Sunday, August 17, 2014

Abstractions and Concretions in Symbolism, and the Sensen Papyrus

Abstractions and concretions are terms that I have borrowed from the field of Computer Science to explain what is going on in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.  In his book One Eternal Round, Hugh Nibley wrote:

But what has the Book of Breathings to do with Abraham? . . .The very first line of the hieratic text bears a remarkable resemblance to Abraham's words in both Genesis and the Book of Abraham:  "Here begins the writing which Isis made for her brother Osiris to cause his ba to live."  In the Book of Abraham and in the Bible, Abraham says to his wife (and sister), Sarah, "and my soul shall live because of thee."  In Genesis 12:13 and Abraham 2:25: "Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee."  Why not simply, "I shall live"?  Why the awkward Egyptian idiom, "My ba shall live"?  That is an Egyptian doctrine, and the expression ba defies translation: but if it "cannot be translated, its meaning can certainly be explained," says Professor Louis V. Zabkar.  Among the many explanations offered, he gives his own definition as the "totality of [a person's] physical and psychic attributes and functions."  Many Egyptologists leave the word ba untranslated . . .
Routine Makes Ritual
How do Abraham and Sarah relate to Isis and Osiris?  The answer is, ritually.  Isis can take the name of more other women, human or divine, than any other character.  She is Ceres, Venus, Diana of the Ephesians, the triple-form Proserpine; in Athens she is Athena; in Cyprus the Paphian Aphrodite, etc.  Osiris, though he comes a poor second, takes the place of more Egyptians than any other God--at his or her funeral every Egyptian can be an Osiris.  Here in the two most venerable and sacred marriages in ancient literature (and the most romantic)--Abraham and Sarah, Isis and Osiris--husband and wife are also brother and sister.  In both cases, it is the woman who takes the lead to rescue her husband.  The next step in Abraham's story shows that we are dealing with a ritual situation, with a conscious repetition of a significant action which not only makes it a ritual but also makes it history.  A repeated ritual is a historical event literally, and the repetition confirms its historical possibility and reality. (One Eternal Round pp. 148-149)

Nibley then goes on to show how the same ritual was repeated with Abimelech king of Gerar, with Abraham saying his wife is his sister, not his wife.

In other words, as we and many others have pointed out, Abraham is Osiris ritually.  The symbol of Osiris is ritually Abraham.  The symbol of Sarah is ritually Isis.  In the words of Professor Faulconer of BYU, Abraham is an incarnation of Osiris.  Sarah is an incarnation of Isis.

And therefore, the Sensen document is ritually, the Book of Abraham, though not literally.  And in this, Joseph Smith was literally justified in claiming it to be the very Book of Abraham.  Technically speaking, we know it is not.  But, it is ritually the incarnation or stand-in that the Lord gave us to represent the Book of Abraham in our hands.  It was ritually made so by the Egyptian Priests that used its symbols to represent Abraham and themes from his book.  In other words, because these Syncretist Priests of the Magical Papyri Tradition ritualistically used the Sensen document to represent Abraham and his book, it has become so ritualistically.  Even though it isn't literally the text of the Book of Abraham, in Joseph Smith's hands, it is as good as if it was.  And the Lord accomplished the same work through Joseph Smith as if it was.  The text was produced through revelation, even though only the themes of the Book were represented pictographically and ritually by these priests in the Sensen document.

So, now back to the jargon of Computer Science.  I am a Software Engineer and have used analogies from Computer Science in earlier posts of my blog.

But, in other words, because Abraham can be represented by the symbol of Osiris, and becomes an incarnation of Osiris, therefore Abraham becomes the CONCRETE instance or incarnation of the ABSTRACT mythological symbol of Osiris because of shared attributes between the abstract symbol and the concrete incarnation of that symbol, not the least of which is the Husband/Brother and Wife/Sister phenomenon that Nibley points out.

So when I say, an abstract, non-literal symbol can be used to represent a concrete, literal, real instance or incarnation of that symbol, this is what I mean.

