The Pagan Origins of Resurrection

(The Skeptical Review, Vol. 12, #6)

      By Farrell Till copyright by him.

I was reluctant to publish an article [in The Skeptical Review (Nov./Dec. 2001)] whose endnotes required an entire page, but the subject of Mark McFall's article is one that skeptics should have some familiarity with in order to understand that many claims about the uniqueness of Christianity are without foundation. The title of McFall's article, when considered in the context of some of his footnotes, betrays the fact that he seemed more interested in catching me in a mistake than in defending his apparent belief that the New Testament doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus was unique. Instead of just discussing the Egyptian myths of Osiris with a view to showing that they did not claim that he had risen bodily from the dead, McFall chose instead to write from the perspective of "The Resurrection of Osiris According to Farrell Till." I was left wondering what he thought he would have accomplished if he had proven that I was dead wrong and that Egyptian mythology had not taught that Osiris was resurrected bodily. Would McFall have then thought that because he had shown Farrell Till to be wrong, he had established that the claim that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead was a unique religious doctrine?

On an internet site, McFall said that the focus of his article was exclusively on the resurrections of Osiris and Jesus Christ, but the actual content of his article does not support this claim. In the article, I was mentioned by name 51 times, second only to Osiris, but the names "Jesus" and "Christ" appeared only seven times in the entire article, and two of those uses were in quotations of what I had said or written on the subject. That does not sound like an exclusive focus on just Osiris and Jesus. Clearly, the purpose of McFall's article was to discredit me. As I have told him via e-mail, I don't object to being the focus of an article he wrote, because I have been the focus of many articles by would-be apologists. I just wish he would be honest enough to admit what his intention was.

Nothing that McFall said in his article has changed my opinion that Egyptian mythology taught that Osiris had been bodily resurrected, but before I present evidence to support that position, some preliminary remarks are necessary. First, I will confirm what McFall said in his second endnote. Speaking extemporaneously, as is always necessary in an oral debate, I erred in my debate with Norman Geisler by referring to Isis as the mother of Osiris. In the myths, she was actually his sister and wife, but this was a mistake that does nothing to alter the mythological claim that Isis reassembled the dismembered body of Osiris and then, hovering over him in the form of a kite [hawk], fanned back into him the breath of life.

Second, much of McFall's confusion about the Osiris myth is rooted in his failure to recognize the diversity in Egyptian myths. In some of the myths about Osiris, resurrection wasn't mentioned, but in others he was clearly resurrected to life. The variations in the myths can be compared to variations that would be in the Jesus myth if the whole body of literature on the subject were considered instead of only the "canonical" writings. Well, I should clarify what I just said, because there are still variations in the Jesus myth even though early Christian leaders developed a concept of "canonical" or "inspired" books, but the variations would be even more prevalent if no such selections were ever made. There were several "gospels" and epistles in addition to various pseudepigraphic works that didn't make the cut when "canonical" selections were made. What existed in Christian literature prior to the final selection of an arbitrary "canon" was somewhat parallel to the Egyptian myths about Osiris. What an Egyptian believed about Osiris depended upon where he lived and what particular versions of the myth he had been exposed to. There had been no councils of Egyptian priests and religious leaders who had sat down and decided that this account of Osiris was inspired but that one wasn't. In formulating his opinion on this subject, McFall has erred by relying on versions of the Osiris myth that were either vague about the nature of his resurrection or else had left it out entirely, or rather I should say that McFall erred by relying almost entirely on the opinions of those like Ronald Nash and Bruce Metzger, who for understandable reasons seem to place primary importance on versions of the myth that were vague about the nature of Osiris's resurrection.

Third, even if McFall could establish that no pagan myths had ever alleged that bodily resurrections had occurred, I would find it hard to understand how he could see anything unique about the belief that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead, because even the Bible contains several claims that dead people had been resurrected to life. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, the prophet Elijah resurrected a widow's son, who had "no breath left in him" (v:17) and whose soul "came into him again" (v:22) when Yahweh hearkened to Elijah's cries to "to let this child's soul come into him again" (v:21). Elijah's successor Elisha officiated at a similar resurrection in 2 Kings 4:17ff. The son of a "Shunammite woman" was injured in a fall and died (vs:18-20). The woman sent for Elisha who saw upon entering the house that "the child was dead" (v:32), after which Elisha twice stretched himself over the boy, who then sneezed seven times and opened his eyes (vs:32-36). The New Testament also has its tales of resurrections that happened before the alleged resurrection of Jesus. The widow of Nain's son was resurrected in Luke 7:11-15), and, of course, Jesus also resurrected Lazarus after he had been dead for four days (John 11:1-44). These tales were related in the Bible as obvious examples of people who had been bodily resurrected from the dead to continue living on earth. At that time, the superstitious belief that dead people sometimes returned to life was so deeply ingrained that the author of Mark claimed that when King Herod heard of some of the activities of Jesus he expressed the fear that "John the Baptist is risen from the dead" (Mark 6:14). The concept of a bodily resurrection from the dead, then, was not so "unique"that Herod didn't suspect that it had happened to John the Baptist. If, then, the Bible is historically accurate, McFall will have to agree that the concept of bodily resurrection was certainly not unique with an alleged event that occurred after the death of Jesus but had existed prior to that time. Therefore, McFall's doubt that Egyptian mythology taught the bodily resurrection of Osiris is rather hard to understand, because even if he could establish–and he can't–that the Osiris myths did not teach that Osiris had risen bodily, McFall will have accomplished what in view of the many biblical examples of bodily resurrection that had preceded Jesus's? If Lazarus and the others mentioned above had risen bodily, then the bodily resurrection of Jesus would not have been unique.

Splitting Hairs

The hairs that McFall split in his article to deny that the concept of bodily resurrection preceded Christianity is rather remarkable. He has engaged in verbal gymnastics as extreme as any I have ever seen in apologetic attempts to defend biblical accuracy. At one point, for example, McFall quoted Ronald Nash, whose opposition to the premise that Christianity was influenced by paganism is well known, as a "scholarly" source who spoke of "the misleading analogy of a comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the resuscitation of Osiris." So both Nash and McFall seem to distinguish between a resurrection and just a "resuscitation." The word resuscitation carries the primary connotation of recovering from unconsciousness, which seems hardly appropriate to describe what some of the myths claimed happened to Osiris. After all, Osiris's evil brother Set had dismembered the body of Osiris into 14 different parts and scattered them throughout Egypt. Resuscitation, then, hardly seems as appropriate as resurrection to describe what Isis did to the body of Osiris. When one is quibbling in defense of Christianity, however, such hairline distinctions are not at all uncommon. On the internet, where McFall has also taken this issue, he seemed careful to avoid using the word resurrection when referring to the myths about Osiris. He would instead use words like revivification or reanimation, as if such semantic games could hide the fact that some versions of the myth clearly taught that Osiris was killed, dismembered, reassembled, and then returned to life. In an internet posting on June 9, 2001, for example, McFall said, "The bodily resurrection of Jesus back to earth is truly unique when set up against Osiris’ reanimation to the Netherworld." McFall's use of words like reanimation, resuscitation, and revivification are merely semantic attempts to make Osiris's return to life something different from a "resurrection." What he means is that the Osiris myths claimed that he had been only spiritually resurrected but that the body was not raised.

In support of this claim, he quoted Egyptologist Wallis Budge, who had said that "the body lay in the earth while the soul or spirit lived in heaven." On the internet, McFall referred to Egyptian traditions about the location of Osiris's burial site and said, "(I)f his body was still in the ground, how could he have resurrected bodily? It must have been spiritual"(6/15/01). So obviously, McFall is quibbling that the resurrection of Jesus could not have been like the resurrection of Osiris, because the latter was just a "spiritual" resurrection, uh, reanimation.

Well, let's just explore that hypothesis for a moment. If nothing was done to revive the body of Osiris, then why did Isis go to such great lengths to find all of the scattered body parts and reassemble them? In most theistic beliefs, the spirit is separate from the body, so why did the body have to be reassembled in order for the spirit to be "resuscitated" or "revivified"? If nothing happened when Isis hovered over Osiris except that his spirit was "resuscitated " or "revivified" and sent into the next world, then McFall is really arguing that nothing happened to Osiris that the Egyptians didn't believe happened to every other person who died, because the Egyptians, like McFall and his theistic cohorts, believed that when a person died his spirit journeyed into another world beyond this one. McFall's use of evasive locutions like reanimation and resuscitation, then, are actually tautologies intended to mislead people into thinking that what happened to Osiris in the Egyptian myths was something substantially different from the resurrection claimed for Jesus in the New Testament myth. In the Egyptian myths, Osiris was killed, dismembered, reassembled, and then returned to life. McFall can't circumvent the problem that this myth causes for Christianity's claim of uniqueness by arguing that the body of Osiris remained dead and only his spirit was "reanimated." In a society that believed that the spirits of the dead lived on in another world, why would a myth have developed that a particular man's spirit had been "reanimated" if the general belief was that the spirits of all people survived physical death?

