Friday, April 20, 2012

"I came down in the beginning": The Djebaty-Title and Book of Abraham Facsimile 2

I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen (Abraham 3:21).

I am Atum, when I was alone in Nun [the encircling waters], (but) I am Re when he appeared at the moment when he began to govern that which he created (Book of the Dead, chapter 17, quoted in Francoise Dunand and Christiane Zivie-Coche, Gods and Men in Egypt, 49).

I am struck by how forcefully the Lord repeats the words I and all in Abraham 3:21, a repetition recalling the mysterious expression hen kai pan (One and All) that figures so largely in historical understanding of the Divine in Egypt. Professor Erik Hornung's revolutionary work on Egyptian conceptions of deity bears the title: The One and the Many. (Perhaps it should be titled, The One and the All.) 

The phrase hen kai pan describes the Eternal Round of the ourobouros, the serpent devouring its own tail, an ancient Egyptian motif--even as it also recalls the round of the hypocephalus. Note the emphasis on the idea of the all-encompassing circle in verse 21, the circle of intelligences and of Divine intelligence: The Book of Abraham certainly earns its hermetic designation. Or consider how the Book of Abraham, while introducing a stunned 19th century readership to the notion of a plurality of gods and of divine intelligences, at once insists on remaining fundamentally--Abrahamically--monotheistic. Hen kai pan. (See Jan Assmann's Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism; Nibley and Rhodes also discuss the ourobouros in One Eternal Round.)

"I came down in the beginning"--the words accord with the teachings of both the Book of the Dead and the round hypocephalus. The hypocephalus depicts and describes coming and going between the worlds, as we shall see.

On the rim of the hypocephalus we find the words: jnk Db3.ty m Hw.t bnbn m jwnw q3 3x zp 2 (I am the Djebaty--the one of the Djeba--in the House of the Benben in Heliopolis, On High, On High; Glorious; Glorious). The first lesson in reading Facsimile 2 centers around that one title: Djebaty. Hugh Nibley, who calls it "perhaps the most significant word on the Joseph Smith hypocephalus," pauses long over that significant word until the lesson is learned, the lesson of many meanings, many shades of meaning.

Djebaty bespeaks mystery: Djebat "is the name of a place or a building," a "dwelling of the gods, Palace, Chapel," as also box or chest. Djebaty (lit. the one of the Djebat) is the relational (nisba) form ending in -y, and, says Conrad Leemans, signals "both a divine person and a personified object." Djebat, continues Nibley: "is also the name of the ancient city of Edfu to which the hypocephali properly belong, according to Speleers." Indeed the hypocephali "invoke and represent the Sun of Edfu, considered from of old 'the most perfect form of cosmic energy'" (Hugh Nibley, "The Three Facsimilies from the Book of Abraham," 1980, citing Louis Speleers, Catalogue des intailles et empreintes orientales des Musees Royaux de Art et de Histoire, Supplement, Bruxelles, 1943; Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 335 [and section headings: 'Between Heaven and Earth,' 335-340, and 'The Ceremonial Complex,' 340-341], quoting Conrad Leemans, "Hypocephale egyptien du Musee Royal Neerlandais d'Antiquites a Leide," in Actes du sixieme Congres Internationale des Orientalistes, 1885, 125-26, italics added).

To the many possible readings of Db3.ty, several of which point to the nature and roles of the cosmic deity, I add still another. Because Db3 (Djeba), at Edfu, can also refer to the reed that springs from the primeval mound, we could also translate Db3.ty as "the one of the primeval reed," that is, "the one of the primeval resting place." All this suggests the descent of the Creator at the beginning: "I came down in the beginning." The Edfu cosmology, in fact, yields two words (nbi.t, Db3) for the reed "upon which the first Falcon deity might perch" (David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 106). And such sacred writings, it should be remembered, are indeed "to be found in the temple of God," being literally engraven on the walls of Edfu Temple.

But what has a reed perch to do with the House of the Benben in Heliopolis?

