In Egyptian Mythology, Who is Osiris?

Mary McMahon

Osiris is the Egyptian god of death, resurrection, and fertility. He is often depicted in the formal garb of the pharaohs, holding the crook and flail of office, wearing the crown of Upper Egypt, and wearing the ceremonial beard. In most works of art, he is also swathed like a mummy, and his skin is green, symbolizing fertility.

Osiris is usually portrayed swathed as a mummy to symbolize his everlasting soul.
Osiris is usually portrayed swathed as a mummy to symbolize his everlasting soul.

Archaeological digs indicate that Osiris is one of the oldest recorded gods in Egyptian history, the son of the earth god and the sky goddess. Worship of him was centered at a temple in Abydos, although Osiris was widely venerated throughout Egypt, and even beyond; his cults were, at one point, quite fashionable in Rome, for example.

Osiris was widely venerated throughout Egypt.
Osiris was widely venerated throughout Egypt.

According to legend, Osiris was married to his sister Isis, and he was drowned in a trunk by his brother Set. In various legends, Isis found the trunk floating on the Nile, or she found the body washed up on shore, and she brought him back to life to father their son Horus. However, Set was enraged by this, and he tore Osiris to pieces, scattering the fragments across Egypt.

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Isis painstakingly reassembled her husband, with help from others, and brought him back to life again, but by the rules of the Egyptian gods, Osiris was not allowed to dwell in the land of the living anymore, since he was considered dead. As a result, he was sent to the underworld, to watch over the dead and judge them when they entered. As a result, the dead came to be associated with Osiris, with Egyptians believing that the righteous would dwell in his kingdom after death.

Many depictions of Osiris show him in the underworld with Anubis, a god associated with the afterlife, and the scales of justice on which the souls of the dead would be weighed. Cults of Osiris used the imagery of death, rebirth, and judgment extensively, using the god to inspire followers with ideas of immortality for the righteous.

Because Osiris died twice and was resurrected, he is also associated with life and rebirth. Egyptian society was very focused on cyclical patterns of fertility and life, thanks to the annual flooding of the Nile, so it is perhaps natural that this god could represent both life and death at the same time for the Egyptians. The story of Isis and Osiris was acted out annually in many temples, complete with offerings, chantings, and storytelling, and it may have influenced similar stories in other parts of the Ancient world, such as the tale of Persephone.

Osiris is associated with images of death and rebirth.
Osiris is associated with images of death and rebirth.

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Discussion Comments


Strange to think that Christ could be the fulfillment of more traditions than simply his native tradition of Judaism.



It is interesting that you mention this, because the Ankh symbol of eternal life and rebirth is often pictured in symbolism of Osiris. Today, it has become the cruciform symbol of the Egyptian Coptic Christians. They no doubt saw the clear fulfillment of their prophecies and beliefs in the story of Christ.



I certainly see the parallel, but I think there are distinct differences between Christ and the resurrected hero figures of many other religions. Christ resurrected himself, and not his mother/sister figure Mary. He was also confined to another realm alive, and is said to judge the dead, but he is also God incarnate, unlike Osiris. So, in short, Christ is said to be much more powerful than the prescribed power of Osiris.


It wasn't mentioned in the article, but I find the figure of Osiris to bear a conspicuous resemblance to Christ. There are numerous reasons: he is buried under a tree, and Christ was killed on a tree (cross). He was killed by the lord of death. Set killed Osiris, Satan killed Jesus. The Semitic etymological origins of both Set and Satan seem to be identical: they both signify an "adversary, confuser, drunkard, deserter." The resurrection from the Nile is akin to the resurrection from the tomb, because water symbolizes death and the great mother (death), just as a tomb symbolizes the womb of death in many mythologies.

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