By J.P Holding| Of all the pagan copycat candidates, Osiris is one of the most popular correlations offered. Egypt after all is not far from Palestine, and Jews did live in Egypt; it is not theoretically improbable that they could steal an idea for a Jesus from this place.
But did they? The field is rife with claims, but as usual there is a great deal of filching of Christian terms to describe Egyptian events (not all of it with bad intentions) and a great deal of non-citation of sources for fabulous claims.
- Had well over 200 divine names, including Lord of Lords, King of Kings, God of Gods, Resurrection and the Life, Good Shepherd, Eternity and Everlastingness, the god who “made men and women to be born again.”
- Coming was announced by Three Wise Men: the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion, which point directly to Osiris’ star in the east, Sirius, significator of his birth
- Was a devoured Host. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat, the ‘plant of Truth’.
- The 23rd Psalm copied an Egyptian text appealing to Osiris the Good Shepherd to lead the deceased to the ‘green pastures’ and ‘still waters’ of the nefer-nefer land, to restore the soul and body, and to give protection in the valley of the shadow of death…
- The Lord’s Prayer was prefigured by an Egyptian hymn to Osiris-Amen beginning, ‘O Amen, O Amen, who are in heaven. Amen was also invoked at the end of every prayer.
- The teachings of Osiris and Jesus are wonderfully alike. Many passages are identically the same, word for word.
- As the god of the vine, a great traveling teacher who civilized the world. Ruler and judge of the dead.
- In his passion, Osiris was plotted against and killed by Set and “the 72.”
- Osiris’ resurrection served to provide hope to all that they may do likewise and become eternal.
Addressing the claims
1. Had well over 200 divine names, including Lord of Lords, King of Kings, God of Gods, Resurrection and the Life, Good Shepherd, Eternity and Everlastingness, the god who “made men and women to be born again.”
The titles I have found ascribed to Osiris are [Fraz.AAO] Lord of All, the Good Being (the most common title), Lord of the Underworld, Lord/King of Eternity, Ruler of the Dead, [Griff.OO] Lord of the West, Great One, [Bud.ERR, 26] “he who takes seat,” the Begetter, the Ram, [Bud.ERR, 79] “great Word” (as in, “the word of what cometh into being and what is not” — a reflection of the ancient idea of the creative power of speech, found likewise in the Greek Logos), “Chief of the Spirits”; [Short.EG, 37] ruler of everlastingness, [Meek.DL, 31] “living god,” “God above the gods.”
All of these are either general titles we would expect to be assigned to any head honcho deity, or else are related to Osiris’ command over the underworld. None of the ones cited closest and uniquely like unto Jesus were found.
2. Coming was announced by Three Wise Men: the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion, which point directly to Osiris’ star in the east, Sirius, significator of his birth.
While some scholars connect Osiris with Orion, they do not know anything about wise men or a star in the east.
3. Was a devoured Host. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat, the ‘plant of Truth’.
Not that anyone in the scholarly literature has reported.
4. The 23rd Psalm copied an Egyptian text appealing to Osiris the Good Shepherd to lead the deceased to the ‘green pastures’ and ‘still waters’ of the nefer-nefer land, to restore the soul and body, and to give protection in the valley of the shadow of death…
If this is so, no commentator in Egyptian religion or the OT knows about it. Osiris would possibly be known as a shepherd as such imagery was common in the ANE, but I have not seen it yet applied to him by anyone but mythicists.
5. The Lord’s Prayer was prefigured by an Egyptian hymn to Osiris-Amen beginning, ‘O Amen, O Amen, who are in heaven.’ Amen was also invoked at the end of every prayer.
If so, we want to know where this prayer is recorded, and so would experts in Egyptian religion. The Hebrew “Amen” is never used as a salutation and means “let it be so” which means it is not “invoked” as a deity is. Beyond that, let’s see an etymological connection based on the original languages, not on the correspondence of English characters.
6. The teachings of Osiris and Jesus are wonderfully alike. Many passages are identically the same, word for word.
If so, someone needs to put them side by side and prove it. The Egyptian religious scholars don’t seem aware of it.
7. As the god of the vine, a great traveling teacher who civilized the world. Ruler and judge of the dead.
This is a bit non-specific. Frazer reported [Fraz.AAO, vii, 7] that Osiris taught winemaking and agriculture, gave the Egyptians laws, taught them proper worship, and traveled the world teaching these things.
But this is the claim that was made of Dionysus as well, and we have answered that point within that essay. Not that it matters, since it seems literature written by scholars of Egyptian religion do not treat them as the same, though some connect Osiris and Orion, and Budge notes the travels but does not connect Osiris and Dionysius [Bud.ERR, 9]. In any event Osiris is nowhere called a “god of the vine.”
He is ruler and judge of the dead, but this doesn’t describe Jesus, who represents God who is not God of the dead, “but of the living.” At most it represents what might be expected of any supreme deity: to rule and to judge.
8. In his passion, Osiris was plotted against and killed by Set and “the 72.”
This is a combination of terminological fudging, half-truth, and irrelevancy. There was no “passion” — in the incident alluded to, Osiris was indeed plotted against by Set. There was a big party, at which Set had a coffin brought in and encouraged everyone, including 72 participants in the scheme and one queen of Ethiopia, to lay down for a fit.
Finally it came O’s turn, and he was persuaded to lay down in the coffin. Once O was inside, Set nailed the coffin shut and threw it in the river; O suffocated.
Note that the 72 here are enemies of O, not his disciples: only the number — a multiple of 12, a number we still hold in regard today when we purchase eggs and donuts — is a common touchpoint (and that only in some mss. of Luke 10; others put the number at 70, possibly representing the number of Gentile nations, according to the Jews). They do nothing at all that could be considered like what Jesus’ disciples did.
As the story goes further, O’s wife Isis went looking for the coffin. She found it in Syria, where it had been incorporated into the pillar of a house. She lamented so loudly that some kids in the house died of fright. Later she took it out, opened it up, then went looking for Horus.
Meanwhile Set found the coffin and tore the body in 14 pieces which he threw all over the place. In one result Isis went looking for the pieces and buried them as she found them. An alternate story has Isis, Anubis, and Ra piecing the body together, swathing it with bandages, and reviving him — more on this below.
9. Osiris’ resurrection served to provide hope to all that they may do likewise and become eternal.
This is where we find some of the biggest misuse of terminology, including by some Egyptian scholars of religion (who do not go on to posit a “copycat” relationship!). Osiris resurrected? Not if “resurrection” is defined as coming back in a glorified body. On this point Miller has done some substantial work, reporting the words of J. Z. Smith, so I will let these speak to begin:
“Osiris was murdered and his body dismembered and scattered. The pieces of his body were recovered and rejoined, and the god was rejuvenated. However, he did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead. In no sense can Osiris be said to have ‘risen’ in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern (as described by Frazer et.al.); most certainly it was never considered as an annual event.”
“In no sense can the dramatic myth of his death and reanimation be harmonized to the pattern of dying and rising gods (as described by Frazer et.al.).”
“The repeated formula ‘Rise up, you have not died,’ whether applied to Osiris or a citizen of Egypt, signaled a new, permanent life in the realm of the dead.”
“Osiris, in fact, was not a ‘dying’ god at all but a ‘dead’ god. He never returned among the living; he was not liberated from the world of the dead, as Tammuz was. On the contrary, Osiris altogether belonged to the world of the dead; it was from there that he bestowed his blessings upon Egypt. He was always depicted as a mummy, a dead king.” [Kingship and the gods: a study of ancient Near Eastern religion as the integration of society & nature. UChicago:1978 edition, p.289]
Perhaps the only pagan god for whom there is a resurrection is the Egyptian Osiris. Close examination of this story shows that it is very different from Christ’s resurrection. Osiris did not rise; he ruled in the abode of the dead. As biblical scholar, Roland de Vaux, wrote, “What is meant of Osiris being ‘raised to life?’ Simply that, thanks to the ministrations of Isis, he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence.
But he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead.… This revived god is in reality a ‘mummy’ god.”… No, the mummified Osiris was hardly an inspiration for the resurrected Christ…As Yamauchi observes, “Ordinary men aspired to identification with Osiris as one who had triumphed over death.” But it is a mistake to equate the Egyptian view of the afterlife with the biblical doctrine of resurrection. To achieve immortality the Egyptian had to meet three conditions:
First, his body had to be preserved by mummification. Second, nourishment was provided by the actual offering of daily bread and beer. Third, magical spells were interred with him. His body did not rise from the dead; rather elements of his personality-his Ba and Ka-continued to hover over his body. [“The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Myth, Hoax, or History?” David J. MacLeod, in The Emmaus Journal, V7 #2, Winter 98, p169
Frazer [Fraz.AAO, viii] wrote that every dead man was given Osiris’ name on top of his own in order to identify with the god.
So O’s “resurrection” is no resurrection at all — and in fact was actually a sort of function of the way the Egyptian gods were, shall we say, being half Frankenstein, half Lego set. There are in fact many stories of the Egyptian gods flinging various body parts around, and to no overall harm, because “divine bodies were thought to be impervious to change” [Meek.DL, 57] and so O’s dead body neither rotted nor decomposed as it waited to be put back together.