The Abraham “problem” (or lack thereof)

Once upon a time, when I had to choose an ancient language to study, my advisor — who knew I was a Mormon — advised me not to study Egyptian. “Mormons should stay away from Egyptian,” he said. The implication was that an induction in hieroglyphics would shatter my faith.

He was referring of course to the Book of Abraham, canonised Mormon scripture that Joseph Smith claimed to have translated by the power of God from ancient Egyptian papyri. Unlike the Book of Mormon, this is a claim that can be empirically tested to some degree, as the Church still has some of these papyri today.

Anti-Mormons claim that the Book of Abraham (and consequently Joseph Smith and the whole of Mormonism) utterly fails this test: when translated by Egyptologists, the papyri turn out to be simple funerary documents (the Book of Breathings), with no mention of Abraham to be found. A slick video documentary has even be made to establish this “fact.”

Now, there’s an awfully complicated argument to be had about the nature of the papyri and their relationship with the Book of Abraham (in short: do we actually have the papyri used to translate the Book of Abraham text? Go to the Fair wiki to explore this further, or read anything by John Gee. There’s also the question as to whether the Book of Breathings is an “ordinary” funerary document). Let us instead consider one part of the Book of Abraham where we have both the Egyptian original and the Joseph Smith interpretation: the facsimiles.

fac1Facsimile 1 is particularly useful because it is mentioned in the text itself (Abraham 1:12) as being a representation of the attempted sacrifice of Abraham. The interpretations given by Joseph Smith for the facsimile also follow this line.

“Problem”: facsimile 1 is in fact a vignette from a late Egyptian funerary text showing a priest enbalming the body of a deceased person. The “bird” is the spirit, or “ba” of the dead man; the jars beneath the couch are the “canopic jars” that held the organs. This is not some anti-Mormon fantasy, but the sober interpretation of professional Egyptologists. There is no getting away from it. So why do the Book of Abraham text and explanations claim it to be a representation of Abraham?

Our man Kevin Barney has a solution: a later Jewish redactor of the Abraham text used an Egyptian motif (the enbalming scene) to illustrate the Abraham story:

“[These Egyptian vignettes] were either adopted or adapted by an Egyptian-Jewish redactor as illustrations of the attempt on Abraham’s life and Abraham’s teaching astronomy to the Egyptians.”*

This idea relies on the assertion that the Book of Abraham manuscript (now lost) was attached to or somehow associated with the Book of Breathings (what the Church owns), and that the text Joseph translated was not an autograph from the time of Abraham, but a later edition.

Kevin’s is not the only possibility. How else to approach the Book of Abraham and its relationship to the papyri? I’m assuming for the sake of this argument that a) facsimile 1 is from an Egyptian funerary text,** but b) that despite a), Joseph was not a fraud.*** I’m interested in how other Latter-day Saints (beyond the scholars) deal with what might look like a contradiction there.

* Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, 114.

** It really is!

*** There are plenty of other places where that solution will find a home. Let’s just say that sure, it’s a philosophical possibility, and leave it at that. The majority of BCC readers and bloggers are willing — for reasons of testimony — to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt. As for Joseph the “pious fraud,” well…sigh.


  1. Mark Pickering says:

    I chose option 4.

    My belief that Joseph Smith did not fabricate the Book of Abraham but that it reflects some ancient document stems not from any knowledge of the papyri but spiritual experience. If decent Egyptologists argue that the facsimiles, while obviously of pagan Egypitian origin, may have served an additional purpose in a later, different context, then I’m not going to contradict them.

    Just think of the double-uses all kinds of pagan mythology receives in the Bible: the waters of chaos and Leviathan show up all over the Old Testament, even though they are ideas of heathen provenance (Job 9:13; 41:1; Psalms 74:14; 89:8-10; Isaiah 27:1).

    Also, there is good evidence in the Book of Abraham that it was written or redacted after the time of Abraham. Mention of the “Chaldeans” (1:1) puts the book in the time of the new Babylonian empire (627-538 BC), much later than the time of Abraham (2000-1600 BC). You might consider a parallel example would be the occurence of the word “Oldsmobile” in a document purportedly written in 1000 AD (but cf. Genesis 15:7).

  2. I chose 4.

    I’ve always believed that Joseph did not use the papyrus specifically for the Book of Abraham that we have in the Pearl of Great Price, but rather for the ordinances of the Temple. What we have in the Book of Abraham is something similar to what we have in the Book of Moses, a account brought about by prayer and revelation, as opposed to seer stones or revealed translation.

    How does this explain Joseph’s explanations of the facsimiles (excluding the hypocephalus)? Well, I don’t know that in specific, but anything can be used as a teaching tool.

  3. Anonymous R says:

    I am continuously amused by the explanations Mormons give as to why the Book of Abraham is not the fraud that it plainly is. All of the explanations have the reek of desperation about them and simply try to obfuscate the issue so that the obvious conclusion is avoided. The only connection between the Book of Abraham and the papyri is Smith’s imagination. The text is merely a vehicle for his increasingly radical theology.

  4. Anon,
    I will grant you that there is a enormous gulf between what ordinary members believe about the BoA and the reality that the papyri force us to consider. That is not to say that the new reality makes Joseph a fraud, however. It is a compelling work and plainly more than the midnight scribblings of Mr. Smith.

  5. I believe that Abraham is an inspired text. Joseph started translating it through his stone, then moved to direct revelation. I think part of the confusion results from our use of the word “translate.” Joseph translated the bible, which meant he edited it for readability and then recieved revelations (Moses) that were evidently never part of the Bible, but are instead inspired additions to the narrative – some of the best scripture that we have.

    Joseph used the papyri as a springboard for his revelation. I see the disparity in the actual papyri something akin to the expansion theory and resulting cultural overbelief.

  6. Stapley,
    I think that is a reasonable interpretation. It’s not one held by most Mormons, though, who assume that the Chandler papyri contained the actual writings of Abraham and Joseph. How to senstively disabuse people of this notion without pulling the whole thing down? (After all, papyri-as-autograph is something that Joseph himself promoted, no?)

  7. I wonder: do church leaders see a problem here? How do they view the facsimile?

  8. Justin,
    Do you think the anti-BoA argument hurts the Church? Not too much I imagine. My dad was recently anonymously sent the IRR video and Larson book. He hasn’t gone inactive. If it was felt that the facsimiles were
    problematic I suppose that they could be removed; but then again, that would be admitting that they are problematic! (And are they?) Best to just leave it alone, probably. That seems to be the policy.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m on vacation and have only occasional and limited internet access. But a quick comment:

    If people will read my article, they will see that my suggestion is grounded in three examples that date to the same era the Joseph Smith Papyri were created (broadly, Greco-Roman times) where Jews adapted Egyptian iconography to their own purposes, in each case involving Abraham in some way.

    One is the Testament of Abraham, which contains a judgment scene that is clearly based on the psychostasy vignette accompanying Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead. The author uses that vignette as an illustration of a judgment scene understood in a Semitic way. Osiris has become the biblical Abel; the Egyptian gods have become angels.

    Another is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, which descends from a Jewish popular version of an Egyptian story. The Egyptian story is attested by the Demotic story of Setna. In the Jewish version of the story, the role of Osiris is filled by the biblical Abraham, just as we find in Facsimiles 1 and 3.

    A third is the Apocalypse of Abraham, which includes a Semitic version of the four sons of Horus, just as we find in Facsimiles 1 and 2.

    If you look at the Facsimiles, one can see how they would have appeared to a redactor if viewed through a Semitic lens. The example I use in the article involves seeing the Hebrew cosmology in Facsimile 1.

    Of course, one can see either a Jewish redactor going through this process or Joseph himself. The same basic perspective works either way.

    I don’t believe in being too dogmatic on this issue. I am open to both a missing papyrus theory and a pure revelation theory.

    Well, back to vacation…

  10. As an other Latter-Day Saint who is beyond (or well beneath) the scholars, I hardly give the issue any thought. I simply enjoy the content of the Book of Abraham (which is the whole point, no?) And leave the rest to others.

    I read an old FARMS report from Nibley called, ‘The Three Facsimilies of the Book of Abraham’ about 15 years ago. I honestly can’t remember a thing about it. Might JS have embelished things a bit? Might mormons be guilty of over-belief as J. suggests. Maybe. I like the Book of Abraham. What’s the problem again?

  11. My family received an unsolicited copy of Larson’s book by mail back in 1992. I suppose it was a “kind” gesture from some anonymous soul.

    I’d like to see church leaders take a stab at commenting on this issue, rather than simply allowing John Gee (team FARMS) and Robert Ritner (team IRR) to take over the field. It’s difficult to sort out what’s what here.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    What Stapley said. I view Joseph Smith as one who saw the divine all around him, and brought forth revelation from all sources.

  13. I also agree with J. I think many of the problems regarding our scriptures arise from the term “translate”. I think it highly unlikely that JS “translated” the BoM, the inspired version of the Bible or the BoA in the way we usually understand the word translate to mean.

