Gospel Topics: “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” July 08 2014

This morning the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published another essay in its Gospel Topics series at LDS.org, this one on the subject of  “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.” The essay discusses a number of complexities surrounding the coming forth of the Book of Abraham, with a refreshing candor that balances scholarly rigor and faith in the book's scriptural authenticity and value.

Among other things, the essay offers an insightful approach to this book of scripture that takes into account many of the issues raised by contemporary scholarship. Rather that treating the scriptural text as a direct translation of a papyrus written by Abraham himself, the essay suggests that:

Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation. According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.

Thus, a space is clearly opened up for faithful Latter-day Saints to consider the Book of Abraham as a kind of midrash, an inspired account of the life and teachings of Abraham, revealed directly to the prophet Joseph Smith.

Author David Bokovoy has discussed these issues at some length, establishing himself as perhaps the premier exponent of the catalyst theory of the Book of Abraham. In his book, Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomyhe explores in great detail the questions and insights raised about Abraham by historical criticism and documentary analysis. Professor Bokovoy's chapter on the Book of Abraham in Authoring the Old Testament is an absolute must read for Latter-day Saints interested in these questions.

Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy is available in both print and ebook, and can be purchased here.

David Bokovoy holds a PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East and an MA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies both from Brandeis University. He received his BA from Brigham Young University, majoring in History and minoring in Near Eastern Studies. In addition to his work in Mormon studies, David has published articles on the Hebrew Bible in a variety of academic venues including the Journal of Biblical Literature, Vetus TestamentumStudies in the Bible and Antiquity, and the FARMS Review. He is the co-author of the book Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible. The father of four children Kate, Rebekah, Joshua, and Madelyn, David is married to the former Carolyn Bird. He currently teaches courses in Bible and Mormon Studies at the University of Utah.