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FAIR conference: Joseph Smith’s discovery of ancient patterns

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SANDY, Utah — Joseph Smith didn't know this, but there are some ancient patterns in the scriptures he gave to the world. Jeffrey Bradshaw told the FAIR conference on Aug. 5 about parallels between the ancient "Apocalypse of Abraham" and Joseph Smith's "Book of Moses."

Bradshaw, a senior research scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, used charts and tables to explain the intricate ways the two books' themes intertwine with each other and other ancient texts — texts which, by the way, Joseph Smith couldn't have known about. Bradshaw said that even the great literary critic and Yale professor Harold Bloom was amazed at how Joseph Smith tapped into ancient themes in his writings. "Professor Bloom found it extraordinary that Joseph Smith could have come up with on his own a modern book that resembles so closely ancient Jewish and Christian texts," Bradshaw said.

The work of Methodist scholar Margaret Barker has drawn a lot of attention to temple themes in the scriptures. Many passages of the Bible and other ancient writings can be approached as having temple ritual structures and ideas. The temple narrative, Bradshaw said, is a symbolic journey to heaven. Likewise, there is a related pattern or theme that Bradshaw said is called an ascent narrative.

An ascent narrative, as the name implies, is a story about literally going up to heaven and meeting God. The pattern is ancient, has certain standard parts and is in, for example, the Apocalypse of Abraham.

According to the book "Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham" by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid and John Gee, the Apocalypse of Abraham is thought to have been composed in Hebrew in the first or second century A.D. Portions of it survived in Russian church writings from the 1300s to 1500s. Bradshaw said the first English translation actually appeared in the LDS Church's "Improvement Era" magazine in 1898. Bradshaw believes that the text contains older traditions that go back to the temple in Jerusalem before Christ.

Bradshaw said it is also found in the Book of Moses chapter one. He laid out the structure as follows.

First there is a descent.

Verses 1-2: Prologue

Verses 3-8: Moses in the spirit world

Verses 9-11: Moses falls to the earth

Now comes the ascent.

Verses 12-23: Moses defeats Satan

Verses 24-26: Moses calls upon God; hears a voice

Verses 27-30: Moses' vision at the veil

Verses 31-40: Moses in the presence of the Lord

Verses 41-42: Epilogue

After discussing the overall structure of the ascent narrative, Bradshaw then compared point-by-point how the Book of Moses account parallels the Apocalypse of Abraham account.

"A close examination of the details in the account of Moses' heavenly ascent in its context of its overall structure throws important light on the significance of temple ordinances performed in our day," Bradsahw said. "Parallels with other ancient texts such as the Apocalypse of Abraham confirm the basic temple pattern and constitute an impressive witness of the antiquity of the text restored by Joseph Smith's revelations."

e-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com