Monday, June 10, 2013

Reading the Rim: Restoring The Missing Hieroglyphs on Book of Abraham Facsimile 2

While most of the hieroglyphs on the rim of the lost Joseph Smith hypocephalus come through clearly on both the printed facsimile made from the Hedlock woodcut (Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2) and the early pen-and-ink copy (Kirtland Egyptian Papers, Church Historian's Office), about a third has vanished. Can that third be restored? We'll need a parallel text and at least one readable trace lingering on the torn or erased right-side portion of our rim.

And a trace we do have. At the upper end of the torn and rubbed-out rim (and much of the right side) of the hypocephalus, we find on both Hedlock and the Church Historian's copy the traces of three signs: from top to bottom, a horizontal, a dot, a horizontal (the Church Historian shows two specks and a horizontal). Examination of a parallel text on the rim of Leiden AMS 62 
gives the reading away: the high horizontal stroke represents n; the mid-level dot, t; the low horizontal, s (on Leiden), or f, or n. Nts is the 3rd person feminine singular independent personal pronoun, she, and refers to the lady Tanetirt, owner of the Leiden hypocephalus. Because the owner of the Joseph Smith hypocephalus appears to be a certain Sheshonq, we would expect the 3rd person masculine, ntf. The question remains whether the last horizontal stroke is consistent with an f, given the fact that it appears to end at left in a tiny, near-rectangular loop. But such a loop at the tip of the tail of the viper also appears in the other, clearer instances of the f on our hypocephalus.

While one word might appear to be a slim basis for the reconstruction of a third of the rim, given the close parallel otherwise found between the two rims of Leiden AMS 62 and the Joseph Smith hypocephalus, one word suffices.

Any other traces? Yes, but only a trace. The break in the text on the Joseph Smith hypocephalus begins just after the place name Heliopolis and what remains of the following word, a trace of low horizontal strokes. Hedlock shows something like a loop at the end of the horizontal stroke; the Church Historian's copy shows two small horizontal strokes, which together make up nearly a loop (the feet of an owl?). The low horizontal is consistent with the feet of the owl hieroglyph (an m) that, together with the arm, writes the imperative mj (Come!) on the Leiden rim. On Leiden mj immediately follows Heliopolis.

Nibley and Rhodes translate the Leiden rim as follows (One Eternal Round, 231):

"O Debabty in the House of the Benben most high and most glorious, procreating bull mighty and great in the house of the Great Old One in Heliopolis! Come to the Osiris, the priestess of Re [her name and the names of her justified parents follow], Justified! Grant that she become as one of your followers. She is that god who is in the temple (house) of the Great Old One in Heliopolis."

The wording is close to that found on the Joseph Smith hypocephalus on ps. 334-5. Here is my translation of the hieroglyphs reproduced in Nibley and Rhodes.

"I am the Db3.ty [the one of the Db3.t-box or shrine] in the House of the Benben in Heliopolis, most high and most glorious, the matchless procreating bull, even this particular (greatest) god in the House of the Benben in Heliopolis [long break] that (greatest) god in Heliopolis."

Here is Michael Rhodes's translation, which includes his reconstruction of the missing part, a reconstruction also based on parallel readings:

"I am Djebabty in the temple of the benben in Heliopolis. [I am] exalted and very glorious. [I am] a copulating bull without equal. [I am] that Mighty God in the temple of the benben in Heliopolis. [May the Osiris Shishaq live forever, di 'anx b3 Wsir SSq r nHH D.t] with that Mighty God in Heliopolis" (335).

As can be seen from the foregoing, I prefer following the translation given for the Leiden hypocephalus on page 231 of One Eternal Round, rather than that given for Facsimile 2 itself on page 335. 

Despite tearing and erasures, can we yet fill in the blank space on the rim of the Joseph Smith hypocephalus? If we follow Leiden AMS 62, and so consider the traces to represent the independent pronoun ntf, we might expect, given the space left to us: 
mj rk n wsjr SS[n]q m3'-xrw dj=k xpr=f mj w' m sSm.w=k ntf nTr pf '3 m iwnw, Come to the Osiris Sheshonq, Justified! Grant that he become as one of your followers. He is as that (greatest) god in Heliopolis. One slight correction is in order. Michael Tilgner, who has worked with Leiden AMS 62, reads the formula (and I think the reading preferable): "Grant that he become as one of your followers, for he is as that greatest god in Heliopolis." What we then have is: "Come to the Osiris Sheshonq, Justified! and grant that he become like one of your followers, since he is [even as] that greatest god in Heliopolis" (better: "for he is indeed that same Heliopolitan god." i.e., Re/Osiris). That is the reading I now propose for the missing and erased portion of the rim. 

