Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife)/Chapter 19


Response to "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 19 - Facsimile #3

A FAIR Analysis of: For my Wife and Children (Letter to my Wife), a work by author: Anonymous
Chart LTMW facsimile 3-2.png

Response to claims made in "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife"): Chapter 19 - Facsimile #3

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Response to claim: "In the Book of Abraham, Joseph interprets Facsimile #3 as Abraham sitting on Pharaoh’s throne teaching the court the principles of astronomy"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

In the Book of Abraham, Joseph interprets Facsimile #3 as Abraham sitting on Pharaoh’s throne teaching the court the principles of astronomy.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The concept that Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy is found the writings of Josephus and in Pseudo-Eupolemus. Clark notes that "the book's last facsimile (no. 3) depicts Pharaoh-who traditionally claimed exclusive possession of priesthood and kingship (Abr. 1:25-27)-honoring Abraham's priesthood by allowing him to occupy the throne and instruct the court in astronomy (cf. Pseudo-Eupolemus; Josephus, Antiquities 1.viii.2)".[1]

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Question: Are there any known parallels between elements of Joseph's interpretation of Facsimile 3 with other ancient texts?

Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne (Fig 1)

Pearl of Great Price Central, Insight #35: Abraham and Osiris

See above for ancient traditions discussing this aspect of Abraham. Also, see above under Facsimile 1 for evidences of Semitic adaptation of Osiris to be Abraham.

Hugh Nibley:

But who would sit on Pharaoh’s own throne while he was alive and standing by? “No Pharaoh of Egypt,” cried one of Joseph Smith’s learned critics, “would have resigned his throne, even temporarily, to Abraham or any other person—hence . . . this would be an ‘impossible occurrence.'”[2] But it has since been shown that there was ample precedent in Egypt for just such an event. It goes back to the very ancient title of “Rpʿt on the Throne of Geb,” Geb the earth-god representing the principle of royal patriarchal succession here below. As Helck has unraveled it, we may begin with the Sed festival, marking the end of one reign and the beginning of another in a single rite: The old king is dead on the scene—it is his funeral—but his successor has not yet ascended the throne, which is therefore still his. Because of his condition, however, somebody must act for the late king until the new one takes over, and that one is the Rpʿt, originally the son himself “in his expectation of the throne,” in his role of Horus and therefore “like his father a descendant of Geb.”[3] Following the example of the Sed rites, the prince could represent his father on various missions, bearing the title “for specific assignments as substitute (Stellvertreter) for the king, authorized to give commands” in his name, and called the Son of Geb to proclaim his legitimate station.[4] With the growing business of the empire the king would need more substitutes than one, and at a very early time important court officials not of royal blood were detailed to represent royalty on various missions and given the title in a “truly patriarchal” spirit to show they were acting for the king and as the king.[5] The great Imhotep, a man of genius but for all that a commoner, held the title of Rpʿt on the Throne of Geb in the Third Dynasty;[6] that other wise man, Amenophis son of Hapu, boasts that he played “rpʿt in the drama of the Sed festival,”[7] even as the official Ikhernofret had the honor of being the king’s understudy in playing the role of Horus.[8]

With a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgement in his hand. (Fig 1)

See above for ancient traditions discussing Abraham holding the priesthood.

Hugh Nibley:

In most compositions resembling Facsimile 3, the seated majesty wears the same crown as is worn by figure 1. Sometimes the person on the throne and the one being presented to him both wear it.[9] Both the whiteness and the feathers are symbolic of the heavenly light that burst upon the world at the coronation,[10] the “luminous” quality of the one who mounts the throne.[11] The two feathers are both the well-known Maat feathers, “feathers of truth,” and Shu feathers, symbolic of the light that passes between the worlds.[12]Osiris “causes brilliance to stream forth through the two feathers,” says the famous Amon-Mose hymn, “like the Sun’s disk every morning. His White Crown parted the heavens and joined the sisterhood of the stars. He is the leader of the gods . . . who commands the Great Council [in heaven], and whom the Lesser Council loves.”[13] What clearer description could one ask than Joseph Smith’s designation of the crown “as emblematical of the grand Presidency in heaven”? He tells us also that this crown is “representing the priesthood.” The “most conspicuous attribute” of the godhead, according to Jaroslav Černý, was power;[14]the Egyptians, wrote Georges Posener, “did not worship a man” in the Pharaoh, “but ‘the power clothed in human form.'”[15] One shared in the power, Siegfried Morenz explains, by achieving “the maximal approach of the individual to the ‘divine nature,’ symbolized by his wearing an atef crown.”[16]The atef is the crown in our Facsimile 3, and anyone in a state of sanctification could wear it, but it emphasized, according to Morenz, a sacral rather than a kingly capacity, i.e., it “represented the priesthood” of the wearer.[17]

With the crown go the crook and flail, the receiving of which was a necessary part of the transmission of divine authority. Percy E. Newberry, in a special study, concluded that both crook and flail are “connected with the shepherd,” the former “the outward and visible sign of . . . authority,” marking the one who bore it as “chief shepherd”; by it “he rules and guides . . . and defends” his flock.[18] The flail was a contraption shepherds used to gather laudanum, according to Newberry’s explanation (which, however, has met with no enthusiastic acceptance by other scholars). Ancient sources tell us what it signified, as when the official who bears it at the archaic festival of Sokar is described as “drawing the people of Tameri [the Beloved Land, Egypt] to your lord under the flail,” suggesting the cattle driver, as does the prodding and protecting crook of the shepherd.[19] And like the crook, the whip also serves to protect the flocks: “Men and animals and gods praise thy power that created them,” says Anchesneferibre addressing Osiris, “there is made for thee a flail [nkhakha], placed in thy hands as protection.”[20] As symbolic of the power that created, it is held aloft by the prehistoric Min of Coptos, being the whip of light or of power, bestirring all things to life and action.[21]

In their administrative and disciplinary capacities both crook and scourge are indeed symbolic of Pharaoh’s “justice and judgment.” But in the hands of a commoner? Wolfhart Westendorf calls attention to “claims to royal prerogatives” found in the “tombs of the monarchs and dignitaries, who took over the whip, crook, scepter, and other elements of the king’s garb, in order to be completely equipped in death with all the attributes of Osiris.”[22] Gardiner claimed that those who appear in the trappings of our figure 1 were imitating not Osiris but the living king.[23] But it is all the same: The man on the throne holding “the sceptre of justice and judgment in his hand” is not necessarily either the king or Osiris, though he aspires to both priesthood and kingship. A scene from the Temple of Karnak shows Amon on the throne handing his crook and whip to the living king, who kneels before him; but the king already holds his own crook and flail (fig. 76), while Chonsu standing behind the throne in the garb of Osiris also holds the crook and flail.[24] The freedom with which the sacred symbols could be thus handed around shows that Abraham would not have to grasp Pharaoh’s own personal badges of office, but like many another merely be represented with the universal emblems to indicate the king recognized his supreme priesthood, as the Abraham legends recount.[25][26]

King Pharaoh... (Fig 2) Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt... (Fig 4)

Pearl of Great Price Central, Insight #36: Isis the Pharaoh (Facsimile 3, Figure 2)

Hugh Nibley:

Anyone wishing to demolish Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Facsimile 3 with the greatest economy of effort need look no further than his designating as “King Pharaoh” and “Prince of Pharaoh” two figures so obviously female that a three-year-old child will not hesitate to identify them as such. Why then have Egyptologists not simply pointed to this ultimate absurdity and dismissed the case? Can it be that there is something peculiarly Egyptian about this strange waywardness that represents human beings as gods and men as women? We have already hinted at such a possibility in the case of Imhotep in which, to carry things further, we see both his wife and mother dressed up as goddesses, the latter as Hathor herself (fig. 70).[27] Even more surprising, Dietrich Wildung notes an instance in which “we can identify Anat [the Canaanites’ version of Hathor] as ʾAnat of Ramses [the king] himself in the shape of a goddess” (fig. 71).[28] There you have it—the Lady Hathor, who is figure 2 in Facsimile 3, may be none other than Pharaoh himself. The two ladies in the Facsimile, figures 2 and 4, will be readily identified by any novice as the goddesses Hathor and Maat. They seem indispensable to scenes having to do with the transmission of power and authority. The spectacle of men, kings, and princes at that, dressed as women, calls for a brief notice on the fundamental issue peculiar to the Egyptians and the Book of Abraham, namely, the tension between the claims of patriarchal vs. matriarchal succession.

[. . .]

