Tuesday, January 17, 2017

BYU, Hugh Nibley, and Collegiality--and, of course, the Scriptures

My purpose is to encourage students of the Scriptures in faithful and lasting scholarship, the kind of scholarship that will endure to bless the rising generations. We travel together as journeymen, fellow readers and fellow writers. How grateful I am, in our pilgrimage and fellowship, for the nurturing words of modern prophets and apostles who foster Gospel Scholarship. I find no exceptions!

I am also grateful for Brigham Young University and for the tutelage of Truman G. Madsen, Hugh Nibley, and gifted teachers and writers there and everywhere else. BYU's tradition of fine Gospel Scholarship continues today--and we all rejoice over the Church History Department--but I have a warning about the immediate future. 


Hugh Nibley's articles, books, lectures, and speeches, from the 40's on, provided students with a reason for their faith in the historicity of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price. Lionized by countless readers as he was and is, it remains clear that Nibley's purpose was always to stir students to greater thought, faith, and endeavor, never to seek any laurels. And as it ever is with the best scholarship, his contributions also met, from the very beginning, a perennial backlash from some of the faculty at BYU as well as members of the local intellectual community. He was never exempt from critique, and even a few of his colleagues in Religious Education and History joined in the chorus. I doubt that many attacks surface publicly today at BYU; it's more likely he is increasingly unread, his contributions ignored or brushed aside. He's labeled an apologist, a word he never used, or would have used. 

Yet because so many of the false ideas about Scripture being paraded throughout BYU and the Latter-day Saint Community today were also deftly deflected by him decades ago, I share a letter written today (found below) as a defense not so much of the man, but of his contribution to Biblical and Book of Mormon scholarship. I wrote the letter to a student who says that she was not permitted to discuss Hugh Nibley at BYU without facing what she describes as "increasingly intense" backlash from both students and faculty. 



Now for the warning--or a dozen or so questions worthy of our consideration. 

Many press on with high praise of the kind of Gospel Scholarship that Madsen and Nibley represent. Yet, while praising, might we somehow fail to distinguish present moments of bricolage or jejune "apologetics" from what we find in Nibley's balanced and logical prose? And if you find yourself swirling about in a pool of "suppose" or "plausible," it's time to get out and dry off. Scholarship, like poetry, takes a spot of work--and an abundance of l'esprit de finesse. Can it even be taught? It can be taught to be recognized. All who teach must face the question: Are we fostering or are we damaging that delicate unfolding?

Latter-day Saints everywhere ought periodically to reflect on the matter of Scripture and scholarship. Do we accept the historicity of the Bible or don't we? Do we receive the Book of Mormon as it was intended to be received? Or are we past all that? Have we grown up? Do new Doktorvaters command our allegiance? Do our PhD's now compel us to set things straight about just what the Bible is and what it is not? Is it time to let fellow Mormons know, in word and in blog, just how hopelessly uninformed they all are when it comes to reading and understanding Scripture? Are Leviticus and Deuteronomy just mumbo-jumbo? or of post-exilic priestly mint? Did Nephi drop the ball on Deutero-Isaiah? Do we need a revolution in Scriptural understanding to save the Church? Is the Internet about to do us in? 

Or do we need to go back to the telling question: If you don't believe this, and you don't credit that, then what exactly do you hold to any longer?

Or do we need to look differently at contradictions between current scholarship, even consensus, and our own beliefs? Such contradictions should help to prod the faithful to undertake new journeys of discovery. Some of the journeys may be of lasting worth to all humankind: I think, for instance, of the recent work of Lincoln H. Blumell on Luke's account of Gethsemane. And of what worth is any scholar, writer, or artist who faints before consensus and contradiction? 

The Lord has in store great opportunities for the diligent Latter-day student. 

We may look at the challenge of searching for knowledge primarily as an effort to defend truth, if we wish, but the challenge certainly embraces more than that. We can help cut new paths, discover and decipher new findings, revisit and reinterpret stolid consensus. The Lord, who permits all the thorny contradictions, also gives us the accompanying challenges not only to try our faith but to test our mettle and to foster our intellects. He wishes to use us to bless all mankind with greater views on both the Holy Scriptures and also on the full history of His dispensational dealings with the children of men. Much will be required--and it won't help for any of us to sideline much that has been given.

