Lds Abraham Essay

By Eric Johnson

Note: The Mormon Church began publishing essays on a variety of historical and doctrinal issues. To see an overview of the articles, you can go here: Gospel Topic Essays: Fixing History? In this review of an article titled “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham: A Gospel Topics Essay,” the entire article will be cited (all underlined), with my comments throughout. 

Here is the 5-part Viewpoint on Mormonism series broadcast during the week of December 1, 2014:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 Part 5

Also see the blog “The Book of Abraham: A Mormon Conundrum”


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the book of Abraham as scripture.

Before we go any further, I must comment on the word embraces. How can the Mormon Church leaders “embrace” the Book of Abraham? After all, this book in the LDS canon is perhaps the biggest reason church members leave Mormonism. There is plenty of evidence to show the Book of Abraham is fraudulent, a false bill of sales, an invitation to join a Ponzi scheme, and so much worse. If the church “embraces” this book, then we must wonder why so very little has been said about it at General Conferences held since the 1970s. Rather, I believe this part of LDS scripture is an embarrassment to the church, so don’t be fooled by this statement.

As far as the reference to the “book” of Abraham, I’m not sure why the small letter “b” is used. The “Book” of Mormon is always capitalized. And although many sources on lds.org don’t capitalize the word “book,” others do. (For example, see here.)  It is also capitalized in the explanatory note preceding the book in the LDS canon (“A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”) The media traditionally capitalize it (i.e. see here and here). Even LDS apologists capitalize it. No explanation is given for making it lowercased, but in this article, I will retain the traditional capitalized “Book” of Abraham and leave the underlined portions intact.

This book, a record of the biblical prophet and patriarch Abraham, recounts how Abraham sought the blessings of the priesthood, rejected the idolatry of his father, covenanted with Jehovah, married Sarai, moved to Canaan and Egypt, and received knowledge about the Creation. The book of Abraham largely follows the biblical narrative but adds important information regarding Abraham’s life and teachings.

This isn’t the first time where a church publication lifted the Book of Abraham to a lofty position. A church manual boasts:

The book of Abraham is an evidence of the inspired calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It came forth at a time when the study of the ancient Egyptian language and culture was just beginning. The scholars of the 1800s had scarcely begun to explore the field of Egyptology, and yet, with no formal training in ancient languages and no knowledge of ancient Egypt (except his work with the Book of Mormon), Joseph Smith began his translation of the ancient manuscripts. His knowledge and ability came through the power and gift of God, together with his own determination and faith. (Pearl of Great Price Student Manual Religion 327, 2000, p. 29).

Another one states:

In 1967 eleven fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri were rediscovered by Doctor Aziz S. Atiya, in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Studies of them have confirmed that they are mainly ancient Egyptian funerary texts of the sort commonly buried with royalty and nobility and designed to guide them through their eternal journeyings. This has renewed the question about the connection between the records and the book of Abraham. Joseph Smith did not explain the method of translating the book of Abraham, just as he did not explain fully how the Book of Mormon was translated. Nevertheless, like the Book of Mormon, the book of Abraham is its own evidence that it came about through the gift and power of God (Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341-43, p. 258).

According to these manuals, Smith was inspired. Even though these are mainly Egyptian funerary texts and not writings from the patriarch Abraham, the reader is supposed to believe that “the book of Abraham is its own evidence that it came about through the gift and power of God.”

So what do we do with the Book of Abraham? There are only two possibilities:

1)      Joseph Smith really did receive authentic papyri that contained the writings of Abraham.

2)      Joseph Smith really never had papyri with writings of Abraham.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume the first possibility is correct and Smith did receive authentic papyri filled with the words of Abraham. If this is the case, then we still have two more possibilities:

1)      Joseph Smith really did know how to translate these Egyptian hieroglyphics and put them into English, which we have today and found in the Book of Abraham.

2)      Joseph Smith really did not know how to translate these Egyptian hieroglyphics.

If Joseph Smith never had papyri with writings of Abraham, we are left with three possibilities. Joseph Smith was

  • Deceitful
  • Deluded
  • Deceived

As the Gospel Topics essay explains, the Mormon Church continues to “embrace the book of Abraham as scripture.” In other words, a person must have faith that this book is authentic (#1 in the first scenario) and translatable by the hand of Joseph Smith (#1 in the second scenario).  If the second possibility in either scenario is correct, then the Book of Abraham is not what it is touted to be by LDS Church leaders.

The book of Abraham was first published in 1842 and was canonized as part of the Pearl of Great Price in 1880. The book originated with Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith translated beginning in 1835. Many people saw the papyri, but no eyewitness account of the translation survives, making it impossible to reconstruct the process. Only small fragments of the long papyrus scrolls once in Joseph Smith’s possession exist today. The relationship between those fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture.

Let’s provide a little background. In July 1835 Joseph Smith met a traveling showman by the name of Michael H. Chandler who was displaying four Egyptian mummies in Kirtland, Ohio. Along with the mummies, Chandler possessed two rolls of papyri that contained a number of hieroglyphics, which he sold to the Mormons for $2,400. The next day, Smith proclaimed that the manuscripts were actually written by none other than two Old Testament patriarchs:

I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. (History of the Church, 2:235–36.)

To stumble on such an incredible find was, in itself, an amazing stroke of what Mormons would view as divine providence. Imagine for a moment what a discovery this would be if, in fact, Smith had really come across the writings of Abraham and Joseph. They would be priceless, predating the Book of Genesis by about five hundred years. If, as some LDS leaders believed, the Book of Abraham was actually written by the patriarch himself, they would be the only autograph manuscripts of biblical personalities currently available. For example, President Wilford Woodruff said,

The Lord is Blessing Joseph with Power to reveal mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the urim and Thummim Ancient records & Hyeroglyphics as old as Abraham or Adam. . . . Joseph the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledged of man for the last four thousand years. . . . (Susan Staker, ed., Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 1993), 50-51. Ellipsis and spelling in original. For more information on this topic, see here.)

Of the two papyri, Smith chose to focus on the one he claimed was written by the patriarch Abraham, who, according to the text, supposedly held the priesthood well before it was even formulated by God in the days of the Levites. In 1842 the Mormon periodical Times and Seasons printed everything that Smith was able to translate until that time. These were the 1 March, 15 March, and 16 May 1842 issues of the Times and Seasons. Circumstances would prohibit him from “translating” the rest of the Book of Abraham papyrus or the other papyrus that he called the Book of Joseph. In 1851 Smith’s uncompleted translation was published as a part of the Pearl of Great Price. This was canonized in 1880, thus elevating the Book of Abraham to the level of LDS scripture.

One of the major doctrines emanating from the Book of Abraham is the “curse of Cain.” Abraham 1:21-26 states,

Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land. Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, 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, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.

Smith used this passage in 1836 to claim that those with African heritage had inherited this “curse,” the impetus for the later ban of Blacks from the LDS priesthood. It wasn’t until 1978 when this stringent ban was lifted. Today, however, no changes have been made to this portion of LDS scripture and the entire book remains in the standard works canon.

In 1966, eleven pieces of Smith’s original papyri were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which were later turned over to the LDS Church. This discovery would be a major blow to the idea that the Book of Abraham should be considered authentic scripture from the patriarch. Thus, the Gospel Topics essay says that ““only small fragments of the long papyrus scrolls once in Joseph Smith’s possession exist today” and that there is a large segment of the scroll now missing.  Such an assertion is simply not true. Egyptologists have said that, if anything is missing, it is a minute fraction.

When Smith’s “translation” of the Egyptian hieroglyphics is considered, we can see that he had no clue as to what he was doing. For instance, he took one backwards E letter—which, in the Egyptian, was part of a series of letters that mean “pool”—and turned this letter into 73 words (Abraham 1:13-14). In fact, this practice was common throughout his “translation.” Charles Larson states,

On some occasions Joseph Smith separated a single Egyptian word to derive characters for his “translation,” while at other times he combined more than one Egyptian word into a single set of characters. In all cases his translation attributes a far more complex explanation to the Egyptian letters and words of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI than do professional Egyptologists, and Smith ascribes meanings to words which are totally unrelated to their actual denotation. Thus, Joseph Smith’s “translation” is completely incorrect in both method and content. (By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, 96)

The content of the writing is not even close to what Smith “translates,” a fact offered by David Persuitte:

Papyrus No. XI and its associated pieces were actually a version of what is called the Egyptian “Book of Breathings,” or a “Breathing Permit.” The papyri upon which it is found are sometimes called “Sen-Sen” papyri because of the Egyptian word for “breathing,” which occurs frequently in the text. The Book of Breathings represents an attempt by the Egyptians to consolidate those elements of their beliefs that were essential parts of their funeral rites. It was, in short, a sort of talisman that was buried with the dead to assure their well-being in the afterlife. (Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon, 292).

According to Dr. Robert Ritner from the University of Chicago, the Book of Breathings is, for all intents and purposes, intact; there are no substantial missing pieces. He stated,

Assuming no reason that this particular Book of Breathings scroll must be expanded much beyond the surviving length, I have now read the entire document from the beginning to the end and have made up what one could make out on the poor copy of the final vignette. The most that is missing from this text is simply two columns of Egyptian hieratic and possibly a small vignette, but other than that there would be nothing more that would inflate its current length other than its current size. It is both unprecedented and unreasonable to assume that an intrusive text about a completely different matter, a narrative history about Abraham and his descendants, would have been inserted into a document whose beginning, middle, and end is devoted specifically to the resurrection of an Egyptian priest. It would disrupt the document and have nothing to do with this content. (The Lost Book of Abraham, quoted at 40 minutes)

I’ll quote Dr. Ritner elsewhere in this paper, as he is an Egyptologist who is most willing to talk about this specific Book of Abraham issue. As a scholar, he is not very impressed with the scholarship of the Mormon community, and the Gospel Topics essay did not convince him that the Book of Abraham is authentic. In a review of the essay called “A Response to ‘Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,'” Dr. Ritner wrote:

The recent web posting on the Book of Abraham by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- Day Saints (hereafter the LDS church) represents new reflection on a document whose authenticity as verifiable history is now officially acknowledged to be in serious dispute. Thus the position paper concludes with a concession by noting (unnamed) modern scholarly opposition to the Book of Abraham, followed by a defense against any such scholarly debate: “The veracity and value of the book of Abraham cannot be settled by scholarly debate concerning the book’s translation and historicity.” Rather, the truth of the book is sought in ways that cannot be verified externally, relying exclusively upon traditional faith: “a careful study of its teachings, sincere prayer, and the confirmation of the Spirit.”

Such a declaration may seem reasonable to those already predisposed to accept it, but on closer reading, the LDS church posting suggests discomfort with its own conclusions and reasoning. Not a single opposing scholar is mentioned by name, nor are their reasons for rejecting the Book of Abraham. Yet the LDS paper attempts to engage in scholarly debate from a one-sided position, repeatedly citing in the footnotes the same limited set of apologists who are primarily church employees at BYU in Provo. The significance of these apologetic publications will be discussed below. If scholarly dispute over translation and historicity is ultimately irrelevant, why bother to devote extended paragraphs to rebuttals of unmentioned objections on “Translation and the Book of Abraham,” “The Papyri,” and “The Book of Abraham and the Ancient World”?

According to Dr. Ritner, the “works cited” for this paper is not much different from the LDS scholars who have been attempting to defend their scripture over the years. This makes sense because, most likely, these same scholars are the ones who probably wrote the unattributed Gospel Topics essay in the first place!

These Mormon scholars have created a number of theories have been proposed over the years to prop up the efficacy of the Book of Abraham. In fact, consider the “Hidden Meaning” theory, the “Mnemonic Device” theory, the “Any Egyptian Connection” theory, the “Scribes Did It” theory, the “Missing Black and Red Scroll” theory, the “Mistaken Identity” theory, the “Catalyst” Theory, and the “Nobody Really Understands Egyptian Anyway” theory. Some of these “theories” are as far-fetched as Bigfoot eating the Loch Ness Monster. Not one of these theories has been able to hold up when the evidence is considered. (See chapter 11 (“The Intellectual Approaches”) in By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Charles Larson for explanations of each theory.) Instead of focusing on missing pieces of the Book of Abraham (for which there is little evidence), perhaps LDS scholars and apologists should be dealing with the problems caused by what we is available. Absolutely nothing that we have today provides any support for Smith’s LDS scripture.

We do know some things about the translation process. The word translation typically assumes an expert knowledge of multiple languages. Joseph Smith claimed no expertise in any language. He readily acknowledged that he was one of the “weak things of the world,” called to speak words sent “from heaven.” Speaking of the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord said, “You cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” The same principle can be applied to the book of Abraham. The Lord did not require Joseph Smith to have knowledge of Egyptian. By the gift and power of God, Joseph received knowledge about the life and teachings of Abraham.

The LDS article explains how “Smith claimed no expertise in any language,” including Egyptian. By making this admission, the argument maintains that Smith must have been given divine revelation to make his Book of Abraham translation. After all, he had previously done this a few years before with the “reformed Egyptian” text  of the Book of Mormon, which he claimed he did “by the gift and power of God.”  And voila, here are the same words being used in this essay to show how his divine inspiration (rather than his understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics) allowing him to make his translation of the Book of Abraham. Is this a coincidence? Hardly.

Comparing the Book of Mormon to the Book of Abraham, Christian author H. Michael Marquardt states:

Only part of the original 1829 manuscript of the Book of Mormon pages of the dictated text is extent. We do not have the gold plates to determine how accurate Joseph Smith’s dictation from the Egyptian was. But we do have the Egyptian papyri, Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet, and the Book of Abraham Translation Manuscripts. These later manuscripts together with Joseph Smith’s journal and knowing when his scribes worked with him all place the dictation process in the last half of 1835. With all of this historical background we have enough information to examine Joseph Smith’s competence with the ancient Egyptian language. (The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844, 407.)

