Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Foundations of Faith: Treasures from the Historical Collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

It is Tuesday, September 2, 2014. I came to the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to look at a copy of Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

The inside doors were locked because guests were visiting, and I was requested to return at 1:30pm.

To my surprise a new exhibit was on display, and members of the general authorities had been the visitors. The entire First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ and most of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to launch the exhibit. Relief Society leaders came in an hour or so later.

The Brethren seemed to be enjoying the visit, lingering about the treasures. When the door opened about 1:40, I went to find my book. But I couldn't resist peeking at the treasures fitted into little black cases tucked up against the far wall. Drawing near to one, lights came on in a flash--treasures!

Because I was first in, I might as well jump a review of Foundations of Faith. The press comes tomorrow, and Friday marks the official opening, but I have a few thoughts of my own I wish to share.

To select from the vast archives but a very few treasures clarifies the matters of deepest import to every member of the Restored Church: the Foundations of Faith. Copies of translations of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, at the end of the exhibit, suggest how Latter-day Saints may continue to build on those firm footings.

Most lovely of all seems to me the battered 1832 record book of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Here, written partly in Brother Joseph's own hand, in bold character, we glimpse the first record of the Visitation of God--"I am the Lord of Glory"--of Moroni declaring the coming forth of new scripture, and of other heavenly messengers restoring priesthood authority. I had seen the book before. Here it is again!

Then there is a page written in the hand of Oliver Cowdery: the dictated Book of Nephi, translated from the golden plates by the "sight and power" of God.

I found printing plates for the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham. I had seen these before, along with a papyrus showing Min's Daughter tete-a-tete with a strolling snake (Oh the glory!) in a prior, untrumpeted exhibit. I saw a copy of Elder Franklin D. Richards' first edition (1851) of what he called the Pearl of Great Price. The booklet was opened to Abraham Chapter 3; facing, was a large unfolded page with the hypocephalus and Explanation: A Fac-simile from the Book of Abraham. No. 2. Franklin Dewey Richards is my lineal ancestor, and I rejoice at his love for the translations and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In his last doctrinal discourse, June 16, 1844, Joseph Smith quoted from Abraham Chapter 3 and said he got it "by translating the papyrus now in my house."

The exhibit booklet also prominently features Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, and states:

"The Pearl of Great Price was canonized by unanimous vote at the general conference on October 10, 1880."

It continues as Scripture today.

The exhibit will last five years. After these expire, the Book of Abraham, including Joseph Smith's inspired Explanation of Facsimile 2, will still be "canonized" by The Church of Jesus Christ.

Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, life-size in plate and print as a big bold circle, stands forever as one of the Treasures of The Church of Jesus Christ. Its accompanying Explanation is inspired Translation, and is Scripture.

I am put in mind of the last book of Hugh Nibley (posthumously completed by Michael Rhodes).

One Eternal Round opens with a question: The Fatal Mistake?

"From time to time various critics of the Prophet Joseph have triumphantly announced the discovery of his most egregious blunder. All proclaim that the supreme indiscretion of Smith was the publication of three Egyptian documents, Facsimiles 1, 2, and 3 of the Book of Abraham, along with his own supposedly inspired interpretation of them. Even more daring, though attracting less attention, was the accompanying autobiography of Abraham to which the facsimiles were illustrations. And yet every one of these attempts to discredit the Prophet has struck out."

Hugh Nibley calls, one by one, the three strikes of 1860, 1912, and 1967. While much criticism, both triumphantly announced and supremely proclaimed, continues in 2014, it but repeats the previous attacks, especially that of 1967. That last attack "was supposed to deliver the fatal blow to the Book of Abraham. Instead, it opened astonishing paths of research that vindicate its authenticity," One Eternal Round, 2.

The exhibit, officially opening Friday to the public and free of cost, affirms the foundational claims of The Church of Jesus Christ. Online videos about the exhibit and the history of the Church will also be available starting Friday.

After reviewing both treasures and booklet--and I leave the visitor to discover the specifics--I come to one conclusion: the following true points of doctrine lie at the heart of the Restoration forever:

Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820.

Moroni came to Joseph Smith as a messenger of restoration and further witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Divine messengers restored priesthood authority so that saving ordinances might be shared with all who have faith unto repentance through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon is the Word of God, and many translations of this additional Testament of Jesus Christ flood the earth today

The Doctrine and Covenants contains the revelations of Christ to Joseph Smith and his prophetic successors.

Joseph and Hyrum Smith were unjustly and unlawfully persecuted and put to death for "telling the truth," for bearing testimony of Jesus Christ and proclaiming His Word.

