The Emerald Tablet and the Book of Abraham

The topic of the Emerald Tablet caught my attention as I was surfing the Internet the other day. I have noticed it over the years but never had any interest in it.

I rarely spend time on evaluating obscure ancient apocryphal texts anymore because I have concluded that I can spend my entire life searching and parsing through the four standard works and never exhaust the many layers of light and truth embedded therein.

Nevertheless, some strange force drew me towards this ancient text this time.

As I began to quickly peruse some of the text and ancient drawings within the tablet I was blown away with some of the similarities between its content and some of the ancient doctrine and facsimiles revealed through the ministry of Joseph Smith.

During my brief perusal I found three striking similarities in less than 15 minutes. 

I quickly assumed that LDS scholars have done extensive comparisons and written much on this topic in an effort to further use the Emerald Tablet to substantiate the ancient origin of the Book of Abraham and the early teachings of the church .

Strangely, that is not the case. I could find precious few articles on the topic done by LDS scholars on the topic. 

Nobody doubts the antiquity of the document although there is no consensus as to how old it really is. Depending  on who you listen to, it is anywhere between 50,000 years old to being as recent as the 3rd century.

In my search to see if LDS scholars have addressed this topic and done comparisons between the content therein and the scriptures of the restoration, I did find one website that briefly touched  on the topic of Emerald Tablets  in the context of the LDS restoration movement.

It related to a BYU Symposium sponsored by the Maxwell Institute. The website provided the following introduction.

For six weeks in the summer of 2012, eight student scholars from all over the United States and from Europe met daily in the Maxwell Institute library to discuss and research the topic “The Cultural History of the Gold Plates.” This seminar was hosted by the Maxwell Institute and directed by Richard Bushman. The Summer Seminar Papers 2012 are the result of the research done by the students and were presented at a BYU symposium on June 23, 25, and 26, 2012. Source

emerald tablet.png

One of the papers presented was titled “Hisses from the Dust: The Gold Plates and the Recovery of Sacred Records” by Austin Walters.

Apparently Austin Walters was a businessman who had an interest in ancient texts. Walters addressed several ancient texts in his presentation including the Emerald Tablet.

In his presentation, Walters makes the following statement:

The Emerald Tablet is a short Hermetic text regarded by Medieval and Early Modern European Alchemists as the basis for their art. It is one of the Hermetica, a collection of Egyptian-Greek wisdom texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.

The largest similarity this record bears to the [Joseph Smith’s Gold] plates, along with the other ancient Hermetic texts resurrected during the Italian Renaissance, is its culturally anachronistic quality as a text from the ancient orient, which was accepted as scripture by Western European alchemists in a very different place and time.

It’s also obviously similar in that the record was thought of as being engraved on tablets, as we can see from this 1606 carving by Heinrich Khunrath.

Various statements on Wikipedia and other sources provide the following information: 

The Emerald Tablet, also known as the Smaragdine Table, or Tabula Smaragdina, is a compact and cryptic piece of the Hermetica reputed to contain the secret of the prima materia and its transmutation.

It was highly regarded by European alchemists as the foundation of their art and its Hermetic tradition. The original source of the Emerald Tablet is unknown. Although Hermes Trismegistus is the author named in the text, its first known appearance is in a book written in Arabic between the sixth and eighth centuries. The text was first translated into Latin in the twelfth century. Numerous translations, interpretations and commentaries followed.

The layers of meaning in the Emerald Tablet have been associated with the creation of the philosopher’s stone, laboratory experimentation, phase transition, the alchemical magnum opus, the ancient, classical, element system, and the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm.

The text of the Smaragdine Tablet gives its author as Hermes Trismegistus (“Hermes the Thrice-Greatest”), a legendary Hellenistic[1] combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth.[2] Despite the claims of antiquity, it’s believed to be an Arabic work written between the sixth and eighth centuries.[3] The oldest documentable source of the text is the Kitāb sirr al-ḫalīqa (Book of the Secret of Creation and the Art of Nature), itself a composite of earlier works.

A translation by Isaac Newton is found among his alchemical papers that are currently housed in King’s College Library, Cambridge University

In its several Western recensions, the Tablet became a mainstay of medieval and Renaissance alchemy. Commentaries and/or translations were published by, among others, Trithemius, Roger Bacon, Michael Maier, Aleister Crowley, Albertus Magnus, and Isaac Newton. The concise text was a popular summary of alchemical principles, wherein the secrets of the philosopher’s stone were thought to have been described.[13]

I found it interesting that Isaac Newton found the text to be worthy of translating.

I have great regard for Newton. Few people of our generation realize that he was an avid scriptorian and searcher of the scriptures and spent countless hours trying to decode the meaning behind the prophetic time sequences in the Book of Daniel. 

Equally curious to me was the interest that Aleister Crowley, the dark mystic an Satanist had in the Emerald Book of Toth.

Much truth is contained in the teachings of those who love darkness more than light. There is a fine line that is crossed over.

Indeed, we are informed in scripture that it is the shepherds of Israel who are the gatekeepers entrusted with the deeper things that often prevent others from finding it while perverting it for their own purposes

Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered  Luke 11:52

There was a time in my life many years ago when I became extremely intrigued with alchemy and the mystical endeavors of the mystics to find the philosopher’s stone.

I was intrigued by the quest having to do with the transmutation of common base metals into gold. I loved the parallel found in the mystical gospel of Jesus Christ that teaches that the base, natural man, who is an enemy of God, can go through a mystical conversion or transmutation process and become a new creature of the Holy Ghost that is sanctified. 

I found it intriguing that the occult incorporates many of the same principles and teachings found in the Old and New Testaments as well as the Book of Mormon and modern revelation. Some  feel it can be a very dangerous and slippery slope to invest very much time investigating the ancient teachings of the mystic religions.

Perhaps that is one of many reasons that LDS scholars shy away from shining a light on the ancient origin of the Emerald Book of Toth and taking it seriously enough to do a comparison between its teachings and the early teachings of Joseph Smith and the revelations he brought forth.

I disagree. 

I think that we are encouraged to seek out the truth wherever we can find it. Paul admonished us to prove all things and hold fast to that which is good. 

One of the first things to catch my attention is some similar wording and narrative between the Lectures on Faith and the Emerald Book of Toth in describing how order is created out of Chaos:

Emerald Tablets of Toth Lectures on Faith
Saw I the LIGHT, spring from Order
and heard the voice of the Light.
Saw I the flame of the Abyss, 
casting forth Order and Light.
Saw Order spring out of chaos.
Saw Light giving forth Life
We here understand, that the sacred writers say, that all these things were done by faith—It was by faith that the worlds were framed—God spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order, by reason of the faith there was in HIM.

Order is created out of chaos?

I love how Lectures drills a little deeper into the teaching and reveals that chaos has intelligence and power and can do the will of God. 

In the Emerald Tablet we are informed that darkness, or chaos (unorganized intelligence) can evolve into light which is actually consistent with the teachings that Joseph Smith brought forth!

How likely is it that Joseph and Sidney used the concept of “order” coming out of “chaos” and the fact that chaos created the world under the command of God in their Lectures on Faith, which had undoubtedly been inspired by the revelatory process they went through doing the revision of the Bible and their vision and conversation with deity and that is documented in Section 76.

Clearly, that above snippet from Lectures contextually matches the text and context of the snippet from the Emerald Tablet that is many centuries old.

One of the unique concepts that Joseph Smith spoke about compared to the belief of contemporary Christians (that believed that the world was created  from nothing), is the fact that the world was not created out of nothing. Organized intelligence is simply created from unorganized intelligence, otherwise referred to as chaos. 

“You ask the learned doctors [of religion] why they say the world was made out of nothing and they will answer ‘Doesn’t the Bible say he created the world?’

They infer from the word create, that it must have been made out of nothing.

Now, the word create came from the word baurau (sic), which does not mean ot create out of nothing, it means to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element and in which dwells all the glory.

Element had an existence from the time he (God) had. The pure principles of element which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end.” – History of the Church 6:308-9

Joseph explained that there is no such thing as immaterial matter

“There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter” (D&C 131:7-8).

Now, the word create…does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos-chaotic matter, which is element…. Element had an existence from the time [God] had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and reorganized, but not destroyed. They had no beginning and can have no end” (HC 6:308-309).

The Book of Abraham informs us that in the pre-existence, “intelligences” were “organized

“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; …for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them” (Abr. 3:22-23).

Modern revelation explains that intelligence is “the light of truth” and that it is self existent and cannot be created from nothing:

“Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29).

Joseph stated that spirits are not created. They have always existed.

The spirit of man is not a created being; it existed from eternity and will exist to eternity… all these had their existence in an elementary state from eternity….

The Father called all spirits before him at the creation of man and organized them. (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 9

He spoke about the concept of lesser and greater intelligences in the preexistence and the ability of intelligences to “advance in knowledge” and be exalted, adding one glory upon another.

“God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself.

The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them” (TPJS, p. 354).

It appears as if the contemporary christian theologians of Joseph day taught that the earth was created out of nothing by God.

Interestingly, Masonry contains many teachings of the occult including the concept of order out of Chaos which it has undoubtedly borrowed from ancient esoteric texts,.

I suppose that skeptics would suggest that Joseph and Sidney stole the concept of order out of chaos from Masonry, even though Lectures on Faith and the Book of Abraham emerged nearly a decade before Joseph and Sidney became a Masons.

The next thing that caught my eye in the Emerald Tablet is the striking similarity between the depiction of the crown contained therein and the one contained in the Book of Abraham. According to the Book of Abraham, the crown represents priesthood.

It appears that the three rounded ornaments at the top of the crown represent the three orders of priesthood that were revealed to Abraham and later pontificated on by Joseph Smith in a Nauvoo discourse..

power 3.png

I guess skeptics of the validity of the Book of Abraham would have us believe that Joseph Smith just got lucky when he made up the above ancient symbol.

The third thing I noticed  during my 15 minute research project is the striking similarity between the two drawings that depict a circle over the head of a non-human creature. According to the book of Abraham, the circle represents a crown of eternal light upon his head:
power 4.png

Alas, we see a third completely random coincidence wherein an ancient concept of symbol just happens to coincide with and ancient record that Joseph Smith claims to have translated. Being the showoff that he was, Joseph provided the meaning of the symbol along with the symbol.

To those who judge Mormonism based on the content of scripture rather than the vague folklore associated with the process of bringing it forth, these remarkable similarities seem to testify of the antiquity of the Book of Abraham.

In my humble opinion, Joseph wasn’t just randomly making stuff up in the facsimiles. 

Yes, we know that in Nauvoo Joseph possibly had access to a large library of occult books which possibly include Barrett’s The Magus and possibly lots of information about ancient texts.

Joseph Smith enjoyed friendship with a European Jew  named Alexander Ncibaur who was  well-versed in the standard teachings of Kabbalah. It is believed that he possibly possessed an unusually large collection of Kabbalistic books and manuscripts. 

But again, Lectures on faith and the Book of Abraham emerged long before the Nauvoo years. They took place during the earlier Kirtland years. 

Based on a very cursory comparison of content between the Emerald Tablet and the Book of Abraham and Lectures on Faith, I personally feel that the truth brought forth by Joseph Smith in its various forms is of ancient and divine origin.

Furthermore, it appears to me that the Tablet may very possibly bring into question the credibility of the modern translations and interpretations of the content of the Rosetta Stone and possibly even the credibility of the Rosetta Stone itself.

Another possibility is that texts and symbols from truly ancient writings were simply integrated into the supposed ancient funeral text that scholars claim the Joseph Smith Papyrus contains.

 Is it not possible that the funeral text in the Rosetta stone evolved over many centuries from a much older religious culture and text?

Perhaps this is why, at least in part, that the Lord has told us to discern religious truth by studying, searching and praying about the actual content of ancient texts rather than trying to second guess all of the intricacies of how they might have originated and been brought to light.

I suspect that some credible scholars would agree that the Emerald Tablet is hundreds of not thousands of years older than the writings contained on the Rosetta Stone

However, the question still remains: Who really wrote the Emerald Tablet and when? New evidence started to turn up in the late nineteenth century, when new discoveries about Egypt and the deciphering of hieroglyphics suggested that the principles exposed in the tablet go back at least 5,000 years.

Some scholars suggested the date of origin for the Emerald Tablet to be around 3000 BC, when the Phoenicians settled on the Syrian coast. Phrases from the tablet, including references to the One Mind, the One Thing, and the correspondences between the Above and the Below, were discovered in many Egyptian papyrii, such as Papyrus of Ani and the Book of the Dead (1500 BC), the Berlin Papyrus (2000 BC), and other scrolls dating between 1000 and 300 BC.”

