|A fragment of the scroll "translated" by Joseph Smith before North America had the Rosetta Stone information for reference, In other words, he "translated" it at a time when no one could dispute his interpretations.|
The Book of Abraham.
When I started learning more about Mormonism, one of the first things that caught my interest was their discussion of "the Book of Abraham". How can I have been diligently studying early Christianity and the formation of Judaism for years and not ever heard of a book written by the key figure to whom God first revealed Himself and guided us to monotheism? Never once was this seminal book mentioned in any of the university courses or scholarly lectures about Christianity, Judaism or Islam. Obviously, I had to learn more. Researching is what I do best. Once again my main source is the LDS website.
This story begins in 1835 when a traveling salesman arrived in Kirtland, Ohio which was the home of Joseph Smith and his followers at the time. His merchandise included four Egyptian mummies and several scrolls of papyrus that had been removed from Egypt by and Italian army officer. Smith convinced his followers to raise money and purchase the scrolls. He quickly declared that the scrolls were in fact written by Abraham. According to his own journals he spent days studying and translating the scrolls. In 1842, he published the results of his work.
An absolutely amazing story. Remember, Smith published this work at a time when no one in North America could dispute it. The Rosetta Stone, the key to finally deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, had just recently been decoded but that knowledge had yet to reach this side of the globe. Smith had no way of knowing that very soon a language that had been undecipherable for thousands of years would quickly become accessible to anyone willing to study.
What does Smith claim the scrolls say?
According to Smith, the scroll contained the writings of Abraham as written by Abraham's own hand. These writings detailed his time in Egypt and contains another creation story. According to all the Egyptology experts, the scroll is a funerary text for a priest and does not even mention Abraham. The official LDS website confirms this lack of credibility has done nothing to change the sacredness of the writings or remove them from the official LDS canon. Instead, the LDS have revised their definition of what Joseph Smith meant when he said he "translated" the scrolls.
This is where the whole story takes a left turn. Normally, if a person claims to have done something and it is shown without a shadow of a doubt that he didn't do it, his work loses all authority and is discredited. That is how life works. A fraudulent claim is a fraud. A lie. A sham. A scam. It is just plain wrong. That is a normal view of false claims.
The Mormons admit the writing on the scrolls do not discuss Abraham, BUT, now, they say Smith was a divinely inspired "translation" of the word of God. They changed their definition of translation to include anything that comes to mind. Smith claimed to be divinely inspired. So, his works must be true. This is much the same with his "translation" of the Book of Mormon from the supposedly ancient gold plates. It is documented by the LDS that Smith dictated his translation by putting a stone in a hat and covering his face with the hat. He did not look at the plates or even touch the plates as he dictated. Of course, no one can prove his translation right or wrong because he had to "return" the plates. Convenient.
Much of the Mormon belief in the the continuing authority of the Book of Abraham is linked to their belief in the two ways of knowing things. We can know things are true by seeing them with our eyes or by closing our eyes and imagining them to be true. This make-believe/make-it-real belief is closely tied to the gold plates also. No one aside from Joseph Smith saw the gold plates with their physical eyes. The witnesses all "saw" the plates with their spiritual eye. Translation: No witnesses existed. More on that in another post as I need to research it further to understand how otherwise intelligent people can believe this.
There are countless references on the internet but I try to stick to unbiased critiques and the LDS own stance. Nothing more is needed to show the false nature of this document. Here are a few more sources.
Brigham Young University- LDS FAQ
Mormons in Transition at the Institute for Religious Research
Cold Case Christianity: How the Book of Abraham Exposes the False Nature of Mormonism
Believe what you want but know why you believe it and
where the doctrine originated.