  14. We are in the presence of a giant. Behold! King Kev!

    (Um, in other words, Kevin’s examples are impressive indeed. But, to echo Justin, if lay members ever feel the need to sort thorugh this, it’s going to make their heads ache. My does a bit.)

  15. Steve and Gomez,
    I ditto your ditto. But you still have to admit that we’re skiing way off the correlated piste when we say Joseph didn’t “translate” from the Chandler papyri. I’m all for that, but it’s not exactly an unproblematic approach.

  16. One of my primary interests is reception history and documentary studies. I love old manuscripts and the history of their use in later texts and literature.

    A simple fact throws the bias of Anonymous R.’s statement (#3) into stark relief, as noted in the FAIR Wiki to which Ronan linked:

    Dr. Hugh Nibley writes:

    We are told that papyri were in beautiful condition when Joseph Smith got them, and that one of them when unrolled on the floor extended through two rooms of the Mansion House.

    Nothing like this has survived today. Dr. Gee, believes that Joseph Smith originally had five papyrus scrolls. Of these five scrolls, only eleven fragments of two scrolls have survived. Dr. Gee estimates that the scroll containing Facsimile 1 may have been ten feet long and that in all, Joseph may have had eight times as much papyri as what is currently extant. It is very likely that the papyri from which Joseph translated the Book of Abraham, has been lost. (FAIR Wiki, emphasis added)There is no desperation or tortured explanation here. Ignoring the fact that we only have eleven fragments of the large amount of material that Joseph Smith had in order to make a claim that Joseph Smith was a fraud is disingenuous at best and a blatant and purposeful misrepresentation at worst. When people act like the Book of Abraham is a botched translation of the Book of Breathings on the basis that we have some of the latter and it doesn’t match the former, this is misleading.

    As noted by Gee, it is very likely based on sound inferences from historical evidence that Joseph Smith had five papyrus scrolls and that only eleven fragments of two of the rolls exist today. In other words, the Book of Breathings might very well tell us absolutely nothing about the source of the Book of Abraham. Only finding those other three entire lost scrolls, and/or the missing material from the two scrolls whose eleven fragments still exist, can tell us anything about the Book of Abraham as a translation. In other words, to be honest, a critic must admit that nothing in the Book of Breathings invalidates the Book of Abraham in any way, unless the critic is willing to conclude that we have all the material that was in Joseph Smith’s possession at the time he made his inspired translation.

    And what is the critics’ explanation for the “bullseyes” that the Book of Abraham hits with regard to period accurate Egyptian material?

  17. Strange, my blockquote from the FAIR Wiki in my comment 16 didn’t come through for some reason.

    Here it is:

    Dr. Hugh Nibley writes: “We are told that papyri were in beautiful condition when Joseph Smith got them, and that one of them when unrolled on the floor extended through two rooms of the Mansion House.”

    Nothing like this has survived today. Dr. Gee, believes that Joseph Smith originally had five papyrus scrolls. Of these five scrolls, only eleven fragments of two scrolls have survived. Dr. Gee estimates that the scroll containing Facsimile 1 may have been ten feet long and that in all, Joseph may have had eight times as much papyri as what is currently extant. It is very likely that the papyri from which Joseph translated the Book of Abraham, has been lost.

  18. This is all very interesting. Thanks for the discussion.

  19. D. Fletcher says:

    I might be able to concede that Joseph was inspired by the scrolls to create the Book of Abraham.

    But no amount of rationalization will get me to believe the Book of Abraham is translated from the papyri. Joseph actually filled in some characters on the facsimile, in a completely nonsensical way.

    And Nibley’s apologia is the very low point of his scholarly career.

  20. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan (#15), I am not sure that it is that far of a departure than what it says in the missionary discussions or other correlated aids. We’re saying that Joseph Smith translated those papyri in the same way that he translated the Bible: via revelation. We’ve also saying (see Mogget’s thread for more) that Joseph’s view of “translation” is not the same as a U.N. interpreter’s. He was bringing forth the light and truth in what he saw in front of him.

    Joseph Smith is an odd man when it comes to scriptures: he loved foreign languages and loved to correct missed translations (see the KFD for that kind of thing). But at the same time, the translations he performed were not converting from a foreign language into English, but converting a human text into a more divine one. A very different tack, and one to which the word “translation” scarcely applies.

  21. This is how I look at the situation, after learning some Egyptian:

    The evidence seems to against the idea that the drawings are about Abraham. But, am I sure that the drawings cannot be be about Abraham? Yes the professionals say it’s something else, but if I am going to have that affect my beliefs I need to be sure, not just operate on probabilities.

    Egyptian writing was more about key words so that the reader to figure out what was being recorded. It was not literal. Often the same glyph will have multiple meaning and you actually have to use the context to guess at which meaning to use.

    What happened during embalming? Was there a ceremony? Could it be similar to Abraham’s experience? Is it possible that Abraham might have been on the table and about to be embalmed alive in the same manner as other embalmings?

    How old is Egyptology? What is the track recordof the field? How much importance should a consensus of Egyptologists get?

    Should I rely on the expertise of others to figure this out, or should I learn about Egypt and their writing myself?

    I started learning about Egypt as part of my learning about the anicent world and Egypt is one of the most fascinating cultures of all time. It was around for thousands of years, and things were not always the same throughout its duration. There are a lot of things we don’t know, but a lot of things we claim to know.

    The level of embalming one received was affected by the families ability to pay and the time and place of the deceased. A few people could read so lots of fake Book of Breathings were sold and placed with the mummies because no one knew the difference. So while they were common, they also varied a considerable amount, and some were even fake. There were times were only the royalty had the spells in the Book, and when society broke down there was a better chance of a regular person getting a copy of the Book. It just not very simple.

    I would not rely on experts to give me an answer, especially in regards to Egypt. They may be right, but I would never just trust them.

    Ok self-proclaimed Egyptologists, rip me apart and tell me about how 90% of Egpytologists agree on X or something and how I am wrong. It’s not like you guys have never been wrong about stuff in the past.

  22. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 8

    Of course it affects the Church, Ronan. While comment #3 really isn’t appropriate for this thread, he’s basically right. The mental contortions members have to go through on this one….wow. A Creationist in the Grand Canyon has an easier time of it. IMO, these unaddressed, obvious historical problems (the BoA being the most glaring) are a large part of why so many are inactive and real Church growth is stagnant.

    The mistake is that so many seem to believe that you can’t just honestly address this stuff without “pulling the whole thing down.” For many the “whole thing” extends to the Church itself. I think that’s a mistake fueled by the way so many people phrase their testimony. Black-or-White, All-Or-Nothing rhetoric is what leads to this bind.

    Personally, I think the Church could just quietly drop the facsimiles from the PoGP and change the headers. It could say something like:
    The Book of Abraham, Received by the Prophet Joseph Smith. A revelation of some ancient records….

    Sure, the anti’s would pounce all over that, but who cares. It would solve the problem in the long run and at least put the BoA in the same category as the other Restoration scriptures.

  23. D. Fletcher says:

    I agree with Mike. Best to ignore how Joseph said the Book of Abraham came about, like Zelph and a few other things I can think of.

  24. I also voted number 4. I’m open to several different options, but I lack the disdain for Joseph Smith’s prophetic abilities that a few others have.

    A few sidenotes:

    Kerry Shirts BoA Sunstone presentation last year really shook some people who were completely dismissive of any possible inspiration in the BoA. Though an amateur, he certainly has some good stuff.

    Brian Hauglid’s FAIR presentation is going to cause some serious rethinking on the KEP, a closely related issue. He did microscopic study on the original KEP in the archives.

    Lastly, in my on-line, apologetic, and personal experience, the BoA (and/or KEP) are often the trigger or the final straw for a significant number of people who lose their testimony or leave the Church.

    MikeIn and comment #3, many people feel the same way about the Bible. “I am continuously amused by the explanations beleivers give as to why the Bible is not the fraud that it plainly is.” Regardless of whether you’re believers or not, there is clearly an element of faith necessary in every religion.

  25. Yes,

    Excellent post and questions.

    1. Somebody above mentioned the translation process being different then say translating English to spanish. I also believe this. I beleive the BOM and POGP were more “revealed” then translated word for word.

    John Fowles also hits the nail on the head. To have a real case that this is a fruad you would need more then just some fragments of the scrolls

    I find the contents of the PGOP to be amazing clearly not the “midnite scribbling” (thanks Ronan) of a delusional visionary.

    Also there was some controversy about admitting the PGOP in the “canon”. It was 1880 correct? There was a Q12 controversy over it? Somebody help me here….

  26. John,
    You and Gee are right, which is why I deliberately used Fac.1, something for which we have both the original and the translation. (Does someone know whether the explanations of the facsimiles were penned by JS, btw?) As I’ve said, I like Kevin’s suggestions a lot.

    When it says at the head of the Book of Abraham, “a translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the ctacombs of Egypt,” I think 99% of people are going to read that it one way, and it’s not the way you (and I) are proposing. That’s all.

