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.
I don't really care what other people think of my beliefs as they are between me and God and have nothing to do with them. However I have to ask if CNN would run this kind of article on the holiest day of another religion. Never have seen one. Im sure its just coincidence.......
Christianity:God is real and ultimate.Jesus is the Savior
Another religions:God is real and ultimate(In all religions,they always blame something by calling the nane of God in different ways)Jesus is a myth.
Sci-fi: God is real but he must be a super strong alien that exsisted before Big Bang.
Jesus was sent to help human
For those of you Christians who are cursing CNN, be aware they are editing posts if they contain content too controversial. They have repeatedly failed to post comment about a suppressed gospel from ancient times which suggests that Jesus was bI se ual. I guess that's too shocking for people who are still shocked by the concept that Jesus was not a white man.
Not everything that was written in ancient times is part of the gospel. Nor all that is written today is part of the gospel. May God forgive those who wrote that what you mention and those who spread such lies.
I'll try to keep it simple. Do I have unanswered questions about God and Christianity, including pain and suffering? Certainly. Do I live with doubts and questions about science and research? Yes. Do I have moments where God feels far away? Yes. Does God always answer prayer how and when I think they should be answered? No. However, he has answered prayer after prayer for me and many friends/family. You may call them coincidence after coincidence, but I don't believe just because I think the whole picture makes too much sense to overcome my doubts. I believe because God has shown himself personally to me and others around me, time after time, and no intellectual argument can dissuade me from that.
What is interesting is the non believers, if you summarize their complaints, are making a truth claim in various ways about something, and without saying it, they actually believe it to be true. That is they basically believe that God does not exist, and all derivative details of Him are wrong. I wonder where they get this self appointed truth from, that is, there are some things that are true, namely Christianity isn't? I am wondering what evidence they can offer for the wrongness or rightness of a claim such as this, if it be true? What evidence do they offer to ground such a view as truth?
The proof that Jesus existed is established in the way we measure time. For those who do not know it now the time is measured before Christ and after Christ and we are in the year 2012 (after Christ). The life of Christ is described by four different authors in the first four books of the New Testament. Christ is the Creator of everything that was created and his existence has no beginning or end because he is eternal. Before Christ was incarnated in this world he possessed a divine nature, and at the incarnation in this world he took a human nature in addition to his divine nature. Since its incarnation and for eternity Jesus will have a human-divine nature, and also carry the marks of the crucifixion in his hands, feet, side. He took humanity to lift the fallen man. This is something so deep that will be subject of study of the redeemed for all eternity. For all eternity the saved each day that passes will have a clearer idea of the infinite love of God.
The conflict we're involved began in the heaven and then moved to the Earth and although Satan has little time left, while exists there will be unbelievers on the earth, for even Satan knows very well who is Christ, is determined to sow doubts and disbelief in the minds of men to impede their salvation. Especially those who do not know the contents of the Holy Bible are easy prey of the deceiver.
The time left in this world is coming quickly to the end and it's amazing the ignorance that exists about the Bible.
May this world seek God before it is too late.
Why is "Jesus" depicted as *white*? If he did exit, he would been *dark skinned*.
Would white America worship a non-white "Jesus"? That gives you the answer to whether "Jesus" exists or not.
It's OK. We know Jesus was a jew.
Wake up, the time when television was black and white already pass into history. It's been more than sixty years since the television is in color.
The time is close to the end, it's time seek God before it is too late.
the middle east is just white people that are tanned, the darker skinned people are from foreign countries. I know because i am from their and my grandma who is 100% middle eastern is blonde,blue eyes, white skin and its not too rare for people to like that. So please don't bring race into this.
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
I know that you study these things, so I'm asking for your advice.
Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus. 19:27. How should they die?
Thank you for reminding us that every word of the Bible is God's unchanging holly word.
@Pipe Dreamer: Yep. Them danged scientists and their scoffing at stuff that has no evidence to back it up. What a bunch of addled dipsy-doodles.
I am a very spiritual person, but I do question some of the Bible in regards to teachings – If Jesus died for our sins, but then came back to life in 3 days, does that not mean our sins were re-instated? Leaves a person to wonder. Jesus did much good during his lifetime, so many miracles, taught us to be our brother's keeper – that is all that is necessary we need to know
You are dumb. He had to fulfill all the prophecies, the last being resurrection. Who would believe He is God and could give eternal life to those that knew him, unless he could then defeat death, thus showing he had not only the power to raise another man from death (Lazurus), but his own dead body? Death with no resurrection is non-existence; its the inability to ever know or be near God. Death without resurrection is pointless. God is everlasting, and Satan is un-resurrectable death... all Satan wants to do is drive a person to a premature death not of God's will.
Easter Sunday... It was such a blessing being able to celebrate the Truth. I pray that everyone here who hasn't seen the light of Jesus Christ will one day see it. This is the truth. No matter what anyone says. And I will stand by that.
"For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son. That whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have eternal life." – John 3:16
Pick up the Bible. Read it. All the way through. If you really look at what Christianity is all about, it is different than any other religion. It is not by works that we are saved. It is only by the grace of God.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." – Ephesians 2:1-9
Praying for the Light of the Gospel to shine forth... For The Sake of His Name.
Truth? You wouldn't know it if it came down and smote you.
Truth is found in God's Word, The Bible, whether we choose to recgonize it or not.
"Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men of God spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." – II Peter 1:20-21
"All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." – II Timothy 3:16-17
My Dear Christian Friends,
I know from Leviticus. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
Thank you for reminding us that every word in the Bible is the unchanging, holly word of God.
