March 27, 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of my teacher, Hugh Nibley. I post the following thoughts on Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham both in commemoration of that anniversary and in anticipation of the publication, also this month, of Brother Nibley's and Mike Rhodes's book on Facsimile 2: One Eternal Round.
I'm trying my hand at additional code-cracking for certain Ancient Egyptian cryptograms that name the mysterious self-renewing energies of the sun. A well-known example of these “solar trigrams” appears on Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham: Lotus—Lion—Ram, and vice-versa (srpt-m3wj-sr, ts-phr). Going beyond Marie-Louise Ryhiner’s acronymic reading of the cryptogram as s-m-s (= smsw, or Eldest), I crack it by considering homonyms.
The word for lion (m3j) sounds like the word for renewal (m3wj and sm3wj: to be renewed; to cause to renew). The word for Ram (zr; zjw), an image of the night sun, sounds like the name of Osiris (wsjr), the solar mummy. I therefore crack the cryptogram as follows: “The Lotus (morning sun) renews the Ram (the Osirian solar mummy) and the Ram (the Osirian mummy) renews the Lotus.”
The theme of renewal only matches the Ryhiner's acronymic reading: sms = sms, a palindrome (what the Egyptians call ts-phr). Sms answers to a) the one who (continually) causes to be born, or who (continually) causes to come into being (smsj) and b) Eldest (smsw).
Smsw as the Eldest finds a parallel in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Kolob there “signifies the wonder of Abraham, the eldest of all the stars, the greatest body of the heavenly bodies”; it also “signifies first beginning to the bodies of this creation, the first creation” and “the last or eldest.” Though the phrase “eldest of all the stars” does not appear in the Explanation of Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, Kolob is described as “the first creation” and “First in government, the last [eldest?] pertaining to the measurement of time.”
The words first and eldest intrigue because not only might Lotus-Lion-Ram, when read acronymically, signify Eldest, other Egyptian texts name the feminine form of the sun god, Eldest or First. Hathor of Denderah, the mother cow, appears as “the Feminine Ra, manifest in her city as Eldest Disk of the Sun Disk" (tp.t = head, first, eldest, or even "the first creation"; Disk may also be rendered Globe). The cow, as female sun, is “the first or eldest of all first things,” a formulation recalling Kolob as “the greatest body of the heavenly bodies” and as "the first creation" and "first in government." The Egyptians, it must be remembered, considered the sun to be a star, and stars to be suns or Ra’s. . .
We find the cryptogram on Facsimile 2 next to the four sons of Horus, and thus also next to the cow—which cow, states the Prophet Joseph, “is said by the Egyptians to be the sun.” The one who (continually) causes to be born (smsj) thus suggests the mother bringing forth the sun at dawn (a dawning which in turn brings about all other things). To “hie to Kolob," as Eldest or First Star, is to translate the glory of the solar course to a higher sphere—that of the circling night sky.
Why a cryptogram? Knowledge of the solar course, which includes the workings of cosmic renewal--was the prerogative of the king: the king's secret. In the Amduat, a book of Egyptian cosmological speculation found in royal tombs, the heavens, at dead of night, open upon the revelation of the solar star.
Thoreau says it best: “The sun is but a morning star.”
Notes: Marie-Louise Ryhiner, "A propos de trigrammes pantheistes," Revue d'Egyptologie 29 (1977).