The Two Authors of the Book of Abraham


A small diversion

For awhile now my attention has been focussed on the Book of Mormon, but while visiting and commenting on another blog, the Book of Abraham came up as a topic, which allowed me some diversion.  Today I decided to re-read the Book of Abraham and I noticed that it seemed to contain the writings of two authors.

One author is, of course, Abraham, whose words were recorded with expository commentary by the other author, whose name remains unknown.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I will copy the first chapter of the Book of Abraham here, with indentations, showing when the writer/speaker changes.  I found it interesting.  Perhaps you will, too.

The text of chapter one

THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM

TRANSLATED FROM THE PAPYRUS, BY JOSEPH SMITH

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. See History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 235, 236, 348—351.

in the land of the chaldeans | at the residence of my fathers | i | abraham | saw | that it was needful | for me | to obtain another place of residence | and finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest | for me | i sought for the blessings of the fathers | and the right | whereunto i should be ordained | to administer the same | having been | myself | a follower of righteousness | desiring also to be one | who possessed great knowledge | and to be a greater follower of righteousness | and to possess a greater knowledge | and to be a father of many nations | a prince of peace | and desiring to receive instructions | and to keep the commandments of god | i became a rightful heir | a high priest | holding the right belonging to the fathers |

it was conferred upon me from the fathers | it came down from the fathers | from the beginning of time | yea | even from the beginning | or before the foundation of the earth | down to the present time | even the right of the firstborn | or the first man | who is adam | or first father | through the fathers | unto me |

i sought for mine appointment unto the priesthood | according to the appointment of god unto the fathers | concerning the seed |

my fathers | having turned from their righteousness | and from the holy commandments | which the lord | their god | had given unto them | unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen | utterly refused to hearken to my voice | for their hearts were set to do evil | and were wholly turned to the god of elkenah | and the god of libnah | and the god of mahmackrah | and the god of korash | and the god of pharaoh | king of egypt | therefore | 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 |

the priest of elkenah was also the priest of pharaoh |

now | at this time | it was the custom of the priest of pharaoh | the king of egypt | to offer up upon the altar | which was built in the land of chaldea | for the offering unto these strange gods | men | women | and children |

and it came to pass | that the priest made an offering unto the god of pharaoh | and also unto the god of shagreel | even after the manner of the egyptians |

now | the god of shagreel was the sun |

even the thank-offering of a child did the priest of pharaoh offer upon the altar | which stood by the hill called potiphar’s hill | at the head of the plain of olishem |

now | this priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time | who were the daughters of onitah | one of the royal descent | directly from the loins of ham |

these virgins were offered up | because of their virtue |

they would not bow down to worship gods of wood | or of stone | therefore | they were killed upon this altar | and it was done after the manner of the egyptians

and it came to pass | that the priests laid violence upon me | that they might slay me also | as they did those virgins upon this altar |

and that you may have a knowledge of this altar | i will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record |

it was made after the form of a bedstead | such as was had among the chaldeans | and it stood before the gods of elkenah | libnah | mahmackrah | korash | and also a god like unto that of pharaoh | king of egypt |

that you may have an understanding of these gods | i have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning | which manner of figures is called | by the chaldeans | rahleenos | which signifies hieroglyphics |

and as they lifted up their hands upon me | that they might offer me up and take away my life |

behold | i lifted up my voice unto the lord | my god | and the lord hearkened and heard | and he filled me with the vision of the almighty | and the angel of his presence stood by me | and immediately unloosed my bands | 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 | and to take thee away from thy father’s house | and from all thy kinsfolk | into a strange land | which thou knowest not of | and this | because they have turned their hearts away from me | to worship the god of elkenah | and the god of libnah | and the god of mahmackrah | and the god of korash | and the god of pharaoh | king of egypt | therefore | i have come down to visit them | and to destroy him | who hath lifted up his hand against thee | abraham | my son | to take away thy life |

behold | i will lead thee by my hand | and i will take thee | to put upon thee my name | even the priesthood of thy father | and my power shall be over thee |

as it was with noah | so shall it be with thee | but through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever | for i am thy god |

behold | potiphar’s hill was in the land of ur | of chaldea |

and the lord broke down the altar of elkenah | and of the gods of the land | and utterly destroyed them | and smote the priest | that he died | and there was great mourning in chaldea | and also in the court of pharaoh |

