Abraham and Osiris (Facsimile 3, Figure 1)

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Book of Abraham Insight #35

Figure 1 of Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham was interpreted by Joseph Smith as, “Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king; with a crown upon his head, representing the priesthood; as emblematical of the grand presidency in heaven; with the scepter of justice, and judgment in his hand.” This interpretation has clashed with those offered by Egyptologists, who have instead identified the figure as the god Osiris.1 What’s more, two Egyptologists have claimed to arrive at this interpretation from reading the hieroglyphs to the right of Figure 1.2

Robert Ritner (2011)

Michael Rhodes (2002)

ḏd-mdw ỉ(n) Wsỉr ẖnty-ỉmnty.w nb(?) ȝbḏw(?) nṯr ˁȝ r ḏ.t nḥḥ(?)

Recitation by Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners, Lord of Abydos(?), the great god forever and ever(?).

ḏd-mdw ỉ(n) Wsỉr ẖnty-ỉmnty.w mn=k, Wsỉr, Ḥr m ns.t ˁȝ.ṯ=f

Words spoken by Osiris, the Foremost of the Westerners: May you, Osiris Hor, abide at the side of the throne of greatness.

One of these Egyptologists has attempted to reproduce the hieroglyphs accompanying Figure 1.3 A comparison of his reproduction and Reuben Hedlock’s original, however, reveals some difficulties.

A side-by-side comparison of the hieroglyphs that appear next to Figure 1 in Facsimile 3 in 1842 (right) and the reconstructed hieroglyphs from Rhodes in 2002 (left).

For example, some of the glyphs in the name of Osiris in the first column on the right only bear general resemblance to attested spellings of Osiris’ name in other copies of the Book of Breathings, and other glyphs that make up the rest of the name and epithets for Osiris look quite different as well.4 “These issues combine to suggest that the translation of the characters may not be as straightforward as has been previously assumed,”  so “while one can see good reasons for . . . the use of parallel texts”5 to reconstruct illegible characters in Facsimile 3, it is also necessary to be aware of difficulties or uncertainties in reading the hieroglyphs in Hedlock’s copy of Facsimile 3.6

Nevertheless, the identity of this figure as Osiris appears reasonable based on comparable iconography. One might therefore rightly ask how or even if it is possible to reconcile Joseph Smith’s identification of this figure as Abraham.

In 1981, Latter-day Saint scholar Blake T. Ostler drew attention to possible Egyptian connections between the figures of Osiris and Abraham.7 For example, Ostler cited the work of an earlier non-Latter-day Saint German scholar drawing parallels between the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19–31 and an Egyptian text known as the tale of Setne.8 As summarized more recently by another Latter-day Saint scholar, in the Egyptian text, a boy named Si-Osiris (“son of Osiris”) and his father witness “two funerals: first, that of a rich man, shrouded in fine linen, loudly lamented and abundantly honored; then, that of a poor man, wrapped in a straw mat, unaccompanied and unmourned. The father says that he would rather have the lot of the rich man than that of the pauper.”9 To show his father the folly of his thinking, Si-Osiris takes him to the underworld, where the rich man who had an elaborate funeral is punished while the pauper who had no dignified burial is glorified and exalted in the presence of the god Osiris himself. “The reason for this disparate treatment is that, at the judgment, the good deeds of the pauper outweighed the bad, but with the rich man the opposite was true.”10

The god Osiris, seated and holding symbols of kingship (a crook, flail, and scepter) and the symbol for life (the Ankh symbol), is protected by his sister-wife Isis in this relief from the tomb of Khaemhat (TT 57) from the reign of the Eighteenth Dynasty king Amenhotep III (circa 1390-1352 BC). Photo by Stephen O. Smoot.

Some scholars have argued for a Jewish borrowing and adaptation of the tale of Setne that made its way into the Gospel of Luke. Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim introduces her translation of the tale of Setne by commenting on the “genuinely Egyptian motifs” of the nobleman who is tortured in the netherworld while the poor man is deified in the afterlife. These motifs, she insists, “formed the basis for the parable of Jesus in Luke 16, 19–31, and for the related Jewish legends, preserved in many variants in Talmudic and medieval Jewish sources.”11

Another scholar has further explored the parallels between these two traditions and notes how Lazarus being exalted in “the bosom of Abraham” in Luke’s retelling of the parable is very likely a Jewish refashioning of the imagery in the tale of Setne of the poor beggar being found exalted by the throne of Osiris. In his words, “‘Abraham’ must be a Jewish substitute for the pagan god Osiris. He is the very seat of divine authority” in the parable, “for he was originally the lord of Amnte, Osiris.”12 Even the name Lazarus is likely the Greek rendering of the Hebrew-Aramaic “God-helped-(him)” (אלעזר/לעזר), which “points back toward an Egyptian original with similar meaning: ‘Osiris-helps-him’, for instance.”13

As explained by Barney, “We are able to see how the Egyptian story has been transformed in Semitic dress. . . . The ‘bosom of Abraham’ [from the Lucan parable] represents . . . the Egyptian abode of the dead. And, most remarkably, Abraham is a Jewish substitute for the pagan god Osiris—just as is the case in Facsimiles 1 and 3.”14

There appears to be another instance of the biblical figure Abraham anciently being associated with the Egyptian god Osiris. As explained by Egyptologist John Gee, an Egyptian funerary formula found in several sources was later syncretized with Jewish figures in its later renderings into Greek and Coptic. The short Demotic version of the formula reads: “May his soul live in the presence of Osiris-Sokar the great god, the lord of Abydos” (ˁnḫ pȝ by=f m bȝḥ wsir skr pȝ nṯr ˁȝ nb ỉbḏw). In Greek this formula was later rendered as: “Rest his soul in the bosom of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob” (ἀναπαύσον τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοὺ εἰς κόλπις Αβρααμ κ(αὶ) Ισαακ κ(αὶ) Ιακωβ). In this reformulation, “The expression ‘live in the presence of Osiris’ has been replaced by the expression ‘rest in Abraham’s bosom.”15

We cannot know exactly why Abraham was viewed by some anciently as a substitute for the Egyptian god Osiris.16 Whatever the case, “there are enough instances where Abraham appears in contexts normally occupied by Osiris that we must conclude the Egyptians saw some sort of connection.”17 It is especially noteworthy, as seen above, that Abraham appears as a substitute for Osiris in ways associated with the judgment of the dead or a postmortem declaration of the deceased’s worthiness. This in turn might shed some insight into what might otherwise appear as Joseph Smith’s incongruous interpretation of this figure in Facsimile 3.

Further Reading

Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 107–130.

Blake T. Ostler, “Abraham: An Egyptian Connection,” FARMS Report (1981).

Footnotes

 

1 See for instance Klaus Baer, “The Breathing Permit of Hôr: A Translation of the Apparent Source of the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1968): 126; Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 23.

2 Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, A Complete Edition: P. JS 1–4 and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq (Salt Lake City, UT: The Smith–Pettit Foundation, 2011), 139; Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings, 25.

3 Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings, 24.

4 Quinten Zehn Barney, The Neglected Facsimile: An Examination and Comparative Study of Facsimile No. 3 of The Book of Abraham, MA thesis, Brigham Young University (2019), 45, 121–122.

5 Barney, The Neglected Facsimile, 49.

6 Barney, The Neglected Facsimile, 45. Ritner’s hesitation in his reading of the hieroglyphs in Facsimile 3, as well as the multiple disagreements with Rhodes’ own reading of the same, further indicates the difficulty in reading these glyphs.

7 Blake T. Ostler, “Abraham: An Egyptian Connection,” FARMS Report (1981).

8 Ostler, “Abraham,” 3–8, citing Hugo Greßmann, Vom reichen Mann und armen Lazarus: Eine literargeschichtliche Studie (Berlin: Königliche Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1918).

9 Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 120–121.

10 Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” 121.

11 Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III: The Late Period (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1980), 125–126; cf. Robert K. Ritner, “The Adventures of Setna and Si-Osire (Setna II),” in The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry, ed. William Kelly Simpson, 3rd ed. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), 470–471.

12 K. Grobel, “…Whose name was Neves,” New Testament Studies 10 (1964): 380.

13 Grobel, “…Whose name was Neves,” 381.

14 Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” 121.

15 John Gee, “A New Look at the ˁnẖ pȝ by Formula,” in Actes du IXe congrès international des études démotiques, Paris, 31 août–3 septembre 2005, ed. Ghislaine Widmer and Didier Devauchelle (Paris: Institut Français D’Archaéologie Orientale, 2009), 143.

16 It should be noted that the ancient association between Abraham and Osiris is not the only attested instance of Judeo-Egyptian syncretization. As Gary Rendsburg has pointed out, “the biblical writer utilized the venerable Horus myth in order to present Moses as the equal to Pharaoh.” As seen in many parallels between the two figures, “the young Moses [in the biblical account] is akin to the young Horus, the latter a mythic equal of the living Pharaoh.” Gary A. Rendsburg, “Moses as Equal to Pharaoh,” in Text, Artifact, and Image: Revealing Ancient Israelite Religion, ed. Gary Beckman and Theodore J. Lewis (Providence, RI: Brown University, Brown Judaic Studies, 2010), 201–219, quote at 208.

