Abraham, Father of the Faithful, Or Osiris, Pagan Egyptian God?

by Kerry A. Shirts



Where, Oh Where, is Abraham?

From the beginning, the critics of the Book of Abraham have brought forward one simple argument they felt devastated its claim to authenicity. The BofA claims that Facsimile 1, the Lion Couch scene, depicts the attempt of a pagan priest to sacrifice Abraham (see Abraham 1:12), but the critics have proclaimed, with an "indignant snort", that this is not Abraham on the lion-couch at all. It is, rather, "the pagan god Osiris."(1) Furthermore, "It should be noted that the name of Abram or Abraham is not contained in any of these translations because there is no mention of the Biblical personage anywhere in the entire Egyptian text."(2) In fact, it was claimed with an almost impeccible authority that the name in the hieroglyphs was Hor, the ancient owner of the papyri and that "the name of Hor... is written twice on this fragment. It tells of the man named Hor, and so who can claim that that's Abraham when the name is right there?"(3) So in other words, Joseph Smith is simply out to lunch when he claims these papyri have anything to do with Abraham at all.

And these critics go even further. It is preposterous, they say, that Abraham would be connected with such pagan documents as the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Book of Breathings, etc.(4) This "pagan Book of Breathings" has nothing to do with Abraham and even dates to the wrong time!(5) Everyone by now ought to realize that hypocephali (like Facsimile #2, the round disc-diagram in the Book of Abraham) did not exist in Abraham's day! The thought that Abraham would have used something like this is ridiculous, the argument goes.(6) The "Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry" explains that the Book of Breathings (part of the Joseph Smith papyri collection given back to the church in 1967) is "a late funerary text that grew out of the earlier and more complex Book of the Dead. This particular scroll was prepared (as determined by handwriting, spelling, and content, etc.,) sometime during the late Ptolemaic or early Roman period (circa 50 B.C. to A.D. 59)."(7) James Walker of the "Watchman Expositor" says "It has been proven that the Book of Abraham collection is nothing more than a common collection of Egyptian funeral documents that are based on pagan myths related to Egyptian idolatry..."(8) Again, Dr. Lythgoe was absolutely certain that Joseph Smith was wrong about Abraham being on the Lion Couch, because it would be obvious to any Egyptologist that the reclining figure "was merely the usual scene of the mummy upon its bier."(9) Furthermore, this reclining figure is positively identified as Osiris the renowned Egyptologist, Klaus Baer.(10) So, summarizing three major arguments of critics:

1. Neither the Sen-sen, Book of Breathings papyri, nor the Book of the Dead papyri in the Joseph Smith Papyri collection mention Abraham or have anything to do with him.

2. The Lion-Couch scene in Facsimile #1 is not Abraham, but rather the pagan god Osiris, the DEAD god being embalmed.

3. The Joseph Smith Papyri date much later than Abraham, around 50 B.C. - A.D. 50.

All three arguments have been advanced as devastating to the interpretations of Joseph Smith, and while it is true that at one time Abraham could not be positively linked to such papyri, recent developments, ignored by critics (of course), have drastically changed the situation by casting doubt on the veracity of the three arguments summarized above. Was Abraham connected with such Egyptian documents? In this essay we will show that 1) Abraham was equated with Osiris in some cases; 2) the main body of Jewish and Christian Abraham Literature is dated from 100 B.C. on into the first centuries of the Christian era; and 3) such literature was based on the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, which is tied into the New Testament idea of the "Bosom of Abraham"!


I'm on the Couch, Honey! Just Call Me Osiris.

First, it is very important to read carefully what Egyptologists have already said in their studies of the Joseph Smith Papyri. John Wilson, in his study, noted that Ta-shere-Min of the Joseph Smith Papyri, is simply called "Osiris" in the papyri. His words are most interesting and have been completely overlooked. "She is simply called 'the Osiris,' that is, in death she has become undying, like the god of the dead."(11) What does this mean for us? Everything! Klaus Baer put it this way: "The title Osiris is given to the deceased in all mortuary texts after about 2200 B.C.... He was the dead and resurrected god... with whom every king of Egypt became identified when he died... By 2200 B.C. private individuals had begun to claim the privaledges of the royal hereafter. The deceased person who had been 'justified' in the judgment of the dead and lives again in a blessed existence in the Netherworld is like Osiris and therefore, in the Egyptian way of thought is Osiris. The fact that Osiris NN can appear in a scene together with Osiris bothered the Egyptians no more than the occasional representation of Pharaoh worshipping his deified self."(12)

Here we have one of the Egyptologists who is usually used in testimony against the Joseph Smith Papyri proclaiming that the person, whoever it is, usually called "Osiris NN" IS Osiris! That person takes on the god's attributes and actually becomes the god! So the one argument that the man on the lion couch cannot be Abraham because he is Osiris is all wrong. The man on the lion-couch can be Abraham and Osiris! It isn't an either/or situation as critics have tried to set it up to be. Joseph Smith is not necessarily incorrect, according to the ancient Egyptian parlance, to claim that the man is Abraham on that lion couch at all.

But we can go even further than this! One source that critics as well as Mormons usually ignore altogether in their research is the most interesting in this respect as well as others. Roy Bowen Ward has noted that in Luke 16:19-31, where Lazarus is taken to the bosom of Abraham, "The story itself is probably, as Gressman proposed, dependent on an Egyptian tale, which closest descendant is the Demotic tale of Satme. The role of Osiris in the Egyptian tradition has been replaced in the Lukan story by Abraham."(13) (My emphasis)


Abraham's Connections to Egypt - Dates and Documents

John Wilson says the papyri in the church's possession "...are of late times. That clearly means after 500 B.C., and for Document B after 300 B.C."(14) Klaus Baer noted that Papyri Joseph Smith II, V-IX and most of IV dates to "the second half of the Ptolemaic Period, perhaps around 100 B.C." As for Papyri J.S. I, X-XI, "The handwriting is of the late Prolemaic or early Roman Period, about the time of Christ."(15) But contrary to the assertions of the critics, this dating is most fortunate for the Book of Abraham, not a disaster. The dating tells it all!

What is it that makes the Book of Breathings so important? It gathers all the old information together from millenia before and binds it together for use in the Christian era. It combines "elements taken from the Pyramid Texts, the Book of the Dead, along with phrases and concepts already met with on the Steles and sarcophagi of the Middle and New Kingdoms."(16) Wreszinski's study shows that phrases and concepts from the "Book of Wandering Through Eternity", as well as the Amduat, and the Book of Transformations made their way into the Sensen papyrus(17) which, in turn, incorporated compilations as well as excerpts from various mortuary formulae and funerary materials, according to Hans Bonnet.(18) All this Egyptian religious thought was transmitted into Jewish and Christian lore. L. Kakosy notes that classic Egyptian descriptions of heaven and hell are similar to those found in an Egyptian Christian grave of the 8th and 9th century A.D., especially close ties are found in the Apocalypse of Enoch and Peter.(19) Eric Hornung finds similar ideas expressed in Coptic Christian texts and the Egyptian Coffin Texts, Amduat, Book of Gates, Book of Quererts, all of which are reflected strongly in our Joseph Smith Book of Breathings!(20) More interesting still, P. Barquet observed that Book of the Dead 85 (which is in between chapters 84, 86, 87, 89 of included in our Joseph Smith Papyri [Wilson, "The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri", p. 79ff]) has earlier expressions found in the Coffin Texts (#307) which contains letter for letter almost the first sentence of the Gospel according to John! J.G. Griffith compares allegorical expressions in the very ancient Ramasseum Papyrus with the Christian equating of bread with flesh and baptism with resurrection! Sigfried Schott compares this text (which is close to our Book of Breathings) with the Christian sacraments.(21)

The most interesting thing to note is that when Joseph Smith equates Abraham with Osiris, and associates Abraham with pagan literature, he hits the nail right on the head! The Abraham literature is saturated with BOTH ancient pagan Egyptian influences and later Christian influences, with heavy rumblings of Jewish influences reverberating throughout! This synthesis was discussed in a symposium of scholars who gathered in 1976 to study just this type of phenomenon, with special emphasis on the Testament of Abraham, an ancient work displaying affinities with Greek, Iranian, Arabic, Ethiopic, Jewish, and Christian, as well as EGYPTIAN influences and religious philosophical concepts! The Testament of Abraham's "weighing the souls" scene includes "recording angels" which "suggested an Egyptian provenance for the writing."(22) In other words, this document from the early Christian era places Abraham firmly within the sphere of Egyptian philosophy, religion, ethics, and history. This is exactly what we would expect from our Book of Abraham and we certainly are not disappointed!

The judgment scenes in the Abrahamic literature were studied by Francis Schmidt who noted that The Book of the Dead of Pamonthes (A.D. 63 - Note the date! The Joseph Smith Papyri date from the same time period) as well as The Tale of Satni-Khamois (A.D. 50-100 - again note the date!) are the two tales that are the BASIS of the Testament of Abraham!(23) The Testament of Abraham (which parallels Joseph Smith's Abraham remarkably, we might add) draws on the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The assumed relationship between Joseph Smith's work and such sources used to be used as an argument against the Book of Abraham, but now we see that affinities to the Book of the Dead are a powerful argument in favor of the Book of Abraham's authenticity. And indeed, such affinities have been noted by Wilson, Baer, Parker, and hosts and hosts and hosts of anti-Mormon critics, whom I have quoted below.

Another interesting point about the judgement scenes in the Abraham literature is brought out by Schmidt, who found that "like OSIRIS [NOTE THIS!!!!] Abel presides over judgment, seated on a glorious throne." You will recall that Abraham's Bosom has an exact parallel with Osiris in the Egyptian sources. Lazarus is taken into Abraham's Bosom, which is the field of Paradise. Compare Joseph Smith Papyrus Photo 8 in John Wilson, "The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri," p. 83 which is called "the field of Paradise"! This is considered a happy area, with folks sowing seeds and farming, and this is called by Wilson, "being introduced into the presence of Osiris." (p. 83). In the Testament of Abraham, Abraham is a farmer with cattle who sows seeds, and his bosom is considered the "garden (paradise)... where there is no toil, no sadness, no sighing, but peace and joy and endless life."(24) The two represent EXACTLY THE SAME THING. From TofAbr., a field of happiness. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, [Joseph Smith Papyri], a field of happiness, and the Christian idea of Abraham's bosom as a field of peace and rest, recalling Luke 16:19-31 -- they are ALL THE SAME THING. We are told explicitly, "To sit in Abraham's bosom in Talmudic language, was to enter Paradise."(25) We have such a "field of paradise" in Christian literature, Abrahamic Literature, and ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead literature, and this all fits nicely with Joseph Smith's own explantion of the origin of his Papyri.

Dokiel, who weighs sins and righteous deeds, is in reality "Sedeqiel" - "the righteousness of God." The Angel's name, in the form SATQVIEL is among the names found on an engraved gem with an image of Anubis. Thus Dokiel=Sedeqiel=SATQVIEL was identified in Egypt with Anubis, the guardian of the scales.(26) Abraham in J.S. Abraham always was a seeker after righteousness, and souls were weighed even before they came to this life in J.S. Abr 3! Parallels are absolutely everywhere. Most interestingly of all, three major figures loom out at us. Abraham, Enoch, and Moses, and all three are put to the test. Abraham's test with Mastema is passed, and he thwarts him. "the angel of the presence delivers Moses from the satanic figure."(27) But what is precisely the most interesting thing involved here is exactly what is involved with the J.S. BofA. "What was originally a traditional Jewish judgment scene has been expanded and fleshed out with the details from a comparable Egyptian piece."(28) Francis Schmidt noted that Delcor claimed the Testament of Abraham "is a production of the Jewish diaspora in Egypt, more exactly of the Therapeutae, in the first century B.C. or the first century A.D.(29) This is the exact provenance of the Joseph Smith Papyri which are heavily involved somehow with the Joseph Smith Book of Abraham, which is exactly how it should be.

Therefore, the following is a summary of some parallels between the Abraham literature and the Egyptian literature:

1. Like Osiris, Abel presides over the judgment.

2. Both were the victims of the jealousy of their brother [remember in J.S. BofAbr., Abraham was the victim of jealous brothers and father]

3. The Recording Angels in the TofAbr. have their counterpart in Thoth, the Egyptian recorder.

4. Dokiel in TofAbr has the same function as Egyptian Anubis.

5. Counterbalancing of Good and Evil deeds is found in both TofAbr and Egyptian texts [I would also add J.S. BofAbr.]

The final clincher is that now Abraham has been found to be associated with lion couch scenes. "The fundamental issue is whether or not the name Abraham appears in Egyptian papyri."(30) This is absolutely answered affirmatively. The other thing critics have completely misunderstood is that there is nothing that forces us to assume that the Book of Abraham must have been written by Abraham in Egypt and preserved in Egyptian hands all this time. "it may have passed through the hands of Abraham's posterity and been taken to Egypt only much later, where it was translated. Hecateus of Abdera (approx. 300 B.C.) - a major source for Manetho, Diodorus Siculus, and possibly Tacitus - used Egyptian sources to revise Herodotus' account of Egyptian history. Hecateus had a positive assessment of Moses and Jews and knew of noncanonical traditions about Abraham, about which he wrote a book that is thought to have been a major source behind Josephus' account of Abraham... Sources... must date to the first century A.D.... what is so unusual about the mention of Abraham in a third-century Egyptian papyrus or a papyrus manuscript of a nonbiblical book of Abraham dating to the end of the first century?... What the Anastasi priestly archive [the place where the Joseph Smith papyri originally came from in Egypt] shows is that Egyptian priests (in Thebes) freely borrowed from Jewish and Christian sources... a minimum historical argument from this is that the existence of a book of Abraham in Egypt at the time of the Joseph Smith Papyri were produced is well within the scope of reasonable scholarship."(31)



Thus, we have examined three major arguments from critics of the Book of Abraham, and found that the latest research casts doubt on their value. Abraham certainly could have been represented by Osiris, and we find that there was a great exchange going on at about the time the JS Papyri were written between Jewish and Jewish Christian Abraham texts and just the sort of Egyptian traditions and texts represented in the JS Papyri. You will not find critics even bothering with the literature you see in the endnotes here, because they prefer instead to keep the argument in the arena of 1960's scholarship. They are out of date, refuted, and bankrupt.



1. "Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith Among the Egyptians," Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1973, p. 29. Cf. Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "Fall of the Book of Abraham", pamphlet, (no date), "Egyptologists find no mention of either Abraham or his religion in this text [the Sen-sen text, which is accompanied by Facsimile #1, the lion couch with Abraham on it, which is claimed to be Osiris].

2. H. Michael Marquardt, "The Book of Abraham Papyrus Found: An Answer to Dr. Hugh Nibley's book 'The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment,'" Utah Lighthous Ministry, 1975, p. 9.

3. Walter Martin, "The Maze of Mormonism," Vision House Publishers, 1978 Revised & Enlarged edition, p. 164, quoting Dee Jay Nelson, another anti-Mormon.

4. Latayne Colvett Scott, "The Mormon Mirage," Zondervan, 1979, p. 130.

5. "Ibid," p. 133.

6. "Ibid.," p. 136. The Tanners exclaim that "It was supposed to have been written on Egyptian papyrus by Abraham himself about 4,000 years ago!" in "Flaws in the Pearl of Great Price", on the website at http://www.xmission.com/~country/reason/fpgp.htm. Cf. their "Solving the Mystery of the Joseph Smith Papyri", at the same site, p. 3.

7. The "CARM", "Proof that Joseph Smith was a False Prophet", at http://www.carm.org/ldspapyr.htm, p. 2. Cf. Charles Larson, "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus...", Institute For Religious Research, 1992, p. 62.

8. James Walker, "The Book of Abraham Translation," in "The Watchman Expositor," p. 3, at http://rampages.onramp.net/~watchman/abraham2.htm.

9. As found in R.C. Webb, "Have Joseph Smith's Interpretations Been Discredited?", in "Deseret News," Nov. 15, 1913, p. 318.

10. Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor," "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought," 3(Autumn 1968), p. 118 - "Osiris (2) is represented as a man on a lion-couch." Cf. Frank Zindler, "Origins of Mormonism: The Book of Abraham," "The Reclining figure wasn't Abraham; it was Osiris being called back to life by Anubis, the god of the dead and of embalming." p. 6 at http://www.atheists.org/church/mormon.html This article was originally published in the "American Atheist Magazine," vol. 27, no.1 (January 1985). See also H. Michael Marquardt, "The Book of Abraham Revisited", 1997, p. 4, at http://www.xmission.com/!research/about/abraham.htm. Cf. Stan Larson, "Quest for the Gold Plates," Freethinker Press, 1996, pp. 95f for Thomas Stuart Ferguson asking the Egyptologist Leonard H. Lesko asbout the Facsimile and what it is, and Lesko saying "The vignette [illustration] should be related to spell 151 - the deceased [2] on a bier [4]..." Also interesting is the Egyptologist Richard Parker's comments: "This is a well known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with Anubis [3], the jackal headed god, on the left ministering to the dead Osiris [2] on the bier [4]." (Larson, p. 97).

11. John Wilson, "The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri," in "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought," 3 (Autumn 1968), p. 71.

12. Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor," in "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought," 3 (Autumn 1968), p. 117, footnote # 24.

13. Roy Bowen Ward, "Abraham Traditions in Early Christianity," in George W.E. Nickelsburg, Jr., ed., "Studies on the Testament of Abraham," Scholars Press, 1976, p. 177. (My Sincere thanks to John Tvedtnes of FARMS for helping me get this source.)

14. John Wilson, "Ibid.," p. 70. Document B incidentally is the entire collection of papyri except the Book of Breathings. Wilson angrily notes "Their intermittent character suggests that many columns of writing are now missing, and that they probably were missing when the document was sold to the church in the 1830s. In its present state the manuscript is exasperatingly jumbled." (p. 68). This, of course, ignores Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's description of the papyri as being "perfectly preserved," See Hugh Nibley, "The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri," Deseret Book, 1976, pp. 2f.

15. Bear, "Ibid.," p. 111.

16. G. Botti, "Il Libro del Respirare, etc." in "Journal of Egyptian Archaeology," 54 (1968), p. 223, quoted in Hugh Nibley, "What is the Book of Breathings?," in "BYU Studies," XI (Winter 1971), p. 159.

17. W. Wreszinski, "Das Buch von Durchwandern der Ewigkeit," in "Aegyptische Zeitschrift", 45 (1908), pp. 111ff.

18. Hans Bonnet, "Reallexikon der Agyptischen Religionsgeschichte," Gruyter, 1952, p. 59.

19. L. Kakosy, "Probleme der Agyptischen Jenseitsvorstellungen in der Ptolemaerund Kaiserzeit," in "Religions en Egypte Hellenistique et Romaine," 1969, pp. 59-68, as found in Hugh Nibley, "What is the Book of Breathings", p. 160.

20. Eric Hornung, "Altagyptische Hollenvorstellungen," 1968, p. 8, as found in Nibley, "Ibid.," p. 160.

21. P. Barquet, "Livre des Morts," p. 19; J.G. Griffith, "Religion en Egypte," p. 51; S. Schott, "Die Deutung der Geheimnisse des Rituals fur die Abwehr des Bosen", 1954, p. 6, as found in Nibley, "Ibid.," p. 160.

22. George W.E. Nickelsburg, "Eschatology in the Testament of Abraham - A Study of the Judgment Scenes in the Two Recensions," in "Studies on the Testament of Abraham," Scholars Press, 1976, p. 31. Cf. F.L. Cross, ed., "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church," Oxford Univ. Press, 1966, p. 6f.

23. "Ibid.," p. 32.

24. "Ibid.," p. 177.

25. J.D. Douglas, ed., "The New Bible Dictionary," Eerdman's, 1962, p. 7. Cf. Henry Snyder Gehman, ed., "The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible," Westminster Press, 1970, p. 11; John L. McKenzie, ed., "Dictionary of the Bible," Brude Publishing Co., 1965, p. 6; "Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible," Vol. 1, Abingdon Press, 1962, pp. 21f; R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, ed., "The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion," Holt, Reinhart & Winston, 1966, p. 4.

26. Nickelsburg, "Ibid.," p. 33.

27. "Ibid.," p. 37. Enoch is the righteous scribe, pp. 50, 52, etc.

28. "Ibid.," p. 39.

29. "Ibid.," p. 65. Notice the idea of "court appearances" as well, "Ibid.," pp. 72ff.

30. John Gee, "Abracadabra, Isaac, and Jacob," reviewing Ed Ashment's misconstrued article, "The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham: A Critical Review", "Review of Books on the Book of Mormon," FARMS, Vol. 7, #1, 1995, p. 29. 31. "Ibid.," p. 74.

Kerry A. Shirts

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