the thinker

The Book of Abraham

The Book of Abraham is a book of LDS scripture that Joseph Smith translated from a collection of ancient Egyptian papyri the church purchased.[1] The book contains a narrative about some of Abraham's life as well as visions he had concerning the pre-mortal life and the creation. The book contains three facsimiles from the original papyri and Joseph Smith's translations of their images and characters. The Book of Abraham was canonized in 1880 and is part of the Pearl of Great Price. The papyri were believed to have been destroyed until they were rediscovered in 1966.[2]

This 23 minute video is one of the best, most concise and neutral overviews of the Joseph Smith papyri. He gives an excellent summary of the history of the Book of Abraham, the problems and the apologetic explanations. The Joseph Smith Papyri

Overview of LDS position

As is made clear by the introduction to the Book of Abraham, the church maintains that, regardless of what the surviving facsimiles and scrolls indicate, the Book of Abraham is a sacred book of scripture and was written by the hand of Abraham.[3] It is taught alongside the Old Testament in Sunday School, included in the curriculum for institute and taught in church universities for the Pearl of Great Price religion courses. Since it contains teachings about the pre-mortal life, some of the mysteries of God, and the eternal nature of spirits, it is a vital part of LDS canon. Most active Latter-day Saints are unaware of any controversy surrounding the book.

Overview of Critics' position

LDS critics point out that, 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,[4] the Book of Abraham cannot have been translated from the scrolls as Joseph Smith claims and is therefore a false book of scripture. Also, since the translations of the facsimiles were taken from copies of the original papyri and each contains such blatant translation errors as listing drawings of women as men and canopic jars as idols, critics reject the claim made by apologists that the Book of Abraham was translated from scrolls that were lost. Even more blatant, is that Joseph identified specific characters on the facsimiles and gave their translations that Egyptologists say are completely in error.


  1. "The book of Abraham," The Guide to the Scriptures, "Abraham." (found at the bottom of the page)Link is here.
  2. "What Happened to the Mummies and the Papyri?" The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, (2000), 28–41. Link is here.
  3. Book of Abraham heading Link is here.
  4. Why doesn't the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price? "I Have a Question," Ensign, July 1988. Link is here.

Contents for this page


Member beliefs

The 1856 challenge

The 1912 challenge

Facsimile comparisons

Not all papyri destroyed

Joseph's Egyptian Grammar

BOA doctrine

RLDS BOA perspective

The Book of Joseph

Joseph's translating accuracy

BOA's astronomy

The Book of Abraham text

Smith's 5 BOA sources

Responses by LDS faithful

Official LDS response

LDS Scholars not leadership

Final LDS argument?

LDS apologists' stance

Non-LDS Egyptologist examines

LDS Egyptologists' credentials?

Rationalizations to explain

Faithful LDS don't care?

Papyri translation

Length of missing papyri

BYU professor videos

Critics' summary

Editor's comments


Member beliefs

In July of 1835, a traveling showman named Michael Chandler brought an exhibit of four Egyptian mummies and papyri to Kirtland Ohio, then the home of the Latter-day Saints. The papyri contained Egyptian hieroglyphics which intrigued the prophet Joseph Smith. As prophet and seer of the Church, Joseph was given permission to look at the papyri scrolls in the exhibit, upon which he pronounced a marvelous discovery:

"… with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commence the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. - a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth." (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 236).

Astounded by their good fortune in finding not only the writings of the biblical patriarch Abraham, but also those of Joseph of Egypt, several members of the Church pooled their money and bought the papyri and mummies for $2,400. After about seven years, Joseph finished the translation of the scroll which he called the Book of Abraham, but he died before translating the Book of Joseph scroll.

Wilford Woodruff recorded in his diary on February 19, 1842 that the Book of Abraham was literally written by Abraham himself. This would make the Book of Abraham the only existing original copy of a scriptural book. It would also date the record of Abraham (about 2,000 B.C.) to some 500 years prior to the Book of Genesis authored by Moses, between 1440-1400 B.C.

"Joseph the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light through the mercy of God." (Diary of Wilford Woodruff, entry of February 19, 1842, LDS archives; also in Jay M. Todd, The Saga of the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1969), p. 221)

The Book of Abraham is believed by the LDS church to have been written by Abraham himself, as shown in the preface to the Book of Abraham:



A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. - The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus."

Beginning in March, 1842, the LDS publication Times and Seasons began publishing regular bi-weekly installments of the text of the Book of Abraham, including woodcuts of three "Facsimiles" of the most significant illustrations in the collection of material that had been with the mummies. From that point until his death in 1844, Joseph used the Book of Abraham material in sermons, lectures and other writings. In 1851 it was printed in pamphlet form in England as part of a small collection of Joseph's writings entitled 'The Pearl of Great Price'. In 1878, the LDS church in the U.S. republished it again in similar form. And in 1880, the Book of Abraham, by unanimous vote of LDS authorities, was "canonized" as official scripture of the LDS Church.

The Question Many LDS Members May Have

The Book of Mormon plates that were used by Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon were taken back by the Angel Moroni so accepting that scripture as divinely translated is mostly a matter of pure faith. However, since the Egyptian papyri that Joseph used to produce the Book of Abraham scripture still remained on the earth then it would be possible for others to examine these documents. Since the Egyptian hieroglyphics language wasn't understood when Joseph received the papyri, Egyptologists could not verify that Joseph's translation of the Book of Abraham was correct. So the logical question that many Latter-day Saints, living in more modern times, have had is 'why don't we let Egyptologists, who now understand Egyptian, look at the papyri and see if Joseph was correct in his translation?'

The answer usually given is that the papyri were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

After Smith's death in 1844, the papyrus became the property of his first wife, Emma. In the dispute over who was to inherit the role of Prophet in the LDS Church, Emma Smith refused to recognize the leadership of Brigham Young. Thus when the saints headed west to Utah under Young's leadership, they went without Emma, and without the papyrus. Emma's son Joseph Smith III later became the first Prophet of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). And at some point, Emma donated the papyrus to a museum in Chicago. When the museum burned down in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, it was assumed by all that the papyrus had been burnt up with it.

What about the Facsimiles?

The three facsimile's that are in every copy of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, were copied from the Egyptian papyri before they were destroyed so they could be provided to Egyptologists to get their opinion on Joseph's interpretations of the scenes described by Joseph under each facsimile. Faithful Latter-day Saints may be directed to such works as "The Encyclopedia of Mormonism" and find a statement by an actual LDS Egyptologist named Michael Rhodes who states:

"Moreover, the Prophet's explanations of each of the facsimiles accord with present understanding of Egyptian religious practices."

So given the above information, the Book of Abraham, as contained in the Pearl of Great Price, serves to provide us with an additional witness as to the divinity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Significant details & problems that most LDS are not aware of - per critics of the church

Egyptologists have examined the Facsimiles since 1856

With the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, it finally became possible for scholars to decipher the Egyptian language. This in turn enabled the experts to objectively evaluate Joseph's translation of the papyri. The papyri themselves were thought to have been destroyed in the "Great Chicago Fire" in 1871. However, Egyptologists could still study the three Facsimiles included in the Book of Abraham as well as Joseph's translation of these Facsimiles.

With the papyrus gone, the only evidences of what was on the original were the three wood-cut printings of the Facsimiles.

Copies of the Book of Abraham from 1835 to today have included Facsimile 1 as shown here, including the detailed description below it by Joseph of what he believed to be portrayed in the illustration:



No. 1

Facsimile No. 1



The Book of Abraham includes Facsimile 2 as shown here, complete with the description and explanation that Smith gave to its contents.

No. 2

Facsimile No. 2


The above translation is given as far as we have any right to give at the present time.


The Book of Abraham contains Facsimile 3 as shown here, including the descriptive material provided by Joseph Smith:

No. 3

Facsimile No. 3


Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king's court.

Critic's comment: Even the most avid Mormon apologists in modern times have had a difficult time dealing with the obvious fact that figures 2 and 4 above are female figures, yet labeled by Joseph as Pharaoh and his son. Joseph's claims for this illustration were challenged as early as 1856:

The 1856 Challenge

Excerpt from Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, p. 25

It was sometime during the year 1856, about five years after the Pearl of Great Price had been printed in England, when one of the small pamphlets found its way to the Louvre in Paris. There the facsimiles from the Book of Abraham, together with Joseph's accompanying explanations, were brought to the attention of M. Theodule Deveria. As one of the pioneers in the field of Egyptology, Deveria was asked to offer any comments on them he cared to make.

