Friday, October 18, 2013

The Ram-god Khnum Tatenen "Organized the Earth": the Esna Temple and the LDS Book of Abraham

I  Creation

The Lord inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith to enhance our understanding of the Creation. Creation had long been misunderstood as spontaneous evocation out of nothing; in the Book of Abraham we read that the Lord Jesus Christ, under the direction of His Father, organized and formed the heavens and the earth from chaotic element:

And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth (Abraham 4:1; Abraham, in his creation story, uses the word organize ten times; form, eight times).

Such a startling word for creation in Abraham's Egyptian record matches Professor Serge Sauneron's translation of an Egyptian temple text from Esna. The principle of organization at Esna centers in Khnum Tatenen, the ram god. Khnum Tatenen quickly brings to mind the central, all-encompassing--"of multiple aspects"--ram-faced Figure 1 of Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2 (an Egyptian hypocephalus). Indeed the special Tatenen crown is worn by tall, striding Figure 2 at the apex of the hypocephalus, another ram (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 266). We are coming close to Esna: Hypocephalus Cairo 9444 (verso) depicts a giant cosmic figure, encircled by a rim filled with 29 stars, carrying the solar bark to the eastern horizon (see Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 53: G. Daressy, CG, 50-52). The hypocephalus, like the Egyptian temple, serves as a representational model of the cosmos in all "its scenic and constellational arrangements" (see Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, 211). Such all-encompassing knowledge is the prerogative of the king, who carries responsibility for the continuation of the ordered universe; in ongoing ritual obligation, he lifts the delicate image of girlish Ma'at (Order, Organization, Justice, Truth) heavenward to so "let Ma'at ascend" (Ibid., 187f; 210ff). In perfect balance and harmony, the solar baboons (as on the hypocephalus) also "maintain the links between above and below. They 'let ma'at ascend' and also disseminate it downward" in a continuous channel (and chatter) of light, language, and power (Ibid., 188). The whole thing evokes Psalm 19--but we must get back to Esna:

"How beautiful is all you have done, Khnum Tanen, father of the gods. . . . You lifted the sky by force of your arms, you organized the earth. You distinguished a king who was master among them (i.e., humankind) and imposed organization on them" (Francoise Dunand, Christiane Zivie-Coche (David Lorton, trans.), Gods and Men in Egypt, 292, quoting Serge Sauneron, Les fetes religieuses d'Esna, Esna V, 182).

Combien est beau tout ce que tu as fait, Khnoum-Tanen, pere des dieux, le tout-puissant aux multiple aspects! Tu as souleve le ciel a la force de tes bras; tu as organize [grg] la terre par ton ......Tu as modele les hommes, etc.
(Hieroglyphic Text found in Serge Sauneron, Le temple d'Esna (nos. 194-398), Esna III, Column 15, No. 358, 29, pages 312-313. I'm still working on how to add French accent marks to blogger pages.).

The Egyptian verb grg expresses an act of founding or establishing. The determinative sign, which classifies the word, is a pick excavating a pool (Gardiner Sign U 17). So why does Sauneron opt for organize rather than to found? The answer lies not only in the Egyptian conception of creation but in that of kingship as well.

II  Choosing a King

After organizing the earth, Khnum Tanen (or Khnum Tatenen) next distinguished, i.e., chose, a king, who, in his turn, organized the human family. The verb organize, where kingship is concerned, also matches the Book of Abraham and other inspired teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great onesAnd God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
(Abraham 3:22-23, italics added).

"Chosen before thou wast born" reflects the "new emphasis on the status of the king [in the Middle Kingdom] as one 'chosen' by the gods (Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, 122). As for the "noble and great ones," the phrase beautifully mirrors the hieroglyphic text on the Abraham hypocephalus in which the central figure is also described as being both "noble" and "great:" "O noble god" appears to the left of the figure; "O great god" to his right. Thus it is that an Egyptian papyrus in the keeping of the Prophet Joseph Smith matches wording found in his Book of Abraham.

These "noble and great ones"--leading spirits in the likeness of their noble Creator--were brought together and given stewardship and keys of presiding authority. Joseph Smith elucidated the principles of divine rule, or kingship, as follows:

"The Father called all spirits before him at the creation of man and organized them. He (Adam) is the head; was told to multiply. The keys were given to him, and by him to others and he will have to give an account of his stewardship, and they to him."

"The Priesthood was first given to Adam: he obtained the first Presidency and held the keys of it from generation to generation; he obtained it in the creation before the world was formed. As in Gen 1 26:28, he had dominion given him over every living creature. He is Michael, the Archangel."

(Instructions on Priesthood, taken from Willard Richards Pocket Companion (and recorded by John Taylor), given before 8 August 1839. I have added italics and edited for punctuation and use of capital letters.) 

Back to Abraham's book:

Now the first government [wD.t?] of Egypt was established [grg] by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.

Pharaoh, being a righteous [ma'at; ma'aty] man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly [ma'at; m ma'at] all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order [again: ma'at] established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father (Abraham 1:25-26, italics added). 

