Is Christianity a copy of other ancient religions? Was the story of Jesus birth, death, and resurrection copied from other religions that existed prior to the first century? Critics continue to claim that yes. A prior blog post refuted this claim (see here).
This post is a response to the challenges made to my prior post. Since this will be a lengthy post, quoting long sections of material, a brief summary of the conclusions is this: all claims that the story of Jesus was a copy of pagan myths, such as Osiris, are completely unfounded, for the stories have a great deal of difference. The differences are so great that even sources that are quoted to support the claim of similarity turn out, upon further investigation, to show large differences in the accounts of Jesus and the pagan myths, and even the sources used to support the claims end up denying a connection. I conclude that the only way anyone could find true similarities between Jesus and Osiris is to either be uniformed of the details of the accounts, or to have intentionally set out to find similarities, regardless of whether there are any or not. There are vast differences between Jesus and the pagan myths, and the reference documents bear this out.
Further, by examining the details of the claims and comparing them to the facts, we can learn some things about the methods of the critics. The critics tend to make quick, unresearched claims that show poor methodology and scholarship.
The claims at hand are in relation to comparing Jesus and Osiris, one of the Egyptian gods. The Wikipedia article on Osiris has the following quote, which attempts to show that there is some connection between Osiris and Jesus:
Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge suggests possible connections or parallels in Osiris’ resurrection story with those found in Christianity:
The Egyptians of every period in which they are known to us believed that Osiris is of divine origin, that he suffered death and mutilation at the hands of the powers of evil, that after a great struggle with these powers he rose again, that he became henceforth the king of the underworld and judge of the dead, and that because he had conquered death the righteous also might conquer death…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.
This Budge quote is taken from his work Egyptian Religion: Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life, a 1987 paperback which was originally part of an 1899, eight-volume work that included texts from Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria. Budge also published Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, Edited with Translations (1912), and The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians (1914).
In addition, other ancient pagan sources are said to somehow be sources for the story of Jesus in the New Testament. These include The Pyramid Texts, the Palermo Stone, and the Shabaka Stone. Although these were listed as support for the connection of Jesus to myths, our present discussion presented no specific statements as to what this connection was supposed to be.
Such comparisons as the Budge quote and alleged connections to other ancient sources have long been made, and continue to be made. The claims are relatively widespread, and the scholarship so poor, that I will not promote their work here. I will mention but one older source: The Golden Bough, by James Frazer, which was arguably the first large modern work to begin these claims that there might be some connection between Jesus and pagan myth. (Earlier responses to a few of the authors can be found here)
The Story of Osris
As the current discussion focuses on Osiris, it will be helpful to present some background. It will be sufficient to quote from Wallis Budge, whose quote above was used as support for a connection of Jesus and Osiris. Budge is held by modern Egyptian scholars as being a bit questionable in his conclusions (see here). But if we quote from the author who supposedly made the parallel, we will not be accused of dueling scholars, pitting one source against the other.
We must understand that there is no Egyptian source that presents the entire story of Osiris at once. As Budge explains:
However far back we go, we find that these views about Osiris are assumed to be known to the reader of religious texts and accepted by him, and in the earliest funeral book the position of Osiris in respect of the other gods is identical with that which he is made to hold in the latest copies of the Book of the Dead. The first writers of the ancient hieroglyphic funeral texts and their later editors have assumed so completely that the history of Osiris was known unto all men, that none of them, as far as we know, thought it necessary to write down a connected narrative of the life and sufferings upon earth of this god, or if they did, it has not come down to us. Even in the Vth dynasty we find Osiris and the gods of his cycle, or company, occupying a peculiar and special place in the compositions written for the benefit of the dead, and the stone and other monuments which belong to still earlier periods mention ceremonies the performance of which assumed the substantial accuracy of the history of Osiris as made known to us by later writers. But we have a connected history of Osiris which, though not written in Egyptian, contains so much that is of Egyptian origin that we may be sure that its author drew his information from Egyptian sources: I refer to the work, De Iside et Osìride, of the Greek writer, Plutarch, who flourished about the middle of the first century of our era.
So here we have Budge telling us that there is no Egyptian source that compiles all the story of Osiris into one text. But Plutarch did, and Budge claims that we can be sure Plutarch used Egyptian sources for his account. Plutarch died in 140 AD, and his account of Osiris was gleaned from the sources available to him during his lifetime. If anything were to represent the view of Osiris at the time of Jesus, it would be the account written by Plutarch.
