Friday, April 30, 2010

An Egyptological Interpretation of the Grand Governing Star Oliblish (Book of Abraham Facsimile 2, Figure 2)

I  Called by the Egyptians Oliblish

The Prophet Joseph Smith specifically terms Oliblish an Egyptian name: "Stands next to Kolob, called by the Egyptians Oliblish, which is the next grand governing creation near to the celestial or the place where God resides; holding the key of power also, pertaining to other planets; as revealed from God to Abraham, as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he had built unto the Lord" (Book of Abraham Facsimile 2, Figure 2:

"Called by the Egyptians": Banished forever should be the silly notion that Oliblish belongs to a mysterious universe of Adamic, or pure language names known only to Mormonism. Kolob--Oliblish--Kae-e-vanrash--Kli-flos-isis--Enish-go-on-dosh: Adamic? Not so. The Prophet, in his Explanation, quashes all such nonsense in the bud. And Joseph Smith never equates Egyptian or Hebrew with the pure language spoken of in the Book of Moses.

The standing figure--towering "like a Colossus"--also appears on many other hypocephali. (Facsimile 2 is such a hypocephalus.) From these we can garner clues about his nature and name. And the first thing to note is the theme of knowledge on the legends (or tags) accompanying the figure--though not on Abraham's hypocephalus--specifically, knowledge of names and, broadly, nothing short of omniscience.

II  Masters of Those Who Know

To understand the standing figure at the apex of the hypocephalus, we need to understand the short legends that accompany him on several of these documents. We start with three or four examples:

a) Book of Abraham Facsimile 2 shows the following legend on the left of the figure: rn nj nTr pf '3, "the name of this great god," or even "(I know) the name of this great god." Alternatively, we might read rnn nTr pf '3, "praise this great god," in which rnn puns on rn (praise puns on name). After all, legends attached to the central figure below often read: dw3 nTr pn, "worship or sing praise to this god." So which is the correct reading? We need to get past the idea of a sole correct reading.

b) On the Ashmolean hypocephalus (Tashenkhons) we find the following: jw rx.kwj rn nj, "I know the name of. . " Just below, attached to the central figure, we find dw3 nTr pn. We thus see a communication between the spheres associated with the two divine figures, who, perhaps, coalesce into one: jw rx.kwj rn nj nTr pn, "I know the name of this god." The verbal form is the stative, first person singular; the theme is knowledge of the hidden.

c) Two legends describing the figure on hypocephalus BM EA 37909 (8445a) appear on either side the two-faced figure and run vertically from top to bottom (see Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 266). On the left we read: jw rx.kwj. Here we again see the first person singular stative, a verbal form that often expresses verbs of perception in a perfective yet present sense: I know. The Egyptian verb of knowing, rx, employs either a stative, more commonly, or a preterite construction to express present knowledge: the form that conveys I knew, learned, found out signifies I know, as we also see in Latin novi or Greek egnoka (Gardiner, 245). On the right, we find: jw rxy. Yet another hypocephalus, d) Leiden AMS 62 shows, at top, by the crown, jw rx. The legend on a fifth hypocephalus, e) belonging to one Irethorrou  reads only rxy (Louvre Museum Web page).

This last expression of knowing, in its several spellings, forms, or grammatical constructions, defies easy analysis. The sentence syntax of jw rxy might conceivably be taken for the prospective sDm(.w)=f form (I shall know; may I know: Nibley and Rhodes, 266) or even for a perfect passive form (I am known). Yet the perfect passive sDm(.w)=f, while occasionally displaying a written -.w, would seldom, if ever, display a -.y. We turn again to the stative: sDm(.w)=f expresses the third person masculine singular stative, though the -.w only sometimes appears in writing. The ending in -y, rather than -w, while slightly baffling, does not obstruct analysis. Leiden AMS 62, which shows jw rx, gives the game away: jw rx, jw rxy, or even rx, rx.w, or rx.y, cannot be anything but the third person masculine singular of the stative. Jw rx.w or rx.y: He knows. He knows and I know. If we were dealing with an Old Egyptian text, which we clearly are not, I should strongly suggest the third person dual of the stative, rxwy: These two know. And that's, at any rate, what we see in the iconography: the double-faced being, in double or dual vision, knows: These two know. What do they know? They know both directions, both realities, past and future, all things. Let's not limit the learned scribe--the rx-jx.t, the knower of things, to his own time or to his contemporaneous grammar: should the scribe stretch for duality, he might conjure up the archaic rxy: These Two know.

What we see in these various legends are two balanced stative forms. Reading from the right side to the left, we translate: He knows; I know. The expression balances the duality of the divine being himself, two faces, two perspectives, he and I. And the expression, with that striking pronominal shift, also evokes a frequently occurring boast in the Coffin Texts: "What he knows, I know too." Thus: "I also now know the name of this great god." Such knowledge transforms the deceased into a divine personality.

Of further interest are hypocephalus Wien 253, on which we see a sole legend, jw rx(.w), and the Turin Bronze hypocephalus; still, while the accompanying tags vary greatly, the iconography remains unchanged. The iconography expresses just what the various legends seem to express, and it further suggests that one face sees all knowledge past; the other, all knowledge future. Leftward lies all that I have found out, and thus now know; yet rightward lies not an eternity of discovery but an eternity discovered. Past and Future, the temporal view of knowledge, may be too limiting here. The iconography simply shows how the double-faced divinity comprehends knowledge as a whole because he views and grasps it in its essential duality, its right hand, so to speak, and its left. The god looks at "both sides of the equation." The contrasting outlooks, though expressing a duality, properly signify a whole, or a fullness of knowledge. Figure 2 is the Supreme Knower.

Oliblish attains to supreme knowledge, for he stands at the apex of the circle. Just so, the giraffe, periscope of animals, becomes, in the mysterious workings of his name, both hieroglyphic signature for the animal itself (sr) and for the spoken word of prophecy (also sr). The ram, who bears a like name (zr), shares, by semiotic default, a like office, and towering Oliblish wears the mask of the ram. (For ram-faced Oliblish at the apex see One Eternal Round, 265-6; for the omniscient ram, Joris F. Borghouts, "The Ram as a Protector and Prophesier," Revue d'Egypte 32 (1980), 33-46.)

For Oliblish, all knowledge unfolds in One Eternal Round. The Prophet's translation of the Book of Abraham best conveys the idea. As God tells Abraham: "My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning" (Abraham 2:8). Knowing the end from the beginning (and here is the temporal reading of knowledge), from our own ignorant vantage point, is knowing backwards--yet "all things are present before me" says God. Hypocephalus Leiden AMS 62 also shows an additional accompanying legend for Figure 2: jw n=k ntr.w nb.wt (Truly, all gods are unto or before you), which recalls, so Hugh Nibley, Zeus and his golden chain. The god becomes all gods, the All-Ba, or All-Manifesting (see One Eternal Round, 261; see also David Klotz, Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple, 28). In the Pyramid Texts the divine king gains knowledge and power by swallowing and ingesting a variety of gods: to swallow becomes the verb to know in later Egyptian because the heart-and-belly (the jb and the q3b, qrb, Kolob) are the seat of knowledge. (For a reproduction of Leiden AMS 62 see One Eternal Round, 637). Doctrine and Covenants 38:1-2, revealed to the Prophet on 2 January 1831, best expresses the Egyptian idea of omniscience. "All gods are unto you" = "looked upon. . . all the seraphic hosts of heaven."

The pairing of jw rx.kwj and jw rxy on hypocephalus BM EA 37909 expresses a theologoumenon (or theological point) about the nature of infinite knowledge. Omniscience divides into two voices or modalities, two directions--even two persons--while yet remaining a unity. The idea forcefully evokes the Urim and Thummim as one object with two stones (see Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 450, quoting Anton Jirku), or the division of knowledge, intelligence, or glory between kingdoms, as mediated by two types of stones, as explained in the 130th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 9-10.

III  The name of that greatest god

The same idea appears in different wording on the Abraham hypocephalus. Next to Figure 2 (as also next to Figure 1) we read: rn nj ntr pf '3 (name of the god). "Name of the god" might also be more literally rendered as "name of this (or that) greatest god"--all gods being considered great--yet Brother Joseph specifically speaks of the grand governing star ('3j = greatest, greatest of all.) Yet what rn nj ntr pf '3 signifies to the discerning reader is not "Name of the (greatest) god" but "[rx.kwj] rn nj ntr pf '3" (I know the name of the greatest god, or of this particular greatest god). The Ashmolean hypocephalus of Tashenkhons (British Museum Website) so witnesses: jw rx.kwj rn nj (I know the name of . . .). What appears on the top panel leaves us hanging until we see that where the phrase leaves off, reading from top to bottom, another phrase, running horizontally in the next panel, begins: ntr pn hrw 4 ([of] this god with 4 faces--our Kolob figure). "I know the name of this (greatest) god with 4 faces," which is also to know all which those faces illumine. Omniscience, in the truest, most transcendent, sense of the word, is to know the Name of the greatest god, in whom all things consist, in whom all things "hold together" (see Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "In Him All Things Hold Together," BYU Speeches, 31 March 1991).

Yet again we are left hanging since the name itself is never written. Or is it? Bien sur: "the name of the greatest god" is written in lieu of the god's own name. That is the point. A linguistic strategy of replacement or avoidance is at work. The phrase name of the god replaces the ineffable Name that only the Knower knows. Indeed the given name of the god, perhaps another smokescreen, meets the act of knowing itself: jw=j (or just jw) rx or rx=k (with its lateral glide and possible bilabial, followed by a liquid and an x or sh) comes as close phonologically to our Oliblish (jw=j = Oli or Olibi; jw = Olb, Olibrx = lish, rish, resh, esh) as anyone could ask. Oliblish, Olibilish, or Oliblishk might then signal: I know your name. "I know (Eg. Oliblish) the name of this god" thus masks a riddle: "the god whose name is 'I know. . . his name'" that is to say, "the god whose name is Oliblish." While I shall suggest several other readings that may more closely approximate the name Oliblish, we must always keep in mind the Egyptian penchant for approximation and wordplay. Here is subtlety--and Egyptian writings teem not only with wordplay but with like strategies of avoidance, euphemism, and taboo. Each of the hypocephali cited renders the legend a little differently; that found on the Abraham hypocephalus simply yields: "the Name of this greatest god," which is both a name without naming and a declaration of knowledge. The same idea appears on a Wikipedia page titled, "Joseph Smith Hypocephalus": "This reading identifies/represents the name of the god without actually writing it," as in Hebrew practice. (The Wikipedia article, otherwise odd beyond telling, partakes of Budge and other dated and derivative "sources.")

All of the above recalls the story of Isis and Re in which Isis coerces Re into revealing his Name. He responds by reeling off name after name without ever revealing the Name. The word for that Name is given simply, in the story, as rn, Name, not, as the commentators have it, "secret name" or "true name." The Name of the god is simply his name, just as in the phrase rn nj ntr pf '3. And yet the Name turns out to be a secret, after all--so we might as well read "secret name of this greatest god" on our Facsimile 2. Here is Name as Mask, a peculiar and specific correspondence to the idea of "hypocephalus as mask," with the mask or head as replacement and substitute for the god's invisible head (Dimitri Meeks, "Dieu masque, Dieu sans tete," Archeo-Nil, 1991). It is not that the god has no head: The head is invisible because it is beyond "knowing" and "seeing." We are facing transcendence. To receive the hypocephalus, says Professor Meeks, is to receive a new head, a solar head, and "Then shall the righteous shine forth like the sun" (Matthew 13: 43). Or even like Kolob. (Elder Neal A. Maxwell wished for LDS students some of the "candlepower of Kolob." In transcendent correspondence we enter the circuit of Oliblish, we hie to Kolob; "Out of the Best Faculty," BYU Magazine, Aug. 26, 1993.) To confirm Meeks's idea we only have to note how every single figure on the hypocephalus, either masked--the new head--or naturally represented, appears in the form of an animal. All is symbolic, not one of the figures is what it appears to be.

