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Lecture 7: Osiris and the Osirian Faith

THE legend of Osiris as it existed at the end of the first century is recorded by Plutarch. It has been pieced together from the myths and folk-tales of various ages and various localities that were current about the god. The Egyptian priests had considerable difficulty in fitting them into a consistent story; had they been Greek or Roman historiographers, they would have solved the problem by declaring that there had been more than one Osiris; as it was, they were contented with setting the different accounts of his death and fortunes side by side, and harmonising them afterwards as best they might.

As to the general outlines of the legend, there was no dispute. Osiris had been an Egyptian Pharaoh who had devoted his life to doing good, to introducing the elements of art and culture among his subjects, and transforming them from savages into civilised men. He was the son of the sun-god, born on the first of the intercalatory days, the brother and husband of Isis, and the brother also of Set or Sut, whom the Greeks called Typhon. Typhon had as wife his sister Nephthys or Nebhât, but her son Anubis, the jackal, claimed Osiris as his father.

Osiris set forth from his Egyptian kingdom to subdue the world by the arts of peace, leaving Isis to govern in his absence. On his return, Set and his seventy-two fellow conspirators imprisoned him by craft in a chest, which was thrown into the Nile. In the days when Canaan had become a province of the Egyptian empire, and there were close relations between the Phœnician cities and the Delta, it was said that the chest had floated across the sea to Gebal, where it became embedded in the core of a tree, which was afterwards cut down and shaped into one of the columns of the royal palace. Isis wandered from place to place seeking her lost husband, and mourning for him; at last she arrived at Gebal, and succeeded in extracting the chest from its hiding-place, and in carrying it back to Egypt. But the older version of the legend knew nothing of the voyage to Gebal. The chest was indeed found by Isis, but it was near the mouths of the Nile. Here it was buried for awhile; but Set, while hunting by night, discovered it, and, tearing open its lid, cut the body inside into fourteen pieces, which he scattered to the winds. Then Isis took boat and searched for the pieces, until she had recovered them all save one. Wherever a piece was found, a tomb of Osiris arose in later days. Carefully were the pieces put together by Isis and Nephthys, and Anubis then embalmed the whole body. It was the first mummy that was made in the world.

Meanwhile Horus the younger had been born to Isis, and brought up secretly at Buto, in the marshes of the Delta, out of reach of Set. As soon as he was grown to man's estate be gathered his followers around him, and prepared himself to avenge his father's death. Long and fierce was the struggle. Once Set was taken prisoner, but released by Isis; whereupon Horus, in a fit of anger, struck off his mother's head, which was replaced by Thoth with the head of a cow. According to one account, the contest ended with the victory of Horus. The enemy were driven from one nome to another, and Horus sat on the throne of his father. But there were others who said that the struggle went on with alternating success, until at last Thoth was appointed arbiter, and divided Egypt between the two foes. Southern Egypt was given to Horus, Northern Egypt to Set.

It is somewhat difficult to disentangle the threads out of which this story has been woven. Elements of various sorts are mixed up in it together. Horus the younger, the posthumous son of Osiris, has been identified with Horus the elder, the ancient sun-god of Upper Egypt, and the legends connected with the latter have been transferred to the son of Isis. The everlasting war between good and evil has been inextricably confounded with the war between the Pharaonic Egyptians and the older population. The solar theology has invaded the myth of Osiris, making him the son of Ra, and investing him with solar attributes. Anubis the jackal, who watched over the cemeteries of Upper Egypt, has been foisted into it, and has become the servant and minister of the god of the dead who superseded him. The doctrine of the Trinity has been applied to it, and Anubis and Nephthys, who originally were the allies of Osiris, have been forced to combine with Set. Here and there old forgotten customs or fragments of folk-lore have been embodied in the legend: the dismemberment of Osiris, for example, points to the time when the neolithic inhabitants of Egypt dismembered their dead; and the preservation of the body of Osiris in the heart of a tree has its echo in the Tale of the Two Brothers, in which the individuality of the hero was similarly preserved. The green face with which Osiris was represented was in the same way a traditional reminiscence of the custom of painting the face of the dead with green paint, which was practised by the neolithic population of Egypt.

There are three main facts in the personality of Osiris which stand out clearly amid the myths and theological inventions which gathered round his name. He was a human god; he was the first mummy; and he became the god of the dead. And the paradise over which he ruled, and to which the faithful souls who believed in him were admitted, was the field of Alu, a land of light and happiness.

Sekhet Alu, “ the field of Alu,” seems to have been the cemetery of Busiris among the marshes of the Delta.1 The name meant “the field of marsh-mallows,”—the “asphodel meadows” of the Odyssey,—and was applied to one of the islands which were so numerous in the north-eastern part of the Delta. Here, then, in the nome of which Osiris was the feudal god, the paradise of his followers originally lay, though a time came when it was translated from the earth to the sky. But when Osiris first became lord of the dead, the land to which they followed him was still within the confines of Egypt.

It would seem, therefore, that Professor Maspero is right in holding that Osiris was primarily the god of Busiris in the Delta. It is the only nome of which he was formally the presiding deity, under the title of Ânz, “the king,” and it bordered on Hermopolis, which was dedicated to the ibis-god Thoth, who is so closely connected with the story of Osiris.2 To the north stood the temple of Isis-Rennet,3 to the south-west was Pharbæthos (Horbêt), which worshipped Set, while Horus was the god of many of the neighbouring nomes. The whole cycle of Osirian deities is thus to be found within the confines of a small tract of the Delta.

The name Busiris means simply “the place of Osiris.” Primitively it had been called Daddu, “the two colonnades,” 4 and Osiris became known as its lord. It was under this title that he was incarnated in the ram of the neighbouring town of Mendes on the eastern boundary of Hermopolis. The ram became his soul; all the more easily since the Egyptian words for “ram” and “soul” had the same or a similar pronunciation. At Dendera it is said that in the ram of Mendes Osiris grew young again; and in the later days of solar syncretism the four souls of Ra and Osiris, of Shu and Khepera, were united in its body. How far back this identification of the god and the sacred animal may reach we do not know. But it is significant that it was not at Daddu itself, but at a neighbouring city, that the animal was worshipped, though a seal-cylinder which belongs to the oldest period of Egyptian history already declares that Daddu was “the city of the ram.”5

Nebhât and Anubis had originally nothing to do with the god of Busiris. Nebhât, in fact, is merely a title which has been fossilised into the name of a deity. It is merely the ordinary title of the Egyptian lady as “the mistress of the house,” who thus stands on the same footing as “the lord of the house,” her husband. The title could have been given to any goddess who was conceived of in human form, and was doubtless applied to Isis the wife of Osiris. He was “the lord” of the city; she, “the lady of the house.” It reminds us of the way in which the deities of Babylonia were addressed. There, too, the god was “the lord,” the goddess “the lady.” The old titles of Osiris and Isis which have thus survived in the Osirian myth are essentially Babylonian.

Nebhât or Nephthys was individualised in order to complete the trinity of Set, of which Set was the central figure. We can tell, accordingly, when she thus developed into a separate goddess. It was when the doctrine of the Trinity first became dominant in the Egyptian schools of theology, and all the chief deities of the country were forced to conform to it. Anubis, the second person in the trinity of Set, must have already been attached to the cult of Osiris. How this came about is not difficult to discover. Anubis the jackal was the god of the underworld. Like his symbol, the jackal, he watched over the tombs, more especially in “the mountain” far away from the cultivated land. His sacred animal already appears mounted on its standard on the early slate plaques of Nekhen and Abydos by the side of the Horus-hawk. He was, in fact, worshipped in many of the nomes, above all at Siût, where he was adored as “the opener of the paths” to the world below. He was the inventor of the art of embalming; he must therefore have been the god of the dead when the Pharaonic Egyptians first settled themselves in Upper Egypt. In one sense, indeed, he was younger than Horus, since “the followers of Horus” had not brought the art with them from their earlier home; but he was already god of the dead, and the discovery of the art was accordingly ascribed to him.

The acceptance of Osiris as the god of the underworld meant the displacement of Anubis. He had to make way for “the lord of Daddu.” The fact is a striking illustration of the influence which the Osirian teaching must have possessed. Osiris was the feudal god only of a nome in the north of the Delta; Anubis had been adored from time immemorial throughout the valley of the Nile. The cities which recognised him as their chief deity were numerous and powerful. Nevertheless he had to yield to the rival god and take a subordinate place beside him. He remained, indeed, in the pantheon, for the Egyptians never broke with their past; but the part he had played in it was taken by another, and he was content to become merely the minister of Osiris and the guardian of the cemeteries of the dead.

Meanwhile Osiris, like the Greek Dionysos, had pursued his victorious march. Wherever his worship extended his temple rose by the side of his tomb like the temples attached to the Pyramids. Like Ptaḥ of Memphis or the mummified Horus of Nekhen, he was a dead god, and it was to a dead god consequently that the offering was made and the priest dedicated. It was at Abydos in Upper Egypt, however, that his fame was greatest. Abydos was the sepulchral temple of Osiris attached to the city of This, and This was not only the seat of a powerful kingdom, which probably succeeded that of Nekhen, but the birthplace of Menes, the founder of the united monarchy. Around the tomb of the Osiris of Abydos, accordingly, the kings and princes of the Thinite dynasties were buried, and where the Pharaoh was buried his subjects wished to be buried too. From all parts of Egypt the bodies of the dead were brought to the sacred ground, that they might be interred as near as possible to the tomb of the god, and so their mummies might repose beside him on earth as they hoped their souls would do in the paradise of the Blest. Even the rise of the Memphite dynasties did not deprive Abydos of its claim to veneration. Its sanctity was too firmly established; hundreds of Egyptians still continued to be buried there, rather than in the spacious necropolis of the Memphite Pharaohs.6 Abydos, with its royal memories, threw the older city of Osiris into the shade. He still, it is true, retained his ancient title of “lord of Daddu,” but it was an archaism rather than a reality, and it was as “lord of Abydos” that he was now with preference addressed.

But other sanctuaries disputed with Abydos its claim to possess the tomb of the god of the dead. Wherever a temple was erected in his honour, his tomb also was necessarily to be found. An attempt was made to harmonise their conflicting claims by falling back on the old tradition of the custom of dismembering the dead: the head of the god was at Abydos, his heart at Athribis, his neck at Letopolis. But even so the difficulty remained: the separate limbs would not suffice for the number of the tombs, and the same member was sometimes claimed by more than one locality. At Memphis, for example, where Osiris was united with Apis into the compound Serapis, his head was said to have been interred as well as at Abydos.

