Polygamy and the authenticity of the Book of Abraham are probably the two most hotly debated aspects of early Mormonism and Joseph Smith’s prophetic career. In recent years much has been made of the papyri, the Egyptian Alphabet and whether the BOA is a translation or a revelation.
A lot rides on the Book of Abraham for those invested in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and the LDS church in general. Critics have made persuasive arguments that the papyri is an ancient funerary text. (It is.) Book of Abraham proponents have confronted these arguments by suggesting part of the papyri is missing or the papyri was merely a catalyst that sparked Joseph Smith’s prophetic insights.
While the issue of mummies, missing papyri and translation are all interesting questions, (it gives critics and apologists something to argue about perpetuity) the most important issue the Book of Mormon is the text itself. What does the text tell us and does it reveal the Book of Abraham to be an inspired translation/revelation or the product of Joseph Smith’s imagination?
APPROACHING THE TEXT
I once watched a lecture by Dr. Bart Ehrman in which he said,
“Read [the Gospels for] yourself carefully. You’ve got to read these things carefully. You can’t just breeze over them. You have to read them word for word and think about what you’re reading.”
I think that’s sound advice. I think we tend to read Joseph Smith’s revelations uncritically, assuming that because they are the product of Joseph Smith they must necessarily be true. I reject that idea. The revelations, the Book of Mormon, Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham must rise or fall on their own merits, not because they come from Joseph Smith. So we’re going to critically review Abraham 3 and pay attention to what we’re reading.
INDENTIFYING THE SPEAKERS
When reading scripture, it’s important to identify the speaker, the audience, and when possible, the historical and cultural settings. The Book of Abraham’s most well known passage comes in chapter 3, but we can determine the main speaker by looking back at chapters 1 and 2,
“Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father’s house, and from all thy kinsfolk, into a strange land which thou knowest not of… (Abraham 1:16)
“For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool (Isaiah 66:1); I stretch my hand over the sea (Exodus 14:16) , and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains—Depart hence—and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind [2 Kings 2:11-12], in an instant, suddenly [Isaiah 29:5]. My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10); therefore my hand shall be over thee.” (Abraham 2:7-8)
Interesting that these two verses cite or quote Isaiah three times, Exodus once and 2 Kings once considering they are all post-Abraham.
The speaker, “The Lord thy God,” is twice identified as “Jehovah.” The Wiki entry for “Jehovah” reads,
“Jehovah (/dʒɪˈhoʊvə/) is a Latinization of the Hebrew יְהֹוָה Yəhōwā, one vocalization of the Tetragrammaton יהוה (YHWH), the proper name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible and one of the seven names of God in Judaism…
“Jehovah was first introduced by William Tyndale in his translation of Exodus 6:3, and appears in some other early English translations including the Geneva Bible and the King James Version. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that in order to pronounce the Tetragrammaton “it is necessary to introduce vowels that alter the written and spoken forms of the name (i.e. “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”).” Jehovah appears in the Old Testament of some widely used translations including the American Standard Version (1901) and Young’s Literal Translation (1862, 1899); the New World Translation (1961, 2013) uses Jehovah in both the Old and New Testaments. Jehovah does not appear in most mainstream English translations, some of which use Yahweh but most continue to use “Lord” or “LORD” to represent the Tetragrammaton.”
That Jesus Christ is Jehovah is confirmed in the Book of Mormon,
“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. (3 Nephi 11)
“And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos…” (1 Nephi 19)
“Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end.” (3 Nephi 15)
“But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God ho created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. Behold, he created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man. (Mormon 9)
This last passage in Mormon 9 is particularly important. We’ll come back to it later. But for now we are all in agreement that “Jehovah,” a.k.a. Jesus Christ, is the God of Israel.
There are four individuals in Abraham 3, not including “the intelligences” and the “noble and great.” They are,
1. The Lord God – Jehovah
2. One Like Unto God – This is Michael, which means “One who like unto God?” This is important.
3. One Like Unto the Son of Man – Jesus
4. Another – Presumably “Satan.”
Let’s parenthetically insert these identities in the Divine Council scene:
“Now the Lord (Jehovah) had shown unto me, Abraham,
the intelligences that were organized before the world was;
and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
And God (Jehovah) saw these souls that they were good,
and he (Jehovah) stood in the midst of them, and he said:
“These I will make my rulers.”
For he (Jehovah) stood among those that were spirits,
and he (Jehovah) saw that they were good; and he said unto me:
“Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.”
And there stood one (Michael) among them (the noble and great) that was like unto God,
and he (Michael) said unto those who were with him (the noble and great):
“We (the noble and great) will go down, for there is space there,
and we will take of these materials
and we will make an earth whereon these (intelligences/noble and great) may dwell;
And we will prove them (intelligences) herewith
to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God (Jehovah) shall command them.
And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon;
and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory (allusion to Jude 1:6)
in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate (heavenly);
and they who keep their second estate (mortal) shall have glory added
upon their heads for ever and ever.”
And the Lord (Jehovah) said:
“Whom shall I send?”
And one answered like unto the Son of Man (Jesus, XR Revelation 1:13, 14:14)
“Here am I, send me.” (This is actually Isaiah 6:8.)
And another (”Satan”) answered and said:
“Here am I, send me.”
And the Lord (Jehovah) said:
“I will send the first.”
The problems with this scene should be readily apparent. Jehovah presides over the Divine Council, but Jesus is Jehovah. Does he volunteer to Himself? Further, the LDS church teaches that “one like unto God” and “one like unto the Son of Man” are both Jesus Christ. Under the entry for Abraham on LDS.org we read:
“Among the spirits Abraham saw was one who was “like unto God.” This was Jesus Christ. Jesus said that He would teach the people what they should do, and He would pay with His life for the mistakes they would make if they would repent. All the glory would be the Father’s for giving His children the chance to progress.”
In Abraham 3 , “Michael” and “Jesus” are both subservient to “Jehovah.” Recall that in Mormon 9 we read that The Lord God (Jesus) created “Adam.” What is hierarchy of heaven? Why does “Michael” seem to be higher in authority than Jesus, if Jesus created Michael, who, in LDS theology, is “Adam?” Whatever the case, if Jesus is Jehovah and “one like unto God,” and “one like unto the son of man,” the Divine Council is a one-man show. Jesus suggests to Jesus that the noble and great down down and organize the earth. Jesus says “whom shall I send” and Jesus volunteers.
Also of note, “Jesus” actually does not volunteer to become “the savior” in Abraham 3, which is a prelude to the creation. After “Michael’ suggests the noble and great go down and organize the earth, “Jesus” responds to “Jehovah’s” call. There’s no mention of a savior, atonement, crucifixion, resurrection or anything else. The creation narrative then continues in Abraham 4:
“And then the Lord (Jehovah) said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth. And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate, because they had not formed anything but the earth; and darkness reigned upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters. And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light… (Abraham 4. The BOM tells us the world was created by a singular God.)
Despite the fact there’s no mention of a savior in Abraham 3, M. Russell Ballard said,
“I have been drawn to an interchange between God the Father (Jehovah?) and His eldest and Only Begotten Son, who is the ultimate example of living up to one’s premortal promises. When God asked who would come to earth to prepare a way for all mankind to be saved and strengthened and blessed, it was Jesus Christ who said, simply, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27).” (“Here Am I, Send Me:” Women of God – BYU Speeches)
Neil A. Maxwell likewise said,
“Ages ago in the Great Council, Jesus was the prepared but meek volunteer. As the Father (Jehovah?) described the plan of salvation and the need for a Savior, it was Jesus who stepped forward and said humbly but courageously, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27; see also Moses 4:2). Never has anyone offered to do so much for so many with so few words!” (Joseph Smith: “A Choice Seer” – Neal A. Maxwell – BYU Speeches. This, too, doesn’t work. Jesus says, “Here am I, send me” to create the earth. He doesn’t say “Here am I, send me” in the Moses 4—”Satan” does.)
Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“Let us then, with Abraham, gaze upon the great host of “noble and great ones” in premortal existence. “Among them” stands one “like unto God.” He is the great Jehovah, the Firstborn of the Father. We hear him say “unto those who were with him,” unto Michael and a great host of valiant souls: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.” (Abr. 3:22, 24.) (At least Bruce understands that Michael is in this scene.)
We also read on LDS.org:
“We needed a Savior to pay for our sins and teach us how to return to our Heavenly Father. Our Father (Jehovah?) said, “Whom shall I send?” (Abraham 3:27). Jesus Christ, who was called Jehovah, said, “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27; see also Moses 4:1–4)
In an LDS Old Testament Student Manual we read:
“The expectation of an Anointed Deliverer is called the messianic hope. This hope was very real for the ancient house of Israel and extended into the distant past, even into the premortal council in heaven. After explaining the need for a redeemer (nowhere is this explained in the BOA), Father in Heaven asked, “Whom shall I send?” (Abraham 3:27). Lucifer replied, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, … wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). Jehovah replied, “Here am I, send me “ (Abraham 3:27). “Thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Jehovah was chosen as Messiah, and Lucifer, with a third of the spirit children of God, rebelled against the Father’s decision. As a result, Lucifer became the devil. He, with all his followers, was cast from heaven to the earth. (see Revelation 12:7–9.)
Revelation 12 doesn’t describe “Satan’s” fall from heaven. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is “the fall of Satan” described. Never. Not once. We’ll address that another time.
It should be clear that the Book of Abraham isn’t an inspired text and it illustrates the bigger problem of LDS theology: it doesn’t have a consistent theology. And more particularly, it doesn’t a consistent, or even correct, view of Jesus Christ. Joseph doesn’t seem to understand that Jesus is Jehovah, “The Lord God.” That’s pretty big mistake for a prophet of God, one who literally stood in His presence, to make. And it’s not the only time he makes it. (We’ll review the Book of Moses in the future.)
It part two we’ll review “the son of man” debate and in part three, “Michael.” But for now, you can safely put The Book of Abraham on the shelf.