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Home Book of Abraham Special Section Mnemonic Device of Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar and Joseph Smith translation of the Book of Abraham

Mnemonic Device of Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar and Joseph Smith translation of the Book of Abraham

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Mnemonic Device of the Joseph Smith Papyri, Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar & the Book of Abraham (Oct. 25, 1968)

With permission from John Tvedtnes

Transcribed by Kerry A. Shirts

First I want to thank Brother Tvedtnes for granting permission to put his magnificent study on my website. He and Richley Crapo deserve wider recognition and understanding of this breakthrough discovery that is far too obscure as of today. In talking with Bro. Tvedtnes on the telephone, I asked him specifically about Klaus Baer's criticism of his research into the mnemonic device and he noted that Baer's comments were found in Jay Todd's book "The Saga of the Book of Abraham," and that Baer apologized for his crisp and premature remarks. This was also noted in John Gee's excellent review of Charles Larson's anti-Mormon book about the papyri, in FARMS, "Review of Books on the Book of Mormon," Vol. 4, 1992, p. 109f., to which we will return. Tvedtnes and Crapo's research was published in three different issues of S.E.H.A. (Society for Early Historic Archaeology) from 1968-1970.

"A Study of the Hor Sen-Sen Papyrus"

The acquisition of some of the original papyri in the possession of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, at the time he gave to the world the Book of Abraham has aroused much interest in the extent to which he was acquainted with the Egyptian language, both among members and non-members of the LDS church.

But even before this remarkable acquisition, Joseph Smith's 'Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar' had been published for all to see the workings of the Prophet's mind in those days. The 'Grammar' contains a number of sections which bear his handwritten copies of the hieratic script found on the newly-acquired papyri, oftentimes juxtaposed with his own comments.

In two different section of the 'Alphabet and Grammar' hieratic symbols taken in order from the papyrus which Dr. Hugh Nibley labelled the 'Small Sen-Sen Fragment' (Improvement Era, February, 1968) have been juxtaposed to English symbols (i.e. words) comprising the text of the Book of Abraham. This correlation was pointed out by certain non-members of the Church shortly after the publication of photographs of the papyri. These same persons believed that the juxtaposition of small groups of hieratic symbols with English symbols in the 'Alphabet and Grammar' implies a relationship of translation. At first sight, this appears to be a reasonable assumption. Four points of fact support it:

1. Joseph Smith, according to his own testimony, was working on a translation.

2. This translationwas later published as the Book of Abraham, the text of part of which appears in English symbols or writing in the 'Alphabet and Grammar.'

3. The Book of Abraham was supposedly being translated from the Egyptian papyri. Historical documentation found with the recently-acquired papyri prove that the 'Small Sen-Sen Fragment' was among those used by Joseph Smith.

4. The 'Small Sen-Sen Fragment' attaches to and follows (as described in Abraham 1:12-14) the papyrus fragment which depicts Facsimile 1.

This led to an objection on the part of the non-members: the size of the English text as opposed to that of the Egyptian text (i.e., the 25:1 ratio of the words) seems unbelievably high. Recently [as of 1968 when this article was written] Dee Jay Nelson, a member of the Church and a Philologist of the Egyptian language, has accepted this view.We should therefore reply to these objections if we wish to continue to maintain that the Book of Abraham is scripture, the more so because some respected members of the church are beginning to accept the rationale behind the argument presented.

If the Book of Abraham is to be presented as authentic, there are two possible directions which can be taken:

A. We can simply discount the objection to the ratio of English to Egyptian symbols, which implies proving that the Book of Abraham text does indeed come from the Sen-Sen text.

B. We can show that there is a relationship between the juxtaposed symbols other than that of translation; i.e., we must find some other reason why Joseph Smith put them in juxtaposition.

As previously indicated, assumption "A" seems to be the more desirable, especially in the apparent absence of a reasonable substitute explanation for the juxtaposition. But this possibility appears to have been ruled out by the scholarly translations of the Sen-Sen text by Mr. Nelson, Dr. Richard A. Parker, and Dr. Klaus Baer, showing it to be a normal Egyptian funerary document.

Dr. Nibley, however, still seems to agree with us that possibility 'A,' a relationship of translation, is the more desirable explanation, for in recent articles he places emphasis on the possibility of a 'supercryptogram,' i.e. a deeper level of hidden translation. But no one has as yet suggested what such a supercryptogram might be.

We should like to suggest that our studies have brought to light some support for Dr. Nibley's supercryptogram theory, for there appears to be a semantic relationship between the Egyptian and English symbols in the columns of the 'Alphabet and Grammar.' We do not advocate this theory as the only possible answer but as a logical conclusion to our research on this subject.

Although it is true, as pointed out by the non-member critics, that the English text contains many principal words and ideas not reflected in the Egyptian hieratic symbols, we recognized some months ago certain cases in which the hieratic words are found in the corresponding English text. There was clearly some connection, but its exact nature was not apparent. We theorized that perhaps each set of Egyptian symbols represented merely a "key word" which would bring to mind a certain memorized set of phrases, which was part of a longer oral tradition.

Oral tradition was not unknown to the Hebrews. Jewish legend and jurisprudence have it that there was in existence, even from the time of Moses, an oral tradition of the law which was passed on from generation to generation and subsequently codified in the Mishnah. If such an oral tradition can be attributed to Moses it can also be attributed to his ancestor, Abraham.

An excellent example of a similar type of oral tradition was found among the Aztecs. It differed from the Hebrew oral tradition in that it was quite precise and utilized a memory aid or "mnemonic" device. This was in the form of a painting (codex), each symbol of which brought to mind a certain set of rote memorized phrases, which were passed down from one generation to another. Certain Aztec men had learned stories relating to various of these paintings. If one were to compare the oral recitation of one Aztec elder with that of another viewing the same painting, they would be substantially the same and, most often, identical renditions.

