The Resurrection of Osiris According to Farrell Till

By Mark Mcfall

In my experiences with critics I have often been faced with the charge that Christ’s resurrection was borrowed from the accounts of the most well known god in all of ancient Egyptian history – Osiris. Indeed, Osiris as explained by one of Christianity’s most out-spoken critics Farrell Till (editor of the Skeptical Review and owner of the critical list – Errancy) seems to show that such similarities do exist. While this article focuses for the most part on Mr. Till’s formulated parallels between Jesus Christ and Osiris, it nonetheless will adequately equip Christians with enough critical information to give a ready response (1 Peter 3:15) to those who have expressed similar analogues.

The best way for me to familiarize you with how the critic approaches this seemingly close similarity is to present a portion of a debate that took place on March 29, 1994, at the Columbus College Fine Arts Hall (Columbus, GA) between Christian apologist Norman Geilser, and former preacher Farrell Till.[1] In that debate, Mr. Till had made the following assertion in his concluding remarks:

“I’ll use this time to refer to some things that I didn’t have the opportunity to refer to during  the regular speeches. Dr. Geisler made the statement that the pagans saviors were not like Jesus because they did not experience bodily resurrection. But I want to assure you, my friends, that that is not so. O-s-i-r-i-s, write it down, O-s-i-r-i-s, he was an ancient Egyptian, virgin-born, savior-god who died, and he was resurrected. You research and you’ll find that his mother [sic2] searched for his body that had been torn to pieces, put it back together, sort of like in Frankenstein manner, and he was resurrected bodily back to life. That’s just one example that I could give you…He [Geisler] is depending upon your ignorance, people. And I’m not trying to be insulting to you. Your preachers do it all the time. You get the wool pulled over your eyes, and it’s your own fault, because you don’t know the Bible, first of all, and you certainly know very little about the history of religion. If you would go examine the evidence, you would see that many of the things that he is telling you have no basis in fact.”[3]3]

Unfortunately Dr. Geisler chose not to respond to Mr. Till’s comments (see “The Geisler-Till Debate,” Skeptical Review, 1994, #3 {}). But Till asks us (the audience) to do some “research” on Osiris to bear out his assertion. Well, I did, and what I found was sloppy reporting on the part of Till.

The Myth

The most common and complex version of the Osiris myth comes from the Greek historian Plutarch (approx. c.34-125 A.D.) in his work Isis and Osiris. According to Till’s paraphrase of that work found in the archives of the critical list Errancy, he writes:

“Osiris’s evil brother Set plotted with others to kill Osiris. This was accomplished by tricking Osiris during a banquet to lie down in a chest that had been especially prepared for him. When Osiris was inside the chest, Set and his cohorts closed it immediately and took it to the Nile and put it into the river. When Isis, the sister-wife of Osiris heard what had happened, she set out to find the chest. The legend is detailed, but to make a long story short, Isis learned that the chest had drifted out to sea and landed on the coast of Byblos. She went there, found the chest, recovered the body, embraced it, and wailed inconsolably. She hid the body in a secret place, which Set discovered, after which he severed the body into 14 different pieces and scattered them throughout Egypt. The myth then continues as Isis searched Egypt, found the body parts, put them back together, and then hovered over Osiris and fanned the breath of life back into his body.”[4] 4]

Mr. Till has for the most part accurately reported the myth up to this point from Plutarch. But, it is the language that Till uses next which implies that he is not satisfied in keeping with the type of terminology used by Plutarch.”[5] Mr. Till writes:

“Different versions of the myth will disagree in some details, but an old inerrantist comment about inconsistencies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection is worth adapting to the Osiris myth: the important thing is that all of the accounts agree that Osiris was killed and resurrected to life.”[6]

Readers should take notice of the change in expression used by Till from “fanned the breath of life back into his body,“ to that of “resurrected to life.” Methodologically, Mr. Till has amalgamated the two phrases in order to make his own exaggerated parallel look real. But scholarship is not so quick to take that extra step. Indeed, Bruce Metzger (Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Emeritus, at Princeton Theological Seminary) comments:

“Whether this can be rightly called a resurrection is questionable…” (Bruce Metzger, _Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian_, pg. 21).

Professor Ronald Nash author of the informative book _The Gospels And The Greeks_ agrees with Metzger’s assessment and explains that “some writers go much too far and refer to Osiris’s resurrection.[7] Nash sees the terminology used by Till (and others) as claiming far more than the myth allows. This view according to Nash suggests the misleading analogy of a comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the resuscitation of Osiris. Moreover, while Till is correct in commenting that “different versions of the myth will disagree in some details,”  he has exaggerated his point that “the important thing is that
ALL [emphasis mine] of the accounts agree that Osiris was killed and resurrected to life.”
To this Professor Nash informs us that:

“Not every version of the myth has Osiris returning to life; in some he simply becomes king of the underworld.”[8]8]

Karl Widemann Professor of Egyptology at the University of Bonn. collaborates Nash’s assessment:

Above all, the conceptions regarding the most important episode in the god’s existence, namely his resurrection, differed very widely, especially in the later texts.[9]

Till’s attempt to exaggerate the existing evidence is strained by the data. Even in those instances where the text may be questionable, many scholars are reluctant to refer to it as a resurrection. Professor Nash captures the German scholar Gunter Wagner in one of these moments, Wagner writes:

“Osiris knew no resurrection, but was resuscitated to be a ruler of the Nether world.” [10]

Informed scholars don’t see this as cut and dry as Till would have us believe, and this will become clearer as we continue to examine Till’s claim.

Natural Symbolism

According to the _Encyclopedia Britannica_ under the entry Osiris, we read:

“From about 2000 BC onward it was believed that every man, not just the deceased kings, became associated with Osiris at death. This identification with Osiris, however, did not imply resurrection, for even Osiris did not rise from the dead. Instead, it signified the renewal of life both in the next world and through one’s descendants on Earth. In this universalized form Osiris’ cult spread throughout Egypt, often joining with the cults of local fertility and underworld deities.”[11]11]

This contemporary secular source understands that “Osiris did not rise from the dead.” Furthermore, upon checking the _Encyclopedia of Religion_ we find that Osiris was “originally a vegetation god.[12] The death of Osiris symbolized to the Egyptians the yearly drought and in his rebirth the periodical flooding of the Nile and the growth of grain. This of course, represents the pattern of cyclical recurrences of seasons. Professor Bruce Metzger says of this:

“such myths are the expression of ancient nature-symbolism; the spirit of vegetation dies every year and rises every year.”[13]13]

The Christian faith is so vastly different from this type of reoccurring naturalist symbolism. For the Christian, the importance of Jesus’ work was related just to this “once-for-all” (Hebrews 10:10) character of his death and resurrection.[14]

What Did Till Mean?

As a member of the critical list known as Errancy, I had the opportunity to ask other critics if Farrell Till really meant a bodily resurrection to earth, or a bodily resurrection to the netherworld. One critic responded to me by charging that I was misinterpreting Till’s comments to mean that Osiris was resurrected to earth. The critic writes:

“Wrong, wrong, wrong. Till NEVER says in the debate that Osiris was resurrected back to earth. Just show us where he said this.”[15]15]

Immediately after this, Till responded to this critic by clarifying that:

“I may not have specifically said ‘resurrected back to earth’ in the debate, but the myth requires that conclusion, as you will see in a separate reply that I have sent to Mark McFall.[16]

It is clear (if it was not before) from this reply by Farrell Till that I am not misunderstanding him on this. My reasoning for bringing this to the attention of readers is to show future critics who read this article that I am not taking Mr. Till out of context.

The Art Of War

Till’s bases for believing that Osiris had bodily resurrected back to earth is summed up in his following words:

“The bodily resurrection of Osiris may have been brief, but it was nevertheless a resurrection back to earth long enough for Osiris to instruct his son Horus in the art of war and to urge him to avenge the death of his father on Set. Whether this was for one minute, one day, five days, or whatever, is immaterial. Mark McFall will simply be engaging in typical biblicist quibbling on the issue if he tries to argue that Osiris’s resurrection to an earth life was just brief, whereas Jesus remained on earth for 40 days.”[17]“…After this, Osiris descended into the world of the dead to become their judge and the hope of resurrection to those who still lived on earth.”[18]

Before we tackle this aspect, a brief introduction to a popular scholarly source used by critics is in order. In 1908 the Egyptian Antiquities scholar and critic of Christianity Wallis Budge published a three-volume edition of _The Book of the Dead_ (i.e. ancient religious text of the Egyptians). The first volume consists only of copies of the original hieroglyphic pages of the book, the second volume contains English translations of the hieroglyphics, and the third volume is a vocabulary dictionary.[19] While Budge’s book has fallen out of favor in the Egyptological community in recent years for more updated material, it nonetheless remains a driving force behind critical opponents of Christ’s resurrection.

It is in Budge’s introduction to the _The Book Of The Dead_ (The Papyrus of Ani) that we meet the critics on their own turf. Here, Budge’s research shows that Osiris “returned from the other world[20] to give those avenging instructions on battle to Horus for the purpose of overtaking Set. Furthermore, after Osiris “returned from the other world” to give the avenging instructions, Budge cites the IVth Sallier papyrus version which seems to flush out the complexities of that discussion. The papyrus reads:

Horus and Set fought in the form of two men, but they afterwards changed themselves into two bears, and they passed three days and three nights in this form.”[21]21]

The mythical overtones of the results from that discussion are obvious. According to the myth there was no bodily resurrection of Osiris. This is further backed up by the contemporary mythic scholar Anthony S. Mercantante in his “humanities” edition of _The Facts On File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend_, Mercantante explains that:

“After some time Osiris’s SPIRIT [emphasis mine] returned from the dead and appeared to his son Horus, encouraging Horus to avenge his father’s death.”[22]22]

These authoritative sources contradict Till’s assertion that Osiris “resurrected back to earth long enough [i.e. bodily] …to instruct his son Horus in the art of war…” Mr. Till in essence has confused the issue.

According to another version as explained by the Egyptian scholar J.H. Breasted in his book on the _Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt_; reports that:

“Isis brought up Horus without his father [Osiris], but she raised him to avenge his father’s death”  (Breasted 29).[23]

Here we have a report that Isis influenced Horus “to avenge his father’s death” on Set. The evidence for Mr. Till’s foundation of his assertion is certainly shaky and contradictory at its most crucial point. By Till tapping into disputed details, it leads me to believe that he is banking on overloading any Christian who takes him up on his challenge to “examine the evidence.” In essence, Mr. Till “is depending on your ignorance, people” (Quoting Mr. Till).

Non-Christian authors Georges Nagel and Joseph Campbell in _The Mysteries of Osiris in Ancient Egypt_ explain that:

“The various episodes of the legend are not attested in the same way and with the same frequency. The texts often speak of the battles of Horus and Seth for the heritage of Osiris, and often they mention the laments of Isis over her husband’s death. But with regard to the actual death and resurrection of Osiris they are always quite reticent and usually give us no more than brief allusions.”[24]24]

In light of critical scholarship, Till’s assertions that Osiris bodily resurrected to earth according to the myth is questionable.


I asked Farrell Till what sources he used to support his claim that the myth indicates an earthly resurrected Osiris. Till stated that:

“My debate notes were prepared from the versions of the myth as related by Plutarch and Diodorus of Siculus and, of course, the Book of the Dead. I don’t have these works in my personal library, because they were obtained on interlibrary loan, but if you want to dispute the details of the myth as I
uncovered them, I’ll gladly use interlibrary loan to get the books again. That, however, would take some time. I am personally confident enough in the accuracy of the notes that I took from these works to stand by what I will be saying later on to show that some versions of the myth had Osiris resurrected on earth, where he remained for a period of time before descending into the netherworld.”

As Christians we must be skeptical of such flimsy foundations for arguments and demand references to books, chapters, and verses where they occur.[26] Simply being “personally confident” without qualification is not enough. The Apostle Paul long ago warned and urged Christians to “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).

