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 wish people would stop using the argument that people being willing to die for their belief should be persuasive to those who don't believe. Isn't this true of any religion? Then which one should I pick? I read a quote recently (I can't remember the source, unfortunately) which sums up my thoughts on the matter: "When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours/"
HeySoos was FOLKLORE!!!!! There is NO HEYSOOS!!!! Get that thru your THICK SCULLS!!!!!
This article is absurd. Its an insult to Christians on the most holy day of the year for them. Nice one, CNN...
It's not for over 67% of people on the planet, christians aren't that special.
I agree. CNN didn't have to bring out this article today.
"insult"? Why is it an insult? What's wrong with finding the truth? I thought you religious folks took pride in THE Truth.
CNN IS OWNED BY ZIONISTS
Nonsense, Ugh! Get your head out of your........
As a RECOVERING CATHOLIC I say screw you!!!
Why do Christians hate it when others want to be treated as equals? That's not what your mythological Jesus preached.
Wow! In case you don't get that far down, there's some clown called Xoxo down there and this is their post;
"Atheists....... Just imagine how much you will suffer in hell soon when you die..... Life's short
I bet you will try to do anything to convert last minute
This cretin simply has so little understanding of how personal belief works if they think we"ll all run to convert. Look – although we look at y'all as people who treat this as some kind of Jihad holy Christian war, it's actually not a war at all. I'm not at ALL a Christian. But I don't MIND if you are – he seems like he was a great guy. But when you don't believe in Jesus as the Lord and Saviour, believe me, you are very at home with your connection to the universe and it's force of creation. Its all very OK and there is no need to convert and run from fear. Basically, there is very little need to act out of fear at all. Please ask yourself the same question. Are you operating out of fear by believing in Jesus? Cos from your post it sounds like you are. Like you're really gloating about being on the side of a conflict where one side's gonna get it and the other side is gonna get to live.
I sure hope not. That wouldn't give you much credibility in the eyes of people who are perfectly 'live and let live' in their way of looking at y'all, now would it?
I agree, Flambeaux. Good job!
"Jesus" isn't the first "god" to be resurrected.
Um, did the author actually read any other portion of the bible? You can clearly match up Matthew 24, Mark 13, (still studying, Luke?others? etc?) to revelations. Link up the Revelations 6 and so on (the seals). You can't deny revelations if you accept the rest of the book.
although it says in the Bible that you are to pray in private, Tebow doesnt offend me at all. He is not urging his faith onto others.
Sartorum does offend me.
It says to pray in private because some pray for attention and praise. You can pray in public, just not for attentions sake like the hypocrites were doing at the time.
I'm sorry, the Tebow thread is next door. This is the Argument Clinic.
Why did you take the name of a school slaughter?
I LOVE your name St Montius Pythonus ! ! ! I wish MY parents had given me such a cool name as yours. 😀
I'm celebrating the birth of the very first unicorn. Happy unicorn day! Weeeee!
Please consider this: where is the source of life?? Is there anybody on this earth can create "a Mung Bean seed" that can grow?? It is easier for me to believe that there is a God who created this universe, than to believe the evolution or the big bang theory. God is our creator and now, He is also our Redeemer.
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.“
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.“"
Everyone knows the story about Jesus and the woman about to be stoned by the mob. This account is only found in John 7:53-8:12. The mob asked Jesus whether they should stone the woman (the punishment required by the Old Testament) or show her mercy. Jesus doesn’t fall for this trap. Jesus allegedly states, let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her. The crowd dissipates out of shame. That story was not originally in the Gospel of John or in any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes. The story is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John. Nor does its writing style comport with the rest of John. Most serious textual critics state that this story should not be considered part of the Bible.
Scientists have been able to create life in laboratories for years now. Should we worship them?
You believe that a big magic sky daddy repeated some magical incantations.. Atheists believe that unknown processes and laws formed the processes and laws that we can detect and know about.. Which view seems more fantasy?
The Greeks mistranslated the commandant "Thou shall not kill". The transposed the word "murder" for "kill". The significance being that while all murder is killing not all killing is murder. Although the definition of murder changes according to time and place, generally killing is not defined as murder when it is in self-defense or in defense of one's nation when at war. In biblical times and for much of human history it was not considered murder to kill by exposure malformed or unwanted babes.
that's only a re-creation of existing life - changing one simple type of bacterium into another
NOBODY can create from scratch.
