There are 15 thoughts on “Four Idolatrous Gods in the Book of Abraham”.

  1. The fact that Joseph Smith chose names that sound like the names of Hittite gods and cities is interesting, but your analysis leaves me with a number of questions:

    1) Other Egyptologists identify the four figures in the facsimile as canopic jars identified with the four sons of Horus. Do you disagree with that analysis?

    2) Kerry Muhlestein has implied that Abraham wrote the original Book of Abraham on an ancient papyrus and that the document Joseph Smith had was a derivative work that had been altered by Egyptians over the centuries. Do you agree? Is there any reason to believe that Imsety, Duamutef, Hapi, and Qebehsenuef are in any way associated with the Gods you identified?

    3) Elkunirsa is derived from El. El, I believe, was also worshiped by the Hebrews and is the source of our word Elohim. Was that one of the idolatrous gods?

    I think there’s another, easier way to look at the names of the Gods Joseph listed. It doesn’t require so much math.

    Fantasy author George R. R. Martin was asked how he went about creating names for his characters. In his answer, he stated:

    “…I wanted a flavor of medieval England. That was my goal, so I took some actual medieval names, some actual names that we still use today, like Robert, and in some cases I tweaked them a little. I made Edward into Eddard…”

    As a writer, I’ve done the same thing. C.S. Lewis borrowed the term “Caspian.” J.R.R. Tolkien adapted “Aragorn” from “Aragon”.

    Joseph Smith could easily have opened his bible to Exodus chapter 6 to look for names. He would have found:

    Libni (for Libnah) in v. 17
    Kohath (for Korash) in v. 18
    Korah (for Korash) in v. 24
    Elkanah (for Elkenah) in v. 24

    As for Mahmackrah, the names Mahali, Merari, and Korah provide all the ingredients you need to create Mah-me-k’rah.

    All of these names were more accessible to Joseph Smith than the Hittite gods would have been to Pharoah. With this perspective, the chances of Joseph Smith getting all of these names right are no longer astronomical, they are pretty close to 100%.

    • Those are some interesting questions, and an even more interesting proposal for plagiarism.

      It seems to me, though, that your proposal is akin to drawing a bullseye around where the dart’s already landed. It also reminds me very much of Vernal Holley’s attempt at showing that Joseph plagiarized from local place names around Palmyra. And we all know how well valid that methodology turned out to be.

      Here’s an exercise that might demonstrate the validity of your suggestion. First go pick any four names at random out of the Bible. Joseph would’ve had no reason to stick with Exodus 6, so any biblical name is fair game.

      Second, make slight alterations to each of the names as you’ve done here.

      Third, attempt to match those names with the list of 2,700 gods that Gee provides.

      Do all four names line up with names in the list at same quality as do the four in the Book of Abraham? If not, try again. And again. And again.

      I’ll be waiting anxiously to hear your results, though I suspect that process, which is the true process that you’re proposing, would fare little different than creating names from scratch.

  2. ODDS?
    Although the odds of Joseph Smith acquiring and then utilizing the four names may not appear to some to be astronomical, still, there is something to be noticed here: If you were to place yourself in Joseph Smith’s shoes, –without your current learning, education, personal experiences or modern-day conveniences– if you were to place yourself as a self-learned and basically a frontier, self-educated scriptorian/historian without higher education and with very little formal education, what are the odds that you would come up with all of this antiquarian information? I mean, let’s be honest, Joseph Smith was not an erudite scholar; he just wasn’t. I don’t care how many visits he made to the local library (although none are mentioned in history, his or otherwise) he just kept getting things right. Now think about this, while his local neighbors (and even experts in large cities) were unaware (at this time) or not well-versed in ancient history, Joseph Smith somehow pulled the magic rabbit out of his hat, over-and-over-and-over again.

    It’s weird how the anti’s and detractor’s keep proposing all this extracurricular research, library visits, ancient map study, ancient historical learning and rare map and book access as plausible methods for Joseph to obtain correct results. The odds, the time required and the actual historical evidence just don’t follow or support their reasoning: consider whether it’s CEMENT, or BARLEY, or NaHoM, or ONOMASTIC wordplay, or CHIASMUS, or eModEnglish, or INVERTED PARALLELS, or Meso-AMERICAN history, or DIVINE COUNCILS, or middle-eastern VINEYARD practices, or TEMPLE texts, or ETYMOLOGICALLY correct names and placenames (such as Shinehah, Sam and Alma, etc,) or THEOSIS and other early authentic CHRISTIAN practices, or ancient METAL PLATES, or Uto-AXTECAN parallels, or EIGHT and then THREE lifelong uncompromising WITNESSES, or ancient NEAR-EASTERN traditions, or the process of a BOOK of MORMON orally translated without notes or references, or even the canon of scripture known as the BOOK of MORMON itself, the BOOK of ABRAHAM, the BOOK of MOSES, the DOCTRINE & COVENANTS or dozens of other “lucky” guesses or inexplicable successes.. It’s obvious that Joseph Smith must have been a veritable genius…

    …or as John Gee pointed out, the ODDS really are astronomical and maybe you have to factor God into the equation.

  3. I am giving this a read after having listened to Brian Hauglid’s lengthy 3-hour conversation with RFM in which he speaks rather exasperatedly on the quality of Gee (and Muhlstein) as a person and a scholar. I am interested in being pointed toward any forum for response to Hauglid from either (or any) party. Cheers.

    • Gee’s qualities as a person aren’t going to be settled by arguments between his detractors and his defenders, and are pretty much irrelevant in the context of a scholarly debate anyway.

      But questions about Gee’s qualities as a scholar can be productively addressed by recourse to his published work. I haven’t listened to the Hauglid interview, but would be interested to know whether he brought forward substantive evidence of weaknesses in Gee’s scholarship. If he did, a discussion of those arguments could be both interesting and constructive.

    • I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a public comment on personal opinions from either party. Let Brian’s, John’s and Kerry’s works speak for themselves.

    • Hi Richard,

      See my article “‘In the Land of the Chaldeans’: The Search for Abraham’s Homeland Revisited,” BYU Studies Quarterly 56, no. 3 (2017): 7–37.

      I discuss the evidence for both the southern and northern locations for Abraham’s Ur. You can make a case for both, but when you bring the Book of Abraham into the equation, the northern site is much more compelling, and in fact is arguably a logical necessity for the historicity of the text.


    • That is a common misconception. As the late Ephraim Speiser pointed out:
      “The one fact beyond serious dispute is that the home of the patriarchs was in the district of Haran, and not in Ur. According to xii 1 and 5, Haran was Abraham’s birthplace.” (Speiser, Genesis, Anchor Bible 1 [Doubleday, 1964], 80)

  4. “The odds of Joseph Smith guessing the names correctly is astronomical.”

    Not necessarily. Given a large enough corpus of texts, it seems one is likely to find many arbitrary patterns. It is perhaps the principle called Ramsey Theory: “Given enough elements in a set or structure, some particular interesting pattern among them is guaranteed to emerge.” In other words, the chances are not astronomical, but rather it’s basically guaranteed to happen.

    • Ramsey Theory consists of precise mathematical theorems. In order to show that it is relevant, you need to specify which theorem you’re using, you need to show that its hypotheses are satisfied for your application, and you need to show that its conclusion warrants your claims. Are you up to the task?

      P.S. For an excellent parallel critique of haphazard appropriation of metamathematics, see Torkel Franzen’s _Godel’s Theorem: An Incomplete Guide to its Use and Abuse_.

    • Is Ramsey Theory relevant here? I have to question that. Provided that your restatement of the theory is accurate, it would seem to suggest that, given a sufficiently large dataset, a random pattern will emerge. That said, there’s no reason for that arbitrary pattern to correspond with any outside predictors. The Book of Abraham’s sacrificial pantheon would be one such predictor.

      Furthermore, I’m not even sure that the names we’re seeing here constitute a significant pattern, nor that the dataset of Middle Eastern regional deities is sufficiently large. I could be wrong though.

  5. Nicely done, John.

    However, I do have one quibble: Rather than “the god who creates,” El-qoneh is better translated as “El, Creator (of the Earth),” short for the formula ’El ˁElyon qone šamayim wa’areṣ “God Most High, Creator of Heaven & Earth” (Genesis 14:19, 22).

    The prominence of Elkenah in that BofA sacrificial scene fits in with the fact that El was head of pantheon in old Canaanite religion. That the priest of Elkenah also represented Pharaoh there in North Syria also jibes with the fact that El was everywhere symbolized by the winged sun-disk (Y. Yadin in J. A. Sanders, ed., Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century [Doubleday, 1970], 202-203).

  6. Thanks for this Dr. Gee. Always refreshing to see people actually work through the math when going through this evidence.

    That said, I’m not sure you’re entirely on the mark. You seem to be treating it as if the Book of Abraham referenced a single god with a name 10 syllables long. The probability of getting all four names right would work out a bit differently.

    Elkenah = 3 syllables
    p = 1 in (484*484*484)/2130
    p = 1 in 53230 = .00001879

    Mamackrah = 3 syllables
    p = 1 in (484*484*484)/2130
    p = 1 in 53230 = .00001879

    Libnah = 2 syllables
    p = 1 in (484*484)/2130
    p = 1 in 110 = .009

    Korash = 2 syllables
    p = 1 in (484*484)/2130
    p = 1 in 110 = .009

    The overall probability would multiply those four together, resulting in a probability of p = 2.8 x 10^-14. Still astronomically small, but still billions of times more likely than your estimate would suggest.

    I also wonder if there really are 484 different syllable combinations. It’d be interesting to run through the list of 2130 gods and see how many syllables are represented in that set.

    Continue the excellent work!

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