Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Book of Abraham: Case Closed (Or, Sarah to the Rescue)

What Hugh Nibley Meant (about the Book of Breathings). Or, How Sarah Puts the Crowning Touch on the Revealed Book of Abraham


"Since the beginning," writes Hugh Nibley in 2001, "the Pearl of Great Price has been waiting in the wings, held in reserve for a special time. It would seem that time is now, for within a decade of the publication of the Joseph Smith Papyri in 1968 (after their rediscovery in 1967), strange and portentous things have happened" ("Approach to John Gee, Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 13:2 (2001), 63-4). Too modest to include his own work among these "portentous things," another's lips will now praise.

The Pearl of Great Price was indeed held in reserve for a special time, the lifetime of a special man, who, even beyond his lifetime, "being dead yet speaketh." So wrote President John Taylor of Parley P. Pratt; now, five years after Brother Nibley's call to "that near-touching land," we learn with joy from his encyclopaedic study of Book of Abraham Facsimile 2, One Eternal Round. The work also brings to a round, full circle, the flurry of criticism encompassing the Book of Abraham: "Come, lay your books and papers by": "The teacher's work is done."

If there ever was a time to discover what Hugh Nibley has to teach us about books of Enoch, Moses, and Abraham, it would seem that time is now.

Things really got going in 1976 with Hugh Nibley's publication of The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment. The volume advanced the once unwelcome thesis that the Book of Breathings, following the pattern of prior Egyptian funerary writings (like the Book of the Dead and the Netherworld Books), constitutes, in theme and structure, a ceremony of initiation. Nibley further showed how the Book of Breathings finds parallels in both early Jewish and Christian texts. Although nearly ignored in bibliography, Hugh Nibley's work made its rounds and proved revolutionary among students of Ancient Egyptian religion. (The official annual notice of egyptological bibliography, while praising the work, cautions readers about some of its "Mormon" ideas.)

Today studies about initiation and mystery meet with greater acceptance. A good introduction to the evidence appears in Heidelberg Professor Jan Assmann's Tod und Jenseits im Alten Aegypten [Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt]. I can't say how diligently Professor Assmann has studied Nibley's work--the theme of initiation (if not salvation!) is now in the air and very popular--but the two volumes do make for powerful bookends. Given the profound influence of Hugh Nibley's thorough work, an influence only at its first stages, I may be excused for putting forward some of his ideas in my own words in what now follows.


According to the Book of the Dead Chapter 162, the purpose of the hypocephalus (Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2) is "to spark a flame under the head" of the deceased. Because the verb bz (to spark a flame) matches the word for initiation (bz) into the mysterious workings of the divine order, we may safely conclude that the hypocephalus, like the Book of Breathings, has to do with initiation (see Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round). As recent studies show, the head of the mummy now corresponds to the sun: the spark blazes into a corona of eternal glory. The hypocephalus symbolizes a new head, and thus a new divine life, for the deceased. Osiris so-and-so, the deceased, finds transformation as enthroned Osiris wearing the Atef Crown, a crown of light, often decorated with solar globes. No wonder Facsimile 1 (which shows the stirring to life of the one on the lion couch), attached as it is to a Book of Breathings, is followed--but only in the inspired Book of Abraham!--by the hypocephalus (as Facsimile 2). And no wonder Facsimile 3, which shows the initiand seated on a throne (according to Brother Joseph) and crowned with the Atef, is preceded--but only in the inspired Book of Abraham--by the hypocephalus. Did the Book of Breathings owned by Joseph Smith feature a hypocephalus? Nibley apparently thought so; at any rate, he saw in the three facsimiles the three stages of progression: death, transformation, glory. The Prophet Joseph Smith does well to place the hypocephalus in the middle, as if to signal the means by which the sacrifical victim, or the deceased, is raised to divine glory. The very intricacy of the hypocephalus, as cosmic chart--so Joseph Smith--evokes the Greek idea of the labyrinth in which the hero journeys round and through an intricate maze.

The round hypocephalus also represents the iris-and-pupil of the Wedjat Eye, and it is the brilliant Wedjat Eye that serves as focus of the life-giving spark (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 233). The text on the hypocephalus, we should say the text in the Wedjat Eye, is a prayer calling on the "noble" and "great" god, the Ba of bas (Soul of souls, or Power of powers), to descend and rescue Osiris so-and-so in his hour of extremity--another link to Facsimile 1. Facsimile 1 depicts the stirring of the deceased, with hands uplifted to the descending ba.

The Wedjat Eye, in the Prophet Joseph's Explanation of Facsimile 2, also serves as a grand key for unlocking the heavens, a key revealed to all the Hebrew patriarchs. Does the idea recall the Egyptian rites of royal or priestly initiation (bz)? In Ancient Egypt the king alone was permitted to hear and to know the secret words and to navigate and thus to know the hidden nature of the heavens and the netherworld. This knowledge, which embraces astronomy and cosmology, constituted his right to the throne--again Facsimile 3, where the figure on the throne reasons "upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king's court." The setting is significant: teaching the arcane mysteries of astronomy is, properly, a royal prerogative, and one rightly belonging to the "king's court" alone. The Atef crown, says Joseph Smith, "represents the Priesthood," that is, the king as priest. The secrets of the universe remain locked within the royal enclosure and reserved for momentous occasions. The Middle Kingdom (or earlier) text known as "King as Priest of the Sun" sets forth, though discretely, the secret words and cosmic knowledge vouchsafed to the king: see Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt). All these things belong to what Professor John Baines describes as the decorum: the royal protocol into which only kings and priests may be initiated.

That is what Brothers Rhodes and Nibley are trying to express.

Since the Book of Abraham describes both Abraham and his posterity, as also his ancient fathers, as priestly, patriarchal initiands, why should we be startled to find his papyrus roll, written in Egypt, in proximity to a Book of Breathings and assorted chapters from the Book of the Dead (certain scraps of which are now housed in the Church History Library)? And yet it is marvelously startling!

Abraham himself claims to possess--"in mine own hands"--patriarchal records of ancient date (Abraham 1:31). The Theban priesthood in Ptolemaic times included direct line descendants from the royalty and officials of Abraham's day. Is the preservation and copying of the sacred records marking lineage throughout the centuries in any way far-fetched? Certainly not. We know both the family lineage and the high offices held by the fathers and sons of Hor, the owner of the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings. Marc Coenen has reconstructed at least six generations of this important priestly family. Abraham himself is good enough to provide us with a description of a like textual transmission from the ancients: copies, abridgments, and all (Abraham 1:31). That's the pattern.

These records of Abraham and Joseph, along with documents of priestly initiation were passed down, either as one set or as associated documents, from fathers of both royal and priestly blood to their priestly heirs in Ptolemaic Thebes. The Egyptians had libraries--in the House of Life were collected the books of ceremony, cosmology, and initiation--but every indication suggests the Joseph Smith papyri belonged to an assortment of family lineage documents. These records, taken together, thus constituted the very authority that confirmed priests like Hor (the principal actor or initiand of the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings) and his father, Osoroeris, in their offices. Hor, a priest of the Ptolemaic Period, aspires to possess the "greater [and ancient ceremonial] knowledge," even as Abraham himself once sought, and even as Pharaoh, through Abraham, sought. Thus we see "the claim of both the King and the Patriarch to exclusive possession of and access to certain written records that went back to the beginning of time and confirmed his particular claim to legitimacy of priesthood and kingship" (Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 92ff.). To the discerning reader the Book of Abraham narrates not only the stunning travels of the patriarch, it also reveals, with laser-like precision, just how we are to understand all these remnants of papyri that have fallen into "our own hands" today. Case closed.

Latter-day Saint students, running in the track of Professor Marc Coenen's clarifying publications about the ancient owners and dating of the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings (at 200 B.C. "the oldest Book of Breathings text that can be dated"), all take note that Hor's lot in the priesthood includes a rare office associated with Resheph-Min: "Prophet of Min who massacres his enemies." Mention of this office (and of others) appears on the papyrus, just next to the vignette showing Osiris on the lion couch. Does the office somehow correspond to the action depicted on Facsimile 1? Resheph (who dwells in the house of Montu [Manti]), a Canaanite god of war inducted into the Egyptian pantheon, shares an identity in Min, who, in turn, shares a role with Horus as avenger of his father, Osiris. The name of our priest, Hor, is that of Hor, avenger of Osiris. So why not take on Horus' avenging role, which is also the role of Min and of Resheph? Any other likenesses? That the Book of Abraham's violent "god of El-Kenah" bears comparison with Canaan's Resheph, whose name (r-sh-p) bespeaks the vivid lightning and flames of fire, has not escaped the notice of Latter-day Saints! Abraham, the survivor of lightning, flame, and earthquake (see Abraham Chapter One), also escaped Min-Resheph-Hor. Besides, one of Abraham's own descendants, through Ephraim, bears--and here's ritual reversal and the sign of escape--the name Resheph, perhaps now to be understood as descriptive of the God of Israel: "I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot," Jehovah tells rescued Abraham (Abraham 2:7; see 1 Chronicles 7:25).

Though Professor Coenen sees in Facsimile 1 not a scene of sacrifice but one of Osirian resurrection and the conception of Horus (and Osiris not only escapes death, he lives to found a dynasty (to beget an avenging Resheph)--the figure on the vignette that Joseph Smith names the priest of Elkenah, or the priest of Pharaoh (who is thus the priest of the living Horus, the living king), does something recall a surviving bronze figure of "Min who massacres the enemy," "dressed in a short kilt, held up by two bands that cross over the breast and back" (p. 1113). We can add sacrifice to Coenen's picture of Facsimile 1. Sacrifice, resurrection, and conception all form a single constellation--an Osirian constellation--that Facsimile 1 delicately manages to display.

