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).

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