The Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Abraham

The Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Abraham

Some claim that the Book of Abraham is clear evidence that Joseph Smith lacked the ability to translate ancient Egyptian. The apologists for the church argue that the papyri likely were a catalyst for revelation. Others argue that we simply do not have all of the papyri that was used for the translation and therefore it’s impossible to tell if the translation is accurate or not. The objective of this post is not to necessarily understand all of the arguments listed but to consider the Book of Abraham in light of the Apocalypse of Abraham. What is the Apocalypse of Abraham? Wikipedia is a favorite of mine because it is concise and generally includes citations that we can follow:

The Apocalypse of Abraham is a pseudepigraphic work (a text whose claimed authorship is unfounded) based on the Old Testament. Probably composed between about 70–150 AD, it is of Jewish origin and is usually considered to be part of the Apocalyptic literature. It has survived only in Old Slavonic recensions and it is not regarded as authoritative scripture by Jews or any Christians.

So we have a text, written around 100 AD that provides an additional narrative to the life of Abraham. It’s fascinating because it quite possibly could provide a parallel to the Book of Abraham, which at a minimum could prove Joseph was inspired by the artifacts (catalyst theory). Below are the requirements that I would set forth for this theory to be reliable:

  1. Specific details that are common between the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Abraham
  2. Detail found in both which is not discussed in the Old Testament account of Abraham
  3. Doctrine that is unique to the restoration and is also found in the Apocalypse of Abraham
  4. No other reasonable alternative sources for the Book of Abraham

Content of the Apocalypse of Abraham

The entire Apocalypse of Abraham can be found here. The text presented is written in a chapter and verse format to ease the referencing process. I will attempt to summarize the key points, but I encourage you to consider reading it, especially if you’re struggling to sleep.

Chapter summaries:

  1. Abraham works with his father Terah to build idols
  2. Abraham is told to sell the idols in town, a merchant’s camel screams, Abraham’s ass takes off out of fear and breaks some of the idols
  3. Abraham is surprised that these idols could be broken and he begins to question their divine power
  4. Abraham delivers some of the financial gains from selling the idols to his father Terah who is pleased and and tells him he his blessed
  5. A new god named Barisat enters the scene, and Terah seems akin to worshiping him
  6. It appears that Abraham is suggesting new idols to his father, now introducing Marumath
  7. Abraham goes through the elements and suggests that he worship the god over all the elements, fire, water, and the sun
  8. The God of gods calls out to Abraham, who responds “here I am”
  9. Abraham is commanded to make a Jewish type offering, and then fast for 40 days and travel to a high mountain
  10. Abraham realizes that the voice speaking to him was not of a man, and an angel (Iaoel) appears and commands Abraham to do as the God of gods commands
  11. The angel had the appearance of sapphire with white hair and a purple robe. This angel offers to help Abraham complete his sacrifice
  12. Abraham goes into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and nights and make the sacrifice commanded
  13. An evil spirit (Azazel) tempts Abraham, but the angel rescues him from the temptation of the evil one
  14. The angel instructs Abraham on how to deal with Azazel and encourages him to not speak to him
  15. Abraham is carried about by the angel
  16. Abraham is weak and the angel promises to strengthen him in the presence of the God
  17. Abraham told to recite a prayer, which is kind of cool because it references the following elements of God, self-perfected, without mother, without father, un-generated, and even calls him El
  18. While singing this prayer, a chariot of fire appears
  19. Abraham sees the various layers of firmaments
  20. Abraham talks with the Mighty One
  21. Abraham sees below the firmament (hell), he also sees the Garden of Eden and sees great crowds of people
  22. Abraham asks what he sees and the Mighty One says that he is seeing His creation
  23. Abraham sees Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden eating grapes and being tempted by Azazel
  24. Abraham sees Cain and others who are wicked
  25. Abraham sees boys being slaughtered, and the Mighty One is angry
  26. The Mighty One challenges Abraham’s role in creating idols
  27. Abraham sees the destruction of the temple
  28. The Mighty One promises to curse the heathen and 1 hour is compared to 100 years
  29. More explanation of the amount of cursing the Mighty One will pour out on the heathen and that there will be 12 hours of cursing (1200 years perhaps)
  30. Book of Revelation style plagues promised upon the people and Abraham is getting stressed
  31. Chosen one will come
  32. Abraham told to go, he has seen what his people will see in the 7th generation

Commentary

Ok so this is lame to have commentary of summaries, but that was a lot to read through and for the most part was fairly interesting. What I saw was some basic Jewish theology, early Christian theology all mixed with some gnostic beliefs. This article provides a scholarly view on the Apocalypse of Abraham.

How they are similar

Both the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Abraham treat the subject of the creation, the Adam and Eve story, and idolatry. They both discuss idols and worship of idols as well as have an experience with divine interaction. Abraham has an interaction of sorts with a Messianic type figure who has a face that glows like sapphires.

Differences

What I don’t see in this book is any of the new theology introduced in the Book of Abraham. Additionally there is no sacrifice of Abraham by his father, rather Abraham is busy helping his father create idols. The visitation appears to be El and not Yahweh, but this is a trivial difference. Also what I don’t see is the eternal nature of intelligences, or any sort of reference to a period of time in Egypt.  In fact in totality the main difference between these two documents is that one is ancient in origin and one is a plagiarized set of ideas.

Overall Discussion on the Book of Abraham

The LDS Church has provided a good history of the Book of Abraham in their Gospel Topics essay which includes this paragraph:

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.

The claim in the essay is that other circumstantial evidence proves that the Book is possibly authentic. Unfortunately I see a more likely possibility, which comes from Mormon Think and Grant Palmer’s Insiders View of Mormon Origins.

So how did we do on our criteria?

  1. Specific details that are common between the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Abraham – FAIL
    • They actually contradict in some significant detail
    • The similarity around idol worship is more that they are drawing from a Biblical narrative, but their treatment of the idolatry is quite different since Abraham had a role in idol worship
  2. Detail found in both which is not discussed in the Old Testament account of Abraham – FAIL
    • Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are clearly Biblical narratives
  3. Doctrine that is unique to the restoration and is also found in the Apocalypse of Abraham – FAIL
    • El seems unique, but El is actually a well documented Jewish God, and wasn’t introduced into Mormonism until after Joseph started to study Hebrew
  4. No other reasonable alternative sources for the Book of Abraham – FAIL
    • We have a much more logical set of sources for the Book of Abraham

Conclusion

Abraham is a significant figure to three major world religions. His role was certainly considered important by Joseph Smith, who used many themes related to Abraham in his new doctrine. However, suggesting that the Book of Abraham is ancient because it has a twisted Biblical narrative and another ancient document has a twisted Biblical narrative is illogical. The Bible is old, and using a Biblical narrative does not make the creation of a derivative story old as well. In fact a good example would be the movies The Ten Commandments and Noah. These are modern-day movies that use a Biblical story as a foundation for their story. To suggest that the screen-play is actually 2000 years old, because it’s has the Biblical story in it would be ludicrous. In essence Joseph Smith created a new screen-play, and decided to call it old because he needed to impress. Ultimately, as Egyptologists have said, his translation was incorrect which is all I need to know. Perhaps we should end with a little Brother Jake:

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