Does the Book of Abraham Prove that Joseph Smith was a False Prophet?
In 1835, Joseph Smith and members of the Mormon Church in Kirtland, Ohio, purchased some papyrus scrolls and mummies from a traveling showman named Michael Chandler. Joseph Smith had realized that some of the scrolls, but not all, contained writings by the ancient biblical prophet Abraham. Over the next few years, whenever he had free time, Joseph Smith translated portions of the text and eventually published it as the Book of Abraham in 1842. When the Mormons were expelled from Illinois in 1846 after Joseph Smith’s murder, the mummies and papyrus remained behind and were eventually lost. This book has become very controversial among critics of the Mormon Church who claim that the Book of Abraham could not have come from those papyri as Joseph Smith claimed.
In the 1960s a few fragments of the original papyri were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and given back to the Mormon Church. They have since been published and studied, but they are not, unfortunately, the papyri from which Joseph Smith took the Book of Abraham. In his writings, Joseph Smith describes the papyrus scroll that the Book of Abraham was “beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation” (History of the Church, 2:348). The surviving fragments contain only black ink and are in terrible disrepair. So, for all the fuss that critics have made about the Book of Abraham, there is no evidence to refute it. The best solution is to look at the content of the book as it is published and compare that to other known traditions about Abraham. When that comparison is made, it shows that the Book of Abraham is very accurate about Abraham’s life that Joseph Smith could not have known in the 1830s. For example, the Book of Abraham says that while a young man Abraham was nearly murdered for speaking against idolatry. This tradition is not found in the Bible, but does occur in texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Book of Abraham also mentions a place called the plains of Olishem which are not known in the Bible, but do appear in inscriptions dating from the time of Abraham.