This is Facsimile 1, located at the front of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith described this scene as “The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice,” meaning, the man with the knife is a priest of Elkenah and the man on the altar is Abraham.
But is that really what’s going on here?
Let’s look at the original. Here is a photograph:
There are a couple things a casual observer would probably notice. First, there are some sections missing (which I will discuss later). Second, there are hieroglyphics on the papyrus that weren’t included in Joseph Smith’s publication.
Let’s take a look at what the hieroglyphics say.
The following translation is based on Dr. Robert K. Ritner’s (University of Chicago) translation published in the Journal of Near East Studies, September 2003, pp. 161–180. Missing sections are indicated with [brackets].
(I/1) [“Osiris, the god’s father], prophet of Amon-Re, King of the Gods, prophet of Min who slaughters his enemies, prophet of Khonsu, the [one who exercises] authority in Thebes, (I/2) […] … Hor, the justified, son of the similarly titled overseer of secrets and purifier of the god, Osorwer, the justified, born by the [housewife and sistrum-player of ] (I/3) [Amon]-Re, Taikhibit, the justified! May your ba-spirit live among them, and may you be buried on the west [of Thebes].” (I/4) [“O Anubis(?),51 …] justification(?). (I/5) [May you give to him] a good and splendid burial on the west of Thebes as on the mountains of Ma[nu](?).” (Emphasis added.)
As I highlighted above, there’s a very important piece of information described in the Egyptian writing.
This isn’t the attempted sacrifice of Abraham, but rather the embalming of a man named Hor. Facsimile 1 has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham. One might ask, if this is merely an embalming of an already dead man, why is the priest holding a knife?
I now would like to discuss a point I addressed earlier: the missing sections.
Before the missing papyri were found, Egyptologists were always very confused about certain aspects of Facsimile 1.
- Problem 1: Human sacrifice was never practiced in Ancient Egypt, so it seemed very odd that an Egyptian vignette would feature such a display. The knife seemed completely out of place.
- Problem 2: The man with the man’s head (the “priest”) should almost certainly have a jackal head, since it was always Anubis, the Egyptian God of the Dead, who did the embalming.
- Problem 3: The bird up and to the right was almost certainly the soul of Osiris, which is the God of the Afterlife to Egyptians. He always has a human head and not a bird head.
Here are some examples of Egyptian art that show the scene the proper way:
Here are a couple more that show the soul of Osiris (the bird with the human head) as well:
This last one is particularly interesting. Look at the stripe on Anubis, and Joseph Smith’s “priest”:
Also notice that Anubis always has a black body. So does Joseph Smith’s priest all the way down to his feet except his head. The priest’s head looks very similar to the head of the man on the altar (which wasn’t missing on the original papyrus):
The left are the areas that Egyptologists questioned before the papyri were discovered; the right is the papyrus as it was found with the missing areas circled. It all makes sense now:
Of course someone who knows nothing about Egyptian history would assume that a man’s body should have a man’s head and a bird body should have a bird’s head. That only makes sense, which is why Joseph Smith filled them in that way. But it’s simply completely wrong.
- If Joseph Smith could read hieroglyphics, why would he avoid reading the hieroglyphics that were clearly to the left and right of what he included as Facsimile 1? He would have quickly learned that this was scene depicting the embalming of Hor, not the sacrifice of Abraham.
- If Joseph Smith was a prophet (and just didn’t notice the hieroglyphics, let’s say), why didn’t God tell him that this was an embalming ceremony, and that the man should have a jackal head, and shouldn’t hold a knife, and the bird should have a human head?