Examining the Book of Abraham
Chapter 6


Translation of Egyptian Symbols — The Breathing Permit of Hôr

So, now that we have the original Egyptian document, what does it say? Does it corroborate Joseph Smith's production of the Book of Abraham? Does it date to Abraham's day, and are we actually looking at Abraham's handwriting, since, according to the preface of the current edition of the Book of Abraham, the book was written "by his own hand"?

Let's start with Facsimile #1, which, as it turns out, is the very beginning of the scroll of papyrus. Ever since Deveria, Egyptologists have long insisted that this scene depicts the embalming of a deceased person, with strong allusions to the Osiris myth, rather than portraying a human sacrifice. Ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died, he/she must make a journey to Osiris. To aid them on their way, priests included in their coffins documents with magic spells that would aid the deceased, with the help of their guide Anubis (a jackal-headed god), through the afterlife with their five senses intact, into the presence of Osiris. These spells and diagrams are all part of what is collectively known as the Book of the Dead. Not all the spells and diagrams were used for any one person. On the contrary, different people would have different spells and diagrams buried with them.1

Facsimile #1 is the beginning of this deceased man's "breathing permit". The scene depicts the mythical embalming and resurrection of Osiris, an Egyptian god. Early Egyptians believed that the deceased actually became Osiris, and so it was common to refer to the deceased as Osiris so-and-so. In this case, we can read from the text that this man's name was Hôr.


Below is Facsimile #1 as it's published in the Book of Abraham. According to the text itself, the purpose for it's inclusion was to augment the reader's understanding of Egyptian gods.

That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics. (Abr. 1:14)

To aid in our understanding of the individual figures, Joseph numbered twelve of the images and offered his interpretation as to what they meant.


Below is a comparison between Joseph's interpretations and our current Egyptological understanding of these images.

Facsimile #1 figures: Joseph Smith's interpretations versus current Egyptological understanding
Figure # Joseph Smith Egyptology
Figure 1 The Angel of the Lord. Egyptologists see this as the "ba" of the deceased. The ba is basically a person's personality — all of his/her non-physical attributes. Therefore, ancient Egyptians would have recognized this figure as the "ba" of Hôr (the deceased priest), who is also figure 2. It would normally have a human head instead of a bird's head.
Figure 2 Abraham fastened upon an alter This is, as we've already discussed, actually the deceased with whom this papyrus was found. His name is Hôr.
Figure 3 The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice. There has been a little bit of controversy over the years regarding this figure. Prior to the papyri's recovery in 1968, Egyptologists had been puzzled that there was a man with a man's head standing over the deceased. It was so atypical. Normally, during other similar scenes, this figure would have a jackal's head and would have represented the god of embalming, Anubis. During the controversy at the beginning of the 20th century (before the original papyri had resurfaced) Egyptologists generally said this figure was probably representing a priest doing the actual embalming — which was odd for an ancient document of this sort, but interesting.

Now, however, we realize that where the picture begins to go awry is the exact place where it is damaged in the original (see a close-up in footnote 2). How do we know that it wasn't damaged after Joseph Smith's time? Because the scroll was originally rolled up. Any substantial damage to the outside could have "bled through", so to speak, to the inside layers. And, in fact, this is exactly what happened. When looking at the scroll all laid out, you can see a repeating pattern of damage that retains it's basic shape, but gets smaller toward what would have been the inner layers. Facsimile #1 would have been at the beginning of the scroll, so the damage luckily wasn't as great, but it reflects the same damage pattern as can be seen on the outer layers of the scroll.

