Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review of Hugh Nibley on Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham

As I re-read the 32 pages of Hugh Nibley's "All the Court's a Stage: Facsimile No. 3, A Royal Mumming," I marvel at the coherence and precision of the essay, among the finest in all of egyptological literature (Abraham in Egypt, 116-148). The challenge Nibley confronts is steep. As he notes, none of the Prophet Joseph's "enigmatic interpretations" reflects common sense: the man on the throne is not the king but Abraham; Pharaoh and the Prince of Egypt appear to be delectable goddesses; and the figure with upraised hand, who, by all rights, should be Abraham preaching to the king, is some butler named Shulem. That's not all: a bouquet of lotus blossoms "signifies Abraham in Egypt."

In a tightly knit yet beautifully written and generously flowing piece, Nibley moves logically from puzzle to puzzle: King as Isis, Prince as Maat, and King Abraham. Never abandoning ordered argument, Nibley remains the master of every situation, the unraveler of every difficulty, the able counsel for the defence who marches the scholars to the stand, witness after witness, to argue the case. In the end, the case made with measure and care, all the credit goes to the Prophet Joseph Smith for his "impressive performance." (Compare Richard Bushman's description of the method in "Hugh Nibley and Joseph Smith," Journal of the Book of Mormon 19.1.)

Reading along, we glimpse something about how the Egyptians ordered their universe.

Hugh Nibley--like the pictured Maat in the facsimile--takes the reader deftly by the hand and swiftly yet lucidly zieht uns hinan to one upper window after another into the mind of the ancients. The Egyptians, we come to see, had a genius for compressing thought into a few succinct symbols, each of multiple significance. Forgo the arrogant clinging to logic and analysis in which no symbol can ever represent more than one thing at a time, choose l'esprit de finesse that is Egypt, and let kings be your teachers. And with unfailing grace and a fund of humor, Hugh Nibley guides us into a classroom that is not a forbidding crypt but a merry, flower-strewn court where everyone basks in wonder and delight. Happy, happy breed these Egyptians, and if we consider their sense of high purpose and heaven-encircling intelligence, we begin to glimpse why.

Hugh Nibley always leaves--kicks--the door open for new discovery. While no case could be more carefully considered or clearly presented than these 32 pages, there's still more to see. So let's briefly consider the ritual significance of Abraham on the throne of Pharaoh in light of David Klotz's recent book, The Adoration of the Ram (page 115 n. 317). Or, as Hugh Nibley puts it in a chapter section heading: Who is sitting on My Throne?

In the Xoite nome (or province) of Egypt, a place dedicated to King Amun as his original throne on earth, the local dead shared in the privileges and promises of the Temple-of-the-thrones-of-Re, or the "temple of Kingship," in order to receive in eternity "the complete lifetime of Re and his kingship" (Philae, 115, 5). These blessings of eternal kingship were granted by the King personally ("by the politeness of the king"--Facsimile 3): "He (the king) brings to you Xoite Nome with what comes forth from it: the Temple-of-the-thrones of-Re" (Edfu VI, 39, 5-6).

Note how essential it was for the Egyptians to designate certain places on earth the mirror images of the heavenly places. The result: "you are [now] the god, the lord of kingship."

Facsimile 3 gives us the blessings in triplicate (see Abraham in Egypt, 125). The roof of the palace (or canopy) is decked with stars--here is the celestial order of things--while the basement is inscribed, says Professor Baer, with an invocation to the "gods of the caverns," even those of the South, North, East, and West, that is, the four quarters of the earth. All of which leaves us with this Middle Earth, where we see Abraham, in the likeness of both Osiris below and Re above, sitting on Pharaoh's throne. The deed is an earnest of better things to come. And all adds up to seven, the number of new creation.

Abraham, we are told in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, having lived the plan of happiness on earth, and acted out the corresponding rites and ordinances, "hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne" (Doctrine and Covenants 132:29,

Book of Abraham Facsimile 3:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.