Friday, October 12, 2012

Joseph Smith Translation Hosea 8:11: My Mercies

The King James Version of the Holy Bible is not without its moments of dark incoherence.

Consider the following place (Hosea 11:8): "My heart is turned within, my repentings are kindled together."

"My repentings are kindled together?" Put that sentence into simple English without the aid of anything except a collegiate dictionary!

Things are much turned about in the Joseph Smith Translation of the verse (note: my not mine in the edition of the KJV used by the Prophet), as a comparison of the two versions shows.


How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel?

how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim?

mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.


my heart is turned toward thee, and my mercies are extended to gather thee.

(Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith's New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts [Provo, 2004], Old Testament Manuscript 2, 844-5).

Karl Elliger, the editor of Hosea for Biblia Hebraica (1970), takes the Hebrew word nixumay, rendered in KJV as my repentings, as a possible error for raxamay, my compassion or my mercies. Whether the editor is correct in so emending nixumay into raxamay, the emended reading is a dead ringer for that given by the Prophet Joseph: "My mercies"!

But the Prophet's translation of mercies stands whether we are to accept Professor Elliger's emendation of Hosea 11:8 or not. The editors of the Anchor Bible edition of Hosea say the following:

"emotions. The word nixumim [Hosea 11:8 has the plural form with possessive ending: nixumay] occurs only here, in Isa 57:18, and in Zech 1:13. The emotion is one of compassion and pity; it describes the desire to bring consolation. As such it is close in meaning to raxamim; the proposed emendation to raxamay is fatuous" (Francis I. Andersen, David Noel Freedman, Hosea, The Anchor Bible [New York, 1980]589).

My mercies thus answers to nixumay so surely as it does to raxamay. Indeed both the Targum (Aramaic Bible) and the Peshitta (Syriac) translate nixumay with the root r-x-m (see Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon database and Biblia Hebraica).

Elsewhere, the King James translators do not translate nixumim as repentings: repentings in KJV Hosea 11:8 is fatuous and incoherent--it "leadeth not," "comforteth not," unto salvation (Isaiah 57:18: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him; Zechariah 1:13: "And the Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words"). The Prophet, by the way, at the time of translation, had not yet begun his Hebrew studies, so he would not have been aware of the two other instances of nixumim in the Hebrew Bible. Still, ought the Prophet Joseph to have rendered: "my comforts are kindled together"? Not so. Mercies is just the word.

Of all Bible translations, Martin Luther's alone renders nixumay as meine Barmherzigkeit (my mercy) instead of "my repentaunce" (Wycliffe), paenitudo mea (Vulgate), or metameleia mou (LXX). When Joseph the Seer, a good decade after making his own translation, encountered Luther's Bible, he took pains to learn the language, then pronounced it to be the version best attesting his own revelation. The doctrine of mercy shines brightly everywhere in the scriptures revealed through Joseph Smith, and especially the Book of Mormon, as the very essence of Christ's salvation. Thus nothing in Luther's Bible so attests the inspiration given to the Prophet about the mission of Christ as does this word Barmherzigkeit.

It takes some thinking to get at the root of these twinned Semitic verbs, r-x-m and n-x-m. R-x-m at its essence speaks to love; its place is the womb (rexem) of a loving mother; n-x-m conveys rest and calm (see, for example, the definitions in John Huehnergard's A Grammar of Akkadian). The bowels of n-x-m, its place, yearn to soothe, comfort, pacify. Not only do the verbs phonologically chime, their semantic fields overlap, and where they overlap, they blend in an expression of mercy.

Philology and semantics bring satisfaction, but the prophetic commission to reveal and to translate extends beyond academic pursuits. Said Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "The revelations of the Restoration confirm this cosmic fact: 'God so loved the world, that he gave his Only Begotten Son'" (John 3:16; October 2003, "How Choice a Seer!"). If semantics was the only thing at issue here, it would all be to small point. The replacement of the frustrating dark saying "my repentings" with "my mercies" becomes a translation--though so small in scope as the taking of a new breath--"especially responsive to the deepest human yearnings and puzzlements" (Elder Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer!"). And perhaps that single new breath of mercy, as his daily bread, suffices the Christian pilgrim to the top of yet one more hill.

"My mercies" signifies "My atoning mercies," "my pacifying and reconciling mercies"--and "all" "extended toward thee," "to gather thee," to bring thee Home. Hosea, at the very moment of justice, the moment in which Ephraim is about to be delivered up to the doom of the ancient Cities of the Plain, Admah and Zeboim, testifies of that Christ who, having "satisfied the demands of justice" and "having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion," now stands "betwixt them and justice" (see Mosiah 15:9, and note the complementary, as well as the contrasting, words mercy and compassion; for Admah and Zeboim, see Hosea, The Anchor Bible, 588).

Not long before his martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph observed of a letter sent him by the governor of Illinois: "There is no mercy--there is no mercy here" (History of the Church 6:545). Yet he remained, with his long-suffering brethren, purposeful, poised, and "calm as a Summer's morning"! How many rescuing drops of mercy, grace, and saving kindness do we find in our own here and now?

The editors of the Anchor Bible, as they struggle over the riddling text, linger over the poetic portrayal of a God who seemingly vacillates in agony of indecision. Such--for today's thoughtful reader--may be the ambiguity of poetry, but God does not repent; he does not have an inward turning of heart, says Joseph, so much as a heart burning with mercies, a heart ever turning towards Thee. That change in translation, or in emphasis, or in intent, we submit, becomes for the thirsting soul who finds "no mercy here" a small but sufficient well of grace springing up into everlasting life. We respond affirmatively to the plea of Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "Brothers and sisters, we dare not hold back the restored gospel's declarations! We dare not hold back the reassuring revelations and truth-telling translations about 'things as they really are, and . . . things as they really will be.' These are so needed by those whose weary hands hang down because they suffer from doctrinal anemia, which can best be treated by the red blood cells of the Restoration" (Elder Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer!" Italics added).


An electronic edition of the Luther Bible, 1545, can be found at

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trust No One To Be Your Teacher

A few years ago, I tuned into a BYU commencement address on the car radio:

"Some of you graduates will continue your educational studies. Keep up the good work! We’re proud of you! Most of you will not pursue more formal education but will embark on your chosen career. We’re grateful for you and wish you well.

Brothers and sisters, regardless of your choices for the future, you will continue to learn. As long as you live, you will learn. It is part of God’s plan for us. You will grow intellectually and spiritually. Just as Jesus the Christ 'increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man,' so may you.

To increase your wisdom and stature, you will exercise your agency. You will choose your teachers and your role models. Choose them wisely. Heed this counsel of Alma: 'Trust no one to be your teacher . . . , except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments'" (Elder Russell M. Nelson, 23 April 2009, BYU Web page; see Mosiah 23:14:

Trust no one! I was startled. The idea seemed unrealistic. It was one of those "Who, then, can be saved?" moments, and I began to wonder. . . Trust no one? And just how many men of God will these new graduates find in the academy or the office? Or how about those teachers and ministers who pick the Bible to death, line upon line, precept upon precept? Who, then, can be your teacher? your role model? Elder Nelson's statement pours cold water on a good many dissertation advisors, department chairs, CEOs. But there you have it. Choose and Heed are in imperative mode. So is Trust no one.

The words quoted by Elder Nelson come from another speech, another commencement. Alma the Elder, addressing his new community--refugees from the oppressive rule of King Noah--refuses to be named king (Mosiah 23:7):

But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.

Here, in a one-liner buried in the narrative, is one of the greatest revelations in all scripture:

Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another. Ye shall not esteem.

Then comes the corollary:

One man shall not think himself above another.

Alma continues:

13 And now as ye have been delivered by the power of God out of these bonds; yea, even out of the hands of king Noah and his people, and also from the bonds of iniquity, even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.

14 And also trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.

Trust no king, and trust but few to teach and few to minister.

The wording of the 1830 Book of Mormon has been modified, yet the original sentence grammar does not offend the ear:

"and that ye trust no man to be a king over you;

and also trusting no one to be your teachers nor your ministers, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments" (Joseph Smith Begins His Work: Book of Mormon 1830 First Edition, Wilford C. Wood, ed., 203).

After hearing Elder Nelson, I felt glad I was not standing on the threshold of graduate mentoring. I inwardly imagined a few graduates finding mentors of sound religious faith and values--and such are yet many--and hoped that the rest might come to see their new Bishops and Stake Presidents as if their true dissertation advisors or business administrators.

Such glad safety is illusory. Every time I pick up a book, leaf through a newspaper, or watch the television commentator, I begin trusting someone to be my teacher. Latter-day Saints often use the idiom: "the author is not a Latter-day Saint, but it is still a good book." The questions ought to be, upon taking up a book: Is he a man of God? Does he or she live a godly life?

Are matters of morality so very delicate? They are. Trust no one.

Surely the counsel of Elder Nelson cannot apply so generally? It does. Choose Wisely. Trust No One. And the last might be restated: Read but Verify. That is, Read Wisely, read with the eyes open, read through the lens of gospel light.

The list becomes long.

"Trusting no one to be your teachers" becomes:

Trusting no one to be your historian;

Trusting no one to do your science;

Trusting no one to be your compiler of facts, your journalist, essayist, rhetorician, your literary critic, your biographer, your mathematician.

I read broadly, but my trust does not flow so broadly as the leaves I spread to read. As Robert Frost teaches in "Wild Grapes": "Nothing tells me/That I need learn to let go with the heart." ("And have no wish to with the heart. . . The mind--is not the heart").

Latter-day graduates who aspire to the honors of academia ought ever to remember: "The mind--is not the heart." And they ought to discover for themselves the little lingering note of wonder, the catch in the breath: The mind -- is not the heart.

There are teachers, and then there are teachers, but who qualifies as the False Teacher? To answer, we turn to Samuel the Lamanite, who gives us the following signs by which we may identify 1) the false teacher and 2) the phony reformer (Helaman 13:27-28,

27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.

28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.

"If a man shall come among you" begins Samuel the Lamanite, and he does such and such, and then you do so and so, then you may know you are following a false teacher.

He shall say: "Do this" and "Do that" and even "Do whatsoever", that is to say, "Whatsoever your heart desireth." There is a point of subtlety here. The false teacher does not begin by saying "Do whatsoever your heart desireth." There comes first many a Do This, many a Do That, and then there follows quite a long journey: "Walk after the pride of your own hearts." Finally, he teaches: Now you are ready to go ahead with "whatsoever."

