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.
God bless all you non believers, the smartest mindest in the world understand
God without science is ignorance, but Science without God is pointless
When the solution is simple, God is answering.
God does not play dice with the universe.
God is subtle but he is not malicious.
Once again, GySgtG lies.
Albert Einstein is on record as saying that he did not believe in a personal God. He said:
"It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."
Einstein also said:
"I am a deeply religious nonbeliever. This is a somewhat new kind of religion. I have never imputed to Nature a purpose or a goal, or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic. What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism. The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naive."
"... Life is too short to argue with idiots, atheists are the new plague, they don't make anything better, they live empty short lives, they are too ignorant to understand the difference between the physical and spiritual planes. People fear what they don't understand. I have a lot of resentment towards God at times, but I never doubt his existence, only his decisions."
Argue with this:
an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.
@Voice of No Reason...Faith: Noun, Belief that is not based on proof. And in your case Pride: Noun, A high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
"@Voice of No Reason...Faith: Noun, Belief that is not based on proof. And in your case Pride: Noun, A high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc."
Belief is not based on proof. You can say that again! Pride? I do have pride in myself. I pride myself on living in reality and truth not in something delusional. Absolutely I have pride in that.
Your pride is on full display Voice of Reason, but your voice has become a quite whisper. I will be the one to love you since no one else does, you need someone to mentor you and show you the way.
It is shameful that CNN a news channel does not know that the Ressurrection of Jesus Christ, and Easter have nothing to do with each other at all. Easter is a pagan holiday to celibrate fertility.
Do like me.... Call/E-mail CNN and complain about this article!!!!!! It is run by zionist jews
There's your tolerance for you.
You do know that Jesus was a Jew right?
Jehova, Jehova, Jehova.
Monty Python's The Life of Brian
Happy Easter everyone, including non-Christians and Atheists 🙂
Jesus is risen! God Bless
It's always sad when people don't read the article. Many read the first sentence then come up with a long post, saying many things that have already been said. Do your own historical research, then come to a personal conclusion. Do you know that there is a physical description of Jesus that was made by Pontius Pilate? And Tiberius of Rome had an engraving of the likeness of Jesus made on a large emerald? Of course, these things in themselves prove nothing, but should be noted on the journey taken to decide belief or non belief. And what if he wasn't real? This is the type of person who should exist inside of us all.
smarter minds than you understand
God helps those who help themselves.
Dear Mr. Freke,
It is not blind faith. The evidence is all there for anyone willing to open their eyes. I too was a skeptic. However, I couldn't rest until I knew the truth. Keep looking, but this time challenge your paradigms and ask God for help.
You are an epitome of delusional.
OK, I just opened my eyes and I dont see any evidence for your god. You FAIL!
Any evidence that you would like to cite?
The hate displayed here was predicted. Wars and rumors of wars as well – we are there now. Believe what you may, when our time ends the truth will be known. Please love, respect and understand each other in the mean time -we all make our own decisions and ultimately answer for them.
Please God forgive them for they know not what they do, this applies to all of us
Oh please, do share the evidence. But ask this: would one piece of evidence be admissible as such in our own court of law? I assure you, not one page of the bible would qualify – mainly because it was written by man, for man, long after the events = and translated, modified countless times to "meet the needs or beliefs of the scribes". Seeing or hearing things won't be admissible... So please...let me know this strong evidence so I can be enlightened. At the same time, I can give you reference to countless books and information – with complete factual references that would be admissible in court as evidence and has been the basis for every piece of technology we have today – written by the smartest people in the world – to support science and the dismissal of the evil and fictional account of religion.
Also, you didn't clarify your religion. God comes in many flavors, and the believer wasn't born into any of them – if you live in the middle east, Allah is your man...or if your Christian, I suppose the millions of Muslims are just plain wrong. I don't know why I'm even wasting my time...you can't argue against religion from a standpoint of fact and logic. It's like arguing with a 5 year old that believes in Santa – you won't win until their mind and level of maturity develops so they can reason out why that belief is irrational. To digress, I wonder what would happen if we never did tell our kids Santa wasn't real....they may just believe in Santa when their an adult! ...hmmm... sounds familiar, eh?
When I confront religion, I am not saying I don't believe in God....
what I have a challenge with is that religions and religious leaders claim authory from God, they claim to represting him --and along with that want us to bow to "their" authority, submit to their disipline and supervision in our lives.
I will not submit to religion, only to God. People like me, are an example to others that you can believe in God and still be free of religion, where is the profit and power in that for religious organizations? We are a threat to their plan to have you pray, pay and obey them from childhood to death.
God never intended for us to sell ourselves into relious slaverly to ensure our salvation. Religion only comes between God and the individual and diverts the spiritual growth that was intended an keeps the members childlike in their dependence upon them, their organizations and their leadership.
HE IS RISEN. God is love. Jesus is faith.'Tis a day to celebrate the reason we are saved from eternal death.
You are beyond delusional.
Leave it to atheist CNN to run this kind of article on Easter Sunday. Shame on you .... Ted Turner Religion haters.
Don't be silly. The article is just stating the facts, and pretty fairly, too.
Voice of Reason
You are beyond delusional.
Jesus is Risen, Happy Easter Everyone!!!!sans the atheists.
Spoken like a real "Christian", I see your other cheek!
Knuckles, you like?
