Mysteries of Isis and Osiris
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OSIRIS THE GOD OF THE RESURRECTION
Extract from the Book Entitled: Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life
by Sir Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge (1857-1934)
Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis
Budge was born in Bodmin, Cornwall on 27 July 1857. Budge was an English
Egyptologist, Orientalist, and philologist who, for many years, was the keeper
of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities for the British Museum. A prolific writer,
he published numerous works on the ancient Near East. He died in London on 23
Budge attended Cambridge University from 1878-1883 and studied Semitic languages, including Hebrew, Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic and Assyrian. In 1883, Budge joined the staff of the British Museum in the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities. He was initially appointed to the Assyrian section but soon transferred to the Egyptian section, where he began to study the ancient Egyptian language. Budge became Assistant Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities in 1891, and then was appointed Keeper in 1894, a position which he held until 1924, specializing in Egyptology.
During his years in the British Museum, Budge established ties with local antiquities dealers in Egypt and Iraq so that the Museum would be able to obtain antiquities from them without the uncertainty and cost of excavating. Budge undertook many missions to Egypt and Iraq and obtained enormous collections of cuneiform tablets, Syriac, Coptic and Greek manuscripts, as well as significant collections of hieroglyphic papyri. His most famous acquisitions were the beautiful Papyrus of Ani (Book of the Dead), a copy of Aristotle's lost Constitution of Athens, and the Tell al-Amarna tablets. His prolific acquisitions gave the British Museum the best collection of Ancient Near East tablets and Papyri in the world.
Budge was a prolific author, and
he is especially remembered today for his works on Egyptian religion and his
hieroglyphic primers. Budge's works were widely read by the educated public and
among those seeking comparative ethnological data, including James Frazer, who
incorporated some of Budge's ideas on Osiris into his monumental work entitled
The Golden Bough. Budge's works on Egyptian religion have remained
consistently in print since they entered the public domain.
Budge was knighted in 1920 for his distinguished contributions to Egyptology and the British Museum. He retired from the British Museum in 1924, and lived on until 1934, continuing to publish many additional books.
The following extract is from Chapter II of Budge's book entitled Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life, (London: 1908).
CHAPTER II -- OSIRIS THE GOD OF THE RESURRECTION
"Thy sister put forth her protecting power for thee, she scattered abroad those who were her enemies, she drove away evil hap, she pronounced mighty words of power, she made cunning her tongue, and her words failed not. The glorious Isis was perfect in command and in speech, and she avenged her brother. She sought him without ceasing, she wandered round and round the earth uttering cries of pain, and she rested (or alighted) not until she had found him. She overshadowed him with her feathers, she made air (or wind) with her wings, and she uttered cries at the burial of her brother. She raised up the prostrate form of him whose heart was still, she took from him of his essence, she conceived and brought forth a child, she suckled it in secret, and none knew the place thereof; and the arm of the child hath waxed strong in the great house of Seb. The company of the gods rejoice, and are glad at the coming of Osiris's son Horus, and firm of heart and triumphant is the son of Isis, the heir of Osiris."
What form the details of the history of Osiris took in the early dynasties it is impossible to say, and we know not whether Osiris was the god of the resurrection to the predynastic or prehistoric Egyptians, or whether that rôle was attributed to him after Mena began to rule in Egypt. There is, however, good reason for assuming that in the earliest dynastic times he occupied the position of god and judge of those who had risen from the dead by his help, for already in the IVth dynasty, about B.C. 3800, king Mea-kau-Rā (the Mycerinus of the Greeks) is identified with him, and on his coffin not only is he called "Osiris, King of the South and North, Men-kau-Rā, living for ever," but the genealogy of Osiris is attributed to him, and he is declared to be "born of heaven, offspring of Nut, flesh and bone of Seb." It is evident that the priests of Heliopolis "edited" the religious texts copied and multiplied in the College to suit their own views, but in the early times when they began their work, the worship of Osiris was so widespread, and the belief in him as the god of the resurrection so deeply ingrained in the hearts of the Egyptians, that even in the Heliopolitan system of theology Osiris and his cycle, or company of gods, were made to hold a very prominent position. He represented to men the idea of a man who was both god and man, and he typified to the Egyptians in all ages the being who by reason of his sufferings and death as a man could sympathize with them in their own sickness and death. The idea of his human personality also satisfied their cravings and yearnings for intercourse with a being who, though he was partly divine, yet had much in common with themselves. Originally they looked upon Osiris as a man who lived on the earth as they lived, who ate and drank, who suffered a cruel death, who by the help of certain gods triumphed over death, and attained unto everlasting life. But what Osiris did they could do, and what the gods did for Osiris they must also do for them, and as the gods brought about his resurrection so they must bring about theirs, and as they made him the ruler of the underworld so they must make them to enter his kingdom and to live there as long as the god himself lived. Osiris, in some of his aspects, was identified with the Nile, and with Rā, and with several other "gods" known to the Egyptians, but it was in his aspect as god of the resurrection and of eternal life that he appealed to men in the valley of the Nile; and for thousands of years men and women died believing that, inasmuch as all that was done for Osiris would be done for them symbolically, they like him would rise again, and inherit life everlasting. However far back we trace religious ideas in Egypt, we never approach a time when it can be said that there did not exist a belief in the Resurrection, for everywhere it is assumed that Osiris rose from the dead; sceptics must have existed, and they probably asked their priests what the Corinthians asked Saint Paul, "How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?" But beyond doubt the belief in the Resurrection was accepted by the dominant classes in Egypt. The ceremonies which the Egyptians performed with the view of assisting the deceased to pass the ordeal of the judgment, and to overcome his enemies in the next world, will be described elsewhere, as also will be the form in which the dead were raised up; we therefore return to the theological history of Osiris.
