Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study

John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks

John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks, “Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study,” in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 63–98.

John Gee was an assistant research professor of Egyptology, and Stephen D. Ricks was a professor of Hebrew at Brigham Young University when this was published.

In attempting to prove the historicity of any document or event, historians should use primary sources. For the historian of the ancient world, however, these sources are often both rare and obscure. By comparing a text with other texts and archaeological material from the same time and place, a historian can propose the historical plausibility of a document when its authenticity is not certain. In order to establish the Book of Abraham as a historically authentic ancient document, one must consider many elements, including: setting; the presence and nature of Egyptian influence in Abraham’s place and time, including governmental, social, and religious institutions; and the presence of comparable personal and place names in the ancient Near East of Abraham’s day. Yet even under the best of circumstances, historical plausibility establishes probability, not proof.

Historical sources come in several basic varieties: primary and secondary, contemporary and later, textual and archaeological. Primary sources are first-hand accounts, while secondary sources are not. Thus primary sources include diaries, letters, and legal documents, while secondary sources include histories, textbooks, and encyclopedias. Contemporary sources are written at the time of the events or soon thereafter, while later sources are sometimes written much later. Textual sources contain texts, some sort of writing (hopefully comprehensible), while archaeological sources include all sorts of material objects with or without writing. Under ideal conditions, the historian uses contemporary primary sources.

For the historian of the ancient world, however, conditions are much less than ideal. First, the historian’s resources are limited to whatever has survived. Second, “without secondary materials, we would often be left only with isolated and unrelated facts presented by individual primary sources, which would in themselves offer little hope of erecting an all-important chronological framework.” [1]

The historian of antiquity has to make do with what is available. How does he or she determine whether a later secondary source is accurate? For example, most of the history of ancient Israel is based on the books of Samuel and Kings in the Bible. Yet those books were compiled at a much later time—after all, they mention events in the “seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah” (2 Kgs. 25:27). [2]

Historical plausibility offers a possible solution to this sort of problem. We will illustrate both the problem and the solution with the Book of Abraham and several other ancient documents. We want to avoid the sort of special pleading that is often applied to scriptural texts—that because the texts are scriptural, they are not allowed the latitude normally granted other texts. [3] One of the ironies of historical plausibility is that “for the purpose of the exercise, we shall suppose that, like the Babylonian and Egyptian works, the Pentateuch [or whatever work we are interested in testing, such as the Book of Abraham] has no religious relevance to us.” [4]

The problem centers around which of two mutually exclusive methodological assumptions one chooses, given here in the words of (1) a preeminent Mesopotamian historian (J. A. Brinkman) and (2) a largely ignored Egyptologist (Gun Bjorkman):

  1. Where no sound evidence exists to the contrary, an isolated document, according to its capacity, is to be accepted as historically accurate until proven otherwise. Without this principle, there would be no hope of writing political history for ancient Babylonia. [5]
  2. Undoubtedly many scholars still adhere to the opinion that the statements of a source can be regarded as reliable as long as the opposite has not been proved. It must be emphasized, however, that . . . the burden of proof does not rest on the skeptical scholar but on the scholar who accepts the statements of his source as credible evidence. [6]

Because these are assumptions, they are made before one even begins studying the source, and they color the entire study.

While there is no indication that a consensus exists on this issue (or any other issue) among historians, [7] there are indications that the first is the sounder view. One indication is that those who actually write Egyptian history have not only generally ignored the second view but have deliberately ignored it. [8] As Friedrich Blass correctly observed over a century ago, “Once you assume that a document is a fake, no arguments and no evidence to the end of time can ever vindicate it, even if it is absolutely genuine.” [9] Tests for forgery are all negative tests; they are not and cannot be set up to show that a document is genuine, only that it is a forgery. [10] “Finality can probably never be reached. We have to be satisfied with an accumulation of indication, large or small.” [11] Accordingly, most historians of the ancient world (even Bjorkman) assume their documents to be genuine unless given sufficient reason otherwise. Bjorkman was concerned to show that there was no support for the historical situation described in the Instruction for Merykare among contemporary documents. He failed, however, both to demonstrate that anything in the Instruction for Merykare was at odds with his control documents and to apply those strict assumptions to his control documents. Thus those who actually write Egyptian history still use the Instruction for Merykare even though the historical situation it describes is not supported by any other Egyptian document. [12] Likewise, those who write Mesopotamian history discuss the Sumerian King List as follows: “If the King List speaks of the hegemony of foreign powers like Mari, or Awan and Hamazi somewhere to the east, we cannot dismiss this as mere legend, but have to give it the benefit of the doubt even if there are no contemporary records of such a domination.” [13] Scientists do not jettison their theories because there are some problems. The philosopher and historian of science Thomas Kuhn asks us to note “what scientists never do when confronted by even severe and prolonged anomalies. Though they may begin to lose faith and then to consider alternatives, they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis. They do not, that is, treat anomalies as counter-instances,” [14] though this is exactly what the critics of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham would have us do. In practice, then, a historical document is accepted as historically accurate until proven otherwise.

Historical Plausibility

What allows us to accept a document as historically accurate according to its capacity is its historical plausibility. Historical plausibility relies on the aggregate of information to provide a consistent picture of events and processes. It assumes that historical conditions at a given time and place are consistent and that change over both time and place varies consistently. That is, documents and artifacts produced at a given time and place have a certain commonality that may vary as both time and place change. For example, handwriting in Greek business documents changes slightly over a hundred-year time span, but the changes over a two- or three-hundred-year period are much more marked; [15] because documents produced at the same time share a commonality of handwriting style, this commonality is what allows for documents to be dated paleographically. Similar commonality is what allows for the identification of pottery found in archaeological excavations and surveys and for the dating of occupation of a particular site based in the pottery identifications made.

Documents also follow certain patterns in layout, language, script, paleography, vocabulary, genre, specificity, onomastics, and cultural referents (including governmental, social, and religious institutions and practices). To the extent that a document matches others in these areas, it is historically plausible. Since this is normally the case, historical plausibility is rarely an issue, even though the majority of documents show at least one and sometimes several peculiarities. [16] Thus “a single example would be insufficient; a series of indisputable anachronisms alone could carry weight in assessing the age of a composition.” [17] When a document presents a number of inconsistencies or anachronisms, or its historicity is in jeopardy, historical plausibility becomes an issue.

Historical plausibility relies on the comparison of a text with other texts and with archaeological material from the same time and place. When this information is absent because the work in that area is either undone, incomplete, [18] or unavailable for whatever reason, it is customary to look to neighboring locations at the same time (particularly those regions known to have been in cultural contact) or the same location at earlier or later periods (assuming continuity). This introduces an element of uncertainty into the control of the evidence, as continuity between time and place cannot necessarily be assumed. [19] An uncautious search for parallel material can often degenerate into a wild grab for anything, no matter how remote. [20] A historical parallel that is remote in both time and place might indicate historical possibility, but it does not establish historical plausibility.

Historical plausibility is not a universally accepted method—indeed the elements which comprise historical plausibility are not themselves agreed upon—as the following example illustrates. One of the most brilliant compositions of the Middle Kingdom, the story of Sinuhe takes the form of a tomb biography. [21] But unlike other tomb biographies, it has never been found on any tomb; instead it has been found in numerous later copies on papyrus or on ostraca. Sinuhe provides a good test case because it is less susceptible to the special pleading from both sides that plagues discussions of the historicity of scripture. [22] Is Sinuhe a historical source? The great American archaeologist William F. Albright considered it to be “a ‘substantially true account of life in its milieu’ on the grounds (1) that its ‘local color [is] extremely plausible,’ (2) it describes a ‘state of social organization’ which ‘agrees exactly with our present archaeological and documentary evidence,’ (3) ‘the Amorite personal names contained in the story are satisfactory for that period and region,’ and (4) ‘Finally, there is nothing unreasonable in the story itself.’” [23] In other words, Albright considered Sinuhe historical on the basis of historical plausibility. More recently, K. A. Kitchen has outlined the following indicators of historicity in Sinuhe: (1) He has a name and definite titles. The narrative takes notice of (2) contemporary rulers, (3) other individuals abroad, and (4) topography, in and outside of Egypt. [24] All of this compares well with Egyptian autobiographies but contrasts with Egyptian fiction, which contains an absolute minimum of specifics, which looks back into the distant historical past, and where fantasy predominates: “Unlike the fictional works, there is no ‘once upon a time’ element, no anonymity about main characters, no vagueness about locations, and no fantasies or magic marvels.” [25]

The debate over the historicity of Sinuhe, however, rages on, even though all agree that Sinuhe accurately reflects its historical and cultural milieu. [26] If there is no consensus on the historicity of this text, we can hardly hope that the critics would accept the historical authenticity of a scriptural text such as the Book of Abraham even if all the evidence we currently have were to point to its authenticity. This does not mean that historical plausibility is not a useful tool in ascertaining historicity, but it does mean that plausibility and proof of authenticity are two different things.

Historical plausibility is useful when trying to determine the ancient nature of a text. The demotic tales of Setna Khamwas, [27] for example, accurately reflect their ancient Egyptian milieu. The first two stories of the cycle are, in fact, some of the most revealing documents about the way Egyptians thought. They have thus been used to illustrate many facets of Egyptian culture. Many examples of marriage contracts (sh n s’nh) have been preserved from ancient Egypt, [28] but Setna I illustrates how they were used. [29] Likewise, though archaeological examples of game boards are attested, and the Book of the Dead makes reference to playing on them, [30] Setna I is the only text that actually gives an account of the game. [31] Yet Setna is not a historical text but a historical romance: in it Setna Khamwas breaks into the tomb of the long-dead Naneferkaptah, who is said to be the son of Pharaoh Merneptah, and carries on conversations with him. But the historical Khamwas was the older brother of the then future Pharaoh Merneptah. With the Setna tales, no one doubts either that Khamwas was a historical personage or that the Setna tales reflect their cultural milieu, but no one grants the Setna tales historicity. Though the cultural situation is correct, the historical situation fails. Thus historical plausibility is useful in determining whether a document is ancient but not necessarily whether it is historical.

Showing that the document is ancient is a sufficient condition for establishing the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham. Since both the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are often rejected as being neither ancient nor authentic simply by virtue of the story of their translation, explaining how they can possibly be historically plausible becomes more difficult than the alternative. The author of the Setna stories lived in a continuation of the same culture as Khamwas and spoke a descendant of the same language. But Joseph Smith lived in a different culture separated in time, space, and language from the books he translated. Thus this same test of historical plausibility can and should also be applied to our study of the Book of Abraham. Because the Book of Abraham is available to us only in translation, considerations of layout, language, script, paleography, and vocabulary play a much lesser role. [32] Still, considerations of genre, specificity, onomastics, and cultural referents (including religious, social, and governmental institutions) can be used.

Key to the discussion of the Book of Abraham as a historically authentic ancient document is its likely setting (whether in northern or southern Mesopotamia), the presence and nature of Egyptian influence in that part of the world in the late third to early second millennia B.C. (the likely time period for Abraham’s activities), and the presence of comparable personal and place names in the Book of Abraham and in the ancient Near East at that time.

The Setting of the Book of Abraham

Before situating Abraham in place, let us situate him in time. There are two ways to do this. One could examine the Book of Abraham and try to determine when to place it historically by the various historical allusions under the dubious assumption that we have enough information about enough time periods and places to do so. “If, however, there are insufficient elements of established date with which to compare, the argumentation may easily lead to nothing but a vicious circle.” [33] Therefore we will take a conventional dating approach. This means that we will accept the standard chronologies and the dates given (with the understanding that there may be errors) and work from there. Abraham seems most likely to have lived in the 2000s to 1800s B.C. [34] This time period corresponds to the archaeological time period generally thought to provide “the most suitable background for the patriarchal sagas in the Book of Genesis,” the Middle Bronze Age II (ca. 2000–1550 B.C.). [35] Middle Bronze Age II is also seen as corresponding to the Twelfth through Seventeenth Dynasties in Egypt [36] (the Middle Kingdom, 2040–1640 B.C.) [37] and the Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian Periods in Mesopotamia (2017–1595 B.C.). [38] This gives us some written sources in Mesopotamia and Egypt, but few written sources for Syria-Palestine, where Abraham lived most of his life. [39]

Let us now move on to geographical concerns: Was the setting of Ur in the Book of Abraham northern or southern Mesopotamia? In the early years of biblical research, historians situated Ur of the Chaldees (and in several passages in the Book of Abraham, “Ur, of Chaldea”) in northern Mesopotamia, in the region close to Haran. There it remained “until the name of Sumerian Ur began to turn up in the cuneiform inscriptions deciphered during the latter half of the nineteenth century.” [40] From that time the balance of scholarly opinion shifted to Sumerian Ur, until today it has become nearly unanimous. [41] The standard argument is that the southern or Sumerian Ur, located at Tell el-Muqayyar, was Ur of the Chaldees because (1) the ancient name of the site was Úri(m), (2) the Chaldeans could be the Kaldu, (3) Sir Leonard Wooley found a golden figure of a goat eating a tree at Tell el-Muqayyar, (4) and both Úri(m) and Haran were centers of moon god cults. [42] Of these, the first two are the major arguments; the latter two are ancillary arguments and do not convince in and of themselves.

But what of northern Mesopotamia as the site of Ur? Let us consider the following facts about a northern location:

  1. Does the itinerary make sense? The outspoken scholar of the ancient world, Cyrus Gordon, argues: “Ur of the Chaldees in Genesis has to be north or east (probably northeast) of Haran for Terah’s itinerary to make sense. By the same token, the ‘Chaldees’ of Abraham’s Ur have nothing to do with Babylonia.” [43] Robert Martin-Achard, who considers both options, concludes that it was not at all beyond the realm of possibility for the family of Abraham to have settled in the environs of southern Ur and then to have gone to Canaan by way of northern Ur and Haran. [44] Actually, in the light of the Book of Abraham, a location of Ur west of Haran would make the most sense, because the easiest way to avoid the problems with Egypt described in Abraham 1 would be to flee to the other side of the Euphrates until political conditions changed. [45]
  2. The phonetic argument that Tell el-Muqayyar must be Ur of the Chaldees is not convincing. The reading of the signs that designate the ancient site, ŠES-UNUG/ABkiMA, are usually read as Úriki-ma (with the -ma Auslaut attached) which we have read as Úri(m). [46] There are also in the vicinity of the Syrian site of Ebla towns attested by the names of Úr, Ù-ra-an, Ù-ra-mu, Ù-ra-ú, Ù-rí-mu, Ù-rí-um, Ù-ru12, U9-ru12, all of which are at least phonetically as close to Ur as Úri(m). [47] These are only those attested in the political control of Ebla. A tablet from level VII at Alalakh (Old Babylonian period) mentions a place called uruU-re-eki [48] (to which Úri(m) is phonetically equivalent), and this same place is apparently also attested at both level IV at Alalakh (Late Bronze Age) [49] and at Ugarit (Ras Shamra); [50] another uruU-ra in Hittite domains is attested at both Alalakh and Ugarit. [51] The mere use of the qualifier “of the Chaldees” implies that more than one Ur existed anciently.
  3. At the root of the problem is the term “Chaldees” or “Chaldeans.” A historical survey of the development of our English term might clarify the issues involved. The English term derives originally from the Akkadian term Kaldū. The origins of the Kaldu are obscure, coming in a period from which we have only a few scant sources. [52] But onomastic evidence indicates that they were of West Semitic stock from Upper Mesopotamia or Syria but became rapidly assimilated into Babylonian culture. [53] The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (878 B.C.) mentions a defeat of the Kaldu immediately after the battle of Sūru in the land of Suhi. [54] By the time of Shalmaneser III (858–824 B.C.), the Kaldu are described as three tribes (the Jakini, the Amukani, and the Adini) living in Babylonia. Despite their being neighbors, “the Assyrians do not seem to have been well acquainted with these people.” [55] The Kaldu also appear in the campaigns of Shamshi- Adad V (814–812 B.C.) as allies of Marduk-balassu-iqbi. [56] By 769 B.C. Eriba-Marduk had followed Marduk-apla-usur, the first known Chaldean to occupy the throne of Babylon. [57] On his fourth campaign (700 B.C.), the Assyrian king Sennacherib campaigned against Shuzub, “the Chaldean who dwells in the midst of the marsh” in southernmost Mesopotamia. [58] The Chaldean hegemony of Babylon continued to the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Persian in 539 B.C. [59] The Persians referred to geographical units more than ethnic groups and thus do not mention the Chaldeans, only the Babylonians (Bābiruviy) in their inscriptions. [60] The Greek general Xenophon, on his return from serving as a mercenary on the campaign of Cyrus the Minor (400 B.C.), mentions the Chaldeans (Chaldaioi) in connection with the Kardouchoi (Kurds) [61] as a warlike people blocking the way to Armenia, [62] and as at war with their neighbors, the Armenians. [63] Thus they had moved again.

The widespread notoriety of the Babylonians as seers and healers spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. [64] Thus the Romans used the term Chaldaeus as a synonym for “soothsayer, astrologer, numerologist, charlatan.” [65] Thence the term passed into English.

The English term used to translate the Hebrew term kasdîm (Gen. 11:28) is “Chaldees.” The Jews, in exile in Babylon, associated the ethnic group, the Kaldu or Kaldayyu, who ruled Babylon and spoke Aramaic when Judah was taken captive to Babylonia, with the Kasdim of Abraham’s day. [66] Thence three things have been associated with the term: the place where the Kaldu then lived [67] (Babylonia), the language they then spoke (Aramaic; see Dan. 1:4), and the religion they then practiced (a false one from the Jewish and Roman view). [68] Until the modern decipherment of cuneiform (and thus in Joseph Smith’s day), the English terms centering around “Chaldean” were used to designate “Mesopotamian” (in the larger sense of the word), the language we now term “Aramaic” and its dialects (such as Syriac), and “superstitious.” [69] Since the decipherment of cuneiform, [70] the term “Chaldean” has tended to become more restricted to a specific ancient ethnic group, the Kaldu. [71] The question thus revolves around whether or not the Jews during the Babylonian exile were correct in associating the Kasdim of Abraham’s day with the Kaldu of their own day, both of which would have been translated into English in Joseph Smith’s day as “Chaldeans.” In the final analysis, we are seeking the location of the Kasdim of Abraham’s day, whether or not they were identical to the Kaldu. These considerations point to a northern location for Ur.

Historical Plausibility

Among the tests for the historical plausibility of the Book of Abraham, genre, specificity, onomastics, and cultural referents (including governmental, social, and religious institutions) are significant to consider when dealing with Egyptian influence in northern Mesopotamia and Syria during Abraham’s lifetime.


The Book of Abraham is a first-person narrative, representing an autobiography. As part of this autobiography, the author narrates events that happened to him (Abraham 1–2), visions that he received (Abraham 3), and “a knowledge of the beginning of the creation . . . as [it was] made known unto the fathers” (Abr. 1:31; 4–5). Autobiographical texts are common in Egypt during the Middle Kingdom (as they are from the Fourth Dynasty until Persian times). Though the story of Sinuhe is the most notable and the most extensive, others are well known. [72] The Book of Abraham does not follow the form of a traditional Egyptian autobiography (though there is no particular reason it should). [73] Autobiographical texts are also known from the Old Babylonian period in Mesopotamia. [74] Examples of texts from Middle Bronze Age Syria-Palestine are as previously noted rare, but autobiographical texts are also known from Alalakh in the Late Bronze Age. [75] Gudea cylinder A is perhaps the most famous Mesopotamian text discussing a vision, but this is pre-Sargonic and thus dates too early; [76] nevertheless there is an Old Babylonian text where god talks with man. [77] If no Egyptian account of a vision is recognized from the Middle Kingdom, Egyptian rituals from the Middle Kingdom discussing how to cause visions are known. [78] Cosmological material is used in historical texts known from Sargonic period texts from Mesopotamia. [79] From the Old Babylonian period also comes a well-known, lengthy cosmological text that dovetails into (purportedly) historical events. [80] Cosmology is also extensively used in religious texts both of Middle Kingdom Egypt and of Old Babylonian Mesopotamia. [81]


In the Book of Abraham, unlike in ancient fictional works, but as in Sinuhe, “there is no ‘once upon a time’ element, no anonymity about main characters, no vagueness about locations, and no fantasies or magic marvels.” [82] Specific geographical locations on the way to Egypt are named: Potiphar’s Hill (Abr. 1:10, 20), the plain of Olishem (1:10), the land of Ur of Chaldea (1:20; 2:4, 15), Haran (2:4–6, 15), Jershon (2:17–18), Shechem (2:18), Bethel (2:20), and Hai (2:20). All of these places are outside of Egypt, and if no Egyptian place names are mentioned that can be checked with Egyptian documents, it is because Abraham never arrives in Egypt in the published Book of Abraham. [83]


There must be a plausible use of personal names, that is, names of men, gods, and places that fit the area and period of time. Some of these names suggest a linguistic and cultural melting pot, [84] but it is better to concentrate on those names that are attested in the proper time and place. [85] That there are few written documents from the region at the time of Abraham means that we must usually cast our net wider to include examples from other periods and areas. [86]

Many of the names in the Book of Abraham are Hebrew, transcribed in the transliteration system that Joseph Smith used, which, though standard for the early nineteenth century, is not used today. Both Kokob (Abr. 3:13) and Kokaubeam (3:13, 16) derive from Hebrew kokab, “star” (e.g., Num. 24:17), kōkābim, “stars” (e.g., Gen. 1:16; compare Akkadian kakkabu, “star,” [87] Ugaritic kbkb, “star,” [88] Syriac kawkab, “star,” [89] Arabic kaukab, “star,” [90] Ethiopic kokab, “star”). [91] Shaumahyeem (Facsimile 1:12) is indeed Hebrew šāmayim, “heaven(s)” and is related to the Hebrew word Shaumau (Facsimile 1:12, modern transcription samah), “to be high.” Raukeeyang (Facsimile 1:12) is the transcription for Hebrew rāqia’, “firmament.” Gnolaum (Abr. 3:18) is Joseph Smith’s transcription of the Hebrew word ‘olam, “eternal.” Though these are Hebrew, the problem with trying to use them in the strictest sense as evidence of being attested in the proper time and place is that we have no Hebrew inscriptions contemporary with Abraham. They are attested for the proper place at a later time and in a cognate language (Akkadian) at the same time, but in another place. Although we do not have any evidence from the correct time and place that Hebrew was used, we also have no evidence that Hebrew was not used at that time and place; we simply have no evidence to say one way or the other.

The name Kolob (Abr. 3:3–4, 9, 16; 5:13) is perhaps the most famous name to come from the Book of Abraham. The transliteration system that Joseph Smith used for Hebrew used the letter k for two different Hebrew letters: k and q. [92] Thus the name Kolob fits well with two Semitic roots. Either it could be from *qlb (Arabic qalb, “heart”) [93] or *klb (Akkadian kalbu, “dog,” [94] Ugaritic klb, “dog,” [95] Hebrew keleb, “dog,” [e.g., Ex. 11:7], Syriac kelb, kalbā’, “dog,” [96] Arabic kalb, “dog,” [97] Ethiopic kalb, “dog”). [98] Both are used for stars or constellations, the former in Arabic for Regulus; [99] the latter, in Akkadian, represents “the constellation Hercules,” [100] while in Syriac it represents the star Sirius; [101] in Arabic it represents the constellation Canus Major, especially the main star Sirius. [102] The root *qlb seems less likely because it is not attested until much later Arabic and not in earlier languages.

The Book of Abraham gives the word “Rahleenos” as what the Chaldeans called “hieroglyphics.” This word is problematic, not only because of our ignorance of who the Chaldeans were or what language they spoke in Abraham’s day as discussed above, or our general ignorance of the languages known to have been spoken in the region at that time (e.g., Hurrian), [103] but also because we have very few ancient languages where we do know the word for “hieroglyphs.” [104] Here again, we do not have enough information to make a general comment.

The gods mentioned in the Book of Abraham are also worth discussing. [105] Elkenah (Abr. 1:6–7, 13, 17, 20, 29) has been explained as dIl-gi-na [106] but seems best explained by Hebrew ‘ēl qānāh / ‘ēl qōneh (šāmayim wā ‘āres ), “God created / God creator of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:19, 22; cf. Phoenician qn’ ‘rs , “creator of the earth,” Hittite Elkunirša). Libnah (Abr. 1:6, 13, 17) has been explained as dLa-ban [107] but may be related to Hebrew lebānāh, “moon” (e.g., Isa. 24:23; from the root lābān, “white” [e.g., Gen. 30:35]). The name of Mahmackrah (Abr. 1:6, 13, 17) [108] might be related to Hebrew mimkār, “merchandise” (e.g., Lev. 25:14). Korash (Abr. 1:6, 13, 17) [109] is attested as a name in New Kingdom Egypt (K3rs).[110] Though a similar Hurrian name Ku-ra-az-zi is attested from the Middle Bronze Age II level at Alalakh, [111] it does not seem close enough phonetically to justify connecting. Again, any proposed connections fail to match contemporary evidence from the correct location, at least as much due to the absence of contemporary evidence from the region. The standard set is so high and our current knowledge of the region at that time so small that any correspondence would be surprising.

The name Olishem in the phrase “the plain of Olishem” (Abr. 1:10) has received much comment, though generally in footnotes. [112] A Rim-Sin (2254–2218 B.C.) inscription mentions a town Ú-li-ši-imki or Ú-li-šé-emki [113] in connection with Ebla: [114] “He (Nergal) bestowed upon him [Naram-Sin] the Amanus too, the Cedar Mountain, and the Upper Sea, and, by the weapon of Dagan, exalter of his kingship, Naram-Sin, the mighty, defeated Armanum and Ebla. Then, from the hither face of the Euphrates, he smote the river(-bank) as far as Ulisum, as well as the people whom Dagan had for the first time bestowed upon him, and they bear for him the burden of Ilaba his god. The Amanus too, the Cedar Mountain, he conquered completely.” [115] The name also perhaps appears either as Irissymn [116] or 3wšamm [117] in Twelfth-Dynasty execration texts (ca. 1991–1783 B.C.) from Egypt. If this is the same place, its presence in the contemporary execration texts is an indication that it lay in the Egyptian sphere of influence during the Middle Kingdom.

Because there is little material from the proper time and place, [118] a negative result in onomastic evidence says nothing. That any evidence at all appears is a positive indication.


The inscription that describes Sixth-Dynasty Egyptian king Pepi I’s (ca. 2289–2255 B.C.) campaign into Syria indicates that the Egyptian army included a full entourage of Egyptian priests and other religious functionaries, along with interpreters and various other royal bureaucrats. [119] Indeed, evidence of the campaigns of Pepi I into the Syro-Palestinian area can be seen in a vase with his cartouches found in the inner court of Palace G at Ebla, [120] where Egyptian artifacts are attested from the Fourth Dynasty [121] to as late as the Thirteenth-Dynasty pharaoh Hetepibre Hornedjheriotef “the Asiatic” (ca. 1760 B.C.), a ceremonial mace of whose was buried in the Tomb of the Capridi at Ebla. [122] Lacking descriptions from the Middle Kingdom of Egyptian incursions into Syria, we must assume that similar conditions applied. That this assumption is reasonable is indicated not only by the Egyptian officials who left their inscriptions with their titles in the Sinai, [123] and by the story of Sinuhe which discusses Egyptian emissaries in the area, [124] but also by the same sort of archaeological remains. The Book of Abraham provides us with a similar picture of an Egyptian presence in northern Syria, complete with priests and bureaucrats.

From other evidence, particularly from the site of Byblos, the Lebanese coastal city, we know that there were extensive relationships between Twelfth-Dynasty Egyptian pharaohs (1991–1783 B.C.) and northern Syria in the time in which Abraham lived. [125] The rulers of Byblos wrote their Semitic names and stele in hieroglyphs and used the Egyptian title of governor. [126] Asiatic campaigns are attested for some Twelfth-Dynasty reigns, [127] but for the most part the area of Canaan seems to have acquiesced to Egyptian influence. [128] The foundation deposit from the temple of Tod deposited under Sesostris I (1971–1926 B.C.) included not only Cretan vessels but also Mesopotamian cylinder seals. [129] The story of Sinuhe, also set during the reign of Sesostris I in the Twelfth Egyptian Dynasty, relates the account of an Egyptian government official who fled Egypt upon the assassination of Amenemhet I (1991–1962 B.C.), the Pharaoh whom he served. [130] The story relates in a very artful way his travels into northern Syria and gives us a very clear picture of cultural features of that time. Amenemhet III (1844–1797 B.C.) is attested both at Ugarit (Ras Shamra) and Aleppo. [131] Amenemhet IV (1799–1787 B.C.) is attested at Beirut. [132] Egyptian officials, members of the royal family, and other Middle Kingdom objects are attested (from south to north) at Tell Jemma, Tell el-Ajjul, Lachish, Gezer, Jericho, Shechem, Megiddo, Beth-shan, Beirut, Byblos, Baalbek, Qatna, Ras Shamra, Alalakh, [133] and Ebla. [134] Whether by trade or by conquest, the Egyptians if nothing else exerted clear influence. Egyptian officials include treasury officials, [135] governors, [136] and accompanying bureaucratic staff [137] in charge of sending levies of food, weapons, lead, copper, precious stones, oil, trees, vessels, wine, cattle, and slaves to Egypt. [138] “From these facts there emerges the impression of domination by the pharaohs, uneven and interrupted, no doubt, but on the whole vigorous. . . . In view of this progressive increase in our knowledge, we shall err less if we exaggerate than if we minimize the hold the Twelfth Dynasty had over Syria and Palestine.” [139] Vague memories of this Middle Kingdom domination in Asia might survive in a Demotic account. [140] Yet the Book of Abraham requires not domination but merely influence.

