Tonight I was reading about the mythological entities who have been compared to Jesus, rumors saying that Christianity was copied from these myths. I find most of their comparisons rather humorous, but one has me wondering. It’s the comparison between Dionysus and Jesus. According to Phil Vaz, there are some similarities. Can someone debunk this comparison?
Virgin Born? No, born of a mortal woman but this was not a virgin birth since Zeus literally “slept with Semele secretly.”
A “Son of God” ? Yes, son of Zeus.
A Savior? Yes.
Performed miracles? Yes, miracles of wine, growth, and others.
Communal Meal of Bread/Wine? Yes, wine was frequently involved with the cult.
Crucified? No, ripped apart by the Titans.
Resurrected? Restored to life from his heart. Is this a “resurrection” ?
Ascended / Descended ? Yes, descends to the underworld.
Divine Judge? No.
Unless my memory is severely impaired, Phil Vaz is one of the most respected members of this Forum, known for cogent and accurate information. I would like to meet the guy that could “debunk” Phil Vaz.
But the real problem is the premise that similarity proves dependency. If some other religion had a tradition that was practically identical to every aspect of the Christian Faith, it would not prove that Christianity was just a re-packaged version of that religion.
It’s possible for two things to be similar but with no inter-dependency. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz both developed calculus independently of each other, at nearly the same time (there is STILL debate about who developed it first). Nobody claims that Newton “stole” Leibniz’s work, or vice-versa. They were completely unaware of each other.
Is it possible that someone could come up with a heroic idealized work of fiction, and centuries later and thousands of miles away, events transpire that closely follow the original fictional account? Of course it’s possible.
Could someone come up with a story about a small armed force with a determined and heroic king holding off a much larger force, and much later and far away, a similar battle actually took place at Thermopylae? Of course. If we dug up that guy’s earlier account of a similar battle, nobody would suddenly think that Thermopylae was just a myth inspired by that earlier fictional account.
I know this won’t answer your question specifically, but here’s my two cents.
Because we believe that God seeks all of His creation to be reconciled to himself, we shouldn’t get too worked up about some similarities seen in other manners of faith. Even among ancient paganism, there was a yearning for some godly authority above themselves, albeit imperfectly developed and practiced.
We can see some similarities because this desire for creation to reach out to its Creator in worship is in response to God’s love for all of us. We easily say that shadows of Judaism are perfected in Jesus Christ, although they worship the same God. Christianity reflects the completeness of faith in Jesus Christ and as such, for some pagan beliefs, it wasn’t as much a challenge to convert certain of them since hints or shadows of this complete truth were already present, in a fashion.
There is a logical fallacy that is expressed by the Latin saying: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. (After this, therefore because of this.) Just because A happened before B does not mean that A caused B. Whoever claims this has to prove it. And they can’t.
One of many big problems for atheists who try to argue that Jesus was modeled on older pagan resurrected deities is that they are unfamiliar with the impact of neoplatonism on the Roman Empire.
Christianity had a far better (and true) message than the disparate pagan cults. The life-affirming, egalitarian nature of the Church attracted the dispossessed, women, and the enslaved. Christian charity during the Antonine Plague and the Plague of Cyprian convinced many of the truth of Christianity, as Christians remained to minister to the sick and dying even as the Roman government and doctors (such as Galen) fled the pox-infected cities.
The mass conversions in the early Christian church, as well as the increasing decadence and political problems of the Roman Empire, led the pagans to increasingly turn to an adapted monotheism. The panoply of the pagan gods began to be understood by many pagan thinkers and philosophers as the different faces of one god, or as the symbols of the different aspects of one god, and the apostate Emperor Julian eagerly embraced this philosophical movement, a sort of pagan “We have that, too!” movement. A nationwide cult focused on one god, as opposed to the older regional model of worship of deities tied to a specific city or region, was also thought to be a better model for national unification in light of the empire’s problems.
Part of the neoplatonist movement was the attempt to recast older pagan gods in the model of the Christ, so we see figures such as Dionysus, Bacchus, Adonis, Apollo, etc., suddenly associated with self-sacrifice, charity, etc., as well as narrative elements such as rebirth, virgin birth, etc., where such traditions did not exist before. Julian saw a syncretic, sun-god cult as the best chance to compete with the Christian message, and began to incorporate numerous solar god traditions into Sol Invictus - even adding a late-winter celebration (albeit a minor one, compared to the major holiday that was celebrated in the summer) at the same time as the emerging Christian celebration of Christ’s birth.
Atheists who attempt to shoehorn the new neoplatonist conceptions of older pagan deities into their conception of figures upon which Jesus was modeled, ignore much of the previous textual records of pagan beliefs about the gods and focus only on the new models of pagan worship, which were largely an adaptation and a reaction to the newly powerful Christian narrative.
What about some of the pagan gods whose stories sprung up before the first century AD? Any chance some of those stories and beliefs were used in Christianity or inspired some Christian claims in the NT?
