by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection
“In this picture we have the Annunciation, the Conception, the Birth, and the Adoration, as described in the First and Second Chapters of Luke’s Gospel; and as we have historical assurance that the chapters in Matthew’s Gospel which contain the Miraculous Birth of Jesus are an after addition not in the earliest manuscripts, it seems probable that these two poetical chapters in Luke may also be unhistorical, and be borrowed from the Egyptian accounts of the miraculous birth of their kings.”
Dr. Samuel C. Sharpe, Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity (p. 19)
In the temple of Amun at the site of Luxor in Egypt appears a series of scenes depicting the divine birth of the king/pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty (c. 1570-1293 BCE), Amenhotep/Amenhotpe or Amenophis III, who reigned during the 14th century BCE (c. 1390-c. 1352 BCE). The Luxor nativity imagery represents a significant artifact demonstrating important pre-Christian religious motifs evidently incorporated into Christianity. Because of its appearance in the internet movie “ZEITGEIST, Part 1,” millions of people have now seen this image and become interested in this subject. In my book Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection, I examine this birth scene in the Luxor temple in detail, in over 30 pages. This present article is adapted from the extensive analysis in CIE and also serves as a response to a critical article by historian Richard Carrier concerning the Egyptian nativity scenes.
In my book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold (pp. 115-116), which raises up numerous comparisons between the Christian and Pagan religions, I included the following description of the above engraving of some of the scenes from the Luxor birth cycle:
Furthermore, inscribed about 3,500 years ago on the walls of the Temple at Luxor were images of the Annunciation, Immaculate Conception, Birth and Adoration of Horus, with Thoth announcing to the Virgin Isis that she will conceive Horus; with Kneph, the “Holy Ghost,” impregnating the virgin; and with the infant being attended by three kings, or magi, bearing gifts.
This image and my text were reproduced around the internet along with attempts to discredit the thesis of similarities between the Egyptian and Christian nativities. In this effort, the discussion by Carrier, an atheist, was ironically posted on a Christian apologetics website. With the Luxor image’s inclusion in the ZEITGEIST movie, this subject requires a closer look, to discover if there is more to the subject than meets the eye. The description I provided of the Luxor birth scenes was picked over by Carrier for a number of issues, including whether or not the “annunciation” of the birth precedes the conception, as it does in the Christian story; if it could be called a “miraculous conception”; whether or not the king’s mother could be deemed a “virgin” after conception; and the use of the term “magi” to describe individuals adoring the newborn babe and the name “Isis” for the mother. It should be exmphasized that none of these contentions originated with me but were paraphrased from the work of lay Egyptologist Gerald Massey, who in turn evidently adapted the basics from Dr. Samuel C. Sharpe (1799-1881), an Egyptologist and translator of the Bible, whose relevant quote appears at the top of this article.
Background of the Egyptian Birth Cycle
The precise nature of the Egyptian birth scenes has been the subject of much debate since they were first analyzed by Western scholars in the 19th century, beginning most prominently with famous French linguist Champollion, a decipherer of the Rosetta Stone. In consideration of the magnitude of the Luxor-Karnak temple complex, it is apparent that Amenhotep III was a highly noteworthy king. In fact, Amenhotep III is so important that he is deemed the initiator of the “new concept” of “a divine living king.”(1) The Egyptian nativity must thus be considered to represent a divine birth no less significant or real to the Egyptians than the much later Christian nativity is to Christians.
The nativity scenes at Luxor were not the first to have been created, as similar depictions existed earlier concerning the birth of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut (15th century BCE) in her temple at Deir el Bahari. Nativity scenes were also commonly used in “the Mamisi of the later periods,”(2) mamisi or mammisis constituting “birth rooms” or “birth houses.” The fact is that these birth scenes or “nativity templates,” so to speak, were popular and in the minds of Egyptians beginning at least 3,400 years ago and continuing into the second century of the common era, with its eventual creation of Christianity.
In discussing the Amenhotep and Hatshepsut birth cycles, it should be kept in mind that the imagery itself may be essentially the same, and some of the same language is used in both inscriptions. However, even though they have been haphazardly mixed at times, the inscriptions of these two pharaohs’ birth cycles are “substantially different,” according to Dr. William Murnane, a director of the Great Hypostyle Hall Project at the Karnak Temple in Luxor.(3)
In their analyses of the Luxor birth cycle, older scholars such as Dr. Sharpe, Count Lesseps and Massey consistently reproduced what turns out to be the second row of the narrative, omitting the first row, possibly because the latter had not yet been reproduced for study and/or was largely still unknown to European Egyptologists of the time.(3a) This lack of the first row is where some of the difficulties have come in, because these older scholars claimed the second scene in what turns out to be the second row depicts an “immaculate” or “divine conception,” when in fact in the previous panel we find a different scenario, with the father god Amun in direct contact with the queen who will bear the divine child. It is thus asserted that the conception comes before the annunciation by the ibis-headed Thoth, as in the first panel of the second row, shown above. Nevertheless, as we will see, the scene identified by Dr. Sharpe, Count Lesseps and Gerald Massey as “the Conception” does in reality represent a “miraculous conception” or quickening of sorts, while even with the important first panel factored into the analysis, the annunciation of the divine child to the virgin queen still comes before the conception.
In his extensive and frequently cited study of the birth scenes of the Egyptian pharaohs, Die Geburt des Gottkönigs, Egyptologist Dr. Hellmut Brunner (1913-1997), a professor of Theology, Archaeology and Egyptology at the University of Tübingen, presents the scenes at Luxor in the following order (here we are omitting the last six scenes for brevity’s sake):
1. The goddess Hathor, in the middle, embraces the virgin queen on the left, with the father god Amun on the right.
2. Amun is on the right, with another figure on the left (the god Thoth? King Thothmes IV?).
3. Amun, on the left, turns back and looks at Thoth, who is holding scrolls.
4. The queen is sitting on the left, Amun on the right, of the platform being supported by the two goddesses. Amun is holding an ankh to the queen’s nostril.
5. The god Khnum is on the left, with Amun on the right.
6. Khnum on the right fashioning the king and his ka, with Hathor on the left holding an ankh or cross of life.
7. Thoth announces to the queen.
8. Khnum is on the left and Hathor on the right of the queen, Hathor holding an ankh to her nostril, while Khnum holds one to the back of her head.
9. The queen is sitting on a couch surrounded by five figures on the left and four on the right, one in a group of three holding the baby….
In his brief analysis of the scenes as portrayed by Dr. Brunner, Carrier interprets Brunner’s German translation of the inscriptions of scene or panel 4, to depict a “risque” portrayal of “very real sex” between Amun and the queen:
The inscription in Panel 4 (which is often cited on the web as the key frame) describes the god Amun jumping into bed with the human Queen on her wedding night (or at any rate before she consummates her marriage with the human King) disguised as her husband. But she recognizes the smell of a god, so he reveals himself, then “enters her” (sic). The narrative then gets a bit risque-the god burning with lust, queen begging to be embraced, there’s kissing going on, Amun’s buddy Thoth stands by the bed to watch, and after Amun “does everything he wished with her” she and Amun engage in some divine pillow talk, and so on. At one point the queen exclaims amazement at “how large” Amun’s “organ of love” is, and she is “jubilant” when he thrusts it into her. Ah, I lament the death of pagan religion. It’s [sic] stories are so much more fun! At any rate, the couple relax after “getting it on,” and the god tells her in bed that she is impregnated and will bear his son, Amenophis. To be more exact, the Queen inadvertently chooses the name by telling Amun she loves him, which is what “Amenophis” means.
