The Sensen Papyrus as a Source for Characters in Derived Word Puzzle Compositions

In a previous article, we saw that the Sensen Papyrus does not translate to the text of the Book of Abraham.  Instead, it has the text of an ancient Egyptian Endowment.  The purpose of this set of foundational articles on this blog is to lay the foundation for the other ancient purpose of this papyrus.  And now we will try to establish the relationship that this papyrus and the associated facsimiles have with one another.  Remember, the hypocephalus (Facsimile #2) does not belong with the Sensen Papyrus.  Yet, if we trust Joseph Smith (which the current author chooses to do), then we know that it has an ancient association with the Sensen Papyrus.

Now, there exists a set of papers called the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (parts of which are known as Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar).  In the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, characters from the Sensen Papyrus are lined up with Joseph Smith's translations of these characters.  This is the case both in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar sections, as well as in the Book of Abraham Manuscripts.  The pattern is shared between these sections of the papers.  However, rather than being a literal translation of the characters, this actually represents a cut-up or collage or derivative work.  This is not a translation of the Sensen Papyrus.  It is a translation of an ancient derived work that was a hybrid work between Sensen characters and ideas and sections of text from the ancient Book of Abraham.  In other words, someone in ancient times thought it would be interesting to line up sections of the Book of Abraham ideas and text with characters that were chosen to mark them or align with them, from the Sensen Papyrus.

This is why Joseph Smith stated:

The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in translating an ALPHABET to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients. (History of the Church, Vol.2, p.238)
Now, it is clear that that this statement does not appear in the Joseph Smith Papers, and that other individuals therefore have attributed it to a later addition to the History of the Church, such as W. W. Phelps.  Nevertheless, this author attributes the concepts therein to Joseph Smith, just as this author attributes the rest of what W. W. Phelps and others reported ultimately to Joseph Smith.  He was clearly the mastermind behind the Alphabet and Grammar project, and these individuals did not make up these concepts on their own.  This is the disagreement that the author has with other theorists, is that, just because it was reported by a scribe or a second party, it doesn't mean Joseph Smith does not have ultimate responsibility.  The buck stops with Joseph.  Yes, I believe it is true that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers project was a council effort like many other things are often done by council.  But the buck indeed stops with Joseph.  For further discussion on this I refer you to the following article:
So then, taking Joseph Smith literally there, the concept behind all this is the assumption that it was indeed an alphabet, and that it was ancient.  Not the regular alphabet that we are used to, but a new invention of a new alphabet derived from Sensen symbols, by Egyptians in the context and environment of the Greco-Roman and Alexandrian time period and area.  Remember, that in previous articles, we have spoken of the tendency in these types of things for a lot of eclecticism and uniqueness.  Why then should the system (rules) and nature of the Sensen Alphabet game not be unique?  Why should it be expected to precisely match anything previous to it, given an expectation that eclectic compositions would be unique?  At the same time, why should it not share fundamental concepts and principles with other alphabets and ancient practices surrounding them?  Joseph Smith described the Sensen characters as an Alphabet.  So why not take him literally?  He did, after all, say, "as practiced by the ancients."  Then, a fair question is, what were the ancient practices surrounding an alphabet, and what does it mean that it is an alphabet "to" something?  The word "to" here is important.  If I say that I have a "screw" that goes "to" my "radio," doesn't that likely imply that it is in some sense, this is associated with or belongs to it?  In the context of the radio, the screw is an integral part that keeps it together.  If I say that Facsimile #2 of the Book of Abraham is the Hypocephalus to the Book of Abraham, then Mormon theorists would probably generally agree with me that that statement means that it goes along with it, or it was provided to go with it somehow, or belongs to it.  Yet, no Mormon Theorist now would argue that the Papyrus of Sheshonq originated with the Book of Abraham text.  They may argue that at some point, Abraham's work may have had some form of a Hypocephalus attached to it.  But they would not argue, I think, that some ancient person did not mean the Hypocephalus to accompany it.  For example, on, it says that in one sense, the word "to" is:
 . . . (used for expressing addition or accompaniment) with:  He added insult to injury. They danced to the music. Where is the top to this box?
In another related or very similar sense, it is used this way:
. . .(used for expressing attachment or adherence):  She held to her opinion. (
And so, the point is, it is the "Alphabet" that belongs "to" or goes along with the Book of Abraham.  It was designed that way by the same people or person that provided the Hypocephalus to go with the Book of Abraham.  And in "translating an alphabet," would he not be transferring the way it was used to us?  Would he not be transferring the intent of it to us in the English language?  The Kirtland Egyptian Papers do this very thing.  Similarly, the Explanation for Facsimile #2 tells us how the Hypocephalus functions as something to go with the Book of Abraham.  Why then are individuals in the Church ignoring the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and trying to transform them into anything other than what they clearly appear to be:  a translation of material.  Yes, it is not a conventional translation, but why question that the intent of them.  The intent in Joseph Smith's mind seems to be clear.  It was a transfer of ancient material into a modern language like anything else.  We just need to know and understand what type of ancient material has been transferred to us.  That is why rediscovery of its ancient context is key.

