It was a feast like Egypt had never seen before. The warrior god Set and his wife, the goddess Nephtys, decorated an extravagant hall for the occasion, with a beautiful wooden chest as the centerpiece. They invited all the most important gods, dozens of lesser deities, and foreign monarchs. But no one caused as big a stir as Set and Nephtys’s older brother Osiris, the god who ruled all of Egypt and had brought prosperity to everyone.
Set announced a game— whoever could fit perfectly in the chest could have it as a gift. One by one, the guests clambered in, but no one fit. Finally, it was Osiris’s turn. As he lay down, everyone could see it was a perfect fit— another win for the god who could do no wrong.
Then Set slammed the lid down with Osiris still inside, sealed it shut, and tossed it into the Nile. The chest was a coffin. Set had constructed it specifically to trap his brother and planned the party to lure him into it. Set had long been jealous of his brother’s successful reign, and hoped to replace him as the ruler of all Egypt.
The Nile bore the coffin out to sea and it drifted for many days before washing ashore near Byblos, where a great cedar grew around it. The essence of the god within gave the tree a divine aura, and when the king of Byblos noticed it, he ordered the tree cut down and brought to his palace. Unbeknownst to him, the coffin containing Egypt’s most powerful god was still inside.
Set’s victory seemed complete, but he hadn’t counted on his sisters. Set’s wife Nephtys was also his sister, while their other sister, the goddess Isis, was married to their brother Osiris. Isis was determined to find Osiris, and enlisted Nephtys’s help behind Set’s back. The two sisters took the shape of falcons and travelled far and wide. Some children who had seen the coffin float by pointed them to the palace of Byblos. Isis adopted a new disguise and approached the palace. The queen was so charmed by the disguised goddess that she entrusted her with nursing the baby prince. Isis decided to make the child immortal by bathing him in flame. When the horrified queen came upon this scene, Isis revealed herself and demanded the tree.
When she cut the coffin from the trunk and opened it, Osiris was dead inside. Weeping, she carried his body back to Egypt and hid it in a swamp, while she set off in search of a means of resurrecting him. But while she was gone, Set found the body and cut it into many pieces, scattering them throughout Egypt.
Isis had lost Osiris for the second time, but she did not give up. She searched all over the land, traveling in a boat of papyrus. One by one, she tracked down the parts of her husband’s dismembered body in every province of Egypt, holding a funeral for each piece. At long last, she had recovered every piece but one— his penis, which a fish in the Nile had eaten.
Working with what she had, Isis reconstructed and revived her husband. But without his penis, Osiris was incomplete. He could not remain among the living, could not return to his old position as ruler of Egypt. Instead, he would have to rule over Duat, the realm of the dead. Before he went, though, he and Isis conceived a son to bear Osiris’s legacy— and one day, avenge him.