The centre and home of the worship of Osiris in Egypt under the early dynasties was Abydos, where the head of the god was said to be buried. It spread north and south in the course of time, and several large cities claimed to possess one or other of the limbs of his body. The various episodes in the life of the god were made the subject of solemn representations in the temple, and little by little the performance of the obligatory and non-obligatory services in connection with them occupied, in certain temples, the greater part of the time of the priests. The original ideas concerning the god were forgotten and new ones grew up; from being the example of a man who had risen from the dead and had attained unto life everlasting, he became the cause of the resurrection of the dead; and the power to bestow eternal life upon mortals was transferred from the gods to him. The alleged dismemberment of Osiris was forgotten in the fact that he dwelt in a perfect body in the underworld, and that, whether dismembered or not, he had become after his death the father of Horus by Isis. As early as the XIIth dynasty, about B.C. 2500, the worship of this god had become almost universal, and a thousand years later Osiris had become a sort of national god. The attributes of the great cosmic gods were ascribed to him, and he appeared to man not only as the god and judge of the dead, but also as the creator of the world and of all things in it. He who was the son of Rā became the equal of his father, and he took his place side by side with him in heaven.
We have an interesting proof of the identification of Osiris with Rā in Chapter XVII. of the Book of the Dead. It will be remembered that this Chapter consists of a series of what might almost be called articles of faith, each of which is followed by one or more explanations which represent one or more quite different opinions; the Chapter also is accompanied by a series of Vignettes. In line 110 it is said, "I am the soul which dwelleth in the two tchafi, What is this then? It is Osiris when he goeth into Tattu (i.e., Busiris) and findeth there the soul of Rā; there the one god embraceth the other, and souls spring into being within the two tchafi." In the Vignette which illustrates this passage the souls of Rā and Osiris are seen in the forms of hawks standing on a pylon, and facing each other in Tattu; the former has upon his head a disk, and the latter, who is human-headed, the white crown. It is a noticeable fact that even at his meeting with Rā the soul of Osiris preserves the human face, the sign of his kinship with man.
Now Osiris became not only the equal of Rā, but, in many respects, a greater god than he. It is said, that from the nostrils of the head of Osiris, which was buried at Abydos, came forth the scarabaeus which was at once the emblem and type of the god Khepera, who caused all things to come into being, and of the resurrection. In this manner Osiris became the source and origin of gods, men, and things, and the manhood of the god was forgotten. The next step was to ascribe to him the attributes of God, and in the XVIIIth and XIXth dynasties he seems to have disputed the sovereignty of the three companies of gods, that is to say of the trinity of trinities of trinities, with Amen-Rā, who by this time was usually called the "king of the gods." The ideas held concerning Osiris at this period will best be judged by the following extracts from contemporary hymns:
"Praise be unto thee, O Osiris, lord of eternity, Un-nefer, Heru-Khuti (Harmachis) whose forms are manifold, and whose attributes are great, who art Ptah-Seker-Tem in Annu (Heliopolis), the lord of the hidden place, and the creator of Het-ka-Ptah (Memphis) and of the gods [therein] , the guide of the underworld, whom [the gods] glorify when thou settest in Nut. Isis embraceth thee in peace, and she driveth away the fiends from the mouth of thy paths. Thou turnest thy face upon Amentet, and thou makest the earth to shine as with refined copper. The dead rise up to see thee, they breathe the air and they look upon thy face when the disk riseth on its horizon; their hearts are at peace, inasmuch as they behold thee, O thou who art eternity and everlastingness."
