Over the past two weeks, I’ve examined the similarities between Jesus, Mithras and Horus. Early mythological characters are sometimes offered by skeptics in an attempt to argue Jesus is nothing more than a re-creation and retelling of the ancient “rising and dying” mythologies embraced by a number of primitive cultures. Movies like Zeitgeist: The Movie and The God Who Wasn’t There, have capitalized on this strategy, highlighting every possible similarity, while ignoring the critical differences. Osiris is mentioned in both of these movies as yet another iteration of the rising and dying Savior preceding the appearance of Jesus. Skeptics claim Osiris and Jesus were identical in a number of important ways. According to these doubters, Osiris was called “Lord of Lords”, “King of Kings”, “God of Gods”, “Resurrection and the Life”, “Good Shepherd”, “Eternity and Everlastingness”, and the god who “made men and women to be ‘born again’.” Osiris’ birth was allegedly announced by three “wise men”; the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion. Osiris had a star in the east, Sirius, that signified his birth, and his followers enjoyed a Eucharist ceremony of sorts (in which his flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat). Skeptics also claim Osiris taught much of the same material as Jesus; the claim many teachings are identically the same, word for word. Osiris was allegedly killed and resurrected, providing hope every believer might also be resurrected into eternal life. These similarities, when offered in isolation, seem dramatic. But are they true, and if so, what bearing does this have on the historicity of Jesus?
In order to respond to claims such as these, careful investigators must expose any false claims, uncover the faulty “cherry picking” strategy employed in such comparisons, reveal the common cultural expectations of any people group thinking about the existence and nature of God, unearth the unlikely approach allegedly adopted by early Christians, and establish the reliable historical record for the person of Jesus. When it comes to Osiris, the first step in this process involves a close examination of the alleged similarities to see if they are true in the first place. As is the case with comparisons to Mithras and Horus, false similarities are often offered by folks who simply haven’t done their homework (for another examination of Osiris and many other alleged Christian precursors, please visit David Anderson’s excellent website):
Claim: Osiris was called “Lord of Lords”, “King of Kings”, “God of Gods”, “Resurrection and the Life”, “Good Shepherd”, “Eternity and Everlastingness”, and the god who “made men and women to be “born again”
Truth: These names for Jesus were not used by Osiris, who was called, “Lord of All”, the “Good Being”, “Lord of the Underworld”, “Lord (King) of Eternity”, “Ruler of the Dead”, “Lord of the West”, “Great One”, “He who takes seat,” “the Begetter”, “the Ram”, “Great Word”, “Chief of the Spirits”, “Ruler of Everlastingness”, “Living God,” “God above the gods.” These rather general names were not uncommon for many other deities as well.
Claim: Osiris’ birth was announced by Three Wise Men: the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion, and Osiris had a star in the east (Sirius) that signified his birth
Truth: It is true that some scholars connect Osiris with Orion, but they don’t stretch the imagination to call the three stars of the belt “wise men”, and there is no mention of an eastern star in the Osiris mythology.
Claim: Osiris had a Eucharist ceremony of sorts, in which his flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat
Truth: There is no evidence for this in the research of the scholars
Claim: Osiris taught much of the same material as Jesus; many teachings are identically the same, word for word
Truth: There is absolutely no evidence of any of this, and the “wisdom” of Osiris is still available for review.
Claim: Osiris was killed and later resurrected, providing hope every believer might also be resurrected into eternal life
Truth: Osiris was murdered and his body was then dismembered and scattered. Later, his body pieces were recovered and rejoined, and he was rejuvenated. Osiris then journeyed to the underworld, where he became the lord of the dead. He did not resurrect with a glorified body and walk with men on earth, as did Jesus. He was not alive again, as was Jesus, but was instead a “dead” god who never returned among the living
From this quick examination of the Osiris tradition, we can see he was not called by the same names used for Jesus, and while he was connected by some to the Orion constellation, there is no mention of three wise men in the Osiris birth story. In addition, Osiris was not celebrated with a Eucharist. He was murdered and reassembled, but was not resurrected to glory and life as was Jesus. As always, the first step in refuting such claims is to simply investigate the attributes carefully. Beyond this, we must also recognize the expectations and yearnings people have related to the existence of God. The Bible rightly describes this yearning and the innate knowledge each of us has related to God’s existence (Romans 1:18-20 and 2:12-16). We shouldn’t be surprised ancient people (created in the image of God) would think deeply about the nature of this God. Many alleged similarities between pre-Christian mythologies and Jesus are extremely general in nature and would be expected from anyone considering the existence of a Divine Creator. Primitive cultures interested in God’s nature reasoned He would have the ability to perform miracles, teach humans and form disciples. These universal expectations fail to invalidate the historicity of Jesus. As Paul recognized on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22-31), men thought deeply about the nature of God prior to His arrival as Jesus. Sometimes they imagined the details correctly, sometimes they didn’t.While Osiris is no longer worshiped, Christianity continues to thrive. Why? Because the Christian records are reliable. Click To Tweet
In the end, similarities between Jesus and mythological precursors fail to invalidate the historicity of Jesus. The historical veracity of Jesus is determined from the evidence supporting the reliability of the eyewitness accounts. Jesus is not simply a retelling of the Osiris mythology. While Osiris is no longer worshiped, Christianity continues to thrive. Why? Because the Christian records are reliable. Skeptics sometimes portray Osiris as something he isn’t in order to keep us from believing in Jesus as something He is. But the reliable Biblical record establishes the Deity of Jesus in a way no other ancient mythological text could ever hope to achieve.
For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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