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.
I have never talked with George Washington. I have never walked with George Washington. There are all kinds of things written about George Washington and it is rumored that he existed and was the first President of the United States, but none of us was there, so how do we know he actually existed? How do we know George Washington wasn't the figment of some people's imagination? Argument goes both ways.
Nobody is making absurd claims about Washington. Things like he turned water into wine, walked on water, was born to a virgin, was the son of a god, will send you to burn in hell if you do not worship him, etc.
Let us not forget mary had s.e.x. with a ghost and then had a magical child that did magical things!
If Randy is the best the believers have got to make the case for jesus, then that cult is doomed. Yes! The amount of factual, verifiable, objective and independent evidence for GW is infinite when compared to the complete lack of evidence for The Jewish Zombie.
So, because someone said that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree, and later we learned that wasnt true, we can all safely say that He never existed.
Honestly, as a Christian, I dont find it my job to argue his existence. Truthfully, I feel my life is better because of him. And if I do find there to be a Heaven and eternal life, I sigh in relief that it wont be spent with non-believers like "Voice of Reason" and "0G-No gods, ghosts or goblins". Its hard enough living on the same planet.
"Honestly, as a Christian, I dont find it my job to argue his existence. Truthfully, I feel my life is better because of him. And if I do find there to be a Heaven and eternal life, I sigh in relief that it wont be spent with non-believers like "Voice of Reason" and "0G-No gods, ghosts or goblins". Its hard enough living on the same planet."
Typical religious intolerance. It's all about you and the your afterlife? You are a moron missing out on the now and this WONDERFUL PLANET. If its so hard living here you know what to do. But that's a sin right? And against the law.
I am more than tolerant of other's beliefs – in fact, I fully support your 1st amendment rights. I am intolerant of bad logic as displayed by Randy and the lack of evidence for most believer's claims. You can believe anything you want but if you spout unsupported crap in public, you should expect to be challenged! If you pramble your beliefs with "despite there being no evidence for what I am about to say, and recognizing that it violates all known science. . . " I would not take exception with your delusions. Happy Jewish Zombie Day!
This is not the day to have an article giving space to doubters...they get space almost every day. CNN should concede at least one day this year in which the faith of hundreds of millions gives way to the Resurrected Christ. Fox News did something similar on how Jefferson did not believe in the Resurrection. Who cares what the doubters doubt? But for Christians, today is a great day of promise and hope and the media should respect it as such.
Today is the perpetuation of delusion and nonsense.
You cannot prove God exists and that is the way He wants it. Of course you are all smarter than God, to which the scriptures reply – "The wisdom of your wise men shall perish..."
You cannot prove God exists and that is the way He wants it."
Ladies and gentlemen! Allow me to introduce to you floridamom1! Yet another lost delusional mental case!
Can you prove that love exists?
"Can you prove that love exists?"
Actually, we can prove the chemical reaction and the physical response to it.
I practice Falun Gong, which is a heart and mind cultivation practice with over one hundred million adherents worldwide.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, consists of five easy exercises and a book containing nine lectures. Falun Gong has allowed
me to understand such difficult issues such as abortion, drug addiction, euthanasia, birth control and many more. The practice is available on line for free.
Thank you for your consideration.
"abortion, drug addiction, euthanasia, birth control
Let's hear how you understand?
For all who know the TRUTH that Jesus is alive now and forever, behold the following Scripture and embrace it with such power that non-believers cannot ever conquer! "He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved." - PSALM 62:6 (KJV)
In essence you are brainwashed and intolerant to critical thinking. Can you not see this?
You are arguing against one belief without critical thinking by yourself being intolerant? Ok, you are just an angry person who has no meaning in your life. I truly feel sorry for you.
"You are arguing against one belief without critical thinking by yourself being intolerant? Ok, you are just an angry person who has no meaning in your life. I truly feel sorry for you."
I must say that I am intolerant to something that I have studied and experienced and found to be dangerous to impressionable children, science and medicine. You're damn right I'm intolerant. I have plenty of meaning to my life and others and that's keeping your BS as far away from the truth as I can. It's called reason and logic. What is your reason and logic behind telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies?
Mike Wallace just die. Ask him.
