Jesus Always Existed

a place for the best evidence of the historical Jesus

Horus And Osiris

The figures of Horus and Osiris have been given a great deal of attention from mythicists. Not only Acharya S (Dorothy Murdock), but also Tom Harpur, a Canadian journalist and former fundamentalist, have cited Horus and Osiris as parallel Christ-figures, and Horus is featured prominently in Murdock’s Christ Conspiracy and Christ in Egypt as well as the popular online Zeitgeist movie.1


When it comes to claims regarding Horus, there is little that can be said or documented, for a search of the literature in most cases simply produces no results. We will also note points at which Murdock changed or modified her argument from Christ Conspiracy to Christ in Egypt.

Was born of the virgin Isis-Meri in December 25th in a cave/manger with his birth being announced by a star in the East and attended by three wise men.

None of this can be confirmed. Frazer2 has Horus born in the swamps, and knows nothing about a star or Wise Men, of any number. Horus was not born of a virgin; Egyptian depictions show his mother Isis, in the form of a falcon, hovering over the erect phallus of his deceased father, Osiris.

We have already noted that a Dec. 25th date is of no relevance, but the one reference I have found to a date for the birth of Horus has him born on the 31st day of the Egyptian month of Khoiak, which ended in what we call November.

Perhaps appearing more serious is an appeal made by mythicists to a significant carving found in the Egyptian temple at Luxor, allegedly depicting the “Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, Birth and Adoration of Horus, with Thoth announcing to the Virgin Isis that she will conceive Horus; with Kenph, the ‘Holy Ghost,’ impregnating the virgin,” complete with three wise men. Most of these parallels are far from meaningful. “Annunciation” was an act performed for all ancient births; it was their version of sending out birth announcements, or placing balloons on one’s lawn that say, “It’s a boy!” Adoration was…and still is…likewise the universal experience of a newborn. The conception is far from “immaculate” or virginal, unless one redefines words like “virginal” and “sex” in a Clintonesque fashion. Here also, it seems there is confusion between the conception of Mary (“immaculate”) with that of Jesus. The description of “Kenph” as “the Holy Ghost” is simply an illicit importation of Christian terminology.3

December 25th Redux: Christ in Egypt

Christ in Egypt attempts a more robust defense on Horus’ 12/25 birthdate. It is said that Jesus not being born 12/25 "would come as a surprise too many, since up to just a few years ago only a minuscule percentage of people knew such a fact." [79]

Well, as the saying goes, life is full of surprises; but this hardly does anything to change that the designated date was designated apart from historical consideration of Jesus' actual birth. It is also irrelevant that "hundreds of millions of people" [80] celebrate the date, and apologists like myself would have little problem agreeing that in this sense, as Murdock puts it, "Jesus is not the 'reason for the season'" except to the extent that it has been made so via an assigned date with no basis in history.

In the end, Murdock is compelled to say that arguing against 12/25 as Jesus' birthday is "quite futile...since myths do not have 'real birthdays.'" If that is the case, then one wonders why Murdock continues to argue for several pages for an achieved parallel. She notes varying dates supposed for Jesus' birth (at least ten), but all of this reflects educated guesswork from a time when few people knew their exact date of birth. The ability of ancient persons to track precise dates, down to day, month, and sometimes even years, was severely limited. A person born on a festival date, or on an eclipse, would be the only sorts who could have any objective marker for their birthdate or death among the peasantry. Indeed, what about other comparable figures whose historicity no one questions?

We do not know specific birth or death dates for a variety of persons i.e., Pilate, Tacitus, Livy, and Pliny the Younger. We might not have known when Pliny the Elder died had he not perished in the eruption of Vesuvius. Here is what we have on just the birth years (not even months or days) of religious leaders comparable to Jesus, per the Oxford Dictionary of World Religions:

Buddha: For Buddha we actually have two "approximate dates" depending on which of two chronologies we accept. One places Buddha between 566-486 BC, and the other places him over 100 years later (448-368 BC). The Dictionary acknowledges that there are "uncertainties" about the date of Buddha, which is just what could be said about the date of Jesus.

Lao Tzo: The dictionary does not even offer a date for this leader, whom it considers "perhaps legendary."

Confucius: He is said to have been born "probably in 552 BCE," but adds "nothing certain is known of his childhood." Confucius seems to have been easier to track mainly because he held a number of governmental posts in his lifetime.

Zoroaster: Most of the sources I consulted prefer a date around 600 B.C. for his life, though one scholar has suggested a date as early as 1700 B.C.

Muhammed: The dictionary offers a date of 570-632 AD, but the Oxford History of Islam is more equivocal, saying that Muhammed was born "sometime around 570," and the lack of surety is in that "traditional accounts differ on the date." While some may suggest a parallel between this and the uncertainty over Jesus' birthdate, because of the problems in the birth narratives, it is absolutely clear that this is not an unusual "problem" and that no historian takes it in favor of a "Muhammed myth."

In the final analysis, Murdock essentially surrenders a 12/25 birthdate for Jesus, offering nothing to support it (and therefore a parallel) other than a suggestion that the birthdate of John the Baptist, born 6 months before Jesus, is placed on June 24th [81], but this too was based on the original non-historical designation of the 12/25 date. Murdock's only other "argument" amounts to a rather creative and esoteric reading of John 3:30 ("He must increase, but I must decrease") as somehow reflecting John as the summer solstice and Jesus as the winter solstice. Thus any parallel to Horus is invalid even if Horus was indeed born on 12/25. But was this indeed the case? In nearly 30 pages following, while much is said in general of winter solstice celebrations (not "birthdays" for Horus), this is all Murdock offers in terms of data for parallels:

Rahner is cited [84] to the effect that January 6th, which is recognized by some as Jesus' date of birth, was also a "'birthday' of Osiris centuries before Christianity was created." This too would be far too late in Christian tradition to be relevant; but what of the claim regarding a 1/6 birthdate for Osiris? Murdock places the word "birthday" in quotes…and it can perhaps be seen why: Rahner, on page 139 of his book Greek Myths and Christian Mystery, actually says:

Epiphanus, quoting other ancient writers, tells us elsewhere that the birthday of Dionysus was celebrated on January 5 and 6, though in the present instance it may well have been that of Osiris or Harpocrates-Horus.

In other words, despite the certainty implied by Murdock, Rahner merely speculates that Osiris is to be added to the equation. Not that it matters, since he goes on to attribute common birthdays to the merging of divine

figures in the minds of worshippers i.e., as the Romans equated Jupiter with the Greek Zeus, so that it is simply supposed (not necessarily illogically) that Osiris and Dionysus were equated, and so given the same birthday. There is thus nothing in any ancient Egyptian record to show that Osiris actually had a "birthday" on January 6.

On page 88, Murdock makes far too much of a specific manuscript of Epiphanius missing a portion of text she feels contributes to her case. For one, the manuscript in question is from the 14th century, by her own admission, while she also admits that a manuscript with the passage is known from the 10th century. Her claim that this is a case of "deliberate and egregious censorship...apparently for the specific purpose of preventing information damaging to the Christian tradition from being known," is little more than an exercise in speculative creativity. There are far more practical reasons why manuscripts are missing portions, and there is no reason why one should not be applied here.

By page 92, we are still looking for actual evidence of Horus' birth on Dec. 25th, and after 14 pages, we finally get the following line of reasoning: "It is obvious that Horus, as the morning sun born every day, was also born on 'December 25th' or the winter solstice."

I think it speaks for itself that Murdock has been compelled to achieve a 12/25 "birthdate" for Horus by removing the element of 12/25 as a unique day, and making him "born" every single day of the year. Then how could a figure like Jesus escape being a parallel to Horus?

Murdock also strives to give Horus this birthdate by identifying him with the sun, and then citing festivals concerned with the "birth" of the sun at the winter solstice (12/25 at that time) and claiming a connection…even though Horus is not once mentioned in connection with these festivals. Finally, Murdock argues for 12/25 as the observed date of the "resurrection" of Osiris [105] and then forges this claim:

Because Horus and Osiris were one and interchangeable, the new sun replacing the old, it could be stated truthfully that the "restoration" of Osiris at the winter solstice represents the "new birth" of Horus, as does every day of the year.

In short, Murdock must reach for a highly esoteric equation of Horus and Osiris, and combine it with semantic equivocation ("restoration" = "new birth") to create a parallel that she admits holds for every day of the year. Yet, with each of this sort of equation and equivocation, we get farther and farther away from an event that is represented by a literal baby humanly

born on a specific date, which was not even his actual birthdate. Murdock is essentially sacrificing one set of likenesses to attempt to achieve another, while failing to realize that this undercuts her own case.

One other effort [106] to give Horus a 12/25 birthdate involves a claim that "certain Gnostics claimed that the Egyptians actually called the winter solstice" by a Greek name for Horus. That is quite interesting, but the word of "certain Gnostics" in the post-Christian era is not sufficient to establish what was believed of Horus in ancient pre-Christian Egypt. Murdock also appeals to the alleged destruction of the library at Alexandria; see on this the link to Miller's essay above.

In the end, Murdock spends much time discussing esoteric rites and winter solstice festivals which bear no relation to Horus, save by an esoteric equation of Horus with the sun that is not made anywhere in the literature that refers to these festivals. Despite her claim as well [112], connections made between Jesus and the winter solstice, centuries later, do not establish a parallel in ideology or turn Jesus into a "sun god." The solstice was designated as Jesus' birthday for the same reason one department store holds a sale on Easter the same as another: Because it is a way to keep shoppers coming to one and away from the other! Selecting 12/25 to celebrate the birth of Jesus was a practical means of keeping immature Christian converts from the very strong temptation of attending public festivals, which in the ancient world was considered to be an essential part of being part of one’s community.

So likewise, while churches pointing east may represent a throwback to an old habit [113] of building pagan temples in that direction, this is rendered irrelevant by the fact that church buildings, as such, did not come into use until much later in Christian history. Murdock and other "astrotheologists" are putting the cart before the horse.

Virgin Mary Redux: Christ in Egypt

This is by far the longest chapter in Murdock’s later book at nearly 90 pages, but it is no less devoted to irrelevancies. And yet, it must be admitted that Murdock succeeds in showing that Isis did bear the epithet "Mery"…and this is achieved, once again, at the expense of a true parallel.

It should be noted, first, that much here is again made of activities well after the time of Jesus, as when converts used similar artistic portraits of Isis and Mary; and that this, as before, does nothing to establish a borrowing relationship concerning the original elements. Murdock must prove here that:

  1. Isis was called a virgin AFTER the birth of Horus.
  2. Isis was called "Mery," and that this was in some way significant in a way that suggests borrowing.

We will see that these are not accomplished, save by equivocation of the sort we have already seen.

It deserves notice that when Murdock cites James Curl [121] as an authority, and as a "professor emeritus," she fails to note that he is not an Egyptologist but rather a professor of architectural history. In addition, his claim that Isis was known as the "Great Virgin" is not accredited to an Egyptologist, but to the mystic and Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner.

Though it may be of some interest to Catholic readers to be told (however rightly or not) that "Mother of God" was an epithet for Isis [123], this again is irrelevant to the Jesus of the first century. Even so, it would at most be a case of claiming the honor of the title FROM someone like Isis, who would be regarded as not deserving of it (as opposed to Mary).

It is only by page 124 where an attempt is made to argue for the epithet of "Meri" applied to Isis, and as noted, it is actually successful - at a rather high price…but first there is a caveat to note.

Murdock does not know, apparently, that the name "Mary" or some form of it was held by at least a quarter of Jewish women in the time of Jesus. Thus even if a parallel holds, are we to think that all these women were named in light of an epithet given to an Egyptian goddess? But that assumes that "Meri" is indeed relevant to "Mary," and Murdock succeeds greatly in showing that it is not. Over the course of several pages, Murdock reports that:

  • The word "meri" meant "desired" or "beloved"
  • It was applied not only to Isis, but also to "numerous figures in ancient Egypt, such as deities, kings, priests, government officials," and even the land of Egypt itself [125]. She even quotes one as saying that "Meri" was "the second most common form of epithet referring to deities…." [126]

Murdock thusly ends up, unwittingly, proving that because "Meri" was applied to Isis, this has ended up completely undercutting Murdock's case for the "Meri" appellation as a significant parallel to Mary as mother of Jesus. It was not even a proper name, and it was applied to innumerable persons, even human men, and oddly Murdock apparently does not see how this undercuts her original claim of a parallel to Jesus. It matters little if Isis was called Meri centuries before Jesus, or even that Jesus was called "beloved" in the NT [134], because not only were thousands of others called by the same epithet, but also, many thousands were called "Mary" in first century Palestine.

Making matters worse, while "Meri" means "beloved," "Mary" goes back to "Miriam" and means "rebellion." Murdock is aware of this [135], but offers the following as a circumvention:

First, she says that the Mary of the Bible "certainly does not epitomize 'rebellion,' in reality representing utter submission to God…" This is true, but beside the point. Mary's parents could hardly have anticipated their daughter's character or experiences in selecting the name. Moreover, let us remember that a quarter of Jewish women of the first century were so designated, and at a time when discontent over Roman occupation was rife. The latter was certainly in mind, not some hypothesis that Mary as a grown woman might become "submissive."

Second, arguing for Mary as submissive, Murdock says that this fits better with Mary as "beloved," but since Murdock admits many persons were so designated, and indeed, since the majority were rulers, it is clear that "beloved" has more to do with political loyalty than with personal affection and submissiveness.

Third, Murdock appeals to authorities who opted for a "beloved" etymology for "Mary," but none are qualified in so doing. The first, a "Major-General James G. R. Forlong," wrote in the 19th century, prior to a great deal of linguistic scholarship, and he was a generalist writer on religion. There is nothing to suggest that Forlong's assessment is anything but that of an amateur, and certainly nothing in his quoted declarative assertion that counters an equation of "Mary" with "rebellion."

Another authority, William Robertson Smith, also wrote in the 19th century, and while more qualified than Forlong was, as an OT scholar, hardly up to date.

Murdock's final appeal is to a "Rev. Henry Tompkins" in the "Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute," a publication that ceased under that name in 1957. I can find no indication what Tompkins' qualifications were, but Murdock merely quotes him asking if there might be a connection between "Meri" and "Miriam," while offering no data or argument.

Murdock has some difficulty finding a modern author to back this position, and against the idea that "Miriam" is to be derived from the Hebrew verb mara (to rebel), or from mar (bitterness), she cites Hoffmeier's 2005 book, which cites a much older authority, Gardiner, but can find no one else to support such a view. In the end, however, it matters little, as in the NT period "Mary" was so common a name that it is fruitless to suggest that it was selected based on some correlation with Isis…and both "rebellion," and "beloved," would have been appropriate epithets for female children of first-century Palestine.

Thus, though Murdock does show that Isis was called "Meri," it ends up being such that she also proves that it was a matter of no significance that it was so. What then of Isis as a virgin, after the birth of Horus? For, of course, it does little good if we find reference to Isis as a "virgin" before that birth.

Murdock's first effort is rather questionable, to say the least, as she cites a quote from a document from between the third and seventh centuries AD as attributing to the prophet Jeremiah, in the seventh century BC, a notation of a motif of a "virgin child-bearer" as predicted to Egyptian priests. It seems odd that Murdock wishes to argue that this document accurately recorded the words of Jeremiah, 1000 or more years later, while she readily dismisses the NT as an accurate record merely (by her dating) after 100 years from the events it records to its composition. (The work appealed to by Murdock, the Paschal Chronicle, is a history of events up until the year 629 AD. Does she also accept as historical what it says about the date of the creation of Adam?)