The Pearl of Great Price teaches the Father's Plan of Happiness and testifies of Jesus Christ as Creator and foreordained Redeemer of all mankind.

Abraham, Enoch, Adam, and Moses were ancient prophets who saw Jesus face-to-face. From Him they received essential and saving truths about the organization of the earth and other heavenly places in Christ as the Eternal Home of the Father's spirit sons and daughters. These prophets taught their posterity about the universal Creator and His "worlds without number."

The Book of Abraham, written in Egypt on papyrus, is true--a "correct translation" says Joseph Smith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will never back away from that eternal truth.

Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ teach and warn today as anciently (Elders Franklin D. Richards, Parley P. Pratt, and Wilford Woodruff, later President of the Church, are examples).

The Relief Society is an order or organization set up under prophetic direction and operating with
priesthood authority.

Brigham Young held the keys of the priesthood after the death of Joseph Smith, and was a prophet of God and apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

President Thomas S. Monson, prophet and apostle, holds and exercises the same priesthood keys in our day.

As Robert Frost says: "You come too."

2 September 2014
Church History Library

Sunday, August 31, 2014

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

I  Reasoning, Learning, and Revelation
"I learned it by translating," Joseph Smith told his hearers at the Grove eleven days before the Martyrdom: "I learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house." The statement reveals Joseph's childlike capacity for receiving 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," etc. (16 June 1844, Thomas Bullock reporting, The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, 380).

Translation required of Joseph re-flection: to bend his mind to reasoning upon spiritual truth. That same pattern--"I began to reflect"--led to the First Vision of the Father and the Son. Further knowledge lay ever ahead. He must "study it out in [his] mind" (see Doctrine and Covenants 9). His mind must reach the mind of Abraham.

Abraham envisions the order and governance of the stars and, by reasoning, perceives a like order of intelligence among the spirit sons and daughters of God. 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 a spiral stairway of "Revelation upon Revelation" that we ascend toward a "Fulness of Light and Truth":

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 to reason "out of the scriptures" and pray to the Father in faith, we also may continue to learn truths about the dealings of God with men (see Acts 17:2). 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  The Sacred Record 

So it is that in his last Sabbath sermon, Joseph claims learning the contents of Abraham Chapter 3 from writing found on some portion of the Egyptian papyri in his keeping. While I can only surmise how prophets received, wrote, or translated any of our scriptures--and scripture remains an article of faith--I don't see wiggle room here: Joseph is quoting Abraham 3:16-19.

The specificity about Chapter 3 and "papyrus now in my house" calls to mind a journal entry, written in the Prophet's own hand, under date of Sunday, 20 December 1835: "Brothers Palmer and Tailor Came to see me I showed them the sacred record to their Joy and sati[s]faction [the f in satifaction likely doubles for both s and f]" (Joseph Smith Papers, Journal I: 135). The entry tells us what Joseph himself, not his scribes or associates, called at least that portion of the papyri which purported to be "The Book of Abraham, written by his own hand on papyrus": The Sacred Record. We do also have a letter in which William W. Phelps, scribe, uses the same designation. Citing Phelps's letter, Hugh Nibley shows how, even from the beginning, the Saints cherished the hieratic "Record of Abraham" (a label also appearing in the journal) as Sacred Scripture. They made no fuss over "canon" as they eagerly anticipated translation.

Brother Joseph likely considered the entire Egyptian purchase sacred by virtue of its wonderful antiquity alone; he understood some of it as voicing Scripture. "I, Abraham" catches the breath away. Imagine translating that! For Hugh Nibley, the phrase sounds a trumpet blast. Sharon Keller speaks in ecstatic tones of stumbling across the wording of the Priestly Blessing of the Hebrews in hieroglyphs. I could show Professor Keller another like parallel--but Abraham!

Sharon R. Keller, "An Egyptian Analogue to the Priestly Blessing," M. Lubetski, et al. (eds), Boundaries of the Ancient Near Eastern World, 338-345; cf. Spell for the Protection of the Face of a Newborn, V. Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808 and Its Cultural and Religious Setting, 166 . 

Sacred Record signifies Scripture, and Abraham's record was to be a scripture no less holy than the books collected in the Bible or in the Book of Mormon. By calling the Abraham papyrus a sacred record, even the sacred record, Joseph Smith was making plain his intent to add the finished translation to the bursting canon as scriptural co-equal with all that came before. The intent to finish never realized, we might imagine bitterness and regret in Brother Joseph's last sermon: Abraham lost again; instead the Prophet glories in a verse or two, as if he had just emerged from his Translating Room with the fresh news from heaven. The Latter-day Saints, even now, have hardly glimpsed the treasures of Joseph Smith's Translating Room.

