The Sons of Horus in Facsimiles 1 & 2

by Kerry Shirts


The one thing everyone can agree on about the BofA is that Joseph Smith attempted to translate many of the hieroglyphics in the three facsimiles. Therefore, the only question that remains is, "Did he get the translation right?" This essay will attempt to answer that question with respect to the sons of Horus, depicted in facsimile 1, figures 5-8, and facsimile 2, figure 6. Joseph Smith identifies these figures in Fac. 1 as idolatrous gods with the names Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, and Korash. The same figures in fac 2 he says represent the earth in its four quarters. This is the claim. Is there a correlation?

In one of the more interesting articles on the BofA in recent years, Stephen Thompson ("Egyptology and the Book of Abraham", Dialogue, Spring 1995) says, among other things, that Daniel C. Peterson (see his article "News from Antiquity") was incorrect in saying that these figures could represent the earth in its four quarters in the ancient world. Thompson does admit that M. Heerma van Voss ("LA"3.53) notes that the sons of Horus did represent the four quarters when they were sent out in four directions, in the form of birds, at the king's coronation. "In this setting, Duamutef (Fac 1, fig 6) went to the East, Qebehsenuef (fac 1, fig 5) to the West, Amset (fac1, fig 8) to the South, and Hapi (fac 1, fig 7), to the North." Thompson then says "I must emphasize that it is only in this context, and in the form of birds, that these gods were associated with the cardinal points. In a funerary context no such relationship is evident. Furthermore, the fact that these gods were sent to the four quarters of the earth does not mean that the Egyptians equated them with those directions. There is no evidence that they did so." (He cites D. Kessler, "Himmelsrivhtungen," in "LA" 2, 1213-15, the gods who were equated with the cardinal directions are discussed. The sons of Horus are conspicuous by their absence. See Dialogue, p. 152).

A Funerary Document?

However, I must disagree with Thompson's assessment, because I find he comes far short of a full discussion of the evidence. In fact, the basic assumption behind his entire attack against the BofA is that the facsimiles must be interpreted within a funerary context, but in making this assumption he ignores the growing body of evidence that the Book of the Dead, the Book of Breathings, and many other supposed Egyptian funerary documents and rites actually have to do with the living. While these can be adapted to a funerary cultus, they may not have been primarily funerary, as Thompson has argued. For instance, Thompson completely ignores W. Federn's paper, "The Transformations in the Coffin Texts: A New Approach" (JNES vol. 19 (1960), pp. 241-257). Thompson not even once cited Gertrud Thausing's "Sein und Werden: Versuch einer Ganz-heitsschua der Religion des Pharaonenreiches" (Acta Ethnologica Et Linguistica, No. 23, Vienna: 1971); or Kurt Sethe's "Dramatische Texte zu Altaegyptischen Mysterienspielen" (Untersuchunger zur Geschichte und Alter- umskunde, vol. 10, Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagbuchhandlung, 1964). Thompson hasn't cited or utilized Wolfgang Helck's "Bemerkungen zum Ritual des dramatischen Ramesseumpapyrus," (Orientalia, Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1950, vol. 23, #4, pp. 383f) or Gertrude Thausing's Das Grosse Aegyptische Totenbuch (Cairo: Oesterreichisches Kulturinstitut, 1969), p. 3ff). Neither Aylward M. Blackman's "Some Notes on the Ancient Egyptian Practice of Washing the Dead" (JEA, vol. 5, 1918), where he noted that both the living and dead king were necessary for these rituals. The rituals were far more than merely funerary, since the living Phaoroah represented the embodiment of the sun-god on earth. (p. 117). "Through the medium of the lustration-water, which was identified with that of Nun or of a pool sacred to the sun-god, the Pharoah was thought to be reborn, like that god himself...the living Pharoah being purified in the temple-vestry." (p. 118). Kate Bosse-Griffiths ("A Beset Amulet From the Amarna Period", JEA, 1977) notes that Beset knives and other supposed magical incantation objects were not only used for the afterlife, but were actually more commonly used for the living (p. 102). (Note: Could this have significance for the interpretation the knife in the hand of the figure in fac #1?)

It is as if Thompson has never even heard of this important ongoing discussion! And yet we almost cannot believe this because Thompson does, in fact, quote Nibley who uses these sources, as also Michael Dennis Rhodes. This leaves me in a quandary. That is, would it be more charitable for me to assume that Thompson is ignoring an entire body of evidence which refutes his assumptions, or that he is just plain ignorant? Thompson needs the facsimiles to remain exclusively in the funerary context, because from this artificially induced setting he can demolish the BofA with anachronisms and silly ideas. But ONLY if it MUST be interpreted within a funerary context! But unfortunately (for him) this is most certainly not the case. And how do we know? Because of the figure on the lion couch! Whereas Thompson must interpret the figure as a dead body in the process of being embalmed to place the facsimile in a funerary context, it is obvious that figure is not dead at all! That figure is stirring. It cannot be a dead body here being embalmed by Anubis. Thompson, we feel, must demonstrate that all lion couch scenes are of Anubis embalming a mummy on the couch, in order for his explanation to be believable at all.

This is simply an impossible task. What must we do? Look at the extant lion couch scenes and see if all of them have mummies or not. They do not. R.V. Lanzone's "Dizionario Mitologia Egizia" has a very fine collection of lion couch scenes. Pl. ccxci has a man with crook and flail in his hand, wearing a huge crown, turned around, and bending upwards from his knees. And Anubis is nowhere to be found here either! Since Anubis is the embalmer, this argues persuasively that this is no funerary scene at all. Again - this is no mummy. The figure in Pl. ccxc also is stirring. This is no mummy. The figure in Pl. cclxxxv also is no mummy. Pl. cclxxxii has no mummy and no Anubis. Pl. cclxxxi has no mummy here either even though the four sons of Horus are underneath the lion couch. This particular figure is coming to life with his one hand up in front of his face and his one leg moving forward.

Now, since Lanzone's books are not as easy to get as E.A.W. Budge's, I'll make this point easy to check by showing that his lion couch scenes do not all include mummies. In his book Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection vol. 2, we find many lion couch scenes, and not all of them include mummies, nor are they necessarily funerary in context. Most of these are from the Temple at Denderah. The figure on p. 24 is not a dead mummy, but a person stirring on the lion couch. Anubis is not even pictured. The figure on p. 29 is certainly no mummy! Neither is that on p. 30. Notice that on p. 33 Anubis is there, but there is no mummy on the couch. P. 39 has no mummy and Anubis is not even pictured. P. 40 even says it depictsOsiris rising from his bier! Notice p. 42. Osiris Henka is begetting a son by Isis, who hovers over him in the form of a bird! Not only is this a living scene, but a sexy living scene! And Anubis is there also! The picture below is certainly not funerary. How about the one next to these on p. 43? This is labeled the RESURRECTION of Osiris so and so - not funerary at all. This is a scene of the living. On p. 46 Osiris is smelling a flower presented by Horus. This is hardly an embalming scene to be sure, for Anubis is nowhere in sight.

I simply do not believe that Thompson has made his case stick for demanding a funerary context for the lion couch in the BofA. Not all lion couches are funerary in nature, hence it is arbitrary to demand that Smith's must be interpreted in this context only. Indeed, even bona fide funerary paraphernalia in ancient Egypt often had greater significance before the funeral. For example, Kate Bosse-Griffith's article "The Great Enchantress in the Little Golden Shrine of Tut'Ankhamun" (Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 1973, p. 108) says that the implements found in Tut's grave have much more historical importance for his coronation than his funeral.

The Sons of Horus and the Cardinal Points

Now let us review the argument. Thompson asserted that the sons of Horus in the BofA could not represent the four cardinal directions because they can only carry this meaning in the context of a coronation, while the BofA facsimiles are funerary in nature. We have already shown that the facsimiles were not necessarily funerary, but what of the idea that the sons of Horus can only represent the cardinal points in the context of coronation?

