Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Leg Up on the Critics: Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham

Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham represents "Abraham fastened upon an altar" according to the Book of Abraham translation that we received from Joseph Smith. The critics have mocked this assertion endlessly, insisting that this is nothing more than an ordinary funerary scene from the Book of the Dead, depicting a dead person being embalmed.

It is true that the figure has common elements with the common funerary scenes dealing with embalming and mummification. But as several LDS defenders have pointed out, the critics may have erred in overlooking the significant differences between this figure and the truly ordinary ones they compare it to. One important difference involves the depiction of the person on the table (a "lion couch"). Unlike the embalming scenes of ordinary Egyptian lore, this person does not look like a mummy-wannabe. Please notice that sprightly leg that is raised from the table. And the hands are up as well (some say that the arms and hands are drawn incorrectly, an issue addressed in the links below). And notice the feet: they still have slippers or shoes on and frankly, they look anxious to run.

Compared to the mummies of ordinary funerary scenes, there is something quite different about this person. A very big difference -- a life and death difference.

Is there any other embalming scene in Egyptian lore in which the dead person, is raising a leg and both arms? Dead mummies are always depicted as lying flat, to my knowledge, not with arms and a leg raised. So what does that mean? The figure, according to chapter 1 of the Book of Abraham, depicts Abraham as he was about to be sacrificed. In verse 15, Abraham explains what he did then: "I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard. . . ." He was miraculously delivered from the murderous priest as he prayed to the Lord. So here we have learned critics scoffing at the Book of Abraham and the ignorant Joseph Smith, who thought that Facs. 1 somehow depicted the living Abraham who, according to the text, was praying to the Lord.

Significantly, the person with the raised arms and extended leg is drawn in the exact posture used for the hieroglyph meaning "to pray," but rotated 90 degrees to be on the table or altar. The drawing is clearly and deliberately intended to depict a live person PRAYING - just as the Book of Abraham suggests.

For evidence, turn to the highly respected work of Sir Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Being An Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd Ed. (Oxford University Press, London: 1966), p. 32, paragraph 24, where we find this (many thanks to Stan Barker for sending these figures):


The glyph above for death shows a figure depicted in the normal manner for funerary scenes: clearly immobilized and wrapped up, quite unlike the most unusual depiction in the Book of Abraham. A couple of other portions of Gardiner are also relevant. The figure below comes from Gardiner, page 445, paragraph 30:

The man with outstretched arms is used in the following excerpts to help convey prayer, praise, and supplication:

Now stop and think about this. Is it just a coincidence that Joseph Smith's interpretation of the figure makes a lot more sense than that of his learned critics? Was it just dumb luck that Joseph understood the more plausible meaning of the facsimile? (The issue about whether or not the hands of the figure are actualy raised in the original drawing is discussed on my LDSFAQ page on the Book of Abraham, Part 2, and in great detail by Kerry Shirts in "On Thumbs and Wings and Other Things." Also see the FAIR Wiki article on the Book of Abrahama.)

We must not forget that Facs. 1 is far from an ordinary funerary scene. Is there any other lion couch scene in which the reclining person is fully clothed with the garment and slippers shown in Facs. 1? Related figures show mummies or nudes, but nothing identical to our Facs. 1. What is the significance of this? The symbolic meaning fits well with the Book of Abraham text, as Kerry Shirts shows on his page about the garment of Abraham.

Now there are non-embalming lion couch scenes in standard Egyptian lore in which a living person with a leg up is being resurrected or uh, contemplating procreation. But in these scenes, the person is in the nude, without shoes, and with one arm below the body or at the side of the body. These details don't fit Facsimile 1. In fact, as Kerry Shirts demonstrates in "The Lion Couch is Extremely and Significantly Unique" (that section is halfway down the page), there are numerous details about Facsimile 1 that take it outside the realm of any typical Egyptian scene involving the lion couch. What he have here is not a common scene from Egyptian lore, but a drawing that is obviously based on Egpytpain elements but apparently modified significantly to tell a unique story. And I don't think any other story fits the details better than this: a living person on an altar is praying, exactly as the Book of Abraham says.

I think Facsimile 1 and Joseph Smith's interpretation is worthy of a little more respect than it has received in the past.


connor said...

Awesome post, thank you for the explanation!

Anonymous said...


Very interesting points you make here. I have found that most of the supposed "smoking gun" attacks against the church end up becoming evidences for the authenticity of the Church's claims. The Book of Abraham, with all that Joseph Smith got right that he should not have, is a perfect example. Your points here reinforce this idea.


John L.

Anonymous said...

If you go to this website to see examples:
all are on lion couches and all but one have a leg and arms somewhat elevated. I believe this had to do with how the Egyptians drew perspective.

Mike Parker said...

Nibley pointed this out 40 years ago.

Thank you, Jeff, for bringing it to the attention of Saints and critics alike. We all need to be reminded from time to time that Joseph Smith didn't just make all this stuff up from his overactive imagination (as Brodie would have us believe, like "a spring freshet").

Anonymous said...

The person who posted the link to http://www.mormonismi.info/jamesdavid/facsimil.htm failed to mention that not a single one of the examples has the arms out in the prayer posture like the one in the BOA does.

Anonymous said...

The 'prayer' posture could have clearly been added in considering the state of the original. The only thing we 'know' was in the original due to its current state as far as the individual on the lion couch is concerned is the foot up and one hand elevated as is shown in the examples given by the link. I'm not bashing the BoA, I just don't consider this particular point 'a hit'.

Ray Dowd said...

This is a ridiculous and weak stretch of your limited understanding of what you are looking at (nothing personal, you understand). Your analysis may sound nice, but it fails to explain the embalming jars under the altar, as well as some important considerations regarding the other two facsimiles, namely that they cannot be what Joseph claims they are. A hypocephalus is not and was never a map to Kolob, and the judgment of the dead in f#3, a similar scene seen in so many other places, was never Abraham before pharoah. Joseph was simply grasping at straws and wishfully projecting what he wanted to see on these papyii.

Anonymous said...

As a convert I love the critics. I know the BofM, Bible, and BofA are true histories, not because of scholarly proof. A scholar looks at Joseph Smith's work and states "that does not fit our definition", Joseph Smith looks at the work an states "this is what the person was trying to project not what you necessarly see." The BofA is not a map to Kolob. Abraham understanding was the Sun revolved around the earth; and when God tryed to teach him things no earthly person can understand he did not try to teach him that the earth revolves around the Sun. It is not a map to Kolob, it is God using the things we understand and trying to help us understand the things He wants us to know. The critics will never understand that it is not about proving Joseph Smith right, we already know this, it is about learning something new from God even if our knowledge about a topic may be faulty.

Casual Mormon said...

Great point, anonymous at 3:10am.

"The 'prayer' posture could have clearly been added in considering the state of the original."

I don't know. Even in its tattered form, you can see both hands in the original. With where his hands are in relation to his body, what else could his arms have been doing? It certainly appears that he's praying.

Ray Dowd said...

3:19: You know the Bible is a true history? Really? That's amazing, because I've even read quotes by GA's that say otherwise. I'm glad you can allow your feelings to supercede established truth. I have not reached that point.

Anonymous said...

Casual Mormon,
Actually given the current state of the original it is quite possible that one of the 'hands' is actually a wing tip, since it is not uncommon to have a bird in the center of these scenes. Therefore, that would leave one hand elevated, which is common to the examples in the website I linked.

jonathan3d said...

I've looked at Egyptian materials in many locations in Egypt, as well as in the Egyptian museum in Turin, Italy, and many other museums around the world and I've never seen one other than the BoA with the person on the altar in a prayer stance like this. So I'm with Jeff on this one.

Anonymous said...

Now you did it. You and the G.A.s have completely destroyed my testimony that took years for me to build up. Now I will have to wait for the science of archeology to prove the scriptures to me. No wait I'll worship at the church of Ray Dowd. My tithing check is in the mail. I still like Jeff's points on the BofA.

Anonymous said...

Ray is correct. There is only a few examples of the name of Abraham befound in Egypy and no proof of Moses or the children of Israel in Egypt. There is only a couple of referances to Jesus in documents out side the bible so we must conclude that we are all misguded.

Floyd the Wonderdog said...

Let's not forget that along with the drawings was a scroll about 12 feet long. There are several accounts of people having seen the scroll, but it became lost. Some conjecture that the drawings are merely aids to remember what was written on the scroll. Joseph didn't translate the story from the drawings, but from the scroll. The drawings were included in the PoGP because they were referenced in the scroll.

paul said...

