Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Taranto, Taranto, Italy

HE SON OF A GOD. Although there are no exact parallels for the story of the virgin birth of Jesus, other well-known tales of gods bearing children by mortals were common in the Greco-Roman world. One example is the mythical birth of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Zeus impregnated the princess Semele, but through the meddling of his jealous wife, Hera, Zeus revealed himself to Semele in all his divine glory, something no mortal could survive. As Semele lay dead, Zeus rescued the fetus from her womb and sewed him into his thigh. A few months later, the fully developed baby Dionysus was born from Zeus’s leg, as shown on this Greek red-figure krater from the early fourth century B.C.E. Freyne believes that this and other similar myths of semi-divine beings made the gospel story of the virgin birth easier to accept for a Hellenistic audience.