This is what he called these characters in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar:  an Alphabet.  And so, giving the benefit of the doubt to a Seer, it is fair to interpret that in light of how ancient people defined and used alphabets, rather than trying to understand them in terms of a straight-across translation.  Our expectation that a symbol that is matched up with a paragraph is a literal translation is wrong.  Rather, why are we not understanding this in terms that the ancients understood creative/ritual ways of using alphabets?  And how did the Hebrews use the Alphabet in creative ways in the Psalms?  As an acrostic, as an example of a creative-yet-religious letter composition.  In translating that into English, nobody is suggesting that the acrostic in the Psalms is a literal translation of the Hebrew Alphabet into the text of the Psalms.  Rather, they understand that the letters in the acrostic are a decoration and a literary form attached to the text of the Psalms to give it structure and beauty.  That is not to say that an acrostic is the exact type of literary composition that is happening in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, but it is nevertheless a close analogy to it.

Therefore, the point of all the previous articles in this series was to frame how the ancients developed and used alphabets.  If that can be defined and brought out with evidence, then the author could demonstrate from that ancient frame of mind that Joseph Smith's useage of the papyrus in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers fits within that, in a way that was not just "text."  Why is this important?  Because too many people think that the only alternative to this being ONLY an Egyptian text means that Joseph Smith couldn't translate.  Rather, I say that in calling it a "translation," what really was happening was reproduction of genuinely ancient material.  And it is within the context of an ancient Alphabet and ritual letter games/word puzzles that Joseph Smith's "translation" of an "alphabet" is best explained.  After all, he said it himself:  "as practiced by the ancients."  Literally, in that one statement, Joseph Smith is inviting us to discover how alphabets were used by the ancients, and how this usage was so conceptually related to board games.  Indeed, he was inviting us to discover how an alphabet could be used beyond just being used to "spell things out."  If we assume that it just "spelled something out," are we not hastily imposing our modern ethnocentric worldview on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt that they may indeed represent the reconstitution of an ancient production?  We give Joseph Smith's other productions the benefit of the doubt that they are reconstitution of ancient material.  Why not this?  Why not find the conceptual framework that this belongs in from the ancients?

In the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, the Egyptian characters do not represent text in this ancient alphabetic context.  Instead, in this frame, they represent individual characters and custom-derived characters.  And in this context, they function the way any other alphabet would for people that used them in all these ways anciently, especially for ritual.  This means that what Joseph Smith translated was a derivative composition, where someone anciently had the text of the Book of Abraham and some of its concepts, and decorated it in a word/letter game with characters from the Sensen Papyrus.  The Sensen Papyrus was, after all, the text that spoke of the pool of Khonsu.  After all, it was the text of the journey of the dancers, conceptually the same as the dancers along the roads of Mehen, or along the track of Senet.  And Mehen gives breath just as Khonsu gives breath.  It is the dancers who breathe with the gods, who become one with the gods in fellowship, because they move along the track, until finally they meet up with Re and supply the secret formulas and passwords to go on to their exaltation.  And so, like game pieces, the Sensen characters are game pieces, able to be employed however an ancient person may have wished in a derivative composition.  The Kirtland Egyptian Papers does not represent a translation of the text of the Book of Abraham from the Senen Papyrus.  That Papyrus never contained its text.  Rather, it is the translation of the letter game that some ancient priest was playing with the text of the Book of Abraham.  He thought it artistic to use the Sensen characters as an alphabet.  He made up a custom alphabet out of the Sensen characters.  He knew already that the characters were uniliteral, biliteral and triliteral (i.e. single consonantal, dual consonantal, and tri-consonantal) Egyptian characters in their normal usage.  In this, he invented a new way of using them, after the same way that the Canaanite inventors of the Proto-Sinaitic employed a new way of using Egyptian characters in the oldest phonetic alphabet.

Similarly, the pictures in the Hypocephalus (Facsimile #2) and in the Lion Couch Scenen (Facsimile #1, and in the Judgement Scene (Facsimile #1), were used in a similar manner as his new invented alphabet.  He employed these characters in a new way, matching them up with the story that he was trying to represent with them.  This concept, among LDS scholars, has been identified as Iconotropy, or Semitic adaptation.  Interestingly, this concept of word-games and letter-puzzles in the Sensen Papyrus is just a way of taking Iconotropy to the next level.  It is just the same concept as Iconotropy or "Semitic Adaptation," in all its essentials.  And this author has presented the basics of the evidence in this series of articles for this point of view.  Here is the article on Iconotropy for more information on that:

Now, a lady in my ward gave a talk a few weeks ago in Sacrament meeting, where she described when she was in Drivers Ed (Drivers Education) in high school, she made a cut-up/collage composition from the Drivers Ed handbook, taking pictures of signs and things from it.  And combined all of these road sign pictures with text from something entirely unrelated.  This is the concept that I'm trying to get at here.

Do these symbols actually have ties to the things that they are used to decorate or mark?  Yes.  Are there reasons that certain symbols were chosen to decorate certain things?  Yes.  I have other articles on this blog that get more in depth into that evidence.  For now, this series of articles provides the basic understanding of what is happening.

So when you see things like this on the Internet, recognize that all that is happening there is a word game in a derivative work, that is just something like a collage or a cut-up or a mix-up of characters:

This is not a literal translation, any more than an acrostic of our calendar (which is a derived composition) is a literal translation of the words January, February, March, etc.  Here is part of the Calendar acrostic that the author presented in an earlier article in this series.

JANet was quite ill one day.
FEBrile troubles came her way. 
MARtyr-like, she lay in bed;
Is this literally the Calendar?  No.  It is a derivative composition.

Are the translations in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers literal translations?  No.  They are translations of the ancient letter puzzle that was being performed in an ancient derivative/hybrid composition in the Egyptian language by some Egyptian Priest in the Greco-Roman era.  This ancient derivative composition included an ancient version of the text of the Book of Abraham that came down from Abraham, and using letters/characters from the Senen Papyrus to "decorate" that text.  Joseph Smith re-created this in modern times.

This is the true nature of the mystery of how the Sensen Papyrus relates to the text of the Book of Abraham.  Before this type of usage, it didn't relate at all.  This type of usage was a new invention.  It was just used in a letter puzzle with the text of the Book of Abraham.  It was a serious religious exercise for someone that believed in Abraham, who had come across the text of the Book of Abraham anciently.  It was as serious to this person as an ancient Endowment employing the game of Senet ritually to an ancient Egyptian, who was counting on the performance of a ritual game of Senet for his exaltation in the hereafter.

The confusion with the Book of Abraham stems from the idea that the Sensen Papyrus was an original to the Book of Abraham text.  Well, this is not the case.  What was it then, and what is the ancient relationship?  Just saying that it was not the original to the Book of Abraham text doesn't solve the problem of what it was.  Contrary to the conclusions of other researchers, it doesn't stop there.  There indeed is an ancient relationship between the Sensen Papyrus and the Book of Abraham text that allows us to call the Book of Abraham text AND the Kirtland Egyptian Papers a translation of ancient material.  This ancient material it was translated from was a Greco-Roman-era derivative composition between both the Book of Abraham text and the Sensen Papyrus text, employing letter puzzles and related principles.  This relationship is an unconventional one to be sure, but it is not mysterious, nor is it something unheard of.  The Greco-Roman-era creator of this derivative composition had an ingenious way of linking the Sensen characters to the Book of Abraham material.  The point of this blog is to explore these links.

People have long been willing to accept that the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham are some sort of non-literal translation, and go to great lengths to defend Joseph's translations.  People have long been willing to accept non-literal but real links between the characters in the Facsimiles and Joseph Smith's explanation for them.  A typical example is Facsimile #2, Figure 1.  In Egyptian it is the god of Creation.  To Joseph Smith, it is Kolob, the First Creation.  Did you catch the link?  It is not literal, but real, and it was intentional, from an ancient derivative composition between the Abraham material and the Facsimiles.

Similar links are found between the Sensen characters and the Abraham material.  So in "translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham," what Joseph Smith was doing, was reproducing ancient material from the derivative composition that included an ancient custom-made "alphabet" that was invented by a Greco-Roman era priest based off of Sensen papyrus characters.  Then this person proceeded to use that custom alphabet in all sorts of letter tricks and puzzles in his derivative composition.  He was not building a code in to the Sensen Papyrus itself, or creating a new redaction of it.  He invented something entirely new using the Sensen Papyrus as a source for material, and using the Book of Abraham text as a source for material.  What he created was a hybrid composition of the two, a collage, a cut-up, a mix-up of the two, and creatively weaved them together to link them together, where the Sensen-derived characters became decorations or markers for Abraham material.  The problem people have in understanding all of this results from the fact that Joseph Smith never physically had this derivative composition, just like in D&C 7, Joseph Smith never had John the Beloved's manuscript.  Joseph Smith only got his hands on the Sensen papyrus, and then he had to re-create this derivative composition in modern times in English.