I was alone together with Nun in inertness,
I not having found a place to sit or to stand.
Heliopolis not having been founded so I might be there,
The Papyrus Stalk (w3D) not having been bound so I might sit upon it.
(Great Amun Hymn cited in Adoration of the Ram, 106)

W3D, by the way, appears in the central panel of another hypocephalus where four baboons offer what appear to be two lotuses and two papyrus stalks to a two-headed ram in the freshness of morning. The same panel on that very same hypocephalus (Turin 2333), yet bright with reds and greens, also features a heron or two on a perch! The heron, my favorite bird, is the bennu-bird, and naturally also suggests the Benben-house of Heliopolis. The perching heron signifies the seasonal flood: it rests on a perch while the flood inundates the land below. "Perhaps in a sense," says Professor Stephen Quirke, "the benu means the shining [Eg. wbn] of the sun at the water, on the first moment of creation." "The benu presides over the flood," over the creation of the world (The Cult of Ra: Sun Worship in Ancient Egypt, 29). Should we consider for a moment the designation in the sense of the "one of the reed perch," we thus find the Shining at the Water, the Presiding Power who descends in glory to unlock and set in motion the cascade of teeming creation.

Returning to Turin 2333, we first find, on the far-left side of the panel, what apparently is the heron on its traditional three-pointed perch; then, just to the right, the heron again (this time clearly) on a much larger perch, a three-pronged spear topped by a r3-sign; finally, on the opposite end, we find another three-pronged sign topped by a spear point, a sign of the East. These symbols signal time and place and action. Together, perching birds and sprouts and flowers tell one unfolding story of creation.

In the Great Amun Hymn the foundation of Heliopolis and the up-springing of the Perch go together. Egyptologists explain Heliopolis as being, primarily, a place in the heavens, even the Celestial Heliopolis (Dietrich Raue, Heliopolis und das Haus des Re, 1999). Perhaps Heliopolis spans heaven and earth, like a bridge. It thus becomes a middle place, a landing--suspended like Babel's Tower--between the worlds. The House of the Benben, as the place of the benben-stone, a pillar, is, in fact, also the place of the perch. No wonder the god is described on the hypocephalus rim as doubly lofty, even exalted (q3j), as well as doubly glorious. The descending god, alighting on his Reed or Pillar or Stalk, brightens the new creation, the first creation, with a shock of light. Descent is sunrise! Again, the hieroglyph of the heron on a perch not only denotes the inundation (imHw; b'H; also nTr), it also connotes a veritable flood of light. (So also is the Pearl of Great Price "a veritable flood of light.") Doubly exalted, doubly glorious Kolob bathes the worlds in cascading apportionment.

The Djeba at Edfu can in fact be any "solid element," however seeming fine: "In certain cases," we are told, "the name of the solid element that appeared at the beginning served as a support and justification for the sacred etymology that explained the name of the temple or its city: thus Edfu, Djeba, which derived from the name of the 'floater' (djeba) that drifted on the waters there" (Francoise Dunand and Christiane Zivie-Coche, Gods and Men in Egypt, 51; cf. what Nibley says about the Latin word fundamentum). The floater described here is a reed floater, a touch of element at odds with chaotic swirl. At Esna, the place of resting becomes "a platform of land (set) in the midst of the initial waters, that I might lean [rest] on it!" (Ibid, 51). The Djeba is, then, any place, however tenuous seeming, upon which the Creator descends to begin to govern that which he created. The later temple at Edfu (or Djeba) thus also becomes the place of universal governance, the "temple of the world" ("Egypt is the temple of the world").

Djeba also signifies the bright harpoon of Horus, a most sacred object, that bespeaks both possession and victory. (No surprise, then, to spy Horus with his spear on the lower half of Turin 2333, and elsewhere.) "Descent, in Afroasiatic semantics, connotes 'battle': it is the swift descent upon an enemy, with ringing battle-cry. And the descent (or attack) stirs the hidden, passive depths into action" (Val Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808 and Its Cultural and Religious Setting, 78).

Db3.ty, which famously denotes Osiris in his coffin, box, or shrine (all Djeba), at the nadir of all things, may therefore at once signify, in a "coincidence of opposites," "the one of the lofty reed perch" or "he who pertains to the reed perch." The United-Ba of Re and Osiris, who takes the form of the Ram of Mendes, linked as he is to the Cosmic Amun, becomes the "ultimate, transcendent deity, residing simultaneously in heaven and earth" (David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 168). "The key theological concern of later Egyptian religion [is] the solar-Osirian opposition. The opposition, the balancing of the poles of the universe, also holds the key to the workings of life in all three of its manifest (or hidden) realms: heaven, earth (or temple) and Netherworld. Re and Osiris meet, in a moment of awful suspense, in order to reconcile life's contrarieties and ensure its continual renewal. In response to the mighty shout of joy that follows in the wake of the sun, the cold, hidden world of death stirs inwardly into blossom" (Papyrus British Museum 10808, 77).