So what do we find in the literature? To be sure, exactly what Smith said..... Consider Samuel A.B. Mercer's Horus: Royal God of Egypt (Society of Oriental Research, Grafton, Mass., 1942). Mercer, as you might recall, was one of the giants of Egyptology whom the Right Reverend Spaulding called together to make a case against the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1912. He was one of the scholars who concurred wholeheartedly that absolutely none of Joseph Smith's interpretations of any of the facsimiles in the BofA were worth the paper they were printed on. What did he say later on, however? "On the walls of the burial chamber of the tomb of Amenemhet, as well as elsewhere, the sons of Horus are depicted. Imstj is man-headed, and represents the south; H3pj is dog-headed, and stands for the north; Dw3-mw.t.f is jackal-headed and represents the East; and Kbh-sn.w.f is falcon-headed and stands for the West." (p. 108). He further elaborates that in the Pyramid Texts these four sons of Horus are called the "Four Spirits." And further, "in the 2nd hypostyle Hall of Edfu (Rochem II, 23) These four sons are sometimes treated as celestial beings (PT 2078), being considered stars in the northern heavens (LD III, 170f), and as such are connected with the Great Bear and with Letopolis, through their association with the Imperishable Stars (JEA [Journal of Egyptian Archaeology] 18 (1932), 164). Otherwise they represent the four cardinal points (Budge - "Gods", I, 158; Muller - "Mythology", p. 112); or the four tresses (hnsktiw) which were conceived of as binding earth to heaven, or the four pillars of heaven, which eventaully became the four cardinal points (Budge - "Gods" I, pp. 157f). They sometimes appeared as four birds, who announced to the four quarters of heaven the accession of the King as Horus." (pp. 108f). (And just in case our readers missed it, Mercer said exactly what Joseph Smith said these figures were.)

Another amusing example is from the great E.A.W. Budge, who was also one of the scholars to utterly condemn Joseph Smith's interpretations of the Facsimiles in 1912, saying, among other things, that Smith's interpretations were sheer bosh! Yet note what he said in his book "Egyptian Magic", "The four children of Horus, or the gods of the four cardinal points..." (p. 89). "The four children of Horus...originally represented the four supports of heaven, but very soon each was regarded as the god of one of the four quarters of the earth, and also of that quarter of the heavens which was above it." (p. 90f). Is this not what Joseph Smith said? It is amusing, what with his "bosh" comments, that the great Budge also interpreted the figures in the same way as Joseph Smith!

Note how Budge also shows these four figures in the heavens in the "Egyptian Book of the Dead", p. 39. They are behind the thigh (the Big Dipper) in the northern heaven.

The great Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner, in his review of Sir James Frazier's Golden Bough, noted that the most interesting thing about the Harvest Festival of Min was when the four sons of Horus despatch [sic] geese to the four quarters of the world to announce the news that "Horus son of Isis and Osiris has assumed the great crown of Upper and Lower Egypt." (JEA, 1915, p. 125). C.J. Bleeker ("The Pattern of the Ancient Egyptian Culture", Numen #11, 1964) speaks of "the renewal of the dignity of the king, as a sign of which four birds were set free, to announce the glad news to the East, the West, the North, and the South." (p. 80). The obvious political symbolism and idea behind this ceremony was shown by Alan Gardiner (Egyptian Grammar, p. 74), wherein the royal cartouches (snw) of the Pharoahs were to represent the king as the ruler of all that which is encircled by the sun. The Pharoah's bounds are set at the ends of the earth. (Hugh Nibley - "The Hierocentric State", in "The Ancient State", Deseret/FARMS, 1991, p. 105).

J. Gwyn Griffiths ("Motivation in Early Egyptian Syncretism" in M Heerma van Voss, ed., Studies in Egyptian Religion: Dedicated to Professor Jan Zandee, Leiden E.J. Brill, 1982), noted that besides the ancient Egyptian idea of helping transform man into deity, the four sons of Horus were also connected with the ladder of celestial ascent. (p. 54).

The Egyptologist John A. Wilson wrote in 1964 that "...the number four suggests that they were placed at the four points of the compass. Fortunately this arrangement appealed to the Egyptian as being both strong and permanent." (Before Philosophy, Pelican Books, p. 55.)

Robert Bauval/Adrian Gilbert (The Orion Mystery, Crown Publishers, 1994) noted that the four sons of Horus "symbolised the four cardinal points." (. 205).

Sir Alan Gardiner's article "The Baptism of Pharoah" (JEA [Journal of Egyptian Archaeology], 1950) has some interesting things about this number 4. In the purification ritual of the Pharoahs "the four gods here mentioned were the gods of the cardinal points...spell 217 of the Pyramid Texts places the matter beyond all doubt... evidently each of the four quarters of the world was intended to receive the news from its own special deity or deities." (p. 9). This is the whole philosophy behind the symbolism, and Joseph Smith is, indeed, right on the mark.

The Cardinal Points in the Ancient World

Indeed, this type of symbolism was ubiquitous in the ancient world. Consider the following:

Nibley demonstrated that the famous ancient summons arrow was used by the Greeks, the American Indians, our ancestors of the North, and Israel, as well as in the famous "Olaf-Tryggvason Saga". The idea was that "Throughout the ancient world a ruler was thought to command everything his arrow could touch." ("The Arrow, the Hunter, and the State" in "The Ancient State", p. 4). "An impressive demonstration of the authority of the summons-arrow is the early and widespread rite of the four world arrows. In the "Olaf-Tryggvason Saga" it states a number of times that summons-arrows were sent in the four directions. For the oldest and greatest festival in India, the Asvamedha, the king must send messengers in the four directions to order all who have been conquered by his arrows to appear before him. At the creation of the world, according to Zuni doctrine, four marked arrows, the word-painted arrows of destiny, were carried to the regions of men, four in number. A variant of this is the shooting of arrows in the four directions, as in the Ghostdance of the Sioux, where four sacred arrows were shot into the air towards the four cardinal points to symbolize the conquest of the earth by the tribe. A like practice is attributed in Jewish legend to the Emperor Titus and to Nimrod who, from Jerusalem and Babel respectively, shot arrows in the four directions and claimed dominion over all that lay within their range. The same rite appears also in Ino-Iranian creation myths and in the Sumerian story of Ada and the Zu-bird. In the Old World and the New it is also common to depict the swastika with its four arms formed of marked arrows - plainly the four world-arrows. [The swastika, of course, is a very ancient symbol to be sure, cf. Joseph Campbell, The Flight of the Wild Gander, HarperPerennial, 1990, p. 147f; Marija Gimbutas, "The Civilization of the Goddess"; The Language of the Goddess", Index under "Swastika"] Related to the world-arrows is the worldwide practice of making a sanctuary by marking off an area on the ground with the point of an arrow, dividing it in four sections by a cross with its arms to the cardinal points. The apportionment of land by drawing of arrow-lots was common to the Assyrians and the ancient Norse (whence the expression "lot and scot"). (p. 5f). The Babylonian and Assyrian kings would build a temple/palace which was the hierocentric point where the four regions in the city of Assur, son of Shalmaneser, King of the universe, dwelt, and the four walls surrounding it with the four gates always facing the four winds were named. ("The Hierocentric State", in "The Ancient State", p. 112).

The four genies of the four winds and various deities covering the four directions were dealt with by Comte du Mesnil du Buisson in the article "Le groupe des dieux El, Betyle, Dagon et Atlas chez Philon de Byblos" (Revue de L'Histoire des Religions, 1966, pp. 37-49). Jean Nougayrol ("Les quatre vents", Revue D'Assyriologie et D'Archeologie Orientale, 1966, pp. 72-74) describes tablets discovered in an archaological dig dealing with this very ancient idea of four deities symbolizing the four directions. Note also C. De Wit's article "Les Genies des Quatre Vents au Temple d"Opet" (Chronique D'Egypte 32(1957), pp. 25-39).

Notice how Kurt Sethe in his magnificent "Ubersetzung und Kommentar zu den Altagyptischen Pyramidtexten", #1, (Verlag von JJ Augustin, 1934, p. 219) says the hieroglyph for the city is the circle divided in four quarters. The same symbol and image is in the Mesoamerican calendar, drawn as a circle divide in quarters (Dr. E.C. Krupp, Echoes of the Ancient Skies, Harper and Row, 1983, p. 293). The symbolism of the number 4 was very important in ancient Mesoamerica to be sure, "The number four's significance is rooted in the sky." (p. 287f). (Cf. Anthony F. Aveni, Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico, Univ. of Texas Press, 1980, pp. 155f).

Von Ludwig Borchardt ("Der Kanopemkasten des Konigs Sbk-m-sf", Zeitschrift fur agyptische Sprach" 1894) shows how the stone coffin of a particular king was divided in 4 compartments (Innen war der Kasten fruher durch halbhohe Bretter in vier Abteilungen...), and in each of these compartments one of the canopic jars was each placed. (Diagrams on p. 25.)

Interestingly, in an old Adam legend we read how The four archangels - Gabriel, Michael, Isafiel, and Asrael - were required to bring earth from the four quarters of the world, that therefrom God might fashion man. (Rev. S. Baring-Gould, Legends of the Patriarchs and Prophets, John B. Alden, Publisher, 1884, p. 19).

Walter Wili informs us that the number four is justice. The Pythagorean view of the number four represented the perfect, the harmonius proportion. ("The History of the Spirit in Antiquity", in Spirit and Nature, Joseph Campbell, ed., Bollingen Series, Princeton Univ. Press, 1st paperback, 1982, p. 86).

Carl Jung noted that the number four represented also eternity or totality. "This symbol, I would add in passing, seems to indicate that extension in space signifies God's suffering (on the cross) and , on the other hand, his dominion over the universe." - A common enough theme. (The Mysteries, Joseph Campbell, ed., Bollingen Series, Princeton Univ. Press, 1955, p. 288).

Most interestingly, Lewis Spence (Egypt, Studio editions, 1994, p. 28f) mentions that the four sons of Horus as points of the cardinal directions have a correspondence to the Maya who also possess four deities placed at each point of the compass to uphold the universe! They are Kan, Muluc, Ix, and Cauac. The Maya also used funerary jars called "bacabs" which held the internal organs of their dead, as the Egyptian canopic jars did!

Jack Lindsay (A Short History of Culture, Fawcett Premier Books, 1962, p. 503f) says, "The sky supports were the Four Sons of Horus at the cardinal points... Akbar's palace at Fatepur Sikri had a world-pillar or tree on which he sat enthroned. Indian domes commonly had the 8 ribs of the Wheel (the Law to the Buddhists, the Universe to the Hindus), related to the four quarters... note also the cosmic vision in Ezekiel and the part played by the four winds; also his four-square Holy City." (p. 504).

Note the ancient conceptions of the Zodiac as well. The four essential points dominate the four seasons of the year. They knew of two equinoxes and two solstices which cut the year in half in an equal balance, the two intersections of the equator with the ecliptic. These four points together made up the four pillars of heaven, which made up the four corners of what was called the quadrangular earth. (Georgio Santilliana, Hamlet's Mill, Nonpareil Book, 1977, p. 62).

Note how the Khans envisioned this: "Tolui Khan was the fourth son of Chingiz- Khan, the youngest of his four chief sons, who were called the four kuluks, that is, they were like four pillars... the four pillars of the kingdom." (John Andrew Boyle, "The Successors of Genghis Khan", Columbia Univ. Press, 1971, p. 159).

Richard Hinckley Allen (Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Dover, 1963, p. 256) said that "in Arabia the leader of the Four Royal Stars of the ancient Persian monarchy, [represented] the four guardians of heaven. Dupius... said that the four stars marked the cardinal points... the same scheme appeared in India... four great circles in the sky, or generally the four quarters of the heavens." This would be in agreement with the ancient Egyptian idea of the Four Sons of Horus deriving from the heavens as well, as well as perhaps the origin of their symbolism of four as quarters. The point to be made is that this scheme was very ancient indeed, and nearly ubiquitous in the ancient world.

We read in the Zohar that when a man's time to leave the world arrives "the four quarters of the world arraign him...and the four elements fall into dispute...upon the herald's proclamation, a flame issues from the North, going through the stream of fire and splitting up to pass into the four quarters of the world..." (Gerschom Scholem, ed., Zohar:The Book of Splendor, Schocken Books, 1963, p. 56).

We are to understand that there are four suits in the Tarot Deck and that "The number 4 defines the mundane plane, there being four elements, and four directions, symbolized on one of the Tarot cards as a man, an eagle, a lion, and a bull", our familiar canopic jars! (Richard Roberts/Joseph Campbell, Tarot Revelations, Vernal Equinox Press, 1987, p. 66).

Alexander Heidel has shown us that in a Prince's vision of the underworld, in the "Gilgamesh Epic", the canopic imagery was used there, as well.(The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1949, p. 132f - talking of the familiar four headed beasts).


So to summarize, we have seen that the BofA facsimiles are not necessarily funerary, and the sons of Horus symbolized the cardinal points in many contexts. Also, the same type of imagery was used throughout the ancient world. And so we see that Joseph Smith can and will survive the attacks of even half-converted Mormon Egyptologists.

Copyright by Kerry Shirts