Criticism of Mormonism/Online documents/Letter to a CES Director/Book of Abraham Concerns & Questions

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    Response to "Book of Abraham Concerns & Questions"


A FairMormon Analysis of: Letter to a CES Director
A work by author: Jeremy Runnells
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.

—"Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. off-site
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"scholars have found the original papyrus Joseph translated and have dated it in first century AD, nearly 2,000 years after Abraham could have written it"

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"scholars have found the original papyrus Joseph translated and have dated it in first century AD, nearly 2,000 years after Abraham could have written it."

FairMormon Response


Questions


The fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri date to after the Abrahamic period.

  • Why does the Book of Abraham state that it was written by Abraham's "own hand upon papyrus?"


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

"Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics on LDS.org, (8 July 2014)


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.
....
Joseph Smith, or perhaps an assistant at the Nauvoo print shop, introduced the published translation by saying that the records were “written by his [Abraham’s] own hand, upon papyrus.” The phrase can be understood to mean that Abraham is the author and not the literal copyist.
(Click here for full article)


Answer


Whether or not one accepts that the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” is an ancient or modern redaction to the text, a few things are certain. [1]

First, if the phrase was a part of the ancient title of the text then there is no justification from the Egyptological evidence that the phrase requires a holographic nature of the papyri. The ancient Egyptians who used the phrase or ones like it never mandated that such be viewed as implying holographic claims.

Second, if the phrase is a 19th century redaction to the text then this is an issue concerning not the Book of Abraham's authenticity but the assumptions of Joseph Smith and his associates. If Joseph Smith did in fact harbor such assumptions, that has nothing to do with the authenticity of the actual Book of Abraham itself. Likewise, unless it can be shown that Joseph Smith’s views of the nature of the authorship of the papyri came by revelatory means, then one cannot hold the Prophet to an impossible standard of perfection (one that the Prophet never established for himself) and criticize him for merely doing what humans do; have opinions and speculations.

Thirdly, if the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” is a 19th century redaction and if Joseph Smith assumed a holographic nature of the papyri, then the whole issue is one of assumption. If one believes that Prophets must be right about everything or they are false prophets, then such an assumption reflects only the thoughts and background of the person holding the assumption. The same for those who hold no such assumption and acknowledge the fallibility of Prophets. We should therefore be careful to not impose our own assumptions on those figures in the past who may not have shared such assumptions or standards.

In each of these three cases, the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” cannot be used as evidence against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.

Detailed Analysis

When the Prophet Joseph Smith published the first installments of the Book of Abraham in 1842, the caption in the Times and Seasons read as following:

"A translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus."[2]

Kirtland Egyptian Paper (KEP) - A1 likewise has the following caption:

“Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the catacombs of Egypt.”[3]

The phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” has drawn a number of investigative remarks. Critics have alleged that the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” must necessarily be indicating that Joseph Smith thought that the papyrus he obtained was written by the hand of Abraham himself. The problem, however, is that the papyri donʼt date to Abrahamʼs time. Critics have argued that this is, therefore, another point against Joseph Smith and the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.

LDS scholars have approached this issue from a number of perspectives. This article sets forth two underlying LDS apologetic approaches that have been advanced in evaluating the significance of this phrase in the heading for the Book of Abraham. Regardless of which approach may be correct, it is clear that the assumptions of those critical of the authenticity of the Book of Abraham are unfounded in this regard.[4] Either option resolves the issue; both would have to be untenable for the critics to have a case.

Option #1: “By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus” as an Egyptian Title

Hugh Nibley, writing in 1981, suggested that “the statement "written by his own hand, upon papyrus"... is actually part of the original Egyptian title: "called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus"—that was Abraham's own heading. This is important, since much misunderstanding has arisen from the assumption that the Joseph Smith Papyri were the original draft of Abraham's book, his very own handiwork.”[5] Nibley, quoting himself from an earlier article,[6] goes on to explain the following, reproduced here at length:

Two important and peculiar aspects of ancient authorship must be considered when we are told that a writing is by the hand of Abraham or anybody else. One is that according to Egyptian and Hebrew thinking any copy of a book originally written by Abraham would be regarded and designated as the very work of his hand forever after, no matter how many reproductions had been made and handed down through the years. The other is that no matter who did the writing originally, if it was Abraham who commissioned or directed the work, he would take the credit for the actual writing of the document, whether he penned it or not.
As to the first point, when a holy book (usually a leather roll) grew old and worn out from handling, it was not destroyed but renewed. Important writings were immortal—for the Egyptians they were "the divine words," for the Jews the very letters were holy and indestructible, being the word of God. The wearing out of a particular copy of scripture therefore in no way brought the life of the book to a close—it could not perish. In Egypt it was simply renewed (ma.w, sma.w) "fairer than before," and so continued its life to the next renewal. Thus we are told at the beginning of what some have claimed to be the oldest writing in the world [the Shabako Stone], "His Majesty wrote this book down anew. . . . His Majesty discovered it as a work of the Ancestors, but eaten by worms. . . . So His Majesty wrote it down from the beginning, so that it is more beautiful than it was before." It is not a case of the old book's being replaced by a new one, but of the original book itself continuing its existence in a rejuvenated state. No people were more hypnotized by the idea of a renewal of lives than the Egyptians—not a succession of lives or a line of descent, but the actual revival and rejuvenation of a single life.
Even the copyist who puts his name in a colophon does so not so much as publicity for himself as to vouch for the faithful transmission of the original book; his being "trustworthy (iqr) of fingers," i.e., a reliable copyist, is the reader's assurance that he has the original text before him. An Egyptian document, J. Spiegel observes, is like the print of an etching, which is not only a work of art in its own right but "can lay claim equally well to being the original . . . regardless of whether the individual copies turn out well or ill." Because he thinks in terms of types, according to Spiegel, for the Egyptian "there is no essential difference between an original and a copy. For as they understand it, all pictures are but reproductions of an ideal original." . . . This concept was equally at home in Israel. An interesting passage from the Book of Jubilees [a text unknown before 1850] recounts that Joseph while living in Egypt "remembered the Lord and the words which Jacob, his father, used to read from amongst the words of Abraham." Here is a clear statement that "the words of Abraham" were handed down in written form from generation to generation, and were the subject of serious study in the family circle. The same source informs us that when Israel died and was buried in Canaan, "he gave all his books and the books of his fathers to Levi his son that he might preserve them and renew them for his children until this day." Here "the books of the fathers" including "the words of Abraham" have been preserved for later generations by a process of renewal. [Joseph's own books were, of course, Egyptian books.]
In this there is no thought of the making of a new book by a new hand. It was a strict rule in Israel that no one, not even the most learned rabbi, should ever write down so much as a single letter of the Bible from memory: always the text must be copied letter by letter from another text that had been copied in the same way, thereby eliminating the danger of any man's adding, subtracting, or changing so much as a single jot in the text. It was not a rewriting but a process as mechanical as photography, an exact visual reproduction, so that no matter how many times the book had been passed from hand to hand, it was always the one original text that was before one. . . .
But "written by his own hand"? This brings us to the other interesting concept. Let us recall that that supposedly oldest of Egyptian writings, the so-called Shabako Stone, begins with the announcement that "His Majesty wrote this book down anew." This, Professor Sethe obligingly explains, is "normal Egyptian usage to express the idea that the King ordered a copy to be made." Yet it clearly states that the king himself wrote it. Thus when the son of King Snefru says of his own inscription at Medum, "It was he who made his gods in [such] a writing [that] it cannot be effaced," the statement is so straightforward that even such a student as W. S. Smith takes it to mean that the prince himself actually did the writing. And what could be more natural than for a professional scribe to make an inscription: "It was her husband, the Scribe of the Royal Scroll, Nebwy, who made this inscription"? Or when a noble announces that he made his father's tomb, why should we not take him at his word? It depends on how the word is to be understood. Professor Wilson in all these cases holds that the person who claims to have done the work does so "in the sense that he commissioned and paid for it." The noble who has writing or carving done is always given full credit for its actual execution; such claims of zealous craftsmanship "have loftily ignored the artist," writes Wilson. "It was the noble who 'made' or 'decorated' his tomb," though one noble of the Old Kingdom breaks down enough to show us how these claims were understood: "I made this for my old father. . . . I had the sculptor Itju make (it)." Dr. Wilson cites a number of cases in which men claim to have "made" their father's tombs, one of them specifically stating that he did so "while his arm was still strong"—with his own hand!
Credit for actually writing the inscription of the famous Metternich Stele is claimed by "the prophetess of Nebwen, Nest-Amun, daughter of the Prophet of Nebwen and Scribe of the Inundation, 'Ankh-Psametik,'" who states that she "renewed (sma.w) this book [there it is again!] after she had found it removed from the house of Osiris-Mnevis, so that her name might be preserved." The inscription then shifts to the masculine gender as if the scribe were really a man, leading to considerable dispute among the experts as to just who gets the credit. Certain it is that the Lady boasts of having given an ancient book a new lease on life, even though her hand may never have touched a pen.
Nest-Amun hoped to preserve her name by attaching it to a book, and in a very recent study M. A. Korostovstev notes that "for an Egyptian to attach his name to a written work was an infallible means of passing it down through the centuries." That may be one reason why Abraham chose the peculiar Egyptian medium he did for the transmission of his record—or at least why it has reached us only in this form. Indeed Theodor Böhl observed recently that the one chance the original Patriarchal literature would ever have of surviving would be to have it written down on Egyptian papyrus. Scribes liked to have their names preserved, too, and the practice of adding copyists' names in colophons, Korostostev points out, could easily lead in later times to attributing the wrong authorship to a work.
But whoever is credited with the authorship of a book remains its unique author, alone responsible for its existence in whatever form.[7]

Thus, according to this line of reasoning, considering how the ancient Egyptians viewed the nature of their texts, namely, that there was no real difference between an original and a copy but simply a renewal of the original text, the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” need not warrant the assumption that the text is holographic in nature.

Two LDS apologists, Russell C. McGregor and Kerry Shirts, have likewise shown that the idiom “by his own hand” in Egyptian thought has a parallel to the Israelite view of the nature of their sacred texts. They note that “it is obvious from reading the Hebrew Bible that the phrase by his own hand is a Hebrew idiom beyadh, which means “by the authority of,” as we can clearly see in the Stuttgartensian Hebrew text that Kohlenberger translates. He renders Exodus 9:35 as “just as the Lord said through Moses,” while the Hebrew has beyadh, that is “by the hand of.” Clearly it was the Lordʼs hand—the Lordʼs authority, which had led Moses against Pharaoh, that is, by the Lordʼs authority. Though we donʼt get it that way in the English, the Hebrew definitely has “by the hand of.”[8]

McGregor and Shirts continue to explain that “at 1 Samuel 28:15 we see another example—the English translation reads that God would not appear to Saul either by the prophets or by dreams. In the Hebrew we again find beyadh, “by the hand of,” or in other words, by the prophetʼs authority from God. In other words, Abraham may not even have touched the documents that bear his name, the very ones that fell into Josephʼs hands in the 1830s, since Abraham could have had them commissioned and written for him. Yet for all this, the documents would still bear his signature, since they were authorized by him, “by his own hand,” even though a scribe may have written it instead of Abraham.”[9]

Thus, according to LDS researchers such as Nibley, McGregor and Shirts, it need not be assumed that the phrase “by his own hand” indicates a holographic nature of the Book of Abraham. As Professor John Gee reminds us, there is a difference between the date of a text and the date of a copy of a text. [10] The two are not the same. Thus, while the date of the text of the Book of Abraham could have dated from Abrahamʼs time,[11] the copy of the Book of Abraham received by Joseph Smith could have a later copy dated to the Ptolemaic Era.[12]

The critics scoff at this suggestion. They insist that the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” must absolutely be speaking about Abraham literally writing on the papyrus that Joseph Smith possessed. Likewise, they question as to whether the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” can even be read as being a part of the ancient title of the text, as proposed by Nibley, since it is not capitalized like “the Book of Abraham” is in the caption.

However, these criticisms are problematic for a number of reasons. It must be remembered that there was no standardized capitalization of letters in Egyptian as there is in English. Thus, if the phrase was a part of the ancient text, the title would have read something along the lines of the following: “the book of abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus”. The capitalization and punctuation would have been the work of the 19th century scribes, who may not have realized that such was the entire title and thus only capitalized the “Book of Abraham” portion of the title since such was most familiar with their 19th century understanding.[13]

Furthermore, the critics also demand that the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” can mean nothing but that the Book of Abraham claims to be a holograph from Abraham. Such an argument, however, is nothing more than a presentist fallacy when analyzed in the light of the Egyptological evidence. It is not a question of what the modern critics think, but what the ancient Egyptians thought.

In 2007, Professor Gee published an article with the Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists. In it, Dr. Gee explored whether or not the ancient Egyptians considered their sacred texts to be divinely written. In reference to the tale of Setne, Dr. Gee notes that “in this text, the book is said to be written "by his own hand” upon papyrus, which need not be taken as indicating anything more than authorship.”[14]

This newly published evidence bolsters the LDS apologetic claim that the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” need not be construed as meaning an autographical nature for the text. As argued by Nibley and Shirts, it could merely be indicative of attributing authorship to Abraham. It is possible that the phrase, indeed the entire title, was redacted by the 2nd century copyist scribe working with the text, assuming that, as argued by Professor Gee, there was in fact a portion of papyri that contained a text like the Book of Abraham. Considering the nature of Egyptian texts, as explained by Nibley, it wouldnʼt have been out of place for an Egyptian, or, as Kevin Barney has argued,[15] a Jewish redactor of the text to insert the phrase. And if this is the case, from the ancient Egyptian perspective the phrase wouldn’t automatically indicate a holographic nature of the text.

Option #2: “By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus” as a 19th Century Redaction

If Nibley is incorrect in suggesting that the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” was a part of the original title of the ancient text, then it follows that the phrase is a 19th century redaction by either Joseph Smith, or the two scribes in whose handwriting the documents are written in, viz., W. W. Phelps and Willard Richards, respectively. This is bolstered, as mentioned earlier, by the addition of the phrase “and found in the catacombs of Egypt” that appear in KEPA 1. It is obvious from the historical data that Joseph Smith and the early brethren considered the scroll of Horos to be the source of the Book of Abraham (though not, as is argued by the critics, necessarily the Book of Breathings text). It seems likely that the early brethren, when working with the papyrus, would have assumed a holographic nature of the papyrus. In other words, they would have thought that Abraham himself physically wrote on the papyrus in their possession. As Michael Ash explained, “it seems reasonable to conclude that Joseph may have believed that Abraham himself, with pen in hand, wrote the very words that he was translating... Joseph, by way of revelation, saw that the papyri contained scriptural teachings of Abraham and it would have been natural, therefore, to assume that Abraham wrote the papyri.”[16]

The late Luke Wilson, of the decidedly anti-Mormon Institute for Religious Research, came to similar conclusions, albeit for more polemical purposes against the Latter-day Saints. After making his case that Joseph Smith claimed to be translating a holographic Book of Abraham, Wilson concludes that “the weight of evidence from the testimony of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries is clearly” in favor of such.[17]

If these claims are correct,[18] then it would explain why Joseph Smith and his associates included the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” in the caption of the manuscript of the text. They would have thought just that, namely, that Abraham himself penned the text that Joseph Smith was translating. In this case then, the phrase “by his own hand” would therefore be interpreted in the most literal sense possible.

Furthermore, if in fact the phrase is a 19th century redaction, then the Book of Abraham itself wouldnʼt be claiming an autographical nature. Such would be an assumption about the Book of Abraham by the 19th century brethren, who inserted the phrase. Based on no evidence within the text itself can the critics decry the Book of Abraham as claiming a holographic nature.

A Question of Assumptions

But is it troubling that Joseph Smith and his contemporaries may have assumed an autographical nature of the text? This depends on oneʼs assumptions. If one is inclined towards a fundamentalist assumption (which is also a presentist assumption) about Prophets, or that Prophets must be 100% right 100% of the time or else they are not Prophets at all, then one could cite this as evidence of Joseph Smithʼs fraud. If one believes that Prophets must always be right lest they compromise their prophetic calling, then this is problematic for Joseph Smith.

However, in order to establish that Joseph Smithʼs prophetic abilities are hampered or called into question by this possible assumption of his, one must first cite evidence that Joseph Smithʼs understanding of the nature of the papyrus (namely, whether or not it dated to the time of Abraham) came from revelatory or divine means. Only then can one question Joseph Smith. It would be folly to criticize Joseph the Prophet when merely Joseph the speculator or Joseph the assumer was speaking. If the Prophet Joseph Smith never claimed on a prophetic or revelatory basis to know if the papyri was a holograph of Abraham, then one cannot attack him for a position he never took.

If on the other hand the Prophet did base his belief on a holographic nature of the papyri on purely human speculation or thought, then it only necessitates that the Prophet had a mistaken speculation. As Michael Ash has demonstrated at length, Prophets, especially those of the LDS tradition, have never claimed infallibility. If one acknowledges the fact that Joseph Smith never himself claimed infallibility or omniscience, and does not carry such a fundamentalist assumption about the nature of Prophets, then this is all much ado about nothing. Returning to Ash’s article once again:

Now this issue is very similar to that of Book of Mormon geography. It is very likely that Joseph Smith believed in a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography--it made sense to his understanding of the world around him. Such a misinformed belief or most likely misinformed belief, according to modern scholarship, makes him no less a prophet. It simply provides us with an example of how Joseph, like any other human, tried to understand new information according to his current knowledge. So, likewise, with the Abrahamic papyri.[19]

Furthermore, Joseph Smith’s own assumptions or thoughts about whether or not the papyri was holographic in nature is independent of the actual authenticity of the Book of Abraham. Regardless of what Joseph Smith or others may have thought as per the nature of the text (if it be holographic or not) such has no implications for what the text itself actually claims or whether Joseph Smith was able to actually translate such by the gift and power of God.

Thus, the whole question revolves more around one’s assumptions about Prophets than the actual Book of Abraham.


Notes


  1. This wiki article is based on a paper written by Stephen O. Smoot and included here with his permission. Given the nature of a wiki project, the original may have been edited, added to, or otherwise modified.
  2. "The Book of Abraham," Times and Seasons 3 (1842): 704. KEPA 4, the manuscript used for publication of the first installments of the Book of Abraham and written in the hand of Willard Richards, likewise contains this caption used in the Times and Seasons.
  3. Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, edited by John Gee, Vol. 18 in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book / FARMS, 2009), 546. ISBN 1606410547.
  4. Unless otherwise noted, the assumption underlying this article run along the so-called “missing papyrus theory” as proposed by scholars such as Professor John Gee. This theory states that Joseph Smith owned a portion of physical papyri dating to the Ptolemaic Era that contained the text of the Book of Abraham as translated by the Prophet but that said papyri were subsequently destroyed and are no longer extant. See: Missing papyrus? for further details.
  5. Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 4. Reprinted in Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 2nd edition, (Vol. 14 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by Gary P. Gillum, Illustrated by Michael P. Lyon, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 1–. ISBN 157345527X..
  6. Hugh Nibley, "As Things Stand at the Moment," Brigham Young University Studies 9 no. 1 (1968), 74-78. (needs URL / links)
  7. Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 4–7.
  8. Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts, "Letters to an Anti-Mormon (Review of Letters to a Mormon Elder: Eye Opening Information for Mormons and the Christians Who Talk with Them)," FARMS Review of Books 11/1 (1999): 90–298. off-site See pages 82–83.
  9. McGreggor and Shirts, 82–83.
  10. John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 25–28.
  11. This is falling in line with the traditional LDS understanding of the Book of Abraham. Namely, that it is not pseudepigraphical, but was written by Abraham himself. There are, it should be noted, some scholars who do theorize that the text translated by Joseph Smith was pseudepigraphical, dated to the Hellenic world. Other LDS scholars, such as Dr. Nibley, have even compared the text of the Book of Abraham to other Hellenic pseudepigrapha. Such an attempt at textual justification for an ancient Book of Abraham text, however, should not be seen as it is by some as equating the Book of Abraham with ancient pseudepigrapha.
  12. This assumes, of course, that Joseph Smith translated physical papyri and did not receive the Book of Abraham on purely revelatory means as per the “catalyst theory” for the Book of Abraham.
  13. Admittedly, the phrase “and found in the catacombs of Egypt” does cast doubt on the claim that “by his own hand” was a part of the ancient title as it is clearly 19th century editorializing. However, it is possible that it is just that; a 19th century editorializing of the text. It does not completely refute Nibley’s thesis entirely.
  14. John Gee, “Were Egyptian Texts Divinely Written?”, Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists, ed. J. C. Goyon, C. Cardin (Paris: Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies Leuven, 2007), 806. Parenthetically, this article has other implications for Book of Abraham and Joseph Smith Papyri studies, not the least of them being Professor Gee’s discussion of the fact that the so-called “Book of Breathings Made by Isis” text should actually be called the “Letter of Fellowship Made by Isis”. In light of Hugh Nibley’s studies of the Joseph Smith Papyri in 1975 and Professor Gee’s studies published in 2006, this new understanding advances the concept of the Letter of Fellowship text as an more of an initiatory text than an actual “funerary text”. See, respectively, Hugh W. Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 1st edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1975), 1. ISBN 0877474850. GospeLink (requires subscrip.), Reprinted as Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd edition, (Vol. 16 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John Gee and Michael D. Rhodes, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), 1. ISBN 159038539X. 1st edition GL direct link; John Gee, “The Use of the Daily Temple Liturgy in the Book of the Dead,” Sonderdruck aus Totenbuch-Forchungen, eds. B. Burkhard, I. Munro, S. Stöhr (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006), 73–86.
  15. Kevin L. Barney, "The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources," in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, edited by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, (Provo: FARMS, 2005), 107–130. off-site
  16. Michael Ash, “Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation, and Modern Egyptology”, presented at the 2006 FAIR Conference. off-site.
  17. Luke Wilson, “Did Joseph Smith claim His Abraham Papyrus was an Autograph?”, (Grand Rapids: Institute for Religious Research, 2006), 12. It is not within the scope of this paper to attempt an engagement or refutation of Wilson’s main arguments. Needless to say, Wilson (p. 12) himself admits that “the nature of the evidence presented in this paper is circumstantial and inferential on a number of points.”
  18. This is by no means the consensus view. Several LDS apologists and scholars have likewise tackled this issue, and have come to different conclusions than Ash and Wilson. Ben McGuire, writing for FAIR, has critiqued Wilson on a number of points, including the assertions made by Wilson that Joseph Smith assumed a holographic nature of the text. See Ben McGuire, “Responding to Errors in an Anti-Mormon Film: “The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim” (Redding: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 2002). PDF link.
  19. Ash, "Book of Abraham 201."


"It has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or anything Joseph claimed in his translation for the Book of Abraham"

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"[The Joseph Smith papyri] has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or anything Joseph claimed in his translation for the Book of Abraham."

FairMormon Response


Some of the pieces of papyrus apparently include conventional hieroglyphics (sacred inscriptions, resembling picture-drawing) and hieratic (a cursive shorthand version of hieroglyphics) Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. Often the funerary texts contained passages from the "Book of the Dead," a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world. It is not known at this time whether the ten other pieces of papyri have a direct connection with the Book of Abraham.

Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (the official Church magazine at the time) (January 1968) off-site
∗       ∗       ∗

Questions


The fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri (JSP) contain an Egyptian funerary text. This text has nothing to do with Abraham.

  • What is contained on the existing fragments of the JSP?
  • Some have insisted that the Church has tried to hide this fact and that it was only disclosed after non-LDS Egyptologists examined the papyri.


Answer


The Church announced that the fragments contained a funerary text in the January 1968 Improvement Era (the predecessor to today's Ensign magazine). Of the 11 fragments, one fragment has Facsimile 1, and the other 10 fragments are funerary texts, which the Church claimed from the moment the papyri were rediscovered. There is no evidence that the Church has ever claimed that any of the 10 remaining fragments contain text which is contained in the Book of Abraham.

The critics are telling us nothing new when they dramatically "announce" that the JSP contain Egyptian funerary documents. The Church disseminated this information as widely as possible from the very beginning.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," The Improvement Era, (January 1968)


Perhaps no discovery in recent memory is expected to arouse as much widespread interest in the restored gospel as is the recent discovery of some Egyptian papyri, one of which is known to have been used by the prophet Joseph Smith in producing the Book of Abraham.


The papyri, long thought to have been burned in the Chicago fire of 1871, were presented to the Church on November 27, 1967, in New York City by the metropolitan Museum of Art, more than a year after Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, former director of the University of Utah's Middle East Center, had made his startling discovery while browsing through the New York museum's papyri collection.
Included in the collection of 11 manuscripts is one identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith obtained Facsimile 1, which prefaces the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Accompanying the manuscripts was a letter dated May 26, 1856, signed by both Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and their son, Joseph Smith, attesting that the papyri had been the property of the Prophet.

Some of the pieces of papyrus apparently include conventional hieroglyphics (sacred inscriptions, resembling picture-drawing) and hieratic (a cursive shorthand version of hieroglyphics) Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. Often the funerary texts contained passages from the "Book of the Dead," a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world. It is not known at this time whether the ten other pieces of papyri have a direct connection with the Book of Abraham.
(Click here for full article)


Detailed Analysis

Was the Church forthright in identifying the rediscovered papyrus prior to their examination by non-LDS Egyptologists? Indeed they were, as the January 1968 issue of the official Church magazine, the Improvement Era demonstrates.

Timeline

Cover of the January 1968 issue of the Improvement Era, the Church's official magazine of the time. Note the color photograph of the recovered Facsimile 1.
Egyptian.papyri.rediscovered.funeral.documents.improvement.era.jan.1968.p12.jpg

A review of the time-line of the papyri demonstrates that the Church quickly publicized the nature of the JSP in the official magazine of the time, The Improvement Era.

There were 11 fragments discovered and given to the church. The Church was very quick in releasing this information to the membership and the world.

November 27, 1967
Church receives papyri.
December 10–11, 1967
Deadline to submit material for the January 1968 Improvement Era.
December 26–31, 1967
January 1968 of Improvement Era issue mailed to subscribers.[1]
February 1968
another fragment was discovered in the Church historian's files, and publicized in the February 1968 Era.[2]

Publication history

When the papyri were rediscovered in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and donated to the Church on 27 November 1967, the Church immediately published an article in their official magazine less than two months later. A follow-up article on an additional papyrus fragment was published the following month, complete with photos:

  • Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (January 1968), 12–16. off-site
  • Jay M. Todd, "New Light on Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri: Additional Fragment Disclosed," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40. off-site
  • Jay M. Todd, "Background of the Church Historian's Fragment," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40A–40I. off-site

LDS scholar Hugh Nibley began a series of articles in the January 1968 edition which ran for months. Nibley was not hesitant in explaining what was on the papyri in the Church's possession. In August 1968, he repeatedly emphasized that much of the text was the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

  • "...the texts of the 'Joseph Smith Papyri' identified as belonging to the Book of the Dead" (p. 55)
  • "...The largest part of the Joseph Smith Papyri in the possession of the Church consists of fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the fragments having been recently translated and discussed by no less a scholar than Professor John A. Wilson." (p. 57)
  • "These points can be illustrated by the most easily recognized section of the Joseph Smith papyri, namely, the fragment with the picture of a swallow, Chapter 86 of the Book of the Dead..."(p. 57)
  • "..we may take the best-known picture from the Book of the Dead, the well-known judgment scene or 'Psychostasy,' a fine example of which is found among the Joseph Smith papyri." (p. 59)

Lest the reader miss this claim in the small print, it was reprinted in large bold type across two pages:

  • "The largest parts of the...papyri in possession of the Church consists of fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead..." (pp. 56-57) See image (680 KB).

