The Book of Abraham Overview: The Text of the Book of Abraham

As we outlined in the Book of Abraham translation overview, Joseph Smith mistranslated the Egyptian papyri that was claimed to contain the Book of Abraham, and we now can show that the source material for the Book of Abraham text is included in the papyrus fragment next to Facsimile 1. To be clear, this was the introduction to the Book of Abraham as given by Joseph Smith:
 

A translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the BOOK OF ABRAHAM, written by his own hand, upon papyrus." (emphasis added)


The problems, as we detailed in the last section, are that the Egyptian papyri have absolutely nothing to do with Abraham, and the papyri itself dates to thousands of years after Abraham would have lived. From the church’s essay on the Book of Abraham:
 

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments. Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.” (emphasis added)


This would put to rest any claims to authenticity about the Book of Abraham for anyone not raised or involved with the church, but as we detailed in the last section, the church’s apologists have created multiple theories to explain how the text could still be an authentic writing of Abraham.

We covered why the “long/lost scroll” and “catalyst theory” apologetics cannot work given the evidence and Book of Abraham itself, but the church’s essay ultimately gives us this explanation after the apologetics regarding translation:
 

“A careful study of the book of Abraham provides a better measure of the book’s merits than any hypothesis that treats the text as a conventional translation. Evidence suggests that elements of the book of Abraham fit comfortably in the ancient world and supports the claim that the book of Abraham is an authentic record.”


In this section, we are going to cover the text of the Book of Abraham along with some of the common apologetics about the text itself. This is important as most coverage of the Book of Abraham that you’ll see online focuses on the translation problems given that Joseph Smith got the translations completely wrong, even incorrectly translating the Egyptian characters in Facsimile 3 that not even apologists can claim we do not have the source material for.

The problem, however, is when you take a deep dive into the text of the Book of Abraham, the apologetic arguments for its ancient parallels do not hold up, and biblical scholarship again tells us that this is without any doubt a 19th century document written by Joseph Smith.
 

Biblical Scholarship and the Book of Abraham


As we covered extensively in the biblical scholarship section, one of the problems we see with the Book of Abraham is that it relies extensively on the King James Bible, which means that any problem with the King James Bible ends up being a problem in the Book of Abraham.

For example, the Book of Abraham chapters 2, 4, and 5 are retelling Genesis chapters 1, 2, 11, and 12 in the King James Bible, which as we will outline below create a problem for the credibility of the Book of Abraham as an ancient text.


Just as with the story of Adam and Eve, Genesis was not written until, at the earliest, 1000 BCE. Most scholars now agree it was compiled in the 6th and 5th centuries, which is particularly notable with Abraham.

The reason that this presents such a problem for Abraham is that we can look at the Bible and see that the Book of Abraham includes many stories, elements, and ideas that simply were not written or created until long after he would have lived. Even setting aside the argument as to whether or not Abraham is historical, we can see that the Book of Abraham is a 19th century work based on the materials that it pulls from, which allows us to know it is not an ancient record without even looking at the translation problems.
 

Global Flood and the Book of Abraham


As we discussed in our section on the global flood, the Book of Abraham is founded on a literal, historical flood. From the Book of Abraham:
 

23 The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;

24 When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land. (Abraham 1:23-24)


If there is no global flood, as history and science tell us, then the entire premise of the Book of Abraham is false.  Just as the church concedes that the papyri have nothing to do with Abraham and that the papyri date almost 2000 years after Abraham would have lived, this is a clear example where we can say that the Book of Abraham is not historical in any way nor is it ancient.

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The Book of Abraham and the Documentary Hypothesis


As we’ve discussed in previous sections on biblical scholarship and Mormonism, Genesis as we have it today was compiled from multiple sources and then woven together by a redactor into a single Book of Genesis. This is clear when you look at the differing creation stories as well as the two flood stories and the contradictions within them.

This is a massive problem for the Book of Abraham as well, because Joseph Smith relies so heavily on the King James Bible version of Genesis, but does not realize that the book is using two separate sources that contradict each other. Remember that Abraham lived about 2,000 years ago, yet these documents that were used to create Genesis are likely written in the 6th or 5th century BCE.

In other words, using the text of Genesis as a writing of Abraham himself is anachronistic as Abraham would have lived in around 2000 BCE, but pulling from two separate sources that both date long after Abraham complicates it further. Remember that these books are called the Books of Moses in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 5:11, 1 Nephi 19:23), yet we’re also told that Abraham, who lived around 700 years earlier, had access to this material which had not yet been written.

To be clear, Abraham could not have had access to material that would have been written, even by the Book of Mormon narrative, 700 years later. If Abraham is a true, historical figure, he would have lived over 1,000 years (likely 1,300-1,500 years) before Genesis was compiled. This becomes even more problematic as the Book of Abraham states that “records have come into my hands,” (Abraham 1:28) making explicit that Abraham is working from the source text which includes retellings of Genesis in the Book of Abraham.

Biblical scholar and former CES instructor David Bokovoy outlines the problem of using Genesis as a source text for the Book of Abraham in his interview on Mormon Stories:
 

"Beginning with Genesis Chapter 11 where Abraham is introduced in a lengthy genealogical list, we then jumped to the narrative portion, and that's verse 28 So, basically 28 through the end of the chapter, verse 32:
 

11:28 And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.

11:29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.

11:30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

11:31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.

11:32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.


...what I just read to you in that introduction... that all stems from the Priestly document. Notice what happens here. Abraham's father takes him out of the land of Ur, and it already identifies and says Abraham's father is going to take him into the land of Canaan. Then, if we ignore the chapter division and just moved from Genesis Chapter 11 right into 12 then we read:
 

12:1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee.


It's repetition and it's inconsistent because in the Priestly narrative, which stems before this in Chapter 11 that we just read, Abraham leaves the land of the Chaldees as leaves Ur with his dad, who's very much alive, and they're leaving and they're going on a journey to Canaan. Then this next story it tells God speaks to him and says, 'Hey, get out of the land of Ur and leave your dad behind.' See, there's inconsistency there, but it makes sense when we recognize that the second narrative in Genesis 12:1-2 is from an entirely different historical document, edited and compiled together in the Book of Genesis as Genesis 11 and Genesis Chapter 12. Genesis 11 stems from the Priestly narrative and this first part of 12 where we have Yahweh mentioned is J or the J source. Now, if we jump then to the actual book of Abraham that Joseph Smith produces in Kirtland, Ohio, watch what happens: Not only is this story all presented in first person, as if Abraham himself is now telling the account [as opposed to the verses this is adapted from in Genesis]... Chapter two of Abraham:
 

1 Now the Lord God caused the famine to wax sore in the land of Ur, insomuch that Haran, my brother, died; but Terah, my father, yet lived in the land of Ur, of the Chaldees.

2 And it came to pass that I, Abraham, took Sarai to wife, and Nahor, my brother, took Milcah to wife, who was the daughter of Haran.


All of that information right there is a reflection of the Priestly source in Genesis 11. It's a revision of that. But then now here's the J (Yahwist source) material in verse three.
 

3 Now the Lord had said unto me: Abraham, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee.


So notice how those are two different historical documents that contradict one another that have been brought together in the Book of Abraham as if it is one single harmonious narrative put into the words of Abraham? And that is an illustration of how source criticism presents direct challenges to the claims, traditional claims, and assumptions regarding the book of Abraham. How could this come from Abraham when we know that these were two separate historical sources written years, many centuries after he would have supposedly lived? And that's just one illustration of many, including the end of the Book of Abraham, which is going to again present a retelling of the opening chapters of Genesis with the Priestly creation story and then the J creation story, as if it's one harmonious text all presented as if it's divine revelation from Abraham."


You can listen to David Bokovoy explain the problem of the Book of Abraham in greater detail here, but the same problems of anachronisms from reliance on the King James Bible that we saw earlier in the biblical scholarship section occur in the Book of Abraham as well.

Anachronisms in the Book of Abraham


Because Joseph Smith is borrowing so heavily from Genesis, which was not written until long after Abraham's time as explained above, it contains anachronisms that tell us that this is not a text written by Abraham in 2000 BCE, but a 19th century work by Joseph Smith. Just take a look at the first verse:
 

“In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence;”


Note that this book is written in the first person just as the Book of Mormon and Book of Moses, leaving no space for this to be a writing that was done after Abraham would have lived. This is important because we know the church itself admits the papyrus was dated about 2,000 years after Abraham would have lived, and there is simply no way this could have been written by Abraham given its reliance on the King James Bible, written over three thousand years later.

But more importantly, we can show that the Book of Abraham begins with an anachronism that further dates it to well after Abraham’s life with the use of the “land of the Chaldeans.” The term Chaldeans is pulled from Genesis 11:28, which states:
 

“And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.”


As we’ve stated before, Genesis was not compiled until at the earliest 1000 BCE, because Hebrew was not a written language until this time, and scholars can tell that Genesis was originally written in Hebrew. As Dr. Bokovoy explains:
 

“Chaldea was a Semitic speaking country that existed between the late tenth and early ninth and mid sixth centuries BC, after which the country and its people were absorbed and simply assimilated into Babylonia and the description that we find. They're both in the Book of Abraham and in the Book of Genesis: Ur of the Chaldees designates Ur with southern Mesopotamia and the time in which the Semitic speaking Chaldeans controlled that city state. And the Chaldeans controlled Mesopotamia and specifically, Ur, and this is interesting, but the dates are 626 through 539 BCE, and this means that the text from the Bible that refer to this area as Chaldean ultimately derived from that time period.” (Radio Free Mormon Interview)


This is yet another reason why scholars date the compilation of Genesis to this time window, but this dating is something that Joseph Smith would never have been aware of when using Genesis as a foundational text to build the Book of Abraham from. Even church historian Stephen Smoot acknowledges this problem:
 

