1. False Translation of Book of Abraham

The Book of Abraham comes first on my list, because ultimately the divinity of Joseph's calling rests upon it. If he in fact translated an ancient record of the patriarch Abraham through the power of God, he must have been the prophet and seer he claimed to be. However, if the Book of Abraham is a fabrication, Joseph was a fraud. The same might be said of the Book of Mormon. But since we don't have the golden plates, it is difficult to authenticate whether it is a true record. Fortunately, we do have the original records (for example, Facsimile 1) used by Joseph to translate the Book of Abraham. This gives us what we need to objectively determine whether Joseph's claims are true.

In July of 1835, an Irishman named Michael Chandler brought an exhibit of four Egyptian mummies and papyri to Kirtland Ohio, then the home of the Mormons. The papyri contained Egyptian hieroglyphics which intrigued the prophet Joseph Smith. The meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics would not become available to the public until 1837, on the publication of John G. Wilkinson's Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, based on the Rosetta stone. But Joseph was not dependent on such mundane means for translating ancient records.

As prophet and seer of the Church, Joseph was given permission to look at the papyri scrolls in the exhibit, upon which he pronounced a marvelous discovery:

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

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

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

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

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



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

With the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, it finally became possible for scholars to decipher the Egyptian language. This in turn enabled the experts to objectively evaluate Joseph's translation of the papyri. The papyri themselves were thought to have been destroyed in the "Great Chicago Fire" in 1871. However, Egyptologists could still study the three Facsimiles included in the Book of Abraham as well as Joseph's translation of these Facsimiles. The first such study was performed by M. Theodule Deveria of the Louvre in Paris. Deveria was able to decipher the names and titles of various Egyptian gods and goddesses, as well as the name of the deceased Egyptian for whom the scroll had originally been prepared. Regarding Facsimile No. 3 he wrote:

"The deceased led by Ma into the presence of Osiris. His name is Horus, as may be seen in the prayer which is at the bottom of the picture, and which is addressed to the divinities of the four cardinal points." (Voyage au Pays des Mormons (Paris, 1860).

Deveria recognized the three Facsimiles as common Egyptian funerary documents and concluded that Joseph's interpretations of the Facsimiles was nonsense.

In 1912, Reverend Franklin S. Spalding sent copies of the three Facsimiles from the Book of Abraham to some of the world's leading scholars of Egyptology. All eight of the scholars that responded were unanimous in their condemnation of Joseph's translations as being incorrect. For example, Dr. Arthur Mace, Assistant Curator for the Department of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York explained:

"The Book of Abraham, it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication. Cuts 1 and 3 are inaccurate copies of well known scenes on funeral papyri, and cut 2 is a copy of one of the magical discs which in the late Egyptian period were placed under the heads of mummies. There were about forty of these latter known in museums and they are all very similar in character. Joseph Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end. Egyptian characters can now be read almost as easily as Greek, and five minutes' study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture." (F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith Jr., As a Translator, 1912, p. 27)

Dr. A. H. Sayce from Oxford, England concurred:

"It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud. The fac simile from the Book of Abraham No. 2 is an ordinary hypocephalus, but the hieroglyphics upon it have been copied so ignorantly that hardly one of them is correct. I need scarcely say that Kolob, &c., are unknown to the Egyptian language. Smith has turned the goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham." (Ibid., p. 23)

Dr. Flinders Petrie of London University wrote:

"They are copies of Egyptian subjects of which I have seen dozens of examples. They are centuries later than Abraham. The attempts to guess a meaning for them in the professed explanations are too absurd to be noticed. It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations." (Ibid., p. 24)

Dr. James H. Breasted of the Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago, declared:

"It will be seen, then, that if Joseph Smith could read ancient Egyptian writing, his ability to do so had no connection with the decipherment of hieroglyphics by European scholars…The three fac-similes in question represent equipment which will be and has been found in unnumbered thousands of Egyptian graves…The point, then, is that in publishing these fac-similes of Egyptian documents as part of an unique revelation to Abraham, Joseph Smith was attributing to Abraham not three unique documents of which no other copies exist, but was attributing to Abraham a series of documents which were the common property of a whole nation of people who employed them in every human burial, which they prepared…

Fac-simile Number 2 represents a little disc…commonly called among Egyptologists a hypocephalus…These did not come into use until the late centuries just before the Christian era. They did not appear in any Egyptian burials until over a thousand years after the time of Abraham. They were unknown in Egypt in Abraham's day.

Fac-simile Number 3…This scene again is depicted innumerable times in the funeral papyri, coffins and tomb and temple walls of Egypt. No representation of it thus far found in Egypt, though we have thousands of them, dates earlier than 500 years after Abraham's age; and it may be stated as certain that the scene was unknown until about 500 years after Abraham's day." (Ibid., pp. 24-27)

Thus, based on the evidence provided by the Facsimiles alone, scholars overwhelmingly concurred that Joseph's translation of these Facsimiles was incorrect. Further, it was determined that Abraham could not have possessed these Facsimiles because at least in the case of Nos. 2 and 3, they did not exist until long after Abraham's day.

Egyptologists noted another significant problem with the Facsimiles. There were sections of the drawings which were clearly false reconstructions. For example, Dr. Albert Lythgoe, head of the Department of Egyptian Art at the New York Metropolitan Museum, concluded that the reconstructed parts of Facsimile No. 1 were incorrect.

The above picture shows the original papyrus as well as Joseph's rendering of Facsimile No. 1. While the original papyrus had not yet been discovered at the time Lythgoe did his assessment, he nonetheless noted problems with certain aspects of the rendition. For example, Lythgoe pointed out that what Joseph interpreted as a wicked priest attempting to sacrifice Abraham was in fact Anubus:

"…the god Anubus, bending over the mummy, was shown with a human and strangely un-Egyptian head, instead of a jackal's head usual to the scene. And a knife had been drawn into the god's hand." (New York Times, Magazine Section, December, 1912).

This echoed the observations of Deveria a half-century prior, who also noted that the bird in Facsimile No. 1, to correctly represent the soul of Osiris, "should have a human head."

According to a professional reconstruction of the papyrus, Facsimile No. 1 should instead have looked like this (Charles Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, p. 65):

In Joseph's interpretation of Facsimile No. 1, the bird was the "Angel of the Lord". Joseph said the Facsimile depicted "Abraham fastened upon an altar," being offered up as a sacrifice by a false priest of Elkenah. The figures under the altar were various gods: Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh. This is referenced in both the Facsimile and the text of the Book of Abraham 1:12-14.

In reality, this is an embalming scene showing Osiris lying on a lion-couch. The actual translation of Facsimile No. 1 is:

"Osiris shall be conveyed into the Great Pool of Khons -- and likewise Osiris Hor, justified, born to Tikhebyt, justified -- after his arms have been placed on his heart and the Breathing permit (which [Isis] made and has writing on its inside and outside) has been wrapped in royal linen and placed under his left arm near his heart; the rest of the mummy-bandages should be wrapped over it. The man for whom this book was copied will breathe forever and ever as the bas of the gods do." (Klaus Baer, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, pp. 119-20)

Contrary to what Joseph claimed, the four canopic jars under the lion-couch actually refer to the grandsons of Osiris: Amset, Hapi, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef. Underneath these figures is the crocodile god Sobek (Charles Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, p. 102). Thus, every detail of Joseph's interpretation was incorrect.

In presenting the Facsimiles as part of the Book of Abraham, Joseph apparently kept to himself that some of the figures and explanatory text were not even from the original Facsimiles. These were actually drawn in by Joseph. As another example, see Facsimile No. 2 below:

It is easy to see where the missing portions existed and what Joseph drew in their place. In these locations, we find that Joseph copied from the Book of Breathings and the Book of the Dead scrolls, showing a complete lack of understanding of the Egyptian language. As with Facsimile No. 1, none of the reconstructions drawn in by Joseph are vindicated by the study of Egyptology.

For example, the upside-down creature in Figure 7 was drawn in by Joseph to represent the "form of a dove". This creature should actually have been an ithyphallic serpent with legs. The central figure of the Facsimile ordinarily has four ram heads in an authentic hypocephalus, but Joseph appears to have simply copied the two-headed Egyptian god Par directly above it in Figure 2. For the boat depicted in Figure 3 to the upper right, this should actually be two boats, a small one above a larger one. What Joseph did, however, was to copy a boat figure from the Book of Joseph papyrus instead. This copy is in fact a drawing of the sun-god in his solar bark, and is improper for a hypocephalus. (Charles Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, p. 105-9).

