Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Appendix A

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Appendix A: Abraham's Book?"

A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes
Claim Evaluation
One Nation Under Gods
Chart one nation under gods appendix A.jpg

Response to claims made in One Nation Under Gods, "Appendix A: Abraham's Book?"

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Response to claim: 449 - "Surely Smith would be able to translate the writings, thereby proving his God-given abilities"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: Surely Smith would be able to translate the writings, thereby proving his God-given abilities.

Author's sources: Author's opinion.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph was not translating the scrolls in order to provide some sort of proof of his "God-given abilities." This is simply a sarcastic statement on the part of the author.



Response to claim: 449 - Joseph "was positive" that he could translate the Book of Abraham scrolls because "the inscriptions were so similar to those on the Book of Mormon golden plates..."

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph "was positive" that he could translate the Book of Abraham scrolls because "the inscriptions were so similar to those on the Book of Mormon golden plates..."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph believed he could translate the Book of Abraham because he said he had translated the Book of Mormon "by the gift and power of God." If Joseph is perpetuating a fraud, as the author believes, why on earth would Joseph be positive that he could translate an ancient document when he knew he had made up the existence of the Book of Mormon plates? This theory is not even self-consistent.

Response to claim: 450 - The book claims that "modern Mormons" believe that the Book of Abraham "proves" Joseph Smith's "powers of translation"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The book claims that "modern Mormons" believe that the Book of Abraham "proves" Joseph Smith's "powers of translation."

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

No, "modern Mormons" simply believe that Joseph translated the Book of Abraham from papyri by the gift and power of God.



Response to claim: 450 - "The ancient documents Smith acquired were only copies of common Egyptian funeral texts"

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

 Author's quote: The ancient documents Smith acquired were only copies of common Egyptian funeral texts; namely, The Book of Breathings (which Smith turned into the Book of Abraham) and Book of the Dead (which Smith said had been written by the Bible's Joseph).

Author's sources: No source provided.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Only fragments of the papyri remain. Those fragments do not contain the Book of Abraham, as acknowledged by the Church in 1968. It is unclear how the author developed his association of the Book of Breathings with the Book of Abraham and the Book of the Dead with the writings of Joseph.

Response to claim: 450-451 - Joseph's interpretations of the facsimilies has been rejected by Egyptologists

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's interpretations of the facsimilies has been rejected by Egyptologists.

Author's sources: Statements are provided in the main text by Dr. A.H. Sayce (Oxford, England), Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie (London University), James H. Breasted, Ph.D. (Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago), Dr. Arthur C. Mace (Assistant Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Department of Egyptian Art), and Professor S.A.B. Mercer, Ph.D. (Western Theological Seminary, Custodian Hibbard Collection, Egyptian Reproductions).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.



Response to claim: 451 - The book reproduces a reconstruction of what Facsimile 1 is alleged to have looked like from Charles M. Larson's book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The book reproduces a reconstruction of what Facsimile 1 is alleged to have looked like from Charles M. Larson's book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus. The author assumes that Larson's reconstruction is valid, noting, among other things that Joseph Smith "missed drawing in the falcon altogether" and that he "incorrectly drew the hand positioning of the figure lying down."

Author's sources: Charles M. Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look At the Joseph Smith Papyri, 1985, 1992 edition.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

Larson's reconstruction of Facsimile 1 has some serious problems.

Question: Does Facsimile 1 show a hand, or does it show the wing of a second bird?

The high-resolution photos of the papyri clearly show that it was a hand, not a wing

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


Bell: "the questionable traces above the head of the Osiris figure are actually the remains of his right hand"

(non-Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell

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.[1]


Question: Should the restoration of Facsimile 1 include a phallus?

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

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


Bell: "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"

(non Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell:

[T]he 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.[2]


Question: Was the original head of the priest in Facsimile 1 actually the jackal head of Anubis?

The high-resolution photos show evidence that the head of the priest was originally the jackal-head of Anubis

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


Question: Was the priest depicted in Facsimile 1 holding a knife or some other object?

In typical representations of the "lion couch" scene, the priest is holding an object

Since Facsimile 1 appears to be a fairly typical scene from Egyptian funerary texts, it is noted that other similar Egyptian motifs do not show the priest holding a knife. A proposed restoration of Facsimile 1 by egyptologist Lanny Bell, for example, shows the priest holding a cup in his hand over the figure on the lion couch.

