Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Can I Know Whether The Book of Abraham Is True?

No matter whether I write in 2012 or in 2120, I'm happy to attribute any new discoveries about the scriptures to those who came before me or who saw more deeply, and especially to parents and latter-day apostles and to Dr. Hugh Nibley who taught well and "without compulsory means." 

The idea Brother Nibley put forward was that of the second look. When speaking of scholarly evidence for the scriptures, he would pick up a marker and draw a long line across the board. (We met in the stately Karl G. Maeser building.) Everyone, he explained, finds conviction, proof, meaning somewhere along the accumulative evidentiary line of scholarship. He would note such varied individual moments of conviction with vertical marks. Conviction comes from hearing, proof from looking--and from looking again.

What of the conviction of the Spirit? As we read the Book of Abraham we touch the heavens; scholarship also opens our hearts to conviction. Latter-day Saint readers, brim with spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon, received that witness after asking "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ" whether the record of the Nephites, both detailed and sweepingly breathtaking--in a word, overwhelming--was "not [indeed] true"? We pray for manifestation following conviction. 

Already secure in the witness of the Book of Mormon, as translated by a latter-day Prophet, how shall Latter-day Saints now approach other books or other prophets? Shall we test the Lord? seek our own Waters of Meribah? Can we pretend, in teenager fashion, that prophecy bow "by common consent" or in accord with "times and seasons"? Ought we to claim a Book of Mormon of 531 pages, then turn around and doubt fourteen-page Abraham? and that doubt follow an untutored glance at a couple fragmentary columns of papyrus? I remember the old saw about reinventing the wheel and ask: Shall Thomas S. Monson "stand alone" as we profess to testify of Joseph Smith? Can the sun be blotted out by man or the law of chastity revoked by the "children of disobedience"? Do we glory in the cloudburst of revealed doctrine only to pretend to no settled doctrine at all? Or do we need to "remember"? "and ponder it in your hearts"? "Ye shall receive these things." "It is wisdom in the Lord" (see Moroni 10: 3-5; Doctrine and Covenants 124:119-120). 

What a gentle reminder: "How Gentle God's Commands; How Kind His Precepts Are."

Witness comes to the one who reads Scripture in the reflective, prayerful way Scripture is meant to be read, be that reader young or old, learned or uncultivated--or even a child. There is a key of knowledge that unlocks more doors than the key to any library. The fullness of Scripture becomes library--Biblia--enough.

Yet any reader of Hugh Nibley's writings on the Book of Abraham should take note of one thing: A witness of the book's truthfulness can most certainly be found by comparing its contents to the records of the ancient near east and, in further abundance, to the works of modern egyptological and near eastern scholarship. Try it. "Prove all things"; bend the mind; "Stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world" in your search for truth (Doctrine and Covenants 78:14). We need not wait for the confirmation of the Spirit of the Lord in order to bear powerful testimony of the Book of Abraham. Such confirmation attends witness, follows witness. 

Brother Nibley shows us a veritable cloud of witnesses to the truthfulness of Abraham's record (read the conclusion to Abraham in Egypt again). To brush aside or to ignore such multitudinous testimony comes at a risk. If we cannot understand temporal things when they are as plain as word can be, how can we think to receive further enlightenment from the Holy Spirit? The Lord's house is a house of logic. Or does the Lord gives us teachers to no point? Does He grant his gifts of teaching the word of wisdom and of teaching the word of knowledge in vain? Are not such gifts intended to edify the whole body? And if so, what would the implications be for Latter-day Saints, learned or unlearned, who receive not the gift? Or what the receptivity for other books of prophecy soon to come forth?

I note of late a faddish skepticism about the Book of Abraham. I meet such intellectual posing, such prompt dismissal with wonder.