All must be soaked in smooth and "flattering words unto you." The false teacher is your friend, your guide, he cloaks you in the garment of praise.

In return, you are to fund the teacher "of your gold, and of your silver" and "lift him up," or promote him. You become his chief propagandist and fundraiser.

"And because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well"--"you're doing great, making great progress," then--and this is a powerful conclusion--"ye will not find fault with him."

What do we see, then?

A man comes among us, flatters us with pretensions of friendship, praises us, and we instantly buy into it all; we fund him, roll out the red carpet, promote him, praise him to the stars, and--because he is our great and wonderful friend--we will not, would not, ever "find fault with him."

Even worse, says Samuel, should that same man not only preach but minister. He preaches and he editorializes: Do this, Do that, Change this, Change that "and ye shall not suffer." Change whatsoever.

As we make pace on our own Pilgrim's Progress, we now encounter not only the False Teacher but that near kin, the Reformer.

Susa Young Gates observed a breathtaking trait in her father, President Brigham Young (she is setting out a short laundry list of his weaknesses, and, as we all know he had a "strong" weakness or two, while yet "a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments"):

"Those who posed as reformers towards him and his people, who would destroy the Church and Kingdom of God, and especially if they were themselves 'whited sepulchres' he hated with a passion that often vented itself in violent speech. His family, who heard never an unrefined word from his lips, were nevertheless not shocked when he denounced or even cursed in the pulpit the renegades" who privately, and often also in public, cast aspersions on wives and children.

His children, you see, furrowed little brows over hearing themselves publicly described as bastards. Daddy would step up and defend his little ones, those who could hardly speak for themselves (compare Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "Protect the Children," General Conference, October 2012). All of which explains the use of childish language in so defending; for he was saying what both defenseless children and walked-on saints would have much liked to have said--and if he had not so spoken, the very rocks perforce would have come to speech. The man knew appeasement; he knew how to quiet a brooding crowd. Brigham Young was as much a carrier of an antique folk culture as he was messenger of a gospel culture, and I like the way Brigham Young never held back.

Which aspersions? Oh, you are wonderful people, but how sad to see these "disadvantaged" (read: "illegitimate") children, these "poor" ("oppressed") wives. Oh, you have done such wonderful things in such a short time, but how sad to see the Priesthood taking the helm, rather than the judge, the governor. Don't you care what people might say of your children? Are you, good people, after all, un-American?

Protect the Children (or, Mr. Young, you talk strangely): "When our women and children were left on the banks of the Missouri, in a helpless condition, I said to one of the United States officers, who had been threatening those who were left behind--

'While I am gone to find a home for my family, if you meddle with them, or insult them in the least, by the Gods of Eternity I will be on your track.' 

And had their threats been executed, I would have slain them, even though I should have had to go into the heart of Washington city to do it.

Says he, 'Mr. Young, you talk strangely.'

'Well,' I said, 'let my family alone'; 

for they wanted to persuade them back to the other side of the river, to afflict them still more" (Journal of Discourses 1:363).

Not every uniformed officer or professed reformer is a "whited sepulchre"; Brigham Young said it required the gentle Spirit of God to see through a man while his lips poured forth words sweet as honey. President Young's day was a day of subtlety, of charmed rhetoric, of--to our roughened ears--undreamed-of sophistication and manner. It was a day of hats. It was all soaring Saruman calling on Gandalf Greyhame; Gondor visiting the Shire folk. For a caller to evoke the subtle duel by essaying in lofty counterpoint on the titles of "his excellency, the great governor, Brigham Young" called forth the barbaric pinpoint: " 'Brigham the Carpenter' will do":

"His daughter [Susa Young Gates] relates that when he was governor a traveler addressed him with all of his federal, military and religious titles, to which Brigham replied, 'Sir, you have omitted my most cherished titles: Carpenter, Painter and Glazier.'" He himself said he preferred "Brigham, how are you?" to "'Governor Young', 'Governor Young,' in a canting tone" (Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young, American Moses, 244-245; Journal of Discourses 1:363).

Despite such frank pinpoints, Brigham himself, as the famous Fitz Hugh Ludlow noted, was "mannerly to a degree astonishing," acting with "perfect deference to the feelings of others," although possessing power seemingly "the most despotic known to mankind." Ludlow professed great friendship, believed himself sincere in that friendship, liked Brigham Young as much as did everyone else who ever met him (excepting a certain officer), indeed found him to be absolutely sincere and endearing; at once, he also deemed his power, that is to say, his priesthood authority, "a crime against the Constitution" (Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young, American Moses, 326). How many visitors charmed, or mystified, by an audience with Abraham Lincoln, also came to see in him a despot and his actions crimes against Constitutional law? Even some of Lincoln's oldest friends finally so concluded. After the assassination, Brother Brigham mused over what his own meeting with Lincoln might have been like: they would trade story after story in humorous repartee.

Neither can we imagine the Nephites and Lamanites as children, ungiven to speech. Samuel the Lamanite is sarcastic, and he vents, and he curses. Tired of his threats--and doubtless disgusted--the people righteously throw rocks, sanctimoniously shoot arrows, and Samuel leaps from the city wall and flees for his life.

But let's be serious: Who would reform into ineffectuality the Church and Kingdom of God? (How often we hear the claim that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, bereft of its first fire, blends into the crowd--just another protestant faith! just another academic subdiscipline!) Not Thomas Kane, not Alexander Doniphan (these two being the paradigmatic friends in our history); not every man who comes among us. Consider the signs: promote him, give him money, find no fault with him. Do this, Do that. Don't do this. Don't do that--and words sweet as honey. None of these words describe either Kane or Doniphan, but they do describe others of Brother Brigham's day. Of course, it takes the Spirit of God to discern the matter, but it never hurts to start with the subtle yet sufficiently plain wording of the Book of Mormon, a significant role of which, says a modern Prophet, is to expose "the enemies of Christ." "God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time" (Ezra Taft Benson, "The Book of Mormon is the Word of God," Ensign, January 1988).

Trust no one. In coming days "humble followers of Christ" will doubtless shake hands with a few calling "reformers" and "flatterers," and we would do well to fortify ourselves against these professed friends with that same armor we put on to withstand what President Benson calls "the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day"--though we need not vent, I suppose.

And we must never, never curse. Young college graduates! your professors and advisors may be present.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Neal A. Maxwell, Walter Jackson Bate, and Brigham Young: The Moral Purpose of Mormon Biography

Since childhood I continue to read with eager haste the biographical record of early Mormonism. The reading has built faith and, together with the Holy Scriptures and the teachings of living prophets, has helped convert my soul to the Lord. In these biographies, when good and true, I have found "the always heartening union of achievement with the familiar" (Walter Jackson Bate, John Keats, 2).

Advice to writers suggests writing on what one knows best; the advice applies to readers also. And such reading serves a moral purpose. Of course, "We have a natural hunger to learn what qualities of mind or character, and what incidents in a man's life, encourage--or at least permit--an achievement so compelling when, at the same time, so little is apparently given at the start." "The interest is thus deeply human and moral, and in the most capacious sense of both of these words" (Walter Jackson Bate, 2).

Such hunger to learn--and the learning is a moral quest--has its pitfalls. According to the gifted Walter Jackson Bate, we approach greatness with two fears. First comes the fear that all that is great in the world has already been accomplished; then follows the thought of it being "utterly impossible to imitate" the hero "in any thing" (Bate citing Johnson, 35). Yet the very act of reading the right sort of biography can quell both fears such that "Whatever our usual preoccupations, in approaching such figures we become more open to what Johnson thought the first aim of biography--to find what can be 'put to use'" (Bate, 2).

And what can the young Latter-day Saint reader "put to use" from the lives of the prophets and pioneers whose names he already knows so well? (There must be a few Latter-day Saint virtues.) Here I recall the way in which Preston Nibley chose to sum up his biography of the second prophet of our dispensation: "HE BELIEVED." Faith can always be "put to use"--and that makes of any biographer someone having almost endless capacity to do good: "I have been astounded by the strength of this man's faith; such faith I have never encountered in any other person" (Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, 539). We all recall Brigham Young's assertion: " 'Mormonism' has made me all that I am" (JD 8:162, Widstoe, Discourses of Brigham Young, 451). Whatever we are, we also can believe and become whatever Mormonism may make of us.

Any young reader hopes to share in the deeds of the great. Yet in the very moment of aspiration, deflation sets in: Who can match their deeds, their virtues? Here is where--and not a moment before--the words of Johnson fruitfully come to use. Confronting the "utterly impossible to imitate in any thing," "The sacred writers (he observed) related the vicious as well as the virtuous actions of men; which had this moral effect, that it kept mankind from despair" (Bates citing Johnson, 35).

Note it well: the very act of relating even the vicious is intended to produce a "moral effect" urging the reader forward in the paths of king or prophet, though none himself. Turning to the Bible, we find David, though exemplar of virtue, yet caught in the vicious. And Peter? Here is no king: the record relates a quite ordinary soul of impetuosity, temper, jealousy, and inconsistency. Indeed, the man possessed but a sole virtue: "HE BELIEVED." And Christ then made of Peter the Apostle all that he was, that is to say, all that we wonder at in the Acts of the Apostles. Other scriptural greats somehow escape the taint of the vicious: James and John stand to perfection despite being sons of Boanerges; Joseph has no fault; Moses stands near perfect (though Aaron knows flaws). There are human moments but not a jot of vice. Appears, in lightning flash, one rather primal personality. Despairing Elijah, both troubler of Israel and the paradigmatic prophet of "like passions," is suddenly swept to heaven. (And, as I was always taught at home, Who would not gladly exchange their own reward in heaven for the throne of Elijah or the crown of Brigham Young?)

Commenting to his own biographer--who worked under instructions to be candid--Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: "It isn't that we're searching for weakness as much as we are for growth" (Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple's Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell, xv). The same apostle often related how Prophet and President Lorenzo Snow: "meekly but instructively, said of the Prophet's imperfections [Joseph Smith]: When I saw the weaknesses and imperfections in him I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had these imperfections the power and authority which he placed upon him. . . for I knew I myself had weakness and I thought there was a chance for me" (The Collected Works of Neal A. Maxwell, 6:1:118). "A chance for me"--Johnson could not have stated it better. Lorenzo Snow, says Elder Maxwell with an inimitable allusive grace, "viewed others graciously and charitably as if through the 'windows of heaven'" (3:2:89). While we might not with justification write hagiographically, whatever the word really means, perhaps we can write sainthood into our own souls.