which pharaoh signifies king by royal blood |

now | this king of egypt was a descendant from the loins of ham | and was a partaker of the blood of the canaanites by birth |

from this descent sprang all the egyptians | and thus | the blood of the canaanites was preserved in the land |

the land of egypt | being first discovered by a woman | who was the daughter of ham | and the daughter of egyptus |

which in the chaldean signifies egypt | which signifies that which is forbidden |

when this woman discovered the land | it was under water | who afterward settled her sons in it | and thus | from Ham | sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land |

now | the first government of egypt was established by pharaoh | the eldest son of egyptus | the daughter of ham | and it was after the manner of the government of ham | which was patriarchal |

pharaoh | being a righteous man | established his kingdom | and judged his people wisely and justly all his days | seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations | in the days of the first patriarchal reign | even in the reign of adam | and also of noah | his father | who blessed him with the blessings of the earth | and with the blessings of wisdom | but cursed him as pertaining to the priesthood |

now | pharaoh being of that lineage | by which he could not have the right of priesthood | notwithstanding | the pharaohs would fain claim it from noah | through ham | therefore | my father was led away by their idolatry |

but i shall endeavor | hereafter | to delineate the chronology | running back from myself to the beginning of the creation | for the records have come into my hands | which i hold unto this present time |

now | after the priest of elkenah was smitten | that he died | there came a fulfilment of those things | which were said unto me | concerning the land of chaldea | that there should be a famine in the land | accordingly | a famine prevailed throughout all the land of chaldea | and my father was sorely tormented | because of the famine | and he repented of the evil | which he had determined against me | to take away my life |

but the records of the fathers | even the patriarchs | concerning the right of priesthood | the lord | my god | preserved in mine own hands | therefore | a knowledge of the beginning of the creation | and also of the planets | and of the stars | as they were made known unto the fathers | have i kept | even unto this day | and i shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record | for the benefit of my posterity | that shall come after me |

The rest of the chapters

To read the entire Book of Abraham in this format, click here.

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16 Comments

  1. So this “second author” was essentially a scribal commentator — interjecting commentary where he/she felt it appropriate to add explanations?

  2. That’s what it looks like to me. He got a hold of these records (of both Abraham and Joseph), or as he says, “the records have come into my hands | which i hold unto this present time” and “the records of the fathers | even the patriarchs | concerning the right of priesthood | the lord | my god | preserved in mine own hands.” Also, “a knowledge of [these things] | as they were made known unto the fathers | have i kept | even unto this day | and i shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record | for the benefit of my posterity | that shall come after me.”

    So, it looks like some patriarch, who inherited these records, decided to write them upon these multiple scrolls, addressing himself to some unnamed person (perhaps both his name and the name of the person he was addressing were included in the scrolls that are missing), with the understanding that these scrolls would be for the instruction of his posterity, and he takes it upon himself to not just write the scriptures which he possessed, but to also expound them to his posterity, doing, essentially, what the Nephite missionaries did, reading and expounding the scriptures to their investigators, walking them through them from beginning to end.

    The scrolls then, would, of course, be copies of the writings of Abraham and Joseph. And since this is a mixture of scriptural quotation and commentary, there would possibly be portions, perhaps even great portions, dedicated to mundane matters, meaning just writings of the original author talking about things that do not have to do with theology. In other words, it may have been a group of scrolls that dealt in both secular and scriptural matters, for the instruction of posterity.

    Of particular emphasis, though, by this unnamed author, is his focus on the right of the priesthood, the creation, the stars and planets and delineating the chronology from him back to creation, almost as if these scrolls were to demonstrate that he, and his seed, were entitled by lineage to the right of the priesthood. (And because of this emphasis, I suspect the author was male.)

    Now, maybe this is a false reading on my part, and perhaps it doesn’t show two authors, but if it does and if the indentations I made are correct, indicating who is writing what, then I find it interesting that we often quote the expository comments as authoritative text, attributing the whole thing to Abraham. Nevertheless, even if this reading is correct, and we have commentary by some unknown man in our scriptures, the commentary itself appears (to me) to be given by the power of the Holy Ghost, and thus trustworthy as the word of God.

