Osiris: Dying and Rising God of Egypt... and Freemasonry
By Peter Goodgame
"The Dying God shall rise again! The secret room in the House of the Hidden Places shall be rediscovered. The Pyramid again shall stand as the ideal emblem of solidarity, inspiration, aspiration, resurrection, and regeneration." Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages (New York, NY: Penguin, 2003), page 120.
Stories of a "Dying and Rising God" can be found throughout the myths and legends of the ancient world. This is a very controversial statement and many heated debates have taken place over the years either promoting or protesting it. The central question, of course, is where the story of Jesus Christ fits in relation to all of these (alleged) earlier myths.
This huge can of worms was opened up and entered into the mainstream academic world in 1890 when James G. Frazer published his classic overview of ancient mythology, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. As Wikipedia explains, Frazer concluded that the concept of a dying and rising god influenced the very institution of "kingship" and that in the ancient world the king "...was the incarnation of a dying and reviving god, a solar deity who underwent a mystic marriage to a goddess of the Earth, who died at the harvest, and was reincarnated in the spring. Frazer claims that this legend is central to almost all of the world's mythologies... The book scandalized the British public upon its first publication, because it included the Christian story of Jesus in its comparative study, thus inviting an agnostic reading of the Lamb of God as a relic of a pagan religion."
Frazer's work was hugely influential in secularizing the fields of religious studies and anthropology, and it fit in nicely with the rationalistic modern worldview that was birthed in the Enlightenment and took control over society through the materialistic works of Darwin, Marx, Nietzche and Freud. Building on Frazer's work, James Campbell published his hugely influential examination of ancient myth, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, in 1949. Like Frazer, Campbell lumped the "Jesus story" in with all of the ancient myths of an overcoming hero, arguing that all of these myths followed the same basic template. Even today, for those secular moderns who are even somewhat familiar with either Frazer's or Campbell's work, the "Jesus story" is often casually dismissed as simply another twist on the ancient "dying and rising god" genre. For them, the very existence of a pre-Christian "dying and rising god" mythology is evidence against the existence of a "historical" Jesus.
In response to this possibility Christians have gone to great lengths to tear down Frazer's thesis, and to demonstrate that the evidence for a pre-Christian "dying and rising god" is actually very thin. In 1998 Mark S. Smith published a paper entitled The Death of 'Dying and Rising Gods' in the Biblical World in which he attempted to show that in each alleged case of a pre-Christian "dying and rising god" either the figure was not fully dead, did not rise from the dead, or was not fully divine. Smith's scholarly work may be enough to convince Christians that Jesus was unique, but Smith's work, and indeed all scholarly rebuttals of Frazer's well-known thesis, have remained largely unnoticed by mainstream academics and by society at large.
Because of this reality skeptics of Christianity continue to have great fun with the "dying and rising god" mythology. Here is a list of a few of the books that have been written over the past several decades attempting to "debunk" Christianity utilizing Frazer's thesis: Christianity Before Christ, John G. Jackson, 1985; The Christ Conspiracy - The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Acharya S, 1999; The Jesus Puzzle, Earl Doherty, 1999; That Old-Time Religion, Jordan Maxwell, 2000; The Truth Behind the Christ Myth, Mark Amaru Pinkham, 2002; and The Pagan Christ - Recovering the Lost Light, Tom Harpur, 2005. Similar arguments also appear in the popular documentary film Zeitgeist: The Movie, by film-maker Peter Joseph (which ambitiously attempts to debunk Christianity, the attacks of 9-11, and international banking, all in one crack.) The basic thrust of all of these works is summed up in a statement by authors Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy in their 1999 book, The Jesus Mysteries - Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God?:
"The philosophers of the ancient world were the spiritual masters of the Inner Mysteries... At the heart of the Mysteries were myths concerning a dying and resurrecting godman, who was known by many different names. In Egypt he was Osiris, in Greece Dionysus, in Asia Minor Attis, In Syria Adonis, in Italy Bacchus, in Persia Mithras. Fundamentally all these godmen are the same mythical being." (Freke and Gandy, page 4)
Of course the primary argument of their book, as given in their subtitle, is that the story of Jesus Christ as found in the Gospels is simply another fictional representation of this mythical "godman." The astounding conclusion in all of these anti-Christian studies is that the fictional Jesus was based upon the myths and legends of earlier fictional dying and rising heroes. So on one side of this debate you have atheists and skeptics arguing that it's all fiction, while on the other side you have Christians arguing that the pre-Christian "dying and rising" myths do not truly exist, or else they do not fit the precise "dying and rising god" template and can therefore be disregarded as having nothing to do with Jesus.
