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Exploring myth

Gary Habermas on dying & rising gods

A post I made recently at Booktalk.org:

This has actually become a classic clip passed around on the internet to “debunk” the notion that myths of characters rising from the dead predated the Common Era.

 

In it Gary Habermas states, concerning the resurrection of Dionysus, that “There are no resurrected gods for which we have influence, for which we have data prior to the 2nd century like I said. … But the point, the question is- is there a resurrection? And since we don’t have any resurrection pre-dating the 2nd century (all the way to the 4th century are the earliest ones- 2nd to 4th), we can say ‘well maybe there’s a resurrection there’, but there’s no data. There’s absolutely no evidence for that position.” He goes on to request that “you’re going to have to give me a date for the earliest inscription.”

The earliest date for a source attesting to the bodily resurrection of Dionysus? The answer is- the third century BEFORE the Common Era.

(The following and more can all be found in the Ebook The Perennial Gospel at Scribd.)

Euphorion of Chalcis (3rd cen. BCE), via Philodemus, On Piety 192-93 (1st cen. BCE)-
The first of these (sc. Births) is the one from his mother, the second from Zeus’ thigh, the third when he was torn apart by the Titans, reassembled by Rhea, and brought back to life. In the Mopsopia Euphorion agrees on these matters (or, with these people); the Orphics as a whole dwell on (these myths).

Dr. Fritz Graf and Dr. Sarah I. Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets
At least as early as Euphorion, there was a story that Rhea revived Dionysus after his dismemberment. … Rhea reassembled the pieces of the dismembered god and restored him to life. Our earliest evidence for this tradition comes from Euphorion (mid-third century BCE).

Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 3.62.6 (1st cen. BCE)-
The Sons of Gaia tore to pieces the god, who was a son of Zeus and Demeter, and boiled him, but his members were brought together again by Demeter and he experienced a new birth as if for the first time … his members, which the “earth-born” treated with despite, being brought together again and restored to their former natural state.

Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, Compendium of Greek Theology § 30 (1st cen. CE)-
The mythic story is told that after being torn asunder by the Titans he was put back together again by Rhea.

Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 69.2-
They say that Dionysus was born of Zeus’s union with Semele, and narrate that he was the discoverer of the vine, and that, after he was torn to pieces and died, he arose again and ascended into heaven.

Dr. Walter M. Ellis, Ptolemy of Egypt
Dionysus, likewise, was torn asunder, reassembled and brought back to life.

Dr. Corinne O. Pache, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: Volume 1-
Dionysus is first killed and dismembered by the Titans, then later restored and reborn.

Dr. David A. Leeming and Jake Page, God: Myths of the Male Divine
The pattern of death and decay followed by germination and rebirth that is associated with Dionysos is appropriate to his role as an earth god, a nature god. Dionysos is often depicted as a newborn Divine Child nursed by Persephone herself or wild female followers called the maenads. According to some, it was as a child that he became the sacrificial victim, the Dying God. This is his many-faceted story, which includes the Orphic myth of his death, dismemberment, and resurrection.

Dr. Albert Henrichs, in Tracing Orpheus: Studies of Orphic Fragments
The revived Dionysos who died and came back to life again was regarded as a divine role model for the Dionysac initiates and their expectations of a happy after life.

Dionysus devouredand resurrected

In the center, a Thracian titan dismembers the infant Dionysus. To the left, the clearly resurrected and now fully grown Dionysus returns to seek his revenge as the titan flees to the right; Athenian hydria from Kameiros, 5th century BCE, currently at the British Museum in London [link].

Raising the dead was kind of his thing. He descended into hell and brought Aeschylus back from the dead:

Aristophanes, Frogs § 1414-19 1500-03 1524-30 (5th cen. BCE)-
PLUTO. Will you not finish what you came to do?
DIONYSUS. I must decide?
PLUTO. And take the one that you Decide on, lest your journey be in vain.
DIONYSUS. Thank you, thank you. But let me tell you plain; I came to fetch a poet. Why? To save The city and restore my dances grave. … Aeschylus I’ll take!
PLUTO. Farewell, good Aeschylus. Depart. Save our city’s failing heart With counsels sage and educate The foolish ones; there’s quite a spate! …
Raise the sacred torches high! Escort our poet on his way! Let his songs and dances fly Before him to the light of day!
CHORUS. First to our poet departing and journeying up to the light Vouchsafe a well-omened starting. Ye spirits of our world of night! Bless with good his city and grant it great good things to come!

