The Ritual Embrace
Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975], 242.)
7. Royal: The climax and culmination of the Coronation rites was a ritual embrace of father and son designated as skhn, the word becoming a terminus technicus for the Coronation itself (J. Bergman, Isis, p. 94, n. 5). While Moret prefers to retain the basic meaning of "embracing," E. Anderson rendered the plural form skhn.w as "enthronement," "installation," and even simply as "throne" (Sphinx, 11:26f). The skhn-rite was taken over from the Coronation into the funerary rites, but in either sphere it deals with the embracing of an other-worldly father (Wb III, 469: 11-12; Bergman, loc. cit.). The word khtp also designates the ritual embrace, and in the Book of the Dead 17:41-46, we see it transferred from the realm of the coronation and other rites of renewal to the funerary sphere, according to Moret, the King, the god, and the dead all receiving the ritual khtp-embrace at the moment of passing to their greatest glory (Moret, Sphinx, 11:28f).
(click here to view reliefs of the ritual embrace and related topics and scriptures)
In the tomb of Haremheb, a commoner who became king, we read: "This noble god Horus of Hnes, his heart desired to establish his son upon his eternal throne." So he took him into his embrace and then conducted him to the jpt sshat (secret compartment), in order to introduce him into the presence of Amon, for handing over to him the office of his kingship, and for establishing his period of life (Gardiner, JEA, 39:15). This is called "the golden embrace of the King by the God" [as Ptah-Sokar the Creator] (Bergman, Isis, p. 119, n. 2; Frankfort, Kingship, pp. 46, 135).
A. Rusch designated the embracing-rite found in the Pyramid Texts as an "Anerkennungslitanei" or rite of recognition, because by being hugged in his arms the new king was recognized by this predecessor, the old king (represented by a priest as proxy), as his son, while at the same time he recognized the other as his father (A. Rusch, ZA, 60:32f). The key to kingship is legitimacy, and this was the act by which it was established and kingship was transmitted from one generation to another, from an Osiris to a Horus (Frankfort, Bibl. Or., X, 1953, p. 160). Originally, according to Otto, the Sm-priest representing the Son recited: "I have come seeking (skhn) for thee ... I am thy beloved Son!" The word for "seeking," m skhn, also means "embrace" and is a code word designating the search for Osiris in the Pyr. 1033, 1280, 1539, 1860, but it also acquired the sense of "in thine embrace" (m skhn.k), that is, by the embrace the Son is recognized as legitimate (E. Otto, Mundön., II, 65f, Sc. 14). The rites of the Shabako Stone, the oldest document of all, conclude with a line declaring that the candidate to the throne has reached his great objective: "his Son appeared as King of Upper Egypt, he appeared as king of Lower Egypt, in the arms of his Father Osiris, in the midst of the gods...." Likewise in the Opening of the Mouth rite the ritual embrace of Father and Son is the final scene (Otto, Mundön., II, 169). "In the last picture of the series" of Opening-of-the-Mouth scenes in the tomb of Tutak-hamen, "the dead king and the god Osiris embrace each other..." (S. Bjerke, in Numen, 12:215).
In the Pyramid Texts, the father is usually Atum: "Thou hast become (king), thou hast been exalted; it is agreeable to thee, it is cool in the embrace of thy father Atum, within his embrace. Atum, let NN (the candidate at this early time always the King) enter into thine embrace, enfold him in thine arms, for he is the son of thy body even to eternity" (Pyr. 222, 212a-213b; Sethe, I, pp. 54, 161f). Rusch collected many examples of the royal Embracing Rite, which was also a "Recognition Rite," the "Horus Ritual" by which the Father recognized the Son (ZA, 60:29-34). At the coronation of Rameses II "we see the young king being led into the presence of Atum by Horus and another deity," and then "Rameses standing, being embraced by Atum, who is enthroned" (A. W. Shorter, JEA, 20:18). At the moment of succession "Horus appears in the arms of his father Osiris" (Frankfort, Kingship, p. 101), which is the climax of "the Mystery Play of the Succession" (ibid., Ch. XI, pp. 123ff).
"The embracing (skhn) of the king by the god is the definitive consecration" of the new king, who at that moment alone becomes fully consecrated, crowned and sanctified, according to Moret (Royauté, pp. 100ff; Culte, p. 100, n. 4). Before becoming a king, however, he must first become a priest, and for that also he must be "purified with divine water, receive a garment, be crowned and led into the sanctuary to receive the embrace of the god, the head of the Temple" (Royauté, pp. 218-21). In the final scene of the Opening of the Mouth "the statue rests in the chapel as Horus in the arms of his Father," where the statue is Horus, the chapel is Osiris, and its door the door of life (Otto, Mundön., II, 169). The cosmic implications of the scene are recalled in C.T. 80 (II, 40-41): "He placed me upon his neck; he would not let me depart from him. My name lives: Son of the Primordial God. I live in the members of my father Atum; I am the living one upon his neck.... he sent me down to this earth even to the Isle of Flame when my name became Osiris, son of Geb.... My father Atum embraced me (sn.wy) when he came from the horizon of the East; his heart was pleased at seeing me...."
One of the most puzzling episodes in the Bible has always been the story of Jacob's wrestling with the Lord. When one considers that the word conventionally translated by "wrestled" (yeaveq) can just as well mean "embrace," and that it was in this ritual embrace that Jacob received a new name and the bestowal of priestly and kingly power at sunrise (Gen. 32:24ff), the parallel to the Egyptian coronation embrace becomes at once apparent.
One retained his identity after the ritual embrace, yet that embrace was nothing less than a "Wesensverschmelzung," a fusing of identities, of mortal with immortal, of father with son, and as such marked "the highpoint of the whole mystery-drama" (Spiegel, An. Serv., 53:392). "Osiris came to Mendes," says the important 17th Chapter of the Book of the Dead, "and found there the soul of Re. Thereupon they embraced each other, and from that arose Harendotes and Horus"; meaning, as Grapow noted, that "out of the embracing of Mendes and Re a new being comes into existence," though Grapow confessed himself at a loss to explain the meaning of the "saga" (Grapow, Kap. 17 des Tb., p. 13). The ritual embrace, Frankfort observes, was "no mere sign of affection, but a true fusion, a communion between two living spirits, unio mystica" (Frankfort, Kingship, pp. 134-35). When Horus is embraced by his father, Osiris, he becomes a new being, a savior, "that Re might look upon him as Wen-nefer (the Benefactor); whereupon the two embrace each other" (Grapow, loc. cit.). "Come to meet your Father who is in me," says a Coffin Text. "Give me your arms ... I am he who created you, as one created by your Father Atum when I was resting above the pillars of heaven" (Shw, C.T. 76, II, 1-2). This is the familiar "recognition" motif with its frequent fusion of personalities: "I go to meet my Image," says the Ginza, "and my image goes to meet me. It fondles and embraces me, as if I had returned from captivity" (Lidzbarski, Ginza, p. 559). The concept both encouraged and was encouraged by the use of images. When, for example, Horus the Behdetite wanted to visit one of his shrines, he would do so by embracing—fusing with—his image in that place and thereby identify himself with his visible presence in the temple for the length of his sojourn (C. de Wit, Chron. d'Eg., 36:80-81).
Such an embrace, whether of a statue or a living substitute, was a symbol of "indissoluble togetherness," according to Otto (Or., 17:451), signifying "a direct and enduring relationship between God and Man, the actual joining of the two" (ibid., p. 459; Ranke, MDIAK, XII, 111f).
Its most impressive symbol is the Ka-sign itself, whose upraised arms signify the act of calling upon God, of praising him in the rising Sun, of receiving his protection, and of fusion with his being. "O Atum-Khoprer ... you set your arms about them [the first parents of the human race] as the arms of a ka-symbol, that your essence might be in them. O Atum, set your arms about the King ... and about this Pyramid as the arms of a ka-symbol, that the King's essence may be in it, enduring forever" (Pyr. 600:1653 in Faulkner; cf. J. Zandee, ZA, 99:51f). "O Atum, place thy two hands behind N, that his ka may live forever! O Atum, make the dhn-gesture for N, protect him ..." (G. Lefebure, An. Serv., 20:217), where "the dhn is really the holding out of the hands accompanying the formulas" (loc. cit.). So also, "Maat ... has placed her arms around thee, thy Ka is in her ... and she has made thee to come into being with the Ka of all the gods" (Budge, O.M., I, 215). It is the embrace which transfers vital power, his Ka, from the god to the king (S. Bjerke, Numen, 12:215). The heavy collar and counter-weight worn by all the shrouded figures is the symbol of a divine embrace, whereby the soul of the god (e.g., Re, Atum) unites with that of the embraced one as a Ka (Budge, O.M., I, 102-104). An Amarna inscription reads, "Let my eye see him, my ear hear his voice, while his Ka is face-to-face with me (m bah.y) continually." And again, addressing Ptah: "Place me before thee, with thy Ka facing me and mine eyes beholding thy beauty" (Otto, Or., 17:452). By the same means the dead becomes reunited with his own Ka, thus achieving eternal life: "O King, the arm of your Ka is in front of you! O King, the arm of your Ka is behind you! O King, the foot of your Ka is in front of you! O King, the foot of your Ka is behind you!" (Pyr. 25:18; Otto, p. 450). Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975], 242.)
See Vignettes of the Egyptian Ritual Embrace.
The Embrace and the Atonement
Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, edited by Don E. Norton [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989], 562.)
The Word and the Deed
People are usually surprised to learn that atonement, an accepted theological term, is neither from a Greek nor a Latin word, but is good old English and really does mean, when we write it out, at-one-ment, denoting both a state of being "at one" with another and the process by which that end is achieved. The word atonement appears only once in the New Testament (Romans 5:11 in the King James Version), and in the Revised Standard Version it does not appear at all, since the new translation prefers the more familiar word "reconciliation." Paul has just told us that the Lord "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High," so reconciliation is a very good word for atonement there, since it means literally to be seated again with someone (re-con-silio)—so that atonement is to be reunited with God.
The Greek word translated as "reconciliation" is katallagein. That is a business term which the Greek-English Lexicon tells us means "exchange, esp. of money; . . . change from enmity to friendship, reconciliation; . . . reconciliation of sinners with God." fn It is the return to the status ante quo, whether as a making of peace or a settlement of debt. The monetary metaphor is by far the commonest, being the simplest and easiest to understand. Hence, frequently the word redemption literally means to buy back, that is, to reacquire something you owned previously. Thus Moses: "But because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh" (Deuteronomy 7:8). Redemption, or atonement, restores one to a former, happier condition. "And what one nation in the earth is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for you great things and terrible, for thy land, before thy people, which thou redeemest to thee from Egypt, from the nations and their gods?" (2 Samuel 7:23).
By redemption, someone has paid a price to get you off, but the frequent use of the commercial analogy is not out of reverence for trade and commerce but the opposite. The redeemed are bought to clear them of all worldly obligation by paying off the world in its own currency, after which it has no further claim on the redeemed: "And the child of eight days shall be circumcised for you, every male through your generations, born of a house or a purchase of silver of any outsider who is not of thy seed. He must certainly be circumcised, born of your house, or bought with your silver; and it shall be my covenant in [among or with] thy flesh for an everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:12-13). All the newborn are taken into the family, which is united by an eternal covenant by the token shedding of blood (circumcision) to become the seed of Abraham—this is a real at—one-ment. The Greek equivalent is lytrosis, a ransoming. Paul tells the saints to prepare for the salvation that has been made available by disengaging from this world—"denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world"—so that God "might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people" (Titus 2:12, 14). Salvation is likewise rescue (soteria), also rendered deliverance. Another expression is "for a price," the word being time, "that which is paid in token or worth of value." He paid for us what he thought we were worth so he could join us with him. In his letter to the Ephesians, the proposition reads like a business agreement, not binding but releasing: "In whom we have bail (apolytrosin—our release pending the judgment) through his blood, the pardoning (aphesin, setting-aside) of misdemeanors (paraptomaton, blunder, trespass) on consideration of the riches (ploutos) of his generosity (charitos), which he has bestowed upon us in all wisdom and understanding (phronesei) (Ephesians 1:7—8). Next Paul tells us that it was all the Savior's idea, "that in the economy (oikonomia) of the fullness of times the whole thing might be brought together again in Christ (anakephalaiosasthai)—things in the heavens and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:9-10). A great at-one-ment indeed! Meanwhile Paul counsels the saints, "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption (bought free, apolytroseos)," and to be united in love, "forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:30, 32). So when the scriptures speak of atonement, it is always re-conciliation, redemption, re-surrection, re-lease, salvation, and so on. All refer to a return to a former state. This is even more vividly and concretely expressed in the Hebrew terminology.
In Semitic languages, where one root can have many meanings, the first rule is always to look for the basic or literal of the word, which in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic usually takes us back to early days and simple homely affairs of life in the desert or the countryside. One simple physical act often triggers a long line of derivatives, meanings that are perfectly reasonable if one takes the most obvious steps from one to the next, but which can end up miles from the starting place. The basic word for is kaphar, which has the same basic in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic, that being "to bend, arch over, cover; . . . to deny, . . . to forgive, . . . to be expiated, . . . renounce." fn The Arabic kafara puts the emphasis on a tight squeeze, such as tucking in the skirts, drawing a thing close to one's self. Closely related are Aramaic fn and Arabic kafat, fn a close embrace, which are certainly related to the Egyptian hpet, fn the common ritual embrace written with the ideogram of embracing arms. It may be cognate with the Latin capto, fn and from it comes the Persian kaftan, fn a monk's robe and hood completely embracing the body. Most interesting is the Arabic kafata, fn as it is the key to a dramatic situation.
It was the custom for one fleeing for his life in the desert to seek protection in the tent of a great sheik, crying out, "Ana dakhiluka," meaning "I am thy suppliant," whereupon the Lord would place the hem of his robe over the guest's shoulder and declare him under his protection. In the Book of Mormon, we see this world as a plain, a dark and dreary waste, a desert. We see Nephi fleeing from an evil thing that is pursuing him. In great danger, he prays the Lord to give him an open road in the low way, to block his pursuers, and to make them stumble. He comes to the tent of the Lord and enters as a suppliant; and in reply, the Master, as was the ancient custom, puts the hem of his robe protectively over the kneeling man's shoulder (katafa). This puts him under the Lord's protection from all enemies. They embrace in a close hug, as Arab chiefs still do; the Lord makes a place for him and invites him to sit down beside him—they are at—one (2 Nephi 4:33; Alma 5:24).
This is the imagery of the Atonement, the embrace: "The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love" (2 Nephi 1:15). "O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies!" (2 Nephi 4:33). "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you" (Alma 5:33).
This is the hpet, the ritual embrace that consummates the final escape from death in the Egyptian funerary texts and reliefs, where the son Horus is received into the arms of his father Osiris. There is a story confirmed by the recently discovered Apocryphon of John in which Jesus and John the Baptist meet as little children, rush into each other's arms and fuse into one person, becoming perfectly "at-one." fn
In Israel when the sacrifices and sin offerings were completed on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest went to the door of the kapporeth to receive assurance from the Lord within that he had accepted the offerings and repentance of the people and forgiven them their sins: "At the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord: where I will meet you, to speak there unto thee" (Exodus 29:42). The kapporeth is usually assumed to be the lid of the Ark, yet it fits much better with the front, since one stands before it. fn The Septuagint, a much older text, tells us more: I will meet you at the "door of the tent of the testimony in the presence of the Lord, on which occasion I shall make myself known to you that I might converse with you" (Exodus 29:42).
We get the situation in Luke when Zacharias, a direct descendent of Aaron (as was also his wife), entered behind the veil into the Holy of Holies (naon tou kuriou, the skene or tent of the Old Testament) while people waited on the outside (Luke 1:9-10). He did not meet the Lord but his personal representative, a messenger of the Lord standing beside the altar (Luke 1:11), who identified himself as "Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, sent down to converse with thee and to tell thee the good news" (Luke 1:19). The news was about a great at-one-ment about to take place in which the children would "turn to the Lord their God" while the hearts of the fathers would be "turned again (epistrepsai) to the children, the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:16-17). It is all a preparation for a great bringing together again through the office of baptism after they had been separated by the Fall. "I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation and . . . Aaron and his sons, . . . and I will dwell among the children of Israel, and be their God" (Exodus 29:44-45). They will all be one happy family forever. It is understandable that the kapporeth should be called the mercy seat, where man is reconciled at-one with God on the Day of Atonement: "And after the second veil, the tabernacle [succoth, booth, tent] which is called the Holiest . . . [contained] the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly." Thus Paul to the Hebrews (Hebrews 9:3, 5).