Bridging the gap between these two extreme positions is the relatively recent work of Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Lund University, Sweden. His work, which was published in 2001, is entitled, The Riddle of Resurrection: "Dying and Rising Gods" in the Ancient Near East. As a professor of Hebrew Bible it might be expected that his work would be the usual Christian attempt to debunk the "dying and rising god" genre along the lines of Mark S. Smith. However, this is not the case. Mettinger is actually highly critical of the Christian impulse to eagerly dismiss the similarities between the ancient myths and the life story of Jesus. Not so fast, he says, as he begins his own even-handed analysis of the ancient Near Eastern gods including Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Dumuzi, and Osiris. I give an overview of Mettinger's analysis in my article The Saviors of the Ancient World from 2005. Here is what I wrote regarding Mettinger's conclusions:
"Near the end of his book Mettinger concedes that a strange connection does exist between Christianity and the "Dying and Rising" gods of paganism. However, he does not believe that the existence of this pre-Christian phenomenon must necessarily mean the non-existence of the Jesus Christ of New Testament Christianity. Here is what he writes,
'There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.' " (Mettinger, page 221)
The riddle still remains! What are we to make, then, of the strange similarities that exist between Jesus Christ and, for instance, the Egyptian god Osiris? Here is what Egyptologist E. A. Wallace Budge wrote in the preface to his groundbreaking work on Osiris published back in 1911:
The central figure of the ancient Egyptian Religion was Osiris, and the chief fundamentals of his cult were the belief in his divinity, death, resurrection, and absolute control of the destinies of the bodies and souls of men. The central point of each Osirian's Religion was his hope of resurrection in a transformed body and of immortality, which could only be realized by him through the death and resurrection of Osiris. (Budge, Osiris & the Egyptian Resurrection)
The riddle still remains! How could the Osiris cult, which traces back up to three thousand years before Christ, have had so much in common with the most basic and fundamental doctrines of Christianity? There is definitely a mystery here, and it could be argued that Christians are merely displaying a lack of faith when they fail to face up to it. The time has come to embrace this mystery, and to dig into it, with the words of Jesus Himself assuring us that "...the truth will set you free!" (John 8:32).
A New Perspective
So far we have looked at two opposing camps: one side arguing that all of this mythology, including Jesus, is fictional, with another side arguing that Jesus is historical but the pagan mythology is fictional (and unrelated to Jesus). But what if there is another option to pursue in solving this mystery? In fact there is another perspective that remains unnoticed within this debate. The ancient pagans themselves believed that their "dying and rising" gods were actually historical. In fact, many of their historians, especially after Alexander the Great conquered the Near East, began to see similarities in all of the myths of the various cultures and put forth the idea that the similar stories of a dying god were actually based upon a singular historical figure. Mettinger shows the many similarities between Melqart, Eshmun and Adonis, and the Greeks themselves directly equated Osiris with Dionysus. This brings to the table the distinct possibility that both Jesus Christ and paganism's Dying God were both historical!
