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Home Book of Abraham Special Section Mixed up, or Divinely Inspired? The Sacrifice of Abraham

Mixed up, or Divinely Inspired? The Sacrifice of Abraham

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Research by Eugene Seaich

Transcribed by Kerry A. Shirts

An illuminated page from the Leipzig Mahzor, Southern Germany ca. 1320, showing Terah delivering Abraham to Nimrod. In a continuous narrative Abraham is shown cast into the fire but delivered by the hand of the Lord.


Though Facsimile no. 1 contains no textual material, Joseph Smith does explain the deeper meaning of some of its figures. We have already stated that the whole depicts the dead person's passage into immortality by means of identification with the death and resurrection of Osiris; in this case, the deceased happens to be Abraham (Abr. 1:12), whose life is claimed as a "substitute sacrifice" in order to promote the interests of the reigning Pharaoh. Significantly, we now have a number of early Jewish documents which say that the young Abraham was actually involved in just such a rite, being the intended victim of a Pharaonic ruler whom the legends cail "Nimrod." Most surprisingly, this appears to have been at the instigation of his own father (cf. Abr. 1:30)!

These Hebrew legends became available for modern study beginning in 1840, when an English translation of the medieval Book of Jashar was first published; a collection of similar materials was made by Adolph Jellenik in 1856 (the Beit ha-Midrash), and the next by Bernhard Beer in 1859 (The Life of Abraham According to Jewish Legend). In these extra-biblical sources we discover that Abraham's father, Terah, had been a high official in a Chaldean outpost of Pharaoh's empire (cf. Abr. 1:10), and that he was accustomed to worshipping the gods of the Egyptians (cf. Josh. 24:2). Yet because Abraham would not bow down to these "pagan" deities, his father complained to the Pharaoh, who attempted to put Abraham to death (cf. Abr. 1:7).

According to the Apocalypse of Abraham, such deaths were ordinarily carried out as sacrifices on the altars of the Temples (25:2-6), though later documents, such as the Book of Jashar, say that they were replaced by ritual burning (chs. XI-XII). Recent commentators explain this change by pointing out that medieval rabbis had mistakenly derived Abraham's popular title, "He who came forth from the fire of the Chaldeans," from a supposed "He who came forth from Ur of the Chaldeans," reading "Ur" (Hebrew 'ir, "city") instead of "Or" (Heb. 'or, "light" or "fire").' We also have early Abrahamic sources which agree that Pharaoh/Nimrod attempted to lure Abraham to his death by inviting him to the great Year-feast, which would place the story squarely within the ritual context described by the LDS Book of Abraham (i.e. "after the manner of the Egyptians," Abr. 1:11).

Last Updated on Monday, 17 May 2010 13:01  

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