This, along with other indicators, such as the black coloring, the type of clothing, the context, etc., allows us to recognize Figure 2 as Anubis, the god of embalming, and the god who helps the deceased along in the afterlife.
Figure 4 The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh. In reality, this is a "lion couch" — simply a funeral bier. You can see this in many funeral scenes in ancient Egyptian art. Human sacrifice was never practiced in Egypt (except possibly very early in Egyptian history (1st Dynasty) and possibly in Egyptian pre-history, all of which would have pre-dated Abraham by a very, very long time). Therefore, an "altar for sacrifice" for humans would have been unknown to Egyptians.
Figure 5-8 The idolatrous god[s] of Elkenah... Libnah... Mahmackrah... Korash... Pharaoh. First of all, there are no gods called "Elkenah," "Libnah," "Mahmackrah," or "Korash" in the 5000+ years of Egypt's recorded history. And, as we will discuss later, the word "Pharoah" may not have even existed in Abraham's day, depending on when Abraham would have lived.

Secondly, these figures are extremely well-known in ancient Egyptian funeral scenes. They are canopic jars containing the deceased's internal organs that were always removed during the embalming process. They represent the four sons of the god Horus, who are: (fig. 5) Qebehseneuf — receives the intestines3, (fig. 6) Duamutef — receives the stomach4, (fig. 7) Hapy — receives the lungs5, and (fig. 8) Imsety — receives the liver.6
Figure 9 The idolatrous god of Pharaoh. Stephen E. Thompson, professor of Egyptology at Brown University and member of the LDS Church, identifies this crocodile as represesenting the god Horus.7 While Sobek is often portrayed in the form of a crocodile, (see this link on Sobek) in the case of this re-enactment of the Osiris-myth, it would be more appropriate to identify this figure as Horus. As Klaus Baer noted:

"The versions of the Osiris myth differ in telling how Seth disposed of Osiris after murdering him, but he was commonly believed to have cut Osiris into little pieces, which he scattered into the Nile, leaving Isis the task of fishing out and assembling the parts of her brother and husband so that he could be resurrected and beget Horus. In this she was helped by Horus in the shape of a crocodile, who is represented in the water (the zigzags) below the vignette....8

"Möller... discusses the occasionally attested practice of having a small (and prudently muzzled) crocodile swim alongside the boat carrying the mummy across the Nile to the cemetery."9
Figure 10 Abraham in Egypt. It is actually a libation platform bearing wines, oils and a stylized papyrus plant. In Egyptian art, it is found in almost all drawings of major god figures, and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham.10
Figure 11 Designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians. On the contrary, the Egyptians would have seen this as a palace facade, called a "serekh" which, according to Egyptologist Stephen E. Thompson, was a frequent decoration on funerary objects. The "serekh" originally depicted the front of a fortified palace, and the reason it seems to be on the bottom of the picture is due to the way Egyptians would draw in perspective. This fortification would have been seen as being in front of this scene rather than underneath it. In other words, the embalming and resurrection of the Osiris Hôr would have taken place inside the safe confines of the serekh.11
Figure 12 Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament over our heads; but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens, answering to the Hebrew word, Shaumahyeem. First of all, none of these words are Egyptian. They are all Hebrew transliterations — Joseph was studying Hebrew with a Prof. Josuah Seixas at the time he obtained the papyri, and even though Joseph interpreted these figures during the Nauvoo period (after 1838), these transliterations are specifically in Seixas's style.12

Secondly, these strokes represent water in which the crocodile swims — which makes sense in this context. If figure #11 is a palace fortification, then these crocodile-infested waters would be a second line of defense against intrusion, keeping the deceased doubly-safe.13

In the Book of Abraham, as it's currently published, we start out with Facsimile #1, followed by the text, with Facsimile #2 inserted into the middle of the text, and ending with Facsimile #3. Similarly, in the original papyrus — the Breathing Permit of Hôr — this opening vignette that we know as Facsimile #1 was followed by text, and ended with the vignette that we know as Facsimile #3. Facsimile #2 was never part of this scroll, although we'll address the origins and the interpretation of Facsimile #2 later.

For the moment, let's skip both the middle text and Facsimile #2, and move straight on to the end of the scroll where the vignette called Facsimile #3 is found. In our current edition of the Pearl of Great Price, you'll find this Facsimile on page 41.

