FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.
Forgeries related to Mormonism/Joseph Smith and the Kinderhook Plates/Could the "Egyptian Alphabet" have been the Anthon transcript
Could the "Egyptian Alphabet" have been the Anthon transcript from the Book of Mormon translation?
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Why does the non-Mormon eyewitness say that the "Egyptian Alphabet" was "from the plates which the Book of Mormon was translated"?
- Question: When was the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" produced?
- Question: Couldn't the "Egyptian Alphabet" have referred to the "reformed Egyptian" characters on the Anthon transcript?
- Question: Does anyone assert that the GAEL was an actual correlation between Egyptian and the explanations offered?
Question: Why does the non-Mormon eyewitness say that the "Egyptian Alphabet" was "from the plates which the Book of Mormon was translated?"
The non-Mormon eyewitness did not understand that the "Egyptian Alphabet" actually refers to the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" produced in 1835
A non-Mormon made the following statement regarding the Kinderhook Plates: "They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared them in my presence with his Egyptian alphabet, which he took from the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated..."  The translation produced supports this. Joseph did not attempt to translate using his "gift of translation."
Note that the eyewitness, a non-Mormon, assumed that the "Egyptian Alphabet" was "from the plates which the Book of Mormon was translated." Don Bradley explains this in the quote below. The "Egyptian Alphabet" was not taken from the Book of Mormon plates, and the characters copied from the plates by Joseph, known as the "Anthon transcript," has never been referred to as the "Egyptian Alphabet." The "Egyptian Alphabet," also known as the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (GAEL) was created after the translation of the Book of Abraham.
From Don Bradley's 2011 presentation, "‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Solving the Mystery of the Kinderhook Plates":
"[T]he [Kinderhook] plates are evidently brass, and are covered on both sides with hieroglyphics. They were brought up and shown to Joseph Smith. He compared, in my presence, with his Egyptian Alphabet,” Now, the guys a non-Mormon here, and so he doesn’t actually understand what this Egyptian Alphabet is. So he says, “which he took from the plates which the Book of Mormon was translated,” but he doesn’t know it’s from the Book of Abraham papyrus, he says, “He compared, in my presence, with his Egyptian Alphabet…and they’re evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them.” So this is the Alphabet and Grammar volume, and you can see the title on the spine says “Egyptian Alphabet.” Now, Robin Jenson, of the Joseph Smith papers tells me that we don’t know when this label was added, it could have been added in Utah. If it was added early on, then this “gentile” would have seen this on the spine and obviously would have called it the “Egyptian Alphabet.” Even if it is a later name that is affixed to it, it shows what the Saints actually knew this volume as, they knew it as “Egyptian Alphabet.” So that is likely the name under which he would have heard of it.
Question: When was the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" produced?
The Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language was produced between July and December 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio
The document was produced around the time that the Book of Abraham was dictated, and it is in the handwriting of William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish. The original documents may be viewed on the Joseph Smith Papers website: Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, circa July–circa December 1835. For more information about the relationship of the GAEL to the Book of Abraham, see: Kirtland Egyptian Papers.
Question: Couldn't the "Egyptian Alphabet" have referred to the "reformed Egyptian" characters on the Anthon transcript?
The Anthon transcript was never referred to as the "Egyptian Alphabet". That label was applied to the GAEL.
It is noted that Joseph did indeed have a copy of the Book of Mormon characters in his possession in December 1842, months after he saw the Kinderhook plates. The following is a diary entry from the Reverend George Moore:
Tuesday Evening, December 19th (1843)
Called on the "Prophet Jo [Joseph] Smith." His carriage was at the door and he was about going away, but he received me very kindly, asked me into his house. I remained about 10 minutes. He was very communicative. We conversed about the golden plates, which he professes to have dug up and translated into the Book of Mormon. "Those plates are not now in this country," he said--"they were exhibited to a few at first for the sake of obtaining their testimony--no others have ever seen them--and they will never again be exhibited." He showed me some specimens of the hieroglyphics, such as, he says, were on the gold plates. He asked me if I was a Clergyman--and of what denomination--and what were the fundamental doctrines of our faith--on my telling him that we believed in divine Unity--in one God in one person--he said, we don't agree with you there. We believe in three Gods, equal in power and glory. There are three personages in heaven, but those three are not one. I suppose, from what I hear, that Smith makes it a point not to agree with any one in regard to his religious opinions, and adapts himself to the person with whom he talks for the time being . . . He expressed a desire to have a long conversation with me, but he had an engagement, and I was soon going away, so that we could not have much conversation. Our interview was short, but pleasant. [Diary, pp. 105-106.] 
Therefore, Joseph had a copy of the Book of Mormon characters and he did show them to someone. As our critic puts it, "Joseph Smith was parading around and showing others the Egyptian hieroglyphics he copied off the gold plates around the same time as the discovery of the Kinderhook Plates."  Could this not be the source of the comment from "A Gentile" that the Egyptian Alphabet came "from the plates which the Book of Mormon was translated?"
Moores's diary entry doesn't seem to indicate that Joseph was "parading around and showing others" (this appears to be a bit of hyperbole on the part of the critic), but Joseph does seem to have shown Moore what he likely would have referred to as "reformed Egyptian" characters. This may or may not have been the actual Anthon transcript. However, there was already a document in existence called the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language for the last eight years - it would certainly have been known to the Saints as the "Egyptian Alphabet," whereas the Anthon transcript, to our knowledge, was never referred to by that name.
A critic misses the point: "We can play this game too using the Anthon transcript"
After making a perfunctory and failed attempt to address Don Bradley's data, the critic erroneously assumes that the deconstruction of the Kinderhook character was produced by FairMormon, when it is, in fact, part of Bradley's own data. The critic states: "So, what does FAIR do? They 'deconstruct' it".
The critic then assumes that the document referred to as the "Egyptian Alphabet" by "A Gentile" was, in reality, the Anthon transcript, noting that "We can play this game too using the Anthon transcript". He offers his own "reconstruction" of a deconstructed "boat" character on the Anthon transcript similar to that demonstrated by Don Bradley which matches the "boat" character on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, thereby removing the "boat" character from the Kinderhook plates themselves from the process. Once you link to the page containing the character in the GAEL, the entire "translation" produced by Joseph comes with it:
So, let's assume that Joseph did use the "boat" character from the Anthon transcript. The critic demonstrates a match between a "boat" character on the Anthon transcript and the corresponding character on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language'. All he has done is remove the actual Kinderhook plates from Don Bradley's explanation and replace them with the Anthon transcript.
- Bradley: Kinderhook "boat" character -> GAEL "boat" character -> GAEL explanation of the character -> Joseph's "translation" of a portion of the Kinderhook plates.
- Critic: Anthon transcript "boat" character -> GAEL "boat" character -> GAEL explanation of the character -> Joseph's "translation" of a portion of the Kinderhook plates.
Where are the Kinderhook plates in this process? The author's graphic simply "proves" that Joseph "translated" a portion of the Anthon transcript.
Unlike the GAEL, there is no extant "translation" of the Anthon transcript characters
Moreover, it makes absolutely no sense that Joseph would have used the Anthon transcript in any attempt to "translate" the Kinderhook Plates - there is no extant translation of the Anthon transcript characters. The characters likely came from the portion of the Book of Mormon plates corresponding to the lost 116 pages, and no translation of these characters was ever recorded by Joseph Smith. Don Bradley's Kinderhook explanation, however, clearly links the "boat" character on the GAEL and its assigned meaning with the actual "translation" of a portion of the Kinderhook plates produced by Joseph. The text shows a correlation.
The critics are missing the point in that the GAEL=Kinderhook "boat" connection has quite a bit of explanatory power--it really accounts for all available evidence quite nicely. Just because you can play games with other "boat" shaped characters in other contexts (for which the imagined connection explains exactly nothing) does not invalidate that. It is the explanatory power of all of the available evidence, the character on the Kinderhook plates, the explanation of a similar character on the GAEL, and the similarity to the content of translation that Joseph produced, that makes Bradley's thesis compelling.
Question: Does anyone assert that the GAEL was an actual correlation between Egyptian and the explanations offered?
The assumed correlations between the characters and explanations on the GAEL has nothing to do with actual Egyptian
Scholars do not know the role that the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) played in the production of the Book of Abraham. The text of the Book of Abraham was produced by revelation. The GAEL lists Egyptian characters taken from the papyri on the right, and associates them with long passages of text from the Book of Abraham on the right. Critics assume that the GAEL is some sort of "crib sheet" used to produce the Book of Abraham.
It appears, however, that after the Book of Abraham was translated, that a group of individuals used both the papyri and the Book of Abraham text in an attempt to deduce which characters matched specific passages in the Book of Abraham. In essence, they were attempting to "reverse engineer" the translation and produce an "Egyptian Grammar."
As noted, the explanations corresponding to the Egyptian characters copied from the papyri do not match the true Egyptian meanings of those characters. However, Joseph and his contemporaries appear to have believed that the explanations were valid, which explains why Joseph would have used them in his attempt to translate the Kinderhook plates.
The validity of the GAEL explanations has nothing to do with the Kinderhook plates
A critic of the Church offers the following, which completely avoids the fact that Don Bradley's Kinderhook presentation, "‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Solving the Mystery of the Kinderhook Plates,"  has accounted for all of the existing historical evidence :
Anyone who seriously thinks that a single Egyptian hieroglyphic, let alone one which represents two consonants, translates into: "Ha e Oop Hah - honor by birth, kingly power by the line of Pharaoh, possession by birth; one who reigns upon his throne universally…possessor of heaven and earth and of the blessings of the earth" …either does not understand the Egyptian language or is deliberately making stuff up. 
"The GAEL is nonsense. The Kinderhook Plates are fake. There is no indication that Joseph believed anything other than that both were legitimate and real." 
The critic then shifts the focus away from Don Bradley's data by simply concluding that none of it matters, because the GAEL is "nonsense" and the "Kinderhook plates are fake" (a fact which Bradley himself clearly notes at the beginning of his presentation). Rather than even coherently describing Bradley's data, the critic simply reverts to the argument that it is all fake anyway and doesn't warrant the attention.
The critic therefore avoids engaging the totality of Bradley's Kinderhook presentation directly. Nobody is asserting the the GAEL was an actual correlation between Egyptian and the explanations offered - the validity of the GAEL has nothing to do with the Kinderhook plates. What is important in this instance is that Joseph Smith believed that the GAEL explanations were valid, and was therefore willing to utilize them as a translation tool. It is therefore ironic that the critic's last statement: "There is no indication that Joseph believed anything other than that both were legitimate and real" actually validates Bradley's data: Joseph believed that the GAEL explanations had value sufficient to use them to translate "a portion" of the Kinderhook plates.
- New York Herald, May 30, 1843
- George Moore, 1811-1847 Diary (1842-1844) off-site (emphasis added)
- Jeremy Runnells, "Debunking FairMormon - Letter to a CES Director" (2014)
- Don Bradley, "‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Solving the Mystery of the Kinderhook Plates" (2011) off-site
- The term typically used by critics to describe such a change of focus is "moving the goalposts."