  3. Curious, have any Mormon scholars ever recognized this or talked about?

  4. Not that I know of.

  5. I just had a thought. Abraham is a fairly common name. It would be funny if the unknown author’s name (assuming the reading is correct) was also Abraham. Then all those years of attributing the whole text to Abraham would be, technically, correct. Lol.

  6. “Of particular emphasis, though, by this unnamed author, is his focus on the right of the priesthood, the creation, the stars and planets and delineating the chronology from him back to creation, almost as if these scrolls were to demonstrate that he, and his seed, were entitled by lineage to the right of the priesthood.”

    It is very ironic that this author’s emphasis on lineage ignores the underlying message of Abraham on which he is commenting. Note how Abraham refers distinctly to “THE Fathers” and to “MY Fathers”. He states that there was need of a restoration of Pre-Stood Power due to unrighteousness and specifically points out, as does Jehovah, the unrighteousness of HIS Fathers, of HIS lineage. Then Abraham states that this Pre-Stood Power was reinstated due to righteousness, not on the part of “His Fathers” but personal righteousness. So after recording Abraham’s words showing righteous living with a desire to continue in greater righteous living and a desire for greater knowledge, instructions and responsibility as a father of nations as the prerequisite for unlocking priesthood power and receiving priesthood appointment…the unknown author proceeds to make a case for his right through sheer lineage. To do so, he even mentions the righteousness of the first Pharaoh as a matter of opinion and sticks to the story of cursed vs. favored lineage.

    I also find it intriguing that it is stated clearly here that the land of Egypt was discovered while yet underwater. The earlier, antediluvian kingdom that had existed in the same area was easily identified as the flood waters reseeded due to the Sphinx’s head which confirmed the location of the Nile Valley even before the water level had completely returned to normal.

    One major difference between righteous priests and wicked priests is that the former tends to REVEAL whereas the latter seeks to CONCEAL. Here Joseph Smith REveals this truth in the early 1830s. Then in the early 1930s Edgar Cayce REveals other secrets about the Sphinx and ancient records. Cayce also confirms that The Fathers of all humanity had power beyond what is COMMONLY held among mankind today. And that to regain this power personal righteousness is the key. He says: “This was given…in that period …when there were many who sought to bring to man a better understanding of the close relationship between the Creative Forces and that created, between man and man, and man and his Maker.
    Only those who have been called may truly understand. Who then has been called? Whosoever will make himself a channel may be raised to that of a blessing that is all that entity-body is able to comprehend. Who, having his whole measure full, would desire more does so to his own undoing.”

    Finally in the mid 1990s people started trying to bring to light the fact that the Sphinx had been at one time completely immersed in water. And recently this has begun to be more common knowledge. However the Powers That (Wanna) Be are busy trying to deny it and conceal the facts as best they can.

  7. Did anyone in Joseph’s day believe that the Sphinx was under water? Was he unique in this teaching that the land of Egypt was under water when first discovered?

  8. I’m thinking only certain Freemasons knew of such things back in those days. Why would they name Memphis after the ancient capitol of Egypt where the Sphinx is located and then later Atlanta for a city hundreds of miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean? I think they probably also recognized that the Mississipian civilization had some connection to ancient Egypt.

  9. I did a little bit of work tonight on BOM 1 and I noticed a couple of things about the text.

    First, that BOM 1:11 (1 Nephi 1:16-17) is a parenthetical that, if taken out, allows BOM 1:10 (1 Nephi 1:14-15) to transition into BOM 1:12 (1 Nephi 1:18) perfectly. Now, I’ve noticed this before, but arranging the text this way allows the parenthetical, which I’ve indented, to be easily skipped, and thus it can be readily seen that BOM 1:10 and BOM 1:12 are two parts of a complete thought.

    The other thing I noticed tonight is that another parenthetical shows up, which, when removed and the thought that precedes it is read along with the thought that follows it, it shows that Lehi learned that the Jews were seeking his life only from revelation, and not from trying to escape an assassination attempt. In other words, it was only the Lord who informed Lehi of a conspiracy to kill him and who told him to leave before the hit could be attempted, and thus, ascertained by eyewitnesses.

