Of all the pagan copycat candidates, Osiris and Horus are two that look if any to be a major threat. Egypt after all is not far from Palestine, and Jews did live in Egypt; it is not theoretically improbable that they could steal an idea for a Jesus from this place.
But did they? The field is rife with claims, but as usual there is a great deal of filching of Christian terms to describe Egyptian events (not all of it with bad intentions) and a great deal of non-citation of sources for fabulous claims.
That's quite a list, but let's make it simple to start: A good number -- at least half -- are so far as I have seen bogus. There has not been a shred of evidence for many of these in any book of Egyptian religion I have thus far consulted.
For convenience I begin by reproducing the "thumbnail sketch of Horus' life" given in Encyclopedia of Religions as offered by Miller, which also lays the groundwork for Osiris:
"In ancient Egypt there were originally several gods known by the name Horus, but the best known and most important from the beginning of the historic period was the son of Osiris and Isis who was identified with the king of Egypt. According to myth, Osiris, who assumed the rulership of the earth shortly after its creation, was slain by his jealous brother, Seth. The sister- wife of Osiris, Isis, who collected the pieces of her dismembered husband and revived him, also conceived his son and avenger, Horus. Horus fought with Seth, and, despite the loss of one eye in the contest, was successful in avenging the death of his father and in becoming his legitimate successor. Osiris then became king of the dead and Horus king of the living, this transfer being renewed at every change of earthly rule. The myth of divine kingship probably elevated the position of the god as much as it did that of the king. In the fourth dynasty, the king, the living god, may have been one of the greatest gods as well, but by the fifth dynasty the supremacy of the cult of Re, the sun god, was accepted even by the kings. The Horus-king was now also "son of Re." This was made possible mythologically by personifying the entire older genealogy of Horus (the Heliopolitan ennead) as the goddess Hathor, "house of Horus," who was also the spouse of Re and mother of Horus.
"Horus was usually represented as a falcon, and one view of him was as a great sky god whose outstretched wings filled the heavens; his sound eye was the sun and his injured eye the moon. Another portrayal of him particularly popular in the Late Period, was as a human child suckling at the breast of his mother, Isis. The two principal cult centers for the worship of Horus were at Bekhdet in the north, where very little survives, and at Idfu in the south, which has a very large and well-preserved temple dating from the Ptolemaic period. The earlier myths involving Hours, as well as the ritual performed there, are recorded at Idfu."
- Had well over 200 divine names, including Lord of Lords, King of Kings, God of Gods, Resurrection and the Life, Good Shepherd, Eternity and Everlastingness, the god who "made men and women to be born again."
The titles I have found ascribed to Osiris are [Fraz.AAO] Lord of All, the Good Being (the most common title), Lord of the Underworld, Lord/King of Eternity, Ruler of the Dead, [Griff.OO] Lord of the West, Great One, [Bud.ERR, 26] "he who takes seat," the Begetter, the Ram, [Bud.ERR, 79] "great Word" (as in, "the word of what cometh into being and what is not" -- a reflection of the ancient idea of the creative power of speech, found likewise in the Greek Logos), "Chief of the Spirits"; [Short.EG, 37] ruler of everlastingness, [Meek.DL, 31] "living god," "God above the gods."
All of these are either general titles we would expect to be assigned to any head honcho deity, or else are related to Osiris' command over the underworld. None of the ones cited closest and uniquely like unto Jesus were found.
- Coming was announced by Three Wise Men: the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion, which point directly to Osiris' star in the east, Sirius, significator of his birth. While some scholars connect Osiris with Orion, they do not know anything about wise men or a star in the east.
- Was a devoured Host. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat, the 'plant of Truth'. Not that anyone in the scholarly lit has reported.
- The 23rd Psalm copied an Egyptian text appealing to Osiris the Good Shepherd to lead the deceased to the 'green pastures' and 'still waters' of the nefer-nefer land, to restore the soul and body, and to give protection in the valley of the shadow of death... If this is so, no commentator in Egyptian religion or the OT knows about it. Osiris would possibly be known as a shepherd as such imagery was common in the ANE, but I have not seen it yet applied to him by anyone but mythicists.
