Addendum to Article

Was Attis Raised From the Dead?

In the earliest myths of Attis, Cybele invokes Zeus to have Attis’ body merely preserved, never to rot or decay. But, at some point in the legacy of Attis’ myth, the mere preservation of his body morphed into a full-blown resurrection.

Attis died emasculating himself under a tree; but ancient art includes ‘scenes of the emasculated Attis dancing,’ indicating his resurrection. The oldest evidence is a Hellenistic Greek vase depicting ‘the dancing Attis hilaris … from the 4th century BC.’ Vermaseren also instances two later statues from Ostia which point to the god’s periodic resurrection. One (from Roman Imperial times) shows ‘another young Attis standing ready to replace the dying one.’ The other statue (dedicated in the second century AD) depicts the ‘lying and triumphant Attis, his entire figure indicating the resurrection which is also shown by the decoration of various kinds of flowers and plants.’ [1]

Emasculated Attis Dancing (1st C. BCE) [2]

What’s more, there was a “Passion Week” by the 1st century A.D. under the reign of Caesar Claudius. [3] We can be fairly certain, given its joyous celebrations, that Attis was conceived as having been resurrected, especially since he would likely have been syncretized with Osiris by that period, whose cult had swept through Asia Minor already by the 2nd century BC. [4] Which leads to our next point of contention…

Was Osiris Raised From the Dead?

Apologists argue that Osiris was not raised from the dead, since he departed to the ancient Egyptian afterworld. However, Osiris’ destination in the afterworld makes him no less resurrected than does Jesus’ destination in the Christian afterworld–Heaven. Both serve as the abode of the hereafter for righteous souls. Regarding the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, James P. Allen, Curator at the Department of Egyptian Art, states:

The ancient Egyptians would not have recognized the title of this book. The texts translated here were given the collective name “Book of the Dead” in modern times because they are usually found in scrolls of papyrus or on other objects that were buried with the deceased in Egyptian tombs … The modern title “Book of the Dead” is misleading, because the texts are not about death but about life: specifically, eternal life which every Egyptian hoped to attain after death. [5]

Prior to his arrival in the afterworld, where, like Jesus, Osiris acts as Ruler and Judge, there is indeed an initial return to the land of the living. The following is an image of Osiris bodily rising before Isis and Horus, from a bas-relief at Philae (2nd-3rd C. BCE): [6]

Resurrection of Osiris

As the myth relates, this took place on earth via the ministrations of Isis, Nephthys, and Horus. Therefore, the image conveys an earthly resurrection of the god. Osiris is even said in the ancient texts to ascend upon a ladder to heaven, indicating that he initially rose to life here on earth. [7] What’s more, according to the I-Kher-Nefert stele (circa 1875 BCE), the sacred representations of the myth at Abydos presented the risen Osiris before a crowd of joyous celebrants, after which he departed upon a solar boat to the heavenly realm. [8]

It is equally bogus to suggest that Osiris did not rise in a physical body. As comparative religion scholar S.G.F. Brandon states, Osiris’ resurrection was “conceived of in completely materialistic terms, involving the use of a reconstituted physical body.” [9] Pyramidal texts reveal an emphasis on the corporeal reconstitution of the god, confirming Brandon’s claim:

“I have come to thee…that I may revivify thee, that I may assemble for thee thy bones, that I may collect for thee thy flesh, that I may assemble for thee thy dismembered limbs, for I am as Horus his avenger, I have smitten for thee him who smote thee…raise thyself up, king, Osiris N.; thou livest!” [10]

“Collect thy bones; arrange thy limbs; shake off thy dust; untie thy bandages; the tomb is open for thee; the double doors of the coffin are undone for thee; the double doors of heaven are open for thee…thy soul is in thy body…raise thyself up, [Osiris] N.” [11]

Apologists may attempt to distance Christ’s resurrection from Osiris’ by asserting that Jesus remained on earth for a longer period, continuing to be active in this world before ascending to heaven. While that is the case in the Gospels and Acts, it is far from clear in the earliest portions of the New Testament. As Earl Doherty of The Jesus Puzzle notes, “1 Peter 3:18-22, Ephesians 1:20, Hebrews 10:12, the hymns of Philippians 2 and 1 Timothy 3:16, exclude any period on earth.” [12] Ephesians seems to make the resurrection and ascension a synonymous event, declaring “the mighty strength [God] exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (1:19-20). 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 stands opposed to these verses, with its list of appearances of the risen Lord, though its peculiarity in the Pauline corpus may be the result of a later interpolation. [13]

At any rate, differences between the resurrection myths of Osiris, Attis, Jesus, et al. are to be expected, given that the original stories stem from different places and times in the ancient world. These distinctions, however, do not make a case against borrowing. Syncretism, the fusion of religious ideas, involves the appropriation of certain key elements, not the plagiarization of every last detail. In appropriating those elements, the new story may expand or improve upon the old, adopt certain features while discarding others, etc., but the core concept remains.

Most importantly, it is through the god’s conquest of death (whether Osiris, Attis, Jesus, etc.) that the devotee is granted spiritual rebirth and a blessed existence in the next life–having mystically participated in the god’s death and resurrection through sacred rituals of initiation. (See here for more.) It is the salvific significance of the deity’s resurrection, however it is said to have come about, that unites all of these traditions.

Works Cited:

[1] G.A. Wells. Did Jesus Exist? (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1992), 202.

[2] Creativity and Healing. Attis, Jason and Argonauts. (2012).

[3] Earl Doherty. The Jesus Puzzle. “Reader Feedback and Author’s Response.” (2007).

[4] Mircea Eliade. A History of Religious Ideas: Volume 2. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 291.

[5] James Allen and Raymond O. Faulkner, trans. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. (New York: Sterling Innovation, 2011), 11.

[6] E.A. Wallis Budge. Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life. Internet Sacred Text Archive. (2010).

[7] E.A. Wallis Budge. Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection: Volume 1. (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2011), 75-77.

[8] Martin A. Larson. The Story of Christian Origins: A Synopsis of Chapter One. Freeservers. (2013).

[9] S.G.F. Brandon and E.O. James, ed. “The Ritual Technique of Salvation in the ancient Near East.” The Saviour God: Comparative Studies in the Concept of Salvation. (Manchester University Press, 1963), 23.

[10] Samuel A. B. Mercer. The Pyramid Texts. “The Resurrection, Ascension, and Reception of the Deceased King in Heaven, Utterance 606.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. (2010).

[11] Samuel A. B. Mercer. The Pyramid Texts. “Resurrection, Transfiguration, and Life of the King in Heaven, Utterance 676.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. (2010). “N.” denotes the king’s identification with Osiris. By imitative magic, he “repeats the experiences of his god.” See Alfred Bertholet. The Pre-Christian Belief in the Resurrection of the Body. The American Journal of Theology. (20:1, 1916), 11-12.

[12] Earl Doherty. The Jesus Puzzle. “The Mystery Cults and Christianity.” (2007).

[13] Robert M. Price. “Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 As a Post-Pauline Interpolation.” The Secular Web. (1997).



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