"I want to say to you, read the book, the Pearl of Great Price, and read the Book of Abraham. The Pearl of Great Price I hold to be one of the most intelligent, one of the most religious books that the world has ever had; but more than that, to me the Pearl of Great Price is true in its name. It contains an ideal of life that is higher and grander and more glorious than I think is found in the pages of any other book unless it be the Holy Bible. It behooves us to read these things, understand them: and I thank God when they are attacked, because it brings to me, after a study and thought, back to the fact that what God has given He has given, and He has nothing to retract." - Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report (April 1913), 74

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Iconotropy and the JS Abraham Facsimiles

This post was originally written and published online by Bill Hamblin at Mormon Scripture Explorations on April 7, 2013, and is reproduced here without alteration (except for slight formatting changes), courtesy of Professor Hamblin - my sincere appreciation.

Iconotropy is an English neologism from Greek, meaning literally “image turning.”  It is defined as “the accidental or deliberate misinterpretation by one culture of the images or myths of another one, especially so as to bring them into accord with those of the first culture.”   Iconotropy is, in fact, the most common ways cultures deal with images from foreign or ancient cultures.  That is to say, we almost always misunderstand and/or transform, at least to some degree, the iconography of other cultures or religions.  The further distanced we are from another culture in time, religion, ideology, or space, the more likely we are to misunderstand their iconography.
 
There are numerous examples of iconotropy in human history.  The most well-known is the Nazi swastika, which originally was an Indo-European good-luck symbol, possibly representing the sun, and can be found in most cultures throughout the world.  The Nazis iconotropically adopted this symbol for their Nazi ideology, and it is thus understood by most Westerners today.   But among Buddhists, the swastika is an auspicious religious symbol, often associated with images or temples of the Buddha (Below: Buddha with swastika on its chest.)
 
 
Another example is the Crux Ansata (“cross with a handle”), or Ankh.  In ancient Egypt, the ankh (☥ ʾnḫ) symbol represented life, and is ubiquitous in Egyptian iconography.  (Below: A god gives the pharaoh ankh/life.)
 
 
As the country was Christianized, however, the ankh/life symbol became linked to the life-giving death of Christ on the cross, and became formally reinterpreted by Christians as a symbol of the Christian cross and eternal life.  (Below: Coptic fabric with Christian ankh/cross.)
 
 
Which leads to a question: which is the Egyptian meaning of the ankh?  They are, in fact, both equally Egyptian, even though the crux ansata is an iconotropic reinterpretation of the ancient Egyptian ankh.

An interesting literary example of iconotropy can be found in Robert Graves’ novel King Jesus, where Jesus and a Canaanite priestess undergo a type of a contest offering opposing interpretations of a sequence of ritual panels (ch. 19, p. 249-259).

When examining the Book of Abraham facsimiles, we need to realize that all scholars, both Mormon and non-Mormon, agree that Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the facsimiles are iconotropic–that is to say they are reinterpretations of ancient Egyptian symbols transformed into a new cultural-religious context.  The point where the critics and believers disagree is the cultural context in which the iconotropy occurs.  Is it an ancient, Abrahamic/Jewish iconotropic reinterpretation of Egyptian symbolism?  Or is it purely early nineteenth century American iconotropy invented by Joseph Smith?
 
In this regard, it is important to remember that the ancient Egyptians themselves, engaged in iconotropic reinterpretations of their own symbols in different Egyptian denominations and times.  As Jan Assman notes, “the temple reliefs of the Late period [Egypt, after c. 700 BCE] reflect a full-fledged tradition of ritual exegesis, a culture of interpretation … applied not to texts–as in the more-or-less contemporaneous Alexandrian and Jewish institutions of interpretation–but to pictures.  However, this culture of interpretation [of Egyptian iconography] is anything but a symptom of Hellenistic influence; on the contrary, it is deeply rooted in Egyptian cult.” (Jan Assmann, “Semiosis and Interpretation in Ancient Egyptian Ritual” in Interpretation in Religion, ed. Shlomo Biderman and Ben-Ami Scharfstein (Brill, 1992), p. 92.)

 
In other words, by the Late Period at the latest, the Egyptians had developed religious methods of reinterpreting their own ancient iconographic symbols and images (which were by this time already 2000 years old).  Different movements and sects within Egypt produced differing interpretations of the same images.  This phenomenon broadly parallels similar and roughly contemporaneous developments of different movements of textual exegesis and interpretation among both Egyptians, Alexandrian Greeks, and Jews within Egypt itself.  The question for scholars of the Book of Abraham is: does Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the iconography of the papyri represent nineteenth century iconotropy, or a revelation to Joseph of ancient iconotropy?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Coptic Spell of the Second Century

In Kerry Muhlestein's latest article, "The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus I,"1 he furthers the work of illustrating the cultural context of the mid-Ptolemaic period in its adaptation of Biblical figures in place of Egyptian deities that occurs within Egyptian religious texts. John Gee had previously presented a paper providing significant historical and cultural insight into the ancient owner(s) of the Joseph Smith Papyri, including the pertinent connection between the period in which the JSP emerged and the Ptolemaic Egyptian culture's usage of Biblical materials.2 Muhlestein's paper seems to be a continuation of this subject with a shift towards the culture at large, the culture in which the JSP owner(s) were situated. Also relevant to this discussion is Bill Hamblin's comments on iconotropy, which is partially defined as the "accidental or deliberate misinterpretation by one culture of the images or myths of another one...," but in this case, "the Egyptians themselves, engaged in inconotropic reinterpretations of their own symbols in different Egyptian denominations and times."3
 
Kerry Muhlestein observes that Abraham came to be associated with Osiris in some "so-called Greek Magical Papyri." He points out that these texts are not necessarily always in Greek, nor should they be considered "magical" any more than any other religion could be considered "magical;" however, this term has become common nomenclature, despite its inaccurate description (a similar scenario exists with the "Book of the Dead"). Muhlestein notes that "there are enough instances in which Abraham appears in contexts normally occupied by Osiris that we must conclude the Egyptians saw some sort of connection between the two" (pg 25). Muhlestein also cites Origen, who lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, as expressing disapproval towards "those who give themselves to the practice of the conjuration of evil spirits, [who] employ in their spells the expression 'God of Abraham..'" (pg 26). The author then goes on to point out that employing Biblical figures or texts in Egyptian use began around the fourth century BC, but probably reached its height in the fourth century AD. This, however, is simply "continuing a trend that began some time before, clearly at least by the first century BC" (pg 27).
 
Some time ago, while reviewing materials published within the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology I discovered, "A Coptic Spell of the Second Century," authored by F. Legge, published in 1897.4 It may have been one of the numerous texts that Muhlestein refers to, but I include excerpts of it here to illustrate an example of what Kerry Muhlestein seems to be discussing. In this case, it is the usage of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is implored to cast out evil spirits. As the author of this article indicates, it is certainly not a Christian text, and doesn't seem to be a Christian gnostic text either. Rather it is an Egyptian Coptic text that adopts Christian/Judaic figures for its own purposes. Does this prove anything with respect to the Book of Abraham? This only illustrates an example of Muhlestein's argument that Egyptians did in fact adopt Biblical figures for their own purposes. Further exploration on this topic is ripe for understanding Egyptian culture and its relevance to the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham.
 
 
“A Coptic Spell of the Second Century”
The great magic papyrus of the Bibliothèque Nationale contains a spell or formula of exorcism [casting out evil spirits?], written partly in Greek and partly in Coptic words expressed in Greek characters, which seems to have more interest for archaeologists than most of these relics of superstition. [pg 183]
[After providing the text in its original language, Legge translates as follows:]
"Famous process for casting out spirits.
"A spell to be said over his (i.e., the patient's) head.
"Strew olive-branches before him, and taking up your station behind him, say:–Hail, God of Abraham! Hail, God of Isaac! Hail, God of Jacob!  Jesus the Merciful, the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Father who is below Lo-she-hath-been who is within Lo-she-hath-been-and-will-be, Jaho Sabaoth, may your Power laugh at you until you have cast forth from such-an-one this unclean spirit, this Ethiopian Satan. I adjure thee, spirit, whoever thou art, by this God Sabarbathiot, etc.  Come forth, spirit, whoever thou art, and keep thou far from such-an-one! At once! At once! Come forth, O spirit, even now, for I bind thee with adamantine bonds never to be loosed, and I deliver thee to the black Chaos among the lost!" [pg 185]
[A description of the steps to be performed in connection with this spell was then given, including the usage of an amulet – note, the Hypocephalus (Facsimile 2 is a hypocephalus) was considered an amulet, but there is no indication what type of amulet was to be used – after which, Legge provides the following commentary:]
"The reference to the "Power" of Jesus seems to refer to the gospel of Peter, where the words of Mark xv, 34, are altered into "My Power! My Power! Why hast thou forsaken me!"
 
...
 