- The Lord's Prayer was prefigured by an Egyptian hymn to Osiris-Amen beginning, 'O Amen, O Amen, who are in heaven.' Amen was also invoked at the end of every prayer. If so, we want to know where this prayer is recorded, and so would experts in Egyptian religion. The Hebrew "Amen" is never used as a salutation and means "let it be so" which means it is not "invoked" as a deity is.
Beyond that, let's see an etymological connection based on the original languages, not on the correspondence of English characters.
- The teachings of Osiris and Jesus are wonderfully alike. Many passages are identically the same, word for word. If so, someone needs to put them side by side and prove it. The Egyptian religious scholars don't seem aware of it.
- As the god of the vine, a great traveling teacher who civilized the world. Ruler and judge of the dead.This is a bit non-specific. Frazer reported [Fraz.AAO, vii, 7] that Osiris taught winemaking and agriculture, gave the Egyptians laws, taught them proper worship, and traveled the world teaching these things.
But this is the claim that was made of Dionysus as well, and we have answered that point within that essay. Not that it matters, since it seems literature written by scholars of Egyptian religion do not treat them as the same, though some connect Osiris and Orion, and Budge notes the travels but does not connect Osiris and Dionysius [Bud.ERR, 9]. In any event Osiris is nowhere called a "god of the vine."
He is ruler and judge of the dead, but this doesn't describe Jesus, who represents a God who is not God of the dead, "but of the living." At most it represents what might be expected of any supreme deity: to rule and to judge.
- In his passion, Osiris was plotted against and killed by Set and "the 72." This is a combination of terminological fudging, half-truth, and irrelevancy. There was no "passion" -- in the incident alluded to, Osiris was indeed plotted against by Set. There was a big party, at which Set had a coffin brought in and encouraged everyone, including 72 participants in the scheme and one queen of Ethiopia, to lay down for a fit. Finally it came O's turn, and he was persuaded to lay down in the coffin. Once O was inside, Set nailed the coffin shut and threw it in the river; O suffocated.
Note that the 72 here are enemies of O, not his disciples: only the number -- a multiple of 12, a number we still hold in regard today when we purchase eggs and donuts -- is a common touchpoint (and that only in some mss. of Luke 10; others put the number at 70, possibly representing the number of Gentile nations, according to the Jews). They do nothing at all that could be considered like what Jesus' disciples did.
As the story goes further, O's wife Isis went looking for the coffin. She found it in Syria, where it had been incorporated into the pillar of a house. She lamented so loudly that some kids in the house died of fright. Later she took it out, opened it up, then went looking for Horus.
Meanwhile Set found the coffin and tore the body in 14 pieces which he threw all over the place. In one result Isis went looking for the pieces and buried them as she found them. An alternate story has Isis, Anubis, and Ra piecing the body together, swathing it with bandages, and reviving him -- more on this below.
- Osiris' resurrection served to provide hope to all that they may do likewise and become eternal. This is where we find some of the biggest misuse of terminology, including by some Egyptian scholars of religion (who do not go on to posit a "copycat" relationship!). Osiris resurrected? Not if "resurrection" is defined as coming back in a glorified body. On this point Miller has done some substantial work, reporting the words of J. Z. Smith, so I will let these speak to begin:
"Osiris was murdered and his body dismembered and scattered. The pieces of his body were recovered and rejoined, and the god was rejuvenated. However, he did not return to his former mode of existence but rather journeyed to the underworld, where he became the powerful lord of the dead. In no sense can Osiris be said to have 'risen' in the sense required by the dying and rising pattern (as described by Frazer et.al.); most certainly it was never considered as an annual event."
"In no sense can the dramatic myth of his death and reanimation be harmonized to the pattern of dying and rising gods (as described by Frazer et.al.)."
"The repeated formula 'Rise up, you have not died,' whether applied to Osiris or a citizen of Egypt, signaled a new, permanent life in the realm of the dead."
"Osiris, in fact, was not a 'dying' god at all but a 'dead' god. He never returned among the living; he was not liberated from the world of the dead, as Tammuz was. On the contrary, Osiris altogether belonged to the world of the dead; it was from there that he bestowed his blessings upon Egypt. He was always depicted as a mummy, a dead king." [Kingship and the gods: a study of ancient Near Eastern religion as the integration of society & nature. UChicago:1978 edition, p.289]
Perhaps the only pagan god for whom there is a resurrection is the Egyptian Osiris. Close examination of this story shows that it is very different from Christ's resurrection. Osiris did not rise; he ruled in the abode of the dead. As biblical scholar, Roland de Vaux, wrote, "What is meant of Osiris being 'raised to life?' Simply that, thanks to the ministrations of Isis, he is able to lead a life beyond the tomb which is an almost perfect replica of earthly existence. But he will never again come among the living and will reign only over the dead.… This revived god is in reality a 'mummy' god."... No, the mummified Osiris was hardly an inspiration for the resurrected Christ...As Yamauchi observes, "Ordinary men aspired to identification with Osiris as one who had triumphed over death." But it is a mistake to equate the Egyptian view of the afterlife with the biblical doctrine of resurrection. To achieve immortality the Egyptian had to meet three conditions: First, his body had to be preserved by mummification. Second, nourishment was provided by the actual offering of daily bread and beer. Third, magical spells were interred with him. His body did not rise from the dead; rather elements of his personality-his Ba and Ka-continued to hover over his body. ["The Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Myth, Hoax, or History?" David J. MacLeod, in The Emmaus Journal, V7 #2, Winter 98, p169
Frazer [Fraz.AAO, viii] wrote that every dead man was given Osiris' name on top of his own in order to identify with the god.
So O's "resurrection" is no resurrection at all -- and in fact was actually a sort of function of the way the Egyptian gods were, shall we say, being half Frankenstein, half Lego set. There are in fact many stories of the Egyptian gods flinging various body parts around, and to no overall harm, because "divine bodies were thought to be impervious to change" [Meek.DL, 57] and so O's dead body neither rotted nor decomposed as it waited to be put back together.
This is how it was with all these Egyptian gods: Seth and Horus have a fight in which they throw dung at each other then steal each others' genitals [Bud.ERR, 64]. Horus' eye is stolen by Set, but Horus gets it back and gives it to Osiris, who eats it [ibid., 88]. Horus had a headache, and another deity offers to loan him his head until the headache went away [Meek.DL, 57]. Osiris did pay a price for his dismembering death, in that he was limited to the world of the dead [and manifestly ignorant as a result of what went on "above ground" -- Meek.DL, 88-9], but that is only because he had actually died once before when his father accidentally killed him [ibid., 80].
On the Luxor Temple Carving
Many mythicists claim that on the walls of the Luxor Temple is a scene showing the "Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, Birth and Adoration of Horus, with Thoth announcing to the Virgin Isis that she will conceive Horus; with Kenph, the 'Holy Ghost,' impregnating the virgin," complete with three wise men. When pressed by an inquirer at her site about this claim, Acharya S said: "Isis is the constellation of Virgo the Virgin, as well as the Moon, which becomes a 'virgin' during when it is new. The sun god - in this case, Horus - is born of this Virgin goddess." -- and alludes to a document from the 6th century AD! No substantiation is offered for the Isis-Virgo connection at all; it has no more authority than saying "Isis is Gomer the prostitute." If such a carving exists it is only what Acharya thinks it is via the interpretation of Massey.
A writer recently sent this description from an Egyptian tour site: "Kingship was believed to be ordained by the gods at the beginning of time in
accordance with ma'at., the well-ordered state, truth, justice, cosmic order.
The reigning king was also the physical son of the Creator sun-god. This
divine conception and birth was recorded on the walls of Luxor Temple, at
Deir el-Bahri, and other royal cult temples throughout Egypt. The king was
also an incarnation of the dynastic god Horus, and when deceased, the king
was identified with the father of Horus, Osiris. This living king was thus a
unique entity, the living incarnation of deity, divinely chosen intermediary,
who could act as priest for the entire nation, reciting the prayers,
dedicating the sacrifices... A peristyle forecourt of Amenhotep III is fused
with the hypostyle hall, which is the first room in the inner, originally
roofed, part of the temple. This leads to a series of four antechambers with
subsidiary rooms. The Birth Room east of the second antechamber is decorated
with reliefs showing the symbolic divine birth of Amenhotep III resulting
from the union of his mother Mutemwiya and the god Amun. The bark sanctuary
includes a free-standing building added by Alexander the Great within the
larger chamber created by Amenhotep III. Well-preserved reliefs show Amun's
portable bark shrine and other scenes of the king in the presence of the
gods. The sanctuary of Amenhotep III is the last room on the central axis of
the temple." This is significantly devoid of a virgin conception or birth, wise men, or a Holy Ghost. You might squeeze an adoration out of it, but who does not adore newborns anyway?