    The historical-literary interpretation is settled. It’s akin to be me showing you a picture of the moon and asking whether it’s the moon or a ball of cheese.

    I can only speak for my non-Egyptologist, non-apologist father who watched the IRR video and shrugged his shoulders.

  27. D. Fletcher says:

    The problem with John’s hypothesis (and Nibley’s) that we need more of the scrolls, is that Joseph made the facsimiles and said he translated them, and these very pieces showed up 150 years later at the Metropolitan Museum.

    It’s different from the Book of Mormon, which we can more easily agree came from “inspiration,” since we don’t have the original plates.

  28. D. Fletcher says:

    When the scrolls were given to the Church in the 60s, and analyzed by Nibley, and written about in the Church publications, my own father expected some kind of Armageddon — that many thousands of people would lose their belief and follow some of the Brethren out of the Church.

    It didn’t happen. There was a collective shrug.

  29. Ben, I am not that familiar with the KEP (Kirtland Egyptian Papyri?). I’d be interested in some pointers for the neophyte.

    Also, am I just odd that I had never seen this as the problem that like others seem to?

  30. D,
    Which is why the facsimiles are where the rubber hits the road.

    All of this, btw, is an attempt to be able to answer the question that someone will one day inevitably ask me about the BoA. How to get to the centre of this, simply, faithfully, honestly…?

  31. Ronan,

    “The historical-literary interpretation is settled. It’s akin to be me showing you a picture of the moon and asking whether it’s the moon or a ball of cheese.”

    Ha ha. I’ve been a student of ancient history too long for this one. But remember, I was questioning whether the drawings couldn’t be about Abraham, that they had to be about an embalming, not whether it looks a lot like other ones. What we need is more students of Egyptology and fewer people trying to justify the BoA.

  32. I’m also completely with J. Stapley and friends on this one.

    It is odd that there are so few gripes about large brand new revelations from God like “The Vision” in section 76 compared to the carping that goes on over the Book of Abraham. If the real source of the modern scriptures is God then the original contents of the scrolls (or the plates for that matter) is largely irrelevant. If the real source of the modern scriptures is not God then the original contents of the scrolls (or the plates for that matter) is also largely irrelevant.

    The spiritual point of it all seems to be to drive all people everywhere to ask God and get an answer for themselves. If one cannot get any answers from God then it is rather irrelevant that Joseph Smith could. Life eternal is to know God after all — physical proof (read: signs) that someone else knew/knows him is not the same as knowing him ourselves.

  33. S. P. Bailey says:

    Terryl Givens’ discussion of Joseph Smith’s understanding of “translation” at the Library of Congress Joseph Smith Symposium last year is relevant, but that issue of BYU Studies does not appear to be online yet.

    It explored the point made by Steve and others: it was clearly not language to language, but a revelatory process that involved working things out, revising, etc. If the actual plates were not involved at a certain point in the translation of the Book of Mormon, it does not trouble me that the actual papyrus may not have been part of the Book of Abraham translation.

  34. Something I have found intersting; The four images below the person on the table are said in the BoA to be four idolatrous gods. Modern Egytology says that are actually where the organs are stored, and that they actually correspond to four different gods.

    We don’t how embalmings took place. Ask an Egyptologist: so what actually happened during an ebalming? Who was present? What did the priest say? How did they actually do the physical embalmings? No one knows. Mostly because this was guarded information by the priests. It was sacred info.

    Also, the BoA gives the names of these gods. Now I have wondered what language those names are from. Abraham was Sumerian (from Ur), but in Egypt. Would he use the Egyptian names, or the Sumerian equivalent? A lot of our words in English actually have a Greek origin (other languages too), so we don’t actually use the Egyptian prononunciation but Greek one because of tradition. “Egypt” itself isn’t Egyptian.

    And then if Joseph Smith were to write then name, what would he use? And to throw one more in, how much would the Egyptian language change over time (and which language, the popular one, the one of the priests, etc)? No one of this proves anything, other than claims to have the language well-understood should be questioned.

  35. “We are told that papyri were in beautiful condition when Joseph Smith got them, and that one of them when unrolled on the floor extended through two rooms of the Mansion House.”

    I’m surprised that the FAIR wiki quotes this statement from Nibley. Brent Metcalfe has suggested problems with the latter assertion.

  36. The problem being that with the facsimile that we have (we just have the original of the first one, right?), we are able to “test” Joseph’s translation.

    I disagree with Raul’s take that we ought to be suspicious of Egyptology as a rule (or, at least, no more suspicious of it than we are of other fields dealing in the ancient past). There simply isn’t a vast Egyptological conspiracy to discredit the Mormons, nor should we see one when the occasional Egyptologist questions Joseph’s translation (in fact, Nibley’s first attempt to deal with the papyri were not universally excoriated amongst the Egyptologists who reviewed it; it was treated seriously, not outright dismissed). The consensus in Egyptology comes from many bright people negotiating what the meaning is of thousands (probably millions) of artifacts and documents that were fashioned over thousands of years. Although the field itself has only been around for a couple of hundred years (roughly), it has had remarkable progress in that time. There is no reason to dismiss it’s ideas out of hand. However, as any Egyptologist would admit, we are still vastly ignorant of the Egyptian mindset. Anyone who says that they understand Egypt is trying to sell you something. Treat accordingly. (having said that, another caveat. Although no Egyptologist would claim to understand ancient Egyptian thought in every aspect, they are quite capable of recognizing it should they bump up against it)

    So, what we have is one facsimile, which Joseph interpreted in a way that is completely plausible (as Kevin’s article points out). Beyond that (pending further publication of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers), there simply isn’t anything that is testable. So, comparisons between Egyptological and JS thought are bound to fail, because they are radically different approaches that are (arguably) being used on differing material and when they are being used on the same material (thus far) they only show two equally valid interpretations of the same material.

  37. A couple on this thread have expressed their belief that many of our retention and missionary work problems can be explained by issues with the BoA. That’s not the case in my experience. The vast majority of inactives I have known have no idea about the type of things being discussed here. Those that I know who do are still active. That’s just my experience.

  38. Ronan #15,

    I think it seems uncorrelated because of how the rest of the world uses the word translate. If you gave a talk or a lesson where you say “JS translated the BoA, which means he used the papyri as a springboard to revelation” all anyone will remember hearing is JS translated the BoA. Regardless of how you define translate in the talk/lesson, people will remember the word translate and its worldly connotations. What we really need is a different word.

  39. Gomez, I agree with you. I don’t think the BoA is a large cause of inactivity. However, I do know that for those who leave the church over doctrinal reasons, a good percentage claim BoA issues as the last straw. As a recent example, I’m aware of one LDS bloggernackle poster who left the church in the last six months who cited the BoA to me personally as his last reluctant nail in the coffin.

  40. I’m glad Ronan posted this so that when I post my review of Nibley’s revised 2nd edition of The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri (soon I hope) I won’t have to cover his points here. Please forgive some length here–I’m splitting this into 2 parts.

    1. Even Michael Rhodes in his FARMS published translation and commentary of Papyrus Roll of Hor, to which Facsimiles 1 & 3 were originally attached, serves up a “standard” Egyptological interpretation, ie, these 2 pictures were vignettes intended to accompany Hor’s Breathing Permit. I say accompany, since “illustrate” gives the wrong impression that there is always a strict 1-to-1 correspondence between an Egyptian text and a vignette appearing next to it. Nothing about Abraham is mentioned in the Rhodes translation or commentary. According to Rhodes, Facsimiles 1 & 3 are very much at home as vignettes intended for Hor’s Breathing Permit. Indeed, in this context they make perfect sense. Hor’s name is even written on Facsimile 3, as well as the names of Osiris and other mythological characters, identifying who’s who on Facsimile 3. Abraham isn’t mentioned in the Egyptian text on Facsimile 3. (Of course, Rhodes has written more about the Book of Abraham (BoAb), especially Facsimile 2, but I’m going to ignore that for the moment.)

    2. John Gee, on the other hand, suggests that Hor’s papyrus roll had another text on it/attached to it and that Facsimiles 1 & 3 were meant as vignettes for that second text on the roll, ie, the BoAb, but that the scribe and artist were less than careful about the production of the Hor papyrus roll text and perhaps sloppy in aligning vignettes with text, at least to suit a modern reader, or something like that. Nothing about this argument makes sense to me, especially trying to explain how Facsimile 2 was meant to accompany/illustrate this hypothetical second text now missing from the Hor papyrus roll. Facsimile 2 was never a part of Hor’s papyrus roll; in fact it is a separate document for a guy named Sheshonq and is not a paprus roll. There’s no way to conclude that it was inadvertantly stuck next to the wrong text on Hor’s roll–it was not on that roll. It was separated not only by space (ie, ownership) but also by time of composition (according to standard dating for Breathing Permits and Hypocephali (which is what Facsimile 2 is)).

