This is the first part of a talk given at a conference in Aravada Springs, NV on March 27, 2021.
I have to say: As time goes on, you folks look more and more eccentric. (That’s just from up here, looking out.)
I want to thank the organizers for putting it together, and I want to thank them for the invite to come talk. I also want to say before I begin that there’s no reason to think that I am implying anything apart from what is explicitly stated in the talk.
The name “Jesus Christ” is Greek. An Anglicized Hebrew version of the name is “Joshua the Messiah” or, more phonetically correct, “Yeshua the Mashiach.” God promised Adam there would be a Messiah or Christ sent to save his (Adam’s) descendants. Angels preached the gospel of the promised Messiah to righteous men and women beginning with Father Adam. Abraham was taught that same gospel. Jesus the Messiah was born in Bethlehem, lived as a mortal, and fulfilled God’s Messianic promises. He was not an innovator. Instead, He restored that gospel originally revealed to the Patriarchal Fathers.
This talk is about understanding the worship of our Messiah. An 1833 revelation promised further information to be given the faithful who obeyed God’s commandments:
I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fullness, for if you keep my commandments, you shall receive of his fullness and be glorified in me as I am glorified in the Father. Therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. (T&C 93:7, emphasis added)
A prophecy of Malachi is recorded in every volume of Scripture: Old Covenants, New Covenants, Book of Mormon, and Teachings and Commandments. The prophecy promises that before the great and dreadful day of the Lord the hearts of the children will turn to the Fathers or (as stated in the JST Old Covenants): Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall seal the heart of the Fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their Fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Malachi 1:12 RE, emphasis added).
Nephi quoted it to Joseph Smith a little differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers; if it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming (Joseph Smith History 3:4 RE, emphasis added).
Two versions of Malachi’s prophecy have the very same interesting wording. Both the Old Covenants and the Book of Mormon twice use the word “heart” in the singular, but “fathers” and “children” are plural. It’s a small change but an important and revealing one. The Fathers are of one heart, and to the extent there are to be children sealed to them, the children will also be of one (and the same) heart.
In this talk, I hope to clarify and identify who the “fathers” are. It’s not your immediate ancestors from the last 20 or so generations; all of them who died without the required knowledge and acceptance of fullness of the gospel are in spirit prison. Therefore, they are damned and cannot progress until preparations are made to improve their resurrection.
Our hearts must become one. United hearts seem to be in a distant latitude from where we are now. Even then, before any attempt at “sealing” begins, the first question is the identity of the “fathers” to whom our singular heart must be sealed to avoid being “cursed”—or as Christ warned, “utterly wasted at his coming.”
There is a true religion; it was revealed first to Adam. Adam not only received and practiced that true religion, it is through him that every subsequent dispensation of the gospel has been revealed. Joseph Smith taught:
Commencing with Adam, who was the first man, who is spoken of in Daniel as being the Ancient of Days, or in other words, the first and oldest of all, the great grand progenitor, of whom it is said in another place, He is Michael, because he was the first and father of all, not only by progeny, but he was the first to hold the spiritual blessings, to whom was made known the plan of ordinances for the salvation of his posterity unto the end, and to whom Christ was first revealed, and through whom Christ has been revealed from Heaven and will continue to be revealed from henceforth. Adam holds the keys of the dispensation of the fullness of times; i.e., the dispensation of all the times have been and will be revealed through him, from the beginning to Christ, and from Christ to the end of all the dispensations that are to be revealed.
…that all things pertaining to that dispensation should be conducted precisely in accordance with the preceding dispensations. And again, God purposed in himself that there should not be an Eternal fullness until every dispensation should be fulfilled and gathered together in one, and that all things whatever that should be gathered together in one, in those dispensations, unto the same fullness and Eternal glory, should be in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, he set the ordinances to be the same for ever and ever, and set Adam to watch over them, to reveal them from Heaven to man or to send angels to reveal them. (T&C 140:3,5-6; emphasis added)
God gave to Adam the right of “dominion” over the Earth and everything (correspondingly, everyone) on the Earth. That was part of the original true religion. When the true religion was combined with the right to hold dominion or preside as a High Priest, it was called the “Holy Order after the Order of the Son of God.” This was shortened to “Holy Order.” It has also been called the Melchizedek Priesthood. Because of the too frequent use of the term “Melchizedek Priesthood” by the LDS Church and resulting confusion about the meaning of the term, I’ve redefined “priesthood” and avoid making use of that term without clarification. In this talk, the term “Holy Order” is used to mean the original priestly position conferred on Adam and thereafter passed on to the one eldest, worthy descendant in each subsequent generation, and the religion then taught by that holder was correct and held salvation.
The Patriarchal Fathers are Adam, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem (or Melchizedek), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. These 15 generational heads stood, like Adam, as God’s Patriarchal Father and High Priest at the head of God’s family on Earth. There were many others who believed in the religion taught by Adam and the Patriarchal Fathers, but the Holy Order given to Adam was always held in its fullness by the eldest worthy descendant in each subsequent generation until—skipping generations to—Abraham.
Abraham was the first precedent for “sealing” into the Order, tying a descendant separated by generations into the position of patriarchal successor to Shem (or Melchizedek). This precedent helps explain Joseph Smith’s later practice of sealing others to him. Given the examples of Abraham and Joseph Smith, it becomes clear that the Holy Order does not have to be exclusively dynastic (passing in one family line) but can branch out to include any other worthy member of the line, however distant or separated by generations.
The Patriarchal head of the Holy Order is the shepherd for the faithful, husbandman for the Creation, and teacher responsible for dispensing Divine knowledge. It is more than competent gospel teaching; it is authoritatively dispensing a message from a position established and recognized by God, hence Joseph Smith’s observation that there are many teachers, but perhaps not many fathers (T&C 139:12). When the Holy Order is active, these obligations attach to the position in every generation.
The first or Patriarchal Fathers learned the true religion from Adam and practiced it under his direction. Adam taught the first eight patriarchs born after him. Their religion was Adam’s religion, and their understanding reached back to the Garden of Eden.
The majority of Adam’s family abandoned the truth. From the time of Adam, most people who have been given the opportunity to receive the gospel in their respective dispensations have dwindled in unbelief. The Book of Mormon repeatedly describes people dwindling in unbelief. An angel foretold to Nephi (the first prophet-writer in the first book of the Book of Mormon) that all his descendants and his brothers’ descendants would dwindle in unbelief.
Dwindling happens whenever light and truth are neglected, forgotten, or rejected. The term “unbelief” applies not when people cease believing, but when they hold false beliefs. Those false beliefs include incomplete, unfinished, or incorrect ideas. Unbelief comes as much from rejecting Scripture as from deleting or changing ordinances.
The truth has dwindled, and there are not accurate enough Scriptures available to know all that has been lost. Upheavals in history have produced a barrier keeping the first religion away from us. Margaret Barker has spent a lifetime studying ancient Israel, largely pursuing the First Temple religion of Israel. Her goal is modest. She’s trying to reconstruct the Old Testament era from Solomon to Ezra. We are trying to reach back to Adam. Even with her more modest aim, she has concluded it is impossible for us to know what really took place. She calls the present state of all our understanding nothing more than “supposition”:
The exile in Babylon is a formidable barrier to anyone wanting to reconstruct the religious beliefs and practices of ancient Jerusalem. If we are to discover any possible reason for the distinction between the sons of El/Elyon and the sons of Yahweh it is a barrier, which has to be acknowledged. Enormous developments took place in the wake of enormous destruction, and these two factors make certainty quite impossible. They make all certainty impossible, and this too must be acknowledged, for the customary descriptions of ancient Israel’s religion are themselves no more than supposition. (Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God, p.12, citations omitted, italics in original)
Belief is only possible by receiving the truth. It is important to have the truth in order to acquire belief. The Lord commanded Joseph Smith to revise the Bible in order to permit “belief” (or “correct understanding”). One of the corrections Joseph made was to the exchange between Jesus and the lawyers. Luke was revised to now read: Woe unto you lawyers, for you have taken away the key of knowledge, the fullness of the scriptures. You enter not in yourselves into the kingdom, and those who were entering in, you hindered (Luke 8:17 RE). Without the “fullness of the scriptures,” it is impossible to have belief. Truth is the key of knowledge.
Joseph Smith’s revision of the Bible was designed to restore the Bible to read: Even as they are in [God’s] own bosom, to the salvation of [God’s] elect (T&C 18:6). From the command to commence the corrected Bible project until the command to publish it, Joseph’s inspired revision was referred to in 14 revelations. The revised Bible was quoted exclusively in Lectures on Faith. The Bible revision was essential for people to have belief. Without it, the saints would dwindle in unbelief because they lacked the truths God intended to be known and accepted by His followers. Joseph Smith knew this and warned about how crucial it was for the revised Bible (which he called the “fullness of the scriptures”) to be published for believers. In an October 1831 Conference, he taught the saints: “God had often sealed up the Heavens because of covetousness in the church. Said the Lord would cut his work short in righteousness and except the church receive the fullness of the scriptures they would yet fall” (Joseph Smith Papers [hereafter JSP], Documents, Volume 2: July 1831-January 1833, p.85).
The fullness of the Scriptures was never published in Joseph Smith’s lifetime—or ever by any church. The RLDS Church published an incomplete and altered version that excluded revisions made by Joseph Smith and included revisions made by a committee. A significant part of the work accomplished by Joseph Smith has been neglected by the LDS or altered by the RLDS (now the Community of Christ), and both of those groups have dwindled in unbelief. Because they have incomplete Scriptures, having rejected part of what the Lord has as “scriptures in His own bosom” (see T&C 18:6), it cannot be otherwise. All of the break-off groups that have separated from the LDS or RLDS have similarly dwindled in unbelief.
