Robert Wright on Osiris, Jesus, Dives, and Lazarus

Robert Wright on the Egyptian god Osiris and the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke:

Osiris bears a certain resemblance to Jesus as Christians would later come to conceive him; Osiris inhabited the afterworld and judged the recently deceased, granting eternal life to those who believed in him and lived by his code. But Osiris was doing this a long time before Jesus was born, and meanwhile he had migrated to the Roman Empire, where he had developed a following. Certainly that story in Luke about the rich man and the poor man in Hades has Osirian overtones. At the time Luke was writing, a written copy of an Egyptian story about the afterlife was circulating in the Roman Empire. It was about a rich man and a poor man who die and go to the underworld. Both are judged at the court of Osiris. The rich man’s bad deeds outweighed his good, and so he was consigned to one of the less desirable stations. (Specifically, the story explains: the “pivot of the door” to the underworld is “planted in his right eye and rotating on this eye whenever the door is closed or opened.” Understandably, his “mouth was open in great lamentation.”) In contrast, the poor man, whose good deeds outweighed his bad, got to spend eternity in the company of the “venerable souls,” near the seat of Osiris. Plus, he got the rich man’s clothes: “raiment of royal linen.” (The rich man in Luke’s story wore “purple and fine linen.”) The moral of the story, “He who is good upon earth they are good to him in Amenti (the underworld), while he that is evil they are evil to him.” Luke’s story about the rich man and the poor man seems to have no precedent in earlier Jewish or Christian tradition. So there is indeed a chance that Luke heard or read the Egyptian story and adapted it for Christian use. But we’ll probably never know, . . .

 Wright’s observations on the parallels between the two stories come from the 13th chapter of his new book, The Evolution of God.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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3 Responses to Robert Wright on Osiris, Jesus, Dives, and Lazarus

  1. Jared K says:

    This post is interesting and I will have a look at Wright’s book. I have to say, though, that the above quote strikes me as highly speculative. I’m not dismissing him–I’m sure Wright’s writing is worthwhile–but I note that, so far as I know, he is not a trained historian. I also note that this quote smacks of Dan Brown or Acharya S, the internet’s Jesus-conspiracy-theorist.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    Wright frequently jumps into areas he has no expertise in. Gould famously slapped him down for his speculations on evolutionary psychology (this was more than a decade ago).

    Still, Wright is always interesting. And I hadn’t heard this take on the Dives-Lazarus story before.

    —Santi

  3. Jim Loving says:

    You should definitely check out the work of Robert Wright. Non-Zero and Why Buddhism is True are very good. Here is his take on the feud with Gould, which was quite a while ago. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/1996/11/homo-deceptus.html

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