Abydos, at the outset, was the cemetery, or rather one of the cemeteries, of This. And the god of This was the sun-god Anher, who was depicted in human form. In the age which produced the doctrine of the Ennead, Anher was identified with Shu, the atmosphere, or, more strictly speaking, the god of the space between sky and earth was merged into the god of the sun. But it was not only at This that Anher was worshipped. He was also the god of Sebennytos, which adjoined the Busirite nome, and where, therefore, the human sun-god was in immediate contact with the human god of the dead. What the mummy was to the living man, that Osiris was to Anher.7

The double relation between Osiris and Anher in both Lower and Upper Egypt cannot be an accident. Osiris became the god of Abydos, because Abydos was the cemetery of This, whose feudal god was Anher. The relation that existed in the Delta, between Anher the sun-god of Sebennytos, and Osiris the god of the dead at Busiris, was transferred also to Southern Egypt.

Whom or what did Osiris originally represent? To this many answers have been given. Of late Egyptologists have seen in him sometimes a personification of mankind, sometimes the river Nile, sometimes the cultivated ground. After the rise of the solar school of theology the Egyptians themselves identified him with the sun when it sinks below the horizon to traverse the dark regions of the underworld. Horus the sun-god of morning thus became his son, born as it were of the sun-god of night, and differing from his father only in his form of manifestation.8

We have, however, one or two facts to guide us in determining the primitive character of the god. He was a mummified man like Ptaḥ of Memphis, and he was the brother and enemy of Set. Set or Sut became for the later Egyptians the impersonation of evil. He was identified with Apophis, the serpent of wickedness, against whom the sun-god wages perpetual war; and his name was erased from the monuments on which it was engraved. But all this was because Set was the god and the representative of the Asiatic invaders who had conquered Egypt, and aroused in the Egyptian mind a feeling of bitter animosity towards themselves. As late as the time of the Nineteenth Dynasty, the Pharaohs who restored Tanis, the Hyksos capital, to something of its former glory, called themselves after the name of the Hyksos deity. Thothmes III. of the Eighteenth Dynasty built a temple in honour of Set of Ombos, who was worshipped near Dendera; and if we go back to the oldest records of the united monarchy, we find Set symbolising the north while Horus symbolises the south. Before the days of Menes, Set was the god of Northern Egypt, Horus of Southern Egypt. In the prehistoric wars of the two kingdoms the two gods would be hostile to one another, and yet brethren.

It was the armies of Set that were driven by Horus and his metal-bearing followers from one end of Egypt to the other, and finally overcome.9 Set therefore represents in the legend the older population of the valley of the Nile. The reason of this is not far to seek. Set or Sut, like Sati, denotes the Semitic or African nomad of the desert, the Babylonian Sutu. He is the equivalent of the Bedâwi of to-day, who still hovers on the Egyptian borders, and between whom and the fellah there is perpetual feud. The same cause which made Horus the brother and yet the enemy of Set must have been at work to place Osiris in the same relation to him. Osiris too must have typified the Pharaonic Egyptian, and like Horus have been the first of the Pharaohs. Hence his human body, and hence also the confusion between himself and Horus, which ended in making Horus his son and in generating a new Horus—Horus the younger—by the side of the older Horus of the Egyptian faith.10

The position of Osiris in respect to Anher is now clear. He is the sun-god after his setting in the west, when he has passed to the region of the dead in the underworld. He stands, therefore, in exactly the same relation to Anher that the mummified hawk stands to the Horus-hawk. The one belongs to the city of the living, the other to the city of the dead. But they are both the same deity under different forms, one of which presides over the city, the other over its burying-ground. Like Horus, Osiris must have been a sun-god of the Pharaonic Egyptians, but a sun-god who was connected for some special reason with the dead.11

Now Mr. Ball has drawn attention to the fact that there was a Sumerian god who had precisely the same name as Osiris, and that this name is expressed in both cases by precisely the same ideographs.12 The etymology of the name has been sought in vain in Egyptian. But the cuneiform texts make it clear. Osiris (As-ar) is the Asari of ancient Babylonia, who was called Merodach by the Semites, and whose ordinary title is “the god who does good to man.” The name of Asari is written with two ideographs, one of which denotes “a place” and the other “an eye,” and the forms of the two ideographs, as well as their meanings, are identical with those of the hieroglyphic characters which represent Osiris. Such a threefold agreement cannot be accidental: both the name and the mode of writing it must have come from Babylonia. And what makes the agreement the stronger is the fact that the ideographs have nothing to do with the signification of the name itself; they express simply its pronunciation. In the Sumerian of early Babylonia the name signified “the mighty one.” 13

Asari was the sun-god of Eridu, the ancient seaport of Babylonia on the Persian Gulf. He was the son of Ea, the chief god of the city, of whose will and wisdom he was the interpreter. It was he who communicated to men the lessons in culture and the art of healing, which Ea was willing they should learn. Just as Osiris spent his life in doing good, according to the Egyptian legend, so Asari was he “who does good to man.” He was ever on the watch to help his worshippers, to convey to them the magic formulæ which could ward off sickness or evil, and, as it is often expressed, to “raise the dead to life.”