Hugh Nibley never yielded "an inch to the Gentiles." That's what he said. That's what he asked of his students and of his university and community. "You receive no witness, until after the trial of your faith."


And now to the letter about the "cool scribe" and the art of cheerful scholarship, which speaks to the matter of whether we should occasionally appreciate the contributions of our own teachers, or just toss them into the wastebin; of whether we should listen to any contributor, or only to those who reciprocally call us Rabbi.


Thank you, Dear Sister M.,

News of gleeful attacks in BYU classrooms on the contributions of Hugh Nibley and other notable teachers comes as no surprise.

Some professors confuse lectern-thumping fatwas for expressions of truth and intelligence. Reading through the new biography of Truman Madsen, I don't see cynicism. It's all about joy and gospel service at BYU and everywhere else; it's all about the joyous quest for greater light and truth.

Mircea Eliade often writes of a phenomenon he termed "kill the teacher," a compelling Freudian wish to turn on one's Doktorvater, or even a favorite teacher. It's much more than reassessment. This drive to overturn reputations, cast doubt on the teacher's soundness, or even sanity, is a very common psychological malady at the university. Heroic in flavor, it unwittingly betrays a certain herd mentality, a lack of independent thought. Whether maturity, therapy, reading books, or plain humility is the cure, science cannot yet determine. 

Moroni records how Jesus taught him "in plain humility."

Although standards remain non-negotiable, scholarship ought to be a cheerful, joyous enterprise and colloquium, an on-going effort in which (a very few) errors prove not fatal but instructive, and much collegiality and openness to the contributions of others must thrive. 

John Baines, Professor of Egyptology at Oxford University, laments the lack of collegiality in his own discipline. He further censures the encrusted lack of openness to any contributor not belonging to the professional guild. (The article to read is "Restricted Knowledge, Hierarchy, and Decorum: Modern Perceptions and Ancient Institutions," JARCE 27:1-23.) 

The style of collegiality I favor follows the model put forth in Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Literature of the kbob, or cool scribe (controlled, efficient, mannerly), versus the hot-headed scribbler (pushy, self-willed, angry). A jar overflowing with pure, cool water becomes the hieroglyphic signature of the cool scribe; the hothead explodes "like fire in hay."

Yours Truly,
Val Sederholm

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ether 6:19-21 Numbering the People and Granting their Desires (Verbal Root mnh). Or, Why did Orihah choose The Kingship?

In Ether Chapter 6 we find a classic example of the panegyris, the Great Assembly of which Hugh Nibley so often spoke. The actions of gathering, census, establishment of the institution of kingship, transfer of power, granting and bestowal of desires (sparsiones), are all elements of the panegyris.

Panegyris marks the both "the Eternal Return" to the Beginning (Mircea Eliade) and the New Order, the New Year: "The old order changeth yielding place to new"; "And the brother of Jared began to be old." "The rites of the New Year," says Hugh Nibley, "being the death of the old, had to begin with a funeral. 'The old prehistoric mysteries of Abydos [in Egypt],' writes Wolfgang Helck, 'necessarily include both the funeral of the dead king and the installation of his successor'" (Hugh Nibley, Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 164; Chapters 3 and 4 cover the ground).

In the following passage from Ether 6, I put in italics activities that are both semiotically and also semantically linked, although the semantic link is more implied than expressed: 1) numbering and 2) bestowing desires. These seemingly disparate doings come together in the Proto-Semitic verbal root *mnh. Such associations run deeper than what we may be tempted to name it: a play on words. The semantic link, rather, reveals a semiotic of a particular culture: a peculiar and specific view of the economy of the inhabited world, the cosmic realities, at the moment of panegyris. That the Jaredites were, at least in part, inheritors of the Proto-Semitic language and culture needs no argument: most of their names point unerringly to that source: Jared, Ether (Track, Trace--so Hugh Nibley), Riplakish (Lord of Lakish--Hugh Nibley), Amgid (People of Sinew), Emer, Omer, Heth, Levi, Shule, Amnigaddah, Aaron, Lib. A few names: Coriantumr, Coriantor, Coriantum, Corom (did they have trouble pronouncing this odd name?), Corihor, Moriancumr, and the like, suggest a relaxed blending, so we mustn't think in terms of a rigid identity.

