The following are my notes from Dr. John F. Hall’s wonderful presentation at the recent Temple Studies Group symposium held 31 October 2009 at the Temple Church in London. Dr. Hall is the Eliza R. Snow Distinguished Professor of Classical Languages and Ancient History at Brigham Young University. The paper Dr. Hall presented is a preliminary draft of a much larger paper he is currently working on (which will be about 3x longer). While the notes are my own approximation of what Dr. Hall presented, I also include direct quotations from his paper (emphasized in bold and indented). My thanks to Dr. Hall for his powerful presentation and assistance in sharing this material.

The Anointing of the Gods: Sanctification and Authority from Egyptian Pharaohs to Hebrew Priest Kings and Beyond

presentation by Dr. John F. Hall


The title of this paper, which references the “anointing of the gods”, refers to both the fact that the ceremony of anointing belongs to the gods as well as the fact that it provides the means whereby worthy individuals are to be included among the gods — in the company of God and the sons of God.  Thus, the ancient tradition of anointing is related to, or a part of, the doctrine of theosis.

The doctrine of theosis can be found not only in the religion of ancient Israel and among early Christians, but also in several modern Christian religious traditions including my own. It is linked to the temple where instruction is conducted and rites performed which asssist the individual in his quest to come into the presence of the Lord.

The work of Margaret Barker has helped make these connections more clear and shown how the resurrection is a necessary part of the at-one-ment with God, in which the individual obtains exaltation through a heavenly ascent to the throne of God, where he/she is permitted to see God face-to-face.  These elements are all connected to the anointing in the temple setting.

The anointing, then, has to do with:

  • a representation of the process of sanctification
  • authorization to be sealed unto eternal life
  • enabling the ascent to heaven to see the face of God (resurrection)

Perhaps not surprisingly, similarity of purpose and procedure can be noted among temple rituals designed to secure return to the very presence of the Divine along with admission to the hosts of heaven as sons of God, whether in Hebrew, early Christian, or even ancient Egyptian rites and ceremonies.

Those attending this conference will be familiar with Dr. Barker’s research on Solomon’s temple — that it was a place where the pilgrim could have received the anointing with holy oil, the sacrament of Wisdom, which Pope Leo the great informed us was the sacrament of Theosis. The purpose of this rite was a preparation to see the face of God.  We have learned in this conference how common this practice of “chrismation” was, and is, among Christians, and we now know that this is a tradition preserved from the ancient temple of Jerusalem.

The anointing was a sacred rite in other ancient traditions with which the Israelites were very familiar with: those of ancient Egypt.  A number of the key patriarchs of Israel were intimately connected with the land and ways of Egypt. Abraham, Joseph, and Moses spent much time and held influential positions in Egypt.  The Egyptians themselves may have even remembered connections to Noah and Enoch (who were very influential for the temple rituals).  In short, there is evidence for Egyptian influence on Israel (and vice versa). There were many shared understandings regarding divine ascent and related doctrines.

Extra-biblical texts tell the story of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth in more detail — she was from a royal line in Egypt, the daughter of the high priest of On.  After Joseph was given his own crown, he ruled in the sacred city of Heliopolis, center of the cult of Amon-Re, and sacred city of the God Atum, the first Father from whom the pharaohs would claim descent.  This city was the center of Egyptian temple rites, and was the place where the Ished Tree of Life stood, and the ben-ben stone of creation was located.  Joseph’s place in this holy city most certainly gave the Israelites a strong familiarity with Egyptian temple rituals.

Moses, due to his princely position in Egypt, would have known these traditions as well (see Acts 7:22). When Moses was commanded to prepare the holy anointing oil of olive oil and spices (myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia — Ex. 30:23-25) — this was similar to the anointing oil of the Egyptians, with which Moses was surely familiar.

Ritual anointing with sacred oil is documented as fulfilling an important role in the religious ceremonial of Egypt. From Pyramid texts of the early third millenium B.C.E., to Gnostic documents of the Christian era found at Nag Hammadi, anointing can be shown to provide sanctification and give authorization for ascent to the gods and inclusion in their company.

From the several temple-related Egyptian texts that have been uncovered, we can reconstruct quite well the anointing rituals.

  • It took place on the New Year, first day of the month Thoth, the day of greates light of the year (summer solstice)
  • Like other Near Eastern New Year rites, it represented the death, resurrection, and ascension of king to the gods
  • It was performed in a temple, most likely at Heliopolis or nearby
  • It presented ascent/resurrection as preceding death, prefiguring the mission of the Son of Man

Angel_and_Abraham intellectual reserve

The ascent is enabled through the anointing ritual.  With the anointing, the goddesses invest the king with “fiery divine power.” The king is anointed by the Queen of Heaven, the Mother Goddess (earlier on known as Hathor, later as Isis).

