The common wine cult of Christ and the Orphic Dionysos: the wine and vegetation saviour deity Dionysos as model for the dying and rising Christ.MA Thesis, Master's Programme in Culture and Ideas, History of Religion, Department of Culture and Oriental Languages, Autumn 2010, by Maritha Elin Gebhardt.
Synopsis:In 2005 the Hebrew University Excavation Project unearthed a small incense burner from the fourth century C.E. in the Jewish capital of the Galilee, Sepphoris, depicting a crucified figure, Bacchic satyrs and maenads, and the Christian representation of the sacrifice of Isaac in symbolic form as a ram caught in the thicket of a bush. Five years later the book Orphism and Christianity in Late Antiquity, by Herrero de Jáuregui, refers to two large funerary cloths, one depicts a Dionysiac scene similar to the murals from the Villa dei Misteri and the other one show scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary, both found in the same tomb in Egypt. Both of these depictions testify to the continued syncretism of the Orphic and the Christian symbols and that people in the Hellenistic era found the figure of Christ similar to the Bacchic Orpheus. In my thesis I claim that the dying and rising saviour deity of Dionysos is the forerunner to the dying and rising saviour deity of Christ. I claim that I will prove this by showing that the cult of Christ is a wine cult. The epiphany of Jesus was as a human guest at a party, turning water into wine at the wedding-feast at Cana in John 2:1-11, likewise the epiphany of the wine-god Dionysos is in a similar scene as the Cana-miracle, where he turns water into wine (Achilleus Tatius' De Leucippes et Clitophontis amoribus 2.2:1-2.3:1). The wine is present and tied to Christianity in all its religious aspects. Wine was a strong symbol of life in the Middle East and had been for more than a thousand years before the birth of Christianity. After the criticism of Frazer's The Golden Bough , historians of religions have hesitated to continue claiming that Jesus was just another dying and rising god of vegetation, mimicking the many gods of vegetation around the Middle East, whose cults offered an eschatological doctrine of hopes for a better afterlife for the initiates. In 2008 Braarvig published his book Myths, Metaphors and Metaphysics, where he rekindles the debate where Dionysos is seen as a nature-metaphor, in which we humans reflect our own life when we think and compare our own life with the existence of plants. In the doctrine of Orphism Dionysos was the child of Zeus killed by the titans, slayed and eaten, except for his heart is saved so Zeus can impregnate Semele with the god Dionysos. From the sinful ashes of the titans and the remains of Dionysos, man is created with an inherited sin to atone for in the afterlife, like the original sin of man in Christianity. Orphic Bacchus-cults offered this atonement to free the divine side of man, and was therefore a competitive cult to the Christ cult offering resurrection for the sinful soul.