A new online essay by the LDS Church says its
Book of Abraham is inspired scripture but perhaps not a literal word-for-word
translation of ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls by the faith’s founder, Joseph
The article says it is possible that the papyri
merely served as a catalyst for revelation by Smith that led to his expanding
on the biblical account of Abraham. The book is included in a church volume of
scripture called The Pearl of Great
The essay concedes that is impossible to prove or
disprove the translation since most of the papyri used have long since vanished
and are presumed destroyed.
“This (essay) now allows Latter-day Saints to
adopt the view that the Book of Abraham was not on the papyri that Joseph Smith
possessed as an acceptable orthodox option,” said David Bokovoy, a University
of Utah religious-studies instructor who wrote a book about the Book of
The “Translation and Historicity of the Book of
Abraham” essay comes on the heels of other recent postings designed to help
Latter-day Saints and others better understand sometimes-sticky theological or
historical issues in Mormonism.
Other essays include explorations of the faith’s
former ban on blacks from entering its all-male priesthood, its long-discarded
practice of plural marriage and its teachings about the nature of God and
mankind’s eternal potential.
Smith said he translated the Book of Abraham
after obtaining mummies and papyri from an entrepreneur named Michael Chandler
after they were uncovered in Egypt by Antonio Lebolo, a former cavalryman in
the Italian army.
The essay says no eyewitness accounts have been
found about the translation process. It adds that Smith did not claim to know
the ancient languages he translated for the Book of Abraham or the faith’s
signature scripture, the Book of Mormon.
Philip Barlow, chairman of Mormon history and
culture at Utah State University, said such a conclusion is a “two-edged
sword.” It allows recognizing that a religious text should be judged on
religious grounds, but he notes that most believers also want to be responsive
to what scholars and science may show, too.
(Lee Davidson writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)