Sunday, 20 December 2009

Happy Heraklesmas

Jesus is not the only birthday boy. There is another son of a virgin and a god born at this time.

Having a divine father and human mother was pretty routine in ancient mythology - Dionysus, Zoroaster, Perseus, Jason, Minos and Asclepius did, among others.

And Herakles, son of Zeus and the virgin Alcmene.

He was not just a strong man who performed Twelve Labours and became the star of a slightly daft TV series, he was worshipped around the Attic world as a saviour who died and rose again.

He was known to his followers as the Prince of Peace, the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World, the Shepherd. He was greeted each morning in his solar incarnation with the words 'He is risen'. (Sound familiar? See the Gospel of Mark 16:6)

Herakles (aka Hercules in Roman mythology) was born at the Winter Solstice, sacrificed at the Spring Equinox, rose again and ascended into heaven to be with his divine father. The winter solstice was celebrated on December 25th in the Julian calendar, which was in use from 45BC.

When he was born, the jealous goddess Hera tried to kill him. When Jesus was born, the jealous king Herod tried to kill him. There is equal historical evidence for both events. None. Herod died in 4BC.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's because Tarsus was one of the centres of Herakles worship. It was also the home of St Paul, who appears to have been into recycling in a big way.

And here is a picture of the Son of God with his shirt off.

There are no surviving images of Jesus flexing his pecs for comparison. Herakles was quite a fan of sex too, with both men and women, which makes him a much hotter man-god. As far as I know, there have been no wars declared in the name of Herakles although both he and Jesus had dads who could be pretty grumpy and were a bit too fond of smiting.

I am now going to eat mince pies and have unholy thoughts about the Son of God. You know which one. Happy Heraklesmas.


  1. God, yes, he is divine. What's his real name?

  2. Kevin Sorbo. He was the lead in Amdromeda too.

  3. looking into the matter a bit further, this he is risen business seems to be an internet meme propagated on some very dicey sites.

    It seems to derive from Diodorus 4.38.4 which describes the destruction of Herakles' physical body by lightening and his transformation into a non-corporeal god. There is no resurrection involved, rather the point of the story is that Herakles did not die as other men, but went on living as a god without a human body. There is nothing at all about his corpse getting up and walking around, which is what the He is risen in Mark means. The only way to read resurrection into he account is by conditioning from the gospels to think always in those terms. So what you say is completely wrong and misleading.

    And look at this quote:
    "The myth of Hercules has pre-Christian roots. Like Christ, Hercules was called the “Prince of
    Peace,” “Sun of Righteousness,” and “Light of the World,” and like Christ, he battled the Lord of
    the Underworld. Again, like Christ, he was reborn and granted immortality. These myths, likethe story Christ himself, have been major influences on the way in which we idealize Western
    masculinity as embodying the archetype of the Savior/Rescuer/Knight/Hero."

    from here:

    look familiar. He doesn't give any citations either. I don't even think you plagiarized it, You're just repeating an old meme that might have begun in print and now is all over the internet, but which is just made up and has no basis in ancient sources.

  4. Not plagiarism, my own words from several 20th century books - I'm not a classicist.

    The god (semi-god) who dies and returns in some form is a very common motif with cultural variations, of which Jesus is one. You're using 'resurrection' in a narrow way. Greek gods are portrayed with physical bodies in much of the mythology.