Consider the nuanced meanings, as they develop in the various languages, of the Proto-Semitic root *mnh or *mn (as brought together by Bernice Verjick Hecker, in her recent dissertation: "The Biradical Origin of Semitic Roots," taken from the chart on page 113):

MN II quantity: manu: count, hand over; mana: unit of weight min: a portion; manah: count, assign; maneh: a weight; minxah: tribute, offering manay: assign, apportion; minru: count; manna: grant, award; mana─ža: bestow, confer.

With the semanitics of *mnh now well in mind, let's look at Ether 6:

19 And the brother of Jared began to be old, and saw that he must soon go down to the grave; wherefore he said unto Jared: Let us gather together our people that we may number them, that we may know of them what they will desire of us before we go down to our graves.

That is to say, "that we may number them, that we many know of them what they will desire of us" as a bestowal. The onerous task of tally once completed, the assembly as a whole mulls over the future: the act of numbering, at once, become an act of inquiry. "You're tallied--so what would you like as a gift? Speak up!"

The following verse (20) shows a tally of the sons and daughters of both Moriancumr and of Jared, a mere fraction of the total, but which perhaps expresses a sort of firstfruits in-gathering, with the family of the leadership the first to be registered. They were not, ironically, the first to be consulted; for the text makes clear that while the people desired a king, the sons of Moriancumr and of Jared firmly refused the offer. Orihah, the son of Jared, youngest of them all, finally consented to be king.

Was that a matter of ambition? of ego? No. Orihah saw the results of a blanket refusal from the leading clan--another clan would then take precedence, and eventually do harm to the honor and memory of his father's house. Orihah should be thanked for keeping the right and reins of governance in that great and righteous founding family. He was prudent and pragmatic enough to save his family from the consequences of its own otherworldly meekness. And he was simply following a course expected of him: with each refusal, the pressure to accept the burden of kingship must have substantially increased down the chain until reaching very youngest. Instead of gladly taking the honor, the youngest and least of all was courageously taking up what was now already a crushing weight of responsibility.

And note how the Book of Ether gives us a perfect example of these archaic rites of selection as a game, as are all juridical proceedings (see J. Huizinga, Homo Ludens). It's all very much a back-and-forth, a barter, a contest, between "the People" (a common descriptor in Ether) and the primary Clan, the result of which is a full cession of power to that clan.

We are told that the Assembled People systematically went down the list, choosing each several son of Jared's Brother, then, in their turn, each of Jared's sons. It's a merry dance of wills. When Pagag, the first choice of all, turned the People down flat, they became restive and frustrated, and resorted to compulsion, whereupon the Brother of Jared set into place the first of all laws: they were to "constrain no man to be their king."

By the time the Assembly got to Orihah, which might have taken hours or even days, tensions must have been running very high, but fair play remained the name of the game. Despite that stand-off, the Assembly settled in and tallied downward, a switching of roles in action of elimination, in what must have been an assurance that the Clan would eventually conform to the uniform wish of the people--as the ruling brothers had promised. Once elected by the Assembled People, Orihah's line was to be the ruling house forever, the dynastic choice was clearly intended to be made just once, for all time.


Despite the topsy-turvy nature of the subsequent Jaredite history, that history resolves in Ether, the last of Orihah's line. The dynastic contract was a sacred covenant, and though Ether was Prophet not King, he contrasts dramatically with Coriantumr, the acknowledged but false king. Coriantumr and Ether make up the only survivors of that great people--but while Coriantumr survives only to see another people take control of Jaredite lands, Ether lives to record the long history of his people and to bring the story to full circle.

