Criticism of Mormonism/Websites/MormonThink/The Book of Abraham

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Response to MormonThink page "The Book of Abraham"

A FairMormon Analysis of: MormonThink, a work by author: Anonymous
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Response to claims made on MormonThink page "The Book of Abraham"

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Response to claim: "LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists and both groups have indicated clearly that the scrolls are funerary texts that have nothing to do with Abraham"

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

since the original Papyri have been examined by both LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists and both groups have indicated clearly that the scrolls are funerary texts that have nothing to do with Abraham or anything mentioned in the LDS scripture

FairMormon Response

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

There were no "scrolls" recovered, only fragments of the original scrolls. Not all of the original papyri was recovered. What was recovered were a number of fragments, including the original of Facsimile #1. The originals for Facsimile's #2 and #3 were not recovered. The recovered fragments have nothing to do with Abraham-a fact which was noted in the official Church magazine, the Improvement Era in January 1968.

Response to claim: "isn't it somewhat disturbing that Joseph would say that this pagan god with his exposed penis is our Heavenly Father?"

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

Of particular note is Fig 7 (bottom right shown upside down). Joseph said it represents God sitting upon his throne. Egyptologists say that this is the god "Min." Min is an "ithyphallic god," that is, a sexually aroused male deity. His erect penis is clearly shown. It's interesting to note that in some earlier editions of the BOA the church erased the penis so it wouldn't look pornographic. It has since been restored in our current versions. But isn't it somewhat disturbing that Joseph would say that this pagan god with his exposed penis is our Heavenly Father? Note, even LDS apologists admit that this figure, with the erect penis, is the god Min

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

This wasn't a big deal to the Egyptians. It is a point of mockery used by critics because they know that it offends 21st century sensibilities regarding how we portray God.



Question: If modern Egyptologists say that this is a representation of Min, and Min is a “pagan” God, how could Joseph Smith say that it represents God sitting on his throne?

In the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 7, Joseph Smith identified the ithyphallic Egyptian god "Min" as representing "God sitting upon his throne"

Here is some commentary by Kerry Muhlestein:

[W]e cannot be sure that we should be looking to the Egyptians to know how to interpret these symbols in the Book of Abraham. What if Abraham’s descendants took Egyptian elements of culture and applied their own meanings to them? We know that his numerous offspring did so on many occasions. For example, Jesus himself did this when he gave the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which clearly draws from the Egyptian tale of Setne-Kamwas. The Apocalypse of Abraham and Testament of Abraham are two more examples of Semitic adaptations of Egyptian religious traditions. Thus, is it not possible that we should look for a Jewish interpretation of the Egyptian drawings, rather than for an Egyptian interpretation? Or what if the drawings were originally done in Jewish/Israelite artistic style, but when they were recopied in the second century BC by an Egyptian, the Egyptian artist redrew them according to his artistic customs? Where should we then look to know how to interpret these drawings? It is apparent that there are serious problems with trying to verify or disprove Joseph’s explanations of the facsimiles by comparing them to Egyptological explanations. [1]

In a question/answer session, Muhlestein again reiterated these points:

[W]e do not know to what we really should compare the facsimiles. Was Joseph Smith giving us an interpretation that ancient Egyptians would have held, or one that only a small group of priests interested in Abraham would have held, or one that a group of ancient Jews in Egypt would have held, or something another group altogether would have held, or was he giving us an interpretation we needed to receive for our spiritual benefit regardless of how any ancient groups would have seen these? [2]

From Michael Rhodes:

A seated ithyphallic god with a hawk's tail, holding aloft a flail. This is a form of Min, the god of the regenerative, procreative forces of nature, perhaps combined with Horus, as the hawk's tail would seem to indicate. Before the god is what appears to be a bird presenting him with a Wedjat-eye, the symbol of all good gifts. In other hypocephali it can also be an ape, a snake, or a hawk-headed snake that is presenting the eye. This figure represents Nehebka, a snake god and one of the judges of the dead in the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. Nehebka was considered to be a provider of life and nourishment and as such was often shown presenting a pair of jars or a Wedjat-eye. As for the bird found in Facsimile 2, this could symbolize the Ba or soul (which the Egyptians often represented as a bird) presenting the Wedjat-eye to the seated god. Joseph Smith said this figure represented God sitting upon his throne revealing the grand key-words of the priesthood. The connection of the Wedjat-eye with “the grand key-words of the priesthood” was discussed above. Joseph also explained there was a representation of the sign of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. The Egyptians commonly portrayed the soul or spirit as a bird, so a bird is an appropriate symbol for the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith explained that the remaining figures contained writings that cannot be revealed to the world. Stressing the secrecy of these things is entirely in harmony with Egyptian religious documents such as the hypocephalus and the 162nd chapter of the Book of the Dead. For example, we read in the 162nd chapter of the Book of the Dead, “This is a great and secret book. Do not allow anyone's eyes to see it!” Joseph also says line 8 “is to be had in the Holy Temple of God.” Line 8 reads, “Grant that the soul of the Osiris, Shishaq, may live (eternally).” Since the designated purpose of the hypocephalus was to make the deceased divine, it is not unreasonable to see here a reference to the sacred ordinances performed in our Latter-day temples. [3]

References in the figure are to Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later." off-site


Question: Is the representation of Min actually Egyptian "pornography"?

This attitude demonstrates not only an immaturity about sexuality, but it also a misunderstanding of ancient Egyptian religion

To answer this question about Facsimile 2 figure 7, the first thing we need to disabuse is that it constitutes "pornography" because it shows the deity with an erect phallus. This attitude demonstrates not only an immaturity about sexuality, but it also a misunderstanding of ancient Egyptian religion. The characterization of this as "pornography" is grossly inappropriate. The Egyptians would almost certainly have not conceived of this figure on the hypocephalus as "pornographic" in the way most people understand the word. This attitude reflected by some is a good example of how our modern, sexually-obsessed society can easily misinterpret religious art. We see an erect penis in a drawing and think "pornography," whereas an ancient Egyptian would have seen one and thought of fertility, virility and life. Hence the depiction of Min with an erection was a sign of his life-giving ability. We have analogies in Northwest Semitic depictions of God. (El is both called and depicted as a virile bull in the Ugaritic texts, both because of his procreative powers and his greatness over the other gods.)

Another thing to keep in mind is just how common syncretism of religious ideas and iconography was between Near Eastern cultures. We know ancient Hebrews and other Near Eastern people used a phallic God to depict “the God of the Bible” all the time. The Canaanite god Baal, for example, shares the same epithet with Yahweh ("cloud rider") in Psalm 68:4.


Question: Who is this Egyptian god "Min"?

