Did Jesus Christ Really Exist?Did Jesus Christ really exist? This question, which will sound odd — even offensive — to any Christian who believes wholeheartedly in his or her faith, is at the center of a CNN Belief Blog discussion. The article provides a well-rounded overview of the subject, with quotations and evidence to back up both sides of the debate.

With millions of Christians celebrating Christ’s literal death and resurrection this past weekend, the notion that the Biblical story of love, forgiveness and redemption might be mere allegory would be difficult for a great many to swallow. Plus, the vast majority of American adults — 77 percent — believe that Christ rose from the dead (which means, by default, that they embrace his existence).

On one side are those who believe that Jesus was an imaginary figure and that he never lived. These naysayers embrace the notion that the Christian savior was modeled after pagan gods and that his story of death and resurrection was borrowed — or even stolen — from past mythology. Timothy Freke, author of  “The Jesus Mysteries: Was the ‘Original Jesus’ a Pagan God?,” embraces this notion.

“If I said to you that there was no real Good Samaritan, I don’t think anyone would be outraged,” he explains. “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.”

Bart D. Ehran, a New Testament scholar, takes a radically different approach. Aside from embracing the historical existence of Jesus, he calls people like Freke un-scholarly conspiracy theorists who are merely bent in selling books.

Did Jesus Christ Really Exist?

“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.,” he said. “Among them are people who don’t think Jesus existed.”

So we’ve established those who believe in Jesus and those who do not. But then there’s yet another subgroup group to consider — people who believe Jesus existed, but who challenge Christianity and don’t necessarily see him as a deity. CNN reports more about these individuals:

The debate over Jesus’ existence has led to a curious role reversal. Two of the New Testament scholars who are leading the way arguing for Jesus’ existence have a reputation for attacking, not defending, traditional Christianity.

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.”

Did Jesus Christ Really Exist?

Then, CNN goes on to summarize the arguments for and against Jesus existence. From the allegations of pagan stories being adopted to Christians to the notion that there aren’t many sources outside of the Bible that record his existence, naysayers forge on. On the pro-Jesus front, scholars point to historical documents and archaeological discoveries as corroboratory evidence for the reality of the Christ.

The debate is certainly multifaceted and it is likely to ratchet up, as those opposed to Jesus’ existence have the ability to spread their message more readily through new and social media, self-publishing opportunities and the like. Read the full arguments on both sides of the aisle here.

What do you think — did Jesus Christ exist? Take our poll:

(H/T: CNN Belief Blog)