While it may be the owner of the hypocephalus who boasts such secret knowledge through the mouth of "the standing solar figure," it ultimately is that (masked) figure himself who so asserts: "I know the name of the greatest god with 4 faces." Notice he is not that greatest god himself, but the chosen heir to the knowledge of one great beyond all, one "more intelligent than they all"--as Abraham has it. Oliblish "Stands next to Kolob" as the Knower. Such knowledge can indeed be no other than the "the key of power" held, the Prophet tells us, by that same Oliblish. He also quite literally holds the Wepwawet, or Opener-of-the-Ways staff as key, according to Brothers Rhodes and Nibley (One Eternal Round, 267-268). To know the names of the governing planets, and of the divinities associated with them (an Egyptian idea), is to hold the key of universal power. Thus the hypocephalus itself becomes an encyclopedia of how the Egyptians order their universe and, thus, itself becomes the key to order and power.

And, given that "all gods are unto him," who is this greatest god (or stand-in for the greatest), the one greater "than they all," the god into whom all other gods fold as the curtain of knowledge is drawn open? It is Amun (jmn), "the Hidden One." He sees the cosmos in its entirety with his solar eye, but the Eye (pupil-with-iris) for us is masked: "masked" in overwhelming multispectral brilliance, that is, or hidden in plain sight (see David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, Chapter 7). The iris holds all light, all color, the vision of all nature in all its infinite variety. One thinks of the sea of glass before the throne of God, what the Prophet Joseph calls another Urim and Thummim. Even that translucent sea merely reflects the throne: the sea stands near to God's residence but remains at a remove. "Residence of God" is a strange, even bizarre, phrase for 19th Century Protestant Americans, since it implies that God has a house (and that concretely not "a house without hands"). Good-bye to the poetic phraseology of Paul; Prophet Joseph is giving us a planet as residence. What could be more unthinkable?

IV  Eye and Throne: the Name of Osiris

Yet what of the signs of Eye and Throne that write the name Osiris, another greatest god? Eugene Lefebvre suggests we read the signs as "The residence of the sun" ("Osiris" in Lexikon Aegyptologie, 624). By residence, Lefebvre has in mind the setting down of the sun in the netherworldly realms of Osiris, a blending or residence (not subsidence!) of powers both above and below. And we accordingly note what Brother Joseph says: "Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God," as well as the two mentions of the divine throne, one above, one inverted and below (Facsimile 2, Figures 1, 3, and 7). Osiris is the Throne of the Eye. That is to say: "God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood," which Key-words are represented, Hugh Nibley teaches us, by the sign of the Wedjat-Eye (One Eternal Round, 313-22). Osiris, where the sun is concerned, is also the Residence of Resurrection.

Despite endless attempts at interpretation, that particular combination of signs nevertheless stands outside the wisdom of scholarship. Yet we think we know everything about it. The Prophet speaks profoundly of writings to be had in the Temple of God, and we blithely read, or "translate," one of those lines as "the Ba of Osiris Shoshonq" or of any-old "Osiris NN", that is, Osiris + Nomen of the deceased, which means--as all know-- just "the late So-and-So." True enough--and yet we forget that the hieroglyphic combination of Throne and Eye that make up that Name, that of the greatest god, has never been adequately explained. Both Throne and Eye, as Brother Nibley is at pains to point out, are the province of goddesses like Isis, Hathor (and Princess Sarah). The goddess in her role of transmission of royal authority informs the name of Osiris (Abraham in Egypt, Chapter Five; One Eternal Round, 151-160; I also note the familiar wordplay on the name of Osiris and the title of Prince, wsjr and sr--if not also princess, sr.t, srh, Sarah). No princess, no prince. No Sarah, no Osiris.

What does Throne and Eye mean? And exactly how was it pronounced in Pharaonic times? Not a living soul has any idea--it's a mystery. In this light one remembers that the Name we read, for convenience, as Jehovah was only "to be had in the Temple of God." (According to Hugh Nibley, One Eternal Round, 256ff., something approximating the sacred Name is found in the Prophet's Explanation as Jah-oh-eh.) We must never forget, when discussing divine names--should we even dare the attempt--that Jehovah (with its many variants), Ahman, Alphus, Omegus, Osiris, Isis (and wsjr and js.t), among others, remain mere masks of Names and pure convention. The question, then: When exactly is it that we know what we're talking about? Well did the Prophet Joseph say that anyone claiming knowledge about God might well go home and put his hand over his mouth until he finally came to know something (anything). After all, knowing is doing, and who would dare to act out his salvation without knowledge of God? The Netherworld texts of the Egyptians, as is well-known, sometimes substitute rx and jrj, knowing and doing the names of the gods and associated rites; indeed, one hypocephalus (Wien 253) gives as legend jwryk, perhaps a sort of fusion of the two verbs, if that's how the signs are to be read.

V  Oliblish

So what might Oliblish signify in Egyptian? In the absence of hieroglyphs we must turn to phonology for answers, imperfect and preliminary though our understanding of Egyptian phonology may be, and as speculative and tentative as any such answers must be. The discerning question must therefore be: Could Oliblish, by any stretch of the imagination, represent an Egyptian name--and a meaningful one at that? Oli- finds an "exact" hit, surprisingly, in both '3j and in the nearly synonymous wrj (great or grand, greatest, to be greatest). Joseph Smith does term Oliblish a "grand governing star." But how about the -b? It might represent the preposition m, a cognate with the Hebrew preposition, b: thus "the One great(est) in knowledge or knowing (lish). Even closer may be wrj-ib (great of heart), the heart being also the seat of knowledge, or 3wj-jb (expansive or expansion-of-heart = joyful; cf. Moroni in Alma 48:12, "his heart did swell with thanksgiving, [joy], etc."). A phonological transcription of 3wj-jb would yield owib or even owlib, or olib. (Remember that Egyptian jb and Hebrew leb [lev] are cognates.) Wrj-jb (Great of heart), an attested Egyptian name (Ranke, Personennamen II), would yield the same. If we consider phonological correspondence to Semitic languages, Egyptian 3wj-jb, with its lateral glides, suggests Oli-lib or Olib (Eg. jb = Semitic lib or libb, the heart; as others have noted, Lib also names the most energetic Jaredite king).

Possibilities for a phonologically viable Egyptian reading of Oliblish indeed abound. As noted above, the solution to Oliblish may be as simple, and as puzzling, as the cryptic words: jw=j rx=kwj rn nj ntr pf ("I know the name of that god," or even, "I know" is the name of that god). Hugh Nibley also notes a star whose Egyptian name, "granted the elusive quality of the Egyptian liquid sounds," recalls Oliblish: 'bsh ("The Three Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," Provo, 1980; Wb. I, 179, 3: New Kingdom).

How about -lish? Two possible readings come to mind, though I find neither convincing.

1) It is altogether possible to see in -lish not three distinct Egyptian phonemes, but one. The Egyptian grapheme we commonly associate with phoneme /sh/ (the shin) may well mask more than one phoneme. For instance, it may mask a lateral fricative, like the phoneme represented in Welsh by ll. The Hebrew grapheme shin apparently masks an additional phoneme, perhaps 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 other words, lish could represent Egyptian shin. We might, then, see Oliblish as reflecting wrj-b3-Shw = Oli-b-Shw = Oli-b-lish (Great is the Ba of Shu). The giant Oliblish figure on the hypocephalus is, after all, and beyond dispute, the Ba of Shu (or, the Ba Shu). (Nibley, Improvement Era, August 1969, notes how these striking names in the Book of Abraham are written, and sometimes variously so, for the ear.)

The god Shu personifies the power of light moving, in its brilliance, through the atmosphere or expanse of space. (Doctrine and Covenants 88 so speaks of God "moving in His majesty and glory" in the midst of space.) Amun, or Amun-Shu, is the Ba of Shu :

[Yo]u are Amun [both twt n jmn = You are Amun and Image of Amun],
You are 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).

As the Ba of Shu all gods "are unto him": b3 Sw n nTr.w nb.w (the Ba of Shu for every God), Invocation Hymn, Third Ba, Klotz, ibid. 28. Hugh Nibley also calls figure 2 "Shu." As Shu, the giant wears the Shwty feathers that represent the "light and energy that traverses and fills the space between heaven and earth, a light (to quote Joseph Smith) 'pertaining to other planets.'" (Hugh Nibley, Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 267).

So does -lish represent a phonetic attempt to write the name Sw, Shu? I don't think so. Let's keep looking.

2) The outcome for rx (to know) in Coptic, the latest form of the Egyptian language as written in Greek letters, is esh. And the Egyptian lateral we conventionally associate with an r as often as not corresponds to l (in fact was originally an l). But how about sh for x? The third of the four h's in Egyptian, which is a guttural h (x) not found in English, often has an outcome sh in later Egyptian--if that's not frequently the original pronunciation anyhow. And remember, we cannot recover all the manifold workings of dialect in the earlier stages of the language. We're left with the vowel. Coptic shows e: esh, but the earliest phase of Egyptian had no e-vowel at all. There was, however, an i. A reading rx for -lish remains a possibility, though, here again, I'm not convinced.

While we continue to seek a sound phonological equivalent for our -lish in the Egyptian lexicon, we may yet mull over the following definition found in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (as penned by one of the Prophet's friends):

Ah lish ['3 rx = The One who is Greatest in Knowing?]: The first being--supreme intelligence; supreme power. . . without beginning of life or end of life; comprehending all things; seeing all things.

The accent falls on knowledge, just as on the hypocephalus labels. Although the Kirtland Egyptian Papers constitute not scripture but speculation, they do sport a few bona fide Egyptian and Semitic words and ideas and may accordingly contribute something to our knowledge of the ancients, as Hugh Nibley pointed out so definitively many years ago. Yet because we nowadays have the blessing of a five-volume Egyptian lexicon, we don't need to spend a New York minute on such preliminary Papers--as Hugh Nibley several times admonishes us in his masterpiece, One Eternal Round. (Let's listen!)

Olib-lish can perhaps be read variously as 3wj-jb [m?] rx or 3wj-jb rx(y), or 3wy-jb [m?] rx(-sw) (the Expansive of Heart, the Knower, that is, the Joyous One, who knows (it), or the Knower). Such a reading also suggests, by way of word play, 3wj-jb rash (the Joyous One, who rejoices, or the Joyous, the Rejoicing One). Here is a being who rejoices in knowledge, and Abraham himself is ever seeking greater knowledge--including the knowledge of the star Oliblish. Oliblish, in the image of Kolob, is thus a second "Heart Star" (Abraham 1:1).

Oliblish bespeaks both strength and joy. "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/ Like a Colossus" (Julius Caesar 1.2.135). There is no fault in that star! In Book of the Dead Chapter 162, the hypocephalus chapter, this very figure takes the epithet Pal or Par (Oli-bl-ish? Wrj-Pal-Shu?) and is described as both the mighty lion (p3 lw and a mighty runner. The theme of the solar runner appears both in the Psalms and Egyptian cosmological texts (as often noted by Hugh Nibley): "Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. His going forth [Eg. prj] is from the end of the heavens, and his circuit [Eg. phr] unto the ends of it [the circle and the apex of the hypocephalus]: and there is nothing hid from the heat [Eg. hh] thereof" (Psalm 19:4-6). Here is joyous Oliblish at the apex of sky and season, holding the keys of the burning Summer solstice; his opposite number, the feminine Enish-go-on-dosh, is a "name" describing the moment of the Winter solstice. And Winter is the low point, or ho telos, reminiscent of the telestial kingdom of Doctrine and Covenants 76 (Hugh Nibley links telestial to the Greek noun telos).

VI  Stands Next to Kolob

Even so, Oliblish does not outshine Kolob; he is second in command, the lieutenant-governor of the stars, the outcome or emanation of Kolob's radiant morning. What the Prophet says is: "Stands next to Kolob," which itself approaches "nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God." Veiled in the bosom of eternity lies the crowning Celestial Throne Star, the diadem of Eternal Home. As for Kolob and Oliblish: "Neither one is the center of everything." Nor indeed is our local sun, Enish-go-on-dosh! There are many kingdoms of glory (One Eternal Round, 265).

The repeated word next finds a parallel in Egyptian writings about the heavenly bodies. Rait, the Female Sun (pictured as the cow, Enish-go-on-dosh, in Facsimile 2, Figure 5) is naechste (so Heinrich Brugsch translates) to the Sun. Brugsch builds on the idea that the Egyptians also considered certain other heavenly bodies to be "suns", that is, reflections of the Sun, the greatest of all, the grand governing creation (Heinrich Brugsch, Thesaurus Inscriptionum Aegyptiacarum I (1883), 78f.: r' pw nb r'.w nb.w, that Re who is lord of every Re). In his Thesaurus Brugsch also lists an array of planets bearing names reflective of the ancient sky-and-solar god, Horus. Their light is a borrowed one.

The Egyptian word that underlies naechste is sn.nw(.t), which means second in order (sn means two; sn.nw, second: as in Joseph Smith's labeling for Oliblish, Figure 2; the so-called Book of Breathings is the sn-sn document, two-by-two, twain). The Prophet Joseph renders the Egyptian ideas in the Egyptians' very idiom! Because Sn.nw(.t) also corresponds to the word twtw (image, copy, likeness), when referring to Re, Sn-nw(.t) signifies a reflection, double, image, twin, or likeness of the sun. Again, we recall the Prophet's words: "said by the Egyptian to be the Sun," that is, not necessarily the actual sun but perhaps a reflection thereof, a likeness, as "another of the governing planets." Note the attested Egyptian name Wrj-twtw-imn (Great is the Image of Amun), which something suggests the Oliblish idea. Brugsch speaks of the female twin of the Sun in a text from Philae, but Rait is not the only solar star. David Klotz (Adoration of the Ram, 177), cites the following from the Harris Magical Papyrus:

"I am Shu, the image of Re (twt R'), who sits within the wedjat-eye of his father,"

which recalls the double-plumed "Shu-crown" of double-faced Figure 2, who stands within the wedjat-eye, or the hypocephalus (see One Eternal Round, 267-8).

An early Christian writing--I momentarily forget which writing--calls Adam the "proto-plasmos," or "first creation"; his son, Seth, was begotten "in his own likeness, after his own image" (Moses 6:10: sn.nw and twtw), a teaching upon which Joseph Smith places much attention: "Because he (Seth) was a perfect man, and his likeness was the express likeness of his father, insomuch that he seemed to be like unto his father in all things, and could be distinguished from him only by his age" (Doctrine and Covenants 107:43, from the Book of Enoch; Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, Explanation, figure 1: Kolob, "the first creation." See also History of the Church, V: 247, where Joseph compares his brother Alvin to Adam and Seth.)

Thus the Harris Magical Papyrus, the lost Book of Enoch, and the Book of Abraham hypocephalus all teach one doctrine about the primeval inheritance of authority from father-to-son, a teaching emphasized by the Prophet Joseph in the great Revelation on Priesthood and also in his Explanation of the hypocephalus. The explanation for Facsimile 2, figure 3 specifically mentions Seth as the link between Adam and future generations ("Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all [others]") in the line of patriarchal authority, "the grand Key-words" of which "Holy Priesthood" takes hieroglyphic representation as the wedjat-eye (Nibley treats the wedjat-eye in One Eternal Round, 315-22).

"And all to whom the Priesthood was revealed": note how priesthood is both passed down in unbroken line and also revealed, separately, to individuals. The pattern subtly, though paradoxically, suggests both line and dispensational cycle. The Prophet Joseph also unfolds a distinct, though incomplete, pattern of presidency at the opening of dispensations, a pattern but little spoken of. In several gospel dispensations, if not all, the keys of presidency are conjointly held in order to accord with the law of witnesses. Though not able to speak to particulars, we can attempt a list: Adam (who really presides over all dispensations) and Seth (or, Abel and Seth); Enoch; Noah and Shem; Abraham and Esaias (or Isaac?), or Abraham ehad--"I called him alone"; Moses and Elijah; Peter, James, and John; Joseph and Hyrum.

Seth, according to the Revelation on Priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 107), was ordained by Adam to transmit the blessings, ordinances, and teachings specifically to his own posterity. (Prophecy dares the larger, worldwide audience in Enoch's day, with a resounding challenge, and with good measure of success.) A second Prophet, son of Hyrum, continues Joseph's vision: As "one of the mighty ones, who was in the express image of his father," Seth holds the keys of the priesthood and its ordinances conjointly with Adam, or as the link with Adam, being also his personal representative or agent, his standard-bearer (Vision of the Redemption of the Dead, Joseph F. Smith, Doctrine and Covenants 138: 40). Thus the Prophet Joseph can also say, without any contradiction: "The Priesthood was first given to Adam: he obtained the First Presidency [that is, the first Presidency], and held the keys of it from generation to generation. . . He is Michael the Archangel. . .Then to Noah, who is Gabriel; he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood. . . and was the father of all living in his day" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 104). Adam and Seth, like Kolob and Oliblish, though in standing order also stand in fusion of authority; the others, archangels and stars alike, follow in the wake. Oliblish, at the side of the king, holds the Wepwawet standard, the planets follow (see One Eternal Round, 267

On the Nash hypocephalus, "figures 1 and 2 are combined and their identity clearly established," or dually established (One Eternal Round, 265). One solar phase flows imperceptibly into another: master of forms aplenty, sun upon sun (nb xpr.w 'ash3.w, lord of many kheperur'w nb r'w, Book of the Dead Chapter 162). The hypocephalus displays a pattern, a relational pattern, bespangling creation, never rigid depiction.

Yet Kolob remains Kolob. It is also a mistake to say, as some do, that Kolob images the Celestial Christ in one-on-one correspondence. After all, both Oliblish and Enish-go-on-dosh (as sun)--and even the earth in its four quarters--also bespeak His glory. "All things testify of me;" but witness differs from identity, likeness remains likeness. Nor can we simplistically suppose Canopus or Sirius to be Kolob. Zarahemla may well be El Mirador, pyramids bathed in red, but Kolob is not Sirius. It lies beyond our Milky Way. Names and symbolism may match and reflect, but identity in an absolute sense is another matter. Neither Joseph Smith nor Hugh Nibley identify those stars. As our view of galactic space expands, so should our certitude about places lesson. Humility hits us from both sides; yet, as saving grace, we also come to call humility but wonder, and wonder grants us a place in the world. Though shaken by instrumental revelation of every kind, we still stand just a little lower than the angels.

Nor can (nor do) egyptologists blithely label every seeming-solar figure simply sun. Many stars and planets are said to be the sun, yet there is perchance one grand governing star. The central figure on the hypocephalus sun-like appears, but ever examples something more than just sun (as Jan Assmann insists). R' pw nb r'.w nb.w (Re it is, who is lord of every re) bespeaks a mystery, a game of words, a relational go-round: Ria nib riaw nibwThe One and the Many--so Erik Hornung subtitles his classic work, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt.

The One and the Many; the One in Duality: "On some hypocephali," Nibley and Rhodes tell us, "this figure is labeled both Re and Amun-Re, the same power at different levels. He stands at the zenith of the year and the noon of the day at his greatest moment of power [a solar phase]--the sun, the ruler of the solar system, but everything about him reminds us that he is in motion [running the round]. What about the rest of his journey, passing through the underworld from west to east? We are referred to the key, the Wepwawet, 'Opener of the Ways,' which lets us out of the underworld" (One Eternal Round, 265, italics added).

"All these are kingdoms" says Doctrine and Covenants 88:47, with that which is below in likeness of that which is above (see Moses 6:63). Here, then, are three solar images, even Kolob and its mirroring in descending kingdoms of light and power, an image that answers to the revelation of the three kingdoms of heavenly glory found in Doctrine and Covenants Sections 76 and 88. Given the Prophet's statement about both Kolob and Oliblish standing, in graded order, "near to the celestial," a reading of Facsimile 2 in light of Section 76 has doubtless occurred to most readers. We need not try to specify which star matches which glory. It is simply the triadic nature of the cosmos that matters here.

The depictions on the hypocephalus reflect a cosmos bathed in light. At least two figures can be said to represent the sun: our Figures 1 and 2 (sunrise and solar zenith). But the Egyptians always speak of the three phases of solar light, including the setting, or night sun in its netherworldly manifestation. For the hypocephalus idea to be complete, for the times and seasons to come to fullness of glory, we must look for three images, three phases, or three manifestations of that glory--and this is where the Prophet Joseph comes in. According to the Prophet, who expands our view by giving us three kingdoms of glory as well as three glorious phases of celestial light, the Hathor Cow, standing opposite to Oliblish, and inverted, "is [also?] said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash," that is to say, an image reflected through a mirroring from above.

"And behold, all things have their likeness" (Moses 6:63). So God spoke to Adam in the beginning of the world. One kingdom stands mirrored in another, and all brilliantly reflect the glory of God (Moses 6:63; Doctrine and Covenants 88:4). These verses from Moses and the Olive Leaf revelation appear often in Hugh Nibley's study of the Prophet's Explanation of Facsimile 2, and in so noting, I extend to the reader an invitation to discover and to re-discover that marvelous volume, One Eternal Round, as coauthored and edited by Hugh Nibley's friend and student, Professor Michael Rhodes. A good place to begin is on pages we have not even begun to explore: Facsimile 2, Figure 2, 265-268. Here we descry a governing Star "Striding forth boldly on his eternal rounds," with the Sw.ty-feathers of his crown, "a symbol of eternal beginning" and of light's distribution, loftily "protud[ing] above the confining edge" of the known universe.


The essay has been edited several times since its date of initial posting. For instance, the last four paragraphs, along with further elucidation, in light of the Prophet's Explanation of Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, of Professor Eugene Lefebvre's reading of the name Osiris as the Residence of Re, were all added on 12/6/2011. Material on Seth and Adam added 4/28/2012. The reading of Oliblish as Wrj-b3-Shw added 2/9/2014.

Copyright 2010 by Val H. Sederholm

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Plain of Olishem and the Field of Abram: LDS Book of Abraham, Chapter One

I  Olishem on GoogleEarth

Even the thank-offering of a child did the priest of Pharaoh offer upon the altar which stood by the hill called Potiphar's Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem (Abraham 1:10).

Abraham's book opens in a running though poetic style-as if the author had not a moment to lose; the second part of verse 10 even shows meter:

which stood by the hill/
called Potiphar's Hill,/
at the head of the plain of Olishem.

Given Abraham's vivid account, the reader can clearly see the hill at the head of the stretching plain. "The places and names are specific and real," says Hugh Nibley. Despite the poetic touch, this is a real place, a place that could swim into ken on GoogleEarth. Look for it (Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round [2010], 187; Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 406).

II  Is Ulisum, Olishem?

So where is the plain of Olishem? John Lundquist links Olishem with a Syrian place name found in the Akkadian record, Ulisum: "Naram-Sin the strong defeated Arman and Ebla and from the banks of the Euphrates as far as Ulisum." Where is Ulisum? Far away in the West, says the record. Somebody ought to look for that one, too. Whether Naram-Sin's Ulisum occupies the same spot as Abraham's Olishem, it's the very same name. The reading Ulisum (u[2]-li-si-im-ki), as John Gee carefully sets forth, ought to be rendered Ulisem or even Olisem (u[2]-li-se[2]-em-ki (the Sumerian determinative sign KI found at the end of the place name signifies land). As Michael Rhodes and Hugh Nibley further explain: "The 'u' and 'o' are phonetic variants of each other in Semitic languages. Moreover texts from the time of Naram-Sim regularly use the 's' to represent the 'sh' sound" (One Eternal Round, 173; text cited on ps. 172-3; John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors," note 64).