The Restoration has not been able to advance until recently when a penitent group of believers repented and endeavored to recover and reclaim what was discarded. In the inspired “Prayer for Covenant,” these past failures are acknowledged, and the Lord was asked to accept our repentance. Here are some excerpts from that prayer:
We are mindful that in 1832 the gentile saints were condemned for vanity and unbelief because they treated lightly the things they had received, and they were warned by you that they would remain under condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments, not only to say, but to do. You commanded the gentiles that they bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom, and if they failed to do so, there remained a scourge and [a] judgment to be poured out upon those who claimed to be the children of Zion. They failed to bring forth the required fruit, and were judged and scourged, and then violently driven out of Jackson County, Missouri.
…Even today the gentile saints justify lying to others as part of their religion, believing you will vindicate them in their dishonesty. They seek deep to hide their counsel from others, and now deny your judgments against their ancestors, claiming you have never rejected them. They have, as you [have] foretold, spoken both good and evil of your prophet Joseph. They ascribe many of their wicked practices to Joseph, who correctly told their ancestors that they never knew him — for indeed, the gentile saints have grown distant from you because of their willful rebellion, pride, foolishness, and blindness. We acknowledge that we must distinguish ourselves from them, admit the errors of the past, and in the depths of humility, seek to be reclaimed as yours.
The neglect and rebellion of the saints during Joseph’s day and thereafter included how they have treated the scriptures, carelessly inserting numerous errors and [the] transcription problems into the Book of Mormon and other commandments and revelations. The original Book of Mormon translation manuscript was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House where water and mold destroyed over 70% of the text. This was a similitude to the restoration provided by you through Joseph. Just as the original manuscript was allowed to decay, with only approximately 28% surviving, so likewise the Restoration has also decayed.
…The other revelations given through Joseph Smith have also not been maintained and transmitted to us in their purity.
…We ask to be corrected in anything we have gathered and ask to be instructed by you to discard what ought to be discarded, and inspired to keep only those things which should be kept. We were not responsible for neglecting your warnings, for treating lightly the Book of Mormon and former commandments, nor for failing to do as you asked, but have inherited that legacy and acknowledge that we also suffer under your condemnation as our inheritance.
…Though only a remnant of the original faith you established through Joseph has likewise survived, we ask to be reconnected as a people to you by covenant, to make us yours, connected to a living vine, restored as a people, and numbered with Israel. We seek as a people to honor you and…keep your commandments so that a living body of your disciples may again exist on the earth. We desire that we may rise up through your grace and mercy so that you will perform your oath and vindicate your promises to the fathers concerning a faithful latter-day body of gentiles to be numbered with the remnant of Jacob, that your kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
…We ask that you accept these books as yours so that people of faith may then rely upon this work as your word to this generation, …a standard for governing ourselves, as a law, and as a covenant, to establish a rule for our faith, and as the expression of our religion, so we may have correct faith and be enabled to worship you in truth. If this body of writings are not acceptable, we ask that you guide us further so we may correct, remove, or add whatever you would require for the writings to become acceptable for a covenant and [a] law, a rule of faith, as a correct expression of the religion that honors you, so [that] we may be in possession of correct faith and be enabled to worship you in truth. (T&C 156:2,7-8,10-11,15,17; emphasis added)
The prayer and the effort to recover the fullness of the Scriptures pleased the Lord. He answered by commending the recovery and accepting the Scriptures. His “Answer to Prayer for Covenant” states, in part:
(And I’m gonna add: We asked Him to tell us if something ought be deleted and to tell us if something ought be added, and He did both of those things. Things were deleted and things then were added in response to the prayer.)
But His answer included these:
The records in the form you have of the Old Covenants, given from Adam until Moses and from Moses to John, are of great worth and can serve my purposes, and are acceptable for this time.
The records of my apostles containing my New Covenants were to contain the fullness of my gospel, but during the formation of the great and abominable church, many parts were discarded and other parts were altered. False brethren who did not fear me intended to corrupt and to pervert the right way, to blind the eyes and harden the hearts of others, in order to obtain power and authority over them.
Conspiracies have corrupted the records, beginning among the Jews, and again following the time of my apostles, and yet again following the time of Joseph and Hyrum. As you have labored with the records you have witnessed the alterations and insertions, and your effort to recover them pleases me and is of great worth. (T&C 157:13-15)
Ours are the only Scriptures approved by God as sufficient for the labor[s] now underway (T&C 177:2). However, the Lord stopped short of endorsing them as without flaws.
The records you have gathered as scriptures yet lack many of my words, have errors throughout, and contain things that are not of me, because the records you used in your labors have not been maintained nor guarded against the cunning plans of false brethren who have been deceived by Satan. (T&C 157:12)
The Lord explained:
What you have gathered as scriptures are acceptable to me for this time and contain many plain and precious things. Nevertheless, whoso is enlightened by the spirit shall obtain the greater benefit, because you need not think they contain all my words nor that more will not be given, for there are [yet] many things…to be restored unto my people.
…There will yet be records restored from all the tribes, that will be gathered [together] again [in] one, and also as I have said, there is some truth in the Apocrypha, including the Pseudepigrapha and scrolls recovered at Nag Hammadi, and other New Testament texts uncovered since the time of Joseph Smith, and findings at Qumran, and there are other records yet to be recovered; [and] whoso is enlightened by the spirit shall obtain benefit by their careful study. (Ibid. vs. 44,47)
We have the best available, but they’re to be understood through the power of the spirit. In another revelation, the Lord explained this about our scriptures:
These scriptures are sent forth to be my warning to the world, my comfort to the faithful, my counsel to the meek, my reproof to the proud, my rebuke to the contentious, and my condemnation of the wicked. They are my invitation to all mankind to flee from corruption, repent and be baptized in my name, and prepare for the coming judgment. (T&C 177:3)
Our Scriptures will do no good if they’re not read or studied. We, like all other Restoration churches and groups, can also dwindle in unbelief.
Unlike the many existing and past Restoration believers, we must fight against falling into unbelief. Nephi warned us about the churches of the Restoration:
Yea, they have all gone out of the way, they have become corrupted; because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride, they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing, and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart because in their pride [they’re] puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads, yea, …because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray, save it be a few who are the humble followers of Christ. Nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because [they’re] taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 12:2 RE, emphasis added)
We have no fine sanctuaries, and until commanded and instructed to do so, we do not anticipate building anything other than a single temple. We do not rob the poor, because our tithes are used only to aid the poor. We do not regard one above another, and we have no hierarchy in a position to lead anyone astray. Nevertheless, we can still be proud, rob the poor by our overindulgence, and participate in abominations and whoredoms. Some foolish people among us have done these things. They must repent, or they cannot be gathered.
We have little reason to be unguarded. We can fail to study the recovered Scriptures approved by the Lord as a standard to govern our daily walk. We can fail to accept the obligations established by the Book of Mormon as a covenant and to use the Scriptures to correct ourselves and guide our words, thoughts, and deeds. We can let the lusts of the flesh to control us. And when we do, we choose to dwindle in unbelief.
You have the new Scriptures. The leather-bound copies will be shortly distributed. Use them. Study them. Show appreciation to the Lord by refusing to dwindle in unbelief.
Joseph Smith was able to revise the Bible through God’s inspiration. It is important to prize the corrected Bible and do better than the saints of Joseph’s day.
Despite nearly universal apostasy and rebellion against God while Adam lived, the line of Patriarchal Fathers preserved the true religion. Noah had a father who knew and was taught by Adam. Noah’s living grandfather, great-grandfather, and ancestors for seven generations knew and were taught by Adam. Learning about God from His messengers and priests was (and still is) necessary to avoid dwindling in unbelief and falling into apostasy. The “angels” who ministered included mortals who were given Divine knowledge to teach.
Noah preserved the original religion of God through the cataclysm of the flood. Three of the sons of Noah were taught it, and Noah’s most faithful son inherited the right. The fullness of the Holy Order was conferred upon Shem (who received the title “Melchizedek”). A descendant of Ham falsely claimed he held the Holy Order, but he could only institute an imitation of the Order.
After Melchizedek, an apostasy lasted until Abraham. Although he was raised by an idolater and lamented that his fathers offered sacrifices to idols, Abraham searched for the true God of Heaven. Abraham found God, and the covenant of the first Fathers was renewed and conferred upon him by Melchizedek. Generations of apostates were excluded from the Holy Order, but Abraham was adopted into the line by Melchizedek, thereby restoring continuity back to Adam.
Abraham represents the key Patriarchal Father prophesied of in Malachi. Abraham not only renews the covenant of “the fathers” (including Noah and Enoch), but also through the Abrahamic covenant, God established Abraham as the new head of the family of God on Earth. God told Abraham: As many as receive this gospel shall be called after your name and shall be accounted your seed, and shall rise up and bless you, as unto their Father (Abraham 3:1 RE). For us, connecting to Abraham is akin to the original Patriarchs’ connection to Adam. Turning the heart of the children to the Fathers is a required part of the gospel. And after God’s covenant with him, salvation for all subsequent generations is dependent on being accounted Abraham’s seed.
The covenant with Abraham was renewed with Isaac, who also became the Patriarchal head and husbandman-father of the faithful. Believers thereafter likewise are numbered as Isaac’s “seed” through the renewal and extension of the covenant. God renewed it again with Jacob. The covenantal relationship of these three Patriarchs in three successive generations is the reason the Scriptures use “the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob” as one name for Deity.
Accordingly, the more we can know of Abraham, the more we can know of the covenant with the Fathers spoken of by Malachi. Any book written by Abraham should be priceless to us.
The Book of Abraham translated by Joseph Smith has become a battleground because it is so important to our salvation. On one side are those who hope Joseph has made it possible to be sealed to the Fathers. Opposing them are those who cannot believe Joseph supplied a text of any value for salvation. The fight over the Book of Abraham is now aimed at the entire Restoration and Joseph’s Divine calling. Because of that controversy, I need to address the authenticity of the Book of Abraham in order to discuss God’s covenant with the Fathers.
There are several threads of thought to be drawn together. The first one involves understanding the different eras of written language used at the time of Abraham.
Most scholars believe Abraham lived around 2100 BC during the 9th Dynasty of Egypt. Moses lived around 1400 BC. (700 years later, Moses lived.) Egyptian texts date back to before 3400 BC. A written Hebrew language was not developed until 900 BC, a half-millennium after Moses. Accordingly, since Moses composed the first five books of the Old Covenants, he would have used Egyptian characters. Hence, the Scriptures written on the plates of brass recovered from Laban and used by the Nephites were written in Egyptian.
The Hebrew language developed as a spoken language first and a written language added sometime later. The Book of Mormon confirms that although the Nephites spoke Hebrew, they used Egyptian characters to write their records. As Moroni finished his record his father started, Moroni explained what they used for the small, neatly carved characters on the Nephite records:
We have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large, we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also. (Mormon 4:11 RE, emphasis added)
The Nephites used only Egyptian “characters” for their writing and, apparently, not Egyptian language (at least not in the same way as would an Egyptian). This is at best an ambiguous point. How are we to understand it? Egyptian characters are not alphabet equivalent. A single character can mean many words, and their written form compresses language. We do not have anything equivalent to this in our common experience to make a meaningful analogy. Perhaps Pitman Shorthand would give an idea of it.
One other idea that may help is to think of Romance languages. All Romance languages use a common set of written characters but employ them for entirely different languages; the “reformed Egyptian” used “characters” to write a different quasi-Hebrew language.
For a comparison: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian are all different languages that descended from Latin. They all use the Latin alphabet. But the words they write and the meanings of those words are different from one another. Occasionally, the different languages use identical letters for different words. In English (a non-Romance language), “mesa” means “an isolated, flat-topped hill with steep slopes.” But in Spanish, it means “table.”
The English language descended from German. So did Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Scots. These languages also use the Latin alphabet shared with the Latin-descended Romance language. But try to imagine another language that employs pictographic and short-hand figures to convey both words and sentences. If you’re moving information from such a language into any of the Latin alphabet languages, the result would be a far larger volume of translated text from the original text.
The Book of Mormon used Egyptian “characters” to write a non-Egyptian form of language to compress the material. How the Nephites achieved this over a millennium of “reforming” their written language was not clarified. However, if the actual plates of the Book of Mormon were to be examined by a modern Egyptian scholar, they would not be able to make any sense of it.
Hebrew is written and read from right to left. English is written from left to right. When I began learning Hebrew alphabet, to help me remember the sounds I would write my name using Hebrew characters in a left-to-right English format. “Dalet-Vav-Resh” was close enough, since vowels did not exist in Old Testament Hebrew. Since Hebrew would read these letters in reverse order, it would be read “Vav-Dalet” and pronounced something like “Ervid” and would mean “rod.” And that’s not my name.
Then when I began learning the Greek alphabet, to help me remember the sounds, I would also write my name using Greek characters. But I added the letter “v” because it was the only way I could think of to make it work: “Delta-Epsilon-Nu-V-Epsilon-Rho.” Because “v” is English, it would not be used by a Greek speaker to figure the word out. Therefore, it would be pronounced something like “Dener” and would mean “steward.” That’s also not my name.
When you use only characters borrowed from another language’s alphabet but write things for your own native language, the result is a hybrid that requires an explanation. Hence, Moroni’s explanation that the Nephites only employed the Egyptian “characters” (and not the Egyptian language) in etching the record. This idea will figure in later in this talk.
Also significant is the assignment given to Joseph Smith to reform the Bible text. Joseph Smith began working on a revised Bible in June 1830. Joseph used the King James Version as his source text to accomplish the revision. There were few (if any) Greek or Hebrew materials used. Nothing was rendered from one language into another. The work was based on revelation, inspiration, and insight given to Joseph Smith by the Lord. The LDS Historian’s Office has correctly called the work a “revision” of the Bible. However technically inappropriate we may think it is to use the word “translation” for Joseph’s work, it is always called a “translation” by the Lord in numerous revelations to Joseph.
By November the material about Adam, Cain, Abel, and the first murderer had been finished. The work advanced to include the Enoch material in December, and on 7 December 1830, Sidney Rigdon was commanded to act as scribe to “write for him.” The project included correcting the Bible, as well as numerous additions. It was undertaken so that the Bible would be rewritten and, according to the Lord, to become even as they are in [God’s] own bosom (T&C 18:6). The work of restoring Genesis advanced quickly. By February
1832 , Genesis 1:1 through 5:12 was finished. These are eight chapters of the Book of Moses (as published in the Pearl of Great Price by the LDS Church). In these early materials, there are notable additions made regarding:
- The Creation of this world,
- An explanation of Satan’s pre-Earth existence and history,
- The fall of man,
- Adam and Eve, and
- Enoch (among many others).
So much material involving Enoch was added to chapter 4 of Genesis that it’s become referred to as the “Book of Enoch.”
When the Genesis account got to Melchizedek, a flood of new material was provided. In the new Melchizedek materials, we received clarifying information about the Holy Order:
Now Melchizedek was a man of faith who wrought righteousness. And when a child, he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire. And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained a high priest after the Order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, it being after the Order of the Son of God, which Order came not by man, nor the will of men, neither by father nor mother, neither by beginning of days nor end of years, but of God. And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.
For God, having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself that everyone being ordained after this Order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course, to put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God, to do all things according to his will, according to his command subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world. (Genesis 7:18-19 RE, emphasis added)
From this addition, we learn that faith—not priesthood—is the power that stops the mouths of lions and quenches the violence of fire. Also, ordination to the Holy Order comes from the voice of God and is conferred according to God’s will. That will of God is predicated on two things:
- Belief on the name of God in this world, and
- The will of the Son of God before the foundation of this world.
Despite the many additions and corrections to the Genesis text, very little was added in the Joseph Smith Bible revisions about Abraham. Given the importance of Abraham as a pivotal covenant Father, not adding an expanded account of his life to Genesis is a significant omission. The Lord told Abraham: For as many as receive this gospel shall be called after your name and shall be accounted your seed, and shall rise up and bless you, as unto their Father (Abraham 3:1 RE). Given Abraham’s importance, we should expect that any revision of Genesis would add as much about him as Genesis added about Adam and Enoch and Melchizedek. But the JST Bible does not do so.
If the Book of Abraham materials were added to the Genesis text, it would replace and expand the text from Genesis chapter 6, midway in verse 8, through chapter 7, midway through verse 4. The Book of Abraham supplies the missing important details we need to know that were omitted from the Genesis account of the Inspired Version of the Bible.
It appears that the foreknowledge of God made it unnecessary for a JST expansion of Genesis materials about Abraham. When Michael Chandler later sold four mummies, two papyrus scrolls, and some papyrus fragments (in July 1835) to buyers in Kirtland, events were set in motion that resulted in adding Abrahamic details to our Scriptures. Three parties (one of whom was Joseph Smith) paid the $2,400 sale price. The Book of Abraham was then produced after Joseph Smith got access to the papyri. Instead of being part of the JST Bible, it is called a “translation” of a papyrus scroll.
The “translation” began in Kirtland from July to November 1835 and produced the text from Abraham 1:1 through first half of 4:2 in the Restoration Edition of Scriptures. (In the LDS scriptures it’s Abraham 1:1 through 2:18.) There are three different copies of the translation made in Kirtland in existence. These have been identified as Book of Abraham Manuscript A, B, and C.
- Manuscript A is in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams.
- Manuscript B is in the handwriting of Warren Parrish.
- Manuscript C is in the handwriting of Warren Parrish and William W. Phelps.
None of the Kirtland era translations of the Book of Abraham include the introduction to the book. That introduction attributes the text to a papyrus written “by the hand of Abraham.” That statement has been the focus of a great deal of controversy. It states: “A translation of some ancient records that have fallen into our hands, from the catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called ‘The Book of Abraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus.’” Those words are in the handwriting of Willard Richards, and there is no existing source to explain why he added them to the publication of the Book of Abraham in the Times & Seasons in March 1842 (see JSP, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, p. 245).
A small library of material has been written on the relationship (or lack of relationship) between the remaining Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri fragments and the Book of Abraham. It’s an understatement to say that subject is controversial. But given the importance of Abraham’s status as the “Father of the righteous,” it is important to discuss the controversy.
If one is objective, the text of the Book of Abraham presents insurmountable problems if it must satisfy the current scholarly understanding of the Egyptian papyri purchased from Michael Chandler. If the authenticity of the Book of Abraham must be based on that, it’s very problematic. That is not to say that the scholar’s approach to this controversy is without its weaknesses.
The Egyptian language had two earliest forms; the first to develop was hieroglyphic and dates from before 4000 BC. At about 390
BC… Oh, excuse me: At about 390 AD, Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I closed all religious temples that he regarded as pagan throughout his empire. Because of this, hieroglyphs were no longer used. Egypt was inside his empire. Therefore, the Egyptian temples closed, and the hieroglyphic language was neglected and ultimately abandoned altogether. For 1500 years, the language was lost. Egyptian monuments remained, but no one had a clue what the hieroglyphs meant.
After being lost for a millennium-and-a-half, hieroglyphic interpretation has been recovered only in a small part through work based on the Rosetta Stone. In July 1799, French soldiers were rebuilding a fort near the town of Rosetta and discovered a stone inscribed with three scripts: hieroglyphs in the top register, Greek at the bottom, and a script later identified as “Demotic” in the middle. Demotic was a still later form of Egyptian writing and was the common form spoken at the time the Rosetta Stone was originally carved.
Using the Greek from the Rosetta Stone as a guide to decipher the hieroglyphs, an attempt has been made to understand hieroglyphic Egyptian. The Rosetta stone contains a decree from Ptolemy V (dates from 196 BC). This is at the very end of a dying Egyptian culture, religion, language, and history. This era is known as the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Greeks controlled Egypt after Alexander the Great’s conquest in 332 BC. When Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided between four generals. At that time, General Ptolemy assumed control over Egypt. The likelihood that the form of Egyptian hieroglyphic language dating from 196 BC is an accurate guide for understanding the way the language was understood millennia earlier is at best doubtful. If we accept the dating of 2100 BC for Abraham’s life, there would have been two millennia of time separating the language of Abraham from the language of the Rosetta Stone.
The most basic linguistic problem is to understand how language changes with time.
Imagine you had a time machine. If you are like me, there would be many times and places that you would like to visit. In most of them, however, no one spoke English. If you could not afford the Six-Month-Immersion Trip to, say, ancient Egypt, you would have to limit yourself to a time and place where you could speak the language. Consider, perhaps, a trip to England. How far back in time could you go and still be understood? Say we go to London in the year 1400…
As you emerge from the time machine, a good first line to speak, something reassuring and recognizable, might be the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer. The first line in a conservative, old-fashioned version of the Modern Standard English would be, “Our Father, who is in heaven, blessed be your name.” In the English of 1400, as spoken by Chaucer, you would say, “Oure fadir that art in heunes, halwid be thy name.” Now turn the dial back another four hundred years to 1000 CE, and in Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, you would say, “Faeader, ure thu the eart on heofonum, si thin nama gehalgod.” A chat with Alfred the Great would be out of the question.
Most normal spoken languages over the course of a thousand years undergo enough change that speakers at either end of the millennium, attempting a conversation, would have difficulty understanding [one another]. (David W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, p.22, footnotes omitted, italics in original)
Consequently, it would be surprising—bordering on miraculous—if the way Egyptian hieroglyphs were understood at the time [of] the Rosetta Stone proves identical to the way that they were understood two-thousand years earlier in the lifetime of Abraham.
That having been said, Egyptologists believe they have fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri translated by him to compose the Book of Abraham. They rely on their ability to interpret these fragments using reconstructed Ptolemaic Egyptian. Using their skill-set, they are confident that the fragments do not contain a Book of Abraham but are, instead, an Egyptian Book of Breathings (a sen-sen papyri). They conclude Joseph Smith was unable to “translate” the source document.
There are multiple ways apologists have dealt with this problem:
- One approach, including Hugh Nibley’s analysis, is that there was an Egyptian papyri source but dispute that the papyrus fragments we have are the actual text Joseph translated. This group of apologists assume what Joseph actually translated was destroyed in the Chicago fire. The approach accepts Willard Richards’ Times & Seasons introduction explaining that it is a translation of records from the catacombs of Egypt, originating with Abraham.
- A second apologetic approach is to claim there never was a source papyrus for the Book of Abraham. This position ignores Willard Richards’ Times & Seasons introduction. This approach claims the source for the Book of Abraham was entirely revelation from Heaven. The LDS Church now seems to accept this view.
- A third apologetic approach is that the Michael Chandler papyri were indeed the source for the Book of Abraham, and the text can actually be recovered using the Joseph Smith Papyri. These advocates make a full-throated defense of Willard Richards’ Times & Seasons introduction. Until the scholarly understanding of Egyptology challenged Mormons, this was the overwhelming position of those who accepted the Book of Abraham as Scripture. In this arena of argument, there is a belief that the hieroglyphs contained hidden, esoteric meaning encoded in their form. As Dan Vogel describes it, “…other, more spiritual, mystical, and theologically powerful messages were encoded in their pictographic etymologies” (Book of Abraham Apologetics: A Review and Critique, p.67). Vogel rejects that idea.
There are other approaches. All of them address the issue of what perspective should be used to explain Joseph’s translation.
- Should we assume the illustrations were original to Abraham? If so, then to interpret them, maybe we should look to how Egyptians in Abraham’s day, or Abraham himself, would have understood them.
- Or should we assume the illustrations were original to Abraham but modified over time for other uses by the ancient Egyptians?
- Or do we assume the illustrations were connected to the Book of Abraham when the Joseph Smith papyri were created in the Ptolemaic period?
- Do we need to consider what Egyptians of that time thought of these drawings to represent?
- Or should we assume the illustrations were connected to the Book of Abraham for the first time in the Ptolemaic period, but to interpret them we ought to look at what Egyptian priests integrating Jewish, Greek, and Mesopotamian religious practices into native Egyptian practices would have thought about them?
- Or should we instead look at how Jews of that area would have understood them?
- Or were the illustrations never part of an ancient Book of Abraham but instead adapted by Joseph Smith to depict the ancient text he revealed and translated?
Well, in the give-and-take following deciphering the Rosetta Stone and the research done to develop some understanding of the Egyptian languages, the apologists who think the Book of Abraham was directly translated from the Joseph Smith papyri appear to hold the weaker position. However, that’s not the end of the matter.
In every case in which he has produced a translation, Joseph Smith has made it clear that his inspiration is by no means bound to any ancient text but is free to take wings at any time. To insist, as the critics do, that “translation” may be understood only in the sense in which they choose to understand it, while the Prophet clearly demonstrates that he intends it to be taken in a very different sense, is to make up the rules of the game one is playing as well as being the umpire. (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, p. 4, emphasis added)
Since Joseph Smith did not explain how the text was “translated,” that issue is left to conjecture. The entire debate between Egyptian scholars and apologists centers on the translation process. However, Joseph Smith did not use the term “translation” as would a scholar. One example illustrates the difference:
While Oliver Cowdery was the scribe during the Book of Mormon translation, he and Joseph discussed whether the Apostle John died or continued on Earth. The question was answered by a revelation. The written account in our Scripture about the answer includes this explanation: A revelation given to Joseph Smith Jr. and Oliver Cowdery in Harmony, Pennsylvania, April 1829, when they desired to know whether John, the beloved disciple, tarried on earth. Translated from [a] parchment, written and hid up by himself (Joseph Smith History 13:17, emphasis added). Joseph did not have the parchment. Therefore, there was no parchment source for the revelation. It came as Joseph Smith received it from God through the Urim and Thummim (Ibid.).
Sidney Rigdon arrived in Fayette (during December 1830) as the Bible revision was then underway. The project involved editing and correcting the Bible. That project was also consistently referred to as a “translation” of the Bible, even though it would be more correctly called an “inspired revision.” On December 7th, 1830, the commandment was given to Sidney: You shall write for him, and the scriptures shall be given, even as they are in my own bosom, to the salvation of [mine] own elect… (T&C 18:6). This helped explain what the term “translated” meant for the Bible revision project. It clearly refers to something different than how the term is generally used and understood.
When Enoch’s City was taken to Heaven, it is described as being “translated” or a “translation.” For Enoch, “translated” meant moving someone from Earth into Heaven and changing him or her so they could survive there. This meaning can also be understood and used for the “translation” of the parchment of John. It means taking something recorded and preserved in Heaven and moving it back to Earth where it had been lost.
I think that the word “translated” as it refers to the Book of Abraham should be understood in this sense: It was something recorded in Heaven and was moved back to the Earth where it had been lost. Regardless of whether or not conveying Abraham’s testimony from Heaven back to Earth required a surviving papyrus scroll, that question is not as important as the accuracy and truthfulness of the Book of Abraham account that originated with Father Abraham. Only if the text is true, accurate, and legitimately Abraham’s would it be worthy for canonizing as Scripture. Joseph Smith clearly intended for the Book of Abraham to be Scripture.
Apart from using the word “translation,” the content of the material bears all the indicia of an ancient record from the time of Father Abraham. The account in the Book of Abraham can be compared with Abraham’s history in Genesis. The comparison shows there are over a dozen details added through the Book of Abraham account that are missing from Genesis. For example:
- The famine in the homeland of Ur,
- Haran[’s] (Abraham’s brother) death in the famine,
- Terah (Abraham’s father) repenting of his idolatry,
- Terah’s return to idolatry,
- Believers becoming the “seed of Abraham” and inherit the blessings through him,
- Abraham held the priesthood,
- Abraham earnestly sought God,
- An angel of the Lord was sent to rescue Abraham,
- Abraham was familiar with Egyptian gods,
- Abraham was 62 years old (not 75, as in Genesis) when he left Haran,
- Abraham made converts while in Haran,
- Abraham prayed for God to end the famine in Chaldea, and
- The Lord instructed
Abraham[Abram] to say that Sarai was his sister.
All these differences (related to Abraham) can be found in ancient sources recorded in non-biblical texts. If ancient sources confirm events set out in the Book of Abraham did happen in Abraham’s life, it’s hard to simply dismiss the validity of the book as inauthentic. It only makes the most sense to consider… The most important thing to consider is the text itself when deciding the validity of the Book of Abraham.
One might dismiss a single element found in a nonbiblical tradition that parallels the Book of Abraham as mere coincidence. However, when a large number of such elements come together from diverse times and places, they overwhelmingly support the Book of Abraham as an ancient text. There are far too many references to Terah as an idolator, Abraham as a sacrificial victim, Abraham as an astronomer, and Abraham as a missionary to lightly dismiss their antiquity. In addition, many other distinctive elements found in these traditions, though not repeated frequently, add to the overall strength of the unique elements found in the Book of Abraham. (Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, p. xxxv)
Facsimile 3 includes the comment that the scene depicts Abraham…reasoning upon the principles of astronomy in the king’s court. This echoes the account by Josephus that (to the Egyptians) Abraham, “…confuted the reasonings they made use of, every one for their own practices, demonstrating that such reasonings were vain and void of truth; whereupon he was admired by them in those conferences as a very wise man, and one of great sagacity, when he discoursed on any subject…” (The Antiquity of the Jews, Book 1, Chapter 2, ❡2). Josephus explained that Abraham, “…communicated to them arithmetic, and delivered to them the science of astronomy…” (Ibid.).
The oldest written Egyptian material is the Pyramid Texts and date from the 5th and 6th Dynasties. At the time of those writings, the original Pharaonic imitative religion was already approximately a thousand years old. There is no way to know how well the religion was preserved between the first Pharaoh’s initial imitation and a millennium later when the Pyramid Texts were written.
Egypt has a complicated theological development that morphed over time. The Horus stellar religion is very early. The Osirian religion (sometimes linked to lunar theology) does not arise until nearly a thousand years after the Pyramid Texts at Saqqara and, arguably, most reflects the religion of the New Kingdom. That theology differs from the beliefs of the Old Kingdom religion. It was the Old Kingdom theology that is closer to that of Adam.
It was the Old Kingdom… (Oh, excuse me.) Finally, the Memphite religion of Ra apparently begins in the late Old Kingdom. However, Ra (as the sun god) is syncretized to Ahmon (the god of light). The figure of Ahmon is present in both the star cult and the sun cult. As Egyptian religion changed at the time of the New Kingdom, nothing remained of the star cult.
The Book of Abraham’s exposition on the sun, earth, planets, and stars fits neatly into the cosmological issues perplexing the rulers of the 9th Dynasty. (And by the way, the Joseph Smith rendering of the word “planets” is criticized by a number of scholars as being not a term that was understood at the time. But the word “planets” means “a star that wanders.” So, you had fixed stars, and you had stars that wandered. “Planets” simply is referring to the stars that move in the sky overhead. And so, calling them “planets” is not at all problematic. It’s just someone chafing to find an argument to throw at Joseph and at the Book of Abraham. And like so many of those things, as soon as you breathe on them, the house of cards falls over.)
There are many connections between the language of Egypt and the Restoration. The hieroglyphic form of Egyptian was used primarily to record religious texts and was the more formal or sacred form of the writing. A second, less formal form developed early in Egyptian language evolution, and it’s called “hieratic.” This second form was cursive and was the more likely form used on the Brass Plates. It’s arrogant to assume that Ptolemaic era writing is a sound basis for ciphering backward over 2,000 years to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs. In the end, the question must be asked: Do you trust scholar’s attempt to reconstruct antiquity using a partial record from 196 BC when it conflicts with the revelation given to Joseph Smith claiming to be a prophet, seer, and translator? Or do you believe God could inspire a prophet to recover a lost record from an ancient patriarch? It’s one or the other.
It is significant that Joseph Smith claimed that the Old Testament written on the Brass Plates, as well as the record of the Nephites, were written in Egyptian. At the time and under the circumstances, Joseph Smith had little reason to make such a claim. With what we know now, it would be an error to claim otherwise. The choice is between Joseph being prescient or prophetic.
Joseph revealed that Adam and his immediate posterity wrote the first records of God dealing with mankind. It was called “a book of remembrance” (see Genesis 3:14 RE). That record was written in a language which was pure and undefiled (Ibid.). We know these records existed during Abraham’s life (thousands of years later): The records of the Fathers, even the Patriarchs, …the Lord, my God, preserved in my own hands (Abraham 2:4 RE).
By the time of Moses, however, the original records were lost. Moses had to restore the record of the Creation based on the revelation he received directly from the Lord. Moses was commanded:
You shall write the things which I shall speak. And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught, and take many of them from the book which you shall write, behold, I will raise up another like unto you, and they shall be had again among the children of men, among even as many as shall believe. (Genesis 1:7 RE)
Pharaoh’s daughter raised Moses from birth. She named him and treated him as “her son” (see Exodus 1:5 RE). Accordingly, when Moses was commanded to write the record revealed to him by the Lord, he would have recorded it in the language he understood: the language his adopted mother taught him, which was Egyptian. This detail is exactly what the Book of Mormon explains about the Brass Plates. Moses replaced the lost records of the Fathers by revelation from God. That record is described in the Book of Mormon as the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass and were composed in the language of the Egyptians (Mosiah 1:1 RE). Ask yourself the likelihood of a New England farm boy in 1829 choosing to claim the Old Testament was recorded in the Egyptian language? It’s a remarkable bulls-eye detail, unlikely to have occurred to a youthful swindler. (But of course, Joseph was an actual prophet, and therefore, God revealed to him the truths he recounted.)
Since Joseph translated over 500 pages of what was likely derived from Hieratic Egyptian for the Book of Mormon, he read and understood one version of that language better than any scholar, including all who have lived since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Because I accept Joseph’s claims of being a prophet, seer, and translator at face value, it’s easy for me to resolve conflicts over Egyptian texts in favor of Joseph and against the scholarly critics.
Joseph Smith Papers, Volume 4 of the Revelations and Translations has copies of Egyptian Alphabet materials produced by Joseph’s scribes: Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, and Warren Parrish. Teryl Givens has taken the position that these texts prove, “The Book of Abraham manuscripts, unlike their Book of Mormon counterpart, bear clear evidence of reworking, revising, and editing. This was no spontaneous channeling of a finished product by any stretch…” (The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture, p.201). He interprets these as proof that Joseph engaged in a very complex deciphering process to produce the Book of Abraham using the hieroglyphs in the Book of Breathings.
When I first saw the Egyptian Alphabet materials, it appeared to me to be an attempt to reverse engineer Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham by using the Book of
Abraham [Breathing] papyrus. Recall that Oliver Cowdery had attempted to translate the Book of Mormon and failed in that attempt. When he failed, the Lord explained his failure to him, stating:
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind, then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right, [then] I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (Joseph Smith History 13:26 RE)
Two of the three Egyptian Alphabet studies (A and B) were in whole (or in major part) the study of Oliver Cowdery. It appears that these were the result of Oliver’s attempts to follow the Lord’s guidance after his failure to successfully translate the Book of Mormon. When he failed in 1829, the Lord said there were other records have I that I will give unto you power that you may assist to translate (Ibid. vs. 24). It seems apparent that the Egyptian Alphabet study in late 1835 was Oliver’s (and the other scribes’) attempt to validate the translation process and act on the earlier promise to Oliver.
Teryl Givens’ speculation that the Egyptian Alphabet is Joseph Smith’s study of the papyrus is refuted by John S. Thompson in his article, “‘We May Not Understand Our Words’: The Book of Abraham and the Concept of Translation in The Pearl of
Great [Greatest] Price.” Thompson shows from contemporaneous sources that Joseph’s translation was accomplished quickly and before the Egyptian Alphabet documents were created. It’s clear from an examination of the historical record that the scribes did their deciphering work of the Egyptian characters after the translation of the Book of Abraham had been done. Accordingly, using the Egyptian Alphabet materials to try to understand the translation process is not likely to help us understand what Joseph did (but much more likely to help us understand his scribes’ attempt to understand Joseph’s translating work).
It is not possible to resolve this question. Those directly involved were never asked, and they failed to leave a clear account of what the Egyptian Alphabet documents were, why they were produced, and how they relate to the translation of the Book of Abraham. This has resulted in debate between scholar-critics and scholar-apologists.
The latest writer to weigh in on the subject, Dan Vogel, deals with the absence of hard answers by arguing the meaning and import of ambiguous details. As a lawyer, I appreciate his argumentation. However, since I care about the subject and would like to know the truth, the arguments from implication in the absence of proof cannot be fully convincing. The souls of men must not be trifled with (see T&C 138:18).
In arguing from the absence of hard historical evidence, Vogel urges his belief that:
…what is required in any treatment of the Book of Abraham is not fluency in [hieroglyphs] or a belief in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, but a firm, clear-headed understanding of the methods of history and of the relevant nineteenth-century historical sources. Anything else is counterproductive. (Book of Abraham Apologetics: A Review and Critique, p. xviii)
He makes the argument that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were not created after the translation but were used to create and translate the Book of Abraham. His arguments are somewhat persuasive.
However, his analysis is advocacy, and his writings betrays the assumptions necessary for his conclusions. The book necessarily reflects a scholar’s caution in the absence of certainty. Although his work is interesting, well written, and attempts to make reasonable points, the information we have available does not let us resolve anything about the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Everything is arguable. Vogel’s arguments clearly belong in the debate, but in the end is only argument (like so much else involving the Book of Abraham). A few examples of how he supports his arguments are (these are quotes):
- “implies a process of translation” (p. 1)
- “This clearly implies” (p. 12)
- “implies that” (p. 14)
- “more careful analysis shows” (p. 17)
- “the simplest way to explain” (p. 17)
- “This suggests” (p. 18)
- “most reasonably explained as” (p. 18)
- “was likely due to” (p. 18)
- “may have dictated” (p. 19)
- “The details of Smith’s participation in the creation of his own history are not…well known, but apparently” (p. 39)
- “were likely the result of” (p. 39)
- “Apparently, there was some hesitation” (p. 50)
- “is instructive, although piecing together what was intended is not always clear and necessitates some conjecture” (p. 54)
- “possibly from” (p. 55)
- “may have taken from” (p. 55)
- “is probably more than coincidence” (p. 56)
- “This is a problem from the theory” (p. 57)
- (and so on)
Whether I agree or disagree with his interpretation does not give me the actual historical certitude that would answer the most important questions about the Book of Abraham’s creation (or “translation,” as the term was used and understood by Joseph Smith). There are debaters on both sides. They all make arguments to support their desired conclusion. Familiarity with the Egyptian language (insofar as the Ptolemaic period Rosetta Stone material permits the language to be resurrected) causes the Egyptologists to be dogmatic. They speak in firm declaratives. But Joseph Smith saw God the Father, His Son, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Peter, James, and John, and a host of angels who declared their dispensations, keys, rights, and honors. Joseph also spoke in firm declaratives. They line up on opposite sides; we must choose between them.
The best evidence of translation authenticity is the text itself. As Hugh Nibley put it, “…it is the Book of Abraham that[‘s] on trial, not Joseph Smith as an Egyptologist, nor the claims and counterclaims to scholarly recognition by squabbling publicity seekers…” (Abraham in Egypt, p. 3). The text of the Book of Abraham is compelling and adds important theological information I believe to be vital to understanding the religion I accept and Abraham’s role in God’s plan for this Creation. More importantly, I accept the idea that it adds information vital to salvation.
I believe it is also important that Joseph Smith intended the Book of Abraham as Scripture. He wrote on March 1, 1842:
In future. I design to furnish much original matter, which will be found of enestimable adventage to the saints,— &…all who— desire a knowledge of the kingdom of God.— and as it is not practicable to bring forthe the new translation. of…Scriptures. & varioes records of ancint date. & great worth to this gen[e]ration in…<the usual> form. by books. I shall prenit [print] specimens of the same in the Times & Seasons as fast. as time & space will admit. so that the honest in heart may be cheerd & comforted and go on their way rejoi[ci]ng.— as their souls become exp[an]ded.— & their undestandig [understanding] enlightend, by a knowledg of what Gods work through the fathers. in former days, as well as what He is about to do in Latter Days— To fulfil the words of the fathers.—
In the penst [present] no. will be found the Commencmet of the Records discoverd in Egypt. some time since. as penend by the hand. of Father Abraham. which I shall contin[u]e to translate & publish as fast as possible till the whole is completed. (JSP Documents, Volume 9, p. 206-7)
That accompanied what got published. He wrote, and the first installment of the Book of Abraham in the Times and Seasons followed.
If Joseph Smith regarded the Book of Abraham as Scripture, I do not want to dismiss it because an Egyptologist cannot read it in the remaining papyrus fragments some claim as the source for the book.
It is not at all clear that Egyptology is even relevant to an analysis of the Book of Abraham. The narrative text begins in a location named Ur of the Chaldeans. The book states 32 times it does not cover events in Egypt. There are 13 times the location is Ur. Another 16 times the events happen in Haran, Jershon, Sechem, Morah, or Canaan. Then before ending, it clarifies 3 times the account is not about events in Egypt. Here is a brief review of the many times it clarifies it is NOT an account from Egypt:
- Facsimile No. 1 illustrates an event that took place in Ur, not in Egypt.
- Abraham’s record begins: In the land of the Chaldeans (Abraham 1:1 RE).
- When Abraham was bound and put on the altar to be sacrificed—as illustrated in Facsimile 1—it was upon the altar which was built in the land of the Chaldeans (Ibid. vs. 3).
- It was constructed after the form of a bedstead, such as was had among the Chaldeans (Ibid. vs. 4). The record is silent about whether Egyptians had any similar altar. Scholarly critics explain the Egyptian funerary practice associated with the Chaldean altar with the customary lion-headed funerary bier on which embalming—not human sacrifice—is typically depicted by any similar Egyptian hieroglyphic. Again, however, that is not particularly helpful to understanding what happened in Ur of the Chaldeans. Nor does that criticism address Chaldean behavior, religious rites, or altar design.
- The Book of Abraham does not give us any Egyptian names but explains Chaldean (not Egyptian) terminology is used.
- The book explains that Facsimile No. 1 shows the figures at the beginning, which manner of the figures is called by the Chaldeans Kahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics (Ibid.). This word is what the Chaldeans would call the vignette, not what an Egyptian would. The explanation is provided because the Chaldean word is different from the Egyptian word. On this point, an Egyptologist’s criticism is of little help to authenticate or refute the Book of Abraham.
To the eye of an Egyptologist, the four figures under the lion couch in Facsimile No. 1 are canopic jars. They are the four receptacles used in Egyptian embalming practice for the liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines. The liver jar is, to the Egyptians, the human-headed Imseti. The lung jar is to them the baboon-headed Hapi. The stomach jar is the jackal-headed Duamutef. The intestine jar is the falcon-headed Qebehsnuef. None of the Egyptian names are used in the Book of Abraham by the Chaldeans.
But then again, the text is not about Egypt but about the local practice of those living in Ur of the Chaldeans. In that place, nothing Abraham understood about the four figures suggests they were jars. Instead, Abraham understood they were Chaldean idols before which human sacrifices were performed. The names of these idols in the land of the Chaldeans were Elkenah, Zibnah, Mahmackrah, and Koash. Abraham’s account is not about the gods of Egypt. It’s about the gods of the Chaldeans.
Egyptologists criticize the account that Abraham (as well as three virgins before him) was offered as a human sacrifice. Many scholars dispute Egyptians offered human sacrifices. To an Egyptologist, the mention of human sacrifice is evidence the Book of Abraham is not credible. But the book is not set in Egypt. Human sacrifice is known to have taken place in the land of the Chaldeans where the Abrahamic account is actually based. Newsweek reported the following:
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that at least 11 children and young people were killed as a result of ritualistic sacrifice between 3100 and 2800 B.C.E. Their research was published Wednesday in the journal Antiquity. …Some remains show [the]…stab wounds, but researchers aren’t sure how all of the individuals lost their lives. One male had violent injuries to his hip and head, similar to wounds reconstructed from other Mesopotamian ritual sacrifices. …“It is unlikely that these children and young people were killed in a massacre or conflict,” the London Natural History Museum’s Brenna Hassett said in a statement. “The careful positioning of the bodies and the evidence of violent death suggest that these burials fit the same pattern of human sacrifice seen at other [locations] in the region.” (Katherine Hignett, Newsweek, “Ancient Mesopotamia: Ritual Child Sacrifice Uncovered in Bronze Age Turkey”)
This discovery puts Chaldean human sacrifice occurring at or near the conventional dating of Abraham’s life.
The New York Times reported on human sacrifices at an ancient location named “Ur” located in Iraq:
A new examination of skulls from the royal cemetery at Ur, discovered in Iraq almost a century ago, appears to support a more grisly interpretation than before of human sacrifices associated with elite burials in ancient Mesopotamia, archaeologists say.
Palace attendants, as part of royal mortuary [practices], were not dosed with poison to meet a rather serene death. Instead, a sharp instrument, a pike perhaps, was driven into their heads. (John Noble Wilford, New York Times, “At Ur, Ritual Deaths That Were Anything but Serene”)
(And he goes on from there. It’ll be in the published version of this.)
According to the Book of Abraham, none of the names of Chaldean gods—or any of the religious practices Abraham witnessed and experienced—were Egyptian. They were cultic practices and may have been entirely conducted in a locality that imitated their own incorrect understanding of the religion of Egypt. Chaldea’s Ur was populated by ‘Egyptophiles’ who were apparently imitating and practiced a local corruption of an ancient Egyptian religion. They clearly got some things about the Egyptian religion wrong (and may have gotten very many things wrong).
Robert Ritner’s book includes a chapter written by Christopher Woods addressing the location of Ur. The chapter is titled, “The Practice of Egyptian Religion at ‘Ur of the Chaldees’?” (Dude, you can tell from the title that this is laced with condescension and arrogance. Congratulations, Christopher Woods. You’ve proven your ego won’t fit into a normal human form.) The chapter begins by acknowledging that, “The location of ‘Ur of the Chaldees’…remains open for debate.” He explains, “Cuneiform sources attest a number of settlements bearing the name of Ur (or a name phonetically similar) in northern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and northern Mesopotamia, mostly small villages, and so making for unlikely candidates for biblical Ur…” (see Ritner, Robert K., The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, pp. 73-74).
A discovery of an ancient library of thousands of cuneiform tablets in 1975 raised another possibility for Abraham’s Ur, this new one being located in ancient Haran rather than a thousand miles away, as previously thought.
Since Ritner’s book is a collection of scholarly criticism of the Book of Abraham, the author does not leave it open-ended. Instead, he speculates Ur may have been at a specific Babylonian location. Based on that assumption, he concludes, “If we are correct in identifying Abraham’s Ur with Babylonian Ur, this poses grave difficulties for the account given in the Book of Abraham” (Ibid.). Obviously, if the author is not correct, the inverse is also true: If we are incorrect in identifying Abraham’s Ur with Babylonian Ur, then we don’t know anything about the matter, and it poses no justifiable difficulty for the account in the Book of Abraham.
Hugh Nibley discusses Ur in An Approach to the Book of Abraham from pages 424 to 428. He writes on page 427:
What leaves the door wide open to discussion is the existence in western Asia of a number of different Urs. Ur in the south was a great trade center… and since Abraham was a merchant, one should expect to find him there. But on the other hand that same Ur had founded merchant colonies far to the north and west at an early date, and some of those settlements, as was the custom, bore the name of the mother city.
The angel of God rescued Abraham from being sacrificed on the altar. The angel killed the priest attempting to sacrifice Abraham. This resulted in great mourning in Chaldea… (Abraham 2:1 RE). Following this, a famine prevailed throughout all the land of Chaldea (Ibid. vs. 4). During the famine in Ur of Chaldea, the Lord commanded Abraham to leave, and the events in the Book of Abraham finally move from Ur: Now the Lord had said unto me, [Abraham], get yourself out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, unto a land that I will show you. Therefore, I left the land of Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan (Ibid. vs. 5, emphasis added). The story moves but is still not in Egypt—nor is Abraham heading to Egypt in the account.
The next location must have been comparatively uninhabited when Abraham’s family arrived. They name the location after Abraham’s deceased brother, Haran. Abraham explains his family went unto the land which we denominated Haran (Ibid., emphasis added). It apparently had no name before their arrival, since they denominated (or named) the place. We have no way to identify the location but only know that it was away from the earlier (also unknown) location called Ur.
At Haran, there is no mention of famine. Abraham’s father, Terah, had repented of his idolatry in Ur, but in Haran, he returned to it. When God later told Abraham, “Depart from Haran,” Terah remained behind.
Abraham’s journey then takes him through Jershon in the land of Canaan. There—still not in Egypt—Abraham built an altar. Moving on again, he arrives in Sechem, situated in the plains of Moreh at a place described as [on] the borders of the land of the Canaanites (Abraham 4:2 RE). He is still not in Egypt. In that location the Lord promised Abraham, unto thy seed I will give this land (Ibid.). Abraham was not given Egypt.
Famine is mentioned again in the land given to Abraham’s seed, and as a consequence of that, Abraham reports: I, Abraham, concluded to go down into Egypt, to sojourn there, for the famine became very grievous (Ibid. vs. 3, emphasis added). Abraham’s conclusion to go down into Egypt confirms for us that he had not yet reached Egypt during any part of his account to that point.
Abraham received a great revelation about the stars, the heavens, events among the pre-existent spirits of mankind, the fall of Satan, and the creation of the world. This great revelation comprises the remainder of Abraham’s account in his book. However, the account clearly states that God told Abraham: I show these things unto you, before you go into Egypt (Abraham 5:4 RE, emphasis added). Accordingly, nothing in the Book of Abraham took place in Egypt. When it is added to the Genesis account, what happened following the conclusion of the Book of Abraham text is: And it came to pass that when [Abraham] had come into Egypt… (in Genesis [7:4 RE]) and goes on from there to explain about Sarai being accosted.
Willard Richards’ introduction that claims the book is “purporting to be the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt” is demonstrably wrong from the text itself—32 times the Book of Abraham states otherwise. When nothing in the text reckons from Egypt, it is questionable how useful criticism of the Book of Abraham from an Egyptological vantage point is. We should expect there to be some deviations from Egyptian religion, language, or culture in the book. The account only covers events among an ancient people, in an uncertain location called “Ur,” located somewhere in Chaldea. Those people were only imitative of Egypt. They were not Egyptians. And the events in the book did not happen “while [Abraham] was in Egypt.”
One hieroglyph appears in all three Facsimiles:
- It is figure 10 in Facsimile 1,
- At the bottom and adjacent to the figure 2 in Facsimile 2, and
- Figure 3 in Facsimile 3.
The hieroglyph is used to represent “Abraham in Egypt.” The figure is a libation table (or “traditional offering stand”) on which drink and food were offered. Since Abraham concluded to travel to Egypt because of famine, a symbol of drink and food for Abraham in Egypt would be altogether apt. But the table figure shows a lotus flower atop it. The lotus was a symbol of ascent to the throne of God. That concept is most clearly referenced in the explanation of panel 2 in Facsimile 2. It is at least thought-provoking that Joseph identified the food and drink offering stand and a symbol of ascending to God to be representing Abraham’s presence in Egypt.
To be clear, because nothing in the Book of Abraham happened in Egypt, it is questionable how useful anything authentically Egyptian (if we’re able to determine that) is to understand or to question the text. The names and practices Abraham encountered imitated—but did not correctly replicate—the religion of 9th Dynasty Egypt. The text explains that the place where Abraham was offered as human sacrifice is an unknown village located somewhere under Chaldean influence named “Ur.” However, Ur could have been in any Mesopotamian location across thousands of square miles from Turkey, northern Syria, into Iraq, or Iran. There are many known villages contemporary with Abraham known to have been named “Ur.” Of course, there may have been many others unknown to us with the same or similar name. The text ends before Abraham enters Egypt, and therefore, the continuation of an account involving Abraham picks up in Genesis. This begins halfway through Genesis
4 [7:4]. The account deals only briefly with the “princes” bringing Sarai to Pharaoh who was then plagued because of Sarai’s presence. Pharaoh then returns Sarai to Abraham [Abram], at which point Abraham [Abram] and Sarai were sent away.
Because nothing in the Book of Abraham or Genesis gives any detail about Abraham’s experiences in Egypt, we have no narrative account to help us give context to the facsimiles. We do not know if Facsimile No. 3—like Facsimile No. 1—is a scene that took place outside of Egypt. The footnotes explaining the scene end with this clarification: Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of astronomy in the king’s court. It is unclear which “king’s court” is being referenced. Clearly, the people of Ur involved in Abraham’s experience imitated Egypt. They sought to imitate the Egyptian’s “earnest imitation.” Therefore, we cannot be certain if Facsimile No. 3 is reporting an event that took place among people who imitated Egyptian religious rites or if they instead happened in Egypt. If it’s the former, it’s consistent with the rest of the text where nothing else has happened in Egypt.
The Book of Abraham explains the Egyptian Pharaoh could only imitate the Holy Order but had no right to claim that priestly position. In context, this exposes the Chaldean’s error in looking to Egypt for Divine guidance. These Urian residents even anointed for themselves a “priest of Pharaoh” who practiced human sacrifice. Was this an innovation by Ur or imitative of an Egyptian rite? We do not know anything certain. But we know that it was distant from (and only imitating) an Egyptian imitation of the religion of the Fathers. We only have Abraham’s understanding of what these people were up to.
It is clear from the text that “before” his journey “into Egypt,” Abraham was shown a great revelation about the pre-existence, Creation, and organization of the stars. It raises the question of where Abraham tried to clear up people’s understanding in Facsimile No. 3.
The Book of Abraham clarifies many “mysteries” that are not otherwise to be found in Scripture. But Scriptures tell us there are many important truths that are withheld from us. Even if they are unknown to us, there are “mysteries” that are still part of the true religion first revealed to Adam.
We learn of God’s promise to the righteous in T&C 69:2:
Unto them will I reveal all my mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom. From days of old and for ages to come will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will, concerning all things to come. Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I shew them, even the things of many generations. Their wisdom shall be great and their understanding reach to Heaven, and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my spirit will I enlighten them and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will, yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.
We’re told in Alma 9:3 [RE] that those who give heed and are diligent are rewarded with understanding:
[It’s] given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless, [they’re] laid under a strict command that they shall not impart — only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give….therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word. …He that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God, until they know them in full.
While Christ was among the Nephites, the greatest part of what He taught them is withheld from our record. We read in 3 Nephi 9:5 [RE]:
He went again a little way off and prayed unto the Father, and tongue cannot speak the words which he prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed. And the multitude did hear, and do bear record, and their hearts were open, and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed.
There are many other references in Scripture to important things that are left out of our canon. The true religion contains many “mysteries” that are important, not yet known or taught, but which were to be restored to the faithful in the future.
The Book of Abraham helps us uncover some of the missing information about the religion of the first Fathers. The first verse of the Book of Abraham includes these remarkable words:
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…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 foundations of the earth) to the present time, even the right of the firstborn (or the first man — who is Adam — or [the] 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. (Abraham 1:1 RE)
Abraham begins by explaining he “sought for the blessings of the Fathers,” the very thing Malachi prophesies will return before the great and dreadful return of the Lord. Abraham obtained what will be available again. Those blessings of the Fathers will be administered again before the end.
At the beginning of his record, Abraham mentions some of the specific things that are part of “the blessings of the Fathers.” This identifies Abraham, not Joseph Smith, as the writer of the book.
When the Holy Order is established in its fullness, there is one Patriarchal head appointed to stand as the husbandman-father, occupying the position of the first Father or Adam. When God set Adam at the head, “The tasks given to Adam are of a priestly nature: caring for sacred space. In ancient thinking, caring for sacred space was a way of upholding creation. By preserving order, non-order was held at bay” (John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 106). This priestly responsibility was what Abraham sought. He explained that he wanted 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 (Abraham 1:1 RE). The Lord offered to return this lost fullness in Joseph Smith’s day, but the required conditions were not met. Therefore, the fullness was not “restored again” and remains unrestored.
Abraham knew more about the Holy Order in his day than Joseph in 1842. After all, Abraham had the records of the Fathers. Much of what Joseph learned about the Holy Order (or as he termed it, the “fullness of the priesthood”) appears to have come as a result of him translating the Book of Abraham.
Abraham knew Adam was the Father of many nations. Likewise, the first Patriarchs all expected to have numerous posterity and to be Fathers of many nations. The line of the Patriarchs named in Scriptures is a list of those through whom the Holy Order descended and does not name all of the righteous. The residue of the righteous was also blessed. The original Holy Order meeting at Adam-Ondi-Ahman is described in Scripture:
Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-Ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing. (T&C 154:19)
Those names, listed in order from Adam, were the first to hold the presiding Patriarchal priesthood from the oldest to the youngest holding that right.
The Holy Order in its fullness is a right of government or right of dominion. Anciently, it was always held in a line of descent. Abraham marks the first time that non-direct lineal descendant was sealed in the Holy Order to hold it in its fullness. Once sealed, Abraham became entitled to be a “Father of many nations, a rightful heir, holding the right belonging to the Fathers.”
This right is not worldly. Abraham’s record gives us a perfect vantage point to understand the difference between worldly government and the government of God. At the time of Abraham, any earthly king did not have the right to make that claim. The Pharaoh of Abraham’s day feigned to hold it, claiming it descended to him through Noah. Abraham explained the conflict:
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 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. (Abraham 2:3 RE)
Pharaoh was “righteous” but still descended from a line that could not claim legitimate rule. He modeled his kingdom after the order established by the first Fathers, but it could only be an imitation. He claimed a lineal connection with Noah, which was true enough, but his ancestry gave him no heavenly acknowledgment for his rule. And because he descended from a line that usurped authority not given to them by God, all those who submitted to his earthly rule practiced idolatry.
Abraham, on the other hand, was given dominion, the right to rule over nations, Patriarchal status, and the rights belonging to the Fathers. But Abraham made no attempt to displace the Pharaoh. They were rivals, to be sure, but Abraham was content to hold the right, receive instructions, be a diligent follower of righteousness, be one who possessed great knowledge, be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge. He was content to teach his followers the path of righteousness. Unlike Pharaoh, he did not assert authority over others. Abraham was interested in eternity, not earthly recognition and control. Hugh Nibley described the circumstance:
The Book of Abraham brings out the main points of rivalry between the patriarch and the pharaoh in high relief: Each claims to possess the only true priesthood and with it the only true kingship. The earliest legends of Egypt and Mesopotamia introduce us to a scene repeated over and over again in apocalypses and testaments of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, of a great and terrible monarch who feels his divinity threatened and his dominion challenged by an emissary of the true God. (Abraham in Egypt, p. 254)
Nibley has observed that “Pharaoh was always unsure of his authority over his own people” (Ibid. p. 233). There were many Pharaohs in later dynasties who investigated their claim to authority.
Of particular interest are those devout and sincere pharaohs who spent their days in the archives engaging in the constant search of Egyptian rulers for divine authority, such men as King Neferhotep in the Thirteenth Dynasty, [and] the great Amenophis I, “a wise and inspired man,” according to Manetho, who yearned to see the gods but feared to risk any force or trickery to get his wish, or Ptolemy the son of Glaucias, “the recluse of the Serapeum,” spending all his days in the library, as does the hero of the Khamuas story, searching in the House of Life for the book that bestows the knowledge of divine dominion and authority.
The trouble was that they lacked revelation. In Egypt, Henri Frankfort observed, “The actions of individuals lacked divine guidance altogether.” (Ibid.)
Egypt’s claims may seem arrogant after the Exodus of Israel. However, their civilization attempted to preserve something precious. As one writer put it, “Ancient Egyptians inherited their great wisdom from a much earlier Elder culture which was able to pass on the flame of knowledge before its own apparent demise” (Gods of Eden, p. 17).
God has declared His intent to assert control over His Creation and overthrow all governments. The Christmas 1832 revelation states:
And thus with the sword and by bloodshed, the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn. And with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed has made a full end of all nations, that the cry of the saints, and of the blood of the saints, shall cease to come up into the ears of the Lord of [the] Sabaoth from the earth, to be avenged of their enemies. (T&C 85:3)
All nations, other than the Holy Order family-government ordained by God, will be brought to a full end. Or in the various iterations of the prophecy of Malachi, God will smite the earth with a curse (Malachi 1:12 RE), or the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming (Joseph Smith History 3:4 RE)—doesn’t mean universal death. It means universal disillusion into chaos, with no governance possible apart from the one that He intends to establish, that will provide revelation, guidance, order, and preserve His people. The only surviving rule or dominion at that time will be the one tied to the Fathers. It will be the people whose one heart is like the one heart of the Fathers. They will possess the promises made to the Fathers, or in other words, they will have been sealed to the Fathers. It is phrased differently in different versions of Malachi’s prophecy, but they all mean the same thing. Occasionally, God describes the same thing in different words. The purpose is to help us grasp His meaning.
There are many obstacles to overcome before the Lord returns in glory. Recovering the religion of the Fathers, becoming of one heart with the Fathers, and fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi are directly connected to Abraham. In a very real sense, it will not happen without a connection to Abraham.
Holding the promises made to Abraham is not just a covenant. It also involves knowledge. Joseph Smith was required to recover the “fullness of the scriptures” (or translate the Bible as it was in the bosom of the Lord) into a volume for the faithful to study. Joseph warned the Latter-day Saints they would fail without the fullness. Until the publication of the Restoration Edition of the Scriptures, there was no version of the fullness of the Scriptures available. Of course, they do not accomplish anything if they’re not read and studied.
Repenting and reclaiming the fullness of the Scriptures was a required first step of repentance for the Restoration to continue. When that step was taken, there was a covenant. If people are faithful to the covenant, the Restoration will continue.
Abraham was not content with knowledge. He wanted to obtain greater knowledge. The purpose of pursuing knowledge was to receive and obey commandments. Greater knowledge facilitates greater obedience. Knowledge is not the goal, it is the desirable effect that knowledge has on the heart and mind of a righteous soul.
Knowledge about the Holy Order can be misused. Even understanding its rights has inspired envy, jealousy, and anger. Cain murdered Abel because Cain understood the importance of standing at the head of the Holy Order. As he contemplated the possibility of it slipping away from him, Satan tempted him to usurp the right by murdering the more worthy heir. The account of that attempted overthrow is succinct:
Satan [said] unto Cain, Swear unto me by your throat, and if you tell it, you shall die. And swear your brethren by their heads and by the living God that they tell it not, for if they tell it, they shall surely die — and this that your father may not know it. And this day I will deliver your brother Abel into your hands. And Satan swore unto Cain that he would do according to his commands. And all these things were done in secret. And Cain says, Truly I am Mahon, the master of this great secret — that I may murder and get gain; wherefore, Cain was called Master Mahon. And he gloried in his wickedness. And Cain went into the field and Cain talked with Abel his brother. And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him. And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying, I am free; surely the flocks of my brother fall into my hands. (Genesis 3:9 RE, emphasis added)
The “flocks of my brother” were not sheep; they were posterity. Abel was to become Adam’s successor and stand as the Father of many nations. By displacing Abel, Cain hoped to be the next in the line of Patriarchal Fathers.
Ether chapter 4 shows how the envy of “kingship” results in generations of murderers obtaining power through bloodshed. The Holy Order is not a worldly thing. It cannot be severed from the Powers of Heaven or the Heavenly Council. The presiding Patriarch of the Holy Order is a representative of the Heavenly Council who lives as a mortal on Earth. This is why the Patriarchal head of the Holy Order is the shepherd for the faithful, husbandman for the Creation, and the teacher responsible for dispensing Divine knowledge. That was who Adam was and what Abraham became.
The Holy Order is approved for practice in a proper, functioning temple belonging to God. As Walton put it:
When we consider the Garden of Eden in its ancient context, we find that it is more sacred space than green space. It is the center of order, not perfection, and its significance has more to do with divine presence than human paradise.
…We did not lose paradise as much as we forfeited sacred space and the relationship it offered, thereby damaging our ability to be in relationship with God and marring his creation with our own under-developed ability to bring order on our own in our own wisdom. (The Lost World of Adam and Eve, p. 116, 145)
What records that remain do not give a full picture of how much was anciently included in God’s temple. For example, Margaret Barker’s investigation has uncovered an ancient presence of the Divine Mother who was identified as “Wisdom.” She explained that Josiah’s reform changed the First Temple by removing, rejecting, and deducting:
Wisdom was eliminated, even though her presence was never forgotten, the heavenly ascent and the vision of God were abandoned, the hosts of heaven, the angels, were declared to be unfit for the chosen people, the ark (and the presence of Yahweh which it represented) was removed, and the role of the high priest was altered in that he was no longer anointed. All of these features of the older cult were to appear in Christianity. (The Great Angel, p. 15)
Later Christianity, like Josiah’s reforms, also abandoned these parts of the religion. Joseph Smith never had the opportunity to finish restoring them. How oft would God have gathered people together under the arms of the Holy Order, but mankind has not been willing or even interested (see 3 Nephi 4:9 RE).
When the Powers of Heaven are offended and the spirit is grieved, the Powers withdraw and the Holy Order rites are either not restored or, if restored, come to an end. Cain’s ambition could not be accomplished through any degree of unrighteousness. It was doomed from the time the plan was suggested by Satan. Yet Abel was murdered, and a conspiracy to seize power by blood and horror began while Adam was alive. Mankind is no less ambitious today. That impulse to exercise control, dominion, and compulsion persists and can be seen everywhere: in business, churches, governments, and schools.
The reason so little is understood about the Holy Order is because weak men aspire to honors. Once they learn about the Order, they want control over it. Therefore, it is withdrawn…
(I circled one of the footnotes. What I’m reading you is omitting 390 footnotes. But I’ve circled this one and I’m… Once they learn about the Holy Order they want control over it. “Too often when men learn some great truth and recognize it by the spirit, they then assume that confers upon them some authority or right to act. Nothing could be further from the truth. There[’s] a great gulf between learning and recognizing and authority to act” (footnote 207). People tend to do that. “Oh, my heart burned within me while I heard it, therefore God gave it to me.” That didn’t happen. It just means that God told you something and you recognized the truth. How you get it is based upon the order of heaven.)
Therefore, it is withdrawn from mortal men from time to time. When not active among men, it only remains present through John the Beloved. John was translated, acting thereafter only as an angelic minister. Because of this, he’s not free to openly preside. The Lord explained to Peter concerning John: I will make him as flaming fire and a ministering angel. He shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on…earth… (Joseph Smith History 13:19 RE). John has ministered only “as a flaming fire and a ministering angel,” which circumscribes how and to whom his ministry is extended. He ministers “for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth,” or (as Moroni explained by quoting his father):
The office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfill and to do the work of the covenants of the Father which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him; and by so doing, the Lord…prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the holy ghost may have place in their hearts…. (Moroni 7:6 RE, emphasis added)
[Unknown comment from audience]
Okay, yeah, I get what you’re saying, but according to my pocket watch…
Is anyone hungry? Yeah… Look, this is not the breaking spot. See that red sheet there? [Holding up his notebook] That’s the breaking spot. So, we’ll eat and come back and resume this later, and those that have heard enough, you can go do something else. And I don’t know how long the movie’s gonna be shown to the kids, but you might want to check that out.
Anyway, we haven’t really gotten to the important stuff. (There—that’ll get you back.)
So, we’ll break for dinner, apparently, and resume again at some point.