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.  (https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-4-number-2-2003/teaching-book-abraham-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.(https://web.archive.org/web/20130824015646/http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/hugh.htm)

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Review of Ryan Larsen's Book of Abraham Article on the Mormon Puzzle Pieces Blog

Ryan Larsen, another LDS scholar, contacted me and invited me to read his article on the Book of Abraham.  His blog is entitled "Mormon Puzzle Pieces."

http://mormonpuzzlepieces.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-book-of-abraham.html?m=1

Ryan has actually come up with some very important research that actually ties in with my own in some very significant ways.  Other parts of it, I disagree with, but this is to be expected.

Ryan is saying that something was penned by Abraham, and this eventually morphed into the Book of Breathings over tens of centuries.  This is similar to something proposed by Michael Rhodes years ago, but with regard to the Facsimiles only, but Ryan seems to suggest that this happened to the WHOLE book, or in other words, perhaps the characters of the whole book were shifted around and changed into this corrupt form by copyists that perhaps wanted the book to read differently.  The Wikipedia article on the Book of Abraham states that Rhodes had a theory that proposed the following:
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.  (https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-4-number-2-2003/teaching-book-abraham-facsimiles, Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles,” The Religious Educator, vol. 4, no. 2, (2003), 115–23.)
Ryan Larsen theorizes that since the Egyptians themselves absorbed other local deities into the person of their god Osiris, that they also did this with Abraham, which resulted in Osiris being used as a symbol for Abraham.  As I and others have shown, including Ryan, the symbol of Osiris is used consistently throughout all the Joseph Smith Egyptian material to represent Abraham.  Whether or not Abraham was absorbed in this way, Ryan is absolutely right that Osiris is the preferred symbol for Abraham, consistently, by the Egyptians.

Anyway, Ryan theorizes that the Egyptians originally had the Book of Abraham or a redaction of it made by Joseph who was sold into Egypt.  And that over time, this book became more and more corrupted and redacted, until today, we have the remnant of it, called the Book of Breathings.  This is yet another way of saying, as I have said, that the Book of Breathings is the Book of Abraham.  But, we disagree on how this is so.  Ryan believes that the Sensen is a corrupt remnant.  I believe it was transformed in its usage.

But another important deduction appears in Ryan's article.  He theorizes that the so-called translation of the Kinderhook plates that was reported by William Clayton is actually a mis-reported thing.  He theorizes that William Clayton was actually reporting Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptological intent of the columns surrounding Facsimile #1 in the Sensen Papyrus, where it tells that Hor, the owner of the papyrus is a son of Taykebyt, an Egyptian woman, and that his father is also a Priest.  In other words, William Clayton reported that Joseph Smith related the story of a man who was a descendant of Ham who got his authority from the ruler of Heaven and Earth.  So, Ryan Larsen suggests that Clayton mistakenly thought that Joseph Smith was saying that this translation came from the fraudulent Kinderhook plates.  But it actually was a translation from material from the Sensen Papyrus.   Ryan Larsen somewhat builds on deductions presented by Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-Mcgee presented at the 2011 FAIR conference about Joseph Smith's usage of translations from the KEP in his translation of the Kinderhook plates.  Anyhow, I think that this is possible, but not necessary.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Result of a Recent Thread on a Message Board: Questions and Answers

On a recent message board, a commenter that seemed genuinely interested in understanding the very basics of my theory (which is a different attitude than I usually get from some people) posed the following question:

Are you saying that someone, anciently, took the Egyptian breathing permit [Sensen Papyrus] and then created a separate code/legend so that someone with that legend could look at the breathing permit document and "read" the Book of Abraham? 

