Early Traditions about Abraham
On 7 February 2001 Brian Hauglid and John Tvedtnes discussed their work of comparing early Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and other traditions about Abraham with the accounts of Abraham in the Bible and in the Book of Abraham. Their efforts are part of a larger project on the Book of Abraham that will result in several FARMS publications. One is a compendium of more than 120 early Abrahamic traditions culled from extrabiblical sources that contain elements found in the Book of Abraham but missing from the Genesis account. This volume, edited by Tvedtnes, Hauglid, and John Gee, is completed and will be available early this summer. A related volume by Tvedtnes and Hauglid will detail narrative elements of the Book of Abraham missing from the Bible but corroborated by other ancient texts.
Hauglid, an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU, noted that the Book of Abraham is supported by many extrabiblical sources and that its simple, unembellished narrative suggests its authenticity as a textus receptus, or the text upon which later traditions were built. For example, one tradition describes how Abraham escaped after being bound and cast into a fire. According to Hauglid, the introduction of fire into the otherwise familiar story may have resulted from a mistranslation of an earlier text and is an example of narrative expansion by later exegetes.
He also argued that a methodology for evaluating narrative expansion, such as the one that James Kugel develops and tests in his book In Potiphar's House, can provide a starting point for Latter-day Saint scholars interested in analyzing scriptural and extra-biblical parallels. A methodology of this type (which involves examining simultaneous versing in parallel accounts and seeing how narrative motifs travel and become harmonized with other motifs) could aid in tracing narrative parallels to possible origins and determining their antiquity and credibility.
Tvedtnes, associate director of research at FARMS, shared examples of ancient traditions that support nonbiblical aspects of the Book of Abraham account. For example, while the Bible does not mention a famine in Ur of the Chaldees (Abrahams homeland), a number of early Jewish and Muslim texts do, thereby corroborating Abraham 1:2930; 2:1. Tvedtnes also noted that recent scientific investigations, such as archaeological excavations and sediment samplings from the ocean floor, confirm that there was a drought during Abrahams time in a large region that included his homeland. Another striking example of extra-biblical support for the Book of Abraham account is the many early sources that say Abraham wrote about astronomya detail absent from the Bible.