Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Critics Response to Book of Abraham Parallels

This thread is a collaborative project. All are welcome to contribute and will receive credit for their contributions in any future online publications of this work.

This effort is in response to the Mormon apologists' argument that there are amazing parallels between the content of the Book of Abraham and many early traditions about the life of Abraham that were unknown before the Book of Abraham text was produced. The apologists' pose the question, "How could Joseph Smith have gotten all of these things 'right' unless they were revealed to him by God?"

The major work of the apologists that points out the parallels between the Book of Abraham and these early traditions is Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, John Gee. You can read a review of the book by another apologist here. The book costs $50 (more than I am willing to pay), but is often available at many university libraries. The majority of the book is composed of translations of a variety of texts from early Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other sources, the majority of which were discovered or first translated after the time of Joseph Smith and so could not have been used as source material for the Book of Abraham.

At the end of Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham is an index entitled "Unique Elements of the Book of Abraham Supported by Extrabiblical Traditions" with the following description:

The Book of Abraham contains information that is absent from the Genesis account of Abraham and, with a few exceptions, from other parts of the Bible. Many of these “unique” elements are supported by extrabiblical traditions included in this collection. These are indexed here by topic and subtopic. Some parallels are stronger than others, so the reader is advised to check each text before inferring support for the Book of Abraham.
The index then lists several subtopics with an accompanying reference from the Book of Abraham and a number of references to what the authors feel are parallels to extrabiblical material. I do not believe it is my place to post their entire index, but below is a list of their subtopics.


Abraham’s fathers worshipped idols (BoA 1:5-6) -

Idols were made of wood and stone (BoA 1:11) –

Terah, Abraham’s father, worshiped idols (BoA 1:16-17, 27) –

Terah, after repenting, returned to his idols (BoA 2:5) –

Abraham connected to Egyptian idols (BoA 1:6-7, 13, 17, 20, 29; 2:13; 3:20; Facsimile 1, figures 4-9) –

Children were sacrificed (BoA 1:7-8, 10-11) –

Those who would not worship idols were killed (BoA 1:11) -

Abraham was brought to be killed or sacrificed because he would not worship idols (BoA 1:7, 12, 15; Facsimile 1, figure 3) –

Terah was behind the attempt to kill Abraham (BoA 1:7, 30) –

Abraham was fastened or bound (BoA 1:15; Facsimile 1, figure 2) –

When his life was in danger, Abraham prayed (BoA 1:15) –

An angel came to rescue Abraham (BoA 1:15; 2:13; Facsimile 1, figure 1) –

God rescued Abraham from death (BoA 1:16; 3:20) –

The altar (furnace) and the idols were destroyed (BoA 1:20) –

The priest (or leader) was smitten and died (BoA 1:20, 29) –

Abraham was heir to the priesthood of his fathers (BoA 1:2-3, 1Cool

Abraham held the priesthood (BoA 1:2; 2:9, 11; Facsimile 2, figure 3; Facsimile 3, figure 1) –

Abraham was linked to Noah (BoA 1:19; Facsimile 2, figure 3) –

Believers are the seed of Abraham and are blessed through him (BoA2:10-11) –

Abraham sought God earnestly (BoA 2:12) –

Abraham made converts in Haran (BoA 2:15) –

Abraham possessed the Urim and Thummim, by means of which he received revelation from God (BoA 3:1, 4) –

* Abraham was knowledgeable about astronomy, which he learned from ancient records and from God (BoA 1:31; 3:1-18; Facsimiles 2 and 3) – Book of Jasher 9:17-18; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1.7.1-2; 1.8.2

* Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians (BoA Facsimile 3) – no Book of Jasher reference; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1.8.2

* Earth has four quarters (BoA Facsimile 2, figure 6) – Book of Jasher 8:2, 10; 12:9

