Edit Nov. 11,2007: When I originally wrote this post I left out that Joseph was familiar with the Book of Jasher and he may have gotten much of his story about Abraham from it. I will write more about this in an upcoming post.
I recently wrote this over at Mormon Stories:
"The parallels between the Book of Abraham and the Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham are not that impressive when one reviews what the Bible and Josephus had to say about Abraham. Joseph had access to Josephus. Now not every detail of the Abraham story that Joseph came up with is in Josephus and the Bible, but those details can be reasonable extrapolated from the parts of the stories that are there. Furthermore, Joseph got a lot wrong. The “Traditions” suggest that people were going to try to put Abraham to death by fire, but the BoA has him almost sacrificed by a knife on an altar.
What’s more? There are numerous anachronisms, and the astronomy lesson appears to be plagiarized from Thomas Dick. These problems are much more difficult to explain than a couple of parallels with the Traditions of the Life of Abraham that are not that earth-shattering anyway. Only Osler’s Expansion theory can accommodate these problems, but none of this addresses the real issue.
The Spirit told me and many others that the BoA is the translation of ancient papyrus written by the hand of Abraham. It isn’t; I don’t care how many parallels you point out. The cool thing is that this is replicable. Give me any Bishop in the Church that is not familiar with the BoA problems. I’ll invite them to ask God specifically through fasting and prayer if the Book of Abraham is a translation of ancient papyri that were written by the hand of Abraham. I bet you, they will get that confirmation and will bear passionate testimony of it and swear they know it as surely as they know anything. Ask them if they might be mistaken. Ask them if maybe the Spirit did not really mean what they think it told them. They will say that they are sure that they understand what the Spirit is telling them. Then, I will show them all the mounds of evidence that show the BoA is not what the Spirit told them it was."
Stan Barker wrote this in reply (http://mormonstories.org/?p=242#comment-73559 ):
"The Book of Abraham stuff mentioned by Hueffenhardt: I find it incredible that you so easily dismiss the parallels in Traditions. I really have to wonder if you have even read the book. I have, cover to cover. Where is your proof that JS read Josephus? He may have had access, whatever that means, by that doesn’t mean he read it. And the parallels go way beyond “a couple of parallels.” Moreover, your suggestions of plagarism is a typical cheap attempt to try to disuade people from critical thinking. You can neither prove it allegation, nor can you demonstrate access. This is one of those cards that critics love to play: plagerism. If one is to follow all of the suggested things JS is to have plagerized, he must have been one of the most well read men in the world. It is cheap and stupid."
Let's start with Joseph Smith reading Josephus. The following is from "Examining the Book of Abraham" by Kevin Mathie (http://tinyurl.com/349hu5 ). "LDS author Grant Palmer explains:
In 1835, the year [Joseph Smith] produced the opening chapters of Abraham, his counselor Oliver Cowdery, in the Messenger and Advocate, mentioned Josephus three times in interpreting the pictures from the "Joseph of Egypt" scroll [Dec. 1835]. In the Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus wrote about how Noah, who had trouble with his son Ham, "cursed his posterity," whereas the lineage of Abraham and others "escaped that curse." Joseph Smith expanded this original curse (Gen. 9:20-27) to include denial of priesthood ordination to blacks (Abr. 1:21-26). LDS scholar Lester Bush, with these Abraham verses in mind, commented: "Mormon scripture [The Book of Abraham] and the contemporary pro slavery arguments are striking". Josephus further identified Abraham as a resident of Chaldea and "a person of great sagacity" who "began to have higher notions of virtue than others had, and he determined to renew and to change the opinion all men happened then to have concerning God." Abraham's preaching was not welcome. They "raised a tumult against him... and by the assistance of God, he came and lived in the land of Canaan. While in Canaan, a land promised to his posterity, Abraham encountered a famine. This brought him and his wife Sarah to Egypt, where he successfully pretended to be his wife's brother. The pharaoh eventually allowed him to "enter into conversation with the most learned among the Egyptians; from which conversation his virtue and reputation became more conspicuous than they had been before. ... He communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for before Abram came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning..."
