Osiris and Jesus

Since one of my areas of interest is the Jesus myth theory, I thought would point people to a podcast episode by Glenn Peoples on the comparison between Osiris and Jesus.  You can find the podcast and a link to the transcript here.  Glenn did a great job with this response.  One correction is the confusion between Set and Typhon.  Typhon is the Greek name for the Egyptian Set, just as Osiris is the Greek name for the Egyptian Asar.


Ancient Mystery Cults

It is quite common for people to claim that the story of Jesus is based on the ancient mystery religions such as that devoted to Mithras, Osiris-Isis etc.  The best way to respond to such claims is to look at what the mystery religions actually say.  The best resource I have found is Walter Burkert’s Ancient Mystery Cults.  This is not an apologetic book and I do not even know if Burkert is a Christian.  What I do know is that Burkert is able to present the basics of mystery religions in an understandable way.  He dispels myths such as the idea that Mithraism almost surpassed Christianity or that communion had its origins in the mysteries.  Burkert’s only agenda seems to be to let the mystery religions speak for themselves and yet in doing that, he demolishes many of the claims of authors such as Tom Harpur, Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke etc.  If you want to understand mystery religions and how Christianity is related, this is the book to read.

The Raising of El-Asar-us?

The following is an excerpt from our book Unmasking the Pagan Christ. In many ways the argument we give in this section should not be necessary as the suggestion of equating the raising of Lazarus and the raising of Osiris is ludicrous. But unfortunately some people, even with Ph.D.’s continue to make such claims. I hope this excerpt makes people question some of the radical claims they hear.

While Tom Harpur generally shows some much needed restraint in reproducing Alvin Boyd Kuhn’s radical etymologies, he does fall into Kuhn’s error in trying to find an Egyptian origin for the raising of Lazarus as described in John 11. Harpur begins with an attempt to make Bethany (the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha) a reference to Anu, the Egyptian city of Anu, where the resurrections of Osiris or Horus were enacted each year, by combining the Hebrew Beth (house) with the Egyptian Anu (not nothingness). Harpur then goes on to repeat Kuhn’s creative linguistics with the following description:

The Egyptians regularly expressed their reverence by placing the definite article “the” before the names of their gods. Just as Christians say, or should say, “the Christ,” the Egyptians said “the Osiris.” But that was the equivalent of saying “Lord Osiris.” When the Hebrews took up the name of the Osiris, or Lord Osiris, they used the Hebrew word for “lord,” el – hence El-Asar. Later on, the Romans, speaking Latin, of course, took El-Asar and added the us ending used for most male names. The result was El-Asar-us. In time, the initial e “wore off,” as linguistics describe it, and the s in Asar changed to z, its constant companion in language. Thus, we have Lazarus, the Osiris of the Beth-Anu story.

If this is true, and since we know there is an important Egyptian myth of Horus raising Osiris, Harpur would seem to have provided clear evidence for an Egyptian origin of a story found within the Gospel of John, right down to the names. Let us see how Harpur’s claims hold up to the evidence.
Let us begin with Harpur’s claim that Bethany is used to point to the Egyptian city of Anu and thus the resurrection of Osiris that was celebrated there. The problem with this is that Bethany does not appear only in connection with the raising of Lazarus, nor does it appear only in John. In the other Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Bethany appears as the place from which Jesus prepares for the triumphal entry (Mark 11:1), the place Jesus was coming from when he cursed the fig tree (Mark 11:11-12) and the place where Jesus was anointed before his death (Mark 14:3). Bethany was not a theological construct to make the reader think of the resurrection of Osiris but was a Jewish town near Jerusalem where Jesus spent time at near the end of his ministry. This town continues to exist today and is known by its Arabic name, ‘el-‘Azariyeh, indicating its connection to the biblical Lazarus.
Now let us take a look at Harpur’s attempt to make Lazarus a derivation of the Lord Osiris. Harpur is correct in stating that Asar is the Egyptian name for Osiris, but the rest of his argument quickly falls apart. The use of the definite article with the name of the god misses a number of points. Yes, “the Christ” is an appropriate way to describe Jesus, but not as an expression of reverence but rather because “Christ” is a title, meaning “Anointed One,” and not a name. Yes, “the Osiris” was also used but not for the god Osiris (his name, not his title), but for each dead person who hoped to experience the same resurrection as Osiris and was therefore called “the Osiris.” Harpur is incorrect in claiming that the Hebrew el means “lord,” as it actually means “God.” The amount of linguistic gymnastics required to explain a story written in Greek by combining Hebrew, Egyptian and Latin languages into one name, clearly demonstrate the forced nature of this argument.

