Following the approach it takes in studying the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young University’s Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) decided in 1998 to also focus on the Book of Abraham. At that time, FARMS formed the Book of Abraham research project, headed by John Gee, William (Bill) Gay Associate Research Professor of Egyptology at the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts at Brigham Young University (the Institute), and Brian M. Hauglid, associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU. As part of this effort, FARMS initiated the series Studies in the Book of Abraham. The series includes scholarly work dealing with the Book of Abraham and, by extension, the Joseph Smith Papyri, Abraham, and related subjects. To date, two titles have been published in the series: Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, 2001, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, senior resident scholar with the Institute, Hauglid, and Gee; and The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary, 2002, based on the Joseph Smith Papyri, by Michael D. Rhodes, associate research professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
The present volume, Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, is the third title in the series. It deals with three broad themes: astronomy in the Book of Abraham, the background of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and the nature of the Abrahamic covenant. All but three of the articles in this collection were initially presented as papers at a conference held on the BYU campus. The three additional articles are “The Creation of Humankind, an Allegory?” by Richard D. Draper, associate dean of religious education at BYU; “The Book of Abraham in the Muslim Tradition,” by Hauglid; and “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptations of Existing Sources,” by Kevin L. Barney, an attorney in private practice in Chicago. We hoped to be able to include an article by David Elliot, a graduate student in Egyptology at the University of Pennsylvania, but unfortunately he passed away before he was able to complete it. This book is dedicated to his memory.
One of the major features of the Book of Abraham is its treatment of ancient astronomy, an aspect of Abraham’s teachings not recounted in the biblical narrative but one that does appear in noncanonical traditions about the Patriarch. William J. Hamblin, associate professor of history, and Daniel C. Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic, both at BYU, along with Gee, situate the astronomical accounts in the Book of Abraham among ancient geocentric astronomies, while Rhodes and J. Ward Moody, professor of physics and astronomy at BYU, use conceptions from contemporary physics to elucidate the same subject. E. Douglas Clark, an attorney and the international policy director of United Families International, examines the metaphor of stars and cedars in various ancient accounts about Abraham. Jared W. Ludlow, associate professor of history and religion at BYU—Hawaii, discusses Abraham’s reputation as an astronomer as found in a variety of ancient sources. Finally, Draper analyzes the role of the Book of Abraham in Latter-day Saint discussions about whether various scriptural creation accounts are allegorical.
The nature of the connection between the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham continues to be a matter of interest and discussion. Several articles in the volume address various issues associated with the papyri and their background. Since these ancient documents are currently dated to the Ptolemaic period (332—30 B.C.), Peter C. Nadig, lecturer in ancient history at the University of Düsseldorf, deals with various aspects of the Jewish experience in Ptolemaic Egypt. Gee shows why a common “Egyptological” misinterpretation of Facsimile 3 in the Book of Abraham should be rejected precisely on Egyptological grounds. On the other hand, Barney discusses ancient Semitic interpretations of Egyptian iconography and raises the issue of whether an Egyptological interpretation of the facsimiles from the Book of Abraham is relevant. Finally, Hauglid examines medieval Muslim viewpoints on Abraham and shows how many nonbiblical narratives about Abraham, as recounted in the Book of Abraham, circulated in Muslim sources.
One of the most important themes dealt with in the Book of Abraham, especially for Latter-day Saints, is the Abrahamic covenant. Researcher and librarian Janet Hovorka analyzes the role of women in the Abrahamic covenant. Jennifer Lane, assistant professor of religious education at BYU—Hawaii, discusses Abraham’s redemption in light of the covenant. Finally, Andrew H. Hedges, associate professor of church history and doctrine at BYU, looks at accounts of Abraham in nineteenth-century America and reflects on how often Abraham was dealt with in Joseph Smith’s day.
The articles in this volume all share an assumption that the Book of Abraham is both authentic and ancient. Beyond that, a number of other assumptions and preconceptions ground the work of the various authors, as they do the work of all authors. The editors have made no attempt to harmonize the various viewpoints and interpretations expressed in these articles. On the contrary, in some instances scholars deal with a common subject using assumptions that are mutually incompatible. Their juxtaposition in this volume is intentional since it well illustrates the variety of interpretations of scripture that can come from a common background of faith. Readers will have to judge for themselves which positions best reflect what the scripture means.
Finally, the editors would like to acknowledge the help of M. Gerald Bradford, Alison Coutts, William J. Hamblin, Larry E. Morris, Katherine Newbold, Jacob Rawlins, Paula W. Hicken, Julie Dozier, Ellen Henneman, Renee Wald, Linda Sheffield, Marshelle Papa, Emily Ellsworth, Amanda Smith, and Brian L. Smith in preparing this volume for publication.
John Gee Brian M. Hauglid