We suppose, therefore, as a working hypothesis: either (1) that the Sen-Sen Papyrus was used as a memory device by Abraham (and perhaps by his descendants), each symbol or group of symbols bringing to mind a set number of memorized phrases relating to Abraham's account of his life, or (2) that the hieratic words in the 'Alphabet and Grammar' are simply related to core-concepts in the corresponding English story of Abraham. Either hypothesis requires that Joseph Smith had a working knowledge of the hieratic words on the papyrus. In the second case, much of the English text may have been supplied by Joseph Smith as an inspired commentary on the hieratic words.

Viewed in this light, the Book of Abraham seems NOT to be a direct translation of the Egyptian text appearing on the Sen-Sen Papyrus. Indeed, since the oral tradition itself would have long since disappeared with the death of Abraham or the last of his descendants acquainted with the story, the Book of Abraham would have had to be revealed to Joseph Smith, perhaps in connection with the use of the Egyptian symbols, in as much as the Prophet does relate long English passages to single Egyptian words or short phrases.

Our analytic procedure, therefore, has been to examine not the message of the entire Sen-Sen text, but the semantic content ("meaning") of each hieratic morpheme (smallest unit of meaning), word, or phrase in the 'Alphabet and Grammar' text, and to determining in each case whether this emantic content is related to the associated passage from the Book of Abraham. Our work has emphasized the meanings of the Egyptian words and their relationship to the Book of Abraham text; also, we have supplemented this with a secondary consideration of the relationship of homophonous (similar-sounding) Hebrew words to the relevant passages when this has seemed appropriate.

Our investigation has revealed two major points:

1. Joseph Smith, when transcribing the hieratic words from the papyrus into the 'Alphabet and Grammar,' always dealt with complete morphemes. In no case did he copy a meaningless series of hieratic symbols by breaking a word other than at morpheme boundaries. Thus, for instance, when he transcribed a word composed of five hieratic symbols, he never made the mistake (statistically inevitable for anyone to whom the sign symbols are only a meaningless jumble of lines) of transcribing only three or four of the word's five signs, or of transcribing six or seven by including elements of the preceding or following words.

Of 19 transcribed hieratic words, 16 were carried over by Joseph Smith into his transcription as complete words. The transcription of only three of the words involved breaking them in two, and the breaks were always made at valid morpheme boundaries. In two of these cases, the break was made between root-morphemes and their suffixes and/or ideographic determinatives. In only one case was such a break within an alphabetically written word, and this occurred at such a place that the two word-halves created by the break could be analyzed as two valid semantic elements. This first discovery implies that Joseph Smith's handling of the hieratic symbols was not haphazard: a person with no insight into the meaning of the symbols would have been bound to make a false division

2. In every case the meaning of the hieratic word shows up in some relevant way in the juxtaposed verses from the Book of Abraham, whereas comparison of the hieratic with the preceding or following (rather than juxtaposed) English passages destroys the consistency of the parallels. Likewise, no significant parallels were found when the hieratic was compared in a similar way to other texts, such as the Book of Moses. Thus, the hieratic words seem to have a special relationship to the Book of Abraham and particularly to the verses with which they were connected by Joseph Smith.

In a number of cases, the parallels are further amplified by a relationship not simply of the narrow meaning of the hieratic words, but also of the underlying religious background of the words to the content of the relevant English passages. Furthermore, in the case of numerous hieratic words, homophonous Hebrew words have been found which also have meanings which appear in relevant ways in the associated English verses - a fact which might be expected if the text had been adopted as a memory device by a group of Semitic people for a specific Hebrew secret oral tradition.

This second discovery implies also that the author of the Book of Abraham had a significant insight into the meaning of the hieratic words of the Sen-Sen papyrus, and that the symbols on this papyrus have a definite relationship to the Book of Abraham verse with which Joseph Smith associated them. We present the accompanying chart which summarizes those of our findings to date which concern the relationship between Joseph Smith's text of the Book of Abraham and the Hor Sen-Sen Papyrus. We realize that our work is still in a preliminary phase and that the findings of this chart will undoubtedly require later amplification and modification. Also, although out studies have revealed further semantic correspondences between the remainder of the Book of Abraham and the Hor Sen-Sen Papyrus, this additional information is not included here, since our work on it has not yet reached a stage of sufficient maturity for formal presentation. [They do however reveal this in their second article below].

[Kerry's note]: Now then, as to their chart, I cannot include the hieratic or hieroglyphic signs but I will include the transliteration of their meaning and their relationship to the Book of Abraham as they found it. Also realize that I am trying to transliterate the words as exactly as I can beased on what my keyboard will do.

1. "iw" meaning "they shall, to be (plural)"

2. "st3" meaning to "tow, convey"

corresponding to Abraham 1:1-4, "The sign of the 5th degree of the second part. Abraham a follower of righteousness, sought his appointment unto the priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed."

3. reconstruction of this symbol still uncertain corresponding to Abr 1:5a - "the fathers turned from righteousness and the holy commandments to the worship of the gods of the heathens."

4. "Wsir" meaning "Osiris, Egyptian mortuary deity, the deified Pharaoh"

5. "hnw" meaning "in, inside of"

corresponding with Abr. 1:7b-10 - "the altar was built in the land of Chaldea."

6. "py" meaning "this, the, (a specific thing), corresponding to Abr. 1:11a - "Now this priest..." (previously mentioned).

7. "S3" meaning "pool (first half), river, lake, waterway" corresponding to Abr. 1:11b-12 - "Now it was done after the manner of the Egyptians (people of the river)."

