Book Review: An Introduction to the Book of Abraham

John Gee is perhaps the leading Mormon commentator on the Book of Abraham – a portion of Mormon scripture that is simultaneously vital to the Mormon belief of premortal existence and heavily debated inside of academic circles. As a believing Mormon with a Ph.D. in Egyptology from Yale University, Gee brings a wonderful mix of perspectives to the discussion.

“An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” is precisely that – an introduction of the issues most important to both believers and scholars. The book is quite matter-of-fact in its tone, although there is the sense of subtle chastisement for both believers and scholars who approach the book with bias and extremism. As a result, the reader never feels compelled to come down on either side of any issue. Instead, the book serves quite nicely as an informative introduction regardless of any preconceived opinions.

Perhaps my favorite feature of the book is the author’s exemplary use of chapter endnotes. The book is quite short and therefore cannot go very deep into the issues. Nonetheless, there are excellent references to additional works of interest and these are all capped with short two-to-three sentence summaries of what readers can expect to find. Thus, the book serves as both an introduction and a reference guide.

John Gee will be joining FromtheDesk later this year as part of the ongoing “10 questions” interview series. If you have a question you would like to submit for consideration, please leave a comment.

The text of my review as found in the January 4, 2018 edition of the Mormon Times in the Deseret News is as follows.


AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM,” by John Gee, BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, $19.99, 195 pages (nf) 

An Introduction to the Book of Abraham,” the latest book by BYU professor John Gee, explores common questions and overarching themes of the Book of Abraham.

In 2000, Gee published “A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri,” intending to provide readers with the latest scholarly research and LDS commentary. However, so many new discoveries have come to light in the past 17 years Gee decided to write a completely new book instead of revising the old one.

Gee sets out to provide general readers with an understanding of the complex historical and academic issues associated with the Book of Abraham. He presents synopses of important issues ranging from how Joseph Smith obtained the papyri to what is known about the original Egyptian owners to the book’s central role in revealing the Latter-day Saint doctrine of premortal existence.

Readers interested in learning more will be delighted by chapter notes that provide bibliographic references with very short — and understandable — summaries. The book has a number of helpful charts and illustrations as well as frequent references to the latest research from the Joseph Smith Papers.

“An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” is an ideal resource for those studying the Old Testament and Pearl of Great Price.

Gee has a doctorate in Egyptology from Yale University and is the William “Bill” Gay Assistant Research Professor of Egyptology at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU.

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