Abraham knew about the creation (BoA 1:31; 4-5) –

There was advance planning for the creation (BoA 4:31-5:5; Moses 3:4-5) –

The elements of the earth obeyed God (BoA 4:9-12, 18, 21, 24-25, 31) –

* Abraham saw the premortal spirits (BoA 3:21-24) – Book of Jasher 12:38

The Lord instructed Abraham to say that Sarah was his sister (BoA 2:22-25) -

Abraham possessed records from the fathers (BoA 1:28, 31) –

Abraham left a record of his own (BoA 1:31) –

The founding of Egypt (BoA 1:21-27) –

Pharaoh was a descendant of Ham but also of Canaan (BoA 1:21-22, 24-25, 27) –

The first pharaoh, a good man, was blessed by Noah (BoA 1:26) –

* Abraham was allowed to sit on a king’s throne (BoA Facsimile 3. figure 1) – Book of Jasher 15:22

There was a famine in Abraham’s homeland (BoA 1:29-30; 2:1, 5) –

Abraham prayed that god would end the famine in Chaldea (BoA 2:17) –

Haran died in the famine (BoA 2:1) –

Abraham was sixty-two years of age when he left Haran, not seventy-five as Genesis says (BoA 2:14) –

Note: I included a couple of parallels that they gave to the writings of Josephus and the Book of Jasher, which I can demonstrate that Joseph Smith was familiar with and had access to before the accompanying BoA verses were first written down. There were many other parallels to the Book of Jasher in the index, but those were not included in the above list because we know that BoA 1:1-2:18 were written before the Book of Jasher was published in English. There is more on that below.

I find that many of these so-called unique parallels to extrabiblical sources are not unique at all in that the ideas are also present in the Bible. 1) So, one thing, we need to do is find references in the Bible to as many of the items in the above list as possible. That will vastly narrow down the list of unique parallels with extrabiblical sources.

2) I believe there are other parallels we can find with books that we know Joseph Smith was familiar with like with Josephus, and Book of Jasher (with BoA verses after BoA 2:1Cool.

3) Any remaining subtopics we might be able to explain as rational inferences from what was already written about Abraham, or necessitated by Joseph's having to incorporate the facsimilies into his BoA text.

4) The last point that I'd like to make is that the traditions about Abraham contradict each other in numerous aspects and there is no definitive version of the story of Abraham's life, so Joseph's version doesn't remarkably agree with any authoritative story. When one has scores of different stories about Abraham, one's story is bound to be similar to some of them in some respects.

Given all of the above there is nothing remarkable about the parallels between the BoA and these ancient texts - nothing that demands us to accept revelation as the only reasonable explanation for the parallels. Now, if we combine that with all the wealth of damning evidence against the BoA (the fact that it is not a translation, that the facsimiles were improperly restored and interpreted, that the scrolls are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, that Joseph reused characters that he translated differently elsewhere, that Joseph created Egyptian characters that don't even exist, the text contains anachronisms and incorrect reconstructions of history, and contains ideas such as intelligences that appear to be lifted from the writings of Thomas Dick and others, etc), and the apologists have nothing to stand on.

Source material:

http://scriptures.lds.org/en/abr/contents
http://www.biblegateway.com/

On June 25th, 1833, Joseph wrote the following to W. W. Phelps and others in Missouri:
“We have not found the Book of Jasher, nor any other of the lost books mentioned in the Bible as yet; nor will we obtain them at present” (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951], 1: 363).

In the summer of 1835, the Church purchased papyri fragments and mummies from a Michael Chandler who visited Kirtland.

Now, the timing of the creation of the Book of Abraham text is uncertain, but we do have some clues. Warren Parrish was a scribe and secretary to Joseph Smith, Jr., primarily in Kirtland, Ohio from 1835–1837. The Book of Abraham Manuscript 2 (BAbr MS 2' ), which comprises Book of Abraham 1:1 to 2:18, is written in the handwriting of William W. Phelps (BoA 1:1-3) and Warren Parrish (BoA 1:4-2:1Cool. So, the text of the Book of Abraham up through BoA 2:18, was completed by the end of Parrish’s role as scribe in 1837.
The first English translation of the Book of Jasher was translated by Mr. Samuel of Liverpool, England, and published by Mordecai M. Noah in New York in 1840. In June 1840, it was announced in the Times and Seasons that an English translation of the Book of Jasher would soon be available.

In the March 1, 1842, edition of the Times and Seasons, the first translation of the Book of Abraham was published.