To Deveria the project probably did not seem worth the minimal effort it would require. However, he proceeded, and immediately recognized all three drawings as copies of rather common Egyptian funerary documents, of which he had examined hundreds. To be sure, most of the hieroglyphic and hieratic figures had been too poorly transcribed to be of much use for translation, and some elements in several of the drawings appeared to Deveria to be guesswork, probably incorrect restorations of missing sections of the original papyri. Still, most of the major elements fit very well into the established pattern associated with Egyptian mythology and the preparation of common funerary documents. Enough of the writing was legible for Deveria to decipher the names and titles of various Egyptian gods and goddesses, and on one of the drawings (Facsimile No. 3) he was able to determine the name of the deceased Egyptian for whom the scroll had originally been prepared. Concerning Facsimile No. 3 he wrote:

The deceased led by Ma into the presence of Osiris. His name is Horus, as may be seen in the prayer which is at the bottom of the picture, and which is addressed to the divinities of the four cardinal points.

Deveria dismissed Joseph's explanations as rambling nonsense. His comments first appeared in French in a two-volume work by Jules Remy entitled Voyage au Pays des Mormons (Paris, 1860).

Here's a book from the 1800s that compares Joseph's translations with Deveria:

Joseph Smith, His Family and Friends

The 1912 Challenge

More caustic comments were made about Smith's interpretations of the pictures in the Facsimiles in 1912:

From: Larson, p. 27-28

At least that was how the Rt. Reverend Franklin S. Spalding, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, saw the situation in 1912. It was in that year that he decided to send copies of the three facsimiles from the Book of Abraham to some of the world's leading scholars of Egyptology, asking each for an independent assessment of Joseph Smith's interpretations.

The eight Egyptologists and Semitists who responded were unanimous in their scathing verdict: "Joseph Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end," came the report from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which added that "five minutes study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture;" "… difficult to deal seriously with Smith's impudent fraud," wrote another from Oxford, England. "Smith has turned the Goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham." From Chicago, "… very clearly demonstrates that he (Joseph Smith) was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian Writing and civilization." And from London, "… 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 explanations."

On and on the critiques went, giving the most comprehensive portrayal ever assembled of exactly what Joseph's papyri actually were: common Egyptian funerary texts.

And then came the challenge from Mormons, expressed by one Mormon writer:

In 1913, Mormon writer John Henry Evans pointed out in an article in the Church-sanctioned Improvement Era, that less than one-seventh of the whole Book of Abraham was represented by the facsimile portion, and even that only as an accompaniment to the text. Evans argued that in order to give a fair test of Joseph's true ability to translate Egyptian, and before the scholars could get away with charging that the entire Book of Abraham was a false translation, "they would have to examine the original papyrus, or a copy of it, from which the Book of Abraham was translated." (Larson, p. 28)

Evans' challenge, which he no doubt believed an impossibility at the time, was to come back to haunt the LDS Church.

New York Times article from 1912

To read article:

New York Times Mormon Fraud Article

Comparison of the facsimiles as interpreted by Joseph and what Egyptologists say they mean

Facsimile #1 was rediscovered almost a century after it was lost. Facsimile 1 was found in the Metropolitan Museum of New York in 1966. More on this in the next sub section. This subsection is taken from Kevin Mathie's writings where he analyzes the facsimiles from the BOA with what Egyptologists say they mean.

Examining the Book of Abraham
Chapter 6

by Kevin Mathie

Translation of Egyptian Symbols — The Breathing Permit of Hôr

So, now that we have the original Egyptian document, what does it say? Does it corroborate Joseph Smith's production of the Book of Abraham? Does it date to Abraham's day, and are we actually looking at Abraham's handwriting, since, according to the preface of the current edition of the Book of Abraham, the book was written "by his own hand"?

Let's start with Facsimile #1, which, as it turns out, is the very beginning of the scroll of papyrus. Ever since Deveria, Egyptologists have long insisted that this scene depicts the embalming of a deceased person, with strong allusions to the Osiris myth, rather than portraying a human sacrifice. Ancient Egyptians believed that when a person died, he/she must make a journey to Osiris. To aid them on their way, priests included in their coffins documents with magic spells that would aid the deceased, with the help of their guide Anubis (a jackal-headed god), through the afterlife with their five senses intact, into the presence of Osiris. These spells and diagrams are all part of what is collectively known as the Book of the Dead. Not all the spells and diagrams were used for any one person. On the contrary, different people would have different spells and diagrams buried with them.

Facsimile #1 is the beginning of this deceased man's "breathing permit". The scene depicts the mythical embalming and resurrection of Osiris, an Egyptian god. Early Egyptians believed that the deceased actually became Osiris, and so it was common to refer to the deceased as Osiris so-and-so. In this case, we can read from the text that this man's name was Hôr.


Below is Facsimile #1 as it's published in the Book of Abraham. According to the text itself, the purpose for its inclusion was to augment the reader's understanding of Egyptian gods.

That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics. (Abr. 1:14)

To aid in our understanding of the individual figures, Joseph numbered twelve of the images and offered his interpretation as to what they meant.

Facsimile No. 1

Facsimile No. 1

Below is a comparison between Joseph's interpretations and our current Egyptological understanding of these images.

Facsimile #1 figures: Joseph Smith's interpretations versus current Egyptological understanding
Figure # Joseph Smith Egyptology
Figure 1 The Angel of the Lord. Egyptologists see this as the "ba" of the deceased. The ba is basically a person's personality — all of his/her non-physical attributes. Therefore, ancient Egyptians would have recognized this figure as the "ba" of Hôr (the deceased priest), who is also figure 2. It would normally have a human head instead of a bird's head.
Figure 2 Abraham fastened upon an alter This is, as we've already discussed, actually the deceased with whom this papyrus was found. His name is Hôr.
Figure 3 The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice.

There has been a little bit of controversy over the years regarding this figure. Prior to the papyri's recovery in 1968, Egyptologists had been puzzled that there was a man with a man's head standing over the deceased. It was so atypical. Normally, during other similar scenes, this figure would have a jackal's head and would have represented the god of embalming, Anubis. During the controversy at the beginning of the 20th century (before the original papyri had resurfaced) Egyptologists generally said this figure was probably representing a priest doing the actual embalming — which was odd for an ancient document of this sort, but interesting.

Now, however, we realize that where the picture begins to go awry is the exact place where it is damaged in the original (see a close-up in footnote 2). How do we know that it wasn't damaged after Joseph Smith's time? Because the scroll was originally rolled up. Any substantial damage to the outside could have "bled through", so to speak, to the inside layers. And, in fact, this is exactly what happened. When looking at the scroll all laid out, you can see a repeating pattern of damage that retains its basic shape, but gets smaller toward what would have been the inner layers. Facsimile #1 would have been at the beginning of the scroll, so the damage luckily wasn't as great, but it reflects the same damage pattern as can be seen on the outer layers of the scroll.

This, along with other indicators, such as the black coloring, the type of clothing, the context, etc., allows us to recognize Figure 2 as Anubis, the god of embalming, and the god who helps the deceased along in the afterlife.

Figure 4 The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh. In reality, this is a "lion couch" — simply a funeral bier. You can see this in many funeral scenes in ancient Egyptian art. Human sacrifice was never practiced in Egypt (except possibly very early in Egyptian history (1st Dynasty) and possibly in Egyptian pre-history, all of which would have pre-dated Abraham by a very, very long time). Therefore, an "altar for sacrifice" for humans would have been unknown to Egyptians.
Figure 5-8 The idolatrous god[s] of Elkenah… Libnah… Mahmackrah… Korash… Pharaoh.

First of all, there are no gods called "Elkenah," "Libnah," "Mahmackrah," or "Korash" in the 5000+ years of Egypt's recorded history. And, as we will discuss later, the word "Pharaoh" may not have even existed in Abraham's day, depending on when Abraham would have lived.

Secondly, these figures are extremely well-known in ancient Egyptian funeral scenes. They are canopic jars containing the deceased's internal organs that were always removed during the embalming process. They represent the four sons of the god Horus, who are: (fig. 5) Qebehseneuf — receives the intestines, (fig. 6) Duamutef — receives the stomach, (fig. 7) Hapy — receives the lungs, and (fig. 8) Imsety — receives the liver.

Figure 9 The idolatrous god of Pharaoh.

Stephen E. Thompson, professor of Egyptology at Brown University and member of the LDS Church, identifies this crocodile as representing the god Horus. While Sobek is often portrayed in the form of a crocodile, (see this link on Sobek) in the case of this re-enactment of the Osiris-myth, it would be more appropriate to identify this figure as Horus. As Klaus Baer noted:

The versions of the Osiris myth differ in telling how Seth disposed of Osiris after murdering him, but he was commonly believed to have cut Osiris into little pieces, which he scattered into the Nile, leaving Isis the task of fishing out and assembling the parts of her brother and husband so that he could be resurrected and beget Horus. In this she was helped by Horus in the shape of a crocodile, who is represented in the water (the zigzags) below the vignette….

