The Influence of Hellenism on Early Christianity: Dionysus as a Template for the Jesus Gospels
The Influence of Hellenism on Early Christianity: Dionysus as a Pattern for the Mythical Aspects of Jesus.
The Palestine in which the young Jesus grew up was strongly influenced by Hellenic Mythology. For some 600 years the Jews had been subjects of first the Persian Empire and then the Empires of Alexander the Great, his Hellenic successors (the Ptolemies and the XXXX), and eventually the Romans. Their god YHWH had not been able to protect them from these powerful empires.
That Hellenic culture affected Judaism is beyond doubt with most contemporary discussion centring on the extent of that influence. It can be suggested that the influence may be seen in the perspective from which Jewish topics were perceived. Hence in writing about Jesus, the gospel writers may have used patterns pf Greek mythology, to present Jesus in the light cast by the prevailing Hellenistic culture.
A comparison of Dionysus as represented by Euripides in his drama The Bacchae,(first performed in 405 BCE) and the Jesus presented in the synoptic gospels, shows so many similarities that both accounts could be seen as conforming to an archetypal pattern. Were the gospel authors, consciously or unconsciously using that pattern?
This list demonstrates the similarities.
1. Both were sons of a ruling God, who impregnated a human woman to produce a son.
2. Both Semele (with a royal ancestry) and Mary are presented as virgins.
3. Both Dionysus and Jesus must survive an attempt to kill them while still babies.
4. Both are presented as able to perform miracles to inspire faith in their divinity.
5. Both have to do battle with supernatural forces of evil. Jesus with Satan and Dionysus with the Titans.
6. Both return to their birthplace or hometown, only to be rejected,
7. Both share an association with wine. Dionysus invents wine, promotes it as his gift to humanity. Jesus miraculously turns water into wine and later is portrayed as using his blood to save humanity.
8. Both are wounded and killed by their adversaries. Jesus by the Roman State (implicitly seen as controlled by Satan) and Dionysus by the Titans.
9. Both are portrayed as descending into the underworld. For the Jesus, account see 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6.
10. Both rise from death. Dionysus to divine immortality, joining Zeus, his father on the Greek heaven, Olympus. Jesus to rule from Heaven at his father’s right hand. (Phillipians 2, Acts 7:55-57, Daniel 7.)
11. Both evangelise the world. Dionysus does establish his universal cult, and Jesus directs his followers to establish his universal cult.
12. Both threaten (do) to punish opponents who deny their divinity, including parents against children etc.
Fascinating to see so many similarities. I've read how many think John's gospel was influenced by Greek philosophy ( regarding the "word" ) from the first chapter.
Sorry, about the XXXX on the third line. It was meant to remind me to check the spelling of 'Seleucids' who were the other Hellenic empire that ruled Palestine and the Jews in the post-Alexander centuries.
When I'm writing from memory, I occasionally get a mental question on spelling.
There was some problem in posting, and I did not get back to the final edit.
dothemath: Fascinating to see so many similarities. I've read how many think John's gospel was influenced by Greek philosophy ( regarding the "word" ) from the first chapter.
There seems little doubt that John's first chapter had a strong dose of Hellenism in it. Of course, another way to see the chapter is that the author was using Hellenistic thought to explain the role of Jesus as he saw it.
And, yet another perspective, is that the 'culture' of the Palestinian area was part of a more general west Asian culture that had local pockets influenced by their own ethnic cultures.
The so-called 'Pre-socratic' philosophers that are generally seen as beginning Greek thought (philosophy) were clustered along the western coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey). On land and the coastal seas there was a lot of traffic from trade between that area and Egypt/North Africa, so its arguable that long before Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, Greek culture was influencing the coastal peoples. Alexander's policy, and that of his successors, of settling retired Greek soldiers (married to local women) into colonies all through these lands, saturated them with Hellenistic thought and concepts.
On the topic of logos, you may find this Oregon State U, website informative: