The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has published another in a series of articles on controversial historical topics on its official website. This one looks at the origin of the Book of Abraham, the source of some uniquely Mormon teachings.
The Book of Abraham is part of what Mormons call the Pearl of Great Price, a book accepted by the church as scripture, along with the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Church founder Joseph Smith produced it after studying some ancient Egyptian documents church members bought from a traveling showman in 1835.
Modern scholars, both inside and outside the church, have determined the fragments of those papyri that remain are not the source of the Book of Abraham. But the article says Smith’s study may have led to a revelation that is the source of the actual text.
David Bokovoy, an LDS scholar who’s studied the Book of Abraham, says the article represents an important step in the church’s acknowledgement of discrepancies in its own history.
Bokovoy tells KUER, “This document articulates in an official, correlated, LDS church-sponsored source, the idea that Joseph did not produce a literal translation, that in fact, the Book of Abraham never was on the material that he possessed, and yet he produced something that can be interpreted by believing Latter-day Saints as very much inspired.”
Critics of the church say the differences between the existing documents and the scriptural text contradict Joseph Smith’s claims about its origin.
The Pearl of Great Price is doctrinally important for Mormons. It is the source of the teaching of humanity’s pre-mortal existence and the plan of salvation championed by Jesus Christ before the world was created.