And as all readers know, the end of the Jaredite story makes up a grim final countdown (and that's after 2 million men, women, and children fall in speedy yet prolonged battles), a bitterly marvelous game of tally, face-off, and of royal election--the men of Shiz, the challenger, and the subjects of Coriantumr: 69-52; then 32-27 (numbers that show the royal guard to be, as we expect, the strongest of warriors); after two days more it's 1-1, a total tally of 3: Coriantumr battling Shiz for the kingship; Ether, the true king, watching from a secure place; Shiz slain, there remain 2; Coriantumr's death has been prophesied, so Ether seems to get the last word--he continues--and even mysterious speculates about whether he might forever continue, as a translated being, a sort of Once-and-Future King, held in reserve for a future day. Orihah's people are everlastingly gone, but his power continues in the form of the 24 gold plates, the sacred history.


Having come full round, we return to the original act of the play, the first tally and royal election:

21 And it came to pass that they did number their people; and after that they had numbered them, they did desire of them the things which they would that they should do [or, bestow] before they went down to their graves.

22 And it came to pass that the people desired of them that they should anoint one of their sons to be a king over them.

So here we have a little archaic text about the inauguration of the kingly office, as a special gift of merit to a people who, so the tally, had now indeed become very great. Even a war of annihilation hewed to the law of the count--and the People got exactly what they had asked for: utter destruction--and Ether, who tallied the final score.


The strange little book speaks to semiotics and language, laws and games, far beyond our ken.

But we can count. A child may count them.

Remember Isaiah? "And they shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth" (Isaiah 10:18). What a remarkable image! The battle becomes so very intense, the heat so overwhelming--and down go the colors. We recall how Coriantumr fainted after slaying Shiz: he "fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life").

"And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them" (Isaiah 10:19). The verse finds repetition in 2 Nephi 20:19, where we are told (in the chapter heading) that it typifies "the destruction of the wicked at the Second Coming," for "Few people will be left after the Lord comes again."

Moroni tellingly re-quotes Isaiah 10 (verse 3) in the final leaves of his re-cord, after re-counting the destruction of his own people--and, re-positioning the prophecy--points the words directly at the hearts of men in our own day: "And what shall ye do in the day of your visitation?"


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Reforming Marriage: A Model for Mormonism

When we Latter-day Saints speak of indebtedness to reformers such as Martin Luther, we often forget what may be his greatest contribution: a Reformation of Marriage. Of true marriage, there are many times and tides, and all manner of Christian homes. Yet there's still something subtly but inescapably touching--a touch of sanctity--hovering about that Bible-translating university professor, once hid up, outlaw, in a castle, and that coy woman who came to freedom by hiding in a barrel. They fixed the pattern for all generations that followed.

A half-millennium of Protestant Marriage in Christendom traces back to the novel vows exchanged by monk and nun. Luther would wake startled to see a pair of pigtails lying on the pillow. Katie would arise betimes "the Morning Star of Wittenberg." And we muse upon their rapport, their parenting, and their unspoiled manner of happiness, and wish it for ourselves. (The book to read is Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.)

Tyndale's Testament, lit at the hearth of Luther's Bible, gives us words to invoke, as though long dormant, the Word of Life. Luther's stance at Worms teaches us how all tyranny must fall--one man alone against Court and Tradition. Even Luther's errors point us to other souls fired with yet brighter light and truth. But it is the marriage of Free Christian man and Free Christian woman that most reformed, that most graced, all Christendom. That revolutionary but never-changing pattern, the very essence of what the Reformation played out in the hearts and minds of everyday believers, we, as Latter-day Saints, both gratefully acknowledge and evermore hold up to all the world. Hier stehen Wir und kann nicht anders.

A Tale of Two Scribes

The tale is one of Two Scribes.

Although standards remain non-negotiable, scholarship is a cheerful, joyous enterprise and colloquium, an on-going effort in which (a very few) errors prove not fatal but instructive, and much collegiality and openness to the contributions of others must thrive.

