Book of Abraham Apologist: Brian Hauglid’s “Transformative Journey”


Brian Hauglid is a professor of ancient scripture at BYU. He has been a prominent Book of Abraham apologists, publishing in FARMS and other BYU outlets. This December, he and Robin Jensen, from the Church History Department, released the Joseph Smith Paper’s volume dedicated to the Book of Abraham. Accompanying this release and renewed interest in the topic, Hauglid has made a few statements worth consideration, given his history as an ardent apologist and his job title.

At a Benchmark Book discussion, Hauglid declares,

“There’s also an argument that the Book of Abraham was on papyri that we no longer have – it’s called the missing papyri theory – at least from my perspective, anyway, I’ve found evidence that argues against that they were working off of the papyri that we actually have in the Church today.”

At that meeting, he also concluded,

“We may have to do some paradigm shifting because of this book…when it comes to Joseph Smith as a translator.”

Jenson and Hauglid at Benchmark Books 11/14/2018

To illustrate what kind of paradigm shift he is talking about, let’s turn to Hauglid’s comments in a facebook discussion where he reacts to the 6th part of a youtube analysis by critic, Dan Vogel.

Brian Hauglid: For the record, I no longer hold the views that have been quoted from my 2010 book in these videos. I have moved on from my days as an “outrageous” apologist. In fact, I’m no longer interested or involved in apologetics in any way. I wholeheartedly agree with Dan‘s excellent assessment of the Abraham/Egyptian documents in these videos. I now reject a missing Abraham manuscript. I agree that two of the Abraham manuscripts were simultaneously dictated. I agree that the Egyptian papers were used to produce the BoA. I agree that only Abr. 1:1-2:18 were produced in 1835 and that Abr. 2:19-5:21 were produced in Nauvoo. And on and on. I no longer agree with Gee or Mulhestein. I find their apologetic “scholarship” on the BoA abhorrent. One can find that I’ve changed my mind in my recent and forthcoming publications. The most recent JSP Revelations and Translation vol. 4, The Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts (now on the shelves) is much more open to Dan’s thinking on the origin of the Book of Abraham. My friend Brent Metcalfe can attest to my transformative journey.

One user asks,

Dan and other scholars; David Bokovoy, Kevin Barney, and Brett Metcalfe respond.

Here are the reasons this statement is significant.

First, a scholar has changed their mind. This is always laudable and a difficult thing to do. Especially for something so close to us, such as our faith and religion.

Second, not only does Hauglid change his mind, he finds the evidence strong enough to call out those who argue otherwise.

Third, the manner by which he labels his colleagues and co-authors and co-editors. He places scare quotes around Gee and Mulhestein’s “scholarship” and describes it as abhorrent. These are very strong words to use in academia, claiming someone else’s work would not qualify. Here, he questions their very validity in higher education and publication.

Fourth, this vindicates Brent Metcalfe, who was previously barred from the Church History Library for around two decades starting in 1986 and excommunicated in the 1990’s for some of the work he did on the Book of Abraham and other Mormon Scholarship.

Fifth, Hauglid gave Dan Vogel a ringing endorsement. If a dichotomy of paradigm can be supported, the critical view gets the support of this BYU Professor, rather than his researchers who write for the Church Ensign.

Sixth, Hauglid is found in seven of the 46 footnotes from the Church’s Book of Abraham Essay. His paradigm shift affects some of the claims from the essay, such as the following.

It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession. Eyewitnesses spoke of “a long roll” or multiple “rolls” of papyrus.32 Since only fragments survive, it is likely that much of the papyri accessible to Joseph when he translated the book of Abraham is not among these fragments. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri.

Footnote 32 sends us to Hauglid, Textual History of the Book of Abraham, 213–14, 222. He specifically rejects this claim, now.

Footnotes 43, 44, and 46 all refer to some of Hauglid’s work. They support the essay’s claim that other ancient texts support the notion of Abraham teaching astronomy to the Egyptian priests, Abraham being saved by an angel from human sacrifice, and facsimile number 1 connected to Abraham. All these claims now come under question.

Also significant, are the dependence of the Church’s essay on the scholarship from Gee and Mulhestein. Gee is found in 11 of the footnotes, while Mulhestein in three of them. Hauglid’s paradigm shift casts into doubt many of the Church’s official narrative on the subject. Therefore, the Church, too, will need to learn and grow.

If this is a sign of where things are going, this is good news. The Church, which values truth, ought to embrace the data and see how it reveals Divinity, rather than forcing our preconceived divinity to fit observed reality, at the expense of ignoring some of that reality. As the Benchmark Book discussion states, we know more about Joseph Smith’s translation process through the Book of Abraham, than any other of Joseph’s work. The lessons we learn from the BoA should inform our knowledge of the production of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Mormon. At the very least, it required Joseph to study it out in his mind, filtering it through his 19th century rural American perspective. It indicates Joseph reaching for God, rather than God “fax machining” text to him.


5 thoughts on “Book of Abraham Apologist: Brian Hauglid’s “Transformative Journey”

  1. How are unmoderated Facebook comments and a book launch lecture really proof for anything other than Hauglid’s own position? An informed position, to be sure, but not an infallible or uncontested one. Doesn’t it seem rather rash to just take his word at face value that Gee and Muhlestein are apologist hacks without critically engaging their own perspectives first?

    For example, Muhlestein presented at the Joseph Smith Papers conference last November on his analysis of the hieratic marginal characters in the Book of Abraham manuscripts. His arguments contradict Hauglid’s in some important points. How are we to know who is right or wrong before critically engaging both theories?

    I say this as a personal friend of Brian’s, and as a former student. I appreciate his work and insight, but many of his conclusions are, I believe, debatable, and his slams against Gee and Muhlestein are unfortunate.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As a form of epistemology, you are right. There is no “proof” of anything, here, beyond Hauglid’s transformation. But, it is noteworthy. I’m afraid I haven’t gotten into the minutiea of the argument surrounding the missing scroll hypothesis, or the characters in the margin. So, I cannot comment on that.

      Hauglid’s words against Gee and Muhlestein are very strong. Especially since they are previous co-authors, university colleagues, etc. It is far more than a simple academic disagreement. He questions their very ability and even integrity, to perform scholarship. That claim, on Hauglid’s part, is unusual and significant. It shows a significant rift in the believing perspective. It also calls into question the validity of the Church’s position in their Essay, since there is no longer a unified front.

      I agree with your point, though. In order to determine who is right in the debate, it would require critically analyzing both perspectives. (Maybe one day, I’ll get around to it.)


    2. At least some of the kinds of data informing Hauglid’s opinion were recently presented at a Maxwell Institute lecture: (especially here Although he doesn’t present these as counterarguments to the idea that the Egyptian Alphabet was a retro-active effort, Hauglid’s (and Jensen’s) presentation clearly lays out the basic data suggesting that the various alphabet documents were almost certainly meant to associate characters on the papryus with the BoA text and at least in part were associated with the translation (not a retro-fit) effort. As discussed in the post above, Hauglid also refers to Vogel’s analysis ( which persuasively makes the case for the connection between the existing fragments/characters and the Book of Abraham. I’m not aware of any counterarguments from Gee or Muhlestein on these data at this point (you may be more familiar with their work).

      Hence, we seem to be now largely in possession of the kinds of data and arguments that informed Hauglid’s transformation.


  2. My name is Ed Goble. My research is at
    I have always agreed with Hauglid’s and the critics’ assessment of the evidence, that the text is associated with the characters of the Hor papyrus. The evidence that he is right on this has always been overwhelming. I find Gee’s and Muhlstien’s apologetics abhorrent from the point of view of their treatment of the forensic evidence of the papyri and the Kirtland Papers. On the other hand, I agree with Muhlstien and others that there was an ancient text of the Book of Abraham written by Abraham, just that it is no longer extant and was never in the hands of Joseph Smith. My perspective has always been that the pairings of characters to content are ancient. And I explain how in my paper, and in my foundational articles on my blog. My position is kind of a middle point between the positions of apologists like Nibley and Muhlstien who hold to the idea of a no-longer extant papyrus from ancient times, yet how the forensic evidence that Hauglid espouses actually is complimentary to this view, if only people would see how it works.

    In other words, the characters from the Hor Papyrus were drawn upon for recycled ARTWORK functioning as section markers that appeared in the original, ancient Book of Abraham papyrus which was a redaction of Abraham’s book made in the Ptolemaic era. And the pairings between sections of the Book of Abraham text and these markers functioned as meaningful ancient Egyptian puns between the content and the markers. These facts are evident when the puns are manifest by reverse engineering of the pairing relationships between the English content and the symbols in the Kirtland Papers.

    Therefore, not only is Hauglid right about the forensic evidence, but the pairings between the characters derived from the Hor papyrus and the English text are ancient, having been derived from a no-longer-extant papyrus that Joseph Smith never had.


  3. Sorry, I should give some further clarification on what I wrote above in my last comment. I mean to say that I agree with Hauglid and the critics on the forensic evidence as far as it goes, about what Joseph Smith had physically to work with, and that the content is aligned with the characters from the Hor papyrus. And I agree with Hauglid that Joseph Smith never physically had another papyrus in his hands that contained the Book of Abraham text. As for where the content of the text of the Book of Abraham came from, I believe anciently there WAS another papyrus that had this content, but that that papyrus had the Hor symbols on it listed with the content in an ancient language paired with each symbol as it is in the Kirtland Papers. This ancient papyrus that contained the actual text aligned with the symbols from the Hor papyrus is what existed in ancient times, and what Joseph Smith never had. Joseph Smith reconstructed the structure of this ancient source in creating the Kirtland Papers. This is where I differ with Hauglid. But my view also harmonizes with this forensic evidence that Hauglid and Jensen present. Although my evidence of the puns that I speak of between the content and the symbols is the evidence that indicates that an ancient source existed with them juxtaposed together, as I said. It was a redaction of the Book of Abraham created by an ancient scribe, which the Hor papyrus symbols as section markers. This is the way I explain the existence of the puns that are evident between content and symbols, because the puns are ancient.


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