God has the power to create and can make something from nothing. And He is the only source of life.
Do you think life just "pops up"?? no purpose ??? no value ???
Be carefull Phosphorus, you're making way too much sense. You might confuse both sides and ruin this argument and spoil all the fun.
If they're wondering why they can't find Jesus's body, it's because He conquered death! Pagan, really? Happy Easter, God bless!
Yup, just like the story of Christ is found in other pagan religions. Do you always follow something so blindly without doing research? LOL!
What's real is..... TEMPLE OF MOUNT.... ten commandments. Egypt pyramid. and Mayan cchichen itza
I was an Atheist and converted to Christianity 2004. This is the best thing I've done in my entire life. I love it!
That's why my life is much better, healthier and easier now.
Happy Easter. I hope other Atheists convert too.
"That's why my life is much better, healthier and easier now."
You don't need a god for that. I am very healthy, happy and I have a fantastic life, no god needed.
You haven't experienced the love of God, so don't talk (please)
Did you receive a sharp blow to the head?
You haven't experienced belief in God, so don't talk (please)
"You haven't experienced the love of God, so don't talk (please)"
Yo moron, some of the posters on this blog are ex christian, seeing as you're pretty dumb you might want to follow your own advice.
I left Christianity years ago and it was the best thing I've ever done. I'm so much happier and life is so much better with a worldview based on reality and not having to do constant mental backflips for completely absurd beliefs. I hope more people leave ancient myths behind.
Cowboy & Jazzman
Go on brothers! Do you guys write music? A cowboy and a Jazzman that would be sweet.
Can an atheist please answer this simple question... How did we get here? What do you believe in?
We don't know because we're stupid.
We got here via the Big Bang and I believe in Richard Dawkins.
it's all chemisty..study chemistry, micro biology, and astronomy and you'll have your answers...it's all about hydrogen and star dust, or just take the easy route and believe some creation myth, there are hundreds of them
I don't know. But I'm not going to just say "Invisible friend" and then wipe my hands like that's the only answer. That's arrogant, blind and, frankly, stupid.
We evolved...well, some of us anyway.
How did the big band happen? You can't just make something out of nothing.
it really is ok to not know everything. Some even speculate that admitting to not knowing everything is a sign of a healthy honest person.
Do you want the full story from the Big Bang through astrophysics, the origins of life and the process of evolution? That would take about a few million words.
If you are going to try the lame old "something from nothing" shtick, you might remember that God supposedly created the universe from nothing, and that he himself had to have been created from nothing or there would be an infinite regression og dieties that created him. And, if you think that God may have always been there, why do you flip out about the possibility that the course of nature has always been here?
Martin, how did all the elements form. They can't just appear, can they?
If you understood what E=MC2 really means, jazzman, you would already have the answer to that.
There are only theories to how life began on our planet but the good thing about theories is that they're always open to revisions and changes. As researchers discover new facts, it can alter theories. I believe that the conditions of earth (distance from the sun, having a moon, its size, having Jupiter to pull in potentially dangerous asteroids) were just right to support life. Now what actually brought life here was possibly asteroids bringing all the different components of life (elements and enzymes to make up DNA) and thanks to oceans arising (which came from eventual greenhouse effects), they mixed together the compounds which ultimately cells that were able to reproduce, or divide and those in turn evolved into bacterium which then kept growing and responding to different environmental stimuli which resulted in many different species including us today
That lame approach... I'm not a religious person. I don't know. To tell you the truth, I think everyone is full of it. Nobody knows anything. As people, we are infants. It may thousands of years before we figure this thing out.
I can tell you that scientists are working on a great variety of puzzles that explore the question of how we got here. We have exceptionally credible cosmological models and evolutionary models that have wonderful predictive power and withstand the tests of experimentation time and time again. Religious faith cannot generate one single idea that could be a testable hypothesis. It attempts to fall back to the philosophy of, "well, if you can't explain it, a supernatural source must be the answer." That's not only limiting, but troubling as well, for it discourages searching for a natural explanation. Science does not derive an explanation and then remain satisfied that it is an ultimate truth. It constantly challenges itself and attempts to disprove itself. The models and explanations are constantly changing as new and better data comes along, which is a wonderful thing. Faith and religion begrudgingly change paradigms, and only when confronted with a literal legion of good solid data that is irrefutable. The Flat Earth and Geocentric Universe models are great examples.