In this last expression we have the key to the part played by Osiris. Osiris died, and was buried, like Asari or Merodach, whose temple at Babylon was also his tomb; but it was that he might rise again in the morning with renewed strength and brilliancy. And through the spells he had received from his father all those who trusted in him, and shared in his death and entombment, were also “raised to life.” Both in Egypt and in Babylonia he was the god of the resurrection, whether that took place in this visible world or in the heavenly paradise, which was a purified reflection of the earth.

In Babylonia, Asari or Merodach was the champion of light and order, who conquered the dragon of chaos and her anarchic forces, and put the demons of darkness to flight. In Egypt that part was taken by Horus. But both Anher and Osiris were merely local forms—local names, if the phrase should be preferred—of Horus and the mummified hawk. Anher is sometimes represented, like Horus, with the spear in his hand, overthrowing the wicked; but his figure was eclipsed by that of Osiris, who had come to be regarded as the benefactor of mankind, and to whom men prayed in sickness and death. A god of the dead, however, could not be a conqueror; it was he, and not his foe, who had died, and consequently the victories gained by Horus could not be ascribed to him. But the difficulty was not insoluble; Horus became his son, who was at the same time his father, and the old struggle between Horus and Set was transferred to the Osirian cult.

It is significant, however, that in the recently-recovered monuments of the Thinite dynasties Set is still the twin-brother of Horus. He still represents the north, until lately the antagonist of the south; and a king whose remains have been found at Nekhen and Abydos, and who calls himself “the uniter of the two sceptres” of Egypt, still sets the Horus-hawk and the animal of Set above his name.

Set, as I have already said, is the Sutu or Bedâwi. He was adored elsewhere than in Egypt; the Moabites called themselves his children (Num. xxiv. 17), and in the cuneiform texts Sutu-sar (“Sutu the king”) and Nabu-rabê (“Nebo the great”) are described as twins.14 But in Egypt he represented the population which had been conquered by the Pharaonic Egyptians or continued to live on the desert frontiers of the country, and which was stronger in the Delta than in the south. The old struggle, therefore, between light and darkness, order and confusion, which formed the background of Babylonian mythology, became the struggle which was waged for such long centuries, first between the Pharaonic Egyptians and the neolithic races, then between the kingdoms of the south and north, and finally between the united monarchy and the Bedâwin of the desert or assailants from Asia. Where the foreign element prevailed, Set was an honoured god; where the ruling Egyptian was dominant, his place was taken by his brother and his antagonist.

It has been thought that the struggle between Horus and Set typified the struggle that is ever going on between the desert and the cultivated land. But such an idea is far too abstract to have formed the basis of an Egyptian religious myth. It might have been elaborated subsequently by some theological school out of the contrast between the Sutu of the desert and the god of the agriculturists; but it could never have been there originally. The interpretation is as little justifiable as that which sees in Osiris the seed that is buried in the ground.

It is indeed true that the Egyptians of a later period, when the Osirian doctrine of the Resurrection was fully developed, found an analogy to it in the seed that is sown in order to grow again. The tomb of Ma-her-pa-Ra, the fan-bearer of Amon-hotep II. of the Eighteenth Dynasty, discovered by M. Loret in the valley of the Tombs of the Kings at Thebes, contains a proof of this. In it was a rudely-constructed bed with a mattress, on which the figure of Osiris had been drawn. On this earth was placed, and in the earth grains of corn had been sown. The corn had sprouted and grown to the height of a few inches before it had withered away. But such symbolism is, like the similar symbolism of Christianity, the result of the doctrine of the resurrection and not the origin of it. It is not till men believe that the human body can rise again from the sleep of corruption, that the growth of the seed which has been buried in the ground is invoked to explain and confirm their creed.

How came this doctrine of the resurrection to be attached to the cult of Osiris and to become an integral part of Egyptian belief? There is only one answer that can be given to this: the doctrine of the resurrection was a necessary accompaniment of the practice of mummification, and Osiris was a mummified god.

We have already seen that old Babylonian hymns describe Asari or Merodach as the god “who raises the dead to life.” We have also seen that Osiris was not the only mummified god known in Egypt. Ptaḥ; of Memphis was also a mummy; so too was the mummified Horus of Nekhen, who was worshipped even in the Delta in the “Arabian” nome of Goshen on the borders of Asia. Whether or not the practice of embalming first originated at Nekhen, where it was discovered that bodies buried in the nitrogenous soil of El-Kab were preserved undecayed, it is certain that, like the art of writing, it characterised the Pharaonic Egyptians from the earliest times. In no other way can we explain the existence among them of their mummified gods. But its adoption by the older races who still formed the bulk of the people was but gradual. It did not become universal before the age of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

It was not, however, the bulk of the people, but the ruling classes, who worshipped Osiris, and among whom his cult spread and grew. He became for them Un-nefer, “the good being,” ready to heal for them even the pains of death, and to receive them in his realm beyond the grave, where life and action would be restored to them. The sun shone there as it did here, for was not Osiris himself a sun-god? the fields of the blessed were like those of Egypt, except that no sickness or death came near them, that no blight ever fell on fruit or corn, that the Nile never failed, and that the heat was always tempered by the northern breeze.

