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.
10. Questioning God, is infinitely more naive, than say for an ant to after perhaps imagining what happened to another one which appeared squashed (which was treaded upon by a foot), to comprehend that humans can perform brain surgeries and travel to the moon. We may speculate about aliens, like they speculate about superior beings beyond themselves, made by a particle combination completely different than our own. Who the alien or the demon may be, is hard for anyone to say, unless the being in question is on the operating table for anatomical research.
These guys just can't take another point of view. Hello, not everyone is a christian or wants to be one. Please, get your religion out of my face.
If I insisted that Julius Caesar was a myth, would that be another point of view, or would I just be wrong?
Find out the truth of things by your self;
Kindly read to the last to understand the difference of opinions we have among the Abrahimic followers;
Islamic holy books
Islam speaks of respecting all the previous scriptures in their original forms. Belief in all the revealed books is an article of faith in Islam and a Muslim must believe in all the scriptures to be a Muslim. The four books are the Tawrat, Zabur, Injil and Quran. The Torat was sent to Musa (Moses), the Zabur was sent to Dawood (David), the Injil was sent to Isa (Jesus) and the Qur'an was sent to Muhammad.
What are the Tawrat, Zabur and Injil?
In Islam's holy book, the Quran, Allah (God) denounces the concept of Trinity (Qur'an 4:171, 5:72-73, 112:1-4) as an over-reverence by Christians of God's Word, the prophet and messiah Jesus Christ son of the virgin Mary, while maintaining Jesus as one of the most important and respected prophets and Messengers of God, (2:136) primarily sent to prevent the Jews from changing the Torah, (61:6) and to refresh and reaffirm his original message as revealed to Moses and earlier New Testament prophets. The creation of Jesus is framed similar to the creation of Adam out of dust, but with Jesus' birth meaning his creation excludes male human intervention rather than creation completely without human participation (3:59). Belief in all of the aforementioned about Jesus as a prophet (5:78), as well as belief in the original gospel and Torah and belief in Jesus' virgin birth (3:45) are core criterion of being a Muslim and Quranic criterion for salvation in the hereafter along with belief in the Prophet Muhammad and all the prior prophets. In short God is seen as being both perfect and indivisible. He can therefore have no peer or equal. Jesus, being God's creation, can never be considered to be equal with God or a part of God. To do so is considered by Islam to be blasphemy. (112:3)
Read about ;
Jesus in Islam
If I asked you to read "The God Delusion" would you?
Promise you that you are the delusioned one in disbelief...
The only thing that matters is what you believe. Christian, atheist, muslim... As long as you truly believe it. Just don't force it on anyone else.
thank you that what we want. Now we need to tell those people to stop saying "something, something Jesus or you going to hell" and stop harassing the gay and let them marry.
No hate Allen. We are all in this together.
not hating, more remember recent pass event like banning Dinosaur
I am not hating, just remember past event that i think need to change, like dinsouar
I am positively sure that people use faith as shield so that they can believe anything they want to, even when proof is there , that what they believe is not true.
I agree Fifi. Today's Christians think they can commit any transgression, any sin, and so long as they ask for forgiveness they will still go to heaven. Christianity has become a religion of convenience.
TRUE christian will not willfully transgress God's law. Only hypocrite do that...
Fifi come here and get your treat!
Faith is for those faint in heart. Many a faithfilled people are a few bolts short of becoming a Frankenstein! The Fears the faithfilled have are of God's wrath clamored against the Truths of God's loving ways. God may well forgive them but they keep holding onto their sinned ways evern being reminded about them either by their families sakes or work's done wrongfully.
"May God ever keep you safe from the ilks of humanism that tends to berate the good traveler in times' ever onwardness."
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.
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.“
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.
You do realize scientists around the world are playing with powers previously reserved only for God? They have succeeded in creating new species. It has already happened.
YOU UNDERSTAND NOTHING...YOU TOSS AROUND WORDS WHOSE MEANINGS ARE AS FAR FROM YOU AS QUANTUM PHYSICS.
That is a re-creation of existing life - changing one simple type of bacterium into another.
can they make from scratch??
we talk about biological term and not physic or energy.
do you think life just "pops up" ...? from the goo, to zoo to you ...?
@Bingheidy- Amen to that! If you keep reading the 2 Timothy passage you come to this in verse 7.
"always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. " 2 Timothy 3:7
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."
So many claim to be wise yet ignore the massive amount of evidence for Christ and the validity of the Bible. There is no excuse! God has made Himself known to humankind!
Want evidence? http://christianevidences.org/
God wants our worship and love it seems.
But he only appears to us in our dreams.
