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Book of Abraham

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Expert Analysis of the Book of Abraham

“In more recent times the half-dozen leading Egyptologists who have been asked to examine the facsimiles agree that they were ordinary funeral documents such as can be found on thousands of Egyptian graves.”

- No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie, p. 175

“It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud.... Smith has turned the Goddess [in Facsimile No. 1] into a king and Osiris into Abraham.”

- Dr. A.H. Sayce, Oxford professor of Egyptology, printed in Joseph Smith Jun. As a Translator, by F.S. Spaulding, p. 23

“... these three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the ‘Pearl of Great Price' depict the most common objects in the Mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith's interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.”

- James H. Breasted, Ph.D, Egyptologist, Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago, as cited in Joseph Smith Jun. As a Translator, p. 26-27

Concerning Facsimile No. 1:
“This is a well-known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with Anubus, the jackal-headed god, on the left ministering to the dead Osiris on the bier. The penciled restoration [done by Joseph Smith Jr.] is incorrect. Anubus should be jackal-headed.”

- Professor Richard Parker, Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and Chairman of the Department of Egyptology at Brown University, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 3, no. 2, Summer 1968, p. 86,

“Richard A. Parker is the Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and Chairman of the Department of Egyptology at Brown University.... He remarks that the Book of Breathings is a late (Ptolemaic and Roman periods) and greatly reduced version of the Book of the Dead.... He would provisionally date the two Book of Breathings fragment in the Church's possession to the last century before the first century of the Christian era...”

- Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 86

“I myself studied Egyptian hieroglyphics at UCLA several years ago in the hope of resolving some of the problems connected with the ‘Book of Abraham' in Joseph Smith's favor. Unfortunately, as soon as I had learned the language well enough to use a dictionary I was forced to concede that Joseph Smith's translation was mistaken, however sincere it might have been. Facsimile No. 2 in the Pearl of Great Price contained enough readable writing to convince me that it had purely Egyptian significance. This was a disappointment....
“After the appearance of the photographs of the papyri... I made some attempt to translate the ‘Book of Breathing(s)' text.... It belongs to a kind of literature which is alien to Christianity and to our Church....
“Let us not lose sight of what I think is the primary importance of this papyri find. It can free us from our dilemma about excluding Negroes from the Priesthood. Perhaps our Father in Heaven intended the papyri to come to light now just for that purpose.”

- Naomi Woodbury, Mormon scholar, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, p. 8

“I must conclude that Joseph Smith had not the remotest skill in things Egyptian-hieroglyphics. To my surprise one of the highest officials in the Mormon Church agreed with that conclusion... privately in one-to-one [c]onversation.”

- Thomas S. Ferguson, Scriptural Exegete for Translation Services of the LDS Church, letter dated March 13, 1971

“Ferguson said that the thing that first led him to serious question the Church was the papyri purported to be the source of the Book of Abraham. He said he took a photograph of the papyri to a couple of friends of his that were scholars at Cal., Berkeley. They described the documents as funeral texts. This bothered Ferguson in a serious way! Later he said that he took the evidence to Hugh B. Brown.... After reviewing the evidence with Brother Brown he [Ferguson] said that Brother Brown agreed with him that it was not scripture. He did not say or infer that it was his evidence that convinced Brother Brown of this conclusion. But nevertheless, he did say that Hugh B. Brown did not believe the Book of Abraham was what the Church said it was.”

- Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates, p. 138

“Is it possible that a record written by Abraham... containing the most important revelations that God ever gave to man, should be entirely lost by the tenacious Israelites, and preserved by the unbelieving Egyptians, and by them embalmed and deposited in the catacombs with an Egyptian priest?... I venture to say no, it is not possible. It is more likely that the records are Egyptian.”

- William S. West, “A Few Interesting Facts Respecting the Rise, Progress and Pretension of the Mormons,” pamphlet, 1837, as quoted in Stan Larson, Quest For the Gold Plates, pp. 89, 122

“To any one with knowledge of the large class of [Egyptian] funeral documents to which these belong, the attempts to guess a meaning are too absurd to be noticed. It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these [i.e., Smith's] explanations.”

- Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie, London University; quoted in F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator, 1912, p. 24

“To sum up, then, these three fac-similes of Egyptian documents in the ‘Pearl of Great Price' depict the most common objects in the mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith's interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian Writing and civilization.”

- James H. Breasted, Ph. D., Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago; quoted in F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator, 1912, pp. 26-27

“I return herewith, under separate cover, the ‘Pearl of Great Price!' The ‘Book of Abraham,' it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication.... Joseph Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago [confused mixture] of nonsense from beginning to end.”

- Dr. Arthur C. Mace, Assistant Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Department of Egyptian Art; quoted in F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator, 1912,p. 29

Hugh Nibley and the Defense of the Book of Abraham

“We have often been asked during the past months why we did not proceed with all haste to produce a translation of the papyri the moment they came into our possession. Well, for one thing others are far better equipped to do the job than we are, and some of those early expressed a willingness to undertake it. But, more important, it is doubtful whether any translation could do as much good as harm.”

- Dr. Hugh Nibley, BYU Studies, Spring 1968, p. 251

“... the presence on the scene of some of the original papyri, including those used by the Prophet in preparing the text of the Book of Abraham and the facsimiles wi their commentaries, has not raised a single new question, though, as we shall see, it has solved some old ones.”

- Dr. Hugh Nibley, Improvement Era, May 1968, p. 54

Richard A. Parker, egyptologist who declared the sensen papyrus as part of the Egyptian Book of Breathings and nothing else, is credible even to top Mormon scholars:
"[Richard] Parker [is] the best man in America for this particular period and style of writing.”

- Dr. Hugh Nibley, speech at the University of Utah, May 20, 1960

“Did he [Joseph Smith, Jr.} really think he was translating? If so he was acting in good faith. But was he really translating? If so, it was by a process which quite escapes the understanding of the specialists and lies in the realm of the imponderable....
“Today nobody claims that Joseph Smith got his information through ordinary scholarly channels. In that case one wonders how any amount of checking along ordinary scholarly channels is going to get us very far.”

- Dr. Hugh Nibley, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 101

“Of particular interest to us is the close association of the Book of Breathings with the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham. It can be easily shown by matching up the fibers of the papyri that the text of Joseph Smith's Pap. No. XI was written on the same strip of material as Facsimile Number 1,…our ‘Sensen' Papyrus is closely bound to all three facsimiles by physical contact, putting us under moral obligation to search out possible relationships between the content of the four documents.”

- Dr. Hugh Nibley, BYU Studies, Winter 1971, pp. 160-161

“A few faded and tattered little scraps of papyrus may serve to remind the Latter-day Saints of how sadly they have neglected serious education.... Not only has our image suffered by such tragic neglect, but now in the moment of truth the Mormons have to face the world unprepared, after having been given a hundred years' fair warning.”

- Dr. Hugh Nibley, BYU Studies, Winter 1968, pp. 171-172

“ ‘The papyri scripts given to the Church do not prove the Book of Abraham is true,' Dr. Hugh Nibley said... Wednesday night. ‘LDS scholars are caught flat-footed by this discovery,' he went on to say. According to Dr. Nibley, Mormon scholars should have been doing added research on the Pearl of Great Price years ago. Non-Mormon scholars will bring in questions regarding the manuscripts which will be hard to answer because of lack of scholarly knowledge on the subject.... Dr. Nibley said ‘worldly discoveries are going to bury the Church in criticism' if members of the Church don't take it upon themselves to become a people of learning.”

- BYU's Daily Universe, Dec. 1, 1967

“I don't consider myself an Egyptologist at all, and don't intend to get involved in the P.G.P. [Pearl of Great Price] business unless I am forced into it....”

- Dr. Hugh Nibley, “Letter to Dee Jay Nelson,” June 27, 1967, reprinted in Mormonism – Shadow or Reality? by Sandra and Jerald Tanner, p. 308

Thomas Ferguson and the Book of Abraham

“One life-long defender of Joseph Smith [Ferguson] made his own independent investigation of Joseph's ability as a translator of Egyptian records, utilizing recognized Egyptologists without telling them a word about the issues that were at stake. Their verdict agreed with the findings of Mr. Nelson and Dr. Baer. Consequently, he came to reject the Book of Abraham and the claims put forth by Joseph Smith as a translator of ancient languages.”

