the ivy-covered cross
by sannion

Dionysos in Palestine

Although the nature of the soil, the climate, and other factors made farming difficult, the people of Palestine have always made their living off of the land. One of the earliest crops to be introduced into the area was the vine, which grew both wild and cultivated along Palestine's many hills. There are numerous references to wine in the Hebrew Bible - including yayin 'wine', sekar 'strong drink', and tiros 'sweet or new wine' showing its importance to the people. (New Bible Dictionary 'wine') The God of Wine, Mesopotamian Siras, or Ugaritic Tirsu, was also worshipped here from a very early time. (This provides an interesting linguistic connection - tiros > Tirsu > thyrsos, the magical wand carried by Dionysos that made wine flow.) The Levitical Hebrews tried to mask this God's presence by claiming that Noah had invented viniculture. (Genesis 9:20).

Plutarch of Chaeronea held that the God of the Jews was none other than Dionysos. "First the time and character of the greatest, most sacred holiday of the Jews clearly befit Dionysos. When they celebrate their so-called Fast, at the height of the vintage, they set out tables of all sorts of fruit under tents and huts plaited for the most part of vines and ivy. They call the first of the two days Tabernacles. A few days later they celebrate another festival, this time identified with Bacchos not through obscure hints but plainly called by his name, a festival that is a sort of 'Procession of Branches' or 'Thyrsos Procession' in which they enter the Temple each carrying a thyrsos. What they do after entering we do not know, but it is probable that the rite is a Bacchic revelry, for in fact they use little trumpets to invoke their God as do the Argives at their Dionysia. Others of them advance playing harps; these players are called in their language Levites, either from 'Lysios' or better, from 'Euois.'

"I believe that even the feast of the Sabbath is not completely unrelated to Dionysos. Many even now call the Bacchantes 'Saboi' and utter the cry when celebrating the God. Testimnoy of this can be found in Demosthenes and Menander. The Jews themselves testify to a connection with Dionysos when they keep the Sabbath by inviting each other to drink and enjoy wine; when more important business interferes with this custom, they regularly take at least a sip of neat wine. Now thus far one might call the argument only probable; but the oppposition is quite demolished, in the first place by the High Priest, who leads the procession at their festival wearing a miter and clad in a gold-embrodered fawnskin, a robe reaching to the ankles, and buskins, with many bells attached to his clothes and ringing below him as he walks. All this corresponds to our custom. In the second place, they also have noise as an element in their nocturnal festivals, and call the nurses of the God 'bronze rattlers.' The carved thyrsos in the relief on the pediment of the Temple and the drums provide other parallels. All this surely befits no divinity but Dionysos." (Quaestiones Convivales 4.6.1-2)

Tacitus said that Dionysos Liber was the God of Jerusalem in former times, but a different God had replaced him, a God with less attractive characteristics: "Liber established a festive and cheerful worship, while the Jewish religion is tasteless and mean." (660)

Antiochos IV Epiphanes tried to Hellenize the Jews, which he almost accomplished through the very popular Greek gymnasia and theaters that he erected. The people liked them so much that they began to neglect their traditions, adopted Greek customs and names, and even refrained from circumcizing their sons. There was a considerable backlash led by the Temple to which Antiochos was forced to respond by taking over the Temple, and rededicating it to Olympian Zeus. To bring peace to the warring factions, he compelled the Jews to celebrate the Dionysia with a procession of ivy. (2 Maccabbees 6:7) When Demetrios I Soter wished to take Judas Maccabbee, a brigand who lived in the hills outside Jerusalem and who had much support from the Temple authorities, his governor threatened to destroy the Temple and build a sanctuary of Dionysos in its place. (2 Maccabbees 14:33) Another King, Ptolemy IV, threatened to have the Jews branded with the ivy-leaf sign of Dionysos. (3 Maccabbees 2:29) When one considers the number of potential Gods that were out there, it is interesting that he should choose Dionysos for this. It is also interesting that Jesus was accused by Talmudic authority Rabbi Eliezer of having magical tattoos carved into his flesh. (Morton Smith's Jesus the Magician pg 62)

Other names

Dionysos actually shared a number of names with the Jewish God. As mentioned by Plutarch, there was Sabazius and Sabaoth; Euoi and Eloah. The Greek form of Yahweh is IAO, which is similar to both the Dionysian cry "Io!" (Euripides' Bakkhai 671) and Ia'kkhos, the name by which he was known at Eleusis (Herodotus' Histories 65). Yahweh was called El, Lord, just as Dionysos was called Anax, Lord. In Exodus 17:15 Moses erected an altar to Jehovah-Nissi - which sounds like the God from Nysa (a possible entymology of Dionysos as in Homeric Hymn 1.) In Isaiah God is addressed as the Holy One, just as Dionysos is called Hosioter 'He Who Makes Holy' by Pausanias and Plutarch. Yahweh-salom 'The Lord of Peace' is paralleled in Dionysos Eleutherios 'Dionysos Who Frees'. Even God of the Jews - Theos Ioudaioi - has been compared to Oudaios, a follower of Dionysos. (Cladius Iolaus FGH 788 F4)

These parallels continue with the names of Jesus. According to Matthew 1:23, Jesus' name is Emmanuel, meaning 'God is with us'. This is like Dionysos' title Theos Epiphanes - 'God manifest'. Revelation 22:16 names Jesus as the 'bright Morning Star' just as Dionysos is Phanes, the Illuminator. In John 15:1 Jesus is called "the true vine" in an obvious attempt to connect him to Dionysos Ampelios, the God of the Vine.

Logos and Nous

John opens his Gospel with a beautiful hymn to the Logos, the creative power through which "All things were made; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:3) Heraklitos was the first philosopher to speak of the Logos, a formative and shaping power in the world. The concept was taken up by a series of Greek philosophers, finding it's most devoted advocates among the Stoics. For them, Logos was not just God acting upon the material world; it was identical with him. This pantheistic fusion of God and Logos anticipates the line of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (1:1) John goes on to say that the Logos was "made flesh, and dwelt among us" as the man Jesus Christ (1:13) - something that no Stoic would have conceived of.

As early as Homer, another ordering principle was suggested - Nous, or Mind. Anaxagoras speaks of Nous in terms very similar to that of the Logos, for he calls it the "efficient cause of the general order in the universe." (Aristotle, Physics 203) Parmenides affirmed that all things are contained within Nous as within a membrane (On Nature) but Basilides tells us that Logos sprang from Nous, the first born of the Unborn Father. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.24:3) What makes that especially interesting is that Macrobius says that Dionysos is the Material Mind or Nous itself, which he discerns from the God's name: Dionusos, he says, comes from Dios nous "the Mind of Zeus." (Saturnalia 1:18) This is bolstered by Plato in the Timaeus when he says that there is a Goblet of Dionysos which the souls are given to drink from, in order that they may imbibe the intelligence (noes) of all things. Yet more evidence that Jesus (Logos) may have sprung from Dionysos (Nous).