The Resurrected Osiris

As we continue to examine the scholarly works on the myth of Osiris. We should take notice of mythic scholar J. Smith; his studies of the myth have shown that:

“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…In no sense can the dramatic myth of his death and reanimation be harmonized to the pattern of dying and rising gods.”[27]27]

Catholic scholar and archaeologist Roland de Vaux elaborates on this new mode of existence in his book _The Bible and the Ancient Near East_. Vaux explains:

“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.”[28]28]

_The Encyclopedia Mythica_ confirms Vaux’s thesis and explicitly states that:

“They mummified Osiris, and put his body in a lion headed pier. Isis changed into a kite and fanned breath into Osiris. He was not allowed to stay in the land of the living, and was sent to the underworld to serve as king, and to judge the souls of the dead.”[29]29]

_The Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary_ identifies the title given to the mummified Osiris in the “underworld” as “Khenti-Amentet,[30] meaning “Lord of the Underworld and Ruler of the Dead.” Again, the indications from good modern scholarship is that Osiris was not resurrected back to earth (according to Till’s terminology), but in fact was resuscitated or reanimated to another world or realm in accordance with the language allowed by the myth.

Burial Locations

Professor Bruce Metzger cites the Greek historian Plutarch who reports that the believers of Osiris still believed that Osiris’s grave was still occupied, Metzger writes:

“it was the pious desire of devotees to be buried in the same ground where, according to local tradition, the body of Osiris was still lying”[31]31](Plutarch, de Iside et Osiride, 359B {20}).

Metzger also notes that:

“no fewer than twenty-three locations, identified by classical authors and Greek inscriptions, clamed to be the place where Osiris’s body lay.[32]

What this implies to us is, is that those who held that Osiris “returned to life” (using Plutarch’s phraseology), also believed that he did NOT bodily resurrect back to earth, but instead, they seem to have believed that Osiris reanimated to the netherworld leaving his  corpse in the grave. This of course, is far different from the GUARDED and SEALED tomb of Jesus Christ (Matt. 27:66) out of which he emerged three Jewish days later.

Osiris Insriptions

The following inscriptions have been put forth by critics in an attempt to demonstrate that the believers of Osiris thought that he had resurrected in the flesh back to earth. They are:

“O flesh of Teta, rot not, decay not, stink not.” (Recueil de Travaux, t. v., p. 55 ({l. 347}).

“Pepi [Osiris] goeth forth with his flesh”; (ibid., t. v., p. 185 ({1. 169}).

“thy bones shall not be destroyed, and thy flesh shall not perish”; (ibid., p. 55 ({l. 353}).[33]

In light of these inscriptions and others like it, Wallis Budge states:

“This belief may have rested upon the view that the life in the next world was but a continuation of the life upon earth, which it resembled closely, or it may have been due to the survival of semi-savage gross ideas incorporated into the religious texts of the Egyptians.”[34]34] (THE BOOK OF THE DEAD, Papyrus of Ani, p. lxxviii)

Budge’s comments show that Osiris did NOT bodily resurrect to earth as we know earth to be. While there is no doubt that Egyptians believed in some form of an afterlife, the bodily resurrection of persons back to earth seems not to be apart of Egyptian thought. Budge writes:

“But while we have this evidence of the Egyptian belief in eternal life, we are nowhere told that man’s corruptible body will rise again; indeed, the following extracts show that the idea prevailed that the body lay in the earth while the soul or spirit lived in heaven.”[35]35]

The extracts (i.e. inscriptions) that Budge cites are:

“Soul to heaven, body to earth.” (Recueil de Travaux, t. iv., p. 71 (l. 582) Vth dynasty)

“Thy essence is in heaven, thy body to earth.” (Recueil de Travaux, t. v., p. 170 (Pepi, 1. 85,
VIth dynasty)

“Heaven hath thy soul, earth hath thy body.” (###. Plate XIX., l. 16 (Book of the Dead,
Chapter CLXXV., Ptolemaic period)[36]

All this evidence puts Mr. Till’s original assertion into serious question. If Osiris was bodily resurrected back to earth as we know earth to be, it would only seem likely that he was resurrected in this way according to much later imaginations of writers – namely as late as Farrell Till.


[1] Farrell Till comments that: “Altogether, I spent twelve years preaching for the Churches of Christ, and five of those years involved in missionary work in France. My skepticism began while I was there…When deep-seated doubts finally led me to abandon the ministry, I wasn’t content to be just a skeptic; I had to become an evangelical atheist.”

[2] In my dealings with Farrell Till, he acknowledged that he was mistaken on the identity of the one who restored Osiris’ life. Till writes: “The reference to Isis as the mother of Osiris was, of course, a mistake, one of those things that will happen when one is speaking extemporaneously.” (Errancy list, 2/20/01). The identity of this person is Isis his wife/sister.

[3] Till – Geisler Debate

[4] In putting together this article I had asked the critics of the Errancy list for information on the myth of the bodily resurrection of Osiris. I had stated that my interest lies in knowing the sources in which critics see a parallel in the alleged bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Tim Taylor responded to my request with this citation from Farrell Till (02/17/01).

[5] Plutarch, Moralia: On Isis and Osiris. Loeb edition, 5.7-191. (Translator: Frank C. Babbitt). Note: Plutarch uses the phrase “returned to life.”

[6] Reposted by Tim Taylor on Errancy (02/17/01) from an earlier statement by Farrell Till.

[7] Ronald Nash, The Gospel And The Greeks, pg. 137.

[8] Ibid, pg. 138.

[9] James Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 5, pg. 194.

[10] Ronald Nash, The Gospel And The Greeks, footnote on pg. 292. Gunter Wagner, Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries, pg. 261.

[11] ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA, article: Osiris. (,5716,58983+1+57544,00.html).

[12] Vergilius Ferm, An Encyclopedia of Religion, article: Egypt, religion of:, pg. 246.

[13] Bruce Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian. pg 23.

[14] See Bruce Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian. pg 23.

[15] Errancy list: (2/21/01).

[16] Errancy list: (2/21/01).

[17] Errancy list: (2/21/01).

[18] Ibid, (3/3/01).

[19] Information on the working structure of the book obtained on the Errancy list (2/17/01).

[20] Wallis Budge, THE BOOK OF THE DEAD (The Papyrus of Ani), {p. li}. Citation taken from the online version: (

[21] Ibid.

[22] Anthony S. Mercatante, The Facts On File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend. Entry: Osiris, pg. 502.

[23] Breasted, J.H. Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt. New York: Harper, and Row Publishing, Inc., 1959. Quotation originally taken from The Ancient Egyptian Worship of the Sun, by Kellyanne Lynch, 9/98 (

[24] Originally cited by Bruce Metzger in his work Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian. pg. 19 (footnote). Georges Nagel, The Mysteries of Osiris in Ancient Egypt, The Mysteries, Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. by Joseph Campbell.

[25] Errancy list, 2/21/01.

[26] I attempted to give Farrell Till the easy way out, so I asked for just one reference from Plutarch because of its easy accessibility. To date, Till has not provided that reference which
would confirm his thesis. So I remain skeptical.

[27] J. Smith, Dying and Rising Gods, pg. 524-525.

[28] Roland de Vaux, The Bible and the Ancient Near East, 1971, p. 236.

[29] Encyclopedia Mythica, Entry: Osiris. (

[30] Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary: Oa-Oz: . Clarification on this title can be consulted in E. A. Wallis Budge’s work The Gods of the Egyptians (vol.I, page 82). Budge reports that “Khent-Amenti” was one of the gods of the pyramid texts (Unas 201). In his chapters on Osiris in the same work (vol II, chapters 6-11, pages 113-194) we are informed that “Khent-Amenti was a title of Osiris. (Information on confirmation was supplied by Joseph Crea of the Errancy list).

[31] Bruce Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian. pg 21.

[32] Ibid. Footnote, pg. 21.

[33] Inscriptions provided by Wallis Budge, THE BOOK OF THE DEAD (The Papyrus of Ani) or (

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid, {p. li}.

[36] Ibid.

Look for some of these references at home of CBD, Christian Book Distributors.

The Pagan Origins of Resurrection

(The Skeptical Review, Vol. 12, #6)

By Farrell Till

I was reluctant to publish an article [in The Skeptical Review (Nov./Dec. 2001)] whose endnotes required an entire page, but the subject of Mark McFall’s article is one that skeptics should have some familiarity with in order to understand that many claims about the uniqueness of Christianity are without foundation. The title of McFall’s article, when considered in the context of some of his footnotes, betrays the fact that he seemed more interested in catching me in a mistake than in defending his apparent belief that the New Testament doctrine of the bodily resurrection of Jesus was unique. Instead of just discussing the Egyptian myths of Osiris with a view to showing that they did not claim that he had risen bodily from the dead, McFall chose instead to write from the perspective of “The Resurrection of Osiris According to Farrell Till.” I was left wondering what he thought he would have accomplished if he had proven that I was dead wrong and that Egyptian mythology had not taught that Osiris was resurrected bodily. Would McFall have then thought that because he had shown Farrell Till to be wrong, he had established that the claim that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead was a unique religious doctrine?

On an internet site, McFall said that the focus of his article was exclusively on the resurrections of Osiris and Jesus Christ, but the actual content of his article does not support this claim. In the article, I was mentioned by name 51 times, second only to Osiris, but the names “Jesus” and “Christ” appeared only seven times in the entire article, and two of those uses were in quotations of what I had said or written on the subject. That does not sound like an exclusive focus on just Osiris and Jesus. Clearly, the purpose of McFall’s article was to discredit me. As I have told him via e-mail, I don’t object to being the focus of an article he wrote, because I have been the focus of many articles by would-be apologists. I just wish he would be honest enough to admit what his intention was.

Nothing that McFall said in his article has changed my opinion that Egyptian mythology taught that Osiris had been bodily resurrected, but before I present evidence to support that position, some preliminary remarks are necessary. First, I will confirm what McFall said in his second endnote. Speaking extemporaneously, as is always necessary in an oral debate, I erred in my debate with Norman Geisler by referring to Isis as the mother of Osiris. In the myths, she was actually his sister and wife, but this was a mistake that does nothing to alter the mythological claim that Isis reassembled the dismembered body of Osiris and then, hovering over him in the form of a kite [hawk], fanned back into him the breath of life.

Second, much of McFall’s confusion about the Osiris myth is rooted in his failure to recognize the diversity in Egyptian myths. In some of the myths about Osiris, resurrection wasn’t mentioned, but in others he was clearly resurrected to life. The variations in the myths can be compared to variations that would be in the Jesus myth if the whole body of literature on the subject were considered instead of only the “canonical” writings. Well, I should clarify what I just said, because there are still variations in the Jesus myth even though early Christian leaders developed a concept of “canonical” or “inspired” books, but the variations would be even more prevalent if no such selections were ever made. There were several “gospels” and epistles in addition to various pseudepigraphic works that didn’t make the cut when “canonical” selections were made. What existed in Christian literature prior to the final selection of an arbitrary “canon” was somewhat parallel to the Egyptian myths about Osiris. What an Egyptian believed about Osiris depended upon where he lived and what particular versions of the myth he had been exposed to. There had been no councils of Egyptian priests and religious leaders who had sat down and decided that this account of Osiris was inspired but that one wasn’t. In formulating his opinion on this subject, McFall has erred by relying on versions of the Osiris myth that were either vague about the nature of his resurrection or else had left it out entirely, or rather I should say that McFall erred by relying almost entirely on the opinions of those like Ronald Nash and Bruce Metzger, who for understandable reasons seem to place primary importance on versions of the myth that were vague about the nature of Osiris’s resurrection.

Third, even if McFall could establish that no pagan myths had ever alleged that bodily resurrections had occurred, I would find it hard to understand how he could see anything unique about the belief that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead, because even the Bible contains several claims that dead people had been resurrected to life. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, the prophet Elijah resurrected a widow’s son, who had “no breath left in him” (v:17) and whose soul “came into him again” (v:22) when Yahweh hearkened to Elijah’s cries to “to let this child’s soul come into him again” (v:21). Elijah’s successor Elisha officiated at a similar resurrection in 2 Kings 4:17ff. The son of a “Shunammite woman” was injured in a fall and died (vs:18-20). The woman sent for Elisha who saw upon entering the house that “the child was dead” (v:32), after which Elisha twice stretched himself over the boy, who then sneezed seven times and opened his eyes (vs:32-36). The New Testament also has its tales of resurrections that happened before the alleged resurrection of Jesus. The widow of Nain’s son was resurrected in Luke 7:11-15), and, of course, Jesus also resurrected Lazarus after he had been dead for four days (John 11:1-44). These tales were related in the Bible as obvious examples of people who had been bodily resurrected from the dead to continue living on earth. At that time, the superstitious belief that dead people sometimes returned to life was so deeply ingrained that the author of Mark claimed that when King Herod heard of some of the activities of Jesus he expressed the fear that “John the Baptist is risen from the dead” (Mark 6:14). The concept of a bodily resurrection from the dead, then, was not so “unique”that Herod didn’t suspect that it had happened to John the Baptist. If, then, the Bible is historically accurate, McFall will have to agree that the concept of bodily resurrection was certainly not unique with an alleged event that occurred after the death of Jesus but had existed prior to that time. Therefore, McFall’s doubt that Egyptian mythology taught the bodily resurrection of Osiris is rather hard to understand, because even if he could establish–and he can’t–that the Osiris myths did not teach that Osiris had risen bodily, McFall will have accomplished what in view of the many biblical examples of bodily resurrection that had preceded Jesus’s? If Lazarus and the others mentioned above had risen bodily, then the bodily resurrection of Jesus would not have been unique.