John Baines, Professor of Egyptology at Oxford University, laments the lack of collegiality in his own discipline. He further censures the encrusted lack of openness to any not belonging to the professional guild ("Restricted Knowledge, Hierarchy, and Decorum: Modern Perceptions and Ancient Institutions," JARCE 27:1-23).

The style of collegiality I favor follows the model put forth in Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Literature of the kbob, or cool scribe (controlled, efficient, mannerly), versus the hot-headed scribbler (pushy, self-willed, angry). A jar overflowing with pure, cool water becomes the hieroglyphic signature of the cool scribe; the hothead explodes “like fire in hay.”

Friday, November 4, 2016

Brigham Young in the office (leaders at work)


Brigham Young's office style


"The stream of visitors poured steadily through the outer office and trickled in orderly sequence into his own office, hour after hour. No one was ever denied admittance. His two counsellors, various members of the Twelve who were at home, sat with him and gave opinions or help in the various matters presented for the Leader's decision.

He was exceedingly quick at reaching the core of any matter brought to his attention, and was sometimes impatient with the circumlocution or hesitancy of his callers, especially so if guile were used in leading up to the point of issue. At such times he would interrupt a caller or a council meeting, would state the issue and answer yes or no, quietly and decisively. He was never ambiguous or involved in answer or statement, nor did he waste time or words. The kindly tone, the sympathetic glance, softened the rigour of the denial, added joy to the affirmative yes. He used to say that he knew when men wanted him to say yes and he usually gratified that desire," The Life Story of Brigham Young by Susa Young Gates (his daughter), 1939, 337-338.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Doctrine and Covenants 59: Oblations and Sacraments on the Lord's Day

My father used to talk about how the latterly generations likely do not understand the meaning of many of the words used in the Doctrine and Covenants, while the generation that first received the words likely understood them very well. So do we understand the scriptural usage or not? Or, just how much of it escapes us today? Twenty-five percent? Forty?

Again, I've often noted how many college students struggle in coming to grips with 19th century American usage--even a single paragraph can overwhelm, or even drown. So I've often felt grateful at being exposed, by much reading and reflection at a very young age, to such usage. That reading certainly included the seven volume History of the Church, which, in its turn, includes the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Yet much escapes me. There are many things in the Doctrine and Covenants, both in language and doctrine, which I don't even pretend to understand. There may be some Saints who understand all these words, phrases, and nuances, but I'm not among that number.

For instance, I've never understood why Doctrine and Covenants speaks of paying and offering our devotions, oblations, and sacraments--and note the troubling plural--on the Lord's day. Why sacraments, instead of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper?

"Pay thy devotions" seems straightforward enough--but read the very next verse. "Pay thy devotions," in this case, apparently means "Make vows to God," "Vouch and commit to a more saintly life."

Why oblations?

Today, after a simple dictionary search--something we all resist in our own native tongue--I see an answer.

Laying aside what oblations may mean broadly, or what the word may generally connote, the denotation we should be looking for in Doctrine and Covenants 59, says Merriam-Websters, is "(specifically capitalized) the act of offering the eucharistic elements to God."

Now that's so simple and so clear that I'm stunned I never knew it before. It's common knowledge which I haven't had any share in whatsoever.

So should I be embarrassed or just grateful to learn technical English usage? Gratitude best fits the subject.

The early Saints, at the time the revelation was received, would have taken the phrase "oblations and sacraments" as being specifically the "offering [of] the eucharistic elements--note the plural--to God." Our Sunday School and Institute Manuals veer off in every direction--to every connotative nuance--and miss the simplicity of the specific Oblation. Even so, we ought to weigh both the denotative and the connotative in reading Scripture--we do continue to study and to ponder. And we can take an occasional peek at etymology. (The etymology of oblation has little to tell us--it's just an offering.)

Yet it's wonderful to realize a simple truth: We do not understand the meaning of the words and phrases in the Doctrine and Covenants in the purity with which our forebears would have understood them.

