The Gospel of Mark’s Jesus as a Fearful – yet Merciful – God

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by Neil Godfrey

In the previous post I tried to explain my startled response when, many years ago, I first read the Gospel of Mark in a translation that muffled familiar associations with the other gospels. I recall being left with a feeling of some horror, of a Jesus who was certainly not a human-loveable Lukan figure welcoming home a prodigal son, nor a Johannine “good shepherd” nor a Matthean Jesus who promised to be with his disciples at all times.

* p. 2. Also: Hellenistic Jews and early Christians also engage with the tragedy in various and interesting ways (p.2) . . . . Dionysiac mysteries became particularly popular during the Hellenistic and Roman periods (p.31) . . . . Among ancient poets, Euripides’ popularity in antiquity was second only to that of Homer. (p.41) . . . . performances of his plays became widely accessible, including, as we shall see, to both Jews and Christians (p. 42) . . . . In addition to Euripides’ general status in antiquity, the Bacchae’s popularity in particular is also well attested. (p. 45) . . . . Given the pervasive influence and popularity of tragedy in the Greco-Roman world it is likely that the Gospel’s author knew Greek tragedy. (p. 216) — (Friesen)

** Bilby, MacDonald, Moles, Wick (see bibliography below)

My impression as an outsider reading much of the relevant scholarly literature is that most scholars seem to accept that Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is the “most human” Jesus when compared with his portrayal in the other gospels. But the more I read of Greco-Roman literature that is known to have been the literary matrix from which the gospels were composed, the harder it is for me to accept Mark’s Jesus as even the least bit genuinely “human”. The Jesus in the Gospel of Mark comes across to me very much the way a certain Greek god is depicted in literature “widely popular throughout antiquity”*.

Now I do not want to say that the author of the gospel was intentionally step-by-step modeling Jesus on Dionysus. I mean no more than that he appears to have deemed appropriate for his Jesus various Dionysian tropes that were no doubt familiar in the “wider cultural air”. Others** have written about Dionysian themes in the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles. But in the light of my previous post, consider:

  • I concluded earlier that the Gospel of Mark’s Jesus is a “terrifying figure” but I should have added that he is also a deliverer from suffering. He heals people of their diseases and their demonic torments. Dionysus is likewise a terrifying figure, one who leaves his enemies mystified and fearful over his mysterious origin and fearful powers. But he is also a comforter of those who suffer:

“For he is great in many ways, but above all it was he,
or so they say, who gave to mortal men
the gift of lovely wine by which our suffering
is stopped. And if there is no god of wine,
there is no love, no Aphrodite either,
nor other pleasure left to men.”


“Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god,
most terrible, and yet most gentle, to humankind.”


“filled with juice from vines,
suffering mankind forgets its grief; from it
comes sleep; with it oblivion of the troubles
of the day. There is no other medicine
for misery. And when we pour libations
to the gods, we pour the god of wine himself
that through his intercession man may win
the good things of life.”

  • Jesus comes as a man, a “son of man”, as does Dionysus:

“And here I stand, a god incognito,
disguised as man, beside the stream of Dirce
and the waters of Ismenus”

and having emptied himself of divinity ….

“To these ends I have laid divinity aside
and go disguised as man.”

  • Mark’s Jesus speaks in parables and in his last days he confounds his critics who try to trap him in his words. The god Dionysus speaks in riddles and confounds his enemies with wit. Thus :

“Your answers are designed to make me curious.” . . . “You shall regret these clever answers. . . . You wrestle well—when it comes to words” . . . “The things you say are always strange.” (Pentheus, the enemy of Dionysus, speaking to the god disguised as a man)

“The others are all blind. Only we can see.” (Tieresias, a physically blind follower of Dionysus)

On another occasion the blind prophet Tieresias explains the “true meaning” of a popular myth:

“You sneer, do you, at that story
that Dionysus was sewn into the thigh of Zeus?
Let me teach you what that really means . . . . ”

  • Jesus is the miracle worker above all else. So is Dionysus:

“Sir, this stranger who has come to Thebes is full
of many miracles. ”


“We cowherds and shepherds
gathered together, wondering and arguing
among ourselves at these fantastic things,
the awesome miracles those women [followers of Dionysus] did.”


“I am also told a foreigner [sc. Dionysus] has come to Thebes
from Lydia, one of those charlatan magicians”


“I wanted to report
to you and Thebes what strange fantastic things,
what miracles and more than miracles,
these women [worshipers of Dionysus] do.”

  • Jesus was mocked and humiliated. As was Dionysus. (I know of no classicist who applies the “criterion of embarrassment” to the story of Dionysus to claim that D’s story could not have been “made up” — “who would make up a story about a humiliated god?” — but must have a “historical core”.)

“For I have come
to refute that slander spoken by my mother’s sisters—
those who least had right to slander her.
They said that Dionysus was no son of Zeus,
but Semele had slept beside a man in love
and foisted off her shame on Zeus—a fraud, they sneered,
contrived by Cadmus to protect his daughter’s name.
They said she lied,”


“I tell you,
this god whom you ridicule shall someday have
enormous power and prestige throughout Hellas”


“We captured the quarry [sc. Dionysus] you sent us out to catch.
Our prey here was quite tame: refused to run,
but just held out his hands as willing as you please”

and once captured, the enemy of Dionysus announces a series of humiliating treatments, beginning with…

PENTHEUS First of all,
I shall cut off your girlish curls.

DIONYSUS My hair is holy.
My curls belong to god.

(Pentheus shears away some of the god’s curls.)”

  • One reason scholars claim Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is “more human than divine” is his loss of temper when confronting the hard-hearted Pharisees. Of Dionysus it is also complained that

“CADMUS Gods should be exempt from human passions.”

Those who know their Euripides will recognize the irony in this line. See https://vridar.org/2015/07/10/understanding-the-emotional-jesus-temple-tantrums-name-calling-and-grieving/ (also https://vridar.org/2020/08/04/jesus-the-logos-in-roman-stoic-philosophers-eyes/ and https://vridar.org/2019/05/04/once-more-we-rub-our-eyes-the-gospel-of-marks-jesus-is-no-human-character/ )

    • Another aspect used to assert the humanity, even human sinfulness, of Jesus, is the Gospel of Mark’s straightforward introduction depicting Jesus going to John to undergo a “baptism of repentance”.

No-one should respond to this point until they have read:

Jaccottet, Anne-Françoise. “A.-F. Jaccottet, « Du Baptême de Dionysos à l’initiation Du Christ : Langage Iconographique et Identité Religieuse », in N. Belayche, J.-D. Dubois (Éd.), L’oiseau et Le Poisson. Cohabitations Religieuses Dans Les Mondes Grec et Romain, PUPS, Paris 2011, 203-225.

As Dionysus enters into his own mysteries as a neophyte Dionysiac, so Jesus identifies with those who enter his cult through baptism. As all who follow him must take up his cross, so all who are baptized will enter into baptism with him….  But that’s another post for a later time.

My point here is that Jesus in the Gospel of Mark can, with ease, be slotted into a template that was pioneered by another god who came to the Greek world from “Asia”. It may not be irrelevant to further note that even the Jewish god Yahweh has been identified with Dionysus:

  • Amzallag, Nissim. “Were YHWH and Dionysus Once the Same God?” The Ancient Near East Today: Current News About the Ancient Past, August 2017. http://asorblog.org/2017/08/15/yhwh-dionysus-god/.
  • Escarmant, Christine. “Dionysos dieu des Juifs : la mesure du mélange,” n.d. http://perso.wanadoo.fr/marincazaou/rabelais/dionyses.html.


I have only scratched the surface of the questions arising here. Dionysus come to bring about the fall of the royal house of Thebes as Jesus might be said to presage the fall of Jerusalem and its Temple. Dionysus introduces horror — the divine power leaves his enemies confused and terrified. But one step at a time.

All of the above arose in my mind as I contemplated the question of the origins of Christianity itself. It is so easy to think that the gospel narrative originated with a miracle-working teacher who attracted followers, came to be very highly esteemed, so much so that after his death he was believed to have risen to heaven and to have been the messiah. That might make some sense if the Gospel of Luke was the earliest narrative evidence we have for Jesus. But unfortunately Luke’s gospel is not witnessed by any source until the latter half of the second century. Most scholars have concluded that the Gospel of Mark is the earliest narrative about Jesus. If so, and if the original reading of Mark that makes Jesus a fearful divinity is valid, then it’s back to the drawing board to try to figure out Christian origins. The above concept of the worship of Jesus (or Dionysus) can only make sense if there was already in existence a cult of Jesus (or Dionysus). It cannot explain the origin of that cult.

Friesen, Courtney J. P. Reading Dionysus: Euripides’ Bacchae and the Cultural Contestations of Greeks, Jews, Romans, and Christians. Tü̈bingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015.


  • Bilby, Mark G. “The First Dionysian Gospel:: Imitational and Redactional Layers in Luke and John.” In Classical Greek Models of the Gospels and Acts, edited by Mark G. Bilby, Michael Kochenash, and Margaret Froelich, 3:49–68. Studies in Mimesis Criticism. Claremont Press, 2018.
  • MacDonald, Dennis. The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017. https://www.scribd.com/book/344902292/The-Dionysian-Gospel-The-Fourth-Gospel-and-Euripides.
  • Moles, John. “Jesus and Dionysus in ‘The Acts Of The Apostles’ and Early Christianity.” Hermathena, no. 180 (2006): 65–104.
  • Wick, Peter. “Jesus Gegen Dionysos? Ein Beitrag Zur Kontextualisierung Des Johannesevangeliums.” Biblica 85 (2004): 179–98.