17 Kerry Muhlestein, “Abraham, Isaac, and Osiris-Michael: The Use of Biblical Figures in Egyptian Religion, A Survey,” in Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology: Proceedings of the International Conference Held in Moscow on September 29–October 2, 2009, ed. Galina A. Belova (Moscow: Russian Academy of Sciences, Center for Egyptological Studies, 2009), 251.

Facsimile 3: Judgment Scene vs. Presentation Scene

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Book of Abraham Insight #34

Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham has been identified in the past by Egyptologists as “a constantly recurring scene in Egyptian literature, best known from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris.”1 Based on comparable iconography from other Egyptian funerary texts, this understanding of Facsimile 3 has been prevalent among Egyptologists.2 “The formal judgment of the dead contained in BD spell 125 . . . involves the deceased supplicant making a ‘negative confession’ asserting his or her faultless behavior on earth in the presence of forty-two gods assembled in the Hall of the Two Truths, while the heart is weighted against the feather of Maat.”3 This judgment scene very frequently is depicted as transpiring before the presence of the god Osiris, who is often shown sitting on a throne accompanied by his sisters/wives Isis and/or Nephthys.

Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham as it first appeared in print on May 16, 1842 in the Times and Seasons. Image via the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Although this interpretation of Facsimile 3 has become commonplace among scholars, some have raised considerable objections to this explanation. Egyptologist John Gee, for instance, has voiced problems with viewing Facsimile 3 as a judgment scene.4 “The problems with the theory that Facsimile 3 is the vignette from Book of the Dead 125 can be most readily shown” by what is missing in Facsimile 3.5 Several ancient copies of the Book of the Dead either visually illustrate or textually describe what the ancient Egyptians themselves considered the essential elements needed for a judgment scene. This includes, according to one copy of the Book of the Dead from the first century AD:

The forty-two gods [in front of] the deceased above the hall of the truths; a figure of Hathor, [lady] of the underworld carrying a was-scepter, protecting the man, while the two arms of the scale are straight and Thoth is on its left, to the right of its [. . .] while Horus speaks, and Anubis grasps it on the side on which are the two truths (Maats) while he is opposite on the other side of the scale. Thoth reads the writings since a scroll is in his hand [. . .Ammut] in whose hand is a knife and before whom are a sword and a scepter, Anubis holding his hand. A lotus with two supports on which are the four sons of Horus. A chapel in which Osiris sits on his throne there being an offering table with a lotus before him. Isis is behind him praising, and Nephthys is behind him praising.6

“If we compare this description with Facsimile 3,” observes Gee, “we find that the description does not match at all.”

Facsimile 3 lacks the forty-two gods. It is missing Hathor holding the was-scepter. There is no balance-scale. Thoth is missing from the left side of the nonexistent scale. Horus is missing. The figure generally identified with Anubis is not grasping the side of the scale, but the waist of the man. Since Thoth is not depicted, he cannot be shown reading anything. Ammut is absent, along with the knife, sword, and scepter. The lotus is missing the four sons of Horus atop it. Though Osiris is shown sitting, he is not depicted seated within any chapel. Almost all of the elements which the Egyptians thought were important for the scene are conspicuous by their absence from Facsimile 3. Significantly, these elements are present in a vignette accompanying Book of the Dead, chapter 125, found among the Joseph Smith Papyri, as well as other copies of vignettes of Book of the Dead, chapter 125. These elements are present in all the judgment scenes that the critics would compare with the Facsimile 3. The elements of the judgment scene as listed in the Demotic Book of the Dead are consistent with those of earlier judgment scenes. Their absence from Facsimile 3 indicates that Facsimile 3 is not a judgment scene and is not directly associated with Book of the Dead 125.7

So if Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham is most likely not a judgment scene from Book of the Dead Spell 125, then what might it be? Recently, Quinten Barney performed a study of Facsimile 3 which compared it with similar throne scenes depicting the god Osiris from extant copies of the ancient Egyptian Book of Breathings.8 Barney categorized four types of throne scenes (Invocation, Weighing of the Heart, Presentation, and hybrid) from the Book of Breathings and compared them with Facsimile 3.9 After careful comparison, Barney concluded that while “Facsimile No. 3 does have much in common with those various throne scenes found in these texts, including those scenes from the Book of Breathings, . . . several challenges present themselves as we begin to try classifying the Facsimile into one of the four categories of throne scenes presented above.”10

A depiction of the judgment of the dead from the Book of the Dead of Taruma (P. Vindob. Aeg. 65; Ptolemaic Period). Image via the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

In fact, when compared with other throne scenes from the Book of Breathings, Facsimile 3 contains a number of anomalous artistic elements that are not standard in other illustrations, and its original placement on the papyrus scroll obtained by Joseph Smith is likewise not standard for this type of text. So while “the type of scene with which Facsimile No. 3 compares best is that of the Presentation scene, which features the deceased being introduced into the presence of Osiris by one or more other Egyptian deities, . . . there are several challenges with placing Facsimile No. 3 into this category.”11

If Facsimile 3 is indeed closer to a presentation scene than a judgment scene, then it might have a plausible connection with astronomy. “Parallel scenes on Egyptian temples are explicitly labeled as initiations. Known initiation rituals from Greco-Roman Egypt include instruction in astronomy as part of the initiation.”12  This converges with Joseph Smith’s interpretation that this scene depicts Abraham “reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king’s court.”

A depiction of the judgment of the dead in the Book of Breathings of Kerasher (P. BM EA 9995; Roman Period). Image via the British Museum website.

Until further work can shed more light on this fascinating but complex matter, we will have to be content for now that “although Facsimile No. 3 was attached to the Hor Book of Breathings, it is anything but a common funerary scene from that collection of texts.”13

Further Reading

Quinten Barney, “The Neglected Facsimile: An Examination and Comparative Study of Facsimile No. 3 of The Book of Abraham,” MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 2019.

John Gee, “Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2005), 95–105.

Footnotes

1 Michael D. Rhodes, “Facsimiles from the Book of Abraham,” in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 Vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1:136.

2 See for instance Franklin S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (Salt Lake City: Arrow, 1912), 24, 26; Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, A Complete Edition: P. JS 1–4 and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq (Salt Lake City, UT: The Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2011), 138. Klaus Baer opined in 1968 that Facsimile 3 was “a scene [that] comes from a mortuary papyrus and is similar to, but not identical with scenes showing the judgment of the deceased before Osiris” in Book of the Dead Spell 125. Klaus Baer, “The Breathing Permit of Hôr: A Translation of the Apparent Source of the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1968): 126.

3 Peter F. Dorman, “The Origins and Early Development of the Book of the Dead,” in Book of the Dead: Becoming God in Ancient Egypt, ed. Foy Scalf (Chicago, Ill.: Oriental Institute, 2017), 39.

4 John Gee, “Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2005), 95–105.

5 Gee, “Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125,” 99.

6 Gee, “Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125,” 100, citing P. Bibliothèque Nationale E 140 1/16—24, Franz Lexa, Das demotische Totenbuch der Pariser Nationalbibliothek (Papyrus des Pamonthes) (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1910), ix, 6—8, plate I.

7 Gee, “Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125,” 100–101.

8 Quinten Barney, “The Neglected Facsimile: An Examination and Comparative Study of Facsimile No. 3 of The Book of Abraham,” MA thesis, Brigham Young University, 2019.

9 Barney, “The Neglected Facsimile,” 70–88.

10 Barney, “The Neglected Facsimile,” 81.

11 Barney, “The Neglected Facsimile,” 81.

12 John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017), 153.

13 Barney, “The Neglected Facsimile,” 88. See further Hugh Nibley, “All the Court’s A Stage: Facsimile 3, A Royal Mummying,” in Abraham in Egypt, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2000), 382–465.

God Sitting Upon His Throne (Facsimile 2, Figure 7)

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Book of Abraham Insight #33

Figure 7 in Facsimile 2 is identified as follows: “Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.” Appearing in several other ancient Egyptian hypocephali,1 the sitting personage in Figure 7 has been described by one Egyptologist as “a polymorphic god sitting on his throne” with “the back of him is bird-form, while one of his arms is raised [in] the attribution” of the gods Min or Amun “and hold[ing] forth a flagellum.” Standing next to him is a “falcon- or snake-headed snake” believed to perhaps be the minor deity Nehebkau, who “offers the wedjat-eye.”2

Another Egyptologist has similarly described this figure as “a seated ithyphallic god with a hawk’s tail, holding aloft a flail. This is a form of Min . . . perhaps combined with Horus, as the hawk’s tail would seem to indicate. Before the god is what appears to be a bird presenting him with a Wedjat-eye.”3 In some hypocephali the ancient Egyptians themselves simply identified this figure as, variously, the “Great God” (nṯr ˁȝ), the “Lord of Life” (nb ˁnḫ), or the “Lord of All” (nb r ḏr).4 This first epithet is significant for Joseph Smith’s interpretation, since in one ancient Egyptian text the divine figure Iaho Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts) is also afforded the epithet “the Great God” (pȝ nṯr ˁȝ).5

Since some Egyptologists have suggested this figure is the god Min or Amun, who was often syncretized with Min,6 it would be worth exploring what we know about this deity, even if this identification wasn’t explicitly made by the ancient Egyptians themselves. One of Egypt’s oldest gods, Min was worshipped as early as the Pre-Dynastic Period (circa pre-3000 BC). Although he assumed multiple attributes over millennia,7 Min is perhaps best known as “the god of the regenerative, procreative forces of nature”8; that is, as a sort of fertility god who was often depicted as the premier manifestation of “male sexual potency.”9 He is frequently shown raising his arm to the square while holding a flail, symbols or gestures associated with kingship, displaying power, and the ability to protect from enemies.10