Dr. Radcliffe G. Edmonds III, in Initiation in Ancient Greek Rituals and Narratives
Aristophanes’ Frogs focuses not on Dionysus’ passage from immaturity to maturity, but on his katabasis, his quest to return to the world of the living with a poet from the world of the dead, to save Athens from its dearth of cultural life. No more good poets remain in the city of Athens, and Dionysus wants to bring a clever (dexios) poet to fill the gap in Athenian life.

Dr. Jeffrey Henderson, Aristophanes: Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth
Dionysus chooses Aeschylus, and Pluto tells him that he may take Aeschylus with him back to Athens … the resurrection of Aeschylus from the dead is both pessimistic and optimistic: if there were no longer any living poets who could inspire the Athenians to greatness, at least the works of Aeschylus lived on, and might inspire the Athenians to recapture the virtues that had made their city preeminent in his day.

Dr. Angus M. Bowie, Aristophanes: Myth, Ritual, and Comedy
The resurrection of Aeschylus and the katabasis of the wicked reflects the idea that initiation involved a symbolic death and rebirth which is common in ancient mystery cults.

And he raised his mother Semele as well:

Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 4.25.4 (1st cen. BCE)-
The myths relate that Dionysus brought up his mother Semelê from Hades, and that, sharing with her his own immortality, he changed her name to Thyonê.

(Pseudo)Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 3.5.3 (1st cen. CE)-
He brought up his mother from Hades, named her Thyone, and ascended into heaven with her.

Dr. Erika Simon, in The Etruscan World
There are special Dionysian scenes in the private world of Etruscan mirrors. An inscribed one from the second quarter of the fourth century BCE in Berlin shows Apollo (Apulu) with a laurel staff and Dionysos (Fufluns) who is embraced by his mother Semele (Semla). A satyr boy plays a double pipe at Apollo’s side. This god and Dionysos had near relations in Delphi and Delos, where they owned the same temple. At the Delphic festival Herois Semele’s resurrection from Hades was celebrated. It is represented on the mirror in a frame of Dionysian ivy.

The Etruscan mirror (4th cen. BCE) referred to above, showing Dionysus with what is clearly the resurrected Semele, given that he is now a young adult/teenager yet she died at his birth.

Attic image of Dionysus preparing to ascend from hell with Semele.

Dionysus also bestowed tongues of fire upon the heads of some of his disciples:

Euripides, Bacchae § 757-5 (5th cen. BCE)
In their hair they carried fire and did not burn.

And he turned water into wine:

Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History 3.66.2 (1st cen. BCE)-
The Teans advance as proof that the god was born among them the fact that, even to this day, at fixed times in their city a fountain of wine, of unusually sweet fragrance, flows of its own accord from the earth.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.106, 31.16 (1st cen. CE)-
It is accredited by the Mucianus who was three times consul that the water flowing from a spring in the temple of Father Liber [aka Dionysus] on the island of Andros always has the flavor of wine on January 5th: the day is called God’s Gift Day. …
Theopompus says that drunkenness is caused by the springs that I have mentioned, and Mucianus that at Andros, from the spring of Father Liber, on fixed seven-day festivals of this god, flows wine, but if its water is carried out of sight of the temple the taste turns to that of water.

This is an ability he even bestowed upon a few of his disciples

Lycophron, Alexandria § 577-80 (3rd cen. BCE)-
These daughters lusty Problastus [aka Dionysus] taught to be skilled in contriving milled food and to make wine and fatty oil—even the dove grand-daughters of Zarax, skilled to turn things into wine.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.786-88 (1st cen. BCE-CE)-
Bacchus gave my daughters quite other gifts, Greater than any they could have ever hoped for. Everything they touched turned into grain or wine.

So it makes sense that his blood was also drunk in the form of wine:

Timotheus of Miletus, Fr. 780 (5th-4th cen. BCE)-
And he poured in one ivy-wood cup teeming with the foam of the dark immortal drops, and poured in on top twenty measures, and mixed the blood of Bacchus with the fresh-flowing tears of the nymphs.