Although it is true that one of Min's attributes was that of a fertility god, or a god of procreation, he had other traits that are analogous to the attributes of both the Northwest Semitic deities of El and Baal

Hugh Nibley treated Min in his magnum opus One Eternal Round, pp. 304-322. Although it is true that one of Min's attributes was that of a fertility god, or a god of procreation, he had other traits that are analogous to the attributes of both the Northwest Semitic deities of El and Baal. For one, he is often portrayed as a man sitting on a throne. Second, he is a god of Creation, the Father, Most High God, etc., as El is depicted in the Ugaritic texts, and later in the Hebrew Bible. He is also a harvest-vegetation god, and, like Baal, oversees the assurance of the renewal of animal and vegetation life through rains and floods, etc. To draw attention to only the fertility aspect of Min is a very myopic view. What's more, John Gee, in a very important article [4], has pointed out that the figure of Min is often simply called "the great god" by the Egyptians themselves.


Response to claim: "Facsimile 3...This particular scene corresponds to Chapter 125 of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead"

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

Facsimile 3...This particular scene corresponds to Chapter 125 of the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. According to Egyptologists, this scene depicts the deceased (Hôr) successfully completing his afterlife journey and entering into the presence of Osiris.

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: "But when it became obvious that the results were going to be painfully uncomfortable for the Church, work became very slow"

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

In 1967, the Museum presented the papyri as a gift to the LDS Church. It was time for Evans' challenge to be taken up by Mormon critics. The Church itself did some of the investigative work in comparing the results of modern studies in Egyptology applied to the papyri to the claims Joseph Smith had made for his work on the Book of Abraham. But when it became obvious that the results were going to be painfully uncomfortable for the Church, work became very slow. Outside researchers eventually obtained adequate copies of the material and began publishing their own results.

FairMormon Response

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

The Church published the finding that the recovered papyri fragments were from the Book of Breathings in the Improvement Era in 1968. The critics make it sound as if the Church attempted to hide this information.



Question: Was the Church forthright in identifying the rediscovered papyri prior to their examination by non-LDS Egyptologists?

The January 1968 issue of the Improvement Era demonstrates that the Church was very forthright about this issue

The Church announced that the fragments contained a funerary text in the January 1968 Improvement Era (the predecessor to today's Ensign magazine). Of the 11 fragments, one fragment has Facsimile 1, and the other 10 fragments are funerary texts, which the Church claimed from the moment the papyri were rediscovered. There is no evidence that the Church has ever claimed that any of the 10 remaining fragments contain text which is contained in the Book of Abraham.

The critics are telling us nothing new when they dramatically "announce" that the JSP contain Egyptian funerary documents. The Church disseminated this information as widely as possible from the very beginning.

The timeline of events

A review of the time-line of the papyri demonstrates that the Church quickly publicized the nature of the JSP in the official magazine of the time, The Improvement Era.

There were 11 fragments discovered and given to the church. The Church was very quick in releasing this information to the membership and the world.

November 27, 1967
Church receives papyri.
December 10–11, 1967
Deadline to submit material for the January 1968 Improvement Era.
December 26–31, 1967
January 1968 Improvement Era issue mailed to subscribers.[5]
February 1968
Another fragment was discovered in the Church historian's files, and publicized in the February 1968 Improvement Era.[6]
Cover of the January 1968 issue of the Improvement Era, the Church's official magazine of the time. Note the color photograph of the recovered Facsimile 1.


Improvement Era (January 1968): "Often the funerary texts contained passages from the 'Book of the Dead,' a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world"

Jay M. Todd, ,"Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," The Improvement Era (January 1968):

Perhaps no discovery in recent memory is expected to arouse as much widespread interest in the restored gospel as is the recent discovery of some Egyptian papyri, one of which is known to have been used by the prophet Joseph Smith in producing the Book of Abraham.

The papyri, long thought to have been burned in the Chicago fire of 1871, were presented to the Church on November 27, 1967, in New York City by the metropolitan Museum of Art, more than a year after Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, former director of the University of Utah's Middle East Center, had made his startling discovery while browsing through the New York museum's papyri collection.

Included in the collection of 11 manuscripts is one identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith obtained Facsimile 1, which prefaces the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Accompanying the manuscripts was a letter dated May 26, 1856, signed by both Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and their son, Joseph Smith, attesting that the papyri had been the property of the Prophet.

Some of the pieces of papyrus apparently include conventional hieroglyphics (sacred inscriptions, resembling picture-drawing) and hieratic (a cursive shorthand version of hieroglyphics) Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. Often the funerary texts contained passages from the "Book of the Dead," a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world. It is not known at this time whether the ten other pieces of papyri have a direct connection with the Book of Abraham.[7]


Question: What did the Church announce in 1968 when the Joseph Smith papyri fragments were discovered?

The Church noted that the papyri fragments did not contain the Book of Abraham, except for Facsimile 1

The Improvement Era described the papyri, but never claimed they represented the source for the Book of Abraham, except the original of Facsimile 1:

Perhaps no discovery in recent memory is expected to arouse as much widespread interest in the restored gospel as is the recent discovery of some Egyptian papyri, one of which is known to have been used by the prophet Joseph Smith in producing the Book of Abraham.

The papyri, long thought to have been burned in the Chicago fire of 1871, were presented to the Church on November 27, 1967, in New York City by the metropolitan Museum of Art, more than a year after Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, former director of the University of Utah's Middle East Center, had made his startling discovery while browsing through the New York museum's papyri collection.

Included in the collection of 11 manuscripts is one identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith obtained Facsimile 1, which prefaces the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Accompanying the manuscripts was a letter dated May 26, 1856, signed by both Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and their son, Joseph Smith, attesting that the papyri had been the property of the Prophet.

Some of the pieces of papyrus apparently include conventional hieroglyphics (sacred inscriptions, resembling picture-drawing) and hieratic (a cursive shorthand version of hieroglyphics) Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. Often the funerary texts contained passages from the "Book of the Dead," a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world. It is not known at this time whether the ten other pieces of papyri have a direct connection with the Book of Abraham.[8]

Egyptian.papyri.rediscovered.funeral.documents.improvement.era.jan.1968.p12.jpg


Question: How long did the Church know about the papyri before they published information about them?

The Church immediately published an article in their official magazine less than two months after the papyri were discovered

When the papyri were rediscovered in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and donated to the Church on 27 November 1967, the Church immediately published an article in their official magazine less than two months later. A follow-up article on an additional papyrus fragment was published the following month, complete with photos:

  • Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (January 1968), 12–16. off-site
  • Jay M. Todd, "New Light on Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri: Additional Fragment Disclosed," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40. off-site
  • Jay M. Todd, "Background of the Church Historian's Fragment," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40A–40I. off-site

LDS scholar Hugh Nibley began a series of articles in the January 1968 edition which ran for months. Nibley was not hesitant in explaining what was on the papyri in the Church's possession. In August 1968, he repeatedly emphasized that much of the text was the Egyptian Book of the Dead:

  • "...the texts of the 'Joseph Smith Papyri' identified as belonging to the Book of the Dead" (p. 55)
  • "...The largest part of the Joseph Smith Papyri in the possession of the Church consists of fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the fragments having been recently translated and discussed by no less a scholar than Professor John A. Wilson." (p. 57)
  • "These points can be illustrated by the most easily recognized section of the Joseph Smith papyri, namely, the fragment with the picture of a swallow, Chapter 86 of the Book of the Dead..."(p. 57)
  • "..we may take the best-known picture from the Book of the Dead, the well-known judgment scene or 'Psychostasy,' a fine example of which is found among the Joseph Smith papyri." (p. 59)

Lest the reader miss this claim in the small print, it was reprinted in large bold type across two pages:

The Church's official magazine did not hide Nibley's conclusion about the papyrus fragments rediscovered in 1968.
  • "The largest parts of the...papyri in possession of the Church consists of fragments from the Egyptian Book of the Dead..." (pp. 56-57) See image (680 KB).