As Budge says above, the Egyptian sources, which Budge includes lengthy quotes throughout his work, are entirely found in short hymns, poems, and prayers found on sarcophagi and the walls of temples and pyramids (e.g., The Pyramid Texts). So reconstructing an account of Osiris from pure Egyptian sources would be like trying to reconstruct the story of Jesus without the Bible, using only the prayers and worship hymns found in church records. Budge has a few nits to pick of Plutarch’s account, but nevertheless includes it in his work, and holds it to substantially in alignment with the Egyptian sources.
So I will take the space to include here the story of Osiris and the story of Jesus, since I’m convinced most people in the debate have read neither. Keep in mind that this version of Osiris is quoted from the very book that was supposed to show a connection between Osiris and Jesus (but as we will show below, does not). Further, it is from an Egyptologist who supports his conclusions with primary sources.
As the entire account is quite lengthy, I include here only the relevant portions of Osiris birth, life, death, and afterlife.
“Rhea (Nut), say they, having accompanied Saturn (Seb) by stealth, was discovered by the Sun, (Ra) who hereupon denounced a curse upon her, ‘that she should not he delivered in any month or year.’ Mercury, however, being likewise in love with the same goddess, in recompense of the favours which he had received from her, plays at tables with the Moon, and wins from her the seventieth part of each of her illuminations; these several parts, mating in the whole five days, he afterwards joined together, and added to the three hundred and sixty, of which the year formerly consisted, which days therefore are even yet called by the Egyptians the Epact or superadded, and observed by them as the birthdays of their gods. For upon the first of them, say they, was OSIRIS born, just at whose entrance into the world a voice was heard, saying, ‘The lord of all the earth is born.’
[Typho], having first persuaded seventy-two other persons to join with him in the conspiracy, together with a certain queen of Ethiopia named Aso, who chanced to be in Egypt at that time, he contrived a proper stratagem to execute his base designs. For having privily taken the measure of Osiris’ body, he caused a chest to be made exactly of the same size with it, as beautiful as may be, and set off with all the ornaments of art. This chest he brought into his banqueting-room; where, after it had been much admired by all who were present, Typho, as it were in jest, promised to give it to any one of them whose body upon trial it might be found to fit. Upon this the whole company one after another, go into it; but as it did not fit any of them, last of all Osiris lays himself down in it, upon which the conspirators immediately ran together, clapped the cover upon it, and then fastened it down on the outside with nails, pouring likewise melted lead over it. After this they carried it away to the river side, and conveyed it to the sea by the Tanaïtic mouth of the Nile; which, for this reason, is still held in the utmost abomination by the Egyptians, and never named by them but with proper marks of detestation. These things, say they, were thus executed upon the 17th [Footnote: In the Egyptian calendar this day was marked triply unlucky.] day of the month Athyr, when the sun was in Scorpio, in the 28th year of Osiris’ reign; though there are others who tell us that he was no more than 28 years old at this time.
As to Isis, as soon as the report reached her she immediately cut off one of the locks of her hair . . . After this she wandered everywhere about the country full of disquietude and perplexity in search, of the chest . . . At length she receives more particular news of the chest, that it had been carried by the waves of the sea to the coast of Byblos, and there gently lodged in the branches of a bush of Tamarisk, which, in a short time, had shot up into a large and beautiful tree, growing round the chest and enclosing it on every side, so that it was not to be seen; and farther, that the king of the country, amazed at its unusual size, had cut the tree down, and made that part of the trunk wherein the chest was concealed, a pillar to support the roof of his house. . . . The Goddess upon this, discovering herself, requested that the pillar, which supported the roof, might be given her; which she accordingly took down, and then easily cutting it open, after she had taken, out what she wanted . . . No sooner was she arrived at a desert place, where she imagined herself to be alone, but she presently opened the chest, and laying her face upon her dead husband’s, embraced his corpse, and wept bitterly . . .
“Isis intending a visit to her son Orus, who was brought up at Butus, deposited the chest in the meanwhile in a remote and unfrequented place: Typho however, as he was one night hunting by the light of the moon, accidentally met with it; and knowing the body which was enclosed in it, tore it into several pieces, fourteen, in all, dispersing them up and down, in different parts of the country–Upon being made acquainted with this event, Isis once more sets out in search of the scattered fragments of her husband’s body, making use of a boat made of the reed Papyrus in order the more easily to pass thro’ the lower and fenny parts of the country . . . we are told, that wherever Isis met with any of the scattered limbs of her husband, she there buried it. There are others however who contradict this relation, and tell us, that this variety of Sepulchres was owing rather to the policy of the queen, who, instead of the real body, as was pretended, presented these several cities with the image only of her husband . . . we are told moreover, that notwithstanding all her search, Isis was never able to recover the member of Osiris, which having been thrown into the Nile immediately upon its separation from the rest of the body, had been devoured by the Lepidotus, the Phagrus, and the Oxyrynchus, fish which of all others, for this reason, the Egyptians have in more especial avoidance. . . we are told moreover, that notwithstanding all her search, Isis was never able to recover the member of Osiris, which having been thrown into the Nile immediately upon its separation from the rest of the body, had been devoured by the Lepidotus, the Phagrus, and the Oxyrynchus, fish which of all others, for this reason, the Egyptians have in more especial avoidance. In order however to make some amends for the loss, Isis consecrated the Phallus made in imitation of it, and instituted a solemn festival to its memory, which is even, to this day observed by the Egyptians. After these things, Osiris returning from the other world, appeared to his son Orus, encouraged him to the battle, and at the same time instructed him in the exercise of arms. (Budge, Egyptian Religion, ch. 2, 42-54)
In support of this story of Osiris, Budge includes many quotations from Egyptian sources to support the accuracy of the account. Though he includes several, the following Egyptian hymn will suffice for our purposes, for most are even less descriptive than this:
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.” (Revue Archéologique_, Paris, 1857, t. xiv. p. 65 ff., in Budge, Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life)
Now compare the story of Osiris with that of Jesus in the Bible. I present here portions of the gospel of Luke, who was an educated Greek physician, who said “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order” (Luke 1:3, NASB). Again, this is merely the more relevant portions:
1 Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 And Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, “I find no crime in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.”
. . .
3 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him; 15 neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Behold, nothing deserving death has been done by him; 16 I will therefore chastise him and release him.”
18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus; 21 but they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no crime deserving death; I will therefore chastise him and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave sentence that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, whom they asked for; but Jesus he delivered up to their will.
. . .
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, and said, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things.
50 Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, 51 who had not consented to their purpose and deed, and he was looking for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid; 56 then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.
On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; 5 and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Jo-anna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
. . .
36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. 37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 23 – 24, RSV)
Lastly, and briefly, the other text brought up during the the current discussion included The Pyramid Texts, the Palermo Stone, and the Shabaka Stone. The Pyramid Texts are collections of inscriptions made on the walls of pyramids that Egyptologists have compiled, translated, and published. They are dealt with in some length in the Budge work, and I quoted one above. They can be found online here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/pyt/
A translation of the entirety of The Shabaka Stone can be found here: http://www.touregypt.net/shabakastone.htm A translation of the Palermo Stone can be found in J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt. These are not repeated here due to their irrelevance, which is be shown below.
In the earlier posts, we have admitted that some parallels can be made between almost any character: that they had parents, lived, and died a violent death. Such general claims are too general to have any relevance whatsoever. Therefore any parallel between Jesus and Osiris will need to be much more specific than the original Budge quote that mentioned a mother and a baby. In response to the other claims above, we offer the following.
Regarding the Pyramid Texts, the Shabaka Stone, and the Palermo Stone, the present discussion made no claim about what these were supposed to say, what point these were to make about Osiris or allegedly about Jesus. Therefore it is impossible to respond when no truth claim has been made. If anyone wants to make some sense of how the Pyramid Texts are supposed to be relevant to Jesus, I’d be interested to know. For the texts are a collection of short, unrelated prayers that have no sequence or story, and mostly no connection to each other. Regarding the Shabaka Stone and Palermo Stone, these also have little to do with the discussion of Jesus, and one is left wondering what relevance these have to the discussion. That they contain statements about gods who live eternally are so general as to be a useless comparison.
However, we can learn a bit about the critical approach of those who are trying to make a connection with Jesus and ancient myths. It is quite easy to throw out a claim, making generalized comments about ancient sources, without making any specific claim about what connection there may be. The critics seem to have read neither the ancient sources nor the Bible, for they make claims about Osiris and Jesus without seeming to understand the story of either person. Further, primary sources are either not cited, said to be generally showing similarities, or, as was done in the present discussion, a title of a source was thrown out without making any specific claim about that source. The average reader is left with the impression that there is some connection between Jesus and Osiris, when there is none. Claims such as this are quite poor, and do not even qualify as research, let alone scholarship. Instead, it is persuasion and sophistry, on a level with claims that rank politicians make for no other reason than to persuade voters long enough to get elected, and never plan to remember the claims after election day. In short, as we said many times previously, specific citations connecting Jesus with Osiris cannot be made from these texts, for there are no connections in them.
Which brings us to the quote by Wallis Budge, who was claimed to be a statement by a respected Egyptologist that was supposed to connect Christianity with Osiris. The Budge statement can easily be refuted by looking at more of Budge’s work, for he demolishes the idea that there is any connection between Jesus and Osiris.