As compelling as biography, and perhaps more so, is to have the privilege of knowing, or at least of seeing and hearing, the great men and women of our own day, faults or not. (We're talking prophetic faults here.) Elder Maxwell, in his turn, "meekly but instructively" approaches a contemporary prophet: "I found President Lee to be personally kind, and yet very tough-minded intellectually. Because he knew the gospel to be true, he was fearlessly confrontive. This also permitted him to deal with institutional and personal feedback from a position of security" (L. Brent Goates, ed., He Changed My Life, 239). Again: "In my relationship with him, I found him to be kind and to be an unusually perceptive listener, for what reasons I am not certain. Thus, when I was around him, I felt completely secure rather than anxious. Others, as reported, may have had a different experience" (239). And who would not rather listen to Neal Maxwell's creative and articulate speech than to some grumbling functionary or embittered soul?

"I can truly say," wrote Brigham Young, "that I invariably found [Joseph Smith] to be all that any people could require a true prophet to be, and that a better man could not be, though he had his weaknesses; and what man has ever lived upon this earth who had none?" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Brigham Young to David P. Smith, June 1, 1853, 343). President George Q. Cannon, another latter-day apostle, had the privilege of knowing well Brigham Young: "To describe my feelings upon the death of this man of God, whom I loved so much and who had always treated me with such kindness and affection, is impossible. He was in my eyes as perfect a man as I ever knew. I never desired to see his faults; I closed my eyes to them. To me he was a Prophet of God, the head of the dispensation on the earth, holding the keys under the Prophet Joseph, and in my mind there clustered about him, holding this position, everything holy and sacred and to be revered" (Davis Bitton, George Q. Cannon, 212). Davis Bitton had no need to include this gracious assessment of Brigham Young into an already overly long biography of Brother Cannon. That he chose to do so says a lot about Bitton's sense of the purpose and tradition of Mormon history as we have received it. There is more: "The thought that ever with me was: If I criticize, or find fault with, or judge Brother Brigham, how far shall I go?" (Bitton citing Cannon, 212). And even more: "And in contemplating that life, it seems to me perfect. In my eyes and to my feelings he was as perfect a man as could be in mortality" (210). What could Brother Bitton have been thinking? Yet his book will last.

Brigham Young's own daughter, Susa Young Gates, has left for the curious a short recital of papa's faults, faults that something call to mind Martin Luther or the endearing wizard, Gandalf:

He had some character-weaknesses": "He was easily prejudiced, and it was difficult to change his opinions when once they were formed. Then he could be sarcastic, but never spiteful. On provocation, he was sometimes very angry, but never with tempestuous explosion or rude haste." (It enraged Brother Brigham when his boys broke windows spraying glass into rooms where small children were at play.) Then: "Those who posed as reformers towards him and his people, who would destroy the Church and Kingdom of God, and especially if they were themselves 'whited sepulchres' he hated with a passion that often vented itself in violent speech." Note: "his family, who heard never an unrefined word from his lips, were nevertheless not shocked [!] when he denounced or even cursed in the pulpit the renegades who sometimes manifested their filthy bitterness to women and children not only in the streets, but a few times at least in their public addresses (Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young, New York MacMillan Co., 1931, 317).

Herein lies the substance of the errors at once overlooked by Brother Cannon. And we again call to mind what Elder Neal A. Maxwell says of President Harold B. Lee: "Because he knew the gospel to be true, he was fearlessly confrontive." ("I love to fight the devils, but I love to overcome them," Brigham Young, JD 3:224; "I will never cease to contend, inch by inch, until we gain the ground and possess the Kingdom," JD 8:166.) Besides, how many of Brother Brigham's public displays of tough words and acts might be seen as a going-out-on-a-limb for the Kingdom, rather than as personal failing and character flaw. Elijah was never polite to Ahab.

As for Brother Brigham's view of others' faults, or of his own:

He said little about his faults, or about other's faults. Once he rebuked his daughter for relating in detail one of her own character weaknesses. 'Don't do that,' he said. 'If you were holding a fort against an enemy, you wouldn't get up in a gap in the wall and shout, Here is a hole, climb in here!' (Gates and Widtsoe, 318).

Too many Latter-day Saints clamber up to the yelling gap today.

We have spoken of weakness--of prophets sharing 'like passions"--yet there are powerful virtues all too easy to overlook, including virtues "impossible" for me to reach.

I like the way in which Brigham Young simply moved on:

"Brigham Young went always on his calm, deliberate way. . ."

(Gates and Widtsoe, 316).

Church History Library
September 11, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mighty Prince Ammon and the Trophy Presentations at the Palace of King Khyan (Archaeological Discovery in Egypt Sheds Light on the Book of Mormon)

In what surely is one of the most dramatic moments in a book replete with dramatic moments, Book of Mormon prince and missionary Ammon withstands a band of plunderers with sword and sling (Alma 17:37-9):

37 But behold, every man that lifted his club to smite Ammon, he smote off their arms with his sword; for he did withstand their blows by smiting their arms with the edge of his sword, insomuch that they began to be astonished, and began to flee before him; yea, and they were not few in number; and he caused them to flee by the strength of his arm.

38 Now six of them had fallen by the sling, but he slew none save it were their leader with his sword; and he smote off as many of their arms as were lifted against him, and they were not a few.

39 And when he had driven them afar off, he returned and they watered their flocks and returned them to the pasture of the king, and then went in unto the king, bearing the arms which had been smitten off by the sword of Ammon, of those who sought to slay him; and they were carried in unto the king for a testimony of the things which they had done. 

It is a marvelous story--but can there yet remain a "testimony of the things" which Ammon once did? A newly announced archaeological discovery in Hyksos Egypt--the first of its kind--recalls the presentation of the enemies' right arms to the Ismaelite king, Lamoni, and bespeaks the earnest ritual nature of such trophy presentations:

For a prior look at the same Book of Mormon episode in light of Ancient Near Eastern texts and iconography (but not archaeology), see John Welch and John Lundquist, "Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies":

Hugh Nibley, in his Book of Mormon classes, would also comment on "the Sebus sport":

"The games of chivalry were just as rough and deadly as the Sebus sport, and far more ancient. Sinuhe is a thousand years older than Achilles or David, and monuments from prehistoric Egypt show the first 'pharaohs' bashing the heads of rival rulers with the ceremonial mace. The famous scenes of the battles of Megiddo and Carchemish display the piles of severed hands and arms brought as trophies to the king. That's how you would prove that you had slain them; you would bring the right arms to the king and pile them up. This is Bible stuff, too, as well as Babylonian, and the Egyptians were in it, too. At Carchemish and Megiddo the king sat there with big piles of arms in front of him. Well, Ammon brought piles of arms to show his prowess to King Lamoni" (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lecture 51: Alma 17-19).

At Carchemish and Megiddo the trophies were laid before the king right on the spot--on the battlefront. But the evidence of sixteen hands found in four burial pits near the palace of the Hyksos Pharaoh Khyan at Avaris even more closely recalls the statement in Alma about how the servants of the king carried the arms "in unto the king," that is, into his palace. "Two of the pits," we read, "[are] located in front of what is believed to be a throne room" (

Arma virumque cano--valorous deeds and glorious feats of arms are the province of the king, and the hands buried in front of Khyan's throne room serve as a lasting testimony of that fact.

Copyright 2012 by Val Sederholm

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"The Interposition of Their All-Wise Creator" (Book of Mormon: Mosiah 29:19): the American Revolution, George Washington's Letters to the Jewish Congregants of America, and the Freedom of the Mormon Pioneers

There is not a man upon the earth that has put his trust in God, but what can say that he delivered him. I know that has been the case with me, emphatically so (President John Taylor)

From the Book of Mosiah I cull a telling phrase: The interposition of their all-wise Creator.

What do I mean by a telling phrase? I mean a place of scripture that lends coherence and order to our growing knowledge of gospel principles. Marking words and phrases that encapsulate doctrines and principles serves us so well as do footnotes, chapter headings, indexes, concordances.

Interposition of the all-wise Creator becomes such a telling, summary, encapsulating phrase for a principle of salvation: rescue from bondage and oppression, especially political oppression.

Such a meaning for interposition is connotative, as a look at the Oxford English Dictionary makes clear. From "The action of placing something or oneself between, the fact of being placed or situated between; intervention" we come to "The action of interfering or intervening in a matter; intervention between persons or in a person's behalf; interference, meditation." Next consider interpose: "To put forth or introduce (action, authority, etc.) in the way of interference or intervention."

Interposition sometimes mediates, and thus reconciles; it also blocks, justifies, protects. A tribune interposes a veto; a senate interposes its authority. "The Senate came not betweene nor interposed their authoritie to stop the course intended against him" (1606 tr. Hist. Twelve Caesars 13). On the other hand, there were "Noble Dames, who in old time, interposed themselves as Mediatrices, betweene the Romans and Sabines" (ibid., Annot. 36). In the first instance the Senate may, if it chooses, interpose in order to shield; in the second, interposing precedes reconciliation; entreaty before treaty. The idea of one person interposing on behalf of another, whether by assertion of status or authority or not, thus bespeaks rescue from unrightful or oppressive action and deliverance and thus an asserting or establishing of one's just claims and rights.

Different still is action "By the immediate interposition of Providence" (Junius). In Milton's Paradise Regained even Satan acknowledges Jesus' rescue: "A shelter and a kind of shading cool Interposition, as a summer's cloud" ( "He, to save my soul from danger, Interposed His precious blood" ("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing").

The Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress both used the word interposition in calling for a Day of Fasting and Prayer--prayer for rescue. And George Washington also speaks of divine interposition in his several letters to Jewish American congregants when comparing their latter-day deliverance from tyranny to the ancient deliverance from Egypt.

In like manner, Israelite congregants in Ancient America, sought for an "Egyptian" deliverance from the despotic rule of their own kings and the further oppression of the Lamanites.

King Mosiah in his Written Word summarizes the evils inherent in monarchy and calls for a new arrangement of public affairs (Mosiah 29). Mosiah considers monarchy and bondage as near-synonyms (he's been translating Ether!), and to illustrate the point he doesn't need to go outside the experience of his own people, a part of whom came to him as refugees from Lamanite bondage. These Nephites had known oppression under the rule of their own king, Noah; then, after military defeat, under the subjection and bondage of the people of King Laman, a people of much greater strength and number.

The Written Word states:

For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!