For me, clarity is coming a word at a time: the phrase "oblations and sacraments" ought to be capitalized "Oblations and Sacraments," and it ought, first, to be understood as a precise, technical term (however poetic) for the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the elements of which we offer up to God.

There may be many sacramental ordinances spoken of in Mormonism, thus many sacraments, but Oblations and Sacraments speaks to the Eucharist. And this last term? Latter-day Saints don't use it in its English form, but nothing stops any Latter-day Saint from picking up a Greek Testament or asking Greek brothers and sisters about it. The simplicity of the language of the Gospels in Greek recalls the purity and the simplicity of Spanish for English speakers. Get the knack of it, and you breeze right through. Never let anyone tell you that it is difficult, or for the "scholarly." The Prophet Joseph studied his Greek Testament and pondered long over the meaning of words and phrases. We can do the same--one word at a time.

Meanwhile, let's not neglect our lessons in Nineteenth Century American and British English nor put aside the tomes of the Oxford English Dictionary. There's much left to learn.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why Is It There? Book of Abraham Facsimile 1 and the Opening Vignette of the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings

The Joseph Smith Book of Breathings opens with a vignette representing Osiris on a lion-couch.

The Book of Abraham opens with a vignette, in facsimile, representing Abraham upon an altar.

The vignette is one and the same--and it's been a delight to visit the Church History Library of late, where the vignette is on display.

(For a digitized copy, see: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/egyptian-papyri/1.)


Both the Abraham narrative and an accompanying Explanation for Facsimile 1 set forth why the vignette opens the Patriarch's account. But what is the explanation for its appearance at the beginning of the Book of Breathings?


I

To look at the papyrus is a breathtaking thing--the figure on the altar stirring to life as he greets the manifestation of the reviving soul in the form of a descending falcon (see Klaus Baer, "The Book of Abraham Papyrus," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1968, 3/3, 118). And just to the right of the figure, following the priestly titles of Hor of Thebes, we find, boldly writ, the blessing: "May his soul [his ba] live in their midst!" (see Michael Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary).

According to Professor Klaus Baer:

"Lines 1-5 give the titles, name, and parentage of the man for whose benefit the Breathing Permit was written:

. . . the prophet of Amonrasonter, prophet[?] of Min Bull-of-his-Mother [now read by Marc Coenen as Min-Who-Massacres-His-Enemies], prophet[?] of Khons the Governor. . . Hor, justified, son of the holder of the same titles, master of secrets, and purifier of the gods Osorwer, justified[?]. . . Tikhebyt, justified. May your ba live among them, and may you be buried in the West. . ." (Klaus Baer, "The Book of Abraham Papyrus," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1968, 3/3, 116-117).

Baer queries in a footnote to the words "among them": "Hor's parents?"

Somehow the expression embraces both parentage and the rich endowment of priestly offices and blessings therewith associated.

'nx b3.k m-hnw.w

May thy ba-soul live therein!

That is, "is the midst of these blessings and offices and authorities."


To see the scene in person, and all together, is to capture both words and vignette as a single whole. It is to grasp the point of the vignette as thematic title of the Breathings Text that follows. It strikes me like a bolt of lightning:

That his soul may live!

And is this not the very title of the book that follows such preliminaries:

The Book of Breathings made by Isis, so that her brother, Osiris, may live?

The Book of Breathings, written by Isis, so that her brother, Osiris, may live!

As Hugh Nibley tells us in One Eternal Round, that title bears astonishing likeness to the words instructions revealed to Abraham for his wife Sarai, as they enter Egypt, words found both in Genesis 12:11-13 and in Book of Abraham 2:23-25:


And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me. . .see that ye do on this wise:

Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me--Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee (Abraham 2:23-25).


The story of Osiris and Isis and that of Abraham and Sarah thus come together on a single papyrus. They come together in the scene of the figure stirring at the appearance of his soul, at the moment in which his soul in truth may live.

