“The only gods the Arabs recognize are Dionysus and Urania; the way they cut their hair—all round in a circle, with the temples shaved—is, they say, in imitation of Dionysus. Dionysus in their language is Orotalt, and Urania Alilat.”
Herodotus, The Histories (3.8.3)
“...the time and manner of the greatest and most holy solemnity of the Jews is exactly agreeable to the holy rites of Bacchus; for that which they call the Fast they celebrate in the midst of the vintage…”
Plutarch, Symposiacs (4.6.2)
“In Bacchus we evidently have Moses. Herodotus says [Bacchus] was an Egyptian… The Orphic verses relate that he was preserved from the waters, in a little box or chest, that he was called Misem in commemoration of the event; that he was instructed in all the secrets of the Gods; and that he had a rod, which he changed into a serpent at his pleasure; that he passed through the Red Sea dryshod, as Hercules subsequently did…and that when he went to India, he and his army enjoyed the light of the Sun during the night: moreover, it is said, that he touched with his magic rod the waters of the great rivers Orontes and Hydaspes; upon which those waters flowed back and left him a free passage. It is even said that he arrested the course of the sun and moon. He wrote his laws on two tablets of stone. He was anciently represented with horns or rays on his head.”
Sir Godfrey Higgins, Anacalypsis (2.19)
“That the god Bacchus was the archetype of Moses seems to have been the opinion of many learned men, particularly the celebrated Bishop Huet, and…Vossius, who agree that the Arabian name of Bacchus is Meses.”
Logan Mitchell, Christian Mythology Unveiled (13)
ONE OF THE renowned ancient legislators was the Greek god Dionysus, said to have traveled widely and to have civilized many lands with his laws. Over the centuries, many scholars have noticed correspondences between Dionysus/Bacchus and Moses, such as we have already noted, including the ark and the wilderness sojourn. There are many other such parallels, as we shall also see, detailed in numerous accounts from antiquity which demonstrate that correlations between the Dionysian and Jewish religions were noticed thousands of years ago.
The earliest extant reference to Dionysus by that name appears on a stele from the 13th century BCE found at the ancient city of Pylos on the Greek Peloponnesus, traditional home of King Nestor from Homer’s Iliad. Written DI-WO-NI-SO-JO in the Mycenaean script called Linear B, “Dionysus” may be the pre-Greek Pelasgian name for the vine and wine god. In this regard, linguist Dr. Carl J. Becker comments that “*Deiw...is also the root of Dionis, the epithet of Sabasius, the beer god....” He further remarks:
Dionis was the epithet for and then the priest or acolyte of the tradition of Hermes whose earlier affiliation was with Sabazius, a beer god. According to Antonije Skokljeve and Ivan Skokljeve, Dionis, a Pelasgian god, was the son of Zevs from Nissa, a forested hill in Thrace. The Hellenic Greeks would come to know Dionis as Dionysus, a wine god in the Age of Iron.
The Pelasgian proto-Dionysus could date to the middle of the second century or perhaps earlier.
A possible source of proto-Greek wine myths, the Pelasgian natives of Greece have been surmised to come originally from Egypt, as was asserted anciently of Dionysus as well. It has been said that their name means “sea men,” and their description in the Odyssey as existing “among the tribes in the ninety cities of Crete, ‘language mixing with language side by side,’” sounds like they were part of the sea peoples, as does their notoriously warlike nature.
Like Moses’s lawgiver counterpart Minos, Dionysus has a long history with the island of Crete, where these prominent figures may have shared mythical attributes. In this regard, Dionysian scholar Dr. Carl Kerenyi (1897–1973) examined the evidence of a proto-Dionysus character on Crete centuries to millennia prior to the god’s clear emergence under that name, as the deity of mead, the fermented honey popular on the island before the cultivation of the grapevine and wine-making.
The reverence of a wine deity likely dates back many thousands of years, based on the antiquity of wine-making, which extends to at least 7,000 years ago in what is now the country of Georgia. Iran and Armenia are also sites of early viniculture, dating to around 4,500 and 4,100 BCE, respectively.
Dionysus as a Cretan wine god seems to have accompanied the spread of viniculture from Egypt, where wine-making can be traced to pre-dynastic times 5,200 years ago or more. This introduction of the grapevine on Crete, along with the development of viticulture and viniculture, may have been facilitated by the people later known as the Phoenicians, whose major city, Byblos, was occupied beginning around 8800 to 7000 BCE.
Moving even farther back, Oxford scholar Robert Graves (1895–1985) sees the god of intoxicated revelry in a cave painting dating to possibly 10,000 or more years ago, obviously not labeled by the Greek moniker “Dionysus” but possessing related archaic attributes. In The White Goddess, Graves first describes a popular Dionysian festival celebrated for centuries before the common era:
At Athens, the [Bacchic] festival, called the Lenaea, (“Festival of the Wild Women”) was held at the winter solstice, and the death and rebirth of the harvest infant Dionysus were similarly dramatized. In the original myth it was not the Titans but the wild women, the nine representatives of the Moon-goddess Hera, who tore the child in pieces and ate him. And at the Lenaea it was a yearling kid, not a bull, that was eaten; …Apollodorus says that Dionysus was transformed into a kid…
Here we see that Dionysus dies and is reborn at the winter solstice or “Christmas,” the traditional time of Jesus’s birth. The Passion of Osiris too was celebrated at that time around the turn of the common era, per the Egyptian wandering calendar, and the births of several other solar deities traditionally occurred throughout the month of December as well. It is further noteworthy that, whereas Jesus is the Lamb, Dionysus is the Kid or baby goat.
As another astrotheological theme, Graves’s nine “wild women” serving as satellites of the lunar goddess are said to represent phases of the moon, which “eats” the light of the weak winter sun as it wanes, tearing the solar orb to pieces. A similar motif can be found in the tale of Bacchus’s alter ego Osiris, who is rent into 14 pieces—the days of the waning lunar fortnight—by the serpent of the night, Seth. The interplay in this Egyptian myth reflects that of the sun and moon, a natural cycle that seemed sacred and divine to the ancients, the reverence for which was taken quite seriously.
It is because of this mythical and astrotheological configuration that Graves next identified the ancient cave painting as relating the same “Bacchic” scene:
The most ancient surviving record of European religious practices is an Aurignacian cave-painting at Cogul in North-Eastern Spain of the Old Stone Age Lenaea. A young Dionysus with huge genitals stands un-armed, alone and exhausted in the middle of a crescent of nine dancing women, who face him. He is naked, except for what appear to be a pair of close-fitting boots laced at the knee; they are fully clothed and wear small cone-shaped hats. These wild women, differentiated by their figures and details of their dress, grow progressively older as one looks clock-wise around the crescent...
Again, by using the term “Dionysus,” Graves is not asserting that it was written on the walls of the cave; rather, he is employing it to describe a very ancient archetype. The Aurignacian period extended from 34,000 to 23,000 years ago, and, while this particular set of cave paintings has been placed by more recent scholars into later times within the past 10,000 years—also an uncertain date—it remains possible that the primeval cult of the wild nature god existed farther back, perhaps in once-fertile areas now submerged, desertified or otherwise destroyed.
Many ancient cave paintings are found in now-submerged places around the Mediterranean, which may have had some sort of primitive viticulture and viniculture using wild grapes many thousands of years ago. The beauty and grace of these paintings demonstrate a cultured people, as well as one in which certain individuals—here artists who were possibly also priests— possessed enough leisure time to create works of art that have stood the test of time.
Jewish Dionysus Worship
In his Moralia (Quaes. Conv. 4.6), in a section discussing what god the Jews worshipped, Plutarch relates that Bacchus was “one of the gods worshiped by the Hebrews,” reflecting the Dionysus-Yahweh connection. In this regard, the Greek historian states that “Adonis is supposed to be the same with Bacchus; and there are a great many rites in both their sacrifices which confirm this opinion.”
Plutarch includes the Dionysian follower Symmachus’s question to grandfather Lamprias about the identity of Adonis with Bacchus, “to be inscribed and enrolled in the mysteries of the Jews?” He next relates the Athenian Moiragenes as averring that the two gods “are the very same.”
When questioned about the proofs for this equation of Bacchus with “Adonis,” Plutarch (Quaes. Conv. 4.6.2) again cites Moiragenes’s monologue about the Jewish god, equating Adonis with Adon, as well as claiming that the Jews followed Bacchic rites:
...the time and manner of the greatest and most holy solemnity of the Jews is exactly agreeable to the holy rites of Bacchus; for that which they call the Fast [Day of Atonement] they celebrate in the midst of the vintage, furnishing their tables with all sorts of fruits, while they sit under tabernacles made of vines and ivy; and the day which immediately goes before this they call the day of Tabernacles [Sukkah (σκηνή)]. Within a few days after they celebrate another feast, not darkly but openly, dedicated to Bacchus, for they have a feast among them called Kradephoria, from carrying palm-trees, and Thyrsophoria, when they enter into the temple carrying thyrsi. What they do within I know not; but it is very probable that they perform the rites of Bacchus. First they have little trumpets, such as the Grecians used to have at their Bacchanalia to call upon their Gods withal. Others go before them playing upon harps, which they call Levites, whether so named from Lusius or Evius—either word agrees with Bacchus. And I suppose that their Sabbaths have some relation to Bacchus; for even at this day many call the Bacchi by the name of Sabbi, and they make use of that word at the celebration of Bacchus’s orgies...
Nor would it be absurd, were any one to say that the name Sabbath was imposed upon this feast from the agitation and excitement (σόβησις [sobesis]) which the priests of Bacchus indulged in. The Jews themselves testify no less; for when they keep the Sabbath, they invite one another to drink till they are drunk; or if they chance to be hindered by some more weighty business, it is the fashion at least to taste the wine...
...But there are other arguments which will clearly evince the truth of what I assert. The first may be drawn from their High-priest, who on holidays enters their temple with his mitre on, arrayed in a skin of a hind embroidered with gold, wearing buskins, and a coat hanging down to his ankles; besides he has a great many little bells hanging at his garment which make a noise when he walks the streets. So in the nightly ceremonies of Bacchus (as the fashion is among us), they make use of musical instruments, and call the God’s nurses χαλϰοδϱυσταί [khalkodrustai]. High up on the wall of their temple is a representation of the thyrsus and timbrels, which surely can belong to no other God than Bacchus. Moreover they are forbidden the use of honey in their sacrifices, because they suppose that a mixture of honey corrupts and deads the wine.
From Plutarch, we can see that in antiquity several Dionysian practices of the Jews were surmised, with proofs for this observation. Plutarch further tells us that the ancients called Bacchus “good counsellor,” as the wisest god, similar to Jewish notions about Yahweh.
Feast of the Booths
Oxford scholar Rev. Dr. Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821–1892) summarizes Plutarch’s identification of the Jews as Dionysus followers:
The resemblance between the Feast of the Tabernacle and the Greek festivals in honour of Bacchus, or Dionysos, is noticed at some length by Plutarch [Sympos. 4]. He describes the booths of palm-branches and ivy, and the Levites playing on their citherns; the mitre, the tunic, the bells of the high priests’ vestments. He, for his part, had no doubt that the festival was at the Thyrsophoria of the Greeks, and that the Jews were worshippers of Bacchus.
The Jewish Feast of the Tabernacle or Booths, also called Sukkoth ( סכה cukkah), is mentioned several times in the Bible, purportedly representing “a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel.”
The tabernacles/booths festival occurs at a very auspicious time of the year, from late September to late October, a period Plutarch points out coincides with the vintage, or wine produced from the grape harvest. This association occurs at Deuteronomy 16:13:
You shall keep the feast of booths [Sukkoth] seven days, when you make your ingathering from your threshing floor and your wine press…
Interestingly, it was during this vinicultural festival that, according to the Bible, Moses ordered his followers to read the entire Torah out loud once every seven years (Deut 31:10–11). Moreover, Solomon was said to have dedicated his temple at this important time (1 Ki 8; 2 Chr 7).
It should be recalled also that El Elyon, the Most High sun and wine god of both Canaanites and Israelites, was celebrated during the marzeah drinking banquet, which likely was held during the time of the vintage as well. Hence, it would not be much of a step to move from El Elyon worship to that of Bacchus.
In addition to the eye-opening exposition about Jewish Bacchic worship, we also learn from Plutarch that the pine tree is dedicated to Dionysus, because “it gives a pleasant seasoning to wine, for among pines they say the sweetest and most delicious grapes grow.”994 This seasoning reflects the Greek practice of putting pine into their wine, as in the infamously bitter retsina.
In the apocryphal book of the second century BCE 1 Maccabees (1:41ff), we are told that Antiochus Epiphanes introduced pagan worship into the temple at Jerusalem: “Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath” (1:43). We read at 2 Maccabees 6:7 that the Jews were compelled by the Seleucid king to “wear wreaths of ivy and walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus” during a Bacchic festival. 3 Maccabees (2:29) states that the Egyptian ruler purportedly had the Jews “marked with an ivy leaf, the sign of Dionysus.”It is claimed that Antiochus also introduced the orgiastic Bacchic rites, but this story may serve as a cover for practices that had already been occurring for centuries, such as the temple cult prostitutes mentioned in the Bible.
Bacchus and Yahweh
Regarding 2 Maccabees and the ancient association of Yahweh with the gods of other cultures such as Zeus or Jupiter, American New Testament professor Dr. Sean M. McDonough remarks:
An even more common identification, however, was Dionysus. Tacitus (Hist. 5.5:5), Lydus (De Mensibus 4:53), and Cornelius Labeo (ap. Macrobius, Saturnalia 1:18:18–21) all make this association, and a coin from 55 BCE of the curule aedile A. Plautius shows a kneeling king who is labeled BACCHIVS IVDAEVS. E. Babelon argues that this must be the high priest, “the priest of the Jewish Bacchus.” This identification may have been based on more than mere speculation. According to 2 Macc. 6:7, the Jews “were compelled to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus, wearing wreaths of ivy”...
The coin discussed by McDonough was minted by the Roman moneyer A. Plautius, possibly in commemoration of the Hasmonean Jewish king and high priest Judah Aristobulus II (fl. 67–63 BCE) or his successor John Hyrcanus II (fl. c. 63–40 BCE).
Fig. 65. Obv. Turreted head of Cybele; rev. ‘BACCHIVS IVDAEVS,’ with camel and bearded man (Aristobolus II?) holding palm or olive branch, 55 BCE. Silver coin of A. Plautius, Babelon Plautia 13
The coin’s reverse with the Latin inscription BACCHIUS IUDAEUS shows what may be a ruler kneeling before a camel, appropriate for a Near or Middle Eastern monarch. The figure is holding what is identified as an olive or palm branch, perhaps offering peace or supplication, after the Jews had been battling Rome in Judea for many years.
It is suggested likewise that the inscription may refer not (only) to Aristobulus but (also) to Judea as a whole, with the apparent image of Cybele on the obverse possibly symbolizing her curing of “Bacchus’s” madness, perhaps reflecting that Judea sanely had entered into the empire.
In a similar vein as the observation by French numismatist Dr. Ernest Babelon (1854–1924), the inscription—interpreted by some experts as “Bacchius the Jew”—also may reflect Aristobulus II as another “New Dionysus” (discussed below), indicating his initiation into the Bacchic cultus. In any event, the possible link here between Bacchus and Judea is intriguing.
In the sixth century AD/CE, Byzantine historian Ioannis Lydus or “John the Lydian” (4.53) remarked of Yahweh:
…the Greeks say that he is the Dionysus of Orpheus, because, as they themselves say, at the holy place of the temple in Jerusalem, from both pillars vines fashioned from gold used to hold up the curtains that were variegated with purple and scarlet: On the basis of this, they supposed that it was a temple of Dionysus.
Moreover, Lydus (4.51) relates: “Liber, the name for Dionysus among the Romans, meaning ‘free’—that is, the Sun.” Thus, Dionysus was identified commonly with Yahweh and was the sun. This equation was acknowledged in pre-Christian Maccabean texts discussing Jewish Bacchus worship.
We have seen already that the epithet “Dionis” evidently represents a Pelasgian god affiliated with the beer deity. As concerns a possible nonGreek, early origin of Dionysus, Becker posits a Sumerian root for the theonyms Diony, Dionis, Dionigi and Dionizy:
It was Diony...that would travel to the Near East and pick up the suffix sus, meaning “healing” in Sumer. In Sumer he was known as IA-U-NU-ShUSh that meant “seed of semen of life giving, healing.” Upon his return to Europe he became known as Dionysus.
Some have noted the similarity of this Sumerian healing god’s name IAUNuShUSh to “Yehoshua” (“Yah saves”), essentially the same as “Joshua,” which is “Jesus” or “Iesous” in the Ionic Greek. This name “Iesous” in turn is related to the Attic form “Iaso” and “Iasios” or “Jason,” which connote “healer.”
Becker also says:
In ancient Danubian tradition Dionis was associated with the beer god and with the horse; Dionysus is associated with the grape and goat.
In this regard, possibly the oldest known script was discovered at the Danubian site of Tărtăria, Romania, on tablets thought to date to 5500–5300 BCE. The three small tablets of clay inscribed with “proto-writing” called “Vinča symbols” or “Vinča signs” have not been deciphered yet.
Fig. 59. Vinča symbols, c. 5300 BCE. Clay amulet from Tărtăria, Romania
Dionysus in Literature
As concerns the extant historical record, Dionysus is mentioned or featured by many ancient writers, some of whom wrote entire tracts, histories or plays about him, these latter performed in numerous theaters throughout the region, as noted. A wildly popular god around the Mediterranean wherever the grapevine has grown, Dionysus’s name is raised up hundreds of times in literature, and his image is featured on thousands of artifacts.
Therefore, we will concentrate only on those writers and myths relevant to this current comparative-religion study. Also, in places where there is repetition, the full testimony of these various individuals both from antiquity and in more modern times, has been included in The Study Guide.
Summarizing the works by some of these ancient writers, Israeli scholar Dr. Abraham Schalit (1898–1979) remarks:
The non-Jews of Alexandria and Rome alleged that the cult of Dionysus was widespread among Jews. Plutarch gives a Bacchanalian interpretation to the Feast of Tabernacles… According to Plutarch the subject of the connection between the Dionysian and Jewish cults was raised during a symposium held at Aidepsos in Euboea, with a certain Moiragenes linking the Jewish Sabbath with the cult of Bacchus, because “even now many people call the Bacchi ‘Sabboi’ and call out that word when they perform the orgies of Bacchus.” Tacitus too thought that Jews served the god Liber, i.e., Bacchus-Dionysus, but “whereas the festival of Liber is joyful, the Jewish festival of Liber is sordid and absurd.” According to Pliny, Beth-Shean was founded by Dionysus after he had buried his wet nurse Nysa in its soil. His intention was to enlarge the area of the grave, which he surrounded with a city wall, although there were as yet no inhabitants. Then the god chose the Scythians from among his companions, and in order to encourage them, honored them by calling the new city Scythopolis after them (Pliny, Natural History 5:18, 74).
An inscription found at Beth-Shean dating from the time of Marcus Aurelius [121–180 AD/CE] mentions that Dionysus was honored there as ktistes [founder]. Stephen of Byzantium reports a legend that connects the founding of the city of Rafa also with Dionysus (for the Dionysian foundation legends of cities in the region, see Lichtenberger’s study). It is wrong to assume as some do that Plutarch took his account of the festival of Tabernacles from an antisemitic source, for despite all the woeful ignorance in his account it contains no accusation against, or abuse of, the Jews.
It is more likely that Plutarch described the festival of Tabernacles from observation, interpreting it in accordance with his own
philosophical outlook, which does not prevent him, however, from introducing into it features of the cult of the famous Temple of Jerusalem gleaned by him in his wide reading. The description as a whole, however, is of Tabernacles as it was celebrated in the Greek diaspora at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century C.E., and not as it was celebrated in the Temple, which had already been destroyed for more than a generation. The festival undoubtedly absorbed influences from the environment, so that Plutarch could indeed have witnessed what he recognized as customs of the Dionysian feast.
In view of what we have seen and will continue to see here, we submit that Plutarch’s account is not “woefully ignorant” and that the influence of Dionysianism on Jewish religion began before the First Temple period, including among the Amoritish proto-Israelites who eventually settled the hill country.
The important ancient town of Beth Shean or Beit She’an (Bethshan, Βαιθσάν, Βεθσάνη)—meaning “house of tranquility”—was called “Scythopolis” in Greek and supposedly was founded by Dionysus. Beth Shean is referred to several times in the biblical books of 1 and 2 Samuel, as well as in Judges and others, and is located strategically in the fertile Jordan Valley, south of the Sea of Galilee and east of the Samarian hill country. Situated at the juncture between the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys, this region is also deemed the “West Bank” of the Jordan River. It is noteworthy that one of the area’s largest winepresses was found at Jezreel, one of many such devices in ancient Israel.
Fig. 60. Beth Shean, here called by Greek name, Scythopolis (Nichalp)
The Scythopolis/Beth Shean region began to be occupied from at least the fourth millennium BCE, with settlements in the third millennium onward, until an earthquake destroyed it in the Early Arab period (749 AD/CE).
In the Late Bronze Age (15th–12th cents. BCE), Beth Shean was an Egyptian administrative center, followed by a Canaanite city (12th–11th cents. BCE) and then an Israelite settlement (10th cent.–732 BCE). During this time, the people worshipped many different gods, including those of the Canaanites, Egyptians, Greeks and Philistines. A stele from the era of pharaoh Seti I mentions Egypt’s victory over the neighboring hill tribes, among whom were the Hapiru.
Grapevine cultivation in the Beth Shean area apparently began during the fourth millennium BCE, and it may be suggested that the vine and wine cult existed in the region long before the Israelites arrived or emerged. As noted, Greek occupation of Asia Minor to the northwest began by 1200 BCE, leaving several centuries between that time and when the Pentateuch emerges clearly in the historical record.
Therefore, it is probable that the rituals of the Jews during the time of Diodorus and Plutarch derived from many centuries before, with influence from other cultures over the centuries that the area was occupied. This influence, of course, would extend to peculiarities of the Dionysian cultus as developed hellenically. So entrenched was the city’s association with Bacchus, in fact, that Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD/CE) equated Beth Shean/Scythopolis with Nysa, “so named of Father Liber, because his nurse was buried there.”
Thus, it should not surprise us if the town was “founded” by the archaic wine god and if the Jewish fertility and harvest festival comprised many elements of Bacchic religion, possibly absorbed during the occupation of Beth Shean by Israelites. Other cities, such as Rafa, Rafah or Raphia (Egyptian Rph) in southern Israel/Palestine on the border of Egypt, were claimed also, as by Stephanus of Byzantium (fl. 6th cent. AD/CE), to have been founded by the wine god.
Centuries prior to the appearance of Moses in the literary record, Dionysus is included around 900 BCE in The Iliad and The Odyssey. In The Iliad (6.130– 141), Homer depicts the Trojan War hero Diomedes—expressing trepidation at battling the gods—as describing the Spartan king and lawgiver Lycurgus’s encounter with Dionysus:
…for even the son of Dryas, mighty Lycurgus, lived not long, seeing that he strove with heavenly gods—he that on a time [drove] down over the sacred mount of Nysa the nursing mothers of mad Dionysus; and they all let fall to the ground their wands, smitten with an ox-goad by man-slaying Lycurgus. But Dionysus fled, and plunged beneath the wave of the sea, and Thetis received him in her bosom, filled with dread, for mighty terror gat hold of him at the man’s threatenings. Then against Lycurgus did the gods that live at ease wax wroth, and the son of Cronos made him blind; and he lived not for long, seeing that he was hated of all the immortal gods. So would not I be minded to fight against the blessed gods.
Here we find mention of Dionysus on Mt. Nysa, born of two mothers, and fleeing into the sea from a tyrant who is killed, indicating these motifs date back to at least the 10th century BCE. This subduing of Lycurgus under Dionysus may reflect a political change or desire, such as raising the “Dionysian” city of Thebes above Sparta.
In The Odyssey (11.321–325), the myth of Ariadne, Theseus and Dionysus is briefly mentioned, relevant especially because Bacchus’s wife, Ariadne, is the Cretan lawgiver Minos’s daughter. This “marriage” possibly reflects a merger between peoples, one of whose lawgivers was Minos and the other Bacchus.
In consideration of how the Greek poet treats his subject matter, as if such well-developed stories were common knowledge, we can evince that various of these mythical themes in some form may be centuries to millennia older than the period of Homer.
The grape and wine are ever-present in the Homeric epics, while around 750 to 650 BCE the Greek poet Hesiod (Op. 614, Theog. 914) also related that the sacred beverage was a gift from Dionysus. In his Theogony (940–949), Hesiod describes the birth of Dionysus to the mortal woman Semele, subsequently deified, as well as his marriage to Ariadne. The poet styles Bacchus as the “golden-haired,” representing an obvious solar epithet; so too was Apollo “golden-haired.”
In his Shield of Hercules (394–401), Hesiod speaks of the noisy locust in the heat of summer:
And when the dark-winged whirring grasshopper, perched on a green shoot, begins to sing of summer to men—his food and drink is the dainty dew—and all day long from dawn pours forth his voice in the deadliest heat, when Sirius scorches the flesh (then the beard grows upon the millet which men sow in summer), when the crude grapes which Dionysus gave to men—a joy and a sorrow both—begin to colour, in that season they fought and loud rose the clamour.
Here we see a description of the ripening of the “crude grapes,” which are likewise a gift from Bacchus. Dionysus’s association with Sirius is noteworthy, as Osiris has a close connection to Sirius, including being identified with the “sharp star,” as well as its husband, when it is deemed to be Isis. Indeed, Sirius rising heliacally in the summer signifies the birth of Osiris, as well as the Nile overflowing its banks (Isis) to produce the wheat and other foliage, such as the popular and sacred grapevine.
In Works and Days (609–614), Hesiod recounts the process for wine-making, also using astronomical details for the timing:
But when Orion and Sirius are come into midheaven, and rosyfingered Dawn sees Arcturus, then cut off all the grape-clusters, Perses, and bring them home. Show them to the sun ten days and ten nights: then cover them over for five, and on the sixth day draw off into vessels the gifts of joyful Dionysus.
Hesiod translator Dr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White notes that the time when “rosyfingered Dawn sees Arcturus” is September, the full harvest of the grapes. The fruits are then turned into the divine elixir of the god of revelry and truth, as in the saying, In vino veritas or “In wine, truth,” referring to the reduction of inhibition after one has imbibed alcohol.
Hesiod wrote during the era when the Jewish reformer kings Hezekiah and Josiah may have been composing or commissioning parts of the Pentateuch. However, elements of the Mosaic epic apparently come from the following decades to centuries, after Homer and Hesiod wrote about Dionysus.
We turn next to the hymns ascribed pseudepigraphically to Homer that date from around the seventh to sixth centuries BCE. Homeric Hymn 1 to Dionysus describes the birth of the god, addressed as “heaven-born” and “insewn,” born to Zeus by “pregnant Semele” near the “deep-eddying river Alpheus.” The hymn explains that there are several versions of the god’s birth, which is to be expected for the deity of the grapevine, a plant spread far and wide in antiquity, among numerous cultures around the Mediterranean and beyond, into India and many other regions.
One of these other accounts of the god’s nativity is described thus: “The Father of men and gods gave you birth remote from men and secretly from white-armed Hera.” Hera, of course, is the wife of Zeus, the latter of whom we can see here addressed as “Father of men and gods,” displaying the concept of God the Father several centuries before the common era and the rise of Christianity. In this regard, Hera is depicted in myths as bathing once a year in order to renew her virginity; hence, she is a virgin mother.
In this Homeric hymn (1), we also read about Mt. Nisa or Nysa: “There is a certain Nysa, a mountain most high and richly grown with woods, far off in Phoenice, near the streams of Aegyptus [Egypt].”
In language that sounds biblical, the god’s mother, Semele, is described in this hymn as “Thyone” or Θυώνη, meaning “portion of sacrifice,” from the Greek verb θύω thyo, to “offer burnt-sacrifice,” referring to her incineration by Zeus upon Bacchus’s birth. Hence, she sacrifices herself to give birth to the messiah, as Dionysus is styled “savior,” using the same term employed in the Bible to describe Yahweh and Jesus. The scapegoat sacrifice of a sacred personage for the benefit of humanity, as we find in the later Christianity, was common centuries before Jesus’s purported advent, exemplified also in the stories of Prometheus and Persephone.
In Homeric Hymn 26 to Dionysus, we read more about the “loud-crying god, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele” who grew up “in the dells of Nysa” in a “sweet-smelling cave.” In this hymn, Bacchus is also styled “god of abundant clusters,” referring to the all-important grape.
The Greek lyric poet Anacreon (582–485 BCE) composed a number of odes to Bacchus and wine. The poet (Ode 6 on Bacchus) also emphasizes the god as “young and fair” and “youthful,” conveying his symbolizing indestructible life, immortality and regeneration. Ode 18 praises Dionysus as “the god of wine and joy.” Anacreon also has an ode (26), “In Praise of Wine,” in which he extols the virtues of this ancient medicine and intoxicant that helps people forget their woes. Ode 27 again praises Bacchus as the god of wine and joy. In Ode 50, Anacreon exalts Bacchus’s medicinal contribution of wine and grapes, which prove to be the “best physician.”
Like Anacreon, the Greek poet Pindar (522–443 BCE) composed a dithyrambic or “wildly enthusiastic” hymn to Bacchus in the Seventh Isthmian Ode, including attributes such as the solar epithet “fair-haired” or “flowing-haired” (εὐρυχαίτης). Both Anacreon and Pindar serve to demonstrate how important and hoary was the worship of the god of wine. Indeed, the proliferation of the Dionysian cult by this time, demonstrated in the widespread observance and literature concerning the god, serves as evidence of its antiquity.
In the fifth century BCE, in discussing the Ethiopian city of Meroe, Herodotus (2.29) commented, “The inhabitants worship Zeus and Dionysus alone of the gods, holding them in great honour.” At 2.42, the Greek historian relates that Dionysus is the same as Osiris: …not all Egyptians worship the same gods—the only two to be universally worshipped are Isis and Osiris, who, they say, is Dionysus.895 Among a number of other parallels with Osiris, Dionysus is hacked to pieces, by giants, after which his mother, the nature and grain goddess Demeter/Ceres, puts him back together and restores him to life, a myth similar to elements of the deaths and resurrections of both Osiris and Horus.
Herodotus (2.47–49) further recounts that, in Egypt, the “unclean” pig was sacrificed only to Dionysus and the moon, swineherds serving as an “untouchable” class:
Pigs are considered unclean. If anyone touches a pig accidentally in passing, he will at once plunge into the river, clothes and all, to wash himself; and swineherds, though of pure Egyptian blood, are the only people in the country who never enter a temple, nor is there any intermarriage between them and the rest of the community…
The only deities to whom the Egyptians consider it proper to sacrifice pigs are Dionysus and the Moon. To both of these they offer pigs at the same time, at the same full moon, and afterwards eat the flesh…
Everyone, on the eve of the festival of Dionysus, sacrifices a hog before the door of his house…. In other ways the Egyptian method of celebrating the festival of Dionysus is much the same as the Greek…
Now I have an idea that Melampus the son of Amythaon knew all about this ceremony; for it was he who introduced the name of Dionysus into Greece… The names of nearly all the gods came to Greece from Egypt.
As is evident, the taboo against pigs is not confined to the Jewish culture but existed in Egypt as well, demonstrating that it was not a result of a commandment from Yahweh exclusively to his chosen. The plunging into water related to swine-herding reminds one of the destruction by Jesus of Satan’s minions by casting them into pigs and drowning them (Mk 5:13).
Appropriately, the legendary Pylos ruler and seer Melampus is asserted traditionally to have introduced Dionysus to the Greek mainland. Pylos, as noted, is where the earliest known reference in Greek to the god was discovered.
At 2.123, Herodotus relates that Dionysus and his grandmother Demeter, goddess of earth and grain, introduced the concept of transmigration of the soul, also known as reincarnation or metempsychosis:
The Egyptians say that Demeter and Dionysus are the chief powers in the underworld; and they were also the first people to put forward the doctrine of immortality of the soul, and to maintain that after death it enters another creature at the moment of that creature’s birth. It then makes the round of all living things— animals, birds and fish—until it finally passes once again, at birth, into the body of a man. The whole period of transmigration occupies three thousand years. This theory has been adopted by certain Greek writers, some earlier, some later, who have put it forward as their own….
The word for “transmigration” here is περιήλυσις perielysis, which means “coming around” or “revolution.” As we can see, the idea of rebirth or revivification in a new body was well known nearly 500 years before the common era, undoubtedly extending back much farther and possibly having its origin in India or even earlier in Africa. The introduction of this type of resurrection is attributed to Dionysus, one of the chief gods of the underworld, like Osiris, Lord of Resurrection.
As we saw, Herodotus (3.8) described the popular wine god’s presence among the Arabs, saying that Bacchus and his wife, “Urania” (Venus/Aphrodite), were the only deities recognized by them, the god’s Arabian name rendered “Orotalt.” Appropriate for this comparison to Dionysus, the Arabian/Nabatean god Orotalt was known by the epithet Đū Shará, Dushara or Dusares, meaning “Lord of the Mountain.” Here again is the theme of a lawgiver associated with a mountain and its deity, in this case Mt. Seir, whence Yahweh was said to emanate as well (Deut 33:2), revealing an important parallel between “Dionysus” and the Jewish god.
Orotalt may be identified with the deity A’arrā, equivalent to Dusares, “the most important Nabatean deity, himself identified with Dionysus...” Others suggest that “Orotalt” represents a corruption or “phonetic transcription” of the name Ruḍā or Ruldaw/RḌW/Y, an Arabian sun god “identical with one of the deities from Dumah.” Dumah evidently refers to the ancient Akkadian city of Adummatu, in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia, near Jordan.
his solar deity was worshipped by the famous Arab merchants, the Nabateans, who traded in spices, such as frankincense and myrrh, as well as medicine, among other products. Although at some point they abstained from alcohol consumption, their abstinence eventually adopted into Islam, it appears that among the “medicine” they traded was wine: According to Diodorus (19.94.3), Hieronymus of Cardia (4th cent. BCE) recounted the Nabateans as teetotalers; however, following “a certain Athenodorus,” writing around 60 BCE, the Nabateans “held magnificent drinking-bouts.”
Concerning Hieronymus’s statements, we read: “In the course of time the Nabateans changed their way of life to become excellent wine-growers, both in the Negev and in Transjordan.” In this regard, the industrious Nabateans had planted extensive vineyards and other vegetation in the desert. Coins dating to the third century AD/CE from the region of Bostra, where viticulture had been practiced for centuries to millennia, depict a wine-press and inscription to “Dousaria” (Orotalt/Dionysus), revealing that the practice continued in the region into the common era.
The Arabian Bacchic-devotee haircut mentioned by Herodotus (3.8.3) may be a form of tonsure, a pre-Christian rite adopted by monks of certain Christian sects, with the bulk of the head shaved, leaving a ring above the ears.
Fig. 61. Celtic head with tonsure, c. 3rd century BCE. Stone carving from Czech Republic (CeStu)
Mysteries of Dionysus
We learn further from Herodotus (4.79) about the Scythian impression of the “mysteries of Dionysus,” which drove their participants into a “Bacchic frenzy.” The Greek historian (4.65) discusses “the Iacchus song, which is sung at the Dionysiac mysteries,” familiar from the “religious ceremonial at Eleusis.” Herodotus (8.65) also relates that “Iacchus” is the “cry of the mysteries.” The term Iacchus or Iakkhos (Gk: Ἴακχος) means “song,” applied to Dionysus as an epithet and associated with other deities, such as his wife, the love goddess Aphrodite. Thus, the highly popular god was a major figure in the mysteries, particularly those of the famed Eleusis. Moreover, Iakkhos has been equated with “Iao” and the Jewish tetragrammaton YHWH. Hence, again, it would not be surprising if Jews were involved in Bacchus worship.
The Greek figure of Orpheus is not a single “historical” individual but a combination of characters, real and mythical, along with the multiple people who wrote the hymns pseudepigraphically attributed to him. This fictional composite is depicted in antiquity as the “St. Paul” of his purported time, travelling in nearly the same areas as the later Christian apostle, while preaching the god known as “Savior” (Bacchus), centuries before Jesus Christ supposedly lived.
The Orphic Hymns are dated by mainstream scholarship to between the sixth century BCE and the fourth century AD/CE, while remaining devoid of any significant Christian influence. There are those, furthermore, who see in these hymns very ancient ideas possibly emanating from pre-Greek Pelasgian culture, which in turn was associated in antiquity with both mainland Greece and Crete. Diodorus (3.67.5) tells us that traditionally Orpheus was said to have written in the Pelasgian alphabet, which would make him an archaic figure.
Fig. 62. Possibly proto-Pelasgian Vinča script, c. 5th millennium BCE, Romania
Arguing for the latest dating of the Orphic Hymns to the third or fourth centuries AD/CE, New Testament professor Dr. Matthew E. Gordley nevertheless remarks that they contain much older ideas:
First, though composed later than the Colossian hymn, the Orphic Hymns contain within them elements derived from Orphic worship, and Greek religion in general, that most certainly originated centuries before the birth of Christ. The position that a majority of scholars favor holds that the hymns were not simply composed out of thin air by a third or fourth century poet with a long list of divine epithets ready at hand. Rather, in the third century, revered literary sources already in existence were tapped for the creation of an appropriate cult literature for the newly popularized religious movement associated with Orpheus.
Whether or not the hymns are late, Orphic religious elements predate Christianity by centuries. These include characteristics of Dionysus’s “life,” as well as rituals, traditions and doctrines, in common with the Mosaic tale and religion.
Pergamon and Tenedos
Gordley also suggests that the “likely place of composition of these hymns was Pergamum [Pergamon] in Asia Minor.” As such, they may reflect originally the attributes of an ancient wine god of that region in what is now Turkey, where grapes had been grown and wine made for thousands of years. To this day and despite the land’s Islamic status, this northwestern region of Turkey produces popular wines, such as on the island of Bozcaada or Tenedos, famed for its grapes since antiquity, with 80 percent of its arable land used for grapevines.
According to Eusebius (Praep. ev. 13.12), citing Aristobulus of Paneas (fl. c. 160 BCE?), the Orphic hymns contained the following sentiments about the legendary Athenian lawgiver Musaeus (c. 450 BCE), whom the Church father surmises is Moses:
…So men of old, so tells the Nile-born sage,
Taught by the twofold tablet of God’s law…
While this poem overall is addressed ostensibly to Musaeus, this part of it apparently refers not to the historical philosopher by that name, or to the Hebrew Moses, but, rather, to Dionysus.
Illustrating Dionysus’s solar nature, in the Orphic hymns Apollo frequently is invoked as Bacchus.
The ancient Athenian playwright Euripides (5th cent. BCE) wrote a lengthy narrative about Dionysus and his female followers called The Bacchae, starting the account with the god speaking about himself, as the son of Zeus/God (Διὸς παῖς dios pais) and Semele.
Euripides next depicts Dionysus at Thebes describing his various travels, evidently reflecting the spread of viticulture or vine-growing:
I have left the wealthy lands of the Lydians and Phrygians, the sunparched plains of the Persians, and the Bactrian walls, and have passed over the wintry land of the Medes, and blessed Arabia, and all of Asia which lies along the coast of the salt sea with its beautifully towered cities full of Hellenes and barbarians mingled together; and I have come to this Hellene city first, having already set those other lands to dance and established my mysteries there, so that I might be a deity manifest among men.
In this land of Hellas, I have first excited Thebes to my cry, fitting a fawn-skin to my body and taking a thyrsos in my hand, a weapon of ivy. For my mother’s sisters, the ones who least should, claimed that I, Dionysus, was not the child of Zeus, but that Semele had conceived a child from a mortal father and then ascribed the sin of her bed to Zeus, a trick of Kadmos’, for which they boasted that Zeus killed her, because she had told a false tale about her marriage. Therefore I have goaded them from the house in frenzy, and they dwell in the mountains, out of their wits; and I have compelled them to wear the outfit of my mysteries. And all the female offspring of Thebes, as many as are women, I have driven maddened from the house, and they, mingled with the daughters of Kadmos, sit on roofless rocks beneath green pines. For this city must learn, even if it is unwilling, that it is not initiated into my Bacchic rites, and that I plead the case of my mother, Semele, in appearing manifest to mortals as a divinity whom she bore to Zeus.
Here we see a description of Bacchanal rites that likely date back much earlier, in vine-growing regions from thousands of years previously, possibly exemplified in the archaic cave drawing from Spain, for example. In this tale, the Theban king, Pentheus, objects to “this new deity,” whom he calls “a sorcerer, a conjuror from the Lydian land,” and is subsequently destroyed for his blasphemy.
Euripides (Ba. 75–79) speaks of “a deity manifest among men,” an important theme reiterated five centuries later in the Christ myth. He also describes the revelry with which the god is served, “dancing in inspired frenzy over the mountains with holy purifications.” The poet (Ba. 100–102) further calls Dionysus the “bull-horned god,” who is “crowned with a crown of snakes” or dragons, making of him an ophite deity/serpent god as well.
