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The Real-Life Temple of Osiris!

Image from the game. Note the sun-disk on the door.

I wrote this in 2014 updated 2017!

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North East wall of the Osirion where legend says the head of Osiris is buried in a secret chamber behind this wall.

 

 With my recent purchase of “The Temple of Osiris: Gold Edition,

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My Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris Gold Edition Collection. Figure, map, art book, box and photo property of Okh Eshivar

 and my background in Egyptology, along with how attracted I am to the game itself, and still am though it debuted in 2014, I felt it fitting to address the existence of the real-life Temple of Osiris. Additionally, who Osiris was, and what role he played in ancient Egypt. Also, Egypt has a lot of shrines and chapels dedicated to Osiris for one example, in Luxor the Seti I temple, Karnak, Medinet Habu all have chapels dedicated to Osiris; however,  Abydos is Osiris dominant, so that is where we will concentrate. As far as the location of the temple, according to executive producer on Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, Scot Amos, the temple in the game is forsaken and was long lost in the desert of Egypt. So, it does not sound like the setting for the game is Abydos.

Small Comparisons 

In fact, there are elements from several real-life temples that must have influenced the design of the Temple of Osiris in the Lara Croft game. I would say they did use a similar style found in the Sethos I temple and some from Karnak. There are even small areas of block construction that resemble the real Osirion temple in Abydos. Only here and there are these similarities evident. We shall see.  However, there is one thing about the new game that points directly at Abydos. Something that hit me between the eyes when I saw it. The following pictures shall illustrate this point. In the picture with the bright game text, the background screams Abydos! Why do you ask? It looks a lot like the “kings list” from the Temple of Sethos I in Abydos, also called The Great Temple of Abydos, is being used as a background image for the game.

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Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris’ background. It appears it could be from the Temple of Sethos I Abydos.

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Abydos King List, 1294-1279 BC from the wall of Sethos I temple.

 

 

Though there are other temples that sport similar walls, we shall elaborate on the Sethos I walls, and how important Abydos is to Osirion mythos. Of course the wall for the game has been enhanced, there are differences, and however the similarity is stunning, and if nothing else, it makes you think about Abydos, and by doing that it raises a great question. That is: Did the Osirion temple and Sethos I temple in Abydos (Osiris headquarters) inspire this game? Why yes this seems to ring all the right bells.

Another resemblance I noticed from the temple shown in the trailer for the game was the door with the symbol of Aten. On the “Temple of the Sun” in Karnak, Akhenaten expanded it and beautified it, and one of his additions to the temple was this beautifully crafted sun-disk with its rays stretching downward. Though not exactly the same as the game version, I do believe they did draw from Karnak, even in the way the overall structure appears when they pan out in the trailer for a deep view of the landscape. There are some strong similarities indeed. It is amazing what they created for this game and the history it plays on no matter real or made up.

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Image from Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. Note the sun-disk on the door.

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From the Temple of the Sun in Karnak. The Aten symbol. Part of the expansion and beautification of Akhenaten’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Akhenaten and his family make offerings to the sun, 1351-1334 B.C. The sun-disk, during the Amarna period usually depicted with sun rays ending in hands that offer the sign of life (ankh) to the king and his family. The Aten was first regarded as a god during the 18th Dynasty and gained popularity under Amenhotep III. Akhenaten abolished all other gods in favour of the Aten, and composed royal names and titles for his god. His “monotheistic” Aten-veneration was abandoned after his death. Learn a great deal more about ancient Egypt from this great video.

 

About Osiris and his godly function in ancient Egyptian belief:

Osiris has an interesting history. There are several myths attached to this ancient god of the Egyptian pantheon. Depending on the one you read, is what you will understand about him. There are two main myths which we shall explore. Some are so confusing that poor Plutarch ( Greek historian) was dumbfounded by one part of the Osirian mythos. Please note: The Greeks also identified Osiris with Dionysus. According to myth, Osiris’ parents were Geb and Nut. His siblings were Set, Horus the elder, Isis, and Nephthys. He was a major god of the Heliopolis Ennead. Although, the worship of Osiris predated the ideology encompassed by the philosophy of the Ennead. When we define his prominence by comparing Atum with Osiris, we see Atum was the supreme ruler within the Ennead; however, Osiris was considered the god of the underworld, and the only god from Egyptian ancient belief referred to as “god” alone. This is an example of Osiris’ importance in the culture of ancient society. The popular viewpoint is Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, then he became the king of the underworld. There he controlled the fate of the dead souls by judgment. The dead had to take a precarious journey, fortified by spells and charmed amulets, to pass into the hall of judgment. It was there, their hearts were balanced for justice against the feather of Ma’at.

