Of Curious Workmanship
by Edgar G. Snow, Jr.
Pearls of Great Price before Swine
[p.19] I recall several activities that kept me awake while being bored in church as a ten-year-old: (1) drawing trucks, tanks, fighter jets, and soldiers on the margins of a sacrament meeting program, (2) rubbing a pencil on the sacrament meeting program placed over the old, embossed, blue hymnal cover to produce a shaded version of the tabernacle organ, (3) flipping with increasing rapidity through a hymnal in which someone had written in pencil at the bottom of many pages “Turn to page [different no. for each page]” in a backward-and-forward searching sequence ending after about five minutes on a page on which that person had written, “Why have you wasted so much time turning these stupid pages when you should have been listening to the speaker?” (4) reading the words to “If You Could Hie to Kolob” [p.20] (which I found with some effort can be sung to the Star Trek theme song), and (5) pondering the Egyptian pictures that adorn the Book of Abraham. It was at this age I decided the Pearl of Great Price was my favorite book of scripture since it was illustrated.
My first reaction to these pictures was that I could draw better than the guy who drew them. I savored this feeling since I thought myself a little superior, something a ten-year-old rarely experiences. In Facsimile No. 1, I puzzled over why Abraham seemed to be dressed in a baseball uniform, especially with batting gloves on. I also wondered why Abraham didn’t just get up and run away—contrary to the picture’s legend, he wasn’t even fastened to the altar. Facsimile No. 3 was equally puzzling. Why were two women, figures 2 and 4, described as men? The signs above the heads of the figures in Facsimile No. 3 also reminded me of space helmets found by Erich von Daniken in other primitive pictures—maybe Egypt had been founded by aliens! And they all wore high-top tennis shoes. I laughed at Olimlah (With a weird horn on his head) doing the hokey-pokey dance with Shulem probably without permission “by the politeness of the king.”
I suffered in silence for many years about my prepubescent concerns with the Book of Abraham pictures but eventually forgot about them until I read some old [p.21] Hugh Nibley articles in The Improvement Era on my mission that gave me some satisfying answers and at least set me straight on Egyptian aesthetic theory. Facsimile No. 2 didn’t really interest me much until I was at BYU where I read Michael Rhodes’s translation of this picture (called a “hypocephalus” (see BYU Studies, Spring 1977) and realized figure 7 was an “ithyphallic” figure (you’ll have to go look up the term as I did and then you’ll probably want to look at figure 7 again as I did). I thought this was interesting. It’s not the type of thing your average gospel doctrine teacher would point out, but if you can be sober-minded for a minute you’ll realize it’s consistent with the blessings of eternal increase, as Joseph Smith points out, although I’d never thought of it being quite so literally depicted. It’s no wonder in one earlier edition (check out the 1960 edition) of the Pearl of Great Price that this picture was “doctored.”
When my kids get bored in church, I think I’ll have to introduce them to the many interesting uses of church hymnals as well as to the curious pictures in the Book of Abraham, except for Facsimile No.2—it’s PG-13. My six-year-old already makes me draw tanks, airplanes, and dinosaurs on the back of church programs.