So I decided to read Robert Ritner’s “The Breathing of Hor among the Joseph Smith Papyri,”  for reasons I’ll discuss below. Wow. Where do I begin? As I’ve mentioned several times, I’m working on late Neoplatonic influence on early Mormonism and the primary innovations that the late Neoplatonists made to Neoplatonism was theurgy. To learn theurgy, Iamblichus spent considerable time studying in Egypt; Egyptians ritual played a significant role in Imablichus’s ritual theology. In fact, Iamblichus wrote his De Mysteriis (the principal exposition on theurgy) as “Master Abamon,” an Egyptian priest.
So I was particularly intrigued when I came across Algis Uzadavinys’s Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity, which argues that the theology behind theurgy was fundamentally based on the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Uzdavinys argues in a nutshell that Egyptian theology was one of pre-mortal souls coming to earth, overcoming sin and then ascending back to the gods after death, to become gods themselves. Uzdavinys argues that Plato took these concepts and “philosophized” them, replacing the Egyptian gods with terms like “the good” and “the forms.” Iamblichus, argues Uzandavinys, after extensive study in Egypt, brought the gods back to Platonism with theurgy. So if Uzandavinys and I are correct, (why not?) then when Smith acquired the Breathings of Hor, he acquired a sort of Ur text behind the whole operation.
Reading the Breathings of Hor thus was quite an experience. It’s description of the departed soul undergoing ritual purification and then progressing back to the gods and becoming deified himself sounded quite familiar both in terms of Mormon and Neoplatonic theology. Here’s paragraph 5: “You shall not be turned away from the doors of the Underworld. Thoth, the Thrice Greatest, Lord of Hermopolis, has come to you. He has written for you a Breathing Document with his own fingers, so that your ba-spirit may breathe forever, and that you might regain the form that you had on earth among the living, since you are divine together with the ba-spirits of the gods. Your heart is the heart of Re; your flesh is the flesh of the great god.” .
Most interesting is how Ritner interprets facsimile 3. Instead of Abraham lecturing on astronomy, it’s actually the initiate entering the presence of Osiris sitting on his throne. “Having attained justification,” explains Ritner “the deified Hor is brought by Maat and Anubis before the altar of the enthroned Osiris, behind whom stands Isis.” Cool, totally looks like the temple, go take a look. That is, after undergoing ritual purification and various stages of progression, Hor is led into the presence of Osiris. They’re even wearing ritual-looking aprons. In sum, Ritner declares, “The text is a formal document or ‘permit’ created by Isis and copied by Thoth to assure that the deified Hor regains the ability to breathe and function after death, with full mobility, access to offerings, and all other privileges of the immortal gods. The implications, basic symbolism, and intent of the text are certain.”  Ironically, Ritner’s translation looks considerably more “Mormon” than does Joseph Smith’s “translation.”
It’s curious that it took Joseph Smith so long to translate the Book of Abraham (1835-1842) particularly in comparison to how fast he translated the Book of Mormon and the Bible. But what is interesting is the degree to which Smith’s theology aligned with this “Book of the Dead” and late Neoplatonic philosophy in the interim: pre-existence, material God, deification, and ritual enactment of the whole process. The text demands, “Hide it! Hide it! Do not let anyone read it!” The fact that Smith was rather secretive about his own mystery rite… perhaps Smith learned more from the Breathings of Hor than is contained in what he published as the Book of Abraham.
Indeed, this all reminds me of how Sam Brown describes Smith’s translations in his upcoming book. Smith was “translating” all the time, seeing with spiritual eyes what was really supposed to be. Exact, literal translations of ancient texts may not have been the point us such “translation.”
 Robert K. Ritner, “The Breathing of Hor among the Joseph Smith Papyri,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52, no. 3 (2003): 161-180. Ritner is quite critical of Joseph Smith, Hugh Nibley, and John Gee in this article. Apparently there’s been quite a nasty debate over these issues. I confess I’ve read none of it. Indeed I’ve only read one small article by Nibley, his response to Lester Bush–I’ve read nothing by Nibley on these topics.
 The actual title of the text is “the Reply of Master Abamon to the the Letter of Prophyry to Anebo, and the Solutions to the Questions it Contains.” Ficino, the text’s Latin translator entitled it De Mysteriis, On the Mysteries.
 Algis Uzandavinys, Philosophy and Theurgy in Late Antiquity (San Rafel, Calif.: Sophia Perennis, 2010). Sophia Perennis isn’t exactly a university press but the book’s foreword is by John Finnamore an important Neoplatonist scholar and the book is endorsed on the back by John Dillon, probably the leading expert on Neoplatonism. Says Dillon, “In this most stimulating and wide-ranging work, Algis Uzandavinys, drawing on the resources of his enormous learning, leads Neoplatonic theurgy back to its roots in Ancient Egypt, thereby setting Platonic philosophy in a new and wider context. Students of Neoplatonism will find themselves much indebted to him for this, and all readers will find their outlook on life significantly changed.” Quite the endorsement. I haven’t finished the book yet but wanted to put this post up anyway. Perhaps more when I’m done.
 Christian Platonists long asserted that the “ancient wisdom” came to Plato from the Egyptians and to the Egyptians from Moses, Joseph, or Abraham.
 Ritner, 172.
 Ritner, 175.
 Ritner, 177.
 This is not to say that Smith did not interact with these elements from other sources in his environment. It looks to me like Smith put gathered these elements and arranged them in a particular fashion.
 This is not to say that the text of the Book of Abraham isn’t worthwhile. It’s full of interesting stuff. I’ll have some more posts on some interesting things about that text later.