Damien F. Mackey
The myth of Osiris, wrote Sir Alan Gardiner, “is too remarkable and occurs in too many divergent forms not to contain a considerable element of historic truth”.
The problem is that these “many divergent forms” make it most difficult for us now to find our way back to the origin of it all, to identify whatever “historic truth” may lie behind the myth.
A further complication is that the ancient gods and goddesses undergo various manifestations in literature. Athena (Athene), for instance, the Greek virgin goddess, will – according to my interpretation of it – substitute in The Odyssey for the angel Raphael of Hebrew literature.
Similarities to The Odyssey of the Books of Job and Tobit
Robert Bowie Johnson Jr. is emphatic that Athena arose from the biblical Naamah, sister of Tubal-cain (commonly considered to be the origin of the Roman god, Vulcan), Genesis 4:22. Whilst John R. Salverda has responded to Johnson: “Athena was Naamah? What about the, much more likely, Eve, or Zion, or even Lilith?” See the debate between the pair in my:
And there are other aspects to be considered.
For instance, ancient agrarian peoples recognised, in the life and death cycles of their deities, e.g. the god Tammuz, the usual birth-death cycle of vegetation.
And they also, cognizant of the alterations in the heavens, regarded their gods as astral deities.
Was Homer’s The Iliad, for instance, partly an epic about astronomy? A fascinating book by Florence and Kenneth Wood, Homer’s Secret Iliad. The Epic of the Night Skies Decoded, presents the ancient classic in a new light. (I do not necessarily accept all of the following):
From the flyleaf of Homer’s Secret Iliad, by Florence and Kenneth Wood, which was deservingly awarded Book of the Year when first released in 1999.
During the 1930s the young daughter of a Kansas farmer spent night after night watching the stars and planets wheel across the vast prairie sky. Later, as a teacher in England, she combined her devotion to astronomy with a passion for Homer. This led her to a discovery which would lie buried until her daughter, Florence Wood, inherited her papers in 1991.
Her years of study, it became clear, had revealed Homer’s great epic to be also the world’s oldest book of astronomy.
The changing configuration of the stars, so important for navigation and the measurement of time, had a fascination for the ancient world that it has lost today. In the Iliad, battles between Greeks and Trojans mirror the movements of stars and constellations as they appear to fight for ascendancy in the sky. The timescale of Homeric astronomy is breathtaking; elements can be dated to the ninth millennium BC [sic], long before the recorded astronomy of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Geography is also represented, since the shapes of constellations were used as ‘skymaps’ to direct ancient travellers throughout Greece and Asia Minor.
Homer was probably the last and most accomplished of a long line of bards who wove such knowledge into the epics they memorized and declaimed. After his lifetime the Greek alphabet preserved his works in writing, and the study of the skies changed too, moving away from pure observation to a science that applied mathematics and geometry. The astronomical content of the Iliad was gradually forgotten.
This unique and fascinating book unlocks its hidden meaning once again. It documents one of the most important discoveries this century about the ancient Greek world.
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The Egyptologist John Wilson wrote that it is an admission of failure that the chief cultural content of Egyptian civilization, its religion, its mythological features again and again narrated and alluded to in texts and represented in statues and temple reliefs, is not understood.(10) The astral meaning of Egyptian deities was not realized and the cosmic events their activities represent were not thought of.
Perhaps few of the ancient gods could boast as many manifestations as Osiris, another of those gods of vegetation – also a stellar deity (http://www.starteachastronomy.com/egyptian.html): “The constellation Orion, for instance, represented Osiris, who was the god of death, rebirth, and the afterlife”.
Historically speaking, how far back does this Osiris go? He is most ancient according to:
The Egyptian god Osiris was an ancient god of Egypt, who predated most of the gods of
the land including Ra or Re. Though his exact origin is unclear because of the many myths and legends about him, Osiris seems to have been known all around the Mediterranean with his own handiwork attesting to his presence.
Though Osiris, in his origins, must surely date back to antediluvian times, some see parallels between he in his various manifestations (ranging throughout the varying legends) and, now Joseph of the Book of Genesis, and, now Moses.
Joseph and Osiris
Aspects of the Osiris mythology can remind one of the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. Anna Patricio, who has authored a book called Asenath, tells of:
Parallels between Joseph’s Story and Egyptian Mythology
My novel ‘Asenath’ is about the Egyptian priestess who marries Joseph of the multicoloured coat fame.
I love the story of Joseph, hence my novel on his little-known wife. When I began delving deeper into his story some years ago, I was amazed to come across comparisons made between his story and various tales from Egyptian mythology. I always thought I knew the Genesis account and Egyptian myths pretty well, but I never thought to draw parallels between the two. I found these to be really insightful. Plus, being a mythology aficionado, my interest was duly piqued.