  41. Part 2:

    3. These theories of Rhodes and Gee have left behind in the dust the “lost papyrus roll” theory (ie, the BoAb was not even on Hor’s papyrus roll (!) but on another entirely different roll now lost). This theory was based on some early Mormon statements about the appearance of the papyri, length etc. These statements are all relative and inconclusive–Nibley’s discussion of these statements is also dated (Justin #35 is correct here). In any event, the problem here is, again, Facsimiles 1 & 3 were attached to Hor’s roll–how could they accompany the “Missing Roll”? (ignoring even Facsimile 2 which was attached to–nothing, actually–it was its own document).

    4. Kevin Barney’s article mentioned above is the best apologetic attempt yet to make a case for a history of textual transmission for the BoAb and to account for the Facsimiles. A Jewish author producing/copying/redacting an Abraham text attached actual vignettes/pictures from the Breathing Permits/Books of the Dead and a Hypocephalus. The Testament of Abraham, as noted by Kevin, contains hints that the Jewish author of this text had in mind an Egyptian judgment scene and other Egyptological myth/art when he composed that text, although I don’t think there’s any evidence of vignettes ever actually being attached to the text–they are evident in the text through textual themes, not pictures accompanying a text. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in the NT seems to follow in a similar vein and may be directly related to the Testament of Abraham (or vice versa). Abraham does seem to function in one of the roles of Osiris in these Jewish narratives in the realm of the dead, but that’s not what the BoAb is about. As for the Apocalypse of Abraham, I have doubts about the author using the 4 sons of Horus in the text; again, no vignettes were attached to the Apocalypse of Abraham.

    Under Kevin’s theory, the Joseph Smith Book of Abraham, then, is a Jewish work that had Egyptian vignettes adapted to Jewish purposes and then added to the BoAb text at a later period. This seems to be at odds with the Mormon understanding until the “rediscovery” of the Metropolitan Museum papyri in the 1960s forced a re-evaluation. Kevin’s theory still requires a lot of explanations, although it sounds pretty good in theory, until you reach the part of the theory when you try to explain how this Jewish text with vignettes was ever present in the Joseph Smith papyri collection. Answer: it wasn’t. Smith restored a Jewish text that used vignettes added not by Abraham, but by a later scribe/artist, and that wasn’t even in the Joseph Smith papyri collection, although vignettes similar to it were included but owned by Hor and Sheshonq.

    None of this is very satisfactory to me. Some of it holds together better than others. My hat’s off to Kevin’s theory, but at the end of the day I can’t buy into it. I think MikeinWeHo (#22) is onto something.

  42. D. Fletcher:

    In his # 36, HP/JDC has restated what I tried to say in my # 16 a little more clearly. I especially appreciated his last paragraph:

    So, what we have is one facsimile, which Joseph interpreted in a way that is completely plausible (as Kevin’s article points out). Beyond that (pending further publication of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers), there simply isn’t anything that is testable. So, comparisons between Egyptological and JS thought are bound to fail, because they are radically different approaches that are (arguably) being used on differing material and when they are being used on the same material (thus far) they only show two equally valid interpretations of the same material.

    This is the conservative position given what exists of the record and given the plausibility of what can be tested that exists of the record.

  43. (By “conservative” I mean in the context of documentary or reception history, i.e. the current status of the documents and the knowledge available, especially if three entire scrolls that were in Joseph Smith’s possession are lost, prescribes a cautious approach to the conclusions that we can claim flow from fragmentary evidence about the Book of Abraham being a fraud and excludes the possibility of such categorical statements as those made by anon in # 3.)

  44. Ed,
    I readily admit that I am not as well read on this subject as I should be. That said, in talking with John Gee, I have been convinced that the facsimiles that we have indicate that there is something other than “just another funerary text” here. There are elements in the facsimiles that are unknown in other funerary texts, but fairly common in temple texts, for instance. It seems like there is something else going on here.

  45. rleonard says:

    Like all of JS’s scriptures in the end only a witness of the spirit can establish whether or not its true. BOM, D&C, and PGOP.

    The PGOP debate along with the BOM debate will go on with not real conclusion.

    I am also not buying the idea that this is a main cause of inactivity. I have done a lot of work with inactives and not once is the PGOP brought up. It may be an issue for well educated academics but its not an issue for the “masses”

  46. In the section heading to D&C 7 it reads “The revelation is a translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself.” I’m assuming JS never physically had this parchment. Anybody know the history behind this revelation? Does this shed any light on how we should view other JS “translations”?

  47. HP/JDC #44, Facsimile 1 has some peculiar elements apparently derived from temple scenes–true, this is the concensus view, but it can still be interpreted without violence to Egyptian artistic conventions as a vignette appropriate for Hor’s Breathing Permit, and in fact, it’s attached to it, suggesting its context. We can’t avoid the fact that it was buried with a mummy afterall.

    Gee claims Facsimile 3 is somehow unique, but read Rhodes and Nibley here. Presentation scene, judgment scene, etc, they all have very similar components. And it’s not a mix and match thing that ends up with completely very different results. Facsimile 3 is actually replicated in other Breathing Permits in the essential details. Rhodes in his FARMS translation has no need to suggest anything else is going on there. That’s all I’m saying.

  48. D. Fletcher says:

    Geoff J writes:

    “The spiritual point of it all seems to be to drive all people everywhere to ask God and get an answer for themselves. If one cannot get any answers from God then it is rather irrelevant that Joseph Smith could. Life eternal is to know God after all — physical proof (read: signs) that someone else knew/knows him is not the same as knowing him ourselves.”

    I agree, though there does seem to be something built-in to humans who want additional, rational proof of these things — even Joseph Smith himself suggested so, with his drawn facsimiles. Personally, I think FARMS should be dismantled by the Church; not because there might not be evidence for historical truth in the Book of Mormon, but because the Book of Mormon should only be used as a tool of conversion, not of historical truth.

    Personally, I think we’d all be better off not analyzing the facts about the papyrii. The more I know about the foundations of Joseph Smith’s writings, the less I like them.

  49. Aaron Brown says:

    I am probably with J Stapley, Steve and Geoff J on this issue (though I haven’t thought about it much in years, and have always wanted to study the issue more closely than I have). That said, I don’t really like this explanation too well, and I totally get why Anonymous says what he says at comment #3.

    Aaron B

  50. #3 Anon says:

    “The only connection between the Book of Abraham and the papyri is Smith’s imagination. The text is merely a vehicle for his increasingly radical theology.”

    It seems a lot of comments actually agree with this interpretation. The question then becomes whether Smith’s imagination and radical theology were inspired. As has already been stated, the answers to these questions are a matter of faith.

  51. Personally, I think FARMS should be dismantled by the Church; not because there might not be evidence for historical truth in the Book of Mormon, but because the Book of Mormon should only be used as a tool of conversion, not of historical truth.

    I don’t know how many times it needs to be repeated, but FARMS, even their apologetic arm, is not out to prove the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham.

    I’m not sure entirely what you mean by “a tool… of historical truth.”

  52. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 51 That’s a bit disingenuous. OK, so FARMS is out to counter evidence that disproves the historicity of the Restoration scriptures. You say tomato, I say tomahto.

    Will be interesting to see how long it takes the Utah-based church to deal with this stuff. The Community of Christ (RLDS) has pretty much gone through the process already, although the jury is still out on where that will lead in terms of long-term membership growth/decline.

    There are also similarities to what the 7th Day Adventists had to deal with when proof of Ellen White’s plagarism emerged. Or Christian Science when it became obvious that modern medicine saved lives. It’s fascinating to see how various faith groups handle this kind of thing. Some navigate through it well (7th Day Adventists), some kind of implode (Christian Science).

    Ben makes a good point at the end of comment 24: This problem is not exclusive to Mormonism. The broader Christian world has had a lot more time to work through these historical dilemmas, though. You can reject the historicity of Genesis 1, etc, and still be a faithful Evangelical easily enough. I think Mormomism will get there eventually. Maybe discussions like this are leading the way.

  53. There’s no evidence the “spitting tobacco on the floor, too much smoke in the air in the School of the Prophets” story actually happened, therefore the Word of Wisdom wasn’t a true revelation.

  54. Mike, there’s a world of difference between “your evidence disproving the possibility of the truth of ________ fails for the following reasons…”


    “Evidence x,y,z proves conclusively the truth of the Book of Mormon.”

    There’s no disingenuity at all. FARMS (and other such groups I’m aware of) are largely out to do #1. Most things that people interpret as number #2 aren’t attempts to prove, but to contextualize.

    I have some papers on the Book of Mormon. They don’t prove its historicity so much as they assume it by seeking to place the BoM in it’s (assumed) historical background, looking for insight from the history, culture and language.

  55. Don’t go there Rusty. They can drudge up a Whitmer quote to the effect that the coffee and tea parts of the WoW were just a joke that the men perpetrated on the women in revenge for their revulsion at chewing tobacco and spitting on the floor.

  56. oops, that should be “dredge up”

  57. Yeah, what I tried to say wasn’t very clear. It’s okay, everyone else here has made the point better than I could anyway.

  58. Anonymous says:

    I have enjoyed all of the comments here. I thank all of those who responded, either in some support or some criticism.
    [edited for antimormon content]

    I think Gomez #50 reduces it to the nub: “The question then becomes whether Smith’s imagination and radical theology were inspired.” I have come to a negative answer, but I respect those who differ.

    As an aside, the issue of the BoA did have a sizable, but not majority, part to play in my disenchantment with Mormonism. However, I am sure that over 90% of the member know little and could care less about all these pesky historical problems.

  59. Anonymous R. says:

    Sorry, #58, the last comment was left by me, Anonymous R, the author of #3.

  60. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 54
    FARMS is the Mormon version of the Institute for Creation Research:
    I almost wonder if FARMS wasn’t modeled after the ICR, which has existed almost a decade longer. FARMS’ web site is much nicer.

    Try this:
    “Your evidence disproving the possibility of the literal truth of Genesis 1 fails for the following reasons…” and
    “Evidence x,y,z proves conclusively the Earth was created by God in six 24-hour days.”

    It’s a bit difficult to accept the claim that FARMS isn’t trying to “prove” things when their web site displays an “Evidence Of The Week” section, etc.

  61. Mike, I really think that’s an unjust comparison, and you seem to be missing my point.

    Evidence is not proof. Defense attorneys seeking to establish reasonable doubt also present evidence. FARMS is out to establish reasonable belief, hence the frequent reference to Austin Farrer.

    What is the role of the disciple-scholar? To provide the historical context for understanding the faith, to furnish a backdrop for further discussion. Writing about C. S. Lewis, Austin Farrer noted: “Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”

    You are aware that both the originator of the thread and Kvein Barney of comment #9 are associated with FARMS?

  62. Razorfish says:

    Ultimately a testimony of the restored gospel comes down to the reality of the promise spelled out in Moroni 10: 3-5.

    The interesting irony is this paradox – the basis and foundation for our testimony of the most important gospel truths are reliant on essentially a spiritual witness alone and not on a historical or factual basis (non-secular confirmation). Two examples of this are the Book of Abraham and quite frankly the endowment and the ordinances of the temple.

    Neither of these are easily supported under the critical lens of academic investigation and scholarly investigation. For example, I can intellectually understand the close relationship the temple rites have with Masonic symbols and teachings after studying Church history and specifically the year 1842 etc. But as a committed member I have to make the leap of faith that Masonry was a spiritual springboard for the restoration of the temple symbology.

    In the same manner, the BoA is likewise a leap of faith. It is easier to accept that the Prophet simply restored truth (accept by faith and spiritual confirmation) then go through the mental gymnastics required to fit all of the seemingly non-linear historical data points together. Maybe some of the details we have with the coming forth of the BoA are not all historical truths, but the inspired text is still a possible reality. One does not have to die on the hill of scriptural or historical inerrancy to prop up a notion of a perfect latter-day prophet. Personally, I like the imperfect human prophet as painted in Bushman’s RSR – he’s more believable.

    Curiously though, the most sacred, the most esoteric requirements of our faith (like the BoA) are least supportable by historical examination, and yet these have the most profound and far reaching implications on our faith and spiritual commitment.

    Ironically, we are spiritually backed up against a wall of faith when confronted with these most far reaching doctrinal enigmas.

    Ultimately, they become spiritual parables (not unlike what the Savior taught) to us with the admonition, “he who has ears, let him hear, and he who has eyes, let him see.”

  63. Razorfish,
    I appreciated these insights. Very, well, insightful. :) Things that have more spiritual potential and impact require a greater leap of faith. Is that what you are saying? It sounds simple, but yet is really quite profound.
    Interestingly, they are also all based in a testimony of Joseph Smith in some way or another. No wonder we will have to face him at some point, too, as the head of this dispensation.

  64. rick jepson says:

    The BoA is the ultimate paradox for me as a Mormon who’s still trying to decide if he belongs in or out of the church.

    Theologically, the BoA is probably one of my favorite pieces of Mormon writing. I really enjoy it; it enriches me.

    But I can’t stomach the details of its discovery and “translation”…and the modern apologetics are even less palatable.

    I’m uncomfortable with the “leap of faith” idea and I think it’s too bad when discussions like this turn to Moroni 10:3-5. That’s a pretty easy way out of an uncomfortable dilemma.

  65. Jonathan Green says:

    I don’t think the Book of Abraham and its facsimiles should embarrass us at all.

    I’ve only read a little about Egyptian funerary texts recently, but it’s been in secular academic sources, not Nibley or his heirs. The consensus seems to be that the point of the funerary texts is not “how-to for junior embalmers” or “best wishes for a happy afterlife,” but more specifically providing the soul of the deceased with the information necessary for progress into the afterlife. I’d quote one of the passages directly, as its formulation is really quite striking, but unfortunately that book is on a different continent at the moment.

    So Joseph Smith took a text about how to prepare the soul for the afterlife, and ended up telling a story about the pre-existence and the creation. I think I’ve seen all those elements connected somewhere before.

    I like Kevin Barney’s proposed explanation, except that it might unnecessarily introduce a Jewish re-interpretation of Egyptian imagery in antiquity. I don’t see exactly what’s wrong with positing Joseph Smith as the source of the productive re-interpretation, however. It means retreating a bit from a view of Joseph Smith as a literal translator of ancient Egyptian texts, but I think that’s what Egyptologists are for rather than modern prophets. Joseph contemplated the papyri and then was inspired to say something that was not a literal translation but at the same time not completely unrelated to both the original text and the grand project of the restoration.

    Besides, the facsimiles are just so freaky cool. No one else has anything like them in their scriptures.

  66. I agree, JG, that no-one else has the following prayer in their scriptures (a translation, by Michael Rhodes, of the rim of facsimile 2):

    I am the Provider in the Sun Temple in Heliopolis. [I am] most exalted and very glorious. [I am] a virile bull without equal. [I am] that Mighty God in the Sun Temple in Heliopolis…O God of the Sleeping Ones from the time of the creation. O Mighty God, Lord of heaven and earth, of the hereafter, and of his great waters, may the soul of the Osiris Shishaq be granted life. May this tomb never be desecrated, and may this soul and its lord never be desecrated in the hereafter.

    If I ever dedicate a grave, I’m going to give this prayer. Hey, it’s in our scriptures, man!

    “I am a virile bull without equal.” Beat that, you pansy Evangelicals.

  67. Rosalynde says:

    Thanks, all, for a very enlightening discussion.

    For J. and the “textual imagination” school of thought: I’m completely onboard with “translation”= imaginative sacralization of story. But does it matter, then, whether or not the narrative did exist in a recognizable form at some earlier point in time, regardless of whether it was transmitted through the papyri? Pushing back further, does it matter whether or not Abraham actually had the experiences recounted in the BofA? Both of these questions would seem to have some pertinent (although certainly unrecoverable) relation to history. Or does it only matter that the themes in the BofA are of God? This question, of course, can only be settled through revelation.

  68. Rosalynde,

    Can I cast that into something tangible?

    I am largely agnostic as regards the historicity of the Book of Job. Maybe a person called Job existed, maybe not. Maybe God made a wager with Satan, maybe not. But the book is still “true” to me, even if it may be truth via fiction, the product of an inspired Jewish theologian. It remains scripture, the word of God.

    Now, let’s imagine the Book of Job was not in the Bible, but something like it was received/translated/revealed today.

    Does that make any difference? If Joseph Smith had been the “inspired author” of Job (instead of some anonymous 5th century Jew), would it be any less “true”?

    For me, the answer is no. I could accept an ahistorical ancient Book of Job; I could also accept an ahistorical modern Book of Abraham, received through exposure to ancient Egyptian liturgical writings. Well, maybe I could, I don’t know. It’s perilously close to the “inspired fiction” Book of Mormon theory.
    But as I have said before, if we are honest about things, then we must admit that such a way of dealing with the BoA is hardly the view of most Mormons. And it might be a bridge too far for some who doubt.

    Incidentally, I wonder whether Deuteronomy falls into this category. Was there really a hidden temple scroll? Maybe, maybe not. If there was, did it contain the exact words of Moses, the exact text of Deuteronomy? Unlikely.

  69. Ronan (#66),

    My understanding is that Fac. 2 has a naughty picture to boot! (item #7, at least when compared to other hypocephali)

  70. Ah yes, a rutting bull and a phallus. How did we get so chaste?

  71. Pushing back further, does it matter whether or not Abraham actually had the experiences recounted in the BofA?

    Like Ronan said, no more than any of our other scripture. Personally, I believe in an historic Abraham and Enoch. I believe that Abraham and Moses are more correct or historic than the Biblical narrative. That said, there are disparities between them. Personally I am far from a literalist, so I don’t mind.

  72. I believe that Abraham and Moses are more correct or historic than the Biblical narrative.

    Basis? I’m curious.

    (Both Abraham and Moses include a creation narrative that follows, pretty much, Gen 1-2. Most people believe that Gen 1-2 represent two literary strands, are not historical, and were not written by Moses. So, it would seem that Moses and Abraham, at least in this instance, are no more or less historical than Genesis.)

