Some idea of how these myth elements were preserved by the Egyptians may be obtained by returning to an examination of the texts found on the walls of the pyramid tombs of the 5th and 6th dynasty. I quote from The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts by Faulkner. However the reader should be aware of the history of the Texts, and that Faulkner was not the first, nor the last, to provide translation variously in German, French, and English. As described by Faulkner:
The first attempt at translation goes back to 1882, when, in Vol. iii of the Recueil de Travaux Relatifs a la Philologie et L'archeologie Egyptiennes et Assyriennes, Maspero began a series of printed hieroglyphic texts and accompanying translations from each pyramid in turn; this was a remarkable achievement when it is realized how little at that time was known of Egyptian grammar and vocabulary. These articles were later collected in one volume and published in 1899. under the title Les Inscriptions des pyramides de Saqqarah. In Igio there appeared the standard edition by Sethe of the hieroglyphic texts, in which they are grouped into Spruche - here called `Utterances', often abbreviated to `Utt.'- and the corresponding passages from the different pyramids are displayed in parallel in numbered sections, an arrangement essential to a satisfactory study of the inscriptions. This publication by Sethe consists of two volumes of hieroglyphic texts and two slimmer ones of Kritischer Apparat, (Critical Apparatus) etc., and it will remain the indispensable source for students of these ancient texts. In 1912 Breasted, using Sethe's text, incorporated very many quotations thence in his Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt; in 1923 Speleers published in French a translation and index in his Textes des Pyramides Egyptiennes; Sethe's German translation and commentary appeared posthumously over a period of some thirty years under the title Cbersetzung and Kommentar zu den altdgyptischen Pyramidentexten, while in 1952 Mercer published an English version in four volumes. Piankoff has recently published a study of the Pyramid of Unas in the Bollinger Series, but it came to my notice too late to be utilized here.
I use Faulkner because of the convenience of his English translation. For comparison I use Mercer but he apparently translated from Sethe's German translation, rather than from the original Egyptian text. Where I have checked, he seems to have faithfully followed the Egyptian text. See The Pyramid Texts, Samuel Mercer, Longmans, Green and Co., New York, 1952. If Mercer shows a considerable variation with Faulkner in my reference passages I note the difference.
I must make an observation about Faulkner. Because of his intense godless attitudes his vocabulary did not contain such words as heaven, prayerful, worshipful, holy, or sacred. He never would assign such religious realities to the ancient Egyptians. For him everything was cultic, superstitious, and primitive. Thus he titles the separate pieces of the Pyramid Texts as Utterances, following Sethe's Speeches. Sethe, Faulkner, and others did not accept them as hymns, odes, or prayers. But the word utter means to send forth as a sound, to pronounce, or to speak, merely of material import, without any relationship to things divine or heavenly. Thus these scholars completely eliminate the import of the fact of devout religious faith by which the ancient Egyptians accepted life and death. In the process they conditioned a vast array of other scholars and lay persons to their frame of mind. How unfortunate. Hence, I have changed the titles from Utterance to Hymn.
I give a tabulation of excerpt from the Hymns. I selected to highlight certain elements that tell us about the origins of the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. Click here to go to the tabulation of Pyramid Hymns.
I then show parallels to Judeo-Christian traditions, as recorded in the Bible.
A Note about translations:
I have the tools to critique Hebrew and Greek translations; I do not have the tools to do the same with ancient Egyptian. Therefore I must depend on the integrity of the modern scholars who have performed this task for us. I accept their words and phrases except as I have noted above and in my other papers.
Many persons may feel that random selection of passages to show parallels is not sound scholarship, that we should be guided by careful textual critique and hieroglyphic interpretation. But such view misses the whole point of the study. We are looking at how people expressed their religious beliefs. The Egyptians were just as sincere in regard to their religious history, even if pagan, as the later Hebrews and Christians were with theirs. The difference was an inheritance from a distant past that became corrupt and embellished over time, compared to a fresh contact with the heavenly realms recorded by Hebrews and Christians. The Egyptian record is from debased human memory; the Judeo-Christian record is from living experience.
Modern scholarship refuses to accept that God and the gods are real; they believe that such beliefs had strictly evolutionary origins, and were generated from the psychological impulses of men. I do not address that crowd.
The humanization of the gods into mortal physical, intellectual, moral, and religious attributes that gave rise to the folk myths of ancient times has been denounced since early Greek days.