Bibliographical Note: Marc Coenen, "The dating of the Papyri Joseph Smith I, X and XI and Min who massacres his enemies," in Willy Clarysse et al. (eds) Egyptian Religion: The Last Thousand Years II, 1103-14, and esp. pages 1111-3 (Leuven, 1998). A detailed review of the Hor Book of Breathings (or Document of Fellowship) and the nature and historical context of the priestly offices of Hor and Osoroeris, including examples of symbolic slaughter and burning with correspondence to Facsimile 1, is John Gee, "Some Puzzles of the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20:1 (2008), 113-157. Professors Kerry Muhlestein and W.V. Smith have also noted the import for Latter-day Saints of Marc Coenen's breakthrough studies. 


The Egyptian record attests a symbolic, ceremonial killing of foreigners, at centers like Philae, Edfu, and Karnak, with special maces, swords, and clubs, including "a particular kind of [bladed] mace much resembling in shape the Dd-pillar, the symbol of Osiris' enduring life and dynasty," as also resurrection (Val H. Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808 and Its Cultural and Religious Setting, Leiden: Brill, 2006, 114). How strange that the bladed mace used to kill foreign victims in royal ceremony also symbolizes the perpetuity of the Osirisan dynasty. But the Egyptians are not finished: "The king, playing Horus-Min, cuts off the heads of his father's enemies at the stroke of a pole-axe [or bladed mace, both sword and club]. The special word for killing at Edfu [also Ddj!] alludes to Osiris and the stability of his dynastic line" (Papyrus 10808, 117). Both name, and action, and instrument of sacrifice thus confirm the dynastic line. No sacrifice; no posterity. (That's also the paradox of Abraham and Isaac.) Did the Pharaoh of Abraham's day sacrifice virgins, children, and Abraham himself (as described in Abraham Chapter One) to promote fertility? So Nibley suggests. Did he himself lack an heir? Not until Facsimile 3, the throne scene, do we first encounter the "prince of Pharaoh," in the form of Ma'at. Ma'at represents the return of order to the disjointed world. In the scenario provided by Joseph Smith, we find all the constituent parts of the play.

At Karnak we see paired depictions of Resheph and "the pharaoh stabbing two prisoners kneeling in a metal kettle [for burning] with their arms tied behind their backs in front of [a representation of] 'Min who [massacres] his enemies' " (Coenen, 1113). Why the doppelganger? Does the depiction show Pharaoh as both priest and king? Or does it hint of both king and his priestly representative at work? Pharaoh, twinned with a Canaanite god, here acts in the office of Min who massacres his enemies; and as Pharaoh, so Abraham's "priest of Pharaoh," who is also the priest of the Canaanite god of Elkenah. Also so also Ptolemaic priest Hor. Behind Min "stands a tree on a hill surrounded by a wall," a setting that evokes for any Latter-day Saint student "the hill called Potiphar's Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem"; the tree (or, Heliopolitan pillar) likewise recalls the sacrifice of the "three virgins" who "would not bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone" (Abraham 1:10-11; Coenen, 1113; for ceremonial hills marked with standing stones see One Eternal Round, 170-3; for another royal massacre and burning of enemies, 179).

By killing the enemies of Osiris, Pharaoh and his designated priest, or double, reverse the enemies' own act of killing Osiris himself, and thus ensure both Osiris' resurrection and Horus' (that is, Pharaoh's) dynastic claims. It bears repeating: As the priest of Min who massacres his enemies, Hor himself becomes Pharaoh's (Horus') stand-in, a role evoking the sacrifice-mad "priest of Pharaoh" in Abraham's account. The role, however essential, is not without its risks. And here's a genuine touch: "And the Lord. . .smote the priest that he died; and there was great mourning in Chaldea, and also in the court of Pharaoh" (Abraham 1:20). "Great mourning" in Pharaoh's court? for a distant priest? To the Egyptian reader, all is clear: by smiting the Pharaoh's ceremonial agent, God has smitten the Pharaoh himself and has also smitten his dynastic line (cf. the slaying of the firstborn in Exodus and the subsequent swallowing up of Pharaoh in the Red Sea). It's the priest's office, as agent, that matters, and the mourning over his death must then match in intensity and cloud of disaster that which prevails at the actual death of a king. One can picture the choking dust storm at Ur sweeping down to Egypt. A panicked herald runs with the news. Mene, Mene: The king must die.

Hugh Nibley makes much of masking, mummery, and substitutes, including the broadly attested rituals of substitute sacrifice. And substitute mourning reflects substitute sacrifice, priest for king--after all, as Nibley notes, the priest also "is slain in [Abraham's] place" (Abraham in Egypt, 26).

Every ceremonial preparation of a mummy for burial follows a similar, Osirian, pattern: a sacrifice "after the manner of the Egyptians"--the Osirian manner. To wrap (wt) is itself both to kill and also to resurrect; for, without wrapping, there can be no subsequent rising (wt resonates with mwtput to death, die). Addressing "the Asiatic, Libyan, Medjay, and Nubian threat at Egypt's four borders" (matching in exact cardinal order--east, west, north, south--the regional gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, as carefully listed and depicted in the Book of Abraham), the priest intones: "You are the rebels that 'made a wrapping,' 'made a wrapping' Father Osiris. Accordingly, Father Osiris commanded that I, in the form of Mekhenty-Irty [~ Horus], should smite this your enemy" (New Kingdom Netherworld Book of the Night II, 87-8 = Sederholm, Papyrus 10808, 126). Wrapping and killing collapse in one: to wrap the Osirian mummy, the action of Anubis is thus also to kill the god with a knife. "Smite this your enemy" (not simply "smite you") is euphemistic, ironic, delicate: the notion of substitutes runs very deep in the Egyptian sacrificial night.

Danger is everywhere.

The act of sacrifice meets the idea of resurrection; each notionally requires the other. Well-known is that paradox of Osirian ceremony in which the sharp-clawed jackal, Anubis, troubler of desert burials, first cuts into the body, then wraps it, preparatory to resurrection. Facsimile 1 at once, illustrates Osiris' resurrection described in the Book of Breathings and the sacrifice and escape (in token of resurrection) of any Osiris, including the special case of Abraham. Abraham becomes as Osiris, for the Egyptians found in Abraham's heralded escape from sacrificial death a living token or surety of Osirian promise. All this makes of Abraham, to Egyptian eyes, a king, Osiris redivivus. No wonder, "by [jittery] politeness of the king," Abraham, as Osiris was allowed broad scope to substitute on the throne, wear Osiris' Atef Crown, and then teach what only the king had right to teach. Not far off, fair Sarah glitters like the desert sun. It's the Ammon and Lamoni story in the Book of Alma all over again: role-reversal, deathlike trance, and the message of salvation. (And can there be any doubt as to the reception of the message?)

That's what Brother Nibley meant to convey, and the latest findings are bearing him out.


In fact there is nothing--not even the recovered Apocalypse of Abraham--that attests more to the reality of an Egyptian record of Abraham and Joseph than the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings (an Egyptian Endowment), along with its vignettes, Book of Abraham Facsimiles 1 and 3. The discovery of the Kirtland papyri, as we now have it, thus paradoxically delivers more evidence of an authentic Egyptian setting for Abraham than if we had simply recovered the very papyrus portions from which the Prophet Joseph translated the record itself (and Doctrine and Covenants 5:7 so attests!).

If that seems a bold claim, consider the following specific and peculiar parallel (not parallel mania so-called) between the story of Abraham in Egypt and the title of the Book of Breathings:

"The very first line of the hieratic text bears a remarkable resemblance to Abraham's words in both Genesis and the Book of Abraham: 'Here begins the writing which Isis made for her brother Osiris to cause his ba [soul] to live.' In the Book of Abraham and the Bible, Abraham says to his wife (and sister), Sarah, 'and my soul shall live because of thee' " (Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, "The Book of Breathings Bears Witness," 148).

" 'Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee.' Why not simply, 'I shall live'? Why the awkward Egyptian idiom, 'My ba shall live'? That is an Egyptian doctrine" (Ibid. 148).

"What is going on here? Abraham and Sarah identified with Isis and Osiris? That is just the beginning of the parallels that affirm their identity," a dozen or so of which duly follow to the astonishment of the reader (151).

Astonishment will overtake the diligent student of the Book of Abraham, for, as prophesied, even "the kings will shut their mouths at him; for that which hath not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider" (Isaiah 52:15).

Of Sarah, as of Isis, are gifts of crown and throne. These gifts must be granted; they can never be bought. Thus it is the egyptological reading of the role of the characters surrounding the throne in Facsimile 3 that paradoxically sheds necessary light on the Prophet Joseph's counterintuitive interpretation which renders King and Prince for Hathor and Isis. We begin to detect, seize hold of, in a word, comprehend, the prophetic light, only after we have seen unfold the dark masking and mumming of the Egyptian drama. Then the prophetic explanation also unfolds (Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, Chapter 5: "All the Court's a Stage: Facsimile 3, A Royal Mumming", 116-148; One Eternal Round, "Isis and Sarah," 155-160).

Pharaoh "would fain claim" the new and everlasting covenant of the Priesthood (Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, I, 223):

"In the love he bore Sarah, he wrote out a marriage contract, deeding to her all he owned in the way of gold and silver. . ."

But it is Abraham who claims the throne.

This is Sarah to the rescue! And we remind the reader that the purpose of having a Book of Abraham and Sarah at all lies in our having had restored to us, by the ministration of Elias to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple, the keys of the Abrahamic covenant, the covenant of eternal marriage (Doctrine and Covenants 110:12). Elijah then conferred the sealing power of the Holy Priesthood. Sarah and Abraham example the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

We now have the Book of Breathings, that ancient claim to the covenant. Even time shrinks before the pyramids; eternity is another matter. Though lacking contractual efficiency in either time--now spun out--or eternity, the fragmentary papyrus roll, like that old contract or testament called the Holy Bible, concretely serves to remind all mankind of the possibility of true authority and valid covenant. It stirs hope, and hope stirs the heavens. Because Elijah returned Joseph Smith and his prophetic successors hold the key of the ancient order of the Priesthood belonging to the Patriarchs, the order of Adam, the order of Abraham, the Patriarchal Priesthood.

