Monday, June 22, 2015

Was Dionysus born of a virgin?

I recently had a dialogue with a fellow on debate.org (hereinafter DDO) about some supposed similarities between Dionysus and Jesus. I just responded to one of the parallels, but I decided to do some digging around about the supposed virgin birth of Dionysus. Usually when these things come up, nobody ever cites a primary source, and it's hard to get to the bottom of anything. So I thought I'd see if I could get to the bottom of this one and settle it once and for all.

Through googling around, I discovered that the fellow on DDO had cut and paste from an an article by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S. I read the section on the virgin birth to see if she would cite any primary sources that I could look at. Unfortunately, she cited nothing but secondary sources. But she said, "In the common myth about the birth of Dionysus/Bacchus, Semele is mysteriously impregnated by one of Zeus's bolts of lightning--an obvi­ous miraculous/virgin conception." I decided to pursue this incident to see if I could get to the bottom of it.

To help me along, I posted a question about it in a closed group forum on facebook. One of the people there directed me to this article on pagan parallel saviors. The pagan parallel article cited an on line encyclopedia entry on the mother of Dionysus, Semele, that was written by James Hunter. It says:

Because Zeus slept with Semele secretly, Hera only found out about the affair after the girl was pregnant. Bent on revenge, Hera disguised herself and persuaded Semele to demand that Zeus come to her in all the splendor with which he visited Hera. As a result, Semele asked Zeus to grant an unspecified favor, and got him to swear by the river Styx that he would grant it. Unable to break his oath, Zeus came to her armed in his thunder and lightning, and Semele was destroyed. However, Zeus rescued the unborn child from the mother's ashes and sewed it in his thigh until it was ready to be born.
I still wanted to see it in the primary source, so I kept looking. The savior god article also cited Ovid's Metamorphoses, so I googled "ovid metamorphoses semele" and found a primary source for this story in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book III. It appears under two subtitles: "Juno sets out to destroy Semele" and "Semele is consumed by Jupiter's fire." Apparently, this is a Roman version of an earlier Greek story, and I still haven't found the Greek version. Juno is the same person as Hera, and Jupiter is Zeus. Other than the change in names, everything James Hunter said in the encyclopedia entry is true.
Zeus had been having an affair with Semele. Hera/Juno "was grieved by the fact that Semele was pregnant, with the seed of mighty Jove," aka Zeus. Since Semele was pregnant, Hera decided to get revenge by destroying Semele. She disguised herself as an old woman and visited Semele. She manipulates Semele into getting Zeus to promise to "assume all his powers before he embraces you," just as he does with Hera. Zeus doesn't want to do it because he knows it will kill Semele, but he can't back out of his promise. Zeus tries to limit his powers as much as he can, but he gathers the storm clouds and the thunder and lightening, etc., and appears to Semele. Predictably, she gets burned up. Zeus then rescues Dionysus/Bacchus who was "still unfinished," and sews him into his thigh until he is ready to be born.

So basically, D.M. Murdock had the wrong idea. She thought Zeus somehow got Semele pregnant with the use of a lightening bolt when in reality, Semele was pregnant already from sleeping with Zeus while he was disguised as a mortal man. The lightening played no role in Semele getting pregnant. It seems pretty clear to me that Semele was no virgin.

It's nice to finally get to the bottom of something, huh?

[UPDATE July 31, 2017]
I found another primary source for the conception and birth of Dionysus.  It comes from The Library 3.4.3 by Apollodorus and dates to the second century AD.  It agrees with the other sources that "Zeus loved Semele and bedded with her unknown to Hera."  She became pregnant, and the rest of the story unfolds as in the other accounts with Hera tricking Semele, and Zeus accidentally killing her with lightening, then sewing Dionysus into his thigh.  So again, Semele was not a virgin. This account gives a footnote that lists other primary sources for Semele and the birth of Dionysus, but I haven't looked at them all yet.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Love and acceptance

One of the points that keeps getting raised by the LGBT… movement in response to Christians who oppose things like same sex marriage and sex changes is that Jesus was all about love and acceptance. They argue that Christians are inconsistent with Jesus' teachings when they oppose these things and are therefore not acting like real Christians.

But that strikes me as being an extremely unreflective argument. Do these people really think Jesus was loving and accepting of just any life style that any person might choose? Do they really think Jesus would approve of any lifestyle whatsoever just on the basis that he's "loving and accepting"? Well, I don't see how anybody who has read the new testament could get that impression. And even if they haven't read the new testament, I don't see how anybody could think that would be a good attitude to have anyway.

But if it was a good attitude to have, then why can't the LGBT… folks be more loving and accepting of the Christians that oppose them?

The idea that Jesus or anybody ought to be loving and accepting of anything is absurd on its face. Surely we shouldn't be loving and accepting of the criminal lifestyle, the rapist lifestyle, or the alcoholic lifestyle. What kind of person would Jesus be if he approved of these things and was accepting toward people who engaged in them?

If you think Jesus would be loving and accepting of anybody, regardless of how they choose to live their lives, you should check out Matthew 23. He certainly was not very loving and accepting to the Pharisees in that passage.

When Jesus was asked why he hung out with sinners and tax collectors, it wasn't because he was loving and accepting. Quite the contrary. He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick" (Matthew 9:12). In other words, Jesus didn't accept their lifestyle at all. He hung out with them because he wanted to fix them. He wanted to free them from their slavery to sin. That is love, to be sure, but it is not acceptance.

That's another confusion of LGBT… people who make this argument. It is not loving to accept somebody's sin and treat it as if it weren't sin. If same sex marriage is a sin, then it would not be loving for a Christian to celebrate it. That would be the exact opposite of love because then you'd be enabling somebody and encouraging them to sin.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Does libertarian freedom entail the ability to do good or evil?

Some folks attempt to hold on to libertarian freedom even in light of an inability to do good or an inability to do evil on the basis that when faced with a choice between good and evil, there are multiple options for doing good and multiple options for doing evil. So let's say Jesus has libertarian freedom, but he is incapable of doing evil. One would say that when faced with a choice between good and evil, there are multiple good options that Jesus could choose from, and his final choice is not determined. If he chooses one good option, he could've chosen the other.

I don't think this is an adequate escape for libertarians, though. I think it's a slight of hand. Let's say George is faced with a choice between drinking Sprite or Dr. Pepper. You might be tempted to think this is a choice between two options. But in reality, it's two distinct choices with two distinct sets of options. One choice is whether to drink Dr. Pepper or not. The other is whether to drink Sprite or not. That's two different choices, each with it's own set of options.

When Jesus is faced with some temptation, his choice is whether to give into that temptation or whether to resist that temptation. If resisting that temptation leaves him with multiple options, those multiple options are part of a distinct choice. If Jesus had libertarian freedom regarding the choice whether to give in to the temptation or resist the temptation, then he would be capable of doing either. So if he is incapable of taking one of those options, then he does not have libertarian freedom regarding that choice. If, having resisted the temptation, he is left with multiple morally praiseworthy options, his choice between those options can be free in the libertarian sense, but that doesn't make his choice on whether to give in to or resist the temptation free in the libertarian sense.