Pharaoh was anointed after the pattern of Horus’ anointing by his mother Isis with the protecting nine fiery oils (or oils of fire or light). In the earlier pyramid texts there are seven oils associated with the fiery Eye of Horus, entrance to the ways of light and fiery celestial regions. We remember that like Isis, in the traditions of the first temple period, Wisdom anoints with oil which represents light. For oil or the light which oil symbolizes was the sacrament of Wisdom and to the anointed ones Wisdom was mother, as she was mother to the anointed Messiah (Barker, Temple Themes, 236).

Isis was mother of the messianic god Horus, who was the opener of the ways and responsible for the at-one-ment of those likewise ascending through the seven houses of the gods in the company of Horus on the celestial bark.  In Egypt, messianic function were divided between Horus and Osiris — Horus governs the atonement process and Osiris providedhorus leading initiate the possibility of atonement through his own death and resurrection.  Because of the death and resurrection of Osiris, and through his anointing at the hands of his mother Isis, which anointing provides a protection, Horus is permitted to ascend through the fiery regions of the heavens.  The pharaoh, then, is anointed after the manner of Horus. He gains the protection that Horus had to accomplish the heavenly ascent. As he is anointed with each of the several oils, a chant is sung declaring the protection given.  The conclusion of the ascent is recognized by the enthronement and crowning of the king and he is given the status of godhood. The accompanying hymn announces:

He lives the life Re lives/ He sees with the vision with which Re sees/ He hears with the vision with which Re hears/ He rules with the power with which Re rules/ He fulfills his eternal round like Re.

The pharaoh’s name can then be written on a leaf of the Tree of Life, confirming his sonship under Amun-Re.

Similar themes are found in other Egyptian temple rituals, including the ordinance known as the “opening of the mouth.” Although some scholars see this as a rite performed only on the dead, there is evidence that it was part of an initiation into the temple mysteries for the living.  (For a similar ritual among the Greeks, see my posts on the Orphic Gold Tablets) There is also evidence that this ritual was not only for royalty, but could be performed on deserving commoners, as well (e.g., Imhotep and Amenhotep, important architects — human beings who were believed to have been deified through this process).

During the opening of the mouth ritual, the initiate was:

  • purified through washing
  • anointed in specific order of mouth, eyes, ears, head, and different parts of body, including vitals and limbs
  • reborn into a higher existence
  • resurrected, given authorization to ascend through the seven houses of the gods to the eighth house, where the beings of light reside and where Osiris sits enthroned
  • enabled to recall his life before mortal existence, through the oil of memory
  • able to reverse the several “blows of death” inflicted from the beginning of the world


The express purpose of this ritual was to enable the individual to achieve exaltation and deification.

After the opening of the mouth the recipient of the ordinance becomes a Horus, with the name of Horus on his forehead, healed of mortality, resurrected and so ascending thorugh the heavens to the place where the great god Amun, the hidden one, sits upon the cosmic throne with its base of diamond and emerald (Nibley, JSP, 170).

There are many connections between these rituals and themes in Jewish and Christian literature, especially pseudepigraphal and apocalyptic texts.  The similarities to the revelation given to John are apparent.  In 2 Enoch (30:8-9), the “seven blows of death” relate to sight, hearing, smell, speech, taste, breathing, and procreation, and Ben Sira refers to the reversal of death in terms of tongue, eyes, ears, and heart — both texts preserve the order of anointing in the opening of the mouth ceremony.

An early Christian hymn preserved in the Apostolic Constitutions (7:38), perhaps related to chrismation, emphasizes the blessing of having, in this specific order: “a tongue for harmony and taste, power to see, and to hear sound, breathing of the air, hands to work and feet to go on.” Cyril of Jerusalem details Christian anointing as “with ointment your forehead and sense organs are sacramentally anointed” (Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, 484B).  A text used by Christians called Joseph and Aseneth refers to the renewal/resurrection of Aseneth through washing, anointing, and clothing by an angel, after which her name is entered into the Book of Life (Joseph and Aseneth, 8:9-10, 14:3-15, 15:4).


It is through the power of the resurrection of Osiris that others are given power to be resurrected.  Osiris has the right of judgment and power to bestow eternal life. Just as Christians believe that Christ was the first to receive the holy anointing and to ascend to God, similarly Osiris was believed to be the first to pass through anointing to ascent and enthronement, thus establishing a pattern to be imitated by his followers. The individual becomes “an Osiris” by learning his mysteries.

The name “Osiris” is, therefore, assumed at the outset by all deemed worthy to undergo initiation into the mysteries of the Egyptian temple.

Professor Nibley has provided a reconstruction of the ritual:

  • The initiate is taken by the godly guide, Thoth (represented by priest), through the sacred precincts (Thoth is often connected to Enoch, which thus connects the Egyptian temple rituals to those of Enoch’s temple on the original Mt. Zion)
  • The priest (Thoth), finding the initiate worthy, present him before the gods upon entry
  • In the outer courtyard, ritual washings are performed and the initiate is pronounced clean and prepared to enter a new life
  • After passing through the temple garden and its tree of life, where the Queen of Heaven presides, the initiate was robed in a leopard or lion skin and taught that entry to and exit from life in this world was through the the garden.
  • After entry into the temple itself, there is (arguably) a second clothing, this time in robes of the priesthood — brilliant white linen, representing the heavenly garments of radiant light.