  73. Yep. For those parts at least.

  74. In Moses, we have God giving as direct revelation to Moses, the Gen 1-2 text, which no Bible scholar this side of Evangelical Literalist University, believes to have anything to do with Moses. So, at its core it’s enmeshed with a very difficult question of literary history. All of which is to say that I don’t see the POGP with a trump card for historical accuracy over the Bible.

  75. Steve Evans says:

    Look, it’s clear that with Joseph Smith, you are going to get amazing revelation with or without a textual foundation or plates or something tangible in front of the man. But that’s kind of an odd and in a way useless hypothetical — the fact is, Joseph did use the papyri, he did get Sec. 76 and many others in the course of reading a Bible, and (I believe) he did translate the Book of Mormon from plates.

    Now, Rosalynde’s question is more interesting: does it matter if the history of the scriptures really happened? I suspect that the answer will be an unsatisfying “yes and no” one. Some events really matter: atonement, crucifixion, ascension. Others don’t: she-bears eating little kids. The basic answer: God cannot be a liar. So how much of the Bible or other scriptures are you willing to write off as fiction before God becomes a liar? That’s the essential question for me.

  76. D. Fletcher says:

    Yes, Steve, that’s exactly it. Not only did Joseph “translate” the Book of Abraham from ancient Egyptian scrolls, the translation turned out to be writings of Abraham — it’s essentially stating that Abraham lived and wrote stuff down about his life. Joseph has not suggested that what Abraham wrote was necessarily factual (could be allegorical), but nonetheless Joseph translated the work of an ancient Egyptian scribe, writing in heiroglyphics the works of Abraham, which meant Abraham lived and wrote. It’s meant to be historical fact, I think, different than Job.

    I find this all very different than believing in the literalness of the books of the Old Testament, precisely because of the Joseph Smith connection.

  77. Well, if this is going to go the way of historicity debates, there is no sufficient proof. Personal conviction is all you’ve got with current evidence.

    JG is right regarding the similarities in content found in the Book of Breathings (which is mainly excerpts from and interpretations of the Book of the Dead).

    I am curious as to the limits we are sticking on revelation here. Sure, Joseph Smith may have been inspired to write the Book of Abraham, using the text as inspiration. But he couldn’t have been inspired to write an actual history? Why not?

  78. I agree with Steve.

    Especially in the case of Abraham, I think it is important that “Abraham actually had the experiences recounted in the BofA” and Genesis for that matter. So much of Mormon theology is tied up with Abraham, e.g. The Abrahamic Covenant. If it turns out Abraham is mostly myth, upon what do we have to base such theology?

  79. Jared, we are all Abraham.

    (And virile bulls, apparently.)

  80. Well said.

  81. I am confused. Why does the possible symbolic content of a story prevent it from reflecting actual events? If I find the sun rising in the morning symbolic of Christ’s resurrection, does that mean the sun didn’t rise?

  82. Steve Evans says:

    easy there HPJDCXYZPDQ. Nobody’s imposing limits on the ability of revelation. We’re more discussing minimums – not maximums.

  83. Steve: So how much of the Bible or other scriptures are you willing to write off as fiction before God becomes a liar? That’s the essential question for me.

    Nicely stated, Steve. This really is a core question for me too. And Ronan is right that this subject is inextricably connected to the BoM historicity question (as much as I hate to admit that). I have always contended that the BoM is basically historically accurate but I have not taken such a stand with much of the OT. Meaning it seems likely to me that Job and Jonah are inspired fiction. I have even wondered aloud if any of the pre-Abrahamic patriarchs actually lived on this planet. But it is frankly all guesswork and I have mostly gone with my gut on this stuff. There doesn’t appear to be much proof one way or the other; and along with Ronan I don’t think that the revelations in the PoGP function as proof of detailed historicity of certain ancient events either (like the Gen. 1-2 accounts being originally direct revelations from God to Moses.)

    I know this sort of thing rocks the faith of some members of the church, but it hasn’t done so for me at all. I simply remember the reason I am Mormon today: When I talk to God he talks back to me and he tells me that he is behind these modern scriptures (and the church in general). So based on that I mostly view these questions with dispassionate interest. I will be very interested to know what parts of the ancient narratives are historically accurate, which parts are embellished, and which parts are inspired fiction/allegories. But in the meantime I trust what God tells me personally and carry on.

  84. Ronan: By your comment in 79 I inferred that you think that it doesn’t matter if Abraham ever actually lived; our covenants with God are binding whether they are historically connected to Abraham the man. Is this correct?

    If this is in fact what you meant, is it at all proper to refer to our beliefs as ‘the Restored Gospel”? “Restored” is generally taken to mean that it is restored from a former time, i.e. the time of the great patriarchs.

  85. God doesn’t lie. But it apparently serves his purposes to allow less than accurate perceptions abound. If endless punishment does not mean punishment without end (D&C 19), who knows which of our other seemingly straightforward assumptions will be overturned.

    That’s not to give “inspired fiction” folks a blank check, but it does suggest caution in being too dogmatic about straightforward readings.

    Having said that, I tend to agree with Steve and Geoff J.

    (BTW, just for clarification, Jared E. is a different Jared. But we are both virile bulls.)

  86. “I am a virile bull without equal.” Beat that, you pansy Evangelicals.

    Classic :)

  87. Cheers, Ben. I worked hard on that one.

    Jared E: I’m not saying that Abraham didn’t exist; I’m just saying that his temporal existence (or not) is so utterly less important than the great truths that “Abraham” conveys. We are not just heirs of the Abrahamic covenant, we are, in profound ways, Abraham. That idea gives me the chills much more than any attempt to prove or disprove the existence of one A.Bram, esq., 3 Straight Street, Ur, Chaldeeshire.

  88. D. Fletcher says:

    Ronan, I must tell you, I’ve vaguely offended at your use of the word “pansy.”


  89. Thomas Parkin says:

    It’s a wonderful non-irony that the way to get to know the important things about the Book of Abraham is along the way of yearning for, and living for, what the Book of Abraham’s Abraham yearned for, and lived for, to whatever degree that Abraham is also mythological, that is, he says of himself:

    … finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers…

    I LOVE the audaciousness of these desires! No fobidden knowledge here, nor any limit on one’s spiritual aspirations; only an ackowledgement that there is something greater and that hence we/he are at some point lesser. Well, this knowledge is the “doctrine of the Priesthood” which “distill(s) upon our souls” (male and female), under certain conditions; among which are that we do not set our hearts upon the things of the world (which can be had for money), or the honors of men, cover our sins, gratify our pride or our vain ambition, or exeercise control, compulsion or dominion, etc. – since by doing so we alienate the source of knowledge, the agent of distillation and expansion of soul.

    And so it is. :)



  90. Ronan: I agree with you. The theology is much more important than whether or not Abraham actually lived. But the church does claim to be a restoration. The church actively claims that the covenants we make in the temple, originated with a man named Abraham, the same Abraham spoken of in the Bible and POGR. If said Abraham never existed, then any claim that our temple covenants are restorationist in nature is just not true. I have no problem with them being 19th century originals, but this is not the claim of the church. (Notice I say nothing of rituals, only covenants.)

    A while back I wrote a post about why the documentary hypothesis does not bother me, namely because of what is found in the POGP.

    It seems to me that whether or not Abraham existed has bearing only on the restoration claims of the church. If he didn’t exist, I can’t see how such claims can be valid (with respect to things having to do with Abraham, e.g. temple covenants, etc.)

  91. Jared E,
    I see what you’re saying. For sure there’s a need for historicity in the Gospel. For sure.

  92. D. Fletcher says:

    For me, it boils down to, was Joseph telling the truth, or not? I’m not a literalist, but our testimonies aren’t based on “things unseen” but on things that someone, namely Joseph himself, has seen. He has seen God, he has told us so, and we must believe this as True, as true as any of our living experiences.

    Joseph took those papyrii, translated them, copied them onto facsimiles, and had it all published.

    But what he said was on those papyrii was not correct.

    The Book of Abraham itself, as a text, has some wonderful things — no question about that. So do the texts of Hamlet and Paradise Lost.

  93. MikeInWeHo says:

    Josephy believed in what he was doing and had no intention to deceive. It’s also pretty clear he wasn’t delusional. So what on earth was going on with the BoA?

    Prophets fall into that mysterious area between history and myth. Non-believers invariably accuse them of being either frauds or deluded. The unfortunate thing is that BOTH the anti’s and the Church have allowed the issue to be framed like this: Joseph Smith was either a liar, lunatic, or Prophet.

    Highly problematic for both sides.

  94. “The theology is much more important than whether or not Abraham actually lived.”

    I’d suggest that one can’t really make sense of the theology without there being actual individuals.

  95. I agree with Kevin Barney’s view. In fact, it has been my view for over 20 years. There are several important facts to note about the BofAbr.:

    (1) There are no translations in the facsimiles of any Egyptian text or script (with the possible exception of “shulem” in fac. #3). JS gives us explanations of figures in the facsimiles and what they mean in relation to the revelations of Abraham.

