The Book of Abraham

Posted by: Andee / Category: ,

When I first began my PostMormon journey, I was struck by some things I learned about the Book of Abraham (BoA). According to Joseph Smith, it is a translation of some ancient records, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written on his own hand upon papyrus.

According to Wikipedia, the BoA was originally published in the Latter-Day Saint movement newspaper Times and Seasons, together with facsimiles of vignettes from the papyrus and Smith’s explanations of them. It was later republished in England as part of the Pearl of Great Price and is presently considered scripture for the Mormon Faith. I would like to take a closer look at the BoA, how it became scripture, and what present-day scientists and Egyptologists say about the Book of Abraham and Joseph’s translation of the papyri.

In July of 1835, Michael Chandler, an Irishman, was traveling through Kirtland, Ohio with an exhibition of four Egyptian mummies and papyri. Prophet and seer Joseph Smith was given permission to look at the papyri scrolls in the exhibit, and he pronounced a marvelous discovery.

“…with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commence the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. - a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth." (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 236).”
Joseph Smith set about translating the papyri and again, according to Wiki: “Joseph Smith translated the majority of the Book of Abraham text in July and a few days in November of 1835 and did some minor revisions in March of 1842. In addition, he began "...translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients."

Lets take a look at the different facsimiles as translated by Joseph Smith, and then by Egyptologists.

Joseph’s Interpretation of Facsimile 1

Fig. 1. The Angel of the Lord.
Fig. 2. Abraham fastened upon an altar.
Fig. 3. The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice.
Fig. 4. The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh.
Fig. 5. The idolatrous god of Elkenah.
Fig. 6. The idolatrous god of Libnah.
Fig. 7. The idolatrous god of Mahmackrah.
Fig. 8. The idolatrous god of Korash.
Fig. 9. The idolatrous god of Pharaoh.
Fig. 10. Abraham in Egypt.
Fig. 11. Designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians.
Fig. 12. Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament over our heads; but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens, answering to the Hebrew word, Shaumahyeem.

Egyptologist’s Interpretation of Facsimile 1

Richard A. Parker, Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and Chairman of the Department of Egyptology at Brown University:
"This is a well-known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with Anubis, the jackal-headed god, on the left ministering to the dead Osiris on the bier. The penciled restoration is incorrect. Anubis should be jackal-headed. The left arm of Osiris is in reality lying at his side under him. The apparent upper hand is part of the wing of a second bird which is hovering over the erect phallus of Osiris (now broken away). The second bird is Isis and she is magically impregnated by the dead Osiris and then later gives birth to Horus who avenges his father and takes over his inheritance. The complete bird represents Nephthys, sister to Osiris and Isis. Beneath the bier are the four canopic jars with heads representive of the four sons of Horus, human-headed Imseti, baboon-headed Hapy, jackal-headed Duamutef and falcon-headed Kebehsenuf. The hieroglyphs refer to burial, etc. ...."

Klaus Baer, Associate Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Insitiute:

"The vignette on P. JS I is unusual, but parallels exist on the walls of the Ptolemaic temple of Egypt, the closest being the scenes in the Osiris chapels on the roof of the Temple of Dendera. The vignette shows the resurrection of Osiris (who is also the deceased owner of the papyrus) and the conception of Horus. Osiris (2) is represented as a man on a lion-couch (4) attended by Anubis (3), the jackal-headed god who embalmed the dead and thereby assured their resurrection and existence in the hereafter. Below the couch are the canopic jars for the embalmed internal organs. The lids are the four sons of Horus, from the left to right Imset (8), Hapi (7), Qebeh-senuwef (6), and Duwa-mutef (5), who protect the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach, respectively. At the head of the couch is a small offering stand (10) with a jug and some flowers on it and two larger vases on the ground beside it. The ba of Osiris (1) is hovering above his head.

The versions of Osiris myth differ in telling how Seth disposed of Osiris after murdering him, but he was commonly believed to have cut Osiris into small pieces, which he scattered into the Nile, leaving Isis the task of fishing out and assembling the parts of her brother and husband so that he could be resurrected and beget Horus. In this she was helped by Horus in the shape of a crocodile, who is represented in the water (the zigzags) below the vignette (9). Below that is a decorative pattern derived from the niched facade of a protohistoric Egyptian palace.

There are some problems about restoring the missing parts of the body of Osiris. He was almost certainly represented as ithuphallic, ready to beget Horus, as in many of the other scenes at Dendera. I know of no representations of Osiris on a couch with both hands in front of his face. One would expect only one hand in front of his face, while the other was either shown below the body (impossible in P. JS I) or grasping the phallus. It the latter case it would be hard to avoid the suggestion of Professor Richard A. Parker that what looks like the upper hand of Osiris is actually the wingtip of a representation of Isis as a falcon hovering in the act of copulation."