We know that Facsimile 3 was part of the same scroll as Facsimile 1 because, like the first vignette, it includes the deceased's name: "Osiris Hôr".




We're missing the original section of the papyrus that would have contained Facsimile 3, but it would have been at the end of Hôr's Breathing Permit. By comparing similar Breathing Permits of the same period, we can tell that the only thing we're missing is possibly a couple columns of writing, and then this "Facsmile 3".

This particular scene corresponds to Chapter 125 of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.14 Instead of being Joseph's "A Day in the Life of Abraham," this scene depicts the deceased (Hôr) successfully completing his afterlife journey and entering into the presence of Osiris — I suppose it might be similar to giving a Christian a drawing of himself entering Heaven, and being ushered into the presence of Christ.

Facsimile #3 figures: Joseph Smith's interpretations versus current Egyptological understanding
Figure # Joseph Smith Egyptology
Figure 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. Actually, god-figures in ancient Egyptian art can usually be identified by their headdress as well as the writing associated with the figure. Of course, sometimes a visual identification alone can be a little tricky, due to the ancient Egyptians' propensity to combine god figures, or to show the same god in different aspects. But, in general, each god has a unique headdress that identifies them.

In this case, it's obvious that this figure is Osiris, not only due to the writing above him, but also due to his "atef" crown. The atef crown is a combination of the "Hedjet" (the White Crown of Upper Egypt) and the red feathers of Busiris, Osiris's cult center in the Delta.

The writing above Figure 1 states "Recitation by Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners, Lord of Abydos(?), the great god forever and ever(?).15

Figure 2 King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head. This figure is not only a woman, instead of a man, but it is the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris. The object in her hand is probably an ankh (drawn slightly incorrectly), which is the symbol of life and resurrection.

The words above Figure 2 read: "Isis the great, the god's mother".16

Figure 3 Signifies Abraham in Egypt" (as given also in Figure 10 of Facsimile No. 1) In reality, this is simply a libation platform present in all drawings containing major god figures. One should note that it is also found in Facsimile #2, figures #2 and #3, who are also gods.
Figure 4 Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand. Again, Joseph got the gender wrong. This is a woman, not a man, and she is the goddess Maat, goddess of justice — identified by the feather on her head and the writing above her hand. She is leading the deceased (figure 5) into the presence of Osiris. The text above Maat reads: "Maat, mistress of the gods."17

Figure 5 Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand. As already mentioned, this is actually the deceased, wearing the traditional cone of perfumed grease and lotus flower on his head. The figures above his hand identify him as "The Osiris Hôr, justified forever"18 — which is similar to our saying "the late John Doe", or in this case, "the late Hôr."

Figure 6 Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince. True to his 19th-century American point of view, Joseph identified the only "black" person in the drawing as a slave. However, this figure is undoubtedly Anubis, guide of the dead, who is there to support the deceased. He has helped the deceased complete his journey, and assisted him in the use of the spells that were contained in his funeral book. Reuben Hedlock's rendering is not very good, perhaps because of damage to the original papyrus fragment from which he took the drawing, but Anubis is always black, and always has a jackal's head — in fact, you can still make out the pointed dog ear on the top of his head. The words above Anubis read: "Recitation by Anubis, who makes protection(?), foremost of the embalming booth,..."19

Below vignette   The line of characters below the scene read: "O gods of the necropolis, gods of the caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant salvation to the Osiris Hor, the justified, born by Taikhibit."20
Above vignette   In ancient Egypt, stars were considered to be the souls of the deceased. It seems clear that we are entering the afterlife in this vignette, rejoining the souls that have entered before us.

So, we have discovered what the beginning and ending of the original papyrus scroll said. What about the text in the middle? As we have already seen, it was definately used in the creation of what we now know as the Book of Abraham.

This is what the eminent Dr. Klaus Baer had to say on the subject soon after the papyrus's discovery. (Dr. Baer was one of Hugh Nibley's primary tutors in reading Egyptian characters, was a professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, and was invited by Dr. Nibley to travel to Provo, study the papyri, and give us his analysis):

The Breathing Permit belong to the priest Hôr, son of the priest Osorwêr and the lady Tikhebyt [information gleaned from both the 1st and 2nd fragments]. The handwriting is of the late Ptolemaic or early Roman Period, about the time of Christ. Joseph Smith thought that this papyrus contained the Book of Abraham.21

We have seen via the Translation manuscript which characters were used to create the Book of Abraham. Let's see how Egyptologists translate those same characters.

The following translation is based on Dr. Robert K. Ritner's (University of Chicago) translation published in the Journal of Near East Studies, September 2003, pp. 161-180. Missing sections are indicated with [brackets].


(I/1) ["Osiris, the god's father], prophet of Amon-Re, King of the Gods, prophet of Min who slaughters his enemies, prophet of Khonsu, the [one who exercises] authority in Thebes, (I/2) [. . .] . . . Hor, the justified, son of the similarly titled overseer of secrets and purifier of the god, Osorwer, the justified, born by the [housewife and sistrum-player of ] (I/3) [Amon]-Re, Taikhibit, the justified! May your ba-spirit live among them, and may you be buried on the west [of Thebes]." (I/4) ["O Anubis(?),51 . . .] justification(?). (I/5) [May you give to him] a good and splendid burial on the west of Thebes as on the mountains of Ma[nu](?)."
 

[Osiris shall be towed in]to the great lake of Khonsu,
 

and likewise [the Osiris Hor, the justified,] born of Taikhibit, the justified,
 

after his two arms have been [placed] at his heart, while
 

the Breathing Document, being what
 

is written on its interior and exterior, shall be wrapped in royal linen and placed (under) his left arm in the midst of his heart. The remainder of his
 

wrapping shall be made over it. As for the one for whom this book is made,
 

he thus breathes like the ba-spirit[s] of the gods, forever and
 

ever.
 

 

For our purposes here, we won't go further than where Joseph Smith went in the Translation Manuscripts we currently have. However, Ritner, in the September 2003 Journal of Near Eastern Studies proceeds to translate the rest of the scroll. Suffice it to say that nothing related to Abraham is mentioned. The rest of the scroll includes sections of Hôr's Breathing Permit, as well as wrapping instructions for the mummy.

To summarize, then, the papyrus that was claimed to have been the Book of Abraham, was put together thus: (1) Vignette #1, also known as Facsimile #1; (2) wrapping instructions text, as given to us above, in part, by Dr. Ritner; followed by (3) Vignette #2, also known as Facsimile #3.

How do we know for certain that the Breathing Permit was attached directly to Vignette #1? Because papyrus material is created by mashing and drying reeds together. In such a process, the fibre patterns for each papyrus are unique to itself — similar to fingerprints on a human. When Hugh Nibley first got the papyri fragments from the Church, he named them in random order, not knowing what order in which to put them, but when Dr. Klaus Baer visited Utah and viewed the papyri (at Dr. Nibley's invitation), Dr. Baer lined up the fibre patterns, and got an exact match. That, along with comparing the text with other Breathing Permits, is how we are certain of the order.22

The age of this Breathing Permit is also very important to note. All Egyptologists whose writings I have seen on the subject have agreed that this Breathing Permit — along with Facsimiles #1 and #3 date to the Roman Empire — specifically around the time of Christ23, which is nowhere near Abraham's day which is estimated to be between 2200 BC and 1500 BC.


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Translation of Egyptian Symbols — Facsimile #2



**** Footnotes ****

1. Dr. John A. Wilson, prof. of Egyptology, University of Chicago: "In contrast to other religions, the Egyptians had no one sacred book, a consistent text, which had become so thoroughly the guiding principle that it became fixed against change. Hardly any manuscript of the Book of the Dead is exactly like any other. They picked and chose the 'chapters' — that is another misnomer — as the particular priestly composer pleased. One document might confine itself to chapters 15, 17, 125, and a few others; another manuscript might abbreviate longer chapters down, to squeeze in more than 150 chapters. We continue to use the term Book of the Dead, because it is understood, and because it is clumsy pedantry to be more specific: an unrelated collection of magical spells and religious hymns, intended to promote the welfare of a deceased Egyptian. ...

"The Book of the Dead carried illustrations — called "vignettes" in the trade — which were attached to individual chapters. Usually we can see how these vignettes applied to the text. For example, chapter 63 carries the title, 'the speech for drinking water and not being parched by fire.' The vignette for earlier times shows the dead man receiving water; the vignette for later times, like our Document B [Book of Joseph papyrus, one of the incomplete images at the top of the document], shows him pouring out water beside a fire. Such changes are also a limited criterion for dating." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70) - Go back to article

2. A close-up of the original lacuna:


- Go back to article

3. For a brief introduction to Qebehseneuf, check out McDevitt, April, "Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Qebehseneuf" Ancient Egypt Mythology, http://www.egyptianmyths.net/qebehsenuef.htm, 2/20/05 - Go back to article

4. For a brief introduction to Duamutef, check out McDevitt, April, "Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Duamutef" Ancient Egypt Mythology, http://www.egyptianmyths.net/duamutef.htm, 2/20/05 - Go back to article

5. For a brief introduction to Hapy, check out McDevitt, April, "Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Hapy" Ancient Egypt Mythology, http://www.egyptianmyths.net/hapy.htm, 2/20/05 - Go back to article

6. For a brief introduction to Imsety, check out McDevitt, April, "Ancient Egypt: the Mythology - Imsety" Ancient Egypt Mythology, http://www.egyptianmyths.net/imsety.htm, 2/20/05 - Go back to article

7. Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham" Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145 - Go back to article

8. Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 118 - Go back to article

9. Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 188, footnote 35 - Go back to article

10. Corroborating the identification of "Figure 10" as a libation platform, see Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 118; and Robert K. Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri", Journal of Near East Studies, 62 no. 3 (Sept. 2003), p. 176) - Go back to article

11. Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145 - Go back to article

12. Louis C. Zucker, "Joseph Smith as a Student of Hebrew", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 51 - Go back to article

13. Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145 - Go back to article

14. Charles Larson ...By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, p. 108 - Go back to article

15. Robert K. Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri", Journal of Near East Studies, 62 no. 3 (Sept. 2003), p. 176. Also corroborating the identification of "Figure 1" as Osiris, see Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145; also, Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 126 - Go back to article

16. Robert K. Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri", Journal of Near East Studies, 62 no. 3 (Sept. 2003), p. 176. Also corroborating the identification of "Figure 2" as Isis, see Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145; also, Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 126 - Go back to article

17. Robert K. Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri", Journal of Near East Studies, 62 no. 3 (Sept. 2003), p. 176. Also corroborating the identification of "Figure 4" as Maat, see Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145; also, Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 126 - Go back to article

18. Robert K. Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri", Journal of Near East Studies, 62 no. 3 (Sept. 2003), p. 176. Also corroborating the identification of "Figure 5" as the deceased, Hôr, see Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145; also, Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 126 - Go back to article

19. Robert K. Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri", Journal of Near East Studies, 62 no. 3 (Sept. 2003), p. 177. Also corroborating the identification of "Figure 6"as Anubis, see Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1995, p. 145-146; also, Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 126 - Go back to article

20. Robert K. Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri", Journal of Near East Studies, 62 no. 3 (Sept. 2003), p. 177 - Go back to article

21. According to a private conversation with scholar H. Michael Marquardt, the latest scholarship dates Hôr's Breathing Permit to around 150 B.C.E. - Go back to article

22. Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, pp. 133-134 - Go back to article

23. Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 111. Although, I'm told that the most recent scholarship may push the date of this Breathing Permit back to around 150 B.C. - Go back to article




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Translation of Egyptian Symbols — Facsimile #2