Approaching Understandings in the Book of Abraham
Approaching Understandings in the Book of Abraham
Reviewed by Kerry Muhlestein
The Book of Abraham is replete with important and rich doctrines for Latter-day
Saints.1 The existence of papyri connected with
the Book of Abraham furthers interest in this volume of scripture. While much
research has been conducted into the doctrines and also the origins of the
Book of Abraham, clearly much more remains to be done. As the third title
in the Studies in the Book of Abraham series, this volume provides the reader
with an abundance of research in the three crucial themes from which its name
derives: astronomy, papyrus, and covenant. It has been dedicated to the memory
of David Elliot, a graduate student in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania
whose paper was intended for the volume but was not completed before his untimely
death. All but three of the articles were presented in a conference at Brigham
One of the most rewarding aspects of the book is the juxtaposition of articles
whose conclusions or methodologies do not agree with one another. The editors
have done this intentionally (p. viii), which demonstrates that well-thought-out
but divergent arguments and conclusions can be advanced by scholars within
the same framework of faith. In addition, it offers the reader an opportunity
to observe and evaluate the differences between varying assumptions and methodologies.
This exercise is valuable for scholar and layman alike.
The volume starts out with just such a juxtaposition. In the first chapter
John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson outline their
view that Abraham’s conception of astronomy was geocentric. They note that
Joseph Smith described the Abraham papyri as including “the principles
of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients” (p. 2). The authors then demonstrate that
the ancients from Abraham’s time viewed the universe geocentrically. As Gee,
Hamblin, and Peterson have pointed out, adopting their position does dismiss
some criticisms of the Book of Abraham (p. 2).2 Many
of their arguments are convincing. However, some of the evidences they produce,
such as the scriptural text citing that God descends to the earth (p. 8), fit in nicely with their
stance but do not dictate a geocentric perspective.
Gee, Hamblin, and Peterson’s article is followed by a discussion of creation
by Michael D. Rhodes and J. Ward Moody, wherein they use their training
in physics and astronomy, as well as in Egyptology, to argue for an Abrahamic
orientation that fits more with a modern astronomical understanding.3 They are explicit about their faith-based
assumptions (pp. 17–18) and discuss such issues as the amount of
time involved in the creation (p. 25), the age of the earth (pp. 25–26),
and the possibility of death before the fall (pp. 26–28). They
also compare scriptural creation accounts to a modern astronomical view of
creation. While admitting to geocentric elements in the account (p. 22),
Rhodes and Moody set out an argument that at least some of the scriptural
text indicates a Kolob-centric viewpoint (as opposed to geocentric).
What neither of these articles discusses is the possibility that God was
not showing Abraham a post-Einsteinian concept of the cosmos, or a helio-
or geocentric view. Instead, he could have been explaining astronomy from
an altogether different paradigm that we do not yet understand. Perhaps even
more likely, the Lord may have been describing astronomy allegorically, not
as an attempt to show the heavens from any particular standpoint, but in a
manner that allowed him to teach doctrinal principles. After all, the Lord
told Abraham that he was being shown these things so he could teach them in
Egypt (Abraham 3:15). Not only does it seem that the Lord would be more concerned
with teaching the Egyptians doctrine than astronomy, but the astronomical
discussions are continually couched in descriptions of how they symbolize
the things of God (see Abraham 3:14, 16–22).
In any case, the varying viewpoints discussed in these chapters indicate
that the complexity of the vision of the heavens recorded in the Book of Abraham
is not only deserving of the able and excellent treatment these two essays
provide, but also of much more study. Clearly, several layers of interpretation
can be gleaned from Abraham’s text.
I would also like to compare the article by E. Douglas Clark to those
by Jared W. Ludlow and by Brian M. Hauglid (whose essay appears
later in the book). Clark draws upon the images of stars and cedars, averring
that they are royal symbols and that Abraham fits the symbols better than
Pharaoh because Abraham possesses the royal priesthood while Pharaoh’s royalty
is wholly man-made. Clark is correct in this conclusion about Abraham’s real
royalty; he ably highlights Abraham’s pivotal role in God’s covenant process
with his children (pp. 38–39). This should lead the reader to reflect
on Abraham as a person and his position in the covenant. These are all very
However, there are also some problems with this article. While Clark musters
a convincing picture of royal imagery being associated with the stars, not
all of the star imagery drawn upon (see p. 53) is valid for all of Egyptian
history (we have little evidence from the time period of Abraham). He is less
successful with the cedar imagery, which is not as strongly tied to Egyptian
kingship as the article suggests (see pp. 38–39 and 52), or at
least we do not presently have the evidence for it. The problem of evidence
segues into the most persistent flaw in this thought-provoking article: the
consistent use of extracanonical material without providing any apparent methodology
of how that material was selected. Why were some nonscriptural texts chosen
as representing authentic events without any discussion of the possibility
that these texts may not accurately portray events in Abraham’s life?4 We do not know the degree to which events
described in the Genesis Apocryphon, Jubilees, the Legends of the Jews, or other texts that Clark cites, reflect reality. Undoubtedly
many of the events they mention did not occur. While it is one thing to cite
these ancient sources as examples of ancient traditions that parallel accounts
Joseph Smith gave us, it is quite another to treat the stories they share
as factual events with no discussion about their authenticity (see pp. 45,
47, 49, 52, and 54 for examples). Unfortunately, Clark’s discussion is also
marred by a nonchronological use of Egyptian sources.
However, both Ludlow and Hauglid explicitly tackle the issue of using extrascriptural
sources. Ludlow examines Abraham’s vision of the heavens and compares it to
other ancient sources, seeking both to identify valid parallel traditions
and to establish a methodology in comparing them. He specifies that such comparisons
must be evaluated with at least three things in mind: (1) the similarity
of context and time period of the traditions; (2) the possible dependency
of each text upon the other; and (3) the purpose for the author’s use
of the tradition (p. 58). Stringently using these criteria and explicitly
addressing the issues of extracanonical accounts, Ludlow demonstrates that
traditions of Abraham seeing the heavens that are similar to the account found
in the Book of Abraham are abundant in ancient sources.
Ludlow also asks the right question: are these sources fabrications that
happen to support a Latter-day Saint point of view, or are they corrupted
echoes of an original truth (pp. 69–70)? This is a question that
LDS scholars must ask because of a strong temptation to recognize support
for our views regardless of proper methodology. We are on much better footing
with few but strong supports rather than having our work linked to additional
weak parallels. Ludlow’s methodology and manner of questioning should be employed
by other LDS scholars. He addresses the narrow textual context of the sources
he employs, as well as the broader context, by looking at time, provenance,
genre, and language. Ludlow concludes that it is neither likely that all the
ancient sources he draws upon were dependent on each other nor probable that
they came from a single source; instead, these traditions stemmed from a broad
understanding in the ancient world that Abraham had seen the heavens and that
he understood and taught astronomy (p. 71). Of this type of evidence,
Ludlow concludes that while testimony must come from spiritual conversion,
parallels “can be a nudging confirmation as we walk down the path of
faith” (p. 73).
Similarly, Hauglid’s article is devoted to understanding how and why Muslim
apocryphal traditions developed, thus enabling us to better use and evaluate
these sources. Hauglid is appropriately respectful of the Muslim point of
view; he notes that “Muslims do not consider that the Qurʾān is in any way a part of
the apocryphal tradition but as the word of God incarnate revealed directly
to Muḥammad through Gabriel”
(p. 133). Not only does Hauglid describe the development of Muslim extracanonical
traditions, but he also addresses the important issue of how much would have
been available in Joseph Smith’s day.
One section of this article is somewhat puzzling, though. Hauglid states
that Muslim tradition was created to bolster the message of Muhammad and Islam,
thus making any similarities to the Book of Abraham purely unintentional.
“Thus, when supportive evidence is encountered in Muslim tradition, it
gives that much more force to the uniquely ancient character of the Book of
Abraham” (p. 137). I fail to see how this is so. When Muslim traditions
that agree with the Book of Abraham draw from sources more ancient than themselves,
this does lend support to the Abrahamic account coming from an ancient tradition.