All quotes from Euripides’ Bacchae are from:

  • Griffith, Mark, Glenn W. Most, David Grene, and Richmond Lattimore, eds. “The Bacchae.” In Greek Tragedies 3: Aeschylus: The Eumenides; Sophocles: Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus; Euripides: The Bacchae, Alcestis, Third edition., 278–374. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

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21 thoughts on “The Gospel of Mark’s Jesus as a Fearful – yet Merciful – God”

  1. Good post! Another interesting motif associated with Dionysus is the “triumphal entry”. The Roman emperors would perform triumphs that were imitations of Dionysus’ triumphs. The triumphal entry of Jesus in Mark may be influenced by these triumphal processions performed by the followers of Dionysus and the emperors.

    Dionysos (‎Routledge, 2006), Richard Seaford:

    “Epiphany occurs when deity (or its manifestations) is perceived by one or more of the senses. It will include for instance even the arrival of a statue of a deity in a procession, in so far as the onlookers imagine themselves to be seeing the deity.

    Of all Greek deities it is Dionysos who most tends to manifest himself among humankind, and to do so in various forms (Chapter 2). Plato calls him (along with the Muses and Apollo) a ‘companion of the festival’ (Laws 653d)… The miraculous appearance of ivy or vine, or of wine, may seem to indicate his presence, or even his embodiment in what appears. He may be thought to be present within his worshippers (Chapter 8). Although there is ‘no god more present (praesentior)’ than Dionysos (Ovid Metamorphoses 3.658–9), he may be invisible to those who do not accept him (Euripides Bacchae 500–2)… Epiphanies tend to occur in certain contexts. Two such contexts are ritual and crisis. An example of a ritual epiphany is the advent of Dionysos (impersonated, or as his statue) in a procession at an annual festival, for instance at the Anthesteria (Chapter 2)..

    Much later, the people of Ephesos called Mark Antony ‘Dionysos’ as they escorted him into their city (Plutarch, Life of Antony 24)…

    In Bacchae the chorus’ reference to themselves as conducting (85 katagousai) Dionysos from the Phrygian mountains into the streets of Greece evokes the Katagogia, the processional entry of Dionysos into a city. Dionysos has already, in the prologue, emphasised his intention to manifest himself as a god to all the Thebans (47–8), and in the course of the drama makes further epiphanies. Bacchae gives us unique access to various kinds of Dionysiac epiphany (as it does to other aspects of Dionysiac cult).

    The processional epiphany of Dionysos tended to celebrate the mythical first arrival of the god, and these myths often contain an episode of resistance to his arrival, as for example did the Theban myth dramatised in Bacchae… The social disintegration that results from the neglect of communal cult is often expressed in myth as disease. And Dionysos is often envisaged as purifier or healer, as in the passage of Sophokles quoted in the final sentence of this book. His healing power consists in the social unity achieved by communal ritual and by his status as an outsider. As we saw of Dionysos Aisymnetes at Patrai (Chapter 3), the alien quality of a deity who arrives from elsewhere may serve to fascinate and unite the community…

    Bacchae also gives us a sense of Dionysos as a deity who is, as we noted earlier, somehow closer to humanity than any other deity. His mother was a mere mortal, the daughter of Kadmos. Throughout most of the drama he has the form of a human being, interacting with other human beings but detectable as a god only by his devotees… Later, however, his apparently powerless submission (in the Homeric Hymn to the pirates, in Bacchae to king Pentheus) is transformed into its opposite by epiphany, an emotive transformation that is in some respects comparable to the release of Paul and Silas from prison in the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 9)… Dionysos is chased away or imprisoned by mere mortals, or just disappears (e.g. Plutarch Moralia 717a), but returns in triumph: he is often associated with victory (e.g. kallinikos at Bacchae 1147, 1161). Indeed, the Greek word for triumph, thriambos, first occurs in an invocation of Dionysos (Pratinas 708 PMG), and is also a title of Dionysos (as well as a song). In later texts the practice of the triumphal procession is said to have originated with Dionysos (Diodorus 3.65.8; Arrian Anabasis 6.28.2; etc.). His entry into the community is not just an arrival. It is associated with his victory over disappearance or rejection or capture, with the unity of the community (envisaged as its ‘purification’ from disease), and/or with the arrival of spring.”

    Divine Epiphany in Greek Literature and Culture (Oxford University Press, 2015) Georgia Petridou:

    “Hedreen, on the other hand, attempts to draw parallels between the Phye pompē and the Dionysiac epiphany processions, such as the ship cart epiphany procession of the Anthesteria, or the escorting in from the hearth of the cult statue of the god from his temple in the academy back to the city centre. Peisistratus himself is often discussed amongst the long line of Hellenistic and early Imperial monarchs, who likened themselves, both visually and conceptually, to Dionysus while entering the gates of their cities, and has therefore been regarded as some sort of proto-triumphator. On this interpretation, Peisistratus’ entrance into the city in a jovial pompē is comparable to, let us say, Alexander entering Gedrosia accompanied by his entire army in a quasi-Dionysiac thriambos procession; Demetrius’ remarkably extravagant entrance to Athens in the spring of 307 bc; Attalos’ triumphal entrance to Athens in 201 bc; or Mark Antony’s entering Ephesus in 41 bc amidst women dressed as Bacchants and boys as satyrs and pans in a procession which abounded in pipes, flutes, thyrsoi, ivy branches, and other Dionysiac insignia and paraphernalia. (213) The two structurally integral elements of these triumphal entries were a) the entry of the ruler through the city gates, who was met by the citizenry, and escorted in a jovial procession, often accompanied by hymns and acclamation, to the city’s special local deity’s dwelling; and b) the offering of sacrifices to this deity. The arrival of the victorious ruler signifies the beginning of a new era for the community. These triumphal entrances of the Hellenistic and early Imperial monarchs may have been partly modelled on the epiphany processions of the Archaic and Classical Greek-speaking world.

    (213) Plut. Ant. 24.3–4; Vell. Pat. 2.84.4; Dio Cass. 50.5.3. Cf. also Duff (1992, 55–71), who maintains that Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, as reported by Mark (11.1–10), has been modelled on Graeco-Roman triumphal processions of this sort.”

    “The Return of Hephaistos, Dionysiac Processional Ritual and the Creation of a Visual Narrative”, Guy Hedreen, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 124 (2004), pp. 38-64:

    “To judge from the aetiological myths associated with them, the epiphanic processions symbolized the triumph of Dionysos over, and his belated acceptance by, those who denied his status as a god… The latter form of procession, which Nilsson called an epiphany, is common only in the worship of Dionysos. Several cities in Asia Minor, for example, celebrated a festival of Dionysos known as the Katagogia, the ‘bringing in’ of the god… Both aetiological myths associated with Athenian epiphanic processions of Dionysos are characterized by the same idea, that the god Dionysos triumphs over non-believers and persecutors. A similar storyline underlies Euripides’ Bakchai, and here too one finds processional ritual, the epiphany of Dionysos, and triumph over adversaries closely interrelated. As Seaford and others have noted, in the parodos of the play, the chorus speaks of itself as ‘bringing in Dionysos’… In the prologue of the play, Dionysos claims that he has returned to his city of birth having already established his religion throughout the Near East (13- 22). He claims that he will lead his followers in battle against the Thebans if necessary (50-2). The entrance of the chorus into the orchestra mimics a Dionysiac procession that accompanies the epiphany of the god, and represents the triumph of the god over non-believers.”

  2. Also, the line: “The others are all blind. Only we can see” by Tieresias, the blind follower of Dionysus, is really interesting in relation to the blind man in Mark. Good catch! Some scholars have pointed out a spiritual meaning behind the healing of the blind man in Mark.

    Mark 8-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Yale University Press, 2009), Joel Marcus:

    “spat on his eyes. Gk ptysas eis ta ommata, … As noted in the introduction to the COMMENT, ommata is a more poetic term than the more usual ophthalmoi, which is used in 8:25. It is frequently employed in philosophical contexts in which physical sight becomes an image for spiritual insight; see, for example, Plato’s allegory of the cave and the three texts from Philo that are referred to in the COMMENT on 8:24…

