One of the biggest challenges to my personal testimony of the reality of the Restoration came when I was serving as Bishop years ago. I was exploring one of the issues that had affected some local people in the past, namely, the anti-Mormon attacks on the Book of Abraham. I went to a popular anti-Mormon website and read their pitch against the Book of Abraham. Whoa, what a powerful, clear-cut, rock-solid indictment of the Book of Abraham. How more obvious could the problem be? The papyrus fragments that Joseph translated as the Book of Mormon were found recently, and now scholars can translate them and see that they have no connection to Abraham. The book is a total fraud. Slam dunk. That's the pitch, anyway.

When I faced that evidence, not yet knowing that the real fraud was in the evidence that was being withheld to make the anti-Mormon case, I was deeply troubled. I was troubled enough to go to the Lord in prayer and explain that while I had a deep testimony of the Book of Mormon and accepted it as scripture, I had to ask what went wrong with the Book of Abraham? Did Joseph just blow it? The response I got was not an answer to my question, but a sense that I needed to put this issue on hold and do more homework, patiently. I know, some of you will say that was a total cop-out and the only ethical thing to do would have been to resign from the Church. But patience was what I needed.

I studied the issue more carefully. While reading a basic book on the history of the Book of Abraham from H. Donl Peterson, I learned that the primary anti-Mormon argument relied on deception, not just a weak argument, but deliberate deception. The authors of the site that had so troubled me surely knew and had been told dozens of times that the tiny collection of fragments found in 1967 was only a small fraction of the scrolls that Joseph had, and that the bulk of the collection had been sold to a museum by Joseph's widow and eventually shipped to Chicago where they apparently burned in the great fire of 1871. The critics also ought to know that numerous eye-witnesses had described the scrolls Joseph had been translating as the Book of Abraham, and their descriptions don't accurately match the fragments that were recovered. Mormons scholars and non-LDS scholars both agree that the fragments we have are not the text of the Book of Abraham. The critics desperately need those fragments to be the Book of Abraham, but they are not. There are still plenty of tough questions to ask and reasonable objections to make, as there is with almost anything in any religion, but I learned in that experience just how powerful and dangerous a well-crafted lie can be. I can sympathize with those who lost their testimonies over Book of Abraham attacks, but I'd like to urge you to come back and look at the exciting news that continues to be revealed about this majestic ancient test.

My little adventure led to several pages on my LDSFAQ area about the Book of Abraham and the growing evidence for its authenticity. These include "Questions About the Book of Abraham: Part One," "Questions About the Book of Abraham, Part 2: Evidences for Plausibility," and "Part 3: Ancient Records Offer New Support for the Book of Abraham."

A more recent source you'll want to consider is the new DVD, A Most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Abraham. Looks fascinating--this just came out. I'm ordering one and haven't seen it yet. You can also hear
podcast about the DVD at the FAIR Blog.

There have been some exciting discoveries since I wrote my LDSFAQ pages on the Book of Abraham and I'm in the process of adding some updates. Some of the most significant ones are mentioned by Dr. John Gee, one of a few scholars deeply familiar with the Egyptian texts potentially relevant to the Book of Abraham. Dr. Gee has some valuable insight into how modern scholarship is helping to better place the Book of Abraham in history. However, before I share some news from Dr. Gee, let me remind you of some of the controversy over the location of the Book of Abraham. This background will help you better appreciate Dr. Gee's additional insights. So first, here is a background passage from Daniel C. Peterson's article, "News from Antiquity," in the January 1994 issue of the Ensign, available online (for the footnotes omitted below, see the related quote on Part 2 of my Book of Abraham LDS FAQ page):
The book begins with Abraham "in the land of Ur, of Chaldea." (Abr. 1:20.) It is obvious that this "Chaldea" was a place under strong Egyptian influence. It was there that Abraham's own fathers turned aside from worship of the true God to the service of "the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt." (Abr. 1:6; facsimile 1, fig. 9.) Apart from a passing reference in Joshua 24:2 [Josh. 24:2], the Bible does not tell of the idolatry of Abraham's ancestors. However, their worship of false gods and Abraham's faithfulness in worshipping the true God, as well as his attempts to convert his family, are common themes of many very old Jewish and Christian stories. [2]

Where was Ur of the Chaldees? Since the nineteenth century, most authorities have identified it with the modern Tell al-Muqayyar, a site in southern Iraq. However, certain elements of the book of Abraham do not seem to fit well in southern Iraq; in particular, Egyptian influences appear to be lacking there during the time of Abraham (traditionally placed around 2000 B.C.). It is thus interesting to note that some recent reevaluations of the question locate Ur in the area known anciently as Aram-Naharaim, or northwestern Mesopotamia (northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey, in terms of modern geography). This was a region under Egyptian influence at the time of Abraham.[3] The book of Abraham mentions a place it calls "the plain of Olishem" (Abr. 1:10), which was apparently part of the land of Chaldea. No such place is mentioned in the Bible, but the name does occur in an inscription of the Akkadian ruler Naram Sin, dating to about 2250 B.C. Remarkably, it refers to a place located precisely in northwestern Syria.[4]
Yes, it's cool that there is new evidence from an ancient text for the plains of Olishem in the Book of Abraham, but the real purpose of this passage is to remind you that modern LDS scholarship points to Ur of the Chaldees and the initial setting for the Book of Abraham as being in the north, perhaps in Syria, not in southern Iraq. Now we turn to Dr. Gree for an update included in his presentation at the Eleventh Annual FAIR Conference, August 6, 2009 entitled "The Larger Issue."
For years the critics have noted that the Book of Abraham has Egyptians up in Abraham's homeland in Abraham's day. This is something that they see as problematic. In the 1960s Georges Posener first suggested that there was an Egyptian empire in Syria in those days, but most scholars rejected it. There simply was not enough archaeological evidence for it in their opinion. Two articles last year change the picture. One was the publication by the President of the International Association of Egyptologists of a new autobiographical text from the Middle Kingdom. It details how this Egyptian led an expedition to Byblos and while there became involved in a military altercation between Byblos and Ullaza and ended up taking over both. This became the beginning of Egyptian involvement in northern Syria in the Middle Kingdom. Confirmation of the story comes from Byblos were the former kings are replaced by Egyptian appointed governors who began recording their titles in Egyptians. The second article came out in the premier peer-reviewed Egyptological journal in North America and detailed how a careful examination of the textual and archaeological sources indicates that Egypt had a presence in the northern Levant only during the reigns of two pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom: Sesostris III and Amenemhet III.

These articles point to a specific historical scenario for the Book of Abraham. The first chapter of Abraham takes place when Egypt controls Abraham's homeland in northern Syria, and this can only be during a short, sixty year time period, about 1860-1800 BC. We know from archaeological evidence of that time period that Egyptian gods were worshiped at Ebla, and that Ebla is mentioned in Egyptian texts of the time. We also know that Egyptian sphinxes inscribed for monarchs of the time were found at Aleppo and Ugarit. This gives us an idea of the area under the Egyptian monarchs Sesostris III and Amenemhet III. It also explains Abraham's travel route. He crosses the Euphrates to Harran, outside the Egyptian sphere of influence and stays a few years, during which time the Egyptian empire of the Middle Kingdom collapses making it safe for him to return to formerly Egyptian held territory.

Unfortunately, the time period when Abraham lived is almost unknown to Egyptology even today. The debates among Kim Ryholt, Manfred Beitak, Jim and Susan Allen, Daphna Ben Tor, and Chris Bennett about this time period shows how much is up in the air even today.

It might come as some surprise to some that Abraham is in the area of northern Mesopotamia and Syria. The term Chaldean did not mean the same in Joseph Smith's day as it does now. In the present day, the Chaldeans are equated only with the tribes of the Kaldu that lived in the Iron Age in southern Mesopotamia. In Joseph Smith's day it referred to the language that we call Aramaic and especially the Aramaic dialect that we call Syriac. It also referred to those who spoke that language (which originated in northern Syria). It also referred to the general area of greater Mesopotamia. Additionally, it was used as a term for superstitious.

The Chaldeans do not appear as such in the Hebrew Bible. Abraham is said to be from Ur of the Kasdim, not the Chaldeans. Though Kasdim is translated as Chaldeans, that is no indication that the Kasdim are the Kaldu. Recent analysis of the names in the biblical account of Abraham indicates that all of them originate in northern Mesopotamia. The name Abram itself, is attested only in northern Mesopotamia. The name is also only attested at the time when the Book of Abraham predicts it. Several towns are named Ur in Mesopotamia, that is the reason why it must be qualified as the Ur of the Kasdim.

Another example of how the Book of Abraham matches its day is the mention in the Book of Abraham of human sacrifice after the manner of the Egyptians. We know from archaeological evidence that the Egyptians practiced human sacrifice at that time, in areas that they dominated outside of Egypt. This archaeological evidence corresponds in practice to later ritual texts that describe how do human sacrifice. It also corresponds to historical records from Egypt that detail the circumstances under which human sacrifice occurred in Abraham's day. Almost none of this material was available even to Nibley. This shows how much the picture can change in a few years. We also know the type of people targeted for human sacrifice: sbi, rebels or apostates (the term is used for both). Abraham says that his "fathers . . . utterly refused to hearken to my voice" (Abraham 1:5) when he condemned them for "having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given them , unto the worship of the gods of the heathen" (Abraham 1:5), instead they "endeavored to take away my life" (Abraham 1:7). There was no separation of church and state in ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh was the head of both. So to revolt against his authority, whether religious or political, made someone a rebel and subject to a ritualized death penalty. Archaeological evidence for this practice was first discovered about fifty years ago, but more archaeological evidence has appeared in the last ten years.
Read that passage again--there are a large number of interesting new twists in the unfolding story of one of the most remarkable ancient scriptural texts, the Book of Abraham. Like the Book of Mormon, the evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Abraham continues to increase, making it, in a sense, "truer than ever." This is an exciting time to be LDS!

So much has changed in the few years since Hugh Nibley took up the defense of the Book of Abraham. He clearly got some things wrong. That's life and that's scholarship. He sometimes said that anything he wrote more than 3 years ago shouldn't be held against him because things change so quickly. Well, they do. The vector of change, though, is in a direction I like. Some issues that were quite problematic are being resolved with evidence that just wasn't available in Nibley's day and certainly not Joseph Smith's. Some huge discoveries in the past few years have helped us better appreciate the text of the Book of Abraham in several ways. I'll say it again: like the Book of Mormon, it's a text that is becoming truer than ever, in spite of human influence (yeah, human influences like the ancient geocentric model of the cosmos embedded in the Book of Abraham--something for another post, another day).

Patience--that was the answer I needed in the 1990s when I had my own little crisis of faith. I'm glad I pressed forward and continued to study, ponder, pray, and finally see past the deception that had so bothered me. I felt really cheated when I saw the sleight of hand that the critics used, and I've seen crooked antics of that nature frequently since then. I still have some major issues on hold, waiting for further light and knowledge, interested in the truth but willing to wait for answers. Meanwhile, the journey is a rewarding and joyous one. The Church is true, in spite of some gaps, and the Gospel is true, in spite of human weakness in others and my own failure in understanding and faith. I look forward to learning and experiencing more.

Update: A great resource that calmly spells out the major arguments against the Book of Abraham and then refutes them is "Criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham" at the the Book of Abraham Project website. URL is
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