We are not coming to terms with the Pearl of Great Price as we might, unless by its study we also magnify our view of the ancients and, thereby, open "astonishing paths" of discovery (see Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 2). By reading the scriptures, we can come to see things as they once really were.
The Book of Abraham introduces the surprised reader to a hitherto unknown god, the "god of Elkenah," and to his priest, who meets Abraham at an altar of sacrifice.
Might the name Elkenah be found in Egyptian hieroglyphs? his image appear on a pharaonic stele? Yes and yes.
Is the name authentic? Hugh Nibley, writing in 1969, sorts through evidence for the name Elkenah (or, as variously spelled, Elkkener, Elkkeenah), and mulls over its several possible meanings in both Canaanite and Egyptian (Improvement Era, August 1969 = An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 313-319; cf. also John Gee, Stephen D. Ricks, "Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study," in Paul Y. Hoskisson, ed., Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, BYU, 2001).
More recently, Kevin Barney has drawn up a thorough brief for Elkenah. Among plausible solutions he reconsiders the well-known Canaanite god, El qny; he also discusses the Hittite-Hurrian spelling of El qny in the form Elkunirsha (qny 'rs, Creator of the earth). Even so, Kevin Barney cannot decide whether Elkenah should take the q or the k. Is Elkenah to be understood as El qenah (El the Possessor or Creator) or is he El kan'a (El of Canaan)? (Kevin L. Barney, "On Elkenah as Canaanite El," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 19/1 (2010), 22-35.) Hugh Nibley saw in Elkkenner a spelling, however bizarre in Roman letters, indicative of Semitic /q/.
Elkenah is an authentic name; a touch of the genuine may well be found on a Syrian stele commemorating Ramesses the Great, the Bashan stele, first identified in 1884. Because locals saw in the stone a seat for ancient Job, students tag the stele the "Job stone." Soon it will be better known as a New Kingdom reflection of Abraham's milieu.
The Bashan Stele of Ramesses II shows us how the Pearl of Great Price may help in puzzle-solving.
(For bibliography see K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions, II 223, 6; for both bibliography and discussion, see also James Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, 327; Izak Cornelius, The Iconography of the Canaanite Gods Reshef and Ba'al: Late Bronze and Iron Age I Periods (c 1500-1000 BCE, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 140 (1994), page 145.)
In the weathered depictions and engravings on the 2 meter basalt stele, we first note the name and image of Ramesses the Great. Ramesses, sporting the blue crown, lifts the image of the goddess Ma'at, sitting in a basket, to a divinity crowned with the Osirian Atef--but this is not Osiris. The Atef crown, "in this case, in relation to this subject" (to borrow a line from Joseph Smith), uncharacteristically sports a long, curved horn (a bull's horn?), maybe two horns. An accompanying label, in the special syllabic "group writing" used for Semitic words, gives the divinity's name.
The first signs spell the Canaanite name for their high god, El, or Ilu; then come the outstretched arms, which customarily write the syllable k3 and, presumably, in group writing, ku or ko; next comes n and signs likely expressing the vowel -ah. The following segment, also in group writing, yields Dapuna, which is Mount Zaphon, the Levantine Olympus. We thus have, at least graphemically, El k-n-a Zaphon.
The exact lexemic reading of the name has never been settled.
James Hoch suggests El Kolia, God the Restrainer, and--to be sure--the n-grapheme can sometimes be read as l. Yet no other attestation of El Kolia appears anywhere. Both Giveon and de Moor read: jr k3nj D3p3n, "Canaanite 'l kn tspn," which means Ilu, Creator of Zaphon, Ilu establishes Zaphon, or Ilu, Possessor of Zaphon). As everyone notes, the k3 or k doesn't match the q sign. But what of the Hurrian-Hittite divine name, El Kunirsha (Ilu, Possessor or Creator of the earth)? El Kunirsha matches El qny, though written with a k--by way of the cuneiform sign ku. With this last name in mind, De Moor asserts: "The inscription runs i-r3-k3-n-i D3-p3-n and should be interpreted as 'il qny tsaphon El the Creator of the Zaphon" (Johannes C. de Moor, "Ugarit and Israelite Origins," 217-18, in Congress Volume Paris 1992, ed., J.A. Everton). Has Abraham trespassed upon the demesne of El Kunirsha?
We await more evidence before settling on El qny for the Ramesses stele. Still, given 1) the fact of discovery in Syria, 2) the egyptianizing crown of the Canaanite divinity, and 3) a name attesting El with attribute k-n-a (whatever that sequence of graphemes may signify); any reader of the Book of Abraham will exclaim: Abraham Chapter One, the god of Elkenah!
Again, it is not so much an aggregation of evidence for the Book of Abraham that concerns us here, as it is reading the book to elucidate the ancients: to resolve questions, puzzles, mysteries. Can Abraham's record contribute to our understanding of puzzles like the Bashan stele? That is the question.
While we may not yet opt for any particular reading, there is no difficulty in positing for il k-n-a, in light of the Book of Abraham, the transcription Elkenah (or Elkunah/Elkonah), that is, Elkenah Zaphon. The name, here, could either mean, as some have it, God (El), the Creator or Owner (qny, qnh) of Zaphon (the mountain shrine of the Canaanites), or as that particular Elkenah who is worshipped at Zaphon.
Potiphar's Hill at the head of the plain of Olishem reflects lofty, even celestial, Zaphon. According to Hugh Nibley, 'ly shm, signifies "Height of Heaven." Is the Potiphar's Hill of Elkenah to be equated with El q-n-a's Zaphon? According to de Moor, the record does attest local versions of Zaphon, all reflections of that first and foremost Zaphon, which is itself but a palatial reflection of the heavenly height. Might Dapuna (cf. Abraham's Libnah or Zibnah) be, in fact, the "god" who is named the god of Elkenah at the local Potiphar's Hill? Or rather, is it not Ba'al Zaphon (the Owner or Master of Zaphon) who is the god of El Kenah Zaphon? Each rivals, twins, usurps the other: Gog and Magog. Is the priest of Elkenah (also the priest of Pharaoh, says Abraham), a stand-in for the kingly figure who offers to El q-n-a at Dapuna qua the local hilltop at Bashan? Hilltops, mountains, Dapuna, Zibnah, Zaphon, Bashan, Olishem, Potiphar's Hill--all these come together in Elkenah.
Professor de Moor further explains: "The Job-stele implies that according to the local mythology [shall we add, the local ceremonial?] El had dispossessed Baal of his mountain Zaphon [qny = to possess, own]. Where the stone was erected had apparently been re-named 'Zaphon.' Wandering of geographic names is a common phenomenon" (217-218). For instance, the name of Mount Moriah, where Abraham offers his son, Isaac, transfers onto Mount Zion, which itself comes to bear the name Zaphon (Psalm 48:3); "a promontory in the sea near Lake Serbonis" (the Egyptian Delta) also becomes Zaphon (218).
Zaphon in Canaan--yes. But in Egypt? Canaanite El, wrought in bronze and wearing Osiris' Atef crown, ubiquitously appears in the Ancient Levant--and in smiting pose. As with the god, so with the priest: the priest of Elkenah, that is, the priest of Pharaoh, stretches forth his hand to smite Abraham on the altar. What Abraham Chapter One describes is a ritual combat, the combat at world's creation for the possession of the earth, the seas, the mountains, the netherworld, etc. Possession is an act of victory: The winner takes all. The left-hand panels on Book of Abraham Facsimile Two--the Egyptian hypocephalus--with full accord, also invoke the all-victorious cosmocrator that rules by right of possession (nb) in heaven, earth, Duat, Nun, and mountain. Potiphar's Hill, like Zaphon for Ba'al or Ilu, becomes the locus of Victory. If I read my Nibley and the Book of Abraham rightly, the combat being played out features Sirius and the Sun, rivals for cosmic rule ("the god of Shagreel, who is the sun"). Elkenah, who, at essence, merges with the Egyptian Sun, is the victor, whether on cosmic mountain or at local hill. Yet it is ultimately Abraham's God who wins the battle and takes possession. And what of Mount Moriah?
And what of Bashan? Here we meet "not the weak, old god who is on the verge of surrendering his position to Baal of Zaphon" but "an El who sought to oust Baal," even "a contender for the position of supreme god" (de Moor, 218). The upstart Aten contends against the same adversary, according to a letter sent to Pharaoh by the king of Tyre (218). And the Sun-qua-Aten brings us back to Heliopolis. "Egyptian ritual and literature," says Nibley, "often give us fleeting glimpses of the setup at On." Thus at On (Heliopolis) "the false pretender from the south is 'cast down from upon the hill on the east of On' to sink into the waters of death at its foot" (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 412). Joseph Smith, in his explanation of Facsimile One, notes these same waters below the sacrificial altar, and in which swims the hungry crocodile awaiting his prey--even "the idolatrous god of Pharaoh." A watery death lurks below; then--croc and hawk--"like a thunderbolt he falls!" from "on high," even from the "heavens"--as Joseph Smith's interprets the waters "in this case, in relation to this subject." Death from on high? from the waters? and like a crocodile in sudden splash and flash? In the likeness of Abraham Chapter One, where the priest of Elkenah "was smitten that he died," we find Hadrian in AD 129 sacrificing at Zaphon. And "when he sacrificed, a storm came up and lightning struck both victim and officiant" (John Pairman Brown, Israel and Hellas I). And Hadrian prevailed.
The priest of Elkenah, with glittering knife, thus comes to us in the likeness of the god with the thunderbolt: Baal, Zeus, Indra. Assuming that rescuing role of bringer of the regenerative rains, he both draws the lightning and, at once, stands apart from danger.
According to John Pairman Brown, the idea of Zaphon, as translated to its various localities, is that of victory over the waters (and thus also victory over drought), a victory represented as being over the sea monster, monster waves, and, indeed, the crocodile. Thus the victory over Pharaoh at the crossing of the Red Sea also takes place in the vicinity of Baal-Zaphon, i.e., Mount Kasios (John Pairman Brown, Israel and Hellas I, "Excursus B: The god of Kasios and his adversary"). Note again how there is more than one Mount Kasios = Zaphon, each associated with Baal-Zaphon and the victory over the waters.
Hugh Nibley often refers to Moses 1:25 and its theme of kingly victory over the cosmic waters:
And he heard a voice saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God.
The manuscript copy of Moses 1:25 reads more precisely and more Hebraically:
thou shall be made stronger than the many waters for they shall obey thy command even as if thou wert God
(Joseph Smith Papers, Documents I:55; cf. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6)
Joseph Smith Translation Old Testament Manuscript 2 clarifies what it means to speak for God:
for they shall obey thy command even as my commandments
(cited in Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness, 61 = S. H. Faulring, et al., Original Manuscripts, 593).
Both Abraham Chapter One and Moses Chapter One open with a common theme: the triumph of God over the forces of sky, earth, water, and the powers of men. And the same delegation of that same Divine authority heralds the present dispensation (6 April 1830):
"The church [shall] give heed unto all his words and commandments. . . For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth." As promise for obedience, in a cosmic, even cosmogonic victory (v. 6), "the gates of hell shall not prevail," "the powers of darkness" will be dispersed, and "the heavens" "shake" (Doctrine and Covenants 21:4-6).
The reader sees in the investiture of Moses a reference to the Red Sea crossing, and also to Mara made sweet and Meribah (see Hugh Nibley, "To Open the Last Dispensation: Moses Chapter 1," in Nibley on The Timely and The Timeless, 5, 12; ib., Enoch the Prophet, 157-8; 297 n. 300; Hugh Nibley, Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round, 87-88; Hugh Nibley, "The Circle and the Square, in Temple and Cosmos, 157; ib., Teachings of the Pearl of Great Price, Lecture 18, 4-5; see now also Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness, 60-1; 96). "The king," says Hugh Nibley of the Year Rite, which reenacts both creation and coronation, "must emerge victorious at the moment of passing through the waters of life, death, rebirth, and purification, and the ancients always understood Moses' leading his people through the Red Sea as the type and similitude of a baptism, symbolizing at one and the same time death, birth, victory, and purification from sins" (Enoch the Prophet, 158).
We can now see why Joseph Smith so oddly adds the label Red Sea to the description of the Galilee in Isaiah 8-9. The powers of darkness afflict the land and the people walk in darkness. They then see a great light of deliverance (a thunderbolt?) and, with joy, herald the birth of the King of Kings. The "way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations" perforce symbolically reflects, another event, that of the Red Sea--and vice-versa (2 Nephi 19:1; JST Isaiah 9:1-2; cf. the Targum Jonathan). Jordan, Galilee, and the Red Sea, like the "wandering names" of Zaphon, are thus brought into one, each brightly reflecting the other (see my "2 Nephi 19:1 and the Red Sea," posted on 2 March 2010).
The subjugation of "the many waters" (ha-mayim rabbim) to the Divine command also clearly references the Divine cosmogony, including things only hinted at in the Bible. Yet Joseph Smith revealed Moses Chapter One decades prior to the decipherment of cuneiform, and a century and more prior to the discovery of the libraries at Ugarit and Ebla. And note how the words in the Book of Moses about the Divine subjugation of the many waters, described as coming from a voice of the Almighty Himself, precedes a detailed account of the Creation. It is the voice of God Himself, through his Prophet, Joseph Smith, not that of 19th century students, which announces to moderns the motif of the cosmogonic battle against the powers of the waters.
In Abraham's story, the Canaanite god, who is the Possessor, Controller, Creator, Producer confronts the God of Abraham, who is also the God of Melchizedek, even the Most High God, the Possessor (El qoneh) of Heaven and Earth (Genesis 12). Pharaoh, and all kings else, cede the day to Melchizedek and to Abraham. No wonder the Slaughter of the Kings in Genesis 12 portrays the in-gathering of rulers from every known clime. Is this combat? or Nowruz? All is one. According to Professor Brown: "Hebrews historicized the [Zaphon combat] myth at several points," viz., creation, flood, Red Sea crossing, return from exile (99). So why not Abraham at Potiphar's Hill at the Plain of Olishem? We do see Abraham at the Slaughter of the Kings at Shaveh and on Mount Moriah, but the terrifying encounter at Olishem finds a trace only in the Nimrod-Abraham legends (Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes, One Eternal Round). Something went missing from the Bible.
Why all these historical moments of cosmic import--even cosmic dispute? The mayim rabbim, surging matter, says Herbert G. May, are "the intransigent elements which had to be quelled by Yahweh before creation could begin, and which must ever be defeated by him as he continues his activity in history" (Herbert G. May, "Some Cosmic Connotations of Mayim Rabbim, 'Many Waters,'" JBL 74 (1955), 11). Accordingly, as the ordering of creation continues, God makes all His servants "stronger than the many waters," as they act in the stead of God, or "even as if thou were God." Abraham at Potiphar's Hill faced Elkenah, in a contest of priestly authority, and in the Name of God, came off conqueror. "I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee" (Abraham 1:18). The reverberation of that moment of victory resounds for the seed of Abraham throughout all subsequent history.
Consider Fishing River and Zion's Camp. Armed men, numbering in the hundreds, planned the "utter destruction" of Joseph Smith and the Camp. A cannonade was begun. But "it seemed as if the mandate of vengeance had gone forth from the God of battles, to protect His servants from the destruction of their enemies." A momentous torrent of rain and hail swamped the mob, as "the water rose thirty feet in thirty minutes in the Little Fishing river." One man was felled by lightning, others drowned, horses fled. The Camp found shelter in an old, hilltop Baptist meeting-house. "As the Prophet Joseph came in shaking the water from his hat and clothing he said, 'Boys, there is some meaning to this, God is in this storm" ("As the Prophet": "Wilford Woodruff's note in Ms. History of the Church, Book A, p.332"; History of the Church II: 102-106).
God is also in this storm surrounding President Thomas S. Monson, our living Prophet.
On the Bashan stele we find traces of Ramesses. He wears the blue crown of coronation and of warrior-conqueror, and this clearly marks him as one who seeks possession of the whole earth. So arrayed, he pauses, like great Alexander, to pacify, or to contest, or to compare titles with, the foreign Elkenah Zapon, though far from Mount Zaphon proper, by offering the image of little Ma'at, gentle daughter of Amun-Re.
All else on the stele is obliterated. Of conquering Ramesses, "nothing beside remains."
The Book of Abraham remains.
Earth remains--and Olishem and Potiphar's Hill, though unrecognized, still bear their solemn witness.
Worthy of a brief note is how all four Sons of Horus (or Geb) names in the Book of Abraham reflect business affairs:
Elkenah (possessing, acquiring)
Zibnah (to sell = if zbn; it also evokes Dapuna, Zpn)
Mahmackrah (Semitic: mmkr, to sell)
Koresh (according to the Prophet Muhammad's biography, the clan of Quraysh also conveys the notionality of business acquisition).