century Jews who modeled him after other dying and resurrected pagan gods, says Freke, author of "The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?"
“If I said to you that there was no real Good Samaritan, I don’t think anyone would be outraged,” says Freke, one of a group of mythicists who say Jesus never existed. “It’s a teaching story. What we’re saying is that the Jesus story is an allegory. It’s a parable of the spiritual journey.”
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On Easter Sunday, millions of Christians worldwide mark the resurrection of Jesus. Though Christians clash over many issues, almost all agree that he existed.
But there is another view of Jesus that’s been emerging, one that strikes at the heart of the Easter story. A number of authors and scholars say Jesus never existed. Such assertions could have been ignored in an earlier age. But in the age of the Internet and self-publishing, these arguments have gained enough traction that some of the world’s leading New Testament scholars feel compelled to publicly take them on.
Most Jesus deniers are Internet kooks, says Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who recently released a book devoted to the question called “Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.”
Your comments on Jesus deniers
He says Freke and others who deny Jesus’ existence are conspiracy theorists trying to sell books.
“There are people out there who don’t think the Holocaust happened, there wasn’t a lone JFK assassin and Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.,” Ehrman says. “Among them are people who don’t think Jesus existed.”
Does it matter if Jesus existed?
Some Jesus mythicists say many New Testament scholars are intellectual snobs.
“I don’t think I’m some Internet kook or Holocaust denier,” says Robert Price, a former Baptist pastor who argues in “Deconstructing Jesus” that a historical Jesus probably didn’t exist.
“They say I’m a bitter ex-fundamentalist. It’s pathetic to see this character assassination. That’s what people resort to when they don’t have solid arguments.”
Ehrman, for example, is an agnostic who has written books that argue that virtually half of the New Testament is forged. Another defender of Jesus’ existence is John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar who has been called a heretic because his books challenge some traditional Christian teachings.
But as to the existence of Jesus, Crossan says, he’s “certain.”
He says some Jesus deniers may be people who have a problem with Christianity.
“It’s a way of responding to something you don’t like,” Crossan says. “We can’t say that Obama doesn’t exist, but we can say that he’s not an American. If we’re talking about Obama in the future, there are people who might not only say he wasn’t American, but he didn’t even exist.”
Does it even matter if Jesus existed? Can’t people derive inspiration from his teachings whether he actually walked the Earth?
Crossan says Jesus’ existence matters in the same way that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s existence mattered.
If King never existed, people would say his ideas are lovely, but they could never work in the real world, Crossan says.
It’s the same with an historical Jesus, Crossan writes in his latest book, “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus.”
“The power of Jesus’ historical life challenges his followers by proving at least one human being could cooperate fully with God. And if one, why not others? If some, why not all?”
The evidence against Jesus’ existence
Those who argue against Jesus’ existence make some of these points:
-The uncanny parallels between pagan stories in the ancient world and the stories of Jesus.
-No credible sources outside the Bible say Jesus existed.
-The Apostle Paul never referred to a historical Jesus.
Price, author of “Deconstructing Jesus,” says the first-century Western world was full of stories of a martyred hero who is called a son of God.
“There are ancient novels from that period where the hero is condemned to the cross and even crucified, but he escapes and survives it,” Price says. “That looks like Jesus.”
Those who argue for the existence of Jesus often cite two external biblical sources: the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote about Jesus at the end of the first century and the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about Jesus at the start of the second century.
But some scholars say Josephus’ passage was tampered with by later Christian authors. And Price says the two historians are not credible on Jesus.
“Josephus and Tacitus – they both thought Hercules was a true figure,” Price says. “Both of them spoke of Hercules as a figure that existed.”
Price concedes that there were plenty of mythical stories that were draped around historical figures like Caesar. But there’s plenty of secular documentation to show Caesar existed.
“Everything we read about Jesus in the gospels conforms to the mythic hero,” Price says. “There’s nothing left over that indicates that he was a real historical figure.”
Those who argue for the existence of Jesus cite another source: the testimony of the Apostle Paul and Jesus’ early disciples. Paul even writes in one New Testament passage about meeting James, the brother of Jesus.
These early disciples not only believed Jesus was real but were willing to die for him. People don’t die for myths, some biblical scholars say.
They will if the experience is powerful enough, says Richard Carrier, author of “Proving History.”
Carrier says it’s probable that Jesus never really existed and that early Christians experienced a mythic Jesus who came to them through visions and revelations.
Two of the most famous stories in the New Testament – the conversion of Paul and the stoning death of Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs - show that people seized by religious visions are willing to die, Carrier says.
In both the Paul and Stephen stories, the writers say that they didn’t see an actual Jesus but a heavenly vision of Jesus, Carrier says.
People “can have powerful religious experiences that don’t correspond to reality,” Carrier says.
“The perfect model is Paul himself,” Carrier says. “He never met Jesus. Paul only had an encounter with this heavenly Jesus. Paul is completely converted by this religious experience, but no historical Jesus is needed for that to happen.”
As for the passage where Paul says he met James, Jesus’ brother, Carrier says:
“The problem with that is that all baptized Christians were considered brothers of the Lord.”
The evidence for Jesus’ existence
Some scholars who argue for the existence of Jesus says the New Testament mentions actual people and events that are substantiated by historical documents and archaeological discoveries.
Ehrman, author of “Did Jesus Exist?” scoffed at the notion that the ancient world was full of pagan stories about dying deities that rose again. Where’s the proof? he asks.
Ehrman devoted an entire section of his book to critiquing Freke, the mythicist and author of “The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?” who says there was an ancient Osiris-Dionysus figure who shares uncanny parallels to Jesus.
He says Freke can’t offer any proof that an ancient Osiris figure was born on December 25, was crucified and rose again. He says Freke is citing 20th- and 19th-century writers who tossed out the same theories.
Ehrman says that when you read ancient stories about mythological figures like Hercules and Osiris, “there’s nothing about them dying and rising again.”
“He doesn’t know much about ancient history,” Ehrman says of Freke. “He’s not a scholar. All he knows is what he’s read in other conspiracy books.”
Craig A. Evans, the author of “Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence,” says the notion that Paul gave his life for a mythical Jesus is absurd.
He says the New Testament clearly shows that Paul was an early enemy of the Christian church who sought to stamp out the burgeoning Jesus movement.
“Don’t you think if you were in Paul’s shoes, you would have quickly discovered that there was no Jesus?” Evans asks. “If there was no Jesus, then how did the movement start?”
Evans also dismissed the notion that early Christians blended or adopted pagan myths to create their own mythical Jesus. He says the first Christians were Jews who despised everything about pagan culture.
“For a lot of Jewish people, the pagan world was disgusting,” Evans says. “I can’t imagine [the Gospel writer] Matthew making up a story where he is drawing parallels between Jesus’ birth and pagan stories about Zeus having sex with some fair maiden.”
The words of Jesus also offer proof that he actually existed, Evans says. A vivid personality practically bursts from the pages of the New Testament: He speaks in riddles, talks about camels squeezing through the eye of a needle, weeps openly and even loses his temper.
Evans says he is a man who is undeniably Jewish, a genius who understands his culture but also transcends his tradition with gem-like parables.
“Who but Jesus could tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan?” Evans says. “Where does this bolt of lightning come from? You don’t get this out of an Egyptian myth.”
Those who argue against the existence of Jesus say they aren’t trying to destroy people’s faith.
“I don’t have any desire to upset people,” says Freke. “I do have a passion for the truth. … I don’t think rational people in the 20th century can go down a road just on blind faith.”
Yet Easter was never just about rationale.
The Easter stories about the resurrection are strange: Disciples don’t recognize Jesus as they meet him on the road; he tells someone not to touch him; he eats fish in another.
In the Gospel of Matthew, a resurrected Jesus suddenly appears to a group of disciples and gives them this cryptic message:
“Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
And what did they see: a person, a pagan myth or a savior?
