The First Edition of John as the Dionysian Gospel

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Highlighted citations are my additions to footnotes.

4 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 28-29, 30-32.  — John 1:1-5, 14, 16, 18 Bacchae 1-4 ….

5 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 29.  — John 1:6-8 Bacchae 10-12

6 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 29-30.  — John 1:9-12 Bacchae 26-30

7 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 38-40.  — John 1:19-51 …..

8 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 40-44, 67. — John 2:1-11, 20:30-31  Bacchae 142, 704-7, 712-13

9 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 46-49. — John 5:2-9  Bacchae 180-98, 204-09

10 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 48-49. — John 3.1-24  Bacchae 187-89, 193

11 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 51-55. — John 4:1-42  Bacchae 704-5; 216-223

12 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 64-67. — John 6:53-66  Bacchae 139, 735, 739, 1133-36

13 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 68-71, 89-95. — John 8:12-19; 18:28-19:16 Bacchae 460-506

14 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 71-73. — John 8:32-37, 58-59  Bacchae 498, 641, 432-518

15 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 73-75.  — John 9:1-41  Bacchae 319…

16 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 75-76. — John 10:39-42 Bacchae 636-37

17 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 79-81. — John 11:6-44 Bacchae 498, contra 1374-76

18 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 81-82. — John 11:45-50, 53-57  Bacchae 677-774, 778-80, 784-85, 352-56

19 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 82-83.  — John 12:12-15, 17-19  Bacchae 216-20

20 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 83-85.  — John 13:1, 31-35; 14:4, 6, 31; 15:1-2, 4  ….

21 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 85-87.  — John 18:1-13  Bacchae 434-46

22 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 96-100. — John 19:17-30  Bacchae 1115-21

23 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 102-08. — John 20:1, 11-18  Bacchae 1212, 1298…

24 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 108-09. — John 20:19, 21-23 Bacchae 1340-41, 1354-56; John 20:30-31 Bacchae 1388-92

25 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 79.
26 MacDonald, Dionysian Gospel, 102-08

Numerous and dense parallels rise to the level of highly probable to certain indications of dependence on the Bacchae of Euripides. Such dependence can be seen in a wide range of ways, from identical and unique word choice, to themes and dramatic settings, to character developments and plot twists.

• Like Dionysus, Jesus is a god who comes to earth in mortal disguise.4

• He has a champion heralding him.5

• The people’s leaders reject him.6

• His symbolic names abound.7

• Jesus’s first, stage-setting miracle is clearly a Dionysian one; both bring forth wine miraculously.8

• Yet that is only one of numerous, identity-establishing miracles that the two share in common. Jesus and Dionysus both make old men move as if they are young again.9

• Both prompt devotion from old men in spite of competing family loyalties.10

• The Johannine Jesus provides his own miraculous supply of water and attracts women followers known for their promiscuity, just as Dionysus was famed to do.11

• Both vex their initiates/disciples with the requirement of eating the god’s raw flesh and drinking his blood.12

• Iesus Dionysos is harshly interrogated as to his provenance and paternity.13

• He is the liberator of slaves.14

• He is the one whom his opponents cannot see but the formerly blind clearly can.15

• He is the one who can miraculously escape arrest.16

• He is the one whose initiates travel safely into the underworld and are brought back to life.17

• Jesus and Dionysus are similarly opposed by god-fighters.18

• Yet both are equally acclaimed by many groups of people.19

• Jesus imitates Dionysus even as he rivals him as the true grapevine.20

• Both willingly meet their own arrest.21

• Though the ignominy of the crucifixion and lack of vengeance are uncharacteristic of Dionysus, the Johannine Jesus still plays a Bacchae-inspired role in his imitation of Pentheus, the murdered king.22

• The Johannine resurrection interweaves characteristics of Dionysus and Pentheus in its depiction of the defiled, royal corpse being raised within a garden and women followers who surround him but also do not initially recognize his body.23

• The disembodied apotheosis of the first edition of John is hallmark Dionysus.24

Other adduced parallels run the gamut from uncertain to puzzling. In these occasions, it may simply be that MacDonald knows these texts far better than readers like I do and that he sees connections that have to be explained point by point to the uninitiated. For example, Mary’s anointing of the feet of Jesus is adduced as John’s depiction of Jesus as “a different kind of lover from Dionysus.”25 Yes, Jesus is a murdered king like Pentheus, but why is it that Mary Magdalene rather than Mary the Mother plays the part of the mother of Pentheus, who cannot recognize her son’s body?26 Caveats notwithstanding, these minor quibbles and questions do not impair MacDonald’s Dionysian argument in the least.

(Bilby, 49-51. Formatting is mine)

Bilby, Mark G. 2018. “The First Dionysian Gospel: Imitational and Redactional Layers in Luke and John.” In Classical Greek Models of the Gospels and Acts: Studies in Mimesis Criticism, edited by Mark G. Bilby, Michael Kochenash, and Margaret Froelich, 49–68. Claremont, Calif: Claremont Press.

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  • nightshadetwine
    2019-12-03 05:28:50 GMT+0000 - 05:28 | Permalink

    Richard Seaford and Courtney Friesen also go into this subject.

    Dionysos(Routledge, 2006), Richard Seaford

    …a secret of the mystery-cult was that dismemberment is in fact to be followed by restoration to life, and this transition was projected onto the immortal Dionysos, who is accordingly in the myth himself dismembered and then restored to life. Third, this power of Dionysos over death, his positive role in the ritual, makes him into a saviour of his initiates in the next world… Dionysos, like Jesus, was the son of the divine ruler of the world and a mortal mother, appeared in human form among mortals, was killed and restored to life… The restoration of Dionysos to life was (like the return of Kore from Hades at Eleusis) presumably connected with the immortality obtained by the initiates…Not inconsistent with this is the possibility that the dismemberment myth was related to the drinking of wine that we have seen to be common in the mystic ritual…wine is earlier identified with Dionysos himself (e.g. Bacchae 284), more specifically with his blood (Timotheos fragment 780).

    Reading Dionysus: Euripides’ Bacchae and the Cultural Contestations of Greeks, Jews, Romans, and Christians(Mohr Siebeck, 2015) Courtney Friesen

    A juxtaposition of Jesus and Dionysus is also invited in the New Testament Gospel of John, in which the former is credited with a distinctively Dionysiac miracle in the wedding at Cana: the transformation of water into wine (2:1-11). In the Hellenistic world, there were many myths of Dionysus’ miraculous production of wine, and thus, for a polytheistic Greek audience, a Dionysiac resonance in Jesus’ wine miracle would have been unmistakable. To be sure, scholars are divided as to whether John’s account is inspired by a polytheistic legend; some emphasize rather it’s affinity with the Jewish biblical tradition. In view of the pervasiveness of Hellenism, however, such a distinction is likely not sustainable. Moreover, John’s Gospel employs further Dionysiac imagery when Jesus later declares, “I am the true vine”. John’s Jesus, thus, presents himself not merely as a “New Dionysus,” but one who supplants and replaces him…

    Not only does Paul employ language that reflects mystery cults in several places, his Christian community resembles them in various ways.They met in secret or exclusive groups, employed esoteric symbols, and practiced initiations, which involved identification with the god’s suffering and rebirth. Particularly Dionysiac is the ritualized consumption of wine in private gatherings (1 Cor 11:17-34).

  • 2019-12-03 15:42:38 GMT+0000 - 15:42 | Permalink

    It was probably written by the Cerinthians. They used the earliest version of John, the Signs Gospel, and apparently combined the Jewish Endtimes prophecy with the more Hellenistic concept of heaven that Dionysus worshipers were familiar with.


  • 2019-12-03 16:49:55 GMT+0000 - 16:49 | Permalink

    The reason Mary Magdalene confuses Jesus for the “gardener” is because an earlier tradition identifies Judas as the gardener of the garden where Jesus’ body was buried and then stolen away in the Toledot Yeshu (Matt. 28:13). Since the Gnostics then turned Judas into “Judas Thomas” the twin brother of Jesus, the Gardener would have looked exactly like Jesus.

  • 2019-12-03 18:09:32 GMT+0000 - 18:09 | Permalink

    This has the same problem as the rest of MacDonald’s work.

    I do agree that the turning of water into wine may be a Bacchic reference or a way of casting Jesus as comparable to or superior to Dionysus, but most of the rest I don’t agree with. Just as in the prior example where we looked at the Calming of the Storm scene, most of these things are better explained in other ways.

    “Other adduced parallels run the gamut from uncertain to puzzling. In these occasions, it may simply be that MacDonald knows these texts far better than readers like I do and that he sees connections that have to be explained point by point to the uninitiated.”

    Err, no. This is a sign of a problem, not something to be dismissed. This is exactly how these types of claims shouldn’t be dealt with. Don’t say, “Well I don’t get it, but he’s the expert so I guess he’s right.” Wrong.