The Spiritual Resurrection Of Jesus

I will show later that some versions of the Osiris myth did indeed teach that he remained on earth for a time after his "reanimation," but for the sake of argument, let's just assume the truth of McFall's claim that Egyptian myths about Osiris taught that he had experienced only a "spiritual" resurrection. That still would not make the Jesus myth "unique," because the earliest version of this myth indicates that the resurrection of Jesus was merely spiritual. To see this, we have only to go to the apostle Paul's defense of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. A face-value interpretation of this chapter, which doesn't assume the truth of the gospel accounts that were written much later, will show that Paul was claiming that Jesus had been not bodily but spiritually resurrected. After telling the Corinthian Christians that their faith was vain and they were of all men most miserable if Christ had not risen, Paul proceeded to develop a line of argumentation intended to prove that the resurrection had happened as he had preached it.

   But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come" (v:35)?

Now if early Christians believed that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, Paul missed an excellent opportunity to tell his Corinthian readers that the dead are raised with the same body that had died, but as we read on, we see immediately that this was not what he said.

   Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body (vs:36-38).

We have to give Paul an "F" in botany, because, as any elementary science student knows, seeds do not "die" in order to reproduce their species. If they die, as they sometimes do, no reproduction of the species will occur. In other words, nothing will grow from the seed if it dies. The important thing to notice, however, is that Paul was obviously saying that the "body" that is planted is not the "body" that appears when the seed germinates. This is the exact opposite of what McFall is arguing, because he is claiming that the body of Jesus that was killed is the body that was resurrected. Paul would call him a fool for thinking this (v:37), because Paul clearly thought that the body (seed) that was planted was not the body that was "resurrected."

   Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (vs:39-43).

Now why did Paul say all of this if he thought, as McFall claims, that Jesus was resurrected bodily? Paul was trying to convince people who had doubts about the resurrection of Jesus that he had indeed risen, so everything he was saying in this passage was intended as arguments that would make the resurrection claim credible. If there is any doubt that Paul was telling his readers that the resurrection of Jesus was believable if they would just understand that he was not resurrected bodily but spiritually, the next verses should convince all but the recalcitrant that this was the thrust of his argument.

   It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body (vs:44).

McFall, on the other hand, is arguing that it was sown a physical body and then raised a physical body. Obviously his mind isn't operating on the same wavelength with Paul's.
The rest of this chapter was just a continuation of Paul's argument that Jesus had risen spiritually.

   Thus it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual (vs:45-46).

Readers should keep in mind that Paul was saying all of this in an attempt to convince his readers that Jesus had risen from the dead. Why then did he say that it is not the spiritual that is first but the physical and then the spiritual unless he had intended this to have some application to the gospel claim that Jesus had risen? Jesus was first the physical; then he was the spiritual. This can make sense only in the context of a belief that Jesus had risen spiritually after having died physically.

   The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven (vs:47-49).

Paul's argument here was that "we" [humans] are born with the "image" of Adam but that we will not retain forever that image. We will also bear the image of the "man of heaven." Since this was said in the context of a line of argumentation intended to prove that Jesus was risen, it doesn't make much sense unless it is understood to mean that Jesus had borne the image of Adam but had been resurrected with a heavenly image that his readers would also bear some day.

   What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (v:50).

If Jesus was resurrected bodily and then ascended into heaven, Paul's statement here would not be true unless McFall argued that some transformation of the physical body of Jesus had taken place after his resurrection and before his ascension, but that would make nonsensical much of what Paul said in his extended argument, because he went to great lengths to convince his readers that they too would be resurrected like Jesus in an incorruptible form that would enable them to enter the kingdom of heaven. As the following verses show, Paul thought that the death and resurrection of Jesus was a preview of what lay in store for those who believed in him. The physical body of Jesus had died, but he had risen in a spiritual body, which was then able to enter into heaven.

   Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality (vs:51-53).

Notice the references to "changing" and rising "imperishable." This was all said in reference to a subsequent general resurrection of believers, but it was said in a context where Paul was struggling to convince doubters at Corinth that Jesus had risen from the dead. He was using what had happened to Jesus as an example of what would eventually happen to all believers. The physical body of Jesus was "planted," but a spiritual body was resurrected fit for entry into the kingdom of God. Paul was arguing that the same would happen to his readers. The physical bodies of those still alive at the time would be changed in the twinkling of an eye to that which was imperishable so that their mortal bodies could put on immortality, but those who had already died would be "raised incorruptible" in a form suitable for entry into heaven. None of this makes sense unless the reader recognizes that Paul thought that Jesus had been resurrected in a spiritual body.

   When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (vs:51-58).

Victory over death would occur when the mortal bodies of believers had put on immortality, and this would happen when the mortal bodies of those still alive at the coming of Jesus would be "changed in the twinkling of an eye," at which time those who were dead would be "raised imperishable." The whole thrust of Paul's line of argumentation was that physical bodies (flesh and blood) could not enter heaven, and so this was why the resurrection of the saints would be like the resurrection of Jesus. Where a physical body was "planted," a spiritual body would rise.

There are other New Testament passages that support this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15. The apostleship of Paul had apparently been challenged in some of the churches (1 Cor. 9:2), so he routinely began his epistles by identifying himself as an apostle who had been divinely "called" or ordained to this office (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1). In defending himself to those who had challenged his apostleship in Corinth, he said, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord" (1 Cor. 9:1)?

Now why did Paul defend his apostleship with a rhetorical question about having "seen Jesus our Lord"? The answer is perhaps in a scene in Acts, where the apostles and other believers assembled after the ascension of Jesus to select a successor to Judas, the apostle who had betrayed Jesus and died an ignominious death. On this occasion, Peter addressed the group and set forth the qualifications of the one who would be selected to replace Judas.

   "So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22).

Peter seemed to be saying here that one who would serve as an apostle should be a witness of the resurrection. That could explain why Paul defended his apostleship by pointing out that he had "seen our Lord," a claim that he repeated in chapter 15 where in listing those to whom Jesus had allegedly appeared after his resurrection, Paul said that Jesus had appeared to him "last of all" (v:8). If it was Paul's intention to defend his apostolic credentials with the claim that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, what he had seen was not Jesus in his physical body but an apparition or spirit that had allegedly appeared to him on the road to Damascus. We don't have Paul's firsthand account of that incident, but the writer of Acts, whether putting words into Paul's mouth or quoting him accurately, had Paul refer to this as a "heavenly vision" in his speech to king Agrippa (26:19). A "vision" of Jesus would not be an act of seeing the physical body of Jesus, so if Paul was a witness to the resurrected Jesus, he could claim no more than that he had seen an immaterial body. If, then, the Egyptian myths about the "reanimation" of Osiris did teach, as McFall claims, only a "spiritual" resurrection, he will have proven nothing except that the earliest form of the Jesus myth had imitated either the myths of Osiris or other similar pagan myths.

The Resurrection Of Osiris

As I turn now to the Osiris myths, I will ask readers to remember that Egyptian mythology was much like the Jesus story in precanonical times. In addition to the four gospels now considered "canonical," there were the gospels of Thomas, Peter, Bartholomew, Barnabas, Andrew, etc. Depending on which "gospel" was read at that time, one got a different picture of the life of Jesus. So it was in ancient Egypt. Myths varied from region to region and also from time period to time period. What was believed about Osiris or Isis or Horus in Upper Egypt was likely to be different from what was believed in Lower Egypt. What was believed in one century was likely to change in the next century.

McFall has tried to exploit this element of Egyptian mythology to argue that Egyptians did not believe that Osiris had been resurrected from the dead. His tactic has been to concentrate on versions of the myth that either didn't mention a resurrection or else were vague about it. I have never claimed that all versions of the Osiris myth contained direct accounts of a resurrection but only that some of them did. For McFall to argue that because some versions of the Osiris myth didn't mention a resurrection, Egyptian mythology therefore did not teach that Osiris had risen from the dead would be somewhat like arguing that because some versions of the gospel of Jesus did not mention a virgin birth, Christianity therefore does not teach that Jesus was born of a virgin.

In his article, McFall quoted a summation of the Osiris myth that I posted during an internet exchange (pp. 2-3). I wrote this summation entirely from memory without consulting notes or reference works, but it seems to meet with McFall's approval, because he said, "Mr. Till has for the most part accurately reported the myth up to this point" (p. 2). Since McFall agrees that I accurately reported the myth "up to this point," there is no need for me to waste space quoting authorities that would show that my summation of the myth was accurate up to the point where McFall disagreed. All I need to do is begin at the point of McFall's disagreement and show that what he took exception to was an accurate representation of what was taught in some versions of the myth. If I can do that, I will have shown that some versions of the myth taught a bodily resurrection of Osiris, just as surely as some versions of the gospel of Jesus taught that he was born of a virgin.

The concluding paragraph of my summation of the myth is what McFall objected to.

   "Different versions of the myth will disagree in some details, but an old inerrantist comment about inconsistencies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection is worth adapting to the Osiris myth: the important thing is that all of the accounts agree that Osiris was killed and resurrected to life."

Before I comment on McFall's criticism of this paragraph, I need to point out that my summation of the Osiris myth was based on what I had read in the accounts of Plutarch and other more popular versions of the myth, so when I said all of the accounts had agreed that Osiris was resurrected, I was referring to the sources from which I had complied my summary. It still remains true that some versions of the myth did not mention a resurrection.

McFall's objection was that my summation of the myth had ended with the statement that Isis, after having found and reassembled the dismembered parts of Osiris's body, hovered over the body in the form of a kite [hawk] and fanned the breath of life back into it, an act that I referred to as a resurrection in the paragraph quoted above.

To fault my conclusion, McFall had to resort to semantic games. He said with reference to my use of the expressions "fanned the breath of life back into his body" and "resurrected to life" that I had "amalgamated the two phrases in order to make [my] own exaggerated parallel look real" (p. 3). This takes us right back to McFall's attempt to make a mythological resurrection from the dead not be a resurrection by calling it a "reanimation" or a "revivification," but the myth (which McFall said I had "for the most part" summarized accurately until I reached the point where Isis fanned the breath of life back into Osiris) clearly taught that the evil brother Set had dismembered the body of Osiris and scattered it throughout Egypt. In a case like that, I think it would be accurate to say that the body was dead, much more so than McFall could say that the body of a crucified man was dead when it was put intact into a tomb, so if Isis reassembled the body and fanned the breath of life back into it, why wouldn't it be appropriate to call that a resurrection?

Well, McFall, of course, will probably claim that the breath of life was fanned back into the spirit of Osiris and "revivified" in the netherworld but the body itself was never resurrected. Such a position would require McFall to argue that Egyptians believed that a person's spirit died along with his body, but if this was an element of Egyptian mythology I would like to see proof of it. Regardless of what McFall may claim about what Egyptians believed about the survival of spirits, some versions of the myth clearly disagreed with McFall's apparent belief that only the spirit of Osiris was revivified. In The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, mythologist Sir James George Frazer pointed out that even when versions of the Osiris myth did not specifically mention a resurrection, they necessarily implied that such had happened. After summarizing a version of the myth translated from an inscription on the temple wall at Denderah, Frazer made the following observation.

   In the foregoing account of the festival, drawn from the great inscription of Denderah, the burial of Osiris figures prominently, while his resurrection is implied rather than expressed. This defect of the document, however, is amply compensated by a remarkable series of bas-reliefs which accompany and illustrate the inscription. These exhibit in a series of scenes the dead god lying swathed as a mummy on his bier, then gradually raising himself up higher and higher, until at last he has entirely quitted the bier and is seen erect between the guardian wings of the faithful Isis, who stands behind him, while a male figure holds up before his eyes the crux ansata, the Egyptian symbol of life. The resurrection of the god could hardly be portrayed more graphically" (Chapter 39, section 2, paragraph 6).

I can't improve on Frazer's conclusion drawn from the scenes on the bas-reliefs in this temple. If the body of Osiris was standing erect in front of Isis, then surely it was the intention of the artists to convey that Osiris had been revivified in the body. Surely, McFall won't argue that this was intended to be interpreted as a scene that took placed in the netherworld, because the Isis myths had her living on earth long after the resurrection of Osiris.

Other ancient Egyptian records show that the death and bodily resurrection of Osiris were believed centuries before Christianity. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, written at least a thousand years before Jesus, contains priestly hymns and prayers that refer to the resurrection of Osiris. In 1908, the famous Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge, one of McFall's own sources, published a three-volume edition of this book, which McFall has already described in his article. Chapter CLIV (pages 282-284, volume 2) quoted these lines that priests recited over mummies awaiting burial:

   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.

We could compare this text to the biblical texts that claim the body of Jesus did not "see corruption" (Acts 2:21-27; 13:34-37). McFall has no trouble understanding what these texts were intended to convey, i. e., the body of Jesus didn't see corruption because he was resurrected from the dead, but for some reason he can't apply the same common sense to the quotation from The Book of the Dead and agree that if the body of Osiris did not decay and experience corruption, it was because he too had been resurrected. The next section begins with these lines:

   Rise up thou, O Osiris. Thou hast thy backbone, O Still-Heart, thou hast the ligatures of thy neck and back, O Still-Heart.

After speaking these lines in homage to Osiris, the priest would then recite the following incantation over the mummy awaiting burial.

I shall not decay, I shall not rot, I shall not putrefy, I shall not turn into worms, and I shall not see corruption before the eye of the god Shu. I shall have my being, I shall have my being; I shall live, I shall live; I shall germinate, I shall germinate, I shall germinate; I shall wake up in peace; I shall not putrefy; my intestines shall not perish; I shall not suffer injury; mine eye shall not decay; the form of my visage shall not disappear... (Chapter CLIV, pp. 282-284, volume 2).

An Egyptian poem entitled The Book of the Breaths of Life, dated at 521 BC, also contained references to the revivification of Osiris.

   Commencement of the Book of Respirations made by Isis for her brother Osiris, to give life to his soul, to give life to his body, to rejuvenate all his members anew.

That statements like these are found in funereal contexts that venerated Osiris as a god whose body did not decay seems clear enough evidence that ancient Egyptians believed that he had been resurrected bodily to give hope to others that they too could also escape the ultimate fate of mortal decay.

McFall cited similar verses from Egyptian inscriptions and then quoted Wallis Budge to make it appear that these texts didn't mean that Osiris was resurrected but only that "life in the next world was but a continuation of the life upon earth, which it closely resembled" (p. 5), but I fail to see how such a belief would in any way mean that ancient Egyptians didn't believe that Osiris was resurrected bodily. A more sensible interpretation of the inscriptions and bas-reliefs would be that the Egyptians believed that Osiris was resurrected bodily on earth and then descended into the netherworld, where he continued a bodily existence that was like his earthly life. The spin that McFall has put on these inscriptions would render meaningless the funereal incantations quoted above.

A response to McFall's article would be incomplete without mentioning Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, who in Egyptian mythology later became a god himself. McFall has attempted to find uniqueness in the Christian doctrine of the resurrection by trying to show that Egyptian mythology didn't teach that Osiris was resurrected, but some versions of the myth are so clear in teaching that Isis raised her son Horus from the dead that not even McFall could deny that this was a bodily resurrection.

This part of the myth also contains variations. In some versions, Horus drowned, and in others he died from the sting of a scorpion. In commenting on the version in which Horus had drowned, Frazer told how Isis raised her son from the dead.

   Furthermore, she [Isis] discovered also the drug which gives immortality, by means of which she not only raised from the dead her son Horus, who had been the object of plots on the part of the Titans and had been found dead under the water, giving him his soul again, but also made him immortal. And it appears that Horus was the last of the gods to be king after his father Osiris departed from among men (Book 1, chapter 25, pp. 81-82).

Space won't permit me to quote the other version of the myth, but Frazer summarized it in chapter 38 of The Golden Bough. He told how Isis found Horus "stretched lifeless and rigid on the ground" after having been stung by a scorpion. She prayed to the sun-god Ra, who sent down Thoth to teach her a spell by which she could raise Horus. According to Frazer, "She uttered the words of power, and straightway the poison flowed from the body of Horus, air passed into him, and he lived."

For the sake of argument, let's just grant McFall's claim that Egyptian mythology did not teach the bodily resurrection of Osiris. How would this in any way establish the uniqueness of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, since Egyptian mythology clearly taught that Horus was dead but was raised to live again and reign on earth as a king for many years? The fact is that resurrection myths were clearly believed not just in Egypt but other countries long before the Jesus myth evolved.

McFall is just another would-be apologist who is fighting a losing battle to prove that the Bible is "the word of God."

Farrell Till

Skepticism, Inc.

This response was originally printed in Farrell Till's own publication The Skeptical Review, Vol. 12, #6. All copyright belongs only to him.