Reducing Dissonance: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study
by Edward H. Ashment
1 Robert T. Handy, A History of the Churches in the United
Canada (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1977), 194.
© 1990 by Signature Books, Inc. Used by permission of author.
Taken from Dan Vogel, ed., The Word of God: Essays on Mormon
Scripture (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 221-35.
In the 1830s, William Miller
calculated that Jesus Christ's second coming would occur in 1843. He preached his doctrine and
attracted a large following of believers. The rapturous day came and went. After several more
"Specific dates for the return of the Lord were set and passed--finally all was staked on 22
October 1844," but still no Rapture. Not surprisingly, Miller's followers were
disillusioned.1 Such disillusionment is a manifestation of cognitive dissonance,
which occurs when the opposite of a belief follows from the premise upon which it is
based.2 Cognitive dissonance is also often the result of a logical non
Students of dissonance observe
that it "produces discomfort," with the result that there is pressure for a person to "reduce or
eliminate" it. They identify several ways a person may try to reduce dissonance: (1) "change one
or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance"; (2) "acquire new
information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total
dissonance to be reduced"; or (3) "forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in
a dissonant relationship."3 In the case of the Millerites, "some returned to their
churches, others lost interest in religion, while a few remained faithful to the Adventist or
millenarian cause, believing that somehow a chronological error had been
An exact date for Jesus' return
earth is not a pillar of the religion founded by Joseph Smith. Instead, perhaps the greatest
vulnerability to dissonance in the LDS church lies in the historicity of its founding prophet's
Book of Mormon, "New Translation" of the Bible, Book of Moses, and Book of Abraham--all
proclaimed by church authorities to be authentically ancient. The Book of Abraham provides an
instructive test case.
A survey of LDS responses to
attacks against the historicity of the Book of Abraham reveals two areas of concentration on
dissonance reduction. The first concerns the dissonance-producing proposition: Because all
extant evidence indicates that a portion of the "Breathing Permit of Hor" (referred to hereafter as
Pap JS 11) was the Egyptian original from which at least the first two chapters and eighteen
verses of the Book of Abraham were produced,5 and because a translation of the
Breathing Permit does not match that section of the Book of Abraham in any way, then Joseph
Smith's translation of the Book of Abraham is spurious.
Mormon scholar Hugh W.
summarizes the elements of the dissonant cognition this way: "1) We are asked to see Joseph
Smith diligently composing an 'Alphabet' and a 'Grammar' of the Egyptian language, 2) by
employing which he works out the translation of the Book of Abraham from certain Egyptian
characters in his possession. 3) The source of those characters, an Egyptian writing called the
Book of Breathings, suddenly surfaces in 1967, and it does not contain anything suggesting the
Book of Abraham. 4) Therefore the Book of Abraham is a fraud."6
The second area concerns the
contents of the Book of Abraham and posits a new proposition to replace the first. This reduces
dissonance thus: If what is now known about ancient Near Eastern history generally, and the
stories about Abraham specifically, can be made to match the contents of the Book of Abraham,
which was produced when relatively little was known about the ancient Near East, then the
Book of Abraham can be affirmed to be authentically ancient. Accordingly, Nibley declares: "the
story of Abraham told in the Book of Abraham has the support of very ancient tradition," with
the result that we must "take the Book of Abraham seriously, even while it raises many
In other words, because the
evidence about the translation process of the Book of Abraham leads to a negative conclusion
about Joseph Smith's ability to translate ancient languages--which consequently produces
dissonance--a major strategy of apologists is to shift the focus of the LDS community to the new
belief that the Book of Abraham is authentically ancient because several parallels to it have been
affirmed from other sources.
Accordingly, two of the four
responses to cognitive dissonance which biblical scholar Robert P. Carroll has proposed are
relevant to this discussion: "the production of rationalisations which explain (or explain away)
the causes of dissonance"; and "the introduction of new cognitions which modify or neutralise
the dissonance arousing cognition."8 Incidentally, this is how "dissonance gives
rise to hermeneutic,"9 which is an "explanatory scheme" that is "designed to
change the original cognitive holdings [i.e., beliefs] or to rationalize dissonant
In order to understand the
of the relationship between the Breathing Permit of Hor and the text of the Book of Abraham, it
is necessary to review how the relevant Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers came into existence.