The above picture shows the missing portion of text in the outer ring of Facsimile No. 2, and how Joseph clearly copied from the Small Sensen text to fill in these missing portions. He randomly picked three sections from lines 2-4 of this text in order to fill in Facsimile No. 2. A "farrago of nonsense" indeed.

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place in 1938, when Dr. Sidney Sperry allowed the publication of portions of Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. The Grammar was a working document used by Joseph and his scribes during the translation of the Book of Abraham. Sperry had discovered the Grammar three years prior in the official church history vault, where apparently they were deposited in 1855 and forgotten about. In 1965, a microfilm copy of the entire work was leaked to the Tanners of Utah Lighthouse Ministry. It was only in 1966 when the Tanners published the reprint, that the public was finally given access to the complete record. The Grammar quickly proved to be a problem for the LDS church, and it is understandable why they were hesitant to publish it themselves.

Professional Egyptologists again went to work examining the Grammar, and quickly concluded that it bore no resemblance to any correct understanding of the Egyptian language. For example, I. E. Edwards stated that it was:

"…largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind of scientific value…[and reminded me of] the writings of psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to me." (Letter of I. E. Edwards, Keeper of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities, June 9, 1966)

The Grammar included two handwritten Book of Abraham manuscripts, which Joseph dictated to William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish. A third manuscript was discovered by LDS writer Wilford Wood in 1937, which was produced shortly after the first two manuscripts. A fourth manuscript in the hand of Willard Richards was also discovered, and it is this fourth manuscript that is believed to be the final manuscript used for the 1842 publication of the Book of Abraham in the Times and Seasons. Of these four existing manuscripts, the first three all included Egyptian characters in the left margin of the pages. This would soon prove to be of significance.

It was an eventful year in 1966, because not only did the full Grammar come to light, but the original papyri were rediscovered in one of the vault rooms of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. On Nov. 27, 1967 the Salt Lake City Deseret News announced that the papyri had been presented to the LDS church. On the back of the papyri were drawings of a temple and maps of the Kirtland, Ohio area. It was also noticed that Facsimile No. 1 from the Book of Abraham was identical to the facsimile found in one of the papyri scrolls. Facsimiles Nos. 2 and 3 were not part of the rediscovered papyri. Scholars estimated that the papyri consisted of about 1/3 of the entire papyrus collection originally owned by Joseph (Walter Whipple, et al, From the Dust of the Decades (Salt Lake City, 1968), p. 116). The entire collection was comprised of two scrolls, along with 2-3 other small pieces of papyrus with astronomical calculations as described by Oliver Cowdery:

"On opening the coffins he discovered that in connection with two of the bodies, were something rolled up with the same kind of linen, saturated with the same bitumen, which, when examined proved to be the two rolls of papyrus, previously mentioned. I may add that two or three other small pieces of papyrus, with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c. were found with others of the mummies." (Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, as cited in Charles Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, pp. 132-3)

All told, 12 papyrus fragments were discovered. By piecing the fragments together, it was determined that the papyri constituted two original scrolls. The first scroll was used for the Book of Abraham and consisted of three fragments: the Facsimile No. 1 papyrus, the "Small Sensen" papyrus, and the "Large Sensen" payrus. The second scroll had been declared by the prophet to be the Book of Joseph (written in red and black ink) and consisted of seven fragments. The two remaining fragments (discussed below) were not associated with either of these scrolls.

Here again it was possible for the Egyptologists to assess the veracity of Joseph's claims. When the verdicts came in from scholars such as Dr. John Wilson (University of Chicago), Dr. Klaus Baer (University of Chicago), and Professor Richard Parker (Brown University), it was unanimously agreed that the Book of Abraham could not have come from these papyri. The Egyptologists concluded that the Book of Abraham scroll was in fact known as the Book of Breathings and could be dated to the time of Christ, or approximately 2,000 years later than the time of Abraham. The Book of Breathings consisted of instructions along with a series of magic spells to be recited by the spirit of the corpse after burial, in order to teach itself to "breathe," and thus prepare for its existence in the afterlife. This particular Book of Breathingshad been prepared for the priest Hor, son of the priest Osorwer and the lady Tikhebyt. There was no indication of Abraham whatsoever in the scroll.