Abraham's first rescue on the altar, after the manner of the Egyptians, only foreshadows the rescue, just as marvelous, at his first entrance into Egypt with Sarai: trial follows trial, deliverance after deliverance. And the opening vignette, as title-piece, patterns the whole. Deliverance does come, and as Hugh Nibley notes, the three vignettes of the Book of Abraham show the journey from altar to vision to throne. And as Hugh Nibley was at pains to show, in a lengthy volume of commentary, the Book of Breathings constitutes an Egyptian Endowment of Power. The deceased attains to the glory of the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Who is there that would not seek the blessings of Abraham? Who would not wish to win the glory of Abraham?

There is a likeness here to the glory of Osiris. There is a likeness to the glory sought by the Theban priesthood--and by the priest named Hor (after the son of Osiris).

May his soul live.

Count the times the word soul or living soul appears in the wee 14 page Book of Abraham--it's a surprising thing, this doctrine of the soul.

Since we've cited Hugh Nibley a couple of times, it's essential to recall several finely crafted pieces he wrote 50 years ago in which he argued that Egyptian vignettes need have nothing to do, or nothing much to do, with accompanying text--a very strange phenomenon. Everything he says is correct--with one exception: as we build on the totality of Professor Nibley's work, it becomes clear that the Book of Breathings vignette makes a fine title piece for the surrounding writing, both for the introductory sentences and for the Breathings text that follows.

"But it's referenced in the Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham!"


"Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some some distance from their associated commentary."


No matter. Things advance over half-a-century. And there may even be other things in "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham" that will require modification by 2076. That's how it ought to be. Indeed, there are items in that thoughtful piece, both things Egyptian and things English, that ought to be modified today. Our times are so busy, late and soon: if we don't get to it, posterity will.

The Book of Abraham is not going anywhere--except to the billions of his posterity throughout the world. Billions will hold in their hands Abraham's witness of the Lord Jesus Christ--including his witness of the Plan encompassing both Creation and Resurrection.


II

And what of the notion of sacrifice, the priest who attempts "to offer up" the figure on the altar--if that's what's going on?

The introductory words also address the matter--for a single vignette can handle a variety of ideas and scenarios grasped by the Egyptian mind. Like poetry, these vignettes come packed.

Among the inherited priestly offices held by Horos (or Hor), says Marc Coenen, is the obscure Prophet of Min who massacres his enemies. Min, in this case, appears in the likeness of divine Horus, who avenges the death of his father, Osiris. A surprising bronze statue shows us how the Prophet of Min who massacres his enemies is to be represented, and the clothing matches that worn by the Anubis figure in our vignette.

(For references see http://valsederholm.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-hugh-nibley-meant_08.html.)

Min is, naturally, also Resheph-Min, Resheph being the corresponding Canaanite divinity. It is the priest of a god at once Egyptian and Canaanite, and at once Min, Resheph, and Horus, that come together in the office held by Horos, according to Professor Coenen. What Coenen does not notice is that the clothing of the Anubis figure on our vignette matches that found on the bronze statue of slaughtering Resheph-Min, who is "dressed in a short kilt, held up by two bands that cross over the breast and back."

When Marc Coenen's astonishing articles first appeared, articles which also transformed our understanding of the dating of the papyri and the genealogy of this particular priestly family, I wondered what Latter-day Saints would make of the idea of Min who massacres his enemies in light of our own Facsimile 1. Following on Coenen's work, BYU professor John Gee has not only noted the significance of this priestly office of Resheph-Min for Book of Abraham studies, but has further identified the office of Amonrasonter as part of a ceremonial complex of symbolic slaughter of the Enemy. Yet given the fragmented nature of our vignette--the fragment we have shows no knife--tying such offices with the vignette remains, perforce, a delicate matter. Yet there is the matter of the ritual clothing of the would-be knife-holding figure.

Nonetheless, if we take the vignette as bearing no relationship to the surrounding text, a misplacement--What a misplacement! The matter, as Brother Joseph might say, is as plain as a pikestaff!

