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Answering Another Alleged Parallel


Chris Smith

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I have from time to time commented on a number of the parallels people have drawn between the Book of Abraham and Abrahamic legends. Aside from the obvious methodological deficiency in using really late traditions to bolster a supposedly very ancient text, there is the problem that most of the things Joseph comes up with are based on a misreading of the Bible, a borrowing from Josephus, or a desire to harmonize contradictions: Greek, Muslim, and Medieval traditions frequently include the same elements for the same reasons. There is nothing about the Book of Abraham that screams, "I'm ancient"; in fact, much of it is clearly based on a modern, Christian, Newtonian worldview.

One of the parallels that is sometimes adduced to Abraham legends is Abraham's role as an evangelist in Haran. Since I don't think I've ever commented on this particular parallel before, I thought I'd take a moment to demonstrate why it is an anachronistic misreading of the King James Bible. The verse in the BoA that tells us Abe was an evangelist is found in 2:5:

And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea, and Lot, my brother's son, and all our substance that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as we came on our way.

This is obviously just a revision of Genesis 12:15:

And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brotherâ??s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

The word translated "souls" in English is probably better rendered "persons". The Hebrews conceived of humans as composed of a physical body and an inner spiritual principle. Where we read about "souls" in the Old Testament usually the word is nephesh, denoting the spirit. But Hebrew literature contains a literary device called synecdoche, in which a part stands for the whole. Nephesh is used this way on a number of occasions to refer to the whole person, and in fact is sometimes translated as such in the KJV. Abraham 12:5 is an example of synecdoche. The failure to understand synecdoche has led to longstanding confusion about the interpretation of this verse, wherein Abraham seems to have acquired "souls" or "spirits" in Haran. The Hebrew undoubtedly just means that he acquired a retinue of servants and laborers, but Christians, with their Greek ideas about the salvation of the spirit, have long read Genesis 12:5 through the lens of anachronistic "soul-saving" rhetoric. In so doing, they have transmogrified Abraham into an itinerant evangelist.

The Hebrews had no concept of "saving souls" in the modern/Western/Greek sense. Their vision of the afterlife, throughout most of their history, seems to have been that the righteous "rest with their fathers", while the morally dubious are condemned to a shadowy, passive existence as "shades" in the realm of Sheol. Even late in their history, when the hope of a resurrection entered Jewish thought, nobody would have spoken of it as the salvation of "souls". They certainly would not have spoken of souls being already "won" or "saved" in the present!

Joseph Smith's use of the image of soul-winning is distinctly Christian and singularly out of place in the world of ancient Judaism. It fits well, however, with historic Christian misreadings of the Old Testament text based on a failure to comprehend synecdoche.

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Thanks Chris. That's all very interesting. A few thoughts:

I don't really think the words in the verse you quote clearly denotes a modern Christian concept of saving souls. It could just mean that Abraham saved them from idolatry. It would require more elaboration for one to be sure one is not just reading into it in the same way modern Christians read into the Genesis account. I also think that Abraham as an "evangelist" (that is, a preacher to idolaters) is outlined pretty well in Josephus, (to which Joseph Smith had access) so I don't think it counts as evidence anyways.

Also, I think if one insists the Book of Abraham is the actual writings of Abraham then later texts perhaps are less relevant. If one has a more flexible view, perhaps that it is restoration of an inspired text purported to be written by Abraham, later texts work. To me, it makes no difference whether Abraham is the author or not. From what I understand, there are no texts mentioning Abraham that are anywhere close to contemporary, so a contemporary corroboration mentioning Abraham's vision of the stars, for example, is certainly a longshot. It seems as though we are dependant on later texts to make any comparison between the Book of Abraham and ancient Abrahamic traditions.

I just finished reading The Apocalypse of Abraham and I found Abraham's vision of pre-mortal spirits therein pretty striking. I don't know of anything Joseph Smith had access to that associated Abraham with such a vision, do you?

Best,

Jd1

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I just finished reading The Apocalypse of Abraham and I found Abraham's vision of pre-mortal spirits therein pretty striking. I don't know of anything Joseph Smith had access to that associated Abraham with such a vision, do you?

The vision in the Apocalypse of Abraham is qualitatively different than that in the Book of Abraham. In the Book of Abraham, Abraham views a pre-creation council of premortal spirits. In the Apocalypse of Abraham he has an ascension experience through the various firmaments, in which he witnesses pretty much all the different kinds of entities in the Jewish chain of being. Premortal spirits are mentioned only in passing, as one of a number of different kinds of spirits in the celestial hierarchy.

I'm also not sure the premortal spirits occur in every manuscript. At this website:

http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrap...of_Abraham.html

there are two translations, and only the right-hand one mentions the pre-mortal spirits. They appear to be taken from different manuscripts. The one on the left, which includes the tale of Barisat, is the one I recall seeing in Charlesworth's book (which at the moment I can't access).

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Great points, Johnny-D. This is just another example of finding problems where none exist. Who, for example, wrote Genesis? Moses, or so we're told. But where did he get the information about Abraham? If he got it from a legitimate Abrahamic text, then his re-writing of Abraham 2:5 would not seem as absurd as some critics might find it.

Again, if you're telling the Abrahamic story and you read:

And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea,

and Lot, my brotherâ??s son, and all our substance that we had

gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came

forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as

we came on our way.

How would you rewrite it? You can't put it in the first person. So it makes sense that you would take the first person and convert it to third person. Thus it's no mystery, really, why the two scriptures might be similar. The divine council also, as you stated, is a little harder to explain. There's been a lot about this posted previously.

As far as "evangelist" is concerned, consider this from Joseph Fielding Smith:

AN EVANGELIST IS A PATRIARCH. According to the dictionary

and in the generally accepted view of the word, an evangelist is

"a preacher who goes from place to place holding services especially

with a view of church revivals," He is a "preacher of the gospel." The

term evangel means gospel, or good news. But dictionaries also contain

such definitions as this: "A Mormon officer of the Melchizedek or

Higher Priesthood, whose special function is to bless."

The Prophet's explanation in relation to the evangelist is: "An evangelist

is a patriarch, even the oldest man of the blood of Joseph or of the seed

of Abraham. Wherever the Church of Christ is established in the earth,

there should be a patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the saints,

as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessings unto his sons."

Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie, 3:, p.108

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Who, for example, wrote Genesis? Moses, or so we're told. But where did he get the information about Abraham? If he got it from a legitimate Abrahamic text, then his re-writing of Abraham 2:5 would not seem as absurd as some critics might find it.

Again, if you're telling the Abrahamic story and you read:

And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea,

and Lot, my brotherâ??s son, and all our substance that we had

gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came

forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as

we came on our way.

How would you rewrite it? You can't put it in the first person. So it makes sense that you would take the first person and convert it to third person. Thus it's no mystery, really, why the two scriptures might be similar.

Genesis says he "had gotten" souls. The BoA says he "won" souls. The connotations are quite different, and the change cannot be chalked up to a mere rewriting in third person on the part of Moses.

As far as "evangelist" is concerned, consider this from Joseph Fielding Smith:

AN EVANGELIST IS A PATRIARCH.

Joseph Fielding Smith's vision of Abraham as an evangelist is as anachronistic as the BoA's, so I don't see how this helps resolve the problem.

-Chris

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There is nothing about the Book of Abraham that screams, "I'm ancient"; in fact, much of it is clearly based on a modern, Christian, Newtonian worldview.

For a brief, popularized summary of certain items in the Book of Abraham suggestive of antiquity, see Daniel C. Peterson, â??News from Antiquity [â??Evidence supporting the Book of Abraham continues to turn up in a wide variety of sourcesâ??].â? The Ensign 24/1 (January 1994): 16-21.

For an argument that the Book of Abraham reflects a pre-Copernican worldview, see John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson, "'And I Saw the Stars': The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy," in John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant.

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For an argument that the Book of Abraham reflects a pre-Copernican worldview, see John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson, "'And I Saw the Stars': The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy," in John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant.

For the reasons our beloved Dr. Peterson and his compatriots are wrong, see my exchange here:

http://www.mormonapologetics.org/index.php...mp;p=1208240668

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For the reasons our beloved Dr. Peterson and his compatriots are wrong, see my exchange here:

http://www.mormonapologetics.org/index.php...mp;p=1208240668

I take it that you insist on using the so-called "Alphabet and Grammar" as the lens through which the Book of Abraham must be read, rather than simply reading the text itself?

If so, that's a clear methodological difference between us.

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The vision in the Apocalypse of Abraham is qualitatively different than that in the Book of Abraham. In the Book of Abraham, Abraham views a pre-creation council of premortal spirits. In the Apocalypse of Abraham he has an ascension experience through the various firmaments, in which he witnesses pretty much all the different kinds of entities in the Jewish chain of being. Premortal spirits are mentioned only in passing, as one of a number of different kinds of spirits in the celestial hierarchy.