Yea, remember king Noah, his wickedness and his abominations, and also the wickedness and abominations of his people. Behold what great destruction did come upon them; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage (Mosiah 29: 17-18).

The theme is the subjection of one people by another more numerous, prosperous, and mighty people.

And were it not for the interposition of their all-wise Creator, and this because of their sincere repentance, they must unavoidably remain in bondage until now (Mosiah 29: 19).

The interposition of the all-wise Creator signals release from a bondage imposed by a superior political power.

The following verse (20) sets out the pattern by which such release becomes possible. The pattern conveys the gospel principle:

But behold, he did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him, he did deliver them out of bondage;

The verse shows a curious parallelism in both notionality and grammar (the dative pronouns):

a. He did deliver them
b. because they did humble themselves before him
b (or c?) and because they cried mightily unto him
a. he did deliver them

I call the parallelism curious for its repetition of the word because, a repetition that holds--then ineluctably draws--the action of humility into that of prayer, even the progressive harmonic of the liberating chord of mighty prayer. Mosiah clearly views the action of humility and that of mighty prayer as one; yet he also hints at the irony or paradox in which lowliness produces might. There are indeed two steps in the darkness required of the saints for their deliverance, but the first, kneeling, step, humility, springs from potential to realize the second. As the Prophet Joseph writes, to "wax strong in the presence of God" is a good work of humility prerequisite to grant of priesthood sceptre (Doctrine and Covenants 121). Helaman later notes the same irony when impoverished and oppressed saints "wax stronger and stronger in their humility." Such an surprising idea of what constitutes strength is a principal teaching of the Book of Mormon from 1 Nephi on. And where is the good Christian pilgrim who, upon discovering such fountains of the spiritual, will discount a book that thus reveals to its depths the true doctrine of humility? Answer--note it well: Not to be found in all Christendom. (Royal Skousen also notes the chiastic parallelism in Mosiah 29:19.)

Met by the discomfiting juxtaposition of the lowly and the mighty, we are now prepared for an encapsulation of principle about true power, a general principle of universal application, or a thus we see:

and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him (20).

Again, what we find here is a telling phrase: the Interposition of the all-wise Creator, followed by an explanatory, or summary verse, that taken together encapsulate principle:

1. Such Interposition works with Power
2. The Power works interposition for men after an action of Trust
3. That Action of Trust, or faith-in-action, unavoidably consists in humility and mighty prayer.

For more details we might turn to Mosiah's larger narrative of the deliverance itself in which the Christian may find much to ponder and to discover. But our encapsulation of the principle becomes a key. We unpack the principle with the following succinct statements:

1. Man through weakness and sin is brought into captivity and bondage, including political bondage.
2a. The Interposition of the all-wise Creator alone brings the "power of deliverance."
2b. If not, there can be no deliverance. Any state of bondage hardens into permanence.
3. Such interposition works by divine Power.
4a. But such Power is brought into play only after an action of men.
4b. That action is Trust, the essential elements of which are humility and mighty prayer.
5. Trust in God is therefore the sole means of obtaining God's interposition and thus accessing his power.
Without such Trust there can be no deliverance. This applies to "all cases."
6. And, "in all cases," Trust invites Interposition and thus brings Power, which always results in Deliverance. This is the "Power of Deliverance" of which Nephi also speaks in 1 Nephi 1:20.

Political deliverance is clearly seen to operate on principles similar to those found in the doctrine of the Atonement, that is to say, Reconciliation and Deliverance from sin. Christ is the Interposer.

We succinctly summarize the principle we entitle the Interposition of the all-wise Creator:
Trust in God brings about the Interposition of an all-wise Creator.

We turn from logic to image. The action of the Lord working "with his power" is described as "extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him." We are to picture men and women kneeling and crying out in mighty prayer, and then, by way of simile, the arm of mercy is extended. They take the Lord by the hand, they rise, and come to Him. The arm of mercy is also, without paradox, an arm of protection, the arm being for the ancients the symbol of power. There can be no enemy in the presence of the Lord's extended arm of mercy. Thus we see that Interposition belongs to the doctrine of Mercy. Here is the doctrine of the Atonement in conjunction with the principle of Interposition in cases of political bondage.

In the current edition of the Book of Mormon, the words each appear exactly above the other, in logical order:


Drawing a circle around all three also "encapsulates" the principle, as if "encircled in the arms of mercy."

We turn to parallels in 18th and 19th century English usage in order to show the beauty and goodness and correctness of Mosiah's teaching, which courses far beyond the understanding of the theologians of Brother Joseph's day.

Consider the following notes on the Exodus from Rev. Dr. Thomas Scott's A Commentary on the Whole Bible (Deuteronomy V 35-40), a book much read by the Prophet Joseph's contemporaries:

"Nothing had occurred in the history of the world at that time, and nothing has taken place during much more than three thousand years since, that at all resembled the interposition of God, to deliver one nation out of the midst of another more powerful nation, which had long enslaved it, by two unarmed men, entirely through miracles, and contrary to all human probability; or that has any thing like his dealings with them at Sinai and in the wilderness. The very singularity of the transactions, though attested beyond all reasonable doubt, gives a plausible pretence for skepticism."

We attend three things:

1) The similarity of language and idea to Mosiah 29
2) The claims of uniqueness for Israel's political deliverance by means of divine interposition
3) The plausible pretence for skepticism (read Mosiah to overcome any shadow of skepticism--that is what the Book of Mormon is for)

In another footnote on the same page he has the phrase "all-wise Creator."

The Book of Mormon teaches in many ways. So I ask, What does the slight similarity of wording in Rev. Scott and Mosiah have to teach us? It shows us how sensitive the Lord is to his latter-day audience. The translation of the Book of Mormon into English is a grand act of mercy, even an embrace. He was addressing a Christian audience deeply familiar with Bible and Christian commentary. He knew their language and their thoughts--and he used their language. I find miraculous the manner in which the Book of Mormon weaves its ideas with the Biblical language of the Authorized Version, together with many bright threads of Semitic and Egyptian usage, and then also patterns after the common language of the day, including even the language of Bible commentary. The Book of Mormon, while still showing marks of antiquity, yet comes to us in the English of Christendom. The language speaks to both the learned who wrote theology and the unlearned who read theological books or merely listened to sermons.

What stands out next is the connotation which the author gives the term interposition of God: not divine intervention generally, but specifically "to deliver one nation out of the midst of another more powerful nation, which had long enslaved it."

We'll have to forgive our commentator for overlooking the great event of his own day that much recalls Red Sea deliverance. Rev. Thomas Scott was British, you see, and a very earnest Anglican and Tory. Yet even his son acknowledges that Scott's little comment on politics entitled, "The Rights of God," as opposed to the "rights of man," bears a something less than apt or prudent title: "probably the title was not well chosen," he says (The Life of the Rev. Thomas Scott, page 207).

Enter the United States of America. To begin with, our own Witherspoon cites the interposition of God in the deliverance of Jerusalem from the armies of Assyria, by way of comparison with what was then happening in America, in 1776.

Interposition is as American as apple pie. The common human condition being (who can deny it?) oppression, divine interposition alone allows any enjoyment of the rights of man. Rights thus follow the humility of fasting and the fervency--a fervency facing desperation--of prayer. No wonder rights were considered "endowed by their Creator"--after all, any enjoyment of the same rights required active divine intervention, an interposition against all odds. Perhaps Rev. Scott knew whereof he spake in his "Rights of God," after all.

We turn, then, to the humility of the lordly Virginia House of Burgesses:

Resolutions of the House of Burgesses Designating a Day of Fasting and Prayer:

This House being deeply impressed with Apprehension of the great Dangers to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose Commerce and Harbour are on the 1st Day of June next, to be stopped by an armed Force, deem it highly necessary that the said first Day of June be set apart by the Members of this House as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine Interposition for averting the heavy Calamity, which threatens Destruction to our civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War; to give us one Heart and one Mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper Means, every Injury to American Rights, and that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America all Cause of Danger from a continued Pursuit of Measures pregnant with their Ruin.

And who can forget Patrick Henry's "Give me Liberty or Give me Death"?

"Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament" (23 March 1775).

The Continental Congress in 1778 spoke of the events of Revolution "so peculiarly marked, almost by direct interposition of Providence"; similar references to interposition are found in the language of the National Day of Prayer 1775.

George Washington in his handwritten letter "To the Hebrew Congregations in the cities of Philadelphia, New York, Charleston and Richmond" writes:

"The power and goodness of the Almighty were strongly manifested in the events of our late glorious revolution; and his kind interposition in our behalf has been no less visible in the establishment of our present equal government. In war he directed the sword; and in peace he has ruled our counsels."

Note the latter-day deliverance of a remnant of Israel from bondage, something not lost on George Washington in another letter to the Sephardic Jewish congregants of Savanna, Georgia:

"Letter to Hebrew Congregations of Savanna, Georgia":

"May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in a promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United Sates as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of the people whose God is Jehovah."

Friberg's image of Washington in prayer at Valley Forge unfolds as icon. No evidence for the event exists. Here is the true prayer of George Washington; somebody ought to paint Washington signing the Savanna letter.

A description of the Great Seal of the United States by its designer, Charles Thomson, reads (20 June 1782):

"The pyramid signals Strength and Duration: the Eye over it and the Motto Annuit Coeptis allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause" (

I end by posing a series of questions. Are Americans subject to political bondage and oppression today? If so, why? And if Americans are subject to political bondage today, can politics provide a permanent answer? What kind of rescue should we look for? If not political, then spiritual? Does Mosiah suggest both political and spiritual solutions by his calling in his Written Word for a new system of government, one in which the individual answers for his own exercise of conscience?

Spiritual reformation certainly does not preclude a continued striving for good government. Yet without the spiritual, will the sought-for political changes make any difference? What is the true bondage anyhow? What is sin? Who favors sin? (For the answer read Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants.) Whence do our rights derive? All Americans ought to read Mosiah's Written Word. 

The events described by Mosiah work prophetically to describe the history of the oppressions suffered and pioneering undertaken by the Latter-day Saints--and our future history as a people.

Speaking in 1882 of another singular transaction of deliverance in modern times, President Joseph F. Smith said:

"A wonderful event has occurred in these last days among this people, an event many times more wonderful than the marching of the children of Israel from Egypt to the holy land. . .What has happened in this dispensation? This people have crossed deserts that are beyond comparison with those traversed by the children of Israel. . . and they performed a journey nearly four times as great as that performed by the children of Israel--which occupied them forty years--in the course of a few months."