Birth and Persecution

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a young virgin, betrothed to wed Joseph. She was sitting in the temple weaving when the angel Gabriel "came in unto her" (Luke 1:28) and shortly thereafter she was with child. Joseph was going to put her away, when another angel visited him and said, "fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 1:20) Because a world-wide census was announced, Joseph and his family had to travel to the home of his people, Bethlehem in Judea. (Luke 2:2) There was no room at the inn, so Jesus was born in the animal quarters. He was visited by Magi (Matthew 2:1) and shepherds (Luke 2:16). Herod the King, when he heard about the birth of Christ, plotted to kill him. At first he tried to get the Magi to lead him to the boy, but they caught on and warned the family, so that Joseph and Mary had to flee to Egypt. (Matthew 2:13) "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men." (Matthew 2:16)

This has striking parallels with the Orphic story of Dionysos' birth. According to Diodorus Siculus, the virgin Persephone sat in a holy cave and wove a great tapestry on which was depicted the cosmos. Zeus, disguised as a serpent, appeared to her and begat the Horned God Zagreus. (5.75.4) His birth was witnessed by Kuretes or Korybantes, armed spirits who loved to dance. Hera was furious upon seeing the baby, so Rhea carried him off and hid the baby in a Cretan cave, with the Kuretes to keep watch over him. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 6.296) They danced and banged their spears to cover the sound of Zagreus' crying, but still Hera found him. She raised the Titans up from Tartarous, and faces whitened like ghosts, they waited until the Kuretes had fallen asleep. Then they lured Dionysos away with fabulous toys: a cone, a bull-roarer, golden apples, knucklebones, a tuft of wool, and finally a mirror. (Kern's Orphic Fragments 34) Hypnotized by his image in the mirror, the Titans grabbed baby Zagreus, but he slipped away, turning himself into many different shapes: a lion, a horse, a man, and finally a bull. But all this was for naught, for the Titans eventually caught the child, holding him by hoof and horn, and fulfilled their obligation to Hera by tearing him to pieces. These pieces they cooked in a stew of milk, and then roasted over a fire, before they commenced their awful feast. The smell of roasting flesh drew the boy's father, and Zeus upon discovering what happened, hurled his mighty lightning-bolts at the Titans, burning them up where they stood. From the steam that rose from their burning flesh came an ash, and it was out of this ash, the Orphics claimed, that man arose. Therefore we have within us both a divine element (Dionysos) and an infernal element (the Titans) and we must strive to separate the divine from the infernal - only then will we be free. Athena managed to save the heart of the child, and with this Zeus was able to conceive the God again. He did this either by eating the heart himself, or by giving it in a potion to Semele, the daughter of King Cadmus. In this manner, Semele became pregnant without having sexual relations. (Euanthes' On Homer 2.735) Hera tricked the girl into asking Zeus to reveal himself fully to her, which resulted in Semele being burned up. But Dionysos was saved from the flames that consumed his mother's body by lush vines and ivy which grew up to protect him. Zeus plucked the fetus up from the ashes, sowed it into his thigh, and kept it there until it came to term. (Ovid's Metamorphoses 3:253-272.) Dionysos was then taken by Hermes to his aunt Ino, where he was dressed as a little girl and raised in the women's quarters. (Apollodorus' Library 3.4.3) This plot, however, failed to protect him from Hera's wrath. Hera drove Ino and her husband Athamas insane, and they murdered their own children - Athamas shooting Learchus, Ino boiling Melicertes, and then jumping into the Saronic Gulf with him. (Homer's Odyssey 5.333-353, 5.458-462) Dionysos was saved from this by turning himself into a baby goat and fleeing. Hermes later found him, and carried him to Mount Nysa, where he was raised by Nymphs and the Goddess Rhea. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 14.159)


As early as his twelth year, Jesus recognized that he had a special mission. It was then, while on a family trip to Jerusalem that he became lost. His parents frantically searched for him, only to find him in the Temple, debating with the learned scholars. Jesus replied, "Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49) His public ministry began when John the Baptist, an ascetic desert preacher, recognized him as the righteous judge that he had prophecized, and baptized him in the Jordan river. (Matthew 3:11) He preached for about three years (John mentions three Passovers during Jesus' teaching ministry) all throughout the Galilee, Jerusalem, Caesarea Philippi, the Decapolis and even as far as Mount Hermon. He taught in synagogues (Mark 1:21) and to crowds in the open air (Matthew 14:15-21). His message seems to have been a mix of homey good wisdom (Matthew 5:3-10) and radical politics. (Matthew 10:34) He believed that he was the Messiah (Luke 9:20), appointed by God to overthrow the Roman occupiers, and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. But this wouldn't just be David's Kingdom reborn - it would be the Messianic Kingdom of God. The establishment of this Kingdom would herald the Coming of the Lord (Micah 1:3), whereupon He would judge the righteous (Israel) and the impure nations (Rome). To do this, he had to make the way clear, and to purify Israel to make it ready to recieve God as its Bridegroom. (Isaiah 62:5) This was both a spiritual cleansing and a moral one. Jesus felt that he was doing God's work by this - "My teaching is not my own, but His that sent me. (John 7:16) "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30)

Similarly, Dionysos' greatest accomplishments were done for another. The death of Semele wasn't enough to quench Hera's anger. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 9.206) She persued him in his infancy - with deadly effect - and finally caught up with him, whereupon she drove him mad. (Plato's Laws 672b) Dionysos wandered through Egypt, Syria, and other lands committing atrocities, until he came upon a sanctuary of Kybele, the Great Mother of Pessinus. "There he was purified by Rhea (Kybele) and taught the mystic rites of initiation, after which he received from her his gear and set out eagerly through Thrace." (Apollodorus' Library 3.33) With a missionary zeal, he traveled through the East establishing their joint cult, which included mysteries, nocturnal orgies, ecstatic trances, wild dances, and "brassbacked drums, the instruments of Kybelid Rheia." (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 14.214) He even created a Temple for the Great Mother. "For without a doubt, Dionysos came to Syria on that journey during which he went to Ethiopia. And in the temple are many indications that Dionysos is the founder, namely foreign garments and gems of India and elephants' tusks which Dionysos brought from Ethiopia. In addition, two phalloi, or pillars, stand in the entrance, quite high, on the which is written this inscription: "I Dionysos dedicated these phalloi to the Great Mother." (Lucian's De Dea Syria 16) Dionysos asserted the supremacy of Kybele. "Happy he who, initiated in the mystic rites, is pure in his life ... who, preserving the righteous orgies of the great mother Kybele, and brandishing the thyrsos on high, and wreathed with ivy, doth worship Her. Come, ye Bakkhai, come, ye Bakkhai, bringing down Bromios, God the child of God, out of the Phrygian mountains into the broad highways of Greece." (Euripides' Bakkhai 72-90)

Message of Peace, Love and Freedom

According to Nonnos, the God Aion complained to Zeus about the laborious, care-ridden life of mortals. Zeus declared that he would beget a son who was to dispell the cares of the human race, and bring them a message of joy. (Dionysiaca 7:7) This was Dionysos, who according to Euripides in the Bakkhai, "ends our worries" (450), "keeps the household safe and whole though the other Gods dwell far off in the air of heaven" (466-67) and is a "lover of peace" (500). For, as Horace said, "Who prates of war or want after taking wine?" (Carmina 1) Wine is the tangible symbol and fluid vehicle of the God. When people wish to speak of his blessings, they use wine to symbolize it. Hence we have, "Wine is mighty to inspire new hopes and wash away bitter tears of care." (Horace, Carmina 4) "Wine frees the soul of subservience, fear, and insincerity; it teaches men how to be truthful and candid with one another." (Plutarch's Symposia 7.10.2) And Aristophanes adds, "When men drink wine they are rich, they are busy, they push lawsuits, they are happy, they help their friends." (The Knights) Dionysos' blessing is for everyone - male and female, young and old. (Euripides' Bakkhai 205) And it is very important - for "where Dionysos is not, love perishes, and everything else that is pleasant to man." (The Bakkhai 769)

According to John, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. (3:16) Jesus preached a constant message of peace, love and freedom. He said, "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you." (John 15:12) "Love ye your enemies, and do good, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great." (Luke 6:35) "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27) "The peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philemon 4:7) "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:32) And "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)


Both Gods had a set of beatitudes associated with them.