"From the banks of the Euphrates as far as Olishem": Is that far-away Ulisum or Olis(h)em the plain of Olishem? Conclusions remain premature, but it would be remiss not to point out the similarity and, by so doing, show that the Book of Abraham merits a second look.

What does Olishem mean? John Gee and Stephen Ricks suggest Semitic Ali-Shem, City of Shem--but Abraham says nothing of a city ("Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study," in Paul Hoskisson, ed., Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures [Provo, 2001], note 113). Oli- mirrors other names found in the Book of Abraham: Oliblish (a governing star), Olimlah (the servant of a Prince of Egypt), and Egyptian or West Semitic Olea (the moon). These last are Egyptian names: Olimlah matches the Egyptian name Wrj-jmn-r' (Great is Amun-Ra, Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 220-1). Other phonological matches may include Wrj-mj-r' (Great like Re) and '3j-jmn-r' (Great is Amun-Re). Oliblish, in light of the iconography on Facsimile 2--and, given the lack of hieroglyphs, we have to listen for these names--suggests Wrj-b3-Shw, Great is the Ba of Shu.

Now to Olishem, which appears to be a Canaanite, rather than Egyptian, name. Should we even attempt an Egyptian reading, I would prefer for Oli- neither '3j nor wrj because a choice just as phonologically sound, and even more specific and peculiar to what Abraham 1 describes, presents itself: 3w or 3wj, with 3 as O- and wj as lateral glide, thus l- or li-. Because the dictionary designates 3w as an expanse of land (Woerterbuch I, 4), 3wj-shem suggests "the broad expanse of Shem," or the Plain of Shem." There is a Hebrew cognate, for Egyptian 3wj matches Hebrew rb (to be large: Egyptian 3 = Hebrew r; w ~ b) and further suggests r-h-b, a broad, open area, a plaza: Rekhob-Shem. (Does rhb derive from rb-rb?) Nibley will give me a bit of help: On page 414 of An Approach to the Book of Abraham, we read that "Phathus or Petor" [Potiphar?] "was originally the name of Aram-naharaim, Abraham's native city, when it was first settled by Aram and his brother Rekhob." Indeed (414 n. 138): "The name of Rekhob alone would guarantee its religious background"--which brings us back to 3w, rb, and rhb (I'm adding all these italics, to be sure.)

III  Olishems Everywhere!

For Professors Gee and Ricks another West Semitic place name (or names), mentioned in Middle Kingdom execration texts, recalls Olishem: Irissym(n) and 3wshamm, a designation sometimes supposed to refer to 'Urushalimum, that is, Jerusalem ("Historical Plausibility," notes 116 and 117 = James Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts, 493). Nothing could suggest Olishem more forcibly than 3wshamm! James Hoch reads the hieroglyphs on the execration texts as 'lw-w-shl-l-m-m = *'Urushalimum, while noting: "If the reconstruction is correct, the writing is defective, indicating neither the i- nor all of the u- vowels." Absent these vowels, Hoch's reading could yet yield Orushalemem, that is, "the land of Jerusalem." I read the same signs as 3wj-sh3-m-m, a name marked with the determinative sign of land or place (not city): the land of Owishamem or Olishamum. Sham (ash-Sham), the reader will recall, is the Arabic name for Syria. How old is the name? How old is Damascus?

Because the Egyptian "group writing" for the West Semitic place name Oli-shamum does use the very same hieroglyph that signifies expanse of land, plain, as discussed above, a proposed reading of 3wj as Oli matches Abraham's description of the place as "the plain of Olishem." And here we must also recall p3 hql 'brm, the heqel Abram (the p3 is the Egyptian definite article), or Field of Abram, a Syro-Palestinian place name mentioned "in the great Karnak inscription of Sheshonq I," a place which, says Hugh Nibley, again recalls our plain of Olishem, an open field set apart as the gathering-place for the nation (see One Eternal Round, 171-3; 182-7; James Henry Breasted, "The Earliest Occurrence of the Name Abram," The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, 21:1, Oct. 1904, 22-36 ). Here is the maidan or rekhob, the plain or field, as the panegyric gathering-place of all the sons of Shem.

Confusion between place names, and their reinterpretation over time, marks nothing new in the Ancient Near East, for "Wandering of geographic names is a common phenomenon." The name of Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered Isaac, transfers onto Mount Zion, which itself comes to bear the name Zaphon, that Olympus of "the heights of the north" (Psalm 48:3; Johannes C. de Moor, "Ugarit and Israelite Origins," Congress Volume Paris, ed., J.A. Everton, 217-18). We are dealing with both a severely limited geographic area and also with a specific and peculiar Kulturkreis; within such close compass, we can expect a second or even a third Ulisum, Olishem, or Olishamum.

IV  Heaven's Height: Olishem's Sun Hill

Hugh Nibley advances a convincing etymology for Olishem in An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 415: "Olishem [and also Ulishim, for that matter] can be readily recognized by any first-year Hebrew student [ouch!] as meaning something like 'hill of heaven,' 'high place of heaven,' or even possibly 'sun hill' [or] the Plain of the High Place of Heaven," etc. ('al= '-l-y, "height"; Shami, Shamah, "visible heavens, sky" = Sky-Height; Heaven's Height). For Abraham on the altar, the place becomes Anti-Zion; then Bright Angel appears. (Tsiyy-on suggests a high place of blinding white-hot brilliance.) As for Potiphar's Hill, its Egyptian name signifies "the Hill of the One-whom-Re-has given or appointed" (One Eternal Round, 172; Approach to the Book of Abraham, 415).

Who is the one whom Re has given? In Genesis, the name belongs to a "captain of the guard" and also to the "high priest" of Heliopolis, Sun City. That both are stand-ins for the King, the Captain of all and ultimate Priest of the Sun, cannot be doubted. Potiphar's Hill, an open shrine to Re, thus belongs by definition to Pharaoh himself and to Pharaoh alone (see Jan Assmann, ed., The King as Sun Priest). In Book of Abraham Chapter 1, it is Pharaoh's priestly substitute, as every priest perforce must be, that presides at Potiphar's Hill--and the pretender must die. Abraham, as Nibley often asserts, is the pretender who must die, but in a dramatic reversal God "smote the priest." His stunning death, at the very moment he lifts the knife to slay the pretender, says Abraham, caused "great mourning. . . in the court of Pharaoh" (1:20). Forget Ulisum, that last phrase alone speaks with such convincing power that no serious reader will set the book down after encountering that line. The ceaseless carping at the Book of Abraham today, the scorn and jocularity, the intellectual preening and pose of superiority, makes me rejoice no end. What it reveals from the housetops of cyberspace is that it is only the thoughtful reader, the kind of reader that pauses over words and phrases, that looks things up in other books, that studies and prays, who will begin to discover the pearl of greatest price. And that's how it should be!

Now consider: if Joseph can, by marriage to his daughter, inherit Potiphar, and thus become a Potiphar, that is, a stand-in for Pharaoh himself, cannot Abraham also play the part? Why else would Pharaoh seek to take Abraham's wife for himself? Joseph, in his own varied circumstances, passes through the same tests Abraham once faced and receives the like blessings. The inheritance, the throne on high, is the gift of Re. Potiphar signals both the altar and the ultimate exaltation. Both the Joseph and the Abraham narratives culminate in exaltation to a kingly station; no wonder Abraham goes to the trouble of giving a history of the Egyptian kingship, while also explaining his own patriarchal claims and bloodline. Whatever the origins of the name Potiphar, its ritual implications in the patriarchal narratives are clear.

V  A lot of explaining to do

Because Brother Joseph's Explanation of Book of Abraham Facsimile 1 helpfully gives us Shaumau (to be high) for what may be the same root as the -shem in Olishem, we might then also read Olishem as Oli-Shaum, Oli-Shaumau, or even Oli-Shaumaum. So what do we have? Are we to understand Olishem as the plain of the expanse of Shem? the plain of the expanse of heaven? the high place of Shem? Jerusalem? place of ascent of heaven? the heights of heaven? or the high place of heaven? All seem to fit, but which makes for the best cultural, ritual, and linguistic match? which, the specific and peculiar?

Hugh Nibley reaches the root of the matter: It is one thing for Joseph Smith to give us a name susceptible to linguistic analysis, it is entirely another for that same name to yield a meaning which fits the ritual Sitz im Leben of the Ancient Near East. The notion of plain-cum-hill, Plain of the High Place of Heaven, fits the ancient setting, as do also the Heliopolitan associations of Potiphar's Hill, for Potiphar, in the Joseph story, is the high priest of On, or Heliopolis, the city of the solar mound, with its sacred pillar. The critics have a lot of explaining to do.

Pouring on adverbials and qualifiers does not explain. Witness the following look down the lorgnette: "Certainly, Ulishim could be superficially linked on phonetic grounds to the Olishem mentioned in the Book of Abraham. . . But a convincing identification would have to be based on much more substantial evidence" (Christopher Wood, "The Practice of Egyptian Religion at 'Ur of the Chaldees," in, Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition [2012; 2nd ed., 2013], 91). Well and good. Because we have not yet looked for, let alone found, the Ulishim of Naram-Sim, dogmatic conclusions remain premature. Yet Professor Wood, who transliterates the place name as both Ulishim and Ulishem, goes on to "explain" how "the phonetic similarity is accidental (and here it should be pointed out that cuneiform sources attest thousands of place names)," Ibid. 91. Thousands of names the record may yield, yet exactly how does such a cornucopia bestow upon the philologist the right to dismiss any "accidental"-though-clear "phonetic similarity"?

Cross-examination is in order: To what language family does the name Ulishim belong? Is it not Afroasiastic? in particular, may it not be West Semitic? If so, what might the West Semitic name mean? Should Uli-shim, perchance, register either height or heaven, or both, might the place, which seems to be a natural border, include a hill? In other words, besides the accidental phonetic similarity, are we also dealing with an accidental thematic correspondence? Does the one (accidental) correspondence in phonology necessarily presuppose the other?

Exactly how does a book of 14 pages produce dozens upon dozens of linguistic, cultural, thematic, theological, and literary points of comparison to the Ancient Near Eastern record? The numbers are no exaggeration. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with no hesitation whatsoever, not even a hint of abatement, continues to post the canonical Book of Abraham on line and to print copies by the tens of thousands in scores of languages. There is a lot of explaining to do.


Ulisum appears in "an inscription of the Akkadian king Naram Sin" (2250 BC), The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary (Richard Draper, S. Kent Brown, Michael Rhodes), 251, citing John M. Lundquist, "Was Abraham at Ebla?" in Studies in Scripture 2 (ed. Robert Millet and Kent Jackson, Provo, 1985), 233-34. The date is early but fits the idea of an archaic gathering-place. We know where Adam-ondi-Ahman is, and someday we shall also find Olishem. For the reading Ulisem/Ulishem/Olishem see John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors," note 64 (published on the Neal A. Maxwell Institute Website).

This essay was originally posted in 2010, but modifications have been made and paragraphs added or moved about, from time to time. The paragraph assessing Christopher Wood's explanations was added in February 2014 (then itself modified, revised, reworked, from time to time--but esp. in September 2014, and again in Fall 2017).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Eternity sketch'd" on the Abraham Facsimiles and on the Book of Breathings Vignettes


What is a facsimile of the Book of Abraham? And what is a vignette from the Book of the Dead or Book of Breathings? Why facsimile? Why vignette? Why not just picture or illustration? Facsimile 1, Facsimile 2, Facsimile 3: these designations become larger-than-life to the minds of the Latter-day Saints. We need to capture them better, dress them up a bit in the flowing tendrils of a vignette.