Despite the giddy “Penthouse Forum” interpretation, there is no mention by other, earlier scholars and Egyptologists such as Drs. Budge, Breasted or Sayce, et al., that the Luxor inscriptions reveal the god “jumping into bed” or engaging in “very real sex,” with the queen discussing the size of Amun’s “organ of love,” or that he specifically “thrusts it into her.” Nor is the expression “getting it on” to be found in any rendition of the scene. Budge delicately describes the god and queen merely as “holding converse,” while Rev. Dr. James Baikie elegantly opines that the mother is impregnated by the ankh, “the divine breath of life, which is held to her nose.”(4) Neither of these scholars indicates anything sexual about the scene, the implications of which represent the greatest matter of debate about these birth scenes. Like Dr. Baikie, Ernest Busenbark asserts that the virgin’s impregnation occurs with the holding of the ankhs or “crosses of life” to the head and nostrils. In Man, God, and Civilization, Dr. John Jackson recounts the scene with “Kneph” (Khnum) and Hathor holding crosses/ankhs to the “head and nostrils” of the virgin queen, after which she becomes “mystically impregnated.”(5) Indeed, the activity of Khnum/Kneph putting the ankh to the queen’s nostril to impart life constitutes another sort of conception, mystically and spiritually – a significant concept that is not tremendously different from that found within Christianity and that has been claimed as a predecessor for the Christian nativity motif of the Holy Spirit fecundating the Virgin Mary. In his description of Amenhotep’s “birth room,” Andrew Humphreys opines the conception occurs through the fingertips of the god and queen sitting on the bed/sky, remarking, “You can even see the moment of conception when the fingers of the god touch those of the queen and ‘his dew filled her body’, according to the accompanying hieroglyphic caption.”(6) As may be obvious, there exists a debate as to when and how the conception/impregnation occurs.6a
Moreover, where Carrier sees “pillow talk,” in the image the god and the queen are seated on a platform floating above two goddesses. The pair is therefore not lying down on a bed, as is the impression given by the phrase “pillow talk.” In describing the image of the fourth scene, Dr. Brunner’s German simply relates what we can see: Amun and the queen are discreetly sitting on a “bed,” which is simply a platform being held by two goddesses.(7) This “bed” or platform is said to be indicated by the hieroglyph for “sky,” while Murnane calls it the “vault of heaven.” Describing this scene as “the god Amun jumping into bed with the human Queen” seems to be unnecessarily sexual, even when we factor in the inscription.
For the inscription of this “bed” scene, Carrier refers us to page 42, et seq., of Brunner, upon which we find two main paragraphs in German relating the words spoken by Amun and the queen as reflected in the hieroglyphs surrounding the image. Carrier states this is where the “very real sex” and “soft-core porn” come in. However, in “skimming” Brunner’s text, as he puts it, Carrier has mistakenly dealt with the substantially different Hatshepsut text (Brunner’s “IV D”), demonstrating an egregious error in garbling the cycles, when in fact we are specifically interested in the Luxor narrative (IV L). Indeed, the Luxor inscription is lacking two important passages found in the Hatshepsut text that could be considered “erotic” but hardly constitute “soft-core porn”: “he gave his heart to her” (“er gab sein Herz zu ihr hin”) (IV D a) and “she kissed him” (“[sie] küßte [ihn]”) (IV D d).(8) In the Luxor inscription, there is no kissing or giving of the heart.(8a)
Since we are concerned in reality with the Luxor narrative, let us look at the first paragraph of Brunner’s German translation of the inscription in scene 4 (IV L a), in which we find the words of Amun, followed by a description of the initial part of the scene:
Er fand sie, wie sie ruhte im Innersten ihres Palastes. Sie erwachte wegen des Gottesduftes, sie lachte Seiner Majestät entgegen. Er ging sogleich zu ihr, er entbrannte in Liebe zu ihr; er ließ sie ihn sehen in seiner Gottesgestalt, nachdem er vor sie gekommen war, so daß sie jubelte beim Anblick seiner Vollkommenheit; seine Liebe, (sie) ging ein in ihren Leib. Der Palast war überflutet (mit) Gottesduft, und alle seine Gerüche waren (solche) aus Punt.(9)
My translation of Brunner’s German is as follows:
He found her, as she rested in the interior of her palace. She awoke because of the god’s scent, and she laughed at His Majesty. He went immediately to her, he was passionately in love with her; he let her see him in his Godliness, after he had come in front of her, so that she rejoiced at the sight of his perfection; his love (it) went into her body. The palace was flooded with God-scent, and all his aromas were (such as) out of Punt.
