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Home Book of Abraham Special Section The Latest on the Book of Abraham - Stephen Thompson's 1995 "Dialogue" article Part 2

The Latest on the Book of Abraham - Stephen Thompson's 1995 "Dialogue" article Part 2

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The Hawk With Outspread Wings Does Signify the Expanse of the Heavens

Research by Kerry A. Shirts

Stephen Thompson wrote an article "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham" in 1995 wherein he takes the Prophet Joseph Smith to task for his interpretations of the hypocephalus in the Book of Abraham, as well as various LDS scholars' analysis of those explanations.1 I have already covered his misconception of the Four sons of Horus as the four directions, now I want to analyze his view of Fac. 2, figure 4 which Joseph Smith says, among other things, that it "answers to the Hebrew word Raukeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament of the heavens..." Thompson admits that "certain identification of this figure is not possible with the information currently available to the Egyptologist." He then goes on to note that Edith Varga identified the hawk as the god Sokar, and even described it as "the mummy of a falcon with outspread wings." However, as Thompson sees it, there is no known iconography of this in the art, which at this stage of the Egyptian art game, is true enough, except for the same art in other hypocephali, which Thompson does not mention. Thompson then says "there is no evidence that the ancient Egyptians ever depicted the sky (firmament of the heavens) as a ship of any sort." What Thompson is ignoring is the combination of the ship with the falcon though. He then twits the Mormon scholars "In order to get around this, Mormon apologists dissect the wings of the bird in the ship and compare them with depictions of the sky as outspread wings. Rhodes identifies the bird in figure 4 as Horus-Sokar and claims that 'Horus was a personification of the sky.'" Then Thompson says that Smith's interpretation must apply to the whole figure and not to just a part of it.2 So lets look at this for a bit and see what comes of it.

First Thompson contends this art is unknown in Egyptian iconography. Adolf Erman in his study shows a solar bark of the god with Horus the "falkenkopfiger Gott", but in his combined human/animal form, not as a mummified hawk.3 Erman also shows Sokar on his throne as the hawk-headed god.4 Wilhelm Spiegelberg shows the hieroglyph for Horus as the standing hawk with the double feather crown.5 Kurt Sethe shows the hawk in a bark, but it doesn't have the outspread wings as in the hypocephali.6 So it would seem that Thompson has a point. This is not a popular way to depict the falcon in Egyptian art. However, it is important to understand that Siegfried Schott has shown how in ancient Egypt the King was depicted as various birds, the falcon being one way, and he shows the depictions of the birds flying, including the falcon with outspread wings, as Horus, in the Chons Temple at Kernak, and at the Horus Temple of Edfu.7 But what about the meaning? Here Thompson seems to be on shakier ground. Can the falcon with outspread wings signify the sky, the expanse? Absolutely!

In the Pyramid Texts themselves we get many descriptions of this idea:

"His (the King's) two wings have grown into (those of) a falcon, his two plumes are (those of) a sacred falcon." (pyr 250 c WN)

"This King flies like a bird; he alights as the Beetle Kheprer. He flies as a bird." (pyr 366 a-c WN)

"The King ascends to heaven to thy presence, O Re. The face of the King is (that of) falcons. The wings of the king are (those of ) birds, his talons are the claws of 'Anty-wy." (pyr 461 a-d WPN)

"Wepwawet has caused the King to fly to heaven among his brethren the gods. the King has flapped his wings as a kite. The flier flies , O people! The King flies away from you." (pyr 463 a-d WPN)

"He (the King) ascends to heaven. The top of his wings is (that of) a great bird." (pyr 1122 a PN)8

Sir Alan Gardiner in his analysis of the Hymns to Amon noted that in the 50th chapter, we read "Thy name is strong, thy might is heavy...divine hawk with outspread wings..." which shows, according to Gardiner, how the might of Amon is described in conventional ways, comparing Amon with a hawk, a bull, etc.9 And where is this hawk? "crossing the sky by ship."10 "Concealing (imn) thyself as Amon at the head of the gods...the dweller in heaven."11 "His soul is in heaven."12 "He is Hor-akhti who is in heaven... the main conception is that of a sky-god wedded to the earth."13 Rudolf Anthes has noted that Re melded with Harachti and as Re-Harachti, was identified in the Pyramid Texts as the sun, i.e., in the expanse.14 Klaus Koch describes a comb depicted early in Egyptian history depicting the king as a falcon who soars over his palace and up in heaven is another falcon on curved wings in a bark.15 The King on the Narmer-Palette is also depicted as a hawk.16 The same falcon/hawk is called the "Venerable (ehrwurdigen) falcon" at the Hebsed festival at Edfu, venerable because he was Horus, the god, who flew to the heavens.17 The God Sokar of Memphis was a falcon in the ship or bark of the God, and was also named "ntj.wj", as was all falcon gods who appeared as falcons in ships.18 Whether depicted as a standing falcon or a falcon on the crescent moon stand he was identified with the Great God Horus, Horus the defeater (Schlager) of people, reminding us of His depiction on the Narmer Palette.19 Wainwright noted that Junker demonstrated that there had been a nameless sky-god who fused in Protodynastic times with the hawkgod to form the compound deity Horus. He was called the Great or Greatest God. This represents, according to Wainwright, "a gradual personification of the primitive vague idea of the Power of the Sky."20

Perhaps the most telling evidence in favor of Joseph Smith's interpretation, comes from Rudolf Anthes in his long study of Egyptian religion in the Third Millenium B.C. Anthes notes directly that "on the ivory comb of King Horus Serpent of the First Dynasty, the falcon Horus is represented twice: in the lower register he stands upon the symbol of the royal palace as the king, in the upper register he stands in a boat beneath which two wings representing the sky are spread....the sky was thought to be represented by the wide-spread wings of the same falcon."21 We are even told that Horus represented a body in the sky! "The idea that Horus appears in the horizon and on heaven obviously means that he is a celestial body."22 "Horus who presides over the sky occurs in the name of a vineyard of King Djoser of the Third Dynasty."23 Interestingly, we are told that the Pyramid Texts attest Horus as a star, yet Horus was the sun, yet he was the moon! He appears to have been whatever celestial body was dominating the sky as ruler of the sky and heaven, this makes sense.24 Hans Bonnet in his "Reallexicon" assures us that even Osiris was equated with the moon, as was our Horus hawk God.25 There seems to be all sorts of melding and confusion going on, and rightfully so, since Anthes has noted the importance of understanding that mythological concepts in Egyptian are often contradictory and difficult for we moderns to understand.26 One thing is certain, "Horus presides over the sky."27 As Behdety, Horus was "confined to the hovering falcon" which is also a variant of the standing falcon, "identical with Horus as early as the Third Dynasty."28 "There is no question that Schafer was correct in interpreting these wings as the sky because they are supported by the d'm supports, and the boat of Horus sails upon them."29 We know that the sky was thought in Egypt usually as female.30 Yet interesting, the word "kbhw" is masculine, and it stood for the sky in the Pyramid Texts! In fact, it indicates heaven as the body of water that Re sails in his boat on, and the same holds good for the word "bi3", the sky, occurring in the Middle Kingdom.31 Interestingly, Junker lists only Ptolemaic temple inscriptions as evidence of an equation of the wings of Horus with the sky, yet the Egyptians regarded the sun as a falcon flying in heaven, the idea that his wings represented the sky was incidental and naturally accepted in spite of logical objections.32 In the early dynastic period, if a falcon was ever representative of the sky, it might have been possibly on the basis of the concept of the hovering Behdety. The wings of the depiction on the comb of the King Serpent "obviously represented the sky."33 This is exactly and precisely what Joseph Smith said they represent.


1. Stephen Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", "Dialogue", Spring 1995, pp. 143-160.

2. Thompson, p. 150f.

3. Adolf Erman, "Die Religion der Agypter", Walter and Gruyter, Berlin & Leipzig, 1934, p. 18.

4. Erman, p. 26.

5. Wilhelm Spiegelberg, "Ein Denkstein auf dem Tod einer heiligen Isiskuh", "Zeitschrift fur Agyptische Sprache", (hereafter ZAS), 1906, p. 129.

6. Kurt Sethe, "Urgeschichte und Alteste Religion der Agypter," Deutsche Morgenlandische Gesellschaft," Leipzig, 1930, p. 8.

7. Siegfried Schott, "Falke, Geier und Ibis als Kronungsboten," in "ZAS", 1968, plate IX between pp. 58 and 59, showing the falson, the vulture, and the Ibis with outspread wings.

8. as quoted in J. Gwyn-Griffiths, "Motivation in Early Egyptian Syncretism," in "Studies in Egyptian Religion", ed. M. Heerma Van Voss, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1982, p. 50f. Cf. W. Spiegelberg, "Die Falkenbezeichnung des Verstorbenen in der Spatzeit," in "ZAS," 1927, p. 29 - "Die den toten Konig als Falken zum Himmel zu den Gottern fliegen lasst."

9. Alan Gardiner, "Hymns to Amon from a Leiden Papyrus," in "ZAS", 1905, p. 26. Cf. the same idea of mounting to heaven on birds wings in Sir Alan Gardiner, "Egyptian Grammar," Griffith Institute, Revised 3rd edition, 1994, p. 357. Also Mercea Eliade, "Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy", Princeton Univ. Press, 1964, p. 392, concerning the Greek ideas on this mode of transport, "Hermes "wings", symbolic of magical flight...seem to show that certain Greek sorcerers professed to furnish the souls of the deceased with wings to enable them to fly to heaven." Cf. the "Apocalypse of Abraham" wherein Abraham is ordered to offer up sacrifices, all except for the turtledove and pigeon. The reasoning was that "I will ascend on the wings of the birds... and he set me on the right wing of the pigeon and he himself sat on the left wing of the turtledove, (both of) which were as if neither slaughtered nor divided, and he carried me up to the edge of the fiery flames." in James H. Charlesworth, "The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha", 2 vols., Doubleday and Co. 1983, quote in Vol. 1, p. 695f.

10. Gardiner, p. 23.

11. Gardiner, p. 30.

12. Gardiner, p. 34.

13. Gardiner, p. 39, cf. p. 41 - "his soul is he who is in heaven."

14. Rudolf Anthes, "Harachti und Re in den Pyramidentexten," in "ZAS", 1974, p. 77. Cf. Adolf Erman, "Die Religion der Agypter," wherein he says the sungod was also Harachti , Horus of the Horizon, and by this name became one of the major Gods, and in fact the great falcon-headed God, (p. 21). Later this God was combined into Atum-Re-Harachte, p. 27.

15. Klaus Kock, "Geschichte der Agyptischen Religion," Stuttgart, 1993, p. 60. He also notes the falcon on the back of Chephren's statue with his wings spread around the king, and notes that every king sat on the Horus throne taking on the properties of the god, usually as a falcon.

16. Kock, p. 60.

17. W. Guglielmi, "Die Gottin Mr.t," E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1991, p. 48.

18. Kurt Sethe, "Urgeschichte," p. 44.

19. Sethe, p. 51. All the falcon gods were destined to be identified with Horus, p. 155.

20. G. A. Wainwright, "The Sky-Religion in Egypt," Cambridge Univ. Press, 1938, p. 9.

21. Rudolf Anthes, "Egyptian Theology in the Third Millenium B.C., "Journal of Near Eastern Studies," July, 1959, p. 171.

22. Anthes, p. 185.

23. Anthes, p. 186.

24. Anthes, pp. 186f. Cf. Raymond Faulkner, "The King and the Star-Religion in the Pyramid Texts," in "JNES", Vol. 25, 1966, p. 159 where we read "A prayer to the morning star to help the King runs: 'O morning Star, De'et, divine falcon, w'dw'd-bird whom the sky bore." See also p. 160 - "Oh King, free course is given to you by Horus, you flash as the Lone Star in the midst of the sky, you have grown wings as a great-breasted falcon, as a hawk seen in the evening traversing the sky."

25. Hans Bonnet, "Reallexicon der Agyptischen Religionsgeschichte," p. 471ff.

26. Anthes, p. 174.

27. Anthes, p. 186.

28. Anthes, p. 188.

29. Anthes, p. 189.

30. Cf. Erik Hornung, "Der Agyptische Mythos von der Himmelskuh," Universitatsverlag Freiburg, 1982.

31. Anthes, p. 189.

32. Anthes, p. 189.

33. Anthes, p. 190.

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