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Why are there Anachronisms in the Book of Abraham? Shoud be Expected.

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Kerry Muhlestein, professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, PhD in Egyptology at UCLA in 2003.

But the Book of Abraham contains many anachronisms. It makes reference to Chaldeans, who didn’t exist until many years after Abraham. And it misuses words such as “Egyptus” and “Pharaoh.”

If the presence of anachronisms in a text means that the text is not of ancient origin, then there are very few ancient texts in the world. Most ancient texts we know of contain some kind of anachronism. Instead, anachronisms typically mean there is a rich textual history lying behind the text we have received. For example, the text written on the Shabaka Stone (housed in the British Museum) claims to be from the Old Kingdom, roughly 2300 BC. Some scholars have accepted this date for the text, and some have even pointed out textual elements that are reminiscent of this time period. Others have note textual similarities with the New Kingdom, positing a date of roughly 1200 BC. Yet others have seen elements that convince them the text was first composed during the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, or roughly 700 BC. Several different possibilities arise as a result. This could be an Old Kingdom composition that was both recopied and reworked in the 19th and 25th dynasties, and these reworkings left their mark on the text. Or it could have been composed in the 19th dynasty with intentional archaizing elements introduced, which was then reworked in the 25th dynasty. Or it could have been created in the 25th dynasty with intentional archaizing elements, some of which seem to be from the Old Kingdom and some from the New Kingdom. There are other possibilities as well. The point is that it is quite possible that a complex textual history has given rise to anachronistic linguistic elements in this text. This is true of hundreds of texts. Finding them in the Book of Abraham is not surprising. In fact, it would be quite surprising if there were no anachronisms. It would be almost unique.

Many have used the same arguments they level against the Book of Abraham to attack the Bible. Kenneth Kitchen has done a marvelous job of dealing with these attacks in his book On the Reliability of the Old Testament. His methodology should be applied to the Book of Abraham as much as that is possible. This is research waiting to be done.i For our current topic, the point is that the anachronisms some people worry about have been dealt with for a very long time. Some we have found fairly straightforward answers to, and some we still struggle to understand, both in the Bible and the Book of Abraham. None of us pretend to understand the unique textual transmission process of any given text well enough to be able to fully explain either the consistencies or anachronisms present in those texts.

Neither do I pretend to fully understand the consistencies that the text of Abraham shares with other ancient documents and traditions. The shared elements with other non-Biblical traditions about Abraham are shockingly high even to a believer who expects to find some.ii The similarities between the autobiographical elements of the Book of Abraham and the only known contemporary account are also quite noteworthy (see http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=22&num=1&id=652). Names like Kolob,iii Olishem,iv and Jershonv are difficult to explain away as coincidence. At least from my point of view, the so-called anachronisms do not paint a picture of implausibility, while the parallels do support an air of plausibility.vi Neither can prove nor disprove the authenticity of the record. As I have mentioned in writing about other videos, going beyond plausibility can only be done by seeking divine confirmation. Learning in this way can only be done through personal and spiritual inspiration, regardless of the fact that a segment of our population would like to discount the existence of such a thing.

                                                                                                                             

i For an example of someone who has done a little bit of this, see John Gee’s work at http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=22&num=1&id=652.

 

ii See Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, Studies in the Book of Abraham, vol. 1, ed. John Tvedtnes, Brian Hauglid, and John Gee (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001).

 

iii See Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus—Seventeen Years Later,” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994).

 

iv Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham B(?) A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View” in No Weapon Shall Prosper, Robert L. Millett, ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 222.

 

v The ancient town of Jerash lies in exactly the route Abraham would have taken when he says he encountered “Jershon.” The well known phenomenon of “nunation” (putting an “n” on the end of words in certain cases) makes an excellent match between Jerash and Jershon since the consonantal root is the same. It is striking that a town with the right name lies on the right route, though Joseph Smith would likely not have known this.

 

vi See John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks, “Historical Plausibility: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study,” in The Historicity of the Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001), 63-98.

 

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