The modern-day heir to the mystery religions of ancient paganism, which were all built around the "dying and rising god" motif, is the global fraternity known as Freemasonry. If you dig into Masonic research of paganism's "dying and rising god" you will find that they too believe that these various myths all trace back to a singular and historical figure. The Dormer Masonic Study Circle was founded in London in 1938, and here is what they wrote about paganism's dying god in one of their published papers,
"To the earliest period of Egyptian metaphysical speculation belongs the fable of Isis and Osiris, and we find that the myth of the Dying God recurs in many of the great World Religions; also it is an established fact that … the life, death and resurrection of the immortal-mortal have become the prototype for numerous other doctrines of human regeneration." (Dormer Paper #47: “The Great Work in Speculative Masonry,” http://www.mt.net/~watcher/greatwork.html)
One of Freemasonry's most celebrated and knowledgeable promoters was Manly P. Hall (1901-1990), who also traced the origins of paganism's Dying God back to ancient Egypt. In fact, Hall explained that the Masonic myth of Hiram Abiff, which is re-enacted within Freemasonry by initiates who are raised to the level of "Master Mason," is in fact simply a version of the Osiris myth. Here are his exact words:
"Preston, Gould, Mackey, Oliver, and Pike—in fact, nearly every great historian of Freemasonry-have all admitted the possibility of the modern society being connected, indirectly at least, with the ancient Mysteries, and their descriptions of the modern society are prefaced by excerpts from ancient writings descriptive of primitive ceremonials. These eminent Masonic scholars have all recognized in the legend of Hiram Abiff an adaptation of the Osiris myth; nor do they deny that the major part of the symbolism of the craft is derived from the pagan institutions of antiquity when the gods were venerated in secret places with strange figures and appropriate rituals." (Manly P. Hall, “Rosicrucian and Masonic Origins,” http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/roscrucian_and_masonic_origins.htm)
This brings us back now to the provocative quote from Hall featured at the beginning of this article. It is taken from Hall's magnum opus, a book he published back in 1928 when he was only twenty-five years old, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, from chapter seven on the subject of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. From this quote it becomes clear that Hall believed that one day paganism's Dying God, whom he equated with the Egyptian god Osiris, would rise from the dead (see top).
This expectation is fully in line with what the Egyptians themselves believed about the god that they viewed as their first Pharoah. Osiris was in fact the first Egyptian king to be mummified, which set the precedent for this Egyptian ritual that was carefully maintained down through the ages. Why was Osiris mummified in the first place? Because the Egyptians believed that one day he would rise from the dead and require the use of his body once again! The "Story of Setna" found within the "Book of Thoth," which dates back to at least 300 BC, records the expectation of the eventual "awakening" of Osiris:
"Bring their bodies to rest here with mine, that we may await together the Day of Awakening when Osiris returns to the world.... He spoke another word, and a mighty sandstorm came up and buried the tomb so that none might find it again. There it lies hidden for all ages against its finding by mortals. And there lies hidden the Book of Thoth, held safely by Nefrekeptah, his wife Ahura, and their son Merab. They stand guard over it and await the Day of Awakening, when Osiris shall return to the world once more." ("The Book of Thoth," www.touregypt.net/godsofegypt/thebookofthoth.htm)
The god Osiris was the central figure of the Egyptian ruling dynasties, and the golden sarcophagus of King Tut (below) was actually a representation of Osiris, who was the god that King Tut trusted in for eternal life. The Egyptians back then, and the highest initiates of Freemasonry today, actually believe that this ancient mythical figure will rise again to rule the world once more.
The Historical Osiris
So who was the historical Osiris? Research takes us back to the time around 3100 BC, which is the date at the very origin of Egypt's First Dynasty. According to various Egyptologists the first pharaoh of Egypt at this time was a conquering king known as Narmer, whom many scholars equate with King Menes who is featured at the very beginning of Manetho's celebrated king lists of ancient Egypt. The famous Narmer Palette (right) depicts his conquest of Upper and Lower Egypt, along with decapitated bodies, various prisoners, and an execution scene where the king strikes an "Orion" pose, holding up a mace ready to crush the skull of a victim.
According to the ancient Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (Library of History, Vol. 3, 3:1–7), Osiris and his armies originally came from Ethiopia, the Biblical land of Cush. This is noteworthy because the time period of 3100 BC lines up with the great expansion of the Mesopotamian empire of Uruk, which is described in an article written by journalist Bruce Bower,
"[There is a] growing recognition among archaeologists that early Mesopotamian civilization experienced an unprecedented expansion between 3400 and 3100 B.C. The expansion occurred during the latter part of a phase called the Uruk period (named after the major city of the time)..." (“Civilization and its Discontents: Why Did the World’s First Civilization Cut a Swath Across the Near East?” Science News, March 3, 1990,
If we look to Mesopotamian records of this time we find that the builder of the city of Uruk is named in the Sumerian King List as King Enmerkar, who is the heir of a king who left Mesopotamia and established a base in a mountainous region across the sea. Historian David Rohl concludes that this king was Cush, who left Mesopotamia and established a base in the mountains of Ethiopia (the biblical land of Cush), while his heir, King Enmerkar of Uruk, can be equated with King Nimrod of Erech (Uruk). All of this suggests that Enmer-kar, Nimrod, and Narmer are similar names (N-M-R) for the same person, whose life and death created the basis of the enduring pagan Dying God mythology.
In studying the accounts of Osiris as recorded by Diodorus Siculus we find that he was also credited with advancing into India and even establishing a few of his cities there. Turning to Indian (Hindu) histories we find the story of Krishna in the epic known as the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna appears as a foreign king instigating a great battle between Arjuna and the rest of Arjuna's family in the great Mahabharata War. Could Krishna be another historical version of Osiris? The dates certainly line up because Hindu scholars, after analyzing the ancient epics, have concluded that Krishna was killed in a "hunting accident" on February 18, 3102 BC, thirty-six years after the Mahabharata War.
These strange connections continue even into the New World, where we find Aztec (Quetzalcoatl) and Mayan (Kukulcan) versions of paganism's Dying God. We are all familiar with the Mayan Calendar by now, which ends on December 21st, 2012. However, the most interesting fact is its start date of August 13, 3114 BC. The Hindu's believed that the death of Krishna in 3102 BC marked the beginning of the epic period known as Kali Yuga. Did Mayan priests perform their own calculations from their memory of this Dying God to mark the starting point for their own calendar? In addition to these sources we find that the Septuagint chronology of Old Testament history places the career of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel exactly around the same time range of 3100 BC, give or take a few decades (see the calculations of Barry Setterfield). All of these connections to the time period around 3100 BC (in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, Mayan culture, and in the Greek version of the Old Testament) seem beyond coincidental.
There is much more to the mystery of the "Dying Gods" than either the critics or the mainstream defenders of Christianity are willing to admit. Jesus was truly a historical figure. Even the vast majority of atheist scholars agree that He must have existed, and the deniers of the "Historical Jesus" remain on the fringe of the academic world. However, there is also a pagan "Savior figure" who appears on the historical record, who lived over three thousand years before Jesus. He ruled as a great conqueror in the ancient Near East and his legacy was remembered by every culture from that region, in some form or other. Over the millennia he truly did become the "hero with a thousand faces." But Jesus of Nazareth is not a part of this pagan "dying and rising god" mythology; He is the answer to it.
"The Awakening is a 70-foot statue of a giant embedded in the earth, struggling to free himself,
located at National Harbor in Prince George's County, Maryland, USA, just outside the District of Columbia."
The Awakening (sculpture), Wikipedia
"Awake, Osiris! Awake, O King!
Stand up and sit down, throw off the earth which is on you!"
(Utterance 498, Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts)
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Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth:
behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west;
so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
- Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gospel of Matthew 24:26-28