Question: Did Abraham himself pen the Joseph Smith Papyri?

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Question: Did Abraham himself pen the Joseph Smith Papyri?

Although Joseph Smith may have believed this, the papyri only date to a few centuries before Christ

When Joseph Smith obtained the papyri in 1835, he reportedly said that "one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham...."[1] According to Joseph's scribes, this scroll was "written" by Abraham's "own hand upon papyrus."[2] It seems reasonable to conclude that Joseph believed that Abraham himself, with pen in hand, wrote the very words that he was translating. The problem is that most modern scholars (including LDS scholars) date the papyri to a few centuries before Christ, whereas Abraham lived about two millennia before Christ. Obviously, Abraham himself could not have penned the papyri.

Gospel Topics on, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham"

Gospel Topics on, (8 July 2014)
Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.
Joseph Smith, or perhaps an assistant at the Nauvoo print shop, introduced the published translation by saying that the records were “written by his [Abraham’s] own hand, upon papyrus.” The phrase can be understood to mean that Abraham is the author and not the literal copyist.

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"Of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the BOOK OF ABRAHAM, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.

- Times and Seasons 3/9: 704, emphasis added.

This issue is very similar to that of Book of Mormon geography. It is very likely that Joseph Smith believed in a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography—it made sense to his understanding of the world around him. Such a misinformed belief makes him no less a prophet; it simply provides us with an example of how Joseph—like any other human—tried to understand new information by integrating it with his current knowledge. So, likewise, with the Abrahamic papyri: Joseph, by way of revelation, saw that the papyri contained scriptural teachings of Abraham. It would be natural, therefore, to assume that Abraham wrote the papyri. But, some will ask, how could the teachings of Abraham be present on a document written two thousand years after Abraham lived? As Gee notes, we find the same thing with Biblical manuscripts. There is a major difference, he explains, "between the date of a text [the information contained on the papyri] and the date of a manuscript [the papyri itself]."[3]:15 </blockquote>

The date of a text is the date when the text was written by its author. A text can be copied into various manuscripts or translated into other languages, and these manuscripts or translations will have different, later dates than the date of the original text. When we refer to the date of a text, we refer to the date of the original text. For example, the text of the Gospel of Matthew was written in the first century A.D., but the earliest manuscript that we have of Matthew was copied in the third century.[3]:23-24

If, for example, one held out a modern LDS Bible and pointing to 1 Corinthians asked, "Who penned this book?" most people would respond with, "Paul"

If, for example, one held out a modern LDS Bible and pointing to 1 Corinthians asked, "Who penned this book?" most people would respond with, "Paul." The copy of the scriptures, however, was printed within the last few decades, and the English wording is based on what King James scholars decided that the ancient biblical manuscripts said. Paul, himself, did not pen any modern printing of the scriptural book even if he did author the original text. How can we fault Joseph for basically stating the same thing?

Some LDS scholars propose that the original Book of Abraham "text" was written by Abraham and then "passed down through his descendants (the Jews), some of whom took a copy to Egypt where it was copied (after being translated) onto a later manuscript."[3]:28 Such a proposal makes a lot of sense since we recognize that this the typical provenance of most Biblical documents. As Dr. John Gee (PhD, Egyptology, Yale) notes, "some of the texts in the Book of the Dead manuscripts from the same time as the Joseph Smith Papyri (and even later) are also attested in manuscripts that go back before the time of Abraham."[4]



  1. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:235-236. Volume 2 link
  2. ""A Translation"," Times and Seasons 3 no. 9 (1 March 1842), 704. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000).
  4. John Gee, personal communication to FairMormon Answers Wiki editors, 10 August 2007, cited with permission.