To deny either the genuineness or the eternal worth of the revealed Book of Abraham would accordingly be to deny oneself the opportunity to become "the seed of Abraham" and thus a lawful inheritor of the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant of Priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 84:34). The Book of Abraham serves as a surety of the promise of eternal life. It amounts to a sefer, a ketubah that secures the heritage of Jacob: "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah who bare you" (Isaiah 51:2; 50:1). And nothing was more important to Brother Nibley than his own covenantal contract of eternal marriage. And that's how Hugh Nibley lived.

The story of Sarah saving her husband's life from Pharaoh by claiming to be his sister (Abraham's second Osirian escape from death) is a story we can now come to terms with thanks to the latter-day recovery of the lost Document of Breathing which Isis made for her brother, Osiris (as the title of the sefer runs), a more precise reading of which may be the Document of Covenantal Unity (sn-sn). It's a Marriage Certificate. It's a Certificate of Dynasty. (The kings of Europe never produced like certificate; the clergy invented the Donation of Constantine.) It's a document certifying receipt of the royal decorum: the deceased, passing by Orion and the stars, now enters into the fellowship of the sun god and his retinue in The Eternal Round.

And that's what Hugh Nibley meant!

For the like episode of Sarah's escape from King Abimelech (in light of the changes in the Joseph Smith Translation), see the essay, "A Covering of the Eyes," posted 30 June 2010, on

Copyright 2011 by Val H. Sederholm, PhD (Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, UCLA, 2001). Additions and corrections also made in March 2016.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mormons and Politics, Round One: Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln (1 March 1840). Or, What Romney's Really Up Against


 I’ve thought long thoughts on the 1 March 1840 letter of Abraham Lincoln to John Todd Stuart (his senior law partner) in which Lincoln mentions Joseph Smith in a postscript. The postscript comprises several lines reflecting sundry input from friend Josh Speed, who must have been present when these last were penned:

“Speed says he wrote you what Jo. Smith said about you as he passed here. We will procure the names of some of his people here and send them to you before long.”

The Smith postscript has been noted in publications by a couple historians (and read by hundreds), but never satisfactorily explained. (Richard Bushman kindly acknowledges my bibliographic digging in his “Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln”:

The letter is famous for Lincoln’s first mention of Stephen Douglas, and opens a window onto the personalities of both men, yet young in the law, unmarried, and as fiery as Jackson, ambitious as Clay. Enter Jo. Smith: Postscript.

So what can be squeezed out of this sentence? Just for starters, it confirms the John Smith Diary entry for 1 March 1840 that shows the Prophet, returning from Washington, already back in Nauvoo, an entry which contradicts the 4 March arrival date given in History of the Church (for the diary, see Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, 35, 47).

The worth of the document consists in how it reveals the willingness of Illinois politicians, from the first (compassion for driving and confinements aside), to make political hay out of any nod of gratitude made by the Prophet. And it shows just how fully the politicians saw the Prophet as sole voice of his scattered sheep: Joseph praised Stuart for his help in Washington, and Speed jumped at this praise as signal of full support at the ballot box.

The Smith postscript is remarkable because it gives the first instance of what would become a baffling pattern of favors given, gratitude expressed, votes expected, and elections topsy-turvy, all of which would sour Whigs and Democrats alike on the Mormons. Lincoln later moralized about the Mormons as the log the farmer had to plow around. Why? Joseph Smith would not, or could not, play the game—a matter inexplicable to the man of ratiocination, even as Douglas openly envied the absolute independent stance of the Prophet. No Illinois politician ever mourned the Mormon exodus. Here’s an early clue why.

Copyright 2011 by Val H. Sederholm


When I first read the letter, I wanted to find out whether anyone had written anything about it. As noted below, I found it mentioned only twice in print (one a mere footnote). Two mentions are more than sufficient; yet scholarship does lack one thing: Readership. All during 2005, the bicentennial of the Prophet's birth, I mused to myself: "Many Latter-day Saints might not know about this letter. It ought to be published in the Ensign or someplace where it can be seen by everyone."

The Prophet Joseph, much to the chagrin--and deep amusement--of his friends was popularly known as Joe or Jo or ol' Jo Smith. I note the "." in the Lincoln postscript: "Jo." "Jo." signals "Joseph" (I think), and not "Jo". Just me, but my awe for Lincoln is so great I'd like to imagine him speaking and writing of "Joseph Smith"--and here's evidence for it--although, knowing Lincoln, he probably did say "Jo". But, then, everybody stills calls Lincoln "Abe"--what goes around. . .

The autograph letter is now on auction at Swann Auction Galleries and has a $40,000 to $50, 000 value. Small scanned images of the letter are to be found on the auction's Web page. It is a bit difficult to say whether the "." really is to be found after the abbreviated "Jo". . . 

In all published articles and books on Joseph Smith and politics, prior to 2005, I find only two references to the letter: George U. Hubbard, "Abraham Lincoln as Seen by the Mormons," Utah Historical Quarterly 31 (Spring 1963), 93, and E. B. Long, Saints and the Union: Utah Territory during the Civil War (University of Illinois, 2001), 17 n. 13. Neither Hubbard nor Long attempt analysis of the letter. (I don't blame them: there's not much to analyze, other than to say Joseph Smith held John Todd Stuart in high regard.) The letter may be found in Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln I: 206 (ed. Roy P. Basler).

More recently (2008), Gary Vitale has succinctly and wisely commented on the letter in his "Abraham Lincoln and the Mormons: Another Legacy of Limited Freedom," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 101 (Fall-Winter 2008).

Latter-day Saint Lincoln historian, Bryon C. Andreasen, mentions the letter in a presentation reported by R. Scott Lloyd, "World of Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Smith," LDS Church News (26 May 2009).

Richard L. Bushman, "Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln, in Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration (Provo, 2005), 89-108.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book of Abraham Facsimile 2 and the Lord of Sabaoth (D&C 95:7)

The Doctrine and Covenants, a selection from the Lord's new revelations, also brings us glimpses of ancient understanding. I recall Hugh Nibley telling a Sunday School class about the Egyptian nature of Section 88 of that book, a section he cites time and again in his elucidation of Abraham's cosmos, One Eternal Round. That cosmos indeed courses One Eternal Round, as depicted also in the round figure of the hypocephalus (Book of Abraham Facsimile 2).

One Eternal Round speaks to continual renewal, to a newness of life, to creation and resurrection; it bespeaks a timeless Day in which all things are present before the Lord. Latter-day Saint Prophets teach of a great assembly of all Father's children, prior to the Creation of the Earth, in which the Plan of Happiness, even the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was first revealed. I once asked Brother Nibley whether the hypocephalus had anything to do with the Grand Council in Heaven. "Yes," he replied, with his manner of swift surprise. (Facsimile 2:

The same ancient ideas about the Grand Council and Creation also appear in the Doctrine and Covenants. Take the revealed interpretation of the Divine Title, Lord of Sabaoth (or Lord of Hosts) in Doctrine and Covenants 95:7; 35:1; 38:1. (See also Abraham 3 and Abraham Facsimile 2.)

And for this cause I gave unto you a commandment that you should call your solemn assembly, that your fastings and your mourning might come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, which is by interpretation, the creator of the first day, the beginning and the end (95:7,

The Lord expands on the interpretation of his Eternal Name in the final verse 17, while also leaving us, as always, to ponder the implications and connections:

And let the higher part of the inner court [of the House] be dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles, saith Son Ahman; or, in other words, Alphus; or, in other words, Omegus; even Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen.

The first part of verse seven reflects the themes and imagery of the second chapter of Joel, and note the emphasis on calling a Solemn Assembly in the Lord's House; while the second part, the interpretation of "Lord of Sabaoth," catches the breath away, as does sacred verse 17.

The revealed interpretation of Lord of Sabaoth cleanly and simply by-passes the dictionary definition (a transliteration of the Hebrew word for hosts = tzabaot) and instead proposes an interpretation. Now it's likely--although it hardly matters one way or the other--that the Prophet Joseph, prior to his formal study of Hebrew, had no idea what Sabaoth meant; nor might he have grasped how the revealed interpretation refers back to the creation story and its summation (its beginning and end) in Genesis 1:1 and 2:1:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

And what is "all the host of them"? Answer (as found in any lexicon or commentary): the stars and planets and the holy angels make up the hosts of heaven. Indeed Latter-day students have often treated Genesis 2:1 as one key to the revealed interpretation of Lord of Sabaoth (Dana Pike, Robert Boyle).

Semiotics, the theory of signs, differentiates between dictionary and encyclopaedia. The interpretation in Doctrine and Covenants 95:7 touches on dictionary and expands into encyclopaedia. In fact the verse packs both denotation and connotation into a surprisingly small compass of eleven words. Let us first recall that many students have wrestled with the interpretation and origins of the name, a title which Professor Choon Seow terms "one of the most enigmatical divine names in the Holy Bible" (cited in Maire Byrne, The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

We start with two of the formulaic introductions to revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants (Joseph McConkie considers these one key to Doctrine and Covenants 95:7). These formulae introduce God, in his own terms, to humankind.

Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever (Doctrine and Covenants 35:1).

Here we have the name of God, as found in the Apocalypse of John and taken from the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega.

Or, in other words: Why, then, should the 95th Section speak of Alphus and Omegus, using an unusual, indeed unknown, form of the Greek letters? The names--and note these are presented more as names than name--are not Latin, rather Anglicized forms, that is, made-up forms--"in other words" is how the Lord phrases it. Greek Alpha and Omega here take Latinate (as if 2nd declension), or even general Indo-European nominative masculine case endings. Hugh Nibley explains the word Telestial as a like coinage, framed in harmony with Latin celestial and terrestrial, that combines both Greek root and Latin ending in an Anglicized form (to telos, the ultimate or lowest kingdom of glory in Doctrine and Covenants Section 76).