III  This High Gift

No matter who does the translating, no matter the method, we're going to get "I, Abraham" from whatever portion of the papyri Joseph called the Sacred Record. Words on papyrus remain words on papyrus. Yet when we come to visions, revelations, and doctrines, any translator other than a seer must fall short. Scripture must be transmitted even as it was once "sealed up"--"in its purity." How Joseph read, how Joseph learned, and, then, how he translated cannot be grasped. The Book of Mormon 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" (Mosiah 8: 13, 14, 16). Such mysteries of God, as Nephi learned, can only be revealed by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Nephi 10:17-19).

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"? The Seer eventually came to possess what Brigham Young called "the eye of the Lord." Wilford Woodruff thus delights in recalling how Joseph Smith did not require the Urim and Thummim to translate the record of Abraham from the papyri. Joseph the seer could "see anything." The vision of the Almighty is all Urim and Thummim: "The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:8).

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 share the element of the tangible. Different, at first blush anyhow, appear 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. Hugh Nibley deems these last to be translations in the best dictionary sense of transmissions, that is, transmissions of lost records not in the keeping of the Prophet Joseph. Prophetic translations of tangible records are also no more nor less than transmissions, and the same applies to any other translation made by any other person. Here is no stretch: Hugh Nibley's definition of translation as transmission comes from the dictionary and is denotative. Whatever we call the inspired reading, the essence of it all becomes the meeting of mind with mind--a meeting to which any reader is earnestly invited. But the transmission or meeting, even so, reflects the word once concretely engraved, penned, painted. Beyond the record, there were also the "hints of things" in the Prophet's mind--the transmission of ideas perhaps never spoken nor recorded--in the language of the Pearl of Great Price: "the record of heaven" (see Hugh Nibley, "Translated Correctly?," The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyrus: An Egyptian Endowment--the classic essay about Joseph Smith and translation as transmission).

IV  Records of Ancient Date

So do "all records of ancient date" have to be physically present in order to be translated? 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 kinds 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 such a physical parchment. So translation, for Joseph, ever anchors in either direct contemplation, or at least in the idea, of text. There always had to be text, the touch or trace of the human mind; however fragmentary, lacunose, recopied, reworked, redacted, translated to death, corrupt, or otherwise humanly imperfect--or even lost--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 special reckoning of seers (see Doctrine and Covenants 130:4-8).

Joseph translated by, in, and through what Paul calls "the Mind of Christ." Accepting 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 and mummies, is 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). Joseph, so translating, knew whereof Abraham spoke. "Preserved" is the word best describing the Record of Abraham in Joseph's hands. 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)

V  Genuine Translation

Joseph Smith describes the title page of the Book of Mormon as "a literal translation," even "a genuine and literal translation" of the last plate in the bound record . In only one other instance does the Prophet identify the original locus of a particular chapter of scripture: his statement about translating Abraham Chapter 3 "from the papyrus now in my house." In other words, Visit my house, and I'll be glad to show you the very hieroglyphs. And note how Joseph, more or less, correlates one plate to one page. Here is no mystical, pre-decipherment "reading" of hieroglyphs as symbols, wherein each contains of itself sufficient capacity to supply many sentences of esoterica. No. Joseph, comparing the Egyptian writing on the plate to "all Hebrew writing in general," sees all hieroglyphs, formed or reformed or whatever, as a "running" script. "Running": nothing could be more clear (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 Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Book of Abraham aims to be "a correct translation." Further, 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." Some Church members wonder whether Joseph Smith himself composed the Book of Abraham solely as an inspired vehicle for introducing a transcendent doctrine--a symbolic link to a symbolic rather than an historical past. Those few so supposing would describe prophetic "trans-lation" as an ingenious re-imaging or re-imagining of the ancient scriptural heritage--a justifiable theological enterprise--and, by so describing, think to save and detach inspired comment and composition from the imperatives of scholarship. It doesn't take much imagination, though, 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."

As for the revealed explanations of the three Book of Abraham facsimiles, these, too, are not a composition "of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation"--the imprimatur of Joseph the Seer lies powerfully upon them.

We are not talking about translation of correspondence or of state or legal documents from, say, Italian into Spanish, a labor which may seem to be conventional, or, at times, perhaps, even literal. No. We are talking about 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 from dead languages requires training in the use of dictionary and grammar (however fragmentary and often misleading) and ever involves the student in leaps of imagination.

Scholarly translation of dead languages thus often amounts to spectacular guesswork. The hundreds of Bible "translations" so attest. And Hugh Nibley, citing the "experts," shows how such intuitive leaps especially apply to those who work with Egyptian ("Translated Correctly?"). Yet other ancient scripts defy even decipherment. (Scholarly translation also connotes the dryasdust.)

