Part 13: CES Letter Book of Abraham Questions [Section D]
by Sarah Allen
Today, we’re going to start talking about the facsimiles, beginning with Facsimile 1. Facsimile 1 is pretty unique, not just among the other Book of Abraham facsimiles but also among other similar known scenes, which are often referred to as “lion couch scenes.” This is the only facsimile that we actually have the original copy of. We don’t have the originals of Facsimile 2 and Facsimile 3 anymore. Facsimile 3 was described on one of the scrolls in the 1863 Wood Museum catalog, showing that it was among that papyri that burned in the Chicago Fire.
To begin with, this is what we have in our scriptures today. It’s an engraved copy of the original with numbered explanations of what the figures mean. This is the papyri fragment showing the facsimile. You’ll note that in the fragment, there are pencil markings filling in missing pieces, which I’ve circled in teal on this copy. We don’t know who penciled in those missing pieces or when they did it, but eyewitness testimony does suggest at least some of those missing pieces were intact when Joseph first received the papyri. There are at least two eyewitness descriptions of what seem to be the original vignette. So, maybe Joseph filled it in, maybe he didn’t. We honestly don’t know. There are claims it was filled in incorrectly, which seems to be partially true and partially untrue.
You’ll also note the red circle on that marked-up copy, showing that in the original fragment, the priest was standing between the table and the man’s legs. This has been altered on the official drawing of Facsimile 1, as you can see in the corresponding red circle on this copy. In the original, the positioning of the priest points toward a more intense, violent struggle than in the copy. Kerry Muhlestein elaborates on this point here:
However, it should be noted that Facsimile 1 is unique in many ways. In this scene the figure is neither in mummified form, nor naked, as is the case in most of the supposed parallels. The figure on the couch has two hands raised, in a position that almost certainly denotes a struggle. And while one cannot tell this from the printed facsimile, on the original papyrus it is clear that the priest is standing between the altar and the legs of the person on that altar. In other words, the person on the altar is only part way on, because the priest is occupying the space between both of the victim’s legs and the altar. I can imagine no reason for this unless the person on the altar was trying to get off. If the priest were helping him get on the altar, he would not be between his legs. Clearly this depiction is unique, and denotes some kind of movement that is not found in any parallel.
The purple circles on the same image are to show that, when drawing the head of the priest, they basically just copied the head of the body on the table. Whether that means the original head was missing all along, or whether it means they just couldn’t draw a jackal head very well and did the best they could, we don’t know. According to FAIR, the publishing standards of the time were that it was unacceptable to publish an image with missing portions like that, so they may have just been trying to fill it in so that it looked complete.
Jeremy Runnells starts off his rebuttal by posting his own marked-up copy of the facsimile and stating that the portions circled are what “respected modern Egyptologists say is nonsense.” Over the next few pages of the CES Letter, he repeats the phrase “modern Egyptologists say” ten different times. This is why I felt it was important to take the time last week to point out that modern Egyptologists are very often wrong in what they claim the figures in the drawings meant to ancient Egyptians, and that because of that, their interpretations are only one of many factors we should be considering when we look at the facsimiles.
He follows his own image with one from Charles M. Larson’s “By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus”, stating that this is what the scene “is really supposed to look like, based on Egyptology and the same scene discovered elsewhere in Egypt.” However, the same scene is not discovered elsewhere in Egypt, or Jeremy would have put the actual image in here instead of someone else’s drawing of what they thought it should look like.
More than that, you’ll note that this is one of the few places he doesn’t call on modern Egyptologists as the definitive authority. That’s because Charles Larson is not an Egyptologist and as far as can be determined, has never studied Egyptology. When he wrote that book, Larson was a former corrections officer and then a part-time social studies/history teacher who had degrees in history and anthropology. He wasn’t asked back to teach the following year and subsequently sued the school district for wrongful termination as he believes it was due to his not being a Latter-day Saint, though the other parties involved denied this. The last public mention of him I can find was from 1999 announcing the settlement of the lawsuit, so I have no idea what he’s doing now. If he’s studied Egyptology in the interim, there’s no indication of that online and if he has, he had not done so at the time his book was published.
Now, there are a lot of people who study the Book of Abraham who aren’t Egyptologists, myself included. I’m only bringing up his credentials to point out that Jeremy is going back on his own argument with this one. If his position throughout this entire section is that the fragments and facsimile translations given by Joseph Smith don’t match what modern Egyptologists say they should, citing someone as an authority who is not and never was an Egyptologist is not being intellectually consistent.
As far as the drawing itself, the only thing that Larson seems to have gotten right is that we now know that yes, the original head of the priest should have been the jackal head of Anubis or a similar Egyptian deity. The high-resolution photos we now have available of the papyri fragments has allowed us to see detail we never could before, and you can see part of the original headdress on the back of the priest:
… [t]here is the question of whether Figure 3 originally had a bald human head as depicted in Facsimile 1 or a black jackal headdress, as proposed by a number of Egyptologists. That the figure originally had a jackal headdress seems likely, since traces of the headdress over the left shoulder of Figure 3 can be detected in the surviving papyrus fragment.
With these considerations in mind, the question of identifying Figure 3 comes into play. Some Egyptologists have identified this figure as a priest, while others have insisted it is the god Anubis. That the figure is Anubis seems plausible on account of “the black coloring of the skin” and the faint remaining traces of the jackal headdress over the figure’s left shoulder. However, without a hieroglyphic caption for this figure, this identification should be accepted cautiously, as Anubis is not the only jackal-headed, black-skinned figure attested in Egyptian iconography.
Even the headdress is somewhat controversial, however. Lanny Bell, who was a well-known Egyptologist before his passing in 2019, and who was not a Latter-day Saint, argued that the headdress should have been striped to look more like hair, rather than the solid color Larson gives it in his drawing. You can see a comparison of them here.
The rest of Larson’s drawing appears to be pretty incorrect. Since we’re already talking about how the priest should look, let’s continue with that figure. Instead of holding a knife over a prone figure with two hands up in defense, Larson draws the arm to connect with a second bird and its outstretched wing. However, there are a number of reasons why that doesn’t work.
To begin with, according to the FAIR link in the paragraph above, two different eyewitnesses indicate that before that part of the papyri was lost, the priest was holding a knife:
Many Latter-day Saint scholars believe that the scroll was damaged after Joseph translated the vignette and some evidence seems to support this view. One early Latter-day Saint who saw the papyri in 1841, for instance, described them as containing the scene of an altar with “’a man bound and laid thereon, and a Priest with a knife in his hand, standing at the foot, with a dove over the person bound on the Altar with several Idol gods standing around it.’” Similarly, Reverend Henry Caswall, who visited Nauvoo in April 1842, had a chance to see some of the Egyptian papyri. Caswall, who was hostile to the Saints, described Facsimile 1 as having a “‘man standing by him with a drawn knife.’”
That will be important later when we’ll go over what type of scene is being depicted in Facsimile 1. As far as the idea of a second bird being there, while there are some funerary scenes with two birds, this does not appear to be one of them.
Let me state clearly at the outset my conviction that the questionable traces above the head of the Osiris figure are actually the remains of his right hand; in other words, Joseph Smith was correct in his understanding of the drawing at this point. Ashment 1979, pp. 36, 41 (Illustration 13), is very balanced in his analysis of the problem, presenting compelling arguments for reading two hands; Gee 1992, p. 102 and n. 25, refers to Michael Lyon in describing the “thumb stroke” of the upper (right) hand; cf. Gee 2000, pp. 37-38; and Rhodes 2002, p. 19, concludes: “… a careful comparison of the traces with the hand below as well as the tip of the bird’s wing to the right makes it quite clear that it is the other hand of the deceased.” … An important clue is provided in the orientation of the thumbs of the upraised hands toward the face. This is the expected way of depicting the hands of mourners and others when they are held up to (both sides of) their heads or before their faces.
