Abraham 1

Historical Background

Joseph Smith

On the 3rd of July [1835], Michael H. Chandler came to Kirtland to exhibit some Egyptian mummies. There were four human figures, together with some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and devices. As Mr. Chandler had been told I could translate them, he brought me some of the characters, and I gave him the interpretation, and like a gentleman, he gave me the following certificate:

Kirtland, July 6, 1835.

This is to make known to all who may be desirous, concerning the knowledge of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., in deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic characters in my possession, which I have, in many eminent cities, showed to the most learned; and, from the information that I could ever learn, or meet with, I and that of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., to correspond in the most minute matters.

Michael H. Chandler,

Traveling with, and proprietor of, Egyptian mummies.

...Soon after this, some of the Saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies and papyrus, a description of which will appear hereafter, and with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.,-a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth. (History of the Church, 2:235-236)

Joseph Smith

The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of mummies-hieroglyphics, etc.; with many characters of letters like the present (though probably not quite so square) form of the Hebrew without points. The records were obtained from one of the catacombs in Egypt, near the place where once stood the renowned city of Thebes, by the celebrated French traveler, Antonio Lebolo, in the year 1831. He procured license from Mehemet Ali, then Viceroy of Egypt, under the protection of Chevalier Drovetti, the French Consul, in the year 1828, and employed four hundred and thirty-three men, four months and two days (if I understand correctly)-Egyptian or Turkish soldiers, at from four to six cents per diem, each man. He entered the catacomb June 7, 1831, and obtained eleven mummies. There were several hundred mummies in the same catacomb; about one hundred embalmed after the first order, and placed in niches, and two or three hundred after the second and third orders, and laid upon the floor or bottom of the grand cavity. The two last orders of embalmed were so decayed, that they could not be removed, and only eleven of the first, found in the niches. On his way from Alexandria to Paris, he put in at Trieste, and, after ten days' illness, expired. This was in the year 1832. Previous to his decease, he made a will of the whole, to Mr. Michael H. Chandler, (then in Philadelphia, Pa.,) his nephew, whom he supposed to be in Ireland. Accordingly, the whole were sent to Dublin, and Mr. Chandler's friends ordered them to New York, where they were received at the Custom House, in the winter or spring of 1833. In April, of the same year, Mr. Chandler paid the duties and took possession of his mummies. Up to this time, they had not been taken out of the coffins, nor the coffins opened. On opening the coffins, he discovered that in connection with two of the bodies, was something rolled up with the same kind of linen, saturated with the same bitumen, which, when examined, proved to be two rolls of papyrus, previously mentioned. Two or three other small pieces of papyrus, with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c., were found with others of the mummies. When Mr. Chandler discovered that there was something with the mummies, he supposed or hoped it might be some diamonds or valuable metal, and was no little chagrined when he saw his disappointment. "He was immediately told, while yet in the custom house, that there was no man in that city who could translate his roll: but was referred, by the same gentleman, (a stranger,) to Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., who, continued he, possesses some kind of power or gifts, by which he had previously translated similar characters." I was then unknown to Mr. Chandler, neither did he know that such a book or work as the record of the Nephites, had been brought before the public. From New York, he took his collection on to Philadelphia, where he obtained the certificate of the learned, and from thence came on to Kirtland, as before related, in July. Thus I have given a brief history of the manner in which the writings of the fathers, Abraham and Joseph, have been preserved, and how I came in possession of the same-a correct translation of which I shall give in its proper place. (History of the Church, 2:348-351)

"After Joseph Smith's death in 1844, the mummies and papyri remained in the possession of his mother, Lucy Smith, unto her death on May 14, 1856. On May 26, 1856, Emma Smith Bidamon, the remarried widow of Joseph Smith, sold them to Abel Combs.  Soon thereafter Combs sold at least two of the mummies and several of the papyri to the St. Louis museum.  In 1863 the museum was moved to Chicago, Illinois.  The two mummies and some papyri remained on display in the museum there until it was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871.

"For many years it was assumed that all of the papyri were destroyed in this fire. However, in 1966 Dr. Aziz Atiya, a distinguished professor of history at the University of Utah, found eleven papyri fragments in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art that were clearly part of the papyri that Joseph Smith owned.  The museum donated these papyri to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1967, and they are now kept in the Church archives.  Abel Coombs (sic) had, in fact, not sold all of the papyri to the St. Louis museum but had kept some pieces that had broken off the main rolls and were mounted in picture frames. When he died, he willed these papyri to Charlotte Benecke Weaver, who had nursed him during the final illness before his death.  When Charlotte died, her daughter Alice Heusser, inherited the fragments, and after her death her husband, Edward Heusser, sold the Papyri fragments to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1946.

"These papyri fragments came from three separate papyri rolls containing ancient Egyptian religious texts. One roll contains a Book of Breathings, a sort of abbreviated Book of the Dead, that belonged to a man named Hor the son of Usirwer.  There are two other rolls, each containing Books of the Dead, one belonging to Tshemmin the daughter of Eskhons, and the other to a woman by the name of Neferirnub.  Joseph Smith also owned a third Book of the Dead belonging to Amenhotep son of Tanub, and a document that Egyptologists call a hypocephalus (Facsimile 2) that belonged to a man named Sheshonq, although these were not found among the Metropolitan Museum of Art fragments. On the basis of the handwriting, the historical period in which the religious writings on these papyri were in use in Egypt, and other historical references to at least one of the original owners of the papyri, these Egyptian documents can be reliably dated to somewhere between 220 and 150 B.C." (The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse by Verse Commentary, RD Draper, SK Brown, MD Rhodes, [SLC:  Deseret Book, 2005], 240-241)

Introductory Comments on the Joseph Smith Papyri

"Since the papyri fragments that the Church now owns are part of the papyri Joseph Smith used in translating the book of Abraham, the question naturally arises whether any part of the book of Abraham can be found in these surviving fragments.  The answer is no. Critics of Joseph Smith claim this proves that he was a fraud." (The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse by Verse Commentary, RD Draper, SK Brown, MD Rhodes, [SLC:  Deseret Book, 2005], 240-241)

LDS scholars, including Hugh Nibley, have offered many explanations-most commonly that the fragments in the Church's possession represent only a portion of what Joseph originally used, and that the Book of Abraham scroll must have been burned or lost.  Most recently, some FARMS scholars have researched traditions about Abraham's early life in ancient Jewish, Christian, and Muslim writings.  There are literally hundreds of accounts from these sources that go far beyond the Genesis account of Abraham's life. These accounts have marked similarities to the Book of Abraham.  Of course, Joseph Smith had no access to these accounts because they were neither available nor translated into English in his day.  How then could Joseph have come up with such a consistent narrative if not by revelation?

"One might dismiss a single element found in a nonbiblical tradition that parallels the Book of Abraham as mere coincidence.  However, when a large number of such elements come together from diverse times and places, they overwhelmingly support the Book of Abraham as an ancient text. There are far too many references to Terah as an idolator, Abraham as a sacrificial victim, Abraham as an astronomer, and Abraham as a missionary to lightly dismiss their antiquity." (J. Tvedtnes, B. Hauglid, J. Gee, Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, [Provo: FARMS, 2001], xxxv)

The smoking gun for LDS scholars would have been to find an external account of an Egyptian priest attempting to sacrifice Abraham as depicted in facsimile 1.  While such an account was not found, other accounts of Abraham's life being in danger for opposing idolatry were found.

"A number of elements or themes in Abraham 2 are not found in the biblical account (Gen. 11-12).  The following list provides twelve of these elements and themes from the Book of Abraham verses noted in the comparison.

  1. A famine struck Abraham's homeland (Abraham 2:1, 5).
  2. Haran died in the famine (Abraham 2:1).
  3. Terah, after repenting returned to his idols (Abraham 2:5).
  4. Believers are the seed of Abraham and are blessed through him (Abraham 2:10-11).
  5. Abraham held the priesthood (Abraham 2:9,11)
  6. Abraham sought God earnestly (Abraham 2:12).
  7. An angel came to rescue Abraham (Abraham 2:13).
  8. Abraham was familiar with Egyptian idols (Abraham 2:13; 3:20).
  9. Abraham was sixty-two years old when he left Haran, not seventy-five as Genesis says (Abraham 2:14).
  10. Abraham made converts in Haran (Abraham 2:15).
  11. Abraham prayed that God would end the famine in Chaldea (Abraham 2:17).
  12. The Lord instructed Abraham to say that Sarah was his sister (Abraham 2:22-25).

"Taken as a whole, the Abraham traditions contained in this book show that all of the elements in this list are attested in nonbiblical traditions to one degree or another.  Some elements attested only in Abraham 2 but not in Genesis 11 and 12 appear regularly in nonbiblical texts.  For instance, the themes of Terah's idolatry, an angel rescuing Abraham, and Abraham making coverts in Haran are so well attested by a large cross section of traditions that it appears odd the biblical account does not include them. Abraham 1 and 3 are not attested at all in the Bible, yet they also contain elements that are well evidenced in nonbibilical traditions. Abraham 1 contains the sacrifice of Abraham, Abraham as a record keeper, and the destruction of the idols, and Abraham 3 contains an account of Abraham's knowledge and use of astronomy." (J. Tvedtnes, B. Hauglid, J. Gee, Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, [Provo: FARMS, 2001], xxii-xxiii)

If the doubter looks to the papyri for proof of Joseph Smith's divine calling, he won't find it.  We have neither the gold plates nor the papyrus with the Book of Abraham on it.  According to divine design, the Prophet's calling will be-will always be-a matter of faith.  The believer knows that no human hand could have authored the Book of Abraham in 1835 without divine help.  Similarly, the believer knows that Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon by himself.  Whether or not an Egyptologist can find the same text in the papyrus is irrelevant.  God never asks for the wisdom of men to prove his work.  He proves it Himself.  At the judgment bar, the proof will be given to all, but we might not want to wait until then to believe.

Hugh Nibley

What about the Book of Abraham? In it Joseph Smith has given us a straightforward and detailed narrative, the boldness, ingenuity, and originality of which should excite the interest and command the respect of anyone who has ever tried to write anything. Even as a work of fiction it does not permit the reader to see in it the production of some poor fool who had no idea of what he was doing, completely befuddled as to his sources, trying to squeeze a story out of a handful of perfectly meaningless Egyptian doodles. We invite the critics to use the great advantage of their superior education and unlimited source material to produce anything like it. (Abraham in Egypt [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1981], 1 - 2)

Abraham 1:1 the land of the Chaldeans... the residence of my fathers

The land of the Chaldeans was in modern day Iraq.  The Bible tells us the name of the city where Terah dwelt was "Ur of the Chaldees" (Gen. 11:28).

"Ur... was an important city-state in ancient Sumer located at the site of modern Tell el-Muqayyar in Iraq's Dhi Qar Governorate.  Once a coastal city near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf, Ur is now well inland, south of the Euphrates on its right bank, 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Nasiriyah...

"Ur was a major urban center on the Mesopotamian plain. Especially the discovery of the Royal Tombs have confirmed its splendour. These tombs, which date to the Early Dynastic IIIa period (approximately in the 25th or 24th century BC), contained immense amounts of luxury items made out of precious metals, and semi-precious stones all of which would have had to been imported from long distances (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, the Persian Gulf).  This up to then unparalleled wealth is a testimony of Ur's economic importance during the Early Bronze Age.

"Archaeological research of the region has also contributed greatly to our understanding of the landscape and long-distance interactions that took place during these ancient times. We know that Ur was the most important port on the Persian Gulf, which extended much further inland than it does today. All the wealth which came to Mesopotamia by sea had to pass through Ur." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur)

Abraham 1:1 I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence

Apparently, the ancients were euphemistic. Two main forces were likely driving Abraham from home. First is that his life was in danger (see Facsimile 1). Second was persistent conflict with his idolatrous father. It seems that Abraham is saying, "I am so sick of living here!" "I have got to get out of this house!" or perhaps, "They are going to kill me if I don't leave!" Instead, Abraham makes his statement in a much more politically correct fashion, "I saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence." Sounds like the understatement of a frustrated prophet! In other words, he was ready to move on. It was time to go.

Hugh Nibley

[Abraham] lived in a world that was a hell...

You notice the book of Abraham catches [this situation]. It begins with Abraham "in the soup." He is going to be sacrificed. It begins, "In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence." He couldn't hang on there any longer. He protested with his own family, and his own father wanted him put to death to the mother goddess. It was that bad. They "utterly refused to hearken to my voice," he said. (Teachings of the Book of Mormon--Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988--1990 [FARMS], 83)

Neal A. Maxwell

Abraham let [righteous] desires work in him until the day came when faith moved him away to start a different life. He certainly "gave place" by giving up his status quo in order to establish the better life he desired in "another place of residence." (See Abraham 1:1-2.) His sights were really set on the City of God, for he desired a heavenly country (see Hebrews 11:10, 16). (Lord, Increase Our Faith [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994], 106)

Abraham 1:2 I sought for the blessings of the fathers

Abraham had great desires.  Harold B. Lee said, "To attain greatness, it must be our heart's desire. I am convinced that no one ever attained to be or to do anything great that he hadn't consciously desired with all his heart." (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 75)

  • He sought for the blessings of the fathers including the priesthood.
  • He desired great knowledge
  • He desired to be a greater follower of righteousness
  • He desired to receive instructions
  • He desired to keep the commandments

"An interesting phenomenon about gospel study is that the more you know, the more you want to know. You recall that Abraham said he wanted to be a greater follower of righteousness and to possess a greater knowledge. (Abr. 1:2.)... When a person is once awakened to the knowledge and inklings of the doctrine and laws of God, the soul thirsts for gospel knowledge even more vigorously than the body craves food." (Robert J. Matthews, A Bible! A Bible! [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990], 27 - 28)

Carlos E. Asay

Father Abraham reminds us that desire, honest desire, helps to make blessings efficacious. He desired greater knowledge, more righteousness, added instructions, and stronger obedience. He also wanted to become a father of nations and a prince of peace. Ultimately, he received all that he sought because his heart was right and the realization of the blessing conformed with the will of the Lord. So will it be for all who seek with honest desire similar priesthood blessings. (Family Pecan Trees: Planting a Legacy of Faith at Home [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992], 59)

Edward J. Wood

I am always impressed... with the thought of how much greater power we would exert if we but fully followed the example set by Abraham, if we would think so much of our calling in the Priesthood that we would know that in it there is great happiness, peace, rest and blessings of the fathers, if we would only righteously seek for these blessings. (Conference Report, April 1923, Third Day-Morning Session 94)

Dallin H. Oaks

We are accountable for our desires, independent of our actions.

Desire is a state of mind that craves or wishes for something. Desires shape our motives, why we act, and what we wish to accomplish by our actions. Our most basic desires fix our priorities and identify our purpose in life. We are accustomed to thinking that our actions make us what we are. But since our actions are stimulated by our desires, it is more accurate to say that our desires make us what we are. Bruce C. Hafen said it well:

Not only will the righteous desires of our hearts be granted, but also the unrighteous desires of our hearts. Over the long run, our most deeply held desires will govern our choices, one by one and day by day, until our lives finally add up to what we have really wanted. (The Believing Heart [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986], p. 26)

Remarking upon the power of our desires, another writer predicted: "You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration" (James Allen, As a Man Thinketh [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, n.d.], p. 55).

Abraham's life illustrates this principle... (quotes Abraham 1:2)

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that on the way to perfection we must lose "every desire for sin."

The nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him (History of the Church 2:8).

We will be judged on the basis of our desires. In modern revelation the Lord explained, "For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts" (D&C 137:9). (Pure in Heart [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988], 51-52)

Abraham 1:2-3 I became a rightful heir... [the priesthood] was conferred upon me from the fathers

This priesthood was patriarchal; it was very unusual for someone to receive the priesthood if not through the patriarchal line.  "The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made" (D&C 107:40).  Abraham's father is an idolater and whether he was ever ordained to the priesthood is unknown.  Terah certainly wasn't worthy of the priesthood if he held it.  This was a problem for his righteous son.  How is Abraham going to get the priesthood if his father can't confer it?  Abraham is showing great faith and persistence in seeking the priesthood when his father was too wicked to confer it.  Indeed, he is the first person in scriptural history to obtain the priesthood from someone other than a direct line ancestor. To seek the priesthood was breaking all the norms of the day.  Likely, it had not been done before; it took great faith to believe such an exception could be made. When Abraham declares, "I became a rightful heir", he is making quite a claim.  Usually, you are an heir by lineage.  He was not born in a lineage by which he could be a "rightful heir"; he had to become one through the exercise of faith.  The same principle applies to the doctrine of election.  You can either be elect by lineage (i.e. the House of Israel, see D&C 29:7) or the foreknowledge of God, or you can become elect through righteousness in mortality (D&C 84:34).

"Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah" (D&C 84:14)

Joseph Smith

Abraham says to Melchizedek, I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 322-323)

Abraham 1:4 I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood

Spencer W. Kimball

This is a priesthood meeting, of course. All of you hold the priesthood; it is a great privilege to hold the priesthood, a great privilege. And let me read to you a few lines from your father Abraham to show you how important it was to him. He says...

   And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest [this other kind of rest, the kind that you work at] for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers... I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed. (Abr. 1:2-4.)

This is something that we are heir to, we were born heir to it, and all we need to do is qualify for it to obtain this blessing, without which we never could go to the temple. And never going to the temple, we could never be sealed. And therefore, we could have no families; we could not go on with our work. ("The Privilege of Holding the Priesthood," Ensign, Nov. 1975, 80)

Parley P. Pratt

This Priesthood, including that of the Aaronic, holds the keys of revelation of the oracles of God to man upon the earth; the power and right to give laws and commandments to individuals, churches, rulers, nations and the world; to appoint, ordain, and establish constitutions and kingdoms; to appoint kings, presidents, governors or judges, and to ordain or anoint them to their several holy callings, also to instruct, warn, or reprove them by the word of the Lord.

It also holds the keys of administration of ordinances for the remission of sins, and for the gift of the Holy Spirit; to heal the sick, cast out demons or work miracles in the name of the Lord; in fine, to bind or loose on earth and in heaven...

Although the chosen instruments chosen to hold the keys of this Priesthood must be the literal lineage of Israel, yet that lineage are not all thus commissioned, nor indeed are any of them Priests merely because they are of the chosen seed. Such an instrument must be revealed, and his ordination, which he had before the world began, be renewed and confirmed upon his fleshly tabernacle, or he cannot be a Priest on earth. (Key to the Science of Theology/A Voice of Warning [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1965], 73)

Abraham 1:5 My fathers... utterly refused to hearken to my voice

One of the great themes of non-biblical stories about Abraham is how ardently he fought against the principle of idolatry.  He is famous for mocking anyone so stupid to make an object with his own hands and then turn around and worship it!  Who is the god, the idol or his maker? 

From the Book of Jasher:

   Abram came to his father's house and saw twelve gods standing there in their temples, and the anger of Abram was kindled when he saw these images in his father's house.

   And Abram said, As the Lord liveth these images shall not remain in my father's house; so shall the Lord who created me do unto me if in three days' time I do not break them all.

   And Abram went from them, and his anger burned within him. And Abram hastened and went from the chamber to his father's outer court, and he found his father sitting in the court, and all his servants with him, and Abram came and sat before him.

   And Abram asked his father, saying, Father, tell me where is God who created heaven and earth, and all the sons of men upon earth, and who created thee and me. And Terah answered his son Abram and said, Behold those who created us are all with us in the house.

   And Abram said to his father, My lord, shew them to me I pray thee; and Terah brought Abram into the chamber of the inner court, and Abram saw, and behold the whole room was full of gods of wood and stone, twelve great images and others less than they without number.

   And Terah said to his son, Behold these are they which made all thou seest upon earth, and which created me and thee, and all mankind.

   And Terah bowed down to his gods, and he then went away from them, and Abram, his son, went away with him.

   And when Abram had gone from them he went to his mother and sat before her, and he said to his mother, Behold, my father has shown me those who made heaven and earth, and all the sons of men.

   Now, therefore, hasten and fetch a kid from the flock, and make of it savory meat, that I may bring it to my father's gods as an offering for them to eat; perhaps I may thereby become acceptable to them.

   And his mother did so, and she fetched a kid, and made savory meat thereof, and brought it to Abram, and Abram took the savory meat from his mother and brought it before his father's gods, and he drew nigh to them that they might eat; and Terah his father, did not know of it.

   And Abram saw on the day when he was sitting amongst them, that they had no voice, no hearing, no motion, and not one of them could stretch forth his hand to eat.

   And Abram mocked them, and said, Surely the savory meat that I prepared has not pleased them, or perhaps it was too little for them, and for that reason they would not eat; therefore tomorrow I will prepare fresh savory meat, better and more plentiful than this, in order that I may see the result.

   And it was on the next day that Abram directed his mother concerning the savory meat, and his mother rose and fetched three fine kids from the flock, and she made of them some excellent savory meat, such as her son was fond of, and she gave it to her son Abram; and Terah his father did not know of it.

   And Abram took the savory meat from his mother, and brought it before his father's gods into the chamber; and he came nigh unto them that they might eat, and he placed it before them, and Abram sat before them all day, thinking perhaps they might eat.

   And Abram viewed them, and behold they had neither voice nor hearing, nor did one of them stretch forth his hand to the meat to eat.

   And in the evening of that day in that house Abram was clothed with the spirit of God.

   And he called out and said, Wo unto my father and this wicked generation, whose hearts are all inclined to vanity, who serve these idols of wood and stone which can neither eat, smell, hear nor speak, who have mouths without speech, eyes without sight, ears without hearing, hands without feeling, and legs which cannot move; like them are those that made them and that trust in them.

   And when Abram saw all these things his anger was kindled against his father, and he hastened and took a hatchet in his hand, and came unto the chamber of the gods, and he broke all his father's gods.

  And when he had done breaking the images, he placed the hatchet in the hand of the great god which was there before them, and he went out; and Terah his father came home, for he had heard at the door the sound of the striking of the hatchet; so Terah came into the house to know what this was about.

   And Terah, having heard the noise of the hatchet in the room of images, ran to the room to the images, and he met Abram going out.

   And Terah entered the room and found all the idols fallen down and broken, and the hatchet in the hand of the largest, which was not broken, and the savory meat which Abram his son had made was still before them.

   And when Terah saw this his anger was greatly kindled, and he hastened and went from the room to Abram.

   And he found Abram his son still sitting in the house; and he said to him, What is this work thou hast done to my gods?

   And Abram answered Terah his father and he said, Not so my lord, for I brought savory meat before them, and when I came nigh to them with the meat that they might eat, they all at once stretched forth their hands to eat before the great one had put forth his hand to eat.

   And the large one saw their works that they did before him, and his anger was violently kindled against them, and he went and took the hatchet that was in the house and came to them and broke them all, and behold the hatchet is yet in his hand as thou seest.

   And Terah's anger was kindled against his son Abram, when he spoke this; and Terah said to Abram his son in his anger, What is this tale that thou hast told? Thou speakest lies to me.

   Is there in these gods spirit, soul or power to do all thou hast told me? Are they not wood and stone, and have I not myself made them, and canst thou speak such lies, saying that the large god that was with them smote them? It is thou that didst place the hatchet in his hands, and then sayest he smote them all.

   And Abram answered his father and said to him, And how canst thou then serve these idols in whom there is no power to do any thing? Can those idols in which thou trustest deliver thee? can they hear thy prayers when thou callest upon them? can they   deliver thee from the hands of thy enemies, or will they fight thy battles for thee against thy enemies, that thou shouldst serve wood and stone which can neither speak nor hear?

   And now surely it is not good for thee nor for the sons of men that are connected with thee, to do these things; are you so silly, so foolish or so short of understanding that you will serve wood and stone, and do after this manner?

   And forget the Lord God who made heaven and earth, and who created you in the earth, and thereby bring a great evil upon your souls in this matter by serving stone and wood?

   Did not our fathers in days of old sin in this matter, and the Lord God of the universe brought the waters of the flood upon them and destroyed the whole earth?

   And how can you continue to do this and serve gods of wood and stone, who cannot hear, or speak, or deliver you from oppression, thereby bringing down the anger of the God of the universe upon you?

   Now therefore my father refrain from this, and bring not evil upon thy soul and the souls of thy household. (Book of Jasher, 10:16-48)

From the "Apocalypse of Abraham," we read:

   He (Terah) made five... gods and he gave them to me and ordered me to sell them outside on the town road.

   I saddled my father's ass and loaded them on it and went out on the highway to sell them.

   And behold, merchants from Phandana of Syria were coming with camels, on their way to by kokinol from the Nile.

   I asked them a question and they answered me. And walking along I conversed with them.  One of their camels screamed. The ass took fright and ran away and threw off the gods. Three of them were crushed and two remained (intact).

   And it came to pass that when the Syrians saw that I had gods, they said to me, "Why did you not tell us that you had gods? We would have bought them before the ass heard the camel's voice and you would have had no loss.

   Give us at least the gods that remain and we will give you a suitable price."

   I considered it in my heart. And they paid both for the smashed gods and the gods which remained.

   For I had been grieving in my heart how I would bring payment to my father.

   I threw the three broken (gods) into the water of the river Gur, which was in the place. And they sank into the depths of the river Gur and were no more.

   As I was still walking on the road, my heart was disturbed and my mind distracted.  I said in my heart, "What is this inequality of activity which my father is doing?

   Is it not he rather who is god for his gods, because they come into being from his sculpting, his planning, and his skill?

   They ought to honor my father because they are his work..."

   And thinking thus, I came to my father's house. And I watered the ass and gave him hay. And I took out the silver and placed it in the hand of my father Terah.

   And when he saw it, he was glad, and he said, "you are blessed, Abraham, by the god of my gods, since you have brought me price for the gods, so that my labor was not (in) vain."

   And answering I said to him, "Listen, father Terah! The gods are blessed in you, because you are a god for them, because you made them, for their blessing is their perdition and their power is vain.

   They did not help themselves; how then can they help you or bless me?

   I was good for you in this transaction, for through my good sense I brought you the silver for the smashed (gods)."

   And when he heard my speech he became furiously angry with me, because I had spoken harsh words against his gods.

     But having pondered my father's anger, I went out. And afterward when I had gone out, he called me, saying, "Abraham!"

   And I said, "Here I am!"

   And he said, "Up, gather wood chips, for I was making gods from fir before you came, and prepare with them food for my midday meal."

   And it came to pass, when I was choosing the wooden chips, I found among them a small god which would fit... in my left hand.

   And on its forehead was written: god Barisat.

   And it came to pass when I put the chips on the fire in order to prepare the food for my father, and going out to inquire about the food, I put Barisat near the enkindling fir, saying to him threateningly,

   "Barisat, watch that the fire does not go out before I come back! If the fire goes out, blow on it so it flares up."

   I went out and I made my counsel.

   When I returned, I found Barisat fallen on his back, his feet enveloped by fire and burning fiercely.

   And it came to pass when I saw it, I laughed (and) said to myself, "Barisat, truly you know how to light a fire and cook food!"

   And it came to pass while saying this in my laughter, I saw (that) he burned up slowly from the fire and became ashes.

   I carried the food to my father to eat.

   I gave him wine and milk, and he drank and he enjoyed himself and he blessed Marumath his god.

   And I said to him, "Father Terah, do not bless Marumath your god, do not praise him! Praise rather Barisat, your god, because as though loving you, he threw himself into the fire in order to cook you food."

   And he said to me, "then where is he now?"

   And I said, "He has burned in the fierceness of the fire and become dust."

   And he said, "Great is the power of Barisat! I will make another today and he will prepare my food."

     When I, Abraham, heard words like this from my father, I laughed in my mind and I groaned in the bitterness and anger of my soul. (J. Tvedtnes, B. Hauglid, J. Gee, Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, [Provo: FARMS, 2001], 53-55)

Abraham 1:7 they turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto these dumb idols

It is one thing to make an idol with your own hands then turn around and worship it!  It is another thing completely to waste your time and money making offerings to them.  Then of all the possible offerings, they choose human sacrifice?  Which of their dumb idols requested human sacrifice?  Which of them withheld rain from the heavens until a child was killed?  Which of them darkened the sun until the blood of virgins was spilt? 

This practice must have horrified Abraham.  He understood God as a merciful, understanding, loving, powerful Creator.  The very idea of human sacrifice must have been as abhorrent to him as it is to us.  Abraham had likely witnessed the sacrificial murder of innocent women and children.  The site must have turned his stomach.  The wickedness must have offended his spirit.  The injustice must have harrowed up his heart.

It is with this background-a horrifying hatred of human sacrifice-that God would ask Abraham to offer his son Isaac.  God would ask of Abraham that which was most difficult of all-to sacrifice his son, Isaac, just like he had seen done in his youth in heathen idol worship. If God would ask that which was most difficult for Abraham, we should not be too surprised if he asks that which is most difficult for us as well. Joseph Smith taught that the trials of the saints would be equal to that of Abraham so that "the ancients will not have whereof to boast over us in the day of judgment, as being called to pass through heavier afflictions."  (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 136)

Abraham 1:8 How did Pharaoh's priests have influence in the land of Chaldea?

There is no question about the importance of Egyptian civilization in Abraham's day, but it might seem strange that Egyptian priests are influencing the idol worship of the Chaldeans.  This would suggest a great Egyptian influence in Ur, both politically, socially, and religiously.

"Archaeological discoveries have shown unequivocally that Ur was a major urban center on the Mesopotamian plain. Especially the discovery of the Royal Tombs have confirmed its splendour. These tombs, which date to the Early Dynastic IIIa period (approximately in the 25th or 24th century BC), contained immense amounts of luxury items made out of precious metals, and semi-precious stones all of which would have had to been imported from long distances (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, the Persian Gulf). This up to then unparalleled wealth is a testimony of Ur's economic importance during the Early Bronze Age.

"Archaeological research of the region has also contributed greatly to our understanding of the landscape and long-distance interactions that took place during these ancient times. We know that Ur was the most important port on the Persian Gulf, which extended much further inland than it does today. All the wealth which came to Mesopotamia by sea had to pass through Ur." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur)

"In recent years the site of Ur has been explored by the eminent British archaeologist Dr. C. Leonard Woolley. He reports that he found unmistakable evidence of trade connections between Ur and Egypt as early as about the first dynasty." (George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, edited and arranged by Philip C. Reynolds, 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955-1961], 1: 401.)

Joseph Fielding Smith

In the time when Abraham lived in Ur, that city was under the control of the Egyptians. (The Ten Commandments Today [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1959], 34 - 35)

Abraham 1:12 the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also

Non-Biblical accounts of Abraham's life are replete with stories of his life being in danger.  While the story of the Egyptian priest is absent, there are others of Abraham's life being sought when he was an infant, of the magicians of the king's court seeking his life, of his life being in danger for preaching against idolatry to Nimrod the king, of his being cast into a fiery furnace and receiving no harm, etc.  These stories contain elements common to the Abraham 1 story, including:

  • Children were sacrificed
  • Those who would not worship idols were killed
  • Abraham was brought to be killed or sacrificed because he would not worship idols
  • Terah was behind the attempt to kill Abraham
  • Abraham was fasted or bound
  • When his life was in danger, Abraham prayed
  • An angel came to rescue Abraham
  • God rescued Abraham from death
  • The altar (furnace) and the idols were destroyed
  • The priest (or leader) was smitten and died

See Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, by J. Tvedtnes, B. Hauglid, J. Gee, [Provo: FARMS, 2001], Appendix A, 539-542.

Abraham 1:15 I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God

One of the reasons you want to pray regularly is so that if you are ever in real danger, the Lord will listen to your prayers.  The wicked think they can ignore God until their hour of need and then ask for help.  By then, it is too late, "but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us" (Jer. 2:27).  The Lord's response is why "will ye plead with me? Ye all have transgressed against me" (Jer. 2:29).

The righteous are given the promise that the Lord will respond to them in their hour of need. "Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer: thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am" (Isa. 58:9).

The salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him. (Ps. 37:39-40)

Abraham 1:16 his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold my name is Jehovah

The book of Exodus includes a conversation between God and Moses, "I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them" (Ex. 6:3).  But Abraham did know God by the name of Jehovah, so the Joseph Smith Translation corrects the Exodus verse saying, "I am the Lord God Almighty; the Lord Jehovah. And was not my name known unto them?"

Joseph Fielding Smith

It is... a misunderstanding prevalent everywhere that the God of Israel known as Jehovah was someone different from Jesus Christ. Even among members of the Church there are many who believe that it was the Father, and not Jesus who spoke to Enoch, who commanded Noah to build an ark and who talked with Abraham and the ancient prophets. In some of the more recent "translations" of the scriptures, the name of Jehovah is used instead of saying the Lord. And there is confusion because Jehovah, even among believers is thought to be God the Father...There is in modern Christendom a strong tendency to ascribe to the Father visits and communications with mankind that were really made by the Lord Jesus. (Man, His Origin and Destiny [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 312 - 313)

Abraham 1:19 through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God

The name of the church should not be after the name of a man.  It is Christ's church and must be after his name. The Priesthood's official name is after the name of the Son of God as well (D&C 107:3).  The name of Melchizedek is substituted only to avoid the unnecessary repetition of the name of Deity. 

These two examples underscore how remarkable it is that God's very name would be known in the earth through Abraham.  God's church and his priesthood are in His name.  How righteous was this mortal Abraham that God would be willing to be known as "the God of Abraham"?  Should God's name be after the name of a man? No, but Abraham was so righteous that God chose to have his identity forever tied with this prophet. What greater compliment could God give to a prophet than this? 

Perhaps, God chose not to be known by the name of Jehovah to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name.  Ancient Jews had such reverence for the name that they would never repeat it. For this purpose it would seem, the contemporaries, Melchizedek and Abraham, became forever tied to God's power and His name.

Three great religious traditions worship the God of Abraham.  The Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims all trace their origins to Abraham's God.  Of the world religions, Christianity comprises 33%, Islam 21%, and Judaism less than 1%. (http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html)  Of the entire world population, even including the atheists, more than 50% worship Abraham's God.

Mark E. Petersen

One means by which Abraham declares the name of Jehovah to all the world is through the generations of the Jews themselves. Believing Jews are loyal to Abraham and to their heritage through him. They cherish Jehovah's name. Inasmuch as they were scattered among all nations, they took the name of Jehovah and the memory of Abraham with them, universally.

But Jehovah is also Jesus Christ, and with his name true Christians also carry the name of Abraham worldwide in their ministry. Latter-day Saints in particular do so. (Abraham: Friend of God [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 54)

Abraham 1:23 a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus

Ham and Egyptus had 4 sons, "Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan" (Gen. 10:6).  They also had at least one daughter, Egyptus, which was named after her mother.  So Ham's wife and daughter were both named Egyptus.  We are used to that with men naming their sons after their father but this was a case of the daughter being named after her mother.  I guess she was Egyptus Jr.

Abraham 1:24 from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land

This is not the curse placed on Cain but rather one placed on the Canaanites as recorded in Moses 7:6-8.  A lot of LDS commentary equates the descendants of Cain and the Canaanites but the scriptural evidence suggests they are different (see commentary for Moses 7:6-8).

Abraham 1:26 Noah... cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood

Official Statement

The Church and Race: All are Alike Unto God

The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, "black and white, bond and free, male and female; ... all are alike unto God" (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church's official teaching.

People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world.

The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that "no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children."

Recently, the Church has also made the following statement on this subject:

"The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine." (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church)

Church Statement Regarding 'Washington Post' Article on Race and the Church

(29 February, 2012) For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent.  It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article)

Abraham 1:31 a knowledge of the beginning of creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars

Abraham was interested in the creation story and in astronomy.  Facsimile 3 is reportedly, "Abraham... reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king's court." But Abraham took his first lessons on the subject from the scriptures, not from the Egyptians.  His fathers, the patriarchs, had records which taught about the creation, the planets, and the stars.  For Abraham to start with that fundamental knowledge is worth mentioning.  As a pattern, Abraham learned all he could from the scriptures.  Next, he learned all he could from the wisdom of the world, reasoning with the Egyptians on astronomy. Perhaps Abraham taught them more than they taught him.  Hugh Nibley said:  "Eusebius reports that Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians at Heliopolis (the great prehistoric Egyptian observatory), giving himself and the Babylonians credit for establishing the science while actually recognizing Enoch as its true discoverer." (Ensign, Mar. 1977, 90)  For Abraham, the discussion was worth having, for the Egyptians may have developed some important concepts that he could add to his understanding. 

This is a good pattern for us; we should use the scriptures as the foundation of our knowledge base.  Equally important, though, Abraham adds a third step-he finds out for himself by personal revelation.  Abraham 3:1-13 is the most detailed description of God's dwelling place in all of scripture.  Remember, that Abraham sought to be "one who possessed great knowledge" (v. 2). How did he do this?  He learned from the scriptures first, learned the wisdom of the world second, and then sought for direct revelation third.

Spencer W. Kimball

He became an astronomer and was entrusted with numerous of the secrets of the heavens and the universe and conversed with the leading scientists of Egypt, the center of astronomy in those days. To Abraham was entrusted the history of the preexistent life which antedated the creation of this earth, and the peopling of this earth became a well-known story to this prophet-patriarch. He taught us pure trust in God. (Ensign, May 1974, 46)

Joseph Smith

If there was anything great or good in the world, it came from God... The learning of the Egyptians, and their knowledge of astronomy was no doubt taught them by Abraham and Joseph, as their records testify, who received it from the Lord. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 251)

Joseph Smith

Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss and the broad expanse of eternity-thou must commune with God." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 137)