What was announced?

The Improvement Era described the papyri, but never claimed they represented the source for the Book of Abraham, except the original of Facsimile 1:

Perhaps no discovery in recent memory is expected to arouse as much widespread interest in the restored gospel as is the recent discovery of some Egyptian papyri, one of which is known to have been used by the prophet Joseph Smith in producing the Book of Abraham.
The papyri, long thought to have been burned in the Chicago fire of 1871, were presented to the Church on November 27, 1967, in New York City by the metropolitan Museum of Art, more than a year after Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, former director of the University of Utah's Middle East Center, had made his startling discovery while browsing through the New York museum's papyri collection.
Included in the collection of 11 manuscripts is one identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith obtained Facsimile 1, which prefaces the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Accompanying the manuscripts was a letter dated May 26, 1856, signed by both Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and their son, Joseph Smith, attesting that the papyri had been the property of the Prophet.
Some of the pieces of papyrus apparently include conventional hieroglyphics (sacred inscriptions, resembling picture-drawing) and hieratic (a cursive shorthand version of hieroglyphics) Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. Often the funerary texts contained passages from the "Book of the Dead," a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world. It is not known at this time whether the ten other pieces of papyri have a direct connection with the Book of Abraham.[3]
The Church's official magazine did not hide Nibley's conclusion about the papyrus fragments rediscovered in 1968.

Nibley provides more information

In addition to photographs of the papyri and a discussion of their provenance, the Improvement Era began a continuing series of articles by LDS scholar Hugh Nibley in January 1968.

Nibley's material did nothing to hide the fact that the JSP were from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.[4]

In August 1968, he repeatedly emphasized that much of the text was the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

  • "...the texts of the 'Joseph Smith Papyri' identified as belonging to the Book of the Dead" (p. 55)
  • "...The largest part of the Joseph Smith Papyri in the possession of the Church consists of fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the fragments having been recently translated and discussed by no less a scholar that Professor John A. Wilson." (p. 57)
  • "These points can be illustrated by the mst easily recognized section of the Joseph Smith papyri, namely, the fragment with the picture of a swallow, Chapter 86 of the Book of the Dead..."(p. 57)
  • "..we may take the best-known picture from the Book of the Dead, the well-known judgment scene or 'Psychostasy,' a fine example of which is found among the Joseph Smith papyri." (p. 59)

Lest the reader miss this claim in the small print, it was reprinted in large bold type across two pages:

  • "The largest parts of the...papyri in possession of the Church consists of fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead..." (pp. 56-57) See image (680 KB).

Notes


  1. Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (January 1968), 12–16.
  2. Jay M. Todd, "New Light on Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri: Additional Fragment Disclosed," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40.; Jay M. Todd, "Background of the Church Historian's Fragment," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40A–40I.
  3. Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (January 1968), 12–13. off-site (emphasis added)
  4. Hugh Nibley, "A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price," Improvement Era (August 1968), 53–63. (page numbers of individual quotes mentioned in main text).


Facsimile 1

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"The Abraham scene is wrong."

FairMormon Response


VIII. And it came to pass while I spake thus to my father Terah in the court of my house, there cometh down the voice of a Mighty One from heaven in a fiery cloud-burst, saying and crying: “Abraham, Abraham!” And I said: “Here am I.” And He said: “Thou art seeking in the understanding of thine heart the God of Gods and the Creator; I am He: Go out from thy father Terah, and get thee out from the house, that thou also be not slain in the sins of thy father’s house.” And I went out. And it came to pass when I went out, that before I succeeded in getting out in front of the door of the court, there came a sound of a [great] thunder and burnt him and his house, and everything whatsoever in his house, down to the ground, forty cubits.

The Apocalypse of Abraham, off-site
∗       ∗       ∗

Questions


It is claimed that Abraham would never be associated with the Egyptian "lion couch" scene, and that the scene would never be used to represent a sacrifice.

Answer


Another lion couch scene with Abraham's name associated with it

Another "lion couch" scene has been discovered which actually includes Abraham's name. Note that it does not claim that Abraham is the figure on the lion couch, and notes that "[t]he figure on the lion couch in this papyrus is a woman." [1]

Photo appearing in John Gee, “Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts,” Ensign, Jul 1992, 60 Caption "A lion couch scene appears in Leiden Papyrus I 384 (PGM xii). The outline marks Abraham’s name, written in Greek. (Courtesy of Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.)" (click to enlarge)

Similarities between the Book of Abraham and the Apocalpyse of Abraham

Also of interest is some correlation between The Book of Abraham and the Apocalypse of Abraham, a Jewish document composed between about 70–150 AD. The Apocalypse of Abraham describes the idolatry of Abraham's father in detail, and talks of how Abraham came to disbelieve in his father's gods. The following quotes describe how God told Abraham to leave his father's house so that he would not be destroyed.

15 And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands;

16 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;

17 And this because they have turned their hearts away from me, to worship the god of Elkenah, and the god of Libnah, and the god of Mahmackrah, and the god of Korash, and the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; therefore I have come down to visit them, and to destroy him who hath lifted up his hand against thee, Abraham, my son, to take away thy life.

VIII. And it came to pass while I spake thus to my father Terah in the court of my house, there cometh down the voice of a Mighty One from heaven in a fiery cloud-burst, saying and crying: “Abraham, Abraham!” And I said: “Here am I.” And He said: “Thou art seeking in the understanding of thine heart the God of Gods and the Creator; I am He: Go out from thy father Terah, and get thee out from the house, that thou also be not slain in the sins of thy father’s house.” And I went out. And it came to pass when I went out, that before I succeeded in getting out in front of the door of the court, there came a sound of a [great] thunder and burnt him and his house, and everything whatsoever in his house, down to the ground, forty cubits.

Notes


  1. See John Gee, Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts on lds.org (July 1992)


"The following image is what Facsimile 1 is really supposed to look like"

The Charles Larson restoration of Facsimile 1

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"[The Charles Larson restoration] is what Facsimile 1 is really supposed to look like, based on Egyptology and the same scene discovered elsewhere in Egypt."

FairMormon Response


Hand versus bird wing

Let me state clearly at the outset my conviction that the questionable traces above the head of the Osiris figure are actually the remains of his right hand; in other words, Joseph Smith was correct in his understanding of the drawing at this point. Ashment 1979, pp. 36, 41 (Illustration 13), is very balanced in his analysis of the problem, presenting compelling arguments for reading two hands; Gee 1992, p. 102 and n. 25, refers to Michael Lyon in describing the "thumb stroke" of the upper (right) hand; cf. Gee 2000, pp. 37-38; and Rhodes 2002, p. 19, concludes: "... a careful comparison of the traces with the hand below as well as the tip of the bird's wing to the right makes it quite clear that it is the other hand of the deceased."...An important clue is provided in the orientation of the thumbs of the upraised hands toward the face. This is the expected way of depicting the hands of mourners and others when they are held up to (both sides of) their heads or before their faces.
—(non-Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell, "The Ancient Egyptian 'Books of Breathing,' the Mormon 'Book of Abraham,' and the Development of Egyptology in America," Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko upon his Retirement from the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University June 2005, (ed. Stephen E. Thompson), Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies, Brown University, 2008, p. 28.

The Larson restoration presumes that the upper hand represented in Facsimile 1 is instead the wing of a bird. There are several elements which disprove this.

  • It is clear that the Egyptian artist drew wings in a specific manner, as can be observed by the wing of the bird on the right.
  • The two hands have distinct thumbs.
  • The assumption that ink spots on the hand represent spots on the birds wing is disproven by close examination of the original, which shows ink traces that indicate that the lines were originally connected.
  • It is also clear that the missing ink correlates with cracks in the papyri. Note that the cracks extend across all fingers, and that the ink has flaked off along the cracks.
  • Note that the index finger (the one next to the thumb) is continuous in the original, but was broken into two parts in the Larson restoration.

Larson.restoration.comparison.to.original.hand.detail.1.jpg Hand.wing.comparison.1a.jpg

Clothing on the reclining figure: Legs, kilt and phallus

...the representation of an ithyphallic figure wearing a kilt would not be unparalleled. However, judging from the position of the erect phallus of the reclining kilted earth god Geb in a cosmological scene on Dynasty 21 Theban coffins now in Turin and Bristol, there would not be enough available space to restore the hand of Anubis, the erect phallus of the Osiris, and the body and wings of Isis in P.JS I: Anubis would have to be grasping the phallus himself and assisting Isis in alighting on it—which is unimaginable. . . .In this area, I believe the Parker-Baer-Ashment reconstruction (with its "implied" erect phallus) is seriously flawed.
(non Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell, "The Ancient Egyptian 'Books of Breathing,'", p. 29

The Larson restoration adds a phallus on the reclining figure, something that is never seen on a clothed Osiris figure.

  • The assumption appears to be that the hash marks on the legs represent breeches. One can also observe this assumption on the Hedlock restoration contained in the Book of Abraham. However, an examination of the original papyrus shows that the legs of the figure were drawn, and that a wraparound Egyptian kilt was then drawn over them. The clothing is not a pair of breeches. This detail is not even in the Larson image, as the two lines distinguishing the legs and the kilt are merged into a single, fat line.
  • It can be seen in the closeup detail that the hash lines of the kilt extend beyond the lines of the leg, intersecting the outer line of the kilt.
  • It can also be seen that the kilt is curved, whereas the legs are straight.
  • The Larson restoration adds a phallus (which we have chosen to obscure) in the location of the figure's navel, based upon the location of the intersection of the legs and an estimate of where the top of the kilt would appear.

Larson.restoration.comparison.to.original.skirt.detail.jpg

Head of the priest

The head of the priest in the Hedlock restoration appears to simply copy the head of the reclining figure. An examination of the papyrus, however, shows evidence that the head was originally that of Anubis. In this case, the Larson restoration appears to be correct.

  • Note that there is a portion of the back of Anubis's headdress visible in the original.
  • It is more likely that the back of the headdress showed hair rather than a solid as represented in the Larson image.

Larson.restoration.anubis.2.jpg


From "Letter to a CES Director":

"The following images [similar to Facsimile 1] shows the same funeral scene which has been discovered elsewhere in Egypt. Notice that the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis is consistent in every funerary scene."

FairMormon Response


Questions


The following claims are made regarding Facsimile 1:

  • That facsimile 1 is simply a typical funerary scene and there are many other papyri showing the same basic scene.
  • It is claimed that the missing portions of the drawing were incorrectly restored:
    • The head of the priest should have been that of Anubis.
    • The priest should not have been holding a knife.
    • The portion portrayed as Abraham's second hand should have been the wing of a second bird.
  • It is claimed that Abraham has never been associated with the lion couch vignette such as that portrayed in Facsimile #1 of the Book of Abraham.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

"Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics on LDS.org, (8 July 2014)


Joseph Smith’s explanations of the facsimiles of the book of Abraham contain additional earmarks of the ancient world. Facsimile 1 and Abraham 1:17 mention the idolatrous god Elkenah. This deity is not mentioned in the Bible, yet modern scholars have identified it as being among the gods worshipped by ancient Mesopotamians. Joseph Smith represented the four figures in figure 6 of facsimile 2 as “this earth in its four quarters.” A similar interpretation has been argued by scholars who study identical figures in other ancient Egyptian texts. Facsimile 1 contains a crocodile deity swimming in what Joseph Smith called “the firmament over our heads.” This interpretation makes sense in light of scholarship that identifies Egyptian conceptions of heaven with “a heavenly ocean.”
(Click here for full article)


Detailed Analysis

What does the lion couch scene normally represent?

Photograph of Facsimile 1 from the recovered Joseph Smith Papyri

The papyrus with the illustration represented in Facsimile 1 (view) is the only recovered item that has any connection to the text of the Book of Abraham.

This vignette is called a "lion couch scene" by Egyptologists. It usually represents the embalming of the deceased individual in preparation for burial. However, this particular lion couch scene represents the resurrection of Hor (figure 2), aided by the Egyptian god Anubis (3).[1]

Abraham 1:12 and the notes to Facsimile 1 identify it as representing Abraham being sacrificed by the priest of Elkenah in Ur.

Is Joseph Smith papyri Facsimile 1 common and similar to other such scenes?

Although many similar lion couch scenes exist, this one has quite a few unique features:

  • No other lion couch scene shows the figure on the couch (Osiris) with both hands raised. (There is a dispute regarding whether or not two hands are represented. See below)
  • No other lion couch scenes show the figure lying on the couch clothed in the manner shown in Facsimile 1. In most other lion couch scenes, the reclining figure is either completely nude or fully wrapped like a mummy. There is one known scene in which the figure is wearing a loin cloth. None to date show the type of clothing being worn by the figure in Facsimile 1.
  • No other lion couch scenes to date have shown the reclining figure wearing anklets or foot coverings.
  • No other lion couch scenes show a crocodile beneath the couch.
  • The original of Facsimile 1 shows the couch behind the priest's legs, and the reclining figure's legs are shown in front of the priest's. The figure was transferred on to the woodcut prior to publication in the Times and Seasons. The wood cut attempted to correct this odd perspective by placing the legs of the priest behind the lion couch.
  • No other such scenes have hatched lines such as those designated as "Expanse" or "Firmament" in Facsimile 1.
  • No other such scenes are known to have the twelve gates or pillars of heaven or anything like them.
  • No other such scenes show a lotus and an offering table. These items are common in other Egyptian scenes, but do not appear in the lion couch scene.

Therefore, we do not agree that it is the "same funeral scene." Facsimile 1 actually depicts the resurrection of Osiris. The figure on the couch is alive. The figures to which it is compared all show the preparation of a mummy.

Mummy.fac.1.comparison.jpg
Photograph of "lion couch" carving displayed at the Louvre in Paris. Note that there is only a single bird shown. (click to enlarge)

Video


For further information related to this topic


  • Is there one bird or are there two?
    Brief Summary: With relation to the claim that a missing portion of Facsimile 1 contained a second bird, the partial figure interpreted as Abraham's second hand is claimed to actually be a portion of the wing of this bird. It is claimed by some that this scene should contain two birds. However, not all lion couch images contain two birds. (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Was the head of the priest incorrectly restored?
    Brief Summary: Joseph interpreted this figure to be "The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice." This figure is normally represented in lion couch scenes as having the jackal head of Anubis. If the portion of the priests head was indeed missing at the time that the facsimile was copied prior to its publication in the Times and Seasons, it may have been restored simply by copying the head of the figure lying on the lion couch. Unlike standards that would be following in publishing today, it was not considered acceptable at that time to publish a figure with missing gaps. Joseph correctly interpreted the figure as a priest. Whether the priest has a human head or is wearing the mask of Anubis makes no difference to the interpretation. (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗
  • Association between Abraham and the lion couch scene
    Brief Summary: It is claimed that Abraham would never be associated with the Egyptian "lion couch" scene. (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗

Notes


  1. Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), 19 (18–23).


Facsimile 2

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"From: [Charles] Larson, p. 104-5,108....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."

FairMormon Response


Questions


Is it true the portions of Facsimile 2 were incorrectly restored?

Answer


Regarding Facsimile 2, it should be noted that portions of the original Facsimile 2 appear to have been missing, and that the missing portions were filled in with characters or images taken from other sources before the image was published in the Times and Seasons. Some material was copied from the Joseph Smith papyri. Among the missing sections may have been the area identified as section #3, which matches a figure which appears on Joseph Smith Papyrus IV. One interesting thing about this restoration is that the figure in the bark boat actually does appear in this section of at least one other hypocephalus.

Hypocephalus.split.3D.1.jpg
Hawk-headed.god.Re.in.Joseph.Smith.Papyri.jpg


From "Letter to a CES Director":

"The following ["mormoninfographic"] is a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile #2 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists and modern Egyptology."

FairMormon Response


Questions


Did Joseph Smith identify any elements of Facsimile 2 that are in agreement with what Egyptologists say they represent?

Answer


One critic of Mormonism states, "The following is a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile #2 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists and modern Egyptology." The letter displays a graphic from "mormoninfographics.com" called "The Book of Abraham - Hypocephalus, a funerary amulet," which compares Joseph Smith's interpretations of elements of Facsimile 2 with those provided by Egyptologists. Although this is an anti-Mormon source, the graphic acknowledges that Joseph may have gotten an element correct: "there is some agreement."

(Click to enlarge)


From "Letter to a CES Director":

"One of the most disturbing facts I discovered in my research of Facsimile 2 is figure #7. Joseph Smith said that this is “God sitting on his throne…” It’s actually Min, the pagan Egyptian god of fertility or sex. Min is sitting on a throne with an erect penis (which can be seen in the figure). In other words, Joseph Smith is saying that this figure with an erect penis is Heavenly Father sitting on his throne."

FairMormon Response


Questions


In the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 7, Joseph Smith identified the ithyphallic Egyptian god "Min" as representing "God sitting upon his throne".

  • How could God the Father be represented by a pagan God with an erect penis?

Answer


Is this Egyptian "pornography?"

To answer this question about Facsimile 2 figure 7, the first thing we need to disabuse is that it constitutes "pornography" because it shows the deity with an erect phallus. This attitude demonstrates not only an immaturity about sexuality, but it also a misunderstanding of ancient Egyptian religion. The characterization of this as "pornography" is grossly inappropriate. The Egyptians would almost certainly have not conceived of this figure on the hypocephalus as "pornographic" in the way most people understand the word. This attitude reflected by some is a good example of how our modern, sexually-obsessed society can easily misinterpret religious art. We see an erect penis in a drawing and think "pornography," whereas an ancient Egyptian would have seen one and thought of fertility, virility and life. Hence the depiction of Min with an erection was a sign of his life-giving ability. We have analogies in Northwest Semitic depictions of God. (El is both called and depicted as a virile bull in the Ugaritic texts, both because of his procreative powers and his greatness over the other gods.)