Since Hathor installs the king “as guarantor of the world order,” it is not surprising that she is also identified with Maat (our figure 4 in Facsimile 3) at the coronation, hailed as “Hathor the Great, the Lady of Heaven, the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses, Maat herself, the female son [sic] . . . Maat who brings order to the world at the head of the Sun-bark, even ‘Isis the Great,’ the Mother of the Gods."[29] In the prehistoric shrine of Cusae “Maat was like the double [Ka] of Hathor”;[30] the two always operate together at coronations: “Maat is before him and is not far from his majesty. . . . Hathor the Great One is with him in his chapel.”[31]To signify his own wholeness of heart, the king presents the Maat-image to Hathor.[32] Maat (the female son) is the younger of the two—indeed, who is not younger than the primordial mother? While “Isis the divine mother” says at the coronation, “I place my son on the throne,” the younger goddess standing by as Nephthys “the Divine Sister” says, “I protect thy body my brother Osiris.”[33]Here the two ladies as Isis the venerable and Nephthys the maiden appear as mother and daughter,[34] standing in the same relationship to each other as “Pharaoh” and “Prince of Pharaoh,” whom they embody in Facsimile 3 (figures 2 and 4 respectively).

[. . .]

All this switching of sexes is understandable, if unsettling, in a symbolic sense—after all, Job says of the righteous man, “his breasts are full of milk” (Job 21:24). But Facsimile 3 is supposed to be an actual scene in the palace; would the family-night charades go so far? Granted that a bisexual nature was the rule for Egyptian divinities, who could freely change their outward appearance to match special functions,[35] still in a purportedly historical scene in which men are represented as women we need something more specific. To begin with, Hathor and Maat were always known for the masks that represent them, these masks being regularly worn by men. The horned Hathor mask, originally life-sized, was carried hanging around the neck of the officials and was gradually reduced in size for convenience, though even in the later period it is still quite large—plainly meant to be worn originally as a mask (fig. 73).[36] In the Old Kingdom, the son of Cheops wore the Hathor mask in his office of Intendant of the Palace, and other high officials wore it too; in the Middle Kingdom it was still the mark of men serving the king’s most intimate needs as his personal attendants.[37] The Egyptian chief judge, as he mounted the bench to represent the king, would suspend a large Hathor mask from his neck to signify that the court was formally in session, just as lawyers and judges in England submerge their personal identities in wigs and robes.[38] This Hathor mask seems to have been at all times interchangeable with the Maat-symbol, usually a huge greenstone feather that is sometimes shown in ritual scenes taking the place of the Lady’s face and head. The symbols are so freely applied that Budge identified the “cow-headed goddess” in the presentation scene of the Kerasher Papyrus, which is very closely related to our Facsimile 3, as “either Isis-Hathor or Maat” (fig. 74).[39]

The wearing of these two amulets or masks means complete identification: “Maat places herself as an amulet at thy neck [fig. 75A]; . . . thy right eye is Maat, thy left eye is Maat, thy flesh is Maat, . . . and thy members; . . . thy bandelette is Maat, thy garment . . . is Maat.”[40] The reference here is specifically to clothing; plainly the new king, the young one, is all dressed up as Maat—”she embodies him in her person in spite of sex.”[41] So let no one be shocked by figure 4. She is “the female Horus, the youthful, . . . Isis, the great, the mother of God, born in Dendera on the eve of the child in its cradle (the New Year).”[42] That is, she is not Pharaoh, but the “Prince of Pharaoh,” the new king. On the other hand, from a Pyramid Text it is clear that the king wore not only the horned headdress of the royal mother Hathor, but her complete outfit as well—combined with the Maat feathers: “His royal robe is upon him as Hathor, while his feather is a falcon’s feather,”[43] signifying both Horus (the falcon) and Maat as his “double.”[44]

Signifies Abraham in Egypt as given also in Figure 10 of Facsimile No. 1 (Figure 3)

Foreigners in Egypt, like Abraham was, are often represented by a Lotus Flower (sometimes referred to alternatively as a water lily), the figure depicted here, as argued by Dr. Hugh Nibley. Nibley cites Waltraud Guglielmi, a non-LDS Egyptologist, to support his assertion specifically referencing divine and human visitors in Egypt.

The lotus, perhaps the richest of all Egyptian symbols, can stand for the purest abstraction, as when it indicates nothing but a date in one tomb or a place in another.[45] In Facsimile 3 we are told that it points to two things, a man and a country, indicating the special guest-to-host relationship between them. Most of the time the lotus announces a party situation, adding brightness to the occasion; etiquette required guests to a formal party to bring a lotus offering to the host--hence the flower served as a token both of invitation and admission.[46] [E.A. Wallis Budge] observed how in the Kerasher Manuscript, in which the person being presented wears exactly the same peculiar lotus headdress as our Shulem (figure 5), "instead of the bullock-skin dripping with blood, which is generally seen suspended near the throne of the god, masses of lotus flowers are represented, giving a totally different aspect to the scene.[47] Yet, while the lotuses "seem to have figured prominently" in formal occasions, according to Aylward Blackman, we still do not understand the flower offerings, any more than we do the combination of lotus stands and small libation vessels such as our figure 3.[48] It would now seem that these tall and narrow Egyptian ritual stands originated in Canaan.[49]

[. . .]

The lotus is definitely a welcome to Egypt from the king to human and divine visitors; the divinity who received the token reciprocated by responding to the king "I give thee all the lands of thy majesty, the foreign lands to become they slaves. I give thee the birds, symbols of thine enemies."[50] In receiving a lotus, the king in return ritually receives the land itself, while the god in accepting a lotus from the king promises him in return the reverent obedience of his subjects.[51] "The flowers are mostly heraldic plants . . . associated with the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt," for in some the main purpose of the lotus rites is to "uphold the dominion of the King" as nourisher of the land.[52] Moreover, its significance is valid at every level of society, the lotus being a preeminent example of how mythological themes and religious symbolism were familiarly integrated into the everyday life of the Egyptians.[53]

[. . .]

The numerous studies of the Egyptian lotus design are remarkably devoid of conflict, since this is one case in which nobody insists on a single definitive interpretation. The points emphasized are (1) The abstract nature of the symbol, containing meanings that are far from obvious at first glance (2) the lotus as denoting high society, especially royal receptions, at which the presentation of a lotus to the host was obligatory [. . .]; to be remiss in lotus courtesy was an unpardonable blunder, for anyone who refuses the lotus is under a curse, (3) the lotus as the symbol of Lower Egypt, the Delta with all its patriotic and sentimental attachments ; (4) the lotus as Nefertem, the defender of the border; (5) the lotus as the king or rule, defender, and nourisher of the land; (6) the lotus as the support of the throne at the coronation. It is a token of welcome and invitation to the royal court and the land, proffered by the king himself as guardian of the border.[54]

Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters (Fig 5)

Pearl of Great Price Central, Insight #8: Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters

Pearl of Great Price Central:

Figure 5 in Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham is identified as “Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters.” We don’t know anything more about the man Shulem beyond this brief description as he does not appear in the text of the Book of Abraham. Presumably, if we had more of the story, we would know more about how he fit in the overall Abrahamic narrative.

However, there are some things we can say about Shulem and his title “the king’s principal waiter.”

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters"

John Gee,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (2016)
Shulem is mentioned once in the Book of Abraham. All we are told about him is his name and title. Using onomastics, the study of names, and the study of titles, we can find out more about Shulem than would at first appear. The form of Shulem’s name is attested only at two times: the time period of Abraham and the time period of the Joseph Smith papyri. (Shulem thus constitutes a Book of Abraham bullseye.) If Joseph Smith had gotten the name from his environment, the name would have been Shillem.

Click here to view the complete article

Hugh Nibley:

But where does Abraham come in? What gives a "family-night" aspect to our Facsimile 3 is figure 5, who commands the center of the stage. Instead of his being Abraham or Pharaoh, as we might expect, he is simply "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters." To the eye of common sense, all of Joseph Smith's interpretations are enigmatic; to illustrate his story best, the man on the throne should be Pharaoh, of course, and the man standing before him with upraised hand would obviously be Abraham teaching him about the stars, while figure 6 would necessarily be Abraham's servant (Eliezer was, according to tradition, a black man).[55]But if we consult the Egyptian parallels to this scene instead of our own wit and experience, we learn that the person normally standing in the position of 5 is the owner of the stele and is almost always some important servant in the palace, boasting in the biographical inscription of his glorious proximity to the king. Hall's collection of biographical stelae includes a Chief of Bowmen, Singer of Amon, Chief Builder, Scribe of the Temple, Chief Workman of Amon, Fan Bearer, King's Messenger, Guardian of the Treasury, Director of Works, King's Chief Charioteer, Standard Bearer, Pharaoh's Chief Boatman, Intendant of Pharaoh's Boat-crew, Warden of the Harim, the Queen's Chief Cook, Chief of Palace Security, etc.[56] All these men, by no means of royal blood, but familiars of the palace, have the honor of serving the king in intimate family situations and are seen coming before him to pay their respects at family gatherings. Some of them, like the King's Chief Charioteer, have good Syrian and Canaanite names, like our "Shulem"—how naturally he fits into the picture as "one of the King's principal waiters!" The fact that high serving posts that brought one into close personal contact with Pharaoh—the greatest blessing that life had to offer to an Egyptian—were held by men of alien (Canaanite) blood shows that the doors of opportunity at the court were open even to foreigners like Abraham and his descendants. But why "Shulem"? He plays no part in the story. His name never appears elsewhere; he simply pops up and then disappears. And yet he is the center of attention in Facsimile 3! That is just the point: These palace servants would in their biographical stelae glorify the moment of their greatest splendor for the edification of their posterity forever after. This would be one sure means of guaranteeing a preservation of Abraham's story in Egypt. We are told in the book of Jubilees that Joseph in Egypt remembered how his father Jacob used to read the words of Abraham to the family circle.[57]We also know that the Egyptians in their histories made fullest use of all sources available—especially the material on the autobiographical stelae served to enlighten and instruct posterity.[58] Facsimile 3 may well be a copy on papyrus of the funeral stele of one Shulem who memorialized an occasion when he was introduced to an illustrious fellow Canaanite in the palace. A "principal waiter" (wdpw) could be a very high official indeed, something like an Intendant of the Palace. Shulem is the useful transmitter and timely witness who confirms for us the story of Abraham at court.[59]

Abraham reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king's court (Bottom of explanations)

See above for ancient traditions discussing this. Important to remember is not only his knowledge of astronomy but his passing of the astronomy to the Egyptians and the type of astronomy being taught, tiered firmaments with earth at the center of the universe.

Response to claim: "Joseph Smith "labels figure 1 as Abraham and figure 2 as Pharaoh. Actually this is Osiris"

The author(s) of "For my Wife and Children" ("Letter to my Wife") make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith "labels figure 1 as Abraham and figure 2 as Pharaoh. Actually this is Osiris, God of the Underworld, and his goddess wife Isis. The hieroglyphics above each of their heads identify them as such."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Figure 2, identified by Joseph as "King Pharaoh" and figure 4, identified by Joseph as "Prince of Pharaoh" are obviously drawn as female figures. The fact that they are drawn as females is so obvious, in fact, that critics take this as evidence of Joseph's lack of ability to interpret the facsimiles in any fashion whatsoever. The identification of these obvious female figures as male does suggest that Joseph was using the existing image to illustrate a concept.

Jump to Detail:

Question: What is the correct interpretation of Facsimile 3?

Rhodes: "It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris"

According to Michael D. Rhodes in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,

Facsimile 3 presents a constantly recurring scene in Egyptian literature, best known from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris. It is likely that it came at the end of the Book of Breathings text, of which Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, since other examples contain vignettes similar to this. Moreover, the name of Hor, owner of the papyrus, appears in the hieroglyphs at the bottom of this facsimile.

Joseph Smith explained that Facsimile 3 represents Abraham sitting on the pharaoh's throne teaching principles of astronomy to the Egyptian court. Critics have pointed out that the second figure, which Joseph Smith says is the king, is the goddess Hathor (or Isis). There are, however, examples in other papyri, not in the possession of Joseph Smith, in which the pharaoh is portrayed as Hathor. In fact, the whole scene is typical of Egyptian ritual drama in which costumed actors played the parts of various gods and goddesses.

In summary, Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, and Facsimile 3 the end of a document known as the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian religious text dated paleographically to the time of Jesus. Facsimile 2, the hypocephalus, is also a late Egyptian religious text. The association of these facsimiles with the book of Abraham might be explained as Joseph Smith's attempt to find illustrations from the papyri he owned that most closely matched what he had received in revelation when translating the Book of Abraham. Moreover, the Prophet's explanations of each of the facsimiles accord with present understanding of Egyptian religious practices. [60]

Gee and Hauglid: "most Books of Breathings Made by Isis show a man with his hands raised in adoration to a cow"

However, BYU Egyptologist John Gee challenges the notion that Facsimile 3 is associated with Book of the Dead 125,

[B]oth Facsimile 1 and Facsimile 3 are assumed to belong to the Book of Breathings Made by Isis because they accompanied the text in the Joseph Smith Papyri. Yet the contemporary parallel texts of the Book of Breathings Made by Isis belonging to members of the same family have different vignettes associated with them. Instead of a scene like Facsimile 3, most Books of Breathings Made by Isis show a man with his hands raised in adoration to a cow. This indicates that the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham do not belong to the Book of Breathings. [61]

Question: What are the criticisms related to Facsimile 3?

The following are common criticisms associated with Facsimile 3

  • The scene depicted is a known Egyptian vignette which Egyptologists state has nothing to do with Abraham.
  • Joseph indicated that specific characters in the facsimile confirmed the identities that he assigned to specific figures.
  • Joseph identified two obviously female figures as "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh."

The majority of those who bring forth these issues are not experts on Egyptian writing or art, so you must choose which expert you want to believe

Like almost all of us, the majority of those who bring forth these issues are not experts on Egyptian writing or art. So, this presents an interesting problem--if we are going to take an "academic" or "intellectual" approach to the problem, both believers and critics must all decide to trust an expert. The problem that we immediately encounter is that there are multiple "experts," and these experts do not all agree. Therefore, we are left to decide which "expert" we will trust. There are Latter-day Saint experts who believe the Book of Abraham is a genuine artifact and that it testifies to Joseph Smith' status as a prophet. Non-Latter-day Saint experts obviously aren't going to openly agree with that (Though they may do so indirectly, which is what faithful experts cite in their work).

Latter-day Saints, as believers unequipped to deal with Egyptology, are not able to really assess that information for ourselves. We would need 15-20 years of schooling to do it. So, we can either trust our spiritual future to the experts of our choice, or we can rely ultimately upon revelation.

Critics' claim that Facsimile #3 alone is enough to settle the question of whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet. This is very convenient for them, because it allows one to focus only on one (very complex) issue that only a few people have the tools to understand. It is, in a sense, to put the critic in an "unassailable position." The critics has made his or her choice, and does not want to debate it or be told he or she is wrong, or return to the question.

And, what the critic might consider a "slam dunk" or "vital point," might (from a believer's or some Egyptologist's point of view) really not be so conclusive OR so vital.

Question: What have been the responses to Joseph's interpretations of Facsimile 3?

The identification of these obvious female figures as male does suggest that Joseph was using the existing image to illustrate a concept

Figure 2, identified by Joseph as "King Pharaoh" and figure 4, identified by Joseph as "Prince of Pharaoh" are obviously drawn as female figures. The fact that they are drawn as females is so obvious, in fact, that critics take this as evidence of Joseph's lack of ability to interpret the facsimiles in any fashion whatsoever. Since the figures would obviously have appeared as females even to Joseph's eye, why then are they interpreted as two of the primary male figures?

Regarding the identification of these figures, John Gee notes,

Facsimile 3 has received the least attention. The principal complaint raised by the critics has been regarding the female attire worn by figures 2 and 4, who are identified as male royalty. It has been documented, however, that on certain occasions, for certain ritual purposes, some Egyptian men dressed up as women. [62]

The identification of these obvious female figures as male does suggest that Joseph was using the existing image to illustrate a concept.

Ritner: "Smith’s hopeless translation also turns the goddess Maat into a male prince"

Robert K. Ritner, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, states that "Smith’s hopeless translation also turns the goddess Maat into a male prince, the papyrus owner into a waiter, and the black jackal Anubis into a Negro slave."[63]

Larry E. Morris notes the following in response to criticism leveled by Professor Ritner at the Book of Abraham,

Furthermore, Ritner does not inform his readers that certain elements of the Book of Abraham also appear in ancient or medieval texts. Take, for example, Facsimile 3, which depicts, as Ritner puts it, "enthroned Abraham lecturing the male Pharaoh (actually enthroned Osiris with the female Isis)." [64] In what Ritner describes as nonsense, Joseph Smith claimed that Abraham is "sitting upon Pharoah's throne . . . reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy" (Facsimile 3, explanation).

