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Rabbi Nissim Wernick's Dissertation on the Book of Abraham
Summarized by Kerry A. Shirts
I have been into quite a few sources, however, one we have all ignored for far too long is the Jewish Rabbi's Doctorate Dissertation, Nissim Wernick, in 1968, as a Non-Mormon has given us all tremendous food for thought in "A Critical Analysis of the Book of Abraham in the Light of Extra-Canonical Jewish Writings", submitted to the BYU Religion Department. A *most interesting source indeed*!
He starts off with an absolute bang. The Pre-existence, something *missing* in the Bible account of Abraham in Genesis. Wernick says "...the concept of pre-mortal existence appears in Jewish history as a common tenet of the religion..." (p. 18). In order to gain an understanding of the once believed Jewish concept of Pre-Mortal existence, Wernick describes the Hebrew word "nefesh" as soul, which he acknowledges has several different sahdes of meaning in differing contexts. "It denotes the principle of life, the thing that constitutes a living being." (p. 19). "Nefesh chaya" - man became a living soul. The terms "ruach" and "neshama" are sometimes used synonymously denoting, of course, spirit and breath. This reflects the dualism of human nature according to Wernick and "is frequently mentioned in talmudic-midrashic literature." (p. 20). "The souls of all generations are said to have been created at the beginning of the world, and kept until the time of their birth in a heavenly repository called "guf" (body). (p. 20).
"According to kabbalistic teachings, the destiny of every soul is to return to the source whence it came." (p. 21). This is very reminiscent of Orson Pratt's idea found in "The Seer." Speaking of our bodies, and their origin, and our souls or spirits and their original place of creation, Pratt notes Eccles. 12:7 - "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall *return* unto God who gave it." Pratt notes that this shows that spirit does not have its origins in the earth, but it has a heavenly origin - it came from God - it returns to God, "God who gave it", also receives it back into his presence. (p. 17). "Could the spirit *return* to God if it were never in his presence? Could we return to a place where we never were before?
Wernick also notes this scripture as well as one from the "Wisdom of Solomon", which states that when the body returns to earth its possessor "is required to render back the soul which was lent him." Wernick notes that the "Slavonic Book of Enoch" states "All souls are prepared before the foundation of the world." In 2 Esdras we are told that the number of the righteous who are to come into the world is foreordained from the beginning, (2 Esdras 4:35). (p. 22).
More interesting still, from the "Midrash Kee Tov", we learn that "before the creation of the present world there were 1,972 generations. During this time all the souls of the righteous were present including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc. And it ends with the following statement: "They [souls] were with God before the creation of the world." (p. 22).
The "Midrash Tanhuma Pekude" is where God commands the angel, who is the prefect of the spirits saying:
"Bring me such a spirit which is in paradise and has such a name and such a form; for all spiritis which are to enter the body exist from the day of creation of the world until the earth shall pass away! The spirit answered, Lord of the world! I am content with the earth, where I have lived since Thou didst create me!" (p. 22). And Wernick notes the parallel with the BofA!
And they who keep the first estate sahll be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom, etc.
"Throughout Jewish thought it is apparent that man is placed on this earth to be proved. The "Midrash Tanhuma Pekude" reveals a spirit (soul) that was placed on earth. It had a shape and form. Presumably the soul passed the test - or it "kept the second estate", and therefore would be rewarded with an existence "even more beautiful" than the present - i.e. "shall have glory added upon their heads forever and ever." (p. 23).
Similar to the Book of Abraham, Jewish writings confirm that the spirit (soul) has its origins in the Supreme Intelligence, in which the forms of the living existence may already be distinguished from one another.
"At the time the Holy One, Blessed be He, desired to create the world, it came in His will before him, and He formed all the souls which were prepared to be given afterward to the children of men; and all were formed before Him." (Book of Zohar I. 96b - Wernick, p. 23).
Another interesting idea is that in Jewish literature we see a mortal ascending heaven and while there, is shown the pre-mortal soul of a future teacher in Israel, studying the Torah with pupils. This happened to Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Enoch. Wernick notes that this leads to another concept found in Jewish literature that of the pre-knowledge of the pre-mortal soul. "The soul knew everything before entering the world." (p. 25).
Even further, The BofA shows that the intelligences are not equal in knowledge, but some are more intelligent than others. This is a concept that is not foreign to Jewish literature. The "Wisdom of Solomon" states that "Now I was a child of parts, and a good soul fell to my lot; nay rather being good, I came into a body undefiled." (p. 26). The "Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch" distinguishes between righteous and common souls. (p. 26).
Wernick's conclusion of this:
"Comparisons, therefore, can be made; parallels do exist between the BofA and Jewish literature, with regards to pre-mortal existence. Similar to the BofA there is a pre-earth state of man, these souls are different, but have the potential of becoming eqaul. These souls are consulted and take part in the affairs of heaven. This analysis affords a fuller understanding of some areas of correspondence between Judaism, its beliefs and concepts, and those of the BofA. Man is here to be proved, and if man is successful while on earth, then the Lord will accept the souls back to their eternal abode where they will "have glory added upon their heads forever and ever." (p. 27).
Wernick next notes something astonishing. "In the pagan world where the Bible originally took form, the notion was current that the deity was born or created from a pre-Mortal eternal substance. One of the common themes in pagan mythologies is the geneology of the gods who procreate. Is there perhaps an echo of this notion in the opening sentence of the Bible? As far as the grammatical structure of this sentence goes, it may be conceivably rendered thus: "In the beginning he created God together with the heaven and the earth." This would certainly involve a doctrinal revolution in the understanding of biblical religion...it is clear that proper research is graught with great doctrinal difficulties and significance. Such interpretations can be arrived at only through deliberate and careful study of the biblical texts." (pp. 29f).
Wernick merely notes the idea of the Council of the Gods, but notes with greater interest the blueprint of creation that was discussed and decided. "Many Jewish philosophers finds in the word "beriah", the concept of "Creation ex nihilo." However, a closer study of the Hebrew word refutes this notion. The etymological meaning of the verb "beriah" (creation) denotes, "to cut and put into shape", and therefore presupposes the idea that some materials has to be employed. This was easily recognized by Nachmonides and Maimonides in their respective commentaries on the Bible. (p. 31). The "Wisdom of Solomon" posits a formless archmatter which the creator simply brought into order.
Now while Genesis does not answer the concept of how much time it took for the creation, Jewish tradition does answer this. Nachmonides states that "one day according to the Lord is equal to one thousand years." The "Genesis Rabbah" uses much the same language when it has God saying: "One of my days is equal to one thousand years" (according to man's reckoning. "In conclusion, both the BofA and Jewish literature are in agreement that the creation did not occur in 7 days as is reckoned, but rather in seven thousand years. (p. 34).
Wernick also notes that "so it is seen that the Bible, Jewish writings and the BofA are emphatic in their inclusion of all peoples in God's concern and in the recognition that all men have the capacity to respond to God's word in deeds of penitence and in growth toward moral and spiritual perfection." (p. 42).
"Both Jewish literature and the BofA view man with utmost dignity...both literatures proclaim that man is created in God's image. Both aim at the same goal and that is: through the emulation of the Godhead (to the best of one's abilities), one can and muct become like God." (p. 43).
The BofA states that Adam had the Priesthood. "Jewish literature confirms this hypothesis when it states in the "Yalkut Shimeoni" "Thus said the Holy One Blessed Be He [to Abraham] 'Follow me and I will make you a High Priest after the manner of Adam." Wernick goes on to note that LDS literature even says
Adam, Noah, Enoch, Shem, Melchizedek and Abraham had the Priesthood. "It can be shown that Judaism will accept fully the same concept... it is agreed that Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham possessed the Priesthood." (p. 57). "It is agreed by all that Shem and Melchizedek possessed the priesthood and this is most relevant." (p. 57). And further he asks "Why did the narrative [in Genesis] introduce the Melchizedek incident here at all? [of Abraham paying tithes]...The Bible does not so much as hint as to the reason for his inclusion. However, if the accounts of the "Talmud" and Jewish literature be correct, then the plausible answer is that the Bible saw fit to include Melchizedek because he was a high priest who had already received authority from God. Melchizedek thereby becomes the agent of God in transmitting the high priesthood to Abraham. This is sound Mormon and Jewish thinking." (pp. 71f).
