On Raising Osiris In 1 Corinthians 15 -- By: Nicholas Perrin

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 58:1 (NA 2007)
Article: On Raising Osiris In 1 Corinthians 15
Author: Nicholas Perrin


On Raising Osiris In 1 Corinthians 15

Nicholas Perrin

Summary

The suggestion that Paul’s theology of resurrection was developed on the basis of Osirian concepts of the afterlife, although not particularly new, has been revived of late. This article examines possible comparisons between Paul’s teaching on resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 and the Egyptian myth of resurrection. This involves not only a consideration of the isolated parallels, but an investigation of the degree of coherence between Paul’s theological framework and the broad perspective of the Osirians. Recent arguments for Osirian influence in Paul, though superficially plausible, are in the end unsuccessful because they fail to understand Paul and the Egyptians on their own conceptual terms.

1. Introduction

The suggestion that Paul’s theology of resurrection was developed on the basis of Osirian concepts of the afterlife has had an enduring shelf-life.1 The proposal is generally made on the basis of particular parallels. For example, D. Gerald Bostock maintains that Paul’s comparison between the resurrection body and a germinating seed (1 Cor. 15:36-49) –

the latter image being closely tied to the Egyptian god Osiris – is evidence that Osirian categories stand behind the apostle’s maturing thought.2 Perhaps more significant is the claim, made by several writers, that Paul’s ‘spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15:44) is a direct appropriation of the Egyptian notion of the sahu.3 Finally, Paul understands Christ to be a corporate personality who at once embodies and represents redeemed humanity; it has also been observed that the same role and functions appear to be predicated of Osiris.4 Since Osirian belief predates Christianity by several millennia, these arguments seem to offer a plausible account of Christian origins.

Of course, whether it is a likely account is a different matter, for similarities by themselves do not prove interdependence. Sound historical methodology requires more than the gathering of isolated parallels: there must be some weighing of the parallels on their own merits, as well as some consideration of the larger conceptual frameworks to which they relate.5 The proper questions, in other words, are (1) whether isolated compariso...

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