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 love the comparison of people who deny the Holocaust to people who deny jesus existed. False dichotomy much?! We actually have evidence of the Holocaust. When you hear christians scrambling like this to justify their religious icon, you know they're on shaky ground.
Holocaust is just as fake as anything else...
You were not there, you never seen it so shut up
Leo, you're an idiot. There are living beings who survived the Holocaust. Their stories are verified.
Stories about Jesus are not, and obviously there are no living beings to testify as to what did or didn't occur.
Ok if jesus existed then please lead us to where his body is buried. im betting that you will never be able to show it to us because it doesnt exist.
GH: "Preaching will not convince a rational person that your position is valid. Try producing an independent thought or reasonable evidence (not even proof!) supporting your position."
God anticipated your thought and here's his answer:
"For 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." 1 Corinthians 1:21
Yes, god demands that you sacrifice reason for faith, and if you can't do it, he resorts to calling you names.
By the way, God has not left us without physical proof of the validity of the Gospel.
The miracles, aka "signs" or "signs following" [ie, following the preaching of the Gospel].
My own physical healing, for example.
Why does god hate amputees?
@b4: Too bad he didn't do anything about your mental illness.
I am a believer but I also am educated. The birth date of Jesus is actually not known. December 25th was a Roman pagan holiday celebrating the birth of the unconquered sun. Christmas was put on this date so it will be easier for non-believers to convert to Christianity. Christmas wasn't celebrated until around 300 AD so the guy that is arguing really killed his point with that argument. Regardless it doesn't matter if Jesus existed; the only thing that matters is if you believe.
and Harry Potter
I never understood why you would quote bible versus as an argument. Learn to think for yourselves!
Nothing like a good rebuke i agree.
It is so refreshing to see an article like this on CNN on Easter, as opposed to some nauseating Sunday School story about Jesus dying on the cross. Maybe, finally, the media will stop being so terrified of offending religious sensitivities. I also hope that this is a further indication that our beliefs in Iron Age sky faries is, itself, in sharp decline.
Why must you make false insuating comments about God being a sky fairy? Could it be that you are but a closeted gay man? Should I write about your most treasured folks of the sciences as being a few bolts short of creating their Frankentein?
Thank you CNN!
"People don’t die for myths, some biblical scholars say."
I guess those people have never heard of muslim suicide bombers? They die for the myth of allah and 72 virgins.
Haven't you heard boy greece is finished
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2)The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. 3)"Let us break their chains," they say, "and throw off their fetters," 4)The One enthroned in heaven laughs: the Lord scoffs at them. 5)Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath,Psalms 2:1-5
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.
Nice, simple , non offensive. Thanks.
America is a Christian country and therefore everybody should be Christian or convert, otherwise you have nothing to do with us !
go f yourself. Willl ya?
American is about religion Freedom, the fore-father came to the free world to escape the harsh religion from church and create a law to never combine religion and government.
The separation of church and state was designed with people like you in mind, to prevent America from becoming a theocracy ruled by ignorant religious fanatics.
its talk like that, that makes everyone hate America. Let me spell this out for you. America has never been and will never be a christian nation. America was founded on the ideal that people of any and all religions could have a place to practice their religion and not be persecuted.
Article 6 states that religion cannot be used to exclude someone from holding office, the 1st amendment guarantees freedom of religion. To say your comment is ignorant is an understatement as I don't even touch on the tenants of Christianity that you are ignoring.
One can be a religious fanatic and not be ignorant. One can be a CHRISTian and not be a religious fanatic. It's apparent that your post is niether CHRISTian nor religious ...just fanatic and ignorant.
Jesus said its all your. He really didn't. I say stop stealing it ain't yours. Not going to say it again.
In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you 5)who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 And the last of the last time is here!
Happy Jehovah Day!!!!! (last Day of the Unfermented Cakes Festival)
Exodus 12:14 “‘And this day must serve as a memorial for YOU, and YOU must celebrate it as a festival to Jehovah throughout YOUR generations. As a statute to time indefinite YOU should celebrate it. 15 Seven days YOU are to eat unfermented cakes. Yes, on the first day YOU are to take away sourdough from YOUR houses, because anyone eating what is leavened, from the first day down to the seventh, that soul must be cut off from Israel. 16 And on the first day there is to take place for YOU a holy convention, and on the seventh day a holy convention. No work is to be done on them. Only what every soul needs to eat, that alone may be done for YOU.
17 “‘And YOU must keep the festival of unfermented cakes, because on this very day I must bring YOUR armies out from the land of Egypt. And YOU must keep this day throughout YOUR generations as a statute to time indefinite. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening YOU are to eat unfermented cakes down till the twenty-first day of the month in the evening. 19 Seven days no sourdough is to be found in YOUR houses, because anyone tasting what is leavened, whether he is an alien resident or a native of the land, that soul must be cut off from the assembly of Israel. 20 Nothing leavened are YOU to eat. In all YOUR dwellings YOU are to eat unfermented cakes.’”
NEXT WEEK CNN WILL PUBLISH AN ARTICLE CALLED "THE JEWISH DEBATE CULT OR SATANIC?"
Why not? gotta mile this meaningless agitation for every penny it can yield. How about CNN the bottom of the barrel of news corporations. believe in nothing but licking Obamas shoes. I can't for that article.
Dear Atheist, I love you. I will not say anything harsh to you. Your soul is so precious that Jesus died on the cross for you.
Please consider this: where is the source of life?? Is there anybody on this earth can create "one seed" that can grow??
It is easier for me to believe that there is a God who created this universe, than to believe to the evolution or big bang theory.
I'm proud of HIM who died on the cross for my SIN and my sins. He gave His life for you and me so that we can have eternal life. Without HIM I don't have hope in the future. He is our creator and He is our Redeemer. Give glory to Him because He is worthy to be praised for ever and ever. Amen. –>
2 Tim 3:1-4: But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
1 Cor 2:14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”
We need to understand what is SIN and sins.
1. realm of behaviour: words and actions -> sins (fruits)
2. realm of character: thought and feeling ––> sins (fruits) Jesus said about adultery in our heart??
3. sin by nature (indwelling sin). -> I believe this is the ROOT and what I call SIN
I believe in order to go to heaven we need solution to these:
1. punisment of sin -–> we need justification (only by faith in the blood of Jesus)
2. power of sin -–> we need sanctification (we cooperate with the Holy Spirit ) 2 Cor 3:18
3. nature of sin -–> we need glorification (when Jesus come 2nd time)
Paul in Romans 7 struggle with sin #3 above. But since he didn't fulfill the lust of the flesh so "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.......... (Romans 8:1)
All sin is fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death. (not only 1st death but also eternal separation with God)
I believed the sin that unpardonable is blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Christian will not keep on sinning (willfully transgression) on the level of behavior and on the level of our character.
But we can not do anything about SIN by nature and only at the glorification our body will be transformed into glorify body.
Buddhism, the religion without god or religion nut
Bring inner peace to you and everyone around you.
Sane compare to Christian.
You may be incredibly stupid, but as an American it is your right to be incredibly stupid, and I will defend that right any day, any place, any time, as long as there isn't something better to do.
You do understand we are laughing at your folly?
your whole reasoning so stupid that you will remain shackled to your own delusional beliefs. This is what the smart folks cooked up centuries ago to keep sheep like you in line.
No one expects you to have any critical thinking beyond what you vomited.
Your post was a colossal waste of time.
People say that I am an elevator short of a six-pack, but even if it were true, which it is (did I get that right?), posting 413 times an hour makes me even righter than the antone because it is trueyer if I repeat it.
I bet English wasn't your best class, but don't worry Math was my best.
It is revolting the way so many of these Christians are crying foul. They believe without hesitation that their religion gives them the authority to judge others and to tell them they are going to burn in hell, but just crumble when they themselves are judged by a rational mind. They can dish it out but they sure can't take it. When confronted with rational questions about their irrational beliefs they are unable to answer; I guess it brings back bad memories when they were unable to answer questions in school.
Do usrelf a favor and go f urself
Kudos to CNN for trapping so many respondents into a common flaw in logic–either/or thinking. Is the issue really "Man vs Myth"–one or the other? As long as Christians continue to "believe" that they are "saved," just because they believe in Jesus–IMHO, they are missing the point (and so are the other religious fundamentalists, including the atheist fundamentalists). Sadly, evidenced by so many posts to this blog.
The world would be better off if everyone would live by what Christians call "The Golden Rule" (Do unto others as you would have done unto you.), which has its roots in earlier religious teachings: for example, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." —Talmud, Shabbat 31a, attributed to Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who lived during the reign of King Herod (37-4 BCE) as did Jesus of the Bible.
A search of the concept "ethic of reciprocity" could provide great insight into one of the primary functions of most religions.
Too many Christians and others want to be "believers," but don't choose to "practice"–it's good enough to "get'er done"–the gray matter between the either/or–mediocrity seems to take the day.
Isn't the real issue one of how we choose to live rather than what we claim to believe? 0;-)
The world may be better off if everyone lived by the golden rule, but the reality is the strong will take what they can and the weak will forfeit what they must.
nomdefaitour–I think you missed my point.
Do unto others as you would have others do unto you is great if whips and leather are involved.
yeah- the easter bunny came!!!
And lo, Jesus the Lord sayeth that even though it is usually a very bad idea to teach your children to eat the "eggs" that bunnies leave behind, especially the "chocolate eggs", it is thusly and verily right to do so in my honor such that they learn that believing in me is the same as munching on bunny droppings.
To Jesus Loves You:
Religion is a fall back point for the intellectually disabled. Try to do things by your own rules and ideals not by some who never existed to begin with. How do I know Jesus never existed? Simple you religious nut job types have never been able to produce a corpse or a skeleton. H3ll you people have yet to find Noah's Arc The Holy Grail or The Garden of Eden.