But anything that was created whole cloth in an effort to support Muhammad
would be late enough that it would reveal nothing at all about the ancient
character of the Book of Abraham. These would be the kinds of fabrications
Ludlow asked about, as opposed to the ancient traditions to which he compared
them. It is in drawing on ancient tradition that we find evidence, not from
the creation of new traditions. However, Hauglid does demonstrate how these
new traditions can be valuable.
Hauglid notes that ancient Jewish sources held that Abraham had fought against
idolatry while living with his father and that this led to his life being
endangered (p. 142). He also outlines a Muslim tradition to this same
effect, with some slight variations. While we do not know if the latter text
is dependent on the former, the two together lend credence to the idea that
there was an ancient tradition similar to the text found in the Book of Abraham.
He firms this up by creating a table that shows how much of the material in
Abraham 2 is supported by Muslim tradition, whether or not it is mentioned
in the biblical account (pp. 144–46). Together Ludlow and Hauglid
explain how to use ancient sources and demonstrate this correct use with examples.
This makes their contributions to the volume valuable on a number of levels.
In a very short article Richard D. Draper addresses an issue that many teachers
encounter as they engage their students in the study of various creation accounts.
Draper ably outlines the nuances of the literality and symbolism interlaced
in creation accounts. He points out that men such as Parley P. Pratt and Brigham
Young spoke of the symbolic nature of the description of the creation of humankind,
and he investigates the question of whether or not they got this idea from
Joseph Smith. Draper suggests that they did not and cites many of Joseph’s
teachings about the creation, noting that he does not mention anything about
the biblical explanation being symbolic.
Draper’s arguments are largely convincing. Some questions, however, remain.
Draper notes that, in two sermons in which Joseph discussed the creation,
he specifically employed the language of Genesis. While this might indicate
that Joseph took these accounts literally, it is also possible that he was
just using scriptural language, as he was prone to do, and saying nothing
at all about the literality of the account. Draper discusses yet another sermon,
the King Follett discourse, averring that when Joseph used scriptural language
in that discourse it supports his literal interpretation of that language.
However, Joseph’s point in this section of the Follett discourse was the eternal
nature of spirit, not how Adam’s physical body was created. We are probably
safer in saying of the King Follett discourse, and of his other sermons, that
Joseph did not say anything that indicated he did not accept a literal interpretation
of the biblical account of man’s creation. He did not address the subject
specifically, and we do not know everything he said to other church leaders;
thus, as far as we know, Draper’s position that Brigham Young and Parley P.
Pratt did not get their ideas about the creation of mankind from Joseph seems
to be true. However, we can neither prove nor disprove it.
In a further effort to ascertain the degree of literality within the account
of the creation of mankind, Draper appeals to the Abrahamic account. This
is appropriate. Since the Abrahamic narrative predates that of the Genesis
and Moses accounts and, furthermore, because this text presents a unique viewpoint
of creation, the Abrahamic creation pericope is more likely to vary from the
Genesis and Moses accounts than they are from each other. Draper demonstrates
that the Abrahamic account squares with the biblical account, lending further
credence to his argument for the literality of the text.
He concludes that the scriptural language as it stands is the creation
account God wants us to have. Regardless of whether it is symbolic or literal,
it is the story of creation as God has given it to us.
Peter C. Nadig’s paper is crucial for those who want to understand how the
writings of Abraham eventually arrived in Ptolemaic (or perhaps Roman) Egypt.5 The first step must be to understand
the time and place in general and the role of Jews within that community in
particular. Nadig’s piece does precisely this. While noting the limitations
in available sources, he outlines briefly some of the key historical events
of Ptolemaic Egypt, especially as these events involved the status of Jews
within Egypt. He outlines shifts in the status of and attitude toward Jews,
noting the upturn in social status that Jews gained in the Ptolemaic realm
just before the earliest assigned date of the papyri. This information is
crucial in any attempt to piece together the history of the papyri.
In the introduction to his article on Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125,
John Gee makes an understatement when he says that little has been done in
the way of scholarly treatment of Facsimile 3 (p. 95). This is also true
when he says that Egyptological work remains to be done on similar scenes.
It is surprising how much we still do not understand about this type of scene.