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On the right you can see Osiris presiding over Hunefer. It is a page from “the Book Of the Dead” and known as “the judgment of Hunefer.” Osiris is pictured with his sisters Isis and Nephthys. Anubis is not only the one who leads Hunefer in on the left, he is seen weighing the heart, which is represented as a pot, against the feather of Ma’at. If it passes in judgment in front of their gods, the dead is taken by Horus to face Osiris. If not, he is devoured by the beast which is part-crocodile, part-lion, and part-hippopotamus. seen standing by Anubis.

 

On the right, you can see Osiris presiding over Hunefer. It is a page from “The Book of the Dead” and known as “the judgment of Hunefer.” Osiris is pictured with his sisters Isis and Nephthys. Anubis is not only the one who leads Hunefer in on the left, he is seen weighing the heart, which is represented as a pot, against the feather of Ma’at. If it passes in judgment in front of their gods, the dead are taken by Horus to face Osiris. If not, he is devoured by the beast which is part-crocodile, part-lion, and part-hippopotamus. seen standing by Anubis.

The essential spells needed to pass through Duat (underworld) were written in detail in the pyramid text which later became coffin texts. “The Book of the Dead”  aka (papyrus scrolls) they are also found in “The Book of Gates” a sort of guide book for the underworld journey. Osiris is usually depicted as mummified in paintings. We know this from the color of his skin, green and sometimes black, denoting death. Another defining element of his depiction is the white crown of Upper Egypt, and it is adorned with feather plumes on both sides and a sun disc on top. The plumes are representative of Busiris.

Names:

Osiris is his Greek name. In Egyptian, Osiris is Asir, Wsir or Asar. The hieroglyph for his name in the earliest form was a throne and an eye. Some thought his name meaning was, “He who sees the throne” however, the possibility of the second hieroglyph relating to the eye of heaven, what they believed to be Ra, swayed that opinion a bit. In the late period, Osiris was known by a different name: Unnefer, to break the name meaning down you have, “un” which means, (to open, to appear, to make manifest), and then the second part of the name is from “nefru” which means: (good things or beauty); however, the confusion is because he had so many epithets due to the fact he adopted many from other local gods as time progressed. An interesting example of the implementation of different attributes by other gods is a major god of Memphis, Egypt. The creator god of Memphis was Ptah. Also, there was another falcon god there named Sokar (Seker) a god of protection of tombs. Later he rose to higher esteem and became the god of the necropolis and afterlife deity. Over time Ptah and Sokar were combined into Ptah-Sokar. This form of the two was identified as a god of creation, and thus became combined once again with Asir (Osiris), hence resulting in the name Ptah-Sokar-Asir. This re-incarnation represented the sun on its journey through the underworld, until its rebirth at dawn. This is when the scarab god Kephri would hold the sun up as it rose in the sky. Though Kephri is not connected to Osiris directly, it is the continuation of the movement of the sun; it is like handing the Olympic torch to the next person to run with it.

Myths:       Osiris and Anubis

  There is another perspective about Osiris and his underworld prominence. It was when the two philosophies of the Ennead and the Ogdoad merged, Osiris bumped Anubis out of his godly status as god of the underworld (however Anubis maintained fundamental in funerary rights). According to the myth, Anubis succumbed to Osiris out of respect, giving momentum to the myth that Anubis is the son of Osiris and Nephyths the sister and wife of his brother Set. According to myth, Nephyths didn’t like Set’s appearance because he was purportedly ugly, so she tricked Osiris by disguising herself as her sister Isis and slept with Osiris. A few months later Anubis is born. That is one myth now for another. ____________________________________________________

The myth of Osiris and Isis

Osiris’ brother Set was a jealous sort. He could not stand that Osiris had so much power. He also wanted his brother’s wife Isis (Aset). It wasn’t until Osiris left to travel making Isis Regent over Egypt in his absence that Set’s ferocity reached its pinnacle. This drove Set crazy, for Set thought he should have been regent instead. This is what made him decide to kill his brother and seize the power he believed was rightfully his. Set’s devious mind devised a plan to host a banquet, and he had a magnificent cedar and ebony chest made in honor of the banquet. He invited his guests to see if they could fit into the box, and if they did, a beautiful box was theirs. None of his guests fit the box, because, unknown to anyone, it was made to fit Osiris perfectly. When Set’s brother Osiris tried the box on for size, presumably away from the crowd, it was a perfect fit, and before he could get out, Set slammed the lid shut and sealed the edges with molten lead. Then he threw the box into the Nile in hopes to never see his brother Osiris again. The river carried the chest out to sea where it landed on the shore of Byblos.

According to legend, an enormous Tamarisk tree instantly grew to protect the chest and Osiris. The huge tree attracted the attention of the king, and he tended it and used it as a pillar in his palace.  Meanwhile, Isis knew where Osiris’ body was, and got the king of Byblos to give her the body. He decided to listen to her after she saved a child from a snake-bite. She brought her husband’s corpse back, and legend says she used magic to become pregnant; however, some believe she was already pregnant with Osiris’ child before he died. The child she would have was Horus. Later, when Isis took her infant son, Horus, to be tended to by the goddess  Wadjet, Set found the corpse and cut it into many pieces, and he hid each piece in different places throughout Egypt. Yet, every piece was found, all but his phallus. It is said a fish held sacred by Set swallowed it. Isis and her sister Nephthys mourned over their brother and Ra commiserated them. Ra told Thoth, Isis, and Nephthys to put Osiris’ body back together again in order to have him mummified. The one he instructed to prepare the mummification for Osiris was Anubis. Later Isis shape shifted into a bird known as a kite and breathed life back into Osiris. However, it was not enough to allow him to dwell with the living, so he did not return to his position among his family. Instead, Ra designated him the king of the underworld and reassured him his son Horus would rule the world until the end of all things.

Abydos and the real-life temple of Osiris

Previously, we explored a little bit about Osiris and some of his profound background; let’s look into the “Temple of Osiris” The first place I would think the perfect setting for a game fashioned from the idea of this Egyptian god’s temple would be Abydos. Abydos has a rich antiquity; in fact, it dates back to the beginning of Egyptian history. It is also the proverbial mecca and a place of pilgrimage for worshipers of Osiris.

The reason the “cult” of Osiris is based in Abydos

Abydos and its ancient necropolis were devoted to the worship of their god of death known as Khontamenti.  The first inhabitant of the Western Kingdom and his form was a dog. However, at this time in the Delta region of Egypt, the cult of Osiris was growing and took root in Abydos. Thereafter, Osiris took over Khontamenti’s temple and became his equal. All of the dead from all over Egypt were buried in Abydos from the sixth dynasty onward after Osiris became dominant in Abydos. However today, Abydos is not fully open to the public, so the public is limited to the New Kingdom temples of Seti I and Ramsess II. The site is vast and bigger than Karnak, but only partially excavated. It is like an antediluvian wonderland to Egyptologists. The ancient Egyptians believed Osiris’ head was buried in Abydos (assuming he was a real person); furthermore, it is a place many believed his tomb was located, real or symbolic. What started the idea that his tomb was in Abydos must have been spawned centuries ago; because, a tomb of the 1st Dynasty king Djer was mistaken for Osiris’ tomb in the 12th dynasty period, and for 1000 years pilgrims would leave offerings in clay pots there for Osiris, so the hill of which it is located, was re-named Umm el Ga’ab. It means “Mother of Pots.”

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Tomb of 1st Dynasty king Djer once thought to be the tomb of Osiris. Location: Umm el Ga’ab

 

What better name could there be for this place, for there are many fragments of pots littering the terrain from offerings in the echoing past. A fascinating place.

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Ancient Clay Pot shards used to hold the offerings to Osiris. Umm el Ga’ab

 

About Umm el Ga’ab: 

Many cannot grasp the vast depth of antiquities Egypt holds. For example: by the time one gets to the 12th dynasty, the 1st dynasty tombs at Umm el Ga’ab were already 1000 years old. The ancient Egyptians also understood that Umm el Ga’ab held the ancient tombs of the 1 dynasty kings, and they also believed Umm el Ga’ab held the tomb of Osiris.  In fact, during the 11th dynasty, the ancient Egyptians investigated the necropolis and deduced the tomb of 1st dynasty king Djer was really Osiris’ tomb. Egyptologists do not know how they arrived at this conclusion, and what evidence they found that drove them to choose that particular tomb, and we may never know.