“The author was certainly a professional exorcist or his spell would hardly have found its way into what is practically a book of magical recipes. The words “God of Abraham,” etc., give us no clue to his nationality, since we know from Origen…that these words were used not only by the Jews, but by “almost all those who busy themselves with incantations and magical rites.” Such spells as these are often called Gnostic, but there is nothing in our text to connect it with any of the Gnostic sects described by the Fathers. The irreverent tone of the adjuration to Jesus would certainly not have been employed by any Christian Gnostic, while it rather suggests the imprecations which the Egyptian magicians are said by Porphyry to have used to their gods.  It is therefore most probable that the author was an Egyptian, and the date not later than 200 A.D.” [pg 187]
 
____________________________
1 Kerry Muhlestein, "The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus I," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/1 (2013):20-33
2 John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20/1 (2008):113-137; see especially 123-137, beginning with the subheader "Horos, Son of Osoroeris"
3 William J. Hamblin, "Iconotropy and the JS Abraham Facsimiles," Mormon Scripture Explorations, April 7, 2013; accessed August 21, 2013; www.mormonscriptureexplorations.org/
4 F. Legge, "A Coptic Spell of the Second Century," Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 19:183-187 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Millennial Star - Hypocephali in Vienna - 1903

While serving as President of the European Mission, Elder Francis M. Lyman was the general editor of the Millennial Star. A few weeks prior to the article posted below, he became the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles following the passing of Brigham Young, Jr. While editorials were likely written by the general editor, the following editorial was probably authored by "J.J.C." This article references two missionaries in the Swiss Mission, James L. Barker and  John A. Mathis, who noticed a reference to Facsimile 2 from the Book of Abraham in a catalogue for the Imperial Museum of Art History in Vienna:
 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Responses to Franklin Spalding - Janne Sjodahl on Kolob

In 1912, Bishop Franklin Spalding published his pamphlet, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator.  While it was meant to destroy faith in the Book of Mormon, it was much more effective in raising non-Mormon awareness of the Book of Abraham and redirected much of the Latter-day Saint's attention to addressing issues raised by Spalding.  Both the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham were translated by the Prophet from various forms of Egyptian writing.  The Reverend's attempt to disprove Joseph's ability as a translator would, by inference, destroy confidence in him as a Prophet.  The responses by Latter-day Saints acknowledged Bishop Spalding's seemingly courteous approach, but also identified the deceit he employed in masking his true intentions in attacking Latter-day scriptures.  While non-Mormons believed the publication was immensely successful, most Latter-day Saints found it unconvincing.  Spalding's pamphlet was published in November 1912.  Forthcoming responses appeared in the Deseret News and were subsequently printed in the Improvement Era.  Subscribers to the Era were notified of pending responses in the January 1913 issue (V16, No 3): 280:






In the February 1913 issue, responses by B.H. Roberts, Janne Sjodahl, Frederick Pack, Junius F. Wells, John Henry Evans, Levi Edgar Young, and the Prophet Joseph F. Smith were all included to address some of the issues raised by Spalding and the Egyptologists.  In the following month (the March 1913 issue of the Era), responses included Robert C. Webb (alias for J.E. Homans), Elder John A. Widtsoe, and Richard W. Young.  The responses were summarized thus:






Subsequently, in the April 1913 issue of the Era, responses were published from Osborn J.P. Widtsoe, N.L. Nelson, as well as Spalding's response to Elder John A. Widtsoe, and Elder John A. Widtsoe's response to Spalding, and an article on Kolob by Janne M. Sjodahl.  The following extract is from Janne Sjodahl regarding "Kolob":

Responses to Franklin Spalding - Elder John A. Widtsoe

In 1912, Bishop Franklin Spalding published his pamphlet, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator.  While it was meant to destroy faith in the Book of Mormon, it was much more effective in raising non-Mormon awareness of the Book of Abraham and redirected much of the Latter-day Saint's attention to addressing issues raised by Spalding.  Both the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham were translated by the Prophet from various forms of Egyptian writing.  The Reverend's attempt to disprove Joseph's ability as a translator would, by inference, destroy confidence in him as a Prophet.  The responses by Latter-day Saints acknowledged Bishop Spalding's seemingly courteous approach, but also identified the deceit he employed in masking his true intentions in attacking Latter-day scriptures.  While non-Mormons believed the publication was immensely successful, most Latter-day Saints found it unconvincing.  Spalding's pamphlet was published in November 1912.  Forthcoming responses appeared in the Deseret News and were subsequently printed in the Improvement Era.  Subscribers to the Era were notified of pending responses in the January 1913 issue (V16, No 3): 280:






In the February 1913 issue, responses by B.H. Roberts, Janne Sjodahl, Frederick Pack, Junius F. Wells, John Henry Evans, Levi Edgar Young, and the Prophet Joseph F. Smith were all included to address some of the issues raised by Spalding and the Egyptologists.  In the following month (the March 1913 issue of the Era), responses included Robert C. Webb (alias for J.E. Homans), Elder John A. Widtsoe, and Richard W. Young.  The responses were summarized thus:





Subsequently, in the April 1913 issue of the Era, responses were published from Osborn J.P. Widtsoe, N.L. Nelson, as well as Spalding's response to Elder John A. Widtsoe, and Elder John A. Widtsoe's response to Spalding, and an article on Kolob by Janne M. Sjodahl.  The following extract is from Elder John A. Widtsoe's response to Franklin Spalding's response: