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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/13/17

Our Dionysian Crucible and Trump's White Christian Voters (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) April 13, 2017: In the new book The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel and Euripides (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), the American biblical scholar Dennis R. MacDonald (born in 1946; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1978) explores how the anonymous author of the Fourth Gospel (also known as the Gospel According to John) may have been drawing on and competing with Euripides' Bacchae. In Appendix 2 (pages 203-218), MacDonald helpfully provides his own original translation of sections of Euripides' play that are most relevant to the Fourth Gospel. In Chapter 2, MacDonald constructs his learned commentary on the earliest stratum of what eventually became the Gospel According to John and Euripides' Bacchae.

We in Western culture today, Christians and non-Christians alike, are currently undergoing a Dionysian crucible. So MacDonald's detailed study can help us understand and navigate our current cultural crucible. Because so many white Christians voted for so-called President Trump, MacDonald's new book is a timely reminder for those Christians of the Dionysian crucible embedded in the Gospel According to John.

Now, in the massively researched book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (Yale University Press, 1990), the American aesthete Camille Paglia (born in 1947; Ph.D. in English, Yale University) notes how Euripides influenced the Christian tradition of thought:

"Chronicling the birth of a religion out of the collapse of the old, the Bacchae [by Euripides] strangely prefigures the New Testament [which chronicles the birth of a religion known eventually as Christianity out of the supposed collapse of the old religion known as Judaism]. Four hundred years before Christ, Euripides depicts the conflict between armed authority and popular cult. A long-haired nonconformist, claiming to be the son of God by a human woman, arrives at the capital city with a mob of scruffy disciples, outlandish provincials. Are the palms of Jesus' march on Jerusalem a version of Dionysian thyrsi, potent pine wands? The demigod is arrested, interrogated, mocked, imprisoned. He offers no resistance, mildly yielding to his persecutors. His followers, like St. Peter, escape when their chains magically fall off. A ritual victim, symbolizing god [sic], is lofted onto a tree, then slaughtered and his body torn to bits. An earthquake levels the royal palace, like the earthquake during Jesus' crucifixion that tears the Temple veil, symbol of the old order. Both gods are beloved of women and expand their rights. The play identifies transvestite Dionysus with the mother goddesses Cybele and Demeter. He avenges his mother's defamation by maddening her sister Agave into infanticide. Agave, cavorting onstage with her bloody trophy, cradles the severed head of her son Pentheus in a grisly mock-pieta. Against her will, she mimes murderous mother nature" (page 103).

More briefly, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychological theorist C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), also notes the Dionysian parallel with the New Testament portrayal of the supposed Christ in his 1,600-page commentary titled Nietzsche's Zarathustra : Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939 by C. G. Jung, 2 vols., edited by James L. Jarrett (Princeton University Press, 1988, pages 448, 657, 816, 1526, 1527, 1533, and 1538). Jung connects the Dionysian with the psycho-spiritual process of deification.

For book-length studies of various ancient and medieval conceptualizations of the psycho-spiritual process of deification, see the following eight books:

(1) M. David Litwa's Becoming Divine: An Introduction to Deification in Western Culture (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books/ Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013);

(2) Litwa's Desiring Divinity: Self-deification in Early Jewish and Christian Mythmaking (Oxford University Press, 2016);

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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