Commenting on the ancient synagogue at Beth Alpha in Palestine, Goodenough notes, "The scene as designed shows the curtains drawn back at either side to disclose the objects behind them." The custom has persisted: "In a synagogue the Torah shrine is still properly concealed by a curtain, but these curtains in the mosaic are not especially connected with the shrine: they serve when drawn to open up a whole stage, a whole world. . . . So the curtains have taken the place of the old carved screen which seems to us to separate the world of man from heaven. . . . Only the few were allowed to penetrate to the adyton behind. . . . The sense of distinction between the earthly and heavenly [was] still kept." Even more important than the idea that the veil introduces us into another realm is that "the curtains have also the value of suggesting the curtain in the Temple which separated the sanctuary from the world of ordinary life." fn
And where does the Atonement motif come in? In a stock presentation found in early Jewish synagogues as well as on very early Christian murals, "the hand of God is represented, but could not be called that explicitly, and instead of the heavenly utterance, the bath kol [echo, distant voice, whisper] is given." fn From the hand "radiate beams of light." fn "To show the hand and light thus emerging from central darkness," writes Goodenough, "is as near as one could come in conservative Judaism to depicting God himself." fn In early Christian representations the hand of God reaching through the veil is grasped by the initiate or human spirit who is being caught up into the presence of the Lord. fn
Philo of Alexandria, who for all his philosophizing had a thorough knowledge of Jewish customs, compares all the hangings of the tabernacle with the main veil: "But in a sense the curtains also are veils, not only because they cover the roof and walls but also because they are woven of the same kinds of material. . . . And what [Moses] calls the 'covering' [kalumma] was also made with the same materials as the veil, . . . placed . . . so that no unconsecrated person should get even a distant view of the holy precincts." fn The material makes it the cosmic veil, the four colors being "equal in number to the elements . . . out of which the earth was made, and with a definite relation to those elements. . . . For it was necessary that in framing the temple of man's making, dedicated to the Father and Ruler of All, he should take substances like those with which that Ruler made the All. The tabernacle, then, was constructed to resemble a sacred temple in the way described." fn
Temple and Atonement
The word atonement appears only once in the New Testament, but 127 times in the Old Testament. The reason for this is apparent when we note that of the 127 times, all but 5 occur in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, where they explicitly describe the original rites of the tabernacle or temple on the Day of Atonement; moreover the sole appearance of the word in the New Testament is in the epistle to the Hebrews, explaining how those very rites are to be interpreted since the coming of Christ. In the other Standard Works of the Church, atonement (including related terms atone, atoned, atoneth, atoning) appears 44 times, but only 3 times in the Doctrine and Covenants, and twice in the Pearl of Great Price. The other 39 times are all in the Book of Mormon. This puts the Book of Mormon in the milieu of the old Hebrew rites before the destruction of Solomon's Temple, for after that the Ark and the covering (kapporeth) no longer existed, but the Holy of Holies was still called the bait ha-kapporeth. The loss of the old ceremonies occurred shortly after Lehi left Jerusalem. "As long as the Temple stood," we read in the Talmud, "the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man's table atones for him." fn Thus the ordinances of atonement were, after Lehi's day, supplanted by allegory. Let us recall that Lehi and his people who left Jerusalem in the very last days of Solomon's temple were zealous in erecting altars of sacrifice and building temples of their own. It has often been claimed that the Book of Mormon cannot contain the "fullness of the gospel," since it does not have temple ordinances. As a matter of fact they are everywhere in the book if we know where to look for them, and the dozen or so discourses on the Atonement in the Book of Mormon are replete with temple imagery.
From all the meanings of kaphar and kippurim, we concluded that the literal of kaphar and kippurim is a close and intimate embrace, which took place at the kapporeth or the front cover or flap of the tabernacle or tent. The Book of Mormon instances are quite clear, for example, "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you" (Alma 5:33). "But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love" (2 Nephi 1:15). To be redeemed is to be atoned. From this it should be clear what kind of oneness is meant by the —it is being received in a close embrace of the prodigal son, expressing not only forgiveness but oneness of heart and mind that amounts to identity, like a literal family identity as John sets it forth so vividly in chapters 14 through 17 of his Gospel (see below). Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, edited by Don E. Norton [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1989], 567 - 568.)