In the latter extract Osiris is identified with the great gods of Heliopolis and Memphis, where shrines of the Sun-god existed in almost pre-dynastic times, and finally is himself declared to be "eternity and everlastingness"; thus the ideas of resurrection and immortality are united in the same divine being. In the following Litany the process of identification with the gods is continued:--
2. "Homage to thee, O An in Antes, Harmachis; thou stridest over heaven with, long strides, O Harmachis. O grant thou unto me a path," etc.
3. "Homage to thee, O soul of everlastingness, thou Soul who dwellest in Tattu, Un-nefer, son of Nut; thou art lord of Akert (i.e., the underworld). O grant thou unto me a path," etc.
4. "Homage to thee in thy dominion over Tattu; the Ureret crown is stablished upon thy head; thou art the One who maketh the strength which protecteth himself, and thou dwellest in peace in Tattu. O grant thou unto me a path," etc.
5. "Homage to thee, O lord of the Acacia tree, the Seker boat  is set upon its sledge; thou turnest back the Fiend, the worker of Evil, and thou causest the Utchat (i.e., the Eye of Horus or Rā), to rest upon its seat. O grant thou unto me a path," etc.
6. "Homage to thee, O thou who art mighty in thine hour, thou great and mighty Prince, dweller in An-rut-f, lord of eternity and creator of everlastingness, thou art the lord of Suten-henen (i.e., Heracleopolis Magna). O grant," etc.
7. "Homage to thee, O thou who restest upon Right and Truth, thou art lord of Abydos, and thy limbs are joined unto Ta-tchesert (i.e., the Holy Land, the underworld); thou art he to whom fraud and guile are hateful. O grant," etc.
8. "Homage to thee, O thou who art within thy boat; thou bringest Hāpi (i.e., the Nile) forth from his source; the light shineth upon thy body, and thou art the dweller in Nekhen. O grant," etc.
9. "Homage to thee, O creator of the gods, thou king of the South and of the North, O Osiris, victorious one, ruler of the world in thy gracious seasons; thou art the lord of the celestial world. O grant," etc.
And, again: "Rā setteth as Osiris with all the diadems of the divine spirits and of the gods of Amentet. He is the one divine form, the hidden one of the Tuat, the holy Soul at the head of Amentet, Un-nefer, whose duration of life is for ever and ever." We have already referred to the help which Thoth gave to Isis when he provided her with the words which caused her dead husband to live again, but the best summary of the good deeds which this god wrought for Osiris is contained in a hymn in the Papyrus of Hunefer, where the deceased is made to say:--
"Thy son Horus is triumphant in the presence of the full assembly of the gods, the sovereignty over the world hath been given unto him, and his dominion extendeth unto the uttermost parts of the earth. The throne of the god Seb hath been adjudged unto him, together with the rank which was created by the god Temu, and which hath been stablished by decrees [made] in the Chamber of Archives, and hath been inscribed upon an iron tablet according to the command of thy father Ptah-Tanen when he sat upon the great throne. He hath set his brother upon that which the god Shu beareth up (i.e., the heavens), to stretch out the waters over the mountains, and to make to spring up that which groweth upon the hills, and the grain (?) which shooteth upon the earth, and he giveth increase by water and by land. Gods celestial and gods terrestrial transfer themselves to the service of thy son Horus, and they follow him into his hall [where] a decree is passed that he shall be lord over them, and they do [his will] straightway.
"Let thy heart rejoice, O lord of the gods, let thy heart rejoice greatly; Egypt and the Red Land are at peace, and they serve humbly under thy sovereign power. The temples are established upon their own lands, cities and nomes possess securely the goods which they have in their names, and we will make unto thee the divine offerings which we are bound to make, and offer sacrifices in thy name for ever. Acclamations are made in thy name, libations are poured out to thy KA, and sepulchral meals [are brought unto thee] by the spirits who are in thy following, and water is sprinkled ... on each side of the souls of the dead in this land. Every plan for thee which hath been decreed by the commands of Rā from the beginning hath been perfected. Now therefore, O son of Nut, thou art crowned as Neb-er-tcher is crowned at his rising. Thou livest, thou art stablished, thou renewest thy youth, and thou art true and perfect; thy father Rā maketh strong thy members, and the company of the gods make acclamations unto thee. The goddess Isis is with thee and she never leaveth thee; [thou art] not overthrown by thine enemies. The lords of all lands praise thy beauties, even as they praise Rā when he riseth at the beginning of each day. Thou risest up like an exalted being upon thy standard, thy beauties lift up the face [of man] and make long [his] stride. The sovereignty of thy father Seb hath, been given unto thee, and the goddess Nut, thy mother, who gave birth to the gods, brought thee forth as the firstborn, of five gods, and created thy beauties and fashioned thy members. Thou art established as king, the white crown is upon thy head, and thou hast grasped in thy hands the crook and whip; whilst thou wert in the womb, and hadst not as yet come forth therefrom upon the earth, thou wert crowned lord of the two lands, and the 'Atef' crown of Rā was upon thy brow. The gods come unto thee bowing low to the ground, and they hold thee in fear; they retreat and depart when, they see thee with the terror of Rā, and the victory of thy Majesty is in their hearts. Life is with thee, and offerings of meat and drink follow thee, and that which is thy due is offered up before thy face."
