Funeral Bed of Osiris

Osiris on his funeral bed inscribed with the name of king Djedkheperew. The sculpture was tentatively attributed to another 13th Dynasty king, Khendjer, but examinations of the inscriptions proved that it originally bore the name of Djedkheperew.

The creative power of the male extended to the world of the gods. In order to be reborn, the deceased Egyptian needed to become identified with the male god Osiris. The reborn individual, regardless of gender, was for most of Egyptian history known as ‘The Osiris N’ (‘N’ standing for the name of the once living person).

Funeral Bed of Osiris. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 32090
Funeral Bed of Osiris. Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 32090

The identification of the female with the male Osiris gave rise to what might be seen as bizarre depictions of female rebirth. A necessary part of the rebirth process, for example, is the resexualization of the god, Osiris, frequently displayed as the mummiform Osiris lying upon a bed while Isis, his sister and wife, hovers in bird-form (as a kite) above his phallus, stimulating it into life. For this reason, the body of Tutankhamun was mummified with his penis in the erect position. The inert form of Osiris, despite his erect phallus, and the bird-form of the female, preserve the decorum of religious art, keeping the gods dignified.

Creation myths, many of which mirror ideas of human birth and rebirth, also privileged the male role. In the cyclical rebirth of the sun-god, Re-Atum sails across the sky in his boat to enter the mouth of the goddess Nut, and be reborn daily from her vulva (Pyramid Text 1688b). He thereby impregnates her in the west and is reborn from her body in the east.

Re-Atum is the active participant; Nut does not affect the sun. 16 This was mirrored in human rebirth, where the coffin was associated with Nut. Coffins were painted with depictions of this goddess so that she cocooned the deceased prior to his/her rebirth. The deceased was seen as Re-Atum, with Nut as the mother.

Middle Kingdom, 13th Dynasty, reign of Djedkheperew ca. 1772-1770 BC. Black basalt, found in the tomb of the 1st Dynasty king Djer at Abydos. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 32090