The “field of Alu,” the Elysion of the Greeks, was at first in the marshes of the Delta near the mouths of the Nile, like the paradise of early Babylonia, which too was “at the mouth of the rivers.” But it soon migrated to the north-eastern portion of the sky, and the Milky Way became the heavenly Nile. Here the dead lived in perpetual happiness under the rule of Osiris, working, feasting, reading, even fighting, as they would below, only without pain and eternally.15

But, in order to share in this state of bliss, it was necessary for the believer in Osiris to become like the god himself. He must himself be an Osiris, according to the Egyptian expression. His individuality remained intact; as he had been on earth, so would he be in heaven. The Osiris, in fact, was a spiritualised body in which the immortal parts of man were all united together. Soul and spirit, heart and double, all met together in it as they had done when the individual was on earth.

It is clear that the doctrine of the Osiris in its developed form is inconsistent with the idea of the ka. But it is also clear that without the idea of the ka it would never have been formed. Both presuppose an individuality separate from the person to which it belongs, and yet at the same time material, an individuality which continues after death and manifests itself under the same shape as that which characterised the person in life. The popular conception of the ghost, which reproduces not only the features but even the dress of the dead, is analogous. Fundamentally the Osiris is a ka, but it is a ka which represents not only the outward shape, but the inner essence as well. The whole man is there, spiritually, morally, intellectually, as well as corporeally. The doctrine of the Osiris thus absorbs, as it were, the old idea of the ka, and spiritualises it, at the same time confining it to the life after death.

But if the conception of a double, unsubstantial and yet materialised, underlay the belief in the Osiris, the practice of embalming was equally responsible for it. The continued existence of the double was dependent on the continued existence of the body, for the one presupposed the other, and it was only the mummified body which could continue to exist. As long as the double was believed to haunt the tomb, and there receive the food and other offerings which were provided for it, the connection between it and the mummy presented no difficulties. But when the Egyptian came to look forward to the heaven of Osiris, first on this nether earth and then in the skies, the case was wholly altered. The mummy lay in the tomb, the immortal counterpart of the man himself was in another and a spiritual world. The result was inevitable: the follower of Osiris soon assured himself that one day the mummified body also would have life and action again breathed into it and rejoin its Osiris in the fields of paradise. Had not the god carried thither his divine body as well as its counterpart? and what the god had done those who had become even as he was could also do.

In this way the doctrine of the resurrection of the body became an integral part of the Osirian faith. The future happiness to which its disciples looked forward was not in absorption into the divinity, or contemplation of the divine attributes, or a monotonous existence of passive idleness. They were to live as they had done in this life, only without sorrow and suffering, without sin, and eternally. But all their bodily powers and interests were to remain and be gratified as they could not be in this lower world. The realm over which Osiris ruled was the idealised reproduction of that Egypt which the Egyptian loved so well, with its sunshine and light, its broad and life-bearing river, its fertile fields, and its busy towns. Those who dwelt in it could indeed feast and play, could lounge in canoes and fish or hunt, could read tales and poems or write treatises on morality, could transform themselves into birds that alighted among the thick foliage of the trees; but they must also work as they had done here, must cultivate the soil before it would produce its ears of wheat two cubits high, must submit to the corvée and embank the canals. The Osirian heaven had no place for the idle and inactive.

No sooner, indeed, had the dead man been pronounced worthy of admittance to it, than he was called upon to work. At the very outset of his new existence, before any of its pleasures might be tasted, he was required to till the ground and guide the plough. This was no hard-ship to the poor fellah who had spent his life in agricultural labour. But it was otherwise with the rich man whose lands had been cultivated by others, while he himself had merely enjoyed their produce. In the early days of Egyptian history, accordingly, it was the fashion for the feudal landowner to surround his tomb with the graves of his servants and retainers, whose bodies were mummified and buried at his expense. What they had performed for him in this world, it was believed they would perform for him in the world to come. There, too, the Osiris of the fellah would work for the Osiris of the wealthy, whose necessary task would thus be performed vicariously.

But as time went on a feeling grew up that in the sight of Osiris all those who were assimilated to him were equal one to the other. Between one Osiris and another the distinctions of rank and station which prevail here were no longer possible. The old conception of the ka came to the help of the believer. The place of the human servant was taken by the ushebti, that little figure of clay or wood which represented a peasant, and whose double, accordingly, was sent to assist the dead in his tasks above. The human Osiris, whatever his lot in this life had been, was henceforth free from the toils which had once awaited him in the fields of Alu; he could look on while the ka of the ushebti performed his work. The ushebti-figures become especially numerous after the expulsion of the Hyksos. The domination of the foreigner and the long war of independence which put an end to it, had destroyed the feudal nobility, and therewith the feudal ideas which regarded mankind as divided, now and hereafter, into two classes. From thenceforth the Egyptians became the democratic people that they still are. As the Pharaoh on earth ruled a people who before him were all equal, so between the subjects of Osiris, the Pharaoh in heaven, no distinctions of rank were known except such as were conferred by himself.

The same belief which had substituted the ushebti for the human peasant had filled the tombs with the objects which, it was thought, would best please the dead man. Besides the meat and drink which had been provided for the ka from time immemorial, there was now placed beside the mummy everything which it was imagined he would need or desire in the other world. Even the books which the dead man had delighted in during his earthly existence were not forgotten. It was not necessary, however, that the actual objects should be there. It was the ka only of the object that was wanted, and that could be furnished by a representation of the object as well as by the object itself. And so, besides the actual clothes or tools or weapons that are buried in the tombs, we find imitation clothes and tools, like the “ghost-money” of the Greeks, or even paintings on the wall, which, so long as the object was correctly depicted in them, were considered quite sufficient. One of the most touching results of this thorough-going realism has been noticed by Professor Wiedemann.16 “The soles of the feet (of the mummy) which had trodden the mire of earth were removed, in order that the Osiris might tread the Hall of Judgment with pure feet; and the gods were prayed to grant milk to the Osiris that he might bathe his feet in it and so assuage the pain which the removal of the soles must needs have caused him. And, finally, the soles” were then placed within the mummy, that he might find them at hand on the day of resurrection, and meantime make use of their ka.

The doctrine of the resurrection of the body involved also a doctrine of a judgment of the deeds committed by the body. Those only were admitted into the kingdom of Osiris who, like their leader, had done good to men. A knowledge of the Ritual with its divine lore and incantations was not sufficient to unlock its gates. The Osiris who entered it had to be morally as well as ceremonially pure. Osiris was not only a king; he was a judge also, and those who appeared before him had to prove that their conduct in this life had been in conformity with one of the highest of the moral codes of antiquity.

This moral test of righteousness is the most remarkable fact connected with the Osirian system of doctrine. The Egyptian who accepted it was called on to acknowledge that orthodoxy in belief and practice was not sufficient to ensure his future salvation; it was needful that he should have avoided sin and been actively benevolent as well. Unlike most ancient forms of faith, morality—and that too of a high order—was made an integral part of religion, and even set above it. It was not so much what a man believed as what he had done that enabled him to pass the awful tribunal of heaven and be admitted to everlasting bliss.

The Book of the Dead was the guide of the dead man on his journey to the other world. Its chapters were inscribed on the rolls buried with the mummy, or were painted on the coffin and the walls of the tomb. It was the Ritual which prescribed the prayers and incantations to be repeated in the course of the journey, and described the enemies to be met with on the other side of the grave. Thanks to its instructions, the dead passed safely through the limbo which divides this earth from the kingdom of Osiris, and arrived at last at the Judgment Hall, the hall of the Twofold Truth, where Mât, the goddess of truth and law, received him. Here on his judgment throne sat Osiris, surrounded by the forty-two assessors of divine justice from the forty-two nomes of Egypt, while Thoth and the other deities of the Osirian cycle stood near at hand. Then the dead man was called upon to show reason why he should be admitted to the fields of Alu, and to prove that during his lifetime he had practised mercy and justice and had abstained from evil-doing. The negative confession put into his mouth is one of the most noteworthy relics of ancient literature. “Praise be to thee (O Osiris),” he was made to say, “lord of the Twofold Truth! Praise to thee, great god, lord of the Twofold Truth! I come to thee, my lord, I draw near to see thine excellencies.17

I have not acted with deceit or done evil to men.

I have not oppressed the poor

I have not judged unjustly.

I have not known ought of wicked things.

I have not committed sin.

I have not exacted more work from the labourer than was just.

I have not been anxious. I have not been feeble of purpose.

I have not defaulted. I have not been niggardly.

I have not done what the gods abhor.

I have not caused the slave to be ill-treated by his master.

I have made none to hunger.

I have made none to weep.

I have not committed murder

I have not caused any man to be treacherously murdered.

I have not dealt treacherously with any one.

I have not diminished the offerings of bread in the temples.

I have not spoiled the shewbread of the gods.

I have not robbed the dead of their loaves and cerecloths.

I have not been unchaste.

I have not defiled myself in the sanctuary of the god of my city.

I have not stinted and been niggardly of offerings.

I have not defrauded in weighing the scales.

I have not given false weight.

I have not taken the milk from the mouth of the child.

I have not hunted the cattle in their meadows.

I have not netted the birds of the gods.

I have not fished in their preserves.

I have not kept the water (from my neighbour) in the time of inundation.

I have not cut off a water channel.

I have not extinguished the flame at a wrong time.

I have not defrauded the Ennead of the gods of the choice parts of the victims.

I have not driven away the oxen of the temple.

I have not driven back a god when he has left the temple.

I am pure! I am pure! I am pure!”18

The negative confession ended, the dead man turned to the forty-two assessors and pleaded that he was innocent of the particular sin which they had been severally appointed to judge. Then he once more addressed Osiris with a final plea for justification: “Hail to you, ye gods who are in the great hall of the Twofold Truth, who have no falsehood in your bosoms, but who live on truth in On, and feed your hearts upon it before the lord god who dwelleth in his solar disc. Deliver me from the Typhon who feedeth on entrails, O chiefs! in this hour of supreme judgment; grant that the deceased may come unto you, he who hath not sinned, who hath neither lied, nor done evil, nor committed any crime, who hath not borne false witness, who hath done nought against himself, but who liveth on truth, who feedeth on truth. He hath spread joy on all sides; men speak of that which he hath done, and the gods rejoice in it. He hath reconciled the god to him by his love; he hath given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked; he hath given a boat to the shipwrecked; he hath offered sacrifices to the gods, sepulchral meals to the dead. Deliver him from himself, speak not against him before the lord of the dead, for his mouth is pure and his hands are pure!”19