Holy is spelled with L genius. Learn the difference between Old Testament Law and New Testament Jesus before you jump into this looking like even more of an idiot.
We can argue all we want from a historical perspective and reading the Bible and we can get contradictory opinions. I for one say...Those who live pure lives experience the living God Jesus even today. He is present in the Blessed Sacrament. How do you account for uncorrupt bodies of saints...If you believe you will see...
What uncorrupt bodies of saints?
Uncorrupted bodies or GTFO.
You know the egyptian book of the dead looks very similar to the bible. Wonder what was written first?
Jesus was real, people are to blind to see the truth, we think were wise and all knowing, when in reality people are slaves to themselves.
The Bible speaks about Love and Jesus.... How can any reasonable person reject a message of love?!?!?
The problem is people, not God.
Stop with the assertions. Strong confirming evidence please...
I have an autographed photo of Jesus standing with the emperor Tiberius. Is that what you're looking for? You finally have proof that Tiberius wasn't a myth either!
Phosphorus wrote to me on page 92 on Easter Sunday Night, April 8, 2012 at 10:31 pm, stating, "To confuse social statistics and demographics with numerology is a rather remarkable mistake. Nice try, Pipe-Dreamer. Keep smoking your pipe, and leave the actual science and math to us adults. Besides, it's probably passed your bed time. With the lines I've seen you spitting out in this blog and some of CNN's previous religious blogs, you may want to brush your teeth for an extra few minutes. Talking that much (I'll be polite) can really make one's breath wreak. Nighty-night!
FYI Phosphorus, I smoke no pipe,,, haven't for many so many years,,,,,, I do however smoke filtered cigars. Science you say? Here's a weenie of science for ya! Long ago in the ancient timeperiods of Greek and Roman civilizations, there were these Theological Philosophers who made stories as to just exactly what was the smallest things and their roles in the meanings of Life. In their still known to us writings they did write that the smallest things known were the "elemental gods". Todays scientists do scoff at such an idea and they have renamed an old fling to call these "elemental gods as being atoms putting to bed the ancient Theological philosophers' understandings. So much for pragmatisms' lamentations!
Another tid-bit to ponder upon is the exact size of this "Celestial Cosmos we find ourselves living within. Just how big is it really? Do you agree with our sciences' rather mundane stand that the universe is all there is out there? If you do then you get the booby prize! This Celestial Cosmos is riddled with way more than just our knowable to us universe! The actual size and immensity of the Celestial Cosmos is beyond thye perceptions of many science ladled folks!
Another diddy to feast upon is called "Fractal Cosmology" Ever heard about it? Probably not so here is the main jist of it! Fractal Cosmology deals with the very real possibiliy that there are places where there are universes within universes. These places where there are "inner-universes" must and I dare say again, must be sheltered from the outward universes blasts of stellar radiation. What a better place to hide Micro-universes than within all forms of living bodies! Here's the clincher! All Life Forms and Life Formations are all made up of cellularized universes that are living places for the elemental gods' ever so smalled living generations of inward living life forms and life formations! Many verses of the KJVB does back up this diddy of thoughts!
Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is INSIDE you.
1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
I am finished at least for now Phosphorus,,,,, BTW, I am 57 and yes, I do gargle with regularity to keep my breath from stinking! Peace above all other issues in communicative issues.
He probably doesn't have any more teeth! Too much smurfing.
What you are presenting is an interesting philosophical piece to ponder, but philosophy none the less. Granted, I've created some interesting philosophy in my day, such as the philosophy of transcendent molecularism, and the philosophy of Infinitus Fragminis. I'm not energetic enough right now to write philosophies that I had considered in the past, but they did sound scientific. The thing to remember is that they can sound as scientific as I want, but until they can be tested, they are still just fun conversations to have, but nothing more serious than that.
Phosphorus, kind sir,,,, 🙂 🙁 🙂
Thank you ever so kindly for not bellowing out negatively with my Words which I believe to be as truthful as I can make it! May your days here upon these Celestial shorelines of terrestrialized lands give you due pauses to simply enjoy this world's pleasures.
The only reason Christianity still exists is because of a civil war between two pagan Roman generals. One of these pagans offers to convert if the Christian God interceded on his behalf and wins on the eve of battle. He won and decided to make Christianity the state religion of Rome, but found that there was great diversity in thought about what it meant to be Christian, so he called a conclave of various religious leaders who to formulate a written guideline for Christianity. This is how the Bible was made. A bunch of men (no women) basically negotiated and voted and cut deals about which books would or would not be included in the Bible. Some of the books that were included then have since been removed, and numerous contemporary sources just didn't have the backing to make it. For example, in the early church there were numerous feminist texts but these were ALL suppressed by the men cutting the deals. And thats what there were....deals, not scholarship. Saying books were not included because there determined to be invalid is absurd; NONE of them were written in Biblical times, and certain groups (such as the Gnostics) were deliberately excluded and eventually exterminated.
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
Again, thank you for reminding us all that every word of the Bible is Holly and true.
I only work on the sabbath.
The answer to your word is this, "Let they who is without sin cast the 1st stone."
No, you idiot. It's "Let he who is without sin..."
Pipe Down, just shut up.
@JHC: Time for you to go out and make some more crop circles. By the way...Great job on the one you did last week. It looked good from the air.
That's the thing to say when you have no real answer.
He makes more sense than any of you. He probably has answers, but understands it isn't worth the effort.
I guess if "none of you" feel humiliation over the gibberish you offer as argumentation, then "all of you" are mentally deficient.
At one point so called "humans" believed the sun circled the earth. Then we found it was not true. So will become religion as we know it. But what about the money that god needs?