The Four Sons of Horus (Facsimile 2, Figure 6)



Figure 6 of Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham was interpreted straightforwardly by Joseph Smith as “represent[ing] this earth in its four quarters.”1 Based on contemporary nineteenth-­century usage of this biblical idiom (Rev. 20:8), Joseph Smith evidently meant the figures represent the four cardinal points (north, east, south, and west).2 This interpretation finds ready support from the ancient Egyptians.

The four entities in figure 6 represent the four sons of the god Horus: Hapi, Imsety, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef.3 Over the span of millennia of Egyptian religion, these gods took on various forms as well as mythological roles and aspects.4 One such role was, indeed, as representing the four cardinal directions. “By virtue of its association with the cardinal directions,” observes one Egyptologist, “four is the most common symbol of ‘completeness’ in Egyptian numerological symbolism and ritual repetition.”5 As another Egyptologist has summarized,

The earliest reference to these four gods is found in the Pyramid Texts [ca. 2350–2100 BC] where they are said to be the children and also the “souls” of [the god] Horus. They are also called the “friends of the king” and assist the deceased monarch in ascending into the sky (PT 1278–79). The same gods were also known as the sons of Osiris and were later said to be members of the group called “the seven blessed ones” whose job was to protect the netherworld god’s coffin. Their afterlife mythology led to important roles in the funerary assemblage, particularly in association with the containers now traditionally called canopic jars in which the internal organs of the deceased were preserved. . . . The group may have been based on the symbolic completeness of the number four alone, but they are often given geographic associations and hence became a kind of “regional” group. . . . The four gods were sometimes depicted on the sides of the canopic chest and had specific symbolic orientations, with Imsety usually being aligned with the south, Hapy with the north, Duamutef with the east and Qebesenuef with the west.6

This understanding is shared widely among Egyptologists today. James P. Allen, in his translation and commentary on the Pyramid Texts, simply identifies the four Sons of Horus as “representing the cardinal directions.”7 Manfred Lurker explains that “each [of the sons of Horus] had a characteristic head and was associated with one of the four cardinal points of the compass and one of the four ‘protective’ goddesses” associated therewith.8 Geraldine Pinch concurs, writing, “[The four Sons of Horus] were the traditional guardians of the four canopic jars used to hold mummified organs. Imsety generally protected the liver, Hapy the lungs, Duamutef the stomach, and Qebehsenuef the intestines. The four sons were also associated with the four directions (south, north, east, and west) and with four vital components for survival after death: the heart, the ba, the ka, and the mummy.”9 “They were the gods of the four quarters of the earth,” remarks Michael D. Rhodes, “and later came to be regarded as presiding over the four cardinal points. They also were guardians of the viscera of the dead, and their images were carved on the four canopic jars into which the internal organs were placed.”10 Yet another Egyptologist, Maarten J. Raven, argues that the primary purpose of the sons of Horus was to act as “the four corners of the universe and the four supports of heaven, and only secondarily with the protection of the body’s integrity.”11

The association of the Sons of Horus with the earth’s cardinal directions is explicit in one scene where, represented “as birds flying out to the four corners of the cosmos,” they herald the accession of king Ramses II to the throne:12

Imsety, go south that you may declare to the southern gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Osiris, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramses II], has assumed the crown; Hapi, go north that you declare to the northern gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Osiris, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramses II], has assumed the crown; Duamutef, go east that you may declare to the eastern gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Osiris, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramses II], has assumed the crown; Qebehsenuef, go west that you may declare to the western gods that Horus, [son of] Isis and Horus, has assumed the crown and the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Usermaatre Setepenre [Ramses II], has assumed the crown.13

While Joseph Smith’s succinct interpretation of figure 6 in Facsimile 2 might have left out some additional details we know about the Sons of Horus (whose roles evolved over the span of Egyptian religious history), it nevertheless converges nicely with current Egyptological knowledge.14

Further Reading

Gee, John. “Notes on the Sons of Horus.” FARMS Report (1991).

Nibley, Hugh, and Michael D. Rhodes. One Eternal Round, 299–302. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 19. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2010.

About the author(s)

Stephen O. Smoot is a doctoral student in Semitic and Egyptian languages and literature at the Catholic University of America. He previously earned a master’s degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern civilizations, with a concentration in Egyptology, and bachelor’s degrees from Brigham Young University in ancient Near Eastern studies, with a concentration in Hebrew Bible, and German studies. He is currently an adjunct instructor of religious education at Brigham Young University and a research associate with the B. H. Roberts Foundation.

John Gee is the William (Bill) Gay Research Professor in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at Brigham Young University. He has published extensively on scripture and ancient studies. He has served on the boards of national and international biblical and Egyptological organizations and as the editor of an international multilingual peer-reviewed Egyptological journal.

Kerry Muhlestein is a professor of ancient scripture and ancient Near Eastern studies at Brigham Young University. He received his bachelor’s degree from BYU in psychology with a Hebrew minor. He received an MA in ancient Near Eastern studies from BYU and a PhD from UCLA in Egyptology. His first full-time appointment was a joint position in religion and history at BYU–Hawaii. He is the director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project. He was also a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford for the 2016–17 academic year. He has served as the chairman of a national committee for the American Research Center in Egypt and serves on their Research Supporting Member Council. He is the senior vice president of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and has served as president. He has published and researched on Egyptological topics and Book of Abraham topics for over two decades.

John S. Thompson obtained his BA and MA in ancient Near Eastern studies (Hebrew Bible) from BYU and UC Berkeley, respectively, and completed a PhD in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania. After more than twenty-five years as an employee of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion—most recently as the coordinator/institute director in Cambridge, Massachusetts—he currently researches and writes for Scripture Central.


1. “A Fac-­simile from the Book of Abraham, No. 2.,” Times and Seasons 3, no. 10 (March 15, 1842): insert between pages 720 and 721.

2. See George Stanley Faber, A General and Connected View of the Prophecies, Relative to the Conversion, Restoration, Union, and Future Glory of the Houses of Judah and Israel (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1808), 2:84; Robert Hodgson, The Works of the Right Reverend Beilby Porteus, D.D., Late Bishop of London, 6 vols. (London: G. Sidney, 1811), 5:218; Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, 6 vols. (Philadelphia: Towar, J. & D. M. Hogan, 1831), 6:931; Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. “quarter”; William L. Roy, A New and Original Exposition on the Book of Revelation (New York: D. Fanshaw, 1848), 97; William Henry Scott, The Interpretation of the Apocalypse and Chief Prophetical Scriptures Connected with It (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853), 185–86; and Peter Canvan, “The Earth, as We Find It,” Saints’ Herald 20, no. 5 (March 1, 1873): 139.

3. Michael D. Rhodes, “A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus,” BYU Studies 17, no. 3 (1977): 272–73; Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later,” 11, unpublished manuscript, [1997], accessed December 20, 2022,; Tamás Mekis, The Hypocephalus: An Ancient Egyptian Funerary Amulet (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020), 49 n. 310, 53–54.

4. For an overview, see John Gee, “Notes on the Sons of Horus,” FARMS Report (1991).

5. Robert Kriech Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1993), 162 n. 750.

6. Richard H. Wilkinson, The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003), 88.

7. James P. Allen, trans., The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, ed. Peter Der Manuelian (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), 433.

8. Manfred Lurker, An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980), 37–38.

9. Geraldine Pinch, Handbook of Egyptian Mythology (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-­CLIO, 2002), 204.

10. Rhodes, “Translation and Commentary,” 272–73.

11. Maarten J. Raven, “Egyptian Concepts on the Orientation of the Human Body,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 91 (2005): 52. As Raven elaborates, “Two conflicting orientation systems can be observed. The Sons of Horus can either occupy corner positions on coffins or canopic chests (Amset in the north-­east, Hapy north-­west, Duamutef south-­east, and Qebehsenuef south-­west; both pairs change places in the New Kingdom), or they are represented on the four side walls (Amset south, Hapy north, Duamutef east, and Qebehsenuef west). In the latter case, the corner positions are often taken by four protective goddesses. Obviously, the notions of the corners of the universe and of the four points of the compass were not clearly distinguished.”

12. Raven, “Egyptian Concepts on the Orientation of the Human Body,” 42. See also Hans Bonnet, Reallexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1952), 315; Matthieu Heerma van Voss, “Horuskinder,” in Lexikon der Ägyptologie, ed. Wolfgang Helck and Eberhard Otto (Wiesbaden, Ger.: Harrassowitz, 1980), 3:53.

13. The Epigraphic Survey, Medinet Habu, Volume 4: Festival Scenes of Ramses III (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940), plate 213, translation modified from Gee, Notes on the Sons of Horus, 60.

14. Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley 19 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2010), 299–302; Gee, “Hypocephali as Astronomical Documents,” 66–67.


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