Meanwhile the heart of the dead man—his conscience, as we should call it in our modern phraseology—was being weighed in the balance against the image of truth. Something more convincing was needed than his own protestation that he had acted uprightly and done no wrong. The heart was placed in the scale by Thoth, who, knowing the weakness of human nature, inclined the balance a little in its favour. Anubis superintended the weighing, while Thoth recorded the result. If the verdict were favourable, he addressed Osiris in the following words: “Behold the deceased in this Hall of the Twofold Truth, his heart hath been weighed in the balance, in the presence of the great genii, the lords of Hades, and been found true. No trace of earthly impurity hath been found in his heart. Now that he leaveth the tribunal true of voice (justified), his heart is restored to him, as well as his eyes and the material cover of his heart, to be put back in their places, each in its own time, his soul in heaven, his heart in the other world, as is the custom of the followers of Horus. Henceforth let his body lie in the hands of Anubis, who presideth over the tombs; let him receive offerings at the cemetery in the presence of (Osiris) Un-nefer (the Good Being); let him be as one of those favourites who follow thee; let his soul abide where it will in the necropolis of his city, he whose voice is true before the great Ennead.”20

In the judgment-hall of Osiris we find the first expression of the doctrine which was echoed so many ages later by the Hebrew prophets, that what the gods require is mercy and righteousness rather than orthodoxy of belief. And the righteousness and mercy are far-reaching. The faith that is to save the follower of Osiris is a faith that has led him to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to abstain from injuring his neighbour in word or thought, much less in deed, and to be truthful in both act and speech. Even the slave is not forgotten; to have done anything which has caused him to be ill-treated by his master, is sufficient to exclude the offender from the delights of paradise. Man's duty towards his fellow-man is put on a higher footing even than his duty towards the gods, for it comes first in the list of righteous actions required from him. It is not until the dead man has proved that he has acted with justice and mercy towards his fellows, that he is allowed to pass on to prove that he has performed his duty towards the gods.

And the Osirian confession of faith was not a mere conventional formulary, without influence on the life and conduct of those who professed it. There are already allusions to it in the Pyramid texts, and in the tombs of a later period the deceased rests his claim to be remembered upon the good deeds he had done while on earth. To feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to deal justly, are duties which are constantly recognised in them. “I loved my father,” says Baba at El-Kab, “I honoured my mother.… When a famine arose, lasting many years, I distributed corn to the needy.” The Egyptian sepulchres contain few records of war and battles; of deeds of kindness and righteous dealing there is frequent mention.21

Of the fate of the wicked, of those whose hearts were overweighed in the balance and who failed to pass the tribunal of Osiris, we know but little. Typhon, in the form of a hideous hippopotamus, stood behind Thoth in a corner of the hall, ready to devour their entrails. In the Book of the Other World, of which I shall have to speak in another lecture, the tortures of the lost are depicted quite in medieval style. We see them plunged in water or burned in the fire, enclosed in vaulted chambers filled with burning charcoal, with their heads struck from their necks or their bodies devoured by serpents. But the Book of the Other World is the ritual of a religious system which was originally distinct from the Osirian, and it is probable that most Egyptians expected the final annihilation of the wicked rather than their continued existence in an eternal hell. The divine elements in man, which could not die, were equally incapable of committing sin, and consequently would return to the God who gave them, when the human individuality to which they had been joined was punished for its offences in the flesh. The soul could remain united only to that individuality which had been purified from all its earthly stains, and had become as the god Osiris himself. The individuality which was condemned in the judgment of Osiris perished eternally, and in the mind of the Egyptian the individuality and the individual were one and the same.

  • 1.

    So Lauth, Aus Aegypten's Vorzeit, p. 61; Brugsch, Dictionnaire geographique, pp. 61, 62; Maspero, The Dawn of Civilisation, p. 180. The evidence, however, is not quite clear.

  • 2.

    The bronze figures of the ibis found at Tel el-Baqlîya, on the east bank of the Damietta branch of the Nile, opposite Abusir or Busiris, have shown that it is the site of the capital of the Hermopolite nome.

  • 3.

    At Behbêt near Mansûra.

  • 4.

    This, at least, is how the name is usually written. But on an early seal-cylinder which I have published in the Proc. SBA., Feb. 1898, No. 2, where we read, “The city of the ram, the city which is called Dad,” the name is written D-d, and on a libation-table of the Sixth Dynasty from El-Kab we find Dad-d-u (Quibell, El-Kab, pl. iv. 1). The earlier pronunciation of the name as found in the Pyramid texts is Zaddu or Zadu.

  • 5.

    As early as the age of the Pyramid texts the column Dad had come to be explained as a picture of the spine, or rather spinal column (zad), of Osiris, which was supposed to be preserved at Daddu or Pi-Asar-neb-Daddu or Abusir. See Unas 7.

  • 6.

    Not unfrequently a rich Egyptian who was buried at Saqqara had a cenotaph at Abydos. I believe that the fashion had been set by the founder of the united monarchy himself, and that besides the tomb of Menes at Negada there was also a cenotaph of the king at Abydos. At all events clay impressions of his Ka-name Aha have been found there in the Omm el-Ga'ab.

  • 7.

