Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shulem, "One of the King's Principal Waiters," Book of Abraham Facsimile 3


The Prophet Joseph Smith's explanation of Book of Abraham Facsimile 3 introduces "Shulem, one of the King's principal waiters." (Contrary to expectation, a principal waiter holds a very high court position in the Ancient Near East.) As Hugh Nibley observes, Joseph Smith brings us courtly Shulem out of the blue--we encounter this character nowhere else in the literature.

Any leads? The Prophet marvelously gives us both Ether's Mount Shelem and Pharaoh's Shulem--at one vowel difference--and leaves us to sort out the nuances. As long ago as his World of the Jaredites, Hugh Nibley has this to say about the exceeding high Mount Shelem of Ether 3:1: "The original meaning of the best known of Semitic roots, SALAM, may be 'a high place' (Arabic sullam, ladder, stairway, elevation) with the idea of safety, and hence peace, as a secondary derivation," 242. And from an offhand cough or "mutterance" made from the lectern years ago, I took it that Brother Nibley thought Shulem might well signify Ladder. A "good Syrian and Canaanite name" is how he characterizes it in Abraham in Egypt.

And he is right.

In Mitchell Dahood's "Hebrew Hapax Legomena in Eblaite," Archives of Ebla: An Empire Inscribed in Clay (Giovanni C. Pettinato, ed.), 443, we find the following:

"Eblaite PN sulum/sullum "Ladder"


Ladder is just the beginning of possibilities. A "good Canaanite name" Shulem may be, still the nuance remains uncertain--a rung or two away from reach. As far as the Book of Abraham is concerned, there's no particular symbolic meaning intended anyhow; Shulem's just a good Northwest Semitic name--a genuine touch.

Mitchell Dahood, changing his mind, elsewhere matches the same name (now transcribed Zulum) with Hebrew tselem (Image). The latest list of Ebla names yields Zulum(u) or Sullum, Reconciled (see Cybernetica Mesopotamica. Morphemics: Ebla PN's, numbers 5276 and 5277, Joseph Pagan, with later editing by my own professor, Giorgio Buccellati). Reconciled may also be understood as Pacified or Appeased, that is, put at peace, put (back) in(to) a state of well-being.

For Joseph Pagan, Zulum (Sullam) expresses a state or attribute, a form of blessedness and wholesomeness. Now, Shulem's just a name--let's not be silly--but it's the right name, a fine name. Shulem fits the Patriarchal era like a glove. Yet I have never attributed any symbolic meaning to Shulem in respect of Facsimile 3. There is no hidden reference to ascension, for instance. Still--Abraham looks safe and snug up there on Pharaoh's throne. And in a prior scene, the great patriarch lay on Egypt's altar; in a moment of Reconcilation, Abraham meets Egypt. Shulem simply had to be there. His surprising appearance on the scene denotes, by name, the long-due moment of Appeasement and Reconciliation "by the politeness of the king."

Shulem also figures in the name Ahe-Shulim, which Albert Tobias Clay, writing in 1912, reads as My brother is kept safe, or preserved (see "List of Elements," in Albert Tobias Clay, Personal Names from Cuneiform Inscriptions of the Cassite Period). Abraham's Shulem, a principal waiter for the king, though far from home, is kept safe and sound in Pharaoh's court. And thanks to the seeric insight of Brother Joseph, the name of this special Shulem is, for all time, Preserved.

"My divine brother is Shulim" most powerfully suggests the Canaanite myth of the birth of the divine twins, Shahar and Shalem, who respectively represent the Morning and the Evening Star. Do we hear in the Cassite period name, however vocalized, the words of Shahar, the Son of the Morning: My twin brother is Shulim, the Evening Star? (See the Ugaritic evidence at KTU 1.23, "the Gracious and Beautiful Gods". See also Nicolas Wyatt, "The Religious Role of the King in Ugarit," in Ugarit at Seventy-Five). Venus, after all, comes, full circle, to completion or fullness, that is, shulim, as Shalim.

For all that, since the star of evening shines on high, Ahe-Shulim evokes My (Divine) Brother is a High Place, that is, a Place of Safety. A brother for adversity, says Shlomo. Abraham sought a place of happiness, peace, and rest, a place Nauvoo (nwh)--another Ebla name. The docent at the Prophet's Nauvoo Mansion House kindly pointed out a hall closet. "Go in, turn to the right, and raise your hands." I did so and found the rungs of a ladder.

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