Let’s consider how the LDS prophet was able to get away with this ploy. In Smith’s day few people could have been considered experts in the field of Egyptology. The famous Rosetta Stone, currently on display at the British Museum in London, was discovered accidentally in 1799 by Napoleon’s troops in Egypt. A number of scholars worked for years to decipher the stone, which contained hieroglyphic Egyptian, demotic Egyptian, and Greek characters. Finally, Jean Francois Champollion announced his results in 1822. Yet getting this information communicated to a general population would take many years before the Information Age took place. As Dr. Ritner explains:

In the 1840s in the United States, the ancient Egyptian language was virtually unknown. It had only been to be deciphered in 1822 and that knowledge simply had not crossed the Atlantic. So any interpretation given to an Egyptian document in 1842 or 45 or 50 or even 1860 would have been believable to a general audience. We would have no way of comparing it with the actual truth (The Lost Book of Abraham, 14 minutes in)

By 1861, T. Devéria had noted a series of anachronisms and absurdities in the supposed translations and woodcut vignettes, and in 1912 a solicitation for professional opinions on the matter drew uniformly derisive assessments from A. H. Sayce, W. M. F. Petrie, J. H. Breasted, A. C. Mace, J. Peters, S. A. B. Mercer, E. Meyer, and F. W. von Bissing Dr. Ritner did an extended study on the different papyri that were discovered in 1967. As far as Facsmilies 1 and 2, he writes:

Comparison of the surviving initial vignette of the Hôr papyrus with Facsimile 1 proves beyond doubt, as the LDS web post agrees, that it was “the vignette that became facsimile 1.” However, neither Facsimile 1 nor 2 is a true copy, and both contain added forgeries, including the human-head and knife of the supposed “idolatrous priest of Elkenah” (Fig. 3 on Facsimile 1) as can be seen in the crude pencil additions to the original papyrus sheet as mounted and “improved” for publication by the LDS church in 1842.

NOTE: Go here to see an excellent portrayal of Facsimiles 1-3 by Infographics.

In a video, he explained,

What this document really is is an extended prayer on behalf of a deceased Egyptian priest, which begins with an invocation to the god of mummification, probably, certainly with a picture of the god of mummification, to ensure the priest’s continued existence into the next world, and then it’s followed by a series of statements where “Oh deified Horus, may you walk as you head down in life, may your ears function, may your eyes function, may the gods receive you.” Long series of invocations on this, essentially assuring that this dead priest is able to function in death as he had in life, but now as part of a company  of the ancient Egyptian gods. Abraham is not mentioned once. (The Lost Book of Abraham video, 38 minutes in)

Smith’s papyrus was both torn and attached to a backing that held it in place. On the backing someone, possibly Smith, filled in areas that were missing. An examination of Joseph Smith’s Facsimile No. 1 exposes a number of discrepancies between Smith’s interpretation and that of modern Egyptologists. Smith claimed that the facsimile portrays Abraham lying on an altar. Standing next to him is the idolatrous priest Elkanah who holds a knife in his hand. Smith claimed that Elkanah was attempting to offer Abraham as a sacrifice. Below the altar are figures that Smith describes as idolatrous gods. Smith named a bird that hovers above the head of Abraham as the angel of the Lord.

Richard A. Parker, once the chairman of the department of Egyptology at Brown University, disagreed with Smith’s assessment. He claimed:

This is a well-known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with Anubis, the jackal-headed god, on the left ministering to the dead Osiris on the bier. The pencilled(?) restoration is incorrect. Anubis should be jackal-headed. The left arm of Osiris is in reality lying at his side under him. The apparent upper hand is part of the wing of a second bird which is hovering over the erect phallus of Osiris (now broken away). The second bird is Isis and she is magically impregnated by the dead Osiris and then later gives birth to Horus who avenges his father and takes over his inheritance. The complete bird represents Nephthys, sister to Osiris and Isis. Beneath the bier are the four canopic jars with heads representative of the four sons of Horus, human-headed Imseti, baboon-headed Hapy, jackal-headed Duamutef and falcon-headed Kebehsenuf. (Richard A. Parker, “The Joseph Smith Papyri: A Preliminary Report,” Dialogue 3, no. 2 (summer 1968): 86.)

For a comparison of Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Facsimile 1 compared to what it really was, click here.

Other problems develop when Facsimile No. 2 is considered. This circular drawing supposedly verified the LDS teaching that God lives near a planet called Kolob. Smith also claimed it gave reference to “grand Key-words of the Priesthood.” (Explanation of figure seven opposite Facsimile No. 2.) Key words are an essential part of the LDS temple ceremony.  Speaking specifically about Facsmilie 2, Dr. Ritner states,

Facsimile 2 derives from a separate burial, for an individual named Sheshonq. Large portions of this published “facsimile” were improperly inserted from unrelated papyri. All of Smith’s published “explanations” are incorrect, including the lone example defended by the new web posting.

According to Egyptologist Stephen E. Thompson:

Facsimile 2 is a drawing of an Egyptian funerary amulet known as a hypocephalus, which was placed under the head of the mummy and was intended to protect the head of the deceased, provide him with the sun’s life-giving warmth, and to make it possible for him to join the sun god Re in his celestial boat, and thereby insure his continued, pleasant existence in the next life. (Stephen Thompson, “Egyptology and the Book of Mormon,” Dialogue 28, no. 1 (spring 1995): 149–50.)

Thompson went on to say:

Concerning Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the figures in this facsimile, it has been stated that “his explanations, are, in general, reasonable in light of modern Egyptological knowledge.” A comparison of Smith’s interpretations with current Egyptological scholarship shows that this statement is also incorrect. (Ibid., 150.)

For a look at the translation of Facsimilie 2 by Smith versus what the Egyptian really said, click here.

And for Facsimile 3, he writes,

In Facsimile 3, Smith confuses human and animal heads and males with females. No amount of special pleading can change the female “Isis the great, the god’s mother” (Facsimile 3, Fig. 2) into the male “King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his hand,” as even the LDS author Michael D. Rhodes accepts. Here Smith also misunderstands “Pharaoh” as a personal name rather than a title meaning “king,” so he reads “king king” for a goddess’s name that he claims to have understood on the papyrus!

For a look at Facsimile 3, click here.

When the manuscript of the Book of Abraham became available in the 1960s, scholars were now able to investigate whether or not Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet inspired by God with the ability to translate another language. As it turns out, Smith had no clue about the Egyptian language. Marquardt writes,

Joseph Smith’s work on his Book of Abraham Egyptian alphabet, seven years later shows that he could not understand or interpret documents written anciently. From examinations done by Egyptologists, their studies show that Smith had not the slightest idea what the Egyptian characters meant relating to names, places, and subject matter. These manuscript pages clearly show that Joseph Smith pretended to translate Egyptian records. The claim that they had been written by the biblical Abraham is without a solid foundation. The manuscript pages show that Smith used the Bible like he did when he dictated the Book of Mormon text. (The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844, 406.)

Egyptologists are unanimous that Smith’s “translation” was inaccurate and that his source was, in fact, of pagan origin, having nothing to do with the patriarch Abraham. As Charles Larson explains,

Based on comparisons of the Metropolitan papyri to every available resource, including descriptions contemporary with Joseph Smith of the so-called Abraham and Joseph scrolls, as well as to a number of original translation manuscripts and other notes of the time, the papyrus scroll Joseph Smith represented as containing “the writings of Abraham” was shown to be merely a common pagan funeral papyrus of late date known as the Book of Breathings. The scroll thought to contain the “writings of Joseph of Egypt” was also identified as a typical late copy of the Egyptian Book of the Bead, which had been prepared for a woman named Ta-shert-Min. Neither scroll ever had anything to do with the biblical patriarchs Abraham or Joseph, except in the mind of Joseph Smith. (By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, 173-74.)

He also wrote on page 175:

Not a single word, thought, or concept from Joseph Smith’s Book of Abraham, including his explanations of his three facsimiles, is in any way related to the subject matter of the common Egyptian funeral texts from which they were supposedly translated.

Dr. Lanny Bell, who teaches Egyptology at Brown University, adds,

From the evidence we have today, it’s quite safe to say that Joseph Smith did not have the Book of Abraham or the Book of Joseph in front of him in the form of these papyri because they bear no relationship to the context of these stories or his translation.

Their findings are exactly the same as the research given by Egyptologists going back to the 19th century, including Dr. A. H. Sayce (Oxford University), Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie (London University), Dr. James H. Breasted (University of Chicago), Dr. Arthur C. Mace (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Dr. John Peters (University of Pennsylvania), Dr. Edward Meyer (University of Berlin), Dr. Freidrick Freiheer Von Bissing (University of Munich), and Dr. Samnuel A. B. Mercer (Western Theological Seminary). (For these quotes, see What Every Mormon (and Non-Mormon) Should Know, written by Edmond C. Gruss and Lane A. Thuet, pp. 162-164.) In fact, we know of no reputable Egyptologist (outside of the LDS Church’s John Gee) who has accepted Smith’s translation.

On many particulars, the book of Abraham is consistent with historical knowledge about the ancient world. Some of this knowledge, which is discussed later in this essay, had not yet been discovered or was not well known in 1842. But even this evidence of ancient origins, substantial though it may be, cannot prove the truthfulness of the book of Abraham any more than archaeological evidence can prove the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt or the Resurrection of the Son of God. The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost.

This claim is very similar to one made in a 2000 church manual:

The Prophet Joseph Smith never communicated his method of translating these records. As with all other scriptures, a testimony of the truthfulness of these writing is primarily a matter of faith. The greatest evidence of the truthfulness of the book of Abraham is not found in an analysis of physical evidence nor historical back­ground, but in prayerful consideration of its contents and power. (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual – Religion 327, 2000, p. 28).

Ahh, so here we have it. Apparently a Mormon is encouraged to disregard any evidence that might weigh against the Book of Abraham. Let’s take the examples given in the essay regarding archaeological evidence:

  • Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: Of course, we have no archaeological evidence from the Exodus, nor would we expect to find anything. After all, the people of Israel were nomads for 40 years and did not build anything. Nothing will ever be found to support this biblical story. It’s interesting that this example is used. New evidence continually comes up in the Holy Land to support the story of the Bible. (For examples of evidence found in 2013, see here.) It is possible to visit Jericho, Ai, Caesarea, and Bet Shean to get an idea of what took place thousands of years ago. Certainly an element of faith is needed to accept the events and people talked about in the Bible, but the historical/archaeological evidence is a huge support. In fact, there is much more to support the Bible than the Book of Mormon, for that matter!
  • The Resurrection: Talk about evidence! According to Paul in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians:

3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

There is good historical evidence for the resurrection. Of course, it still takes faith. But the leap of faith is a jump into the light, not the darkness. (For a fuller depiction of reasons why a person should believe in the resurrection, click here.)

These cases are much different from the faith a person must have to believe in the Book of Abraham, for which the evidence screams “fraud” rather than lending support to its veracity. The Bible is very clear that we must “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21). Indeed, we are supposed to “test the spirits to see if they are true for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount how there are many false prophets masquerading as sheep when they are really ravenous wolves. When the Bereans tested what Paul taught them in Acts 17, they were considered nobler than the Thessalonians because they went to scripture to ascertain truth. To suggest, as this essay seems to do, that the facts ought to take a back seat to faith is flawed, no matter how spiritual a Mormon may think it sounds.

At this point, I want to bring something up about the language. The Jews in those days spoke Hebrew. There is no evidence a Jew ever wrote using Egyptian hieroglyphics. It would seem that Moses—who authored the Pentateuch—is the more likely candidate to have written in Egyptian since he grew up in the palace of Pharaoh! Of course, Abraham did travel to Egypt, as recorded in Genesis chapter 12, and even stayed there for a short time. But this was not the land of his friends and family. Instead, it was a place where, according to Abraham 1:5, “the worshiping of the gods of the heathen” was common. Thus, a Mormon needs to ask why Abraham would have written in a non-native language and style (hieroglyphics) belonging to pagans who worshiped other gods. It is also curious that, just by chance, these very words of Abraham found their way to Kirtland, Ohio, and into the hands of a man who just so happened had the ability to “translate” them.

Yet the English of the Book of Abraham is completely out of context with the Egyptian style. Dr. Ritner explains that the “translation” provided by Smith is just like trying to mix Chinese and Ethiopian:

The narrative style of the Book of Abraham does not correspond to Egyptian verbiage. It’s not the kind of thing Egyptians would say, they wouldn’t say it in that way, and it certainly would never appear in that way in a context such as this. It couldn’t possibly be more out of place.  (The Lost Book of Abraham, 40 minutes in)

We’ll consider more details that are detrimental to the Book of Abraham, and when everything is put together, the chances the Book of Abraham is authentic scripture lands between slim and none.

The Book of Abraham as Scripture

Thousands of years ago, the prophet Nephi learned that one purpose of the Book of Mormon was to “establish the truth” of the Bible. In a similar way, the book of Abraham supports, expands, and clarifies the biblical account of Abraham’s life.

In the biblical account, God covenants with Abraham to “make of thee a great nation.” The book of Abraham provides context for that covenant by showing that Abraham was a seeker of “great knowledge” and a “follower of righteousness” who chose the right path in spite of great hardship. He rejected the wickedness of his father’s household and spurned the idols of the surrounding culture, despite the threat of death.

In the Bible, God’s covenant with Abraham appears to begin during Abraham’s life. According to the book of Abraham, the covenant began before the foundation of the earth and was passed down through Adam, Noah, and other prophets. Abraham thus takes his place in a long line of prophets and patriarchs whose mission is to preserve and extend God’s covenant on earth. The heart of this covenant is the priesthood, through which “the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal” are conveyed.

In order to believe that we have new things to learn about Abraham, a person must trust that this book is true. To get to this point, Joseph Smith must be trusted. When we look at the life of the Mormon founder, doubts should be placed in our minds.

The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible. Life did not begin at birth, as is commonly believed. Prior to coming to earth, individuals existed as spirits. In a vision, Abraham saw that one of the spirits was “like unto God.” This divine being, Jesus Christ, led other spirits in organizing the earth out of “materials” or preexisting matter, not ex nihilo or out of nothing, as many Christians later came to believe. Abraham further learned that mortal life was crucial to the plan of happiness God would provide for His children: “We will prove them herewith,” God stated, “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,” adding a promise to add glory forever upon the faithful. Nowhere in the Bible is the purpose and potential of earth life stated so clearly as in the book of Abraham.

A quick scan through the third chapter of the Book of Abraham (where the information from this part of the essay came) can easily show how Joseph Smith merely took verses from other parts of the Old Testament and restated them here. Writes Marquardt,

While dictating the Book of Abraham (what is now chapter 2) Joseph Smith used the KJV Genesis as a guide and text for part of his story. The actual wording in the story suggests the use of Genesis in composing this work. This would indicate that the wording dictated was basically a copying effort of a preestablished text. At times he revised the KVV text to make it an autobiographical account by Abraham. The wording as printed in the KJV was used as part of the text Abraham supposedly wrote by his own hand. It is clear that Joseph Smith had the Bible open to the book of Genesis as he dictated this section of the Book of Abraham. (The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844, 402.)

