Egyptologist Robert Ritner made an interesting mistake, which offers a lesson in how to approach to the Book of Abraham.
Ritner said, “No amount of special pleading can change the female ‘Isis the great, the god’s mother’ (Facsimile 3, Fig. 2) into the male ‘King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his hand.’“(Emphasis added)
Ritner is a competent Egyptologist, but is incorrectly quoting Joseph, inserting a reasonable assumption in place of what Joseph said. Here’s what Joseph Smith actually said in his Facsimile 3, figure 2 explanation: “King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.” To the outsider, it might seem as though Ritner made a meaningless mistake. But in terms of serious scholarship, Joseph’s use of the word “head” in Figure 2 should stick out like a sore thumb in contrast to his use of the word “hand” in the other instances. In figures 4 &5, Joseph refers to characters “above the hand” and “above his hand,” respectively. But in figure 2, he says “above his head,” not “above his hand.” If Joseph wanted to refer to the characters above figure 2's hand, he could have said “hand,” like he did in the other cases.
Perhaps some readers do not realize that the elements of the symbol above the figure’s head constitute characters. They do. 1828 Webster is clear on that. The point is, we should not be judging Joseph Smith according to what we think Joseph should be doing.
And yes, the characters do matter. The characters above the hand don’t give the name of Pharaoh, but the characters above the head have some interesting convergences with Joseph’s explanation. The symbol is a sun-disk with horns, which often represents “House of Horus.” Egyptologists might not recognize it as representing that in this context, but it does nevertheless have that underlying meaning, thus giving a convergence with the name of the Pharoah, which is “Horus,” as Joseph Smith said. Almost every Pharaoh had a unique “Horus name” consisting of the name “Horus” followed by an individualized description. Egyptians worshipped the Pharaoh as Horus. Hence, “the early kings were known primarily by their Horus name,” according to Egyptologist Adrian Kerr.
Aha refers to "Horus the fighter", Djer refers to "Horus the strong", etc. Later kings express ideals of kingship in their Horus names. Khasekhemwy refers to "Horus: the two powers are at peace", while Nebra refers to "Horus, Lord of the Sun".
Moreover, Isis merged with Hathor, and thus became the mother of Horus, the living Pharaoh.
Before I list more convergences, it’s important to make sure we understand their proper role. Joseph Smith’s explanations regarding Facsimile 3 are either reflective of divinely attained understanding, or creative earthly fiction.
The first point I’d like to make is how little we know. A neuroscientist can appreciate the vast amount of research conducted on the brain, but the same neuroscientist can also appreciate the huge gaps in understanding which still exist. It is the same with Egyptology.
Moreover, such fields of study as these two are encumbered with unwritten rules that aren’t directly related to the truth of any given matter. For instance, a neuroscientist would probably say that the brain does not pump blood throughout the body. The scientist would say the heart, not the brain, pumps blood. But that’s because they have learned to strongly associate the words “pump blood” with a pattern of meanings which they associate with the heart. They then equate the idea of a brain pumping blood with the idea of a brain contracting and pushing blood in a heart-like fashion. However, that conflation of meaning is not inherent in the words “the brain pumps blood throughout the body.” Okay, you might ask, how then does the brain pump blood throughout the body? It does so by triggering a set of muscles to contract at different rates - i.e., the brain regulates the frequency of the heart contracting and pumping blood, and thus the brain pumps blood. Readers may scoff at this explanation, but they haven’t thought it through very thoroughly. Is it not accurate to say that humans put a man on the moon? Is it not also accurate to say that NASA did so by causing a spaceship to do it? Why, then, could we not say that the brain can likewise do something by causing something else (the heart) to do it?
The above points need to be kept in mind if one presumes to judge Joseph Smith. We need to realize the limitations of Egyptology, and we need to avoid imposing our arbitrary rules on Joseph Smith.
Limits caused by the way people organize information into patterns can perhaps best be illustrated by chess. Patterns help people play chess. We think of chess in terms of patterns which enable us to identify positions and talk about them. We identify, for instance, pawn structure, skewers, discovered attacks, etc. We even divide chess into the “opening,” the “middle game” and the “end game.” This organization may seem brilliant, but it is an arbitrary substitute for objective truth about a position in a game. It is impossible for a human, even the greatest grandmaster, to see each move in its true sense – which is in terms of its impact on every potential outcome of the game. The interesting thing is, chess computers of today can play extremely sophisticated positions which are very unappealing to the human eye because we can’t recognize our beloved patterns in these positions. The strongest human players can no longer compete against such computers.