Another thing to keep in mind is just how common syncretism of religious ideas and iconography was between Near Eastern cultures. We know ancient Hebrews and other Near Eastern people used a phallic God to depict “the God of the Bible” all the time. The Canaanite god Baal, for example, shares the same epithet with Yahweh ("cloud rider") in Psalm 68:4.

Who is this Egyptian god "Min"?

Hugh Nibley treated Min in his magnum opus One Eternal Round, pp. 304-322. Although it is true that one of Min's attributes was that of a fertility god, or a god of procreation, he had other traits that are analogous to the attributes of both the Northwest Semitic deities of El and Baal. For one, he is often portrayed as a man sitting on a throne. Second, he is a god of Creation, the Father, Most High God, etc., as El is depicted in the Ugaritic texts, and later in the Hebrew Bible. He is also a harvest-vegetation god, and, like Baal, oversees the assurance of the renewal of animal and vegetation life through rains and floods, etc. To draw attention to only the fertility aspect of Min is a very myopic view. What's more, John Gee, in a very important article [1], has pointed out that the figure of Min is often simply called "the great god" by the Egyptians themselves.

If modern Egyptologists say that this is a representation of Min, and Min is a “pagan” God, how could Joseph Smith say that it represents God sitting on his throne?

Here is some commentary by Kerry Muhlestein:

[W]e cannot be sure that we should be looking to the Egyptians to know how to interpret these symbols in the Book of Abraham. What if Abraham’s descendants took Egyptian elements of culture and applied their own meanings to them? We know that his numerous offspring did so on many occasions. For example, Jesus himself did this when he gave the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which clearly draws from the Egyptian tale of Setne-Kamwas. The Apocalypse of Abraham and Testament of Abraham are two more examples of Semitic adaptations of Egyptian religious traditions. Thus, is it not possible that we should look for a Jewish interpretation of the Egyptian drawings, rather than for an Egyptian interpretation? Or what if the drawings were originally done in Jewish/Israelite artistic style, but when they were recopied in the second century BC by an Egyptian, the Egyptian artist redrew them according to his artistic customs? Where should we then look to know how to interpret these drawings? It is apparent that there are serious problems with trying to verify or disprove Joseph’s explanations of the facsimiles by comparing them to Egyptological explanations. [2]

In a question/answer session, Muhlestein again reiterated these points:

[W]e do not know to what we really should compare the facsimiles. Was Joseph Smith giving us an interpretation that ancient Egyptians would have held, or one that only a small group of priests interested in Abraham would have held, or one that a group of ancient Jews in Egypt would have held, or something another group altogether would have held, or was he giving us an interpretation we needed to receive for our spiritual benefit regardless of how any ancient groups would have seen these? [3]

From Michael Rhodes:

A seated ithyphallic god with a hawk's tail, holding aloft a flail. This is a form of Min, the god of the regenerative, procreative forces of nature, perhaps combined with Horus, as the hawk's tail would seem to indicate. Before the god is what appears to be a bird presenting him with a Wedjat-eye, the symbol of all good gifts. In other hypocephali it can also be an ape, a snake, or a hawk-headed snake that is presenting the eye. This figure represents Nehebka, a snake god and one of the judges of the dead in the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. Nehebka was considered to be a provider of life and nourishment and as such was often shown presenting a pair of jars or a Wedjat-eye. As for the bird found in Facsimile 2, this could symbolize the Ba or soul (which the Egyptians often represented as a bird) presenting the Wedjat-eye to the seated god. Joseph Smith said this figure represented God sitting upon his throne revealing the grand key-words of the priesthood. The connection of the Wedjat-eye with “the grand key-words of the priesthood” was discussed above. Joseph also explained there was a representation of the sign of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. The Egyptians commonly portrayed the soul or spirit as a bird, so a bird is an appropriate symbol for the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith explained that the remaining figures contained writings that cannot be revealed to the world. Stressing the secrecy of these things is entirely in harmony with Egyptian religious documents such as the hypocephalus and the 162nd chapter of the Book of the Dead. For example, we read in the 162nd chapter of the Book of the Dead, “This is a great and secret book. Do not allow anyone's eyes to see it!” Joseph also says line 8 “is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.” Line 8 reads, “Grant that the soul of the Osiris, Shishaq, may live (eternally).” Since the designated purpose of the hypocephalus was to make the deceased divine, it is not unreasonable to see here a reference to the sacred ordinances performed in our Latter-day temples. [4]

References in the figure are to Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later." off-site


Facsimile 3

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"Egyptologists state that Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri and facsimiles are gibberish and have absolutely nothing to do with what the papyri and facsimiles actually are and what they actually say....Facsimile #3:


Joseph misidentifies the Egyptian god Osiris as Abraham.
Misidentifies the Egyptian god Isis as the Pharaoh.
Misidentifies the Egyptian god Maat as the Prince of the Pharaoh.
Misidentifies the Egyptian god Anubis as a slave.
Misidentifies the dead Hor as a waiter.


Joseph misidentifies – twice – a female as a male."

FairMormon Response


Questions


The following are common criticisms associated with Facsimile 3:

  • The scene depicted is a known Egyptian vignette which Egyptologists state has nothing to do with Abraham.
  • Joseph indicated that specific characters in the facsimile confirmed the identities that he assigned to specific figures.
  • Joseph identified two obviously female figures as "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh."


Answer


Like almost all of us, the majority of those who bring forth these issues are not experts on Egyptian writing or art.

So, this presents an interesting problem--if we are going to take an "academic" or "intellectual" approach to the problem, both believers and critics must all decide to trust an expert. The problem that we immediately encounter is that there are multiple "experts," and these experts do not all agree. Therefore, we are left to decide which "expert" we will trust. There are LDS experts who believe the Book of Abraham is a genuine artifact, and that it testifies to Joseph Smith' status as a prophet. Non-LDS experts obviously do not agree with that.

Latter-day Saints, as believers unequipped to deal with Egyptology, are not able to really assess that information for ourselves. We would need 15-20 years of schooling to do it. So, we can either trust our spiritual future to the experts of our choice, or we can rely ultimately upon revelation.

Critics' claim that Facsimile #3 alone is enough to settle the question of whether or not Joseph Smith was a prophet. This is very convenient for them, because it allows one to focus only on one (very complex) issue that only a few people have the tools to understand. It is, in a sense, to put the critic in an "unassailable position." The critics has made his or her choice, and does not want to debate it or be told he or she is wrong, or return to the question.

And, what the critic might consider a "slam dunk" or "vital point," might (from a believer's or some Egyptologist's point of view) really not be so conclusive OR so vital.

Detailed Analysis

The interpretation of Facsimile 3

According to Michael D. Rhodes in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,

Facsimile 3 presents a constantly recurring scene in Egyptian literature, best known from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris. It is likely that it came at the end of the Book of Breathings text, of which Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, since other examples contain vignettes similar to this. Moreover, the name of Hor, owner of the papyrus, appears in the hieroglyphs at the bottom of this facsimile.

Joseph Smith explained that Facsimile 3 represents Abraham sitting on the pharaoh's throne teaching principles of astronomy to the Egyptian court. Critics have pointed out that the second figure, which Joseph Smith says is the king, is the goddess Hathor (or Isis). There are, however, examples in other papyri, not in the possession of Joseph Smith, in which the pharaoh is portrayed as Hathor. In fact, the whole scene is typical of Egyptian ritual drama in which costumed actors played the parts of various gods and goddesses.

In summary, Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, and Facsimile 3 the end of a document known as the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian religious text dated paleographically to the time of Jesus. Facsimile 2, the hypocephalus, is also a late Egyptian religious text. The association of these facsimiles with the book of Abraham might be explained as Joseph Smith's attempt to find illustrations from the papyri he owned that most closely matched what he had received in revelation when translating the Book of Abraham. Moreover, the Prophet's explanations of each of the facsimiles accord with present understanding of Egyptian religious practices. [5]

However, BYU Egyptologist John Gee challenges the notion that Facsimile 3 is associated with Book of the Dead 125,

[B]oth Facsimile 1 and Facsimile 3 are assumed to belong to the Book of Breathings Made by Isis because they accompanied the text in the Joseph Smith Papyri. Yet the contemporary parallel texts of the Book of Breathings Made by Isis belonging to members of the same family have different vignettes associated with them. Instead of a scene like Facsimile 3, most Books of Breathings Made by Isis show a man with his hands raised in adoration to a cow. This indicates that the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham do not belong to the Book of Breathings. [6]

Responses to Joseph's interpretations of Facsimile 3

Figure 2, identified by Joseph as "King Pharaoh" and figure 4, identified by Joseph as "Prince of Pharaoh" are obviously drawn as female figures. The fact that they are drawn as females is so obvious, in fact, that critics take this as evidence of Joseph's lack of ability to interpret the facsimiles in any fashion whatsoever. Since the figures would obviously have appeared as females even to Joseph's eye, why then are they interpreted as two of the primary male figures?

Regarding the identification of these figures, John Gee notes,

Facsimile 3 has received the least attention. The principal complaint raised by the critics has been regarding the female attire worn by figures 2 and 4, who are identified as male royalty. It has been documented, however, that on certain occasions, for certain ritual purposes, some Egyptian men dressed up as women. [7]

The identification of these obvious female figures as male does suggest that Joseph was using the existing image to illustrate a concept.