Of the few things that have been written of Facsimile 3, it is astonishing
how many are wrong. Gee takes the logical first step in correcting this error.
His article is intentionally limited in scope, discussing what has typically
been said of the facsimile from an Egyptological standpoint and how those
things are wrong. Succinctly put, the article demonstrates what Facsimile
3 is not. Before we can start doing things right in regard to this representation,
we must stop doing things wrong.
Gee demonstrates that the vignette of the judgment scene (something different
from textual references to judgment) was first associated with Book of the
Dead chapter 30B and later with chapter 125, significantly noting that vignettes
could be applied to more than one text and thus to more than one concept (pp. 98–99).6 He also shows that while many have called
Facsimile 3 a typical Egyptian judgment scene,7 it most
decidedly is not a typical judgment scene. Virtually none of the elements
typical of the judgment scene are present. Instead, Facsimile 3 seems to be
what I prefer to call a presentation scene, wherein one is presented to a
god or another important figure. While variations of this scene are often
associated with the judgment scene, they also exist in contexts having nothing
to do with judgment.
What remains to be done is to analyze more carefully exactly what this scene
means Egyptologically, which is quite separate from what it may mean in the
context of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Both John Gee and I are engaged in such
analyses. Gee has already presented much of his work in a scholarly conference,
the publication of which is forthcoming.8
Gee concludes with examples of vignettes associated with the Book of Breathings
juxtaposed with Facsimile 3, highlighting the differences between the two.
He also includes a very helpful table outlining documents associated with
the judgment scene, noting which are securely dated and including information
as to the date of the text, its various elements, and the sequence. This table
will be a valuable tool for those who aim to further this research. Gee’s
discussion of the elements comprising a judgment scene would be slightly enhanced
if it included the prose description of judgment provided in the Demotic tale
of Setne Khamwas (II), especially since this stems from the same era as the
Joseph Smith Papyri.9 While such an inclusion would provide further
evidence and an even more rounded understanding of the topic, the conclusions
reached would not be altered by the consideration of this text
Kevin L. Barney examines a crucial and oft-ignored possibility concerning
the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham. He argues that the facsimiles may well
have a Semitic interpretation quite separate from what the ancient Egyptians
may have seen in these vignettes, and he provides parallels. Coupled with
Nadig’s article, Barney’s piece gives us a clearer understanding of the sociohistorical
context from which the papyri stem. (What remains to be done, and Nadig is
very capable of doing this, is a description of the intellectual and cross-cultural
sharing of the time period.)
Barney sets out the possibility that the Book of Abraham had at least one
Jewish redactor, whom he dubs J-red. He outlines five key false assumptions
used by critics of the church that his Jewish redaction theory would dismiss
(p. 111). He finds several convincing parallel cases in which Semites
clearly used Egyptian elements but gave them a uniquely Israelite/Jewish interpretation.
One of his more convincing bits of evidence is based on similarities between
the Testament of Abraham and the Egyptian psychostasy. While scholars have long
assumed that there were parallels between the scene described in the Testament
of Abraham and the typical Egyptian judgment
scene, until recently no one has done a thorough investigation into these
similarities to put the assumption on a sure scholarly foundation. However,
Jared Ludlow presented his investigation at an academic Egyptological conference
held at BYU–Hawaii in February 2006,10 concluding
that the assumption is indeed correct and that the parallels are real. This
study makes Barney’s example all the more forceful.
It should be noted that Barney argues that J-red adapts/adopts vignettes
from the Book of Breathings for a Jewish use, but Facsimile 1 is not typical
of the Book of Breathings (at least no parallels have been found). This does
not diminish his argument; the hypothetical J-red could have provided a Jewish
adaptation to this scene whatever its original context. Undoubtedly each culture
will assign its own understanding to any visual representation. Barney demonstrates
that there are Semitic contexts and interpretations for Egyptian motifs that
are valid in addition to their Egyptian context. This could be the case with
the Book of Abraham facsimiles. Barney’s Semitic adaptation theory has many
strengths, but we cannot know for sure if it represents what actually happened.
