Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant

Book Notice

Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, volume 3 of Studies on the Book of Abraham (FARMS: Provo, Utah, 2005)

This volume’s twelve articles analyze the book of Abraham, contributing significantly to needed research on this scripture. Most of the articles were presented at a FARMS conference in 1999 and are published now for the first time. Here serious scholarly study of the book of Abraham is made accessible to nonspecialists. Topics covered include the historicity of the book of Abraham, meanings and symbols in covenants, and literary aspects of the text.

The first two articles deal with astronomy in the book of Abraham. John Gee, William Hamblin, and Daniel Peterson combine to argue skillfully, on six grounds, that the view of stars and of the heavens found in the book of Abraham is completely at home in the geocentric cosmic view that held sway from the time of the Egyptians down to the time of Copernicus, before the worldview became dominated by a heliocentric cosmology. J. Ward Moody, professor of physics and astronomy, and Michael Rhodes, professor of ancient scripture, successfully bring their two worlds together in “Astronomy and the Creation.” This very interesting article offers a satisfying understanding of the processes and duration of the creation that fits both modern science and the scriptural accounts, including comments on evolution and the seven creative periods in Abraham 4.

Studies by E. Douglas Clark and Jared W. Ludlow build on pseudepigraphic works such as the Genesis Apocryphon and the Apocalypse of Abraham, and Peter Nadig analyzes sources relevant to the Jewish experience in Egypt during the Persian and Ptolemaic periods, in order to draw symbolic and cultural comparisons with phrases or materials relevant as ancient Jewish backgrounds to the book of Abraham.

The next section of the book discusses the Joseph Smith papyri. John Gee argues convincingly that Facsimile 3 and the Book of the Dead 125 are not parallel images, leaving open the task of looking for its real parallels. The article “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources” by Kevin Barney begins with the important acknowledgement that the papyrus Joseph Smith held in his hand was not the very papyrus touched by the hand of Abraham but had been copied over time. This allows for the possibility of intervening redactors who may be credited with the introduction of “Semitic adaptations” that transformed older themes in an underlying stratum of the writings of Abraham. Barney’s theory places the final form of the book of Abraham facsimiles where they belong textually—centuries after Abraham wrote his original text.

The concluding articles in this collection relate the book of Abraham to Muslim traditions about Abraham, to covenant aspects of women under the Abrahamic covenant, to the Israelite theology of redemption, and finally to American receptions of Abraham in the first half of the nineteenth century.

This nicely bound and edited volume should find a welcome place not just on the shelves of libraries but in the minds of all serious students of the book of Abraham. This work is an excellent resource for beginning and longtime scripture scholars. It continues many ongoing conversations and opens several new points of inquiry. As its editors state, no attempt has been made “to harmonize the various viewpoints and interpretations expressed in these articles.” These differences not only illustrate “the variety of interpretations of scripture that can come from a common background of faith” (viii), but also ensure that this book will add significantly to the growing body of scholarly literature about the book of Abraham.


Share This Article With Someone