“Unlike the vague and contradictory details provided in Genesis, the Book of Abraham appears to ground Abraham’s Ur in Syria. The added geographical (Olishem/Ulišum) and cultural details (an Egyptian presence at Abraham’s homeland) in the Book of Abraham make a northern location for Ur essentially inescapable. At the same time, however, problems persist for the Book of Abraham. For one thing, its text’s mentioning of the Chaldeans, as with Genesis, is, according to our presently available evidence, probably anachronistic. Perhaps future findings will overturn this, but as things stand at the moment, this remains a problem for the Book of Abraham’s historicity (although not a fatal one). Latter-day Saints approaching the historicity of the Book of Abraham should therefore be cautious and nuanced in how they evaluate the text’s historical claims.” (FAIR Mormon)


As Dr. Bokovoy notes in his interview, there is no “probably” about it. As we have pointed out in other sections, the use of the word “probably” there is used to give plausibility, but there simply is none when you look at the use of Chaldeans in a text that needs to be created around 2000 BCE. Smoot does go on to state that the Olishem/Ulišum connection reinforces the book’s authenticity, and we will cover Olishem later in this write-up.

In other words, the very first verse of the Book of Abraham tells us that it was written long after Abraham lived by someone who had access to the King James Bible. The very words Ur or Chaldees are anachronistic since these are English derivatives of Hebrew Scripture that didn’t exist until well after Abraham’s time (Hayes, A manual of Sumerian grammar and text, 36), and the Book of Abraham would have taken place many centuries before there were any people who could even be identified as Chaldeans. Even ignoring all of these problems with the translation process, the very first verse tells us that this is the work of Joseph Smith.
 

Patriarchal Blessing in the Book of Abraham


The very next verse in the Book of Abraham, Abraham 1:2, has language taken from a patriarchal blessing given by Joseph Smith Sr and compiled by Oliver Cowdery. First, from the Book of Abraham:
 

“2 And, 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.”


Now from the patriarchal blessing:
 

“...[W]e diligently sought for the right of the fathers, and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to administer the same; for we desired to be followers of righteousness and the possessors or greater knowledge....After this, we received the high and holy priesthood...”


This patriarchal blessing was given in 1834, and the first portion of the Book of Abraham was written in 1835. Even FAIR Mormon concedes that “At the outset, we’ll assume that there is an authorial relationship between the two since the language does appear to be similar.” Although FAIR then goes on to say it is unlikely that Joseph Smith had access to this blessing, the language above speaks for itself.

That means in the first verse of the Book of Abraham we have an anachronism that comes from using the King James Bible as a source text, and the second verse relies on a patriarchal blessing given just a year earlier. We’re only two verses in and it becomes clear that Joseph Smith is the author of the Book of Abraham, as there is no possible way that Abraham would have known about either of these sources when he would have lived, yet it is written in the first person as if Abraham himself wrote these ideas on papyrus.
 

Use of Hebrew from Joseph Smith’s Teachings of Joshua Sexias


Scholars now date the production of the Book of Abraham to two district time frames, with church historian Brian Hauglid putting it simply as this:
 

“I agree (with Dan Vogel’s assessment) that only Abr. 1:1-2:18 were produced in 1835 and that Abr. 2:19-5:21 were produced in Nauvoo.” (Facebook Post)


Essentially we know through the documentary evidence that only Abraham 1:1-2:18 were produced in 1835 and that Joseph Smith set the project aside until he began translating again in 1842.

This is important because in 1836 Joseph Smith began taking lessons on Hebrew with Joshua Sexias. As Dr. Matthew Grey, professor at BYU, states:
 

“The Book of Abraham translation began in 1835, but as far as we can tell, he only finished the first two chapters in that early period. Then as he studied Hebrew, he gleaned insights into additional Abraham material. It was then in early 1842, having since studied Hebrew, that he revisited the Abraham translation and picked up where he left off. It is in the later Abraham materials—Abraham 3, 4, 5, and in the facsimile explanations (all of which were finalized in Nauvoo)—that we begin to see Joseph as a translator incorporating the material he had learned in his Hebrew class into his final publication of the Book of Abraham.” (LDS Perspectives Podcast)


In other words, Joseph Smith began the first two chapters of the Book of Abraham in 1835, took Hebrew lessons in 1836, and then completed the Book of Abraham in 1842. The reason this is important is that the 1835 translation does not include any of the Hebrew transliterations that he learned from Joshua Sexias, but the remained of the Book of Abraham completed in 1842 is littered with it.

This again tells us that the Book of Abraham was written by Joseph Smith, as Abraham’s writings would not have been impacted by Joseph Smith’s use of Hebrew that matches Joshua Sexias’ exact transliterations.

More from the interview with Dr. Grey:
 

Laura Hales: “These all included Seixas transliterations?”

Dr. Grey: “They did. Yeah, so when Joseph Smith used these Hebrew words, he spelled them in ways that he was taught by his Hebrew instructor back in Kirtland, with that distinct Sephardic spelling"


Again, this scholarship tells us that the Book of Abraham material completed in 1842 contains Hebrew language that Joseph Smith learned after the initial material in 1835, and is used with the exact transliteration that Sexias used and taught. We already know from the papyrus that the translation was wrong, but this further tells us that the Book of Abraham had to have been written by Joseph Smith as we can pinpoint both a patriarchal blessing along with Hebrew transliterations that Joseph just happened to have when the text was being produced.

