Book of Abraham Insight #9
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 as 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. As John Gee has documented, 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 ḥqꜣ) 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
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.’”5 Once again, not only the names of the rulers but also members of elite households show signs of Semitic origin during this time.6
“So from Shulem’s name and title and 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 [circa 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.”7
This external evidence reinforces the overall historical plausibility of the Book of Abraham.
John Gee, “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 19 (2016): 383–395.
1John Gee, “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 19 (2016): 383.
2 Gee, “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters,” 383–384.
3 Gee, “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters,” 385–387.
4 For a collection and summary of the relevant evidence, see Anna-Latifa Mourad, Rise of the Hyksos: Egypt and the Levant from the Middle Kingdom to the Early Second Intermediate Period (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2015), 19–130, esp. 124–130, quote at 126.
5 Gee, “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters,” 384, quoting K. S. B. Ryholt, The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period c. 1880-1550 B.C. (Copenhagen: The Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, 1997), 94, 99; compare Marc Van de Meiroop, A History of Ancient Egypt (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2011), 132; Kathryn A. Bard, An Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, 2nd ed. (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 216.
6 Gee, “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters,” 384–385; compare Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 28–29; Kerry Muhlestein, “Levantine Thinking in Egypt,” in Egypt, Canaan and Israel: History, Imperialism, Ideology and Literature, ed. S. Bar, D. Kahn and JJ Shirley (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 206–208; James K. Hoffmeier, “Egyptian Religious Influences on the Early Hebrews,” in “Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?” Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives, ed. James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016), 9–10; Garry J. Shaw, War & Trade with the Pharaohs: An Archaeological Study of Egypt’s Foreign Relations (South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Archaeology, 2017), 49–51.
7 Gee, “Shulem, One of the King’s Principal Waiters,” 387.