Sunday, August 31, 2014

I learned it by translating: Joseph Smith and the LDS Book of Abraham: Or, Just How Boring Can 'Scholarly' Condemnation Really Be? Yawn.

I  Reasoning, Learning, and Revelation
I learned it by translating, says Joseph Smith in a unique expression: "I learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house." The remarkable statement reveals Joseph's childlike capacity for receiving new knowledge from any channel God might open for investigation and advancement. "I learned a test[imony] about Abraham and he reasoned concern[in]g the God of Heaven." "Abraham reasoned thus": "suppose we have two facts; that supposes that anot[he]r fact may exist," (16 June 1844, Thomas Bullock reporting, The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, 380).

Joseph the translator now becomes Joseph the reader, that is, the riddler. Translation requires Joseph to bend his mind to reasoning: he must "study it out in [his] mind" (see Doctrine and Covenants 9). His mind must reach the mind of Abraham.

Abraham sees in vision the order and governance of the stars and, by reasoning, perceives a like order of intelligence among spirits. He reasons concerning the God of Heaven:

Abraham 3: 16-19: "If two things exist, and there be one above another, there shall be greater things above them"; "Now, if there be two things. . ."

Reasoning leads to Revelation:

19 And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.

If we will exercise our own capacity for reason, perhaps we ourselves may continue to learn truths about the dealings of God with men. We may gain further light about the purposes and messages of prophets, seers, and revelators. Perhaps we, like Joseph, may learn a testimony about Abraham--and his book.

II  This High Gift 

Here, in his last public sermon (16 June 1844), Joseph testifies that he learned the contents of Book of Abraham Chapter 3 from writing found on an Egyptian papyrus in his keeping. The hieratic writing on that papyrus is the source of what we now find in Abraham 3--that's what Joseph Smith is saying. While I have no idea how prophets translated any of our scriptures--and scripture is an article of faith--I don't see wiggle room here: Joseph is quoting Abraham 3:16-19.

How Joseph read, how Joseph learned, and, then, how Joseph translated cannot be grasped by the ordinary mind. The Book of Mormon, in words supplied by Joseph Smith, calls prophetic translation "this high gift": "And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can." "For he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date" (see Mosiah 8: 13, 14, 16).  Such mysteries of God, as Nephi learned, can only be revealed by the power of the Holy Ghost.

Though Joseph Smith never discloses how the "high gift" of "sight and power" effected the translation of either the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham, the two translations share something in common. Different, it would seem, at first blush anyhow, are the translations of the Bible (including the Book of Moses), the Parchment of John (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 7), Sections 45 and 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and so on. Latter-day Saints often deem these to be revelatory transmissions of lost records, lost scripture, not in the keeping of the Prophet Joseph, rather than translations proper (see Hugh Nibley, "Translated Correctly?").

Better not to attach labels at all, since the "seer" "has that wherewith he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date." After first looking into the Urim and Thummim, Joseph exclaimed, "I can see anything" (so Joseph Knight reports, Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith, 60). What might further use reveal beyond that "anything"? Eventually, the seer came to possess what both Brigham Young and Orson Spencer call "the eye of the Lord." Wilford Woodruff thus delights in recalling how Joseph Smith didn't even require the Urim and Thummim to read the papyri.

III  Records of Ancient Date

So do the "records of ancient date" have to be physically present or not? In the case of both the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, Joseph had in his keeping at least a portion of the pertinent ancient records, written in various types of Egyptian script. Whether these were complete or fragmentary or lacunose (that is, in the case of the papyri), we cannot know (see Michael D. Rhodes, "I have a question," Ensign, July 1988, 51-53). We do know one thing: He had plates and he had papyri.

Yet Joseph also had the King James Bible--and, for a fleeting, visionary moment, the Parchment of John (or at least the idea of the textual reality of such a parchment). So translation, for Joseph, was ever anchored in either direct contemplation, or at least in the idea, of text. (Idea, etymologically, registers both knowledge and sight.) There always had to be text, the touch or trace of the human mind--however fragmentary, lacunose, recopied, reworked, translated to death, corrupt, or otherwise humanly imperfect that text might have been. Text and Sight--and Power. Human Text and the Divine Word. Prophet reaching to Prophet across the distance of both man's time and the reckoning of seers.

Joseph translated by, in, and through what Paul calls "the Mind of Christ." Understanding that, glibly pouring on adjectives about "conventional" or "literal" or "word-for-word" or "scholarly" translation, which do not shed light on any kind of translation whatsoever, amounts to little. The adjective supplied by Joseph Smith himself, in a prepared statement about the papyri, was correct: "a correct translation" of what he insists are the "preserved" "writings of the fathers" of which he was "in possession" (History of the Church 2:348ff.) "For the records have come into my hands"--here's a concrete statement; though, in this case, the words are Abraham's, not those of his latter-day double. "The records of the fathers, even the patriarchs. . . the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands" (1:28, 31). Accident or miracle, the Lord can do such things. As He told aged Abraham, He delights in the impossible, which is why we call him "a God of miracles."

"Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14)

IV Getting the Adjectives Right

Joseph Smith describes the title page of the Book of Mormon as "a literal translation," and even "a genuine and literal translation," of the final plate in the bound collection. In only one other instance does the reticent Prophet speak with such clarity about how he translated specific words, and, again, that is in his description of translating Abraham Chapter 3 "from the papyrus now in my house." And note how Joseph, more or less, correlates one plate to one page: here is no mystical, pre-decipherment "reading" of symbolic hieroglyphs, in which one hieroglyph supplies many sentences of translated material. Instead, Joseph, comparing it to "all Hebrew writing in general," sees all Egyptian hieroglyphs, formed, reformed, or whatever, as a "running" script. "Running": nothing could be more specific (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 60-61).

So we do see Joseph Smith taking pains to supply the right adjectives. "The English version" "of the very last leaf" of "the original Book of Mormon" is a "genuine and literal translation" from the hieroglyphs. The Book of Abraham aims to be "a correct translation." And note how the Prophet insists the English version of the Book of Mormon title-page "is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man." A few wonder whether Joseph Smith himself composed the Book of Abraham solely as a vehicle for teaching doctrine--a symbolic link to a symbolic past. It doesn't take much imagination to hear the Prophet's frank response: Neither is the Book of Abraham "a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation."

What we are talking about, in the case of Joseph Smith's scriptures, is not the translation of correspondence or of state documents from Italian into Spanish (a labor which may seem to be conventional, or, at times, perhaps, even literal), but translation from ancient and classical languages, what we term dead languages. For the remainder of the children of men, those whom angels, says Moroni, do not visit, translation, or "translation," from dead languages requires careful training in the use of dictionary and grammar (both fragmentary and often misleading), and ever involves the student in leaps of imagination.

Scholarly translation, where dead languages are at hand, thus often amounts to spectacular guesswork. The hundreds of Bible "translations" from the Hebrew and Aramaic so attest. As for Ancient Egyptian and its scholarly translation into modern languages, well. . .  Yet other ancient scripts defy even decipherment. (Scholarly translation also connotes the dryasdust.)

Where the salvation of the human race is at stake, neither scholarly "translation" nor scholarly bafflement will do (and it can damn). The difference between all translators of dead languages else and the Prophet Joseph is that living touch with idea, with gospel truth, which requires neither dictionary nor grammar. The God of Abraham is not the God of the dead but of the living. Joseph translated living languages, and with living tongues of fire.

Not that the merely human endeavor deserves despite. Joseph Smith happily hired tutors in both ancient and classical languages. He naturally tried his hand as student translator (making his mistakes like anyone else). But even while doing so, working his head off in the attempt, he still sought for the further inspiration of God. His Nauvoo discourses show several such translations of Greek and Hebrew words and phrases. The Prophet simply could not rest with the fragmentary knowledge and imaginary flights of scholarship; he always sought greater light and knowledge, and shared such freely with a spiritually thirsting world (see Neal A. Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer," October Conference 2003).

V  The Records Have Fallen into Our Hands: Now What?

Just so nonsensical as the revolving door of adjectival qualification appears the oft-celebrated but never elucidated idea of an object, say, some old mummy or random papyrus roll, serving as a "catalyst" to revelation or translation. Difficulty does lead to contemplation, and contemplation invites revelation--but Abraham came along as a complete surprise! The records "have fallen into our hands"--accident or miracle--and, astonishingly, "purport to be the writings of Abraham, while in Egypt." The word purport, as every reader notes, clarifies the relation of papyrus to Abraham: something penned on the papyri, and understood by Joseph Smith, is making a claim. Claim and papyrus and translation are one in Joseph's hands.

The Prophet does give us, already in 1831, a book of Abraham, complete with textual expansions and corrections, as part of his Joseph Smith Translation of the King James Bible. But neither do such additions to the narrative of Abraham prove the Bible to have served as some sort of metaphorical "catalyst." Joseph read or translated with a clear idea in mind: the text of the Bible does not contemplate all the writings of the prophets necessary for human salvation. There were precious writings lost. Nephi lays out the matter in great plainness. And, though Joseph in Egypt prophesied the restoration of much of God's word, he never said to expect plate-bearing angels at every turn.

The Bible, itself a physical object--its own plates, so to speak--can hardly be called a catalyst anyhow. A catalyst, you will recall, "is a substance that alters the rate of reaction with other chemicals, but does not itself undergo any permanent change." Joseph changed the Bible. Though "widely used in metaphor to suggest any agent of change," catalyst lends itself to misuse, which prompts a style guide to state: "Beware this weasel word" (The Wordsworth Dictionary of Modern English Grammar, Syntax and Style for the 21st Century). Fancy words replace the need for thought.

Then there is the matter of efficiency. As for the second Book of Abraham, we must ask why Joseph, most inefficiently, resorted to borrowing money to acquire the costly rolls? Couldn't an angel have brought the rolls to Kirtland, perhaps Abraham himself, rather than the shadowy showman, Chandler? (A righteous man from Abraham's day visited the Kirtland Temple just months later. He could have brought Abraham's record, when he restored Abraham's priesthood keys.) Or, couldn't the idea, or a visionary glimpse, of a concrete but lost autobiography of Abraham serve the prophetic sight so well as purchased papyri? Yes, and yes--but no. We mustn't miss the point. The papyri signified: like the plates, they came as sign. Joseph borrowed the money solely because some specific writing on the rolls, again, a specific title which he claimed to understand, purported to contain the writings of Abraham while in Egypt: The Book of Abraham Written by His Own Hand upon Papyrus. That's the ancient title, and in the ancient idiom, says Hugh Nibley. And he with the "high gift" read that title. There are two books of Abraham, and each, seemingly, reveals two kinds or methods or modes of translation, yes; but where and how exactly does the catalyst come into play in either case?

So even in the Bible translations, the Prophet worked from text seen and from (the idea of) text unseen. Had he then known Hebrew or had anything like an Urtext of the Hebrew Bible been available to him, he certainly would have worked with that. In the case of Abraham's writings, some of these, copied onto papyri, happened to be extant, then available, sold, bought, and read--even "by revelation or translation, as the case may be," as Elder Bruce R. McConkie puts the matter. And there we can let it rest.

Yet why was an ancient, surviving physical manifestation, in plates or papyri, of the word requisite for some of our scriptures and not for others? Gold plates, beyond the purposes of scriptural exhortation, also attest to the reality of a lost and fallen people. In like manner, Mosiah translates the 24 plates left in plain sight by Ether as a concrete witness of the Jaredite fall. The records vividly link us to wipe outs, past dispensations, and to the prophets of Christ. And, vitally for the affirming of a new dispensation, the plates also served as the objective evidence to the 11 men who stand as Book of Mormon witnesses.

As for the papyri, Joseph Smith, in good faith, put them on public display in both Kirtland and Nauvoo. All were invited to examine the papyri and to "find out" for themselves what the hieroglyphs and figures conveyed. Hugh Nibley makes much of the matter of the open display and forthright invitation. If the Prophet had lived to see the closing decades of the 19th Century, many of the learned men of the times would surely have had the opportunity to see the rolls and fragments, discuss them with the Prophet, and chime in on their significance.

The papyri proclaim to the world that Joseph Smith had 1) nothing to hide, 2) was willing to have his ideas and translations be weighed in the balance of the learned, and 3) that he invited the participation of the learned in his own open-ended quest for further light. Though never describing or disclosing his method, Joseph Smith also never hesitated to publish the resultant readings to a world agape. He never feared the test. Nothing about the Prophet's publication of the Book of Abraham shows contempt for scholarly method or for the 19th Century discovery of Ancient Egypt. He played fair--and the papyri, as tangible element, so attest.

A word about scholarship. Some complain about the lack of references to Abraham in the extant Joseph Smith papyri, including the three facsimiles of Egyptian vignettes. While reminding us how descriptions of the roll containing Abraham's writings do not match the scrap we call the Breathings text, Hugh Nibley points out a direct parallel, both specific and peculiar in its wording, between the title of the Book of Breathings (a document found in the extant papyri) and the wording of Abraham 2:24-25. So, too, the hieroglyphs on a facsimile of an Egyptian hypocephalus (Facsimile 2) address the god as both "noble" and "great"; include (again, Nibley) a prayer for rescue, that is, resurrection, in which the god comes down to save; refer to "the name of this great god" (for the central figure); he being a god who lived in "the first time" and then "descended" to save Osiris so-and-so. The match between the hieroglyphic texts on Facsimile 2 and the text of the Book of Abraham is both specific and peculiar. Nor is that all, Hugh Nibley descries the hypocephalus design in the later Apocalypse of Abraham.

While Latter-day Saints have no obligation to prove anything to anybody, we are not going to stand by while persons learned or unlearned drum boring, self-righteous condemnation. And after 40 years the repetition of answered objections does start to bore. Besides, such repetition has never moved our scriptural foundation of faith. Abraham talked with God face-to-face.

We invite thorough, thoughtful, patient assessment of every particle of data and of every thread of argument. Forget the label apologist. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shouldering a mandate to share His Gospel with the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

You might as well attempt to terrify God upon His throne (to borrow a phrase from Brigham Young),
as to terrify Latter-day Saints with the tentative "conclusions" of scholarship. Hectoring cannot replace quiet thought or balanced discussion. Scripture endures--and as the Book of Abraham itself shows, it can span the millennia.

No matter how it was read, and no matter just how much of Abraham's or of Joseph's writings Joseph Smith had, Abraham did deposit a record in Egypt, a layered record which also includes some of the records of his own fathers, and that's what the fragmentary Book of Abraham represents. Abraham stands in the middle, linking the generations. Abraham speaks of the records of the fathers; then, we also glimpse a trace of descendant, Joseph. What we have is the fragment of a record claiming to have been built up around yet older records--a trace of library, as Borges would have it. And that is why the papyri, drawn inexorably to the Latter-day Joseph and held in his possession--as tangible sign of Restoration--,had to contain a portion of the words of the fathers.

One thing exceeds all else in importance. Both plates and papyri, reflections the one of the other, came to light as modern testators of the physical resurrection of the dead. God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: And "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Mark 12:32, and see esp. JST Mark 12:32). No matter how the Prophet translated plates, parchment, papyri, no matter the instruments he used--or whether he used none at all--no matter the lacunae, the very survival and attestation of at least some of the writings of Nephi and Moroni and of Abraham and Joseph, though mere abridgments, copies, or even traces, stand as a material witness of a new dispensation and earnest of the resurrection. The recovered original of Facsimile 1 so depicts Abraham's deliverance from death on the altar. And, as cloud cumulus, all the Joseph Smith papyri, which came to light after being hid up for millennia in a Theban tomb, also serve as witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Other like scriptural witnesses will yet make their like appearances.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Zenephi and Zat Mormon Girl (Mormon 9:16)

One day a family member asked me about the Book of Mormon name Zenephi. I had no answer. A bit later it hit me: Ze + Nephi fits a common Ancient Egyptian name pattern: "Son of Nephi."

Zenephi makes his appearance on the stage of history in a single, startling verse, a verse that shouts Libya, Syria, and the Congo, a verse that whispers a portent to the whole world: Bataans everywhere.

And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die (Mormon 9:16).

So don't be surprised when it happens here; for we have been warned.

When the online Book of Mormon Onomasticon Project became available to me, I turned to the entry for Zenephi and found:

"Possibly EGYPTIAN z3-nfy, “son of NEPHI/the chief,” from z3 (=sa) + nfy (q.v.) (RFS)."

Not long afterwards, I asked Robert F. Smith (Bob Smith) about the derivation. He had forgotten about it and, in fact, had moved on to another very possible derivation. Then, some time later, and to my amusement, the following sentence appeared on the Web page of the Book of Mormon Onomasticon:

"Val Sederholm suggests EGYPTIAN Z3-Nfy 'Son of Nephi' (RFS)."

A wee correction might be in order. Nephi, or Nep-Hi should reflect not Nfy but the common Egyptian pattern for a Neb.j name (My Lord is X): nb-h', or the like. Derivations from roots such as nfy or nfr don't convince me. 

Indeed it is Hugh Nibley who first derived Zenephi from Z3-Nb-H'. Hugh Nibley read many copies of the Book of Mormon, perhaps a copy for each page! In one such copy (now in the Hugh Nibley Library at Brigham Young University), he marked each Book of Mormon name with its appropriate letter: H for Hebrew, A for Arabic, E for Egyptian, and so on.

Racing down to Zenephi, I found:

Zenephi E

How could it be otherwise? As Hugh Nibley well knew, there is no more common pattern in Egyptian naming than: z3 + Name, or z3.t + Name (often a theophoric name), Son or Daughter of So-and-So. The famous Sinuhe, as we often render the Egyptian Z3-Nht, is Son of the Sycamore (that is, Hathor as goddess in the Sycamore). Sinuhe might as well be spelled Zenuhe. And, of course, the Book of Mormon appears in 1830, long before Sinuhe had been recovered or Egyptian cracked.

The Book of Mormon ze- for z3- is right on the money. While it doesn't necessarily follow that every Ze- name in the Book of Mormon has a like derivation, Zenephi could hardly reflect anything else. Remember "The Book of Nephi, the Son of Nephi, who was the Son of Helaman"? (Nephi ntj or asher Zenephi ntj Zehelaman, no less.)

There are so few names of women in the Book of Mormon. Should we come to know of such naming, I'd be surprised not to find Zet- or Zatnephi (Daughter of Nephi). Zatjarom, Zatmoroni, Zatmormon. 

I know Zat Mormon girl.

Proud of Itself is the City: Ammonihah, Tenochtitlan, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City

A Nahuatl song, which not only glorifies but eagerly stirs war up as the very fulfillment of the American dream, captures the smug assurance of a great people in an impregnable city:

Proud of itself
is the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
Here no one fears to die in war.
This is our glory.
This is Your command,
oh giver of Life!
Have this in mind, oh princes,
do not forget it.
Who could conquer Tenochtitlan?
Who could shake the foundation of heaven?

With our arrows,
with our shields,
the city exists,
Mexico-Tenochtitlan remains.
Cantares Mexicanos, fol. 19 v.-20 r, in Miguel Leon-Portilla, Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico, 87.

"Songs proclaiming the glory and power of the Aztecs frequently reach an almost mystical exaltation," 86. It is a voice singing eerily from the dust--a voice of warning from the ancient peoples of America to the usurpers of their proud place.

Such boasting is a leitmotif of the Book of Mormon. This great city Jerusalem, or that great city Zarahemla, or this great city Ammonihah stand as impregnable as heaven and earth to all contest human or divine. The motif is but a variation of a principal theme of the book. As Hugh Nibley taught his students, that theme sounds its trumpet blast in the very first chapter of Nephi (verse 4): "The great city Jerusalem must be destroyed!" It is Civilization itself versus God and repentance. Civilization, the state of the great City, must fall in her unrepentant pride (see Revelation 18). The theme reaches a fever pitch in Helaman 13:12-14: "Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla. . . yea, wo unto this great city. . . this great city. . .this great city. . . yea, wo be unto this great city." It is the Echo of History.

The elites of mighty Ammonihah challenge Alma with their own refrain of "Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man [or one Prophet or one Church] among this people" and ream him out with their cant about their own particular little city and their own particularly novel ideology being as reasonable and as lasting as earth itself:

Who art thou? And for that matter: Who is God?

"Who art thou? Suppose ye that we shall believe the testimony of one man, although he should preach unto us that the earth should pass away?

Now they understood not the words which they spake; for they knew not that the earth should pass away.

And they said also: We will not believe thy words if thou shouldst prophesy that this great city should be destroyed in one day.

Now they knew not that God could do such marvelous works."
(Alma 9:2-5).

That part about "one day" sums up the degree to which man will tempt God.

Yet in due time, "the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.

But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness" (Alma 19:9-10).

That last detail shows one everlasting irony: all the time, that great city stood, even at its peak, at the borders of the man and the desert--in reach of the wild.

"Nothing beside remains," though its fame persists:

"And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate" (Alma 19: 11).

Perhaps the great lesson about civilization in the Book of Mormon is her utter unawareness--the great lesson of never learning the lesson at all, though of the boasted profession of Nehor.

For, but a few years later, we hear the Nephite boast sounded again:

Why do you suffer this man to revile against us?
For behold he doth condemn all this people, even unto destruction;
yea, and also that these our great cities shall be taken from us, that we shall have no place in them.

And now we know that this is impossible, for behold, we are powerful, and our cities great, therefore our enemies can have no power over us (Helaman 8:5-6).

One sentence, surcharged with irony, should haunt the memory of every reader of the Book of Mormon:

"And now we know that this is impossible."

It does not take the Lord long to respond.

The Lord acknowledges the great city, even while mocking its wearying language of pretension:

"Yea, wo unto this great city of Zarahemla. . . yea, wo unto this great city. . . this great city. . . this great city. . . yea, wo be unto this great city" (Helaman 13).

Behold, that great city Zarahemla have I burned with fire . . .

And behold, that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea. . .

And behold, that great city Moronihah have I covered with earth.
(3 Nephi 9: 3-5)

Where is mercy? comes the cry. Have you never, in the quiet of a big-city library, contemplated the history of Vanity Fair?

As everyone knows, there can be no greater irony in the history of poetry or warfare than the following lines:

Who could conquer Tenochtitlan?
Who could shake the foundation of heaven?

Speaking of the Great Cities of world civilization, the living Prophet, Thomas S. Monson, concludes:

"In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and a comfortable life; and they lost all--comfort and security and freedom."

"Must we learn such costly lessons over and over again? Times change, but truth persists. When we fail to profit from the experiences of the past, we are doomed to repeat them with all their heartache, suffering, and anguish. Haven't we the wisdom to obey Him who knows the beginning from the end?" ("The World Needs Pioneers Today," Ensign, July 2013). Doomed? Doomed.

We remember, too, how the people of that great city Ammonihah, the Nephite answer to Bunyan's Vanity Fair and John's Babylon, simply longed to take freedoms away from other lesser, more complacent cities, cities of the ancient, Pre-Columbian American dream:

"They do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people" (Alma 8:17).

That line of study suddenly becomes the most popular major of every stripe of partisan in Syria, Russia, Egypt, Washington, or Venezuela today.

Caught up in their studious dream, lost in their agenda, assured of their power, "in one day," from blue sky to "in Mexico night is falling," the moment of repentance passed. When the sun set, it was not "Like a shield that descends"--"eagles" and "jaguars" to the contrary.

(See additional verses of the triumphant song, Pre-Columbian Literatures of Mexico, 86).

The site of the lost city, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, nearly the world's greatest city its its time, now also hosts earth's largest city. Together with all other great cities of the world, that Great City Mexico, or that Great City America, again attests, re-born, the struggle between God and Civilization, between the intricacies of ideology and agenda and the simplicities of repentance.


Elder L. Tom Perry, "Obedience through Our Faithfulness," April 2014, General Conference: "While some very intelligent and insightful people might believe our more complex time demands ever more complex solutions, I am far from convinced they are right. Rather, I am of the frame of mind that today's complexity demands greater simplicity."

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Egyptian Royal Name Onitah in LDS Book of Abraham 1:11

The Prophet Joseph Smith, in his inspired Book of Abraham, introduces us to a previously unknown scion of the Egyptian royal descent: Onitah.

Now, this priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time, who were the daughters of Onitah, one of the royal descent directly from the loins of Ham. These virgins were offered up because of their virtue; they would not bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone, therefore they were killed upon this altar, and it was done after the manner of the Egyptians (Abraham 1:11). 

Daughters of Onitah apparently either refers to a father and daughters, or it refers to an ancestral patriarch or king from whom these daughters trace a royal lineage. Could Onitah be a woman? a matriarch? That's possible too. At any rate, Onitah marks a legitimate archaic line, as "one of the royal descent directly from the loins of Ham." Did later Pharaohs persecute descendants of the archaic line? We cannot tell. Perhaps Daughters of Onitah names a particular social group (like the Inka panaca), with attendant ritual obligations. Failure to conform to cultic duty brought on the dire consequence. 

Hugh Nibley has much to say about the archaic theme of the sacrifice of the three virgins, being "august virgins of the royal line set apart as spouses of the god," or "ritual hierodules." In like manner, "the line of virgin priestesses. . . who enjoyed a position which at Thebes was virtually royal," later appears in the institution of the "God's Wife of Amun" (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 397-403, quotes fr. p. 400; the last, quoted directly from J. W. B. Barns, JEA 52 (1966), 191; Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 176-179).

The name of conservative Onitah recalls First Dynasty king, Anedj-jb: 'nDj-jb, the One who is Sound (or Hale) of Heart. While ordinarily listed as the sixth king of that dynasty, the Saqqara tablet, a New Kingdom king-list, surprises by making this Anedjib or Enezib first of all Egyptian kings. Ramesses II, last in line, looks back to Anedjib (Amelie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, I 127-8). 

Two hieroglyphs make up the name: Gardiner V26, "netting needle filled with twine" and F34, the heart sign. Students of Egyptian commonly transcribe the netting needle as 'D or, later, as 'd. Yet because of the known reading 'nD or 'nd, "in the case of m'ndt" (in the Pyramid Texts), that is, the mandet, or morning-bark of Re, students often transcribe 'nD or 'nd. The choice to render the royal name as Anedjib, rather than Adj- or Odjib, follows the reading in the Pyramid Texts, which is taken as, at least, an original value of the sign (see Gardiner Sign List V26; Gardiner references Sitz. Berl. Ak. 1912, 958 and Pyr. 335.336, sim. ib. 661).

The names 'ndy.t, 'nDj, ', ', perhaps all belonging to the same verbal root, '(n)Dalso seem to have been fairly popular for both males and females in the Middle Kingdom. For attestations, see H. Ranke Die aegyptischen personennamen I 70, 11 (female, 'ndy.t: Sammlung Amherst 445); 70, 12 (male, 'nDj: Middle Kingdom Pap. Bulak 18, 38, 30 and 45. 2, 18); 72, 9 (male and female, Middle Kingdom, ' or ' (Hale! Be Well! du seiest wohlbehalten)--this last written with the biliteral sign of the netting needle). The transcription of 'nDj or 'ndj, or even ' as O-n-t-a or Onitah is sound. I like a Late Period attestation: 'D-p3-T3w, Hale, or Wholesome is the Breeze (I 72, 8).

The name Anedjib, so well as the last two Middle Kingdom names cited, both written with the netting needle (Ranke I 72, 8 and 9), all derive from the verb 'D or 'd (orig. 'nD?), which signifies "to be in good condition" (Gardiner Sign List, V26; Wb I:208, 237-38: wohlbehalten sein, unversehrt; 'D wD3: wohlbehalten und heil. The first two examples from the Middle Kingdom, though written alphabetically and not showing the netting needle, likely also have the same derivation.

Of course, other Egyptian candidates for Onitah may present themselves for consideration. Wentj, or Wenjtj, or Wenta (Oni-ta), attested as a female name, comes to mind. Onitah, whatever the exact derivation from Egyptian, is a Sound Name, a name of historical Integrity; with names like Onitah, names clearly having an Egyptian ring to them, the historicity of the Book of Abraham remains Hale and Hearty. The Book of Mormon yields a few sound Egyptian names of its own, e.g., Paanchi, Pahoran, Pacumeni, Zenephi (z3-Nephi, son of Nephi).

The Book of Abraham indeed evinces several names of pure Egyptian and West Semitic vintage: 

1) Onitah (E: 'nDj, Sound, Hale; E: wntj, wntt,, etc.) 

2) Olimlah (E in pattern: Great is Amun-Re, Wrj-jmn-r'; I magnify Ra, Wr-n(.j)-r', Hugh Nibley) 

3) Shulem (WS, from Ebla: Reconciled, Hugh Nibley) 

4) Olishem (WS, compare the attested place name that Christopher Woods transcribes as   Ulishim; perhaps from 'ly shm, the High Place of Heaven, Hugh Nibley) 

5) Jershon (WS, Place of Inheritance, Stephen Ricks, Book of Mormon Onomasticon           Project). 

Also introducing. . . 

6) the princess Katumin (E in pattern: Qdw-jmn, Qdw-mn, Amun (or Min) created (me); less likely is K3(.j)-dj(.w)-jmn, my ka is the one Amun has given. The Egyptian grapheme would have been realized as phonetic /t/.)

And to these, we can also add a new place name:

7) Mount Hanabal, from Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 14: 10 (WS: Hanna-Ba'al, Ba'al is Gracious). 

Critics of the Book of Abraham's setting in Ancient Syria and Egypt have a lot of explaining to do. 


Olishem: Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 415.
Additional comments in Val Sederholm, "The Plain of Olishem and the Field of Abram"

Ulishim: Christopher Woods, "The Practice of Egyptian Religion at 'Ur of the Chaldees'?" pages 89-91, in Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrus: A Complete Edition (2013).

Olimlah: Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 587-88 (Wr-jmn-r' = Hermann Ranke, Die Aegyptischen Personennamen, 1:80; Wr-n(.j)-rj = Konrad Hoffmann, "Die theophoren Personennamen des aelteren Aegyptens," Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Altertumskunde Aegyptens, 7:51-51)

Shulem: Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 451. Hugh Nibley calls Shulem a "good Syrian and Canaanite" name; Ebla PN's Database gives the reading Reconciled.

Hanabal: Val Sederholm, "Joseph Smith and Hannibal: Mount Hanabal in Joseph Smith Translation Genesis 14:10"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The god of Elkenah in Hieroglyphs and in the LDS Book of Abraham


We are not coming to terms with the Pearl of Great Price as we should, unless, by its study, we also magnify our view of the ancients and, thereby, open "startling new avenues for exploration." By reading the scriptures, we thus come to see things as they once really were.

The Book of Abraham introduces the surprised reader to a hitherto unknown god, the "god of Elkenah," and to his priest, who meets Abraham at an altar of sacrifice.

Might the name Elkenah be found in Egyptian hieroglyphs? his image appear on a pharaonic stele? Yes and yes.

Is the name authentic? Hugh Nibley, writing in 1969, sorts through evidence for the name Elkenah (or, as variously spelled, Elkkener, Elkkeenah), and mulls over its several possible meanings in both Canaanite and Egyptian (Improvement Era, August 1969 = An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 313-319; cf. also John Gee, Stephen D. Ricks, "Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study," in Paul Y. Hoskisson, ed., Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, BYU, 2001).

More recently, Kevin Barney has drawn up a thorough brief for Elkenah. Among plausible solutions he reconsiders the well-known Canaanite god, El qny, and also discusses the Hittite-Hurrian spelling of El qny in the form Elkunirsha (qny 'rs, Creator of the earth). Even so, Kevin Barney cannot decide whether Elkenah should take the q or the k. Is Elkenah, El qenah (El the Creator or Possessor) or El kan'a (El of Canaan)? (Kevin L. Barney, "On Elkenah as Canaanite El," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19/1 (2010), 22-35.) Hugh Nibley saw in Elkkenner a spelling, however bizarre in Roman letters, indicative of Semitic /q/.

Elkenah is an authentic name.

A touch of the genuine may well be found on a Syrian stele commemorating Ramesses the Great, the Bashan stele, first identified in 1884. Because locals saw in the stone a seat for ancient Job, students tag the stele the "Job stone." Perhaps soon it will be better known as a New Kingdom reflection of Abraham's milieu. 


The Bashan Stele of Ramesses II gives a good example of how the Pearl of Great Price can help in puzzle-solving. (For bibliography see K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II 223, 6;  for both bibliography and discussion, see also James Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, 327; Izak Cornelius, The Iconography of the Canaanite Gods Reshef and Ba'al: Late Bronze and Iron Age I Periods (c 1500-1000 BCE, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 140 (1994), page 145.)

In what remains of the depictions and engravings on the 2 meter basalt stele, we first note the name and image of Ramesses the Great. Ramesses, wearing the blue crown, lifts the image of the goddess Ma'at, sitting in a basket, to a divinity wearing an Osirian Atef Crown--but this is not Osiris. The Atef, "in this case, in relation to this subject" (as Joseph Smith might say), uncharacteristically sports a long, curved horn (a bull's horn?), maybe two horns. An accompanying label, in the special syllabic "group" writing used for Semitic words and names, gives the divinity's name.

The first signs spell the Canaanite name for their high god, El, or Ilu. Then come the outstretched arms, which customarily write the syllable k3 and, presumably, in group writing, ku or ko, followed by the hieroglyph n, and signs likely expressing the vowel -ah. Further group writing next yields Dapuna, Mount Zaphon, the Levantine Olympus. We thus have, at least graphemically, El k-n-a Zaphon.

The exact lexemic reading of the name has never been settled.

James Hoch suggests El Kolia, God the Restrainer, and--to be sure--the n-grapheme can sometimes be read as l. Yet no other attestation of El Kolia exists. Both Giveon and de Moor read: jr k3nj D3p3n, "Canaanite 'l kn tspn" Ilu creator of Zaphon or Ilu establishes Zapon. or Possessor of Zapon). As everyone notes, the k3 or k doesn't match the q sign. But what of the Hurrian-Hittite divine name, matching El qny yet written with the k, via the cuneiform sign ku: El Kunirsha, (Ilu possessor, creator of the earth)? With this last name in mind, De Moor asserts: "The inscription runs i-r3-k3-n-i D3-p3-n and should be interpreted as 'il qny tsaphon El the Creator of the Zaphon" (Johannes C. de Moor, "Ugarit and Israelite Origins," 217-18, in Congress Volume Paris 1992, ed., J.A. Everton).

We await more evidence before deciding on El qny. Still, given 1) the fact of discovery in Syria, 2) the egyptianizing crown of the Canaanite divinity, and 3) a name attesting El with attribute k-n-a (whatever that sequence of graphemes may signify), any reader of the Book of Abraham will exclaim: Abraham Chapter One, the god of Elkenah!

Again, it is not so much an aggregating of evidence for the Book of Abraham that may concern us, as it is reading and understanding the Book of Abraham to elucidate the ancients and thus to resolve questions, puzzles, mysteries. Can Abraham's record actually contribute to our understanding of open matters like the Bashan stele? That is the question.

While we may not opt for a particular reading as yet, can there be any difficulty in positing, in light of the Book of Abraham, an unresolved "Elkenah" (or Elkunah/Elkonah), that is, Elkenah Zapon? The name, here, could either mean, as some have it, God (El), the Creator (qny, qnh) of Zapon (the mountain shrine of the Canaanites), or as that particular Elkenah (God the Producer, or Creator), who is worshipped at Zaphon.


Potiphar's Hill at the head of the plain of Olishem reflects lofty, even celestial, Zaphon. (According to Hugh Nibley, 'ly shm, signifies "Height of Heaven.") Is Elkenah's Potiphar's Hill to be equated with El q-n-a's Zaphon? According to de Moor, the record does attest local versions of Zaphon, all reflections of that first and foremost Zaphon, which is itself, after all, a palatial reflection of the heavenly home. Is Dapuna (cf. Libnah), in fact, the god who is named the god of Elkenah at Potiphar's Hill? Is the priest of Elkenah, who is also the priest of Pharaoh (as the Book of Abraham attests), a stand-in for the kingly figure who offers to El q-n-a at Dapuna qua the local hilltop at Bashan? Hilltops, mountains, Dapana, Zaphon, Bashan, Olishem, Potiphar's Hill--all come together in Elkenah.

According to Johannes C. de Moor: "The Job-stele implies that according to the local mythology [shall we say, the local ceremonial?] El had dispossessed Baal of his mountain Zaphon. Where the stone was erected had apparently been re-named 'Zaphon.' Wandering of geographic names is a common phenomenon" (217-18). For instance, the name of Mount Moriah, where Abraham offers his son, Isaac, transfers onto Mount Zion, which itself comes to bear the name Zaphon (Psalm 48:3), and "a promontory in the sea near Lake Serbonis" (the Egyptian Delta) becomes Zaphon (218). 

Zaphon in Egypt and in Canaan? Canaanite El, wrought in bronze and wearing Osiris' Atef crown, appears elsewhere, and in smiting pose. As with the god, so with the priest: the priest of Elkenah, who is also the priest of Pharaoh, stretches forth his hand to smite Abraham on the altar. What Abraham Chapter One describes is a ritual combat, the combat at world's creation for the possession of the earth, the seas, the mountains, the netherworld, etc. Potiphar's Hill, like Zaphon for Ba'al or Ilu, becomes the locus of Victory. If I read my Nibley and the Book of Abraham rightly, the combat being played out is between Sirius and the Sun, rivals for cosmic rule ("the god of Shagreel, who is the sun"). Elkenah, who, at essence, merges with the Egyptian Sun, is the victor, whether on cosmic mountain or at local hill. Yet Abraham's God wins the battle and obtains possession. And what of Mount Moriah? 

And what of Bashan? Here we meet "not the weak, old god who is on the verge of surrendering his position to Baal of Zaphon," but "an El who sought to oust Baal," even "a contender for the position of supreme god" (de Moor, 218). The Aten contends against the same adversary, according to a letter sent to Pharaoh by the king of Tyre (218). And the Sun brings us back to Heliopolis. "Egyptian ritual and literature," says Nibley, "often give us fleeting glimpses of the setup at On." Thus at On (Heliopolis) "the false pretender from the south is 'cast down from upon the hill on the east of On' to sink into the waters of death at its foot" (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 412). In the likeness of Abraham 1, where the priest of Elkenah "was smitten that he died," we find Hadrian in AD 129 sacrificing at Zaphon. And "when he sacrificed, a storm came up and lightning struck both victim and officiant" (John Pairman Brown, Israel and Hellas I).

According to John Pairman Brown, the idea of Zaphon, as translated to its various localities, is that of victory over the waters, as represented by the sea monster, monster waves, and, indeed, the crocodile found on Abraham, Facsimile 1. Thus the victory over Pharaoh at the crossing of the Red Sea also takes place in the vicinity of Baal-Zaphon, i.e., Mount Kasios (John Pairman Brown, Israel and Hellas I, "Excursus B: The god of Kasios and his adversary"). Note again how there is more than one Mount Kasios = Zaphon, each associated with Baal-Zaphon and the victory over the waters.


Hugh Nibley often refers to Moses 1:25 and its theme of kingly victory over the cosmic waters: 

And he heard a voice saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God.

The manuscript copy of Moses 1:25 reads more precisely and more Hebraically: 

thou shall be made stronger than the many waters for they shall obey thy command even as if thou wert God

(Joseph Smith PapersDocuments I:55; cf. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6)

Joseph Smith Translation Old Testament Manuscript 2 clarifies what it means to speak for God:

for they shall obey thy command even as my commandments

(cited in Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness, 61 = S. H. Faulring, et al., Original Manuscripts, 593).

The same delegation of Divine authority heralds the present dispensation (6 April 1830):

"The church [shall] give heed unto all his words and commandments. . . For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth." As promise for obedience, in a cosmic, even cosmogonic victory (v. 6), "the gates of hell shall not prevail," "the powers of darkness" will be dispersed, and "the heavens" "shake" (Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6).


The reader sees in the investiture of Moses a reference to the Red Sea crossing, and also to Mara made sweet and Meribah (see Hugh Nibley, "To Open the Last Dispensation: Moses Chapter 1," in Nibley on The Timely and The Timeless, 5, 12; ib., Enoch the Prophet, 157-8; 297 n. 300; Hugh Nibley, Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 87-88; Hugh Nibley, "The Circle and the Square, in Temple and Cosmos, 157; ib., Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price, Lecture 18, 4-5; see now also Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness, 60-1; 96). "The king," says Hugh Nibley of the Year Rite, a reenactment of both creation and  coronation, "must emerge victorious at the moment of passing through the waters of life, death, rebirth, and purification, and the ancients always understood Moses' leading his people through the Red Sea as the type and similitude of a baptism, symbolizing at one and the same time death, birth, victory, and purification from sins" (Enoch the Prophet, 158).

We can now see why Joseph Smith so oddly adds the label Red Sea to the description of the Galilee in Isaiah 8-9. The powers of darkness afflict the land and the people walk in darkness. They then see a great light of deliverance and herald the birth of the King of Kings. The "way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations" perforce symbolically reflects, another event, that of the Red Sea--and vice-versa (2 Nephi 19:1; JST Isaiah 9:1-2; cf. the Targum Jonathan). Jordan, Galilee, and the Red Sea, like the "wandering names" of Zaphon, are thus brought into one, each brightly reflecting the other (see my "2 Nephi 19:1 and the Red Sea," posted on 2 March 2010).

The subjugation of "the many waters" (ha-mayim rabbim) to the Divine command also clearly references the Divine cosmogony, including things only hinted at in the Bible. Yet Joseph Smith revealed Moses Chapter One decades prior to the decipherment of cuneiform, and a century and more prior to the discovery of the libraries at Ugarit and Ebla. And note how the words in the Book of Moses about the Divine subjugation of the many waters, described as coming from a voice of the Almighty Himself, precedes a detailed account of the Creation. It is the voice of God Himself, through his Prophet Joseph Smith, not that of 19th century students, which announces to moderns the motif of the cosmogonic battle against the powers of the waters.

In Abraham's story, the Canaanite god, who is the Possessor, Controller, Creator, Producer confronts the God of Abraham, who is also the God of Melchizedek, even the Most High God, the Possessor (El qoneh) of Heaven and Earth (Genesis 12). Pharaoh, and all kings else, cede the day to Melchizedek. According to Professor Brown: "Hebrews historicized the [Zaphon combat] myth at several points," viz., creation, flood, Red Sea crossing, return from exile (99). So why not Abraham at Potiphar's Hill at the Plain of Olishem? We do see Abraham at the Slaughter of the Kings at Shaveh and on Mount Moriah, but the terrifying encounter at Olishem finds a trace only in the Nimrod-Abraham legends (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round). Something went missing from the Bible.

Why all these historical moments of cosmic import--even cosmic dispute? The mayim rabbim, surging matter, says Herbert G. May, are "the intransigent elements which had to be quelled by Yahweh before creation could begin, and which must ever be defeated by him as he continues his activity in history" (Herbert G. May, "Some Cosmic Connotations of Mayim Rabbim, 'Many Waters,'" JBL 74 (1955), 11). Accordingly, as the ordering of creation continues, God makes all His servants "stronger than the many waters," as they act in the stead of God, or "even as if thou were God." Abraham at Potiphar's Hill faced Elkenah, in a dispute of priestly authority, and, in the Name of God. came off conquerer. "I will take thee, to put upon thee my name upon you, even the Priesthood of thy father" (Abraham 1:18). The reverberation of that moment of victory resounds for the seed of Abraham throughout all subsequent history.

Consider Fishing River and Zion's Camp. Armed men, numbering in the hundreds, planned the "utter destruction" of Joseph Smith and the Camp. A cannonade was begun. But "it seemed as if the mandate of vengeance had gone forth from the God of battles, to protect His servants from the destruction of their enemies." A momentous torrent of rain and hail swamped the mob, as "the water rose thirty feet in thirty minutes in the Little Fishing river." One man was felled by lightning, others drowned, horses fled. The Camp found shelter in an old, hilltop Baptist meeting-house. "As the Prophet Joseph came in shaking the water from his hat and clothing he said, 'Boys, there is some meaning to this, God is in this storm" ("As the Prophet": "Wilford Woodruff's note in Ms. History of the Church, Book A, p.332"; History of the Church II: 102-106).

On the Bashan stele we find traces of Ramesses. He wears the blue crown of coronation and of the warrior-conqueror, clearly marking him as one who seeks possession of the whole earth. So arrayed, he pauses, like great Alexander, to pacify the foreign Elkenah Zapon, though far from Mount Zaphon itself, by offering the image of little Ma'at, gentle daughter of Amun-Re.

All else on the stele is obliterated. Of conquering Ramesses, "nothing beside remains."

The Book of Abraham remains. 

Earth remains--and Olishem and Potiphar's Hill, though unrecognized, still bear their solemn witness.


Both Abraham Chapter One and Moses Chapter One open with a common theme: the triumph of God over the forces of sky, earth, water, and the powers of men.

Worthy of a brief note is how all four Sons of Horus (or Geb) names in the Book of Abraham reflect business affairs:

Elkenah (possessing, acquiring)

Zibnah (to sell = if zbn; it also evokes Dapuna, Zpn)

Mahmackrah (Semitic: mmkr, to sell)

Koresh (according to the Prophet's biography, the clan of Quraysh also has the meaning of business acquisition).

The Egyptian Name of Joseph: Zaphnath-paaneah in the LDS Book of Joseph and Book of Abraham Facsimile 2


Joseph's Egyptian name, Zaphnath-paaneah, as rendered into Hebrew script, presents a puzzle, and many have proposed a solution. I enjoy all such efforts sufficiently to wish to put my own hand into the game.

The Book of Abraham likewise puzzles us with names purporting to be Egyptian: Onitah, Olimlah, On-dosh. For all of these, not having the hieroglyphic Vorlage, we enjoy broad scope for speculation. And a latter-day Joseph invites "the world" to give it a go, to "find out these numbers" (Explanation for Book of Abraham Facsimile 2). 

Genesis 41:41-45 reads:

41 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.

42 And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.

44 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.

 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphnath-paaneah; and he gave him to wife Asenath the daughter of Poti-pherah priest of On. And Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt.

Accession to office requires 1) a new vesture (and a ring), 2) a special name, and 3) marriage into an official priestly inheritance. None of these things can be separated from any of the others. Clothing, naming, marriage, office, and priesthood here make up a single Heliopolitan constellation. And, as every reader notes, accession also signals a reversal of fortunes. Potiphar, master and jailer, finds replacement in a priest of like name, Poti-phera, a man from whom Joseph inherits all things. The name Zaphnath-paaneah must then somehow also speak to accession or reversal or both. 


"The meaning of the name Zaphnath-paaneah is a problem that has much preoccupied the commentators," says Josef Vergote (Joseph en Egypte (1959), 142; for the full discussion of Zaphnath-paaneah, Aseneth, Poti-phera, see 141-152; for Aseneth see also Jan Assmann, "Aseneth," in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 616-18).

Which interpretation is the best? (Who gets the golden chain?)

Kenneth Kitchen, who tags earlier attempts "weird and wonderful," opts for metathesis: Zatnap for Zapnat. (Kitchen borrows the idea from Rex Engelbach.) "Zatnap corresponds precisely to Egyptian djad(u)-naf, 'who is called...,' introducing a second name after the first-for example, 'Ankhu djad(u)-naf Hedjeri' means 'Ankhu called Hedjeri'" (Kenneth Kitchen, "The Joseph Narrative (Genesis 37, 39-50)," Bible and Spade, Winter 2003; Reginald Engelbach, "The Egyptian Name of Joseph," JEA 10, October 1924, 205). Yet Hedjeri is clearly the nickname, what the Egyptians call the Little Name (rn nDs--or later, and perhaps euphemistically, the Beautiful Name, rn nfr)--while Ankhu (Lives) is the Great Name (rn a3). Such formulations go back to the Old Kingdom: "His great name is Neferherenptah; his little name is Fifi" (see Pascal Vernus, "Name," in Lexikon der Aegyptologie IV, 320-26). The change from Hebrew Joseph to courtly Zaphnath-paaneah, or even, Pa-Aneah, partakes of something more fundamental. 

The reading most widely accepted, and thus most carefully critiqued, is that of Georg Steindorff: "God speaks (or has spoken) and he lives" (Dd-nTr-jw.f-'nx). Understood, though unstated, is also the possibility "the goddess speaks" (Dd-nTr.t). Such a reading is too generic for many: the record attests the name formula, which marks a safe birth, but only with mention of a specific god or gods. Donald Redford resolves the matter by positing "Ipet and Neith speak and he lives" (Dd-Ipt-Nt-jw.f-'nx: A Study of the Biblical Story of Joseph, 230-231). Here the p fits the goddess Ipet; Neith (nat? neit?) easily replaces Neter (the god). 

The (Krall)-Steindorff-(Redford) reading yields a name that denotes a safe birth; it perhaps also answers to the idea of restoration or renewal. Yet, already in 1901, the Jewish Encyclopedia names the weakness: "This has become popular, and is philologically possible; however, it does not convey the allusion to Joseph's office or merits which we should expect." For Redford, the author of the Joseph story, who cares nothing about context or meaning or even translating the name, merely picks an Egyptian name out of the air, "for an air of authenticity" (Donald Redford, Joseph, 231). 

That's no fun. Neither does it match the evidence. Poti-phera, "Given of the Sun," date the name how you may, does fit the priestly Heliopolis, City of the Sun; Asenath, as Neith, divine mother of Egypt, also hits the mark. No name could be more semiotically a propos. Consider the famous Joseph and Aseneth novella: "Then there is the roman a clef; the author has realized that the Egyptian name Aseneth means 'belonging to Neith.' Many almost inperceptible details of the story can only be explained as referring to the goddess of Sais" (Marc Philonenko, Encyclopaedia Judaica 11:419). Besides, the idea of Joseph and his wife both bearing Neith names hardly sustains the argument for no intent or meaning. The author of Genesis 41, however unlikely it may seem, assumes an audience capable of both cultural and linguistic code-switching.

Back to the "weird and wonderful."

Josephus heads the list of those proposing an explanation; the following latter-day students have continued the game (Vergote, 151-52):

Df3 nD p3 anx "nourishment, savior of life (A. Harkavy, 1870)

p3 snts n p3 anx "the founder of life" (A. Wiedemann). 

Weidemann's solution, which derives from the Greek Septuagint version of the name, meets with W. F. Albright's approval: p3-snT-n-p3-anx, 'the sustainer of life' (JBL 37 [1918], 132, cited in Redford, ibid., 230 n. 2)

D(d) Mnts.w iw.f anx  "Montu speaks and he lives" (J. Krall, 1888)

T-s-n-t, i.e., Ts.(t) n.t p(r) anx  "the head of the school of learning, of the sacred college," (E. Naville, 1903)

it n.t pr anx  "(member of?) college of the House of Life" (A. Erman, 1883)

D(d) p3 nT(r) iw.f anx  "the god has spoken and he lives" (G. Steindorff, 1889, as cited in Vergote, 143; Steindorf follows Krall)

Df3 n t3 pdi anx "Nourisher of the Lands, Lebensspender" (E. Mahler, 1907)

Dd.w n.f p3 anx And Pharaoh (to him) "qu'on appelle (aussi) Le Vivant": "He whom men (also) call the Living One" (R. Engelbach, 1924)

di.t xpr nt3 X.t n p3 anx  "And Pharaoh nominated Joseph 'to procure the way of life'" (H.F. Lutz, 1945)

K. Miketta (1904) critiques all--and rejects all.

If we don't take ourselves too seriously (and how could we, after looking over the notes of Naville and Erman?), we can still try our hand at the puzzle. Yet, since we face the stern eye of Miketta, it bodes well to prefer originality over success; accordingly, I play a verb which does not appear in the scholarly tally: Db3 (to clothe, adorn, put on insignia, provide with, equip with, restore, replace, give retribution, recompense, pay back).


Zaphnath does something suggest db3 nTr, an interpretation which could signify "(the One whom) the god (or goddess) shall so clothe" (that is, with office, honor, endowment, dignities). Or, as Professor Redford suggests, the element nath may signal the goddess Neith: Db3 nt, Db3 Neith, "May Neith (the goddess of weaving) clothe him." After all, the name of Joseph's bride, Asenath, likely derives from ns-nt, "belonging to Neith." The name pattern, "belonging to such-and-such a divinity," is well attested in the Old Kingdom, though wildly popular in the Late Period.

Asenath officiates in the office of Neith by endowing the king or priest with authority of office. That Joseph should be clothed by Neith need come as no surprise: as Genesis closes, we read of Joseph's mummification. And what goddess prepares and winds the mummy bands? Neith. Whether Zaphnath refers to Neith or not, it is yet that same divine mother of Egypt who weaves the insignia of his office--and who also (symbolically) weds him (see Jan Assmann, "Neith"). Neith might even appear in one of the Book of Abraham's puzzling names: Onitah. Onitah ('3 Nt, "Great is Neith"?), "one of the royal descent," is known for his three daughters, that is, daughters of Neith, as is every princess of Egypt (Abraham 1:11). Onitah also fits First Dynasty ruler, Anedj-ib; '(n)Dj, the Sound of heart, and Sound or Hale is also an attested Middle Kingdom name.

Joseph is, after all, one whom God clothes, or endows, with honor of office. The expression "arrayed him in vestures" matches Db3 mnx. Clothing in robes connotes the endowments and honors of office. First in order comes the ring, or seal, Db'.t, a word also recalling Db3. The Hebrew consonantal sequence tz-p-n-t matches Db3 + p3 nTr, Db', Db, Tb, etc. Db'.t, a nominal form, suggests "the seal of God, the Living One," or, as a verb (Db'), "the god (or goddess) will seal (place his seal on, claim ownership of) the Living One." Joseph, with his seal, evokes Solomon.

The first hurdle for any interpretation of Zaphnath-paaneah is whether it can be readily rendered back into Egyptian. The second becomes whether any such name or naming formula in fact occurs in the Egyptian record, 
so far as we can ascertain such things. Again, does the name somehow match the setting or correspond with the other Egyptian names in verse 45? 

The Egyptian record indeed attests the personal name Db3, Djeba, which frequently occurs as a male name in the Middle Kingdom (H. Ranke, Die Aegyptischen PersonennamenI, 406, 5). We also find the names Db3-nfr and Db3-snb (Good successor, Healthy successor), which both suggest the idea of the replacement of the father with a goodly son. The names suggest payback, that is, repayment for some good act. 

Db3 has the sense of something restored, repayment; Db3 nfr thus bespeaks beautiful repayment, beautiful replacement, perfect replacement (he succeeds to his father's honor and office, as a sound replacement). Compare the jdn principle by which the sun god finds manifestation and visibility, substitution and replacement through the agency of the solar disk (the jtn, or disk, becomes the jdn, or replacement, for the hidden, transcendent Amun-Re (see David Klotz, Five Hymns to Amen-Re from Hibis Temple)Db3 (Djeba) "repayer" signifies "he will repay his parents" by succeeding in life and to honor. The feminine name, Db3tysj, likewise suggests "she who will pay back": she will be a good daughter that will repay through her worth, and so graces the parents who took pains to raise her well. Db3 snb is the healthy repayer, but also he who repays health; he is the one who gives back health and soundness to the parents who raised him; he repays them with perfect things: beauty and goodness (nfr).

We discover a pattern:

Repayer in health and soundness

Repayer in goodness and perfections

She who is to repay

He whom the god repays or replaces or restores to honor, that is, Joseph restored to honor and to dignity--and from death to life.

The one who has been given back, re-placed in his fit standing; re-stored to his rightly position; and fit as a re-placement for the king; also re-clothed; redressed; and re-dressed

One whom the god has restored to grace; recalled into grace; put back into honor.

Joseph had lost everything and descended below all; now he is restored, given retribution many times over, provided and equipped with power and authority. He stands the worthy replacement, substitute, likeness of the king himself, clothed and endowed with power. R
estored to his dream-destiny, chosen Joseph, thereby, qualifies to marry the princess, the daughter of the "One given of Re," the high priest of Heliopolis. She now "belongs to you" (to evoke Kitchen's analysis of the name Asenath).

I do not believe anyone has suggested--perhaps tossed out?--such an interpretation of the name, but it works. Here are three tries--though, alas! no charm:

And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-paaneah, which is, being interpreted, the god shall clothe the Living One with honor of office (or restore the Living One).

The sentence Db3-p3-nTr [or nTr.t]-p3-anxy makes up both the action of naming--the pronouncement of the name--as well as the complete personal name itself, with Paanchi being what might be called the name within the name, the heart of the matter.

Thus: And Pharaoh pronounced [vayyiqra' = spoke out, pronounced, called] Joseph's name, as follows: May the god clothe with honor of office--the Living One.

And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphnath-paaneah, which, being interpreted, May Neith (the Living One) clothe (or Neith shall clothe) the Living One with honor of office.  

And Pharaoh called Joseph's Name Zaphnath-paaneah, which being interpreted is, May the god so seal the Living One [P3 Ankh or Pi-Anki, Ranke, 103, 1 and 2: p3 anx and p3 anx.i; cf. Book of Mormon Onomasticon, q.v. Paanchi]

The reading, the Living One, puts both Naville and Erman back into the game; for, as any student familiar with Professor Derchain's edition of papyrus Salt 825 knows, the mysterious character standing at the center of the House of Life (pr anx) is the "Living One" (p3 anxy). The Living One, the resurrected Re-Osiris, not only personifies the House of Life, he thus also personifies, or combines within himself, its fourfold ceremonies that give Life its continuance. Joseph has also been restored to life--raised from the dead. And it is Hugh Nibley who notes how the Living One, in the Ritual of the House of Life, standing in the midst of the four houses that make up that great library-temple, also evokes four-faced Kolob of the Egyptian hypocephali (Improvement Era, August 1969 = An Approach to the Book of Abraham).

Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, a hypocephalus, links the word Db3 with Heliopolis (Heb. On). "I am the Djebabty in the House of the ben-ben in Heliopolis": These are the words describing the Kolob figure, or the Transcendent Amun, at the center of all things. By marrying the daughter of the priest of Heliopolis, Joseph becomes the lieutenant of Poti-phera's priestly honor just as surely as he is the king's own lieutenant. He may not exactly be an Egyptian priest, but he does stand as a beneficiary of that priesthood and acts under that authority. Joseph in Heliopolis now becomes what we might call the Db3.ty (the One belonging to or pertaining to the Db3) in the temple of Heliopolis.

Joseph marries the priesthood, meaning its rites and privileges, its honors and dignities. Note how the text does not link any of this to idolatry. After all, "She belongs to you": all that she inherits now belongs to Joseph.

Clothing, marriage, priesthood, Heliopolis: Is it Abraham Facsimile 2 or Genesis 41 we have to do with here? The Book of Joseph merges with the Book of Abraham.


For more on Josephus, Lepsius, and Steindorff, see

Edouard Naville, "The Egyptian Name of Joseph," JEA 12 1/2 
(1926), 16-18.

For more on Joseph and Aseneth see Marc Philonenko, Joseph et Aseneth and Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 413-420.