The various times Abraham and his descendants moved in and out of the Egyptian
realm provided many opportunities for reinterpretations and adaptations of
each other’s cultural elements. Abraham’s text, and its ensuing copies, could
have moved to and from Egypt a number of times and could have been handled
by numerous types of people. Besides the possibility of a Jewish reinterpretation
of an Egyptian motif, we should be cognizant of the possibility of an Egyptian
redrawing of Jewish documents and representations. Could there have been a
J-red and an E-red? Could E-red have seen a Jewish drawing and recopied it
on papyrus using artistic elements and scenes with which he was most comfortable?
(Most artists draw using their own cultural artistic conventions, regardless
of the original representations; hence we have Latter-day Saint depictions
of Abraham’s sacrifice that are very different from Facsimile 1, and Renaissance
portraits of biblical figures in European styles.) While the J-red hypothesis
is valuable and attractive, we must acknowledge that the possible twists in
the story of how Abraham’s book arrived in its present form are dizzying.
Still, careful analyses such as that done by Barney will open up new avenues
for further research, and we will slowly inch toward a more accurate picture.
Janet Hovorka sheds light on the overlooked part that the wives of Abraham
played in the covenant. Hovorka asks important questions about Sarah and Hagar
(p. 147). She examines aspects of covenants in general and the Abrahamic
covenant in particular, attempting to elucidate evidence for the participation
of both these women in the covenant. Her piece should lead readers to reflect
on what these women went through and their contribution to scriptural history
and covenant blessings, an important yet understudied topic. The evidence
is sparse, and though her article is thought provoking, Hovorka often stretches
the sources further than they can safely go. These flaws undermine much of
the article. While Sarah and Hagar may have played larger roles than we have
typically given them credit for, I do not think we do them or modern-day readers
any favors by attempting to reconstruct what we believe must have been the
case from evidence that does not support the conclusions.
In order to properly address the topic, Hovorka first defines a covenant
and identifies the aspects we should expect to find if Sarah and Hagar were
active participants in the covenant, such as covenantal stipulations, covenantal
blessings, and covenantal tokens or signs. She applies the typical biblical
definition of the Abrahamic covenant, leaving out the important aspects of
the priesthood and sharing the gospel that are a major part of the covenant
passages in the restoration scriptures (pp. 150–51).11 She then sets out to demonstrate that
Sarah was part of the covenant, something that appeals to Latter-day Saints
since we associate the Abrahamic covenant with the marriage covenant. She
is correct in pointing out that Sarah has not received enough attention and
amply outlines Sarah’s ability to be obedient to all that the Lord asked.
She thus concludes that Sarah was part of the covenant. While I agree that
Sarah was part of the covenant, I am not convinced that demonstrating her
obedience necessarily proves that.
As part of the discussion of Sarah and covenantal blessings, Hovorka espouses
an idea that others have had—namely, that Sarah may have been bereft
of children because she may have occupied the role of a celibate priestess
in Mesopotamia before becoming converted to Jehovah. While the argument is
possible, it is unconvincing. After all, Sarah herself says that the Lord
had restrained her from bearing children (Genesis 16:2); it seems unlikely
that the Lord’s mechanism of restraint would be her pagan service as a Mesopotamian
In concluding her discussion of Sarah’s part in the covenant blessings, Hovorka
notes that Abraham was told by the Lord to follow her counsel and that Peter
and Paul both held her up as an example for women to follow. “Thus, Sarah
received the same blessings as Abraham” (p. 156). This is a non
sequitur. Certainly Sarah was part of the covenant and received the blessings
of posterity and so forth, but this is not necessarily a conclusion drawn
from her obedience and good example.
Hovorka is correct in pointing out that Sarah’s name change (from Sarai)
is a sign of covenant (p. 156). But she then attempts to demonstrate
that Sarah’s laughing upon hearing the news that she would bear a child was
a laugh of rejoicing. I fail to see what this has to do with covenant tokens
(though it is a topic worth addressing), and the evidence does not seem to
support the claim. Hovorka proposes that the word translated as “laugh”
should be read as “rejoiced” but fails to investigate how the word
is usually used in the Hebrew Bible. My own preliminary investigation indicates
that “rejoiced” is a less common usage. Furthermore, when confronted
by heavenly messengers who construed her laugh as a sign of doubt, Sarah denied
that she had laughed (Genesis 18:15), something one is unlikely to do if the
laugh had been one of rejoicing.
