Was Jesus a rewritten saviour? Dionysus vs Jesus

We take a look at the claim that Jesus is just a copycat of the Ancient Greek god Dionysus.

Dionysus

Since I first studied other religions in year 3 at school, I have always been fascinated by the different faith systems. This has led me to study in-depth both classical and modern religions from around the world and, while I’m no professor, I like to think I have a reasonably solid understanding of most major faith systems, excluding Jainism and Shintoism.

It was with some confusion, therefore, that I first learned that many people believe that Jesus is just the latest in a string of ‘copycat’ saviours who are all replicas of one another.

Here we look at the claim that Jesus is just a copycat of the Ancient Greek god Dionysus.

What’s Claimed

Whilst looking through the internet, watching ‘Zeitgeist’ and chatting with a couple of people who believe it, these are the things that the story of Jesus copies from the story of Dionysus:

  • Dionysus was born of a virgin on 25 December
  • He was called Holy Child and was placed in a manger
  • He turned water into wine
  • Both were traveling teachers and performed miracles
  • Was god of the vine
  • Had 12 disciples
  • Rode in a triumphant procession on a donkey
  • Depicted as being hung from a tree
  • He was a king that was ritually killed and eaten in a Eucharist ritual
  • Rose from the dead on 25 March
  • They had the same trial
  • He was called: God of Gods, Anointed One, Begotten Son, Saviour, Redeemer, the Alpha and Omega, King of Kings

If, of course, this is true it would be fair to say that Jesus was a copycat of Dionysus, but let’s examine each of these claims a bit closer.

Dionysus was born of a virgin on 25 December

  • Dionysus was neither born of a virgin or likely to have been born on the 25th.
  • One legend (the god of Ecstasy) has him born as son of Zeus and Persephone – neither of whom were virgins.
  • Others, like Diodorus Siculus, claim he was conceived after Zeus impregnated Semele. Semele was then kill by a jealous Hera (Zeus’ wife) with the result that Zeus took the still-alive foetus of Dionysus, sewed him into his thigh and grew him there until he was ready to be born.
  • There is no reference to his birthday in any original sources and any reference to this is a forgery with the earliest, the Orpheus Amulet, dating only back to the 20th century AD.

He was called Holy Child and was placed in a manger

  • There is no evidence or accounts of this.

He turned water into wine

  • He did turn water into wine but this account comes from Achilles Tatius whose writing in the 2nd century is both written after the Gospels and is generally considered a parody of the Christian story.

Both were traveling teachers and performed miracles

  • True! But this is true of practically every deity so is far too general to draw a direct copy.

Was god of the vine

  • True of Dionysus but not Jesus.
  • In John 15, Jesus does refer to himself as the true vine but he is using it as an analogy for growing spiritually in him, he never calls himself god of the vine.
  • In the case of Dionysus, he was quite literary the patron god of grape vines. This was the same way the Hellenistic religion had a patron god or spirit for everything.

Had 12 Disciples

  • He had numerous followers but never 12 disciples.
  • His direct followers were often women he has turned crazy like in the Greek tragedy ‘The Bacchae’.

Rode in a triumphant procession on a donkey

  • He is depicted riding on a mule while people wave ivory branches.
  • This was common practice in the Greco-Roman culture as it was how a victorious Emperor, religious figure or General were welcomed to a city. It was similar to the custom of rolling out a red carpet these days.
  • This in many ways support the historical evidence of Jesus, as it shows he was being reacted to in a way that was to be expected by people from this time and place.

Depicted as being hung from a tree

Dionysus
The Orpheus Amulet forgery – Claiming to be Dionysus crucified it actually dates only as far back as the 20th century
  • This is the forgery from the 20th century known as the Orpheus Amulet.
  • Dionysus was killed but it wasn’t by crucifixion. In Diodorus Siculus, Dionysus was captured by titans while he was a child, after which he was boiled alive before being consumed.
  • He was also resurrected but this was not after three days of being in a tomb. In Dionysus’ story, Zeus finds out about the titans killing him so goes on a bloody course of vengeance, after which he restores Dionysus to life from the left overs of Dionysus’ heart.

He was a king that was ritually killed and eaten in a Eucharist ritual

  • Likely a corruption of the story just mentioned, this was not a ritualistic killing or eating.
  • There is no evidence or accounts of human followers ritually repeating this and no evidence of them ever calling any of their festivals Eucharistic feasts.

Rose from the dead on 25th March

  • There is no evidence or accounts of this.

They had the same trial

  • No they didn’t; the trial being referred to is the trial of Dionysus in the earlier mention book ‘The Bacchae’. It is nothing like the trial of Jesus.
  • Dionysus lets himself be taken so he can publicly humiliate King Penteus, who claimed Dionysus was not a God. After humiliation, Dionysus then graphically has the king torn to pieces by his demented followers, one of whom is King Penthius’ own mother!

He was called, God of Gods, Anointed One, Begotten Son, Saviour, Redeemer, the Alpha and Omega, King of Kings

  • There is no evidence or account of Dionysus ever being referred to by any of these titles.

Conclusion

It is clear beyond doubt that Jesus is not a copy of Dionysus. Any link between the two is either a forgery, a misunderstanding or too general for any meaningful comparison to be made. Just like with claims of Jesus being based on Horus, these claims are either made by those who intentionally mis-convey the truth or have not properly researched the characters Jesus is meant to be impersonating.