Monday, July 18, 2016

Two Bridges

My purpose is to cheer on the promising buds of gospel scholarship.

As a Latter-day Saint who prizes thoughtful writing on the Book of Mormon and on the Pearl of Great Price, I will henceforth keep in mind a cautionary note, what I shall call the Two Bridges.

The first bridge is The Bridge to Nowhere. The second evokes strategy--even The Bridge Too Far.

We may, at times, meet sloppy prose, slippery logic, weak argument, incoherent transitions, and bizarre claims about the meaning of the word plausible (it does not connote the flimsiest thread binds Iron Truth), or of the role of authority (a scholar slept Here--disturb not!). Of these faults, the most serious is the lack of judicious discrimination in handling sources.

Here juts The Bridge to Nowhere. . .

Elsewhere, we find intricacy, detail, baroque piles, with multitudinous accompanying signs posted on interminable byways and winding paths: The Highway to Faith Just Ahead. One More Bridge. Watch for Ice.

Before us lies. . . The Bridge Too Far.

These Two Bridges, never fully distinct, may even converge into but One Bridge: the Bridge to Bird Island--that sandbar on Utah Lake on whose north shore Zarahemla once proudly rose (or was it the east shore and the Hill Cumorah?). And what is true of our work on the Book of Mormon may equally apply to work on Abraham or Deuteronomy or Paul.

Keeping well in mind that the Lord asks our patience and our faith, He never requires A Bridge Too Far. Faith sufficient to study, ponder, and plant the seed of belief in the testimony of the Book of Mormon is the "invitation" sent out "to all men" (see Alma 5:33; Alma 32). That testimony comprises not only doctrine but historical narrative as well; for, like the Bible, the Book of Mormon has its own assumptions about itself.

I speak of the work of independent students, what Elder Oaks calls "alternative voices," not of the publications in official Church organs. Who can but admire the careful and thoughtful work the Church sponsors on the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History? (Hint: it's small on speculation.) Faithful Latter-day Saints stand for the truth of the Book of Mormon's doctrine and storyline, but must they further vouch for any particular take, or even consensus, on geology, geography, ethnology, genetics, numerology, law, literary and lit-crit studies, linguistics, source criticism, or on what constitutes a festival or a temple text?

"Of course not," we say, "no one ever suggested any such thing!" Then why do we sometimes push our readings and interpretations to the degree we do? "Well, maybe we get a bit carried away in love and zeal and ice skates. It's like Pokemon Go: it's an exercise; it's fun; we battle monsters! Enemies we hunt up online surround us as we play! The pressure is constant!" Then let's be direct about it--lest we wind up saying to our readers: You really can't understand the book aright until you throw off encrusted tradition and read it with new eyes, that is, with our eyes--and here's the latest scholarship for you to master. Which is the same thing as saying: You jolly well must accept Zarahemla in Alaska, if you really wish to explain both the Mayans and the Mulekites, so well as the absence of snow and jungles in the Book of Mormon.

It's nobody's authorial intent to so present the Case of the Book of Mormon--but what of the reader? What of the reader, fed on the seeds so liberally spread on Bird Island, who comes to believe he or she must answer all the thorny historical and scientific questions anyone could possibly ask of the Book of Mormon, and so resorts to any possible answer, however far-fetched? What of the reader (or author) who has no reason to suppose that what is being promoted as the "latest scholarship" is founded in a decades-ago exploded secondary source? No matter how pleasing the sound, everything must be tested.

Alas! the method and the manner of Bird Island. How many years will it take to root out such a deep disregard for philology? Twenty? Thirty? Could we root it out all at once! Root, hog, or die!

In our very desire to support and supplement and invite faith in the word of God, and to stave off the singularly odd and repetitive attacks of the critic, might we sometimes nevertheless devise linguistic models, ethnological constructs, or geographic certainties of such complicated skein--that all ultimately culminates in A Bridge too Far? Is our immune system in overdrive? The cleverest-seeming scholarship may, at last, serve up many a dish for the gullible. (Look up the dictionary meaning of the word sophisticated.)

Lehi in Arabia? Great. Lehi in South Arabia? Yeah. Lehi's shrine in . . ?

Lehi in America? Fine. Lehi in Mesoamerica? Okay. Lehi in that particular cenote? You jump in first.

Bunyan's Christian, that simple Bible-reading pilgrim, pauses in front of our pyramidal learning, takes in the algae-clogged sandbar, and scratches his head: "Another Slough of Despond, is't not?"

Or might our piles and pyramids of learning by which we say we see, in occasional contradistinction to King Benjamin's tower even distort doctrinal horizons? Sometimes, with Alma, we feel to say: "Ye cannot suppose that this is what it meaneth" (Alma 40:17); or "it mattereth not" (40:5, 8). There are vital reasons why scriptural scholarship, in which history and doctrine are inseparably tied together, is the most difficult scholarship of all.

Besides, the road to faith need not stretch beyond the few and evil days of our mortal probation. Brigham Young read the Book of Mormon closely and prayerfully for two, not twenty, years before seeking baptism. If he had waited twenty years, he would have missed leading the Pioneer Trail. The pageant must go on; the dispensation of the fulness of times unroll. Wagons Ho!

It's time to drop some things cold; it's time to take responsibility for what we publish.

Shall we sing loud just because we find ourselves off-key? What to do? Kicked out of the pulpit; tuned up; then kicked back in--the Brigham Young solution? So very much of what finds publication in Book of Mormon studies over the span of the decades parallels the precarious situation of one or another of these Two Bridges.