In Abraham 1: 25-26 biblical Father Adam and Father Noah suddenly become King Adam, King Noah. Abraham, in his little treatise on the origins of the Egyptian kingship, also sheds a new light on history and introduces a new doctrine. The line of ordination of the patriarchs (who are also "all high priests"), as set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 107, is thus also the true line of divine kingship, "that order" most "earnestly" imitated by righteous Pharaoh (Doctrine and Covenants 107: 41ff; see also Moses 6:7). The narrative, taken from a vital but lost Book of Enoch--King Enoch--gives a peculiar, telling attention to detail, as befits the choosing of a king. Age at ordination is more than once broken down into years, weeks, days. Thus: "God called upon Cainan in the wilderness in the fortieth year of his age; and he met [King] Adam in journeying to the place Shedolamak. He was eighty-seven years old when he received his ordination" (107:45). The verse has it all: the long, testing years of exile and wandering, the Divine call, the dramatic meeting, the appointed place of ordination. (Is Shedolamek an anagram for kingship: m.l.k?) Again: "Enoch was twenty-five years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam; and he was sixty-five and Adam blessed him" (107:49).

Abraham 1:25-26, which repeatedly plays on the Egyptian word ma'at in order to tease out its semantic and cultural range, also shows parallels with a Middle Kingdom treatise about the king as priest of the sun (The King as Sun Priest). As original sun priest, the fountainhead of all priestly office in Egypt, the king alone knows and recites the secret words sung by certain cosmic forces (ba's) of mysterious form (bz) and station that accompany the sun at its rising on the Morning of Creation; these Eastern ba's also manifest themselves (xpr) on the hypocephalus (Abraham's Facsimile 2) in the form of baboons. Immediately following induction into the mysteries of creation, all the doors, gates, pillars, cities (or mansions), stations (or locations; cf. Greek topoi), and landings of the perpetual solar course duly mapped out (cf. the shrines, pillars, cities, stars on the hypocephalus rim), Re sets up the king on the earth of the living, forever, "to promote Ma'at and to destroy Isfet." The treatise, with its requirements of social justice, makes up a sort of Egyptian inaugural ceremony or constitution (see Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, 187f.; 210f.; Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom, 17ff). The King as Sun Priest, in its turn, also shows the closest parallels in wording and theme to the preamble of the Babylonian Code of Hammurapi. Book of Abraham Chapter 1 belongs to the same genre. 

If I had never before seen any of these above-named texts nor known anything about their respective origins, I could not but conclude derivation from a common source. The matter is clear: though Joseph Smith never claimed any attainment in Ancient Egyptian, the Prophet and Seer saw the hieroglyphs that spell grg on the papyrus of Abraham and, by "sight and power" of heaven, translated grg, in once instance, as to organize and, in another, to establish, with reference to both creation and kingship. 

III  Creation and Kingship in the Temple of Esna

The temple texts from Esna, written as they are in the hieroglyphs peculiar to that place and era, are difficult, and hardly a line but what could be translated in several ways. What concerns us here, however, is not so much a single correct reading; we wish to see how Sauneron works with the text and how his readings compare to what Joseph Smith taught. 

While Professor Sauneron expresses his conclusions with lucidity, we yet sense something of the struggle. For Sauneron understanding creation rests upon the harmonizing of two separate but linked themes: 1) the establishment of the heavens and the earth, with the creation of the various kinds of plant and animal life, and 2) the establishment of the institution of kingship, including the choice of the king and the imposition of his rule on subjects. The text employs several verbal roots in order to describe creation and kingship and, for Sauneron, two of these several roots (grg, wD) may, again, best be translated as to organizeA novice, with knee-jerk response to custom and a yearning for easy answers, will run to the nearest dictionary. Professor Sauneron is no such novice. He searches in the light of all known Egyptian texts for the nuanced and thoughtful translation.

The Woerterbuch defines grg as a verb of foundation, to found, establish; wD expresses the word of command. To start with the basic definition and then arrive at organize or impose an organization requires studious thought. The Egyptian expression for this last phrase is Hr wD.t=f n=sn, that is to say, in his placing of a royal command to (upon) them, or according to all that which he commanded for them. For Sauneron, to impose a command signals the imposition of kingship. Once established, kingship becomes a permanent organization and order of things. 

The same surprising language of ordering and commanding appears throughout the Book of Abraham. The Gods watched to see whether the elements would do as they had ordered. Again, after humankind had been organized in the premortal world, the gods sent them to earth's proving ground "to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them" (doubtless the Egyptian Hr wD.t=f n=sn on the Abraham papyrus, 3:25). 

For grg t3, the Woeterbuch gives various definitions, including gruenden (found) Heaven and Earth (and notes the usage is rare), and also der Laender in Ordnung bringen (set the land in order). Sauneron, in translation, brings the two definitions together--and he gives his reason for so doing. The Esna text describes several beginnings at world's origin: the heavens once raised, the earth brought forth from primeval darkness (arrache aux tenebres), all living creatures, both small and great, are formed, "and the juxtaposition of all these elements of that creation constitute an ontological equilibrium, set forth in optimum harmony."

"To maintain that original harmony," Sauneron continues, "it becomes necessary to plan for a stable and fully cohesive element; and this will be the institution of kingship" (Esna V, 183). In other words, Khnum Tatenen must go about the work of creation with a plan, putting things together into a cohesive, harmonious universe that has assurance of continuity and a shot at happiness. The earth must be organized so consistently and so thoroughly that it will continue to thrive, a pattern requiring, in the person of the king, the subsequent imposition of political and societal order. This is what the Egyptians meant by ma'at, the ordered world, both natural and social. 

The famous Narmer Palette that depicts the king as unifier of the two lands, comes to us in the image of an ordinary palette "used for preparing cosmetics"  (Jan Assmann, The Mind of Egypt, 33). A depression in the palette shows a circle where the cosmetics were to be crushed. The circle takes form from the intertwining necks of two giraffe-like leoparduses. Men, straining at ropes, hold the double-monster in a steadying balance. Here is Order, what the Egyptians call ma'at; here is the unified State; here is the solar circuit come forth, in delicate stance, from the primal dualities and disarrangements. Cosmetics is the right word here: Greek kosmos signifies both make-up and the organized world, a universe given the finishing touch of beauty. I have often wondered whether the Egyptians, though lacking the semantic locus, perceived the same semiotic tie.

IV  A Perpetual Order of Things

Sauneron reads Egyptian with sensitivity. The following verses from the Book of Abraham, as translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith, bear comparison with Sauneron's translation of yet another place in the Esna temple texts:

And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass; the herb yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness upon the earth; and it was so, even as they ordered.

And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass from its own seed, and the herb to bring forth herb from its own seed, yielding seed after his kind; and the earth to bring forth the tree from its own seed, yielding fruit, whose seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed (Abraham 4: 11-12, italics added).

Note how the earth was not simply organized or formed but, by divine foresight, prepared and organized to bring forth, each in its turn, the various forms of life; then further note how that order of things was imposed by authority (as Sauneron puts it, "the imposition of organization"). Here is the pattern of creation that culminates in the selection of a king: "thou wast chosen before thou wast born" (a typical Egyptian expression about the king), and in the establishment of government. The Gods speak the command (w3D): all element obeys.

Abraham 4:11-12 forcibly calls to mind Esna III, 367, 19, and here, Sauneron wrestles with the meaning of grg (Serge Sauneron, Les fetes religieuses d'Esna, Esna V, 176, 180-1 note o). The verb, "in this case, in relation to this subject" (as Joseph Smith would say), takes the determinative of a lotus flower, and for Sauneron the sign suggests the preparation of the earth to bring forth plants and flowers. At any rate, with the sign of the lotus comes not only the foundation of things, but civilization itself. The lotus is the sign of the desired harmony between the elements and also between the natural and the social spheres.

Sauneron gives the following translation for

j p3 ntj jw p3 t3 grg [lotus det.] m k3.t=f:

"O celui par l'oeuvre duquel la terre est fleurie!"

O One by whose creative work the earth is brought into flower, 


by whose creative work the earth is organized to bring forth plants, and, specifically, the lotus of creation (which lotus is, in the language of the Book of Abraham, "the First Creation").

Sauneron considers translating grg, given the lotus, as ensemener la terre, to seed the land. Given that grg signifies to found, establish, the activities of planting or making to blossom (which is close enough to what Sauneron suggests) cannot be far afield. "The earth is established or planted or made to blossom through his creative work." The lotus stands for all plant life; yet the Hebrew word, deshe, which translators of Genesis render, with noble flourish, as grass, also signals all green plant life springing from the earth: "may sprouts sprout"; "let sprouts of greenery come forth" (Brown, Driver, Briggs Lexicon, 205-6). The correspondence between the Esna text and Abraham 4:11-12 strikes the reader as both peculiar and specific. 

And who knows but what the Abraham papyri also featured the hieroglyph of the lotus to represent what the Hebrews call deshe? After all, as Hugh Nibley often notes, the lotus makes a significant appearance on the Book of Abraham facsimiles. In Joseph Smith's words the lotus stand signifies "Abraham in Egypt," which, Hugh Nibley explains, refers to the act of royal welcome, that is, the presentation of the lotus, by which Abraham is made to feel at home. Wandering Abraham at home in Egypt? The organizing principle at work in the lotus now comes into bloom as the essence of all civilization, that grace we call hospitality. The lotus rests the weary, for it signifies the Return of the King. Remember that Abraham in Egypt, at least on culminating, festive Facsimile 3, reflects the Patriarch on the Throne, the lotus stand before him (Expanation, figures 1 and 3; An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 353).

Esna III, 367, 19 shows the lotus to be a foundational organizing principle, a matter of grg. And the lotus suggests even more than the foundation--the plantation--of vegetable life; the sign hints at the plantation of existence itself, for is it not the sudden rising of the lotus from the Nile mud that marks the opening scene, the First Creation? The lotus in flower, brightly rising from the mound, is the First Creation. Other foundational creative periods follow until life can perpetuate itself in an ever-coursing, ever-teeming round: "The seed of life slept in the lotus, ready to come forth on the First Day"; thereafter the lotus "represents the prodigal life-giving abundance of the land" (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 341, italics added). The newborn sun himself takes rise from the opening lotus on the first morning of the world, as its petals beckon, welcoming, to the four quarters of the earth. If that sun-bearing lotus represents time's opening, it surely also signifies the seed of abundance that comes into flower as Egypt herself. Given that assurance of teeming continuity, that foundation for the flourishing of culture, no wonder, as Hugh Nibley goes on to say, "the lotus is the embodiment of Pharaoh as the ruling power of Egypt" (Ibid, 353). Khnum Tatenen, Lady Egypt, and the King thus work as one in the task of preparing and organizing the earth to bring forth seed.


Tatenen, divine patriarch, father of the gods

David Klotz (Adoration of the Ram, 78, 100-101) reminds us that the hieroglyph for Sps (noble) or Shepsi (the Noble one), in its Late Period form, may also be read as Tnn (distinguished) or even, t3-Tnn (the name signifies distinguished earth, that is, the mound). The god appears "in human form with ram's horns and a crown of feathers" (Erik Horning, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, 284).

The prayer on Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham (left-hand panels) that begins with the invocation "O netjer Shepsi (Tatenen) in the Zep Tepi" (O Noble God, Tatenen, in the First Time) 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. The Transcendent Cosmic Amun matches figure 1 on the hypocephalus (see David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram). Hugh Nibley says that figure 2 (Oliblish), another reflection of the Transcendent Cosmic Amun, wears the special Tatenen crown.

The association of Tatenen with the "primordial earth," or even "the depths of the earth," and, then, with the mound, may help explain why figure 1 in the hypocephalus sits on solid earth (see Erik Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, 80; cf. Hugh Nilbey and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, "The Condescension of God," 241). Tatenen clearly has to do with the earth--is rooted in the earth--while yet being every bit as transcendent as the Cosmic Amun-Re. 

Ramesses IV's assertion "I have not pronounced the name of Tatanen," likely refers, says Hornung, to "another name which is kept secret" (88), and is, perhaps, the name that links Tatanen to the hidden Amun (Amun means hidden), the Cosmic Creator. On the other hand, we have the combination with the god Ptah = Ptah-Tanen (Hornung, 283-4). "Noble god," i.e., Shepsi, as used in Abraham Facsimile 2, may thus, in like manner, articulate a special or secret name for the divine Patriarch who organized the earth and established its first government (whether Tatenen, Khnum-Tanen, Ptah-Tanen, Shepsi, the Cosmic Amun, Kolob, First Creation, and so on).

See also:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Book of Abraham Made Harder: New Translations of Book of Abraham Facsimile 2, Numbers 16 and 17, in Light of Related Hypocephali

I  The Difficult and the Garbled

As with several other hypocephali--those mysterious Egyptian circles teeming with cows, apes, snakes, scarabs, and rams--the two bottom panels of Book of Abraham Facsimile 2 (nos. 16 and 17) make for difficult reading. The hieroglyphs on the lower panel (the beginning of a little spell for protection against tomb trespass) resist grammatical and lexical analysis; the upper panel (part two of the spell) reads clearly--at least on this hypocephalus. (Because the lower half of the hypocephalus represents an upside-down netherworld, the lower line, 17, comes first.) 

Why should the first half of the little spell be obscure and the rest run clear? Is it the result of scribal error? or does it reflect cryptography? and if the latter, why? 

"Michael Rhodes finds these passages garbled. But strangely enough the very same garbling appears in a number of the most carefully done hypocephali, including the Leiden and the Ashmolean" (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 329; for a more complete discussion see Ibid. "Figures 16 and 17," 327-331). 

Rhodes translates nos. 16 and 17:

(fig. 17) May this tomb never be desecrated,
(fig. 16) and may this soul and its owner never be desecrated in the hereafter.

The translation reflects the following transcription:

nn H3.t pn
nn b3 Hn' nb=f m dw3.t D.t,

Yet Rhodes's transcription of the first line requires emendation and even syntactic transposition of the hieroglyphs. What is his method? what, his reasoning? And how do lines 17 and 16 on the Joseph Smith hypocephalus correlate to like panels on other hypocephali?

Because the Joseph Smith hypocephalus is no longer extant, Michael Rhodes works with two copies. The first is that taken from the woodcut of Reuben Hedlock (as published in the Nauvoo periodical, Times and Seasons, March 1842); the Hedlock woodcut is what we find in all editions of the Pearl of Great Price. The second is an pen-and-ink drawing found with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers in the Church Historian's office. 

When we separate the hieroglyphs on the Hedlock cut, figure 17, into discrete groups, we end up with a jumble, not a sentence or sentences, and perhaps, not even words:

H3.t [with house determinative]; th.t [with house determinative]; nn,

which yields:

tomb; a th.t; negative morpheme nn;, the prospective passive of the verb thj (to trespass, damage, violate).

The Church Historian's copy shows:

nn [a morpheme of negation, struck out and enclosed with dots]; t [the feminine nominal marker] + house determinative; th.t [with house determinative]; low on the line and below the other signs, the biliteral H3; nn

To translate this jumble, Rhodes, who has his work cut out for him, must first sort out the differences between Hedlock and the Church Historian's copy. For Rhodes, the Church Historian's copy shows both modern error (the struck out nn) and subsequent correction: the replacement of the H3 sign--not, however, at the head of the line but in the middle, beneath the line. Professor Robert Ritner, though also noting the copying error at the head of the line, takes the low mid-line H3 not as error but as a recurrence of H3. In other words, except for the minor error of placing the second H3 lower than the rest of the line, the modern copyist faithfully reproduces the proper syntactic placement. Still, for Rhodes, it is the Hedlock cut that shows the correct order of the signs, an order beginning with H3, followed by and the house determinative. 

After sorting out these errors, Rhodes himself transposes the order of the signs and, by so doing--and by adding the demonstrative pn,--radically emends the text. He does so because without emendation the hieroglyphics fail to fit any known sentence pattern. He takes the hint from the two clear sentences found at both the end of line 17 and at the beginning of the following line, 16. 

These sentences, Rhodes says, show the same construction, nn, which he identifies as the modal negative of a prospective sDm(.w)=f/jrj.w=f verb: "May he not do such-and-such." Nn shows the passive form (.tw) of the negative prospective: "may such-and-such not be done." I prefer to take the seeming modal nn as a flat negation: "It shall never be trespassed against," or "One shall never trespass against it"--no may here. As for the morpheme .tw, it is the indefinite pronoun: "one," "a person." When placed after the verbal root the pronoun normally expresses the passive, as in the sentence "may he not be heard" (nn, though .tw sometimes also simply expresses the indefinite agent: "one does such-and-such a thing."

Rhodes thus reconstructs the first part of line 17 as if it also started with the very same negative prospective form found twice in the subsequent phrases of the little spell, even though the reconstruction runs roughshod over what actually appears on the line. By deleting the house determinative in the sign group that writes the unattested "noun" thj.t, he obviates any possible nominal meaning for it and, at once, transforms the root into a passive prospective verbal form (to be trespassed, damaged). Nor is that all; Rhodes next transposes the order of the signs by shifting H3.t (tomb) from the head to the end of the line and then tagging it with an added pn (this, this tomb). Any grammarian would be pleased.

Now we know what Rhodes means by garbled, though he gives no explanation for such a state of affairs. Hugh Nibley does have an explanation. The garbling somehow reflects the marriage of mise-en-page and Egyptian symbolism: the bottom panels reflect the netherworldly nadir of the Eternal Round. The lines, which speak to the tomb and the netherworld, what Egyptians call the Duat, mirror that sluggish, inchoate, or far distant place, a world topsy-turvy and suspended in eternity (D.t = djet). We can cajole--or force--the Datian hieroglyphs, as Rhodes does, into proper form, and so make up a sentence, that is, a strict grammatical reading logically matching all that follows. But despite such zealous efforts, we may yet miss the quintessence of the message. What purpose may the garbling, encoding, or cryptography serve? what efficacy, afford? and just how much of the Egyptian mind and intent can we come to grasp?

Though Rhodes apparently works by reference to what is on the Joseph Smith hypocephalus alone, "Similar passages, but even more garbled" (Aha!) also appear on BM 35875 (8445c), BM 37908 (8445f), BM 37909 (8445d), Ashmolean 1982-1095, Leiden AMS 62, Cairo CG 9448. (For the list, see both 330 n. 192 and 329 n. 182. The first few signs on Cairo CG 9448 particularly recall Facsimile 2 [see Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, 225 n. 52, citing Georges Daressy, Textes et dessins magiques, 55].)

II  Any Hope?

"Similar passages, but even more garbled" hints at illegibility, even when, on the basis of a few recurring signs, we still get the drift. Can anything else be done to capture meaning? What we require to test Rhodes's conclusions about garbling, or to find out whether any of the elusive "drift" or theme may yet be subject to capture, is a side-by-side collation of the hypocephali in question. We require what German Assyriologists call a Partitur (or musical score). 

Such a Partitur, as set forth below, points to purposeful cryptography, rather than to scribal garbling. Themes start to stand out. While cryptography may serve a variety of purposes, here it protects. To bring about the apotropaic purpose--warding off evil--the signs, seemingly, must evoke, in both appearance and in (dis)arrangement, the disordered state of the netherworld. By so doing--however nonsensical seeming the result--they also evoke the power that works the protection. Egyptians name such power to "ward off the blow of an event," hk3, a word which we casually translate "magic." What the lower panels proffer is thus a sort of netherworldly, or Datian writing that best serves the efficacy of a spell framed for that place. 

Given the odd Datian cryptography, what can anyone possibly mean by translation? Some of the signs, when taken as sign groups, do not match dictionary entries; an appeal to sentence level grammar does not immediately clarify; no order makes itself evident. 

The would-be translator must therefore consider these lines, as variously found on the several hypocephali (no two alike), from every angle. The translator may uncover, as does Rhodes (after emendation and reshuffling), the "true sentence" of impeccable structure, whose words match dictionary entries. Authorial intent is clear; scribes perpetuated an error; we can fix it--and that's that. On the other hand, he may find a purposive nominal, verbal, and morphemic jumble, which nevertheless conveys a magically-charged meaning, ultimately reducible, perhaps, to a sentence or two. Or he may find both--and no contradiction. The student must stay attuned to the idea that these lines display a various texture, i.e., that they can be read in more than one way. The hieroglyphic record attests, after all, a variety of special modes of writing serving any number of purposes: sportive, magical, initiatory, intellectual--or all of the above.

The task is to clear the way for understanding, perhaps even translation, and accordingly, we must ever keep in mind that any translation from the Egyptian is not intended to mark finality but to invite further thought. In his Explanation of Facsimile 2, the Prophet invited further thought: "If the world can find out these numbers, so let it be"; Figures 16 and 17, among others: "will be given in the own due time of the Lord"--so keep up the search!

Curiosity is called for, creativity suspect:

"In general, the simple and direct explanation is to be sought in preference to explanation that is indirect, ingenious and subtle. A decipherment that depends on an undue number of ingenious explanations is suspect and must be treated with caution and reserve" (H.W. Fairman, "An Introduction to the Ptolemaic Signs and Their Values," BIFAO 43 [1945], 59).

III  A Partitur

Joseph Smith Hypocephalus

clump of papyrus, t, house (the clump represents biliteral H3, the t, the feminine marker in H3.t, tomb)

t, h, leg with knife, t, house

arms in gesture of negation, n (n + n = morpheme, nn, not)

t, h, leg with knife, t, w [or t, or house]

Tentative Explanation (or Exam Question 1: Code-Cracking 101)

The clump of papyrus writes the biliteral H3; the t morpheme marks a noun as feminine; the house determinative designates H3.t as a building. Is H3.t to be translated tomb? Wb III, 12, lists H3.t, having these definitions, as being in continuous use from the Pyramid Age to the New Kingdom: "das Grab; auch von Grab des Osiris; auch bildlich gebraucht (also used in a metaphorical sense)." Michael Tilgner, as we will show further down, translates H3.t as Halle.