Moreover, we read in Euripides (Ba. 142–143) that when Bacchus is “sweet in the mountains”—possibly referring to both honey and ripened grapes in hillside vineyards—the “plain flows with milk, it flows with wine, it flows with the nectar of bees.” The playwright (Ba. 704–711) also tells the story of wine, water, milk and honey “flowing miraculously from the earth.”
Euripides (Hec. 1252) has his character Polymestor call Dionysus “our Thracian prophet.” In another work, Antiope, Euripides refers to “the pillar of the Evoean God,” connoting Bacchus, a motif comparable to Yahweh’s “pillars” in the desert, both words the same in Greek.
Concerning Dionysus’s horns, Euripides (Ba. 918–922) depicts the character Pentheus as remarking to the god:
Oh look! I think I see two suns, and twin Thebes, the seven-gated city. And you seem to lead me, being like a bull and horns seem to grow on your head. But were you ever before a beast? For you have certainly now become a bull.
Much of Dionysus’s myth is contained in Euripides’s texts, having a centuries-long tradition, rather than having been fabricated by the poet. Indeed, if the germ story reflects the introduction into the Theban region of vine-growing and wine-making, it could be several thousand years old, since viticulture in the areas to the east of the Black Sea such as Armenia and Georgia dates to some 6,000 or 7,000 years ago.
Pentheus the Serpent
Euripides (Ba. 537–544) describes Dionysus’s adversary Pentheus as “descended from a serpent”:
What rage, what rage does the earth-born race show, and Pentheus, once descended from a serpent—Pentheus, whom earth-born Echion bore, a fierce monster, not a mortal man, but like a bloody giant, hostile to the gods.
οἵαν οἵαν ὀργὰν ἀναφαίνει χθόνιον γένος ἐκφύς τε δράκοντός ποτε Πενθεύς, ὃν Ἐχίων ἐφύτευσε χθόνιος, ἀγριωπὸν τέρας, οὐ φῶτα βρότειον, φόνιον δ᾽ὥστε γίγαντ᾽ ἀντίπαλον θεοῖς…
Here we also see the word δράκοντος drakontos the singular genitive of δράκων or “dragon,” rendered as “serpent” and so on, a term previously discussed as part of the ancient drama of a deity battling a monster or dragon.
Fig. 63. Bacchus and serpent, 1st cent. AD/CE. Fresco from Pompei, National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy
In this regard, Pentheus is also described in this paragraph as a “fierce monster” (ἀγριωπὸν τέρας) and “like a bloody giant,” reflected in the Greek φόνιον δ᾽ὥστε γίγαντ᾽, this latter word from γίγας gigas meaning “giant.”
It appears that Euripides’s Bacchae was to Dionysus what the Pentateuch was to Yahweh, in the sense that both texts sought to establish their gods as centrally important to humanity or, at the very least, to their immediate followers. It would be plays such as The Bacchae that were acted out by wandering proselytizers in the theaters especially designated for Dionysus, with audiences that included local priests and priestesses of other deities, as noted. Such proselytizing plays, therefore, would have been witnessed by many people around Greece and beyond, spreading the Dionysian religion and viniculture in numerous places.
In 411 BCE, Athenian playwright Aristophanes (Thes. 990) composed a chorus with Dionysian epithets: “Oh, Evius, oh, Bromius, oh, thou son of Semele, oh, Bacchus, who delightest to mingle with the dear choruses of the nymphs upon the mountains, and who repeatest, while dancing with them, the sacred hymn, Euios, Euios, Euoi!” These shouts are comparable to the divine tetragrammaton יהוה Yĕhovah or YHWH, which can be transliterated in Greek as ιευε ieue. This scenario is reminiscent of the prehistoric imagery described by Graves, indicating a possibly very archaic origin of the cult of revelry.
In his work Ion (534a), Plato (5th–4th cents. BCE) likewise discussed various aspects of the Dionysus myth, including referring to the god’s female followers styled “maenads” or “bacchantes” drawing “milk and honey from the rivers.” Plato explicates this theme, likening the songs of the lyric poets to “the sweets they cull from honey-dropping founts.”
A Greek ethnographer and ambassador to India, Megasthenes (c. 350–290 BCE) composed a book called Indica, which discusses Indian gods who have been supposed to be equivalents of Hercules and Dionysus, generally taken to be Krishna and Shiva or Indra, respectively. Only fragments of Megasthenes’s work survive, in the writings of others such as the GrecoRoman historian Arrian (86–c. 160 AD/CE) and Strabo.
Regarding Dionysus/Bacchus in India, Megasthenes is recorded as stating:
On such grounds they called a particular race of people Nyssaians, and their city Nyssa, which Dionysos had founded, and the mountain which rose above the city Mêron, assigning as their reason for bestowing these names that ivy grows there, and also the vine, although its fruit does not come to perfection, as the clusters on account of the heaviness of the rains fall off the trees before ripening. They further call the Oxydrakai descendants of Dionysos, because the vine grew in their country, and their processions were conducted with great pomp, and their kings on going forth to war and on other occasions marched in Bacchic fashion, with drums beating, while they were dressed in gay-coloured robes, which is also a custom among other Indians....
Strabo recounts Megasthenes as relating that the Indian philosophers who “live on the mountains are worshippers of Dionysos, showing as proofs that he had come among them the wild vine, which grows in their country only, and the ivy, and the laurel, and the myrtle...” He further states that they “observe also certain customs which are Bacchanalian.”
In his Natural History, Pliny relates Megasthenes as commenting:
For the Indians stand almost alone among the nations in never having migrated from their own country. From the days of Father Bacchus to Alexander the Great their kings are reckoned at 154, whose reigns extend over 6451 years and 3 months….
Father Bacchus was the first who invaded India, and was the first of all who triumphed over the vanquished Indians....
In reality, Indians did migrate from their own land in remote antiquity and many times since then, as the Indo-European family tree and DNA studies indicate. The point is also well taken, however, that the subcontinent has been occupied continually by the same ethnicities for many thousands of years, since migrating out of Africa 13,000 or more years ago, according to one mainstream genetics theory.
Nysa in India
It was common in antiquity to have many villages or cities of the same name, such as the numerous Alexandrias, named for the Greek conqueror. In this regard, Megasthenes recounts:
Many writers further include in India even the city Nysa and Mount Merus, sacred to Father Bacchus, whence the origin of the fable that he sprang from the thigh of Jupiter. They include also the Astacani, in whose country the vine grows abundantly...
The Astacani evidently were a Bactrian people, occupying the land northwest of India that is now Afghanistan.
Speaking of the “Pandaean nation,” Megasthenes states:
The city of Nysa is assigned to this region, as is also the mountain sacred to Jupiter, Mêros by name, in a cave on which the ancient Indians affirm Father Bacchus was well nourished...
He next repeats the story of Dionysus born from Zeus’s thigh. In his Indica, he recounts the same tales about Dionysus in India, with his descendants as the “Nysaioi.” The Greek ambassador historian is skeptical and states that these stories are “but fictions of the poets.”
In his Anabasis (5.1.6), Arrian depicts Acuphis, the “president” of the Indian city of Nysa, sent out to meet with Alexander the Great during his incursion into India:
The god [Dionysus] indeed called the city Nysa, and the land Nysaea after his nurse Nysa. The mountain also which is near the city he named Meros (i.e., thigh), because, according to the legend, he grew in the thigh of Zeus. From that time we inhabit Nysa, a free city, and we ourselves are independent, conducting our government with constitutional order. And let this be to thee proof that our city owes its foundation to Dionysus; for ivy, which does not grow in the rest of the country of India, grows among us.
The “thigh” birth motif in the Bacchus myth has been compared to Genesis 46:26, which refers to Jacob’s progeny emanating from his “loins.” In the Septuagint, the Greek for “loins” in this Genesis verse is the plural genitive μηρῶν meron, the same term as “thigh” in the Dionysus myth. In antiquity, as in the Bible (e.g., Gen 24:2), the word “thigh” was a code word for “penis.” The removal of Dionysus from the womb of a woman to become an emission from a god’s penis could be interpreted as recording in myth the intrusion and dominance of the patriarchy.
Conquest and Wine
According to Arrian, Megasthenes further says:
Dionysos, however, when he came and had conquered the people, founded cities and gave law to these cities, and introduced the use of wine among the Indians, as he had done among the Greeks, and taught them how to sow the land, himself supplying seeds for the purpose... ...he instructed the Indians to let their hair grow long in honour of the god, and to wear the turban; and that he taught them to anoint themselves with unguents...
Grape-growing or viticulture in India dates back to at least the main Indus Valley era (3300–1300 BCE), believed to have been introduced to the region from Persia during the fourth millennium. It is likely that the reverence on the subcontinent for the wine deity, by whatever name, dates back to that era.
Fig. 64. Bacchic staff or thyrsus
During his Indian expedition, Megasthenes relates, Bacchus “disguised the arms with which he had equipped his troops, and made them wear soft raiment and fawn-skins.” We read that the spears were “wrapped round with ivy, and the thyrsus [staff] had a sharp point.” The troops carried cymbals and drums, and used wine to “divert” the Indians’ thoughts “from war to dancing.” Employing these techniques, including “Bacchic orgies,” the god was able to subjugate the Indians “and all the rest of Asia.”
If we factor in the writings of Jewish historian Artapanus of Alexandria (c. 3rd or 2nd cent. BCE) about Moses, we will find even more comparisons to Dionysus, such as in Eusebius’s account (Prep. evang. 9, 27.12) in which the Israelite patriarch consecrates a cow, because it is useful in ploughing the earth. In turn, Diodorus (1.87.2; 3.64.1) relates that the cow is sacred for ploughing the earth and that Dionysus was the “first man to yoke cows to the plough.”
Artapanus (27.15f) also states that Moses “names another city and river Meroe,” while in Diodorus (2.38.4) Dionysus “leads his army to a place called Meros.”
According to the Alexandrian (27.22), while in Arabian exile Moses sends his army to battle Egypt, while Diodorus (3.73.4) recounts that Dionysus “grows up in Arabia and fights against Egypt.”
Artapanus (27.40) also makes of Moses the inventor of “many useful machines,” while Diodorus asserts that Bacchus invented “many things useful.” It is further noteworthy that Artapanus (27.6) identifies Moses with Hermes or Thoth, the Greco-Egyptian divine messenger and mythical lawgiver.
Moses as Orphic Teacher
Essentially equating the Hebrew prophet and Greek wine god, Artapanus makes Moses the teacher of Orpheus, calling the biblical figure Μουσαῖος Mousaios. This same moniker is employed by Diodorus (1.96.2) in a story about Orpheus’s visit to Egypt, with his companion Mousaios/Musaeus. This association appears to be an attempt at establishing priority and dominance, extending to the Dionysian cultus itself, since Orpheus was the major proselytizer thereof.
Regarding Artapanus’s account about Moses, Near Eastern and Jewish studies professor Dr. Holger M. Zellentin remarks:
Carl Hollady suggested that Moses’s miraculous escape from prison is a reference to Dionysus’s escape from prison.... Furthermore, the association of Jews with the Dionysus cult may be implicit in 2 and 3 Maccabees....
The apocryphal texts 2 Maccabees was composed in Greek, likely at Alexandria around 124 BCE, while 3 Maccabees apparently dates to the first century BCE or AD/CE.
Interestingly, Artapanus appears to be oblivious to the existence of the Pentateuch or other biblical scriptures, as if they had not been written or circulated by his time. In any event, it is surmised that Artapanus used Dionysus’s myth to pad out his “biography” of Moses, and it is evident from the Alexandrian’s writing that Jews were aware of the correspondences between Moses and Dionysus centuries before the common era.
Continuing the discussion of Orpheus and his master, Athenian historian and mythographer Apollodorus (c. 180–c. 120 BCE) related (Lib. 1.3) that the legendary poet “invented the mysteries of Dionysus, and, having been torn in pieces by the Maenads, he is buried in Pieria.”
Apollodorus (1.6.2) also recounts Dionysus’s battle with the giant using the magic wand: “Eurytus was killed by Dionysus with a thyrsus,” which is a fennel stalk covered with ivy vines and leaves. He further speaks of the repeated theme of killing giants, reciting not only the demise of Eurytus by Dionysus with his thyrsus but also other giant-killing, including Ephialtes shot by Apollo, and Mimas attacked with red-hot metal missiles by Hephaestus/Hephaistos. Thus, Dionysus kills one of the earth goddess Gaia’s giant sons, Eurytus, during a battle between the gods and these giants, reminiscent of the biblical battles with giants, including between David and Goliath. Obviously, this theme in the Bible is not original or “historical.”
Apollodorus (3.4.2) also relates the birth of Dionysus and death of his mother Semele, during which time Zeus hid the child from Hera by turning him into a kid and giving him to Hermes to take to “Nysa in Asia.” Thus, again, Dionysus possessed the epithet of “Kid,” like Jesus the “Lamb.”
In the first century BCE, Publius Vergilius Maro or “Virgil/Vergil” (Georgics 1.7–9) cited Roman statesman Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BCE) as relating that Bacchus and Ceres’s “gifts” were used to mix wine with “drinks” of the river god Achelous, Homer’s origin of the world’s fresh water. This myth is similar to Yahweh’s miracle via Moses of creating “sweet” water.
In Varro, various disciplines come together, as this celebrated scholar wrote about the seemingly disparate subjects of the Latin language, the Roman gods and agriculture. However, when we realize how closely the ancient deities were perceived as intertwined with, and responsible for, the growth of plants, we can understand why these topics are related. Moreover, various gods were claimed to be responsible for language, serving as the “Divine Word.”
Varro’s oft-cited volumes on the Roman religion were destroyed during the Christian era, but because of this crossover, some of his information about the gods is retained in his texts on Latin and agriculture/husbandry.
For example, we read in Varro’s agricultural text (1.2) that it was Father Bacchus to whom goats were sacrificed, “that they might make expiation with their lives...” In other words, Dionysus’s followers engaged in scapegoat rituals, abundantly present around the Mediterranean, including in the Levant, as reflected repeatedly in the biblical sacrifice and as the basis of the gospel story.
