The opening chapter of the Book of Abraham identifies “the god of Pharaoh” as being one of the idolatrous gods worshipped by Abraham’s kinsfolk (Abr. 1:6, 9, 13, 17). In figure 9 of Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham, this god is depicted as a crocodile. Is there any evidence for who this god might have been and whether he was worshipped in Abraham’s lifetime (ca. 2000–1800 BC)?
A strong case can be made for identifying the “god of Pharaoh” in the Book of Abraham as the Egyptian deity Sobek.1 This god was worshipped even before Abraham’s day and was commonly depicted as either a crocodile-headed man or a crocodile wearing a crown.2 Anciently, “he was regarded as a powerful deity with several important associations,” among them “procreative and vegetative fertility” and, importantly for the Book of Abraham, “the Egyptian king . . . as a symbol of pharaonic potency and might.”3
The worship of Sobek was popular in Egypt in Abraham’s day. Many names from this period contain the name Sobek as a theophoric element,4 including the names of the last ruler of the Twelfth Dynasty (ca. 1991–1782 BC) and of no less than seven different rulers of the Thirteenth Dynasty (ca. 1800–1650 BC), who may likely have been coterminous with Abraham and the other patriarchs from Genesis.5 “[Sobek’s] sanctuaries were numerous and widespread” throughout Egypt during this time.6 Iconography of the god Sobek even made its way into northern Syria. At the site of Ebla, an important Syrian city throughout the third and second millennia BC, artifacts bearing the images of different Egyptian gods, including Sobek, have been identified by archaeologists.7
The ancient Egyptian king Amenemhet III, who may have been a contemporary of Abraham, venerated Sobek, bringing the god “to specific prominence” during his reign.8 “With Amenemhat III, Sobek of Shedet became the best example of the success of the crocodile-gods in the Twelfth Dynasty. In a wide range of objects, this king adopted, as had never happened before, the epithet ‘beloved of’ Sobek of Shedet.”9 In a hymn praising Sobek, Amenemhet III is mentioned toward the end of the text: “It is for Sobek the Shedytite, Horus dwelling in Shedyt, lord of myrrh, delighting in the giving of incense. May thou be merciful to King Amenemhet, through whom thy face is happy on this day.”10 The mention of Sobek in connection with Horus is also significant, since Horus was another Egyptian deity closely associated with kingship who was syncretized with Sobek in texts from Abraham’s day.11
From this evidence unknown in Joseph Smith’s day,12 we can say the following about “the god of Pharaoh” in the Book of Abraham and Facsimile 1. First, the god in question is arguably the crocodile deity Sobek. Second, among other things, Sobek was closely associated with the Pharaoh of Egypt.13 Third, Sobek was especially venerated by King Amenemhet III, a possible contemporary of Abraham. Fourth, and finally, specimens of Sobek iconography have been recovered from the likely region of Abraham’s homeland during the right period for Abraham’s lifetime (the Middle Bronze Age).
All of this reinforces the argument that “the [B]ook of Abraham accurately describes an aspect of the ancient world about which Joseph Smith could have known little or nothing.”14
Barney, Quinten. “Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhet III.” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 22–27.
Gee, John. “The Crocodile God of Pharaoh in Mesopotamia.” Insights (October 1996): 2.