    The parenthetical is found in BOM 1:14. In BOM 1:13 Nephi states, of the Jews and Lehi, “and they also sought his life | that they might take it away.” Then, in BOM 1:15 Nephi gives evidence that this is true by quoting part of a revelatory dream that his father received, in which the Lord states that the Jews were seeking to take away Lehi’s life. He draws attention to the dream (with the words “for behold)” because it is presented as the concrete evidence that the Jews were, indeed, seeking Lehi’s life.

    Nephi is essentially saying, “…and the Jews sought to kill my father, and we know this because, see, the Lord Himself said to him in a dream, ‘The Jews seek to kill you.’”

    In other words, Nephi took his father’s words that the Jews were seeking to kill him on faith but declared it to be a fact in the record, regardless of the lack of physical evidence.

  10. (Please don’t construe my words above to mean that this is the only possible interpretation regarding Lehi having no evidence of a hit on his life other than his dream. The Lord may have been just stating to him a fact that he was already aware of because of him trying to escape from his assassin(s), or from other evidence of what the Jews were planning. However, to my ears, as I read the text without the parenthetical, it seems to imply that Nephi is presenting to the reader revelatory evidence that the Jews were, indeed, trying to kill another holy prophet of the Lord.)

    Also to be considered is that Laman and Lemuel thought of Lehi’s visions and dreams as “foolish imaginations of his heart,” which would indicate that there was no physical evidence of an attempt on his life. Nephi also states later that the Lord visited him, whereby he believed all the words of his father, again indicating no eyewitness accounts or other evidence of a conspiracy to kill Lehi.

  11. 19 and the lord said unto me |

    these two facts do exist |

    that there are two spirits | one being more intelligent than the other | there shall be another more intelligent than they |

    i am the lord | thy god |

    i am more intelligent than they all |

    20 the lord | thy god | sent his angel to deliver thee from the hands of the priest of elkenah |

    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 | in all wisdom and prudence | over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen | from the beginning |

    i came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen |

    Abraham 3:20 looks out of place to me, as if these are the words of someone else interrupting the flow of the text. They do not appear to me to be the words of either the Lord or the scribe. Perhaps these are the words of the Spirit? Perhaps the record the scribe possessed and was working with was, itself, incomplete and verse 20 is a remaining fragment of what was originally written by Abraham?

  12. LDSA

    I believe your interpretation is true. I have the book of Mormon 1830 edition on kindle and I read those verses the exact same way, literally only a few hours ago, and then perusing the interwebs ended up on this post and upon your comment. I believe it was intended for us to read the book of Mormon in this format rather than stuttering through verse by verse

  13. my reply was in response to your comment from apr 30 2012 , just to clarify

  14. apmarkey,

    I’ve so far finished the first three chapters of the Book of Mormon (that covers up to 1 Nephi 14) if you’d like to read them in this format:

    http://1stactscriptures.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/bom1/
    http://1stactscriptures.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/bom2/
    http://1stactscriptures.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/bom3/

  15. The closest thing the church has ever come to an official statement on the problems with the Book of Abraham was in the July 1988 issue of the Ensign Magazine. Granted, this article did not come from a General Authority. But the fact that the church published this in The Ensign comes close to an official statement. If this Ensign article is false, then that would mean church leaders allowed lies to be printed in the church’s official publication.

    This is an excellent article to share with friends and relatives because it admits the basic facts about the Book of Abraham papyri and facsimiles.

    Below is a summary of quotes from the article, with my comments in parenthesis:

    Ensign, July 1988, Page 51:

    “Why doesn’t the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?”

    “The papyri in question are a part of the collection of Egyptian mummies and papyri that the Prophet Joseph Smith bought from Michael Chandler in 1835. After the Prophet’s death, the papyri were lost to the Church. But in 1966, Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Utah, discovered some twenty-two separate papyri fragments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which were clearly part of Joseph Smith’s original collection. The papyri were acquired by the Church, and they are now located at Brigham Young University.”

    (Note: The church has always admitted that the rediscovered papyri is the same one in the possession of Joseph Smith.)

    “..some people have concluded that this Book of Breathings must be the text Joseph Smith used in his translation of the book of Abraham.”

    (Note: This “some people” making the conclusion includes the Mormon Church, which under the direction of Apostle N. Eldon Tanner, sent out for the translation, expecting it to prove Smith’s true translation abilities.)

    “However, there are some serious problems associated with this assumption. First of all, from paleographic and historical considerations, the Book of Breathings papyrus can reliably be dated to around A.D. 60-much too late for Abraham to have written it. Of course, it could be a copy-or a copy of a copy-of the original written by Abraham. However, a second problem arises when one compares the text of the book of Abraham with a translation of the Book of Breathings; they clearly are not the same…”

    (Note: Notice how the church is admitting the two basic facts 1: The papyri is too young to have been written by Abraham and 2: A real translation of the papyri doesn’t match the book of Abraham. So how are they going to squirm out of this?)

    “Actually, there are two possible explanations why the text of the recently discovered papyri does not match the text in the Pearl of Great Price.”

    (Note: There are actually THREE possibilities.)

    “One explanation is that it may have been taken from a different portion of the papyrus rolls in Joseph Smith’s possession.”

    (Note: This has been proven false since the release of Smith’s translation dictionary. Characters from the existing fragments match those in Smith’s notes that he attributes to the BoA. Besides, the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham are the ones in the discovered papyri.)

    “A second explanation takes into consideration what Joseph Smith meant by the word translation. While translating the Book of Mormon, he used the Urim and Thummim rather than dictionaries and grammars of the language. Translating with the Urim and Thummim is evidently a much different process than using the tools of scholarly research.”

    (Note: According to Church History, the angel Moroni had already permanently taken back the Urim and Thummin years earlier. The Book of Commandments, Smith’s Journal and William Clayton’s Journal all say Smith used his brown peep stone for the Book of Abraham translation. Later, the D&C changed all references of “peep stone” to “urim and thummim.”)

    “Instead of making a literal translation, as scholars would use the term, he used the Urim and Thummim as a means of receiving revelation.”

    (Note: Joseph Smith really used his brown peep stone, the same rock-in-the-hat trick he used to dictate all of the Book of Mormon and the first sections of the D&C)

    “..as Joseph Smith used the word, he could have received the meaning, or subject-matter content of the original text, as he did in his translation of the Bible. This explanation would mean that Joseph Smith received the text of our present book of Abraham the same way he received the translation of the parchment of John the Revelator-he did not even need the actual text in front of him.”

    (Note: So then why did he even have the papyri? This explanation is completely bogus because the Book of Abraham contains Smith’s “translations” of facsimile drawings included in the papyri. If it wasn’t a literal translation, why does the BoA today show the facsimile drawings? Besides, didn’t Smith tell everyone he used the papyri as the source? That’s what it still says in the introduction to the BoA in the scriptures. And Abraham 1:12 actually references the facsimile image included in the papyri!)

    “His translation of the Bible, parts of which are in the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, was also done without having the original text before him.”

    (Note: This sounds familiar. According to official church history and eyewitnesses, Smith dictated whole sections of the Book of Mormon while the gold plates were hidden in the woods or under a bed.)

    “In reality, the actual method Joseph Smith used is far less important than the resulting book of scripture he produced.”

    (Note: This is where the church throws out reason. They are basically telling you to ignore the facts and evidence in front of you.)

    “In the final analysis, however, the proof of the truth of the book of Abraham does not come by human means.”

    (Note: What does “human means” mean? Why can’t a real translation verify Smith’s translation claims?)

    “I have studied the book of Abraham, and the truth of it has been made known to me in a way I can’t deny. I know that anyone who earnestly wants to know if the book of Abraham is true can also receive this same witness and knowledge from God.”

  16. Book of Abraham, the daughter of Ham and “Egyptus” discovered the land of Egypt while it was still underwater from the Noachic flood, and settled her sons there. That conjures up an image of Egyptus jumping off the ark wearing a snorkel, and coming up a few minutes later exclaiming “Hey kids! There’s LAND under this water! Let’s settle down here!”

    The itsy-bitsy problems with the story’s believability are that

    a) archaelogical research shows that the land of Egypt had been continuously occupied by humans for thousands of years before the alleged era of the time of Noah

    b) The name “Egypt” was given to the land by the invading Greeks many centuries AFTER the time of Noah. The ancient Egyptians had called their land “Kemet,” meaning black soil, referring to the rich Nile delta earth.

    Meaning, the BOA is discredited by that one anomaly alone.


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