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.
Tom, Tom....- You set your expectations too high. God is all loving, that doesn't mean suffering shouldn't exist on an imperfect world.
Momoya- Once again it's faith. The ONE thing science can't and never will prove. I need scientific proof for everything BUT faith. I have room for both and I live a perfectly normal life. I don't suffer from my faith. I don't need 'freedom' from it. I agree much of organized religion prevents freedom, but I don't believe in the parts that prevent freedom.
If faith is so important, then why didn't any of the apostles have it? Or Paul, for that matter? All were given evidence; none really believed beforehand, but Jesus gave them direct evidence.
Why do Christians demand faith now when faith was not good enough for the founders of their faith?
Why "shouldn't suffering exist"?
Please, doofus, your silly arguments about the number of angels that can dance on a pin are simply irrelevant.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. 2Timothy3:16
Including the scripture wherein he forced his attentions upon Mary and forced her to carry his child?
You aren't fooling anyone with the name changes, just sayin
Larry – "forced His attentions on Mary....." Mary was asked whether she would be willing to have a child from God. She said "yes".
Think of Mary as a stained glass window and the Holy Spirit [who is the giver of life to all] as a light shining through it. THAT was the conception of Jesus. Don't judge everything from the human point of view. Read the New Testament and learn!
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits, and things taught by demons. 2)Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, who consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 1 Timothy 4:1&2
god spoke to me last night while i was r a p in g a choir boy!!!!
he said that i am the great spirit!
and that all others must heed my word!
my word is.......................go out and c0rnh0le as many women as possible!
and all in gods name!
God rA peD Mary so why shouldn't he countenance his priests repeatedly Ra piG choir boys?
The demonization of lying and unleavened provocking fools is just what the physician ordered! TYVM 🙂
I see all the abuse obsessed, closet paedophiles are out in force again! If you can't be respectful, best not say anything, eh?
All you are showing here is ignorance and a distinct lack of integrity. Maybe the result of the failed American ewducation system!
I am going to appear sooner or latter in your lifes be carefull you sinners, jajajajaja.
Also looking forward to meet Jesus, Santa Claus and the Unicorn. Please let them know where I can find them
Atheism = Communism
Now shut up
Atheism does not equal communism, but Communism is atheist.
I've asked over and over how it is that Jesus's was a virgin birth but yet Mary was a married woman who already had birthed a son (remember Jesus' older brother). Despite the incessant biblical quotes, nobody wants to take on and answer this obvious contradiction in scripture.
Why bother answering ignorant Anti-Christian bigots like you? Even if we answer you, nothing will get stuck in your small brain anyway
Why do you care? I thought atheists don't believe in the bible 😮
No, Jesus did NOT have an older brother. Marry became engaged to Joseph but they did not know each other until after the birth of Christ. There was a reason for that. Joseph sought wisdom from the Rabbi about the incident, and was told he could give her a certificate of divorce because she was pregnant, NOT by him. He instead chose to marry Mary. Jesus parents went on to have more children. YOUNGER brothers.
You attack me only to avoid the fact that you have no answer for this ridiculous inconsistency in scripture.
Wikipedia has a good article on this (James the Just); in brief, there's no account indicating how old James was relative to Jesus, nor one which give his precise relationship. He could have been older or younger, a stepbrother, a half-brother, or a cousin. There simply isn't enough information given to make a call on this.
Translation for "in God We Rust": I can't answer the question so I'll blame the questioner.
Mary was a 15/16 year old girl. She was betrothed [that's engaged – for the ignorant ] to Joseph. She was NOT married.
Joseph, by the grace of God married Mary even though he knew she was pregnant. He protected Mary and Jesus till he died. That's WHY he is a respected and much loved Saint.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
They wrote that because they knew they stole the stories of other pagan religions and it would be shown the lies of the bible.
still just a human with a human dad
since god is imaginary
all religion is a waste of time
What'st the difference between a Christian and a bag of poop?
the bag of p00p has character
You nailed that like Jesus to a Cross! Boo-ya!
Man, why you have to go "dumping" on Christians? lol
jesus was simply a great magician
and he r a p e d little boys
Believe it or not the earth has everything you need to stay healthy most people do untill they start screwing with the wrong things of the earth. Then things happen. There is no whipsy doodle healing. Everything that keeps people healthy is from the earth. Including the food which the earth grows. You people are space rangers. Your ignorant about what keeps you alive.
Nothing new. The debates were there from the beginning – when the scattered sheep were starting to come togther.
