New Video on a Few Evidences of Antiquity in the Book of Abraham: Kudos to Pearl of Great Price Central

A few evidences for the ancient roots of the Book of Abraham are provided in an interesting new video from the Pearl of Great Price Central. It doesn’t include some that we have discussed here before, such as the apparent Egyptian wordplay behind Abraham’s discourse on stars and souls in Abraham 3, the accuracy of some of the comments for Facs. 2 such as the four sons of Horus representing the four quarters of the earth, the simple observation that the posture of Osiris/Abraham in Facs. 1 matches the hieroglyph for prayer or supplication (rotated 90 degrees), or the numerous parallels to specific elements in the Book of Abraham that can be found in various ancient traditions and texts, most of which could not have been accessed by Joseph (though Josephus mentions Abraham’s fascination with astronomy, for example). But it does raise some important topics.

One of the presented evidences given can be challenged by noting that Joseph learned about the plural nature of “Elohim” in his Hebrew studies and so could have revised his translation of Abraham 5 to refer to “the Gods.” But the bull’s eye for the ancient concept of the council of the gods still strikes me as impressive and not something Joseph would have picked up from his local library or itinerant preachers, but in Joseph’s secret study of world literature, when he turned to the Iliad, he might have noticed the ancient Greek concept of “the council of the gods” among pagan gods. Bingo — that explains it! Or maybe Hebrew study helped lead to that concept. But its origin for Joseph may have started with what he learned in his translation of the Book of Abraham, however that was done.

For more insight on just how interesting, ancient, and appropriate that concept is, be sure to see Stephen O. Smoot, “Council, Chaos, and Creation in the Book of Abraham,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/2 (2013): 28–39.

It’s an easily digested video just under 10 minutes, but hopefully it will lead some to further study on these topics. There are links below the video on the PGP Central page that can take you into the supporting details for the evidences presented.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

31 thoughts on “New Video on a Few Evidences of Antiquity in the Book of Abraham: Kudos to Pearl of Great Price Central

  1. Utterly ridiculous and completely unconvincing, especially considering the fact that Abraham didn't actually exist. I know that's a hard idea for Mormons to embrace, but the ancient biblical prophets weren't actual people any more than Achilles or Zeus were. And so you're left asking us to rely on faith while you try to wield the scalpel of reason. You folks can't have it both ways.

  2. Your confidence in your conclusions is entirely misplaced. The truth you are getting at is: there's not irrefutable corroborating evidence for historical Abraham. That's not the same as "there was no Abraham." You're overstating your evidence.

  3. Whence this "fact that Abraham didn't actually exist"? I know some scholars aren't sure the Abraham of the Old Testament was historical, but not being sure is a little different than your misplaced faith that Abraham's nonexistence is a confirmed fact. Have you checked the guest registry for visitors to the court of each of the Pharaohs in the century or two span when Abraham might have lived to confirm that no such person of note ever visited a king's court? Not sure if even the NSA has access to that kind of information.

  4. These threads have a lot of people talking past each other. While a blanket Abraham didn't exist maybe a distractor from the essence of anon's point, the point is well taken, trying to use reason about a character based on faith. While I find consistency in the biblical Abraham the apocryphal Abraham stories that are repeated and elaborated on by Mormonism take him in the direction of a Zeus.

    The legal and economic system of the patriarchs and primogeniture would believably have the exact problems described in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though happening in generations right next to each other maybe an exaggeration. I do not see inspired solutions in the stories.

  5. “the numerous parallels to specific elements in the Book of Abraham that can be found in various ancient traditions and texts, most of which could not have been accessed by Joseph (though Josephus mentions Abraham's fascination with astronomy, for example). “

    The combination of a study of Josephus with a “learned Jew” on the payroll accounts for much, if not all, of the “various ancient traditions” that are encountered. Seixas had to have been versed in the oral and apocryphal traditions surrounding Abraham. Also note the connection between the papyri and Josephus as well as extra-biblical, apocryphal knowledge related by Oliver Cowdery in a letter to William Frye describing the papyri:

    “The representation of the Godhead–three–yet in one, is curiously drawn to give simply, though impressively, the writer's views of that exalted personage. The serpent represented as walking, or formed in a manner to be able to walk, standing in front of and near a female figure, is to me, one of the greatest representations I have ever seen upon paper, or a writing substance; and must go so far towards convincing the rational mind of the correctness and divine authenticity of the holy scriptures, and especially that part which has been assailed by the infidel community, as being fiction, as to carry away with one mighty sweep the whole atheistical fabric, without leaving a vestige sufficient for a foundation stone. Enoch's pillar as mentioned by Josephus, is upon the same roll. True, our present version of the Bible does not mention this fact, though it speaks of the righteousness of Abel and the holiness of Enoch–one slain because his offering was accepted of the Lord, and the others taken to the regions of everlasting day without being confined in the narrow limits of the tomb, or tasting death, but Josephus says that the descendants of Seth were virtuous, and possessed a great knowledge of the heavenly bodies, and that in consequence of the prophecy of Adam, that the world should be destroyed once by water and again by fire. Enoch wrote a history or an account of the same, and put into two pillars one of brick and the other of stone; and that the same were in being at his (Josephus') day. The inner end of the same roll (Joseph's record) presents a representation of the judgment. At one view you behold the Savior seated upon His throne, crowned and holding the scepter of righteousness and power, before whom also, are assembled, the twelve tribes of Israel, the nations, languages and tongues of the earth, the kingdoms of the world over which Satan is represented as reigning, Michael the Archangel, holding the key of the bottomless pit, and at the same time the devil as being chained and shut up in the bottomless pit.”

  6. Jeff no serious scholar of ancient history considers Abraham to be a person who actually existed. He's a pastiche of folklore characters. Mormons not only blindly believe he actually existed, they build a weird story atop that unfounded belief. What you believe about a story from history doesn't actually matter when those beliefs are easily refuted.
    Your church makes the extraordinary claim, but there's no extraordinary evidence to back it up. Only one of the strangest and most ridiculous stories in 19th century American history.
    You certainly have a way of couching your derision in lame attempts to be cute. This sort of thing, along with the fact that you have no actual training in ancient languages or history, make it even harder to take you seriously.

  7. Anon 2:34 – And how humanity focused its violent nature on the Abrahamic tradition. I think I prefer your conclusion that is the fault of human folklore, not divinity. Otherwise, I would have to sarcastically say way to go God. Alternatively, I could wonder that if Abram would have patiently waited for Isaac instead producing Ishmael, God would have rewarded him with a tropical paradise like Nephi (meso-America) instead of giving him nomadic pastoral land surrounded by desert.

  8. I just read Stephen Smoot's "Council, Chaos, and Creation in the Book of Abraham," which basically just rehashes some ideas one would encounter in the first week of a Bible as Literature class. For anyone not supernaturally committed to the antiquity of the Book of Abraham, the obvious takeaway from the article would be that the Priestly writers of Genesis got their creation account from the Babylonians, and Joseph Smith got his from Genesis (perhaps with a little help from Job etc.).

    Of course, if one already believes the Book of Abraham to be ancient, all kinds of nonsense can ensue, which I think is why Smoot repeats his disclaimer that "this is not to say that the Book of Abraham and the Enuma Elish are drawing directly on each other but rather to note the common presence of this motif in ancient Near Eastern creation mythology." I'm sure a lot of Smoot's professional colleagues would chuckle at the suggestion of the Enuma Elish drawing on something called the Book of Abraham. Better simply to say that, well, the ideas of a divine counsel and a watery chaos had a "common presence."

    Problem is, those ideas were also commonly present in 19th-century America, because they're so prominent in the Bible.

    — OK

  9. Jeff writes that the council of the gods still strikes me as impressive and not something Joseph would have picked up from his local library or itinerant preachers.

    How so? The idea of a plurality of gods is right there in the word Elohim, and the idea that they would occasionally meet together is right there in the story of Job. All Joseph had to add was the idea that they would meet together in order to direct the creation. That's not much of a stretch.

    We can see a more general problem with Jeff's apologetics in his claim that this was not something Joseph would have picked up from his local library or itinerant preachers.

    There's a ludicrous assumption being made here, namely, that the only way writers use sources is to plop them into their work more or less as found. But of course that's not the way it works. Writers do not necessarily just repeat specific words or phrases like "council of the gods," nor even specific ideas like henotheism. They take the ideas they find and reshape them, remix them, and expand upon them according to their own creative theological imagination. Surely Joseph had imagination in abundance, and, in the case of his midrashic expansion of the Priestly creation account in Abraham 4, there's absolutely no reason to think he was not creatively expanding on the ideas he was encountering in the Bible, in his work with Seixas, etc. There's nothing all that notable about Joseph's work in this regard; people have been doing this sort of thing for thousands of years.

    Why does Jeff make this rather obviously wrong assumption? Because it allows him to say that if there's any aspect at all of Joseph's use of a 19th-century source, then the passage in question could not have been written in the 19th century.

    — OK

    1. Oops — that should be “… any aspect at all of Joseph's use of a 19th-century source that differs slightly from that source….”


  10. I beleive that the council of heaven view was rather unknown in JS's day –at least as it is now presented in biblical studies. The BofA indeed hits that nail on the head. Having said that, I think that the BofA is a representative of a text like the Apocrypha of Abraham that dates to the same time period as the papyri themsevles and which had the same parallels regarding the council of gods but also includes the pre-existent vision of pre-mortal souls, human sacrifice, the vision of creation and new details regarding Tarah's idol worship. That seems to be a better fit and frankly I have not seen a good explanation for these correspondences on such recondite and unique parallels except the non-explanatory view that anyone with an Old Testament and some knowledge of Abraham in the 19th century would come up with. It is just that is is clear beyond cavill that no one else did.

    And come out from behind the curtain Anonymous and let us know who you are so that we can hold you accountable for your biblical minimalism and radical statements that Abraham never existed. Almost certainly the mythos is based on a real historical person.

  11. Oh, okay "Blake." I'm "Randy." What the heck difference does it possibly make? You gonna contact my stake leadership and have em come knock on my door? How exactly will I be held accountable for sharing the fact that Abraham did not exist? Are you threatening me? What do you got? Does it actually matter to your Mormon faith that Abraham existed as a person rather than a composite folk hero? Have you ever once been asked about that belief in an interview?
    I'm going to go ahead and ignore the rest of your incoherent rambling until you answer each of these questions, tough guy.

  12. Is that the same Blake behind the curtain that quibbled with Dan Vogel that he can not really know things? Because this one appears to know Abraham existed. Though this Blake appears to be just talking past Randy "certainly the mythos is based on a real historical person" pretty much describes folklore in general. Just compare the historicity sections of Wikipedia for King Arthur and Abraham.


  13. The claims that Abraham didn't exist seem to be largely based on lack of archaeological data from the era of the Patriarchs, where precious little written history from the era exists. Then recent arguments that accounts of Abraham show later elements are used to further undermine the potential existence of Abraham, but the stories as they are passed on and rewritten can easily pick up anachronistic elements without being based solely on fiction and fabricated folk myths. William Dever explains the situation more clearly at He explains that it's possible for an Abraham-like figure to have existed, but we don't have compelling evidence from that era that he did. That's different than saying we have compelling proof that no such person existed.

    Jon Levenson's book on Abraham, as I recall (has been a few years since I read it) leaves the door open that such a person could have existed, even if his story has since been embellished. He recognizes we don't have solid evidence of his existence. But that's not the same as solid evidence of non-existence.

  14. Jeff – Thanks for explaining it to Blake, there really is no certainty as he claims and reasonable people can conclude that it is not radical to lump Abraham in with folklore. -NotRandy

  15. Anonymous some people just do not get it. Telling me your first name (and I doubt that is really your name at all proving that even your existence is in doubt) does nothing to place you in context. Second, I allow that the Abraham lore is based on a mythos but these myths don't just exist in a vacuum. They endure in a civilation where remembered lore is a an art form and the basis for origin stories. I am just sure that you thought I was asserting that Abraham certainly existed. You apparently chose to ignore the "almost" in my statement. However, the one thing we can say is that the assertion made by some anonymous wonk that on this blog site that "Abraham did not exist" is asserting way too much with way too much certainty. That was my point.

    1. “Telling me your first name (and I doubt that is really your name at all proving that even your existence is in doubt) does nothing to place you in context.”

      Says the poster going by the name “Blake.”

      Are you saying Blake is your last name? A nickname? How is your posting any different?

  16. Anon 10:57 – Yeah, in general Mormons are full of themselves, sincerely believing they are the only ones that are sincere, concluding they are a special subset of humanity who experienced a transcendental feeling peace and love as they mentally matured around the age of 14, and then coming to the bizarre deduction that this feeling means the BoM is not inspired fiction, launching a lifetime of arguing with non-Mormons and Mormons alike with snide comments and strawman attacks while insisting they do not argue. Apparently they are confused enough about the way they think one can sell books to them to help them sort it out.

  17. The most amazing comment I have read is Anonymous's 10:57 comment — who amazingly and hilariously does not get that his or her hateful post demonstrates abundantly that Anonymous is guilty of each of the charges that he/she has against Mormons. Anonymous must not have a mirror in his or her house because if they did, I am sure that the irony would finally dawn.

  18. Anonymous – I had to chuckle a bit at myself because your point that only "Blake" is shown here does indeed lack the information necessary to give what I am asking from you. I usually use my full name "Blake Ostler"; but for some reason this Atom feed only posts Blake. I apologize for my lack of candor — though unintentional I assure you.

    Here is why having your full name is important. First, it gives me an opportunity to search your name to see if you have published anything or have some academic background that would show that you are not just some Mormon-hater (as you are) that makes hateful comments. It also allows me to hold you accountable for irresponsible comments — like those you have made here. The assertion that "Abraham never existed" is the kind of statement only an ignoramus would make. Whether Abraham existed is a matter of considerable debate; not a foregone conclusion. It allows me to place your comments in context to see if here is some reason to believe that you know what you are talking about or whether you just lack the education and understanding necessary to know that you are being irresponsible. It also allows me to hold you responsible for the invective and hatred demonstrated in you comment about Mormons and to know if you are a different anonymous altogether from the prior irresponsible anonymous.

  19. I assume Annon wasn't around at the time of Abraham. Therefore he (making an assumption) at best doesn't really know if Abraham existed or not. He certainly has the right to believe what he wants, but he doesn't really know. Pretending he does know is a fallacious assumption on his part.

  20. One wonders who is the bigger ignoramus with more hatred and invective. The one that does not consider "Abraham to be a person who actually existed" or the one that says Abraham is "'almost' certainly" based a real person. Hhuummm . . .

    I think the one that thinks a qualifier of "almost" has some magically property here is more full of it and the one that never denied that this whole topic is inane is less full of it.

    Everyone, me included, is obviously delusional, thinking anyone here cares what the other thinks. I vote that Randy is less delusional.


  21. The comment from Anon @10:57 was deleted for its use of profanity. Extra demerits for being idiotic and hateful. The inability to disagree with an iota of civility, charity, or logic is truly unfortunate.

  22. Blake Ostler's points are entirely reasonable. Random anonymous comments are allowed, but don't carry as much weight as those who come from someone with at least an identifiable profile or persona of some kind, and ideally a real name that can establish who the person. Blake is also absolutely right about the foolishness of a blanket assertion that Abraham did not exist. That is not based on sound scholarship. The extensive legends of Abraham in multiple cultures where oral history has been treasured for millennia certainly raise the possibility that they draw upon something historical, though we don't have contemporaneous evidence for that lone figure and it is true that the accounts that have survived show evidence of multiple, sometimes conflicting sources have been relied upon to give us the Biblical account of Abraham. Such evolution and confusion in the records should not be surprising. But it doesn't establish that an ancient Abraham did not exist.

  23. Jeff you don't have the luxury of maybe in the question of whether or not Abraham existed. Mormons proclaim that he did, and they proclaim they have the details, as anachronistic and stupid as they sound. You are not allowed by your faith to even listen for one moment to the many voices of the historians who will tell the more sensible story that he's probably a conglomeration of characters from ancient folklore. So while you squelch the voice of the jerk anons here and admit that voices are in fact varied on the existence of Abraham, what you should be doing is stating that NO! Abraham did exist no questions asked! The weirdest book with the weirdest origin in all of Mormonism says so! No other voices should be entertained at all. Get in line, Jeff. Stop letting facts get in the way of your misguided faith. Don't you remember that from apologist school? Oh, that's right–you didn't go to school for any of this. It's your hobby and your bully pulpit. Nothing more. Nobody's convinced, pal.

  24. Only one of the many Abrahams need not exist for the anon to be correct in stating Abraham never existed. Jeff and Blake only assert that an Abraham existed, leaving open that many of the various evolutions of Abraham are only legends that draw upon real items in their cultures.

    Seems like anon, Jeff, and Blake all agree those cultures existed and their Abrahams were mere "legends" drawing upon things in their very real cultures. Just as Jeff, Blake, and anon all almost certainly exist, their supposed disagreement is just an legend and never existed.

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