Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part I

Several papyri and eleven mummies were discovered near the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes by Antonio Lebolo between 1818 and 1822, and around 1830, he arranged to have them sold. The mummies were shipped to Lebolo's nephew, Michael Chandler, in New York, in 1833. He spent two years touring the eastern United States, displaying and selling most of the mummies. In July 1835, Chandler brought the remaining four mummies and associated papyri to Kirtland, Ohio.
The stone of black granite, bearing three inscriptions found at Rosetta, and is a fragmewnt of a larger stele. The stone weighs 1700 pounds and is 45" by 28.5" and 11" thick, and contains a decree passed by a council of priests in 196 B.C., affirming the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation. It was written in two languages, Egyptian and Greek, using three scripts (hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek), making its interpretation possible and opening the door to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphic writing for the first time since 400 A.D. 
Even though the Rosetta Stone had been deciphered by Jean-Francois Champollion in 1822, the ability to read Egyptian was not well developed until the 1850s. Chandler asked Joseph Smith to look at the scrolls and give some insight into what was written on them because of his notoriety and claim to have translated the plates of the Book of Mormon. After examining the scrolls, Joseph, Simeon Andrews  and Joseph Coe purchased the four mummies and at least five papyrus documents for $2,400.
With W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, Joseph translated some of the characters and hieroglyphics, and “much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt.” He also said that “a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them,” which was mostly translated in July and November of 1835, with some minor revisions in March 1842. Beginning October 1st of that year, Joseph had begun translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients, which  became known as the Kirtland Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar or the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Also that year, the complete work was published serially in the Times and Seasons, and later canonized by the Church in 1880 as part of the Pearl of Great Price.
One of the outstanding doctrinal tenets in Abraham’s writing was the concept of God organizing eternal, pre-existing elements to create the universe instead of creating it ex nihilo (out of nothing), which was, and still is, most of the world’s view of the Creation. The papyri were thought lost in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, but turned up in 1966 in several fragments found in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and in Church archives.
Critics of the Church and Egyptologists claim, upon examination of the papyri fragments, that the interpretation of the text bears no resemblance to the interpretation given by Joseph Smith, saying, in part, that Facsimile 1 is nothing more than common Egyptian funerary text, dating to about the first century B.C.
The Rosetta Stone was first discovered in 1799 during Napoleon's campaign in Egypt to protect French trading interests. When the war was lost to the English, the stone passed into British hands, and ended up in the New York Metropolitan Museum
However, if you examine the Book of Abraham, you will notice a rather peculiar circumstance for what some allege to be an Egyptian work—that is, Egyptian elements are both limited and casually used, and found almost solely in the facsimiles. Yet, you would expect to find such Egyptian ideas to permeate such a pagan document if it were “merely an Egyptian funerary.” Take, for instance, the bizarre names in the explanation of Facsimile 1.2—which, for the most part, are a recognizable form of Hebrew, though they may be Hebrew adaptations of Egyptian words, as in the case of "Pharaoh." Likewise, Kolob is undoubtedly a rendering of Hebrew terminology. When these mysterious words are viewed in light of their Jewish origins, their significance becomes apparent, as do other curious components of the Book of Abraham.
More importantly, the only true similarity between an Egyptian funery and Facsimile 1 is in the lounge chair used upon which Abraham, or a funery casket/ sarcophagus of the dead, are placed, as this image clearly shows:
In the tomb of Sennedjem, a respected artisan who worked on the tombs of the pharaohs, which was found completely intact in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in 1886, a brilliant mural in his burial chamber depicts the jackal-headed Anubis, Egyptian god of the dead, tending the casket of Sennedjem
Obviously, since we are dealing with two inert subjects, i.e., one is dead and too heavy to hold or prop up, and the other is alive, but being physically restrained, since the priest is in the act of killing him. Therefore, both subjects must be placed on something. In other Egyptian images, and in the one at the end of this post, is a mummified body laying on a bed, perhaps before Anubis comes to claim him. In this case, the subject is shown in life to the left holding the pharaoh icons of his power, and on the right the afterlife guide to show him into the afterworld. Again, the only similarity between Abraham’s sacrificial experience (facsimile 1) and that of a “common funerary,” is that the subject is laying on something.
For those critics who say the facsimile is not correct because Anibus is not the one depicted as the individual trying to take Abraham’s life, it should be noted that the original papyri was not a complete image, but had the shoulder and head missing, which Joseph Smith merely drew in a head to complete the image.
Top: The damaged and missing portion of the papyrus explains why the jackal-headed Anubis was absent from the Facsimile and in his place the otherwise unknown to historians priest of Elkenah was inserted by Joseph Smith; Bottom: Facsimile 1. While Anibus is god of the dead and part of a funerary, in Abraham’s drawing, a priest is shown, who would be involved with the living. There is no casket, no dead, and here the priest is in the act of a sacrifice (Abraham). The only comparison is the lounge upon which Abraham is resting
Since there is no written information as to how the ancient Egyptian priests performed, or how the ancients conducted, their human sacrifices, it is almost silly to think that someone is more concerned about a couch, a funery process of embalming and readying the dead for burial (or placement within the tomb), than to understand that Abraham was offered up for such a sacrifice by his own father, and the Egyptian priest of Pharoah, and that his rescue was at the hands of the Lord who preserved his life for the great purpose we now know and understand.
The kind of bedstead (framework of a bed) that was had among the Chaldeans. It is also the type of bedstead used for normal resting and evening sleeping. Such bedsteads were also used for other matters, such as the funery process as well as human sacrifices as Abrahem wrote about
It is always interesting how people continually question the workings of God and the promptings of the Spirit. For those who deny God, or at least do not accept his involvement in our daily lives, and those who have never felt the promptings of the Spirit working on them, it is understandable that they do not consider such in matters purported to be spirit-led; however, one might think that a person would realize that they do not know everything and that other people might well experience things that they have not. It is only the height of worldly arrogance that prompts people to think they know more than God, or deny God’s existence and, therefore, his involvement in our lives.
The fact is, the Book of Abraham is an inspired document of the ancient prophet’s knowledge and understanding, his experiences as a youth, and the teachings the Lord inspired him to understand and write down. The exact details of how the Spirit worked on Joseph to interpret the papyri is unknown, and ultimately, unimportant—what is important is that we have that information that is critically important in understanding some of the deeper doctrines of God and those tenets we now have that helps us better understand the Universe and God’s working upon it.
Top: the burial chamber at Kom el Shoqafa in Alexandria, Egypt. The most important scene on the front wall above the sarcophagus represents a mummy lying on a funerary bed; Bottom: An Egyptian image of the mythical embalming and resurrection of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, by his son Anubis, the jackal-headed god. Note that both are on a similar so-called funery couch

(See the next post, "The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part II," for more on the comparison of Abraham's  Facsimile 1 with the inaccurate interpretation of modern Egyptologists)

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