The Book of Joseph scroll was determined to actually be a copy of the pagan Egyptian Book of the Dead dating to a least 1,500 years after the time of the biblical Joseph. The Book of the Deadwas divided into many short chapters, or "spells," many of which were accompanied by vignettes to illustrate them. This particular Book of the Deadwas prepared for the deceased Ta-shert-Min, daughter of Nes-Khensu. As mentioned earlier, Joseph apparently never "translated" this scroll. However, Oliver Cowdery describes the scroll in detail, providing his own (incorrect) interpretations of what several of the vignettes on the scroll mean:

"The language in which this record is written is very comprehensive, and many of the hieroglyphics exceedingly striking. The evidence is apparent upon the face, that they were written by persons acquainted with the history of the creation, the fall of man, and more or less of the correct ideas of notions of the Deity. The representation of the god-head--three, yet in one, is curiously drawn to give simply, though impressively, the writer's views of that exalted personage. The serpent, represented as walking, or formed in a manner to be able to walk, standing in front of, and near a female figure, is to me, one of the greatest representations I have ever seen upon paper, or a writing substance; and must go so far towards convincing the rational mind of the correctness and divine authority of the holy scriptures, and especially that part which has ever been assailed by the infidel community, as being a fiction, as to carry away, with one might sweep, the whole atheistical fabric, without leaving a vestige sufficient for a foundation stone. Enoch's Pillar, as mentioned by Josephus, is upon the same roll…The inner end of the same roll, (Joseph's record,) presents a representation of the judgment: At one view you behold the Savior seated upon his throne, crowned, and holding the sceptres of righteousness and power, before whom also, are assembled the twelve tribes of Israel, the nations, languages and tongues of the earth, the kingdoms of the world over which satan is represented as reigning. Michael the archangel, holding the key of the bottomless pit, and at the same time the devil as being chained and shut up in the bottomless pit…" (Messenger and Advocate: Volume 2: No. 3 (December, 1835) pp. 233, 7) thru (Messenger and Advocate: Volume 2: No. 3 (December, 1835) pp. 237, 5)

Two additional fragments in the collection came from a second Book of the Dead scroll, and comprise one scene cut into two pieces. This second Book of the Dead had been prepared for a female musician named Amon-Re Neferirnub. It is not known whether Joseph ever made any particular identification of these two additional fragments. (Dr. Klaus Baer, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 111)

Now it was possible to compare the Book of Abraham papyrus with the Grammar that had been published that same year. It was found that the Book of Abraham papyrus began with Facsimile No. 1 and was immediately followed by Egyptian figures (the Small Sensen text discussed above). These Egyptian figures matched identically, and in order, the figures in the left column of the translation manuscripts. The same Egyptian characters in all three manuscripts correspond to identical passages of adjacent text, indicating a deliberate juxtaposition with the text of the translation manuscript. In addition, where there were tears and missing sections in the papyrus, contrived non-Egyptian figures were written next to certain passages in the manuscripts. This provided further evidence that these papyri were in fact the originals used by Joseph to create the Book of Abraham. More importantly, it demonstrated that Joseph's translation of the Book of Abraham text could not possibly be correct, since the Egyptian characters had absolutely nothing in common with the transcript text to which they were aligned, and the non-Egyptian characters were meaningless.

Regarding the apologist claim that Joseph was only constructing the Grammar for the purpose of translating additional papyri after completing the Book of Abraham, and that it was a "failed effort", it is clear that this was not the case. In fact, Joseph was intimately involved with the creation of the Grammar and used it for inspiration during the translation process:

"This afternoon I labored on the Egyptian alphabet, in company with Brothers Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps, and during the research, the principles of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients unfolded to our understanding, the particulars of which will appear hereafter." (History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 286)

The LDS church appointed Hugh Nibley as the primary scholar to work on a sanctioned translation of the papyri. However, while a respected scholar of ancient scripture, Nibley did not have any expertise in the Egyptian language. As Nibley noted in a June, 1967 letter:

"I don't consider myself an Egyptologist at all, and don't intend to get involved in the P.G.P. [Pearl of Great Price] business unless I am forced into it - which will probably be sooner than that. I actually don't know where the original PGP Mss are, though I could find out easily enough; so far my ignorance has served me well." (Letter from Hugh Nibley to Dee Jay Nelson, dated June 27, 1967)

Hugh Nibley began studying Egyptology with Dr. John Wilson in Chicago, and his eventual translation agreed in substance with that of the more experienced Egyptologists. In the face of such evidence, Nibley could only acknowledge:

"Today nobody claims that Joseph Smith got his information through ordinary scholarly channels. In that case, one wonders how any amount of checking along ordinary scholarly channels is going to get us very far." (Hugh Nibley, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 101)

Nibley changed directions and began working through a variety of theories as to how Joseph may have been able to produce the Book of Abraham given the papyri that had come to light (see Apologist Response section below). In doing so, his theories were challenged even by fellow LDS scholars such as Edward Ashment of the Church Translation Department. Nibley responded:

"I refuse to be held responsible for anything I wrote more than three years ago. For heaven's sake, I hope we are moving forward here. After all, the implication that one mistake and it is all over with-how flattering to think in forty years I have not made one slip and I am still in business! I would say about four fifths of everything I put down has changed, of course…

Since hearing Brother Ashment I have to make some changes in what I have said already. Do I have to bang my head and go hide or something like that because I have been discredited? These things are being found out all the time. There are lots of things that Brother Ashment pointed out that I should have noticed; but I notice I could point out a lot of things that he has not noticed." (Hugh Nibley, The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham)

For example, Nibley posited that the inconsistencies in the Facsimiles may have been due to errors by Reuben Hedlock, the Latter-day Saint who prepared the original woodcut engravings of the scenes in 1842. However, to do so Hedlock would have needed access to the papyri, as demonstrated by the blatant transposition of so many unrelated elements into the Facsimiles. It is unfathomable that Joseph would have permitted such creative license, and in fact journal entries show that he was directly involved in the process:

"Thursday, March 1, 1842 - During the forenoon I was at my office and the printing office, correcting the first plate or cut [note: this would be "Facsimile No. 1"] of the Records of Father Abraham prepared by Reuben Hedlock, for the Times and Seasons…" (History of the Church, Vol. 4, p. 519)

"Friday, March 4, 1842 - At my office exhibiting the Book of Abraham in the original to Brother Reuben Hedlock, so that he might take the size of the several plates or cuts, and prepare the blocks for the Times and Seasons; and also gave instructions concerning the arrangements of the writing on the large cut, illustrating the principles of astronomy [this would be Facsimile No. 2]…" (Ibid., p. 543)

In any case, the erroneous translations provided by Joseph demonstrate a blatant misunderstanding of the true meaning of the papyri.

Thomas Ferguson, a Mormon archaeologist, concluded in a private letter to a friend:

"Since 4 scholars, who have established that they can read Egyptian, say that the manuscripts deal with neither Abraham nor Joseph-- and since the 4 reputable men tell us exactly what the manuscripts do say -- I must conclude that Joseph Smith had not the remotest skill in things Egyptian-hieroglyphics. To my surprise, one of the highest of officials in the Mormon Church agreed with that conclusion when I made that very statement to him on Dec. 4, 1970--privately in one-to-one [c]onversation...

"The attempts, including Nibley's, to explain away and dodge the trap into which Joseph Smith fell when he had the audacity to translate the Chandler text, and keep the original Egyptian texts around, are absurd, in my view.

"My views are not for publication or spreading abroad. I am like you--maintaining membership because of the many fine things the Church offers. But facts speak for themselves. I offered the data available to my Stake Pres. recently and he walked away without it--saying he didn't want to read it. They can hardly excommunicate us when they won't look at the evidence.