In taking on the more difficult task of establishing Hagar inside the covenant,
Hovorka acknowledges the difficulty arising from lack of source material (p. 157).
Hovorka is right in her assertion that Hagar and Ishmael were in a covenantal
relationship with the Lord (p. 158), and the scriptural text supports
this view (Genesis 16:10–13). However, whatever Hagar and Ishmael’s
covenant is, it is not the full Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17:21). Additionally,
Hovorka avers that a promised land is part of the covenant with Ishmael and
Hagar (pp. 158, 160). This concept is not to be found in the canonical
text, and Hovorka’s idea that the separation of Ishmael from Isaac occurred
so that each could have his own land does not mean that Ishmael was assured
land. Hovorka also suggests that perhaps Hagar’s name was changed to Keturah,
who is listed as one of Abraham’s later wives (p. 161). However, since
the Midianites are descended of Keturah, and Jethro the Midianite held the
priesthood, it seems unlikely that his ancestress was in fact Hagar, an Egyptian.
Still, there is no doubt that Hagar and Ishmael participated in a covenant
with the Lord. Hovorka’s article serves as a reminder of the importance of
covenants in general, of the Abrahamic covenant specifically, and of the crucial
and overlooked role that Sarah and Hagar played in the establishment of the
covenant. Unfortunately, much of the evidence mustered is weak.
In her article on Abraham and redemption, Jennifer Lane continues her important
work on understanding redemption phraseology, legality, and symbolism in various
scriptural texts. In this series of investigations she has unveiled new meanings
for many aspects of the Old Testament,12
New Testament,13 and Book of Mormon.14 Her
scholarship in this area has revolutionized what we can learn from many scriptural
passages.15 Lane insightfully identifies Abraham
1:2 as a description of Abraham’s search for redemption. She also outlines
how redemption was available through family relationships and how the covenant
with Abraham created a family relationship between him and Jehovah, making
redemption possible. Through Abraham’s faith and his participation in the
covenant, redemption is extended to Abraham. In this article Lane provides
a case study that elucidates the general principles she has discussed previously.
My only suggestion would be a change in language, or emphasis. Lane consistently
uses adoption terminology in describing the creation of familial relations
through covenant. So do most others.16
In doing so, they follow the lead of Paul, who consistently employs adoption
nomenclature (see Romans 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5). However,
this is not the familial term most often employed in the scriptures, and I
fear that the sole use of adoption terminology hides other crucial concepts
about which the scriptures are insistent. Overall, the scriptural language
does not emphasize being adopted by
Christ, but being begotten by
Christ. This may seem a small matter, but it touches upon the concept of being
born again and becoming new creatures, matters that are not unimportant.
Lane’s article is actually replete with scriptural begotten concepts. While covenants can indeed signify adoption
in the mortal world, they can be part of begetting when dealing with God.
Lane references covenants and adoption in regard to King Benjamin’s sermon
(p. 171). However, the passage she cites reads “because of the covenant
which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and
his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten
you. . . . And under this head ye are made free” (Mosiah 5:7–8).
Lane notes that as part of the covenant Abraham receives a new name (p. 171).
Yet new names generally denote becoming a new being, something that does not
happen through adoption but through birth or rebirth (in the end, all of our
births have been rebirths). Lane also emphasizes the reception of a new nature
(p. 173); however, a new nature accompanies not an adoption but a rebirth,
which would make us begotten of him who gave us the new birth. It is the atonement
of Christ that changes our nature or makes of us new creatures, thus constituting
a rebirth—or begetting—of which he is the father.
The phraseology hinges on the concept of being born again, and focusing on
adoption threatens to turn us away from the need to be born of God and to
have our natures changed until finally our natures have become such that we
are redeemed. Alma the Younger reports what the Lord told him: all mankind
“must be born again; yea, born
of God, changed from their carnal and
fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming
his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures” (Mosiah 27:25–26).
