Monday, February 13, 2012

Osiris and Dionysus Foreshadow Christ

Alice C. Linsley

C.S. Lewis accepted that the pagan myths of Osiris and Dionysus foreshadowed Christianity and spoke of spiritual realities. J.R.R. Tolkien expected Christ-figures to appear in myths, because from the beginning, the human has longed for a great ruler with the power to defeat death. Both understood the lasting power of myth compared to historical accounts.  Were I to interview random persons, most if not all, would be able to tell me about Adam and Eve. However, few if any, would be able to recount key events of 1520 or 1880. Myths have staying power.

All myths about a dying deity who returns from the grave are really the same myth with variations on the theme. As Joseph Campbell noted this myth has a wide global dispersion, indicating that it is very old. He called it the "monomyth" of the hero's journey.

The Greeks, who were much infatuated with ancient Egyptian religion, borrowed Osiris for their Dionysian cult. To understand how this myth is about Jesus Christ, we must investigate the religion of Abraham's Horite people. The expectation of a Righteous Ruler who would destroy death originated among them.

The Horites were devotees of the high God (Ra) whose emblem was the Sun. Ra's son was Hor (Horus) whose emblem or totem was the falcon.  Hor is sometimes shown flying above the Sun on Ra's solar boat.  This is important because it is Hor who dies and rises, not Osiris.  Osiris was murdered and his body dismembered and scattered. The pieces of his body were rejoined and he became the lord of the dead. Osiris did not rise from the grave.  He descended to the shadow land of Sheol.

The ancient Egyptian priests taught that the dead person continues as a shadow and they considered the blessed dead “the living ones.” [1] The word Sheol is derived from the Egyptian word Sheut (šwt), meaning shadow. Statues or ancestor figurines of deified rulers were painted black to convey their continued existence as shadows. On the final day, some in shadowland will be granted eternal life and others will die the second death.

Genesis 25:8 says, “Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.” The phrase “gathered to his people” or “gathered to his fathers” applies to the Horite ruler-priest caste to which Abraham, Job, Moses, Aaron and David belonged, and from whom Jesus Christ came as a direct descendant. Abraham, Job, Moses Aaron and David all died and remained in the grave, but Jesus Christ rose. As Hebrews attests, He is our great High Priest, after the order of Melchizedek.

This phrase "gathered to his people" should not be generalized. It does not apply to all people, but is specific to the unbroken line from Abraham to Christ our Lord. This is why I believe the phrase relates specifically to the Horites or Horim who were a priestly caste. This is evidenced again in Numbers 20:26: “Remove Aaron's garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”

In Predynastic times, the whole people was embodied by the ruler who was expected to intercede in life and death for his people. Great pains were taken to bury the ruler so that he would rise from the grave. Likely, Abraham's beliefs about resurrection would have corresponded to those of his Horite ancestors who were called "gods" (elohiym).

The rulers of Egypt were associated with Osiris in death. Osiris controlled the shadowlands and rose daily from the deep as the Sun rises. His death is symbolized by the setting of the sun in the west.  There his son, Hor/Horus reigned for him as his heir. The Egyptian word hr (her, hor, har) means "the one on high." The Turin Canon, which provides important information on Egypt's early history, describes the Predynastic rulers of Egypt as "Followers of Horus" and Horus as the "Ruler of the Two Horizons."

Horus was identified with ruler-priests in ancient Egypt. His identification with the king was shown on early decorated monuments from Nekhen (Hierakonpolis). The Horites believed that heavenly recognition of a people depended on the righteousness of their ruler-priest.  If God turned His face away from the ruler, the people suffered from want and war. If the ruler found favor with God, the people experienced abundance and peace. The ruler's resurrection meant that he could lead his people beyond the grave to new life. This is why great pains were taken to insure that the ruler not come into contact with dead bodies, avoid sexual impurity, and be properly preserved after death. The ruler's burial was attended by prayers, sacrifices and a grand procession to the royal tomb.

Heavenly recognition for the Horites was never an individual prospect. Heavenly recognition came to the people through the righteousness of their ruler-priest. This is the context for the Christian understanding of Jesus as the risen ruler who leads his people from the grave to the throne of heaven.

Horite rulers hoped to rise from the grave in union with Osiris and inherit eternal life. They were a caste of ruler-priests whose origins are veiled in great antiquity.  They were honored in 4400 B.C. at Nekhen, the oldest known center of worship of Horus of Nekhen.  His totem was the falcon.

As the priests became more ambitious, the idea that heavenly recognition depended upon the Righteous Ruler who could defeat death shifted.  The cult of Osirus became very powerful and very profitable for the priests. Costly initiation rites were encouraged by priests willing to change the tradition of their Horim to line their pockets.This shift began about 500 years after Abraham and is reflected in the Vedic Age. People sought to be initiated into an emerging Osiris/Horus cult.[2] They hoped that ritual association with Horus' death and resurrection would bring them resurrection. They no longer expected a Righteous Ruler to actually rise from the dead.

Expectation of life beyond the grave came to depend, not on the appearance of a Righteous Ruler, but on the agency of priests and sacrifice. This happened among the Vedic and Pagan priests who encouraged animal sacrifice to such extreme proportions that blood flowed from their altars. A Vedic proverb states that "Sacrifice is the navel of the world." The priests taught that the merit of the sacrifice depended on its costliness. Sacrifices of twelve and three victims (trittues) were the most common, but hundreds of animals might be sacrificed at a time.

The priests of Israel distanced themselves from the Pagan and Vedic priests. They taught that sacrifice was for the atonement of sin, but they also looked for the coming of the Righteous Ruler.  Many had hoped that David would be that ruler, but he too died and was gathered to his fathers. He did not rise from the grave.  In all of history, there is but one Righteous Ruler who rose from the dead, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1. Conceptions of God In Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many", Erik Hornung (translated by John Baines), p. 233, Cornell University Press, 1996, ISBN 10-8014-8384-0

2. “Man, Myth and Magic", Osiris, vol. 5, p. 2087-2088, S.G.F. Brandon, BPC Publishing, 1971.

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