The issues surrounding the translation of the Egyptian papyri that resulted in the Book of Abraham are much more complex than critics would like us to believe. Foremost, it is significant to realize that we don't have all the papyri that were originally owned by Joseph. Of the five scrolls originally owned by Joseph, only eleven fragments of two scrolls have survived--one of which is an Egyptian Sensen text containing the vignette for Facsimile 1 from the LDS Book of Abraham. Basically, we don't know exactly what was missing, so we can't say for certain that Joseph Smith's papyri collection didn't contain a document that could translate into the Book of Abraham.
But why, some might ask, would a Book of Abraham be present among ancient Egyptian funerary scrolls? We know from other ancient documents that sometimes scrolls with different material were attached together. Some ancient copies of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, for example, have been found to contain a variety of other non-funerary texts including stories similar to the sacrifice of Abraham (involving different personalities), temple rituals, and more. Yale-trained, professional Egyptologist Dr. John Gee estimates that about 40% of known Sensen texts have other texts attached to them.
Some Egyptian papyri, for example, contain Egyptian instructions on one side and Semitic writings on the back side--in one case Psalms chapters 20-55. One Egyptian temple archive (with an extensive collection of Egyptian rituals), provides an early copy of the "Prayer of Jacob" and two copies of the "Eight Book of Moses" with a discussion of the initiation into the temple at Jerusalem. Both Moses and Abraham are mentioned in this collection and the most commonly invoked deity is Jehovah.
Finally, we know that ancient Israelites sometimes used Egyptian symbols to convey religious teachings. Many Biblical scholars, for instance, believe that an ancient Egyptian book--the Instructions of Amenemope--may have been the source for portions of the biblical book of Proverbs. An ancient Testament of Abraham also seems to have a connection to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
It is not unlikely--in fact it seems plausible in light of other documentary discoveries--that an ancient Book of Abraham was attached to the Egyptian papyri owned by Joseph Smith. Properly interpreting the Egyptian elements in the Facsimiles may well require that we understand how Jewish authors understood and adapted such elements.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
There's a new anti-Mormon DVD being circulated that (no surprise) contains a rehashing of the standard old arguments against the Church. Helpfully, the good folks at FAIRLDS.org have put together a response to the "Search for the Truth" DVD. For example, they have a section responding to some common attacks on the Book of Abraham, where I found one section to be especially useful. It's the part dealing with the question about why the Book of Abraham would have been included with a pagan Egyptian text. Here is an excerpt:
Posted by Jeff Lindsay at 6:35 PM