Adjusting the Narrative: Part 1c–The Priesthoods of Abraham and Pharaoh

A continuation of the the series “Adjusting the Narrative”, as a proposed response to the new header to Official Declaration 2 in the 2013 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. See IntroductionPart 1a – The Scriptural Curse and Seed of Cain, and Part 1b – The Blood of the Canaanites.


Abraham and Pharaoh

The Book of Abraham’s first chapter sets up a narrative contrast between two descendants of the Patriarch Noah: Abraham, and Pharaoh. I will propose a reading of this story as a meeting of a Prophet of a Restored Priesthood meeting the leader of a traditional institutionalized religion that found itself, through years of error, in opposition to a restored authentic Patriarchal (and perhaps Apostolic) Priesthood, all while affirming the ability of adherents and leaders of such traditions to be righteous, although lacking in authority and correct information.

The Priest of Elkenah and Pharaoh

Our first introduction to the religion of Pharaoh in the Book of Abraham is filtered through the practices of what appears to be a “hireling” [1] priest of Elkenah and others, dedicated to offering sacrifices to different gods of different societies. Pharaoh is presented as simply one among his many clients.

Abraham, being in opposition to this priest and his associates’ work as an extension of his opposition to his fathers’ idolatry and associated wickedness, is apprehended and set to be slaughtered in sacrifice, as had been a trio of virgin girls (said to be “virtuous”), descended from the royal line of Ham. (Abraham 1:11)

Abraham is rescued by the Angel of Jehovah, receives a promise that these wicked priests will be destroyed, and in turn obtains promises of blessings pertaining to Priesthood and power to come upon him, “as it was with Noah”. (Abraham 1:19)

Accordingly, this priest of Elkenah and Pharaoh is smitten, and his altars are smashed. In connection with this, we are told that there was great mourning “in the court of Pharaoh…king by royal blood.”  (Abraham 1:20)

This note of the Egyptian King’s sorrowing for his on location free-agent Priest is the catalyst for a digression into the history of Egypt and the Pharaohs. Abraham tells us he has held onto “records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood” (Abraham 1:31) and I find that it is suggested that we are to find the following story as one Abraham had learned from these records.

The Righteous King Pharaoh

Instead of setting up the first of the line of Pharaohs (we’ll call him Pharaoh Prime) as being wicked, he was actually described as “a righteous man,” (Abraham 1:26, cf Abraham, as a follower of righteousness, in Abraham 1:2) who “established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days.”

This is told to us after establishing a curious and incomplete genealogy for Pharaoh (discussed in more detail in the previous post, the Blood of the Canaanites), which traces his lineage through Pharaoh’s mother, Egyptus, and then to his grandparents Ham and Zeptah (the manuscript name for the woman whose name signifies that which is forbidden appears in present printed copies as an elder Egyptus, see also the previous post).

It is after tracing his lineage mainly through his mothers, that we learn that Pharaoh governed righteously by “seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father.”  (Abraham 1:26)

We also learn substantially, but without detail, that Pharaoh also found himself, through Noah, “blessed … with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed … as pertaining to the Priesthood … being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood.

While traditionally this has been explained as suggesting “that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood” meant that Pharaoh carried the blood of the seed of Cain within him – by which he was automatically ineligible for priesthood ordination. As discussed in the earlier post, the scriptural texts as we have them do not support this reading, and in fact would significantly argue against it.

After The Pattern of the Priesthood

In the immediate context, we see that Pharaoh sees a need to imitate the Patriarchal Order – IE, the order of government and established pattern of inheritance in all things:  from Father to Son. Pharaoh’s father, significantly for a purported Patriarchal Order, is left out of the genealogy.

While it can be interesting to speculate who the text suggests the father might have been (as I do in the previous post), in the end, the Book of Abraham as a canonical text does not appear to find that detail relevant.

What is relevant is that Pharaoh’s line is traced though his mother – a Matriarchal line, which would have been understood to not have inherently transmitted the Birthright of Priesthood in the Patriarchal Order.

In other words, the lineage of the mothers would not have carried the right of Priesthood, which comes through the lineage of the fathers.

What is also interesting to note is that Pharaoh, who presumably was being raised in the land that his mother discovered and is named for, and geographically separate from his other Noachide cousins and uncles, is not said in the text to have claimed Patriarchal Priesthood authority for himself, but is understood to have been striving to ‘imitate’ it. Or perhaps, in other words, to reform his Mother’s way of leading things back to a way he would understand as being the ‘righteous’ way. After the pattern of the priesthood, but without the right to priesthood authority.

The Primacy of Ham

But we see hints that Pharaoh’s nominative successors, ‘The Pharaohs’, did indeed claim Patriarchal authority in the Right of Priesthood, and they “would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham.”  (Abraham 1:27)

The more or less modern conceptual equivalent would appear to be the idea of a second or third generation follower of Jesus’ apostles striving to reform or continue the apostolic tradition, whose successors in turn assumed or claimed that their founder had received and claimed direct Apostolic authority himself.

In other words, coming from a traditional protestant or restorationist perspective, take the term ‘Pharoah’ and replace it with ‘Pope’, and ‘Patriarchal’ and replace it with ‘Apostolic’, and the picture begins to come a little more clear.

Abraham would, conceptually, be meeting with a later ‘Pope’ who believes the first so-named ‘Pope’ received his authority directly from Ham [Peter], who received it from Noah [Jesus].

And, significantly, this first reforming ‘Pope’ Pharaoh, striving to return to the tradition of his fathers, is presented as ruling righteously in all his days. His successors in the Pharaohacy would not be seeking after a proper authoritative line as did Abraham, because they sincerely and piously believed they already had access to one.

A Prophet Prepares to Meet with the Pope

It is in this context that Abraham explains that he hold the records denominating the proper line of the Right of Priesthood. “But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day.”

This is all part of the introduction to the story that will eventually land the Prophet Abraham in Egypt, instructing his contemporary Pharaoh concerning the material in the authentic ancient records he would bring forth, complimented with new and living visions he would receive that contextualizes and adds upon the material in his scriptural texts.

Opportunities of Obtaining the Right of Priesthood

Both Abraham and Pharoah Prime are noted as righteous men, who desire to rule in peace and righteousness. Both recognize the importance in the Right of the Patriarchal Priesthood of Adam and Noah in order to properly fulfill this righteous goal.

Pharaoh Prime appears geographically unable to have obtained it, and appears to have had parents cut off from the authoritative line for one reason or another. So he righteously imitates what he does know to the best of his ability.

Abraham, whose fathers had been cut off from the authoritative line because of Apostasy, actively seeks out ordination, is found worthy by Jehovah for his righteous desires, and is eventually put in contact with Melchizedek, Righteous King of Salem, from a branch off the Noachide Patriarchal line, to restore the right of Priesthood to Abraham’s branch of the tree.  (see Doctrine and Covenants 84:14, “Which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah”)

This would place Abraham as a parallel to Melchizedek when he visits the Pharaoh of his day, with the opportunity to not only teach him the scriptural record, and to expound additional visionary doctrines, but to offer him the opportunity to accept and obtain, from an authoritative source, the Patriarchal Right of Priesthood.

Unfortunately, Joseph never finished the story. The canonical descriptions of Facsimile 3 suggest a friendly and respectful meeting (Pharaoh allowed Abraham to sit in his throne!), and the account in Genesis (Genesis 12) suggests everything was going well until Pharaoh learned that Sarah was married to Abraham, and was off limits, rather than simply related to him, and a potential bride.

I see the religious aspects of the discussion ending amicably enough, with an agreement of sorts to disagree. Perhaps we can even envision Pharaoh responding along the lines of Agrippa to Paul, “Almost though persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28)

The point is, there is no support for the view that Abraham was asked to refrain from bringing the Gospel and Priesthood to Egypt, but rather, it appears he  was specifically instructed by the Lord in preparation to do so. Combined with Abraham’s great-grandson entering into marriage with the Egyptian Asenath and giving birth to the covenant lines of Ephraim and Manassah, (Genesis 41:45, 46:20), I find all suggestions that the Egyptian and Pharaohnic inability to obtain Priesthood had nothing to do with their genetic connection to an ancient transgressor, but everything to do with either lack of access to a legal administrator, or an individual rejection thereof.