The pioneers were brought to a barren land of promise in which the first promise was that of freedom from political oppression not of milk and honey (though these were added unto them as well). Political oppression? We correctly say the pioneers found their freedom to worship in the West, but it was much more than that. Along with freedom of worship came attendant all those other freedoms "also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen" (see Thoreau's On Civil Disobedience).

"God led this people from the midst of their persecutors, delivered them from prison bars and fettering chains, delivered them from bondage, brought them out here and made them free--as free as any people upon the earth. I am at the defiance of the world to-day, to show me a equal number of people any where that enjoy greater freedom or liberty at this moment than the Latter-day Saints do. . ."

Look over the scene in 1882: the serfs of Russia, the ethnicities locked into empires, the manifold subjects of colonization in Asia and Africa, the ravaged American South, the workers of the industrialized world, the hapless wretches of New York City, and so on, and then consider the situation of the Latter-day Saints in the Rocky Mountains.

"We were led out of bondage by the power of God." All political rights enjoyed by Latter-day Saints today--any Latter-day Saint and in any stake or branch of Zion--flow from that moment when "The angels of God and the power and presence of the Almighty accompanied us" (Journal of Discourses 24:156).

Given the signal power of deliverance so divinely rendered, what, then, is that freedom we enjoy? According to President Smith, there is much of degree and of nuance when it comes to God's deliverance of his people from oppression (and by the mid-1840s that oppression had reached its wrenching fullness):

Since 1847 "this people have been comparatively, to a great extent, free from malicious courts, from imprisonments, from chains and fetters, from mobocracy, and from injury by persecution, and they have thriven, prospered, multiplied, built and inhabited, planted and reaped the fruits of their labors and rejoiced in them ever since."

"And we have never been in bondage since, and we need not have been under what bondage we are if we had only done our duty, kept the commandments of the Lord, followed the counsels of his servants implicitly and without doubt in our minds, [then] we would have been as free to-day as we were the moment we set foot in these valleys.

As free as these valleys: "For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham, and ye must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched-out arm

(Doctrine and Covenants 103:17; Joseph F. Smith, Provo Tabernacle, 3 December 1882, Journal of Discourses 24, 155-7, italics added and original spelling maintained; the sermon first came to my attention in Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, 39-40).


John Taylor, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 145.

Primary Sources (Virginian House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry, George Washington, etc.) available on Internet. Specific places of citation on Internet to be added here.

For a full exploration of the Power of Deliverance, please read the talks of the same name by President Henry B. Eyring (15 January 2008: and Elder L. Tom Perry (General Conference, April 2012).

As we search for principles embedded in the scriptures, how fortunate we are if we also seek and find descriptive tags, labels, legends, titles, or short-cuts that encapsulate, name, order these doctrines or principles. Hugh Nibley used to tell his students how perfectly arranged, even in layout and mise-en-page, the Book of Mormon is for the purpose of teaching eternal truth--it could not be bettered.

One thing to note: doctrinal places are flagged by words, flag words so well as by telling phrases--and single words signal doctrines, without always need of fuller signal or telling or title phrases. When we see the word faith we're going to find, without further ado, either a concise definition or a telling example elucidating the doctrine of faith; repentance evokes, well, repentance. To be sure, there are vital scriptural definitions of doctrines, words, verses, sermons. And we do have a telling Book of Mormon phrase: the Doctrine of Christ. The phrase labels, encapsulates, the first four principles of action in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, doctrines are clearly set out--basic truth told clearly and concisely. Principles, on the other hand, often require effort to sort out (Elder Richard G. Scott). We exert our minds to grasp them, then to summarize.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Can I Know Whether The Book of Abraham Is True?

No matter whether I write in 2012 or in 2120, I'm happy to attribute any new discoveries about the scriptures to those who came before me or who saw more deeply, and especially to parents and latter-day apostles and to Dr. Hugh Nibley who taught well and "without compulsory means." 

The idea Brother Nibley put forward was that of the second look. When speaking of scholarly evidence for the scriptures, he would pick up a marker and draw a long line across the board. (We met in the stately Karl G. Maeser building.) Everyone, he explained, finds conviction, proof, meaning somewhere along the accumulative evidentiary line of scholarship. He would note such varied individual moments of conviction with vertical marks. Conviction comes from hearing, proof from looking--and from looking again.

What of the conviction of the Spirit? As we read the Book of Abraham we touch the heavens; scholarship also opens our hearts to conviction. Latter-day Saint readers, brim with spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon, received that witness after asking "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ" whether the record of the Nephites, both detailed and sweepingly breathtaking--in a word, overwhelming--was "not [indeed] true"? We pray for manifestation following conviction. 

Already secure in the witness of the Book of Mormon, as translated by a latter-day Prophet, how shall Latter-day Saints now approach other books or other prophets? Shall we test the Lord? seek our own Waters of Meribah? Can we pretend, in teenager fashion, that prophecy bow "by common consent" or in accord with "times and seasons"? Ought we to claim a Book of Mormon of 531 pages, then turn around and doubt fourteen-page Abraham? and that doubt follow an untutored glance at a couple fragmentary columns of papyrus? I remember the old saw about reinventing the wheel and ask: Shall Thomas S. Monson "stand alone" as we profess to testify of Joseph Smith? Can the sun be blotted out by man or the law of chastity revoked by the "children of disobedience"? Do we glory in the cloudburst of revealed doctrine only to pretend to no settled doctrine at all? Or do we need to "remember"? "and ponder it in your hearts"? "Ye shall receive these things." "It is wisdom in the Lord" (see Moroni 10: 3-5; Doctrine and Covenants 124:119-120). 

What a gentle reminder: "How Gentle God's Commands; How Kind His Precepts Are."

Witness comes to the one who reads Scripture in the reflective, prayerful way Scripture is meant to be read, be that reader young or old, learned or uncultivated--or even a child. There is a key of knowledge that unlocks more doors than the key to any library. The fullness of Scripture becomes library--Biblia--enough.

Yet any reader of Hugh Nibley's writings on the Book of Abraham should take note of one thing: A witness of the book's truthfulness can most certainly be found by comparing its contents to the records of the ancient near east and, in further abundance, to the works of modern egyptological and near eastern scholarship. Try it. "Prove all things"; bend the mind; "Stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world" in your search for truth (Doctrine and Covenants 78:14). We need not wait for the confirmation of the Spirit of the Lord in order to bear powerful testimony of the Book of Abraham. Such confirmation attends witness, follows witness. 

Brother Nibley shows us a veritable cloud of witnesses to the truthfulness of Abraham's record (read the conclusion to Abraham in Egypt again). To brush aside or to ignore such multitudinous testimony comes at a risk. If we cannot understand temporal things when they are as plain as word can be, how can we think to receive further enlightenment from the Holy Spirit? The Lord's house is a house of logic. Or does the Lord gives us teachers to no point? Does He grant his gifts of teaching the word of wisdom and of teaching the word of knowledge in vain? Are not such gifts intended to edify the whole body? And if so, what would the implications be for Latter-day Saints, learned or unlearned, who receive not the gift? Or what the receptivity for other books of prophecy soon to come forth?

I note of late a faddish skepticism about the Book of Abraham. I meet such intellectual posing, such prompt dismissal with wonder.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kolob in Color (An Egyptologist Looks at LDS Book of Abraham Facsimile 2)

"In what distant deeps or skies/ Burnt the fire of thine eyes?"

"The sun is but a morning star"

The color of Kolob--Kolob in Color 
(as seen through the lens of the parti-color hypocephalus Turin 2333)

The central figure on Facsimile 2, the round hypocephalus, represents Kolob, "the first creation," as Abraham, looking through bright gems, Urim and Thummim, saw in a vision of the stars. The Egyptians discovered the same ram-headed figure, at world's morn, burning white as dawn on the green fields of the Delta. They named him Ba-neb-djedit, that is, the ba-Ram, or ba-spirit, the Lord of Djedit. Mendes being how the Greeks heard the name Ba-neb-djedit, we also call the ram Lord of Mendes, or the Mendesian Ram.

In the multi-millennial Egyptian religious tradition, high, kingly gods accumulated attributes formerly belonging to various other divinities, divinities that often belonged to deeply ancient local traditions and ritual settings. The high god Amun, adding to his name majesty and honor, appropriated the symbolism and rites of the Mendesian ram (as Osiris had done before him). (See Donald B. Redford, City of The Ram-Man: The Story of Ancient Mendes, 2010; Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, eds., The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, "Mendes," 181.) 

"A universal purview," says Professor Donald Redford, "attaches itself to the Ram of Mendes. He becomes the Father of the Gods, the Ram of Rams, the King of the Gods, the Manifestation (bai) of every god, the Heir of Tatenen (the primordial earth-god), the Unique God with overwhelming awfulness" (City of the Ram-Man, 134). His being flows "unrestricted in the universe": "Besides his essence as the earth, he is also water 'who comes as the inundation that he may bring life to the Two Lands.' As the Living One of Re he becomes the source of living heat 'that brightens heaven and earth with his rays'; as the air 'he is breath for all people'" (Ibid, quoting from the Mendes Stela). As the four-faced Ram, he is "identified as the great creator, the 'Complete One' ('Itm)," or Atum, even " 'He Who Rises on the Horizon with Four Faces' " (Ibid., 135). The Ram of Mendes likewise becomes the manifestation "of the union of dynamic solar power (Re) with latent fertility (Osiris)": Red and Green. With the Mendesian Ram now also becoming "the embodiment of national existence, Amun-re," we end up with "a primordial deity of unequaled antiquity and immanence" (Ibid., 135-6). It all seems too much--the snowball effect--but we must remember that an unquenchable aspiration to become was for Egyptians the only way out of the predicament of the static. (The verb to note is xpr, to (repeatedly) come into being, to manifest, to become, to transcend.)

David Klotz simply struggles for the best way to render the name of this same supernal Ram in his "transcendent, invisible, and ineffable" manifestation as the Creator, whom the Egyptians call variously "Amun with four ram-heads upon one neck" or "Amun within the Iris" or "Amun with ten names": the Cosmic Deity, the Cosmic Shu-Amun, the Transcendent Amun (David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram: Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple, 183 [2006]). "Ten names" only hints at the unfathomable fountains of the creative transcendence; for, for the Egyptians the number 10 (medj) is the deep (medjw) number: "deep answers to deep" (see Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction). 

