Book of Abraham/Plagiarism accusations/Oliver Cowdery

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Did Joseph Smith plagiarize a patriarchal blessing compiled by Oliver Cowdery?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith use a patriarchal blessing written by Oliver Cowdery to render Abraham 1:2?

Scholars are unsure as to the dating of the translation of Abraham 1:1-3. Whether before September 1835 or after makes no difference to the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.

Some have claimed that an 1834 Patriarchal blessing compiled by Oliver Cowdery influenced the rendering of Abraham 1:2. The two blessings are similarly worded but this claim seems to make the only possible date for rendering 1:2 after the compilation of the patriarchal blessings. Scholars are unsure at this point as to how to date the rendering of Abraham 1: 1-3. John Gee and Kerry Muhelstein place it at the end of July 1835. Robin Jensen and Brian Hauglid make it "circa July-November 1835" [1] Cowdery did not copy the patriarchal blessings to the book/quote the Book of Abraham until September 1835[2]. If we are to trust the July 1835 dating, then this shouldn't pose a big problem. If we accept a dating past September 1835, then perhaps we may accept the blessing as an appropriation of language to describe an ancient concept. This is something found throughout the scriptures. New Testament writers frequently took ancient prophecies and expanded on them for their own purposes, using similar language but adding additional insight[3].

The concepts expressed in the verse contain authentic traditions about the early life of Abraham. Following are traditions reproduced from Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham including the page number that the tradition may be found on in that volume:

“I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right unto I should be ordained to administer the same...I became a rightful heir, a High Priest...”

ABRAHAM WAS HEIR TO THE PRIESTHOOD OF HIS FATHERS (ABRAHAM 1:2-3, 18)

  • Ibn al-Tayyib 7:6, pp. 254—55
  • Midrash Rabbah Leviticus 25:6, p. 105; Numbers 4:8, p. 109
  • Mishnah Aboth 5:2, p. 62

ABRAHAM HELD THE PRIESTHOOD (ABRAHAM 1:2; 2:9, 11; FACSIMILE 2, FIGURE 3; FACSIMILE 3, FIGURE 1)

  • Al-Nisa'bu'ri 18:4, p. 404
  • Babylonian Talmud Nedarz'm 32b, pp. 120—21
  • Georgius Cedrenus 1, pp. 269—70
  • Kebra Nagast 105, p. 280
  • Midrash Rabbah Genesis 46:5; 55:6, pp. 100, 101; Leviticus 25:6, p. 105; Numbers 4:8; 10:1, p. 109; Song of Songs 5215.1, p. 117
  • Pesz‘kta Rabbati 40:6a, p. 81
  • Philo of Alexandria, De Abrahamo 98, p. 41

"…and to be a father of many nations…”

BELIEVERS ARE THE SEED OF ABRAHAM AND ARE BLESSED THROUGH HIM (ABRAHAM 2:10-11)

  • Armenian Paraphrase of Genesis: after Genesis 11:30, versions A and B, pp. 284-85
  • Midrash Rabbah Genesis 14:6, pp. 89—90
  • Qur’an 14:36, p. 293

“...greater follower of righteousness...”

ABRAHAM SOUGHT GOD EARNESTLY (ABRAHAM 2:12)

  • Al-Kisa‘fi' 51, pp. 386—87
  • Al-Mas‘u‘di, Meadows 4:1, p. 352
  • Al-Rabghu'zi 16, p. 438
  • Al-T_abari 252—7028—10, p. 336
  • Al-Tha‘labi 2:10, pp. 364—65
  • Apocalypse of Abraham 7:12; 8:3, pp. 56, 57
  • Armenian Paraphrase of Genesis: after Genesis 11:30, versions A and B, pp. 284—85 Augustine, City of God 10.32, p. 200
  • Book of Jasher 11:14, p. 140[4]
  • Clementine Recognitions 33, p. 186
  • Falasha Story 2, pp. 485—86
  • George Hamartolos, pp. 237—38
  • Gregory of Nyssa, pp. 187—88
  • Ibn Isha‘q 5—6, pp. 304—5
  • Jubilees 11:17, p. 15
  • Kebra Nagast 14, pp. 278—79
  • Medieval Testament ofNaphtali 10:2, p. 128
  • Michael the Syrian 2.6.2, p. 263
  • Other Muslim Traditions: Prophet Abraham 5, pp. 460—61
  • Pcsikta Rabbati 3323a, p. 80
  • Philo of Alexandria, De Abrahamo 68, p. 39
  • Pirqe dc Rabbi Eliewr 26, pp. 45—46
  • Zohar: Genesis 76b, 86a, pp. 155, 160—61

Conclusion

There seems to be little evidence to support this argument unless one assumes that A) Joseph could not have rendered 1:2 until after September 1835 B) That the elements found in the Book of Abraham could have only stemmed from Oliver Cowdery. C) That reappropriating language can't be a valid way of expressing something authentic and D)The elements found in Abraham 1:2 can't be authentic. In light of the preceding evidence, these assumptions are weakened.

Notes

  1. See Muhelstein and Hansen “The Work of Translating: The Book of Abraham’s Translation Chronology” in Let Us Reason Together: Essays in Honor of the Life’s Work of Robert L. Millet, ed. J. Spencer Fluhman and Brent L. Top (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: 2016), 139–62; Gee, John “An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” (Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, UT, 2018) 15-16; Jensen, Robin Scott; Hauglid Brian M. "The Joseph Smith Papers Revelations and Translations Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts" (Church Historian's Press: Salt Lake City, UT, 2018) Introduction. The reason for the discrepancy is disagreement over validity of W.W. Phelps' letter of July 1835 indicating that they had begun translation, textual evidence that shows by October 1835 the translated Egyptian term "Shinehah" found in Abraham 3:13, and the presence of Hebrew terminology in early manuscripts.
  2. Gee "An Introduction to the Book of Abraham" p. 15-16
  3. See here for a fuller treatment of this argument
  4. The Book of Jasher reads "And Abram knew the Lord, and he went in his ways and instructions, and the Lord his God was with him". The Book of Abraham reads "Now, after the Lord had withdrawn from speaking to me, and withdrawn his face from me, I said in my heart: Thy servant hast sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee;"