Regarding Dionysus, in Of the Nature of the Gods (3.58), Roman statesman Marcus Tullius (“Tully”) Cicero (106–43 BCE) comments:
There are many also of the Dionysi. The first was the son of Jupiter and Proserpine. The second, who is said to have killed Nysa, was the son of Nilus. The third, who reigned in Asia, and for whom the Sabazia were instituted, was the son of Caprius. The fourth, for whom they celebrate the Orphic festivals, sprung from Jupiter and Luna, the first, who is supposed to have instituted the Trieterides, was the son of Nysus and Thyone.
Thus, Cicero speaks of multiple Dionysuses, as do other ancient writers, including Diodorus.
While some attributes from “real people” may have been attached to the Dionysus myth, what we are seeing is the typical syncretism and assimilation of attributes concerning a god and his cult, in this case the popular grapevine and wine cult/god moving around the world. The syncretism explains the many different and sometimes contradictory themes in the Dionysian myth, as it was eventually passed down to us.
We have already examined numerous quotes from Diodorus (1st cent. BCE), including about the relationship between Osiris and Dionysus. The Greek historian (1.23) asserts further that the Dionysian mysteries were founded upon those of Osiris.
Referring to some of the “most learned of the Indians,” Diodorus (2.38) describes Dionysus’s mythical journey to India, reflecting the spread of viticulture and viniculture:
They say that, in ancient time, when men lived scattered and dispersed here and there, Bacchus, with a great army from the west, overran all India, which at that time had no considerable city in it able to make any resistance; and that a plague (through the violent and parching heat) destroying many of his [Bacchus’s] soldiers, they say, that prudent general drew his army out of the plains to the tops of the mountains, where (by means of the cool blasts of the refreshing air, and drinking of the spring-waters there at hand) they were restored to their former health; and that the place where his army was thus recovered, was called the Thigh; hence the Grecians frame a story of this god to this day, that Bacchus was bred in the Thigh.
Afterwards (they say) he diligently employed himself in sowing and planting divers fruit-trees, and imparted the art to the Indians, and found out the use of wine, and other things conducing to the comfort of man’s life. He built likewise stately cities, and removed the villages to more commodious situations; and instituted the manner of divine worship, and made laws, and set up courts of justice; and at last, for the many excellent inventions imparted to the Indians, he was esteemed as a god, and obtained immortal honours.
They report that he had a regiment of women in his army, and that in the heat of battle he made use of timbrels and cymbals, the trumpet being not at that time found out: and that after he reigned over all India for the space of two-and-fifty years, he died of extreme old age, leaving the kingdom of his sons, who enjoy it, and their posterity after them, successively, till many ages after the regal authority was abrogated, and the cities were governed by a democracy. These are the things related of Bacchus and his posterity by the inhabitants of the mountain parts of India.
As we can see, in these pithy paragraphs appear many correspondences between the tales of Bacchus/Dionysus and Moses, which will be delineated and discussed below. As an example here, Diodorus relates the tale of Dionysus’s army being saved from the “plague” of the burning desert heat by finding spring water in the mountains.
In chapter 3, Diodorus spends more time discussing Dionysus’s army spreading all the way to India, bringing with it knowledge of the grapevine. The historian (3.62) gives the god the Greek epithet διμήτωρ dimetor, meaning “two mothers” and “twice born,” the Latin form of which is bimater or bimeter.
At 3.65.5, Diodorus discusses the pre-Christian crucifixion of Dionysus’s enemy, Lycurgus, using the same term, ἀνασταυρόω anastauróo, employed in the gospel tale. Hence, we have the theme of suffering and crucifixion in the Dionysian mythos, in which the god himself is said to be hung from a tree. Bacchus’s association with trees, earning him the epithets of “Dendreus,” “Endendros” and “Dendrites,” apparently reflects early intoxicants created from the sap of pine and fir trees.
Diodorus (4.2.6) further states that Bacchus “also led about with himself an army composed not only of men but of women as well, and punished such men as were unjust and impious.”
A similar travel tale is told of Osiris, who was said to have marched from Egypt to India—specifically across the “Red” or “Erythraean sea”— spreading viniculture along the way. Again, Diodorus relates: “Some of the early Greek mythologists call Osiris ‘Dionysus,’” reflecting that the “Greek” god was considered to be Egyptian, one with Osiris.
Diodorus (11) also equated Bacchus with Osiris and with the sun:
Now when the ancient Egyptians, awestruck and wondering, turned their eyes to the heavens, they concluded that two gods, the sun and the moon, were primeval and eternal; and they called the former Osiris, the latter Isis, assigning each of these names according to some relevant characteristic. For, translating these appellations into the Greek idiom, Osiris is the “many-eyed,” and quite properly so; for he spreads everywhere his rays, as if to observe with many eyes all the land and sea. Even the poet [Homer] expresses his agreement with this conceit:
The Sun, who sees and hears all things.
Some of the early Greek mythologists call Osiris “Dionysus” and also, changing the word slightly, “Sirius;” of these, Eumolpos in his Bacchanalian verse says:
Dionysus shining like a star, eye aflame with rays.
And writes Orpheus;
For that reason they call him “Bright” and “Dionysus.”
This identification of Dionysus and Osiris with the sun rates as highly noteworthy.
In his Ode to Bacchus (2.19), Latin poet Horace (65–8 BCE) repeats a number of Dionysian themes:
The stream of wine, the sparkling rills
That run with milk, and honey-dew
That from the hollow trunk distils;
And I may sing thy consort’s crown,
New set in heaven, and Pentheus’ hall
With ruthless ruin thundering down,
And proud Lycurgus’ funeral.
Thou turn’st the rivers, thou the sea;
Thou, on far summits, moist with wine,
Thy Bacchants’ tresses harmlessly
Dost knot with living serpent-twine.
Thou, when the giants, threatening wrack...
Among other motifs in this same ode, Horace also refers to the “bending” or bowing of rivers by the god, an indication of Dionysus’s crossing dryshod the rivers Orontes and Hydaspes.
In his Metamorphoses (3.315), Roman writer Publius Ovidius Naso or “Ovid” (43 BCE–17/18 AD/CE) relates that Bacchus is “twice born.” Ovid (Met. 3.509ff) also recounts the story of Pentheus and Bacchus, as found in Euripides’s Bacchae but with differences and embellishments. Regarding Dionysus’s horned appearance, the Latin poet remarked: “Adorn your head with horns, and Bacchus you will be.”
In his Hercules Furens (899–900), Roman dignitary Seneca (4 BCE–65 AD/CE) sums up Bacchus as “the tamer of Lycurgus and the ruddy sea, who bears a spear-point hidden beneath his vine-wreathed staff.”
Seneca translator Dr. Frank Justus Miller notes that the “ruddy sea” refers to the body of water that Dionysus “crossed when he conquered India.” Seneca’s original Latin for “ruddy sea” is rubri maris, the word rubri or “ruddy” connoting redness, as in the Red Sea. In the Vulgate, “Red sea” is mare Rubrum. Again, if Dionysus was “born” in Egypt, then he could be said to cross the Red Sea when his viniculture cult found its way east.
Pliny the Elder
In his Natural History (6.21), Roman dignitary and philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus or “Pliny the Elder” (23–79 AD/CE) speaks of “Father Liber” and his conquest of India, referring to the “city Nysa” and “Mountain Merus” consecrated to the god, the latter mountain “from which arose the fable that he sprung from the seed of Jupiter.”
Speaking of the Greek island of Andros, Pliny (2.103) also refers to a “fountain in the temple of Father Bacchus, which upon the Nones of January always runneth with water that tasteth like wine...” Here we see the waterto-wine miracle on the 5th of January (Nones), while the 6th represents the birthday of Osiris, Dionysus and Jesus, discussed below.
Throughout this work, we have read repeated remarks regarding Dionysus, as well as Osiris, by the Greek writer and priest Plutarch, during the second century AD/CE. From Plutarch we also learn that Dionysus is “counted a physician for finding wine, the most pleasing and most potent remedy,” as well as for “bringing ivy, the greatest opposite imaginable to wine, into reputation...”
Plutarch reiterates that “the ancients of all the creeping beasts consecrate the snake to Bacchus, and of all the plants the ivy...” The emphasis on ivy in the Bacchic mythos occurs because the plant was used to counter the effects of alcohol, preventing drunkenness and “hangovers.”
The numerous references in the second century AD/CE by Pausanias to monuments and other artifacts associated with Bacchus in various locations demonstrate the continued popularity and importance of the god. While Dionysus is associated with Osiris, Pausanias (2.13) tells us also that, as one might expect, the Egyptian god’s sister-wife, Isis, was worshipped alongside Bacchus at a place called Omphalos/Umbilicus,995 the “navel of the world.”
At 2.20, 23, the Greek writer discusses “Bacchus when he led his army to Argos” and mentions also the “army of Dionysus.”
Referring to the inhabitants of Brasiae, Greece, and contending that the story is found nowhere else in the country, Pausanias (3.24.3) remarks that “Semele, after giving birth to her son by Zeus, was discovered by Cadmus and put with Dionysus into a chest, which was washed up by the waves in their country…” At 3.24.4, he states:
The people of Brasiae add that [the queen of Thebes/goddess] Ino in the course of her wanderings came to the country, and agreed to become the nurse of Dionysus. They show the cave where Ino nursed him, and call the plain the garden of Dionysus.
Pausanias (4.36.7) also states that “there is a spring below the city near the sea, the water of which they say gushed forth for Dionysus when he struck he ground with a thyrsus.” He continues: “For this reason they call the spring Dionysias.” Here we see several germane elements included in the Moses myth.
Like Varro, Cicero, Diodorus and others, in the second century AD/CE Arrian too spoke of different Dionysi, one Athenian Iacchus as the son of Zeus and Kore/Persephone, and the other the Theban.
Arrian also mentions a “Dionysopolis,” where a statue of the god washed ashore, a city formerly called Κρυνος Krunos, reflecting its nearby springs.
In the middle of the second century AD/CE, Justin Martyr and several other early Church fathers discussed Dionysus/Bacchus/Liber, basically repeating the themes previously analyzed.
Justin relates that, in an Orphic hymn equating the Greek gods Zeus, Helios, Hades and Dionysus, the composer also invokes Orpheus’s friend Musaeus and the “Word divine,” the “one and universal king,” as well as the “selfbegotten” and “only One, of whom all things and we ourselves are sprung.” This writing sounds so Judeo-Christian that Justin raises up this poem as an example of monotheism.
Justin also claims that several other Greek luminaries, such as Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Diodorus and others, had borrowed heavily from the Pentateuch, demonstrating that even in antiquity and among Christian apologists the parallels between pagan and biblical stories and traditions were noticed and remarked upon. Many of these similarities, however, existed hundreds to thousands of years earlier, before Hebrew emerged as a separate language and the Bible was composed.
Lucian of Samosata
In his essay “Dionysus, an Introductory Lecture” (1), famed satirist Lucian (c. 125–c. 180? AD/CE) also discusses Bacchus, recounting the god’s triumph in India and relating it to his own “foibles” from incessant criticism of his works. Lucian’s commentary includes mention of the wild and serpent-girded maenads, the ivy, tambourines and “horns like a new-born kid’s.”
Lucian (3) writes that the Bacchantes and their god used fire to conquer the Indians, “for fire is the Bacchic instrument, Dionysus’s very birthright,” referring to the ancient myth in which Bacchus’s mother, Semele, is consumed by Zeus’s lightning. This motif is reminiscent of the pillar of fire leading the Israelites through the desert, and, indeed, we read that fiery Bacchus himself is a “pillar.” The association of Bacchus with or as fire is also suggestive of Yahweh’s burning bush, a solar attribute.
Clement of Alexandria
Writing in the second to third centuries, theologian Clement Alexandrinus appears to have known that already in antiquity people were making comparisons between Moses and Dionysus. We have seen that decades earlier Plutarch had equated the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles with the Bacchic fall ritual and centuries before Diodorus had compared the two lawgivers. It is reasonable to assert that others in antiquity did likewise, and it is useful to remind here of the massive amount of cultural destruction since ancient times, including various relevant writings.
In Miscellanies (1.16), Clement remarks that the Greek god “on whose account the Dionysian spectacles are celebrated, will be shown to be later than Moses.” In his calculations, the Church father (Misc. 1.21) concludes that Moses was “shown to have preceded the deification of Dionysus six hundred and four years... This contention is demonstrated in the present work to be erroneous, as the wine god precedes the Hebrew lawgiver by hundreds to thousands of years, including in the pertinent region as El Elyon among many other forms.
Also in chapter 21, Clement attempts to show that Mosaic law is older than the “philosophy of the Greeks,” with the latter the plagiarists of the former. As we have seen, however, the Mosaic law and lawgiver evidently are remakes of older archetypes found in numerous places, centuries to millennia before the Israelite myth was composed.
In order to convince his audience to accept as “historical fact” the supposed appearance of God as a pillar of fire in the desert, the Alexandrian raises pagan parallels for this divine intervention, including as concerns Dionysus. We have seen also that Clement (Misc. 1.24) describes a Bacchic or Orphic oracle comparable to the pillars of Yahweh in Exodus.
In any event, Clement evidently was under pressure to establish Moses as the original legislator, a reflection of the fact that the Hebrew patriarch was being compared to other lawgivers, as by Diodorus, whom the Alexandrian father specifically mentions in this discussion.
Another discussion of Dionysus occurs in a text from the second century AD/CE, the Macedonian rhetorician Polyaenus’s Strategems in War or Στρατηγήματα Strategemata (1.1–2), in which we read about the wine god’s “expedition against the Indians.” Most of the details of Polyaenus’s account can be found in earlier writings about Dionysus. The Macedonian mythographer provides a fairly complete summary of the Dionysian myth.