Alma finishes by saying that “I am born
of God. My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of
iniquity” (Mosiah 27:28–29). Later Alma asks, “have ye spiritually
been born of God?” (Alma 5:14). Enoch records that the Lord
spoke to Adam about being born of God, comparing it to our physical birth
This last verse highlights that the rebirth is not merely symbolic terminology,
nor is it merely adoption. Our spiritual rebirth is as real as any of our
other births. We call God our “Father” because he is the Father
of our spirits. We also call our mortal dads “father” because they
are the fathers of our mortal bodies. We could thus create a chart:
|Father of our Spirit Life
||Father of our Mortal Life|
|God the Father||Dad|
Yet we must all become new creatures, having a new spirit created in us.
Thus the chart continues:
|Father of our Spirit Life||Father of our Mortal Life||Father of our Spiritual Life|
|God the Father||Dad||Christ|
And eventually we will receive eternal life from Christ (as well as a resurrected
body), who has been given the power to give us eternal life from his Father.
|Father of our Spirit Life||Father of our Mortal Life||Father of our Spiritual Life||Father of our Eternal Life|
|God the Father||Dad||Christ||Christ|
Thus we see that Christ literally becomes our father as much as any of the
fathers of our previous births. We seldom forget the fourth column but often
overlook the third. As we focus on becoming children of Christ, not through
adoption but through being born again and receiving a new nature, we will
come that much closer to redemption. While the language of adoption is not
wrong per se, I would suggest that we not use it exclusively so that we may
maintain a focus on the gospel idea of being born again and its part in the
redemptive process. This is not to say that any of Lane’s excellent writings
have been wrong but is to suggest a possible change for future writings that
focus on our familial relationship with Christ. It is my understanding that
this is exactly the direction Lane’s research is now taking and that this
issue is one she plans to address.
The concluding chapter, by Andrew H. Hedges, makes an important contribution
in examining differences between how Joseph Smith treated Abraham and how
his religious contemporaries did. Hedges acknowledges the incumbent limitations
in such a study and how to deal with them. As he notes, we must all remember
that while Hedges is able to account for written and printed material available
in Joseph’s day, we cannot take into account the kinds of things that were
being preached in the countryside that Joseph may have heard. Yet, since the
written texts Hedges cited were likely referred to and used as a guide by
most preachers, Hedges’s conclusions still carry a great deal of weight.
Hedges demonstrates that attention paid to Abraham was at an all-time low
when Joseph was working on the Book of Abraham (p. 179). He also describes
the differences in the way Abraham the person as well as the Abrahamic narrative
were employed by Joseph’s contemporaries as compared with the text of the
Book of Abraham. For example, this bit of restoration scripture emphasizes
covenants and how they would be fulfilled in the future, something Hedges
demonstrates contrasted with the way that American preachers treated Abraham
in Joseph’s day. He also notes Joseph’s uniqueness in emphasizing a literal
promised land. Moreover, no one in Joseph’s day mentioned Abraham’s dealings
in Egypt, idolatry, or Abraham nearly being sacrificed (p. 186). Additionally,
an Abrahamic creation account is completely original.
Hedges’s conclusions devastate notions that Joseph Smith was borrowing Abrahamic
ideas from his religious contemporaries. The material in the Book of Abraham
seems unique and contrasts strongly with the way other Christians employed
anything that dealt with Abraham. In the face of Hedges’s article, it is ludicrous
to try to maintain that Joseph was modifying or borrowing existing Abrahamic
The final merit of the book comes from its apparatuses. The citation index,
which lists the ancient sources used within the various articles, will make
further research much easier. The same is true of the extensive subject index
and the list of foreign terms used. Though these tools represent a small number
of pages, they are the result of many hours of work that will result in exponentially
more hours being saved by future researchers. The editors are to be commended
for including these tools.
Overall, this volume is an indispensable piece of scholarship for anyone
who wants to understand the Book of Abraham better. Although some flaws exist
throughout, the combined strength of the articles is commendable. Not only
does the book answer many previous questions about Abraham, but it also provides
guidelines for future research.
