Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part V – The Sem Priest

Continuing from the last four posts regarding the Book of Abraham and Joseph Smith’s translation along with the facsimiles used, we now introduce the Sem Priest.
Facsimile 1 from the Book of Abraham. The priest standing over the form of Abraham is bald, and not wearing the jackal mask of Anubis
One of the many criticism levied against the Joseph Smith papyri and especially the Facsimile vignettes, is the fact that the priest standing over Abraham is bald and not wearing the ceremonial headdress of Anubis (vocalized Anapa), the jackal-headed god of the dead typically associated in his funery role with mummification and the afterlife in the ancient Egyptian religion. One of his main roles was to protect the deceased and their tombs.
It is interesting that almost all of this criticism about the priest in the Book of Abraham vignette has to do with him not being represented with the symbolic Anubis jackal mask. However, if we correctly understand the role this “god” played, or was assigned, in the Egyptian pantheon, we have to recognize he would not have been involved in any human sacrifice for his role was the embalmer, the protector of the deceased, and the escorter into the afterlife of the righteous dead. This would not have been the case in Facsimile 1, especially in the case of Abraham, whose sacrifice was one of punishment for speaking out against the act of human sacrifice (Abraham 1:7, 11) and the priests who conducted them.
Anubis, whose distinctive black skin represented the black soil of the Nile valley, symbolizing rebirth, had the responsibility, after the death of the individual, to lead the innocent on to a heavenly existence and abandoned the guilty to the funery goddess Ammit (Ammut), the soul-eater or devourer, depicted as parts lion, hippopotamus and crocodile—the three largest “man-eating” animals known to ancient Egyptians.
The Egyptian goddess Ammit (Ammut) depicted by the figure on the right, as a lion, crocodile and hippotomus, the devourer of souls; the other two figures are wearing the jackal mask as Anubis
So it can be seen that Anubis simply would not have been part of the human sacrifice of Abraham—though Ammit may well have. But the sacrifice was conducted by a priest—in this case, the High Priest or a bald-headed Sem. Consequently, the vignette, which has been so often criticized because Anubis was not the priest standing over Abraham, is shown to be accurate in that detail.
Thus, there are two things about this vignette priest to keep in mind: 1) If the fragment Joseph Smith had from which the drawing was made had been intact at the time of Joseph’s translating the papyri, then it is, without question, accurate; but 2) If the fragment had already been damaged or broken off and it was as we now see it when Joseph translated it, and he drew in the priest as a bald man, then we can add to this scenario that not only is it accurate, but that Joseph was indeed inspired to have drawn a bald-headed priest, a Sem, when no one would have known what that meant, or what that particular priest would have looked like.
Top Left: The original with pieces missing, specifically the head and shoulder of the Priest; Top Right: The Priest’s head and shoulder drawn in as well as the head of the bird and a sliver on the bottom; Bottom: As it appears in the printed Book of Abraham
It is also helpful to know that the purpose of religion in ancient Egypt was to explain the mysteries of the universe, and act as a social glue for the people. The “priesthood” helped preserve old traditions that underpinned Egyptian culture, and its hierarchy helped keep order within society. In this Egyptian structure, the Sem-priest, or High Priest, was at the top of the order and called “The First Prophet of the God.” As such, he certainly would have been involved in punishing those who set about to disrupt or overthrow the Old Order, which Abraham most certainly was attempting to do, as the three virgins he mentioned put to death before him.
We also need to look at the original drawing (above) where the missing pieces have been drawn in. Note the material crossing over the shoulder of the priest. It is depicted with dots on it, which is similar to the drawing below from Neferhotep’s tomb, showing a leopard (panther) skin, which was also symbolic of the Sem (High Priest), and in the vignettes (easiest seen in the Book of Abraham reproduction), the priest is wearing a sash around his waist, which is also symbolic of the Sem. So we have three things in the Book of Abraham Facsimile 1 that are accurate down to the last detail about the priest standing over Abraham: 1) He is bald as the Sem priest in the Neferhotep tomb drawing; 2) He is wearing a leopard skin over his shoulder symbolizing a Sem, and 3) He is wearing the Sem sash.
Who would have known in 1830s that a bald-headed priest was the Sem—the High Priest, and that he wore a leopard skin over his shoulder, and had a ceremonial sash about his waist? Certainly not Joseph Smith, not even those who claimed to be knowledgeable of Egyptian hieroglyphics of his day—and after; not even many modern Egyptologists who claim the priest in Facsimile 1 is wrong because the Priest is not wearing an Anubis mask; yet in the vignettes below taken from Egyptian tombs, the bald-headed High Priest, or Sem, is clearly shown.
The Bald Sem-Priests: Top Left: The description of this scene from the tomb of Neferhotep says "the bald-headed priest with the panther-skin is the Sem (the high priest); the priest holding the mummy is dressed as Anubis." Adolf Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt, pp. 320f. Nina M. Davie's article, "Some Representations of Tombs From the Theban Necropolis; Top Right: A Sem Priest as a “shaman-like magician,” from the tomb of Nefer-Ronpet, Valley of the Nobles; Bottom Left: A Sem Priest with a narrow band over his shoulder in Turin, Egyptian Museum; Bottom Center: Sem Priest during libations, tomb of Nefer-Ronpet; Bottom Right: Sem Priest Offering incense, tomb of Naktamun. As can be clearly seen, all are bald-headed and wear no god-style mask
For the priests in Egypt, there was no “ordination to the priesthood,” though some purification rituals for initiation, ablutions and baths as well as other living requirements, like the shaving of the head, which the Abraham vignette correctly shows, were undertaken.
The hierarchy of priests consisted of a milieu of offices and duties. At the top of the hierarchy of priests was the high-priest, also known as the sem-priest. Not only did he serve as political advisor to the pharaoh, but he was also a political leader for the temples to which he belonged, and was in charge of over-seeing magical rites and ceremonies as well as advising the pharaoh. Maintaining a fairly ceremonial position, the many high-priests were often chosen by the pharaoh as an advisor, however, it was not uncommon for a high-priest to have climbed through the ranks to his official status.
Below the high-priest were a number of other priests with many specialized duties. The specialization of these second tier priests ran from "horology" (keeping an accurate count of the hours through the days, extremely important during the time of the sun worshippers, but also for agricultural reasons as well), "astrology" (extremely important as well to the mythology, architectural and calendrical systems) to healing. In addition to the political administration, the priests and priestesses took on both economic and magical functions (Exodus 7:11-12)
Aaron’s staff/snake devours the Pharaoh’s magicians’ staff/snakes in a show of God’s power over that of the Egyptian king
Another level of Egyptian priests were the lay magicians who supplied ther commoners an understanding of Egyptian religion and were the last and final caste of the Egyptian priesthood belonged to a large temple known simply as "The House of Life,” but were by no means less important, as is evidenced by the presence of many magical wands, papyri text, and other archeological evidence excavated from The House of Life temple.
(See the next post, “The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part VI – Ur of the Chaldees,” for more information on Abraham’s home and his nearly being sacrificed to Elkenah)

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