A FARMS-sponsored conference held at BYU on Saturday, 16 October, highlighted recent research on the Book of Abraham. Titled "The Book of Abraham: Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant," the half-day event represented a broad, interdisciplinary approach to deepening understanding of the content and backgrounds of the Book of Abraham.
FARMS board chairman Daniel C. Peterson opened the conference by remarking that although the Book of Abraham has been neglected in scholarly studies, significant publications will be forthcoming. The first session, on Abrahamic astronomy, began with a presentation by Jared W. Ludlow, a doctoral candidate in Near Eastern religion at UC Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union. Ludlow compared Abraham as an astronomer with similar noncanonical Abrahamic traditions from the Apoca-lypse of Abraham, Pseudo-Eupolemus, Jubilees, and works by Philo, Josephus, and Artapanus. Noting the cluster of ancient texts that include material similar to that in the Book of Abraham, Ludlow concluded that those parallels are a "nudging con-firmation" of the authenticity of Joseph Smith's translation and that skeptics should seriously con-sider such evidence.
Michael D. Rhodes, an associate research professor in BYU's Department of Ancient Scripture, reported on his joint research with J. Ward Moody, BYU associate professor of physics and astronomy. Stating that "true religion agrees with true science," Rhodes proceeded to compare Abraham's descriptions of the heavens with mod-ern science. After touching upon the age of the earth, the advent of mankind, fossil remains, evolution, the conservation of matter, and other topics related to astronomy and the creation, he concluded that there is "a remarkable degree of agreement" between science and the Book of Abraham account.
Daniel C. Peterson, an associate professor in BYU's Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages, presented a paper he coauthored with BYU associate professor of history William J. Hamblin and FARMS assistant research professor John Gee. The paper argued that Abraham 3:1-11 refers to the visible heavens and reflects the ancient geocentric astronomy traceable to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt of Abraham's time. Addressing the question of why the Lord chose to teach Abraham a limited, geocentric view of the heavens, Peterson cited D&C 1:24 and emphasized that geo-centric astronomy is not necessarily incorrect. He then discussed six items in the Book of Abraham that make sense only if seen from a geocentric per-spective.
John Gee, an Egyptologist and assistant research professor at FARMS, debunked the commonly held notion that Facsimile 3 in the Book of Abraham represents the judgment scene from the Book of the Dead. He explained that many of the elements that the Egyptians thought were essential to the judgment scene are missing from Facsimile 3. He also demonstrated that Facsimiles 1 and 3 are not vignettes from the Book of Breathings.
Peter C. Nadig, research assistant for an institute of history in Aachen, Germany, reviewed the amicable relationship between the Jews and their Persian and Ptolemaic rulers in Egypt from the sixth to the first centuries B.C. Well regarded by those foreign administrations, Jewish immigrants to Egypt were allowed to worship freely and to even build temples there, a great contrast to the bondage of the children of Israel in Egypt during Pharaonic times.
Andrew H. Hedges, assistant professor of church history and doctrine at BYU, discussed American perceptions of Abraham from 1800 to 1850. He noted that whereas Abraham was commonly invoked in Colonial religious discourse, his importance was diminished after the Revolutionary War, an event that led Americans to see themselves less as a New Israel concerned about its covenant relationship to God and more as the seed of Abraham concerned about deliverance from England. Hedges concluded that because Abraham was at an "all-time low" in the 1835-42 period, the Book of Abraham would have been a very different book if it were based, as critics contend, on the American cultural milieu of Joseph Smith's time.
E. Douglas Clark, a student of the ancient Near East and a lawyer from Mesa, Arizona, pointed out commonalities between the Book of Abraham and ancient sources such as the Dead Sea Scroll material known as the Genesis Apocryphon.
Janet C. Hovorka, a student of the ancient Near East and a librarian from American Fork, Utah, explored Sarah's and Hagar's relationship to the Abrahamic covenant and compared that covenant to LDS temple marriage. She observed that although scripture does not state that Sarah and Hagar en-tered into a joint covenant with Abraham, they ap-pear to have done so, because they all received the three blessings of that covenant: numerous poster-ity, land for their descendants' inheritance, and the companionship or presence of the Lord.
Jennifer C. Lane, a doctoral candidate in early and medieval Christian thought at Claremont (California) Graduate University, discussed the meaning of a phrase from Isaiah 29:22: "the Lord who redeemed Abraham." Lane explained her view that this redemption was physical and spiritual, the latter not because Abraham was spiritu-ally unregenerate, but because he desired to be a greater follower of righteousness and thus sought a new relationship with God. The resulting covenant, Lane said, represented an adoptive relationship more than a contractual arrangement.
The three sessions were moderated by John Gee, Michael D. Rhodes, and Brian M. Hauglid, an assistant research professor in BYU's Department of Ancient Scripture and one of the principal inves-tigators, along with Gee and Brian L. Smith, on the FARMS Book of Abraham project. The nine papers presented at the conference will appear with others in a forthcoming volume published by FARMS.
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