Plutarch, Moralia 676E (1st cen. CE)-
I can cite also a scolion which mentions an earthen vessel closed with celery. The words run as follows: “The Attic potter’s clay, baked in the fire, Conceals the rushing wine-god’s dark red blood, And bears the Isthmian sprigs inside its mouth.”

^That’s actually a motif as old as nature itself-
10259717_1441203146118858_2581561320245852873_n

And the source of that wine, the grape vine- a symbol of the body of Dionysus (see Diodorus 3.62.2-8), was known to often hang itself upon trees when growing in the wild to act as natural trellises. Other breeds of vine grew so large that they resembled, and were mistaken as, trees.

Dr. Michael G. Mullins, Dr. Alain Bouquet, and Dr. Larry E. Williams, Biology of the Grapevine
In the wild, Vitis vinifera L. is a vigorous climbing plant of deciduous forest. Its trunk and branches are flexible, and the plant is supported by the trees on which it grows. The climbing habit of the grapevine is reflected in the occurrence of pressure-sensitive tendrils; wild vines climb into the forest canopy to a height of 20-30 m.

Jacques Fanet, Great Wine Terroirs
The characteristic vine-growing method of the Minho is to plant vines at the edges of fields with trees providing a natural trellis.

Dr. Glen L. Creasy and Dr. Leroy L. Creasy, Grapes
The fact that the grapevine is a climbing plant lends it an unusual plasticity of form. … At first, grapes (V. vinifera spp. sativa) were probably gathered from the wild, with the vines growing up into the trees. The association of grapes with oak, now used in the winemaking process in the form of barrels in which the wine is aged, may have begun with the vine using the oak trees as support, since Saccharomyces cerevisiae (or the winemaking yeast) strains have been isolated from oak trees.

Alan Boehmer, Wine Basics: A Complete Illustrated Guide to Understanding, Selecting, & Enjoying Wine
Another common practice in Vinho Verde is to allow grapevines to climb up into tall trees. … Traditional Greek varities are usually bush pruned or allowed to grow into trees.

Dr. Károly Kerényi, Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life
Among the Greeks the grape-vine was called hermeris, the “tame,” because they knew how grapes grew in the woods. There the plant could develop into a thick tree.

Hence Dionysus came to be affiliated with trees.

Plutarch, Moralia 675E-676A
The ancients came to dedicate the pine to Poseidon and Dionysus. To us there seemed nothing illogical in this, because both gods are by common acceptance sovereign over the domains of the moist and the generative. Practically all Greeks sacrifice to Poseidon the Life-Giver and to Dionysus the Tree-god. … The pine has been dedicated to Dionysus because it is thought to sweeten wine; for they say that country abounding in pines produces sweet-wine grapes.

Pindar, Fr. 153 (5th cen. BCE)
May gladsome Dionysus swell the fruit upon the trees, The hallowed splendour of harvest time.

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The symbol of Dionysus—the grapevine—hanging on a tree (Field Maple).

2

A grapevine suspended upon an oak tree.

3

A grapevine which has grown to the size of a tree, allegedly 240 years old.

So it comes as no surprise to find that in his mythos Dionysus himself was even hung upon a tree.

Virgil, Georgics, 2.387-94 (1st cen. BCE)
They wear the most hideous wooden
Masks, and address the Wine-god in jovial ditties, and hang
Wee images of the god to sway from windy pineboughs.

Thus will every vine advance to full fruition
And valleys will teem and dells and dingles and combes deep-wooded—
Yes, wherever the Wine-god has turned his handsome head.
So let us duly pay to that god the homage we owe him
In anthems our fathers sang, in offerings of fruit and cake.

4

An image of Dionysus hangs on a tree as the Bacchae serve sacramental bread & wine; based on an Attic vase, 5th century BCE, currently at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

5

Alternate depiction of the same scenario; based on an Attic vase, 6th century BCE.

6

Based on an Attic vase, 5th century BCE, currently at the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

7

Based on an Attic cup by Makron, 5th century BCE, currently at the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. In the center, a satyr honors Dionysus with music. On the exterior, the Bacchae worship Dionysus as he hangs upon a tree before an altar, cakes of bread having been skewered upon the branches, and a jar of wine sits below the left handle.

An even simpler form of trellis was used by grape farmers in which they hung the vine on a cross, sometimes called a canterius“a pole furnished with cross-pieces for supporting the vine, a trellis.” The cross is still a viticulture technique commonly used to this day.

