In my previous post, I noted that faithful members of the Church can hold various theories about the Book of Abraham, and one can even feel that it is “inspired fiction” without being considered an apostate. One anonymous person strongly objected and was shocked that I could say such a thing, fearing that the Church is losing its roots by decanonizing the Book of Abraham. I want to make sure people understand that neither I nor the Church (as far as I know!) are calling for decanonizing anything.
One can also see the story of Job as fictional but inspired, a story to teach us of God’s mercy and our need for patience in affliction. The very ancient era of the patriarchs is murky. All accounts about them have questionable and puzzling elements. Some faithful Jewish and Christian scholars aren’t sure there even was a historical Abraham (for the record, I believe there was). If not, a Jewish account that became an Egyptian text of interest to some Egyptian priests in ancient Thebes could have been translated in 1835 by the gift and power of God to give us a pseudepigraphical text (a text falsely ascribed to a particular source) that may have religious value, even scriptural value, and may be a true miracle in spite of some murkiness.
If a member believes that the Book of Abraham is inspired, even miraculous, but has some doubts about its literal historical accuracy, is that member on the path to perdition? Is that member’s faith in question? Should we add a question to the list of temple recommend questions to screen out such infidels? Of course not. One can believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and yet hold that he was mortal, that he made mistakes, and that his translation of the Book of Abraham has flaws, while still accepting that it is a vehicle that gives us revelation and truth. Flaws, murkiness, uncertainty in the mode of translation, the possibilities of human errors — these issues affect all scripture, unfortunately. There’s no need to panic or decanonize anything, but there may be a need to temper our expectations of perfection when it comes to prophets, ancient records, and even modern scripture. It’s a murky world.
If there are stories in the Old Testament that didn’t really happen the way they are recorded, it doesn’t mean we have to abandon the Bible. If Abraham’s account, even though translated by an authorized prophet using prophetic gifts, didn’t happen exactly as that text relates, it does not mean we need to abandon the Book of Abraham. A pseudepigraphical text can still be ancient, authentic, and contain precious and revealed truth, or can be a vehicle for a prophet to teach revealed truth. So it can be “inspired fiction” or, better said, a divinely provided tool to teach us inspired truths, even if Abraham didn’t actually teach astronomy in the Egyptian court. But, for the record, I personally think that he did. My testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not depend on that. My faith in God does not depend on that. If Abraham only taught astronomy to a few shepherds in Canaan, or if the astronomical material was edited into a Book of Abraham text by some well-meaning scribe with an inspired passion for cosmology, so be it. I’ll be OK, and hope you will, too.
Our records and our knowledge are incomplete, imperfect, and often murky. We anxiously look forward to more light and knowledge.