Min is also very often, though not always,11 depicted in hypocephali with an erect phallus (ithyphallic), which Egyptologists have interpreted as either a symbol of, on the one hand, sexual potency, fertility, (pro)creation, and rejuvenation, or, on the other hand, aggression, power, and potency.12 One Egyptologist has also interpreted depictions of Min with his raised arm and erect phallus as a sign of him being “a protector of the temple” whose role was to “repulse negative influences from the ‘profane surroundings’” of the sacred space of the temple.13

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Worshipped extensively throughout Egypt, the god Min was represented in both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art. Image on the left: relief of Min at the Karnak temple via Wikipedia. Image on the right: a small wood amulet of Min from the Late Period–Ptolemaic Period (circa 664–30 B.C.) via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

That Min would assume the roles of divine procreator who gives life and divine king who upholds the cosmos is understandable from the viewpoint of ancient Egyptian religion.14 As Ian Shaw explains,

Although Egyptian art shied away from depicting the sexual act, it had no such qualms about the depiction of the erect phallus. . . . The three oldest colossal religious statues in Egyptian history, found by [William Flinders] Petrie in the earliest strata of the temple of Min at Koptos . . . where essentially large ithyphallic representations, probably of Min. . . . This celebration of the phallus appears to be directly related to the Egyptians’ concerns with the creation (and sustaining) of the universe, in which the king was thought to play a significant role—which was no doubt one of the reasons why the Egyptian state would have been concerned to ensure that the ithyphallic figures continued to be important elements in many cults.15

Christina Riggs similarly comments that “near naked goddesses, gods with erections, and cults for virile animals, like bulls, make sense in [ancient Egyptian] religious imagery because they captured the miracle of life creating new life.”16 For this reason Min was “regarded as the creator god par excellence” in ancient Egypt, as fertility and (male) sexuality was “subsumed under the general notion of creativity.”17

Figure 7 in Facsimile 2 was either originally drawn or copied somewhat crudely (without access to the original it is impossible to tell), and so it is not entirely clear if the seated figure is ithyphallic or if he has one arm at his side with the other arm clearly raised in the air. Although Egyptologists have tended to interpret Figure 7 in Facsimile 2 as ithyphallic—and that seems to be how it is depicted—it should be kept in mind, as noted above (and seen below), that Min is not always depicted as such in hypocephali, so he need not necessarily be viewed as ithyphallic in Facsimile 2. In any case, there is nothing to suggest anything pornographic or sexually illicit in ancient ithyphallic depictions of Min.

But what about the figure assumed to be Nehebkau offering Min the Wedjat-eye?18 Depicted most commonly as a snake or snake-headed man19—but sometimes as a falcon (as in Facsimile 2)20—in Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, Nehebkau is named as one of the judges of the dead.21 In Chapter 149 of the Book of the Dead he is associated with Min and other deities as one who assures the dead will be rejuvenated and resurrected with a perfected body.22 In the Pyramid Texts he feeds the deceased king and acts as a divine messenger.23 As such, he “was considered to be a provider of life and nourishment.”24 Together Nehebkau and Min ”were symbolic of life-force and procreative forces of nature.”25

In different hypocephali the figure believed to be Nehebkau is depicted as either a snake (top) or a falcon (bottom) who is either presenting the Wedjat-eye to Min on his throne (top) or is receiving the Wedjat-eye from Min on his throne (bottom). Images from Mekis (2013), 92.

In ancient Egyptian, wḏȝ carries the meaning of “hale, uninjured,” and “well-being.”26 The word can describe the health or wholeness of the physical body, the soul, or moral character.27 The wḏȝt-eye Nehebkau presents to Min (or vice-versa) was envisioned by the ancient Egyptians as “whole” or “sound” eye of Horus and had an apotropaic function in ancient Egyptian religion.28 It was, in short, “the symbol of all good gifts”29 and a symbol for “the miracle of [the] restoration” and renewal of the body.30

This fuller understanding helps make sense of Joseph Smith’s interpretation of this figure and plausibly situates such it in an ancient Egyptian context.31

Further Reading

Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 19 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 304–322.

Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…20 Years Later,” FARMS Preliminary Paper (1997).

Footnotes

 

1 Tamás Mekis, Hypocephali, PhD diss. (Eötvös Loránd University, 2013), 1:91–93.

2 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:91.

3 Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…20 Years Later,” FARMS Preliminary Paper (1997), 11.

4 John Gee, “Towards an Interpretation of Hypocephali,” in “Le Lotus Qui Sort de Terre”: Mélanges Offerts À Edith Varga, ed. Hedvig Győry (Budapest: Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 2001), 334; Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:91n484.

5 John Gee, “The Structure of Lamp Divination,” in Acts of the Seventh International Conference of Demotic Studies, Copenhagen, 23–27 August 1999, ed. Kim Ryholt (Copenhagen: The Carsten Neibuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen, 2002), 211–212.

6 Christian Leitz, ed., Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen (Leuven: Peeters, 2002), 3:290–291.

7 Leitz, Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, 3:288–291.

8 Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…20 Years Later,” 11.

9 Eugene Romanosky, “Min,” in The Ancient Gods Speak: A Guide to Egyptian Religion, ed. Donald B. Redford (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 218.

10 Leitz, ed., Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, 3:288; Jorge Ogdon, “Some Notes on the Iconography of Min,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 7 (1985/6): 29–41; Romanosky, “Min,” 219; Toby A. H. Wilkinson, Early Dynastic Egypt (London: Routledge, 1999), 161; Manfred Lurker, An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), 52. Richard H. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994), 196; cf. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003), 115; “Ancient Near Eastern Raised-Arm Figures and the Iconography of the Egyptian God Min,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 11 (1991–2): 109–118.

11 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:92.

12 Ogdon, “Some Notes on the Iconography of Min,” 29–41; Joachim Quack, “The So-Called Pantheos: On Polymorphic Deities in Late Egyptian Religion,” in Aegyptus et Pannonia III: Acta Symposii anno 2004, ed. Hedvig Győry (Budapest: Comité de l’Égypte Ancienne de l’Association Amicale Hongroise-Égyptienne, 2006), 176.

13 Ogdon, “Some Notes on the Iconography of Min,” 33.

14 Min was often syncretized with both Horus and Amun, two gods closely associated with kingship, and himself bore the epithet “Min the King.” Leitz, Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, 3:290–291.

15 Ian Shaw, Ancient Egypt: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 133.

16 Christina Riggs, Ancient Egyptian Art and Architecture: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 89.

17 K. Van der Toorn, “Min,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 557. This can be further seen in the Pyramid Texts, which explicitly links male sexual virility with the creation of the cosmos (in this case the birth of Shu and Tefnut from the primordial creator god Atum). PT 527 in James Allen, trans., The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, ed. Peter Der Manuelian (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 164.

18 Alan W. Shorter, “The God Nehebkau,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 21, no. 1 (1935): 41–48; Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003), 224–225.

19 Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, 224; Leitz, Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, 4:274.

20 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:92n486; Leitz, Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, 4:274.

21 Raymond O. Faulkner, trans., The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (London: The British Museum Press, 2010), 32; Karl Richard Lepsius, Das Todtenbuch der Ägypter nach dem hieroglyphischen Papyrus in Turin mit einem Vorworte zum ersten Male Herausgegeben (Leipzig, Germany: G. Wigand, 1842), Pl. XLVII.

22 Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, 137; Lepsius, Das Todtenbuch der Ägypter, Pl. LXXI.

23 PT 264, PT 609 in Allen, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, 78, 230.

24 Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…20 Years Later,” 12.

25 Luca Miatello, “The Hypocephalus of Takerheb in Firenze and the Scheme of the Solar Cycle,” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 37 (2008): 285.

26 Raymond O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1962), 74–75.

27 Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1958), 1:399–400.

28 Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 131–132.

29 Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…20 Years Later,” 11.

30 Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 19 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 314.

31 See further Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 304–322.

The Four Sons of Horus (Facsimile 2, Figure 6)

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Book of Abraham Insight #32

Figure 6 of Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham was interpreted straightforwardly by Joseph Smith as “represent[ing] this earth in its four quarters.”1 Based on contemporary nineteenth-century usage of this biblical idiom (Revelation 20:8), Joseph Smith evidently meant the figures represent the four cardinal points (north, east, south, and west).2 This interpretation finds ready support from the ancient Egyptians.