John Gee elaborates on that, pointing out that at that time in Egypt, wings weren’t drawn that way, nor do they match the wing of the other bird:
Because Joseph Smith Papyrus I currently has a hole where the arms should be, some have suggested that the upper ink traces are those of a wing rather than a hand. A hand, however, is the only possibility—first because wings were not drawn that way at the time the papyrus was made, and second because of the clear thumb stroke at the bottom of both hands, which is not characteristic of a wing. So similar are the two hands that they can easily be superimposed one on top of the other. Neither hand resembles the adjacent wing.
It is clear that the Egyptian artist drew wings in a specific manner, as can be observed by the wing of the bird on the right.
The two hands have distinct thumbs.
The assumption that ink spots on the hand represent spots on the birds wing is disproven by close examination of the original, which shows ink traces that indicate that the lines were originally connected.
It is also clear that the missing ink correlates with cracks in the papyri. Note that the cracks extend across all fingers, and that the ink has flaked off along the cracks.
Note that the index finger (the one next to the thumb) is continuous in the original, but was broken into two parts in the Larson restoration.
And the last element Larson added that seems highly unlikely is that he has the prone figure holding an erect phallus in one of his hands. While ithyphallic figures are pretty common in Egyptian art (and that of other ancient cultures), those figures are nearly always shown as being nude. In kilted figures, it’s incredibly rare. FAIR also shows where Larson went wrong on this element:
The assumption appears to be that the hash marks on the legs represent breeches. One can also observe this assumption on the Hedlock restoration contained in the Book of Abraham. However, an examination of the original papyrus shows that the legs of the figure were drawn, and that a wraparound Egyptian kilt was then drawn over them. The clothing is not a pair of breeches. This detail is not even in the Larson image, as the two lines distinguishing the legs and the kilt are merged into a single, fat line.
It can be seen in the closeup detail that the hash lines of the kilt extend beyond the lines of the leg, intersecting the outer line of the kilt.
It can also be seen that the kilt is curved, whereas the legs are straight.
The Larson restoration adds a phallus (which we have chosen to obscure) in the location of the figure’s navel, based upon the location of the intersection of the legs and an estimate of where the top of the kilt would appear.
There’s an image linked in one of those points that shows these elements in greater detail.
… [T]he representation of an ithyphallic figure wearing a kilt would not be unparalleled. However, judging from the position of the erect phallus of the reclining kilted earth god Geb in a cosmological scene on Dynasty 21 Theban coffins now in Turin and Bristol, there would not be enough available space to restore the hand of Anubis, the erect phallus of the Osiris, and the body and wings of Isis in P.JS I: Anubis would have to be grasping the phallus himself and assisting Isis in alighting on it—which is unimaginable. … In this area, I believe the Parker-Baer-Ashment reconstruction (with its “implied” erect phallus) is seriously flawed. In any case, when deceased private individuals are represented in New Kingdom royal tombs, although the resurrecting males rising from their biers (in response to the regenerative power of the sun’s nightly appearance in the netherworld) may be ithyphallic, they are also nude.
There’s also a footnote attached to this paragraph which states, “Cf. the extremely awkward attempted reconstruction with phallus published in C. Larson 1992, pp. 65, 102. Most strikingly, Isis has missed the mark, completely overshooting the disproportionately drawn small phallus. Note, however, that this drawing does show the deceased wearing a kilt, as well as attempting to resolve the issue of the recumbent figure’s “missing arm;” it also properly utilizes the clear stroke representing the figure’s left shoulder.”
A few quick notes to explain that comment in more detail: Osiris is the Egyptian god of resurrection and the afterlife, and is sometimes depicted as a stand-in for the deceased, the prone figure on the lion couch; the “bier” is the lion couch itself; Isis is represented by the second bird Larson places there; and the “Parker-Baer-Ashment reconstruction” is another name for the Larson’s drawing, as he based it off the work of several other proposed images. According to Michael Ash, Ed Ashment did not include a phallus in his image, but Richard Parker said it should have one.
Despite Jeremy’s claim that Larson’s take is what Facsimile 1 is “really supposed to look like,” it’s clear its accuracy is suspect at best, with a respected Egyptologist calling it “extremely awkward” and “seriously flawed.”
