“Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born”
The Book of Abraham commands fascination, with its theological distinctiveness (plurality of gods and teaching about the pre-existence) and connections to the Egyptian papyri. Not everyone may be aware that many struggle with this book of scripture, however. This episode digs deeply into the value of the Book of Abraham theologically, focusing on teachings about the pre-existence and foreordination. We also explore the implications of the relationship between scripture and history.
Class Reading:Abraham 3; D&C 138; Moses 4:1–4
Additional Reading: Isaiah 14:12–15; Revelation 12:7–9; Alma 13:3–5; D&C 29:36–39
Other Reading: None
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The discussion with David, Joshua and Maxine at times gets technical and runs long, but is worth the time and effort.
You can access the Annotated Reading here.
You can access my Lesson Notes here.
Lesson Part 1
6:17 Stars, Intelligences, Plan of Salvation
Lesson Part 2
Lesson Part 3
24:00 Book of Abraham: Intro
26:00 Book of Abraham: BCC Blog Reading
50:30 Purpose of Scripture
Discussion Part 1
1:27:03 Plural Gods
1:40:08 Book of Abraham: Source Papyri
1:46:44 Abraham 3
2:06:33 Closing Theological Thoughts
Discussion Part 2
Discussion Part 3
2:12:32 Book of Abraham: Apostasy Catalyst
2:24:36 Historicity of Abraham
2:33:00 Scripture Does Not Equal History
2:48:58 Joseph Smith: Inspired Translator
3:03:18 Pondering on Priesthood Doctrine
- Introduction to the papyri, Joseph Smith Papers project
- Foreordination, Encyclopedia of Mormonism
- Check out these other articles relating to Pre-earth life in the EoM.
- The Doctrines of the Gospel manual on foreordination
- The Church’s recent statement on race and the priesthood
- Kevin Barney’s thorough post about the background of the Book of Abraham (the one I read in the lesson)
- “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources”
- Post about the psychology of foreordination on By Common Consent
- Benjamin the Scribe’s post on this lesson… He will also be covering the Sunday School lessons, so be on the lookout for many other resources this year.
Also consult his very worthwhile extra resources:
- The Anchor Bible Dictionary’s article on the pre-existence of the soul (written by BYU professor Kent Brown)
- Charles Harrel, “The Development of the Doctrine of Preexistence, 1830–1844″ BYU Studies 28:2 PDF.
- Teryl and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps, chapter 2, is all about the premortal existence. It’s an excellent book. See Rosalynde Welch’s review here, Julie Smith’s review here, and Adam Miller’s semi philosophical discussion of chapter 2 here.
Thanks to James Estrada for going above and beyond to get this episode out in time, and to to Steven Nelson for the beautiful bumper music.
Can’t seem to access the audio/podcast. Anyone else having that problem?
Jared Anderson says:
Audio will be up within the hour! I posted the notes and resources as soon as I could so people would have that material.
There was a time when I really struggled with a faith transition that a scholarly member of my stake came over to listen to my concerns, share ways that he dealt with the same issues and left me with a book by Nibley dealing with the temple. I don’t know that Nibley’s resolution or my new found friends’ resolutions ever became the way that I resolved some of these same issues, but it was so important for me to find people much smarter than me who had looked at the issues and found intellectual and spiritual peace with them. I feel the same way about your discussion of the Book of Abraham. What works for you may not work for me, but bless you for sharing your doubts and how your faith remained intact or was strengthened notwithstanding those doubts. It helps to know that the Book of Abraham can survive scrutiny in your minds. You don’t relieve the burden of my mind to find an answer, but you show that at least for you, it can be done.
Listened to the podcast. Thank you. Excellent and thought provoking. My question I would pose to the entire panel would be, given your beautifully made testimonies of the validity and power of the Book of Abraham WITHOUT it actually being transcribed from papyri as we tend to think of “transcribing” today, and of Joseph being a seer and revelator to create it, more than a transcriber (again, as we define the term today), how then would you describe the fact that he professed that it was indeed a transcription from the papyri itself? I mean, I like and desire to adopt your way of looking at the book and the process by which it came, but then I get hung up on the fact that we have evidence of Joseph, himself, professing it was a transcription from the papyri of Abraham’s actual experience with God, don’t we?