Speaking of pikestaffs, it's worth noting how the later Egyptian word for the pole-axe that smites the Osirian Enemy and also for the corresponding verb of smiting itself are both djedi. That the word further alludes to the Osirian djed-pillar, the symbol of the resurrection of Osiris and the subsequent permanence of his dynasty is plain. What the irony expresses is that Osiris must violently die to live. No wonder the Egyptians sometimes (both apotropaically and in symbolic reversal of roles) call Osiris himself, the Enemy of Osiris. Who is the Enemy? We have met the enemy and it is us! Nibley would call this a game of substitution, the substitute sacrifice. And note, in Abraham's narrative it is tellingly the standing figure, the priest, who must die, while Osiris or Abraham is delivered from the gates of hell.

But how can the Egyptians represent avenging Min, the knife-wielding slaughterer of the Enemy, with the figure of Anubis, the mummifier? Aren't they distinct divinities playing far-different roles? That's what the handbooks say. . .

The role of Anubis is to prepare the body for the moment of resurrection. Hold on: Isn't it to prepare the body for burial? To transform the corpse into a perfect body--for that's what a "mummy" is meant to be--is to bring about its perfected state in resurrection. Mummification therefore spells triumph over Death as the Enemy. And even the act of violently opening the body for mummification becomes, then--and most ironically--the act of triumph over death. In every ceremonial performance associated with this god, even when he tears the Osirian corpse with sharpest claws, Anubis massacres the Enemy of Osiris. The act of tearing and cutting finds conceptual "reversal" as an act of binding, binding up, and healing. In like manner, for the Egyptians, "to wrap" (wt) is also--and always--to kill (mwt).

The Ancient Egyptians followed a multivalued logic, says Erik Hornung. Throw away Plutarch and handbooks and bookstore encyclopedias, and the idea that x=y and only y, because distinctions, roles, and correspondences get to be a very delicate matter. Consider the following lines from the New Kingdom Book of the Night: "You are the rebels that made a wrapping, made a wrapping Father Osiris. Accordingly, Father Osiris commanded that I [Horus Mekhenty Irty] should smite this your enemy" (The Book of the Night).

What!?

There is clearly a lot going on in these texts and vignettes--but it's clear that the vignette we call Facsimile 1 is exactly where it needs to be.

It's the title piece of the whole--and it both opens the narrative and shows its victorious culmination in eternity.

There is danger, there is death--but that his soul may live, his sister and wife comes to the rescue in the image of the descending falcon.

The scene, which also signals the union of Isis and Osiris, thus also teaches us that Osiris' soul shall continue to live through his royal posterity, even Horus, king of Egypt (Baer, 118-119). In like manner, Abraham writes for the benefit of his posterity who shall come. We recall that these scenes represent the mere opening of the Patriarch's career--the promise of posterity lies ahead: his son Isaac.


III

And how does the fragment we possess of the Book of Abraham end?

The presentation of Eve to Adam.

We go with Abraham and Osiris from altar to Throne.

Moving from vignette to vignette, we keep the story of the soul and of its eternal identity and worth. The doctrine thus also appears in hieroglyphs on the panels of the hypocephalus, Book of Abraham Facsimile 2: "Cause that his soul may live!"--an expression, if we evoke the setting of "the Holy Temple of God," wherein God's Plan is set forth, that Joseph Smith apparently considers beyond the willingness of "the world," that is, the worldly, to receive (see Explanation, figure 8). Look at the world's doers and shakers today. Which of them, in many lands and climes, might you consider a candidate for reflection on the eternal life of the soul? Many of them seem far too busy cheapening even the landscape of this life: accusation, invective "something too round," "hard speeches," and demeaning talk prevail. Isn't that simply what Joseph Smith had in mind here?

There may be more to it--but "that's more than we know," or "more than we should seek after" "at the present time," "for we know enough" to "hold to thy way."

The teaching also appears on the hypocephalus rim of the hypocephalus, as we follow the eternal round, the plan or pathway of the enlivened deceased from the tomb-shrine of the Celestial Iunu-Heliopolis, into the solar course, and thence on till he arrives at the final temple-shrine, the shrine of the prince, in the Celestial Heliopolis.

If you could hie to Heliopolis.