Dionysos' were:

"Blessed, blessed are those who know the Mysteries of God. Blessed is he who hallows his life in the worship of God, he whom the spirit of God possesseth, who is one with those who belong to the holy body of God. Blessed are the dancers and those who are purified, who dance on the hill in the holy dance of God. Blessed are they who keep the rites of Kybele the Mother. Blessed are the thyrsos-bearers, those who wield in their hands the holy wand of God. Blessed are those who wear the crown of the ivy of God. Blessed, blessed are they: Dionysos is their God!" (Euripides' Bakkhai 72-82)

While Jesus' were:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek: for they shall posses the land. Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3-10)

Lord of the Dance

In Antigone Sophokles called Dionysos the "Leader in the dance of the fire-pulsing stars." Euripides said that those who "dance on the hill in the holy dance of God" were blessed. (Bakkhai 75) Orpheus has him "dancing through the forest in a frenzy." (Hymn 46) He was said to have danced already as a child in his mother's womb. And Horace has him teaching the nymphs how to sing and dance. (Carmina 2.19) And he was received by the Muses as their leader in Pieria, where they draped him with ivy and danced in his honor. (Philodamus of Skarpheia)

Jesus said that the Son of Man would come "piping and dancing." (Matthew 11:17) And in the Apocryphal Acts of John there is a beautiful scene just before Jesus goes to be crucified. Joseph Campbell paraphrased it in the Power of Myth, page 109:

Just before going out into the garden at the end of the Last Supper, Jesus says to the company, "Let us dance!" And they all hold hands in a circle, and as they circle around him, Jesus sings, "Glory be to thee, Father!"

To which the circling company responds, "Amen."

"Glory be to thee, Word!"

And again, "Amen."

"I would be born and I would bear!"


"I would eat, and I would be eaten!"


"I would be united, and I would unite!"


"A door am I to thee that knocketh at me .... A way am I to thee, a wayfarer." And when the dance is ended, he walks into the garden to be taken and crucified.

Attended by a throng

Large groups regularly formed to hear Jesus preach. Sometimes these got to be so bad, that he would have to flee, at least once taking a boat across a lake to get away from them. (Matthew 8:24) At one point, they numbered 5,000. (Matthew 14:15-21) Another large group gathered as Jesus made his triumphal procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (John 12:14) Even when Jesus was not surrounded by masses of people, he had his Twelve Apostles and an unspecified number of assistants, including women. (Luke 8:1-3)

Dionysos is rarely alone. He has his thiasos of Satyrs, Nymphs, Goddesses, Daimones, and wild animals. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 14.67) He also has his human followers - women called Maenads, Thyiades, Bakkhai, Bassarai, Leucippides, Klodones, Dysmainai, and many other groups. He even has male followers, called Bakkhoes (Euripides' Bakkhai 115). According to Walter Burkert, maenads aren't just figures of myth, but are "well-attested in real life too." (Greek Religion 3.2) Wherever he goes, he attracts large crowds. Whether it be the revelers in the street, celebrating as his procession passes by, or the women leaving a city in major exodus to worship in the hills. He is the God of mass movements, who spreads like an epidemic. Erwin Rohde wrote, "In his moments of greatest exaltation man does not wish to face the more than human vital power he feels surging around and over him by locking himself up in his own private existence and following his normal practice of worshipping it timidly. Rather, he wishes at these moments to throw all restraint to the winds and with passionate exuberance achieve complete 'oneness' with the God." (Walter Otto's Dionysus pg 122)


Dionysos is primarily a woman's God. Aeschylus called him gynnis "the womanly one." (Fragment 61) And Euripides called him the "womanly stranger." (Bakkhai 353) As a child he was taken by Hermes to his aunt Ino, where he was dressed as a little girl and raised in the women's quarters. (Apollodorus' Library 3.4.3) When Hera's wrath caught up to him, he was taken to Mount Nysa, where he was raised entirely in the company of Nymphs and Goddesses. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 14.159) Later, in his travels he's accompanied by women who are called his 'nurses'. (Homer's Iliad 6.132) His nurses then become lovers and devoted maenads, the ideal image of which is his beautiful bride, Ariadne. There are also the many women to whom he appears, and drives mad. And the women who summoned the God to Elis. (Plutarch Mor. De mul. virt. 13) Or the fourteen gerarai in Athens, sworn in by the Queen who was given in marriage to Dionysos. (Walter Otto's Dionysus pg 175) His realm is that of release and wild nature. At his celebrations, women would leave behind their homes, husbands, and children - all of the familial and societal obligations that were so important to the Greeks - to dance and drink and revel in his honor. They would hasten to a mountain or secluded wood and there commune with wild nature, driven by religious frenzy intensified by music, dance, and wine to states of ecstasy where they experienced possession by and union with the God.

Jesus had a number of women in his inner circle. Luke 8:1-3 describes the inner circle of Jesus' followers: 12 male disciples and an unspecified number of female supporters. In Luke 10:38-42, he taught Mary, even though Jewish tradition at the time forbid women to be taught. (Rabbi Eliezer wrote in the 1st century CE: "Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman...Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.") In the Gospel of Mary, Jesus gives a special teaching to the Magdalene, which he had not shared with Peter or Andrew. (Mary 1-9, 15) He expressed concern for widows, and repeatedly stressed the importance of supporting them throughout his ministry. The Gospel of Luke alone contains 6 references to widows: (Luke 2:36, 4:26, 7:11, 18:1, 20:47 and 21:1) Mark 15:40-41 describes many women who followed Jesus from Galilee and were present at his crucifixion. He appeared first to a woman after his resurrection (Matthew 28:9-10). And according to Paul, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

Upon this Rock

Jesus and his followers came to Caesarea Philippi, when he asked them, "Who do people say that I am?" The disciples gave several answers, but it was Simon Peter who answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." To which Jesus replied, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:13-18 )

After that, Peter became the chief of the Apostles, and leader of the early Church. He was with Jesus as the transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsamane just before his death. After Jesus' arrest Peter was afraid and denied his Lord three times. But at once he was bitterly sorrow. Jesus appeared and reassured him, and after that he had resolute faith. He preached boldly on the day of Pentecost. After Joppa, he began spreading the Gospel to non-Jews as well. He was arrested by King Harrod, but the Christians prayed and he escaped. He wasn't so lucky in Rome, where he was killed during the persecution of Nero - crucified like Jesus, but upside down. (Paraphrased from the account in the Lion Enclopedia of the Bible.)