So then do you take the position that Joseph didn’t know, himself, how he was truly receiving the narrative (or that it had (or had not) actually occurred as the the book describes)? To me, that would be the only way to describe it, or else you would have to conclude that Joseph knew he wasn’t actually transcribing the papyri… that he knew was just gaining insightful truths about God (using Abraham’s story to tell it), and that he was knowingly lying to others about how the book came to be.
I mean, the same could be said the for historicity of the BOM as well, right? If one doesn’t claim it to be an actual historical account, how do you respond to the critic who replies that Joseph, himself, taught others that it was? Do you suggest that he didn’t know it wasn’t either? Otherwise I think the only other explanation would be that he did know it wasn’t an actual history, but deceived others by claiming it was.
And then, to take it one step further, if the gold plates didn’t actually exist (as Jared brings up the possibility of), how do you then reconcile Joseph, Emma, Oliver, Martin, and others testifying that they did?
I love the idea of looking at scripture differently…. valuing it for its teachings’ sake alone, but then what does that say about Joseph and the others’ testimonies that it was more than just that?
I would love to hear your thoughts as I try to make my way through this.
Jared Anderson says:
It is good to hear from you. I am glad you appreciated the episode. Now to your questions.
First, we should acknowledge that we as human beings often (as a rule, really) don’t fully understand what is going on, even with ourselves! We don’t completely understand our own motivations for example. Therefore God could have been working through Joseph one way, and Joseph could have understood what was going on another way. In fact, I think we have evidence that this was the case.
Yes we do have Joseph claiming the papyri contained the writings of Abraham, and we cannot dismiss lightly the fact that the book itself claims the same.
You lay out the options… Joseph either was mistaken or misleading. I personally think that Joseph was both inspired and very convinced by his own thoughts and intuitions. I think that he sincerely believed the papyri to contain the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt. At the same time, I confess that I think Joseph also felt justified to deceive when necessary in order to support his spiritual gifts and claims. Joseph was what he was, and God worked with him as he was. You are asking great questions. It is key to our spiritual health and maturity to understand what a prophet, revelation, scripture, etc. are.
I didn’t suggest the plates didn’t exist, at least I didn’t mean to. My wording if I recall was “Even if the gold plates existed, they might as well not have”. By this I mean that we can explain the nature of the Book of Mormon well enough in a 19th century context that we don’t need to presume an ancient source (which would feel very foreign to modern readers).
I would again suggest that the best way to measure scripture is the value it adds to your life, but also acknowledge as I did in the lesson that historicity matters in several ways. Again, good questions.
Karl Gee says:
Regarding God’s ability to adapt in order to preserve our agency…
When I studied U.S. diplomacy earlier in my education, we talked about contingency theories, these massive plans that worked out if X country does this and Y country does that then we will respond this way… it is this process of trying to figure out every possible action that could be taken which affects us, and having a ready plan to appropriately respond to it.
As my professor talked about this, My mind wandered back on my mission days, when one of my mission roomates insisted that agency is kind of an illusion because, he argued, God knows EVERYTHING including the choices we will make (before we make them).
I responded that agency is essential, that if God knows what we will do before we do it, then we don’t really have a choice… that such belief is de facto “predestination” and it dangerously nullifies the whole concept of free agency. Agency must be more than an illusion, I insisted, or this life is almost without purpose. And then, building on that, I argued that such an understanding of our “agency” also fails to appreciate God’s infinite knowledge.
A couple years later, in my college classroom, I finally stumbled upon this concept of contingency… this seemingly endless set of possibilities and how to respond so that the big picture works out as it ultimately should. And I pictured God as kind of a master chess player, but with a number of pieces comparable to the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky, and an even more infinite number of possibilities..
So, I am not sure exactly what I will call it, maybe “The Infinite Contingency Theory of Omniscence and Forordination.” Whatever we call it… it really offers a mind blowing level of appreciation of God’s infinite knowledge and wisdom. It’s bigger than we can wrap our finite heads around (during mortality anyway).