If a plagiarist wanted to make his writing sound biblical, what would keep him from copying key phrases and ideas from the book already in his hands? Consider, for example, the following:

2:11: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee.” (Compare Genesis 12:3.)

3:11: “ Thus I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made.” Compare with Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:8

3:14: “And it was in the night time when the Lord spake these words unto me: I will multiply thee, and thy seed after thee, like unto these; and if thou canst count the number of sands, so shall be the number of thy seeds.” Compare with Genesis 22:17.

3:23: “And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; 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; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.” Compare with Jeremiah 1:5.

3:27: “And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.” Compare with Isaiah 6:8.

But there are other odds parts to the Book of Abraham. For example, in Abraham 1:10, it reads, “Even the thank-offering of a child did the priest of Pharaoh offer upon the altar which stood by the hill called Potiphar’s Hill, at the head of the plain of Olishem.” (Also see verse 20.) Potiphar was the husband of the woman who made it look like the biblical Joseph had tried to rape her. This event took place several generations after Abraham. Perhaps this hill could have been named after another “Potiphar.” But I have no doubt that Joseph got this name from the Bible.

In Abraham 1:16, it reads, “And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee, and to take thee away from thy father’s house, and from all thy kinsfolk, into a strange land which thou knowest not of.” And Abraham 2:8 says, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.” It must be understood that Jehovah is an English word. It is not found in the Bible, as it is neither Greek or Hebrew. Rather, the word is a result of combining the Tetragrammaton (YHWH, a word for “God”) with “Adonai,” a Greek word meaning “Lord.” Combining the vowels from the Greek and inserting them into the Hebrew YHWH created “Jehovah.” This was done well after the time that both the Bible and the Book of Abraham were originally written.  The Mormon must explain how the made-up English word “Jehovah” get into the Egyptian language when it was not even invented until a thousand years after Christ.

In 2:16-17, it reads, “Therefore, eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation, as we journeyed from Haran by the way of Jershon, to come to the land of Canaan. Now I, Abraham, built an altar in the land of Jershon.” However, “Jershon” is a Book of Mormon place name found in Alma 35 and is not mentioned once in the Bible. Neither Abraham nor Moses would have had knowledge of New World names.  Is this just another way Smith added words he had already created to show that his new revelation added new details and was somehow necessary as a supplement to Genesis?

Abraham 2:22-24 reads:

And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a very fair woman to look upon; Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say—She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thy soul shall live.

According to the Book of Abraham, God told Abraham to lie. If true, this leads to two problems:

1)      God is culpable of lying because he told someone (Abraham) to do this.

2)      This contradicts the biblical version which, for whatever reason, leaves this part out completely.

The use of “gods”

Then, referring to the creation of the world in Abraham chapter 4 and 5, Abraham moves to the plural use of “gods” (i.e. “the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth,” “the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters,” “and they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright,” “and the Gods called the light Day,” and “and the Gods ordered the expanse”), using the plural instead of the singular for the creation of the world. Indeed, the Hebrew “Elohim” is plural, but no reputable translator has ever translated this word as “gods.”

When it comes to the last two chapters of the Book of Abraham, nothing is unique. In fact, Abraham 4 and Genesis 1 are parallel.

The Creation: Comparing Genesis 1 and Abraham 4

Abraham 4:1: “And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Abraham 4:2: “And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate, because they had not formed anything but the earth; and darkness reigned upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of the Gods was brooding upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

Abraham 4:3: “And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light; and there was light.”

Genesis 1:3: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

Abraham 4:4: “And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.”

Genesis 1:4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Abraham 4:5: “And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night. And it came to pass that from the evening until morning they called night; and from the morning until the evening they called day; and this was the first, or the beginning, of that which they called day and night.”

Genesis 1:5: And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”

Abraham 4:6: “And the Gods also said: Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and it shall divide the waters from the waters.”

Genesis 1:6: “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”

 Abraham 4:7:  “And the Gods ordered the expanse, so that it divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so, even as they ordered.”

Genesis 1:7: And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.”

Abraham 4:8 “And the Gods called the expanse, Heaven. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and this was the second time that they called night and day.”

Genesis 1:8: “And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Abraham 4:9: “And the Gods ordered, saying: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the earth come up dry; and it was so as they ordered;

Genesis 1:9: “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.”

 Abraham 4:10: “And the Gods pronounced the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, pronounced they, Great Waters; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed.”

Genesis 1:10: “And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Abraham 4:11:  “And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass; the herb yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness upon the earth; and it was so, even as they ordered.”

Genesis 1:11: “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.”

Abraham 4:12: “And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass from its own seed, and the herb to bring forth herb from its own seed, yielding seed after his kind; and the earth to bring forth the tree from its own seed, yielding fruit, whose seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed.”

Genesis 1:12:“And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

Abraham 4:13: “And it came to pass that they numbered the days; from the evening until the morning they called night; and it came to pass, from the morning until the evening they called day; and it was the third time.”

Genesis 1:13: “And the evening and the morning were the third day.

Abraham 4:14: “And the Gods organized the lights in the expanse of the heaven, and caused them to divide the day from the night; and organized them to be for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years;”

Genesis 1:14: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.”

Abraham 4:15: “And organized them to be for lights in the expanse of the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so.”

Genesis 1:15: “And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.”

Abraham 4:16: “And the Gods organized the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; with the lesser light they set the stars also;”

Genesis 1:16: “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.”

Abraham 4:17-18: “And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.”

Genesis 1:17-18: “And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.”

Abraham 4:19: “And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time.”

Genesis 1:19: “And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.”

Abraham 4:20: “And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life; and the fowl, that they may fly above the earth in the open expanse of heaven.”

Genesis 1:20: “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”

Abraham 4:21: “And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters were to bring forth abundantly after their kind; and every winged fowl after their kind. And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good.”

Genesis 1:21: “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

Abraham 4:22: “And the Gods said: We will bless them, and cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas or great waters; and cause the fowl to multiply in the earth.”

Genesis 1:22: “And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.”

Abraham 4:23: “And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and it was the fifth time.”

Genesis 1:23: “And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.”

Abraham 4:24: “And the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind; and it was so, as they had said.”

Genesis 1:24: “And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.”

Abraham 4:25: “And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind; and the Gods saw they would obey.”

Genesis 1:25: “And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”

Abraham 4:26-27: “And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness; and we will give them dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.”

Genesis 1:26-27: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Abraham 4:28: “And the Gods said: We will bless them. And the Gods said: We will cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Genesis 1:28: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Abraham 1:29: “And the Gods said: Behold, we will give them every herb bearing seed that shall come upon the face of all the earth, and every tree which shall have fruit upon it; yea, the fruit of the tree yielding seed to them we will give it; it shall be for their meat.”

Genesis 1:29: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

Abraham 4:30: “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, behold, we will give them life, and also we will give to them every green herb for meat, and all these things shall be thus organized.”

Genesis 1:30: “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.”

Abraham 4:31: “And the Gods said: We will do everything that we have said, and organize them; and behold, they shall be very obedient. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and they numbered the sixth time.”

Genesis 1:31: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

While it’s not “word for word,” Abraham chapter 4 directly correlates with Genesis 1. A coincidence? Obviously not. Smith was intent on changing the singular God with the plural “Gods.” And at the end of each of the days, he used the same formula. Yet Joseph Smith had a chance to change Genesis 1 in his Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. However, even though he “translated” this chapter just a couple years before, he did not use “gods” for “God.” In a single stroke, Smith uses the Book of Abraham to contradict both the Bible and, for that matter, the Book of Mormon (which Smith called “the most correct book on earth”).

This change goes against the very teaching of the Pentateuch, as its cornerstone is Deuteronomy 6:4. Called the Shemah, the most important verse in Jewish history clearly states, “Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is one.” Jesus quoted this in Mark 12:29. Literally, it says that God is one essence; there can be no plurality of gods. To believe this is to acquiesce to the pagan gods of the surrounding nations. Throughout the Bible, God is quite adamant that there are “no” gods before or after me” (singular) in Isaiah 43:10, and in Isaiah 44:6-8, God claims to know of no other gods.

Consider Genesis 1:26-27 in relation to Abraham 4:26-27. Bill McKeever explains

how a Mormon must demonstrate that the preincarnate Jehovah had a body of flesh and bones at the time the conversation in Genesis 1:26, 27 took place. Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith admitted that Jesus “did not always have a tangible body” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:11).

A statement issued in 1916 by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve made it clear that, during the preexistence, Christ did not have a tangible body.

“In all His dealings with the human family Jesus the Son has represented and yet represents Elohim His Father in power and authority. This is true of Christ in His preexistent, antemortal, or unembodied state, in the which He was known as Jehovah.” (Messages of the First Presidency 5:31, 32. Also cited in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:720, emphasis mine.)

Speaking in conference in April 1921, Charles W. Penrose noted,

“The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, as Jesus Christ was when he was Jehovah. He was Jehovah from the beginning of the world, according to the history we have in the Old Testament scriptures. He was a personage of spirit, and he came here to the earth that he might be exactly like his brethren and like his Father, and have a body made out of the lower elements of the universe.” (Conference Report, p.12, emphasis mine).

In making a similar distinction between the personages of the LDS godhead, Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote,

“The Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones,’ however, ‘but is a personage of Spirit.’ (D&C 130:22.) He is thus a spirit man, a spirit person, a spirit entity. He lives and moves and has his being separate and apart from his fellow Gods. His spirit body is in all respects comparable to the kind of a body that the Lord Jehovah possessed before that beloved and chosen one made flesh his tabernacle by the process of mortal birth.” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, pp.253, 254, emphasis mine.)

Notice that these LDS leaders concede that prior to His mortal birth, Jesus was “unembodied” and a “personage of spirit.” This is the key to discovering the error so many Mormons make when it comes to the Genesis passages. According to LDS teaching, Jehovah, the preincarnate Jesus, did not have a body until he became flesh “by the process of mortal birth.” That being so, it is wrong for Mormons to assume that the words “image” and “likeness” refer to flesh and bones since the Mormon “Jehovah” (and Mormon “Holy Ghost”) had no such image or likeness when the conversation in Genesis 1:26 took place.

The Creation: Comparing Genesis 2 with Abraham 5

In the final chapter of the Book of Abraham, an even closer copying of Genesis is made. Consider a verse-by-verse comparison:

Abraham 5:1: “And thus we will finish the heavens and the earth, and all the hosts of them.”

Genesis 2:1: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.”

Abraham 5:2: “And the Gods said among themselves: On the seventh time we will end our work, which we have counseled; and we will rest on the seventh time from all our work which we have counseled.”

Genesis 2:2: “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.”

Abraham 5:3: “And the Gods concluded upon the seventh time, because that on the seventh time they would rest from all their works which they (the Gods) counseled among themselves to form; and sanctified it. And thus were their decisions at the time that they counseled among themselves to form the heavens and the earth.”

Genesis 2:3: “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

Abraham 5:4 And the Gods came down and formed these the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were formed in the day that the Gods formed the earth and the heavens,

Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,”

Abraham 5:5: “According to all that which they had said concerning every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew; for the Gods had not caused it to rain upon the earth when they counseled to do them, and had not formed a man to till the ground.”

Genesis 2:5: “And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.”

Abraham 5:6: “But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.”

Genesis 2:6: “But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.”

Abraham 5:7: “And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man’s spirit), and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”

Genesis 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Abraham 5:8: “And the Gods planted a garden, eastward in Eden, and there they put the man, whose spirit they had put into the body which they had formed.”

Genesis 2:8: “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

Abraham 5:8: “And the Gods planted a garden, eastward in Eden, and there they put the man, whose spirit they had put into the body which they had formed.

Genesis 2:8: “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.”

Abraham 5:9: “And out of the ground made the Gods to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; the tree of life, also, in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

Genesis 2:9: “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”

Abraham 5:10: There was a river running out of Eden, to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became into four heads.

Genesis 2:10: “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.”

Abraham 5:11: “And the Gods took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it.”

Genesis 2:15: “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”

Abraham 5:12-13: “And the Gods commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the time that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.”

Genesis 2:16-17: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

Abraham 5:14: “And the Gods said: Let us make an help meet for the man, for it is not good that the man should be alone, therefore we will form an help meet for him.”

Genesis 2:18: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”

Abraham 5:15: “And the Gods caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and they took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in the stead thereof;”

Genesis 2:21: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;”

Abraham 5:16: “And of the rib which the Gods had taken from man, formed they a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

Genesis 2:22: “And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

Abraham 5:17-18: “And Adam said: This was bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; now she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man; Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.

Genesis 2:23-24: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

Abraham 5:19: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”

Genesis 2:25: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”

Abraham 5:20: “And out of the ground the Gods formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof.”

Genesis 2:19: “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”

Abraham 5:21: “And Adam gave names to all cattle, to the fowl of the air, to every beast of the field; and for Adam, there was found an helpmeet for him.”

Genesis 2:20: “And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.”

Considering the parallels between Abraham chapters 3 and 4 and Genesis 1 and 2, it is obvious that Joseph Smith had his King James Version of the Bible open when making his “translation” of the Book of Abraham. The structure is clearly the same, while the main change involves changing the singular “God” into a plurality of gods.

Too many questions remain unanswered:

  • If the book of Genesis was really written in Hebrew and the Book of Abraham in Egyptian, how could the “translations” be so alike?
  • Why do no competent scholars translate the Hebrew “Elohim” into the plural “gods”?
  • If the entire text became corrupted, when did it become corrupted? (Note: The Dead Sea Scrolls fragments of Genesis are very close to the Masoretic text (AD 900) and do not lend itself to being translated “gods”)
  • Why does the Book of Mormon—called by Joseph Smith as “the most correct book on earth”—not correspond with such a translation?

Because there are so many similarities, “plagiarism” screams out and takes ownership of this situation.

Origin of the Book of Abraham

The powerful truths found in the book of Abraham emerged from a set of unique historical events. In the summer of 1835, an entrepreneur named Michael Chandler arrived at Church headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio, with four mummies and multiple scrolls of papyrus. Chandler found a ready audience. Due partly to the exploits of the French emperor Napoleon, the antiquities unearthed in the catacombs of Egypt had created a fascination across the Western world. Chandler capitalized on this interest by touring with ancient Egyptian artifacts and charging visitors a fee to see them.

These artifacts had been uncovered by Antonio Lebolo, a former cavalryman in the Italian army. Lebolo, who oversaw some of the excavations for the consul general of France, pulled 11 mummies from a tomb not far from the ancient city of Thebes. Lebolo shipped the artifacts to Italy, and after his death, they ended up in New York. At some point the mummies and scrolls came into Chandler’s possession.

By the time the collection arrived in Kirtland, all but four mummies and several papyrus scrolls had already been sold. A group of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland purchased the remaining artifacts for the Church. After Joseph Smith examined the papyri and commenced “the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics,” his history recounts, “much to our joy [we] found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham.”

Translation and the Book of Abraham

Joseph Smith worked on the translation of the book of Abraham during the summer and fall of 1835, by which time he completed at least the first chapter and part of the second chapter. His journal next speaks of translating the papyri in the spring of 1842, after the Saints had relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois. All five chapters of the book of Abraham, along with three illustrations (now known as facsimiles 1, 2, and 3), were published in the Times and Seasons, the Church’s newspaper in Nauvoo, between March and May 1842.

The book of Abraham was the last of Joseph Smith’s translation efforts. In these inspired translations, Joseph Smith did not claim to know the ancient languages of the records he was translating. Much like the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s translation of the book of Abraham was recorded in the language of the King James Bible. This was the idiom of scripture familiar to early Latter-day Saints, and its use was consistent with the Lord’s pattern of revealing His truths “after the manner of their [His servants’] language, that they might come to understanding.”

A person could make a translation similar to the King James Version of the Bible, but this wouldn’t mean that the words would be (for the most part) word for word from the translation originally done in 1611. The point made in the following manual ought to be considered, as the LDS teacher is being instructed how to teach the difficulty of “translating” from one language into another:

Write a simple sentence on the board and ask for a volunteer to translate it into any foreign language. Then ask for a volunteer to translate a more difficult sentence (such as Abraham 1:2). Discuss some of the challenges involved in translating writings from one language to another. Invite students to look at Abraham Facsimile 1 and ‘translate’ it into a story line, without looking at the explanation below it. (The Pearl of Great Price Teacher Manual Religion 327, p. 35).

This is exactly right. So here we have two resources: the Bible (Genesis) and the Pearl of Great Price (the Book of Abraham). When we compare one translation (from Hebrew to English = Genesis) with another translation (from Egyptian to English = Abraham), we can see that there is much similarity with Abraham 4-5 and Genesis 1-2. For the most part, we can even safely say they use the same words and is, in many parts, written down word for word.  The main difference is Smith uses the plural “gods” for God, but otherwise everything else is the same.

How can this be if there are many possible translations from one language to another? Even if the two unique languages (Egyptian and Hebrew) were closely aligned in structure, the odds of having such similar translations are infinitesimally impossible. Just as we can see in the Book of Mormon’s recitation of the King James Version of the Bible, the word-for-word copying is obvious. There is no coincidence if plagiarism is involved.

Joseph’s translations took a variety of forms. Some of his translations, like that of the Book of Mormon, utilized ancient documents in his possession. Other times, his translations were not based on any known physical records. Joseph’s translation of portions of the Bible, for example, included restoration of original text, harmonization of contradictions within the Bible itself, and inspired commentary.

Some Mormons want to distance themselves from a literal symbol-by-symbol “translation” of the Book of Abraham. For example, in 1992, two LDS scholars wrote,

“Speculation nevertheless persisted as to the process Joseph may have used in translating the book, including the possibility that even if the papyri were not contemporary with Abraham they contained material that, under inspiration, turned Joseph’s mind back to ancient Egypt and opened it to direct revelation on the experiences of Abraham. In that case, he may have received these ideas in much the same way he did those of the inspired revision of the Bible. In that instance, acting without original documents, the Prophet’s only claim was that by divine inspiration he was able to replace incorrect with correct ideas and restore the original biblical meaning” (James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 1992, p. 77).

Hold on a second. The preface to the Book of Abraham reads,

A translation of some ancient records, that have fallen into our hands—The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. See History of the Church 2:235, 236, 348-35.

Charles Larson makes a good point when he says,

All of these records show that he [Smith] intended the text of the Book of Abraham to be regarded as nothing less than a direct, literal translation, which he had taken from Abraham’s own papyrus record. . . .while Joseph Smith presented himself as able to translate and understand ancient languages, and specifically, while he claimed to have produced the Book of Abraham by translating the ancient Egyptian text from one of his papyrus scrolls, we now know that the Joseph Smith papyri are in fact pagan Egyptian documents unrelated to the biblical Abraham. Furthermore, if, as the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism maintains, Joseph Smith received the Book of Abraham by revelation, not translation, why did he and his followers pay the enormous sum of $2400—over $28,000 in 1992 U.S. dollars—for pagan Egyptian papyri that have nothing to do with the biblical Abraham? (By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, 95)

When the word “translation” is used, it infers that it came directly from the original source.  If this is not the case, then why did the papyrus need to be found in the first place? If Smith could create the proper translation without the actual papyrus (or, for that matter, the gold plates for the Book of Mormon), it seems as if the actual sources just don’t matter.

Some evidence suggests that Joseph studied the characters on the Egyptian papyri and attempted to learn the Egyptian language. His history reports that, in July 1835, he was “continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.” This “grammar,” as it was called, consisted of columns of hieroglyphic characters followed by English translations recorded in a large notebook by Joseph’s scribe, William W. Phelps. Another manuscript, written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, has Egyptian characters followed by explanations.

The relationship of these documents to the book of Abraham is not fully understood. Neither the rules nor the translations in the grammar book correspond to those recognized by Egyptologists today. Whatever the role of the grammar book, it appears that Joseph Smith began translating portions of the book of Abraham almost immediately after the purchase of the papyri. Phelps apparently viewed Joseph Smith as uniquely capable of understanding the Egyptian characters: “As no one could translate these writings,” he told his wife, “they were presented to President Smith. He soon knew what they were.”

Notice what is said: “Neither the rules nor the translations in the grammar book correspond to those recognized by Egyptologists today.” Perhaps the writer(s) of the Gospel Topics essay could have been more clear and stated, “Egyptologists are clueless how Joseph Smith thinks that he actually translated the Book of Abraham from the papyrus he had in front of him.” With a wave of the hand, the writer continues, “Whatever the role of the grammar book…” In essence, the grammar book doesn’t play any role because it was filled with gibberish that nobody in the 1830s could have understood. After all, Egyptology was a new science that didn’t begin until Napoleon’s troops discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799.

Dr. Ritner explains what he calls the “smoking gun” courtesy of Jerald and Sandra Tanner of the Utah Lighthouse Ministry:

Again in contrast to the new LDS statement, it is not true that “no eyewitness account of the translation survives.” Smith’s secretary Warren Parrish wrote in an 1838 letter in the Painesville Republican: “I have set (sic) by his side and penned down the Egyptian hieroglyphicks (sic) as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration from heaven.” Smith’s “divine inspiration” was not, however, divorced from a direct attempt to translate the characters of the Egyptian papyrus, as is clear from surviving manuscript pages of the evolving text of the Book of Abraham. These pages, unmentioned in the new LDS church posting, were published in 1966 in microfilm reproductions and in transcription by Jerald Tanner as Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, Salt Lake City, Utah Lighthouse Ministry. These microfilm pages are the “smoking gun” evidence that resolves the history of the Book of Abraham translation process.

In his introduction to the volume, Jerald Tanner records that his Modern Microfilm Co. was contacted “in the early part of 1965” by a student at the Brigham Young University who had a typed copy of the “Egyptian Alphabet” hand copies, and that “later in the year another man loaned us a microfilm of the original document.” The microfilm reproductions found in the Tanner volume were printed from masters produced “in the early part of 1966,” the same year that the Tanner volume was published. The dates of 1965-1966 are significant, because the microfilm edition contains not only the “Egyptian Alphabet,” but the evolving manuscript pages for the future Book of Abraham as well. These pages contain copies of specific Egyptian text from the “Breathing Permit of Hôr,” column 2. That section of the papyrus was not reproduced in the Book of Abraham or any other publication until the rediscovery of the Smith papyri in New York in 1967 and the publication of sepia photographs in The Improvement Era in January and February of 1968. The copies made in 1965 and 1966, and the 1966 publication by Tanner, cannot then be forgeries since no forger could have had the unknown papyrus as a model to copy. The equation of the Book of Abraham and the “Breathing Permit of Hôr” is thus undeniable, and the source of Smith’s nineteenth century composition is settled. Period.

The Tanner volume that first published these manuscripts is cumbersome to use as it lacks running pagination, but relevant manuscript pages are lettered J through M, with a second series labeled out of order S, R, Q, N, P and O. Exactly like the “Alphabet and Grammar,” the pages include copies of Egyptian script on the left corresponding to lengthy English on the right. But in these texts, the English is the text of the Book of Abraham as it was being modified and would be published, with obvious deletions and revisions in the handwritten English text. Also unlike the “Alphabet and Grammar” hand copies, the Egyptian script on most of these sheets is immediately clear and readily translated by modern Egyptologists. Without question, the translation efforts by Smith and his “scribes” were based directly on Smith’s Egyptian papyri.

The Papyri

After the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo, the Egyptian artifacts remained behind. Joseph Smith’s family sold the papyri and the mummies in 1856. The papyri were divided up and sold to various parties; historians believe that most were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Ten papyrus fragments once in Joseph Smith’s possession ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In 1967, the museum transferred these fragments to the Church, which subsequently published them in the Church’s magazine, the Improvement Era.

The discovery of the papyrus fragments renewed debate about Joseph Smith’s translation. The fragments included one vignette, or illustration, that appears in the book of Abraham as facsimile 1. Long before the fragments were published by the Church, some Egyptologists had said that Joseph Smith’s explanations of the various elements of these facsimiles did not match their own interpretations of these drawings. Joseph Smith had published the facsimiles as freestanding drawings, cut off from the hieroglyphs or hieratic characters that originally surrounded the vignettes. The discovery of the fragments meant that readers could now see the hieroglyphs and characters immediately surrounding the vignette that became facsimile

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments. Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.

Notice the admission: both “Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham.” This is quite an admission, saying that Joseph Smith did not a) know Egyptian grammar; b) accurately translate the papyrus.

Of course, the fragments do not have to be as old as Abraham for the book of Abraham and its illustrations to be authentic.  Ancient records are often transmitted as copies or as copies of copies. The record of Abraham could have been edited or redacted by later writers much as the Book of Mormon prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni revised the writings of earlier peoples. Moreover, documents initially composed for one context can be repackaged for another context or purpose. Illustrations once connected with Abraham could have either drifted or been dislodged from their original context and reinterpreted hundreds of years later in terms of burial practices in a later period of Egyptian history. The opposite could also be true: illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure.

Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some distance from their associated commentary.

Neither the Lord nor Joseph Smith explained the process of translation of the book of Abraham, but some insight can be gained from the Lord’s instructions to Joseph regarding translation. In April 1829, Joseph received a revelation for Oliver Cowdery that taught that both intellectual work and revelation were essential to translating sacred records. It was necessary to “study it out in your mind” and then seek spiritual confirmation. Records indicate that Joseph and others studied the papyri and that close observers also believed that the translation came by revelation. As John Whitmer observed, “Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records.”

Once more, a person’s blind faith is requested. Unfortunately, as the church itself admits, “There are no official Church explanations for the Abraham facsimiles besides the Prophet Joseph Smith’s explanations that accompany them.” (The Pearl of Great Price Teacher Manual: Religion 327, 35.) Knowing if it is a book really written by Abraham requires great faith, as a church history manual says that, “like the Book of Mormon, the book of Abraham is its own evidence that it came about through the gift and power of God.” (Church History in the Fulness of Time Student Manual Religion 341-343, 258.)

The Mormon is instructed to believe the prophet because he says he’s a prophet who 1) saw God; 2) was given the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham and “translated” these; and 3) received direct revelation from God (D&C). The Bible never requires that we have blind faith. We have evidence to make a wise decision—such as the bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). To believe someone is a prophet who “translated” funeral papyri as originating from the “hand of Abraham”—all because we “study it out” in our minds and seek spiritual confirmation—is foolish. Could Smith be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount?

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. 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.

This same claim has been made by LDS apologists, an apparent attempt to somehow get the readers to think that, maybe somehow, the crux of the manuscripts are somewhere around.

The Book of Abraham

The Book of Abraham is a book of LDS scripture that Joseph Smith translated from a collection of ancient Egyptian papyri the church purchased.[1] The book contains a narrative about some of Abraham's life as well as visions he had concerning the pre-mortal life and the creation. The book contains three facsimiles from the original papyri and Joseph Smith's translations of their images and characters. The Book of Abraham was canonized in 1880 and is part of the Pearl of Great Price. The papyri were believed to have been destroyed until they were rediscovered in 1966.[2]

This 23 minute video is one of the best, most concise and neutral overviews of the Joseph Smith papyri. He gives an excellent summary of the history of the Book of Abraham, the problems and the apologetic explanations. The Joseph Smith Papyri

Overview of LDS position

As is made clear by the introduction to the Book of Abraham, the church maintains that, regardless of what the surviving facsimiles and scrolls indicate, the Book of Abraham is a sacred book of scripture and was written by the hand of Abraham.[3] It is taught alongside the Old Testament in Sunday School, included in the curriculum for institute and taught in church universities for the Pearl of Great Price religion courses. Since it contains teachings about the pre-mortal life, some of the mysteries of God, and the eternal nature of spirits, it is a vital part of LDS canon. Most active Latter-day Saints are unaware of any controversy surrounding the book.

Overview of Critics' position

LDS critics point out that, since the original Papyri have been examined by both LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists and both groups have indicated clearly that the scrolls are funerary texts that have nothing to do with Abraham or anything mentioned in the LDS scripture,[4] the Book of Abraham cannot have been translated from the scrolls as Joseph Smith claims and is therefore a false book of scripture. Also, since the translations of the facsimiles were taken from copies of the original papyri and each contains such blatant translation errors as listing drawings of women as men and canopic jars as idols, critics reject the claim made by apologists that the Book of Abraham was translated from scrolls that were lost. Even more blatant, is that Joseph identified specific characters on the facsimiles and gave their translations that Egyptologists say are completely in error.

References

  1. "The book of Abraham," The Guide to the Scriptures, "Abraham." (found at the bottom of the page)Link is here.
  2. "What Happened to the Mummies and the Papyri?" The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, (2000), 28–41. Link is here.
  3. Book of Abraham heading Link is here.
  4. Why doesn't the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price? "I Have a Question," Ensign, July 1988. Link is here.