The reed marks both place and moment of descent; it marks the holy moment of investiture, of inhabitation, of enlivening, even an at-one-ment of worlds above and below (see Papyrus British Museum 10808, 66). "I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences (Eg. 3x.w)": I came down to earth, to the primeval hill, to the First Creation, as Tatenen, as Shepsi, as Amun, the Cosmic Creative god. And--I came down, as Re, to hear the words of Osiris. At Hibis the Mendesian Ram, our Kolob ram, bears the epithet sDm-wrj, the Great Listener (Klotz, Adoration of the Ram, 170; "to hear the words of Osiris": on the right-hand panel of Facsimile 2, as now reconstructed, Re descends to hear Osiris' petition). The Mendesian Ram thus also belongs to the theme of "personal piety" in New Kingdom Egypt and later; the fourfaced Ram is the Listener who hears and answers prayers.

Tatenen? Shepsi? David Klotz (Adoration of the Ram, 78, 100-101) reminds us that the hieroglyphic sign for Sps (noble) or Shepsi (the Noble one), in its Late Period form, may also be read as Tnn (distinguished) or t3-Tnn (Tatenen, the creator associated with the primeval mound, as "distinguished earth"). And if it may so be read, it must be so read: so the rule in Egyptian. (The two high feathers of the noble on this sign link it also, to be sure, with figure 2, Oliblish.) A prayer beginning with the invocation "O netjer Shepsi (Tatanen) in the Zep Tepi" (O Noble God in the First Time--the pregnant moment of Descent) resounds with the mythological and ritual depths of Hermopolitan cosmology; for it is in Hermopolis that Shepsi names the creative solar god, later also associated with the Cosmic Amun. (One Eternal Round treats the symbolism of Tatenen's crown as worn by Oliblish.)

The hypocephalus enfolds a book of prayer. And prayer sets the entire cosmic circle into motion--brings it into reach of hands--then Osiris finds rescue in his ultimate extremity. In the most sacred panel of all--the Prophet Joseph refuses to interpret it--prayer bids resurrection: "May the ba of Osiris live." The ordinance, says Joseph, "cannot be revealed to the world"; the panel of hieroglyphs, which we so facilely render into our own idiom by appealing to a lexicon, nevertheless "contains writings" beyond our ability to unpack (Explanation no. 8). The Prophet's language calls to mind John 21:25, the final doctrine of the apostle about how darkness comprehendeth not the light: "I suppose that even the world [ton kosmon] itself could not contain the books that should be written." Here is the ultimate outcome of there being no room in the inn.

Book of Abraham Facsimile 2 contains the world itself--the All--in its circle. Yet the panels and rim hold but seeming wisps of text. Who shall unravel them into that coherent whole imaged by the hypocephalus itself? Given the packed synthetic grammar as also the broadly allusive quality of these writings, writings which bind the secret cosmogonic fullness of one ancient religious center to another in crisp one liners, only a fool would claim competency. The very simplicity of the signs and the ease of dictionary translation become a double barrier that fences the kernel of meaning from view. Such matters ultimately require a divine touch and a seeric insight, a Zaphnath-Paaneah, Joseph.

And the Prophet Joseph both confirms our hopes, even as he holds forth yet more to come. Abraham's book opens with the blazing descent as divine rescue from the sacrifical altar--Abraham's petition has been heard. The petition, as Abraham gradually comes to realize, but echoes those of other worlds in which intelligences carefully sought, in repeated and earnest petition, ever greater light and knowledge. Thus, in the final chapter of his little book, Abraham's creation account beautifully and properly (re-)opens with the bright descent from world to world to world: "I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences." Then, Abraham narrates: "And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell" (3:24).

One wonders whether Zaphnath-Paaneah might not signify: db3 nTr p3 'anx, the one who the god, the Living One, clothes (with office, honor, endowment, dignities). The god, the Living One, could refer to Osiris or even to the king himself. I do not believe anyone has suggested such an interpretation of the name, but it works. After all Hebrew Zp matches perfectly Eg. Db. Db' signifies ring or seal: the seal of God, the Living One. I like the reading: Pharaoh calls Joseph "the one clothed with honor of office by the god, the Living One."

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