Dr. Murnane directly translates the Egyptian of the same scene from Luxor:
It was resting in the interior of the palace that he found her. At the god’s scent she awoke, and she laughed in front of his Person. He went to her at once, for he lusted after her. He caused her to see him in his godly shape after he had come right up to her, so that she rejoiced at seeing his beauty. Love of him coursed through her limbs, and the palace was flooded <with> the god’s scent: all his smells were those of Punt!(10)
As we can see, the phrase “he gave his heart to her” is missing, because it was not present in the Luxor narrative. Moreover, what Brunner renders “he was passionately in love with her,” Murnane translates as “he lusted after her.” In this regard, Brunner’s interpretation is actually less sexy than Murnane’s. While there is the word “lusted” and a bit of passion on the part of the queen in Murnane’s rendering, there is no mention of Amun’s phallus or anything else to give the impression of the “soft-core porn” we encounter in the Carrier interpretation. In fact, Dr. Murnane’s rendition is so tame that it is not a bed that the two lovers are seated upon but the “vault of heaven.” Also, the phrase “his love went into her body” does not necessarily mean, as Carrier (or Brunner) apparently believes it does, that he “thrust his organ into her,” particularly in consideration of Dr. Murnane’s translation of the Egyptian as, “Love of him coursed through her limbs.” Naturally, the word “love” could also indicate romance, rather than “organ of love.”
In addition, when Carrier is relating the words of the queen, he is likewise apparently mistakenly referring to the section of the Hatshepsut inscription Brunner labels “IV D b,” the text of which is substantially different from the Luxor inscription. Brunner’s German rendition of the queen’s words in the Luxor inscription (IV L b) is as follows:
“Wie groß since doch deine Bas! Wie vollkommen ist diese [deine]…! Wie [verborgen] sind die Pläne, die du durchführst! Wie zufrieden ist dein Herz über meine Majestät! Dein Duft ist in allen meinen Gliedern!”, nachdem die Majestät dieses Gottes alles, was er wollte, mit ihr getan hatte.(11)
In Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament, theologian and Bible scholar Dr. Walter Beyerlin, in collaboration with Dr. Brunner, provides an English translation of the same Luxor passage as follows:
“How great is your power! How perfect is your…! How hidden are the plans which you make! How contented is your heart at my majesty! Your breath is in all my limbs,” after the majesty of this god has done with me all that he willed…(12)
Dr. Murnane’s direct translation of the Egyptian inscription for the same birth scene is thus:
“How great, indeed, is your power! How beautiful is [everything] which you have [done]. How hidden are the plans which you have made. How satisfied is your heart at my Person! Your fragrance is throughout all my body.” After this, (i.e.), the Person of this God’s doing all that he wanted with her.(13)
The term Bas in the first sentence of the Egyptian represents the plural of ba, which is generally translated as “soul” and which in this case apparently refers to the souls of the kings, as defined by Dr. Murnane: “The Bas of a locality are assumed to be the divinized ancient kings of those places.”(14) (In his analysis, Carrier appears to be using the wrong terminology when describing the ka as the “soul,” when “soul” is usually reserved for the Egyptian term ba, as stated by Dr. James P. Allen in The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts: “The ba of the living survives after the body dies and in this respect is similar to the modern concept of the soul.”(14a) The ka, on the other hand, represents both a sort of “body double” and the “life force.” As Dr. Allen says, “Ka… The force of conscious life, present in men, gods, and akhs.”(14b) Like Beyerlin, Dr. Murnane renders this passage as the queen exclaiming, “How great is your power!” This is the only phrase in which the queen is depicted as shouting about the size of something, and, unless the Bas are to be misinterpreted as such, her cry is not about the god’s “organ of love.”
In her description of the birth narrative, in Feasts of Light Normandi Ellis eloquently bridges the pronounced gap between the writers of the Victorian and Playboy eras, with a decidedly feminine but inclusive take on the birth scenes at Luxor:
The feast of The Conception of Horus celebrates the Queen Mother as the mortal embodiment of the divine Great Mother. In the birth chapel at the Temple of Luxor we find a delicate rendering of the immaculate conception of pharaoh Amenhotep III as the embodiment of Horus. Well before conception, the divine child’s birth is preordained. On his potter’s wheel, the god Khnum already shapes the twin images of the pharaoh and his ka, or “divine double.” The spiritual contract has been struck between Khnum and the High God, in this case, Amun.
