Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham represents “Abraham fastened upon an altar” according to the Book of Abraham translation that we received from Joseph Smith. The critics have mocked this assertion endlessly, insisting that this is nothing more than an ordinary funerary scene from the Book of the Dead, depicting a dead person being embalmed.
It is true that the figure has common elements with the common funerary scenes dealing with embalming and mummification. But as several LDS defenders have pointed out, the critics may have erred in overlooking the significant differences between this figure and the truly ordinary ones they compare it to. One important difference involves the depiction of the person on the table (a “lion couch”). Unlike the embalming scenes of ordinary Egyptian lore, this person does not look like a mummy-wannabe. Please notice that sprightly leg that is raised from the table. And the hands are up as well (some say that the arms and hands are drawn incorrectly, an issue addressed in the links below). And notice the feet: they still have slippers or shoes on and frankly, they look anxious to run.
Compared to the mummies of ordinary funerary scenes, there is something quite different about this person. A very big difference — a life and death difference.
Is there any other embalming scene in Egyptian lore in which the dead person, is raising a leg and both arms? Dead mummies are always depicted as lying flat, to my knowledge, not with arms and a leg raised. So what does that mean? The figure, according to chapter 1 of the Book of Abraham, depicts Abraham as he was about to be sacrificed. In verse 15, Abraham explains what he did then: “I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard. . . .” He was miraculously delivered from the murderous priest as he prayed to the Lord. So here we have learned critics scoffing at the Book of Abraham and the ignorant Joseph Smith, who thought that Facs. 1 somehow depicted the living Abraham who, according to the text, was praying to the Lord.
Significantly, the person with the raised arms and extended leg is drawn in the exact posture used for the hieroglyph meaning “to pray,” but rotated 90 degrees to be on the table or altar. The drawing is clearly and deliberately intended to depict a live person PRAYING – just as the Book of Abraham suggests.
For evidence, turn to the highly respected work of Sir Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Being An Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd Ed. (Oxford University Press, London: 1966), p. 32, paragraph 24, where we find this (many thanks to Stan Barker for sending these figures):
The glyph above for death shows a figure depicted in the normal manner for funerary scenes: clearly immobilized and wrapped up, quite unlike the most unusual depiction in the Book of Abraham. A couple of other portions of Gardiner are also relevant. The figure below comes from Gardiner, page 445, paragraph 30:
Now stop and think about this. Is it just a coincidence that Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the figure makes a lot more sense than that of his learned critics? Was it just dumb luck that Joseph understood the more plausible meaning of the facsimile? (The issue about whether or not the hands of the figure are actualy raised in the original drawing is discussed on my LDSFAQ page on the Book of Abraham, Part 2, and in great detail by Kerry Shirts in “On Thumbs and Wings and Other Things.” Also see the FAIR Wiki article on the Book of Abrahama.)
We must not forget that Facs. 1 is far from an ordinary funerary scene. Is there any other lion couch scene in which the reclining person is fully clothed with the garment and slippers shown in Facs. 1? Related figures show mummies or nudes, but nothing identical to our Facs. 1. What is the significance of this? The symbolic meaning fits well with the Book of Abraham text, as Kerry Shirts shows on his page about the garment of Abraham.
Now there are non-embalming lion couch scenes in standard Egyptian lore in which a living person with a leg up is being resurrected or uh, contemplating procreation. But in these scenes, the person is in the nude, without shoes, and with one arm below the body or at the side of the body. These details don’t fit Facsimile 1. In fact, as Kerry Shirts demonstrates in “The Lion Couch is Extremely and Significantly Unique” (that section is halfway down the page), there are numerous details about Facsimile 1 that take it outside the realm of any typical Egyptian scene involving the lion couch. What he have here is not a common scene from Egyptian lore, but a drawing that is obviously based on Egpytpain elements but apparently modified significantly to tell a unique story. And I don’t think any other story fits the details better than this: a living person on an altar is praying, exactly as the Book of Abraham says.
I think Facsimile 1 and Joseph Smith’s interpretation is worthy of a little more respect than it has received in the past.