Question: Are the scenes contained in the facsimiles anachronistic to the time of Abraham?

FairMormon Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Question: Are the scenes contained in the facsimiles anachronistic to the time of Abraham?

Only if we assume that the Book of Abraham, in every respect, is holographic in nature does this become a problem for it

Reverend Franklin S. Spaulding of the Utah Episcopal Church was the first to make the claim of the scenes portrayed in the facsimiles being anachronistic to the Abraham of 2000 B.C. in his pamphlet “Joseph Smith jr. as translator” in the year 1912[1]. It is true that the very existence of the scenes upon which the facsimiles are based are, at this moment[2], anachronistic to the contemporaries of Abraham. However, this is only a problem if we assume that the Book of Abraham absolutely must, in every respect, represent a holograph from the prophet at this very moment.

In the case of the Book of Abraham, we should review our options for how we can react to anachronisms:

A) Deny that the anachronism exists and assert that, although it has not yet been attested in an extant source, the posited characteristic does indeed date back to the Middle Bronze Age.

B) Acknowledge the anachronism, but assign it to Joseph Smith as a translator’s anachronism, which does not in and of itself compromise the Book of Abraham as a translation of an ancient source;

C) Acknowledge the anachronism but assign it to an ancient redactor or copyist.

D) Acknowledge the anachronism and assign it to Joseph Smith as the modern author of the text. This is generally the stance of our critics.

In the case of the existence of facsimiles, we have options A and C since B only relates to translation and not to the mere existence of scenes such as those depicted in the facsimiles in Abraham’s time. Option C, at this moment, seems to be the best explanation for what we have going on with the Facsimiles. This requires some explanation.

The Joseph Smith Papyri from which the Book of Abraham was translated date to about 200 B.C. during the Ptolemaic period in Egyptian history. To resolve this issue, it has been pointed out by many scholars that the Book of Abraham as we have it to date is a later manuscript of an earlier text[3].

As is common of many texts, ancient redactors or copyists could have used existing scenes and the narrative from Abraham as they had it to describe ancient elements that were contemporary to Abraham [4]:115-116. This is the challenge that scholars have today: what comes from Abraham’s time and what is more contemporary to redactors and copyists? Should we interpret the facsimiles as coming from Ptolemaic Egyptians or Middle Bronze Age Egyptians? By way of a small example, the Canaanite El was a deity more contemporary to Abraham and matches “the idolatrous God of Elkenah mentioned in Facsimile 1 Ex 1[5]. Conversely, elements such as the adaptation of Osiris as Abraham are more contemporary to a later copyist or redactor[6]. Though an earlier attestation of this isn’t entirely forgone, the more likely option seems to be that Joseph translated something that came from sometime post-dating the life of Abraham.

The anachronistic nature of the scenes contained in the facsimiles to Abraham could be something similar. Option A could lead us to continue a path of more exploration until we can attest the scenes at an earlier time. Option C, at the moment, best explains the data and is something that we can be open to without feeling threatened since we can have an authentic translation with an authentic phenomenon that is commonly found in many ancient texts.

Notes

  1. See Franklin S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator (Salt Lake City: Arrow, 1912).
  2. This article was redacted 11/10/2018 and edited the same date
  3. <name="gee">:28As Dr. John Gee (PhD, Egyptology, Yale) notes, "some of the texts in the Book of the Dead manuscripts from the same time as the Joseph Smith Papyri (and even later) are also attested in manuscripts that go back before the time of Abraham." This was a personal communication to FairMormon Answers Wiki editors, 10 August 2007, cited with permission.
  4. Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (editors), Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2006).
  5. Barney, Kevin L. (2010) "On Elkenah as Canaanite El," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol. 19: No. 1, Article 5. Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/vol19/iss1/5
  6. Barney, “Semitic Adaptation”