Albert Schweitzer, a 20th-century theologian and missionary, suggested that there will never be one answer to that question. He said that looking for Jesus in history is like looking down a well: You see only your own reflection.
The “real” Jesus, Schweitzer says, will remain “a stranger and an enigma,” someone who is always ahead of us.
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About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
In 2,000 years, try to prove that Harry Potter didn't exist.
Harry Potter does not exist either Uncle Jetski. He is also fiction like the Bible. Ya knuckle head!!
@Stop the Nonsense I think that was Uncle Jetski's point. Although Harry Potter never existed, in 2000 years you won't be able to prove that fact.
They'll be arguing with Potterians that he didn't really exist.
I don't think that anyone capable of level headed thought would try to deny the existence of the man Jesus Christ. The fable begins with the story of his conception and continues through his rising from the dead only to never "appear" again except in the grilled cheese sandwiches and pop tarts of the fanatical believers. If believing in some mythical man in the sky makes you feel better and turns you into a better human being, than who am I to tell you otherwise. But please keep it to yourself and don’t try to use religion to explain phenomena that science has clearly found answers for. Many years ago – when nobody could explain or even understand fever – the answer was the devil. Eclipses were viewed as the work of the gods as were the conception and births of children. As we’ve developed intellectual prowess, the need for some magical story to explain what we now understand has diminished greatly – but the true believers still cling to the fairy tales contained in the bible that are regularly recounted in churches and synagogues every weekend. Jesus was a man – arguably a great man – but a man none the less.
Science books are peoples opinions – just mere theories – everyone has decided to agree upon to explain things the way they want. You can't prove a human came from an ape can you? No one was there the EXCITING TIME hahaha to see a human instead of an ape come out of the ape. Sorry.
And one more thing, honey, there is no DNA proof to show every single race, color, ethnicity came from just the hairy ape .
Science books are not people's opinions. Theories? Well, yes... but gravity is a theory too, but if you don't believe in it, try jumping off a tall building.
Oh man, Brunette, you add an entirely new level of depth to the word "'imbecile".
And Barbie you're worse. "Mere theories" shows a decided lack of understanding of the scientific method. Evolution may be one thing (though if you think they believe one day an ape just gave birth to a human you really really have no idea what evolution actually says), but do honestly not believe the evidence of things like the laws of thermodynamics or things like that? And then with your next post you made a not-so-subtle racist comment? Yeah you're the kind of "Christian" who hears the words but doesn't get the message, and the reason I don't like to make my religious affiliation known in some contexts.
Oh Barbie – what a wonderfully apt name for you since you clearly share the cranial capacity of your plastic namesake. "Science books are peoples opinions" – oh yes, physics, chemistry, cell biology, geology virulogy, the human genome – all are just "peoples opinions" – I have not had such a good laugh all week – thanks for not using the ability to think that you were born with. Keep believing that the earth is 6,000 years old and that ancient man roamed the earth at the time of the dinosaurs. Keep believing that Moses parted the Red Sea and that Noah built an ark to house all of the earth's living bounty during "the flood". Keep believing that Eve came from Adams rib. These are stories that children believe – and by the age of 5 or 6 they start to question them. Barbie – go rest your mind – you've probably over-taxed it today.
Wow CNN, on Easter? Really? I guarantee you wouldn't run something like "Mohammed: The Real Story" on Ramadan (or ever actually) or "Buddhism: The Trendy Religion" on the Buddhist New Year. Christianity is just the acceptable target.
The CNN Debate: Is it news or just liberal BS being spewed upon the clueless.
There are serious flaws in the mythical Jesus arguements. Osiris and Horus were gods born of gods. Jesus was admittedly human. His divinity were in His character traits of fulfilling the requirements of the Mosaic Law through total obedience. If no miracles were performed he wud still be a hero.
Reblogged this on George Peterson and commented:
I am an internet kook. Jesus never existed.
As neither side can has proof, which theory has more validity: the theory that there is no greater being, or the theory that there is a greater being (that many folks call God)?
One does not have to disprove what cannot be proven. Hitch
Its not a question of if God exists. Its a question of if the man known as Jesus Christ exists, whether you believe in his divinity or not.
i believe that the answer is yes to both points of view- yes " jesus christ" is a myth created by saul from tarsus/ the imposter paul;
and no Human kinds Savior / the One that reestablished our core kinship with The Universe Creator is very real and true and Named Yesh'wa Messiah from Nazareth.
"love each other as he loves us"
is the daily/ hourly ongoing work of His Followers.
But Jesus's daddy said "eye for an eye". Jesus supposedly said " turn the other cheek". The son is being rebellious to his daddy, in which the Old Testament says the son aka "Jesus" must be stoned. This stuff is all comical.
Christianity grew out of the lies told by a knocked up teen who REALLY stuck to her story. "Holy ghost you say? I see. Well, that's good enough for me."
Mary as Tawana Brawley. Intesting.
Haha, yes, if you believe in a virgin birth, then I've got a bridge in Broolyn I'd like to sell you. Actually, there could be a virgin birth, but it still comes from good old human semen. Those little boys are good swimmers and can still find their way in even if there is no penetration. It happens to this very day.
Yep, Joseph had to be the most gullible human being that ever existed. Mary gets knocked up and tells him: "God did it.", then he's like, "Okay, cool, whatever."
If Jesus never did the miracles the Gospels said he did, Jews could have easily dismissed it, but you know what they did, blamed it on sorcery. They didnt say Jesus didnt do those things, they tried to say he was performing black magic
imagine that! you are creating arguments for delusion.. there were zero miracles.
A lot of people were accused of being sorcerers back then. People were uneducated back then. It doesn't prove that Jesus performed any miracles any more than it proves that all the women burned for witchcraft in New England actually turned people into toads.
Funny; there's no historical record of Jesus occurring in Judaism, either.
Maybe that whole story you're referring to was concocted to fit the larger narrative?
The Jewish Talmud
Funny how there are no verifiable miracles in today's society-especially since our evangelical community is so much more "advanced" in their practices than Jesus' followers in the years following his "existence." Something to think about. If you believe the Jesus miracles, then you know Jesus performed definite miracles. He would heal a blind man immediately with a bunch of witnesses etc. Nothing like that happens today. There is nothing I know of even similar to the types of miracles he performed happening today. There are medical mysteries that people contribute to Jesus, but those are not definitive by any means–more like a misdiagnosis or something not yet known by the medical community. When's the last time you saw an "actual" Jesus healer heal someone unknown to his/her in front of a bunch of people where there is no doubt it is a miracle? It doesn't happen. And please don't bring up the idiot faith healers on tv.....If you believe in them I have land in Costa Rica I'll sell to you cheap!
I really think it boils down to this: They did keep historical records during the time of Jesus. (Other than the Bible) Did they not also keep records of their court proceedings and prisoners? Bam–there's your answer. If we have historical records of others prosecuted during that time, and nothing on Jesus (who apparently was a huge deal)....then Jesus probably did not exist. I haven't looked into this myself, but definitely something to consider. It would be interesting seeing what the Vatican Archives have on that time period. Would they release it? Highly doubtful....
Alot of records have been lost to time. The Volcano that killed thousands of people at Pompeii was a big event right, you know how many people wrote about it, ONE
"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes." – Gene Roddenberry
Put yourself in God's shoes, if you had the ability to end all suffering on Easrth in an instance, why wouldn't you? Why is God a vain, selfish, evil being? He could be a caring, loving, being who could end all evil in this world, but chooses to make humans worship him and donate money in his name. Just ask yourself this, if you were "God", would you give a 7 year old child terminal cancer, or would you allow that child to grow up happy and healthy? What "God", tests his followers faith by causing terrible things to happen to them and their loved ones? I personally have no respect for such a selfish God. Why allow pain and suffering to destroy your followers, when you could snap a godlike finger and end it all instantly. A god that is that evil, has no place in my heart.
