How Is Jesus Different than Dionysus? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

I’m teaching a course on the New Testament this semester, so this comes up. I thinks it’s a fascinating question from Lance:

Have you posted or tackled much regarding all the parrallels of Jesus, Horus and Dionysus (or others if they exist)? This has come up twice recently for me and is never discussed here in Texas, or in my Pentecostal heritage :-)Questions that Haunt” popped in my head. Not only would I be interested in the historical contexts but I am wondering if there’s anything that also talks about how these gods were worshipped and anything about the followers. I’m always curious to know WHY people believe what they do more than anything else.

What this really brings up is the uniqueness of Jesus, and if Jesus is less than unique, what does that mean about the crucifixion and resurrection. Whaddya think?

  • http://gravatar.com/leeroydiggler Lee P.

    This one is pretty simple. Jesus Mythicism was one of the first conclusions I leap to as an atheist in my early 20′s. The comparisons turn out to be much ado about nothing. There are a lot of crap websites out there making crap claims that fall apart under objective scrutiny. Trust me, as an atheist I wanted nothing more than to be able to explain Jesus away through myth but it just wasn’t true.

    Bart Ehrman’s latest book is about this subject. Bart Ehrman on ‘Did Jesus Exist?

    And here is a good post about the pagan God comparison’s on patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/06/11/bart-ehrman-on-did-jesus-exist-part-seven/

  • RobertA

    There is massive differences between Jesus and Dionysus and Horus.

    One of the realities of both of these myths is that they varying the type of literature from the Gospels at a significant level. A second point is that all the source data we that provides descriptions paralleling Jesus are found well after Jesus’ life. For instance, some of the most influential data on Dionysus is found in about CE 300.

    Dionysus was not a parallel of Jesus in virgin birth, not born on December 25th (its Jan 6th,) never turned water into wine, never was consider a holy child.

    Horus has many of the same problems, Horus wasn’t born of a virgin but of a widow through sexual union with Osiris, did not have 12 or any followers akin the the disciples, and there is no historical record within credible Egyptology that he was crucified, dead for three days, and then resurrected. Any relations of these details with Horus’ life comes from source data hundreds of years after Jesus’ life.

    The two aren’t the One. Jesus’ story is unique and distinct. If for no other reason the accepted documents which define and frame out our view of Jesus (both biblical and non-biblical) are all from within 75 years of his death. Also, the documents are written by those closely associated with Jesus or with distinct knowledge of his first followers. The documentary data for these other two figures is hundreds if not thousands of years beyond their lives.

    Perhaps a lot of these questions come from watching terribly researched, ideologically bent movies like “Zeitgeist” or from terrible books like “The DaVinci Code.” Real history, real academia carefully considers the evidence and data. These two mythic figures have little relation to the historic Jesus.

    • RobertA

      Apologies for the grammatical problems. Autocorrect isn’t exactly nailing it today. :)

  • Si Lee

    Thanks Lee for the link. The movie religulous tries to imply that there are multiple credible parallels between Jesus and other figures and that the evangelists/ early Christians just dusted these down and recycled them into Christology. This is utter nonsense, but fools lazy people who take in uncritically what the read, or see in documentaries. Let’s say however that these parallels were really there. What would the theological/ Christological implications be? At first glance it would look devastating. But really, mainstream scholarship is comfortable that there is some myth and legend concerning Jesus in the gospels. The sky has not caved in! That is where demythologising and historical criticism comes in. The truth is, our knowledge of the historical Jesus is limited at best. Our faith is normally not based on stories from the life of Christ, but more on an existential encounter or leap of faith so if parallels with other divine figures from the ancient world these would be interesting, but ultimately would not necessarily be devastating for faith.

  • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse Turri

    Girard has the best answer to this one Tony, you know that!

    Dionysis vs. the Crucified One is not a battle of faith against unfaith. It’s a battle between competing soteriologies.

    Jesus’s sacrifice, however, is not the weak saving the strong, or the strong saving the weak. Jesus’s sacrice is a rejection of the whole sacrificial mechanism itself, a rejection of Dionysian soteriology.