T + h seems to signal the verbal root thj (to trespass, damage). Leg with knife: the leg is the determinative of the verb thj (the act of trespassing is an act of walking over a boundary line). The knife: the Egyptians pierce certain hieroglyphs with knives to prevent the realization of a verbal action. A pierced leg cannot trespass the tomb; its inviolate nature is thus magically preserved. The t might be taken as the feminine nominal ending, were such a noun as th.t with house determinative anywhere attested; more likely, the t marks the passive tw. The house sign appears to be a nominal determinative, though, again, a noun, thj.t, showing such a determinative is unattested.

Arms in gesture of negation indicates the negative morphemes n and nn; n marks the negative marker, nn.

Thj with leg with knife signals an apotropaic determinative (that is, warding off evil through magical writing), plus the t and the w = tw,  the passive morpheme suffixed to a verbal root:

Hypocephalus Cairo CG 9448

clump of papyrus, t, house 

t, h, knife, t, house

n, t

nTr.w nb.w, "every god," "all the gods"


Explanation (Exam Question 2)

We are taking each hypocephalus separately; still, the reading or decoding of one perforce builds off the other. Just as with the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus, we start with what appears to be a feminine noun H3.t, followed by what appears to be another, thj.t. The leg is not shown, but the piercing knife suffices to convey the message. 

We next find the letters n and t, which something recalls the spelling of the modal negative, though the t is unclear; it could also write the relative morpheme ntj (which is how Professor Robert Ritner takes it: see "Notes" below).

After the phrase "every god," comes the letter n, which again evokes the negative morpheme.

These two odd elements, the n and the t, and the n at the end of the line, suggest a repetition of the negative prohibition. These letters might also signal the imperative mood of the negative verb, m, since n sometimes writes m in later Egyptian. (That is to say, the grapheme n sometimes stands in for the morpheme m.) Note that the letters do not spell anything, they only suggest or signal.

The lack of true syntax, intermingled with the presence of other anomalous features of grammar and spelling, seems purposive. Yet the ease with which the reader can frame a sentence from such disparate, inchoate materials also suggests that we are dealing with a riddle intended to be read. Not that we are required to set things right by the framing of a grammatical Egyptian sentence; so long as we can solve the riddle, a re-sorting into sound syntax becomes superfluous.

The riddling out of the lines may, nonetheless, be transcribed as follows:

nn H3.t 

nn nTr.w nb,

which amounts to the prospective passive: 

May the tomb never be trespassed,

or, in emphatic terms, as I prefer to translate:

The tomb will never be trespassed.
None of the gods will ever be trespassed against.

We might also read a sentence having the indefinite pronoun, .tw, as follows:

One shall not ever trespass the tomb!
Nor shall one ever trespass upon any god!

Other reconstructions of the lines are also possible:

One shall not ever trespass the tomb, for it is that which belongs as well to all the gods.

Note how H3.t forms a pairs with the expression nTr.w nb.w. It seems a strange pairing, but the additional examples, given below, will shed light on the significance of it.

Hypocephalus BM 37908 (8445f)

clump of papyrus,  t, and house (H3.t, tomb, shaft tomb)

leg with knife, t, and house (thj.t or similar)

crown of lower Egypt, three ripples, t, house 

clump of papyrus, t, house

crown of lower Egypt, t, house, t, house, three ripples


nn H3.t zp 2

One shall not trespass the tomb (repeat).

H3.t, the tomb, though it appears at the head of the sequence, may be taken as the object of a verbal phrase.

Leg with knife, t, and house determinative clearly express verbal action, with the verb of trespassing: thj. 

Yet the Leg with knife, (nominal marker?) t, and house can also be read or decoded as having nominal meaning, in this case not a nominal form, thj.t, but as if another instance of the idea of the H3.t (so signified by the house determinative alone), preceded by the determinative of the leg crossed by a knife. The tomb or hall, which the preceding word h3.t already signals, is thus magically blocked from trespass and subsequent violation. As verb, if we so choose to read the signs, we have thj, plus the passive morpheme (or the like), .tw--thus

The crown of Lower Egypt, three ripples, t, house: the group need not signal a noun; I descry the negative morpheme, n or nn or m (Shall not! or Do not!). Here, in the purposely jumbled, riddling syntax, the negative morpheme ungrammatically follows the verbal phrase

Clump of papyrus, t, house appears for the second time; and for this sentence, one reading of it suffices, though its reappearance may mark a repetition of the sentence, and by so doing, accentuate the magical efficacy of the spell.

Crown of Lower Egypt, t, house, t house, three ripples suggests the repetition of the negative nn or m, and thus reaffirms the idea of a repetition of the sentence: a powerful negation.

The magical writing has its own assumptions about itself, its peculiar purposes. Still it is no great shakes to transpose the material into a proper Egyptian sentence, if that is how the reader sees it. Riddle solved.

Hypocephalus Ashmolean 1982-1095

clump of papyrus, t, house

leg with knife, t, house

t, h, leg with knife, n, ts or t

m, m = m-m (among)

nTr.w (the gods)

D.t (eternity)


We first see the topic of the sentence, which is also the grammatical object, the tomb.

Next we find two groups of signs determined with leg with knife, which repetition also suggests a repetition of the prohibition, nn or m, or zp 2.

The preposition m-m (which, at once, evokes the vetitive m) signifies among in the ensuing phrase"among the gods forever." The phrase, when we compare it to what we find on the certain other hypocephali (discussed below), may be further unpacked as being the equivalent of "among the double row of shrines representing Upper and Lower Egypt," in which outcome one would literally be "among all of Egypt's gods." Note how the repetition of the m may also suggest the repetition of a negative sentence: zp 2 (repeat!)--as the Egyptians would say.

The magically inviolate tomb joins with the ever secure shrines of all the gods of Upper and Lower Egypt--forever.