The Book of Abraham also qualifies as an ascent, and in his ascent the Lord describes the hierarchy of the celestial bodies to Abraham. You're diluting the correlations right out of the Book of Abraham. Keep in mind the Apocalypse comes from a much different time period with much different priorities. The characters and the general storyline remain the same, though. Often ancient authors would recycle the same general literary template and change the details to suit their agenda. The Book of Abraham fits perfectly into this genre and this literary idiosyncrasy. The pre-mortal spirits are not that important to establishing a relationship between the texts, but if you want some interesting literature, check out Nissim Wernick's thesis about the Book of Abraham and Jewish extra-biblical literature. Most relevant is the chapter on the preexistence:

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/...ICK.html?200521

You also left out the Testament of Abraham, which contains the same characters and the same general storyline, but differs in details. Charlesworth describes it thus:

In the first nine chapters the archangel Michael vainly seeks to obtain the soul of Abraham, who refuses to die. A deal is arranged by which Abraham agrees to come with Michael if he can first see the created world, a wish that is granted and described in an apocalyptic section that covers 10-14. Upon returning home Abraham refuses to die, but is eventually tricked by Death.

It comes from first century C.E. Egypt, and it's the same ascension as the other two.

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I take it that you insist on using the so-called "Alphabet and Grammar" as the lens through which the Book of Abraham must be read, rather than simply reading the text itself?

If so, that's a clear methodological difference between us.

Can you justify your methodology in light of the evidence for the dependence of the Book of Abraham on the Alphabet and Grammar? Or is your methodological rejection of the Grammar the arbitrary child of necessity?

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The Book of Abraham also qualifies as an ascent,

I disagree. I see no ascent in the BoA.

and in his ascent the Lord describes the hierarchy of the celestial bodies to Abraham.

In the Apocalypse he sees seven firmaments.

You're diluting the correlations right out of the Book of Abraham. Keep in mind the Apocalypse comes from a much different time period with much different priorities. The characters and the general storyline remain the same, though.

No they don't, except within a broad biblical framework.

Often ancient authors would recycle the same general literary template and change the details to suit their agenda. The Book of Abraham fits perfectly into this genre and this literary idiosyncrasy.

I agree; the tenor of Joseph Smith's biblical revisionism is similar to ancient pseudepigraphy.

The pre-mortal spirits are not that important to establishing a relationship between the texts, but if you want some interesting literature, check out Nissim Wernick's thesis about the Book of Abraham and Jewish extra-biblical literature. Most relevant is the chapter on the preexistence:

http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/...ICK.html?200521

I'll look into it.

You also left out the Testament of Abraham, which contains the same characters and the same general storyline, but differs in details. Charlesworth describes it thus:

In the first nine chapters the archangel Michael vainly seeks to obtain the soul of Abraham, who refuses to die. A deal is arranged by which Abraham agrees to come with Michael if he can first see the created world, a wish that is granted and described in an apocalyptic section that covers 10-14. Upon returning home Abraham refuses to die, but is eventually tricked by Death.

It comes from first century C.E. Egypt, and it's the same ascension as the other two.

How is that the same general storyline as the BoA?

-Chris

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I disagree. I see no ascent in the BoA.

Whether physical or not, there is a throne theophany and he is shown the heavens and the creation of the world. This is standard ascent vernacular.

In the Apocalypse he sees seven firmaments.

And in the Testament of Abraham he does not. So what?

No they don't, except within a broad biblical framework.

Abraham. Angel of the Lord. Throne theophany. Creation of the world. Pre-mortal souls. These are hardly elements of a "broad biblical framework." It is a very specific genre of ancient literature.

I agree; the tenor of Joseph Smith's biblical revisionism is similar to ancient pseudepigraphy.

And to what do you attribute this correlation? His studying under a Jewish teacher?

I'll look into it.

Please do.

How is that the same general storyline as the BoA?

Abraham. Angel of the Lord. Throne theophany. Creation of the world. Pre-mortal souls.

Genres and motifs help scholars to categorize and group literature without necessarily knowing the provenance. It is probably the most common means of provenancing unknown texts outside of philology/epigraphy. Joseph Smith seems to have perfectly recreated an ancient genre of literature that just happens to be similarly attested in two ancient Abrahamic texts. How do you explain his reconstruction of the celestial ascent?

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The vision in the Apocalypse of Abraham is qualitatively different than that in the Book of Abraham. In the Book of Abraham, Abraham views a pre-creation council of premortal spirits. In the Apocalypse of Abraham he has an ascension experience through the various firmaments, in which he witnesses pretty much all the different kinds of entities in the Jewish chain of being. Premortal spirits are mentioned only in passing, as one of a number of different kinds of spirits in the celestial hierarchy.

I'm also not sure the premortal spirits occur in every manuscript. At this website:

http://www.pseudepigrapha.com/pseudepigrap...of_Abraham.html

there are two translations, and only the right-hand one mentions the pre-mortal spirits. They appear to be taken from different manuscripts. The one on the left, which includes the tale of Barisat, is the one I recall seeing in Charlesworth's book (which at the moment I can't access).

Thanks for the info. My copy of the apocalypse of Abraham is in a book compilation of Old Testament Apocrypha published by Oxford. It mentions a vision of pre-mortal spirits pretty explicitly. While it is interesting that there are different manuscripts of the same account, I don't see how its relevant to the significance of a parallel present in one of the manuscripts.

I also don't see how some of the differences between the Book of Abraham and the Apocalypse of Abraham are that significant either. I wouldn't expect them to be exactly the same. Much how I wouldn't expect the Genesis account to be exactly the same as the Josephus account for example, though similarities indicate similar sources. I think the parallel I pointed out is significant enough to stand on its own, even though as Malkela notes, the templates are also very similar (I noticed this when first reading it). Abraham's vision of pre-mortal spirits is one of Joseph's most original additions to the Abraham story (if one looks at what Joseph had access to). Its presence in an ancient tradition is significant.

As for the Template similarities. Beyond both texts telling of Abraham having a vision of a type of celestial hierarchy, both begin the narrative with Abraham rejecting the ways of his father and end up with Abraham having a vision of the beginning--notably, premortal spirits, the creation and the garden of Eden. The Apocalypse of Abraham continues to give an account of human history there after, and the Book of Abraham cuts off at the Garden of Eden.

Here are some interesting quotes from the Apocalypse of Abraham:

"all the people you have seen stood before me before they were created."

"And I said, 'Mighty Ruler,' Who then are the people in this picture on this side and on that?...those on the right side of the picture, they are the people set apart for me from the people of Azazil. These are the people who are going to spring from you and will be called my people"

Abraham here has a vision of premortal spirits who were "set apart for" the Lord. They are destined to be the chosen people.

So not only does Abraham have a vision of pre-mortal spirits. He has a vision of special pre-mortal spirits, one might say, Noble and Great ones.

I also just noticed another striking parallel in a translation by Landsman (put in as a footnote in my book):

"And I said, Eternal One, Mighty One, what is the picture of creation? This is my will with regard to those who exist in the (divine) world counsel, and it seemed pleasing before my sight, and then afterwards I gave commandment to them through my word. And everything I had planned came into being."

God gives a command to the divine counsel concerning his will for creation, and the creation was brought into being. This seems very similar to God's command to the divine counsel to create the earth in the book of Abraham.

I think that the similarities are close enough that critics would claim Joseph used this text if it was available to him in 1835. Since he didn't have access to it, parallels are minimized and differences are maximized.

Best,

Jd1

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I think that the similarities are close enough that critics would claim Joseph used this text if it was available to him in 1835. Since he didn't have access to it, parallels are minimized and differences are maximized.

And then the apologists would answer with a FARMS Review article that chalks it up to coincidence because of all the differences, just like they have done with Swedenborg and Ethan Smith.

I don't deny that there are superficial similarities between these texts. Joseph Smith's project in the Nauvoo period was to revise the Christian understanding of salvation history and of the cosmos and to introduce an ordered hierarchy of being in which everything that starts at the bottom of the chain has the opportunity to climb to the top. He had an unfinished "Book of Abraham" from the Kirtland period that he had been promising to complete, so of course that was the natural outlet for these new doctrinal innovations. Jewish and Christian pseudepigraphers were also interested in rewriting biblical texts to reflect an ordered hierarchy of being and a revision of salvation history. They had their hierarchies revealed to persons as diverse as Enoch, Abraham, Mary, Adam, and John. That Joseph Smith and the pseudepigraphers both appropriated Abraham for a similar project is, in my opinion, mostly coincidence. There's also the fact that Joseph had the hypocephalus (Facsimile 2)-- which Michael Chandler told him was an "anstronomical representation"-- and that JS and Oliver found in Josephus that Abraham had taught astronomy to the Egyptians. So it's quite natural for JS to claim that this knowledge was revealed to Abraham via the Urim and Thummim. Abraham thus becomes a biblical prototype legitimating Joseph's project.

