The Book of Abraham is unique in the scriptural Canon of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints because it is the only book in that Canon that has pictures since 1842, when it was first published, the Book of Abraham has been accompanied by three factsimilar that illustrate the text. Joseph Smith, the founder and first Prophet of the Church, and the translator of the Book of Abraham, provided explanations for these facsimiles that have also appeared in each reprinting of the text. In Joseph Smith’s day, the Discipline of Egyptology or the study of ancient Egypt was in its infancy nearly two centuries later.
Egyptology is a thriving academic field that has made significant progress in understanding the culture of ancient Egypt, including its art, iconography, religion, and language. Naturally, many people have been curious to know how Joseph Smith’s explanations to the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham hold up.
In light of scholarly advances, the question of whether or not Joseph Smith’s explanations to the facsimiles are correct may be more complicated than it initially seems. This is because over the years scholars have offered a number of different ways to understand the facsimiles and evaluate Joseph Smith’s explanations. So before we can determine if his explanations are correct, we first need to agree on our starting assumptions.
Some of the more common approaches that have been articulated over the years for studying the facsimiles include the following one. The facsimiles were original to Abraham. To interpret them, we should look to how Egyptians in Abraham’s day, or Abraham himself would have understood them. Two the facsimiles were original to Abraham but were modified over time for use by the ancient Egyptians. The facsimiles we have are much later and altered copies of Abraham’s originals.
To interpret them, we should consider the underlying Abrahamic elements and compare them with how the Egyptians understood these images throughout their history. Three the facsimiles were first connected to the Book of Abraham in the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history. When the Joseph Smith papyri were created to interpret them, we should look to what Egyptians of that time thought these drawings represent. Four the facsimiles were first connected to the Book of Abraham in the same time period as the Papyri. But to interpret them, we should look specifically to what Egyptian priests who were integrating Jewish, Greek, and Mesopotamian religious practices into native Egyptian practices would have thought about them.
Five the facsimiles were connected to the Book of Abraham in the Ptolemaic period, but to interpret them, we should look to how Abraham’s descendants, meaning Jews or Israelites living in that era would have understood them. Six the facsimiles were never part of the ancient text of the Book of Abraham, but instead were adapted by Joseph Smith himself to artistically depict the ancient text he revealed or translated. Each of these approaches has its respective strengths and weaknesses, and some may seem more plausible than others, but none on its own can account for all of the available evidence.
It’s certainly possible, however, that Joseph Smith’s explanations may have utilized different approaches of interpretation. In that case, two or more of the previously mentioned methods might be valid simultaneously.
They aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive from current available evidence. None of Joseph Smith’s explanations of the facsimiles in their entirety agree with how modern Egyptologists understand these images. However, in many instances they do accurately reflect ancient Egyptian and Semitic concepts. So whichever way one approaches the facsimiles, a respectable case can be made that with a number of his explanations, Joseph Smith did indeed capture authentic ancient concepts. Importantly, some of his explanations are remarkably accurate and would have otherwise been beyond his natural ability to know any responsible approach to the facts.
Similes must take this into account for this video. We’re going to point out a few of the noteworthy instances where Joseph Smith’s explanations to the facsimiles find support from modern Egyptology and converge with how the Egyptians understood these images or symbols throughout their history, beginning with Facsimile one 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. Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the scene, sometimes called a lion couch scene due to the prominent lion couch at the center of the illustration, has historically clashed with Egyptological interpretations, which say Facsimile one is depicting the mummification and resurrection of the God Osiris.
However, recent investigation has turned up evidence which suggests a connection between sacred violence and scenes of the embalming mummification and resurrection of the God Osiris.
In 2008 and 2010, for instance, Egyptologist John GI published evidence linking scenes of Osiris mummification and resurrection in the roof chapels of the Dendra temple with ritual violence. Why might some ancient Egyptians have associated the resurrection of the God Osiris with ritual violence? It may relate to the classic retelling of an ancient Egyptian myth where Osiris was slain and mutilated by his brother Seth through the efforts of his sister wife, the goddess ISIS. The body of Osiris was magically reassembled and resurrected. The final vindication came when the God Horus, the son of Osiris and ISIS slew Seth in combat and claimed kingship.
The element in this myth of Horus slaying Seth, a God who represented the forces of chaos or disorder, might explain why violence was associated with embalming mummification and resurrection in some ancient Egyptian contexts. It is thus reasonable to insist to quote GI that excluding a sacrificial dimension to lion couch scenes is unegyptian, even if we cannot come up with one definitive reading of Facsimile one at this time, Facsimile two of the Book of Abraham is an object called a hypociphouse by Egyptologists. The name comes from Greek, meaning literally under the head spell.
162 of the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead specifies that these amulets were to be placed under or beside the head of the mummy, meaning in some proximity to the deceased. Today there are just over 160 known hypocphaly or objects that functioned as hypocphaly that have been cataloged or published.
According to Spell 162 of the Book of the Dead, the hypociphouse served a number of important purposes to protect the deceased in the afterlife, to provide light and heat for the deceased, to enable the deceased to be resurrected, and to transform the deceased into a glorified divine being. Hypocephaly were also conceived as the magical eye of the Sun God Raw that consumed enemies with fire. Their circular shape and function to provide light, heat, and protection naturally lend themselves to this conceptualization in the minds of the ancient Egyptians.
Hypocphaly were also used as divinatory devices in the Egyptian temple and as astronomical documents. They also had a conceptual link with temple gates.
In this capacity, they shared a focus on creation motifs and conceptually served, among other things, to keep out enemies and admit the worthy into sacred space. This is especially significant since Joseph misinterpretation of Factsimile Two draws connections to the temple and features several astronomical and creation elements. It is also noteworthy that there appears to have been ancient connections between Abraham and the hypociphouse. For example, in one Egyptian papyrus, Abraham is referred to as the pupil of the Wedjat eye and associated with the primeval Creator God, as explained by one non latterday Saint Egyptologist.
