Bac’chus the Latinized form, (in the Auth. Vers. at 2 Maccabees 6:7; 14:33) of the heathen deity called by the Greeks DIONYSUS SEE DIONYSUS (q.v.). The latter occurs also in (the so-called) 3 Maccabees 2:29. In all these instances this mythic deity is named in connection with circumstances which would indicate that he was an, object of special abhorrence to the Jews; for in the first it is stated that the Jews were compelled to go in procession to Bacchus; in the second, the erection of a temple to him is threatened in order to compel the priests to deliver up Judas to Nicanor; and in the third, the branding with the ivy leaf, sacred to him, is reported as inflicted on them by way of punishment. This falls in with what Tacitus says, that it was a mistake to imagine that, because the priests of the Jews accompanied their singing with flute and cymbals, and had garlands of ivy, and a golden vine was found in the Temple, they worshipped Bacchus, for that this was not at all in accordance with their institutes (nequaquam congruentibus institutis, Hist. v. 5). As Bacchus was the god of wine, and in general of earthly festivity and jollity, and as his rites sanctioned the most frantic excesses of revelry and tumultuous excitement, he would necessarily be an object of abhorrence to all who believed in and worshipped Jehovah. Probably also the very fact that some things connected with the Jewish worship had, as mentioned by Tacitus, and still more fully by Plutarch (Symposiac. 4, qu. 6), led to the supposition that they reverenced Bacchus, may have produced in their minds a more determined recoil from and hatred of all pertaining to his name. In the pagan system Bacchus is the god of wine, and is represented as the son of Jupiter and Semele, the daughter of Cadmus. His mother perished in the burning embraces of the god, whom she persuaded to visit her with his attribute of royalty, the thunderbolt; the embryo child was sewn up in Jupiter’s thigh, whence, in due time, he was produced to light. Mythology abounds with the adventures of Bacchus, the most noted of which are the transformation of the Tyrrhenian pirates, who carried him off to sell for a slave, into dolphins; his revenge on the scoffing Pentheus, and his invasion and conquest of India. Bacchus was generally figured as a young man of effeminate appearance (θηλύμορφος, Eurip. Bacch. 853; Euseb. Chron. p. 29), with a garland of ivy binding his long hair (Strabo, 15, p. 1038); in his hand he bore a thyrsus, or rod wreathed with ivy, and at his feet lay his attendant panther. His companions were the Bacchantes, the Lenae, the Naiads and Nymphs, etc., and especially Silenus. His worship seems to have arisen from that “striving after objectivity” (Wachsmuth, Hellen. Alterthumsk. 2:2, p. 113), which is the characteristic of a primitive people. The southern coast of Thrace appears to have been the original seat of this religion, and it was introduced thence into Greece shortly after the colonization by the AEolians of the Asiatic coast of the Hellespont. The admission of the identity of Osiris and Dionysus by Plutarch and other mythological theorists, as well as Herodotus’s simple statement of the assertions of the Egyptian priests to that effect, is no proof of the common origin of the worship of this divinity in Egypt and Greece; but there is no doubt that certain modifications of the Dionysiac rites took place after the commencement of the intercourse between the Ionians and the Egyptians (Penny Cyclop. s.v.). The worship of Bacchus was intimately connected with that of Demeter, and under the name of Iacchus he was adored along with that goddess at Eleusis. Virgil invokes them together (Georg. 1:5) as the lights of the universe. According to the Egyptians, they were the joint rulers of the world below (Herod. 2:123). In a cameo he is represented as sitting with her in a chariot drawn by male and female centaurs. (For a fuller account of the mythological history and attributes of Bacchus, see Creuzer, Aymbolik und Mythologie, pt. 3, bk. 3, chapter 2 of Moser’s Abridgment.)
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Author: McClintock and Strong Cyclopedia
Bible reference(s): 2 Maccabees 6:7, 3 Maccabees 2:29
Source: John McClintock and James Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.
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