This week, the Church released a new essay on the historicity and translation of the Book of Abraham. While there is much that we don’t know about this ancient book of scripture, based on the history, there are some things we can deduce from clues in the text itself, contemporary papyri, and eyewitnesses of the papyri:
- The Saints originally possessed two papyri scrolls, one written beautifully by a well-trained scribe, and the other less well done.
- The well written scroll was apparently associated with the Book of Joseph. Much, perhaps all, of what was described of this scroll we no longer have.
- The less well-written but longer scroll was associated with the Book of Abraham. We do not know if:
- the Book of Abraham was translated from a portion of the scroll (like the Book of Mormon),
- if seeing the scroll brought about a revealed scriptural text (like the Book of Moses), or if it brought about seeing a text in vision (like the parchment of John), or
- if some combination of these things or another inspired process altogether served as the means of bringing us the divinely inspired Book of Abraham.
- ancient Egyptians in general may have associated with them,
- a specific group of ancient Egyptians familiar with Abraham would have interpreted them,
- a group of ancient Jews would have interpreted them, or
- we need to interpret them as regardless of how ancient peoples viewed them.
In the end, while there are many more questions we must answer, the eyewitness accounts lead to the conclusion that the few mounted fragments we now have are not the source of the Book of Abraham. Thus we must also conclude that those who thought the text adjacent to Facsimile One was the source of the Book of Abraham were doing so based on a false assumption and a faulty methodology. The assumption that Joseph Smith translated that adjacent text has been proven to be an unfounded assumption. While there is much we still have to learn about the papyri, the source of the Book of Abraham, and the translation process, and while the eyewitness accounts do not answer many of these questions, they at least tell us what the source was not. These accounts firmly demonstrate that the fragments we now have are not what the early Saints said was the source of the Book of Abraham.
Kerry Muhlestein is a professor at BYU in the Department of Ancient Scripture, specializing in Egyptology. He is also an accomplished author and recently released two books to aid study of the Old Testament in Gospel Doctrine this year: The Essential Old Testament Companion and Return Unto Me, a short book on finding God's love in the Old Testament.