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Like many of you, I read with interest Jeffrey Lindsay’s articles, “Dealing with ‘Friendly Fire’ on the Book of Abraham,” August 26 and 27, 2019. I thank him for his reasoned knowledge and faith-filled voice.
I think the Book of Abraham is a banquet table piled high with nutritious and delicious foods. I don’t have to know the origin of every ingredient to enjoy a replenishing, spiritual feast. The exact provenance trail for the Book of Abraham will come when it comes. In the meantime, I choose to learn from the text and be edified by Abraham’s words, works, and life.
In 2010-11, I typed the text of the Book of Mormon and in that process identified fifty-seven unique vocabularies (The Book of Mormon Is True, Evidences and Insights, Covenant Communications, 2015). When I finished, I began to think about the Pearl of Great Price. Since Joseph Smith was the instrument through whom everything in the Pearl of Great Price came—the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, the inspired revision of Matthew 24, his own history, and the Articles of Faith—I wanted to know how many voices and unique words there would be. I worried that its sixty-one pages might be too short to yield much evidence.
My question boiled down to this: When Joseph Smith quotes God, Moses, and Satan in the first chapter of Moses, are the words Joseph’s or are they the actual words of God, Moses, and Satan? When you read the Book of Abraham, are you reading Joseph’s words or Abraham’s? Is the reorganization of Matthew 24 Joseph’s own genius or an actual restoration of words Jesus Christ taught His Apostles?
I began typing the Pearl of Great Price in September 2015, hoping for a few unique voices. I finished four months later and the results were astounding! I found twenty-four persons with unique vocabularies who are quoted or who speak in first-person. One example. The Book of Abraham is 5,493 words in length, and I found 130 unique words of Abraham and/or the Lord.
Compare this to Joseph Smith-History (the only book he authored) that is 6,835 words in length. I found 477 unique words of Joseph himself, 152 that are unique in all scripture. (I know. It seems impossible. But you can go to Chapter 20 at my blog address above and see the list for yourself.) This is more than any other author in the Book of Mormon or the Pearl of Great Price! From doing this research, I know, and I am not using know casually, that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Abraham.
And there are many additional characteristics in the Book of Abraham that make it distinct. I offer seven for your interest and enjoyment.
Characteristic One: As shown above, Abraham’s vocabulary is his own. Here is a list of words in Abraham that are not found in any other scripture: chronology, delineate, denominated, devoutly, follower, governing, hieroglyphics, imitate, governing, intelligences, intelligent, materials, nearest, rightful, signifies, thank-offering, unloosed. Add to this list the twenty-six proper nouns Abraham used that are also unique in all scripture.*
Characteristic Two: Thirteen times in the Book of Abraham, the author of the book wrote: “I, Abraham.” Abraham wanted his readers to know he wrote the book. He said: “I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me” (Abraham 1:31). Daniel, the Old Testament prophet, wrote, “I, Daniel,” seven times; John the Revelator used, “I, John” four times; The Apostle Paul said, “I Paul” six times. Nephi said, “I, Nephi,” sixty-four times in 1 Nephi!
Characteristic Three: I made a side-by-side comparison of the creation chapters in Genesis, Moses, and Abraham to highlight the differences. The comparison is too long to include here. (It takes chapters 23 and 24 in my book on the Pearl of Great Price that you can read on my blog. One example: A unique word in Abraham’s account distinguishes it from the Genesis and Moses accounts. The word is obeyed and it is used four times. “And the Gods pronounced the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, pronounced they, Great Waters; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed” (Abraham 4:10).
Characteristic Four: While typing, I made a list of especially interesting doctrinal connections and realized how consistent Abraham’s experiences were to other prophets’ and to basic gospel doctrine. Here are a few:
- Abraham said the priesthood was “conferred” upon him “from the fathers,” that there was priesthood “before the foundation of the earth,” that Adam is called “first father”(Abraham 1:3).
- Abraham had in his possession records from “the beginning of the creation… unto this present time” (Abraham 1:28).
- Abraham said that a sore famine necessitated he take “Sarai…and Lot, my brother’s son, and all our substance that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and [we] came forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as we came on our way” (Abraham 2:15.) (A familiar pattern: God calls a prophet and instructs him to take his family and those who believe the gospel into a wilderness.)
- Pharaoh, being a righteous man, was blessed by Noah “with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood” (Abraham 1:26). (In God’s timetable there was a time for the Jews, a time for the Gentiles [Acts 10-11], and a time for all worthy males [Official Declaration 2.])
- Abraham learned the things of God by the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord gave him “in Ur of the Chaldees” (Abraham 3:1). (For more examples of prophets with a Urim and Thummim see Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, Ezra 2:63, Mosiah 8:13, Ether 3:22–28, Joseph Smith-History 1:42.)
- Abraham said: “The Lord put his hand upon mine eyes…and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof” (Abraham 3:12). (This is like other scriptural exclamations: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1); “All things denote [and] do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44). “Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created… of the same he greatly marveled and wondered” (Moses 1:8).
- Abraham learned that he was chosen before he was born to be a leader on earth (Abraham 3:22-23). God told Jeremiah the same thing (Jeremiah1:5), and Alma taught that many were ordained and prepared from the foundation of the world for holy callings. [Alma 13:3-5]. Patriarchal blessings often give specific information on life in the pre-mortal realm.
Characteristic Five: The power of Abraham’s character is evident in his desires for greater knowledge, greater righteousness, to be the father of many nations and a prince of peace, to keep the commandments, to receive the priesthood and “mine appointment… of God” (Abraham 1:1-4). He was willing to be sacrificed rather than deny his faith. He said to the Lord: “Thy servant has sought thee earnestly, now I have found thee” (Abraham 2:12). He was called “the Friend of God” (James 2:23). This is why the Book of Abraham is so important: He is the head of a dispensation; through his posterity he is the dispenser of the gospel to all the world; and he is a supreme example of righteousness in a wicked world which makes his message current for everyone living today who also desires to become a friend of God.
Characteristic Six: Another internal consistent example is that prophets testify of Jesus Christ. As the priest of Elkenah was ready to kill Abraham, he prayed vocally and an angel appeared by his side, saying: “Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee” (Abraham 2:16). In another face-to-face with Jehovah, He promised Abraham that through his priesthood, “shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel” (Abraham 2:7–11). From “The Living Christ, the Testimony of the Apostles,” we know “Jesus Christ…. was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament.” Like many prophets, Abraham saw and conversed with Jesus Christ, which makes the Book of Abraham yet another Testament of Jesus Christ.
Characteristic Seven: There are illustrations in Abraham’s book, which is unique in all scripture. I think of Abraham as a professor, teaching his people and the Egyptians with visuals. I can imagine him standing in front of a chalkboard of his time with a pointer, saying: “That you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record.” Then after an explanation, moving to the next topic and saying: “That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning” (Abraham 1:12, 14).
And there is so much more. I invite you to take the twenty-eight minutes it takes to read it. The Book of Abraham is dense and comprehensive, truly a banquet to savor!
*(Some have asked how I do the word counts. After the unique word concept was pointed out to me, I typed the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, praying to find unique words. When I came upon one I thought might be unique, I typed it into a scripture search program I bought at Distribution in 2004. (This program is far more accurate than any I have tried since. Unfortunately, they have stopped producing it.) The program lists all the scriptures that contain whatever word I have searched. This method is not exact. Even though I quadruple check, I know I have made mistakes. I don’t claim perfection on any level.)