In Imagines (1.14ff), Philostratus (2nd–3rd cents. AD/CE) reiterates the story of Dionysus’s birth from Semele, with the god’s bright light shining “like a radiant star” as he is born in a “charming” cave filled with foliage, including Bacchus’s signatory ivy and grapevine. Philostratus next states that the earth “will take part with the fire in the Bacchic reveal and will make it possible for the revelers to take wine from springs and to draw milk from clods of earth or from a rock as from living breasts.”
At Imagines 1.18, the Greek philosopher discusses Dionysus’s followers, referring to painted scenes from Mt. Cithaeron of “choruses of Bacchantes, and rocks flowing with wine, and nectar dripping from clusters of grapes, and the earth enriching the broken soil with milk.” He also refers to serpents standing erect and thyrsus “trees” dripping with honey. There follows a reminder of the terrible story of Pentheus’s slaughter.
In the next section (1.19), Philostratus discusses Tyrrhenian pirates and their ship, saying that “the thyrsus here has grown in the midst of the ship and serves as a mast, and sails dyed purple are attached to it, gleaming as they belly out in the wind, and woven in them are golden Bacchantes on Mount Tmolus and Dionysiac scenes from Lydia.”
The philosopher then states: “That the ship seems to be embowered with vine and ivy and that clusters of grapes swing above it is indeed a marvel, but more marvelous is the fountain of wine, for the hollow ship pours forth the wine and lets it drain away.” Here is yet another depiction of a wine miracle.
Catholic scholar Pierre Danet (18th cent.) says that Philostratus “assures us that the Indians held that their Bacchus came to them out of Assyria,” which the Frenchman avers demonstrates that Dionysus is Noah.
In describing the abolition by one Amosis of the “law of sacrificing men in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis,” ancient Greek historian Porphyry (c. 234–c. 305 AD/CE) tells us in Animal Food (2.55) about a man on the island of Chios, Greece, torn to pieces as a sacrifice to Bacchus.1012 Porphyry (A.F. 3.16) iterates that the Greeks “united a ram to the statue of Jupiter, but the horns of a bull to that of Bacchus.” The historian (A.F. 3.17) also confirms Dionysus’s epithet of “kid,” hinnuleius in the Greek.
In On the Cave of the Nymphs (6), referring to bowls and amphorae traditionally used to hold wine, Porphyry remarks that they are symbols of Bacchus, “friendly to the vine, the gift of God; since the fruit of the vine is brought to a proper maturity by the celestial fire of the sun.” Here we see the correlation between the grapevine and the fiery sun, which ripens the fruit and ferments the wine.
Citing others such as Diodorus, Eusebius (3rd–4th cents. AD/CE) recounted numerous aspects of the Dionysus myth, including the god as “brought from Egypt by Orpheus” (Praep. ev. 10:8), as well as serving as the “twin brother” of Osiris and the inventor of wine and beer. Eusebius also mentions Bacchus’s bimater or “two-mothered” status, his wands used as clubs, his allegorization by Porphyry, his rending by the Titans, and his being horned and identified with the sun.
According to Jerome, Eusebius related that Dionysus had arrived in Attica in 1497 BCE, while the god was reborn of Semele at Thebes around 1387 BCE. This anachronism evidently reflects the movement of the Bacchic wine cult.
At Preparation for the Gospel 9.27, Eusebius mentions Artapanus’s book Concerning the Jews, in which the author equates “Mouses” (Moses) with Musaeus.
We also learn from Eusebius about human sacrifice associated with Bacchus, in his Theophania (2.58), where he recounts evidently the same story as Porphyry of a sacrifice of a man to the “Omadian Bacchus in Chios, when they had torn him (to pieces)!”
Like numerous other cultures in antiquity, the Hebrews were known to practice human sacrifice, such as the sacred-king scapegoat ritual. It is this practice encountered in the Bible when Abraham is about to sacrifice his son and when God completes the ritual with his own son. Indeed, the latter oncefor-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ was designed to put an end to what was obviously a problem around the Mediterranean. Hence, this ritual too connects the Dionysian and Jewish religions.
It is obvious not only that Jews were well aware of Bacchus but also that they revered his cult enough to feature him prominently, according to Maccabees, as well as Plutarch’s statements and the depiction of Dionysus’s life-cycle in ancient mosaics in Israel.
Fig. 66. Herakles and Dionysus, 3rd–4th cents. AD/CE. Mosaic at Sepphoris/Tzippori, Israel
Indeed, the presence of Dionysus on mosaics from the third to fourth centuries AD/CE in the finely appointed home of the apparent Jewish patriarch at Sepphoris or Tzippori, a village in Galilee, lends weight to Plutarch’s commentary. Significantly, this imagery depicts Bacchus and Herakles in a wine-drinking contest, which Dionysus wins, a theme flagrantly featured in the prominent Jewish citizen’s home. Since Herakles was a favorite of the Phoenicians, this symbolism could reflect the defeat of that faction commercially, in the wine trade. This central place for Bacchus indicates the wealth of the community depended significantly on the blessings of the grape.
If these later Jews were aware of Dionysus and unflinchingly revered him, it is reasonable to suggest that Israelites knew about his worship and myth in more remote antiquity, particularly as they became wine connoisseurs, a trade that dates back 3,000 years in the hill country where they emerged.
It is very significant that this site of Bacchus worship, Sepphoris, was deemed the Cana of the New Testament, where Jesus was said to have produced his water-to-wine miracle. It is clear that the gospel writers were imitating the popular Dionysus worship with the newly created Christ
In the fifth century AD/CE, Macrobius published a book called Saturnalia, which discusses numerous deities of the Roman Empire at that time, including various Greek gods who are identified with each other and possess many solar attributes. In this regard, Macrobius treats virtually all such deities as sun gods, including and especially Dionysus/Bacchus/Father Liber.
Bacchus as Apollo
As we have seen, the Roman writer also equated Bacchus with Apollo, whose battle with the serpent or water monster he identified as a solar myth. In his comparisons, Macrobius (1.18.7) further remarked:
But given the earlier proof that Apollo and the sun are the same, and the subsequent demonstration that father Liber is the same as Apollo, there can be no doubt but that the sun and father Liber must be considered aspects of the same godhead… They observe the holy mystery in the rites by calling the sun Apollo when it is in the upper (that is, daytime) hemisphere; when it is in the lower (that is, night-time) hemisphere, it is considered Dionysus, who is Liber.
Thus, again, Bacchus possesses the same role as Osiris, the sun of the night or “underworld.”
Macrobius (1.18.9–10) also cites depictions of Dionysus, including as symbolically representing the winter solstice, “like the image the Egyptians bring out from its shrine on a fixed date, with the appearance of a small infant, since it’s the shortest day.” Other Bacchic images represent the equinoxes and summer solstice, the latter sporting a long beard indicating the length of the day.
More proofs of Dionysus’s solar nature can be found in Macrobius, including citations of older texts such as the Orphic hymns. The name Sabazius or Sebazius is explained (1.18.11) as denoting the Thracian sun god, equated with Dionysus and previously mentioned as an archaic beer god. Moreover, the “physical scientists” explain that Dionysus is the “mind of Zeus,” because “the sun is the mind of the cosmic order…”
As is appropriate for a legislator, the sun, “whom they call with the surname Dionysus,” is the “god of good counsel,” similar to a title ascribed to Bacchus by Plutarch.
Macrobius is insistent on Dionysus’s solar nature, as in the Orphic hymns: “The sun, whom they call with the surname Dionysus.”
We learn also from the Roman (1.18.18) the neat solar summation ascribed to Orpheus, previously mentioned:
εἷς Ζεύς, εἷς Ἀίδης, εἷς Ἥλιος, εἷς Διόνυσος.
One Zeus, one Hades, one Helios, one Dionysus.
In addition, we discover that, by the authority of the “sacred verses” of the oracle of Apollo of Claros, another name given to the sun is “Iao.” Says Macrobius (1.18.19–20):
For when Apollo of Claros was asked, concerning the god called Iaô, which of the gods he should be considered, Apollo replied as follows:
Those who know the mysteries should conceal things not to be sought.
But if your understanding is slight, your mind feeble, say that the greatest god of all is Iaô:
Hades in winter, Zeus at the start of spring, the sun in summer, delicate Iacchos [=Dionysos] in the fall.
Macrobius (1.18.21) cites earlier writer Cornelius Labeo (c. 3rd cent. AD/CE?) as identifying “father Liber and the sun as Iaô.”
As concerns this name Iao, Macrobius editor Dr. Robert A. Kaster remarks:
Derived from Yahu, a form of the sacred name of the Jewish God, “Iaô” appears in syncretizing contexts, as here, in Gnostic texts, and as a name to conjure with in the magical papyri.
Thus, again, Yahu or Yahweh, the Jewish tribal war god, is equated with Iao and is therefore solar as well. Moreover, if Iao is also Dionysus, then so too is Yahweh.
Also, Macrobius (1.19.16) identifies Dionysus’s thyrsus/wand as a solar artifact, as is Mercury’s caduceus, the staff with intertwined snakes, essentially the same as Moses’s rod.
In his scholia or commentary on Plato’s Phaedrus, Neoplatonist philosopher Hermias or Hermeias of Alexandria (c. 410–c. 450 AD/CE), in speaking of the renewing nature of Bacchus’s nymphs, remarks that “this Dionysus or Bacchus supplies the regeneration of every sensible nature.” In this regard, Kerenyi likewise writes about Dionysus as the “archetypal image of indestructible life,” representing eternal life, like his Christian imitator.
Fig. 67. Hermes’s winged caduceus with two snakes
In the late fifth or early sixth century AD/CE, Greek poet Nonnus/ Nonnos composed an epic poem entitled Dionysiaca, the longest such work that has survived from antiquity. The poem uses Homeric language and hexameter in describing Dionysus’s life, expedition to India, and his “triumphant return to the west.”
As we know, this tale of Dionysus’s journey to India is a millennium or more older than the time of Nonnus’s writing, and it is believed that the poet obtained much of his information from more ancient texts that predated the common era by centuries. While drawing on Homer, Nonnus was influenced also by Hesiod, Euripides, the Theban poet Pindar (522–443 BCE) and Callimachus. He may allude as well to the lost poems of Euphorion of Chalcis (b. c. 275 BCE), Peisander of Laranda (fl. c. 3rd cent. AD/CE) and the Libyan epicist Soteirichus (3rd–4th cents. AD/CE). In this regard, Nonnus is considered a chronicler of “lost Hellenistic poetry and mythic traditions,” reflecting his reliance upon older sources.
Read widely in late antiquity and into the Byzantine era (330–1453 AD/CE) and Renaissance (14th–17th centuries AD/CE), Nonnus’s massive work includes 48 books containing different episodes in the mythical life of Dionysus/Bacchus. We read in book 2, for example, about the battle of the gods and giants, reminiscent of other great epics such as the Mahabharata and Iliad.
Book 4 (260ff) speaks of Kadmos/Cadmus’s knowledge of Egyptian secrets and wisdom. A Phoenician prince whose sister was Europa and who traditionally founded the Greek city of Thebes, Cadmus was given credit for bringing the “Phoenician” alphabet to Greece. Per Herodotus’s reckoning, Cadmus’s era was about 2000 BCE, long before the Phoenician invention of the alphabet, so this story may reflect the proto-Greek Pelasgian alphabet instead. Nevertheless, it is important to note that aspects of Greek culture have been attributed since antiquity to the Egyptians and Phoenicians, these two ethnicities themselves sharing a cultural exchange for centuries, at least as early as 4,600 years ago.
Book 7 of Nonnus describes the birth of Dionysus to the mortal Semele, impregnated by Zeus/God at the bidding of Aion, a god of Time. Book 8 depicts Semele’s fiery death because of trickery by Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera. Dionysus is snatched up by Zeus and, in book 9, reborn, given to Hermes and handed off to the Theban queen-goddess “Ino of the Waters,” an appropriate designation for one drawing a god from the waters. Hence, the god is “twiceborn.”
The Sun, Wine and Grapevine Paramours
As do the earlier sections, Nonnus’s books 10 through 12 contain natureworshipping themes, including the discovery of wine and a tale about the young Bacchus “falling in love” with a boy, Ampelos/Ampelus, who in reality represents the vine. In this regard, we can see that what appears to be a homoerotic and pederastic myth in fact has nature-worshipping significance, as Ampelus is changed into the grapevine, which the solar Dionysus adopts as his plant, subsequently discovering the magical elixir of wine.
After this story, in book 13 we find Zeus ordering Dionysus to take his human army to India, where he was said to have spread viniculture and viticulture. Because of his skills in wine-making, Bacchus is able to defeat the Indians by making them drunk.
Staphylus and the Grape Bunch
Another nature-worshipping theme occurs in Nonnus’s book 18, in which an Assyrian man named “Staphylus” (Στάφυλος ) and his family become drunk with Dionysus at a banquet. The following morning, Staphylus/Staphylos “talks about the gods and giants, as well as the origin of the Indians, and then dies.” The Greek word staphylos or staphyle refers to a bunch of grapes, a theme to be discussed below.
The Ruddy Sea
In books 20 and 21 of his Dionysiaca, Nonnos/Nonnus sets his tale in Phoenicia and/or Arabia, which is relevant for the reason that it demonstrates an association of Bacchus with the Near and Middle East, the area in which the Moses myth was formulated. Book 20 recounts the driving of Dionysus and his followers into the “ruddy sea” in “Arabia” by the king Lycurgus, a motif also related by Seneca.
In book 22, we are treated to Bacchus’s performance of miracles, including turning water to milk and compelling rocks to spout wine. The Indians are not impressed and nonetheless attack his army. Books 23 and 24 recount this war, verse 23.18 discussing Dionysus’s crossing of the Hydaspes river with his army, during which time he drowns his foes. In book 25, Dionysus finally causes the Indians to become drunk and incapacitated, so he can sack their city.
In book 25 too (380ff), we read about Dionysus’s shield, covered by constellations and various scenes from Greek mythology. Numerous other adventures follow that resemble depictions of various characters in the Old Testament, engaging in episodes of sex scandals, more fighting, battles with giants, divine interventions, trickery and so on.
Along the way, the Indians manage to kill many of Dionysus’s followers or Bacchantes (35), while in book 36 the gods step in to take sides, much like in the Homeric and Indian epics, as well as in the various biblical battles between the Yahwists and devotees of other gods around the region.
The war ends in book 40 with the defeat of the Indians and triumph of Dionysus, like his biblical counterparts conquering the natives of Midian and Canaan. In this same book, Dionysus is depicted as traveling to the Phoenician city of Tyre, where he learns about the city’s mythical founding by the demigod and son of Zeus, Hercules/Herakles.
Another epic clash occurs between the armies of Poseidon’s sea gods and those of Dionysus in book 43, in “a war of the waters and a battle of the vine.” In book 44 of the Dionysiaca appears the tale of the god’s arrest and imprisonment at the hands of Pentheus, for which act the latter is torn to pieces by the maenads, who include his own mother.
Book 47 recounts the motif of Bacchus introducing viticulture to the Thebans, who, when drunk, kill the first farmer who produces wine, an elderly tiller who himself previously had gotten intoxicated, in a tale reminiscent of the biblical tiller Noah’s drinking binge in Genesis 9. The farmer’s daughter, Erigone, subsequently commits suicide and is made by Zeus into the constellation of the same name. Hence, again we are looking not at “history” of “real people” but at mythical motifs designed to explain how various phenomena and traditions came to be. In specific, this motif is astronomical or astrotheological in nature.
Finally, book 48 recounts the myth about Hera provoking giants to attack Dionysus, who kills them. In this book also, Bacchus travels to Asia Minor. At this point, the god is placed among the Olympians.
To reiterate, Nonnus’s epic poem, which recounted several myths of Dionysus that had been around for 1,000 or more years, was popular from the time of its composition (5th–6 cents. AD/CE), all the way through the Renaissance, which ended in the 16th century AD/CE.
Starting in at least the early 17th century in Western scholarship, European theologians and others began noticing the parallels between Dionysus and Moses. One of the theologians around this time who made a case for a Moses-Dionysus connection was English scholar Hugh Sanford (d. 1607).
Published in 1611 but completed several years earlier, Sanford’s Latin opus De Descensu Domini Nostri Iesu Christi ad Inferos was built upon for decades afterwards and presented significant comparisons between the two figures.
Sanford’s work is summarized by Don Allen:
Following the evidence of ancient history and his three linguistic laws, Sanford discovers that Isis is the mother of Moses and that Moses was also known as Misen, Mises and Moso. Sanford finds it more reasonable to identify Moses with Bacchus of Nysa, a placename which is an anagram of “Syna” or Sinai. Reading Nonnos’ epic about Bacchus, Sanford noticed the name Maira, the dog-star, a distorted form of the name of Moses’ sister Miriam. Orus is Aaron; and Caleb, which means “dog” in Hebrew, is Bacchus’ companionable pet...
In consideration of what we know about Osiris, Horus and Isis, it is reasonable to find in Moses, Aaron and Miriam their traces,1039 especially since Osiris is equated with Dionysus, who in turn has been identified with Moses. We have seen also that Aaron and Horus possess intriguing commonalities, and it is noteworthy that Isis was styled with the Egyptian epithet “Meri,” meaning “beloved,” while מרים Miryam is Semitic for “Maria” and “Mary.”
Sanford also thus averred that Nysa was an anagram of Sinai. The Greek word for Nysa is Νῦσα, which could be pronounced “Neesah,” while the LXX for Sinai is Σινα, the pronunciation of which is “Seenah.”
Summarizing these correlations popularized centuries earlier by Sanford, English Egyptologist Dr. Samuel Sharpe (1799–1881) added: “Nysa was an Egyptian method of spelling Sinai backward; and…Mount Sinai had been for untold ages, before the reputed period of Moses, a ‘holy hill,’ the fabled resort of the gods.”
Another scholar of the 17th century who made the Moses-Dionysus connection was Dutch theologian and humanist professor Dr. Gerhard Johannes Vossius (1577–1649), also known as Gerhard Johan Voss, whose real name was Gerrit Janszoon Vos.
In his massive Latin work De theologia gentili et physiologia Christiana, initially published around and never translated into English, the devout Christian Vossius contended that humanity had made the “mistake of looking to Nature rather than to the God of Nature,” which led to the proliferation of nature gods and goddesses such as “Joves and Junos, found in every sacred acre of the world.” These nature-based pagan deities, Vossius averred, were biblical figures erroneously perceived: “Great patches of Vos’s book are devoted to the borrowed Hebrew theologies and sacred histories of the ethnics.” Vossius makes many equations between these various Jewish and Gentile characters, including that “Moses is Liber, Osiris, Monius, Mises, Moso and Milichus.”
Regarding Vossius, Don Allen remarks:
Picking up Sanford’s Nysa-Sinai intimation, Vos develops the Moses-Bacchus relationship still further. Both heroes spent a good deal of time in the Arabian desert, and the Dionysian laureate Nonnos probably had the crossing of the Red Sea in mind when he wrote of his hero that “he took to his heels and ran in fear too fast to be pursued/until he leaped into the gray waters of the Erythraian Sea.”
Allen next comments: “There is little doubt that Vos knew more about world religion than almost anyone else in his generation…”
As it turns out, where there is smoke, there is fire, and these learned individuals were not mistaken in noticing and explicating this comparative religion theme of Moses and Dionysus. Since they were largely clergy with a vested interest and, probably, sincere beliefs, they could not or would not admit that the Jewish supernatural stories were unoriginal and had borrowed from the pagan myths, rather than the other way around. Nor could they afford to look closely at the guarded meanings or “mysteries” behind these myths so commonly held.
The Moses-Bacchus correlation appeared so obvious (and fascinating) to the European educated elite, the majority of whom were Christian authorities, that they spent centuries engaged in its analysis. One conclusion as to how this strange development had occurred was proffered by Samuel Bochart in the 17th century.
Bochart surmised that, after Moses’s story became known throughout the Levant, Phoenician sailors led by Cadmus, a supposed contemporary of Joshua, adopted the tale and spread it wherever they went. This conclusion of Phoenicians spreading religion via their many sea voyages is highly valuable, but the facts indicate the opposite transmission, as the Bible writers composed myths largely revolving around the deities of the Phoenicians, Canaanites and Ugaritians, as well as the Sumero-Babylonians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Indians and so on.
Moreover, Cadmus’s era was almost a thousand years earlier than Joshua, per Herodotus, so they could not have been contemporaries, even if these figures both were historical.
Bochart associated Bacchus with the biblical character of Nimrod as well, an identification built upon by other writers who followed.
So close were these correspondences in the Dionysus myth that certain devout believers wrote long treatises presenting the parallels’ purported biblical originals. One such individual was British theologian and vicar Rev. Theophilus Gale (1628–1678), who cited biblical chapter and verse whence the Greek poets allegedly had plagiarized their Bacchic tales.
In his book The Court of the Gentiles, in the chapter “The Theogonie of Bacchus from Sacred, or Hebrew, Names and Traditions,” Gale lists 17 parallels between the Moses and Dionysus stories and tries to trace them to the Bible, providing various scriptures as their basis. He begins by attempting to show how several of Dionysus’s names were “of Hebrew extract,” stating that “in prosecution of our undertaking, we shall endeavor to demonstrate that the many fabulous narrations of Bacchus, his names and attributes, were but corrupt and broken imitations of Jewish names and traditions.”
Building upon the work of Sanford and Bochart, Gale cites Dionysian epithets purportedly lifted from the Bible, including Bacchus, Jacchus, Euvius, Adonis and Sabus. He also discusses the connection between Yah/Iah, Iao and Iacchus, while Adonis is equated by him with Adonai.
As concerns the name “Dionysus,” Gale insists it comes from Exodus 17:15, in which, after the slaughter of the Amalekites, Moses is claimed to have set up an altar at Rephidim with the unusual name “Jehovahnissi.” The churchman speculates that, since Dionysus was from Arabia, basically where Mt. Sinai was situated, he or the Greek poets must have seen the altar and copied the name. There exists no evidence that such an altar was ever visible for anyone to see or copy, but this name indeed may reflect the ancient Bacchus cult among the Semites, including the Israelites, as we shall see.
Included in Gale’s analysis is the Nysa-Syna transposition. Gale also equates with Canaan the “land of honey” through which Dionysus was said to travel. He further discusses the comparison between Bacchus or Boachus and Noachus or Noah, including that the latter was said to have introduced the grapevine (Gen 9:20).
We have seen already the bulk of these comparisons in the ancient writings previously examined. Those who followed Gale and others of this era—and there were many—repeated many or most of these same parallels.
In 1682, French Catholic priest Louis Thomassin (1619–1695) also addressed the comparisons between Moses and Dionysus, recounting Vossius’s work and summarizing the main parallels, including:
Moses was born in Egypt, and Orpheus, in the hymns attributed to him, renders the same testimony to Liber, or to Bacchus; making him son of the goddess Isis, and making him born from the waters of the Nile, where Moses was exposed....
Thomassin also discusses the name of Moses, which “comes from that which was pulled from the waters.” He calls the lawgiver by the Latin moniker Masa extraxit (“Moses extracted”) and says that “Orpheus in the Hymns or in the Mysteries gives to Bacchus the name of Mises, and names him born from the waters...”
As parallels between the Greek and Hebrew figures, the French priest raises up the two mothers, Nysa, the flight across the Red Sea, the presence of women in the army, the horns, the smiting of a rock for water, the serpent, the “dog,” the “milk and honey,” the role of lawgiver, the “double law” and the miraclemaking.
Thomassin cites many of the ancient sources for these comparisons, including Clement, Diodorus, Euripides, Nonnus, Orpheus, Plutarch, Sophocles and Strabo.
Around the same time, English bishop and theologian Dr. Simon/Symon Patrick (1626–1707) continued the analysis, remarking that, “in Orpheus’s hymns, Bacchus is called Mises, which seems to be the same with Moses; out of whose story all that the Greeks and others say of Bacchus seems to have been framed.”
Thus, yet another Christian authority of a past era was aware of the numerous striking and important parallels between Moses and Dionysus, but, as also a believer in the Bible, he too attempted to trace the Dionysian myth to the Hebrew lawgiver. Nevertheless, it is apparent that these stories are mythical, and the evidence indicates the myth existed first in other cultures, including the Egyptian, Greek, Asian Minor and Levantine.
Patrick also believed Justin Martyr had demonstrated that the major Bacchic proselytizer, Orpheus, learned a number of his doctrines from Moses’s books. However, there is little evidence of detailed knowledge by Gentiles of the biblical stories before these latter were rendered into Greek during the third or second centuries BCE. Justin’s attempts would reveal nevertheless that early Christians were aware of the parallels between the Dionysian/Orphic religion and that of Moses.
In 1700, French scholar and philologist Pierre Danet published A Complete Dictionary of the Greek and Roman Antiquities, in which he included a lengthy entry for Bacchus/Dionysus, recounting his myth and relating Vossius’s comparisons between him and the Israelite lawgiver. Danet translates a long passage from Vossius’s Latin, asserting Moses as Bacchus and detailing the numerous correlations such as the “dog” companion and emphasis on grapes:
One of the most faithful servants of Moses is Celeb, who gave such illustrious proofs of his courage and fidelity when he went to observe and discover the promised Land, and brought back with the other spies the famous bunch of grapes. In like manner, the poets make a dog to have been the companion of Bacchus, the Hebrew word Celeb signifying a dog. Nonnus relates the discourse of Bacchus, when he translated his dog to the stars and made a constellation of it, called Maera or “Little Dog,” which contributes to the ripening of the grapes.
Orpheus gives Bacchus the title of a lawgiver..., attributing to him a double Law, as if he alluded to the Two Tables of the Law of Moses or to Deuteronomy...
Fig. 68. Michiel van der Borch, Spies return from Canaan with grapes, 1332. Vellum, National Library of The Netherlands, The Hague
In his entry on “Bacchus,” Danet states that ancient Egyptians and Greeks confounded Dionysus with “Phoebus, Apollo, Pluto, Apis, Anubis and Osiris,” as well as Janus and Noah. Says he: “Plutarch undertakes to prove that Bacchus is the God of the Hebrews and that all the observations of the Jews are nothing else but the ceremonies of Bacchus.”
Following Bochart was his pupil, the bishop of Avranches Dr. Pierre Daniel Huet (1630–1721), an esteemed scholar in his own right who continued the Moses-Dionysus discussion. Huet suggested, as a related aside, that the famed Greek poet Homer “may have been an Egyptian and not a Greek; further [Homer] read all of Moses’ writings and took over his sacred history and his theology.” Huet averred that “Moses was converted by the Phoenicians into the gods Taautus [Thoth] and Adonis.”
Concerning this contention, Don Allen remarks:
The second metamorphosis fits very snugly, because Adonis was born in Arabia where Moses dwelt, and was, in his myth, hidden in an ark entrusted to Proserpine [Persephone/Kore]…. [According to Huet,] Adonis is, of course, the same as Bacchus, Mercury, Osiris, Apollo and Helios; hence, since Moses is Adonis, he is also these other gods. ...by looking about, Huet discovers Moses in the pantheons of Persia, China, Japan, Mexico and the primitive religions of the Germans, French and English. He is, of course, best found in Greece and Rome, and in the latter country he was worshiped as Romulus.
As writers in antiquity had discussed a number of Dionysuses, so too does Huet bring up various Bacchi as originating with the Pelasgians, referring to one such Dionysus as “Moses.” From all the evidence presented here, this Dionysus would be centuries older than the Moses character, however, the latter evidently created largely in the seventh to third centuries BCE.
The one conclusion we surely can make about this centuries-long continuity of scholarship is that the parallels between Dionysus and Moses are real and highly conspicuous. Furthermore, what Huet’s “monomania” actually reflects are stories of lawgivers and founders of nations similar in many aspects to Moses.
Hence, this learned Christian authority is perceiving a genuine phenomenon, but there is a more universal reason behind this coincidence, as it has to do significantly with the sun, the object of worship for thousands of years that ancient writers such as Macrobius found as the basis of many deities, including the bulk of those discussed by Huet.
Thus, the equation of these gods and heroes is also sensible, although none of their myths is exactly the same, obviously. In reality, universal myths and archetypes are changed according to the era and location of a particular culture or ethnicity, its environment, emphases and mores, traditions and rituals.
So striking and well known were these correspondences between Moses and Bacchus that famed French scholar Voltaire (1694–1778) expounded upon them as well:
The ancient poets have placed the birth of Bacchus in Egypt; he is exposed on the Nile and it is from that event that he is named Mises by the first Orpheus, which, in Egyptian, signifies “saved from the waters”… He is brought up near a mountain of Arabia called Nisa [Nysa], which is believed to be Mount Sinai. It is pretended that a goddess ordered him to go and destroy a barbarous nation and that he passed through the Red Sea on foot, with a multitude of men, women, and children. Another time the river Orontes suspended its waters right and left to let him pass, and the Hydaspes did the same. He commanded the sun to stand still; two luminous rays proceeded from his head. He made a fountain of wine spout up by striking the ground with his thyrsus, and engraved his laws on two tables of marble. He wanted only to have afflicted Egypt with ten plagues, to be the perfect copy of Moses.
The connection to the Orontes river is interesting, in light of its location, near Ugarit, where the Semitic wine god was revered in antiquity. During the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BCE, the “territory west of the Orontes, as far as the Mediterranean coast, belonged to Egypt.” Hence, crossing the river to the east would constitute “fleeing from Egypt.”
Sun Standing Still
Here we see correlations between not only Dionysus and Moses but also Bacchus and Joshua, such as the sun standing still. Rather than serving as an impossible “historical fact,” the tale of the day star arrested in its course reflects the solstice. This motif is clearly part of a solar myth, not history, unless we are to allow that Dionysus’s story too is “real.”
Alas, even the great Voltaire writes here as if he believed the Dionysian myth was a copy of a historical Israelite lawgiver, rather than both representing a mythical founder archetype.
The Moses-Bacchus connection became so well known by the time of American theologian Rev. Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) that he composed notes about it in his renowned Blank Bible, explaining that the “blind heathen” had heard of Moses’s biblical adventures and had imitated them in “whom they called Bacchus.”
In this regard, American religion professor Dr. Gerald R. McDermott states:
Edwards noted in his Blank Bible that heathen stories about gods and goddesses were actually distortions of Hebrew counterparts. Saturn, for example, is a transmutation of Adam, Noah and Abraham; Hercules is a Greek rendition of Joshua, Bacchus of Nimrod, Moses and the Hebrew deity; Apis and Serapis are Egyptian retellings of the story of Joseph.
While the churchman Edwards objected to the “blind heathen” supposing that the ancient gods were the same as biblical figures, he himself was compelled to admit the similarities and derive one from the other, the Bible taking precedence based on his conditioning and vocation.
In Bell’s New Pantheon, published in 1790, John Bell presented the MosesDionysus arguments in detail, with a long list incorporating many of the aspects we have already seen. He began his analysis with a comparison of Bacchus and Nimrod, a study worth examining, as the latter thus may serve as another legislator and wine-god archetype.
Among other parallels, Bell noted the similarity between Bacchus and “Barchus,” “son of Chus,” referring to Nimrod, son of Cush (Gen 10:8; 1 Chr 1:10). Both are “hunters,” and, as the first king of the wine-making region of Babylon, Nimrod is associated with the grapevine.
In his opus Origine de tous les Cultes, ou la Réligion Universelle or Origin of All Religious Worship, French professor Charles Dupuis (1742–1809) built upon this scholarship and laid out the universal syncretism in all its glory. Dupuis’s multivolume opus influenced many people during his time and for decades after, including Napoleon Bonaparte and possibly various American Founding Fathers,1064 remaining relevant to this day.
Dupuis compares Dionysus’s miracles with those of Moses and Jesus. He also discusses in detail the astrotheological or solar connotations of the archetypal myth.
Dupuis is one of the first voices raised in this debate who did not automatically default to biblical priority and who suggested that biblical figures are copies of ancient myths, not the other way around. In this mythicist view, these biblical characters are as mythical as their archetypal predecessors, who possess astrotheological significance.
By the early 19th century, the devout continued to highlight the numerous striking parallels between Moses and Dionysus, including English scholar Rev. William Jillard Hort, who essentially repeated the same list as Gale.
Even though the Moses-Dionysus connection had been made for centuries by some of Europe’s best scholars, the bulk of whom were erudite clergy, Hort’s treatise was subjected to ridicule by those who, thinking in terms of Moses as a historical individual, could not fathom how the two characters could be comparable.
In spite of the attempts over the centuries that made the pagans the borrowers of biblical tales, the perspective continued to shift, and the less devout and non-bibliolatrous evinced that Moses was based on Dionysus. One such commentator was French novelist Charles-Antoine-Guillaume PigaultLebrun or “Le Brun” (1753–1835), who in his Doubts of Infidels (1803)
The history of Moses is copied from the history of Bacchus, who was called Mises by the Egyptians, instead of Moses. Bacchus was born in Egypt; so was Moses... Bacchus passed through the Red Sea on dry ground; so did Moses. Bacchus was a lawgiver; so was Moses. Bacchus was picked up in a box that floated on the water; so was Moses.... Bacchus by striking a rock made wine gush forth... Bacchus was worshipped...in Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, Arabia, Asia and Greece, before Abraham’s day.
Here we see the logical conclusion made in the early 19th century that Moses’s account is mythical, copied from paganism to Judaism, rather than the other way around, as centuries of clergy had averred, thereby continually acknowledging the parallels.
“Abraham’s day” is estimated to be sometime between the 20th and 17th centuries BCE, depending on the source. However, skeptical scholarship contends that the Abraham stories were created much later and that Abraham too is not a historical person.
Taking the perspective that there was a “historical” Bacchus, John Bellamy (fl. c. 1818) identified him as the “same person whom Herodotus calls Sesostris.” His reasons are primarily that “Sesostris came out of Egypt with a great army, and invaded the east in the same manner, and with every circumstance as is recorded of the true Bacchus, who, on account of his conquest, was celebrated in various nations by different names.”
Bellamy then lists several names or epithets by which Bacchus/Dionysus has been known, including “Sheshac” by the Arabs and “Belus” by the Chaldeans, “Mars” or “Valiant” by the Phrygians and Thracians, and, of course, “Osiris” in Egypt.1068 “Belus” is the Latin for Bel, Akkadian for Baal, the Canaanite god and epithet of Yahweh. Here we would have a Semitic prototype from which the Hebrews could have drawn to flesh out both Yahweh and Moses.
Bellamy continues with his list of attributes common to both Bacchus and Sesostris, again concluding that Dionysus is Sesostris, the latter of whom in turn is thought to be the king Shishak mentioned at 2 Chronicles 12:2–3. This Shishak, it should be noted, has been equated by numerous Egyptologists with the pharaoh Shoshenk or Sheshonk I (c. 943–922 BCE). As we know, the mythical Bacchus precedes Sheshonk by centuries.
Demonstrating the confusion that comes with trying to fit mythical characters into history, Bellamy next says that “whoever attentively examines the theology of Bacchus as recorded in the mythology of the heathens, and compares it with the books of Moses, will conclude that the true Bacchus was Moses himself, and that the true Jupiter, the father of Bacchus, was Jehovah the father of all mankind.”
We could not agree more, except that none of these figures in the paragraph above is historical or the god of the universe. That these characters are mythical explains why they are treated so confusedly in both ancient and modern times. For, how could Moses be Bacchus be Sesostris/Shishak, if these are all historical individuals?
Bellamy traces the word “Jupiter” or, rather, “Jao Pater” to Jehovah/Yahweh, an association over 2,000 years old, with Diodorus equating “Iao” with Jupiter.
Bellamy touches on the parallels already seen, naming the rivers that Dionysus was said to cross dryshod as Orontes and Hydaspes, as Horace and Voltaire had done. Bellamy also points out that Diodorus and Strabo “affirm that the sepulcher of Osiris (Bacchus) was unknown to the Egyptians,” comparing this motif with the biblical account of no one knowing Moses’s “sepulcher unto this day” (Deut 34:6).
In his comparisons to show that the “heathen” Bacchus was borrowed from Moses, Bellamy too addressed the epithet “Jehovah Nisi,” to be discussed in detail below:
I shall have occasion to show, when at the end of the Pentaeuch I
prove the heathen mythology to be taken from the ancient Scriptures, that the Bacchus of the heathens was Moses. Bacchus, from the place where he resided, and obtained a knowledge of all the learning of Arabia as well as of Egypt, was called Dionysius [sic], i.e., Dio and Nisi. Plutarch mentions the flight Διονύσου, of Dio-nysius—Homer speaks of the city Nisa, sacred to Bacchus. Nisi [sic] was a city close to a mountain in Arabia. At Nisi Moses resided forty years, and was instructed in mount Sinai respecting the rites and ceremonies of divine worship. For this reason it was that he built an altar there, which he called Jehovah Nisi: Exod. [17:15]. The same is said of Bacchus by Ovid, “Bacchus was instructed in the highest wisdom in a mount of Arabia called Nisi.” Diodorus Siculus informs us that the ancient Brahmans acknowledge the whole system of their civil and religious polity to have been derived from Dionysius [sic]. It is also worthy of remark that Nisi and Sini have a corresponding significance...
Again, the Hebrew for Sinai is סיני Ciynay, which is essentially a transposition of נסי nissi. Considering that both sites have been said to be near Egypt and/or in Arabia, among other locales, this analysis linking them is not farfetched, especially in view of the rest of the correspondences between Moses and Dionysus.
Continuing this scholarship, in his commentary on Exodus 4:17 published in 1836, Rev. Clarke likewise engaged in the Bacchus-Moses comparison, taking the view, as we would expect from a clergyman, that Moses existed first.
In Clarke’s work, we see the same themes, admitted against interest by another theologian, who surely took the time to verify these correspondences, discovering whence they came, as they had been scrutinized for at least 200 years by numerous European and American scholars, representing possibly unparalleled peer review.
Also in the early 19th century, British magistrate Godfrey Higgins (1772– 1833) repeated these various Mosaic and Bacchic correlations given currency by so many previous authorities, in his book Anacalypsis.
Published in 1832, A Catechism of Mythology by American writer William Darlington likewise highlighted the various parallels between Bacchus and Moses, concluding that the pagans copied the Bible.
All of this research over a period of centuries led to the conclusion by some that various biblical characters rank as allegorical figures, a view expounded upon in the works of English minister Rev. Dr. Robert Taylor (1784–1844). Labeled “the Devil’s Chaplain” by his detractors, Taylor composed mythicist works asserting that certain biblical figures were mythical, not historical. Preaching this mythicism from his popular pulpit, the reverend was charged with “blasphemy” and imprisoned on two occasions for a year or more each, during which time he languished but put his thoughts into writing. In his book The Diegesis, Taylor likewise recited various Moses-Dionysus parallels, such as already provided in the present work.
Since Taylor’s time, many others have written about these correspondences, not a few from the perspective that Moses is a mythical copy of Dionysus and not the other way around.
Gerald Massey too listed the various parallels between Moses and Dionysus, connecting them to Egyptian myth, especially as concerns the wind and atmospheric god Shu, mediator between heaven and earth. In the Egyptian texts, Shu is addressed as “the god dwelling in the divine Sekt,” this latter
term designating an “ark or cabin.”
The British scholar also explains the significance of the moniker Jehovahnissi or Jehovah-Nisi, as part of the Shu myth:
Bacchus and Moses are but two forms of Shu-Anhar. Shu is modified into Khu, meaning to govern—a lawgiver. Shu is god of the vine and standard or pedestal. The altar raised by Moses to Jehovah-Nissi is called the lord of my standard.
Massey adds to the lengthy list an overlooked parallel:
Bacchus is said to have married Zipporah, a name of Venus, one of the seven planets. The priest of Midian had seven daughters; Moses married one of these, whose name was Zipporah.
Hence, both legislators were married to one of a group of seven, an astrotheological motif to be discussed.
The Greek god Dionysus’s worship extends back at least 3,200 years, but the reverence for a wine deity in general is much older. Extant ancient texts describing Bacchus’s myth date from the 10th century BCE to the fifth century AD/CE. For many centuries since antiquity, scholars, theologians and others have noted numerous parallels between Dionysus and Moses, most attempting to establish biblical priority but some declaring that the former post-dated and was derived from the latter.
We have seen that important aspects of Bacchus’s life, described consistently for centuries dating back to the 10th century BCE at the latest, correspond to that of the Israelite lawgiver. Also discussed is the contention by Plutarch that the Jews practiced Bacchic rituals and that Diodorus equated the Jewish god with Dionysus, a reverence evident from Dionysian artifacts such as mosaics in at least one house of a wealthy and powerful Jew.
Since it appears that the Moses character was not created until sometime
during or after the Babylonian exile, possibly with his myth in the Pentateuch not taking its final biblical form until the third century BCE, it is conceivable that Bacchic ideas from the Greek historians and poets prior to that time, such as Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Euripides and many others, were incorporated directly in the biblical myth. It is also possible that the framers of the Moses myth were aware of the Dionysian myths because they had been written into plays performed around the Mediterranean for centuries. The story of Bacchus in particular would have been well known enough not to need to rely on the texts directly; hence, the Dionysus-Moses connection could have been made early.
Fig. 69. The Dance of Cogul: Small black ‘Dionysus’ with enormous genitals appears at center right; of 45 dancers, nine are women, c. 10,000 BP? Rock drawing, Lleida, Spain (Henri Breuil)
Fig. 70. Territory of the Pelasgians, 2nd millennium BCE (Megistias)