Monday, November 7, 2011


The Egyptian goddess Hathor greeting Queen Nefatiri (Image Source)

Abraham 1: 23-24

There are two women named Egyptus mentioned in the Book of Abraham, the wife of Ham and Ham's daughter. In order to clarify which woman I talking about I will designate the wife of Ham as Egyptus (W) for "wife of Ham" and the other Egyptus (D) for "daughter of Ham." Hopefully that will make things more clear.


After the great flood Noah and his family, which included his wife, three sons and three daughter-in-laws, began to spread over the earth and multiply and replenish it (Genesis 9: 17). One of Noah's sons, Ham, became the Father of Cannan (Genesis 9:18). Yet later on Ham found Noah drunk and he,
"...saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness." (Genesis 9:22-23)
Because of Ham's actions he and his posterity were "cursed" and denied the right to hold or administer the priesthood (Genesis 9:24-29).

Link Facts About Them:

Egyptus (W)
  • She was married to Ham, one of Noah's three sons (Abraham 1:23);
  • She was one of the eight souls (and one of the four women) who boarded the ark and was saved from the flood;
  • She bore four sons, Chush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan who because their father Ham "saw the nakedness of his father (Noah)" (Genesis 9:20-27) were "cursed", meaning they were unable to hold the priesthood;
  • She bore at least one daughter, who was also named Egyptus (Abraham 1:24);
Egyptus (D)
  • She was the daughter of Ham and Egyptus (Abraham 1:24);
  • She discovered the land of Egypt which, when she found it was under water (Abraham 1:24);
  • She settled her sons in the land of Egypt (Abraham 1:24);
  • Her oldest son was named Pharaoh and he established the first government in Egypt. He "... being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam... " (Abraham 1:26)
  • Pharaoh had been blessed by Noah "with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom." Yet because he was from Ham's lineage he was cursed "as pertaining to the Priesthood" and did not have the right to claim any priesthood authority (Abraham 1:26).
Speculations About Them:
  • It is important to note that whenever the scriptures speak of a "curse" upon the lineage of Ham they do not refer to skin color or to race. We don't fully understand the circumstances that surrounded the story of Noah's drunkenness and Ham's subsequent punishment. It is likely that the garment referred to in the Genesis account had special religious significance and represented Noah's priesthood authority. Apparently Ham did something significantly wicked by seeing "the nakedness of his father" that he lost his right to hold and administer the priesthood as did his posterity (source). When the scriptures speak of the "curse of Ham" they are referring to Ham's lineage being unable to administer the Priesthood, and not a specific skin color or race.
  • Three of Joseph Smith's 1835 pre-publication manuscript of the Book of Abraham show that the name "Egyptus" was first translated as "Zeptah". (source) This name is interesting because in Egyptian Zeptah can be translated as "Daughter- of- Ptah", Ptah being the Egyptian name for Noah. If this name was correct then it would make Egyptus (D) the equivalent of Hathor the Egyptian goddess of love, beauty, music, motherhood, childbirth, and joy, who was said to be the daughter of "Ptah" (Noah) and was also the mother of Re, the first King of Egypt (source). Many of the stories of Hathor are remarkably similar to the story of Egyptus and it is very probable that the deity of Hathor evolved from her story. The picture at the right is an illustration of how Hathor, she was commonly portrayed as a cow (thus the horns).
My Thoughts:

The story of Eygptus has fascinated me for a long time. First, I think it is awesome that we know the name of ONE of the four women who were aboard the ark! That is something we don't often mention. Also, I have a soft spot in my heart for Egyptian history. I had a teacher in Middle School who loved Egypt and I've been fascinated by it ever since. Yet, I'd never spent the time to dig deeper into the Egyptus story until recently. When I started to do research I discovered that it was much more complicated than I realized. So for a better understanding I turned to the writing of Hugh Nibley, a world famous scholar of ancient scripture. I have to admit that I really only understood about a third of what he said, but what I did understand I found fascinating.

The first thing that I gleaned from him were the similarities between the story of Egyptus (D) as told in the Book of Abraham and the story of the Egyptian Goddess Hathor. I won't dive into all the details Hugh Nibley gave (which you can read here if you are motivated) but basically their two stories are pretty much the same. It was really fascinating to me discover that the Egyptian Goddess was modeled off of a real woman. I love to find those moments when history and scripture merge and support each other!

The other interesting thing that I discovered in Hugh Nibley's writings has to do with "Facsimile 3" from the Book of Abraham (pictured below).

Fascimile 3 from The Book of Abraham

Before I start explaining how this facsimile relates to the story of Egytptus I am going to give you the opportunity to feel like a real Egyptologist. First, without opening your Pearl of Great Price and reading the description of the facsimile I want you to take a good look at the picture above and see if you can identify, based on their dress and body shape, which two characters are female.

Did you do it?

Okay, now I want you to scroll up to the picture I posted of Hathor (in the "Speculations About Them" section) take a good look at how she is dressed and then scroll back down and look at the facsimile. Can you figure out which one is Hathor?

Pretty obvious right? It is figure #2... the cow horn head dress sort of gives it away. The other figure that is obviously female is figure #4.

This is where things start to get interesting, because in Joseph Smith's translation of the facsimile he tells us that the man sitting on the throne is Abraham who is dressed in the power of the priesthood. Then Joseph specifies figure #2 as being "King Pharaoh" and figure #4 as being "Prince of Pharaoh". This interpretation seems sort of strange, considering that both look female, and makes it appear like Joseph Smith really had no clue what he was talking about when he translated the facsimile. Yet Hugh Nibley explained all this, he said:
"Anyone wishing to demolish Joseph Smith's interpretation of Facsimile 3 with the greatest economy of effort need look no further than his designating as "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh" two figures so obviously female that a three-year-old child will not hesitate to identify them as such. Why then have Egyptologists not simply pointed to this ultimate absurdity and dismissed the case? Can it be that there is something peculiarly Egyptian about this strange waywardness that represents human beings as gods and men as women?... The two ladies in the Facsimile, figures 2 and 4, will be readily identified by any novice as the goddesses Hathor and Maat. They seem indispensable to scenes having to do with the transmission of power and authority. The spectacle of men, kings, and princes at that, dressed as women, calls for a brief notice on the fundamental issue peculiar to the Egyptians and the Book of Abraham, namely, the tension between the claims of patriarchal vs. matriarchal succession."( From "A Pioneer Mother" in Abraham in Egypt)
The two figures in the facsimile labeled "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh" are in fact males dressed as female figures. They are depicted this way to portrays the general confusion that Egyptians had about the patriarchal order and the tension between patriarchy and matriarchy in their society. In the Book of Abraham Abraham explains that the Egyptians came through the line of Ham, who for reasons we don't understand lost the privilege to bear and administer the priesthood. The first Pharaoh, the son of Egyptus, understood and respected this. He didn't try to take the Priesthood upon himself or to administer that which he did not have. Yet he was a righteous man and wanted his kingdom to be patterned after the manner of God. So he established a patriarchal order, patterned after Adam's, so that he might rule righteously. Yet Abraham tells us that later Pharaoh's of Egypt didn't understand this and tried to claim priesthood authority, that they didn't have, through the line of Ham and Egyptus and that they were "led away by their idolatry" (Abraham 1:27).

This is why Pharaoh is dressed like Hathor (ie. Egyptus) and the Prince of Pharaoh like another female deity in Facsimile #3. They knew that through Egyptus (D) they had access to the lineage of Ham, and thus the lineage of Noah and the priesthood, and they were trying to claim it through her. Hugh Nibley suggests that what the facsimile is trying to teach is that unlike Abraham--who in the facsimile is adorned like Osiris ( the highest Egyptian God) and is wearing a crown representing the priesthood and holding the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand-- the Pharoah and his son were lacking any real power or right to the priesthood.

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

I won't pretend and say that I really understand all of this. I am no scholar of ancient scripture and reading Hugh Nibley often makes me feel like I am reading a foreign language. Yet it is always so exciting to me to discover a new layer to the scriptures... especially the story of a woman from the scriptures!

Questions to Think About:
  • It is extremely rare for a country to be named after a woman. Usually countries are/were named after the person who discovered them and it is very rare that women are ever in a position to discover a new land. How do you think Egyptus (D) discovered Egypt? Why would she have been out exploring (or wandering) on her own? Why would she have settled her sons in a new land? Where was her husband?
  • Why do you think it is that throughout history not all of God's people have been able to hold the priesthood? For example, in the Old Testament only the Levites were able to hold and administer it. In the New Testament the Gentiles were not allowed to have it at first and even in our modern day it hasn't been until the last 30 years that all men ,regardless of race, have been able to hold the priesthood. Why do you think this is?
  • There are lots of things we don't know about the stories of Egyptus (W) and Egyptus (D). What sort of things would you like to know about them? What would you ask them if you got to chat with one of them for awhile?


  1. That is very fascinating! I too adore Eygpt and all its splendor and mythology...especially in the scriptures. I'll have to check Hugh Nibley out.

  2. My institute teacher in my post-high school years showed us several Egyptian paintings about death and the "afterlife" that were very similar to temple ceremonies. He never went into WHY they were so similar, but this history of Egypt makes SO MUCH SENSE now.

    My husband and I had a fascinating conversation about creation and evolution the other night, and one thing I said to him was that when something doesn't make sense to me I don't try to pretend to know why I just trust that God had a reason, and that He knows how it works, and that if I am righteous enough and study enough and prepare my heart enough, then some day He may reveal some of those reasons to me. The Priesthood is one that I haven't really been able to figure out. I have a few good ideas about the most recent issue with the Priesthood. The Old Testament still confuses the snot out of me, and why Ham couldn't have the Priesthood? No clue. But I trust that as I keep learning and if I keep having faith, some day Heavenly Father will let me know. :)

    Thanks for providing such thought provoking material and questions. This will surely be on my mind for a while.

  3. I agree with Becca --the Old Testament confuses the snot out of me, too! :)

    This was incredibly fascinating. I love history and learning about WHY things happened almost as much or more than WHAT happened. Motive is always a question for me --was it because of culture? Religion? Government? Social pressure? What was in their hearts and minds that would lead them to such-and-such decision?

    Thank you --again --for such awesome insight into the scriptures. Made my day!

  4. Interesting stuff. Those layers in the facsimile are just one more testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet, he didn't have access to the kind of education that Hugh Nibley did, how else could he have known?

    I had NO idea that Egypt came from Egyptus. Cool!

  5. Epgyptian history is so much a part of the history of God's people. A few months ago it was brought to my attention how much happened there. Abraham and Sarah lived there for a while, Joseph lived there, his whole family moved there eventually, many generations of Isrealites lived there, Moses was born there and raised by Egyptians. Even our Savior spent many of his formative years there after fleeing Herod. There is so much more to Egypt than many of us realize. I am sure there are other that I can't think of as well. I think this is why so many people, myself included, have a facination with it.

  6. This is so fascinating! We just read that chapter in Abraham as we've been studying Ancient Egypt in our homeschool this fall. (Revealed scripture adds a whole new dimension to the study of world history I might add!) There are so many things I'd like to know about these two ladies and the history of ancient Egypt.

    I've been listening to a lecture series on Ancient Egypt from the Teaching Company and I'm loving it! In a recent lecture, the lecturer said that women had a lot of power in Egypt and said that marrying the right woman (a daughter of pharaoh) was more important for securing your claim to the throne than being a son of the pharaoh was. It didn't matter so much who you were, but who your wife was. It's so very very interesting.

  7. Kellie, I love your insights about All the important things that hapened in Egypt. I had not really thought about i before but it really was quite the important place.

    Cellista, it was really fascinating to read hugh nibley's article and to see how Women were almost always the ones who transfered the power, and like you said it was the matriarcal lineage that mattered, probably because of the whole Egyptus story. I wish I understood it better, but it has certainly made me excited to research it and learn more.

  8. I found this so interesting and insightful, I can't wait to read High Nibley's article.

    It's interesting to me that the matriarchal lineage seems to be something that the Israelites took with them as they left Egypt, or held onto in some way, as the Jewish faith is still matriarchal. I've always wondered why, but maybe it stems from their long exposure to the Egyptians.

    I really appreciate you researching and sharing.

  9. Really fascinating. I definitely need to dig more into this!

  10. I was excited to see this post. We are reading the Old Testament in Institute and briefly touched on Egyptus. I had actually searched your archives a couple weeks ago and was sad you didn't have anything about her. Thanks for your additional insights.

  11. You know what's crazy? The Greeks have a myth about this too. The myth of Io. Io was a nymph who was impregnated by Zeus. To protect Io from his jealous wife, Hera, Zeus transformed Io into a white heifer. A cow! But Hera wasn't fooled, so she sent a gadfly to chase Io the cow. This gadfly chased Io all the way to Egypt, where she finally escaped. Io had a son named Epaphus, who became King of Egypt.

  12. One of your questions was why was the priesthood only given to certain people throughout history at times. I do know why the Levites were the only ones allowed to operate the Aronic or Levitical priesthood. According to Cleon Skousen, in his book the Third Thousand Years, when Moses was on the mount speaking with God and receiving instructions for the Children of Israel, God told Moses that the children of Israel were doing something blasphemous and to get off the mountain and go down there. Moses went down with what he had received thus far, and when he saw them worshiping the golden calf, he grew angry and broke those tablets. It was at this moment that a line was basically drawn into the sand, and the people with the exception the Levites refused to see they did anything wrong or to repent and say this is wrong. Because of this the Levites were the only ones blessed with the power and Authority to use the Aronic Priesthood. It was after this time, that Moses went back to the mount and received the 10 commandments, and they were given the laws of obedience, to teach them the rhythm of obedience. Its why they were only allowed to take so many steps or do certain things a certain way.

    I can't really speak for other times but it seems to me at least from the pattern so far that when there is a curse placed on a people based on something they have done to offend God, they are stripped of the priesthood.

  13. Great info. I had been unaware of the similarity with Hathor, nor of how that informs the interpretation of Facsimile 3 as undermining the Pharoahs' claims to authority.

    Just so you know, we can't be sure there are two Egyptuses. It's equally possible to read the passage as only calling one of the women Egyptus (if we take "daughter of Ham" to mean "descendant of Ham"). Thus, your Egyptus (W) would actually be an unnamed woman, and Egyptus (D) would be the only person named Egyptus in the scriptures.