Response to claim: "one of the sections of papyrus was clearly the Egyptian writing from which Smith claimed to 'translate' the Book of Abraham"

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

one of the sections of papyrus was clearly the Egyptian writing from which Smith claimed to "translate" the Book of Abraham. There were still handwritten copies of the original translation work which showed the individual Egyptian figures down the left margin of a page, with the English translation right next to it. The handwriting on these copies was by Smith's regular scribes who helped him in his work. These Egyptian figures are clearly seen in a section of one of the recovered papyrus sections, all in exactly the same order that they appear on the handwritten "translation" pages.

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 critics are referring to the documents known as the "Kirtland Egyptian Papers." There is no evidence that these documents were produced before or during the translation of the Book of Abraham. The evidence indicates that after the Book of Abraham was translated, that this may have been an attempt to "reverse engineer" the translation by matching Egyptian characters to the Book of Abraham text.

Question: What criticisms are associated with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers?

The following critical claims relate to the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP)

  1. It is asserted that the KEP were produced prior to the Book of Abraham, and that they therefore represent the "translation working papers" for Abraham 1:1-3. A chronology of events related to the production of the Book of Abraham produced by Edward Ashment is used by critics to support this claim;
  2. It is asserted that the KEP are intended to deal with the Egyptian language, and that they demonstrate that Joseph did not understand Egyptian;
  3. It is asserted that the KEP demonstrate that the Sensen Papyrus was believed to be the source for the Book of Abraham, and that since the Sensen Papyrus is in fact not the Book of Abraham but an Egyptian Book of Breathings, whatever else the Book of Abraham may be, it is not an accurate translation of an ancient Egyptian text.
  4. It is asserted that the purpose of the KEP was to provide a visible prop in order to convince people that Joseph could indeed translate Egyptian.

The KEP likely represents an attempt to "reverse engineer" the translation by matching Egyptian characters from the papyri to the revealed text

All of the critical claims rely on the assertion that the KEP were created before the Book of Abraham text was produced. Critics wish to portray the KEP as a set of "working papers" used in the production of the Book of Abraham. However, the evidence indicates that the KEP was produced after the Book of Abraham text was written, and that they represent a likely attempt to "reverse engineer" the translation by matching Egyptian characters from the papyri to the revealed text in an attempt to create a dictionary of the Egyptian language. This is also the position taken by the Church: "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 arranging 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]


Gospel Topics on LDS.org: "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 arranging 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. [10] —(Click here to continue)


Question: What are the Kirtland Egyptian Papers?

The Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP) are a collection of documents written by various individuals constituting some sort of study documents relating to the Joseph Smith Papyri

The Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP) are a collection of documents written by various individuals, mostly dating to the Kirtland period of Church history (early- to mid-1830s), constituting some sort of study documents relating to the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri.

The KEP comprise 16 documents encompassing a total of about 120 pages. They are typically divided into two categories:

  • so-called Egyptian alphabet and grammar documents (KEPE), and
  • Book of Abraham manuscript documents (KEPA).

The following table[11] gives a basic description of the KEP:

Number Date Size Handwriting Title and Contents
KEPE 1 1836 (?) 1 volume, 31x20 cm W.W. Phelps & Warren Parrish "Grammar & aphabet [sic] of the Egyptian language"
KEPE 2 1836 (?) 2 leaves, 33x20 cm W.W. Phelps "Egyptian counting"
KEPE 3 1 October 1835 (?) 4 leaves, 32x20 cm W.W. Phelps "Egyptian alphabet"
KEPE 4 1 October 1835 (?) 9 leaves, 32x20 cm Joseph Smith & Oliver Cowdery "Egyptian alphabet"
KEPE 5 1 October 1835 (?) 4 leaves, various sizes Oliver Cowdery [title lost, "Egyptian alphabet" (?)]
KEPE 6 26 Nov. 1835 (?) 1 volume, 20x13 cm Oliver Cowdery "Valuable discovery of hiden [sic] records"
KEPE 7 1837 (?) 1 volume, 20x16 cm Oliver Cowdery "F.G.W." and "William"
KEPE 8 26 Nov. 1835 (?) 1 leaf, 32x40 cm ? [no title]
KEPE 9 26 Nov. 1835 (?) 1 leaf, 39x19 cm ? [no title]
KEPE 10 Mounted Feb. 1836 (?) 1 leaf, 33x20 cm [no title] = Joseph Smith Papyrus (JSP) IX
KEPA 1 1836 (?) 10 leaves, 32x20 cm W.W. Phelps & Warren Parrish [no title] Abraham 1:1–2:18
KEPA 2 1836 (?) 4 leaves, 33x19 cm Frederick G. Williams[12]} [no title] Abraham 1:4–2:6
KEPA 3 1836 (?) 6 leaves, 32x19 cm Warren Parrish [no title] Abraham 1:4–2:2
KEPA 4 Feb. 1842 (?) 18 leaves, 29x20 cm Willard Richards [no title] Abraham 1:1–3:26 (pages containing 2:19 - 3:17 missing)
KEPA 5 March 1842 (?) 4 leaves, various sizes Willard Richards [no title] Facsimile 2
KEPA 6 1842 Broadside 32x19 cm [back has a letter to Clyde Williams & Co., signed by Joseph Smith and W.W. Phelps]

The most extensive of these documents is KEPE 1, which is an intact bound book, containing 34 nonconsecutive pages of writing and 186 blank pages (an average of three written pages being followed by 18 to 20 blank pages).


Question: What is the provenance of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers?

These documents were brought west from Nauvoo and deposited in the Church Historian's office, and eventually knowledge of them was lost

An inventory of Church records to be taken west from Nauvoo, prepared by Thomas Bullock in 1846, included an entry for "Egyptian Grammar in Jennetta's Trunk." This document presumably was KEPE 1. The Jennetta spoken of was the late wife of Willard Richards, the Prophet Joseph's secretary. The Journal History of the Church under the date 17 October 1855 lists the "Egyptian Alphabet" in an inventory of items moved into a new fire proof vault. This again appears to be KEPE 1. An 1847 inventory of Church property delivered to Newel K. Whitney for transport included "A small Parchment roll of Hieroglyphics," which may have included some of the loose KEP. It is also possible that some of the other, smaller documents were brought separately to the Great Basin by W.W. Phelps.

Although these documents were brought west from Nauvoo and deposited in the Church Historian's office, they were unused and eventually knowledge of them was lost. The Egyptian Grammar was eventually rediscovered in that office by Sidney Sperry in 1935.

KEPA 1 has a separate provenance. This document was given by Emma Smith to her second husband, Lewis Bidamon, who gave it to his son, Charles Bidamon, from whom the great collector of Mormon artifacts, Wilford Wood, obtained it. Wood presented this document to the Church in 1937.

The various provenances of these documents raise the possibility that the collection we have today may not be complete, with some of the documents having been lost.


Question: What is the publication history of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers?

High resolution scans are available on the Joseph Smith Papers website

A critical text analysis of the KEP not yet been formally published, however, high resolution scans of the documents are now available on the Joseph Smith Papers website. (see "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, circa July–circa December 1835").

Jerald and Sandra Tanner obtained a microfilm copy of most of them and informally published them as Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar.[13] An improved informal compilation was prepared by H. Michael Marquardt under the title The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers in 1981. This informal edition is still available from Marquardt's website. Both of these editions are photocopies made from microfilm.

The late Steven F. Christensen, before he was murdered by Mark Hofmann, commissioned the photographing of the KEP at the LDS Church archives. From those negatives, at least four sets of color prints were made, including copies now in the possession of George D. Smith, Edward Ashment and Brent Metcalfe. Metcalfe has long indicated that he intends to formally publish the KEP, with high quality color photographs on the left side of the page and an improved transcription on the right side of the page—thus far, however no publication has appeared, or progress on the work announced.

It is also possible that the Maxwell Institute at BYU will eventually produce its own critical edition of the KEP as part of its Studies in the Book of Abraham series, although no formal announcement of such a publication has been made.


Response to claim: "Smith had obviously commissioned an artist to 'fill in' the missing details according to Smith's speculation"

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

The original that Smith had used had pieces missing, including portions of the picture in Facsimile 1. Smith had obviously commissioned an artist to "fill in" the missing details according to Smith's speculation of what would have been in the missing sections.

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 missing sections were filled in prior to their publication, however, it is not known who decided how to "restore" these missing sections. It may have been Joseph Smith, or it may have been the engraver, Ruben Hedlock. The critics cannot simply assert the Joseph Smith "obviously" had someone complete this according to his "speculation."

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.'"[14] 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.'"[15]

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.[16]

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.


Response to claim: "Below is a modern reconstruction of what the missing pieces likely contained, based on contents of similar funeral documents"

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

Below is a modern reconstruction of what the missing pieces likely contained, based on contents of similar funeral documents....It should be noted that not all nonMormon Egyptologists agree that there should be a second bird in the middle of the facsimile. Dr. Lanny Bell supports the idea that the figure on the table is indeed holding up two hands. However, no nonMormon Egyptologists believe Anubis (the priest as identified by Joseph) was holding a knife or that he had a man's head instead of a Jackal's head.

FairMormon Response

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

The Charles Larson restoration has a number of inaccuracies.



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.[17]


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.[18]


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.'"[19] 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.'"[20]

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: "The Book of Abraham supports the concept of polygamy as Abraham took another wife as directed by the Lord"

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

The Book of Abraham supports the concept of polygamy as Abraham took another wife as directed by the Lord.

FairMormon Response

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

The Book of Abraham does not discuss Abraham's practice of polygamy. It does not talk of him taking "another wife" or lying about it.



Response to claim: "This is the only scriptural reference that we know of where God instructs someone to lie"

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

Perhaps what's even more significant is that God actually instructs Abraham to lie about it. God tells Abraham that he must lie to the Egyptians and tell them that his wife is really his sister so they wouldn't take her from him (Abraham 2:22-25). This is the only scriptural reference that we know of where God instructs someone to lie. This is important because Joseph lied to his congregations and to the public about his involvement in polygamy.

FairMormon Response

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

This is not the only scriptural reference where God instructs someone to lie. Other examples of God instructing others to hide the truth include:

1 And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Beth-lehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons. 2 And Samuel said, How can I go? if Saul hear it, he will kill me. And the Lord said, Take an heifer with thee, and say, I am come to sacrifice to the Lord.





Question: Why would God tell Abraham to lie about his wife Sarah?

The Bible record tells us that God blessed Abraham despite his action

Some ask, "Why God would encourage Abraham & Sarah to lie in Abraham 2:24? Isn't lying a sin according to the 10 commandments? Why did God tell Abraham and Sarah to lie when 2 Nephi condemns liars to hell?"

The Bible tells us that Moses did what God told him to do. Is it so surprising that Abraham might have been told something similar to prevent death to the righteous? The Pharaoh would sometimes kill a husband then take their wives for themselves. The Bible record tells us that God blessed Abraham despite his action. The Book of Abraham simply makes it clear that Abraham did not choose this path on his own, but like Moses was obeying a direct command from God, who may grant exceptions to His Laws if He pleases.

The Bible records Abraham's lie to Pharaoh, and then God rewards the lie

The Bible records Abraham's lie to Pharaoh, and then God rewards the lie (see Genesis 12:17). This seems a strange action if God disapproved their action.

There are times in the Bible and other extra-biblical accounts when God has commanded His prophets to protect the innocent by giving the wicked less than the whole story

In the ancient Genesis Apocryphon text, Abraham has the same motives described in the Pearl of Great Price as delivered by Joseph Smith. He tells Sarah that God has given him a dream in which she saves him from being killed. He then tells her:

[Say to them] of me, 'He is my brother,' and because of you I shall live, and because of your my life shall be saved...'

And Sarai wept that night on account of my words..." [21]

How did Joseph produce this authentic ancient detail, with this text not available until 1948?

The first Bible example of divinely approved deception

The first example involves Pharaoh's murderous instructions to the Egyptian midwives:

16 And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live.

17 But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.

18 And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men children alive?

19 And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Exodus 1:16-19

The midwives are confronted with a command from the head of state which offends their personal/professional morality. They decline to participate, and actively deceive the Pharaoh--they even lie to him or his officers so that the deception may continue, as well as to (one assumes) spare themselves his punishment. The subsequent verses indicate God's approval of their action. (See Exodus 1:20).

Honesty to the wicked is not the primary moral value: obedience to the will of God is.

A second Bible example of divinely approved deception

The second example comes from the prophetic call of Moses. The Lord speaks to Moses and says:

17 And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.(Exodus 3:17)

The Lord announces His intention to liberate the Israelites from slavery. But, in the very next breath, He tells Moses what to tell Pharaoh—what the "public story" should be, if you will:

18 And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.(Exodus 3:18)

The "public stance" of Moses and the Israelite leaders is to be that they only want to go three days' journey to sacrifice. So, here the Lord is advocating some degree of deception. This extends to even deceiving their Egyptian neighbors:

21 And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:

22 But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.(Exodus 3:21-22)

Because they are just going to make sacrifices, in the public version, the Israelites are to "borrow" valuable goods from the Egyptians. But, the true intent is clearly spelled out: they are to "spoil" (i.e. "loot") the Egyptians.

Pharaoh is, of course, nobody's fool. He seems to strongly suspect that there is more to the story than Moses is publicly admitting. He offers all sorts of compromise positions, seemingly designed to assure that the slaves will return after fulfilling their duties.

Things proceed to the point that Pharaoh threatens Moses' life despite the plagues and signs. The people are finally freed, but once they have left Pharaoh and his councilors decide to resort to violence and slaughter:

5 And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled: and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?

6 And he made ready his chariot, and took his people with him:

7 And he took six hundred chosen chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over every one of them.

8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel: and the children of Israel went out with an high hand.(Exodus 14:5-8)

We are not told why the Lord instructed Moses to deal with the Egyptians in the way that he did. It is significant that Moses did not take such an approach on his own; only a direct command motivates his less-than-forthright behavior.

One can speculate, however—it is certainly reasonable to think that the Egyptians would have murderous intent toward their slaves who presumed to leave. They are willing to act on such inclinations, despite the plagues, when it becomes indisputable that Israel has left for good. If Moses had announced that Israel was leaving, what would the reaction of Pharaoh's court have been? Moses' failure to tell the whole story may well have saved Egyptian life, as well as Israelite. To be sure, God could have used another way. But, in this instance, deception was the specific tactic which He commanded.

Anti-Moses authors could doubtless exploit this situation to great rhetorical effect--they could mock Moses' "ethical lapse" here, and insist that he did it all for monetary gain. They could contrast his behavior here with the "thou shalt not covet," "thou shalt not bear false witness," and "thou shalt not steal" commands given later at Sinai, and point out that "borrowing" when you don't ever intend to come back looks a lot like "stealing."


Response to claim: "If God would instruct Abraham to lie about his wives then it seems plausible that God could tell Joseph to lie about his wives as well"

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

If God would instruct Abraham to lie about his wives then it seems plausible that God could tell Joseph to lie about his wives as well.

FairMormon Response

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

The Book of Abraham says nothing about God instructing Abraham to "lie about his wives."



Response to claim: "The Book of Abraham also introduced the first and only scriptural basis for denying the priesthood to Blacks"

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

The Book of Abraham also introduced the first and only scriptural basis for denying the priesthood to Blacks, the Church's official position until 1978.

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 use of this scripture to justify the ban was very late. Latter-day Saint attitudes on this point generally echoed those of contemporaries: “With very little effort one can duplicate the Mormon arguments to the most specific detail from these contemporary non-Mormon sources,” and this includes the use of biblical proof texts. Lester E. Bush Jr., “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8/1 (Spring 1973): 15–16; see also 26–27. The use of uniquely LDS scripture to justify the ban dates from B. H. Roberts, The Contributor (1885), 6:296–7 (Bush, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” 34–35; Bush also notes a possible earlier allusion to this idea in 1880 by Erastus Snow in Journal of Discourses, 21:370). Bush asks, “Why wasn’t the Pearl of Great Price invoked earlier on this matter? Most probably there was no need. The notion that the Negroes were descended from Cain and Ham was initially common enough knowledge that no ‘proof’ or corroboration of this connection had been necessary” (“Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine,” 36). Following Roberts’ work, an explanation based on the Pearl of Great Price was used extensively.

Question: Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5:21-25 and Alma 3:6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26:33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1:26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[22]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23:18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[23]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[24]


Response to claim: "It described Pharaoh and the Egyptians as descendants of Ham and Canaan"

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

It described Pharaoh and the Egyptians as descendants of Ham and Canaan (the progenitors of the Negro race), and under the curse of Canaan and disqualified from the priesthood (Abraham 1:21-22, 26-27).

FairMormon Response

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

The author is mixing up "Cain" and "Canaan," however, there is no relationship between the two. The Canaanites were not descendants of Cain, despite the similar sounding names. There was no "curse of Canaan." The author is thinking of the "curse of Cain."



Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is “no respecter of persons”24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: “[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[25]—(Click here to continue)


Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[26] —(Click here to continue)


Question: What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the “curse” and the “mark” of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.


Question: When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9:18-27:

18 And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan.
19 These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.
20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
Genesis 9:18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [27] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [28] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [29] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [30]


Question: When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical “mark of Cain” associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the “mark of Cain” and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1856 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [31] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [32] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [33]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [34]


Question: How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with Mormonism?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the “mark of Cain” was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious “folk doctrine” in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the “mark of Cain” to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. [35]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the “mark of Cain” was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious “folk doctrine” in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the “mark of Cain” to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4:11–15; Moses 5:23–25, Moses 5:36–40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.


Response to claim: "perhaps it would not have been so prominently practiced by the members if there was no Book of Abraham to support the practice"

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

If it wasn't for the Book of Abraham, it is possible that two of the most controversial and objectionable doctrines of the LDS church (polygamy and denying the priesthood to blacks) would not have happened or have been as prominent as they were. Polygamy was already in practice by Joseph but perhaps it would not have been so prominently practiced by the members if there was no Book of Abraham to support the practice.

FairMormon Response

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

Again, the Book of Abraham says nothing about polygamy, and was never used as justification for the practice.



Response to claim: "The two current most prominent Egyptologists on each side of the BOA issue are LDS Egyptologist Michael Rhodes and nonLDS Egyptologist Robert Ritner"

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

The two current most prominent Egyptologists on each side of the BOA issue are LDS Egyptologist Michael Rhodes and nonLDS Egyptologist Robert Ritner. Who would you believe is more qualified to answer the question as to the correct interpretation of the facsimiles and of the Egyptian papyri? Look at their websites and see for yourself.

FairMormon Response

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

The two most prominent Egyptologists on each side of the Book of Abraham issue are LDS Egyptologist John Gee and non-LDS Egyptologist Robert Ritner. John Gee (Ph.D., Yale University) formerly taught at Yale University, and worked in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has numerous publications in non-LDS peer reviewed Egyptology journals. Dr. Gee has been the most prominent LDS Egyptologist for many years. The MormonThink author has disingenuously minimized Gee's credentials (just a "student" of Ritner) and instead chosen Michael Rhodes to compare to Ritner as a way of making it appear that there are no LDS Egyptologists with sufficient credentials to speak on the subject of the Joseph Smith papyri.



Response to claim: "John Gee...He has written many articles for FARMS. He was a student of Egyptology under Robert Ritner"

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

John Gee: FARMS Egyptologist (now at the Maxwell Institute at BYU). William "Bill" Gay Assistant Research Professor of Egyptology at the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts. He has written many articles for FARMS. He was a student of Egyptology under Robert Ritner.

FairMormon Response

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

The critics portray Dr. Gee as "FARMS Egyptologist and simply a "student" under Robert Ritner. In reality, Gee has a Ph.D. in Egyptology from Yale University and has made, and continues to make, substantial contributions to the field of Egyptology that have nothing to do with FARMS or Latter-day Saint interests.
  • John Gee (Ph.D., Yale University) is currently the William (Bill) Gay Research Professor of Egyptology and a Senior Research Fellow at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He formerly taught at Yale University, and worked in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • He is currently the only Egyptologist from North America affiliated with the Totenbuch-Projekt of the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn.
  • Professor Gee has given papers at Egyotological conferences in Atlanta, Baltimore, Berkeley, Bonn, Boston, Brussels, Budapest, Cambridge (Massachusetts), Copenhagen, Giza, Grenoble, Jersey City, Laie, Leuven, London, New Haven, Paris, Philadelphia, Prague, Providence, Reading, Rhodes, San Diego, Seattle, Stevenage, Toledo, Toronto, Tucson, Vancouver, Warsaw, and Washington D.C.
  • He has published Egyptological work with E. J. Brill, Peeters, Praeger, Harrassowitz Verlag, Archaeopress, Styx, Sheffield Press, the Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, the American University of Cairo Press, the Association Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, the Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, the MEBT-ÓEB Comité de l’Égypte Ancienne de l’Association Amicale Hongroise-Égyptienne, the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire, the Bulletin for the Egyptological Seminar, Göttinger Miszellen, the Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, the Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities, and the Journal of Egyptian History.
  • The Aigyptos Datenbank lists him as having published on Amasis, archives, art, British Museum EA 10416, Book of the Dead, Book of the Dead 31, Book of the Dead 69, Coffin Texts, Coptic language, Coptic studies, daily ritual, Demotic papyri, Demotic studies, Greek papyri, Greeks in Egypt, hypocephali, initiation, lamps, language, Late Period documents, Late Period hieratic papyri, Late Period iconography, Late Period tomb equipment, law, Louvre E 7846, love, marriage, marriage contracts, Mesopotamia, Middle Kingdom literature, Middle Kingdom titles, Near East, New Kingdom documents, New Kingdom hieratic papyri, oaths, oracles, philology, phraseology, priest, prosopography, Ptolemaic Period iconography, Ptolemaic period tomb equipment, religion, ritual, Roman period tomb equipment, Romans in Egypt, seals, Shipwrecked Sailor, social structure, society, society and culture, text, Thebes, title, verbal system, and wab-priest.
  • Professor Gee serves on the Board of Trustees of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and as editor of the Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities. He also serves on the program committee for the Egyptology and Ancient Israel Section of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Here are just some of Dr. Gee's non-LDS publications in peer-reviewed Egyptology journals:

  1. “Some Neglected Aspects of Egypt’s Conversion to Christianity,” in Coptic Culture: Past, Present and Future, ed. Mariam Ayad (Stevenage, UK: The Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, 2012), 43-55.
  2. “The Cult of Chespisichis,” in Egypt in Transition: Social and Religious Development of Egypt in the First Millennium BCE, ed. Ladislav Bareš, Filip Coppens, and Květa Smoláriková (Prague: Czech Institute of Egyptology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 2010), 129-45.
  3. “The Book of the Dead as Canon,” British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 15 (2010), 22-33, http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/online_journals/bmsaes/issue_15/gee.aspx .
  4. “Execration Rituals in Various Temples,” in 8. Ägyptologische Tempeltagung: Interconnections between Temples, ed. Monika Dolińska and Horst Beinlich (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2010), 67-80.
  5. “Egyptologists’ Fallacies: Fallacies Arising from Limited Evidence,” Journal of Egyptian History 3/1 (2010): 137-58.
  6. “A New Look at the ʿnḫ pꜣ by Formula,” in Actes du IXe Congrès international des études démotiques, ed. Ghislaine Widmer et Didier Devauchelle (Cairo: Institut Français Archéologie Orientale, 2009), 133-44.
  7. “A New Look at the Conception of the Human Being in Ancient Egypt,” in ‘Being in Ancient Egypt’: Thoughts on Agency, Materiality and Cognition, ed. Rune Nord, Annette Kjølby (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2009), 1-14.
  8. “Fronted Adverbials,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 18 (2009): 83-90.
  9. “Editorial Foreword: Marginal Notes,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 36 (2009): v-vi.
  10. “Of Heart Scarabs and Balance Weights: A New Interpretation of Book of the Dead 30B,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 36 (2009): 1-15.
  11. “The Origin of the Imperfect Converter,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 43 (2007): 253-59.
  12. “History of a Theban Priesthood,” in «Et maintenant ce ne sont plus que des villages…» Thèbes et sa région aux époques hellénistique, romaine et byzantine. Actes du Colloque tenu à Bruxelles les 2 et 3 Décembre 2005, ed. Alain Delattre and Paul Heilporn, Papyrologica Bruxellensia 34 (Bruxelles: Association Égyptologique Reine Élisabeth, 2008), 59-71.
  13. “On the Practice of Sealing in the Book of the Dead and the Coffin Texts,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 35 (2008): 105-22.
  14. “Love and Marriage in the Ancient World: An Historical Corrective,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 35 (2008): 83-103.
  15. “Were Egyptian Texts Divinely Written?” Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists, ed. Jean-Claude Goyon and Christine Cardin, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 150 (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 807-813.
  16. “Non-Round Hypocephali,” Aegyptus et Pannonia III, ed. Hedvig Győry (Budapest: MEBT-ÓEB Comité de l’Égypte Ancienne de l’Association Amicale Hongroise-Égyptienne, 2006), 41-58.
  17. “The Use of the Daily Temple Liturgy in the Book of the Dead,” in Totenbuch-Forschungen: Gesammelte Beiträge des 2. Internationalen Totenbuch-Symposiums, Bonn, 25. bis 29. September 2005, ed. Burkhard Backes, Irmtraut Munro and Simone Stöhr (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2007), 73-86.
  18. “The Family in the Third (and Second) Millennium . . . BC: Where We’ve Been” in The Family in the New Millennium: World Voices Supporting the “Natural” Clan, 3 vols., ed. A. Scott Loveless and Thomas B. Holman (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2007), 1:114-123.
  19. “Overlooked Evidence for Sesostris III’s Foreign Policy,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 41 (2004): 23-31.
  20. “‘There Needs No Ghost, My Lord, Come from the Grave to Tell Us This’: Dreams and Angels in Ancient Egypt” Society of Biblical Literature 2004 Seminar Papers (September 2004) (http://www.sbl-site.org/PDF/Gee_Dreams.pdf).
  21. “Prophets, Initiation and the Egyptian Temple,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 31 (2004): 97-107.
  22. “Sꜣ mi nn: A Temporary Conclusion,” Göttinger Miszellen 202 (2004): 55-58.
  23. “Trial Marriage in Ancient Egypt? P. Louvre E 7846 Reconsidered,” in Res severa verum gaudium, ed. Friedrich Hoffmann and Günther Vittmann (Leuven: Peeters, 2004), 223-31.
  24. “The Earliest Example of the pḥ-nṯr?” Göttinger Miszellen 194 (2003): 25-27.
  25. “Bꜣ Sending and Its Implications,” in Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century: Proceedings of the Eight International Congress of Egyptologists, Cairo, 2000, 3 vols. (Cairo: American University of Cairo Press, 2003), 2:230-37.
  26. “Oracle by Image: Coffin Text 103 in Context,” in Magic and Divination in the Ancient World, ed. Leda Ciraolo and Jonathan Seidel, Ancient Magic and Divination II (Leiden: Brill, Styx, 2002), 83-88.
  27. “The Structure of Lamp Divination,” Acts of the Seventh International Conference of Demotic Studies, CNI Publications 27 (Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, 2002), 207-18.
  28. “Towards an Interpretation of Hypocephali,” “Le lotus qui sort du terre”: Mélanges offerts à Edith Varga, Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts Supplément-2001 (Budapest: Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 2001), 325-334.
  29. “Notes on Egyptian Marriage: P. BM 10416 Reconsidered,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 15 (2001): 17-25.
  30. “Aramaic Funerary Practices in Egypt,” co-authored with Bezalel Porten, in World of the Aramaeans II: Studies in History and Archaeology in Honour of Paul-Eugène Dion, ed. P. M. Michèle Daviau, John W. Weavers, and Michael Weigl, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 325 (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Press, 2001), 270-307.



