Monday, March 17, 2008

Re the Facsimiles

When I attended college a few decades ago, I discovered a wonderful literary invention called an anthology. Inside two covers, selections from the works of dozens of authors could be sandwiched. You might start with the Epic of Gilgamesh at one end and wrap up with the writings of Maya Angelou at the other.

So it is not hard for me to understand, although critics of the Church apparently cannot grasp the idea, how the remaining fragments of a certain papyrus roll once possessed in fullness by the Prophet Joseph Smith could contain a text different from that which he translated as the Book of Abraham.

Last night, I learned a new Hebrew word. I am working my way slowly through the text of Genesis and “firmament” was my subject for the evening.

Transliterates to “rawkeya.” Something about that word struck me as familiar so I pondered for a while, then it hit me. I opened up those curiosities of the Pearl of Great Price, the facsimiles.

Sure enough, Facsimile 3 had it. It is the scene of a person on a “couch,” with another person beside him, a winged being above him, and symbols inscribed beneath. On that, all can agree.

The Prophet declared that the person lying down was Abraham, about to be sacrificed on an altar by the person standing up. The winged being was the angel of the Lord. Beneath him, the crocodile represented the god of Pharoah, and the four jars represented the nations surrounding Egypt, Canaan, Libya, Cush and Anatolia. A series of small rectangles represented the pillars of heaven, above which was, of course, rawkeya, heaven, or the cosmic expanse, the firmament, in which the crocodile god of Pharoah was wont to swim. (The Prophet wrote the firmament word as “rawkeyang,” for some reason.)

Traditional Egyptologists declare that the person on the altar was Osiris. But Osiris and Abraham both were messianic figures and one could quite comfortably stand in for the other in the bounds of Egyptian religious ritual. Standing in for a god was a basic part of those rituals.

The winged being, they state, was Horus, the hawk god who protected Osiris. The Prophet does no violence to the text to call him the angel or messenger of God.

It annoys me when people who know nothing at all about Egyptology simply shrug off the Prophet’s work in this field because the name Abraham doesn’t appear in big Hebrew block letters on top of these facsimiles or in a fragment of the papyrus that once accompanied them. It would be different if we still had the whole papyrus that Joseph Smith once owned. It would be different if the ancient Egyptian language lent itself more easily to translation. And it would be different if his translations weren’t quite so plausible.

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