1. See John Gee,
“The Role of the Book of Abraham in the Restoration” (Provo, UT:
2. See Dan Vogel
and Brent Lee Metcalfe, “Joseph Smith’s Scriptural Cosmology,” in
The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture,
ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 218–19 n. 78;
and as cited by the authors.
3. Portions of
this article also appear in modified form in a recent commentary. See Richard D.
Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes, The Pearl of Great
Price: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005).
4. For a discussion
on this topic, see C. Wilfred Griggs, ed., Apocryphal Writings and the
Latter-day Saints (Provo, UT: BYU Religious
Studies Center, 1986).
5. See Marc Coenen,
“The Dating of the Papyri Joseph Smith I, X and XI and Min Who Massacres
His Enemies,” in Egyptian Religion: The Last Thousand Years, Part
II. Studies Dedicated to the Memory of Jan Quaegebeur, ed. Willy Clarysse, Antoon Schoors, and Harco Willems
(Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 1103–15; Robert K. Ritner, “The ‘Breathing
Permit of Hôr’ Thirty-four Years Later,” Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 99; Marc Coenen, “Horos, Prophet
of Min Who Massacres His Enemies,” Chronique d’Égypte 74/148 (1999): 257–59; John Gee, A
Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo,
UT: FARMS, 2000), 25–27; Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph
Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd
ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2005), 5–10; and Jan Quaegebeur,
“Books of Thoth Belonging to Owners of Portraits? On Dating Late Hieratic
Funerary Papyri,” in Portraits and Masks: Burial Customs in
Roman Egypt, ed. Morris L. Bierbrier
(London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1997), 74. While Nibley and Ritner
prefer the later Roman period date, the earlier date espoused by Gee, Quaegebeur,
and Coenen is most likely correct.
6. On the topic
of vignettes and accompanying texts containing incongruities, see Valérie
Angenot, “Discordance entre texte et image: Deux exemples de l’Ancien
et du Nouvel Empires,” Göttinger Miszellen 187 (2002): 11–21.
7. See Charles
M. Larson, By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith
Papyri, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Institute
for Religious Research, 1992), 108.
8. John Gee, “A New Look at the
ʿnḫ p3 by Formula,” presented at the IXe
Congrès International des Études Démotiques, Paris, France,
31 August–3 September 2005.
available in Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume III:
The Late Period (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1980), 140.
10. Jared Ludlow, “Reinterpretation
of the Judgment Scene in the Testament of Abraham,” presented at the
Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation, and Reinterpretation Conference
held at BYU–Hawaii, February 2006.
11. For more on the Abrahamic
covenant, see S. Michael Wilcox, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” in A
Witness of Jesus Christ: The 1989 Sperry Symposium on the Old Testament,
ed. Richard D. Draper (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 271–80;
Ellis T. Rasmussen, “Abrahamic Covenant,” in Encyclopedia
of Mormonism, 1:9–10; and Bruce R. McConkie, “The
Promises Made to the Fathers,” in The Old Testament: Genesis
to 2 Samuel; Studies in Scripture,
ed. Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Randall
Book, 1985), 47–62.
12. Jennifer Clark Lane, “The
Lord Will Redeem His People: ‘Adoptive’ Covenant and Redemption in the Old
Testament,” in Thy People Shall Be My People and Thy God My God: The
22d Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1994), 49–60.
13. Jennifer Clark Lane, “Hebrew
Concepts of Adoption and Redemption in the Writings of Paul,” in The
Apostle Paul, His Life and His Testimony: The 23d Annual Sidney B. Sperry
Symposium (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
1994), 80–95; and Jennifer Clark Lane, “Not Bondage but Adoption:
Adoptive Redemption in the Writings of Paul” (master’s thesis, Brigham
Young University, 1994).
14. Jennifer Clark, “The
Lord Will Redeem His People: “Adoptive” Covenant and Redemption
in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon” (University Scholars Project,
Brigham Young University, 1993).
15. For example, her ideas strongly
influenced my lecture “Covenant and Redemption on the Book of Ruth,”
presented at BYU–Hawaii Women’s Conference, May 2006.
16. See, for example, Brian
K. Ray, “Adoption and Atonement: Becoming Sons and Daughters of Christ,”
Religious Educator 6/3 (2005): 129–36.