In any event, even the quote used by Murdock from the Chronicle seems to be of little use, since it apparently sees Jeremiah's prediction of a virgin-born savior as the reason why Egyptians began to "deify a virgin child-bearer"…in other words, Jeremiah's prediction, not the story of Horus and Isis, was the reason for the priests' actions and beliefs.

On page 140, appeal is made to a statement allegedly by Horus, "I know that I have been conceived by Sechit and that I am born of Neith." Sechit being, we are told, a variant name for Isis; and Neith was a virgin. As one of my earlier contributors in Shattering the Christ Myth, Jonathan Brown noted, the speaker here "is not Horus per se, but rather the deceased who identifies himself alternatively with this or that deity." At the same time, Neith, whom Murdock spends pages describing as "virgin," was manifestly not Isis, who is the one we are supposed to be proving is a "virgin mother."

In terms of establishing Isis as a virgin, Murdock provides little of substance. She refers to C. P. Tiele as referring to "Isis the virgin," but Tiele himself merely asserts this, without reference to any documentation, and Tiele himself is hardly a credible source, as elsewhere he offers a great deal of erroneous information about Mithraism's alleged influence on Christianity.

Murdock's next argument is that "Isis is a later form of Neith," and she appeals again to 19th century works for a proof. One of these, Egypt's Place in Universal History, is said to have a section titled "Isis as Neith," but the page reference Murdock offers (418-19) contains no such section—it is merely a list of words with corresponding hieroglyphs. Word searches (the text is available via Google books) also reveal no such section. (One of Murdock's followers later revealed that this was not found because Murdock failed to provide an adequate source reference in her footnotes, and did not indicate which, out of multiple volumes, this appeared in; however, the source revealed only vaguely claims that in her "cosmogonic property" Isis is revealed to be "exactly like Neith," though what this means and why it ought be regarded as meaningful is not explained, much less does it show that the specific property of virginity was shared between the two figures.)

Budge is quoted as saying that Neith "was identified with Hathor and Isis," but it is far from clear that by this Budge means "identical with." Budge does not explain what he means by this, other than that it has something to do with Neith being a cow-goddess.

Three authorities are cited as proving that "Isis is a later form of Neith," with the verification that their two names are combined as "Isis-Neith." One of these sources is Temporini's Rise and Decline of the Roman World, and Murdock's page reference is for an internal table of contents on material having to do with the goddess Roma. A second reference, from Zitman, comes from a work published by Murdock's former publisher, Adventures Unlimited, a producer of books on aliens, Atlantis, and time travel…but even his book merely refers to a "great festival held in honor of Isis-Neith," and does nothing to prove an actual equation of the two. The third note is to an author not listed in Murdock's bibliography.

The last reference, from Bonwick, says of Isis that she is "seen to assume the role of Neith." Not only is Bonwick badly dated (his work was written in 1878), it is also a product of his Theosophical leanings, and Bonwick was merely a schoolteacher, not an Egyptologist…and he does not elaborate on what he means when he says Isis "assumed the role" of Neith.

Further appeals made:

A note is made [146] to a statue of Athena, sometimes identified as Isis, referred to in Plutarch with the inscription, "my robe no mortal has yet uncovered." Even if we accept a tenuous identification to the Isis of ancient Egypt, however, it is worth pointing out that Osiris, the father of Horus, was far from a "mortal" qualifying for that statement.

Another authority is said to use the "Isis-Neith" combination, but the author, Turcan, does so referring to something observed at the time of Domitian, with no explanation in terms of what the coupling of the names means, much less does he aver, as Murdock would, that the two goddesses were identical. Just as importantly, there is nothing to suggest that any "inviolability" of this figure did not refer to a time before the conception and birth of Horus, if indeed this Greco-Roman version was also considered Horus' mother.

Appeals that are made [147] to goddesses who were virgins and then "gave birth to the sun," likewise have no bearing on this issue, as Jesus was hardly a G-type star or any other sort of astronomical body. It is further noted [149] that it is of no relevance to point to the story of Isis being impregnated by Osiris, because, "we are discussing astrotheological motifs revolving around the sun and moon, not set-in-stone biographies of real people with the relevant body parts."

Perhaps that is not what Murdock is talking about, but it is indeed what the New Testament is talking about…her attempts to impose esoteric and unjustified "astrotheological" meaning on the NT texts notwithstanding. And if that is so, attempts to parallel with the life of Jesus are even more fruitless.

Murdock also claims [149-50] that versions of the Osiris story exist in which Isis, unable to find Osiris' sexual organ, conceives of Horus by parthenogenesis. If true, this would be more akin to a parallel, but alas, Murdock's sources again prove questionable: One is Curl, who as noted above, is not qualified in this subject matter…and this is merely Curl's declarative assertion, not something he validates with quoting an actual text. Prior to this, he notes Isis and Osiris by Plutarch, section 12, which contains a story of Isis and Osiris having intercourse in their mothers' womb before birth.

The other reference is to Bettina Knapp, and a book titled French Fairytales, which is about Jungian psychology. Knapp is also not certified in this field, but it matters little, as the page Murdock cites (243) contains no such quote as she describes in which Horus is alleged to have been produced by parthenogenesis.

In these last points, we indeed find that little has changed with Murdock when it comes to critical use of sources. Instead, she simply seeks declarative assertions—whether by a person qualified to make them or not—and presents them as though they were arguments, adding her own interpretations as required.

Appeals are also made to Leipoldt, Leclant, and others referring to Isis as being called "Virgin" and "Mother of God," but nothing is quoted in terms of the provenance of these titles. Was she called "virgin" before or after the conception of Horus? If before, but not after, of what relevance is it? None at all. Although Murdock claims that Isis was "considered by the Egyptians" to be a spotless virgin, "regardless" of her motherhood [153], not one of her sources says any such thing with respect to the motherhood aspect.

"Mother of God," as we have noted, is a Catholic, not a Biblical title, but we are still not told what the earliest date for it is. Murdock perhaps unwittingly reveals these as post-first century phenomena, when she further quotes Leclant as saying that "the personality of the Madonna borrows much from that of Isis...." Since Mary in the NT does not have any sort of developed personality, it seems likely that the likeness to Isis has to do with much later designs of Mary as found in the apocryphal works.

Because Murdock fails to show that any designation of Isis as "virgin" occurs with respect to the conception of Horus, her further analysis on this subject, about such matters as the alleged ability by certain figures to "recover" virginity, is merely useless distraction. Further appeals to "virgins" impregnated by divine fire [158] additionally miss the parallel; these are instances again of divine seed, not divine fiat comparable to the Genesis creation as is portrayed by the NT. These may be "virgin births," but they are not virginal conceptions.

Murdock goes on to claim other parallels as well: "Like the Virgin Mary turned away from an inn while with child, the pregnant Isis too is refused a 'night's lodging,'" [164] and also, like Jesus fleeing Herod, had to flee the evil Egyptian god Set.

That's rather selective in reporting. The full story is that Isis was being pursued by Set, and was accompanied by seven "scorpion goddesses." Then she was indeed refused lodging, by a "rich woman at Teb," who "drove her from her door." As a result of this, one of the goddesses became so angry that she stung one of the child residents to death, then set the house on fire; Isis restored the child to life and put the fire out, then received lodging at a peasant's house. She later gave birth to Horus and hid him in a swamp, but he was found by Set, who stung and killed him. With the help of the god Thoth, however, she was able to revive him.

The general themes of not finding hospitality, fleeing an enemy, and others Murdock lists (e.g., doing healing miracles) are so broad and widespread that they are useless as parallels, which is indeed why Murdock must isolate quotes and refuse to reveal the story in its entirety. It is also why she must continue to appeal to post-Biblical titles for Mary (such as "Lady of heaven") to find parallels. The Biblical account simply does not provide the needed support for a case.


For the full chapter, see v. 2 of Debunking the Jesus Myth.