The very same expression dj=k xpr=s mj w' m sSm=k (Grant that she become as one of your followers) appears on the fourth (and lowest) left-hand panel of another hypocephalus, Ashmolean 1982-1095, where it follows the petition formula on Panels 2 and 3: "Come to the Osiris so-and-so." The rim of Ashmolean 1982-1095 has another petition formula of the type "Come and Rescue Osiris so-and-so," but here the sought-for blessing is much expanded: dj=k n=s 3x.w m pt xr r', wsr m t3 xr gb, m3'-xrw xr n3 nb.w dw3.t. Nts nTr pfy m Hw.t wr m jwnw (Cause thou that she will be an Akh (or glorious) in heaven along with Re, mighty on earth with Geb, and justified along with the lords of the netherworld. She is that god who is in the Shrine of the Great One (Old One) in Heliopolis).

The blessing formula on Ashmolean 1982.1095 (Tasheritenkhonsu) runs too long for the blank space on the right rim of the Joseph Smith hypocephalus; the Leiden formula fits nicely. That same compact formula also appears on the left-hand panels of the Ashmolean hypocephalus, evidence it had already become a fixed blessing following the petition "Come and Rescue." What we find on the rim of Ashmolean 1982.1095 therefore clearly represents an expansion on the theme found on its panels and also on the rim of Leiden. "Grant that she may become as one of your followers in the solar circuit" perforce also comprehends the three spheres of heaven, earth, and underworld. The conception of the Egyptian cosmos as a three-tiered world is central to the doctrine of the Transcendent Amun, yet we are to think of the three worlds not only as tiers but also as stations along the solar circuit. The followers of Re visit each of these stations, in a continual round, and in turn, participate in the glories and ceremonies therewith associated (an idea also set forth in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88). The message of the hypocephalus embraces cosmic fullness.

Now that we have it in its entirety, how is the text on the rim of the Joseph Smith hypocephalus to be understood? There are four parts to the inscription. The first part manifests the god who is invoked for help. The invocation is expressed on various hypocephali either directly as O Db3.ty or, indirectly, through the disarmingly powerful first person assertion: I am the Db3.ty. Next follows the prayer, a desperate prayer: Come to his aid! Third, we meet a petition: Grant him a place in the solar retinue! At last, comes the hoped-for conclusion: He is now even as Thou art.


Images Consulted: New and startlingly clear images of the Church Historian's copy of Facsimile 2, along with the other so-called Kirtland Egyptian Papers, were made in 2009 and are housed in the Church History Library. I was given permission to view this sole image. [Note: the same image may now be found online on the Joseph Smith Papers Web page.]

For the Hedlock woodcut, as found in the Pearl of Great Price, see

Reuben Hedlock prepared woodcuts of the facsimiles, from which lead printer's plates were made. These served for the original publication in the Times and Seasons periodical (1842). "All three of the Hedlock woodcuts were subsequently reproduced and have been used since the 1981 printing of the Pearl of Great Price" (Catalogue for "Treasures of the Exhibition: Presidents of the Church," Church History Library, April 2013). The catalogue does not give the entire picture where Facsimile 1 is concerned: the new "Hedlock" woodcut would show the details of the now-recovered, though much damaged, vignette, as well as what appears on the original Hedlock cut.

For Leiden AMS 62 (Tanetirt), which is housed at the Rijsmuseum va
n Oudheden in Leiden, Netherlands, see:

For Ashmolean 1982.1095 (the Tasheritenkhonsu hypocephalus), see:

Erasures on the rim: The rim of Facsimile 2 has suffered erasure and tearing on both the right and left sides. Because the loss of signs on the left side is minimal, restoration by comparison with parallel hypocephali makes for a simple task.

Michael Tilgner: Tilgner's work with the rim inscription appears on an online Egyptology discussion Web site:

An update of prior work

The foregoing discussion on the rim is taken from a longer piece in which I examine the entire text found on the Joseph Smith hypocephalus ("Book of Abraham Facsimile 2: A New Reading," published and copyrighted on 5 October 2010). I extracted the discussion on the rim and made slight modifications to it, so that it may be read and assessed more directly.

All translations of the rim are my own and depend upon the work of no other person, except as clearly stated. Nothing I write here should be taken as the official interpretation or doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Everyone has the right to his or her own interpretation of Facsimile 2. Despite new readings derived from parallel hypocephali, the starting place for all translations of Facsimile 2 remains the work of Michael Rhodes (for which now see Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 2010).

As does Michael Rhodes, I reconstruct the rim by using like hypocephali. The difference lies in my use of the traces on both Hedlock and the Church Historian's copy to match any possible reconstruction and in the estimate of space available on the rim. Professor Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, 2011, also draws on the several hypocephali. Though he does not try to match traces to these hypocephali any more than does Rhodes (as the ellipses show), he does transcribe closer to that which I suggest: [. . . my Wsir SSnq  m3' xrw z3     . . .], [. . . Come to the Osiris Shoshenq, the justified, son of. . .], page 217-8. For the remainder of the rim, Professor Ritner reads: ntf nTr pf '3 m Hw.t Sr, "He is that great god in the House of the Noble," Ibid.

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