Columella, On Agriculture 4.12 (1st cen. CE)
It has been my observation that, for the most part, a young vine is better satisfied with a support of moderate size than with a stout prop. And so we shall attach each young vine either to two old reeds, lest new ones strike root; or, if local conditions allow it, to brier canes, to which single cross-bars may be tied along one side of the row—a kind of frame which farmers call a canterius or “horse.” It is of the greatest importance that this be such that the young vine-shoot, as it creeps forth, shall immediately grasp it a little below the point of its bending and spread out on the cross-bars rather than on the uprights, and so, resting upon the “horse,” may more easily bear up against the winds.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 17.35.164-66 (1st cen. CE)
After the management of the nursery follows the arrangement of the vineyards. These are of five kinds—with the branches spreading about on the ground, or with the vine standing up of its own accord, or else with a stay but without a cross-bar, or propped up with a single cross-bar, or trellised with four bars in a rectangle. It will be understood that the same system that belongs to a propped vine is that of one in which the vine is left to stand by itself without a stay, for this is only done when there is a shortage of props. A vineyard with the single cross-bar is arranged in a straight row which is called a canterius; this is better for wine, as the wine so grown does not overshadow itself and is ripened by constant sunshine, and is more exposed to currents of air and so gets rid of dew more quickly, and also is easier for trimming and for harrowing the soil and all operations; and above all it sheds its blossoms in a more beneficial manner. The cross-bar is made of a stake or a reed, or else of a rope of hair or hemp, as in Spain and at Brindisi.

Canterius3

20130721014_Trellis, end view20130721047_VineyardVineyard_Oct_600x449IMG_0336OneYearMuscadine3_08.31.13-580x260agronomy1

IMG_20120712_153010

Grapevines, the symbol of the body of Dionysus, hanging on crosses, as seen on the trellises of grape farms to this day.

So given such culture of the times at the turn of the Common Era, the sight of fields filled with grapevines hanging from crosses would no doubt remind on-lookers of the very similar image of Roman crucifixion, and vice-versa. In a strictly dictionary-definition sense, the symbol of the body of Dionysus was quite literally crucified. And it was done for the purpose of bringing new life to the vine, and by extension, to those who lived on its blood. Thus the cross would’ve served as a sacred symbol both for viticulture and for the cult of Dionysus, just as it would for other Mediterranean cults who would later incorporate that symbol via Roman crucifixion, even calling their allegedly crucified hero the “true vine” (a title that actually seems more fitting for Dionysus).

True to form, and always a step behind, a certain other cult also went on to employ the iconography of a grapevine hanging upon a cross.

One final archetype worth mentioning here which is likewise found in the mythos of Dionysus is that of the group of 12. In the case of Dionysus, his group of twelve was the Twelve Olympians. While sources vary as to the exact list, there was indeed a tradition in which Dionysus was counted as a member of the Twelve Olympians. Such can be seen on a frieze from the Parthenon which portrays the Twelve Olympians seated on twelve thrones, surrounded by various servants and lesser gods.

Dr. John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World There were traditionally twelve Olympian deities: Zeus, Poseidon, Hermes, Ares, Apollo, Hephaistos, Dionysos; Hera, Artemis, Aphrodite, Athena, Demeter. Of these Demeter is probably a latecomer to this group, being in origin a realization of the Earth-goddess; and Dionysos had always been considered a very late introduction, until the revelation of his name on two Pylos tablets upset this comfortable belief.

Dr. Jon D. Mikalson, Ancient Greek Religion
The familiar twelve Olympian deities of Zeus, Hera, Athena, Dionysus, Hermes, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, and our Poseidon each shared this “dual nature”—a panhellenic type in literature but also, probably in every city-state, a local form, with its own individual cult, myth, ritual, and sometimes even function.

Dr. Corinne O. Pache, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: Volume 1
Although at the local level the Greeks worshipped their gods in various configurations—in groups, pairs, or individually—the most common group found consistently throughout the Greek world is the so-called Twelve Gods, which included the most important members of the Olympian family. As they are depicted on the frieze of the Parthenon in Athens, the Twelve Gods are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hermes, Demeter, Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Ares.

Dr. Philip Mayerson, Classical Mythology in Literature, Art, and Music
On the east frieze of the Parthenon, the gods are portrayed as having come down from Mount Olympus to help celebrate the quadrennial Panathenaic festival. Waiting to receive the worship of city officials and citizens from their vantage point high on the Acropolis overlooking Athens are the Olympian gods, the Twelve: Zeus, Poseidon, Hephaestus, Hermes, Ares, Apollo, Dionysus, Hera, Athena, Artemis, Aphrodite, and Demeter.

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Dionysus seated upon his throne in his rightful place as one of the Twelve Olympians; based on the east frieze of the Parthenon, 5th century BCE.

Does any of this remind you of someone else? I’m drawn a blank myself. 😉

Actually, with Dionysus having all of these classic archetypes prior to the Common Era, it is no wonder that certain other Mediterranean cults saw the appeal and began to incorporate the worship of Dionysus into their own religion. Even the scriptures of these cults admit as much. They confess that in the hundred and thirty and seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks, in those days went there out wicked men, who persuaded many, saying, Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen that are round about us: for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow. So this device pleased them well. Then certain of the people were so forward herein, that they went to the king, who gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the heathen: Whereupon they built a place of exercise according to the customs of the heathen: And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief. Not long after this the king sent an old man of Athens to pollute also the temple, and to call it the temple of Jupiter Olympius; and elsewhere that of Jupiter the Defender of strangers, as they did desire that dwelt in the place. And when the feast of Bacchus was kept, they were compelled to go in procession to Bacchus, carrying ivy. Moreover there went out a decree to the neighbour cities of the heathen, by the suggestion of Ptolemee, that they should observe the same fashions, and be partakers of their sacrifices. Those who spoke against it should be taken by force and put to death; and that those who were registered should even be branded on their bodies with an ivy-leaf, the emblem of Dionysus, and be reduced to their former limited status. But that he might not appear an enemy to all, he added, But if any of them prefer to join those who are initiated into the mysteries, they shall have equal rights with the citizens of Alexandria. Some obviously hating the price paid for the religion of their city readily gave themselves up, expecting to gain great glory from their association with the king.

In corroboration with this, Plutarch (Moralia 671D-672C) recorded the following from a response of Moeragenes to Symmachus and Lamprias concerning whether or not this particular cult worshipped Dionysus:

When they celebrate their so-called Fast, at the height of the vintage, they set out tables of all sorts of fruit under tents and huts plaited for the most part of vines and ivy. They call the first of the two days Tabernacles. A few days later they celebrate another festival, this time identified with Bacchus not through obscure hints, but plainly called by his name, a festival that is of a sort of ‘Procession of Branches’ or ‘Thyrsus Procession,’ in which they enter the temple each carrying a thyrsus. What they do after entering we do not know, but it is probable that the rite is a Bacchic revelry, for in fact they use little trumpets to invoke their god as do the Argives at their Dionysia. Others of them advance playing harps. …
I believe that even the feast of the Sabbath is not completely unrelated to Dionysus. Many even now call the Bacchants Sabi and utter that cry when celebrating the god. Testimony to this can be found in Demosthenes and Menander [4th cen. BCE] … they keep the Sabbath by inviting each other to drink and to enjoy wine; when more important business interferes with this custom, they regularly take at least a sip of neat wine. Now thus far one might call the argument only probable, but the opposition is quite demolished, in the first place by the High Priest, who leads the procession at their festival wearing a mitre and clad in a gold-embroidered fawnskin, a robe reaching to the ankles, and ringing below him as he walks. All this corresponds to our custom. In the second place, they also have noise as an element in their nocturnal festivals, and call the nurses of the god ‘bronze rattlers’. The carved thyrsus in the relief on the pediment of the Temple and the drums (provide other parallels). All this surely befits (they might say) no divinity but Dionysus.

With several members of this cult having already engaged in the worship of Dionysus at least as early as the Hellenistic Era, is it any wonder then that later on that same cult would give rise to an offshoot religion which would feature its own dying & resurrecting protagonist who would have his own spin on many of the archetypes also used in the cult of Dionysus as outlined above? And so it is quite ludicrous to read such ignorant apologetic statements as “the idea that Palestinians would have known about this sort of thing, let alone make up a religion based on it, is not even remotely conceivable.😄

the-awakening-of-adonis-john-william-waterhouse

Moving along, in the video mentioned at the beginning of this post, Habermas also stated of Adonis: “Let’s take Adonis. Adonis is probably the ancient god for which we have the clearest data that he was raised from the dead. We have four accounts that Adonis was raised. The earliest one is the 2nd century AD. The other ones are between the 2nd and 4th century AD.”

Wrong. Theocritus of Syracuse wrote in the 3rd century BEFORE the Common Era.

Theocritus was a native of Syracuse in Sicily; he was probably born in the last two years of the fourth century BC. Very little is known of the details of his life, but the subjects of his poetry cover Sicily and the Greek west, the eastern Aegean (notably the island of Cos), and Alexandria, the capital of the Ptolemaic empire. He appears to have sought or enjoyed the patronage of Hieron II of Syracuse and Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who reigned at Alexandria between 283 and 246 BC, and internal indications suggest links with Callimachus and Apollonius of Rhodes, the greatest poetic figures of Philadelphus’ court. … The Greek poet Theocritus of Syracuse (first half of the third century BC) was the inventor of ‘bucolic’ poetry.
Anthony Verity, in Theocritus: Idylls

Behind Milton’s verses lie centuries of pastoral verse, but their source is to be traced to the Boukolika (‘ox-herding poems’) of Theocritus of Syracuse (mid-third century BC) who bequeathed to the Western tradition the lament for the death of a pastoral poet (Idyll 1), the peculiar pathos of death by drowning (Idylls 1 and 13), and the very name ‘Lycidas’ (Idyll 7). … Theocritus’ poetic career probably began in the late 280s and extended into the middle of the third century BC; Idylls 14, 15, and 17 belong to the reign at Alexandria of Ptolemy Philadelphus (c.283-246) and the latter two poems to the period of Philadelphus’ marriage to Arsinoe (c.276-270 or 268).
Dr. Richard Hunter, in Theocritus: Idylls

So Theocritus wrote in the 3rd century before the Common Era, and the Idylls which are of concern here, especially Idyll 15, are authentic and not the spurious ones. So first of all, there is Idyll 3 to establish that in the setting of the poems Adonis’ death has already occurred, it is a thing of the past.

Adonis, grazing his sheep on the hill, drove fair Cytherea
To such a pitch of madness that even after his death
She still refused to put him away from her breast.
Theocritus of Syracuse, Idyll 3.46-48

0_Monument_funéraire_-_Adonis_mourant_-_Museu_Gregoriano_Etrusco

Therefore what follows clearly took place posthumously and was not prior to his death. This becomes even more obvious in the next passage.

Dear Adonis, you alone of all other demigods, men say, haunt
Both this world and Acheron[< A river in the underworld.]
Fate would not grant Agamemnon
This gift, nor great Ajax, that hero heavy in anger, nor Hector
Eldest of Hecabe’s twenty sons; not Patroclus, nor Pyrrhus
Returned from Troy, nor even the Lapiths of old, nor Deucalion
And his people; nor the descendants of Pelops, nor the
Pelasgian kings of Argos. Be gracious to us, dear Adonis,
Again next year. This year’s visitation
made us joyful,
And when you come again you will find a welcome. …

Be happy, beloved Adonis, And may you find us happy when you come back here again.
Theocritus of Syracuse, Idyll 15.136-44 (3rd cen. BCE)

The setting is explained:

Two Syracusan women resident in Alexandria go to the royal palace to witness a festival of Adonis which Queen Arsinoe is staging in honour of her mother Berenice. As quintessential figures of the mime (a genre here signaled by the change of setting within the poem), the women at some level represent the arrival of the Syracusan mime-poet, namely Theocritus, at the court of Philadelphus. Festivals of Adonis (I. 109n.) were held annually to celebrate the young god’s return from the Underworld, and the focus of the poem is the contrast between the low aspirations and straitened circumstances of the women and the luxury and display of the palace. The ‘hymn to Adonis’ with which the poem ends mixes features of ‘real’ hymns with description in a way which is characteristic of poetic representations of festival practice.
Anthony Verity, in Theocritus: Idylls

