The Book of Abraham and the Book of the Dead

I, Abraham . . .” These words in the opening verse of Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham ring out like a trumpet blast challenging all comers to a fair field. They state the argument and set up the target. Is this an authentic autobiography of Abraham the Patriarch, or is it not? Let us not evade the issue by dismissing the proposition as too absurd to be taken seriously; if it is as impossible as it seems to modern scholars, let them please take a few minutes off to disabuse the public mind and explain it to the world. To date, not one critic has laid a finger on the Book of Abraham. Instead, they have all sought to discredit it by indirection, dwelling exclusively on the method and person by which they assume it was produced.

To discredit Joseph Smith, or anyone else, in the eyes of an uninformed public is only too easy, requiring but the observance of a few established routines in the art of public relations. That gets us nowhere honestly. What about the Book of Abraham? In it Joseph Smith has given us a straightforward and detailed narrative, whose boldness, ingenuity, and originality should excite the interest and command the respect of anyone who has ever tried to write anything. Even as a work of fiction it does not permit the reader to see in it the production of some poor fool who had no idea of what he was doing, completely befuddled as to his sources, trying to squeeze a story out of a handful of perfectly meaningless Egyptian doodles. We invite the critics to use the great advantage of their superior education and vast resource material to produce anything like it. We will even allow them full use of what they call Joseph Smith’s modus operandi, which they have so brilliantly suggested as the explanation of how he really did it. And to assist them further, we offer at no extra charge another clue, a statement by the great E. A. Wallis Budge that is all the more revealing for its frank hostility to the Prophet: “The letter press [Joseph Smith’s explanation of the Book of Abraham] is as idiotic as the pictures, and is clearly based on the Bible, and some of the Old Testament apocryphal histories.”1 As to those apocryphal sources, why have all his other critics overlooked them, insisting that the whole thing is “a pure fabrication,” and “simply the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination”? As we have already observed, what could Joseph Smith have known about Old Testament apocryphal histories? Budge was possibly the greatest authority of his day on apocrypha, but that was because he spent his days mostly in the British Museum among original manuscripts to which nobody else had access. There were indeed a number of important apocrypha published in Budge’s day—but in the 1830s? Who has access to the apocryphal Abraham materials even today?”2 Now if Budge insists that the Abraham story in the Pearl of Great Price is clearly based on Old Testament apocryphal sources, that story deserves to be treated with some attention. What, the relatively uneducated Joseph Smith using sources of which none of the experts save only Budge, the most prodigiously learned and productive Orientalist of his time, was aware? What a flattering accusation!

How is the book supposed to have been produced? By direct revelation, a method unsearchable and imponderable, which renders research along that line fruitless and pointless. But that is not to say for a moment that the Book of Abraham is beyond criticism—far from it! It can be tested as a diamond is tested—not by inquiring from whence it came, who found it, who owns it, how much was paid for it, where and when, who says it is genuine and who says it is not, etc., but simply by subjecting it to the established and recognized jewelers’ tests for diamonds. Or suppose, for example, that a newspaper reporter comes up with an “eyewitness account” of the sinking of the Titanic, and it later turns out that this witness never was on the Titanic. Does it follow that the account is a fraud? It does follow that the man’s claim to have been on the ship is fraudulent, but that is not the question. His account may be accurate in the highest degree, based on careful research and scrupulous reporting by others; it may even have been compiled by someone else. Even less does it follow from his deception that there never was a Titanic and that the whole story of the sinking was a newspaper hoax. The whole issue rests on evidence taken from other sources, even as it must with the Book of Abraham.

In short, it is the Book of Abraham that is on trial, not Joseph Smith as an Egyptologist, nor the claims and counterclaims to scholarly recognition by squabbling publicity seekers, nor the provenance and nature of Egyptian papyri, nor the competence of this or that person to read them. The resounding charge in the headlines was that “the Book of Abraham is a pure falsification.”3 Joseph Smith is no longer with us; his reputation must rest on the bona fides of the book, not the other way around. By his own insistence, he was merely an implement in bringing forth the record, not its creator. We have stubbornly passed the real evidence by, like the Purloined Letter, to investigate all manner of trivia: Exactly how did the Prophet get the papyri? What difference does that make once we have them in our hands and know that they are genuine? The Kirtland papers contain clues to what was going on in Kirtland, but tell us absolutely nothing about Abraham.

Abraham’s Autobiography

The original heading of the Book of Abraham, as published in the Times and Seasons for 5 March 1842, was “A translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”4 Nine years later, when the text was printed in England in the Millennial Star in 1851, the editor made changes in the heading that have led to serious misunderstandings ever since.5 Indeed, it is a question whether the Book of Abraham has suffered more damage from its friends or from its enemies, for like other things Egyptian it has exerted an irresistible attraction for everyone to get into the act.

The 1851 heading still stands: A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt—The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. But note the significant omissions and insertions. The words “purporting to be” are omitted, and in their place is an imperious dash that brooks no nonsense—it is the writing of Abraham. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, informs us that the ancient records purport to be writings of Abraham and proceeds to tell us what they contain. He had already demonstrated at great length his power to translate ancient records with or without possession of the original text (see D&C 7). As it stands, the statement “written by his own hand, upon papyrus” comes as an unequivocal declaration of the editor, while it is actually part of the original Egyptian title: “called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus“—that was Abraham’s own heading. This is important, since much misunderstanding has arisen from the assumption that the Joseph Smith Papyri were the original draft of Abraham’s book, his very own handiwork. I discussed the sense in which the formula is to be understood some years ago:

Two important and peculiar aspects of ancient authorship must be considered when we are told that a writing is by the hand of Abraham or anybody else. One is that according to Egyptian and Hebrew thinking any copy of a book originally written by Abraham would be regarded and designated as the very work of his hand forever after, no matter how many reproductions had been made and handed down through the years. The other is that no matter who did the writing originally, if it was Abraham who commissioned or directed the work, he would take the credit for the actual writing of the document, whether he penned it or not.

As to the first point, when a holy book (usually a leather roll) grew old and worn out from handling, it was not destroyed but renewed. Important writings were immortal—for the Egyptians they were “the divine words,” for the Jews the very letters were holy and indestructible, being the word of God. The wearing out of a particular copy of scripture therefore in no way brought the life of the book to a close—it could not perish. In Egypt it was simply renewed (ma.w, sma.w) “fairer than before,” and so continued its life to the next renewal. Thus we are told at the beginning of what some have claimed to be the oldest writing in the world [the Shabako Stone], “His Majesty wrote this book down anew. . . . His Majesty discovered it as a work of the Ancestors, but eaten by worms. . . . So His Majesty wrote it down from the beginning, so that it is more beautiful than it was before.”6 It is not a case of the old book’s being replaced by a new one, but of the original book itself continuing its existence in a rejuvenated state. No people were more hypnotized by the idea of a renewal of lives than the Egyptians—not a succession of lives or a line of descent, but the actual revival and rejuvenation of a single life.

Even the copyist who puts his name in a colophon does so not so much as publicity for himself as to vouch for the faithful transmission of the original book; his being “trustworthy (iqr) of fingers,” i.e., a reliable copyist, is the reader’s assurance that he has the original text before him. An Egyptian document, J. Spiegel observes, is like the print of an etching, which is not only a work of art in its own right but “can lay claim equally well to being the original . . . regardless of whether the individual copies turn out well or ill.” Because he thinks in terms of types, according to Spiegel, for the Egyptian “there is no essential difference between an original and a copy. For as they understand it, all pictures are but reproductions of an ideal original.”7 . . .

This concept was equally at home in Israel. An interesting passage from the Book of Jubilees [a text unknown before 1850] recounts that Joseph while living in Egypt “remembered the Lord and the words which Jacob, his father, used to read from amongst the words of Abraham.”8 Here is a clear statement that “the words of Abraham” were handed down in written form from generation to generation, and were the subject of serious study in the family circle. The same source informs us that when Israel died and was buried in Canaan, “he gave all his books and the books of his fathers to Levi his son that he might preserve them and renew them for his children until this day.”9 Here “the books of the fathers” including “the words of Abraham” have been preserved for later generations by a process of renewal. [Joseph’s own books were, of course, Egyptian books.]

In this there is no thought of the making of a new book by a new hand. It was a strict rule in Israel that no one, not even the most learned rabbi, should ever write down so much as a single letter of the Bible from memory: always the text must be copied letter by letter from another text that had been copied in the same way, thereby eliminating the danger of any man’s adding, subtracting, or changing so much as a single jot in the text. It was not a rewriting but a process as mechanical as photography, an exact visual reproduction, so that no matter how many times the book had been passed from hand to hand, it was always the one original text that was before one. . . .

But “written by his own hand”? This brings us to the other interesting concept. Let us recall that that supposedly oldest of Egyptian writings, the so-called Shabako Stone, begins with the announcement that “His Majesty wrote this book down anew.” This, Professor Sethe obligingly explains, is “normal Egyptian usage to express the idea that the King ordered a copy to be made.”10 Yet it clearly states that the king himself wrote it. Thus when the son of King Snefru says of his own inscription at Medum, “It was he who made his gods in [such] a writing [that] it cannot be effaced,” the statement is so straightforward that even such a student as W. S. Smith takes it to mean that the prince himself actually did the writing. And what could be more natural than for a professional scribe to make an inscription: “It was her husband, the Scribe of the Royal Scroll, Nebwy, who made this inscription”? Or when a noble announces that he made his father’s tomb, why should we not take him at his word? It depends on how the word is to be understood. Professor Wilson in all these cases holds that the person who claims to have done the work does so “in the sense that he commissioned and paid for it.”11 The noble who has writing or carving done is always given full credit for its actual execution; such claims of zealous craftsmanship “have loftily ignored the artist,” writes Wilson. “It was the noble who ‘made’ or ‘decorated’ his tomb,” though one noble of the Old Kingdom breaks down enough to show us how these claims were understood: “I made this for my old father. . . . I had the sculptor Itju make (it).”12 Dr. Wilson cites a number of cases in which men claim to have “made” their father’s tombs, one of them specifically stating that he did so “while his arm was still strong”—with his own hand!13