Of course the dodge as to the Book of Abraham must be: 'WE DON'T HAVE THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT FROM WHICH THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM WAS TRANSLATED.' I conclude that we do have it and have translations of it." (Letter from Thomas Ferguson to Jim, dated March 13, 1971)

It is clear that Joseph had a vivid imagination and was capable of concocting "translations" of real and imagined ancient texts. He didn't even use original documents in "translating" his inspired version of the Bible, or the record of John the Beloved recorded in Doctrine and Covenants, section 7. Speaking of this imagination, Daniel Hendrix, who helped set type for the Book of Mormon, wrote that Joseph had:

"…a jovial, easy, don't-care way about him that made him a lot of warm friends. He was a good talker, and would have made a fine stump speaker if he had had the training. He was known among the young men I associated with as a romancer of the first water. I never knew so ignorant a man as Joe was to have such a fertile imagination. He could never tell a common occurrence in his daily life without embellishing the story with his imagination; yet I remember that he was grieved one day when old Parson Reed told Joe that he was going to hell for his lying habits." (Letter of Daniel Hendrix dated February 2, 1897, published in the St. Louis Globe Democrat)

This capacity for creativity, especially with regard to mysticism, may have come from Joseph's family. Both of Joseph's parents as well as his Aunt Lovisa had a penchant for dreams or visions (they used the terms interchangeably). Joseph's mother describes her husband's "first vision" as one in which he traveled with "an attendant spirit" who told him he would find "on a certain log a box, the contents of which, if you eat thereof, will make you wise, and give you wisdom and understanding." He was forced to drop it when threatened with "all manner of beasts, horned cattle, and roaring animals." (Lucy Smith, Biographical Sketches, p. 57)


Book of Abraham Facsimile No. 2

By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus

Ferguson's Two Faces - Mormon Scholar's "Spoof" Lives On After His Death

How Obvious Would It Have To Be?

Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator

The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim

The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham

What if we still had the gold plates?

Apologist Response

One apologist defense is that there may have been a hidden meaning behind the papyri:

"…you very often have texts of double meaning…it's quite possible, say, that this 'Sensen' papyrus, telling a straight forward innocent little story or something like that, should contain also a totally different text concealed within it…they (the Egyptians) know what they're doing, but we don't. We don't have the key." (Hugh Nibley, Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1968, p. 249)

"The purpose of the pictures is to illustrate the Abraham story; they are being used as such in the manner of which hundreds of Egyptian autobiographies are illustrated, using conventional scenes with minimal alteration; sometimes they use more, such as in the study I was referring to from Germany; for example, they would use the reception scene again and again and again to describe totally different events taking place. That is, the main theme is the same, but it is a different family, a different occurrence, on a different occasion for a different reason, and so forth-different things going on." (Hugh Nibley, The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham)

"The Tanners mock the assertion that Joseph Smith's "translation" of the papyri could have been made independent of the actual text of the papyri, yet all evidence indicates that when Joseph Smith revised the Bible (which process was repeatedly called "translating") he did not go back to the Greek and Hebrew texts available during his lifetime. Therefore, for Joseph Smith, "revelation" and "translation" were synonymous, and I have already discussed the fluid nature of any written revelation." (Response to the Tanners by a Latter-Day Saint Historian)

"[Apostle Neal A.] Maxwell observed that, according to Doctrine and Covenants, Section 7, The Book of Abraham was translated by Joseph Smith in "catalystic fashion." Smith, Maxwell claimed, had, in vision, seen parchments from the writings of John the Revelator. Maxwell said that, likewise, Smith may have also had revealed to him Egyptian parchment which he did not touch, physically hold or from which he did not directly translate. In other words, Maxwell said, Smith may have been "accessing" an ancient parchment that was not actually with him. Instead, Maxwell proposed, he may have had revealed to him "in some kind of vision" the source from which he then translated The Book of Abraham. [Apostle Dallin H.] Oaks admitted he did not know how Joseph Smith translated The Book of Abraham. He said, however, that Maxwell's explanation seemed persuasive." (Steve Benson, Conversations Behind the Mormon Curtain: A First-Person Account of Meetings Between LDS Apostles Dallin H. Oaks, Neal A. Maxwell, and Steve and Mary Ann Benson, November 21, 2002)

Nibley argues that perhaps we don't know everything there is to know about the Egyptian language, and thus current interpretations by Egyptologists could be off base:

"The only way to judge these is to present the documents to Egyptian scholars who have no knowledge of their history in America and compare their judgments with each other and with the prophet's. This has never been done. If we are to believe the latest authoritative utterance on the subject (H. Kees Aegypten p. 282) the dogmatic certitude of another day may well yield to the possibility that the real meaning of many Egyptian texts still eludes us." (Hugh Nibley, No Ma'am, That's Not History)