Hypocephalus BM 35875 (8445c)

clump of papyrus, t, house

leg with knife, t, house

crown of Lower Egypt

j,t,r,w,t, shrine, t, house

three ripples


Take the clump of papyrus, t, house, as the noun H3.t, the grammatical object of a sentence (also the sentence topic).

Take the leg with knife, t, house (dropping house) as the passive or, it may be, infinitive form of thj (to trespass, damage, desecrate).

Then take the crown of Lower Egypt as the negative morpheme, nn, or as the imperative of the negative verb jmj: m or jm.

The shrine is also an grammatical object (and the topic) of the sentence, which suggests a correlation between the tomb and the row of shrines.

The three ripples, which can be read mw, again express the negative morpheme, either imperative m or modal negative nn, which repetition also logically suggests a repetition of the entire sentence, or zp 2 (repeat the spell!).

nn H3.t


m thj.t H3.t.

On its own merits, I would read:

m thj.t H3.t zp 

but in light of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus:

nn H3.t zp sn.

Jtr.t(y), with determinative of shrine or chapel, signifies the row of Lower Egyptian sanctuaries, a word or idea which embraces all the gods of Lower Egypt, or for that matter, pars pro toto, of all Egypt. Gardiner (Egyptian Grammar, 556) defines itrt as a "row (of shrines), particularly of those of Upper and Lower Egypt as seen at the Sed-festival" and "collectively, the gods of these shrines." The dual form itrty signifies "the two sides, rows. aisles." Which shrine row is which appears in the specific determinative sign.

Why all this talk of shrines or chapel booths in the hypocephalus? What does it have to do with the H3.t or the idea of trespass. It all seems out of place. 

Yet nothing fits the picture better. The round shape of the hypocephalus evokes not only the revolution of worlds and the solar course--and thus the calendar: the "measurement of time"--it also evokes the royal circumambulation and the tour of inspection, or royal progress. The progress encompasses a visit to all the shrines. No wonder Joseph Smith says the four sons of Horus, figured on the bottom half of the hypocephalus, represent "the earth in its four quarters," both parts and totality, with all shrines, all gods brought together in one. They come together in celebration of the birth of the sun (or of Kolob)--the New Day of the world. Hugh Nibley treats the New Year panegyris assembly in nearly every work he published from the Thirties on.

And here Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes strike gold. Though not now speaking to the matter of the lower lines of the hypocephalus, they nevertheless note the very same pilgrimage theme in the repetition of the name of the ritual center place, Heliopolis, and of the names of her various shrines, on the hypocephalus rim. For the Egyptians, Heliopolis is both below and above--a heavenly city. Such a royal or solar progress, all the gods and glorified dead as entourage (cf. the text on the ever-circling and encircling rim), is therefore by no means limited to the places of the terrestrial world; celestial Heliopolis calls up the entire host of celestial so well as corresponding terrestrial shrines, each to be visited in its own time (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 88: 62-73, "The parable of the man sending his servants into the field and visiting them in turn").

"The most impressive of progresses is certainly that in the Papyrus Leiden T 32, which takes us to almost seven hundred different shrines and festivals . . . in a fixed order of progress" (Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 119-120). The papyrus is "a miracle of condensation," being "a selection containing all that is vital and enduring in the whole vast tradition": "There is no other Egyptian text which contains such a great number of items concerning Egyptian religious service in so condensed a form" (Hugh Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 23, quoting B.H. Stricker, "Egyptische mysterien," OMRO 31 (1950), 52; "a selection containing," Nibley, 22). The hypocephalus, in like manner, maps out both the heavens and the earth and enumerates the various entities, powers, and gods to be found therein. (For "a hypocephalus-like disk" that maps out the districts of Egypt while, at once, revealing the sidereal heavens, see Nibley and Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 196-7, Sarcophagus of Wereshnefer, Metropolitan Museum.)

We now lay grammar to one side. As magical writing, the group leg with knife, t, house signifies the inviolate state of the tomb. The determinative of house essentially points us back to H3.t. Here is a representation of a protected tomb. Tomb = Protected Tomb. The special writing of itself carries efficacy: No one is to trespass and thus desecrate this place. Note the absence of the letters t + h. What we have, in this case, is therefore not thj.t, rather a simple representation of the magically sealed tomb, H3.t.

The signs read as either nn or m, or both, stand alone in their prohibitive power, that is, alone, and beyond syntax. They negate, and that too by magic, whether cast into syntactic mold or left to freely float about the netherworld at will--or at nill.

Waters, coming as it does at the end of the line, serves to block access to the tomb, these being non-navigable to the potential doer of evil.

Do not violate the tomb.
Do not violate the shrines of Lower Egypt, with their divine owners  (cf. Joseph Smith Hypocephalus, 16: "this ba and its owner").

Hypocephalus BM 37909 or 8445a

clump of papyrus, t, house

crown of Lower Egypt, three ripples

leg with knife? leg with knife? t, house

three ripples


nn H3.t zp sn

Hypocephalus Leiden AMS 62 a/1

clump of papyrus, t, house


j,t, house

m, shrine, t, city, south, city, t, north, city, t

m  jmj


Of all these varied examples, I favor the text found on Leiden AMS 62 a/1 as a key to unlocking all the others. And note how each of these several hypocephali evinces some unique feature that helps unlock meaning for all the others--yet no two alike!