Actual conception occurs in heaven. On earth the god Amun inhabits the body of the pharaoh’s father; but in this spiritual portrait, the god Amun and Queen Mutemuia, the mortal mother of Amenhotep III, sit close together atop a hieroglyph depicting the sky. Their knees touch, their hands clasp, their eyes meet. Tenderly, Amun lifts his hand to touch Mutemuia’s face, as if he were offering her the heady perfume of a lotus blossom. Held aloft by two goddesses, Serket and Neith, who act as heavenly angels, the feet of the divine couple never touch the ground. The images resonate with stories of the Christ Child’s immaculate conception, the angelic messengers to Mary and Joseph, and the white dove that represents the descent of the Holy Spirit which stirs the seed in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Pregnancy and potentiality always being in the realm of the spirit….
This same scene appears throughout Egypt – in the birth chapel of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri, in the birth house of Nectanebo at Dendera, and at both birth houses of Trajan at Philae and Edfu. In the Greek versions of the story, the divine spiritual partner is usually depicted as Hathor, rather than the queen; the father is sometimes depicted as Horus. The Hierogamos always takes place between the divine beings of heaven, who use the physical bodies of the royal couple, so to speak, to conceive and create the heroic, divine son on earth.(15)
In Ellis’s view the scene depicts the “conception of Horus,” with whom the god-king is identified and whose “actual conception occurs in heaven,” producing an “immaculate conception.”
The sacred bride is thus the “Great Mother,” who, in the ancient world as in the Christian era was undoubtedly viewed as “the Virgin” as well, serving in Egypt as the goddess Isis. Hence, here the queen could be identified as Isis, the “eternal virgin,” as demonstrated in Christ in Egypt.
Furthermore, where Carrier sees “very real sex” and “risque” romping with a smelly god, Ellis perceives the Hierogamos – the “sacred marriage” – as “tender and sweet”:
The tenderness and sweetness of the Hierogamos, say the ancient texts, permeated the royal bedroom, even the whole palace, with the fragrance of ambrosia, the scent of the gods.(16)
Also depicting the panel somewhat more gracefully, John Anthony West describes this scene at Luxor as a portrayal of “‘theogamy’, the king born of the Neters – that is to say, the mystical creation through the Word, which is the ‘Virgin’ birth or Immaculate Conception…”(17)
In A Guide to the Antiquities of Upper Egypt, Sir Arthur E.P. Weigall (1880-1933), a director-general of Upper Egypt, Department of Antiquities, likewise calls the scenes at Deir el-Bahari the “immaculate conception and birth of Queen Hatshepsut.”(18)
Also regarding Hatshepsut’s birth cycle, in Egyptian Temples Egyptologist Dr. Margaret A. Murray remarks, “…on the lower half of this [back] wall are scenes and inscriptions recording the immaculate conception and divine birth of the queen.”(18a)
In his analysis, Dr. Barry J. Kemp, Reader in Egyptology at the University of Cambridge and Field Director of the excavations at el-Amarna by the Egypt Exploration Society includes the fourth scene of the Luxor cycle, under which he writes:
…An immaculate conception; the god Amun (upper right) impregnates Queen Mutemwia (upper left), wife of Tuthmosis IV and mother of the future god-king Amenhetep III. Beneath them sit the goddesses Selket (left) and Neith (right). A scene from the divine birth cycle at Luxor temple… After H. Brunner, Die Geburt des Gottskönigs, Wiesbaden, 1964…(19)
Thus, Dr. Kemp’s professional observation, based on his reading of Dr. Brunner, is that the Luxor scene represents an immaculate conception – his words.
The “Immaculate Conception” and “Virgin Birth?”
It is further claimed that the phrase “immaculate conception” – used, as we have seen, by Sir Weigall and Drs. Murray and Kemp, among others – is inappropriate, as it refers only to the Christian Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. While it is true that the phrase “immaculate conception” is in English and was invented only within the last four to five centuries, the question is whether or not the concept behind it existed in ancient times and is applicable to the divine births of pre-Christian deities, royalty and heroes. As it is widely understood, the term merely means that the subject of the conception was created “without original sin,” original sin being that which taints humanity from the moment it is conceived. The question then arises as to whether or not the ancient Egyptians perceived conception (or sex) in itself as inherently sinful. If so, we need to establish the conception of the pharaohs as being considered “sinful”; otherwise, their conception too must be deemed “immaculate.” Moreover, if there is no original sin, all conceptions could be argued to be “immaculate.”