Of what, then, may sound Book of Mormon scholarship consist? Of silly Ph.D's? Of startling originality for its own sake? And what's the point of such Scriptural endeavor anyhow? It should--and in sobriety of word and argument--invite what Hugh Nibley calls a second look. It ought not provide the artillery for public rows. Enough already of these interminable online rows about Scripture!

Hugh Nibley, in a footnote buried somewhere or other, speaks of "the peculiar and the specific." Evidence ideally ought to be "both peculiar and specific": that is the high standard Nibley strove for. Did he sometimes reach it? It's clear he thought he occasionally did. And so can we.

Proof, that is to say, "being convinced of a thing," lies within, a subjective choice ever. While the peculiar and the specific do not spell proof, that telling combination is an utterly different thing than the tenuous and the speculative. All Scriptural scholarship among the Latter-day Saints hovers somewhere between one or the other pole; I do not say it hovers safely. And if what goes into publication tends to be both tenuous and speculative (or even jejune and incomprehensible), so be it. Presses must roll--and posthaste! But when a correspondence simply must be pointed out, when it shines so bright as the three stars in the belt of Orion, the student will come to know what is nebulous and what is not.

Hugh Nibley, "Bird Island."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book of Mormon Ammon: Hero or Zero?

When the servants of King Lamoni stream into the palace, he has the incoherent lot properly "stand forth and testify"--that mysterious newcomer Ammon (in reality the Nephite prince), has single-handedly slain and driven away his enemies, "he was astonished exceedingly, and said: Surely, this is more than a man. Behold, is not this the Great Spirit?"

"And they answered the king, and said: Whether he be the Great Spirit or a man, we know not, but this much we do know, that he cannot be slain. . . because of his expertness and great strength."

"And now, O king, we do not believe that a man has such great power, for we know he cannot be slain."

"And now, when the king heard these words, he said unto them: Now I know that it is the Great Spirit."

All this sounds like the stuff of legend: is it exaggerated? an embarrassment? Heroes embarrass us today: sum total zero.

Yet consider how Ramesses the great, the friend of the high god Amun, presents himself (in the "words" of his enemies), after driving his chariot like great Montu, none with him, through the host of his enemies:

He is no mere man, he that is among us!--
it's Seth, great of power, Baal in person!
Not the acts of a mere man are the things that he does,
that belong to one utterly unique!--
one who defeats myriads, no troops with him, no chariotry.

Note how the Pharaoh personifies several gods of war: Montu, Seth, Baal (the last, the Syro-Palestinian god). Baal, Montu, Amun: it all has the Book of Mormon flavor. No mere echoes: We hear Ammon; we hear Manti.

Indeed the "traditional image of the king" appears in the following words:

He who shoots the arrow like Sekhmet
to fell thousands of those who mistake his power

(Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, 261).


There are times we should pause to take tally.

For Book of Mormon Prophet Alma, that time came at the end of the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges:

"And from the first year to the fifteenth has brought to pass the destruction of many thousand lives; yea, it has brought to pass an awful scene of bloodshed."

Fifteen years.

Our Millennium opened with celebration--and with boundless hope. It was the Year 2000! In like manner, the Nephites opened a new system of government, a free government by the voice of the people--not by kings--with joy and a sense of promise.

We now approach the fifteenth anniversary of the terror attack of September 11, 2001.

Is it time to take tally?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Compelling Awkwardness in Book of Mormon Narrative

The Book of Mormon presents the reader with both the strange and compelling beauty of its language and its frequent awkwardness. And often enough that amounts to the same thing--a compelling awkwardness. Yet one doubts a conscious attempt at the awkward, a conscious shaping in wabi-sabi, unglazed and artfully natural. Where we find the awkward, the people of Zarahemla just wrote that way--and that's that. Too bad for them. 

At once, momentous beauty often seems to come out of nowhere.

Consider Alma's catalog of the cities of the converted Lamanites (Alma 23). It's not the Iliad--and yet. . . 

Now, these are they who were converted unto the Lord: 

The people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Ishmael; 

And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Middoni; 

And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the city of Nephi;

So far, so good. The catalog proceeds in a stately rhythm, a biblical rhythm, but nothing rises beyond dictionary entry. 

Then, as poetic coda:

And also of the people of the Lamanites who were in the land of Shilom, and who were in the land of Shemlon, and in the city of Lemuel, and in the city of Shimnilom. 

And these were the names of the cities of the Lamanites which were converted unto the Lord.

Shimmering verse 12 alone packs in 6 l's, 6 m's, 3 n's, and 3 sh's. For those who may savor consonantal above secret combinations, Shilom finds subtle reversal in Shemlon, only to shift back in Lemuel, and all building up to startling Shimnilom. 

There's really nothing to say about such loveliness. The stolid rhythmic lines end with a touch of playfulness just shy of rococo. A few verses to come, and we delight in the elaborated name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Or what to say about the stunning, and stunningly ambiguous, eruption of geography in the previous chapter. Such moments are all little literary delights that leave the reader longing for more--and sooner or later, more comes: here and there, that is. These moments, more to be savored than comprehended, remind us that the book has us--not the other way round--however pedestrian the language may at times be. 

Much is made of Book of Mormon geography. Oh, good luck with that. The book has you by the tail; not t'other way round. It has you running circles round the head of the river Sidon by the borders of Manti. It's all a tour-de-force of non-specific specificity, and one senses Alma's delight in putting the reader over the border and into the wilderness, little strips of which run every which way. And you wish to lead tours?  

Don't get lost in the jungle.

It is wordplay, to be sure; yet again, much is made of wordplay in the Book of Mormon, and to be frank, I just don't see it in so many, many of the places others point at. I don't see it in the name of Nephi, I don't see it in the name of Benjamin, neither on the left hand nor on the right. I don't even see traces of it--etymological or otherwise. I'll skip that tour too.

We can't just make things up.

How about this phraseology: Now it came to pass that after Alma had received his message from the angel of the Lord. . . (Alma 8:18)? In Hebrew (and, likely, in Nephite), the words "message" and "angel" (or "messenger") come from the same root. A play on words? No--just linguistic compactness.

And that compactness, and so much else in the language of the Book of Mormon: the rhythm, the repetitive cadences, the quotations from the prophets, the jewel-like prayers and hymns (these often belonging to the older strata of the plates), the anaphora, the repetition of words, of promises, of threats, the inverted patterns and chiasms, even the occasional play on words--not to mention the pathos and immediacy of every single narrator--all speak beauty to the reader. The most beautiful verses of all nevertheless belong more to the realm of the spiritual than the literary. We know that.

There yet riots throughout--and more especially in the long narrative sweep from Alma on--an awkward and bedizening tangle of undergrowth: behold, or, and it came. . . Behold, and it came to pass that the people of Lamoni, or, the people of his kingdom. And the point? Behold, though too much with us, does signify: it signals a heightened intensity, the moment of surprise. Look at Helaman's letters to Moroni: though really pouring things on, he knows how to use the intensifier as correctly as any biblical writer. And it's beautiful in a biblical kind of way; and to the reader of Egyptian or of Hebrew it may even be very lovely. But we must look askance at it. We simply must.

And then there are Alma's incessant, and for the most part, never truly clarifying, phrases beginning with or. They shoot out of the undergrowth like ankle-seeking tendrils. And yet even these add a certain spell-binding ingredient--a search for heightened expression and exactitude, even in cases where no ambiguity is at hand. Or, especially in cases. . .

It's intriguing to see these or's as the translator's attempt to clear things up as he runs along. And, by the way, Joseph Smith is the translator. (Someone has a different idea?) Or, perhaps Mormon put them in: Alma's text may have seemed vague, non-specific, all the way through. But read Alma again: the or's, or ki's or whatever they are, never cease roiling the sea of narrative, and it's clear the tick is built into the original text. It's part of the idiom; moreover, it's something no English speaker would have ever invented: with such constant, and unnecessary, interruption, such clarity by entanglement, you can never hope for literary beauty in English at any of her splendid stages. And it's hard to believe the usage struck the Nephites as beautiful either. 

And yet, once the reader comes to expect the fracturing moments of amplification and clarification, what is awkward begins instead to charm. Frustration finally turns to truth, as we merge from fractured phrase to hypercorrection. What's the truth? It is that Moroni, Helaman, Alma, Ammon, all burden their crystalline, even scrubbed, narratives with or's quite purposefully. The rhetoric loops into a rococo search for specificity. Round and round the shell of narrative curves--the or-phrases conspiring with what is also a constant need to summarize what has just been plainly stated--and for what? Just to tell us it "was that same Zeezrom" who we met moments before in Ammonihah? Alma, who perfectly knows that the reader hasn't quite forgotten someone with the name of Zeezrom, seems unhappy with even the slightest hint of a loose end. It is a peculiarity, a peculiarity for sewing up everything, and it is idiom, and. . . well. . . the Nephites can keep it.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Figures 19-21, Book of Abraham Facsimile 2: A New Reading

The Church Historian's copy of Book of Abraham Facsimile 2 (the hypocephalus) often brings things into greater clarity and that is certainly the case with the hieroglyphs found in the panels numbered figures 21, 20, and 19.

Michael Rhodes transcribes and translates: jw wnn=k m nTr pf Ddw.j, "You shall ever be as that God, the Busirian" (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 345; Ddw.j = Wb. V, 630, 7). There is nothing wrong with the translation, except the reading pf [that], which, while something like a pf on Hedlock's woodcut of Facsimile 2, does not match what is found on the Church Historian's copy. Yet there are as many ways to translate Egyptian, seemingly, as there are scholars and personalities--and where no modern student can ever be definitive, there is little need to quibble. Still, I believe it possible to open casement windows onto ever broader views of the Egyptian universe. 

A second try yields jw wnn=k m nTr B3 Dd.t (or, jw wnn=k m nTr [pf] B3 Dd.t): "You shall forever be even as that god who is the Ba of Mendes" (or, "you shall continue in existence forever in the form of [that] god, the Ba of Mendes"). The Ba of Mendes, while sometimes simply the b3 Dd.t, is more commonly known as the B3-nb-Dd.t, the Ba, Lord of Dd.t, but we also find b3 'np.t, the Ba (of) Anepat, or even Dd.t.j, the Mendesian. I'm taking the lower signs found on the Church Historian's copy of fig. 20 to be traces of the head of a horned animal (two protuberances rise from the "head"); two downward curving lines trace the animal's neck or lower body. On similar panels on hypocephali more than one hieroglyph writes ba: reclining rams, ram's heads, and ba-birds all appear, and together make up the eight ba's of the greatest god. Comparing what appears on other hypocephali shows a match between the traces on the Church Historian copy and the hieroglyph of a ram's head, Gardiner sign-list F8 (Edinburgh hypocephalus, Cairo SR 10691, etc.).

While Rhodes is not wrong in reading the "Busirian," that is, the "one of Busiris," it would be just as correct to read the hieroglyphs as written on the Historian's Copy, D-d-t (not D-d-w or D-d-w-j), as referring to the "Mendesian," the "one of Mendes," the Delta home of the Ram who became both Re and Osiris. The original spelling for the place names is: Dd.w (the Greek name for which is Busiris) and Dd.t (Gr. Mendes, from Pr-b3-nb-Dd.t, House of the Ba [or Ram], Lord of Djedet). Yet the spelling is often entirely confused by the New Kingdom, leaving the student to guess which place is meant (Wb. V, 630, 6). The earliest settlers of Mendes called the place 'Anepat (Place of Greenness), for "Green pastures and meadows stretched to the west and south" (Donald B. Redford, City of the Ram-Man: The Story of Ancient Mendes [Princeton, 2010], 2). 'Anepat was later called Djedet, after the place of burial near the shrine of the Ram. 

Hugh Nibley's and Michael Rhodes's One Eternal Round has much to say on the significance of green and the symbolism of green gems in the story of the hypocephalus. The Mendesian ram itself was white, and, according to the third century BC Mendes Stela, the local inhabitants first discovered the white ram in the verdant western meadows at the First Time (see Donald Redford, City of the Ram-Man). The contrast of brilliant greens and whites strikes the imagination, these also being "the canonical colors of the Egyptian temple" (Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment). Green is famously the color of Osiris, while white not only registers dawn (Eg. HD and HD.t) but also suggests that totality of universal color and ineffable beauty locked in the iris and thus in the pupil-and-iris imagery of the Transcendent Hidden Amun who hides in his wedjat-eye, imagery best expressed by the shape and symbolism of the hypocephalus (see Daniel Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 168-169).

Again, the same hieroglyphs were used interchangeably for both Mendes and Busiris by the New Kingdom--and meaningfully so! The Ashmolean hypocephalus of Tashenhapy (Ashmolean 88), on the panel just below the central four-headed ram (Kolob), gives us the label "Osiris nb Dd.t." And, here, given the name of Osiris, we first read "Lord of Busiris," though, given the fourfold ram, we must also keep Mendes well in sight. Busiris is the place, but Mendes is the place too. So we open the window a little further. 

Busiris is indeed the place, "but," as the Prophet Joseph would say, "in this case, in relation to this subject the Egyptians meant it [the hieroglyph] to signify" Mendes and its Ram or Ba (one word in Egyptian: ba). After all, Osiris, here, simply replaces Ba in the formula, Ba/Osiris-nb-Dd.t. Such interlocking associations bespeak mystery and, indeed, "the concept of the four-headed ram, the four divine essences united in one, is perhaps the most recondite of the doctrines centering on Ba-neb-djed [the Lord of Mendes]" and "is certainly already present in the late New Kingdom" (Daniel Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 223). The Mendesian Ram, with his four faces, is the United Ba of Re and Osiris, the very being pictured in the center of all hypocephali (so Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 261; Daniel Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 98ff., 168-9).

And it's just possible to open the window a bit more, for the clearly penned hieroglyphs D-d-t, in the Hedlock copy, also point to Heliopolis, a place name found repeatedly, as jwnw (Pillar), on Facsimile 2. Consider D + d + t + the determinative sign of land: "Name der Nekropolis von Heliopolis" (Woerterbuch V, 630, 10). What the correspondence in naming signifies is best expressed by Professor Donald Redford: "As protector of his people in death the [Mendesian] Ram becomes in truth the Lord of the Abiding Place, Neb Djedet. . . There were Abiding Places [Dd.t] also at 'Pillar City' [Heliopolis]. . . and at 'Aneza [Busiris], the Pasturage, one day's journey to the southwest. All three cities enjoyed the link of name derived from the same root and indicative of similar function; but it was with 'Aneza that 'Anepat [Mendes] had the closest association" (D. Redford, City of the Ram-Man, 29). The "Abiding Place" is the Axis Mundi, the Pillar and Tree and Backbone of the world. It is the Place of Permanence, of the Enduring. And it is noteworthy that the tree may be planted in more than one locale.

The Mendesian Ram thus naturally also has links to or even becomes the Heliopolitan Ba and the Osiris of Busiris: he is the United Ba (b3 dmD), the Secret Ba, or Ram (b3 St3w), even the Transcendent Amun-Re (so Klotz)--and Re-Osiris (so Klotz again)--in the form of a four-headed Ram. In the Coffin Texts (VI 404) the United Ba of Mendes takes the form of two fledglings, imagery that also recalls Facsimile 2, figure 4: ship-with-fledgling. (And fledgling is the label often accompanying that figure.) What appears on the Joseph Smith hypocephalus, panels 19-21, thus thematically matches that found in the same panels on other hypocephali: the fullness of the number of the ba's of the Ba of Ba's, the Ram of Rams. Interestingly, both figures 1 and 2 on Facsimile 2 carry the legend name of that (greatest) god, an ambiguous label that nonetheless places focus on the transcendent importance of the Name of the greatest god of all gods. The lazy, at such an impasse, will stretch for the latest encyclopedia on Egyptology with its standard lists of gods (as also found in primary school textbooks). But it takes more effort than consultation of handbooks to "hie to Kolob." Klotz struggles for the best way to render the divine name: the Cosmic Deity, the Cosmic Shu-Amun, the Transcendent Amun (Adoration of the Ram, 183).

"A universal purview," says Professor Redford, "attaches itself to the Ram of Mendes. He becomes the Father of the Gods, the Ram of Rams, the King of the Gods, the Manifestation (bai) of every god, the Heir of Tatenen (the primordial earth-god), the Unique God with overwhelming awfulness" (Redford, City of the Ram-Man, 134). His being is "unrestricted in the universe" (Ibid). He is earth, water, heat, air: "Besides his essence as the earth, he is also water 'who comes as the inundation that he may bring life to the Two Lands.' As the Living One of Re he becomes the source of living heat 'that brightens heaven and earth with his rays'; as the air 'he is breath for all people' " (Ibid). As the quadripartite Ram, he is "identified as the great creator, the 'Complete One' ('Itm)," or Atum, even " 'He Who Rises on the Horizon with Four Faces' " (Ibid., 135). Professor Redford concludes by setting forth the Ram of Mendes as the manifestation "of the union of dynamic solar power (Re) with latent fertility (Osiris);" by further noting "the addition of the embodiment of national existence, Amun-Re [as state god]," we end up, he says, with "a primordial deity of unequaled antiquity and immanence" (Ibid., 135-6). 

In light of all that antiquity and immanence, dynamism and transcendence, what a surprise to read the assurance on the Book of Abraham hypocephalus: "You shall forever be as that Ram: the Ba of Mendes." That's a blessing reserved for kings in time and eternity. It's the blessing of "a universal purview," a blessing of cosmic fatherhood and kingship, of a limitless glory "unrestricted in the universe." And is that not "the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham" (Doctrine and Covenants 110)? Every page in the restored Book of Abraham speaks to that blessing.

In the second theophany of the Book of Abraham (2:6-13), the Creator of the Universe, and thus of the universal elements, reveals his Name as follows:

"I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains--Depart hence--and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly. My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning.

And I will make of thee a great nation. . . and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood). . . shall all the families of the earth be blessed." 

When we receive the Covenant, we are numbered among that seed and that Priesthood.

If the theme of the Book of Abraham is the patriarchal line of Priesthood authority, with its supernal power to bless, should we be surprised to learn that the four-headed ram on the hypocephalus is the symbol par excellence of patriarchy? In the Coffin Texts the Creator tells Pharaoh (a name comprehending both the first king and every individual king thereafter): "I changed myself into the Ram Lord of Djedet [Mendes], I copulated with thy noble mother in order to procreate thy physical being" (Redford, City of the Ram-Man, 133, who cites KRI II, 263:5-11; Urk IV, 224:17). The Mendesian Ram, enduring image of fruitfulness and potency, so begets every king of Egypt. And, according to the Mendes Stela, the four faces represent the Ba's of Re, Osiris, Shu, Geb, and "these happen to be the male progenitors of the Heliopolitan cosmogony (Re-Atum begat Shu, Shu begat [we're being very biblical here] Geb, Geb begat Osiris)" (Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 99). All this recalls David Klotz's further observation that the god is not only heavenly and transcendent, but also composed of the four elements of the earth, even "mineralized." These four elements match the symbolism of the four sons of Horus depicted on the lower panel of the hypocephalus, which four the Prophet Joseph associates with "the earth in its four quarters" (Fac. 2, fig. 6, explanation). Thus we see on the hypocephali the four sons of Horus, the four faces of the Transcendent Amun-Re, the two-faced Amun-Shu, and the 8 ba's.

Hugh Nibley has much to say both about these sons of Horus and about the odd way in which figure 1 is depicted as sitting directly on the earth (One Eternal Round, 241, 299ff.). Taking a cue from a 19th century student of the hypocephalus, Theodule Deveria (1831-1871), who called our figure 1, "the spirit of the four elements," Nibley reminds us that the canopic figures (the four sons) represent "the bringing together of the elements of the earth" (One Eternal Round, 299). They also recall the Jewish tradition about the creation of Adam out of the four basic elements taken from the corners of the world: fire, air, earth, water (One Eternal Round, 301). So too, Klotz, citing yet another 19th century student, Heinrich Karl Brugsch (1827-1894), tells how the four heads of the ram not only signal the patriarchal line of descent for the god-kings, Egypt's earliest dynasts, but also represent fire (Re), wind (Shu), earth (Geb), and water (Osiris) (Adoration, 99). 

The line of descent comes down from heaven to earth, from Re to Osiris, the father of Horus, who is the earthly Pharaoh in all his generations. The Royal Right of Priesthood, says Abraham, "came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me" (Abraham 1:3). How strange that in a turn of a page or two away from this peculiar statement, we meet the Egyptian hypocephalus with its quadrifrons Ram. Another page or two, and we find Abraham's account of the Creation of that "first father." Here is no mere once-over of KJV Genesis.

Passing strange--but stranger still, we recognize that if Hugh Nibley hadn't come along, we would yet be sitting in our chariots--like Candace's eunuch--and saying as we gape at the facsimiles, "How can I [understand], except some man should guide me?" And yet we disdain that Brother Nibley should "come up, and sit with [us]." (See Acts 8).

And it's marvelous how Nibley sees a connection to all these things not only in Jewish tradition but in Greek myth. The Greeks know a Pharaoh Busiris with a powerful brother (a double or twin) named Antaeus, "who could not be separated from the earth" from whence he drew his strength (One Eternal Round, 241). The Antaeus theme evokes the Dd-pillar of Osiris, the Abiding Place, while Busiris naturally recalls the wording on our hypocephalus--but what about Mendes? The Great Amun Hymn from Hibis Temple (col. 26) describes the four-headed ram of Mendes as being composed of the four divinities of Anpet or 'Anepat, the first name of Mendes (Adoration, 110ff.). In light of Antaeus being the brother of Busiris, the phonological correspondence of 'Anepat and Antaeus may be significant. Mendes and Busiris are the Osirian Twin Cities.

The line of patriarchal authority does not end with Osiris. Osiris is the father of Horus, who embodies all future kings. A new morning--a "first creation" to quote Joseph Smith--is always at hand: "The association with the Mendesian Ram (= Re-Osiris) also connects the four-headed deity with the newly reborn solar deity in the morning," that is, "He Who Rises on the Horizon with Four Faces" (Adoration, 168; see also One Eternal Round, 261). 

Note how the central figure on the hypocephalus holds to no single correspondence: the ram suggests a multiplicity and fluidity of roles, even as he signifies various moments in time and makes manifests in a variety of related places on earth and in the heavenly firmament. The Four-faced Amun Ram holds to the center of all things, the Place of Permanence, the peg upon which all things hang, yet we can never pin him down. The Egyptian vision of reality is a broad vision. The ability to hold the center, while shifting from earth to heaven or from ceremonial center to center, in one eternal round, perhaps explains why Egypt endured, even as other ritual and political centers collapsed. In Egypt we find both Circle and Square: the solar and vertical 3 and the terrestrial or spatial 4 of the hypocephalus.

It's not just sunrise that we're talking about here. "The sun," says Thoreau, "is but a morning star"--and here we confront the super sun of all suns, the star of stars, or Ba of ba's. This is Kolob; or to use the Egyptian phrase: "that Lord Re of all other Re's (r' pw nb r'.w nb = Heinrich Brugsch, Thesaurus inscriptionum aegyptiaerum [Leipzig, 1883], 1:78f.). 

Forget cosmology. We scan the skies for Kolob and make our declarations and denunciations. Forget the idea of a special Mormon cosmology; the Egyptian casements open onto a multiverse. 

Abraham understood the Egyptian savants; and the Egyptians understood Abraham. We are invited to take a glimpse, but all we sophisticates can say in response is "weird," "bizarre," "typical 19th century speculation," "a peculiar, though derivative, Mormon cosmology," "embarrassing," "Copernican(!)," "failed scripture," "irretrievably lost." If the Prophet had turned the key and opened the leaf just one inch-chink of bandwidth more--and he said flatly that he had no "right" to do so "at the present time"--our eyes would have been sealed forever. Because he did not, in "due time" we may all yet adjust to the Light.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Why Must We Have All Those Bizarre, Bizarre Names in Book of Abraham Facsimile 2? Or, What is the Cultural Setting of the Book of Abraham Translation?

We encounter Kolob, Oliblish, Enish-go-on-dosh and we wonder Do these names contain a great mystery? do they represent a new Mormon cosmology? Are we to ponder these names in order to grasp hidden truths? or by their study are we to establish the truth claims of the Prophet?

Why does the Prophet Joseph Smith leave us with such odd Egyptian names (as he insists) in the Explanation of Facsimile 2? They stand as a trace of the seeric journey: Brother Joseph has ventured into the world of Abraham--Abraham in Egypt--and these oddly transcribed names so signify. Were these names read? or glimpsed? or heard? There is that which is heard with spiritual ears, even as there is that which is seen by spiritual eyes (President Russell M. Nelson, "The Price of Priesthood Power," Conference Report, April 2016).

Hugh Nibley speaks of the interdependence of the purpose and the significance of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham. The inspired explanations (or "translations)," the vignettes as a whole, the elements of iconography, the hieroglyphs, and even the names Hebrew and Egyptian, all signify something or other of import, and all have their own purpose, for all contribute to the Message of Scripture and to the discovery of worlds long lost to view.

What do the odd names add to Scripture? just a sense of mystery? Are they then intended merely to mystify? The purpose of these names rather is to signify, or to point to, the lost or forlorn worlds now open to Brother Joseph in his quest to restore Scripture to the world. Once open, once that key to the past has been turned by the one who holds all keys pertaining to the dispensation of the fulness of times, then we also may venture.

Joseph Smith's contemporaries saw the discovery of Egypt, Akkad, Sumer, the Hittites, the Shang dynasty, and more. Cultures come to light and codes cracked with lightening speed, their writings have now unfolded to view. Since Cumorah; Since Thebes; Since Abraham. The Prophet Joseph Smith turned the key of discovery; he unlocked the "treasures in the sand"--and these funny names and startling explanations so signify. It is their appearance as Trace; their role as Signifiers that most matters. The names trace the transcendent journey into the past--and into the worlds without number. Do we ever venture there? or even There?

Along with the great find of Scripture, the Seer has brought us some souvenirs from the past, and we are invited to make of them what we will or can. The names do not replace, they do not void, the on-going science of egyptology or of Semitics. No. To the contrary, they serve as remainders or reminders pointing us to a more diligent consideration of a past about to be revealed. "The due time of the Lord" is at hand: No wonder the Prophet invites all "to find out these numbers": these figures, these hieroglyphs, these messages (see Explanation to Facsimile 2). And today we not only have the past recovered, we have better instruments for the study of that past than Brother Joseph's contemporaries could have even guessed at. We don't need a Urim and Thummim to come to understanding of the wonderful multiplicity. Our Ancient History is one of "charm'd magic casements" opening on an inviting dreamscape--and there's nothing "forlorn" about it. It's as fresh as an undiscovered country can possibly be.

Will we still fuss over the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, a one week endeavor of Brother Joseph and his companions, when we could be cracking the ten volumes of the Egyptian Woerterbuch, one of the truest contributions to philology ever made? Or don't we care about treasures? The bizarre names pointing to peoples and ideas now recovered will stand as bright testimony against us, if we do not study that past, now so freely at our disposal, using whatever Heaven-kissed tools are available to us. Can we, then, go beyond what the Prophet gave us? Why not? The names not only show us where the Prophet Joseph has been; they point us toward where we are to go. Should we simply marvel over the oddity of the names, or should we rather take up the lexicon of Ancient Egypt or some of the histories and books and articles available today--and take up our own journey, our own quest, into the world of the ancient patriarchs and prophets?

It's a test of intellectual curiosity.

The choice is ours: we can mull over the oddness, over the bizarre; we can fuss about the piecemeal nothingness known about Egypt in Joseph Smith's day; we can walk to and fro talking of Horapollo; we can blow smoke (puffing in rhetorical curlicues) about how Brother Phelps's or Brother Cowdery's or Brother Joseph's ideas capture (or don't capture) the culture or fit (or don't fit) the "context" or intellectual setting of the age--or we can go to work and read a book or two germane to the topic. We can be startled and bemused and rhetorically profound, or we can study the past for ourselves. To learn the hieroglyphs? Take up a book or even the Woerterbuch--it's not so difficult as you may think it to be--and it's even more fun than you can imagine. . . Only one of these choices is the intelligent choice--the other leads to repetitive blather. Talk of Athanasius Kircher is dead and without a future. Forget the 19th century setting--let's go to Egypt.

In that quest there must perforce be road marks, signposts--this all comes to us from far away--from very far away. . . We hear of Jershon, Onitah, Elkenah. Must or can we render back into Egyptian names or phrases like Oliblish or Kae-e-vanrash? Given the lack of hieroglyphs and the vagaries of perception and of transcription, how would we even start the task?

The name Kolob ("which is near" to the Throne of God; or "heart star") is simple enough, but then we have more familiarity with the Semitic languages. Whenever I hear the Swahili welcome, karibu!, I draw nigh to Kolob. The latest studies of the figure we call Kolob have much to teach us--and the Prophet yet points the way. Be up-to-date. Egyptology does not leave Joseph Smith in the dust. And maybe it's enough to stick to the Semitic signposts in the facsimiles and to hie to Kolob.

But the Egyptian names? At best, we can show some parallels and some possibilities. For instance, Enish-go-on-dosh forcibly recalls several names of attested stellar and planetary bodies, and some preliminary explanations of the truly Egyptian sounding name may be proffered based on these parallels. We may detect clues to unfold the true meaning of the names so prophetically proffered, clues that would broaden our picture of Abraham's world--but let's not lose sight of their semiotic purpose, just as they stand--and in all their ambiguity--which is to convey a trace of the past. They are thus meant to shock: Know all who enter here that you enter an unknown land. It is not only the land of Hor-dosh-dawy but also of Enish-go-on-dosh. Open your eyes and ears to learn--for here is the setting of Holy Scripture.

Brother Joseph makes it clear these names are Egyptian. That being so, it seems best to take the simplest approach possible, even when the names baffle any reader, no matter how deep the training in philology. Consider (through a glass, darkly) Oliblish, figure 2 on Facsimile 2. The purpose of the facsimile is to open to our view something of "the system of astronomy as understood by the ancients." Hugh Nibley, venturing, shows us that the figure, ram-faced and Janus-like, is crowned with the Shu feathers, Shu being a form of Amun-Re, and accordingly signifies atmospheric air and light, elements of creation and being (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 286, 322).

Shu personifies the power of light moving, in its brilliance, through the atmosphere or expanse of space. And Amun, or Amun-Shu, is thus the entity known as the Ba of Shu, described in one hymn as the second in command (or the second manifestation of the divine), just as the Prophet Joseph has it. And note, too, the blurring of identity, or fluidity of representation, expressed in the word twt, both the second person singular pronoun and the word for image:

[Yo]u are Amun [twt n jmn: You are Amun and Image of Amun],
You are Shu [or Image of Shu],
you are the highest of gods,
you are 'Sacred of Manifestations' as the four winds of heaven,
so (you) are called, when they come forth from the mouth of his majesty.

The Ba of Shu, who bends the winds, who traverses heaven daily. . .
unto the limit of the heavenly circuit [rim of hypocephalus, etc.]
(Hymn to the Ba's of Amun, David Klotz, Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple, 59-60).

In other words, we meet in the figure a form or manifestation of Shu: what the Egyptians call the Ba of Shu. What is the ba? That's a deep and resonant question and has everything to do with the Egyptian hypocephalus--but another question is: What does the Ba of Shu look like? Because ba also signifies "ram" (as well as "star"), the Ba of Shu is quite properly ram-faced. If we then choose to see or hear or read ram-faced star Oliblish as the Ba of Shu, are we far from the mark? The four-faced ram on the hypocephalus that Abraham names Kolob is, after all, the fourfold Ba of Re, the Ba of Shu, the Ba of Osiris, and the Ba of Geb.

Things Egyptian get complicated in a hurry. Need we even try to parse the odd name? We don't hear what Brother Joseph heard, after all. We can venture and all in fun. Oli, says Hugh Nibley in his Abraham in Egypt, answers well to Egyptian wr or wrj (great; cf. also '3j = great). Thus, says he, Olimlah in Facsimile 3 may signify Wr(jw)-Jmn-R' (Great is Amun-Ra). Now we don't have the hieroglyphs for Olimlah, so we can't dogmatize--but what could be more straightforward and economical than Olimlah as Wr-jmn-r', Great is Amun-Ra?

So assured, we can continue by reading Oliblish as Great is the Ba of Shu, or Great are the ba's of Shu. Consider the consonants (for the vowels as written could stand for just about anything): /l/ or /r/; /b/ or /bl/ (the /l/ could represent the glottal stop and perhaps represents the best Brother Joseph could do with the Egyptian aleph, which, after all, was, in the earliest stages of the language, a liquid /r/; /sh/. We expect Shu, and we can find Shu in the final consonant: no great shakes, yet a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Oli-great (is); b or bl/bli--the ba (or ba's) of sh-Shu. That seems clear enough: but what of the second /l/ in the bl or bli? Might the word be b3.w (ba's): Great are the ba's of Shu? The liquid semi-consonant, w, would explain the sequence bl (b3.w).

It is also altogether possible to see in -lish not three distinct Egyptian phonemes, but one, for the Egyptian grapheme we commonly associate with phoneme /sh/ (the shin) may well mask more than one phoneme; on the other hand, it may represent a phoneme something different than we suppose. For instance, it may mask a lateral fricative, like the phoneme represented in Welsh by ll. Our -lish might be an ll. As far as that goes, the Hebrew grapheme shin itself apparently masks an additional phoneme, perhaps (also) the lateral fricative. Whether lateral fricative or not, a rough transliteration, made for the ear, not the eye, might not be readily identifiable. We have to work at it, puzzle things out. In short, lish could represent Egyptian shin, however that might have been pronounced.

Oliblish as wrj-b3-Shw/wrj-b3.w-Shw = Oli-b-Shw = Oli-b-lish or Oli-bli-sh (Great is the Ba of Shu) is phonologically sound.

It would be misguided, at any rate, to expect these transcriptions to much resemble the (quite artificial and various) methods of transcribing Ancient Egyptian in use today. These last have seen much refinement and diversity, and strong debate over Egyptian phonology continues. We're all just guessing--and in no case does the guessing today rely on something heard. And to be sure, the transcription of Egyptian names into Akkadian or other other Semitic languages--or into Greek--but little answers to our standard transcriptions. The distance between the hieroglyphs and Coptic also often startles. In other words, there's little we can make of bli, if we insist on bli answering to the sounds we know in our own languages or to the sounds we think we know about Egyptian.

Consider the Coptic word for grape, eloole: that's not what we see in the hieroglyphs. Or is it? We transcribe the hieroglyphs as j3rry.t. Try pronouncing that transcription--then pronounce the Coptic word as directed in the grammars (glottal stops and all: elo'ole'). Next note how other systems of spelling (or dialects) show at least divergent spellings, and perhaps also divergent pronunciations, though that last claim is not so well established. Here are the Coptic spellings for yararit or yarari (if correct--and where do we put the stops?): eloole, aloli, alali, elale.

We know the etymology of Kolob to be sound in both Semitic and Egyptian. So wouldn't it be premature to dismiss Olimlah or Oliblish as outlandish? Imagine the laughter, if the Pearl of Great Price had given us Eloole or Aloli? Imagine the ridicule on Web sites everywhere (sites ever replete with the "latest" quotations from the exploded Budge), if it had been Joseph Smith rather than Egyptian scribes who gave us this spectacular Saturn: Hor-ko-pi-ranef-siu-yaminty-jo-pi. Pardon my own odd "transcriptions," yet note well that the hyphens were used in writing the names for all the heavenly bodies four decades after Joseph Smith published the Book of Abraham. Will we yet mock Enish-go-on-dosh after encountering among the Egyptian stars the name Dosh-iati-imi-hawt-ins (Whose two eyes are red, who dwells in the House of Scarlet)? Dosh-iati-imi-hawt-ins, besides star, is also one of the four sons of Horus, the very sons who face the Hathor Cow, or Female Sun (Rait), Enish-go-on-dosh on the lower half of the hypocephalus--just below (or in) the House of Scarlet, i.e., the Akhet or horizon.

As for that last question: the mockery never ends, for "fools mock"; but Isaiah also assures us that "kings shall shut their mouths. . . for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider" (Isaiah 52:15).

Some things are more clear than others. With Oliblish, we are left to puzzle things out--that is, if we like puzzles. If Great is the Ba of Shu (or Great are the Ba's of Shu) matches the iconography, the cosmology, the seeric Explanation, and even the consonantal traces suggested by the Prophet--we might be on the right track. Oliblish as Great is the Ba of Shu is the most economic reading imaginable. It shows simplicity--as any translation must. Is it sound philology? It is, though sound philology in the absence of the hieroglyphs remains a delicate matter. Consider Zaphnath paaneah, the Egyptian name of Joseph, Abraham's great-grandson. The most common explanation(s) of the name--a name transcribed into Hebrew from Egyptian--is indeed sound, and, at once, delicate, tentative. Finally--and whether our reading is the correct one or not--it frankly reminds us (and this is where it's good philology) that we mistake greatly by looking for cosmic mystery, for a Mormon cosmology--these funny names are but traces, road signs, pointers to names once known to the Ancient Egyptian priests and pharaohs. There is depth--and we can now study something of that depth in published books.

The Egyptians pondered the cosmos and conceived of many things--yet the naming, whatever Oliblish, or whatever the Ba of Shu may mean, or however deep conceptually the ba-doctrine--is a rather simple convention. That is to say, whether Oliblish signifies Great is the Ba of Shu, or something related thereto, there's no mystic idea associated with the reading--it's just Egyptian. Beyond phonology and its conventions, we have a trace of the past--and that's the primary purpose and significance of the names in the Explanation of Facsimile 2.