To show another example, the same verse speaks of Son Ahman, a purely semiotic construct consisting of an English word or name plus a name in a different language. We are given a sacred revealed name, true; but we are also presented with what linguists call a sign, signifier, or semiotic pointer to the Divine, not the Divine itself. Our word son is hardly newfangled anyway: sunus in Vedic and Gothic is the very same word, minus the archaic masculine nominative case -us; as for Ahman, for Hugh Nibley the name evokes, among other, deeper things, the Egyptian Pantocrator, Amun. The Cosmic Amun, or Transcendent Amun-Re, as Professor David Klotz calls the figure, appears at the center of all Egyptian hypocephali (Abraham Facsimile 2).

I'll not forget meeting one rabbi in Long Beach, California: learned, perceptive, keen. No introductions about my own faith were necessary; he let me know I was a Latter-day Saint the moment he saw me and, in a trice, had my Hebrew Bible open and therefrom began to expatiate on the Hebrew origins of the name Ahman. (He startled me by saying I should publish these findings.) Someday we'll know more about God's Divine Names; for now, He clearly is inviting us all--Jew and Gentile alike--to ponder, to study, to compare. (For the Indo-European cases see Frederik Kortlandt, "An Outline of Proto-Indo-European,"

This is good news because if there is anything new to be published in Biblical studies, I'll give you five dollars. I wouldn't be caught dead in Biblical scholarship. But, you see, the Doctrine and Covenants is "all things divinely new."

English alone often seems to be an inadequate vehicle for what the Lord wishes to teach the Latter-day Saints. One possible reason for the Lord presenting us with these startling new or archaizing names, or Alpha and Omega in other words, lies in the origins of that name in the Hebrew encyclopaedia. From the Hebrew perspective, the world was organized or framed in One Eternal Round and, in the semiotic system which encodes said organization, the first and last letters of the alphabet round that world. These letters are aleph and tau. The observation is nothing new. . .

But the Doctrine and Covenants always intertwines the ancient with the everlastingly new (for Christ is primus et novissimus). By emphasizing the translated, approximated, European nature of the name (or names) Alpha and Omega, or Alphus and Omegus, the Lord points our minds back to the ancient name Aleph and Tau and thus invites us not only to look at the Greek symbols as mere signifiers of a former semiotic system but also at all these earthly symbols as purely signifiers of an Eternal Order. Doubtless He is also letting us know by means of Section 95, if we choose to ponder further, that the use of Alpha and Omega in the Book of Mormon, is only by way of translation; or in other words, in accord with our own English usage, as taken from the Greek Testament. Christ introduces himself in our translated Book of Mormon as Alpha and Omega, although to the Nephites He would have introduced Himself as Alpha and Tau (another insight from Hugh Nibley!).

In the same way hosts and armies only approximates the calling forth of the Sabaoth, which name, studied over centuries, also sorely calls out for illumination! By way of stunning originality, Frank Moore Cross reads the name Lord of Hosts, or Jehovah Sabaoth, as YHWH Tzavaot as Elohim YHWH Tzavaot, or, in other words, "God, He (Who) Causes to Come Into Being the Hosts." The reading, whether indeed correct, evokes Joseph Smith's interpretation, "Creator of the First Day," and also references Genesis 2:1. None of these readings need exclude another. Consider the name, eternally open-ended, which God revealed to Moses in the burning bush. And He Will Be what He Will Be.

The introduction of Section 35 answers to the second part of the interpretation of Sabaoth: "the beginning and the end"; in fact the Lord reveals four titles by way of elucidation. One of these four titles is not to be found in the Holy Bible but occurs three times in the Book of Mormon: "Whose course is one eternal round" (the One whose course is one eternal round). The phrase one eternal round also appears more than once in the Doctrine and Covenants. Its use by both Nephi and Alma, and similar wording in the various other places in Scripture, clearly shows it to be a quotation (with its own tradition of variants!) from yet other Scriptures in their possession. The phrase does recall the theme of the first chapters of the Book of Enoch: "And all His works go on thus from year to year for ever" (Enoch 5:2; tr. R. H. Charles), the Semitic word for year deriving from "that which goes round." The phrase also appears in Watts's hymns, and in various British and American poets, but any future study of it must show just how unique it is to Restoration Scripture. The Prophet used what language was at his disposal to teach the gospel, or to translate the gospel in a familiar way, but the phrasing of the Scriptures from which he translated reflects ancient wording time-out-of-mind.

Doctrine and Covenants 38, although revealed prior to Section 95, not only revisits the titles found in Section 35, it also expands upon the first part of the interpretation of Sabaoth as "creator of the first day":

Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made. The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes; I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me (38:1-3).

Seraphic is the only way to describe this prelude to revelation, and seraphic is surely another of those Hebrew words (found only in Isaiah 6) that comes unelucidated into our own tongue (s-r-f or ll-r-f, to burn, be fiery); its interpretation requires, in fact, the cloven "tongue of angels" and of fire. In the revelation given to Brother Joseph, seraphic describes the premortal spirit sons and daughters of Father and also evokes the glory that emanates from God and fills the seraphim with everlasting burnings. I hear the glowing stars "Forever singing as they shine: 'The hand that made us is divine' " (Addison).

The First Day is that Seraphic Day. God, sitting on His Throne, surrounded by His Seraphim (as in Isaiah 6), looked upon the wide expanse--the great maidan of eternity--and made the First Day. "This is the Day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice--sing the angelic hosts--and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24). For Latter-day Saints, the very words Isaiah speaks in the sod, the Council, "Here am I, send me," bespeak imitatio christi. In the Grand Council in Heaven, standing before the Throne and in the presence of all the seraphic hosts of heaven, in blessed witness, Christ offered Himself a sacrifice for sin with these very words: "Here am I, send me" (Abraham 3:27). Here I AM, send me. Isaiah Chapter Six therefore also fits our scenario of the Grand Assembly, before the world was. After all, God dwells in an Eternal Present; Isaiah was not in time, temporal, when he so communed. His offering and call, in imitatio christi, was also first made "before the world was made."

Or, in other words, all things were decided and planned spiritually in the Council, for "all things were before created; but spiritually were they created," then "naturally" (Moses 3: 5,7). God, who knows "the end from the beginning" (Abraham 2:8), planned the creation and called forth, in Grand Council, the First Day. The Babylonians had a word for all these actions, a word very much like tzabu (hosts, troops): tzubbum ("to look at something from a distance; to carry out, execute properly, according to plan"--John Huehnergard, A Grammar of Akkadian, 519-20). My point, by means of wordplay, is that our English "looked upon" should be read as compactly, as poetically as possible. To look upon the wide expanse of heaven and its hosts of seraphim is to plan for them: it is the First Day of the Plan of Happiness--and what a beautiful day that would be! All the sons of God sang for joy. The Lord of Hosts is the Lord of the First Day--the day of the mustering of the hosts, that is, the Day of the Mustered Ones, in glorious though Solemn Assembly (Hebrew tz-b-'-t). "Call your Solemn Assembly," says the Lord, even as I have called Mine: "on earth as it is in heaven."

We're already deep into the Pearl of Great Price, so let's move at once to Facsimile 2. There, too, we see "God sitting upon His throne" and revealing his light and knowledge "through the heavens." At center, we find what the Prophet Joseph calls the grand, governing star Kolob, the "first creation," or, in other words, "lord of the first day." Kolob stands nearest of all created things to the throne of God, and students notably associate the title Lord of Sabaoth with the enthronement of God, of which the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant is symbolic (William F. Albright, Frank Moore Cross). Describing Facsimile 2, Hugh Nibley concludes: "The theme of the hypocephalus is the creation drama" (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 137).

"God sitting upon His Throne" and surrounded by his assembled hosts (his Sabaoth), announces, or calls forth the First Day. It is also the Day of the Grand Council in Heaven, the heavenly panegyris or Solemn Assembly. We again recall how Section 95:7 begins by referring to the Solemn Assembly, what in Hebrew is called 'atzarah (lit. "cessation of work," and thus, following call of trump and preparatory fasting, "festive assembly") or eidah (assemblage, gathering = Koehler-Baumgartner Lexicon) and, in Greek, the panegyris (Hebrews 12:23: "the general assembly"). The Greek lexicon yields: pas, aguris/agora, "all, assembly or council," that is, "an assembly of a whole nation, a high festival, a solemn assembly" (Liddell-Scott Lexicon). You recall I once asked Hugh Nibley whether Facsimile 2 had reference to the Great Council of Heaven. "Yes," he answered directly--and many other things:

"The great year-rite in one form or another seems to be found throughout the ancient world. What we are talking about is what the Greeks call the panegyris, the great assembly of the entire race to participate in solemn rites essential to the continuance of its corporate well-being. . . .At hundreds of holy shrines, each believed to mark the exact center of the universe and represented as the point at which the four quarters of the earth converged---'the navel of the earth'--one might have seen assembled at the New Year---the moment of creation, the beginning and ending of time--vast concourses of people, each thought to represent the entire human race in the presence of all its ancestors and gods" (One Eternal Round, 103-4). The ceremonies "at the hierocentric center" become "the exact reflection" "of what goes on in heaven" (106-7).

And an "exact reflection" of the places in the Doctrine and Covenants!

The "timing" marks "the ending of one cycle and the beginning of the next," as "the sun begins a new life every year at the winter solstice" (One Eternal Round, 108); "The whole universe and all that is in it must be 'jump-started' for a new round of existence" (109); and it is Facsimile 2 that "touches on the New Year's rites at many points" (130). According to Hugh Nibley, the Book of Abraham opens with a retelling of the Year-Rite, the scenario that matches all three facsimiles from altar to coronation.