That’s quite clear. Adonis was said to have returned to this world of the living after death, as he did every year, in a text far predating Lucian or the Common Era. As stated there, this was something no other demigod was able to accomplish, thus distinguishing Adonis’ posthumous state from their own. But as per what Habermas, J.Z. Smith, T.N.D. Mettinger, and others have argued, if Adonis were simply dead and stayed dead as some disembodied spirit then he would not be any different from each of those characters listed. Yet that was the very point of Theocritus in that passage, Adonis is different. He did what they could not- he returned to life again. Merely being able to visit the living as a ghost, as antagonists wish to assert of Adonis, would not set him apart from those men since they were able to do the same. Patroclus returned to Achilles after death as a ghost.[Homer, The Iliad 23.75-130, trans. Ian Johnston (2006).] Hector’s ghost likewise appeared to Aeneas.[Virgil, Aeneid 2.281-93.] The ghost of Theseus (a “descendant of Pelops”) returned to lead the charge of the Athenians against the Medes at the Battle of Marathon.[Plutarch, Lives: Theseus 3.1, 35.5.] So if these characters were able to return to Earth but only as ghosts, and Theocritus wrote that Adonis’ return to Earth was something none of them were able to do, then logically it follows that Adonis did not remain a disembodied ghost like them, as antagonists assert. Clearly Adonis—just like Dionysus—experienced a resurrection from the dead, as explicitly recorded by Theocritus prior to the Common Era. Hence it is no wonder then that Lucian of Samosata also affirmed as much later on- it was nothing new to him.

As Persephone was queen of the dead, for part of the year Adonis was to stay with her in the underworld. He then returned, perhaps briefly, to Aphrodite and the world of the living. His yearly plight is best expressed in the wonderful hymn in his honour which was composed by the poet Theocritus and set in Egypt’s Alexandria in the 270s BC. “You come both here and to the underworld, so they say,” Theocritus makes his expert singer tell the audience, “unique and alone among the demigods…” The setting of this hymn is one of royal Alexandrian splendour, but its theology should not be discounted as a late Egyptian variation. The singer is not Egyptian herself; she is said to be repeating a widely received muthos (“so they say …”); Adonis, therefore, was generally believed to commute every year between the living and the dead. … Like Theocritus in his hymn (c. 270s BC), Lucian is not innovating when he reports the worshippers’ claim that Adonis had “come alive.”
Robin L. Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer

Arsinoe II sponsored the Adoneia, a festival celebrating the annual union of Aphrodite and Adonis, a young god of vegetation who dies and whom his divine lover brings back to life yearly. Part of the festival is captured by Theocritus.
Dr. Maryline G. Parca, A Companion to Women in the Ancient World

The festival in honor of the death and rebirth of Adonis is a popular theme in Hellenistic literature. See Theocritus’ Women at the Adonis Festival (Idyl 15).
Dr. Jerry Clack, Dioscorides and Antipater of Sidon: The Poems

The story of Adonis’ birth from a tree, his death, and rebirth for six months of every year suggest that he was originally a vegetation deity, whose death and rebirth symbolize the cyclic rebirth of natural life. (See Theocritus’ Idyl XV and Bion’s Lament for Adonis.) The death and rebirth of Adonis were celebrated at festivals in Athens, Alexandria, and elsewhere in the ancient world.
Dr. Lillian Feder, The Handbook of Classical Literature

Like Iasion, Adonis is a transmuted form of a youthful vegetation god, simultaneously the son and lover of the Great Goddess (Aphrodite, Astrate, Isis-Hathor). The scholiast on Theocritus III, 48 makes the vegetation-character of the myth clear:
“They say about Adonis that at his death he spent six months in the arms of Aphrodite, as well as six also in those of Persephone. This tale is in truth as follows: Adonis, that is, the sown grain, spends six months in the earth from the time of sowing; and for six months Aphrodite—that is, the temperate air—has him. And then men receive him.”
This explanation belongs, of course, to the allegorizing tendency of later Greek rationalism. In the more primitive form of the myth, Adonis, as vegetation god, fructifies the Great Goddess and helps in the bringing forth of crops. As in all such myths, the god dies annually, is mourned by the Goddess and her devotees, and is reborn as the Goddess’ son-consort once more. Idyll XV, 136-44 refers to Adonis’ death and resurrection in the cycle of each year.
Dr. Charles Segal, in L’antiquité Classique

Theocritus’ Idylls are indubitably a pre-Common Era source for the resurrection of Adonis. Habermas fails.

AdonisVenusSokolov

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[More on the myth of Tammuz, with whom Adonis was identified]

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4 comments on “Gary Habermas on dying & rising gods

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