The four entities in Figure 6 represent the four sons of the god Horus: Hapi, Imsety, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef.3 Over the span of millennia of Egyptian religion, these gods took on various forms as well as mythological roles and aspects.4 One such role was, indeed, as representing the four cardinal directions. “By virtue of its association with the cardinal directions,” observes one Egyptologist, “four is the most common symbol of ‘completeness’ in Egyptian numerological symbolism and ritual repetition.”5 As another Egyptologist has summarized,

The earliest reference to these four gods is found in the Pyramid Texts [ca. 2350–2100 BC] where they are said to be the children and also the “souls” of [the god] Horus. They are also called the “friends of the king” and assist the deceased monarch in ascending into the sky (PT 1278–79). The same gods were also known as the sons of Osiris and were later said to be members of the group called “the seven blessed ones” whose job was to protect the netherworld god’s coffin. Their afterlife mythology led to important roles in the funerary assemblage, particularly in association with the containers now traditionally called canopic jars in which the internal organs of the deceased were preserved. . . . The group may have been based on the symbolic completeness of the number four alone, but they are often given geographic associations and hence became a kind of “regional” group. . . . The four gods were sometimes depicted on the sides of the canopic chest and had specific symbolic orientations, with Imsety usually being aligned with the south, Hapy with the north, Duamutef with the east and Qebehsenuef with the west.6

Glazed polychromatic amulets of the Sons of Horus dating to circa 1069-747 BC. Image via the British Museum.

This understanding is shared widely among Egyptologists today. James P. Allen, in his translation and commentary on the Pyramid Texts, simply identifies the four Sons of Horus as “representing the cardinal directions.”7 Manfred Lurker explains that “each [of the sons of Horus] had a characteristic head and was associated with one of the four cardinal points of the compass and one of the four ‘protective’ goddesses” associated therewith.8

Geraldine Pinch concurs, writing, “[The four Sons of Horus] were the traditional guardians of the four canopic jars used to hold mummified organs. Imsety generally protected the liver, Hapy the lungs, Duamutef the stomach, and Qebehsenuef the intestines. The four sons were also associated with the four directions (south, north, east, and west) and with the four vital components for survival after death: the heart, the ba, the ka, and the mummy.”9 “They were the gods of the four quarters of the earth,” remarks Michael D. Rhodes, “and later came to be regarded as presiding over the four cardinal points. They also were guardians of the viscera of the dead, and their images were carved on the four canopic jars into which the internal organs were placed.”10

Another Egyptologist, Maarten J. Raven, argues that the primary purpose of the Sons of Horus was to act as “the four corners of the universe and the four supports of heaven, and only secondarily with the protection of the body’s integrity.”11

The association of the Sons of Horus with the earth’s cardinal directions is explicit in one scene where, represented “as birds flying out to the four corners of the cosmos,” they herald the accession of king Rameses II to the throne.12

Imsety, go south that you may declare to the southern gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Osiris, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramesses II], has assumed the crown; Hapi, go north that you declare to the northern gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Osiris, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramesses II], has assumed the crown; Duamutef, go east that you may declare to the eastern gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Osiris, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramesses II], has assumed the crown; Qebehsenuef, go west that you may declare to the western gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Horus, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramesses II], has assumed the crown.13

In this scene from the mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, the four sons of Horus are set loose as birds to the cardinal directions to herald the kingship of Ramesses II, as described in the hieroglyphs highlighted in red. Image from The Epigraphic Survey, Medinet Habu, Volume 4 (1940).

While Joseph Smith’s succinct interpretation of Figure 6 in Facsimile 2 might have left out some additional details we know about the Sons of Horus (roles which evolved over the span of Egyptian religious history), it nevertheless converges nicely with current Egyptological knowledge.14

Further Reading

John Gee, “Notes on the Sons of Horus,” FARMS Report (1991).

Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 299–302.

Footnotes

 

1 “A FAC-SIMILE FROM THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM, NO. 2.,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 16 (March 15, 1842): insert between pp. 720–721.

2 Thus George Stanley Faber, A General and Connected View of the Prophecies, Relative to the Conversion, Restoration, Union, and Future Glory of the Houses of Judah and Israel (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1808), 2:84, emphasis in original: “[N]ot merely from the north, but . . . from the east, the south, and the west, that is (in the language of St. John) from the four quarters of the earth.”; Robert Hodgson, The Works of the Right Reverend Beilby Porteus, D. D. Late Bishop of London (London: G. Sidney, 1811), 218: “[A]nd they shall gather together his elect (that is, shall collect disciples and converts to the faith) from the four winds, from the four quarters of the earth; or, as St. Luke expresses it, ‘from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south.’”; Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament (London: Joseph Ogle Robinson, 1828), 3:1415: “As the city had four equal sides, answering to the four quarters of the world, east, west, north, and south; so in each side there were three gates, signifying that from all quarters of the earth there shall be some who shall get safe to heaven and be received there, and that there is a free entrance from one part of the world as from the other.”; Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York, NY: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. quarter: “A region in the hemisphere or great circle; primarily, one of the four cardinal points; as the four quarters of the globe; but used indifferently for any region or point of compass.”; William L. Roy, A New and Original Exposition on the Book of Revelation (New York, NY: D. Fanshaw, 1848), 13, emphasis in original. “Standing on (at) the four corners of the earth. They were placed as sentinels over the hostile armies, there to watch their movements, and prevent them from marching into Judea until the servants of God were sealed. Each of them had his particular station and duty assigned to him. One was stationed in the east, the other in the west, one in the north, and the other in the south.”; William Henry Scott, The Interpretation of the Apocalypse and Chief Prophetical Scriptures Connected With It (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853), 185–186: “Rome is spoken of as overrunning and subduing the ‘whole earth,’ not merely in reference to the vast extent of her empire in point of territory, or the multitude of kingdoms which she absorded one after another, but properly and immediately because the four quarters of the earth, North, East, West, and South, are all incorporated by Rome into herself.”; Peter Canvan, “The Earth, As We Find It,” Saints’ Herald 20, no. 5 (March 1, 1873): 139: “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth. . . . The four corners may be represented by the north, south, east, west, which are the cardinal points.”

3 Michael D. Rhodes, “A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus,” BYU Studies 17, no. 3 (1977): 272–273; “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later,” FARMS Report (1997), 11; Tamás Mekis, Hypocephali, PhD diss. (Eötvös Loránd University, 2013), 90, 96–97.

4 For an overview, see John Gee, “Notes on the Sons of Horus,” FARMS Report (1991).

5 Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Chicago, Ill.: Oriental Institute, 1993), 162n750.

6 Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003), 88.

7 James P. Allen, trans., The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, ed. Peter Der Manuelian (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 433.

8 Mafred Lurker, An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), 37–38.

9 Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 204.

10 Rhodes, “A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus,” 272–273.

11 Maarten J. Raven, “Egyptian Concepts on the Orientation of the Human Body,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 91 (2005): 52. As Raven elaborates, “Two conflicting orientation systems can be observed. The Sons of Horus can either occupy corner positions on coffins or canopic chests (Amset in the north-east, Hapy north-west, Duamutef south-east, and Qebehsenuef south-west; both pairs change places in the New Kingdom), or they are represented on the four side walls (Amset south, Hapy north, Duamutef east, and Qebehsenuef west). In the latter case, the corner positions are often taken by four protective goddesses. Obviously, the notions of the corners of the universe and of the four points of the compass were not clearly distinguished.”

12 Raven, “Egyptian Concepts on the Orientation of the Human Body,” 42. See also Hans Bonnet, Reallexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1952), 315; Matthieu Heerma van Voss, “Horuskinder,” in Lexikon der Ägyptologie, ed. Wolfgang Helck and Eberhard Otto (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1980), 3:53.

13 The Epigraphic Survey, Medinet Habu, Volume 4: Festival Scenes of Ramses III (Chicago, IL.: University of Chicago Press, 1940), Pl. 213; translation modified from Gee, Notes on the Sons of Horus, 60.

14 Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 299–302; John Gee, “Hypocephali as Astronomical Documents,” in Aegyptus et Pannonia V: Acta Symposii anno 2008, ed. Hedvig Györy and Ádám Szabó (Budapest: The Ancient Egyptian Committee of the Hungarian-Egyptian Friendship Society, 2016), 66–67.

The Hathor Cow (Facsimile 2, Figure 5)

Fac2Cow

Book of Abraham Insight #31

Figure 5 in Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, a figure of an upside-down cow, is identified by Joseph Smith with this elaborate explanation:

Fig. 5. Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.

From the viewpoint of current Egyptological knowledge, some aspects of this explanation find plausible confirmation from the ancient Egyptians, while other aspects remain unconfirmed.1 One of the elements of this explanation which finds confirmation from the ancient Egyptians is Joseph Smith’s identification of this figure as the sun.2

The identity of this figure is not always easy to establish, since the ancient Egyptians represented various deities and composite-deities with bovine features,3 and because not all hypocephali consistently feature this figure.4 Thankfully, however, this figure is featured in hypocephali and labeled with hieroglyphs often enough to make identifying it not impossible.

The name given to this figure in some hypocephali is that of the goddess Hathor (ḥwt-ḥr).5 Additional names sometimes given to this figure are Ihet (ỉht/ȝht) and Mehet-Weret (mḥt-wrt), which are both cow goddesses “commonly identified with Isis or Hathor.”6 Although this figure is not labeled in the hypocephalus reproduced as Facsimile 2, it is safe to assume that it is very likely the cow goddess Hathor or one of her closely-associated divine emanations.

One of the “most important and popular” goddesses in ancient Egypt, Hathor took on many roles and characteristics over the course of her worship during prehistoric times in Egypt all the way down to the Roman Period some 3,000 years later. “She was most commonly represented as a cow goddess. Her manifestations and associated activities were numerous and diverse, and complementary aspects such as love and hate, or creation and destruction, characterized her from the earliest stages of her worship.” What’s more, “Her aspects [also] incorporated animals, vegetation, the sky, the sun, trees, and minerals, and she governed over the realms of love, sex, and fertility, while also maintaining a vengeful aspect capable of the destruction of humanity.” When represented as a cow or as a human female with cow horns, she “usually bears the sun disk between [her] horns.”7

This last detail, though small, is significant for Joseph Smith’s interpretation of this figure. Hathor, especially in her bovine form, is frequently identified in Egyptian texts as the mother and guardian of the sun disc as it is reborn each morning.8 She is sometimes identified as both the consort and daughter of Re, the sun god, and is frequently identified as “Eye of Re.” She is featured prominently in one myth involving the sun god Re where she devours enemies with a fiery solar glare from her eyes(s).9

The goddess Hathor depicted as a cow on a wall of the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut (circa 1507–1458 BC) at Deir el-Bahari. The red sun disc is prominently featured between her horns. Photo by Stephen O. Smoot

That the goddess Hathor, accordingly, had an unmistakable solar identity to the ancient Egyptians is recognized widely among Egyptologists.10 “Hathor was closely connected with the sun god Re whose disk she wears,” writes Richard Wilkinson. “Thus, Hathor played an important role in the royal sun temples of the later Old Kingdom, and her mythological relationship with the sun god was firmly established. As the ‘Golden One’ she was the resplendent goddess who accompanied the sun god on his daily journey in the solar barque.”11

By the likely time Facsimile 2 was drawn,12 Hathor was being identified by some ancient Egyptians as not only the mother and protector of the sun disc but as the sun itself. “Like her companion, the sun god Re, Hathor [was sometimes identified as] a fiery solar deity.”13 One inscription from the Hathor Temple at Dendera makes this identification explicit: “[The goddess] Keket who pays homage to Hathor, Lady of Iunet: ‘Hail to you, Female Sun, Mistress of Suns’” (ỉnḏ ḥr.t rˁyt ḥnwt n(.t) rˁw).14 Commenting on this text, Egyptologist Barbara Richter explains,

[T]he [play on words] on the root , ‘sun,’ first as the feminine singular substantive rˁyt, ‘Female Sun,’ and then as the plural substantive rˁw, ‘suns,’ emphasizes not only that Hathor is the sun, but also that she is mistress of the other solar deities. Furthermore, because Keket [is a goddess who] represents [primordial] darkness, it is appropriate that she praises Hathor as the ‘Female Sun,’ the bringer of light. . . . [T]he text, iconography, and imagery of [this] scene [in the temple] allude to Hathor as the rising sun at its first illumination of the earth.15

At the temple of Esna, this cow figure in Facsimile 2 is identified as Ihet and described as follows:

The very great cow, who gives birth to her children through her rites, the guardian of her houses who creates the two encirclers in her form of the golden cow, the great horizon, which lifts up the two lights [the sun and the moon] in her belly: she has driven out darkness and brought light. She has lit up Egypt by what came forth from her. She is the divine mother of Re [the sun god], who created light through her creation, who created what exists after her creation, who caused Orion to sail the southern heaven after her, who sealed the dipper in the northern heaven before her. She is [the goddess of the sky] Nut who carries the stars pertaining thereto with her orbit, who strings the bow, so that the decans [stars] tread in her place.16

The imagery in this inscription depicts “a golden cow who bears or creates two encirclers (dbnyw) or two great lights (hȝytỉ) being the sun and the moon . . . . These drive out darkness, bring in light, and lighten the land. She is also connected with the stars, fixing them in their places and orbits. . . . She is explicitly connected with the horizon, but at the same time, since ‘she has driven out darkness, and she has lit up Egypt’ she is identified with the sun. Thus this figure is horizon, sky, and sun.”17

There is nothing obvious in Figure 5 of Facsimile 2 that lends itself to being identifiable as the sun to somebody who is idly speculating about what it might mean. So while not all of Joseph Smith’s explanation of this figure currently finds immediate confirmation, the fact that at least one important element of his explanation does find confirmation from the ancient Egyptians indicates that the Prophet was doing something more than simply guessing.

Further Reading

Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 290–299.

Footnotes

 

1 Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…Twenty Years Later,” FARMS Preliminary Report (1997), 10–11; Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 290–299.

2 John Gee, “Hypocephali as Astronomical Documents,” in Aegyptus et Pannonia V: Acta Symposii anno 2008, ed. Hedvig Györy and Ádám Szabó (Budapest: The Ancient Egyptian Committee of the Hungarian-Egyptian Friendship Society, 2016), 61–64; “Book of Abraham, Facsimiles Of,” in Pearl of Great Price Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2017), 58.

3 Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 123–126; Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003), 170–175.

4 Tamás Mekis, Hypocephali, PhD diss. (Eötvös Loránd University, 2013), 1:90–91.

5 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:90–91n479.

6 Pinch, Egyptian Mythology, 125, 137; Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:90–91n479, 103; Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…Twenty Years Later,” 10–11; Elena Pischikova, “‘Cow Statues’ in Private Tombs of Dynasty 26,” in Servant of Mut: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Fazzini, ed. Sue H. D’Auria (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 191.

7 Deborah Vischak, “Hathor,” in The Ancient Gods Speak: A Guide to Egyptian Religion, ed. Donald B. Redford (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 157.

8 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:90–91n479, 96–97, 102–104.

9 François Daumas, “Hathor,” in Lexikon der Ägyptologie, ed. Wolfgang Helck and Eberhard Otto (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977), 2:1026.

10 For a representative summary of the Egyptological consensus, see Pinch, Egyptian Mythology, 137–138.

11 Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, 140.

12 That is, the end of the Persian Period or the early Ptolemaic Period. Mekis, Hypocephali, 2:122.

13 Alison Roberts, Hathor Rising: The Power of the Goddess in Ancient Egypt (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1995), 8.

14 Barbara A. Richter, The Theology of Hathor of Dendera: Aural and Visual Scribal Techniques in the Per-Wer Sanctuary (Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press, 2016), 167.

15 Richter, The Theology of Hathor of Dendera, 167.

16 Gee, “Hypocephali as Astronomical Documents,” 61.

17 Gee, “Hypocephali as Astronomical Documents,” 62.

The Purpose and Function of the Egyptian Hypocephalus

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Book of Abraham Insight #30

Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham is a type of document called a hypocephalus. “The term hypocephalus refers to a piece of Late Period and Ptolemaic [circa 664–30 BC] funerary equipment. It is specifically an amuletic disc made of cartonnage, bronze, textile, or rarely from papyrus and even wood, emulating a solar disc.”1 The name was coined by modern Egyptologists beginning with Jean-François Champollion and comes from Greek, meaning literally “under the head.”2 Spell 162 of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead specifies that these amulets were to be placed ẖr tp of the mummy, which has been widely rendered as “under the head” of the mummy. A more technically correct translation of the Egyptian phrase appears to mean “at the head” or “besides the head” of the mummy, meaning at very least in some proximity to the deceased.3

Today there are 158 known hypocephali which have been catalogued and/or published.4 Based on their attested chronological and geographical distribution, “it is clear that the hypocephalus [did] not become a widespread funerary object” in ancient Egypt. Instead they “remained exclusive pieces of funerary equipment reserved for the high clergy and for the members of their families who occupied” high-ranking positions in the temple, especially the temple of Amun at Karnak, the temple of Min at Akhmim, and the temple of Ptah at Memphis.5 Although hypocephali themselves appear to be later creations, the mythological and cosmological conceptions contained in hypocephali have apparent forerunners in earlier Egyptian texts.6

This plaster on linen hypocephalus in the British Museum (EA8445) shares many features with Facsimile 2 while also containing a number of differences. Hypocephali were customizable for the individual owner, leading to a variety of known styles and types. No two known hypocephali are entirely alike. Image via the British Museum.

According to Spell 162 of the Book of the Dead, hypocephali served a number of important purposes: to protect the deceased in the afterlife, to provide light and heat for the deceased, to make the deceased “appear again like one who is on earth” (that is, to resurrect them), and to ultimately transform the deceased into a god.7 Hypocephali were also conceived of (and even sometimes explicitly identified as) the magical eye of the sun god Re that consumed enemies with fire. Their circular shape and function to provide light, heat, and protection naturally lent themselves to this conceptualization in the minds of the ancient Egyptians.8

While these might perhaps have been the primary purposes of hypocephali, it is clear from the explanatory rubric of some copies of Spell 162 of the Book of the Dead and from other surviving evidence that they also served non-funerary roles. For example, hypocephali or objects that served the same purpose as hypocephali were used as divinatory devices in the Egyptian temple and as astronomical documents.9 This is especially significant since Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Facsimile 2 draws connections to the temple and features several astronomical elements. Hypocephali also shared a conceptual link with temple gates. In this capacity they served, among other things, to keep out enemies and admit friends into sacred space and shared a focus on creation motifs.10  Once again, this parallels some of Joseph Smith’s explanations of Facsimile 2 which emphasize creation.

Spell 162 of the Book of the Dead explains the purpose and function of the hypocephalus. The hieroglyphs highlighted in red (ẖr tp; “under the head” or “at the head”) is where the hypocephalus gets its name. Image from Lepsius, Das Todtenbuch der Ägypter (1842).

