Wednesday, January 14, 2015

More thoughts on the Theory of the Sensen Document as a Haphazard "Corrupt Redaction" of the Book of Abraham

Here are more thoughts on Ryan Larsen's theory of a corrupt Book of Abraham coming down to us in the form of the Sensen Document.

As for the Book of Abraham, what I am seeing, is that the usage of the characters of the Sensen Papyrus are pictographic when used as elements of the Book of Abraham in a derivative document, and that this was done through a transformation of usage.  Ryan disagrees, postulating that the Book of Sensen emerged from a corruption over time of the actual text of the Book of Abraham.

What Ryan is suggesting is similar to what Michael Rhodes postulated in another theory:
The facsimiles represent a corrupted version of a document originally written by Abraham, with Smith giving the interpretation of the original document.
And this is what Rhodes wrote on the subject:
What about the association of facsimiles 1 and 3 with the Hor Book of Breathings? The likely explanation here is that the original illustrations done by Abraham had been modified and adapted for use by Hor, the owner of the papyrus. What Joseph Smith did with the facsimiles is similar to what he did with the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible—he gave the original meaning of the Abraham illustrations, correcting the distortions that had taken place over nearly two millennia. The same, of course, holds true for facsimile 2.
But is there any evidence that, even in distorted form, these illustrations were associated with Abraham anciently? There is indeed . . .
It is also important to remember that we do not have the original illustrations made by Abraham; rather, we have copies made nearly two thousand years later, with the consequent problems of changes and distortions. With these things in mind, let us again look at each facsimile. This will not be a complete discussion of each facsimile but rather an attempt to highlight some of the most notable examples of Joseph Smith getting things right in his interpretations of the facsimiles.  (, Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles,” The Religious Educator, vol. 4, no. 2, (2003), 115–23.)
As you know, my research has shown that ALL the characters in the Sensen Papyrus are pictographic and they are all used as parts of the Book of Abraham, so if what he says is correct, all of the characters would have to go back to Abraham, to be used this way by Abraham, which is unlikely.

If this is the case, as Ryan suggests, it would have been repurposed into something else over time, and it ended up that the characters would come down the ages to us to be collected back together in some other package that they didn't start out in (i.e. they didn't start out as the Sensen Papyrus and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq, but have been shifted around and changed into their present form).  This, I have to say, is unlikely.  What if the Book of Abraham came to us as a document whose characters were torn apart from their original order, transmitted and repurposed in various forms, only to reappear in their present state in this document?  If this is the case, it would be a story as amazing as how ancient temple ritual components were torn from their original context, made their way through the Hermetic brotherhoods into Freemasonry, and then back into the Temple ritual as part of its restoration.  But it is a lot to stomach when it is easier to suggest the simple repurposing of characters that didn't start out this way.

Unfortunately for Ryan's theory on this point, the Sensen Document is a late creation in the history of Egypt, mostly from the Greco-Roman period.  But it is true that the major components of it are much older, that were lifted from the Book of the Dead and other documents?  What if the components that were in those documents were not original to those documents?  What if the hand of the Lord led people to separate out these elements and put it in this form, so that it could be put back together in its present form?  It's too complex and fantastic to have come together this way.

The same questions can be asked of the Book of the Dead itself.  After all, it is not just the Book of Breathings/Sensen that was in the hands of Joseph Smith.  The Book of the Dead fragments that were in his hands were identified by Joseph Smith as used for the Book of Joseph.

Joseph Smith was using some of the things on the papyri as they were, but in other places, he was cobbling things together and transforming things in his modern reconstruction efforts, even lifting pieces of the Book of the Dead papyrus and the Sensen Papyrus in other places in his reconstruction of Facsimile #2.

But Ryan's theory on this point is too much, when a different explanation is more simple.  What is clear though, is that the guiding hand of the Lord was behind the lacunae in the Sensen Papyrus appearing in precisely the right places for Joseph Smith to do his magic in his modern reconstruction of Facsimile #1.  The lacunae in the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq was in just the right places for Joseph Smith to have done his modern reconstruction.  But that is just what it was, a modern reconstruction.  But not something where the contents of these papyri originally originate with Abraham.  But rather, they came to be used that way.

It is generally assumed that it descends from Book of the Dead material.  As Hugh Nibley observed:
For the Book of Breathings is before all else, as Bonnet observes, a composite, made up of "compilations and excerpts from older funerary sources and mortuary formulas." [H. Bonnet, Reallexikon der Egyptischen Religionsgeschichte (Berlin, 1952), p. 59.] From the Second Book of Breathings, hardly distinguishable from it, it blends off into such earlier writings as "The Book of Passing through the Eternities", the "Amduat", and the "Book of Gates", in which we recognize most of the ideas and even phrases of the "Sensen" Papyrus.(