Possibly the most widespread comparison made was that between the Potiphar’s wife episode and the story of the two brothers, Anubis and Bata. As we know, in the Biblical account, Joseph fled the advances of his master’s wife, yet suffered unjustly. In the Egyptian myth, Anubis’ wife too tries to seduce Bata while her husband was out. Like Joseph, Bata spurned her. And like Mrs. Potiphar, Anubis’ wife falsely cried rape, and her husband sought to kill Bata.
The similarities do not end there. Joseph and Bata are long-suffering heroes. As we know, Joseph was in prison for many years until he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was appointed vizier of Egypt. Bata, too, endures a lot but becomes a ruler in the end–a Pharaoh, at that.
Basically, after hearing his wife’s false accusations, Anubis goes after Bata to kill him. The gods then create a river between the two brothers, protecting Bata. When Anubis goes home, he found his wife duped him, and thus kills her. Meanwhile, the gods give Bata a wife. Alas, she is not faithful to him. When she catches Pharaoh’s eye, she marries the king and has her first husband killed.
Bata, however, is reincarnated several times–and murdered several times as well. Eventually, he is reincarnated as his wife’s son (this is made possible when, as a tree, he is cut down and a small chip flies into his wife’s mouth). When he grows into manhood, he is able to get his revenge and then rules Egypt together with his long-lost brother.
There is also a little-known episode of Joseph which takes place during the Exodus. Most people do not seem to be aware of this, probably because it is mentioned in passing, but when the Israelites left Egypt they brought the bones of Joseph with them. There is an interesting rabbinical story in which Moses, before leaving Egypt, calls on Joseph’s coffin which is apparently buried in the Nile. Joseph’s coffin rises up, and Moses then collects it.
This has been likened to the tale of Osiris. As you probably know, Osiris was murdered by his jealous brother Seth and was placed in a coffin, which was then dumped into the Nile. Osiris’ wife Isis went searching for him and later found him.
So, Joseph likened to Bata and Osiris. Intriguing stuff, indeed.
[End of quote]
Moses and Osiris
Others have detected an undoubted parallel between Horus son of Osiris and the baby Moses, the Exodus account apparently being a popular story of widespread influence. See e.g. my:
Commentators tend to attribute the direction of influence as going from the pagan mythology to what they would consider to be the later Hebrew texts.
Gary A. Rendsburg has, in the following article, noted the likeness between baby Moses and Horus, the offspring of Osiris http://forward.com/articles/9812/the-subversion-of-myth/
The Subversion of Myth
One of the core myths of ancient Egypt concerned the gods Seth, Osiris, Isis and Horus. Seth and Osiris were brother deities, the former representing evil and chaos, the latter representing good and fertility. The battle between the two resulted in the death of Osiris, but before he died Osiris had impregnated his wife, Isis, goddess of wisdom and beauty. Isis in turn gave birth to Horus, the falcon-headed god of kingship. When Seth learned that his brother Osiris’s offspring had been born, he sought to kill the baby Horus. Isis prepared a basket of reeds to hide him in the marshland of the Nile Delta, where she suckled him and protected him, along with the watchful eye of her sister, Nephthys, from the snakes, scorpions and other dangerous creatures until he grew and prospered.
Scholars have noted that the birth story of Moses is part of a larger motif of ancient literature, namely the exposed-infant motif. The ancients delighted in telling tales of their heroic leaders who at birth were exposed to nature, usually by their parents who, for one reason or another, did not desire their newborn sons. Among the most famous accounts are the stories of Oedipus from Greece and Romulus and Remus from Rome, along with the less well known but equally important story of Sargon of Akkad (in ancient Mesopotamia). There is a difference, however, between the Moses story and the other exposed-infancy narratives, for in Exodus, chapter two, the goal of Moses’ mother is not to be rid of the child but to save him. This occurs elsewhere in ancient literature only in the story of the baby Horus, whose mother, Isis, sought to protect him from his wicked uncle, Seth. The Hebrew and Egyptian stories share this crucial feature, which is lacking in the other parallels, and therefore beckon us to read the former in the light of the latter.
The list of specific features shared by the two accounts is truly remarkable. In both stories, it is the mother who is the active parent (in the Egyptian version, Osiris is dead; in the Hebrew account, Moses’ father is mentioned in passing in Exodus 2:1, after which the role of the mother is highlighted). Both mothers construct a small vessel of reeds and place the baby in the marshland of the Delta. In both accounts, another female relative watches over the baby (Nephthys in the Horus story; Miriam in the biblical account). Significantly, in both stories the mother’s suckling of the child is emphasized: Isis’s nursing of the baby Horus is a prominent feature of Egyptian artwork, with many statues portraying this action; while in the biblical story, Miriam arranges for Moses’ mother to nurse the child. Most importantly, in both stories the baby is hidden and protected from the wicked machinations of the villain.
