The central figure of most hypocephali has four rams' heads on one neck. Herodotus was intrigued by the representation of Amun with the head of a ram . . . First of all, he makes clear that the Egyptians did not for a moment "think that is the way he really was." (One Eternal Round, p. 260)Then he says a few pages later:
Herodotus was right. These things are purely symbolic and should never be viewed literally; they are as abstract as mathematical symbols. (ibid., p. 264).Michael Rhodes, in his translation of Facsimile #2, wrote:
I now turn to the illustrations on the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus and compare Joseph Smith's explanations of them with an interpretation based on modern Egyptology. First of all, let me say that the interpretation of illustrations is one of the most difficult parts of understanding Egyptian texts. Egyptians did not include illustrations merely for decoration; they were always used to supplement and clarify the text. However, determining their correct meaning can, for us, be a formidable undertaking. A given symbol can have many different meanings, and trying to decide which one the author of the text was trying to convey is at times nearly impossible. For example, the wedjat-eye found above and to the left of the seated hawk figure in section 3 can represent healing, light, totality, protection, glory, and even riches! (http://www.lightplanet.com/response/BofAbraham/jshypo.htm)This is why, I am saying that Joseph Smith provided the interpretive key as the context helper to some of the pictures in the facsimiles, and some of the characters in the text, and this was a reconstitution of a document that we do not have. This document was a derivative document between the Book of Abraham material and repurposed Sensen characters. Furthermore, Nibley wrote:
The man on the throne [Facsimile 2, Fig. 7] is Min, the oldest incarnation of the Father, Creator, King, Most High God. He was brought to Egypt by the first immigrants, Naqadah I and II. Notice that the image does not depict God, but is a representation; the artist, like the mathematician, can use anything he pleases to represent anything else as long as he explains it. (ibid, p. 304.)It is the explanation that is the context-helper, and it is absolutely critical. Kerry Shirts, a former Mormon apologist, noted the following from Hugh Nibley:
The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus begins with I am Djabty... This word, Djabty may be the richest word in the entire Egyptian language. It has over 200 meanings and they are all related! It can mean the provider as Rhodes translates it. It can also be the Hebrew word Tebah which means box, or ark. It can be the boat (ark) of Noah, and also the ark of the covenant. And finally the temple itself is called the tebah which embraced the holy city and even the universe. The Egyptians gave the name Djebah to Esna, Dendera, Edfu, and all sorts of temples as well as some cities in which they were found. Thebes itself is Djebah. The roots are the same. The oldest city in Greece and the oldest city in Egypt are the same name. Thebes is called the primal place of the first life and the necropolis of the first divinity was Thebes.The Greek one is the original, with the first mention being in the Iliad in the fourth book. (http://www.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/heliopol.htm)One of the core or root meanings of Djabty is box or ark, even though it has many meanings associated with these, based on them. Another writer puts this type of thing in some Egyptian words and characters this way:
There are also complete texts that demonstrate this unexpectedly humorous aspect of Egyptian culture. One example is a hymn to Sobek, the crocodile god, from the Temple of Esna. The inscription is composed of a long series of crocodile hieroglyphs. This would not be possible in a system of writing with a one-to-one correspondence of ideogram to meaning, where a picture of a crocodile would represent only a crocodile. In Egyptian writing, a pictograph of a crocodile could be read to mean “divine”, “time”, “one who seizes” and a number of other terms, often conceptually related. (http://cujah.org/past-volumes/volume-iv/volume-iv-essay-11/)The basic or root idea is crocodile, but it can be read to mean these other things. The abstraction of a picture of a crocodile can be used to represent other things. This is what I am saying when I say that a picture of a reed can be used to represent the Place of Reeds, which is the Land of the Chaldees, because the ancient name of the place in Sumerian is Kiengi, or Land of Reeds. So a picture, while a basic thing like a reed, can be used to represent this other thing based on it. Because those two things share this root thing, or fundamental attribute. Do you see my point? In Hebrew and related languages, there are three-consonant roots. Various words are based on these roots. For example, Keleb in Hebrew means dog. But the word Klub means basket. Yet, they are both KLB, and share the same root.
It is in Facsimile 2, Figure 5, where the hieroglyph of the wedjat-eye is used to represent the "Grand key-words" of the priesthood, and the "sign of the Holy Ghost." In conventional Egyptian, it is the moon, and so forth and so on. Of this symbol, Nibley writes that it "has an almost inexhaustible number of meanings. It holds the 'key' to everything . . . [T]he wedjat-eye seems to have numerous identities. In particular, it stands for the one thing that concerns the Egyptian most--the restoration of that which has passed away . . . It stands for the miracle of restoration." (One Eternal Round, pp. 314-315). Yet, at is core, it is an eye, and stands for the moon, which waxes and wanes, yet is always restored when it cycles back to the Full Moon. And therefore, the moon is "restored" and so, it stands for this core idea of restoration. And so, it should not be surprising that Egyptians would use these things in the manner that I am suggesting, that they would apply other meanings to abstract symbols that fit the "likeness" or the "pattern" of the core or root meaning of an idea. After all, Nibley said these symbols are as abstract as mathematical symbols. This is why I say, their usage is not unlike variables, where just having a symbol that is abstract does not clue one in to its intended meaning without context-helpers.
It's pretty absurd for Anti-Mormons to make claims that the Prophet Joseph didn't translate this stuff correctly when what made something correct is for the applied meaning to conform or fit in or have a likeness to the core criteria of a symbol, instead of insisting that it must be that core or literal meaning. And all of the Prophet Joseph's translations do just that. They apply meanings that conform to the likeness or pattern or criteria of the core meaning.
The main problem that most people have, I think, is not accepting the above with regard to Egyptian "pictures." It is easy for people to accept that a picture is a picture, and that it is a symbolic thing. What I think is a new concept is trying to get Mormon believers to accept that characters that most people thing as a part of a "text" can also be used in this same manner, with a meaning applied to them as if they are a picture. That is what the Ancient Egyptians were also doing with the symbols in these papyri. Joseph Smith demonstrated this in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers where he would isolate each character from the "text" and use it just like the individual pictures.