Jesus Always Existed

a place for the best evidence of the historical Jesus


The Greek deity Dionysus (also called Bacchus) is known by most people for his patronage of wine. Dionysus, however, was not merely a god of wine, but a god of paradox; he was a god of fertility, but also a god who comforted the dying. He is depicted sometimes as a maniacal, destructive figure, and at other times as an innocent child; sometimes as a bearded man, other times as an effeminate youth. He is a god of sensuality and experience: “Dionysism throws itself wholeheartedly into savagery in seeking to possess and contact the supernatural.”1 And, it is: “ expression of the sensual joys of life unrestrained by the state and unchanneled by the patriarchal family.”2 It is no more like Christianity than Buddhism. So how is it that some argue that Dionysus and Christ are twins?

Much of the information about Dionysus used by mythicists comes from the story told by the Greek playwright Euripides, entitled The Bacchae. The play opens with a speech by Dionysus, who, disguised as a mortal priest of his own religion, complains about the fact that the city of Thebes, and its king, Pentheus, have refused to honor him. Therefore, he has caused the women of Thebes to go mad and run off into the wilderness as a demonstration of his power. He plans to do a few more demonstrations, should Pentheus come after the women. Pentheus has Dionysus arrested. After a brief exchange in which Dionysus teases the hot-headed king, Pentheus has Dionysus thrown in jail, and starts planning to get the women back. Dionysus, however, uses an earthquake to break out of jail, but before Pentheus can deal with this problem, a herdsman arrives with stories of how dangerous the women are getting. Dionysus coyly takes control of Pentheus and convinces him to dress as a woman so he can sneak out and do some spying on the women in the wilderness. Pentheus ends up dead, torn to bits by the women, with particular honors for the grisly deed going to his own mother, who carries his head in thinking it is the head of an animal.

Dionysus was born of a virgin on December 25th and, as the Holy Child, was placed in a manger.

Freke and Gandy add a description of Dionysus as the “wondrous babe of God, the Mystery” and “He of the miraculous birth.”3

We have already noted several times why the Christmas birthdate is no relevance. What of being born of a virgin? This is not exactly true, although it depends which of the stories you want to believe. In the most popular story, Dionysus’ mother was named Semele, and she was impregnated by

Zeus when he took the form of a lightning bolt. Later, a jealous Hera tricked Semele into asking Zeus to reveal his glory, which ended up burning Semele away, leaving the prenatal Dionysus behind. Zeus then picked up the child and sewed him into his thigh until he was ready to be on his own. Dionysus is thus, in a sense, “twice born”—the “Mystery” to which Freke and Gandy’s source, Harrison, refers.4 Another story has Dionysus as the son of Zeus and Persephone.5 Yet another Asiatic version has Dionysus self-born. There is clearly nothing like a “virgin” conception or birth here…merely the usual divine fornication to which Zeus and other Greek gods were prone.

I have found no evidence that Dionysus was ever called “the Holy Child”—not that that matters, since this is a title of Jesus given well after the time of the Apostles—and no evidence that he was placed in a manger. Freke and Gandy allude to a story of a “sacred marriage” in an “ox stall,” and refer to “the widespread early Christian tradition” that Jesus was born in a cave.6

Danielou refers to a tradition that Dionysus was born in a cave7, but this is of no relevance to the Biblical record: While there is a strong tradition that Jesus was born in a cave, it is a given that caves are handy shelters for the dispossessed, so the parallel is meaningless. Furthermore, Freke and Gandy make the egregious error of claiming that “the word usually translated as ‘stable’ in the gospels is katalemna, which literally means a temporary shelter or cave.” The word in question is what is translated as “inn” (as in, “no room at the...”) in Luke, and is also found in Mark 14:14, which by Freke and Gandy’s idea, actually reads, “And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the temporary shelter or cave, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?”

He was a traveling teacher who performed miracles.

These are both universals we would expect of any religious leader, especially a divine one. The Bacchae does have Dionysus telling us of his traveling around Greece, Persia, and Arabia spreading his rites and delivering miraculous judgments as needed on those who defy him. Danielou8 reports that there are versions of the story of Dionysus which have him traveling the world spreading civilization, which included an expedition to India. Detienne9 refers to Dionysus as the “most epidemic of gods,” for he was the god who spent the most time traveling. This is not quite the same as Jesus traveling a limited area providing moral teachings; but at any rate, there would be no other way to spread the word unless you wanted to travel, or else sent disciples around (which Jesus did do, but Dionysus seems not to have done; he preferred to drive his devotees— overwhelmingly women—crazy, then leave them behind).

