Friday, February 15, 2013

The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part III

Continuing from the last two posts, in which was discussed how Joseph Smith obtained the mummies and papyri that led to the Book of Abraham, we show and answer several criticisms that have been raised about his translation of the papyri.
Abraham’s sacrifice being overseen by an angel, depicted in the form of a bird, who steps in to save the future prophet; Right: Joseph translating the hieroglyphics and the scribe writing down what was said
Criticism: Transliterated text from the recovered papyri and facsimiles published in the Book of Abraham contain no direct references, either historical or textual, to Abraham. Rather, they parallel other texts from the Egyptian Book of the Dead as funery text, and Book of Breathings.
Response: First of all, both the Book of the Dead, and the Book of Breathings (also known as the snsn text, or a breathing permit), are Egyptian texts aimed at providing its owner with the knowledge, power, and transformation necessary to achieve a desired station in the afterlife, and such books were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. The Book of the Dead is a larger collection and more commonly used.
The text under study was originally owned by a man named Hor (Horus)—a priest from an influential Theban family—in the first or second century B.C., and is contained on three fragments of papyri designated as Joseph Smith as Papyri I, X, and XI, as well as on several small fragments glued next to other portions of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Recently, this Hor book has become known as the Book of Breathings Made by Isis, which is the exact term used by the ancients.
While Books of Breathings have received remarkably little academic attention, the Hor Book of Breathings has received an incongruent amount of scrutiny and translations because of its unique place in a modern-day religion. Since the modern discovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri, the text has been translated by Richard A. Parker, Klaus Baer, Hugh W. Nibley, Robert K. Ritner (twice), and Michael D. Rhodes. As Ritner noted, Baer’s work has served as a basis for all subsequent translations. Yet Baer himself affirmed that his translation was not a definitive edition but a preliminary study.
Four large rolls of papyri found in an Egyptian coffin during archaeologist George A. Reisner’s 1901-1904 dig at Naga ed-Deir near the Upper Nile Valley during the Hearst expedition, dating to 4000 years ago, older by 1000 years than anything previous uncovered. These are similar to the rolls of papyri that were part of those in the mummies of the Joseph Smith collection
As recently as the year 2000, Ritner wrote that a full formal edition of the text had not been published. Unfortunately, he declared this again in 2003, after an announcement of Rhodes's publication had been made in a national meeting and after the publication had actually appeared. The Hor Book of Breathings is incontestably a full formal publication of the text, executed with a precision and scope that rivals the formal edition of any ancient text. It is now the standard publication of these fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri.
In addition, as of 1998, there were twenty-nine extant examples of the Book of Breathings Made by Isis, of which the Joseph Smith papyri fragment is an example. Of those twenty-nine, eighteen have vignettes associated with them, according to Marc Coenen, and a comparison of the Book of Abraham facsimiles (of vignette, which is a short story that presents a scene or tableau, a “story picture”) with these other documents indicates that the Book of Abraham Facsimile No. 1 is unique in at least two ways: 1) it is the only version of a Book of Breathings Made by Isis, with this particular image, and 2) the position of the legs of the reclining figure, with one raised, is unique.
Finally, all this is significant because even minor differences in the images or content of the missing portions of the papyri could have an effect on interpretation of the images and text and accuracy of Joseph Smith's explanations.
There is no question, however, that different translations by experts in the field vary in content. As an example, the very first line from Book of Breathings Made by Isis, “ka mw.t=f “ was interpreted by Baer as bull of his mother,” but was first recognized by Jan Quaegebeur as “prophet of Min who massacres his enemies,” and also with Marc Coenen's: “Min who Massacres his Enemies." Thus, the full reading accepted today is, “priest of Amon-Re, king of the gods, priest of Min, who massacres his enemies.” The point is, even Egyptologists disagree with one another on their interpretations, as Klaus Baer did with Prof. Thausing, a professor of Egyptology at Vienna, claiming that "her views on Egyptian religion are not exactly in the mainstream of Egyptian thought." Thausing's views were used by Hugh Nibley in support of his interpretation of the Joseph Smith papyri.
Criticism: The papyri of Joseph Smith can reliably be dated to somewhere between 220 and 150 B.C. on the basis of the handwriting, the historical period in which the religious writings on these papyri were in use in Egypt and the historical references to at least one of the original owners of the papyri. They cannot possibly date to the period of Abraham, which was about 1600 to 1800 years earlier.
Response: The statement in the introduction to the book of Abraham, that it was “written by his own hand upon papyrus,” does not necessarily mean that the papyrus Joseph Smith was translating was the original written by Abraham. The term “by the hand of” can simply mean that Abraham is the author of the book. As an example, in Hebrew, the word beyad does not always mean “by the hand of,” but can mean “in the hand, possession, power of,” or “by the agency of.” The word can simply designate the agent of an action, generally rendered in English with the preposition by. So while the papyri Joseph Smith had were written almost two thousand years after Abraham, they nevertheless could have contained a copy of the writings of Abraham, of which Abraham was the author.
Criticism: Modern Egyptologists maintain that the facsimiles do not at all represent what Joseph Smith said they do. The original of Facsimile 1 of the book of Abraham is found at the beginning of the Hor Book of Breathings papyrus, and the hieroglyphic writing on it associates the figure on the couch (figure 1) with Hor, the owner of the papyrus, who is portrayed as being resurrected by the god Anubis, who stands over him. Above and to the right of Anubis, Hor's soul is represented as a human-headed falcon.
Response: As has been shown earlier, Egyptologists do not always agree with one another in their interpretations. Take, for instance, the bird, or falcon, in the upper right hand corner of Facsimile 1.
Left: Image on the papyrus, which some Egyptologists claims is a human-headed falcon which represents Hor’s soul; Right: Drawing in the Book of Abraham, claiming the image represents the Angel of the Lord
It is simply a matter of interpretation. However, the real answer lies in the fact that these “breathings” documents or texts found with mummies are those used for safe passage into the afterlife. What may have happened to the one found in the possession of the Hor mummy was that the maker (seller?), or Hor himself, took the older, original illustrations done by Abraham and modified and adapted them for use by Hor. Such duplication would not have been unknown, since the purpose of the document to its new owner, in this case Hor, would not have mattered—it was simply to assist the deceased in his passage into the afterlife.
In fact, the powers contained in the Breathing Permit, including mobility, sight, speech, hearing, and access to food offerings, are summarized in the term “snsn,” or “breathing,” which refers to the Egyptian expression “t·w n onh,” that is, “breath of life,” the fundamental characteristic that distinguishes the living. The title “so.t n snsn,” literally, “Document of (or ‘for’) Breathing” employs the term for an official document or letter (so.t), so that these “books” serve as formal “permits”—or perhaps more accurately “passports”—to the world of the gods. To be effective, they had to accompany the corpse, and the directions for using the texts declare explicitly that the document must be placed below the mummy’s crossed arms and wrapped within the bandages.
What Joseph Smith did in interpreting the facsimiles is similar to what he did with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible—he gave the original meaning of the Abraham illustrations, correcting the changes that had taken place over nearly two millennia, which also holds true for facsimile 2.
In addition, there are numerous examples of Egyptian papyri that have more than one text on them, and thus there could have been a copy of the book of Abraham on the same papyrus as the Hor Book of Breathings. All we have, and all that the Egyptologists who have translated the fragments had, is a small part of the original scrolls that broke off and were not sold by Combs to the museum which, ultimately, were evidently destroyed in the Chicago fire.
(See the next post, “The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part IV” for more of the criticisms about the Book of Abraham and our responses)

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