Identification With the Risen Osiris in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses


During a stimulating discussion with a Christian scholar several months ago, I was challenged to present evidence for specific claims I made regarding mystery cult rituals and their similarities to Pauline Christianity. Among the most important was whether or not the initiate, Lucius, was ritually identified with the risen Osiris in Apuleius’ ancient work, Metamorphoses (11.21-23). If so, this would bear a striking resemblance to the identification of the believer with the risen Christ in Romans 6:3-5, and elsewhere in the Pauline corpus. I acknowledged that such mystical identification is not made explicit in Metamorphoses, but quoted a relevant scholar, Gwyn Griffiths, to this effect:

“In this cult the initiate can be identified with none other than Osiris, but here, after a ceremony which depicts the visit of the sun-god to the Osirian realm of the dead, the triumph over the dead is fittingly symbolized by an Osiris-figure with solar attributes. An identification with the god is therefore present” (Gwyn Griffiths, “The Isis Book,” [Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1997], 315).

Griffiths’ conclusion is based not only on Lucius’ adornment with twelve cloaks and a radiant crown (symbolizing the Zodiac and the Osirian Crown of Justification), but also on the longstanding tradition attested by ancient Egyptian funerary texts (Ibid., 315-16). Not to mention, it is remarkable that Lucius symbolically died and rose at the hands of the goddess, just as Osiris was believed to have done, literally.

Welp. Enter one Helmut Koester, scholar of New Testament and Early Christianity at Harvard University. In his Introduction to the New Testament, Koester denies any mystical identification between Lucius and Osiris based on the fact that explicit mention is not made of the latter (Helmut Koester, “Introduction to the New Testament,” [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1995], 182). To be sure, Lucius dons “a precious garment of the highest god,” having “attained identity with the highest heavenly deity” (Ibid., 181). But, apparently, that’s not Osiris.

So, who is this highly exalted and grandiose deity? Unfortunately, Apuleius never tells us. Nope. Not ever. Oh, except for right here:

…Osiris, greatest of the gods, highest among the greatest, mightiest among the highest, lord of the mightiest… (Metamorphoses 11.28-30).

There, there now. Take a deep breath, Helmut. Even Harvard professors make mistakes. In the meantime, I’ll just go on being right. If that’s cool with you. Good news is, I got you a nice fruit basket, along with something to hang on your wall.





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