Abstract: The Reunion of Body and Soul: Sacred Sexuality and Resurrection in the Netherworld


The resurrection of the dead is depicted in the subterranean corridors of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings (1570-1070 BCE).  The decoration of these tombs tells the story of the sun’s nightly journey through the caverns of the Netherworld, as it overcomes the many obstacles and dangers which beset its course on the way from its death in the west to its triumphant reappearance on the eastern horizon at dawn.  As the night sun’s barque proceeds, the god’s life force increases progressively.  The special ram-headed form of the resurgent god represents his ba.  The ultimate mystery of this drama is accomplished when the ba of the Sun God unites, rather reunites, with the lifeless body of his alter ego, the vegetation god Osiris.  The fusion of these two divine beings, complementary aspects of the Universal Creator, releases tremendous amounts of cosmic energy which has been tied up in maintaining their separate existence.  The king is next incorporated into this composite being, now called, for example, Amun-Re-Osiris-Menma’atre (Sety I).  In this process, the justified dead are also regenerated by the light of the recharged sun—while the enemies of the gods and king reawake only to be consigned again to perpetual torment in the fiery Egyptian Hell.  The return to life is symbolized in the graphic display of sexual vigor.  The particular form of Osiris found here, definitely a fertility figure, is identified as He Who Awakes Intact—recalling the episode of the Osiris myth in which the grieving Isis fails to find the severed phallus of her dismembered husband; nevertheless, she magically enables him to engender their son Horus posthumously.  This miracle is represented in the Sety Temple at Abydos, with its associated Osireion (burial place of Osiris).  The promise of eternal existence is signified in the reversal of time (everything is upside down and backwards in the underworld), as represented in the Book of Amduat in the 12th (last) Hour of the Night.  Re and Osiris separate once more as the sun rises to enliven the earth another day, while the inert corpse of Osiris—confined to his underworld domain—slumps down to await the return of the sun for a new cycle of rebirth.  This complex speculative New Kingdom theology clearly expresses the Egyptians’ consummate faith in the power of life over death.   

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