Figure 5 in Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham is identified as “Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters.” We don’t know anything more about the man Shulem beyond this brief description because he does not appear in the text of the Book of Abraham. Presumably, if we had more of the story, we would know more about how he fit in the overall Abrahamic narrative. However, there are some things we can say about Shulem and his title “the king’s principal waiter.”
First is Shulem’s name. This name is “widely attested in Semitic languages” from the time of Abraham.1 This includes attestations in Old Akkadian, Old Assyrian, Old Babylonian, Middle Babylonian, Eblaite, and Ugaritic.2 Additionally, Shulem’s title “the king’s principal waiter” is arguably attested in ancient Egypt. In particular, the title “butler of the ruler” (wdpw n ḥḳꜣ) is a fairly close match to “the king’s principal waiter” and is attested during the time of Abraham.3
But what would a Semite like Shulem be doing in the royal court of Egypt, as depicted in Facsimile 3? In fact, there is evidence of Asiatic migration into Egypt during the time of Abraham. “A number of Asiatics residing in Egypt are also observed in texts dating to [the time of Abraham],” observes one scholar. “They list Asiatic retainers, dancers, singers, and other workers. . . . They further point to the presence of institutions for the coordination of relations between Asiatics and the local population. As some Asiatics bear Semitic names, it is likely that Levantines were still migrating into Egypt at this time.”4 After Abraham’s day, “in the Rammeside period a number of Canaanites rose to prominence in the Egyptian palace administration, and the position of ‘royal butler’ was a popular career path in this respect.”5 It could be that Shulem is at least one instance of this trend predating the later Rammeside period.
In fact, the Egyptian “Fourteenth Dynasty was ‘a local dynasty of Asiatic origin in the north-eastern Delta’ who are notable as ‘kings with foreign, mostly West Semitic, names.’”6 Once again, not only the names of the rulers but also members of elite households show signs of Semitic origin during this time.7 “So from Shulem’s name and title . . . we can surmise the following: From the form of his name, [it would appear] that Shulem lived during the late Middle Kingdom or the Second Intermediate Period [ca. 1800–1600 BC]. Shulem was [likely] not a native Egyptian. He was probably a first generation immigrant. He [likely] served in the court of a Fourteenth Dynasty ruler, who was probably not a native Egyptian either.”8 This evidence reinforces the overall historical plausibility of the Book of Abraham and may help make sense of Joseph Smith’s identification of this figure in Facsimile 3.
Gee, John. “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters.” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 19 (2016): 383–95.