Do not [violate] the tomb
Do not [violate] the shrines of Upper and Lower Egypt and their owners,


H3.t m-m

The tomb is among the two rows of shrines of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Egyptologist Michael Tilgner takes a stab at these lines:

H3j.t m jtr.ty Sm'.t mH.t

"Halle in den Kapellenreihen des Suedens und des Norden" (i.e., "von Ueber-Unteraegypten")

Hall in the double chapel rows of the South and the North (i.e., of Upper and Lower Egypt).

(Michael Tilgner: "Re: Uebersetzungsuebung: Kopftafel," (2007), which is an exercise in translating a hypocephalus)

Tilgner's translation gets at the heart of the matter, though he, too, considers the text to be corrupt and accordingly merges, emends, and even omits. For example, he does nothing with the final m jmj.

Yet with Tilgner we can consider new possibilities. In place of tomb, he speaks of a great hall that takes its proper place among the chapel booths of Upper and Lower Egypt. The reading is altogether correct, for it suggests that "this ba and his lord," the saved being, body and soul, now takes his place among all the gods of Egypt at the panegyris.

If H3.t signifies hall in Leiden AMS 62, it must signify the same thing in the other hypocephali. Again, if the H3.t has to do with the jtr.ty-shrines in this case, it likely has to do with them elsewhere, even where no explicit mention is made. We require no explicit reference to the jtr.ty in the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus; H3.t, standing alone, sufficiently conveys the association. 

The H3.t or H3j.t is thus a festival hall or shrine, holy and inviolate--as if a tomb--upon which (into which) the ba-powers of the deceased descend, and wherein they are thereafter housed and made manifest in procession. In other words, the blessed dead appears both in the entourage of the sun god and in the temple booths of Heliopolis, his celestial city, in One Eternal Round.

Does H3.t not then refer to a tomb "in the Duat forever"? In true Egyptian fashion, the H3.t may refer to the tomb so well as to the hall, to the Duat so well as to the Heliopolitan shrines. H3.t, after all, is not the typical word for tomb, which suggests that the word was chosen with due care to signify both portals: tomb and hall shrine--and both halves of the round hypocephalus: sky and Duat.

We have now brought all the evidence together and made a first attempt at sorting it out. The ground now cleared, reflection may begin and understanding, perhaps, follow. 



Professor Robert Ritner, following both Edith Varga and Georges Emile Jules Daressy, translates the opening words in line 17 (The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, pub. 2012, 225, 225 n. 52):

"Back, injury!"

Ritner reads H3 as a variant spelling of a near-homonym that means back or, as a command: Back! Go Back! We thus have: Back Trespass! Back Injury! Despite his choice of a meaning that "seems preferable to 'grave' or 'portico,'" the lines yet reference the tomb, for they speak to "this ba and his master." Is Ritner, then, wrong? 

The Ancient Egyptians wove their spells with subtlety. If we see what appears to be a pun, or other like correspondence between two words, that perceived connection may well match original intent. We may have touched upon "hints of things" found in the Egyptian mind. On the other hand, as Berry Kemp points out, we may never know whether a meaning we see, or even laboriously decode, reflects any real Egyptian awareness or intent (Berry Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization--and remember Fairman's warning). No matter! Reading continues; interpretation follows. Which means: some ancient priest somewhere might have welcomed our continuing wrestle for meaning. Hugh Nibley often refers to the Joseph Smith's yearning to translate even the "hints of things" found in an ancient prophet's mind.

While I would dispute the reading Back Injury! as the primary reading, I am just as sure those who so translate have hit upon a valid secondary reading, in this case a play on words. It may all be a part of the original intent--no wonder the syntax is so tricky.

Ritner (p. 225) reads the entire place as follows:

"Back, injury, back! 

There is none who attack you.

This ba-spirit and his lord will not be attacked in the underworld forever."

The transcription reads, and I give it, with apologies, in a standard, though confessedly clumsy, way of writing for the computer screen: 

(1) H3(?) th H3 nn th tw
(2) nn b3 pn Hn' nb=f m dw3.t D.t

My only thoughts about the reading center on the linguistic analysis of nn th tw in line 1, which shows, as it stands, a wholly different construction than nn in line 2. The latter expresses a passive verbal form (note the dot): "will not be attacked"; the former, nn th tw, gives an infinitive followed by a direct pronominal object. More tidy would be not only to place the two verbal phrases together at the heart of the little spell but also to posit within that small compass the same kind of verbal phrase. While I prefer the tidier construal and the tighter structure (and Egyptian grammar, as we reconstruct it anyhow, makes for a tidy system), the broken and scattered texts will say what they will.

Edith Varga and Daressy, as mentioned above, have previously read some of the pertinent hypocephali in like manner. Thus "H3 th n itrw "Back, injury of the river. . ." (Edith Varga) and H3 th.t n.t nTr.w nb.w 'Back, injury of all the gods. . . !" (Daressy). Yet both Daressy and Varga miss the mark when it comes to reading jtrw or to capturing the sense, "in this case, in relation to this subject," of "all the gods." In place of river, I read shrines and tombs housing "all the gods" at the panegyris marking the birthday of the sun at New Year's, as depicted by Figure 1 of the hypocephalus so well as Figure 5, and as also described in the accompanying texts. 

Joseph Smith, the prophetic seeker after "hints of things" in the ancient mind, uses the expression "in this case, in relation to this subject" in order to capture the idea that Egyptian iconography, rather than being monolithic or merely repetitive, signifies according to the peculiar and specific purpose of the presentation at hand (see Explanation, Facsimile 1). In the case of these particular hypocephali, then, the subject at hand is certainly not a river, but tombs, chapels, shrines, and, perforce, "all the gods" who inhabit them.