"The time has come," the Walrus said,But instead of cabbages and kings, today let us consider anti-Mormon objections to crocodiles and kings. More specifically, let us consider the charge made against Joseph Smith regarding the Book of Abraham and his interpretation of the crocodile figure in Facsimile 1 which Joseph identifies as the "idolatrous god of Pharaoh." One has merely to read Wikipedia's article on Sobek, the ancient Egyptian crocodile god, to realize that the crocodile could symbolize many things other than what Joseph said. So Joseph was wrong and we should leave the Church, right?
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."
First, I hope that your relationship with God, Christ, and the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is deep enough that you won't fall apart in instances where you think or are sure that Joseph Smith or any other mortal made mistakes. I hope an apparent error, contradiction, or even major blunder will not obviate the majesty of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, nor wipe out the reality of the Priesthood, the power and beauty of the LDS Temple experience, and the monumental blessings we have in the restored knowledge about the plan of salvation, the nature of God, our relationship to God, the purpose of life, etc. But that said, it is fair to wonder if Joseph got things right in the Book of Abraham. The answer is that we can see that he produced some astonishing bulls eyes beyond what anyone could have produced in his day, while also giving us some real puzzles and question marks where we don't have a good answer. Yes, there are apparent problems, as I note in my LDSFAQ materials on the facsimiles (e.g., Part 2 of my LDSFAQ pages on the Book of Abraham). But regarding crocodiles and kings, we do have some information that may help you in understanding that the critics aren't completely right in their attacks regarding Facsimile 1. In fact, Facsimile 1 offers some valuable evidence in favor of Joseph's inspired insights into the ancient documents he used in producing the Book of Abraham.
For information on crocodiles and kings, Kerry Shirts has written a terrific article, "Powerful Egyptological Evidence for Book of Abraham facsimile 1, figure 9 Crocodile as 'Idolatrous god of Pharaoh'" over at The Backyard Professor. Enjoy. But if you prefer non-LDS sources, here is one (easy online reading, not a scholarly work): J. Hill, "Sobek," 2010, at AncientEgyptOnline.com. An excerpt follows:
Sobek first appeared in the Old Kingdom as the son of Neith with the epithet "The Rager". According to some myths his father was Set, the god of thunder and chaos, but he also had a close association with Horus. He was paired with a number of goddesses in different locations, most notably Hathor, Renenutet, Heqet and Taweret, and was sometimes referred to as the father of Khonsu, Horus or Khnum.If Sobek was actually a god in the religion of Pharaoh and associated with the protection of Pharaoh, could there be some merit in Joseph Smith's characterization of the crocodile as the idolatrous god of Pharaoh? Just musing here--I think it's always better to muse than to fall apart and leave the church, just my advice.
In some areas, a tame crocodile was worshiped as the earthly embodiment of Sobek himself, while in other places crocodiles were reviled, hunted and killed. It seems likely that Sobek began as a dark god who had to be appeased, but that his protective qualities and his strength were valued when they were used in defence of the Pharaoh and the people. He could protect the justified dead in the netherworld, restoring their sight and reviving their senses. Because of his ferocity, he was considered to be the patron of the army.
Sobek was sometimes considered to be an aspect of Horus because Horus took the form of a crocodile to retrieve the parts of Osiris' body which were lost in the Nile. Yet Sobek was also thought to have assisted Isis when she gave birth to Horus. He also rescued the four mummiform sons of Horus (Imsety the human headed protector of the liver, Hapy the baboon headed protector of the lungs, Duamutef the jackal headed protector of the stomach and Qebehsenuef the falcon headed protector of the intestines) by gathering them in a net when they rose from the waters in a lotus bloom. However, he was also associated with Set, the enemy of Osiris. He was also worshiped as the manifestation of Amun-Re and was often depicted wearing either the headdress of Amun or the sun disk of Ra.
The strength and speed of the crocodile was thought to be symbolic of the power of the Pharaoh, and the word "sovereign" was written with the hieroglyph of a crocodile. It was thought that Sobek could protect the Pharaoh from dark magic. During the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties, the cult of Sobek was given particular prominence and a number of rulers incorporated him in their coronation names.
You might also be interested in the following news item (now old, from 1996) from the Maxwell Institute regarding archaeological evidence for the plausibility of Egyptian influence, indeed, for the worship of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, in ancient Mesopotamia in Abraham's time. Interesting, eh? More to muse upon.
The Crocodile God of Pharaoh in MesopotamiaSo what does it all mean? Joseph's interpretation of the crocodile, long held to be ridiculous by critics, has a rather strong air of plausibility to it. That plausibility persists not only for the general idea that the crocodile was an ancient Egyptian god soometime, somewhere, but that it was a god associated with royal power and the protection of Pharaoh, and that this god was known and worshiped not only during Abraham's time, but also in the land where Abraham lived and where the Book of Abraham takes place. So, all told, I'd say this aspect of Facsimile 1 and the Book of Abraham is not a solid reason to reject Joseph Smith. It might have looked that way until a few years ago, though. Patience and faith---we're never going to lose the need for both of these attributes when it comes to religion.
In the famous anti-Mormon crusade against the book of Abraham in 1912, one of the individuals involved asserted that the book of Abraham could not be true because "Chaldeans and Egyptians are hopelessly mixed together, although as dissimilar and remote in language, religion and locality as are American and Chinese." This exaggerated opinion was seconded by the Reverend Samuel A. B. Mercer: "I challenge any intelligent person who knows Chaldean and Egyptian history to read the first chapter of said book [of Abraham] without experiencing the same feeling. Chaldea and Egypt are hopelessly mixed. . . . No one can believe that Abraham made such a blunder in his geography."
Though in Mercer's day scholars studied both Mesopotamian and Egyptian disciplines, they knew nothing of the interactions between the two cultures. In 1971, however, the Egyptologist Georges Posener completed a lengthy and detailed survey of the available evidence and concluded that cultural interactions and interference of Egypt in the area of Syria and Palestine were extensive, even though the precise nature of the "domination by the pharaohs" during the Middle Kingdom "still eludes us; fifty years ago it was barely suspected." Yet some critics who clearly should know better are still using the same arguments as Mercer and Peters.
Confirmation of the connections that Posener discovered can be seen in recent archaeological evidence found at Ebla. The cult of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek flourished during the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 B.C.), as is attested by royal and personal names during the twelfth (1991-1783 B.C.) and thirteenth dynasties (1783-1600? B.C.), temple building, and commemorative scarabs.
In the archaeological site of Ebla in Syria, also known as Tell Mardikh, were found several images of Egyptian gods stylistically datable to the Middle Kingdom, and dated by the archaeologists to MB II (1750-1650 B.C.), the time period to which most scholars who believe Abraham existed date him. Among these gods were Osiris, Hathor, Horus, and Sobek. This provides concrete archaeological evidence that Egyptian cults existed in Mesopotamia, Abraham's homeland. Thus the book of Abraham accurately describes an aspect of the ancient world about which Joseph Smith could have known little or nothing.
1. John Peters, letter to Franklin S. Spalding, in F. S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (1912), 28.
2. Samuel A. B. Mercer, "Joseph Smith As an Interpreter and Translator of Egyptian," Utah Survey 1/1 (1913): 33.
3. Georges Posener, "Syria and Palestine c. 2160-1780 B.C.," Cambridge Ancient History, 1.2:550, 549.
4. Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham," Dialogue 28/1 (Spring 1995): 156-60.
5. Jürgen von Beckerath, Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen (1984), 67-73, 159-61, 200-11, 220-2; William Kelly Simpson, Papyrus Reisner I (1963), 89-90; cf. Simpson, Papyrus Reisner II (1965), 59, and Papyrus Reisner IV (1986), 41-2; and William C. Hayes, A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (1955), 23-4.
6. Dieter Arnold, Die Tempel Ägyptens (1992), 97-8, 186.
7. Bulletin de l'Insitut Français d'Archéologie Orientale 56 (1957): 81-95; and 63 (1965): 197-200.
8. Paolo Matthiae, Frances Pinnock, and Gabriella Scandone Matthiae, Ebla (1995), 458-60, 476-7.
Now as to whether pigs have wings or not, I'll save that discussion for some other day. Just be patient. But no, the Book of Mormon does not say pigs have wings, nor do BYU scholars insist that the horse of the Book of Mormon was a flying pig. Just to make that clear.