There is, however, nothing here that's specific enough to suggest a direct relationship between the two. Certainly there isn't anything that overcomes the mountain of direct, specific evidence against the Book of Abraham.

Mak wrote,

Whether physical or not, there is a throne theophany and he is shown the heavens and the creation of the world. This is standard ascent vernacular.

Mak is right to try to sneak a throne theophany in there, because the throne theophany scene is central to the merkavah ascent genre. The word merkavah, in fact, means chariot, referring to the chariot throne. Most merkavah literature climaxes with a dramatic vision of God seated on his throne, usually modeled on the vision in the early chapters of Ezekiel. Some later gnostic versions divest themselves of the anthropomorphic chariot trappings and make the climax a realm of divine light. Dante's Paradiso falls into the latter category: he ascends through a succession of spheres/planets, including the realm of the fixed stars, until he finally arrives at the realm of divine light: the "Empyrean".

Aside from a casual reference to Kolob as the throne of God in the BoA, there is no such climax. There is no dramatic before-the-throne experience. So while you're right to suggest that the BoA vision is in some respects similar to merkavah literature, you're wrong to suggest that it is strictly typical of the genre. You're also wrong to imply that the genre was unavailable to JS: he had examples in Ezekiel and Revelation and others, perhaps, in more modern works like Dante and Swedenborg.

And to what do you attribute this correlation? His studying under a Jewish teacher?

One hardly needs to study under a Jewish teacher to rewrite the Bible for one's own theological purposes. People have been doing this for a long time, and JS was at it years before he met his Hebrew teacher.

In any case, there's a methodological problem here. Merkavah literature is typical of the last few centuries B.C., and is basically unknown before that. If the BoA is merkavah literature, then we're basically admitting that it's a late pesudepigraphon. Not only do we then have to reject the large majority of JS's own statements about the BoA and its own statements about itself, but we also have to drop the fanciful notion that the Ulisum/Olishem connection provides any evidence for the Book of Abraham.

Best,

-Chris

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Mak is right to try to sneak a throne theophany in there, because the throne theophany scene is central to the merkavah ascent genre. The word merkavah, in fact, means chariot, referring to the chariot throne. Most merkavah literature climaxes with a dramatic vision of God seated on his throne, usually modeled on the vision in the early chapters of Ezekiel. Some later gnostic versions divest themselves of the anthropomorphic chariot trappings and make the climax a realm of divine light. Dante's Paradiso falls into the latter category: he ascends through a succession of spheres/planets, including the realm of the fixed stars, until he finally arrives at the realm of divine light: the "Empyrean".

Aside from a casual reference to Kolob as the throne of God in the BoA, there is no such climax. There is no dramatic before-the-throne experience. So while you're right to suggest that the BoA vision is in some respects similar to merkavah literature,

I'm going to stop you right there. I did not say merkavah experience, I said throne theophany. You said that the throne theophany is a central element of the merkavah genre, which is correct, but the throne theophany is not exclusive to the merkavah experience. I would call the Book of Abraham more of a hekhalot experience, although it's not that kabbalistic. This is a red herring.

you're wrong to suggest that it is strictly typical of the genre. You're also wrong to imply that the genre was unavailable to JS: he had examples in Ezekiel and Revelation and others, perhaps, in more modern works like Dante and Swedenborg.

One hardly needs to study under a Jewish teacher to rewrite the Bible for one's own theological purposes. People have been doing this for a long time, and JS was at it years before he met his Hebrew teacher.

So he just happened to change the genre around enough to correlate almost perfectly with two ancient Abrahamic texts? Are you really going to insist he got the idea from Ezekiel? Why no description of the throne? Why no description of the animals? BoA describes the heavens, like the other Abrahamic texts, but Ezekiel does no such thing? Why no lamentations? I'm afraid Ezekiel is an unlikely inspiration for the Book of Abraham.

In any case, there's a methodological problem here. Merkavah literature is typical of the last few centuries B.C., and is basically unknown before that. If the BoA is merkavah literature, then we're basically admitting that it's a late pesudepigraphon. Not only do we then have to reject the large majority of JS's own statements about the BoA and its own statements about itself, but we also have to drop the fanciful notion that the Ulisum/Olishem connection provides any evidence for the Book of Abraham.

That's fascinating, but I never said merkavah. Please don't put words in my mouth.

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Mak, let's not split hairs here. Merkavah and Hekhalot are so similar that they are usually treated together and frequently are even conflated into a single genre. For the hekhalot mystic as well as the merkavah mystic, the goal of the mystical journey is a throne theophany, frequently conceived even in hekhalot mysticism as a chariot. In any case, I loosely applied the term "merkavah" to describe the ascent genre to which Ezekiel, Enoch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham belong. Proto-merkavah might be a better term.

Whatever term we use, the absence of a throne theophany from the BoA demonstrates that it does not belong in this genre.

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Mak, let's not split hairs here. Merkavah and Hekhalot are so similar that they are usually treated together and frequently are even conflated into a single genre. For the hekhalot mystic as well as the merkavah mystic, the goal of the mystical journey is a throne theophany, frequently conceived even in hekhalot mysticism as a chariot. In any case, I loosely applied the term "merkavah" to describe the ascent genre to which Ezekiel, Enoch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham belong. Proto-merkavah might be a better term.

Whatever term we use, the absence of a throne theophany from the BoA demonstrates that it does not belong in this genre.

You mean that Kolob is "nigh unto the throne of God" (3:9)? Is that the part of Abraham that lacks a throne theophany?

No time to elucidate now, but you are conflating quite distinct genres, with serious problems for your assertions. Technically speaking, an ascent text is not merkavah unless it mentions the merkavah (and likewise it is not hekhalot unless there are hekhalot mentioned). Abraham doesn't. Abraham does have a throne theophany, as do the most archaic versions of ascent texts (e.g. Isa 6).

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Sorry Chris, but you need to do your homework better before you start making such sweeping and absolutist conclusions about these things. Hereâ??s just a sample of the things that Tvedtnes, Hauglid, and Gee assembled in their fabulous collection Traditions of the Early Life of Abraham:

In the 7th chapter of the Apocalypse of Abraham, Abraham undertakes to elucidate true doctrine to his father. It is an evangelistic speech.

In the 22nd chapter, we read of the divine council, of a â??spiritualâ? creation, and of the preexistence of the souls of men:

1. And I said, â??Eternal, Mighty One! What is this picture of creation?â?

2. And he said to me, â??This is my will with regard to what is in [the council] and it was good before my face. And then, afterward, I gave them a command by my word and they came into existence. Whatever I had decreed was to exist had already been outlined in this and all the previously created [things] you have seen stood before me.â?

3. And I said, â??O sovereign, mighty and eternal! Why are the people in this picture on this side and on that?â?

4. And he said to me, â??These who are on the left side are a multitude of tribes who existed previously â?¦ and after you some (who have been) prepared for judgment and order, others for revenge and perdition at the end of the age.

5. Those on the right side of the picture are the people set apart for me of the people with Azazel; these are the ones I have prepared to be born of you and to be called my people.â?

extract from the translation by R Rubinkiewicz, in The Old Testament Pseudipigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 1:689-709)

Rabbinic commentaries interpret the passage to which you refer above (regarding Abraham as an evangelist) consistent with the idea that Abraham was a missionary in Haran:

â?¦ why does the Scripture say: â??And the persons that they had made in Haran â?¦â?? To teach you that Abraham our father, may he rest in peace, made the men proselytes and Sarah his wife made the women proselytes, as Scripture says: â??And the persons that they had made in Haran â?¦â?

Extracts from Abot de Rabbi Nathan, Judah Goldin, trans., The Fathers according to Rabbi Nathan, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955), 52, 68, emphasis mine

Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brotherâ??s son, and all the possession which they had acquired, and all the persons whom they had converted in Haran, and they went forth to go to the land of Canaan.

Targum Jonathan, Michael Maher, trans., Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1992), 62, emphasis mine

And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot, his brotherâ??s son, and all their wealth which they had acquired and the souls they had converted.

Targum Neofiti 1, Martin McNamara, trans., Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1992, 95, emphasis mine

And Abram took his wife Sarai, and Lot his brotherâ??s son, and all their possessions which they had acquired, and the persons whom they had subjected to the Law in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to the land of Canaan.

The Targum Onqelos to Genesis, Bernard Grossfeld, trans., (Wilmington, Del.: Glazier, 1988), 63, emphasis mine

There are more citations I could give, but in the interest of time I will only add this final one that also touches upon the pre-existent nature of the souls of men â?? specifically Abraham:

And when Abraham our father understood, formed, permuted, probed, thought and was successful, the Blessed Holy One revealed Himself to him, declaring to him, â??Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before [you] emerged from the womb, I sanctified you. I have made you a prophet for the nations.

from Sefer Yetzirah, Aryeh Kaplan, trans., (York Beach, Maine: Weiser, 1990); Saadia Version 8:5

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Mak, let's not split hairs here. Merkavah and Hekhalot are so similar that they are usually treated together and frequently are even conflated into a single genre. For the hekhalot mystic as well as the merkavah mystic, the goal of the mystical journey is a throne theophany, frequently conceived even in hekhalot mysticism as a chariot. In any case, I loosely applied the term "merkavah" to describe the ascent genre to which Ezekiel, Enoch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham belong. Proto-merkavah might be a better term.

You tried to equate the presence of a throne theophany with a merkavah experience (or rather tried to claim that I did) and then continued to state that the Book of Abraham fails to include one very specific element of the merkavah experience, which disqualified it as such. Who is splitting hairs here?

Whatever term we use, the absence of a throne theophany from the BoA demonstrates that it does not belong in this genre.

Absence of a throne theophany?

And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it. . . . And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lordâ??s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same border as that upon which thou standest. And it is given unto thee to know the set time of all the stars that are set to give light, until thou come near. Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made

I think what you mean to say is that it does not qualify as a Jewish mystical throne theophany like you might find in 1st century B.C.E. merkavah texts, but that fact doesn't really help your argument at all.

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I have difficult time seeing how Abraham having a vision of spirits that are both premortal and chosen is a superficial similarity (a type of vision that only occurs once in Josephâ??s revelations). I also have a difficult time seeing how God commanding the divine counsel to create the earth is a superficial similarity.

And then the apologists would answer with a FARMS Review article that chalks it up to coincidence because of all the differences, just like they have done with Swedenborg and Ethan Smith.

Do you find their arguments convincing? I personally donâ??t. I donâ??t think God can create concepts, revelations and texts ex-nihilo but that he probably had to work through ideas present in Josephâ??s cultural environment, at least for a conceptual foundation.

Your minimization of these compelling correlations is about as unconvincing as theirs.

Certainly there isn't anything that overcomes the mountain of direct, specific evidence against the Book of Abraham.

I agree there may be evidence against a certain conceptualization of the Book of Abrahamâ??s production, but that does not equal a case against the authenticity of the bulk of the resulting text.

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Can you justify your methodology in light of the evidence for the dependence of the Book of Abraham on the Alphabet and Grammar? Or is your methodological rejection of the Grammar the arbitrary child of necessity?

It's the arbitrary child of necessity, of course.

Sheesh.

Actually, I think it's quite striking that you implicitly admit to using the so-called "Alphabet and Grammar" as your interpretive filter rather than simply reading the Book of Abraham itself for what it says. That's a very useful datum. One might, in this case, even call it an arbitrary child of desire. There's no question that insisting upon an indisputably nineteenth-century text as the proper framework within which to read the Book of Abraham materially assists you in your quest to demonstrate that the Book of Abraham is a nineteenth-century text. What a fortunate coincidence!

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There's no question that insisting upon an indisputably nineteenth-century text as the proper framework within which to read the Book of Abraham materially assists you in your quest to demonstrate that the Book of Abraham is a nineteenth-century text. What a fortunate coincidence!

If the critics are not allowed the exclusive right to define all terms and conditions they may be unable to dictate what conclusions are possible. They can't let that happen.

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You mean that Kolob is "nigh unto the throne of God" (3:9)? Is that the part of Abraham that lacks a throne theophany?

Yep. "Theophany" refers to a divine disclosure or "showing forth" (phainein) of God. Viewing Kolob from a distance and having someone tell you, "oh yeah, God's throne is somewhere near there" does not qualify as a throne theophany. Sorry to burst your bubble.

No time to elucidate now, but you are conflating quite distinct genres, with serious problems for your assertions. Technically speaking, an ascent text is not merkavah unless it mentions the merkavah (and likewise it is not hekhalot unless there are hekhalot mentioned). Abraham doesn't. Abraham does have a throne theophany, as do the most archaic versions of ascent texts (e.g. Isa 6).

Texts frequently include both hekhalot and the merkavah, and both genres are structurally quite similar. The Apocalypse of Abraham does have a merkavah, but you're right that the Book of Abraham does not. That is exactly my point. Thanks for making it for me.

I think what you mean to say is that it does not qualify as a Jewish mystical throne theophany like you might find in 1st century B.C.E. merkavah texts, but that fact doesn't really help your argument at all.

When 1st century B.C.E. merkavah texts are the "template" you're claiming it follows, the fact that it's missing the key element actually does help my argument.

There's no question that insisting upon an indisputably nineteenth-century text as the proper framework within which to read the Book of Abraham materially assists you in your quest to demonstrate that the Book of Abraham is a nineteenth-century text. What a fortunate coincidence!

That "indisputably nineteenth-century text" was translated by Joseph Smith from the hieroglyphic characters accompanying the initial vignette of the Hor Book of Breathings. It was then used as a key to the interpretation of the symbols whence the Book of Abraham is derived. It was considered by Joseph Smith and his scribes to be authentic, legitimate, and inspired. This conclusion is based on historical and text-critical evidence that you will shortly have the privilege of reading about in a paper co-authored by myself and Don Bradley. It is currently in the revision stages and should be submitted by December. Of course, you are also welcome to ignore the paper and continue making uneducated remarks if that's what you prefer.

I also have a difficult time seeing how God commanding the divine counsel to create the earth is a superficial similarity.

I have resisted commenting on this because without access to the Greek text I cannot make an authoritative pronouncement. But it's worth pointing out that the English words "council" and "counsel" are not the same. "Counsel" can refer to advice or to a plan, whereas "Council" refers to a group of entities meeting together. What we have in Charlesworth's translation, despite Will Schryver's use of brackets to hide it, is the phrase "world-counsel". It is not, note, the phrase "world-council" or "divine council". Assuming that Charlesworth has spelled the word correctly-- and context suggests that he has-- this refers not to the divine council, but to a sort of "blueprint" for creation. In Platonic philosophy, there was a world of "forms": ideal, spiritual versions of material things. Philo, the first-century Hellenistic Jewish interpreter, interpreted Genesis 1 and 2 in light of the Platonic doctrine of "forms", so that Genesis 1 was understood as a spiritual creation (Platonic forms) and Genesis 2 was understood as a material creation. The Jewish doctrine of pre-existence appears to have grown out of a similar application of Platonic philosophy to Jewish ideas. So yes, like Philo, the Apocalypse of Abraham envisions a pre-creation creation and probably pre-mortal "spirits". And yes, this is similar to Joseph Smith's cosmology in the Books of Moses and Abraham, which used the same strategy to resolve the same contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2.

Rabbinic commentaries interpret the passage to which you refer above (regarding Abraham as an evangelist) consistent with the idea that Abraham was a missionary in Haran:

This is exactly the observation I was responding to in the OP.

Do you find their arguments convincing? I personally donâ??t. I donâ??t think God can create concepts, revelations and texts ex-nihilo but that he probably had to work through ideas present in Josephâ??s cultural environment, at least for a conceptual foundation.

Your minimization of these compelling correlations is about as unconvincing as theirs.

I do find compelling the argument that JS was not directly dependent on these texts. I believe, however, that some of the ideas reflected in Ethan Smith and maybe also in Swedenborg were floating around in JS's milieu, and that he imbibed them and used them in producing the Book of Mormon.

In sum, here's my view: like the Jewish pseudepigraphers, Joseph Smith was an innovative interpreter of the Bible. By playing on obscure biblical texts, he developed a sophisticated hierarchy of beings, both spiritual and physical, and he rewrote the flow of salvation history. And like the Jewish pseudepigraphers, he gave his ideas added credibility by writing them into the biblical narratives and putting them in the mouths of figures like John, Moses, and Abraham. Joseph Smith noticed some of the same peculiarities in the biblical text that Jewish pseudepigraphers had picked up on, and both tried to explain them in similar ways. It is a credit to Joseph Smith that he so often reinvented interpretations that have historically been suggested by Jewish interpreters (even though in most of these cases he and they were both wrong).

I think that the broad similarity of Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham to the Apocalypse of Abraham only demonstrates how timeless is this project of biblical revision, and how similar are the efforts of two imaginative, conservative interpreters trying to interpret the same obscure or contradictory biblical texts. I don't think there is anything in the Book of Abraham that makes it more at home in either 2000 BC or the first-century A.D. than in the 19th-century.

Best,

-Chris

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