Splitting Hairs

The hairs that McFall split in his article to deny that the concept of bodily resurrection preceded Christianity is rather remarkable. He has engaged in verbal gymnastics as extreme as any I have ever seen in apologetic attempts to defend biblical accuracy. At one point, for example, McFall quoted Ronald Nash, whose opposition to the premise that Christianity was influenced by paganism is well known, as a “scholarly” source who spoke of “the misleading analogy of a comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the resuscitation of Osiris.” So both Nash and McFall seem to distinguish between a resurrection and just a “resuscitation.” The word resuscitation carries the primary connotation of recovering from unconsciousness, which seems hardly appropriate to describe what some of the myths claimed happened to Osiris. After all, Osiris’s evil brother Set had dismembered the body of Osiris into 14 different parts and scattered them throughout Egypt. Resuscitation, then, hardly seems as appropriate as resurrection to describe what Isis did to the body of Osiris. When one is quibbling in defense of Christianity, however, such hairline distinctions are not at all uncommon. On the internet, where McFall has also taken this issue, he seemed careful to avoid using the word resurrection when referring to the myths about Osiris. He would instead use words like revivification or reanimation, as if such semantic games could hide the fact that some versions of the myth clearly taught that Osiris was killed, dismembered, reassembled, and then returned to life. In an internet posting on June 9, 2001, for example, McFall said, “The bodily resurrection of Jesus back to earth is truly unique when set up against Osiris’ reanimation to the Netherworld.” McFall’s use of words like reanimation, resuscitation, and revivification are merely semantic attempts to make Osiris’s return to life something different from a “resurrection.” What he means is that the Osiris myths claimed that he had been only spiritually resurrected but that the body was not raised.

In support of this claim, he quoted Egyptologist Wallis Budge, who had said that “the body lay in the earth while the soul or spirit lived in heaven.” On the internet, McFall referred to Egyptian traditions about the location of Osiris’s burial site and said, “(I)f his body was still in the ground, how could he have resurrected bodily? It must have been spiritual”(6/15/01). So obviously, McFall is quibbling that the resurrection of Jesus could not have been like the resurrection of Osiris, because the latter was just a “spiritual” resurrection, uh, reanimation.

Well, let’s just explore that hypothesis for a moment. If nothing was done to revive the body of Osiris, then why did Isis go to such great lengths to find all of the scattered body parts and reassemble them? In most theistic beliefs, the spirit is separate from the body, so why did the body have to be reassembled in order for the spirit to be “resuscitated” or “revivified”? If nothing happened when Isis hovered over Osiris except that his spirit was “resuscitated ” or “revivified” and sent into the next world, then McFall is really arguing that nothing happened to Osiris that the Egyptians didn’t believe happened to every other person who died, because the Egyptians, like McFall and his theistic cohorts, believed that when a person died his spirit journeyed into another world beyond this one. McFall’s use of evasive locutions like reanimation and resuscitation, then, are actually tautologies intended to mislead people into thinking that what happened to Osiris in the Egyptian myths was something substantially different from the resurrection claimed for Jesus in the New Testament myth. In the Egyptian myths, Osiris was killed, dismembered, reassembled, and then returned to life. McFall can’t circumvent the problem that this myth causes for Christianity’s claim of uniqueness by arguing that the body of Osiris remained dead and only his spirit was “reanimated.” In a society that believed that the spirits of the dead lived on in another world, why would a myth have developed that a particular man’s spirit had been “reanimated” if the general belief was that the spirits of all people survived physical death?

The Spiritual Resurrection Of Jesus

I will show later that some versions of the Osiris myth did indeed teach that he remained on earth for a time after his “reanimation,” but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume the truth of McFall’s claim that Egyptian myths about Osiris taught that he had experienced only a “spiritual” resurrection. That still would not make the Jesus myth “unique,” because the earliest version of this myth indicates that the resurrection of Jesus was merely spiritual. To see this, we have only to go to the apostle Paul’s defense of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. A face-value interpretation of this chapter, which doesn’t assume the truth of the gospel accounts that were written much later, will show that Paul was claiming that Jesus had been not bodily but spiritually resurrected. After telling the Corinthian Christians that their faith was vain and they were of all men most miserable if Christ had not risen, Paul proceeded to develop a line of argumentation intended to prove that the resurrection had happened as he had preached it.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come” (v:35)?

Now if early Christians believed that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, Paul missed an excellent opportunity to tell his Corinthian readers that the dead are raised with the same body that had died, but as we read on, we see immediately that this was not what he said.

Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body (vs:36-38).

We have to give Paul an “F” in botany, because, as any elementary science student knows, seeds do not “die” in order to reproduce their species. If they die, as they sometimes do, no reproduction of the species will occur. In other words, nothing will grow from the seed if it dies. The important thing to notice, however, is that Paul was obviously saying that the “body” that is planted is not the “body” that appears when the seed germinates. This is the exact opposite of what McFall is arguing, because he is claiming that the body of Jesus that was killed is the body that was resurrected. Paul would call him a fool for thinking this (v:37), because Paul clearly thought that the body (seed) that was planted was not the body that was “resurrected.”

Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (vs:39-43).

Now why did Paul say all of this if he thought, as McFall claims, that Jesus was resurrected bodily? Paul was trying to convince people who had doubts about the resurrection of Jesus that he had indeed risen, so everything he was saying in this passage was intended as arguments that would make the resurrection claim credible. If there is any doubt that Paul was telling his readers that the resurrection of Jesus was believable if they would just understand that he was not resurrected bodily but spiritually, the next verses should convince all but the recalcitrant that this was the thrust of his argument.

It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body (vs:44).

McFall, on the other hand, is arguing that it was sown a physical body and then raised a physical body. Obviously his mind isn’t operating on the same wavelength with Paul’s.
The rest of this chapter was just a continuation of Paul’s argument that Jesus had risen spiritually.

Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual (vs:45-46).

Readers should keep in mind that Paul was saying all of this in an attempt to convince his readers that Jesus had risen from the dead. Why then did he say that it is not the spiritual that is first but the physical and then the spiritual unless he had intended this to have some application to the gospel claim that Jesus had risen? Jesus was first the physical; then he was the spiritual. This can make sense only in the context of a belief that Jesus had risen spiritually after having died physically.

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven (vs:47-49).

Paul’s argument here was that “we” [humans] are born with the “image” of Adam but that we will not retain forever that image. We will also bear the image of the “man of heaven.” Since this was said in the context of a line of argumentation intended to prove that Jesus was risen, it doesn’t make much sense unless it is understood to mean that Jesus had borne the image of Adam but had been resurrected with a heavenly image that his readers would also bear some day.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit thekingdomofGod, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (v:50).

If Jesus was resurrected bodily and then ascended into heaven, Paul’s statement here would not be true unless McFall argued that some transformation of the physical body of Jesus had taken place after his resurrection and before his ascension, but that would make nonsensical much of what Paul said in his extended argument, because he went to great lengths to convince his readers that they too would be resurrected like Jesus in an incorruptible form that would enable them to enter the kingdom of heaven. As the following verses show, Paul thought that the death and resurrection of Jesus was a preview of what lay in store for those who believed in him. The physical body of Jesus had died, but he had risen in a spiritual body, which was then able to enter into heaven.

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality (vs:51-53).

Notice the references to “changing” and rising “imperishable.” This was all said in reference to a subsequent general resurrection of believers, but it was said in a context where Paul was struggling to convince doubters atCorinththat Jesus had risen from the dead. He was using what had happened to Jesus as an example of what would eventually happen to all believers. The physical body of Jesus was “planted,” but a spiritual body was resurrected fit for entry into thekingdomofGod. Paul was arguing that the same would happen to his readers. The physical bodies of those still alive at the time would be changed in the twinkling of an eye to that which was imperishable so that their mortal bodies could put on immortality, but those who had already died would be “raised incorruptible” in a form suitable for entry into heaven. None of this makes sense unless the reader recognizes that Paul thought that Jesus had been resurrected in a spiritual body.

When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (vs:51-58).

Victory over death would occur when the mortal bodies of believers had put on immortality, and this would happen when the mortal bodies of those still alive at the coming of Jesus would be “changed in the twinkling of an eye,” at which time those who were dead would be “raised imperishable.” The whole thrust of Paul’s line of argumentation was that physical bodies (flesh and blood) could not enter heaven, and so this was why the resurrection of the saints would be like the resurrection of Jesus. Where a physical body was “planted,” a spiritual body would rise.

There are other New Testament passages that support this interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15. The apostleship of Paul had apparently been challenged in some of the churches (1 Cor. 9:2), so he routinely began his epistles by identifying himself as an apostle who had been divinely “called” or ordained to this office (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1). In defending himself to those who had challenged his apostleship in Corinth, he said, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1)?

Now why did Paul defend his apostleship with a rhetorical question about having “seen Jesus our Lord”? The answer is perhaps in a scene in Acts, where the apostles and other believers assembled after the ascension of Jesus to select a successor to Judas, the apostle who had betrayed Jesus and died an ignominious death. On this occasion, Peter addressed the group and set forth the qualifications of the one who would be selected to replace Judas.

“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).

Peter seemed to be saying here that one who would serve as an apostle should be a witness of the resurrection. That could explain why Paul defended his apostleship by pointing out that he had “seen our Lord,” a claim that he repeated in chapter 15 where in listing those to whom Jesus had allegedly appeared after his resurrection, Paul said that Jesus had appeared to him “last of all” (v:8). If it was Paul’s intention to defend his apostolic credentials with the claim that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, what he had seen was not Jesus in his physical body but an apparition or spirit that had allegedly appeared to him on the road toDamascus. We don’t have Paul’s firsthand account of that incident, but the writer of Acts, whether putting words into Paul’s mouth or quoting him accurately, had Paul refer to this as a “heavenly vision” in his speech to king Agrippa (26:19). A “vision” of Jesus would not be an act of seeing the physical body of Jesus, so if Paul was a witness to the resurrected Jesus, he could claim no more than that he had seen an immaterial body. If, then, the Egyptian myths about the “reanimation” of Osiris did teach, as McFall claims, only a “spiritual” resurrection, he will have proven nothing except that the earliest form of the Jesus myth had imitated either the myths of Osiris or other similar pagan myths.

The Resurrection Of Osiris

As I turn now to the Osiris myths, I will ask readers to remember that Egyptian mythology was much like the Jesus story in precanonical times. In addition to the four gospels now considered “canonical,” there were the gospels of Thomas, Peter, Bartholomew, Barnabas, Andrew, etc. Depending on which “gospel” was read at that time, one got a different picture of the life of Jesus. So it was in ancient Egypt. Myths varied from region to region and also from time period to time period. What was believed about Osiris or Isis or Horus in Upper Egypt was likely to be different from what was believed in Lower Egypt. What was believed in one century was likely to change in the next century.

McFall has tried to exploit this element of Egyptian mythology to argue that Egyptians did not believe that Osiris had been resurrected from the dead. His tactic has been to concentrate on versions of the myth that either didn’t mention a resurrection or else were vague about it. I have never claimed that all versions of the Osiris myth contained direct accounts of a resurrection but only that some of them did. For McFall to argue that because some versions of the Osiris myth didn’t mention a resurrection, Egyptian mythology therefore did not teach that Osiris had risen from the dead would be somewhat like arguing that because some versions of the gospel of Jesus did not mention a virgin birth, Christianity therefore does not teach that Jesus was born of a virgin.

In his article, McFall quoted a summation of the Osiris myth that I posted during an internet exchange (pp. 2-3). I wrote this summation entirely from memory without consulting notes or reference works, but it seems to meet with McFall’s approval, because he said, “Mr. Till has for the most part accurately reported the myth up to this point” (p. 2). Since McFall agrees that I accurately reported the myth “up to this point,” there is no need for me to waste space quoting authorities that would show that my summation of the myth was accurate up to the point where McFall disagreed. All I need to do is begin at the point of McFall’s disagreement and show that what he took exception to was an accurate representation of what was taught in some versions of the myth. If I can do that, I will have shown that some versions of the myth taught a bodily resurrection of Osiris, just as surely as some versions of the gospel of Jesus taught that he was born of a virgin.

The concluding paragraph of my summation of the myth is what McFall objected to.

“Different versions of the myth will disagree in some details, but an old inerrantist comment about inconsistencies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection is worth adapting to the Osiris myth: the important thing is that all of the accounts agree that Osiris was killed and resurrected to life.”

Before I comment on McFall’s criticism of this paragraph, I need to point out that my summation of the Osiris myth was based on what I had read in the accounts of Plutarch and other more popular versions of the myth, so when I said all of the accounts had agreed that Osiris was resurrected, I was referring to the sources from which I had complied my summary. It still remains true that some versions of the myth did not mention a resurrection.

McFall’s objection was that my summation of the myth had ended with the statement that Isis, after having found and reassembled the dismembered parts of Osiris’s body, hovered over the body in the form of a kite [hawk] and fanned the breath of life back into it, an act that I referred to as a resurrection in the paragraph quoted above.

To fault my conclusion, McFall had to resort to semantic games. He said with reference to my use of the expressions “fanned the breath of life back into his body” and “resurrected to life” that I had “amalgamated the two phrases in order to make [my] own exaggerated parallel look real” (p. 3). This takes us right back to McFall’s attempt to make a mythological resurrection from the dead not be a resurrection by calling it a “reanimation” or a “revivification,” but the myth (which McFall said I had “for the most part” summarized accurately until I reached the point where Isis fanned the breath of life back into Osiris) clearly taught that the evil brother Set had dismembered the body of Osiris and scattered it throughout Egypt. In a case like that, I think it would be accurate to say that the body was dead, much more so than McFall could say that the body of a crucified man was dead when it was put intact into a tomb, so if Isis reassembled the body and fanned the breath of life back into it, why wouldn’t it be appropriate to call that a resurrection?

Well, McFall, of course, will probably claim that the breath of life was fanned back into the spirit of Osiris and “revivified” in the netherworld but the body itself was never resurrected. Such a position would require McFall to argue that Egyptians believed that a person’s spirit died along with his body, but if this was an element of Egyptian mythology I would like to see proof of it. Regardless of what McFall may claim about what Egyptians believed about the survival of spirits, some versions of the myth clearly disagreed with McFall’s apparent belief that only the spirit of Osiris was revivified. In The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, mythologist Sir James George Frazer pointed out that even when versions of the Osiris myth did not specifically mention a resurrection, they necessarily implied that such had happened. After summarizing a version of the myth translated from an inscription on the temple wall at Denderah, Frazer made the following observation.

In the foregoing account of the festival, drawn from the great inscription of Denderah, the burial of Osiris figures prominently, while his resurrection is implied rather than expressed. This defect of the document, however, is amply compensated by a remarkable series of bas-reliefs which accompany and illustrate the inscription. These exhibit in a series of scenes the dead god lying swathed as a mummy on his bier, then gradually raising himself up higher and higher, until at last he has entirely quitted the bier and is seen erect between the guardian wings of the faithful Isis, who stands behind him, while a male figure holds up before his eyes the crux ansata, the Egyptian symbol of life. The resurrection of the god could hardly be portrayed more graphically” (Chapter 39, section 2, paragraph 6).

I can’t improve on Frazer’s conclusion drawn from the scenes on the bas-reliefs in this temple. If the body of Osiris was standing erect in front of Isis, then surely it was the intention of the artists to convey that Osiris had been revivified in the body. Surely, McFall won’t argue that this was intended to be interpreted as a scene that took placed in the netherworld, because the Isismyths had her living on earth long after the resurrection of Osiris.

Other ancient Egyptian records show that the death and bodily resurrection of Osiris were believed centuries before Christianity. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, written at least a thousand years before Jesus, contains priestly hymns and prayers that refer to the resurrection of Osiris. In 1908, the famous Egyptologist E. A. Wallis Budge, one of McFall’s own sources, published a three-volume edition of this book, which McFall has already described in his article. Chapter CLIV (pages 282-284, volume 2) quoted these lines that priests recited over mummies awaiting burial:

Homage to thee, O my divine father Osiris, thou hast thy being with thy members. Thou didst not decay, thou didst not become worms, thou didst not diminish, thou didst not become corruption, thou didst not putrefy, and thou didst not turn into worms.

We could compare this text to the biblical texts that claim the body of Jesus did not “see corruption” (Acts 2:21-27; 13:34-37). McFall has no trouble understanding what these texts were intended to convey, i. e., the body of Jesus didn’t see corruption because he was resurrected from the dead, but for some reason he can’t apply the same common sense to the quotation from The Book of the Dead and agree that if the body of Osiris did not decay and experience corruption, it was because he too had been resurrected. The next section begins with these lines:

Rise up thou, O Osiris. Thou hast thy backbone, O Still-Heart, thou hast the ligatures of thy neck and back, O Still-Heart.

After speaking these lines in homage to Osiris, the priest would then recite the following incantation over the mummy awaiting burial.

I shall not decay, I shall not rot, I shall not putrefy, I shall not turn into worms, and I shall not see corruption before the eye of the god Shu. I shall have my being, I shall have my being; I shall live, I shall live; I shall germinate, I shall germinate, I shall germinate; I shall wake up in peace; I shall not putrefy; my intestines shall not perish; I shall not suffer injury; mine eye shall not decay; the form of my visage shall not disappear… (Chapter CLIV, pp. 282-284, volume 2).

An Egyptian poem entitled The Book of the Breaths of Life, dated at 521 BC, also contained references to the revivification of Osiris.

Commencement of the Book of Respirations made byIsisfor her brother Osiris, to give life to his soul, to give life to his body, to rejuvenate all his members anew.

That statements like these are found in funereal contexts that venerated Osiris as a god whose body did not decay seems clear enough evidence that ancient Egyptians believed that he had been resurrected bodily to give hope to others that they too could also escape the ultimate fate of mortal decay.

McFall cited similar verses from Egyptian inscriptions and then quoted Wallis Budge to make it appear that these texts didn’t mean that Osiris was resurrected but only that “life in the next world was but a continuation of the life upon earth, which it closely resembled” (p. 5), but I fail to see how such a belief would in any way mean that ancient Egyptians didn’t believe that Osiris was resurrected bodily. A more sensible interpretation of the inscriptions and bas-reliefs would be that the Egyptians believed that Osiris was resurrected bodily on earth and then descended into the netherworld, where he continued a bodily existence that was like his earthly life. The spin that McFall has put on these inscriptions would render meaningless the funereal incantations quoted above.

A response to McFall’s article would be incomplete without mentioning Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, who in Egyptian mythology later became a god himself. McFall has attempted to find uniqueness in the Christian doctrine of the resurrection by trying to show that Egyptian mythology didn’t teach that Osiris was resurrected, but some versions of the myth are so clear in teaching that Isis raised her son Horus from the dead that not even McFall could deny that this was a bodily resurrection.

This part of the myth also contains variations. In some versions, Horus drowned, and in others he died from the sting of a scorpion. In commenting on the version in which Horus had drowned, Frazer told howIsis raised her son from the dead.

Furthermore, she [Isis] discovered also the drug which gives immortality, by means of which she not only raised from the dead her son Horus, who had been the object of plots on the part of the Titans and had been found dead under the water, giving him his soul again, but also made him immortal. And it appears that Horus was the last of the gods to be king after his father Osiris departed from among men (Book 1, chapter 25, pp. 81-82).

Space won’t permit me to quote the other version of the myth, but Frazer summarized it in chapter 38 of The Golden Bough. He told how Isis found Horus “stretched lifeless and rigid on the ground” after having been stung by a scorpion. She prayed to the sun-god Ra, who sent down Thoth to teach her a spell by which she could raise Horus. According to Frazer, “She uttered the words of power, and straightway the poison flowed from the body of Horus, air passed into him, and he lived.”

For the sake of argument, let’s just grant McFall’s claim that Egyptian mythology did not teach the bodily resurrection of Osiris. How would this in any way establish the uniqueness of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, since Egyptian mythology clearly taught that Horus was dead but was raised to live again and reign on earth as a king for many years? The fact is that resurrection myths were clearly believed not just in Egypt but other countries long before the Jesus myth evolved.

McFall is just another would-be apologist who is fighting a losing battle to prove that the Bible is “the word of God.”

Farrell Till

Skepticism, Inc.

ITW extends appreciation to Farrell Till for allowing us to post his response on our website.  As noted at the top, this response was originally printed in Farrell Till’s own publication The Skeptical Review, Vol. 12, #6.


The Pagan Origins of Resurrection Refuted!

By Mark McFall

The ministry of IN THE WORD (ITW) expresses appreciation to Mr. Till for publishing The Resurrection Of Osiris According To Farrell Till in the Nov/Dec issue of The Skeptical Review (TSR, 2001). Mr. Till’s thought provoking response, The Pagan Origins of Resurrection, originally followed that essay and I am pleased to have his permission to publish it for readers of ITW. I, the present writer and Editor of ITW, believe that objectivity substantially increases in the eyes of readers when ideas from two diametrically opposed world views are openly exchanged and debated. While it is true that neither Mr. Till or myself have intentions of persuading each other personally, our approach to issues remain similar in that we seek to influence those who may be on the fence of faith. On that tone, let’s now consider the issue at hand.

Did the New Testament writers borrow the resurrection concept from myths? If they did, are there any observable parallels that would lend credibility to that hypothesis? Or, do skeptics create their own parallels that are made plausible by selective descriptions? Perhaps even by unsubstantiated presentments? And, do skeptics take what they think they know about ancient obscure myths (like those we find about Osiris) and amalgamate (i.e. unite) them with Christian elements that are heterogeneous (i.e. dissimilar in ingredient)? Or, are these alleged parallels real? After all, so the skeptics tell us, there are many tales of dying and raising gods in the ancient world (i.e. Mithra, Demeter, Dionysus, Adonis, Attis, Tummuz, etc..). In this essay, we will confront Mr. Till’s formulated parallels with original texts and observe those parallels evaporate in the heat of the facts, and, we will also consider the evidences surrounding Jesus Christ’s resurrection and will find that the evidences are of a kind that offer a much greater credibility and realism than any other religious “resurrection” claim. I believe that this should cause the average skeptic to take a moment of pause, to, rethink through the *strengths* of the available evidences.

By way of enlightenment, based on a thorough study of Mr. Till’s interpretations in light of the facts, the next time you hear such alleged comparisons between Osiris and Jesus Christ, you too may be compelled to throw up your hands and say, “OH-SIGH-ris…not that again!”

Clearing the Air

Before we engage in the process of discussing the facts, a brief prefatory remark is needed. In the beginning of Mr. Till’s essay, he developed the idea that I am out to “discredit” him. Mr. Till had stated that I mentioned his name 51 times second only to Osiris with minimal references to Jesus Christ. In other words, Mr. Till implied that I am out to “discredit” Farrell Till instead of his interpretation. However, in the opening paragraph of my original piece lies a very clear preliminary remark regarding intent:

“while this article focuses for the most part on Mr. Till’s formulated parallels between Jesus Christ and Osiris, it nonetheless will adequately equip Christians with enough critical information to give a ready response (1 Peter 3:15) to those who have expressed similar analogues.” (Resurrection of Osiris)

I chose to come at this topic from an examination of Mr. Till’s *interpretation* because of the comments he made in his debate with Dr. Geisler (of Southern Evangelical Seminary) because he asked his audience to “go examine the evidence” of Osiris’ bodily resurrection and to compare its similarity to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[1] In the process of examining the evidence for Osiris’ resurrection as explained by Mr. Till, it was necessary to give Mr. Till plenty of space within my article to adequately present his view. It is worth noting that out of 3,280 words in that essay, 815 were Mr. Till’s own. I quoted Mr. Till at length to diminish the possibility of misinterpreting or misrepresenting his view, and, since Mr. Till is so well known in skeptical circles, I thought it appropriate to dismantle the *interpretation* of the head gun. Hence, it was not my intention to discredit Farrell Till, on the contrary, the intention was/is to discredit the resurrection of Osiris *according* to Farrell Till.

But now lets get on with discussing the facts with a view to address the points that Farrell Till made in his response to my article.

