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 post at court in the Ancient Near East: "Facsimile 3 may well be a copy on papyrus of the funeral stele of one Shulem who memorialized an occasion when he was introduced to an illustrious fellow Canaanite in the place. A 'principal waiter' (wdpw) could be a very high official indeed, something like an Intendant of the Palace" (Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 451).

Joseph the Seer, in explaining Facsimile 3, thus saw beyond the fragmentary Book of Breathings to grasp what appeared on the original stele from which the Breathings vignette was taken. Where we see "Osiris Hor, the justified forever," Joseph Smith saw "Shulem." Latter-day Saints will hardly apologize for Joseph Smith having seen a genuine Eblaite name and a genuine Egyptian title of office from a record now lost to knowledge and surviving only in a re-purposed copy used by a Ptolemaic priest. As Hugh Nibley further observes, whereas memorial stele memorializing the presentation of Standard Bearer, Queen's Chief Cook, Fan Bearer, etc., are common, Joseph Smith brings us courtly Shulem out of the blue--we encounter this character nowhere else in the literature. (For a translation of the vignette, see Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary, 23-25.)

Any leads? The Prophet gives us both Ether's Mount Shelem and Pharaoh's Shulem--at one vowel difference--and leaves us to sort out the nuances. Ether 3:1 introduces the mystified latter-day reader to "the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height." As long ago as his World of the Jaredites, Hugh Nibley had this to say about exceedingly high Mount Shelem: "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, 451.

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 personal name, now transcribed Zulum, with Hebrew tselem (Image). (The second vowel is not the original, but alters in harmony with the first.) The latest list of Ebla names yields Zulum(u) or Sullum and gives the meaning as Reconciled (see Cybernetica Mesopotamica. Morphemics: Ebla PN's, numbers 5276 and 5277, Joseph Pagan, with later editing by my own professor, Giorgio Buccellati). While doubling of the middle consonant--Zulum or Sullum?--would perforce also change the nuance, we don't know whether we have the full writing or not. Slight vocalic shifts in the Semitic root also modify mood and state, and thus change the meaning--called Shelem "because of its exceeding height--all of which can complicate the translation of names. Translation is tricky and nuanced anyhow: Reconciled may also be understood as Pacified or Appeased, that is, put at peace, put (back) in(to) a state of well-being (or health or safety). We have not forgotten Mount Shelem, so Sullum, at least as place name, also may well evoke a high ground.

Now, Shulem's just a name, a common name built from the most common of all verbal roots--let's not be silly. 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. But in an earlier scene, we see the great patriarch bound on Egypt's sacrificial altar. In a moment of Retribution (cf. the modified root of shlm: shillem, shillum), the sacrificing priest of Pharaoh met his doom; now in a moment of Reconcilation, Abraham meets Egypt. Shulem simply had to be there. His name is just his name, I suppose; yet his dramatic appearance on the scene, by name, at once suggests the long-due moment of Appeasement and Reconciliation, "by the politeness of the king."

Shulem, a fellow Canaanite, appears as if Abraham's brother, even his twin or double. If Abraham sits where the king ought to be, then Shulem, who is being presented at court, stands where visiting Abraham, by all rights, ought to be standing (cf. Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 450). Abraham on the throne finds balance in Shulem at presentation. All is balanced, all Reconciled, all at "happiness and peace and rest" at the moment of Shulem's appearance (see Abraham 1:2). No wonder the Prince of Egypt, who leads Shulem to the throne, comes to us in the form of Ma'at, the goddess of universal order and harmony. The goddess who makes all things right takes the man of peace and reconciliation by the hand, and brings him to Abraham, who has long sought to be "a prince of peace" (Abraham 1:2). The Egyptian court becomes a great hall of mirrors: King and Prince, Abraham and King, Shulem and Abraham. Olimlah, the Prince's slave (perhaps another mirroring: prince and slave), alone stands out. Why? The Egyptian artist valued a "broken symmetry"; by breaking the symmetry, we can get a sense of difference, even of immediacy. "I'll teach you differences," says the Earl of Kent: Facsimile 3 is royal, not commonplace or stereotyped, material.

At once, "each of the five figures in our Facsimile 3 represents a different social stratum, from divinity to slave, though (and this is important) all belong to the same universe of discourse--it is all the same family" (452). This combined theme of social status and of "participating in the king" belongs, says Nibley, to the rites of coronation and panegyris, to which "all the world was summoned." Hieroglyphs at the bottom of the facsimile duly yield the blessing of prosperity (sw3D) pronounced by "the gods of the south, north, west, and east"--mirroring not only the acclamation of the entire world at the new rule, but also the four cardinal figures, the four sons--or doubled twins--of Horus, as found on Facsimiles 1 and 2 (see Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary, 25. The four figures beneath the altar, at the moment of death, now become the vehicle of prosperity and health. They witness everywhere, for they have at each stage certified, that the king has obtained the victory over his enemies (m3'-xrw r xft.jw).

Shulem as twin of Abraham? After all, Shulem also figures in the name Ahe-Shulim (without the vowel harmony seen in Sulum), which Albert Tobias Clay, writing in 1912, translates 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.

Professor Clay translates correctly but we can add a touch of local mythology. "My divine brother is Shulim" reflects the Canaanite myth of the birth of the divine twins, Shahar and Shalem or Shalim (Shulim), who name the Morning and the Evening Star. We hear in the Cassite period name, however vocalized, the words of Shahar, the Son of the Morning: My twin is Shulim, the Evening Star. Shalim, the Requiter, or Reconciler, is thus now come full cycle in his setting as Shulim, the Reconciled (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). Here we also might mention Egyptian Stela Aberdeen 1578 in which a certain Ahmose evokes the Canaanite deity Reshef-Shulman or -Salmanu, which perhaps signifies Resheph (the flaming one), bringer of retribution or, though less likely for the fiery, armor-clad deity, bringer of welfare and well-being (see I. Cornelius, The Iconography of the Canaanite Gods Reshef and Ba'al, 36; Maciej M. Muennic, The God Resheph in the Ancient Near East, 89-90). Whether one star (Venus) or as twins, both Morning and Evening Star must come to completion or fullness. Altar to Throne, Shahar and Shalem, Morning and Evening Star--Facsimile 3 grants us a glimpse of the never-ending cycle: but only a name and just a glimpse. The Ancient Egyptian verb, by the way, that best evokes fiery, retributive Shalim in his setting is hotep (to set, of the sun or stars; to rest or to be at peace; to be appeased, satisfied; to be content). The flame burns itself out; all nature rests.

Our Shulem, despite the shared verbal root, stands at a safe remove from the mythology of Shahar and Shalem; Shulem's just a good Canaanite name. Here's another: at Tell Beydar (Nabada) in Syria we find the previously unknown name, Lushalem (May [lu] he [the newborn son] be healthy, safe, sound). Though the tablets predate the Patriarchal Age, Tell Beydar comes close to our story; for here we also find the name borne by Abraham's own son: Ishmail, or Ishmael. The name had not previously been attested in ancient times outside the Hebrew Bible. Newly discovered Tell Beydar names further include the gates or districts of Malum and--Sulum. Tell Beydar, we are assured, lay on a route Abraham himself would once have traveled and "is of potentially great importance" in understanding his story (David Key, "Discovering the Missing Link," The Independent, 23 November 1993).

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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