    (2) It is clear that the text of the papyri is from the Book of Breathings as are all of the facsimilies which Abraham uses in the text of the Book of Abraham to give us an idea of the things he refers to. The text of the Book of Abraham does not refer to any Egyptian text and it uses the facsimiles only as ilustrations.

    (3) The papyri date from about 200 A.D. The notion that it is a copy of something penned by Abraham himself or preserved in Egyptian of a book of Abraham is so far fetched I just can’t buy it.

    (4) The Book of Abraham makes the same substitutions of figures in Egyptian texts that the Testament of Abraham did — Osiris represents Abraham, the Horus Hawk represents an angel of the Lord.

    (5) What keeps me fascincated is how often Joseph got it right. There are so many similarities in what Joseph says of the facsimiles and the Egyptian figures that it is amazing to me. The fours sons of Horus representing the four corners of the earth, keys of power, symbols of the numbe 1,000, Osiris as Abrham (in both Facsimiles 1 and 3 consistently) and so forth.

    (6) The most fascinating thing about the Book of Abraham to me is how closely it parallels and reflects the Apocalypse of Abraham regarding Abrham’s actions and visions. I can’t imagine that two such similar texts just occurred — all the way from a vision of the pre-mortal council of God to the vision of the creation of the earth.

    (7) It seems to me that the Book of Abraham had to be a revelation (since Joseph clearly didn’t know and couldn’t translate Egyptians and since he didn’t even try). The revelation closely resembles the Apocalypse of Abraham, Jewish work from about the same time period.

    So tome Kevin’s hypothesis seems to have a lot of explanatory power regarding what we actually find in the Book of Abraham and how Jewish visionaries actually presented Abraham’s story and visions in the same time period as the papyri.

  96. D. Fletcher says:

    I don’t believe Joseph Smith was a pious fraud, either, purposely out to deceive people. I believe he had these amazing ideas which he attributed to divine revelation, whether they came from God or not. The Book of Mormon is a wonderful tool of conversion — it’s done an admiral job over 2 centuries.

    But the papyrii which were found in 1967 and given to the Church are the same ones that can be seen in the facsimilies, and they do not translate to The Book of Abraham. The Church conceded this point in 1967.

  97. Is the Apocaplypse of Abraham online somewhere? If not, what is the best source/translation readily available in print?

  98. Here is the 1918 J. I. Landsman annotated translation in PDF. I don’t know if this is considered the standard or not.

  99. In Moses, we have God giving as direct revelation to Moses, the Gen 1-2 text, — but something we have as a constant theme in many apocalypse style books, from Adam’s on to the Book of Enoch (some versions) and beyond.

    When I talk to God he talks back to me and he tells me that he is behind these modern scriptures (and the church in general). So based on that I mostly view these questions with dispassionate interest. I will be very interested to know what parts of the ancient narratives are historically accurate, which parts are embellished, and which parts are inspired fiction/allegories. But in the meantime I trust what God tells me personally and carry on.

    That is a core point. God speaks to us in our language, according to our weaknesses. Brigham Young spoke a good deal on that point — and insisted that because of weaknesses of language, context and understanding, we could not understand God clearly. I found those points striking when I was thirty years younger, and I find them more today.

    Some interesting things there. Better are the recreations of the Egyptian endowment (though they used boats instead of the bridges of the Chinese endowment or the doorways of other endowments).

  100. ABRAHAM, APOCALYPSE OF: (print this article)

    By : Louis Ginzberg

    Abraham the Iconoclast.
    Date of Its Composition.
    Its Original Language.
    Abraham and the Angels.
    Abraham’s Ascension.
    Date of Composition.

    An apocryphon that has been preserved in Old Slavonic literature. Its title does not fully explain its contents, for about one-third of it might more appropriately be called “The Legend of Abraham,” as this contains an account of Abraham’s conversion from idolatry to monotheism quite apart from the Apocalypse which follows.

    Abraham the Iconoclast.

    Abraham, the son of the idol-maker Terah (Gen. R. xxxviii. 13), was, like his father, a thorough-going idolater, being chiefly devoted to the worship of the stone idol called Merumat (“Eben Marumah,” stone of deceit and corruption). But on a journey to a place near Fandana (Padanaram), some of his idols were smashed, and having long felt misgivings as to their power, he became convinced of the unreality of such deities. Henceforth he fearlessly propagated this new truth, defending it even against his own father, whom he in vain endeavored to convert. He threw the wooden idol Barisat—( (“Son of the Fire”)—into the flames, and when remonstrated with declared that it must have thrown itself in, in order to hurry the boiling of the food (compare a similar anecdote related of Abraham in Gen. R. xxxviii. 13). But not even this argument influenced his father; and his more elaborate ones in favor of monotheism, which almost to the very letter are identical with those found in the Midrash (Gen. R. l.c.), also proved futile. Finally God told Abraham to leave his father’s house, which, no sooner had he done, than it was consumed by fire, as was also his father. The Biblical “Ur of the Chaldees” (Gen. xi. 31, xv. 7) is here interpreted as the fire of the Chaldees, and later in fuller detail in the Book of Jubilees, and still more fully in the Midrash, Gen. R., and in Pes. 118a. In the last passage the account of the death of Haran and of the miraculous escape of Abraham from the fire of the Chaldees is based on a combination of this Apocalypse with the Book of Jubilees.

    Date of Its Composition.

    The relative age of these works can be determined by comparing the legend of Abraham as contained in the Apocalypse with those in the Talmud and in the Book of Jubilees. The legend of the raven in the Book of Jubilees (xi. 18) and the account of the conversion of Abraham in his boyhood are still unknown to the Apocalypse, while the legend of the fire of the Chaldees is found there still in its incipient stage. The mockery of the idol Barisat is more extended in the Midrash than in the Apocalypse; also the condemnation of Terah as an idolater, as related in the Apocalypse, discloses the older Haggadah (Gen. R. xxxix. 7), whereas the Book of Jubilees presents the later one (compare Gen. R. xxx. 4, xxxix. 7, where Terah is treated quite mildly). As the Book of Jubilees can not have been written later than 70 (see Jubilees, Book of), the date of the composition should be set before the middle of the first century.

    Its Original Language.

    It is by no means difficult to ascertain with some degree of certainty the language in which this legend was originally written. The sarcastic names given to the idols pre-suppose a familiarity with a Semitic dialect which a Greco-Jewish writer would scarcely have expected of his readers. It is not certain whether the book was written in Hebrew or Aramaic. The frequent phrase, “And I said, Behold me,” suggests the Hebrew idiom , while the expression “silver” for “money” is common to both languages.

    Abraham and the Angels.

    The second part of the book, the main Apocalypse, is a commentary on Gen. xv., which is not only interpreted by the Haggadah as a revelation of the future destinies of Israel up to their final redemption (Gen. R. xliv. 15), but also as implying the fact that “God lifted Abraham above the firmament” and told him to “look down upon the world beneath.” The Apocalypse relates minutely the circumstances under which this ascension, mentioned in the Midrash, took place. According to this, Abraham’s sacrifice of the animals (Gen. xv.) took place, by God’s command, on the holy Mount Horeb, whither Abraham was led by the angel (Yahoel) after a journey of forty days. The angel introduces himself to Abraham, the “friend of God” (Book of Jubilees, 19; Men. 53b), as a being possessed of the power of the Ineffable Name (Name of the Existing), a quality assigned elsewhere by the rabbis to Meá¹­aá¹­ron, “whose name is like unto that of God Himself” (Sanh. 38b). This also explains why, in the Apocalypse, the name Yahoel is evidently a substitute for the Ineffable Name (), of which even the writing out in full was forbidden. Yahoel is also the heavenly choirmaster, who teaches the angels their hymn (), a function which, according to Yalḳuá¹­, i. § 133, is assigned to Michael. Similarly, the control over “the threats and attacks of the reptiles” ascribed here to Yahoel is assigned to Michael (see Schwab, “Vocabulaire,” p. 283). Even Michael’s chief task of protecting and watching over Israel (Dan. xii. 1) is assumed by Yahoel, who says to Abraham: “I am . . . with the generation prepared from of old to come from thee, and with me is Michael.” These are the oldest instances of the gradual transformation of Michael, originally the guardian angel of Israel, into Meá¹­aá¹­ron—that is, unto the one who concentrates in himself all that is great, a development in Jewish angelology of the greatest influence upon the Christian doctrine of the Logos (see Abraham, Testament of). Underthe guidance of Yahoel, and assisted by many other angels, Abraham offers up his sacrifice (Gen. xv.), but not without being disturbed by Azazel, the fallen archangel and seducer of mankind, as he is characterized in the Apocalypse (in agreement with the Midr. Abkir, Yalḳ., Gen., § 44). In the form of an unclean bird he swoops down “upon the carcasses” (Gen. xv. 11), and, speaking with a human voice, tries to persuade Abraham to leave the holy place. But Abraham was not the man to be seduced by Satan (Sanh. 89b). Yahoel spoke to Azazel, saying. “Listen, thou [evil] adviser, leave this man alone, thou canst not lead him astray; thou canst not tempt the righteous.” According to Baba Batra, 17a, Abraham was one of the three righteous ones, over whom Satan ( the Evil Spirit) had no power. Yahoel then adds that the celestial garments which Satan had worn now belong to Abraham; which is also expressed in Pirḳe de-Rabbi Eliezer, xx. and in Targum Yer. Gen. iii. 21, where it is said that the garments of light ( for , Gen. R. xx. 29) of the first two human beings were made out of the skin of the primeval serpent. The Apocalypse understands Azazel’s sin to have consisted in “scattering the secrets of heaven upon earth” (compare Book of Enoch, viii. 1) and in devising rebellion against the Mighty One (); compare also Gen. R. xix. and Pirḳe R. El. xiii.