8. "nw" meaning "pool (second half), determinative for water" corresponding to Abr. 1:13-14 - "Pharaoh King of Egypt (origin of Egypt from water)."

9. "wr" (Baer) "her" (Nelson) meaning "strong, powerful, great, to travel, to pass by, on the pathway, Determinative: go, walk, stand, etc." Corresponding to Abr. 1:15 - "The Lord.... filled me with a vision of the Almighty." The angel of his presence stood by my feet and loosed my bonds."

10. "Khonsu" meaning "Khons, the moon God, the Traveler, the medical healer" corresponding to Abr. 1:16-19 - "I have.... come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away into a strange land... I have come down to visit thee... I will lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee..." "god of Libnah" (Hebrew levanah meaning moon)."

11. "Wsir" meaning "Osiris, the deceased, the resurrected, the murdered god, the deceased Pharaoh" corresponding to Abr. 1:20-22 - "The Lord utterly destroyed the gods of the land and smote the priest that he died, and there was mourning in the court of Pharaoh. From the Canaanites sprang all the Egyptians."

12. "Hor" meaning "Horus (name of the clan that unified all Egypt). Corresponding to Abr. 1:23-24 - "The discovery and settling of Egypt is explained."

13. "Ma'at" meaning "truth, justice, righteousness, order, created and inherited righteousness which confirmed the stability of Pharaoh's rule. The proper quality of rule, governmentand law." Corresponds to Abr. 1:25-26 - "The government of Egypt was established after the patriarchal order, "Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations..."

14. "hyrw" meaning "word, voice" corresponding to Abr. 1:27-28 - "Pharaoh claimed the right to the priesthood. Abraham discusses the record of the fathers."

15. "ms-n" meaning "offspring of, born to" corresponding to Abr. 1:29-31a - "Abraham's father, the fathers, and the patriarchs are mentioned."

16. "T y" meaning "the, (devoted to or belonging to)" corresponding to Abr. 1:31b - "Abraham discusses the record devoted to his posterity."

17. "Khabyt" meaning "the destroyer, ravager, devastator" corresponding to Abr. 2:1-2a - "Now the Lord God caused a famine to wax sore in the land of Ur, insomuch that Haran... died."

18. "st" meaning "determinative for woman" corresponding to Abr. 2:2b - "who was the daughter of Haran"

19. "Ma'at, hyrw, mity, si mity"(Parker) meaning true of word also, justified also, a man also," corresponding to Abr. 2:3-6a - "The Lord covenants with Abraham. Abraham obeys and leaves Ur. And I took Lot, my brother's son.... and also my father followed me. The Lord appears to Abraham and Lot."

20. "m" meaning "after" corresponding to Abr. 2:6b - "thy seed after thee. Promise of things to happen after Abraham leaves Ur."

21. "hifr" meaning "seize, grasp," corresponding to Abr. 2:7-9a - "God controls all things with his hand and voice. My hand shall be over thee."

22 & 22a. "''wy" meaning "The two arms determinative: flesh, body, members" corresponding to Abr. 2:9b-11 - "In their hands they shall bear this ministry and priesthood. ...the seed of thy body."

22b. "r" meaning "with, (also designates futurity) Corresponds with above 22 & 22a also.

23 & 24. "h3ty" meaning "breast, heart, determinative flesh" corresponding to Abr. 2:12-16 - "I said in my heart (12) Abraham took Sarai his wife, they became one flesh"

25. "f" meaning "his" corresponding to Abr. 2:15-16 - "Sarai his flesh."

26. "iw" meaning "plural emphatic state of being" corresponding to Abr. 2:15-16 - "Therefore, eternity was our covering..." (16).

27. "qer" meaning "round, circular, cavern, zone, sphere, (i.e., enclosure, covering corresponding to 26 above also - "eternity was our covering."

28. "is" meaning "now, now then, behold, when, voila, moreover,"corresponding to Abr. 2:17-18 - "Now I Abraham..."

29. "sesh" meaning determinatives: "tie, pack, wrap, and funeral couch," corresponding to Abr. 2:17-18 - "I prayed that the famine might be turned away...that they might not perish (17). Abraham offered sacrifice. (18)."

[In the second part of their research Tvedtnes and Crapo discussed some of the signficiant things about the above points I will include here - KAS]

From their second article dating June 2, 1969, in S.E.H.A.

The Hor Sen-Sen Papyrus as a Mnemonic Device: A Further Study

Having shown the feasibility of a mnemonic device used in conjunction with an Abrahamic oral tradition, we feel compelled to present further evidence in support of our theory, and to suggest possible relationships between the patriarch Abraham and the Sen-Sen text.

In the case of Joseph Smith's Alphabet and Grammar, we find not one or two examples of related meanings in the two columns (hieratic on the left, English on the right), but a correlation in each and every case, when comparing the respective Egyptian and English words which Joseph Smith indicated to be related. Thus the strength of the text will not rise or fall on the basis of one or more individual cases, but upon the fact that one finds parallels consistently in every case when examined in the order established by Joseph Smith. The correspondences, as we have demonstrated in the case of the Alphabet and Grammar, are not random, but consistent. It matters not if all the key-words be mere particles (prepositions, articles, and other simple adjectives) or common nouns or verbs. The parallels exist only if one examines the columns as they were set up by Joseph Smith; otherwise, such parallels do not occur in a consistent manner.

