Examining the Book of Abraham
So, what are some of the conclusions we can draw on the Book of Abraham? Let's review a few points:
- Point #1: Joseph Smith was clear in his statements and in his writings that he was "translating" text from the papyri in his hands. Furthermore, Church leaders after Joseph, beginning with Brigham Young, were adamant that the Book of Abraham is a holograph written by the hand of Abraham himself. If the Church is inspired with continuing revelation, then even if Joseph Smith said absolutely nothing on the subject, all the later commentaries by Church leaders make it clear that this is the stance the Church has taken.
- Point #2: Scholars now know how to read ancient Egyptian thoroughly, and are very familiar with ancient Egyptian religious concepts and practices. Yes, there are some holes in their knowledge, as there are in any subject one may study, but the fact remains that since the Egyptians wrote so much about the afterlife and their gods, we know a tremendous amount about their belief system.
- Point #3: The very same papyri that were used in the creation of the Book of Abraham, can be, and have been, translated by competent Egyptologists (including those at BYU). The result being that absolutely no mention of Abraham exists in said documents, nor do the papyri contain anything close to the text of the Book of Abraham.
- Point #4: The existing Facsimiles have been thoroughly examined by Egyptologists and have been found to be very different point by point from Joseph Smith's interpretations. At best, there are only superficial similarities in but a few figures. In fact, the whole purpose of the Facsimiles are completely different than we're led to believe: traditionally, the Church would have us believe that the Facsimiles were illustrations found in the Book of Abraham and are closely associated with it, while the reality is that they were burial documents from two different people buried years apart, and only brought together by chance many, many centuries after their deaths.
- Point #5: The text of the Book of Abraham has serious anachronisms — names of people and places that did not exist in Abraham's day. Even Facsimile #1 could not have been produced "by the hand" of Abraham, having been dated to be at least 14 centuries too recent. Additionally, there are specific concepts in the Book of Abraham that reflects a 19th-century, Newtonian cosmology.
Conclusions: From my perspective, the only possible conclusion is that the Book of Abraham is not what Joseph Smith claimed. It may be that he thought he was producing a holograph from Abraham, but it's clear that this wasn't the case.
It's absolutely clear that what he was holding in his hand was not a holograph from Abraham: It's dated at least 1400 years later than Abraham, and very possibly close to 2000 years later, not to mention the fact that we can now translate the documents and determine what they really say.
And, even if Joseph received the Book of Abraham solely from inspiration and unrelated to any document he held in his hand — as some apologists of the Church claim — why would there be anachronisms? It would be highly unlikely for Abraham to have written this document while he was alive.
A much more plausible explanation is that the Book of Abraham was created by Joseph Smith rather than Abraham or some other ancient person. Perhaps Joseph thought he was getting inspiration, but the evidence doesn't seem to bear his claims out. There is nothing in the Book of Abraham that was not available in some form to Joseph Smith at the time — whether it was the traditions about Abraham from Josephus, or the Newtonian concepts prevalent in society regarding the universe and the way it functions, or the King James Version of the Bible which is the basis of so much of the Book of Abraham. Add in a little imagination that Joseph had in abundance, and you have the necessary ingredients to create the Book of Abraham.