Akoetes was the helmsman of the Etruscan pirate ship that tried to abduct Dionysos. The God was disguised as a beautiful youth, and the pirates all conspired to kidnap him, and ransom him back to his wealthy father. Only Akoetes recognized him as a God incognito, and tried to warn his fellows, but they wouldn't listen. When the pirates tried to put chains on Dionysos, he caused wine to flow on the deck, vines to climb up the mast, and terrible creatures to appear and maul the capatain. The other pirates dove into the sea, wherupon they turned into dolphins, but Akoetes was spared and became a priest of the God on the island of Naxos. (Homeric Hymn 7) According to Ovid, he was a prophet of the God too, who carried his worship to many distant places, including Thebes, where he was imprisoned by the God's cousin, Pentheus, only to escape when the maenads prayed for his release. (Metamorphoses 3:572-596)


Greek festivals usually occured during the day - Dionysos' at night. (See, for instance, the Anthesteria.) Greek festivals were held in the cities - Dionysos' in the hills, forest, or swamp. (Called oreibasia.) Traditional sacrifices were burned on the altar of the God - Dionysos ate his raw. (The practice of omophagia.) Dionysian worship often reversed sex roles - the women became warriors and hunters (Pausanias' Guide to Greece 2.20.4, Euripides' Bakkhai 1236-37) - and the men engaged in homosexuality (Livy's History of Rome 39:8) and transvestitism (Euripides' Bakkhai 939-960). Dionysos' worship was open to slaves, women, and foreigners - groups of people who could be excluded in some of the Athenian civic cults. Festivals such as the Anthesteria, the Rustic Dionysia, the Haloa, and the orgiastic komoi were times of license, when societal restrictions were loosened, and people drank, feasted, and had sex to excess.

Similarly, Jesus was accused of being fond of eating and drinking (Matthew 11:19) and was even called a 'drunkard.' (Luke 7:34) He broke the Sabbath law. (Mark 2:26) He ignored ritual impurity laws. (Mark 5:25-34) He spoke with foreigners. (John 4:7) He spoke and even ate with sinners. (Luke 15:1-2) He taught women, even though it was forbidden. (Luke 10:38-42) He committed blasphemy. (John 5:18) He stormed the temple, and physically assaulted people. (Mark 11:15-19) And he preached open rebellion against Rome by saying, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." (Matthew, 22:21) (Cconsider this in light of the absolute dominion of God that Jesus preached through his message of the 'Kingdom of God'.)

Some of Jesus' followers, apparently, were quite sexually libertine. According to Ephesians 2:15, through Jesus' death on the cross he "abolished the law of commandments contained in ordinances." To many, this gave them license to do pretty much what they wanted since they were saved by grace and faith. Paul had to write to the Church in Thessally to rein them in. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8) But some went far beyond what he discovered there. According to Minucius Felix, a third-century Latin apologist, who was quoting Marcus Cornelius Fronto, a Latin rhetor and tutor of Marcus Aurelius, Christians "on a special day gather in a feast with all their children, sisters, mothers - all sexes and all ages. There, flushed with the banquet after such feasting and drinking, they begin to burn with incestuos passions. They provoke a dog tied to the lampstead to leap and bound towatds a scrap of food which they have tossed outside the reach of his chain. By this means the light is overturned and extinguished, and with it common knowledge of their actions; in the shameless dark with unspeakable lust they copulate in random unions, all equally being guilty of incest, some by deed, but everyone by complicity. (Octavius 9.6) Epiphanius of Cyprus, a Christian himself, wrote that a Christian group called the Phibionites used semen and menstrual blood for the Eucharist and wine, and had ritual sex afterwards. (Panarion 26.4-5)

Wine Miracles

In myth, the wine of Dionysos figures prominantly. It calms the angry Hephaistos, allowing Dionysos to talk sense into him (the Caeretan vase, as well as others), it overcomes the unstoppable hermaphrodite monster Agdistis (Pausanias' Guide to Greece 7.17.9-12), and Dionysos' maenad companions often bring up springs of wine and milk simply by striking the ground with their thyrsoi (Euripides' Bakkhai 708).

Pausanias recounts a curious occurance in Ellis, which happened during the Dionysian festival of the Thyia, which the God was thought to attend regularly. "The place where they hold the Thyia is about eight stades from the city. Three pots are brought into the building and set down empty in the presence of citizens and of any strangers who may chance to be in the country. The doors of the building are sealed by the priests themselves and by any others who may be so inclined. On the morrow they are allowed to examine the seals, and on going into the building they find the pots filled with wine. I did not myself arrive at the time of the festival, but the most respected Elean citizens, and with them strangers also, swore that what I have said is the truth. The Andrians too assert that every other year at their feast of Dionysos wine flows of it's own accord from the sanctuary." (Description of Greece, 6. 26.1-2)

Both Didorus Siculus and Pliny the Elder talk of fountains of wine that flowed by themselves from the ground, and of spring water from his temple which had the flavor of wine on festival days (Library of History, 3.66.1-2; Natural History, 2.106, 31.13).

John tells the story of Jesus' first public miracle. "And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him." (John 2:1-11). Later on, he has Jesus call himself the "true vine." (John 15) For Christians, a miracle occurs at every Communion service when the wine turns into the blood of Christ, and bread becomes his flesh in memory of the Last Supper. (John 13:21-30)

Makes food multiply

Matthew 14:15-21 reads: As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food." Jesus replied, "They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat." We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish," they answered. "Bring them here to me," he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Ovid tells a similar story. Anius was the king of Delos, and he had three daughters who served Dionysos well as priestesses. During a famine, the God appeared to them, and gave them the power to produce corn, oil, and wine for their people, simply by touching the ground. This wonderful gift almost proved their downfall, as Agamemnon tried to abduct the girls to feed his men at Troy, but they called out to Dionysos in prayer, and he turned them into white doves, so that they could escape. (Metamorphoses 13.628-704)

Control over vegetation

According to Carl Kerenyi, it was not intoxication which was the essential element of the religion of Dionysos, but the "quiet, powerful, vegetative element which ultimately engulfed even the ancient theaters, as at Cumae." (Dionysos, pg xxiv) For Jane Ellen Harrison, Dionysos was more than just the God of the Vine: he was "Dendrites, Tree-God, and a plant god in a far wider sense. He is god of the fig-tree, Sykites; he is Kissos, god of the ivy; he is Anthios, god of all blossoming things; he is Phytalmios, god of growth." (Prolegomena pg 426) In short, he is the God of the impulse of life in nature, a God of growth and the green earth. And there are a whole range of miracles associated with this aspect of his being.

Whenever Dionysos appears, he does so attended by wild vegtation, whether it is with the vines of ivy and lush grapes he wears in his hair (Orphic Hymn 30), or that entwines itself around pillars and altars (Euripides' Antiope 203), a face appearing in a plane tree that has been split asunder (Kern's Inschr. von M. 215), or in a burst of beautiful flowers (Pindar fr.75). When Dionysos finally reveals himself in fullness to the Tyrrhenian pirates, it is through vegetation. "Then in an instant a vine, running along the topmost edge of the sail, sprang up and sent out its branches in every direction heavy with thick-hanging clusters of grapes, and around the mast cloud dark-leaved ivy, rich in blossoms and bright with ripe berries, and garlands crowned every tholepin." (Homeric Hymn 7)

In a number of places, but most famously at Parnassus, miracles of the "one-day vines" occurred. These vines "flowered and bore fruit in the course of a few hours during the festivals of the epiphany of the God." (Walter Otto, Dionysus pg 98). Sophocles in his Thyestes records that in Euboea, one could watch the holy vine grow green in the early morning. By noon the grapes were already forming, and by evening the dark and heavy fruit could be cut down, and a drink made from them. (fr. 234) Euphorion tells us that this miracle was related to the performance of cultic dances and the singing of choral hymns by the God's followers in Aigia - that it was their celebration which caused the vines to grow. (Euphorionis Fragmenta 118)

This is echoed in a curious story about Jesus which Mark told. "And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it." (Mark 11:12-14) Jesus is connected with nature by another saying: "Split a piece of wood and I am there." (Gospel of Thomas 77)

On the Boat

Jesus performed two miracles while in a boat. Matthew tells how Jesus was preaching one day, when the group of people got to be too much for him. So he got into a boat with his disciples, and went out to take in a little sun and solitude. However, this didn't last long, for "behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!" (Matthew 8:24-27) John relates a similar story: Jesus saw that they were ready to take him by force and make him King, so he went higher into the hills alone. That evening his disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn't come back, they got into the boat and headed out across the lake toward Capernaum. Soon a gale swept down upon them as they rowed, and the sea grew very rough. They were three or four miles out when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, but he called out to them, "I am here! Don't be afraid." Then they were eager to let him in, and immediately the boat arrived at their destination! (John 6:15-21)

Dionysos had his miracle on a boat too. Disguised as a beautiful young man in rich purple robes, Dionysos was captured by some Etruscan pirates. Only the helmsman Akoetes recognized him for what he was - the others thought him a rich prince, whom they intended to ransom. When they tried to put chains on him, Dionysos changed their oars into serpents, made wine flow on the deck, and filled their vessel with clinging ivy. He had wild animals maul the captain, and turned the rest of the fearful pirates into dolphins as they threw themselves overboard. (Homeric Hymn 7)

Riding an ass

According to John before Jesus could make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he first had to collect a donkey on which to ride. (John 12:14) He gave precise instructions on how to attain it, and what to say to the person when they collecetd it. (Matthew 21:2) He wouldn't enter the city until he had the donkey, that he might fulfil some obscure prophecy: "Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." (Matthew 21:5)

This sounds very much like the description of Hephaistos being led up to Mount Olympos on the back of a donkey by Dionysos. (Pausanias' Guide to Greece 1.20.3) According to the myth, Hera begot Hephaistos without recourse to another. But when he was born, he was lame, so she cast him out of her presence, and he fell for days to earth. Whereupon he was taken in by Okeanids who raised him. He became a master artisan, making many fine gifts envied by the other Gods. He got his revenge on Hera by crafting a beautiful golden chair - from which the Queen of the Gods could not rise. Hephaistos returned to his underwater home, quite content to let her languish, despite the pleading of the other Gods. Ares tried to compell him by force, but was driven back by firing brands flung by Hephaistos. Dionysos alone succeeded, by getting Hephaistos drunk, and talking with him. His rage tamed, the meek and happy God was led back up to Olympos on the back of a donkey, amid much celebration by the Immortals.

There is another story that connects the ass with Dionysos. During the war of the Gods and Giants, Dionysos and his satyrs rode into the frey on the backs of donkeys. At first the other Gods laughed at the humble creatures, but when their braying frightened the fearsome giants, the Gods immortalized them by turning them into the constellation Asellus Borealis. (Hyginus Poetica Astronomica 2.23)

Disdains money

Ovid told the following story in the Metamorphoses (11.90). One day the thiasos of Dionysos was traveling through Phrygia, when Silenus, the God's old teacher, disappeared and no one could find him. Finally, escorted by an honor guard sent along by Midas, king of the Mygdonians, the old satyr returned. The king, or some of his peasants, had easily captured the ever-thirsty old satyr by setting out some wine-bowls, and once he had prophecized for him - that was what satyrs were supposed to do when they were captured - Midas entertained him with splendid hospitality, giving him his best men as an escort when the old satyr wished to return to the God. Dionysos rewarded the king for his kindness by agreeing to grant whatever Midas wished - and Midas foolishly asked that everything he touch turn to gold. Reluctantly - for once a God has given his word, he cannot turn back - Dionysos did so, and the God was not suprised when the king sought him out the next day, begging that his gift be withdrawn. It had worked too well, and he was starving since his very food turned to gold as well. Dionysos gladly told the king how he might banish his "golden touch" by bathing in the icy waters of the river Pactolus, a river rich with gold to this day. This shows the foolishness of avarice and money-lust.

Something that Jesus frequently derided. "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24) "Woe to the rich, for you have received your consolation." (Luke 6:24) "You cannot serve God and mammon both." (Luke 16:13) "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matthew 6:19-20)

Fallen woman redeemed

Ariadne was the daughter of King Midas of Crete, and sister of the mighty half-man/ half-bull Minotaur called Aristeus. (Hesiod's Catalogues of Women 76, Homer's Odyssey 11.321-325) When Theseus came to Crete, she fell madly in love with him, and conspired to help him win free of the labyrinth. She also helped him kill her brother, and burn the port of Crete, crippling her father's navy. (Plutarch's Theseus) Abandoning her home and family, she fled with Theseus until he tired of her, and left her to die on the isle of Naxos. Desperate, she was about to toss herself onto the jagged rocks in the ocean, when Dionysos appeared to her out of nowhere. Redeemed by his love for her, Ariadne became the Queen of the Bacchantes, and her bridal crown was placed in the heavens as a reminder of the transformative powers of love. (Apollodorus' Library 3.1.2)

When we first meet Mary Magdalene, she is a prostitute caught in sin. (John 8:7) Jesus stops her from being stoned, and then casts seven devils out of her. (Mark 16:9) After that, she was a devoted follower of Jesus, annointing his feet (Luke 7) and traveling with the disciples. According to John, she was the first to arrive at the empty tomb of Christ (John 20:1), the one to tell Peter and the beloved disciple (John 20:2) and the first to actually see the risen Jesus. (John 20:14) Clearly, she had an important position within Jesus' circle of followers. Though this was questioned by Peter in the Apocryphal Gospel of Mary. After she relayed certain teachings that the Savior had given especially to her, Peter objected, saying, "Did he really speak with a woman without our knowledge (and) not openly? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did he prefer her to us?" Levi answered and said to Peter, "Peter, you have always been hot-tempered. Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her?" (Gospel of Mary 15,1-19,2) This has lead some to suspect that Jesus and Mary had a deep, perhaps even sexual relationship. A number of recent books - some good, some terrible - have been written detailing the supposed bloodline that sprang from the union of Christ and Mary Magdalene.


Livy says that the Bacchanalia came under suppression in Rome in part because of the homosexual initiation rite that was practiced. (History of Rome 39:8) Dionysos was explicitly called "bisexual" by Orpheus (Hymn 42 To Mise) and "the womanly one" by Aeschylus (Fragment 61). He was connected in romantic liasons with at least two young men - Prosymnos (Pausanias' Guide to Greece 2.37.5) and Ampelos (Nonnos Dionysiaca 10:175).

According to the Canonical Gospels Jesus never married, though he had a beloved disciple - probably John - who often lay upon his bosom and whispered things in his ear. (John 13:23) This may shed some light on what's contained in the "secret" Gospel of Mark. This is a section of the book that Clement of Alexandria claimed was authentic, but hidden because it was liable to be mistaken. According to him, after the ressurection of Lazaraus, Mark is supposed to continue as follows: "'And going in immediately where the young man was, he stretched out a hand and raised him up, holding his hand. Then, the man looked at him and loved him and he began to call him to his side, that he might be with him. And going from the tomb, they went to the house of the young man. For he was rich. And after six days, Jesus instructed him. And when it was late, the young man went to him. He had put a linen around his naked body, and he remained with him through that night. For Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. After he got up from there, he turned to the region of the Jordan.' And after these things, this follows: 'James and John go to him," and that whole section. But the 'naked man with naked man' and the other things you wrote about are not found." (Clement to Theodore)


Jesus often accused the Pharisees of being "vipers" or "hypocrites" (Matthew 12:34, 15:7, 22:18; Mark 7:6). He even went so far as to call some of them "fools" after having specifically admonished others not to use this term, warning that to do so would make them liable to the "fire of hell." (Matthew 5:22, 23:17) He looked upon his enemies with anger. (Mark 3:5) In a rage he "cleansed" the temple - going so far as to attack merchants with a whip. (John 2:15) He angrily cursed a fig tree when it failed to yield fruit out of season. (Mark 11:12-14) When accused of being "demon possessed" and crazy he reacted with hostility. (Matthew 12:22-31; Mark 3:20-30) Many of his statements were wrathful, such as: "Think not that I am come to send peace: I came not to send peace but a sword." (Matthew 10:34) "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." (Luke 22:36) "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." (Luke 19:27). "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." (John 15:6) And he even cursed the inhabitants of several cities, because a few individuals failed to be sufficiently impressed with his "mighty works" to believe what he taught. (Matthew 11:22-24; Luke 10:13-15)

Similarly, Orpheus called Dionysos "loud-roaring" (Hymn 30) and "wrathful in the extreme." (Hymn 45) He could be especially harsh in punishing his enemies. Dionysos had Perntheus torn apart by his mother and aunts for trying to supress his worship. (Euripides' Bakkhai) Lycurgus broke up a group of maenads, and chased them with an ox-goad. In retalliation, Dionysos caused him to kill his beloved son, struck him blind, and eventually had him torn apart by a pack of panthers on Mount Rhodope where he had been exposed by his people as a blight. (Apollodorus' Library 3.5.1; Hyginus' Fabulae 132, 192, 242) He made the daughters of Minyas tear apart their infant sons, and then had them transformed into screeching bats. (Hesiod's Catalogues of Women 84) The daughters of Proteus were driven mad, and made to think they were cattle roaming the hills. (Hesiod's Catalogues of Women 18) He brought a plague and madness to the people of Attika because they had sheltered the murderers of his friend Ikarios. (Hyginus' Fabulae 130) And when a group of pirates tried to abduct him, he turned them into dolphins, and had wild animals maul the captain. (Homeric Hymn 7)

Following him more important than familial obligations

Jesus never used the word "family" in a positive manner. According to the Canonical Gospels, he never married or fathered children, and to his own mother, he said, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" (John 2:4) Some of his pronouncements about familial relations seem downright harsh. For instance: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26) "I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." (Matthew 10:35-36) "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." (Luke 19:27). And when one of his disciples requested time off for his father's funeral, Jesus rebuked him: "Let the dead bury their dead." (Matthew 8:22)

Dionysos represents freedom and the liberation of the individual. He upturns normal standards, and causes mothers, wives, and daughters to leave their homes and dance wild in the hills, completely abandoning the traditional roles that they have been assigned. Those who do not heed his call often suffer for it. His aunts had refused to acknowledge his divinity after Semele's death, so he drove them, and all the women of Thebes, mad into the hills where they joined the maenads in their wild rites. The culimnation of their punishment occured when Agave, the mother of the new King who also resisted the God's worship, was forced to tear her child limb from limb, and parade with his severed head. (Euripides' Bakkhai) The daughters of Minyas in nearby Orchomenus also refused to worship him, staying in their homes to weave while the women of the city danced in the streets in his honor. In a fit of madness, they tore apart one of their infant sons, and then were transformed into bats. (Hesiod's Catalogues of Women 84) The daughters of Proteus also found Dionysos' worship distasteful, preferring to remain at home instead of taking part in the wild celebration. So he drove them mad, making them think that they were cattle, and they ate the children they had suckled at their breasts. It took the seer Melampus to clear the plague of madness from Argos. (Hesiod's Catalogues of Women 18)

Great Army

When the temple authorities came to take Jesus, he boasted, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53) Apparently after being crucified, he wanted a more tangible army, so he commanded his disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:19-20)

Dionysos had a large army. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 14.247) It was comprised of Satyrs, Sileni, Pans, Maenads, Nymphs, Goddesses, and throngs of mortals that he picked up in his various travels. With this army, he conquered the East including Syria, Egypt, Bactria, and as far as India. (Euripides' Backkhai 13, Pausanias' Guide to Greece 10:29, Arrian's Indica 5)


Originally, Orpheus started out as a devoted follower of the God Dionysos. He sang beautiful hymns in the God's honor, and was even said to have invented mysteries or secret religious rites for him. (Aristaphanes' Frogs 1032; Plato's Republic 2.365e-366a; Pausanias' Dscription of Greece 2.30.2, 9.30.4, 10.7.2) However, after the death of his beautiful wife Eurydice, he had no use for the God of life and the exuberant, lusty world he presided over. (Ovid's Metamorphoses 10.1-85) He began to worship Helios, (Eratosthenes, Cat. 24) taught severe asceticism such as abstention from wine and animal sacrifice, and introduced homosexuality. (Ovid's Metamorphoses 11.1-84) For this, he incurred the wrath of the Thracian women, who tore him apart in a frenzy. (Pausanias' Description of Greece 9:30.5, Aeschylus' Bassarids) His head, ripped from his neck, was tossed into a river where it floated out to Lesbos. Miraculously, it continued to sing, and the Lesbians erected a temple in his honor, from which the head prophecied for them. Angry, Dionysos turned the Thracian maenads into trees for what they had done to his one-time friend. He placed the poet's lyre in the heavens as the constellation Lyra. (Hyginus' Poetica Astronimca 2.7)

Similarly, Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot. For thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-15) he led the chief priests and their guards to the Garden of Gethsemane, where they took and crucified his Lord. (Matthew 26:47)


About a week after His sojourn in Cæsarea Philippi, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them to a high mountain apart, where He was transfigured before their ravished eyes. Matthew says "his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow." (Matthew 17:1-6) The Catholic Enclyopedia says, "This dazzling brightness which emanated from his whole body was produced by an interior shining of his Divinity." The Bakkhai ends with a similar scene, with Dionysos appearing on the wall of Pentheus' palace "in the glory of his godhead".


One may compare the scene in the Bakkhai (510-670) where King Pentheus arrests, berates, and condemns Dionysos, who has passively allowed himself to be caught and imprisoned with Jesus' appearance before Pontius Pilate. (Matthew 27:1-31) In both cases they make evasive responses to the questions.

Pentheus: The God - you claim to you saw him clearly - what was he like?
Dionysos: Whatever he wished - I did not order him about. (563-64)

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. (John 18:37)

Another similarity occurs when Jesus says to Pilate, "You would have no authority at all over me, had it not been granted you from above." (John 19:11) Earlier, Dionysos had said, "Nothing can touch me that is not ordained." (Bakkhai 602)

Jesus said of his persecutors, "They know not what they are doing," (Luke 23:34) just as Dionysos had said to Pentheus, "You know not what you are doing, nor what you are saying, not who you are." (Bakkhai 592)


Mark relates the death of Jesus as follows: "And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified. And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band. And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head, And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him. And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull. And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not. And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him. And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS. And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, Save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him. And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias. And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down. And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost." (Mark 15:15-37)

The Greeks knew several deaths for the God Dionysos. The best known occured while he was still an infant. Jealous Hera sought to slay the beloved son of Zeus, so she raised the Titans up from Tartarous, and they set upon the young God. He evaded their clutches by taking on different forms - a lion, a horse, a man, and finally a bull, but all his effort was for naught, for the Titans eventually caught the child, holding him by hoof and horn, and fulfilled their obligation to Hera by tearing the child to pieces. These pieces they cooked in a stew of milk, and then roasted over a fire, before they commenced their awful feast. The smell of roasting flesh drew the boy's father, and Zeus upon discovering what happened, hurled his mighty lightning-bolts at the Titans, burning them up where they stood. From the steam that rose from their burning flesh came an ash, and it was out of this ash, the Orphics claimed, that man arose. Therefore we have within us both a divine element (Dionysos) and an infernal element (the Titans) and we must strive to separate the divine from the infernal - only then will we be free. Athena managed to save the heart or phallos of the child, and with this Zeus was able to recreate his son. He did this either by eating the heart himself, or by giving it in a potion to Semele, the daughter of King Kadmos. (Pausanias' Guide to Greece 8.37.3; Diodorus Siculus 3:62; Orphic Hymn 14:6, Clement of Alexandria's Address to the Greeks 2.16)

There is also a lesser known death, recorded by Pausanias. He said that when Dionysos came to Argos with the Haliai or "the sea women" they were resisted by Perseus, and a terrible bloody battle ensued. Afterwards, there was a mass grave, which was still shown in his day. (Guide to Greece 2:20.4; 22.1) The Scholion on Iliad 19.319 adds that Perseus killed Dionysos by hanging, and then threw his body into the lake at Lerna.

Sought but not found

After the crucifixion, Jesus was placed in a tomb with a heavy boulder rolled in front of the entrance. A guard was placed outside, and yet when Mary Magdalene came to view the body, she found the tomb empty, Jesus miraculously having risen. (John 20:1)

After interrogating Dionysos, Pentheus had him bound and imprisoned. But the God easily slipped out, and when Pentheus came back to taunt him, he found the cell empty. (Euripides' Bakkhai 746)

Descent into Hell and Ascent to Heaven

After Dionysos had succeeded in conquering the Indians, and performing many great things here on Earth, he was ready to take his place among the Immortals on Olympos. But before he did that, he had one last thing to accomplish: raising up his mother from Hades. The most popular account has him go down through the bottomless lake at Lerna. (Pausanias' Guide to Greece 2.32.2) He either wrestled Hades, the Lord of the Dead, or offered the beautiful myrtle in place of his mother's shade. Dionysos led her up to the world of the living, and gave her the new name Thyone - which mens 'boisterous one'. After that, he led her up to Olympos where she was givn divine honors, (Apollodorus' Library 3.5.3) and was even reconciled with the jealous Hera. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 9.206)

After Jesus was killed, he descended into Hades, and "the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven." (The Nicene Creed) Luke in Acts also asserts that Jesus went down into hell (Acts 2:31) as does 1 Peter 3:18, which reads, "being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit, by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (hell)." Clement of Alexandria agrees, saying, "The Lord preached the gospel to those in Hades, as well as to all in earth, In order that all might believe and be saved, wherever they were." According to the Gospel of Nicodemus, Jesus raised the righteous dead with him while he was in hell.

The Number Thirteen

After establishing his worship throughout the world, and raising his mother up from Hades, Dionysos took his rightful place among the Gods on Olympos, even claiming one of the twelve thrones of the Great Gods as his own. (Pausanias Guide to Greece 2:32.2) This, however, caused a problem, as there were already twelve Olympian Gods - Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Ares, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaistos, Athena, Hermes and Hestia. (Homeric Hymn 4) Instead of being the cause of a dispute, Hestia stepped down and gave her throne to Dionysos. But this idea didn't catch on everywhere, and in many places they kept Hestia as the twelfth, or included another God or Goddess. Often, people addressed them as the Twelve and Dionysos. Dionysos' status, then, remains as a powerful outsider - one who is honored enough to be admitted into Olympos, but whose wild, orgiastic, and disquieting nature never really made him at home in the exalted halls of his father.

Jesus had twelve apostles, and when he gathered with them on Good Friday to enjoy the Passover Feast, they numbered thirteen. (John 13:21-30) It was at this dinner that Judas betrayed his master, which is how Fridays and 13 have come to have unlucky associations.

Intercessor between God and man

In Christianity, Jesus is the mediator between a perfect, wrathful God and weak, fallen humanity. John says that God sent his son to be a bridge. (John 3:16) And Paul taught that there was "one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy 2:6) He goes on to praise God "who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins; Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature ... all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy: Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fulness should dwell; And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven." (Colossasians 1:13-20)

Dionysos occupies a similar position. He mediates between the angry Gods, bringing reconciliation to Hera and Hephaistos. (Pausanias' Guide to Greece 1.20.3) Dionysos taught man how to pour libations during festivals - the principal means of intercourse between Gods and men. (Ovid's Fasti 3.727). And in fact, "Himself a God, he is poured out to the other Gods, so that from him we mortals have what's good in life." (Euripides' Bakkhai 332-35)


According to Luke in Acts , about 50 days after the resurrection, the followers of Jesus were gathered together, when the Spirit of God descended from Heaven, and took possession of them. (Acts 2:1-4) They began making strange noises (7) and the people thought that they were drunk on new wine. (13) Paul himself worried that strangers, seeing these spiritual gifts, might think the memebers of the Church mad. (1 Corinthians 14:23)

There's a long tradition of religious madness within the Greek religion. According to Plato, "the greatest of blessings come to us through madness, when it is sent as a gift of the Gods." (Phaedrus) In madness, we are taken out of ourselves (ekstasis) and filled with a God or spirit (enthousiasmos). In this state, we see clearer than we ever could normally, speak things we could never normally know. Dionysos was uniquely associated with madness, mania. He was called Mainomenos "the maddened one" and was attended by mainads the "mad-women". He presided over Delphi during the winter months, where the Pythia, filled with the spirit of the God, would give out prophecies through weird speech that needed to be translated by the attending Priest. And of course, a person drunk on his wine looks both mad and beautific.