Before we continue, it is worth noting the way sloppy research is spread. The Budge quote was copied from a Wikipedia article and pasted here, for when it was used in the current discussion, it contained the same footnote number as Wikipedia. While Wikipedia attempts to maintain some scholarly standards, this is a case in point that merely copying one statement from an online article without reading the original source can lead one to some very poor conclusions. One person posts a single quote into an online article, many people copy and paste it without doing their homework, rumors are spread, and a priori biases are reinforced.
We made a lengthy posting of the story of both Osiris and Jesus for this reason: there is very, very little in which they are similar. Osiris was locked in a coffin, drowned in the Nile, where a tree grew completely around the coffin so it could not be seen. The tree ended up as a building support beam, which was later removed and the coffin cut loose. The body was then dismembered into 14 pieces which were scattered about the country and buried. None of the texts, whether from Egypt or Plutarch, go into any detail about how the spirit of Osiris entered the Underworld, and none of them have the body rising in any way similar to Jesus. None of the events from Osiris happened to Jesus. By contrast, Jesus was nailed to a cross, buried immediately in a cave, and rose in the same body. No coffin, no tree, no drowning, no dismemberment. Most importantly, no separation of body and spirit.
So why would some people connect Osiris and Jesus? Because the writers like Budge have a widespread use of the term “resurrection” regarding Osiris. But we have to understand what they meant by the term. According to Budge:
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 S[=A]HU; 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. (Budge, Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life, p.76.)
It is interesting to note that this quote is found within the ellipsis (…) of the original quote. Thus showing that merely copying another’s set of quotes without doing research is misleading.
But Budge does not stop there, he continues to make the distinction even more clear:
The Egyptian texts answer this question definitely; the soul and the spirit of the righteous passed from the body and lived with the beatified and the gods in heaven; but the physical body did not rise again, and it was believed never to leave the tomb. There were ignorant people in Egypt who, no doubt, believed in the resurrection of the corruptible body, and who imagined that the new life would be, after all, something very much like a continuation of that which they were living in this world; but the Egyptian who followed the teaching of his sacred writings knew that such beliefs were not consistent with the views of their priests and of educated people in general. Already in the Vth dynasty, about B.C. 3400, it is stated definitely:- “The soul to heaven, the body to earth.” The Egyptian hoped, among other things, that he would sail over the sky in the boat of Ra, but he knew well that he could not do this in his mortal body… It is hard to say why the Egyptians continued to mummify the dead since there is good reason for knowing that they did not expect the physical body to rise again. (Budge, ibid, 167-168)
And again, Budge repeats the idea of how the Egyptians viewed resurrection: “The reason why the Egyptians continued to mummify their dead is thus apparent; they did not do so believing that their physical bodies would rise again, but because they wished the spiritual body to ‘sprout’ or ‘germinate’ from them, and if possible — at least it seems so–to be in the form of the physical body. In this way did the dead rise according to the Egyptians, and in this body did they come.”(Budge, ibid, 170-171)
To repeat, this is from the same person (and the same book) that some unknown person posted to Wikipedia as somehow connecting Jesus with the pagan god Osiris. Once we look at the context, we find that the author claimed no such connection. For if anything is important in Christianity, it is the bodily resurrection. That Jesus arose in the same body that was buried is a teaching that is claimed repeatedly in the New Testament, and is held to be a central tenet of the faith.
As we concluded previously, there is no connection between Jesus and Osiris other than vague, generalized, out-of-context claims, and no one has presented any evidence to the contrary. This is why people like KingDavid8 can make a claim to give $1,000 to anyone who can show a connection using primary source materials, for there is none. Upon investigation, all claims to have a strong connection between Jesus and Osiris turn out to be false.
Further, according to Budge, the Egyptians’ view of a person consisted of seven parts, three of which did not leave the tomb where the person was buried. Only in a ethereal, spiritual sense could Osiris be said to rise. By contrast, Jesus rose whole, leaving the tomb empty.
Osiris was indeed said to resurrect, but in a spiritual sense, and then only to reign in the underworld, not in the same sense as Jesus.
The further we look at Jesus and Osiris, the less they look alike. Particularly laughable is any comparison between the virgin birth as presented in the New Testament with the account of Osiris birth, where one god was at a gambling game and won the right to mate for five days straight, producing the child Osiris.
We will not continue to demonstrate the difference, as the point is not refuted after all this time, and this post is already too long. The original claim stands, that there is no good connection between Jesus and that of pagan myth. All attempts to show such a connection demonstrate the preconceived bias of the person making the claim. In short, they do not want to put their faith in Jesus, so they look for excuses to support their non-belief. What we also find is that it is easy to make quick, unfounded claims about Jesus being copied from Osiris. If you say it long enough, people will believe it without having proof.
For anyone who is truly interested in finding the truth about Jesus and the ancient myths, see the works by Ronald Nash or Edwin Yamauchi.