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Criticism of Mormonism/Books/By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri
Response to "By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri"
A FairMormon Analysis of: By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, a work by author: Charles Larson
Response to claims made in "By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri" by Charles Larson
Jump to Subtopic:
- Response to claims made in By His Own Hand upon Papyrus, "Chapter 1: How It All Began"
- Response to claims made in By His Own Hand upon Papyrus, "Chapter 3: Charges and Rebuttals"
- An analysis of the Charles M. Larson restoration of Facsimile 1 compared against the original papyrus
This is an index of claims made in this work with links to corresponding responses within the FAIR Wiki.
Part I - Background
Jump to Subtopic:
- Response to claim: 10 - The author claims that the Book of Mormon was written "in a strange, long-forgotten language called Reformed Egyptian"
- Response to claim: 11 - The author states that Joseph's followers would ask "How do we really know the Book of Mormon is what you say?" and "Show us the plates-if there ever were any!"
- Response to claim: 12 - The author claims that Church growth in Kirtland "became stagnant" until Joseph acquired the papyri and translated them, thus impressing the Church with his ability as a seer
Jump to Subtopic:
- Response to claim: 25 - Some elements of the facsimilies "appeared....to be guesswork, probably incorrect restorations of missing sections of the original papyri"
- Response to claim: 29 - Egyptologists claim that the priest in Facsimile 1 should have the head of Anubis rather than a "strangely un-Egyptian" human head
Part II - The Papyri Speak for Themselves
Part III - LDS Reactions
Part IV - Conclusions and Directionsimages 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.
About this work
Charles Larson is the author of the well-known but deeply flawed anti-Mormon book "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus": A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri. This book has been reviewed by LDS Egyptologists who hold degrees in the field. One reviewer summed up Larson's work:
- Larson's historical method is as follows: Invent evidence, read minds, attribute motives, misquote sources, argue from circumstantial evidence—or better yet—argue from no evidence....
- If Larson stumbles as a historian, he falls flat on his face as an Egyptologist. He betrays no knowledge of any foreign language, yet offers to guide us through Egyptian, "a unique area of study that is extremely difficult to master."
- —John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors," p. 99.
The only qualifications listed for Larson at his publisher's web site are "former Mormon and Brigham Young University graduate." He has no training in Egyptian studies, despite his works on the Book of Abraham.
This book is a rehash of Jerald and Sandra Tanner's arguments from the late 1960s, which are an elaboration of the arguments of Franklin S. Spalding in 1912, which are essentially a highly polemicized form of T. B. H. Stenhouse's arguments of 1873, whose main argument along this line was borrowed from Jules Remy's arguments in 1861, which were translated from the French edition, whose main argument was taken from the short commentary of Theodule Deveria in 1856.
The argument built up in these works runs as follows: (1) Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from Reformed Egyptian. (2) The book of Abraham was written in the same language as the Book of Mormon. (3) The Kirtland Egyptian Papers demonstrate that Joseph Smith thought the book of Abraham was on Joseph Smith Papyri I, XI, and X. (4) Joseph Smith Papyri I, XI, and X have been identified by Egyptologists as a Book of Breathings. (5) The Book of Breathings is not the book of Abraham. (6) Therefore Joseph Smith could not translate Egyptian. (7) Therefore Joseph Smith was not a prophet. (8) Therefore Latter-day Saints should leave the Church and adopt "Biblical Christianity" (i.e., Protestant Fundamentalism; pp. 189-90). As will be demonstrated below, premises 2-3 are not true, and conclusions 6-8 are also not true.
The book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price periodically comes under criticism by non-Mormons as a prime example of Joseph Smith's inability to translate ancient documents. The argument runs as follows: (1) We now have the papyri which Joseph Smith used to translate the book of Abraham (these are three of the papyri discovered in 1967 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and subsequently turned over to the Church; the papyri in question are Joseph Smith Papyri I, XI, and X). (2) Egyptologists have identified these three papyri as being the text of the Book of Breathings, an ancient Egyptian religious text. (3) A translation of the Book of Breathings shows that it is not the book of Abraham. (4) This proves that Joseph Smith could not translate Egyptian. (5) Therefore Joseph Smith was a false prophet, and the Church he founded also cannot be true. The book . . . By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, by Charles M. Larson, is the most recent publication to take up this argument. These arguments are not valid. In fact there is a growing body of research that supports the authenticity of the book of Abraham, and I will cover some of the more important findings of this research.