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John the Baptist claimed that the one who would follow him - Jesus - would take winnowing-fan in hand and separate wheat from the chaff. (Luke 3:18) Dionysos was called Liknites -"He of the winnowing fan" - because this tool was used for a "baptism by air", as one can see in the vase paintings which show initiates veiled and seated with a winnowing fan being waved above their heads. (Jane Ellen Harrison's Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, pages 401-2)

In the Bakkhai, Dionysos comes to earth in human form. He says that he has "veiled his Godhead in a mortal shape" in order to make it "manifest to mortal men." (5) This is similar to John's statement that Jesus became "the Word made flesh" (John 1:14) and Paul's statement that Jesus appeared "in the likeness of sinful flesh." (Romans 8:3)

Jesus instituted the Eucharist with the words, "Do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:7-23) It is thought that drama developed out of the worship of Dionysos: tragedy in remembrance of his death and suffering at the hands of the Titans, comedy to commemorate the joyous time of his return or of his marriage to Ariadne. (Aristotle's Poetics)

According to Revelation 4:7 a lion sits before the throne of Christ. Dionysos was constantly attended by lions and panthers and lynxes. (Nonnos' Dionysiaca 6:296, Ovid's Metamorphoses 9:391-417.)

Which, perhaps, has something to do with Celsus' claims about Jesus' father. He found the Virgin Birth story absurd, and quoted a Jewish tradition which held that Jesus had fabricated the story to cover up the fact that his real father was a Greek soldier by the name of Panthera. (Contra Celsum 1.32)

At one point Jesus was dressed to look like Dionysos, with a purple robe, a plaited crown, and a reed in his hand like a thyrsos. (Matthew 27:28-29)

A Council at Constantinople in 691 CE forbid people to wear Satyr masks while treading the grapes, or to call out the name of Dionysos. They were supposed to substitute Jesus' name instead. (Carl Kerenyi, Dionysos pg 67)

Justin Martyr wrote: "The devils, accordingly, when they heard these prophetic words (about Christ), said that Bacchus was the son of Jupiter, and having been torn in pieces, he ascended into heaven." (First Apology, 54)

A twelfth-century Byzantine play about the Passion of Christ (Christus Patiens), once attributed to Gregory the Great, makes ample use of material from Euripides' Bakkhai - so much so that we can piece together lacunae in the text from that work. (Reginald Gibbons' Appendix to Euripides' Bakkhai, pg 135)

Nonnos of Panopolis (c. 400) was a Bishop of the Egyptian Church. He is remembered primarily for his two major works - one, a Paraphrase of the Gospel of John into hexameter verse, and the Dionysiaca, a huge work detailing the many myths of Dionysos. It is unknown which work he write first, but from internal evidence, it would seem that the Paraphrase was the earlier work, meaning that he wrote the lusty Dionysiaca while a Christian - and perhaps even as a Bishop.

Many of the early Popes had names related to Dionysos. For instance, there was: St. Linus (67-76), St. Soter (166-175), St. Eleutherius (175-189), St. Victor I (189-199), St. Anterus (235-36), St. Dionysius (260-268), Liberius (352-66), and Sabinian (604-606). (The Catholic Encylopedia)

There were an exceptional number of Dionysian Saints as well.

Ss Sergius and Bacchus - feast day: October 7. Syrian soldiers and lovers who were tortured for refusing to participate in State sacrifices. Paraded through the streets dressed as women, they persevered because, as St. Bacchus reassured his partner, "the delights of heaven were greater than any suffering, and that part of their reward would be to be re-united in heaven as lovers." St. Denys - feast day: October 9. Patron of France. After having his head cut off, he carried it to France. Vines grew up on the spot where he finally came to rest. St Dionysia - feast day: December 6. A beautiful woman scourged to death in the forum by Arian Christians in 484. St Dionysia - feast day: May 15. A 16 girl who rebuked a Christian when he recanted, took his place. St Dionysius - feast day: July 27. One of the 'seven sleepers' who were walled up, and then awoke about two hundred years later. St Dionysius - feast day: February 8. Armenian monk and martyr. St Dionysius - feast day: September 20. Martyred in Asia Minor. No account remains. St Dionysius - feast day: February 14. Martyred in Alexandria, when his head was cut off. St Dionysius the Aeropagite - feast day: October 9. Converted by St Paul. First Bishop of Athens. St Dionysius - feast day: May 8. Bishop of Vienne, in Dauphine, France, successor of St. Justus. St Dionysius - feast day: October 3. Martyred in Alexandria in 250 St Dionysius - feast day: May 12 Martyred in Rome in 304 Blessed Dionysius - feast day: November 29. A Carmelite martyr called Dionysius of the Nativity. Slain in Sumatra, Indonesia in 1638 Blessed Dionysius Fugishima - feast day: March 5. A Japanese-born Jesuit novice, slain at Shimabara in 1622. St Dionysius of Alexandria - feast day: November 17. Called 'the Great' because he comforted plague victims, and the "Teacher of the Catholic Church" because of his learning. St. Dionysius of Augsburg - feast day: February 26. Martyred in Germany in 303. St. Dionysius of Corinth - feast day: April 8. Famed for his letters. St. Dionysius of Milan - feast day: May 25. Banished for defending St. Athanasius; died in exile. St. Pope Dionysius - feast day: December 26. Rebult the Church after the persecutions of Emperor Valerian. St. Dionysius Sebuggwao - feast day: June 3. Martyred in Uganda, Africa by King Mwanga in 1885. St. Eleutherius - feast day: August 4. Martyr of Tarsus, Turkey. St. Eleutherius - feast day: August 16 Bishop of Auxerre, France. He was a patron of the monastic movement and known for his care of the poor. St. Eleutherius feast day: October 2. A soldier in the army of co­Emperor Diocletian in Nicomedia. He was accused of setting fire to the emperor’s palace and was burned to death after being tortured with companions. (Catholic Saints Online


So what does this all mean? Are Dionysos and Jesus actually the same God, or just incredibly similar? Did the early Christians borrow extensively from the myths and cult of Dionysos when creating their God? Or are there similarities only because we want to see them? Perhaps I am pulling the wool over your eyes, weaving together random, unconnected information in order to 'make the weaker argument appear the stronger'? As Pontius Pilate asked when presented with Jesus - what is the truth? (John 18:38) That, my dear reader, I leave up to you to decide.


  • Barnes, Jonathan - Early Greek Philosophy: Penguin, 1987
  • Barnstone, Willis - The Other Bible: HarperCollins, 1985
  • Burkert, Walter - Greek Religion: Harvard, 1985
  • Carpenter, Thomas H. and Christopher Faraone - Masks of Dionysus: Cornell, 1996
  • Euripides trans. Reginald Gibbons - Bakkhai: Oxford, 2001
  • Graves, Robert - The Greek Myths: Penguin, 1992
  • Guidepost's Parallel Bible: Zondervon, 1982
  • Harrison, Jane Ellen - Proleomena to the Study of Greek Religion: Princeton, 1991
  • Kerenyi, Carl - Dionysos: Archetype of Indestructable Life: Princeton, 1996
  • Lion's Encyclopedia of the Bible: Lion, 1986
  • Meyer, Marvin W. - The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook: HarperCollins, 1987
  • New Bible Dictionary: Tyndale, 1982
  • Otto, Walter - Dionysus: Myth and Cult: Indiana, 1965
  • Nonnos trans. W. H. D. Rouse - Dionysiaca Books I-XV: Loeb, 1995
  • Reese, W. L. - Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion: Humanities Press, 1980
  • Tripp, Edward - The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology: Meridian, 1974
  • Van der Toorn, Becking, and Van Der Horst - Dictionary of Demons and Deities in the Bible: Erdman's, 1999
  • Wilken, Robert L. - The Christians as the Romans saw them: Yale, 1984

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