Our opinion is that anointing ceremonies, following the practice and order of the opening of the mouth ceremony, occurred within the more sacred realm. The ritual anointing, as seen in the ceremony of the opening of the mouth, possessed power to bring about resurrection.

To enter the temple, the initiate had to pass through two pillars, similar to the two pillars of Solomon’s temple called Boaz and Joachin that stood at the entrance.  The Egyptian entry pylons marked the horizon, where heaven and earth met, and where the sun could be seen beginning its trajectory — representing the beginning of the soul’s ascent into heaven. The initiate will be as the glory of the sun rising.


The culmination of rites at the later temple of Hathor at Dendera consisted of climbing stairs to exit through the pylons at the time of the sun’s rising. That representation of the sun ascending between columns, the aht hieroglyph, came to symbolize ascent to eternal life (Nibley, JSP, 109-111)…

The ritual continues:

  • After entry, anointing, and clothing in heavenly robes (thus being protected and endowed with power), the initiate begins his journey through the seven chambers or houses of the gods, representing the heavens through which the journey passes
  • The initiate is taught by Thoth the secrets to passing by the divine guardians of the gates of each house/heaven, in similar manner to the pattern found in Enoch’s Book of Luminaries.
  • At the end of this ascent journey, the initiate enters the eighth and final chamber, the abode of the gods (compare to Holy of Holies)
  • In this abode of the gods, the journey has ended and the initiate receives the promised reward of beholding the face of Osiris, who is seated on his throne.  The individual is there seated upon the throne of the god and crowned as one of the holy ones of light (compare to Enoch’s transformation and enthronement and Rev. 3: 20-21)


In  the Book of the Dead are recorded the final words of the initiation to this point made possible through the ceremony of anointing. And so with Thoth by his side, the initiate, exalted by the mystery he has completed, and after the manner of Osiris by whom he has been received and approved, declares “I have risen up and walked about in Heaven, I have been raised up in a pillar of light. I have sailed with Ra in the boat of the sun. Bless him in his spinning circuit of sky. I have come to the place of Horus’ eye. I am the unbroken seal on the book of myself. My words are heartfelt, my prayers are like incense to the nostrils of the gods. My spirit flares with the fire of god. I am a shining Osiris. My face is aglow with the radiance of white light. Open the way to me…and the gate opens. (N. Ellis, Awakening Osiris).  And Osiris reveals himself face to face declaring his identity. “I am Eldest, Son of the Great One who dwells in eternal burnings, son of the Burning One. I am exalted, I am renewed, I am rejuvenated, I am Osiris. And so now thou too” (Book of the Dead, 43). The ascent is complete and enthronement occurs as the final aspect of resurrection. The initiate has no further need to fear death, for it has been conquered.

From a stele of the 18th dynasty, a similar themed enthronement scene is described. The initiate is presented by Horus to the God of Gods, Amun, to whom the initiate declares: “I am thy son, O great one, I have seen the hidden  things which are thine, I am crowned upon thy throne as a king and a god — I shall not die.” And Amun replies, “thou art my son, the heir who came forth from my flesh. As long as I shall be, thou shalt be” (A. Gardiner, JEA, 39 (1953), 13-31).


In summary, the Egyptian temple rituals show us that anointing was meant to enable the heavenly ascent, resurrection, and atonement with the gods.  How are these rituals connected to the ceremonies of the First Temple in Jerusalem, the early Christian anointings, and the Gnostic rites? Many of these and our own religious traditions relate in some way to those of ancient Egypt.  It is public knowledge that my own Christian tradition, in our modern temples, includes the practice of washing, anointing, clothing, etc.  These rites are similar to those of Solomon’s temple and early Christianity, but also very much similar to the traditions of ancient Egypt, which were virtually unknown in the time of Joseph Smith, when he instituted the LDS temple ceremonies.  How did the Egyptians receive these traditions, which are shared with our Judeo-Christian tradition, that man can ascend to heaven to behold the face of God, so thus conquer death and obtain eternal life?  This knowledge was to be obtained in the temple, both ancient and modern.


Frederick M. Huchel, in his recent review of Dr. Barker’s Temple Themes in Christian Worship, notes how Joseph Smith restored this ancient tradition that in the temple one could behold the face of God.  This was key to Joseph’s religion. (See FARMS Review of Books)

With your permission I should like to conclude with a scripture with which some here may resonate, undoubtedly the wise men of ancient Egypt would. It is found in the 132nd Section of the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the standard works of the LDS Church, and comes from one of the final teachings of Joseph Smith.

“…When they are out of the world…they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power…

But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also.

This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he.

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