Back to Dr. Grey:
 

Dr. Grey: “Then, finally, I think the most profound impact that his Hebrew studies had on the translation of Abraham was in the Abrahamic creation account in Abraham Chapters 4 and 5. Joseph knew before studying Hebrew that the Book of Abraham would contain creation material. In early 1842, when he revisited —or at least finalized —the Abrahamic creation account, it seems that he drew heavily upon the King James Version of Genesis 1–2. Then at key moments, he altered the KJV wording and added insights he received in his Hebrew class, such as the plurality of Gods as a reflection of his translation of the Hebrew word “Elohim.”"


This is important because it shows us how Joseph Smith’s theology evolved regarding the godhead. As we cover in our section on the First Vision, Joseph Smith did not teach that God and Jesus were separate beings until he changed his First Vision account in 1838, but you can see here where the theology evolved after Joseph Smith learned that in the Hebrew Bible there was a belief in multiple Gods. Because he learned this from Joshua Sexias in 1836, he includes it in the Book of Abraham portion written in 1842 to use the scripture as a vehicle to teach that there is indeed a plurality of Gods, which is something that Joseph Smith had not thought of yet in 1835 when he began the Book of Abraham.

One final paragraph from Dr. Grey:
 

“That’s category number one in his use of Hebrew: his use of Hebrew vocabulary such as the Hebrew word for heavens (which is “shaumahyeem”), or the Hebrew word for the expanse or the firmament (which is “raukeeyang”), or the Hebrew word for the stars (which is “kokaubeem”). These are words that Joseph borrowed from his Hebrew studies and used to explain the Egyptian images.”

 

Just as we see Joseph Smith using the King James Bible to pull source material from, we can also show that he pulls ideas and concepts from other sources available to him when producing these writings. This is crucial because in this case it makes clear that all of these materials were available to Joseph Smith but would not have been available to Abraham, which tells us clearly who the author of this material is.
 

Urim and Thummim


Chapter three of the Book of Abraham begins by stating that “And I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord my God had given unto me, in Ur of the Chaldees.”

As we outlined above, "Ur of the Chaldees" is already anachronistic, but the use of the Urim and Thummim is attempting to make Abraham a seer in the way that Joseph Smith claimed to be through his treasure digging days as well as how he translated the Book of Mormon.

The problem, however, is that the Urim and Thummim from the Bible is not a device that can show revelations, visions, or ancient text, but a simple way to get a yes or no response to a question. While the Book of Abraham claims that the Urim and Thummim allowed Abraham to see visions of astronomy, the Urim and Thummim simply did not work that way.

urim2.jpg

The reason this is interesting is that the term Urim and Thummim was retroactively added to give Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon more credibility in 1832, and in this case Joseph Smith is now applying his narrative history from the Nauvoo era (this chapter was written in 1842 in Nauvoo) to Abraham, which is similar to how treasure seeking ideas find their way into the Book of Mormon.

But to be clear, the Urim and Thummim from the Bible were never used in this way nor could they be, so their inclusion in the Book of Abraham is both incorrect and anachronistic, as they do not appear in the Bible until Exodus which, while written much later, is historically believed to have taken place in the 13th century BCE.
 

Curse of Ham


We will cover this in more detail later when we look at the racism that is embedded in the scriptures of Mormonism, but the Book of Abraham is where Joseph Smith introduced the ‘Curse of Ham’ to the scriptures. Remember that in the “Book of Moses” that Joseph Smith had declared that the descendants of Cain were black:
 

Moses 7:8 - There was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people

Moses 7:22 - They were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.


The Curse of Ham was used by many in Joseph Smith’s day to defend and rationalize slavery, and the etymology of the Curse of Ham began to include the idea of dark skin being the curse just as Joseph Smith used this idea with the Book of Moses which was written in this 19th century worldview.

The Curse of Ham is included in Abraham chapter 1, which will be used by Brigham Young and all Mormon prophets until 1978 to claim that black skin was a curse from God, and that any member with black skin could not hold the priesthood.
 

Abraham 1:24 - When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.

Abraham 1:27 - Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry.


Again, we will cover this in more detail later, but it is important to know that the Book of Abraham builds on the curse of black skin that Joseph Smith introduced in the Book of Moses, and that this creation of Joseph Smith will lead to very racist doctrine from God that, while it is still scripture in the church today, will cause a lot of harm until 1978.
 

Apologetic Responses to the Book of Abraham Text


This section is already getting quite long and we’re only a few verses in to the text of the Book of Abraham, but I do want to cover a few of the apologetic examples of evidences for the Book of Abraham that are included in the official church essay. From the church’s essay:

“The book of Abraham speaks disapprovingly of human sacrifice offered on an altar in Chaldea. Some victims were placed on the altar as sacrifices because they rejected the idols worshiped by their leaders. Recent scholarship has found instances of such punishment dating to Abraham’s time. People who challenged the standing religious order, either in Egypt or in the regions over which it had influence (such as Canaan), could and did suffer execution for their offenses.”

