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Dionysus: Born of a Virgin on December 25th, Killed and Resurrected after Three Days

by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S

Disk with Dionysus and 11 signs of the zodiac; 4th cent. BCE; Brindisi, ItalyThe Greek god of wine, Dionysus or Bacchus, also called Iacchus, has been depicted as having been born of a virgin mother on December 25th; performing miracles such as changing water into wine; appearing surrounded by or one of 12 figures; bearing epithets such as "Father" and "Savior"; dying; resurrecting after three days; and ascending into heaven.

Dionysus shares the following attributes in common with the Christ character as found in the New Testament and Christian tradition.

"Early Christian art is rich with Dionysiac associations, whether in boisterous representations of agape feasting, in the miracle of water-into-wine at Cana, in wine and vine motifs alluding to the Eucharaist, and most markedly...in the use of Dionysiac facial traits for representations of Christ." 

Dr. Thomas F. Mathews, The Clash of the Gods, 45

Dionysus as the Sun

In studying religion and mythology, it is wise at to keep in mind that in the ancient world many gods were confounded and compounded, deliberately or otherwise. Some were even considered interchangeable, such as the Egyptian gods Osiris, Horus and Ra. In this regard, ancient Greek historian Plutarch (35, 364E) states, "Osiris is identical with Dionysus," the Greek son of God. Dionysus, also known as Bacchus or Iacchus, is likewise identified with the god Aion and referred to as "Zeus Sabazius" in other traditions. (Graves, R., 335) Hence, we would expect him to share at least some of all these gods' attributes, including being born of a virgin at the winter solstice (Aion), and dying and rising from the dead (Osiris).

"Bacchus, Apollo, the Sun, are one deity."

Moreover, in Seven Books Against the Heathen (3.33), early Christian writer Arnobius (284-305) remarks that the Pagans "maintain that Bacchus, Apollo, the Sun, are one deity" and "the sun is also Bacchus and Apollo." (Roberts, VI, 472-3) We would expect, therefore, Dionysus's attributes to reflect solar mythology as well.

Dionysus riding a quadriga chariot

Dionysus returns from India riding a quadriga chariot
Mosaic pavement, 3rd cent. ad/ce
Sousse, Tunisia
(Patrick Hunt)

Apollo riding in his sun chariot

December 25th/Winter Solstice

As with Jesus, December 25th and January 6th are both traditional birth dates in the Dionysian myth and simply represent the period of the winter solstice. Indeed, the winter-solstice date of the Greek sun and wine god Dionysus was originally recognized in early January but was eventually placed on December 25th, as related by ancient Latin writer Macrobius (c. 400 AD/CE). Regardless, the effect is the same: The winter sun god is born around this time, when the shortest day of the year begins to become longer.

"Macrobius transfers this feast to the day of the winter solstice, December 25."

The ancient Church father Epiphanius (4th cent. ) discussed the birth of the god Aion, son of the Greek goddess Persephone or Kore ("Maiden"), at the time of the winter solstice. In this regard, Christian theologian Rev. Dr. Hugh Rahner (139-140) remarks:

We know that Aion was at this time beginning to be regarded as identical with Helios and Helios with Dionysus...because [according to Macrobius] Dionysus was the symbol of the sun... He is made to appear small at the time of the winter solstice, when upon a certain day the Egyptians take him out of the crypt, because on this the shortest day of the year it is as though he were a little child.... Macrobius transfers [this feast] to the day of the winter solstice, December 25.

Dionysus is thus equivalent to Aion and was also said to have been born of Persephone, the virgin maiden. Esteemed mythologist Joseph Campbell (MI, 34) confirms this "celebration of the birth of the year-god Aion to the virgin Goddess Kore," the latter of whom he calls "a Hellenized transformation of Isis," the Egyptian mother goddess who was likewise called the "Great Virgin" in inscriptions predating the Christian era by centuries.[1]

Virgin Birth

According to the most common tradition, Dionysus was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal woman Semele. In the Cretan version of the same story, which the pre-Christian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus follows, Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the daughter of Demeter also called Kore, who is styled a "virgin goddess."

In the common myth about the birth of Dionysus/Bacchus, Semele is mysteriously impregnated by one of Zeus's bolts of lightning--an obvi­ous miraculous/virgin conception.

