Monday, September 29, 2008

Book Review: Osiris - Death and Afterlife of a God

Scholia Reviews

Scholia Reviews ns (2008) 16.

Bojana Mosjov, Osiris: Death and Afterlife of a God. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. Pp. vi + 150, incl. 10 plates, 7 figures, and 2 maps.

Sakkie Cornelius
Ancient Studies, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

The cult of the Egyptian god Osiris was -- next to that of his sister Isis, who was his loving wife and mother of his child, Horus -- surely the most popular in the ancient world, including the Greco-Roman world. Plutarch later retold the myth in which Osiris is one of the main characters.[[1]] However, the origins and development of Osiris are much more complex. In this book the Macedonian- born author retells this story covering 3000 years, but also looks at the influence and legacy of the Egyptian god of the dead, the first ‘mummy’ in the long history of the Egyptian cult of the dead.

The book has a list of Egyptian gods and goddesses (pp. xiv-xviii), a glossary of terms with definitions (pp. 134- 37), a chronology following the ‘ Oxford History of Egypt’ (pp. 138-41;,[[2]] a bibliography (pp. 142-44), and an index consisting mostly of names, but not concepts such as ‘monotheism’ or ‘ resurrection’ (pp. 145-50). There are two very detailed maps, some illustrations: line- drawings in the text, but also two black-and-white plates -– the rest are in colour. (The description in the very first lines of the book (p. xi) of the well-known scene of Osiris sitting at the judgement of the dead really begs for an illustration!)[[3]] The key Egyptian term for cosmic order and justice is printed throughout the book (as in the list on p. xvi; cf. the index on p. 147) as Ma’at instead of the correct Ma‘at! (written with an ain and not an aleph). The same is true for per a-a (p. xiii), Baal and Canaan (pp.
55, 134).

Seth was the opponent of Osiris, but the Egyptian word (setekh) is surely not related to the complex Hebrew term satan (p. xvii), which has very little to do with the later Christian concept of divine Evil.[[4]]

The introduction deals with some central concepts and definitions. It is argued (p. xi) that ‘because of the peculiar nature of their religion . . . [the Egyptians] never took the trouble to write down or explain this myth’ -- what exactly was this ‘peculiar nature’? This introduction is followed by the prologue, which summarizes the Osiris myth, and eleven numbered chapters.

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