The Book of Abraham
Translated from the Papyrus, by Joseph Smith
Prior to beginning a study of the Book of Abraham, the reader is invited to read the supplemental articles, Brief Biblical History of Abraham, Abrahamic Lore that Supports the Book of Abraham, and The Joseph Smith Papyri and their Relationship to the Book of Abraham.
The Life and Times of Abraham
Abraham seems to have lived during the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1800 BC). The biblical chronology suggests specifically that he was born in 2018 BC and died in 1843 BC, though he may have lived as many as one hundred years later. The three major areas of political sovereignty in the Near East during this period were Mesopotamia, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt. We will briefly summarize the status of each of these three sovereign areas.
Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers, derives its name and existence from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. These two rivers created the Fertile Crescent in the midst of surrounding inhospitable territory. The space we call Mesopotamia is roughly the same as that of the modern country of Iraq.
About ten thousand years ago, the people of this area began the agricultural revolution. Instead of hunting and gathering their food, they domesticated plants and animals, beginning with the sheep. They lived in houses built from reeds or mud-brick, grouped in villages where they tended their crops.
Between 3500 and 3000, for reasons still not well understood, the civilization of Southern Mesopotamia underwent a sudden growth and change, centered in the cities of Ur and Uruk. This development was perhaps driven by climatic change which rendered the old ways of agriculture less productive. People clustered into fewer, but larger, locations and the plough, potter's wheel, and the introduction of bronze can be seen as responses to the demands of a more intensive economic life, and also as causes of increased complexity in that life. In this same period came the beginnings of writing, weights and measures, and arithmetic.
The main part of the third millennium (between 3000 and 2000 BC), saw the gradual development of the Sumerian civilization which included numerous city states. The Sumerians lived in a complex, unpredictable and frequently hostile environment. They had to contend with floods, droughts, storms, dust, heat, disease and death.
The later part of this third millennium saw Sargon (2334-2279) create the world's first empire, stretching the length and breadth of the fertile crescent. The impact of Sargon's unification of Sumer and the other peoples in Mesopotamia resonated down through the history of Mesopotamia for the next two thousand years. The Sargonic empire lasted for almost a hundred and fifty years, before it fell to insurrections and invasions. There followed a turbulent period, but order and a restoration of Sumerian culture was eventually brought to the area by the reign of the king, Ur III. There followed peace and prosperity throughout the land
The empire of Ur III lasted for over a century (2112-2004) before falling to the violent incursions of semi-nomadic Semitic-speaking Amorites. With the fall of Ur went Sumerian civilization for ever.
The next couple of hundred years was another turbulent time during which the cities of Mesopotamia vied for supremacy. These were especially Assur in the north (the future principal city of Assyria) and Babylon in the south.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century BC, the ruler of Babylon was one Hammurabi (1792-1750). He conquered and unified the whole of Mesopotamia, and Babylon became its greatest city. We now call this period Old Babylonian.
At the time of Abraham, the dominant events in Mesopotamia were the rule of the Sumarian Ur III and the overthrow of his dynasty by the Amorites, a powerful group of Semitic-speaking semi-nomads. They overran and controlled nearly the whole of Mesopotamia.
Egyptian history is tracked by a simultaneous history of kingdoms, periods, and dynasties. A simple outline of that history is as follows:
Early Dynastic Period (3050-2686 BC)
First Dynasty (3050-2890 BC)
Second Dynasty (2890-2686 BC)
Old Kingdom - The Age of the Pyramids (2686-2160 BC)
Third Dynasty (2686-2575 BC)
Fourth Dynasty (2575-2467 BC)
Fifth Dynasty (2467-2345 BC)
Sixth Dynasty (2345-2160 BC)
First Intermediate Period (2160-2040 BC)
Seventh through Tenth Dynasties (2160-2040 BC)
Middle Kingdom (2040-1786 BC)
Eleventh Dynasty (2040-1987 BC)
Twelfth Dynasty (1987-1786 BC)
Second Intermediate Period (1786-1558 BC)
Thirteenth through the Seventeenth Dynasties (1786-1558 BC)
The New Kingdom (1558-1085 BC)
Eighteenth Dynasty (1558-1295 BC)
Nineteenth Dynasty (1295-1186 BC)
Twentieth Dynasty (1186-1085 BC)
Third Intermediate Period (1085-747 BC)
Twenty-first Dynasty (1085-945 BC)
Twenty-second Dynasty (945-828 BC)
Twenty-third Dynasty (828-825 BC)
Twenty-fourth Dynasty (825-747 BC)
Late Kingdom (747-343 BC)
Twenty-fifth Dynasty (747-716 BC)
Twenty-sixth Dynasty (664-535 BC)
Twenty-seventh Dynasty (535-404 BC)
Twenty-eighth Dynasty (404-399 BC)
Twenty-ninth Dynasty (399-380 BC)
Thirtieth Dynasty (380-343 BC)
During the time of Abraham, Egypt had just emerged from the First Intermediate Period into the period called the Middle Kingdom. Abraham's lifetime included the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties. It was probably one of the pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty who attempted to take Sarah from Abraham during his sojourn in Egypt. The Middle Kingdom was one of the most stable and culturally rich in all of Egyptian history. During this period Egypt exercised some degree of political control and cultural influence over most of Palestine and southern Syria.
The major events in Syria-Palestine history at the time of Abraham were the destruction of the MIddle Bronze Age culture by nomadic invaders-probably the same Amorites that invaded Mesopotamia. After a period of semi-nomadic culture, fortified cities began to be rebuilt, and urban life began to flourish once again. As mentioned above, Egyptian political and cultural influence was strong during this period, as the book of Abraham confirms (see Abraham 1:6-11; Abraham 1:20).
A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt.-The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. See History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 235, 236, 348-351.
Much misunderstanding has arisen from this heading. Because of its wording, it is assumed that the Joseph Smith Papyri were the original draft of Abraham's book, his very own handiwork. It should be noted first that according to Egyptian and Hebrew thinking any copy of a book originally written by Abraham would be regarded and designated as the very work of his hand forever after, no matter how many reproductions had been made and handed down through the years. For the Egyptians, there is no essential difference between an original and a copy. In Egyptian culture, a sacred book did not wear out, it was simply renewed. Also, no matter who did the writing originally, among the Egyptians if it was Abraham who commissioned or directed the work, he would take the credit for the actual writing of the document, whether he penned it or not.
So when we read "the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus," we are to understand that this book, no matter how often "renewed," is still the writing of Abraham and no one else; for he commissioned it or, "according to the accepted Egyptian expression," wrote it himself with his own hand. And when Abraham tells us, "That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning" (Abraham 1:14), we do not need to suppose that the patriarch himself necessarily drew the very sketches we have before us.
Abraham Chapter 1 The Early Life of Abraham
Abraham 1 Abraham in Ur of Chaldea
1 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;
verse 1 "In the land of the Chaldeans" Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees (see Abraham 3:1) and later he moved to Haran. Just where are these sites likely to have been located?
Let us consider the map and identify the area where Abraham likely lived. The Euphrates River originates in the mountains of eastern Turkey, runs south to bisect the country of Syria, and then turns east and southeast to run through the country of Iraq to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris River also originates in Turkey farther to the east, then runs southeast through Iraq-to the east of the Euphrates-also to empty into the Persian Gulf. The two rivers come close to each other near Baghdad in the center of Iraq, and then they separate and continue to flow southeast. They then join together and flow into the Persian Gulf. The area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is commonly known as Mesopotamia, the "land between the rivers." It is this region which is commonly thought by scholars to have given rise to the earliest civilizations which have recorded texts.
Chaldea is thought, on one level, to be an area in southern Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf. This is the same area that, in more ancient times, was called Sumer. On another level, however the entire area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the entire Fertile Crescent has at times been referred to as Chaldea. The name Babylonia has also, during certain historical periods, been used for the entire Fertile Crescent.
The city of Ur was discovered in southern Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf. This city was originally a Sumerian city. In the 1920s and 30s, an archaeologist, Sir Leonard Woolley, popularized the notion that this city was Abraham's birthplace. Indeed it was felt that all the great cultural achievements in the area of Mesopotamia came from the south, in what is today southern Iraq. More recently in the 1960s and 70s evidence has been found in the excavation of the ancient city of Ebla (Tel Mardikh) in northern Syria that northern Mesopotamia, including the area of northern Syria was a major cultural area as well. In this northern area another city called Ur has been discovered in the vicinity of the ancient city of Haran known to have been located in Turkey, just north of the modern-day border between Turkey and Syria. This latter Ur is now considered a more likely site for the birthplace of Abraham. Thus Haran and " Ur of the Chaldees" are in the same geographical region. The Book of Abraham itself is clear on this point, placing Potiphar's Hill in "the land of Ur, of Chaldea" (Abraham 1:20). Potiphar's Hill was "at the head of the plain of Olishem" (Abraham 1:10), which Olishem has been identified in texts of the Akkadian king Naram Sin (from Akkad, a city north of the city of Babylon) as being located in northern Syria, in the region of ancient Ebla (see the commentary for verse 10).
When Abraham traveled from Ur to Canaan, he passed through Haran. This would not have been the case if he had been born in the Ur of southern Mesopotamia.
"I, Abraham" Brother Hugh Nibley said of this phrase:
These words in opening verse of Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham ring out like a trumpet blast challenging all comers to a fair field. They state the argument and set up the target. Is this an authentic autobiography of Abraham the Patriarch, or is it not? . . . To date, not one critic has laid a finger on the Book of Abraham. Instead, they have all sought to discredit it by indirection, dwelling exclusively on the method and person by which they assume it was produced. . . . How is the book supposed to have been produced? By direct revelation, a method unsearchable and imponderable, which renders research along that line fruitless and pointless. But that is not to say for a moment that the Book of Abraham is beyond criticism-far from it! It can be tested as a diamond is tested-not by inquiring whence it came, who found it, who owns it, how much was paid for it, where and when, who says it is genuine, and who says it is not, etc., but simply by subjecting it to the established and recognized jewelers' tests for diamonds. . . . In short, it is the Book of Abraham that is on trial, not Joseph Smith as an Egyptologist (Abraham in Egypt, 1-3).
By Joseph Smith's own insistence, he was merely an implement in bringing forth the record, not its creator.
In Genesis, the name "Abram" appears consistently until chapter 17, where the patriarch's name is changed to "Abraham" as a token of the covenant God makes with him (see Genesis 17:5). In some early manuscripts of the book of Abraham, "Abram" is used as well, but in the version published in the Times and Seasons, "Abraham" is written throughout. Abram (Hebrew 'abram) and Abraham (Hebrew 'abraham) seem to be simply variants of the same name, which means, "Exalted Father" or "The Exalted One-God is my Father"
2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
verse 2 "finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me" In the previous verse, Abraham observed, "I . . . saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence." His discomfort with his residence was likely caused by the apostasy of his father and the unpleasant environment it created. In this verse, although he has not yet moved his residence, he acknowledges that the gospel and the priesthood create a preferable environment of "happiness and peace and rest."
"the blessings of the fathers" This phrase refers to the priesthood which, we are told in D&C 84:14, Abraham received from Melchizedek. Melchizedek "received it through the lineage of his fathers, even [back] till Noah; and from Noah . . . [back] to Abel . . . who received the priesthood by the commandments of God, by the hand of his father Adam, who was the first man" (D&C 84:14-16). The prophet Joseph taught: "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" (TPJS, 322-23. See also John Taylor, in JD, 22:304; D&C 84:14).
"The fathers" here in this verse, and in verses 3 and 4, is used in the sense of a priesthood line of authority rather than a father-to-son relationship. This latter is the meaning "my fathers" in verses 1 and 5. In this final dispensation, the Lord, speaking to Joseph Smith and other church leaders, told them that they were "lawful heirs, according to the flesh . . . with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers" (D&C 86:8-9).