So, what exactly is the type of scene being depicted in Facsimile 1? It’s been proposed by various Egyptologists over the decades as being a common mummification or embalming scene, a resurrection scene, or a depiction of the Sed Festival. Hugh Nibley was a champion of the Sed Festival idea. However, that idea seems to have gone out of favor in recent years among Latter-day Saint Egyptologists, who point instead to it being a scene associated with sacrifice and punishment, similar to those at the temple of Dendara:
… [R]ecent investigation has turned up evidence which suggests a connection between sacrifice or sacred violence and scenes of the embalming and resurrection of the deceased (or the god Osiris). In 2008 and 2010, Egyptologist John Gee published evidence linking scenes of Osiris’ mummification and resurrection “in the roof chapels of the Dendara Temple” with execration rituals that involved ritual violence. Other Egyptologists have already drawn parallels between Facsimile 1 and the Dendara Temple lion couch scenes, but, as Gee has elaborated, there is a clear connection with sacrifice and ritual violence in these scenes. “In the Dendara texts, the word for the lion couch … is either homophonous or identical with the word … ‘abattoir, slaughterhouse,’ as well as a term for ‘offerings.’” This is reinforced in the inscriptions surrounding the lion couch scenes.
From this and other evidence collected by Gee, it can be seen that at least some ancient Egyptians “associate[d] the lion couch scene with the sacrificial slaughter of enemies.” Why might some ancient Egyptians have done so? It may relate to the myth of the resurrection of the god Osiris, which lion couch scenes were meant to depict. In the classic retelling of the myth, Osiris was slain and mutilated by his evil brother Seth. Through the efforts of his sister-wife Isis, the body of Osiris was magically reassembled and resurrected. The final vindication came when their son Horus slew Seth in combat and claimed kingship. The element in this myth of Horus slaying Seth and thereby the forces of chaos or disorder (including foreign peoples, rebels, and enemies of Pharaoh) might explain why sacrifice was associated with embalming and mummification in some ancient Egyptian texts.
Interestingly, another papyrus from the first century BC (not far removed from the time period of the Joseph Smith Papyri), “comments on the fate suffered in the embalming place during the initial stages of mummification by one who was overly concerned with amassing wealth while alive.” … Commenting on this passage, Mark Smith observes that in this text “the embalming table [the lion couch] is also a judge’s tribunal and the chief embalmer, Anubis, doubles as the judge who executes sentence. For the wicked man, mummification, the very process which is supposed to restore life and grant immortality, becomes a form of torture from which no escape is possible.” Indeed, that Anubis had a role as judge of the dead, besides merely being an embalmer, has previously been acknowledged by Egyptologists.
One task Anubis fulfilled with this role was as a guard or protector who “administer[ed] horrible punishments to the enemies of Osiris.” From surviving evidence it is evident that “Anubis must have been engaged in warding off evil influences, and it is conceivable that he did so as a judge. … [One Egyptian text even] identifies Anubis as a butcher slaying the enemies of Osiris while [another] states that such butchers are in fact a company of magistrates.” As a “reckoner of hearts” (ỉp ỉbw) Anubis was “the inflictor of the punishment … of the enemies” of Osiris. So from the perspective of the ancient Egyptians, the process of embalming and mummification included elements of ritual violence against evildoers or agents of chaos. “The punishment of enemies by a ‘judge’ is simply a part of the protective ritual enacted in connection with the embalmment of the deceased.”
The reason it’s so difficult to determine what Facsimile 1 is is because it’s unique. Kerry Muhlestein explains, “For example, many have said that Facsimile One is a common funerary scene because it shares some elements in common with funerary art. It is, however, different in many respects. It is also clearly not a scene commonly associated with the Book of Breathings. There are actually no other instances of this scene being adjacent to the Book of Breathings (the kind of document that Facsimile One is adjacent to), though some continually insist that it is, regardless of research. This vignette is fairly unique.” John Gee agrees, “The vignette in P. Joseph Smith I is, in fact, unique. After looking at vignettes in thousands of documents from the Saite period on, I have not found any exact match or anything really very close.”