I do not care if moses or jesus existed or not. I know that mohammad did and we have relics of him and his grave is around. How come that the only remains of jesus is a painted death cloth? Did he take his belongings with him when he left? Moses, on the other hand was a warrior and I accept the fact that the people he fought in the name of his jehovah beat the crap out of him and scattered his remains. At the end of the day , it is a shame that people kill each other in the name of such mythical creatures. I wish we cancel christmas and then that will be the sign of a real democracy. May the force be with us all.
People were sure the earth was flat for millions of years. They even had "proof": stand along any beach, and you'll see a long horizontal line as far as you can see. We are now in a New Age, and so much of what we were brainwashed with as children,
now seems quaint, and downright phony. jesus is imaginary, jesus is imaginary. Shout it from the rooftops!
And as you are shouting Jesus is imaginary – just like the horizontal flat earth, your rantings will be proven wrong.
You have made the argument that past knowledge was imperfect, but you have not made the argument that today's knowledge is perfect. To those who will look back on you, your limited knowledge will look as strange as "flat earth" scholars do to you. But, faith and the wider knowledge of Christ's message will still be vibrant to those who embrace it.
"And as you are shouting Jesus is imaginary – just like the horizontal flat earth, your rantings will be proven wrong."
You are perfectly delusional.
I honestly laugh at people who deny God. They can't believe in a God who created such perfection. No, instead, they believe that, all by chance and coincidence of odds millions of times that of the lottery, that, after a huge explosion of matter coming from nowhere, all these tiny particles happened to link together, happened to create larger particles, eventually the sun, stars, and planets, and then life. So, when you wake up in the morning, and enjoy the fact that you even know you exist in the universe, as yourself... really? That's your story? Frankly, I like mine better.
Really?!? Perfection? What universe do you live in? C'mon even if god did exist he wouldn't be worth worshiping with what he allows to happen in the world, much of it in "his" name.
Religion brings little good and much evil. Millions of deluded people. Tens of thousands of fanatics. Abolish it please. Please use your damn heads.
Why do Christians continue to celebrate these non-christian pagan inspired holidays? Do they not understand their own bible that warns them of this very thing?
This is the truth of Christianity...the Resurrection of Jesus. Don't try to make comments when you are not even a christian. Why don't you try making comments about the muslim & see their reactions about muhammad.
Now, I recognize this isn't "proof" by any standard, but it seems to me that most things that get started have an origin that makes some sense, at least to the people who start it. A movement – and that's what Christianity must certainly be described as – attracts followers based upon people believing in what the movement is about. Christ's death and ressurection seem, to me, necessary in order to establish Christianity in the first place. Without these, what is there to believe in?
Likewise, I'm not sure that historical records adequately record everything of great importance. It seems to me that the only person who'd be interested in Christ on the cross is a believer who was there. Might get overlooked by the media of the day. Add 2000 or so years on top of that, and it doesn't make sense that lots of records would be out there. In fact, if I were to ask for a detailed list of Roman executions, I doubt anyone would have such a thing; being unable to produce them doesn't mean those executions didn't happen.
And it doesn't make sense that Christians would preserve these things. After all, the Christian kingdom is supposedly not one of this world/this life. And in the short time after his death, when things could have been preserved, what is there really to be gained by preserving this? I doubt the early Christians were worried about people arguing whether Christ existed or not 2000 years later; how many folks think last night's basketball scores – which are very important to some folks today – will be preserved for review in 2000 years? It was, for them, much like today's news is for us, I would think.
I found an earlier poster's idea that the early Christians did not have "faith," but "evidence" an interesting idea. Unfortunately, I disagree. Ultimately, the acceptance of the idea of Christ as the Messiah is one of faith, even if you were there and witnessed the crucifixion and ressurection. Even seeing these two things does not necessarily mean you believe it's anything more than a well-designed hoax – something Houdini (or some other magician) could have pulled off. So, I think, in a round about way, it was just as much faith that founded early Christians beliefs as it was evidence.
Now, this being said, since evidence isn't, per se, important to the Christian belief, it would not stand to reason that challenging a Christian for "good evidence" would be of great productivity. And, if you look at it, that's exactly what we're seeing.
In other words, none of what we're seing is anything outside of what we should EXPECT to see – whether or not Christ really existed – EXCEPT the Christian movement. The fact that there are people who believe this stuff is left unexplained in the absence of the man, Christ, who died on a cross. To me, that would seem to be the most convincing evidence that an actual person, Christ, existed.