Xenophanes (570-475 BC) stood for religious reform. He believed that the traditional tales of the poets were directly responsible for the moral corruption of the time. He said that, "Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all things that are a shame and disgrace among mortals, stealing and adulteries and deceiving of another." He sharply criticized the widely accepted polytheism of the humanized gods in the Theogany of Hesiod and Homer.
We cannot assign the origin of such attribution to Hesiod and Homer. They merely recorded the general understanding of contemporary people everywhere. The earliest recorded myths, not only from Egypt, but from also from Sumer, held this view. Oral folk traditions from the most ancient times held the same view. But we would be remiss in our intellectual integrity if we did not understand a natural human reaction to humanize celestial events. This fact is especially true because we do not have the gods presently coming down here to earth to correct our understanding, which, according to ancient traditions, they once did before they were called away. Hence we should understand the Egyptian stories in that light.
Another aspect of the Egyptian religious mythical framework is the ancestry into remote antiquity. The elaborate, complicated, and detailed hymns could not have been carried merely by oral tradition; they had to have some written mechanism by which they were carried from generation to generation. We do not know when the elaboration took place; such humanizing probably required many generations. Without evidence we can only speculate on the origin, antiquity, and history of the accounts.
Woven into this humanized framework is the story of Osiris. While we might see his story as part of the humanization process, we should recognize how the story was fashioned to record actual earth events. Repeated ascriptions to his human life, death and resurrection are found in the Pyramid Hymns.
I say by Nut, the brilliant, the great: This is my son, my first-born, opener of my womb; this is my beloved, with whom I am pleased.
This passage, first in the long sequence of Pyramid Text passages, is startling in its parallel with the New Testament record.
Matt 3:17 -- And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Thayer's Greek Lexicon of the New Testament says that the usage is peculiar to Biblical writers, followed by en tini, to be well pleased with, take pleasure in, a person or thing. Mercer translates satisfied where Faulkner uses pleased.
We can see the striking parallels, with exact similarity of phrasing:
PT -- This is my son, . . . my beloved, . . . with whom I am pleased.
NT -- This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
We should note also the New Testament record about the unique nature of this Son, a record that strikes to the heart of the purpose of a divine incarnation.
John 3:16-17 -- For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten (only-born) Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
1 John 4:9-10 -- In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only begotten (only-born) Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
We can clearly see from the New Testament record that the human birth of this celestial son is unique; there is no other like it, no other celestial personality who was born as a human mortal. The Egyptian record reflects the same belief, but confused in their memory with Horus and other gods. (Even though Jews and Christians do not recognize the biblical record, their sources also indicate the human birth of more than one divine son. Christians took that material and melded it all into the event of Jesus. I do not explore that evidence here.)
Hymn 7: Nut says: The King is the son of my heart.
Hymn 471: I am the essence of god, the son of god, the messenger of god.
I have dropped the indefinite article "a" in this translation. I do not know if Sethe, Faulkner, Mercer, and Piankoff found it in the original text, or inserted it to satisfy their understanding. One can readily see the vast difference such a single alphabet letter can have on our understanding.
This leads us into an observation about the human birth of Osiris. Nowhere in the Texts is there an explicit indication that his birth is human. References are to birth by Nut, (Nuit), the female god who represents the sky. In fact, explicit remarks are made otherwise:
Hymn 412: The Great Maiden who dwells in On has placed for you her hands on you, because there is no mother of yours among men who could bear you, because there is no father of yours among men who could beget you.
Hymn 438: Oho! Oho! I will make it for you, this shout of acclaim, O! my father, because you have no human father and you have no human mother; your father is the Great Wild Bull, your mother is the Maiden.
This shows that the ancient Egyptians were loath to entertain the idea that Osiris was born as a man, from an earthly womb, conceived by earthly sperm. They reserved his birth to a celestial father and a heavenly mother. We know he must have been born on earth, in human form, otherwise how could he exist as a human being? If he did not have natural human birth he must have been created in human form on earth by the gods. (Consider similar concerns by Christians who made the conception of Jesus immaculate from the Holy Spirit and his birth pure from a virgin.) Yet many purely humanized expressions in the Pyramid Tests suggest otherwise. One cannot help but recognize that the references are to a human birth, and not a celestial birth.
Hymns 427 to 435 are a short series in praises to Nut, the heavenly mother, which appear as substitutes for the earthly mother. We see such remarks as:
Spread yourself over your son, Osiris; hide him; protect him.
In 429 Nut is exhorted to
. . . become spiritually mighty; you were physically mighty in the womb of your mother, Tefnut, before you were born.
Here the reference has been displaced from the birth of the human mother of Osiris to the heavenly mother of Nut.
You were in the body of your mother, in your name of Nut.
Make the King mighty in your womb. He shall not die.
432 is reminiscent of Christian attribution to Mary, mother of Jesus:
To say: Great lady, who became heaven, you became mighty, you became victorious, you filled every place with your beauty. The whole Earth is under you; you have taken possession of it; you encompass the earth and all things therein in your arms; may you establish this King in you as an Imperishable Star.
The other aspect of the birth of Osiris is repeated references to being the son of the Earth God, Geb.
As the God of the earth, Geb was one of the most important of ancient Egypt's gods. His parents were Shu, the god of air, and Tefnut, the goddess of moisture, who were in turn the children of Atum. Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys were the children of Geb and Nut, and together these gods made up the Heliopolitan Enniad.
After Atum, the four deities (Shu, Tefnut, Geb, and Nut) established the Cosmos, whereas the second set of deities (Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys) mediated between humans and the cosmos.
As the God of earth, the earth formed his body and was called the "house of Geb," just as the air was called the "house of Shu," and heaven the "house of Ra," (The sky was called the "house of Nut.") Hence, he was also often portrayed laying on his side on the earth, and was sometimes even painted green, with plants springing from his body. Earthquakes were believed to be the laughter of Geb.
He is one of the gods who watch the weighing of the heart of the deceased in the Judgment Hall of Osiris. The righteous who were provided with the necessary words of power were able to make their escape from the earth but the wicked were held fast by Geb.
Here we see how the cosmos was partitioned off into aspects then assigned to gods. We also see how the wicked are denied heaven and held by Geb in the same manner as the wicked are denied heaven and assigned to hell in the Christian myths.
In one Hymn Osiris threatens the Lord of heaven with cataclysmic events if he is not given a place in heaven.
Hymn 254: O! Lord of the horizon, make ready a place for me, for if you fail to make ready a place for me, I will lay a curse on my father Geb, and the earth will speak no more,
Thus he acknowledges the earth as his mortal father.
In another he claims his right to live among the gods, even though he is a mortal son of Geb, the earth god.
An Onite (character) is in me, O! God; your Onite (character) is in me, O! God; an Onite (character) is in me, O! Ra; your Onite (character) is in me, O! Ra. My mother is an Onite, my father is an Onite, and I myself am an Onite, born in On when Ra was ruler of the Two Enneads and the ruler of the plebs was Nefertem, (even I) who have no equal, the heir of my father Geb.
Explicit acknowledgement of his mortal status is avoided in the Egyptian hymns, even though his physical generation is from the earth god. This process may be seen in the following, where his father acted on his behalf. May we infer that it was an earthly father who did things for him in the proper manner?
Geb has acted on your behalf in accordance with the manner in which things should be done for you.
The purely mortal elements of these ascriptions is seen in
O Osiris the King, arise, lift yourself up! Your mother Nut has borne you, Geb has wiped your mouth for you.
Otherwise, I have difficulty finding texts that would allude to, or imply, a human birth to Osiris.
This all can be understood if the ancient Egyptians did not accept that a god from the celestial realms, who lived on earth as a man, could, or would, be born of human parents. They then transferred all those earthly connections to the heavenly gods. More likely they invented Nut and Geb to complete their structure of the cosmos, and in order to satisfy their mythological needs.
But the Hebrew people were not thus confused. That this God will be born as a human being is stated in a very famous passage, although it has not yet reached fulfillment:
Isa 9:6 -- For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In a preceding quote we saw that Osiris claims to be one of the Onites. On was the name of the heavenly location, the home, of the gods. Compare with Mt. Zion of the Hebrews.
Hymn 364: O! Osiris the King, you are a mighty God, and there is no God like you.
Jer 32:18 -- O! great and mighty God whose name is Yahweh of hosts.
1 Kings 8:23 -- He said, "O! Yahweh, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath."
Here we can see that Osiris has the same role in heaven as the Hebrew God. Christians believe that Jesus resurrected in heaven as the great and mighty God, Yahweh, although they often avoid translation of the divine name. Refer to my paper on the parallels between the Egyptian and Judeo-Christian titles, Egyptian Religious Comparisons.