There are a lot of depraved individuals in this world nowadays. I could really care less if you are an atheist or not, that's your pathetic soul on the line not mine. How can you argue that this material world is by chance? That man just evolved into what we are, one thing is certain, that there is a devil, that evil and good both exist and clash every single second on this world. Jesus Christ existed, whether the bible is 100% factual is debatable. Jesus Christ was a good man, a man that we cannot comprehend because we are flawed men incapable of the knowledge of God. It is better to believe in God and Christ and be wrong then to not believe in anything and be wrong, Lucifer WILL be waiting for every last one of you atheists. Like I said your fates don't mean much to me, my faith is strong and I've witness the devil's force so I know there is also a God
You are delusional
The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from iron age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.
Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you live your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.
The devil IS in you head!!! Right now.
If I were the last believer in Christ it wouldn't matter to me, I believe what I believe. I don't hate other religions, it's not that serious to me, believe what you want, that's on you. Life is too short to argue with idiots, atheists are the new plague, they don't make anything better, they live empty short lives, they are too ignorant to understand the difference between the physical and spiritual planes. People fear what they don't understand. I have a lot of resentment towards God at times, but I never doubt his existence, only his decisions.
"Jesus Christ existed, whether the bible is 100% factual is debatable."
So how do you choose which is fact and which is not?
Just knowing that I am of the same species as you evil, dumb religious fanatics that foolishly believe you are going to nirvana even though you talk of being better than others that don't believe like you, and that they are going to BURN IN EVERLASTING HELLFIRE, sent there by an intelligent God are pathetically ignorant DAs. If there is a God and he is that stupid then this is truly a hellacious universe. You are truly hypocritical fools and you are not even equal to people that live and let live. If there is actually a God, you will be the ones that he sends to hell, DAs.
Do you think simple criticism and name calling can change my mind, my experiences on this world??? You atheists can pepper me with insults, at the end of the day I live my life and you live yours. I say phuck your God which you believe is yourself, how ignorant is that? Believe in something greater than yourself and maybe you will find some meaning in your life. You forget that billions of souls have walked this earth over the past 2000 years and the majority of them believed in something. Where did they all go? Into empty darkness??? You're all so sad, really, you are pathetic creatures. I feel for your children and ancestors that are turning in their graves. Bend your knee and show some humility you arrogant mortals smh
I do believe you have adduce inferior evidence in your statements of religion. You previously stated, "People fear what the don't understand." Have you ever thought of playing with that notion introspectively? Maybe you, Makaveli, as all humans, cannot understand your condition hear on earth–thus being subject to fear, angst, and despair–and like Kierkegaard take your leap of faith towards god, for fear of the unknown.
@SugKnight, first of all it's Suge not Sug Knight. Second of all why are all of you lost souls critiquing every word that I write while ignoring the overall message? Is that all you have? Like I said live your lives, you make your twisted opinions so well known on these forums all the time, now hear mine too children. A true believer does not follow everything that their church teaches, they seek out the real truth for themselves. I could argue that God hasn't always been good to me in life, but I could also argue that he saved my life as well with such conviction. I stopped praying for material things years and years ago when I gained enough knowledge of self to understand that there are people out there who need God's help more than me or get this they need my help as well. Spend your time left on this world carefully atheists because you might not like the situation to awake to on the other side. A complete lack of faith is ugly and very sad indeed.
Show me an atheist that has contributed to society in a positive way and uplifted others and I'll show you the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and my Lord that you filth mock...
I am better than you because I BELIEVE in the santa claus in the sky. I am the precious. God loves me because I BELIEVE in him. You are not anywhere near as precious as me because you don't BELIEVE. I'm a true BELIEVER. BELIEVE or die. BURN IN HELL FOREVER IS YOU DON'T BELIEVE AND BELIEVE IN THE ONE AND ONLY TRUE GOD BUSTER!!!
Who are you to say you are better than others. You are the definition of ignorant. This fictional "God" loves everyone, it is said that only "God" may judge you or any man. You have no religious jurisdiction to condemn anyone because you are not God. And you say you are precious, you are full of yourself which is a SIN, and I'm sure your God will be disgusted with your behavior. Thank you, and have a nice day, and find true peace in yourself not something make believe.
St. Paul defined faith as "“Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.”. Judath spent a couple years around the lord watching hime open blind eyes, raise the dead and listen to his teachings, he still delivered him to be crucified. If the lord Jesus appeared in his glory today, there will stil be some who will not believe. Faith is something that starts in the believers, that the lord strenghtens. we have to open the door for the lord for him to enter. I really believe that all agnostics and atheists simply reject the presence of God rather that truly believe that he is not there.
And most rational people define faith as belief without evidence.
The simple fact of the matter is that you have NO evidence for your god and NO contemporary historical evidence that your Jesus ever lived, let alone did all of the things attributed to him in that work of fiction that you call the bible.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
All that was written were written by people who smoked hash and/or mushroom. Just read it carefully and you'll get the sense the authors were hallucinating.
WOW-–leave it up to the state run media to run a anti Christain article on Easter--but then again, CNN loves the mulsims and hates Christains--
Another right wing redneck speaks at least spell christian correctly
STOP bringing up facts and provable history, you are Satan trying to tempt me away from the truth, Jesus is real, this is a lie.....
Anyway, thanks for a good article, unfortunately there are too many people who are so invested in religion they will not consider facts or evidence, they will believe complexly the pseudo science and made up history that religions teach.
Agreed... People just listen to Kent Hovind or Walter Vieth on youtube and you will believe God does exist.
These 2 people have tons of proof he does.
What is a Mythicist? The Mythicist Position?
Evemerist vs. Mythicist Position
I state by reason of definition that christians are delusional. Prove that you aren't.
an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder: the delusion of being watched.
You mean it hasn't been proven that Jesus rode on the back of a dinosaur? Damn!
Happy Zombie Day!
Nail on head!