Most of our knowledge about what symbols meant in ancient Egypt comes from the Eighteenth Dynasty, around 1500 BC. We then often apply these meanings to similar pictures from any time period. However, the Joseph Smith Papyri date from over one thousand volatile years later, and almost certainly the interpretations of many images changed during that period of time. Thus one problem with criticizing Joseph’s interpretations of the facsimiles is that our only means of interpreting them is based on a faulty comparison. Because of these problems, using modern Egyptologists’ interpretations of the facsimiles to judge the validity of Joseph’s interpretations is ineffective.
The bulk of iconographic study in Egyptology is based on New Kingdom material, and there is a danger in applying such iconographic experience to Ptolemaic materials from a millennium later. For instance, in the New Kingdom, a jackal-headed figure might be Anubis, but in the Ptolemaic period, jackal-headed figures might be Osiris, or Sheshmu, or Isdes, or the Khetiu, while Anubis might have a human or lion head.
So, having said all of that, let’s go into what the letter states are Joseph Smith’s interpretations versus those from “modern Egyptologists.” We’ll be using the order found in our copy of Facsimile 1 from the scriptures, and Joseph’s interpretations will come first, followed by those of Egyptologists according to the CES Letter.
The Angel of the Lord vs The spirit or “ba” of Hôr (the deceased fellow).
Hôr, or Horus, was the owner of the papyri, so he would naturally be suspected of being the main figure in the drawing. Except that the figure on the lion couch is clearly not deceased. He’s not in a sarcophagus, the way he’d need to be if it was an embalming scene. He’s alive and moving. Whenever the legs are splayed like that in a typical scene, it’s a resurrection scene, but this is clearly not one of those, either. The figure is not nude, nor is there an arm laying at the side, nor is the figure propped up on an elbow, as is typical of resurrection scenes. They’re always nude in resurrection scenes because to ancient Egyptians, resurrection was a rebirth and you’re born nude. Additionally, if it was an embalming or resurrection scene, the priest would be in front of or behind the table, like it’s drawn in the engraving of the facsimile. But the priest was between the figure and the table, showing that the circumstances are different. That bird wouldn’t be the figure’s spirit, because his spirit is obviously still in his body. He’s alive and struggling, not dead or in the process of being brought back to life. Beyond all of that, Kevin Barney points out that in ancient Semitic adaptions of Egyptian art, the falcon of Horus was synonymous with angels.
Abraham fastened upon an altar vs The deceased: His name was Hôr.
Again, the figure it not deceased. And again, as Kerry Muhlestein pointed out earlier, these types of drawings are never included with a Book of Breathings. Declaring that figure as Hôr without anything at all indicating that it is him, let alone indicating that he’s dead when you can clearly see he’s not, is a stretch.
The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice vs Anubis.
In a typical embalming or resurrection scene, the figure with the Anubis head would not be Anubis himself. He’d be a priest wearing an Anubis headdress. When they weren’t wearing headdresses of various gods, Egyptian priests were bald. John Gee explains, “Assume for the sake of argument that the head on Facsimile 1 Figure 3 is correct. What are the implications of the figure being a bald man? Shaving was a common feature of initiation into the priesthood from the Old Kingdom through the Roman period. Since ‘complete shaving of the head was another mark of the male Isiac votary and priest’ the bald figure would then be a priest. Assume on the other hand that the head on Facsimile 1 Figure 3 is that of a jackal. … We have representations of priests wearing masks, one example of an actual mask, literary accounts from non-Egyptians about Egyptian priests wearing masks, and even a hitherto-unrecognized Egyptian account of when a priest would wear a mask. In the midst of the embalmment ritual, a new section is introduced with the following passage: ‘Afterwards, Anubis, the stolites priest wearing the head of this god, sits down and no lector-priest shall approach him to bind the stolites with any work.’ Thus this text settles any questions about whether masks were actually used. It furthermore identifies the individual wearing the mask as a priest. Thus, however the restoration is made, the individual shown in Facsimile 1 Figure 3 is a priest, and the entire question of which head should be on the figure is moot so far as identifying the figure is concerned. The entire debate has been a waste of ink.” Whichever way you look at it, whether the figure is bald or has an Anubis head, the figure is meant to represent a priest.