Thus, as a test, when we compared the meanings of the Egyptian words to the preceding Book of Abraham verses in each case, and later to following verses in each case, and finally in a similar manner to the equivilant number of Book of Moses verses (which, being written down by the same English speaker, with the same vocabulary and grammatical style, and having a similar subject matter, should provide the greatest number of accidental parallels), relatively few parallels (no more than might be expected by pure chance) were found; and these, for the most part, were not as valid nor as convincing as the parallels to the Book of Abraham, so that the number and consistency of the parallels did not compare with those evident in the verses as Joseph Smith lined them up. Of the 29 divisions made by Joseph Smith, we found parallels in 29 cases. Thus the number and the quality of the parallels are important factors to consider. Joseph Smith's arrangement is consistent in quality and in number of parallels, and while some parallels may exist between the Sen-Sen text and any given English text (as some would, by mere chance), it is inconceivable that, using approximately the same ratio of Egyptian to English words as Joseph Smith did, the same number of parallels as appeared in our study of the Book of Abraham would be found.

Moreover it seems to be more than mere coincidence that many of the Egyptian hieratic words copied by Joseph Smith are semantically reflected in the juxtaposed English text in more than one way, or more than once in the same way. For example, in the above numbered parallels, the following items appear more than once:

#6. "py" meaning "this" In Abraham 1:11a the word "this" appears three times, the word "these" appears once, and "the" appears four times.

#9. "Wr" meaning "strong, powerful, great," according to Baer. In Abraham 1:15 the title "Almighty" appears. "Her," meaning to "travel, pass by," according to Nelson. Feet are also determinatives in verbs of motion, such as "walk, run, jump, come, go, stand," etc., and play an important role in the prayer stance, for which see Dr. Nibley's comments on Facsimile 1 in the Improvement Era, Dec. 1968, page 31. In Abraham 1:15 we read of Abraham's prayer for deliverance; the words "stood by my feet" appear in the original version on page K of the Alphabet and Grammar. (in our present Book of Abraham, this reads "stood by me.")

#10 "Khonsu," meaning "the moon god," called "the traveler." In Abraham 1:16-19 we have several references to traveling: "...I have come down...to take thee away...; I have come down to visit them...; I will lead thee by my hand..." Also the god Libnah, spoken of by Abraham, is clearly from the Semitic levanah "the white one (f.)," the Hebrew name for the moon. (Note: "v" and "b" are allophones in Hebrew.)

21. "H fr" meaning "seize, grasp." In Abraham 2:7-9a there are several references to God's control ("grasp") over the earth, especially by use of the body's grasping instrument, the hand: "...I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice...; my hand shall be over thee..." It should be noted that the normal Egyptian word for "grasp" or "seize" (3mm) is written with the hand (or sometimes the arm) as a determinative.

22. "Wy" meaning the two arms, determinatives of "flash, body, members." In Abraham 2:9b-11 we find these references: "... in their hands they shall bear this ministry...; the seed of the body..." (see also 22a.)

22b. "R" meaning "with" also designates futurity. Continuing an examination of Abraham 2:9b-11, we find that God is making promises regarding the future. He promises that through Abraham's seed "...shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel..."

In the following chart is a continuation and summarization of our research on the subject of correspondences between the hieratic Sen-Sen text and the English Abrahamic text. Joseph Smith is not known to have shown the parallels that we present in this new chart. Nevertheless, the parallels are striking and provide further evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. If parallels of equal quality (i.e., in order, and to "verses" of lengths equal to each respective Book of Abraham verse taken in order) cannot be found by a systematic comparison of these Sen-Sen text words with any other English text chosen at random, then these parallels constitute a further proof of the special semantic relationship between the Sen-Sen and Book of Abraham texts. Likewise if, at some future date, a document similar to the Alphabet and Grammar, in the hand of Joseph Smith or one of his scribes and showing which Sen-Sen words the Prophet connected with which Book of Abraham passages, should be discovered and proved to correspond significantly with our chart, or to show correspondences which are superior to the data on the chart, this would provide conclusive proof that Joseph Smith knew the meaning of the hieratic words of the Sen-Sen text.

In preparing this chart the balance of the hieratic words, taken in order from the preamble to the Sen-Sen text, were used juxtaposed to the remaining passages (in order) from the Book of Abraham. In many cases homophonous Hebrew words (reflecting the Semitic speech of Abraham) have provided interesting parallels. While many parallels could theoretically be made by comparing the hieratic text of items 30 to 59 with another English text, nevertheless the number of correspondences shown on our chart is striking and, we feel, extremely significant.

The second Chart - #'s 30 - 59

30 shows no hieratic sign though Tvedtnes indicates it may be "the" or "this" and then shows BofA reference 2:19 - "...and the Lord appeared..." "...will I give this land..."

31. "s'it" meaning "Book" (lit. "writings") the Hebrew "sa'at" "trot" and Hebrew "tsa'ad" meaning "march, advance, step" related to Hebrew "tsa'an" meaning "wander, migrate, remove [tent]" correlating to Abraham 2:20-21 - "...I Abraham removed from thence...", "...and pitched my tent there...", "....journeyed, going on still...", "...to go down into Egypt to sojourn there..."

31 cont. "n" meaning "of, by, to for" as in the last Hebrew word mentioned above, "tsa'an" the ending in n correlating to Abraham 2:20-21 - "...place of the altar...", "... there was a continuation of a famine...", "...on the east of Bethel..."

32. "snsn" meaning "breathings" the Hebrew "sansan" meaning palm leaf, correlating to Abraham 2:22-25 - "The Lord tells Abraham to make the Egyptians believe Sarai is his sister. Cf. with the "palm" vision in the Genesis Apocryphon" [in the Dead Sea Scrolls]. Also the Hebrew "nefesh" - "soul", from the verb "nafash" meaning "breathe" correlating to Abraham 2:22-25 - "...thy soul shall live...", "...my soul shall live..."

33. "'rq" and "'ry n" meaning "to make an end" cf. Hebrew "'erek" meaning "order, value, arrangement, comparison, evaluation" correlating to Abraham 3:1-4 - "I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order..."

34. "nty" meaning "who, which" Hebrew "natuy", meaning "stretched out" correlating to Abraham 3:5-13 - "Which" occurs 20 times, "...(and his hand was stretched out..."

35. "m" meaning "from, in, by, with" Hebrew "sefer" meaning "book, writing" from the Hebrew "sipper", "declare, tell, count" (another derivative: "mispar" meaning "number" correlating to Abraham 3:14-15 - "...the Lord spake these words...", "...if thou canst count...", "...so shall be the number...", "....and the Lord said unto me...", "...that ye may declare all...."

36. "nw" meaning "interior, inside," the Hebrew "nu'" a root of the verb to "restrain, frustrate," and the Egyptian hieratic sign "w't" the abbreviation of "bw n r w3t" meaning "outside" as in two contrasting things, correlating to Abraham 3:16-19 - "...and there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it." Contrasts: "one above the other" (above-below, greater-lesser, more-less).

37. "im" meaning "there(in, on, with, from)", the Hebrew "'im" meaning "with, among, close to," also the Hebrew "'am" meaning "nation, people, (in the sense of an allied community), correlating to Abraham 3:20-21 - "...I dwell in the midst of them...", "...I now, therefore...", "...wherein...", "... in the heavens above and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom...", "...in the midst of all...", "...all the intelligences..."

37a. "s" the causitive prepositional prefix (giving the idea of "making" or "doing") correlating to Abraham 3:20-21 - The Lord caused the angel to deliver Abraham from the Priest. "...the works which my hands have made..." now then "m" combined with # 38 which these two give us "thereon is done to", according to Nelson. 38a may, however, be combined instead with 39). Egyptian hieratic "sm" meaning "uniter" with Hebrew "sam" meaning "set, appoint, ordain, establish," and Hebrew "Shem" meaning "name, reputation, renown," and Hebrew "Sham" meaning "to estimate, evaluate," correlates with Abraham 3:22-23 - "...noble and great ones...", "...these I will make my rulers...", God "organized" or "United" the intelligences "before the world was."

38. "swtn" meaning "byssus, fine (royal) linen" correlating to Abraham 3:22-23 - "See above 38a" [ Kerry's comment, I am sure they meant 37a].

39. "r'" meaning "placed at, near, beside," (also a homoonym for the Egyptian sin-God, Ra.) correlating to Abraham 3:24-25 - "...one...like unto God...", "...he said unto those who were with him...", The Gods make plans to place man on the earth.

40. "w'tf" meaning "to tie (wrap) up" Hebrew "wa'ed" meaning "forever," correlating to Abraham 3:26 - "...glory added upon their heads for ever and ever..." (mummy wrappings are "added upon" the corpse in layers) Also speaks of the council or meeting of the Gods to make plans for the earth.

41. "i'by" meaning left side" correlating to Abraham 3:27-28 - Those rejected with Satan are sent to "the left hand" (the sinister side) at the judgment. (See Matt. 25:31-34, 41.)

42. "mty" meaning "straight forwrd, precise, in alignment with" correlating to Abraham 4:1 - The earth is set in order "...the Gods organized and formed the heavens and the earth..."

43. "hty-f" meaning "his heart (breast, front)" Egyptian homonym is "face, front," with slightly variant spelling, correlating to Abraham 4:2 - "...the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters..."

44. "iw" meaning "is, are," (to be), correlating to Abraham 4:3 - "...let there be..."

45. "irw" meaning "to make (do), done" correlating to Abraham 4:4-6 - Tells what God did during the very first step in the organization of the earth.

46. "p" meaning "the, this, often conveying idea of an act having been accomplished (Nelson), correlating to Abraham 4:7-10 - "...and it was so, even as they ordered...", (this phrase appears twice) "...and the Gods say that they were obeyed..."

47. Abbreviation of "grh n" meaning "at the end, final," correlating to Abraham 4:11 - Conclusion of the organization of the earth itself (minus plants and animals) "...and it was so, even as they ordered..."

48. "t;y-f" meaning "his, its (m. poss.) correlating to Abraham 4:12-13 - "...its own kind..." (3 times) "...after his kind..." (twice)

49. "qris" meaning "to wrap in linen wrappings, Hebrew "qaras" "bow, bend" correlating to Abraham 4:14-19 - "...until they obeyed..."

50. "ps" meaning (mis-spelled "py") "this, the (Nelson), Hebrew "pats" meaning "to be dispersed, scattered," correlating to Abraham 4:20-25 - "...fill the waters in the seas..." (i.e., be dispersed in the seas) "the" appears 21 times.

51. "w3t" meaning "outside" Hebrew "wa'ad", meaning "committee, meeting" correlating to Abraham 4:26-28 - "...and the Gods took counsel among themselves..." Preceding verses show the Gods preparing the earth to "bring forth" plants and animals (vv. 11, 12, 20, 21, 24, 25), but now there is OUTSIDE INTERVENTION in the creation: "...the Gods...said Let us go down and form man..."

52. "ir" meaning "as, to, if (for introductory emphasis) Nelson, correlating to Abraham 4:29-30 - "....behold..." (for introductory emphasis)

53. "irtu" meaning "to make (do), done" correlating to Abraham 4:31- 5:3 - "...we will do everything that we have said, and organize them... and thus we will finish the heavens and the earth...and we will end our work..." (all of this is being done for man, as previously determined in the council.)

54. "md3t" meaning "writing, book," Eg. "tn" meaning "this," and Eg. "hr" meaning "to" For the Hebrew see # 35, note Hebrew "md" meaning "uniform" (adjective) Hebrew "'ad" meaning "mist" correlating to Abraham 5:4-6 - "... they had said concerning...", "...these the generations of the heavens...", "...there went up a mist from the earth...", "...according to all that which they had...."

55. "sn sn-f" meaning "his breath" the Hebrew "nefesh" meaning "soul, breath," from verb "nafash" meaning "breathe" correlating to Abraham 5:7 - "...breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul..."

56. "mi" meaning "like" Hebrew "mi" meaning "who, whose," correlating to Abraham 5:8-18 - "... the man, whose spirit...", "...it was after (i.e., like) the Lord's time, which was after the time of Kolob..." Also the Eg. determinative for "soul, spirit" the "ba" also Hebrew "ruach" is "spirit" correlating to Abraham 5:8-18 in reference to the "soul" "...let us make an help meet for the man...", "...flesh of my flesh....and they shall be one flesh..."

57. "ntrw" meaning "gods" correlating to Abraham 5:19-20a - "...the gods formed every beast..."

58. "r" meaning "to, at, from, concerning," (this is the mouth symbol, also shows futurity) correlating to Abraham 5:20b - "...and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call (future) them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature..."

59. "hhh n d t" (the h's have dots under them as does the d, my computer won't type it that way - KAS) meaning "forever & ever" (lit. 100,000 i.e. years - % forever) the Hebrew also means estate correlating to Abraham 5:21 - Adam named all cattle...every beast of his second estate, the earth (see 3:25-26).

End of second chart

Now in this second chart The first striking correspondence or parallel is in No. 31, where we find as many as eight parallels. By combining the Egyptian "s'it" with "n", we approximate the Hebrew "tsa'an", meaning "wander, migrate, remove." By "remove" is meant, specifically, the removal of a nomad's tent from one place to another. Verses 20 and 21 of Abraham 2 contain several references to traveling and nomadism.

No. 32 illustrates a remarkable parallel to Abraham's story. When Abraham went into Egypt, he told the Egyptians that Sarai (his wife) was his sister. This he did, fearing that the Egyptians would slay him and take his wife if the knew that they were married. The story as told in Genesis (12:11-13) leads us to believe that Abraham was the instigator of this deception. But the Book of Abraham (2:22-25) indicates that his reply to the Egyptians came as the result of a revelation from the Lord that he would be slain if he did not say that Sarai was his sister. The Genesis Apocryphon, a pseudepigraphic work recovered in recent years near the Dead Sea, tells how Abraham received such a revelation in the form of a dream, in which he was represented by a cedar tree and Sarai by a palm. The account is as follows:

Then we left our land and came into the land of the sons of Ham, the land of Egypt. And I, Abram, dreamed a dream in the night as we came into the land of Egypt. I saw in my dream..., behold, a cedar and a palm////, and there came people who wanted to cut down and uproot the cedar and leave the palm alone by itself. But the palm cried and spake, "Chop not down the tree, for cursed is he who fells [it]," and the cedar was left alone for the sake of the palm and not [cut down]. And I awoke in the night out of my sleep and spake to Sara my wife: "A dream have I dreamed///// and [I] fear on account of this dream." She said unto me: "Tell me your dream, so that I might understand." And I began to tell her this dream ///// [And] they will attempt to kill me and leave you remaining. On this day, all good is all about me: 'He is my brother' and I will remain alive on account of you and my life will be saved through you." (Genesis Apocryphon, 19:13ff)

We therefore have a correspondence between the Egyptian word sensen, "breathings" and the Hebrew sansan, "palm leaf (both words being written without the vowels in the original languages), in view of the story of Abraham's plight in Egypt with regard to his wife, Sarai (a palm tree in the apocryphal account). An additionl correspondence in No. 32 is the reference to Abraham's "soul" (meaning the body and spirit in unison - see D&C 88:15-16) is "nefesh" from the verb "nafash" "breathe."

No. 34 illustrates perhaps the only group of nine successive verses in all the standard works that employs the word "which" so many times (20). But there is a second parallel with the Hebrew word natuy, "stretched out," perfectly relfecting Abraham's statement (in reference to the Lord, who was speaking to him) that "his hand was stretched out." The strength of this parallel is increased by the very fact that this statement by Abraham is parenthetical, and that, while it does not add to the clarity of the passage into which it is inserted, it is, nevertheless, used. This would indicate, once again, that whoever originally connected the Abrahamic text with the Sen-Sen text knew the pronounciation of the hieratic word (nty), which approximates that of the Hebrew.

No. 35 has a number of correspondences. The Hebrew Equivilant of the Egyptian "sshw", "writings," would be sefer which is derived from the verb sipper, "declare, tell, count," the f and p being allophones in Hebrew. Another noun derived from this verb is mispar, "number."The use of these words in Abraham 3:14-15 provides much evidence in favor of our thesis.

No. 36 likewise has more than one correspondence. The Abrahamic text at this point indiactes that nothing can restrain God from accomplishing that which he "shall take in his heart to do," thus frustrating his work. We therefore have the exactly opposite meaning of the Hebrew verb indicated in the chart.

In No. 37 we have made use of the Hebrew words 'im, "with, among, close to," which is clearly relflected in the text, and 'am, "nation, people." The latter could easily be applied to the community or organization of the "intelligences" or spirits that existed at the time in question in the text.

No. 37a could be combined either with No. 37 or No. 38, for it has a relationship to each. If used with 37, we have additional correspondences in Abraham 2:20-21, in that s, transmitting the idea of "making" (or causation, as shown also on the chart), is relfected in the Abrahamic text by the word "made," while m, "from, in, with," is reflected in the idea that God was "in the midst" of the intelligences. Additionally Dee Jay Nelson indicates that what we have labeled 37 and 37a together convey the idea of "thereon is done to," thus bringing us back to the idea of making or of causation, indicated in the corresponding text.

If 37a is combined with 38 as a single word (sm or shm), we have the Hebrew words for "set, appoint, ordain, establish," "name, reputation, renown," and "estimate, evaluate," all ideas reflected in Abraham 3:22-23, in which God speaks of the "noble and great ones," of whom he says, "these I will make my rulers." Here the word "make" reflects the Hebrew sam "set, appoint, ordain, establish," or the Egyptian s conveying the idea of "making, doing" or of causation. And, as shown on the chart, we have the word sam if we combine the two Egyptian elements together. The meaning of this word ("uniter") is reflected in the Abrahamic text as well. No. 38, the so-called "royal" linen, also suggests the "noble" and "great rulers."

Nos. 39 & 40 have multiple correspondences as well, indicating that the verses shown in the chart were probably derived from the hieratic words with which we have listed them.

No. 48 is an important correpsondence, in that "his" occurs twice in Abraham 4:12-13, and "its" (this word in the masculine possessive is the same as "his" in both Egyptain and Hebrew) occurs three times.

No. 50 is striking, in that the word "the" appears 21 times in the six verses listed in the chart. For the correspondence between s and ts, see note at the end of this article. The same note explains our correspondences in No. 52, where we find two parallels.

In No. 56 it should be noted that the word "after" in the Book of Abraham is not used in a temporal sense, but rather in a comparative sense. It could be replaced by the expression "according to," or, as in our comparison, by the word "like" (Egyptian mi). The occurrence of mi (Heb.: "whose") immediately followed by b3 (Egyptian "soul") and its correspondence to the Book of Abraham's use of these two words ("whose spirit") in this same order seems to be more than mere coincidence. It should be noted that b3, while sometimes translated "spirit," is often translated as "soul." The Hebrew word for "soul" (nefesh), which is sometimes used also to designate the spirit (although the Hebrew for this is ruach), normally refers to the body plus the spirit (as in D&C 88:15-16), i.e. to a living, breathing creature, for whom "the blood is the life" (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10, 11, 14; Deut. 12:23). Indeed, this word is sometimes translated "creature" rather than "soul" (Cf. Gen. 1:20-21, 24; 2:19). For this reason, we have also associated the Egyptian ba "soul," with "flesh," Eve being considered of the same "flesh" as Adam, her husband. It may be, however, that verses 14 through 18 (or at least, 14 through 16) should be allied with No. 57, for the word "Gods" appears three times in these verses. (In this case, of course, our parallel with "flesh" would not be the prevailing one.)

No. 58 while reflecting both "to" ("unto") and futurity in Abraham 5:20b, also seems to bear upon the use of the word "call" in Abraham. The Egyptian symbol is the mouth, and may have been used in reference to speech by whoever allied the Abrahamic text with the Sen-Sen text.

As a final note regarding the arrangement of our chart the reader should be advized that this arrangment, in spite of its numerous correspondences, is not intended to be definitive. Other workers in this field could, conceivably, find better correspondences than those which we have discovered. Moreover, we cannot at present (and we may never be able to) determine exactly how Joseph Smith set up the parallels, for no chart of items beyond No. 29, in the hand of the Prophet, has yet been discovered. Indeed, such a chart may not exist.

The second subject with which we have dealt since the presentation of our paper at the symposium last falls regards possible connections between Abraham himself and the Sen-Sen text.

If we assume that Abraham in his day, dealt directly with what we now know as the preamble to the Sen-Sen text, we must contend with the problem of the known age of that text. There is no evidence of the Sen-Sen text having existed prior to 600 B.C. Considering all logical possibilities, one could contend that the non-existence of the document prior to that date is unprovable, lack of evidence not being a proof. The question of an Abrahamic age for the original of this document may be considered as a point in question. Therefore, to simply deny such a possibility is to beg that question rather than to consider it. True, the lack of an example of the Sen-Sen text of age greater than 600 B.C. does argue against any direct contact between Abraham himself and this text. On the other hand, it is possible toconsider Abraham as having authored his own story in oral form, and this oral tradition, after being passed down, as having been adapted (ca. 600 B.C.) to the Egyptian document by a follower of Abraham, for mnemonic purposes. At this period of history, many Jewish colonies are known to have existed in Egypt.

Considering Abraham, then, as the author of the Book of Abraham, we have the following as possible relationships of the Sen-Sen text to that book:

a. Abraham wrote the Sen-Sen text as a mnemonic device.

b. Abraham used the already extant Sen-Sen text as a mnemonic device.

c. Abraham wrote his story and others adapted the written account to the Sen-Sen text, thus making Abraham's story an oral account.

Another approach would be to attribute authorship of the Abraham story, as we know it, not to Abraham himself, but to his followers of a later date, on the basis of pre-existing traditions regarding Abraham. Though a logical possibility, one need not in this case attribute authorship of the Sen-Sen text (with its pagan content) to these followers who used it. Two possible relationships would fit this situation:

a. the followers composed the Sen-Sen text for use as a mnemonic device in connection with an oral account passed down from Abraham himself.

b. The followers composed the Abraham story, based on oral traditions passed down to them (and perhaps some sayings actually attributed to Abraham), building it around the already extant Sen-Sen text.

Finally, exhausting the logical possibilities, one may consider Joseph Smith as the "author" of the Abraham story, on the basis of inspiration rather than translation. In this case, the Sen-Sen document would be a purely Egyptian one, never having been seen by Abraham himself, but a document which did provide a message which acted as a "springboard" for the mind of the Prophet to seek inspiration about the meanings of the individual words, which, as we have shown, he must have understood, and the relationship of these to the story of Abraham, with which the Prophet felt them to be connected. And, of course, a logical (though improbable) possibility is a purely modern, uninspired authorship. This final possibility is the one most strongly refuted by the fact that Joseph Smith must have known the meaning of the Egyptian words, as we demonstrated above.

In view of Dr. Nibley's evidence of Abrahamic elements in the three "Facsimiles" of the Book of Abraham, it is evident that if we do not accept Abraham or one of his followers as the actual author of the Sen-Sen text, then we must account for the Facsimiles in some other way. That the Abrahamic story has a relationship not only to the Sen-Sen text (with which Joseph Smith connected it in his Alphabet and Grammar), but also to the "Facsimiles" is evident from the fact that Joseph Smith included the latter in the Times and Seasons publication of the Book of Abraham, and that the text of the Book of Abraham itself refers to at least Facsimile 1 (Abraham 1:12, 14).

It is not impossible that Abraham prepared (or, more probably had prepared for him, as suggested by Dr. Nibley) the Facsimiles, which were then transmitted to his descendants along with the oral (or written) tradition. In any case, it is evident that whoever first related these "facsimiles" to the Sen-Sen and related texts (be it Abraham or one of his followers) is the most likely candidate for the person who adapted the oral tradition to the Sen-Sen text.

The Sen-Sen fragments now in the hands of the Church are probably copies, therefore, of a previous Sen-Sen text which included the facsimiles, for they date, according to Egyptologists who have studied them, from the late Ptolemaic or early Christian era. From the number and tyopes of errors sometimes made in a document of that period, it would appear that scribes of those days were not always conversant with the material they were copying. Such a scribe could easily have reproduced Abraham's facsimiles without being aware of their full significance. Speaking specifically of the copies owned by the Church, Dee Jay Nelson wrote:

The hieratic script on the Ter [Nelson corrected this to read "Hor" in his Part 2] Papyrus Fragments is crude and words are frequently misspelled [The Joseph Smith Papyri, 1:41]. It [the Hor Sen-Sen fragment bearing Facsimile 1] is crude to an extreme degree, and generally corrupt. Archaic and basic spelling is employed and in one instance a character is even written backwards. I doubt that the person who wrote these characters understood them. Often scribes and priests, during the late pre-Christian Egyptian times, slavishly copied texts they could not understand, which had been handed down from more ancient times [The Joseph Smith Papyri, 1:43-44].

Just how much more of the Book of Abraham might have been published had the Prophet Joseph Smith been able to continue his work, we may not know for some time, if ever. There is also the question of the Book of Joseph, to which the Prophet referred. It is not impossible that all or most of the papyri formerly in the possession of Joseph Smith (including fragments that the church does not presently possess) were used in conjunction with oral traditions regarding (or by) Abraham and those of his descendants (such as Joseph) who lived in Egypt. We may at this time only speculate regarding such subjects. Yet, in the absence of specific revelation to the contrary, we feel that the evidence will indicate to all serious investigators of this subject that the Prophet Joseph Smith did indeed have a knowledge of the Egyptian hieratic words with which he was dealing, whether one can determine the exact source of the Book of Abraham or not, and that, in view of the lack of Egyptological training in the Prophet's day, the only feasible source for his knowledge was inspiration.

These are the conclusions arrived at in our investigation of the Book of Abraham. We now commend that book to the world for further investigation along these lines, but moreso than ever, for a spiritual investigation of the matter as well.

A Note on Linguistics. In order for the reader to understand our usage of some Hebrew words homophonous to the Egyptian words in the Sen-Sen text for comparisons in the chart, a brief explanation of some phenomena occurring in Semitic languages, as shown by linguistic analysis, should be provided. It should be noted, first of all, that there are several dental and alveopalatal sounds produced in Semitic (and other) languages that are very similar in sound and in point and manner of articulation. For example, s and s (with dot under it), while representing different sounds, are similar enough to be undistinguishable to most English speaking people. These two sounds, as well as ts and s (with carrot over the top so it sounds like sh), are produced by placing the tip of the tongue on the alveo-dental region of the mouth, and by producing a hissing sound. Arabic s (with dot under it) and Hebrew ts were apparently the same sound in Proto-Semitic, for the Arabic cognates of Hebrew words containing the sound ts are pronounced with an s (with dot under it). We also have clear evidence from the Bible (Judges 12:5-6) that the ancient Jewish Hebraic s (with carrot on top - spelled "sh" in English) was pronounced s (with dot under it) by the Ephraimites, who spoke a different dialect of Hebrew. In the same manner, we can compare the number "9", which is ts'a in Arabic and tis'ah in Hebrew. We likewise find that the ; (also written, '), or glottal stop, often corresponds to the ayin (') from one Semitic language or dialect to another. For example, the Arabic umma "nation", or "people" is, in Hebrew, 'am, "nation, people." In Hebrew the classical ' is retained in the Iraqi, Yemenite, and sometimes Sephardic dialects, but becomes ' in the Ashkenazaic and sometimes the Sephardic. As for the t-d relationship (as in No. 51), it should be noted, for those unacquainted with linguistic studies, that the d is merely a voiced t, both being articulated in the same manner and at the same point in the mouth (i.e., the alveolar region in English, but the dental in Semitic). Some Arabic dialects have k as a reflex of q, while still others use the glottal stop '.

These comparisons are not given to show that the Egyptian words from the Sen-Sen text are cognates of the Hebrew words that we have indicated in the chart. We merely wish to indicate that, because such correspondences can and do exist in Semitic languages and dialects, it was possible for a bilingual person (speaking Egyptian and Hebrew) to approximate the Egyptian words in Hebrew in order to adapt them to an oral tradition. Thus, while some of the homophones in the chart are approximations, yet they are valid and linguistically sound, for the homophonous pairs would, indeed, be acoustically similar to a speaker of both Hebrew and Egyptian.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 May 2010 13:00  

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