I’ve been doing a lot of research since this topic came up for me and the pagan god I’m most concerned with is Dionysus. I read PhilVaz’s take on it and he makes comparisons between various mythological figures and Christianity. By far, the comparison of Dionysus vs Chrisitanity has the most in common. He says Dionysus was born of a god, performed miracles and possibly was resurrected, among others. Can you help me?
The earliest records of the deity YHWH (Jewish god) are found in the temple ruins of the Canaanites. Both the Jews and the Canaanites were Semitic people’s with similar language and culture, its totally possible Judaism began as an offshoot of Canaanite religion.
What specific problems do you have with it, Faith1960? Dionysius was just one of many gods.
Jesus was the Son of God but also God, one of the three Persons of the Trinity, pre-existent and uncreated, sharing in the Divine Substance. Dionysius doesn’t match up well with that. His father was Zeus, who had sex with and impregnated Semele. Zeus sewed the infant Dionysus into his thigh to hide the illegitimate child from his jealous wife, Hera, so he was “twice born,” being born from the bodies of both a man and a woman. (Dionysus was frequently associated with sexual role reversal and homoeroticism, so his birth legend may be associated with those connections.) Other legends describe him as giving birth to himself, or as the child of incestuous sex between Zeus and his own daughter, Persephone, or Zeus and his own sister, Demeter. Unlike some claims by those who claim Jesus was a myth, there is no original textual evidence or traditions that he was associated with a December 25 birth or a March 27th death. Like most claims by the mythicists, someone made up those claims and they are uncritically cut and pasted on atheist sites, ad infinitum.
Almost all of the gods of ancient Greece and Rome were sons or daughters of other gods, and all were created beings. None were eternal, like God. None were virgin births, they were the offspring of sexual intercourse between two gods, or between a god and a human who is seduced, tricked by subterfuge, or raped by a god (and no longer a virgin). This bears no similarity to Jesus, who was conceived without sexual intercourse, by a young woman who was and remained a virgin, who was offered a choice to become the Mother of God, and who consented of her own free will.
Dionysus (also known as Bacchus) was the head of a fertility cult, which sought sexual and sensual abandon.
What miracles was Dionysius said to have performed? Every pagan god is said to have performed supernatural miracles. Jesus performed miracles as a Man, walking the earth, that were described as to person, place of occurrence, and approximate time in history, from the context of the Bible. Jesus’ miracles were acts of charity - healing the sick and lame, raising the dead to life. Dionysus’s miracles, by contrast, included driving the women of Thebes insane, after which they ran off into the woods, because he is peeved that the people of Thebes and their king refused to honor him. Dionysus is arrested, tricks the king into cross-dressing so he can spy on all the crazy women, and the king is then torn apart by the wild women, including his own deranged mother, who keeps his head as a trophy, thinking it is the head of an animal. He also drove women to devour their own children. :eek:
Okay, I missed that part of the New Testament.
Pliny the Elder, whose nephew provided some of the first extra-Biblical textual evidence for the Christian Church, wrote that a spring sacred to Dionysus produced wine, or at least water that was scented like wine. Pausanias wrote that the priests of Dionysus would put casks of water in a sealed vault, allow people to put their marks on the seals (sounds like a modern magic trick), and in the morning, then in the morning, abracadabra, the water would have been transformed into wine. Wow. There aren’t many more references to miracles.
In what sense was Dionysius “possibly” resurrected? In Jesus’ example, we have a specific place for the events of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, which was a one-time event, with numerous named witnesses who are known to be real historical figures. There were many mythological gods who died and were resurrected again and again, because they were symbols for the cycle of the harvest. There is one short reference in classical literature that describes Dionysus as participating in this kind of agricultural cycle. Thasos described Dionysus as a “god who renews himself and returns every year rejuvenated.” Diodorus Siculus tells a similar story, based on the cycle of grape harvest. This folk agricultural mythos was clearly not the case with Jesus. Dionysus was never said to have been crucified, but was torn apart as an infant by the Titans, and recreated by Zeus after he made a drink out of his crushed heart.
Hope this is helpful to you. If there are specific points that you have problems with, or think that this all still has some connection with the Gospels. let me know and I’ll try to point you towards the original textual sources.
Thanks. the problems I’m having with it are mainly what I posted in post #1 which were from an online article by PhilVaz. He made charts of various mythological figures and their comparison to Christ. When I c&p the chart on Dionysus it didn’t come out looking the same as in the actual article, but the similarities between Dionysus and Christ were more numerous than on the other charts.
He said that Dionysus was the Son of God (Zeus), was a Savior, did miracles and was "resurrected " shared a communal meal of bread and wine, and descended to hell. On the chart, the similarities bothered me, as it sounds like maybe our concept of Jesus and his works came from this and or other pagan gods.
