A Jewish Osiris

The God Osiris was murdered by his brother Seth, who then cut him into pieces, which he distributed throughout Egypt. The papyrus Jumilhac says that the head was in Abydos, the jaws in Upper Egypt, the intestines in Pithom, the lungs in Behemet Delta, the phallus in Mendes, both legs in Iakémet, the fingers in the 13th and 14th nomes, an arm in the 20th nome and the heart in Athribis Delta.

Plutarch, who later told the story of Osiris, gave a different distribution. The important thing is that Osiris, a God who died and rose again, embodies the heart of the ancient Egyptians’ belief in the resurrection of the dead and in eternal life.

The idea of a dead and risen God is a paradigm, whose analogy with the figure of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, cannot be overlooked.

Several precious papyrus tell the story of the God Osiris, his many adventures. Murders, tricks, betrayals, magical transformations abound. To read them today, in an era both disenchanted and eager for misguided religious passions, can be conceived as a dive back several millennia, a dive into the dawn of an emerging, deeply religious feeling, in all the meanings of this ambiguous term.

The papyrus Jumilhac, kept in Paris, tells the story of the revenge of Osiris’ son, Anubis, who went after Seth, his father’s killer. Knowing that he was threatened, Seth took the form of Anubis himself, to try to cover his tracks, before taking many other forms.

« Then Imakhumankh walked at the head of the gods who watch over Osiris; he found Demib and cut off his head, so that he was anointed with his [blood]. [Seth] came looking for him, after he had turned into an Anubis (…) Then Isis dismembered Seth with her own teeth, biting him in his back, and Thoth pronounced his spells against him. Re then said: ‘Let this seat be attributed to the « Tired »; look as he regenerated himself! How beautiful it is! And that let Seth be placed under him as a seat. That’s right, because of the harm he did to all the members of Osiris.’ (…)

But Seth fled into the wilderness and made his transformation into the panther of this nome. Anubis, however, seized him, and Thoth said his magic spells against him again. So he fell to the ground in front of him. Anubis bound him by his arms and legs and Seth was consumed in the flame, from head to toe, throughout his body, east of the august room. The smell of his fat having reached the heaven, it spread in this magnificent place, and Re and the gods held it for pleasant. Then Anubis split Seth’s skin, and tore it off, and put his fur on him. (…)

And Seth made his transformation into Anubis, so that the gate-keepers should not be able to recognize him (…) Anubis pursued him with the gods of his retinue, and joined him. But Set, taking on the appearance of a bull, made his form unrecognizable. But Anubis bound him by his arms and legs, and cut off his phallus and testicles. (…)

After that Anubis entered the Ouâbet to check the condition of his father, Osiris, and he found him safe and sound, with firm and fresh flesh. He turned into a falcon, opened his wings behind his father Osiris, and behind the vase that contained the aqueous humors of this God (…) he spread the wings as a falcon to fly, in search of his own eye, and brought it back intact to his master. »

As we see, Seth is constantly transforming himself into anubis, then into a panther, finally into a bull. But Anubis always follows him, with Thot’s help. Then Seth is transformed into Osiris’ « seat » or Anubis’ « fur ». But it is the final transformation that is most pleasing to the supreme God, Re. Seth is consumed in flames and in the smell of fat, and he spreads himself into the magnificent Heaven.

It is interesting to compare the final transformation of Seth into flames and odours with that of Anubis, who takes the form of the falcon. This falcon, Horus, is one of the oldest, most archaic deities in the Egyptian pantheon. In the Osirian context, Horus represents the posthumous son of Osiris and Isis, who flies over his dead father in search of his eye and helps to restore his life.

The papyrus Jumilhac evokes the legend of Horus in chapter XXI, and compares it to a vine.

« As for the vineyard, it is the frame that surrounds the two eyes to protect them; as for the grape, it is the pupil of Horus’ eye; as for the wine that is made, it is Horus’ tears. »i

Wine stands for the tears of the son of the God Osiris, himself likened to a « vine ». How can we not think of this other ‘wine’, the blood of Christ, the sacrificed son of the living God?

iPapyrus Jumilhac. XIV,14,15, Paris. Copy consulted in Bibliothèque Ste Geneviève. Paris. Translation Jacques Vandier.

The Black God

Alphonse Constant, aka Eliphas Levi, gave a precise description of the « mysteries of Eleusis », of which this is the final scene:

« When the initiate had triumphed through all the trials, when he had seen and touched the holy things, if he was judged strong enough to bear the last and most terrible of all the secrets, a veiled priest came running towards him, and threw this enigmatic word into his ear: ‘Osiris is a black God’. Words darker and brighter than jet! »

André Breton, in his book Arcane 17, quotes these same words, ‘Osiris is a black God’, which he describes as a « magic formula » that « works ».

« So, every time an association of ideas treacherously brings you back to that point where, for you, all hope one day has been denied and, from the highest point you then hold, threatens, soaring in search of the wing, to rush you back into the abyss, testing myself the vanity of every word of consolation and holding any attempt at diversion as unworthy, have I convinced myself that only a magic formula here could work, but what formula could condense in it and instantly restore to you all the strength to live, to live with all the intensity possible, when I know that it had returned to you so slowly? The one I decide to stick to, the only one by which I find it acceptable to remind you to me when you suddenly lean towards the other side, is in those words of which, when you start turning your head away, I just want to touch your ear: « Osiris is a black God ». »

What is actually behind the name of this « magic », and whose help Breton invokes?

What do these words really mean: « Osiris is a black God »?

Anubis, funerary god, reigning over the necropolises, one of Egypt’s oldest deities, dates back to the pre-dynastic period, more than 5500 years ago. Anubis is usually represented as a large black canid. Is it a wolf? A jackal? A wild dog?

Being a hybrid, it has the ears of a fox, the tail and head of a jackal, and the silhouette of a greyhound.

Anubis is the adulterous son of Osiris, according to the version of the myth transmitted by Plutarch in his Isis and Osiris.

« Osiris rose again as king and judge of the dead. He bears the title of Lord of the Underworld, Lord of Eternity, Sovereign of the Dead. »

In some manuscripts Osiris is also represented with a black face.

It can be noted that the cruel death of Osiris murdered by his brother Seth, the dismemberment of his body and his resurrection are irresistibly reminiscent of an analogy, at least in form, between the faith of the ancient Egyptians and the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection in Christianity.

But why a « Black God »?

I propose the following down-to-earth explanation.

The flooding of the Nile (in its part called the « white » Nile) brought a black silt each year, allowing to cultivate its banks.

In those days, this phenomenon remained mysterious and unexplained for a long time.

It is from this black silt that Egypt’s ancient name, Kemet, comes from, which means « the black land », that is, the « arable land ».

Osiris is a « Black God » because he brings life, every year, covering land with black silt.

The three colours of the Egyptian flag, black, white and red, still bear witness to this mythical belief long after. These three colours are a reference, respectively, to Osiris, Isis and Set, Osiris being the black God, Isis the white goddess, and Set, bound to the desert, being symbolized by red.

Black is the colour of life, of eternal life.

Un Osiris juif


Le Dieu Osiris est mort assassiné par son frère Seth, lequel le découpe ensuite en morceaux, qu’il répartit dans toute l’Égypte. Le papyrus Jumilhac dit que la tête était à Abydos, les mâchoires en Haute Égypte, les intestins à Pithom, les poumons à Béhemet du Delta, le phallus à Mendès, les deux jambes à Iakémet, les doigts dans les 13ème et 14ème nomes, un bras dans le 20ème nome et le cœur à Athribis du Delta.

Plutarque, qui raconte plus tardivement l’histoire d’Osiris, donne une répartition différente. L’important c’est qu’Osiris, Dieu mort et ressuscité, incarne le cœur de la croyance des Égyptiens anciens en la résurrection des morts et en la vie éternelle.

L’idée d’un Dieu mort et ressuscité est un paradigme, dont on ne peut s’empêcher d’apprécier l’analogie avec la figure de Jésus Christ, Dieu crucifié et ressuscité.

Plusieurs papyrus précieux racontent la saga du Dieu Osiris, ses nombreuses péripéties. Meurtres, ruses, trahisons, transformations magiques abondent. Les lire aujourd’hui, dans une époque à la fois désenchantée et avide de passions religieuses dévoyées, peut se concevoir comme une plongée plusieurs millénaires en arrière, une plongée dans l’aube d’un sentiment naissant, profondément religieux, dans toutes les acceptions de ce terme ambigu.

Le papyrus Jumilhac, conservé à Paris, raconte la vengeance du fils d’Osiris, Anubis, qui s’est lancé à la poursuite de Seth, l’assassin de son père. Seth, se sachant menacé, prend la forme d’Anubis lui-même, pour tenter de brouiller les pistes, avant de prendre bien d’autres formes encore.

« Alors Imakhouemânkh marcha à la tête des dieux qui veillent sur Osiris ; il trouva Demib et lui coupa la tête, si bien qu’il fut oint de son [sang]. [Seth] vint à sa recherche, après s’être transformé en Anubis (…) Puis Isis dépeça Seth enfonçant ses dents dans son dos, et Thot prononça ses charmes contre lui. Rê dit alors : « Qu’on attribue ce siège au « Fatigué » ; comme il s’est régénéré ! Comme il est beau ! Et que Seth soit placé sous lui en qualité de siège. C’est juste, à cause du mal qu’il a fait à tous les membres d’Osiris. » (…) Mais Seth s’enfuit dans le désert et fit sa transformation en panthère de ce nome. Anubis, cependant, s’empara de lui, et Thot lut ses formules magiques contre lui, de nouveau. Aussi tomba-t-il à terre devant eux. Anubis le lia par les bras et les jambes et Seth fut consumé dans la flamme, de la tête aux pieds, dans tout son corps, à l’Est de la salle auguste. L’odeur de sa graisse ayant atteint le ciel, elle se répandit dans ce lieu magnifique, et Rê et les dieux la tinrent pour agréable. Puis Anubis fendit la peau de Seth, l’arracha et mit sa fourrure sur lui (…)

Seth fit sa transformation en Anubis afin que les portiers ne pussent pas le reconnaître (…) Anubis le poursuivit avec les dieux de sa suite, et le rejoignit. Mais Seth prenant l’aspect d’un taureau rendit sa forme méconnaissable. Anubis cependant le lia par les bras et les jambes, et lui coupa le phallus et les testicules (…)

Après quoi Anubis entra dans la Ouâbet pour vérifier l’état de son père, Osiris, et il le trouva sain et sauf, les chairs fermes et fraîches. Il se transforma en faucon, ouvrit ses ailes derrière son père Osiris, et derrière le vase qui contenait les humeurs de ce Dieu (…) il étendit les ailes en qualité de faucon pour voler grâce à elles, à la recherche de son propre œil, et il le rapporta intact à son maître. »

Seth se transforme sans cesse, en Anubis, puis en panthère, enfin en taureau. Mais Anubis l’emporte toujours, avec l’aide de Thot. Puis Seth est transformé en « siège » d’Osiris ou en « fourrure » d’Anubis. Mais c’est la transformation finale qui est la plus agréable au Dieu suprême, Rê : lorsque Seth est consumé en flammes, et en odeur de graisse, alors il se répand dans le Ciel magnifique.

Il est intéressant de comparer la transformation finale de Seth en flammes et en odeur à celle d’Anubis qui prend la forme du faucon. Ce faucon, Horus, est l’une des divinités les plus anciennes, les plus archaïques du panthéon égyptien. Il représente, dans le cadre osirien, le fils posthume d’Osiris et d’Isis, qui vole au-dessus de son père mort, à la recherche de son œil, et contribue à lui rendre la vie.

Le papyrus Jumilhac évoque la légende d’Horus en son chapitre XXI, et le compare à une vigne. « Quant au vignoble, c’est le cadre qui entoure les deux yeux pour les protéger ; quant au raisin, c’est la pupille de l’œil d’Horus ; quant au vin qu’on en fait, ce sont les larmes d’Horus. » i

Pas de comparaison sans raison ! La métaphore du vin représente les larmes du fils du Dieu Osiris, assimilé à une « vigne ». Comment ne pas penser au vin, symbolisant le sang du Christ, fils sacrifié du Dieu vivant ?

iXIV,14,15, Trad. Jacques Vandier.