Category:Book of Abraham/Facsimiles

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The Facsimiles in the Book of Abraham

Parent page: Book of Abraham

Joseph Smith approved the facsimiles before they were published in the Times and Seasons

Latter-day Saint Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein discusses Joseph's involvement with the interpretation of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham,

First, we must be clear that we do not know for sure that Joseph Smith authored the explanations of the facsimiles that were printed in the Times and Seasons, (on the acquisition of the papyri and publication of the Book of Abraham, see column 2,) which eventually became part of the Pearl of Great Price. While we do not know if Joseph Smith is the original author of these interpretations, we know he participated in preparing the published interpretations and gave editorial approval to them.

For example, on March 1, 1842, his journal records being at the printing office “correcting the first plate or cut of the records of father Abraham, prepared by Reuben Hedlock for the Times & Season” [spelling corrected]. The next day he wrote that he served for the first time as the editor of the Times and Seasons, reading through the proofs “in which is the commencement of the Book of Abraham.” On March 4th he worked again with Reuben Hedlock preparing the cut for the second facsimile. On March 9th he examined the copy of the Times and Seasons in which that facsimile would be published.[i] Thus, while the precise authorship of the explanations may be in question, the Prophet’s approval of them is not.[1]

How would ancient Jews have interpreted the Egyptian facsimiles?

Kerry Muhlestein,

Even though it is obvious to ask whether or not Joseph Smith’s explanations of the Facsimiles matches with those of Egyptologists, it is not necessarily the right question to ask. For example, as we compare Facsimile One, or any of the Facsimiles, with similar Egyptian vignettes, we may be barking up the wrong tree. What if Abraham’s descendants took Egyptian elements of culture and applied their own meanings to them? We know this happened.[2] For example, Jesus himself did this when he gave the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which clearly draws from the Egyptian tale of Setne-Kamwas. The Apocalypse of Abraham and Testament of Abraham are two more examples of Semitic adaptations of Egyptian religious traditions. [3] Maybe we shouldn’t be looking at what Egyptians thought Facsimiles meant at all, but rather at how ancient Jews would have interpreted them. [4]


  1. Kerry Muhlestein, "Interpreting the Abraham Facsimiles," Meridian Magazine (1 Sept. 2014)
  2. See Kevin L. Barney, The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources, in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid. (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Brigham Young University, 2005),107–30. Also see Kerry Muhlestein, “The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus One,” in The Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/1 (2013), 20-33.
  3. See Barney, “Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation”; Jared W. Ludlow, “Reinterpretation of the Judgment Scene in the Testament of Abraham” in Proceedings of the Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation and Reinterpretation, ed. John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 2012), 99-104; and Jared W. Ludlow, Abraham Meets Death: Narrative Humor in the Testament of Abraham (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002).
  4. Kerry Muhlestein, "Interpreting the Abraham Facsimiles," Meridian Magazine (1 Sept. 2014)