O Osiris the king,
who goes forth by night !
by Wim van den Dungen
10 Osirian faith and Christianity briefly compared.
“The living are not at the mercy of the dead ; the shades are without force and without consciousness. There are no ghostly terrors, no imaginings of decomposition, and no clatterings of dead bones ; but equally there is no comfort and no hope. The dead Archilles brushes aside Odysseus’ words of praise, saying : ‘Do not try to make light of death to me ; I would sooner be bound to the soil in the hire of another man, a man without lot and without much to live on, than ruler over all the perished dead.’ In the dreary monotony everything becomes a matter of indifference.” – Burkert, 1985, p.197.
Elsewhere, the crucial difference between Egyptian and Greek initiation and religion came to the fore.
In the Greek mysteries, the afterlife was depicted as a realm of shadows and any hope of individual survival was deemed ephemeral. Nobody escaped destiny, except the deities and the lucky few elected. The latter “escaped” from the world and its sordid entropic fate, misery and possible “eschaton” : a world-fire invoked by these wrathful deities themselves, unforgiving of man’s tragi-comical sins, but able to recreate the world in a whim ! Escape from this fated comedy was offered through the mysteries. They would erase the cause of the heaviness of the soul and its attachment to Earth, and, for Pythagoras and his school, end the cycle of metempsychosis, the successive return of the soul in other physical bodies.
Egyptian initiations, unlike the Greek, were not meant to release the applicant from the solid chains of the world and its destiny, quite on the contrary. The Egyptians maintained a series of rituals aimed at “a constantly renewed regeneration” (Hornung, 2001, p.14). At best, the Greeks (like the Egyptians) induced the point of death in order to glimpse into its darkness, to “see the goddess” and renew (cf. the death posture). But they had no “science of the Hades” as in the Amduat. The active continuity between life and death found in Egypt, contradicts the closed and separated interpretation of the Greeks, fostering “escapism” (the “body” as a “prison” out of which one needs to escape). In Egypt, no “new” life was necessary. Death could bring “more” life. For both life and the afterlife depended on identical conditions: offerings; either directly to the deities through Pharaoh or indirectly to the Ka of the deceased. If dualism fits the Greeks, triadism is Egyptian.
If Greco-Roman culture introduced a negative view on Earthly existence, one calling for a movement away from physical life, fostering a disincarnate return to the world of ideas (as in Platonism), introducing a major cleavage between, on the one hand, the ante-rationality of the cultures of Antiquity and, on the other hand, rational Greek thought, then Judeo-Christian beliefs added to this a fundamental reversal of the spiritual economy dominating Antiquity. Grosso modo, Antiquity proposed a naturalistic exchange between the sphere of humanity and that of the deities. In Egypt, sacrifice was intended to feed (through ascension) the Kas of the gods, which gratified their Bas. In return, precisely by way of souls & doubles, these Akhu would send blessings down to the physical plane. The gods never incarnate and no human being could become divine without loosing the “soul” of humanity (to be transformed into a spirit). In-between, the innocent victim is sacrificed by way of offerings. Through this, the deities are appeased and the circular sacrificial movement is kept in place. Although the mechanism may differ, but all religions of Antiquity (the Greco-Roman included) operated along these lines : the summum bonum was sacrificed to satisfy the deities and so modify the ill fate they had in stall for the worshippers.
“‘Don’t hurt the boy or do anything to him,’ he said. ‘Now I know that You honour and obey God, because You have not kept back your only son from Him.” – Genesis, 22:12.
The naturalistic exchange implied by sacrifice was overturned by Judaism. God was no longer “in need” for the son of Abraham. The only thing that mattered was the latter’s total surrender to the will of God. The moment God knew Abraham would have killed Isaac, He stopped the sacrifice. The innocent victim is no longer a currency flowing between God and humanity. The convenant initiated a sacred history, defined by man’s obedience. Punishment comes when one returns to the old ways, as the story of the Golden Calf makes clear. In Judaism, the core of the relationship between man and God is legalistic, no longer naturalistic. Christianity will exhalt this new way, but in a dramatical fashion, for no longer is the relationship mediated by a legal system, but by a morality founded on a personal, direct contact with God Incarnate !
At the moment when God Himself, as Christ, has become the innocent victim, the need for a bloody sacrifice is finally over and the book of Antiquity and natural religion is closed. Indeed, if God is allowed to become fully human, the ontological divide between both has been crossed.
“I have said, You are gods ; and all of you are children of the Most High.” – Psalms, 82:6.
When discussing the impact of Egyptian religion on (Alexandrian) Christianity, in particular Christology & Trinitarism, an issue part of the larger context of Egyptian influences on Hellenism, two positions are avoided.
