Author's Preface to the First Edition
Two things which the great Egyptologist Adolf Erman would not tolerate in students or colleagues were Phantasie and Romantik. His was that “bacon and greens honesty” that Carlyle so admired in the Prussian character. From the positivists of the Berlin School, bacon and greens scholarship became the heritage and fare to this day of English and American Egyptology to this day. No secrets from the Crypt, please! The student who suggests in class that some Egyptian might have known something of importance that we do not know instantly and infallibly activates the red light and the buzzer. In no other field have practitioners concentrated with fiercer intensity on the ordinary and the commonplace; their glory is to discover that the Egyptians after all bought and sold, ate and drank, had families and gave parties even as we do today—like everybody else, in fact: “As it was in the days of Noah. . .”
With that discovery, the student should be free to turn to more significant matters. Life is too short to devote years of study to learning that what went on with the Ancients was just more of the same; it is too short to let us live both our lives and theirs from day to day unless they have something to add to the story, something we do not have, something quite wonderful and unexpected. Of all people the Egyptians are most likely to supply us with such matter, and this is exactly what most of the schoolmen would deny us. From time to time a few eminent Egyptologists have commented with sorrow on the failure of their discipline to bring forth after many generations of toil a single really important discovery—the shovel alone will speak for them. They have robbed themselves, in their fierce jealousy of each other and the amateur, of untold riches—untold because no one has been allowed to examine them. Whatever cannot be explained in terms of our own everyday experience must be bypassed as an unsolved mystery or brushed aside as complete nonsense, preferably the latter, to keep the layman from meddling in a field where common ignorance places him on a common footing with the learned. This book is dedicated to the proposition that the Egyptians have something important and unexpected to communicate, and that such knowledge is to be found, among other places, in the Book of Abraham.
From the first our no-nonsense scholars picked Joseph Smith for an easy mark; the man was just too uneducated to produce anything serious. To the question, Do you mind looking at what he actually produced? the answer was always, Yes, we do mind, our time is much too valuable for such nonsense. How do they know it is nonsense? Answer: It must be, coming from such an unlearned man. And so his work goes untested and unread.
Yet for one thing alone he commands the respect and awe of any who take more than a passing glance; that is the vast scope of his work. He has given us what purport to be original fragments (in inspired translation) of books of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Zenos, and John, a full-scale epic from the “Separation” (from the Tower), also a thousand-year history of a lost civilization, an account of great complexity and detail. And all these things were given out as true history. Has any other modern author ever even remotely approached such a performance for sheer daring? But daring was the least part of it. The multitude of names, places, institutions, events and the powerful presentation, with its inexhaustible variety and rapid succession of intensely dramatic situations, the manifest sincerity, the clear purpose and meaning, the frightening relevance to our own day, are only surpassed by the most remarkable feat of all, which was getting the whole thing straight the first time; there are no snags or loose ends discoverable to the reader struggling desperately to follow all the threads that Joseph Smith handles so adroitly. What more could scholars in a dozen fields ask for should they ever decide to run exhaustive tests on him? And it is he who invites the test; after 150 years these histories are still on public display without the slightest apology or retraction of any of the claims made for them in the beginning. If these writings are fraudulent, the best possible way to get rid of them would be to encourage the widest possible reading of them, instead of which every effort has been made and is still being made to keep people from reading them. To this day the usual answer of the critics to the challenge has been simply to ignore it, contemptuously dismissing Joseph Smith’s unparalleled performance by comparing his lack of education to their own titles and degrees.
The purpose of the present book is to carry forward beginnings made in my long series of articles in the Improvement Era and a book on the Egyptian Endowment, and in the process to clarify the proposition that the critics up to now have been exceeding their authority in maintaining that the Book of Abraham cannot by the remotest possibility have anything to do with the real Abraham or the real Egypt. The reader is invited to join me in discovering how little anyone today knows about either, and how a good deal of what we do not know may well have to do with Abraham.