Posts Tagged ‘Book of Abraham’
In Institute class last night we studied Abraham chapter three. If you are not familiar with the Pearl of Great Price, this is the chapter that contains one of the most glorious and powerful doctrines of the LDS faith about our premortal or pre-earth life.
Somebody correct me if they know otherwise, but I believe we are unique among the Christian world in our belief in the purpose of life that is based on this chapter. We believe that we have always existed as intelligences, and were placed in spirit bodies before being born into mortality.
And we will prove them herewith
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
And God saw that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.”
Source: Abraham 3:22-26
The purpose of life
There have been volumes written about the significance of these verses. The simple summary is that we are here on this earth as spirits within physical bodies to be tried and tested. We are here to see if we will be true to the light and truth that we received in our pre-earth life.
No, we do not believe in reincarnation. This is our first and only opportunity for mortality. We were among the noble and great ones that the Lord showed to Abraham in these verses. We are here to develop faith, which is power and to increase in intelligence, or light and truth.
We agreed to this test
“Premortality is not a relaxing doctrine. For each of us, there are choices to be made, incessant and difficult chores to be done, ironies and adversities to be experienced, time to be well spent, talents and gifts to be well employed. Just because we were chosen ‘there and then,’ surely does not mean we can be indifferent ‘here and now.’
“In fact, adequacy in the first estate may merely have ensured a stern, second estate with more duties and no immunities! Additional tutoring and suffering appears to be the pattern for the Lord’s most apt pupils. (See Mosiah 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:19.) Our existence, therefore, is a continuum matched by God’s stretching curriculum.
“Agreeing to enter this second estate, therefore, was like agreeing in advance to anesthetic—the anesthetic of forgetfulness. Doctors do not de-anesthetize a patient, in the midst of what was previously authorized, to ask him, again, if it should be continued. We agreed to come here and to undergo certain experiences under certain conditions.”
Source: Neal A. Maxwell, General Conference, October 1985
The glory of God is intelligence
Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
And every man who receiveth not the light is under condemnation.
For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.
The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.
The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
Light and truth forsake that evil one.
Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.”
Summary and Conclusion
For most members of the LDS church this is not new doctrine. We grow up with this stuff, having been taught it all our lives. But for those who are not of our faith, this is new and different. I submit that it is also one of the most powerful doctrines that we offer to the world.
We know our purpose in life. We know that this life is a test. We know we are here to prove ourselves faithful and worthy of the glory that God wants bestow upon us. We prepare for the glory by learning all we can, increasing our intelligence in order to receive more light and truth.
In our Institute class last night we began to study the Book of Abraham. The instructor covered the origins of the book in short order. None of the students had any questions about the papyri or the mummies or the translation process or the discovery of the fragments. Neither did I as I have written about this previously. The Book of Abraham contains much unique LDS doctrine.
Note the facsimile above. It is a print from a woodcut that Joseph asked an early member of the church to make. It has accompanied the Book of Abraham each time it has been printed. It is simply fascinating and depicts Abraham being sacrificed on the altar by the priest of the Pharaoh. He was saved by the angel.
Even though Abraham was in Chaldea, many miles away, the government and religion of Egypt were dominant in the civilized world at that time, about 2000 B.C. The world had been inundated by the flood some 400 years earlier so there were not a lot of people on the earth. One of the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah, settled Egypt. The name Egypt signifies that which is forbidden. So the line of Cain had been preserved through Egyptus, the wife of Ham.
The early heavens were different
I have been anxious to reread the Book of Abraham so although we only covered chapter one last night, I moved ahead in my readings through chapters two and three. I stopped excitedly on chapter three, verse five because I read this in a different light than I have ever done before. First let me share the verse and then I will share why I was so excited when I read it. The exciting part for me has to do with what I learned as I recently reread the works of Anthony Larson.
And the Lord said unto me: The planet which is the lesser light, lesser than that which is to rule the day, even the night, is above or greater than that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning, for it moveth in order more slow; this is in order because it standeth above the earth upon which thou standest, therefore the reckoning of its time is not so many as to its number of days, and of months, and of years. (Abraham 3:5)
This is the Lord talking to Abraham. What is the planet which is referred to in this verse? What does He mean, “the lesser light?” Is he referring to some far-away planet or star? We can surmise that the greater light is the sun, but I believe the lesser light refers to a mini-star that used to reside above the Earth, roughly in the region of the North Pole. It was very close to the Earth and took up a large portion of the sky. “It standeth above the earth.” That is very clear.
The cause of the great flood
This is fascinating stuff. What would have been the effects of having a large planet or mini-star standing above the earth? Were they somehow joined by some sort of electromagnetic pull or attraction? Did the larger planet revolve more slowly, perhaps according to the Lord’s time? We know that a day with the Lord is a thousand years with man. Perhaps that can help explain why men lived so many hundreds of years back in the early days in the time of the patriarchs.
I wonder also if the planet was at one time very close – so close that the water of the earth was pulled up towards the north pole. Wouldn’t that be a logical explanation for the cause of the great flood if the planet moved off to stand further away from the earth? All the water that was in the Northern regions of the earth would have come down and deluged civilization. The end result would be that the waters of the earth would be more like they are today.
And where did the city of Enoch go? Isn’t it possible that when the Lord says he took it unto his bosom that he raised up a large portion of the earth and that it was also hovering about the earth for a little while? That would explain why the inhabitants of the earth tried to build the tower of Babel. They wanted to get to the city of Enoch that was just out of reach in the heavens. We read about that in Moses chapter seven in our institute class a few weeks ago. Fascinating stuff!
The works of Anthony Larson
The only person I have ever read that understands this is Anthony Larson. Perhaps you have heard of his books, the Prophecy trilogy. The Internet is an amazing thing. We can get to know people that we would never have been able to meet otherwise. I mentioned Anthony’s books in a post back in January. He responded to my post and we began an email dialog that has been most rewarding. If you have not read the works of Anthony Larson, I highly recommend them.
I admit that the stuff I am proposing is not standard orthodox LDS teachings. As far as I know, my interpretation of Abraham 3:5 is not taught in seminary or institute classes. There is no way to prove these ideas but they make so much sense to me. I guess we may have to wait until the Lord chooses to reveal all things someday before we will know if it just might have been this way. I am indebted to Anthony Larson for proposing it, but I accept it as being what happened.
You can read more about Anthony and his amazing interpretations of the scriptures on his website. He offers free email newsletters and has a wealth of information that he is willing to share with anyone who is interested. He is no crackpot. I have read the majority of his stuff and find him to be completely rational and highly intelligent. I consider him a man ahead of his time. I believe we will see the day when his theories are proven correct and fully justified.
Summary and conclusion
What does any of this have to do with our salvation? Is knowing and understanding what is contained in the Pearl of Great Price critical to our happiness? You’ve got to admit that the contents of the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham are not understood or appreciated by any other church. They do not know of it or accept it if they do. Nevertheless, the doctrines in these scriptures are fundamental to our theology that adds so much to our lives.
I submit that the material found in the Pearl of Great Price is also not understood by the majority of the members of the LDS Church. There are some fundamental doctrines there that are found nowhere else in our scriptures. Most notably, the idea of the pre-earth life or our premortal existence and a more complete understanding of the creation of the world and the fall of Adam than what is found in the Bible. I for one am so grateful for additional revelation!
My focus over the last dozen posts has been in answering, even if only for myself, some of the more common objections to LDS doctrine or practices. One that you can find frequently in lists made by critics of the Church is the validity of The Book of Abraham as found in The Pearl of Great Price, part of the canonized scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject. I write this from the point of view of a common, regular member of the church. I don’t have a problem with the Book of Abraham and never have. To me it is scripture and I love the things I have learned from it over the years. I just want to understand what the objections are and how they can be easily answered by a simple kind of guy like me.
How we got the Book of Abraham
The Book of Abraham is a translation of some Egyptian papyri containing the writings of the prophet Abraham. The papyri came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835 and contain writings of the patriarch Abraham. The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois. See History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534.
In July 1835, an Irishman named Michael Chandler brought a traveling exhibition of four Egyptian mummies and papyri to Kirtland, Ohio. The papyri contained Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ability to translate Egyptian to English had not yet been discovered or developed. Chandler asked Joseph Smith to look at the scrolls and give some insight into what was written on them.
After reviewing the papyri and giving Chandler a description of parts of the scrolls, Joseph Smith and others purchased the four mummies and at least five papyrus documents. Joseph declared that two of the scrolls contained the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt. He translated the majority of the Book of Abraham text in July of 1835 with some minor revisions in 1842.
Loss and recovery of the papyri
After Joseph Smith’s death, his mother maintained the mummies and papyri, even showing them to interested visitors on occasion. After her death in 1856, Emma sold them to Mr. Abel Combs. Combs then sold two mummies with some papyri to the St. Louis Museum. In 1863 they went to the Chicago Museum, where they were apparently burned in the Great Chicago Fire.
The other mummies were lost, but some papyri survived. In 1947, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired some additional papyri from a daughter of Combs’s housekeeper. Aziz Suryal Atiya of the University of Utah found eleven fragments of the remaining papyri in May 1966, after he recognized the image of Facsimile 1 in the Pearl of Great Price on one of them.
The three main objections
Critics claim that the translation is a fraud. The original papyri containing some of the source material for the Book of Abraham has been found and translated. The content has been shown to be an Egyptian funeral text known as the Book of Breathings. There does not appear to be any connection to Abraham. His name does not appear anywhere in the papyri or the facsimiles.
Critics claim that the facsimiles are interpreted incorrectly. In fact, they do not seem to bear any similarity to translations provided by modern Egyptologists of the text in the figures. These critics claim that this proves that Joseph had no prophetic gift and was a fraud. They have called for the church to denounce the Book of Abraham as an embarrassment and stop covering it up.
Critics claim that the content of the Book is pure imagination. They claim that what is found in Joseph Smith’s translation is inconsistent with what we know about Abraham and ancient Egypt from the Bible and other sources. In the book are found many unique and important LDS doctrines, including the exaltation of man, plurality of gods, priesthood, and a pre-mortal life.
My three simple answers
I do not believe that the original source material used to translate the Book of Abraham has been found like the critics claim. What has been recovered was only part of the collection. The papyri that Joseph used to translate the Book of Abraham was either destroyed in the great Chicago fire or has yet to be found. There is also the theory that it was a revelation and not a translation.
I prefer to accept Joseph’s translations or interpretations of the figures and text in the facsimiles over what modern Egyptologists have produced. There are so many things that we don’t know about ancient Egypt. The discovery and study of the antiquities that are still being produced is a relatively new science. Perhaps the figures were symbolic and not to be interpreted literally.
As noted previously, I love the content of the Book of Abraham for the very reason that critics complain that it cannot possibly be correct – because it is not contained in creeds of orthodox Christianity. The Book of Abraham provides a rich and deep foundation for understanding the purpose of life. It truly is a blessing from God to have this scripture to increase my testimony.
Summary and Conclusion
I know the topic is so much more complex than I have presented in this brief post. This has been a subject of criticism for almost 150 years but one which the majority of the members of the Church have been unaware. Even those like me that are aware of the controversy don’t seem to be concerned or affected by the criticisms or the implied consequences if proven true.
For some, there are many unanswered questions about the Book of Abraham. I do not have any. For me, it is sufficient that Joseph said he translated the book from papyri that fell into his hands. I believe him. I can even accept the theory that he may have just used the papyri as a catalyst to trigger revelation. The Book of Abraham is scripture and I accept it as doctrine.
For more information please refer to Jeff Lindsay’s exceptional and exhaustive coverage of the controversy, including excellent answers to the objections and recent new favorable evidence. Two additional great sources are the Book of Abraham Project and the BYU Maxwell Institute.
Additional material from FAIR: