Articles/Essays – Volume 33, No. 4

The “Breathing Permit of Hor” Thirty-Four Years Later

In 1967, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made a gift to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of eleven papyrus fragments once owned by Joseph Smith and employed as the basis for “The Book of Abraham.” In January and February of the following year, sepia photographs of the fragments were published in the magazine The Improvement Era, and on the basis of these photographs, the journal Dialoguecommissioned translations and commentaries on the texts, now designated as “The Joseph Smith Papyri.” In the Summer issue of 1968, (vol. 8, no. 2) [Editor’s Note: Ritner meant volume 3, no. 2] Egyptologists John A. Wilson and Richard A. Parker identified fragments within this collection as sections of a late mortuary text known as a “Book of Breathings,” copied for a Theban priest named Hor.[1]

The first extensive translation of this document appeared in the subsequent autumn issue (vol. 8, no. 3) [Editor’s Note: vol. 3, no. 3], authored by my teacher and predecessor, Klaus Baer.[2] Though Baer was ultimately able to examine the papyri personally, his study was conducted primarily from The Improvement Eraphotos and was considered by himself to be nothing more than a “preliminary study.”[3] Nevertheless, he was able to provide a complete translation of the surviving sections, including fragments pasted haphazardly as patches within the unrelated Papyrus IV and two vignettes that originally bracketed the main text: Papyrus I (originally redrawn as “A Facsimile From[4] The Book of Abraham No. 1”) and the now lost fragment redrawn as Facsimile No. 3 from The book of Abraham Baer’s translation of “the Breathing Permit of Hôr” has served as the basis of all further studies of the text, the most extensive of which was the 1975 edition by Hugh Nibley. No full edition of this papyrus document has yet appeared. Baer provided only a translation annotated for a popular audience, with phrases restored from parallel texts indicated by italic script.[5] Nibley attempted a transliteration and literal interlinear translation only of the unrestored portions of Papyri XI and X (with the “patches” in Papyrus IV).[6] The corpus of parallel texts, on which any restorations must be based, has not been published as a group, though lists of such texts have been compiled and collective translations have appeared.[7]

In the absence of any formal edition of the Joseph Smith Book of Breathing combining full translation and transliteration, and with the recent publication by Charles M. Larson of vastly improved color photographs,[8] it seems proper to revisit the papyrus. As each generation of Chicago Egyptologists has dealt with the Mormon papyri (Breasted, Wilson, Baer), it has now fallen to me to reassess Baer’s translation in light of Egyptological advances of the past thirty-four years. In preparing the following annotated edition, I have had access to Baer’s original notebook[9] and files, which have proved valuable for determining his restorations and readings. To prepare his translation, Baer hand-copied parallels from a series of papyri: Hague 42/88 (P. Denon), Louvre 3284, Louvre 3291, British Museum 9995 and Berlin 3135, noting also minor variants in Louvre 3121, 3126, 3158 and 3166. Of these exemplars, Papyrus Louvre 3284 served as the representative “standard text” as it has for all translations since its publication by de Horrack in 1877. The following translation also adopts this basis for restorations, with annotations indicating other variant readings. It must be stressed, however, that Baer’s translation, like my own, presents the text as copied by the scribe of the Joseph Smith Papyri (hereafter P JS). Other versions are employed only in restorations or annotations. As noted by Baer, the manuscripts show “relatively little variation, so that it is not too difficult to restore the missing passages.”[10]

As the reader will see, changes from Baer’s understanding of the document are few and do not challenge his basic understanding of the text. The most notable changes entail matters of column numbering, dating, and the interpretation of one title and a name. Column numbers in this edition have been increased by one, with the lines on P JS I now considered sections within column I. Since the Breathing Document actually began at the end of P JS I, it has been necessary to revise Baer’s numbering to avoid beginning the text in column “0.”[11] ln regard to dating, Baer, like Wilson and Parker, followed contemporary assessments based on the paleography of Books of Breathing and so dated the papyrus of Hor to the late Ptolemaic or early Roman Period.[12] Recent studies by Quaegebeur and Coenen have suggested a date in the first half of the Ptolemaic Period (first half of the second century BC).[13] This revision, based on the similarity of common family names and a rare title, remains controversial, though possible.[14] The possibility of family connections between the owner of this Joseph Smith papyrus and individuals noted in comparable Louvre papyri was already a matter of discussion between Baer and Wilson in 1968.[15] Among the titles of Hor listed in the first line of the surviving papyrus is an office of the fertility god, whose name Baer rendered as “Min, Bull-of-his-Mother,” employing the god’s most common epithet.[16] From Baer’s notes, it is apparent that he was suspicious of this reading, and improved photography shows clearly that the divine name is rather “Min who slaughters his enemies.”

More problematic is the question of the interpretation of the name of Hor’s mother, Taikhibit. Examples of the name had previously been gathered by de Meulenaere, whose transliteration T3(y)-hy-bB.t [Editor’s Note: See PDF, 100, for proper rendering of these characters] and translation “The one who is joyous” (literally, “high of character”) have been university adopted in reference works and articles.[17] Writings of the name vary within the Breathing Document, from spelling consistent with de Meulenaere’s examples ([Editor’s Note: See PDF, 100] Col. 2/2 and [Editor’s Note: See PDF, 100] Col. IV/13) to the hieroglyphic spelling in Col. I/3 [Editor’s Note: See PDF] with the “b” shifted before the human figure for spatial reasons. While aware of deMeulenaere’s reading, Baer rejected it for the mother of Hor because of what he considered a logographic writing in Col. III/7 (his column II/7): [Editor’s Note: See PDF, 100]. This he transcribed as [Editor’s Note: See PDF, 100]., translating the human figure as “dancer.”[18] While the human figure that terminates this spelling of the name is distinct from that employed to spell “high” (hy),[19] it does not really match the figure used for dancer either and seems a scribal peculiarity.[20] The figure with upraised arms (hy) is used in Col. IV /13, so the standard interpretation is probably correct. The spelling in Col. III/7 is perhaps best understood as an abbreviated form of the name, [Editor’s Note: See PDF, 100], otherwise common in hieratic and Demotic.[21]In general, the hieratic handwriting of the Breathing Document is fairly coarse by Egyptian standards,[22] but this does not seriously hamper either the literal reading or the significance of the text.

The last major difference in the proposed translations derives from the ambiguity of Egyptian grammar as reflected in the script. However odd it may seem to modern readers, the Late Egyptian basic conjugation form (sdm=f) has various translational equivalents that can be distin­guished only by context (“he did” vs. “may he do” vs. “so that he might do”). Where the context is not definitive, the translator is forced to adopt a personal choice. Previous French translations have attempted to avoid the problem by employing an inaccurate present tense[23] while Baer rather consistently chose the past tense. Baer’s preference cannot be termed incorrect, but I have made other choices where context dictated.

The original width of the papyrus was correctly estimated by Baer as being about 150-155 cm., allowing for textual restorations and the now lost Facsimile 3.[24] The number of vignettes varies in Books of Breathings, but introductory and concluding vignettes are common.[25] At most, the papyrus might have been expanded by the inclusion of a further, middle vignette, as found in Papyrus Tu.bingen 2016,[26] but there is no reasonable expectation of any further text and certainly nothing even vaguely re­sembling the alien narrative of The Book of Abraham.

The true content of this papyrus concerns only the afterlife of the deceased Egyptian priest Hor. “Books of Breathings,” such as this Joseph Smith example, are late funerary compositions derived from the traditional “Book of the Dead.” Like the “Book of the Dead,” the sole purpose of the later texts is to ensure the blessed afterlife of the deceased individ­ual, who is elevated to divine status by judgment at the court of Osiris and is thereby guaranteed powers of rejuvenation. These powers, includ­ing mobility, sight, speech, hearing, and access to food offerings, are summarized in the term snsn, or “breathing” which refers to the Egyptian expression [Editor’s Note: See PDF, 101] “breath of life,” the fundamental characteristic that distinguishes the living. The title [Editor’s Note: See PDF, 102], literally “Document of (or ‘for’) Breathing,” employs the term for an official document or letter (s.t), so that these “books” serve as formal “permits”—or perhaps more accurately “passports”—to the world of the gods. To be effective, they had to accompany the corpse, and the directions for using the texts declare explicitly that the document must be placed below the mummy’s crossed arms and wrapped within the bandages. Most examples place the directions at the end, but the Joseph Smith papyrus has shifted these before the main text. Perhaps for the same reason, the papyrus inverts its versions of the two common illustrations (“vignettes”) that often accom­pany “Books of Breathings”: a scene of the deceased at the court of Osiris, and a scene of the corpse in the process of reanimation.[27] The latter scene may also include a depiction of the risen ba-spirit, the human­headed bird that represents the soul of the deceased individual. Since the fate of the ha-spirit is the focus of the document, this depiction is logical and is found on the Joseph Smith example.[28] The modem designation “Books of Breathings” includes a variety of late funerary compositions, but the text found in the Joseph Smith collection represents a specific type termed in antiquity “The Document of Breathings Made by Isis for Her Brother Osiris.”[29] These were used by (often interrelated) priestly families in Thebes and its vicinity from the middle Ptolemaic to early Roman eras, and the limited distribution probably accounts for their uni­form pattern, displaying only minor modifications. Thus the reanimation scene of P JS I is adapted from contemporary temple depictions, but has precisely the same meaning and purpose as other examples with the mummy reinvigorated by the sun disk.[30]

Here follows the transliteration and translation of Hor’s papyrus.

[Editor’s Note: For the transliteration and translation of Hor’s papyrus, see PDF, 102–115. For the bibliography of this article, see PDF, 115–119.]

Note: The Dialogue Foundation provides the web format of this article as a courtesy. Please note that there may be unintentional differences from the printed version. For citational and bibliographical purposes, please use the printed version or the PDFs provided online and on JSTOR.

[1] Wilson 1968, 68-69 (document D) and Parker 1968a, 86 and 19686, 98-99 (partial translation).

[2] Baer 1968 (hereafter simply Baer).

[3] Baer, 111.

[4] The LDS authorized publication of these drawings as illustrations from The book of Abraham clearly answer the polemicist Nibley’s unjust complaint against his former tutor (1975, 1) that “There would have been nothing wrong with Dr. Baer’s title if he had been good enough to explain to his readers why it was apparent to him that his text is the source of the Book of Abraham.” Baer did precisely that in footnote 111-12n11 and on 126-33. This derivation had been discussed fully in Heward and Tanner 1968, to which Baer refers throughout his article. The Book of Abraham is published as being “translated from the papyrus, by Joseph Smith,” and as the facsimile is also “from” the Book, then the Book must have been derived (by whatever questionable means) from the papyrus. See also the explicit link between the text and facsimiles in Abraham, 1:6 (note c) and 1:12 and 14. Nibley’s professed amazement (1) that anyone could derive an elaborate account from a few Egyptian signs is disingenuous, since just such “symbolic” translations had been done by the discredited Athanasius Kircher, whose work Nibley had previously described (1968a, 173-76). The work of Nibley and his acolytes is a professed attempt to counter the analysis of “people innocent of any bias in favor of Joseph Smith. . . . So now it is time to hear the other side of the story” (1968b, 105).

[5] Baer, 119.

[6] The word for word, incomplete translations in Nibley 1975 (hereafter simply Nibley) produce disjointed lines of the very sort criticized by Gee 1992, 105-06 regarding Larson 1992. Cf. Nibley, 19-20: “inside (of) the lake great (of) Chonsu born of Taykhebyt justified likewise after clasped” with Larson 1992 as cited by Gee: “this pool great Khonsu born of Taykhebyt justified likewise after grasped.” Nibley noted that his literal translation was “nonsense” (47).

[7] A list of Books of Breathigns appears in Vallogia 1979, 293, with fuller references in Coenen 1995. Translations appear in de Horrack 1907 and 1875 and in Goyon 1972.

[8] Larson 1992, 33 (folded color plate). Contra Gee 1992, 93-94, these photographs are the first true four-color separation images of the papyri to be published. The difference in legibility is pronounced and inspires further respect for Baer’s abilities with inferior materials.

[9] Oriental Institute Archives, Papers of Klau Baer, file 2321. I thank John A. Larson, Oriental institute Museum Archivist (and no relation to Charles M. Larson), for authorization and assistance with the Baer materials.

[10] Baer, 119.

[11] Already recognized by Baer in his notebook, and corresponding to the final two signs mentioned in Baer, 129 (line 5).

[12] Baer, 111.

[13] See Coenen 1998, and the references there cited.

[14] No document securely establishes the genealogy proposed in Coenen 1998, 1110, and as noted by Quaegebeur 1994, 216, it is not clear if the relevant individuals are part of the same family. Coenen is perhaps overly confidant, 1110, the that problem of differing titles for the Hor of P JS and the like-named man of certain Tübingen papyri “does not, however, preclude the proposed identification.” See also the remarks of Quirke 1999, 84–85.

[15] Oriental Institute Baer fil 2374 (letter of John Wilson, 7/2/68) and Baer file 2373 (response of 7/5/68). For another Hor son of Osorwer, see Quaegebeur 1994, 216–17.

[16] Baer 116n21.

[17] de Meulenaere 1955, 147-48; Devauchelle 1978; Quaegebeur 1982, 264; Quaegebeur 1994, 222n56 (disagTeeing with Baer); Quack 1996, 65; and E. Liiddeckens, ed., 1980-2000, I/14 (1996), 1081; Gee 2000, 11 and 52. The name is rendered into Greek as Chibois; see Coenen :1998, 1104n7.

[18] Baer, 111n10: “The dancer,” based on Erman and Grapow 1971, III, 250/15-16, and the assumption that Dy reflected a phonetic spelling of the definite article, as in Coptic TtTe . Oriental Institute Baer file 2374 (letter of John Wilson, 7 /2/68) and Baer file 2373 (response of 7 /5/68).

[19] Cf. Möller 1912, 1. No. 4.

[20] The sign is inconsistent with Möller 1912, 1. no. 6. Few examples are listed, so the range may be greater. The sign most closely ressembles Moller, 3. no. 30, a seated child.

[21] Deveria, 1881, 70, no. III.23 (the same individual as [Editor’s Note: See PDF] in the Joseph Smith papyri), and E. Lüddeckens, ed., Demotisches Namenbuch, 1/16, 1999, 1237.

[22] Nibley insists (2) that P JS X and XI cannot be the source of the Book of Abraham because Joseph Smith wrote that “the Abraham document was beautifully written” whereas modem scholars like Wilson describe those papyri as relatively course. Modem scholars have examined many hundreds of hieratic documents and can, therefore, deter­mine the standards of contemporary Egyptian handwriting. Joseph Smith had no such ex­perience. With no frame of reference beyond his own limited collection, he had no reason or incentive to consider the writing poor.

[23] De Horrack 1907 and Goyon 1972.

[24] Baer, 127n113. There is no justification for Gee’s attempt to more than double this figure to “320 cm (about 10 feet) in Gee 2000, 10 and 12-13.

[25] Baer, 127n111 (P. Berlin 3135) and Coenen and Quaegebeur 1995, pls. 3-6 (P. Denon/Hague 42/88).

[26] Brunner-Traut and Brunner 1981, 296-97 and pis. 12-13, 150 (bottom) and 151 (left).

[27] For the court scene first and corpse scene last, see Coenen and Quaegebeur 1995, 25, 27, and 31-32; and Brunner-Traut and Brunner 1981, plates 12-13 and 151.

[28] Wrongly restored with a bird’s head and identified in Facsimile 1, Fig. 1, of The Book of Abraham as “The Angel of the Lord.” This is true only if Joseph Smith’s “Lord” was Osiris.

[29] Formerly known as the “First Book of Breathings”; for the current terminology, see Coenen 1995.

[30] The supposed second (and dappled) “hand” of the prone corpse may be the re­mains of a winged sundisk such as that found above the mummy in P. Tu.bingen 2016, P. Denon and P. Louvre 3284, rather than Isis in bird form. Gee’s quibbling, 2000, 29-30, re­garding temple vs. papyrus scenes is pointless since the priestly owners of these papyri will have devised and had access to both, and contemporary “cross-over” imagery is known. A “weighing of the heart” scene usually confined to papyri is carved at the Ptole­maic temple of Deir el-Medina.

Robert K. Ritner, “The “”Breathing Permit of Hor”” Thirty-Four Years Later” 91 – 119.

In 1967, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made a gift to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of eleven papyrus fragments once owned by Joseph Smith and employed as the basis for “The Book of Abraham.”