Diversity In The Accounts of Osiris

Are there variations in the versions that relate the myth of Osiris? Well, it was interesting to see Mr. Till tell readers that much of my “confusion about the Osiris myth is rooted” in my “failure to recognize the diversity in Egyptian myths,” when in fact, these recognized diversities were the point.   It seems Mr. Till is making it appear to readers that the present writer “erred by relying on versions of the Osiris myth that were either vague about the nature of his resurrection or else had left it out entirely.” But what of this confusion?

In prior confrontations with Mr. Till, he had forcibly argued, that, “different versions of the myth will disagree in some details, but an old inerrantist comment about inconsistencies in the gospel accounts of the resurrection is worth adapting to the Osiris myth: the important thing is that all of the accounts agree that Osiris was killed and resurrected to life”(Errancy, 02/17/01). However, in Mr. Till’s most recent response to me, he seemed to have compromised that position by saying, that, “in some of the myths about Osiris, resurrection wasn’t mentioned, but in others he was clearly resurrected to life,” and, that he had “never claimed that all versions of the Osiris myth contained direct accounts of a resurrection but only that some of them did.” Admittedly, I became a bit confused after those comments in light of his original one. Fortunately, however, Mr. Till put those recent comments into perspective in lieu of the confusion:

“I need to point out that my summation of the Osiris myth was based on what I had read in the accounts of Plutarch and other more popular versions of the myth, so when I said all of the accounts had agreed that Osiris was resurrected, I was referring to the sources from which I had complied my summary. It still remains true that some versions of the myth did not mention a resurrection.”

It seems I misunderstood the scope of what Mr. Till meant by “all.” Nevertheless, I did learn from Mr. Till through previous correspondences, that, he had consulted the versions of the myth as related by Plutarch (as mentioned above), Diodorus of Siculus, and the Book of the Dead. Even though Mr. Till mentioned to me that these works were temporarily obtained through interlibrary loan processes, he assured me, and others, that, he was nonetheless “personally confident enough in the accuracy” of his note-taking to “stand by” what he has said concerning his assertion “that some versions of the myth had Osiris resurrected on earth, where he remained for a period of time before descending into the netherworld” (Errancy, 2/21/01). Since the present writer has access to all three of the works referenced by Mr.Till, and since these works constitute what Mr. Till considers apropos, then, let’s bring “all” of Mr. Till’s evidence to the table for a thorough examination of the facts.

The Literary Evidence For Osiris’ Resurrection

Plutarch’s (AD 46-20) work, Isis and Osiris (De Iside Et Osiride), is the most complete ancient work on this myth in existence, and, it was originally dedicated to Clea (Ibid, 351D), a cultured and intelligent priestess atDelphi. In that work we see Plutarch briefly mention Osiris’ reanimation in conjunction with the Greek mythical giants of the Titans. Says Plutarch:

“Furthermore, the tales regarding the Titans and the rites celebrated by night agree with the accounts of the dismemberment of Osiris and his revivification [anabiosesi] and regenesis [paliggenesiais]. Similar agreement is found too in the tales about their sepulchers.” (Plutarch, Moralia, De Iside Et Osiride, 365A, (Babbit, LCL, Vol. V.)

Readers should take note that Plutarch devotes about 90 modern pages to the Osiris myth, and it is particularly noteworthy to consider that this is the only piece of evidence in Plutarch’s corpus that mentions Osiris’ resurrection, and even at that, it’s an *allusion* and not an actual account. What’s missing? Well, beside the fact that there is no resurrection narrative, there are also no reported appearances, and, to make this allusion even less credible, it is without a historical foundation as we see by Plutarch’s mention of the Titans. In fact, so weak are the evidences surrounding Osiris’ resurrection, that, Plutarch even advises Clea that “whenever you hear the traditional tales which the Egyptians tell about the gods…you must not think that any of these tales actually happened in the manner in which they are related” (De Iside Et Osiride, 355B). In contrast, not only does Christ’s resurrection have narrations and appearances, it’s also undergirded by historical characters, elements of which we will be discussing later on.

Moreover, it is also evident from Plutarch’s allusion to Osiris’ reanimation, that he uses anabiosesi (revivification) and paliggenesiais (regenesis) as reinterpreted terms of what he understood to be the beliefs of the followers of Osiris. But does the use of a particular term by someone describing something within a cult prove that the word itself was actually part of the cult’s terminology? Well, we know that Plutarch could not read Egyptian texts, we also know that “his knowledge of Egyptology was not profound” (Babbitt, Introduction to the Moralia, LCL, Vol. V, pg. 3), and, “in some cases Plutarch was mistaken about Egyptian beliefs” (Mercatante, The Facts On File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, pg. 501). So, in the opinion of the present writer, that’s a legitimate question to ask. Nevertheless, I will grant Mr. Till this sliver of evidence because Plutarch does mention “revivification” (anabiosesi) and “regenesis” (paliggenesiais) in his allusion to Osiris.

But wait just a minute! Isn’t it Mr. Till’s argument that Osiris *bodily* resurrected back to earth? It certainly is, and we see that Plutarch doesn’t give us any details to confirm Mr. Till’s thesis. To add insult to injury, the Egyptologist Wallis Budge (who is a *very* hostile source to Christianity) has this to say about Plutarch allusion:

“Unfortunately he does not say whether Osiris came in the form of a spirit, or in his natural body, which he had raised from the dead…”(Budge, Osiris And The Egyptian Resurrection, pg. 17).

After a more mature reflection on what I have just written above, I have decided to retract that sliver of evidence that I granted Mr. Till’s argument. Plutarch, writing a few thousand years after Osiris’ death (note: the New Testament was composed within a hundred years of Christ’s death), doesn’t explicitly affirm that the followers of Osiris believed that he had bodily resurrected. The implication is that Mr. Till’s alleged comparison has over-stepped the content available from Plutarch.

In the past, Mr. Till has tried to counter the present writer’s conclusions by stating that Osiris was “resurrect[ed] back to earth long enough for Osiris to instruct his son Horus in the art of war and to urge him to avenge the death of his father on Set…After this, Osiris descended into the world of the dead” (Errancy, 2/21/01, 3/3/01). However, Plutarch said in no uncertain terms that “Osiris came to Horus from the other world and exercised and trained him for the battle” (De Iside Et Osiride, 358B). In other words, Plutarch’s summation shows us that Osiris came from the land of the dead referred to as “the other world” (duat), and taught Horus on the art of war. According to Budge, the IVth Salier papyrus implies that this meeting had mythical overtones because Horus (on the advice of Osiris) changed himself into a bear for combatal reasons. But, Mr. Till, however, would have us believe something else. Why? Because The Resurrection Of Osiris According To Farrell Till depends on it. Mr. Till has formulated a resurrection concept similar to that of Jesus Christ by having the dead Osiris rise from the bier he was lying on, to go on to teach the art of war to Horus, to then ultimately descend “into the world of the dead.” All of which implies that Osiris bodily rose from the dead. But, Plutarch says the complete opposite of what Mr. Till says he said. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Till’s parallels made plausible by selective descriptions evaporate when they are confronted with the original text.

By way of interest, in The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, which Mr. Till made reference to in his essay, its writer, George Frazer, says that when “Isis fanned the cold clay with her wings: Osiris revived, and thenceforth reigned as king over the dead in the other world” (Ch. 38, Section 9). Here, we find that there is no mention of Osiris’ discussion with Horus on the art of war in the interval between Osiris’ resurrection and his descent into the other world which would imply that he resurrected back to earth. The story is just not told in the sequence that Mr. Till asserts as even his own sources indicate.

Since Mr. Till has also cited Diodorus (writing career: 60-30 BC) as another one of his sources that would affirm a bodily resurrected Osiris, a consideration of that evidence is warranted here as well. Diodorus relates two different tales of Osiris death and resurrection. First, Diodorus writes:

“Some explain the origin of the honour accorded this bull in this way, saying at the death of Osiris his soul passed into this animal [Apis], and therefore up to this day has always passed into its successors at the times of the manifestation of Osiris; but some say that when Osiris died at the hands of Typhon Isis collected the members of his body and put them in an ox (bous), made of wood covered over with fine linen, and because of this the city was called Bousiris. Many other stories are told about the Apis, but we feel that it would be a long task to recount all the details regarding them.” (Book 1, Chapter 85, pp. 291-93) [2]

Who or what is Apis? In Egyptian mythology, Apis (a sacred icon of a black bull with white markings), came to be identified with Osiris. According to Plutarch, “most of the [Egyptian] priests…regard[ed] Apis as the bodily image of the soul of Osiris” (De Iside Et Osiride, 362D, 368B-D). Do readers find a parallel here? In the opinion of the present writer, there’s simply no connection between the two concepts, and, the mythical over-tones from this source are immediately apparent. Perhaps, however, Mr. Till sees a bodily resurrection in the other belief that Diodorus relates concerning Osiris’ resurrection. Diodorus writes:

“But the Egyptians offer another explanation for the honor accorded this animal, although it pertains more to the realm of myth; for they say that in early times when Isis, aided by her son Horus, was about to commence her struggle with Tryphon, Osiris came from Hades to help his son and his wife, having taken on the guise of a wolf; and so, upon the death of Tryphon, his conquerors commanded men to honor the animal [the wolf] upon whose appearance the victory followed.” (Book 1, Chapter 88, pp. 301-303). [3]

It appears that Osiris reanimated into a wolf in this account. Is Mr. Till interpreting a parallel here between the bodily resurrected Christ, and the bodily resurrected “wolf?” If so, this similarity seems a bit far fetched. In my view, Mr. Till’s ability to confidently assert a meaningful parallel has been compromised by the use of this source (this does not mean that I am questioning Mr. Till’s honesty). In any case, in the primary documents that report Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, he always appears in human form.

As we turn now to The Book Of The Dead, otherwise known as The Book Of Going Forth By Day. This 3,500 year old piece of ancient literature signified to the Egyptians the soul emerging into the restorative rays of the sun’s light after a nighttime in the underworld. Its purpose seems not to be for the intention of setting forth basic tenants of Egyptian religion or religious guides, but, rather, to assist its reader into the afterlife of the underworld (duat). Hence, unlike Islam, Judaism, and of course Christianity, The Book of the Dead was not consider an authoritative text for its readers. Nevertheless, it is in Plate 33 translated by the Egyptologist Dr. Raymond Faulkner where we read these words attributed to the goddess Isis as she hovered over the dead Egyptian King Osiris:

“I have come that I may be your protection. I fan air at your nostrils for you, I fan the north wind which comes forth from Atum for your nose. I clear your windpipe for you. I cause you to be a god with your enemies fallen under you sandals. May you be vindicated in the sky and may your flesh be powerful among the gods.” (BD, Plate 33)

Besides the fact that this is the only Plate that alludes to Osiris’ reanimation in the 37 plates that make up the main corpus of The Book Of The Dead, this text, gives the impression thatIsis spoke those words over the body of Osiris and hoped for the best.Isis’ expression: “may you be vindicated in the sky and may your flesh be powerful among the gods,” seems to bare that out. Again, here we see more “allusions” to Osiris’ afterlife, but still no reported resurrection appearances. According to Dr. Ogden Goelet, a contemporary non-Christian Egyptologist of high regard, and author of, A Commentary on the Corpus of Literature and Tradition which Constitutes The Book of Going Forth by Day, says that it’s “an allusion to the legend of Osiris wherein these gods protected and revived Osiris after he had died” (pg. 168). Dr. Goelet explains it this way:

“When Osiris comes back to life, however, he never returns to the land of the living, but remains in the Underworld, the Duat, where he rules as King of Eternity and supreme judge of the dead. His resurrection was limited to the next world and so he passed on the rights of kingship to his son and avenger, Horus.” (Goelet, A Commentary on the Corpus of Literature and Tradition which Constitues The Book of Going Forth by Day, pg. 149)

Mr. Till also made several references to Egyptian poems or inscription to indicate a non-decayed rejuvenated Osiris body. But as Wallis Budge aptly put it:

“This belief may have rested upon the view that the life in the next word was but a continuation of the life upon earth, which it resembled closely” (Budge, Papyrus of Ani, p. lxxviii)

According to Dr. Goelet, “contrary to a common misconception about the [Egyptian] concept of life after death, the Egyptians neither believed in the transmigration of the soul on earth in the Hindu or Pythagorean manner, nor hoped for a resurrection in this world. Rather, they believed in a transfiguration into the next world. Except in dreams or visions, the dead did not reappear on earth” (Goelet, A Commentary on the Corpus of Literature and Tradition which Constitutes The Book of Going Forth by Day, pg. 151).

This leaves us with Mr. Till’s most recent appeal to the Egyptian poem The Book of the Breaths of Life (521 BC), where, we find priestly recitals in mortuary literature concerning the non-decayed rejuvenated body of Osiris (as mentioned earlier). However, these recitals were just that – recitals. There is no tradition that has come down to us that suggests that these priests (or anybody else for that matter) saw Osiris resurrected. In fact, Dr. Goelet, specifically says of these inscriptions that contain phrases similar to what Mr. Till has appealed to, that:

“Throughout Egyptian religious history such denials of death were a constant them in mortuary literature. As in many other cultures, the Egyptian dead would be treated as if they were merely in a deep sleep and needed to awaken and go about their business. In the Book of the Dead the denial of death appears mostly in the form of euphemism.” (Goelet, A Commentary on the Corpus of Literature and Tradition which Constitutes The Book of Going Forth by Day, pg. 150)

These euphemisms according to Dr. Goelet (i.e.” Rise up thou, O Osiris, Thou hast thy backbone” etc..), present the idea of not speaking ill of the dead. Dr. Goelet tells us that to be called dead in Egyptian literature implies a damned or unhappy state of death. The Egyptians felt that by reciting Pyramid Texts or Coffin Texts that reflect a rejuvenated Osiris, they would be avoiding death’s power over them. This same type of euphemism is present in today’s world with expressions that refer to the dead as: “the departed” or “passed away” (etc..). This insight from the distinguished Egyptologist, Dr. Goelet, provides a perspective not considered by Mr. Till. In light of the preceding sections, it appears that not only is the present writer’s position (i.e. that Osiris did NOT resurrect back to earth according to the myth) backed with heavy scholarly (non-Christian) weight, but more importantly, it is also backed by observations from original texts.

The Literary Evidence For Jesus Christ’s Resurrection

What is the literary evidence surrounding Christ’s resurrection? Well, there seems to be five (possibly six) independent literary (and one additional dependent source) streams of tradition from the not-too-distant event. First, we have Paul’s report which he “received” in creedal formula (1Corn. 15:3-8) just two to eight years after Christ’s death (dating is reflected by the general scholarly consensus, and to my knowledge, Mr. Till has no problem with this {see: TSR, “Put Me Down For Myth,” July/Aug. 1996}). Secondly, we have the Markan tradition, where, the women leave the empty tomb after the angel had told them that Jesus “has risen” (vs:6), and that they would see him in “Galilee” (vs:7). According to the majority of biblical scholarship, the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8.[4] If this consensus among the learned is correct, then thirdly, what we have from vss:9-20 is an extra more fully developed narration of the resurrection composed by a different author who includes appearances not mentioned in the shorter ending of Mark. This longer ending seems to have emerged from relatively the same time frame as the main Gospels (see: Appendix “A”) and was attached to the Gospel of Mark before canonization. In light of this, and the early references to it (see: Appendix “B”), it follows that vss:9-20 represent an extra account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fourthly, we have the tradition from the Matthean community (Ch. 28), fifthly, we have the tradition from the Lukan community (Ch. 24. See also: Acts 9), and sixthly, we have the tradition from the Johannine community (Ch. 20) which relates appearances that occurred in theJerusalem area. According to convincing arguments proposed by critical scholarship, it appears that the writer of the Gospel of John concluded his gathered tradition at the end of chapter 20. There, what follows, is another chapter (the so-called appendix) composed by a different author who not only relates additional resurrection appearances reported roughly 75 miles away in the Galilee/Tiberias area, but, this epilogue writer also certifies the truth of the testimony found in the preceding chapters (John 21:24).

What is the evidence surrounding the nature of Christ’s resurrection? Though some accounts assume physical resurrection, other accounts are intent on proving physical resurrection. One of the most clearest reports comes from the writer of Luke (an early non-eyewitness church historian). He reports the not-too-distant tradition that Jesus said in a post-resurrection experience: “Touch me and see; a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). This same tradition (via the writer of Luke) also reports that “they gave him [Christ] a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence” (vss 41-42). Moreover, the not-too-distant tradition of Matthew reports a post-resurrection experience where the women at the tomb “took hold of His feet and worshiped Him” (Mat. 28:9).

Furthermore, according to the Johannine tradition, Christ appeared to an Apostle who was likely just as skeptical as Mr. Till. It was the Apostle Thomas who said to the other disciples (who said they saw the resurrected Christ) that: “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later, Christ thought it necessary to supply the extraordinary evidence that Thomas had called for; as Thomas sat within an enclosed room (vs:26), Christ suddenly appeared in that room and said to Thomas: “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing’” (John 20:27). Needless to say, Thomas became a believer that day. While the implication from the context of that appearance suggests that Christ either passed through the door or walls of that room to show himself in physical form with imprints and all, one fact remains, Christ was visible enough to convince Thomas that He truly did rise from the dead bearing the very marks that killed Him.

In regards to this type literary evidence, do we find this kind of tangible language and interaction used in describing Osiris’ resurrection? Do we even find reported appearances of Osiris’ post-resurrection? Did Osiris make any attempt all to convince anybody that he had resurrected? The lack of these evidences is why Osiris’ resurrection (Christianity’s #1 competitor) is immediately considered mythical. In contrast, the evidences for Christ’s resurrection should cause all of us to pause and reflect on the following questions: Is the Bible grounded in earthly history? Are the tales of Osiris grounded in earthly history? How do they compare? How do they contrast?

In a popular recent book hostile to the Christian cause, The Bible Unearthed, its writers admit that, “unlike other ancient Near Eastern mythologies, such as the Egyptian tales of Osiris, Isis, and Horus or the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic, the Bible is grounded firmly in earthly history. It is a divine drama played out before the eyes of humanity” (pg. 8). While the authors of that book do not believe the Bible to have general historical accuracy (note: many competent respected scholars affirm general accuracy on the verifiable), they nonetheless affirm historical settings that lend credibility to Christ’s resurrection over the tales that surround Osiris’ resurrection.

By way of connected histories, is there any available evidence in that regard that would lend credibility to Osiris’ resurrection? According to Wallis Budge:

“Unfortunately, however, we find nowhere in Egyptian works a connected narrative of the life, acts and deeds, and suffering and death, and resurrection of Osiris” (Budge, The Gods Of The Egyptians, pg. 123)

Budge points out, that, “only by piecing together the information which is given here and there can we arrive at any connected views of what happened to him, and to this day, in spite of the mass of religious and magical literature which is available, we are wholly ignorant of the origin and general history of the first human being in Egypt who rose from the dead” (Budge, Osiris and The Egyptian Resurrection, pg 67).

How does that evidence compare to the connected histories that we find in the Gospels that lend credibility to Jesus resurrection? In contrast to the zero evidence for Osiris’ life and deeds, we see an apparent *methodological* principle involved in the Gospels that lend credibility to Christ’s resurrection. Admittedly, if we were to remove the accounts of Christ’s public ministry and teaching, we would have something resembling a myth. But the fact is, when we consider the evidence for Christ’s resurrection in light of the total picture of His life and the impression made by Him during his ministry, a consistent account emerges of one who, as Peter declared seven weeks later at Pentecost, was raised from death “because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).[5] Indeed, in all the strata of Christian testimony concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ, “everything is made to turn upon a dated experience of a historical Person,”[6] whereas nothing in the allusions of Osiris (or in any other mythical character) point to any attempt to undergird belief with historical evidence of the god’s resurrection. While this evidence is certainly impressive, it must be tempered with the acknowledgment that this of course doesn’t mean the Bible is true. It just means that these observations are what I believe to be strong enough evidences to cause the average skeptic to pause.

By way of additional interest, Budge notes that “there is nothing in the texts which justifies the assumption that Osiris knew that he would rise from the dead, and that he would become the king and judge of the dead, or that the Egyptians believed that Osiris died on their behalf and rose again in order that they also might rise from the dead” (Budge, Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection, pg. 312). Christ on the other hand, foretold his own death and resurrection as related through the not-too-distant traditions of Matthew (20:17-19) and Luke (20:31-34), and, it’s also apparent from the entire theme of the New Testament that the early Christians generally believed that Christ died on their behalf and rose again in order that they may have eternal life.

The Uniqueness Of Christ’s Resurrection In Light Of Other Reported Resurrections In The Bible

Mr. Till also said that even if I “could establish that no pagan myths had ever alleged” a bodily resurrection, I would be hard pressed to find anything unique about Jesus’ resurrection because the Bible itself “contains several claims that dead people had been resurrected to life.” Mr. Till cited 1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:17-36 , Luke 7:11-15, and John 11:1-44, to lend support to his thesis. Mr. Till went on to tell us that these “tales were related in the Bible as obvious examples of people who had been bodily resurrected from the dead” for the purpose of “living on earth.” But while it is certainly true that these resurrections entail a restoration of life, it is all true that unlike the permanence and glory of the resurrected Christ, these lives were restored for a temporary period of time.

Jeffery Lowder, co-founder and former President of Secular Web (Internet Infidels), wrote an insightful essay that is aimed at another prolific skeptical colleague by the name of Dennis McKinsey on How Not to Argue Against the Historicity and Resurrection of Jesus. Since that article is focused on improving quality skepticism, and, since Mr. Till has committed the same argumentative error as Dennis McKinsey. Let’s consider Lowder’s reasonable objection and correction to that line of argumentation:

“But is the resurrection of Jesus insignificant, given the various revivification stories in the Bible? Unlike the other Biblical figures who allegedly came back to life, only Jesus purportedly inhabited a transformed supernatural body. According to the text, this supernatural body was immune to aging, sickness, injury, and even future death. That is clearly a significant difference between Jesus and the other Biblical figures who supposedly came back to life.” (Lowder, How Not to Argue Against the Historicity and Resurrection of Jesus)[7]

In Jeffery Lowder’s attempt to curb bad skepticism within his own circles, he relates the “fact” that just because “the Bible contains other stories of people coming back to life,” that this “does not in any way undermine the assertion that Jesus allegedly rose from the dead” (Ibid.). Now Mr. Till will tell readers that he appreciates Jeffery Lowder’s work and the contributions that he has made to the Skeptical community. But he will also go on to tell readers that he thinks that Lowder generally bends “over backwards to try to give the impression that he [is] being ‘scholarly’ in the materials he publishes against the resurrection” (Errancy, 12/17/01). But don’t be fooled by those negative tones! Regardless of what Mr. Till thinks of Mr. Lowder’s sound scholarly approach, the fact remains that Jesus did not, and could not, see death twice; for He conquered death (1 Cor. 15:54-55; Heb 2:14) according to various streams of independent tradition.

Did Paul Teach A Spiritual Resurrection?

This brings us to a portion of the debate that I saw looming on the horizon early on. Mr. Till, and the rest of the Skeptical community, assert with confidence, that Paul, the earliest of New Testament writers, describes merely a spiritual resurrected Christ. They charge that “the Christian belief in a bodily resurrection was a result of doctrinal evolution that had begun with belief in only a spiritual resurrection” (TSR, “Put Me Down For Myth,” July/Aug 1996) But what should we make of this?

Mr. Till cited 1 Corinthians 15: 36-38 to get the ball rolling. According to that verse, we “do not sow that body that shall be.” Mr. Till said that he would have to give Paul an “F” in botany because seeds do not die in order to reproduce. However, Paul’s analogy of sowing a seed in the ground and what emerges from it, reflects only a change of bodily properties, and not in the blueprint of our bodies. In other words, the body that is raised is different because it is immortal (1 Cor. 15:53), not because it is immaterial. As Dr. Geisler put it, “the resurrection body can be just as material as our present bodies and still have new molecules in it” (BECA, pg 661). Dr. Geisler seems to be in-line with what Paul says elsewhere concerning the change of bodily properties:

“But our citizenship is in heaven; and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change (metaschema) our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” (Phil. 3:20-21)

This verse gives us excellent insight into Paul’s beliefs concerning the resurrection. Here Paul emphasizes that our resurrection bodies are glorified via transformation (rather than an exchange) of our current bodies. This is confirmed when the Greek word for “change” is examined: metaschema, which means to change the figure of, transform, or transfer; and occurs four times in the New Testament (1Cor.4:6, 1Cor. 11:13-15), reflects Paul’s understanding concerning a transformation of what is already present, as opposed to a destruction and complete rebuilding.