This is an apologetic argument from Kerry Muhlestein who admits that "I start out with an assumption that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon, and anything else that we get from the restored gospel, is true... Therefore, any evidence I find, I will try to fit into that paradigm."

In the recent interview series with Dr. Robert Ritner, he explains the many problems with this statement. Among them is that Muhlestein writes in church publications that there is evidence of religious sacrifice, but that when he presented this material to Egyptian scholars, he would then accurately describe them as political killings. From Dr. Ritner:
 

“Kerry wrote his dissertation on this very topic, and he was very careful to describe these as political executions rather than human sacrifices. So he walked a careful line that passed muster with Egyptologists. He did not prove that there was human sacrifice. He in fact, just pointed these out as being human, as being political execution…

It's a death penalty for committing a crime. This is not for failing to worship the gods or failing to respect a deity or a ritual. It's if you commit a crime, there will be capital punishment that is not sacrifice. And yet this is the kind of example they want to choose. This is like saying, ‘If you kill someone and we hang you for it, it's a human sacrifice.’ If that's the way you want to understand it, fine. Any execution could be taken in a religious way and given a connotation, and we execute people now. Is that human sacrifice? For some, you would say yes, but it's a question of ‘Is this how the Egyptians are understanding it?’ And the answer is certainly not…

So all of the examples that they like to point to, the so called recent ones, are in fact either criminal published punishment or military activity. It's not a question of human sacrifice on an altar. There's no altar that's been found at this site. In the Delta, there's no altar that is found in mere guesses. There is no altar found adjacent to the never Hotel Stella, so all of that is smoke and mirrors and confusion of terms and attempting to juggle anything in order to make it all makes sense. But the bigger question is so what if the Egyptians practiced human sacrifice? Would the Egyptians have practiced human sacrifice in north Syria, where they didn't have any physical control? Would they have looked like that on that illustration [Facsimile 1], which we know is doctored and therefore cannot be an illustration of it? So it's not a question of finding one little thing that might work. You have to make all the pieces fit. And that is the continual problem with the apologists is they find one small aspect which, if you squint your eyes and look, you know, slightly to the left, you can say, ‘Well, it sort of looks like this,’ but then it doesn't fit the entire picture because you're asked to ignore all of that, and you can't ignore all of it. If the story is true, then all parts of it have to be true. Not just one aspect of one picture or two lines.” (Dr. Robert Ritner, Mormon Stories Part Two)


There is just no evidence of the kind of sacrifice that the Book of Abraham describes being in the ancient Egyptian practices. Dr. Ritner literally wrote the findings on execration magic, and understands what the church is trying to present in this essay. Human sacrifice simply did not happen in the way that Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee present in the essay, which is even more obvious when you consider that neither apologist has ever published that claim in a peer reviewed paper, because they know it would never pass with their peers.

To be clear, this is another situation where the church claims to have unlocked some ancient truth and yet they are too afraid to take those claims to the wider scholarly audience. If the Book of Abraham truly has evidence of human sacrifice that matches Joseph Smith’s edited version of Facsimile 1, why wouldn’t Muhlestein and Gee take those findings to the greater Egyptian community of scholars? You know the answer to that question.

What is interesting, however, is that the idea of an attempted sacrifice of Abraham is in the Adam Clarke Bible Commentary, which was used heavily when Joseph Smith translated the Bible just a few years before he began the Book of Abraham. From the Adam Clarke Bible Commentary:
 

“Be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace - This was an ancient mode of punishment among the Chaldeans, if we may credit the tradition that Abram was cast into such a fire by this idolatrous people because he would not worship their idols.” (Adam Clarke Bible Commentary)


The idea of an attempted sacrifice of Abraham was not unknown to Joseph Smith, and as such its inclusion in the Book of Abraham isn’t proof of its ancient source, but further proof that Joseph Smith was using contemporary sources that he was familiar with to create a vehicle for his evolving theology.

More from the church’s essay:
 

“The book of Abraham contains other details that are consistent with modern discoveries about the ancient world. The book speaks of “the plain of Olishem,” a name not mentioned in the Bible. An ancient inscription, not discovered and translated until the 20th century, mentions a town called “Ulisum,” located in northwestern Syria.”


This is often cited by church Egyptologist John Gee as a “bullseye” for the Book of Abraham, but it is not only problematic, but impossible to be a true connection between the Book of Abraham and the ancient world.

First, as we outlined above, Joseph Smith puts Abraham in a Southern location, but the “Ulisum” referenced as an ancient proof is in northwestern Syria. So right off the bat the location tells us these two are not connection, but the language itself is a bigger problem.

The word “Ulisum” is Akkadian, and this presents very basic problems for this connection that church apologists would absolutely be aware of when they present this as a bullseye. According to Dr. Bokovoy, the transliteration of Ulisum from the original cuneiform tablets would read “u-li-si-im.” There is no "sh" sound in there, and furthermore, there is no “O” sign in Akkadian, making it impossible that Olishem would be represented by the Akkadian word Ulisum.