- Wesley P. Walters, “Joseph Smith among the Egyptians,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, v. 16, Winter 1973, p. 45

“At that time [December 2, 1970], Thomas Stuart Ferguson told us frankly that he had not only given up the Book of Abraham, but that he had come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was not a prophet and that Mormonism was not true. He told us that he had spent 25 years trying to prove Mormonism, but had finally come to the conclusion that his work had been in vain. He said that his training in law had taught him how to weigh evidence and that the case against Joseph Smith was absolutely devastating and could not be explained away.”

- Sandra and Jerald Tanner, relating correspondence with Ferguson, Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?, p. 103

“Nibley's Era articles on the Book of Abraham aren't worth a tinker – first, because he is not impartial, being the commissioned and paid defender of the faith. Second, because he could not, he dared not, he did not, face the true issue: ‘Could Joseph Smith translate Egyptian?' I clipped every one of his articles, and have them in a single file – and I have reviewed them – looking in vain for that issue.”

- Thomas Ferguson to James Boyack, March 13, 1971; see Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters, p. 261

Miscellaneous Book of Abraham Quotes

“A collection of pa[p]yrus manuscripts, long believed to have been destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871, was presented to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here Monday by the Metropolitan Museum of Art..... Included in the papyri is a manuscript identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith had copied the drawing which he called ‘Facsimile No. 1' and published with the Book of Abraham.”

- Deseret News, Nov. 27, 1967

“Outside of a few associates, Dr. Clark [of BYU] had kept the fragment a matter of confidence, under instructions from the Historian's Office, for over 30 years.”

- The Saga of the Book of Abraham, by Mormon scholar Jay M. Todd, p. 364

“The Book of Abraham
Translated From the Papyrus, By Joseph Smith
A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt.”

- heading of the “Book of Abraham,” Pearl of Great Price, emphasis added

“I have in my possession a photostatic copy of the manuscript of Prophet Joseph Smith's translation of Abraham 1:1 to 2:18. This manuscript was bought by Wilford Wood in 1945 from Charles Bidemon, son of the man who married Emma [Smith] after the death of the Prophet. The original of this manuscript is in the Church Historian's Office in Salt Lake City. The characters from which our present book of Abraham was translated are down the lefthand column and Joseph Smith's translation opposite, so we know approximately how much material was translated from each character.”

- Dr. James R. Clark, Pearl of Great Price Conference, Dec. 10, 1960, pp. 60-61

“A more careful examination of these [papyri] revealed the startling fact that one of the papyri of the Church collection, known as the Small Sensen Papyrus, contained the same series of hieratic symbols, which had been copied, in the same order, into the Book of Abraham manuscript next to verses of that book! In other words, there was every indication that the collection of papyri in the hands of the Church contained the source which led to a production of the Book of Abraham.”

- Richley Crapo, Mormon scholar, Book of Abraham Symposium, April 3, 1970, p. 27

“... both books were translated from the same Egyptian language, and if the translator failed in the translation of the one book, our faith in his translation of the other must necessarily be impaired.”

- A.B. Mercer, The Utah Survey, Sept. 1913, p. 5

“It may be helpful to suggest that the ‘Book of Abraham' represents simply the product of Joseph Smith Jun.'s imagination, wrought out in the midst of what to him must have been a very crucial and demanding complex set of circumstances.”

- Richard P. Howard, R.L.D.S. (Reorganized LDS Church) Historian, New York Times, May 3, 1970

“I see no evidence that Joseph Smith had a correct conception of ‘Egyptian religious practices' or that a knowledge of such was essential to the production of the Book of Mormon.”

- Stephen E. Thompson, “Egyptology and the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, v. 28, no. 1, Spring 1995, p. 160

“No one ever suggested explanations like that – the idea that the papyri was a catalyst for inspiration or a mnemonic device – before November 1967... They had to find new explanations to account for the Book of Abraham, after-the-fact explanations.”

- Stan Larson, as quoted in Mormon America, by Richard and Joan Ostling, p. 283

“[The] ‘Book of Abraham' was a work of Joseph Smith's imagination and had no basis in fact. The Mormon leaders did not know how to deal with Spaulding's pamphlet. Mormon historian B.H. Roberts admitted that there ‘were no Egyptian scholars in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who could make an effective answer to the conclusions of the eight scholars who in various ways pronounced against the correctness of Joseph Smith's translation...”

- A Comprehensive History of the Church, v. 2, p. 139