"…keep looking! One eminent Egyptologist objected that the idea of the hawk as a messenger, "the angel of the Lord" in Facsimile No. 1, was alien to the Egyptians. Just as he made that statement an article appeared in the Zeitschrift für Aegyptische Sprache on the subject of the Hawk as a Messenger in Egyptian tradition. Again, competent EGYPTOLOGISTS PROTESTED THAT nothing is known of an Egyptian interpretation to match that given for Fig. 4 on Fac. 2: 1) Raukeeyang expanse or firmament of the heavens, 2) a numerical figure…signifying 1000, 3) functioning in the measure of time in the cycles of the universe. A trip to the Woerterbuch III, 230, would have shown the word, written with the ship symbol 1) called "its soul is a thousand fold," 2) measuring the passing of time at the New Year, and 3) representing the expanse of the starry heavens. Of these things and much, much more we speak in what we hope is a forthcoming book." (Hugh Nibley, The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham)

Some apologists have discounted the role of the Grammar in the translation of the Book of Abraham:

"Because of the six men participating, each makes his own contribution; no two of their interpretations are identical. The whole thing is quite fluid. The men are admittedly exploring and interpreting. Most importantly, the project never got off the ground. The most ambitious version of the grammar, that of Phelps, ground to a halt after a single page, and his equally ambitious alphabet was given up after a page and a half, before the second letter was completed…

"We do not have here the process of deriving one text from another, but simply that of placing two completed texts side by side for comparison." (Hugh Nibley, Judging and Prejudging the Book of Abraham)

"First of all, none of these manuscripts of the Book of Abraham is in Joseph Smith's handwriting. They are mostly in the handwriting of William W. Phelps, with a few short sections written by Warren Parrish. Nowhere in the documents is Joseph Smith designated as the author. Moreover, the Egyptian characters in the left-hand margin were clearly written in after the English text had been written. These cannot be the working papers of a translation process. Instead, Phelps and Parrish seemed to have copied down the text of the Book of Abraham and were then attempting to correlate that translation with some of the scrolls in the Church's possession. These documents are most likely that preliminary stage of investigation and exploration the Lord prescribed in D&C 9:8 to 'study it out in your mind.' The Lord expects us to first do all we can to understand something (and in the process discover our own limitations) before we seek for direct revelation from him. This is what Phelps and Parrish were apparently doing, although their efforts were short-lived and unsuccessful. In fact these same men shortly after this began to turn away from the Prophet Joseph and fell into apostasy. If they had been parties to some fraudulent process of producing the Book of Abraham, they would surely have denounced Joseph Smith for this, but they never did." (Michael D. Rhoades, "The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture. A review of Charles M. Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: a New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 4 (1992), p. 121)

Another theory is that the Book of Abraham was translated from papyri other than what has been discovered thus far:

"Critics have long attempted to make a case against the Book of Abraham. They argue that some ancient texts do not support the book. They point to the fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri that we now possess and claim that since the contents of these papyri bear little obvious relationship to the Book of Abraham, the book is a fraud; but Hugh Nibley has made an exhaustive study of these claims and has shown that the papyri we now have were probably not the ones from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham." (Daniel C. Peterson, "News from Antiquity," Ensign (January 1994): p. 20)

Finally, some recognize that Joseph didn't have the original writings of Abraham. However, they argue that it was necessary for Joseph to believe they were authentic, in order to have the faith necessary to receive revelation from God:

"It was necessary that the prophet become excited in a spirit of revelation which readied his mind to receive the story of Abraham from the papyrus in order to reveal the Abrahamic account. If the prophet had known the true nature of the papyri, he could not have thought to translate it just as St. Peter would not have tried to go out on the water to greet his Master if he knew beforehand that he would sink (Matt 14:26-31), and neither would Moses have lifted his rod if he didn't believe the waters would divide (Ex 14:16). Had not the prophet's assistants believed the papyrus was an original autograph, how hardly could they have supported the translation process." (Paul Osborne, Pro-LDS Symbolism of the Book of Abraham)


A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri by John Gee

Mormonism Researched: The Book of Abraham

Pro-LDS Symbolism of the Book of Abraham

The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price

The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Anti-Mormon Claim

Top Ten Reasons I Believe the Book of Abraham