He “rode in a triumphal procession on an ass.”

Freke and Gandy say that Dionysus “is often pictured astride a donkey, which carries him to meet his passion,” and note that the scene was re-enacted with crowds “shout[ing] the praises of Dionysus and wav[ing] bundles of branches.”10 It is true that we do have depictions, in ancient paintings, of Dionysus riding on a mule, in a procession with satyrs (crowds?!) waving branches of ivy,11 but this is the typical behavior offered to any kingly, triumphant figure, such as a conquering king of a foreign power. The ivy branches, moreover, are cultic instruments, which does not parallel the use of the palm branches in Jerusalem (as palms were symbols of Israelite ethnicity).

I do not know what Freke and Gandy mean by “carries him to meet his passion.” What passion? The only reference they give, to Harrison, does not depict Dionysus riding on a donkey; rather, it depicts a scene from Dionysian eschatology with a number of people (not Dionysus) surrounding a donkey, including one hardy soul playfully pulling on its tail. Where is the “passion” element? Where, indeed, is Dionysus?

Dionysus does have a sort of reputation as a bringer of peace, but this has to do with his bringing of festivals and arts, as laying the ground for peace (and he brings a lot of despair and misery, as well!). There is also a story where Dionysus rides an ass, but that is part of a tale in which “the ass became one of the stars in the constellation of the crab.”12 The ass is also one of his many totem animals. A link to Zechariah 9 offers a contextually more likely grounding for Jesus’ procession than ancient paintings that Palestinian Jews were unlikely to have known about, and a historical parallel may be cited in the triumphal entry of Simon the Maccabean (143-134 B.C.), who, after expelling the Seleucid enemies from Jerusalem, entered Jerusalem “with praise and palm branches,” and a variety of musical accompaniments (1 Macc. 13:51). Was Simon imitating Dionysus also?

He was a sacred king killed and eaten in a eucharistic ritual for fecundity and purification.

This claim may be a case of trying to describe something vastly different in terms that are as close to Christian belief as possible. According to a story reported by Diodorus of Sicily, “a myth of unknown origin, contested antiquity, and uncertain meaning,”13 Dionysus, as an infant, was set upon Zeus’ throne (a sacred king?) to play at being ruler. As he sat there, some of the Titans—evil beings of Greek mythology—snuck up with some toys and distracted him. While Dionysus was thus distracted, the Titans picked him up, tore him to pieces (killed), and boiled and roasted everything but his

heart and ate it (eaten in a eucharistic ritual?!). When Zeus got wind of this, he killed the Titans. As the story goes in a later version, from the ashes of the Titans came forth the race of men (fecundity?); Dionysus himself was restored to a new life from the heart that was left over.14

Is there any parallel here to the Lord’s Supper, or in any practice of worshippers of Dionysus? Not at all. As a modern scholar of Dionysus, Obbink, tells us, “we cannot even be sure that the Greeks equated Dionysus with any of his sacrificial animals.” Otto adds: “ everything which has come down to us about Dionysus and his cults we find nowhere the intimation that his flesh might have been eaten by a society which wanted to appropriate his divine power.” There is also no evidence of sacramentalism in the official Dionysian civic cult.15

Dionysus rose from the dead on March 25th.

I have found no evidence to support the “March 25th” claim. In terms of rising from the dead, there have been a variety of ideas: one, a single inscription from Thasos that describes Dionysus as “a god who renews himself and returns every year rejuvenated,”16 but we have no context with which to define this description. There is also a story that Dionysus went into Hades to rescue his mother, and came back; another that he was chased and persecuted by an enemy, Lycurgus, and descended to the depths of the Alcyonian Sea, and to the land of the dead17; and of course, the story of Dionysus being recreated from his own heart as described above, which has its own variations, such as that Zeus swallowed the heart of Dionysus and then begat him afresh by Semele.

He was the God of the Vine and turned water into wine.

Freke and Gandy note this one as well, adding that the wine miracle “took place for the first time at the marriage of Dionysus and Ariadne.”38 This parallel is frequently drawn by mythicists, but the story comes from a source, Tatius, whose work is much later than the date of the Gospel of John.19 Other mythicists may appeal to the ruins of the water-to-wine sluice used by Greek priests of Dionysus at Corinth, but in this case we do not have water turning into wine, but being replaced by wine.

He was called “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.”

There is no evidence that this was the case.

He was considered the “only Begotten Son,” “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Sin Bearer,” “Anointed One,” and the “Alpha and Omega.”

Freke and Gandy add the title “Lord God of God born,” and second the title of “savior,” saying: “His followers call to him: ‘Come, thou savior.’”20 The title “Lord God of God born” is referenced to page 444 of Jane Harrison’s book, cited in the notes, but it is not there. The Bacchae has Dionysus’ followers saying at his appearance, “We are saved!”, but Freke and Gandy do not answer the question, “Saved from what?” In context, it is “salvation” from Pentheus’ ire…it isn’t personal sin that Dionysus saves from, and may not have even been hellfire or damnation. Cole, after a study of the grave inscriptions of Dionysus worshippers, points out that Dionysus “…is not a savior who promises his worshippers regeneration, but with the stories of his own rebirth and rejuvenation, he is one who makes this life more sweet and the next one, perhaps, only a little less harsh.”21 Evans, with less detail, supposes an afterlife of sensual joy22, but even that is no match for Christian salvation.

He was identified with the Ram or Lamb. His sacrificial title of “Dendrites” or “Young Man of the Tree” intimates he was hung on a tree or crucified.

There is no evidence for these titles. Dionysus was in one story born with horns like that of a Ram; he was in the main associated with the figure of the bull (as in the Bacchae), though much less often he assumed the form of a goat (as a symbol of sensuality).23 As for the title “Young Man of the Tree,” one wonders why this title does not intimate that Dionysus climbed trees, or planted trees; what is the logical chain that “intimates” that he was hung on a tree? In fact, Frazer observed that Dionysus was “a god of trees in general.”24 One of his true titles is “Dionysus of the tree” or “in the tree”—not “nailed to” or “fastened to” a tree.

Some of Dionysus’ other true titles that I have found in various sources include: Fire-born, Son of the Nymphs, First-born, “well-fruited,” “he of the green fruit,” “teeming,” “bursting,” and various titles associated with being a bull in animal form; “the roarer,” “the loud shouter” (these titles allude to the madness element in Dionysus); and “god of many forms,” referring to Dionysus’ liking for metamorphosing into different forms and animals, not including the ram or lamb, but including the lion, lynx, panther, tiger, goat, snake, and even the dolphin. Other titles include “render of men,” “who delights in sword and bloodshed,” “womanly one,” “womanly stranger,” and “he of the winepress.”

In the Bacchae, a play that features Dionysus, the god 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.’ He tells his disciples, ‘That is why I have changed my immortal form and taken the likeness of man.’” This is compared to the words of John and Paul describing Jesus as “the Word made flesh” and “in the likeness of sinful flesh.”

Taken in isolation, these phrases from the Bacchae seem to provide persuasive parallels to Jesus, but their broader contexts create a disconnection. The reason in the Bacchae that Dionysus has veiled his divinity and made himself manifest to men, is specifically so he can play an enormous prank on the city of Thebes and King Pentheus, who have refused to honor him: “I will join that army of women possessed and lead them to battle. And this is why I have changed my divine form to human and appear in the likeness of men.” Dionysus also explains that he establishes his rituals in order to make his “godhead manifest to mortal men.” Neither of these statements bears more than a superficial resemblance to what is said about Jesus, for the purposes in manifestation are entirely different.

Quoting the admonition of John the Baptist that the one who follows him would take winnowing-fan in hand and separate wheat from chaff, Freke and Gandy tell us that in the Dionysan mysteries, “such a fan was used in baptism by air,” and refer to vase paintings showing initiates “veiled and seated with a winnowing fan being waved above their heads.” They also note that Dionysus was known as “He of the Winnowing fan,” and was at birth “said to have been cradled in a winnowing fan.”25

While this appears to have some truth to it…that the winnowing fan should be used as a symbol of purifying is of no more surprise than that a vacuum might be. It was a common utility used to divide the useful from the useless, so the symbolism is commonplace, not unique. As it happens, though, the “fan” that Dionysus is associated with was actually a sort of shovel-shaped combination basket/fan, which was used to winnow wheat, hold fruit (like a basket), and hold babies.26 On the other hand, the Old Testament uses the fan as a symbol for purification and separation (see Isaiah and Jeremiah, esp. Jer. 15:7); but the fan as used by John the Baptist refers to purification via judgment, whereas in the Dionysus cult, it had connotations of fertility, purification, and new birth.27

Dionysus is “gloriously transfigured” in the Bacchae.

Here again, we have a case of borrowing Christian terminology to describe a remotely similar event. Dionysus’ “transfiguration” at the end of the Bacchae involves an episode in which he appears above the wall of Pentheus’ palace “in the glory of his godhead.” What he looks like in this form is not described, and he appears this way all at once; he does not change (transfigure) as those present are watching.


For the complete chapter, see Debunking the Jesus Myth v. 2.