Therere is no way any real historian will say that Jesus the Christ who was cricified never lived. The reasons currently used by these antichristians can be used to disprove any historical personalities before the invention of the printing press.
A classic example of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29)They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30)slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful: they invent ways of doing evil: they disobey their parents: 31)they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very tings but also approve of thse who practice them. Romans 1:28-32
God forced himself upon and woman and forced her to carry his spawn against her will. Worship that.
"They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil,"
Actually people are born good regardless of religion. Religious people find it very annoying that people don't need God to be good, as science has now incontestably proved.
For millennia, we've been brainwashed into believing that we needed the Almighty to redeem us from an essentially corrupt nature. Left to our own devices, people would quickly devolve into beasts, more violent, tactless, aggressive, and selfish, than we already are.
Today, we know that this isn't true. With the discovery of mirror neurons by Italian neuroscientist Giaccomo Rizzolatti in the 1990s, we now have physiological proof of why - and how - our species became hard-wired for goodness. Mirror neurons are mirac<bulous cells in the brain whose sole purpose is to harmonize us with our environments. By reflecting the outside world inward, we actually become each other - a little bit; neurologically changed by what is happening around us. Mirror neurons are the reason that we have empathy and can feel each other's pain. It is because of mirror neurons that you blush when you see someone else humiliated, flinch when someone else is struck, and can't resist the urge to laugh when seeing a group struck with the giggles. (Indeed, people who test for "contagious yawning" tend to be more empathic.) These tiny mirrors are the key to most things noble and good inside us.
It is through mirror neurons - not God - that we redeem ourselves, achieve salvation, and are "reborn" in virtuous ways once co-opted by religions. Evolution knew what she was doing. A group of successful cooperators has a much higher chance of thriving than a population of selfish liars. In spite of what we read in the headlines, the ratio of bad to good deeds done on any given day across our planet holds at close to zero any day of the year. Although we are ethical works-in-progress, the vast majority of us are naturally positive creatures - meaning not harmful to our environments - most of the time in most of the ways that matter. And God has nothing to do with it.
Spirituality does but God doesn't. Evolutionary psychologists tell us that our brains are hard-wired with a five-toned moral organ that focuses on a quintet of ethical values - one of which is purity, or sacredness. In a world that can sometimes be disgusting, we evolved an upper tier of emotional longing - the aspiration for purity - to keep us balanced in this satyricon of carnal delights (where animality beckons and frequently wins). Our need for sacredness is part of our ancient survival apparatus, and manifests in what we call faith, the need to connect with that sacred dimension. This has been the primary purpose of religion, of course - to congregate people for the Greater Good - but God has been, in fact, the divine carrot. The important part was communion, a context in which to transcend ourselves, if only for an hour on Sundays. Without this ability "to turn off the Me and turn on the We," moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt tells us, our species would still be wandering around as groups of nomads, unable to create a civilization.
Aside from mirror neurons, there's oxytocin, the molec<bule of connection (also known as the molec<bule of love). It's fascinating to learn that the vagus nerve produces more oxytocin when we witness virtuous behavior in others that makes us want to be better people ourselves. That is why people like Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama are known in neurological circles as "vagal superstars." We are wired by nature to be elevated at the sight of other people's goodness, mirror neurons and oxytocin conspiring to improve the species. Mirac<bulous though it is, this natural human phenomenon has nothing to do with theology. We are born to be beamed up, Scotty.
For agnostics like me, this is the good news - however it may rankle true believers. Original Sin is a thing of the past.
Prayer changes things. .
Prayer doesn’t not; you are so full of crap and lies. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!" . . .. .. .. .
Why won't God heal Amputees?
This argument makes at least five false assumptions, but for the sake of brevity here’s two:
Assumption 1: God has never healed an amputee.
Who is to say that in the history of the world, God has never caused a limb to regenerate? To say, "I have no empirical evidence that limbs can regenerate; therefore, no amputee has ever been healed in the history of the world" is akin to saying "I have no empirical evidence that rabbits live in my yard; therefore, no rabbit has ever lived on this ground in the history of the world." It’s a conclusion that simply cannot be drawn.
God does not exist. This is the underlying assumption on which the whole "why won’t God heal amputees" argument is based. Those who champion the "why won’t God heal amputees" argument start with the assumption that God does not exist and then proceed to buttress their idea as best they can. For them, "religion is a myth" is a foregone conclusion, presented as a logical deduction but which is, in reality, foundational to their argument.
Jesus came to save our souls. We have 2 amputees in our home. Both of them are children. If He so chose to heal them, I have no doubt that He could. But there is a higher calling in their lives... and in our lives. We keep our eyes off of the temporary and on the eternal.