--In the interest of full disclosure, while I did try to present the evidence above from a reasonably neutral viewpoint, I am a Christian, a believer in a Christ who did exist, did die on the cross, and did rise again. And, as such, I wish you all a Happy Easter..--
You are absolutely delusional.
For Christians being all about love and forgiveness, there sure are a lot of angry ones, aren't there? I think that they would like to trade that other cheek for a good billy club.
Do you flinch when someone sneezes? I see none angry here. But ok, if that's your argument.
I question the timing of this article.
Doubt everything. Find your own light.-Gautama Buddha
Yes, I believe that Jesus existed, that He is the Son of God, that He is God in the flesh, that He came down to earth in the form of a man and that He died on the cross for our sins and that He rose from the dead and is alive today, and that if you accept Him as your savior then you will spend eternity with Him in heaven. I also believe that He is coming back soon and that we need to be ready and when He comes back this time, He isn't coming back as a meek, lowly savior, He's coming back as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and He is going to take His people home. I also believe that Obama was not born in America. If you have a problem with my beliefs, fine.
Being of the Jewish faith Jesus did exist and was a religious Jew as were all the disciples. Go back into archeology and all Jews were murdered on the cross, one has to remember at the time of Jesus all the other people were pagans and hated the ones that believed in one God. It is not new to the Jewish religion when it comes to the Messiah they believe in that reason for the extra glass of wine on Passover and when he comes NO MORE WAR and all will live in peace with each other. We are all Gods children. Just like today, from Catholicism there were break aways, like Protestants, Mormons etcetera no different than today. Do not fight it,but I will say the New Testament a lot made up by scholars and their wish the way it should be all written 400 years after his death.
Randy we would only become concerned if you were willing to take a non believers life to prove your devotion.
I would like to see if CNN would dare run a story saying that Muhammad was a "myth" on the Muslim' s holiest holidays and that Abraham was a "myth" on the Jewish holidays. Go ahead CNN , give it a try and see what happens.
Waaaahh, CNN picked on us and not them.
awwww....eddie, feeling a bit put upon?
We love you Jesus no matter what "smart" people think about you n thank you for everything you did for us 2000 years ago! God bless!
The Romans, Catholics, and others have done well in destroying evidence of Jesus, but that doesnt mean he didnt exist.
Honestly, I feel sorry for anyone who doesn't have Jesus in their life. Oh what a sad life you must lead. You hate your wife and children, you road rage daily, you yell at your television, you look at other women.. Sad, sad life. Thank you Jesus for loving me. Up or down, my life is good.
What are you talking about???? I have personally witnessed more 'sinfull' behavior committed by the faithful. Child molestation, wife beating, etc.
And you have never done anything wrong in your life?? Is your name Jesus of Nazareth? You have God (Faith) in your corner and I have Science (Fact) in mine. May the best man win.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
HOW...... does a supreme non physicalbeing/god sending a son (and how does that work....) in flesh to be murdered somehow atone for YOUR "sins"???? the whole thing is silly...I mean just plain silly! childish!
and why today do these "sins" so often seem to be about s e x? why so much about s e x?
now I'm not saying there isn't something deeper to life but the concepts of "god" put out there especially by the abrahamic religions are just so ridiculous, like they where written by children
There are worse crimes than s e x sins. Even Jesus himself forgave the woman taken in adultery.
Love it 🙂
Now i see why you want to be atheist cause you want to keep lusting, lol
There is nothing "silly" about it...the Jews told of a Messiah for millenia. When the Messiah did come, only a portion of the Jews underestood and the Gentiles are no better. Only a portion of the Gentiles understand. Man is sinful and sin separates us from God. Man has no means to expiate his sins, we are inherently sinful and we cannot do it. This role was left to Christ who, without sin, and being the Son of God in the flesh was the only one who could take our sins upon him – that is, to Atone for all man's sins so that, we, through faith and diligence, could be saved from death. Christ's Atoning act brings us full circle and is applied universally to those who wish to drink "living water". To have accepted Christ and to have passed those principles down to the present generation is the greatest legacy we can bestow upon our children. A legacy of cheating, lies, harm and violence only begets the same.
I think Elena is a s3x hating hag masquerading as a new age scientist.