Conversely, the Rosetta Stone appears to have originated in about 196 BC:

The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele discovered in 1799 which is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued in Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes

Skeptics that use the current interpretations and understandings of the Rosetta Stone to challenge the antiquity and credibility of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham would do well to realize that narratives and facsimiles within the Rosetta Stone appear to have evolved from much more ancients texts that paint a much broader narrative from much more ancient texts.

After constructing this post up to this point, I have since gone back and read a little further in the Emerald Tablet.

I am struck with how the narrative of how to achieve light and knowledge and wisdom and ultimately, eternal life, is built around exercising faith in, and calling upon the “light”.

Christ informs us that he IS THE TRUTH and the LIGHT of the world. He is not saying he has the truth and the light, he is saying he IS the truth and the light.

John 14:6
6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:45
45 For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:6
6 He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;

Doctrine and Covenants 88:66
66 Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.

Doctrine and Covenants 93:9
9 The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth, who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him was the life of men and the light of men.

Doctrine and Covenants 93:26
26 The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth;
Doctrine and Covenants 93:28
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.

Do we actually believe that God and his Christ are literally the TRUTH and the LIGHT or do we only accept this metaphorically?

One of the great arguments between some of the early Utah leaders of the church had to do with whether or not God is a person-personage or a power.

Orson Pratt had defined God as a quality or attribute rather than a corporeal being.

“it was the attributes of God that he worshiped and not the person & that he worshiped those attributes whether he found them in God Jesus Christ Adam Moses the Apostles Joseph Brigham or in anybody Else.”

Brigham Young disagreed. 

Some of the early brethren felt that we are to worship the POWER that God represents.

Others felt that we are to worship the PERSONAGE or PERSONAL CREATOR an Personality that God represents. 

What do you worship a Power or a Person?

One can argue that we worship both. God is a power with a personality.

Section 93 is the mystical revelation about light and how it is an integral aspect of God and his nature. In that section He informs us that the revelation was given so that we might know HOW to WORSHIP  him by knowing WHAT we worship:

19 I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. Doctrine and Covenants 93:19

With this in mind, I began reading the text in the Emerald Tablet and replacing words like light and strange foreign words that represent God and light, for what the Christian scriptures define as God and Light. 

I found it to be a remarkable and edifying experience.

There are so many gospel principles and parallels in the text although it speaks of worshiping and calling upon LIGHT rather than calling upon CHRIST. And yet, Christ has revealed to us that he is the LIGHT. So who are we, to limit how God chose to speak to the ancients?

 God gave the saints of the restoration the FULNESS of the scriptures culminating in the Doctrine and Covenants. Is it not possible that he spoke in more general terms to some remnants of his people that lived during ancient times prior to the meridian of time?

The major  defect I find in the Emerald Table text, from a gospel perspective, is that that process to obtaining eternal life does not mandate calling specifically on the name of Christ. However our King James Version of the Old Testament doesn’t either, yet we have not discarded it.

I find many of the passages in the Tablet to be very uplifting, enlightening and faith promoting. And yet, there are some that are somewhat disturbing.

For one of my future posts I may take some passages from the Emerald Book of Toth and translate them with greater clarity using terminology from Christian scripture. Not necessarily because that new meaning more accurately describes the original intent, but rather to bring it into conformity with the higher truth of the restoration.

I will also provide similar passages from the four standard works to show contextual similarities and dissimilarities. 

I find it very curious that LDS scholars have not taken more interest in using the Emerald Tablet as a testimony to the ancient origin of the content of the Book of Abraham. 

Of course it is not necessary to do so in determining the truthfulness and authenticity of the Book of Abraham, personal revelation is required for that. Nevertheless, it would be a fun exercise. 

Again, some day, if I ever find the time, I hope to do a more detailed analysis of the content within the Emerald Tablet an  to provide some slightly modified words based on Christian scripture for clarity.. and/or to show how it might reflect the secret knowledge of the secret societies and how they obtain their wisdom and power.

I realize that some people associate the Emerald Tablet with the occult and magic, and dark esoteric practices, and it may well represent a foundational source from which all of those disciplines emerge… but I have always found that if one digs deep enough into ancient texts without being fearful, hidden treasures of knowledge can be revealed and one can ascertain whether an ancient text is of God or the Devil. Either way, the truthfulness of the restoration ultimately always manifests itself.


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