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The article, “The Worship of Saturn”, again, tells of the universality of the influence of Osiris:
The cult of Osiris and the mysteries associated with it dominated the Egyptian religion as nothing else. Every dead man or woman was entombed with observances honoring Osiris; the city of Abydos in the desert west of the Nile and north-west of Thebes was sacred to him; Sais in the Delta used to commemorate the floating of Osiris’ body carried by the Nile into the Mediterranean. What made Osiris so deeply ingrained in the religious memory of the nation that his cult pervaded mythology and religion?
Osiris’ dominion, before his murder by Seth, was remembered as a time of bliss. According to the legend Seth, Osiris’ brother, killed and dismembered him, whereupon Isis, Osiris’ wife, went on peregrinations to collect his dispersed members. Having gathered them and wrapped them together with swathings, she brought Osiris back to life. The memory of this event was a matter of yearly jubilation among the Egyptians.(3) Osiris became lord of the netherworld, the land of the dead. A legend, a prominent part of the Osiris cycle, tells that Isis gave birth to Horus, whom she conceived from the already dead Osiris,(4) and that Horus grew up to avenge his father by engaging Seth in mortal combat.
before proceeding to recount Sir Alan Gardiner’s complete puzzlement about the god:
In Egyptology the meaning of these occurrences stands as an unresolved mystery. The myth of Osiris “is too remarkable and occurs in too many divergent forms not to contain a considerable element of historic truth,” wrote Sir Alan Gardiner, the leading scholar in these fields;(5) but what historical truth is it? Could it be of “an ancient king upon whose tragic death the entire legend hinged”? wondered Gardiner.(6) But of such a king “not a trace has been found before the time of the Pyramid texts,” and in these texts Osiris is spoken of without end. There he appears as a dead god or king or judge of the dead. But who was Osiris in his life? asked Gardiner. At times “he is represented to us as the vegetation which perishes in the flood-water mysteriously issuing from himself. . . .” (7) He is associated with brilliant light.(8)
After a life of studying Egyptian history and religion Gardiner confessed that he remained unaware of whom Osiris represented or memorialized: “The origin of Osiris remains from me an insoluble mystery.” (9) Nor could others in his field help him find an answer.
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Noah and Osiris
There is at least one clear connection between Osiris and Noah. Roger Waite writes of it (http://www.rogerswebsite.com/articles/Man’sHistoryfromAdamtoAbraham.pdf):
The time when Osiris was “shut up in his coffin,” and when that coffin was set afloat on the waters, as stated by Plutarch, agrees exactly with the period when Noah entered the ark. That time was “the 17th day of the month Athyr, when the overflowing of the Nile had ceased, when the nights were growing long and the days decreasing.”
The month Athyr was the second month after the autumnal equinox, at which time the civil year of the Jews and the patriarchs began. According to this statement, then, Osiris was “shut up in his coffin” on the 17th day of the second month of the patriarchal year. Compare this with the Scriptural account of Noah’s entering into the ark, and it will be seen how remarkably they agree (Gen 7:11), “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the SECOND MONTH, in the SEVENTEENTH DAY of the month, were all the fountains
of the great deep broken up; in the self-same day entered Noah into the ark.” The period,
too, that Osiris (otherwise Adonis) was believed to have been shut up in his coffin, was precisely the same as Noah was confined in the ark, a whole year…
This thought is also picked up at: http://www.truthbeknown.com/noah.htm
Like Noah, the Sumero-Armenian Ziusudra/Xisuthros had three sons, including one named “Japetosthes,” essentially the same as Noah’s son Japheth, also related to Pra-japati or Jvapeti, son of the Indian Menu, whose other sons possessed virtually the same names as those of Noah, i.e., Shem and Ham. As Oxford University Hebrew professor George Henry Bateson Wright says in Was Israel ever in Egypt? (51):
JAPHETH – Ewald…shows, with great probability, that this was a god of the north, as Ham was of the south, once again in imitation of Hindu mythology. Moreover, the fact, that in the Armenian legend, derived from “Assyrian or Babylonian documents,” the three sons of Xisuthros, who corresponds to Noah, are Zervin, Titan, and Japetosthe, is very instructive, suggesting that the unknown foreign word was retained in its original form…
“Coincidentally,” it was said that the Egyptian god Osiris was shut up in his ark on the very same day that Noah was likewise so disposed, as I relate in Suns of God (90):
When Osiris’s enemies pursue him, he enters into his “boat” on precisely the same date recorded of “Noah’s” entrance into his ark, Athyr 17th…long before the biblical tale was invented [sic]. Noah is not a Jewish “patriarch” but a sun god, and the tale of entering and exiting the Ark signifies the sun’s death and resurrection. The story of the eight passengers in a boat is an astral myth, reflecting the solar system. These eight are equivalent to the Egyptian octet of gods, who sail the ocean in a ship.
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However, this particular Osirian legend amongst the many could be a late one – one that was influenced, in part, by the Genesis account of Noah and the Flood.