Joseph’s Interpretation of Facsimile 2

Fig. 1. Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which is called by the Egyptians Jah-oh-eh.
Fig. 2. Stands next to Kolob, called by the Egyptians Oliblish, which is the next grand governing creation near to the celestial or the place where God resides; holding the key of power also, pertaining to other planets; as revealed from God to Abraham, as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he had built unto the Lord.
Fig. 3. Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.
Fig. 4. Answers to the Hebrew word Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament of the heavens; also a numerical figure, in Egyptian signifying one thousand; answering to the measuring of the time of Oliblish, which is equal with Kolob in its revolution and in its measuring of time.
Fig. 5. Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.
Fig. 6. Represents this earth in its four quarters.
Fig. 7. Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.
Fig. 8. Contains writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.
Fig. 9. Ought not to be revealed at the present time.
Fig. 10. Also.
Fig. 11. Also. If the world can find out these numbers, so let it be. Amen.
Figures 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 will be given in the own due time of the Lord.

Egyptologist’s Interpretation of Facsimile 2

The facsimile no. 2 is a copy of a hypocephalus, an Egyptian funerary amulet that is placed under the head of the deceased. Its purpose was to keep the head warm.

Sir Wallis Budge, a world renowned Egyptologist, remarked that Joseph Smith's translation of the hypocephalus had "... no archeological value." (The Mummy, A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archeology, by E.A. Wallis Budge, 1989, [first published in 1893], by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, pg. 477.

Facsimile No. 2 has obviously been altered from the original. Missing portions of the facsimile were copied from other pieces of the papyri Joseph Smith had purchased in 1835. The central figure labeled (1) by Joseph Smith appears to have been copied from figure 2 of the same facsimile. Normally the a four headed Amen-Re appears in this location. Furthermore, figure 3 is an almost exact copy from the Joseph Smith Papyri IV. Also, portions of the outer circle of the facsimile appear to have been copied from the Sensen text of the Joseph Smith papyri XI. The Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar clearly shows these missing portions. Also, the Sensen (Book of Breathings) text lines up with the border of facsimile no. 2.

Again, Joseph didn’t get it right. It’s an ancient funerary text, and it certainly has nothing to do with Kolob the planet. Also, Smith mentions that Fig. 7 is supposedly God sitting on his throne. Egyptologists deny this as well. The figure depicted is actually the God “Min” who is a sexually aroused male deity. In some of the earlier editions of the Book of Adam the Church erased the aroused manhood so it wouldn’t look pornographic. It has since been restored in our current versions.

Joseph’s Interpretation of Facsimile 3
Fig. 1. Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand.
Fig. 2. King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.
Fig. 3. Signifies Abraham in Egypt as given also in Figure 10 of facsimile no. 1.
Fig. 4. Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand.
Fig. 5. Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.
Fig. 6. Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince.

Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king’s court.

Egyptologist’s Interpretation of Facsimile 3

Here is a direct quote from Egyptologist Klaus Baer from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, pp. 126-127:
Facsimile No. 3 shows a man (5) his hand raised in adoration and a cone of perfumed grease and a lotus flower on his head (ancient Egyptian festival attire), being introduced by Maat (4), the goddess of justice, and Anubis (6), the guide of the dead, into the presence of Osiris (1), enthroned as king of the Netherworld. Behind Osiris stands Isis (2), and in front of him is an offering-stand (3) with a jug and some flowers on it. Over the whole scene is a canopy with stars painted on it to represent the sky.

The scene comes from a mortuary papyrus and is similar to, but not identical with the scenes showing judgement of the deceased before Osiris such as P. JS III. It is a summary in one illustration of what the Breathing Permit promised: The deceased, after successfully undergoing judgement is welcomed into the presence of Osiris.

The texts, poorly copied as they are, carry us one step further. As far as it can be made out, the line of hieroglyphics below the scene reads.
'O Gods of ..., gods of Caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant well-being to Osiris Hor, justified, ...'

The characters above and to the left of the man are probably to be read: 'Osiris Hor, justified forever.' Even though Hor is a relatively common name in Greco-Roman Egypt, this does suggest 'Facsimile No. 3' reproduces part of the same manuscript that 'Facsimile No. 2' does. Hor's copy of the Breathing Permit would then have had two vignettes, one at the beginning and another ('Facsimile No. 3) at the end, an arrangement that is found in other copies of the same text."

Joseph Smith wasn’t even close. Again, how could a prophet of God get this wrong? Finally, here are some videos on YouTube about the BoA. Check 'em out. The last video is almost an hour long, but well worth watching.