Where the salvation of the human family is at stake, neither scholarly "translation" nor scholarly bafflement will do. The difference between all others who translate from dead languages and the Prophet Joseph is that living touch with mind, 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 the languages of the Living, and with living tongues of fire.

Not that the merely human endeavor deserves despite. Joseph Smith studied Greek, Hebrew, and German; he also pondered and preached from Elias Hutter's old polyglot New Testament (Nuremberg, 1602): Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German. A convert had given Brother Joseph the Testament in Nauvoo, and he seemed to treasure it in the same way he treasured the papyri. He naturally tried his hand as student translator and even at emending unclear places, an irresistible game for any student of Biblical languages, and he made his mistakes as all students must. But even while wrapped in study, he sought the further inspiration of God.

Study weds faith in the journal entry of 19 January 1836: "Spent the day at school; the Lord blessed us in our studies. This day we commenced reading in our Hebrew Bibles with much success. It seems as if the Lord opens our minds in a marvelous manner to understand His word in the original language." A breathtaking prayer follows: "And my prayer is that God will speedily endow us with a knowledge of all languages and tongues" (see Joseph Smith Papers: Journal I:164). "All languages" evokes Mosiah's "all records which are of ancient date"--and beyond.

The Nauvoo discourses show several such translations, emendations, or transcendent explanations of Greek, Hebrew, and even German words and phrases. Salvation becomes a matter of heaven and hell; yet "salvation," "heaven," and "hell" bear interpretive cargoes of connotation and comment. Joseph sought to set words free. He wondered about the origin of paradise: "find the origin of Paradise--find a needle in a hay mow" (11 June 1843, Willard Richards report, The Words of Joseph Smith, 211). The word comes from the Persian (a walled garden), but Joseph didn't need to know that to translate. Knowledge of Persian, could he have attained to that grace, would have availed nothing. Translation required translation: Joseph, like Paul, knew a man who had been caught up to the spiritual world--and that rapture more than sufficed. Paradise signified "a world of spirits," not heaven, as the divines would have it.

Words like paradise and hell--and perhaps a dozen other English words in the Authorized Version--with all their accumulated signatures, were, at essence, made-up words: "a modern word," he says. They were signifiers pointing to nothing a seer might glimpse yonder. "Five minutes" scanning heaven would overthrow all dusty books, he claimed. Uninspired translators foisted such words on the language, and in the language they were destined to remain as stumbling blocks. If the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is, then surely hell is what the ministers describe. Here is translation short-circuited, a parody of itself: cultural tradition not thought, not transmission.

To get at the true meaning of translation requires cutting new channels of thought. "You must study it out in your mind," while waiting on the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 9). We encounter Sheol, a word which the eager Hebrew student translates, well, Sheol. . . or grave or pit. "Sheol--who are you? God reveals. means a world of spirits--I don't think so says one. Go to my house I will take my lexicon" (211). We go with Joseph and look at his lexicon: "the lower world, the region of ghosts, the orcus or hades of the Hebrews" (Josiah W. Gibbs lexicon; see Journals I:107 n. 159). Note the marriage of lexicon and revelation, "by study and also by faith" (Doctrine and Covenants 88). "A world of spirits," in place of grave or pit, may not seem an earthshaking translation of Hebrew Sheol, but it opens upon a brave new world. Sheol is not hell; Paradise not heaven--both signify another place along the way to immortality and eternal life. Joseph saw Sheol, knew Sheol--and that seeric certainty, now confirmed by the lexicon, is what he translates. It remains for us to wrestle with the implications. And note how fascination for Hebrew words, and what they may signify, when glimpsed in their purity, matches what we see in Book of Abraham Chapter 3 and in the Explanations of the facsimiles. For Brother Joseph, the lexicon carries the seeker beyond translation by tradition; we enter into a purer realm of language, a realm free from the splintered light show of learned commentary, a realm where signifiers point at what seers saw--then God reveals.

Many Germans congregated at the grove where he preached. But that only encouraged Joseph to translate Luther's Bible in startling new ways. He would boldly ask his German hearers to weigh-in, even on his pronunciation, and they would respond.

Joseph never claimed to speak German, though he daringly read from the Hutter polyglot before thousands; neither did he fuss over the possibility of contradiction from some crotchety grammarian. There is some fun in it all--yet, without hesitation, he shared his surmisings about this or that verse. He is clear, when so discoursing, about the two-step act of prophetic translation; even when the second, spiritual step, interwoven as it is with sessions of prayerful thought, can neither be reached or replicated, unless his listeners also work by faith.

The method remains mysterious, as mysterious as thought itself, though the result of such translation recalls the lost-wax technique of casting precious metal objects. We are left with the treasured wonder alone, a substantial idea that can be weighed, tested, admired. The Prophet simply could not rest with the fragmentary knowledge and imaginary flights of scholarship; he always sought greater light and knowledge; worked at it until he got it; then freely shared his revelations and translations with a spiritually thirsting world (see Neal A. Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer," October Conference 2003; For the Hutter polyglot, see http://bit.ly/18s941p ).

VI  By revelation or translation, as the case may be

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 spurs 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 on, and emendations of, Genesis. This fresh Genesis Abraham forms part of his New Translation, the Joseph Smith Translation of the King James Bible from the King James Bible. But do such changes to the Genesis narrative prove the Bible to have served as some sort of metaphorical "catalyst?" Joseph translated with a clear idea or two in mind: 1) the English Bible is often obscure and even obscurantist; 2) the Bible, in any tongue, does not contain all the writings of the prophets necessary for our salvation. Beyond the tangles of transmission, translation, and archaic English, 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 (2 Nephi 3).

While Hugh Nibley insists on Joseph translating from tangible plates and papyri, no matter how he did it and no matter whether he sometimes--"taking flight"--saw and translated beyond the records, the "true meaning" of translation accords with Joseph's role as transmitter. Joseph Smith brings the words of truth, temporally and spatially scattered throughout all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples, back again. (He also "brought the Priesthood back again.") The missing records, found on various media and written in various tongues, were all once as tangible as the plates and papyri, but through the miraculous transmission we have them in English alone. For that matter, with the sole exception of one Egyptian vignette, the facsimiles of two other vignettes, and a transcription or two of a few reformed Egyptian characters--a trace of the genuine article--we have Mormon and Abraham in English alone. As Nibley put it: The Book of Mormon is the only ancient text written in a modern language (see "Translated Correctly?").

Joseph Smith's lifelong study of scripture repeatedly opened the windows of heaven--from 1820 on. When young Joseph read James 1:5, the Holy Ghost, prompting, impressed upon him the desire to pray for wisdom, but shall we label the Epistle of James the catalyst of the Restoration?

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 new style guide to warn: "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.

Two are the restored books of Abraham; two, the modes of translation; yes, but where and how exactly does the catalyst come into play in either case? The notion of either printed Bible or penned papyri as catalyst dissolves into thin air. Catalyst takes its rightful place among "Words owing their vogue to the joy of showing one has acquired them" (Fowler, "Vogue Words," q.v.). When it comes to papyri and Abraham that joy simply exceeds all bounds. Why? One word, evoked as if by magic, solves all--in catalytic flash--rendering further thought unnecessary. Another "joy": "pure revelation" (as opposed to what?) also fails to hit the mark. Let's arrive at an axiom: Prophetic translation belongs to that class of things we "cannot understand" (see Jacob 4:14). We desire things we cannot understand and, in "the solemnity of science," concoct words to process ideas rather than to ex-plain them (Follett, "Scientism," q.v.). We need a plain word: Scripture prompts, hints, suggests, awes, inspires.

Even in the New Translation of the Bible, the Prophet worked from text seen and from (the idea of) text unseen. Had he then known Hebrew, had a critical text of the Hebrew Bible or anything even remotely like an Urtext or Laban's Brass Plates been available to him, he certainly would have worked with the better texts. The English Bible was not just a symbol of the prophetic past; it was his only available avenue to it at the time. No wonder he so treasured the gift of the Polyglot: it gave him wings! He came to prefer Luther's Testament to the Authorized Version. As for Abraham, some of his writings, 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 with plainness. And there we can let it rest.

VII  Treasure in the Field

There is a law of efficiency. We must ask why Joseph, inefficiently, "encouraged some of the Kirtland Saints to purchase four mummies and the papyri for $2,400, a large sum when money was desperately needed for other projects" (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith, 186). Couldn't the catalyst have quickened things up? inspiration struck? Couldn't an angel have brought the rolls, 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, could not 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 link and sign.

Joseph purchased the costly rolls and mummies solely because some bold 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 worded in the ancient idiom, says Hugh Nibley. And he with the "high gift" read that title and--"for joy," went out and raised $2,400.

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

Why was a surviving physical instance, in plates or papyri, of the ancient word requisite for some of our scriptures and not for others? Gold plates attest to the reality of a lost and fallen people.
There is a pattern: the 24 gold plates left in plain sight by Ether attest the Jaredite fall. The records, solid and surviving, vividly link us to wipe outs, past dispensations, and 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 permitted to 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 have had the opportunity to see the collection, discuss it with the Prophet, and chime in on its significance.

The papyri proclaim to the world that Joseph Smith had 1) nothing to hide, 2) was willing to have his ideas and translations weighed in the balance of the learned, and 3) welcomed the participation of the learned in the open-ended quest for further light. Though never describing or disclosing his method, Joseph Smith also never hesitated to publish his 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 so attest.

Some fuss over the lack of reference to Abraham in the extant Joseph Smith papyri, including the three facsimiles of Egyptian vignettes. Though descriptions of the roll containing Abraham's writings do not, at all, match the scrap we call the Book of Breathings, Hugh Nibley does note a parallel, peculiar and specific in wording, tying the title of that book to Abraham 2:24-25. (Joseph Smith emphasizes titles.) Isis makes a Book of Breathings for her brother, Osiris, so that his soul may live. Just so, Sarah in Egypt, and in Egyptian idiom, intervenes for Abraham that his soul may live. As for Facsimile 2 (the hypocephalus), its hieroglyphic text 1) addresses the god as both "noble" and "great"; 2) features (so Nibley) a prayer for rescue, that is, resurrection; and 3) hints at "the name of this great god" (Figure 1), who came into existence in; 4) "the first time" and thence; 5) "came down" to save Osiris so-and-so. The match between the prayers and labels on this and other hypocephali and the phraseology and themes of Abraham again partakes of the peculiar and the specific. I don't think so, says one. Go to my house, and I'll take up the lexicon: "The name of the great one is Kolob" answers to "The name of this great god."

Why gather such evidence? The marriage of history and scripture teaches us to better love both scripture and history. Love of truth "as it really is" heralds no injurious purpose, breathes no coercive air (see Doctrine and Covenants 93). In the pursuit of the things of the Spirit, all sorts of surprises turn up. Nowhere in Hugh Nibley's writings do we find the word apologist. A better label for the man is sharer. Of evidence, Brother Nibley simply says: We need to show we're still in the game, so the honest in heart will be willing to take a second look.

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 50 years the repetition of answered objections does start to bore. Besides, such repetition has never moved the 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 kept, Abraham did deposit a record in Egypt. What we now have in translation 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 hands 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, tangible testators of the resurrection. Jesus Christ 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 any 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 merely abridgments, copies, or even traces, stand as material witness of a new dispensation and as an earnest of the resurrection. The recovered vignette of Facsimile 1 so concretely 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 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.

Copyrighted by Val Sederholm, 2014



Saturday, May 31, 2014

Zenephi and Zat Mormon Girl (Mormon 9:16)

A family member once asked about the Book of Mormon name Zenephi. I was stumped. Later it hit me. Following a common Egyptian name pattern, z3 (son) + Personal or Divine Name, Ze + Nephi yields Son of Nephi. The name might also designate a Nephite Prince. According to Jacob, the kings, in patriarchal order, all took the name of Nephi, the first king and protector, and thus were known as Second Nephi, Third Nephi, and so on. Might Son of Nephi designate the heir to the throne--the Son of Nephi--the prince royal?

The sole Zenephi attested in the record holds 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 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 lit on another sound derivation. Some time later, to my amusement, the following sentence surfaced on the Web page of The Book of Mormon Onomasticon:

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

A wee correction is 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 fail to convince: Nephi is neither good nor beautiful (nfr). 

It is really Hugh Nibley who first derived Zenephi from Z3-Nb-H'. Brother Nibley owned many copies of the Book of Mormon, and in one such copy (now in the Hugh Nibley Library at Brigham Young University), he marked each Book of Mormon name, as listed in an appendix, with its appropriate letter: H for Hebrew, A for Arabic, E for Egyptian, and so on. It's a small treasure.

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 the aforementioned z3 or z3.t + Name (often a theophoric name), Son or Daughter of So-and-So. The famous Sinuhe, as we tend to transcribe the Egyptian Z3-Nht, is Son of the Sycamore, meaning Hathor as the goddess in the Sycamore tree. Sinuhe might as well be spelled Zenuhe. 

Book of Mormon ze- for z3- is right on the money. While it doesn't necessarily follow that every name starting with ze- in the Book of Mormon shows the same pattern, Zenephi could hardly reflect anything else. Consider, too, the following patterned sequencing of names: "The Book of Nephi, the Son of Nephi, who was the Son of Helaman": "Nephi (E) ntj or (H) asher Zenephi ntj Zehelaman.

While there are many such sons--zzz--the narrative yields but two names of women: Sariah and Abish. (Isabel labels but does not name.) Mother Sariah may be understood as either Princess or Prince of Jehovah; Abish, My Father is a Man. Both names now appear in Ancient Near Eastern sources; Abisha, in hieroglyphs, names a Semitic chieftain, clothed in a magnificent particolored robe, bartering goods in Egypt (see the Book of Mormon Onomasticon for references). The Lehites cloaked all women in the aura of royalty, their gracious names not for display. (The women of Mulek and of Jared walk in the same mystique.) Could we know of others, I'd be surprised not to find a princess or two bearing the name of Zet- or Zatnephi (Daughter of Nephi), Abinephi, or Abilehi. Zatjarom, Zatmoroni, Zatmormon. 

I know Zat Mormon girl.

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

A Nahuatl song, glorifying war as the very fulfillment of the American dream, captures the smugness 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 in the Book of Mormon. This great city Jerusalem, or that great city Zarahemla, or this great city Ammonihah united stand as impregnable as heaven and earth to all contest human or divine. The theme of impregnability goes hand-in-hand with the book's insistence on destruction. As Hugh Nibley would tell his classes, that associated theme sounds its trumpet blast in the very first chapter of Nephi (verse 4): "The great city Jerusalem must be destroyed!" For a sense of how destruction goes on to weave its pattern throughout the entire book, he advised us to consult the concordance--and to be prepared for a shock. 

It is Civilization versus God and repentance. Civilization, the state of the great City, must fall in her unrepentant pride (see Revelation 18). The idea 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 slap Alma with their stolid refrain, "Who is God, that sendeth no more authority than one man [or one General Authority or one Church] among this people," and ream him out with their cant about their own particular little city and their own particularly novel, lovely, rational ideology being 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.

In due time--or ten chapters' space--"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: ever that great city stood, even at her peak, at the borders of man and beast--in reach of the wild.

"Nothing beside remains," though its infamy 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 the utter unawareness of the inevitable fall--the great lesson of never learning the lesson at all, despite all the learned "profession."

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 her wearying pretense:

"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 plea. My question is Where is Moronihah? Have you never, in the quiet of a big-city library, contemplated the whereabouts of Alexandria's bookshelf?

There can be no greater irony in the modern history of the Americas than the refrain:

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 the Revelator's Babylon, longed to undermine the freedoms of 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 DC, or Venezuela today. But complacency undoes the studious proud and the lazy ignorant alike.

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 Book of Abraham 1:11

The inspired Book of Abraham introduces 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 may refer either to a single nuclear family, a father and daughters, or it may refer to an ancestral patriarch or king from whom "daughters" trace a royal lineage. Might Onitah be a woman? a matriarch? Possibly. At any rate, Onitah does mark an archaic and legitimate line, as "one of the royal descent directly from the loins of Ham." Was Onitah a royal claimant? Did later Pharaohs persecute descendants of the archaic line? We cannot tell. Perhaps Daughters of Onitah names a particular social group organized around attendant ritual obligations. (We recall the Inka panaca.) Failure to conform to cultic duty brought on the dire consequence. 

Hugh Nibley stresses 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; the quotation beginning with "the line of virgin priestesses" appears on page 400 and is attributed to J.W.B. Barns, JEA 52 (1966), 191; see also 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 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, 'D.tj, 'd.tj, perhaps all belonging to the same verbal root, '(n)Dalso enjoy wide currency for men and women alike 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, 'D.tj or 'd.tj (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 'd.tj 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.

We may consider other Egyptian candidates for Onitah. Wentj, Wenjtj, or Wenta (Oni-ta), attested as a female name, comes to mind. Another Pharaoh also bears a name much recalling our Onitah: jnd = Ined, Ind. How was the name pronounced? We might suggest Yanit or Anit (see Darrell D. Baker, The Encyclopedia of the Egyptian Pharaohs, I: 135). Pharaoh Ined reigned in the later Middle Kingdom (Dynasty XIII), the dispensation of Abraham.

Whatever the derivation, Onitah is a Sound Name, a name of historical Integrity. In light of names like Onitah, names having a true 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 wee, fourteen-page Book of Abraham, in fine balance, indeed evinces names of both pure Egyptian and West Semitic vintage, among these: 

1) Onitah (E: 'nDj, Sound, Hale; or, E: wntj, wntt, wnj.tw, 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, perhaps from 'ly shm, the High Place of Heaven, Hugh Nibley; compare the attested place name that Professor Christopher Woods transcribes as Ulishim

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

6) Shagreel (WS, Shagre-el, the name of a star, or known star deity, perhaps Sirius, Hugh Nibley)

Also introducing. . . 

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

To these, we can also add a new place name from the Abraham chapters of the New Translation of the Bible (JST Genesis 14:10):

8) Mount Hanabal (WS: Hanna-Ba'al, Ba'al is Gracious). Mount Hanabal appears to be among the Mountains of Moab.

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 might, unless by its study we also magnify our view of the ancients and, thereby, open "astonishing paths" of discovery (see Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 2). By reading the scriptures, we can 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; he 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 is he 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 shows us how the Pearl of Great Price may 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 the weathered depictions and engravings on the 2 meter basalt stele, we first note the name and image of Ramesses the Great. Ramesses, sporting the blue crown, lifts the image of the goddess Ma'at, sitting in a basket, to a divinity crowned with the Osirian Atef--but this is not Osiris. The Atef crown, "in this case, in relation to this subject" (to borrow a line from Joseph Smith), 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, 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; next come the hieroglyph and signs likely expressing the vowel -ah. The following segment, also in group writing, yields Dapuna, which is 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, Ilu establishes Zapon, or Ilu, Possessor of Zapon). As everyone notes, the k3 or k doesn't match the q sign. But what of the Hurrian-Hittite divine name, El Kunirsha (Ilu, Possessor or Creator of the earth)? El Kunirsha matches El qny, though written with a k--by way of the cuneiform sign ku. 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). Has Abraham trespassed upon the demesne of El Kunirsha?

We await more evidence before settling on El qny for the Ramesses stele. 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 aggregation of evidence for the Book of Abraham that concerns us here, as it is reading the book to elucidate the ancients: to resolve questions, puzzles, mysteries. Can Abraham's record contribute to our understanding of puzzles like the Bashan stele? That is the question.

While we may not yet opt for any particular reading, can there be any difficulty in positing for il k-n-a, in light of the Book of Abraham, the transcription Elkenah (or Elkunah/Elkonah), that is, Elkenah Zapon? The name, here, could either mean, as some have it, God (El), the Creator or Owner (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 the Potiphar's Hill of Elkenah 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 but a palatial reflection of the heavenly home. Might Dapuna (cf. Abraham's Libnah or Zibnah) be, in fact, the "god" who is named the god of Elkenah at the local Potiphar's Hill? Or rather, is it not Ba'al Zaphon (the Owner or Master of Zaphon) who is the god of El Kenah Zaphon? Each rivals, twins, usurps the other: Gog and Magog. Is the priest of Elkenah (also the priest of Pharaoh, says Abraham), 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, Zibnah, Zaphon, Bashan, Olishem, Potiphar's Hill--all these 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 [cf. the verb qny, to possess, own]. 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); "a promontory in the sea near Lake Serbonis" (the Egyptian Delta) also becomes Zaphon (218). 

Zaphon in Canaan--yes. But in Egypt? Canaanite El, wrought in bronze and wearing Osiris' Atef crown, ubiquitously appears in the Ancient Levant--and in smiting pose. As with the god, so with the priest: the priest of Elkenah, that is, 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. The left-hand panels on Book of Abraham Facsimile Two--the Egyptian hypocephalus--with full accord, also invoke the all-victorious cosmocrator that rules in heaven, earth, Duat, Nun, and mountain. 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 features 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 upstart Aten contends against the same adversary, according to a letter sent to Pharaoh by the king of Tyre (218). And the Sun-qua-Aten 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). Joseph Smith, in his explanation of Facsimile One, notes these same waters below the sacrificial altar, and in which swims the hungry crocodile awaiting his prey--even "the idolatrous god of Pharaoh." A watery death lurks below; then--croc and hawk--"like a thunderbolt he falls!" from "on high," even from the "heavens"--as Joseph Smith's interprets the waters "in this case, in relation to this subject." Death from on high? from the waters? and like a crocodile in sudden splash and flash? In the likeness of Abraham Chapter One, 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). And Hadrian prevailed.

According to John Pairman Brown, the idea of Zaphon, as translated to its various localities, is that of victory over the waters, a victory represented by the sea monster, monster waves, and, indeed, the crocodile. 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).

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. And the same delegation of that same 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, which reenacts 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 (a thunderbolt?) and, with joy, 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. No wonder the Slaughter of the Kings in Genesis 12 brings in rulers from every known clime. 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 contest of priestly authority, and in the Name of God, came off conquerer. "I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee" (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).

God is also in this storm surrounding President Thomas S. Monson, our living Prophet.

On the Bashan stele we find traces of Ramesses. He wears the blue crown of coronation and of warrior-conqueror, and this clearly marks 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.


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 Muhammad's biography, the clan of Quraysh also conveys the notionality of business acquisition).