My answer: Somewhat close.  I'm saying that someone, anciently, used the Sensen Papyrus and created the legend for it so that someone could "read" themes from the Book of Abraham in the Sensen papyrus when using the characters as abstractions.  The Sensen Papyrus does not contain the "text" of the Book of Abraham, and the text cannot be extracted in this manner.  The themes in the Book of Abraham can be translated from the symbols in this manner with the legend/key, in the same manner that the pictures in the Facsimiles are given meaning through the explanations for them.  The meanings for the characters are not somehow "contained within" context in the document.  When used this way, the meaning for the characters are not "extractable."  To get the meaning, you have to rely on something outside of the document that contains the usage.

It is my belief that a key of this sort probably existed in ancient times.  The KEP is Joseph Smith's translation/"modern reproduction" in the English language of part of that ancient key/legend, just as the explanations for the Facsimiles are likely to be a translation of ancient material, or at least, ancient intent.  This is, I believe, what he meant when he said he was translating an alphabet "To" the Book of Abraham.  Even if such a key/legend in ancient times never existed, the KEP is a reproduction on paper of the intent of the people that used the Sensen Papyrus this way, and has this function.

Joseph received all his translation information by revelation.  The evidence shows that something ancient was actually translated in that revelation process, according to the traditional intent of the word "translation":  the idea that something ancient in an ancient document was being transmitted to the modern day.  That, in my mind, is different than pure revelation using something as a catalyst, as if it is just a talisman, that is entirely unrelated, which makes this different than the catalyst theory.  And that makes Joseph Smith's claims more consistent.  To me, that consistency with what he was claiming is an important thing, but that is something that the catalyst theory and the pure revelation theory are willing to give up.  Its not something that is necessary to give up, and so it ought to be explained.  To me, we ought to take anything we can get that bolsters his claims, and not abandon that type of evidence in hope for overly simple explanations.  A better approach, to me, is to actually explain all the evidence in one great whole, not assume that because there are things that are hard to understand, that they don't demand explanation.

The commenter also asked:

So what was the point, anciently, in using the Sensen Papyrus this way... as opposed to simply writing down the themes of the BoA someplace else?  Is there any reason the Breathing Permit served as a good piece of material to do this for?

My answer:  Any time the Egyptians were doing out of the ordinary things, it was because it was a work of art that they were attempting to make.  Their art was magical to them.

The Sensen Papyrus was viewed as a holy thing.  And each hieroglyph in it was viewed by them as a magical thing on its own, that could be purposed magically on its own.  Much like the Wedjat Eye hieroglyph was art.  The "dissection" of it was magical, and the different sections of the wedjat eye magically took on their own meanings when it was dissected.  Similarly, someone was trying to do something "magical" with the other characters in this papyrus in the same way.

Sensen papyri were common funerary literature that many people in that culture were familiar with.  The ordering of the characters in this papyrus was also a convenient ordering for phonetic/alphabetic characters (i.e. uniliteral, biliteral, triliteral, determinative), much like any other alphabetical ordering.  In other alphabets, we have the North Semitic ordering like Hebrew, and the South Semitic.  Our alphabet ordering for our characters in the Latin alphabet descends from the North Semitic, by way of Phoenician and Greek.  So, when Joseph Smith called it the Egyptian Alphabet, it is because he recognized that the hieroglyphic and hieratic characters in the text part of the papyrus were indeed usually phonetic characters making up parts of an alphabet, and that this ordering in this papyrus is yet another ordering for alphabetic characters.  However, as I said in other posts, he recognized that the usage in the context of something Abrahamic was pictographic.

The coincidence of the way the characters appear one right after another in the core pictographic meanings of the characters lines up nicely with the themes of sections in the text of the Book of Abraham, which is why early Mormon scribes juxtaposed them as section markers in the Book of Abraham English manuscripts.  Much like the acrostics in the Psalms, where an alphabetic character would mark a section of text, these characters also are "alphabetic" and and mark sections of text.  They are somewhat of an alphabetical acrostic in this way.  The difference between the acrostics in the Psalms and the Sensen acrostic though, is that every character in the Hebrew alphabet in the Psalms acrostics match the first letter of the section of text that the text starts with.  In the Sensen acrostic, the match is thematic instead.

Then he stated:

Are you saying that the characters themselves on the papyri could have been understood to represent the themes of the BoA even without such a key?

My answer:  No.  That's the difference between an abstraction as a piece of art and something that is mechanically reproducible, like the regular usage of an Egyptian document.  Regular Egyptian usage of documents is reproducible with a consistent translation.  Something abstract cannot be reproducible without knowledge of its usage.  So, one possible scenario would be, If someone was "trained" in how someone originally purposed the usage of the various hieroglyphs/hieratics as Book of Abraham themes, then yes, they could do it.  I have no idea how many people were trained in this, or how many people had a key.  But more likely than training, like I said, if someone had something like the KEP anciently, then they don't have to be "trained" to do this.  They can just refer to the key/legend.  So while I am open to this option of people being "trained," I think it is more likely that there was an ancient key.  I acknowledge both possibilities, but it is just more likely that there was a key.

Then he stated:

Do you believe that JS knew he was doing what your theory states?  Do you believe he thought the papyri was non-Ambrahamic if translated normally from Egpytian, but that it contained the themes of the Book of Abraham in this coded way?

My answer:  Joseph Smith knew this much: he was translating themes, not text, from this papyri.  He knew that the details of the text had to be gotten by revelation, and that the themes were just telling him about the basics of the story.  I can show and have shown this fact in the various posts in my blog.  I demonstrate from the details in the "grammar" parts of the KEP, where Joseph writes about the "subject" and how the "subject" must be elaborated upon for such and such amount of text, depending on various factors.  He thought it was the original by Abraham's own hand, or perhaps an actual copy.  Joseph Smith knew nothing about regular Egyptological Egyptian because at that time, it was just barely something that the world started to know about, and Joseph didn't know about it.

My theory is attempting to explain evidence, to see how that evidence can harmonize with the basic premise that Joseph Smith knew something was Abrahamic about the papyri.  It is clear that Joseph Smith's beliefs on the matter of the papyri were literalistic after the same manner that he believed literalism with Freemasonic myth.  So you can't really blame Joseph Smith for not knowing all the details.  What is important is that he knew enough to do his job.

So, I am treating this matter after the same manner as I treat Freemasonry.  I know that there are authentic pieces of ancient Temple worship in Freemasonry.  I know that it contains what Joseph Smith said it did (ancient Temple relics), although the way they got there was not how Joseph thought they got there.  Similarly, Joseph thought the papyri were the actual original Book of Abraham, but my theory is attempting to harmonize how the evidence shows it is not that way in the literal sense that Joseph thought.  But, now, it is evident from the evidence that the papyri are still Abrahamic after a certain manner, and still contain what Joseph Smith said they contained, but that the technical way they contain it is different than Joseph Smith could imagine with the limitations of his knowledge.

So, in summary, this is less about what Joseph Smith thought, and more about the fact that knowledge comes to the world line upon line.  It is important that Joseph Smith sensed it was Abrahamic, and that it was necessary to use it in a translation.  His assumptions about literalness and so forth are not as important as the fact that he knew that by using it, he could get the Book of Abraham.  Joseph Smith knew it was the Book of Abraham, not details of how it is the book of Abraham.  The Spirit gave him the amount of information he needed to fulfill his part of the process.  We can come along after the fact and analyze it and see the details to the degree that the evidence allows.  And my theory shows detail about how it is still the Book of Abraham through this transformation by way of the key and the abstract system, not from the literal translations of the mechanical, Egyptological intent of the document.  I show a number of examples of the abstractions I am talking about, and how they are logical containers for the values that Joseph Smith was applying to them.

Finally, the commenter said this:

One thing I do admire about your theory is that you don't discount the KEP as some messing about by the scribes and JS had nothing to do with it. 

To which, I replied, Thanks.

It was refreshing actually having a conversation with someone that genuinely wanted to understand the theory.