Abraham Facsimile 3
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Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Facsimile 3 include:
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- Female figures. It has often been pointed out that figs. 2 and 4 in this vignette are clearly female (fig. 2 being Isis and fig. 4 being Maat), and the point has all too often been held over the head of Latter-day Saints as a sort of proof against Joseph's prophetic office. Interestingly, it is perhaps only with the recognition of this fact (that these two figures are female) that interpretation of this facsimile can begin. Joseph explains fig. 2 as Pharaoh, fig. 4 as the Prince of Pharaoh. In other words, all the females in the vignette are those who hold a position in the pharaonic genealogy, one--as Abraham himself points out throughout the first chapter of the book--that can only claim the priesthood through a matriarchal (and therefore illegitimate) lineage. Abraham (or whoever created the vignette) seems to have wanted to depict all of those who would falsely claim the priesthood as women.
- Another interesting possibility for interpretation of this vignette also only emerges with the recognition specifically that fig. 2 is Isis, a goddess and the wife to Osiris (fig. 1, seated on the throne). With this detail, one might be led to recognize that the scene depicts a husband and wife receiving three messengers who bring further light and knowledge. Though this would in some respects function as a reversal of the common setting of such a vignette in Egyptian religion, such a violent reversal hardly seems uncharacteristic of Abraham!
- Reading the vignette artistically. As the other facsimiles, this one might be read as a work of art, each figure being read against the others in the overarching structure of the work. As in facsimile no. 1, a first approach to such a study might be to look at the directionality of the faces depicted. It should first be noted that every face is directed towards another face, that the vignette depicts a sort of (complex) crossing of gazes. The difficulty lies in trying to sort out which gaze meets up with which gaze. To sort out the difficulty of these several gazes, one might profitably divide the vignette into two halves, neatly demarcated by the offering table (fig. 3): those to the left (figs. 1 and 2) are gazing toward those on the right (figs. 4, 5, and 6), but the gazes of those on the right is a little more complex.
- The three figures on the right, in fact, might be read as a sort of self-transcending chiasm. Figs. 4 and 6 both appear to be looking to fig. 5 between them. These chiastically parallel gazes are confirmed, perhaps, by the hands of the same two figures: both fig. 4 and fig. 6 are touching fig. 5 in some way. It seems clear, then, that these two "outer" figures are intending fig. 5: the focus of the right half of the vignette is clearly "Shulem," the (apparently Semitic) servant of the king. The gaze of fig. 5 is of interest: as his free hand interprets that gaze, he addresses himself to the figures on the left half of the facsimile, rather than to the two attendants who clearly intend him. In other words, the two figures on the left intend the single central figure on the right, who returns, crosses, and embraces their gaze. The (apparently arbitrary) delineation of the picture according to the offering table now takes on an important meaning: the gazes cross at an altar of sacrifice.
- The thrust of all of this seems to be the following: the male and female figures on the left half of the vignette, which Joseph explains as representing Abraham and Pharaoh, engage quite directly the profferred fig. 5 from the right half of the vignette, which Joseph explains as representing Shulem, the servant of the king. The encounter is taking place, as it appears, at a sort of altar, across a sort of altar, as the servant hails the king enthroned (who is attended by his wife). All of these details, worked together into a broad interpretation, show this vignette to be, apparently, connected with fig. 7 of facsimile no. 2. There, a figure (whether dove or serpent, it is unclear) appears before the throne, crossing gazes with the enthroned one over an altar or offering table. The oddity of these details emerges with the insight that facsimile no. 1 offers some careful connections to the same figure in the second facsimile. This connection might be confirmed in an odd manner: the servant's name, Shulem, would be a good Semitic name meaning "Peace," perhaps suggesting that this figure ought to be interpreted in terms of the dove Joseph explains to be appearing to Abraham in fig. 7 of facsimile no. 2. In other words and in short, the event depicted in the hypocephalus seems to be the same event this entire third facsimile depicts. What that crossing of vignettes in the hypocephalus can mean must only be interpreted in the greater complex of the second facsimile.
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- Paul Osborn, Pro-LDS Symbolism of the Book of Abraham
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