The "Star-Apes" of Facsimile 2: Egyptian Correlations:
by Kerry A. Shirts
Joseph Smith gave interpretations of many of the figures in the three facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, and some of those interpretations are quite astonishing in light of modern Egyptology. For example, cosider the two apes in the center panel of facsimile 2, labelled as numbers 22, and 23. Here Joseph Smith explains that the apes represent "stars." Now, to the modern mind this symbolism would seem patently ridiculous, and it seems certain that Smith could not have gotten this idea from contemporary sources. And yet this idea fits very snugly and comfortably in the ancient Egyptian state of affairs, to be sure.
Hans Bonnet in his "Reallexicon der Agyptischen Religionsgeschichte" notes some interesting things about these apes, in an Egyptian context. For example, the apes can represent Thoth, the god of writing (Sie ist dem Thot sonderlich zu eigen wenn er in der Rolle eines Schutzgottes der Schreiber und des Schreibwesens erscheint, p. 7).
Also, Bonnet tells us that Horapollo explains that the apes, during the equinox (wahrend der Aquinoktien), urinate hourly, as a sort of measure of time (allstundlich zu urinieren, p. 7). Joseph Smith, on the other hand, asserted that the central panel in which the apes reside is directly involved with celestial time, and the measure of time (Fac. 2, fig. 1). This is very Egyptian to be sure.
Bonnet also explains that the apes have a strong relationship with the heavenly bodies (grossen Gestirnen), specifically, the Sun, as they raise their front paws to the rising sun in worship (die das Gestirn mit erhobenen Vorderpfoten betend begrussen - p. 7)
And what's more, Bonnet notes that along with the sun, the apes are also associated with the stars, or with the moon through Thoth. (Note: the apes in Smith's hypocephalus have the moondiscs - "mondscheibe" - on their heads). "Tatsachlich ist der Affes erst durch Thot zum Mondtier gewroden. Auf diese Eigenschaft deutet die Mond- scheibe, die er vielfach als Kopfputz tragt." p. 8).
So the ancient Egyptians associated apes with the sun, moon, and stars, as well as the measurement of time, exactly as Joseph Smith's explained.
Alan Gardiner notes that Thoth is the god of writing and mathematics as well. ("Egyptian Grammar", p. 113). Note that in Smith's explanation we have the idea of "The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit." Note the application of mathematics and its interaction with time. Lewis Spence in his book "Egypt" says: "He [Thoth] is called the 'great god' and 'lord of heaven' [note that Bonnet says of him that he is the old Babboon-god, the "Hez-ur, the "Great White" - "Dagegen horen wir von einem alten Paviensgott der Hez-ur, der grosse Weisse, gennant wird." p. 7], and that in his role as a lunar god, Thoth was considered "the measurer", (Spence, p. 107). He is the "Great White" of Bonnet's description because the full moon is very large and very white in the sky (Spence, p. 107).
Thoth as "Tehuti" is the scribe of the gods (E.A.W. Budge, "Hieroglyphic Vocabulary to the Book of the Dead", p. 447, Cf. Karl-Theodor Zauzich - "Hieroglyphen Ohne Geheimnis", tr. Ann Macy Roth, p. 94). Thoth was the creator of hieroglyphs according to some accounts, who is also shown in scenes of 'Weighing of the heart' making a written record of the judgment of the deceased, as in the temple of Ramesses II at Abydos, where we read "For recitation by Thoth, Lord of Khmunu (Hermopolis), the scribe..." (Hilary Wilson, "Understanding Hieroglyphs," 1995, p. 96f, Cf. Margaret Bunson, "The Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt," p. 264).
In Egypt, it is Thoth (Hermes to the Greeks, Mercury to the Romans) who is the Master of the City of Eight. Thoth gives man access to the mysteries of the manifested world, which is symbolized by eight. (Anthony West, "Serpent in the Sky", p. 51). While in the Joseph Smith hypocephalus there are only two babboons, in other hypocephali there are sometimes 2, sometimes, 4, sometimes 6, and sometimes 8. Eight babboons can also be seen on the Metternicht Stelae. Adolf Erman notes that the town of eight was named after the eight elementary beings of the world, whose chief god was Thoth, the god of wisdom (Erman, "Aegypten", tr. Helen Tirard, "Life In Ancient Egypt", p. 24).
That Joseph Smith was interpreting such figures on an ancient Egyptian hypocephalus correctly is incredible, considering that Egyptian was not yet known in the 1830's when Joseph Smith received the Egyptian mummies and papyri from the antiquities dealer. How on earth would anyone guess haphazardly that apes could represent stars, and other heavenly bodies, and dealt with astronomy, measurement of time, etc.? I believe this is strong evidence for the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.
Kerry A. Shirts