2,400 years before Christ, ancient texts were carved on the interior walls of the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara. These were the Pyramid Texts, designed to protect the king's body and send him safely into the afterlife, and are the first references to a god named Osiris.
For the next three millennia, until Osiris was replaced by another resurrected king—one from Nazareth—the Egyptians celebrated Osiris. His immortality led generations of followers to believe in life after death by following in his footsteps.
So who is this Osiris fellow?
Osiris was the divinely ordained god-king who reigned with grace and wisdom over Egypt, watched enviously by his brother Seth, who coveted the throne for himself. Seth eventually murdered his brother, chopped up his body and threw the pieces into the Nile.
Osiris's wife (and sister) Isis retrieved most of his body and wrapped the pieces together to create the very first mummy. Using her powerful gift of healing, Isis brought her husband back from death just long enough to conceive their son, Horus. He would go on to avenge his father's death by defeating Seth and reclaiming the throne.
After his brief resurrection, Osiris descended to the Afterlife and became judge of the souls of the dead. He now held the power to grant eternal life to those who had behaved righteously on Earth. During the judgement, the heart of the deceased, symbolic of his earthly thoughts and deeds, was placed on a set of scales and weighed against the feather of truth. If the scales balanced, the deceased was allowed to spend forever in the realm of the gods.
Countless pharaohs had themselves portrayed in Osiris' image, and went to their graves in his likeness to gain immortality through him. Later, anyone who could afford it had themselves mummified and the proper rites performed so that they too could become an "Osiris" and live gloriously forever.
Osiris was still being revered in Egypt, now under Roman rule, when not far away in Jerusalem, another Savior was killed. Like Osiris, he rose from the grave with the promise of eternal life.
This Late Period Osiris statuette is in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. Photo: Anne Petersen
Enjoyed this article? Want to know more about ancient Egypt? Subscribe and have every issue of Nile Magazine delivered to your door. Enjoy your Nile time!