November 28, 2007
This image depicts the mummy of a person named Sheshonq being laid to rest with a hypocephalus–a disk covered with prayers, incantations, and visual representations of various Egyptian gods, placed behind the head of the deceased to give warmth and divine power to his or her body in the afterlife. For a member of the LDS Church, the hypocephalus in this image probably looks very familiar, because it is based on “Facsimile No. 2” from The Book of Abraham, found in the LDS scripture called The Pearl of Great Price. The Book of Abraham Facsimiles came from Egyptian papyri that were sold (along with four mummies) to members of the LDS Church in 1835. Joseph Smith declared that many of the papyrus documents, including Facsimile No. 2, were authored by Abraham himself. The Church believed that the papyri were preserved through the millennia to be translated by Joseph Smith for the benefit of the restored Church and the world.
The story of the papyri on which The Book of Abraham and Facsimiles are based is a complicated one, and there are many places on the internet (some of which are listed below) where the story is told, from various points of view. The purpose of this image is not to tell that story, rather, its point is very limited–to illustrate a few facts about the history of Facsimile No. 2 that are quite interesting, but are not well known:
- Facsimile No. 2 is based on a hypocephalus belonging to the mummy of a person named Sheshonq.
- The original papyrus hypocephalus has been lost for more than 150 years, but the earliest known facsimile of the artifact indicates that a significant portion of the hypocephalus had been destroyed by the time the Church came to own it.
- The red and blue elements of the image above indicate the missing portions of the hypocephalus that were restored by Joseph Smith (and/or his scribes) to produce Facsimile No. 2. Although some of the missing portions of the hypocephalus that were filled in (the blue elements) may have been attempts to depict what was originally there, the most prominent elements that were filled in (the red elements) were directly copied from other completely unrelated fragments of papyrus on hand, or (in the case of the central figure) copied from other elements of the hypocephalus itself. Click here for a more detailed explanation and analysis of this issue.
Why was Sheshonq’s hypocephalus restored in this fashion by Joseph Smith?
People who are skeptical of the claim that Joseph Smith was acting as a prophet of God in preparing Facsimile No. 2 view the blue elements of this image as irresponsible bluffing, and the red elements as cynical lies. A faithful Mormon egyptologist, Michael D. Rhodes, has suggested that the red elements that are comprised of written characters, found on the edge and right-hand block of Facsimile No. 2, were copied there “for aesthetic purposes.”
Other Book of Abraham issues, barely touched upon by this image, are discussed in all sorts of places. The following are a sampling of interesting internet locations and resources, both critical and apologetic: