Jesus the Prophet, Joseph and the Book of Abraham

I was just browsing the list of reasons people gave for leaving the Church in John Dehlin’s survey, and came across the concern people had about the Book of Abraham. His translation shows no resemblance to the translations of the papyri done by Egyptologists.  Now, one of the most common ways of reconciling this is through the catalyst theory. This theory now enjoys some bit of official sanction given it is now included in the Church’s Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham.

Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation.33 According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.

This was how I had been reconciling this as well, since originally discovering the issues. However, this does result in significant changes in the way you view prophets and revelation, and opens up completely new possibilities. One of these, which I hadn’t thought about much until today revolves around the idea that the above described statement of the catalyst theory ignores… that Joseph actually believed he was really translating a papyrus written by Abraham’s own hand.  It’s interesting to think that the prophet himself really didn’t understand the process of revelation at all.  Now this wasn’t new, but for the first time I tried applying it in a new situation: (See Matthew chapter 8)

28 And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. 29 And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time? 30 And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding. 31 So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. 32 And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.

For a long time I’ve struggled with the stories in scripture of evil spirits taking possession of bodies, with resultant maladies that look remarkably (even suspiciously) like schizophrenia, cerebral palsy, or other types of neurologic or psychiatric illness.   Now, in light of the changed view of the process of revelation gleaned from the Abraham story, what can we learn about Jesus’ casting out devils?

  • Most likely (I presuppose) there is no such thing as demonic possession causing these troubles.
  • Jesus did believe these bodies were being possessed
  • He did “cast out” the evil spirits, as far as he understood.
    •  However, what he really did was alter the levels of neurotransmitters and their receptors in the brains of the suffering victim
  • The fact that Jesus didn’t know how he was making these people better isn’t particularly important
  • But, just like the Abraham story, this should influence the way we read accounts of Jesus’ doings.
    • i.e. The fact that Matthew says he cast out devils does not provide proof of the existence of devils, only that Jesus of Nazareth believed them to exist.
    • Mormon theology most certainly does not require the belief that Jesus, prior to his death and resurrection, had a full understanding of all things. Why couldn’t he have been mistaken about this as well.

Finally, perhaps this has many other meaningful and deep things to teach us about the nature of healing, miracles, blessings, or priesthood.  I don’t know yet… to be continued.

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