William Edelen Blog – The Contrary Minister

William Edelen: Easter Mythology



From William Edelen
The Contrary Minister

The image of a god, buried in a tomb, being withdrawn and said to live again, is thousands of years older than the Jesus stories.

Of all the resurrected savior gods that were worshipped before — and at the beginning of the Christian story — none contributed so much to the mythology developing around Jesus as the Egyptian, Osiris. Osiris was called “Lord of Lords,” “King of Kings” and “God of Gods.” He was called “the good shepherd,” “the resurrection and the life,” the god who made “men and women to be born again.” He was the Egyptians’ “god man” who suffered, died, rose again and lived eternally in heaven.

The Egyptians thought that by believing in Osiris and participating in various rituals they would share eternal life with Osiris. Egyptian scripture says: “As true as Osiris lives, so truly shall his followers live.”

The coming of Osiris was announced by Three Wise Men. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat. And finally, Egyptians came to believe that only through Osiris could one obtain eternal life.

The much loved 23rd Psalm of the Bible is a modified version of an Egyptian text appealing to Osiris, “the good shepherd,” to lead the dead to the “green pastures, and still waters,” to “restore the soul” to the body and give protection in “the valley of the shadow of death.”

A number of years ago, there was an outstanding television series of 13 shows called “The Long Search,” which documented human religious experience. It was produced for the BBC and shown later in the United States on educational channels.

The section on the ancient Near East was written by Dr. Grace Cairns, who holds a doctorate in religion from the University of Chicago. She wrote: “Because Osiris was human as well as divine, his resurrection signified that every righteous person could likewise rise from the dead and have eternal life if he observed the proper procedures.”

She went on to write of the continuity between Osiris and the mythology that accumulated around Jesus. Like the followers of Osiris, the followers of Jesus made him a part of themselves by eating him symbolically so as to participate in his resurrection.

The Bible says: “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelt in me and I in him.” (John 6:56).

Gods of that period who were eaten in the form of bread included Adonis and Dionysus, among many others. Other resurrected gods of that period, before Jesus, were Attis and Mithra. Like Jesus, Attis was sacrificed at the spring equinox, rose again from the dead on the third day and ascended to heaven. Like Mithra and the other solar gods, he celebrated his birthday nine months later at the winter solstice.

We are all going to have a joyful time, hiding and looking for Easter eggs with the children. The Easter bunny goes back centuries before Christianity. He was the Moon Hare and sacred to the goddess in many religions.

I like knowing how our rituals fit into the larger picture of our human family. Knowing the origin of our celebrations enriches their dimensions and places us — and our time — within a historical perspective, religiously.

Once again, it relates us to “time past and time future… where past and future are gathered… pointing to one end… which is always present.” (T.S. Eliot).