    The title borne by Osiris at Abydos was Khent-amentit, “the ruler of the west.” There is no need of turning the title into a separate god who was afterwards identified with Osiris: he was as much Osiris as was Neb-Daddu, “the lord of Daddu.” Professor Maspero says with truth that “Khent-amentit was the dead Anher, a sun which had set in the west” (Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie égyptiennes, ii. p. 24)—or rather, perhaps, a sun that was setting in the west, as his domain was the necropolis of Omm el-Ga'ab, immediately eastward of the western boundary of hills. When “Osiris of Daddu” is distinguished from “Khent-Amentit of Abydos,” as on a stela of the Eleventh Dynasty (Daressy in the Recueil de Travaux, xiv. p. 23), this is only in accordance with the Egyptian habit of transforming a divine epithet into a separate deity.

  • 8.

    Already in the Pyramid texts Horus is said to have assisted in the burial of Osiris, who goes to the plains of Alu with “the great gods that proceed from On” (Pepi ii. 864–872); and we have perhaps a reminiscence of the spread of the Osirian cult to the south and the identification of Osiris with Akhem, the mummified Horus of Nekhen, in Pepi ii. 849, where we read: “Seb installs by his rites Osiris as god, to whom the watchers in Pe make offering, and the watchers in Nekhen venerate him” (Maspero in the Recueil de Travaux, xii. p. 168). Pe and Nekhen were the capitals of the two pre-Menic kingdoms of Northern and Southern Egypt, and on a stela from Nekhen (Kom el-Ahmar) in the Cairo Museum, “Horus of Nekhen” is identified with Osiris (Recueil de Travaux, xiv. p. 22, No. xx.). In the inscriptions of the Pyramid of Pepi II., lines 864–5, it is said that Isis and Nebhât wept for Osiris at Pe along with “the souls of Pe.” Pe with its temple of the younger Horus, and Dep with its temple of Uazit the goddess of the north, together formed the city called Buto by the Greeks.

  • 9.

    So in the Pyramid texts (e.g. Teta 171, 172).

  • 10.

    The origin of the name of Set had already been forgotten in the age of the Pyramid texts, where it is explained by the determinative set, “a Stone,”

  • 11.

    When the hieroglyphic name of the Busirite nome was first invented, Osiris was still the living “lord of Daddu” rather than the mummified patron of its necropolis, since it represents him as a living Pharaoh with the title of ânz or “chieftain.”

  • 12.

    Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology, xii. 8, pp. 401–402.

  • 13.

    The origin of the name of Osiris had been forgotten by the Egyptians long before the age of the Pyramid texts, where we find (Unas 229) the grammatical goddess User-t invented to explain Osiris, as if the latter were the adjective user, “strong”! M. Grébaut long ago expressed his belief that Osiris was of foreign origin (Recueil de Travaux, i. p. 120).

  • 14.

    Nebo or Nabium (Nabu), “the prophet,” was the interpreter of the will of Merodach, just as Merodach was the interpreter of the will of Ea.

  • 15.

    The constellation of Osiris was called “the soul of Osiris,” and Professor Maspero notes that the Pyramid texts place his kingdom near the Great Bear (Études de Mythologie et d' Archéologie, ii. p. 20). Isis became Sirius, and Horns the morning star.

  • 16.

    The Ancient Egyptian Doctrine of Immortality, p. 48.

  • 17.

    Renouf's translation of the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani) is as follows:—“I am not a doer of what is wrong. I am not a plunderer. I am not a robber. I am not a slayer of men. I do not stint the measure of corn. I am not a niggard. I do not desire the property of the gods. I am not a teller of lies. I am not a monopoliser of food. I am no extortioner. I am not unchaste. I am not the cause of others' tears. I am not a dissembler. I am not a doer of violence, I am not a domineering character. I do not pillage cultivated land. I am not an eavesdropper. I am not a chatterer. I do not dismiss a case through self-interest. I am not unchaste with women or men. I am not obscene. I am not an exciter of alarms. I am not hot in speech. I do not turn a deaf ear to the words of righteousness. I am not foul-mouthed. I am not a striker. I am not a quarreller. I do not revoke my words. I do not multiply clamour in reply to words. I am not evil-minded or a doer of evil. I am not a reviler of the king. I put no obstruction on (the use of the Nile) water. I am not a bawler. I am not a reviler of the god. I am not fraudulent. I am not sparing in offerings to the gods. I do not deprive the dead of the funeral cakes. I take not away the cakes of the child, or profane the god of my locality. I do not kill sacred animals.”

  • 18.

    Wiedemann, Die Religion der alten Aegypter, pp. 132, 133; and Maspero, Dawn of Civilisation, pp. 188–190.

  • 19.

    Maspero, Dawn of Civilisation, p. 190.

  • 20.

    Maspero, Dawn of Civilisation, p. 191.

  • 21.

    So on a stela translated by Professor Maspero (Recueil de Travaux, iv. p. 128) the deceased says: “Never has one said of me, What is that he hath done? I have not injured, I have not committed evil; none has suffered through my fault, the lie has never entered into me since I was born, but I have always done that which was true in the sight of the lord of the two worlds. I have been united in heart to the god; I have walked in the good paths of justice, love, and all the virtues. Ah, let my soul live … for behold I am come to this land, O souls, to be with you in the tomb, I am become one of you who detest sin.”