Archive for March, 2018

12
Mar

Hugh Nibley and “It Came to Pass” in Ancient Egyptian

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism

Ramesseum Dramatic Papyrus (British Museum)

It could take a team of dedicated and skilled scholars a decade or longer to track down and analyze the myriad of citations in the publications of Hugh Nibley, the most influential Mormon scholar of the twentieth century. In fact, it would prove to be a frustrating task because it seems that in many cases there are no physical publications behind the citations. An interesting example comes in Nibley’s brief discussion regarding the expression “it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon. Here is the entirety of his comment in his book Since Cumorah, originally published in 1967:

Nothing delighted the critics more than the monotonous repetition of “it came to pass” at the beginning of thousands of sentences in the Book of Mormon. Here again is something that Western tradition found completely unfamiliar. Instead of punctuation, the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon divides up its phrases by introducing each by an “and,” “behold,” “now,” or “It came to pass . . . .” Simply outrageous—as English literature, but it is standard Egyptian practice. Egyptian historical texts, Grapow points out, “begin in monotonous fashion” always with the same stock words; at some periods every speech is introduced with the unnecessary “I opened my mouth.”15 Dramatic texts are held together by the constant repetition of Khpr-n, “It happened that” or “It came to pass.”16 In Egyptian these expressions were not merely adornments, as Grapow points out, they are a grammatical necessity and may not be omitted.17 Paul Humbert has traced the origin of prophetic biblical expressions to archaic oracular formulas.18 At any rate they are much commoner in Egyptian than in the Bible, just as they are much commoner in the Book of Mormon. However bad they are in English, they are nothing to be laughed at as Egyptian.[1]

And here are the endnotes[2] corresponding to the numbers in the above paragraph:

15. Grapow, Das Hieroglyphensystem, 23–25.
16. Ibid., 25.
17. Ibid., 31.
18. Paul Humbert, “Der biblische Verkündigungsstil und seine vermutliche Herkunft,” Archiv für Orientforschung 10 (1935–36): 80.

Nibley cites an author by last name only, Grapow, that we can identify (from another citation later of a different book by him) as Hermann Grapow (1885-1967). In this paragraph, Nibley’s citation is to a book he says had the title Das Hieroglyphensystem; he gives no date or publication information. The book apparently does not exist. I checked several places, such as Worldcat. No one ever cites this book except Nibley and those Mormons who are dependent on him. Grapow was an Egyptologist and did write several books that are known, but this is evidently not one of them.

Now let’s address the substantive issue. Read the rest of this entry »

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