    And again, many of these things that MacDonald calls out are better explained from Jewish sources. And again, all of these stories had been stewing together for hundreds of years, so there are already many commonalities between Dionysus and Jewish figures.

    Just a random handful:
    “He is the one who can miraculously escape arrest” – Elijah
    “Jesus and Dionysus are similarly opposed by god-fighters” – Elijah (and other prophets)
    “The people’s leaders reject him” – Elijah (and other prophets)
    “He is the liberator of slaves” – Moses (I mean come on…)
    “Though the ignominy of the crucifixion and lack of vengeance are uncharacteristic of Dionysus, the Johannine Jesus still plays a Bacchae-inspired role in his imitation of Pentheus, the murdered king.” – This isn’t Johneen, this comes at least from Paul and of course from Mark, from which John is ultimately copying.
    “Like Dionysus, Jesus is a god who comes to earth in mortal disguise.” – Same as above.

    In fact, my view of John is that John was explicitly building on Jewish references because he was of the school that was popular in the second century of claiming that the Jews weren’t the authors of the Jewish scriptures and that Jews didn’t understand their own scriptures. John makes this point by building on the Jewish scriptures to identify Jewish hypocrisy, failure and misunderstanding. John isn’t trying to portray Jesus as Dionysus, he’s going out of his way to show the Jewishness of Jesus and how the Jews failed themselves. John is trying to show that Jesus fulfilled all of the Jews expectations (as he understood them) and despite it all they still failed to recognize him and believe in him. If Jesus presented in a Bacchic way then this failure would be understandable, but he isn’t, and that’s why their failure is inexcusable, which is a major theme of John – the inexcusably of the Jewish rejection of Jesus. That whole point fails to be made is Jesus is some new Dionysus.

  • Giuseppe
    2019-12-03 18:35:05 GMT+0000 - 18:35 | Permalink

    The Paraclite, the defender of Christ is a man. And, therefore, the identification that the Gospel proposes for us is artificial. He is supposed to want to enlighten us, to guide us. In reality he misleads us. Let us leave this lie and try to identify the character who originally bore the title of “Defender”, which everyone, on a certain date and in a certain environment, commonly called by that name. To deserve such honor, he must have, doubtless, engaged in an extraordinary apostolate. But which one? The gospel tells us that he has relations with the unbelieving world. But this information, which seems to put us on the right track, teaches us nothing, since Paul and all those who, after him, have spread the Christian name, met on their way the incredulous either Jews or pagans. The embarrassment disappears when one remembers where one is. We are at the spiritual Christ, and it is the master of the house who has the word.

    This man whose spiritual Christ announces the coming has appeared around 130; he was called Marcion. He has ”given witness” to his master; he has “glorified” him; he has “remembered” to the disciples all that the divine doctor had revealed; he has “teached all things”. And we now understand these formulas which, applied to an ordinary apostolate, would seem strange. The “Defender” did not perform an ordinary apostolate. He preached Christ, not to Jews and Gentiles, but to the disciples, more precisely disciples of the disciples, conforming in this to the intention of the teacher who said, 17:20: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message”. It was addressed only to people who had already heard of Christ, who thought they knew him, who knew him, but who had in mind only an image distorted by prejudices. He worked to correct their mistakes, “reminding” them of the teachings given by the teacher but forgotten. In this way he gave “witness” to Christ, to the true Christ, to the spiritual Christ; that is how he “glorified” the Christ. This good servant, let us hasten to say it, was not abandoned to his own strength. His master supported him, inspired him, dictated his sermons (16:13: “He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears… it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”). Yet, despite such a powerful collaboration, the “Defender” achieved only incomplete results. No doubt he made conquests; but the great mass of the Christian people was irreducible and refused to abandon their carnal Christ. The “Defender” had no other resource than to convict this unbelieving world of sin. It is, moreover, what the spiritual Christ had predicted (16: 8): “he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin”.

    Marcion originally occupied the role of Paraclete. Then he was ousted and his role, after a detour, ended up in the Spirit of truth. I said: after a detour. Indeed, the Spirit of Truth, who was the definitive heir of Marcion, was not the immediate heir. The charge of Paraclite, after having escaped Marcion, had an interim holder who exercised it for a few years before yielding it to the Spirit. This holder was Montanus who, from around 160, evangelized the Phrygia.

    (p. 112-114, Le quatrième Evangile, H. Delafosse alias Joseph Turmel, my translation)

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