Eyewitnesses, one of whom was an anti-Mormon, described a man bound and laid on the lion couch, and a priest with a knife in his hand

Many Latter-day Saint scholars believe that the scroll was damaged after Joseph translated the vignette and some evidence seems to support this view. One early Latter-day Saint who saw the papyri in 1841, for instance, described them as containing the scene of an altar with "'a man bound and laid thereon, and a Priest with a knife in his hand, standing at the foot, with a dove over the person bound on the Altar with several Idol gods standing around it.'"[3] Similarly, Reverend Henry Caswall, who visited Nauvoo in April 1842, had a chance to see some of the Egyptian papyri. Caswall, who was hostile to the Saints, described Facsimile 1 as having a "'man standing by him with a drawn knife.'"[4]

Due to the damage to the papyrus, it is impossible to determine what the priest is holding in his hand

It is not possible through an examination of the original papyrus to determine what the priest is holding in his hand.

A comparison of objects that are presumed to have been held by the priest in Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham. The original facsimile is missing this detail. Egyptologist Lanny Bell assumes that the priest was holding an object. Charles Larson shows the priest holding nothing, with the wing of the proposed second bird occupying the space. Joseph Smith indicated that the priest was holding a knife.


Response to claim: 455 - The author completely omits the fact that the Church published an article in the Improvement Era soon after the discovery of the papyrus fragments that acknowledged that they were from the Book of Breathings

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The author completely omits the fact that the Church published an article in the Improvement Era soon after the discovery of the papyrus fragments that acknowledged that they were from the Book of Breathings.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

To have included this, of course, would fly in the face of the author's constant assertions throughout the book that the Church hides any information that might be potentially embarrassing.

Response to claim: 455 - The scrolls were written approximately 2000 years after Abraham's death, and were therefore could not have been written by his hand as Joseph claimed==

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The scrolls were written approximately 2000 years after Abraham's death, and were therefore could not have been written by his hand as Joseph claimed.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is correct.



Question: Why does the Book of Abraham state that it was written by Abraham's "own hand upon papyrus" if the papyri date to after the Abrahamic period?

"called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus"

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 follows:

"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."[5]

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.”[6]

The papyri donʼt date to Abrahamʼs time

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

LDS scholars have approached this issue from a number of perspectives. There are two underlying LDS scholarly approaches that have been advanced in evaluating the significance of this phrase in the heading for the Book of Abraham. These approaches are:

  1. “By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus” as an Egyptian Title
  2. “By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus” as a 19th Century Redaction

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. [7]

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.

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.[8] Either option resolves the issue; both would have to be untenable for the critics to have a case.


Response to claim: 456-457 - The Book of Abraham was "translated" by expanding single Egyptian characters into entire paragraphs of text

The author(s) of One Nation Under Gods make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Abraham was "translated" by expanding single Egyptian characters into entire paragraphs of text.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author assumes that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were created prior to the Book of Abraham being dictated, when the opposite is true.

Question: In the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, why is each Egyptian character matched to an entire paragraph of English text?

The KEP may have been an attempt to "reverse engineer" the Book of Abraham translation against the Egyptian papyri

Once the Book of Abraham translation was complete, a unique opportunity existed to use the completed translation in an attempt to match it against the Egyptian characters on the papyri and produce a correlation between English and Egyptian. The Church addresses this possibility on LDS.org:

Some evidence suggests that Joseph studied the characters on the Egyptian papyri and attempted to learn the Egyptian language. His history reports that, in July 1835, he was “continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.” This “grammar,” as it was called, consisted of columns of hieroglyphic characters followed by English translations recorded in a large notebook by Joseph’s scribe, William W. Phelps. Another manuscript, written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, has Egyptian characters followed by explanations.[9]


Notes

  1. (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.
  2. (non Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell, "The Ancient Egyptian 'Books of Breathing,'", p. 29.
  3. William I. Appleby Journal, 5 May 1841, ms. 1401 1, pp. 71–72, LDS Church Archives; as quoted in Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence," 184.
  4. Rev. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons: Or, Three Days at Nauvoo in 1842 (London: Rivington, 1842), 71-72., LDS Church Archives; as quoted in Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence," 184.
  5. "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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Unless otherwise noted, the assumption underlying these theories 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.
  9. "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics (8 July 2014).