By Sept. 1, 1842, Joseph wrote in the Times and Seasons, “But if we believe in present revelation, as published in the "Times and Seasons" last spring, Abraham, the prophet of the Lord, was laid upon the iron bedstead for slaughter; and the book of Jasher, which has not been disproved as a bad author, says he was cast into the fire of the Chaldees” (Joseph Smith, Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 180 - 181).


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.

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

The following is from "Examining the Book of Abraham" by Kevin Mathie (http://tinyurl.com/349hu5 ). "LDS author Grant Palmer explains:
The astronomical phrases and concepts in the Abraham texts were also common in Joseph Smith's environment. For example, in 1816 Thomas Taylor published a two-volume work called The Six Books of Proclus on the Theology of Plato. Volume 2 (pp. 140-146) contains phrases and ideas similar to the astronomical concepts in Abraham 3 and Facsimile No. 2. In these six pages, Taylor calls the planets "governors" and uses the terms "fixed stars and planets" and "grand key." Both works refer to the sun as a planet receiving its light and power from a higher sphere rather than generating its own light through hydrogen-helium fusion (cf. Fac. 2, fig. 5). LDS scholar R. Grant Athay, a research astronomer and director of the University of Colorado Observatory, has written, "At the time that the Book of Abraham was translated ... the energy source of the sun was unknown," and "the concept of one star influencing another was also a common concept of the time" (R. Grant Athay, "Astronomy in the Book of Abraham," Book of Abraham Symposium (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Institute of Religion, 3 Apr. 1970), ix, 60-61). Further reflecting nineteenth-century cosmology, Taylor (cf. Abraham 3:4-10) describes the progression of time among the universal bodies. Like Abraham 3:16-19, certain people of Joseph Smith's day also believed in progressive orders of orbs and the intelligences that inhabited them. According to Athay:
They believed that the surface of the sun was solid, and that it was inhabited by human beings. In fact, they believed that it was inhabited by man. They also believed that all the planets in the solar system were inhabited by man, and the moon as well ... [T]he concept of multiple-world systems, multiple dwellings of man ... was a rather common topic of that time (R. Grant Athay, "Astronomy in the Book of Abraham," Book of Abraham Symposium (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Institute of Religion, 3 Apr. 1970), ix, 60-61. ALSO, Grant Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, publ. Signature Books, 2002, pp. 21-22).
Corroborating the fact that this idea of people living on the moon and sun was prevalent within the social structure of the first generation of Latter-day Saints are the following statements.
In 1833, Oliver Cowdery stated:
"It is a pleasing thing to let the mind stretch away and contemplate the vast creations of the Almighty; to see the planets perform their regular revolutions, and observe their exact motions; to view the thousand suns giving light to myriads off globes, moving in their respective orbits, and revolving upon their several axis, all inhabited by intelligent beings..." (The Evening and the Morning Star, Vol. 2 (Dec. 1833): p. 116 - emphasis added)
In a sermon given April 27, 1843 by Hiram Smith on the plurality of gods and worlds, is this comment:
"...every Star that we see is a world and is inhabited the same as this world is peopled. The Sun & Moon is inhabited & the Stars & (Jesus Christ is the light of the Sun, etc.). The Stars are inhabited the same as this Earth. But eny of them are larger then this Earth, & meny that we cannot see without a telliscope are larger then this Earth. They are under the same order as this Earth is undergoing & undergoing the same change." (George Laub Nauvoo Journal, emphasis added)
More specifically, according to Grant Palmer, Joseph Smith owned one particular book that probably greatly influenced his cosmology:
Klaus Hansen, an LDS scholar, has written: "The progressive aspect of Joseph's theology, as well as its cosmology, while in a general way compatible with antebellum thought, bears some remarkable resemblances to Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State, a second edition of which had been published in 1830," Joseph Smith owned a copy of this work, and Oliver Cowdery in December 1836 quoted some lengthy excerpts from it in the Messenger and Advocate [Dec. 1836: 423-25]. Hansen continues:
Some very striking parallels to Smith's theology suggest that the similarities between the two may be more than coincidental. Dick's lengthy book, an ambitious treatise on astronomy and metaphysics, proposed the idea that matter is eternal and indestructible and rejected the notion of a creation ex nihilo. Much of the book dealt with the infinity of the universe, made up of innumberable stars spread out over immeasurable distances. Dick speculated that many of these stars were peopled by "various orders of intelligences" and that these intelligences were "progressive beings" in various stages of evolution toward perfection. In the Book of Abraham, part of which consists of a treatise on astronomy and cosmology, eternal beings of various orders and stages of development likewise populate numerous stars. They, too, are called "intelligences." Dick speculated that "the systems of the universe revolve around a common center... the throne of God." In the Book of Abraham, one star named Kolob "was nearest unto the throne of God." Other stars, in ever diminishing order, were placed in increasing distances from this center.
Hansen observed further that:
According to the Book of Abraham, the patriarch had a knowledge of the times of various planets, "until thou come nigh unto Kolob which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest." One revolution of Kolob "was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord's time according to the reckoning of Kolob." God's time thus conformed perfectly to the laws of Galilean relativity and Newtonian mechanics."
What we find in Abraham 3 and the official scriptures of the LDS church regarding science reflects a Newtonian world concept. The Catholic church's Ptolemaic cosmology was displaced by the new Copernican and Newtonian world model, just as the nineteenth-century, canonized, Newtonian world view is challenged by Einstein's twentieth-century science. Keith Norman, a Mormon scholar, has written that for the LDS church, "it is no longer possible to pretend there is not conflict." He continues:
Scientific cosmology began its leap forward just when Mormon doctrine was becoming stabilized. The revolution in twentieth-century physics precipitated by Einstein dethroned Newtonian physics as the ultimate explanation of the way the universe works. Relativity theory and quantum mechanics, combined with advances in astronomy, have established a vastly different picture of how the universe began, how it is structured and operates, and the nature of matter and energy. ... This new scientific cosmology pose[s] a serious challenge to the Mormon version of the universe.
Many of the astronomical and cosmological ideas found in both Joseph Smith's environment and in the Book of Abraham have become out of vogue, and some of these Newtonian concepts are scientific relics. The evidence suggests that the Book of Abraham reflects concepts of Joseph Smith's time and place rather than those of an ancient world.
In 1833, Oliver Cowdery stated:
"It is a pleasing thing to let the mind stretch away and contemplate the vast creations of the Almighty; to see the planets perform their regular revolutions, and observe their exact motions; to view the thousand suns giving light to myriads off globes, moving in their respective orbits, and revolving upon their several axis, all inhabited by intelligent beings..." (The Evening and the Morning Star, Vol. 2 (Dec. 1833): p. 116 - emphasis added)
In a sermon given April 27, 1843 by Hiram Smith on the plurality of gods and worlds, is this comment:
"...every Star that we see is a world and is inhabited the same as this world is peopled. The Sun & Moon is inhabited & the Stars & (Jesus Christ is the light of the Sun, etc.). The Stars are inhabited the same as this Earth. But eny of them are larger then this Earth, & meny that we cannot see without a telliscope are larger then this Earth. They are under the same order as this Earth is undergoing & undergoing the same change." (George Laub Nauvoo Journal, emphasis added)
More specifically, according to Grant Palmer, Joseph Smith owned one particular book that probably greatly influenced his cosmology:
Klaus Hansen, an LDS scholar, has written: "The progressive aspect of Joseph's theology, as well as its cosmology, while in a general way compatible with antebellum thought, bears some remarkable resemblances to Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State, a second edition of which had been published in 1830," Joseph Smith owned a copy of this work, and Oliver Cowdery in December 1836 quoted some lengthy excerpts from it in the Messenger and Advocate [Dec. 1836: 423-25]. Hansen continues:
Some very striking parallels to Smith's theology suggest that the similarities between the two may be more than coincidental. Dick's lengthy book, an ambitious treatise on astronomy and metaphysics, proposed the idea that matter is eternal and indestructible and rejected the notion of a creation ex nihilo. Much of the book dealt with the infinity of the universe, made up of innumberable stars spread out over immeasurable distances. Dick speculated that many of these stars were peopled by "various orders of intelligences" and that these intelligences were "progressive beings" in various stages of evolution toward perfection. In the Book of Abraham, part of which consists of a treatise on astronomy and cosmology, eternal beings of various orders and stages of development likewise populate numerous stars. They, too, are called "intelligences." Dick speculated that "the systems of the universe revolve around a common center... the throne of God." In the Book of Abraham, one star named Kolob "was nearest unto the throne of God." Other stars, in ever diminishing order, were placed in increasing distances from this center.
Hansen observed further that:
According to the Book of Abraham, the patriarch had a knowledge of the times of various planets, "until thou come nigh unto Kolob which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest." One revolution of Kolob "was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord's time according to the reckoning of Kolob." God's time thus conformed perfectly to the laws of Galilean relativity and Newtonian mechanics."
What we find in Abraham 3 and the official scriptures of the LDS church regarding science reflects a Newtonian world concept. The Catholic church's Ptolemaic cosmology was displaced by the new Copernican and Newtonian world model, just as the nineteenth-century, canonized, Newtonian world view is challenged by Einstein's twentieth-century science. Keith Norman, a Mormon scholar, has written that for the LDS church, "it is no longer possible to pretend there is not conflict." He continues:
Scientific cosmology began its leap forward just when Mormon doctrine was becoming stabilized. The revolution in twentieth-century physics precipitated by Einstein dethroned Newtonian physics as the ultimate explanation of the way the universe works. Relativity theory and quantum mechanics, combined with advances in astronomy, have established a vastly different picture of how the universe began, how it is structured and operates, and the nature of matter and energy. ... This new scientific cosmology pose[s] a serious challenge to the Mormon version of the universe.
Many of the astronomical and cosmological ideas found in both Joseph Smith's environment and in the Book of Abraham have become out of vogue, and some of these Newtonian concepts are scientific relics. The evidence suggests that the Book of Abraham reflects concepts of Joseph Smith's time and place rather than those of an ancient world (Grant Palmer, An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, publ. Signature Books, 2002, pp. 22-25)."

Now that I have used secondary sources to summarize. I will again point you to primary sources. But, first, I would like you to know of the list of books that we have evidence that Joseph owned (http://tinyurl.com/275oqc ). Take special note that during the Illinois period, among the list of books donated by Joseph Smith to the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute on the 31 January 1844, is one Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State. So, we know that he owned it.
I have gone through the trouble of finding an electronic copy of that book at the University of Michigan (starting on page 62; http://tinyurl.com/2w67l8 ). Below, I have a handful of quotations from the book teaching ideas that will be familiar to many Mormons:

"And the appearance of the heavens in reality receding from the view, would be produced, were the earth to leave its present station among the planets, and to be impelled with a rapid motion towards the distant parts of the solar system, or beyond its boundaries; in which case the sun would appear to fly off with a rapid motion to a distant part of space, till he had diminished to the size of a twinkling star, and the moon and the nearest planets would, in a short time, entirely disappear...The materials of which the earth and its atmosphere are composed will still continue to exist after its present structure is deranged, and will, in all probability, be employed in the arrangement of a new system, purified from the physical evils which now exist, and which may continue to flourish as a monument of divine power and wisdom, throughout an indefinite lapse of ages" (Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State, page 64).

It occurred to me that perhaps many of you might not be familiar with how the last quote fits in with Mormon doctrine. Here is a quote from Brigham Young:

"but when man fell, the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system, and the sun became our light. When the Lord said—"Let there be light," there was light, for the earth was brought near the sun that it might reflect upon it so as to give us light by day, and the moon to give us light by night. This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father, and it will dwell there, and these intelligent beings that I am looking at, if they live worthy of it, will dwell upon this earth" (Journal of Discourses 17:143).

Now back to Thomas Dick:

"Hence it is declared, with respect to the "saints of the Most High," "They that be teachers of wisdom shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever." In short, when we consider the boundless extent of the starry firmament, the scenes of grandeur it displays, the new luminaries, which, in the course of ages, appear to be gradually su*menting its splendor, and the countless myriads of exalted intelligences which doubtless people its expansive regions..." (Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State, page 65).

"It is evident, therefore, that superior intelligences, such as angels, and redeemed men in a future state, must have their attention directed to the science of numbers" (Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State, page 69).

"It is evident, then, that beings of a superior order, or in a higher state of existence, must have a more profound and comprehensive knowledge of numbers than man: in consequence of which they are enabled to survey the universe with more intelligence, and to form more distinct and ample conceptions of the designs and operations of infinite wisdom and omnipotence" (Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State, page 70).

"...of the number of opaque globes which may exist in every region of space, of the distance to which the material world extends, and of the various dispensations of the Almighty towards the diversified orders of intelligences which people his vast empire..." (Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State, page 72).

"...and the magnificence of his works are displayed in all of their variety and lustre to the countless orders of his rational offspring, over which he will continue to eternally preside" (Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State, page 72).

"It is highly probable, in a future world, a considerable portion of our knowledge respecting the distant provinces of the divine empire, will be communicated by superior beings who have visited the different systems dispersed through the universe...We learn from Scripture, that there are intelligences that can wing their way, in a short period of time, from one world to another" (ibid, page 73).

"The grand aim of celestial intelligences will be, to increase in the knowledge and love of God" (ibid, page 74).

While we are talking about primary sources, I must add the Book of Jasher here. Joseph Smith was familiar with the Book of Jasher and likely used it to help him create the BoA. Most parallels between the BoA and the Traditions of Abraham can be accounted for by looking at the Book of Jasher, together with Josephus and the Bible. Here is a statement that Joseph was familiar with the Book of Jasher:

"But if we believe in present revelation, as published in the Times and Seasons last spring, Abraham, the prophet of the Lord, was laid upon the iron bedstead for slaughter; and the book of Jasher, which has not been disproved as a bad author, says he was cast into the fire of the Chaldees." Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), p. 261, quoting Times and Seasons (1 Sep 1842), 3:902.

The relevant sections are from the Book of Jasher 7:51 - 20:30 (http://www.cumorah.com/etexts/jasher.txt ; it also can be found http://entreated.blogspot.com/2007/04/reply-to-stan-book-of-abraham-part-2.html)

4 comments:

Hüffenhardt said...

2late Sue provided this information:

Children were sacrificed (BoA 1:7-8, 10-11) –

Ezekiel 20:

31 For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day:


Ezek. 6: 4-6, 9, 13
4 And your altars shall be desolate, and your images shall be broken: and I will cast down your slain men before your idols.
5 And I will lay the dead acarcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.
Ps. 106: 36, 38
36 And they served their aidols: which were a snare unto them.
• • •
38 And shed innocent ablood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the bidols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.

Idols made of wood and stone:
Deut. 29: 17
17 And ye have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them:)
More on the sacrificing of children:
Isa. 57: 5

5 Enflaming yourselves with aidols under every green tree, bslaying the cchildren in the valleys under the clifts of the rocks?

Ezek. 16: 36

36 Thus saith the Lord God; Because thy afilthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them;

Abraham’s fathers worshipped idols –

Joshua 24:2 And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other agods.



I don't know if JS had a copy of Jewish texts but here's a quote from Wikipedia with annotation:



"The Midrash regards Terah as wicked. (E.g., Numbers Rabbah 19:1; 19:33.) Rabbi Hiyya said that Terah manufactured idols and told the following account: Terah once went away and left Abraham to mind the store. A woman came with a plateful of flour and asked Abraham to offer it to the idols. Abraham took a stick, broke the idols, and put the stick in the largest idol’s hand. When Terah returned, he demanded that Abraham explain what he had done. Abraham told Terah that the idols fought among themselves and the largest broke the others with the stick."

Hüffenhardt said...

Timber added this:

Ignored by mainstream LDS historians is Smith's experience with the occult: Gnosticism and Kabbalah.



Harold Bloom, a practicing Jewish Gnostic and religious critic, notes in his book on the American Religion that Smith's theology reveals that he must have had access to and been exposed to texts and other influences that brought him into the world of Gnosticism and Kabbalah.



There's an extremely informative article published in Dialogue: Joseph Smith and Kabbalah:

The Occult Connection, by Lance S. Owens.



There's a lot of great info in the article. For your purposes here's an extremely short summary of the part of the article that is most relevant: Gnosticism and Kabbalah are ancient Jewish traditions. The first Jewish convert to the mormon religion is Alexander Neibaur (described in Part 3 of the article). Neibaur was a European Jew who converted to Christianity and practiced Kabbalah. When the missionaries knocked on his door, he easily converted and moved to Nauvoo, bringing with him an impressive library, including the Zohar, one of "the most important Jewish Kabbalistic manuscripts circulated between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries." Neibaur quickly became buddies with Smith and they spent lots of time together.



Some relevant quotes from the journal article are below (all from Part 3). The bottom line is Smith had adequate exposure to the ideas and concepts that he put into the book of Abraham and Pearl of Great Price. His exposure came from other sources that are well documented, but largely ignored by mainstream LDS historians.



That Neibaur brought a knowledge of Kabbalah to Nauvoo has been mentioned in several studies of the period. For instance, Newel and Avery note in their biography of Emma Smith, "Through Alexander Neibaur, Joseph Smith had access to ancient Jewish rites called cabalism at the same time he claimed to be translating the papyri from the Egyptian mummies [which became his Book of Abraham]."124 That he not only knew something of Kabbalah, but apparently possessed a collection of original Jewish Kabbalistic works in Nauvoo, is however documented in material almost totally overlooked by Mormon historians.



Kabbalah was the mystical tradition of Judaism, the tradition which claimed to be custodian of the secrets God revealed to Adam. These secrets were occultly conveyed by the oral tradition of Kabbalah throughout the ages--so it was claimed--until finally finding written expression in the Zohar and the commentaries of the medieval Kabbalists, books Neibaur possessed. Kabbalah was the custodian of an occult re-reading of Genesis and the traditions of Enoch, it contained the secrets of Moses. And it was a subject that Joseph Smith had probably already crossed in different versions several times in his life. Can anyone familiar with the history and personality of Joseph Smith--the prophet who restored the secret knowledge and rituals conveyed to Adam, translated the works of Abraham, Enoch, and Moses, and retranslated Genesis--question that he would have been interested in the original version of this Jewish occult tradition? And here, in Neibaur, was a man who could share a version of that knowledge with him.



In 1844 Smith, in what may be his single greatest discourse and in the most important public statement of his theosophical vision, apparently quotes almost word for word from the first section of the Zohar. . . .



On Sunday afternoon, 7 April 1844, Joseph Smith stood before a crowd estimated at 10,000 and delivered his greatest sermon, the King Follett Discourse. Dissension, rumor, accusation, and conspiracy all abounded in Nauvoo on that pleasant spring day, and Joseph was at the center. This would be Joseph's last conference, ten weeks later he lay murdered at Carthage Jail. In this atmosphere of tension, many in the congregation probably expected a message of conciliation, a retrenchment. Instead, the prophet stunned listeners with his most audacious public discourse--a declaration replete with doctrinal innovations and strange concepts that many of the Saints had never before heard. As Fawn Brodie noted, "For the first time he proclaimed in a unified discourse the themes he had been inculcating in fragments and frequently in secret to his most favored saints: the glory of knowledge, the multiplicity of gods, the eternal progression of the human soul."



Van Hale, in his analysis of the discourse's doctrinal impact, notes four declarations made by Joseph Smith which have had an extraordinary and lasting impact on Mormon doctrine: men can become gods; there exist many Gods; the gods exist one above another innumerably; and God was once as man now is.132 Interestingly, these were all concepts that could, by various exegetical approaches, be found in the Hermetic-Kabbalistic tradition. But even more astoundingly, it appears Joseph actually turned to the Zohar for help in supporting his introduction of these radical doctrinal assertions.

Chris said...

You may be interested in some of my recent posts, including this one. I will probably be presenting on the subject of BoA sources and ancient parallels at the Salt Lake Sunstone this summer, time and finances permitting.

Hüffenhardt said...

Chris,
Thanks!