Karl Gee says:
I should add, that while this theory is a helpful way for me to understand it, it is still in the realm of speculation… I don’t think anyone has pinned down exactly how it works, and that agnostic thread actually is woven into this theory, that you need an infinite understanding to fully grasp the relationship between God’s omniscience and our agency… and we don’t currently enjoy this kind of understanding (although I suppose we have infinite potential and I like to think we are working towards it). Anyway, that is my long-winded way of saying there is room for refinement of or disagreement with this notion.
Karl Gee says:
On your remark that “So many people stumble (regarding the historicity of the Book of Abraham), but they don’t have to!”
First, I agree that “they don’t have to.” I don’t think the facts compel us to denounce the whole thing as a fraud. And I actually find the approach you guys take pretty satisfying… it’s pretty close to the approach I have personally developed over the years.
At the same time, however, I think we should be sympathetic to those who see all the problems with the various ways people have tried to reconcile the fact that the JS Papyri are completely unrelated to the Book of Abraham. If I were not a Mormon, and if I were looking at the evidence for the first time, I would probably find their concerns and their negative conclusions more plausible than our own rather optimistic take on it. .
And Jared, you sounded a little self-conscious as you made that remark, so I trust that you had our more skeptic bros and sisters in mind, and I trust that you weren’t trying to say their conclusions are in any way less valid. I just thought someone should say it out lound, because I could almost hear my more skeptic family and friends pointing out the simple fact that he said the Papyri were the Book of Abraham, and they just weren’t. How does that not prove he was either ignorant or a fraud (and not a prophet)?
Again, I am pretty much in agreement with the approach you folks outlined… but I wanted to bring this up in behalf of my dear friends and family. I am sure you’d agree that they aren’t crazy or less faithful or anything for not looking at it the way we do.
Jared Anderson says:
I completely agree, and am glad that you articulated this Karl. I would be surprised if I didn’t explicitly acknowledge this sympathy toward those who struggle. If I didn’t, I should have. I also should have reworded my surprise to say that I am not surprised that members struggle, but more that it is one of their top breaking points (based on Dehlin’s survey of over 3000 members who experienced a faith transition).
Again, I appreciate your comments.
Karl Gee says:
Yeah, you might have… if not explicitly than implicitly. I hope my comment doesn’t sound preachy or critical or anything. You could hardly be more open or try any harder to make sure everyone’s valid perspectives are appreciated. I think you do that very well. So, I doubt any of your listeners took that the wrong way. I just have one friend in particular who I could hear raising an objection in my mind (because we’ve talked about this subject before, and afterward I felt bad and wondered if I hadn’t done a very good job sympathizing – putting myself in the mindset I had when I first heard about the contents of the papyri). Anyway, I think this podcast is great and I just love what you are doing with it. It is a breath of fresh air for me, I haven’t really enjoyed a gospel doctrine class in years, and this has the kinds of discussions and information I have been yearning for. In the past it has been agonizing feeling like I know all of this taboo information, but can’t freely talk about it in a Church whose doctrine (somewhat ironically) commands honest inquiry.
Karl Gee says:
Also, I just want to mention… If anyone accuses you of undermining people’s faith with this podcast, you can tell them it is actually reviving my interest in attending gospel doctrine at my Ward for the first time in months.
Nik Haas says:
I completely agree with you on how this podcast is reviving your faith. I feel more engaged in learned the gospel, I love the honesty and discussion that is generated. Jared does an excellent job. My favorite part of the day is the drive to work where I get to listen.
Clay Thompson says:
Love the podcast and the lesson materials on the website are great. Hard to pack all of this into one lesson! Thank you.
Thank you so much for these podcasts! This is so helpful for me. Sunday School will now be bearable. I just listened to your story in Mormon stories and it so resonated with me. Thank you Thank you Thank you so much!
Jared, my husband and I can’t get enough of your podcasts. We speak of you as if you were an intimate friend of ours! Thank you for your work and devotion to make these podcasts available to all of us who need them. I would love to have the reference for the quote David read by Pres. Lorenzo Snow on God observing Jesus Christ for thousands of years. Thanks again for all you do!