Contents for this page

Introduction

Member beliefs

The 1856 challenge

The 1912 challenge

Facsimile comparisons

Not all papyri destroyed

Joseph's Egyptian Grammar

BOA doctrine

RLDS BOA perspective

The Book of Joseph

Joseph's translating accuracy

BOA's astronomy

The Book of Abraham text

Smith's 5 BOA sources

Responses by LDS faithful

Official LDS response

LDS Scholars not leadership

Final LDS argument?

LDS apologists' stance

Non-LDS Egyptologist examines

LDS Egyptologists' credentials?

Rationalizations to explain

Faithful LDS don't care?

Papyri translation

Length of missing papyri

BYU professor videos

Critics' summary

Editor's comments

Links

Member beliefs

In July of 1835, a traveling showman named Michael Chandler brought an exhibit of four Egyptian mummies and papyri to Kirtland Ohio, then the home of the Latter-day Saints. The papyri contained Egyptian hieroglyphics which intrigued the prophet Joseph Smith. As prophet and seer of the Church, Joseph was given permission to look at the papyri scrolls in the exhibit, upon which he pronounced a marvelous discovery:

"… with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commence the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. - a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth." (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 236).

Astounded by their good fortune in finding not only the writings of the biblical patriarch Abraham, but also those of Joseph of Egypt, several members of the Church pooled their money and bought the papyri and mummies for $2,400. After about seven years, Joseph finished the translation of the scroll which he called the Book of Abraham, but he died before translating the Book of Joseph scroll.

Wilford Woodruff recorded in his diary on February 19, 1842 that the Book of Abraham was literally written by Abraham himself. This would make the Book of Abraham the only existing original copy of a scriptural book. It would also date the record of Abraham (about 2,000 B.C.) to some 500 years prior to the Book of Genesis authored by Moses, between 1440-1400 B.C.

"Joseph the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light through the mercy of God." (Diary of Wilford Woodruff, entry of February 19, 1842, LDS archives; also in Jay M. Todd, The Saga of the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1969), p. 221)

The Book of Abraham is believed by the LDS church to have been written by Abraham himself, as shown in the preface to the Book of Abraham:

"THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM

TRANSLATED FROM THE PAPYRUS, BY JOSEPH SMITH

A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. - The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus."

Beginning in March, 1842, the LDS publication Times and Seasons began publishing regular bi-weekly installments of the text of the Book of Abraham, including woodcuts of three "Facsimiles" of the most significant illustrations in the collection of material that had been with the mummies. From that point until his death in 1844, Joseph used the Book of Abraham material in sermons, lectures and other writings. In 1851 it was printed in pamphlet form in England as part of a small collection of Joseph's writings entitled 'The Pearl of Great Price'. In 1878, the LDS church in the U.S. republished it again in similar form. And in 1880, the Book of Abraham, by unanimous vote of LDS authorities, was "canonized" as official scripture of the LDS Church.

The Question Many LDS Members May Have

The Book of Mormon plates that were used by Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon were taken back by the Angel Moroni so accepting that scripture as divinely translated is mostly a matter of pure faith. However, since the Egyptian papyri that Joseph used to produce the Book of Abraham scripture still remained on the earth then it would be possible for others to examine these documents. Since the Egyptian hieroglyphics language wasn't understood when Joseph received the papyri, Egyptologists could not verify that Joseph's translation of the Book of Abraham was correct. So the logical question that many Latter-day Saints, living in more modern times, have had is 'why don't we let Egyptologists, who now understand Egyptian, look at the papyri and see if Joseph was correct in his translation?'

The answer usually given is that the papyri were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

After Smith's death in 1844, the papyrus became the property of his first wife, Emma. In the dispute over who was to inherit the role of Prophet in the LDS Church, Emma Smith refused to recognize the leadership of Brigham Young. Thus when the saints headed west to Utah under Young's leadership, they went without Emma, and without the papyrus. Emma's son Joseph Smith III later became the first Prophet of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). And at some point, Emma donated the papyrus to a museum in Chicago. When the museum burned down in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, it was assumed by all that the papyrus had been burnt up with it.

What about the Facsimiles?

The three facsimile's that are in every copy of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, were copied from the Egyptian papyri before they were destroyed so they could be provided to Egyptologists to get their opinion on Joseph's interpretations of the scenes described by Joseph under each facsimile. Faithful Latter-day Saints may be directed to such works as "The Encyclopedia of Mormonism" and find a statement by an actual LDS Egyptologist named Michael Rhodes who states:

"Moreover, the Prophet's explanations of each of the facsimiles accord with present understanding of Egyptian religious practices."

So given the above information, the Book of Abraham, as contained in the Pearl of Great Price, serves to provide us with an additional witness as to the divinity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

References

  • History of the Church, Vol. 2.
  • History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534.
  • LDS Official Web site: Link is here.

Significant details & problems that most LDS are not aware of - per critics of the church

Egyptologists have examined the Facsimiles since 1856

With the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, it finally became possible for scholars to decipher the Egyptian language. This in turn enabled the experts to objectively evaluate Joseph's translation of the papyri. The papyri themselves were thought to have been destroyed in the "Great Chicago Fire" in 1871. However, Egyptologists could still study the three Facsimiles included in the Book of Abraham as well as Joseph's translation of these Facsimiles.

With the papyrus gone, the only evidences of what was on the original were the three wood-cut printings of the Facsimiles.

Copies of the Book of Abraham from 1835 to today have included Facsimile 1 as shown here, including the detailed description below it by Joseph of what he believed to be portrayed in the illustration:

A FACSIMILE FROM

THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM

No. 1

EXPLANATION

  • Fig. 1. The Angel of the Lord.
  • Fig. 2. Abraham fastened upon an altar.
  • Fig. 3. The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice.
  • Fig. 4. The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh.
  • Fig. 5. The idolatrous god of Elkenah.
  • Fig. 6. The idolatrous god of Libnah.
  • Fig. 7. The idolatrous god of Mahmackrah.
  • Fig. 8. The idolatrous god of Korash.
  • Fig. 9. The idolatrous god of Pharaoh.
  • Fig. 10. Abraham in Egypt.
  • Fig. 11. Designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians.
  • Fig. 12. Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament over our heads; but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens, answering to the Hebrew word, Shaumahyeem.
Reference

The Book of Abraham includes Facsimile 2 as shown here, complete with the description and explanation that Smith gave to its contents.

A FACSIMILE FROM
THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
No. 2

EXPLANATION

  • Fig. 1. Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which is called by the Egyptians Jah-oh-eh.
  • Fig. 2. Stands next to Kolob, called by the Egyptians Oliblish, which is the next grand governing creation near to the celestial or the place where God resides; holding the key of power also, pertaining to other planets; as revealed from God to Abraham, as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he had built unto the Lord.
  • Fig. 3. Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.
  • Fig. 4. Answers to the Hebrew word Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament of the heavens; also a numerical figure, in Egyptian signifying one thousand; answering to the measuring of the time of Oliblish, which is equal with Kolob in its revolution and in its measuring of time.
  • Fig. 5. Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.
  • Fig. 6. Represents this earth in its four quarters.
  • Fig. 7. Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.
  • Fig. 8. Contains writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.
  • Fig. 9. Ought not to be revealed at the present time.
  • Fig. 10. Also.
  • Fig. 11. Also. If the world can find out these numbers, so let it be. Amen.
  • Figures 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 will be given in the own due time of the Lord.

The above translation is given as far as we have any right to give at the present time.

Reference

The Book of Abraham contains Facsimile 3 as shown here, including the descriptive material provided by Joseph Smith:

A FACSIMILE FROM
THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
No. 3

EXPLANATION

  • Fig. 1. Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh's throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand.
  • Fig. 2. King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.
  • Fig. 3. Signifies Abraham in Egypt as given also in Figure 10 of Facsimile No. 1.
  • Fig. 4. Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand.
  • Fig. 5. Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.
  • Fig. 6. Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince.

Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king's court.

Critic's comment: Even the most avid Mormon apologists in modern times have had a difficult time dealing with the obvious fact that figures 2 and 4 above are female figures, yet labeled by Joseph as Pharaoh and his son. Joseph's claims for this illustration were challenged as early as 1856:

The 1856 Challenge

Excerpt from Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, p. 25

It was sometime during the year 1856, about five years after the Pearl of Great Price had been printed in England, when one of the small pamphlets found its way to the Louvre in Paris. There the facsimiles from the Book of Abraham, together with Joseph's accompanying explanations, were brought to the attention of M. Theodule Deveria. As one of the pioneers in the field of Egyptology, Deveria was asked to offer any comments on them he cared to make.

To Deveria the project probably did not seem worth the minimal effort it would require. However, he proceeded, and immediately recognized all three drawings as copies of rather common Egyptian funerary documents, of which he had examined hundreds. To be sure, most of the hieroglyphic and hieratic figures had been too poorly transcribed to be of much use for translation, and some elements in several of the drawings appeared to Deveria to be guesswork, probably incorrect restorations of missing sections of the original papyri. Still, most of the major elements fit very well into the established pattern associated with Egyptian mythology and the preparation of common funerary documents. Enough of the writing was legible for Deveria to decipher the names and titles of various Egyptian gods and goddesses, and on one of the drawings (Facsimile No. 3) he was able to determine the name of the deceased Egyptian for whom the scroll had originally been prepared. Concerning Facsimile No. 3 he wrote:

The deceased led by Ma into the presence of Osiris. His name is Horus, as may be seen in the prayer which is at the bottom of the picture, and which is addressed to the divinities of the four cardinal points.

Deveria dismissed Joseph's explanations as rambling nonsense. His comments first appeared in French in a two-volume work by Jules Remy entitled Voyage au Pays des Mormons (Paris, 1860).

Here's a book from the 1800s that compares Joseph's translations with Deveria:

Joseph Smith, His Family and Friends

The 1912 Challenge

More caustic comments were made about Smith's interpretations of the pictures in the Facsimiles in 1912:

From: Larson, p. 27-28

At least that was how the Rt. Reverend Franklin S. Spalding, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, saw the situation in 1912. It was in that year that he decided to send copies of the three facsimiles from the Book of Abraham to some of the world's leading scholars of Egyptology, asking each for an independent assessment of Joseph Smith's interpretations.

The eight Egyptologists and Semitists who responded were unanimous in their scathing verdict: "Joseph Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end," came the report from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which added that "five minutes study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture;" "… difficult to deal seriously with Smith's impudent fraud," wrote another from Oxford, England. "Smith has turned the Goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham." From Chicago, "… very clearly demonstrates that he (Joseph Smith) was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian Writing and civilization." And from London, "… the attempts to guess a meaning are too absurd to be noticed. It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations."

On and on the critiques went, giving the most comprehensive portrayal ever assembled of exactly what Joseph's papyri actually were: common Egyptian funerary texts.

And then came the challenge from Mormons, expressed by one Mormon writer:

In 1913, Mormon writer John Henry Evans pointed out in an article in the Church-sanctioned Improvement Era, that less than one-seventh of the whole Book of Abraham was represented by the facsimile portion, and even that only as an accompaniment to the text. Evans argued that in order to give a fair test of Joseph's true ability to translate Egyptian, and before the scholars could get away with charging that the entire Book of Abraham was a false translation, "they would have to examine the original papyrus, or a copy of it, from which the Book of Abraham was translated." (Larson, p. 28)

Evans' challenge, which he no doubt believed an impossibility at the time, was to come back to haunt the LDS Church.

New York Times article from 1912

To read article: utlm.org

Comparison of the facsimiles as interpreted by Joseph and what Egyptologists say they mean

Facsimile #1 was rediscovered almost a century after it was lost. Facsimile 1 was found in the Metropolitan Museum of New York in 1966. More on this in the next sub section. This subsection is taken from Kevin Mathie's writings where he analyzes the facsimiles from the BOA with what Egyptologists say they mean.

Examining the Book of Abraham
Chapter 6

by Kevin Mathie


Translation of Egyptian Symbols — The Breathing Permit of Hôr

So, now that we have the original Egyptian document, what does it say? Does it corroborate Joseph Smith's production of the Book of Abraham? Does it date to Abraham's day, and are we actually looking at Abraham's handwriting, since, according to the preface of the current edition of the Book of Abraham, the book was written "by his own hand"?

Let's start with Facsimile #1, which, as it turns out, is the very beginning of the scroll of papyrus. Ever since Deveria, Egyptologists have long insisted that this scene depicts the embalming of a deceased person, with strong allusions to the Osiris myth, rather than portraying a human sacrifice. Ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died, he/she must make a journey to Osiris. To aid them on their way, priests included in their coffins documents with magic spells that would aid the deceased, with the help of their guide Anubis (a jackal-headed god), through the afterlife with their five senses intact, into the presence of Osiris. These spells and diagrams are all part of what is collectively known as the Book of the Dead. Not all the spells and diagrams were used for any one person. On the contrary, different people would have different spells and diagrams buried with them.

Facsimile #1 is the beginning of this deceased man's "breathing permit". The scene depicts the mythical embalming and resurrection of Osiris, an Egyptian god. Early Egyptians believed that the deceased actually became Osiris, and so it was common to refer to the deceased as Osiris so-and-so. In this case, we can read from the text that this man's name was Hôr.

Below is Facsimile #1 as it's published in the Book of Abraham. According to the text itself, the purpose for its inclusion was to augment the reader's understanding of Egyptian gods.

That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics. (Abr. 1:14)

To aid in our understanding of the individual figures, Joseph numbered twelve of the images and offered his interpretation as to what they meant.

Facsimile No. 1

Below is a comparison between Joseph's interpretations and our current Egyptological understanding of these images.

Figure #Joseph SmithEgyptology
Figure 1 The Angel of the Lord. Egyptologists see this as the "ba" of the deceased. The ba is basically a person's personality — all of his/her non-physical attributes. Therefore, ancient Egyptians would have recognized this figure as the "ba" of Hôr (the deceased priest), who is also figure 2. It would normally have a human head instead of a bird's head.
Figure 2 Abraham fastened upon an alter This is, as we've already discussed, actually the deceased with whom this papyrus was found. His name is Hôr.
Figure 3 The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice.

There has been a little bit of controversy over the years regarding this figure. Prior to the papyri's recovery in 1968, Egyptologists had been puzzled that there was a man with a man's head standing over the deceased. It was so atypical. Normally, during other similar scenes, this figure would have a jackal's head and would have represented the god of embalming, Anubis. During the controversy at the beginning of the 20th century (before the original papyri had resurfaced) Egyptologists generally said this figure was probably representing a priest doing the actual embalming — which was odd for an ancient document of this sort, but interesting.

Now, however, we realize that where the picture begins to go awry is the exact place where it is damaged in the original (see a close-up in footnote 2). How do we know that it wasn't damaged after Joseph Smith's time? Because the scroll was originally rolled up. Any substantial damage to the outside could have "bled through", so to speak, to the inside layers. And, in fact, this is exactly what happened. When looking at the scroll all laid out, you can see a repeating pattern of damage that retains its basic shape, but gets smaller toward what would have been the inner layers. Facsimile #1 would have been at the beginning of the scroll, so the damage luckily wasn't as great, but it reflects the same damage pattern as can be seen on the outer layers of the scroll.

This, along with other indicators, such as the black coloring, the type of clothing, the context, etc., allows us to recognize Figure 2 as Anubis, the god of embalming, and the god who helps the deceased along in the afterlife.

Figure 4 The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh. In reality, this is a "lion couch" — simply a funeral bier. You can see this in many funeral scenes in ancient Egyptian art. Human sacrifice was never practiced in Egypt (except possibly very early in Egyptian history (1st Dynasty) and possibly in Egyptian pre-history, all of which would have pre-dated Abraham by a very, very long time). Therefore, an "altar for sacrifice" for humans would have been unknown to Egyptians.
Figure 5-8 The idolatrous god[s] of Elkenah… Libnah… Mahmackrah… Korash… Pharaoh.

First of all, there are no gods called "Elkenah," "Libnah," "Mahmackrah," or "Korash" in the 5000+ years of Egypt's recorded history. And, as we will discuss later, the word "Pharaoh" may not have even existed in Abraham's day, depending on when Abraham would have lived.

Secondly, these figures are extremely well-known in ancient Egyptian funeral scenes. They are canopic jars containing the deceased's internal organs that were always removed during the embalming process. They represent the four sons of the god Horus, who are: (fig. 5) Qebehseneuf — receives the intestines, (fig. 6) Duamutef — receives the stomach, (fig. 7) Hapy — receives the lungs, and (fig. 8) Imsety — receives the liver.

Figure 9 The idolatrous god of Pharaoh.

Stephen E. Thompson, professor of Egyptology at Brown University and member of the LDS Church, identifies this crocodile as representing the god Horus. While Sobek is often portrayed in the form of a crocodile, (see this link on Sobek) in the case of this re-enactment of the Osiris-myth, it would be more appropriate to identify this figure as Horus. As Klaus Baer noted:

The versions of the Osiris myth differ in telling how Seth disposed of Osiris after murdering him, but he was commonly believed to have cut Osiris into little pieces, which he scattered into the Nile, leaving Isis the task of fishing out and assembling the parts of her brother and husband so that he could be resurrected and beget Horus. In this she was helped by Horus in the shape of a crocodile, who is represented in the water (the zigzags) below the vignette….

Möller… discusses the occasionally attested practice of having a small (and prudently muzzled) crocodile swim alongside the boat carrying the mummy across the Nile to the cemetery.

Figure 10 Abraham in Egypt. It is actually a libation platform bearing wines, oils and a stylized papyrus plant. In Egyptian art, it is found in almost all drawings of major god figures, and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham.
Figure 11 Designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians. On the contrary, the Egyptians would have seen this as a palace facade, called a "serekh" which, according to Egyptologist Stephen E. Thompson, was a frequent decoration on funerary objects. The "serekh" originally depicted the front of a fortified palace, and the reason it seems to be on the bottom of the picture is due to the way Egyptians would draw in perspective. This fortification would have been seen as being in front of this scene rather than underneath it. In other words, the embalming and resurrection of the Osiris Hôr would have taken place inside the safe confines of the serekh.
Figure 12 Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament over our heads; but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens, answering to the Hebrew word, Shaumahyeem.

First of all, none of these words are Egyptian. They are all Hebrew transliterations — Joseph was studying Hebrew with a Prof. Joshua Seixas at the time he obtained the papyri, and even though Joseph interpreted these figures during the Nauvoo period (after 1838), these transliterations are specifically in Seixas's style.

Secondly, these strokes represent water in which the crocodile swims — which makes sense in this context. If figure #11 is a palace fortification, then these crocodile-infested waters would be a second line of defense against intrusion, keeping the deceased doubly-safe.

Summary of Facsimile 1 by Egyptologist Richard Parker

Statements made by Richard A. Parker, Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and Chairman of the Department of Egyptology at Brown University in the Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 3, no. 2, Summer 1968, p. 86. :

"This is a well-known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with Anubis, the jackal-headed god, on the left ministering to the dead Osiris on the bier. The penciled restoration is incorrect. Anubis should be jackal-headed. The left arm of Osiris is in reality lying at his side under him. The apparent upper hand is part of the wing of a second bird which is hovering over the erect phallus of Osiris (now broken away). The second bird is Isis and she is magically impregnated by the dead Osiris and then later gives birth to Horus who avenges his father and takes over his inheritance. The complete bird represents Nephthys, sister to Osiris and Isis. Beneath the bier are the four canopic jars with heads representative of the four sons of Horus, human-headed Imseti, baboon-headed Hapy, jackal-headed Duamutef and falcon-headed Kebehsenuf. The hieroglyphs refer to burial, etc. …."

Statements made by Klaus Baer, Associate Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute in the Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, pp. 118-119 :

"The vignette on P. JS I is unusual, but parallels exist on the walls of the Ptolemaic temple of Egypt, the closest being the scenes in the Osiris chapels on the roof of the Temple of Dendera. The vignette shows the resurrection of Osiris (who is also the deceased owner of the papyrus) and the conception of Horus. Osiris (2) is represented as a man on a lion-couch (4) attended by Anubis (3), the jackal-headed god who embalmed the dead and thereby assured their resurrection and existence in the hereafter. Below the couch are the canopic jars for the embalmed internal organs. The lids are the four sons of Horus, from the left to right Imset (8), Hapi (7), Qebeh-senuwef (6), and Duwa-mutef (5), who protect the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach, respectively. At the head of the couch is a small offering stand (10) with a jug and some flowers on it and two larger vases on the ground beside it. The ba of Osiris (1) is hovering above his head.

The versions of Osiris myth differ in telling how Seth disposed of Osiris after murdering him, but he was commonly believed to have cut Osiris into small pieces, which he scattered into the Nile, leaving Isis the task of fishing out and assembling the parts of her brother and husband so that he could be resurrected and beget Horus. In this she was helped by Horus in the shape of a crocodile, who is represented in the water (the zigzags) below the vignette (9). Below that is a decorative pattern derived from the niched facade of a protohistoric Egyptian palace.

There are some problems about restoring the missing parts of the body of Osiris. He was almost certainly represented as ithyphallic, ready to beget Horus, as in many of the other scenes at Dendera. I know of no representations of Osiris on a couch with both hands in front of his face. One would expect only one hand in front of his face, while the other was either shown below the body (impossible in P. JS I) or grasping the phallus. It the latter case it would be hard to avoid the suggestion of Professor Richard A. Parker that what looks like the upper hand of Osiris is actually the wingtip of a representation of Isis as a falcon hovering in the act of copulation."

For further explanation, see the following reference:

Reference:Link is here.

Facsimile No. 2

Joseph's Interpretation of Facsimile 2

  • Fig. 1. Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God. First in government, the last pertaining to the measurement of time. The measurement according to celestial time, which celestial time signifies one day to a cubit. One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which is called by the Egyptians Jah-oh-eh.
  • Fig. 2. Stands next to Kolob, called by the Egyptians Oliblish, which is the next grand governing creation near to the celestial or the place where God resides; holding the key of power also, pertaining to other planets; as revealed from God to Abraham, as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he had built unto the Lord.
  • Fig. 3. Is made to represent God, sitting upon his throne, clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood, as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed.
  • Fig. 4. Answers to the Hebrew word Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament of the heavens; also a numerical figure, in Egyptian signifying one thousand; answering to the measuring of the time of Oliblish, which is equal with Kolob in its revolution and in its measuring of time.
  • Fig. 5. Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.
  • Fig. 6. Represents this earth in its four quarters.
  • Fig. 7. Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.
  • Fig. 8. Contains writings that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.
  • Fig. 9. Ought not to be revealed at the present time.
  • Fig. 10. Also.
  • Fig. 11. Also. If the world can find out these numbers, so let it be. Amen.
  • Figures 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21 will be given in the own due time of the Lord.

Egyptologist's Interpretation of Facsimile 2

The facsimile no. 2 is a copy of a hypocephalus, an Egyptian funerary amulet that is placed under the head of the deceased. Its purpose was to keep the head warm.

Sir Wallis Budge, a world renowned Egyptologist, remarked that Joseph Smith's translation of the hypocephalus had "… no archeological value." (The Mummy, A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archeology, by E.A. Wallis Budge, 1989, [first published in 1893], by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, pg. 477.

Facsimile No. 2 has obviously been altered from the original. Missing portions of the facsimile were copied from other pieces of the papyri Joseph Smith had purchased in 1835. The central figure labeled (1) by Joseph Smith appears to have been copied from figure 2 of the same facsimile. Normally the four headed Amen-Re appears in this location. Furthermore, figure 3 is an almost exact copy from the Joseph Smith Papyri IV. Also, portions of the outer circle of the facsimile appear to have been copied from the Sensen text of the Joseph Smith papyri XI. The Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar clearly shows these missing portions. Also, the Sensen (Book of Breathings) text lines up with the border of facsimile no. 2 .

Evaluation of Joseph Smith's Translation of Facsimile No. 2 Text

This information was reproduced from Charles M. Larson's book, By His Own Hand, A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, 1992 page 107.

Joseph Smith Fig. 8 "Contains writing that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 8
"grant that the soul of Osiris Shechonk may live."

Joseph Smith Fig. 9
"Ought not to be revealed at the present time."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 9
"the netherworld (below the earth) and his great waters"

Joseph Smith Fig. 10
"Also" [see above]

Egyptian Translation Fig. 10
"O mighty god, lord of heaven and earth"

Joseph Smith Fig. 11
"Also. [See above] If the world can find out these numbers, so let it be. Amen."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 11
"O god of the sleeping ones from the time of creation" (Note the above phrases make up a single message in the following order- 11, 10, 9, 8.)

Note: A trace of the original hieroglyphic writing from this hypocephalus is visible on the left edge of Fig. 12, 13, 14, and 15, but only the phrase "his words" can be made out at the end of the line in Fig. 15. The remainder of these lines are filled with hieratic writing taken from lines 4 and 5 of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI.

Joseph Smith Fig. 12
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 12
(upside down) "near" and "wrap"

Joseph Smith Fig. 13
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 13
(upside down) "which made by"

Joseph Smith Fig. 14
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 14
(upside down) "breathings"

Joseph Smith Fig. 15
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 15
(upside down) "this book"

Joseph Smith Fig. 16
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 16
"and may this soul and its possessor never be desecrated in the netherworld"

Joseph Smith Fig. 17
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 17
"May this tomb never be desecrated"

Joseph Smith Fig. 18
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 18
Note: Three-fourths of the original hieroglyphics inscription appears to have survived, and counterclockwise reads: "I am Djabty in the house of Benben in Heliopolis, so exalted and glorious. [I am] copulating bull without equal. [I am] that mighty god in the house of Benben of Heliopolis… that might god…"

Joseph Smith Figs. 19,20, and 21
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Figs. 19, 20, and 21
"You shall be as that god, the Busirian."

Figure Number 7

Of particular note is Fig 7 (bottom right shown upside down). Joseph said it represents God sitting upon his throne. Egyptologists say that this is the god "Min." Min is an "ithyphallic god," that is, a sexually aroused male deity. His erect penis is clearly shown. It's interesting to note that in some earlier editions of the BOA the church erased the penis so it wouldn't look pornographic. It has since been restored in our current versions. But isn't it somewhat disturbing that Joseph would say that this pagan god with his exposed penis is our Heavenly Father?

Note, even LDS apologists admit that this figure, with the erect penis, is the god Min. (page 11, last paragraph of the above link). "7. A seated ithyphallic god with a hawk's tail, holding aloft a flail. This is a form of Min"

The following critic's comments are taken from the web site: Link is here.:

Min is Not God!

In this small tract we cannot discuss all the evidence that now exists regarding the Book of Abraham, the papyri that have been found, and the various explanations put forward by defenders of Joseph Smith. Instead, we wish to look at just one aspect of the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2 (found on the front of this tract), and even more specifically, one section of this drawing and what it really means.

Pearl of Great Price, marked and explained by Joseph Smith as figure 7:

Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.

Is this indeed a representation of the one true God sitting upon His throne revealing the grand Key-words of the priesthood? Was Joseph Smith a man ahead of his time, able to decipher Egyptian writings in a time when scholarship was just starting to get a clue on the topic?

The object that Joseph Smith included in the Book of Abraham is, in reality, a "hypocephalus," a common item of Egyptian funeral literature (all of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham are drawn from common Egyptian funerary documents). It was placed under the person's head, and was to aid them in making the journey through the netherworld by bathing their bodies in light. Many examples of this kind of hypocephalus are to be found. One of the many pagan gods pictured in this hypocephalus is shown above as it appears in the current edition of the LDS Scriptures. Egyptologists tell us that this is the god "Min." Min is an "ithyphallic god," that is, a sexually aroused male deity, as the picture clearly indicates. Min is the god of the procreative forces of nature. Joseph Smith told us that the Egyptian god Min was in point of fact the one true God.

And what is Min doing? Joseph tells us that he is revealing the grand Key-words of the priesthood, with the sign of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove before him. In reality, he is holding up the "divine flail" in one hand and is being approached by the figure Joseph Smith identified as the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. In point of fact, Joseph's hypocephalus was damaged at the border so that only the head of the "dove" was visible. So, Joseph had to restore the picture. Did he do so correctly? No, he did not. The figure to the right provides us with the proper scene from another hypocephalus (Leyden AMS 62). The being that is approaching Min is not the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove; it is yet another ithyphallic figure, specifically, a serpent, probably the Egyptian God Nehebka, presenting to Min the wedjat- eye, the symbol of good gifts.