Robert K. Ritner, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, states that "Smith’s hopeless translation also turns the goddess Maat into a male prince, the papyrus owner into a waiter, and the black jackal Anubis into a Negro slave."[8]

Larry E. Morris notes the following in response to criticism leveled by Professor Ritner at the Book of Abraham,

Furthermore, Ritner does not inform his readers that certain elements of the Book of Abraham also appear in ancient or medieval texts. Take, for example, Facsimile 3, which depicts, as Ritner puts it, "enthroned Abraham lecturing the male Pharaoh (actually enthroned Osiris with the female Isis)." [9] In what Ritner describes as nonsense, Joseph Smith claimed that Abraham is "sitting upon Pharoah's throne . . . reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy" (Facsimile 3, explanation).

Clearly, Joseph Smith's interpretation did not come from Genesis (where there is no discussion of Abraham doing such a thing). From Ritner's point of view, therefore, this must qualify as one of Joseph's "uninspired fantasies." But going a layer deeper reveals interesting complexities. A number of ancient texts, for example, state that Abraham taught astronomy to the Egyptians. Citing the Jewish writer Artapanus (who lived prior to the first century BC), a fourth-century bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, states: "They were called Hebrews after Abraham. [Artapanus] says that the latter came to Egypt with all his household to the Egyptian king Pharethothes, and taught him astrology, that he remained there twenty years and then departed again for the regions of Syria."22

As for Abraham sitting on a king's throne—another detail not mentioned in Genesis—note this example from Qisas al-Anbiya' (Stories of the Prophets), an Islamic text compiled in AD 1310: "The chamberlain brought Abraham to the king. The king looked at Abraham; he was good looking and handsome. The king honoured Abraham and seated him at his side."23 [10]

Morris concludes,

Ritner may counter that such parallels do not establish the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. That is true, but certainly they deserve some mention. At the very least, these parallels show that "all of this nonsense" is not really an appropriate description of Joseph Smith's interpretation. Fairness demands that Ritner, in his dismissal of the content of the Book of Abraham, at least mention similarities between it and other texts about Abraham and point readers to other sources of information. [11]

Facsimile 3
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.

Known parallels between elements of Joseph's interpretation of Facsimile 3 with other ancient texts

  • Abraham being seated next to a king—The Qisas includes an account of Abraham being seated next to a king. [12]
  • Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy—The concept that Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy is found the writings of Josephus and in Pseudo-Eupolemus. Clark notes that "the book's last facsimile (no. 3) depicts Pharaoh-who traditionally claimed exclusive possession of priesthood and kingship (Abr. 1:25-27)-honoring Abraham's priesthood by allowing him to occupy the throne and instruct the court in astronomy (cf. Pseudo-Eupolemus; Josephus, Antiquities 1.viii.2)".[13]

Criticism regarding Joseph's interpretation of specific textual elements of Facsimile 3

Critics focus on three specific interpretations which reference an interpretation of characters in the facsimile. Joseph Smith provides the following identifications for three of the figures in the facsimile:

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

What is notable in these particular identifications is that Joseph isn't simply assigning an identify to each figure, but is indicating that characters located near each figure confirm the assignments. Egyptologists note that the characters have an entirely different meaning.

Shulem

We do not know why Joseph assigned the name "Shulem" to figure #5. Hugh Nibley notes,

But where does Abraham come in? What gives a "family-night" aspect to our Facsimile 3 is figure 5, who commands the center of the stage. Instead of his being Abraham or Pharaoh, as we might expect, he is simply "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters." To the eye of common sense, all of Joseph Smith's interpretations are enigmatic; to illustrate his story best, the man on the throne should be Pharaoh, of course, and the man standing before him with upraised hand would obviously be Abraham teaching him about the stars, while figure 6 would necessarily be Abraham's servant (Eliezer was, according to tradition, a black man).252 But if we consult the Egyptian parallels to this scene instead of our own wit and experience, we learn that the person normally standing in the position of 5 is the owner of the stele and is almost always some important servant in the palace, boasting in the biographical inscription of his glorious proximity to the king. Hall's collection of biographical stelae includes a Chief of Bowmen, Singer of Amon, Chief Builder, Scribe of the Temple, Chief Workman of Amon, Fan Bearer, King's Messenger, Guardian of the Treasury, Director of Works, King's Chief Charioteer, Standard Bearer, Pharaoh's Chief Boatman, Intendant of Pharaoh's Boat-crew, Warden of the Harim, the Queen's Chief Cook, Chief of Palace Security, etc.253 All these men, by no means of royal blood, but familiars of the palace, have the honor of serving the king in intimate family situations and are seen coming before him to pay their respects at family gatherings. Some of them, like the King's Chief Charioteer, have good Syrian and Canaanite names, like our "Shulem"—how naturally he fits into the picture as "one of the King's principal waiters!" The fact that high serving posts that brought one into close personal contact with Pharaoh—the greatest blessing that life had to offer to an Egyptian—were held by men of alien (Canaanite) blood shows that the doors of opportunity at the court were open even to foreigners like Abraham and his descendants.

But why "Shulem"? He plays no part in the story. His name never appears elsewhere; he simply pops up and then disappears. And yet he is the center of attention in Facsimile 3! That is just the point: These palace servants would in their biographical stelae glorify the moment of their greatest splendor for the edification of their posterity forever after. This would be one sure means of guaranteeing a preservation of Abraham's story in Egypt. We are told in the book of Jubilees that Joseph in Egypt remembered how his father Jacob used to read the words of Abraham to the family circle.254 We also know that the Egyptians in their histories made fullest use of all sources available—especially the material on the autobiographical stelae served to enlighten and instruct posterity.255 Facsimile 3 may well be a copy on papyrus of the funeral stele of one Shulem who memorialized an occasion when he was introduced to an illustrious fellow Canaanite in the palace. A "principal waiter" (wdpw) could be a very high official indeed, something like an Intendant of the Palace. Shulem is the useful transmitter and timely witness who confirms for us the story of Abraham at court. [14]

Notes


  1. John Gee, “Towards an Interpretation of Hyppocephali,” 334
  2. Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: Some Questions and Answers," Religious Educator, vol. 11 no. 1 (2010) off-site
  3. Stephen Smoot, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham: An Interview with Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein," Student Review (November 2013) off-site
  4. Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later" off-site
  5. Michael Rhodes, in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., "Book of Abraham," Encyclopedia of Mormonism off-site
  6. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, "Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125," Astronomy, Papyrus and Covenant, Neal A. Maxwell Institute.
  7. John Gee, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," Neal A. Maxwell Institute. Footnote 17 states: 17. "More information on this will be forthcoming, but one readily available instance is recorded in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 11.8."
  8. Robert K. Ritner, “The Breathing Permit of Hor Among the Joseph Smith Papyri," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, (University of Chicago, 2003), p. 162, note 4. Dr. Ritner is one of Dr. John Gee's former professors at Yale. Ritner's article in the Journal of Near eastern Studies is highly critical of his former student's involvement with any LDS apologetic effort on the part of the Book of Abraham, specifically because he was not included in a peer review.
  9. JNES, p. 162
  10. Larry E. Morris, "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking (Review of: “The ‘Breathing Permit of Hor’ Thirty-four Years Later.” Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97–119)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 355–380. off-site
  11. Larry E. Morris, "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking (Review of: “The ‘Breathing Permit of Hor’ Thirty-four Years Later.” Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97–119)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 355–380. off-site
  12. Bradley J. Cook, "The Book of Abraham and the Islamic Qisas al-Anbiya< (Tales of the Prophets) Extant Literature," Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 127—46.
  13. E. Douglas Clark, "Abraham," Encyclopedia of Mormonism off-site
  14. Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, "All the Court's a Stage: Facsimile 3, a Royal Mumming," (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) off-site


"the sun gets its light from Kolob"

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"Facsimile 2, Figure #5 states the sun gets its light from Kolob. We now know that the process of nuclear fusion is what makes the stars and suns shine. With the discovery of quantum mechanics, scientists learned that the sun’s source of energy is internal, and not external. The sun shines because of thermonuclear fusion; not because it gets its light from any other star as claimed by the Book of Abraham."

FairMormon Response


Questions


The Book of Abraham states that “the sun [is said] 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 (Abraham Fac 2,Fig 5),” while astrophysics has shown that “The Sun shines ... because of thermonuclear fusion. It does not get its light from any other star.”


Answer


These verses from Abraham admit a variety of interpretations. The suggestion that Abraham must have taught that the photons leaving the surface of the sun originally came from Kolob is completely unjustified.

Detailed Analysis

There are many scriptures or statements by the prophets that seem to have scientific implications. Unfortunately, they are never couched in modern scientific terms and their meanings are often very obscure. So it is hard to decide who is more foolish — the faithful saint, who interprets them in a way that forces them into agreement with some current view of science, or the faithless critic, who purposely interprets them in a way that is most at odds with current scientific thought. The Book of Abraham quote cited in the criticism above has inspired both kinds of nonsense, including the interpretation found on the web site where this criticism appeared. The wording of Joseph Smith’s explanation of Figure 5 in Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham is, in fact, very difficult to interpret. Let’s see what some of our options are.