The Discovery of The Temple of Osiris 

During the nineteenth Dynasty, Seti I was looking for a suitable location for his funerary complex. While he found an adequate area, he soon found something he didn’t bargain for. That something was a hidden temple for Osiris. Out of respect for Osiris, Seti I built his mortuary complex in an “L” shape around the temple of Osiris resulting in the Osirian temple being located behind the complex for Seti I. One would believe the temple of Osiris was small in contrast, hidden in the other’s shadows. Only half true. This is also the reason it eluded Egyptologist for years. It wasn’t until 1902-1903 that archaeologists Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray discovered the Osiris temple; because they were excavating the temple of Seti I. Another serendipity archaeological moment in history. The temple of Osiris is a hidden temple, for it is mostly subterranean. In fact, it is the only known temple in Egypt ever to be subterranean. There has been much debate about the reason for this unusual circumstance. The temple transformed through the centuries; it was successively rebuilt or enlarged by Pepi I, Ahmose I, Thutmose III, Ramses III, and AhmoseII. Here is a map with the designated areas for Osiris and other temples within Abydos.

abydos-necropolis-map

 

 

Temple Osirian Descriptions

Actually, many see a large similarity to the Chephren Temple of Giza in the Osirian (Temple of Osiris); because, of the large blocks of granite used in the construction. Though we may never know the exact age of the Osirian, it is believed it is approx 6000 years old. Originally, it was covered by an artificial mound and that was cleared by Sethos I. Though it was discovered in 1902-1903, it wasn’t excavated until 1911-1926 by the Egyptian Exploration Society. The materials used to build this beautiful structure were white limestone, red granite, and red sandstone.

Osirian Entrance

The entrance on the north side is a roofed brick vault and shaft lined in bricks leading down through the cleared mound. A long sloping corridor will lead to the antechamber. The walls of the corridor are adorned in scenes and texts from “The Book of Gates” and “The Book of the Dead”; additionally, just down a bit and on the right is the antechamber, also adorned with many scenes and religious texts. There is another small room on the right from there. Now we go onward to the transverse chamber. Following a corridor running east you will find a large saddle roofed chamber (transverse chamber). This one is adorned with texts from The Book of the Dead dating from the reign of Merneptah.

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This is the entrance to the Osirion Temple.

Connecting to the Transverse chamber you are now in, is a large Hypostyle Hall with three aisles, hemmed in by 16 small chambers branching off from a 2 ft. wide corridor. There is a ditch running between the main hall and the small chambers. This could represent the place of the primordial waters out of which the core of the Egyptian creation myth was formed, for they believed the terrestrial hill (earth mound) emerged with the sun god. There is a representation of this type at the end of the hall. There are steps leading down (representing the terrestrial hill) to the sacred waters. There are two cavities in the floor running along the two rows of pillars in the hall. The one in the middle may have been used to house a sarcophagus and the second for the canopic chest. Now, at the furthermost end of the Hypostyle hall resides another transverse chamber. It is thought to represent the royal sarcophagus. The saddle roof displays well-preserved reliefs from the reign of Sethos I. The relief illustrate the sky; sky goddess Nut held up by the god of air Shu; and Nut screening the king with her arms. Here is a layout drawing of the partially unearthed temple.

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View of the Osirion Temple, Abydos. The central hall.

 

Thank you for reading. Until the next edition. See you then and remember to:

EXPLORE THE WORLD!

~Emma

  Resources

Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Atlas of Ancient Egypt Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir 1980 Les Livres De France None Stated
Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The Wilkinson, Richard H. 2000 Thames and Hudson, Ltd ISBN 0-500-05100-3
History of Egyptian Architecture, A (The Empire (the New Kingdom) From the Eighteenth Dynasty to the End of the Twentieth Dynasty 1580-1085 B.C. Badawy, Alexander 1968 University of California Press LCCC A5-4746
Monuments of Civilization Egypt Barcocas, Claudio 1972 Madison Square Press; Grosset & Dunlap ISBN 0-448-02018-1
Traveler’s Key to Ancient Egypt, The West, John Anthony 1995 Theosophical Publishing House, the ISBN 0-8356-0724-0

 

 

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