Friday, December 29, 2017

What is a Hypocephalus? What is the Aztec Calendar Stone? What of the Aztec Mosaic Shields?

The Aztec Calendar Stone and Mosaic Shields in Light of Book of Abraham Facsimile 2

Too Close To Be Ignored

In one of the many startling moments of One Eternal Round, a study of Abraham facsimile 2, Hugh Nibley and Michael Rhodes describe the Aztec Calendar Stone as "too closely resembling the Joseph Smith hypocephalus to be ignored" (197; see pages197-200). The reader holds his breath--a vast distance obtains between Egypt and Mesoamerica--as they quote the long forgotten but striking words of Zelia Nuttall:

The Calendar Stone is "an image of the nocturnal heavens as it is of a vast terrestrial state which. . . had been established as a reproduction upon earth of the harmonious order and fixed laws which apparently governed the heavens." It is also, note Nibley and Rhodes, "a calendar with stars as indicators, marking time and space together," even--so Nuttall--"a complete count. . . expressive of a great era of time." "Like the hypocephalus, the Calendar Stone is conspicuously divided into two parts," worlds above and below (Zelia Nuttall, The Fundamental Principles of Old and New World Civilizations: a comparative research based on a study of the Ancient Mexican religious, sociological and calendrical systems, Cambridge, MA).

Referencing Nuttall, Nibley and Rhodes continue: "Around the center are placed 'symbols of the four elements, the union of which was believed by the native philosophers to be essential for the production and maintenance of life.'" Nibley here recalls the four sons of Horus standing just below the central quadrifrons, or four-faced, creator and sun god, though on the upside-down bottom side of the hypocephalus. The Egyptians associated these sons of Horus with the funerary canopic jars, which hold the vital organs taken from the deceased and sealed up for the mummy's promised day of resurrection. The Calendar Stone's "central luminary," in Nuttall's words, who provides "the motive power," even "the divine power who ruled heaven and earth from a changeless and fixed centre in the heaven," is likewise quadrifrons, gazing out toward the four directions: "the quadruple lord, 'He who looks in four directions." The Calendar, at once, depicts the fourfold former world eras, "ages that have collapsed--Jaguar, Wind, Fire, and Rain" (David Carrasco, Daily Life of the Aztecs, 174). The "Four Movement" name of the present, fifth, age is Earthquake.

While the sons of Horus (or surely also of Geb, god of earth, whose four "sons" travel back-and-forth in the four quarters of the earth), certainly keep the elements of life in their manifestation as the canopic jars, there is more to consider; for the quadruple heads of the central ram-headed figure, according to Egyptian texts, also represent the four ba's, or the four spirits, powers, colors, cardinal points, or elements, so well as the four dynasts ruling over their respective patriarchal spheres and ages, these last being primeval eras in which semi-mythical rulers held sway long before Egypt's Pyramid Age (see David Klotz, Adoration of the Ram: Five Hymns to Amun-Re from Hibis Temple, 99, 168).

As element or mineral, we accordingly find the successive generations, ages, or reigns, of Re (fire), Shu (air), Geb (earth), and Osiris (water). The quadrifrons Ram of Mendes, ancient and enduring image of fruitfulness and potency, at the center of the hypocephalus, is thus the forefather of every king, beginning with Re, Shu, Geb, Osiris, who "happen to be the male progenitors of the Heliopolitan cosmogony (Re-Atum begat Shu, Shu begat Geb, Geb begat Osiris)" (Klotz, 99). Osiris' son Horus succeeds him, the pattern for each successive historical king, or Horus, of Egypt, a fifth age. If such concerns stand revealed in the iconography of the hypocephalus, how telling that the first chapter of the book of Abraham, from verse one forward, comments on the patriarchal order that held sway in earlier eras, even as it sets forth the origins of Egyptian kingship and even introduces the cosmogonic and cosmological themes that make up the balance of the book.

Many have wondered why Joseph Smith so blithely termed the hypocephalus "Facsimile 2 of the book of Abraham." Did he not know that the object was nothing more than an ordinary funerary amulet? Everyone on the Internet knows that.

The correspondence of color and mineral to the fourfold Mendesian Ram also evokes Nibley's rare quest to trace links between the hypocephalus idea and green gemstones, a theme to which he and Rhodes devote an entire--and deeply beautiful--chapter. And why not? For as David Carrasco points out of the Aztec Calendar: Tonatiuh, the sun god, "wears a headband studded with three jewels of precious greenstone. . . and circular ear spools with [descending] greenstone jewel signs" (Carrasco, 173). In fact, the entire Stone glistens with  representations of precious jewels, including says David Stuart, the green xiuhhuitzolli diadem.

The round hypocephalus, placed "under the head" of the mummy is, significantly, also a "headband."

Diadem? In another chapter, Nibley and Rhodes treat the all-important idea of the cosmocrator, the conquering emperor who aspires to rule the whole cosmic demesne. Nibley notes how the name of the owner of the hypocephalus, Sheshonq, is associated with a whole line of Egyptian cosmocrators--including Pharaoh Sheshonq himself. Whether Nibley's identification of a royal Sheshonq, in this particular case, is correct or not, another significant name, Heliopolis, or Pillar City, occurs more than once on the hypocephalus rim--and Nibley hastens to note the significance of the place as the center of royal and priestly rule and the setting of the unfolding of the solar cosmogony. At once, Heliopolis is both an earthly temple complex and a heavenly solar city, a pillar or axis of the Egyptian cosmos.

Mayanist David Stuart, in a paper appearing just this month, "El emperador y el cosmos," notes how glyphs suggesting the names of Moteuczoma II (the same Moctezuma or Moteczoma who welcomed Cortez), the Warrior god Huitzilopochtli, so well as glyphs representing the precious green jade and the word central plaza or market, all occur on the Aztec Calendar. To Stuart, these glyphs signal the (solar) deification of the warrior king, or in other words, a solar identity for Moteuctzoma II as cosmic emperor, what we might even call a "solarization" of his face. Remember that the very name of the Aztec ruler, Frowning in severity like a lord, reflects the angry heat of the sun at its apex (Gordon Whittaker, And now consider Dimitri Meeks's explanation of the hypocephalus as "solarized" head of the deceased, who will now be identified with Re, or rather Amun-Re, and participate in his ever-encircling procession. In this sense, the hypocephalus becomes a mask, as replacement and substitute for Amun-Re's invisible head. (Amun signifies "hidden"; "not visible.") (Dimitri Meeks, "Dieu masque, Dieu sans tete," Archeo-Nil, 1991).

The Solar stone, Professor Stuart postulates, was "carefully designed to link the above-mentioned energized and animated cosmic spaces and spheres to the specific identities of Moteuczoma II and the heroic deity of the Mexica, Huitzilopochtli, both represented as if one sole being in the center of the cosmos" (Stuart, "El emperador y el cosmos: nueva mirada a la piedra del sol"," Arqueologia Mexica, No. 24, 2018; for a draft of the same in English, see also: ).

And exactly who is the Transcendent Cosmic Amun-Re (Hidden Supreme god-and-Sun), as Professor Klotz "names" the central figure on the hypocephalus? There is no Western "exactly" to keep in mind--and certainly no pretentiously "precise" reading. For is this central power not also, so Klotz, the Cosmic Amun-Shu (Hidden-Supreme god-and-brilliant solar atmosphere)? the Unified and Resurrected Re-Osiris (sun-and-deified deceased king)? as also the four-faced Ram of Mendes: Re-Atum, Shu, Geb, Osiris? or even the Transcendent Amun--Ta-Tanen (Hidden Supreme god-and-emergent god of Earth)? Does it not also represent the resurrected Osiris Sheshonq? or even the royal Osiris Sheshonq? The accompanying text refers to him simply, though most Abrahamically, as the "great" and "noble" god of the "First Time," ruler of the five regions of cosmic space.

Again, How does the cosmology of the Calendar Stone tie-in to ritual? For the Mexica, the sun must "draw its power from the sacrifices carried out by gods and humans" (Carrasco, 173), a rejuvenating power. We recall how the Prophet Joseph Smith explains Facsimile 2 in light of "revelation" "from God to Abraham, as he offered sacrifice upon an altar." (His own community also attempted to offer Abraham himself upon an altar--but God delivered him.) David Stuart notes that the Aztec Calendar is essentially the uppermost level of a fourfold altar, an altar positioned in the capital's main plaza to represent the enthroned center and thus the axis of the universe. As such, the Stone also becomes a mirror image, reflecting both day and night, sun and stars, and especially the Pleiades that signal the cosmic center and govern the time of the all-important New Fire Ceremony, the re-igniting of sun and hearth fire, a new and ever-repeating cosmogony, cycling round every 52 years (Stuart, "El emperador y el cosmos").

The seven stars of the Pleiades cross the zenith of the night sky to signal the regeneration and re-transmission of the solar flame. When Professor Stuart further notes how the Pleiades and the Sun, standing at the separate poles of the cosmos--night and day--become each the reflection of the other, and that here we find the true significance of the Calendar Stone, we come close indeed to the idea of the Transcendent Cosmic Amun-Re, the hidden Re, or power beyond the sun.  For the Egyptians, I note, the sun is a star, for the stars are all Re's, or suns (r'.w). Re thus stands lord of Re's (nb r'.w). Joseph Smith sees on the hypocephalus a celestial hierarchy, including hints at multiple "suns." Does the idea of Enish-go-on-dosh being both "one of the governing planets" so well as sun, though found in the upside-down region, or of Kolob as both superstar and supersun, stray far off the mark?

And does not Joseph Smith inform us that the sun, according to the Egyptians, "receives its power through the medium" of other celestial powers, an idea which signals the necessity of a continuing solar replenishment? Everything about this replenishment and renewal is timed by complementary celestial revolutions, according to his Explanation anyhow. The hypocephalus, like the Calendar Stone, is thus programmed by "the measurement of time," including, "the measurement of this earth." Ritual procedure thus accords with cosmically timed measurement to ensure the continuing downward flow of divine power. That's the Egyptian view and the Egyptian practice--and that's also what Brother Joseph is telling us.

The timing, which also depends on the convergence of the various earthly, lunar, solar, and planetary or stellar, cycles or revolutions, requires the precision of a priestly class of observers.

David Carrasco, detailing the standard reading of the iconography, speaks of "a narrow band of the twenty day-signs circling the central core of the stone," which again describes the coordinated revolutions of earthly and celestial time (Carrasco, 174). Another ring--of turquoise, the precious greenstone--runs round the symbolic "day count," and is pierced by the four solar rays at the four quarters of the cosmic scheme (see Khristaan Villela,; and K.
Villela and M. E. Miller, eds,. The Aztec Calendar Stone).

Stuffed between the rays are a profusion of feather symbols, which to me recalls the double ostrich feather crown, a symbol of intense and translucent atmospheric radiance, sported by the standing solar figure in the upper half of the hypocephalus disk. His tall feather crown pierces, at apex, or zenith, the rim of facsimile 2 (here see One Eternal Round, 267). Along with the feathers are what Villela tells us are likely droplets of blood, the sacrificial blood that empowers the whole. Might they also represent droplets of atmospheric water, shot through with light--the vivifying rains? The outermost circle, the rim, represents "the blue sky vault," which recalls the text on the hypocephalus rim that speaks to the ever-encircling course of the sun and his retinue through the sky with its bright Heliopolitan gates or shrines. (Hugh Nibley notes how the outer rim of Achilles' Shield displays the earth-encircling Okeanos.)
(For new translations of facsimile 2 rim, see .)

II  Test Results

"Too closely resembling the Joseph Smith hypocephalus to be ignored?" Note how, in this last sentence, "Joseph Smith hypocephalus" signals both the standard Egyptian hypocephalus and, at once, the Prophet's Explanation of the particular example in his possession. In other words, not only might we compare the round Calendar to the round Egyptian object per se, we can go so far as to compare what Mesoamericanists say of the one to what Joseph Smith says of the other.

So let's hold the explanations of both Joseph Smith and the Egyptologists regarding hypocephali studiously in mind, as we examine the principal themes that Professor Stuart, writing this very year, descries in the Aztec Solar Stone:

1) temporal and solar dynamism
2) the vertical axis, earth to celestial zenith
3) the idea of the cosmic center (both in heaven and on earth)
4) cyclical movement
5) the cosmic rule of the divinized earthly ruler, as warrior, in the likeness of the sun
6) the divinized earthly ruler as the "embodiment of time"

Nibley and Rhodes (2013: ps. 240-241) helpfully sum up Joseph Smith's "brief explanation" with the following headings over "words used":

1) cosmology: earth, planets, firmament, Sun, stars, moon, revolution
2) measurement and number: measurements of timecelestial time, day, cubit, years, one thousand, quarters, revolution
3) transmission of power or energy: receiving light, borrows its light, governs planets or stars, receives its power, governing power
4) hierarchy or dominion (intelligence and purpose): creation, residence, government, key, power, God, throne, authority, crown, light, the governing power
5) ordinances and procedures (relating the above to humanity): sacrifice, altar, Temple
6) Joseph Smith's use of "special idiom or notation to convey the above," that is, the idea of representation, overlapping of symbolism, iconography conveying more than one meaning: represent, signify, pertaining to, answering to, "but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify" x and not just y.

We don't yet know how Professor Stuart's peers will receive his new interpretations of the Stone, but that's not our present concern. We speak of a Prophet; and his most vocal, and even mocking and shaming, critics to the contrary, Joseph Smith's spare and orderly Explanation shows, should we compare it to what others say about like circular cosmic drawings, a thoughtful and ordered thematic reading. Professor Robert Ritner hears in the Prophet's Explanation voluble ravings in the manner of pre-Egyptologist Athanasius Kircher (Ritner, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham--A Response"). Here's how Kircher translates a handful of hieroglyphs:

Hemphta the supreme spirit and archetype infuses its virtue and gifts in the soul of the sidereal world, that is the solar spirit subject to it whence comes the vital motion in the material or elemental world, and an abundance of all things and variety of species arises. From the fruitfulness of the Osirian bowl, in which, drawn by some marvelous sympathy, it flows ceaselessly. . . 

Is Ritner correct? The "ceaselessly flowing" example from Kircher by which Ritner illustrates what he considers Joseph Smith's own absurd interpretations lacks the specificity, balance, concision, and coherence one finds throughout the thematically compact book of Abraham--and a little mystery besides. Kircher elaborates on but a single, spent, idea.

Joseph Smith's Abraham, including the Explanation of facsimile 2, merits a second look. Even should one disagree with him to the point of laughter, Joseph's take on the matter merits a jot of charity. Remember what he sadly records of the persecution he continuously suffered at the hands of even neighbors: "being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me" (Joseph Smith--History 1: 1:28). Where was kindness, propriety, affection?

Whether we believe even a jot of it, we can all take a charitable look at Joseph Smith's explanation of Kolob (the central solar figure) as being: "The First Creation . . First in government, last pertaining to the measurement of time. The measurement according to celestial time." The Prophet's focus on revolutions, temporal cycles and measurement, "grand governing" and thus hierarchically descending cosmic powers; on stars, earth, and sun, and transmission of light; or on altars and sacrifices and thrones, hardly deserves to be pilloried by either supremely gifted and educated scholars (who really must smile at amateurs); or by the countless following eager sophisticates who, though professing an advanced and and up-to-millennial understanding of all things past, present, and on Wikipedia, have never given a moment's thought to the symbolic representations found on works of great antiquity.

III  Case Two: The Turquoise Mosaic Shields 

Though products of vastly differing cultures, such nevertheless breathtaking points of thematic comparison between the hypocephalus and the Calendar Stone, which certainly date from chapter drafts of One Eternal Round made by Hugh Nibley in the mid-Eighties (the book was posthumously published in 2013), also serve to introduce my own new comparative findings about another Mexica artifact depicting the cosmos: the mosaic Aztec shields. These rare mosaic shields also merit a page or two in any consideration of the hypocephalus.

"The mosaic design on the shield now in the British Museum. . . portrays the principal division of the Aztec universe. The small circular shape of the shield corresponds to the surface of the earth. At its center is a circle of mosaic with four rays. . . this is a solar disc. The four rays emanating from the solar disc divide the earth into four quarters. In each quarter stands a sky-bearer" (Colin McEwan, et al., Turquoise Mosaics from Mexico, 62). As the reader will recall, the sons of Horus may also take the role of sky-bearers at the corners of the earth. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained these last figures, as follows: "Represents this earth in its four quarters."

Of a recent finding we further read "The position of the mosaic disc discovered at the bottom of Offering 99 [at Templo Mayor--the pyramidal center of the universe--to which compare Nibley and Rhodes, 100] links it with the night-time journey of the stars through the earth's interior during the recreation of the Mesoamerican underworld--one of the very important functions of this journey was the underworld's fertilization."

A similar theme obtains on the lower, nightly, half of the hypocephalus, which depicts the upside-down netherworld dominated by the mother cow and replete with symbolism of her impregnation, for she will bear the brilliant central power which, in the form of the four-faced Ram of Mendes, we can call the Transcendent Cosmic Amun-Re (see discussion in One Eternal Round). For the Egyptians, the mother cow, represents Hathor, a goddess who is not only the mother of the sun, but herself the Female Sun, Solar Disk of Solar Disks, at Dendara, the Female Heliopolis, or Sun City. Joseph Smith expresses the idea thus: "and [the cow] is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun." Even so, Rait, nearly a textual "unknown," hardly contests Re's glorious one act play.

The name Joseph claims the Egyptians gave her: Enish-go-on-dosh is right on the mark for the Lady of Dendara. Should on-dosh reflect 'n-ds(r), beautiful in (her) solar redness (as the Eye of the sun); then Enish-go might well answer to ins-q3, both "exalted in scarlet" and also "exalted as the scarlet solar eye." I see the name as referring to the Female Sun, the exalted (go) and beautiful (on) Red (enish, dosh) Solar Eye (Enish and Dosh), in an elaborated word play typical of such Hathorian names and, at once, powerful recalling the name attached to one of Horus' sons in his manifestation as fiery red star--one of the seven Akhu--that is, as a sun himself: Dosh-iati-imi-hawt-ins (the One whose two eyes are red [dSr.(ty) j3t.ty], who dwells in the House of Scarlet [Hw.t jnsw.t], i.e., in the Horizon, sometimes also called the House of Dosh [Hw.t dSr.wt]). 

The surprising Egyptian view of a female sun in a feminine netherworld, the womb of creation, at opposite pole from the solar powers on the upper half of the disk, leads us on to Professor Stuart's conclusion about the Stone: "We might with justification argue that the upward-facing solar image was but a reflection and was thus, in a concrete and physical sense, materially 'in the earth,' while, at once, uniting the earthly and netherworldly sphere with the solar zenith." (translating, "Puede verse que la imagen solar acostada fue un reflejo y estuvo, materialmente, 'en la tierra,' uniendo la esfera del suelo con el cenit solar").

IV  A Many-Valued Logic and an Openness to Surprise

Eduard Seler, losing patience with the array of re-interpreters of the Aztec "Sunstone" ("Earthstone?"), famously decreed of the central figure: "It is the sun--no more and no less." David Stuart takes a more nuanced view. When Professor Stuart asks us to accept that a particular representation on the Calendar or elsewhere need not refer to a sole god or a single concept but to multiple interpretations, we wonder whether he has, after all, read Erik Hornung on the many-valued logic of the Egyptian mind (Hornung, The One and the Many; compare the magnificent Burr Cartwright Brundage, The Fifth Sun: Aztec Gods, Aztec World, 1979).

We all (yes, even Mormons) resist facile comparisons between Egypt and Ancient America, an often exceptionally cloying and boring game. We all may consider how even brilliant students, like Nuttall, Brundage, or Florescano have themselves "gone too far" in making cross-cultural comparisons; yet try as we might to push the poles back to their places, try as we must to understand separate cultures on their own terms, and on their own soil--authochthons all--we may still take up Stuart and Carrasco one day, Klotz and Meeks the next. And should we chose to marvel, what of it?

If Hugh Nibley chooses to compare the Homeric Shield of Achilles to the Round Egyptian hypocephalus--Why not? The abounding parallelism delights the reader. When critics simplistically carp at "parallelomania," not only are they often blind to crystalline influence, they also fail to discern a rich and buoyant poetics, a "loud and bold" new look from "a peak in Darien."

Or shall we, like Calvin at Geneva, careful, prosaic, special, clerical, scientific, and so very deeply and puritanically disturbed, avert our eyes from Keats's teeming Pacific?

Did any idea ever bridge that deep? The Mexica themselves famously do say their own ancestors made that sea-crossing, carrying with them an ancient "book of knowledge" (Sahugun, Codice Matritense de la Real Academia; see esp. Alfredo Lopez Austin, Tamoanchan, Tlalocan: Places of Mist; I'm translating from Miguel Leon-Portilla,  Los antiguos mexicanos a través de sus crónicas y cantares (1961):       .

They arrived, they came. . .

Over the water in their ships they came,

in many groups.

And it was there they arrived, at water's edge,

on the north coast.

And that very place where they beached their ships

is Panutla,

which means: the place where one goes over the waters,

and we still call it Panutla today.

We must point out," says Lopez Austin, "that the data [about Panutla, their migrations to Tamoanchan near the snow-capped volcanoes, the loss of their "original books" and creation of new ones] is so strange and enigmatic that it has led to many interpretations"--but that's the joy of it (Lopez Austin, Tamoanchan, 79; 55; for a map and diagram showing the ships and migrations, fig. 3, 57). "The document is a history of the Mexica, told by themselves" (Lopez Austin, 56), that is to say, the emic view, that which touches as close to the reality of the Mexica origins as we can possibly come.

It is left to us, outsiders, to take up the etic view of things, to make models that approximate, but never reach, the cultural, religious, and historical truth. Such models must be shaped with rigor and with care, in a word: scholarship; yet curious students keep on the lookout for all kinds of surprises. My own work in Egyptian and Hebrew won't permit me, for instance, to look favorably on the conclusions of others who have tried to see in these languages a dual-origin for Uto-Aztecan--a startling enterprise. All I can see, despite the formidable work spread before me, are the telling multiple misses about Egyptian and Hebrew semantics and phonology. And once you start to tally the misses, it's easy to whittle down the cognate count to next to nothing: consider the case of Japanese and Korean. But at least I give things a considered examination.

Of the extant hypocephali, the Calendar Stone, or the Mosaic Shields: What thematic correspondence, what shared semiotic, may we, with eagle eyes, descry on these? Our keen informants again tell us that the latter "commemorates the descent of the stars into the interior of the earth," a cosmic dance of seven all-encircling "warlike star deities" in which Descent and Ascent make up One Eternal Round, a continual renewal of the powers of life. (See Turquoise Mosaics, notes on Image 94 by Adrian Velazquez and Maria Eugenia Marin).

Indeed, some curious students today discern the symbolism of the caterpillar and the butterfly, images associated with the warrior cult, both coursing the rim and unfolding at center of the Aztec Calendar itself:

"The outer image is the body of some kind of animal or insect that has fire symbols in boxes along its body. . . The body of the animal or insect curves down to the bottom, and the heads face each other as gaping serpent jaws. . . The traditional view is that these huge images are 'fire serpents,' as indicated by the huge serpent heads and the images of fire that cover their bodies. . . But a more recent interpretation, offered by Karl Taube, suggests that these images are not serpents at all, but giant caterpillars representing the transformation and rebirth of the warrior as the sun, emerging in the center of the image in the shape of a great butterfly" (Carrasco, Daily Life, 174; Karl Taube, "The Turquoise Hearth: Fire, Self Sacrifice, and the Central Mexican Cult of War," in Mesoamerica's Classical Heritage, 2000; also, Taube, "The Symbolism of Turquoise in Ancient Mesoamerica").

For Professor Taube, the imagery of jaguar, serpent, and butterfly (or caterpillar) all overlap. Vanishes forever, in the light of multiple approaches, the prohibitive Western voicing: "no more and no less." Whether they know it or not, and whether it speaks, at all, to influence, diffusion, or the like--and that's impossible to unscramble--today's Mesoamericanists not only discern in the Mayan glyphs the same system of mixing logographic and syllabic writing that obtains in the hieroglyphs of Egypt, they likewise find in Ancient American composition, both text and iconography--to us, richly chaotic--an "illogical" many-valued logic perfectly at home in Ancient Egypt.

And the noses of these serpent-caterpillars converging at the nadir of the Calendar Stone? These, says Professor Villela, are indeed bespangled with star symbols. According to Taube, their proper "supernatural caterpillar" home is the fifth level of the heavens, whence dart falling stars. One wonders whether falling stars, in appearance of fiery serpents or caterpillars, might have been thought to fertilize the ground? (See Karl Taube, "Symbolism of Turquoise"). The New Fire Ceremony likewise draws the flaming energy from the Pleiades to this lower earth: "Go and Catch a falling star."

Do not all these things also recall the two serpents appearing at either side the ram-faced figure of the hypocephalus, a manifestation of powerful solar energies? (lightening bolts? comets? meteors?) or even the fledgling falcon, with tiny, hopeful, outstretched wings (labeled imty or Infant on certain disks dramatically appearing in the upper left panel as symbol of solar rejuvenation, in the cycle of time, manifest in the heavenly firmament (see Explanation of Facsimile 2, fig. 4)?

These serpents, says Tamas Mekis, in a new dissertation considering all extant hypocephali, both "protect" the central solar god and also "ensure" for him a continuation of "light and energy, at day or at night" ("Hypocephli," Budapest, 2013). All of which recalls what Joseph Smith explained about the figure of four-faced ram, an emblem for the Ancient Egyptians of both unceasing creative and procreative abundance: the central figure receives his power through the medium of other powers. As for the fledgling solar falcon, Mekis tells us, citing the hieroglyphic label, that it embodies in mysterious and transcendent form, as Amun-Re's Ba of Ba's, that is, at once both hidden and radiant, all four of the Ba's, or powers, aspects, and cosmic extension, of the four-faced ram. Now glimpse the Calendar Stone's unfurling butterfly bursting from its chrysalis with four manifest wings--"strange sights"--each bearing the epochal record and pattern of a Sun.

"Tell me where all past years are."

V  Cultural Diffusion or Independent Invention?

Yet how could all these themes and motifs from Ancient Egyptian iconography also appear in 16th century Mexico? Obviously, given the intervening millennia separating the two, core ideas and attitudes from Ancient Egypt were as likely to circle the globe several times over as was the royal Egyptian bloodline. Do not the mathematical models of genealogy show us how every living person today must descend from the royal line that built the pyramids?

"When you walk through an exhibit of Ancient Egyptian art from the time of the pyramids, everything there was very likely created by one of your ancestors--every statue, every hieroglyph, every gold necklace.

"If there is a mummy lying in the center of the room, that person was almost certainly your ancestor, too.

"It means when Muslims, Jews or Christians claim to be children of Abraham, they are all bound to be right" ("Statisticians: Common Ancestor of All Humans Lived 5,000 Years Ago," AP, 5 July 2006).

Nibley and Rhodes, while insisting on the arcane and rarefied nature of the hypocephalus idea, an idea that can be summarized in a few telling points, also take us far afield: the Ascension Literature (the Apocalypses of Abraham, Enoch, and so on, the Shield of Achilles, the Hermetic Tradition, a word or two about the Chinese jade disks--even a page about the Aztec Calendar. Nothing is said about the Book of Mormon or of Jaredites, Mulekites, Southeast Asians, or any others who might have borne the freight of the cosmic circle. However telltale the cross-cultural signs of recognition, however clear the trace of the pollen, Nibley leaves the matter in the air.

Diffusion of knowledge from clime to clime is a delicate thing, as delicate as the lift of a butterfly.

Notes: Essay updated in January 2018.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reading Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham with Wisdom at Our Side

Come and See

Today I visited the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, and looked once more at the vignette from which book of Abraham Facsimile 1 is taken. I looked at it several times, and thought deeply. What a joy to see the papyrus itself, not a facsimile, not a photograph nor a digitized copy, but the very ink, the very hieroglyphs, the vignette in all its design and character!

To understand the vignette in its fullness, we must turn to the pages of the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price and read the explanations of a latter-day Seer. Otherwise, we risk seeing only a part of the meaning, that part that reflects darkly in the mirror of modern scholarship, a scholarship at a dusty multi-millennial distance from the lost past.

I do not fault today's scholars for not seeing what Joseph Smith saw: who can be expected to possess the high gift of the seer to see things as they really are, and as they really once were?

Yet I do detect a mote in the scholarly eye, when students of an ancient civilization pretend to a preeminent knowledge of that past. We learn to read an ancient script, yes, and master our tentative lexical lists--but to boast? "Yea, how quick to boast" (Helaman 12:5).

What do we know? What can we know? Professor Westendorf would tell his students that no living person can know Ancient Egypt as it once was; the best we might do is to build theoretical models by which to approximate that past. We may come thereby, if not to understanding, at least to a common ground for observation and discussion. We all recall those ridiculously disproportionate models fashioned by scientists to teach the public something of the swirling atom, to afford us a brush with molecular structure, and the like. Without the model, there can be no logos, that is to say, no -ology. We would all drift into incoherence, then into stillness.

Such limitations, however, do not apply to seers, because "things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known" (Mosiah 8:17). Such gifted revelators something call to mind the transcendence of translated beings, like Enoch or John the Beloved, being themselves translating beings capable of putting disparate peoples and cultures in touch with each other, as though they themselves transcended space and time and differences in language and culture.

As I consider the tone of scholarship everywhere today, I wonder how well any of us are doing at building models that invite dialogue--open, demanding, cheerful dialogue--about the forgotten past.

For instance, as Professor Robert Ritner, in The Joseph Smith Papyri: A Complete Edition, winds up his argument against the Prophet Joseph's explanation of Facsimile 1, an argument consisting of merest ex cathedra declaration after declaration of Folly and Error, he pronounces:

"Except for those willfully blind, the case is closed."

The words of Scripture best suited to set alongside such an eager, un-nuanced, and incompletely argued pronouncement are those of King Limhi (Mosiah 8): 

"And now, when Ammon had made an end of speaking these words [about the interpreters and the high gift of seers] the king rejoiced exceedingly, and gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men."

I say the same of Facsimile 1: a great mystery is contained within that vignette, rich as it is with representation and symbolism. And, as I see it, Joseph the Seer has unfolded a portion of its ancient "mysteries to the children of men" in latter-days, with more unfolding to come for those who seek. Neither is the door shut to those who seek either to understand or add to the Prophet's Explanation of Facsimile 1 by the study of Near Eastern languages and cultures. I attest to just how very open that door lies. Enter and seek--and find. It doesn't make a jot of difference whether anybody attempts to stop up that avenue of pursuit: seek and you will find abundance "of treasures hid in the sand." "And [you] shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures." Yes, you shall find even the Pearl of Great Price (Deuteronomy 33; Doctrine and Covenants 89).

As I reflect on Professor Ritner's pronouncement of blindness, even willful blindness, I am compassionately startled at what many apparently cannot see or do not even care to look for. "Look to God and live" (Alma 37). Like Limhi I feel to exclaim:

"O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them!"

II A Word to the Wise

Wisdom! You may rule over me! Like Emerson, "I am weary of the surfaces, and die of inanition." If Hokhmah, Ma'at, Sofia, the Wisdom of the Ages, not sophistication nor prating invective, desires to rule my mind, a mind that now hopes to see, She may.

Let's take a look at her judicious works.

Journalist Doug Gibson, reprising a frankly objective review of Professor Ritner's study of the Joseph Smith Papyri, a review originally appearing in the Ogden Standard Examiner, observes:

"To Ritner, the 'case is closed.' What Smith claimed, and the LDS Church claims today, is simply false, he says.

"Ironically, that certainty of Ritner's may be the weakest point of his arguments. One can make a case that to draw any conclusion that science is settled can be called unscientific.

"With ancient Egyptian-era digs going on in the world, it's an audacious claim to say that part of a book that millions regard as scripture is forever concluded to be a hoax" (Mormon History and Culture: "The Mummy's Curse and the Book of Abraham").

While there is little original about the case Ritner presents against the book of Abraham, he presents it in a blare of trumpets. And few blasts are so sharp as his ridicule of the Prophet's explanations of certain goddesses appearing on Facsimile 3. How is it that the Prophet confuses goddesses with mortal males?

Yet addressing the very same embarrassment in 1956, before the professor was even born, Hugh Nibley had the following to say:

"'It is rather quaint,' Professor F. commented. 'Any fool can see, for example, that the figures called Pharaoh and his son are women.'

"Yes,' Mr. Blank answered, 'a myopic moron could see that, and that is why it so remarkable. It is plainly intentional.'"

Mr. Blank, in search of the patiently recovered remarkable rather than the surface visible--that is, what scholars do--goes on to cite arcane works of Egyptology in hopes of discovering why Joseph Smith might so discern a trace of the Pharaoh or the Prince in the outward form of a goddess (Lehi in the Desert. The World of the Jaredites. There Were Jaredites, 336-337).

To read anything of the Egyptian past, the student must drop all preconceived notions, including the norms of Western logic, and, well, venture. . .

As a serious reader of Professor Ritner's Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition (though not the only edition!), I also note strengths and weaknesses, sound transcription, sound translation--and error. The book may have its errors, and I've tallied a telling list, but the surprising, and I think the significant, thing to note is the singular lack of intellectual curiosity about the documents Professor Ritner assays to translate. Everything translates into the matter-of-fact, if not the outright dull. Another weakness is that Ritner does not await anyone else's sheaf-laden return from the library. Even as we, brim with joy, rejoice in discovery and ready our report, he interrupts by slamming the classroom door in our faces. Ritner makes it abundantly clear, however, that he is, by no means, the first to do so. Student after student has slammed the door on the book of Abraham since 1861 or so. Yet as Nibley asks: Will the latch hold?

Intellectual Curiosity? We wonder whether documents such as the Book of Breathings or the hypocephalus have anything profound to tell us about the Egyptian mind? Do they yield a chapter in the intellectual history of the race? Might they have something--anything--to say to religious seekers? Or are they, as the Chicago Professor dryly puts it: "amulets" of "common" funerary hopes?

Ritner's "complete" transcriptions and translations, lacking in comment, carry a cold and hurried air. We don't come to understanding. The book evinces a single-minded purposefulness in an impatient and aggrieved tone. Ritner not only declares: "All Joseph Smith says is false!" He also insists of the supposedly ubiquitous, thus "common" "amulets": Nothing to see here, move along.

If it is so, such a neglect seems to be very much at odds with Professor Ritner's other famous book, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, which the reader can hardly put down. If it is so, then Ritner's terse museum-label comments about these Egyptian texts also stand at odds with the trend of Egyptological writing since 1980. Go to any library and select books written by Jan Assmann, Erik Hornung, Alexandra von Lieven, Dimitri Meeks, Sylvie Cauville, John Baines, and so on, and see whether these ever fail to stir the soul with the wonders of the Egyptian mind, see whether these don't seek to draw the universal treasuries into the expanding picture.

Professor Ritner is always worth reading. Yet had Ritner's contracting book on the Joseph Smith Papyri undergone standard Egyptological peer-review or the requisite editing for printing at a standard publishing house (one not given to Mormon controversy), how many counts of sarcasm, what tally of the personal barbs, might have vanished from the final cut? So declawed, the book, written for a specific lay audience, would have lost its crowd appeal.

Hugh Nibley, by way of contrast, at least tried to gather documents having a similar thematic and cultural bearing, all of which he believes ought to read in light of the Joseph Smith Papyri and vice-versa. He invites the reader to study these, ponder the larger Kulturkreis, and then to decide whether such productions of the Egyptian mind as the hypocephalus, the Breathings document, or the vignettes, are worthy of our attention (see The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri (1975) and One Eternal Round (2010). Shall we brush these collections aside in our knowing simplicity? or shall we take a second look?

The test has to do with curiosity--and with attentiveness to matters of eternal concern. Ever reading, ever studying, ever discovering, we wait on the Lord for the fullness of truth.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Alma 37:12: One Eternal Round: Thoughts on Egyptian Cosmology in Intellectual History

In Alma 37:12 we read:

[God] doth counsel in wisdom over all his works,

and his paths are straight,

and his course is one eternal round.

Perhaps Alma quotes here from a sacred psalm. At any rate, these words to his son Helaman only reflect words spoken in his discourse at the city of Gideon, a discourse partaking of the force of anaphora and other powers of rhetoric:

For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness [cf. Eg. m3'; m3'.t, movement along a straight line; justice];

I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God;

yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight.

I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong;

therefore, his course is one eternal round (Alma 7:19-20).

Some yet wonder whether God's laws of chastity and morality may change. Alma, anticipating the matter, immediately adds: "And he doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God." Purity thus exemplifies God's unvarying ways.

The Doctrine and Covenants (3:2) also cites the ancient formula:

For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said,

therefore his paths are straight,

and his course is one eternal round.

The words not only suggest the Hebrew idea of the tequfah, what the Greeks would term a periodos (or complete cycle), they also recall a poetic Egyptian theologoumenon from the Solar Liturgy (Solar Litany 152) that "summarizes, perhaps harmonizes, conflicting notions about the movement of the sun":

phr jtn.f
m3' b3.f

May his jtn (globe) revolve (or wind) back-and-forth--
but his b3 (physical spirit body) follow a straight course.

The verb m3', "when written with the cartouche," as here, "paradoxically implies a regular circuit along a straight line." As is well known, the goddess Maat personifies Egyptian notions of right, rightness, truth, justice, and candid honesty.

(V. Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, Brill, Leiden and Boston, 112).

The Egyptian couplet forcefully recalls another in the Hebrew Bible, though I doubt the specific textual comparison has ever been made. And to be sure, the manner in which the Psalm unpacks the duality of solar movement, both a straight line of ascent and a revolution, reveals the Egyptian influence as much as any other feature of the cosmic psalm previously noted by scholars:

Miqtzeh hashamayim motza'o
utqufato al-qetzotam

From the extremity of the heavens is his (linear) going out (or his ascension = Eg. prj),
and his circuit (cf. Eg. phr) reaches to its extremest bounds--and thus making One Eternal Round.
(Psalm 17:8).

If written in Egyptian, the couplet would even show a fine word play, the very kind we would expect, between prj (to go forth or to ascend, often used of heavenly bodies) and phr (to describe a circle, make a circuit). For the sun, ascension culminates in a full revolution, and in that sense, the motion described is but one in two complementary parts. On the other hand, the idea of the motza', the linear going forth, clearly contradicts that of the tequfah, the circuit--so we're left wondering whether the sensible translations positing a simple circuit--a commonplace, really--satisfy original intent. The solar course, as here described, involves something more than meets the eye.

Nor is such a contradictory (or complementary!) model to be found in the texts alone; the walls of New Kingdom tombs reveal the solar course both as fixed line and as a winding, even serpentine movement, something we might well see as reflecting the phr-model. The Egyptians held to both symbolic and realistic visions of cosmic movement, the ideal and the observed. The sun to the astronomical observer is indeed all over the place, at every hour and at every season (see descriptions in Joshua Aaron Roberson, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Earth, 2012).

"The juxtaposition of phr and m3', as descriptive of the sun's movement (or any travel for that matter), speaks both to the principle of complementary pairs [as found throughout Egyptian literature] and to a fundamental contradiction. Both jtn and b3 describe the sun, yet the words suggest distinct [or alternating] visions of what that body is [or what it may be]; for each takes a distinct [though complementary] verb (or requires a distinct model) of solar movement. The notion of m3', countering the planetary drift inherent in phr, provides the corrective element; one may say, the adjustment of the cosmos. The two modalities, movement along a straight line and turnings, keep things in balance; what the verbal pair reflects is only the true nature of any road" (Sederholm, 113).

"The complementary pair (m3', phr) occurs again in Urk. VI, 11, 22-13, 1:

Wpj-W3w.t hr m3' n.f
phry jb nj phry jm.f

Wepwawet straightens the road
and thus soothes, lit. encircles, the heart of him
who makes his rounds therein (113 n 64).

"The hints of a cosmological reflection in the couplet lend it deep interest and suggest that the Egyptians held two, contradictory, models of celestial mechanics. Mortality is swept along by the same contrary winds. After all, the fundamental rule of life is "Follow Maat" [though] "Life is a phr.t (phr.t pw 'nx)--either finished cycle or back-forth spin. Nevertheless, whereas life's cycle. . . mimes Fortuna, the centerpiece of Egyptian values remains the attainment of Maat [Order, Justice]" (Sederholm, 113).

What does the standard manual on Egyptian Religion, a textbook still used three decades after publication, have to say about the contradictory nature of solar movement?

"Clearly the earth was not thought to revolve around the sun,

but neither was the sun thought to revolve around the earth"

Leonard H. Lesko, "Ancient Egyptian Cosmogonies and Cosmology," in Religion in Ancient Egypt, 117-118.

"Neither was the sun thought to revolve around the earth."

So the Egyptians did not conceive of a geocentric universe, plain and simple--and predictable? Surely Professor Lesko faced immediate dismissal from Yale University for making such an unscientific claim about the cosmology of the ancients, a claim overturning the fixed knowledge of every ten-year-old on the planet! Still, Cornell University published the textbook in 1991, and it has been standard college fare on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.

While "The universe was 'all that the sun encircles,' [yet] if this phrase implies that the sun was thought to have gone around the world on a single circular course, then apparently the phrase reflected a cosmology different from that in the religious texts discussed here."

Again: "Obviously the ancient Egyptians viewed and described the world around them in a variety of ways [a various semiotic]. The personifications and metaphors of the myths and stories were imaginative, poetic, very complex, and often humorous, but they certainly did not represent the sum total of the Egyptians' cosmological or scientific thinking on the subject" (Lesko, 117).

In other words, let's not confuse metaphor, image, and icon about sun and stars with the sum total of cosmological speculation.

Was the Egyptian heaven a flat roof? Or was it rounded or "bent"? Both representations appear in the sources. Did the sun move? Or was it moved by outside agencies? Again, both ideas appear.

In 2008 I published a few speculative paragraphs about the possible rotation of the Akhet, a "place" or "moment" usually associated with the "Horizon":

"The iconography of the Akhet shows the rounded sun. . . half manifest, half hidden, between the twin hills that, properly speaking, stand for the east and west horizons, although pictured as but one horizon. Entry into the Akhet thus answers [with immediacy] to egress on the eastern skyline."

In other words, do the writings describe the sun as circling about a static earth, or do they rather describe a sort of continual flip-flop in the horizon in which Entry and Egress occur at the same point yet mark different moments in time, dusk and dawn. Somehow, as Professor Derchain has suggested, "the perpetual cycling of the sun" (the eternal round) must "rely upon the equation of east and west, thus linking the solar death/descent with rebirth/ascent" (Robeson, 26 n 82). Again, the flow of the iconography that marks the path from descent to ascent can take either a horizontal or a vertical model (Robeson, 43). There was nothing static about the Egyptian presentation of the solar cycle.

Some labels, in purposeful mistaking, bizarrely describe dusk at the east horizon, dawn at the west, a hint at the mysterious reversibility of the system. But this is so typically Egyptian, as if to say with pertness, "today we're saying that the sun rises in the West and sets in the East." Note the Western bafflement at encountering yet another transgression of logic: "Coming out of the Eastern (sic) Mountain, resting in the Western (sic) Mountain, every day." Note that this is "Every Day"--the continual workings of the cosmic gears. What other culture says this sort of thing?! Yet examples of such mismatch are clearly not error nor are they a pert playfulness, rather they are "possibly intentional textual interchange of west and east, as an expression of the perpetual motion of the sun" (Roberson, 153 n 178, referencing Derchain and Piankoff). Still, we note that what moves perpetual are the cardinal points themselves, the directional markers of the earth; the in-volved sun "has nothing to do"--not even "roll around heaven all day."

If the earth rotates eastward on her axis, does not west mountain come round to merge with east mountain? Isn't the place of solar ingress and egress essentially, then, the same for a sun standing still? That's what the egyptologists have long been mulling over, though it remains a delicate point. The ancient record continuously teases the reader, but who can tie the threads together into Text, into semiotic Encyclopaedia, and tell us once-for-all how the Egyptians ordered their universe? There's a bit of cosmic speculation, here, to say the least, on the part of the solar priests who composed the netherworld books for the tombs of the royal high priest of the sun, and even though we are not yet able to build a model of the Egyptian universe out of it all, the matter does deserve something better than the notation (sic!). The sometime fluidity of the cardinal points at the Akhet-horizon deserves its own chapter in the intellectual history of the human family.

Or shall we just rest content with saying that the Egyptians, like all primitives, held the Ptolemaic view of things? Or that they didn't know about the circulation of blood (they did!)? A placid contentment would require less thought, but even so, we're going to have to revive the already archaic signature of sic for use on nearly every translated page. I await the book entitled Ancient Egyptian Cosmological Thought (sic!).

Or might the Egyptians have understood the Akhet as a rotating axis? Certainly the round Duat, or Netherworld, which is somehow involved in the Akhet, takes shape as a temporal-spatial moment of turning. The hieroglyph that writes the logogram for Duat is a star, some say the sun, enclosed in a circle, an encircling that turns in One Eternal Round.

Again: "The inversion and righting of the sun raises questions about the Egyptian model of celestial mechanics. These states [inversion, flip-flop, righting] are merely perceptual, being symbolic of the journey through the Netherworld.

"One explanation for the inversion and [simultaneous?] righting of the sun centers round the rotation of the Akhet [itself]. If it is the Akhet that daily turns 180 degrees, and not the sun, the movement of the sun is merest illusion. Indeed the cryptographic hieroglyphs that paint the setting of the sun with the image of a man plunging headlong with outstretched arms and its rising with a man arms uplifted [Papyrus Salt 825] hint at a celestial mechanics in which the Akhet serves as the axis of revolving sky and Netherworld. The Akhet is a place of turning and the dynamis of [the complementary temporal modalities] nhh-and d.t-time, the axis of the workings of renewal in respect of which all other celestial bodies move.

"Where the Akhet lies is unknown, even unknowable; like our horizon it marks a boundary or hollow between the visible and invisible worlds. Indeed the revolution of the Akhet parallels and even motivates that of the invisible world. Osiris, who personifies, surrounds, and controls the Duat, receives the disk [or globe] at dusk and uplifts the same at dawn in perpetuum mobile. As the Akhet revolves so turns the Duat with its night sky from darkness into daylight. Gears of baffling complexity work the thing; for the movement is really a complete shift back into daylight, West to East and East to West--erasing the dark hours, and still dawning Eastward all the same.

"The Akhet and Duat together make up a temporal-spatial continuum, the Akhet as the place that holds the sun and keeps its flame; the Daut, a mostly temporal feature, a space composed of hours. Osiris [the mummified corpse in the Duat, the dead king], in his name of 'Yesterday' and acted upon by the force and wheel of time, uplifts the ponderous sun at dawn with no perceptible motion of his part. Yet it is his uplifted arms that serve as the sign of rejuvenation. Both Osiris and the sun are righted by the turning of the Akhet in the unresting hours and, as consequence, together stand upright--with arms outstretched--as symbols of towering strength and power. Here is the cosmically sized Re-Osiris standing 'with extended arm at the eastern horizon' [as one resurrected solar power].

The union and resurrection of the cosmic Re-Osiris realizes the greatest mystery of Egyptian religion.

"Egyptian theoria but subserves the theology of solar renewal for which the movements of the heavenly bodies provide the hoped-for signs. If the Akhet does turn, the axis of turning still centers in Re because he provides the motivation [the force or the focus] for that turning. The same holds true of Re's relation to the p.t [or sky] and its shape and roadways, as the iconography shows. At times the Egyptians envision the p.t as a 'bow-shaped' roof or vault (pd.t, bow), the so-called 'bent' sky. The notion of bending, when applied to the static, flat rooftop, implies a potential, even motive, force. The imagery of the bent heavens reflects (cf. Lat. reflectare, to bend backwards, like a bow) both the observable re-turn of the sun to the day sky and the nature of the road it travels. The aquatic solar roadway inclines, winds, and bends, as lead the channeled waters" [the winding phr-cycle again] (paragraphs taken from Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, 110-111).

These few and premature thoughts only hint at the baffling complexity of the gears that work the cosmic revolutions. And perhaps the texts, no matter our pains, will never yield anything more than hints.

The Book of Mormon, with which we began, is at pains to show us that the Lord's ancient covenant people understood the workings of the cosmos (Helaman 12:15): "for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun!"

As for the book of Abraham, the father of the faithful makes abundantly clear that what he terms the "set time of the earth," or "the reckoning of the time of the earth," has to do with the measurement of its axial rotation in comparison with which the moon "moveth in order more slow." In other words, both the earth and the moon spin, but because the moon spins much slower, "therefore the reckoning of its time is not so many [as the earth] as to its number of days, and of months, and of years." Do we understand what Abraham plainly though poetically sets forth? (And most readers down the decades do understand.) The numbering of day and night, month after month and year after year, comes as consequence of the earth spinning on her axis--thus "surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun!" (See Abraham 3). In Abraham's Egypt, then, to borrow a line from the standard undergraduate textbook on Egyptian religion and cosmology, the sun clearly "was not thought to revolve around the earth."

Should we thence wish to hie to Kolob, we'll need something more than the basic manual, but the deeper we delve into Egyptology, the nearer will be our reach.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Missouri: A Mighty Shout of Joy

ROUGH DRAFT ONLY: PAGES STILL TO BE ADDED Around 1991 I drafted for my own "profit and learning" a number of exploratory essays about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Truman G. Madsen and Hugh Nibley both indulged me in reading what follows, a fragmentary but imaginative thematic and symbolic recapturing of the Missouri persecutions, so I now make what Brother Madsen was wont to call "a few cosmetic changes" and invite the indulgence of any who might choose to reflect on

Missouri: A Mighty Shout of Joy

For the Latter-day Saints in Missouri, the last week of October 1838 was a plunge into the vortex of darkness. Parley P. Pratt records the impatient burnings of the hours just preceding the Battle of Crooked River:

The night was dark, the distant plains far and wide were illuminated by blazing fires, immense columns of smoke were seen rising in awful majesty, as the world was on fire. The thousand meteors, blazing in the distance like the camp-fires of some war host, threw a fitful gleam of light upon the distant sky, which many might have mistaken for the Aurora Borealis. this scene, added to the silence of midnight, the rumbling sound of the tramping steeds over the hard and dried surface of the plain, the clanking of swords in their scabbards, the occasional gleam of bright armor in the flickering firelight, the gloom of surrounding darkness, and the unknown destiny of the expedition, or even of the [abducted] people who sent it forth; all combined to impress the mind with deep and solemn thoughts (Autobiography, 178).

It is a picture of elemental chaos--Missouri unreal: "The banks of Shoal creek on either side teemed with children sporting and playing. . . The weather was very pleasant, the sun shone clear, all was tranquil." On this bright afternoon of the 30th of October descended the harvest sun of Haun's Mill, with its buzzing, angry mob. Children and mothers scattered to the woods, while "the bullets cut down the bushes on all sides of us," remembered Amanda Smith. "One girl was wounded by my side, and fell over a log, and her clothes hung across the log; and they shot at them expecting they were hitting her; and our people afterwards cut out of that log twenty bullets (Amanda Smith, HC III, 323-325). Three "little boys crept under the bellows in the shop" to escape death. Upon discovery, one was killed instantly. Another, shot three times, lived for a month, while the third, eight-year old Adam Smith, wounded severely "feigned himself dead, and lay perfectly still, till he heard his mother call him after dark (III, 187). Joseph Young secreted himself "in a thicket of bushes, where I lay till eight o'clock in the evening, at which time I heard a female voice calling my name" (III, 185). The survivors clung together throughout "the painful night in deep and awful reflections" (III, 185). Thereafter, the dead "were thrown into a dry well and covered with dirt" (III, 324).

The thunderheads hit Far West a day later. Mosiah Hancock, four-and-a-half, witnessed the slaughter of an infant wrested from its mother and the multiple violations of an unconscious sixteen-year-old girl. He himself was beaten to death: "I could look upon my body, and I was far above them and was glad; for behold, I saw a personage draped in perfect white who said to me, 'Mosiah, you have got to go back to the earth, for you have a work to do'" (The Life Story of Mosiah Lyman Hancock). In one place, women and children, separated from the men, huddled in prayer in the face of a threatened attack at dawn, and looked to the heavens.

It is the faith of the mothers of Missouri that transcends the tale of persecution with a show of power:

Brother Joseph Holbrook was literally hacked to pieces [at Crooked River], and he was brought to our home about the first of April. My mother nursed him for about three months. He had to remain in the hay loft all this time until he was able to get out of the state. One evening, old Sam Bogart [the mob-king] and two other men came hunting him. He was hid in the hay loft covered with flax. . . I cannot attempt to describe my feelings as I stood on the floor in front of the fire while those three dark figures stood outside our door. I felt sure my mother would get one of them even if they killed my father. I shudder to think of these dark times (Mosiah Hancock).

*The mothers of Zion shielded "Brother Joseph," whether Joseph Smith or Joseph Holbrook, with their very lives.

The stories eerily repeat themselves: thickets and lofts, fires, the quietly calling voices of women stirring to life men feigning death, the dark figures of men and horses engulfed in the broad Missouri night. And horrible was the passage "within" that night:

When my guard conducted me to the door of this miserable cell it grated on its huge hinges and opened like the pit yawning to receive me; a volume of thick smoke issued forth and seemed to forbid my entrance; but urged in my rear by bayonets and loaded pistols in the hands of savage beings, I endeavored to enter, but war forced to retreat again outside of the door to breathe for a moment the free air. At this instant several pistols were cocked and presented at my head and breast, with terrible threats and oaths of instant death if I did not go in again. I told them to fire as soon as they pleased, for I must breathe a moment or die in the attempt. After standing a few moments, I again entered the prison and threw myself down, my face to the floor, to avoid the smoke. Here I remained for some time, partly in a state of insensibility; my heart sickened within me, and a deathlike feeling came over me, from which I did not wholly recover for several days (Autobiography, 233-234).

In Far West Joseph Smith was betrayed and taken prisoner, with several of his friends, on October 31, and sold to the justice of a mad carnival. Men daubed with red paint masqueraded savagely, and the prisoners on the road to their "mock court" were exhibited like dethroned authorities to the gaping inhabitants of Vanity Fair. The prisoners were placed in a covered wagon bound for trial and execution at Independence. Lucy Smith came to kiss her sons goodbye:

The man who led us through the crowd spoke to Hyrum, who was sitting in front, and, telling him that his mother had come to see him, requested that he should reach his hand to me. He did so, but I was not allowed to see him; the cover was of strong cloth, and nailed down so close that he could hardly get his hand through (HC III, 195).

Hyrum Smith later spoke of men, women, and children bound to trees, whipped, and left to hunger, and, then, "to gnaw the bark from the trees" (III, 404-424). Joseph and his associates, chained together in a dungeon were offered human flesh, while poison was administered to them in tea. "I escaped unhurt," said Alexander McRae, "while all who did [drink] were sorely afflicted, some being blind two or three days" (III, 258). Hyrum, who was poisoned several times, remembered the prisoners lying "two or three days in a torpid, stupid state, not even caring or wishing for life." Of the prison into which another Joseph was placed: "Ramban explains it as an underground dungeon with an overhead opening through which they lowered the prisoners and through which the prisoners had light." The word for "dungeon" was explained by Ramban as having reference to "the faint light that percolated into the dungeon."

Liberty Jail had its opening though which they lowered the prisoners. Old photographs of the jail show it to be a solid box of pain.

Another victim of the hospitality of Egypt was the hero of the Hymn of the Pearl, who was detected as a foreigner and fed "a mixture of cunning and treachery." The prince "sank into deep sleep under the heaviness of their food." "Deep sleep" is a a fair description of the long bondage during the Missouri winter of 1838-1839. Indeed, the descent into Missouri is reminiscent of much else: the widespread patterns of initiatory rites in which cabins, caves, forests, and dungeons are symbolic of death. According to Mircea Eliade, "Such ritual represents a return to the womb of earth, to the embryonic state." It is a return to the Guph--the inchoate atmosphere of the Chamber of Creation in Jewish thought--and to the preexisting night. To enter Missouri is to confront the cataclysm and to be ground inexorably to a fine dust.

Joseph, in the midst of that long Winter, calls upon the Master of the elements, the Lord of the Apocalypse: "O Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven, earth, and seas (see Rev. 14:7). . . who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol." Joseph has descended through the elemental storms into Sheol, the silent house of death.

In that stillness "the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers:

and if thou shouldest be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness; and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all; if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?

The whisper of the Spirit increases to a violent pitch with the anaphoric if, then leads to a most surprising conclusion: the gentle rebuke of the Lord. God responds to Joseph in the Stormwind exactly as He answers Job, by showing him a picture of the natural world as an hierarchy of harsh realities. At the bottom lurks Leviathan, or "Old Pharaoh, King Devil of Mobocrats," as Joseph Smith calls this aquatic monster (WPJS 122; Book of Abraham, Facsimile 1, Figure 9). In this atmosphere of upheaval, attended by thunderings, lightnings, tempest, fire, smoke, vapor of darkness, and the opening of the earth, even the very "God of nature suffers" (1 Nephi 19:11-12).

The King of Nature, who has descended below all, challenges His disciples with an incisive question: "Are ye able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (see Matthew 20:22)? The challenge resonates with the Christian imagery of baptism as tomb and womb: as both ritual extinguishment and the recovery of prenatal innocence (see Hugo Rahner, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery--the whole book). The sullen tomb into which Joseph had fallen was such a sign in imitatio Christi.

Entrance into a baptism of this type invites the revelation of sacred teachings, especially the key to the hearts of the fathers. In his Letter from Liberty Jail, Joseph laments that the "plan of the devil" has robbed him heretofore of the "opportunity to give [the saints] the plan that God has revealed to me." Nevertheless, "trials will only give us the knowledge necessary to understand the minds of the ancients. For my part, I think I never could have felt as I now do, if I had not suffered the wrongs that I have suffered." In order to obtain the knowledge of the fathers, and to understand their minds, there must be first a sum pathos--all must experience the same cup (again Matthew 20:22).

Of John Lathrop, Joseph's first American progenitor, and like Joseph, the pastor of a persecuted band, we read: "On April 29, 1632, the meetings were raided by a band of ruffians representing the Church of England, and he was imprisoned in the Old Clink Prison in Newgate, where he was held until 1634, when according to the record, he somehow escaped from Newgate prison" (E.B. Huntington; Newgate recalls the trial of Jeremiah at the Temple). From Newgate Lathrop fled to Massachusetts. We also recall John Bunyan's twelve years in prison, anguishing over the nurture of his blind daughter, his dreams of drowning, his passage to Paradise (see Jack Lindsay, John Bunyan: Maker of Myths).

Joseph clung to the consolation "that the ancients will not have whereof to boast over us in the day of judgment, as being called to pass through heavier afflictions; they we may hold an even weight in the balance with them." And in a letter to his wife, he writes, "I feel like Joseph in Egypt." (see Elder Neal A. Maxwell). Like ancient Joseph, the Prophet is strengthened by a constant flow of revelation as the dungeon is converted into "a nourishing womb in which he is engendered anew. The symbols of initiatory death and rebirth are complementary" (Mircea Eliade, Birth and Rebirth, 37).

The imagery of his dreams reveals that the experiences of Liberty clustered about Joseph to the last night of his life (HC VI, 393-394). Those dreams were informed with both horror and enlightenment:

I dreamed last night that I was swimming in a river of pure water, clear as crystal, over a shoal of fish of the largest size I ever saw. They were directly under my belly. I was astonished, and felt afraid that they might drown me or do me injury (HC V, 306).

Another nightmare presents his enemies as snakes wrapped in battle, as he rides past unharmed toward the prairie, an open and forbidding landscape:

On arriving at the prairie, I was overtaken and seized by William and Wilson Law and others, saying, 'Ah! ah! we have got you at last! We will secure you and put you in a safe place!' and, without any ceremony dragged me out of my carriage, tied my hands behind me, and threw me into a deep, dry pit. (William Law had been Joseph's Counselor in the First Presidency).

After a horrible scene of his enemies being devoured by "ferocious wild beasts" (a neat reversal of the story of Joseph, who is represented by his brothers as having been slain by a lion), Joseph is visited by his guide or guardian angel. "Joseph, Joseph," he calls, "What are you doing there? I replied, 'My enemies fell upon me, bound me and threw me in.' He then took me by the hand, and drew me out of the pit, set me free, and we went away rejoicing" (HC VI, 461-462).

The dream recalls the visitation of Adam by his angelic guide in an old Mandaean text:

I have come and will instruct thee, Adam, and release thee out of this world. Hearken and hear and be instructed, and rise up victorious to the place of light *Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, 130).

This visitation reminds one forcibly of a vision about David Patten, who was slain at Crooked River, Missouri. In the dream Elder Patten descends as an apostle of light to preach baptism and deliverance from death to the faithful ministers of Christendom and their families, men like Lathrop and Bunyan (Ann Booth, Wilford Woodruff Journals, July 2, 1840).

The idea of the rescuing message or messenger also recalls the prince in the Hymn of the Pearl, who is sent down to Egypt to recover "the one pearl, which resides there near the ravenous dragon," or serpent. Once in Egypt, he forgets his purpose until he receives an encouraging letter from home which inspires him to finish his mission.

Joseph Smith identified the pearl of great price with "the inheritance prepared for the saints" or the "place of Zion" in Missouri.

The pearl is the even shetiyah, the foundation stone of the "place of Zion," which in Jewish though is the first creation "from which the rest of the earth sprang forth." Joseph, too, represents a sure foundation, a pure stone, tested in the rivers of fire.

From jail he writes a letter to the homeless saints, whose makeshift dwellings of the Mississippi reflect a painful reversal of the festival of Succoth. This letter takes up the theme of the chaos of the elements. It speaks of the devastation of "mountain torrents" which strew the streams with filth, and which are a representation of a hell of "ignorance" and "bigotry" pouring "forth its rage like the burning lava of mount Vesuvius."

By way of contrast and of fulfillment is the mighty Missouri, which in its eternally self-purifying roll is as God Himself "moving in His majesty and power," and is an awesome reflection of the the wisdom and glory of "the Maker of Heaven, Earth, Seas, and the Fountains of Water." The Missouri moving with state in "its decreed course" represents the rule and order of God amidst the play of nature. Joseph compares its majestic flow with the "knowledge from heaven" which pours down upon the heads of the Saints from the throne of God and the Lamb. This current of revelation involves knowledge about the heavens to inform the Saints of the "bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars--all the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times." The passage through the deep involves a new creation of heaven and earth, as the initiate, like a pearl sheltered from the violence of cosmic disaster, is recovered from death into light.

The Letter from Liberty Jail with its picture of "burning mountains," winter torrents, avid lightnings, and "fierce tigers" is balanced by a sense of an everlasting and on-going order. To be swept by the maelstrom into "the lowest consideration of the darkest abyss," is vital for the revelation of the root of the matter, upon which the mind may work to "considerations of eternal expanse," as in the case of Job. Nevertheless, a recurring theme in Joseph's letters from Liberty Jail is that the watery expanse must be traversed with steadiness. In this imagery one senses a longing for the buoyancy and the freedom of the sail The last stage of Joseph's flight into freedom, cloaked in disguise, was the ferry over the Mississippi.

"Who can tell what high rank should be given to man? He crosses the sea, he penetrates the heavens with his thought and understands the movement of the stars" (Nemesius; This is the "baptismal voyage," Hugo Rahner, 343). The crossing is equated with the revelation of the hierarchies of the heavenly kingdoms and the eternal possibilities of man.

Joseph Smith is Everyman and has his likeness in every nation and culture, even as he binds them into one heart and family. In India, for instance, the "fathers" celebrated the rajasuya, the enthronement ceremony which involved "the future sovereign's reversion to the embryonic state, his gestation for a year, and his mystical rebirth as Cosmoscrator, identified with Prajapati (the All God) and the Cosmos. When he is anointed he stands on the throne, arms lifted; his incarnating the cosmic axis fixed in the navel of the eartth (that is, the throne, the Center of the World) and touching the heavens. The aspersion is connected with the water that come down from the heavens. . . to fertilize the earth." So, too, the Jews, in their keen study of the trials of the Patriarchs of the race, have sketched out a path to glory. The Jewish exegetes, commenting on the semantic resemblance between "trial" nisayon and "banner" nes, have observed of the Fathers.

Joseph's Letter from Liberty contains "only hints of things which existed in the prophet's mind, [things] which are not written concerning eternal glory (see WPJS, 205. Yet the Letter packs the fullness of Nauvoo within its pages: "We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now."

The Zohar reveals Joseph in Egypt as the berith shalom, "the Covenant of Peace" and as "the Righteous Foundation," the yosid. Given this identification, the prophecy of Isaiah 54 has at its heart a direct referecne to the preparations of Joseph in the crucible of Missouri:

For the mountains shall depart, and

The Church of Jesus Christ, in its infancy, passed through two seasons of persecution in Missouri, but all this was only a preparation for the blessings of two temples
So, too, the Missouri persecutions are a dark echo of response to the brilliance of
the seal of its witness. God reveals Himself to imprisoned Joseph in the storm, and as God of Battles. This, we feel, is as essential a revelation and a witness as that of the First Vision. Indeed, the passage through Missouri deepens the contemplations of the nature of God and man, as first manifest in the Revelation of the Father and the Son. The baptism of Missouri is a mighty shout of joy:

Bathing himself, in the mysterious depths he shouts mightily for joy, for water is his nourishment. He remains one and the same, yet he comes forth strengthened out of the depths, a new sun, and shines his light upon men, having been cleansed in the water (Melito of Sardis).

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Castalian Waters and Pierian Spring

Readers just want to learn something. Tired of the mystifying Castalian waters, Mormon readers, like Joseph Smith, just "want to show a little learning as well as other fools"; they know they must "Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Discovery in the Book of Mormon


Immersed in Robert Alter's books, which explore literary themes in the Hebrew Bible, I wrote the following little essay in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. I reproduce the sea-battered draft here, with some cosmetic changes. A second version(s), boasting new sails, and perhaps bettered, will appear in other posts.

Discovery and devastation march through the pages of the Book of Mormon. The graphic descriptions of the annihilation of entire cultures in the book remind the reader that for the Nephites, America, “the land of promise, choice above all other lands,” ever remained a mystery and a terror. To enter America was to be swallowed up in a labyrinth where, wanderers, “our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, in a strange land.” To discover America is to be separated, as it were in dream, from one’s own proper identity, lost, and, horribly enough, eventually forgotten, as in the case of the people of Zarahemla (or Mulekites), “whose language had become corrupted” and culture shivered and forgotten. In this state approaching disintegration, the Mulekites were ”discovered” by an isolated band of Nephites, themselves lost in the breadth and the sweep of the continent, fleeing the destruction of their own homes in the land southward. The secret of America lay to the north; northward coursed the dawn of discovery.

Amaleki, the Nephite record keeper, recounts how Mosiah, fleeing north with his refugee group “discovered a people who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.

As we continue to read, Mosiah further “discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon."

"At the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.

And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.  . .

And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward."

In the Amaleki certain key terms, motifs, and themes appear, which also resurface later in the artfully constructed narratives of Mosiah, Alma, and Mormon. Martin Buber defines a key-word (Leitwort) as:

"A word or word-root that recurs significantly in a text, in a continuum of texts, or in a configuration of texts: by following these repetitions, one is able to decipher or grasp a meaning of the text, or at any rate, the meaning will be revealed more strikingly. The repetition, as we have said, need not be merely of the word itself but also of the word-root in fact, the very difference of words can often intensify the dynamic action of the repetition."

The Book of Mormon narrative is also rich in motif. Robert Alter describes a motif as:

"A concrete image, sensory quality, action, or object" that "recurs through a particular narrative," but "has no meaning in itself without the defining context of the narrative; it may be incipiently symbolic or instead primarily a means of giving formal coherence to a narrtive."

Motifs help to bind disparate, even unrelated, events in the narrative to a common theme. Amaleki emphasizes plates, records, swords, bones--all these, hard, cold, ringing, lifeless objects which survive man's own brief flowering, symbolized by the nine moons which terminate the existence of an entire culture. Plates, stones, towers; all reflect coldly, moonlike, lurid. The sun, itself extinguished, hides his faces from "a lost and a fallen people" caught in the chill void on the dark side of the earth.

The key words of language and discovery, then, inform Amaleki's concise historical narrative, and indeed are strengthened by the use of two important verbs, to interpret and to confound language. Interpretation of ancient records, like that found upon the "large stone," provides additional waves of discovery to shock and to terrify the Nephite explorers, being the "account of one Coriantumr and the slain of his people." "One Coriantumr"--only one, a certain strange fellow named Coriantumr, king no longer, kingdom defunct.

The theme of discovery plays itself out to envelop the picture as follows: The sense of joy and brotherhood shared by Nephites and the people of Zarahemla accompanies a recital of sorrows, for the people discovered by Mosiah is an illiterate people, atheistic, corrupt, and decimated by internecine war. Mosiah recovers this lost people through a program of education, focusing on written language and the study of ancient records.

Now another discovery is made. An ancient record that nobody can read is brought to the king, who learns that it too speaks of a confounding of languages, a journey to America, and to another people caught in the American labyrinth and ground to powder. The very appearance of the stone reveals that much. Yet Mosiah. . .

[temporary gap--draft only--Standing water, proceed with caution. . . 

according to Amaleki's pattern of crediting discovery by a descending rule of ethnocentricity, was discovered by the people of Zarahemla. This discovery of a single man represents the final moment of a people never to be recovered--beyond discovery--by a genius like Mosiah; an ultimate gestation period that bears only bones, ashes, and stones.

"One Coriantumr," to be sure, has fathers and first parents, but no progeny, for as Amaleki explains, "the severity of the Lord fell upon them, according to his judgments which are just." And then, a final statement which reveals the deepest level of discovery, one of wrenching sorrow: "and their bones lay scattered in the land northward."

Coriantumr knows nine silent months with a people fresh to a brave new world--one that had wonderful people in it, but now "their bones lay scattered," and that is all. The Amaleki calls to mind Psalm 53: "The is none that doeth good, no not one." "There were they in great fear." "God hath scattered the bones." "God hath despised them."

In the story of Mosiah discovery spells desolation. Desolation, in fact, is the name given in the Book of Mormon to the land far to the north of Zarahemla, "the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken [a grim phrase], which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing [they got out quick]. Far from being a pristine and a virgin country in 600 B.C., the newcomers found the scene so terrifying that they plunged quickly southward--southward into cultural annihilation. Southward, away from stones, plates, records, and the still warm bones. (The narrative recalls the Viking discovery of a shipwreck, even as they were in the act of "discovering" America.)

Amaleki completes the record of the small plates of Nephi,  (which represents the end of an epoch in Nephite history--a wipeout), by speaking of an expedition sent from Zarahemla to recover, or rediscover, the lost Nephite homeland in Lehi-Nephi in the deep southward:

"Wherefore, they went up into the wilderness. And their leader being a strong and might man, and a stiffnecked man [like "one Coriantumr"?], wherefore he caused a contention among them; and they were all slain, save fifty, in the wilderness [the labyrinth], and they returned again to the land of Zarahemla. And it came to pass that they also took others to a considerable number, and took their journey again[!] into the wilderness. And I, Amaleki, had a brother, who also went with them; and I have not since known concerning them. And I am about to lie down in my grave."

As this mini-episode indicates, the first 400 years of Nephite history terminates on a sad note. Fifty bloodstained men struggling back to Zarahema, brother separated from brother, lost from knowledge, simply dropping out of exitence, as far as the record is concerned, in the terror of the Americas.

Three generations have passed and brother yearns for brother. Both the Nephites at Zarahemla and the Nephites at Lehi-Nephi, separated by an uncharted distance, have sent out small expeditions 'not a map-making people, have sent out small expeditions each intent on finding the other. small-half-hearted. The narrative of the Book of Mosiah (the grandson of the great discoverer of Zarahemla), abridged, edited, and shaped by Mormon centuries later, begins with the expedition sent to Zarahemla under the direction of one Ammon and his three brothers. The four men upon arrival in the land of Nephi are surrounded, taken, bound, and thrust into prison by order of the king, Limhi. After two days, the four brothers stand before Limhi, who commands them to reveal their mysterious identity under penalty of death. Ammon, as spokesman, announces his name, genealogy, origin, and the purpose of the expedition, whereupon Limhi and all his people rejoice, for they dwell on the verge of extinction and are about to slip back into the leveling and eliminating forces of the continent.

This whole episode may be called a type-scene for it clearly recalls another Ammon, son of Mosiah himself, who after venturing forth to the same country with his three brothers some years later, is taken, bound, and granted audience before the Lamanite king. In this latter instance, however, Ammon does not reveal his true identity, a point that bears upon the denouement of the recital. Limhi caused Ammon to read the history of his own people and explains to him the present exigency:

Now, as soon as Ammon had read the record, the king inquired of him to know if he could interpret languages, and Ammon told him that he could not.

And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness [reversal of first doomed journey: repentance], that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.

And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.

And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold. And behold, also they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of [cold, resounding] brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound. And again, they have brought swords, the hints thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no on in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates.

Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?"

For: "I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction."

The venture into the wilderness was a dismal one, and the harbinger of fear. The group does not find Zarahemla, but rather loses itself in both space and in time, for the "space" of many days. Mormon, the narrator, perhaps for reasons of thematic emphasis retells the story in a later section of Mosiah, and in so doing plays again upon the language and irony of finding and losing in the dreadful game of discovery. The grand terror of the story is not indeed in the revelation of a land covered with bones and the skeletal remains of buildings, but in the mistaking of this desolation for the blithely abandoned sister-city Zarahemla, an error attributable to an obvious paranoia, not to mention a besetting loss of cultural memory--no one remember Coriantumr or marvelous translation or the testimony of the stone.

Now king Limhi had send, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla, but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness. Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been people yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been destroyed and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon, And they brought a record with them, even a record of the people whose bones they had found; and it was engraven on plates of ore. And now Limhi was again filled with joy [type=scene: a king brought records in an unknown language] on learning form the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engraving such engravings. yea, and Ammon also did rejoice [the rejoicing Ammon]

The expedition returns to Lehi-Nephi bearing both the 24 plates and the sad tale of the devastation of Zarahemla. (The found 24 plates calls to mind the lost 24 daughters of the Lamanites in the previous chapter; and the 43 searchers for Zarahemla.) Although, not long afterward Ammon arrives to announce that Zarahemla yet survives in the middle of America, surrounded by a world of pain, a dread question remains; Who were the victims of the land northward? What was the cause of their destruction. It is the anxiousness and fear of a small and time-worn race on the border of the wilderness that impels the asking of such a question. God himself provides the answer and it is a dire one. (See Alma 37; be careful what you ask, but also ask the right question).

And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters.

For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness, yea, work secret murders and abominations; therefore the Lord said, if they did not repent they should be destroyed from off the face of the earth.

And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying: I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.

And now, my son, we see that they did not repent; therefore they have been destroyed, and thus far the word of God has been fulfilled; yea, their secret abominations have been brought out of darkness and made known unto us.

. . . . (Draft Only)

.......but the cessation of history and the wreckage of an entire society on the dark side of the earth: America. Through Mosiah all readers become wonderful seers and discoverers of hidden knowledge Yet as the narrator points out repeatedly whole cultures have been demolished leaving only stones, bones, and plates, hard lifeless testimonies of dashed hopes and bon vivre. These alone are preserved that all people should learn a tale of iniquity, abomination, and total loss.

The glorious discovery of America is ever a record of genocide. And genocide is ever a record of the severity of the judgments in in other words the decisions of the Lord, which are just. To discover America is to be translated instantaneously as it were to the day of judgment, Every stage of Nephite history unravels another chapter in the judgment day of the Lord.

Another example of this discovers itself in the history of Ammonihah, built far from the main center of Zarahemla, by the borders of the land, in order to foster a sense of independence of thought, pride, and self-security. Ammonihah was lost in a single moment of pain, when

"every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness. But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness. Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering, And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation."

Ammonihah represents a mini-Desolation, a reminder in miniature that widespread destruction of the people in the north, is a constant in the American experience.


Moroni takes his Jaredite account from "the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the book of Ether," Coriantumr enters the scene, scion of ancient warrior kings, “having studied himself in all the arts of war,” “for there were many who rose up, who were mighty men, and sought to destroy Coriantumr by their secret plans of wickedness.” The sun trembles at the horizon, and sets in blood.

And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead. And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to be a prey to the worms of the flesh. And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the land, even upon all the face of the land; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by night, because of the scent thereof.

Was the war great and lasting or was it swift and speedy? It was as deep and as great as the very foundations of culture; it was swift to cut down even the most tender plants.

Troubled by day and by night, there came, finally, nights wherein men “were drunken with anger, even as a man is drunken with wine.” Then a dawn, by which “all had fallen by the sword,” except Corintumr and the Heraclean Shiz. But

Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little [the nine moon rest would come later], he smote off the head of Shiz. And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz. . . that Coriantumr fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life.

Silver, gold, iron, copper, and the luminous bones glittered in the dawn, as the heaps of earth fell back in shadow. The whole face of the land was covered with a shroud.

Discovery bespeaks a search for that which is lost or hidden.  The Book of Mormon employs various words and expressions to clarify the message of discovery: to discover, to find, to search, to bring to light, to reveal. The greatest explorers of the Book of Mormon are the men of light, the seers, for the most significant findings in Nephite history are those of ancient records like the twenty-four gold places and the Jaredite stele. The discovery of a physical object or land is but prelude to the great act of decipherment., the interpretation of the discovery of the ancient record. To interpret a record by the power of God is to discover deeply a people, to reveal them and to come to know them heart to heart. It is to rejoice and to drink of dark sorry. Seers, in this world, see what they would not, yet in sight there is joy. The records of lost cultures proved an indispensable man and a guide for the Nephites by which they could negotiate the new world in which they found themselves.

The finding of the record of the Jaredites comes at the most crucial point in Nephite history—they are split—then split again—even lost.
The reoot of the verb discover is cover. A cover is a barrier to knowledge, and a closing of a door, the end of history. Has covered the eyes of the seers.
The narratives speak of many coverings

And who thus have no lasting cover for their sin, and whose bones lay scattered on the open face of the land. That face wears a cruel and lonesome countenance, as if it were the reflection of the moon..