Is the rejection of “Lazarus” as a reference to the raising of Osiris just the stubborn refusal of a traditional biblical interpreter? Possibly, if John 11 was the only place that the name “Lazarus” appeared. But another person named Lazarus also appears in Luke 16:19-31. This is the famous story of the rich man and poor Lazarus, who both died and experienced an after-life exactly the opposite of their earthly life. This is extremely significant for the current discussion in that the rich man asked that Lazarus be resurrected so that he could warn the rich man’s family of the danger of their extravagant and selfish lifestyle. The request to resurrect Lazarus was rejected because it was known even a resurrection would not turn their lives around. The fact that the name “Lazarus” was used in a story where a resurrection was explicitly denied, proves that the name was not created to illustrate the fabled resurrection of Osiris. The traditional explanation that Lazarus is a form of the Old Testament Eleazar, meaning ‘God has helped,’ makes much more sense.

The information offered has already been enough to show that the raising of Lazarus is not just a form of the earlier raising of Osiris. If there are still some doubts there is yet more information. The two events played much different roles in each religion and their natures are quite different. The raising of Lazarus was more a resuscitation than a resurrection. Lazarus, as well as others that Jesus raised (such as Jairus’ daughter described in Matthew 5:21-43 and the widow’s son described in Luke 7:11-17), each had to die at some point later in their lives. Also, as important as the raising of Lazarus was, it was not the defining event in Christianity. It was rather a foreshadow of Jesus’ power over death, as well as being an event that moved the conflict with the Pharisees towards Jesus’ crucifixion.

Finally, it is important to note Jesus’ relationship with Lazarus. Jesus was good friends with Lazarus, Mary and Martha and they were supporters of his ministry. The raising of Lazarus was an act of love and mercy for a family that he cared for. The raising of Osiris was much different. This was a true resurrection in which Osiris would never have to taste death again. His body was not merely revived, it was also transformed. As E. A. Wallis Budge stated in his extensive work on the resurrection of Osiris:

When Osiris stepped from the ladder into heaven, he entered in among the company of gods as a “living being,” not merely as one about to begin a second state of existence with the limited powers and faculties which he possessed upon earth, but as one who felt that he had the right to rule heaven and the denizens thereof. He possessed a complete body, the nature of which had been changed by ceremonies which Horus, and his sons, and the assistant Tcherti goddesses, had performed for him…

The nature of the resurrection of Osiris is much closer to that of Jesus than to that of Lazarus but, as shown earlier, Harpur prefers a comparison with Horus. The resurrection of Osiris was not just an interesting event in Egyptian mythology. The resurrection of Osiris could be described as the defining event in the Egyptian religion. It was in Osiris that people found hope after death, to the point that Osiris absorbed many of the characteristics and roles of earlier gods of the dead. The dead took on the title “the Osiris”, having their families re-enacting the rituals of Horus so they may share in Osiris’ original resurrection. The raising of Lazarus does not play a role even close to that in the Gospels. Finally, Horus was not just a friend of Osiris, he was his son. Much of Horus’ role was as the protector and savior of his father Osiris and this expectation began from his birth. As important as it must have been for Jesus to revive his friend Lazarus, it was not of the same significance of Horus’ raising of Osiris in the Egyptian religion. There can be little doubt that the raising of Lazarus and the raising of Osiris are completely different and separate stories with little in common except for the theme of a physical return from death.