    Gk telaugos, lit. “in a far-shining way”; the word is a compound of tele = “at a distance, far off” and auge “light/beam,” and it is used most often in poetic descriptions of the radiance of the sun or of gods, people, and things that are like it in brightness or splendor (see LSJ 1787). Its usage here reflects the most common ancient theory of vision, according to which sighted creatures see by means of light beams that come out of their eyes rather than into them (see the significantly titled chapter “The Eye as a Lamp” in Allison, Jesus Tradition, 133– 67). In the case of a blind person, however, the beam is trapped and unable to make its way to external objects, so vision cannot ensue (cf. Plato, Timaeus 45d– e: “The eyelids . . . when they are shut tight, curb the power of the inner fire” ; LCL trans. alt.). When such a person’s vision becomes “far-shining,” the beam is freed to travel the necessary distance to objects in the outside world, and the person sees clearly (cf. the NOTE on “his sight broke through” above). Philo frequently uses telaugos and the cognate adjective in this sense in passages that, like our story, compare physical sight to spiritual sight (e.g., Unchangeableness of God 29; Noah’s Work as a Planter 22; see Marcus, “Optics”). In Plato’s famous cave allegory in Republic 7.515c– 17a, for example, the man who is released from the cave and dragged into the light is at first dazzled and unable to see anything, but his eyes gradually adjust until he can discern shadows and reflections of terrestrial objects, then the objects themselves, and finally the moon, stars, and sun. A growth in vision is thus described, as in Mark, and Plato, like Mark, uses this growth as an image for deepening spiritual insight. The image of progressively improving vision is also found in Diaspora Jewish circles, sometimes in ways remarkably similar to our passage; Philo’s On Abraham 70– 71, for example, describes spiritual growth as a gradual opening of the soul’s eye ( omma ), and On Sobriety 3 asserts that divine revelation can happen only if that eye “is nowhere suffused as by rheum or closed, but is able to open itself fully and completely” (see also On Mating 135 and cf. Johnson, “Blind Man,” 375 n. 35; Martyn, Galatians, 398– 400). Similarly, in the case of the Markan blind man, complete recovery of sight is contingent on the removal of the impediment to vision that still remains after Jesus’ first healing touch.”

    What’s interesting about this is that Plato uses initiation language in his story about the cave. In the mystery cults there was a theme of going from darkness to light, or being blinded and then being able to see. Initiates were often blindfolded and then the blindfold was taken off at the end of the initiation so they can have a visionary experience. Caves and other dark places were sometimes used in initiation rituals. Mystery cult deities like Isis and Serapis were well known for healing the blind. Vespasian healed a blind man with spittle and he was said to have received his healing powers through his association with Serapis.

    There’s another interesting line in Bacchae: “Blessed is he who has from the sea escaped the storm and found harbour”. Jesus has the power to calm the storm at sea like Yahweh (Psalm 107:23-25, 28-29). Mystery cult deities also seem to be associated with calming storms at sea.

    Tragedy, Ritual and Money in Ancient Greece (Cambridge University Press, 2018), Richard Seaford:

    “The (mainly cosmological) transformations that Ajax [character in play by Sophocles] lists in the beautiful lines 670–6 – winter into fertile summer, night into the light of flaming day, a storm at sea into calm, and sleep into waking – are all positive transformations; and at least two of them evoke the symbolism that we know was used to express the transition from anxiety to joy in the mysteries. One of these (674–5) is the transition from stormy sea to calm. ‘Blessed is he who has from the sea escaped the storm and found harbour’, pronounces the mystic makarismos in the Bacchae. A few lines later Ajax says ‘for most men the harbour of friendship is false’ (or ‘… there is a false harbour of friendship’). The emphatic position of ‘for most men’ implies that there is for a special few a true harbour (of mystic salvation). The other evocation of mystic symbolism is night giving way to the light of day. As we have seen, the appearance of light in darkness in mystic ritual was a powerful symbol of the mystic transition.”

    Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology of Ancient Greek Secret Cults (Taylor & Francis, 2007), Michael B. Cosmopoulos, Jennifer Lynn Larson:

    “The term used for the initiate, namely mystes, is derived from the verb “to close (the lips or, more usually, the eyes), and means the one ‘who keeps silence or closes the eyes’,” as Dowden (1980, 414) emphasized. In the context of the Mysteria it is much more likely that it indicates the one who is closed with respect to the eyes; evidence from other mystery cults shows that it was the practice for an initiate to be blinded; the term expresses the opposite of epoptes (“viewer”): the first stage is characterized mainly by ritual blindness (when the initiate is led by a mystagogue), the second stage by sight…

    According to scholia to Apollonius of Rhodes the initiates were said to have girded themselves with purple fillets (tain¤ai), explicitly about the waist according to one scholion (Scholia Laurentiana, Argon. 1.917–918; scholia Parasina, Argon. 1.918 Lewis 1959, nos. 229g–h); but it is conceivable that these fillets were used first as blindfolds. Fillets were used as blindfolds in the Mithraic mysteries… Moreover, it is clear that at this point the mystai no longer lacked sight. When did they regain it? Logically, of course, they needed to regain it at least just before they saw the climactic vision, at the end of their experience of a quasi-death… The mystes remained blindfolded as he or she wandered through the darkness, helped by a mystagogue, and experienced all the terrors of the route. But finally the veil was removed and the initiate experienced the extraordinary vision…