The Hypociphouse, based on the representations of the primeval Creator God, Amun.
In the center panel of the disk, is, according to the ancient Egyptian theory, identical with the pupil of the wedge at eye. Looking at some of the individual figures. In fact, Simile Two reveals a few remarkable instances where Joseph Smith’s interpretation finds justifiable support from an Egyptological perspective. For example, Figure five of Facsimile Two is said by Joseph Smith to be the sun. This upside down cow figure is identified in some Hypocipalai as the goddess Hathor, who, indeed was sometimes conceived of as a solar deity by the ancient Egyptians.
One inscription from the Hathor temple at Dendura makes this identification explicit. Figure six in Facsimile Two is said by Joseph Smith to represent this Earth in its four quarters. This interpretation finds ready support from the ancient Egyptians as the four entities in figure six represent the four sons of the God Horus, who were associated with the Cardinal points. As One Egyptologist put it, by virtue of its Association with the Cardinal directions, four is the most common symbol of completeness in Egyptian numerological symbolism and ritual repetition. Egyptologist James P.
Allen simply identifies the four sons of Horus as representing the Cardinal directions. Another Egyptologist, Martin 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. Because Joseph Smith’s explanation to figure seven, in fact, simply two has proven to be especially controversial. It’s worth exploring indepth to show how the Prophet’s interpretation actually makes some sense.
This figure is identified by Joseph Smith as God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand keywords 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 hyphasephalai. The sitting percentage in figure seven has been described by one Egyptologist as a polymorphic God sitting on his throne. The back of him is bird form, while one of his arms is raised in the attribution of the gods men or Ammon, and holding a flagellum.
In some hypocephole, the ancient Egyptians themselves identified this figure as variously the great God, the Lord of life, or the Lord of all, although he assumed multiple attributes over millennia and was often synchronized with the gods Horace and Amun, the God Min is best known as the God of the regenerative procreative forces of nature, that is, as a sort of fertility God who is often depicted as the Premier manifestation of male sexual potency. He’s 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.
Because of his fertility and kingly associations. Minn is also very often, though not always depicted in Hypocephaly with an erect phallus, which Egyptologists have interpreted as either a symbol of, on the one hand, sexuality, fertility, creation, and rejuvenation, or, on the other hand, aggression, power, and potency. One. Egyptologist has also interpreted depictions of men 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.
Figure Seven in fact, Simile Two was either originally drawn anciently or copied in the 19th century, somewhat crudely, only a 19th century copy, and the facsimile, as published by Joseph Smith, is available for examination.
So without access to the original Hypocephaluse, it is not entirely clear if the seated figure had an erect phallus or if he has one arm at his side with the other arm clearly raised in the air. It should be kept in mind that Min is not always depicted as having an erect phallus in Hypochalae, so he need not necessarily be viewed as having such, in fact, simile, too, even if it appears that he did. In any case, there’s nothing to suggest anything pornographic or sexually illicit in depictions of men in Hypocephaly and other works of Egyptian art.
Finishing up with Facsimile Three of the Book of Abraham, this facsimile has been identified in the past by Egyptologists as an illustration from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. This chapter and its accompanying illustration depict the judgment of the dead before the throne of the God Osiris.
Based on comparable iconography from other Egyptian funerary texts, this understanding of Facsimile three has been prevalent among Egyptologists, although this interpretation of facts Emily Three has become commonplace. Some scholars have raised considerable objections to this explanation and have voiced problems with viewing Facsimile Three as a judgment scene. There are important missing elements in Facsimile Three that are needed to make up the classical Egyptian judgment scene, such as the balance scales that weigh the heart of the deceased. Without these and other important elements, it’s questionable if Facsimile E three is indeed an illustration from Spell 125 of the Book of the Dead.
So if Facsimile Three of the Book of Abraham is not a typical judgment scene from the Book of the Dead, then what might it be?
Recently, one scholar performed a study of Facsimile Three by comparing it with similar throne scenes depicting the God Osiris from extant copies of the ancient Egyptian Book of Breathings, which is the funerary text. Facsimile Three originally appeared next to on the Papyri. When compared with other throne scenes from the Book of Readings, Facsimile Three contains many anomalous artistic elements that are not standard in other illustrations. Even its original placement on the papyrus scroll is likewise not standard for this type of text. Rather than being a standard judgment scene, Facsimile Three more closely parallels what’s known as a presentation scene, which features the deceased being introduced into the presence of Osiris by one or more other Egyptian deities.
If Facsimile Three is indeed closer to a presentation scene than a judgment scene, then it might have a plausible connection with astronomy. As John Key has noted, 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. This converges with Joseph Smith’s interpretation that Facsimile Three depicts Abraham reasoning upon the principles of astronomy in the King’s court. There’s a lot more that could be said about the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham.
For this video, we’ve only focused on a few points and have tried to give a sense of the different ways scholars have approached the Facsimiles. Viewers wanting to dive deeper into the Facsimiles are encouraged to check out Pearl of Great pricescentral. Org where they can read articles on the facsimiles and access an extensive bibliography. In summary, to once again quote John GI, Much more work needs to be done before we can understand the Facsimiles in their ancient Egyptian setting, and only then will it be meaningful to ask whether that understanding matches that of Joseph Smith.
To the extent that we understand even that, as seen from a few examples above, a closer look at what these images and figures meant to the ancient Egyptians demonstrate that Joseph Smith’s explanations do accurately reflect ancient concepts.
So while reasonable questions about the Facsimiles remain, we should continue to seek further knowledge by study and also by faith. As we explore this deeply interesting subject.