This blog is no longer being updated. About this blog.


Inpu (Anubis to the Greeks) is the jackal-headed Egyptian god of embalming, mummification, and death. Here is a picture of Anubis attending to a mummy in this role.

“…a priest wearing the mask of Anubis
prays for the deceased.” [1]

Here are a few more scenes of Inpu/Anubis attending mummies on a lion-couch.

“Anubis was the protector of embalming and guardian
of both the mummy and the necropolis.” [2]


“Anubis in reconstituting the body of his deceased
father [Osiris] became the model for the embalmers.” [4]

“While Anubis is stretching out his hands
to lay out the mummy on its couch,
the soul is hovering above its breast,…” [5]

The following pictures also show canopic jars (usually four) which contain the liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines of the mummy. These internal organs were protected by the gods Imsety (man-headed), Hapi (baboon-headed), Duamutef (jackal-headed), and Qebehsenuef (falcon-headed) respectively.


“In [the] Old Kingdom prayers were addressed to to Anubis
for the survival of the deceased in the afterlife.” [7]

“The god Anubis balming a deceased man” [8]

“An image from the Book of the Dead on a wall
in the tomb of Twosret and Setnakhte.…
Four canopic jars await internal organs.” [9]

The next illustrations emphasize the importance of Osiris’ phallus.




The following continue some of the previous themes including birds flying above the chest of the deceased:




The Mormons in the crowd should be experiencing a bit of déjà vu at this point.

Given this rudimentary survey in Inpu/Anubis iconography, what would you expect to find in the missing portions of the following fragmentary papyrus if it were presented to you?


You would probably expect to see Anubis tending to the body of Osiris or a deceased person. If you are Joseph Smith who has very little experience in Egyptology and has probably never had the benefit of seeing similar images, you imagine a sacrificial scene:

This restoration has been canonized in LDS scripture as Facsimile No. 1 from the Book of Abraham. Connected to it is a story of human sacrifice at the hands of an “idolatrous priest of Elkenah” by the will of Abraham’s father, Terah, vaguely similar to other stories in Abrahamic folklore.

This is what Richard A. Parker, Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and Chairman of the Department of Egyptology at Brown University thought:

This is a well-known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with Anubis, the jackal-headed god, on the left ministering to the dead Osiris on the bier. The penicilled(?) restoration is incorrect. Anubis should be jackal-headed. The left arm of Osiris is in reality lying at his side under him. The apparent upper hand is part of the wing of a second bird which is hovering over the erect phallus of Osiris (now broken away). The second bird is Isis and she is magically impregnated by the dead Osiris and then later gives birth to Horus who avenges his father and takes over his inheritance. The complete bird represents Nephthys, sister to Osiris and Isis. Beneath the bier are the four canopic jars with heads representative of the four sons of Horus, human-headed Imseti, baboon-headed Hapy, jackal-headed Duamutef and falcon-headed Kebehsenuf. The hieroglyphs refer to burial, etc.…” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 3, no. 2, Summer 1968, p. 86)

After I left the church, I came across a similar presentation to the one I have made here. I had already intellectually accepted that Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham had nothing to do with what was on the papyri, but when I saw with my own eyes how painfully obvious the errors were, I was stunned. My knowledge became visceral.

My purpose here isn’t to point out all of the inaccuracies in the restoration and interpretation of this papyrus. You can read at length about this and other problems with Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham. You can also read the apologetic response. I just wanted to provide a stark experience of just how wrong Joseph Smith got it. He alleged to have been guided by God to translate the papyrus like he had translated the Book of Mormon from ancient golden plates, yet as you can see, he got it very wrong.

Tags: , , ,


  1. John Remy said,

    January 24, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

    You said, “My knowledge became visceral.” That’s a great expression, and I can completely relate. While the bulk of my deconversion experience was cognitive, I can point to a couple of moments where I felt like I was punched in the stomach.

    Ironically, given the context of your post, one such moment was when I learned about the documentary hypothesis of the authorship of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and that there is some evidence that in the original Abraham/Isaac story, there is no angel to stop the knife. Some well-respected scholars argue that as human sacrifice became more repugnant to society, the angel was redacted in.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 24, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

    Interesting about the redaction of the Abraham/Isaac story. I wonder how it would have ended. I assume that Isaac must have lived. :)

    I think it’s those moments where and idea hits us with almost physical force that make the difference between action and inaction. I always had doubts about God, for example, but one day the idea struck me: There is no God! That idea implanted itself in my mind so firmly I can never look at things in quite the same way again.

  3. Lincoln Cannon said,

    January 24, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

    If Abraham and Osiris are Christ, like Jesus, perhaps Joseph didn’t get it so wrong? Maybe you’re reading it wrong?

  4. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 24, 2008 @ 7:45 pm

    I’m all for remixing myth, and Osiris and Abraham can both fit the Christ archetype, but the fundamental error here is related to the misattribution of Anubis who preserves the body of the deceased in order to assure their eternal life. Joseph instead made him a priest who tries to sacrifice the living Abraham. Perhaps we could finagle some way that this could maybe fit Anubis, but the analogy would seem pretty strained to me.

    Myth is fun and all, but it’s pretty clear to me that Joseph Smith was just ad libbing from his own fertile imagination, not translating with the guidance of an omniscient muse.

  5. George said,

    January 24, 2008 @ 11:14 pm

    Is it me or you wrote intestines [in the canopic jars] twice?
    “The following pictures also show canopic jars (usually four) which contain the lungs, intestines, stomach, and intestines of the mummy.”

  6. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 25, 2008 @ 5:58 am

    I could have sworn that I fixed that yesterday. I must not have saved the changes. Thanks for catching that and letting me know.

  7. Lincoln Cannon said,

    January 25, 2008 @ 8:53 am

    Jonathan, myth is fun, but it is also more than simply that. Moreover, there is much between the exclusively fertile imagination of an individual and the infallible guidance of an external omniscient muse. As I look at scripture, both within and beyond the Mormon tradition, I see a general pattern demonstrating the nature and direction of humanity’s faith in our relationship with God, despite the contradictions, annoyances and immoralities mixed into the texts. I’ve no expectation of classical perfection. Through the scriptures, and extrapolating from them, I’m given a vision of the future that moves me deeply.

  8. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 25, 2008 @ 9:21 am


    I think we’re closer in that respect than you suspect, though I prefer to think of the scriptures as a chronicle of humanity’s struggle to understand itself, leaving aside the baggage associated with the idea of God.

    This situation reminds me of the criticism that many progressive religious adherents level at the New Atheists. They claim that the New Atheists aren’t addressing their religious ideas, and that claim is mostly true. Your understanding of scripture shouldn’t be affected by my post, like liberal religion shouldn’t be affected much by atheist arguments. Secular humanists and religious humanists share much in common.

    What those progressive religionists often neglect is that not all religion looks like their religion. The New Atheists aim their barbs at the heart of fundamentalist, scriptural-literalist religion. Such religion is a collection of irrational, toxic ideas and deserves the criticism of believer and non-believer alike.

    This post is aimed at the literalist Mormon who believes every detail of the scriptures were set in place by an omniscient, omnipotent God, the believer who feels sure that the scriptures are perfect. I think this post demonstrates pretty well that Joseph Smith made stuff up as he went. Imagining things is fine, as long as you represent it to the world as such. That’s not what happens with the Book of Abraham. The LDS church represents Joseph’s fantasies as absolute truth. I seek to belie that falsehood with this post.

    If we are to gain a hopeful future, we need to relegate this kind of superstitious belief in the literal truth of human-created scripture to the infancy of humanity.

  9. Seth R. said,

    January 25, 2008 @ 10:53 am

    I think Nibley explained the confusion here just fine. And it should be noted, that modern discoveries in ancient Judaic, Egyptian and other texts are uncovering an great deal of narrative that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Abraham narrative written by Joseph. Mere coincidence I suppose.

    If you haven’t already read the Nibley article, I suppose I can link to it…

  10. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 25, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

    Are you referring to The Three Facsimiles from the Book of Abraham? It’s an interesting, long read. Have you read Stephen E. Thompson’s response: Egyptology and the Book of Abraham?

    The thing about Nibley is that he pulls all these threads from his voluminous knowledge of ancient history and weaves them together into a fabric which awes the non-expert. I could probably do the same in my own field of expertise, calling down a bewildering hail of jargon and abstruse concepts, leaving the non-expert reader convinced that I must be speaking the truth because they don’t understand what I’m saying when in fact I am talking nonsense. Nibley is impressive, but in my opinion too ready to play the apologist by drawing tenuous parallels.

    In the end, I’m no ancient historian and I’m forced to let the experts argue it out. Nibley’s ideas smell fishy to me, but what do I know? The citations at the end of the FAIR Wiki article on the papyri seem lacking in a way. So I have to ask, are there any non-Mormon scholars who specifically support Joseph Smith’s restoration and interpretation of these papyri?

  11. Seth R. said,

    January 25, 2008 @ 12:39 pm


    No one else CARES about this issue. The non-Mormon scholars have better things to do with their time than play referee between FARMS and the Tanners.

    So in summary, the Mormon scholars have plenty of ammo, but are suspect in their biases. The anti-Mormons are too stupid to respond coherently. And the scholars who might claim objectivity frankly don’t give a damn.

    So there you are.

  12. Jonathan Blake said,

    January 25, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

    There we are. :)

    I am truly curious. If there are non-Mormon supporters, I would like to read them. All of the non-Mormon experts that have been persuaded to take a look at the papyri that I’ve read have rejected Joseph Smith’s interpretations. If it is true that non of the examining non-Mormon Egyptologists have endorsed his interpretation, that makes a pretty clear case for the biased nature of the conclusions of the Mormon Egyptologists who have endorsed it.

    Let’s say that we were talking about the Raëlian human cloning program. If only Raëlian experts confirmed the success of their program, isn’t it perfectly reasonable to call foul?

    Nibley et al. help those who want to believe that Joseph Smith was on to something with the Book of Abraham. I personally don’t trust his scholarship on this subject.

  13. Anonymous said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 12:13 pm


  14. Jonathan Blake said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

    Um, hello. :)

RSS feed for comments on this post