    There must have been much more than that, for the initiates gained the favor of two essential Kabeiroi/Theoi Megaloi, namely the two gods who were often equated with the Dioscuri. In myth this pair should be Dardanus and Iasion/Eétion, the two brothers of Harmonia who are most closely associated with the Mysteria. What role they played in the rite is not at all clear. If we recall that they were savior gods who came to the rescue of people in peril, especially initiates in peril at sea, it may be reasonable to speculate that in the cult they performed their salvific function by bringing back “Harmonia,” and they then made an epiphany with her and presumably also “Cadmus.”66 (In this connection we may recall that the very similar Dioscuri retrieved their sister, Helen, after she was abducted by Theseus.) Since Cadmus was “sailing by” when he abducted Harmonia, in this myth he most likely carried her off by sea, and it would be logical to assume that she was at sea when her brothers saved her and brought her back to Samothrace. This would also be consistent with the well-known role of the Great Gods – saving people in peril at sea.”

    An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration Into New Testament Studies (University Press of America, 2008), Elizabeth A. McCabe:

    “Isis helped anyone who called upon her, both women and men, in any area of trouble, from childbirth to shipwreck… The Kyme Aretalogy asserts, “I [Isis] am the Queen of rivers and winds and sea….I am the Queen of the thunderbolt. I stir up the sea and I calm it… I am the queen of seamanship…”… Consider the Lord’s acts on the Sea of Galilee in stilling the storm as evident in the gospel accounts… Besides being an advocate for equality, another similarity between Isis and Christ is the power over the seas. Isis is known for her control over the seas, saying, “I [Isis) am the Queen of rivers and winds and sea. . . . I am the Queen of the thunderbolt. I stir up the sea and I calm it…. I am the Queen of seamanship. I make the navigable unnavigable when it pleases me.”…”

    Library of History, book 5, Diodorus Siculus:

    “But there came on a great storm and the chieftains had given up hope of being saved, when Orpheus, they say, who was the only one on shipboard who had ever been initiated in the mysteries of the deities of Samothrace, offered to these deities the prayers for their salvation. And immediately the wind died down and two stars fell over the heads of the Dioscori, and the whole company was amazed at the marvel which had taken place and concluded that they had been rescued from their perils by an act of Providence of the gods. For this reason, the story of this reversal of fortune for the Argonauts has been handed down to succeeding generations, and sailors when caught in storms always direct their prayers to the deities of Samothrace and attribute the appearance of the two stars to the epiphany of the Dioscori [4.43.1-2]…

    However they were all healed in a few days, they say, by Medea by means of roots and provision for themselves, set out to sea, and they had already reached the middle of the Pontic sea when they ran into a storm which put them in the greatest peril. But when Orpheus, as on the former occasion, offered up prayers to the deities of Samothrace, the winds ceased and there appeared near the ship Glaucus the Sea-god, as he is called. The god accompanied the ship in its voyage without ceasing for two days and night and foretold to Heracles his Labours and immortality, and to the Tyndaridae that they should be called Dioscori (“Sons of Zeus”) and receive at the hands of all mankind honour like that offered to the gods. [4.48.5-6]”

    The story of the Egyptian sun god’s journey on a boat through the underworld was referred to as a “mystery”. There’s a scene where the sun god calms the storms of the primordial waters that filled the underworld and sky.

    Voices from Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Middle Kingdom Writings (British Museum, 1991), R. B. Parkinson:

    “Through both halves of the text runs the idea of imposing an ideal ethical order on chaos, which is represented by images of storm and serpents, as well as by mankind’s tendency to evil: ‘WORDS SPOKEN BY HIM WHOSE NAMES ARE HIDDEN. The Lord to the Limit speaks before those who still the storm, at the sailing of the entourage: I am the lord of fire who lives on truth, the lord of eternity, maker of joy, against whom the otherworldly serpents have not rebelled. I am the god in his shrine, the lord of slaughter, who calms the storm, who drives off the serpents’…”

    Interestingly, some scholars have connected Jesus’s power over the sea to having power over the primordial waters of chaos and death.

    1. Also, the line: “The others are all blind. Only we can see” by Tieresias, the blind follower of Dionysus, is really interesting in relation to the blind man in Mark. Good catch! Some scholars have pointed out a spiritual meaning behind the healing of the blind man in Mark.

      Yes. On the one hand scholarship tells us that the two stage healing and use of saliva and clay points to a “human” Jesus using the plodding techniques of other healers of the day. On the other hand we read that the process was “clearly symbolic”. Others point to the miracle being an emulation Vespasian’s healing the blind man.

      The more I have read about the Gospel of Mark and its literary context the more I have been compelled to interpret its Jesus as god-figure, not human at all except in disguise or for a momentary purpose.