Moreover, in 1Cor. 15:51-2 we are told by Paul that “we shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Taken in addition to Phil. 3:20-21 (see above), we know that in Paul’s view, all shall not die and “rise” in the strict sense of identical bodily *properties,* instead, all will be transformed while keeping the very blueprint of our bodies.

Mr. Till also cited 1Cor. 15:44 as saying that “it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body, if there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” At first glance, this verse seems to give a certain amount of verisimilitude to the Skeptical community’s predilection that Paul taught a spiritual resurrection. However, a more mature reflection on this verse tells us that Paul is teaching a continuity between the “physical body” and the “spiritual body.” This continuity, which we see throughout the entire chapter of 1Corinthians 15, demands a change in our bodily properties that our blueprints are immune too. With these observations in mind, as well as the other reference cited by Mr. Till, I will acquiesce with Mr. Till’s final assessment, that, “the important thing to notice, however, is that Paul was obviously saying that the body that is planted is not the body [via properties] that appears when the seed germinates.” It is in fact a transformed glorified body that will never see death.

Did Paul really teach a different resurrection than what we find in the Gospels? As we consider that for a moment, we must be aware of the fact that Paul, throughout his writings, taught resurrection theology. In the Gospels, there is no teaching on resurrection theology, all we have are accounts of post-resurrection appearances without any attempt to elaborate on the concept. Hence, all we have are our own subjective attempts at interpreting the appearances in the Gospel texts.

It is worth noting that even within those texts of the Gospels that set out to prove the physical reality of the resurrected Christ, we see an apparent continuity between the physical and spiritual aspects of His transformed body. As mentioned earlier, Christ was able to pass into an enclosed room and offer his wounds as an inspection for the physical reality of His resurrection. We also find in Luke, two disciples (one named Cleopas, Luke 24:18), who were walking toward Emmaus after Christ’s death, then, “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them” (vs.16). At first they did not recognize who he was, but, when they did finally recognize Him, Jesus “disappeared out of their sight” (vs. 31). With these considerations in mind, we see that the text of the Gospels reflect ambiguous appearances sharpened by the resurrection teachings of Paul on a continuity between the body and spirit.


Mr. Till said that a response to my article would not be complete without mentioning Horus, the son of Osiris and Isis, who later became a god himself. I am not sure why this argument appeared so late in his response; perhaps it was a comparison being newly realized on the spot? In any case, as Mr. Till noted, in some of the versions that relate this tale, Horus drowns, and, in others he is stung (her tchetem-f) by a scorpion. Either way, Mr. Till’s point, was, that there is no way that I can deny the parallel of a bodily resurrected Horus. Umm, shall we look at more ancient texts?

In the scorpion version, it is unclear if Horus was even dead. According to the ancient Egyptian text known as the Sorrows of Isis (dated well into the BC era) translated by Wallis Budge, we read, that, “Isis placed her nose in his mouth to know (her rekh) if [he] had breath.” The text does not report what Isis learned from this, nevertheless, the text goes on to relate that through the night “Horus heal[ed]” (senb Heru). This is simply all the original text explicitly relates.[8] This is far different from Mr. Till’s embellished quote from George Frazer (1851-1941) that Isis “uttered the words of power, and straightway the poison flowed from the body of Horus, air passed into him, and he lived.” Can readers see the point I’m try to make about unsubstantiated presentments? Unfortunately, Mr. Frazer’s work, The Golden Bough, has influenced numerous resources on mythology who’s ideologies many have accepted uncritically.[9]

In the drowning version (which by the way only Diodorus tells), Horus is given a “drug” which gives him immortality. Does this sound like a genuine parallel? Or, are heterogeneous elements present here as well? If not, then perhaps Mr. Till sees the sour wine offered to the crucified Christ as making this connection? If so, that’s quite a parallel! In any event, Diodorus undergirds Horus’ resurrection with the mythical characters of the giant “Titans” just like we see in Plutarch’s allusion to Osiris’ resurrection (incidentally, neither Plutarch nor The Book of the Dead mention Horus’ revivification). How do readers view the strength of evidence regarding Horus’ resurrection? How does that compare with the evidence surrounding Christ’s resurrection? Does the evidence that surrounds Christ’s resurrection cause you to take a moment of pause in light of what you know concerning the tales that surround Horus or Osiris?

Summation and Conclusion

By way of recapulation, Mr. Till first argued that Jesus Christ’s physical resurrection was borrowed from the tales that surround Osiris’. The present writer responded by sifting through the evidences appealed to by Mr. Till; these evidences included the works of Plutarch, Diodorus of Siculus, The Book of the Dead, The Book of the Breaths of Life, The Pyramid Texts, and The Coffin Texts; in every instance we discovered that there is no tradition to support Mr. Till’s thesis that Osiris’ followers believed that he bodily rose for a period of time here on earth. All indications are that Osiris’ reanimation was limited to the land of the dead (duat) in the minds of his followers. Moreover, we also became aware of the fact that there is a vast difference between the evidences that surround Jesus’ and Osiris’ resurrections. In the case of Osiris, we have no narrations, no reported appearances, no connected histories, no embedded historical strata, and no predictions for a future death and resurrected Osiris. In the case for Christ, however, all of these important elements that lend credibility to his resurrection are present.

Secondly, Mr. Till then argued that Christ’s resurrection was not unique because other characters in the Bible were bodily resurrected too. He cited 1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:17-36 , Luke 7:11-15, and John 11:1-44 to lend support to his thesis. Here, however, we learned that other prominent and prolific skeptical writers who reside in the Skeptical community are diligently working hard to curb this type of weak approach common within their own circles.

Thirdly, Mr. Till then granted my argument that Osiris’ resurrection was isolated to the Underworld according to the myth. He did this in order to change the direction of his argument toward proving the Skeptical community’s theory that Paul, the earliest of the New Testament writers, taught that Jesus Christ merely resurrected spiritually. However, we observed in Paul’s writings a continuity between the “physical body” and the “spiritual body” (1Cor. 15:44), a “change” realized in bodily properties and not our over-all structure (Phil. 3:20-21). Paul’s elaboration on the continuity between these two entities in light of the change, sharpens our focus on the ambiguous appearances of Christ’s resurrection found in the Gospels. It is apparent that Jesus’ body passed into a condition new to human experience which was/is superior to all obstacles.

Fourthly, Mr. Till’s effort to make parallels with Horus demonstrates the incredible lengths that over enthusiastic skeptics will go to. The obscurity of texts that touch on Horus make it impossible to track down Mr. Till’s alleged and embellished parallel. Could this be a thoroughly studied interpretation on Mr. Till’s part? Unfortunately not. After all, the best that Mr. Till could do to bridge this parallel was to cite the 19th century mythicist George Frazer. Where are the ancient texts to back this parallel up?

By way of conclusion, the various arguments that we have seen Mr. Till use are generally thought provoking, though, at times quite imaginative and entertaining. But are they convincing? Well, not only did we observe the evaporation of Mr. Till’s formulated parallels after we confronted them with original texts, but, we also became aware of just how strong the evidences surrounding Christ’s resurrection really are. While I realize that the judgment of the *strength* of that evidence is subjective in the eyes of each individual, I do believe it to be strong enough to cause the average skeptic to consider the New Testament account of Jesus’ resurrection in a higher class of religious claims. The surrounding elements that undergird the resurrection of Jesus Christ catapult His resurrection out of the category assigned to mere myths. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is unique in the sense that it is believable (even among some the most educated individuals in the world) despite the apparent impossibility of such a feat. A feat which understandably left His own disciples skeptical at first about (Matt. 28:17; Mk. 16:11-14; Lk. 24:11,25,37-38; Jn. 20:25). Should we be any less skeptical than them? No, but like them, neither should we pass over lightly the strengths of the supporting features that have the potential to make what seems highly unlikely – likely.

~ End Article


(On The Ending of Mark)

A) Biblical scholar Raymond Brown provides some insightful objectivity on vss 9-20 of Mark:

“The material resembles resurrection accounts found in Matt and Luke-Acts (and perhaps in John [for Mary Magdalene]), but whether the copyist who composed it drew directly from those Gospels or simply from similar traditions is UNCERTAIN.” (Brown, An Introduction To The New Testament, pg. 148, fn. 58)

B) Irenaeus (130 – 200 AD) cites Mark 16:9 in his work Against Heresies (Book 3 Ch.10:5). Even though that reference is admittedly found in later Latin mss, it is consider authentic by competent scholars; nevertheless, Tatian (a pupil of Justin Martyr) also included vs9-20 in his Diatessaron (Greek for: through the Four) around 150-60 A.D, though that text comes through the processes of secondary and tertiary witnesses.



[1] See: Till – Geisler Debate

[2] Diodorus Siculus I, Books I-II.34, Loeb Classical Library (279), Translated by C.H. Oldfather.HarvardUniversityPressCambridgeMass.,London,EnglandISBN 0-674-99307-1. Source provided by Tim Taylor (Errancy, 6/30/01).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Note: “Almost all textual studies and critical commentaries on the Gospel according to Mark agree that the last twelve verses cannot be regarded as Marcan.”(Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, 229, fn. 2)

Moreover, vss. 9-20 are included in our Bible’s (except in a few versions) for “traditional purposes” even though they were *probably not* written by the original writer. This is not an isolated case. Similar examples of accepted traditional interpolations can be found in Luke 22: 43-44, John 7:53-8:11, and Acts 8:37. Though these passages may be in question concerning their authenticity to the original writer, they still come under the umbrella of canonical.

[5] See: Bruce Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish, and Christian. pg. 18.

[6] Ibid, 18. The phrase is used by Metzger but actually comes from A.D. Nock’s work A Note on the Resurrection, pg. 49.

[7] See:

[8] The late and respected skeptic, Joseph Crea, tried to counter my claim by pointing out an obscure word atet-f in the Sorrows of Isis which Budge translated as “nothing” (Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, Vol. II, pg. 238) as a possible “synonym for dead/death” (Errancy, 7/03/01). However, in my opinion, the overall context excludes this possibility because “Horus heal[ed]” (senb Heru) through the night. Whatever may be the case, the language of the entire text is difficult to read, follow, and comprehend. The only thing that is certain, is that Frazer’s description of Horus’ resurrection is clearly an embellishment. The text simply doesn’t have the clarity and intensity implied by that prolific skeptical writer.

[9] A similar hyperbole presentment is found in The Facts On File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, by Anthony S. Mercatante. Here we read that:

“Isislearned the magic words, and when she uttered them, the poison flowed from her son’s body, air entered his lungs, sense and feeling returned to him, and he was restored to life (pg. 347).

Again, however, the text of the Sorrows of Isis doesn’t use this type of strong or even suggestive language. Quite interesting…wouldn’t you say?

Look for various printed resources at home of CBD, Christian Book Distributors.

Osiris and Pagan Resurrection Myths: Assessing the Till-McFall Exchange

by Richard C. Carrier

Copyright 2002. The right to quote or reproduce this work in full is granted to anyone who credits the author and does not use it for profit.

Mark McFall asked my opinion of an ongoing debate he has been having with Farrell Till. As a degreed expert on ancient history, my assessment of the most recent exchange in the Mar-May 2002 issue of In the Word is that, overall, Till and McFall are both right and both wrong. Before I discuss this, however, disclosure is appropriate: I am an atheist and have also written an online essay on pagan parallels and ideas of resurrection, the historical merit of the evidence for the reality of Christ’s resurrection generally, and the case for the Pauline notion of a spiritual resurrection: see “Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story” 2000 (   Everything I say below draws on what is presented in that essay or on my own personal experience in ancient history.

First of all, as their able arguments show, doubt can be thrown on both cases: there is no certain answer known to us today regarding what anyone really believed about Osiris in the time of Christ. This is all the more so since the only sources cited by both challengers are either ancient (preceding even Classical Greek literature) or very unreliable. This is most damning in the case of Plutarch, who was a rabid Platonist with an obvious and explicit disdain for popular religion. He is well known for rewriting and distorting facts to suit his genteel Greek sensibilities and his unabashedly Platonist dogmas, and he actually says many times that he has dismissed or omitted much out of disgust with popular notions. Yet Christianity arose from the illiterate masses, and waited quite a long time before scholars of any note took interest in it. Thus, Plutarch’s views could be worlds away from anything the Osiris worshippers, or the earliest would-be Christians, may have known or believed. This source problem only compounds what is already evident from the Till-McFall exchange: the evidence can legitimately be interpreted in many different ways.

