Criticism of Mormonism/Books/The Changing World of Mormonism/Chapter 11

Table of Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 11: Fall of the Book of Abraham"

A FairMormon Analysis of: The Changing World of Mormonism, a work by author: Jerald and Sandra Tanner
Claim Evaluation
The Changing World of Mormonism
Chart.changing.11.jpg

Response to claims made in The Changing World of Mormonism, "Chapter 11: Fall of the Book of Abraham"

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Response to claim: 329-330 - Joseph claimed that the papyrus was written by Abraham himself

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph claimed that the papyrus was written by Abraham himself.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

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

Joseph believed that Abraham had written the papyrus himself.


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."[1]

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.”[2]

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. [3]

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


Response to claim: 330-331 - Hugh Nibley said that the papyri does not prove the Book of Abraham to be true and the LDS scholars were unprepared

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Hugh Nibley said that the papyri does not prove the Book of Abraham to be true and the LDS scholars were unprepared.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

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

Nibley was not of the opinion that scripture could be proven save by the Holy Ghost. Most scholars were "unprepared" because they had not prepared themselves to study Egyptian: "...a few faded and tattered little scraps of papyrus may serve to remind the Latter-day Saints of how sadly they have neglected serious education....Wholly committed and given fair warning, the Mormons have deserved even the unfair verdict that the world passed against them and the Prophet in 1912, when eight professional scholars condemned Joseph Smith's interpretations of the Facsimiles as utterly absurd; for had any of the Saints during the past century ever taken the pains to check up on the actual state of Egyptian studies in the world, it would have been an easy thing to show how abyssmally inept the performance of Dr. Spalding's panel of experts really was" (BYU Studies article cited by Tanners).

Nibley himself was fairly well suited to a study of the papyri:

In reality, Dr. Nibley's first study of Egyptian was in 1927; he used it in his Ph.D. dissertation and in articles published in 1945, 1948, 1949, 1956, to mention but a few examples. In 1959, while on sabbatical leave at the University of California at Berkeley, Nibley became Klaus Baer's first student in Egyptian and learned Coptic at the same time. It was during the summer of 1964 that Nibley studied under both Baer and Wilson at the University of Chicago. When the papyri appeared, it had been forty years since Nibley's first introduction to Egyptian. If there was anything Nibley was relatively new at in 1968, it was Coptic, but he had even published in scholarly journals on texts in that language as well. [5]


Response to claim: 335 - Since the translation of the papyri was turned over to Hugh Nibley, this proves that the prophet does not have the ability to translate ancient records

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Since the translation of the papyri was turned over to Hugh Nibley, this proves that the prophet does not have the ability to translate ancient records.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - 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

The Book of Abraham has already been given to us. Why would it need to be "re-translated"?
  • The Book of Abraham has already been given to us. Why would it need to be "re-translated"? Prophets only translate when no one else is able to do the job (2 Nephi 27:15-20).
  • Nibley insisted that the papyri in the Church's possession were not the Book of Abraham.

Response to claim: 336 - Facsimile 1 does not show Abraham fastened to an altar being sacrificed, but instead shows Hor being prepared for burial

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

Facsimile 1 does not show Abraham fastened to an altar being sacrificed, but instead shows Hor being prepared for burial.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Facsimile 1 does not show a body being prepared for burial - the individual on the lion couch is obviously alive. This may be a depiction of the resurrection of Osiris.


Question: What does the lion couch scene normally represent?

The lion couch vignette usually represents the embalming of the deceased individual in preparation for burial

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).[6]

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


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

Joseph Smith papyri Facsimile 1 has a number of unique features that are not present in other lion couch 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)


Muhlestein and Gee: "It is now apparent that human sacrifice did indeed occur in ancient Egypt"

Abraham noted that the attempt to sacrifice him "was done after the manner of the Egyptians" (Abraham 1:11). Egyptologists Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee note that evidence has been uncovered of the practice of human sacrifice in ancient Egypt,

[A]rchaeologists have discovered evidence of human sacrifice. Just outside the Middle Kingdom fortress at Mirgissa, which had been part of the Egyptian empire in Nubia, a deposit was found containing various ritual objects such as melted wax figurines, a flint knife, and the decapitated body of a foreigner slain during rites designed to ward off enemies. Almost universally, this discovery has been accepted as a case of human sacrifice.20 Texts from this and similar rites from the Middle Kingdom specify that the ritual was directed against "every evil speaker, every evil speech, every evil curse, every evil plot, every evil imprecation, every evil attack, every evil rebellion, every evil plan, and every evil thing,"[7] which refers to those who "speak evil" of the king or of his policies.[8] The remains in the deposit are consistent with those of later ritual texts describing the daily execration rite, which was usually a wax figure substituting in effigy for a human sacrifice: "Bind with the sinew of a red cow . . . spit on him four times . . . trample on him with the left foot . . . smite him with a spear . . . decapitate him with a knife . . . place him on the fire . . . spit on him in the fire many times."[9] Again we see that the use of a knife was followed by burning. The fact that the site of Mirgissa is not in Egypt proper but was part of the Egyptian empire in Nubia informs us that the Egyptians extended such practices beyond their borders.

In fact, throughout time we find that ritual violence was often aimed at foreign places and people.[10] Their very foreignness was seen as a threat to Egypt's political and social order. Hence many of the known examples of ritual slaying are aimed at foreigners, such as those at Mirgissa or Tod. All three examples we have shared involve protecting sacred places and things, such as the boundary of a necropolis, a temple, or even Egypt itself.[11]


The Apocalypse of Abraham: "Go out from thy father Terah, and get thee out from the house, that thou also be not slain"

The Apocalypse of Abraham is 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:

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.[12]


Book of Jubilees 12:1-8: "Abram said to Terah his father...What help and profit have we from those idols which thou dost worship...And his father said unto him...Keep silent, my son, lest they slay thee"

Jubilees 12:1-8:

1. And it came to pass in the sixth week, in the seventh year thereof, that Abram said to Terah his father, saying, 'Father!' 2. And he said, 'Behold, here am I, my son.' And he said,'What help and profit have we from those idols which thou dost worship, And before which thou dost bow thyself? 3. For there is no spirit in them, For they are dumb forms, and a misleading of the heart. Worship them not: 4. Worship the God of heaven, Who causes the rain and the dew to descend on the earth And does everything upon the earth,And has created everything by His word, And all life is from before His face. 5. Why do ye worship things that have no spirit in them? For they are the work of (men's) hands,And on your shoulders do ye bear them, And ye have no help from them, But they are a great cause of shame to those who make them, And a misleading of the heart to those who worship them: Worship them not.' 6. And his father said unto him, I also know it, my son, but what shall I do with a people who have made me to serve before them? 7. And if I tell them the truth, they will slay me; for their soul cleaves to them to worship them and honour them. 8. Keep silent, my son, lest they slay thee.' And these words he spake to his two brothers, and they were angry with him and he kept silent.


Response to claim: 337 - LDS leaders were unable to detect the Hofmann forgeries

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

LDS leaders were unable to detect the Hofmann forgeries. If they were really led be revelation, they should have been able to figure out that the documents were fake.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - 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

This is the author's opinion of how a prophet ought to operate.


Question: If Gordon B. Hinckley were a true prophet, why did he not discern the nature of the Hofmann forgeries?

Prophets are not omniscient nor are they infallible

Critics of the Church raise the question: If Gordon B. Hinckley were a true prophet, why would he be fooled into buying the forgeries? Would he not be able to discern the fraud? [13]

The assumption that President Hinckley should have discerned the nature of the forgery stems from incorrect expectations of what a prophet is. Prophets are not omniscient nor infallible. The Church bought the documents when assured by experts that they were genuine.

Prophets do not generally act to take away the free agent choices of others. President Hinckley's decision to purchase the documents allowed them to be examined, and kept them available for further study so that the forgery could be discovered. (Had a private collector, especially one hostile to the Church, acquired the documents, access might have been much more difficult.)

Some think it strange that a prophet could have been deceived. President Hinckley's public statements make it clear that he was not entirely convinced of the document's provenance, but provisionally accepted the judgment of the experts. (For a discussion of the decision to promptly make the document public when owned by the Church by an author who declared the document a forgery early on, see Rhett S. James, "Writing History Must Not Be an Act of Magic (Review of Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, revised and enlarged edition, by D. Michael Quinn)," FARMS Review of Books 12/2 (2000): 395–414. [{{{url}}} off-site].)

The Lord made it clear to Joseph Smith that a prophet is not granted to know all the designs of those who seek to destroy the Church:

But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter. (DC 10:37)

The LDS doctrine of agency requires that those who plot evil be allowed a certain latitude, though (as President Hinckley prophetically noted) permanent harm to the Lord's work will not be permitted.


Response to claim: 339 - "Mormon elder" Dee Jay Nelson, who claimed to be an Egyptologist, translated the papyri but was unable to find any mention of Abraham

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

"Mormon elder" Dee Jay Nelson, who claimed to be an Egyptologist, translated the papyri but was unable to find any mention of Abraham. Even though Nelson was later exposed to be a fraud, "This is not to say that his work has no merit."

