Dionysus: Born of a Virgin on December 25th, Killed and Resurrected after Three Days
by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
The Greek god of wine, Dionysus or Bacchus, also called Iacchus, has been depicted as
having been born of a virgin mother on December 25th; performing miracles such as changing water into wine;
appearing surrounded by or one of 12 figures; bearing epithets such as "Father" and "Savior"; dying;
resurrecting after three days; and ascending into heaven.
Dionysus shares the following attributes in common with the Christ character as found in the New
Testament and Christian tradition.
"Early Christian art is rich with Dionysiac associations,
whether in boisterous representations of agape feasting, in the miracle of water-into-wine at Cana, in wine and
vine motifs alluding to the Eucharaist, and most markedly...in the use of Dionysiac facial traits for
representations of Christ."
—Dr. Thomas F. Mathews, The Clash of the Gods, 45
Dionysus as the Sun
In studying religion and mythology, it is wise at to keep in mind that in the ancient world many
gods were confounded and compounded, deliberately or otherwise. Some were even considered interchangeable, such as
the Egyptian gods Osiris, Horus and Ra. In this regard, ancient Greek historian Plutarch (35, 364E) states, "Osiris
is identical with Dionysus," the Greek son of God. Dionysus, also known as Bacchus or Iacchus, is likewise
identified with the god Aion and referred to as "Zeus Sabazius" in other traditions. (Graves, R., 335) Hence, we
would expect him to share at least some of all these gods' attributes, including being born of a virgin at the
winter solstice (Aion), and dying and rising from the dead (Osiris).
"Bacchus, Apollo, the Sun, are one
Moreover, in Seven Books Against the
Heathen (3.33), early Christian writer Arnobius (284-305) remarks
that the Pagans "maintain that Bacchus, Apollo, the Sun, are one deity" and "the sun is also Bacchus and Apollo."
(Roberts, VI, 472-3) We would expect, therefore, Dionysus's attributes to reflect solar mythology as
Dionysus returns from India riding a quadriga
Mosaic pavement, 3rd cent. ad/ce
December 25th/Winter Solstice
As with Jesus, December
25th and January
6th are both traditional
birth dates in the Dionysian myth and simply represent the period of the winter solstice. Indeed, the
winter-solstice date of the Greek sun and wine god Dionysus was originally recognized in early January but
was eventually placed on December 25th, as related by ancient Latin writer Macrobius (c. 400 AD/CE). Regardless, the effect is
the same: The winter sun god is born around this time, when the shortest day of the year begins to become
"Macrobius transfers this feast to the day of the
winter solstice, December 25."
The ancient Church father Epiphanius (4th cent. ) discussed the birth of the god Aion, son of
the Greek goddess Persephone or Kore ("Maiden"), at the time of the winter solstice. In this regard, Christian
theologian Rev. Dr. Hugh Rahner (139-140) remarks:
We know that Aion was at this time beginning to be regarded as identical with Helios and
Helios with Dionysus...because [according to Macrobius] Dionysus was the symbol of the sun... He is made to
appear small at the time of the winter solstice, when upon a certain day the Egyptians take him out of the
crypt, because on this the shortest day of the year it is as though he were a little child.... Macrobius
transfers [this feast] to the day of the winter solstice, December 25.
Dionysus is thus equivalent to Aion and was also said to have been born of Persephone, the
virgin maiden. Esteemed mythologist Joseph Campbell (MI, 34) confirms this "celebration of the birth of
the year-god Aion to the virgin Goddess Kore," the latter of whom he calls "a Hellenized transformation of Isis,"
the Egyptian mother goddess who was likewise called the "Great Virgin" in inscriptions predating the Christian era
According to the most common tradition, Dionysus was the son of the god Zeus and the mortal
woman Semele. In the Cretan version of the same story, which the pre-Christian Greek historian Diodorus Siculus
follows, Dionysus was the son of Zeus and Persephone, the daughter of Demeter also called Kore, who is styled a
In the common myth about the birth of Dionysus/Bacchus, Semele is mysteriously impregnated by
one of Zeus's bolts of lightning--an obvious miraculous/virgin conception.
||Semele immolated by the sky-god father-figure Zeus, who takes the divine child Bacchus
(Bernard Salomon, Metamorphose figurée, 1557)
Concerning Dionysus's epithet "twice begotten," in the third century Church father Minucius
Felix (Commodius, XII) remarked to his Pagan audience:
Ye yourselves say that Father Liber was assuredly twice begotten. First of all he was born in
India of Proserphine [Persephone] and Jupiter [Zeus]... Again, restored from his death, in another womb Semele
conceived him again of Jupiter... (Roberts, IV, 205)
"The virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of
bread and wine, Dionysus."
In another account, Jupiter/Zeus gives Dionysus's torn-up heart in a drink to Semele, who
becomes pregnant with the "twice born" god this way, again a miraculous or "virgin" birth. Indeed, Joseph Campbell
explicitly calls Semele a "virgin":
While the maiden goddess sat there, peacefully weaving a mantle on which there was to be a
representation of the universe, her mother contrived that Zeus should learn of her presence; he approached her
in the form of an immense snake. And the virgin conceived the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine,
Dionysus, who was born and nurtured in that cave, torn to death as a babe and resurrected... (Campbell,
This same direct appellation is used by Cambridge professor and anthropologist Sir Dr. Edmund
Dionysus, son of Zeus, is born of a mortal virgin, Semele, who later became immortalized through
the intervention of her divine son; Jesus, son of God, is born of a mortal virgin, Mary… such stories can be
duplicated over and over again. (Hugh-Jones, 108)
Using the scholarly Greek term parthenos, meaning "virgin," in The Cult of the Divine
Birth in Ancient Greece (95) Dr. Marguerite Rigoglioso concludes: "Semele was also likely a holy
parthenos by virtue of the fact that she gave birth to Dionysus via her union with Zeus (Hesiod,
These learned individuals had reason to consider Dionysus's mother a virgin, as, again, he was
also said to have been born of Persephone/Kore, whom, once more from Epiphanius, was herself deemed a "virgin," or
parthenos. In this regard, professor emeritus of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania Dr. Donald White
(183) says, "As a title 'Parthenos' was appropriate to both Demeter and Persephone..."
The fact that Persephone is associated with parthenogenesis, the scholarly term for "virgin
birth," lends credence to the notion that Dionysus was virgin-born. As related further by Rigoglioso in
Virgin Mother Goddesses of Antiquity (111):
Persephone's connection with the parthenogenetic pomegranate is attested in text and
iconography. In speaking directly about the Eleusinian Mysteries, Clement of Alexandria (Exhortation to the
Greeks 2:16) informs us that the pomegranate tree was believed to have sprung from the drops of the
blood of Dionysus…
Although Dionysus is depicted as being the product of a "rape" by Zeus, the story is little
different from the impregnation of the Virgin Mary by Yahweh without her consent, especially in consideration of
the identification of Dionysus's very blood with parthenogenesis. In this regard, Rigoglioso also states, "I
contend that Persephone's eating of the pomegranate was the magical action that instigated her ability to conceive
Also, in the museum in Naples has been kept an ancient marble urn showing the birth/nativity of
Dionysus, with two groups of three figures on either side of the god Mercury, who is holding the divine baby, and a
female figure who is receiving him.
This depiction resembles the gospel story of "wise men" or dignitaries, traditionally held to
number three, approaching Joseph, the divine child and Mary.
The miracles of Dionysus are legendary, as is his role as the god of wine, echoed in the later
Christian story of Jesus multiplying the jars of wine at the wedding feast of Cana (Jn 2:1-9). Concerning this
miracle, biblical scholar Dr. A.J. Mattill remarks:
This story is really the Christian counterpart to the pagan legends of Dionysus, the Greek god
of wine, who at his annual festival in his temple of Elis filled three empty kettles with wine-no water needed!
And on the fifth of January wine instead of water gushed from his temple at Andros. If we believe Jesus'
miracle, why should we not believe Dionysus's? (Leedom, 125)
Dionysus's miracle of changing water to wine is recounted in pre-Christian times by Diodorus
(Library of History, 3.66.3). As the god of the vine, Dionysus is depicted in ancient texts as traveling
around teaching agriculture, as well as doing various other miracles, such as in Homer's The Iliad, dating
to the 9th century BCE, and in The Bacchae of Euripides, the famous Greek playwright
who lived around 480 to 406 BCE.
"Dionysus's blood is the wine of the
It is further interesting that the Communion as practiced today within Catholicism also had a
place within the cult of Dionysus, as Campbell points out:
Dionysus-Bacchus-Zagreus-or, in the older, Sumero-Babylonian myths, Dumuzi-absu, Tammuz-...whose
blood, in this chalice to be drunk, is the pagan prototype of the wine of the sacrifice of the Mass, which is
transubstantiated by the words of consecration into the blood of the Son of the Virgin. (Campbell, MG,
In an Orphic hymn, Phanes-Dionysus is styled by the Greek title Protogonos or
"first-born" of Zeus, also translated at times as "only-begotten son," although the term
Monogenes would be more appropriately rendered as the latter. He is also called "Soter" or "Savior" in
various inscriptions, including a bronze coin from the Thracian city of Maroneia dating to circa 400-350
BCE. Like Jesus in
his aspect as the Father, Dionysus is called Pater, or "father" in Greek.
"Dionysus is 'first-born,' 'Savior' and
The title "King of Kings" and other epithets may reflect Dionysus's kinship with Osiris: During
the late 18th to early 19th dynasties (c. 1300 BCE), Osiris's epithets included, "the king of eternity, the lord of
everlastingness, who traverseth millions of years in the duration of his life, the firstborn son of the womb of
Nut, begotten of Seb, the prince of gods and men, the god of gods, the king of kings, the lord of lords, the prince
of princes, the governor of the world whose existence is for everlasting." (Budge, liii)
Dionysus's death and resurrection were famous in ancient times, so much so that Christian father
Origen (c. 184-c. 254) felt the need to address them in his Contra Celsus (IV, XVI-XVII), comparing
them unfavorably, of course, to those of Christ. By Origen's time, these Dionysian mysteries had already been
celebrated for centuries. Dionysus/Bacchus's resurrection or revival after having been torn to pieces or otherwise
killed earned him the epithet of "twice born."
'[S]cene in the underworld. Dionysos mounting a chariot is about to leave his
mother, Semele, and ascend'
(Kerenyi, pl. 47)
Moreover, it was said that Dionysus/Bacchus "slept three nights with Proserpine
evidently referring to the god's journey into the underworld to visit his mother. Like Jesus, the god is claimed
also to have "ascended to heaven," such as by Church father Justin Martyr (First Apology, 21;
Roberts I, 170).
Note that Dionysus is depicted here as an adult, rising out of the underworld after death, with a
horse-driven chariot so typical of a sun god. One major astrotheological meaning of this motif is the
sun's entrance into and exit from the cave (womb) of the world at the winter solstice.
Hence, in Dionysus we have yet another solar hero, born of a virgin on "December 25th" or the
winter solstice, performing miracles and receiving divine epithets, being killed, giving his blood as a sacrifice,
resurrecting from the dead after three days in Hades/Hell, and ascending into heaven. These motifs have all been
claimed of the gospel figure of Jesus Christ since antiquity and have to do not with the adventures of a
"historical" Jewish savior but with the ubiquitous solar mythos and ritual.
See Murdock, Christ in
Carus, 49; Mangasarian, 74. For the illustration, Carus cites:
"After Mus. Bord., I.,
49, from Baumeister, Plate I., p. 448."
Wright, 30. See also Adrados, 327.
For more information, see Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled, 95-103, etc. See also
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