On the one hand, literalism, the one-to-one identification of themes is no longer tenable. Paul and the writers of the gospels did not study Ancient Egyptian to invent Christianity. In a period when Judaism was strongly influenced by Hellenism, Christianity started as a conservative Jewish sect keeping circumcision sacred. And although Philo of Alexandria likely influenced Paul, and we are told by Matthew (2:14) that the infant Jesus escaped to Egypt (for “out of Egypt have I called my son” – 2:15), an immediate influence is possible but not likely (How long did Jesus stay in Egypt ?).
Instead, linguistics, semiotics and symbolism enable us to identify standard literary themes through time, like the extraordinary birth of a hero or a god, his return from the dead, the consumption of transformed stuff, the sending of the helping hand etc. They also aim to identify objective cycles and their synchronous timing and semiotic parallels (cf. synchronous projections on the Lunar and Stellar cycles). The stronger these themes resonate, the more likely that the oldest strand contains the original frequency.
On the other hand, skepticism (disguised as Hellenocentrism), negating the possibility itself of a powerful mediating and general impact of Egyptian culture, in particular its religion and wisdom, on all cultures touching the Mediterranean, in particular the Greek, is refuted by the evidence discussed elsewhere.
“It is crucial to the ‘difference’ of Christianity, that is, to its unique consideration of the relationship between the human and the divine, that the figure of Christ partake of both the human and the divine, and that he therefore suffer death upon the cross, and it is no less crucial that the Christian believer gain access to the divine through the ‘incorporation’ of the body and blood of Christ.” – Hare, 1999, p.225.
For Paul, Christian faith and the resurrection of Christ form an indivisible unity. In later fundamental theology, this event becomes the pillar of orthodoxy. Paul’s message …
“It is about His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ : as to his humanity, he was born a descendant of David ; as to His Divine Holiness, He was shown with great power to be the Son of God by being raised from death.” – Romans, 1:3-4.
“Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles.” – 1 Corinthians, 1:22-23.
For a host of fundamental Christian theologians (limited by scripture), the resurrection of Christ is the bedrock of Christianity. During Roman Mass, Christ’s death, resurrection and second coming are confirmed just after the transsubstantiation of the offerings (the third register). However, the newness of this faith lay not in the fact a man, a god or God dies and returns from the dead. Not even in the story Christ did so in a special, renewed, spiritual body (1 Corinthians, 15:44). Nor in the Presence of the Divine in the bloodless sacrifice of the flesh and blood of Christ. Although, in Catholicism, the Host and the Cup are the only loci of Divine Presence, and intimately connected with the Passion & the Resurrection of Christ, semiotically, this sacramental thanksgiving ows its newness primarily because of the Incarnation. A point which cannot be stressed enough, given the predominance of the narrative, temporal interpretation (linking the Eucharist with the Last Supper and the Jewish Pesach).
In Antiquity, before rationality was common, as the myth of Osiris amply demonstrates, resurrection and magical bodies were part of the religious (astral) paradigm. To conquer death was not the monopoly of Jesus Christ, and countless mythical & legendary heroes & magicians pre-dating Christ left us their wonderful stories. The new window introduced by Christianity is the idea that God Himself Incarnates in this world as Jesus Christ. In Egypt, the supreme god (Atum-Re) and his retinue never manifest on Earth as such, and certainly not as a human being ! With the exception of Pharaoh, the Akhu never leave the sky of Re and communicate top-down by way of their souls & doubles. Gods communicate with gods. Humans hide or acquire godhood.
With this extraordinary notion of the Incarnation of God in a human being, Christianity introduced a new vertical dimension and co-relative dispensation. Humanity as such was raised to Divinity in Christ. In this perspective, the salvic, sacramental Presence of Jesus Christ, is clearly less important than the historical fact of the Coming of God as a human being, as the Q-people and the Didache testify. For with the birth of Christ, so the Gospel of Thomas tells us, the Kingdom of God arrived.
The Incarnation is nothing less than God becoming human flesh & blood in Jesus Christ. God becoming human and also remaining God. Pharaoh, also a godman, was more “god” than man. His Akh was divine, for he was the son of Re. His human appearance was a “form”, an “image”. Jesus Christ is Divine and fully human, two natures and two wills ! This supernatural Christology is the major weak spot of the whole Christian edifice, and cause of endless, ongoing disputes. The “humanity” of Christ is difficult to define, for it is “without sin” and so undefiled (Adamic). Does this humanity-before-the-Fall not lead to monophysitism ? In other words : how can “sin” be removed from the concept of “humanity” without idealizing humanity ?
If the Incarnation is the Divine becoming human flesh & blood, then the Resurrection is human flesh and blood becoming Divine. As the latter is impossible without the former, Christianity is rooted in the Incarnation. So if Jesus Christ did not Incarnate in this world as God, i.e. God never became fully human, then Christianity lacks novelty.
Indeed, comparing Christian Christology and Trinitarism with some of the semiotic clusters characterizing Osirian faith, brings common themes to the fore. As Early Christianity was strongly influenced by monotheist Jewish aniconicity and Greek Hellenism, any direct comparison with the ante-rational, pictoral henotheism of Egypt is futile and will not be attempted. Moreover, Jesus Christ is put forward as a single Divine Person, while Osiris, Horus and Isis are three deities.
Note these pertinent resonances :
Osiris is the good king of Egypt, Christ is the anointed king of Israel ;
Osiris and Christ are murdered by usurpers ;
Osiris and Christ are resurrected ;
Osiris is resurrected in the Duat, Christ on Earth ;
Osiris is resurrected by Horus, his son, Christ by His Father ;
Osiris ascends in a resurrected body, Christ ascends in a body of glory ;
Osiris gives salvation to everybody, Christ is the Savior of Humanity ;
the death of Osiris regenerates, the death of Christ redeems ;
the body of Osiris is lost and then mummified, the body of Christ buried and gone ;
Horus is born of the magic of Isis & Christ is born of the Holy Virgin ;
Christ and Horus are both born at the Winter Solstice ;
Christ resurrects around the time that Horus is vindicated ;
Horus is the divine son of the god Osiris, Christ is the unique son of God ;
the resurrected Christ sends His Spirit, the resurrected Osiris a “good Nile” ;
Isis is the mourning mother as Mary is the Mater Dolorosa ;
Isis protects her child against Seth, Mary flees to Egypt ;
Isis (a goddess) brings Horus to adulthood as Mary (a Jewish girl) raises Jesus ;
Horus fights Seth as Jesus rebukes Satan ;
Osiris eats the Eye of Horus, Christ consecrates bread and wine at the Last Supper ;
Osiris is the lord of wine & corn, bread & wine become the flesh & blood of Christ ;
At the end of the Apostolic Age (ca. 110 CE), the quest for a coherent orthodox core for Christianity was already afoot. Clement I enthroned Roman orthodoxy and had, as early as ca. 90 – 99, defined “apostolic succession” and the primacy of Rome ! When counter movements emerged (cf. Gnosticism, Marcionism & Montanism), the centrist orthodox core invented heresy. A lasting Imperial Christianity would be the outcome (cf. Constantine the Great and the Council of Nicæ of 325). The ideological schism with the Eastern Churches became irreversible (cf. monophysite Christology & the Filioque of Trinitarism). In the East, the Father is the core, while the Spirit proceeds only from Him. In the West, the Son is focal, and the Spirit is the dynamical Love between Father and Son. This difference had and has tremendous consequences, splitting Christianity and invoking Protestantism, added to the mess. Already at an early stage of canonization, Christian unity was lost.
Between Ancient Egypt and Semitic Judeo-Christian culture (a synthesis of Jewish, Hellenistic and Christian components), major incompatibilities prevail :
Kemet is iconical, Judeo-Christian thought is aniconical ;
in Egyptian thought God is One and Many, in Semitic thought God is singular ;
Pharaoh was a god in the body of a man, Christ has two natures : human and Divine ;
in Greek thought evil is deficient & absent, while Seth is a deity ;
human nature is to be transformed, while Jesus Christ, is both human and God ;
gods only communicate with gods, while God Incarnated as a human being ;
“Horus has completely filled You with his Eye in this its name of ‘God’s Offer’.” – Pyramid Texts, §§ 614.
Taking these and other incompatibles into consideration, ponder for a moment on the Christian ritual par excellence : thanksgiving (“berakot”), part of the Christian Eucharist. The core of this interesting ritual is called the “Canon”, which starts with a preface leading up to the consecration, the actual changing of wine & bread into the blood and body of Christ, invoking the Resurrected Christ. The study of the Christian Eucharist is a subject on its own (its earliest catechism is found in the Didache). The register of the actual Presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in flesh & blood, was added to what originally was a thanksgiving reply of the Jews to God for having freed them from Pharaoh and his yoke. Thanksgiving is an acknowledgement of liberation from slavery. This prayer became the “preface” of the Christian Canon (cf. the “Vere dignum“), for the Christians gave thanks to God for having given them His Son and the spiritual liberation of humanity.
“I speak to You as sensible people ; judge for yourselves what I say : The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God : when we drink if it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break : when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.”
1 Corinthians, 10:14-17.
The importance of thanksgiving has been dealt with elsewhere. The Jewish prayer of thanksgiving forms a continuous reply to the original Divine speech, using the words of that original speech, and thus re-enacts the experience initiating the covenant between YHVH (Adonai) and humanity. Of this practice, many Egyptian parallels exist (cf. the return to the First Time, the importance of divine speech, etc.).
Saying grace before a meal was not unknown in Egyptian religion (nor was Pharaoh’s baptism). In Egypt, Pharaoh (as Shu, life) offered on a divine altar, for the table of offerings was Atum himself ! In Egyptian thought, a stronger bond between sacrifice and the original beginning of time (or “zep tepi”) cannot be conceived.
The Egyptian equivalent of saying grace is found in the second register on the inner face of the northern section of the girdle-wall of the temple of Horus at Edfu. The table of offerings is identifed with the creator Atum, and Pharaoh with his eldest son Shu, created by spitting saliva. The altar is thereby associated with the First Time. Atum-Re produces food and material plenty. The king offers them back on the altar (so that their kas may be fed), and ultimately consumes them (known as the reversion of offerings or communion). His thanksgiving is content worshipfulness.
“O Table-god (Atum), You have spat forth Shu from your mouth (…) O Table-god, may he (the king as Shu) give to You all that he will have dedicated, since he has become a god who is an emanation, alert, worshipful and powerful. (…) May he dedicate to You every good thing which You will give him, since he has become Heka. May he dedicate to You every good thing, food-offerings in abundance. May he set them before You and may You be content with them, may your Ka be content with them (…)
Be satisfied and worshipful, O Living Falcon, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of the Nobles, Lord of the common folk, Lord of the Seat of Re, Lord of gods, through the offerings which this son of yours brings to You, this Worshipfulness of yours, this Ka of yours, this Heka of yours, this Ptah of yours, this Shu of yours, this Thoth of yours, this abundance of yours upon Earth. May You be content and worshipful with them. May your Ka be content with them, and Your heart be content with them for ever.”
Grace before a Meal – Temple of Edfu (girdle-wall).
Is there a semiotic resemblance between the second part of the Canon (in particular the consecration and the communion) and the third register of the Eye of Horus ? The issue is left open.
sum total of all offerings : bread, wine, water, light & incense : the endless variety of Egyptian offerings is reduced to five ;
offer of offerings (offertorium) : bread (Paten) and wine + water (Cup) : Paten & Cup hold the offer of offerings : the human body of Christ ;
offer of communion (canon) : thanksgiving, consecration and communion : the spiritual body of Christ.
“To say : O Osiris king Neferkare, Horus has filled You with his complete Eye.” – Pyramid Texts, §21c.
“O Osiris king Wenis, take the Eye of Horus and absorb it into your mouth. – the morning meal.” – Pyramid Texts – § 60.
Christian consecration is said to contain the exact words of Jesus Christ during the Last Supper. In the East, the sacramental gifts are transubstantiated by the Holy Spirit, and not by these words of Christ. But in both cases, the ritual is supposed to invoke the Presence of God the Son de opere operato. Life-restoring communion with the flesh & blood of Christ offers a direct contact with this Presence of God. The Canon is Incarnational. During the consecration of the Host, the priest says : “This is my body”. The priest is acting in the Person of Christ, “in Persona Christi“.
In Egypt, the ecstasy of the living Horus enables the king and every magician to enter the Duat, see Osiris and become Osiris the king (cf. Naydler, 2005). This “seeing” is observing the mummy of Osiris (the second transformation of Osiris). It itself, this is already a symbolical form (a “sah”), but in a vegetative, inactive state. Because of the Eye of Horus, given to him by his son, Osiris is raised (third transformation) and represents the spirit (effective power) of vegetation, growth, fertility and life.
Assuming the king of the dead, Pharaoh receives the Eye of Horus and is regenerated by it. When Horus brings his Eye of Wellness to his father, he gives his own healed body, vindicated double (Ka) and royal soul (Ba). Then an embrace follows (the Eye is eaten) and Osiris is rejuvenated. This allows him to transform his soul into a divine spirit and ascend to his own, netherworldly sky. From there he sends a “good Nile” to the divine king and makes his magic work.
When Osiris the king, ritually assuming the role of Osiris, is restored by the Eye, he rules the Duat and returns to Earth (waking consciousness) as an empowered living Horus. Then he truly is the lord of the Two Lands : Horus for the living (East) and Osiris for the dead (West), Horus of the North and Seth of the South.