How would Abraham have seen the Ram? Readers of Hugh Nibley's and Michael Rhodes's One Eternal Round will know that the book, though carefully distinguishing the Egyptian view of things from the gospel plan, does not neglect the Mendesian Ram in its treatment of Abraham's Kolob. As for Redford and Klotz, their books appeared within the last six years, long after Brother Nibley's public lectures on Facsimile 2 (1990: see Lecture 10) and the writing of One Eternal Round, and thus are not only the latest studies about the Mendesian Ram and of its place on the hypocephalus, but also serve as a means of testing Nibley's conclusions. 

David Klotz describes the round hypocephalus (a symbol of the veiling and encircling Iris) as a striking image--in small compass--of the forces that both call the cosmos into being and ensure its continuance. The hypocephalus is a book of life. Although the Hibis hymns to Amun-Re and secret priestly books, like Papyrus Salt 825, do convey a like message, the hypocephalus holds in its compass the iconography of a thousand words.

For Abraham, whose gaze is ever skyward, the source of living power pulsating throughout the cosmos is a star, even a star "nearest to the throne of God" (Abraham 3:2; Doctrine and Covenants 88). God, who grants Abraham a view of the star, also reveals its name: "These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob" (Abraham 3:3). The name of the great one matches the hieroglyphic label for the central figure of the Abraham hypocephalus: rn nj nTr pf '3 (the name of this great god). And people say Joseph Smith had no gift of translation! 

The round picture, by means of symbolic representation, opens to the Egyptian mind a glimpse into a hidden reality. The ram of Mendes appears on the hypocephalus (and in certain other texts) as having four heads added on one neck (Hypocephalus Turin 2333 shows two heads). Yet says Erik Hornung: "No thinking Egyptian would have imagined that the true form of hidden Amun was a man with a ram's head," much less four such heads. The heads represent the four manifest powers, energies, spirits--what the Egyptians, in the New Kingdom, call the four ba's--of the Cosmic Deity. 

The idea of a multiplicity of manifest powers pulsating from one source--like the four rivers bursting from Eden--recalls Joseph Smith's statements about stars first "receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob," "the first creation," and then transmitting that light or "power" to other stars. Revolutions means turnings or phases or facets, and on the various hypocephali four ram faces gaze out, each in their moment, at the dawn of creation (see Explanation for Facsimile 2, nos. 1 and 5; note also Abraham 5:10: Eden's rivers are not left out of the picture--here is the garden spot of Mendes). One Egyptian word for revolutions is Dnb, a word which comes from the same root as Kolob (Afroasiatic, qrb, qlb, Eg. q3b, all "interior" or "interior part" = Akkadian qerbumDnb, to turn, cf. Arabic qlb, to turn around; see Antonio Loprieno, Ancient Egyptian: A Linguistic Introduction, 29-32; see also Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round). "The revolutions of Kolob" suggests a play on the words Dnb and qlb.

For the Ancient Egyptians words that sound alike resound with redoubled power. Such words map creation and discover its hidden fountains. Not only do the words for ba-ram and ba-spirit combine semiotic forces, ba also signifies the living stars. Another word for ram, zr or zjw, evokes sjw, the common word for star (Val Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, 155). The scribes thus use the hieroglyph of the ram to write the stars. Rams and stars bespeak Life fruitful in multiplicity. Life teems or it is no Life. Such names and their accompanying images become "signs in a metalanguage," even "hieroglyphs," that both hide and reveal (Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, 124). Everything painted on Facsimile 2, though merely sketched in black ink (was there color also?), manifests sign, metalanguage, cryptogram. Such "writings" "cannot be revealed to the world," only to the "thinking Egyptian." For reflective Joseph the hieroglyphs masked like rams represent great, governing stars. The Mendesian ram, in manifest power, mirrors the rising sun, but certainly represents something more than simply the Sun god, Re. The same holds true for any god: "The true form is 'hidden' and 'mysterious'"; "none can encompass the full richness of his nature" (Hornung, Conceptions of God, 124-25). Jan Assmann says Re himself "ist immer mehr"--always more--than just the visible Sun.

There is nothing static about the Egyptian Sun anyhow. Re, descending from above and masked like a ram, unites with mummified Osiris, ruler of the netherworld. "Re is celestial, puissant, energetic; Osiris, chthonic, static, dead" (Sederholm, Papyrus 10808, 171). Re-Osiris lives.

The encircling Iris that is Abraham Facsimile 2 hides, in its lower panel, a cryptogram, or encoded name: Lotus Leaf-Lion-Ram (Sarpot--M3wj--Srj). Does the tripartite name describe the Kolob Ram? There are various keys for decoding the name. Read acrophonically, that is, by isolating the first letters of each word, then combining these letters into a new word--s-m-s--the cryptogram yields: 1) the Eldest (the Originator or Creator, or "first creation"); 2) the One who continually brings about birth or creation. 

Who is the Eldest? The Kirtland Egyptian papers call Kolob the Eldest of the stars; in the Coffin Texts (VII 491h) Horus Smsw, Horus the Eldest, takes his place in the middle (Hr-jb, "over the heart of") of both the northern and the southern stars. Horus the Eldest, thus placed, "could hie to Kolob in the twinkling of an eye." Coffin Texts VII 491h (Spell 1143) reads: "Horus the Elder is in the middle of the stars of the upper region and of the opposing lower region," a cosmic schema matching that of the two halves of the hypocephalus. R.O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts III, Spell 1143, translates: "Horus the Elder is in the middle of the upper stars and opposite the lower ones." That is the last line of a spell that opens with the One who separates the Two Combatants (the Two Worlds), who stills the 600 storms on the Cosmic Lake, and then passes by all the gods, Shu, Nu, Atum, Re, and the Old One, to take his rightful place in the cosmic scheme. In Coffin Texts 938 we read: "I have circumambulated the Great Throne"; "none second to me" (trans. Faulkner). Joseph Smith does not err in giving us Kolob the Eldest, the Star at the heart (Kolob) of the great Cosmic Plan, near to the Throne of God, and thus dividing, judging, or separating, the worlds above and below.

Book of the Dead Chapter 162, which describes the hypocephalus, expresses the meeting of Re and Osiris as a grand mystery veiled in secret names, the same secret names: "Truly he [Re] is the Ba of the Great Corpse [Osiris] at rest in Heliopolis. Lotus-Lion-Ram is his name. 3x-xpr-j3w is also his name" (see Ibid., 149; for these cryptograms see Marie-Louise Ryhiner, "A propos de les trigrammes pantheistes," RdE (29) 1977, 125-37; Sederholm, 10808, 146 n 6, 146, 149, 162 n 78; 168-9; for Horus Smsw, Bernard Mathieu, "Les enfants d'Horus, theologie et astronomie," ENIM 1 (2008), 7-14). 

On certain other hypocephali three further mysterious symbols of transfiguration are found just beside Lotus-Lion-Ram, symbols which I read as yet another known, though rare, cryptogram, a sort of combination of the two just cited: zr-3x-xpr (logographically: the Ram, or Ba becomes a glorious Akh; acrophonically: z/s3x, to be made glorious, become an Akh-spirit, or "glorified being"; see Sederholm, 10808, 169). Such tripartite cryptograms, as signs or numbers "in a metalanguage," name the unspeakable moment of renewal in the 1) netherworld, as also on 2) earth, and in 3) heaven. They name the eternal moment that is Kolob.

The fresh lotus leaf, "standing out of the water and in the water"--as Peter describes the earth at creation--signals renewing blossom. Sunburst follows. The lion (m3wj), stronger than death, names renewal (m3w). And the ram, owing to its productive nature, becomes the image of fruitfulness, a fruitful transformation into many shapes--and thus also newness of life--what the Egyptians call xprw

Because the cryptogram, when read acrophonically, makes up a palindrome (and indeed it often appears accompanied by the tag Tz-pHr, "and vice-versa" = "repeat the round"), we cannot help but read it as sign of back-and-forth, and thus, continual and even eternal rebirth and renewal: The Lotus (in eternal round) renews (sm3j) the Ram; the Ram renews the Lotus. First and Last intertwine, interchange for the Eldest Star that lights all other stars. The secret name thus rounds the world as much as does the mysterious hypocephalus itself. So Kolob stands: "First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time." Pharaoh also reigns "First in government" in Egypt: "I am the Pharaoh Lion-ram; Ram-lion-lotus is my name" (Griffith and Thompson, Demotic Magical Papyrus, 22f.; Col. I 12). 

The palindrome qua palindrome (as indeed the circling hypocephalus qua circle) logically describes the sun "in its revolution," which re-volution perforce unfolds as the key to the earthly "measurement of time" (see Explanation, Facsimile 2). The tripartite names bespeak dawn, splendor, sunset. The Egyptian verb pHr often registers the circular movement of the sun, for the verb describes a circuit, if not exact circle. The expression Tz-pHr duly activates the palindrome, and note how the Western idea of the palindrome is strictly linear--a row of letters--while the Egyptian palindrome, taking flight from the realm of word play into the depths of space and time, clearly is both linear and circular and all-encompassing "in its revolution?" 

And just what should the periodicity of the Lotus revolution be? The Explanation for Facsimile 2 reads: "First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which is called by the Egyptian Jah-oh-eh [another tripartite name]." A cubit is a linear measure; one day describes a circle (as the hieroglyph for day--or even the hypocephalus itself--shows. The hieroglyph shows the solar sphere). The Prophet's explanation, though unresolved, is less puzzling than the description of solar movement given in the Egyptians' own words: "The sun makes a bee line as it spins," a sentence that contrasts, or balances, two verbs: m3' (move in line) and pXr (circle about). 

Much could also be said about Egyptian cubit rods and the inscriptions found on them. So encyclopaedic is the map of the Egyptian universe sketched on these rods that curator Nora Scott considers them to be more almanac than measuring tool. And almanac remains the descriptive term for these inscribed votive rods. After all, the rods bear a map of the counties of Egypt and list, in hierarchical order, the gods who preside over each of them. 

Like the hypocephalus, the inscribed rods order and reflect, in symbolic fashion, the entire Egyptian "encyclopaedia"--the whole length of the land. So why be surprised when Joseph Smith speaks of cubits in his explanation of the hypocephalus? Each gadget or device complements the other; though one is line, the other, circle. And should we be surprised to learn about the cryptic numbers newly deciphered on a votive cubit rod dating from the reign of Shoshenq? that the cubit rods belong to the temple cult? or that the new decipherment pushes back by hundreds of years the use of such cryptic numbers in hieroglyphic writing? The Joseph Smith hypocephalus also bears the name Shoshenq (Figure 8: "writings" belonging to "the holy temple of God"). (The article to read is Gyula Priskin, "Cryptic Numerals on Cubit Rods," GM 192, 2003, 61-66.) On certain royal cubit rods, Nora Scott reads these words: "This is a communication for those who enter daily(?) into Mendes. . . As Khnum [a ram god] lives, as the sun goes down and that which is in heaven arises" (Nora Scott, "Egyptian Cubit Rods," Metropolitan Museum Bulletin; "enter Mendes" = "introduced or initiated into Mendes"). 

The cryptogram keeps life's secret. Hugh Nibley often references Salt Papyrus 825, a book of ceremonies reenacting the union of Re (srp.t, "lotus leaf" ~ sr p.t? "prince of heaven"?) and Osiris (wsjr ~ zr, "ram" or sr, "prince"). The book, clothed in like cryptograms and describing the same doctrine of the Ram, decrees swift death to whomsoever divulges the matter outside the foursquare ritual center known as the House of Life. The cryptographic signature of life on the hypocephalus thus stamps that document as also belonging to the Temple of God and to its secret protocols. Facsimile 2, line 8, which not only lies exactly above our cryptogram but also records the all-powerful ritual prayer that brings about the resurrection of Osirian corpse as living ba, "Contains," says Joseph Smith, "writings that cannot be revealed to the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God" (Explanation, Facsimile 2). In that House the manifest proceeds from the hidden. The union of Re and Osiris, or Lotus-Lion-Ram, as the radiant Cosmic Deity, the Transcendent Amun, or, even, the Amun hidden within the Iris--hidden in blinding light and cryptic pupil--produces the fourfold energy that extends to the farthest regions of day, reaches the edges of the existent.

The Egyptians call the manifest energy and power of the Transcendent Amun the ba (or ba-spirit), really four ba-spirits rolled into one. Several extant texts name each of the four ba's of the Mendesian Ram--and, here, color meets number (the evidence is collated in A. Egbert's, In Quest of Meaning, 163-65).
 An invocation of each of the four ba's, in vivid color and followed by a description of the quadrifrons ram, can be found on the statue base of Neswosret in Stockholm's Medelhavet Museum: And what blessings does Neswosret, as a faithful priesthood holder, pray for? Prosperity--the gift of the Nile--and a good burial (which for the Egyptians affords life more abundant). He then says a remarkable thing: "Let not the gates of hell prevail against me" (ohne das ich an den Toren [der Unterwelt] behindert werde) (Max Burchardt, ZAS 1910, 111-155). The patriarch Neswosret would feel at home with Abraham (cf. For that matter, the Jewish historian and priest Eupolemos (2nd century B.C.) goes so far as to report that a delegation from Mendes traveled to Jerusalem to help build Solomon's Temple (Redford, City of the Ram-Man).

The following names, colors, signs, and numbers occur variously: the red ba, the green ba, the ba of Shu, the ba of Khepri, the ba of Shepsi (or the "august ba"), the white ba, and the bright ba. Such are the designations "assigned to Re, Osiris, Shu [manifest as the bright atmosphere], and Khepri [Re at rising]" (164), but the list changes ever, the colors run. We also find the August ba of Re, the Green (Blue?) Ba of Shu, the red ba of Geb, the bright ba of Osiris (ba Sps nj r', b3 w3D nj Sw, b3 dSr nj gb, b3 b3q nj wsjr [b3q ~ Semitic brq? = "lightening"; "transcendent"; brilliant?], 163).

The contrast of green and red makes up a topos in Egyptian literature and speaks to freshness versus corruption and prosperity versus bad luck. Both colors run in tandem: "certain [amuletic] drawings of the [wedjat-eye, must therefore] take a drop of red ink at the corner of the eye. Just enough red can bring good luck and strengthen the green; too much, and it becomes a consuming fire, out of control and making 'the green one red.' " (Sederholm, 10808, 197; cf. 196ff.). Danger finds resolution, refreshment in green: "A repeated formula [of blood sacrifice] in the Coffin Texts (IV 316c; 328i; V257g) reads:

nb dSr.w
w3D nm.wt

Lord of bloods,
Refresher of altars.

The [chiastic] linking of dSr and w3D is especially powerful here, because w3D fits so well the imagery of the shedding of fresh, bright blood. Both the god and the blood is 'Refresher of altars' " (Ibid., 197 n. 37). The nmj altar 
(a pun on nbis in fact the very altar upon which the priest of Pharaoh attempted Abraham's life; in a nice reversal the mysteries of the green stars were "revealed from God to Abraham, as he [in his turn] offered sacrifice upon an altar" (Joseph Smith, Explanation of Facsimile 2, Oliblish). Green stars? Refresher of altars? Consider how a lotus stand appears to contrast at the head of the blood-stained altar in Facsimile 1. And what about the same stand shown gracing the star Oliblish (another Mendesian ram) on Facsimile 2? The plumes crowning the star burst into HD-white, as if the white (or sky-blue) flower from the green lotus stalk. Oliblish in color. 

Leaf, stalk, flower--they spring up everywhere: Abraham's hypocephalus comes drenched in the lotus. In the case of Oliblish, besides a sign of greening--lotus stand and sprinklers--the water lily likely designates that star's governing power over all it surveys. It is a shared dominion. There can be no conflict of power or interest amid the harmony of the spheres. The lotus sweetly marks delegated power "by politeness of the king": "Stands next to Kolob"; "the next grand governing creation"; "holding the keys of power also" (Joseph Smith, Explanation of Facsimile 2, no. 2: What the figure holds, says Nibley, is the wepwawet, the "opener of paths" jackal standard). Such a reading well accords with Hugh Nibley's summary of the lotus symbolism, "The All-purpose Lotus" (Abraham in Egypt). And doubtless Brother Nibley would also see the lotus as a sign of the cycle, the revolution: Oliblish, the walking-staff wanderer, opener of paths, dusty pioneer, comes at last to the refreshment of the lotus. One Eternal Round bespeaks anapausis, refrigerium: the rest of the Lord.

Professor Egbert labors to put order into the lists and explain their development: which color fits which ba or god? and when and why? and which list makes for canon? But in Egypt definition resists a reining in or a tidying up. Both the red ba and the green can refer to just Re or to Re and Osiris, respectively--and so on. Again, are Nile red and green really red and green? or are they rellow and gruen? Is the sun of Egypt red or yellow? Does green color a blue sky? or the freshness of renewed growth? 

Hypocephalus Turin 2333 sports both red and green paint: Kolob is red, his attendant stars, green baboons (with red faces). Hovering above their arms of praise, come the four fresh offerings of lotus flowers and flowering papyrus stalks--two a-piece and blending into the sky. The colorful burdens befit morning and the refreshing flood. Things come round: by morning, by season, in turn. The Prophet's ideas about the hypocephalus mapping four directions and also reckoning celestial revolutions forcibly come to mind. For the Prophet, morning in Kolob blossoms once but a thousand of our own years; and, according to the lists of values for late period hieroglyphs, all such stalks and flowers, their ordinary, dictionary reading turned to subtle connotation, can also be read x3 (F. Daumas, ed., Valeurs phonetiques des signes hieroglyphiques d'epoch greco-romaine). That last word, which itself traditionally takes the sign of a lotus stalk in leaf, signifies "a thousand." One thousand--the anticipation and the renewal of Kolob--comes in green paint.

"Anointing makes 'green,' " says Hugh Nibley; green nurtures, strengthens, bestows magical powers from above (Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 122f. [2nd ed., 198ff.], citing Budge, Book of Opening the Mouth, 1:232, 234). Elsewhere in the Egyptian record, Amenhotep II, depicted as if a child, suckles a cow "smattered with green markings that look for all the world like stars" (Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, 165; Patrick Houlihan, Animal World, 104, plate XIX). In light of Turin 233 we again note the lotuses gracing Oliblish and the solar bark in upper panels 2 and 3 of the Abraham hypocephalus. And without a green sun, could the earth herself be greened? Hugh Nibley has much to say about "the correspondences between green plants and green stones, and the use of green faience 'in the rites of the newborn sun' " (Val Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, 166 n. 90, quoting Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 122f.; lotuses: One Eternal Round, 285). It was shortly after rising "that the red carnelian eye (the sun low on the horizon) turned into the green faience eye. . . the greening of the landscape after the redness of dawn" (Nibley, Message, 122f.; cf. red Kolob rising as green Oliblish). The amulet of the w3D, gracing the neck, bespeaks a thousand years "as a symbol of verdure and eternal youth" (Ibid., citing BD 159, in Barguet, Livre des Morts, 226 and n. 1). The newborn sun sprouts like a papyrus stalk (w3D)--the quintessence of all that is fresh and green; it sets, elderly, in bloods (dSrw).

The first settlers of Mendes, the Delta home of the Ram who became both Re and Osiris, called the place 'Anepat (Place of Greenness); for "Green pastures and meadows stretched to the west and south" (Donald B. Redford, City of the Ram-Man: The Story of Ancient Mendes [Princeton, 2010], 2). (Any reader of Rhodes's and Nibley's One Eternal Round will recall the symbolism of green gems in the story of the hypocephalus.) The Mendesian ram itself was white, and, according to the third century BC Mendes Stela, the local inhabitants first discovered the white ram in the verdant western meadows at the First Time (see D. Redford, City of the Ram-Man). What they discovered was the First Creation of the First Dawn--in the form of a ram (Hdj.t dawn, white). The contrast of brilliant greens and whites strikes the imagination, these also being "the canonical colors of the Egyptian temple" (Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment). White not only bespeaks dawn but also suggests the fulness of light locked in the iris. The Transcendent Hidden Amun hides in the ineffable glory of the iris of his wedjat-eye, an image expressed by Egyptians in the shape and iconography of the hypocephalus (see David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 168-9). Does the hypocephalus, then, shine a crystalline white or green; or is its glory that of the rainbow?

Contrast colors Kolob. We recall again the bracing red and cold green that yet appear on a hypocephalus housed in Turin's Egyptian museum: red circles encompassing red circles, red Kolob and red disks of the sun, green apes, red-faced. (Art Pollard posts a good photograph on Flikr. Art's an old college chum, by the way.) Now, though, I hear Hugh Nibley pointedly reminding me that the hypocephalus presents anything but artistic merit--the work shows no skill--and this is a needful reminder lest we lose sight of the grand idea which Kolob represents. The hypocephalus meets interpretation as a figural sweep of Idea.

