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.
Life isn't difficult if the whole earth is blessed thru abraham it should be a good place.
Ultimate trollism...come here and start preaching...
Lucian (circa 120-after 180) Greek writer and rhetorician.
"The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account..."
Thallus (AD 52,)
"On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun."
Tacitus (A.D. c.55-A.D. c.117, Roman historian)
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular."
"On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!"
Pliny the Younger governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. AD 112.
"They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food but food of an ordinary and innocent kind."
Flavius Josephus (AD 37?-101?)
"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done."
HAHA atheists and non-christians are bored on Christian holidays when virtually everything is shut down on our holidays, but remain open on non-Christian holidays 😀
we actually work on those days...
Sorry to disappoint you, dear, but I had a great day. Beautiful weather, bike ride, good food, family and friends.
I didn't notice that anything was closed today. Maybe you're thinking of Thanksgiving.
"HAHA atheists and non-christians are bored on Christian holidays when virtually everything is shut down on our holidays."
No, idiot, it's in celebration of Spring, Easter is based on other pagan holidays like the rest of your bible.
I have posted 4,582,956,842,454,523,425 times today.
You trust in a god who forced himself upon a woman and forced her to carry his spawn.
Sixdegrees sure you didn't. Unless you live in Saudi Arabia
Nothing was shut down where I live, I got all my errands done today. What are you talking about?
Too bad you're wrong, doofus. The grocery stores were open. So were the wine shops and restaurants.
You must live in Outer Bumfuck, Arkansas. In the civilized world, most places of retail business were open.
momoya- We don't know. Once again the world isn't perfect, and we don't know the whole mind of God. If we had access to it, we probably wouldn't be able to understand it. People learn to live with the diffuculties. Learning to live and be happy through hardship is key in faith.
No sale. If your God is a loving and merciful being, He wouldn't allow his creation to suffer pain and terror and sorrow. If He's NOT a merciful being, why would I worship such a vile thing?
I think very similarly, but replace "god" with "mystery.". We don't know what happens when we die, and we don't know if we have a purpose.. Deal with it, but don't believe one of the silly god myths because you know, when it comes down to it, that if god were personal and wanted to be believed and worshiped correctly he could have done a lot better job of explaining himself–something like math or chemistry..
We don't know stuff we wished we knew.. But god either does not exist or doesn't care what we think about him.. The entire universe screams this at you.
The whole mind of god? By what right do you purport to know ANY part of the mind of god?
@ tom tom,
it is call free will, but man will blame god for everything and take responsiblity for nothing
Bullsh!t. The one who "takes responsibility for nothing" is your God, you lying sack of excrement.
It's about time an article like this was written. I went to church for 18 years, and I was always perplexed at how NO sermon i ever witnessed discussed the most important question about Christianity and religion in general: "Is this true?" Living your life according to the teachings of Jesus is a great idea, but if we want to be honest people, we need to come to terms with the fact that in order to have faith, you have to believe the words of the bible purely ON faith. For those that do, great. Just keep in mind that for those who do not, religion represents the epitome of irrational thought.
There's nothing as entertaining to me as crackpot conspiracy theorists. Fake moon landing, JFK, Elvis lives, Area 51, government conspiracies, Illuminati, rigged NBA playoffs, Shakespeare didn't write his plays, and now the fake Jesus crowd. Thank you for adding some amusement to my Sunday. I almost wish I had a conspiracy theory of my own to adopt.
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from:
Those who do not accept Jesus as their lord and savior will not enter kingdom of heaven and paradise.
Not too late to convert!
your god is a petty vindictive bully.
"Those who do not accept Jesus as their lord and savior will not enter kingdom of heaven and paradise.
Not too late to convert!"
Seeing as only 33% of the people on this planet actually believe in Christianity, then your god is an evil god if it's going to condemn 67% of people on this planet to hell. What a moron.
Those who do not convert to Christianity will miss out on spending the rest of eternity with me and people like me. For ever and ever, hanging oout with people like me, listening to people like me, and praising God right there because he cannot get enough praise from humans. Needs a whole lotta praise, day in, day out.
So come hang out with people like me forever! Doesn't that sound like HEAVEN</b??
Zeus says you are not welcome in His kingdom
USA = Christian nation
READ, LEARN AND USE YOUR BRAIN!
The Christian disinformation program proceeds apace. Fortunately, it is garnering few new fans.
You first, moron. Oh, wait. You don't HAVE a brain. Never mind.
"USA = Christian nation"
Yeah they killed close to 50 million Indians to get it and stole it from them because they were to selfish and greedy to actually follow the teachings of their god. You might not want to keep boasting about it idiot cause it makes you look like a hypocrite.
people with brain dont have to do anything, mor**
1st Amedment- 'Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....' ie- our country isn't Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim, etc.; it's open to everybody. Yes, the founding fathers were Christian, but they knew establishing a Christian nation would be tyranical.
USA Christian nation
Let's see, the Christians came to America to make it a Godly nation? They do that by lying, cheating, stealing, torturing, raping and killing the Indians. Capturing and buying humans from other countries and selling them here as slaves so we could keep our labor costs down in order to build a nation worthy of God. Jesus reads like a beautiful person but I'm not so sure about the Christians.
Uncomfortable Truth for the Religious #203: We are all born atheists.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19)since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has make it plain to them. 20)For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities -his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made, so that no one is without excuse.Romans 1:18-20
the scripture is only valid to those who accept the scripture
Evans says, "[Jesus] weeps openly and even loses his temper"
It is unlikely that an omniscient being would have such emotion.
Jesus got mad at a fig tree. Some of his behavior is not too high up the human scale either.
Then again, in the Bible, God is pretty childish when he doesn't get his way. Just look what happened to the tower of Babel and Sodom & Gemorrah.
Jesus admitted that he wasn't god when he said TO god "Thy will, not mine, be done."
Of course, there's one problem with that quote and that is that Jesus was supposedly alone when he said it. So Jesus wasn't god and therefore not omniscient, but the narrator apparently was, or simply adopted the standard convention of fiction of being an omniscient third person narrator.
Dang, there's that fiction thing again!
God never said he would be exhalted in the earth. He has his place Jerusalem. He could care less if you worship a Winnebago. Thats how people that write the malarky get away with that stuff. I'm a semite not a Hebrew. He has one choosen people. Abraham for the rest of the earth. They all bow to Jesus what a coincidence. They just embelished the story. Because it really don't matter what you do as far as the Hebrew God goes. What you have is the rest of the earth. That was a good thing. You should try enjoying it instead of going for space rides. Also stop helping the theives that print the paper and gouge out the earth to make there assets. Gouging the earth taking what dosen't belong to them in the first place. Unwittingly or not your going to suffer for it.
"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth." –Psalm 46:10
"But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." -Matt 12:36
Say what you will – you can give an account for it later. But you might actually prefer not to have spoken from ignorance.
It's unfortunate that CNN Writer John Blake left out author Acharya S as her work proves Ehrman (Errorman) and other New Testament scholars wrong essentially every step of the way. That's why Errorman chose in his book merely to do a hand waving dismissal of it instead so he could get out of it.
Does Josephus prove a historical Jesus?
The Mythicist Position | What is Mythicism?
Acharya's work has changed the lives of many people for the better as one can see here http://www.freethoughtnation.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1959
She should be included in these articles/blogs on mythicism.
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.”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
"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."
Yeah, your god screwed up and killed everything on the planet but a few. Then when that didn't work it created a son to kill to justify itself. Yeah that is one dumb god you got there and think if it was as loving and compassionate as you claim all those people wouldn't have died, it wouldn't have killed its son and it wouldn't need to create a hell to instill fear into you. Come on now let's face it one of the greatest claims of Christians is it's better to believe just in case. Yeah. that is some loving god, NOT, it's an evil dictator and so is your cult.
you apparently believe that a creator MUST be synonymous with a God (as a being which judges "sin)
you do realize that quoting scripture to those who do not accept the validity of that scripture has only so much persuasiveness, don't you?
It may be easier to believe; that does not mean it's true. I see an awful lot of passages here from the man-made bible, which I don't doubt was pushed on you since birth by a human, and not god or Jesus Christ. We have an incredible talent in our history for pulling the wool over peoples eyes to get them to obey us. What makes the bible more believable than science?
here we go again, 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.
Remember that Satan called the Devil is behind the suffering of humanity.
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.
Bingheldy, you may be deceived by your own lies, ie your false compassion, but we aren't.
John 14:6 Modern version
Wall Street says to the politicians, "I am the way, the truth, and the political life. No one comes to the white house except thru my super pacs.
17)You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you, 18) When you see a thief, you join with him; 19)You use your mouth for evil, and harness your tongue to deceit.21)These things you have done and I kept silent: you though I was altogether like you. But, I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. 22"Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue: Yet he, who offers thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that i may show him the salvation of God" Psalm 50:17-23
Kind of reminds me of how we treated the Indians.
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You make this way too much fun, Mini-Me