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