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Asclepius &


Pre-Christian Jesus Motifs in Ancient Greek Mythology


WARNING:  Christians who don’t want to learn ancient history that might conflict with their church’s dogma and tradition may want to avoid reading this information.





By:  David Deschesne

Editor/Publisher, Fort Fairfield Journal

October 23, 2019


    The gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John present the story of Jesus, his death, resurrection and the fact that he raised at least one person from the dead.  However, these ideas and narratives are not new among the pantheon of gods throughout ancient human civilization.  In Greek mythology, for example, Asclepius raised many people from the dead and Dionysus was killed as a propitiation for mankind and ultimately resurrected, similar to the Jesus narrative but over a thousand years earlier.

   The gospels were not written by the authors attributed to them.  According to leading New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, the gospels were not written by followers of Jesus, who would have been lower-class, uneducated Aramaic-speaking peasants from Galilee.  Ehrman points out how the gospels were actually written by anonymous authors in Greek.  None of the authors of the gospels were eyewitnesses to Jesus.  Contrasted with the simple, uneducated, Aramaic-speaking peasants that were Jesus’ followers, the gospel writers wrote in Greek, were highly literate and educated.  The gospel writers were rhetorically trained and skilled in Greek composition.  They based their writings - which have been substantially edited and changed by the church over the centuries - on oral reports that had been circulating for decades before they wrote them down.  Such oral reports were subject to modification, enhancements and embellishments until they were finally written down in Greek prose some four decades after Jesus.

   Ehrman points out the scholarly consensus on the dates of the Gospel writings range from 65-70 AD (“Mark”) to as late as 90-95 AD (“John”) with “Luke” and “Matthew” being composed sometime in between.

   What’s intriguing about the stories of Jesus in the Greek-written gospels is their similarities to the stories of Greek gods still being worshipped at the time of their writing.



   Some 1,300 years before Christ a man-god named Asclepius is depicted in Greek mythology as one who could heal the sick and raise people from the dead.  The line between a man and a god is a blurry one since ancient Greeks gave less distinction between gods and men than we do today.1

   Some early accounts of Asclepius place him as a fighter in the Trojan War, circa 1300 BC.  He is said to have brought back to life the Spartan lawgiver, Lycurgus (circa 1000 BC) and an iron worker named Glaucus (circa 800 BC) among many others.2  

   The way the myth goes, Asclepius was born the son of the sun god, Apollo via divine conception with a mortal woman, named Koronis (or Coronis) from Trikala, Thessaly.  This is similar to the divine conception between God and Mary in the Christian narrative.  However, that’s where the similarities end since Koronis then falls in love and has an adulterous affair with a mortal man named Ischys.  This causes Apollo to throw a fit of jealously whereby he sends his sister, Artemis to kill Koronis for her unfaithfulness.

   Pregnant with Apollo’s child, Koronis is burned at the stake by Artemis.  However, before she succumbs Apollo feels sympathy for his unborn child, Asclepius, and rescues him from the flames by cutting open Koronis’ womb and delivering him prematurely - perhaps the first Caesarean Section in human history.

   Asclepius is then raised by a half-man, half-horse Centaur named Chiron.  He was educated in the healing arts using drugs, ritual, incantations and magic.

   During the course of his studies, Asclepius is taught about the magical qualities of the  blood of the Gorgon.  Gorgon are mythical winged female monsters with snakes for hair, bronze claws and eyes that could turn humans to stone (think of the Greek mythological figure, Medusa).  According to the myth, Asclepius learned the blood from the left side of a Gorgon would kill a mortal man but the blood taken from the right side of a Gorgon would bring a dead person back to life.

   Asclepius became very skilled at healing and bringing people back from the dead. So much so, that he angered Hades, the god of the underworld who felt he was being robbed of human souls.  (The underworld as viewed in the ancient Greek mind was not “hell” in the modern sense, but rather simply a place where the souls of the dead go.  Its concept and imagery got changed into a fiery hell by early Christians as they developed and adapted it to their own religious narrative).

   Hades then complained to Zeus, the “Father of Heaven” and thrower of lighting bolts, that Asclepius was depriving him of souls.  Zeus heard the complaint and agreed that making men immortal would upset the natural balance of things since they would then become as gods and never die.  Zeus then promptly killed Asclepius with a lighting bolt.3  However, he did respectfully immortalize him in the stars by placing him in the constellation, Ophiuchus.4

   After his death, his followers built special temples in his honor, called Asclepieions.  An Asclepieion was a place where people went to be healed of their afflictions, or to be trained in the healing arts, and were popular throughout ancient Greece.  It is said that Hippocrates, the father of medicine, studied and started his medical career at the Asclepieion on Kos island.

   Hundreds of years into the Greek myth of Asclepius, we have the gospels, written by Greeks from presumably Greek followers of the Christian religion.  In chapter 11 of the Biblical Book of John the raising of Lazarus by Jesus perhaps harkens back to  the Asclepion mythos.

   I’m not saying the Lazarus story was copied from the story of Asclepius - there’s no direct evidence for that, literary or otherwise.  But, it is at least possible that it was “inspired by” the story, much the same way many true story movies today are inspired by actual events, but don’t necessarily copy them in all facts and details.

   The story of Asclepius and his ability to raise people from the dead is certainly intriguing, if not a mere coincidence with the Biblical Jesus story.  But, another Greek god takes the parallels to the next level by being crucified for mankind, then resurrected.  Enter Dionysus.



   The resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion is depicted in Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24 and John 20.  As an aside, none of those four stories corroborate each other because they all list different facts surrounding the event. This begs the question, which one is the correct version?

    Jesus is not the first resurrected god-man recognized in human history.  Much earlier than Jesus, was the Greek myth of Dionysus.

   Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, the nourisher and guardian of the vine and eventually a god of intoxication.  His early form came from Thrace as a god of liquor brewed from barely, his name then was Sabazius.  The early forms of Dionysus had him as a goddess of fertility but eventually, he became the god of intoxication; he ended up as a son of a god dying to save mankind.5

  Dionysus, who was in some versions of the myth the son of Zeus, was identified in the names of many other savior-gods.  In addition to Sabazius, he was also called Bacchus, Zagreus, Adonis, Antheus, Zalmoxis, Pentheus, Pan and Liber Pater.  His emblem was a phallic (shaped like a male penis) scepter tipped with a pine cone.

   He was often presented as a rustic wine-god but was also a prototype of Christ, with a cult center at Jerusalem as well as nearly every other major city in the middle east.  Plutarch said the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles was celebrated in his honor.6

  Earlier versions of the cult of Dionysus had the kings killed so their blood could fructify both the earth and women’s wombs in an ancient macabre fertility rite.

   Dionysus was hailed as “King of Kings,” and God of Gods.  He was also begotten, virgin born, from a mother who exhibited all three forms of the triple goddess: earth mother; underworld queen and Semele the moon-maiden.  Hints of a hanging crucifixion ceremony appeared in his sacrificial rites, entitled Dendrites, “Young man of the tree.”7

   A long remembered incarnation of Dionysus was King Dionysus of Syracuse, who altered the custom of king-sacrifice in the 4th century BC by substituting a volunteer courtier for the human sacrifice.8

  As a wine god, Dionysus also turned water into wine many centuries before the Christian narrative was written.  During the Egyptian New Year, when ancient Egyptians believed the waters of the Nile gained miracle-working powers, Dionysus was believed to miraculously change water into wine.  He is also credited as the first one to change water into wine at his marriage to Ariadne, the same miracle attributed to Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana.9

   But the myth of Dionysus transcends even Greek thought.   Five hundred years before Christ, Greek historian, Herodotus traveled to Egypt where he witnessed on the shores of a sacred lake in the Nile delta, an enormous festival representing the death and resurrection of their god, Osiris.  As an initiate into the Greek mysteries, Herodotus recognized what he called “the Passion of Osiris” as the very same drama that initiates saw enacted before them at Eleusis as the Passion of Dionysus.  The Egyptian myth predates the Dionysus myth by nearly two thousand years, dating back to at least 2500 BC.  The narrative of a god-man named Jesus being killed as a savior for mankind seems to be the most recent adaptation of the millennia-old cross-cultural story.


   The idea of early pagan gods’ stories being grafted onto Christianity in its early stages of development could be unnerving to many Christians who take the stories in the Bible as literal, historical fact.  However, there is one school of thought that is okay with those ideas.  That is, Gnosticism.

   Gnosticism, named for the early Christian Gnostics (meaning “knowledge”), did not accept the Jesus narrative as an historical event that literally happened.  They viewed the story more like a parable, symbolic of man’s progression in his relationship and ultimate merger to the Godhead.  The Gnostic writings in circulation at the time of the original Gospels were placing contradictory ideas into the minds of early Christian believers.  In order to unify them into one common, easily controlled belief system, emperor Constantine commissioned the council of Nicea in 325 AD to gather all of that day’s experts in Christianity together to vote on what they considered to be the accepted writings.  In other words, what was finally considered to be the “Word of God” was decided upon by a majority vote at what was essentially a book critics’ convention. What ended up happening is the books we have archived in the New Testament today were those that got voted in, while the other more esoteric, Gnostic writings were considered “heretic” and suffered under the flames of many book-burning bon fires.  Had there been a majority of Gnostics at Nicea, Christianity would have ended up very different than today’s form.  The deck, however, was stacked against the Gnostics because they taught a religious view that one could connect directly with God without the need for an organized church hierarchy controlled by priests and bishops; and control is what Constantine and his allies wanted, so the Gnostics had to go.

   A scant few surviving Gnostic books were found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945, squirreled away in some clay jars.  These are the only known surviving remnants of the Christian religion that viewed the Jesus story as a symbolic experience for each person to achieve, rather than a literal, historical accounting of events of a single man-god.   While that is an interesting study by itself, it is beyond the scope of this particular teaching on the Greek gods of Asclepius and Dionysus who, by themselves, seem to form part of the framework of what would eventually be molded into the Christian narrative of Jesus.



1.  The Story of Civilization, Book II, The Life of Greece, ©1966 Will Durant, p. 180.


3. ref


5.  Durant, op cit., p. 186

6.  Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, ©1983 Barbara Walker, p. 236

7. op cit., p. 237

8. op cit., p. 238

9.  The Jesus Mysteries, ©1999 Tim Freke and Peter Gandy, p. 38


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