I want to say to you, read the book, the Pearl of Great Price, and read the Book of Abraham. The Pearl of Great Price I hold to be one of the most intelligent, one of the most religious books that the world has ever had; but more than that, to me the Pearl of Great Price is true in its name. It contains an ideal of life that is higher and grander and more glorious than I think is found in the pages of any other book unless it be the Holy Bible. It behooves us to read these things, understand them: and I thank God when they are attacked, because it brings to me, after a study and thought, back to the fact that what God has given He has given, and He has nothing to retract." - Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report (April 1913), 74

"...it must be evident to all who seriously consider the matter, that if the Book of Abraham as given to us by Joseph Smith be true, it must have been translated by a greater than human power." - George Reynolds, The Book of Abraham: Its Authenticity Established as a Divine and Ancient Record (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1879), 4

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Coptic Spell of the Second Century

In Kerry Muhlestein's latest article, "The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus I,"1 he furthers the work of illustrating the cultural context of the mid-Ptolemaic period in its adaptation of Biblical figures in place of Egyptian deities that occurs within Egyptian religious texts. John Gee had previously presented a paper providing significant historical and cultural insight into the ancient owner(s) of the Joseph Smith Papyri, including the pertinent connection between the period in which the JSP emerged and the Ptolemaic Egyptian culture's usage of Biblical materials.2 Muhlestein's paper seems to be a continuation of this subject with a shift towards the culture at large, the culture in which the JSP owner(s) were situated. Also relevant to this discussion is Bill Hamblin's comments on iconotropy, which is partially defined as the "accidental or deliberate misinterpretation by one culture of the images or myths of another one...," but in this case, "the Egyptians themselves, engaged in inconotropic reinterpretations of their own symbols in different Egyptian denominations and times."3
Kerry Muhlestein observes that Abraham came to be associated with Osiris in some "so-called Greek Magical Papyri." He points out that these texts are not necessarily always in Greek, nor should they be considered "magical" any more than any other religion could be considered "magical;" however, this term has become common nomenclature, despite its inaccurate description (a similar scenario exists with the "Book of the Dead"). Muhlestein notes that "there are enough instances in which Abraham appears in contexts normally occupied by Osiris that we must conclude the Egyptians saw some sort of connection between the two" (pg 25). Muhlestein also cites Origen, who lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, as expressing disapproval towards "those who give themselves to the practice of the conjuration of evil spirits, [who] employ in their spells the expression 'God of Abraham..'" (pg 26). The author then goes on to point out that employing Biblical figures or texts in Egyptian use began around the fourth century BC, but probably reached its height in the fourth century AD. This, however, is simply "continuing a trend that began some time before, clearly at least by the first century BC" (pg 27).
Some time ago, while reviewing materials published within the Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology I discovered, "A Coptic Spell of the Second Century," authored by F. Legge, published in 1897.4 It may have been one of the numerous texts that Muhlestein refers to, but I include excerpts of it here to illustrate an example of what Kerry Muhlestein seems to be discussing. In this case, it is the usage of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is implored to cast out evil spirits. As the author of this article indicates, it is certainly not a Christian text, and doesn't seem to be a Christian gnostic text either. Rather it is an Egyptian Coptic text that adopts Christian/Judaic figures for its own purposes. Does this prove anything with respect to the Book of Abraham? This only illustrates an example of Muhlestein's argument that Egyptians did in fact adopt Biblical figures for their own purposes. Further exploration on this topic is ripe for understanding Egyptian culture and its relevance to the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham.
“A Coptic Spell of the Second Century”
The great magic papyrus of the Bibliothèque Nationale contains a spell or formula of exorcism [casting out evil spirits?], written partly in Greek and partly in Coptic words expressed in Greek characters, which seems to have more interest for archaeologists than most of these relics of superstition. [pg 183]
[After providing the text in its original language, Legge translates as follows:]
"Famous process for casting out spirits.
"A spell to be said over his (i.e., the patient's) head.
"Strew olive-branches before him, and taking up your station behind him, say:–Hail, God of Abraham! Hail, God of Isaac! Hail, God of Jacob!  Jesus the Merciful, the Holy Spirit, the Son of the Father who is below Lo-she-hath-been who is within Lo-she-hath-been-and-will-be, Jaho Sabaoth, may your Power laugh at you until you have cast forth from such-an-one this unclean spirit, this Ethiopian Satan. I adjure thee, spirit, whoever thou art, by this God Sabarbathiot, etc.  Come forth, spirit, whoever thou art, and keep thou far from such-an-one! At once! At once! Come forth, O spirit, even now, for I bind thee with adamantine bonds never to be loosed, and I deliver thee to the black Chaos among the lost!" [pg 185]
[A description of the steps to be performed in connection with this spell was then given, including the usage of an amulet – note, the Hypocephalus (Facsimile 2 is a hypocephalus) was considered an amulet, but there is no indication what type of amulet was to be used – after which, Legge provides the following commentary:]
"The reference to the "Power" of Jesus seems to refer to the gospel of Peter, where the words of Mark xv, 34, are altered into "My Power! My Power! Why hast thou forsaken me!"
“The author was certainly a professional exorcist or his spell would hardly have found its way into what is practically a book of magical recipes. The words “God of Abraham,” etc., give us no clue to his nationality, since we know from Origen…that these words were used not only by the Jews, but by “almost all those who busy themselves with incantations and magical rites.” Such spells as these are often called Gnostic, but there is nothing in our text to connect it with any of the Gnostic sects described by the Fathers. The irreverent tone of the adjuration to Jesus would certainly not have been employed by any Christian Gnostic, while it rather suggests the imprecations which the Egyptian magicians are said by Porphyry to have used to their gods.  It is therefore most probable that the author was an Egyptian, and the date not later than 200 A.D.” [pg 187]
1 Kerry Muhlestein, "The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus I," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/1 (2013):20-33
2 John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20/1 (2008):113-137; see especially 123-137, beginning with the subheader "Horos, Son of Osoroeris"
3 William J. Hamblin, "Iconotropy and the JS Abraham Facsimiles," Mormon Scripture Explorations, April 7, 2013; accessed August 21, 2013; www.mormonscriptureexplorations.org/
4 F. Legge, "A Coptic Spell of the Second Century," Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 19:183-187 

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