Semele, Zeus and the divine child Bacchus Semele immolated by the sky-god father-figure Zeus, who takes the divine child Bacchus (Bernard Salomon, Metamorphose figurée, 1557)

Concerning Dionysus's epithet "twice begotten," in the third century Church father Minucius Felix (Commodius, XII) remarked to his Pagan audience:

Ye yourselves say that Father Liber was assuredly twice begotten. First of all he was born in India of Proserphine [Persephone] and Jupiter [Zeus]... Again, restored from his death, in another womb Semele conceived him again of Jupiter... (Roberts, IV, 205)

"The virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus."

In another account, Jupiter/Zeus gives Dionysus's torn-up heart in a drink to Semele, who becomes pregnant with the "twice born" god this way, again a miraculous or "virgin" birth. Indeed, Joseph Campbell explicitly calls Semele a "virgin":

While the maiden goddess sat there, peacefully weaving a mantle on which there was to be a representation of the universe, her mother contrived that Zeus should learn of her presence; he approached her in the form of an immense snake. And the virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine, Dionysus, who was born and nurtured in that cave, torn to death as a babe and resurrected... (Campbell, MG, 4.27)

This same direct appellation is used by Cambridge professor and anthropologist Sir Dr. Edmund Ronald Leach:

Dionysus, son of Zeus, is born of a mortal virgin, Semele, who later became immortalized through the inter­vention of her divine son; Jesus, son of God, is born of a mortal virgin, Mary… such stories can be dupli­cated over and over again. (Hugh-Jones, 108)

Using the scholarly Greek term parthenos, meaning "virgin," in The Cult of the Divine Birth in Ancient Greece (95) Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso concludes: "Semele was also likely a holy parthenos by virtue of the fact that she gave birth to Dionysus via her union with Zeus (Hesiod, Theogony 940)."

These learned individuals had reason to consider Dionysus's mother a virgin, as, again, he was also said to have been born of Persephone/Kore, whom, once more from Epiphanius, was herself deemed a "virgin," or parthenos. In this regard, professor emeritus of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania Dr. Donald White (183) says, "As a title 'Parthenos' was appropriate to both Demeter and Persephone..."

Persephone and Hades; Attic red-figured kylix, c. 440-430 BC.; Vulci, Italy (Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen)The fact that Persephone is associated with parthenogenesis, the scholarly term for "virgin birth," lends credence to the notion that Dionysus was virgin-born. As related further by Rigoglioso in Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (111):

Persephone's connection with the parthenogenetic pomegranate is attested in text and iconography. In speaking directly about the Eleusinian Mysteries, Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation to the Greeks 2:16) informs us that the pomegranate tree was believed to have sprung from the drops of the blood of Dionysus…

Although Dionysus is depicted as being the product of a "rape" by Zeus, the story is little different from the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by Yahweh without her consent, especially in consideration of the identification of Dionysus's very blood with parthenogenesis. In this regard, Rigoglioso also states, "I contend that Persephone's eating of the pomegranate was the magical action that instigated her ability to conceive parthenogenetically."

Also, in the museum in Naples has been kept an ancient marble urn showing the birth/nativity of Dionysus, with two groups of three figures on either side of the god Mercury, who is holding the divine baby, and a female figure who is receiving him.[2]

This depiction resembles the gospel story of "wise men" or dignitaries, traditionally held to number three, approaching Joseph, the divine child and Mary.

Miracles

Dionysus holding a drinking cup, surrounded by grapes and vines. (Red-figure amphora by the Berlin Painter, c. 490-480 BCE; Vulci, Italy; Louvre, Paris)The miracles of Dionysus are legendary, as is his role as the god of wine, echoed in the later Christian story of Jesus multiplying the jars of wine at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:1-9). Concerning this miracle, biblical scholar Dr. A.J. Mattill remarks:

This story is really the Christian counterpart to the pagan legends of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who at his annual festival in his temple of Elis filled three empty kettles with wine-no water needed! And on the fifth of January wine instead of water gushed from his temple at Andros. If we believe Jesus' miracle, why should we not believe Dionysus's? (Leedom, 125)

Dionysus's miracle of changing water to wine is recounted in pre-Christian times by Diodorus (Library of History, 3.66.3). As the god of the vine, Dionysus is depicted in ancient texts as traveling around teaching agriculture, as well as doing various other miracles, such as in Homer's The Iliad, dating to the 9th century BCE, and in The Bacchae of Euripides, the famous Greek playwright who lived around 480 to 406 BCE.

"Dionysus's blood is the wine of the sacrifice."

It is further interesting that the Communion as practiced today within Catholicism also had a place within the cult of Dionysus, as Campbell points out:

Dionysus-Bacchus-Zagreus-or, in the older, Sumero-Babylonian myths, Dumuzi-absu, Tammuz-...whose blood, in this chalice to be drunk, is the pagan prototype of the wine of the sacrifice of the Mass, which is transubstantiated by the words of consecration into the blood of the Son of the Virgin. (Campbell, MG, 4.23)

Epithets

In an Orphic hymn, Phanes-Dionysus is styled by the Greek title Protogonos or "first-born" of Zeus, also translated at times as "only-begotten son," although the term Monogenes would be more appropriately rendered as the latter. He is also called "Soter" or "Savior" in various inscriptions, including a bronze coin from the Thracian city of Maroneia dating to circa 400-350 BCE.[3]  Like Jesus in his aspect as the Father, Dionysus is called Pater, or "father" in Greek.

"Dionysus is 'first-born,' 'Savior' and 'Father.'"

The title "King of Kings" and other epithets may reflect Dionysus's kinship with Osiris: During the late 18th to early 19th dynasties (c. 1300 BCE), Osiris's epithets included, "the king of eternity, the lord of everlastingness, who traverseth millions of years in the duration of his life, the firstborn son of the womb of Nut, begotten of Seb, the prince of gods and men, the god of gods, the king of kings, the lord of lords, the prince of princes, the governor of the world whose existence is for everlasting." (Budge, liii)

Death/Resurrection

Dionysus's death and resurrection were famous in ancient times, so much so that Christian father Origen (c. 184-c. 254) felt the need to address them in his Contra Celsus (IV, XVI-XVII), comparing them unfavorably, of course, to those of Christ. By Origen's time, these Dionysian mysteries had already been celebrated for centuries. Dionysus/Bacchus's resurrection or revival after having been torn to pieces or otherwise killed earned him the epithet of "twice born."

'[S]cene in the underworld. Dionysos mounting a chariot is about to leave his mother, Semele, and ascend'
(Kerenyi, pl. 47)

Moreover, it was said that Dionysus/Bacchus "slept three nights with Proserpine [Persephone],"[4]  evidently referring to the god's journey into the underworld to visit his mother. Like Jesus, the god is claimed also to have "ascended to heaven," such as by Church father Justin Martyr (First Apology, 21; Roberts I, 170). Note that Dionysus is depicted here as an adult, rising out of the underworld after death, with a horse-driven chariot so typical of a sun god. One major astrotheological meaning of this motif is the sun's entrance into and exit from the cave (womb) of the world at the winter solstice.

Hence, in Dionysus we have yet another solar hero, born of a virgin on "December 25th" or the winter solstice, performing miracles and receiving divine epithets, being killed, giving his blood as a sacrifice, resurrecting from the dead after three days in Hades/Hell, and ascending into heaven. These motifs have all been claimed of the gospel figure of Jesus Christ since antiquity and have to do not with the adventures of a "historical" Jewish savior but with the ubiquitous solar mythos and ritual.


[1]  See Murdock, Christ in Egypt, 120-197.

[2]  Carus, 49; Mangasarian, 74. For the illustration, Carus cites: "After Mus. Bord., I., 49, from Baumeister, Plate I., p. 448." 
[3]  Wright, 30. See also Adrados, 327. 

[4]    Classical Journal, 92.


Bibliography

For more information, see Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled, 95-103, etc. See also The ZEITGEIST Sourcebook.

Also available for your Kindle Reader, iPhone, iPod, iPad, Blackberry, Android, PC, Mac and other devices!

The ZEITGEIST Sourcebook on Kindle

Primary Sources, Publications and Scholars Cited in The ZEITGEIST Sourcebook

Did Moses Exist? The Myth of the Israelite Lawgiver

Dionysus the Savior

Moses or Dionysus?



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