Part 14: CES Letter Book of Abraham Questions [Section E]
by Sarah Allen
We’re talking about Facsimile 2 today. I’ll have to discuss the facsimile explanations next time, since there’s background we need to cover for those to make sense. Anyway, Facsimile 2 is what is known as a hypocephalus:
Facsimile 2 belongs to a class of Egyptian religious documents call hypocephali (Greek: ipokefalos, hypokephalos), “under the head,” a translation of the Egyptian hry-tp with the same meaning). A hypocephalus is a small, disk-shaped object, made of papyrus, stuccoed linen, bronze, gold, wood, or clay which the Egyptians placed under the head of their dead. They believed it would magically cause the head and body to be enveloped in flames or radiance, making the deceased divine. The hypocephalus symbolized the Eye of Re or Horus, that is, the sun. The scenes portrayed on it relate the Egyptian concept of resurrection and life after death. To the Egyptians, the daily rising and setting of the sun was a vivid symbol of the resurrection. The hypocephalus itself represented all the sun encircles, the whole world. The upper portion represented the world of men and the day sky, and the lower portion (the part with the cow) represented the netherworld and the night sky.
Today there are 158 known hypocephali which have been catalogued and/or published. Based on their attested chronological and geographical distribution, “it is clear that the hypocephalus [did] not become a widespread funerary object” in ancient Egypt. Instead they “remained exclusive pieces of funerary equipment reserved for the high clergy and for the members of their families who occupied” high-ranking positions in the temple, especially the temple of Amun at Karnak, the temple of Min at Akhmim, and the temple of Ptah at Memphis. Although hypocephali themselves appear to be later creations, the mythological and cosmological conceptions contained in hypocephali have apparent forerunners in earlier Egyptian texts.
According to Spell 162 of the Book of the Dead, hypocephali served a number of important purposes: to protect the deceased in the afterlife, to provide light and heat for the deceased, to make the deceased “appear again like one who is on earth” (that is, to resurrect them), and to ultimately transform the deceased into a god. Hypocephali were also conceived of (and even sometimes explicitly identified as) the magical eye of the sun god Re that consumed enemies with fire. Their circular shape and function to provide light, heat, and protection naturally lent themselves to this conceptualization in the minds of the ancient Egyptians.
While these might perhaps have been the primary purposes of hypocephali, it is clear from the explanatory rubric of some copies of Spell 162 of the Book of the Dead and from other surviving evidence that they also served non-funerary roles. For example, hypocephali or objects that served the same purpose as hypocephali were used as divinatory devices in the Egyptian temple and as astronomical documents. This is especially significant since Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Facsimile 2 draws connections to the temple and features several astronomical elements. Hypocephali also shared a conceptual link with temple gates. In this capacity they served, among other things, to keep out enemies and admit friends into sacred space and shared a focus on creation motifs. Once again, this parallels some of Joseph Smith’s explanations of Facsimile 2 which emphasize creation.
In summary, while hypocephali served a number of important religious and ritual purposes for the ancient Egyptians, they ultimately “point[ed] toward the Egyptians’ hope in a resurrection and life after death as a divine being.”
John Gee also added this thought, highlighting both an astronomical and resurrection connection:
Egyptologists have typically translated the instructions as “placing a fire under the head of a mummy” instead of “placing a lamp at the head of a spirit,” and they argue that the purpose was to give warmth to the dead. But the text says that “if you place this god at the neck of the king when he is on earth it will be like a fire in front of his enemies on earth. If you place it at his neck after he is dead, he will be a god in the next life and will not be held back at any gate of the next life.” The Egyptian instructions contain a pun, since both the word for lamp (hēbs) and spirit (ich) are also used for stars.
As stated, there are about 150 known hypocephali still existing today, and they are all unique and made for the individual they were buried with. They are connected to astronomy and symbolize protection, resurrection, and the ability to ultimately become a god. In fact, Hugh Nibley wrote that they are “first and last a didactic astronomical chart, which is how Joseph Smith treats it.”
Nibley also explained that, while they are each unique, they all have some similarities:
A comparison of the 100-odd available hypocephali soon shows that though there is the greatest variety of detail among them certain salient features are never lacking, to wit,
1) they are round,
2) they have a conspicuous rim bearing inscriptions,
3) the main circle in the center, is always divided into two equal or nearly equal opposing parts, usually upside-down to each other and sometimes facing each other,
4) the one representing the orbs of light in the upper heavens, the other “the lower regions” (Cf. Testament of Abraham, XXI). … [I]t is to be noted that in those hypocephali in which the designs are reduced to a bare minimum this theme of the two antithetical halves is the last to be retained as if it was the ultimate meaning [of] the thing.
It’s important to understand that Egyptian illustrations were meant to be read just like Egyptian writing was. Robert F. Smith states,
The Book of Abraham facsimiles contain artistic and iconotropic material which (as with all Egyptian art and iconography) can be “read” all by themselves, or are to be “read” right along with the accompanying Egyptian words. As the eminent Egyptologist James P. Allen has said:
The Egyptians did not distinguish hieroglyphic writing from other representations of reality, such as statues or scenes in relief. Both were a tjt, “symbol,” rather than an accurate representation of reality. Hieroglyphic signs were often carved with the same detail as other pictorial elements of a scene. Conversely, statues or relief representations were themselves a kind of hieroglyph, a phenomenon most often illustrated in the animal-headed Egyptian gods—as, for instance, in the beetle-headed human form representing Ḫprj, “the Developing One” (a form of the sun-god).
He has also stated that paintings, vignettes, and inscriptions depicting the gods “are nothing more than large-scale ideograms.” All are to be “read,” which is what we should do, in order to bring powerful clarity to the discussion of the Abraham facsimiles.
The problem with that is that it can be hard to tell exactly how to read those imagines. Michael Rhodes explains, “… [T]he interpretation of illustrations is one of the most difficult parts of understanding Egyptian texts. Egyptians did not include illustrations merely for decoration; they were always used to supplement and clarify the text. However, determining their correct meaning can, for us, be a formidable undertaking. A given symbol can have many different meanings, and trying to decide which one the author of the text was trying to convey is at times nearly impossible.” So, you’re going to get different interpretations, or “readings,” no matter what when it comes to things like the facsimiles.
That said, hypocephali are also, in some cases, associated with Abraham. Pearl of Great Price Central says, “For example, in one Egyptian papyrus Abraham is referred to as ‘the pupil of the wedjat-eye’ and associated with the primeval creator god (PDM xiv. 150–231). ‘The hypocephalus, based on the representations of [the creator god] Amon in the centre panel of the disc, is, according to the ancient Egyptian theory, identical with the pupil of the wedjat-eye.’”
A long chapter on using a lamp to get revelation instructs the individual to call out, “O Khopr-Khopri-Khopr, Abraham, the pupil of the wedjat-eye, four-fold Qmr, creator of the mouth, who created creation, great verdant creation.” (PDMxiv 228–29.) The name Khopr-Khopri-Khopr is an invocation of the creator, which has parallels in older Egyptian texts… Qmr seems to mean something like “creator, creation, mightier, or one who has power over.” Here, “it is very noteworthy that the Patriarch Abraham is called ‘the apple of the wedjat-eye.’” … The wedjat-eye was a symbol of perfection, prosperity, preservation, wholeness, completion, health, and resurrection; in Christian times it was the word the Copts used for salvation.
So, the wedjat-eye was a symbol for salvation, resurrection, or completeness, and Abraham was referred to at least once as “the pupil of the wedjat-eye” by ancient Egyptians. In fact, hypocephali themselves were often considered the iris of the wedjat-eye. There are multiple layers of symbolism there, with Abraham being at the figurative center of the eye and of the hypocephalus itself. The Midrash Rabba at one point refers to Abraham as “the eyeball of the world,” saying that the four kings of the Earth (synonymous with the four sons of Horus) were coming to attack him and that he had “sanctified the name of the Holy One in the fiery furnace” (Mid.R.42:3:i, 333). With Abraham being a type of Christ, who also preached the doctrine of Christ far and wide and who “sanctified [His] name…in the fiery furnace,” his being at the center of a symbol of salvation and resurrection makes some sense. Wedjat-eyes show up multiple times on Facsimile 2—twice in figure 3, once in figure 5, and once more in figure 7—and these different connections point to why that may be significant.