Last, the entire premise of including the Olishem connection to Ulisum is from apologist John Gee, which was confirmed by Brian Hauglid in his interview with Radio Free Mormon (https://radiofreemormon.org/2020/07/radio-free-mormon-184-the-brian-hauglid-interview/). But when you dig into John Gee’s own statements about this connection, even he is way more tentative than the essay implies. From John Gee:

“At present, given the many uncertainties, we can regard this identification [Of Ulisim being the actual Olishem] as promising but not proven.” (John Gee)

Furthermore, in a recent interview that John Gee gave in response to the recent scholarship by Brian Hauglid and Dr. Robert Ritner about the Book of Abraham, he concedes that even he doesn’t believe that the areas that people are looking for Olishem are correct, but that the very idea that it might exist gives him a better understanding of the connection. That, of course, could be used for any idea such as Bigfoot, the Lochness Monster, or any other phenomenon that has had proposed sites, which is why this "evidence" for Olishem is so incredibly weak and misleading.

To be clear, John Gee is conceding that this connection is “promising but not proven” and that he knows they aren’t even looking in the right place (because the location does not fit the text), but he still put it in the church’s essay as a bullseye anyway. You can listen to this broken down in detail on a recent Radio Free Mormon podcast going over this John Gee interview.

We’ve discussed in other sections how many church apologists have been guilty of parallelomania, which is looking for anything that can give plausibility to something that simply does not hold up to evidence. In this case, John Gee and other apologists have clung to the Ulisum word to try and find something, anything that can make Olishem plausible. The problem, however, is that this connection doesn’t work not just for the location, but the language itself.

Additionally, Olishem is mentioned in Abraham 1:10:
 

“Even the thank-offering of a child did the priest of Pharaoh offer upon the altar which stood by the hill called Potiphar’s Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem.”


Not only is Olishem a made up word, but it’s inclusion in the Book of Abraham connects it with Potiphar’s Hill, which is a massive anachronism to the Book of Abraham.

As we’ve highlighted often, scholars date the writing of the Pentateuch to the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, but note that it can in no way have been written before the 10th century BCE. Potiphar’s Hill is another example of why scholars can date this material to these centuries. From Dr. Robert Ritner:
 

“Potiphar is an Egyptian name is that only occurring in the later period post new kingdom... 800s, 600s somewhere in there, 700s... scholars have to date the Book of Exodus, it had to be composed no earlier than 700 BC, because it has anachronisms in there that couldn't have existed. No Egyptian would have been named Potiphar before what we call the Libyan period in Egypt, which is one my periods of specialization, the Berber period in Egyptian. Potiphar is Padipara, "the one who Ra has given," which is a grammatical construction that wasn't possible and wasn't used as a personal name until around 700 BC. And so it's a distinctly Egyptian name, it's in a distinctly Egyptian place, and it's grammatically only possible in this time period like the script, which means there is not a chance, same level of absolutely wrong, that the Book of Exodus can date from a patriarch [Abraham] who lived in the time it [Book of Abraham] claims.” (Mormon Stories Interview, Part 1)


To be clear, this again puts the Book of Abraham as a text written by someone at best after 700 BCE, but in this case someone with access to a King James Bible. I know we’re going long on some of these examples, but it is important to detail them to make clear that as you add them up, it is absolutely inescapable that not only did Joseph Smith write these materials, but that they are historically and fundamentally incorrect and impossible.

Back to the church’s essay:
 

“Joseph Smith’s explanations of the facsimiles of the book of Abraham contain additional earmarks of the ancient world. Facsimile 1 and Abraham 1:17 mention the idolatrous god Elkenah. This deity is not mentioned in the Bible, yet modern scholars have identified it as being among the gods worshipped by ancient Mesopotamians.39 ”


This detail runs into the same problems that the Olishem and Ulisum connection run into. These “modern scholars,” all of whom happen to be employed by the LDS church and all of whom seem to be named or sourcing Daniel C. Peterson, make the unfounded assumption that Elkenah is a reference to the Canaanite god El, or possibly the use of the generic word El to signify any of a number ancient Near Eastern gods.

Elkenah is simply not a recognized name from anywhere in antiquity and is only mentioned the Book of Abraham. A very quick Google search will confirm this very important detail, because the church’s essay seeks to give the impression that scholars outside of the church have since found Elkenah to be an ancient evidence for the Book of Abraham where this clearly is none.

This claim is disingenuous and it is made on very shaky ground because if they want to tell the whole story they might also point out that Yahweh (Jehovah) made his first appearance as a pagan god in the pantheon of this same El.

Furthermore, the church’s foremost Book of Abraham apologist, John Gee, recently wrote an article about the historicity of Elkenah and declaring the following:

 

“The odds of winning the Powerball lottery by buying a single ticket are merely one in 292 million(2.92 x 106). The odds of winning the Powerball lottery two weeks in a row are one in 8.52 x 1016. The odds of winning three weeks in a row are one in 2.49 x 1025. Though only a crude calculation of the odds, it gives some idea how difficult it would be for Joseph Smith to simply guess correctly.” (Four Idolatrous Gods)

 

Again, just a quick read above tells us that Elkenah, just like Olishem, is a name created by Joseph Smith for the Book of Abraham with no use validity outside of Mormon scholars. The name Elkanah is in the Bible, which is Joseph Smith’s Elkenah with the first “a” swapped out for “e.” Furthermore, what Gee neglected to tell his readers in this article is that what Joseph Smith translated as Elkenah was actually Qebehsenuef in Egyptian.

What John Gee and Daniel Peterson have done by manufacturing these ancient connections might be comforting to members who want to find a reason to believe, but historically and factually that are not just wrong, but they are dishonest as both Gee and Peterson have been told these evidences are not true, and yet they publish them in church materials such as the official Book of Abraham essay regardless.

Back to the church’s essay:

“A third-century papyrus from an Egyptian temple library connects Abraham with an illustration similar to facsimile 1 in the book of Abraham.”


This association is deceptive and, as we’ve mentioned above in the other connections, genuinely disrespectful of the reader. The footnote refers to a papyrus from the 2nd to 3rd Century BC called P. Leiden I 384, shown below:

bofa8.png

The figure on the couch in this papyrus is a woman and the associated text is actually a pagan love spell which states that the magical document was designed to “inflame” the woman’s “female body” so that she will surrender herself to the owner of the scroll. John Gee, the church apologist who originally published this image in relation to the Book of Abraham, recognizes these problems and admits “these texts tell us nothing directly about Abraham.” (Edward H. Ashment, The Use of Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham)

Yes, the papyrus does have a picture of a lion couch and a variation of Abraham’s name (it's circled in the photo above) along with those of Isaac, Jacob and other prophets and gods whose names eventually came to be used as magical words that in spells created by Egyptian magicians millennia after Abraham’s time. This image has nothing to do with sacrifice, is a love spell, and dates to the third century BCE, which is well after the Pentateuch was written as these early prophets were known. This is a dishonest representation of this papyrus, but the authors of this essay hope you’ll listen to their appeal to authority instead of researching the issue further for yourself.

 

Back to the church's essay:
 

“The book of Abraham is consistent with various details found in nonbiblical stories about Abraham that circulated in the ancient world around the time the papyri were likely created. In the book of Abraham, God teaches Abraham about the sun, the moon, and the stars.”


We’ve covered this in our annotated Gospel Topics essay, but these “nonbiblical stories” about Abraham were in materials that Joseph Smith had access to. As we mentioned above, the story of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice was in the Adam Clarke Bible Commentary, which we know Joseph Smith utilized just a few years earlier for his revision of the Bible.

There are many problems with the astrology in the Book of Abraham, as the Book of Abraham contradicts itself in the chapters that are reworkings of Genesis and the chapters that are not. I highly recommend listening to Dr. David Bokovoy’s interview on these chapters, as they go into very specific details about how untenable this position is. (David Bokovoy Interview, Part 3)

Finally, I want to point out that the footnote (#46) to the church’s essay here is the following:


“Some of these extrabiblical elements were available to Joseph Smith through the books of Jasher and Josephus. Joseph Smith was aware of these books, but it is unknown whether he utilized them.”


We know that Joseph Smith had access to these ‘extrabibilical elements’ since they are referenced by Joseph Smith and those around him during these years and the church knows that Joseph Smith had access to these accounts since they tucked it in as a footnote. These 'evidences' cited by the church are just not backed up by the evidence once you dig down, and the presentation by the church and its apologists are deceptive word games that are designed to keep members from digging into these issues and further.

 

It is silly that the church cites these ideas as unique to Joseph Smith while having to then admit that they were available to Joseph Smith. That footnote is a very telling one, and directly debunks their own claim that these 'extrabiblical elements' are proof of the Book of Abraham's authenticity.

One more recent apologetic that has been referenced by many apologists as a “bullseye” for the Book of Abraham is the use of the word Shinehah. From Abraham 3:13:
 

“And he said unto me: This is Shinehah, which is the sun. And he said unto me: Kokob, which is star. And he said unto me: Olea, which is the moon. And he said unto me: Kokaubeam, which signifies stars, or all the great lights, which were in the firmament of heaven.”


The problem again is that this is another example of parallelomania, where apologists are trying to find anything that could possibly connect the Book of Abraham to being an ancient source, but again it simply is not there.

According to Dr. Robert Ritner, the problem is that Shinehah is not a single word as the Book of Mormon, but two words: Shen (šn-(sh)n ) Neh (or nhh or eneh). When you put those two words, it means “the circle of eternity” in Egyptian.

Dr. Robert Ritner said the following about these two words:
 

“If you throw enough sounds together, you could get accidental sounds that sound like something Egyptian. So the question is not as the apologists proposed(?) it: If we make this sound, could it sound like something cobbled together in Egyptian? The question is, does such an Egyptian term even exist? You know, where is the proof? They [apologists] don't go there because they don't. And so I asked one of my colleagues to search in the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae, otherwise known as the TLA, our reference work that includes all of the published Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions. So he did a global search for the number of times that the words Shen (circle) and Neh are put next to each other. Then he did a search to see the number of times that they are closer than 10 words apart. The number of hits he got was zero.

What I'm saying is there is not a single case of where ‘Shen neha’ occurs as a combination, not one. There's not even a case where Shen is 10 words next to Neh, So the combination of Shen next to represent the sun or anything else is a total fabrication. It's an accidental coincidence of sounds, but it's unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.” (Dr. Robert Ritner Interview Part 2, Mormon Stories Podcast)


To be clear, what apologists are doing here is to take two words that form something that sounds like Shinehah and then they mold the meaning of these words to fit the claim. In this case, Shen Neh means the circle of eternity, where in the Book of Abraham it is simply the sun. That’s a stretch to begin with, but when you realize those two words are never used next to each other in the history of Egyptian inscriptions, it becomes clear that just like the Olishem and Ulisum “bullseye,” this is a manufactured parallel.

In this case not only is Shinehah not an ancient term, but the terms within the same verse (Kolob, Olea, and Kokaubeam) have nothing to do with ancient Egyptian either. Often times the apologetic argument is to cherry pick a supposed “bullseye” while ignoring all of the problems surrounding it, and these two problems (Shinehah and Olishem) are examples of that strategy.
 

Conclusion


As we noted at the beginning, the debate over the historicity of the Book of Abraham should have ended once the papyri fragments were discovered and we could see without any doubt that the source material from the papyri fragment was translated incorrectly. Again, this paragraph from the church’s own essay should put to rest any idea that this is an ancient, authentic text:
 

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments. Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.” (emphasis added)


That said, even without the evidence that Joseph Smith incorrectly translated the Egyptian, we can show from the text of the Book of Abraham itself that the book is a production of Joseph Smith that could not possibly be from an ancient source.

The Book of Abraham begins as Egypt was underwater from the global flood, which we now know simply did not occur. The entire premise of the book is incorrect, and the first few verses that we covered above show that this book was produced after the 7th century BCE and could never have been written in Abraham’s time.

Just as with the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith’s reliance on the King James Bible again shows us not just how this book was produced, but that Joseph Smith did not understand that Genesis was written much later than Abraham lived and was compiled from multiple sources. As we outlined above from Dr. David Bokovoy, Joseph Smith was pulling material from multiple sources in Genesis but presenting it as if they were one source, because he believed they were written by Moses as a single source.

Furthermore, we can show that the Book of Abraham itself contains Hebrew transliterations in the later chapters that Joseph Smith learned from Joshua Sexias, and yet those words are absent in the earlier chapters before Joseph took Hebrew lessons. There are fingerprints all over this text that show us Joseph Smith was the author, even beyond looking at just the translation errors.

We do not have the source material for the Book of Mormon since it was translated off of Joseph Smith’s stone in a hat, but we do have the source material for the Book of Abraham. That tells us this text is a 19th century production, which even church history Richard Bushman concedes:
 

“Joseph Smith’s books of Moses and Abraham and the writings of Enoch and the Book of Moses bear a resemblance to this large corpus of scriptures in that they came in the form of writings in another persons name. Joseph was producing pseudepigrapha at the very time when scholars were taking these writings seriously again.” (Richard Lyman Bushman, New Perspectives on Joseph Smith and Translation – Utah State University March 16th, 2017)


The Book of Abraham is a true smoking gun against Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims because we have the source material and every apologetic claim above has been thoroughly disproven by Egyptologists who have spent their entire lives studying this history. With the Book of Mormon we are told ‘we can’t know everything’ and that it is impossible to prove a negative since we have no record of the gold plates to compare to, but with the Book of Abraham we can show exactly what Joseph Smith was translating because the manuscripts and Book of Abraham itself tell us where to look.

There is simply no way around the fact that this is not an ancient record written by Abraham. I know these two sections on the Book of Abraham are fairly long, but it is imperative to outline how Joseph Smith created these materials because these problems make clear beyond any doubt that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God, and that this church is not true.

Furthermore, these same problems are found in the Book of Mormon, the Book of Moses, and even the Doctrine and Covenants. We can show where Joseph Smith was pulling contemporary sources into his writings, and how his evolution in theology led to changes in the Book of Mormon, his First Vision accounts, and the revelations that he claimed to receive directly from God. The pattern is unmistakable, and that is why these topic pages are important to be read together, because this is like a puzzle where all of the pieces fit together once you can see where Joseph Smith was pulling from and how he put it all together.

I know that it is difficult to read and absorb this material, but as you read these two sections you must ask yourself how you would respond if it was any other religion, group, or person making claims such as Joseph Smith’s against the evidence that outright disproves those claims such as this. If you research the claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the same that you would when looking to buy a car or product, you would know that this is simply not what it claims to be.

Next Section: Overview of the Kinderhook Plates

Resources


As long as this section is, we barely scratched the surface. If you would like to research the Book of Abraham further, I highly recommend the following: