Book of Abraham/Joseph Smith Papyri/Facsimiles

Table of Contents

The facsimiles in the Book of Abraham

Summary: In the Book of Abraham, Joseph included three facsimiles of illustrations from the papyri, along with commentary about what the images and their individual parts represented. Some of Joseph's interpretations are similar to those of trained Egyptologists, but most are not. A number of criticisms relate to the three facsimiles associated with the Book of Abraham. It is noted that Joseph Smith's translation of the facsimiles does not agree with that provided by Egyptologists, and that some missing portions of the facsimiles were incorrectly restored before they were published.

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Book of Abraham Facsimile 1: The "lion couch" scene

Summary: It is claimed that facsimile 1 is simply a typical funerary scene and there are many other papyri showing the same basic scene, and that the missing portions of the drawing were incorrectly restored. It is also claimed that Abraham has never been associated with the lion couch vignette such as that portrayed in Facsimile #1 of the Book of Abraham.

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An analysis of the Charles M. Larson restoration of Facsimile 1 compared against the original papyrus

Summary: The book " his own hand upon papyrus" presents a "restoration" of Facsimile 1 (p. 65), which purports to be "based upon the modern study of Egyptology, and similar scenes in numerous existing papyri." However, the recent availability of high-definition images of the papyri on the Church History website now provides the opportunity to compare the Larson restoration with the original. There are a number of discrepancies which indicate that the restoration contains a number of significant inaccuracies. We examine those inaccuracies in this sub-article.

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Book of Abraham Facsimile 2: The hypocephalus

Summary: The illustration represented by Facsimile 2 is a hypocephalus, a disc made of linen, papyrus, or bronze, covered with inscriptions and images which relate to one of the last spells in the Book of the Dead. Joseph Smith's notes to Facsimile 2 identify it as representing God sitting in the heavens among the stars and others of his creations.

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Book of Abraham Facsimile 3: The throne scene

Summary: The following are common criticisms associated with Facsimile 3: 1) The scene depicted is a known Egyptian vignette which some Egyptologists claim has nothing to do with Abraham, 2) Joseph indicated that specific characters in the facsimile confirmed the identities that he assigned to specific figures, 3) Joseph identified two obviously female figures as "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh."

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Restoration of missing portions of the facsimiles

Summary: Part of the drawings (vignettes) on the papyri have been destroyed. Before the facsimiles were published, the missing sections were filled in. While it appears that Joseph or someone else "restored" these missing parts, non-LDS Egyptologists do not recognize these restorations as accurate. Critics charge that the sections that were filled in are incorrect, and that this proves that Joseph Smith was not a prophet.

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Hugh Nibley notes the following,

[I]t is important to emphasize what many Egyptologists are insisting on today as never before, namely, the folly of giving just one interpretation and one only to any Egyptian representation. This is the pit into which Joseph Smith's critics have always fallen: "This cannot possibly represent 'A' because it represents 'B'!" "The value of an Egyptian presentation," Eberhard Otto reminds us, "depended on seeing the greatest possible number of meanings in the briefest possible formulation."3 Heretofore, critics of the Joseph Smith explanations have insisted on the least possible number of meanings, namely one, to every item, and as a result have not only disagreed widely among themselves, but also exposed their efforts to drastic future revision. The Egyptians "considered it a particular nicety that symbols should possess multiple significance," wrote Henri Frankfort, "that one single interpretation should not be the only possible one."4 [1]

There are at least two possibilities here:

  • Kevin Barney hypothesizes that the Book of Abraham was written by Abraham himself, then passed from generation to generation until it fell into the hands of a hypothetical Jewish editor in the second century B.C. This editor attached it to a the Egyptian papyri because of the useful symbolism contained on the Egyptian funerary text.[2]

For a detailed response, see: A Jewish redactor

  • Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes have similarly theorized that "the original illustration drawn by Abraham had been modified and adapted for use by Hor, the owner of the papyrus. What Joseph Smith did with the facsimiles is thus similar to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible—he gave the original meaning of Abraham's illustrations, correcting for the changes and distortions that had taken place over nearly two millennia."[3]


  1. Hugh Nibley, "All the Court's a Stage: Facsimile 3, a Royal Mumming", Abraham in Egypt [citation needed]
  2. Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (editors), Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2006), 107–130.
  3. Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, Michael D. Rhodes, "Introduction to the Book of Abraham," in The Pearl of Great Price: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 243.