The single LDS scholar who has written the most on the Book of Abraham, Dr. Hugh Nibley, has written of Min:

As the supreme sex symbol of gods and men, Min behaves with shocking promiscuity, which is hardly relieved by its ritual nature…His sacred plants were aphrodisiacal…and he is everywhere represented as indulging in incestuous relationships with those of his immediate family; he had the most numerous and varied religious entourage of all the gods, consisting mostly of his huge harem…The hymns, or rather chanting of his worshippers were accompanied with lewd dancing and carousing…to the exciting stimulus of a band of sistrum-shaking damsels (Abraham in Egypt, p. 210).

It must be remembered that Joseph Smith said that this figure represented God sitting on His throne! Incredible as it may seem, intelligent, well-read LDS are fully aware of the true nature of the hypocephalus, including the presence of Min and Nehebka (the vast majority of LDS, however, are not).How do they explain this? Mormon Egyptologist Michael Dennis Rhodes said,

Joseph Smith mentions here the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove and God 'revealing through the heavens the grand key-words of the priesthood.' The procreative forces, receiving unusual accentuation throughout the representation, may stand for many divine generative powers, not least of which might be conjoined with blessing of the Priesthood in one's posterity eternally (BYU Studies, Spring 1977, p. 273).

In other words, since the God of Mormonism is sexually active, begetting children in the spirit-world (indeed, God's power is often described by Mormons as being made of the power of the priesthood and the power of procreation), and Min is obviously sexually active as well, this then is the "connection."

We believe that Joseph Smith was utterly ignorant of what was represented in the Egyptian papyri that lay before him. Incapable of translating the figures, he made things up as he went along, claiming God's direction and inspiration as his guide. In the process he demonstrated his own inability as a "prophet, seer and revelator," for he grossly misidentified each of the items not only in this Facsimile, but in the other two as well.

Joseph Smith's defenders today seek to find any connection whatsoever between LDS belief and Egyptian religion, even to the point of seeing in the sexually aroused Min a picture of God upon His throne. But to grasp at this straw is to ignore the Biblical testimony to the one true God. Isaiah saw God upon His throne in Isaiah 6:1-10, but instead of an incestuous god, surrounded by lewd dancing girls, the angels surrounded His throne and cried, "Holy, holy, holy." God describes the gods of Egypt as "idols" that tremble before him (Isaiah 9:1); these false gods will literally be captured by God in His wrath (Jeremiah 43:12). God reveals the worship of these gods to be an abomination that brings His wrath (Jeremiah 44:8), and mentions one Egyptian god by name in speaking of the punishment he will bring against Egypt (Jeremiah 46:25). Those who worship such gods are "defiled" in God's sight (Ezekiel 20:7-8). The Bible has nothing but contempt for the gods of Egypt, which would include the abominable figure of Min, identified by Joseph Smith as his God.

We will gladly admit that there is a similarity between the pagan god Min and the Mormon doctrine of God developed in the later years of Joseph Smith's life. What is equally clear is that the God of the Bible is not similar to either Min, nor the LDS God. As God Himself said:

 "To whom will you compare me?"

Isaiah 40:25

Reference:Min is not God

For more information on this topic: UTLM - Religious Pornography

Facsimile No. 3

We know that Facsimile 3 was part of the same scroll as Facsimile 1 because, like the first vignette, it includes the deceased's name: "Osiris Hôr".




This particular scene corresponds to Chapter 125 of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. According to Egyptologists, this scene depicts the deceased (Hôr) successfully completing his afterlife journey and entering into the presence of Osiris.

Figure #Joseph SmithEgyptology
Figure 1 Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh's throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand.

Actually, god-figures in ancient Egyptian art can usually be identified by their headdress as well as the writing associated with the figure. Of course, sometimes a visual identification alone can be a little tricky, due to the ancient Egyptians' propensity to combine god figures, or to show the same god in different aspects. But, in general, each god has a unique headdress that identifies them.

In this case, it's obvious that this figure is Osiris, not only due to the writing above him, but also due to his "atef" crown. The atef crown is a combination of the "Hedjet" (the White Crown of Upper Egypt) and the red feathers of Busiris, Osiris's cult center in the Delta.

The writing above Figure 1 states "Recitation by Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners, Lord of Abydos(?), the great god forever and ever(?).

Figure 2 King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.

This figure is not only a woman, instead of a man, but it is the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris. The object in her hand is probably an ankh (drawn slightly incorrectly), which is the symbol of life and resurrection.

The words above Figure 2 read: "Isis the great, the god's mother".

Figure 3 Signifies Abraham in Egypt" (as given also in Figure 10 of Facsimile No. 1) In reality, this is simply a libation platform present in all drawings containing major god figures. One should note that it is also found in Facsimile #2, figures #2 and #3, who are also gods.
Figure 4 Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand. Again, Joseph got the gender wrong. This is a woman, not a man, and she is the goddess Maat, goddess of justice — identified by the feather on her head and the writing above her hand. She is leading the deceased (figure 5) into the presence of Osiris. The text above Maat reads: "Maat, mistress of the gods."17

Figure 5 Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.

As already mentioned, this is actually the deceased, wearing the traditional cone of perfumed grease and lotus flower on his

head. The figures above his hand identify him as "The Osiris Hôr, justified forever"— which is similar to our saying "the late John Doe", or in this case, "the late Hôr."

Figure 6 Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince. True to his 19th-century American point of view, Joseph identified the only "black" person in the drawing as a slave. However, this figure is undoubtedly Anubis, guide of the dead, who is there to support the deceased. He has helped the deceased complete his journey, and assisted him in the use of the spells that were contained in his funeral book. Reuben Hedlock's rendering is not very good, perhaps because of damage to the original papyrus fragment from which he took the drawing, but Anubis is always black, and always has a jackal's head — in fact, you can still make out the pointed dog ear on the top of his head. The words above Anubis read: "Recitation by Anubis, who makes protection(?), foremost of the embalming booth,…"

Below vignette  The line of characters below the scene read: "O gods of the necropolis, gods of the caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant salvation to the Osiris Hor, the justified, born by Taikhibit."
Above vignette  In ancient Egypt, stars were considered to be the souls of the deceased. It seems clear that we are entering the afterlife in this vignette, rejoining the souls that have entered before us.

Summary of Facsimile 3 from Egyptologist Klaus Baer

Facsimile No. 3 is a depiction of a common funerary scene.

Egyptologist Klaus Baer provides this information about facsimile No. 3 in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, pp. 126-127:

Facsimile No. 3 shows a man (5) his hand raised in adoration and a cone of perfumed grease and a lotus flower on his head (ancient Egyptian festival attire), being introduced by Maat (4), the goddess of justice, and Anubis (6), the guide of the dead, into the presence of Osiris (1), enthroned as king of the Netherworld. Behind Osiris stands Isis (2), and in front of him is an offering-stand (3) with a jug and some flowers on it. Over the whole scene is a canopy with stars painted on it to represent the sky.

The scene comes from a mortuary papyrus and is similar to, but not identical with the scenes showing judgment of the deceased before Osiris such as P. JS III. It is a summary in one illustration of what the Breathing Permit promised: The deceased, after successfully undergoing judgment is welcomed into the presence of Osiris.

The texts, poorly copied as they are, carry us one step further. As far as it can be made out, the line of hieroglyphics below the scene reads.

'O Gods of …, gods of Caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant well-being to Osiris Hor, justified, …'

The characters above and to the left of the man are probably to be read: 'Osiris Hor, justified forever.' Even though Hor is a relatively common name in Greco-Roman Egypt, this does suggest 'Facsimile No. 3' reproduces part of the same manuscript that 'Facsimile No. 2' does. Hor's copy of the Breathing Permit would then have had two vignettes, one at the beginning and another ('Facsimile No. 3) at the end, an arrangement that is found in other copies of the same text."

Analysis of the original woodcuts of facsimile 3

A very interesting and insightful analysis of the original engraving plates from which the images of facsimile 3 were made has been done and continued to be researched by Paul Osborne, a knowledgeable Mormon researcher with a passion for studying the Book of Abraham.

By analyzing the engraving plate, which he believes is made from lead and not a woodcut as commonly reported, clearly indicates that figure 6 in facsimile 3 was altered before the prints of it were made and inserted in the copies of the Book of Abraham we all have today.

Figure 6, which Joseph declared is Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince, was in fact the jackal-headed god Anubis. Enlarged photos of the engraving plates seem to indicate that the snout of the jackal head was scraped away.

What likely happened was that the person that first made the engraving plate copied the image exactly as shown on the original papyri. Then he, presumably at the prophet Joseph's direction, etched away the snout so Joseph could claim the figure was a slave and not be confused with an Egyptian deity.

For details on the theory, what Joseph's motivations for doing this may have been and excellent images of the engraving plates, see:

Facsimile 3 research site:http://book-of-abraham-facsimile-no-3.my-free.website/

Note: on some browsers the images do not display the entire image so the zoom needs changed. For example, in Chrome, In the upper corner in the bar the 'customize and Google Chrome icon' is 3 vertical dots. Press it and change the zoom setting and it will change the view. 

Comments from other Egyptologists

 

Dr. A. H. Sayce of Oxford, England wrote:

"It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud. His fac-simile from the Book of Abraham No. 2 is an ordinary hypocephalus, but the hieroglyphics upon it have been copied so ignorantly that hardly one of them is correct".

"Number 3 is a representation of the Goddess Maat leading the Pharaoh before Osiris, behind whom stand the Goddess Isis. Smith has turned the Goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham" (F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator, p.23).

Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie of London University wrote,

"It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations" (ibid p.24).

Dr. Arthur C. Mace, Assistant Curator for the Department of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York explained,

"The `Book of Abraham,' it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication."

"Joseph Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end. Egyptian characters can now be read almost as easily as Greek, and five minutes' study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture" (ibid p. 27).

While it may have taken more than five minutes of study, even many faithful Mormons have been shaken when faced with the evidence. One Mormon, Naomi Woodbury, wrote a touching letter to the editor published in the August, 1968 issue of the independent Mormon periodical, Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought. She said,

"I myself studied Egyptian hieroglyphics at UCLA several years ago in the hope of resolving some of the problems connected with the `Book of Abraham' in Joseph Smith's favor. Unfortunately, as soon as I had learned the language well enough to use a dictionary I was forced to conclude that Joseph Smith's translation was mistaken, however sincere it might have been. It belongs to a kind of literature which is alien to Christianity and to our Church" (p. 8) Joseph Smith's Papyri Found.

References

The Egyptian Papyri Were Not All Destroyed

In 1966, a University of Utah researcher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made a startling find in the archives of the museum. While looking at a collection of some fragments of Egyptian papyrus rolls, he recognized one of the illustrations on one of the fragments as nearly identical to the "Facsimile 1" wood-cut that appears in the Mormon Book of Abraham. Further investigation proved what he suspected--these were some of the original papyrus fragments that were purchased by the LDS in 1835. In 1967, the Museum presented the papyri as a gift to the LDS Church. It was time for Evans' challenge to be taken up by Mormon critics.

The Church itself did some of the investigative work in comparing the results of modern studies in Egyptology applied to the papyri to the claims Joseph Smith had made for his work on the Book of Abraham. But when it became obvious that the results were going to be painfully uncomfortable for the Church, work became very slow. Outside researchers eventually obtained adequate copies of the material and began publishing their own results.

The bottom line of the investigations by all was: one of the sections of papyrus was clearly the Egyptian writing from which Smith claimed to "translate" the Book of Abraham. There were still handwritten copies of the original translation work which showed the individual Egyptian figures down the left margin of a page, with the English translation right next to it. The handwriting on these copies was by Smith's regular scribes who helped him in his work. These Egyptian figures are clearly seen in a section of one of the recovered papyrus sections, all in exactly the same order that they appear on the handwritten "translation" pages.

But scholar after scholar, both inside and outside the LDS Church, declared that there was absolutely no connection between the text of the Book of Abraham and the actual content of the Egyptian documents. The papyri were clearly identified by one and all as examples of completely ordinary "funerary" documents of ancient Egypt. The section used by Smith was from a document called the Book of Breathings. It contained the specific name of the deceased individual it had been prepared for, and would have accompanied that person in their burial setting to provide them guidance in the afterlife, as it included "spells" which the deceased could use in the afterlife to learn to "breathe" again. Other papyrus fragments from the collection were from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, an earlier collection of writings with a similar purpose. The Book of Breathings was an abbreviated version of the Book of the Dead, used in the later eras of Egyptian history. In fact, the papyrus used by Smith from which to derive the Book of Abraham has been dated by scholars to the first century AD, almost 2000 years after the time of Abraham.

When the recovered papyrus was discovered in 1966, something else was discovered. The original that Smith had used had pieces missing, including portions of the picture in Facsimile 1. Smith had obviously commissioned an artist to "fill in" the missing details according to Smith's speculation of what would have been in the missing sections. Below is a photo of the actual scroll fragments. It can be clearly seen what portions were "reconstructed" for publication in Mormon writings. The papyrus had obviously been glued to a heavy paper backing at the time it was in Smith's possession (the back side of the backing paper had a map of the Kirtland, Ohio area, and architectural drawings for a temple), and crude sketching is obvious in the missing areas of the illustration.

The study of Egyptian funerary art has progressed extensively during the intervening century, and it is painfully obvious to modern Egyptian scholars that Smith's speculations missed the mark. Below is a modern reconstruction of what the missing pieces likely contained, based on contents of similar funeral documents.

And instead of this being a portrayal of an attempt by an idolatrous priest to sacrifice Abraham, contemporary Egyptian scholars identify it as a mythical stylized funerary scene portraying the embalming and expected resurrection of Osiris, god of the underworld. The human-headed bird on the right would portray the soul of Osiris getting ready to return to his body. The bird hovering over the center of the body is a falcon representing Osiris's wife Isis, "in anticipation of the procreative act which will make Isis pregnant with their son Horus." (Larson, p. 102) The jars with heads below the couch are "canopic jars" which would hold the internal organs of the deceased. The heads represent the four sons of Horus: Amset, Hapi, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef. In Egyptian funerary documents, Osiris represents the person for whom the documents were prepared.

A number of modern Egyptologists have translated the writings connected to this picture, and their conclusions are all in close agreement. They merely convey information about the deceased for whom the Book of Breathings document was created.

Editor comment: It should be noted that not all non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that there should be a second bird in the middle of the facsimile. Dr. Lanny Bell supports the idea that the figure on the table is indeed holding up two hands. However, no non-Mormon Egyptologists believe Anubis (the priest as identified by Joseph) was holding a knife or that he had a man's head instead of a Jackal's head. Dr. Bell's reconstruction can be found in his essay.

