I just watched Daniel Peterson’s video on the geocentric nature of the Book of Abraham, and came away with a better appreciation for the astronomy presented in that ancient text. (The video is “‘And I Saw the Stars’: The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy” by Daniel C. Peterson, William J. Hamblin and John Gee, produced by FARMS.) Rather than trying to reconcile Abraham’s views with modern science, we can now appreciate that Abraham’s discussion of astronomy was based on the ancient geocentric perspective.
In the Book of Abraham, Abraham is looking at the stars from his perspective on earth. The Lord tells him a few things about what he is seeing, not to give him a detailed scientific understanding, but that Abraham might be prepared to converse with Pharaoh. And to achieve that purpose, the Lord explains things using the basic paradigm that educated people of the world had back then, the geocentric perspective. Peterson points to many clues that support this. And once you realize that, all the discussion of one heavenly body being above another and having slower times and so forth all fits beautifully with ancient geocentric astronomy.
Now if Joseph really just made up the Book of Abraham by absorbing cultural influences, one would expect him to have a Copernican perspective. Geocentrism was long dead in his day, but there it is, richly presented in its ancient form in the Book of Abraham.
Here is an excerpt on this topic from the FairWiki entry on the Book of Abraham (see the source for the footnotes):
With regard to astronomy, we find that in Joseph Smith’s day “heliocentricity” (as proposed by Copernicus and Newton) was the accepted astronomical view. Nineteenth-century people (including the most brilliant minds of the day) believed that everything revolved around the Sun–therefore the term “heliocentric” (Greek helios=sun + centered). (In the twentieth-first century we generally accept an Einsteinian view of the cosmos.) The Book of Abraham, however, clearly delineates a geocentric view of the universe–or a belief that the Earth (Greek geo) stood at the center of the universe, and all things moved around our planet.
According to ancient geocentric cosmologies and what we read in the Book of Abraham, the heavens (which is defined as the expanse above the earth–no celestial object is mentioned to exist below the earth) was composed of multiple layers or tiers–each tier higher than the previous. Therefore the Sun is in a higher tier than the moon, and the stars are in higher tiers still (compare Abraham 3:5, 9, 17). According to geocentric astronomy, celestial objects have longer time spans (or lengths of “reckoning”) based upon their relative distance from the earth. “Thus, the length of reckoning of a planet is based on its revolution [time to orbit around the center, in this case the earth](and not rotation [time to spin on its axis, as the earth does every 24 hours]).” The higher the celestial object, the greater its length of reckoning (compare Abraham 3:5). Likewise, in Abraham 3:8-9, we read that “there shall be another planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still; And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob.”
Ancient geocentric astronomers believed that the stars were “the outer-most celestial sphere, furthest from the earth and nearest to God.” We find in the Book of Abraham that the star Kolob was the star nearest “the throne of God” (Abraham 3:9). In the ancient, yet recently discovered, Apocalypse of Abraham (which dates from about the same time period as the JSP [Joseph Smith Papyri]), we find that God’s throne is said to reside in the eighth firmament (the firmaments, being another term for the varying tiers in the heavens above the Earth).
The Book of Abraham also reveals that those celestial objects that are highest above the earth, “govern” the objects below them (see Abraham 3:3, 9 and Facsimile 2, fig. 5). This sounds similar to the beliefs of those who accepted an ancient geocentric cosmology:
Throughout the ancient world the governing role of celestial bodies was conceived in similar terms. God sits on his throne in the highest heaven giving commands, which are passed down by angels through the various regions of heaven, with each region governing or commanding the regions beneath it.
We find this governing order described in the Apocalypse of Abraham and other ancient sources. All of this makes sense only from an ancient geocentric perspective (such as that believed in Abraham’s day) and makes no sense from a heliocentric perspective (which is what Joseph would have known in his day).