Pharaoh and Abraham:
Where Is Thy Glory?
Pharaoh and Abraham: Where Is Thy Glory?
The Common Quest: Kings and Priests
The Book of Abraham brings out the main points of rivalry between the patriarch
and the pharaoh in high relief: Each claims to possess the only true priesthood
and with it the only true kingship. The earliest legends of Egypt and Mesopotamia
introduce us to a scene repeated over and over again in the apocalypses and
testaments of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, of a great and terrible
monarch who feels his divinity threatened and his dominion challenged by an
emissary of the true God. He summons his wise men to appear before him and
solve the problem, but invariably their wisdom proves dismally inadequate
for the task, as the servant of God wins the upper hand and the great king
suffers and concedes defeat. Often the showdown takes the form of a battle
of the magicians. The theme is central to the Abraham legends,1 as we have shown elsewhere, but it is nowhere more at home
than in Egypt, where, as a number of recent studies have shown, the divinity
of pharaoh was perpetually in question. This surprising state of things is
abundantly attested in the declarations of the kings themselves and is so
clearly set forth in the Book of Abraham that we need only set the statements
of that book side by side with the royal inscriptions to see how the two confirm
and support each other.
Such an exercise will be enormously facilitated by the labors of Professors
Sethe and Breasted, who have brought together in the compass of the Urkunden and the Ancient Records enough material to satisfy the market for parallels
without the necessity of more than occasionally quoting from other sources.
Right at the outset we are met with a striking phenomenon, when the Book of
Abraham, after a short introductory sentence in which the author identifies
himself, instead of going on with the story, pauses to present an imposing
list of his aspirations and attainments in the long second verse in which
the editors are unable to make a pause for breath. This is typically Egyptian,2 and these are the same blessings as
the Egyptian king (or commoner, following his example) wishes or claims for
himself in the typical Egyptian autobiography.
Abraham wants in the first instance what all pharaohs ask for—a happy,
peaceful, untroubled life.
1:2. And, finding there was greater happiness
and peace and rest for me,
standard formula for the living pharaoh is usually interpreted as an
optative (a wish or desire).]3Urk. 4:234.4 [May the king receive] all life (ʿnh), stability (security, dd), dominion (wɜs) Glück = felicity,
so Sethe), health, happiness (expansion of heart), all peace (ḥtp, with the basic meaning of rest).
Urk. 4:154. The greatest gifts of
sought for the blessings of the fathers,
4:194. A solicitous (ndty) son does what is pleasing (advantageous, ɜh.wt) to his fathers who
begot him, endowing rites (festivals), for the gods who created his
perfection (nfrw).Urk. 1:147. [The king prays that
he] may be together in the same place [with his father and grandfather
Urk. 1:76. [Henku] was one who loved
Urk 1:79. And was glorified in them.
the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same [blessings];
2:31. Thutmosis I: . . . Amon-Re, king of the gods is his
father . . . [he] is given life, stability, satisfaction,
health, joy of his heart upon the throne of Horus, leading all the living
like Re, forever.
became a rightful heir,
4:197. The Son of Amon upon his throne[s], and his heir whom he has
placed upon the earth. . . . I magnify him (dí shm=f)
even as he magnifies me.
been myself a follower of righteousness,
typical Egyptian expression, here in place of the usual “I was
a follower of his Majesty.”5 A “follower (šms)
of righteousness (Mɜʿ.t)”;
Maat being “the truth as personification of truth and the right
. . . with its own cult and priestly offices”6 and a “(šms)”
being one who follows the standard of a divinity,7 i.e., is dedicated to the principles represented by
also . . . to be a greater follower of righteousness,
2:365—66. [The king] is one who taketh thought, . . .
[who is constantly] searching . . . [in the] desire . . .
to make Egypt flourish as in the beginning, by the plans of Truth [Maat,
also to be one who possessed great knowledge and . . . to
possess a greater knowledge,
4:19. The king alone is taught by Sothis, praised by Seshat [the Book-Lady,
patroness of learning]; the reputation (attainment, šfy.t)
of Thoth himself [the god of learning] goes with him, it is he who causes
him to know so much.Urk 4:20. He is superior to [leading]
the scribes in exact knowledge. He is the Great Master [of great power—Thoth].
PT 250. This is the king, . . .
2:365—66. [Karnak Pylon depicts the king as a deep student:] He
is one who taketh thought, who maketh wise with knowledge, . . .
loving examples of truth, rejoicing in plans, . . . searching
bodies (hearts), knowing what is in the heart (mind). . . .
He rejoices in remembering.AR 2:317. [Atum] appointed him to
be king of the living, . . . creative (progressive) in knowledge,
wise in execution.
to be] a prince of peace,
2:424.11 The chiefs of Retenu (Rtnw)
[Canaan] the Upper, who knew not Egypt since the time of the god, are
craving peace from his majesty. . . . There shall be no revolters
in thy time; but every land shall be in peace.AR 2:143.12 [Ineni:] I continued powerful in
peace, I met no misfortune, my years were [passed] in gladness of heart.
Urk. 4:280. I have united for thee
to be a father of many nations,
1:168. [To Sahure:] I give to thee all these nations; . . .
you shall be head of all the living Kas, seated in glory on the throne
of Horus forever. All hearts shall be captive to you, all the common
people will be yours.Urk. 1:169. I give to thee all foreign
lands and islands of the sea.
AR 2:366. I am his first born, . . .
AR 2:62—63. He caused that
AR 2:101. Thou hast given to me
desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God,
4:272. [Father Amon] I have carried out all thy instructions (sbɜ.yt=k); yea, thy heart delights in what I have done.AR 2:389.13 Thou [the king] art the Only One
of [Aton], in possession of his designs (or instructions, shrw).
became a rightful heir,
260 (§316—323). Righteousness (Mɜʿ.ty) has judged . . . and ordered that the
throne of Geb shall revert to me. . . . I put a stop
to the affair in Heliopolis [the perennial dispute between Horus and
Seth over the kingship], . . . for I am the alter-ego of my
father.PT 606 (§1688—89). Sit on
this throne of Re; . . . take possession of the heritage of
your father Geb in the presence of the great company of the Ennead in
On, [which proclaim his legality.]
Urk. 4:198. A son, acting out of
Urk. 4:65—66. This is the
Egypt] it is not possible for a king to rule without the priesthood.14 [The king officiates at Heliopolis
in the capacity of a priest.]15The privileged situation of the
king derives from his role as priest, . . . not as one distinguished
. . . by birth. . . . Thus reverence is not
directed to the person of the officiant, but to the priesthood with
which he is invested.16
[E. Blumenthal writes on the triple
[That the king should be a High
[The main purpose of the great festivals
to the Emperor Julian: The Emperor rejoices in the title of priest no
less than in that of king, and the name matches the function, for he
surpasses kings in matters of state as much as he does priests in holy
ordinances, . . . as we learn from the wise Egyptians.20
the right belonging to the fathers.
1:85. Verily their offices (assignments, spheres of authority, íɜ.wt) are like those of their fathers.
1:3. It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the
4:284—85. [I give to thee the throne of Geb (the primal earth-father),
and the office of A]tum (cf. Adam). [I (Amon the father of the gods)
give to thee my seat of inheritance] under me. . . .
I am [thy] beloved father who establishes thy authority (sɜḥ), . . . who confirms thy titles. [In
the Pyramid Texts the right to rule is established by formal demonstration
of patriarchal descent from Geb.]21Setne: [The secret of priesthood
and kingship,] The father of my father told it to my father [who] told
it unto the father of my father, saying . . . [the resting
place of Ahure and Merabher son] is by the south corner of the house.22
the beginning of time; yea, even from the beginning,
Egyptians always trace their royal authority to the pɜw.t, “primeval time, the beginning of time,”
for them “a man of ancient family” is a pɜw.ty.]23Urk. 4:95. How pleasing to the hearts
of men . . . that you glorify the Hnty-ímntyw, the great god of the beginning of time (sp tpy), whose place Atum preferred, which he magnified
before his created ones [?] for whose sake [the land was settled, so
Sethe], whom the kings of Egypt served since the land was first settled.
Urk. 4:180. The king is foreordained
was the principle of sp tpy,
basing everything on the types and models set forth “at the beginning
of time,” that allowed Egypt to enjoy “2500 years virtually
undisturbed by revolution.” When this tie with the “beginning”
was broken in the late period, the whole thing collapsed.]24
before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time,
4:96. Geb [the primal earth-god] has opened to thee what is in him;
Tenen [the first settler of the earth] has given to thee his possessions;
the inhabitants of the desert and the sown are all under thy administration
(plans).Shabako Stone [thought to be the
oldest Egyptian document] describes the Council of the gods at the Creation,
when Ptah [the Creator] grants his power (shm) to his heirs, the gods and the spirits.25
the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first
were all gods created, Atum and his lineage. . . . Thus
the spirit-creation of the gods took place, and the preexistent (ḥms.wt) spirits.26So it was said: He who begot Atum
and the other gods is Ptah [the Opener, Father]; all things come forth
from him. . . . And after all things were created by
his word, Ptah was well pleased with everything.27 [Sethe sees a direct connection between this and Genesis
Urk. 4:180. [The king is] foreordained
the fathers unto me.
right of the king to his kingdom” was established only by “the
divine genealogy of Heliopolis” in which the misnamed Ennead is
really the line of ancestors.30 The great council
at On would proclaim him king by acclamation upon establishing “the
pedigree of the gods or the lineage of Horus,” going back to Atum
(Adam), being the primeval deity.31Urk. 4:284. I [Amon] give thee my seat, my authority (sɜḥ) and mine inheritance which I inherited. . . . I am
1:4. I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to
the appointment of God
king got his authority by appointment:
The “Great Corporation” of Heliopolis acknowledged the divine
rightness of the king on earth, with the acknowledgment of his divine
descent; this was pronounced in the course of a court procedure.32Urk. 4:284. I [Amon] give thee the
throne of Geb and the Office of Atum. [The king must “justify”
his title by proving legitimate descent from “the Fatherhood of
the fathers concerning the seed.
4:249. The two lands are filled with the children of thy children; multitudinous
is the number of thy seed; thy Ba
is created in the hearts of thy people (pʿ.t); she [Hatshepsut] is the daughter of Kɜ-mwt.f [the Coronation priest doubling for the king].Urk. 4:198. A son does what he does
for his father out of the love in his heart. . . . For
he has put it into my divine heart to make his monument, that I might
establish his authority [power, sekhem] even as he has established my authority, that
I might make firm his house forever.
1:26. [The theme is resumed]: Established by the fathers in the first
generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the
reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father . . . [Here Noah
is called the father of Pharaoh.]
So all the gods and all the spirits came together to hail God upon his
throne. . . . They rejoiced before him in his temple,
the source of all good things.34[Following this pattern, the king]
passes through the secret doors in the glory of the Lord of Eternity,
following the footsteps . . . in the ways of the Great Throne.
Then the heavenly court enters and mingles with the gods, with Ptah
the Ancient of Days (lit. Lord of Years),35 [being received into the company] of the gods who were before
and after him, [with the gods of Ta-tenen (the first settlement of the
O Happy Breed!
Most of the above citations have been from the Old and Middle Kingdoms of
Egypt. For the later period,
after the Eighteenth Dynasty, the important autobiographies have been collected
and compared by Eberhard Otto, who provides the student with translations
of seventy-five of them. He has also shown how in form and content these later
biographies conform closely to the patterns followed from the beginning, making
them relevant to the study of Abraham’s account, no matter when he lived.37
The subjects of the Egyptian autobiographies from every period display the
same trait of character as those inculcated in the “Teachings” (sboyet) of Ptahotep, of the king who taught his son Merikare,
of Amenemhet I in a message to his son, of Amenophis IV addressing his officials
from the throne, of the wise Amenemope, even of the Eloquent Peasant. Some
of the gems of this literature are, as Otto duly notes, contemporary and spiritually
akin to the Wisdom Literature of the Jews, Aramaeans, and Nabataeans—the
people of Canaan.38 The autobiographies of the New Kingdom
are, like Abraham’s, frankly ego-centered (the Testament of Abraham and the Apocalypse of Abraham surprised scholars by being written in the first person, a convention
quite alien to normal Apocalyptic), and the authors leave us in no doubt as
to where their desires, ambitions, and values lie: mainly to have a happy
life, a large posterity, and a blessed memory.39 The model upheld is the patriarchal
figure—”I was a god to my family”40—who at the same
time feels his own dependence on God’s (in the singular!) guidance and mercy.41 Our hero—like
those before him a pillar of strength to others in time of crisis,42 the “Wall” and support of
all in time of need,43 bold and independent in thought and
action,44 with quick intelligence to “solve difficult problems”45—is concerned before all for
the care of the poor and the weak.46 Self-disciplined and good-natured,47 utterly
devoid of any trace of meanness, arrogance, or covetousness,48 kind-hearted and fair to everyone,
with special concern for the helpless,49 he is ever aware that the secret of
survival in bad times is working together.50 Of course his hospitality is boundless.51
The same humane and enlightened spirit that made Abraham a legend in the East
is strikingly displayed in the famous El-Bersheh tomb (fig. 37), on whose
walls a great nobleman of the mid-eighteenth century B.C.
(the time usually assigned to Abraham) depicts in magnificent relief how large
and well-organized bodies of happy workmen under good-natured overseers and
wise officials carried out monumental building operations in a spirit of high
enthusiasm, genuine religious fervor, and merry competitive camaraderie amidst
cheery songs and quips—the great man wanted everybody to be happy in
serving God.52 Of course it is idealized,
but it does show where the Egyptian’s values lay, and they were the same as
The ultimate model of this patriarchal perfection was, of course, the king,
whose rule is an expression of God’s rule on earth,53 and without whom the world could not survive.54 Naturally the autobiographies regularly stress the subjects’ personal
proximity to the pharaoh,55 whether in holding
office or receiving special honors.56 Yet it is interesting to note that it is not the king’s person
but his sacred office of kingship and priesthood that are the real source
of power and authority in the land.57 It is from that fact that the inevitable rivalry between Pharaoh
and Abraham arises, each claiming to hold a unique dispensation from the God
It is in Egypt that Abraham is most at home. In his own country he was an
outcast, pushed from place to place in Canaan; it is only in Egypt that he
comes to his own.59 He was, in fact, almost as thoroughly
Egyptianized as his noble descendant Joseph, whose own father and brothers
settled permanently on Pharaoh’s lands and adopted the customs (Genesis 50:2—14,
Otto raises the question regarding the autobiographies that we have discussed
above—the subjects are supposed to have written them personally, but
who, Otto asks, really wrote them? Usually, he finds, it was the old man’s
son who was responsible for getting his story written on stone. He would consult
with the overseer of the temple workshop, who would in turn go to the priests
of the temple for a properly composed text, which they would supply by consulting
the temple library of handbooks on correct forms and phrases. Yet after all
it was the man’s own story, and he always got credit for writing it.60 With such formality, it is no wonder
that the biographies all emphasize the same things, and this very regularity
is a valuable check on the authenticity of our picture of Abraham in the Book
Uniquely intimate ties between the spirit of Abraham and the ways of the Egyptians
have come to the fore in the study of Egyptian jurisprudence by Schafik Allam,
who maintains that the Egyptians were the first and long the only people in
the world to recognize “the full legal independence of the individual
(la pleine capacité juridique de l’individu)” applying equally to male and female.61 Along with that we find in Egyptian
law “apparently the first recognition of the system of the family structure”
as the foundation for society, this being based on a “patrilinear, patrilocal,
patriarchal, and monogamous” tradition and organization.62
Records of the Fathers
A significant point of resemblance and rivalry is the claim of both the king
and the patriarch to exclusive possession of and access to certain written
records which went back to the
beginning of time and confirmed his particular claim to legitimacy of priesthood
and kingship. Both seem to be speaking of the same records.
1:28. But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running
back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have
come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.
250 (§267). I [the king] became Sia who bears the god’s book at the
right hand of Re.[Neferhotep (Thirteenth Dynasty)].
My heart desires to see the books of the primeval times of Atum, spread
out before me for careful research, to discover if possible the god
in his true nature, and the gods of the Ennead (great council) as they
naturally are, and the service due them . . . that I might
be united with them; that I may know God in his true form, that I may
represent him [in an image] as he was in the beginning, that I might
officiate as their proxy and improve their memorials on earth, that
they might confirm to me mine inheritance . . . over all that
the Sun embraces in its round (šnn).63
IV spent his days investigating (the annals) of Thoth who is in the
House of Life (the archives of the royal genealogy—Gardiner);
he says:] I have not left unseen . . . any of them all, in
order to search out both great and small among the gods and goddesses,
and I have found . . . the entire Ennead [the king’s ancestral
line—Anthes]. He understood things like Thoth, and has penetrated
into the annals like the maker thereof, having examined the annals of
the House of Life.64[Setne, Pharaoh’s librarian, is
told in a dream in the temple of Chons the Creator to copy a book in
the temple library which was written by Thoth himself,65 a book of all knowledge which vindicates
the Pharaoh’s claim to the throne.66 The son of Pharaoh seeks for the
book in vain, and the rule of the king is challenged and his throne
forfeit until the young son of the librarian produces the necessary
2:374. [Amenemhet:] I was introduced into the divine book; I beheld
the excellent things of Thoth; I was equipped with their secrets; I
opened all their passages. [I myself kept the lists (census and genealogical
records) and records of everything.]68
1:31. The records of
the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands;
gnwt] clearly indicated ancient historical records
. . . and is habitually translated by scholars as “annals.”
But nothing of the kind had been recognized by Egyptologists until . . .
