Author's Preface to the First Edition

Author’s Preface to the First Edition

Two things
which the great Egyptologist Adolf Erman would not tolerate in students or
colleagues were Phantasie and Romantik. His was that “bacon and greens honesty” that Carlyle so
admired in the Prussian character. From the positivists of the Berlin School,
bacon and greens scholarship became the heritage and fare to this day of English
and American Egyptology to this day. No secrets from the Crypt, please! The
student who suggests in class that some Egyptian might have known something
of importance that we do not know instantly and infallibly activates the red
light and the buzzer. In no other field have practitioners concentrated with
fiercer intensity on the ordinary and the commonplace; their glory is to discover
that the Egyptians after all bought and sold, ate and drank, had families
and gave parties even as we do today—like everybody else, in fact: “As
it was in the days of Noah. . .”

With that
discovery, the student should be free to turn to more significant matters.
Life is too short to devote years of study to learning that what went on with
the Ancients was just more of the same; it is too short to let us live both
our lives and theirs from day to day unless
they have something to add to the story, something we do not have, something
quite wonderful and unexpected. Of all people the Egyptians are most likely
to supply us with such matter, and this is exactly what most of the schoolmen
would deny us. From time to time a few eminent Egyptologists have commented
with sorrow on the failure of their discipline to bring forth after many generations
of toil a single really important discovery—the shovel alone will speak
for them. They have robbed themselves, in their fierce jealousy of each other
and the amateur, of untold riches—untold because no one has been allowed
to examine them. Whatever cannot be explained in terms of our own everyday
experience must be bypassed as an unsolved mystery or brushed aside as complete
nonsense, preferably the latter, to keep the layman from meddling in a field
where common ignorance places him on a common footing with the learned. This
book is dedicated to the proposition that the Egyptians have something important
and unexpected to communicate, and that such knowledge is to be found, among
other places, in the Book of Abraham.

From the
first our no-nonsense scholars picked Joseph Smith for an easy mark; the man
was just too uneducated to produce anything serious. To the question, Do you
mind looking at what he actually produced? the answer was always, Yes, we
do mind, our time is much too valuable for such nonsense. How do they know
it is nonsense? Answer: It must be, coming from such an unlearned man. And
so his work goes untested and unread.

Yet for
one thing alone he commands the respect and awe of any who take more than
a passing glance; that is the vast scope of his work. He has given us what
purport to be original fragments (in inspired translation) of books of Adam,
Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Zenos, and John, a full-scale epic from the “Separation”
(from the Tower), also a thousand-year history of a lost civilization, an
account of great complexity and detail. And all these things were given out
as true history. Has any other modern author ever even remotely approached
such a performance for sheer daring? But daring was the least part of it.
The multitude of names, places, institutions, events and the powerful presentation,
with its inexhaustible variety and rapid succession of intensely dramatic
situations, the manifest sincerity, the clear purpose and meaning, the frightening
relevance to our own day, are only surpassed by the most remarkable feat of
all, which was getting the whole thing straight the first time; there are
no snags or loose ends discoverable to the reader struggling desperately to
follow all the threads that Joseph Smith handles so adroitly. What more could
scholars in a dozen fields ask for should they ever decide to run exhaustive
tests on him? And it is he who invites the test; after 150 years these histories
are still on public display without the slightest apology or retraction of
any of the claims made for them in the beginning. If these writings are fraudulent,
the best possible way to get rid of them would be to encourage the widest
possible reading of them, instead of which every effort has been made and
is still being made to keep people from reading them. To this day the usual
answer of the critics to the challenge has been simply to ignore it, contemptuously
dismissing Joseph Smith’s unparalleled performance by comparing his lack of
education to their own titles and degrees.

The purpose
of the present book is to carry forward beginnings made in my long series
of articles in the Improvement Era
and a book on the Egyptian Endowment, and in the process to clarify the proposition
that the critics up to now have been exceeding their authority in maintaining
that the Book of Abraham cannot by the remotest possibility have anything
to do with the real Abraham or the real Egypt. The reader is invited to join
me in discovering how little anyone today knows about either, and how a good
deal of what we do not know may well have to do with Abraham.