We may thus see Abraham not as a burnous-hooded Bedou quietly moving through a shadowy oriental half-world but as a sophisticated man who lived and moved within a sophisticated, culturally rich, and religiously diverse and engaged land. [141] In the view of Cyrus Gordon, Abraham’s “contacts and freedom of movement reflect a sophisticated milieu where an international order . . . made such a career and such enterprise possible.” [142]

Social Organization

Plausible social organization is also demonstrable in the Book of Abraham by the references to geography and political organizations. Abraham refers to the “land of the Chaldeans” (Abr. 1:1) or “land of Chaldea” (1:29), the “land of Canaan” (2:4,15,16), the “land of Jershon” (2:17), and the “land of Egypt” (1:23). The land of Ur includes Potiphar’s Hill (1:10, 20) and the plains of Olishem (1:10). Egypt is clearly depicted as a state, while the land of Chaldea is a smaller political entity, having some social order and controlling some towns. But the lands of Canaan and Jershon are not political units, nor does Haran control more than presumably its immediate surroundings. This matches the picture of the Egyptian state during the Middle Kingdom as well as what we know of the social organization of northern Syria [143] and the city states of the land of Canaan during the Middle Bronze Age II period. [144]

Abraham moves about in these lands taking “the souls that we had won in Haran” (Abr. 2:15), settling down or moving on as the need arises. This not only matches the picture of nomadism during the Old Babylonian period [145] but also matches the picture of societal institutions of the same time. [146] Abraham’s journey into Egypt is during a general time when many “Asiatics” are attested in Egypt. [147]


As a final consideration for the historical plausibility of the Book of Abraham, let us consider the exportation of Egyptian religion into the Syro-Palestinian area. We begin with a modest detour to the facsimiles. This is another point at which the critics of the Book of Abraham have come up short. Incidentally, these critics have been looking at the facsimiles but have avoided dealing with the text itself with, according to Brother Nibley, “almost hysterical touchiness.” [148]

Figure 9 of Facsimile 1 is described as the “idolatrous god of pharaoh” and is depicted as a crocodile. What are the connections between the crocodile god Sobek and the Egyptian king?

  1. The hieroglyph of the crocodile was used not only in the name of the crocodile msh but also as determinative in words such as skn “to lust after,” reflecting its voracious sexual appetite, and ‘d, “to be aggressive, angry.” [149] Similarly, the mythical Ammut—fearsome devourer of the hearts of the wicked in the judgment of the afterlife—was presented as a composite creature: “her front is a crocodile, her rear is a hippopotamus, her middle is a lion.” [150] But the crocodile that was elevated to the status of god the Egyptians called Sobek (in Greek times pronounced Souchos). [151] Its connection with royalty is shown by the crocodile being used to write the word ity, “sovereign.” [152]
  2. “Sobek assimilates the god of the king into himself (‘S[obek] nimmt also den Königsgott in sich auf’),” so that “hymns of praise to the king and his crowns can be addressed directly to Sobek,” [153] in which Sobek is “viewed as a manifestation of Horus, the god most closely identified with the kingship of Egypt.” [154]
  3. In Utterance 317 of the Pyramid Text, the king appears as Sobek: “Unas has come today from the overflowing flood; Unas is Sobk, green-plumed, wakeful, alert. . . . Unas arises as Sobk, son of Neith. . . . Unas is lord of seed who takes wives from their husbands, whenever Unas wishes, as his heart urges.” [155] This rapacity is apparent not only in the actions of the pharaoh who steals Bata’s wife in the Tale of the Two Brothers from Papyrus D’Orbiney, [156] and in the ironic punishment of the adulterer by delivering him to the crocodile in Papyrus Westcar, [157] but also in the Book of Abraham (Abr. 2:22–25).
  4. Sobek was prominent in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties (1991–1640 B.C.). Among commoners, Sobek was the most popular theophoric name element in the Twelfth Dynasty, [158] and the most popular name compound in the Thirteenth Dynasty. [159] This popularity extended to the royalty as well: the last ruler of the Twelfth Dynasty was Queen Sobeknofru (1787–1783 B.C.). [160] Nine of the rulers of the Thirteenth Dynasty (1783–1640 B.C.) were named Sobekhotep. [161] Additionally, two rulers of the Seventeenth Dynasty were named Sobekemsaf. [162] By contrast, there is a comparative decline in Sobek worship in the New Kingdom, when the worship of Amen-Re (and a very brief period of Aten worship) prevailed. Sobek did not regain this sort of prominence until the Greco-Roman period.
  5. 5. Sobek is found throughout Egypt. Cylinder seals of the cults of Sobek in a variety of locations throughout Egypt are attested from the reign of Amenemhet III through the Thirteenth Dynasty. [163] Twelfth-Dynasty remains of his temples are found in both Kom Ombo [164] and Crocodilopolis (Medinet el-Fayyum). [165] Most noteworthy, however, there are images of Egyptian deities, among whom is Sobek, found in Middle Bronze Age II levels at Ebla in Syria, clear evidence of the export of the cult of Sobek to Syria at that time. [166]

Recently one critic argued that “the religious persecution described in the Book of Abraham is unattested in the ancient world before the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes” [167] (ca. 215–163 B.C.). However, the destruction of the Jewish temple at Elephantine by Egyptians in 410 B.C. was earlier. [168] Evidence from Abraham’s day shows that the Egyptians did execute people for religious reasons. For example, a Thirteenth-Dynasty stele from the sacred precinct at Abydos, requires that “as for anyone who shall be found within these stelae, except for a priest about his duties, he shall be burnt.” [169] Sesostris I decapitated and burned anyone involved in misconduct in the temple. [170] At Mergissa (outside Egypt but under Egyptian control) among the remains of a Twelfth-Dynasty Egyptian execration ritual was found the human sacrifice of a Nubian. [171] It is worth noting that this is Middle Kingdom evidence and not the New Kingdom evidence.

What Is at Stake?

What is at stake if the Book of Abraham is jettisoned as unhistorical? Most Latter-day Saints do not turn to the Book of Abraham for astronomical information, nor do they generally quote the facsimiles in sacrament meeting talks. Rather, they turn to the Book of Abraham because it contains the clearest statement on the preexistence (3:21–28), the most concise statement of the purpose of life (3:25), [172] and the most comprehensive and succinct version of the Abrahamic covenant (2: ll). [173] Furthermore, Abraham’s stirring quest (1:2) is scarcely matched anywhere. [174] These are truly pearls of great price that Latter-day Saints are loath to trade for the mess of pottage that the critics offer them in exchange. What motivated the pioneers to undertake all that labor and to face all those hazards was not dim hope or wishful thinking about legends but a burning witness about what was really, historically true, a testimony of the canon of scriptures of the Latter-day Saints and the Prophet who revealed them.

History as Science

History, in spite of what historians may like to think, is not a science, [175] “for in history . . . the facts at our disposal are often severely limited and cannot be repeated or implemented at our will.” [176] Historians cannot go back to the lab to run the experiment again. Ancient historians are in an even worse situation: “Any author dealing with the history of the ancient Near East realizes all too well the ephemeral quality of his work. The sources he uses are noted for their paucity and obscurity.” [177] In some cases, one additional source can completely destroy the standard histories of the period. Thus, for scientists, as well as historians who think of themselves as scientific, the ability to make correct predictions on new sets of data is generally taken as an indication of the theory’s correctness. [178] Not only does the Book of Abraham correctly predict the worship of Sobek in Syria in the Middle Bronze Age II period, [179] but it does so in the face of arguments of the learned in 1912 that such a thing was impossible. [180] During the Middle Kingdom, “language, writing, religion, magic and decorative motifs had found their way from the banks of the Nile into the Levant,” and though the precise nature of the “domination by the pharaohs” of the Middle Kingdom, “still eludes us; fifty years ago it was barely suspected.” [181] This is a telling point in the Book of Abraham’s favor.

This lengthy discussion of the Book of Abraham as an example in historical plausibility shows the strengths and weaknesses of the method. Historical plausibility has a more difficult time with unique documents and events because they do not fit into a standard pattern. Yet it is precisely unusual documents and events where one invokes historical plausibility as an argument. The more common the document, the less need to invoke historical plausibility because historical plausibility becomes obvious. This sets up a tension between having enough things that are typical for a historical time period that a document’s historicity is manifest, and having enough uniqueness for it to be more than commonplace. Historical plausibility is most effective when there are materials for comparison from the same time and place; and as materials for comparison differ of necessity from farther in time and place, the farther in time and place the less certain the analysis. But even under the best of circumstances, historical plausibility demonstrates plausibility, it does not establish proof.

Chronological Table

ca. 2289–2255 B.C.


2254–2218 B.C.


2040–1640 B.C.

Middle Kingdom in Egypt

2025–1763 B.C.

Isin-Larsa Period in Babylon

ca. 2000–1550 B.C.

Middle Bronze Age II in Canaan

ca. 2000–1800 B.C.

Middle Bronze Age IIA in Canaan

1991–1783 B.C.

Twelfth Dynasty in Egypt

1991–1962 B.C.

Amenemhet I

1971–1926 B.C.

Sesostris I

1894–1595 B.C.

Old Babylonian Period in Babylon

1844–1797 B.C.

Amenemhet III

1799–1787 B.C.

Amenemhet IV

1792–1750 B.C.


1787–1783 B.C.


1783–1640 B.C.

Thirteenth Dynasty in Egypt

ca. 1760? B.C.

Hetepibre Hornedjheriotef “the Asiatic”

ca. 1750–1650 B.C.

Middle Bronze Age IIB in Canaan

ca. 1650–1550 B.C.

Middle Bronze Age IIC in Canaan

1640–1550 B.C.

Seventeenth Dynasty in Egypt

1550–1070 B.C.

New Kingdom in Egypt

883–859 B.C.

Ashurnasirpal II

858–824 B.C.

Shalmaneser III

823–811 B.C.

Shamshi-Adad V

769 B.C.

Eriba-Marduk on throne in Babylon

704–681 B.C.


700 B.C.

Fourth campaign of Seenacherib

539 B.C.

Cyrus conquers Babylon

410 B.C.

Destruction of the Jewish temple in Elephantine

400 B.C.

Cyrus the minor’s campaign, Xenophon becomes general

215–163 B.C.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

A.D. 1835

Purchase of the Joseph Smith Papyri

A.D. 1842

Book of Abraham published

A.D. 1844

Assassination of Joseph Smith

A.D. 1845

Layard begins excavations at Ninevah

A.D. 1846

Henry Rawlinson publishes the Behustan inscription


[1] J. A. Brinkman, A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia 1158–722 B.C., Analecta Orientalia 43 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1968), 26.

[2] Outside of evidence in the Book of Mormon, the present form of biblical texts cannot be traced before the third century B.C. “Unless earlier manuscripts are found, we cannot establish the earlier history of the stories with any certainty; every account we may give will be hypothetical and speculative. It is important to recognize and accept this fact, and so to avoid claiming as certain conclusions what are only deductions built upon theories and assumptions.” A. R. Millard, “Methods of Studying the Patriarchal Narratives as Ancient Texts,” Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, ed. A. R. Millard and D. J. Wiseman (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 35.

[3] See Edwin Yamauchi, “The Current State of Old Testament Historiography,” in Faith, Tradition and History: Old Testament Historiography in Its Near Eastern Context, ed. A. R. Millard, James K. Hoffmeier, and David W. Baker (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 27–28; Millard, “Methods of Studying,” 41.

[4] Millard, “Methods of Studying,” 42.

[5] Brinkman, A Political History, 25.

[6] Gun Bjorkman, “Egyptology and Historical Method,” Orientalia Suecana 13 (1964): 11.

[7] For a detailed historical discussion of professional attitudes, see Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 415–629.

[8] Bjorkman notes that Posener read his essay but ignored Bjorkman’s conclusions about the historical value of the Instruction for Merykare in Georges Posener, “Syria and Palestine c. 2160–1780 B.C.,” The Cambridge Ancient History, 3rd ed., ed. I. E. S. Edwards, C. J. Gadd, and N. G. L. Hammond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 1.2:533–35, as did William C. Hayes, “The Middle Kingdom in Egypt: Internal History from the Rise of the Heracleopolitans to the Death of Ammcnemes III,” Cambridge Ancient History, 1.2:466–67; William W. Hallo and William Kelly Simpson, The Ancient Near East: A History (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 239–41; Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, trans. Ian Shaw (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 139,145; DonaldB. Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 46, 67–68. The only acceptance of Bjorkman’s views is Barry J. Kemp, “Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period c. 2686–1552 B.C.,” in B. G. Trigger et al., Ancient Egypt: A Social History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 113. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–80), 1:8–9, 97, believes that the work is pseudepigraphic but still dates to the period of Merykare.

[9] As summarized in Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 8: The Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1989), 56.

[10] This negative nature of tests for forgery is covered both by Friedrich W. Blass, “Hermeneutik und Kritik,” Einleitende und Hilfsdisziplinen, Handbuch der klassischen Altertums-wissenschaft 1 (Nordlingen: Beck, 1886), 268–72, and by George J. Throckmorton, “A Forensic Analysis of Twenty-One Hofmann Documents,” in Linda Sillitoe and Allen D. Roberts, Salamander: The Story of the Mormon Forgery Murders (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1988), 533–36.

[11] Bjorkman, “Egyptology and Historical Method,” 16 n. 1.

[12] See the analysis in Bjorkman, “Egyptology and Historical Method,” 9–33. It should also be noted that nothing has been found against using the Instruction for Merykare as a historical source.

[13] J. N. Postgate, Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History (London: Routledge, 1994), 28.

[14] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 77 (emphasis added).

[15] A convenient discussion is found in P. W. Pestman, The New Papyrological Primer, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 59–63.

[16] Scholarly publications of documents routinely have commentaries either to show that the supposed peculiarity is not one, or to explain the peculiarities mentioned. So the presence of some peculiarities in and of itself does not usually constitute sufficient reason to reject historical plausibility.

[17] Millard, “Methods of Studying,” 42.

[18] See the cautions in Yamauchi, “Old Testament Historiography,” 34–35.

[19] See the cautions in Millard, “Methods of Studying,” 39–40: “The impression left by many of the essays noting or commenting on them [parallels adduced to the patriarchal narratives] is of their haphazard occurrence . . . . The ‘parallels’ have not resulted from comprehensive studies of ancient adoption procedures (to continue the example), but from the finding of a tablet here and another there, each in some way reminiscent of the biblical incidents. Sometimes a single text has been the basis for comparison; sometimes a group from one locality; sometimes, as we have said already, scattered documents. . . . Such a selective employment of ancient documents seems to be unsatisfactory.”

[20] For cautions about the use of parallels in the story of Abraham, see Millard, “Methods of Studying,” 39–40.

[21] See K. A. Kitchen, “Sinuhe: Scholarly Method versus Trendy Fashion,” The Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 7 (1996): 55–63. The classic work on tomb biography texts is Jozef Janssen, De traditioneele egyptische autobiografie vóór het nieuwe rijk (Leiden: Brill, 1946).

[22] For example, all of the criteria used against scriptural texts outlined in Yamauchi, “Old Testament Historiography,” 25–29, can be levelled against Sinuhe but are usually not. Sinuhe too (1) is written later than the events it describes, (2) lacks independent external corroboration of the major figure’s existence, (3) involves the intervention of deity, (4) is ideologically conditioned, (5) narrates the story of an individual rather than a nation, and (6) betrays literary traits.

[23] William F. Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1942), 62, as cited in Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 5: The Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch, Darrell L. Matthews, and Stephen R. Callister (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and F.A.R.M.S., 1988), 3. Nibley used Albright’s criteria to establish a case for the historical plausibility of the Book of Mormon.

[24] Kitchen, “Sinuhe: Scholarly Method versus Trendy Fashion,” 57.

[25] Kitchen, “Sinuhe,” 60.

[26] In favor of the historicity of Sinuhe are Alan H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 130–31, 142 (“In this story we come closer to reality than perhaps in any other piece of ancient writing”); William Kelly Simpson, “The Story of Sinuhe,” in The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions and Poetry, new ed., ed. William Kelly Simpson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 57 (“more or less factual account”); Kitchen, “Sinuhe: Scholarly Method versus Trendy Fashion,” 55–63. Opposed to the historicity of Sinuhe are Horst Klengel, Syria 3000 to 300 B.C.: A Handbook of Political History (Berlin: Akadamie, 1992), 40–42 (“Fictitious biography”); Kemp, “Old Kingdom,” 79, 143 (“literary romance”); Edward F. Wente, Letters from Ancient Egypt (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 17 (“a pseudo-autobiographical work”). Noncommittal on historicity are Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 83–87 (“Sinuhe, whether fictional or not,” “corroborates the archaeological picture to perfection”); Grimal, Ancient Egypt, 161–63 (“tale”); Hallo and Simpson, The Ancient Near East, 246 (“propaganda”); Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:211 (“It may be a true story”).

[27] The basic work is still F. Ll. Griffith, Stories of the High Priests of Memphis (Oxford: Clarendon, 1900); photographs of the P. Setna I (= P. Cairo 30646) may be found in Wilhelm Spiegelberg, Die demotischen Denkmäler, Catalogue general des antiquités égyptiennes du Museé du Caire (Strassburg: Fischbach, 1906), 2.2: Tafel XLIV–XLVII; English translations in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 3:125–51.

[28] Examples gathered in Erich Lüddeckens, Ägyptische Eheverträge, Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 1 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1960); to which add Richard A. Parker, “A Demotic Marriage Document from Deir el Ballas,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 2 (1963): 113–16.

[29] See the discussion in Janet H. Johnson, “‘Annuity Contracts’ and Marriage,” in For His Ka: Essays Offered in Memory of Klaus Baer, ed. David P. Silverman, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 55 (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1994), 113–32.

[30] Book of the Dead 17 § P3, in Thomas G. Allen, The Book of the Dead or Going Forth by Day: Ideas of the Ancient Egyptians Concerning the Hereafter as Expressed in Their Own Terms, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 37 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 27 (translated “chess”); Erik Hornung, Das Totenbuch der Ägypter (Zurich: Artemis, 1990), 59, illustration on 60. This New Kingdom text derives from the older Middle Kingdom Coffin Text 335.

[31] See Peter A. Piccione, “The Gaming Episode in the Tale of Setne Khamwas as Religious Metaphor,” in For His Ka, 197–204.

[32] The layout and artistic style of the facsimiles match those of the date of the manuscripts that they come from (based on paleographic and onomastic considerations). This tells us only that the manuscripts (assuming that the Book of Abraham comes from a nonextant portion of P. Joseph Smith I+XI+X) come from the Greco-Roman period. For the problems of dating the Joseph Smith Papyri, see John Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7, no. 1 (1995): 71 n. 272. But the date of a manuscript is not the date of the text, as most works of ancient literature (including historical texts) are attested in manuscripts only much later than they were written.

[33] Björkman, “Egyptology and Historical Method,” 10.

[34] See Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations From God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1989), 121, 132 n. 5. More recent editions of the LDS Bible Dictionary eliminate the dates for Abraham entirely, as does the Church’s “Guía para el Estudio de las Escrituras,” 43. For the generally accepted dates for Abraham, see John Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981), 77–87 (Middle Bronze Age); J. J. Bimson, “Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs,” Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, 53–89 (transition between MBI and MBII); Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000–586 B.C.E. (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 224–26 (MBII).

[35] Mazar, Land of the Bible, 224–26; cf. Bright, A History of Israel, 85–86. For archaeological datings and synchronisms we rely on Mazar. Slightly different synchronisms are proposed in Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, for reasons that we find unconvincing; they are nevertheless within a reasonable period of each other. Other radical redatings proposed are completely unconvincing.

[36] Mazar, Land of the Bible, 193–96. The correlation is between the Twelfth Dynasty and MB IIA (ca. 2000–1800 B.C.), the Thirteenth Dynasty and MB IIB (ca. 1750–1650 B.C.), and the Second Intermediate Period and MB IIC (ca. 1650–1550 B.C.). Fifteenth Dynasty Egyptian scarabs have been found in MB IIC contexts at Tell el-Ajjul, Tell el-Far’ah, Jericho, Gezer, Lachish.

[37] For convenience, in Egyptian dates, we use John Baines and Jaromír Málek, Atlas of Ancient Egypt (New York: Facts on File, 1980), 36–37. This is within a few years of Grimal, 389–95, and Hallo and Simpson, The Ancient Near East, 299–302. These are also within about thirty years of William C. Hayes, “Egypt—To the End of the Twentieth Dynasty,” Cambridge Ancient History, 1.1:173–93.

[38] For Mesopotamian dates, we use J. A. Brinkman, “Mesopotamian Chronology of the Historical Period,” in A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 335–48; additionally, for dates from Classical sources, we rely on The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed., ed. N. G. L. Hammond and H. H. Scullard (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970).

[39] The written sources are mostly imports from Mesopotamia and Egypt; there are, however, 148 tablets from level VII at Alalakh dating to the Old Babylonian period; see D. J. Wiseman, The Alalakh Tablets (London: The British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara No. 2,1953); Wiseman, “Supplementary Copies of Alalakh Tablets,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 8 (1954): 1–30.

[40] Cyrus H. Gordon, “Where Is Abraham’s Ur?” Biblical Archaeology Review 3, no. 2 (June 1977): 20.

[41] Summary of the evidence for the opinion as well as contrary evidence may be found in Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” 119–36.

[42] See Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” 123–27.

[43] Cyrus H. Gordon, “Abraham and the Merchants of Ura,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 17, no. 1 (1958): 30. We do not agree with all of Gordon’s contentions (Haldi, for instance, was actually one of the gods of the Urartians). Nor can we accept Gordon’s dating of the patriarchal narratives to the Amarna period; our own dating is outlined above.

[44] Robert Martin-Achard, Actualité d ‘Abraham, Bibliothèque Théologique (Neuchâtel: Delachaux et Niestlé, 1969), 13.

[45] Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” 128–29.

[46] The evidence and scholarly consensus has been gathered in Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” 134 n. 24.

[47] Giovanni Pettinato, Ebla: A New Look at History, trans. C. Faith Richardson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 213. We have listed all the towns given by Pettinato that are at least as close phonetically as Uri ‘-ma, even those like BAD-EN (=U9-rui2) where a literal reading of the signs as Sumerian “wall of the lord” might make more sense (this is the most egregiously dubious example). Advocates of placing Ur of the Chaldees at Tell el-Muqayyar (=Uri ‘-ma) need to seriously deal with the phonetic arguments presented in Hoskisson, 123–24, 134 nn. 24–25. The candidates here are at least as close phonetically as Tell el-Muqayyar, and some of them much better (e.g., Ur). We are in favor of tighter controls on the phonetics, but if Uri ‘-ma is included on phonetic grounds, these other candidates should also be considered as equally plausible.

[48] Alalakh Tablet 56 line 8, in Wiseman, The Alalakh Tablets, pl. XIV.

[49] Wiseman, Alalakh Tablets, 157 lists this as occurring on two tablets, Alalakh Tablets 105 (contract of Warad-Kubi) and 162 (census list), but the published version of Alalakh Tablet 105, in Wiseman, “Supplementary Copies of Alalakh Tablets,” 9, has no such town.

[50] Spelled [ur]uU-ra-e; RS 17.335+379+381+235 (reign of Niqmepa), in Jean Nougayrol, Le palais royal d’Ugarit IV: Textes accadiens des archives sud (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1956), 73, planche XLIV.

[51] RS 17.130, (with duplicates 17.461 and 18.03, reign of Niqmepa) in Nougayrol, Le palais royal, 103–5; Gordon, “Abraham and the Merchants of Ura,” 28–29.

[52] Brinkman, A Political History, 3, notes that for this four-hundred-year period of history (1158–722 B.C.) there are only about two hundred sources of any type. Before 722 B.C., only eighteen Chaldeans are mentioned by name; Brinkman, A Political History, 265.

[53] Following the analysis of Brinkman, A Political History, 265–66. Of the eighteen Chaldeans mentioned by name, fourteen are Akkadian, “showing that the Chaldean tribes—or at least their leaders—had rapidly become assimilated to Babylonian ways. Four names (Zabdi-il, Abdi-il, Jadi’-ilu, and Adinu) seem to be West Semitic as is the tribal name Jakin.”

[54] “šu-ri- bat GIŠ.TUKUL.MEŠ-a KUR kal-du ú-sa-h i-ip” (my weapon waxed great; I laid the land of the Chaldeans low). AKA 352 iii 24, in A. Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC I (1114–859 BC), The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia: Assyrian Periods 2 (Toronto, 1991), 214. Brinkman, A Political History, 260; Brinkman, “Merodach-Baladan II,” Studies Presented to A. Leo Oppenheim (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1964), 8 n. 8.

[55] Brinkman, “Merodach-Baladan II,” 8; Brinkman, A Political History, 260. The total number of Kaldu tribes known is Five; Brinkman, “Notes on Arameans and Chaldeans in Southern Babylonia in the Early Seventh Century B.C.,” Orientalia n.s. 46 (1977): 305–9.

[56] Brinkman, A Political History, 261–62.

[57] Brinkman, A Political History, 262.

[58] Kal-dà-a-a a-šib qé-reb ida-gam-me” Sennacherib Cylinder C III.52–57, conveniently in Rykle Borger, Babylonisch-Assyrische Lesestücke, 2d ed., Analecta Orientalia 54 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1979), 1:77, 2:330; for the historical setting of this campaign see Brinkman, “Merodach-Baladan II,” 26–27.

[59] Overview in Joan Oates, Babylon, rev. ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1986), 111–14, 126–35; see now Grant Frame, Babylonia 689–627 B.C.: A Political History (Istanbul: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut, 1992), 36–43.

[60] See Roland G. Kent, Old Persian, American Oriental Series 33, ed. James B. Pritchard (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1953), 116–57, esp. 143 n. 53.

[61] Xenophon, Anabasis V.5.17.

[62] Xenophon, Anabasis IV.3.4.

[63] Xenophon, Cyropaedia III. 1.34.

[64] The phrase seers and healers comes from Homer, Odyssey XVII.384, and forms the basis of Walter Burkert’s illuminating study of the spread of Near Eastern (mainly Babylonian) culture throughout the Greek world; for our purposes, see Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, trans. Margaret E. Pinder and Walter Burkert (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 41–87.

[65] Juvenal, Satires VI.552–81; cf. Horace, Carmina 1.11: “nec Babylonios temptaris numeros

[66] For the phonetic justification, see Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” 125.

[67] See the usage in Jer. 24:5; 25:12; 50:1, 8, 25, 45; 51:4, 24, 35, 54; Ezek. 1:3; 12:13; Dan. 9:1; cf. Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Traditional Press, n.d.), 1:675.

[68] See the usage in Ezek. 23:14; Dan. 2:2–4; cf. R. Payne Smith, A Compendious Syriac Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon, 1903), 215, s.v. ‘akled, kaldāy, kaldāyuwtā’.

[69] The Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “Chaldaic,” “Chaldaical,” “Chaldaism,” “Chaldaize,” “Chalday,” “Chaldic,” “Chaldean,” “Chaldeanizing,” “Chaldee,” “Chaldeish,” and “Chaldaeism.”

[70] The decipherment of cuneiform is laid out instructively in Johannes Friedrich, Extinct Languages (New York: Dorset, 1957), 29–86. The real decipherment of Akkadian did not begin until the publication of the Behustan inscription by Henry Rawlinson in 1846 and the excavations of Layard at Nineveh in 1845, both after the death of Joseph Smith so the current usage of the term is not the same as in Joseph Smith’s day.

[71] An overview of the process is in Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” 121–23.

[72] Kitchen, “Sinuhe: Scholarly Method versus Trendy Fashion,” 56–59; Janssen, De traditioneele egyptische autobiografie.

[73] Abraham comes from the Syro-Palestinian area, not Egypt, and there is no reason why his autobiography should follow Egyptian norms.

[74] Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature (Bethesda, Md.: CDL, 1993), 1:104–5, 109–12.

[75] On the statue of Idrimi. Translation of the statue may be found in A. Leo Oppenheim, “Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3d ed., ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 557–58.

[76] E. Jan Wilson, The Cylinders of Gudea: Transliteration, Translation and Index, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 244 (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker and Neukirchen- Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1996), 18–127.

[77] Atrahasis I–III, in Foster, Before the Muses, 1:169–72, 177–78. For fuller bibliography, see below, n. 80.

[78] Coffin Texts 89, 98–101, 103–5, 107, in Adriaan de Buck, The Egyptian Coffin Texts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1935–61), 2:55–59, 92–105, 109–15, 118–20.

[79] See the comments in Foster, Before the Muses, 1:52.

[80] This is the Atrahasis legend; see W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Babylonian Literary Texts, Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum 46 (London: British Museum, 1965), pls. I–XXVII; W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atra-h asīs: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969); Foster, 1:158–201; Stephanie Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (Oxford: Oxford University press, 1989), 1–38.

[81] For Egyptian examples, see Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:131–33; for Mesopotamian examples, see Foster, Before the Muses, 1:118–19, 130.

[82] Kitchen, “Sinuhe: Scholarly Method versus Trendy Fashion,” 60.

[83] The Book of Abraham is incomplete and the full text as translated by Joseph Smith was not published; see H. Donl Peterson, The Pearl of Great Price: A History and Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 45; Peterson, “Book of Abraham: Translation and Publication of the Book of Abraham,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 1:134.

[84] The Middle Bronze Age texts from Alalakh also suggest a cultural melting pot and come from a range of languages; see Wiseman, The Alalakh Tablets, 125–53.

[85] Cf. Millard, “Methods of Studying,” 40.

[86] For our purposes, the relevant languages are Hebrew, Akkadian, Hurrian, Ugaritic, and Egyptian.

[87] The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1956-), 8:45–49, s.v. kakkabu.

[88] Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Handbook, Analecta Orientalia 25 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1947), 237.

[89] Smith, Syriac Dictionary, 208.

[90] Hans Wehr, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, ed. J. Milton Cowan, 3d ed. (Ithaca, NY: Spoken Language Services, 1976), 846.

[91] Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Classical Ethiopic (Ge’ez), Harvard Semitic Studies 24 (Ann Arbor: Scholars Press, 1978), 410.

[92] Supplement to J. Seixas’ Manual Hebrew Grammar, for the Kirtland, Ohio, Theological Institution (New York: West & Trow, 1835), 1.

[93] This form survives into modern Arabic, see Wehr, Modern Written Arabic, 784–85.

[94] Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, 8:68–72, s.v. kalbu.

[95] Gordon, Ugaritic Handbook, 3:238.

[96] Smith, Syriac Dictionary, 215.

[97] Wehr, Modern Written Arabic, 836.

[98] Lambdin, Classical Ethiopic, 409.

[99] Wehr, Modern Written Arabic, 784–85.

[100] Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, 8:72, s.v. kalbu 2; cf. 8:71, s.v. kalbu 1f.

[101] Smith, Syriac Dictionary, 215.

[102] Wehr, Modern Written Arabic, 836.

[103] It is worth noting that of the words listed in the two volumes of Emmanuel Laroche, Glossaire de la langue Hourrite, 2 vols. (= Revue Hittite et Asianique 34–35 [1976–77]) (Paris: Klincksieck, 1976–77), only about one fourth of them have any sort of definition attached to them, and many of those are loanwords from Akkadian.

[104] From the Rosetta Stone, we know that the Egyptians called them the mdw-ntr, literally the “god’s speech”; see Raymond O. Faulkner, A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1962), 122. The English word “hieroglyphs” is simply borrowed from Greek. What “hieroglyphs” might have been in a comparatively well-known language like Akkadian is unknown.

[105] N.B. The phrase “god of X” is an epexegetical, “explanatory” genitive and usually means “god X.”

[106] John M. Lundquist, “Was Abraham at Ebla? A Cultural Background of the Book of Abraham (Abraham 1 and 2),” in Studies in Scripture, Vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson (Salt Lake City: Randall, 1985), 232, citing Anton Deimel, Pantheon Babylonicum oder Keilschriftkatalog der Babylonischen Götternamen (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1950), 48.

[107] Lundquist, “Was Abraham at Ebla?” 232, citing Deimel, Pantheon Babylonicum oder Keilschriftkatalog, 10.

[108] Lundquist, “Was Abraham at Ebla?” 232, explained this as dMa-mi-hi-vat citing Deimel, Pantheon Babylonicum oder Keilschriftkatalog, 69. This, however, is a misreading of the canal name dMa-mi-šar-rat; see Anton Deimel, Pantheon Babylonicum: Nomina deorum e textibus cuneiformibus excerpta et ordine alphabetico (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1914), 172; Edmond Sollberger, Ur Excavations Texts VIII: Royal Inscriptions Part II (London: British Museum, 1965), 19; Dietz Otto Edzard, “Mami-šarrat,” Reallexikon der Assyriologie (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1932-), 7:329.

[109] Lundquist, “Was Abraham at Ebla?” 232, suggests dKur-ra-su-ur4-ur4, citing Deimel, Pantheon Babylonicum oder Keilschriftkatalog, 75. This, however, is glossed in AN dAn-num K 4339 iv 20 as dEn-uru-mu šáuruKar-dNin-urta “Enurumu of Karninurta [a place near Nippur in Middle Babylonian times];” see Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets, &c., in the British Museum, pt. 25 (London: British Museum, 1909), pl. 14; Khaled Nashef, Répertoire Géographique des Textes Cunéiformes (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1977–93), 5:159.

[110] It belongs to an official under the reign of Amenhotep I (1525–1504 B.C.); for his tomb biography, see Kurt Sethe, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie, Urkunden des ägyptischen Altertums 4 (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1906), 45–49. For the use of Egyptian s for Semitic š in the New Kingdom, see James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 436.

[111] Alalakh Tablet 254 line 10, in Wiseman, “Supplementary Copies of Alalakh Tablets,” 18.

[112] Lundquist, “Was Abraham at Ebla?” 234–35; Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” 136 n. 44; John Gee, “A Tragedy of Errors,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 115–16 n. 64; Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,” 27 n. 28. Stephen E. Thompson, “Egyptology and the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue 28, no. 1 (spring 1995): 157 n. 67, complains that it is attested too early, but his argument is vitiated by three points: (1) the Book of Abraham mentions only the “plain of Olishem” (Abr. 1:10), not an inhabited place; (2) continuity of place names in the area is not unknown, e.g., Aleppo; (3) there is Middle Kingdom Egyptian evidence for the name (presented below).

[113] For the alternate readings of the signs for the time and place, see Wolfram von Soden, Das akkadische Syllabar, Analecta Orientalia 27 (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1948), 43,73, and compare the use of these sign in a slightly later inscription by the Hurrian ruler Arishen (or Atalshen—the reading has not quite been decided though it is probably Hurrian ari-šen “grant a brother”), in Francois Thureau-Dangin, “Tablette de Samarra,” Revue d’Assyriologie et d’Archéologie Orientale 9, no. 1 (1912): 1–4 (note the spelling A-RI-šé-en); for the historical background see Gemot Wilhelm, The Hurrians, trans. Jennifer Barnes (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1989), 9; for the linguistic elements of the name, see Laroche, La langue Hourrite, 1:52, 2:225–26.

It has been proposed recently that the signs U and U4 (UD) were pronounced as /o/ in the Old Babylonian period; Aage Westenholz, “The Phoneme /o/ in Akkadian,” Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Voderasiatische Archäologie 81 (1991): 10–19. Later Hurrian usage (which also is not always consistent) of the sign U to indicate /o/ during the end of the Kassite period is also intriguing; Gemot Wilhelm, “Hurritische Lexikographie und Grammatik: Die hurritisch-hethitische Bilingue aus Boğazköy,” Orientalia 61, no. 2 (1992): 124–25. Westenholz also shows that Old Babylonian scribes were not consistent in this and that Ú was also used for /o/ as well. This confusion is confirmed in the consistent use of U4 as a phonetic gloss for the sign Ú in Proto-Ea 230, in MSLXIV, ed. Miguel Civil (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1979), 41. In Old Babylonian times the usage of U for /o/ is at least possible; that is, a foreign word using an /o/ can be written with a Ú.

Given this background, one could go so far as to propose a Semitic etymology for Olishem: Olishem might have once been Āli-Šem “the city of Shem.” The name undergoing the Canaanite shift would have produced Olishem and then, its etymology obscured, transcribed in the Rim-Sin inscription as a phonetic Ú-li-šé-em. This etymology is, however, completely hypothetical.

[114] Narâm-Sin b 5.2.13 (= UET I 275.2.13), in Hans Hirsch, “Die Inschriften der Konige von Agade,” Archiv für Orientforschung 20 (1963): 74; English translation in Foster, Before the Muses, 1:52–53; Pettinato, Ebla: A New Look at History, 33.

[115] Translation by Foster, Before the Muses, 1:52.

[116] Kurt Sethe, Die Ächtungfeindlicher Fürsten, Völker und Dinge auf altägyptischen Tongefässscherben des Mittleren Reiches, Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Philosophisch-historische Klasse 1926, no. 5 (Berlin: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1926), 38, Tafel 12 b5, read perhaps irissym (restored through duplicates). Due to the damaged condition of the texts we cannot be certain. For the date of the texts, see Georges Posener, “Ächtungstexte,” in Lexikon der Ägyptologie, ed. Wolfgang Helck and Eberhard Otto (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1975–89), 1:68.

[117] Sethe, Die Ächtung feindlicher Fürsten, Völker und Dinge, 53, Tafel 18 e27–28. This is normally taken as a defective writing of *Urušalimum; Sethe, Die Ächtung feindlicher Fürsten, Völker und Dinge ; Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts, 493.

[118] The number of names attested at Level VII at Alalakh is very modest. Cities attested there seem generally to have been in the general vicinity of Alalakh. Countries or lands (as indicated by the KUR determinative [Sumerian for “land”] rather than the URU determinative [Sumerian for “city”]) are limited to Awirashe, Alalakh, Alashia (Cyprus), Ebla, Karkamis, Rianni, Ugarit, and the lands of the Amorite, Gutti(ians), and Hurri(ans). Surprisingly, there is no mention of Egypt, even though there are clear indications of Egyptian influence at Alalakh.

[119] Inscription of Weni 13–32, in Kurt Sethe, Urkunden des Alten Reichs, 2d ed., Urkunden des ägyptischen Altertums 1 (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1932), 101–5; Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:19–20; see also Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 54–55, 64.

[120] Gabriella Scandone Matthiae, “Vasi iscritti di Chefren e Pepi I nel Palazzo Reale G di Ebla,” Studi Eblaiti 1 (1979): 33^3; Paolo Matthiae, / tesori di Ebla, 2d ed. (Rome: Editori Laterza, 1985), tav. 36; Paolo Matthiae, Ebla: Alle originidella civiltà urbana, Frances Pinnock, and Gabriella Scandone Matthiae, Ebla: Alle origini della civiltà urbana (Milan: Electa, 1995), 283, 307.

[121] Gabriella Scandone Matthiae, “I vasi egiziani in pietra dal Palazzo Reale G,” Studi Eblaiti 4(1981): 99–127. The stone vessels from palace G date from the fourth to the sixth dynasty. No contact here need be supposed during Egypt’s First Intermediate Period.

[122] Gabriella Scandone Matthiae, “Un oggetto faraonico della XIII dinastia dalla Tomba del signore dei Capridi’,” Studia Eblaiti 1 (1979): 119–28; Paolo Matthiae, I tesori di Ebla, tav. 80; Matthiae, Pinnock, and Matthiae, Ebla: Alle origini della civiltà urbana, 464–65, 478; Pettinato, Ebla: A New Look at History, 28; Harvey Weiss, ed., Ebla to Damascus: Art and Archaeology of Ancient Syria (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, 1985), 239–40.

[123] Discussed in Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 80–81.

[124] Sinuhe B 94–95, in Georg Möller, Hieratische Lesestücke für den akademischen Gebrauch (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1927), 1:11; Lichtheim, Ancient Eyptian Literature, 1:227; Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 81–82.

[125] Sesostris I, Amenemhet III, and Amenemhet IV are attested at Byblos. See Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” Cambridge Ancient History, 1.2:532, 545, 590.

[126] Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 545.

[127] Amenemhet I, Sesostris I, Sesostris III, and Amenemhet III all claim Asiatic campaigns. See Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 537–38; Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 11.

[128] Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 538–43.

[129] Francoise Bisson de la Roque, Le trésor de Tod (Cairo: Institut Francais d’Archéologie Orientale, 1950); Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 543–44; Grimal, Ancient Egypt, 165; Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, 132. Unfortunately, the cylinder-seals are not adequately published.

[130] For the text, see Roland Koch, Die Erzählung des Sinuhe (Brussels: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, 1990); Lichtheim, Ancient Eyptian Literature, 1:222–35; for a discussion of the historical implications of the story, see Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 83–87.

[131] Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 545–46.

[132] Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 546.

[133] Examples of the Egyptian influence at Alalakh come from Level VII (Middle Bronze II period) and include many Egyptian and Egyptianized sealings; see Dominique Collon, The Seal Impressions from Tell Atchana/Alalakh, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 27 (Kevelaer: Butzon & Bercker, and Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1975), 74–83, 185–86, pls. XXVII–XXVIII. Only one of the Egyptianizing sealings comes from Level IV (Late Bronze Age).

[134] K. A. Kitchen, “Byblos, Egypt, and Mari in the Early Second Millennium B.C.,” Orientalia n.s. 36 (1967): 40; Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 546–47; Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 37–43, 81, esp. n. 64; Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, 132–33; scarab catalogue in William A. Ward, Egypt and the East Mediterranean World 2200–1900 B.C.: Studies in Egyptian Foreign Relations during the First Intermediate Period (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1971), 137–39, but since MBII corresponds to the Twelfth Dynasty, his chronological arguments can be safely ignored.

[135] Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 77–78, 81.

[136] Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 545; Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 81.

[137] Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 81.

[138] For the slaves, see Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 78; the other booty come from Sami Farag, “Un inscription memphite de la Xlle dynastie,” Revue d Égyptologie 32 (1980): 75–82, pls. 3–5; Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 79.

[139] Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 549–50.

[140] Michel Chauveau, “Montouhotep et les babyloniens,” Bulletin de I’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 91 (1991): 147–53. Tales of this sort are seen to have been the source of Manetho’s history; Donald B. Redford, Pharaonic King-Lists, Annals and Day-Books: A Contribution to the Study of the Egyptian Sense of History (Mississauga: Benben, 1986), 318–21, 333–37.

[141] Cf. D. J. Wiseman, “Abraham Reassessed,” in Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, 141–45.

[142] Gordon, “Abraham and the Merchants of Ura,” 30. This, of course, is true of time periods other than those advocated by Gordon.

[143] Postgate, Early Mesopotamia, 46–49; Klengel, Syria 3000 to 300 B.C., 42. The Middle Bronze Age IIA period is characterized by the absence of any state over the area of Syria. During the MB IIB–C periods, there was a series of small regional centers such as Yamhad, Qatna, Karkamish, Urshum, Ugarit, and Gubla/Byblos that dominated their local area but held no overarching political hegemony; Postgate, Early Mesopotamia, 44–80.

[144] Mazar, Land of the Bible, 176–78, 197–98.

[145] See the following selections from a series of articles: Michael B. Rowton, “Urban Autonomy in a Nomadic Environment,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 32 (1973): 201–15; Michael B. Rowton, “Dimorphic Structure and the Problem of the ‘AFIRU-’IBRIM” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 35, no. 1 (January 1976): 13–20; Michael B. Rowton, “Enclosed Nomadism,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 17 (1974): 1–30. It also matches the picture from Egypt during the Middle Kingdom, see Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 550–58.

[146] Postgate, Early Mesopotamia, 106–8, 255; A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, rev. ed., ed. Erica Reiner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 75–76; Oates, Babylon, 68–70.

[147] William C. Hayes, A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum, Publications of the Department of Egyptian Art (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1955), 92–103. See also P. Kahun I.1 10–11, in F. Ll. Griffith, Hieratic Papyri from Kahun and Gurob (London: Quaritch, 1898), 2, pl. XII.

[148] Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 53.

[149] Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1957), 475, sign-list 13.

[150] From the vignette to Book of the Dead 30B, in the papyrus of Hunefer (BM EA9901, sheet 3), conveniently in Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (New York: Abrams, 1995), 30, but the photograph is reversed, and the Book of the Dead spell is misidentified; see also Bengt Julius Peterson, “Der Totenfresser in den Darstellungen der Psychostasie des altägyptischen Totenbuches,” Orientalia Suecana 10 (1961): 31–40, esp. 35.

[151] A popular overview of the Egyptian view of the crocodile may be found in Dorothea Arnold, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin: An Egyptian Bestiary 52, no. 4 (spring 1995): 32.

[152] Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 475, sign-list 13.

[153] Hans Bonnet, Reallexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1952), 756.

[154] Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:201.

[155] PT 317 §§507–10, in Kurt Sethe, Die altaegyptischen Pyramidentexte (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1908–22), 1:260–61; Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:40 (capitalization normalized). Commentary and discussion of syncretization of Sobek with Min in Hartwig Altenmiiller, Die Texte zum Begräbnisritual in den Pyramiden des Alten Reiches, Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 24 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1972), 218–20.

[156] P. D’Orbiney 9/9–12/7, in Alan H. Gardiner, Late-Egyptian Stories, Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca 1 (Brussels: Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, 1932), 19–22; translation in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 2:207–8.

[157] P. Westcar 1/20–4/10, in Simpson, The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology, 16–18.

[158] William Kelly Simpson, Papyrus Reisner I (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1963), 89–90; cf. Simpson, Papyrus Reisner II (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1965), 59, and Simpson, Papyrus Reisner IV (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1986), 41–42. The Reisner papyri date to the reign of Sesostris I; see Simpson, Papyrus Reisner II, 7.

[159] Hayes, A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom, 23–24.

[160] Jürgen von Beckerath, Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen, Münchner Ägyptologische Studien 20, ed. Hans Wolfgang Muller (Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1984), 67, 159, 200.

[161] von Beckerath, Königsnamen, 67–73, 160, 201–11; Shaw and Nicholson, Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, 273, count eight rulers.

[162] von Beckerath, Konigsnamen, 81–82, 161, 220–22.

[163] Gathered together in Jean Yoyotte, “Le Soukhos de la Maréotide et d’autres cultes régionaux du dieu-crocodile d’apres les cylindres du moyen empire,” Bulletin de I’Institut Français d’Archéeologie Orientale 56 (1957): 81–95; and Gérard Godron, “Deux objets du moyen empire mentionnant Sobek,” Bulletin de I’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 63 (1965): 197–200.

[164] Dieter Arnold, Die Tempel Ägyptens: Götterwohnungen, Baudenkmäler, Kultstätten (Zürich: Artemis & Winkler, 1992), 97–98.

[165] Dieter Arnold, Die Tempel Ägyptens, 186.

[166] Matthiae, Pinnock, and Matthiae, Ebla: Alle origini della civiltà urbana, 458, 476 (image of Osiris with atef crown), 459, 477 (image of Sobek), 460,477 (images of Hathor and Horus). All of these artifacts were found in area P, EdVII7i-ii-iii, in the Settentrionale palace L.4070, and are dated by the archaeologists to MBII (1750–1650 B.C.). The artwork is Middle Kingdom in style.

[167] Thompson, “Egyptology and the Book of Abraham,” 156–60; the quote is from 160 n. 77.

[168] The incident is fairly famous and references to it may be found in Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs, 371; Alan B. Lloyd, “The Late Period, 664–323 B.C.,” in Ancient Egypt: A Social History, 317; translation of the relevant document may be found in H. L. Ginsberg, “Aramaic Letters,” in Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament, 491–92.

[169] Cairo JE 35256 lines 5–6, in Anthony Leahy, “A Protective Measure at Abydos in the Thirteenth Dynasty,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 75 (1989): 42–43; Wolfgang Helck, Historisch-biographische Texte der 2. Zwischenzeit undneue Texte der 18. Dynastie (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1975), 18–19; Frank T. Miosi, A Reading Book of Second Intermediate Period Texts (Mississauga: Benben, 1981), 1–3. The decree seems to have been effective until Roman times; Leahy, “A Protective Measure,” 54. Other examples of punishment by burning are gathered by Anthony Leahy, “Death by Fire in Ancient Egypt,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 27 (1984): 199–206.

[170] Christophe Barbotin and J.-J. Clere, “L’inscription de Sésostris Ier à Tôd,” Bulletin de I’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 91 (1991): 8–11 and fig. 3.

[171] Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 54 (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1993), 153–54, 162–63; for the date of the find, see also Posener, “Ächtungstexte,” 1:68.

[172] See John Gee, “The Role of the Book of Abraham in the Restoration” (Provo, Utah: F.A.R.M.S, 1997).

[173] Gospel Principles (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 89, 91, 263.

[174] Other passages cited in basic works include Abraham 3:19 in Gospel Principles, 7; Abraham 4–5 in Gospel Principles, 27; Abraham 5:7 in Gospel Principles, 30.

[175] The assumption of the mantle of science by historians and the impact of the theoretical work of Popper and Kuhn is chronicled in Novick, That Noble Dream, 31–37, 298–99, 392–96, 524–37, 568–70.

[176] Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, 5th ed. (New York: Harper &Row, 1966), 2:265.

[177] Brinkman, A Political History, 1–2.

[178] Popper, The Open Society, 2:259–60.

[179] This, of course, presumes that the scholars have been correct in dating Abraham to the Middle Bronze Age II period, and that Ur of the Chaldees is in northern Syria.

[180] John Peters to Franklin S. Spalding, in Franklin S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (Salt Lake City: Arrow, 1912), 28: “Chaldeans and Egyptians are hopelessly mixed together, although as dissimilar and remote in language, religion and locality as are today American and Chinese.” This opinion was seconded by Samuel A. B. Mercer, “Joseph Smith as an Interpreter and Translator of Egyptian,” Utah Survey 1, no. 1 (September 1913): 33: “I challenge any intelligent person who knows Chaldean and Egyptian history to read the first chapter of said book without experiencing the same feeling. Chaldea and Egypt are hopelessly mixed. . . . No one can believe that Abraham made such a blunder in his geography.”

[181] Posener, “Syria and Palestine,” 550, 549; note also the discussion in Redford, Egypt, Canaan, and Israel, 76–77.