Okay, this seems like it is of concern to you, so I looked at the on-line article.
First off, it is unlikely in the extreme that pious 1st century Jews would be in a position to know or copy the attributes of a libertine Greek God in recognizing the Messiah, or to copy pagan Greek ideas into their prophecies of the coming Messiah. That alone eliminates the argument.
Secondly, the leaders of the early Church refused to mix pagan worship with Christian worship, and were willing to die for that stance. *Why would they change that stance? * The writings of the early Church clearly reflect that they did not think the pagan gods did not exist - they thought they did, but that they were not gods but actually fallen angels / demons who tricked the gullible pagans into worshipping them. Why would they want to combine pagan and Christian belief and have relations with demons? (For more on this, see “The Trickery of the Fallen Angels and the Demonic Mimesis of the Divine” - A.Y. Reed - Journal of Early Christian Studies 12 (2004): 141-171 (original in PDF in annettereed.com/jecs12.2reed.pdf))
Thirdly, correlation does not equal causation - that is, a similarity in thematic elements does not necessarily mean one is the cause of the other. There are pyramids in Egypt and pyramids in Mexico - we don’t have to claim that Atlanteans or Aliens were the common source. People in different regions can have similar ideas.
He said that Dionysus was the Son of God (Zeus)…
Yeah, but pretty much all pagan gods were the sons of gods. These beings were said to be conceived through sexual relations between a god and a human woman. That’s very different from the Christian belief.
…was a Savior…
Your source says Dionysus was a savior in that “this power of Dionysos over death and his positive role in the ritual makes him a “savior” of his initiates in the next world”
So unlike Christ, who came to save all men and redeem us from original sin, Dionysus is supposed to save only the initiates of his secretive “mystery cult.” Your source wrote, " the rites (orgia) of this ritual included the tearing apart of animals (sparagmos) and eating them raw (omophagia). Dionysos’ subversive character is expressed in his rejection of the sacrificial system of eating food cooked according to the proper order (roasted then boiled) in favor of omophagia, the desire to eat raw flesh. The most extreme form of omophagia is allelophagia, in which men devour one another, becoming like wild beasts and ferocious animals. Such behavior allows them to escape from the human condition and get “outside themselves” by imitating those animals least subject to domestication."
Okay, not seeing a correlation with Christianity there.
Again (see above), all manner of miracles were said to be performed by gods. Compare them to the actual miracles performed by Jesus, which are attested to as historical facts, not myths. Your source wrote, “There are several miracles involving Dionysos with wine, growth miracles, and others…” but both his hyperlinks are expired. As I said, Dionysus’s miracles were primarily acts of vengeance against those who refuse to worship him, not acts of love and charity as were those of Jesus.
and was "resurrected "…
See my comments above.
…shared a communal meal of bread and wine…
With whom? Pretty much everyone in the ancient world ate together and consumed wine and bread, they were staples of the diet. I had some bread and wine with dinner last night, that doesn’t make me a messiah figure. Dionysus did not proclaim that the bread and wine were his body and blood.
… and descended to hell.
Dionysus’s journey to the underworld is presented like a typical Greek mythological adventure (as described in Aristophanes’ play The Frogs.) It has nothing to do with Christ’s Harrowing of Hell and setting free the holy dead.
As your source says, “Dionysos is always the lord of dementia and of the ability to get outside oneself. Dionysos is truly himself only in unyielding madness, when the mania creates, through murder, a taint, a miasma, a sickness or pestilence…The unclean madness that forms the basis of his cult is always part of him, however disciplined and civilized Dionysos may seem in the pantheons of cities unmindful of his fundamental wildness.”
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. So there’s no chance early Christians borrowed ideas from pagan mythology and used those ideas when .writing about Christ?
My Bible says this, 2 Peter 1:16: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but we had been eyewitnesses to His majesty.
<<<<<<<<<<Both Early Christianity and Early Rabbinical Judaism were significantly influenced by Hellenistic religion and Hellenistic philosophy. Christianity in particular inherited many features of Greco-Roman paganism in its structure, its terminology, its cult and its theology. Titles such as Pontifex Maximus and Sol Invictus were taken directly from Roman religion. The influence of Neoplatonism on Christian theology is significant, visible for example in Augustine of Hippo’s identification of God as summum bonum and of evil as privatio boni. Striking parallels between the New Testament account of Jesus and classical gods or demigods such as Bacchus, Bellerophon or Perseus were recognized by the Church Fathers and termed “demonic imitation” by Justin Martyr in the 2nd century.
“ Without the power of the orthodox Church and the Rabbis to declare people heretics and outside the system it remained impossible to declare phenomenologically who was a Jew and who was a Christian. At least as interesting and significant, it seems more and more clear that it is frequently impossible to tell a Jewish text from a Christian text. The borders are fuzzy, and this has consequences. Religious ideas and innovations can cross borders in both directions. >>>>>>>>>>