Response to claim: "Stuart Ferguson: LDS archaeologist that spent 20 years on a quest to discover some archaeological evidence of the Book of Mormon"

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

Stuart Ferguson: LDS archaeologist that spent 20 years on a quest to discover some archaeological evidence of the Book of Mormon from his expeditions that were funded by the church. He never found any evidence and was getting concerned when about the lack of BOM evidence when the news of the Book of Abraham papyri was rediscovered and given to the church. After reports came out that the Joseph Smith papyri was nothing more than common Egyptian funeral documents he lost his testimony.

FairMormon Response

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

Thomas Stuart Ferguson was not an archaeologist and he had no formal training in archaeology.



Question: Was Thomas Stuart Ferguson an archaeologist?

Ferguson never studied archaeology at a professional level - he was self-educated in that area

As John Sorensen, who worked with Ferguson, recalled:

[Stan] Larson implies that Ferguson was one of the "scholars and intellectuals in the Church" and that "his study" was conducted along the lines of reliable scholarship in the "field of archaeology." Those of us with personal experience with Ferguson and his thinking knew differently. He held an undergraduate law degree but never studied archaeology or related disciplines at a professional level, although he was self-educated in some of the literature of American archaeology. He held a naive view of "proof," perhaps related to his law practice where one either "proved" his case or lost the decision; compare the approach he used in his simplistic lawyerly book One Fold and One Shepherd. His associates with scientific training and thus more sophistication in the pitfalls involving intellectual matters could never draw him away from his narrow view of "research." (For example, in April 1953, when he and I did the first archaeological reconnaissance of central Chiapas, which defined the Foundation's work for the next twenty years, his concern was to ask if local people had found any figurines of "horses," rather than to document the scores of sites we discovered and put on record for the first time.) His role in "Mormon scholarship" was largely that of enthusiast and publicist, for which we can be grateful, but he was neither scholar nor analyst.

Ferguson was never an expert on archaeology and the Book of Mormon (let alone on the book of Abraham, about which his knowledge was superficial). He was not one whose careful "study" led him to see greater light, light that would free him from Latter-day Saint dogma, as Larson represents. Instead he was just a layman, initially enthusiastic and hopeful but eventually trapped by his unjustified expectations, flawed logic, limited information, perhaps offended pride, and lack of faith in the tedious research that real scholarship requires. The negative arguments he used against the Latter-day Saint scriptures in his last years display all these weaknesses.

Larson, like others who now wave Ferguson's example before us as a case of emancipation from benighted Mormon thinking, never faces the question of which Tom Ferguson was the real one. Ought we to respect the hard-driving younger man whose faith-filled efforts led to a valuable major research program, or should we admire the double-acting cynic of later years, embittered because he never hit the jackpot on, as he seems to have considered it, the slot-machine of archaeological research? I personally prefer to recall my bright-eyed, believing friend, not the aging figure Larson recommends as somehow wiser. [36]


Peterson and Roper: "We know of no one who cites Ferguson as an authority, except countercultists"

Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper: [37]

"Thomas Stuart Ferguson," says Stan Larson in the opening chapter of Quest for the Gold Plates, "is best known among Mormons as a popular fireside lecturer on Book of Mormon archaeology, as well as the author of One Fold and One Shepherd, and coauthor of Ancient America and the Book of Mormon" (p. 1). Actually, though, Ferguson is very little known among Latter-day Saints. He died in 1983, after all, and "he published no new articles or books after 1967" (p. 135). The books that he did publish are long out of print. "His role in 'Mormon scholarship' was," as Professor John L. Sorenson puts it, "largely that of enthusiast and publicist, for which we can be grateful, but he was neither scholar nor analyst." We know of no one who cites Ferguson as an authority, except countercultists, and we suspect that a poll of even those Latter-day Saints most interested in Book of Mormon studies would yield only a small percentage who recognize his name. Indeed, the radical discontinuity between Book of Mormon studies as done by Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson in the fifties and those practiced today by, say, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) could hardly be more striking. Ferguson's memory has been kept alive by Stan Larson and certain critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as much as by anyone, and it is tempting to ask why. Why, in fact, is such disproportionate attention being directed to Tom Ferguson, an amateur and a writer of popularizing books, rather than, say, to M. Wells Jakeman, a trained scholar of Mesoamerican studies who served as a member of the advisory committee for the New World Archaeological Foundation?5 Dr. Jakeman retained his faith in the Book of Mormon until his death in 1998, though the fruit of his decades-long work on Book of Mormon geography and archaeology remains unpublished.


Peterson: "Thomas Stuart Ferguson's biographer...makes every effort to portray Ferguson's apparent eventual loss of faith as a failure for 'LDS archaeology'"

Daniel C. Peterson: [38]

In the beginning NWAF was financed by private donations, and it was Thomas Ferguson's responsibility to secure these funds. Devoted to his task, he traveled throughout California, Utah, and Idaho; wrote hundreds of letters; and spoke at firesides, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, and wherever else he could. After a tremendous amount of dedicated work, he was able to raise about twenty-two thousand dollars, which was enough for the first season of fieldwork in Mexico.

Stan Larson, Thomas Stuart Ferguson's biographer, who himself makes every effort to portray Ferguson's apparent eventual loss of faith as a failure for "LDS archaeology,"22 agrees, saying that, despite Ferguson's own personal Book of Mormon enthusiasms, the policy set out by the professional archaeologists who actually ran the Foundation was quite different: "From its inception NWAF had a firm policy of objectivity. . . . that was the official position of NWAF. . . . all field directors and working archaeologists were explicitly instructed to do their work in a professional manner and make no reference to the Book of Mormon."


Gee: "Ferguson is largely unknown to the vast majority of Latter-day Saints; his impact on Book of Mormon studies is minimal"

John Gee: [39]

Biographies like the book under review are deliberate, intentional acts; they do not occur by accident.4 Ferguson is largely unknown to the vast majority of Latter-day Saints; his impact on Book of Mormon studies is minimal.5 So, of all the lives that could be celebrated, why hold up that of a "double-acting sourpuss?"6 Is there anything admirable, virtuous, lovely, of good report, praiseworthy, or Christlike about Thomas Stuart Ferguson's apparent dishonesty or hypocrisy? Larson seems to think so: "I feel confident," Larson writes, "that Ferguson would want his intriguing story to be recounted as honestly and sympathetically as possible" (p. xiv). Why? Do we not have enough doubters? Yet Larson does not even intend to provide the reader with a full or complete biographical sketch of Ferguson's life, since he chose to include "almost nothing . . . concerning his professional career as a lawyer, his various real estate investments, his talent as a singer, his activities as a tennis player, or his family life" (p. xi). In his opening paragraph, Larson warns the reader that he is not interested in a well-rounded portrait of Ferguson. Nevertheless, he finds time to discourse on topics that do not deal with Ferguson's life and only tangentially with his research interest.


Response to claim: "they needed to renew their subscriptions so they wouldn't miss any of the cliff-hanging Abrahamic adventures in Egypt"

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

Smith published the BOA in the "Times and Seasons" newspaper (which he owned) in serial form, and notified readers that they needed to renew their subscriptions so they wouldn't miss any of the cliff-hanging Abrahamic adventures in Egypt.

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

This is nonsense.



Response to claim: "Apostle Jeffrey Holland was asked why the translation of the Book of Abraham by Joseph Smith doesn't match what Egyptologists say it means"

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

In this 2012 BBC documentary, Apostle Jeffrey Holland was asked why the translation of the Book of Abraham by Joseph Smith doesn't match what Egyptologists say it means. Holland only responded that it was the word of God and he doesn't understand how it was translated. That is somewhat disturbing that an apostle can't give a better answer than that.

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

Elder Holland was asked this question and honestly answered that he didn't understand the exact method by which the Book of Abraham was produced. Critics of the Church constantly promote the idea that General Authorities are dishonest, yet they complain when one says "I don't claim to know".



Question: How did Elder Holland respond during a BBC interview when asked how the Book of Abraham was translated?

Elder Holland responded that he did not know the method of translation, but that it was translated into the word of God

During a BBC interview with John Sweeney in March 2012, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was asked about the Book of Abraham:

Sweeney: Mr. Smith got this papyri and he translated them and subsequently as the Egyptologists cracked the code something completely different...

Holland: All I'm saying...all I'm saying is that what got translated got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that I do not understand and don't claim to know and know Egyptian.

Critics of the Church accuse Elder Holland of lying on this point. However, the Church has known and publicly acknowledged since 1968 in the Improvement Era that the papyri fragments that the Church has in its possession do not match the text of the Book of Abraham since 1968. This has been known publicly for over 45 years. This isn't something new. Elder Holland knows this.

Elder Holland's statement is consistent with what the Church says about the translation of the Book of Abraham

Furthermore, Elder Holland's statement is consistent with what the Church itself says on this subject in the The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual. Elder Holland said "what got translated got translated into the word of God." The manual says, "The greatest evidence of the truthfulness of the book of Abraham is not found in an analysis of physical evidence nor historical background, but in prayerful consideration of its content and power."

One of the Church's new Gospel Topics essays, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," reiterates both that the Book of Abraham is not found on the existing papyri fragments, and that Joseph produced the Book of Abraham through revelation, similar to the manner in which the Book of Mormon was produced:

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham...

Neither the Lord nor Joseph Smith explained the process of translation of the book of Abraham, but some insight can be gained from the Lord’s instructions to Joseph regarding translation. In April 1829, Joseph received a revelation for Oliver Cowdery that taught that both intellectual work and revelation were essential to translating sacred records. It was necessary to “study it out in your mind” and then seek spiritual confirmation. Records indicate that Joseph and others studied the papyri and that close observers also believed that the translation came by revelation. As John Whitmer observed, “Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records.” [40]


Parrish (1838): "I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Heiroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven"

Warren Parrish:

I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Heiroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven.[41]


John Whitmer: "Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records"

John Whitmer:

About the first of July 1835 there came a man having four Egyptian Mummies exhibiting them for curiosities, which was a wonder indeed! having also some r[e]cords connected with them which were found deposited with the Mummies, but there being no one skilled in the Egyptian language therefore could not translate the record, after this [e]xhibition Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records, which gavee an account of our forefathers, even Abraham Much of which was written by Joseph of Egypt who was sold by his brethren. Which when all translated will be a pleasing history and of great value to the saints.[42]


Woodruff (1842): "The Lord is Blessing Joseph with Power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the urim & Thummim Ancient records & Hyeroglyphics as old as Abraham or Adam"

Wilford Woodruff:

Truly the Lord has raised up Joseph the Seer of the seed of Abraham out of the loins of ancient Joseph, & is now clothing him with mighty power & wisdom & knowledge....The Lord is Blessing Joseph with Power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the urim & Thummim Ancient records & Hyeroglyphics as old as Abraham or Adam.[43]


Notes

  1. Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: Some Questions and Answers," Religious Educator, vol. 11 no. 1 (2010) off-site
  2. Stephen Smoot, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham: An Interview with Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein," Student Review (November 2013) off-site
  3. Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later" off-site
  4. John Gee, “Towards an Interpretation of Hyppocephali,” 334
  5. Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (January 1968), 12–16.
  6. Jay M. Todd, "New Light on Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri: Additional Fragment Disclosed," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40.; Jay M. Todd, "Background of the Church Historian's Fragment," Improvement Era (February 1968), 40A–40I.
  7. Jay M. Todd, ,"Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," The Improvement Era (January 1968)
  8. Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (January 1968), 12–13. off-site (emphasis added)
  9. "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (8 July 2014)
  10. "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (8 July 2014)
  11. 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), 196.
  12. Until recently this was believed to be W.W. Phelps' handwriting.
  13. Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Company, 1966).
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 23.
  17. (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.
  18. (non Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell, "The Ancient Egyptian 'Books of Breathing,'", p. 29.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Press, 1997), 453–454. See also: ( off-site.)
  22. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FairMormon link, #2 FairMormon link
  23. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  24. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  25. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  26. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  27. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  28. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  29. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  30. Haynes, p. 8.
  31. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  32. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  33. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  34. Haynes, p. 161.
  35. Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike unto God,” address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  36. John L. Sorenson, "Addendum," to 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
  37. Daniel C. Peterson and Matthew Roper, "Ein Heldenleben? On Thomas Stuart Ferguson as an Elias for Cultural Mormons," The FARMS Review 16:1 (2004)
  38. Daniel C. Peterson, [https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1458&index=12 "On the New World Archaeological Foundation," The FARMS Review 16:1 (2004).
  39. John Gee, "The Hagiography of Doubting Thomas," FARMS Review of Books 10:2 (1998).
  40. "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics" on LDS.org (2014).
  41. Letter to the Editor dated 5 February 1838, Painesville Republican, 15 February 1838, Vol. II, No. 14–15
  42. "John Whitmer, History, 1831–circa 1847," The Joseph Smith Papers
  43. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 19 February 1842