You can also find more about the Luxor temple carving from my book Shattering the Christ Myth.
No substantiation is offered for the Isis-Virgo connection at all; it has no more authority than saying "Isis is Gomer the prostitute." If such a carving exists it is only what Acharya thinks it is via the interpretation of Massey.
A writer recently sent this description from an Egyptian tour site: "Kingship was believed to be ordained by the gods at the beginning of time in accordance with ma'at., the well-ordered state, truth, justice, cosmic order. The reigning king was also the physical son of the Creator sun-god. This divine conception and birth was recorded on the walls of Luxor Temple, at Deir el-Bahri, and other royal cult temples throughout Egypt. The king was also an incarnation of the dynastic god Horus, and when deceased, the king was identified with the father of Horus, Osiris. This living king was thus a unique entity, the living incarnation of deity, divinely chosen intermediary, who could act as priest for the entire nation, reciting the prayers, dedicating the sacrifices...
A peristyle forecourt of Amenhotep III is fused with the hypostyle hall, which is the first room in the inner, originally roofed, part of the temple. This leads to a series of four antechambers with subsidiary rooms. The Birth Room east of the second antechamber is decorated with reliefs showing the symbolic divine birth of Amenhotep III resulting from the union of his mother Mutemwiya and the god Amun.
The bark sanctuary includes a free-standing building added by Alexander the Great within the larger chamber created by Amenhotep III. Well-preserved reliefs show Amun's portable bark shrine and other scenes of the king in the presence of the gods. The sanctuary of Amenhotep III is the last room on the central axis of the temple."
This is significantly devoid of a virgin conception or birth, wise men, or a Holy Ghost. You might squeeze an adoration out of it, but who does not adore newborns anyway?
You can also find more about the Luxor temple carving from my book Shattering the Christ Myth.
...my research in the academic literature does not surface this fact. I can find references to FOUR "disciples"--variously called the semi-divine HERU-SHEMSU ("Followers of Horus") [GOE:1.491]. I can find references to SIXTEEN human followers (GOE:1.196). And I can find reference to an UNNUMBERED group of followers called mesniu/mesnitu ("blacksmiths") who accompanied Horus in some of his battles [GOE:1.475f; although these might be identified with the HERU-SHEMSU in GOE:1.84]. But I cannot find TWELVE anywhere... Horus is NOT the sun-god (that's Re), so we cannot use the 'all solar gods have twelve disciples--in the Zodiac' routine here.]
Miracle stories abound, even among religious groups that could not possibly have influenced one another, such as Latin American groups (e.g. Aztecs) and Roman MR's, so this 'similarity' carries no force. The reference to this specific resurrection I cannot find ANYWHERE in the scholarly literature. I have looked under all forms of the name to no avail. The fact that something so striking is not even mentioned in modern works of Egyptology indicates its questionable status. It simply cannot be adduced as data without SOME real substantiation. The closest thing to it I can find is in Horus' official funerary role, in which he "introduces" the newly dead to Osirus and his underworld kingdom. In the Book of the Dead, for example, Horus introduces the newly departed Ani to Osirus, and asks Osirus to accept and care for Ani (GOE:1.490).
This fact has likewise escaped me and my research. I have looked at probably 50 epithets of the various Horus deities, and most major indices of the standard Egyptology reference works and come up virtually empty-handed. I can find a city named "Iusaas" [GOE:1.85], a pre-Islamic Arab deity by the name of "Iusaas", thought by some to be the same as the Egyptian god Tehuti/Thoth [GOE:2.289], and a female counterpart to Tem, named "Iusaaset" [GOE:1.354]. But no reference to Horus as being "Iusa"... ]
I can find no references to Horus EVER dying, until he later becomes "merged" with Re the Sun god, after which he 'dies' and is 'reborn' every single day as the sun rises. And even in this 'death', there is no reference to a tomb anywhere...
I found in Budge one idea that Horus had died and been cast in pieces in the water, and his parts were fished out by Sebek the crocodile god at Isis' request. But that's a funny sort of baptism at best (see above). Another source notes a story where Horus is bitten by a snake and revived, which is still not much of a parallel.
Conclusion: This one seems to be full of ringers. It remains to be seen if mythicists can document these claims.