You can pray for his help, but don’t hold your breath.
For his plan for you is your inevitable death.
They claim if you believe, you’re heaven bound.
But a witness for this has never been found.
No guarantees for this claim, now THAT’s a sin.
So don’t take the bait and get hooked and reeled in.
Author and Oxford prof of English CS Lewis, who was an atheist turned Christian, spent his life studying literature and said the gospels do not read as myths, they are either reporting facts or someone spontaneously invented the novel without any known predecessors in the first century.
HE IS RISEN!
so what -– I get a woody every morning too
He must have falleneth down again, for nobody sees him.
@ttwp! Amen to that! Happy Resurrection Day to you!
Jesus Christ, during the time of His earthly ministry, set up a spiritual kingdom on earth, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; He being the King and all born again believers the subjects of the Kingdom, and they are now reigning with Him as Kings and priests on the earth. Dan. 2:44; Isa. 9:6, 7; Matt. 3:2; Luke 17:20, 21; John 18:36; Rev. 1:5-7.
It is not so impressive when you know that the men who wrote the NT knew of the OT prophesies and would purposefully write about its fulfillment.
You have learned my great and hidden secret, knees guy! Heaven is where all knees will bow, because Heaven is MY place of pleasure, and my followers will pleasure me!
Robert: Scripture is only valid to those who accept it's validity.
No contemporary reports of all those amazing events not to mention the incredible miracles? Every book of the New Testament written *generations* after the fact? Huh...
Damn odd ain't it!
The quote you mention in the next to the last paragraph is actually by George Tyrell about Adolf von Harnack.
I'm glad that God made me smart enough to know that CNN is full of crap!
Actually, that'd be your genetic heritage. Science. Evolution. Reality.
geee, steven, feeling a bit put upon? paranoia catching up to you?
Yes. Jesus existed BUT" -–>>>
Putting the final kibosh on religion
• There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.
• There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.
• There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.
• Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.
• Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.
Added references are available.
A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.
"The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.
Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "
Buddhism and Taoism believe that there is no god, but teaching of how to improve themselves to be a better person. Reason why i respect them more than christian.
THAT'S AS PEA-BRAINED AND INFANTILE AND CONDESCENDING A POST ABOUT RELIGION THAT I'VE EVER READ. YOU MUST HAVE A HEADACHE FROM ALL THAT THINKING.
The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(references used are available upon request)
I laugh everytime I see believers and non-believers engage in more of their never ending debates, arguments, rants, and fights over what is truth and what is not. As far as I'm concerned, the whole thing is a joke. Regardless of what you believe or don't believe, one thing is certain, we are all in the same boat as far as our needs, capabilities, and limitations are concerned. The day I come across irefutable evidence that a person can live an entire life time without eating, drinking, breathing, sleeping, bleeding, evacuating waste, feeling tired, or someone who's inbued with supernatural powers and abilities, then I will believe that some people are specially blessed because of their faith and others are not.
Imagine if you will this Celestial Cosmos we find us and our universe within. Science does only have their faith limited to there being but ONE, yes One universe with the grand scheme of Cosmologic Celestialness. I say poo poo on science! There are so many universes within the Celestial Cosmos that in civilization's lifetime we will never see let alone visit any of them! We, scientifically speaking are bound up with our singularisms of one universe only brought on by backwoods science that cant even count the number of atoms contained in a human beings body! (Take note as to my not even mentioning God or God's Sons or even Christ Jesus.)
If the resurrection of Christ is one of the most important aspects of Christianity, then why is the holiday named after a pagan goddess?
That's only in English, if you look it up, most languages including Spanish, French etc. derive the name of the holiday from the Hebrew word for Passover.
One stupid myth is as good as another...
One stupid god is as myth as another.
Why anyone should give any mind to the mythologies of bronze-aged shepherds, pastoral mystics, and warring tribes that wandered the deserts is beyond me. Why anyone would believe something just because it was written down by someone centuries ago is also incredulous. Because there is no solid evidence for a Jesus character or any of the supernatural actions attributed to him, one must take it on faith...because it defies any common sense, logic, or rationale. Taking it on faith is the only way a person's brain can derive sense from the accepting of that which is not at all sane. Faith can cause a person to believe in anything that defies reality if they were either programmed young enough, experienced a cognitive short-circuiting at some point, or gave up attempting to stay in control of their own path in life. It's easier to hand it over to the will of that which is supernatural than to take personal responsibility.
Or chewing on a certain kind of cactus while wandering around in the desert.
This article is as full of sloppy research as the Dan Brown novels
Watch what anthropologists, archeologists and religious historians seeking the truth have to say about where god came from: