Every now and then, we see or hear a critic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints say that Joseph Smith got nothing right in his explanations for the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham. They do not realize that the explanations of Joseph Smith are not translations, literally rendered, but explain what the function of the figures are for. He described what the story is with the various figures. True he did not translate the crocodile in Facsimile #1 as “Sobek,” but does that mean he was wrong to identify it as “The idolatrous god of Pharaoh?”
When we look at what the Egyptologists and ancient Egyptians taught about Sobek, we are in for a real surprise. It just so happens that Sobek literally is “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh!” Lets consider the Egyptian evidence.
James P. Allen, Curator of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York and Research Associate and Lecturer in Egyptology at Yale University since 1986, shows the crocodile in the “sign list” when it is the determinative, signifies “aggression.” As a doubled sign, the ideologram is “jty” which, interestingly enough, means “sovereign.” Sovereign, according to the “Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology,” comes from the 14th century Old French “so(u)vereinete” meaning “(supreme) ruler.” The old Roman word related to this was “superamus,”
from “super,” which means what is above, “on top of,” “force,” “a very high degree,” “highest,” “in excess,” etc.
Alan Gardner also demonstrated that the crocodile as determinative, can mean “greedy,” “angry,” “to lust after,” “ voracious spirit,” “aggression,” and shows the doubling of the crocodile determinative to mean “sovereign,” as does Allen. Sebek/Sobek is a god, not just some tame animal pet, or a mere impliment to make clothes out of. Raymond O. Faulkner showed examples where the crocodile in Egyptian words also acts like an intransitive verb, meaning “be savage,” and “to be oppressive to.” As a transitive verb, it means “attack,” “aggressive,” and “anger.”
Interestingly, E. A. W. Budge noted that Sobek is also a sacred crocodile, and in fact, also “the Sun-god,” though he puts a question mark after it. This hint is fascinatingly discussed in the Egyptological literature which I will now get to.
Budge taught “that the crocodile, Ibis, dog-headed ape, and fish of various kinds were venerated in Egypt… they were not, however, venerated in dynastic times as animals, but as the abodes of gods… many nations have regarded animals as symbols of gods and divine powers…” They were “worshipped devoutly as a result of abject fear…” Herodotus noted some in Egypt reverence the crocodile, while others do not. Thebes was one place that felt the strongest sanctity toward the crocodile. Herodotus also tells us that it was from Thebes that the two oracles by the women were established in the lands of Greece and Libya. Two black doves flew from Thebes, one of which landed at Dodona in Greece talking in a human voice and told them where it landed was to be an oracle of Zeus, which was interpreted as a command from heaven. The other one was established in Libyan where the oracle of Ammon was established.
John A. Wilson, one of the Egyptologists who translated the Joseph Smith Papyri in 1968, after it was given back to the church in 1967, by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, declared that the sun god Re was not simply a solar disc, but “had a personality as a god.” He enlarged himself when he “loaned himself to other gods… thus he was both Re and Amun-Re, the creator god at Heliopolis. He was Re-Harahte, that is, Re-Horus-of-the-horizon, as the youthful god on the eastern horizon. At various localities he became Montu-Re, a falcon god, Sobek-Re, a crocodile god, and Khnum-Re, a ram god. He became Amun-Re, King of the gods, as the imperial god of Thebes.” The Egyptologist Erik Hornung indicates that Neith was mother to both Sobek and Re, hence her title “Mother of the gods.” So we have established very clearly that the crocodile is one of the Egyptian gods. But can he actually have been “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh” as Joseph Smith said? Absolutely!
It is important to keep in mind that contradictions from our point of view were simply not understood as such in the ancient Egyptian mind. The crocodile “could symbolize not only death and destruction but also solar-oriented life and regeneration, as both appear to be true aspects of the creature’s existence – for despite its fearsome nature, this animal faces the morning sun as though in adoration and hunts the fish which were the mythological enemies of the sun god.” It is interesting too, that “hostile creatures such as the crocodile and hippopotamus are also sometimes represented at very small scale in order to diminish their magical influence.” This is precisely what we find in the Book of Abraham facsimile #1.
Adolf Erman discussed the combining of the gods of the ancient Egyptians, as when Re or Amun or Horus combined with other gods, such as the crocodile. Sobek, we learn further, was also regarded as a creator. And this brings us to one of the most important aspect for Sobek in this study.
The deceased, in some ceremonies, are also identified with Sobek, becoming Sobek! As with Sobek, so with Re, the deceased proclaims in the Coffin Texts, “I have become the essence of Re.” Interestingly, Sobek also becomes Re. Hans Bonnet informs us that “Schon in den Pyramidtexten (507-510) klingt die Gleichung mit dem aufsteigenden Sonnengott an. Trotzdem geht es nicht etwa auf sie zuruck, wenn man seit dem Mittel Reich den Suchos als Suchos-Re mit dem Sonnengotte verschmilzt.” That is, Suchos (the Greek name for Sobek) merges with Re very early on in the Pyramid Texts.
So how does this, though, make Sobek “the idolatrous god of Pharoah”? Because not only did the Ptolemies reverence the crocodile as their ancestor, (als ihren Vorfahren verehren), but “Suchos nimmt also den Konigsgott in sich auf.” “Sobek absorbs the god of the king into himself.” The king, of course, in Egypt, is Pharaoh. On a particular crocodile statue it states that Sobek is a unique friend of Sobek. The Egyptologist Alan Gardner demonstrated that the kings and queens of the XVII dynasty bore the name “Sebekemsat (Sobk is his protection), and this proves that “the crocodile-god was still thought of as somehow connected with the monarchy.” In the earlier XIII dynasty, Gardner noted several kings bore the name “Sbk-htp – Sebkhotep.” The Amherst Papyri “from the Fayyum depicts the crocodile not as Pharaoh but as the god of Pharaoh. According to Bonnet, the submission of Pharaoh to the crocodile down to the latest times is attested by the association of the crocodile with the royal image on the monuments and in annals.” With Sobek absorbing the god of the king into himself, Bonnet says this is why “hymns of praise to the king and his crown can be addressed directly to Sobek – that is, the croc is the god of Pharaoh.” And Suchos is often referred to as a “living image” of Re, in other words, the Ka of Re, the spirit of the sun god Himself! And this agreement (Einigung) with Re for the understanding of Sobek has always remained fundamental (grundlegend).
Sobek has strong ties with Horus the Behdetite, who was Re’s son, which title actually means “He of Crocodilopolis, an epithet of Horus as a crocodile.” In the myth of Horus of Edfu, the dramatic ritual of the play has the king designated as “son of the Victorious Horus,” a ritual re-enactment of when Horus defeated his enemies, the king taking the earthly counterpart of “his divine prototype.” Blackman and Fairman describe the entire process at the end with “the king is stated to be triumphant over his enemies along with Horus the Behdet, Hathor, and Thoth…the King is thus, so to speak, the Alpha and Omega of the whole performance.” Gardner showed how the winged sun disc “represented the king’s actual person… proclaiming its identity with the falcon Horus…the epithet ‘great god’ applied to the Winged Disk at all periods, but it is noteworthy that these words are employed of the living king from the fourth dynasty onwards.” He described that Winged Sun Disk as “a depiction, admittedly highly figurative and syncretistic, of the king himself…Winged Disk and name of the king are so inextricably interconnected and blended that we cannot but regard the symbol as an image of the king himself, though simultaneously also of Re’ and of Horus, all three united into a trinity of solar and kingly dominion.” It is precisely this fusion of Sobek with the Sun Disk which makes the croc the “idolatrous god of Pharaoh”! Bonnet demonstrated that in antiquity this identity with the rising sun-god explains why the Egyptians popularly called Sobek the “living image” of Re’, and in fact, Sobek, along with Pharoah, finally ends up as nothing less than the Universal God. “So wachst Suchos mehr und mehr zum Allgott auf.” Joachim Spiegel showed that not only was the king combined (identifiziert) himself with Horus and Seth, but also with the falcon of heaven (Himmelsfalken), but during the resurrection rites the king was also united with Sobek, who was his “idolatrous god,” “Daneben bevorzugt das Ritual die Gleichsetzung [equated with] des Konigs mit Sobek.” 
Alexander Piankoff summed up the entire purpose of the Her-Ouben Papyrus ritual scenes to teach that death is not the final reality of our existence, but the mysteries and rituals prove that though the sun is swallowed every night by a gigantic snake or crocodile, the dead are reborn as the sun is itself – “pouvait etre sur de renaitre apres la mort comme le soleil lui-meme.” This was one reason that the Egyptians “adored the sacred crocodile,” - “adorant le crocodile sacre.” Sobek, being the “idolatrous god of Pharaoh” was the crocodile, united with the sun-god Re’ and with Re’s son Horus the Behdetite, symbolized by the winged sun disk, which united Lower and Upper Egypt, and encompassed all political and religious power. He goes on his royal progress through the kingdom defeating the enemies of his father, and “embraces (snsn) the images at each of his shrines along the way, revealing his nature as ‘the idolatrous god of Pharaoh.’” The Greeks, Bonnet informs us, “stellen den Suchos schlechthin als Helios mit Strahlenkranz dar und geben ihm ein krokodil als attribute in die Hand,” they made Suchos as Helios with a halo, a crocodile in his hands as his attribute.”
Bonnet indicated that from the 12th to 17th
dynasties, the kings “bevorzugen Namen, die ein Bekenntnis zu Suchos
enthalten,” That is “prefer names that contain a commitment to Suchos.” Nibley
preferred the translation of the German word “Bekenntnis” as “homage,” hence
“homage to the crocodile,” which is, after all, what commitment, a declaration
of peace, a profession of one’s faith, etc., (reading “bekenntnis” in various
contexts of German usage) is. Bonnet showed the overall influence of Sobek
“noch weiter spannt sich der Kreis der Gottheiten, die Suchos an sich zieht,” –
“who further spans the range of deities which attracted Suchos himself.”
Sobek, as “idolatrous god of Pharaoh,” not only was given the image of a
crocodile, but of the falcon, the ram with horns, the sun, and other
attributes, which reflected the human kingly Pharaonic range of his kingdom as
well. This makes perfectly good sense, because the deity who becomes a “universal
deity,” is, of course, going to be the “god of Pharaoh,” for the simple reason
that that is what Pharaoh wanted to rule, the entire world.
Bonnet indicated that from the 12th to 17th dynasties, the kings “bevorzugen Namen, die ein Bekenntnis zu Suchos enthalten,” That is “prefer names that contain a commitment to Suchos.” Nibley preferred the translation of the German word “Bekenntnis” as “homage,” hence “homage to the crocodile,” which is, after all, what commitment, a declaration of peace, a profession of one’s faith, etc., (reading “bekenntnis” in various contexts of German usage) is. Bonnet showed the overall influence of Sobek “noch weiter spannt sich der Kreis der Gottheiten, die Suchos an sich zieht,” – “who further spans the range of deities which attracted Suchos himself.” Sobek, as “idolatrous god of Pharaoh,” not only was given the image of a crocodile, but of the falcon, the ram with horns, the sun, and other attributes, which reflected the human kingly Pharaonic range of his kingdom as well. This makes perfectly good sense, because the deity who becomes a “universal deity,” is, of course, going to be the “god of Pharaoh,” for the simple reason that that is what Pharaoh wanted to rule, the entire world.
Egyptologically, Joseph Smith’s description of the crocodile in facsimile #1 is absolutely precise.
1. James P. Allen, “Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs,” Cambridge University Press, 2001: 433, #3 in the sign list under “Reptiles, Amphibians, and their Parts.”
2. “The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology,” edited by C. T. Onions, Oxford University, Clarendon Press, reprint, 1983:848, 886.
3. Sir Alan Gardner, “Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs,” 3rd edition, revised, Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1994:475, p. 550 in the Egyptian-English Vocabulary; 582, 585, 589, 592.
4. Mark Collier, Bill Manley, “How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs,” University of California Press, 1998: 27.
5. Raymond O. Faulkner, “A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian,” Oxford University Press, reprint, 1964:7.
6. E. A. W. Budge, “An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary,” 2 Vols., Dover, reprint, 1978: Vol. 1, p. cxviii, under “amphibia (reptiles), #7.
7. E. A. W. Budge, “The Gods of the Egyptians,” Dover, 2 Vols., 1969: Vol. 1:2.
8. Budge, “Ibid.,” Vol. 2:354.
9. Herodotus, “The Histories,” translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, Penguin Books, reprint, 1983: Book 2:68, (p.156).
10. Herodotus, “Histories,” Book 2:55, (p. 151).
11. John A. Wilson, “Egypt: The Nature of the Universe,” in “Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man,” Penguin Books, reprint, 1964: 58.
12. Erik Hornung, “Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt: The One and the Many,” translated from the German by John Baines, Cornell University Press, first paperback, 1996: 147.
13. Richard H. Wilkinson, “Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art,” Thames & Hudson, 1994: 8.
14. Wilkinson, “Ibid.,” p. 44. Cf. the interesting discussion in Jeremy Naydler, “Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred,” Inner Traditions, 1996: 244-247.
15. Adolf Erman, “Life in Ancient Egypt,” Dover, 1971:45.
16. Rosemary Clark, “The Sacred Tradition in Ancient Egypt,” Llewellyn Publications, 2004:89.
17. E. A. W. Budge, “Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection,” Dover, 1973, 2 Vols., Vol. 1:127, where we read “…the deceased is made out to be the lord of the great celestial stream… but he only becomes so by being identified with Sebek, the Crocodile god, the son of Neith.”
18. Raymond O. Faulkner, “The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts,” Aris & Phillips, 3 vols., re-issued, 1994: Vol. 1:Spell 317, p. 242.
19. Hans Bonnet, “Reallexikon der Agyptischen Religionsgeschichte,” Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1952: 757.
20. Bonnet, “Ibid.,” p. 756.
21. Hugh Nibley, “An Approach to the Book of Abraham,” Deseret Book/FARMS, Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2009: 248.
22. Alan Gardner, “Egypt of the Pharaohs,” Oxford University Press, paperback, 1964: 151.
23. Gardner, “Egyptian Grammar,” p. 74.
24. Nibley, “Approach to the Book of Abraham,” p. 248.
25. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 248.
26. Bonnet, “Ibid.,” p. 757.
27. Hugh Nibley, “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment,” Deseret/FARMS, 2nd edition, 2005:349.
28. A. M. Blackman, H. W. Fairman, “The Myth of Horus of Edfu – II,” in “Journal of Egyptian Archaeology,” 27-30 (1941-1944): 37.
29. Alan Gardner, “Horus the Behdetite,” in “Journal of Egyptian Archaeology,” 27-30 (1941-1944):49-51.
30. Bonnet, “Ibid.,” p. 759.
31. Joachim Spiegel, “Das Auferstehungritual der Unaspyramide,” in “Annales du Service des Antiquites de L’Egypte,” 53 (MCMLV): 434.
32. Alexander Piankoff, “Les Deux Papyrus Mythologiques de Her-Ouben au Musee du Caire,” in “Annales du Service des Antiquites de L’Egypte,” 49 (MCMXLIV): 144.
33. A. Piankoff, “Ibid.,” p. 130.
34. See Kurt Sethe, “Urgeschichte und Alteste Religion der Agypter,” Leipzig, 1930: 128-133.
35. Hugh Nibley, “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” p. 349.
36. Bonnet, “Reallexikon,” p. 757.
37. Hugh Nibley, “Approach to the Book of Abraham,” p. 248.
38. Bonnet, “Reallexikon,” p. 758.