The expression Lord of Sabaoth thus marks the First Day, the "moment of creation," of renewal in the on-going cycles of existence: to Latter-day Saints not the ultimate beginning but an again-beginning order of creation, "for the works of God continue"; "My works never cease."

The First Day is thus both end and beginning. The Assembly always comes at the end of the festival, and here we have the end of our first primordial childhood and the beginning of a fresh plan of happiness. The Doctrine and Covenants yields a glimpse of the panegyris or Solemn Assembly, the Seraphic Sabaoth that encircle the Throne at Center of the Universe--and that's also what we see depicted on Facsimile 2: the starry hosts encircling the Center, all standing in hierarchic order, as planned from the beginning "before the world was." These are the Ogdoad, the Council of Eight Souls or Powers--and the Prophet associates them with stars (for the Ogdoad, see Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round). We also see depicted therein, in the lower panel that represents solsticial North, the Hathor Cow (mother of the Sun, or feminine sun), the Four Quarters of the Earth, as also the four elements of life and creation, and the Lotus-Lion-Lam cryptogram (s-m-s = to cause to be born; or come into existence; smsw = the Eldest) that works renewal. It is both the Birthday of the Sun and the day of coronation and royal endowment of power. Kolob, near the throne of God, sits surrounded by the hierarchy of the wide expanse of eternity, as that describes a circle or sphere. Here are the stars; here, the encircling seraphic hosts praising God with uplifted hymning hands at the morning of the world, the beginning and the end. "It's a hologram," Brother Nibley went on to tell me that day in chapel.

Why labor such an obscure theme? It burdens the scriptures. Considering the apocalyptic literature on Abraham, now being taken seriously for the first time, Nibley asks:

"Why such an obsession with the year-rite? It is because Abraham is a prime example of the tradition in literature, while Joseph Smith, long before the phenomenon emerged, provided us with at least five splendid examples of the great assembly. There is the celebration before the throne of God (1 Nephi 1:8-11); then there is the gathering of the righteous posterity of Adam at Adam-ondi-Ahman just before Adam's death (Doctrine and Covenants 107:53); the future gathering of the righteous at Adam-ondi-Ahman before the second coming of the Savior (Doctrine and Covenants 116:1); and the gathering at the temple after Christ's resurrection (3 Nephi 11-26). But the most striking of all is the coronation of King Mosiah, which we are explicitly told took place at the beginning of a new age," One Eternal Round, 167.

To this list, Hugh Nibley now adds the Book of Abraham (coherently assembling all three of the accompanying facsimiles), and shall we not then also include the Prophet Joseph's many other teachings about the Grand Council in Heaven, a description of which clearly appears in Doctrine and Covenants 38:1 and 95:7? These are events heralding a spiritual rebirth and a "renewing of their bodies" (Doctrine and Covenants 84) as well, for: "It was the universal birthday, also the day of creation," One Eternal Round, 168, and resurrection, the beginning and the end.

Hugh Nibley frequently compared the rescuing visit of Christ to the Nephites with the Descensus motif ("Christ among the Ruins," Ensign, July 1983). (The first time I ever saw or talked to him, was the occasion this very talk in Long Beach, California.) And President Joseph F. Smith saw in vision "gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just"; "all these. . . mingled in the vast assembly"--then "the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives" (Doctrine and Covenants 138: 12, 16, 18, 49; see Isaiah 61:1). Professor James A. Sanders, ever sensitive to how one prophet quotes another, often observed to his students at Claremont College how Isaiah's "declaring liberty to the captives" refers to the epoch-marking celebration of Jubilees, a new beginning. Now we have a modern prophet quoting from Isaiah's Messianic verses; and, by so doing, opening to our view Christ's Descensus as a Jubilee Panegyris, even the jubilee trump of resurrection.

The scriptures of the restoration are telling us something again and again, and by means of various media and using a variety of titles and phraseology. The scriptures teach that the power of creation is awesome and indeed purposely beautiful, and they even bring us directly into the picture as participants (Nibley was keen on that idea). We join with God in the work of creation. We are Sabaoth--the Seraphic Sabaoth that "at His bidding post." In the Explanation of Facsimile 2, given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, God shares His power, or priesthood blessings with a succession of named patriarchs, Adam, Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and thence with their children. Fittingly, the four heads of the Kolob figure, say all who have studied the hypocephali, represent the first four divine kings, the first patriarchal dynasty, of Ancient Egypt. Kolob, "as the great, governing star," is exactly that--an embodiment, says Donald Redford, of the nationhood of Egypt. The iconography of the hypocephalus thus fits the prophetic Explanation.

This priesthood bond is the Abrahamic covenant. President Lorenzo Snow long pondered the scripture: "Behold, I am from above, and my power lieth beneath. I am over all, and through all, and search all things" (Doctrine and Covenants 63:59; Conference Reports). This Latter-day Prophet came to perceive that God's power lay below in and through the power of His priesthood hosts on earth. Through this divine priesthood army or Sabaoth or Baneemy ("my sons"--another semiotic "construct" of archaic feel), God will finally subject all things to himself: "And the day cometh that all things shall be subject unto me" (63:59), in perfect harmony and cooperation, after the pattern of the stars, after the music of the spheres.

"Behold, I am Alpha and Omega, even Jesus Christ" (63:60).

Some years ago at UCLA, I examined the Gardner Library copy of Brother Nibley's dissertation, "The Roman Games as the Survival of an Archaic Year-Cult" (University of California, Berkeley, Dec. 1938). It's all about the ancient panegyris at the Year-Rite. Whether the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Hopi, Aztecs, Egyptians, or Abraham, whether Heliopolis or Stonehenge, Hugh Nibley never dropped the Year-Rite; he was always adding to his tally of knowledge about it and tying it in with all his work on the Restoration. I count eight decades of study on the Year-Rite. No wonder One Eternal Round sums things up in such concise language. Other students have written on the theme--Mircea Eliade for instance--but Nibley had both priority and control of languages and sources--and, thus, comprehensiveness. And what he accumulates still makes for new scholarship in the 21st Century.

And notice there's no mysticism in any of it: no bells, no incense, no inward absorption into the divine. It's all historical research. His argument perforce ranges over ideas borrowed by the mystics, and certainly Nibley had much to say about mystery: religious protocols, the lodge, the temple. But if there was one thing Hugh Nibley eschewed it was mysticism. I heard him voice this dislike time and again. To him, all systems of mysticism stand exactly opposite to what Facsimile 2 conveys and to what all modern and ancient revelation teaches. Mysticism and Mormonism have nothing in common. Panegyris is history, folks.

As the title of Hugh Nibley's last book reminds us, and as the Book of Mormon states in triplicate, God's "course is one eternal round" (Alma 7:20; 1 Nephi 10:19; Alma 37:12; Doctrine and Covenants 3:2; 35:1). The title refers to Facsimile 2, the round drawing on papyrus, the book's ostensible subject, but Nibley is reaching for something more--he is reaching into eternity. The facsimile is just that: a simile or mirror of God's continuing creative power, a work to which we are all invited. This coming-together party to participate in eternal creation, this assembly or panegyris, constitutes the burden of Hugh Nibley's ministry. We see Creation as Celebration.

Creation as Celebration as One Historical Round: "In ancient Egypt," notes Erik Hornung, "history was a religious drama in which all of humanity participated. . . From the earliest annals on, the elaborate festivals and their celebration by the king were recorded as historic events. Thus we might characterize the ancient Egyptian sense of history with the phrase 'history as celebration.'" "The ceremonial character of history" gyrates according to a "basic pattern" set at the first festive all-gathering at the first royal coronation (Erik Hornung, Idea into Image, 187). The three facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, taken together, capture that moment or "basic pattern" even better than the annals Hornung cites:

"And, happy melodist, unwearied,
       For ever piping songs for ever new;"

The vital teaching about One Eternal Round turns up (or comes round) everywhere in the scriptures, for "the works of God continue." The Eternal Round and the Plan of Happiness describe one and the same "work and glory"--"to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." For the Latter-day Saints, God is not the Creator, past tense, but the Creative: "for my works never cease" (2 Nephi; cf. Truman Madsen).

We end with the Divine Name I AM THAT I AM. What does the Hebrew tell us? The name is open-ended, an eternal going-around. In another Sunday School class, Hugh Nibley sat listening. In the Hebrew, our teacher (Jeff Lindsay) explained, the Name more fully expresses I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE. "Is that right, Brother Nibley"? he asked. Brother Nibley nodded with gusto: "Yes!"

We glimpse Kolob, among the Sabaoth, as "the grand governing star," early to rise, "first in time," on the first day, even the gathering sunrise coronation of the earth, our eternal home. The renewed earth stands "crowned with glory, even with the presence of God the Father" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:19). In Creation as Panegyris we see God's work and glory for "the immortality and eternal life of man," for Adam redeemed: I SHALL BECOME FOR YOU WHAT I SHALL BECOME. And in that Name, I hear Jehovah saying to all Israel that--"Look and behold the condescension of God!"--He will become the Messiah and save His people "for ever, even for ever and ever" (Daniel 7:18--a panegyris text; 1 Nephi 11:26).

A detailed overview of the name "Lord of Sabaoth" is to be found is Maire Byrne, The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The quotes from Frank Moore Cross and Choon Seow come from this book, and someday I will even add the correct page numbers.

LDS commentary: Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration: A Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants and Other Modern Revelations (2000). The authors note the tie between 95:7, 38:1, and 45:1.

The article to read is Dana M. Pike's "Biblical Words You Already Know and Why They are Important," in By Study and By Faith: Selections From the Religious Educator, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Kent P. Jackson (eds) (Provo, 2009), 183-201.

