A life-death-rebirth deity, also known as a dying-and-rising or resurrection deity, is a god who is born, suffers death or a death-like experience, passes through a phase in the underworld among the dead, and is subsequently reborn, in either a literal or symbolic sense. Male examples include Asclepius, Orpheus, Mithras, Osiris, Tammuz, Jesus, Zalmoxis, Dionysus, and Odin. Female examples are Inanna, also known as Ishtar, whose cult dates to 4000 BCE, and Persephone, the central figure of the Eleusinian Mysteries, whose cult may date to 1700 BCE as the unnamed goddess worshiped in Crete.
The term "life-death-rebirth deity" is associated with the works of James Frazer, Jane Ellen Harrison, and their fellow Cambridge Ritualists. In their seminal works The Golden Bough and Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Frazer and Harrison argued that all myths are echoes of rituals, and that all rituals have as their primordial purpose the manipulation of natural phenomena by means of sympathetic magic. Consequently, the rape and return of Persephone, the rending and repair of Osiris, the travails and triumph of Baldr, derive from primitive rites intended to renew the fertility of withered land and crops.
The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung argued that archetypal processes such as death and resurrection were part of the "trans-personal symbolism" of the collective unconscious, and could be utilized in the task of psychological integration. Jung's argument, in combination with that of the Cambridge Ritualists, has been developed by Károly Kerényi and Joseph Campbell.
Some scholars, beginning with Franz Cumont, classify Jesus as a syncretized example of this archetype. In the Victorian era, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn used parallels between Christ, Osiris, and other solar dying-and-rising gods to construct elaborate systems of mysticism and theosophy. Following his conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis believed that the resurrection of Jesus belonged in this category of myths, with the additional property of having actually happened: "If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic?"
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