The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh vs A common funerial bier or “lion couch”.
As discussed earlier, there is evidence that this facsimile represents a sacrifice, just as Joseph said. There is also evidence, as Pearl of Great Price Central points out, that the Egyptian word for the lion couch was the same as or similar to the words for “slaughterhouse” and “offerings.” If you’re slaughtering an offering to a god, it stands to reason it’d be on an altar. And from the Dendara temple images and text, it seems like at least a likely guess that a lion couch could be used to symbolize that altar.
The idolatrous gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, and Korash vs Canopic jars containing the deceased’s internal organs. They represent the four sons of the god Horus, who are Qebehseneuf, Duamutef, Hapy, and Imsety.
There’s been a lot of research pointing to Elkenah being the Canaanite god El koneh aratz, whose worship spread to Turkey, Syria, Jerusalem, and Libya, and lasted for over 1500 years, from the time of Abraham to the time of Christ. Kevin Barney, while discussing the etymology of the name, offered this interesting little nugget: “Arabic kanaʿa has several usages, including (1) ‘to fold wings and descend to earth’ (said of a large bird) and (2) ‘to bow, to incline toward the horizon’ (said of a star). As applied to the sun, the word would be exactly equivalent to Latin occidere. Therefore, Astour takes the derived form Kinaʿu as signifying the ‘Occident,’ the ‘Land of Sunset,’ or ‘Westland.’ This is the West Semitic equivalent of Akkadian Amurru ‘West.’ In Amarna-era texts and in the Bible, the terms Canaan and Amurru are largely synonymous. It is interesting in this connection that the sons of Horus stood for the four cardinal directions and that Qebehsenuf, which represents ‘the idolatrous god of Elkenah’ on Facsimile 1, was indeed the god of the West.” According to Barney, that cult of El was involved in child sacrifice, which also fits with context of the Book of Abraham. John Gee wrote about the four idolatrous gods for the Interpreter, showing that there are evidences for them in Abraham’s day and location, too. He also calculated that the odds of Joseph Smith putting random syllables together and then having them match up with ancient foreign deities at those of winning the Powerball lottery somewhere between two and three weeks in a row. There’s another conversation to be had on this one, about whether the figures could represent Mesopotamian gods to some viewers and of Egyptian gods to other viewers, but I think we covered that fairly well in previous entries.
The idolatrous god of Pharaoh vs This is the god “Horus”.
This one is kind of a silly quibble that a simple trip to Wikipedia will clear up. The Egyptian god Horus was the national deity of kingship for Egypt and was synonymous with the pharaoh: “The earliest recorded form of Horus is the tutelary deity of Nekhen in Upper Egypt, who is the first known national god, specifically related to the ruling pharaoh who in time came to be regarded as a manifestation of Horus in life and Osiris in death. … He was usually depicted as a falcon-headed man wearing the pschent, or a red and white crown, as a symbol of kingship over the entire kingdom of Egypt. … The pharaoh as Horus in life became the pharaoh as Osiris in death, where he was united with the other gods. New incarnations of Horus succeeded the deceased pharaoh on earth in the form of new pharaohs. The lineage of Horus, the eventual product of unions between the children of Atum, may have been a means to explain and justify pharaonic power. The gods produced by Atum were all representative of cosmic and terrestrial forces in Egyptian life. By identifying Horus as the offspring of these forces, then identifying him with Atum himself, and finally identifying the Pharaoh with Horus, the Pharaoh theologically had dominion over all the world.” The god Horus was literally the god of Pharaoh. This is saying the exact same thing in different words. But there’s more. Another Egyptian god, Sobek, the crocodile god, was often associated with Horus and was, at times, considered to be an aspect of Horus. Pearl of Great Price Central points out that Sobek was also closely related to the pharaoh. So, the fact that the god of the pharaoh is manifested as a crocodile here is exactly to be as expected.
Abraham in Egypt vs A libation table bearing wines, oils, etc., common in Egypt.
In his book entitled Abraham in Egypt, Hugh Nibley explains the lotus flower on the libation table:
… Quite as conspicuous as its aesthetic appeal is the appearance of the lotus as the heraldic flower of Lower Egypt, specifically the Delta. As such it is never missing from court and coronation scenes; it is specifically the emblem of the fierce lion-god Nefertem who guards the eastern Delta against invaders and supervises the movements of strangers, like Abraham, at the border. … A study by Waltraud Guglielmi … notes next that the lotus stands for the bounty of the land of Egypt. It is a gift that the king brings to the god in the temple and … is definitely a welcome to Egypt given by 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 thy slaves. I give thee the birds, symbols of thine enemy.” 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. “The flowers are mostly heraldic plants … associated with the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt,” for in some the main purpose of lotus rites is “to uphold the dominion of the King” as nourisher of the land.
… 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 and showed that the bearer had been invited; 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 ruler, 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. … The lotus accompanies a wish for a gift of life and protection, Radwan notes, quoting Hans Bonnet: “The Gods themselves are present in the bouquets.” The important thing, Radwan concludes, “is the fact that the meeting of a person with Pharaoh or his reception by him took place with flowers.” … What, then, could better “signify Abraham in Egypt” than the formal lotus that adorns Facsimiles 1 and 3, just as the lotus in Facsimile 2, with the four figures commonly shown standing upon it, signifies “the earth in its four quarters”—all the world within the sway of Pharaoh.
Lotus flowers were a symbol of invitation, protection, and hospitality, welcoming foreigners and other visitors into all the land the Pharaoh controls, particularly when the Pharaoh himself was receiving them at court the way he did for Abraham.
Designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by Egyptians vs A palace façade, called a “serekh” and Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament over our heads; but in this case, in relation to the subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens, answering to the Hebrew word, Shaumahyeem vs This is just the water that the crocodile swims in.
These all go together, so I’m lumping them into one. First, many ancient societies, including Egypt and Israel, viewed heaven and the cosmos as being supported by pillars. In fact, Egypt had four pillars of heaven which were associated with the four sons of Horus described above. Michael Ash explains:
In Facsimile 1 (the lion couch scene), for instance, under the floor there is a crocodile. Under the crocodile are numerous vertical lines. Joseph interpreted these lines as representing the “pillars of heaven.” Egyptologists, however, tell us that this is incorrect. These lines really signify the palace façade. The etched lines around the crocodile signify, according to Joseph, “Raukeeyang” or “the expanse or firmament over our heads,” or the high “heavens.” Egyptologists, however, tell us that the lines are simply waters in which the crocodile swims. So according to an Egyptian interpretation, Joseph got it all wrong.
What if we compare Joseph’s interpretation to how 2nd century B.C. Jews might have understood the scene? Firstly, Joseph’s “Raukeeyang” is very similar to the Hebrew word for “expanse” [rāqîa’]. “In Hebrew cosmology,” writes [Kevin] Barney, “the Hebrew ‘firmament’ was believed to be a solid dome, supported by pillars.” Recall the vertical lines in the vignette. This, “in turn was closely associated with the celestial ocean, which it supported.” And remember that in Facsimile 1 it appears that the pillars are under the water in which the crocodile swims.
In the lower half of Facsimile 1, we have [the firmament]…(1) connected with the waters, as with the celestial ocean, (2) appearing to be supported by pillars, and (3) being solid and therefore capable of serving itself as a support, in this case for the lion couch. The bottom half of Facsimile 1 would have looked to [a potential ancient Jewish reader/editor] very much like a microcosm of the universe (in much the same way that the divine throne chariot of Ezekiel 1-2, which associates the four four-faced fiery living creatures with the [firmament]…above their heads on which God sits enthroned, is a microcosm of the universe).
Barney concludes with one last thought that wasn’t included with Ash’s summation: “The Egyptian artist’s perspective is not necessarily a limitation on [the potential Jewish reader/editor]. The stacking effect of waters apparently both being supported and acting as a support would have suggested to [the Jewish reader] the Hebrew conception of the rāqîa’.”
Regardless of whether or not Joseph’s interpretations of the figures in the facsimile match what modern Egyptologists say, there are other explanations out there that align very well with Joseph’s explanations.
Sources in this entry:
Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.