Kersey Graves in The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors compiled a list of sixteen messianic figures that preceded Jesus and were crucified on a tree, rock or cross before ascending into heaven.

The oldest one on the list is a Thulis of Egypt:


Thulis of Egypt, whence comes "Ultima Thule," died the death of the cross about thirty-five hundred years ago. Ultima Thule was the island which marked the ultimate bounds of the extensive empire of this legitimate descendant of the Gods.

This Egyptian Savior appears also to have been known as Zulis, and with this name—Mr. Wilkison tells us—"his history is curiously illustrated in the sculptures, made seventeen hundred years B.C., of a small, retired chamber lying nearly over the western adytum of the temple." We are told twenty-eight lotus plants near his grave indicate the number of years be lived on the earth. After suffering a violent death, he was buried, but rose again, ascended into heaven, and there became "the judge of the dead," or of souls in a future state. Wilkison says he came down from heaven to benefit mankind, and that he was said to be full of grace and truth."

The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors. by Kersey Graves

I've tried to find more information on this Thulis (or Zulis or Zhule), but was not successful. It seems that every bit of information about him online inevitably leads back to Graves. I'm not entirely sure who "Mr. Wilkison" is, but I suspect it is John Gardner Wilkinson, a renowned Egyptologist.

In a different part of the book, Graves gives Osiris as an alternate name for Thulis. Osiris died a violent death, was resurrected and was considered as king of the underworld. It vaguely matches the general pattern Graves is looking for, but some of the details remain a mystery (e.g. the connection to Ultima Thule).

Who is Thulis of Egypt? Is it Osiris? If so, do we know which tales of Osiris provide the details Graves mentions?


The Man

He is supposed to be one of the earliest kings of Egypt; he also supposedly conquered the entire world, says the story, "all the way to Okeanos [Oceanus]." Most English translations of his name, starting sometime in the 20th century onwards, seem to favour spelling it with a transliteration closer to Θοῦλις than "Thulis" is; so it is much easier to find information on him (in English)—i.e., going beyond Kersey Graves—if one were to look up Thoulis.

His story comes from a work penned in the 500s AD, entitled the Khronographia, "Chronicle," by a writer from Antioch named John Malalas (c. 491 – 578). Thoulis's story is part of John's history of the world, which follows the narrative supplied by the Book of Genesis in the Bible, filling in details along the way, but after the Flood it goes into the first kings of some of the world's most famous empires. When Thoulis shows up on the scene near the beginning of Khronographia Book 2, if my count is correct, seven (or at least six) kings have reigned over Egypt. Thoulis is thus the eighth (or seventh).

According to Section 3 of Book 2:

After the death of Helios son of Hephaistos [Hephaestus], Sosis ruled over the Egyptians. After him reigned Osiris; Horos [Horus] reigned after Osiris, and Thoulis ruled after Horos. Using a large force, this last one conquered the whole earth, as far as Okeanos.

And as he was returning, he came to the land of Aphrika [Africa] and arrogantly approached an oracle. Having made a sacrifice, he beseeched the oracle in these words: “Tell me, Pyristhenes [Mighty with Fire], Apseudes [Un-false {i.e. Truthful} One], Makar [Blessed One], you who bend the aetherial course: Who, prior to my reign, had the power to subject all to him? And who shall have the power to do so after me?”

The oracle responded: “First: God, and then the Word, and with them the Spirit. All things were generated together, and they go toward the One, whose power is aeonian. Make haste to depart from here, mortal, and complete your worthless life.” And as soon as he left the oracle he fell victim to a plot by his companions and was slain in Aphrika. Manetho prepared a record of these ancient and primaeval kingdoms of the Egyptians.

The Place

Thoulē (Θούλη), Latinised as Thūlē, is an island which, from as early as the 300s BC, Greek and Roman writers described as being at the extreme edge of the world as far as they knew it, somewhere in northern Europe. Regarding it, Wikipedia says:

In classical and medieval literature, ultima Thule (Latin "farthermost Thule") acquired a metaphorical meaning of any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world".

By the Late Middle Ages and early modern period, the Greco-Roman Thule was often identified with the real Iceland or Greenland. Sometimes Ultima Thule was a Latin name for Greenland, when Thule was used for Iceland. By the late 19th century, however, Thule was frequently identified with Norway.

In the footnotes to his translation of the Khronographia, Jason Colavito says that:

The Suda (s.v. Thoulis) gives the same story but adds that the oracle belonged to Serapis and that the island of Thule was named for him.

Presumably Thoulis gives his name to this remotest of locations in order to mark the extent of his dominion, although this etymology for the island seems to be unique to the Souda [Suda], an encyclopaedia compiled some four centuries after Malalas' time. Most ancient and mediaeval writers who mention Thoule, if they discuss the origin of its name, do not seem to know about or be bothered with Thoulis.