Excellent point. Even if a god did exist, if he's like the biblical god, I would have no time for such a disgusting creature.
It's all about you, isn't it?
I'm a soon to be parent. He's coming out in a couple months. I don't know if you have children or if you have known people with children, but your statement is seriously flawed. Admittedly crap happens, that life, not God. If you got everything that you ever wanted without trying and without pain, you would grow to be a very selfish individual with very little capacity for character growth or empathy for others. My cousin had open heart surgery when he was born and has had it several times since. Do you know what his character is like now? I think that kid is much stronger then I am and he's 13! He's not a wrathful God, but sometimes he does use tough love. Doesn't always mean we have to like it. I never did.
If Heaven is so great and all, I do not see the sacrifice Jesus made.
If he knew he was going to be crucified to death and then spend eternity in paradise then it does not seem like much of a sacrifice.
Now if he chose to live on earth with us, that would have been a sacrifice, or if he went to hell for eternity.
Like everything else about Christianity, it makes no sense.
You can't expect sense from a story that begins with a god having a child (by a virgin mother,no less).
Happy Spring Fertility Celebration!
Let's see if John Blake will dare write about Mohammad that the end of Ramadan.
just remember, our hard-earned taxes subsidize these religious businesses.
Why was my post not posted with the excuse that "you have said this before" when I have not? I've only posted twice ever anywhere. This Mormon question brought to the keyboard.
Rev. Carrie, Your post was probably rejected by the automatic word filter... then when you tried to repost it gave you that message. Go back and look for any of these words: (then fix it up and repost it)
Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
cu-nt.....as in Scu-nthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
hu-mp… as in th-ump, th-umper, th-umping
jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
p-orn… as in p-ornography
pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
sp-ic.....as in desp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
All cultures brainwash, whoops I mean train, their children as to what they want them to believe. Fortunately, many people develop independent thinking and no longer believe something just because they are told to believe it. The type of religion that you are is closely related to where you are born. It has nothing to do with being the "right" religion. Tell a Christian that if he was born in Pakistan, he'd be Muslim, and he'll balk, but it's absolutely true. People need to learn to think for themselves. The default is that nothing exists. Now, you have to prove it exists. You need independent, verifiable, reasonable evidence. Otherwise, it's all just a theory. God is a theory. The big bang is a theory. Evolution and pre-historic creatures have enough evidence that can be confirmed repeatedly, that we accept those as existing. People, it's ok not to know. No one knows our origins. Science will figure it out someday, but that could be centuries away, and that's ok. We don't need to make up fantasies to explain that which we can't.
So it's your theory no God exists?
No Jim, non-existence is the default. The theory would be for existense. The default is not that God exists. The default is that nothing exists until it's proven. There is no reasonable, verifiable, evidence that a god exists, so it's just a theory.
I know lots of critical thinkers who happen to believe in God. Doctors, lawyers, CPAs, scientists, even a couple of college professors, believe it or not. It's just plain ignorance or willful suspension of your own sense of logic to proclaim all people of faith to be simply a bunch of pawns, duped into holding beliefs that are inherent to their place of birth. "But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Praise be to GOD, Jesus has risen!
Their is no inscriptions earlier than the Gospels about Osiris,Dionysus, etc that they were born of Virgins, had 12 disciples, etc.
No credible source outside the bible mentions Jesus...Josephus mentions him, even though parts of it were forged by a scribe, he still mentions Jesus. And what about the Jewish Talmud?
The Volcano that killed thousands of people at Pompeii, you know how many historians mentioned that event, ONE.
That ONE would be Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, or Diodorus Siculus?
You believers would make terrible historians. You can never keep your stories straight! The historical Jesus was mentioned twice by ONE first century CE historian, one of which was very likely a medieval forgery.
There are people in the world that claim the holocaust is a myth. Some folks use the passage of time to change the truth.