President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "Again there was an apostasy. During this time there was one man in the city of Ur, among the few that remained faithful to the Lord, who sought after righteousness. . . . The Lord answered Abraham's prayer, and he received the priesthood under the hands of Melchizedek, king of Salem" (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:82).
Wilford Woodruff wrote: "We have no account of the Lord's having organized a kingdom upon the earth in that day; but he gave the priesthood to Abraham, who taught his children the principles of righteousness. Isaac taught Jacob; and Jacob's sons, the twelve Patriarchs, were taught by the priesthood, and God gave unto them many great and glorious blessings" (JD, 11:244).
"desiring . . . to possess a greater knowledge . . . to be a father of many nations . . . to receive instructions" It has been observed that these may well be references to elements of the temple endowment and eternal marriage (see D&C 43:16-17; D&C 43:105:11-12; 132:19). Perhaps Abraham knew and yearned for these blessings, but his immediate forefathers had lost them through apostasy (see verse 5).
"follower of righteousness" Stephen D. Ricks has suggested in both instances of this phrase in this verse that the word righteousness, in spite of its not being capitalized, is suggestive of a divine title or epithet and refers to Jehovah, Jesus Christ ("The Early Ministry of Abraham," in Studies in Scripture, Volume Two, the Pearl of Great Price, 217-19). He cites as evidence Moses 7:47, "Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world (italics added)." Also, Isaiah 51:5, "My Righteousness is near, My Salvation has gone forth and my arm will rule the peoples; in me the coastlands trust, and they wait for my arm." Note the variant of the last three lines of this verse found in the Qumran version of Isaiah: "And his arm will rule the peoples; in him the coastlands trust, and they wait for his arm." Note also Isaiah 56:1 from the Qumran version, "Maintain justice and do what is right for my Salvation and my Righteousness is about to be revealed."
"desiring also to be . . . a prince of peace" Two men in the standard works are called "prince of peace": Melchizedek (see Alma 13:18) and the Savior (see Isaiah 9:6). This verse states that Abraham desired to be a "prince of peace" but does not say whether he ever attained such a title.
It is noteworthy that the name Melchizedek is to be understood to mean either "my king [Hebrew malki] is Sedeq [Righteousness]" or "Sedeq's [Righteousness's] king."
3 It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
verse 3 "It was conferred upon me from the fathers" See the commentary of verse 1 for a discussion of the meaning of "the fathers." Again, Abraham is referring to his priesthood (see the commentary for verse 2). Adam was ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood "before the foundation of the earth," and all his righteous posterity in turn have a right to bear this same priesthood. Indeed, all who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood in this life were "called and prepared from the foundations of the world" (Alma 13:3). Referring to the order of priesthood on this earth: "This order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage" (D&C 107:41). "All things were confirmed unto Adam, by an holy ordinance" (Moses 5:59).
"even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam" Adam is designated the "firstborn," a title in the scriptures that normally refers to Christ, indicating the Savior's status as the firstborn spirit of child of God (D&C 93:21). Here, "firstborn" refers to Adam's being the firstborn human on this earth. Because he was ordained with the Melchizedek Priesthood in the premortal life, he has "the right" to the priesthood here on earth.
4 I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.
verse 4 "according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed" The word fathers in this phrase refers to Abraham's priesthood line of authority. This statement refers to the patriarchal nature of the priesthood in those days. Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "The Patriarchal Order of Priesthood was revealed from heaven, and we are informed that '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. This order was instituted in the days of Adam and came down by lineage'" (Progress of Man, 100). On another occasion President Smith taught: "The first authority of Priesthood in the earth was Patriarchal. Adam was a patriarch, so were those who succeeded him. Being patriarchs, of course they were, as stated by Alma, high priests after the Holy Order. This Patriarchal (or Evangelical) order of Priesthood continued through the generations from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to Moses" (Way to Perfection, 72). President Smith also added: "The father of Abraham from what we learn in the book of Abraham, turned to the worship of idols; therefore he either lost his priesthood or it passed him by; nevertheless the descent came through him to Abraham" (Improvement Era, Nov. 1956).
5 My fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to my voice;
verse 5 "My fathers, having turned from their righteousness" In this phrase, "my fathers" refers not to Abraham's priesthood line of authority, but rather to his immediate forefathers. This phrase implies that his forebears were not always pagans, but that they initially had the true gospel but had apostatized. The Bible does state that Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor . . . served other gods" (Joshua 24:2). See the supplemental article, Abrahamic Lore that Supports the Book of Abraham.
"utterly refused to hearken to my voice" Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "We all know something of the courage it takes for one to stand in opposition to united custom, and general belief. None of us likes to be ridiculed. Few are able to withstand popular opinion even when they know it is wrong, and it is difficult to comprehend the magnificent courage displayed by Abraham in his profound obedience to Jehovah, in the midst of his surroundings. His moral courage, his implicit faith in God, his boldness in raising his voice in opposition to the prevailing wickedness, is almost beyond comparison. Without doubt this all had its part in the Lord's granting the reward and blessings to Abraham and his posterity to the latest generations. Few greater blessings have been given to mortal man" (Way to Perfection, 86).
Abraham was so vocal in his opposition to the idolatry of his time that his father and the idolatrous priests of that day will later seek his life.
The book of Genesis makes no mention that Abraham's forefathers were idolaters. However, we find corroboration of this fact in the apocryphal book, the Book of Judith (chapter 5, verses 6-9). These verses report that when the invading hosts of the king of Nineveh were approaching the land of Israel, the commanding general made some inquiries with regard to the history of the Israelite people. Then Achior, the captain of all the sons of Ammon, in answer to his inquiries, replied: "This people [the Israelites] are descended of the [pagan] Chaldeans, and they sojourned heretofore in Mesopotamia [Haran], because they would not follow the [pagan] gods of their fathers which were in the land of Chaldea. For they left the [pagan] way of their ancestors, and worshiped the God of heaven, the God whom they knew."
6 For their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned to the god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt;
verse 6 "the god of Elkenah . . . of Libnah . . . of Mahmackrah . . . of Korash . . . and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt" To the student who reads carefully, this verse may cause confusion; particularly is that confusion used by the multiple uses of the word "of." Apparently the verse intends to say that the people of Ur had set their hearts on the worship of the pagan gods Elkenah, Libna, Mamackrah, and Korash, and an unnamed god who was the god of the Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Not only did the people of Ur worship idols, but they also offered sacrifices of innocent children, men, and women, on their altars before the images of their gods. The names Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Shagreel (the sun god of the Egyptians-see verse 9) are definitely Semitic in form, and they do appear on Mesopotamian deity-lists from that general time period (see John M. Lundquist, "Was Abraham at Ebla? A Cultural Background of the Book of Abraham" in Studies in Scripture, volume two, The Pearl of Great Price, ed. by Robert L. Millett and Kent P. Jackson [Salt Lake City: Randall Book Co.], 232).
We will learn, in the following verse, that the pagan Egyptian priest of the god Elkenah (who is also the priest of Pharaoh) will attempt to sacrifice Abraham on the altar. Elder Mark E. Petersen asked the questions: "How did this Egyptian infusion reach into Mesopotamia? What was the priest of Pharaoh doing in Ur?" Elder Petersen then answered his own questions: "Abraham here not only spoke of the local gods of Ur, but also of the Egyptian gods. He mentions that the priest of Elkenah was also the priest of Pharaoh. The altar was obviously specially built for human sacrifice. . . . At this time Egyptian influence was felt throughout the Fertile Crescent. Much of the advanced learning of the people of the Nile was exported abroad, including some of their religious customs . . . the Egyptians had developed an alphabet, the earliest known to historians. This was borrowed by other nations, together with writing materials. . . . The Egyptians developed the use of papyrus. . . . This stimulated writing and greatly facilitated record keeping in neighboring countries. It was far more convenient than the use of clay tablets. In the same manner the religions of the Egyptians were also exported to nearby peoples. Hence there were priests of Pharaoh in Ur" (Abraham, Friend of God, 42-43).
7 Therefore they turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen in offering up their children unto these dumb idols, and hearkened not unto my voice, but endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah. The priest of Elkenah was also the priest of Pharaoh.
verse 7 "Therefore they turned their hearts to the sacrifice of the heathen" This phrase is slightly ambiguous. It intends to say that Abraham's forefathers had turned their hearts from the gospel to the sacrificial practice of the heathen-that of sacrificing children to their pagan gods.
"hearkened not unto my voice" Abraham was bold enough to preach openly to his forefathers in an attempt to make them see the error of their ways.
"they . . . endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah" The referent or antecedent of the pronoun they is the forefathers (including his father Terah) of Abraham. Terah and the others sought to have the Egyptian pagan priest sacrifice Abraham on the altar because Abraham would not bow down to the heathen gods.
Regarding the complicity of Abraham's father in the attempted sacrifice of Abraham, Elder Mark E. Peterson wrote: "Did Terah believe so much in the sun god that he would seek to placate that deity by sacrificing Abraham to him? The heathen priest already had sacrificed three young women on this same altar because they would not yield their virtue and refused to 'bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone' (Abraham 1:11). It seemed to be Terah's intention to provide the same treatment for his son. It does not appear that there was any desire on his part to murder Abraham in a fit of anger because of a family quarrel. It seems more likely that it was a sacrifice of atonement that Terah sought, probably out of his fatherly love for his son. He may have thought that this extreme method should be used to save Abraham's soul. That at least is the charitable point of view, and most likely the correct one" (Abraham, Friend of God, 47-48).
8 Now, at this time it was the custom of the priest of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to offer up upon the altar which was built in the land of Chaldea, for the offering unto these strange gods, men, women, and children.
verse 8 Human sacrifice is well attested among the ancient inhabitants of Canaan (see Adams, William James, Jr. "Human Sacrifice and the Book of Abraham," BYU Studies 9, no. 4 [summer 1969] and Day, John, Molech: A God of Human Sacrifice in the Old Testament, [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.] Among the Egyptians there is little or no direct evidence for the practice of human sacrifice. This seems to be a practice adopted by the priest of Pharaoh from the Canaanites among whom he dwelt.
9 And it came to pass that the priest made an offering unto the god of Pharaoh, and also unto the god of Shagreel, even after the manner of the Egyptians. Now the god of Shagreel was the sun.
verse 9 "the priest made an offering unto the god of Pharaoh" It seems unlikely that a human had just been offered up on the altar. It is more likely that this verse intends to say that it was the custom of the priest of Elkenah to make thank-offerings of children (see verse 10) to the pagan gods-to the unnamed god who was worshiped by Pharaoh, the king of Egypt and to Shagreel. Shagreel is the god of the sun-the sun god. We will learn that it is the intent of the priest to specifically offer up Abraham as this thank-offering.
10 Even the thank-offering of a child did the priest of Pharaoh offer upon the altar which stood by the hill called Potiphar's Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem.
verse 10 "the thank-offering of a child did the priest of Pharaoh offer upon the altar" Again, we sense that this phrase less likely means that the priest had just offered up and child, and more likely that the phrase teaches that it is the custom of the priest to offer up children for his thank-offerings.
"the altar which stood by the hill called Potiphar's Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem" The name Potiphar frequently occurs on the monuments of Egypt (written either Pet-Pa-Ra, or Pet-P-Ra), and means: "Dedicated to Ra," or the sun. Potiphar was also the name of the Egyptian officer to whom Joseph was sold (see Genesis 37:36; Genesis 39:1). The name of Joseph's father-in-law, Potipherah, is a variant of the same name (see Genesis 41:45). Potiphar's Hill is not mentioned in the Bible, and its location is unknown. The plain of Olishem is also not mentioned in the Bible, however we do have evidence which suggests its location. An inscription of the Akkadian king Naram Sin, dated to around 2250 BC mentions a place called Ulisum or Ulishem, which was located in northern Syria (Lundquist, John M. "Was Abraham at Ebla? A Cultural Background of the Book of Abraham (Abraham 1 and 2)." In Studies in Scripture: Volume Two, The Pearl of Grat Price, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, [Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985], 233-34). This finding has led to the speculation that Abraham's Ur was located in the northern Meopotamian area near Haran.
11 Now, this priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time, who were the daughters of Onitah, one of the royal descent directly from the loins of Ham. These virgins were offered up because of their virtue; they would not bow down to worship gods of wood or of stone, therefore they were killed upon this altar, and it was done after the manner of the Egyptians.
verse 11 "this priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time . . . because of their virtue" Perhaps they refused to participate in the sexual orgies that characterized the form of worship in that day. "Among the ancient nations of the East, with the exception of the Jews, prostitution appears to have been connected with religious worship, and to have been not merely tolerated but encouraged. . . . In Egypt, Phoenicia, Assyria, Chaldea, Canaan, and Persia, the worship of Isis, Moloch, Baal, Astarte, Mylitta and other deities consisted of the most extravagant sensual orgies and the temples were merely centers of vice. In Babylon some degree of prostitution appeared to have been even compulsory and imposed upon all women in honor of the goddess Mylitta. In India the ancient connection between religion and prostitution still survives" (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952 edition, 18:596, as quoted in W. Cleon Skousen, The First 2000 Years, 362).
"daughters of Onitah" The name Onitah may contain the Sumerian word nita(h) which means "man; male." Onitah is a descendant of Ham, the son of Noah.
"after the manner of the Egyptians" There is apparently no evidence that human sacrifice was practiced in Egypt. Hence, this particular phrase may simply mean that the sacrificial technique was the same the Egyptians used as they sacrificed animals on the altar.
12 And it came to pass that the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also, as they did those virgins upon this altar; and that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record.
verse 12 "the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also" The Bible, of course, is silent on the attempt of the priests to sacrifice Abraham on the altar, however, several post-biblical sources have described the attempt to sacrifice Abraham. For example, this idea is supported in thirteen Jewish documents, two Christian, eleven Muslim, one Samaritan, one Falasha, and one Mandaean document. The Falasha are the so-called "black Jews" of Ethiopia in Africa, whose Israelite origins go back so early that they don't even have the rabbinic traditions that came later on. The Mandaeans claim to be descendants of the disciples of John the Baptist and live in Iraq and Iran.
In most of the stories, Abraham was brought to be killed for the very reason that he would not worship the idols, in some cases because he destroyed the idols. Many of the stories say he specifically destroyed them. Also in most of the documents the attempt on Abraham's life was made by throwing him into a fiery furnace. For example, the second-century-AD Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, commenting on Genesis 11:28, says, "And it came to pass when Nimrod cast Abraham into the furnace of fire, because he would not worship his idol, the fire had no power to burn him." The Anonymous Christian Chronicle, which is a Latin text, says: "And Nimrod threw Abraham into a fiery furnace because he did not approve the worship of idols. But the flame of the furnace was changed into pleasant dew." In some texts, the fire becomes roses or even flowering vines. An Arabic writer, al-Mas'udi, wrote a text called Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems. It says, "Abraham blamed his people for their idolatry. When they were annoyed by the disdain by which Abraham scorned their gods, and which had attracted public notice, Nimrod threw him into the fire. But God converted the fire into coolness, and he was preserved." A Falasha document from Ethiopia has the following story of Abraham: "Nimrod said, 'Oh, Abraham, let us worship this idol. Perhaps thou dost not want to?' Abraham was obstinate and refused. Nimrod said to him, 'I shall surely cast thee into the oven and burn thee in the flames.' Abraham heeded it not, and would not change his mind and worship the idol. He threw him into the flames."
"that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record" This text refers the reader to an illustration that Abraham placed "at the commencement of [his] record." This language implies that the reader does not have the picture before him, but must be referred back to the beginning of the record from which Joseph Smith is translating, where is found facsimile 1. It was a common practice in Egypt to place illustrations in written documents, but they are not normally found in Hebrew documents. See also verse 14.
13 It was made after the form of a bedstead, such as was had among the Chaldeans, and it stood before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and also a god like unto that of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.
verse 13 Here Abraham described the sacrificial altar used by the pagan priest. It was surrounded by idols or images of the pagan gods.
14 That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics.
verse 14 "I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning" Again, Abraham refers to Facsimile 1 and, to some extent, the other facsimiles. The purpose of this facsimile is, at least in part, to help the reader understand more about the pagan gods by being able to view an effigy or image or "fashion" of each.
"which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos" The general type of art in which these facsimiles are reproduced is referred to by the Chaldeans as Rahleenos which means hieroglyphics. The root hier- means sacred. Glyphs are pictures or a script that utilizes pictures-pictographic script. Thus the word hieroglyphics means writing by means of sacred pictures. A study of the etymology of the word Rahleenos has been problematic. Apparently it is not Aramaic (the common general language of the Chaldeans) and it is not Semitic (the language of those who would eventually become Hebrews). There is a suggestion that the word may be Indo-European. And, it turns out, that there were Indo-European peoples in northern Chaldea, the Hittites and also the ruling class of a kingdom in northern Chaldea called Mitanni. Perhaps the name Rahleenos derives from one of these peoples with whom the Chaldeans came in contact.
15 And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands;
verse 15 "the angel of his presence" It seems that it was actually an angel rather than Jehovah who appeared here to Abraham and loosed his bonds. This angel is referred to again in Abraham 2:13 and 3:20. That the angel in the next verse says his name is Jehovah does not necessarily contradict this point. For example, in Revelation 22:6-7 the angel who is talking to John says, "Behold, I come quickly," referring, of course, to Christ. When John then falls down to worship him, he says, "See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets" (Revelation 22:9). These are both examples of divine investiture of authority whereby a divinely authorized agent can speak for and in behalf of God.
President Spencer W. Kimball observed: "Divine guards had sped through space to save the life of Abraham on Potiphar's Hill in the land of Ur, to save Daniel and his companions in the lions' den, to save Nephi from the bitterness and bloodthirsty anger of his brothers, to save Isaac from the knife of sacrifice" (Improvement Era, June 1962, 437).
16 And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father's house, and from all thy kinsfolk, into a strange land which thou knowest not of;
verse 16 "Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah" See the commentary for the previous verse.
Biblical scholars have assumed that Moses, and not Abraham, was the first to learn the name Jehovah as the name of the God of Israel. If that were true, it would make this verse here in the book of Abraham difficult to explain. The scholars' belief is based on Exodus 6:3, "And 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." However, the JST of this same verse reads, "And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob. I am the Lord God Almighty; the Lord JEHOVAH. And was not my name known unto them?" Them here refers to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This makes it clear that the name Jehovah was also known to the patriarchs, an observation reinforced by the Hebrew slaves' evident knowledge of this name (see Exodus 3:13). The name Jehovah (Hebrew yhwh) may mean "he who brings into being," or "he who causes to be," that is, "creator," or perhaps simply "he who exists." This latter meaning is reinforced in Abraham 1:19, where God says, "I am thy God." Compare this with Exodus 3:14: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you."
verses 12-16 As with the prophet Enoch (see Moses 7:35-44 and the commentary for Moses 7:44), Abraham was tested, tried, and strengthened by the Lord before his prophetic call.
17 And this because they have turned their hearts away from me, to worship the god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; therefore I have come down to visit them, and to destroy him who hath lifted up against thee, Abraham, my son, to take away thy life.
verse 17 "they have turned their hearts away from me, to worship the [heathen] god[s]" Abraham's father Terah and others of his kinsfolk were worshipping idols (see verse 16). The fact that Terah worshipped idols is not found in the Bible, but it is found in other ancient manuscripts. See the supplemental article, Abrahamic Lore that Supports the Book of Abraham.
"Abraham, my son" God addresses Abraham as his son, as he also did when he appeared to Moses (Moses 1:4; Moses 1:6; Moses 1:7). The exalting doctrine that men and women are the literal offspring of God, and not mere creations, was known not only to Abraham and Moses but to all prophets in all dispensations, including Adam (see Moses 6:22), Enoch (see Moses 6:27), Nephi (see 1 Nephi 17:36), Paul (see Romans 8:16-17), and Joseph Smith (see D&C 46:26).
18 Behold, I will lead thee by my hand, and I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father, and my power shall be over thee.
verse 18 "I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood of thy father" Mentioned in this verse is one of the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant, that is, that the righteous descendants of Abraham have the right to the priesthood. For a summary of the four provisions of the Abrahamic covenant, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 14:8 and Abraham 2:6 (see also Abraham 2:11 and its commentary).
For a man to receive the priesthood is to have the name of God put upon him. It is the power to act on behalf of God-in God's name. As indicated in D&C 107:3, the full name of the Melchizedek Priesthood is "the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God." The phrase "to put upon" also suggests God's putting a garment on Abraham, which has obvious connections with temple ceremony.
The scriptures teach that Abraham received the patriarchal priesthood with an unusual twist. As the Lord gave him the priesthood, he changed Abraham's name from Abram ("exalted father") to Abraham ("father of a multitude") (Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Abraham"). The righteous spirits in the premortal life were to be born into mortality through Abraham's lineage. Abraham the patriarch was honored to become the father of the faithful; not only would he have a large posterity but he would have a righteous posterity who would "bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations" (Abraham 2:9).
19 As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee; but through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God.
verse 19 "As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee" God here makes the same covenant with Abraham that he made with Noah: "And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I will establish my covenant with you, which I made unto your father Enoch, concerning your seed after you" (Genesis 9:8-9; JST Genesis 9:15). This is the new and everlasting covenant, restored to each new dispensation head, that makes it possible for men and women to be exalted in the celestial kingdom (D&C 132:4).
20 Behold, Potiphar's Hill was in the land of Ur, of Chaldea. And the Lord broke down the altar of Elkenah, and of the gods of the land, and utterly destroyed them, and smote the priest that he died; and there was great mourning in Chaldea, and also in the court of Pharaoh; which Pharaoh signifies king by royal blood.
verse 20 "Potiphar's Hill was in the land of Ur, of Chaldea" See the commentary for verse 10.
"and utterly destroyed them" The Lord destroyed the effigies or images of the pagan gods associated with the altar of Elkenah. We are not told by what process the Lord destroyed the altar, the effigies, and the priest of Elkenah. Perhaps they were all destroyed by the same natural disaster.
"Pharaoh signifies king by royal blood" The word pharaoh (Hebrew par 'oh) derives from the Egyptian word meaning "great house," referring initially to the palace where the king dwelt; later the term was applied to the king himself-the first example is from the reign of Thutmose III (1490-1436 BC). Thus, it was not a personal name but simply designated the Egyptian king.
21 Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.
verse 21 "this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham" Prior to the Flood, Ham had married a woman named Egyptus who is presumed to be a descendant of Cain, and she was with him on the ark. Even though Egyptus had accepted the gospel, as preached by her father-in-law, this marriage was entered into with misgivings on the part of the parents of Ham. The Lord had forbidden the marriage of his faithful children to descendants of Cain who callously murdered his brother, Abel. Because of a curse placed on Cain, his offspring, regardless of how righteous they may be individually, were forbidden from holding the priesthood. This prevented any of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus from holding the priesthood of God. Egyptus was blessed in many ways, but in matters of the priesthood she was forbidden. Noah and the others in the Ark knew of the curse and that she, in fact, was forbidden as a proper wife to Ham. It is also likely that a mark of this curse evolved over time-that of a black skin.
Ham and Egyptus had a daughter, also named Egyptus. The name Egyptus in Chaldean means "that which is forbidden." Egyptus, the daughter of Ham and Egyptus, is credited for discovering and first inhabiting the land of Egypt. Her son became the first king or pharoah of Egypt. Hence, this Egyptian king was a descendant from the loins of Ham through his daughter Egyptus.
Perhaps there is another way in which the king of Egypt, at the time of Abraham, was a descendant of Ham. Ham had four sons: "Cush, and Mizraim, and Phut, and Canaan" (Genesis 10:6). Mizraim (Hebrew misrayim) is the Hebrew name for Egypt. Perhaps the sons of Ham, and not just his daughter Egyptus, had a role in discovering or initially settling Egypt. In an apocryphal manuscript, the Genesis Apocryphon, Egypt is designated as "the land of the sons of Ham" (1QapGen 19.13).
The descendants of Ham would later also become the Canaanites through Ham's son Canaan. The Canaanites were those Semitic inhabitants of the land of Canaan, the land that is approximately equivalent to Palestine.
"a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth" The easiest explanation for this phrase is that this king was a partaker of the blood of Ham and his wife Egyptus. Since they were also the ancestors of the Canaanites, then the Egyptian king was "a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites." Perhaps there is another way, however, in which the Egyptian king was a partaker of Canaanite blood. There are reports that thousands and tens of thousands of Canaanites settled the land of Egypt early on. One specific example is that at the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (1786 BC), Egypt was invaded by a race of Semites from Canaan, called Hyksos by the Egyptians (from an Egyptian word meaning "rulers of foreign countries"). These invaders ruled Egypt as the pharaohs of dynasties 14 through 16 of the Second Intermediate Period (approximately 1786-1550 BC). It is not entirely clear that would have impacted the blood line of this Egyptian king who was a contemporary of Abraham, since it is not entirely clear exactly when Abraham lived (see the introductory remarks for the book of Abraham).
22 From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
verse 22 "From this descent" From the descent of Ham and Egyptus (including from the descent of the Canaanites).
23 The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
verse 23 "The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman" Heraclides wrote, "It was first a woman named Aegyptia who established her son and introduced weaving. Because of her, the Egyptians set up an image of Athena" (Heraclides. Etymologicaum Magnum 352, 50 s.v. "epoichomenon." In Theodore Hopfner, Fontes Historiae Religionis Aegyptiacae [Bonn: Weber, 1922-25]).
24 When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
verse 24 "When this woman discovered the land it was under water" When Egyptus, Ham's daughter, first laid her eyes upon what to her was a vast domain, it was covered by water. More than likely it was the region we know as the great Nile Delta. In certain seasons of the year it lies inundated by the overflow of that river, and it follows that as the waters recede an immense area of fertile land was made visible.
"thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land" One is reminded of the curious incident described in Genesis 9:20-27:
And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
This story seems metaphorical. In some way Ham had dishonored his father, Noah. Could it be that his dishonored him by marrying Egyptus?
25 Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.
verse 25 "Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus" The eldest son of Egyptus became the first king of pharaoh of Egypt. Egyptian inscriptional evidences give various names for the first king of Egypt. The Palermo Stone (5th Dynasty, (2467-2345 BC) shows Aha as the first king of Egypt (Grimal, Nicholas, A History of Ancient Egypt, Translation by Ian Shaw [Oxford: Blackwell, 1992], 48). The king list of the Turin Papyrus lists Meni as the first king of a united Egypt (Gardiner, Sir Alan, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961], 430). Herodotus calls him Min (Herodotus, 2; 4, 99). In Eusebius's epitome of Manetho we encounter the idea that it was Ham's son Mizraim (Hebrew misrayim, which is the Hebrew name for Egypt) who was the first king of Egypt: "After the flood, Ham, son of Noah, begat Aegyptus or Mestraim, who was the first to set out to establish himself in Egypt" (Waddell, W. G., ed. Manetho [Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1940], 7). From the Book of Sothis, the first king of Egypt is Mestraim, also called Menes" (Ibid., 235). Early dynastic artifacts associate the name Men with the kings Aha and Narmer (Gardiner, 1961, 405).
"the first government of Egypt . . . was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal" President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: "Egypt was not the only nation, in these early times, which attempted to imitate the patriarchal order of government. We have seen in Abraham's record that this was the order of government in the reign of Adam, and down to the time of Noah. Naturally that form of government would be perpetuated in large degree by all tribes, as they began to spread over the face of the earth. As men multiplied, they organized first in the family group, then into tribes and eventually into nations. The greater powers would naturally occupy the most favored spots. Stronger tribes would overcome the weaker and force them to join the national government, or else they would be subdued and treated as slaves, or placed under tribute. As the patriarchal order was handed down from father to son, so also would the political authority be perpetuated with the same claims to authority. We know that in ancient times in Egypt, Assyria, Chaldea, Babylon, Persia, and among all the petty nations of the Mesopotamia and Palestine, the monarch was succeeded by his posterity in hereditary right" (Progress of Man, 100-01).
Brother George Reynolds added: "It must be evident from the light thrown on the early history of the world, more especially of Egypt, by the Book of Abraham, that under the almost universally existing form of patriarchal government that 'the fathers' were not only High Priests unto God by right of their 'fatherhood,' but also the kings of the earth by that same right, and it was one of the easiest things in the world for the descendants of these men, who ruled by right divine, to not only reverence them as ministers of heaven's will in all things, temporal and spiritual, but also to deify and afterwards worship them" (Book of Abraham, 86).
Let us summarize the genealogy of this Pharaoh, the first ruler of Egypt: His progenitors were: his mother Egyptus, her parents Ham and Egyptus, and Ham's father Noah.
26 Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
verse 26 "Pharaoh, being a righteous man" This refers to the first king of Egypt, the son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham and Egyptus.
"that order established by the fathers in the first generations" This refers to the patriarchal order of the priesthood (see the commentary for verse 25), by which the people were governed both religiously and secularly.
"but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood" See the commentary for verse 21.
27 Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;
verse 27 "Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood" Why was Pharaoh, "a righteous man . . . blessed . . . with the blessings of wisdom" (verse 26), denied that priesthood which he "would fain claim from Noah, through Ham" (1:27)? The word fain means gladly or happily. Pharaoh would have been happy to claim the priesthood by virtue of his belonging the lineage of Noah. We have already described, in the commentary for verse 21, the reasons why the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were unable to pass the priesthood along to their descendants. It was because Egyptus was a descendant of Cain.
Even if Ham had been able to pass the priesthood along to his descendants, the Pharaoh would not have been eligible because he claimed it through the wrong line, "that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood" (verse 27). What was wrong with his lineage? Simply this: He descended not from the patriarchal but from the matriarchal line. He was the son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham. In the days of the patriarchal order, the priesthood was passed on only from father to first-born son. Even though he was trying to govern his people by a system patterned after the patriarch order of the priesthood, he had no right to that priesthood. However noble and respectable the line may be, a matriarchal line cannot claim patriarchal authority, even though all the parties concerned are sympathetic to the idea.
In all of this there has been no mention of race, though enemies of the Church have declared with shock and outrage that these passages are proof of Mormon discrimination against blacks.
There can be no question that the ancient Canaanites were cursed by God and denied the priesthood, but there is some controversy over the exact reason why that was so. Some modern LDS authors have questioned the Church's generally accepted belief that the denial of the right of the priesthood to the Canaanites is the result of the curse God placed on Cain (Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes, The Pearl of Great Price, A Verse-by-Verse Commentary, 256-57). They make the following points in defense of their argument: (1) No specific mention is ever made of a connection between Ham's wife Egyptus and Cain. The connection we make here is presumption only. (2) JST Genesis 9:25 states the Canaan was cursed and that "a veil of darkness shall cover him [Canaan], that he shall be known among all men." Moses 7:8 says that "a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan." This darkness or blackness is assumed to refer to skin color. However, the Canaanites of ancient Palestine were Caucasian, not black, and had no connection with Africa, where the black race seems to have originated. (3) That the people of Canaan were descendants of Cain is not explicitly stated, though it is often assumed. (4) It is also not clear whether these antediluvian Canaanites are the same people as the Canaanites found much later in Palestine. (5) The Lord pronounced two curses on Cain because he murdered his brother, Abel. These were (a) that when he tilled the earth, it would not yield its strength, and (b) that he would be a fugitive and a vagabond (see Moses 5:37). No mention is made of a loss of priesthood or that the curse will be passed on to his posterity. (6) In Moses 5:40 the Lord places a mark on Cain to identify him so others will not attempt to slay him. It did not say what this mark is, although it is generally assumed to be a dark skin, and again, there is no implication that this mark is to be passed on to his descendants. (7) It is often speculated in the Church today that the blacks in this final dispensation were denied the priesthood because of their descending from Cain, although that is unsupported from the scriptures. The Church has never actually given any official doctrinal statement as to why the priesthood was temporarily denied to blacks, and in reality we simply do not know why God denied blacks the priesthood for a time. All we know is that he did, later making it available to them through a living prophet.
"therefore my father was led away by their idolatry" Doubtless the priest of Elkenah claimed that he possessed the priesthood through the lineage of Noah, in fact it should be said that perhaps he himself believed that he possessed the priesthood. Abraham's father Terah believed that the priest of Elkenah was a fully authorized servant of God, and at least partly for that reason, he was led away into idolatry.
28 But I shall endeavor, hereafter, to delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation, for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time.
verse 28 "for the records have come into my hands" Abraham refers to early scriptural records that contained a chronology dating back to the creation. These records were probably the same as those which were begun by Adam and mentioned the book of Moses as "a book of remembrance" or "the book of the generations of Adam" (Moses 6:5; Moses 6:8; Genesis 5:1). Obviously Abraham had possession of a copy of this scriptural record, though we don't know whether Moses actually had possession of them. See also the commentary for verse 31.
29 Now, after the priest of Elkenah was smitten that he died, there came a fulfilment of those things which were said unto me concerning the land of Chaldea, that there should be a famine in the land.
verse 29 "there came a fulfilment of those things which were said . . . that there should be a famine in the land" In verse 17, the Lord says that because of the idolatry of the people, "therefore I have come down to visit them." Apparently, a part of this visitation included the Lord's cursing the land with a famine.
30 Accordingly a famine prevailed throughout all the land of Chaldea, and my father was sorely tormented because of the famine, and he repented of the evil which he had determined against me, to take away my life.
verse 30 "Accordingly a famine prevailed throughout all the land of Chaldea" Famine is generally the result of drought. In most of the area of the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia and Palestine), rainfall averages around 8 inches a year, which is just sufficient to maintain agriculture without irrigation (Knapp, A. Bernard, The History and Culture of Ancient Western Asia and Egypt [Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 1988], 20-21). In years when rainfall drops below this minimum amount, drought and famine occur. Terah, humbled by the famine does repent. However, when conditions improve, we will learn that he goes back to his old ways (see Abraham 2:5).
31 But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me.
verse 31 "the records of the fathers" As speculated in the commentary for verse 28, this may be a copy of the book of remembrance kept by Adam's righteous posterity, which contained not only genealogical records but also the things the patriarchs wrote "by the spirit of inspiration" (Moses 6:5). The Jaredites also had copies of the writings of the antediluvian prophets (Ether 1:3-4), which would have included priesthood lines of authority enabling each priesthood holder to trace his authority back to Adam.
"a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars" Elder Mark E. Petersen observed: "The fact that Abraham had the records of the fathers is most interesting. . . . It is notable that these records contained information about the stars and the planets. What an insight this gives concerning the 'fathers'! How had they learned astronomy? Did God teach them in the days of their righteousness as he later taught both Abraham and Moses? . . . Through his faithfulness, Abraham understood the value of those records, appreciated them, and sought to obtain the blessings that the gospel had offered to the fathers" (Abraham, Friend of God, 44).