In one paragraph of another somewhat similar hymn other aspects of Osiris are described, and after the words "Homage to thee, O Governor of those who are in Amentet," he is called the being who "giveth birth unto men and women a second time," i.e., "who maketh mortals to be born again." As the whole paragraph refers to Osiris "renewing himself," and to his making himself "young like unto Rā each and every day," there can be no doubt that the resurrection of the dead, that is to say, their birth into a new life, is what the writer means by the second birth of men and women. From this passage also we may see that Osiris has become the equal of Rā, and that he has passed from being the god of the dead to being the god of the living. Moreover, at the time when the above extracts were copied Osiris was not only assumed to have occupied the position which Rā formerly held, but his son Horus, who was begotten after his death, was, by virtue of his victory over Set, admitted to be the heir and successor of Osiris. And he not only succeeded to the "rank and dignity" of his father Osiris, but in his aspect of "avenger of his father," he gradually acquired the peculiar position of intermediary and intercessor on behalf of the children of men. Thus in the Judgment Scene he leads the deceased into the presence of Osiris and makes an appeal to his father that the deceased may be allowed to enjoy the benefits enjoyed by all those who are "true of voice" and justified in the judgment. Such an appeal, addressed to Osiris in the presence of Isis, from the son born under such remarkable circumstances was, the Egyptian thought, certain of acceptance; and the offspring of a father, after the death of whose body he was begotten, was naturally the best advocate for the deceased.
But although such exalted ideas of Osiris and his position among the gods obtained generally in Egypt during the XVIIIth dynasty (about B.C. 1600) there is evidence that some believed that in spite of every precaution the body might decay, and that it was necessary to make a special appeal unto Osiris if this dire result was to be avoided. The following remarkable prayer was first found inscribed upon a linen swathing which had enveloped the mummy of Thothmes III., but since that time the text, written in hieroglyphics, has been found inscribed upon the Papyrus of Nu, and it is, of course, to be found also in the late papyrus preserved at Turin, which the late Dr. Lepsius published so far back as 1842. This text, which is now generally known as Chapter CLIV of the Book of the Dead, is entitled "The Chapter of not letting the body perish." The text begins:--
"Homage to thee; O my divine father Osiris, thou hast thy being with thy members. Thou didst not decay, thou didst not become worms, thou didst not diminish, thou didst not become corruption, thou didst not putrefy, and thou didst not turn into worms."
The deceased then identifying himself with Khepera, the god who created Osiris and his company of gods, says:--
Judging from such passages as those given above we might think that certain of the Egyptians expected a resurrection of the physical body, and the mention of the various members of the body seems to make this view certain. But the body of which the incorruption and immortality are so strongly declared is the SĀHU; or spiritual body, that sprang into existence out of the physical body, which had become transformed by means of the prayers that had been recited and the ceremonies that had been performed on the day of the funeral, or on that wherein it was laid in the tomb. It is interesting to notice that no mention is made of meat or drink in the CLIVth Chapter, and the only thing which the deceased refers to as necessary for his existence is air, which he obtains through, the god Temu, the god who is always depicted in human form; the god is here mentioned in his aspect of the night Sun as opposed to Rā the day Sun, and a comparison of the Sun's daily death with the death of the deceased is intended to be made. The deposit of the head of the God-man Osiris at Abydos has already been mentioned, and the belief that it was preserved there was common throughout Egypt. But in the text quoted above the deceased says, "My head shall not be separated from my neck," which seems to indicate that he wished to keep his body whole, notwithstanding that Osiris was almighty, and could restore the limbs and reconstitute the body, even as he had done for his own limbs and body which had been hacked to pieces by Set. Chapter XLIII of the Book of the Dead also has an important reference to the head of Osiris. It is entitled "The Chapter of not letting the head of a man be cut off from him in the underworld," and must be of considerable antiquity. In it the deceased says: "I am the Great One, the son of the Great One; I am Fire, and the son of the Fire, to whom was given his head after it had been cut off. The head of Osiris was not taken away from him, let not the head of the deceased be taken away from him. I have knit myself together (or reconstituted myself); I have made myself whole and complete; I have renewed my youth; I am Osiris, the lord of eternity."
From the above it would seem that, according to one version of the Osiris story, the head of Osiris was not only cut off, but that it was passed through the fire also; and if this version be very ancient, as it well may be and probably is, it takes us back to prehistoric times in Egypt when the bodies of the dead were mutilated and burned. Prof. Wiedemann thinks that the mutilation and breaking of the bodies of the dead were the results of the belief that in order to make the KA, or "double," leave this earth, the body to which it belonged must be broken, and he instances the fact that objects of every kind were broken at the time when they were placed in the tombs. He traces also a transient custom in the prehistoric graves of Egypt where the methods of burying the body whole and broken into pieces seem to be mingled, for though in some of them the body has been broken into pieces, it is evident that successful attempts have been made to reconstitute it by laying the pieces as far as possible in their proper places. And it may be this custom which is referred to in various places in the Book of the Dead, when the deceased declares that he has collected his limbs "and made his body whole again," and already in the Vth dynasty King Teta is thus addressed--"Rise up, O thou Teta! Thou hast received thy head, thou hast knitted together thy bones, thou hast collected thy members."
The history of Osiris, the god of the resurrection, has now been traced from the earliest times to the end of the period of the rule of the priests of Amen (about B.C. 900), by which time Amen-Rā had been thrust in among the gods of the underworld, and prayers were made, in some cases, to him instead of to Osiris. From this time onwards Amen maintained this exalted position, and in the Ptolemaic period, in an address to the deceased Kerāsher we read. "Thy face shineth before Rā, thy soul liveth before Amen, and thy body is renewed before Osiris." And again it is said, "Amen is nigh unto thee to make thee to live again.... Amen cometh to thee having the breath of life, and he causeth thee to draw thy breath within thy funeral house." But in spite of this, Osiris kept and held the highest place in the minds of the Egyptians, from first to last, as the God-man, the being who was both divine and human; and no foreign invasion, and no religious or political disturbances, and no influence which any outside peoples could bring to bear upon them, succeeded in making them regard the god as anything less than the cause and symbol and type of the resurrection, and of the life everlasting. For about five thousand years men were mummified in imitation of the mummied form of Osiris; and they went to their graves believing that their bodies would vanquish the powers of death, and the grave, and decay, because Osiris had vanquished them; and they had certain hope of the resurrection in an immortal, eternal, and spiritual body, because Osiris had risen in a transformed spiritual body, and had ascended into heaven, where he had become the king and the judge of the dead, and had attained unto everlasting life therein.
The chief reason for the persistence of the worship of Osiris in Egypt was, probably, the fact that it promised both resurrection and eternal life to its followers. Even after the Egyptians had embraced Christianity they continued to mummify their dead, and for long after they continued to mingle the attributes of their God and the "gods" with those of God Almighty and Christ. The Egyptians of their own will never got away from the belief that the body must be mummified if eternal life was to be assured to the dead, but the Christians, though preaching the same doctrine of the resurrection as the Egyptians, went a step further, and insisted that there was no need to mummify the dead at all. St. Anthony the Great besought his followers not to embalm his body and keep it in a house, but to bury it and to tell no man where it had been buried, lest those who loved him should come and draw it forth, and mummify it as they were wont to do to the bodies of those whom they regarded as saints. "For long past," he said, "I have entreated the bishops and preachers to exhort the people not to continue to observe this useless custom"; and concerning his own body, he said, "At the resurrection of the dead I shall receive it from the Saviour incorruptible." The spread of this idea gave the art of mummifying its death-blow, and though from innate conservatism, and the love of having the actual bodies of their beloved dead near them, the Egyptians continued for a time to preserve their dead as before, yet little by little the reasons for mummifying were forgotten, the knowledge of the art died out, the funeral ceremonies were curtailed, the prayers became a dead letter, and the custom of making mummies became obsolete. With the death of the art died also the belief in and the worship of Osiris, who from being the god of the dead became a dead god, and to the Christians of Egypt, at least, his place was filled by Christ, "the firstfruits of them that slept," Whose resurrection and power to grant eternal life were at that time being preached throughout most of the known world. In Osiris the Christian Egyptians found the prototype of Christ, and in the pictures and statues of Isis suckling her son Horus, they perceived the prototypes of the Virgin Mary and her Child. Never did Christianity find elsewhere in the world a people whose minds were so thoroughly well prepared to receive its doctrines as the Egyptians.