This sketch by Josephus, which was available to Joseph Smith [note the signature at the bottom of the page pictured to the right*], explains why, upon examining Facsimile 1 of the Hor papyrus, Joseph might have assumed that Abraham was being sacrificed for preaching gainst heathen gods but escaped with God's assistance. Viewing the other end of the scroll, Joseph further saw (Facsimile 3) Abraham teaching astronomy in Pharaoh's court just as Josephus's narrative portrays (Grant Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, publ. Signature Books, 2002, pp. 16-19).
* This graphic is taken from Grant Palmer's book, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, publ. Signature Books, 2002, p. 18. Be aware that the handwritten notation "Hyrum Smith's book" was not originally on the title page of Josephus's book, but it was on another page of the book. When Palmer, or the folks at Signature Books, created the graphic, the signature was combined with the title page in order to more clearly illustrate that this book of Josephus was owned by Hyrum".
Now since I have used secondary sources to summarize the main points, allow me to go back and use primary sources. This is a quote by Oliver Cowdery concerning the Egyptian papyri directly from Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 2 (Oct. 1835 - Sept. 1836), Vol. 2 December 1835, No. 15, 236 (You can find this in GospeLink):
"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 other taken to the regions of everlasting day without being confined to 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 following is from The Works of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, Chapters 6, 7 and 8 (http://www.ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-1.htm):
"I will now treat of the Hebrews. The son of Phaleg, whose father Was Heber, was Ragau; whose son was Serug, to whom was born Nahor; his son was Terah, who was the father of Abraham, who accordingly was the tenth from Noah, and was born in the two hundred and ninety-second year after the deluge; for Terah begat Abram in his seventieth year. Nahor begat Haran when he was one hundred and twenty years old; Nahor was born to Serug in his hundred and thirty-second year; Ragau had Serug at one hundred and thirty; at the same age also Phaleg had Ragau; Heber begat Phaleg in his hundred and thirty-fourth year; he himself being begotten by Sala when he was a hundred and thirty years old, whom Arphaxad had for his son at the hundred and thirty-fifth year of his age. Arphaxad was the son of Shem, and born twelve years after the deluge. Now Abram had two brethren, Nahor and Haran: of these Haran left a son, Lot; as also Sarai and Milcha his daughters; and died among the Chaldeans, in a city of the Chaldeans, called Ur; and his monument is shown to this day. These married their nieces. Nabor married Milcha, and Abram married Sarai. Now Terah hating Chaldea, on account of his mourning for Ilaran, they all removed to Haran of Mesopotamia, where Terah died, and was buried, when he had lived to be two hundred and five years old; for the life of man was already, by degrees, diminished, and became shorter than before, till the birth of Moses; after whom the term of human life was one hundred and twenty years, God determining it to the length that Moses happened to live. Now Nahor had eight sons by Milcha; Uz and Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Azau, Pheldas, Jadelph, and Bethuel. These were all the genuine sons of Nahor; for Teba, and Gaam, and Tachas, and Maaca, were born of Reuma his concubine: but Bethuel had a daughter, Rebecca, and a son, Laban.
1. Now Abram, having no son of his own, adopted Lot, his brother Haran's son, and his wife Sarai's brother; and he left the land of Chaldea when he was seventy-five years old, and at the command of God went into Canaan, and therein he dwelt himself, and left it to his posterity. He was a person of great sagacity, both for understanding all things and persuading his hearers, and not mistaken in his opinions; for which reason he began to have higher notions of virtue than others had, and he determined to renew and to change the opinion all men happened then to have concerning God; for he was the first that ventured to publish this notion, That there was but one God, the Creator of the universe; and that, as to other [gods], if they contributed any thing to the happiness of men, that each of them afforded it only according to his appointment, and not by their own power. This his opinion was derived from the irregular phenomena that were visible both at land and sea, as well as those that happen to the sun, and moon, and all the heavenly bodies, thus: - "If [said he] these bodies had power of their own, they would certainly take care of their own regular motions; but since they do not preserve such regularity, they make it plain, that in so far as they co-operate to our advantage, they do it not of their own abilities, but as they are subservient to Him that commands them, to whom alone we ought justly to offer our honor and thanksgiving." For which doctrines, when the Chaldeans, and other people of Mesopotamia, raised a tumult against him, he thought fit to leave that country; and at the command and by the assistance of God, he came and lived in the land of Canaan. And when he was there settled, he built an altar, and performed a sacrifice to God.
2. Berosus mentions our father Abram without naming him, when he says thus: "In the tenth generation after the Flood, there was among the Chaldeans a man righteous and great, and skillful in the celestial science." But Hecatseus does more than barely mention him; for he composed, and left behind him, a book concerning him. And Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: "Abram reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans: but, after a long time, he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea, and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his, we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abram is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shown a village named from him, The Habitation of Abram."
1. NOW, after this, when a famine had invaded the land of Canaan, and Abram had discovered that the Egyptians were in a flourishing condition, he was disposed to go down to them, both to partake of the plenty they enjoyed, and to become an auditor of their priests, and to know what they said concerning the gods; designing either to follow them, if they had better notions than he, or to convert them into a better way, if his own notions proved the truest. Now, seeing he was to take Sarai with him, and was afraid of the madness of the Egyptians with regard to women, lest the king should kill him on occasion of his wife's great beauty, he contrived this device : - he pretended to be her brother, and directed her in a dissembling way to pretend the same, for he said it would be for their benefit. Now, as soon as he came into Egypt, it happened to Abram as he supposed it would; for the fame of his wife's beauty was greatly talked of; for which reason Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, would not be satisfied with what was reported of her, but would needs see her himself, and was preparing to enjoy her; but God put a stop to his unjust inclinations, by sending upon him a distemper, and a sedition against his government. And when he inquired of the priests how he might be freed from these calamities, they told him that this his miserable condition was derived from the wrath of God, upon account of his inclinations to abuse the stranger's wife. He then, out of fear, asked Sarai who she was, and who it was that she brought along with her. And when he had found out the truth, he excused himself to Abram, that supposing the woman to be his sister, and not his wife, he set his affections on her, as desiring an affinity with him by marrying her, but not as incited by lust to abuse her. He also made him a large present in money, and gave him leave to enter into conversation with the most learned among the Egyptians; from which conversation his virtue and his reputation became more conspicuous than they had been before.
2. For whereas the Egyptians were formerly addicted to different customs, and despised one another's sacred and accustomed rites, and were very angry one with another on that account, Abram conferred with each of them, and, confuting the reasonings they made use of, every one for their own practices, demonstrated that such reasonings were vain and void of truth: whereupon he was admired by them in those conferences as a very wise man, and one of great sagacity, when he discoursed on any subject he undertook; and this not only in understanding it, but in persuading other men also to assent to him. He communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy; for before Abram came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning; for that science came from the Chaldeans into Egypt, and from thence to the Greeks also.
3. As soon as Abram was come back into Canaan, he parted the land between him and Lot, upon account of the tumultuous behavior of their shepherds, concerning the pastures wherein they should feed their flocks. However, he gave Lot his option, or leave, to choose which lands he would take; and he took himself what the other left, which were the lower grounds at the foot of the mountains; and he himself dwelt in Hebron, which is a city seven years more ancient than Tunis of Egypt. But Lot possessed the land of the plain, and the river Jordan, not far from the city of Sodom, which was then a fine city, but is now destroyed, by the will and wrath of God, the cause of which I shall show in its proper place hereafter."
Having shown that Hyrum had a copy of Josephus and that Oliver referred to Josephus in describing what was on the Egyptian papyri, it is very likely that Joseph Smith was aware of the above quoted passages while creating the Book of Abraham. As for supporting my claim of the plagiarism of ideas, it will be the subject of my next post.
Edit: For reference, since we are talking about parallels here, I'll throw in the relevant passages from the Bible (Genesis 11:28-12:20):
"28And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.
29And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
30But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
31And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.
32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.
1Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
4So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
5And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
6And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
7And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
8And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
9And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.
10And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
11And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
12Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
13Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
14And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.
15The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.
16And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.
17And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.
18And Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
19Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.
20And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had."
For more on the Book of Abraham see my earlier posts: http://tinyurl.com/2lgzd6 and http://tinyurl.com/38y7xp
For Part 2 of this thread, go here: http://entreated.blogspot.com/2007/04/reply-to-stan-book-of-abraham-part-2.html