Updated: Oct 19, 2021
In a previous article on this blog entitled, Is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Another Myth? (October, 2015), I discussed the problems that Doctor Carrier has in making such an assertion. I typed that aside from his opinion, Doctor Carrier did not support his assertion with any relevant evidence and I used the federal rules of evidence as a foundation to describe what relevant evidence is. Even though he did not offer any relevant evidence of a connection between Christianity and the Osiris myth as we saw in the first article, it would be of value to take a look at a summary of the Osirian myth to see if there are any solid parallels. It is important to confront Doctor Carrier’s ideas (and other ideas like his) as they are being told to your children when they reach college or when they are in high schools as if the scholarly research supports these findings. Skeptics use these arguments to discredit faith in Jesus Christ and the statistics tell us that many are leaving the Christian faith when they attend secular colleges.
Again by introduction, Doctor Richard Carrier is a mythicist which means that he believes that Jesus Christ was a mythical character invented by some religious enthusiasts near the turn of the 1st millennium. As evidence to support this overarching perspective, Doctor Carrier has written on the parallels between various pagan mythical characters and has compared them to Jesus Christ. One of these mythical figures that he compares to Jesus Christ is Osiris, the King of the Netherworld who is the main figure in the ancient Egyptian funerary cult.
Doctor Carrier states of Osiris:
Osiris was likewise murdered, dismembered, buried, then ascended to heaven to become “the Supreme Father of the Gods.” Like the Inanna myth, the Osiris myth also contained curious yet inconclusive parallels with the Christ story. Although it’s otherwise a very different tale, there are still a few similarities that might be too unusual to be coincidental: both were “sealed” in their tomb or casket; both were killed by seventy-two conspirators; both rose on the third day after their death; and both resurrections took place during a full moon (Carrier, R. Not the Impossible faith, why Christianity didn’t need a miracle to succeed. 2009, Kindle ed., ch.1).
However, when one surveys the Osirian myth, it is easy to see the glaring differences and not just superficial ones. Osiris is one of the earliest myths in recorded history and we find most of what we know about Osiris coming out of The Pyramid Texts and The Book of the Dead. Moreover, a great deal of information about Osiris comes from the ancient pyramids themselves through drawings, statues, and hieroglyphics, etc. The Greek scholar Plutarch has also written a book entitled Isis and Osiris that explores the myth in its form as a mystery cult during his lifetime (1st and 2nd century A.D.).
What we know of Osiris is that he was the son of Geb (dad) and Nut (mom). These were two gods. Nut was the sky goddess and Geb was the earth God. Osiris by virtue of his birth was the ruling king of Egypt. While in the womb, Osiris had sex with Isis and Osiris ended up marrying his sister, Isis. Osiris also had a brother by the name of Seth and a sister by the name of Nephthys. Seth and Nephthys married. However, on one occasion Osiris unknowingly had sex with his sister, Nephthys thinking it was Isis. After this occurred, Seth launched a conspiracy to murder Osiris. Eventually, Seth hatched his plan and Osiris was lured into a casket where 72 co-conspirators nailed Osiris inside. Seth then threw the casket with Osiris in it into the sea and then Osiris drowns. However, the goddess Isis finds the casket and keeps it intact with Osiris inside. Seth finds out about the recovery of the body of Osiris and then dismembers the body by cutting it up into fourteen pieces and scatters the parts of the body across Egypt. Isis then finds the different pieces of the body. As this action is occurring a group of gods render a judgment that Osiris was wrongfully murdered and they cause him to come to life again but as the king of the realm of the dead.
Now as a result of his death and reanimation as the king of the realm of the dead, all who die can receive eternal life in the Netherworld. This is achieved by Osiris everyday as he works in tandem with Re aka Ra, the Sun God. So the cycle goes like this: The sun goes on its daily journey in a boat. When the sun sets, it goes into the Netherworld where Osiris is located. Because of his renewed life and status as king of the Netherworld, Osiris joins with Re or Ra (the sun god) in his (the sun’s) journey through the netherworld and reinvigorates the sun by joining with him in the Netherworld. So, the sun is ready to resume his journey in the realm of the living at sunrise because of its union with Osiris. Osiris gets something out of the arrangement too.
So, those who say the right spells and incantations can unite with Osiris when they die. They can take advantage of this solar cycle of renewed life given by Osiris. But that is where the mummy comes in. Osiris, in order to revivify the dead person needs to reunite (by his nightly union with Re/Ra) with the mummy of the dead individual in order to pass on this life force. The life force awaits the dead person who is traveling around in spirit form in the Netherworld and eventually goes back to his mummy in order to get reinvigorated by Osiris.
There is also an ancient Egyptian concept called Ma’at where the newly dead are judged. Their deeds are weighed in a balance by a tribunal of gods to include Osiris. If their good deeds are more than their bad deeds then they are allowed entrance into the Netherworld. But you have to have a mummy or Osiris cannot revivify you. Remember, you also have to have the right spells and incantations, etc too or you won’t be allowed in.
Because of the death of Osiris and his renewal to life in the Netherworld, he is also observed by ancient Egyptians to be the one who presides over the watering of crops and insures the inundation of the Nile River is successful (remember he died originally by drowning in the Nile). Not only is Osiris responsible for the watering of the crops, he is also responsible for the harvests of grain and there are statues and images that also portray this aspect of Osiris.
There are several variations to this story but that is the gist of it. With only a brief summary and a superficial knowledge of Christianity, it is pretty obvious that the differences between Jesus Christ and Osiris are immense. The most obvious difference being that this story is a myth and is not rooted in any sort of historic background. When the sun goes down, the sun goes into the Netherworld where it meets with Osiris? Need I say more? In contrast to this myth is Jesus Christ who is rooted in history, in a time, a place, and has real brothers and family members one of whom becomes a prominent leader of the church and writes about Jesus himself (the Epistle of James, the brother of Jesus). Also, John the Apostle who is the “disciple that Jesus loved” becomes a surrogate son to Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:26, 27) and writes about it. Now that we have set the stage by telling the myth of Osiris in abbreviated form, we can make some contrasts/comparisons between the resurrections of Osiris and Jesus. We’ll go into more details in the next article.
Sources for the Osirian Myth:
Allen, J.P. 2005. The ancient Egyptian pyramid texts, edited by P.D. Manuelian. Translated with an introduction and notes by J.P. Allen. Atlanta: Society of biblical literature.
Budge, E.A.W. 2002. Osiris and the Egyptian religion of resurrection. London: Kegan Paul.
David, R. 1998. The ancient Egyptians: beliefs and practices. Portland: Sussex Academic Press.
Hare, T. 1999. Remembering Osiris: number, gender, and the word in ancient Egyptian representational systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Plutarch. 2012. Isis and Osiris. Oxford: Acheron Press [Kindle Edition].
Smith, M. 2008. Osiris and the deceased. In Dieleman J. & and Wendrich W. eds.
UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. Available: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/29r70244 Date of Access: 16 January 2016.
Smith, M. 2009. Traversing eternity: texts for the afterlife from Ptolemaic Egypt.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Taylor, J.H. 2001. Death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.