As an Atheist and a skeptic, what do I believe? I don't believe in anything. To believe in anything means that you must assume a 100% confidence level in an explanation, and I know better than to do that. I feel highly confident of much of what I understand, but I also understand that as the decades and centuries pass, there will become better models and explanations for the natural phenomena that we observe, and they will have even more predictive power, and they will allow for us to generate even more remarkable technology. I feel quite content in not needing to believe in anything, nor do I need to have an explanation for everything in this universe. How did we get here? Well, that's the ultimate question, isn't it. We are working on it, but it is a massive puzzle to explore. I do feel quite confident that resorting to the teachings of bronze-aged pastorals and wandering tribes of the deserts is a rather archaic way to derive knowledge of this universe in which we exist and our place in it. Mankind as a whole has grown up considerably since then, and I think that the way we analyze and question our sources of authority should mature just as our understanding of natural explanations matures.
Did material originate before consciousness, did consciousness originate before material, or are they intimately connected in a way that we have yet to fully comprehend? Who knows. That is the realm of philosophy. There are no ways to test these questions at this time. We materialists, naturalists, empiricists, skeptics, or whatever else people wish to call us, we look for explanations that can be tested and can be relied upon with confidence, and have the power to predict outcomes, which are useful to create new technology. This is what matures us as a people, not relying upon the mythologies and fantasies of primitive desert dwelling people.
@Jazzman, So by that approach you speak of, we shouldn't even try to figure it out and just hope that the answer lands on our laps? That sounds like the best way to figuring out life that I've ever heard
We have to keep on exploring!! I'm not saying that. Maybe, just maybe, science will find God. Why can't they co-exist?
The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, unicorns, Jesus: childhood myths. When we grow up, we give up the nonsense. Well, some of us anyway. The rest build churches and teach hate.
You forgot to mention the Big Bang Theory, Evolution etc...
Churches are the ones that help the poor, donate, feed the poor/homeless, show their love etc.
Atheists attack religion and show their arrogant hatred. Go to hell
Steve, how are you going to say all that and then finish it with "Go to hell"? Real Christian of you.
We should pass a law that puts non-Christians in jail or sentenced to death. I'm serious and I'm sick and tired of this BS
And you wonder why some atheists express anger some times.
Momoya you know this guy is not a Christian he is doing this to turn people away, or play his silly games. AntiChristians will do anything against Christians.
Whether Jesus existed or not isn't the point. But rather the books were products of human scripture, just like novels.
If God was as powerful as we project him to be, he wouldn't have allowed such fallible and crummy evidence of his Son and legacy to enter our world. he would have done a much better job to prove the historical accuracy and integrity of both the Testaments.
Saying it's a matter of faith is just a famously dumb argument used to cover up the lack of credible evidence.
JUDAISM IS A MADE UP RELIGION
All religions are made up.
It says in the bible that there will be some people that act like the devil (atheists) who tries to fight and show their hatred against Christianity. This clearly shows here.
My prayer goes to everyone to seek Jesus Christ.
Most religions are extremely derivative, and the few that weren't died out with the cavemen who practiced them. Those of us who were lucky enough to be given the gift of secular objectivity by our godless heathen condemned-to-hell parents recognize this easily. Christianity's folklore is based on the pagan folklore that was common at the time of Christianity's birth. Only those who take the Bible literally would be bothered by this, and to be honest they're probably bothered by just about everything anyway. I don't really care about their opinion. In my mind there are few specimens of humanity more barbaric than those who think of the Bible as fact rather than metaphor.
My parents never did go to church and I seldom went with my grandmother. Since birth I may have been to church services maybe 30 or 40 times. I'm now 57 years odl. I quit drinking alcohol on September 5th 1009 and haven't taken a sip since. I quit smoking reefer on April 28th 1011 but backslid a few times just a short while ago. Didn'y but it but was turned on by some friends I know.
It is Truth that in order for one to lead a righteous Life one need not believe in God or His Sons even Christ Jesus. As a wholeness we have grown out of our diapered religiousness ways even though many lost and forlorn of the humanities still gestate and regurgitate their onwards wanings and stilled perceptions. I do so love the idea of there being a God and am bound to so believe it due some of the verses of scripture I cling ever so onto. These verses are as follows,,,,,,
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is INSIDE you.