In the Book of Abraham also we are told that the plan of the cosmos, represented by Facsimile No. 2, was “revealed from God to Abraham as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he had built unto the Lord” (Fac. 2, Fig. 2).
The situation meets us also in Genesis 15, obscured by a thick smoke-screen of censorship, but nevertheless containing all the very peculiar elements of the story their proper prospective, There is the challenge and threat (Genesis 15:6, 8); the preparation for sacrifice (Gen. 15:9) with special attention to “a turtle and a dove,” which unlike the other offerings were not severed into but kept intact (Gen. 15:9-10). The heifer, goat and ram, all Zodiacal signs and all three years old are also common “canopic” figures, especially conspicuous on hypocephali (Fac. 2, Fig. 6). Then comes the fire, terror of death, passing out, covenant, and view of the world in that order. About the time the sun set, “an ekstasis fell upon Abraham,” as the Septuagint puts it, (Gen. 15:12) “and behold a great dark fear fell upon him.” In the intimate presence of death Abraham, is assured, as in the other writings, that he is not going to die this time: “…and he said to Abraham…15. Thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace, thou shalt be buried in a good old age” (Gen. 15:15). So then “the sun went towards its setting; there was a flame, and behold there was a smoking furnace and torches of fire…” (Gen. 15:17). Let us stop right there to recall that Abraham nearly met death on the altar as the torches were cast into the vast sacrificial bonfire prepared for him in “the furnace of Ur of the Chaldees” and that even at the moment of his deliver from the altar (the identical situation in Abr. 1: 15-20), “that day God made his covenant with Abraham, saying: I will give thee this land,” which is then described and unfolded to Abraham’s view with all the geographic precision of a map. Covenant and hypocephalus here go together, for it was the express purpose of the latter, as the Egyptians saw it, to assure deliverance from the destroyer and resurrection to the person lying helpless on the altar under the blackness of death, and to provide a pattern of the cosmos.
Two pseudepigraphic texts dealing with Abraham that were discovered after Joseph Smith’s time also shed interesting light on the relationship between Abraham and the Egyptians. In the Testament of Abraham, Abraham is shown a vision of the Last Judgment that is unquestionably related to the judgment scene pictured in the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead, thus clearly associating Abraham with the Egyptian Book of the Dead. One of the Joseph Smith papyri is in fact a drawing of this judgment scene…
The Apocalypse of Abraham describes a vision Abraham saw while making a sacrifice to God. In this vision, he is shown the plan of the universe, “what is in the heavens, on the earth, in the sea, in the abyss, and in the lower depths.” This language is very close to the phrase found in facsimile 2 (figures 9, 10, and 11), which reads, “O Mighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, of the hereafter, and of his great waters.” In this same text, Abraham sees “the fullness of the universe and its circles in all” and a “picture of creation” with two sides. The similarity with the hypocephalus, which for the Egyptians represents the whole of the world in a circular format, is striking. There is even a description of what are clearly the four figures labeled number 6 in the Joseph Smith hypocephalus.
It [The Apocalypse of Abraham] also tells how Abraham is promised the priesthood, which will continue in his posterity—a promise associated with the temple. He is shown the “host of stars, and the orders they were commanded to carry out, and the elements of the earth obeying them.” This language shows a remarkable parallel to the wording in the book of Abraham.
Hugh Nibley states, “In Apocalypse XVIII Abraham sees ‘beneath the throne, four fiery, living beings…one was like a lion, one like a man, one like an ox, and one like an angel.’ These are the four Canopic figures that appear before the throne of Judgment in the Joseph Smith Papyri No. IV, as well as beneath the altar-bed in Facsimile No. 1 (Figs. 5, 6, 7, 8), and as Fig. 6 in Facsimile No. 2, correctly explained in this context as representing ‘this earth in its four quarters.’ To find these four old friends at home in the Apocalypse of Abraham is an undeniable link between the Book of Abraham and the Book of the Dead.”
Just like the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham contains chiasmus. Robert F. Smith explains that it continues to Facsmilie 2, and ties it together with The Apocalypse of Abraham:
This chiastic or concentric tendency extends even to the document which seems central to the Book of Abraham, the Hypocephalus of Sheshaq (facsimile 2). In fact, the description of a round drawing with similar significance shows up in the Apocalypse of Abraham, along with a series of theological concepts and phrases also found in the Book of Abraham, e.g.,
b) ApocAbr 12:10 has words nearly identical to the Egyptian in BofA facsimile 2:9-10, which also parallels the ritual Demotic words in Setne Khamwas I:3:12-13.
The same applies to the Testament of Abraham, which (as Hugh Nibley pointed out) is likely based on the Judgment Scene in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and in Setne Khamwas.
The concentric, inverse parallels in the two hemispheres of facsimile 2 (sagely pointed out by Theodule Devéria, and repeated by Varga and Veteto) include 2||5; 3||7; 4||6; and 22||23. … In each instance, the caesurae (||) indicate that the parallel is found both upon the hypocephalus itself (Egyptological), as well as in Joseph’s explanations for each numbered register or representation. Statistically, such separate correspondence is quite unlikely via simple coincidence. Moreover, these parallels demonstrate the iconotropic or iconographic unity of the hypocephalus.
So, not only does our Book of Abraham have a hypocephalus, but other apocryphal stories of Abraham seem to allude to one as well, and the chiasms present throughout the Book of Abraham also extend to the hypocephalus.
There are a few other things of note I wanted to highlight before going into the explanations of the figures. The first is that Facsimile 2 was not complete. There were two tears in it and approximately 1/4 of it was missing. It was restored, most likely by Reuben Hedlock under Joseph’s direction, for publication using portions of other papyri figures and text. This was likely for aesthetic reasons, since publishing an incomplete image would have gone against publishing standards of the day:
A careful examination of Facsimile 2 shows that there is a difference between most of the hieroglyphic signs and the signs on the right third of the figure on the outer edge as well as the outer portions of the sections numbered 12-15. These signs are hieratic, not hieroglyphic, and are inverted, or upside down, to the rest of the text. In fact, they are a fairly accurate copy of lines 2, 3, and 4 of the Joseph Smith Papyrus XI, which contains a portion of the Book of Breathings. Especially clear is the word snsn in section 14 and part of the name of the mother of the owner of the papyrus, (tay-)ḫby.t, repeated twice on the outer edge. An ink drawing of the hypocephalus in the Church Historian’s office shows these same areas as being blank. It is likely that these portions were destroyed on the original hypocephalus and someone (the engraver, one of Joseph Smith’s associates, or Joseph himself) copied the lines from the Book of Breathings papyrus for aesthetic purposes.
Hugh Nibley offered some thoughts on the restoration process vs the ink sketch in the Church Historian’s office:
First of all, there is among the Joseph Smith papers a pen-and-ink sketch of Fac. No. 2, plainly made from an overlay, since the proportions are all correct. It is claimed that this shows us the condition of the document when Reuben Hedlock made his copy of it (the one we use today) in which all the missing parts of the original have been faked. This is not so; comparison of the Hedlock version with other hypocephali shows that when he made his copy the thing was not so badly damaged as it appears in the pen drawing. The scepter, for example, is entirely missing in the ink sketch but it is correctly presented by Hedlock as an angular version of the W3S-sceptre and the DJAM-sceptre held by the central figures on other hypocephali. Above the sceptre in the Hedlock engraving there is an Egyptian inscription, entirely missing from the other drawing, but obviously not supplied by the Mormons, since it is the correct Egyptian formula found in the same place on other hypocephali: “This Great God.” The ink sketch has one of the snakes missing, while the engraving has both snakes, which is correct.
Figure 3 is missing entirely in the ink sketch. The present figure, it is claimed, was supplied by borrowing the ship-vignette from this Joseph Smith Book of the Dead Manuscript. But if this was faked, it was done with inspired accuracy, for if we look at other hypocephali, we find in the same position the same ship drawn in the same proportions. Though the ship and its occupants as depicted in various hypocephali shows considerable variety, with scarabs predominating, there are some important documents in which this segment of the circle is exactly like that in the Hedlock reproduction. Some hypocephali favor apes, others scarabs, as the ships passengers, but all contain the seated figure with pendant hawk’s beak and a mane-like wig, sitting in a ship which strangely is NOT facing the other ship [though that is the normal solar-motif of the two ships], holding in his hand the w3s sceptre, a solar disk above his head, and a large wd3t-eye before him. What more could you ask? Note that our copyist has also sneaked in some writing behind the back of the seated figure, which is NOT found in the Book of the Dead vignette from which he is supposed to have lifted it, and the characters are quite relevant: “The Ship of the God.” The wd3t-eye above the inscription is supplanted by an ape in some hypocephali, but the eye and the ape have the same purpose there beside the Sun, for each is fully qualified to represent the Moon.
Additionally, there is one hypocephalus in the British Museum, titled BM 8445c, that was also found in Thebes and is very similar to Facsimile 2 “both in layout and text.” It was owned by a man named Horos, who may potentially be the same Hôr whose scroll Facsimiles 1 and 3 came from:
Three hypocephali found in the British Museum are quite similar to the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus both in layout and text. By comparing these with Facsimile 2, I was able to reconstruct the original text of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus with only a few uncertain readings. … Similar hypocephali such as British Museum 8445c, which are clearly related to the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus, have all been found in Thebes. BM 8445c is especially interesting in another aspect as well, since the owner’s name was Ḥr (Horus), the same as the owner of the Book of Breathings papyrus in the Church collection. Could it be the same person?
This is an interesting idea, because the hypocephalus we have as Facsimile 2 is not from Hôr. The one we have is from a man named Sheshonq, which is also pretty curious, as it’s the same name as a Pharaoh who had a connection to the ancient Jews, which was pointed out by both Hugh Nibley:
When Sheshonq III sacked the temple at Jerusalem in the time of Solomon he transferred all its holy implements to use in the Temple of On. It is a strange coincidence that the owner of the Abraham Hypocephalus was one Sheshonq (Fac. No. 2, Fig. 8). –was he one of the family?
and Michael Rhodes:
It was the pharaoh Sheshonq III, who sacked the temple of Jerusalem at the time of Rehoboam, son of Solomon, and carried off all its holy implements to use in the Temple of On. It may be more than coincidence that the name of the owner of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus is Sheshonq (Shishaq).
Additionally, his ancestor, Sheshonq I, has a relief in the Temple of Amun at Karnak that mentions “the field of Abraham,” which, according to Hugh Nibley, was the only time Abraham was ever mentioned in hieroglyphs.
The reason this is curious to me is that one of the stories circulated about the mummies by Lucy Mack Smith was that the male mummy was a king or pharaoh. I think that was almost certainly exaggeration or speculation on her part to help sell the attraction of the mummies, since she earned her living off them, but Joseph also seemingly never corrected her while he was alive.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the owner of the hypocephalus was the same Sheshonq that was a pharaoh connected to the Jewish people, nor am I suggesting that the male mummy was royalty in any way. It’s possible, but highly unlikely. As Kerry Muhlestein says, “If any of his mummies had contained the kind of lavish accoutrements and goods we would expect to accompany royalty, then it certainly would have been mentioned by some eyewitness at some point. While we can never fully rule out the possibility that the mummy of some king of Egypt reached Ohio in 1835, it is so improbable as to be a virtual certainty that none of the Smith mummies were royalty. It may not have seemed so unlikely to the people and culture of Joseph Smith’s time and place, but today this seems implausible.”
I completely agree with him, and I’m not trying to suggest otherwise. All I’m saying is that it’s an interesting connection and that they may have been from the same lineage or geographical area of Egypt. It’s also possible that Joseph was somehow aware of the identical name through revelation and confused the pharaoh’s namesake with the pharaoh himself. Anyway, it’s just a curious tidbit that piqued my interest, as did the name of Hôr on the other similar hypocephalus.
It is very important to note, however, that the owner of the hypocephalus, Sheshonq, was not the same as the owner of the other facsimiles, Hôr. This facsimile belonged to a completely different person who may have lived at a completely different time and may be completely unrelated in any way to Hôr. They ended up in the same collection, and Joseph applied explanations to this drawing just as he did to the others, but that doesn’t mean that they were otherwise connected in any way. It may have just been a drawing that Joseph was inspired to liken to the story of Abraham that he was translating, or that was revealed to have been likened to Abraham in the past by others.
Consider that (1) the owner of the hypocephalus is a different person than Horos, (2) the size of the hypocephalus (19 cm x 20 cm) is larger than the scroll of Horos is tall (11 cm), (3) the early witnesses note that separate items with astronomical notations were found apart from the rolls, (4) if the so-called Church Historian’s copy of Facsimile 2 is an accurate representation of the original hypocephalus and its lacuna, it should be noted that damage to this document is a different shape and pattern than the damage to the scroll of Horos, which occurred after it was rolled and placed with the mummies.
Once recognized that the hypocephalus of Sheshonq wasn’t on the scrolls but was a separate item altogether, it can be seen that it was conscripted by the Prophet Joseph Smith to represent narrative and doctrinal elements from the Book of Abraham. This is the most straightforward explanation for its connection to the Book of Abraham.
In his book An Introduction to the Book of Abraham, John Gee agrees:
The use of the facsimiles as illustrations of the Book of Abraham is dependent on the text of the Book of Abraham. Only Facsimile 1 corresponds with the published text of the Book of Abraham; the other facsimiles correspond to portions of the Book of Abraham that were not published. … Facsimiles 1 and 3 come from the same papyrus, while Facsimile 2 comes from a different document. Therefore, either:
- one of the facsimiles did not accompany the text it is associated with,
- two of the facsimiles did not accompany the text they are associated with, or
- none of the facsimiles accompanied the text they are associated with.
So one cannot assume that the facsimiles accompanied the text that they were associated with on the papyrus.
Gee raises another important point, that Facsimiles 2 and 3 are in reference to portions of the Book of Abraham that we don’t have today. There was potentially much more of it at one point than we have now, as there are mentions of readings of the Book of Abraham that took four hours to get through and of scrolls containing the writings of Joseph of Egypt; what we have cuts off abruptly and doesn’t contain things Abraham said he’d include later; the publishers of the Times and Seasons said that more was coming when it never did; and other evidences like that all point to there being more of the book at one time. Regardless, the names and situations referred to in the facsimiles don’t match the content of the Book of Abraham as we have it.
So, it could be that Facsimile 2 relates to text we no longer have, or it could be that Joseph saw connections between the stories/concepts and the images and appropriated them for his own uses, or it could just be that some people in the past adopted hypocephali as a means of discussing Abrahamic traditions. It may very well be that in ancient times, for certain people like Egyptian Semites or priests, hypocephali were connected with Abraham and stories of his life and teachings, perhaps containing common elements or figures, and that was what Joseph was revealing to us: common interpretations of similar scenes among certain groups of people. We don’t really know, and Joseph never elaborated. In fact, he rarely even described his translations of the facsimiles as “translations.” He usually just called them “explanations.”
There is a whole lot more about Facsimile 2 that I wanted to say but couldn’t. There just isn’t room for it all. But I do want to say one last thing: You simply can’t discuss Facsimile 2 without mentioning Hugh Nibley’s research on the subject. His work spanned thousands of pages and four decades of his life, and it’s still the seminal work done on it. Some of it is a bit outdated now, but much of it still holds up. I can’t go through everything he had to say because it’s just too much, but if you’re interested in this subject, I highly recommend his final book, One Eternal Round. It’s densely packed, like a lot of his books are, but some of the things he found are mind-blowing. If you want a taste of them without purchasing the book, he gave a series lectures about it (also titled “One Eternal Round”) back a few decades ago. There are 12 of them, and you can listen to them here.
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.