John Gee started his presentation on the Book of Abraham by detailing the provenance of the collection of some mummies and papyri taken as spoils in Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. The items were shipped to America and put in a traveling pay-per-view show. Various buyers bought pieces of the collection, most notably the father of John Wilkes Booth. The Mormons in Kirtland also purchased a number of scrolls and mummies. Part of the Mormon collection ended up being burned in the 1871 Chicago fire and some of it ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Met knew what they had. Dr. Gee showed us a 1948 publication that associated their collection with Joseph Smith. Not wanting to caught in the cross hairs of a religious controversy, the Met officials arranged for the papyrus to be turned over to the Church of Jesus Christ. You can read about this transferal in Gee’s latest article in the FARMS Review.
Dr. Gee is confident that the source of the Book of Abraham is not among the surviving manuscripts. In this presentation he established that creating a list of eye witness accounts which included scrolls no longer extant. Dr. Gee spoke about this at greater length in last year’s FAIR conference, which he mentioned, after today’s lecture, would be published soon.
Next, Dr. Gee established the genealogy of one of the original owners of a papyrus in the JSP collection, named Horos. Horos and his kin dated within a century or two before Christ. Horos was a prophet for three different entities. Part of his job was to make ritual, mock sacrifices of enemies of the entities he served. So it would make sense that he would treasure an Abraham text that describes such a sacrifice. There were some other neat correlations between Horos’s role and the things happening in the Book of Abraham, but I don’t think I could recount them with any kind of accuracy. Dr. Gee showed us some illustrations done by members of Horos’s family that get the gender wrong, something that appears to happen in a facsimile in our Book of Abraham. Dr. Gee also showed at least several lion couch scenes with inscriptions that indicate human sacrifice was happening and not an embalming as has been the conjectured in the past for such depictions. These inscriptions were missed because they are difficult for most Egyptologists to read.
Then Dr. Gee flashed back to describe the Egyptian empire in the time of Abraham. Abraham had to travel to get away when the empire expanded to included Ebla and moved back when that expansion collapsed. Abraham initially got in trouble for not submitting to the conquering culture’s gods. When Abraham instructs the Egyptians on astronomy, it was a clever metaphor to teach them about the supremacy of God, if I understood Dr. Gee right. In the ancient paradigm, to be able to move around or encircle an object was to be able to control or govern it. So in a geocentric viewpoint the moon has a wider orbit than the rotating-in-place earth, but it is superseded by the sun/god which controls an even larger circle. Abraham’s point about Kolob was that it was ultimate governing, encircling entity nearest to God. Then Abraham created a parallel analogy about successively greater beings as measured by intelligence, the greatest of which is God, who lives near the greatest astronomical entity.
Dr. Gee also showed a list of passages in the Book of Abraham passages that deal with the theme of obedience. He speculated that if the rest of the Book of Abraham had been translated, it would climax with Abraham’s obedience in sacrificing Isaac.