In summary, while hypocephali served a number of important religious and ritual purposes for the ancient Egyptians, they ultimately “point[ed] toward the Egyptians’ hope in a resurrection and life after death as a divine being.”11

Finally, it is noteworthy that there appears to have been ancient connections between Abraham and the hypocephalus. For example, in one Egyptian papyrus Abraham is referred to as “the pupil of the wedjat-eye” and associated with the primeval creator god (PDM xiv. 150–231).12 “The hypocephalus, based on the representations of [the creator god] Amon in the centre panel of the disc, is, according to the ancient Egyptian theory, identical with the pupil of the wedjat-eye.”13

Michael D. Rhodes has also drawn attention to a possible allusion to the hypocephalus in an extra-biblical text that prominently features Abraham.

The Apocalypse of Abraham describes a vision Abraham saw while making a sacrifice to God. In this vision he is shown the plan of the universe, “what is in the heavens, on the earth, in the sea, and in the abyss” (almost the exact words used in the left middle portion of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus). He is shown “the fullness of the whole world and its circle,” in a picture with two sides. The similarity with the hypocephalus is striking. There is even a description of what are clearly the four canopic figures labeled number 6 in the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus. The significance of these documents is that they date from the beginning of the Christian era—they are roughly contemporary with the hypocephalus and the other Egyptian documents purchased by Joseph Smith—and they relate the same things about Abraham that Joseph Smith said are found in the hypocephalus and the other Egyptian papyri.14

Besides being interesting and informative in its own right, understanding the purpose and function of the ancient Egyptian hypocephalus is therefore crucial to evaluating Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Facsimile 2 and help readers of the Book of Abraham better appreciate why such a document might have been appropriated by the Prophet to illustrate Abraham’s record.

Further Reading

John Gee, “Hypocephalus,” in The Pearl of Great Price Reference Companion, ed. Dennis L. Largey (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2017), 161–162.

Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010).

Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…Twenty Years Later,” FARMS Preliminary Report (1997).

Michael D. Rhodes, “A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus,” BYU Studies 17, no. 3 (Spring 1977): 260–262.

Footnotes

1 Tamás Mekis, Hypocephali, PhD diss. (Eötvös Loránd University, 2013), 1:12, punctuation slightly altered. Other non-round funerary objects which served a same or similar purpose to the “classic” flat disc-shaped hypocephalus have also been identified. See John Gee, “Non-Round Hypocephali,” in Aegyptus et Pannonia III: Acta Symposii anno 2004, ed. Hedvig Győry (Budapest: The Ancient Egyptian Committee of the Hungarian-Egyptian Friendship Society, 2006), 41–54.

2 Champollion used this designation based on a bilingual Greek-Egyptian papyrus in the Louvre which commanded the text be placed ὕπο τὴν κεφαλήν (hypo tēn kephalēn) or “under the head.” Jean-François Champollion, Notice desriptive des monuments Égyptiens du Musée du Charles X (Paris: L’Imprimerie De Crapelet, 1827), 155; Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:15n19.

3 Gee, “Non-Round Hypocephali,” 49–50.

4 These have been helpfully collected in Mekis, Hypocephali.

5 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:12.

6 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:12.

7 For an accessible translation of Spell 162, see Michael D. Rhodes, “A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus,” BYU Studies 17, no. 3 (Spring 1977): 260–262; “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…Twenty Years Later,” FARMS Preliminary Report (1997), 13–14; cf. Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 224–230; Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:13–15.

8 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:57, 103–104; Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…Twenty Years Later,” 1.

9 Gee, “Non-Round Hypocephali,” 51–54; “Hypocephali as Astronomical Documents,” in Aegyptus et Pannonia V: Acta Symposii anno 2008, ed. Hedvig Györy and Ádám Szabó (Budapest: The Ancient Egyptian Committee of the Hungarian-Egyptian Friendship Society, 2016), 59–71.

10 John Gee, “Hypocephali as Gates,” forthcoming.

11 Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…Twenty Years Later,” 12.

12 F. L. Griffith and Herbert Thompson, The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden (Oxford: The Claredon Press, 1921), 64–65; cf. John Gee, “Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts,” Ensign, July 1992, 61; “Abracadabra, Isaac, and Jacob,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7, no. 1 (1995): 76–79.

13 Mekis, Hypocephali, 1:14; cf. Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 332-333.

14 Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus…Twenty Years Later,” 7; cf. Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 352–355; Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 121–122.

The Idolatrous Priest (Facsimile 1, Figure 3)

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Book of Abraham Insight #29

The explanation accompanying Figure 3 of Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham identifies it as “the idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice.” In order to gauge the validity of this interpretation from an Egyptological perspective, a number of considerations need to be taken into account.

The first issue to resolve is the matter of the lacunae or missing pieces in the original papyrus fragment. As printed in the March 1, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, Figure 3 is shown as a standing figure with a bald head and a drawn knife. In the original papyrus fragment, however, the areas with the bald head and knife are currently missing. At some unknown point by some unknown person, an attempt was made to fill in the missing head of Figure 3, although no such attempt was made to fill in whatever is missing in the figure’s hand. Determining whether the figure in the original papyrus is accurately represented in Facsimile 1 is important as it may affect the interpretation of this figure.

A side-by-side comparison of Figure 3 in Facsimile 1, right, and the original papyrus fragment, left. Image via the Joseph Smith Papers website.

First, there is the question as to whether the knife being held by Figure 3 could plausibly have been in the original vignette or illustration. “The existence of the knife has been doubted by many because it does not conform to what other Egyptian papyri would lead us to expect,”1 and so some Egyptologists have denied the possibility that the knife was original to this illustration (even if others have had no objection to the possibility).2 At least two different nineteenth-century eyewitnesses who examined the papyri, including one who was not a Latter-day Saint, however, reported seeing “a Priest, with a knife in his hand”3 or “a man standing by him with a drawn knife.”4 The significance of this is that the presence of a knife in the original papyrus “has here been described by a non-Mormon eyewitness whose description of the storage and preservation of the papyri matches that of independent contemporary accounts. It also matches the description [another eyewitness] made before Reuben Hedlock made the woodcuts of the facsimiles. This gives us two independent eyewitnesses to the presence of a knife on Facsimile 1, regardless of what we might [otherwise] think.”5 As such, despite our unconscious or even conscious assumptions about what we think should be on the original papyrus, “it is not valid to argue that something does not exist because it does not correspond to what we expect.”6

Furthermore, the crescent shape of the knife in Figure 3’s hand is consistent with the shape of ancient Egyptian flint knives which were used from prehistoric times to the Middle Kingdom (and thus Abraham’s day) in, among other activities, “ritual slaughter” and execration rites.7 This reinforces the likelihood that the knife was original to scene.

The knife in Facsimile 1 (bottom left) is consistent in shape with recovered flint knives (top left) and depictions of flint knives (top right, bottom right) from the Middle Kingdom. Images via, starting at top left and running clockwise, Petrie (1891), Pl. VII; Griffith (1896), Pls. VIII, IX; the Joseph Smith Papers website.

Second, there is the question of whether Figure 3 originally had a bald human head as depicted in Facsimile 1 or a black jackal headdress, as proposed by a number of Egyptologists.8 That the figure originally had a jackal headdress seems likely, since traces of the headdress over the left shoulder of Figure 3 can be detected in the surviving papyrus fragment.

The faint remaining traces of what appears to have been the jackal headdress of Figure 3 in Facsimile 1.

With these considerations in mind, the question of identifying Figure 3 comes into play. Some Egyptologists have identified this figure as a priest,9 while others have insisted it is the god Anubis.10 That the figure is Anubis seems plausible on account of “the black coloring of the skin” and the faint remaining traces of the jackal headdress over the figure’s left shoulder.11 However, without a hieroglyphic caption for this figure,12 this identification should be accepted cautiously, as Anubis is not the only jackal-headed, black-skinned figure attested in Egyptian iconography.13

What’s more, the question as to whether the figure is a priest or the god Anubis (or another jackal-headed god), or whether it originally had a bald human head or a jackal head, appears to be a false dichotomy. “The practice of masking for ritual and ceremonial purposes seems to have been important in Egypt from the earliest times and continued to be an element of ritual practice into the Roman period,”14 and “priestly impersonators of Anubis regularly appear in funerary ceremonies, and are styled simply Inpw, ‘Anubis’ or rmt-Inpw, ‘Anubis-men’ . . . [or] ink Inpw, ‘I am Anubis.’”15 At the non-funerary Hathor temple of Deir el-Medineh is a depiction of a ritual taken from chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead which shows “the king offering incense, and a priest masked as Anubis beating a round frame drum.”16

A famous image from a relief at the temple of Hathor at Dendera, left, shows in “false transparency” a bald priest wearing an Anubis mask being assisted by another priest in his ritual duties. Image from Sweeney (1993), 102. An actual example of this type of mask, right, resides in the Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim, Germany. Image via www.globalegyptianmuseum.org.

Similarly, frescoes at the site of Herculaneum depict “ceremonies of the cult of Isis as held in Italy in the first century CE.”17 This ritual scene features a number of priests and priestesses, including one figure who has been variously interpreted as the god Osiris or a priest dressed up as the god Bes and disguised with a mask. “Although the Herculaneum dancer probably represents a masked participant impersonating the god, the matter [would have been] theologically unimportant” to the ancient viewers of this scene, since the priest “masked as Bes” performing the ritual would, for all intents and purposes, have assumed the identity of the god himself in that ritual capacity.18

The potential significance of this for Facsimile 1 has been explained by Egyptologist John Gee:

Assume for the sake of argument that the head on Facsimile 1 Figure 3 is correct. What are the implications of the figure being a bald man? Shaving was a common feature of initiation into the priesthood from the Old Kingdom through the Roman period. Since “complete shaving of the head was another mark of the male Isiac votary and priest” the bald figure would then be a priest. Assume on the other hand that the head on Facsimile 1 Figure 3 is that of a jackal. . . . We have representations of priests wearing masks, one example of an actual mask, literary accounts from non-Egyptians about Egyptian priests wearing masks, and even a hitherto-unrecognized Egyptian account of when a priest would wear a mask. In the midst of the embalmment ritual, a new section is introduced with the following passage: “Afterwards, Anubis, the stolites priest wearing the head of this god, sits down and no lector-priest shall approach him to bind the stolites with any work.” Thus this text settles any questions about whether masks were actually used. It furthermore identifies the individual wearing the mask as a priest. Thus, however the restoration is made, the individual shown in Facsimile 1 Figure 3 is a priest, and the entire question of which head should be on the figure is moot so far as identifying the figure is concerned. The entire debate has been a waste of ink.19

The leopard-skin robe worn by Figure 3 would also be consistent with identifying this figure as a priest (specifically a class called the sem-priest), who is “recognizable by his leopard-skin robe” and certain hair styles. Interestingly, and perhaps significantly for Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Facsimile 1, the ritual clothing of the sem-priest had a clear connection to the god Anubis defeating chaos and evil, personified as the god Seth, through violence. “Papyrus Jumilhac, dating to the Ptolemaic Period (ca. 300 BC), attempts to explain the significance of the leopard skin through a myth that relates the misdeeds of the god Seth. As told in the papyrus, Seth attacked Osiris and then transformed himself into a leopard. The god Anubis defeated Seth and then branded his pelt with spots, hence the robe commemorates the defeat of Seth.”20  Also in Papyrus Jumilhac, Anubis transforms himself into a giant snake who brandishes two flint knives.21

Image from the Roman period tomb of Siamun at Gebel al-Mawta, featuring Siamun, seated on the left, his wife, standing on the right, and his son as a priest wearing a leopard skin-robe and cap. Image from Venit (2015), 142.

Even if some “issues concerning the accuracy of both the artwork and the copying [of Facsimile 1]” remain unanswered at the moment (issues which, unfortunately, “are routinely clouded by shifting the responsibility of the artwork from the engraver, Reuben Hedlock, to Joseph Smith, without adducing any evidence to identify a particular individual with the responsibility for the restorations”22), the identification of this figure as a priest is not outside the realm of possibility from an Egyptological perspective.

Further Reading

Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2009), 287–296, 494–495.

John Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac, and Jacob,” FARMS Review of Books 7, no. 1 (1995): 80–83.

Footnotes

 

1 John Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 186.

2 On the conflicting Egyptological opinions, see Friedrich Freiherr von Bissing, in Franklin S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (Salt Lake City, UT: Arrow Press, 1912), 30, and George R. Hughes in Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2009), 144, who saw nothing inordinate with Figure 3 holding a knife; but contrast with Klaus Baer, “The Breathing Permit of Hôr: A Translation of the Apparent Source of the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3, no. 3 (Autumn 1968): 118n34; Stephen E. Thompson, “Egyptology and the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 28, no. 1 (1995): 148–149; Lanny Bell, “The Ancient Egyptian ‘Books of Breathing,’ the Mormon ‘Book of Abraham,’ and the Development of Egyptology in America,” in Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko upon his Retirement from the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University June 2005, ed. Stephen E. Thompson and Peter der Manuelian (Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 2008), 25n27, 30.

3 William I. Appleby journal, 5 May 1841, reprinted in Brian M. Hauglid, ed., A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo, UT: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2010), 278–282, quote at 279, line 7.

4 Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842 (London: Rivington, 1842), 23.

5 Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 186.

6 Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 208n38.

7 Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Chicago, Ill.: Oriental Institute, 1993), 163, see additionally 163–167; Marquardt Lund, “Egyptian Depictions of Flintknapping from the Old and Middle Kingdom, in Light of Experiments and Experience,” in Egyptology in the Present: Experiential and Experimental Methods in Archaeology, ed. Carolyn Graves-Brown (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2015), 113–137; Carolyn Graves-Brown, “Flint and Forts: The Role of Flint in Late Middle-New Kingdom Egyptian Weaponry,” in Walls of the Prince: Egyptian Interactions with Southwest Asia in Antiquity: Essays in Honour of John S. Holladay, Jr., ed. Timothy P. Harrison, Edward B. Banning & Stanley Klassen (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 37–59; William M. Flinders Petrie, Illahun, Kahun and Gurob: 1889–1890 (London: David Nutt, 1891) 52–53, Pl. VII; F. Ll. Griffith, Beni Hasan, Part III (London: Egypt Exploration Fund, 1896), 33–38, Pls. VII–X.

8 Théodule Devéria in Jules Remy, Voyage au pays des Mormons (Paris: E. Dentu, 1860), 2:463; Bell, “The Ancient Egyptian ‘Books of Breathing,’ the Mormon ‘Book of Abraham,’ and the Development of Egyptology in America,” 30.

9 James H. Breasted, Friedrich Freiherr von Bissing, and Edward Meyer in Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, 26, 30; George R. Hughes in Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 144; John Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac, and Jacob,” FARMS Review of Books 7, no. 1 (1995): 80–83; Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 34, 288, 494–495.

10 Devéria in Jules Remy, Voyage au pays des Mormons, 2:463; William Flinders Petrie in Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, 23; Baer, “The Breathing Permit of Hôr,” 118; Thompson, “Egyptology and the Book of Abraham,” 114; Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2002), 18; Bell, “The Ancient Egyptian ‘Books of Breathing,’ the Mormon ‘Book of Abraham,’ and the Development of Egyptology in America,” 23.

11 Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings, 18.

12 There appears to have been one hieroglyphic caption above the arm of Figure 3 in the original vignette preserved in Facsimile 1, but it is too damaged to read.

13 As noted in Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 208n38, the figure could potentially be the jackal-headed god Isdes (who, incidentally, wields a knife). See Christian Leitz, Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen (Leuven: Peeters, 2002), 1:560–561, and additionally Diletta Dantoni, Il Dio Isdes (BA thesis, University of Bologna, 2014), 8–9, on the identity of the god Isdes as judge and punisher of the dead.

14 Penelope Wilson, “Masking and Multiple Personas,” in Ancient Egyptian Demonology: Studies on the Boundaries Between the Demonic and the Divine in Egyptian Magic, ed. P. Kousoulis (Leuven: Peeters, 2011), 77.

15 Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, 249n1142; cf. Wilson, “Masking and Multiple Personas,” 78–79.

16 Alexandra von Lieven, “Book of the Dead, Book of the Living: BD Spells as Temple Texts,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 98 (2012): 263.

17 Robert K. Ritner, “Osiris-Canopus and Bes at Herculaneum,” in Joyful in Thebes: Egyptological Studies in Honor of Betsy M. Bryan, ed. Richard Jasnow and Kathlyn M. Cooney (Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press, 2015), 401.

18 Ritner, “Osiris-Canopus and Bes at Herculaneum,” 406; cf. Wilson, “Masking and Multiple Personas,” 79–82, who discusses the use of masks in ritual and role playing and what that may have signified to the ancient Egyptians.

19 Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac, and Jacob,” 80–83, citations removed; cf. A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 36–39, internal citations removed; Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles,” Religious Educator 4, no. 2 (2003): 120; Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 34, 288, 494–495; Günther Roeder, Die Denkmäler des Pelizaeus-Museums zu Hildesheim (Hildesheim: Karl Curtius Verlag, 1921), 127, Pl. 49; Deborah Sweeney, “Egyptian Masks in Motion,” Göttinger Miszellen 135 (1993): 101–104.

20 Emily Teeter, Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 24–25.

21 P. Jumilhac 13/14-14/4, in Jacques Vandier, Le Papyrus Jumilhac (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1962), 125–126.

22 Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri, 39.

Facsimile 1 as a Sacrifice Scene

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Book of Abraham Insight #

28

Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham visually depicts the narrative contained in Abraham 1:12–19. As interpreted by Joseph Smith, this scene depicts Abraham fastened upon an altar before some idolatrous gods. An idolatrous priest is about to sacrifice Abraham, who is protected by the Angel of the Lord.

Since the mid-1800s, when Egyptologists first began analyzing the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith’s interpretation of this scene (sometimes called a lion couch scene, due to the prominent lion couch at the center of the illustrations) has clashed with Egyptological interpretations. In 1860, the French Egyptologist Théodule Devéria interpreted Facsimile 1 as depicting the resurrection of the god Osiris.1 In 1912, Egyptologists interpreted Facsimile 1 as, variously, “the well known scene of Anubis preparing the body of the dead man,”2 “a resurrection scene” showing “Osiris rising from the dead,”3 “an embalmer preparing a body for burial,”4 “the body of the dead lying” on a funerary bier,5 and “a dead man . . . lying on a bier” and being prepared for mummification.6 Similar interpretations of Facsimile 1 have been given in more recent years.7

From the weight of this Egyptological authority alone, it may seem absurd to associate Facsimile 1 with sacrifice as Joseph Smith did. However, more recent investigation has turned up evidence which suggests a connection between sacrifice or sacred violence and scenes of the embalming and resurrection of the deceased (or the god Osiris). In 2008 and 2010, Egyptologist John Gee published evidence linking scenes of Osiris’ mummification and resurrection “in the roof chapels of the Dendara Temple” with execration rituals that involved ritual violence.8 Other Egyptologists have already drawn parallels between Facsimile 1 and the Dendara Temple lion couch scenes,9 but, as Gee has elaborated, there is a clear connection with sacrifice and ritual violence in these scenes.10 “In the Dendara texts, the word for the lion couch . . . is either homophonous or identical with the word . . . ‘abattoir, slaughterhouse,’ as well as a term for ‘offerings.’”11 This is reinforced in the inscriptions surrounding the lion couch scenes.

The Egyptian word for “lion couch” (nmỉt; above) is homophonous or nearly homophonous with the words for “slaughter house” (nmt; bottom left) and “offering” (nmt; bottom right). Because of their similar spelling and likely pronunciation, these terms appear in some contexts to have been conceptually associated with each other through paranomasia or play on words, in which the ancient Egyptians frequently engaged. Hieroglyphs reproduced after Wilson (1997).

For example, in the central scene in the innermost eastern chapel, we read, “He will not exist nor will his name exist, since you will destroy his town, cast down the walls of his house, and everyone who is in it will be set on fire, you will demolish his district, you will stab his confederates, his flesh being ashes, the evil conspirator consigned to the lion couch/slaughterhouse, so that he will no longer exist.” . . . Furthermore, in the same chapel, we have depictions of Anubis and the sons of Horus (presumably the figures under the lion couch in Facsimile 1) holding knives. Anubis is here identified as the one “who smites the adversaries with his might, since the knife is in his hand, to expel the one who treads in transgression; I am the violent one who came forth from god, after having cut off the heads of the confederates of him whose name is evil.” The human-headed son of Horus is identified above his head as “the one who repulses enemies” and “who comes tearing out the enemies who butchers the sinners.” The baboonheaded son of Horus says: “I have slaughtered those who create injuries in the house of God in his presence; I take away the breath from his nostrils.” The jackal-headed son of Horus says: “I cause the hostile foreigners to retreat.” Finally, the falcon-headed son of Horus says: “I have removed rebellion.”12

The central scene of the innermost eastern chapel of Osiris at the Dendara Temple depicts the mummification and revitalization of Osiris. Although not reproduced here, the hieroglyphs that run in the columns directly above Osiris in the middle of the scene speak, in part, of slaughtering the god’s enemies. Line drawing taken from Cauville (1997).

From this and other evidence collected by Gee,13 it can be seen that at least some ancient Egyptians “associate[d] the lion couch scene with the sacrificial slaughter of enemies.”14 Why might some ancient Egyptians have done so? It may relate to the myth of the resurrection of the god Osiris, which lion couch scenes were meant to depict. In the classic retelling of the myth, Osiris was slain and mutilated by his evil brother Seth. Through the efforts of his sister-wife Isis, the body of Osiris was magically reassembled and resurrected. The final vindication came when their son Horus slew Seth in combat and claimed kingship.15 The element in this myth of Horus slaying Seth and thereby the forces of chaos or disorder (including foreign peoples, rebels, and enemies of Pharaoh) might explain why sacrifice was associated with embalming and mummification in some ancient Egyptian texts.16

Interestingly, another papyrus from the first century BC (not far removed from the time period of the Joseph Smith Papyri), “comments on the fate suffered in the embalming place during the initial stages of mummification by one who was overly concerned with amassing wealth while alive.”17 As read in the text, “It is the chief of the spirits (= Anubis) who is first to punish after the taking of breath. Juniper oil, incense, natron, and salt, searing ingredients, are a ‘remedy’ for his wounds. A ‘friend’ who shows no mercy attacks his flesh. He is unable to say “desist” during the punishment of the assessor.”18 Commenting on this passage, Mark Smith observes that in this text “the embalming table [the lion couch] is also a judge’s tribunal and the chief embalmer, Anubis, doubles as the judge who executes sentence. For the wicked man, mummification, the very process which is supposed to restore life and grant immortality, becomes a form of torture from which no escape is possible.”19 Indeed, that Anubis had a role as judge of the dead, besides merely being an embalmer, has previously been acknowledged by Egyptologists.20 

The sons of Horus hold knives and proclaim their intent to destroy the enemies of Osiris in the god’s chapel at the Dendara Temple. Line drawing taken from Cauville (1997).

One task Anubis fulfilled with this role was as a guard or protector who “administer[ed] horrible punishments to the enemies of Osiris.”21 From surviving evidence it is evident that “Anubis must have been engaged in warding off evil influences, and it is conceivable that he did so as a judge. . . . [One Egyptian text even] identifies Anubis as a butcher slaying the enemies of Osiris while [another] states that such butchers are in fact a company of magistrates.”22 As a “reckoner of hearts” (ỉp ỉbw) Anubis was “the inflictor of the punishment . . . of the enemies” of Osiris.23 So from the perspective of the ancient Egyptians, the process of embalming and mummification included elements of ritual violence against evildoers or agents of chaos. “The punishment of enemies by a ‘judge’ is simply a part of the protective ritual enacted in connection with the embalmment of the deceased.”24

It is thus reasonable to insist, as Gee does, that “excluding a sacrificial dimension to lion couch scenes is un-Egyptian, even if we cannot come up with one definitive reading [of Facsimile 1] at this time.”25

Further Reading

John Gee, “The Facsimiles,” in An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017), 143–156.

John Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” FARMS Review 20, no. 1 (2008): 113–137, esp. 130–135.

Hugh Nibley, “Facsimile 1: A Unique Document,” in An Approach to the Book of Abraham (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2009), 115–178.

Footnotes

 

1 Jules Remy, Voyage au pays des Mormons, 2 vols. (Paris: E. Dentu, 1860), 2:463; cf. A Journal to the Great-Salt-Lake City, 2 vols. (London: W. Jeffs, 1861), 2:540.

2 Franklin S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (Salt Lake City, UT: The Arrow Press, 1912), 23.

3 Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, 26.

4 Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, 28.

5 Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, 30.

6 Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, 30.

7 See e.g. Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 18–20.

8 John Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” FARMS Review 20, no. 1 (2008): 130–135, quote at 132; “Execration Rituals in Various Temples,” in 8. Ägyptologische Tempeltagung: Interconnections between Temples, Warschau, 22.–25. September 2008, ed. Monika Dolińska and Horst Beinlich (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010), 67–80, esp. 73–79.

9 Lanny Bell, “The Ancient Egyptian ‘Books of Breathing,’ the Mormon ‘Book of Abraham,’ and the Development of Egyptology in America,” in Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko upon his Retirement from the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University, June 2005, ed. Stephen E. Thompson and Peter Der Manuelian (Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 2008), 26–28.

10 Gee, “Execration Rituals in Various Temples,” 73–79.

11 Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 132, citing Penelope Wilson, A Ptolemaic Lexikon (Leuven: Peeters, 1997).

12 Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 132–133, citing Sylvie Cauville, Le Temple de Dendara: Les chapelles osiriennes (Cairo: IFAO, 1997); cf. John Gee, “Glossed Over: Ancient Egyptian Interpretations of Their Religion,” in Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation, and Reinterpretation in Ancient Egypt, ed. Kerry Muhlestein (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2012), 74. Cauville, Le Temple de Dendara, 2:107, calls these figures defending Osiris “aggressive genies” (les génies agressifs) who form a “defensive zone” (zone de défense) around his body.

13 Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 134–135.

14 Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 134.

15 Geraldine Pinch, Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 193–194; cf. A. M. Blackman and H. W. Fairman, “The Myth of Horus at Edfu: II. C. The Triumph of Horus over His Enemies: A Sacred Drama,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 28 (1942): 32–38; “The Myth of Horus at Edfu: II. C. The Triumph of Horus over His Enemies: A Sacred Drama (Continued),” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 29 (1943): 2–36; “The Myth of Horus at Edfu: II. C. The Triumph of Horus over His Enemies: A Sacred Drama (Concluded),” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 30 (1944): 5–22.

16 This connection is explicitly made in Papyrus Jumilhac. See Harco Willems, “Anubis as Judge,” in Egyptian Religion: The Last Thousand Years, Part 1: Studies Dedicated to the Memory of Jan Quaegebeur, ed. Willy Clarysse, Antoon Schoors, and Harco Willems (Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 741.

17 Mark S. Smith, Traversing Eternity: Texts for the Afterlife from Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009), 26.

18 Smith, Traversing Eternity, 26–27.

19 Smith, Traversing Eternity, 27.

20 Willems, “Anubis as Judge,” 719–743.

21 Willems, “Anubis as Judge,” 726.

22 Willems, “Anubis as Judge,” 727.

23 Willems, “Anubis as Judge,” 735.

24 Willems, “Anubis as Judge,” 740; cf. Cauville, Le Temple de Dendara, 2:108, who observes that the role of Anubis in these Dendara embalming scenes is to act as both an embalmer and a butcher of Osiris’ enemies. “Cette double fonction est aussi assumée par les trois Anubis: préposés à l’embaumement (ḫnty sḥ-nṯr, nb wˁbt, ỉmỉ-wt), ils massacrent Seth et le découpent en morceaux.”

25 Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 135.