    Abraham’s Ascension.

    After this interview with Satan, Abraham, borne by a dove (compare Matt. iii. 16), ascended to heaven, the splendor and glory of which are described at great length, and particularly the rivalry of the living creatures about the heavenly throne (; see Tan., ed. Buber; Gen. x.). He also saw there the angels that are born daily, and disappear as soon as they have sung their hymn (Gen. R. lxxviii. 1.) He repeats the prayer spoken for him by the angel, especially the following passage: “Thou, O Light, didst shine before the primeval morning [the Slavonic text has “morning-light,” a mistranslation of the original or ] upon Thy creatures, to cause the day to illumine the earth by the light of Thy countenance,” which is also found in the ritual. This view rests upon an ancient conception known to the students of the Merkabah mysteries, and is rendered in Gen. R. iii. 4: “God wrapped Himself in a garment of light, with which He illuminated the earth from one end to the other.”

    Ascending higher, Abraham reaches the seventh heaven, where he sees the throne, but he does not see God, as He is invisible. Here he is shown by God everything that exists in the heavens: the angels, the celestial bodies, also the earth, and everything that is moving upon it. He sees, in addition, the Leviathan and its possessions in the nethermost waters (compare Cant. R. on i. 4), and the world founded upon its fins (compare Pirḳe R. El. ix.). Furthermore, he sees the rivers and their origin, and paradise (Syriac Apoc. of Baruch, iv. 4). The fall of mankind is explained to him, just as in the Slavonic Book of Baruch and Pirḳe R. El. xxi. Adam and Eve are led to commit (sexual) sin by Azazel (Satana-El in the Book of Baruch; Sama-El in Pirḳe R. El.) through his causing them to eat from the forbidden fruit, a grape from the vine (compare Slavonic Book of Baruch and Ber. 40a). God informs Abraham that, notwithstanding yeẓer ha-ra’ (“the lustful desire”), and (“the pollution of the serpent”), with which man from that time has been possessed, he has a free will of his own and may choose to abstain from sin. Abraham then obtains an insight into the future of both individuals and nations, and especially is he forewarned of the sufferings of the people of Israel and their final redemption in the Messianic time. The destruction of the Temple, which sorely grieves Abraham, is declared by God to be a necessary punishment for the sins of the people of Israel; and, as in Pirḳe R. El. xxviii., a time is hinted for the end of their sufferings under the four empires. The description of the period preceding the Messianic time is the only part containing Christian interpolations, which are easily separated from the main part, all of which has a decidedly Jewish character. This is evidenced by the mention of the ten plagues which shall befall the heathen nations, a constantly recurring feature in the description of the Messianic time (see Tan., ed. Buber, ii. 30; Ex. R. ix. 13), and by the concluding part of the Apocalypse, which contains the prophecy of the gathering of Israel in the Promised Land, to be ushered in by a trumpet-blast from God (Jellinek, “B. H.” vi. 58), and by the judgment to be passed upon the heathen and the wicked.

    Date of Composition.

    Concerning the date of the composition of the Apocalypse proper, it clearly can not have been written before the destruction of the First Temple, as it contains Abraham’s lamentations over that catastrophe. The emphasis laid on the freedom of will, notwithstanding the fall of man, presupposes a knowledge of the Christian doctrine of sin, against which this passage seems to be directed. But this very opposition to the Christian dogma shows that at the time the Apocalypse was written Christianity was not far removed from Judaism, at least not in Palestine, where, since he used a Semitic language, the author must have lived. The last decades of the first century appear to be the period in which the Apocalypse was written. This remark, however, applies to the main part of the book, and not to its Christian and Gnostic interpolations. In connection with these must be considered the statement found in the Apocalypse that Azazel, who is described as being endowed with twelve wings (which description coincides exactly with that given in the Haggadah, Pirḳe R. El. xiii.), shares with God the power over Israel. This is, no doubt, the Gnostic doctrine of the God of the Jews as Kakodaimon; and in this connection Irenæus may be quoted, who says of the Ophitic Gnostics (“Contra Ελεγχος,” i. 30, 9), “et projectibilem serpentem duo habere nomina, Michael et Samael, dicunt” (and they called the wretched serpent two names, Michael and Samael). Thus, in the mind of these Gnostics, Samael ( “the entwined serpent”) and Michael were fused into one being. Therefore, it is quite probable that certain parts of the heretical Apocalypse of Abraham, which was in circulation among the Gnostics (Epiphanius, Πανάριον 39, 5), were incorporated in the present text. Subtracting, then, the first part, which does not belong to the Apocalypse, and the Gnostic and Christian interpolations, only about three hundred lines remain, and this number would exactly correspond with the number which, according to the stichometry of Nicephorus, the Apocalypse of Abraham contained. Outside of this, no trace of the Apocalypse is found in ancient writings. The quotation by Origen (“In Lucam,” hom. 35) from an apocalypse of Abraham certainly does not refer to the present text. Compare also Azazel and Abraham, Testament of.

  101. Just a note: I believe that the ascension of Abraham in the Apocalypse of Abraham is a type of endowment experience — or more properly, the endowment is a symbolic ascension to the throne of God passing thru heavens along the way. The elements of of the endowment will be obvious to anyone who reads the text, so I won’t say more.

  102. #

    Just a note: I believe that the ascension of Abraham in the Apocalypse of Abraham is a type of endowment experience — or more properly, the endowment is a symbolic ascension to the throne of God passing thru heavens along the way. The elements of of the endowment will be obvious to anyone who reads the text, so I won’t say more.

    Which is where the powerful significance of the book comes from.

  103. How does this answer thr problem with the fascimilies currently printed in the Pearl of Great Price? They are 100% wrong. In his own words Joseph said he was translating the papyrus and found that it was actualty the writings of Abraham. Which means he thought he could translate Egyptian enough to recognize the texts. He didn’t say he learned it by revelation.

  104. Hello,

    I started reading from the top and around halfway down, I remembered myself.

    It’s so easy to get lost in these sidepaths of interest.

    So now I return my attention to that great example of Jesus.

    The wish of my heart is to be like him to the best of my knowledge of him…

    To follow the simple paths, and love all my fellow beings.



  105. Isn’t a good part of our personal conviction based on some evidence? ie. The BoM, BoA, Hill Cumorah, the sacred grove, and the supposedly unchanging nature of temple ordinances? If only ones personal conviction and testimony of Christ is important to our salvation and we build that only on faith, then can’t we get that anywhere? Eventually we have nothing to hold onto as evidence of revelation and truthfulness restored are diminished. Does the candle on the hill appear to be fading…?

  106. Isn’t a good part of our personal conviction based on some evidence? ie. The BoM, BoA, Hill Cumorah, the sacred grove, and the supposedly unchanging nature of temple ordinances?

    Well, I think they are aids to our personal conviction. That is, they help us believe more or act as catalysts for the Spirit to communicate to us. It is demonstrable that the temple ordinances have changed rather frequently in the last 150 years, but this doesn’t change my conviction at all.

  107. I read the messages for quite a while and apologize if someone already brought this up, but I think something important has been missed. It is the claim that facsimile #1 “show[s] a priest enbalming the body of a deceased person.” I’ve seen a lot of lion couch scenes and every single one except the BOA shows a dead, naked man on the couch. Look at the picture. He isn’t dead and he isn’t naked. The one book I have read on deciphering Egyptian describes the physical position of the “corpse” above as the symbol for prayer. Why is this the only live, praying, clothed person out of scores of examples? Why is there “no getting around” the idea that he’s dead. “He’s dead, Jim, he’s dead.” He doesn’t look dead to me.


  1. […] So, if you want to read up-to-date translations of, commentaries on, and arguments about, the Hor Book of Breathings, etc., don’t read the 1st or 2nd editions of MJSP, but, instead, read the very recent translations and commentaries of Michael Rhodes [10] and Robert Ritner [11], along with the contributions of Marc Coenen [12] and John Gee [13]. For current discussions of the Book of Abraham “missing papyrus” theory and other related topics, read Ed Ashment [14], Charles Larson [15], John Gee [16] and the recent post and comments of some BCC participants. […]

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