Friday, November 18, 2011

Christ and Osiris

3 Do you not know that as many of us who were baptized in Christ Jesus, were baptized into his death. 4 Therefore we were buried with him through the baptism into death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so too we will conduct ourselves in the newness of life. 5 For if we have become united in the likeness of his death, then also we shall be in the likeness of his resurrection.

Paul’s argument above is established on some form of mimetic participation: the believer must “die with Christ” in order to be raised, as he himself was. Thus the right of baptism in Paul’s thought is a symbolic and ritual re-enactment of Jesus’ death, the goal of which is to become “dead” and “buried”—“buried with Christ,” “crucified together with Christ” (6:6), “died with Christ (6:7)—so to assure the believer’s resurrection in the same manner in which Christ was raised.

We have already seen this mimetic rite before. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the deceased Ani must identify with Osiris in order to assure his rebirth/resurrection in the same manner in which Osiris was raised. So, for example, Ani becomes Ani Osiris, his corpse becomes dismembered as Osiris’ was, his ba travels forth as Osiris’ did, he is vindicated by Thoth as Osiris was, and finally resurrected in like manner to Osiris.  

There are other similarities to think about as well:

1. Both Osiris and Christ died at the hands of their enemies; they are both portrayed as men who suffered injustices which lead to their deaths; and they both are presented as having been vindicated for their unjust sufferings, and vindicated in similar fashion: resurrection from the dead. Furthermore, both Ani and “those in Christ” participate in the sufferings of Osiris and Jesus respectively, and are likewise vindicated of the unjust treatments they also suffered at the hands of their enemies.

2. The deceased or “deceased” also identify with Osiris or Christ. Ani becomes Ani Osiris, which enables him to participate in Osiris’ trials, judgement, and vindication. In somewhat similar fashion, those baptized “into Christ’s death” also identify with his trials and vindication. Or, more direct, they become the “limbs of Christ’s body” (1 Cor 6:15). And Polycarp’s martyrdom in imitatio Christi brings this identification out even more.  

3. The moral requirement of righteousness as a condition for one’s election is stressed in both narratives. In the EBD it is Ani Osiris’ judgement, and in 1 Thessalonians this is presented as the Thessalonians judgement on the day of Jesus’ coming: they must prove themselves worthy and blameless (2:12; 3:13; 4:1; 5:23).

4. Also present in our two sources is the fear of complete annihilation (i.e., death as utter extinction) if there is no post-mortem re-enactment of Osiris’ or Christ’s vindication by the deceased. In Paul it is salvation from the wrath of God and eternal extinction! (1 Cor 15:18 “have perished”).
5. Both texts emphasize the deceased’s eternal life in the presence of the deity.

 What more can be said?

—Steven DiMattei

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