Credit for actually writing the inscription of the famous Metternich Stele is claimed by “the prophetess of Nebwen, Nest-Amun, daughter of the Prophet of Nebwen and Scribe of the Inundation, ‘Ankh-Psametik,'” who states that she “renewed (sma.w) this book [there it is again!] after she had found it removed from the house of Osiris-Mnevis, so that her name might be preserved.”14 The inscription then shifts to the masculine gender as if the scribe were really a man, leading to considerable dispute among the experts as to just who gets the credit. Certain it is that the Lady boasts of having given an ancient book a new lease on life, even though her hand may never have touched a pen.15

Nest-Amun hoped to preserve her name by attaching it to a book, and in a very recent study M. A. Korostovstev notes that “for an Egyptian to attach his name to a written work was an infallible means of passing it down through the centuries.”16 That may be one reason why Abraham chose the peculiar Egyptian medium he did for the transmission of his record—or at least why it has reached us only in this form. Indeed Theodor Böhl observed recently that the one chance the original Patriarchal literature would ever have of surviving would be to have it written down on Egyptian papyrus.17 Scribes liked to have their names preserved, too, and the practice of adding copyists’ names in colophons, Korostostev points out, could easily lead in later times to attributing the wrong authorship to a work. But whoever is credited with the authorship of a book remains its unique author, alone responsible for its existence in whatever form.18

There is early evidence for this idea in Israel in the Lachish Letters from the time of Jeremiah in which the expression “I have written,” employed by a high official, “must certainly,” according to Harry Torczyner,19 “not be meant as ‘written by my own hand,’ but may well be ‘I made (my scribe) write,’ as in many similar examples in the Bible, and in all ancient literature,” even though the great man actually says he wrote it.

So when we read “the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus,” we are to understand that this book, no matter how often “renewed,” is still the writing of Abraham and no one else; for he commissioned it or, “according to the accepted Egyptian expression,” wrote it himself with his own hand. And when Abraham tells us, “That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning,” we do not need to suppose that the patriarch himself necessarily drew the very sketches we have before us. It was the practice of Egyptian scribes to rephrase obscure old passages they were copying to make them clearer, and when this was done the scribe would add his own name to the page20 which shows how careful the Egyptians were to give credit for original work only—whatever the first author wrote remained forever “by his own hand.”

The Fatal Clue

There is one piece of evidence that all by itself has sufficed for years to discredit the Book of Abraham in the eyes of the world. One does not have to be an Egyptologist (as many an Egyptologist has reminded us) to recognize that at least two of the facsimiles illustrating the Book of Abraham are familiar motifs from the Book of the Dead. And that has been enough to exonerate any critic from having to investigate the Abraham claims any further; if these pictures are simply well-known drawings from the Egyptian funerary literature, it is argued, they cannot possibly by any stretch of the imagination belong to Abraham, let alone have been executed to illustrate the particulars of his career. From Theodule Devéria in the 1850s to the critics of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, that has been the one definitive argument against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham, the one obstacle, pointed out again and again, that dwarfs all the others. So the first thing we should do is to show how neatly it has been removed by modern discoveries.

How does one go about testing the bona fides of such a document as the Book of Abraham? Since the great scholars of the Renaissance, no procedure has been better established or more thoroughly accepted than theirs: When any text is put forward as the genuine production of an ancient author of a given time and place, it remains only to compare the writing with documents known to be authentic coming from that same time and place, and to weigh the points of conflict or agreement among them. In the case of the Book of Abraham, however, we find ourselves at a disadvantage, because there is no agreement among scholars today as to when Abraham lived—estimates now run all the way from the sixth century B.C. of John Van Seters to 2500 B.C. of some Ebla scholars. The situation is far from hopeless, however, for to make up for the absence of reliable dates to give us texts contemporary with Abraham, we possess a number of old and very valuable writings actually bearing the name of Abraham, which writings are just at present and for the first time coming under the serious scrutiny of specialists, who are busily comparing them far and wide in an attempt to fix their true sources. As a first step in their cooperative enterprise they have established one fact of singular interest, namely, that said Abraham texts are closely related to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This certainly calls for closer scrutiny.

The Emergence of the Book of Abraham: The Apocalypse of Abraham

The position of the Book of Abraham today is much like that of the book of Enoch about 150 years ago. Ever since ancient times scattered clues, even sizable fragments, of a supposedly lost book of Enoch kept turning up, leading to much speculation and controversy as to whether there ever really was a book of Enoch.21 It was only when one major text, the Ethiopian book of Enoch, known as 1 Enoch, was brought to light early in the nineteenth century that scholars started looking seriously and putting together evidence that brought forth one version after another—Old Slavonic, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.—of that same lost book of Enoch which had so long been viewed as a figment of Gnostic imagination. After all that, it turned out, the book of Enoch was real. So it is now with the Book of Abraham.

In hailing “the rediscovery of Apocalyptic” in the 1960s, Klaus Koch placed at the head of the list of pseudepigraphical writings (called “pseudo” only because they are not found in the biblical canon) as preeminent in both age and importance the Apocalypse of Abraham as preserved in the Old Slavonic texts.22 Since the opening sentence of the work declares that “I [Abraham] was searching as to who the Mighty God in truth is,” while the opening sentence of the Book of Abraham informs us that “Abraham, . . . desiring . . . to possess a greater knowledge,” was seeking God earnestly (cf. Abraham 2:12),23 natural curiosity prompts us at once to compare the two purported autobiographies of the patriarch, apparently produced in times and places so remote from each other, to see what further similarities they might contain.

In 1898, just a year after the Apocalypse of Abraham was published to the world by Bonwetsch, two Latter-day Saint students made the first English translation of the writing, which appeared in the first volume of the Improvement Era.24

The Apocalypse of Abraham belongs to a body of Abraham literature flourishing about the time of Christ. “The Book is essentially Jewish,” wrote George H. Box, with “features . . . which suggest Essene origin.” From the Essenes it passed, he suggested, “to Ebionite circles . . . and thence, in some form, found its way into Gnostic circles,” though “Gnostic elements in our Book are not very pronounced.”25 Conventional Judaism and Christianity of a later day frowned upon it, as also was the case with the book of Enoch; hence “in its Greek and Semitic forms [the Apocalypse of Abraham] has, in fact, disappeared, only surviving in its Old Slavonic dress.”26 And although the Slavonic version goes back no further than the eleventh or twelfth century, ample controls attest to its remarkable faithfulness to the old vanished accounts,27 which “can hardly be later than the first decades of the second century”28 and may be older. The text, originally published in Russia in 1863, was first made known to the West in an 1897 edition of Bonwetsch; he produced a German translation in 1898, and in the same year the first—and for many years the only—English version appeared in the first volume of the Improvement Era! It is significant that it was the Latter-day Saints who first made the Apocalypse of Abraham available to the world in English, as it was they who first recognized the book of Enoch, in Parley P. Pratt’s review of 1840, not as a worthless piece of apocrypha, but as a work of primary importance.29 But while the book of Enoch suggested only the Book of Mormon to the Brethren, the Apocalypse of Abraham from the first brought to mind their own Book of Abraham. Brothers Edward H. Anderson and R. T. Haag, who made an excellent translation of Bonwetsch’s German—remarkably close, in fact, to Box’s “official” English version of 1919—detected in the text “many things of a character both as to incidents and doctrines that ran parallel with what is recorded in the Book of Abraham, given to the world by Joseph Smith.”30 They wisely contented themselves, however, with printing the text without other commentary than three or four passages in italics, trusting the Latter-day Saint reader to think for himself.

Let us quickly run through the Improvement Era text of the Apocalypse of Abraham to see what the translators mean by “parallels” to the Joseph Smith Book of Abraham, placing the two side by side without altering a syllable of either one.31 We shall take the liberty to emphasize significant parallels by occasional italics, and quote from the Box translation from time to time.

The Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Abraham Compared

Apocalypse of Abraham IV. “Hear, my father Terah . . . how shall they [your idols] help you or bless me?” And when he heard my words, he was very angry with me because I had spoken hard words against his gods. Abraham 1:5. My fathers, having turned . . . unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice.Abr. 1:7. They turned their hearts to the sacrifice . . . unto these dumb idols, and hearkened not unto my voice.
Ap. Abr. VII. Father Terah, let me make known to you the God who has created all these . . . and has now found me in the perplexities of my thoughts. O, would that God, through himself might reveal himself to us! Abr. 2:7. For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool.Abr. 2:12. Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee.
Ap. Abr. VIII. While I thus spake to my father Terah, in the court of my house, the voice of a Mighty One from Heaven came from a fiery cloud saying and calling: “. . . get you out of his house.”. . . And . . . as I went out . . . he was burned, and his house, and all that was in it, even to the earth of forty ells. Abr. 2:6. But I, Abraham, and Lot . . . prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise, and take Lot with thee . . . away out of Haran.Abr. 2:7. I dwell in heaven; . . . I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot. [Note the common motifs: He is talking to a member of the family when he is ordered by the Lord to leave, and Lot’s place is burned. Note how the Apocalypse of Abraham has converted the figure of the wind and the fire as God’s chariot into “the voice of a Mighty One from Heaven . . . from a fiery cloud.” Also, the various lurid legends about the burning of Terah’s house, of Nehor, of all the people, etc., betray the common practice of literalizing ancient metaphors.]
Ap. Abr. VIII (Box). The voice . . . from . . . a fiery cloud-burst, saying . . . : “Abraham, Abraham, . . . Thou art seeking in the understanding of thine heart the God of Gods and the Creator; I am He.” Abr. 1:1–2. Abraham, . . . desiring also to . . . possess a greater knowledge . . . and desiring to receive instructions, . . . and to keep the commandments of God.Abr. 2:12. Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee.[This is the theme on which both Abraham histories open.]
Ap. Abr. IX. “Abraham, Abraham!” I answered: “Here am I.” And he said, “Behold it is I, be not afraid, for I am before the world was, a strong God who created even before the light of the world. [Box: “I am before the worlds, and a mighty God who hath created the light of the world.”] I am your shield and your helper. Go hence . . . bring me a pure sacrifice. And in this offering I will show you the Aeons, and reveal to you that which is secret; and you shall see great things never before beheld by you; for you have loved to seek me, and I have called you my friend. . . . I will show you the Aeons which have been wrought by my word, and firmly established, created and renewed.” Abr. 3:11. Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face . . . and he told me of the works which his hands had made. Abr. 3:21. I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, . . . thine eyes have seen from the beginning.
Ap. Abr. IX (Box). Then a voice came to me speaking twice: “Abraham, Abraham!” . . . “Behold, it is I; fear not, for I am before the worlds. . . . I am a shield over thee, and I am thy helper.” Abr. 1:16. And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee.
Ap. Abr. X (Box). I heard the voice of the Holy One speaking: “Go, Jaoel [Box, note 5: . . . The name Yahoel (Jaoel) is evidently a substitute for the ineffable name of Yahweh] and by means of my ineffable Name raise me yonder man, and strengthen him (so that he recover) from his trembling.” And the angel came, whom He had sent to me, in the likeness of a man, and grasped me by the right hand and set me upon my feet. . . . “I am called Jaoel by Him who moveth with that which existeth with me on the seventh expanse upon the firmament. . . . Stand up, Abraham! Go without fear; . . . [I am he who hath been commissioned to loosen Hades, to destroy him who stareth at the dead].” Abr. 1:15–16. And the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands. And his voice was unto me: . . . behold, my name is Jehovah. Abr. 1:18. Behold, I will lead thee by my hand.[In the Book of Abraham this is the theme of Abraham’s deliverance from the altar. The expressions “loose the bands of Hades” and “him who stareth at the dead” signify the nature of the deliverance and are both typically Egyptian, the latter of which Box finds quite bizarre. Facsimile 1 is a very proper illustration to the story.]
Ap. Abr. X. “Arise, Abraham, with courage, go with joy and gladness. I am with you, for the Eternal One has prepared for you honor everlasting, . . . for behold I am set apart with you and with the generations which have been before prepared, out of you; and with me [Jehovah], Michael blesses you forevermore.” Abr. 3:22–23. 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 . . . stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; . . . and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

The visit of the pair Jehovah and Michael to Abraham to raise him up and instruct him recalls like experiences of Adam and Moses, which we have discussed elsewhere.32 This is apparent from the following sections:

Ap. Abr. XII. [Next Abraham as he sacrifices on the altar is accosted by Satan (Azazel), who is rebuked and cast out by the angel. After which a dove carries Abraham aloft to heaven to view the wonders of the universe]: He [the angel] said unto me: “. . . I ascend upon bird’s [dove’s] wings to show you that which is in heaven, and upon the earth, and in the sea, and in the abysses, in the underworld, and in the Garden of Eden and its rivers, and in the fullness of the circuit of the whole world; for you shall behold all.” Cf. Moses 1:24. When Satan had departed from the presence of Moses, . . . Moses lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being filled with the Holy Ghost.Moses 1:27. And . . . Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it.Moses 1:37. And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many.Abr. 3:12. And he said unto me: My son, . . . behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.
Ap. Abr. XII. Behold the altar upon the mountain to offer the sacrifice. . . . But the turtle dove and the dove give to me, for I ascend upon bird’s wings to show you that which is in heaven, and upon the earth . . . and in the fullness of the circuit of the whole world. Cf. Abr. Fac. 2, fig. 2. . . . holding the key of power also, pertaining to other planets; as revealed from God to Abraham, as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he had built unto the Lord.Fac. 2, fig. 7. [It is the dove who gives Abraham the key.]

In Section XIII (Box), Satan appears to Abraham while he is sacrificing and commands his obedience. Abraham, perplexed, asks the angel (also present), “What is this my Lord?” and the angel tells him, “This is ungodliness, this is Azazel [Satan].” Satan has threatened to possess the bodies of Abraham’s posterity, and the angel rebukes him: “for God . . . hath not permitted that the bodies of the righteous should be in thy hand.” He then casts Satan out, telling him that God has placed enmity between him and Abraham: “Depart from this man! Thou canst not lead him astray, because he is an enemy to thee, and of those who follow thee and love what thou willest,” i.e., the spirits that follow Satan.

Ap. Abr. XV (Box). [During the sacrifice the angel] took me with the right hand and set me on the right wing of the pigeon . . . and he bore me to the borders of the flaming fire, and we ascended as with many winds to the heaven. Moses 1:24 Moses lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being filled with the Holy Ghost.Moses 1:25. And . . . he beheld his glory again.Moses 1:27. . . . and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it.Abr. 2:7. I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot.
Ap. Abr. XV (Box). And I saw . . . a strong light, . . . and lo! in this light . . . many people of male appearance, all (constantly) changing in aspect and form, running and being transformed. Moses 1:38. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words.
Ap. Abr. XVII (Box). [Continuing the theme of processing the worlds, Abraham calls upon the Lord]: El, El, El—El, Jaoel! [addressing him as the creator who organized the world]: Who dissolveth the confusions of the world . . . renewing the age of the righteous! . . . Accept my prayer and be well-pleased with it, likewise also the sacrifice which Thou hast prepared. Thee through me who sought Thee! Accept me favourably, and shew me, and teach me, and make known to Thy servant as thou hast promised me![(Box, note 7, quotes Genesis Rabbah 78:1:) Every morning God created a new angel host and these cantillate a new song before Him and then disappear. (This ceaseless processing of the worlds is an ancient teaching.)]33 Abr. 2:12. Thy servant has sought thee.Abr. 1:2. . . . desiring . . . to possess a greater knowledge.
Ap. Abr. XIX. And a voice came to me. . . . And it said: “Behold the expanse under the plain upon which you now stand.” Abr. 3:3. And the Lord said unto me: . . . all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.Abr. 3:4. . . . according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest.Abr. 3:6. . . . the set time of the earth upon which thou standest. [The expression upon which thou standest is also appears in verses 5 and 7.]
Ap. Abr. XIX. And as he still spoke, behold the expanse opened itself, and below me the heavens. And I saw upon the seventh firmament upon which I stood, a spreading, fiery light [Kolob?], and dew, and a multitude of angels, and a power of invisible glory over the living beings. . . . And I looked downward . . . upon the sixth heaven. . . . And behold also upon this firmament was no other power except that of the seventh firmament. . . . And the voice commanded that the sixth heaven should disappear, and I saw the powers of the stars of the fifth heaven whom the elements of earth obey.Ap. Abr. XX (Box). As the number of the stars and their power, [so will] I make thy seed a nation. Abr. 3:2–3. And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it. . . . These are the governing ones; . . . I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.Abr. 3:9. 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.Fac. 2, fig. 1. Kolob . . . first in government.fig. 2. Stands next to Kolob, . . . the next grand governing creation.fig. 5. This is one of the governing planets also . . . through the medium of . . . the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars.
Ap. Abr. XXI. He said to me: “Now look beneath your feet upon the plane and recognize the pre-formed creature upon this firmament, and the beings thereon; and the aeons prepared before.”Ap. Abr. XXII. And I said: “Primeval One, Strong One, what is this picture of the creature?” And he said to me: “This is my will in relation to that which has a being in the Council, and it became pleasing before me, and then afterwards I commanded them through my word. And it came to pass that as many as I had authorized to exist, before portraid [sic] in this picture, and had stood before me pre-created,—as many as you have seen.” Abr. 3:22–23. 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 these souls 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.Fac. 2, fig. 1. Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God.
Ap. Abr. XXII. And I said: “Ruler, Strong One, Thou Who Wast Before the World, Who are the multitude in this picture, on the right hand and on the left?” And He said to me: “. . . These for judgment and order; those for vengeance and destruction at the end of the world. But those on the right side of the picture are the people chosen for me, separated from the peoples of Azazel [Satan]. These are those which I have prepared to be born through you and to be called my people.” Abr. 3:25–28. And we will prove them herewith. . . . 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. . . . And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him.
(Box). This is my will with regard to those who exist in the (divine) world-council, and it seemed well-pleasing before my sight, and then afterwards I gave commandment to them through my Word. [Counsel and discussion is the theme.]
Ap. Abr. XXII (Box). “They are the people set apart for me. . . . These are they whom I have ordained to be born of thee and to be called My People.” Abr. 3:23. And God . . . stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers. . . . Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
Ap. Abr. XXII. And I said: “Primeval One, Strong One, what is this picture of the creature?”Ap. Abr. XXIII. Behold also in the picture him who led Eve astray; and behold the fruit of the tree. . . . And I looked about in the picture, and my eyes rested upon the side of Paradise [he then saw the Garden of Eden drama presented in a sort of moving picture]. Abr. 1:12, 14. And that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record. . . . That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning.Abr. 5:13. In the time that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time.
Ap. Abr. XXV. I saw there the likeness of an idol of wrath, an image made of material like unto that which my father had made. . . . Before it stood a man, and he worshipped it, and there was an altar opposite, and boys were butchered upon it in full view of the idol.[The Lord explains that this represents the defilement of the priesthood, “but the image which you see is my wrath.”] Abr. 1:7. They turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto these dumb idols, and hearkened not unto my voice, but endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah.Fac. 1, fig. 2. [The same picture showing Abraham in his youth on the altar.]
Ap. Abr. XXVI [Abraham after beholding the drama of the creation and fall]. And I said: “Primeval One, Strong One, wherefore hast thou decreed that it should be so? Give me again testimony of it.” And He said: . . . “Hearken, Abraham: as the decree [will] of your father was within him, and as your will is in you, so also is the will of my decree in me.” Moses 1:30–31. And . . . Moses called upon God, saying: Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them? . . . And the Lord God said unto Moses: For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me.
Ap. Abr. XXVII. “Rather the dispensation of the just is seen in the image of kings and those who judge with righteousness, whom I before created to be rulers among them; from these proceed men who guide the destinies of all whom you have seen, and which have been made known to you.” Abr. 3:23. And God saw these souls 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.
Ap. Abr. XXVIII–XI (Box). . . . one hour of the age—the same is a hundred years. . . . And I said: “O Eternal [Mighty One]! And how long a time is an hour of the Age?”. . . And do thou reckon and understand and look into the picture. Fac. 2, fig. 1. The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit.Abr. 3:4. One revolution was a day unto the Lord, . . . it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto whereon thou standest.

In both our Abraham texts, Abraham is referring to a certain picture or diagram to explain the organization of time and space in the universe.

Ap. Abr. XXIX. “Hear, Abraham, the man whom you have seen derided and smitten, and again worshipped, that is the Salvation (Pardon) from the heathen to the people which is to come of thee, in the last days—the twelfth hour of the aeon of wickedness. But in the twelfth year of my aeon of the last days, I will raise up this man which you saw from your seed, out of my people, and him shall all follow. . . . Before the aeon of righteous commences to grow, my judgment cometh over the dissolute Gentiles.” Abr. 3:27. And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me.Cf. Moses 7:46–47. And the Lord said: It shall be in the meridian [12th hour] of time, in the days of wickedness and vengeance. And behold, Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man.
Ap. Abr. XXX (Box). But while He was still speaking, I found myself upon the earth. And I said: “O Eternal [Mighty One] I am no longer in the glory in which I was (while) on high, and what my soul longed to understand in mine heart I do not understand.” Moses 1:9–10. And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses. . . . And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. . . . And he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.
Ap. Abr. XXXI (Box). And then I will sound the trumpet . . . and . . . summon my despised people from the nations and I will burn with fire those who have insulted them . . . and I have prepared them . . . for the fire of Hades and for ceaseless flight to and fro through the air, . . . for I hoped that they would come to me, and not have loved and praised the strange (god), and not have adhered to him. . . . (Instead) they have forsaken the mighty Lord. Moses 7:38. . . . a prison have I prepared for them.Moses 7:33–34. And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them.Moses 7:37. Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom.

The Testament of Abraham

Along with the Apocalypse of Abraham goes a companion piece, the Testament of Abraham. “With the Testament of Abraham,” wrote Box in 1919, “there is a certain affinity, and this work, like our Apocalypse, may be of Essene origin.”34 The oldest texts of the Testament are Greek and were first edited by Montague R. James in 1892. He described the work as “a second century Jewish-Christian writing composed in Egypt.”35 Subsequent studies have tended to push the date back. In 1973 Mathias Delcor wrote: “There is no Christology, and traces of christianizing are few and superficial,” while a “number of elements point to Egypt as the place of origin.” As he sums it up, “We have, then, at the heart of the Testament of Abraham, a midrashic account, developed in Egypt from the LXX [Septuagint, or Greek translation], embellished by traditions from the Palestinian Targum, written in Therapeutic circles around the turn of the era.”36 In September 1972, a symposium was held in Los Angeles under the auspices of the International Congress of Learned Societies in the Field of Religion to discuss “The Testament of Abraham and Related Themes.” Out of this emerged in 1976 a volume of studies37 relating the Testament of Abraham, as Box had the Apocalypse, to a large number of Testaments, or Ascensions, or Assumption texts centering around the basic theme of the holy man taken to heaven, teaching his family and his followers on his return, and leaving his blessing or testament with them. A perfect example of this once-thriving genre is the first chapter of the Book of Mormon—the Testament of Lehi. The most significant contribution of the Los Angeles conference was the general recognition of and emphasis on the strong Egyptian influence in the Testament of Abraham.

“Most recently,” writes George W. E. Nickelsburg Jr., “the suggestion of Egyptian origin has been spelled out in considerable detail in a Strasbourg doctoral dissertation [1971] by Francis Schmidt.”38 He “compares [the Testament of Abraham] with judgment scenes in two late Egyptian documents: The Book of the Dead of Pamonthes (A.D. 63 [other and much older texts would have done as well]) and The Tale of Satni-Khamois (A.D. 50–100).”39 I have already discussed the latter work in the light of the Joseph Smith “Sen-sen” Papyrus.40 On a basis of an “aggregate of parallels, Schmidt finds evidence for a tentative conclusion that [the Testament of Abraham] used an Egyptian judgment scene as its model.”41 The picture, that is, as well as the text—a drawing from the Egyptian Book of the Dead was the inspiration for the Testament of Abraham!

Other scholars at the conference also called attention to the Egyptian elements in which the book abounds.42 The further we look, the less scope there is for originality on the part of the Therapeutae of Palestine, with whom originality was never a strong point. They certainly did not invent the idea that Abraham wrote an autobiography while he was in Egypt, for in the book of Jubilees, written, according to R. H. Charles, between 109 and 105 B.C. and put forward as “a revelation from God to Moses,”43 we learn that Joseph in Egypt “remembered the Lord and the words which Jacob, his father, used to read from amongst the words of Abraham, that . . . sin will be recorded against [the wicked] in the eternal books, . . . and Joseph remembered these words.”44 This, written in the second century B.C., makes it certain that the idea of a Testament of Abraham was not first dreamed up in the second century A.D., but must be much older. The same tradition is referred to in the Joseph Smith book of Enoch (1830), wherein sinful men and women were confronted with a record of their deeds in a book of remembrance written “according to the pattern given by the finger of God” (Moses 6:44–47).

It should be observed in passing that most editors of the Abraham texts are aware of a tendency of Enoch motifs to turn up in Abraham’s writings, and of Moses to surface from time to time as the editor of both—a phenomenon, which we cannot pursue here, conspicuous in the Pearl of Great Price. Box’s observation on the subject may suffice at present: “We conclude, then, that the Book [the Apocalypse of Abraham], substantially as it lies before us, is a Jewish and Essene production, like the related Testament of Abraham. . . . We have reached the stage when Enoch has fallen into the background, and Abraham, like Moses, has become the centre of mystic lore.”45 The “mystic lore” that binds the three together is, according to Box, “the initiation of Abraham into the heavenly mysteries,”46 centering around Abraham’s sacrifice (Genesis 15) and the rites of the temple,47 whose destruction he finds to be “the central point of the picture.”48 In other words, we are dealing in the apocryphal books of Abraham with Abraham’s endowment as conveyed in an Egyptian idiom.

The manuscripts of the Testament of Abraham are late, the earliest (Greek) one being no older than the thirteenth century. But their contents reveal matter from much earlier times, and it has been the consensus of scholars from the first that the material comes from Essene or related circles, from around the first centuries B.C. and A.D. That was a time, we know now, of immense activity in the copying and transmission of sacred writings: there is hardly an apostle, prophet, or patriarch for whom we do not now possess an apocalypse or testament from that milieu. But that does not mean, as is commonly assumed, that the writings originated in that setting; the pious sectaries devoted immense time and energy to the copying and study of these texts precisely because they held the original writing in such veneration and awe. Though the scribes are often moved to embellish or explain, they are the last people in the world to forge or invent holy scripture. Speaking of an old Rumanian text of the Testament of Abraham, Moses Gaster, its editor, wrote, “The stories, however, came originally from the poetical East, with its fantastic imagery, and amidst the influence of similar pictures of olden times.”49 That was the official explanation of the whole literature in the last century when texts were relatively few and far between, but today we ask, If it is all the work of unbridled Oriental imaginations, why do thousands of texts from many lands and many centuries, instead of bursting with infinite variety of invention and imagination, persist in nothing more than telling the same stories over and over again? For example, the Rumanian text in question, though in an exotic language from an out-of-the-way people and from four manuscripts no later than the eighteenth century, is actually a very good Abraham source. Comparing it with the Old Slavonic text, Gaster wrote: “The complete Slavonic text (400 years older) is distinguished from our present one only by some unimportant features, and therefore points to a common and more ancient source.”50 Here is a Falasha text of the Testament of Abraham “probably derived from a Christian-Ethiopic text” (of the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries), which in turn was taken from an Arabic version, which in turn had been translated from the Coptic, taken from a Greek version that in the fourth century belonged in a collection, “The Treasury of Knowledge,” kept at Alexandria by the famous Athanasius, the Greek version having been taken from a Hebrew or Aramaic original.51 One would expect, after all that time and wandering, to find a pretty wild hodgepodge of stuff in the African Falasha dialect, but it is nothing of the sort. It is a perfectly sober, straightforward account, very close indeed to the Testament of Abraham that we are about to consider. As ever more ancient sources turn up, nothing is more conspicuous than their total lack of invention or imagination—the wild, unbridled Oriental imagination, to which nineteenth-century German scholarship appeals to explain everything, simply did not exist. The Testament of Abraham, instead of being dreamed up in the sober, bookish societies of Therapeutae wholly dedicated to returning to the pure ancient source and order of things, now shows signs of going back long before them to an origin of “hoary antiquity.” After viewing many texts from many times and places all telling the same story, one emerges with the conviction that there was indeed one Abraham story. If Joseph Smith is going to get away with anything, he must stick fairly close to it.

Before comparing the Testament of Abraham with the Apocalypse of Abraham, it will be instructive and mandatory to compare the two different ancient versions of the former, the long text (Recension A) and the short (Recension B), to demonstrate the general reliability of texts even when they differ, by showing the manner in which the scribes would embellish a story without departing from the essential plot.

Recension B.III. [The party were greeted] about 3 stades from the city [by] a great tree having 300 branches, resembling a tamarisk. Recension A.III. . . . beside that road there stood a cypress-tree, which at God’s order called out in a human voice.
B.III. And the tears of Michael fell into the basin, and became a precious stone. A.III. And the tears of the Archistrategos [Chief Leader of the Hosts] dropped into the basin, into the water of the washstand, and became precious stones.
B.VIII. [In the other world Adam] would weep and then laugh, and the weeping exceeded the laughter seven times.B.VII. [Abraham is told his body will remain upon the earth until seven thousand aeons are fulfilled; then all flesh will arise.] A.XI. [Adam would weep and tear his hair and then rejoice and be happy], For among seven thousand is hardly to be found a single just and uncorrupted soul which is saved (emphasis added).
B.X. Then Michael took Abraham upon a cloud, and led him to “the paradise,” [where he witnessed the heavenly law court in session.] A.XX. [God to Michael:] Take my friend Abraham, then, to the paradise. [Thus this story ends. Rec. B has a different ending.]
B.XI. [The Judge is Abel and the one who convicts the wicked is] the scribe of righteousness, Enoch [who keeps the books]. A.X. [There is no mention of Enoch or Abel in this episode or elsewhere.]
B.XII. Then the Lord God spoke to Michael saying, “Turn Abraham back to his house again and don’t let him make the tour [circle] of the whole creation, for he does not pity the sinners.” A.X. And forthwith there came a voice from heaven to the Archistrategos, speaking thus: Command the wagon [Heb. merkavah] O Michael, Chief Leader of the Hosts, to stop and turn Abraham back lest he see all the oecumene [Gk.; there is a marked Egyptian syntax in this passage].
B.XIV. On that day died the servants of Abraham, through fear of Death. A.XVII. [When Death entered the house of Abraham], because of the exceeding sharpness and savagery [of his appearance] there died about 7,000 male and female servants.

Thus we see that it is sometimes A who embroiders, and sometimes B, but there is no doubt that they are telling the same story. Now let us take this Testament of Abraham and compare it with the Old Slavonic Apocalypse of Abraham. We soon detect that they are quite different works, but that they contain much material in common. While the Apocalypse is Abraham’s autobiography, written by himself during his lifetime, the Testament begins with the story of his death—it is a true Book of the Dead, dealing with the vicissitudes of the soul from the painful experience of dying to the ultimate exaltation and eternal lives in the realms above. Yet though the two texts deal with different periods in Abraham’s life, they both have the same theme—the initiation of Abraham into the heavenly mysteries. In the closing lines of the Testament, God the Father says, “Take, then, my friend Abraham to the garden [lit. paradise—Gk. eis ton paradeison], where the tents of my righteous ones and the resting places [Gk. monai—lit. overnight stops, Lat. mansiones] of Isaac and Jacob are in his bosom.”52 In his earlier cosmic tour in the same book Michael “took Abraham on a cloud, and led him to paradise,” the heavenly court.53

Books of the Dead

The title Testament applied to the writings of an ancient patriarch, prophet, or apostle is frequently interchangeable with that of Ascension or Assumption. All three titles are valid for the basic scenario—the ascension to heaven or cosmic tour of the hero, with his return to earth to reveal the mysteries in an apocalyptic prophetic sermon that concludes with a farewell testament. The hero bids farewell to the earth more than once—Enoch being the classic example. Why must he go to heaven twice? To anticipate: in the Abraham literature it is quite clear that his first ascension, departing from a sacrificial altar, is to the place of “horror of great darkness” (Genesis 15:12); the mounting up amid smoke and flames to heaven was his own sacrificial death, making his return to earth a type and shadow of the resurrection.

Countless reports have been preserved of individuals declared clinically dead, who tell of being conducted elsewhere by spirit guides before being allowed to return to earth. Whether or not the many instances of such collected by Dr. Raymond Moody54 are scientifically demonstrable events, the fact is that many human beings have reported them as actual experiences, and there is no reason why this should not have been so anciently. In the earliest Christian account of Lazarus’s return from the dead, the Gospel of the Twelve Apostles,55 the event is accepted as absolute proof of the resurrection, as it is also in a wealth of legends about later saints.56 The place of the theme in the mysteries has been made clear by Geo Widengren57 and who does not know the tale of Er the Armenian from the last book of Plato’s Republic?

Recent studies of the sacrifice of Isaac dwell on the paradoxical nature of the event.58 The hero dies, but he does not die. He is saved at the last moment by the providential appearance of a substitute; yet because it is the last moment and he has allowed himself to be bound (the akedah), he receives full credit for having offered his life, even as does Abraham on the occasion for showing his willingness to sacrifice his son: “For now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou has not withheld . . . thine only son from me” (Genesis 22:12). In the Book of Abraham it is Abraham himself who is rescued from the altar at the last moment, and a substitute—the priest—is slain in his place; the ancient tradition has it that Abraham willingly suffered himself to be placed on the altar to atone for any sins of his own that may merit death.59 Then there is Sarah, who makes the same supreme sacrifice by her intention to remain true to her husband to the end, risking her life by mortally offending Pharaoh on his other lion couch60 only to be delivered at the last moment by an angel sent in response to her prayers and Abraham’s.61 Some learned authorities among the Jews insisted that Isaac actually was sacrificed, his soul mounting up in the flames after the knife had done its work62 only to return as an earnest of resurrection. Even without that turn of events, the atoning sacrifice of the ram in a sense restores him to life.63

In the Testament of Abraham, the angel who comes to fetch Abraham’s soul, in order to calm his terrified victim, explains to him that he appears to each person as that person is mentally prepared to see him, his commonest form being that of deadly serpents64 or the familiar seven-headed dragon, a well-known Egyptian image that the angel explains as a metaphor: Because “for seven ages I devastate[d] the world, . . . therefore I showed you the seven dragons’ heads.”65 Because of Abraham’s righteousness, his grim summoner is commanded by God to alter his ordinary aspect completely, from that of death and horror to one of life and glory.66 This abrupt change from the theme of eternal death to the theme of eternal life, a true resurrection of the dead, goes back to the earliest Egyptian funerary rites, as J. Spiegel has shown in his study of the Pyramid Texts of Unas, the last king of the fifth dynasty.67 The point is clearly brought home in an earlier episode of the Abraham story where Abraham is entertaining the same angel and his two heavenly companions at dinner. The unblemished calf that he serves to them, after being eaten, “arose again and sucked its mother happily.”68 In the final episode of the book, Abraham begs the angel to restore to life all the servants of his household, who have been frightened to death by the fearful aspect of the visitor, and the angel obliges—the resurrection of the patriarch’s entire staff (seven thousand male and female servants in the long version) takes place on the spot.69

The resurrection theme is equally conspicuous in both the Apocalypse and the Testament. Both are Books of the Dead, since both follow the fearful process from the last illness to the resurrection. In both, a shining figure repeatedly descends from heaven to take the hero away with him. There can be little doubt as to what the departure really is. In the Testament the luminous man takes the sun and moon from Isaac’s own head, which, we are told, signifies the deaths of Abraham and Sarah, while the rays of the departed luminaries remain with their son.70 In the next section God rebukes Abraham for wanting to escape “the mystery of death,” and as he stubbornly refuses to accompany the heavenly messenger, God relents and says he is sending his angel to make things as easy as possible for the patriarch.71 In the Apocalypse, we find much the same situation as the angel says: “Let not my countenance nor my speech frighten you. . . . Go with me, and I will go with you to the visible sacrifice, and I will go with you eternally to the sacrifice which is visible. Be of good cheer and go!”72 In the Testament, to postpone the dread journey Abraham suggests a preliminary run: First, he suggests, “I wish to see the whole of the inhabited world and all the creations which you established. . . . Then, if I depart from this life I shall be without sorrow.”73 In the Apocalypse this preliminary journey has as its starting point a sacrificial rite during which Abraham himself is horribly afraid.74 The angel says: “Behold the altar upon the mountain . . . the dove give to me, for I ascend upon bird’s wings to show you that which is in heaven, and upon the earth, . . . the circuit of the whole world; for you shall behold all.”75 “At sunset, behold there was smoke as from a furnace. . . . And the angel took me by the right hand [and] carried me to the border of the fireflame. And we arose as by many winds to heaven. And I spoke to the angel: ‘. . . I cannot see, since I have become so weak that my spirit faints.'”76 (This is something like a description of the death experience in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.) In the Testament, Michael took Abraham “in a chariot of the [flaming] Cherubim right up to the vault of heaven, and drove him above the cloud (along with) 60 angels; and Abraham sailed in his vessel [Gk. ochema or container] over the whole inhabited world.”77 Both accounts make much of the fiery terrors of the beyond, both celestial and punitory:

Testament. A.XII. He was still speaking these things to me, when behold, two fiery angels, driving myriads of spirits (through the wide gate). . . . Between the gates stood a terrible throne, like awesome crystal in appearance, flashing like fires of lightning. And upon it was seated a marvelous man, even like the sun, like the Son of God. Apocalypse XVII–III. He was still speaking, when behold, fire surrounded us, and a voice was in the fire. . . . And as the fire was lifted, I saw beneath the fire a flaming throne. . . . And behold an indescribable light encompassed a fiery multitude.

There is much more to the same effect in both versions, and both give a description of the heavenly court of judgment, which has been readily associated by scholars with the Egyptian psychostasy scenes. Worth noting is Apocalypse XVIII: “beneath the throne, [Abraham saw] four fiery, living beings; . . . one was like a lion, one like a man, one like an ox, and one like an eagle.” These are the four canopic figures that appear before the throne of judgment in Joseph Smith Papyrus III—the “Psychostasy” scene—and also beneath the altar bed in Facsimile 1, and as in Facsimile 2, figure 6, correctly explained in this context as representing “this earth in its four quarters” (fig. 1). To find these four old friends at home in the Apocalypse of Abraham is another undeniable link between the Book of Abraham and the Book of the Dead. Though the four heads are not always the same—e.g., the head of an ox instead of an ape—it is always the same unmistakable quartet (fig. 2).78

Another thing that makes it clear that we are dealing with the sacrifice of Abraham in the Apocalypse is the meddling role of Satan in the story. In the stories of Abraham on the altar and in the sacrificial fire of the Chaldees, Satan does his best to trick Abraham into doing things his way,79 much the same as in the Apocalypse XIII–XIV, and Abraham rebukes and frustrates him; the same thing happens in the story of the sacrifice—by Abraham—of Isaac on the altar on the mountain, where Satan tries alternately to expedite and to prevent the offering.80

In both the Testament and the Apocalypse, Abraham is not only given an instructional tour of the universe, but also spends most of the time among the hosts of the dead, viewing their afflictions and being greatly concerned about their problems. The true “friend of man” to the end, he is determined to do what he can for the dead, sinners though they are, to get them the best possible settlement, and he urgently enlists the assistance of Michael in the project.81 He is among the dead and is working for the dead—more evidence that he has passed to the beyond.82 He is able to effect his plan because his compassion is shared, and surpassed, by that of the glorious man on the throne, the judge, who is no other than Adam, the parent of them all, “the most wondrous man who is decked out in such glory and who weeps sometimes and mourns, and other times he rejoices and is happy”83—as the wicked or the righteous pass before him. No stern and relentless judges here, but merciful and loving parents.

Nothing could express more clearly, in the Egyptian manner, the idea that Abraham both died and was delivered from death than Sections X and XI of the Apocalypse of Abraham as rendered by Box:

    I looked hither and thither, and lo! there was no breath of a man, and my spirit was affrighted, and I became like a stone, and fell down upon the earth, for I had no more strength to stand on the earth. And while I was still lying with my face up on the earth, I heard the voice of the Holy One speaking: “Go Jaoel [Box, n. 5: “evidently a substitute for the ineffable name of Yahweh“] and by means of my ineffable Name raise me yonder man, and strengthen him. . . . And the angel came, whom He had sent to me, in the likeness of a man, and grasped me by the right hand, and set me upon my feet. . . . I am he who hath been commissioned to loosen Hades, to destroy him who stareth at the dead. . . . Stand up, Abraham! Go without fear; be right glad and rejoice; and I am with thee! . . . And with me [Jehovah] Michael blesseth thee forever. And I rose up and saw him who had grasped me by the right hand and set me upon my feet: and the appearance of his body was like sapphire, and the look of his countenance like chrysolite, and the hair of his head like snow and a golden sceptre was in his right hand. And he said to me, . . . I will go with thee, until the sacrifice, visible, but after the sacrifice, invisible forever.84

This passage may be compared with Moses 1:9–10: “And Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth. And . . . it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength.” At this point Satan tries to get Moses to worship him, but he is rebuked and cast out. “And it came to pass that when Satan had departed from the presence of Moses, that Moses, . . . calling upon the name of God, . . . beheld his glory again” (Moses 1:24–25).

Professor Box was puzzled by the expressions above, “commissioned to loosen Hades, and to destroy him who stareth at the dead.”85 They strongly suggest Egyptian usage, where to “loosen” Hades means to break its power,86 and he “who stareth at the dead” may be a sinister god of the underworld mentioned in the Book of the Dead as “the Starer who is not seen” (ʿSt mʾirt n maa.tw.f). The description of the delivering angel compares his parts with precious minerals—sapphire, chrysolite, gold—in the manner in which the Horus-hawk as the delivering messenger-bird (ndty, the Rescuer) is described in the Book of the Dead, including one of the Joseph Smith Papyri (fig. 3),87 and in the Coffin Texts.88 That hawk was compared with the angel of deliverance in Facsimile 1, figure 1, of the Book of Abraham.89 Also, we must not overlook the role played by certain birds in getting Abraham to heaven in the Apocalypse (fig. 4).90 Jan Zandee has pointed out that the owner of a Coffin Text (or Book of the Dead) could ritually identify himself with the Horus-Hawk in the special capacity of a messenger between heaven and earth.91

Look upon This Picture—and on This

At the outset of their journey, the angel promises to show Abraham what is “in the fulness of the whole world and its circle—thou shalt gaze in (them) all.”92 Accordingly, he saw the pattern of the heavens, “the firmaments, . . . the creation foreshadowed in this expanse, . . . the age prepared according to it. And I saw beneath the sixth heaven, . . . the earth and its fruits, and what moved upon it . . . and the power of its men. . . . And I saw there a great multitude—men and women and children, [half of them on the right side of the picture] and half of them on the left side of the picture.”93 “And I said . . .’Who are the people in this picture on this side and on that?’ And he said to me: ‘These which are on the left side are . . . some for judgment and restoration, and others for vengeance and destruction. . . . But these which are on the right side of the picture, . . . these are they whom I have ordained to be born of thee and to be called My People.'”94 “And I looked and saw: lo! the picture swayed and [from it] emerged, on its left side, a heathen people, and they pillaged those who were on the right side.”95

Note that Abraham was shown all these things in a picture, a graphic representation of “the whole world in its circle,” in which the human race, “God’s people and the others,” confront each other beneath or within the circle of the starry heavens, on opposite halves of the picture. To the classical scholar, this evokes one of the most ancient and venerable images of antiquity, to which Dr. Schmidt has duly called attention,96 namely, the famous Shield of Achilles, as described by Homer in book 18 of the Iliad (fig. 5).

It was a great round (Gk. antyx) shield,97 with a conspicuous rim around the outside,98 representing the celestial ocean (fig. 6).99 It was covered with designs of deep significance (Gk. iduiesi prapidessin),100 designating earth, sea, and sky, including the sun, moon, and constellations,101 in their relative positions and motions.102 Human society was also indicated, divided into two parts,103 one, a community at peace, the other at war. The former are engaged in religious rites and festivals, marriages, dancing, and music and games, with housewives relaxed and happy watching from their doors;104 there is a solemn but lively law court in session in the town square, with freedom of speech and a great prize for the wisest.105 A long idyllic poem describes the happy agrarian life, enjoying the fruits of the earth in its seasons in a peaceful and prosperous kingdom.106 The other city is at war, besieged on two sides by armies that are already quarreling over the expected loot, even while the besieged are laying deadly ambush for them.107 What a fine sight as they go forth in their splendid armor! But presently the fine sight becomes a nightmare, an orgy of slaughter on both sides, as Eris (Strife, Contention) and Confusion enter the fray while Fate in a blood-soaked robe runs about spreading havoc and butchery.108

The pictures are equally lurid and inspiring in Homer’s and in Abraham’s accounts. While Abraham is repeatedly invited to inspect and ask about “the world and its circle,”109 Homer refers us to an equally tangible design placed on a round shield. Those who protest that it is extravagant if not impious to look for ties between the Father of the Faithful and the pagan Homer may be referred to the earliest and most revered of ancient Christian apologists, Justin Martyr himself, who sees in the Shield of Achilles a most obvious borrowing from the book of Genesis, explaining the coincidence by suggesting that Homer became acquainted with Moses’ cosmic teachings while he was visiting Egypt. For him the shield “proves that the poet [Homer] incorporated into his own work many things from the sacred history of the Prophets; first of all the account of the Creation in the Beginning as given by Moses, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven,’ etc. Having learned these things in Egypt, and impressed [pleased] by what he [Moses] had written about the origin of the cosmos, he depicted it in the Shield of Achilles, with Hephaestus [the Smith] in the role of the Creator of the world.”110 Schmidt concludes that “in the Testament of Abraham, the vision of the world in the picture on the shield would be like the mythical presentation [translation] of a philosophic problem.”111

The Classics student may well be disturbed at the far-fetched comparison of Homer’s Hephaestus, the crippled, semicomic figure at the forge (fig. 7), with the Creator of the universe; though not acceptable by Western standards, it provides strong support for Justin’s belief in its Egyptian source, for Khnum, the prehistoric Egyptian smith- and workshop-god, equated by the Greek-speaking Egyptians with Hephaestus, is also the Creator of the world. Such broad hints should have led Dr. Schmidt, having gone so far, to search for an Egyptian equivalent of Abraham’s and Homer’s circular maps. He would not find it in the usual illustrations to the Book of the Dead—which is perhaps why he missed it—but it is to be found in a much rarer type of document, always closely associated with the same, namely the hypocephalus, that round cushion placed under the head of the sleeping dead to keep him or her in touch with the universe. Abraham’s and Homer’s pictures are actually drawn out for us in the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2 (fig. 8). This too is a crowded representation of the cosmic drama, containing within its circular rim the “designs of deep significance” that indicate the starry heavens in their times and season, and showing by cunning, half-abstract figures the circle of the universe and what is in it—or so at least Joseph Smith explained it, though there are no conventional indications of heavenly bodies in the drawing, as there are in other hypocephali (fig. 9). Most conspicuous is the division into two antithetical halves, the one the reverse or mirror image of the other. The top two-thirds are solar in nature, showing the great orbs of light in the upper heavens and their times and degrees, amidst symbols of patriarchal creativity and governance, as is explained by the captions. The lower third of the circle is the reverse or mirror image of the other. There the earth forces, the female powers of creation, are in evidence, as represented “in the lower regions,” as the Testament of Abraham XXI describes it. It is the dark underworld of the womb (the Hathor-Cow dominates), while the upper half is conspicuously solar, as many students of hypocephali have observed.112

In both the Abraham apocrypha and Homer we are shown a high council in session in high and far-off times. The bard113 takes us to a holy complex, an assembly place with a sacred stone circle in the middle: “And the Elders were seated upon shining stones in a holy circle,” with scepters of inspired utterance in their hands, while the concerned citizens were gathered all around, passionately taking sides as two men debated a matter of blood money and whether it had been properly paid. Here, surely, are the makings of a full-blown Greek tragedy, with the protagonists divided over the perennial issue of guilt and blood atonement, while the chorus of humanity argues both sides. Two gold talents lay in the midst of the circle as the reward for whoever among them should speak with the truest and most exact discernment.

In the Apocalypse of Abraham it is the “divine world-council” that he sees,114 a theme we have treated elsewhere.115 The Lord explains to Abraham, “And it came to pass whatever I had determined to be, was already planned beforehand in this picture [council], and it stood before me ere it was created.” It, too, was divided in discussion: “And I said: O Lord, mighty and eternal! Who are the people . . . on this side and on that?” They were, he was told, on the one side “the multitude of the peoples which have formerly been in existence and which are after thee destined, some for judgment . . . and others for vengeance and destruction at the end of the world”—i.e., they were to come to earth after Abraham. “But these which are on the right side of the picture—they are the people set apart for me of the peoples with Azazel [i.e., living in the wicked world]. These are they whom I have ordained to be born of thee and to be called My People.”116

The scene does not appear in the facsimile, but is vividly presented in the text of the Book of Abraham:

    Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these were many of the noble and great ones; And God . . . 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 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 . . . and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell. . . . And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered: . . . Here am I, send me. . . . And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him. (Abraham 3:22–24, 27–28)

This drama meets us repeatedly in Egyptian literature as the classic confrontation between Horus and Seth in the presence of the assembled gods at the creation or New Year.117 It is nowhere more completely at home than in the Book of the Dead;118 but perhaps the most remarkable version, and the closest to the Book of Abraham with respect both to the council in heaven and the creation story that follows, is that of the so-called Shabako Stone, which many scholars have held to be the oldest religious text in the world. In it we are told how “there was a great assembly of the gods, and a controversy between Horus and Seth. The Great God forbade them to quarrel and the difference was settled,” but only for a time.119 After a while “Geb was troubled in his heart, . . . and so he gave his whole heritage to Horus, the son of his son, his Firstborn.”120 Stage directions here specify that “Geb shall address the entire assembly of the gods: I have chosen thee [pointing to Horus] to be the Opener of the Ways, thee alone. [He points to Horus:] My inheritance belongs to this my heir, let it go to the son of my son, let it go to . . . the Opener of the Ways, my First Born, who leads the way,” etc.121 There follows a description of the planning of the creation in the presence of “Ptah the Great who presides as the mind and the mouth of the Great Council of the Gods.”122 Finally all was done as it was ordered: “So it was said: He who begot Atum and the other Gods, is Ptah; all things came forth from him, all food, all nourishment, all good things. . . . And after all things were created by his Word Ptah was pleased with all.”123 Of this passage Sethe observed that it “vividly recalls the Biblical Creation story”124 even more vividly, we may add, than in the Book of Abraham.

The hypocephalus in the Book of Abraham has much to teach us. For the present we must confine our attention to the strong bond it establishes between the figure of Abraham and the symbolism of the Egyptian mysteries. We have just indicated that the thematic matter and overall design of Facsimile 2 have important features in common with the “picture” of the world shown to Abraham in the Apocalypse of Abraham. No less significant is the context in which the two presentations are set forth. It was, in all accounts, as Abraham “offered sacrifice upon an altar” (explanation of Facsimile 2, figure 2) that he was overcome with a “horror of great darkness” (Genesis 15:12) and his spirit mounted up to the heavens to behold a theophany, the sight of God seated upon his throne in glory, and to be instructed in the mysteries of the cosmos. Almost the same thing happens to Moses in Joseph Smith’s companion piece to the Book of Abraham (as in other apocalypses—Enoch, Adam, etc.), where Moses, after being overwhelmed by Satan and knowing “the bitterness of hell” as paralyzing fear overcame him, was presently rescued and “lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being filled with the Holy Ghost, . . . and, calling upon the name of God, he beheld his glory again” (Moses 1: 24–25).

In the Old World accounts the hero is taken up to heaven by a dove; in the Joseph Smith revelations, it is by the Holy Ghost. The two are strikingly brought together in Abraham’s cosmic chart (Facsimile 2), which has as its central theme the theophany, a design which does not depict but “represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove” (explanation of Facsimile 2, figure 7). So there you have the whole situation—the dove that takes one to heaven is the Holy Ghost, who also instructs and teaches “through the heavens,” “revealing . . . the grand Key-words . . . as, also, the sign” by which alone supernal knowledge can be conveyed. It is exactly the same scenario in the Abraham apocrypha as in the Joseph Smith Book of Abraham.

So the Book of Abraham is right at home in the world of the Apocalypse and Testament of Abraham. And those texts in turn are full of Egyptian matter, which is so generally accepted that no long demonstration is necessary. A few salient points in which the Testament shows its Egyptian affinities may be mentioned (fig. 10): (a) the psychostasy, the weighing of the soul in court by a pair of scales (a fine example is the Joseph Smith Papyrus III);125 (b) the Stone of Truth in the wash-basin;126 (c) the various appearances of death, e.g., viper, asp, cerastes, many-headed fire-serpent127 (so in the Metternich and Anchnesneferibre stelae); (d) the Two Ways128—an Egyptian funerary book that has that title; (e) the nets of Hades from which the victim prays to escape;129 (f) ordeal by fire (Letopolis); (g) the triple-crown (the Egyptians have many) with specific mention of the crown of justification;130 (h) the final ritual embrace of the father;131 (i) father and mother as sun and moon; (j) lingering rays of glory after the departure of the same;132 (k) ascent to heaven in bird-form (the human-headed Ba); (l) man, woman, serpent, and tree; (m) punishment of the damned—fire, whips, swords, knives, etc., chopping blocks; (n) wrapping of the dead in linen, unguent, and perfume, intact until the third day.

There is a common type of funerary stela which the Egyptians were wont to set up before the entrances to their tombs and which served to identify the grave owners, call them to the remembrance of the living, and establish ties between the spheres in which the soul may live. The top of these modest monuments is usually rounded and presents some of the same motifs appearing on the round hypocephali such as our Facsimile 2. Thus the stela of one Imi-is (fig. 11), its half-circle top displaying the solar disk and the outspread wings that signify the expanse of the heavens (cf. Facsimile 2, figure 4), begins the inscription by distributing the owner’s complex being in various realms: his “Ba in heaven in the presence of Osiris, his mummy [written with a seal and glory-sign] among the exalted [glorified] ones, . . . his heir flourishing on earth in the presence of Geb, upon his throne in the presence of the living, his name perpetuated upon the mouth of those who live after him by virtue of the Book of Passing through Eternity.133

The funeral stele of Imi-is is thus like the Apocrypha and the Book of Abraham, an autobiography announcing his ascension and leaving a testament for the instruction of the writer’s posterity, who will go on telling his story. Next follows a description of the ordinance of the Opening of the Mouth, a preparation for later resurrection,134 which leads directly to the cosmic tour:

    You rise up to heaven unrestrained; your arm is unhindered. You descend to the Dat [underworld] and are not detained there but proceed on the way of the gods of the Horizons. You make your place with the Westerners; you circulate in the heavens in their khabasu [another reading: “in their time (or moments)”]; you circumambulate the stars of the lower heavens. You travel as the messenger of the Lords of the Horizon, you join the company of those in the land of the gods [Ḥrt-ntr]. You unite with the Lord of Eternity when he makes his course by day, and with the Lord of Changelessness [djt] when he enters the night. This land welcomes you as a noble one of the airs [in flight].135

Here is the motif of Abraham’s journey to heaven upon his death. The reference to the subject as one at home in the air reminds us, of course, of the visit of the dead to the upper worlds as or with a bird. Also recognizable is the emphasis on circumambulation and the dual nature of the realms visited, with the same sun-god entering alternately into the day-world and night-world, the themes also of the Abraham apocrypha, the cosmic pictures shown to Abraham by his messenger, and our Facsimile 2.

Of particular interest is the mention of the khabasu (hɜbɜs.w). A famous text on the coffin of a daughter of Psammetichus II calls upon certain khabasu in Heliopolis to witness the birth of one who will “take the helm” of government and “reason [wadj] with you, ye star-reckoners, concerning the secret teachings of the great court [ws.t] of the gods,” and who will also receive Osiris into his “Ship of a Thousand.”136 What is that all about? According to the Wörterbuch, these “Khabasu in Heliopolis” (1) are the expanse of the starry heavens as observed from Heliopolis [by the Great-Seer] and (2) provide the reckoning of time at the New Year; (3) their name is written with the ideogram of a ship, signifying, for some reason (4) that “its soul is a thousand-fold,” (5) the thousand referring specifically to the “collectivity of the starry hosts” (fig. 12).137 Let us turn for a moment to that interesting session of school at the court of Pharaoh depicted in Facsimile 3 of the Book of Abraham in which we are told that the teacher on the throne is Abraham “reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king’s court,” and take just long enough to point out the sort of thing Abraham is teaching and being taught. According to the astronomical chart which he has provided in Facsimile 2, there is a ship (figure 4), which we are told does indeed (1) specify “the collectivity of the starry hosts,” or as Joseph Smith puts it, “answers to the Hebrew word Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament of the heavens”; it also (2) provides the reckoning of time, “answering to the measuring of . . . time”; also the ship (3) signifies here (d) that “its soul is a thousand-fold,” since, according to Joseph Smith, it is “also a numerical figure, in Egyptian signifying one thousand.” Expanse, starry heavens, a ship, a thousand, time reckoning—it is all there, with Pharaoh’s court as the seminar where one who “takes the helm” reasons upon the principles of astronomy.138

Here again we have the motifs of Abraham’s heavenly journey as set forth in the Abraham apocrypha, as also in the text and facsimile (with explanation) of the Book of Abraham, and in other Egyptian ritual and funerary sources, such as the stele of Imi-is.

The rationale for the Egyptian drawings given in the Book of Abraham is also worth noting, since it is the very same reason the Egyptians give for illustrating the mysteries with odd-looking drawings. When Abraham tells us, “And that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record” (Abraham 1:12), or “that you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning” (Abraham 1:14), he is following the Egyptian practice as evidenced, for example, in the great book of mysteries known as the Amduat: “The nature of this thing is to be seen drawn on the south wall of the hidden chamber” (short version 4th hour; 5th hour, end);139 “This secret thing . . . is to be seen completely set forth in a representation on the south wall of the hidden chamber” (6th Hour);140 “This thing can be seen explained in a drawing on the north side of the secret room in the Duat” (8th Hour), etc.141 In the long version such examples are legion (fig. 13).

How can all this be mere coincidence? Again and again the setting, the characters, and the plot in this strange series of dramas are the same. We ask the candid reader, if you were given a free hand to write your own Book of Abraham, without merely paraphrasing the Bible, how would you, living in the backwoods America in the mid-1830s, have fared? Can one blame the Mormons for refusing to applaud when people who could not come within a thousand miles of Joseph Smith’s performance go about busily declaring that he did it all with wires and mirrors? The evidence that has led the experts in the past ten years to recognize the closest ties between the old Abraham apocrypha and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, especially with references to the pictures in the latter, effectively eliminates the one argument against serious reading of the Book of Abraham. Now the shoe is on the other foot: How was Joseph Smith to know that an authentic Abraham apocryphon should not be without visible affinities to the Book of the Dead?


1. Letter from E. A. Wallis Budge to James W. Barclay, published in Junius F. Wells, “Scholars Disagree,” IE 16 (1913): 342.

2. Hugh W. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 72 (January 1969): 27.

3. Cf. Wallace Turner, “Mormons Debate Egyptian Papyri,” New York Times, 15 July 1968.

4. “The Book of Abraham,” Times and Seasons 3 (1842): 704.

5. The Pearl of Great Price; being a choice selection from the revelations, translations, and narrations of Joseph Smith, first prophet, seer, and revelator to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Liverpool: Richards, 1851), title page.

6. Kurt H. Sethe, Dramatische Texte zur altägyptischen Mysterienspielen (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1928), 20.

7. Joachim Spiegel, “Typus und Gestalt in der ägyptischen Kunst,” Mitteilungen des deutschen Instituts für ägyptische Altertumskunde in Kairo 9 (1940): 160.

8. Jubilees 39:6, in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, ed. Robert H. Charles, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), 2:70.

9. Jubilees 45:16, in ibid., 2:76 (emphasis added).

10. Sethe, Dramatische Texte, 20.

11. John A. Wilson, “The Artist of the Egyptian Old Kingdom,” JNES 6 (1946): 239–40.

12. Ibid., 243.

13. Ibid., 240.

14. Constantin E. Sander-Hansen, Die Texte der Metternichstele (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1956), 7:48 (emphasis added).

15. Ibid., 7:48–49.

16. Dimitri Meeks, review of Pisty Drevnevo Egipta [Les scribes de l’ancienne Égypte], by M. Korostovstev, RdE 19 (1967): 191.

17. F. M. Theodor de Liagre Böhl, “Babel und Bibel (Pt. II),” JEOL 17 (1964): 134–35.

18. Hugh W. Nibley, “As Things Stand at the Moment,” BYU Studies 9/1 (1968): 74–78.

19. Harry Torczyner, The Lachish Letters, Lachish I (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), 81.

20. Siegfried Schott, ed., “Das Buch vom Sieg über Seth,” in Urkunden mythologischen Inhalts, vol. 6, part 1, of Urkunden des ägyptischen Altertums, ed. Kurt Sethe and Heinrich Schäfer (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1929), 3.

21. Hugh W. Nibley, “A Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch,” in Enoch the Prophet, CWHN 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1986), 91–103.

22. Klaus Koch, Ratlos vor der Apokalyptik (Gütersloh: Verlagshaus, 1970), 16.

23. George H. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham (New York: SPCK, 1918), 35.

24. G. Nathanael Bonwetsch, “The Book of the Revelation of Abraham,” trans. Edward H. Anderson and R. T. Haag, in IE 1 (August 1898): 705–14, 793–806.

25. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, xxi (preface).

26. Ibid., xxii–xxiii.

27. Ibid., xxi–xxiv.

28. Ibid., xvi.

29. Nibley, “A Strange Thing in the Land,” in Enoch the Prophet, CWHN 2:111.

30. Bonwetsch, “Book of the Revelation of Abraham,” 705.

31. Ibid., 709–14, 793–804.

32. Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 7–19.

33. See ibid., 59–60.

34. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, xxxi.

35. George W. E. Nickelsburg, ed., Studies on the Testament of Abraham (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1976), 9.

36. Ibid., 19.

37. Ibid., passim.

38. Ibid., 32.

39. Ibid.

40. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 177.

41. Nickelsburg, Studies on the Testament of Abraham, 33.

42. Ibid., 29–40.

43. Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2:6–7.

44. Jubilees 39:6–87, in ibid., 2:70.

45. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, xxiii–xxiv.

46. Ibid., xxiii.

47. Ibid., xxiv–xxv.

48. Ibid., xv–xvi.

49. Moses Gaster, “The Apocalypse of Abraham,” Society of Biblical Archaeology Transactions 9 (1893): 197.

50. Ibid.

51. Wolf Leslau, trans., “Testament of Abraham,” in Falasha Anthology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951), 94–95.

52. Recension A.XX, in Michael E. Stone, trans., The Testament of Abraham: The Greek Recensions (Missoula, MT: Society of Biblical Literature, 1972), 54–57 (Nibley’s translation).

53. Recension B.X, in ibid., 77.

54. Raymond Moody, Life after Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon—Survival of Bodily Death (Simons Island: Mockingbird, 1975).

55. Eugene Revillout, ed. and trans., Evangeliae XII Apostolorum, in PO 2:136–44.

56. Hugh W. Nibley, “Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum,” Vigiliae Christianae 10 (1966): 1–24; reprinted as “Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum: The Forty-day Mission of Christ—The Forgotten Heritage,” in Mormonism and Early Christianity, CWHN 4 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987), 10–44.

57. Geo Widengren, The Gnostic Attitude, trans. Birger A. Person (Santa Barbara, CA: Institute of Religious Studies, 1975), 14–18.

58. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 73 (March 1970): 84–94; reprinted in this volume as chapter 8, “The Sacrifice of Isaac.”

59.   Ibid., 85; in this volume, p. 322.

60. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 73 (April 1970): 79–95; reprinted in this volume as chapter 7, “The Sacrifice of Sarah.”

61.   Ibid., 80; in this volume, pp. 346–47.

62.   Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 73 (March 1970): 89; in this volume, pp. 328–29.

63.   Ibid., 87–88; in this volume, pp. 326–28. The Sacrifice of Isaac.

64. Recension A.XVII–XVIII, B.XIII–XIV, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 44–49, 82–85.

65. Recension A.XIX, in ibid., 51.

66. Recension A.XVIII, B.XIII, in ibid., 48–49, 82–83.

67. Joachim Spiegel, “Das Auferstehungsritual der Unaspyramide,” ASAE 53 (1955): 339–44, 378–80, 393.

68. Recension A.VI, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 15.

69. Recension A.XVII–XVIII, B.XIV in ibid., 48–49, 84–85.

70. Recension A.VII, in ibid., 14–17.

71. Recension A.VIII, in ibid., 18–21.

72. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, 49–50.

73. Recension A.IX, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 23.

74. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, 50–51.

75. Ibid., 55–56.

76. Ibid., 56–57.

77. Recension  A.IX, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 22–23.

78. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 72 (August 1969): 82–86.

79. Ibid., 79–80.

80.   Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 73 (March 1970): 86; in this volume, pp. 324–25.

81. Recension A.XIII–XIV, B.IX–XI, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 32–39, 74–81.

82.   Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 73 (January 1970): 57–59.

83. Recension A.XI, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 27.

84. See Hugh W. Nibley, “To Open the Last Dispensation: Moses Chapter 1,” in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), 7–15; reprinted in Enoch the Prophet, CWHN 2:159–67.

85. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, 47–48.

86. Wb, 1:578.

87. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 71 (February 1968): 40e–f.

88. Coffin Text 312.

89. Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 72 (July 1969): 108–10.

90. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, 50–53.

91. Jan Zandee, “Sargtexte, Spruch 75,” ZÄS 99 (1972): 60.

92. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, 51.

93. Ibid., 66–67 (brackets in original).

94. Ibid., 68–69.

95. Ibid., 74 (brackets in original).

96. Francis Schmidt, “Le monde î l’image du bouclier d’Achille: sur la naissance et l’incorruptibilité du monde dans le ‘Testament d’Abraham,'” RHR 185 (1974): 123.

97. Homer, The Iliad XVIII, 478–80.

98. Ibid., 479.

99. Ibid., 606.

100. Ibid., 480–81.

101. Ibid., 483–86.

102. Ibid., 487.

103. Ibid., 490.

104. Ibid., 491–95.

105. Ibid., 503–9.

106. Ibid., 541–605.

107. Ibid., 509–22.

108. Ibid., 535–40.

109. Cf. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, chs. 15–27.

110. Justin Martyr, Cohortatio ad Graecos (A Hortatory Address to the Greeks) 28, in PG 6:293.

111. Schmidt, “Le monde î l’image du bouclier d’Achille,” 125.

112. Philippe-Jacques de Horrack, “Hypocephalus of the Louvre,” BE 17 (1907): 156.

113. Homer, Iliad XVIII, 497–508.

114. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, xxii.

115. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Expanding Gospel,” in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless, 23–33; reprinted in Temple and Cosmos: Beyond This Ignorant Present, CWHN 12 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 178–94.

116. Box, Apocalypse of Abraham, 69.

117. The Contendings of Horus and Seth, in Alan H. Gardiner, Late Egyptian Stories (Brussels: Fondation Reine Elisabeth, 1932), 37–60; Schott, “Buch vom Sieg über Seth,” 7–17.

118. See Book of the Dead, 17.

119. Sethe, Dramatische Texte, 23.

120. Ibid., 27–28, col. 10c–12c.

121. Ibid., 28, col. 13a–18a.

122. Ibid., 47, col. 48–52a.

123. Ibid., 66, col. 58.

124. Ibid., 68.

125. See Nibley, “A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price,” IE 71 (February 1968): 40b–c.

126. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 122–23.

127. Recension A.XVII, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 46–47.

128. Ibid., A.XI, in ibid., 24–25.

129. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 215.

130. Ibid., 228–29.

131. Ibid., 241–44.

132. Ibid., 159–61; Recension A.VII, in Stone, Testament of Abraham, 16–17.

133. Walter Wreszinski, “Das Buch vom Durchwandeln der Ewigkeit nach einer Stele im Vatikan,” ZÄS 45 (1908): 114 (Nibley’s translation of the Egyptian throughout).

134. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, 106–10.

135. Wreszinski, “Buch vom Durchwandeln der Ewigkeit,” 117.

136. Constantin E. Sander-Hansen, Die religiösen Texte auf dem Sarg der Anchnesneferibre (Copenhagen: Levin and Munksgaard, 1937), 36–37.

137. Wb, 3:230.

138.   Sander-Hansen, Religiösen Texte, 37, renders the text: “Seht doch, Ihr hɜbɜs.w von Heliopolis . . . Der Gott is geboren worden . . . einer, der das Ruder greifen kann. Osiris A. wird mit auch richten [wadj] gemäß dem Geheimnis welches in der Halle der Götter ist, und den Osiris in seinem Schiff der 1000 bis zu seinen beiden Köpfen mitnehmen, damit er darin zum Himmel aufsteigt und zum Gegenhimmel fährt.” Cf. Facsimile 2, the two-headed figures and the lower half of the circle which is the upside-down Gegenhimmel. The Wörterbuch, 3:230, renders khabasw as lamps or lights; hɜbɜs.w means “tausendfalt ist ihre Seele” (her soul is a thousandfold), signifying the collectivity of the Sternenhimmel (starry heaven). Raymond O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1964), 184, says Khabas is the starry sky; in E. A. W. Budge An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Ungar, 1960), 1:530, it means “star or luminary.” Heinrich K. Brugsch, Hieroglyphische-Demotisches Wörterbuch, 7 vols. (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1867–80), 3:1068, refers to the temple lamp; the verb means to gather together, collect, as a light or lamp; it represents the stars at the New Year.

139. Erik Hornung, Das Amduat: Die Schrift des verborgenen Raumes, 3 vols. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1963–67), 1:62–96.

140.   Ibid., 97–166.

141. Ibid., 134–62.