We talk of faxes, but facsimile is a near archaism. A facsimile is simply the attempt to make a true copy ("make similar!" "make a (similar or exact) copy!" fac similis) of a book, picture, letter. In the case of the Abraham-and-Book-of-Breathing vignettes, the Prophet had Reuben Hedlock make copies or "cuts" in wood blocks for purposes of printing, and the Prophet's History calls these copies of the vignettes both "facsimiles" and "cuts." Vignette never once occurred to him, and, sensu stricto, these drawings would not have been labeled vignettes in nineteenth-century American usage. So, for Abraham, we're stuck with facsimiles. That's all for the best: we can then distinguish between the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham and the vignettes from the Book of Breathings: the same little sketches but purposed differently over time.

That is to say, the vignettes may have been repurposed, relabeled, or resignified to blend two lives or two stories into one. "In this case, in relation to this subject," as the Prophet says in his Explanation of Facsimile 1, the facsimiles point to Abraham in Egypt. Logic, then, requires us to conclude that "in another case, in relation to another subject," the vignettes can also point to Hor, the owner of the Book of Breathings and the Theban priest of Min-who-massacres-his-enemies. Because the significance of an Egyptian vignette may relationally vary from case-to-case, or even according to point of view--it is Osiris! it is Abraham in the likeness of Osiris! it is Hor in the likeness of Abraham, who is in the likeness of Osiris--it requires a seer to look through the later layers of the representational onion in order to perceive the essence of the thing. Abraham, Osiris, and Hor appear "knit together as one man," knit in hope's precedent, as an earnest of the resurrection. They come to us in the eternal round of "concatenation" (see Joshua 20:11; "Concatenation," Leonardo da Vinci).

That's how Hugh Nibley, writing in 1968, understood matters. By stating so lucidly and so logically the idea of relational signification, the Prophet Joseph is telling us that the vignettes are anything but pictures as we know pictures; rather, the vignettes are signifiers: they signify just what a particular priestly scribe designs (or programs) them to signify, and for whatsoever audience he intends them so to signify (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, "Facsimile 1 Is Not a Picture," 174-6).

So let's not say the Prophet took the facsimiles for mere pictures of Abraham, or that they together make up "a pictorial representation of events in the life of the prophet, Abraham," as flatly stated on the Joseph Smith Papers Web site. Such a simplistic idea circumscribes our ability to see the representational and semiotic field described by the Egyptians. "The whole thing," says Nibley, "is culturally conditioned. Abraham is trying to explain the figures to non-Egyptians, and he tells them that they cannot be understood unless they are viewed through trained Egyptian eyes" (Ibid. 174-75).

So much for the notion of iconotropy--"image turning"--bruited about today, the notion that the Facsimiles, by way of cultural reinterpretation, speak to Hebrew rather than to Egyptian ideas. To the contrary, the Prophet's explanation of the three facsimiles matches Egyptian cultural notions with specificity. Where such ideas also happen to match the Hebrew understanding, as they often do, both Abraham and Joseph Smith point out the correspondence. The two cultures do not diverge so widely as to necessitate "image turning" anyhow. The Egyptian facsimiles must nevertheless convey many things best understood in Egyptian terms, otherwise what would the point be? why would Abraham trouble with these Rahleenos, as he calls them, at all? (See William J. Hamblin, "Iconotropy and the JS Abraham Facsimiles," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture).

And vignette? The word means little vine and refers to the tendrils that grace the margins of books. Bookmakers also apply the word to any little drawing illustrating or illuminating (in the Medieval sense) the beginning or end of book or chapter--a little window into the matter to sum things up. I see in Leonardo da Vinci's interlaced and multi-tiered vignette or "Concatenation" a marvelous summing-up of his picture of the universe--his own Facsimile 2, so to speak: a mazed, knotted sun with four distinct rays. The "Concatenation"--much like the hypocephalus--becomes a sort of encyclopedia written in knots rather than letters. A vignette can also be a little story, and indeed Egyptian vignettes, more than mere window-dressing, always tell us a little ritual story.


Even Egyptologists use these Egyptian vignettes as, well, vignettes. And throughout the world such like vignettes decorate book covers, conference stationary, postcards, hotel facades, and the like.

Witness the following vignette borrowed from a vignette (a story within a story): Publishers chose a vignette from Ani's famous Book of the Dead to grace and to illuminate the front jacket cover of Professor Jan Assmann's masterpiece, Tod und Jenseits im Alten Aegypten (Death and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt). The choice of vigette is apt: a mummy appears to be about to arise from the dead: Death and Afterlife, and Hope.

In my turn, I choose this same little vine to sketch an understanding of the Abraham facsimiles, or vignettes from the Book of Breathings. The little picture works well for Professor Assmann's masterpiece; will it work at all for Abraham's book? (Note: we only need to see if it will work at all--I only mean to stir curiosity, no one's trying to make an open-and-shut case for Abraham in Egypt by jacket cover--by vignette.)

The multi-use vignette shows the deceased on the lion couch and surrounded, head and foot, by two "Olympic" torches on stands. Over the mummy hovers a falcon with outstretched wings and a bearded human head. Held in its talons is a ring tied to a horizontal bar; the symbol, painted green, thus also hovers over the deceased.

The vignette nicely illustrates Professor Assmann's book on the afterlife: here is Osiris, whose experience expresses the hope of every Egyptian; it does just as well at recalling or reflecting something of Abraham, as represented on the first two facsimiles of his book.

The (fac-)similarities between the Ani vignette and Facsimile 1, the lion couch scene, complete with hawk, are obvious (though it is the differences that afford the specific and the peculiar). But how about Facsimile 2, the hypocephalus, the round pillow, which keeps the head warm? Joseph Smith places the hypocephalus immediately after the lion-couch scene. Why would he do that? Do they belong at all together? The Ani vignette hints at Facsimile 2 in at least six ways: 1) the blazing torches (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 208-9: apotrapaic, sacrificial, and serving to keep the head warm); 2) the lion's mane as pillow cushion (the lion signifies renewal); 3) the outstretched wings (protection and unification: the round hypocephalus both protects and affords union with the solar disk); 4) the large open eyes of both human-headed hawk and the awakening mummy himself (hypocephalus as solar Eye, as also representation of the visions of Eternity, and the coming of the hawk to the deceased as shining Eye, One Eternal Round, 208-9); 5) the green back and wings of the hawk and of the shen-ring it holds (the green gem par excellence is the life-granting hypocephalus, One Eternal Round, Chapter 10, "Jewel of Discernment"); and 6) the shen-ring (the Eternal Round and the round hypocephalus, and the Abrahamic solar name Shinehah: One Eternal Round, 333-34). The shen-ring (the verb sheni describes the solar course) is the signature of the sun itself; in this case, on this vignette, the sun makes manifest as the ba-bird descending in glory into the lower worlds.

What the angel brings Ani, in circular form, recalls the protection and promise of the hypocephalus, the deliverance from death unto life eternal. Angel? Isn't this just a representation of the descending sun as the ba of Osiris (drawn with Ani's own face) uniting with his own Osirian mummy (the same face)? But what about the shen-ring? When a soul, artistically represented with wings, descends from the heavens with the sign of protection and the promise of deliverance (from the flames) and of eternal life, what do we call that soul? (Remember, the winged-soul is bathed in flaming glory here, its head just on a par with, and embraced within, the high-flaming torches.) Answer: The angel of the Lord (see Explanation of Facsimile 1).

Question: Does the Rhodes and Nibley interpretation of Facsimiles 1 and 2 partake of wild, freewheeling, and fantastic views having nothing whatsoever to do with what captivates Egyptologists today? Again, why does the Prophet place the hypocephalus immediately after the lion couch scene? My little comparison of motifs found sketched on vignettes is not a matter of "all or nothing" but of at all? and nothing whatsoever? That was Nibley's approach--the second look.

So let's look again! Here's an seventh hint from the Book of the Dead vignette: both the beard of Osiris Ani and the bushy, lotus-flower lion's tail curl lavishly toward the hawk (as do the torch flames)--almost touching--as if arms to embrace it; even as the highest pinion of the hawk's outstretched left wing brushes against the mummy. I see in this representation something made like (fac-simile) the curving-shape of the Lotus Lion Ram cryptogram found on Facsimile 2 (and even more closely resembling the same cryptogram as depicted on pSalt 825), as also the tendril-like phi spiral that stamps our facsimile with life (One Eternal Round, Chapter 15). Tendrils? What else should appear on a gracefully drawn vign-ette?

Embraces? Here's a hint at Facsimile 3 as well, in which each of the five figures beckons to, touches, or embraces the other in one eternal hug. They all wish to be brought into the picture--our picture. Osiris and Abraham were partakers of royal honors and glory: the priest Hor, as joint-heir, wishes to join in. Take another look.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kae-e-vanrash and Kli-flos-isis: Abraham Facsimile 2, Figure 5 and Doctrine and Covenants 88


The Prophet Joseph Smith's Explanation of Facsimile 2, Figure 5, with its startling names for stars and cosmic forces, opens an unfamiliar window onto Ancient Egypt. Are the unusual names part of a unique Mormon cosmology? or are they true Egyptian phrases, though expressed in a unique phonetic transcription?

"Fig. 5. Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob."

The lower panel, on which Figure 5 (the Hathor Cow) is found, presents 1) a Bird-Snake presenting the Wedjat-Eye to an enthroned Horus- or Amun-Min, 2) a woman, whose face is the Wedjat-Eye, holding a lotus blossom over the flanks of the divine Cow, and 3) Four Mummified Figures (the Sons of Horus), along with 4) the hieroglyphs Lotus Lion Ram.

What the Explanation describes is the transfer, borrowing, and reception of Light and Power from, or by means of, a governing star to a lesser star. Certain keys or governing powers work this transfer of light. The Explanation reads clearly, though the underlying astronomical conceptions remain utterly unfamiliar to moderns. Yet the Egyptian evidence for such transmission or sharing of stellar and solar light may be found in both the ancient art and literature (see Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 220-21, with illustration from tomb of Tutankhamun; 240, 267, 295-99, 334; David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram: Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple [New Haven, 2006], 176, 181-2: Shu-feathers, as on Fac. 2, fig. 2; also the hypocephalus as iris-and-pupil hiding Amun-Re, the spiritual power behind the physical light of the sun).

Outside the Egyptian evidence, the closest thing in all literature to the Explanation of Figure 5 is Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants (revealed 27 and 28 December 1832; 3 January 1833). Section 88 says that Jesus Christ both "ascended up on high" (Figure 2: Oliblish) and also "descended below all things [the lower panel that represents the lowest world, the world that borrows and receives light], in that he comprehended all things [the all-comprehensive round hypocephalus itself]." He is "the light of truth": "As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made [borrows its light through the medium of the grand key, etc]." He is also in the moon, stars, and earth as their light and the power thereof by which they were made (Fig. 5: "as also moon, sun, earth," etc.). Because the wording about the sun, moon, earth, and stars also much recalls the Prophet's 1832 account of his youthful reflections before receiving the First Vision, we can trace a direct line of thought about the glories of the cosmos, from about 1818 to 1842, the year of the publication of Facsimile 2.

"Light proceedeth forth" from the presence of Christ "to fill the immensity of space" (Hugh Nibley cites the verse several times in One Eternal Round). Here is the "grand governing power" that fills other vessels, that is, stars and planets, with light. This light is the "power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things" (as the "heart star," Kolob, in Figure 1 of Facsimile 2, One Eternal Round, 250ff.). Human beings may be "quickened by a portion" of this glory, which comprehends more than one level of glory or power. A portion implies a measure, even a spark, sufficient to quicken, or bring to life, and to maintain that life and glory.

No wonder Hugh Nibley once taught a Sunday School class that Section 88 was the most Egyptian of all sections of the Doctrine and Covenants! Section 88, the 1832 Account of the First Vision, and the Explanation of Figure 5 must each be read in light of the other.


Kae-e-vanrash, like the other strange names in the Explanation, puzzles. Can it be read as Egyptian? The first rule of interpretation is to look for simplicity. Several Egyptian verbs and phrases express the powerful energy of the sun and the other heavenly bodies as the source of light and vision (see 88:11). We should both begin and end with such common but semiotically telling ("encyclopaedic") words. Second, a suggested phrase or word to explain the name should also fit the figures and actions on the panel. Any reading should thus be both peculiar and specific to one or more of the following: the inspired Explanation, the iconography of the hypocephalus (and its texts), or the writings of Egyptologists. A third and important rule is that we should not expect a crystalline phonetic transcription, that is, a match that answers exactly to our own assumptions about the phonology. The Prophet's readings reflect a 19th century American's attempts at reproducing the sound of the word, not a phonology with point-by-point exactitude; besides, Egyptian phonology remains but poorly understood. It would therefore be best to try a variety of possible Egyptian readings in order to evaluate how each attempt answers to the requirements of the Explanation and to the iconography of the hypocephalus.

Kae-e suggests at least four Egyptian expressions, and each deserves its fair shake. I favor reading Kae-e as a participial form of the verbal root x-'-j (= hae, as it is spelled in the Akhmimic dialect of Coptic). The lexeme expresses a royal or divine manifestation in glory and power. In particular, x-'-j (linked semantically with the verb wbn, to rise) expresses sunrise, coronation, royal accession, and festival appearance. We recall that Kae-e-vanrash has to do with Kolob, the source of light and energy, and is said to be the "governing power," or "grand Key," for the transfer of said energy.

Kae-e also reminds me of a semantically similar root that often appears with x'jq-3-j. Q3j, a stative verb, signifies to be highq3jw, the highest of all (Hugh Nibley, "The Three Facsimiles," 1980, plays with this reading). Q3j-' (the high of arm), an archaic royal title, corresponds to the figure of Min in the Lower Panel. The arm is symbolic of power and authority in the Ancient Near East. In Hebrew zeroah ramah signifies "the high arm" (Job 38:15); Job is asked: "Or hast thou an arm like God" (40:9).

I note a third possibility for Kae-e in k3, the ka-spirit or life-power (meaning the energies that enliven the physical body). The ka-spirit is also the medium by which the royal power is transferred from father to son. The notion of ka thus has to do with the continuity of the earthly dynastic line. In its plural form, K3w expresses a fullness of powers. The word fits the context: the bird-like serpent, who offers the Wedjat-Eye in the lower panel bears the k3w name: Nehebkau, the "provider of Kas" (for this figure, see Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 307-8).

Kae-e also evokes the bull (k3) as symbol of kingship and godhood: k3 wr (= Kae-e, the great governing bull) and such planetary names as k3-pt (bull of heaven = Mars). In Hugh Nibley's discussion of the fifteen stars, which feature in the explanation of figure five, he refers us to a vignette from the Book of Gates of fifteen bearers of a ship ("the ship of bearers") whose prow and bow both show a bull's head; two further representations of the bull also hover over the ends of the ship (One Eternal Round, 298-99). Are we to think here of the vital energy of the bull alone, or of the elusive powers of k3w? Again, the rim of the hypocephalus speaks of the god as the "mighty bull," who is "exalted," or "lifted up," thus both k3 and q3. All these do recall the Prophet's explanation of Kae-e-vanrash. . . Perhaps k3w should be the favored reading, after all. Still, the vitalizing Ka seems to refer to the physical life of animal bodies rather than to the energy that fires sun and star, even while both are necessary for continuance of existence. (Both are necessary: Note how the Egyptian cosmos can never be the cold cosmos of "humanism," one in which animal life is mere--and fading--accident.) The scene from the Book of Gates binds these energies together.

How about -vanrash, a real puzzler? -Vanrash, if we follow basic Egyptian syntax and standard rules of phonology, invites several possibilities, but I'm not ready to endorse any of them. We're just guessing here. These include: (Participle) van + (Preposition) r + (Noun Phrase) ash and van + m + rash (with the preposition m merging with the final root letter n of the verbal form). -Ash suggests Eg. 'sh3 (to be many, many) and rash, rsh (to be joyful, joy). The Egyptian phrase 'ash3.t wnw (many in essences = mit vielen Wesen, of the Red Crown) could be written ashvan (Woerterbuch I, 307). -Vanrash might accordingly be read: wnw hr ash3.t, or the like. But I doubt it.

-Van puzzles; we typically don't think of a v in Egyptian. I see several possibilities (Nibley, 1980, notices the first two): wnj (to open), wn(n) (to be, exist), wbn (to rise, illuminate), and the thematically related solar bn-stone (or bn-bn stone), and bnw (phoenix and baboon). Wbn intrigues: the combination of the w or u + b suggests the possibility of the v, and the verb fits the theme of the manifestation of light. Take the Egyptian harp, bjnw (spelled like the words bnw or bjnw, phoenix, and bnw, baboon). In later Egyptian bjnw yields both boine (Sahidic Coptic) and ouwini (Bohairic), evidence that the /b/ phoneme, here, sounds something like the soft /b/ of Japanese or Spanish. The same phoneme occurs in the verb wnn (to be, to exist), as instanced in the Osirian epithet wnn-nfr (who shall ever be complete): ouenofre (Sahadic), benofer (Bohairic), ouenabre (Old Coptic), and ouenafer and ouenaf (pBM 10808). A glance at these Coptic spellings (nof/naf/nab, nofer/nafer, naf, ouen/ben), shows the difficulties in rendering the Egyptian phonemes into European alphabetic systems--even by speakers of ancient Egyptian (Woerterbuch, I).

A /v/ phoneme? Antonio Loprieno lists the inventory of consonantal phonemes for older Egyptian: no v. But, by the time we get to the Coptic inventory, we find the following entry under Labial Phonemes, in which "Voiced" is now "[Voiced]": /b/ [international phonetic alphabet, beta]. "The voiced phoneme /b/," we are told, "by this time was probably articulated as a fricative [beta]," Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction, 40-1). "By this time" indicates a long development from Old Kingdom Egypt all the way down to Coptic editions of the New Testament. Professor Loprieno speaks of the "frequent alternation" of Coptic /b/ with /f/ and ou, that is, /w/, and gives as evidence the word for gold, nb - noub - nouf, and, again, harp: boine - ouwini, Ancient Egyptian, 248 n 58). Joseph Smith's transcription of /v/ is no howler.

Our -vanrash (wanrash, fanrash, or banrash), in an instant, starts to signify: Ba m rshw.t, the Ba in rejoicing? wnj wr, the great key?). The strong, stand-alone r must match a very specific word. Irj, to do or make, comes first to mind. But how about jrw (forms; created, made forms)? We then have: van-r-ash = wnn (m) jrw asha, being in many manifest forms or creations. What could come closer to the mark than x'y wnn jrw asha, the One who makes manifest (in light), being of many forms? or q3j wnn jrw asha, the Exalted One, who comes into being as many creations (forms)?

Hugh Nibley toyed with various readings but seemed to favor wnj r 'sha (the Exalted One who opens [makes light accessible] for many). This hits the nail on the head, but other readings also come to mind. For instance: wn r (or hr or m) 'sha (the One who exists as many), wn m rsh (who exists in joy), or even the solar phrase wbn m rsh (to rise or illuminate in joy), with wbn written with the determinative sign of the sunburst, its lengthened rays bathing a world in joyous light. Here is the transfer of light from one planet to another; and the mission of the sun, in Egyptian terms, is to bring joy and life to all things. Ultimately, as Heinrich Brugsch notes in his Thesaurus (I, 79), there are many suns in the reflective Egyptian cosmos. "These are all suns" (wnn r'.w: van-ra?) begins a text at Philae. And you must consider this--a touch of Venus, known to the Egyptians as d3j-bnw-wsjr (Traverses space by boat-Phoenix-Osiris). D3j could correspond to -go (in Enish-go-on-dosh), and bnw-wsjr does something recall our vanrash. "Something recalls" lacks specificity. We're just raking through the leaves for gold. . .and 'sh' (many) does not quite answer to gold: the phonological realization of the word in Coptic is ashe not ash. Yet these names, says Nibley, are written more for the ear than the eye--they are not exact transcriptions.

One possibility for Kae-e-vanrash, then, is to read the nominal chain as "the One high of arm, who rises and illuminates (the worlds) in joyfulness." The reading recalls Figure 7: Min with upraised hand and flail. Here is the peculiar and specific that approaches rigorous demonstration (as Nibley would say): Min is "He of the upraised hand" (with hand or arm, the sign of power in the Ancient Near East, also used euphemistically to describe generative power): "Praise of Min, exaltation of Horus with the upraised arm. Greetings to you, Min, as you come forth [like the sun at dawn], etc." (Louvre Stele C-30; see One Eternal Round, 304ff., 311). In this instance Min takes the epithet f3j-' (lifted of arm), but q3j-' ("high of arm") is perhaps the more ancient term.

Consider the following: (Min) Upraised of Arm [f3j-'] Tall of Plumes [High:], King of the gods./Upraised of Arm [f3j-'], Lord of the double-crown, Mighty of prestige [wsr f3w] and Lord of respect," David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram (i.e., by the baboons: Hibis Temple hymns), 206-7. All of which also mirrors the baboons, "Kli-flos-isis," with arms uplifted, praising Kolob (Flo-s = f3w--so Nibley (1980); or even f3.w, "the bearers/lifters" as members of the solar crew. The imagery of uplifted arms can signal four or five things (all found in Egypt): attack (Min), uplift (Min), submission, and (thus) worship (the baboons)--and spontaneous joy or praise--a rejoicing over dawn. Further: uplifted arms for the Egyptians, like our own electronic transmitters and receivers (or like mountain peaks), convey energy in the form of light, as names of figures that adore the sun make clear: m3w-' (shining of arm) and shsp-' (receiving of arm), John Darnell, "Cosmological Composition of the Books of the Underworld," PhD dissertation, 122-3.

Why baboons? Young domesticated baboons were trained to carry small objects: they were bearers. The baboon symbolism thus reflects both simian habits in the wild (lifting arms at dawn; waving boughs in action of praise: praisers) and at home: t3 kjry f3j p3 mqr/jw bw f3j sw mw.t=s (The female kiry-ape carries the milk jar, though her mother did not carry it). The proverb suggests the usefulness of animals (cf. the Jaredite cureloms and cumoms): the "mother," or the wild kiry, lived as baboons have always done, but the kiry-ape today lives at home with us. (Baboons were also trained to pick figs and deposit them in buckets: lots of luck.) So here we have a wisdom text (writings often attuned to knowledge of the cosmos) that speaks of kjry f3j . . . sw (Kli-flos). The correspondence of kjry with k-l-i is exact: the Coptic word for this ape is kel, and the hieroglyphic spelling with its lateral glides (k-j-w: Medamud text) also spells kli or kel. (For the kjry or kel (Coptic), see John C. Darnell, "Hathor Returns to Medamud," SAK 22 (1995), 80ff; text from Instruction of Any (pBoulaq 410, 4), 83 n.188.)

Turning now to the iconography of the Lower Panel, we find Hugh Nibley interprets it (One Eternal Round, Chapter 8) as portraying the continuous transfer of light and its generative power (Eye, arm, flail, phallus, lotus) to Enish-go-on-dosh. The snake-bird carries the Eye (Light and Power) to the figure with upraised hand and flail, who sits on the throne; second, the Woman of the Wedjat-Eye, with outstretched arm, extends the same power (as lotus) to the cow (the Sun); third, we find the mummies that represent (says Nibley), among other things, the essential elements of organic life, in conjunction with the signs Lotus Lion Ram that, in my view, spell eternal renewal as palindrome (s-m-s: to cause to bring into being). What all this means is that without the Wedjat Eye, source of Light and Power, there can be no life: it is the key to, or medium for, all life.

Light and Power flow from arm to arm, a "borrowing," a "carrying," and a reception of Light from higher to lower orders of being, as also represented in other Egyptian vignettes. (The Ka-spirit or -power is also transferred from arm-to-arm, or in an embrace.) The Late Period papyrus of Khonsu-Renpet shows not only baboons but at least seven pairs of arms either upraised in praise or moving, carrying, and transferring the solar globe from place to place. In one vignette from the same papyrus, two outstretched arms, gingerly bearing the sun from above to below, meet in mirror image. The two sets of arms thus form a Round with the sun in the center: a hypocephalus. Here the sun descends from its place in the solar bark, but how many suns are there? Many suns, many arms, many songs of praise--the vignettes from Khonsu-Renep fill the universe with light. We also recall the mysterious text, King as Sun Priest, which describes the lifting of the sun into our world, to the accompaniment of the hymn (or "secret words") sung by baboons with arms raised in praise.

These same solar baboons (images of Thoth, or the reflective Moon) symbolize the transfer of truth (Maat) from above to below, being the "medium" through which such transfer is realized: "the baboons appear here as agents [media] of justice and communication. In a world become wide-ranging and complex, the baboons maintain the links between above and below. They 'let ma'at ascend' and also disseminate it downward." They are symbols of "representation and mediation" between "the weak and the strong"--the bridging of above and below (Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, 187-8; Maat, 202ff.). Professor Assmann also notes (Maat, 186) that the hieroglyph of baboon offering the Wedjat Eye, a sign or scene often found on hypocephali, signifies kingship (or the endowment of kingship). Indeed "the apes [the kjkj and krjw] and griffin are capable of bridging the space between this world and the next" (John C. Darnell, "Hather Returns to Medamud," 79). Their joyful dance unfolds at the dawn-drenched South-East corner of the universe (the land of Punt; the cornerstone of the Temple; the place of Kolob's rising), the very point of the compass "from whence light emanates" (Brigham Young, Deseret Weekly News, April 1853). This is the Place answers to "There is the most light" (Brigham Young, at laying of the cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple, Millennial Star 15 (1853), 488 = Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 154).

The image of the baboon, with outstretched or uplifted arms, thus stands for the medium by which power and light flow from place to place. The baboons, says the Explanation of Fig.5, receive their light from the revolutions of Kolob. One thinks of mirrors (the moon as mirror of the sun) and also of those verses in Section 88 that speak of each world being visited in its hour (there are 12 worlds mentioned). Notably, the Prophet's Explanation seems to associate, or even identify, the stars called Kli-flos-ises with the grand Key or Medium Kae-e-vanrash. Be that as it may, the method of transfer operates in the same fashion. That which is higher in authority or power transfers its radiance, glory, and light to an inferior world in a supreme sunburst of life, energy, and joy. That is the whole point of the several Egyptian books of the netherworld.

The hieroglyph of star, often found with the baboons on hypocephali, is to be read dw3, a word which literally means to sing a hymn (or even suggests, as Nibley notes, One Eternal Round, 242, that the baboons can be considered stars). The hymning may be what in fact causes the sun to rise, with hymn as medium of transfer, and thus corresponding to the upraised arms (upraised voices, upraised arms). At any rate, the pose of worship and the hymning go together. And the hymning, to be sure, signifies to rise in joyfulness and illuminate the worlds, again, an idea best expressed by the verbal roots x-3-j and w-b-n.

When the baboons lift their arms in praise they make a particular gesture, the hjj-gesture. The verb hjj means to jubilate or rejoice, and the corresponding gesture often signals sunrise (compare the homonymous root, x-'-j): hjj m 3x.t (rejoicing, making the hjj-gesture and rejoicing at the horizon, that is, at sunrise). The 3x.t, or horizon, is, under such joyful conditions, the wbn.t, that place on the eastern horizon where the sun rises. In fact the verb hjj can be written with the same sunburst determinative that writes wbn. The iconography of the secret Netherworld books in New Kingdom tombs, says Professor John Darnell, centers in the "cosmically sized [the 'grand governing power'] Re/Osiris standing with outstretched arms on the eastern horizon." He has just risen (wbn), and now lifts his arms in an expression of joy. Darnell also sees in the iconography of the risen Re-Osiris an emphasis on the generative power of the god (just as Nibley notes for Amun-Min). Re-Osiris, the father of all, rejoices and jubilates over his new creations.

The two halves of the label come together like puzzle pieces: if q3j-' signals Min, high of arm, the One who lifts the Sun at dawn and who possesses the generative power, then q3j-' and rash or rsh find a perfect match in the idea of the hjj-gesture at dawn. Indeed q3j, wbn or (w)bn, and x'j share a semantic field (q33, hill, bn or bnbn-stone, etc., sunrise, to be high, etc.). q3j-' (w)bn m rsh, while not the sole option, shows specificity.

Perhaps more specific to the context would be to read van- as bn.w (baboon). Here we have Kae-e-vanrash as a correlate of Kli-flos-isis (identified with the two baboons with upraised arms). Kae-e-vanrash then could be: q3j-' (or q3.wj-') bn.w (or m rsh (the One [twain?] high of arm in [the gesture or stance of] rejoicing).

This last reading does not obviate wbn. By wordplay, bnw (baboon) meets bnw (the benu bird or phoenix of sunrise, also a name for the Osirian planet Venus), the bn or bnbn stone (as light-receiver), and the verb wbn. Sun, stone, phoenix, morning star, and dancing baboons contemplate one constellation, and that is the Great Year Cycle of 1460 years that marks the heliacal rising of sun, Sirius, and Nile on New Year's Day: the Phoenix year of rising and rebirth (see Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Egyptian Endowment, 153). It is all one, a veritable chain of correspondences that takes us from cycle to cycle and world to world in a career of reflections.

Much, seemingly, can be made of the verbal root q3j; but we must remember that q3j is semantically linked to x'j (Woerterbuch), and it is this last root that best fits the idea of the grand key or governing power. X'j principally signals the rising of celestial objects (sun, moon, or stars) and, thereby, a manifestation of celestial glory. The solar rising, here described, is not only that of morning, it is the first creation of the sun on the First Morning of the world (Kolob as first creation, first in power). The verb, in its secondary sense, logically comes to refer to all manifestations of divine power and glory on earth (the transfer of the celestial power to an earthly setting), especially at New Years' Day or another festival. These terrestrial manifestations include: the appearance of a god in a festival procession, the inauguration and coronation of a king, the royal progress, and even the king's sallying forth to battle. In particular, x'j signals the manifest symbol of divine and royal power: the crown. The crown is the key and seat of governance, the governing power; the king is nb x'w, master of the crowns. And, most specifically, Chapter 162 of the Book of the Dead, which is the "hypocephalus chapter," and the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings both begin with an overwhelming view of the manifest powers of the god of creation at the time of his rising. The hypocephalus itself, with Kolob at center and crowned Oliblish at apex, also depicts such a manifestation.

But can x'j (nominal form, x'w) phonologically match kae-e? The match is clean. The Woerterbuch shows a Akhmimic Coptic spelling of x'j as hae (or Sahidic sha, Bohairic shai, and Fayyumic sheei). But how about the x, an h-phoneme? What has that to do with a k? We turn once again to the Coptic: the x-phoneme appears in Coptic variously as sh, h, and an occasional k. The verb x3j (to throw, lay down) finds its realization in Coptic as ko. But our work is not done until we consider the final -e: kae-e. What on earth can that be? Several options come to mind: the spelling x'j sometimes replaces x'w (crowns), and x'' (with the variant spelling, x'y, III 242, 3) can be found for x'w (manifestation in glory). Goddesses Mut and Hathor appear as x'y.t. I favor the idea of reading kae-e as a singular active imperfective participle, with the final -e as morphemic marker. The agent of the imperfective participle is Kolob, the Morning Star of all Creation, being he who continually makes manifest in supreme power and glory (x'y). In that primordial and universal manifestation of supreme power and rule, Kolob daily rises (wbn) to our local view--in the manifestation of solar power--to share his reflected light and energy even with us, amid universal rejoicing.

President Joseph F. Smith saw the ancient saints (including those Egyptians associated with Abraham, Joseph, and Moses) in the netherworld of spirits so greet "their Redeemer and Deliverer from death": "Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they sang praises unto his holy name" (Doctrine and Covenants 138: 23-4). Here is the transfer of radiance from face to face, from above to below, from world to world, envisioned as worlds in song.

x'j thrusts q3j aside. Or does it? By freeing q3j of its association with kae-e, we are free to suggest its use for another name-element found in the Prophet's Explanation of Facsimile 2. If kae-e phonetically recalls q3j, then -go (in Enish-go-on-dosh) is a dead ringer. We absolutely must have q3j as well as x'j. Q3j describes Kolob as "highly exalted" in the inscription of the rim of the hypocephalus (Figure 18). We don't need to toss out all that imagery about arms and the transfer of light from world to world, after all--when the Egyptian penned x'j, he also thought of q3j and of all that it implied. What we are speaking of is not a mere "looking-up of words," that is, the idea of dictionary, in which one-on-one definition is the rule, a rule of isolation. No. In order to "get" Egyptian we must move to the broader semiotic idea of encyclopaedia, a lexicon in which corresponding words and images reflect one another, and through which a universe can be bodied, spelled out. We must, with every word, sign, ritual, and text, strive to reconstruct something of the way in which the Ancient Egyptians organized their intellectual universe (Professor Antonio Loprieno always insisted on the idea as the key for unlocking Egyptian texts.)

Speaking of keys, let's have one more go at -vanrash. Because the Explanation refers to Kae-e-vanrash as a key, Hugh Nibley sensibly reads -van as wnj, the Egyptian verb of opening doors. In fact, such a reading itself opens onto many casements of correspondences. I'm thinking of the rather mysterious expression for the transfer of light and vision, wnj-hr (vanr), to open the face, which besides being the term for mirror, also describes various rituals, including the ceremonial revelation of a divine image. Another word for such a ceremonial revelation is, in fact, x'j. The phonological realization of wnj-hr in Coptic nearly matches -van (oyonah); earlier Egyptian would yield: oyan + r. And -ash? Among other possibilities, we might consider the very ancient expression for stars, 3x-3x, 3x-jx, or 3xx, which comes from the verbal root 3x, to shine, be glorious, be useful, to be a glorified spirit or star. More to the point: 3x.t (the glorious one), like 'nx or 'nsh (the living one: Enish-go-on-dosh) sometimes appears as a name for the Wedjat Eye, or even for the jewel or diadem that, in mirroring of light, glitters on the royal crown.

The Lady in Facsimile 2, fig. 5, whose face is a glorious Wadjet Eye, exemplifies the ceremonial "opening of the face." Lady Wadjet is a wnj.t-hr.t. The name Kae-e-vanrash certainly reflects the activity portrayed in figure 5, which activity, says Nibley, brings about the renewal of all life. We recall the following sentence from the Prophet's explanation of figure 5: "and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash," and we ask, with Nibley, whether the entire Lower Panel does not in fact depict that medium of Kae-e-vanrash? But can the action of x3j (manifestation in glory; sunrise, etc.) match what is depicted there in the worlds below? After all, the action starts with the bird-snake Nehebkau (the Attacher of Kas), an chthonic being whose peculiar and indispensable role is to carry food-offerings, that is, the Ka or vitality, through the tomb shaft. "Yet in this hymn [from Hibis Temple]," Nehabkau "is equated with the rising newborn sun: the scarab beetle flying out of the underworld," exactly the image depicted on the odd Memphite hypocephalus, David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 48. In other Ptolemaic texts, Nehabkau is "a newly awakened divinity," even "the morning sun," all of which explains why he is, here, both bird and serpent, Adoration, 48-9.

With outstretched arms, Nehabkau profers the Wedjat Eye to an enthroned divinity, and the action on the Lower Panel something matches the meaning of his name as "provider of the Kas." Which raises the question of whether Kae-e might not refer, after all, to the Ka-spirit and its transfer, rather than to x'j or any other verb? And what of the depiction in the Netherworld books of the solar bark passing through the elongated throat(!) or body of a bull (also Ka), as borne by 15 bearers (One Eternal Round, 298-9)? Does Kae-e, then, refer to the power represented by the bull? Without the hieroglyphic writing of Kae-e it is no simple matter to settle on any reading, though I favor the verb x'j: the Wadjet Eye that appears in splendor, in the depths below, and which is then authoritatively held and transmitted by the figure on the throne (the governing power). The same Eye then becomes the "key" that opens (from x'j to wnj) the face of Enish-go-on-dosh (as shown by the Wadjet Lady and the cow). X'j tends to be found at the head of sentences, being first in the unfolding sequence of light, in precisely the manner found in Kae-e-vanrash (Antonio Loprieno, Festschrift Lopez); besides, we wouldn't think first of the Ka-spirit as "opener of the eyes"--"light cleaveth unto light" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:40).

Kae-e-vanrash could thus be read as the name of a star or the medium of stellar (and thus solar) light and power: The one who makes manifest in glorious light and governing power, who opens the face of the shining stars" (or who transfers light and glory to them and through them). All of which matches the glorious expressions of Doctrine and Covenants, section 88, which states that the light flowing from the throne of God and which created and continues to power and illuminate sun, moon, and stars, is the same physical light by which we see and the same intellectual light by which we discern. Here is an exact description of the Egyptian phrase to open the face.

So can Kli-flos-isis match our reading of Kae-e-vanrash?

The guess at f3j.w "bearers" (that is, ones high of arm) as a reading for Flo-s (its bearers) comes after reading Hugh Nibley's discussion of a separate but related matter, the 15 stars under the control of Kae-e-vanrash. There are only a few instances of a significant number 15 in Egyptian texts, but Nibley tracks them down. Again: "These fifteen figures are designated as carriers or bearers (f3.w)" and form part of the solar crew in the Book of Gates (One Eternal Round, 298-9). Nibley considers these 15 "carriers" and "bearers" as "mediums" and "conveyers" of light and energy and relates these carriers to the 15 stars governed by Kae-e-vanrash, as in the Explanation of Figure 5. These 15 carriers (two rows of 15 each) further appear in the Book of the Night (see Fig. 1 in Gilles Roulin, "The Book of the Night," in Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists, OLA 82, 1998, 1007). A vignette in the Book of the Amduat shows two rows of seven stars each, overshadowed by the greatest star of all, the winged sun, at the moment of its midnight revelation. The clock strikes 15, and the heavens are opened. Here is the revelation of light in darkness, the night sky, as anticipatory revelation of the perfect day. Next to these stars and sun stands a mediating or worshipping figure with upraised arm, "The One who is in heaven" (see Erik Hornung, 66-7).


Now, as noted, the Prophet's Explanation also refers to two baboons in connection with this governing force over 15 stars. They are called Kli-flos-isis.

Let's make some guesses, whether wild or not: Kli = qrjw (the ones who belong to the solar chapel--and who happen to be apes = see Nibley ("The Three Facsimiles," 1980) quoting Grapow on the relationship of Heb. c-l-h and Eg. q-3-r, or even k3). Another possibility is to read Kli- simply as qrjj/kel, "ape"; the qrj-apes praise the sun in a Late Period text (see John C. Darnell, "Hathor Returns to Medamud," SAK 22 (1995); J. Osing, "Review of Coptic Etymological Dictionary" [J. Cerny], 189). For flos or flo-s we have: "its bearers," or "weighers" (with scale determinative: Nibley associates the baboons with scales, so why not?), or the One(s) who carry him (sw). Here are the baboons, of uplifted hands (f3j-' = fl-o?), as bearers of the sun. All this recalls the k3 sign of outstretched arms, which Antonio Loprieno relates to the same etymological roots. K3.w refers to powers or spirits or vital forces (and the word to think of next is k3 (bull) with its vital forces). Apes as Vital Force as Bulls--now we're reading Egyptian. A new kind of dictionary must be invented for that language. . .

As for isis or flo s isis, the phrase or tag calls to mind a name of Horus: Horsiese (Horus, son of Isis). Siese is significant here because Isis is the goddess associated with the constellation of the Ewe, which includes the sons (or twins) of the Ewe: sr s3(.wj) sr.t (written) or sj(w) sj sj(w) (pronounced). In Egypt, ram and star share one name: sr = sjw and sb3=sjw. Sj sj sj (a palindrome) can thus be understood as "star, son(s) of the mother star (brighter star)." In the Greek Magical Papyri, as on other magical objects, we find the same name as Sisisro (W. Brashear, The Greek Magical Papyri, 3599). And Sisisro, with its three s's and two i's, something recalls Flos-isis.

In the Egyptian view of the divine heavens, Isis, her son Horus, the constellation of the Ewe, with its twin stars (lambs or rams), and Sothis, the brightest of stars all come together, like links in a chain. The idea of the mother star with her twins suggests nurture--these lambs suckle their mother Ewe (which again recalls the ka-spirit). Here is the idea of stars borrowing their light from a mother star. The imagery of the mirroring of faces (Hathor, the mother; the ritual of protecting the face) is related to this idea--the strengthening of the suckling babe by lifting it towards the sun, etc. sj sj sj also suggests the phrase s3 n s3 (sj n sj) son of the son, which signifies heirship, since it shows the legal heritage as reflecting a genealogical chain (Sons of Horus, Son of Isis, etc.). Son in the Ancient Near East always signifies possession, mastery, and so on. (Compare the idea of the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being with the argument of Abraham, Chapter 3, about one star and intelligence above another, until you come to Kolob = "if you could hie to Kolob.")

Study of the names of planets, as these appear in Brugsch's Thesaurus, shows us that such names do not so much form sentences as they make up discrete phrases strung together in the fashion Name + Descriptive Tags. The tags may include the name of the god identified with the planet, or simply the word star or star of the south, west, etc.

Kli-flos-isis consists of just such a string of descriptive tags or "names": Kli- (those who belong to the solar chamber or solar crew = the word also refers in the Amduat to a baboon), Flos- (f3.w, the bearers, those who bear, carry it, the weighers, written with a scale), -isis (Sons of Isis, or just "the stars", ha -kokabim"). How perfectly the name sequence matches the Egyptian pattern: Those of the solar chamber (or the Apes)--the Weighers or Bearers--these Stars (or these sons of Isis).

Power through the medium of Kli-flos-isis" suggests a "chain" (Coptic klal = Osing, Review of Coptic Etymological Dictionary, 189), even a genealogical chain, which in Egypt also signifies a hierarchical chain of authority, command, or measure through which the power flows (or upon which the power is drawn from one star to another). The two rows of seven stars each, in the Amduat, suggests the word order in its theological context as priesthood authority (here are two orders or rows of authority).

Finally, we have the Moon as Floeese, or Flo-eese, which could be read--remember, we're just having guessing for fun, mulling things over--Glory of Isis or Glory of the Stars (f3w, glory), or Carrier or Weigher (f3j) of the Stars, the Balance of the Stars, etc. Here we find the same ideas of balance and of centers of gravity and light that appear throughout the Explanation of Facsimile 2.


A summary of the entire essay might be expressed as follows:

What could come closer to the mark than x'y wnn jrw asha, the One who makes manifest (in light), being of many forms? or q3j wnn jrw asha, the Exalted One, who comes into being as many creations (forms)? But it's only one guess.

For concise relevant discussion on Figure 5 see OER, 294, and all of Chapter 8.

Job and zeroa ramah (high arm): No Egyptian epithet has an older pedigree than q3j-', High of Arm. It is a royal designation that bespeaks ultimate power.

Curiously, the Kirtland Egyptian Alphabet includes a "midrashic" expansion on Job 24, 28:11, and 38:8-11. This expansion, written by one of the Prophet's associates (W.W. Phelps, F.G. Williams, Oliver Cowdery), likely originates from conversations with the Prophet Joseph, or from a momentary glimpse of "Eternity sketch'd," if you will, and should be considered merely as one brother's further, unofficial ideas about the matter. Again, Phelps's understanding of Kli- (as Heb. qli, swift, like a messenger, etc.), in Kliflosisis, reflects either momentary insight or perhaps use of a Hebrew lexicon. He was working hard and ringing-out many a well-earned dead end. (In so saying, I follow the gist of Hugh Nibley's observations on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, as now published in An Approach to the Book of Abraham.)

It is one thing to have a glimpse of eternal wisdom when sitting with the Prophet, quite another to have the scribes then compare notes. The scribes, by study and certainly also by a partial gift of interpretation, got a few Egyptian, Semitic, and Greek words sorted out, e.g., Dah tu Hah dees Hell (Egyptian d3.t, Dat or netherworld = Greek hades), Toes (Egyptian t3(?): Land, Earth), Iota (Eye--see the Coptic eat, etc.), ho (x'j or h'j, crown, to make manifest), Zub (zp, time), Zipzi or Zipz (Zeptah), Crashmakraw (Korash-Mamackrah as planets or stars?), oop (w'b: purity, virtue)--no great shakes. More interesting is the Chaldean name for Egypt: Ahmestrah, a fascinating variant of the Semitic name Misr or Mitzraim: ah-mest-rah, with the -st combination much recalling the -ts of Mitzraim, and perhaps reflecting an ancient pronunciation (John A. Tvedtnes, speaking at a FAIR Conference, has also noted this matter.) Brother Joseph let them work away--but must have smiled. With the Book of Abraham, its Facsimiles and Explanations, God had something better in mind for His children.

Job speaks of doors for the sea beyond which it is not to come, and of masses of clouds that seal or block the waters (24:8: He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them); Phelps's views of the cosmos consider a center of light, with bounds. Light "is drawn by the heavenly bodies according to their portions; according to the decree that God hath set, as the bounds of the ocean, that it should not pass as a flood, so God hath set the bounds of light lest it pass over and consume the planets." All this recalls the kabbalistic idea of the breaking of the vessels. Brother Phelps (with some coaching by the Prophet) was really pondering scripture here, and his profound comments much recall Annie Dillard's own remarks on the kabbalistic vessels (pilgrim as seeker), but it would be insult supreme to the Book of Abraham and to the Prophet Joseph's seeric gifts to make too much of this lovely yet inchoate idea or of anything else in the disparate, unhelpful notes we call the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. The decree "It shall not pass," after all, also ironically describes the very work of these brethren; God limited their vision, they worked themselves into a corner, and the Egyptian Alphabet plunged into obscurity.
The Pearl of Great Price, we are told, throws a veritable "flood of light" on the truth of the Gospel--no holds barred.

Professor Jan Assmann's books tower over the field of Egyptology today. Maat, 1990, tops the list as far-and-away the best book ever written on Ancient Egypt from a sociological, semiotic, and culturally sensitive point of view.

wnj r 'sha for -vanrash and f3w (glory, awe) for Flo-s in Kli-flos-isis, l for 3 (Nibley, The Three Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, p. ); see also discussion of "many" in One Eternal Round, 308.

For hymning as the cause of sunrise, or that which stirs awake the morning sun sun, see Sorensen's statement, as quoted in Papyrus British Museum 10808 and Its Cultural and Religious Setting. Compare this with the idea of Anubis beating the tambourine at dawn (sr m sr, to beat a tambourine cf. sr, the ram; wsjr, Osiris) to awaken Osiris (from his lion couch), that is, the resurrected Re-Osiris (Text: Dendara; see also my study of Papyrus BM 10808). Hugh Nibley, it will be remembered, compares the round hypocephalus to a drum, One Eternal Round, 218f, 405ff.

Khonsu-Renpet is treated in Jan Assmann, Maat, and Papyrus British Museum 10808.

The giant cosmic Re-Osiris appears in John Darnell, The Enigmatic Netherworld Books of the Solar-Osirian Unity, references found in Val Sederholm, Papyrus BM 10808 and Its Cultural and Religious Setting.

Copyright 2010 by Val Sederholm