This is why I say, the abstraction is the reed symbol.  The concretion is the Land of the Chaldees, the Land of Reeds, as you saw in my previous posts about the reed symbol.  Something abstract (the reed) is used to represent something concrete (the Land of Reeds, or Southern Babylonia).  A REED SYMBOL IS GENERALIZED, BUT GIVEN SPECIFIC CONCRETE REALITY BY USING IT TO REPRESENT A CONCRETE LAND BY THAT NAME.  And this was made ritually so by the interpreters.  They invented this ritualistic secondary intent or secondary interpretive principle for Egyptian documents where they are employed using their symbols as abstractions for OTHER concrete realities, when their original authors may have not intended them to be used this way.  This is why I say, in computer science, if I have a variable type called VEHICLE, and it is abstract, because it isn't specific, if I DERIVE another variable type called CAR, it inherits some of its attributes from VEHICLE.  Because, as people know, while it is true that a car is a vehicle, not all vehicles are cars.  Some are buses.  Some are trucks.  But if I have a "key" for my "mapping", or in a computer program, if I declare my variable to be of type vehicle, but I instantiate a new instance of car, and ASSIGN it to the variable that is of type vehicle, then now my variable of type vehicle is now the representation of my car.  In other words, VEHICLE IS DESCRIPTIVE OF CAR, but is more generalized, and therefore more "ABSTRACT."  So, if I call Abraham by the name Osiris, or use the symbol of Osiris to represent Abraham, I am using an abstraction that by proxy represents a concretion.  The Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar contains mappings, or in other words, is a key providing concrete assignments to abstract symbols.  And the concrete things can be rationally represented by the abstractions because the abstractions contain attributes in common with the concretions.

So, the Sensen Papyrus is indeed the Book of Abraham, because it is an Abstract Proxy to represent a Concrete Instance of its attributes, which is the Book of Abraham.

So, ritually, the Sensen Papyrus is the Abstract Proxy Stand-In for the Book of Abraham.  For Anti- and Ex-Mormons to get hung up on the fact that we have been given a Abstract Proxy for the Book of Abraham is absurd, because the ancients were fine with that.  The Lord is fine with Proxy Stand-Ins for his children in the temple, where their work is done as if they were literally there.  The Lord has done the same thing for the Book of Abraham.  The proxy stand-in for it was sufficient for the work that Joseph Smith performed, and because it is the Abstract Proxy, it is not a lie that it is the Book of Abraham.  It is so, ritualistically.

Now, if we want to split hairs over technicalities, it is NOT the TEXT of the Book of Abraham, and everybody knows that.  But certainly, Joseph Smith was not necessarily taught by the Spirit what the differences are between ritual proxies and literal concrete originals in his translation process.  It didn't necessarily occur to him to ask.  But he at least was aware that he was working with symbols that only represented themes, not actual content.  That much is clear from the evidence in the KEP.

This is why apologists and critics alike cannot understand what Joseph Smith was doing with the KEP, because they are lost on this fundamental principle of what is happening.  They are lost on this concept of abstractions being used to represent concretions and how there must be a mapping or key to declare what the assignments are to the abstractions.  They get hung up on the Egyptological assumption of literalness for what are actually abstractions.  Anti-Mormons like the Robert Ritners of the world (incidentally he is an Egyptologist), claim that Osiris can never be anything other than Osiris.  So then for Joseph Smith to have used Osiris as an Abstraction to represent the Concrete Abraham is an absurdity, according to these types.  Well, the actual absurdity is for an Anti-Mormon Egyptologist to not notice the use of hieroglyphs and symbols as abstractions when that is a well-known principle in Egyptology.  Like for example, as Nibley said, where Osiris can represent pretty much any Egyptian or person.  That is pretty abstract.

Anyhow, just for clarity.  Using the words Abstractions and Concretions is just another way of describing Iconotropy or Adaptation of Symbols.