Power over Egypt in the Hymn to Osiris (Psalm 78)

Bilderesultat for osiris in karnak egypt

Illustration: Mummiform figures of the King as Osiris

Frequently we find similarities between the Bible and ancient texts from Egypt or Mesopotamia. As significant as these commonalities are, it is at least equally important to recognize differences among the texts so that we can discern the ways in which the beliefs of Israel were truly unique. Psalm 78 is a recitation of the history of God’s rule over Israel from the time of the exodus to that of David. The story is not fully chronological but selectively demonstrates that the Lord was sovereign over the Israelites, punishing them when they sinned but delivering them from oppression and slavery.

From the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt has come a stele that contains a hymn celebrating the rule of Osiris over Egypt. In the myth Osiris was slain by his brother, the god Seth, but was restored by his sister/consort, the goddess Isis. Osiris then became lord over the realm of the dead, as well as over Egypt, both through his son Horus and through the earthly representative of Horus, the pharaoh. The hymn proclaims how the “Two Lands” (i.e. Upper and Lower Egypt), the Nile  and all the beasts of Egypt honour Osiris, Isis and Horus.

As the Egyptian text does for Osiris, Psalm 78 proclaims the reign of the Lord over all Israel. And as the Egyptian text does for the pharaoh, the psalm depicts a human viceroy to the reign of God in the person of David (78:70-72). However, ulike the Egyptian song the psalm is focused entirely upon events in human history. The Egyptian hymn builds upon the mythical slaying and rising of Osiris, while the psalm focuses on God’s dealings with His people in specific events in history. This, above everything else, separates Biblical theology from paganism.


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