At some point all of these tortured rationalizations will come crashing down and a new reality will wash over you -

- and you will have a sense of peace like you have never felt before.

- true spirituality comes from letting your God-given rational mind speak.

- the cognitive dissonance and the need to grasp at straws dissipates

- Old Joe didn't 'translate' anything. And God doesn't need golden plates, lost pages, lost scrolls, three Nephites, Zelph, Hebrews in submarines, warriors on tapirs, seer stones, faces in hats, etc.

- the world is beautiful as it is, and the God around us doesn't need a confidence man with a libido to tell his story.

Anonymous said...

Wow--PAUL has spoken! We might as well all just curl up under our beds, suck our thumbs, and forget the whole thing.

Roy W. Wright said...

Actually, until he wrote "Old Joe didn't 'translate' anything," I thought he was referring to the critics.

Bookslinger said...

"- and you will have a sense of peace like you have never felt before."

I believe the opposite is true. The online ex-mormons are some of most bitter people around. They can't let the church alone. They are more vituperative than anti-mormons who've never been part of the church.

Mike Parker said...

Paul wrote: the cognitive dissonance and the need to grasp at straws dissipates

The fact that so many former Saints feel compelled to visit pro-LDS message boards (like this one) and repeatedly justify their exodus from the faith is ample evidence that it is they, not us, who suffer from "cognitive dissonance."

Oh, the irony is thick.

paul said...

Mike wrote: "...and repeatedly justify their exodus from the faith is ample evidence that it is they, not us, who suffer from 'cognitive dissonance.'"

Not exactly. It's kind of like knocking on a stranger's door and asking if they want to know more about the Mormon church (been there, done that), except now it's checking in to see if you want to know how peaceful it is once you realize the reason for the whole concocted story was to drive obedience and conformity, not salvation.

And the other side of the veil is more beautiful than the side that I thought was the "truth."

ruadamu2 said...


How soon we forget the post of Mormanity himself explaining why so many exmormons could be viewed as bitter.

Let me summarize that post for you.
In short, if their spouse is still tied to LDS faith, there is often trouble in the marriage, to the point of divorce (at the encouragement of the church). For those unmarried, the family tension is incredible. At a minimum you have family that are concerned about your soul, to the extreme, where you are shunned.

Flippant statements are not only unfounded, but they border on rediculous.

ruadamu2 said...

mike parker,

Perhaps the reason is due to the unstable state that the LDS church has left them in, once they figure out the con. Their whole world comes crashing down around them. Everything they believed in and modeled their life after has just become false -this also adds to the bitterness that bookslinger refers to -.

Imagine, when you find out that the "only true church" is really just a front, made up by a master con man, and propogated by people that have to know its not true, it becomes hard to believe in anything at that point.

It takes awhile to get out of the mire and realize that this life is the one you should live to the fullest, and not bog yourself down in unfounded sacrifice in preparation for the unknown.

Anonymous said...

Okay, getting back to the topic. Jonathan3d if you look closely at what remains of Fascimile 1 you will see there is ample reason to believe that one of the 'hands' is in fact a wing tip which we don't see due to the tear. As you are aware, since you claim to have looked at numerous images of this scene, a bird is not uncommon in the center of this scene.

Anonymous said...

Correction on my 4:51 post, the wing tip we see, it is the entire bird we don't see due to the tear.

Mormanity said...

A brief time out. I don't have any trouble with civil comments being posted here by former Mormons (FM), not-yet former Mormons (NYFM), or currently anti but still prospective Mormons (CABSPM - pronounced "cabspam"). I don't see it as a sign of insecurity or cognitive dissonance that they would come here and poke at my arguments. People who have been involved with the Church ought to be interested in LDS topics. Why not?? And if they sincerely think we are wrong, it could be a very thoughtful act to come here and try to help others see through the spin Mormon defenders give. I don't mean to encourage that, but I can understand it.

Look, from their perspective, I can imagine why they'd be upset with the Church and with the folly of believing in our religion, and it would make sense to take part in debates. I don't see it as a sign of weakness or fear or doubt.

I really prefer it when people try to be engage in a discussion rather than name calling. I encourage all to be at least marginally polite, avoid cheap shots (sorry when I take them! I'm working on that), and stay on topic. When things get out of hand, in my arbitary opinion, I reserve the right to simply delete comments, thus snuffing our the essential civil rights of my victims at my whim. Hey, that's what this small amount of power I have does to me. Be glad I'm not your President!

ruadamu2 said...


I would probably vote for you, even though I disagree with your religious beliefs, because I think you are sincere and fair, and I appreciate your tolerance of EXMOs as do many others.

Anonymous said...

Dear freinds,I feel so discouraged by the obvious desire of all religions to justify themselves to each other.Is it not true the only one we truly need to by just before is God?The great deciever must be very proud of the mass confusion that has permiated every organization dedicated to"GOD".My prayers are for you all.

Anonymous said...

As a convert (I qualify this because I have found my life and experiences have been very different from life long members) I have had horrible experiences at the hands of members. Everything from fraud, lawsuits, prudery, and attempted murder. For a time I felt like many of the ex-members that make comments on various blogs and I remember how cheated I felt. However, I have never felt i'll will toward the church or it's doctrines and I have been blessed with some of the most incredible spiritual experiences before and during my time in the church. I at times may get sarcastic toward both non-members, exmembers, and active members; but I try not to name call. I apologize for my bad since of humor.
Jeff, I am grateful for your web page because before the world wide web, getting information from all points of views, regardless of how harsh was impossible to do. Thanks for all your hard work. Feel free to edit anything I post and anyone that wants to take any shots at me feel free to do so. It could be good therapy.

Anonymous said...

floyd the wonderdog...do you have any references to the scroll and joseph's translation of them? It's not that I don't believe you I just want to read more about it. This is the first time I have heard about this. I will always believe in this Church and its principles no matter what anybody says about it. I chose to believe in God and His prophets. Compared to the life I lead before I joined I am doing better than I ever had. I refuse to believe that God will allow corrupted leaders to continue in His Church for very long. Look what happened to Zarahemla in the Book of Mormon.

Casual Mormon said...

Casual Mormon,
Actually given the current state of the original it is quite possible that one of the 'hands' is actually a wing tip, since it is not uncommon to have a bird in the center of these scenes. Therefore, that would leave one hand elevated, which is common to the examples in the website I linked.

Fascinating--great observation!

Still, the positioning of the hands(even if it's just one hand) is different from all of the other examples. In the other examples, the hands are to the forehead, with the elbows practically pointing straight up. In the facsimile, the hands are further from the face. Does anyone know the significance of that?

Patti said...

7:19 - good point!

Another thought, if one of the hands actually a wingtip leaving one hand elevated, where is the other hand? In the link to other scenes, the other hand is either at the side of the body or at the crotch.

You can see in the original that there is no hand at the side. And I doubt the subject of the facsimil is in the process of procreating because of the clothing - something absent in the other examples.

The only other explanation I can think of is that the hand we see elevated is his left hand (the one closest to us), and his right hand could be at his right side? But in the other examples, it is always the hand furthest away from the observer that is elevated.

Anonymous said...

>As a pagan to Christian, to convert I have seen many reasons why people
>(exmembers, name removal members, inactive members, and nonmembers) are
>critical about the church. Most reasons are understandable. Those that
>have had some membership with the church that blog on with criticisms
>about the church feel they have been damaged by the church or people in
>the church. As a convert with a solid testimony I have been shocked at
>the disinformation, misinformation, with held information and bad
>dealings many of these people have had with the church and its members.
>If you are a BOC you may see your church as just a church and have
>seen all these things and except them for what ever reason. As a
>convert when you think, feel, or learn that the gospel has been
>restored many are devastated when they are confronted with the reality
>that those you trusted the most have let you down. Nonmembers try to
>use all of these failings by the church and its members to be critical
>and fuel the antagonizing feelings against the church. So if the disgruntled
>members appear to be a lot more hostile than nonmembers this could be
>why. You might try to blame it on one thing but there is a lot more
>problems that disgruntled people have against the church. This is from
>one that has seen a lot I these things.
ref. 5:38 Mormanity

Dennis said...

Michael Rhodes gave a lecture where he pointed out that in an ancient document a similar image to Facsimile #1 except that the lion couch is behind the Jackal. One this facsimile the words, "Abraham who upon" is written on the side. This is a clear connection with Abraham. Does anyone have a copy of that Facsimile? My email address is mckay.dennis@gmail.com Thanks for any help