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

Dee Jay Nelson was a fraud, and the work that he performed was a fraud, since Nelson had no qualifications. However, since it attacks the Church, Tanners aren't willing to dispense with it!


Response to claim: 342 - Joseph Smith translated a "large number of English words" from each Egyptian character

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith's "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" contain text that matches a portion of one of the papyri. Joseph Smith translated a "large number of English words" from each Egyptian character.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The author is assuming that the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar were produced prior to the Book of Abraham instead of afterward.


Question: What are the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language?

The Kirtland Egyptian Papers associate characters with passages of text

Among the early Book-of-Abraham-related-manuscripts that have survived from the days of Joseph Smith are a number of papers collectively referred to as the "Kirtland Egyptian Papers" (KEP). These pages were written while the Saints lived in Kirtland, Ohio, and were recorded in the general time frame that Joseph was translating the Book of Abraham. They are in the same handwriting of several of Joseph's scribes. Critics charge that the KEP represent Joseph's attempt to translate the hieroglyphics from those portions that are still extant, noting that Egyptologists tell us that the alleged "translations" do not accurately reflect the meanings of the hieroglyphics.

In some cases, several paragraphs of the English translation of the Book of Abraham are associated with Egyptian characters from the Joseph Smith papyri

In some instances, one Egyptian character seems to yield several sentences of English text. From what may be surmised from the "Kirtland Egyptian Papers" the surviving Egyptian papyri are claimed by critics to be the source for the Book of Abraham. Critics point out that Egyptologists agree that these papyri are part of a collection of Egyptian funerary documents known as the Book of Breathings and do not deal with Abraham.

For many years, the KEP were not well studied

A variety of possible explanations have been offered by LDS researchers over the years. The most recent approach postulates that the KEP represent an attempt by Joseph and his associates to create a way to encode revelations and other sensitive data in a form approximating "pure language." Research into this theory is ongoing. A number of the following paragraphs make use of conclusions made in a presentation by William Schryver.[14] Also presented here is another approach to the issue.

One conclusion made by some theorists is that the KEP do not lend support to the critical theory that the coherent words of the Book of Abraham were produced from a non-inspired analysis of the Egyptian materials before Joseph or his scribes. The text of the Book of Abraham was uttered by the Prophet and recorded by his scribes in much the same way that all of his revelatory translation projects were done. To the critic, this simply means that Joseph made up the coherent text and dictated it; to the believer, it means that Joseph received the text by revelation and dictated it, whether the actual text of the Book of Abraham existed on the papyri or not.

Other theorists take the position that the KEP do represent an inspired translation of the ideograms, but not of their Egyptological meanings. Rather, the non-standard meanings were assigned to them anciently by Jewish Egyptians in a non-standard system of Egyptian exegesis.


Question: Were the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar produced prior to the Book of Abraham?

The Kirtland Egyptian Papers were produced after the Book of Abraham was dictated

A key assertion claimed by critics of the Church is that these documents were produced prior to the Book of Abraham manuscript, and that they therefore constitute a "smoking gun" that proves that Joseph was making up translations for Egyptian characters taken from the existing fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Critics often refer to these papers as the "translation documents" for the Book of Abraham, and believe that they were used specifically to produce the first three verses in Abraham, Chapter 1.

However, the earliest document in the KEP (pre-dating the recovery of the Joseph Smith Papryi from which the Book of Abraham was produced) assigns meanings to non-Egyptian characters, and a later document assigns new meanings to these same characters.

The earliest datable document in the collection is a letter from W. W. Phelps to his wife describing a selection of the "pure language". It is dated to May of 1835. The document contains a sequence of six characters, three of which may belong to a Masonic cipher. Each character is also given a name, a pronunciation and an explanation. However, what is significant is that all six of these characters appear in an identical order in other KEP documents, except they are given different names, sounds and explanations. None of these six characters come from the Papyri.

Some source material used in the KEP is taken from sections of the D&C

In the KEP, when a character in the Grammar is given multiple degrees, it does so usually by taking the source text and break it up into consecutive pieces. So, the first line might be the first degree, the second line the second degree, and so on. There is evidence that some of the source material in these explanations comes from sections of the D&C rather than the Book of Abraham.

Some of the Kirtland "Egyptian" Papers do not contain Egyptian at all

The "Egyptian Counting" document which is part of the KEP, like the grammar documents, has a character, a sound, and an explanation for each, yet none of the characters are Egyptian. Nor do they contain a single character from the Joseph Smith papyri.

The placement of a translation of the Book of Abraham prior to the production of the KEP renders the entire discussion regarding which document came before which other documents irrelevant

The production of the KEP after the Book of Abraham indicates that the KEP does not represent "translation documents" documenting a physical process by which translation was attempted.

It should be noted that this does not change the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the Joseph Smith Papyri. It does not address the issue of whether or not the text of the Book of Abraham was actually present on the Scroll of Hor (the "long scroll" theory), or whether the scroll was simply a catalyst for revelation (the "short scroll" theory).


Response to claim: 343 - Joseph used four lines from the papyrus to generate 49 verses in the Book of Abraham

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

Joseph used four lines from the papyrus to generate 49 verses in the Book of Abraham.

Author's sources:

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph appears to have used the Book of Abraham translation in an attempt to deduce the meaning of Egyptian characters on the papyri.


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.[15]


Gospel Topics: "Some evidence suggests that Joseph studied the characters on the Egyptian papyri and attempted to learn the Egyptian language"

"Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics 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.[16]


Response to claim: 351 - The papyri have been dated to a much later time than Abraham, therefore they could not have been written by Abraham's "own hand on papyrus"

The author(s) make(s) the following claim:

The papyri have been dated to a much later time than Abraham, therefore they could not have been written by Abraham's "own hand on papyrus."

Author's sources:

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."[17]

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.”[18]

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. [19]

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


Response to claim: 358-361 - In Facsimile #1, the penciled-in restoration is incorrect

The author(s) of The Changing World of Mormonism make(s) the following claim:

In Facsimile #1, the penciled-in restoration is incorrect.

Author's sources:

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, however, it is not known if Joseph Smith penciled in these restorations. It is possible that Joseph, Reuben Hedlock (the engraver), or someone else simply filled in the lacunae in the papyri the best he could for purposes of publication.


Question: How were the missing portions of the Joseph Smith Papyri facsimiles restored?

It is likely that Joseph Smith or Reuben Hedlock (the engraver) simply filled in the lacunae in the papyri the best he could for purposes of publication

The facsimiles in the Joseph Smith papyri contain some missing sections. Before the facsimiles were published, the missing sections were filled in. Critics charge that the sections that were filled in are incorrect, and that this proves that Joseph Smith was not a prophet.

It is not known who performed the "restoration" of the missing sections. It is likely that Joseph Smith or Reuben Hedlock (the engraver) simply filled in the lacunae in the papyri the best he could for purposes of publication. Modern documentary editing standards would require that any holes or gaps in the papyri be represented as such, but the Book of Abraham was published long before the rise of such standards. Just as it was the practice of the day to edit out infelicities rather than to preserve them (as modern scholars do), so it would have been thought inaesthetic to publish incomplete or marred facsimiles. If this is the correct explanation, one need not suppose that the textual repair for purposes of publication was the result of revealed insight.


Question: What portions of the image were missing from Facsimile 1?

Examination of the extant papyri fragments reveals that portions of Facsimile 1 (the only facsimile that survived) are damaged

For a number of years, scholars have debated whether the facsimile was damaged before or after Joseph acquired the papyri. It seems that the Book of Breathings scroll (containing Facsimile 1) was marred by a lacuna—a missing portion—that had torn off the scroll. The debate over the date of the lacuna directly relates to the images on Facsimile 1. This vignette—as shown in the LDS Book of Abraham—shows a figure (interpreted as Abraham) lying on a lion couch with arms raised as if attitude of pleading or prayer. The figure standing over Abraham is a bald man (presumably an Egyptian priest) with a knife in one hand—as if he was about to kill Abraham. Flying just above Abraham is a hawk (or falcon) with outstretched wings. The scroll's lacuna extends over an area which includes the Egyptian priest's head, the knife, and one of Abraham's supplicating arms.

Photograph of Facsimile 1 from the recovered Joseph Smith Papyri
This photo of a lion couch scene was taken at the Louvre. Note the mummy-like appearance of the figure on the couch. The two legs are wrapped, unlike those of the figure in Facsimile 1. Also note that there is only one bird.
An overlay of the existing facsimile over the restoration.
In the penciled in restoration, the knife is in the priest's right hand, and the face is viewed from the front.


Question: Was the head of the priest in Facsimile 1 incorrectly restored?

The head of the priest may have been restored simply by copying the head of the figure lying on the lion couch

Since Facsimile 1 appears to be a fairly typical scene from Egyptian funerary texts, the critics note that other similar Egyptian motifs depict the priest (an embalmer) with the head of Anubis (an Egyptian god) rather than a bald, human head. Other comparable Egyptian embalming scenes do not show the priest holding a knife, they do not show any man pleading or praying, and they generally show two hawks.

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

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.


Question: When was the scroll containing Facsimile 1 damaged?

Evidence supports the conclusion that the scroll was damaged after Joseph translated the vignette representing Facsimile 1

Many LDS 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.'"[21] 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.'"[22]

Another possibility is that part of the scroll tore/fell away when it was first unrolled and prior to Joseph's translation

The critics, however, claim that evidence supports a belief that the scroll was already damaged prior to Joseph's involvement and that Joseph merely sketched in the parts missing in the lacuna. It's seems apparent, for example, that the lacuna descends several layers into the rolled scroll (the larger tear is at the first—or top—part, and the same outlined tear—only smaller—appears in the lower layers). Non-LDS Egyptologists do not think Joseph's "restoration" accurately reflects what was originally shown on the papyri, and in at least some instances, it seems that Joseph invented hieroglyphic characters to fill in for missing characters lost by the lacuna. This suggests that part of the scroll's tore/fell away when it was first unrolled and prior to Joseph's translation. For the sake of argument, let us grant the theory proposed by the critic—that the lacuna was present prior to Joseph making a translation and that Joseph (or some other early leader) "restored" the missing information.

Some considerations: there is at least some evidence that the LDS version has precedence in ancient Egyptian drawings. Some LDS researchers, for instance, have argued that the fingers/wing-tips look significantly more like fingers (according to Egyptian drawings) than hawk wing-tips. A number of scholars have noted that the Egyptians were very specific in how they drew wings and thumbs.[23]

Nobody knows who sketched the missing portions of Facsimile 1

Another consideration: We don't know that Joseph was the responsible party for sketching in the missing portions of Facsimile 1. It is possible that one of Joseph's contemporaries "restored" the missing parts, or it is possible that "J-red" or some other Jewish copyist "restored" the parts in order to more closely approximate the details conveyed by the Abrahamic text. It is certainly also possible that Joseph "restored" the missing parts either because they were in the original papyri—as edited by "J-red"—or because Joseph felt that such restorations more accurately reflected the Book of Abraham's intended use of the graphic as pertaining to the details discussed in the text.

Joseph's amendments to later editions of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants, and even the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, are all instructive when we compare the graphical alterations in Facsimile 1. In each case, Joseph Smith—by way of revelation, inspiration, or prophetic analysis—"restored" or amended scripture to more closely approximate the additional insights he had gleaned by divine revelation.


Question: Were missing portions of Facsimile 2 incorrectly restored?

Missing portions of Facsimile 2 were filled in with images and characters taken from other parts of the Joseph Smith papyri before being published in the newspaper

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 boat actually does appear in this section of at least one other hypocephalus.

Missing sections of Facsimile 2 were filled in before publication.
This figure on Joseph Smith Papyrus IV matches what was used to fill in a missing section of Facsimile 2.


Notes

  1. "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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors (Review of By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 93–119. off-site
  6. Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), 19 (18–23).
  7. Berlin execration texts section p 1–9, in Kurt Sethe, Die Ächtung feindlicher Fürsten, Völker und Dinge auf altägyptischen Tongefässscherben des Mittleren Reiches (Berlin: Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1926), 71–72.
  8. PT 23 §16.
  9. P. Louvre 3129 B 44–48, in Siegfried Schott, Urkunden mythologischen Inhalts (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1929), 5; compare P. Bremner Rhind 22/2, 9, 17, 23–24, 23/5, 12, in Raymond O. Faulkner, Papyrus Bremner-Rhind (Brussels: La Fondation Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, 1933), 42–47. See Gee, "History of a Theban Priesthood," 67–69, and Gee, "Execration Rituals," 67–80.
  10. See Kerry Muhlestein, "Violence in the Service of Order: The Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt" (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2003), all of chapter 10.
  11. Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee, "An Egyptian Context for the Sacrifice of Abraham," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 20/2 (2011)
  12. The Apocalypse of Abraham, off-site
  13. Criticisms related to President Hinckley's inability to detect the Mark Hofmann forgeries are raised in the following publications: Richard Abanes, One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), 424 ( Index of claims ) (See here for a response to this issue for this individual work.); Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), 337.( Index of claims ); Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)
  14. For the initial presentation of this theory, see William Schryver, The Meaning and Purpose of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, August 2010 FAIR Conference.
  15. "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics (8 July 2014).
  16. "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics (8 July 2014).
  17. "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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. William I. Appleby Journal, 5 May 1841, ms. 1401 1, pp. 71–72, LDS Church Archives; as quoted in John Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri," The Disciple As Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo: FARMS, 2000), 184.
  22. Rev. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons: Or, Three Days at Nauvoo in 1842 (London: Rivington, 1842), 23. Work quoted in Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence," 186.
  23. John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 23.