  • First, to “borrow” means to receive with the intention of returning, especially said of a material object or substance. It may also mean to take and adopt as one’s own, especially said of abstractions or ideas, as in “the composer borrowed his harmonic structure from Bach’s Fugue in D Major.” So what does it mean for the sun to “borrow” its light from Kolob? Is light a material or an abstraction? Does the Sun intend to repay the light it borrowed?
  • What, in fact, is meant by 'light' in this context? Doctrine & Covenants 88:7–13, in wording strongly reminiscent of our Book of Abraham quote, states “7 ...this is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. 8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; 9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; 10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. 11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; 12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space — 13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things (emphasis added).” These verses are clearly NOT talking about electromagnetic radiation. Does anyone have a convincing explanation of what they ARE talking about?
  • A “medium” can mean a material through which some signal propagates or a means or channel through which something is achieved. What does it mean here? Does it refer to a material or a means?
  • What is Kae-e-vanrash? The Book of Abraham says that it is a “grand Key,” or “governing power.” What does that mean? Is Kae-e-vanrash a term for nuclear reactions, gravitation, cosmic rays? Or is it a more spiritual medium such as priesthood or faith, or an organizational structure, or a means used for administrative communications?

And, finally, what are we to understand about the nature of Book of Abraham astronomy? Is it a revelation from God to Abraham explaining the structure of the universe as it would be seen by the astronomers of our day? Or should we remember that “The Lord said unto me: Abraham, I show these things unto thee before ye go into Egypt, that ye may declare all these words.” Abraham 3:15, so that, as John Gee has suggested [1], this is simply the teaching that would be easiest for the Egyptians to understand — one that would teach them that Elohim, who dwells near Kolob, rules over than the sun-god, Amen-Re?

Until someone can make a convincing case that their interpretation of these things is the only reasonable one, any faith-promoting proof from Abraham’s astronomy is a flimsy house of cards and any faith-destroying attack on some straw-man interpretation is misguided. Among the misguided interpretations is the unjustified suggestion that Abraham taught that the photons leaving the surface of the sun originally came from Kolob.

Notes


  1. John Gee, "The Larger Issue", 2009 FAIR Conference. off-site


"There’s a book published in 1830 by Thomas Dick entitled 'The Philosophy of the Future State'"

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"Joseph Smith owned a copy of the book [Thomas Dick's book Philosophy of a Future State.] and Oliver Cowdery quoted some lengthy excerpts from the book in the December 1836 Messenger and Advocate.""

FairMormon Response


Questions


It is claimed that Joseph Smith's theology as described in the Book of Abraham was influenced by Thomas Dick's book The Philosophy of a Future State.


Answer


Many of the ideas promoted by Thomas Dick were common Protestant beliefs and were therefore available without having to read Dick’s work. Joseph Smith never made any public or written statements indicating that he was aware of or that he had ever read Dick’s book. The only evidence that even suggests the possibility is circumstantial and is based upon the appearance of several passages from A Philosophy of a Future State in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. More importantly, Joseph Smith rejected or contradicted many of the ideas put forth by Dick in A Philosophy of a Future State. It is therefore unlikely, contrary to Brodie’s speculation, that Joseph had been “recently reading” Dick’s work and that it made a “lasting impression” upon the Prophet.[1][2]

Detailed Analysis

This criticism was advanced by Fawn Brodie, who suggested that Joseph Smith developed the theology described in the Book of Abraham by reading Thomas Dick’s The Philosophy of a Future State. An excerpt from Dick’s work was published by Oliver Cowdery in the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate in December 1836,[3] therefore one could assume that Joseph had access to the book in the 1835-1836 timeframe during which the Book of Abraham was being produced. Dick's book was also in the possession of the Prophet by 1844, at which time he donated his copy to the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute. [4]

It is also known that two of Dick's books were available in the Manchester Library, [5] although none of the Smith family were actually members of the library and were unlikely to have had access to its resources.[6] Based upon this circumstantial evidence, Brodie not only assumes that the Prophet must have read the book, but that he incorporated Dick’s ideas into the Book of Abraham.

Thomas Dick was a Scottish born minister, writer, astronomer and philosopher, whose published works in the early 1800’s attempted to reconcile science with Christianity. Dick believed that "mind and matter" were the two basic principles of the universe.[7] Dick believed God was of "a spiritual uncompounded substance, having no visible form."[8] The reason for the existence of matter is to allow the mind to be able to focus on God through the observance of his creations.

According to Dick:

[F]or the Creator has ordained, as one part of their mental enjoyments, that they shall be furnished with the means of tracing the mode of his operations, and the designs they are intended to accomplish in the different departments of nature.[9]

The following is a comparison and contrast of several of the theological concepts of both Joseph Smith and Thomas Dick.

Concept Thomas Dick Joseph Smith
Creation None but that Eternal Mind which counts the number of the stars, which called them from nothing into existence, and arranged them in the respective stations...[10] Now, I ask all who hear me, why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing? The reason is, that they are unlearned in the things of God... [11]
Intelligences The Creator stands in no need of innumerable assemblages of worlds and of inferior ranks of intelligences, in order to secure or to augment his felicity. Innumerable ages before the universe was created, he existed alone, independent of every other being, and infinitely happy in the contemplation of his own eternal excellencies.[12] I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom excelleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen. Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; (Abraham 3:21-22)
Nature of God a spiritual uncompounded substance, having no visible form.[13] God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens![14]
Ability to comprehend God But the eternity, the omnipresence, and the omniscience of the Deity, are equally mysterious; for they are equally incomprehensible, and must for ever remain incomprehensible to all limited intelligences.[15] It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth. [16]

Notes


  1. Hugh Nibley, No, Ma'am, That's Not History: A Brief Review of Mrs. Brodie's Reluctant Vindication of a Prophet She Seeks to Expose (Bookcraft: 1946). off-site
  2. Jones, pp. 94-6.
  3. Oliver Cowdery (editor), "ON THE ABSURDITY OF SUPPOSING THAT THE THINKING PRINCIPLE IN MAN WILL EVER BE ANNIHILATED," (December 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 3:423-425. (An extract from "Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State.") It should be noted that the November 1836 date given for this article given by Brodie in No Man Knows My History on page 171 is incorrect.
  4. Kenneth W. Godfrey, "A Note on the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute," BYU Studies 14, no. 3 (1974) off-site
  5. Robert Paul, "Joseph Smith and the Manchester (New York) Library," Brigham Young University Studies 22 no. 3 (1982), 333–356.
  6. John Brooke, The Refiner's Fire (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 207.
  7. Edward T. Jones, The Theology of Thomas Dick and its Possible Relationship to that of Joseph Smith, Master's Thesis, 1969, p. 27.
  8. Thomas Dick, The Philosophy of a Future State (New York: R. Shoyer, 1831) p. 188.
  9. Dick, p. 212.
  10. Dick, p. 192.
  11. Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977) p. 350.
  12. Dick, p. 52.
  13. Dick, p. 188.
  14. Smith, p. 345.
  15. Dick, p. 183.
  16. Smith, p. 345.


"Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was directly asked about the papyri not matching the Book of Abraham in a March 2012 BBC interview"

From "Letter to a CES Director":

"Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was directly asked about the papyri not matching the Book of Abraham in a March 2012 BBC interview:

Sweeney: Mr. Smith got this papyri and he translated them and subsequently as the Egyptologists cracked the code something completely different…

Holland: (Interrupts) All I’m saying…all I’m saying is that what got translated got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that, I do not understand and don’t claim to know and know Egyptian."

FairMormon Response


Questions


During a BBC interview with John Sweeney in March 2012, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was asked about the Book of Abraham:

Sweeney: Mr. Smith got this papyri and he translated them and subsequently as the Egyptologists cracked the code something completely different...

Holland: All I'm saying...all I'm saying is that what got translated got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that I do not understand and don't claim to know and know Egyptian.

  • Critics of the Church accuse Elder Holland of lying on this point.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

"The Book of Abraham," The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, (2000)


How Did the Prophet Translate the Ancient Writings?


The Prophet Joseph Smith never communicated his method of translating these records. As with all other scriptures, a testimony of the truthfulness of these writings 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 content and power.
(Click here for full article)


Answer


The Church has known and publicly acknowledged in the Improvement Era that the papyri fragments do not match the text of the Book of Abraham since 1968 (for over 45 years). This isn't something new. Elder Holland knows this.

Furthermore, Elder Holland's statement is consistent with what the Church itself says on this subject in the The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual. Elder Holland said "what got translated got translated into the word of God." The manual says, "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 content and power."

For further information related to this topic


  • When did the Church disclose that the Joseph Smith Papyri were an Egyptian funerary text?
    Brief Summary: Critics of the Church often assert that the Church did not identify the Joseph Smith Papyri as an Egyptian funerary text until after Egyptologists examined them. They also claim that the Church is hiding or "covering up" the papyri's actual contents. Both assertions are incorrect. In fact, the Church ran a multi-part series with color pictures of the papyri in the Improvement Era (the predecessor to the Ensign) less than two months after they were received from the Metropolitan Museum.[1] The series repeatedly affirmed that the recovered papyri contained Egyptian funerary materials and not the text of Book of Abraham. Although the article erroneously identified the papyrus as the Egyptian "Book of the Dead," it was later correctly identified as a "Book of Breathings." (Click here for full article)
    ∗       ∗       ∗

Notes


  1. Improvement Era {January 1968).


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