NEXT: Part 2 of ‘Adjusting the Narrative’ begins an exploration of the Book of Mormon as a pattern for acknowledging and correcting racism mistakenly promulgated by authentic and honorable prophetic figures.

[1] I think it is significant the contrast between the religious practices and promulgated by this Priest acting in the position of minister-for-hire, always noted to be wicked, and the knowledge and descriptions of the regal King Pharaoh.


Adjusting the Narrative: Part 1c–The Priesthoods of Abraham and Pharaoh — 3 Comments

  1. Interesting perspective.

    Lately I’ve been inclined to read the passage as “rite [ritual] of Priesthood” instead of “right [authority] of priesthood.” Doing so ties the text closer to the Antiquities of Freemasonry, which, IMO, is a clear [though perhaps limited] inspiration for the BofA.

  2. This has always struck me as a strange and frustrating pericope. The family relationships, names, curse(s), and the issue of matriarchal vs. patriarchal lineage are all very confusing. There are several points of ambiguity, and how we resolve any single ambiguity affects our reading of the others. I don’t know that you’ve cracked the problem, but you’ve done a good job of taking into account most of the relevant evidence, and I think the interpretation you’ve come up with is about as plausible as any other.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts.

    I will definitely acknowledge that part 1c, as posted, is weaker than the first two. For some reason, I hurried this one out, and bypassed the benefits of time and critique, and I acknowledge that it shows.

    Chris, you’re absolutely right. This whole periscope is messy, with loose ends all over the place. My main intent is indeed to present a narrative that is the most consistent with all the relevant canonical material presented.

    It’s been suggested that the text suggests that Noah personally curses Pharaoh Prime. Here’s the key problem I see with that – Pharaoh Prime is never said anywhere to have had any wicked tendencies. In fact, he is praised with being righteous, ruling in righteousness all his days, even as he strove to imitate the Patriarchal order that he did not have access to. Even this is ‘accounted unto him as righteousness!’ Some of the conversations and notes I’ve taken from Mark Thomas made that even clearer for me.

    While I realize I hadn’t presented it as well as I could have, the restriction being based on his Matriarchal lineage seems very persuasive in context.

    While Abraham’s lineage eligibility is traced through the fathers, Pharaoh’s connection to Ham is traced through his mother. The missing link is not insignificant, because even in D&C the lineage noted for Melchizedek is ‘the lineage of his fathers’.

    In fact, do a search for ‘lineage’ in the LDS scriptures. Look how many times it is explicitly tied to the term ‘lineage of your fathers’.

    And yet, the lineage of Pharaoh is only presented in the text as Noah(M) – Ham(M) – Egyptus(F) – Pharaoh(M). In what would have been the Priesthood Line of Authority, there’s a break in the chain with Egyptus. His lineage is presented as the lineage of his mother. In a periscope where the notion of a Patriarchal Order is prime, this is not an insignificant detail.

    I admit I initially wanted to place personal blame on Pharaoh Prime for not having obtained the Priesthood (whether it is the “right”, or traditional “rites”, as The Narrator suggests). But the closer I read the text, the stronger I see his righteousness is reinforced.

    Here’s where we go to Fun Town: Could the reference to Noah cursing Pharaoh be a reference to announcing that the line of authority could not also be passed through a daughter? Could this actually be a veiled reference to the first initiation of a declared ‘Priesthood Ban For Women’ declared by Noah?

    How interesting if this text could be transformed from an otherwise scripturally unsupported reading for the restriction on African Blacks, to be pointed to as an explicit scriptural source for the restriction on Women. I am not suggesting or commending the use of the scripture for this reason, just exploring the power of narrative and scriptural interpretation for explaining/justifying policy.