Sunday, December 8, 2013

Iconotropy: Syncretistic Adaptation of the Characters and Facsimiles in the Sensen Papyrus

Kevil L. Barney proposed that the Book of Abraham text might have been transmitted down Jewish or Semitic lines as perhaps a text written in Hebrew.  He believes that someone may have used standard Egyptian pictures (in the facsimiles) and adapted them for use with the Book of Abraham text.  The name that he coined to refer to this hypothetical person responsible for this transmission or version of the Book of Abraham and the adaptation of Egyptian pictures to go along with them is the term "J-red" or "Jewish Redactor."  So, this idea of ancient person being responsible (i.e. responsible for ''adapting'' or appropriating Egyptian ideograms to a particular use in a way that is distinct from their original, mechanical or Egyptologically-correct usage) is not new. [i]

What I am proposing is not very different from Barney's proposition on this point.  My modification to Barney's proposal is this.  I propose that the Book of Abraham was passed down in ancient times in either an Egyptian text or a Hebrew text, and that text was lost or hidden up.  Similar to Barney, I also propose that someone used the pictures in the facsimiles differently than they were originally used by the Egyptians.  However, I go further.  I propose that someone used ALL of the symbols in the Sensen papyrus the same way that they used the pictures in the facsimiles.  In other words, they used the symbols in the text of the Sensen papyrus as little pictures that represent other things, and were not using them as text at all, like little facsimiles to go along with a different text.  And they were also used as markers for the sections of this other text that they go along with.  What is called the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and also the rest of the related papers, comprise Joseph Smith's explanation that gives context to and go along with these little pictures, just like the explanation for the facsimile #2 is the explanation that goes along with those bigger pictures.   And these people that did this anciently, this adaptation or iconotropy or re-purposing (choose your word), were not necessarily a Jew or Jews.  There were Egyptian priests that also appropriated symbols and stories and books from other religions and used them in their own religion.  The religion of these priests at this time period was a hodge-podge of things from other religions.  This type of religion is called a Syncretistic or Syncretic religion, where they practice Syncretism (appropriate things for use in their own religion from other religions).  This was the religion of what have been called the "Greek" magical papyri, late Egyptian manuscripts from the Greco-Roman era that are usually written in Greek or Coptic (the late Egyptian language).  So these Egyptian Priests were syncretists, and they were also practitioners of the Egyptian magical tradition.

Barney points out that the symbol of the person on the lion-couch in Facsimile #1 of the Book of Abraham is Osiris, but Joseph Smith identified him as Abraham.  That is precisely what it meant to the person that used the symbol this way in the first place:  Osiris.  In other words, these particular facsimiles were not necessarily used by Abraham originally in his book as we have it in its present form, but were later adaptations for use in this manner, likely by some Jewish or early Christian person in Egypt in the Ptolemaic period, according to Barney.  Barney wrote:

. . . [T]he Book of Abraham . . . may have had its origin as a semitic text that experienced the normal transmission process of copying, translation, and redaction . . . [T]he facsimiles . . . may have been Egyptian religious vignettes that were adopted or adapted by an Egyptian-Jewish redactor as illustrations of the book of Abraham . . . Jewish adaptation of Egyptian sources was common during this time period, and would explain the adaptation of the facsimiles to illustrate the Book of Abraham . . . [ii]
In co-opting the papyri to a new purpose, this person reinterpreted them in accordance with Semitic religious sensibilities and the requirements of the Abraham story . . . It is only by viewing the facsimiles through a Semitic lens that we can clearly see how the explanations relate to the figures. [iii]

This fits perfectly with the concept of incarnation or embodiment which were written about by both Professor James Faulconer and Hugh Nibley.  Faulconer coined the term "incarnation" to describe the use of symbols this way.  The idea is that mythological themes of the Egyptian characters actually end up representing historical figures that closely follow the mythical themes of the characters.  For example, as Barney points out, much in the life of Osiris in the myth ends up being a parallel to the life of Abraham, and therefore, the symbol for Osiris incarnates Abraham, and the two become entwined because of the common theme.

The roll that contained Facsimile #1 and Facsimile #3 of the Book of Abraham, as Egyptology has shown, is the Hor papyrus of the Book of Breathings, or the Sensen document.  Facsimile #1 and Facsimile #3 were interpreted Abrahamically by Joseph Smith.  As Barney points out, Egyptologically speaking, Osiris is not literally Abraham, when he lies on the Lion Couch in Facsimile #1.  But Osiris becomes Abraham by incarnation (using Professor Faulconer's terminology), because that is the way the symbol is used.  It is thematically and symbologically tied to Abraham.  And, as I point out in other posts in this blog, in this way, the figure of Osiris becomes an abstraction, or an empty template, for use in other contexts.  Therefore, the meaning of Abraham was ASSIGNED to the figure of Osiris.  Osiris is not Abraham literally, but through a value assignment, much like a variable in computer science or algebra.

In the first missionary discussion pamphlet for our Church published in 1986 (from the era that I was a missionary before the time of Preach My Gospel), it says:  “Most people believe in a Supreme being, even though they may call him by different names.  We know that God lives.  We want to share with you our feelings about him.”  This shows that as a missionary technique, we apply the concepts people already have of a divine being to teach them about God.  Because we build on the common beliefs that we hold with them.  We don't tear down their beliefs, because they already have a lot of truth.  And different names for the same being doesn't effect the fact that he is who he is.  Similarly, in the Letter of Aristeas, an ancient Jewish pseudepigraphical work, the author of it who seems to have been a Jew, wrote the following about the pagans in antiquity who worshiped God the best way they knew:

They [the Jews] worship the same God, the Lord and Creator of the Universe, as all other men, as we ourselves, . . . though we call him by different names, such as Zeus or Dis. This name was very appropriately bestowed upon him by our first ancestors, in order to signify that He through whom all things are endowed with life and come into being, is necessarily the Ruler and Lord of the Universe. [iv]

So, as you can see here, for people in our day, it is strange that this ancient Jewish author would be applying the names of Zeus or Dis to the God of the Jews, who we know as Jehovah.  Thus, the figure of Zeus becomes a place-holder for the true god, even though he is a mythological figure.  This is because some people have always assumed that the Jews had an aversion to things of pagan origin.  But their assumptions were false.  This was an adaptation of these names to Jehovah, not that he originally had these names.  Those names were originally used for false gods by the pagans.  The false pagan gods remain false.  But the concept of a Jew applying these names to his own God, which is the true God, in the mind of that Jew, actually makes Jehovah take on the characteristics and roles of that god, which is reasonable, because in most cases, he does have those roles in reality.  Not that it makes him false.  But it applies the symbology of the name upon the true God.  Thus, the true God becomes the true incarnation of the perfect divine attributes that were falsely attributed to a false god previously, that doesn't even exist.  In this way, the names and figures of these other gods actually became useful as symbols when applied to the true God.  This odd practice was manifest in another archaeological find only recently.  The seal of a family that served priestly functions in the first temple of Jerusalem was recently found in an archaeological dig in the City of David.  But the nature of the symbol has shocked people, because they never would have expected it.  And this actually appears in the Jerusalem Post:

A stone seal bearing the name of one of the families who acted as servants in the First Temple and then returned to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylonia has been uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem's City of David . . . [T]he name "Temech" [is] engraved on it . . . The seal . . . portrays a common and popular cultic scene . . .

And in this scene, curiously enough, “A crescent moon, the symbol of the chief Babylonian god Sin, appears on the top of the altar . . .”  And, this fact “seemed not to have disturbed the Jews who used it on their own seal . . .”[v]

The best explanation is adaptation of these symbols for use in the worship of Jehovah.  Similarly, Kerry Shirts, a (former) LDS scholar, pointed out that in Facsimile #3 of the Book of Abraham, the Egyptian symbols used are the symbols for Osiris, Isis, and Anubis, etc.  But these were applied to the characters of Abraham, Pharaoh, and a servant of the prince, Olimlah by the Ancient Interpreter of the Book of Abraham.  There is an entwining of the real figures with the mythical ones where they actually become each other through a common theme.  Similarly, in Facsimile #2 of the Book of Abraham, figure 7 is the symbol for the Egyptian god Min.  But the explanation as Joseph Smith gave it to us, says that it “represents God sitting upon his throne . . .” 

William Hamblin pointed out that a technical term for this principle of adaptation or appropriation of the symbols of other cultures for usage outside their original context is "iconotropy."[vi]  This term was coined by mythologist William Graves.[vii]  Hamblin stated:

We also all agree that J[oseph] S[mith's] interpretations of the facsimiles represents iconotropy--the intentional . . . or unintentional . . . reinterpretation of the iconography of one culture according to the iconographic norms of another culture. This is extraordinarily common phenomena in ancient cultures. The only question is whether J[oseph] S[mith] engaged in iconotropy or whether an ancient author engaged in iconotropy, and J[oseph] S[mith] correctly revealed an ancient Hebrew iconotropic interpretation of the facsimiles.[viii]

(See also http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/iconotropy-and-the-js-abraham-facsimiles/)

Iconotropy is to symbolically and ritually employ symbols by swapping in or plugging in a different meaning outside their original context.  It is proposed that a trend existed among the Egyptians around the time of our papyri who started using a peculiar system of interpretation on many Egyptian documents and "magical papyri."  It appears that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Facsimile explanations, as well as Oliver Cowdery's explanations of the artwork on the Book of the Dead papyri among the Joseph Smith papyri cannot be segregated from each other, and represent the same exact system.



[i] Astronomy, Papyrus and Covenant, Chapter 8, http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=40&chapid=168
[ii] ibid, p. 108
[iii] ibid., p. 115
[iv] Letter of Aristeas, 15-16
[v] The Jerusalem Post, Jan 17, 2008, “First Temple seal found in Jerusalem, by Etgar Lefkovits, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1200475897717&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
[vi] See for example http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/iconotropy
[vii] See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Greek_Myths
[viii] http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/53628-missing-papyrus/page__st__20
[ix] See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncretism