By David Allan Dodson
Special to CNN.com
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Timothy Freke doesn't sound like an evil intellectual
intent on destroying the moral underpinnings of our society, but he
is certain to be accused of being just that. Soft spoken and articulate,
he seems like a man with the best intentions, a person who truly wishes
to improve the state of religion and spirituality in Western society.
So what's all the fuss about?
Freke, along with his lifelong friend Peter Gandy, is the author of "The
Jesus Mysteries," a radical new look at Christian origins that
suggests that Jesus the man did not exist at all. Freke and Gandy
pose the view that Jesus was a mythical character created in the mold
of the mythological Osiris/Dionysus god-man character. While the so-called "Quest
for the Historical Jesus" is nothing new, the thesis in "The
Jesus Mysteries" takes the mission one step further.
When interviewing Freke during his recent U.S. tour, the first question
was obvious: Why did you write "The Jesus Mysteries"?
"I think we focused in on Christianity particularly because we
felt it was our own culture," Freke said, "and because it
seemed very stuck. It seemed determined to say it was different, and
it had a unique claim on truth. Our gut feeling was, 'That can't be
right. Truth is something human and universal.'
"We weren't looking at it at that point to try and uncover that
there was no Jesus," he continued. "It was as much a shock
to us as it will be to our readers. We resisted it for a long time
in our research. But once the idea crystallized, the evidence has just
come piling in. So many things that didn't make sense suddenly do,
once you turn everything around."
'The message ... was far deeper'
Far from being turned off Christianity by their research, Freke and
Gandy say their premise actually strengthened their faith.
"What it's done," Freke said, "is completely transform
our understanding of Christianity. Its message is not tied to belief
in a historical event, so that you either believe it happened, or you
don't -- and if you believe it, you're saved, and if not, you're damned.
What we've discovered is that the message of original Christianity
was far deeper than that. It was about, for the original Christians,
becoming a Christ oneself.
Freke and Peter Gandy
"The great tragedy of literalist Christianity, which focuses on
the historical Jesus, is that it ends up dividing itself from everyone
else and we end up with these horrendous religious divisions that have
bedeviled the world," he continued. "Christians are not united.
Baptists hate Methodists and Methodists hate Catholics and round and
round it goes, because each one has their version of Jesus. (But) once
you understand it as a myth, everyone can have their version of Jesus
because it's about finding a relationship with a mythic archetype,
not arguing over history."
||In this marble sarcophagus from the
second or third centuries, a man brings the holy child Dionysus
a large cross as an omen of his ultimate fate.
A wave of discussion
The success of "The Jesus Mysteries" in England has created
a wave of discussion in academic and religious circles. While one might
expect a firestorm of controversy, the book has been remarkably well-received,
reaching bestseller status in the United Kingdom, garnering at least
one "Book of the Year" award, and receiving support from
American religious figures such as the Episcopal Bishop John Shelby
And while their central thesis -- the non-existence of Jesus the man
-- has been the focal point of discussion, Freke downplayed its overall
importance. "The key thing really is understanding that the Jesus
story as we have it is a myth," he said. "We can argue in
the dark about whether it was based on a living man, but the fact is
that if all that remains are these mythic archetypes that pre-dated
the Jesus story and have been laid onto somebody, then still what we
have is a myth."
The life of Jesus as myth is not a new assertion. In recent years,
a new wave of "Historical Jesus" research has emerged in
the wake of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Gospels (also known as
the "Gnostic Gospels") in 1945 and the Dead Sea Scrolls in
1947. Academic figures such as John Dominic Crossan ("The Historical
Jesus"), Marcus Borg ("Meeting Jesus Again for the First
Time"), and Burton Mack ("Q: The Lost Gospel"), among
others, have struggled to separate fact from fiction in the canonical
But most scholars agree that a man known as Jesus of Nazareth existed
and was crucified around A.D. 30. Freke and Gandy challenge that
assumption, and also take on another major belief: the preeminence
of the Roman Catholic belief system in early Christianity.
The mystics speak for themselves
||Until 1947, when a group of ancient
manuscripts were discovered near Nag Hammadi in Egypt, little
was known about the mystic Christian groups known as the Gnostics.
The only information came from orthodox writers, usually in the
form of a polemic. The discovery of the actual Gnostic texts
allowed the mystics to speak for themselves for the first time
in nearly 2000 years. Using the writings of Paul and early Christian
history as a basis, Freke and Gandy attempt to prove that the
Gnostics were the original Christians.
"Paul doesn't have a historical Jesus," according to
Freke. "His Jesus is a Christ within, it's a mythical figure.
He gives us no details of his life, he doesn't quote a single quote
from Jesus, even when it would really help him. There's a massive
silence in Paul, which is a huge issue for most scholars in this
area. "But it's only a problem if you believe the Roman story
that Paul is this great literalist Christian. If you listen to
the Gnostics, he's the great hero of Gnosticism."
The Gnostic tradition is now revealed to be widespread,
he added, and has its own take on matters. "It's about listening
to the losers (the Gnostics)," said Freke. "We've listened
to the winners, and their story doesn't make any sense. So let's
listen to the losers and see if their story makes more sense. And
we think it does."
Still, Timothy Freke does not dismiss Christianity outright. "The
Christ story is the foundation story of our culture in the West," he
said. "Having said that it's a myth, the next question becomes,
'What does it mean, and can it still be useful to us spiritually?'
And for us, the answer is definitely yes."
So what would Freke and Gandy see as a positive outcome to "The
Jesus Mysteries"? Timothy Freke is emphatic: "We want to
start a debate, we want to open up these questions, we want to break
some taboos so that we can ask these questions. And ultimately, for
us personally, we want to be able to suggest that there is something
universal about Christianity. It's not exclusive, it's pointing to
a universal truth, and Christians who adopt that position can take
part in the great meeting of faiths which is actually possible in the
The Sabbatarian Network agrees
that Jesus never existed. However, Messiah Yahshua (a
Hebrew) did exist. The early Roman church stole Messiah Yahshua's
identity by removing the Jewish element from all New Testament Epistles
(eventually canonized by the Catholic church). The wholesale
replacement of Messiah Yahshua (a man) with Jesus Christ (a false man-god), and
other forms of manipulation, during the catholic translations
of Hebrew Epistles, eventually resulted in a corrupted pagan
christian bible. Additionally, the corrupted New Testament is
not the Holy Scripture that the Hebrew Messiah, his Hebrew Apostles, and
their disciples used to teach Yahweh's Gospel. The True Hebrew
Followers of Messiah Yahshua used the Tanakh (Older Testament), and
did so for hundreds of years prior to the development of the New Testaments
by pagan catholic christians.