Understanding the Egyptian Facsimiles Through a Semitic Lens
Kevin Barney’s chapter, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, edited by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2005), pp. 107-130, is now available online. In this excellent work, Barney considers precedents for Egyptian stories that have been assimilated into Jewish literature, with the Egyptian elements having been modified when viewed through a Semitic lens. He suggests that this approach helps explain some aspects of the Book of Abraham facsimiles. When the Semitic lens is applied to the Egyptian representations, Joseph Smith’s comments make much more sense. Here is an excerpt:
Specifically, we will suggest that the facsimiles may not have been drawn by Abraham’s hand but may have been Egyptian religious vignettes that were adopted or adapted by an Egyptian-Jewish redactor as illustrations of the Book of Abraham. We will illustrate general processes of Jewish adaptation of Egyptian sources and then describe in detail three specific examples from the Greco-Roman period (the same period when the Joseph Smith Papyri were produced) that each relates in some way to Abraham. We will suggest that such Jewish adaptation of Egyptian sources was common during this time period and would explain the adaptation of the facsimiles to illustrate the Book of Abraham, which may have come under this redactor’s care as part of the ancient transmission of the text.
Having articulated this Semitic adaptation theory, we will examine Stephen Thompson’s critique of Joseph’s interpretations of the facsimiles, showing how this theory resolves the issues raised by Thompson.
Barney then provides solid documentation and analysis to support his thesis. I appreciate these insights. Understanding the possibility of Semitic adoption of Egyptian concepts adds new depth to our understanding of Joseph’s translation of the Book of Abraham text and facsimiles, and helps us understand why the rejection of Joseph’s work based on literal analysis of the Egyptian elements alone is inadequate.