Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Why Is It There? Book of Abraham Facsimile 1 and the Opening Vignette of the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings

The Joseph Smith Book of Breathings opens with a vignette representing Osiris on a lion-couch.

The Book of Abraham opens with a vignette, in facsimile, representing Abraham upon an altar.

The vignette is one and the same--and it's been a delight to visit the Church History Library of late, where the vignette is on display.

(For a digitized copy, see: http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/egyptian-papyri/1.)

Both the Abraham narrative and an accompanying Explanation for Facsimile 1 set forth why the vignette opens the Patriarch's account. But what is the explanation for its appearance at the beginning of the Book of Breathings?


To look at the papyrus is a breathtaking thing: the figure on the altar stirring to life as he greets the manifestation of the reviving soul in the form of a descending falcon (see Klaus Baer, "The Book of Abraham Papyrus," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1968, 3/3, 118). And just to the right of the figure, following the priestly titles of a certain Hor of Thebes, we find, boldly writ, the blessing: "May his soul [his ba] live in their midst!" (see Michael Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary).

According to Professor Klaus Baer:

"Lines 1-5 give the titles, name, and parentage of the man for whose benefit the Breathing Permit was written:

. . . the prophet of Amonrasonter, prophet[?] of Min Bull-of-his-Mother [now read by Marc Coenen as Min-Who-Massacres-His-Enemies], prophet[?] of Khons the Governor. . . Hor, justified, son of the holder of the same titles, master of secrets, and purifier of the gods Osorwer, justified[?]. . . Tikhebyt, justified. May your ba live among them, and may you be buried in the West. . ." (Klaus Baer, "The Book of Abraham Papyrus," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1968, 3/3, 116-117).

Baer queries in a footnote to the words "among them": "Hor's parents?"

Somehow the expression embraces both parentage and the rich endowment of priestly offices and blessings therewith associated.

'nx b3.k m-hnw.w

May thy ba-soul live therein!

That is, "is the midst of these blessings and offices and authorities."

To see the scene in person, and all together, is to capture both words and vignette as a single whole. It is to grasp the point of the vignette as thematic title of the Breathings Text that follows. It strikes me like a bolt of lightning:

That his soul may live!

And is this not the very title of the book that follows such preliminaries?

The Book of Breathings made by Isis, so that her brother, Osiris, may live!

As Hugh Nibley tells us in One Eternal Round, that title bears astonishing likeness to the instructions revealed to Abraham for his wife Sarai, as they enter Egypt, words found both in Genesis 12:11-13 and in Book of Abraham 2:23-25:

And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me. . .see that ye do on this wise:

Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me--Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee (Abraham 2:23-25).

The story of Osiris and Isis and that of Abraham and Sarah thus come together on a single papyrus. They come together in the scene of the figure stirring at the appearance of his soul, at the moment in which his soul in truth may live.

Abraham's first rescue on the altar, after the manner of the Egyptians, only foreshadows the rescue, just as marvelous, at his first entrance into Egypt with Sarai: trial follows trial, deliverance after deliverance. And the opening vignette, as title-piece, patterns the whole. Deliverance does come, and as Hugh Nibley notes, the three vignettes of the Book of Abraham show the journey from altar to vision to throne. And as Hugh Nibley was at pains to show, in a lengthy volume of commentary, the Book of Breathings constitutes an Egyptian Endowment of Power. The deceased attains to the glory of the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Who is there that would not seek the blessings of Abraham? Who would not wish to win the glory of Abraham?

There is a likeness here to the glory of Osiris. There is a likeness to the glory sought by the Theban priesthood--and by the priest named Hor (after the son of Osiris).

May his soul live.

Count the times the word soul or living soul or spirit appears in the wee 14 page Book of Abraham--it's a surprising thing, this doctrine of the soul.

Since we've cited Hugh Nibley a couple of times, it's essential to recall several finely crafted pieces he wrote 50 years ago in which he argued that Egyptian vignettes need have nothing to do, or nothing much to do, with accompanying text--a very strange phenomenon. Everything he says is correct--with one exception: as we build on the totality of Professor Nibley's work, it becomes clear that the Book of Breathings vignette makes a fine title piece for the surrounding writing, both for the introductory sentences and for the Breathings text that follows.

"But it's referenced in the Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham!"

"Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some some distance from their associated commentary."

No matter. Things advance over half-a-century. And there certainly be other things in "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham" that will require modification by 2076. That's how it ought to be. Indeed, there are items in that thoughtful piece, both things Egyptian and things English, that ought to be modified today. Our times are so busy, late and soon: if we don't get to it, posterity will.

The Book of Abraham is not going anywhere--except to the billions of his posterity throughout the world. Billions will hold in their hands Abraham's witness of the Lord Jesus Christ--including his witness of the Plan encompassing both Creation and Resurrection.


And what of the notion of sacrifice, the priest who attempts "to offer up" the figure on the altar--if that's what's going on?

The introductory words also address the matter--for a single vignette can handle a variety of ideas and scenarios grasped by the Egyptian mind. Like poetry, these vignettes come packed.

Among the inherited priestly offices held by Horos (or Hor), says Marc Coenen, is the obscure Prophet of Min who massacres his enemies. Min, in this case, appears in the likeness of divine Horus, who avenges the death of his father, Osiris. A surprising bronze statue shows us how the Prophet of Min who massacres his enemies is to be represented, and the clothing matches that worn by the Anubis figure in our vignette.

(For references see http://valsederholm.blogspot.com/2011/12/what-hugh-nibley-meant_08.html.)

Min is, naturally, also Resheph-Min, Resheph being the corresponding Canaanite divinity. It is the priest of a god at once Egyptian and Canaanite, and at once Min, Resheph, and Horus, that come together in the office held by Horos, according to Professor Coenen. What Coenen does not notice is that the clothing of the Anubis figure on our vignette matches that found on the bronze statue of slaughtering Resheph-Min, who is "dressed in a short kilt, held up by two bands that cross over the breast and back."

When Marc Coenen's astonishing articles first appeared, articles which also transformed our understanding of the dating of the papyri and the genealogy of this particular priestly family, I wondered what Latter-day Saints would make of the idea of Min who massacres his enemies in light of our own Facsimile 1. Following on Coenen's work, BYU professor John Gee has not only noted the significance of this priestly office of Resheph-Min for Book of Abraham studies, but has further identified the office of Amonrasonter as part of a ceremonial complex of symbolic slaughter of the Enemy. Yet given the fragmented nature of our vignette--the fragment we have shows no knife--tying such offices with the vignette remains, perforce, a delicate matter. Yet there is the matter of the ritual clothing of the would-be knife-holding figure.

Nonetheless, if we take the vignette as bearing no relationship to the surrounding text, a misplacement--What a misplacement! The matter, as Brother Joseph might say, is as plain as a pikestaff!

Speaking of pikestaffs, it's worth noting how the later Egyptian word for the pole-axe that smites the Osirian Enemy and also for the corresponding verb of smiting itself are both djedi. That the word further alludes to the Osirian djed-pillar, the symbol of the resurrection of Osiris and the subsequent permanence of his dynasty is plain. What the irony expresses is that Osiris must violently die to live. No wonder the Egyptians sometimes (both apotropaically and in symbolic reversal of roles) call Osiris himself, the Enemy of Osiris. Who is the Enemy? We have met the enemy and it is us! Nibley would call this a game of substitution, the substitute sacrifice. And note, in Abraham's narrative it is tellingly the standing figure, the priest, who must die, while Osiris or Abraham is delivered from the gates of hell.

But how can the Egyptians represent avenging Min, the knife-wielding slaughterer of the Enemy, with the figure of Anubis, the mummifier? Aren't they distinct divinities playing far-different roles? That's what the handbooks say. . .

The role of Anubis is to prepare the body for the moment of resurrection. Hold on: Isn't it to prepare the body for burial? To transform the corpse into a perfect body--for that's what a "mummy" is meant to be--is to bring about its perfected state in resurrection. Mummification therefore spells triumph over Death as the Enemy. And even the act of violently opening the body for mummification becomes, then--and most ironically--the act of triumph over death. In every ceremonial performance associated with this god, even when he tears the Osirian corpse with sharpest claws, Anubis massacres the Enemy of Osiris. The act of tearing and cutting finds conceptual "reversal" as an act of binding, binding up, and healing. In like manner, for the Egyptians, "to wrap" (wt) is also--and always--to kill (mwt).

The Ancient Egyptians followed a multivalued logic, says Erik Hornung. Throw away Plutarch and handbooks and bookstore encyclopedias, and the idea that x=y and only y, because distinctions, roles, and correspondences get to be a very delicate matter. Consider the following lines from the New Kingdom Book of the Night: "You are the rebels that made a wrapping, made a wrapping Father Osiris. Accordingly, Father Osiris commanded that I [Horus Mekhenty Irty] should smite this your enemy" (The Book of the Night).


There is clearly a lot going on in these texts and vignettes--but it's clear that the vignette we call Facsimile 1 is exactly where it needs to be.

It's the title piece of the whole--and it both opens the narrative and shows its victorious culmination in eternity.

There is danger, there is death--but that his soul may live, his sister and wife comes to the rescue in the image of the descending falcon.

The scene, which also signals the union of Isis and Osiris, thus also teaches us that Osiris' soul shall continue to live through his royal posterity, even Horus, king of Egypt (Baer, 118-119). In like manner, Abraham writes for the benefit of his posterity who shall come. We recall that these scenes represent the mere opening of the Patriarch's career--the promise of posterity lies ahead: his son Isaac.


And how does the fragment we possess of the Book of Abraham end?

The presentation of Eve to Adam.

We go with Abraham and Osiris from altar to Throne.

Moving from vignette to vignette, we keep the story of the soul and of its eternal identity and worth. The doctrine thus also appears in hieroglyphs on the panels of the hypocephalus, Book of Abraham Facsimile 2: "Cause that his soul may live!"--an expression, if we evoke the setting of "the Holy Temple of God," wherein God's Plan is set forth, that Joseph Smith apparently considers beyond the willingness of "the world," that is, the worldly, to receive (see Explanation, figure 8). Look at the world's doers and shakers today. Which of them, in many lands and climes, might you consider a candidate for reflection on the eternal life of the soul? Many of them seem far too busy cheapening even the landscape of this life: accusation, invective "something too round," "hard speeches," and demeaning talk prevail. Isn't that simply what Joseph Smith had in mind here?

There may be more to it--but "that's more than we know," or "more than we should seek after" "at the present time," "for we know enough" to "hold to thy way."

The teaching also appears on the hypocephalus rim of the hypocephalus, as we follow the eternal round, the plan or pathway of the enlivened deceased from the tomb-shrine of the Celestial Iunu-Heliopolis, into the solar course, and thence on till he arrives at the final temple-shrine, the shrine of the prince, in the Celestial Heliopolis.

If you could hie to Heliopolis.

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