Book of Abraham/Joseph Smith Papyri/Facsimiles/Facsimile 2/Identification of the ithyphallic Egyptian god "Min" as "God sitting upon his throne"

Joseph Smith identified the ithyphallic Egyptian god "Min" as representing "God sitting upon his throne"


Question: If modern Egyptologists say that this is a representation of Min, and Min is a “pagan” God, how could Joseph Smith say that it represents God sitting on his throne?

In the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 7, Joseph Smith identified the ithyphallic Egyptian god "Min" as representing "God sitting upon his throne"

Here is some commentary by Kerry Muhlestein:

[W]e cannot be sure that we should be looking to the Egyptians to know how to interpret these symbols in the Book of Abraham. What if Abraham’s descendants took Egyptian elements of culture and applied their own meanings to them? We know that his numerous offspring did so on many occasions. For example, Jesus himself did this when he gave the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which clearly draws from the Egyptian tale of Setne-Kamwas. The Apocalypse of Abraham and Testament of Abraham are two more examples of Semitic adaptations of Egyptian religious traditions. Thus, is it not possible that we should look for a Jewish interpretation of the Egyptian drawings, rather than for an Egyptian interpretation? Or what if the drawings were originally done in Jewish/Israelite artistic style, but when they were recopied in the second century BC by an Egyptian, the Egyptian artist redrew them according to his artistic customs? Where should we then look to know how to interpret these drawings? It is apparent that there are serious problems with trying to verify or disprove Joseph’s explanations of the facsimiles by comparing them to Egyptological explanations. [1]

In a question/answer session, Muhlestein again reiterated these points:

[W]e do not know to what we really should compare the facsimiles. Was Joseph Smith giving us an interpretation that ancient Egyptians would have held, or one that only a small group of priests interested in Abraham would have held, or one that a group of ancient Jews in Egypt would have held, or something another group altogether would have held, or was he giving us an interpretation we needed to receive for our spiritual benefit regardless of how any ancient groups would have seen these? [2]

From Michael Rhodes:

A seated ithyphallic god with a hawk's tail, holding aloft a flail. This is a form of Min, the god of the regenerative, procreative forces of nature, perhaps combined with Horus, as the hawk's tail would seem to indicate. Before the god is what appears to be a bird presenting him with a Wedjat-eye, the symbol of all good gifts. In other hypocephali it can also be an ape, a snake, or a hawk-headed snake that is presenting the eye. This figure represents Nehebka, a snake god and one of the judges of the dead in the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. Nehebka was considered to be a provider of life and nourishment and as such was often shown presenting a pair of jars or a Wedjat-eye. As for the bird found in Facsimile 2, this could symbolize the Ba or soul (which the Egyptians often represented as a bird) presenting the Wedjat-eye to the seated god. Joseph Smith said this figure represented God sitting upon his throne revealing the grand key-words of the priesthood. The connection of the Wedjat-eye with “the grand key-words of the priesthood” was discussed above. Joseph also explained there was a representation of the sign of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. The Egyptians commonly portrayed the soul or spirit as a bird, so a bird is an appropriate symbol for the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith explained that the remaining figures contained writings that cannot be revealed to the world. Stressing the secrecy of these things is entirely in harmony with Egyptian religious documents such as the hypocephalus and the 162nd chapter of the Book of the Dead. For example, we read in the 162nd chapter of the Book of the Dead, “This is a great and secret book. Do not allow anyone's eyes to see it!” Joseph also says line 8 “is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.” Line 8 reads, “Grant that the soul of the Osiris, Shishaq, may live (eternally).” Since the designated purpose of the hypocephalus was to make the deceased divine, it is not unreasonable to see here a reference to the sacred ordinances performed in our Latter-day temples. [3]

References in the figure are to Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later." off-site


Question: Is the representation of Min actually Egyptian "pornography"?

This attitude demonstrates not only an immaturity about sexuality, but it also a misunderstanding of ancient Egyptian religion

To answer this question about Facsimile 2 figure 7, the first thing we need to disabuse is that it constitutes "pornography" because it shows the deity with an erect phallus. This attitude demonstrates not only an immaturity about sexuality, but it also a misunderstanding of ancient Egyptian religion. The characterization of this as "pornography" is grossly inappropriate. The Egyptians would almost certainly have not conceived of this figure on the hypocephalus as "pornographic" in the way most people understand the word. This attitude reflected by some is a good example of how our modern, sexually-obsessed society can easily misinterpret religious art. We see an erect penis in a drawing and think "pornography," whereas an ancient Egyptian would have seen one and thought of fertility, virility and life. Hence the depiction of Min with an erection was a sign of his life-giving ability. We have analogies in Northwest Semitic depictions of God. (El is both called and depicted as a virile bull in the Ugaritic texts, both because of his procreative powers and his greatness over the other gods.)

Another thing to keep in mind is just how common syncretism of religious ideas and iconography was between Near Eastern cultures. We know ancient Hebrews and other Near Eastern people used a phallic God to depict “the God of the Bible” all the time. The Canaanite god Baal, for example, shares the same epithet with Yahweh ("cloud rider") in Psalm 68:4.


Question: Who is this Egyptian god "Min"?

Although it is true that one of Min's attributes was that of a fertility god, or a god of procreation, he had other traits that are analogous to the attributes of both the Northwest Semitic deities of El and Baal

Hugh Nibley treated Min in his magnum opus One Eternal Round, pp. 304-322. Although it is true that one of Min's attributes was that of a fertility god, or a god of procreation, he had other traits that are analogous to the attributes of both the Northwest Semitic deities of El and Baal. For one, he is often portrayed as a man sitting on a throne. Second, he is a god of Creation, the Father, Most High God, etc., as El is depicted in the Ugaritic texts, and later in the Hebrew Bible. He is also a harvest-vegetation god, and, like Baal, oversees the assurance of the renewal of animal and vegetation life through rains and floods, etc. To draw attention to only the fertility aspect of Min is a very myopic view. What's more, John Gee, in a very important article [4], has pointed out that the figure of Min is often simply called "the great god" by the Egyptians themselves.


Notes

  1. Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: Some Questions and Answers," Religious Educator, vol. 11 no. 1 (2010) off-site
  2. Stephen Smoot, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham: An Interview with Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein," Student Review (November 2013) off-site
  3. Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later" off-site
  4. John Gee, “Towards an Interpretation of Hyppocephali,” 334