Dionysus and Jesus
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Some observations on this essay have been offered by "Justin Martyr", a classical scholar of our acquaintance who resides in the UK. These we have added in italics after relevant paragraphs. Our thanks to "JM" for his commentary!

The Greek deity Dionysus (also called Bacchus) is known by most people for his patronage of wine; he is best known, in the context of this series, as one from whom, supposedly, Jesus' Cana miracle, of changing water into fine wine, was borrowed. It is quite right to note that the miracle of Dionysus (hereafter, merely "D" for convenience) comes from a record that postdates the first century, so that any influence, if any at all, must have been the other way around (more on this later).

But both D, and the claims of copycatting, are much more complex than this, and D is "the most complex and multifaceted of all the Greek gods." [Carp.MD, 1] D was not merely a god of wine, but a god of paradox since he was the god of the civilized theater, but also the god of wild, orgiastic behavior and drunkenness. He was a god of fertility, but also a god who comforted the dying. He is sometimes depicted as a maniacal, destructive figure and at other times, as an: innocent child; a bearded man; as an effeminate youth. He is a god of sensuality and experience: "Dionysism throws itself wholeheartedly into savagery in seeking to possess and contact the supernatural." [Dan.GLE, 150] And, it is: "...an expression of the sensual joys of life unrestrained by the state and not channeled by the patriarchal family." [Eva.GE, 37] Sum it up: Dionysism is a religion that celebrates the destruction of boundaries and the blurring of categories.

It is no more like Christianity than Buddhism. So how is it that some argue that D and Christ are twins?

Dionysus is best seen generally as the god of reversals, of the breaking of categories and of the reversal of norms. His function as god of wine etc is, I think, largely a reflex of this, though the fertility thing certainly has an importance of its own. Personally, I wouldn't use the phrase 'civilized theater', since Greek theatre may have had its origins in distinctly uncivilized ritual worship (of Dionysus?).

Also, the link with the theatre was challenged by Prof. Scott Scullion in an article in the last edition of Classical Quarterly (52/2002, 'Nothing to do with Dionysus?'), though it certainly holds good for the city of Athens.

The answer, of course, is that they do it by arguing fallaciously. Modern scholars deep into the study of Dionysus perceive a common thread in these stories of D as one involved in sources of illusion (the theater, altered states of consciousness) and as one who has the ability to embody opposing qualities simultaneously. [Hein.HHG, 14ff] But few outside of the copycat theorists, and few scholars, see in Dionysus any real parallel to the figure of Christ.

There are exceptions. Evans [Eva.GE] thinks there are parallels in the birth, humanity (though D was not ever regarded with the "100% God, 100% man" idea), suffering, sacramentalism and glory of Dionysus and Christ, but these are vaguely general and universal parallels, or not parallels at all (as we will see). For the most part, as with Mithraism, no such parallel is seen -- and the few that have been seen in the past by the less knowledgeable are starting to fade away.

Bacchae to the Future

For convenience, we must begin by laying groundwork, by summarizing the story told by the Greek playwright Euripides, entitled The Bacchae. This play serves as a source of information on Dionysus/Bacchus for scholars and Christ-mythers alike, and we will be referring to it often.

Interestingly, the parallel was seen by at least one later Christian writer, who wrote a play drawing on the Bacchae called Christus Patiens. The words of Christ to St Paul as related in Acts ('Why dost thou kick against the pricks?') are similar or identical to a phrase from the Bacchae, though this may conceivably be coincidence or indicate that the phrase had become proverbial (not unlikely - Pentheus would have been an excellent and prime example of a mortal who takes on a god like St Paul the persecutor). The notion that something like this means that Christianity was copied from the Dionysus cult, however, is fanciful, particularly when it involves a convinced Pharisee like Paul.

The play opens with a speech by Dionysus, who, disguised as a mortal priest of his own religion, complains about the fact that the city of Thebes, and its king, Pentheus, has refused to honor him. Therefore, he has caused the women of Thebes to go mad and run off like crazed Girl Scouts into the wilderness as a demonstration of his power -- and plans to do a few more demonstrations, should Pentheus come running after the women.

Well, as it happens, Pentheus does get fairly peeved, and sends out to have D arrested. After a brief exchange in which D teases the hot-headed king, Pentheus has D thrown in jail and starts planning to get the women back.

D, however, draws a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” that says "Earthquake", but before Pentheus can deal with this problem, a herdsman arrives with stories of how dangerous the women are getting. D coyly takes control of Pentheus and convinces Pentheus to dress as a woman so he can sneak out and do some spying on the women in the wilderness -- this is all part of D's plan to humiliate and destroy Pentheus.

And destroy him he does -- Pentheus ends up dead, torn to bits by the women, with particular honors for the grisly deed going to his own mother, who carries his head in thinking it is the head of an animal. D closes out by pronouncing judgments on everyone. Needless to say, this is one story you don't read for light entertainment!

What Has Napa Valley to do with Jerusalem?

We now begin the main portion of our essay, in which we analyze, one by one, the alleged similarities between Dionysus and Christ.