Friday, October 17, 2014

More Detail on Sensen Characters as Section Markers of Book of Abraham Text

Anti-Mormons would have us believe that Joseph Smith thought that he was translating the actual text of the Book of Abraham from this papyrus, entirely from these characters.  Joseph Smith never claimed that, as you will see from careful analysis.  The text of the Book of Abraham was a separate revelation from the things that he was translating here.

As I discussed in other parts of this blog, I mentioned how the characters in the Sensen Papyrus were used or appropriated by Ancient Egyptians to represent various themes in the text, and how in the English Book of Abraham manuscripts, they mark sections of the English text containing the themes that they represent.  So used this way, they become section markers, that are like section headings not unlike the chapter headings in the scriptures.  And they were used this way in a derivative composition.

Other people have come close to noticing that these were markers of some sort before.  Brother Kerry Muhlestein came close when he stated that "the Egyptian figures could merely serve as fanciful and archaic bullet points." ("Thoughts on the Book of Abraham," No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, p. 229).  Similarly, Brother Brian Hauglid came very close when he wrote:

It could also be possible these Egyptian characters [i.e. the Egyptian characters copied in the original Book of Abraham Manuscripts from the Sensen papyrus] were used as markers for copying . . . This would explain why the 1835 manuscripts so closely correspond to each other in terms of both the character and the amount of text between the characters.  Suffice it to say, the Egyptian characters in the margins of the 1835 Abraham manuscripts still present a real challenge of interpretation for the researcher, and it will likely take more time, testing, and patience to edge closer to a more complete understanding of their presence. (ibid., p. 255).

But these are section markers to the Book of Abraham text when put side-by-side to the English text.  In this way, they are analogous to our chapter headings in our scriptures.  Because they are subject headings or markers of the sections of text that they mark when lined up with the text like they are in the Book of Abraham Manuscripts.  This is how they were used in an ancient document that we do not have, which Joseph Smith was trying to reconstitute.  This is what made them useful to the ancients for the Book of Abraham.  For Joseph Smith, they are also cues to the content of the text for the Book of Abraham, and were useful as revelatory device to get revelation on full text represented in the English language as we have it, much like our chapter headings in our scriptures contain information about the content of a chapter.

In other words, the Book of Breathings characters were adapted to a different purpose by other people than its original author intended in a derivative composition.  This is what I call a "Secondary Intent."  Because the original author of the Book of Breathings did not use the symbols that way.  Other Egyptians later on did this.  Imagine if you will, an outline with Roman Numerals and letters for the numbering system in an outline. Well, our alphabet is the Latin Alphabet, because our words are written in the Latin Alphabet.  Well, the Book of Breathings is composed of Egyptian characters that are also letters of an alphabet.  Well, since it was used as an outline or section headers, that is exactly what we have here.  The Book of Breathings contains "letters" that represent part of an "Egyptian Alphabet," and these letters were used as markers in the outline for the section headers.  This is why Joseph Smith called his translation of it the Egyptian Alphabet.

This is just like how Kevin Barney says that the symbols in the Facsimiles were ADAPTED for use to the Book of Abraham.  He was actually arguing something very similar to what I am saying. (See Brother Barney's work here:  Brother Barney was arguing for the symbols/pictures in the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham to be used pictographically, and for them to be adapted for use outside the context they were originally used, in a derivative composition.  It has always been clear to everybody that the symbols in the facsimiles are pictographic, because they are used in pictures.  Repeatedly, we are told, this or that picture "is made to represent" such and such.  The same type of usage is apparent with these other symbols and their explanations in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar in the KEP.  It is a new proposition I think for people to think of characters that appear to be only text to actually be used as if they are little pictures, pictographically.  It is, as if, each character in the "text" becomes a little picture or facsimile on its own.

In fact, the very principles at work here to use the symbols in this way are essentially almost the same as those that Brother Barney points out in his article in Astronomy, Papyrus and Covenant.  He was applying these principles to ONLY the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham.  I apply them to every symbol in the Sensen Papyrus, not just those in the facsimiles.  So for those of you that are already familiar with Brother Barney's work, what I am reverse-engineering and doing here in this blog should not be foreign concepts to you.  If you really think about it, if we can apply those principles to the characters in the facsimiles, why should we stop there?  Why not apply them to other characters that Joseph Smith seemed to translate?  (Again, for reference see Brother Barney's work here: and see further discussion on my blog about this here:

Therefore, the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is not a revelation on the original Egyptian content of the Sensen document.  It is a revelation on the secondary intent of the symbols from an ancient document we do not have, which is different from the way the original author of the document intended.

This principle of syncretism and adaptation is well-known among scholars in the traditions of the so-called magical papyri of Egypt from the Greco-Roman Period, precisely the period that the Hor Sensen Papyrus is known to have come from.  So it is not surprising that Egyptian Syncretist Magician-Priests of that era who were well-versed in the story contained in the Book of Abraham would have transformed in their own minds through ritual in their religious practices the Book of Breathings for use with the Story of the Book of Abraham.  And their religious practices have been called "magic."  But it isn't really magical.  For example, in one publication in an article written by a scholar of the magical papyri, we read that certain of these magicians were magically and ritualistically transforming their books mentally into the "Books of Moses:"

So far, then, the picture presented by the religion of the papyri is essentially that of the usual syncretism as we know it during the age of dying antiquity . . . The attention of the sorcerers is naturally centered on the two gods of light, Helios and Selene.  The former is identified with Apollo, with Mithras, with Ra-Horus, with Yahweh and his chief archangel Michael, the latter with Artemis, with Hectate, with Isis.  In the bewildering crowd of divine beings which appear on every page and in every column of the magical papyri it would seem almost impossible to constitute any order or system.  Yet, if one reads and rereads them, certain principles seem to stand out . . .

We can easily recognize here the admixture of Hebrew, Persian, and Egyptian elements . . .

Many years ago I called attention to a confusion in British Museum papyrus 46 . . . which seemed to prove that the original was compiled from loose scraps without much regard for their connection (or lack of connection), and that the 'Ring of Hermes' found its way into this theft-charm simply because in this, too, Hermes was invoked!  The cosmogony mentioned appears twice, with only slight variations, in the same papyrus, the first time under the title Monas, or Eighth Book of Moses, the second time as Moses's Holy Apocryphal (or Secret?) Book, called the Eighth or Holy book.  There is also mention of the same alleged author's book named Key, and the closing line of the papyrus promises further excerpts from a Tenth Book . . .  Sometimes we read also variations of the holy names, professedly found by the scribe in a different copy, and once, at least, an interpretative scholion has found its way into the text.  We are thus justified in assuming that our collections were formed from a large number of independent documents, and that the magicians adopted and adapted for their use whatever appealed to them as suiting their aims; in doing this they disregarded the original purposes of the various pieces.  So they may have taken over, bodily, hymns and prayers of mystic tales told by some of the many secret cult communities and conventicles which flourished elsewhere during the later periods.  The papyri may thus really contain pieces of actual cult ritual . . .  (Ernst Riess, The Classical Weekly, Monday, January 28, 1935, pp. 105-111)

Now, to be perfectly clear, there was no real power of magic here.  This is all about ritual.  It is all about belief in magically transforming or alchemically altering something into something else.  It was all in their minds.  But, the important thing is, it was all about a real system of interpretation in their minds, involving the disregarding of the original purposes of the material.  It was all about whatever they sought to do to use or transform the already existing symbology for something else.

April 2016 edit:  Now, to be absolutely clear here, to answer certain recent criticisms of this article, I need to be clearer and articulate with precision what is going on, because of quibbling about my use of this source.  Some have quibbled about my use of this in support of the idea of iconotropy in Egyptian Hieroglyphs.  Well, in the original version of this article, I was not taking this out of context, because it is in support in a general way of the phenomenon I am talking about, but it is not specific to iconotropy (or adaptation or substitution) in hieroglyphs.  Now, before I get into this in detail, firstly, I direct you to another article:

The quotation from Riess above is indeed in support in a general way, the following idea:  Syncretists were indeed cobbling together pre-existing material and were re-interpreting their texts "magically," in a transformative way, mentally, the pre-existing material in a different context.  It didn't matter what the original context was.  The new context, for some of these Syncretists, could be whatever they wanted it to be.  That was the point.  That the system of interpretation was fluid.  In the case of the quotation above, the Syncretist magicians were re-interpreting the re-purposed documents as SPELLS, where previously they may have been unrelated to spells, or could have been anything.  I didn't say that this was specifically in support of iconotropy, but rather, a transformation from the original context of the original material into something entirely unrelated to its previous context.  THIS is the point I was making, and it is generally supportive of the idea of a mental transformation of something that was previously in one context into another. So no, I did not misread that. The whole texts themselves were transformed into a magical device in this context, a context that it may have not previously had. This is akin to reading something into something else kabbalistically in the Hebrew scriptures where the author did not intend what the cabbalist has "extracted" from the words. Rather, the kabbalist imposed this on the text. So, in this way, this quote is indeed generally supportive of this type of phenomenon.  It is not necessarily in reference to the specific phenomenon of iconotropy, which is a more specific case of this same, yet more generalized phenomenon that the quotation IS supportive of.

So, the proposal here, going beyond the idea in that quote above, is that Joseph Smith's purpose was not to recover the text of the Sensen papyrus, or the Egyptological intent of it.  It was to recover the intent of the syncretist magician-priests that transformed these characters into pictographs, in order to be markers or symbols that represented themes in the story of Abraham that they knew.

An example of cobbling several different documents into one, is that the Facsimile #2 is the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq, and the Facsimiles #1 and #3 are from the Sensen papyrus of Hor.  The two documents had two separate owners.  Thus you can see, the Book of Abraham documents as we have them follow this same pattern, disregarding their original purposes, but repurposing them to be part of the Book of Abraham.