The Source

Benjamin Garstad, in his article "The account of Thoulis, king of Egypt, in the Chronographia of John Malalas" (in Vol. 107, Issue 1 of the Byzantinische Zeitschrift [2014]), tells us (in the Abstract, on p. 51) that:

Thoulis first appears in the sixth-century chronicle of John Malalas. It has been suggested that his name is a corruption of the material found in the traditional Egyptian king-lists, but it seems more likely that he and the narrative associated with him are a fiction of more recent invention. Thoulis is modeled on Sesostris, Osiris, and Alexander the Great and the narrative of his exploits alludes to the stories of these figures. The focus of this narrative is an oracle which deflates the king’s arrogance and obliquely prophesies the doctrine of the Trinity. This oracle is consistent with the exploitation of ostensibly genuine oracles in the pagan-Christian polemics of the fourth century. Indeed, the account of Thoulis as a whole seems to have been drafted to advance the Christian position in this debate, apparently by one Bouttios in the late fourth century.
[Emphasis mine]

He goes on to say (on pp. 51-52) that:

In spite of the grandiose claims made for him, that he was king of Egypt and conqueror of the world, he first appears in the sixth century chronicle of John Malalas and thereafter in works ultimately dependent on Malalas.
[Emphasis mine]

Garstad then footnotes these works as:

  • the "Chronicon Paschale (ed. L. Dindorf. Bonn 1832, I 83-84)"
  • the aforementioned Souda entry
  • H. Erbse, Fragmente griechischer Theosophien/ Theosophorum Graecorum Fragmenta (& Syriac translations of parts of this)
  • George Cedrenus, Compendium Historiarum
  • Fragmenta Historicum Graecorum, associated with John of Antioch

The article continues (p. 52), saying that Thoulis

seems to be the central figure of a fiction which made a late entry into the legendary material on Egypt, and to have been given such eminence chiefly in order to make him an apt recipient for a humiliating oracle abasing the mightiest of human rulers and extolling the Trinity... Specifically Thoulis appears to have been invented by one of Malalas' sources, Bouttios, in the later fourth century, but accepted and presented as perfectly historical by Malalas himself some two centuries later.

Based on the names which appear in the traditional ancient list of Egypt's kings, Jason Colavito thinks that Thoulis is "A corruption of Typhonis, or Typhon, the Greek name for Set." For a few different reasons, including some previously quoted here, Garstad would disagree with that position, saying that Thoulis was probably invented out of whole cloth, with a name that would sound and look Egyptian to speakers and readers of Greek. In support of this argument he gives an example from Plato, who in his Phaedrus, has Socrates talk about a pair of Egyptian gods called Theuth and Thamus, who are a spontaneous invention of Plato for the occasion (unless "Theuth" is supposed to = Thoth). The initial letter theta (Θ) in the characters' names, just as in "Thoulis," is here supposed to be "somehow characteristic of Egyptian nomenclature."

In his article (p. 57), says Garstad:

The name of Thoulis might even have been suggested by Manetho's king-lists. There are at least a couple of royal names which sound similar: Athothis, the second king of the first dynasty, and Thouoris, the fifth or sixth king of the nineteenth dynasty.

By the end of his argument (pp. 74-75), however, Garstad is convinced that:

Thoulis... did not come into being as the result of the corruption of the names in the Egyptian king-list. He was invented as an addition to the number of famous world conquerors of antiquity. He was modeled on some of the most prominent of those conquerors, Sesostris, Osiris, and Alexander, given their traits and made to undergo their experiences, because he was supposed to recall their stories and embody the prideful conqueror who vies with God. The success of Thoulis is noted not for its own sake, but to demonstrate the real value of even the greatest human achievement. The significance of the story of Thoulis lies in the humiliation of his conceit and the insistence upon the pathetic mortality of the whole line of kings whose pretensions to divinity were still respected in some circles. The unmistakably Christian terms of the oracle Thoulis receives reveal the tendency of the author and suggest his intent. Thoulis is a straw man representing pagan kings and pagan gods in the great argument between paganism and Christianity which marked the fourth century.

Describing the Khronographia, Jason Colavito says that its author

John rejects the existence of ancient kingdoms before Noah's Flood and therefore has relocated stories of primeval Egypt to the period after the Flood, reorganizing Manetho's list of kings to place the first post-diluvian monarchs before those originally ascribed to the time of the gods. John also follows an older Christian tradition of rationalizing pagan mythology as the deeds of human kings.

Osiris and Thoulis

Neither in the Khronographia nor in any of the mediaeval works which come after it are Thoulis and Osiris the same entity or even identified with each other. As shown above, Thoulis succeeds Horos on the throne, who in turn had succeeded Osiris. Traditionally we know that Horos is the son of Osiris. John makes no mention of the relationship between Thoulis and his predecessors but from the flow of the narrative it looks as though we are to understand him as having begun a new dynasty, perhaps even violently ending Horos's reign.

There are some parallels, however, between John's account of Thoulis on the one hand, and the story of Osiris as narrated by a more ancient Greek author, namely Diodorus Siculus, who has Osiris conquer the world with a huge army. As Garstad's article (pp. 61-62) tells us:

[B]oth Osiris and Thoulis are treacherously slain by close associates on their return from campaign... Osiris was killed and dismembered by his brother Typhon. It is this detail in the story of Thoulis, that an Egyptian king was plotted against and killed by relatives or companions (ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων) which most clearly recalls the famous story of Osiris. In this connection, it is not hard to find some significance in the precise term used of the killing of Thoulis. The word, ἐσϕάγη, from σϕάζω, may mean simply that he was slain, but it can also refer to slaughtering or killing as a sacrifice. The implications of butchery and ritual inherent in the term, especially in the context of an Egyptian ruler treacherously slain by his relations, would almost unavoidably recall the murder of Osiris. Its affinities with the story of Osiris, especially the historicized account found in Diodorus, no doubt offered a certain verisimilitude to the novel fiction of the account of Thoulis; it sounded like the typical tale of an Egyptian king of the distant past.

Kersey Graves' supplementary "Zulis" spelling of this character's name is bewildering, and seems, at least to me, to be a sort of science-fiction/fantasy remix thereof, on the order of Socrates' Egyptian deities Theuth and Thamus. The only guess I've got for "Zhule" is that it might be the spelling of Th[o]ule (the place-name) in some European language other than English or Latin.

Similarities, or the Lack Thereof

While the parallels between Osiris and Jesus are indeed fascinatingly striking, we do know that in the Gospel accounts Jesus is never dismembered, some emphasis being made in pointing out that while his wounds were gruesome, none of his bones were ever broken. With Osiris, an important aspect of his story certainly is that his corpse gets chopped to pieces and then later reassembled before his resurrection. The canonical Bible is vague and controversial, even among Christians, as to whether Jesus descended into the Underworld after death or not.

At this point, however, Christ parallels Osiris in an especially inverse manner, in that Osiris does not, at least in the original Egyptian version of his story, ascend into heaven; he descends towards or remains in the Underworld and it is there that he becomes the judge of the dead. Christ on the other hand, does in fact ascend into heaven and there is a distinct emphasis on his upcoming return to the mortal realm before an eschatological judgement of the dead. But most importantly for the purposes of Graves's book title, Osiris is never crucified! Quite poetically, he gets entombed alive, in a sense, and this is what causes his death.

I point all that out in order to compare both Osiris and Jesus with Thoulis, and, as it happens, there is nothing connecting Thoulis with the other two that is as remarkable as the noted similarities between Osiris and Jesus, or as Graves would like there to be. John does not tell us that Thoulis is crucified in any fashion, nor is there any reason for us to necessarily understand his death in this way. If we are supposed to link him to Osiris, then we have seen that, as a matter of fact, this compels us even less to think of crucifixion.

While Osiris, in the original Egyptian religion and mythology, is indeed some sort of "salvific" figure ("messianic" in the ancient Israelite sense, I think, is pushing it just a little bit), Thoulis definitely is not. He is quite obviously a cautionary tale of someone you do not want to be like. In the Khronographia, after his story, John moves on to other powerful rulers, who are clearly his own fictionalised renditions of well-known characters from ancient Greco-Egyptian myth and history. Thoulis simply goes the way of all flesh, as it were, no deification, resurrection or ascension or anything of the like on the horizon.

And (w)here we are now

It is really ironic that a Christian writer invented this king and his story in order to promote humility, together with a particularly specific Christian doctrine, and yet Thoulis/Thulis is now, seemingly, best known in new media as some kind of archaic competitor to Christianity (or as the founder of a sort of proto-Christianity). That is perhaps the greatest achievement of Mr Graves with regard to this personage.

(By the way, notice that while Graves is definitely [mis]quoting {ahem!} John Gardner Wilkinson, he never actually gets his name right with his "Mr. Wilkison" references. Like with his "Zulis", it almost feels as if it's there to deliberately throw you off the track.)

Further Reading

  • Dr Benjamin Garstad's article, which goes quite in depth, discussing many more angles to the story and its potential origins, is available on Academia.edu.
  • Jason Colavito's 2018 translation of the Khronographia is available on his webpage entitled John Malalas on Ancient Egypt, with very helpful notes to further contextualise the situation in the work's authorship as well as in the scenes taking place in the stories which it narrates. (It's also a fairly quick read.)
  • The Australian Association for Byzantine Studies: Byzantina Australiensia 4 also has The Chronicle of John Malalas: A Translation by Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys and Roger Scott with Brian Croke, Jenny Ferber, Simon Franklin, Alan James, Douglas Kelly, Ann Moffatt, Ann Nixon (Melbourne 1986) on Calamēo.
  • The Khronographia is available in the Greek, with an accompanying Latin translation thereof, on Archive.org.

The central problem is your source author, not the most reliable in the world (compare him to Robert Graves).

  • He is writing in 187x, that is a LONG time ago
  • His methods of investigations were questionable
  • His use of sources is problematic

Checking the source

Demonstration with the "his history is curiously illustrated in the sculptures, made seventeen hundred years B.C., of a small, retired chamber lying nearly over the western adytum of the temple." related to this so-called Thulis. The citation is taken from Wilkinson's A Second Series of the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians. Here is the full citation:

Of these, the most singular are the character of Osiris, and the connection between truth and the creative power. [...] But the discloser of truth and goodness on Earth was Osiris, and it is remarkable that, in this character of the manifestation of the deity, he was said to be "full of goodness and truth" [...] At Phylae, where Osiris was particularly worshipped, and which was one of the places where they supposed him to have been buried, his mysterious history is curiously illustrated in the sculptures of a small retired chamber, lying nearby over the western adytum of the temple.

So Wilkinson is talking about the god Osiris at Phylae (an island). Not about a Zulis, Thulys, Julius or whatever. Osiris.

One needs to go back in time in the 18xx era, mostly, authors were trying to find connections between Egyptian religion and Christianity. Akhenaten furnishes the most stupendous example. Here is Breasted: "It is this aspect of Ikhnaton's mind which is especially remarkable; he is the first prophet of history [...] It is the first time in history a discerning eye has caught this universal truth". Here is Weigall's view "Akhnaton evolved a monotheistic religion second only to Christianity itself in purity of tone. He was the first human being to understand rightly the meaning of divinity."

This helps you understand Wilkinson and his point of view. That man was writing when Egyptology was an emergent hobby, not a profession.

Most of those "Christians views" from the early Egyptologist are nowadays totally dismissed. Hence your author there trying to find connections between Egyptians and Christians and totally misquoting another author to prove his point.

On Thulis

Now, Graves does not provide his own source for Thulis, on the contrary, he misquotes Wilkinson and thus speaks about Osiris. Still, this Thulis is not totally unknown, here is his legend as found in the Byzantine Souda:

Thulis reigned over all the Egypt and his empire was up to the ocean. He gave his name to Thule, one of the island found there. Filled with his success, he went to the oracle of Serapis, and after performing a sacrifice, he talked to him:

- Tell us, Master of the fire, the truth, the happy, who is driving the course of the stars, tell us who was as powerful as me before and who will be after.

The oracle responded: First God, then the Verb, and the Spirit with them. All three are of the same nature and make one whose power is eternal: Go out mortal, whose life is uncertain.

Going out of the temple, he was put to death by his men, in the country of "Afres", or Africans.

[[note: this text is translated by me from the original Byzantine Greek... in no way do I pretend to be an expert in Greek, and certainly not in Byzantine Greek! I do not know any translations]]

Notice the Souda is written in Byzantine Greek around 1100 and fairly obviously is quite smelly on Egyptian tales. One should take those stories as Byzantine Christians stories. One clear element is the use of Serapis, the main Egyptian god of the Ptolemaic era, thus a "Greek god". Notice finally that in Hebrew Thuli means suspended or crucified.

It is difficult at the end of the day to find where Graves got his ideas from. The first part works with the Souda, when the second works with Wilkinson. But there is no reason to put them together. One could not exclude that genuine knowledge of Egypt/Christian view from the era 18xx could lead to understanding better Graves'way of thinking.

Note: In old Egypt, there is a Pharaoh Twosret whose name in Greek is Thuoris, which is the closest from Thulis. Considering she is a she, I doubt she is the model for Thulis.

  • 1
    I'm 100% with you on the reliability of the author. I've found literally hundreds of references to the book online, with little to no challenge on its contents. That's the main reason I'm posting questions about it. – yannis May 28 '19 at 14:46
  • The recent retellings about Thulis seem to come from Pierre Marie Stanislas Guérin du Rocher's "Histoire véritable des temps fabuleux)", published 1776-7 which became a widely read, commented and translated book (see eg Ignaz Goldziher Mythology Among the Hebrews and Its Historical Development / googlebooks, intro). There are some 3 pages on Thulis with ref to Suidas. – sand1 Jul 26 '19 at 22:34

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