Because of all the purported sexiness, there remains also a question as to whether or not the divine-birth scene at Luxor and elsewhere in Egypt constituted a “virgin birth” long before the Christian era, as suggested by Drs. Sharpe and Sayce,19a as well as Massey, et al. It seems to be agreed by all parties that the queen in this image is a virgin before her impregnation, which occurs after her “converse” with the god Amun in the form of her husband. From all of the emphasis on “virginity” within the Egyptian religion – with Neith and Isis, as demonstrated in Christ in Egypt, said to remain “perpetual virgins” even after they become mothers – it would be surprising not to find this motif within the divine-birth cycle of kings.
In this regard, however, Carrier further asserts that, in his brief comparison between the Christian and Egyptian birth narratives, Dr. Brunner comments that “there is no sex in the former and Mary remains a virgin, whereas in the Egyptian cycle, as the inscription makes unmistakably clear, the Queen definitely loses her virginity.” Unfortunately, in several instances in his article, Carrier does not cite his contentions, and it is therefore difficult to follow his conclusions, especially since the original is in German. Because of this lack of citation, we are left with the impression that Carrier has misinterpreted Brunner’s remarks concerning the virginal state of both the Egyptian queen and the Jewish maiden prior to conception.(20) In fact, the intention of Brunner’s discussion at that point appears to be to emphasize not that the inscription makes the lack of virginity in the fecundated queen “unmistakably clear” but that both women were married virgins before conception. This remark of Brunner’s is important because what he does plainly state is that the Egyptian queen was a virgin before Amun approached her.(21)
Over the decades there has been a debate not only as to what parts of this scene of the narrative are to be taken sexually, if at all, but also as to when exactly the conception takes place, as Dr. Brunner relates.(21a) How, then, are we sure that there was any kind of intercourse remotely resembling that of a human being, especially when we are discussing a mythical event?
In any case, even if we accept that there is an unseen romp in the hay in the Luxor scene – although, again, we can tell from the debate that the point of conception is not agreed upon, thereby indicating there is no clearcut description of intercourse – so too in one version of the myth did the impregnation of Isis involve using Osiris’s phallus. Yet, as demonstrated in Christ in Egypt, Isis remains a virgin. In fact, there is some suggestion that Amenhotep had his mother depicted as the goddess Neith, the “perpetual virgin.”
As concerns when the annunciation takes place, before or after the conception, the order differs from birth narrative to birth narrative and authority to authority. In the Luxor panels, according to the order of Drs. Brunner, Murnane and Breasted, the narrative opens with the goddess Isis/Hathor embracing the queen and telling her Amun is about to give her a child,(21b) representing an annunciation. As we can see, if we are discussing the Luxor narrative and not erroneously that of Hatshepsut, the order of an annunciation before the conception is accurate and applicable in our comparison between the Egyptian and Christian religions.
The God-King as Horus
Various writers over the centuries have identified the king/pharaoh whose birth is being depicted in these Egyptian birth cycles as “Horus.” This association is accurate, since, as seen abundantly in Christ in Egypt, the living king was considered to be Horus on earth, and Horus’s birth was extremely significant in Egyptian religion. While pharaohs were thus deemed gods on Earth, their wives and mothers were viewed as the proxies of the goddesses.(22) Since Hatshepsut is not a queen but a pharaoh herself, she too is equated with Horus. As Dr. Tom Hare says, “…Hatshepsut also made the same claims to being Horus and to being the son of Re that we find in all the standard pharaonic titularies.”(23)…
As we can clearly see, the baby in this scene is the proxy of Horus, as are all living Egyptian kings or pharaohs. Again, Horus is “the primary divine identity of the pharaoh.”(24) Indeed, the serekh upon the ka’s head is described by Dr. Murnane as the hieroglyphic “palace façade” that “encloses the first of the king’s ‘great names,’ which defines him as a manifestation of Horus.”(25) Therefore, identifying the baby in this birth narrative as Horus is truthful – and this situation of the miraculous birth of a god and son of God could not have escaped the notice of those who ostensibly imitated the Egyptian divine-birth narrative in creating the Christian one. Moreover, since the baby is Horus, combined with other elements it becomes logical to assert that the mother in the nativity template is Isis. Indeed, it is doubtless that the Egyptian divine-king birth cycle emulated the myths of various holy trinities, such as Amun, Mut and Khonsu, and Osiris, Isis and Horus.
The “Magi” Presenting Gifts?
Luxor Birth Narrative/Nativity Scene Amenhotep III imageIn the panel labeled scene 9 by Drs. Brunner and Murnane appear a number of individuals, including, on the second level below the queen, four figures on the right holding up ankhs. In the earlier modern renditions of this image – which were engravings, not photos, based on the badly damaged walls at Luxor – three of these figures were all drawn with human heads, thereby striking one as a set of three men who were obviously dignitaries of some sort, appearing at the divine child’s birth and offering him gifts. It is these three figures whom Massey calls “kings” or “magi,” using terminology from the New Testament in order to provide a point of comparison possibly indicating where the Christian motif comes from. In Brunner’s rendition, however, the third “king” bearing a gift is depicted with a ram’s head and appears to be the god Khnum, who, combined with a crocodile-headed god (Sobek?) in front of the three, makes a grouping of four figures, two gods and two humans.(26)
Remarking upon the scene in which the figures present the newly born divine child with gifts, Jesus Puzzle author Earl Doherty first comments upon the terminology used by Massey and others, including the present author, in calling these figures “magis,” and then says:
The basic common parallel is there in the Adoration of the child, with dignitaries offering gifts. How apologists can get so excited over these minor distinctions is beyond my understanding. (I suppose when straws are all you have to grasp at, they have to do.)
In labeling these characters “magi” Massey was using a convention to convey the parallel to the scene as found in the gospel story. Surely he did not mean that the term “magi” was inscribed on the wall.
In any case, because in the gospel story the “king” and “wise men” are not numbered as three, Doherty’s point about the comparison between dignitaries offering gifts to the babe in the adoration scene is well taken. Since we do not need three kings but any number will do to make this comparison, and since there are clearly a number of important figures offering gifts to the newborn babe, we remain justified in making the correlation between the Egyptian and Christian adoration scenes.
Regardless of the order of the scenes, or the terminology used to describe elements thereof, the fact remains that at the Temple of Luxor is depicted the conception upon a virgin by the highly important father god, Amun, to produce a divine son. As shown in Christ in Egypt, Amun’s divine child in this birth cycle is the “bringer of salvation,” and this myth of the miraculous birth of the divine savior likely was “recorded of every Egyptian king,” making it highly noticeable long before Christ was ever conceived.
The Luxor nativity scene represents the birth sequence of an obviously very important god-king, as it was portrayed in one of the most famous Egyptian sites that endured for some 2,000 years. Egypt, it should be kept in mind, was a mere stone’s throw from the Israelite homeland, with a well-trodden “Horus road” linking the two nations and possessing numerous Egyptian artifacts, including a massive, long-lived fort and Horus temple at the site of Tharu, for instance. Moreover, at the time when Christianity was formulated, there were an estimated 1 million Jews, Hebrews, Samaritans and other Israelitish people in Egypt, making up approximately one-half of the important and influential city of Alexandria. The question is, with all the evident influence from the Egyptian religion upon Christianity presented in Christ in Egypt, were the creators of the Christian myth aware of this highly significant birth scene from this singularly important temple site in Egypt? If not, these scenes were common enough right up to and into the common era – could the creators of Christianity really have been oblivious to them?
Indeed, the point is not necessarily that the creators of Christianity used this particular narrative but that there were plenty of miraculous-birth templates long prior to the Christian era, rendering Jesus’s own nativity all too mundane and common, rather than representing a unique “historical” and “supernatural” event that proves his divinity above and beyond all others. With such a widespread precedent, could we honestly believe that the Christian nativity scene constituted something new and startling?
Excerpted and adapted from Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection.
(1) Silverman, David P., Wegner, Josef W. and Wegner, Jennifer Houser, Akhenaten & Tutankhamun: Revolution and Restoration, University of Pennsylvania, 2006, p. 12.
(2) O’Connor, David and Silverman, David P., eds., Ancient Egyptian Kingship, E.J. Brill, 1995, p. 72.