These chess computers make moves that a Master would “correct” a pupil for making. But the Master is actually way behind in thought.
To reiterate, if we are to judge Joseph Smith, we ought not hold him to arbitrary, imperfect patterns of convention. We should instead look for convergences with objective facts.
For instance, if Joseph looks at a cloud and calls it a body of water, we should not say “no, that’s a cloud!” Instead, we should look at what Joseph said and ask if it is true. Is it a body of water? Yes, it is.
We have already identified one convergence. Personal preferences don’t change that fact. Incidentally, Ritner also criticizes Joseph for saying, “King Pharaoh,” since “Pharaoh” is synonymous with “king.” This would be a good point, however, “King Pharaoh” was simply a common 19th-century English term, and thus a fine part of Joseph’s English rendering.
Figure 5 of facsimile 3. Joseph Smith's explanation reads, “Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.”
The name of the man is not Shulem, but Hor. However, Joseph never told us whether the word “Shulem” was a name, title, description or something else. Many of us think of the word “shalom” as simply “peace,” but as a noun, “שלומ (shalom) is one who has, or has been provided, what is needed to be whole and complete.” This perfectly fits Figure 5 in the scene, who is literally being made whole and complete. That’s what the snsn document is all about. Shulem is an English rendering of “shalom.” Joseph Smith could very well be calling Hor a “shalom,” rather than telling us a name.
Joseph Smith said Hor was a waiter - and he was – not that the Egyptians themselves called him that, but he undeniably was a waiter. Hor literally brought meals to the gods and waited on them. By meals, I literally mean hot plates of freshly cooked beef, glasses of wine, bread, etc. As a priest/prophet, Hor was their servant. After the gods were finished with their meal, the priest would take the food away – and what remained would be eaten by the priests and their families. The gods of course would not physically consume any of the food, but it was physically prepared and brought to them.
If Hor was a waiter to the gods, doesn’t that mean Hor was not a waiter to the king? No, the gods to which Hor was a priest/prophet were each kings in their own right. Amun-Re, especially, being “king of the gods,” but the other gods as well, as explained by Richard Wilkinson in The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (2003, p. 64):
Textual and representational evidence clearly shows that the Egyptians envisioned their deities to be organized in a manner similar to human society, with the institution of kingship providing the governmental model among the gods themselves.... Egyptian mythology is dogmatic that the institution of kingship was coeval with the rule of the gods.
Horus, Atum and Mut, for example, were commonly depicted wearing the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, while from the Third Intermediate Period youthful deities such as Ihy or Harpokrates may be shown wearing almost any of the various types of royal crowns.
According to his Book of Breathings, Hor was not merely a waiter to one god (“king”), but to several, and Joseph Smith reflects this by saying “kings,” which is plural (using an apostrophe after the plural s “was not universally accepted until the mid-19th century.”), in the original 1842 printing. The apostrophe in our scriptures today was added years later by editors. The word “king” is used five times in the explanations for facsimile 3. Three of these times, it is an explicit reference to “Pharaoh.” The other two times it is used in plural form as “kings.”
Did he just forget to use apostrophes? If he forgot to use apostrophes then why does the explanation for figure 1 have an apostrophe in “Pharaoh's throne?” Moreover, the fact stands that he did not use an apostrophe and we need to judge him by what he said.
Joseph Smith calls Hor a “principal waiter,” not just a “waiter,” perfectly matching the Book of Breathings, which tells us Hor is a “principal waiter” because Hor was not an average priest but was at a higher level, that of “prophet,” according to the Book of Breathings.
Moreover, it tells us Hor is Priest of Amun-Re, Priest of Min, and Priest of Khonsu. These titles do not end at his death, as the book is addressing him by these titles after his death and even after referring to him as Osiris.
Figure 6. Joseph calls the figure a slave, but it’s really the Egyptian god Anubis. However, the figure being both Anubis and a person is not mutually exclusive, just as Anubis in Facsimile 1 is also a priest wearing a mask, and Anubis is represented by the priest. In fact it was an Egyptian practice for a priest to dress as Anubis and perform embalming rituals. In other words, it was not actually Anubis performing the rituals, but an actual human being. So if a real person can represent Anubis in an embalming context, why could a real person not represent Anubis in the role of escorting the dead as we see in facsimile 3?
Of course, Joseph Smith said Figure 6 was a slave, not a priest. And, embalming was an actual physical ritual that needed to take place, but escorting the dead was only mythological.
However, during the time period when the Hor Book of Breathings was produced, Anubis not only had priests, but also slaves about which little is known. See for example the paper written by Kim Ryholt titled, “A Self-Dedication Addressed To Anubis,” referring to the temple slaves of Anubis.
So, we have a convergence between Figure 6 being referred to as a slave, and Anubis owning real people as “slaves,” during a narrow window of time which included the time during which the Hor Scroll was produced.
Joseph Smith said the slave belongs to the prince. “Anubis” is a Greek rendering of the Egyptian word “inpu” which means “small prince.” So to say that the slave belongs to the prince is to say that the slave belongs to Anubis.
Joseph Smith says “Olimlah” as a preface to his explanation for Figure 6. The word “Olim” is a Hebrew word which means “those who ascend,” which matches what Anubis is doing in the scene, helping Hor ascend to the afterlife. Figure 6 has his arms wrapped around the waist of figure 5, who represents Hor, and Figure 6 is in fact escorting Figure 5 to the throne of Osiris, so Hor is ascending.
Figure 4. Joseph Smith's explanation reads, “Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand.” But the characters above the hand say “Maat.” The vizier was known as the “Priest of Maat,” and in many cases it was a prince who was appointed to be the vizier. The “Priest of Maat” was very different from a regular priest, and in fact traveled all around making sure that order was established in the name of Maat. To the Egyptian people, the vizier was the physical embodiment of Maat.
Maat basically was justice and order. So, to embody justice and order, as the vizier did, is to embody Maat. It's true that this principle of Maat was represented in the form of a goddess, but the goddess is not real flesh and blood like the vizier. Maat was often depicted as just being an ostrich feather. Like Horapollo said, “The man rendering justice to all, was represented by the ostrich feather; because that bird, unlike others, has all its feathers equal.” The vizier was the man “rendering justice to all” in Horapollo’s quote.
Figure 1. That's Osiris. This is a convergence of consistency. Let's look at the consistency in Joseph's explanation. Facsimile1 set the precedent that Joseph Smith associates Abraham with Osiris, which then enables us to say that Joseph Smith “correctly” associated Osiris with Abraham in facsimile 3, because Joseph had no personal way of knowing that the character depicted as being on the throne in facsimile 3 was the same character that he had identified as Abraham in facsimile 1. There was no secular means for him to realize that Abraham/Osiris instead of pharaoh was the one sitting on the throne, and that the person on the throne was the same person on the lion-couch in facsimile 1.
Joseph declined to find Abraham at all in facsimile 2, where Osiris is in fact not depicted as any of the figures.
Why Abraham instead of Osiris?
Well, that just means that someone associated Abraham with Osiris.
It’s nothing new. For instance, as explained by John H. Taylor:
The original local deity of Abydos was the jackal-god Khentimentiu, the 'Foremost of the Westerners' (i.e. the dead), but his identity became absorbed by Osiris as the cult of the latter acquired ever greater prominence.
The convergence here is that Joseph picked the one figure with which this type of thing was possible.
The reason for outside gods being absorbed into Osiris was usually political. It was a way of getting rid of local deities without offending the people who worship those deities. After all, it was an honor to have their local deity become Osiris. But the net effect was that the local deity was eradicated and replaced.
Abraham wasn't a deity, but Abraham was dead and the Israelites still followed him and reverenced him as their leader. And they associated him with their God - the “God of Abraham.” Having Abraham become Osiris would be the same as the Egyptians thinking of their dead pharaoh as being Osiris, a deity whom they still followed.
And, finally, returning to Figure 2:
Joseph refers to Figure 2 as being Pharaoh, and the figure is specifically represented in her role as mother to Pharaoh. When can one person be two people? When a mother is carrying her child. When present in a scene with Osiris, Horus (Pharaoh) was depicted as a child. In facsimile 3, Horus is shown with his father, Osiris. Thus, Horus is the child, housed in Hathor, as his mother Isis. The following commentary from Henri Frankfort is useful:
The king is the “sky-god” Horus; he is also Horus the son of his predecessor who had become Osiris at the moment of his death. The latter identification – Horus, son of Osiris – is appropriate when the king is considered in connection with his father, as heir in the legitimate line, as the incumbent of a royalty which involved … two generations. But, when the avenue of approach is not the king's place in the succession, or his relationship with the ancestral spirits, or the continuity of kingship; when, on the contrary, the king is considered in the fulness of his power – then he is Horus, the Great God.
I just want to say that in pointing out these convergences I am not implying that they are the only explanations possible. Still, Joseph Smith is vindicated by the existence of such convergences.