The Book of Abraham: A Most Remarkable Gift for Our Time
January 2022

“The Book of Abraham: A Most Remarkable Gift for Our Time,” Liahona, January 2022

The Book of Abraham: A Most Remarkable Gift for Our Time

This book of scripture, given by revelation, opens a new window on eternity and offers a unique testimony of the Savior.

image of Egyptian papyrus

Facsimile 1 shows Abraham on an altar about to be sacrificed to pagan gods. Rescued by the Lord, Abraham became well schooled in trusting Him.

Among the invaluable records that the Lord promised would be restored in the latter days (see 1 Nephi 13:39; Doctrine and Covenants 9:2), the book of Abraham, given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, is a unique and priceless gem in our treasury of revealed scripture.

It is a most remarkable book—an authentic ancient record that immediately plunges us back into a specific time and place in the Near East and yet at the same time opens to us the wide expanse of the universe. It is so dynamic that it can reveal the historical and cultural origins of ancient Egyptian civilization (see Abraham 1:21–28) and yet, in the turn of a phrase, teach us profound truths about eternity.

Above all, the book of Abraham is a powerful, Christ-centered text that has as its main themes the eternal nature of the Abrahamic covenant, the preeminence of Jesus Christ, and the role of Jesus Christ in the three great events of the plan of salvation: the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.

An Ancient Text Restored

The book of Abraham is remarkable in part because of the miraculous way it came to us. In 1799 an intensified interest in ancient Egypt was kindled in the Western world when the Rosetta Stone was discovered near Alexandria, Egypt. Made of black basalt, the stone was found by an officer of Napoleon’s engineering corps. It bore inscriptions in three ancient languages: Egyptian hieroglyphics, Demotic (a simplified script that succeeded hieroglyphics), and Greek.

Among the European linguists who worked to decipher these inscriptions was the young French scholar Jean-François Champollion. He published his results in 1822, which established the discipline of Egyptology.

portrait of Jean-François Champollion

French scholar Jean-François Champollion, translator of the Rosetta Stone

Portrait of Jean-François Champollion by Leon Cogniet, Louvre, Paris, France / Bridgeman Images

As one writer put it, during the early 19th century “worldwide interest in Egyptian antiquities fanned itself to a searing blaze. Egypt was soon overrun with scientific expeditions, adventurers, soldiers of fortune, and robbers of catacombs and ancient burial sites.”1 Into this atmosphere entered Antonio Lebolo, an Italian excavator of Egyptian antiquities.

According to Oliver Cowdery’s account written in 1835, Lebolo and his work crew had discovered several mummies in one of the catacombs near the place where the renowned Egyptian city of Thebes once stood.2 After Lebolo’s death, these mummies and two papyrus rolls and some papyrus fragments that had been placed in some of the sarcophagi eventually found their way to New York City and then into the hands of Michael Chandler.3 He was told that no one could translate the papyri’s inscriptions. He learned, however, that a man named Joseph Smith Jr. claimed some kind of special power that allowed him to decipher ancient writings. In 1835, Chandler finally made contact with the Prophet Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio.

The Prophet was then inspired to raise money to purchase Chandler’s mummies and the accompanying papyri, even though he did not know exactly what the writings would disclose. Kirtland Saints contributed the funds for the purchase. The price was $2,400—not an inconsequential sum at the time, considering that the Kirtland Temple was under construction, but the faith of members who knew the Prophet and his works led them to help.4

The Prophet recorded: “With W W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, [I] commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc., a more full account of which will appear in their place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly can we say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.”5

There is no doubt that the Prophet Joseph Smith regarded the manner in which these writings came to him as the result of divine intercession. This happened only after the Lord had prepared His Church and the world to receive the book of Abraham. The rekindled spirit of excitement about ancient Egyptian writings in the 19th century, owing to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and Champollion’s work, was one step in that preparation.

Speaking of the way the Lord has guided discoveries and achievements of the human family to further His purposes, President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) said: “The Spirit of the Lord, the Light of Christ, has been back of it. … We are ready for these discoveries, these inventions, and they all have a bearing upon the restoration of the gospel and preparation for the time which is yet future, but which is shortly to come, when Christ shall reign on the earth.”6

The Abrahamic Covenant

The book of Abraham opens with the patriarch’s first-person account of events leading to the establishment of a special covenant relationship between himself and Jehovah—the premortal Jesus Christ. Sometimes called the Abrahamic covenant, this two-way promise was actually the ancient gospel covenant first revealed to Adam (see Moses 5:4–9, 14–15, 58–59), reconfirmed to other antediluvian patriarchs (see Moses 8:16), and reestablished with Abraham and his posterity (see Abraham 2:9–11).

We learn that the two great actions that brought the covenant to Abraham were his active search for it and his faithfulness in the face of apostasy around him, even as wickedly acting priests tried to take his life upon a pagan altar (see Abraham 1:2–15). As a result of his dramatic rescue by the hand of the Lord (see Abraham 1:15–16, 20), he became well schooled in trusting the Lord. But in what has to be one of history’s supreme ironies and contradictions, this faithful patriarch would later be commanded to offer his own son upon an altar by the very same God who had rescued Abraham years before (see Genesis 22:1–19). We can better understand what Abraham must have been thinking and feeling when he went to Mount Moriah because the information provided by Abraham 1 helps give fuller meaning to Genesis 22.

The Book of Mormon declares that Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac was “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5). The experience with Isaac undoubtedly helped Abraham to comprehend the yet future Crucifixion from the Father’s perspective.

The book of Abraham teaches more clearly than any other text we possess that the Abrahamic covenant—the ancient gospel covenant—includes among its promises and obligations the responsibility to share the gospel. For his part, Abraham agreed to teach the gospel to his posterity and his neighbors. This was an aspect of the covenant from the beginning: “As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee; but through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God” (Abraham 1:19).

We know that Abraham was faithful and true to his covenants, including his promise to share the gospel, because he speaks of migrating to the land of Canaan with “the souls that we had won in Haran” (Abraham 2:15; emphasis added).

The Lord’s part of the covenant agreement includes promises of property (see Abraham 2:6), posterity (see Abraham 2:9; 3:14), priesthood (see Abraham 1:18; 2:11), salvation (see Abraham 2:10), and preservation of records (see Abraham 1:31).

The most important thing to remember about this covenant in all its facets is that it was centered in Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ and the Eternal Plan

Jesus during the Grand Council in Heaven

In the premortal life, our Heavenly Father selected Jesus Christ to be our Savior. Abraham’s record is the earliest scriptural account we posses of this essential truth.

The Grand Council, by Robert T. Barrett

Abraham learned that the central events of the plan of salvation all proceeded according to a divine blueprint. Taken back in time in a very personal way to our premortal state of existence (see Abraham 3:23), he was shown Jesus Christ’s role in the Father’s pre-earth preparations and learned that the Savior was indeed “a God before he was born into this world.”7

Abraham wrote of the leadership role that the Lord Jesus Christ took in the Creation: “And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell” (Abraham 3:24).

The keystone of the Father’s plan of salvation is the Savior’s Atonement, and the keystone of that atonement was the selection of the Son in premortality to be the one who put into operation all of the terms and conditions of the plan—the one who would be our Savior.

According to the book of Abraham, the selection of the Savior was the first major event in bringing to pass the Father’s plan. In Abraham 3:27 we learn that in a premortal council, our Heavenly Father asked who would voluntarily become our Savior and His Only Begotten in the flesh. Jesus Christ volunteered first and then Lucifer. Lucifer was an angel in authority in the presence of God (see Doctrine and Covenants 76:25) who proposed his own alternative to the Father’s plan, which would exalt himself and eliminate moral agency (see Moses 4:1–2). Our Father in Heaven selected Jesus Christ, the Father’s firstborn spirit Son in our premortal existence and His Beloved from the beginning (see Moses 4:2). Abraham also learned of Lucifer’s and his followers’ great fall (see Abraham 3:28).

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “at the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it.”8 Abraham’s record is the earliest scriptural account we possess of this essential truth.9

In the book of Abraham we have clear expression of the creative efforts of the Gods in organizing and forming the earth and heavens (see Abraham 4:1). Such language assumes the existence of materials before the Creation of this earth began, and it corroborates the earlier statement in Abraham 3:24: “We will take of these materials, and we will make an earth” (emphasis added). The doctrine of creation thus taught in Abraham opposes the notion of the Creation of this earth ex nihilo (literally, creation “out of nothing”). It also fits perfectly with the original Hebrew verb bara’, used in the Hebrew Bible account of the Creation. This Hebrew term literally means to form, to shape out, to fashion already existing material.10

portrait of Jesus Christ

Light of the World, by Brent Borup

In the sweeping vision of the universe He gave to Abraham (see Abraham 3), the premortal Christ taught personally about His knowledge and intelligence in comparison with all of the rest of our Heavenly Father’s spirit children. He declared, “I am more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:19). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum the Twelve Apostles helped us appreciate the deep significance of this stunning truth when he explained:

“He is utterly incomparable in what He is, what He knows, what He has accomplished, and what He has experienced. …

“In intelligence and performance, He far surpasses the individual and the composite capacities and achievements of all who have lived, live now, and will yet live!”

Elder Maxwell also observed, “Yet, movingly, He calls us His friends.”11

Promises for Our Day

Though ancient people are its main characters, the book of Abraham is purposely and completely relevant for our times. It shows us how the Lord has directed several historical threads to converge in these latter days to bring about the restoration of all things. It shows us that the hope in eternity that we today derive from priesthood power, centered in the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, was also the same foundation upon which the ancient patriarchs and matriarchs built their lives. Abraham said, “Eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation, as we journeyed” (Abraham 2:16).

We know that many of the ancient Saints were successful in their quest for eternity. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for example, “have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:37).

Are those same promises given to Abraham, Sarah, and their posterity in force today? Yes—and they apply to us!

“This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham. …

“Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:31–32).


  1. Jay M. Todd, The Saga of the Book of Abraham (1969), 10.

  2. See Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” 675 (31 December 1835), josephsmithpapers.org. See also History of the Church, 2:348; Todd, Saga of the Book of Abraham, 28–31.

  3. See Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” 675 (31 December 1835), josephsmithpapers.org. See also History of the Church, 2:348–51, which also contains Oliver Cowdery’s account of Michael Chandler’s inheritance. Some of the particulars are apparently inaccurate, such as Chandler’s actual relationship to Lebolo. However, that Chandler ended up with Lebolo’s 11 mummies seems beyond doubt. See H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham (1995), 82–89.

  4. See the abbreviated but very helpful summary in H. Donl Peterson, “The History and Significance of the Book of Abraham,” in Studies in Scripture, Volume 2, The Pearl of Great Price, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson (1985), 161–62.

  5. Joseph Smith, “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” 596 (6 July 1835), josephsmithpapers.org, spelling and punctuation standardized. See also History of the Church, 2:236.

  6. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie (1954), 180–81; emphasis in original.

  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:32.

  8. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 209.

  9. The doctrinal insights in the book of Moses have come to us in edited form from the hand of the later lawgiver and prophet, Moses.

  10. See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (1976), 135.

  11. Neal A. Maxwell, “O, Divine Redeemer,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 8; emphasis in original.