Clearly, Joseph Smith's interpretation did not come from Genesis (where there is no discussion of Abraham doing such a thing). From Ritner's point of view, therefore, this must qualify as one of Joseph's "uninspired fantasies." But going a layer deeper reveals interesting complexities. A number of ancient texts, for example, state that Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians. Citing the Jewish writer Artapanus (who lived prior to the first century BC), a fourth-century bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, states: "They were called Hebrews after Abraham. [Artapanus] says that the latter came to Egypt with all his household to the Egyptian king Pharethothes, and taught him astrology, that he remained there twenty years and then departed again for the regions of Syria."22

As for Abraham sitting on a king's throne—another detail not mentioned in Genesis—note this example from Qisas al-Anbiya' (Stories of the Prophets), an Islamic text compiled in AD 1310: "The chamberlain brought Abraham to the king. The king looked at Abraham; he was good looking and handsome. The king honoured Abraham and seated him at his side."23 [65]

Morris "Ritner may counter that such parallels do not establish the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. That is true, but certainly they deserve some mention"

Morris concludes,

Ritner may counter that such parallels do not establish the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. That is true, but certainly they deserve some mention. At the very least, these parallels show that "all of this nonsense" is not really an appropriate description of Joseph Smith's interpretation. Fairness demands that Ritner, in his dismissal of the content of the Book of Abraham, at least mention similarities between it and other texts about Abraham and point readers to other sources of information. [66]

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.


  1. E. Douglas Clark, "Abraham," Encyclopedia of Mormonism off-site
  2. Robert C. Webb, pseud., Joseph Smith as Translator (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1936), 113.
  3. Wolfgang Helck, “Rpʿt auf dem Thron des Gb,” Orientalia 19 (1950): 430—31.
  4. Ibid., 432—33.
  5. Ibid., 418—21; David Lorton, "Review of Recherche sur les messagers (wpwtyw) dans les sources égyptiennes profanes, by Michel Valloggia," Bibliotheca Orientalis 34 (1977): 49.
  6. Helck, “Rpʿt auf dem Thron des Gb,” 416; Lorton, "Review of Recherche sur les messagers (wpwtyw)," 49.
  7. Helck, "Rpʿt auf dem Thron des Gb," 434.
  8. Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company; Provo: UT, FARMS, 1981, 2000), 411–12.
  9. Cf. László Kákosy, “Selige und Verdammte in der spätägyptischen Religion,” ZÄS 97 (1971): 100.
  10. S. Mayassis, Mystères et intiations dans la préhistoire et protohistoire de l’anté-Diluvien à Sumer-Babylone (Athens: BAOA, 1961), 299—304.
  11. Ibid., 301; cf. Pyramid Text 437 (§800); 459 (§865); 513 (§1172).
  12. Theodor Hopfner, Plutarch über Isis und Osiris, 2 vols. (Prague: Orientalisches Institut, 1941), 1:70.
  13. Günther Roeder, Urkunden zur Religion des alten Aegypten (Jena: Diederichs, 1915), 24.
  14. Jaroslav Černy, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1952), 59.
  15. Posener, Divinité du pharaon, 102.
  16. Morenz, Problem des Werdens, 81.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Percy E. Newberry, “The Shepherd’s Crook and the So-called ‘Flail’ or ‘Scourge’ of Osiris,” JEA 15 (1929): 85—87.
  19. Ricardo A. Caminos, Late-Egyptian Miscellanies (London: Oxford University Press, 1954), 420.
  20. Constantin Sander-Hansen, Die religiösen Texte auf dem Sarg der Anchnesneferibre (Copenhagen: Levin and Munksgaard, 1937), 105—6.
  21. Cf. Eugène Lefébure, “Le Cham et l’Adam Égyptiens,” BE 35 (1912): 7.
  22. Wolfhart Westendorf, Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture of Ancient Egypt (New York: Abrams, 1969), 84.
  23. Alan Gardiner, review of The Golden Bough, by James G. Frazer, JEA 2 (1915): 124.
  24. Georges A. Legrain, Les temples de Karnak (Brussels: Vromant, 1929), 217, fig. 129.
  25. Hugh Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 72 (May 1969): 88.
  26. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 442–44.
  27. Dietrich Wildung, Egyptian Saints: Deification in Pharaonic Egypt (New York: University Press, 1977), 63.
  28. Ibid. Emphasis added.
  29. Gertrud Thausing, “Der ägyptische Schicksalsbegriff,” Mitteilungen des deutschen archäologischen Instituts zu Kairo 8 (1939): 53; Jan Bergman, Ich bin Isis (Stockholm: Almquist and Wiksell, 1968), 170, 177.
  30. Bernhard Grdseloff, “L’insigne du grand juge égyptien,” ASAE 40 (1940): 197.
  31. Constant de Wit, “Inscriptions dédicatoires du temple d’Edfou,” CdE 36 (1961): 65.
  32. Jacques Vandier, “Iousâas et (Hathor) Nébet-Hétépet,” RdE 16 (1964): 143.
  33. Cf. de Wit, “Inscriptions dédicatoires du temple d’Edfou,” 277.
  34. Ibid., 278.
  35. Bergman, Ich bin Isis, 275—79.
  36. Grdseloff, “L’insigne du grand juge égyptien,” 185—202.
  37. Ibid., 199—200.
  38. Ibid., 194.
  39. E.A. Wallis Budge, Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Hunefer) (London: Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1899), 34.
  40. Alexandre Moret, Rituel du culte divin journalier en Égypte (Paris: Leroux, 1902), 141—42.
  41. Bergman, Ich bin Isis, 216.
  42. Gertrud Thausing, “Der Ägyptische Schicksalsbegriff,” Mitteil-ungen des deutschen archaeologischen Instituts zu Kairo 8 (1939): 60.
  43. Pyramid Text 335 (§546).
  44. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 425–35
  45. Kurt H. Sethe, Urkunden des alten Reichs, 4 vols. (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1932), 1:111.
  46. Hugh Nibley, "A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price," Improvement Era 72 (September 1969): 89-93.
  47. E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Hunefer) (London: Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1899), 34.
  48. Aylward H. Blackman, "A Study of Liturgy Celebrated in the Temple of Aton at El-Amarna," Recuel d'etudes Egyptologiques dediqué a la memoire de Jean Francois Champollion (Paris: Champion, 1922), 517, 521.
  49. Samuel Yeivin, "Canaanite Ritual Vessels in Egyptian Cultic Practices," JEA 62 (1976): 114.
  50. Waltraund Guglielmi, "Zur Symbolik des 'Dargringes des StrauBes der sh.t'," ZAS 103 (1976): 108.
  51. Ibid., 110-11
  52. Ibid., 111-12
  53. Ibid
  54. Hugh Nibley, "Abraham in Egypt" (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1981), 444–450.
  55. Bernhard Beer, Leben Abraham’s nach Auffassung der jüdischen Sage (Leipzig: Leiner, 1859), 194n853.
  56. Henry R.H. Hall, Hieroglyphic Texts from Egyptian Stelae in the British Museum (London: British Museum, 1925), 3.
  57. Jubilees 39:6.
  58. Peter Kaplony, “Vorbild des Königs unter Sesostris III,” Orientalia 35 (1966): 405—6.
  59. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 450–51.
  60. Michael Rhodes, in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., "Book of Abraham," Encyclopedia of Mormonism off-site
  61. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, "Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125," Astronomy, Papyrus and Covenant, Neal A. Maxwell Institute.
  62. John Gee, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," Neal A. Maxwell Institute. Footnote 17 states: 17. "More information on this will be forthcoming, but one readily available instance is recorded in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11.8."
  63. Robert K. Ritner, “The Breathing Permit of Hor Among the Joseph Smith Papyri," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, (University of Chicago, 2003), p. 162, note 4. Dr. Ritner is one of Dr. John Gee's former professors at Yale. Ritner's article in the Journal of Near eastern Studies is highly critical of his former student's involvement with any LDS apologetic effort on the part of the Book of Abraham, specifically because he was not included in a peer review.
  64. JNES, p. 162
  65. Larry E. Morris, "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking (Review of: “The ‘Breathing Permit of Hor’ Thirty-four Years Later.” Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97–119)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 355–380. off-site
  66. Larry E. Morris, "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking (Review of: “The ‘Breathing Permit of Hor’ Thirty-four Years Later.” Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97–119)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 355–380. off-site