On the one hand, Till’s case is overly repetitive and polemical in tone (we don’t really care what McFall’s ulterior motives may be–they are irrelevant to the issue in dispute). Likewise, he relies too much on the notoriously unreliable opinions of Frazer (I would never trust myself what that man wrote) and an anachronistic view of ancient culture. He has also picked a relatively lame horse, since Osiris worship remains little understood.

On the other hand, McFall makes four general mistakes of his own. I will address McFall’s errors first, then conclude with Till’s. Number one. McFall writes as though Till’s (or any skeptic’s) argument is that “New Testament writers borrow[ed] the resurrection concept from myths.” That is an over simplification on two counts.

On the one hand, whether Christians did get the idea from some particular religion or religions is not something we can likely ever know; rather, what is significant is that the idea was “in the air” and thus not novel. A skeptic might ask why a God would enact a plan of salvation that assembles syncretically the ideas of false religions actively practiced at the time. Such a syncretic assembly is the hallmark of human invention, not divine plan.

On the other hand, it is quite easy (and has happened again and again) for a religious movement to unconsciously adopt, and in the process mold and transform, a popular notion in the surrounding culture. Rather than conscious borrowing, the existence of potent ideas in the broader culture will affect what people expect, what they believe to be possible, and how they will interpret strange events or escape a psychological crisis. The first Christians may have had no idea of the influence of pagan ideas on their interpretation of the events surrounding and following the death of their beloved leader.

Number two. McFall overplays just a bit the “x is not enough like y” card. By finding differences between Christianity and other myths, like that of Osiris, he claims there could therefore be no influence. That does not follow. Every religion is unique. It is not therefore true. You would struggle in vain to find the precedent for the Attis cult’s practice of self-castration and the carrying of trees all overItaly. People invent novel, even wildly strange religions all the time. Appeals to popular hatred of the novel are also in vain, since despite the almost universal disgust the Greeks and Romans felt toward castrated men the Attis cult nonetheless flourished, even in the heart ofItalyitself.

Likewise, the Attis cult’s notion of a God dying and then being resurrected with the agricultural cycle is obviously a borrowing from the numerous agricultural-resurrection cults of the day, yet it is entirely novel for the cause of death: castration. It would be quite wrong to say, perhaps, “No other pagan gods died that way, so those dying-and-rising gods are not parallels inspiring the Attis myth.” That is obviously not true. Thus, finding differences between Christ and Osiris carries little weight. It still remains that a dying-and-rising god motif exists in both cases and thus the Christian belief is not entirely novel. It remains worth exploring just how novel it is, and why, but we cannot dismiss obvious similarities simply because there are differences.

When we revisit the issue of syncretism we see that while the most popular pagan notions of divine and personal resurrection appear to be metaphorical or to relate to events that are real but carried out in some other sphere beyond that of earth, the Jews had already brought the resurrection idea down to earth in a purely physical form. It is not hard to see how a simple uniting of the two ideologies produces Christianity: the ethereal resurrection of a single divine man combined with the physical, mass resurrection eagerly expected by the Jews. It makes too much sense to dismiss too easily.

Likewise, while McFall makes much of the fact that Biblical resurrections other than that of Jesus are not a final conquest of death, he misses two facts: first, that Jews already had the idea of a conquest of death in the final resurrection of all Israel (it would be a return to the paradise of Eden, free of death and disease and want, as is clear throughout Philo, Josephus, and the Talmudic and Mishnaic literature); and, second, that the most popular pagan salvation cults already had the notion of a conquest over death in an individual resurrection into a heavenly or otherworldly paradise in exchange for faith, ethical conduct, and initiation into a ritual mystery. Christianity, again, can easily be described as the amalgamation of both views.

Indeed, a skeptic can note that there is no particular reason either for the deification of Jesus or for the rampant use of mystery religion vocabulary in the Epistles, or for the adoption of a rebirthing ceremony, apart from the fact that these ideas were already popular among pagans. For instance, if Jesus were an ordinary man who was the “first fruit” of the Jewish resurrection, that would indeed be a remarkable innovation. But the Christians made him a divine man, thus making his resurrection fall in line with pagan expectations of what was possible and appropriate. That fits with a theory like Till’s at least as well as McFall’s.

Though to his credit McFall did not use the tired argument that the Jews would not unite their views with pagan notions, I would like to head that falsehood off from the start: not only do we know for a fact that Jews did just this (Philo’s Platonic Judaism, the Jewish Orphics, the appearance of the Persian flaming hell in Hellenistic Jewish theology, etc.), we also know there were numerous Jewish sects each with radically different ideas, each more or less accumulating ideas from surrounding cultures, and to top it all off, Christianity began far more successful among Gentiles and Hellenized Jews than among conservative heartland Jews (as Paul’s letters demonstrate). It is also worth pointing out that McFall mistakenly assumes a netherworld was not regarded as a real, material place located on earth (most ancient cultures held such a belief, even while other beliefs gained popularity), and he ignores the fact that Christians even as early as Paul believed Jesus did indeed go to the netherworld before rising, so the parallel of an Osiris raised in a netherworld looks a bit more like early Christian belief than he lets on, despite the differences that remain.

Number three. McFall goes off on a long tangent arguing there is better evidence for a real resurrection of Jesus than for Osiris. This is not entirely relevant here. No one, least of all skeptics, argues that Osiris was really resurrected. We are not talking about what happened, but what people believed, what ideas were considered viable, popular, ripe for the taking, potent influences. Making a case that the physical resurrection of Jesus actually happened is a wholly different argument than whether the idea of such a resurrection was already alive among pagans and pre-Christian Jews. Both in fact could be true, so even if successful here (and I am not persuaded) McFall has not refuted Till’s primary point that the idea of such a resurrection could have causes other than historical fact. McFall could grant that and still argue that the evidence leads us to historical fact anyway.

Number four. Always beware of apologists who are not classicists. McFall breaks this rule when he buys into Nash’s inept anachronism of a distinction between resurrection and resuscitation. No such distinction existed in the conceptions of ancient peoples. Since there was no such distinction then, you cannot use such a distinction as a wedge to argue that one group would not get the idea of resurrection from another group’s idea of resuscitation, because both groups in those times would have comprehended both concepts, and employed the same terminology for both.

Indeed, McFall is in an even worse position here than Till makes out. For the original Christian words for “resurrection” are actually very vague: anastasis and egeiromai, and their cognates, simply mean “rise up, get up” and were hardly ever used to refer to returning from the dead before the Christians used them in that sense. Instead, the usual use of these words was for waking up from sleep or standing up from a prone position.

Thus, the original Christian vocabulary was actually far closer in basic meaning to Nash’s idea of “resuscitation” than resurrection. The fact that Christians had no trouble adding many layers of double meaning onto such a concept only further proves they were ignorant of Nash’s distinctions.

In contrast, Plutarch’s words, which McFall himself cites for the “resurrection of Osiris,” are far more specific and potent: anabiôsis means quite literally “back to life,” leaving far less room for ambiguity. It is hard to imagine how a spiritual resurrection could be called “back” to “life,” much less a passage to another world, for neither is a return to anything previous (entailed by the prefix ana-), and “biosis” is the antonym of nekrosis, “death,” and those in Hades are called the “dead” (nekroi) so it would not make much sense to refer to someone in Hades as “biotês” (the “living”). So why does Plutarch use this word of Osiris? That is a legitimate question.

Likewise, paliggenesis (palin, “back again,” and genesis, “birth”) leaves little ambiguity: as “rebirth” it was a standard word for regeneration, which refers to one’s body (even Christians use it thus: Matt. 19:28), not one’s soul, which is already indestructible in Plutarch’s view. That people like Plutarch might perhaps use such vocabulary for metaphorical or spiritual situations further proves, yet again, that the ancients made no terminological distinction between resuscitation and resurrection, and comprehended both without difficulty.  But there can be little doubt from his vocabulary that Plutarch is describing a real physical return to life, even if he places it in outer space or imagines a change in substance.

Now to Till’s blunders. First, he is a fish out of water when he asks the rhetorical question “why didIsisgo to such great lengths to find all of the scattered body parts and reassemble them?” Any expert in ancient cultures would know the answer to this: because the souls of the deceased could not find rest, could not pass into the underworld, until their whole bodies were properly buried. Greek tragedies are rife with the notion, as is Jewish Talmudic law, even history: the Athenians actually executed their naval commanders who did not try to retrieve the bodies of sailors lost at sea. There is no need here of any connection with a resurrection motif.

Moreover, Till’s citation of several sources used in connection with funerals and mummification seems unenlightened by the cultural facts at hand. He cites language directed at preservation, not resurrection, and for a specific and well-known reason: the Egyptians (and, incidentally, the Jews, as attested in early Judaic texts) believed that if the body were disfigured by damage or decay, the soul, which was fond of wandering, would be unable to recognize its abode and so would get lost. This is why Egyptians made such heavy use of realistic statuary and painted or engraved masks and sarcophagi, since it was felt that even should the body rot, these items, by retaining the visage of the deceased, would remain as markers for the wandering soul.

However, I join Till in his belief that Paul preached a spiritual resurrection and I have gathered far more evidence for this than he has. But McFall’s response to this is still largely correct. We cannot import contemporary ideas into ancient thinking. And the idea that souls do not have mass, that souls are not “bodies” with location, made of a material, was unusual in antiquity, unlike today. In fact, the common idea of a massless, immaterial soul is largely a product of medieval thought, though the idea already had a nascent place in Platonism and certain pagan cults. Thus, it may well be that Paul and other early Christians believed the resurrected Christ had a new “body,” though now made of incorruptible material–which could not be “molecules” as McFall suggests, since those would be by definition earthly and therefore subject to decay. Rather, it was certainly the pure homogenous element of aether, the material of the heavens, well-known to all thinkers of the day as the only indestructible, unchanging material in the universe. This belief was almost certainly held by Paul, and would be compatible with both the belief that the tomb was empty (i.e. Jesus’ flesh disintegrated altogether, and now he walked in an aetherial body) and the belief that the body of Jesus remained in the tomb to decay while the real Jesus assumed and walked in a new form (a concept for which there were numerous precedents in Persian and Essene belief as well as Platonic and Orphic spiritology). As Paul is silent on which belief the Christians held, and as both are compatible with what he does say, we cannot claim to have refuted either view from this material alone.

Finally, I am not sure I understand Till’s longwinded focus on the Osiris myth in the first place. This is easily the least persuasive parallel with Christianity among extant religions of the day. There are far more convincing cases for a pagan belief in a physical resurrection. Take Castor and Pollux (or Polydeuces). These two brothers, called the Dioscuri, won a special deal from the gods: though both had died, only one of them had to actually sit in Hades, while the other got to live again on earth, and they exchanged places either every six months or every other day. Massively popular as savior deities and protectors, often “seen” physically appearing and acting in battles and other crises, there is no way anyone, especially anyone who spoke much less wrote Greek, would not have heard of these gods and their myth. This is an indisputable case of an idea of physical resurrection on Earth, and one that was ubiquitous in the time of Christ. This is all the more important a parallel since there are signs that Mark deliberately employed the Dioscuri typology in his Gospel (Dennis McDonald devotes a whole chapter to this in his book The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, 2000). Yes, differences remain, but its the similarities that matter.

In another respect there is the story of Inanna, which included not only a clearly genuine belief in her return to earth after death (and subsequent rule over Sumeria), but her manner of death was identical to that of Jesus: she was crucified. This myth cycle, though very ancient, was the direct ancestor to several forms of goddess worship extant in the time of Jesus. In still another respect there is the story of Zalmoxis in Herodotus, another clear case of belief in physical resurrection (the Greek euhemerization of the Thracian religion he describes would not make any plausible sense otherwise). And there are many more parallels, showing a wide diversity of views about resurrection arising in the very century that Christianity began. This cannot be mere coincidence. It is clear that ancient peoples were experimenting with many different concepts of resurrection, and the idea was becoming popular, at the very time that one of these experiments, Christianity, arose.

This does not entail that Jesus’ resurrection was false. But it does support any argument to that effect. There is as far as I have seen nothing significant about Christianity that was novel: everything of importance had precedents in other religions, pagan or Jewish, and can easily be explained as a syncretic combining of numerous different ideas into one. The combination was certainly novel and unique, as every religion is, but not inexplicable. It may still be genuine divine truth despite all this (and Christian apologists of the 2nd century and later blamed pagan parallels like these on the Devil), but such a case is still weakened when there are plausible human causes like this. This at least deserves acknowledging, no matter what you conclude in the end.


ITW extends appreciation to Richard Carrier for taking the time to respond on this issue.  You can find more about Richard Carrier and read his other written work at:

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