    “God is Dead, and WE have killed him!” That’s a huge difference.

    ‘Go away and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice’ (Matt. 9:13).

  • Tim Chastain

    Robert, I like your answer! I was planning to say something about the short time lapse between the life of Jesus and the writings about him as opposed to the others, but you said much more. Can you share specific sources for your comments on the timing of the mythological elements of Dionysus and Horus?

  • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    One problem with answering this question is that the scholarly works on them are difficult to find and can be expensive (Cybele and Attis are often referred to). So the rest of us are left to sort out bad Internet movies. Fortunately, even Skeptic.com is skeptical about those. What I’ve found is, there is scant evidence of parallels to the themes like dying and rising, virgin birth, giving a speech from some sort of hill, raising from the dead, etc. There are no parallels to the teachings and subtle themes of the parables that are in the NT. There is also scant archaeological or literary evidence. That is, if you want to make a case for influence, you have to show that an author would have had access to the earlier writing or perhaps even copied a phrase here or there. I’m unaware of evidence like that.

  • Buck Eschaton
  • LoneWolf

    Out of the Egyptian mythology, I always thought Anubis was a better Christ-parallel than Horus.

  • Jennifer

    Tom Harpur “The Pagan Christ” has lots of very easy to read history on these topics.

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      And he uses the very simplistic methods of drawing conclusions based on mere coincidence and relies on ignoring contradictory evidence. For example he says “Herod” could have been derived from the Egyptian “Herut”, but there really was a Herod, so what is the probability of that? Richard Carrier in Not the Impossible Faith discusses the climate of the 1st century and how myths were derived and how they viewed historical writing at the time. A version of that is available for free on the web.

  • http://gravatar.com/lancebrook lancebrook

    Thanks everyone for your input. This question came to me from my nephew. He and I have some great discussions, and this comparison has seemed to be a defining moment in his own faith once he felt that the story of Jesus is simply a re-telling of other ancient god stories. I had searched on some material, but everything always seemed so biased and as a friend tells me often….if you want to learn something, read a book…not just blogs or internet posts :-) I decided to just try to read the stories of the gods by themselves, with no context, to allow me to draw my own parallels (i didn’t get very far, as I’m a father of 3.5 kids and it can take me 2 years to get through a book). You all have given me some great information in a short time…thanks to Tony for posting.

    Somehow, this question grew into something more for me. I began to wonder, as one has already said, what are the impacts on our belief system, even if there are mythological influences on our Bible. What would that mean to our faith? This has me thinking, what is it that we’re called to “Believe”? Is belief simply determining if we agree there was a Historical Jesus? What did Jesus mean when he said “Believe in Me”? If I ask someone to believe in me, I’m not asking them to make some sort of mental decision to accept the narrative of my life. I’m asking something else entirely…and I wonder if Jesus was asking the same. Someone commented about how the teachings of Jesus have no parallel to any of the other gods. The messages of hope, love, mercy, forgiveness….all much unlike other ancient (and I assume often barbaric) religions. Is this the problem with unbelief, in that we’ve all been conditioned to believe in the wrong thing? Are we to put our faith in a history lesson or as my nephew would complain, use faith to fill in the historical gaps and contradictions? or is faith meant to be placed in the message?

    The latter seems more appropriate to me. More life giving. More substantive. and has me looking at a number of Scriptures with another perspective in mind.

    Thanks again for everyone that provided info and links to other resources. I will be checking them all out.

    Til next time,
    Rock on! \m/

    Lance

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      Awesome comment, Lance. I’m writing my response this morning.

  • http://www.spiritofthescripture.com Joshua Tilghman

    Without a doubt there is a comparison. But I believe where proponents of the comparison mess up is trying to draw too many direct links. I must admit, while I clearly believe the Jesus and Horus comparison is legitimate, there are many comparisons on the internet that clearly don’t fit. They have been exaggerated to say least! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t closely analyze the ones that do fit.


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