Robert Boyle's Web page also has a concise essay posted on this topic.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Who can stand before Shiz? Inana: She sweepeth the earth before her! (Ether's Song of Death on the Plain--and America's Political Future)

Final Tally

Mighty Men versus Coriantumr
Shared versus Coriantumr
Gilead versus Coriantumr
Lib versus Coriantumr
Shiz versus Coriantumr

All down: Coriantumr versus Nobody

Coriantumr Loses

Because Jared and his brother "came forth" "from the great tower" (Ether 1:33), we turn to the records of ancient Mesopotamia to elucidate the idiom and themes of the Jaredite Book of Ether.

Unswerving Shiz, the Book of Mormon's most terrifying character, has nothing on the Sumerian goddess, Inana, as described by earth's first named poet, the High Priestess Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Agade. A comparison of the poetic language of Ether, prophet-historian of the Jaredites, to the poetry attributed to Enheduanna (a Mesopotamian contemporary of Classical Jaredite civilization) reveals the closest parallels. But why should we make Shiz out to be more terrible than relentless Coriantumr--the ultimate victor, earth's ultimate loser? Let's move toward the bitterest end and compare notes as we go.

He Sweepeth the Earth Before Him!

Now the name of the brother of Lib was called Shiz. And it came to pass that Shiz pursued after Coriantumr, and he did overthrow many cities, and he did slay both women and children, and he did burn the cities.

And there went a fear of Shiz throughout all the land; yea, a cry went forth throughout the land—Who can stand before the army of Shiz? Behold, he sweepeth the earth before him! (Ether 14:17-18; and cf. verse 27).

And we now turn to the Hymn to Inana (Inana C), in the first portion of which, says Professor Sjoberg, "any sign of mercy and love is absent." Moroni, the editor of Ether, arrives at the same conclusion in Ether 12:33-37.

(ll. 11-17) At her loud cries, the gods of the Land become scared. Her roaring makes the Anuna gods tremble like a solitary reed. At her rumbling, they hide all together. Without Inana great An makes no decisions, and Enlil determines no destinies. Who opposes the mistress who raises her head and is supreme over the mountains? Wherever she ……, cities become ruin mounds and haunted places, and shrines become waste land. When her wrath makes people tremble, the burning sensation and the distress she causes are like an ulu demon ensnaring a man.

The editors of a new anthology conclude in some surprise: "The tone of the hymn is so emphatic as to Inana's superiority to all other gods that the composition can only have issued from a religious milieu fanatically devoted to her cult," The Literature of Ancient Sumer, 93. Inana brooks no rivals--not even "the supreme god An" or "the great god Enlil." The word to note is fanatical. Americans are starting to learn the word also.

Raining Blazing Fire

Hymn to Inana (Inana C):

(l. 36) Setting on fire, in the high plain (izi = fire; ra = to beat ~ set; an = high; edin = plain), words which recall the Jaredite Battle of the Plains of Agosh and the burning of the cities by the army of Shiz.

Another hymn, The Exaltation of Inana (Inana B), evoking both flood and fire, echoes Ether's idiom of "throughout all the land; throughout the land; sweepeth the earth":

(l. 11) As a flood descending upon? these foreign lands.
(amaru ed.e: amaru = flood; kur = foreign lands)

(l. 13) Raining blazing fire down upon the land.
(izi barbar.ra kalam.e sheg.a)
(izi = fire; bar = to burn; a = nominalizing particle ~ burning fire; kalam, land; e = upon; sheg = to rain ~ participle)

(l. 18) Beloved of Enlil, you have made awesome terror weigh upon the Land.
(kalam.a = land; on)

Who Can Stand?

Both Inana and Shiz call forth the stunned query "Who can stand"? "Who rivals her?"

The Sumerian wording in Inana C (l. 15) merits a close look: innin (lady) sag (head) ila (raises), kur.ra (mountain + to the) abdirig (superior); aba (who) sag (head) mungaga (gaga ~ gar = to place). Who can place his head in opposition to the lady who raises her head in superiority to the very mountains?

For the answer--which also embraces the terrible interrogative Who?--we turn to lines 53-4 of the same hymn: "No one":

No one can oppose her murderous battle -- who rivals her? No one can look at her fierce fighting, the speeding carnage.

The Sumerian interrogative aba, marking terrible supremacy--fanatical supremacy--packs rhetorical force: Aba munabsigge? Who can be put up (sig) against (her)? The parallel "Who can stand against the army of Shiz?" takes away the breath. We meet the same cultural milieu in both Ether and Enheduanna. The Prophet Joseph Smith did not borrow this rhetoric of violent desperation from the comparatively tame Old Testament.

In a tigi to Inana (Inana E) we again find answer to the rhetorical question "Who can stand?"

(l. 30) Lady whom no one can withstand in battle, great daughter of Suen who rises in heaven and inspires terror.
(nin me.n.a nugub.a)
(nin = lady; me.n.a =battle, with locative a= in; nu = not; gub = to stand = one cannot stand against)

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(l. 26) In the van of battle [lit. igi me.ta = the eye of battle], all is struck down before you.

The Swift and Speedy Game

Now back to Ether and its terrible swift sweeping:

And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead.

And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to become a prey to the worms of the flesh (Ether 14: 21-2).

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(l. 28) You charge forward like a charging storm.

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 18-21) She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals. Clothed (?) in a furious storm, a whirlwind.

Game? The terrifying word is ene. The idioms for speeding carnage and to speed conflict and battle also eerily echo Ether. We read: (l. 19) gisgisla sulsul (gisla = battle; sulsul =to hasten); (l. 20) shenshen me hab sar akd.e (shenshen = combat; me = battle; hub =foot; sar = run; ak.e = to do/done), that is "battle done at a run." ("And for fun!")

And what natural force sweeps speedy battle? We find three tossed together--at a run: devastating flood, furious storm, whirlwind. Like some terrible broom maker, nature twists strands of maruru (tempest = flood), ud (storm), and dalhamun (duststorm). Dalhamun blows "chaos" and "confusion": it signifies an end to order (John Halloran's Lexicon of Sumerian). All of which compels us to compare the choice of the translators of Inana C (l.55) in describing the tempestuous force of the collected waters as "sweeping"--would they have had any other choice for a force that "leave[s] not a rack behind"?--to the same imagery describing Shiz in the Book of Ether: He sweepeth the earth before him!

(l.55) Engulfing? water, raging [lit. angry], sweeping [lit. ur-ur = collecting again and again? and thus overwhelming] over the earth, she leaves nothing behind [nijnam nudada = anything at all, she not leaves behind].

Better news comes from a prophecy of Enoch:

"And righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood" (Moses 7:62), a prophecy which foretells the coming forth of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ--including the unavoidable Book of Ether--a sweeping warning to our generation! "And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles," that ye may not "be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come" (Ether 2:11; 9).

On the Wide and Silent Plain

Things only get worse in Ether 15. And here the parallels with Enheduanna, with her oddly beautiful turns of phrase--or is it one continual round of howlings?--begin to startle:

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(ll. 24-5) Because of you, the threshold of tears is opened, and people walk along the path of the house of great lamentation.

Ether 15:

And it came to pass that when they were all gathered together, every one to the army which he would, with their wives and their children—both men, women and children being armed with weapons of war, having shields, and breastplates, and head-plates, and being clothed after the manner of war—they did march forth one against another to battle; and they fought all that day, and conquered not.

And it came to pass that when it was night they were weary, and retired to their camps; and after they had retired to their camps they took up a howling and a lamentation for the loss of the slain of their people; and so great were their cries, their howlings and lamentations, that they did rend the air exceedingly.

And it came to pass that on the morrow they did go again to battle, and great and terrible was that day; nevertheless, they conquered not, and when the night came again they did rend the air with their cries, and their howlings, and their mournings, for the loss of the slain of their people (Ether 15:15-17).

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 49-55) On the wide and silent plain, darkening the bright daylight, she turns midday into darkness. People look upon each other in anger, they look for combat. Their shouting disturbs the plain, it weighs on the pasture and the waste land. Her howling is like Iškur's [the storm god] and makes the flesh of all the lands tremble. No one can oppose her murderous battle -- who rivals her? No one can look at her fierce fighting, the speeding carnage. Engulfing (?) water, raging, sweeping over the earth, she leaves nothing behind.

The place merits a closer look:

On the wide and silent plain
darkening the bright daylight,
she turns midday into darkness.
People look upon each other in anger,
they look for combat.

The wide and silent plain evokes the settings of Coriantumr's great battles, even as it also recalls Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" (ll. 35-37):

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

And it came to pass that Coriantumr was exceedingly angry with Shared, and he went against him with his armies to battle; and they did meet in great anger, and they did meet in the valley of Gilgal; and the battle became exceedingly sore.

And it came to pass that Shared fought against him for the space of three days. And it came to pass that Coriantumr beat him, and did pursue him until he came to the plains of Heshlon.

And it came to pass that Shared gave him battle again upon the plains (Ether 13:27-29: thence back to Gilgal).

And it came to pass that Lib did smite the army of Coriantumr, that they fled again[!] to the wilderness of Akish. And it came to pass that Lib did pursue him until he came to the plains of Agosh. . . And when he had come to the plains of Agosh he give battle unto Lib (Ether 14:14-5).

And on the morrow they fought even until the night came. And when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords (Ether 15:22).

Around and again the game wheels from Gilgal to Gilgal, Gog and Magog, Akish, Agosh (Semitic, glgl ~ gll, to be round, go round).

The turns of phrase, as of battle, haunt: lu-u lu-ra (man to [ra] man) igi mu-un-suh-re (eye + tear out; that is, they stare intently); inbir igi binduru (they look for inbir, they look for combat, lit. the eye spreads for combat). "Battle again upon the plains. . ."

The silent plain, the sullen stares, the dilated pupils--the berserker moment--and all is broken by the shouts, the cries, and then the howl, then the mournful drum:

Exaltation of Inana (Inana B)

(l. 33) With the lamenting balag drum a lament is struck up.
(bala[n]g anirata ilu imdabe)
(bala[n]g; anir.a.ta: anir = lament; a=genitive; ta = with; ilu = (sad) song; imdab.e: dug = to say ~ chant)

With the thump of the tambor, there tempts the return of the human--but it's too late.

Drums throb, and howlings: Let us revisit the words in Inana C and glimpse the unfathomable workings of translation:

(l. 51) gu ri-a-ta edin-ta (gu = voice; ri = to direct), that is, a "directed voice"--so that's a shout? It seems so. Again (l. 52): sheg gi-a-ni ishkur-gin (sheg = loud noise; gi = to return, send back; -ani = her; ishkur.gin = like the storm god Ishkur), which could read: She echoes back a loud noise like that of the Storm god. But if Enheduanna were an English major, how would she translate sheg? Just as do the editors of Oxford's Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature. After all, storms howl: She howls in answer like the howling of Stormwind.

The Path to the House of Lamentation

He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children (Ether 15:2).

And it came to pass that the people repented not of their iniquity; and the people of Coriantumr were stirred up to anger against the people of Shiz; and the people of Shiz were stirred up to anger against the people of Coriantumr; wherefore, the people of Shiz did give battle unto the people of Coriantumr (Ether 15:6).

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 39-48) …… she performs a song. This song …… its established plan, weeping, the food and milk of death. Whoever eats …… Inana's food and milk of death will not last. Gall will give a burning pain to those she gives it to eat, …… in their mouth ……. In her joyful heart she performs the song of death on the plain. She performs the song of her heart. She washes their weapons with blood and gore, ……. Axes smash heads, spears penetrate and maces are covered in blood. Their evil mouths …… the warriors ……. On their first offerings she pours blood, filling them with death.

In Ether 15 Inanna again "performs the song of her heart" washing "their weapons with blood and gore...... Axes smash heads, spears penetrate and maces are covered in blood":

The Song of Death on the Plain

And it came to pass that they fought all that day, and when the night came they slept upon their swords.

And on the morrow they fought even until the night came.

And when the night came they were drunken with anger, even as a man who is drunken with wine; and they slept again upon their swords (Ether 15: 20-22).

And...and...and (repeated five times). And it came to pass that eventually nothing came to pass; Lincoln's "awful arithmetic" has summed its sum.

She Performs the Song of Her Heart

Hymn to Inana (Inana C)

(ll. 30-1) She abases those whom she despises. The mistress, an eagle that lets no one escape.

Wherefore, he did pursue them, and on the morrow he did overtake them; and they fought again with the sword. And it came to pass that when they had all fallen by the sword, save it were Coriantumr and Shiz, behold Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood.

And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little, he smote off the head of Shiz.

And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz, that Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died.

And it came to pass that Coriantumr fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life (Ether 15: 29-32).

The rest is silence; for who remains to strike the sad song of the balang? who to howl lament?

A Warning

The songs of Inana tumble out of time. Of what piquancy are they today? The timeless wars of Mesopotamia: Do they really have any anything to say about our wars today? even our Mesopotamian wars? The Tigris and the Euphrates change course; kingdoms fall; kingdoms rise. There is nothing new under the sun.

Except the Book of Mormon, that is. Ether presents us with a new story, but we write our own ending. The Gog-and-Magog battling of Coriantumr and Shiz comes as a warning to America today. It comes as a warning against our paralyzing anger, our drunken refusal to call a halt, to compromise. We sleep in anger and rise to march. Forget the hungry generations. The Valley of Gilgal and the Wilderness of Akish, Agosh and Ramah, the edin and the hill: these are American places, as yet unchanged, ever awaiting--and just around the corner.

We write our own ending.


Transliterations and translations of the hymns to Inana may be found on the online resource:

Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Ebeling, J., Flückiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., Taylor, J., and Zólyomi, G., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (, Oxford 1998–2006.

Concise introductions to The Exaltation of Inana (Inana B) and a Hymn to Inana (Inana C), including discussion of the thorny matters of attribution and dating, may be found in Jeremy Black, Graham Cunningham, Eleanor Robson, and Gabor Zolyomi, The Literature of Ancient Sumer (Oxford, 2004), 92-9 (Hymn to Inana) and 315-20 (Exaltation of Inana).

I have also consulted Ake W. Sjoberg, "in-nin sa-gur4-ra: A Hymn to the Goddess Inanna by the en-Priestess Enheduanna," Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie 65 (1975), 161-253. The quotation "Any sign of mercy and love is absent," is found on p. 162.

Analysis of Sumerian Words:

"There is no dictionary of the Sumerian language": Such is the bad news which greets every student of Sumerian. The good news is that it is great fun to study a language without a dictionary--witness the success of the Rosetta Stone series. After a few seminars, (a little) vocabulary sinks in. It therefore came as a surprise to find English "translations" instantaneously appear over the highlighted words of the transliterated texts in the ETCSL. Some of these words are old hat, most new; I'll take them all.

Copyright 2011 by Val Hinckley Sederholm

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"One in Mine Hand": The Constellative Purpose of the Book of Mormon and the Books of Abraham, Joseph, and Others Yet to Be

While the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ makes up the scriptural "cornerstone of our religion" (Joseph Smith), and thus becomes the instrument by which Israel in the latter-days will come to the knowledge of the True Shepherd and be gathered, it takes nothing from its glory and splendor to acknowledge yet other books, other records of matching though matchless supernal value.

To the contrary, the Book of Mormon specifically says that part of its role is "to establish the truth of the first" collection of books, meaning the Holy Bible, the primary scriptural record of God's dealings with humanity. Why is the Holy Bible our primary scripture? Because it records all things "from the creation of Adam," and especially the birth, ministry, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Moroni 10:3).

To acknowledge the primacy of the Holy Bible does not diminish the latter-day role of the Book of Mormon in providing crucial teachings about the saving ordinances of baptism, sacrament, and the priesthood as delivered by Christ to his "other sheep," face-to-face. Here we find "directions given to the Nephites from the mouth of the Savior of the precise manner in which men should build His Church": "And they must come [unto Christ] by the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb" to both his Nephite and his Jewish ministers (Joseph Smith History-1 [Oliver Cowdery except]; 1 Nephi 13:41). The Stick of Judah and the Stick of Joseph are not, then, rivals but "shall be one in mine hand," as the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ezekiel 37:19).

As all readers discover, no record is as self-aware as the Book of Mormon, replete as it is with prophecies about itself, clear statements of its purpose and mission, and a sense of self wonder. And yet she does not grab all the limelight; she never says "I have no need of thee."

The light that shines from Cumorah's lonely hill, however self-aware, is a shared light. The Book of Mormon heralds "other books," "other records" just as concrete as the golden plates and just as purposeful. In fact the Book of Mormon even includes itself, at one point, under the heading of these "other books," "these last records" (1 Nephi 13:40)--it makes no distinction among them at all. Just so, Enoch's prophecy about truth sent forth "out of the earth," while clearly a reference to Mormon's plates, leaves the door open to all true records yet to be revealed--even as it tells us how they will be revealed (Pearl of Great Price: Moses 7:62). The Lord is so eager to give us more, He even shares the underlying principles for translating "all records that are of ancient date": Sections Six through Nine of the Doctrine and Covenants constitute a primer in sacred translation (see also Mosiah 8:13; Doctrine and Covenants 88:11; and Elder Boyd K. Packer, 'The Voice of Angels,' in "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, Jan. 1983).

The angel tells Nephi of the threefold purpose of "these last records": 1) to establish the Biblical truth; 2) to make known "plain and precious things" that went missing from the Bible; 3) "to make known to all. . . that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and 4) that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved"--"And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb" (1 Nephi 13:40-1). Here is the test by which all fresh claimants to scripture are to be measured. As we look over the standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we ask: Do any of "these books" fall short? Is any one new record less "established by the mouth of the Lamb" than the other? We invite the reader to ponder. . . The Book of Mormon's 531 pages recall Jupiter's mass and invite the house of Israel to a daily feast of restorative truth; still, as they "swim into ken" as a like "new planet," the 61 pages of The Pearl of Great Price provide no less a refreshment. Indeed the covenants of eternal exaltation fall under the name of Abraham. And Abraham's covenants lead us to Christ, even "according to the words [established] by the mouth of the Lamb."

One prophetic book builds on, reflects another. Prophecies about the coming forth of the Book of Abraham and its subsequent correct translation from a roll of Egyptian papyrus are therefore also to be found by the attentive. To Oliver Cowdery, who lost the opportunity of Book of Mormon translation, came the word of prophecy that he would assist in translating "other records" (again the phrase!) no less important in the eyes of God--his very Word--and it must also be pointed out that a Record is a concrete object, a tangible book "in mine hands" (Doctrine and Covenants 9:2). No less than do the words of Christ in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon also points to the essential Book of Abraham, a record which it vigorously defends. After all--and also to paraphrase Hugh Nibley--to fight against any of God's words is to fight against all, and it is ultimately to fight against his Church and his Israel. After learning that "my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home," we read "and my word also shall be gathered in one." Then follows: "And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever" (2 Nephi 29:14).

We can no more differentiate the terms of the Abrahamic covenant, as recorded in Abraham, Genesis, or 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Nephi, than we could separate Mormon from Moroni. We can no more separate the explanations of the three facsimiles of the Book of Abraham from the witness and martyrdom of Abinadi, from the observations about the sun and the planets in Alma and Helaman, or from the vista of King Benjamin teaching from his tower, than we could cut asunder the paired witness of 1st and 2nd Nephi.

And, in accord with the recovery of bright plates from Cumorah's tumulus, the recovery of the papyrus rolls, bitumen dipped, from the wrapping of burial and the sealed stillness of an ancient tomb becomes a witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The God of Abraham is, indeed, a God "of the living" (Luke 20:38). And is the living Abraham not able to call to life his ancient book? "And by it he being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4). The dynamic presence of a living Joseph, rightful heir of the covenant, draws the papyri, as by magnetic force, from Joseph to Joseph--and, then, from papyrus to paper. Just so, a fragrant remnant of the coat of Joseph "was preserved and had not decayed," but remained in the hands of Jacob as token of the recovered life of Joseph and of his everlasting posterity--including his American posterity (Alma 46:24-26). As with Abraham and Isaac, so with Jacob and Joseph: "Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. . .[and] By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph" (Hebrews 11:19, 22). As Jacob of old held to his heart the precious remnant and partook of its undying, covenantal fragrance, so Joseph anew, as son and heir, unrolled the returning gift of "a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh" (Genesis 43:11). Joseph of Egypt never stood on the land of blessing, yet the papyrus of Joseph, sealed up in earnest of the resurrection, and sealed and delivered to American Joseph, also becomes a documentary surety of "the precious things of the lasting hills," as promised by God to Joseph's seed long, long ago (Deuteronomy 33:14). "Abraham!" "Joseph!": "Though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?" (JST Genesis 15: 10). Precious Mary, with "a pound of spikenard, very costly," "anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." "Then said Jesus": "Against the day of my burying hath she kept this, for she hath preserved this ointment until now, that she might anoint me in token of my burial" (John 12:3 and 7, and Joseph Smith Translation). The Garden of Resurrection shimmers "with the odour of the ointment" of Mary.

But a preserved record of Creation, Garden, and the story of Abraham written on Egyptian papyrus and in Egyptian characters--is it a bridge too far? (And there can be bridges too far for faith--thankfully no Latter-day Saint must add a straining faith in scholarly commentary to the simple but attainable faith in the literal word of Scripture!) Says the Lord: "I may preserve the words," if I so choose; "I am able to do mine own work"; "For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith" (2 Nephi 27). One way in which God's word about his eternal sameness comes to fulfillment can be by showing us Today that papyrus record of Yesterday. It is a sign and a wonder, but without such Red Sea demonstrations, for which saving faith is required on the part of all beneficiaries, God hardly could show himself as God. And God is God--and thank God for "one in whom he could confide," even Joseph Smith, who had the faith of Enoch and the faith of Abraham, and who could accordingly reveal their very words to a receptive few in an unbelieving generation.

Again, by the simple means of Nephi's noting that his father found the Five Books of Moses on the Plates of Brass, God sees fit to testify to us that Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and, yes, blessed Deuteronomy were all written by the hand of Moses. Nephi's record stands proud against the great magic act by which all things uniquely Jewish vanish from the historical record; the hiss, however, remains. "For they do wrest the scriptures and do not understand them": God foresaw the cut-and-paste-and-more-cut nature of biblical scholarship with its fostering, foundational anti-Semitism, its perceived Canaanite cultural matrix for ancient Israelite faith and practice, its replacement of prophetic foretellings with fictive views of Deuteronomistic Historians and Deutero-Isaiahs, its wisdom goddesses and leafy asherahs, and such like windlass philosophies of men. And God foresaw, given the all-pervasive powers of scholarship to persuade even the very elect, that it would be essential for us to have Nephi's simple, unwitting witness about Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and the rest, including the historical verity of the Exodus, in order for faith to be nurtured, even as a child is to be nurtured, in the Word of the Lord (see Doctrine and Covenants 10:63; 2 Peter 3:16; Alma 13:20).

The restoration to and through Joseph Smith of the papyrus record of Abraham was as fully a part of his divine mission as Prophet-Restorer as anything else. "The Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles. . . And it shall also be of [saving] worth unto the Gentiles; and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (2 Nephi 22:8-9). The core doctrinal and covenantal message of the Roll Revealed is as essential to our salvation as anything else recorded on plates or parchment. Indeed: "There are many things engraven. . .which do throw greater views upon my gospel" than anything heretofore imagined, and we are therefore to "receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred" (Doctrine and Covenants 10:45; 8:11).

As for the manner of translation, it does not become us to inquire too deeply. "A seer is greater than a prophet" even, possessor of a "high gift." And how does the Lord define a "high gift"? "A gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God." Again, a "high gift" yields nothing less than "mighty miracles," not the mundane (see Mosiah 8). And can anyone imagine that the seer who translated the Book of Mormon had no "high gift" in his encounter with the papyri? Or that he was somehow now subject to error? Brother Joseph's scribes--those in the "know"--loved to detail the workings of translation, yet none of them knew, none of them even came close to knowing. Nor should we overly concern ourselves with the manner of such high translation, given the seeric right to unspeakable instruments forever withheld from our own sight: "for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate" (Mosiah 8: 13). "Wherewith that he can look," while the briefest of descriptions, remains the only one authoritatively vouchsafed to us. As for Abraham, when he looked through the Urim and Thummim: "I saw the stars, that they were very great" (Abraham 3:2; Ether 3:24).

In his 38 years the Prophet-Seer had no time for peripheral matters. He may have farmed, gardened, or kept store; he may have shot at a mark or played baseball, but--make no mistake--his translations were of-a-piece and none can be altered or removed without a corresponding removal of salvific knowledge necessary to the making and keeping of priesthood covenants of Abrahamic exaltation. In Abraham's autobiography also lies further needed affirmation of the Divine Creative and Atoning power of Jesus Christ: "And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me" (Abraham 3:27). Again, it was somehow necessary for us, in order to confirm the doctrine of a premortal home in God--and to chart our course back home--to see through Abraham's eyes God "moving in his majesty and power" amidst the starry kingdoms (Doctrine and Covenants 88; Abraham 3; Abraham Facsimile 2). And to check our arrogant pose at eternity's door: "I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all" (Abraham 3:19). Indeed, without the knowledge set forth in the Abraham translations, there is no way to conceive of the ultimate ordinance of salvation, that of Abrahamic covenantal marriage, the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, including the promise of eternal lives in worlds without number. Neither could there be a 132nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the revelation on celestial marriage, without a corresponding ancient affirmation by Abraham, written "by his own hand, upon papyrus." Otherwise, there can be no fully attested grounds, no recorded evidence, for faith in these now assured though unseen new and everlasting endowments and covenants of Christ.

"Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him" (Isaiah 51:1 and 2 Nephi 8:1). Can anyone professing belief in the Bible read these words of Isaiah and yet wonder whether the Lord is able to bring forth (hewing and digging) an ancient papyrus roll of Abraham? And given the direct command to "search diligently" the words of Isaiah, shall less be said of the words of the parent-prophet to whom Isaiah himself would have us look (see 3 Nephi 23:1)? Indeed we look to Abraham and Sarah as the faithful exemplars of Endowed and Exalted Man in the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.

Our own Book of Abraham cuts off suddenly, with the promise of more to come. Yet even that cut is providential; for, remarkably, our portion ends with an explanation of how Adam and Eve entered that very Covenant of Marriage, a covenant which makes a perfect literary frame with the opening verses about seeking the priesthood and blessings of Adam, "or first father" (Abraham 5:14-21; Abraham 1:1-4). We also need to frame our lives around the blessings of Adam and Eve. As for Joseph, it is essential only to know that his latter-day namesake, standing on promised soil, held something redolent of a living Joseph in his hands; the actual words of that ancient record are not necessary to our salvation as yet, and so were never translated or published. Still, Joseph of America did reveal many essential covenants and prophecies of Egyptian Joseph, as 2 Nephi, Alma, and the Joseph Smith Translation variously register. Yes we do possess a saving remnant of the ancient Book of Joseph.

Finally, the Book of Mormon, despite all her self-awareness, does not hesitate to speak of another sealed record found on the very same plates, which, while in no wise diminishing her gathering role, will transcend in witness of Christ her own bright glory. The Book of Mormon itself will be swallowed up in another, brighter Testament of Christ (2 Nephi 27:7ff).

There are yet more books of scripture to be revealed, for "righteousness and truth [sent forth from the earth] will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood" (Moses 7:62). When a flood comes, it comes fast. Who shall stand when these appear? Who, we ask, "with great anxiety even unto pain," will be prepared to receive these "other books"? It stands to reason that those who accept, study, and love all scriptures available today, including the words of the current Prophet, and who also accept the mirroring, constellative miracles of their coming forth, will be best prepared to receive more. Others, unfamiliar with the scriptures of the Restoration now available, will be drawn to the Book of Mormon for the first time, only after receiving with gladness pearls of great price as yet unknown; the witness of the Book of Mormon will then confirm the testimony of Christ with convincing power. Thus there will be a complete cycle in which the Book of Mormon, while remaining the brightest glory of the Restoration firmament, will be seen as constellative rather than single star.

Eventually all God's words shall be gathered in one. In the broadest sense of the imagery used by Ezekiel, the Stick of Judah (the Bible) will also comprehend the soon-to-be revealed Gospel of John the Baptist and the promised Enoch, along with the full account of the Mount of Transfiguration, the parchment of John, "my beloved," the fullness of the New Translation of the Bible, and the records of Abraham and of Joseph--to name a few. Just so, the Stick of Ephraim, "and the tribes of Israel his fellows" (the Book of Mormon), will ultimately comprehend the records of all other tribes associated with Ephraim, including the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. Yet however we choose to class the Scriptures, they all, finally, in at-one-ment, "shall be one in mine hand."


The authoritative statements to read on the coming forth of new scriptures include: Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "All Men Everywhere," General Conference, April 2006 (on and Elder Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light, page 18. Many of us recall hearing Elder Maxwell foretell the coming of so many scriptures that we would need a "little red wagon," as it were, to carry these "other books" to the meetinghouse.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, "The Miracle of the Holy Bible," General Conference, April 2007, sets forth the primacy of the Bible in the Latter-day canon.

Abraham 5:14-21: I'm sure many readers have been blessed by the manner in which the sudden ending of the Book of Abraham with the creation of Eve lends a powerful emphasis to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. The ending turns the heart back to the promises made to the fathers in Abraham 1:1-4.

Copyright 2010 by Val Hinckley Sederholm