Wernick discusses the outset of the BofA. He says after Abraham saw that he needed to get out of his homeland, that he was not satisfied with his residence or with his own state of mind. Therefor, he sought the blessings of the Fathers, for he was a man of righteousness. (p. 73). "The Rabbis appear to have shared this very same conviction. They suggest that God did not suddenly break in on Abraham to send him forth on his vocation to be a religious pioneer of civilization, but rather that Abraham had taken the first step. He had brooded on the nature of existence. By his own quest to understand the universe, he came to fell the insufficiency of existence without a divine sovereign... the divine influence needs a receptive vessel through whom to perform its work. It finds it in one who yearns for God, who cares deeply about the issues that involve righteousness and truth. Thus begins the career of Abraham as a prophet." (p. 74). In other words, Joseph Smith has it correct in his BofA according to Jewish thinking.!
Wernick also notes that the "Midrash" states that "Abraham was the author of a treatise on the subject of creation. This would coincide very nicely with chapters 3,4, and 5 of the BofA." (p. 87).
The Doctrine and Covenants 84:14 relates that Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, and that this priesthood originated from Adam. Wernick then notes that "The 'Midrash' states very clearly that God informed Abraham, He was going to make him a High Priest after the same order as Adam. (Yalkut Shimoni 14:74). The "Zohar" goes further in trying to show a connection between Adam and Abraham - "Adam's book [Kerry notes Moses 6:4, 46!] which contained celestial mysteries and holy wisdom, came down as an heirloom into the hands of Abraham; he by means of it was able to see the glory of his Lord." (p. 87). Which is perfectly and precisely what we find with the Book of Enoch as well, and the Book of Moses in Moses 6! NONE of this is in Genesis at all. Yet Joseph Smith has the correct Jewish concepts in his revelations.
Wernick notes that L.D.S. Theology states that Melchizedek received the priesthood from the lineage of the fathers, even till Noah (D&C 84:14).
"Rabbi Jochanan ben Nuri says: The Holy One Blessed Be He, took Shem and separated him to be a priest to Himself, that he might serve before him. He also caused his Chechinah to rest with him, and called his name Melchizedek, priest of the Most High and King of Salem, where Abraham came and leaned the Law at the school of Shem, where God, Himself, instructed Abraham so that all else he had learned from the lips of man was forgotten. Then came Abraham and prayed to God that His Shechinah might ever rest in the house of Shem which also was promised to him; as it is said, "Thou are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (p. 88)
Again, the BOfA would have it believed that Abraham was a man possessing great knowledge who knew the celestial mysteries and knew all about the nature of man and of the universe. "This is a bold statement seeing that nowhere else in the Old Testament could the veracity of this statement be proven." (p. 89).
Yet, we look at the "Midrash" and Jewish literature, we find the "Book of Jubilees" saying that Abraham watched the stars in order to forecast the year's fertility. He receives the word to leave the Chaldeans and set out on his mission to bless the nations by teaching them the higher truths. And what do we find in Facsimile #3?
"Abraham sitting upon Pharoah's throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the priesthood", and "Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy in the King's Court." A perfect fit. (pp. 89f).
The "Sefer Yetzirah" states "God lifted him above the vault of heaven to cause him to see all the mysteries of life."
The "Nishmat Chayim" states: "The whole world once believed that the souls of men were perishable, and that man had no pre-eminence above the beast, till Abraham came and preached the doctrine of immortality."
The "Baba Batra, a Midrash from the Talmud states: When Abraham died, all the chiefs of the nations of the world stood in line and exclaimed, 'Ala for the world that has lost its leader! Alas for the ship that has lost its helmsman!"
"All this supports the claim that Abraham was a wise man possessed of great knowledge, nay the wisest of his day. He is revered by all and is a prince among the nations...indeed Abraham was considered by all as the leader of the world the "father of all the nations." (p. 90).
"The Jewish thought and Mormon tradition stand hand in hand with regards to the man, Abraham. Both claim that he, indeed did live - that he was a High Priest - that he attained the priesthood, the very same priesthood of Adam and Noah, from Melchizedek. Both agree that he was one of the wisest men of all in his time, that he learned the secrets of the universe and the higher truth from God and that he sought to teach the world these truths. He was recognized by all as the prince of the nations. Once again, Judaism and Mormon tradition do not stand apart from each other in many of their concepts, but rather their parallel concepts are a uniting influence." (p. 91).
He notes how "The divine promise and how the reaffirmation of these promises emerged are basic to both Judaism and Mormonism as seen through the BofA. Identical concepts are found when viewing them, and the evidence suggests they are similar." (p. 105).