The king is the son of Atum and is a star. The King's mother was pregnant with him, (even he) who was in the Lower Sky, the King was fashioned by his father Atum before the sky existed, before earth existed, before men existed, before the gods were born, before death existed.
Yahweh created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth; before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it.
He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
We can see the position of Osiris and Jesus in the heavenly realms. In both cases they existed before there was a creation. Osiris/Jesus shared existence with the heavenly Father, known to the Egyptians as Ra, and to Christians according to the teachings of Jesus as the "Father."
But Osiris had an expanded role after creation. He became a heavenly administrator.
You shall lay hold of the hand of the Imperishable Stars, your bones shall not perish, your flesh shall not sicken, O! King, your members shall not be far from you, because you are one of the gods.
Laying hold his hand on the Imperishable Stars means that after his resurrection in heaven he will become Administrator and Controller, God, of the stars. The Stars are understood as celestial personalities.
You shall set me to be a magistrate among the spirits, the Imperishable Stars in the north of the sky.
Unfortunately, the ancient Egyptians fell into the same trap as Christians. They believed he will arise in earthly flesh. See the famous passage where Jesus invites Thomas to touch him , John 20:27. However, we know the passage is not accurate, and is an interpolation by a later scribe. Just a few sentences earlier in John 20:17 we are told that Mary Magdalene attempted to grab hold of him in her adoration but the risen personality told her not to touch him. This probably meant that he was in a different energy state, and her material touch would have harmed her.
This confusion is reflected in another passage, Job 19:26, where it is stated in the Revised Standard Translation that "and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God." Unfortunately, the phrase "from my flesh" literally in Hebrew is "without my flesh" but the translators did not know how to handle a passage that directly contradicts the mythological beliefs. The biblical Commentators had a field day with this one.
The heavenly administrative role is found in many other passages.
Remove yourself from upon your left side, put yourself upon your right side, for your seat among the gods endures and Ra leans on you with his arm. Your scent is as their scent, your sweat is as the sweat of the Two Enneads. You appear in the royal hood, your hand grasps the scepter, your fist grips the mace; stand at the head of the Conclaves, judge the gods, for you belong to the stars who surround Ra, who are before the Morning Star, you are born in your months as the moon, Ra leans upon you in the horizon.
Osiris grasps the mace with his fist; his hand grasps the scepter: These are symbols for his administrative rule in the heavens. His administrative power extends to judgment, an attribute widely described in the Texts.
He judges the gods:
The earth speaks: The doors of the earth-god are opened for you, the doors of Geb are thrown open for you, you come forth at the voice of Anubis, he makes a spirit of you like Thoth, you judge the gods.
Ps 82:1 -- God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment. (RSV)
Ps 82:1 -- God stands in the congregation of the mighty; He judges among the gods. (NKJV)
Ps 89:6-7 -- For who in the skies can be compared to the Yahweh? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Yahweh, a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and terrible above all that are round about him?
In the passage above we see a reference to Osiris as a Morning Star. This same appellative is found in the Judeo-Christian scriptures.
Job 38:7 -- When the Morning Stars sang together, and all the Sons of God shouted for joy?
2 Peter 1:19 -- . . . until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts.
Rev 22:16 -- "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright Morning Star."
The label of "Morning Star" denotes a celestial personality who was present at the dawn of time.
O Thoth, go and proclaim to the western gods and their spirits: `This King comes indeed, an imperishable spirit, adorned with Anubis on the neck, who presides over the Western Height. He claims hearts, he has power over hearts. Whom he wishes to live will live; whom he wishes to die will die.'
Thus we can readily see his spirit, not material, being, among other spirit beings. We can also see the graphic power to offer or deny eternal life; the references are to eternity, not mortal existence. Jesus is quoted demonstrating his heavenly power in
Matt 25:46 -- And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
My limbs which were in concealment are reunited, and I join those who are in the Abyss, I put a stop to the affair in On, for I go forth today in the real form of a living spirit.
The "affair in On" is the heavenly rebellion by Seth and other rebel gods. Osiris will put a stop to such outrageous affrontery.
Live, that you may go to and fro every day; be a spirit in your name of `Horizon from which Ra goes up'; be strong, be effective, be a soul, and have power for ever and ever.
John 4:24 -- God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
2 Cor 3:17 -- Now the Lord is a Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
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