Wow, that's a really stupid contribution to the discussion even by your standards, B4!
I know of no cases of an amputee being healed. Do you know of any? In the absence of ANY evidence that ANY such healing took place even once, it is REASONABLE to assume that none have. It's a simple, easily falsified assumption.
As for the second "assumption" you cite, that is the CONCLUSION, not an assumption.
I am really really really stupid. The likelihood of a limb regenerating is the same as the likelihood of a rabbit once being in my yard.
I did not even address why the assumption #2 is wrong. I just meandered off on a tangent as I wondered if it was time to change my Depends again.
The point of the whole argument being that when miracles are claimed, they are always claimed when there is a question of what, if anything, was ever really wrong with the person allegedly healed. So people on crutches with two legs walk again, but someone in a wheel chair with none does not. See the problem? It sure looks like god only heals conditions that have a good chance of being psychosomatic or simply purely fraudulent.
Johnfrichardson – look up Jack Traynor and Gabriel Gargam – examples of 2 miracles at Lourdes! Go on do it.
christiem8 – God Bless you for a wonderful outlook. All the very best to your childrenm
Dark Ages...everyone 99.9% believed in god...and there was the church ready to BarBQ the 0.1% who did not. Look at us now..in Europe 40% does not give a rats as about your gods.. churches are empty and full with pedobears..and in USA is just politically correct to be believer..you know not to offend the sick mind. Religioun is going away out slowly but surely and your god does not even care...
That's why Europe is a big mess right now. The more unbiblical and unGodly a nation turns into, the more problem and cr.ap is causes. Scandinavia is one of the most secular nations in the world, yet has the highest suicide rate.
Atheists in Europe are liberals at least and don't attack religion or religious people, unlike most Atheists in the U.S. as you see here on CNN comments.
Move to Europe then so we get rid of atheist satanic @sses like you.... mo.ron
Atheists in Europe are not subjected to the endless onslaught of religious wingnuts with oppressive political agendas. There ain't no Fred Phelps or Charles Colson in Europe.
Scandinavia is not a nation, pinhead.
Of the four countries that are typically thought of as making up Scandinavia, Finland ranks 19th, Sweden 30th, Norway 34th and Denmark 35th on the list of nations ranked by suicide rate (with number one havving the highest rate). Took me about two minutes to research what you asserted and prove it wrong. Maybe a little less faith and a little more research will get you further?
Truth is whatever pops into my head, because Jesus puts it there. So don't bother me with your facts hang-up.
I am real, but a little bit lost, could someone tell me where I can find my way back to heaven, I somewhere in California,give a call to my father God and let them know i am doing fine. Ahh and God belss you all mortals souls
I decided to open my small store today on Easter and I got so many phone calls and E-mails that attacks my decision for being open on Easter. Christians told me that I'm insulting them being open on the most important holiday of the year.
STOP trolling with my name!!
I am very yeasty today. Whole lotta burning discomfort going on. That is why I am setting a new world record for posting.
To the real In God We Trust – NOBODY could mistake your posts for this mindless wonder. God Bless, firnd.
To the real In God We Trust – NOBODY could mistake your posts for this mindless wonder. God Bless, friend.
joe wrote on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012 at 7:17 pm, stating, ""Jesus" just give me one name even close that can bring so much hatred from the sceptic and so much reverence to the Believer. Here is the deal to all the sceptics who don't have to believe in Jesus, you can take your chances that He does not exist. I believeHe does. We won't know the truth until we get to the grave. If in fact Jesus does not exist and require us to believe before we die then I lose nothing and will never know I was wrong. If Jesus does exist what will be your fate?"
God is God and no one person can truly mock God's might! Afterall, did not God give motion to all of Creationism? Do not the Celestial heavens' motions speak of God's reverance and mightiness? For how long has the motions of galaxies been seemingly forever set in motion without just exactly how many collisions? The mere vastness of the Celestial Cosmos should be enough for mortal mankind to get the heebee jeebees crawling up one's backside! Still the unnerved will spit in God's face ever denying Him His just duenesses! God's demands for the humanities are for us to live in equal harmonies with each other despite our differences of opinionated selfishness.
God will forever wait upon the deathbeds in order to whisk away that which is upon the dead body's inside things of worthiness and take them all to the heavens set anew and for our wanton pleasures will we all find a new hope and a new life and a new world , a mansion we can claim our own to start anew and with justifications by Christ dying for our sins, all of them!
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.