In July 1835, an enterprising
named Michael Chandler arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, exhibiting four ancient mummies and "two
or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and devices."11 It did
not take Joseph Smith long to begin a "translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics" on
the rolls, which he announced "contained the writings of Abraham, [and] the writings of Joseph
of Egypt."12 His followers purchased the collection. However, Smith's
excitement was soon overshadowed by the crises surrounding the Kirtland Safety Society and his
followers' settlement attempts in Missouri. A number of years passed before efforts concerning
the papyri again surfaced in church history--this time in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Those Joseph Smith Egyptian
Papers relevant to this essay consist of work sheets associated with early efforts to decipher the
papyri. They can be categorized into two groups: those that reflect an attempt to develop an
alphabet and grammar of ancient Egyptian, and those that pertain directly to the Book of
Because he "seldom used the
himself," Smith employed scribes to take dictation.14 Determining the beginning
and ending dates of each scribe's tenure establishes the correct temporal boundaries during
which the Egyptian Papers were produced. Four handwriting styles are discernible on the
relevant documents: Joseph Smith's, Oliver Cowdery's, William W. Phelps's, and Warren
Parrish's. Smith wrote either prior to or contemporary with Oliver Cowdery. Cowdery's scribal
tenure terminated when he moved to Missouri sometime in 1837.15 He was
excommunicated in April 1838.16
Though he was in Kirtland
the time that Chandler displayed his mummies and papyri, William W. Phelps was a resident of
Missouri, where he served as "a printer unto the church" (LDS D&C 57:11; RLDS
D&C 57:5a). On 16 May Phelps and his oldest son had arrived in Kirtland for a temporary
stay, when they lived in Joseph Smith's house.17 They left Kirtland and returned
to Missouri on 9 April 1836.18 Because of problems that would develop between
Phelps and the church in the next few years, it could only be during this eleven-month period
that he served as one of the prophet's scribes.
Warren Parrish was employed
Smith on 29 October 1835.19 During a portion of his tenure, Parrish was ill and
consequently unable to record for Smith--this was from at least 22 December 1835 to 8 February
1836.20 He surely was no longer a scribe by July 1837, when he was accused of
having embezzled $25,000 from the Kirtland Safety Society,21 and by that
December he would be out of the church.22
Thus, what Oliver Cowdery
recorded had to have been before September 1837; what William W. Phelps recorded had to
have been before 9 April 1836; and what Warren Parrish recorded had to have been between 29
October and 22 December 1835 and between 8 February 1836 and ca. July 1837. Anything that
Phelps and Parrish wrote together had to have been done between 29 October 1835 and 9 April
1836. And as will be pointed out, Cowdery had stopped writing for Smith by the time that
There are several indications
the "Alphabet and Grammar" (hereafter A-G) documents were produced prior to the Book of
Abraham manuscripts. In the first place, there is a chronological development from the former to
the latter. The first three A-G documents analyze, among other things, the Egyptian symbols of
Papyrus JS 1--the original of the Book of Abraham's Facsimile 1--and conclude with the first two
hieratic symbols that are the beginning of the Breathing Permit (Pap JS 11)--exactly the point at
which the second manuscript of the Book of Abraham begins. (Other manuscripts of the Book of
Abraham--1a and 1b--will be discussed later.) The three earliest A-G documents were written by
(1) Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, (2) Oliver Cowdery, and (3) William W. Phelps. The
book form of the "Alphabet and Grammar," which goes into more detail but does not decipher as
many signs, is based on these three documents.23 Finally, it appears that the
major effort on the A-G documents had been completed before Warren Parrish became a scribe,
because his handwriting appears only at the end of each, identifying the last sign dealt with,
identified as Kolob.
As mentioned, the last two
of Joseph Smith's A-G document (as well as Cowdery's and Phelps's) are the same as the first
two signs of Book of Abraham Manuscript 2. The first of these was deciphered as "The land of
the Chaldeans." The second seems to have been connected with Abraham's name, interpreted in
the Smith-Cowdery A-G to mean: "In the first degree Ah-broam--signifies The father of the
faithful, the first right, the elder. Second degree--Same sound--A
follower of righteousness--Third degree--Same sound--One who possesses great
knowledge--Fourth degree--same sound--A follower of righteousness, a possessor of greater
knowledge. Fifth degree--Ah-bra-oam. The father of many nations, a prince of peace, one who
keeps the commandments of God, a patriarch, a rightful heir, a high priest."
The relationship between these
decipherments and the contents of Abraham 1:1-2 is obvious. It is significant in this regard that
it was felt that one and the same sign--and even parts of signs--could be used on several different
levels in order to produce expanded meanings, with the result that entire verses could be
produced from a single sign. Thus, contrary to Nibley's assertions that the A-G documents "were
not used in any translation,"24 they indeed were and indicate the "modus
operandi"25 for Smith's "translation" of at least the first two chapters and
eighteen verses of the Book of Abraham.
Book of Abraham Manuscripts
and 1b appear to have been recorded by Phelps and Parrish simultaneously at the dictation of
Smith. For, in addition to various individual misspellings and other errors, both contain
corrections where Smith apparently changed the wording of his translation as he dictated it.
Moreover, the punctuation in both is sparse, resulting in numerous run-on sentences (also a
feature in the dictated original manuscript of the Book of Mormon); and the existing punctuation
is not consistent between Phelps's and Parrish's manuscripts, indicating that each was trying as
best he could to punctuate as he wrote. This evidence contradicts Nibley's affirmation that
Manuscripts 1a and 1b represent "the finished or nearly-finished text of the Book of Abraham …
not deriving that text from, of all things, eighteen hieratic marginal symbols."26
In this respect, it seems that Nibley has not taken into account the appearance of the original
manuscript of the Book of Mormon, which in the same way resembles a "finished or
Further evidence indicates that
"eighteen hieratic marginal symbols" (there are twenty-seven in Manuscript 2) were indeed felt
to be closely connected with the text of the Book of Abraham. That each of the various hieratic
signs from Papyrus JS 11 was written before its corresponding English text in at least
Manuscripts 1a and 2 is demonstrated by the fact that in several cases all the English text which
was juxtaposed to a set of hieratic signs invades the space alloted for the text accompanying the
next set of signs.27 In Manuscript 1b, Parrish actually drew a horizontal line in
several places to divide the English text that accompanied one set of signs from that which
accompanied the next.28 Throughout the remainder of Manuscript 1b and all
through Manuscript 2, Parrish used paragraphs to separate the English text that accompanied one
set of signs from the text that accompanied the next.29
Yet another indication that the
hieratic signs were contemporary with the English text is that Phelps's crabbed penmanship is
apparent in the hieratic characters in the manuscript that he penned (1a), while the neat work of
Parrish is matched in the hieratic characters in the one that he penned (1b). When the
handwriting changed from Phelps's to Parrish's in Manuscript 2, the linking of the hieratic
characters also changed from Phelps's dark tint to Parrish's lighter tint.
This evidence not only
Nibley's assertions that "the English of the Book of Abraham was here copied down before the
Egyptian signs were added,"30 and that the hieratic characters "were copied out …
by a single scribe in a bold and rather skillful hand,"31 but demonstrates that in
these manuscripts the "eighteen hieratic marginal symbols" from Papyrus JS 11 are directly
connected with the English text of the Book of Abraham.32
Finally, the status of Cowdery,
Phelps, and Parrish, between 1835 and 1836 is important since Nibley has claimed that they
"were impatient of Joseph Smith's scholarly limitations and were at the same time invited by him
to surpass them" and that they "turned against Joseph Smith at the very time that they were
working on the Egyptian Papers."33
However, on 14 February
Oliver Cowdery, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, helped choose the twelve
apostles; on 14 September, he was appointed to act as recorder for the church; on 13 January
1836 he was made a member of the presidency of the High Council at Kirtland; and on 3 April
1836 he and Joseph Smith witnessed, in vision, Jesus Christ on a breastwork of gold (LDS
D&C 110). In that Oliver Cowdery had not worked on any of the Joseph Smith Egyptian
Papers after Warren Parrish had begun--that is, after 29 October 1835--it is not true that he
"turned against Joseph Smith at the very time that they were working on the Egyptian
On 16 May 1835 William W.
Phelps arrived in Kirtland and lived at Smith's house. He was involved in founding the School of
the Prophets on 2 November 1835. He took a prominent seat during the dedicatory services, with
the other church authorities, and actively participated in these exercises. He received the
ordinance of the washing of feet on 29 March 1836 in the Kirtland temple.34 In a
letter addressed to Phelps's wife Sally, Smith described him as a man "whose Merits and
experiance and acquirements, but few can compete with in this generation and few I fear will
ever appretiate the worth of such men; men upon who god in his wisdom hath bestowed gifts,
that duly qualify them to lead men in the way of life and salvation."35 Phelps,
therefore, appears to have been in good standing during all this time, not lashing out against
Smith sometime around November 1835--"the very time that [he was] working on the Egyptian
Joseph Smith recorded that he
spent 30 December 1835 with Warren Parrish studying Hebrew. Parrish had been ill and was
now "recovering his health, which gives much satisfaction, for I delight in his company." On 14
November 1835, Smith gave this revelation about Parrish: "Behold, it shall come to pass in his
day, that he shall see great things show forth themselves unto my people; he shall see much of
my ancient records, and shall know of hidden things, and shall be endowed with a knowledge of
hidden languages; and if he desire and shall seek it at my hands, he shall be privileged with
writing much of my word, as a scribe unto me for the benefit of my people; therefore this shall
be his calling until I shall order it otherwise in my wisdom, and it shall be said of him in time to
come, Behold Warren, the Lord's scribe for the Lord's Seer, whom He hath appointed in
Israel."36 Thus, it is safe to assume that the documents scribed by Parrish were
dictated by Smith and that Parrish was in the best standing with Smith during this period.
Consequently, there is no basis
Nibley's attempt to reduce dissonance by asserting that "The brethren at Kirtland were invited to
try their skill at translation; in 1835 the Prophet's associates, miffed by his superior knowledge
and determined to show him up, made determined efforts to match up the finished text of the
Book of Abraham with characters from the J. S. Papyrus No. XI; but they never got beyond the
second line of characters--if they were really trying to translate, they soon demonstrated that it
simply didn't work. When at that very time they turned savagely against Joseph Smith and told
every scandalous thing they could invent about him, none of them ever made mention of his
involvement in any of these frustrated exercises."37
Instead, the evidence indicates:
that Cowdery, Phelps, and Parrish served faithfully as Joseph Smith's scribes--not his
rivals--each man being in good standing with Smith during the time that these documents were
produced; (2) that the A-G documents represent initial efforts at deciphering, among other
things, the hieroglyphics from Papyrus JS 1 (the original from which Facsimile 1 was taken),
ending with the first two signs of the Breathing Permit of Hor (Papyrus JS 11); and (3) that the
Book of Abraham Manuscripts are the written results of Smith's dictating his interpretation of
hieratic characters from the Breathing Permit and imaginatively reconstructed signs, with each
scribe first drawing the designated characters prior to recording accompanying
The "Egyptian original" of the
Book of Abraham is not "lost"--in spite of Nibley's dissonance-reducing assertions to the
contrary, which he bases on Cowdery's passing description (incorrectly attributed to Joseph
Smith39) of the entire collection of papyri (i.e., the "record of Abraham and
Joseph," the son of Jacob).40 Cowdery summarized the appearance of this
collection as "beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, in
But only one papyrus was
beautifully written. The handwriting on the other was crabbed and contained no rubrics. In 1841
William I. Appleby observed that "there is a perceptible difference between the writings [of
Abraham and Joseph]. Joseph appears to have been the best scribe"42 (i.e., the
writing on the papyrus attributed to Abraham was of inferior quality). Thus, despite Nibley, the
evidence indicates that the Book of Abraham was developed from "that badly written, poorly
preserved little text, entirely devoid of rubrics, which is today identified as the [Breathing Permit
After attempting to explain
the dissonance between the evidence and the Book of Abraham, Nibley tries to shift the focus by
declaring that "it is the Book of Abraham that is on trial, not Joseph Smith" and that Smith's
"reputation must rest on the bona fides of the book, not the other way around."44
And he issues the challenge: "Is [the Book of Abraham] an authentic autobiography of Abraham
the Patriarch, or is it not?"45
Efforts to establish the
authenticity of the Book of Abraham face major obstacles. For instance, even Nibley
acknowledges that one means used to establish the authenticity of a document is to compare it
"with documents known to be authentic coming from that same time and place, and to weigh the
points of conflict or agreement among them."46 Assuming Abraham's historicity,
there is no agreement about when he would have lived.47 Nibley uses this
advantageously, because he wants as much latitude as possible, and accordingly postulates that
Abraham could have lived anytime during a comfortable span of two thousand
years.48 Because there can be no way of discerning which documents come
"from that same time"--sometime within Nibley's two thousand years--it is impossible to make
any valid comparisons with the contents of the Book of Abraham.
These obstacles are ignored by
Nibley, however, who is determined to "make up for the absence of reliable dates to give us texts
contemporary with Abraham" by accepting as valid any old documents "actually bearing the
name of Abraham."49 Thus by "the [p.230] study of parallels"50
he can refer to documents which are temporally and/or culturally disparate in the
extreme.51 Here is an illustration of this commonly used
"parallelomania"52 methodology in Nibley's writings.
To show how "typically
the first several verses of the Book of Abraham are, Nibley juxtaposes them against several
quotations which range from the Egyptian Old Kingdom (2575 B.C.) through the Christian
Period, including quotations from Plutarch and Plato. In this manner, he asserts that the Book of
Abraham and Egyptian inscriptions "confirm and support each other."53
Unfortunately, this methodology does violence to the historical integrity of the documents used
in the manner described.
As with the writings of noted
nineteenth-century British anthropologist James Frazer, there is a "complete absence of
historical consciousness"54 in the "parallel school" of Book of Abraham
apologetics. For it is an anathema to it to rely on a method that "insists that the essential
requirement for interpretation of a text is to read it in context: not merely in literary context, but
in the wider, deeper social and cultural context in which both author and audience lived, and in
which the language they employed took on the connotations to which the interpreter must seek
to be sensitive."55
Nibley has dismissed such
scholarly methodology as "pointless preoccupation with method and intrigue to avoid head-on
confrontation with the text." His apparent antipathy against scholarship is further demonstrated
by his claim that "to this day no Egyptologist can do more than pretend to understand the Book
of Breathings or the facsimiles to the Book of Abraham. Though by departmental courtesy we
credit them with knowledge they do not possess, it is safe to say that they are still without a
foothold in reality."56
Nothing could be further from
truth; it is just that scholarly methodology does not yield the results that dissonance-reducing
apologists want--results that can only be obtained when proper historical methodology is
ignored. For Nibley, the only "really effective means of testing any method [is] by the results that
it produces"57--a Machiavellian approach to be sure.
By analogy, because the movies
The Sword in the Stone and Camelot contain the name of King
Arthur, the "parallelomania"
approach would accept them as valid evidence in establishing the historicity of the book
Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Such comparisons would of course convince
everyone except the medievalists, who are bound to "have a preoccupation with method."
In conclusion, there is no
basis to the rationalizations which have been devised to explain away the dissonance caused to
the Book of Abraham by the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers and by the Joseph Smith Papyri.
Moreover, the attempt to demonstrate the historicity of the Book of Abraham by means of
searching far and wide for parallels is suspect because of its complete disregard for the cultural,
temporal, and spatial matrices of the material it uses.
It is therefore suggested that
means of dealing with the dissonance concerning the Book of Abraham be abandoned. An
observation by biblical scholar Jacob Neusner is appropriate here: "an old Christian text, one
from the first century for example, is deemed a worthy subject of scholarship [by historians of
religion]. But a fresh Christian expression (I think in this connection of the Book of Mormon) is
available principally for ridicule, but never for study. Religious experience in the third century is
fascinating. Religious experience in the twentieth century [or the nineteenth] is frightening or
Mormon apologists have
thoroughly accepted the flawed hypothesis of which Neusner speaks. Evidence of this is their
attempt to make the Book of Abraham "a worthy subject of scholarship" and to keep it from
being an object of ridicule by unnecessarily archaizing it. It seems more appropriate--as well as
more accurate--to regard it as "a fresh Christian expression" also. Let the LDS community begin
to study, ponder, and learn from the Book of Abraham for what it is--not for what some within
that community want it to be.
2 See Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance
Stanford University Press,
1957), 2, 13-15.
3 Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter,
Prophecy Fails (New York:
Harper and Row, 1956), 26.
4 Handy, 194f.
5 That is how Professor Klaus Baer titles Pap JS 11, 10, and his article
in Dialogue: A Journal of
Mormon Thought 3 (Autumn 1968): 109ff.
6 Hugh W. Nibley, Judging and Prejuding [sic] the Book of
n.d., photocopy, 1.
7 Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City:
Company, 1981), 47.
8 Robert C. Carroll, "Prophecy and Dissonance: A Theoretical
Approach to the Prophetic
Tradition," Zeitschrift fur die altentestamentliche Wissenschaft 92 (1980): 109.
9 Carroll, 110; see also pp. 124ff.
11 Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of The Church of Jesus
Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H.
Roberts, 2d ed. rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1932-51), 2:235; hereafter HC.
12 Ibid., 236.
13 The Nauvoo Book of Abraham manuscript appears to be part of a
printer's manuscript and
does not reflect any developmental effort. Therefore its significance in relation to this essay is
14 Dean C. Jessee, "The Writing of Joseph Smith's History,"
Young University Studies
11 (Summer 1971): 440. Jessee kindly spent many long hours with me evaluating the
handwriting of the various documents.
15 HC 2:513. G. W. Robinson was voted as general church recorder on
17 September 1837 in
place of Oliver Cowdery, "who had removed to Missouri."
16 Jessee, 442.
17 W. D. Bowen, "The Versatile W. W. Phelps," M.A. thesis, Brigham
Young University, 1958,
18 Ibid., 76.
19 Jessee, 446.
20 HC 2:344; 393.
21 Compare Marvin S. Hill et al., "The Kirtland Economy Revisited,"
University Studies, 17 (Summer 1977): 449.
22 Jessee, 448.
23 That the book was written after the other A-G mss. can be
demonstrated by comparing where
corrections have been made in each of the documents. For example, Joseph Smith's original (i.e.,
in his own handwriting) has "Ah broam - ahbrahoam Ki Ahbrah[?]am," which he crossed out.
Cowdery replaced it with "Ki-Ah-bram, Ki-ah-bra-oam - Zub-zool-oan." Cowdery's copy was
corrected thus: "KiAh-broan, KiAh-bra-oam. Zub-zool-oan." Phelps corrected his in this way:
"KiAhbroamKiah brah-oam Zub zool oan," where the morpheme "ki" was jammed into the
available space. On page 3 of the book, however, Phelps had written "Kiah broam = Kiah
brahoam = Zub zool oan," revealing no observable corrections, indicating that it was written
after the other three.
24 H. W. Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers,"
Brigham Young University
Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 380.
25 Nibley, "Judging," 3.
27 See pages 2 and 4 of Ms. 1a. Curiously, on page 4, Phelps rewrote
the text that accompanied
his last sign, with the left edge of the paper serving this time as his margin. He then began new
text half-way through the last line, again indented, but providing no set of signs. See also page
23 of Ms. 2.
28 See pages 1 and 2 of Ms. 1b.
29 See especially page 7, top.
30 Nibley, "Egyptian Papers," 380.
31 Nibley, [The] Message [of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An
Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975)] , 3.
32 For a more detailed analysis, see my forthcoming study on the
Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers.
33 Nibley, "Egyptian Papers," 396, 397.
34 Bowen, 76.
35 Photograph in the Improvement Era 45 (Aug 1942):
36 HC 2:311f.; emphasis added.
37 Nibley, Message, 2; cf. "Judging," 5.
38 In an earlier article I suggested the possibility that Joseph Smith
had received the text of the
Book of Abraham by revelation--prior to his attempt at deciphering Pap JS 11 or independently
of his efforts with the papyri ("The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Reappraisal,"
Sunstone 4 [Dec 1979]: 44; cf. similar statements by Nibley in "Judging," 6;
Message, 50ff.; and
Abraham, 2). The evidence does not support such a possibility.
39 Ibid. Because the statement was included in HC 2:348, Nibley must
have assumed that it was
written by the prophet, instead of being an adaptation of Cowdery's published letter to a Mr.
"Wm. Frye." See note 41 below.
40 Nibley, Message 2f.
41 Oliver Cowdery, in Messenger and Advocate 2 (Dec.
42 William I. Appleby, Biography and Journal, LDS archives.
43 Nibley, Message, 3. Curiously, even though he admits
that Pap JS 1 (the original
of Facs. 1) was directly connected to Pap JS 11 (the Breathing Permit of Hor), Nibley contradicts
himself when he uses the same type of evidence to arrive at opposite conclusions by maintaining
that only the latter was damaged "before the document was mounted" (Message, 2).
For Pap JS
1, he claims that "no clear instances of [restorations] have been demonstrated on Facsimile
1"--that Pap JS 1 was intact when the prophet mounted it ("As Things Stand at the Moment,"
Brigham Young University Studies 9 [Autumn 1968]: 95). As support for this
claim, he asserts
that "the mere presence of those ugly patches [of glue], where the mounting was otherwise so
very neatly done, casts serious doubt on [the] theory that the surviving parts of the Facsimile No.
1 papyrus are all that the Mormons ever saw of it" ("As Things Stand," 82). "Filaments of fiber
or the imprint of such" (Message, 2) do not appear on the glue on the backing sheet
of Pap JS 1,
indicating that those parts which are missing today were missing when it was mounted. For Pap
JS 11, Nibley correctly notes that the clean glue on its backing paper indicates that "these parts
of the text were missing at the time of mounting" (Message, 2). He recently
re-affirmed his belief that Pap JS 1 was intact in his statement: "Egyptologists have often
complained that the Mormons have deliberately redrawn [the facsimiles]--an accusation that the
discovery of some of the originals disproved" (Abraham, 44). Because the original
of Facs. 1 is
the only one of which the original was found, Nibley can only be referring to it. For a discussion
of how much of Pap JS I was extant when the prophet first saw it, see Ashment, "Facsimiles,"
44 Nibley, Message, 3.
45 Nibley, Abraham, 1.
46 Ibid., 8.
47 See Thomas L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal
Narratives, Beiheft zur
Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, no. 133 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1974),
89f.; John Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven: Yale
48 Nibley, Abraham, 8, 53. He uses Van Seters
inconsistently. On the
one hand he declares that
"estimates [as to when Abraham lived] now run all the way from the sixth century B.C. of Van
Seters to 2500 B.C." (p. 8) and that Van Seters dates "the Patriarch squarely in the middle of the
first millennium B.C." (53; cf. 54). But Van Seters is of the opinion that Abraham is a mythical
character, the stories about whom were composed originally between 600 and 400 BCE (Van
Seters, 310), which, ironically, Nibley later acknowledges (55).
49 Nibley, Abraham, 8.
50 Ibid., 50.
51 See Nibley, Message and Abraham,
52 For a good discussion of "Parallelomania," see Samuel Sandmel in
Journal of Biblical
Literature 81 (1962): 1-13.
53 Nibley, Abraham, 78ff.
54 Howard C. Kee, Miracle in the Early Christian World
Yale University Press,
55 Ibid., 3.
56 Nibley, Abraham, 51, 52.
57 Nibley, Message, 53.
58 Jacob Neusner, "Religious Studies: The Next Vocation," The
Council on the Study of
Religion Bulletin 8 (Dec. 1977): 117.