      I once half-facetiously wrote that no-one should be allowed to study the gospels until they first master the other literature of the time.

  3. Neal, do you happen to have an English translation of: Jaccottet, Anne-Françoise. “A.-F. Jaccottet, « Du Baptême de Dionysos à l’initiation Du Christ : Langage Iconographique et Identité Religieuse », in N. Belayche, J.-D. Dubois (Éd.), L’oiseau et Le Poisson. Cohabitations Religieuses Dans Les Mondes Grec et Romain, PUPS, Paris 2011, 203-225.” ?

      1. I have had another look at what I machine translated and it is far from adequate to share. I can read French but use machine translations to get started and as a lazy crutch but it’s not always helpful. The text in the pdf does not copy well so I have decided to work on a proper translation — it will take a little time but hopefully it will be worth sharing when done.

    1. I only have my own rough translation, but I know French well enough to make mental corrections where needed. I was able to copy and paste the text from the downloaded pdf into Google Translate. (Google Translate’s option of processing an entire text file can be problematic and messy.) If that does not work for you email me and I will see if I can link you to my own “translation”.

  4. Interesting post but count me a bit skeptical about the your attempt to explain the crucifixion with the same easiness by which you have just explained the baptism. Jesus mixed with other sinners expecting the forgiveness of the his sins at the Jordan is not embarrassing insofar also Dyonisos tolerated the his initiation. Afterall, we can see the Christians behind those sinners going to be baptized. But can we see the Christians also behind the two lēstaí crucified with Jesus? Even if Paul (or Marcion) said that he was ‘crucified with Christ’, even if the Cyrenaic could be allegorically a Christian, even if some Christians were able to curse Jesus (per 1 Cor 12:3), very hardly one may think that the two lēstaí were (allegorically) Christians and not rather mere seditious insurgents. Hence how can we explain their mention?

  5. The point is that Jesus did not “need” to go through an initiation ritual any more than did Dionysus. But by entering the ritual he allows his followers to join with him in their rebirths as “christs”. The textual record about Jesus’ baptism is not the whole story. We need to be able to explain the iconography from the second century on, too.

    As for the lestai at the crucifixion — if Jesus was “Simon” then those lestai were “James and John” who were promised the same “baptism” as Jesus.

    Jesus entered the human ritual at baptism where he — as he did on the cross, the other death/rebirth — paid for all the sins of his followers and humankind, at least those who opt to follow him into the new body of God.

    1. Are you saying that the image of Jesus between the two lēstaí was derived from the episode of James and John asking for the first places? But it is not a real replacement (as I see it is in the case of the Cyrenaic). In addition I note that the vocabulary for ‘left’ is not the same.
      Mark 10:37: καὶ εἷς ἐξ ἀριστερῶν
      Mark 15:27: καὶ ἕνα ἐξ εὐωνύμων
      But you are on something insofar John and James were called ‘Pillars’: the idea of being ‘hung’ may be somehow there.

      1. I’m not saying anything definite but trying to acknowledge possibilities. There are Simons galore in the gospel and the first time Jesus tells his disciples to take up the cross and follow him is after rebuking Simon Peter. (There may be some further significance in the way Simon of Cyrene is presented as carrying the cross before Jesus, as was done in such ritual sacrfices — the one carrying the slaughter weapon appears to have led the procession.)

        Mark has his Jesus talk in parables and everything done is a parable of sorts: we know the symbolism running through the episode of the raising of Jairus daughter and the woman bleeding for 12 years, of the cursing of the fig tree, of two stage healing of the blind man, etc etc. The events are to be read as images or metaphors. Even the crucifixion is a rewrite of a Triumphal procession – of a Roman one yet that, too, had Dioonysian overtones ans nightwhadwine pointed out.

        Jesus, the heavenly figure who is taken from Daniel’s Son of Man, is/represents/acts out Israel, both the death of the old Israel and the birth of the new. The baptism, in Dionysiac and early Christian iconography, represented a second or new birth, an inititation into the new body of Israel. Ditto the resurrection, with the resurrected Jesus to be found in Galilee, the symbolism of which Matthew made explicit. After baptism Jesus is born anew and repeats, this time with success, Israel’s career in the wilderness. (Recall Israel’s first birth through the Red Sea.)

        Jesus’ death paid the sins of all — including those destroyed in the physical destruction of Israel. Hence in his baptism he enables new converts to share his sinless and atoning immersion with him. — I am interpreting here the baptism through comparable Dionysian ritual.

        It is a mistake to try to read Mark literally — it will never make sense that way. So many anomalies and absurdities [hidden from view if we read Mark through Matthew and Luke] if we try to understand it literally. It is a parable of the death and birth of Israel in Daniel’s Son of Man. It also pits Pauline theology against the pillars.