(3) Murnane, William J., Texts from the Amarna Period in Egypt, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1995, p. 22.
(3a) See Lesseps, Ferdinand de, The Suez Canal: Letters and Documents Descriptive of Its Rise, Henry S. King, Beccles, 1876, p. 204.
(4) Baikie, James, Egyptian Antiquities in the Nile Valley, Methuen & Co., London, 1932, pp. 418-419.
(5) Jackson, John G., Man, God, and Civilization, Citadel, 1983, p. 124.
(6) Humphreys, Andrew, Egypt, Lonely Planet, 2004, p. 211.
(6a) For more on this subject, see Christ in Egypt.
(7) Brunner, Hellmut, Die Geburt Des Gottkönigs, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1986, pp. 35, 36-37.
(8) Brunner, pp. 43, 44.
(8a) See Christ in Egypt for more on this subject, including whether or not “to give the heart” reflects a sexual act.
(9) Brunner, p. 45.
(10) Murnane, p. 23.
(11) Brunner, p. 46. Cf. Breasted, James Henry, Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 2, University of Illinois Press, 2001, p. 80fn.
(12) Beyerlin, Walter and Brunner, Hellmut, et al., Near Eastern Religious Texts Relating to the Old Testament, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1978, p. 30.
(13) Murnane, p. 23.
(14) Murnane, p. 278.
(14a) Allen, James P., The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, 2005, p. 426.
(14b) Allen, p. 434. On p. 7, Dr. Allen also remarks: “The ancient Egyptians believed that each human being consists of three basic parts: the physical body and two nonmaterial elements known as the ka and the ba. The ka is an individual’s life force, the element that makes the difference between a living body and a dead one; each person’s ka ultimately came from the creator and returned to the gods at death. The ba is comparable to the Western notion of the soul or personality, the feature that makes each person a unique individual, apart from the physical element of the body.” In his translation of the Book of the Dead, Sir Peter Renouf remarks, “…the word which we translate Soul or Spirit is called ba…” (Renouf, Peter Le Page, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Society of Biblical Archaeology, 1904, p. 9.)
(15) Ellis, Normandi, Feasts of Light: Celebrations for the Seasons of Life Based on the Egyptian Goddess Mysteries, Quest Books, 1999, p. 127.
(16) Ellis, 127.
(17) West, John Anthony, Serpent in the Sky, Quest, 1993, p. 158.
(18) Weigall, Arthur E.P., A Guide to the Antiquities of Upper Egypt, The MacMillan Company, NY, 1910, p. 266.
(18a) Murray, Margaret A., Egyptian Temples, Dover, NY, 2002, p. 124.
(19) Kemp, Barry J., Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, Routledge, London, 1991, p. 199.
(19a) See Sayce, A.H., The Religion of Ancient Egypt, Kessinger, 2004, p. 249.
(20) “In unserem Zusammenhang soll diese Aussage des Thoth besagen, daß der König die Ehe mit seiner Gemahlin noch nicht habe vollziehen können, so daß die alleinige Vaterschaft des Gottes nicht bezweifelt werden kann; die Königin ist also, obwohl verheiratet, Jungfrau. Bis zur Jungfrauengeburt ist zwar noch ein weiter Schritt; es bleibt bemerkenswert, daß die frühchristliche Überlieferung, um die Jungfrauschaft der ebenfalls verheirateten Maria zu retten, zum Ausweg eines Gatten greift, der im Gegenteil zu alt zum Vollzug der Ehe ist.” (Brunner, p. 29)
(21) Brunner also mentions the queen’s virginity on page 191.
(21a) See Brunner, p. 53.
(21b) Breasted, ARE, II, 79.
(22) Doherty, Earl, “A Conjunction of Nativity Stories: Massey, Acharya, and Carrier.”
(23) Hare, Tom, ReMembering Osiris: Number, Gender, and the Word in Ancient Egyptian Representational Systems, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1999, p. 136.
(24) Murnane, p. 280.
(25) Murnane, p. 283. (Emph. added.)
(26) Cf. Brunner, p. 91-92.
Quote by Dr. Samuel C. Sharpe from Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity: With Their Influence on the Opinions of Modern Christendom, John Russell Smith, London, 1863.