Question: Is the mention of Egyptus anachronistic to the time of Abraham?

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Question: Is the mention of Egyptus anachronistic to Abraham?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Insight #8: Zeptah and Egyptes

The name is actually attested in founding myths of Egypt, though it is anachronistic to the time that Abraham is claimed to live. Only if we assume that the Book of Abraham must be, in all instances, a holographic narrative of the prophet’s life does this become problematic for its authenticity.

The Book of Abraham contains a founding myth of Egypt. A woman named Egyptus is claimed to have discovered Egypt while under water. The name Egyptus is more contemporary to a later redactor/copyist working on the Book of Abraham. The Joseph Smith papyri date to this time (around 200 B.C.) and founding myths such as these were common. In all instances in which a supposed anachronism appears in the Book of Abraham, we have one of four options to choose from when reacting to them:

A) Deny that the anachronism exists and assert that, although it has not yet been attested in an extant source, the posited characteristic does indeed date back to the Middle Bronze Age.

B) Acknowledge the anachronism, but assign it to Joseph Smith as a translator’s anachronism, which does not in and of itself compromise the Book of Abraham as a translation of an ancient source;

C) Acknowledge the anachronism but assign it to an ancient redactor or copyist.

D) Acknowledge the anachronism and assign it to Joseph Smith as the modern author of the text. This is generally the stance of our critics.

In this instance, only A and C are possible since this is addressing a specific person and what the Book of Abraham is trying to communicate about Egypt’s founding. Option C seems more likely given the evidence currently[1]

John Tvedntes spoke about Egyptus at the 2005 FairMormon Conference addressing how this is actually evidence of the Book of Abraham’s authenticity:

Abraham 1:23 and 25 notes that the founder of Egypt was the daughter of Noah’s son Ham named Egyptus. It has long been noted that in the earliest handwritten manuscripts the name is written Zeptah which you can see here. As A. Richards Durham noted some years ago both forms derive from one of the Egyptian names for the capital city of Lower Egypt Memphis which was ît-kA-Ptaú ' (if you don’t put in the right vowels) meaning the “Residence of the spirit of Ptaú”—the name appears even in that form on a Ugaritic tablet.

When the Greeks came to Egypt in the time of Alexander the Great, they had to modify the name in order to pronounce it in their own language. Greek had no ‘h’ sound so they simply dropped the consonant at the beginning and the end of the name itself. The ‘t’ had already been dropped from the end of the word for ‘residence’ which is how it is in Coptic—it’s ‘a’—often the feminine ending dropped off of those in later forms of the Egyptian language. Instead of unvoiced ‘k’ the Greeks used its voiced equivalent the ‘g’ sound. Finally they added the masculine singular suffix ‘os’, this gave them the form Aigyptos which became Aegyptus in Latin. And this is the origin of course of the name Egyptus as used in the printed versions of the Book of Abraham and the English form of the name of the country itself Egypt. Ptaú whose name appears as the last element in the Egyptian form was the creator god in the story told of the ancient city of Memphis. Zeptah, the form used originally by Joseph Smith, likely means “Son or daughter of Ptaú.” The Egyptian has it as, here I’ve written it as the masculine on the upper left hand side there you can see, (inaudible) which would be the feminine. The feminine however later on dropped the ‘t’ so it’s easier to pronounce it and they both look alike or both sound alike in later forms of Egyptian. But the Hebrew- if it has a Hebrew meaning it would’ve been understood as Zeh Ptaú “This is Ptaú”—in other words this is the god Ptaú or the discoverer of Egypt. Indeed earlier Egyptologists translated the ‘s’ as a ‘z’ and so if we pronounce this as the Egyptian, ‘zeh’ instead of ‘sa’ that would fit with the way they used to transliterate it. As in most Hebrew words, the feminine suffix was often dropped in later forms of Egyptian. In the Egyptian text known as Astarte and the Sea the goddess Astarte, corresponding to the Egyptian goddess Isis or Isis(?), is actually called (inaudible) in other words “the daughter of Ptaú” so she has that very title. The Semitic verb Ptah means to open, to discover. The Egyptians held that the Temple at Memphis was constructed on the first piece of land rising from the floodwaters and the same tradition was attached to various other spots where temples were built along the Nile. An Armenian text attributed to the 4th century A.D. Christian historian Eusebius declares that ‘Egypt is called Mizraim(?) by the Hebrews’—which is close, in Hebrew it’s Mitzraim but he came close considering that it was Greek translated into Armenian—‘and Mizraim lived not long after the flood for after the flood, Ham son of Noah begat Egyptus or Mizraim who was the first to set out to establish himself in Egypt at the time when the tribes began to disperse this way and that.’ Here we have Egyptus then being a man. A similar account is found in Abraham 1:23-24 except that here it’s a woman: 23 The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; 24 When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race. So, I should make one point here before we move on though because somebody is probably going to look at this and then say, ‘Well why is it that you said then- why does the Book of Abraham say that it means ‘forbidden’ in Chaldean? Well my guess is that it’s analogous to what happens in Russia. Does anybody know how the word ‘Mormon’ is used in Russia? They heard about the Mormons in the United States and these were bad people because all the books they ever had on it were anti-Mormon. We start sending missionaries to Russia, the Soviet Union almost- after 1989. These missionaries come in and they said, ‘We’re Mormons’ and people say, ‘Oh you’re those awful people.’ But other people in Russia have been called Mormons for some time, it’s a group of evil-doers they say and so they’ve used the term ‘Mormon’ meaning evil-doers instead of more good if some of you like that better explanation. Hugh Nibley has dealt with the Egyptian traditions about the goddess who discovered Egypt rising out of the floodwaters. In one text she is called ‘the daughter of Ptaú’ which, as noted above, is one possible meaning of the name ‘Zeptah’. In some accounts she is Isis, sister-wife to Osiris—both sister and wife—and mother of Horus the first king of Egypt making one wonder if Egyptus married her own brother, Mizraim who is the son of Ham mentioned in the Bible and after whom Egypt takes its name in Hebrew. Nibley draws attention to the account of Herakleides, which was unavailable to Joseph Smith, who wrote “It was first a woman named Aegyptia who established her son and introduced weaving. Because of her, the Egyptians set up an image of Athena,” the Greek goddess, “as Ephorus says in his work on Europa.”1 About 440 B.C. the Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the Egyptian priests “told me that the first man who ruled over Egypt was Min, and that in his time all Egypt, except the Thebaic canton,” that’s Thebes, “was a marsh, none of the land below Lake Moeris then showing itself above the surface of the water.”2 In his Chronicle, the 6th century A.D. Christian historian John Malalas wrote that, “the first king of Egypt belonged to the tribe of Ham, Noah’s son, he was pharaoh who was called Neko.” While Malalas evidently confused the pharaoh of Abraham’s time with the pharaoh Neko of the 6th century B.C.—the time of King Josiah—it is interesting that Abraham 1:20-21 notes that “Pharaoh signifies king by royal blood. Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.” One of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers notes that Abraham “was forewarned of God to go down into Ahmehstrah, or Egypt, and preach the gospel unto the Ahmehstrahans.” The word may be related to the Hebrew Mizraim—it sounds a bit like it. The name for Egypt and for one of Ham’s sons who is the eponymous ancestor of the Egyptians in Genesis 10 and 1 Chronicles 1. The Hebrew is actually a dual form, as reflected by the suffix ‘aim’—so Mizraim really means two Egypts if you will due to the fact that ancient Egypt was considered to be comprised of two parts—Upper and Lower Egypt—that were subsequently united. Eusebius declared that Mizraim was indeed the founder of the Egyptian race and from him the first Egyptian dynasty must be held to spring. As noted earlier, Eusebius also identified Egyptus with Mizraim. If, as the Book of Abraham says, Egyptus was a daughter of Ham rather than a son, it is possible that she married her brother just as the Egyptian traditions have. Isis marries her brother Osiris; and from them would derive the Hebrew name of Egypt. This would explain the Egyptian myths about Osiris the god who actually ruled Egypt anciently marrying his sister and that was followed by some of the pharaohs.

In fact some of the pharaohs in order to make sure that they were marrying into the royal line married not only their sisters but sometimes their daughters and I know of at least one case where one married his mother. It’s really a strange idea from our point of view but it was perfectly normal in their days, they wanted to preserve this particular line.[2]

Other traditions regarding Abraham that speak of the founding of Egypt

  • Al-Kisä’i 59—60, p. 387
  • Al-Mas‘u‘di, Meadows 3:1, pp. 351—52
  • Al-Rabghu’zi 9, p. 436
  • Al—T_abar1' 215; 216; 252—7025, 42, pp. 333, 335, 343
  • Al-Tha‘labi 1:1; 3:1, pp. 357—58, 367
  • Anonymous Christian Chronicle 16, p. 229
  • Armenian Question, p. 286
  • Artapanus, p. 7
  • Book ofthe Cave of Treasures 22b2, p. 189
  • Book of the Rolls 118b, pp. 207—8
  • Conflict ofAdam und Eve III, 23:4—8, pp. 219—20
  • Genesis Apocryphon XIX, 13, p. 26
  • Ibn al-T_ayyib 6:2, p. 253
  • Mahbüb of Menbidj (Agapius) 3, p. 248
  • Other Muslim Traditions: Turkish 1, p. 458
  • Targum Ionathan Genesis 1621, 5, p. 67
  • Zohar: Genesis 73a, pp. 154—55 Contrast Abu' al—Fida‘ 3, p. 433;
  • al-T‚abari 325—26:1, p. 349


  1. This article was written 11/10/2018
  2. John Tvedtnes "Authentic Ancient Names and Words in the Book of Abraham and Related Kirtland Egyptian Papers" FairMormon Conference 2005. Paper may be read in full here