        I’m not meaning any of the above dogmatically. It’s an interpretation that I am exploring.

        1. You write: “Jesus, the heavenly figure who is taken from Daniel’s Son of Man, …”

          But as you could probably guess, I’m still skeptical about whether the author of Mark really took the title “the Son of Man” from Daniel. Supposedly it derives from Daniel’s expression “one like a son of man.” But that expression also occurs in the Vision of Isaiah (Asc. of Is. 11:2). Is there any reason to prefer one source over the other?

          I think chapter 9 of Mark provides a reason. There we read: “As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mk. 9:9) And two verses later he says to them” … yet how is it written regarding the Son of Man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?” (Mk. 9:11)

          In Daniel there is nothing written about the Son of Man suffering greatly, being treated with contempt, and rising from the dead. But in the Vision of Isaiah the children of Israel are roused against him, hand him over to the ruler, and crucify him. Moreover, the secrecy motif in Mk 9:9 (“charged them not to relate what they had seen”) is reminiscent of the same motif in the Vision of Isaiah, where king Hezekiah makes Isaiah swear that he will not tell the people of Israel what he saw. (Asc. of Is., 11:39)

          1. The background to my thinking on the Gospel of Mark’s Son of Man is in the posts listed here: https://vridar.org/?s=hengel+son+man+daniel+isaiah+suffering+servant

            I do need to be more aware of the Asc of Isa, as you point out. At present, my response would be that the meaning of the Son of Man’s/Beloved’s suffering in the Vision of Isaiah is alien to the meaning we find in Mark’s gospel. In the light of Hengel’s and Himmelfarb’s et al studies, can we conclude that the idea of a suffering son of man figure derives from the Second Temple thoughts around Isaiah/Daniel/Zechariah?

  6. I am not saying that the two lēstaí are a factual reality, since they may be a stylized portrait of a fact (= a collective crucifixion of a more numerous group) and only in this sense a such detail can make sense.

    1. Is not the death of Jesus identified with the deaths of the rebels? Does not this death have implications for those being baptized into Christ. Baptism, of course, is said by Jesus to be a metaphor for death. If the other side of death is rebirth, how are we meant to understand the gospel’s narrative and figure of Jesus — and baptized Christians?

      1. The idea that other Christians had to die in the place of Jesus in a literal sense (i.e. Jesus doesn’t die, but others die) seems to be marcionite, or in general proto-marcionite (=simonian). For example, so Turmel (Epitre aux Romains, p. 140):

        Chez lui [Marcion] encore que la communauté chrétienne formait le «corps» du C hrist qui n’en avait pas d’autre.

        This is logical: if Jesus was without a body, then others had to represent a such body. Hence it is not more Jesus who dies in the place of the Christians, but the Christians who die in the place of Jesus. Was this the origin of ‘docetism’ ? When the Fathers accused Marcion of ‘docetism’, were they really accusing the fact that for Marcion the Church suffered, not Jesus (since the Church was strictu senso the body of Jesus) ?

        At any case, Neil, I find very embarrassing the enumeration of Jesus among two lestai. It implies (1) to give up to the uniqueness of Jesus, and (2) the his reduction to the status of lestes. None Christian of my knowledge could allow both (1) and (2).

        1. I was not thinking of others dying for Jesus or Jesus dying for others. I was thinking of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark being a personification of Israel — Jesus and others/Israel die together. Jesus dies “in” the death of Israel. But insofar as this Jesus is also the heavenly embodiment of Israel (compare the spirit/heavenly Adam and Jacob et al) he is also the one who rises from that death as a new Israel — as per the one like a son of man in Daniel. The old Israel is dead/rejected — the new Israel lives in the Son of Man.

          That’s a very simplistic overview explanation for what I think must have been in the mind of the author. In our modern minds we can easily imagine a pure literary personification, but Jesus was more than that to the first Christians — for whom (or some of them) the Gospel of Mark was created. He was also a heavenly being. But heavenly beings had meanings for other beings on earth below. Heavenly Adam for the Adam of the earth, etc. Son of Man is the one who enters the experiences of “mankind” — first the Jews — to bring them to a new kindgom/body. Hence we have all those debates arising over whether he was truly flesh etc — debates that had no meaning for the figure in the Gospel of Mark.

          I’m thinking beyond the Passion narrative. I’m with Bruno Bauer’s view here, that the miracles etc of Jesus are really representations of the church. Jesus’s life and career is a representation of the life and acts of the church.

          It’s not about giving up the uniqueness of Jesus. It’s attempting to understand the meaning of Jesus as per the gospel narrative.

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