Osiris, Killed by Set, Is Resurrected by Isis

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God's Rebirth Prefigures Man's Rebirth.

The two sides of God during the period of creation are frequently represented by antithetical characters—portrayed, for example, by the children of God (see: Kintu) or by the wife and brother of God, one representing order, the other chaos. In an ancient Egyptian myth, that dualism is linked to the seasons, and God's death and resurrection, caused by the two external characters, become emblematic of the annual death and rebirth of nature.

(Egypt) In the beginning, Osiris (Andjeti, Asari, Asartaiti, Aus, Heytau Osiris, Unneffer, Unno, Wenneffer), vegetation god and god of the dead, whose presence was manifested in the sprouting grain and the rising waters of the Nile, invented agriculture, writing, and the arts, and transformed humanity from barbarism to civilization. The goddess Nut, the wife of Ra, had an affair with Seb. When Ra discovered the intrigue, he cursed his wife and decreed that she not be delivered of her child in any month or in any year. The god Hermes, who also loved Nut, gambled with Selene and won from her the seventieth part of each day of the year; added together, these made five whole days. Hermes joined these to the three hundred and sixty days of which the year then consisted. On the first of these five days, Osiris was born; at the moment of his death, a voice was heard to proclaim that the lord of creation was born. In time, he became the king of Egypt; he devoted himself to civilizing his subjects and to teaching them the craft of agriculture, and he established a code of laws. When Egypt was flourishing because of his teachings, Osiris departed, going to instruct the other nations of the world. During his absence, his wife Isis ruled the state so effectively that Set, the evil brother of Osiris, could do no harm to the realm. When Osiris returned, Set plotted with seventy-two comrades and with Aso, the queen of Ethiopia, to kill him. Secretly, he took the measure of the body of Osiris, and built a handsome chest. This chest was brought into his banqueting hall when Osiris was present along with other guests. Osiris was induced to lie down in the chest, which was immediately closed by Set and his fellow conspirators, who conveyed it to the mouth of the Nile. The news was brought to Isis at Coptos; cutting off a lock of hair and putting on mourning apparel, she set out in deep grief to find her husband's body. With the help of children and of dogs, she learned that the chest had been carried by the sea to Byblos, where it had been deposited by the waves among the branches of a tamarisk tree; in a very short time, the tree grew to a magnificent size, enclosing the chest within its trunk. The king of the country, admiring the tree, had it cut down and made into a pillar for the roof of his house. When Isis heard of this, she went to Byblos, where she was made nurse to one of the king's sons. Instead of nursing the child in the ordinary way, Isis gave him her fingers to suck, and each night she put him into the fire to consume his mortal parts, at the same time changing herself into a swallow and bemoaning her fate. But the queen happened to see her son in flames, and cried out, and this deprived him of immortality. Isis then told the queen her story and begged for the pillar that supported the roof. This she cut open, then took out the chest and her husband's body. She wrapped the pillar in fine linen and, anointing it with oil, restored it to the queen. The lamentations of Isis were so terrible that one of the royal children died of fright. Isis then brought the chest by ship to Egypt, where she opened it and embraced the body of her husband, weeping bitterly. Then she sought her son, Horus, in Lower Egypt, first having hidden the chest in a secret place. But one night Set, hunting by the light of the moon, found the chest, and, recognizing the body, tore it into fourteen pieces, which he scattered up and down throughout the land. When Isis heard of this, she took a boat and gathered the fragments of Osiris's body. Wherever she found one, there she built a tomb. Osiris was then brought back to life, and his son, Horus, avenged his death. The story of Osiris, the dying and resurrected god, is also the story of the land: the Nile that settles within its banks during one season, only to overflow those banks and fertilize the land during another. This rhythmical movement of the seasons is linked to the annual ritual commemorating the death and rebirth of the god of agriculture. Osiris is a dualistic creator god, with Set representing his death-dealing side, Isis his life-giving side. See also: Horus, Isis, Ra.


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