Yet any hypocephalus, dightly painted or not, comes a-splash in color. It's a child's play. Plants and animals of every possible form, lions, bulls, ewes, rams (white of horn), hawks, jackals, snakes, populate these disks. Like the wilds in the visions of Job or the chambers of seasons in the Old Kingdom sun temple of Niuserre, the hypocephalus teems with life. Wings fold and spread everywhere, and, in Egypt, the wings of hawks find description as brilliant, parti-color mirrors--a stained glass. Consider the lilies. The lotus (presented by the Lady of the green, gem-like wedjat-eye to the red cow) blossoms in blue or white. We find reds and greens shot through with light, split with blinding HDj, and yet for all their translucence, there is no washing out: green grows greener, red turns to blood.

Although the Hathor cow on Turin 2333 displays no color, by nature--and by solar nature--red she must be. (Hathor embodies the divine feminine, both mother and companion and eye of Re.) Indeed I read red everywhere in the name Joseph Smith gives the cow. Enish-go-on-dosh blends jns.t-red with dSr.t-red (or dosh-red), as befits both Hathor cow and Solar Eye:

The Exalted Scarlet Solar Eye/
even the Beautiful One (or Beautiful Eye)
in its Redness (or in its quality as the Red Eye)
jns.t q3.t/
'n.t dS(r) = Anis-qo-on-dosh = The Red Eye-Exalted-the Beautiful (Eye)-the Red One

For such a reading of elaborated Enish-go-on-dosh, which recalls red Mars as Hor-dosh (the Red Horus), we put as inspiration and evidence a name for the Female Sun found in an obscure version of Book of the Dead Chapter 148.  Chapter 148 lists the names of the seven solar Hathor cows. The Egyptians typically endow their gods with many symbolic names: Seven becomes the number or name of fullness; for the seven names in fact make up a single elaborated name. One version of the list yields:

She great of love, red of hair;/
oh foremost one residing in the mansion of the red one, beautiful rudder of the southern sky,/
she who is united with life, she of the red cloth.
(John C. Darnell, The Enigmatic Books of the Solar-Osirian Unity: Cryptographic Compositions in the Tombs of Tutankamun, Ramesses VI, and Ramesses IX, dissertation, 105; 
cf. also the translation of the chapter in Raymond O. Faulkner, The Book of the Dead, p. 142, and esp. the various names found in BM 10471. The plate is on p. 147).

The phrase Hnm.t-'nx jnsj.t (she is united with life, even she, the red one) plays on the words 'nx/'nsh (life) and jnsj.t (the lady of scarlet, or "she of the red linen cloth"). (Hathor often flows from the brush in a wine red dress.) To unite with life here signifies to unite with the sun on the red horizon, or "mansion of the red one" (the hw.t dshrw: dosh). Red (jnsj) thus answers to life ('nx). T
he color word jnsj comes originally from a bright red (scarlet) linen called jnsj. Because the Woerterbuch (I, 100.14) also defines the feminine noun jnsj.t as a name of the (feminine) Eye of Horus, we can draw a like correlation between the feminine forms jnsj.t and 'nx.t as names for the Female Solar Eye in our Enish-go-on-dosh. That is to say, if the Enish in Enish-go does not reflect jnsj.t, it reflects 'nx.t just as well: "The Exalted (q3j) Living Eye ('nx.t)." (cf. Woerterbuch I, 100; on scarlet and other Egyptian colors, see also Bernard Mathieu, "Les couleurs dans les Textes des Pyramides").

These names--brim though they be with mirrorings and metonymy--do not blend with our own idea of beauty, until we recognize that the solar red is anything but a red barn. No. Its red is a resplendent tide that flames like a ruby. Here is a precious "living stone," as well as "living Eye," a translucent diadem among stars (see 1 Peter 2:4-5). (The chapter to read on the tie linking hypocephalus and rubies, sapphires, and emeralds is Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, "The Jewel of Discernment," One Eternal Round, Chapter 10, 423-462.)

The Egyptians pack much poetry into cryptonyms (hidden names), and I favor the idea of the elements enish and dosh as radiating both life ('nx.tanesh) and redness, both beauty and the (red) borders (or border stones = the dS.w). After all, the epithet "red (or yellow) of hair" (lit. "red of that curled round" = dSr.t shnj) clearly plays on the idea of the "red circuit" or "red eternal round" of the sun (circuit, Sn.t). Redness, Beauty, Life, the Eye of Horus: all is one--and one eternal round. The exalted female sun, the Eye, as she navigates from the southern borders to the north, is both vibrantly and gloriously beautiful--both sun by day and flaming Arcturus by night.

The piercing jewel set in Hathor's crown shows the rubied sun itself, ensconced between the rounded borders (or bows) of her two horns (cf. Joseph Smith--History 1:35: the Urim and Thummim set in two rims of a bow). And the correlation of Eye and Stone (and Crown) comes to perfection in the hypocephalus design: If the "hypocephalus itself," as Nibley says, is "a giant eye" (318), then it is also a fiery solar stone. The object, like a round sea of glass and fire, like crystal, can therefore serve its purpose "to spark a flame under the head of a radiant spirit" (Book of the Dead Chapter 162; see also Doctrine and Covenants 130 and Doctrine and Covenants 88:11 = the two eyes, which capture both the visible and also the intellectual light). "And I, Abraham," as we are taught many times over in One Eternal Round, "had the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord my God had given unto me, in Ur of the Chaldees [And I, Abraham, had the hypocephalus: it is not given to us this Urim and Thummim, but we do have Abraham's hypocephalus and Abraham's matchless stars!]; And I saw the stars, that they were very great" (Abraham 3:1-2). . .

And would not each of the great stars take shape in its own color?

How do the Egyptian paint the cosmos? Basic color words were separated into four principal (or "abstract") colors: red, green, white, black (Wolfgang Schenkel, "Die Farben in aegyptischer Kunst und Sprache," ZAS 88 (1963), 131-47). What is the semiotic significance beyond the semantic? That is: How do these basic words encompass, color the Egyptian outlook? Professor Schenkel advises us to divide the four into two sets. The Abstract Idea underlies the brush strokes of the world. White and Black signify contrast, the spectrum of brightness. Red and Green are the warm and the cold tones that paint the world across a broad spectrum of perceived color: "the yellows, oranges, and reds of such distinctly painted objects as natron, flamingos, desert walls and floor, and myrrh;" the green baboons and the lily and the sea (Sederholm, Papyrus 10808, 190). Such a manner of ordering color words, and, clearly, of ordering color itself, covers the entire field of light. 

What you would then expect is: the red ba, the green ba, the white ba, and the black. Of these, black alone has slipped away.

This is exactly what must happen. The black ba--black energy, black light--can never be. Black swirls shapeless--thus colorless--before being comes into being, before the splendor, before the ba. The white ba, for this reason, sometimes finds continuance with the so-called bright ba. Rather than bearing naturally contrasting names like the red ba and the green, these last two ba's often take a divine name, such as the ba of Shu--Shu in streaming atmospheric brightness--and the ba of sunburst Khepri. It is not so much as matter of euphemism but of a necessary replacement.
The four color words, with the colors, tones, contrasts, elements, or features they describe, thus together make up the Ram of Mendes (David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 168). These words in color, as perfect registers for the four-headed Ram, are directional, temporal, divinized (as Re, Osiris, Shu, Khepri), and elemental: minerals, metals, members of the body, fire (Re), air (Shu), earth (Geb), water (Osiris). In other words, color and its linguistic and semiotic signature make up a sine qua non of the Egyptian story of creation, a story, says Joseph Smith, of "majesty and power" in which stars "roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:45, 47). Creation happens in color, and by color--and color continues. The Egyptian verb xpr, to come into being, to change shape, to reach transformation of being, is a coloring verb.

Light, the Egyptians well knew, is Color, as is Life. But we do not find in Egypt the Newtonian notion of white light being composed of a blending of the colors. No. These colors or elements of color make up a parti-color iris, the symbol which the round of the hypocephalus presents to view, according to David Klotz. Three extant hypocephali "identify this mysterious figure" of the Transcendent Amun, or Cosmic Shu-Amun, as follows: I am the iris within the wedjat-eye, jnk p3 DfD m-Hnw wD3.t (Adoration of the Ram, 183).

"Thus, the supreme deity with whom the deceased wished to identify with was the four-ram-headed deity, the 'iris of the wedjat,' or the deity within the flames"--as if "circling flames of fire" (Adoration of the Ram, 183; Doctrine and Covenants 137:2: Vision of the Celestial Kingdom). "Circling flames of fire" indeed: The one "whose body is that of a human, with four ram heads [is] covered with millions upon millions of eyes and 777 ears" (Edfu text quoted in Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 168). Neither is black ever completely out of the picture; for it is as iris-cum-pupil that the round cosmic map finally comes into focus. Formerly DfD was translated pupil; though translation remains elusive, iris-cum-pupil better fits the evidence. Re, say the books, hides in his pupil. It is true--but he hides at the very moment of revelation; he hides in the glorious sunburst of his own parti-color brilliance. He manifests but apparently: "It is Re who transforms himself [xpr jrw=f or twt=f] into Four Faces in order to take shape from within Nun [the dark, inchoate waters]" (Edfu III 35, 4-5 = Sederholm, Papyrus 10808, 128; cf. Rhodes and Nibley, One Eternal Round, 'The Iris,' 332-3). Four is the key to order, arrangement, cosmos. Dawn comes clothed in wonder. From out the waters of Nun, from chaos, from the night and its rushing waters, there comes the cascade of light in color, the iris sunburst.

An even greater miracle unfolds to the faithful: Of "those relating to the (solar) iris," these are they who "through proper solar worship while on earth. . . could hope to finally join the solar iris, and to in fact go further and behold the perfection (m33 nfrw), the true form (irw m3') that is hidden within" (Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 182). "I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire" (Joseph Smith, Doctrine and Covenants 137:2). "If you could hie to Kolob," you would pass into Heaven through a Star.

"In what distant deeps or skies/ Burnt the fire of thine eyes?" (Blake). "The sun is but a morning star" (Thoreau). 

Beyond, we are assured, fan out "a plurality of skies" (Erik Hornung, Books of the Afterlife, 12).

Copyright 2012 by Val H. Sederholm