Question: Is the phrase "by his own hand upon papyrus" a 19th century redaction?

Table of Contents

Question: Is the phrase "by his own hand upon papyrus" a 19th century redaction?

The case for "by his own hand upon papyrus" as a 19th century redaction

If Hugh Nibley is incorrect in suggesting that the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” was a part of the original title of the ancient text, then it follows that the phrase is a 19th century redaction by either Joseph Smith, or the two scribes in whose handwriting the documents are written in, viz., W. W. Phelps and Willard Richards, respectively. This is bolstered, as mentioned earlier, by the addition of the phrase “and found in the catacombs of Egypt” that appear in KEPA 1. It is obvious from the historical data that Joseph Smith and the early brethren considered the scroll of Horos to be the source of the Book of Abraham (though not, as is argued by the critics, necessarily the Book of Breathings text). It seems likely that the early brethren, when working with the papyrus, would have assumed a holographic nature of the papyrus. In other words, they would have thought that Abraham himself physically wrote on the papyrus in their possession. As Michael Ash explained, “it seems reasonable to conclude that Joseph may have believed that Abraham himself, with pen in hand, wrote the very words that he was translating... Joseph, by way of revelation, saw that the papyri contained scriptural teachings of Abraham and it would have been natural, therefore, to assume that Abraham wrote the papyri.”[1]

The late Luke Wilson, of the decidedly anti-Mormon Institute for Religious Research, came to similar conclusions, albeit for more polemical purposes against the Latter-day Saints. After making his case that Joseph Smith claimed to be translating a holographic Book of Abraham, Wilson concludes that “the weight of evidence from the testimony of Joseph Smith and his contemporaries is clearly” in favor of such.[2]

If these claims are correct,[3] then it would explain why Joseph Smith and his associates included the phrase “by his own hand upon papyrus” in the caption of the manuscript of the text. They would have thought just that, namely, that Abraham himself penned the text that Joseph Smith was translating. In this case then, the phrase “by his own hand” would therefore be interpreted in the most literal sense possible.

Furthermore, if in fact the phrase is a 19th century redaction, then the Book of Abraham itself wouldnʼt be claiming an autographical nature. Such would be an assumption about the Book of Abraham by the 19th century brethren, who inserted the phrase. Based on no evidence within the text itself can the critics decry the Book of Abraham as claiming a holographic nature.

Notes

  1. Michael Ash, “Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation, and Modern Egyptology”, presented at the 2006 FAIR Conference. off-site.
  2. Luke Wilson, “Did Joseph Smith claim His Abraham Papyrus was an Autograph?”, (Grand Rapids: Institute for Religious Research, 2006), 12. It is not within the scope of this paper to attempt an engagement or refutation of Wilson’s main arguments. Needless to say, Wilson (p. 12) himself admits that “the nature of the evidence presented in this paper is circumstantial and inferential on a number of points.”
  3. This is by no means the consensus view. Several LDS scholars have likewise tackled this issue, and have come to different conclusions than Ash and Wilson. Ben McGuire, writing for FAIR, has critiqued Wilson on a number of points, including the assertions made by Wilson that Joseph Smith assumed a holographic nature of the text. See Ben McGuire, “Responding to Errors in an Anti-Mormon Film: “The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim” (Redding: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 2002). PDF link.