The Prophet Joseph and Ancient Egypt

I just finished reading Christopher Dunn’s book, “Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt: Advanced Engineering in the Temples of the Pharaohs.” Mr. Dunn is an engineer, I believed retire now, or at least retirement age, who became fascinated early in life with ancient Egypt in particular, but more specifically the stone structures and artifacts that he found there that showed evidence of the ancient Egyptians possessing advanced manufacturing techniques and machining far beyond what many historians and archeologists give them credit for. Mr. Dunn inspected and studied the stone structures and artifacts still present in Egypt, and then, using his background as a manufacturing engineer, theorized on how such structures could have been built and such artifacts formed. His conclusions do not rely on alien visitors from another planet, but on human ingenuity and inspiration beyond which we credit the ancients.  

Without going into the specifics of Mr. Dunn’s work, my interest, as a Latter-day Saint, was drawn to a paragraph in which Mr. Dunn describes the role of temples in the lives of the ancient Egyptians:

Cathedrals, churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are functional structures. Though built as a tribute to a culture’s god or gods, most places of worship are constructed to reflect the highest ideals and skills that humans have reached at that time. Some may argue that in today’s world, those ideals have declined, if we judge by the architecture and building materials that are used in modern buildings and compare them to those used for the monolithic and grand architecture of our ancestors. The temple in ancient Egypt was a functional construction that was probably more a part of the ancient Egyptian’s life than the pyramids. It was a place for the public to interact with its gods, to experience the holy of holies, to become rejuvenated within a structure that people knew had an important message for them on many levels. They interacted with the temple both consciously and subconsciously. Perhaps not knowing all of its mysteries, but gaining insights into a reality that was cosmic in proportion, their minds and consciousness were expanded to embrace their surroundings, as the temple embraced them.

I trust that those familiar with the ideals of temples in the lives of Latter-day Saints will see similarities between what Mr. Dunn states as the role of ancient Egyptian temples for ancient Egyptians to the aspirational goal of Latter-day Saint temples for Latter-day Saints. Both are intended to be functional structures where we as the Creator’s children can interact with and experience divinity, rejuvenate and expand our consciousness of our role within the cosmos.

Joseph Smith, Jr. had more than a passing interest in ancient Egypt in his lifetime. The Book of Mormon was purported to be translated from “reformed Egyptian.” During Joseph’s time as prophet, in the summer of 1835, he purchased four ancient Egyptian mummies that contained wrapped within their linens some papyri, ancient Egyptian writings. Joseph claimed the papyri contained writings of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham and Prophet Joseph while Abraham and Joseph were in Egypt. Modern interpretations and translations of the sections of the documents still intact indicate they are funerary texts, including an example of a Book of Breathing, which when accompanied the deceased were intended to enable them to continue to exist in the afterlife.

For all Joseph’s faults and failings, he sat, like the ancient Egyptians, in amazement at the mysteries of the workings of our Heavenly Father and sought to kindle that curiosity and wonder in others. In 1832, in Section 76 of the Doctrines and Covenants, Joseph records the following vision:

Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, and rejoice ye inhabitants thereof, for the Lord is God, and beside him there is no Savior. Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out. His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand. From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail. For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man. Doctrine & Covenants 76:1-10.

The quote at the beginning of the final chapter of Mr. Dunn’s book is purported to be an ancient Egyptian proverb from the inner wall of an Egyptian temple as recorded by Isha Schwaller de Lubicz in her fictionalized account, Her-Bak: Egyptian Initiate:

Have the wisdom to abandon the values of a time that has passed and pick out the constituents of the future. An environment must be suited to the age and men to their environment.

Our Heavenly Father scatters the puzzle pieces for us to pick up, ponder, and place together. I stand all amazed.