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Home Book of Abraham Special Section The Egyptian Book of the Dead & the Book of Abraham

The Egyptian Book of the Dead & the Book of Abraham

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By Kerry A. Shirts

Critics contend that Joseph Smith associated the Book of the Dead and the Book of Breathings with the writings of Abraham which is completely off track. What they fail to realize is that new research indicates that just such an arrangement is the only precise and correct one to have. Joseph Smith is not nearly so incorrect as critics are out of date with current Egyptological issues concerning the Book of Abraham.

The interesting contention of Blake T. Ostler's most interesting paper "Abraham: An Egyptian Connection", Sept. 2, 1981, is that there is a relationship between vignettes of the so-called Book of the Dead and pseudepigraphic stories of Abraham by those transmitting accounts of the patriarch Abraham during the period from which the Joseph Smith papyri originated. (p. 3).

Ostler brings up Hugo Gressmann's study in 1918 "Vom reichen Mann und armen Lazarus" wherein Gressmann compiled several rabbinic sources that closely parallel the parable of Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham found in the Gospel of Luke. (p. 4). What is so interesting is that Gressmann found an Egyptian account known as the Demotic Tale of Satme-Khamaus which was even closer than the 7 rabbinic accounts he had. Kendrick Grobel discovered further evidence in the Fayyum that an Egyptian original to a Hebrew account of Abrahamic traditions existed anciently. A Coptic scribe had translated the Gospel of Luke 200 A.D. This is in the era of when the Joseph Smith Book of Breathings was written, according to Nibley in his "Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri".

The interesting thing here for us to understand is that a Hebrew version of Abrahamic tales is derived from an Egyptian original. In the rabbinic tales, ***Abraham must be a Jewish substitute for the pagan god Osiris.*** (p. 4).

While this is unorthodox for modern scholars, to the ancients it is entirely feasible since both Abraham and Osiris were a single arch-type. (Windisch. Neiuw Theol. Tijdschrift XIV (1925), p. 343. "De eschatologische vorstellingen die in de evangelischche parable voorkomen zijn noch specifiek christelijk, noch joodish van oorsprung, maar egyptisch; alleen is inde plaats van, *Osiris-Abraham komen staan.* Cf. Ray Bowen Ward. "Abraham Traditions in Early Christianity" *Studies on the TestAbr" SCS #2 (1972), p. 177, the Lukean story "is probably dependent on an Egyptian Tale (i.e., Satme-Khamaus) whose closest descendent is the Demotic Tale of Satme. *The role of Osiris in the Egyptian tradition has been replaced in the Lukean story by Abraham.*") (Ostler, p. 20, footnote 11).

This is interesting! Both Abraham and Osiris represented the figure who must make the journey of the dead to view the afterworld, for Abraham is the very seat of divine authority, "for he was originally the lord of Amente, Osiris." (p. 4). We are also informed that the Book of the Dead was also a guide to the Amnte or afterworld. Grobel notes that in the rabbinic Abraham accounts "the angels are an instrumentality, ***substituted*** surely in the Jewish stage of transmission, for some other, perhaps *Horus* or the falcon of Horus or simply the bark of death." (p. Ostler, p. 4).

All of these ideas are certainly germane hints of how Joseph Smith's own Book of Abraham could be related to Egyptian texts, the Book of Breathings in particular. In Fac #1 and #3 Joseph identifies Osiris as Abraham! In Fac. #1 Osiris is about to make the journey into the underworld as a result of his death. In Fac. #3 Osiris is enthroned in the Duat or Amnete. Gobel says these are exactly the situations in which the ancient scribes thought it proper to substitute Abraham for Osiris! (Ostler, p. 5). And, furthermore, in the Book of the Dead, every person who makes the journey to the afterworld ***was mystically identified with Osiris.*** (my emphasis - p. 5). And in both the late Jewish and early Christian traditions of Abraham, Abraham filled this role. (we can find scholars referencing this in L. Ginzberg, "Legends of the Jews", Vol. 1, p. 304; P. Grelot, in "Revue Biblique, vol. 74 (1967), p. 203; K. Kohler, "Jewish Quarterly Review", vol. 7, p.594). Fac. #1 also identifies the angel of the Lord with the Horus falcon.

The very interesting thing in all this is that the transmission from an Egyptian source into a Hebrew document establishes more than the possibility that Joseph Smith's claims for the BofA are feasible. This could very well be a clue for us to understand Joseph Smith's modus operandi, since he transliterated terms found in the text of the BofA itself into Hebrew and *not* into Egyptian. He also explained most Egyptian expressions in the facsimiles by using Hebrew rather than Egyptian. (Ostler, p. 5).

Far from being strange or out of place as critics seem to think, the theory that some Abraham traditions were associated with the Egyptian Book of the Dead or othe Egyptian sources also receives strong support from the Testament of Abraham, a pseudepigraphic work dating from the beginning of the Christian era. (B.J. Bamberger, "The Interpreter's Dictionary", "The Testament of Abraham" (Abingdon: 1962), p. 21; J.B. Frey, "Dictionaire de la Bible Supp." Tome #1, (Paris: 12928), p. 33f; "Jewish Encyclopedia", 1:6, p. 95; Mathias Delcor, "De l'origine de quelques traditions contenues dans le Testament d'Abraham," in "Proceedings of the Fifth World Congress of Jewish Studies", ed. P. Peli (Jerusalem: 1969), Vol. 1, pp. 192-200).

In the Testament of Abraham (hereafter TestAbr) Abraham makes a journey to the afterworld to view the amnte, a tradition that strongly suggests Abraham's identification with Osiris, who makes a similar journey in the Book of the Dead. Ray Ward, a specialist on Abraham traditions during the New Testament period, noted that the TestAbr also closely parallels Luke's story of Lazarus, although the Egyptian tale of Satme-Khamaus is even closer. (Ostler, p. 6). After the vision of the wicked that both accounts tell of, the councils of Amnte, including "the noble spirits in their places" are seen. Then a council of judgment and the arraignment of the righteous, with the climax being in both the Egyptian tale and the TestAbr, is the vision of the Judge himeself sitting on his throne, weighing the deeds on a balance, while the results are recorded. Both of these accounts are dependent on the judgment scene found in vignettes of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which according to Francis Schmidt, accounts for the strong correspondence between the two accounts. In the aggregate of parallels to the Book of the Dead of Pamonthes (A.D. 63) and the Tale of Satme-Khamaus (A.D. 50-100), Francis Schmidt finds evidence for the conclusion that the TestAbr used an Egyptian judgment scene as its model. Here, then, is strong evidence that around the first century A.D., scribes utilized the Egyptian Book of the Dead to illustrate or explain Abraham's own visions. (Francis Schmidt, "Le Testament d'Abraham: introduction, edition de la recension courte, traduction et notes," Dissertation (Strasbourg, 1971); Cf. Francis Schmidt, "The Two Recensions of the TestAbr: In which Direction Did the Transformations Take Place?" "Studies on the TestAbr," ed., G.W.E. Nickelsburg Jr., SBL Septuagint & Cognate Studies 6 (Scholar's Press: 1976), pp. 78ff. Cf. George Nickelsburg Jr., "Eschatology in the TestAbr", "Ibid.", p. 33)

When we turn to another work about Abraham, the Apocalypse of Abraham we find that it has considerable affinity with the TestAbr. The Apocalypse of Abr. is clearly Jewish, yet it apparently came from the same literary milieu as 2 Enoch, or the Slavonic Enoch. (J.B. Frey, p. 29, "l'Apocalypse d'Abraham presents aussi certaines analogies avec Henoch slave; mais rien n'oblique a admettre une dependence litteraire de l'un vis-a-vis l'autre, le tresor commun des traditions juives suffit a expliquer traits de parente.")

Scholars have tended to place the origin of 2 Enoch in Egypt based upon the solar myth and Egyptian cosmology prominant therein. R.H. Charles in his magnificent "Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament", Oxford, Vol. 2, p. 429 says "The author was a Jew who lived in Egypt, probably in Alexandria...in questions affecting the origin of the earth, sin, death, etc., he allows himself the most unrestriced freedom and borrows freely from every quarter. Thus Platonic, Egyptian, and Zend elements are adopted into his system."

Such a situation also indicates that Egyptian influence on the ApocAbr should be seriously considered. And most interesting of all, the best evidence of possible Egyptian influence on the ApocAbr comes from an Egyptian work that can be identified with the Book of Breathings! (Ostler, p. 8). The interesting thing is that this book contained formulas which, when read, provided power to behold heavenly visions. The Egyptians themselves may have considered this book as a type of Book of Breathings. Both the Book of Breathings and this book containing formulas were placed with the mummy in a similar manner and both claimed to have been authored by Thoth for the purpose of saving the soul. (F. Ll. Griffiths Compare the Tales of Satme with the Book of Breathings: "Thoth who wrote it (the book of formulas) with his own hand when he went down following the gods (Satme III, 20): "Thoth comes to thee, the twice great, Lord of Hermopolis, who hath written the Book of Breathings with his own fingers." (Book of Breathings lines 30-31).

Notice the striking formulas that serves as an organizing statement for Abraham's vision in the ApocAbr.

 

When thou readest the first I will ascend upon the wings of formula thou will enchant (1) the bird in order to show thee the heaven, (2) the earth, (3) (1) in heaven; (2) and on the the underworld, (4) the mountains earth; (3) and in the earth, (4) and the seas, (5) thou wilt and in the sea, (5) and in the discover that all the birds of abyss and in the underworld (6) heaven and creeping things say: and in the Garden of Eden and its (6) thou wilt see the fish of rivers (7) and the fullness of the deep, there being power of the whole world and its circle - god resting in water over them. Thou shalt gaze on them all. (F.Ll. Griffith, p. 25) (Box - ApocAbr, IXX, p. 51)

A similar connection of elements is also contained in a prayer found on the hypocephalus (Fac #2) which Joseph Smith associated with Abraham's vision in the BofA: "O god of the sleeping ones, from the time of creation. O mighty god, 1. lord of heaven, 2. and of earth, 3. the Netherworld, 4. and his great eaters." The formula thus represents the four regions the sun must traverse in its daily journey and over which the sun reigns. According to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, each soul must make the journey of the sun in its daily course. The hypocephalus also provides instructions for properly negotiating the path of Ra (the sun), as he moves from the celestial heavens (represented by the upper third of the disc) to the earth and through the underworld (represented by the middle and the bottom thirds of the hypocephalus respectively). (P.J. De Horrack, "Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology" letter to Samuel Birch (Ed.), March 4, 1884, p. 265. Deveria in "Bibliotheque Egyptologique", 4:197, n.1).

The sun must also pass through the great waters, of course, on its way to the underworld (this feature explains the presence of solar barks in the hypocephalus). Just as Joseph Smith said, the Hathor cow, "said by the Egyptians to be the sun," dominates the lower thrid of the hypocephalus, personifying "the lower hemisphere of heaven in which the sun sets in the evening to issue forth from it the next morning, as after a new birth." (Ostler, p. 9).

In the ApocAbr it is Abraham himself who makes the journey of the sun, visiting each of the regions mentioned in the formula in the exact order the Lord told him of them. Here again, Abraham makes the journey of Osiris, or of Ra. (Ostler, p. 9). Joseph Smith interprets the hypocephalus in much the same way, using it as a map of celestial movement and of descriptions of time measurment that was revealed to Abraham in visions given him of the Lord. De Horrack likewise agrees that the hypocephalus "conveys the ideal of renewal of a period, like a full moon, the solstice, the equinoxes, etc.", while at the same time personifying the movements of various celestial bodies. (Ostler, p. 10).

The Egyptian tale also includes a stock apocalyptic formula also had in the BofA concerning seeing Ra shining forth in the heaven with all his divine cycle, and the *moon* rising and the *stars* in their precedures.

This evidence provides us with the Egyptians themselves associating such formulas as those also contained in the Book of Breathings as catalysts for visionary experiences such as is contained in the BofA. The BofA is actually a faithful counterpart to the Abrahamic corpus of literature that existed around the first century A.D. The BofA tells the unique story of these ancient sources, none of which was available to Joseph Smith. (Ostler, p. 12).

 

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