Facsimile 2 Revisited

From: Larson, p. 104-5,108

Joseph Smith identified the drawing shown on page 103 (Facsimile No. 2) as "Facsimile from the Book of Abraham," and offered with it the elaborate "inspired explanation" shown. It is actually a rather common funerary amulet termed a hypocephalus, so-called because it was placed under (hypo) a mummy's head (cephalus). Its purpose was to magically keep the deceased warm and to protect the body from desecration by grave robbers. According to Dr. Nibley, as of 1968 there were "about a hundred" such hypocephali known, a good many of which can be traced to the sun-worship cults centered around Heliopolis during the seventh century B.C. and later.

Egyptologists recognize Facsimile No. 2 as simply a hypocephalus, but there are also problems with that identification. As with the drawing of Facsimile No. 1, the restored parts of the Mormon hypocephalus do not correspond to genuine ancient Egyptian hypocephali.3 Also, just as with Facsimile No. 1, an incorrect restoration (by Smith) of a damaged original was suspected as the explanation for the differences.

While no photograph of the original papyrus from which Facsimile No. 2 was taken is presently available, it is still possible to determine whether Joseph's hypocephalus was damaged at the time it came into his possession. This is so because when the collection of Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar papers was first published in 1966, one page was found to contain a fairly good pen and ink drawing of the Facsimile No. 2 hypocephalus. However, there was one important distinction, for this drawing showed a damaged, incomplete hypocephalus, with much of the right edge left blank, including a wedge-shaped empty space on the upper right that extended to the object's center. Just as with Facsimile No. 1, those portions of Facsimile No. 2 which had long been questioned as being "wrong" or "suspicious" were found to match the areas of this sketch where the original papyrus was either damaged or missing.

Some of these differences may seem minor to the inexperienced, but they are very noticeable to an expert. References to numbered "Figures" (i.e., Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.) correspond to the reproduction of Facsimile No. 2 found in the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith numbered each section or figure to serve as a guide for his explanation (see caption of Facsimile No. 2 on p. 103).

The round faced creature in (upside-down) Figure 7 lacked a definable body, for instance, so the stylized body of a bird was innocently provided (it should have been an ithyphallic serpent with legs). The central seated figure (Figure 1) ordinarily has four rams heads, but perhaps only enough of the damaged papyrus flakes remained here to show Joseph that more than one head belonged, so it must have seemed logical for him to simply copy the profile of the two-headed Egyptian god Par (Figure 2) directly above it. Possibly a trace of a boat showed in the space where Figure 3 is. Two boats -- a small one above a larger one -- belong here; but not knowing this, Joseph copied the boat figure found at the bottom of Papyrus Joseph Smith IV (see comparison on p. 105). This, however, is a drawing of the sun-god in his solar bark, and is improper for a hypocephalus.

The most dramatic error found on Facsimile No. 2 though, is the restoration of the missing writing. While never offering an actual translation in his ''explanation,'' Smith nevertheless implies that this writing contains great and mysterious secrets pertaining to God and the Temple (see caption of Facsimile No. 2, Figs. 8-10;12-21, on p. 103). We now know the restored writing to be a mixture of two unrelated texts from different works written hundreds of years apart. The restored text includes different styles of handwriting, one being hieroglyphic, and the other hieratic, and some characters are even placed upside down in relation to one another! In all cases figures from the right column of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI (the ''Small Sensen'' text) were used indiscriminately to fill in the missing area.

Facsimile 3 Revisited

Although the recovered papyri from the Metropolitan Museum did not contain the original of the illustration published in the Book of Abraham as Facsimile 3, modern Egyptologists have added their agreement to the earlier criticisms of the 1800s.

From: Larson, p. 108

Variations of the scene shown on page 109 (Facsimile No. 3) are probably the single most common form of Egyptian funerary scene known -- the deceased being led into the presence of the Court of Osiris, god of the underworld. Eventually the major elements became standardized into chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, and the particular version in the Joseph Smith papyri is from a later, simplified text. The deceased, wearing the traditional perfumed cone and lotus flower on his head, is led by Maat, goddess of justice (identified by the plume within the orb on her head) into the presence of Osiris. He is supported from behind by Anubis, guide of the dead, who has helped him complete his journey (and assisted him in the use of the spells that were contained in his funeral book). Osiris wears his double-plumed crown, holds the royal flail and crook across his chest, and sits before the ever present libation platform that is common in nearly all drawings containing major god-figures. It is topped by the customary stylized papyrus blossom. Behind him stands his wife Isis, identified by her solar disc and cow horn. The object in her hand is probably an ankh, symbol of life and resurrection.

Thus the individual Smith identified as the Patriarch Abraham . "reasoning upon astronomy in Pharaoh's court". is actually the pagan Egyptian god Osiris. And the individuals that Joseph Smith identified as Pharaoh and his son were actually the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris, and the Egyptian goddess Maat.

Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar

There is a set of documents that the church has always had in its possession commonly referred to as the "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" by Joseph Smith. Most of us remember hearing a little bit about it growing up in the church but not really knowing what it was. It was only briefly and rarely mentioned in church. With the discovery of the missing papyri in 1966, critics claim that these documents show a definite link between the papyri and the actual text of the Book of Abraham.

The manuscript is in the handwriting of William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish, scribes to Joseph Smith, Jr. It is a bound book with handwriting on 34 pages with about 184 blank pages remaining throughout the book. There are characters in a left hand column with English explanations to the right. Original in LDS archives. There are 4 pages in Joseph Smith's handwriting.

The following diagram on the left shows a copy of the small sensen portion of the rediscovered papyri. This portion was originally directly attached to facsimile 1 before it was cut off and sealed behind glass by Joseph and company to preserve the papyri. It was to the left of the papyri (Egyptian reads right to left). The following diagram on the right is from the Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar by Joseph Smith. It has the exact same symbols, in order, from the small sensen papyri and next to it is the apparent translation as it appears in the Book of Abraham that we have as scripture today.

This does appear to show which portions of the papyri the Book of Abraham came from. It certainly makes sense that the piece of papyri directly next to facsimile 1 would be referring to facsimile 1. Also the fact that every symbol from this same piece of papyri is written on the Egyptian Book of Alphabet and Grammar in precisely the same order with the BOA verses next to each one of the symbols is pretty compelling evidence not to be ignored.

It is interesting to note that the fact that this shows a large number of words being represented by each Egyptian symbol is used by both the critics and the apologists to support their opposing arguments. Critics show this as further evidence that Joseph didn't have any idea how to translate Egyptian, whereas the apologists use the sheer absurdity of having so many words being represented by each symbol as evidence that Joseph couldn't have translated it this way.

The bulk of Smith's 'Egyptian Book of Alphabet and Grammar' is a rather detailed notebook showing Smith's apparent interpretation of the Egyptian language. Here is a sample of what is written:

Egyptian Alphabet First Degree

Beth Ba=eth This character is from the first degree It has an arbitrary sound or signification which is Beth; and also a compound sound which is Za and comprise one simple sentence for its signification It is only increased or lessened in its signification by its connection with other characters. one connection with another character, gives it a compound signification, or enlarges the sentence. Two connections increases its signification still: Three increases it still: Four increases still and five still. This is as far as a sentence can be carried in the first degree. In its arbitrary sound it may have more sounds than one, but cannot have more than five sounds. When it is compounded with others, it can only have one sound.

Every character in this alphabet is subject to the above restrictions

Iota or Ki

[From page 19: Beth Ka - a large garden, a large vall[e]y or a large plain. This ought to have been inserted between Iota and Zub Zool oan on the opposite page.]

Zub Zool-oan
Ki compound
oan compound

The signification of Beth is man's first residence Of Iota - The eye: of Zub Zool oan, The beginning of time:

Ah- broam The Father of the faithful. The first right- The elder

Ki Ah broam That which goes before, until an other time, or a change by appointment, The first, faithful, or father, or fathers.

Iota netahoch ah que a mark of distinction [p. 20] qualifying different degrees, increasing or lessening the power of the sentences according to the[i]r signification as for instance

Iota nilahoch ah que: (as in the margin) signifies "I saw twenty five persons," or it signifies twenty five persons''

Ah lish the name of the first being
Phah-eh The first man - Adam, first father
Pha-ah a more universal reign
Phah-ho-e-oop The lineage of the royal family
Ho-oop hah Crown of a princes, or unmarried queen
Zi virgin or an unmarried female
Kah-tou-mun The name of a Royal family in the female line
Zi-oop-hah An unmarried woman, a virgin princess
Ho e oop A young unmarried man; a prince
Zip Zi a woman married or unmarried or daughter, signifies all, or any woman
Ho-e oop-hah Crown of a prince
Oan The Earth
Toan, tou-ee tah es tou eh tou es. - A principle that is beneath, disgusting - not fit
Iota The eye, or I see
Iota toues-Zip Zi The land of Egypt
Su-e-eh ni who, whence, &c an interrogative prounoun through its degrees
Ho-e-oop-hah-Phah eh Riegn or rule, governments, power, Kingdom or dominion
Zub Zool eh In the beginning of the earth or creation [p. 21]

It is obvious from the level of detail given throughout the 'Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar' book that the intricate details could only have come from the prophet himself. The scribes and any LDS members at the time Joseph lived would of course would have no idea what Egyptian hieroglyphics meant.

Revisiting the Alphabet and Grammar

From: Larson, pp. 32-33

Smith's "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar," as it has come to be called, had never really been lost or missing. For a long time it was simply ignored, and more recently it had been considered restricted. It was among that portion of early Church records the Mormons managed to take with them when they left Nauvoo in 1846, and it was included in the list of materials recorded in the Church Historian's Office Journal as having been deposited in the Historian's fireproof vault in Salt Lake City in 1855. There the manuscript lay, apparently all but forgotten for eighty years, before being "rediscovered" in 1935 during the course of some historical research by Dr. Sidney B. Sperry of Brigham Young University, James R. Clark, a student of Sperry's, and A. William Lund, Assistant Church Historian at the time.

These documents were not released for public examination or study, however. For the time being their discovery was not even announced. It was not until 1938 that Dr. Sperry was allowed to publish a pair of rather indistinct photographs of two pages from the Alphabet and Grammar notebook which contained part of a translation manuscript from the Book of Abraham. The existence of the entire Grammar was still only hinted at for many years, and only a select handful of scholars and authorities within the LDS Church were allowed access to the material. This, despite the great historical significance attached to it by LDS writers like William Berrett, who proudly described it as Joseph Smith's "most notable achievement…the development of a Grammar for the Egyptian hieroglyphic form of writing," and "the first Egyptian Grammar in America."

Curiously, even as late as 1960 (by which time it had been known for some twenty-five years that the "Alphabet and Grammar" had survived and was in the Church's possession) Dr. Sperry remarked at BYU's Pearl of Great Price Conference that he did not know whether or not the Church authorities would yet allow it to be published, adding that he thought "it would be a little premature, perhaps, to do it now, until we can really do a good job of it."

Others who had occasion to come into contact with the material apparently disagreed with the Church's reluctance in the matter. Late in 1965 a microfilm copy of the entire work was "leaked" to Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Modern Microfilm Company (now Utah Lighthouse Ministry). The Tanners were former Mormons who were rapidly gaining a reputation for printing documents relating to Mormonism that, though authentic, made Church officials uncomfortable. By 1966 the Tanners had produced the first complete photomechanical reprint and transcription of the entire Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.

But contrary to what most Mormons evidently expected, publication of the Alphabet and Grammar in no way substantiated Joseph Smith's ability to translate ancient Egyptian. Quite the opposite, for the book turned out to be nothing but page after page of nonsensical gibberish. Though it had apparently succeeded at one time in impressing unsophisticated minds, the work was unable to withstand the scrutiny of experts.

Professional Egyptologists to whom the Alphabet and Grammar was submitted for examination were quick to point out that the material in Joseph Smith's notebook bore no resemblance at all to any correct understanding of the ancient Egyptian language. As one of them, I. E. Edwards, put it, the whole work was, "largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind of scientific value." He added that it reminded him of "the writings of psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to me." There were many similar verdicts, all confirming that the person responsible for what Berrett had glowingly called "the first Egyptian grammar in America" could not possibly have understood the ancient Egyptian language.

ALSO - See the following site for a more detailed explanation of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar: zarahemlacitylimits.com (current copy has some broken pictures, so this link points to an archived copy with all of the pictures)

Doctrine supported by the Book of Abraham

One thing that makes establishing the validity of the Book of Abraham so important is the doctrine that the Book of Abraham supports. The Book of Abraham supports the concept of polygamy as Abraham took another wife as directed by the Lord. Perhaps what's even more significant is that God actually instructs Abraham to lie about it. God tells Abraham that he must lie to the Egyptians and tell them that his wife is really his sister so they wouldn't take her from him (Abraham 2:22-25). This is the only scriptural reference that we know of where God instructs someone to lie. This is important because Joseph lied to his congregations and to the public about his involvement in polygamy. If God would instruct Abraham to lie about his wives then it seems plausible that God could tell Joseph to lie about his wives as well.

It is also interesting to note that the story of Abraham in the Bible does not mention that the Lord told him to lie but gives the impression that it was Abraham's idea.

The Book of Abraham also introduced the first and only scriptural basis for denying the priesthood to Blacks, the Church's official position until 1978. It described Pharaoh and the Egyptians as descendants of Ham and Canaan (the progenitors of the Negro race), and under the curse of Canaan and disqualified from the priesthood (Abraham 1:21-22, 26-27).

The plurality of gods is also a doctrine that is supported by the Book of Abraham. When the book of Genesis had been corrected by the Prophet the first time in 1830, the text he produced retained the Bible's (and Moses') emphasis that there is only one God. Joseph's 1842 translation of portions of the Book of Abraham, however, distinctly taught the plurality of gods -- a concept of deity Joseph had started teaching a few years earlier, but one which many Saints neither understood nor appreciated.

Critic's Point: If it wasn't for the Book of Abraham, it is possible that two of the most controversial and objectionable doctrines of the LDS church (polygamy and denying the priesthood to blacks) would not have happened or have been as prominent as they were. Polygamy was already in practice by Joseph but perhaps it would not have been so prominently practiced by the members if there was no Book of Abraham to support the practice. It's also interesting to note that eventually the LDS church abandoned both of these doctrines, which were at one point taught as eternal principles.

References

  • By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Charles M. Larson p 20-22.

The RLDS perspective of the Book of Abraham

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