H. Schaefer, . . . L. Borchardt, and K. Sethe . . .
diagnosed the true nature [of the gnwt as royal genealogies going back to prehistoric
times.]69AR 2:31. [Lands are now in fealty
to Thutmosis I, which have been forgotten, since] they were not seen
in the archives of the ancestors since the Worshipers of Horus [the
first mortal king of Egypt].
AR 2:281. [The king governs by virtue
|therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have
I kept even unto this day,
king’s] authority was founded not in the social, but in the cosmic
order, [in which] the story of the creation held the clue to the understanding of the present.70[The preexistent Corporation at
Heliopolis (the great observatory)] apparently was the court which performed
the nomination of the king by acclamation. . . . I prefer
to call it either the pedigree of the gods or the lineage of Horus,
and not the Ennead. . . . The pedigree
was looked upon by the Egyptians as a cosmogonic concept with Atum as the primeval deity.71
AR 2:149. I [the Vizier Senmut]
AR 2:385. [The Vizier Ramose enters]
257 (§304). The king is older than the Great One, to whom belongs the
power on his throne; the king assumes authority, eternity is brought
to him and understanding. . . . The king takes possession
of the sky. . . . We see something new, say the primeval
I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for
the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.
4:61. [Inni:] I speak unto you, O ye people, hearken that ye may do
good as I have done, that you may receive like good in return, that
you may follow my example.AR 2:193. [Thutmosis III:] My majesty
hath done [made] this [autobiography] from desire to put them before
my father Amon, in this great temple of Amon, (as) a memorial forever
and ever. [An inscription on the temple walls for public edification.]
2:297. [Intef:] If ye would bequeath your offices to your children;
whether (ye be) one that readeth these words upon this stela. [Give
a thought to the subject and speak a word in his memory.]Jubilees 39:6. [Joseph in Egypt] remembered the words which
Jacob his father used to read from amongst the words of Abraham.
Jubilees 45:16. Israel . . . gave all his books
Would Abraham Dare?
Some of the latest studies cast doubt on the reliability of the tradition
that brings Abraham and Pharaoh together. The mere idea of an ordinary alien
standing in the presence of the divine monarch, they argue, is quite far-fetched,
and that anyone else on earth should lay claim to the same virtues and blessings
as the pharaoh may at first sight seem utterly presumptuous to us.73 And yet the Egyptians did not think
so. Hundreds of inscriptions preserve the memories and laud the merits of
ordinary Egyptian subjects who seem to lay claim to the merits of Pharaoh
himself, sharing the resounding boasts and pious formulas with each other
and with the king. Indeed, they tell us sometimes that Pharaoh took an active
interest in their tombs and memorials and helped them to plan and erect them.
The list of important men who left such monuments is an impressive and ever-growing
one. Over a period of three thousand years they all claim much the same things
for themselves—the very things for which the monarchs wished to be remembered
and revered through the ages. These qualities are named with almost equal
frequency, no one predominating over the others, so that it is impossible
to list them in order of importance. They are (1) proximity to the seat and
source of power and glory; for any Egyptian this means nearness to the king
and his family. (2) Administrative competence: The subject is reliable, alert,
prompt, tireless, efficient, resourceful, devoted in service to the king.
(3) This required certain qualities of mind—wisdom, understanding, knowledge,
in short, intelligence. (4) Dedication to public interest, kindness, and humanity;
this is perhaps that trait most consistently proclaimed: The subject is devoid
of any trace of partiality, snobbishness, rudeness, impatience, cruelty; he
treats all men and women as equals and does all things with even-handed impartiality.
(5) As a result he enjoys recognition by the king but also by the common people;
he is concerned to please them both, (6) for he is aware of a judgment hereafter
(the inscriptions often reminded the reader not to lose sight of that either!),
and hopes to spend eternity in a state of blessed happiness. (7) Often there
is an insistence on the honest bona fides of the statements put forth that
might suggest a “smooth, shallow rhetoric” with which the Egyptians
have been charged. But to whatever degree the parties actually realized the
perfections thus set forth, the persistence of the same formulas over thousands
of years in tombs that, far from depicting a rigid formality, show the greatest
freedom and variety in the reliefs, inscriptions, and architecture, shows
us those qualities which the Egyptians prized above all others. Literary compositions
such as the Wisdom Literature with its sage admonitions, the Eloquent Peasant
pleading the cause of the underdog, or the Negative Confessions in the Book
of the Dead all confirm the same set of values. It is a thing that puts our
own civilization to shame with its depressing union of “covetousness,
and . . . feigned words” (D&C 104:4)—greed and hypocrisy;
and it explains the astounding stability of the Egyptian civilization—they
were good people who took the long view, and their biographical reports may
well be summed up as mirrors of faith, hope, and charity. Only a few kings
and their captains celebrating extraordinary displays of daring and valor
boast of military exploits, and even they usually emphasize the blessings
of peace and humanity that they are bringing to the conquered. A few now classical
examples of the ideal types described are worth noting both as edifying models
of civic virtue and in particular as men cast in the very mold of Abraham,
whose great-grandson Joseph was the model of official Egyptian virtues.74
A Noble Race
Urk. 1:1—7. The restless and beneficent public activities of the earliest
records recall the life of Abraham, as officials dig canals (the oldest calling),
measure fields, distribute land, direct the hunt, settle people in new towns
and villages, plant trees and vineyards, build, cultivate, plan, making the
most of water, land and desert, collect taxes and use them wisely. Government
is the foundation of civilization, not its enemy.
Urk. 1:38—40. A physician follows Sahure on his expeditions, and has
the right to sit in a chair. His closing line: “I never harmed any man
Devoid of any trace of the cruelty or barbarism that we so often associate
with the ancients, these men seek to exemplify the same moral principles as
those taught in the Old and New Testaments.
Urk. 1:69—71. The pious Inti loved good and
eschewed evil and, doing what was pleasing to God, became acceptable (Ä±mɜh)
to the Great God, acceptable to the king, and popular with the common laborers,
for he never harmed anyone.
Urk. 1:72. “Recognized by the king (a common
title), . . . I never infringed on the rights of others,” for whoever
offends must answer the offended at the judgment in the presence of the Great
Urk. 1:76—79. Henku wishes well to all who
pass by. He was loved by [his?] fathers, praised by his mothers, gave bread
to all the hungry, clothed the naked, caused the herds of large and small
beasts to multiply, even fed the wolves of the mountain and the birds of the
heaven. He brought poor peasants into the region, settled them down, and promoted
them to positions of dignity and self-respect. “I never went after the
property of anyone; . . . the weak never complained of the strong
under my supervision; I was never haughty.” He worked with his brother,
a revered priest, for the public good, bringing in settlers and increasing
the herds. Loved by his father, honored by his mother, a pillar of strength
to his brother, charming to his sister, he is now glorified [špss]
before the god, the king, his father, mother and children . . .
and their fathers.
Urk. 1:98—110. The famous Uni. Enjoyed the
king’s complete confidence. Though of low origin outranked by many, he held
the highest military command because of his competence. Where he commanded,
no traveler lost his sandals, no bread was taken from any village, no man
lost a goat; his eye was on everything, and though his soldiers respected
the people, he took good care of them, seeing to it that the army returned
vastly enriched with a minimum of casualties. The people he conquered, however,
not only submitted to him—they actually liked him.
Urk. 1:120—31. Herkhuf, also famous. He leaves
this world loved by his father, praised by his mother, beloved of all his
family. He fed and clothed the poor, ferried the boatless who needed a lift.
“Let no one judge or despise his brother! . . . His offices
pass to his posterity from son to son forever.”
Urk. 1:143. An ascending scale of recognition: Loved
by his father, praised by his mother, honored (Ä±mɜh) in the presence
of the king, honored by the god of his city, he is Ibi the beloved.
Urk. 1:194—96. Memi’s efficiency was noted,
he was summoned to the palace, trusted with a position of leadership, for
the king knows how to recognize real ability and merit, and appreciated both
his good humor and his integrity.
Urk. 1:198—201. Sheshi the priest: Always truthful,
giving satisfaction, speaking and doing only what is true [a common formula],
loved by all; open and free with his brothers; firm and decisive in action.
He feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, buries the man who has no son to bury
him, ferries the man without a boat. Respectful to his father, delightful
to his mother, taking care of [šdÄ±] their children.
Urk. 1:203—4. ʾIdu always did and said
what was right, true and pleasing to God and man; feeding the hungry, etc.,
respectful to father, etc., never speaking evil of anyone. God and the common
people alike blessed him.
Urk. 1:215—21. Chief Architect Nekhbu: called
to the palace; immensely versatile, he held many offices; was put in charge
of everything and never bungled. He was a peacemaker, always calm and even-tempered,
universally popular. Never said an unkind thing or spoke disrespectfully of
anyone. For his draining of the marshes he got a special award from the king.
Urk. 1:221—24. Nefer-ka, a high priest at Cusae:
Honored by the king, the Great God, and the people. Beloved by his
father and mother, brothers and sisters. Always busy, cheerful of conversation,
discreet in dealing with higher-ups, etc. “This is spoken in truth and
not by way of boasting.”
Intef is wise, learned, and perceptive; void of deceit, gentle, encouraging
the timid, perceiving their thoughts, reading minds, checking mere rhetoric
with truth, not favoring his friends above others, willing to hear petitions
and to judge fairly; protector of the weak, father of the fatherless and the
orphan, at the service of the poor, advocate of those who are at the mercy
of the powerful, shelter of the orphan. Praised for his character; the worthy
thank God for him; everybody prays for his health, etc. Such “were my
qualities of which I have testified; there is no deceit therein; these were
my excellencies in very truth [without qualification].” I did not play
with words but showed myself as I was. I did not violate the injunctions of
conscience, but followed its promptings. The people regarded him as inspired.
AR 2:385. Ramose: “A doer of truth, a hater
of deceit, . . . approaching his lord, whom the Lord of the Two
Lands loved because of his remarkable traits, who enters the palace, and comes
forth with favor, . . . the mouth that makes content in the whole
land, . . . master of all wardrobes, entering into the secrets of
heaven, of earth [and of the nether world]; master of secret things of the
palace, . . . prophet of Maat.”76
Sentiments expressed in the famous tomb
of Petosiris (which we have discussed elsewhere)77 might have been taken right out of
the Hebrew Psalms or Wisdom Literature.
It is good to walk in the way of God; . . .
who keeps to the Way of God passes all his life in joy; . . . he
remains ever young; his children increase. . . . Walk in the
Way of the Lord Thoth, who will give you even such great favors after death
as he gave you in life.78
Naturally the Egyptologists of 1912 (the
same who took Joseph Smith to task) dismissed such statements as naive and
empty boasts, foolish routine, primitive incantations.79 But as Hermann Kees has pointed out,
the dignified formalism of the utterances contains great freedom and variety
of expression, showing them to be personal messages reflecting the real values
of the speakers, and no mere “Hallmark” greetings.80 Does
the above passage ring less true than the first Psalm, which it so much resembles?
Others Who Dared: Glory Unlimited
All this prepares us to draw a step nearer to Abraham in viewing the careers
of two especially remarkable men whose fame actually surpassed that of the
pharaohs under whom they served. One of them is the subject of a special study
by Sethe,81 and the two are brought together and
compared in a recent and significant book, Egyptian Saints: Deification
in Pharaonic Egypt, by Dietrich Wildung.82 Sethe entitles his work Imhotep,
der Asklepios der Aegypter, ein vergötteter Mensch.
These titles suggest to one contemplating the picture of Abraham enthroned
with the insignia of divinity and royalty in Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham
that he too may have attained to such heights. Who gets the royal treatment
at Pharaoh’s court? “As long as he lived,” writes Wildung, “and
no matter what he did, no king of Egypt was able to ascend to the realm of
the gods. Two mortals did.”83
The two commoners, benefactors of the race and permanent models for others
to follow, were Imhotep and Amenhotep Son-of-Hapu (figs. 38 and 39). They
lived twelve hundred years apart, the one under Djoser of the Third Dynasty,
the other born about 1450 B.C.,
in the Eighteenth Dynasty. The veneration bestowed on these men by their own
and all succeeding generations closely resembles the esteem in which the great
patriarchs from Adam to Moses were held by Israel. But the man they most resemble
in every particular is Abraham. And they were real men, historical figures
beyond a doubt, whose existence is attested in many monuments and documents,
including highly personal portrait statues. Though in time they were hailed
as gods and worshiped in their own temples (fig. 40), they were still before
everything else examples of great-hearted human beings, whose beneficent labors
like “the works of Abraham” were held up as examples to be equaled
and, if possible, surpassed by others of their fellow mortals.
Why just two of them? Because only these two were great enough to deserve
such honors. There were indeed others who were venerated for having the very
same qualities but in a lesser degree; and some of those, revered in the “Admonition”
literature, nearly made the grade. Their glory is purely a matter of real achievement,
and it was recognized by all, from Pharaoh down, without jealousy or resentment.
Joseph Smith teaches us that it was specifically in Egypt that the greatness
of Abraham was fully recognized, to the point of having him sit on Pharaoh’s
throne. He also tells us why Abraham was so esteemed. Let us compare his qualities
and deeds with the fully certified achievements of the ancient Egyptian “saints”
whose portraits Professor Wildung has placed before us so conveniently in
numerous texts and photographs.
I. First, Abraham: the man of intellect, “more
intelligent than they all,” ever seeking “to possess a greater knowledge,”
keeper of records (Abraham 1:2), writing textbooks for his people to explain
the Egyptian learning to them (cf. Abraham 1:12—14).84
Compare him with Imhotep: the patron of intellectuals and scribes,
often portrayed in the act of reading a book;85
he was the keeper and transmitter of the ancient records, many of which he
alone could understand and interpret. He was the Chief Scribe, improving the
writing system, searching out and restoring the holy books of the past, the
explainer of hidden books, seeking to grasp the wholeness of man’s existence
through pure science, the great book man.86
An author in his own right, “he restores and explains the hardest texts.”
The restless inquiring mind, “the great solver of difficult problems,”
he was Chief Scribe, Minister of Education, Science, and Religious Ordinances,
whose wisdom was passed down to future ages. He was the great teacher, ever
encouraging study in others.
The same kudos for Amenhotep, “a really excellent scribe,”
a top mathematician, “the first in calculating everything,” a master
of language and eloquence; a man of ideas “promoted for the quality of
his plans”; like Imhotep an original and inventive mind, who solves impossible
problems by his strokes of genius.87
Just as able administrators in Egypt held many offices, so such men of genius
as these would not think of confining themselves to narrow specialties, and
sought ever to cast light on one science by the study of others reaching deep
into the past. Amenhotep was called one “who guides the ignorant through
the events since the primeval times,” etc.88
II. Abraham: the great High Priest (Abraham 1:2;
D&C 84:14; Facsimile 2, figures 2, 3, and 7).89
Imhotep: “The Book of the order of the temple . . .
was made by the chief lector-priest [directing ordinances] Imhotep-the-Great,
Son-of-Ptah.” Prophet, giver of oracles, greeter in the temple, supervisor
and researcher of genealogies; temple guide and instructor, mediator for those
who come to the temple. Repairer and restorer of temples and rites. Keeper
of the temple books as chief ritualist.90
III. Abraham: a man of practical ingenuity and technical
skills, ever planning, planting, building, inventing, designing. His lectures
on astronomy (Facsimile 2, discussed below) were both practical and inspirational.
He wrote about such subjects as magnetism and the wheels of nature, according
to Jewish tradition.91
Imhotep: Minister of Mines and Building; Minister of Science. Invented
new techniques of employing stone in building, Master Architect, supervisor
and initiator; skilled with his own hands. He founded the schools of science
at Memphis that endured for ages.92
Inspired thinker of penetrating insight, master calculator of unfailing accuracy,
especially noted for his astronomical interests and achievements,93
which made him “much later” the patron-saint of astrology.
IV. Abraham: the friend of man desiring to be “a
prince of peace” (Abraham 1:2), the digger of wells, the planter of trees,
the ever hospitable, ever tolerant, ever courteous public benefactor.94
Both Egyptian heroes were commoners like Abraham. Amenhotep was a humble
villager until he was summoned to court when he was over fifty years old.
They are both unassuming, pleasant, mild, and engaging in manner, “friends
to all men,” advocates for the common people with Pharaoh; mediators
for everyone in the temple and palace; teachers and leaders whose counsel
was available to all, whose wisdom became the folk wisdom of the land.95
Relievers of famine, givers of life to the people (Imhotep by searching in
the books was able to end a seven-year famine). Chief administrators to smooth
the workings of government and human relations. Great physicians and healers
to whom all could come,96 at whose
shrines thereafter humble pilgrims were healed and rejuvenated and, above
all, blessed with offspring, for, like Abraham, they were family men, Imhotep
being the great patron of family life, whose blessings gave children to the
There is an ideal type of person to which the Egyptian aspires, and it is
not the pharaoh, but the exalted mortals, who show really impressive resemblance
to such figures as Enoch and Abraham. So much are they a type that “one
of the great hopes of the Egyptians was to be united with Amenhotep and Imhotep
in the after life, . . . safe in their companionship”98—for us the plain equivalent
of going to “the bosom of Abraham.” Moreover, Imhotep and Amenhotep
became wholly identified with each other in cult, their very bodies becoming “completely
united” in one. At the same time both are identified with Ptah, the Creator
and first parent of the race, and are usually depicted in his form but with
their own faces. Moreover,
both are freely fused with other heroes: The large Greek population of Egypt
in later days readily identified Imhotep with their own Aesculapius, the god
of healing, giving him both his Egyptian and Greek names. Also, as a builder
and technician he was given the name Daedalus, and as a scribe he is both
named and depicted as the Egyptian Thoth, while as a patron of learning he
Our two superheroes provide us with some very helpful hints in investigating
Abraham’s doings at court. Their own candid camera shows us how we should
view such pictures as Facsimile 3. Thus, in one scene from Amenemhet’s tomb,
which is “even larger than some of the royal mortuary temples in the
area,” we see the great man as “high steward of Memphis,” seated
among dinner guests at a banquet in his honor. “It is difficult,”
writes Wildung, “to decide if Amenhotep . . . is assisting
at the dinner as a living person, or if he is an important person from the
immediate past who participates in the dinner magically.”100 Is this a dinner party in the past,
the present, or the happy future? All three are found in Egyptian tombs; in
any case the illustrious guest is present in spirit, and if the meal is a
sacramental one, as seems likely, the time can be any time. If Imhotep and
Amenhotep, living twelve hundred years apart, can fuse together into a single
personality by virtue of their common traits, we need not be too surprised
to find Abraham being repeatedly put in the same situations as Adam, Noah,
Enoch, and others, and actually being identified with them in a hundred monuments of apocryphal literature.
Even now, to be exalted means for Latter-day Saints to “do the works
of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved. But if ye enter not
into my law ye cannot receive the promise . . . made unto Abraham”
From the monuments we learn that these men’s disciples made up regular schools that survived for centuries, and again we are reminded
of Abraham, Enoch, and some of the prophets in the light of new researches.
Their “communities” resembled those of the desert sectaries, and
indeed, the Essene societies are in a number of cases to be traced in their
origins to Egypt. At any rate there was a school of Imhotep in operation at
Memphis, and he was venerated right into the nineteenth century at nearby
Saqqareh, where he had begun his career more than forty-five hundred years
before! Significantly his shrine at that place is a ruin called “the
prison of Joseph.” This
puzzles Wildung, who writes: “We cannot describe the reason why the temple
was referred to as the prison of the Biblical Joseph.”101 For a clue we may consider Wildung’s
own observation that the worship of the two heroes began at their tombs, which
as the objects of pilgrimage became shrines and temples. But Moslems and Christians
would not repair to the tomb of an unknown pagan (Imhotep). If the age-old
worship were to continue (and such folkways are virtually indestructible),
it would have to be under different auspices: It was established practice
to transfer the shrines of ancient gods and heroes to Christian and Moslem
saints simply by a change of names. There was Joseph, a great favorite with
humble Christians, Jews, and Moslems alike; was not he too like Imhotep and
Amenhotep the grand vizier of Egypt, the highest officer in the land, riding
forth with Pharaoh to the wild cheers of the populace whom he had saved from
a seven-year famine just as Imhotep had done? Does not the great canal, a
triumph of ancient engineering that watered the land for hundreds of miles
parallel to the Nile, to this day bear the name of Joseph’s Canal? Was not
his own great-grandfather the same type of popular hero as Imhotep and Amenhotep?
To that great-grandfather Abraham, the humble people of Egypt, who were neither
Christians nor Moslems in the late period, addressed their prayers on Coptic
ostraca.102 But Joseph, alas, had no tomb in Egypt; he was buried in Canaan
(Exodus 13:19). Not to worry. He had something almost as good if not better,
the prison where he was entombed for years.103
Right into the present century the pilgrims continued to come to the old tomb
shrine of Imhotep as they
had always done, to pray for health and children—and they called it
the Prison of Joseph.
This keeps our patriarch well within the Egyptian cultural orbit. Wildung
mentions one detail that surprisingly and vigorously associates his divine Pharaoh
with Abraham. He notes that part of Pharaoh’s propaganda to “sell”
the idea of his divinity to the public was the diligent propagation of the story
that as an infant he was nursed by the Lady Hathor, the horned Cow-goddess herself,
in a cave.104 Now the same story was
told about Abraham, only in this case it was his mother, Amitla, who did the
nursing.105 At an early time scholars
noted that Amitla was Amalthea, who nursed the infant Zeus himself in the Dictaean
Cave;106 but instead of the horned
cow-mother, she was the goat-mother whose milk was equally nourishing and whose
horn was the original cornucopia, or Horn of Plenty. Pharaoh, Horus, Zeus, and
Abraham—there is a type and a shadow in all things! Well, all this leads
to an alarming expansion of parallels and associations that cannot be handled
here, but that shows us that Abraham has to be considered in an ancient cultural
context almost as broad as that which now discovers his seed among all the inhabitants
of the earth.
Where to Go for a Sabbatical: “The Learning of the Egyptians”
The wisest of the Greeks had enormous admiration for the intellectual powers
of the Egyptians, inseparable in their view from their high moral discipline.
It was the boast of the greatest Greeks, or of their disciples, that they
had studied in Egypt. Strabo as a tourist on the spot describes the big barracklike
buildings at Heliopolis where the priests still lived in his day. Formerly
they were full of philosophers and astronomers, he says, but all that is given
up now, and everything is given over to the business of the religious (hieropoioi) and the explaining of texts to foreigners.107 Strabo also tells how the guides
would take the tourists to see the very rooms where Plato and Eudoxos lived
during their years of study at Heliopolis. German scholarship at the turn
of the century routinely rejected any such possibility, yet no one doubts
that Plato was the teacher of Aristotle, and Aristotle the teacher of the
man who founded Alexandria, where Greeks and Egyptians taught and learned
together for centuries in an exchange that conditioned the thinking of the
Western world ever after. Alexandre Moret noted that Plato uses expressions
that are to be found “word for word” in the Pyramid Texts and the
later Theban theological writings.108 These texts, he explains, “were discussed in the college
of Heliopolis, where Plato heard them from the lips of those who initiated
him.”109 The great Origen, a native Egyptian,
as his name shows, who grew up practically on the campus of the University
of Alexandria, where his father was a professor, is proud to record that Moses
got his religion as well as his education from the Egyptians.110
In Origen’s day the Egyptian scholars were still endlessly philosophizing
about their ancient native mysteries and scriptures, while the common people
listened without understanding a thing.111
Origen had more to do with the forming of Christian theology, as the world
has known it to the present time, than any other man. The romantic Heliodorus
was convinced that Homer himself “received a religious education in Egypt,”
which induces him to express in symbolic words things that really have a deeper
and very secret meaning.112 Egypt, wrote Chaeremon, is the goal of all students of philosophy
and religion, which is studied there at all levels. There one finds the most
rigid asceticism, the most ancient teachings and monuments that go back to
the beginning of mankind. He tells how some pious groups would go out into
the desert to follow a communal life of religious asceticism, exactly like
the Coptic monks of a later day and the Essenes, who first turn up in Egypt.113
The great attraction of Egypt was at all times the exciting combination of
religious and scientific
thinking, mantic and sophic, intuitive and intellectual, the ancient and the
progressive; the solid and visible achievements of the ancient Egyptians bade
the observer take their message seriously, as it does today. The Egyptians,
Theophrastus observed, are, on the one hand, the most rationally minded of
all people, and yet they live in an ambience submerged in ancient and recondite
religious lore: This tradition is deeply religious and at the same time persistently
intellectual—the perfect example, one would say today, of the “bicameral”
The Egyptians were convinced, writes Philippe Derchain, that the universe
was organized and must be sustained by an effort of thought, and that if men
ever forgot their responsibility and gave up intense mental concentration,
ritually actualized by words and gestures, their world would collapse.115 Magic and superstition that gain
the upper hand at the end were not the whole story in the great days. “The
place taken elsewhere by meditation and a philosophic bent,” Gardiner
noted, “seems with the Egyptians to have been occupied by exceptional
powers of observation and keenness of vision. . . . The most
striking feature of Egyptian [language] in all its stages is its concrete
Herodotus describes the Egyptian doctors as ever striving for exact knowledge,
“always cataloging and carefully marking off the years.”117 Diodorus describes how they worked
everything into a single system: They discovered the motions of the stars
and the laws of harmony and the cosmos, all of which are connected; they invented
writing and the ritual services of the temples; they even first cultivated
the olive; and all the basic knowledge of the Greeks comes from them—it
all goes back to the sacred “Hermetic” books, for Hermes (Thoth)
as the scribe of Osiris was privy to all his knowledge and secrets.118 They believed, according to Manetho, that the force which moves
the universe in all its expanse is the same
force that draws the iron to the lodestone “by a good and saving principle.”119
The most wise Egyptians, having measured the earth, tamed the waves of the
sea, measured the Nile, calculated the distribution of the stars in the heavens,
have given the world the severest mental disciplines; and Nectanebos, the last pharaoh, was one who mastered the cosmic
elements by study.120
Hippolytus insisted that the Egyptians were strictly scientific in their study
even of God, determined to reduce everything to numbers as if for a computer,
and coming up with the standard god of the philosophers.121
Egypt was the goal of all students of philosophy and religion.122 According to Herodotus, all real
scholars make an effort to visit Egypt.123 Chaeremon reports that they do not
find it easy, for the Egyptian sages are very secretive, contemplative, withdrawn,
and alarmingly intelligent,124 also austere and upright in their
morals. They had a genuine passion for learning, especially study of the stars.125 This was the sort of thing that had an irresistible appeal to
men like Pythagoras; of course, there were also such men in other lands, however
rare, and from the earliest times contact was established between them by
traveling students or by the wise men themselves who would visit one shrine
after another.126 Hippolytus tells how
the great Democritus, inventor of the atom, studied “with the gymnosophists
in India, the priests and astrologers in Egypt and with the Magi in Babylonia.”127
Apollonius of Tyana also made it a point to visit the gymnosophists of both
India and Egypt as well as the Magi of Persia, all of whom taught a common
Two illustrious visitors to Egypt are almost always mentioned together—Solon
They were contemporaries of Lehi. Solon’s teaching, in fact, as even Tertullian
observes, sounds exactly like the prophets of Israel. The Egyptians were greatly
impressed by the wisdom of Solon and received him warmly,130 though one wise man said to him with
a despairing (or admiring?) shake of the head: “O Solon! Solon! You Greeks
never grow up. No Greek is ever old!”131 Pharaoh Amasis was
delighted when Pythagoras visited him and gave him letters of introduction
to the priestly schools up the Nile. But though the great man was more than
welcome at court, the holy men of the schools were aloof, cool, and withdrawn,
complying only reluctantly and partially to the king’s express wishes, until
it became clear to them that their visitor was a superbrain after all—then
they took him to their bosom.132 As a result, when Plato and others came many years later, they
did not have so hard a time being received. But it all suggests Abraham.
Seeing Egypt through the eyes of Greek visitors gives us a distorted view,
not only because they were outsiders, but because they were latecomers, arriving
after Egypt had long been in decline. Strabo vividly describes the situation;
Chaeremon could only shake his head and smile.133 Thebes claimed the first and oldest astronomical observatory—the
Upper Egyptian Heliopolis, they called it—but when Heliodorus visited
it, he found that the renowned learning of the Egyptians had degenerated to
raising up fantasies and deceiving men’s hopes, mingling everything together,
“living in the gutter and in the stars,” the two tendencies meeting
in the study of astrology.134 Strabo found the system
and the discipline still in force at Heliopolis, though he notes that the
philosophers and astronomers were producing nothing of significance—after
the lights go out the administration carries on undisturbed. There are still
scholars who would deny the Egyptians any real science, especially astronomy.
Santillana explains the situation convincingly: Some scholars do not recognize
the true dimensions of Egyptian science, he says, because they are merely
philologists and diggers who cannot recognize advanced scientific language
when they see it.135 On the other hand there are scientists and mathematicians like
Otto Neugebauer who recognize only
modern scientific notation and so miss the Egyptian signals.136
All this is peculiarly relevant to the case of Abraham. The intellectualism
of the Egyptians has always struck a strongly sympathetic note in the intellectualism
of the Jews; both express the same attitudes and put forth the same ideas
in the same terms.137
If Abraham and Sarah would carry out their missionary labors, the Zohar assures us, it was essential for them to visit Egypt,
for by going there Abraham “distinguished himself and he raised himself
there to a higher eminence.”138 It was the prophets and the sages who informed Pharaoh of the
high station of Sarah as a princess, according to Eupolemus, and this is borne
out by the Genesis Apocryphon,
wherein Pharaoh’s messengers praise her intellect even above her fabulous
beauty.139 Abraham, like Pythagoras, had to
face the well-known jealousy of the Egyptian wise men (as when they failed
to heal the king, and he succeeded), and a stock theme of ancient literature,
especially taken to heart in apocalyptic writings, is that of the contest
between the pompous wisdom of the king’s regular counselors and the pious
stranger from afar, whether Daniel, Moses, Thomas the Apostle, Abraham, etc.
“According to tradition, Balaam was one of Pharaoh’s three counsellors,
and his sons Yanes and Yimbres were the chief magicians of the king,”
Geza Vermes has observed.140 This Balaam advised Jethro the Kenite to flee to the court of Pharaoh to escape a murder charge in
Midian, thus reversing the adventure of Moses.141 Mambres was the most famous of Pharaoh’s magicians competing in
the court with Moses.142 If we go back to the
Pyramid Texts, we even find Pharaoh’s serpent, in the manner of Moses’ staff,
swallowing up seven other serpents in a battle of the magicians.143 But in spite of the importance of
magicians at court, it was the truly wise man who was most welcome.144
Among illustrious travelers who left their mark in Egypt, Abraham must be
taken seriously. In the first century B.C.
Artapanus wrote that Abraham stayed twenty years in Egypt, and “according
to Pseudo-Eupolemus, Abram lived in Heliopolis, where he instructed the Egyptians
in the discoveries made by Enoch and by himself.”145
Whether Abraham really made the visit or not, there is, according to Wacholder,
“no reason to doubt that the ancients, having converted a minor episode
into a major theme, infused into it great significance.”146 Who are “the ancients”
here? Wacholder points out that “to judge from the rabbinical sources,
Abram’s journey into Egypt is relatively ignored.” But in an earlier
age, “to the ancients . . . the encounter between Pharaoh and
the traveler from Ur of the Chaldees” was “a crucial event in the
history of mankind.”147 Wherever would they get the idea
unless something really happened? Certainly the rabbis, strongly averse to
sympathetic ties between Abraham and the Egyptians, would not have invented
such things. The Emperor Julian, a strong anti-Christian and champion of the
old paganism, noted that Abraham must have been a very great man because of
the real impact he had on the Egyptians.”148 And Origen, a native of Egypt, says
that it was common in his day for Egyptian soothsayers to command the demons
by the God of Abraham without having the least idea who Abraham might be.149
The vivid memory of Imhotep that survived down to Christian times in Egypt,
though that hero lived possibly one thousand years before Abraham, as well
as that of Abraham’s own great-grandson and other benefactors of the race,
leaves no doubt that the veneration of Abraham in the land could well go back
to his actual sojourn there.
The Big Red and White Schoolhouse
Imhotep, as we have seen, was the teacher of Egypt; and yet he represents
himself in his autobiography as the student of a greater one: “I was
the real pupil of the King,
a favorite in the palace. . . . I restored everything that
was lost in the words of the gods; I made clear what was hidden in the holy
books.” One of the earliest kings announces, “I have come to my
throne; . . . I have become Sia [intelligence, understanding] who
bears the god’s book, at the right hand of Re.”150
The picture of the king having the books spread out before him meets us as
much in the Jewish and Christian apocryphal writings as it does in the Egyptian,
and in both cases the king is the source of knowledge and wisdom on the throne
of glory. “The king assumes authority,” says another Pyramid Text;
“eternity is brought to him and understanding is established at his feet
for him.”151 He rules not by virtue
of birth alone, but by virtue of his knowledge and wisdom, making the fullest
use of the written records, the sacred books.152
The palace school flourished as early as the Old Kingdom, where cherished
knowledge was transmitted as a sacred trust from teacher to pupil as if from
father to son.153 These court schools were copied in
the provincial courts as well, according to M. Korostovstev, with the same
patriarchal rapport between master and pupil.154 Every court strived to be an intellectual
center, with its library and its staff of copyists and scholars,155
and to attract to its “chamber of learning” (ʿ.t-sbɜ) “the great intellectuals and their best students.”156
What more is to be expected than that Abraham be remembered far and wide in
Egypt for “reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy in the king’s court?”
The king not only appreciates knowledge and skill, but also accepts the possessors
of such as his intimate friends.
Such phrases as “never was such a thing ever done (for anyone by the
king) before on earth,” or “never was such an honor ever shown to
another human being,” show us that the sure way to proximity to the seat
of majesty, which was the ultimate bliss for any Egyptian, was to possess
real talent and ability. Thus, Ptah-wash, a chief architect, judge, and vizier,
holding the usual multiplicity of assignments, also tutored the king’s children—that was his greatest
calling; and when he was sick, the king had his personal physician attend
him while he, the pharaoh, prayed for his health and later mourned his passing.157 The king does not hesitate to enter
actively into the routine work of these men: “His Majesty wrote with
his own fingers to praise me for everything being done exactly as he wanted
it.” This from another man of many callings, who on his tomb inscription
reproduces some of the royal correspondence—a letter written by the
king’s own hand in reply to a letter about a new building. He also
includes a speech by the king on the same subject and tells how personally
concerned the king was for the welfare of those who worked with him; such
a one was a smr-wʿtɜ Ä±mÄ± Ä±b n nb=f, “a chosen companion near to the heart of his lord.”158 The king was always thinking of others
and personally made arrangements for the funeral of this Senjemib to whom
in return he turns for valuable advice.159 How far removed this is from the
well-known stereotype, only too well-deserved in most lands, of the typical
Oriental despot, to say nothing of a ruler of heaven and earth! A high priest
of Memphis tells how he was educated at the court of Menkaure, a great intellectual
center, participating in countless important ceremonies at the side of Pharaoh,
“pleasing the heart of his master every day,” and even marrying
the king’s daughter. Yet the king never forgot his unique and lofty office
and responsibilities; undue intimacy would have broken the spell: “His
majesty allowed me to kiss his foot instead of the ground before him.”160 Was that groveling? No more than the bowing down of Joseph’s brothers
to him, first in dreams and then as an Egyptian reality, when he still protests
that he is only a mortal like them: “Am I in the place of God?”
(Genesis 50:19). We have a letter of the king to another vizier summoning
him to the palace in the most gracious terms—no “sneer of cold
command” so familiar to the observer of executive operations, civil and
military, in other societies: “If N. would come to the palace today the
king would be most delighted, pleased beyond expression to see the excellent
scribe and his dear friend; it would indeed be to their mutual pleasure,”
It was because the king’s position was absolute that he could afford to relax
and be natural without the slightest
risk of losing face. Sinuhe, in a popular tale that nonetheless in form and
content is meant to be a typical funerary autobiography, mingles with the
royal family on terms of the most intimate nursery fun, with the queen and
the children shrieking with delight when they recognize him after his travels;
and yet so overpowered is he at first on being admitted to the royal presence
that he faints dead away. It was the paradoxical congruity of divinity with
warm humanity that made this Middle Kingdom tale so enormously popular—that
is the way the people liked to think of their lord and king. This coincidence
of opposites reaches its height with Ikhanton, who never lets us forget his
sublimely exalted divinity while he plays parlor games with his wife and kids—more
of this below.
The pharaoh fancied himself
not merely as an exalted one, but specifically as a teacher in the strictest
sense of the word, summoning
the court together for lessons.
“I have informed the priests of their duties,” says Thutmosis I;
“I have led the ignorant to that which he did not know”; the long
address of the king to the assembled priests is reproduced on the monument.162 Sesostris III has left for us what
the king said in instructing his son and seal-bearer in his duties in the
presence of all the court.163 A scene from the famous Punt reliefs
of Hatshepsut (fig. 41)—not a funerary or judgment scene!—is described
and labeled: “Sitting in the audience-hall, the king’s appearance with
the atef-crown [the crown worn in Facsimile 3 figure 1] upon the great throne
of electrum, . . . the grandees, the companions of the court, came
to hear . . . a royal edict to his dignitaries, . . .
companions of the king.”164
They have come to listen to the teaching of the one on the throne. Most famous
is Thutmosis III’s address to the assembled court on the occasion of the installation
of the Vizier Rekhmire (fig. 42): It is not just instructions for the new
official, but a discourse on government and law in general, such a speech
as Solon or Plato or their Sophist imitators would have given. He tells everyone
exactly how business should be conducted, even to details—the forty
rolls of the law spread out before the vizier as he officiates, the exact
position in the court where everyone sits and stands, the keeping and sealing
of reports and letters, etc.165
But the strongest emphasis is laid on the moral qualities necessary in whatever
one does: Judging justly, not showing partiality, sending two men forth both
satisfied, judging the weak and the powerful alike, pleasing the people as
well as the king; going forth over the land every morning to bestow favors,
to hear appeals of the people, not preferring the great above the humble,
rewarding the oppressed, punishing whoever deserves it.166 The Egyptians, writes Hellmut Brunner, “sought not for prosperity
but for the salvation of men,”167
and that is the secret of their preeminence.
Amenophis IV describes himself as a superintellectual, endowed not only with
the ultimate right and authority to rule, but also with the necessary ability
and concern. As a tutor of others, “He trains the youth, . . .
the good ruler!”168 As the great teacher
propounding his own particular views on theology, he is very appreciative
of those who receive, believe, and follow what he teaches and takes special
delight in those who really take his teachings to heart. “I am appointing
thee,” he says to one Merire, “to be ‘great seer’ of the Aton in
the temple of Aton. . . . O my hearer of the call, who hears
the teaching. . . . Put gold at his throat and at his back,
and gold on his legs, because of his hearing the teaching of Pharaoh.”169 Merire is “favored
of his lord every day, . . . because of the exceeding greatness
of my excellence, . . . because of my hearing his teaching.”170
The king’s uncle, Ay, who later became king himself, reports, “I have
carried out his teaching. . . . How prosperous is he who hears
thy teaching of life.”171
And the official Mai: “My Lord has advanced me, (because) I have carried
out his teaching, and I hear his word without ceasing. . . .
O my lord, wise like Aton, satisfied with truth. How prosperous is he who
hears thy teaching of life!”172
In the Westcar Papyrus, the great Khufu, hearing of a wise man aged 110 years,
sends his son to the village to fetch him in all reverence, and upon meeting
him says, “How does it happen that I have never met you?”173
The king who teaches is, in all honesty, eager to be taught as well. An important type of statue found in the tombs
is the stock figure of the “Prinzenerzieher” or educator of princes,
a commoner who is depicted bearing a small image of a king or god in his hands
to show that in his capacity of instructor and protector of kings he possesses
greater power and authority than royalty itself. Strabo says that the Egyptian
priestly philosophers were accepted as intimate associates of the king, especially
in the study of astronomy (fig. 43).174 Thus a high priest of Amon records in his autobiography that he
was among the divine fathers of the priestly college who engaged in teaching
the Divine Prince about the secrets of one who “enters into the sky and
sees what is in it.”175 We have already mentioned
the daughter of Psammetichus II calling upon certain khabasu in Heliopolis to witness the birth of one who will
“take the helm” of government and “reason (wadj) with you, ye star-reckoners, concerning the secret
teachings of the great court (ws.t) of the gods,” and who will also receive Osiris into his “ship
of a Thousand.”176
The same sources that identify Abraham’s Pharaoh with Nimrod tell how that
monarch, after unsuccessfully trying to sacrifice Abraham on an altar, had
a throne erected for him, and commanded all his court of 365 nobles (the year-rite,
of course) “to bow down at the soles of the feet of Abraham our father!
. . . And they brought their sons and submitted them to his law
and said, ‘Teach us thy ways in certainty.'”177 When “they brought their children for him to teach from the
throne,”178 according to another source, “Abraham
looked into the heavens and said: ‘Praise God whom sun, moon, stars and planets
all serve!’ And the kings departed, recognizing Abraham’s God.”179 The throne (bema)
was made of the same cedar wood that the same people had gathered to make
an altar and a bonfire for the sacrifice of Abraham. And so we get the logical
sequence of Facsimiles 1 and 3, with the hero passing from the altar to the
throne, where he sits and teaches astronomy to the court. His formal introduction,
“Praise be to God whom sun, moon, stars,” etc., is a clear declaration
that the subject of his discourse is to be astronomy.
Bernhard Beer, Leben Abraham’s nach Auffassung
der jüdischen Sage (Leipzig:
Leiner, 1859), passim.
James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 2nd ed. with supplement (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1969), 231.
Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), 50, 239.
Kurt H. Sethe, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1932), 1:234.
Adolph Erman, The Ancient Egyptians (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1966), 41.
Kurt H. Sethe, Aegyptische Lesestücke (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1924), 29.
Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith
Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 78.
James H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt: Historical
Documents from the Earliest Times to the Persian Conquest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906—7),
Urbain Bouriant, “Une stèle du Tombeau d’Anna,”
RT 12 (1892): 106—7.
Karl Piehl, “Varia,” ZÄS 21 (1883): 127—28; cf. Karl Piehl, “Varia
V,” ZÄS 25 (1887): 37—38.
Plato, Statesman 290 D—E.
Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride 6.
Alexandre Moret, Du caractère religieux de la
royauté pharaonique (Paris:
Leroux, 1902), 230.
Elke Blumenthal and Siegfried Morenz, “Spuren
ägyptischer Königsideologie in einem Hymnus auf den Makkabäerfürsten Simon,”
ZÄS 93 (1966): 21—22.
Wilhelm Czermak, “Vom grossen Gedanken Aegyptens,”
Archiv für ägyptische Archäologie 1/10 (1938): 210.
Claas J. Bleeker, Egyptian Festivals: Enactments
of Religious Renewal (Leiden:
Brill, 1967), 121—22.
Libanius, Orationes XII, 80.
Joachim Spiegel, “Das Auferstehungsritual des
53 (1955): 378.
Francis L. Griffith, Stories of the High Priests
of Memphis (Oxford: Clarendon,
Raymond O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle
Egyptian (Oxford: Griffith Institute,
Hellmut Brunner, “Zum Vertändnis der archaisierenden
Tendenzen in der ägyptischen Spätzeit,” Saeculum 21 (1970): 161.
Kurt H. Sethe, Dramatische Texte zu altägyptischen
Mysterienspielen (Leipzig: Hinrichs,
1928), line 53.
Ibid., lines 56—57.
Ibid., line 58.
Ibid., line 58, f.
Hugo Müller, Die formale Entwicklung der Titulatur
der ägyptischen Könige (Glückstadt:
Augustin, 1938), 65.
Rudolf Anthes, “Zum Ursprung des Nefertem,”
ZÄS 80 (1955): 88.
Rudolf Anthes, “Egyptian Theology in the Third
Millennium B.C.,” JNES 18 (July 1959): 173.
Spiegel, “Auferstehungsritual des Unaspyramide,”
Sethe, Dramatische Texte, line 61.
Ibid., line 63.
Ibid., line 64.
Eberhard Otto, Die biographischen Inschriften
der ägyptischen Spätzeit, ihre geistesgeschichtliche und literarische Bedeutung (Leiden: Brill, 1954), 1, 18, 87, 122—25.
Ibid., 20—21, 32.
Ibid., 91—93, 123.
Ibid., 7, 79, 124.
Ibid., 68, 76.
Percy E. Newberry, El Bersheh, 2 vols. (London: Egyptian Exploration Fund, 1893),
1:19—22; pls. xii, xv.
Otto, Biographischen Inschriften, 102.
Ibid., 108, 111—12.
Ibid., 102, 110.
Hugh W. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of
Great Price,” IE 72
(January 1969): 30—31.
Herbert Werner, Abraham der Erstling und Repräsentant
Israels (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck
and Ruprecht, 1965), 87—91.
Otto, Biographischen Inschriften, 123—24.
Schafik Allam, “Le droit égyptien ancien,”
ZÄS 105 (1978): 5—6.
Max Pieper, Die grosse Inschrift des Königs Neferhotep
in Abydos (Leipzig: Hinrichs,
1929), lines 2—4.
Alan H. Gardiner, “The House of Life,”
JEA 24 (1938): 162.
Griffith, Stories of the High Priests of Memphis,
68. Brugsch, Thesaurus Inscriptionum
Alan H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), 62.
Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion (New York: Harper, 1961), 50—51.
Anthes, “Egyptian Theology in the Third Millennium
Piehl, “Varia,” 127—35; Piehl, “Varia V,” 37—45.
Werner, Abraham der Erstling und Repräsentant
Jubilees 40:8, in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, ed. R. H. Charles, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon,
Brugsch, Thesaurus Inscriptionum Aegyptiacarum, 1479—84.
Piehl, “Varia,” 127—28; Piehl, “Varia
Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 66—67.
Gustave Lefébvre, Le Tombeau de Petosiris, 3 vols. (Cairo: IFAO, 1923—24), 1:88—89;
Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 66—69.
Friederick W. von Bissing, “Ägyptische Weisheit
und griechische Wissenshaft,” Neue Jahrbücher 39 (1912): 90—93.
Hermann Kees, Totenglauben und Jenseitsvorstellungen
der alten Ägypter (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1926), 29—31.
Kurt H. Sethe, Imhotep, der Asklepios der Aegypter,
ein vergötteter Mensch (Leipzig:
Dietrich Wildung, Egyptian Saints: Deification
in Pharaonic Egypt (New York:
University Press, 1977).
Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,”
IE 73 (January 1970): 58;
cf. Nibley, in Enoch the Prophet, CWHN
2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1986), 30—31, 143—44,
Wildung, Egyptian Saints, 43.
Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,”
IE 73 (January 1970): 59—64.
Wildung, Egyptian Saints, 67.
Kaufmann Kohler, “Abraham,” in Jewish
Encyclopedia, 12 vols. (New
York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1901), 1:85.
Wildung, Egyptian Saints, 76.
Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,”
IE 72 (November 1969): 118—19.
Wildung, Egyptian Saints, 35.
Ibid., 46, 56.
Ibid., 64, 74—75; Hans Bonnet, Reallexikon
der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte
(Berlin: de Gruyter, 1952), 323.
Wildung, Egyptian Saints, 89.
Origen, Contra Celsum (Against Celsus) I, 22, in PG 11:697—700.
Wildung, Egyptian Saints, 78.
Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,”
IE 72 (January 1969): 30—31.
Bernard Chapira, “Légendes bibliques attribuées
à Kaʿb el-Ahbar,” REJ 69 (1919): 95.
Strabo, Geography XVII, 1, 29.
Alexandre Moret, “La doctrine de Maât,”
RdE 4 (1940): 12—13.
Origen, Against Celsus IV, 93, in PG 11:1172.
Ibid., I, 12, in PG 11:677.
Heliodorus, Aethiopica III, 14, in Theodor Hopfner, Fontes Historiae
Religionis Aegypticae (Bonn:
Marcus and Weber, 1922—25), 456.
Chaeremon, in Hopfner, Fontes Historiae Religionis
Theophrastus, in ibid., 56; cf. R. A. Schwaller de
Lubicz, Le temple dans l’homme
(Cairo: Schindler, 1949), 30—36.
Philippe Derchain, Le Papyrus Salt 825 (British
Museum 10051), rituel pour la conservation de la vie en Égypte (Brussels: Academy Royale, 1965), 1:4, 10—12.
Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3.
Herodotus, Historiae II, 145.
Diodorus Siculus, in The Library of History, I, 16; Hopfner, Fontes Historiae Religionis
Manetho in Hopfner, Fontes Historiae Religionis
Diogenes Laertius, in ibid., 431—32.
Hippolytus, Refutario Omnium Haeresium, IV, 43—44, in ibid., 433.
Diogenes Laërtius, in ibid., 431.
Herodotus, Historiae I, 30; II, 177; II, 123. Cf. Alan B. Lloyd, Herodotus,
Book II (Leiden: Brill, 1975),
Porphyry, De Abstinentia IV, 6—8, in Chaeremon, Egyptian Priest
and Stoic Philosopher, ed. Pieter
W. van der Horst (Leiden: Brill, 1984), 16—23.
Chaeremon Aegyptiaca, in Hopfner, Fontes Historiae
Religionis Aegypticae, 179—80;
Diodorus Siculus, I, 81, in ibid., 123.
Philostratus major, in ibid., 442—43.
Hippolytus, Refutario Omnium Haeresium, I, 13, in Hopfner, Fontes Historiae Religionis
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, IV, 6, in ibid., 445.
For examples, see ibid., 119, 137, 224, 431, 545,
553, 655, 668.
Ibid., 267—68, 668.
Scholia on Plato, Timaeus 22B, in ibid., 707.
Antiphon Sophista, in ibid., 769—70.
Strabo, Geography XVII, 1, 29.
Heliodorus, Aethiopica, 3:13—14, 16, in Hopfner, Fontes Historiae
Religionis Aegypticae, 455—56.
Giorgio de Santillana, The Origins of Scientific
Thought (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 1961), 11—12.
Schwaller de Lubicz, Temple dans l’homme, 1—5.
Eugene Revillout, L’ancienne Égypte d’après les
papyrus et les monuments, 4
vols. in 2 (Paris: Leroux, 1907), 1:129—64.
Zohar, Lech Lecha 82a, in The Zohar, trans. Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon, 5 vols.
(London: Soncino, 1984), 1:271—74.
Nahman Avigad and Yigael Yadin, eds., A Genesis
Apocryphon (Jerusalem: Hebrew
University Press, 1956), col. 20:2—8.
Geza Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 137.
William Groff, “Moïse et les magiciens à la
cour du Pharaon,” RT
21 (1899): 219.
Pyramid Text 318 (§511).
Alan H. Gardiner, “Professional Magicians in
Ancient Egypt,” Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology (1917): 31—34.
Ben Zion Wacholder, “How Long Did Abraham Stay
in Egypt?” Hebrew Union College Annual 35 (1964): 54; Flavius Josephus, Antiquities I, 166—70; Philo, De Abrahamo 69—80.
Wacholder, “How Long Did Abraham Stay in Egypt?”
Julian the Apostate, Orationes 354B, in Hopfner, Fontes Historiae Religionis
Origen, Against Celsus I, 22, in PG 11:697—700.
PT 250 (§268).
Ibid., 257 (§307).
Dimitri Meeks, review of Pisty Drevnevo Egipta
(Les scribes de l’ancienne Égypte),
by M. Korostovstev, RdE 19
Sethe, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie, 1:40—43.
Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, 2:40.
Hellmut Brunner, “Zum Verständnis der archaisierenden
Tendenzen in der ägyptischen Spätzeit,” Saeculum 21 (1970): 160.
Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, 2:405.
Sethe, Aegyptische Lesestücke, 29—30.
Strabo, Geography XVII, 1, 5.
Alan H. Gardiner, “The Tomb of Amenemhat, High-Priest
of Amon,” ZÄS 47 (1910):
Constantin E. Sander-Hansen, Die religiösen Texte
auf dem Sarg der Anchnesneferibre (Copenhagen: Levin and Munksgaard, 1937), 36—37.
Adolph Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, 6 vols. (1853—77; reprint, Jerusalem: Wahrmann,
Cf. Facsimile 3, end.