Möller… discusses the occasionally attested practice of having a small (and prudently muzzled) crocodile swim alongside the boat carrying the mummy across the Nile to the cemetery.

Figure 10 Abraham in Egypt. It is actually a libation platform bearing wines, oils and a stylized papyrus plant. In Egyptian art, it is found in almost all drawings of major god figures, and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Abraham.
Figure 11 Designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians. On the contrary, the Egyptians would have seen this as a palace facade, called a "serekh" which, according to Egyptologist Stephen E. Thompson, was a frequent decoration on funerary objects. The "serekh" originally depicted the front of a fortified palace, and the reason it seems to be on the bottom of the picture is due to the way Egyptians would draw in perspective. This fortification would have been seen as being in front of this scene rather than underneath it. In other words, the embalming and resurrection of the Osiris Hôr would have taken place inside the safe confines of the serekh.
Figure 12 Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament over our heads; but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens, answering to the Hebrew word, Shaumahyeem.

First of all, none of these words are Egyptian. They are all Hebrew transliterations — Joseph was studying Hebrew with a Prof. Joshua Seixas at the time he obtained the papyri, and even though Joseph interpreted these figures during the Nauvoo period (after 1838), these transliterations are specifically in Seixas's style.

Secondly, these strokes represent water in which the crocodile swims — which makes sense in this context. If figure #11 is a palace fortification, then these crocodile-infested waters would be a second line of defense against intrusion, keeping the deceased doubly-safe.

Summary of Facsimile 1 by Egyptologist Richard Parker

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

"This is a well-known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with Anubis, the jackal-headed god, on the left ministering to the dead Osiris on the bier. The penciled restoration is incorrect. Anubis should be jackal-headed. The left arm of Osiris is in reality lying at his side under him. The apparent upper hand is part of the wing of a second bird which is hovering over the erect phallus of Osiris (now broken away). The second bird is Isis and she is magically impregnated by the dead Osiris and then later gives birth to Horus who avenges his father and takes over his inheritance. The complete bird represents Nephthys, sister to Osiris and Isis. Beneath the bier are the four canopic jars with heads representative of the four sons of Horus, human-headed Imseti, baboon-headed Hapy, jackal-headed Duamutef and falcon-headed Kebehsenuf. The hieroglyphs refer to burial, etc. …."

Statements made by Klaus Baer, Associate Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute in the Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, pp. 118-119 :

"The vignette on P. JS I is unusual, but parallels exist on the walls of the Ptolemaic temple of Egypt, the closest being the scenes in the Osiris chapels on the roof of the Temple of Dendera. The vignette shows the resurrection of Osiris (who is also the deceased owner of the papyrus) and the conception of Horus. Osiris (2) is represented as a man on a lion-couch (4) attended by Anubis (3), the jackal-headed god who embalmed the dead and thereby assured their resurrection and existence in the hereafter. Below the couch are the canopic jars for the embalmed internal organs. The lids are the four sons of Horus, from the left to right Imset (8), Hapi (7), Qebeh-senuwef (6), and Duwa-mutef (5), who protect the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach, respectively. At the head of the couch is a small offering stand (10) with a jug and some flowers on it and two larger vases on the ground beside it. The ba of Osiris (1) is hovering above his head.

The versions of Osiris myth differ in telling how Seth disposed of Osiris after murdering him, but he was commonly believed to have cut Osiris into small pieces, which he scattered into the Nile, leaving Isis the task of fishing out and assembling the parts of her brother and husband so that he could be resurrected and beget Horus. In this she was helped by Horus in the shape of a crocodile, who is represented in the water (the zigzags) below the vignette (9). Below that is a decorative pattern derived from the niched facade of a protohistoric Egyptian palace.

There are some problems about restoring the missing parts of the body of Osiris. He was almost certainly represented as ithyphallic, ready to beget Horus, as in many of the other scenes at Dendera. I know of no representations of Osiris on a couch with both hands in front of his face. One would expect only one hand in front of his face, while the other was either shown below the body (impossible in P. JS I) or grasping the phallus. It the latter case it would be hard to avoid the suggestion of Professor Richard A. Parker that what looks like the upper hand of Osiris is actually the wingtip of a representation of Isis as a falcon hovering in the act of copulation."

For further explanation, see the following reference:

Reference: Link is here.

Facsimile No. 2

Facsimile No. 2

Joseph's Interpretation of Facsimile 2

Egyptologist's Interpretation of Facsimile 2

The facsimile no. 2 is a copy of a hypocephalus, an Egyptian funerary amulet that is placed under the head of the deceased. Its purpose was to keep the head warm.

Sir Wallis Budge, a world renowned Egyptologist, remarked that Joseph Smith's translation of the hypocephalus had "… no archeological value." (The Mummy, A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archeology, by E.A. Wallis Budge, 1989, [first published in 1893], by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, pg. 477.

Facsimile No. 2 has obviously been altered from the original. Missing portions of the facsimile were copied from other pieces of the papyri Joseph Smith had purchased in 1835. The central figure labeled (1) by Joseph Smith appears to have been copied from figure 2 of the same facsimile. Normally the four headed Amen-Re appears in this location. Furthermore, figure 3 is an almost exact copy from the Joseph Smith Papyri IV. Also, portions of the outer circle of the facsimile appear to have been copied from the Sensen text of the Joseph Smith papyri XI. The Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar clearly shows these missing portions. Also, the Sensen (Book of Breathings) text lines up with the border of facsimile no. 2 .

Evaluation of Joseph Smith's Translation of Facsimile No. 2 Text

This information was reproduced from Charles M. Larson's book, By His Own Hand, A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, 1992 page 107.

Joseph Smith Fig. 8 "Contains writing that cannot be revealed unto the world; but is to be had in the Holy Temple of God."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 8
"grant that the soul of Osiris Shechonk may live."

Joseph Smith Fig. 9
"Ought not to be revealed at the present time."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 9
"the netherworld (below the earth) and his great waters"

Joseph Smith Fig. 10
"Also" [see above]

Egyptian Translation Fig. 10
"O mighty god, lord of heaven and earth"

Joseph Smith Fig. 11
"Also. [See above] If the world can find out these numbers, so let it be. Amen."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 11
"O god of the sleeping ones from the time of creation" (Note the above phrases make up a single message in the following order- 11, 10, 9, 8.)

Note: A trace of the original hieroglyphic writing from this hypocephalus is visible on the left edge of Fig. 12, 13, 14, and 15, but only the phrase "his words" can be made out at the end of the line in Fig. 15. The remainder of these lines are filled with hieratic writing taken from lines 4 and 5 of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI.

Joseph Smith Fig. 12
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 12
(upside down) "near" and "wrap"

Joseph Smith Fig. 13
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 13
(upside down) "which made by"

Joseph Smith Fig. 14
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 14
(upside down) "breathings"

Joseph Smith Fig. 15
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 15
(upside down) "this book"

Joseph Smith Fig. 16
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 16
"and may this soul and its possessor never be desecrated in the netherworld"

Joseph Smith Fig. 17
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 17
"May this tomb never be desecrated"

Joseph Smith Fig. 18
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Fig. 18
Note: Three-fourths of the original hieroglyphics inscription appears to have survived, and counterclockwise reads: "I am Djabty in the house of Benben in Heliopolis, so exalted and glorious. [I am] copulating bull without equal. [I am] that mighty god in the house of Benben of Heliopolis… that might god…"

Joseph Smith Figs. 19,20, and 21
"will be given in the own due time of the Lord."

Egyptian Translation Figs. 19, 20, and 21
"You shall be as that god, the Busirian."

Figure Number 7

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. (page 11, last paragraph of the above link). "7. A seated ithyphallic god with a hawk's tail, holding aloft a flail. This is a form of Min"

The following critic's comments are taken from the web site: Link is here.:

Min is Not God!

Facsimile 2 figure 7

In this small tract we cannot discuss all the evidence that now exists regarding the Book of Abraham, the papyri that have been found, and the various explanations put forward by defenders of Joseph Smith. Instead, we wish to look at just one aspect of the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2 (found on the front of this tract), and even more specifically, one section of this drawing and what it really means.

minht3 Pearl of Great Price, marked and explained by Joseph Smith as figure 7:

Represents God sitting upon his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham, in the form of a dove.

Is this indeed a representation of the one true God sitting upon His throne revealing the grand Key-words of the priesthood? Was Joseph Smith a man ahead of his time, able to decipher Egyptian writings in a time when scholarship was just starting to get a clue on the topic?

The object that Joseph Smith included in the Book of Abraham is, in reality, a "hypocephalus," a common item of Egyptian funeral literature (all of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham are drawn from common Egyptian funerary documents). It was placed under the person's head, and was to aid them in making the journey through the netherworld by bathing their bodies in light. Many examples of this kind of hypocephalus are to be found. One of the many pagan gods pictured in this hypocephalus is shown above as it appears in the current edition of the LDS Scriptures. Egyptologists tell us that this is the god "Min." Min is an "ithyphallic god," that is, a sexually aroused male deity, as the picture clearly indicates. Min is the god of the procreative forces of nature. Joseph Smith told us that the Egyptian god Min was in point of fact the one true God.

minht4 And what is Min doing? Joseph tells us that he is revealing the grand Key-words of the priesthood, with the sign of the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove before him. In reality, he is holding up the "divine flail" in one hand and is being approached by the figure Joseph Smith identified as the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. In point of fact, Joseph's hypocephalus was damaged at the border so that only the head of the "dove" was visible. So, Joseph had to restore the picture. Did he do so correctly? No, he did not. The figure to the right provides us with the proper scene from another hypocephalus (Leyden AMS 62). The being that is approaching Min is not the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove; it is yet another ithyphallic figure, specifically, a serpent, probably the Egyptian God Nehebka, presenting to Min the wedjat- eye, the symbol of good gifts.

The single LDS scholar who has written the most on the Book of Abraham, Dr. Hugh Nibley, has written of Min:

As the supreme sex symbol of gods and men, Min behaves with shocking promiscuity, which is hardly relieved by its ritual nature…His sacred plants were aphrodisiacal…and he is everywhere represented as indulging in incestuous relationships with those of his immediate family; he had the most numerous and varied religious entourage of all the gods, consisting mostly of his huge harem…The hymns, or rather chanting of his worshippers were accompanied with lewd dancing and carousing…to the exciting stimulus of a band of sistrum-shaking damsels (Abraham in Egypt, p. 210).

It must be remembered that Joseph Smith said that this figure represented God sitting on His throne! Incredible as it may seem, intelligent, well-read LDS are fully aware of the true nature of the hypocephalus, including the presence of Min and Nehebka (the vast majority of LDS, however, are not).How do they explain this? Mormon Egyptologist Michael Dennis Rhodes said,

Joseph Smith mentions here the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove and God 'revealing through the heavens the grand key-words of the priesthood.' The procreative forces, receiving unusual accentuation throughout the representation, may stand for many divine generative powers, not least of which might be conjoined with blessing of the Priesthood in one's posterity eternally (BYU Studies, Spring 1977, p. 273).

In other words, since the God of Mormonism is sexually active, begetting children in the spirit-world (indeed, God's power is often described by Mormons as being made of the power of the priesthood and the power of procreation), and Min is obviously sexually active as well, this then is the "connection."

We believe that Joseph Smith was utterly ignorant of what was represented in the Egyptian papyri that lay before him. Incapable of translating the figures, he made things up as he went along, claiming God's direction and inspiration as his guide. In the process he demonstrated his own inability as a "prophet, seer and revelator," for he grossly misidentified each of the items not only in this Facsimile, but in the other two as well.

Joseph Smith's defenders today seek to find any connection whatsoever between LDS belief and Egyptian religion, even to the point of seeing in the sexually aroused Min a picture of God upon His throne. But to grasp at this straw is to ignore the Biblical testimony to the one true God. Isaiah saw God upon His throne in Isaiah 6:1-10, but instead of an incestuous god, surrounded by lewd dancing girls, the angels surrounded His throne and cried, "Holy, holy, holy." God describes the gods of Egypt as "idols" that tremble before him (Isaiah 9:1); these false gods will literally be captured by God in His wrath (Jeremiah 43:12). God reveals the worship of these gods to be an abomination that brings His wrath (Jeremiah 44:8), and mentions one Egyptian god by name in speaking of the punishment he will bring against Egypt (Jeremiah 46:25). Those who worship such gods are "defiled" in God's sight (Ezekiel 20:7-8). The Bible has nothing but contempt for the gods of Egypt, which would include the abominable figure of Min, identified by Joseph Smith as his God.

We will gladly admit that there is a similarity between the pagan god Min and the Mormon doctrine of God developed in the later years of Joseph Smith's life. What is equally clear is that the God of the Bible is not similar to either Min, nor the LDS God. As God Himself said:

 "To whom will you compare me?"

Isaiah 40:25

Reference: Min is not God

For more information on this topic: UTLM - Religious Pornography

Facsimile No. 3

Facsimile No. 3

We know that Facsimile 3 was part of the same scroll as Facsimile 1 because, like the first vignette, it includes the deceased's name: "Osiris Hôr".

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.

Facsimile #3 figures: Joseph Smith's interpretations versus current Egyptological understanding
Figure # Joseph Smith Egyptology
Figure 1 Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh's throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand.

Actually, god-figures in ancient Egyptian art can usually be identified by their headdress as well as the writing associated with the figure. Of course, sometimes a visual identification alone can be a little tricky, due to the ancient Egyptians' propensity to combine god figures, or to show the same god in different aspects. But, in general, each god has a unique headdress that identifies them.

In this case, it's obvious that this figure is Osiris, not only due to the writing above him, but also due to his "atef" crown. The atef crown is a combination of the "Hedjet" (the White Crown of Upper Egypt) and the red feathers of Busiris, Osiris's cult center in the Delta.

The writing above Figure 1 states "Recitation by Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners, Lord of Abydos(?), the great god forever and ever(?).

Figure 2 King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.

This figure is not only a woman, instead of a man, but it is the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris. The object in her hand is probably an ankh (drawn slightly incorrectly), which is the symbol of life and resurrection.

The words above Figure 2 read: "Isis the great, the god's mother".

Figure 3 Signifies Abraham in Egypt" (as given also in Figure 10 of Facsimile No. 1) In reality, this is simply a libation platform present in all drawings containing major god figures. One should note that it is also found in Facsimile #2, figures #2 and #3, who are also gods.
Figure 4 Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand. Again, Joseph got the gender wrong. This is a woman, not a man, and she is the goddess Maat, goddess of justice — identified by the feather on her head and the writing above her hand. She is leading the deceased (figure 5) into the presence of Osiris. The text above Maat reads: "Maat, mistress of the gods."17

Figure 5 Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.

As already mentioned, this is actually the deceased, wearing the traditional cone of perfumed grease and lotus flower on his

head. The figures above his hand identify him as "The Osiris Hôr, justified forever"— which is similar to our saying "the late John Doe", or in this case, "the late Hôr."

Figure 6 Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince. True to his 19th-century American point of view, Joseph identified the only "black" person in the drawing as a slave. However, this figure is undoubtedly Anubis, guide of the dead, who is there to support the deceased. He has helped the deceased complete his journey, and assisted him in the use of the spells that were contained in his funeral book. Reuben Hedlock's rendering is not very good, perhaps because of damage to the original papyrus fragment from which he took the drawing, but Anubis is always black, and always has a jackal's head — in fact, you can still make out the pointed dog ear on the top of his head. The words above Anubis read: "Recitation by Anubis, who makes protection(?), foremost of the embalming booth,…"

Below vignette   The line of characters below the scene read: "O gods of the necropolis, gods of the caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant salvation to the Osiris Hor, the justified, born by Taikhibit."
Above vignette   In ancient Egypt, stars were considered to be the souls of the deceased. It seems clear that we are entering the afterlife in this vignette, rejoining the souls that have entered before us.

Summary of Facsimile 3 from Egyptologist Klaus Baer

Facsimile No. 3 is a depiction of a common funerary scene.

Egyptologist Klaus Baer provides this information about facsimile No. 3 in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, pp. 126-127:

Facsimile No. 3 shows a man (5) his hand raised in adoration and a cone of perfumed grease and a lotus flower on his head (ancient Egyptian festival attire), being introduced by Maat (4), the goddess of justice, and Anubis (6), the guide of the dead, into the presence of Osiris (1), enthroned as king of the Netherworld. Behind Osiris stands Isis (2), and in front of him is an offering-stand (3) with a jug and some flowers on it. Over the whole scene is a canopy with stars painted on it to represent the sky.

The scene comes from a mortuary papyrus and is similar to, but not identical with the scenes showing judgment of the deceased before Osiris such as P. JS III. It is a summary in one illustration of what the Breathing Permit promised: The deceased, after successfully undergoing judgment is welcomed into the presence of Osiris.

The texts, poorly copied as they are, carry us one step further. As far as it can be made out, the line of hieroglyphics below the scene reads.

'O Gods of …, gods of Caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant well-being to Osiris Hor, justified, …'

The characters above and to the left of the man are probably to be read: 'Osiris Hor, justified forever.' Even though Hor is a relatively common name in Greco-Roman Egypt, this does suggest 'Facsimile No. 3' reproduces part of the same manuscript that 'Facsimile No. 2' does. Hor's copy of the Breathing Permit would then have had two vignettes, one at the beginning and another ('Facsimile No. 3) at the end, an arrangement that is found in other copies of the same text."

Analysis of the original woodcuts of facsimile 3

Facsimile No. 3

A very interesting and insightful analysis of the original engraving plates from which the images of facsimile 3 were made has been done and continued to be researched by Paul Osborne, a knowledgeable Mormon researcher with a passion for studying the Book of Abraham.

By analyzing the engraving plate, which he believes is made from lead and not a woodcut as commonly reported, clearly indicates that figure 6 in facsimile 3 was altered before the prints of it were made and inserted in the copies of the Book of Abraham we all have today.

Figure 6, which Joseph declared is Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince, was in fact the jackal-headed god Anubis. Enlarged photos of the engraving plates seem to indicate that the snout of the jackal head was scraped away.

What likely happened was that the person that first made the engraving plate copied the image exactly as shown on the original papyri. Then he, presumably at the prophet Joseph's direction, etched away the snout so Joseph could claim the figure was a slave and not be confused with an Egyptian deity.

For details on the theory, what Joseph's motivations for doing this may have been and excellent images of the engraving plates, see:

Facsimile 3 research site:

Note: on some browsers the images do not display the entire image so the zoom needs changed. For example, in Chrome, In the upper corner in the bar the 'customize and Google Chrome icon' is 3 vertical dots. Press it and change the zoom setting and it will change the view. 

Comments from other Egyptologists


Dr. A. H. Sayce of Oxford, England wrote:

"It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud. His fac-simile from the Book of Abraham No. 2 is an ordinary hypocephalus, but the hieroglyphics upon it have been copied so ignorantly that hardly one of them is correct".

"Number 3 is a representation of the Goddess Maat leading the Pharaoh before Osiris, behind whom stand the Goddess Isis. Smith has turned the Goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham" (F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator, p.23).

Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie of London University wrote,

"It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations" (ibid p.24).

Dr. Arthur C. Mace, Assistant Curator for the Department of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York explained,

"The `Book of Abraham,' it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication."

"Joseph Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end. Egyptian characters can now be read almost as easily as Greek, and five minutes' study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture" (ibid p. 27).

While it may have taken more than five minutes of study, even many faithful Mormons have been shaken when faced with the evidence. One Mormon, Naomi Woodbury, wrote a touching letter to the editor published in the August, 1968 issue of the independent Mormon periodical, Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought. She said,

"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 conclude that Joseph Smith's translation was mistaken, however sincere it might have been. It belongs to a kind of literature which is alien to Christianity and to our Church" (p. 8) Joseph Smith's Papyri Found.


The Egyptian Papyri Were Not All Destroyed

In 1966, a University of Utah researcher at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made a startling find in the archives of the museum. While looking at a collection of some fragments of Egyptian papyrus rolls, he recognized one of the illustrations on one of the fragments as nearly identical to the "Facsimile 1" wood-cut that appears in the Mormon Book of Abraham. Further investigation proved what he suspected--these were some of the original papyrus fragments that were purchased by the LDS in 1835. 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.

The bottom line of the investigations by all was: 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.

But scholar after scholar, both inside and outside the LDS Church, declared that there was absolutely no connection between the text of the Book of Abraham and the actual content of the Egyptian documents. The papyri were clearly identified by one and all as examples of completely ordinary "funerary" documents of ancient Egypt. The section used by Smith was from a document called the Book of Breathings. It contained the specific name of the deceased individual it had been prepared for, and would have accompanied that person in their burial setting to provide them guidance in the afterlife, as it included "spells" which the deceased could use in the afterlife to learn to "breathe" again. Other papyrus fragments from the collection were from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, an earlier collection of writings with a similar purpose. The Book of Breathings was an abbreviated version of the Book of the Dead, used in the later eras of Egyptian history. In fact, the papyrus used by Smith from which to derive the Book of Abraham has been dated by scholars to the first century AD, almost 2000 years after the time of Abraham.

When the recovered papyrus was discovered in 1966, something else was discovered. 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. Below is a photo of the actual scroll fragments. It can be clearly seen what portions were "reconstructed" for publication in Mormon writings. The papyrus had obviously been glued to a heavy paper backing at the time it was in Smith's possession (the back side of the backing paper had a map of the Kirtland, Ohio area, and architectural drawings for a temple), and crude sketching is obvious in the missing areas of the illustration.

Book of Abraham Papyrus

The study of Egyptian funerary art has progressed extensively during the intervening century, and it is painfully obvious to modern Egyptian scholars that Smith's speculations missed the mark. Below is a modern reconstruction of what the missing pieces likely contained, based on contents of similar funeral documents.

Modern Reconstruction

And instead of this being a portrayal of an attempt by an idolatrous priest to sacrifice Abraham, contemporary Egyptian scholars identify it as a mythical stylized funerary scene portraying the embalming and expected resurrection of Osiris, god of the underworld. The human-headed bird on the right would portray the soul of Osiris getting ready to return to his body. The bird hovering over the center of the body is a falcon representing Osiris's wife Isis, "in anticipation of the procreative act which will make Isis pregnant with their son Horus." (Larson, p. 102) The jars with heads below the couch are "canopic jars" which would hold the internal organs of the deceased. The heads represent the four sons of Horus: Amset, Hapi, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef. In Egyptian funerary documents, Osiris represents the person for whom the documents were prepared.

A number of modern Egyptologists have translated the writings connected to this picture, and their conclusions are all in close agreement. They merely convey information about the deceased for whom the Book of Breathings document was created.

Editor comment: It should be noted that not all non-Mormon 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 non-Mormon 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. Dr. Bell's reconstruction can be found in his essay.

Facsimile 2 Revisited

From: Larson, p. 104-5,108

Joseph Smith identified the drawing shown on page 103 (Facsimile No. 2) as "Facsimile from the Book of Abraham," and offered with it the elaborate "inspired explanation" shown. It is actually a rather common funerary amulet termed a hypocephalus, so-called because it was placed under (hypo) a mummy's head (cephalus). Its purpose was to magically keep the deceased warm and to protect the body from desecration by grave robbers. According to Dr. Nibley, as of 1968 there were "about a hundred" such hypocephali known, a good many of which can be traced to the sun-worship cults centered around Heliopolis during the seventh century B.C. and later.

Egyptologists recognize Facsimile No. 2 as simply a hypocephalus, but there are also problems with that identification. As with the drawing of Facsimile No. 1, the restored parts of the Mormon hypocephalus do not correspond to genuine ancient Egyptian hypocephali.3 Also, just as with Facsimile No. 1, an incorrect restoration (by Smith) of a damaged original was suspected as the explanation for the differences.

While no photograph of the original papyrus from which Facsimile No. 2 was taken is presently available, it is still possible to determine whether Joseph's hypocephalus was damaged at the time it came into his possession. This is so because when the collection of Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar papers was first published in 1966, one page was found to contain a fairly good pen and ink drawing of the Facsimile No. 2 hypocephalus. However, there was one important distinction, for this drawing showed a damaged, incomplete hypocephalus, with much of the right edge left blank, including a wedge-shaped empty space on the upper right that extended to the object's center. Just as with Facsimile No. 1, those portions of Facsimile No. 2 which had long been questioned as being "wrong" or "suspicious" were found to match the areas of this sketch where the original papyrus was either damaged or missing.

Some of these differences may seem minor to the inexperienced, but they are very noticeable to an expert. References to numbered "Figures" (i.e., Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.) correspond to the reproduction of Facsimile No. 2 found in the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith numbered each section or figure to serve as a guide for his explanation (see caption of Facsimile No. 2 on p. 103).

The round faced creature in (upside-down) Figure 7 lacked a definable body, for instance, so the stylized body of a bird was innocently provided (it should have been an ithyphallic serpent with legs). The central seated figure (Figure 1) ordinarily has four rams heads, but perhaps only enough of the damaged papyrus flakes remained here to show Joseph that more than one head belonged, so it must have seemed logical for him to simply copy the profile of the two-headed Egyptian god Par (Figure 2) directly above it. Possibly a trace of a boat showed in the space where Figure 3 is. Two boats -- a small one above a larger one -- belong here; but not knowing this, Joseph copied the boat figure found at the bottom of Papyrus Joseph Smith IV (see comparison on p. 105). This, however, is a drawing of the sun-god in his solar bark, and is improper for a hypocephalus.

The most dramatic error found on Facsimile No. 2 though, is the restoration of the missing writing. While never offering an actual translation in his ''explanation,'' Smith nevertheless implies that this writing contains great and mysterious secrets pertaining to God and the Temple (see caption of Facsimile No. 2, Figs. 8-10;12-21, on p. 103). We now know the restored writing to be a mixture of two unrelated texts from different works written hundreds of years apart. The restored text includes different styles of handwriting, one being hieroglyphic, and the other hieratic, and some characters are even placed upside down in relation to one another! In all cases figures from the right column of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI (the ''Small Sensen'' text) were used indiscriminately to fill in the missing area.

Facsimile 3 Revisited

Although the recovered papyri from the Metropolitan Museum did not contain the original of the illustration published in the Book of Abraham as Facsimile 3, modern Egyptologists have added their agreement to the earlier criticisms of the 1800s.

From: Larson, p. 108

Variations of the scene shown on page 109 (Facsimile No. 3) are probably the single most common form of Egyptian funerary scene known -- the deceased being led into the presence of the Court of Osiris, god of the underworld. Eventually the major elements became standardized into chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, and the particular version in the Joseph Smith papyri is from a later, simplified text. The deceased, wearing the traditional perfumed cone and lotus flower on his head, is led by Maat, goddess of justice (identified by the plume within the orb on her head) into the presence of Osiris. He is supported from behind by Anubis, guide of the dead, who has helped him complete his journey (and assisted him in the use of the spells that were contained in his funeral book). Osiris wears his double-plumed crown, holds the royal flail and crook across his chest, and sits before the ever present libation platform that is common in nearly all drawings containing major god-figures. It is topped by the customary stylized papyrus blossom. Behind him stands his wife Isis, identified by her solar disc and cow horn. The object in her hand is probably an ankh, symbol of life and resurrection.

Thus the individual Smith identified as the Patriarch Abraham . "reasoning upon astronomy in Pharaoh's court". is actually the pagan Egyptian god Osiris. And the individuals that Joseph Smith identified as Pharaoh and his son were actually the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris, and the Egyptian goddess Maat.

Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar

There is a set of documents that the church has always had in its possession commonly referred to as the "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" by Joseph Smith. Most of us remember hearing a little bit about it growing up in the church but not really knowing what it was. It was only briefly and rarely mentioned in church. With the discovery of the missing papyri in 1966, critics claim that these documents show a definite link between the papyri and the actual text of the Book of Abraham.

The manuscript is in the handwriting of William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish, scribes to Joseph Smith, Jr. It is a bound book with handwriting on 34 pages with about 184 blank pages remaining throughout the book. There are characters in a left hand column with English explanations to the right. Original in LDS archives. There are 4 pages in Joseph Smith's handwriting.

The following diagram on the left shows a copy of the small sensen portion of the rediscovered papyri. This portion was originally directly attached to facsimile 1 before it was cut off and sealed behind glass by Joseph and company to preserve the papyri. It was to the left of the papyri (Egyptian reads right to left). The following diagram on the right is from the Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar by Joseph Smith. It has the exact same symbols, in order, from the small sensen papyri and next to it is the apparent translation as it appears in the Book of Abraham that we have as scripture today.

Egyptian Alphabet & Grammar

This does appear to show which portions of the papyri the Book of Abraham came from. It certainly makes sense that the piece of papyri directly next to facsimile 1 would be referring to facsimile 1. Also the fact that every symbol from this same piece of papyri is written on the Egyptian Book of Alphabet and Grammar in precisely the same order with the BOA verses next to each one of the symbols is pretty compelling evidence not to be ignored.

It is interesting to note that the fact that this shows a large number of words being represented by each Egyptian symbol is used by both the critics and the apologists to support their opposing arguments. Critics show this as further evidence that Joseph didn't have any idea how to translate Egyptian, whereas the apologists use the sheer absurdity of having so many words being represented by each symbol as evidence that Joseph couldn't have translated it this way.

The bulk of Smith's 'Egyptian Book of Alphabet and Grammar' is a rather detailed notebook showing Smith's apparent interpretation of the Egyptian language. Here is a sample of what is written:

Egyptian Alphabet First Degree

Beth Ba=eth This character is from the first degree It has an arbitrary sound or signification which is Beth; and also a compound sound which is Za and comprise one simple sentence for its signification It is only increased or lessened in its signification by its connection with other characters. one connection with another character, gives it a compound signification, or enlarges the sentence. Two connections increases its signification still: Three increases it still: Four increases still and five still. This is as far as a sentence can be carried in the first degree. In its arbitrary sound it may have more sounds than one, but cannot have more than five sounds. When it is compounded with others, it can only have one sound.

Every character in this alphabet is subject to the above restrictions

Iota or Ki

[From page 19: Beth Ka - a large garden, a large vall[e]y or a large plain. This ought to have been inserted between Iota and Zub Zool oan on the opposite page.]

Zub Zool-oan
Ki compound
oan compound

The signification of Beth is man's first residence Of Iota - The eye: of Zub Zool oan, The beginning of time:

Ah- broam The Father of the faithful. The first right- The elder

Ki Ah broam That which goes before, until an other time, or a change by appointment, The first, faithful, or father, or fathers.

Iota netahoch ah que a mark of distinction [p. 20] qualifying different degrees, increasing or lessening the power of the sentences according to the[i]r signification as for instance

Iota nilahoch ah que: (as in the margin) signifies "I saw twenty five persons," or it signifies twenty five persons''

Ah lish the name of the first being
Phah-eh The first man - Adam, first father
Pha-ah a more universal reign
Phah-ho-e-oop The lineage of the royal family
Ho-oop hah Crown of a princes, or unmarried queen
Zi virgin or an unmarried female
Kah-tou-mun The name of a Royal family in the female line
Zi-oop-hah An unmarried woman, a virgin princess
Ho e oop A young unmarried man; a prince
Zip Zi a woman married or unmarried or daughter, signifies all, or any woman
Ho-e oop-hah Crown of a prince
Oan The Earth
Toan, tou-ee tah es tou eh tou es. - A principle that is beneath, disgusting - not fit
Iota The eye, or I see
Iota toues-Zip Zi The land of Egypt
Su-e-eh ni who, whence, &c an interrogative prounoun through its degrees
Ho-e-oop-hah-Phah eh Riegn or rule, governments, power, Kingdom or dominion
Zub Zool eh In the beginning of the earth or creation [p. 21]

It is obvious from the level of detail given throughout the 'Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar' book that the intricate details could only have come from the prophet himself. The scribes and any LDS members at the time Joseph lived would of course would have no idea what Egyptian hieroglyphics meant.

Revisiting the Alphabet and Grammar

From: Larson, pp. 32-33

Smith's "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar," as it has come to be called, had never really been lost or missing. For a long time it was simply ignored, and more recently it had been considered restricted. It was among that portion of early Church records the Mormons managed to take with them when they left Nauvoo in 1846, and it was included in the list of materials recorded in the Church Historian's Office Journal as having been deposited in the Historian's fireproof vault in Salt Lake City in 1855. There the manuscript lay, apparently all but forgotten for eighty years, before being "rediscovered" in 1935 during the course of some historical research by Dr. Sidney B. Sperry of Brigham Young University, James R. Clark, a student of Sperry's, and A. William Lund, Assistant Church Historian at the time.

These documents were not released for public examination or study, however. For the time being their discovery was not even announced. It was not until 1938 that Dr. Sperry was allowed to publish a pair of rather indistinct photographs of two pages from the Alphabet and Grammar notebook which contained part of a translation manuscript from the Book of Abraham. The existence of the entire Grammar was still only hinted at for many years, and only a select handful of scholars and authorities within the LDS Church were allowed access to the material. This, despite the great historical significance attached to it by LDS writers like William Berrett, who proudly described it as Joseph Smith's "most notable achievement…the development of a Grammar for the Egyptian hieroglyphic form of writing," and "the first Egyptian Grammar in America."

Curiously, even as late as 1960 (by which time it had been known for some twenty-five years that the "Alphabet and Grammar" had survived and was in the Church's possession) Dr. Sperry remarked at BYU's Pearl of Great Price Conference that he did not know whether or not the Church authorities would yet allow it to be published, adding that he thought "it would be a little premature, perhaps, to do it now, until we can really do a good job of it."

Others who had occasion to come into contact with the material apparently disagreed with the Church's reluctance in the matter. Late in 1965 a microfilm copy of the entire work was "leaked" to Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Modern Microfilm Company (now Utah Lighthouse Ministry). The Tanners were former Mormons who were rapidly gaining a reputation for printing documents relating to Mormonism that, though authentic, made Church officials uncomfortable. By 1966 the Tanners had produced the first complete photomechanical reprint and transcription of the entire Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.

But contrary to what most Mormons evidently expected, publication of the Alphabet and Grammar in no way substantiated Joseph Smith's ability to translate ancient Egyptian. Quite the opposite, for the book turned out to be nothing but page after page of nonsensical gibberish. Though it had apparently succeeded at one time in impressing unsophisticated minds, the work was unable to withstand the scrutiny of experts.

Professional Egyptologists to whom the Alphabet and Grammar was submitted for examination were quick to point out that the material in Joseph Smith's notebook bore no resemblance at all to any correct understanding of the ancient Egyptian language. As one of them, I. E. Edwards, put it, the whole work was, "largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind of scientific value." He added that it reminded him of "the writings of psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to me." There were many similar verdicts, all confirming that the person responsible for what Berrett had glowingly called "the first Egyptian grammar in America" could not possibly have understood the ancient Egyptian language.

ALSO - See the following site for a more detailed explanation of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar: (current copy has some broken pictures, so this link points to an archived copy with all of the pictures)

Doctrine supported by the Book of Abraham

One thing that makes establishing the validity of the Book of Abraham so important is the doctrine that the Book of Abraham supports. The Book of Abraham supports the concept of polygamy as Abraham took another wife as directed by the Lord. 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. 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.

It is also interesting to note that the story of Abraham in the Bible does not mention that the Lord told him to lie but gives the impression that it was Abraham's idea.

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. 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).

The plurality of gods is also a doctrine that is supported by the Book of Abraham. When the book of Genesis had been corrected by the Prophet the first time in 1830, the text he produced retained the Bible's (and Moses') emphasis that there is only one God. Joseph's 1842 translation of portions of the Book of Abraham, however, distinctly taught the plurality of gods -- a concept of deity Joseph had started teaching a few years earlier, but one which many Saints neither understood nor appreciated.

Critic's Point: 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. It's also interesting to note that eventually the LDS church abandoned both of these doctrines, which were at one point taught as eternal principles.


The RLDS perspective of the Book of Abraham

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Community of Christ) has historically believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is an actual historical record and divine scripture. However, they never canonized the Book of Abraham. The following is from a RLDS member that continues to believe in the Book of Mormon but does not believe the Book of Abraham is scripture.

The knowledge of the Egyptian language among Egyptian scholars in the 1830's was in its infancy. Six years prior to acquiring the Egyptian mummies and papyri, Joseph had completed the translation the Book of Mormon which was reportedly inscribed with strange characters called "altered Egyptian." His natural curiosity for understanding and translating strange and ancient languages must have been peaked. This was also to include a period of time in Kirtland when the church hired a Jewish Rabbi to teach the Hebrew language to interested church members.

On July 3,1835 some of the saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies and papyrus [from a Mr. Chandler], and I [Joseph, Smith, Jr.], with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. a more full account of which will appear in their place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly can we say, The Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth. [LDS Church History, Vol. 2, pp 235-236; RLDS Church History, Vol. 1, pp 568-569]

From 1835-1836, Joseph occasionally mentions in his diary working with his scribes to create a grammar of the Egyptian language as an aid in translating the papyri, working on the translation and displaying the mummies and papyri to interested parties.


During the entire process of translation of the Book of Abraham, Joseph never claimed direct inspiration of God. Apparently it was produced through application of his acquired knowledge, rather than with any claim to extraordinary [divine] assistance. [C. Webb, Joseph Smith as a Translator (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936), p.73]

Although at times Joseph referred to the ancient records as "sacred", he never referred to the Book of Abraham as scripture. In the Doctrine and Covenants, there are many references to the Bible and the Book of Mormon. There was no reference in the 1844 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants to the Book of Abraham even though the Book of Abraham had been purchased 9 years prior and had been published 2 years before the death of Joseph Smith.

The first part of the translation of the Book of Abraham was finally published in Times and Seasons [vol 3, No.9 (March 1,1842), pp 703-706]. The title and preface read as follows: "Of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs 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." The use of the words "purporting to be" would seem to indicate at least some degree of doubt on the part of Joseph Smith, Jr. regarding its authenticity. This same preface as written above is repeated verbatim in the LDS History, Vol. 4, p 524. The original 1851 edition of the Pearl of Great

Price carried the same inscription. In the later editions of the Pearl of Great Price, as published by the LDS Church, the preface is also given, however, without the words, "purporting to be." The same edition of the Times and Seasons that carried the first portion of the Book of Abraham, is also found the "Wentworth Letter" in which Joseph outlined the beliefs of the church. In the outline, Joseph stated, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." Even though the first installment of the Book of Abraham was being published, Joseph neglects to mention it as part of the beliefs of the Church.

Two months prior to Joseph Smith's death, an article was published in the Times and Seasons which stated, "If any man writes to you, or preaches to you, doctrines contrary to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or the book of Doctrine and Covenants, set him down as an impostor." [Times and Seasons, Vol. 5, No.7 (April 1,1844), p 490] What is interesting is that there is no mention of the Book of Abraham, even though it had been published two years prior while Joseph was the editor of the Times and Seasons.

If Joseph Smith was responsible for both the Inspired Translation of the Bible (Inspired Version) and the Book of Abraham AND IF he considered both scriptural, why didn't he modify both to teach the same thing ( either a monotheistic God or plurality of Gods? The abrupt difference would suggest that his translation of the Book of Abraham was simply an honest human effort by one interested in ancient languages. Because his perceptions of the Egyptian alphabet gave rise to the translation that discusses plural gods it does not necessarily endorse that belief. Compare KJV Genesis 1:1-5 with the Inspired Version Genesis 1:3-8 which indicates monotheism and the Book of Abraham 4:1-5 which indicates polytheism.

I seem to recall that in the Hebrew language, the plural form of a word is sometimes used only to emphasize the importance of the subject, not to be taken as literally plural. Recall those Hebrew classes in which Joseph was a student? Might it also be that references to "Gods" may really mean that there is only one but a very important God?


It is thought by some that Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the prophet, had been instrumental in the original purchase of the mummies and papyri. This might explain why she was able to gain custody of the Egyptian artifacts after the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. When she died in May 1855, Emma Smith, Joseph's wife, took custody. A little over a year later, Emma sold the mummies and papyri to Mr. A. Combs. For many years, it was presumed that the mummies and the papyri were eventually taken to Chicago for museum display. After the great Chicago fire of 1871, it was believed that all had been destroyed. However, the records were no longer to be found. Consequently, Joseph's translation would have to stand unchallenged for many years to come - accepted only on faith.


During the 1880 semiannual conference of the LDS Church, the Pearl of Great Price was accepted as one of their standard books of scripture. Along with it, the Book of Abraham was elevated to scriptural status. As canonized scripture, the LDS Church committed itself to the accuracy and validity of the book.


In 1967, what some claim to be Joseph's papyri were rediscovered in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The artifacts even included the bill of sale, signed by Emma Smith Bidamon. According to Dr. Hugh Nibley the documents were not the source material for the Book of Abraham. Dr. Nibley identified the papyri as the "Book of Breathings." There are certain similarities, however, between Joseph Smith's still existent Egyptian alphabet and some of the newly discovered papyri. Some feel certain that certain portions of these papyri were in fact used by Joseph when he wrote the Book of Abraham. However, current translations have no similarity to Joseph's translation but are in fact pages from the Book of the Dead belonging to the lady Ta-shert-Min, daughter of Nes-Khensu and from the Book of the Dead belonging to lady Amon-Re Neferirnub. The facsimiles, as published in the Pearl of Great Price, are identical to those found with the papyri, and are consistent with the Egyptian Book of Breathings. Those who are dedicated to the authenticity of the Book of Abraham are not in agreement regarding how to explain the inconsistencies from the analysis of these "new" papyri.

In an interesting comparison, the Book of Mormon had two sets of witnesses. The group of three witnesses testify of being shown the plates by the gift and power of God. The group of eight witnesses testify of physically being shown the plates by Joseph Smith and handling the plates. The two groups together indicate the physical existence of the plates and the divine authority and protection.

If the Book of Abraham is an inaccurate translation of a BoB or a BOD, then Joseph's translation of the BOM could be brought into question. I see the translation of the BOM by Joseph Smith as being through the gift and power of God. I see the translation of the BoA by Joseph Smith as being a human effort alone, without the assistance of God. By accepting the BOM as scripture and not accepting the BoA as scripture, I am not condemning Joseph Smith's efforts. I see Joseph Smith as very human, and when acting on his own was lousy at translating ancient languages. I consider the translation of the BoA to be considered solely the human effort of a very human Joseph Smith. I am, instead, praising the handiwork of God. The importance of the BoA is to prove to the world that it was God who preserved and provided us with the BOM, not Joseph Smith. As more and more evidences are found to support the Book of Mormon, it is not Joseph Smith that is vindicated but Almighty God, Himself.

I am RLDS, hence a different perspective.

Critic's Comment: One of the most significant things that any church does is to canonize scripture. The LDS church canonized the Book of Abraham by unanimous vote of the first presidency and the quorum of the 12 in 1880. If the LDS church made a mistake by canonizing the Book of Abraham then that mistake is so serious that the LDS Church that existed, since at least 1880, cannot possibly be God's true church, regardless of whether or not anything that happened in its history prior to this time was indeed divinely inspired.

The Book of Joseph

Joseph, in describing the papyri, said that one of the scrolls contained the writings of Abraham and the other the writings of Joseph of Egypt. Much of the papyri referred to as the Book of Joseph was rediscovered and is now the church's possession. It also has been examined by Egyptologists and identified as the Egyptian Book of the Dead for the lady Ta-shert-Min, daughter of Nes-Khensu" and has nothing to do with Joseph of Egypt.

Link is here.

An Insider's View of Mormon Origins. pp 25-35, Grant Palmer

Did Joseph get any of the Egyptology right?

We think Joseph was correct in the following instances:

  1. He correctly surmised that the Egyptian language reads right to left. By analyzing Joseph's Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language book this seems likely. Joseph was studying Hebrew at the time and that also reads right to left so that may have initially led him to look at Egyptian hieroglyphics that way.
  2. Joseph said the four jars In Facsimile 2 (Figure # 6) "Represents this earth in its four quarters." Egyptologists say that the four sons of Horus are sometimes associated with the four directions of the compass. That seems pretty close. However Joseph identified the four gods as Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah and Korash, but Egyptologists say the names of the four gods are Imseti, Hapy, Duamutef, and Kebehsenuf. Of course if you ask an actual Egyptologist to "describe these four objects in a sentence", you're going to learn about the mummification process and what body parts are stored in these jars and not about four compass directions. See below for a more detailed explanation.
  3. Joseph said the crocodile depicted in Facsimile 2 (figure 9) was "The idolatrous god of Pharaoh." According to Egyptologists this is the god Sobek which represented Horus. However, this has also been known as a god of Pharaoh so Joseph is correct in that sense although he did not provide the name 'Sobek'. See below for a more detailed explanation.

Had Joseph Smith actually translated the papyri, he would have referred to the figures as the four sons of Horus and given their actual names of Imset, Hapt, Qebe-senuwef, and Duwa-mutef. This would have stood as a powerful witness to the truthfulness of the BOA and to Smith's prophetic role but Joseph gave incorrect names.

Also, despite some apologists' claims to the contrary, none of the names Joseph identified have been found in any Egyptian documents.

It is important to remember that Smith maintained, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Facsimile #1 depicted Abraham on an alter about to be sacrificed by the idolatrous priest of Elkenah; when it really depicts, according to all qualified Egyptologists, the deceased owner of the papyrus, Hor, being associated with the Egyptian God Osiris being brought back to life.

Four Jars in Facsimile 2 Detailed Explanation

Accounting for the one hit

Even though Joseph got the names of the gods represented by the canopic jars incorrect, we would still like to account for a more likely source for the 'direct hit' Joseph had in correctly identifying that the four jars relate to the four quarters of the earth (four directions of the compass by Egyptologists).The exact phrase "four quarters of the earth" shows up in many of Joseph's scriptures. Here are several examples:

1Ne 19:16;
1 Ne 22:25;
3 Ne 5:24;
D&C 33:6;
Moses 7:62.

Additionally the similar phrase "four corners of the earth" shows up as well:

2 Ne 21:12;
D&C 124: 3
D&C 124: 128

These phrases are more likely adapted from the Book of Revelations 7:1 where it says the four beasts are linked to the four angels in Rev 7:1, where they stand on the "four corners of the earth", holding the four winds, etc. Interestingly enough, Rev 3 and 7, which employ this language, likely relate to similar concepts in Ezra 1 (in spite of apparent denunciations of the worship of gods like these in Ezra 20), which some scholars think was ultimately derived from … the Egyptian depictions of the four sons of Horus. John Gee, of FARMS, has even pointed this out (see his "Notes on the Sons of Horus" (Provo: FARMS, 1991))

Further analysis:

From Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought by Stephen E. Thompson "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham":

Finally, it has been repeatedly claimed that Figure 6 in Facsimile 2, which is a depiction of the four sons of Horus (also found as Figures 5-8 in Facsimile 1) "could indeed 'represent this earth in its four quarters' in the ancient world, as the explanation to the facsimile in the Book of Abraham says."46

As far as ancient Egypt was concerned, there is no evidence currently available to support this claim. There is only one context in which the sons of Horus are associated with the cardinal directions, i.e., the "earth in its four quarters." They were sent out, in the form of birds, as heralds of the king's coronation. In this setting, Duamutef (Facs. 1, Fig. 6) went to the East, Qebehsenuef (Facs. 1, Fig. 5) to the West, Amset (Facs. 1, Fig. 8) to the South, and Hapi (Facs. 1, Fig. 7) to the North.47

1 must emphasize that it is only in this context, and in the form of birds, that these gods were associated with the cardinal points. In a funerary context no such relationship is evident. Furthermore, the fact that these gods were sent to the four quarters of the earth does not mean that the Egyptians equated them with these directions. There is no evidence that they did so.

Crocodile God in Facsimile 1 Detailed Explanation

Some defenders of Joseph's translating ability say that the crocodile god is interpreted as meaning Horus since about 2000 BC but prior to about 2181 BC the crocodile god was interpreted to mean god of Pharaoh so since Abraham lived ‘close' to that, the pharaoh definition should apply and Joseph was correct.

In Robert Ritner's book The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, the Complete Edition, he says on page 93:

“Horus-Sobek was a god of Pharaoh, so one out of five is correct.”

Complete paragraph for context:

The lion-couch is designated as “Fig. 4”: “The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh.” As noted above, the drawing of this“altar” is cited in Abraham 1:12 and the associated gods in Abraham 1:13–14. Accordingly, the canopic deities are identified (in inverted, right to left order) with these supposed deities. Qebehsenuef is mislabeled as “Fig. 5. The idolatrous god of Elkenah,” Duamutef is mislabeled as “Fig. 6. The idolatrous god of Libnah,” Hapi is mislabeled as “Fig. 7. The idolatrous god of Mahmackrah,” and Imseti is mislabeled as “Fig. 8. The idolatrous god of Korash.” The crocodile, who belongs to a separate register and mythological event, is joined to the canopic deities as “Fig. 9. The idolatrous god of Pharaoh.” Horus-Sobek was a god of Pharaoh, so one out of five is correct.

According to the wikipedia site on Sobek, the crocodile god was associated with Pharaoh from 2686—2181 BC but indicates that the crocodile figure "Sobek also underwent an important change" and was associated with the god Horus. So you have to be liberal with the dating and shift it quite a few years to have what JS said make sense.

If Joseph would have simply would have mentioned 'Sobek' by name it would have really been more definitive in showing his ability to read Egyptian as he claimed.

In trying to ascertain how significant this is, I wrote Egyptologist Kara Cooney to solicit her opinion:

Yes, he identified the figure correctly as a god, but it's rather vague, without any exact identification or name. I think such an identification could come rather easily to someone looking at an Egyptian papyrus, even with a prior religious agenda. So I don't think it really matters. The Book of Abraham still does not match the ancient Egyptian written on the papyrus, and that is proof enough. Don't let a little tree distract from the forest…. 

Have any of the Egyptian names and terms identified by Joseph been verified as actually being Egyptian?

There are many Egyptian names given on Joseph's explanation of the 3 facsimiles as well as numerous names in Smith's Egyptian Book of Alphabet and Grammar. Names such as Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, etc. Despite some apologists claims to the contrary, none of these names have been found in any Egyptian documents.

Apologists' claims

From LDS apologist Jeff Lindsay's site:

Further support for Joseph's interpretation of several elements in Facs. 1 comes from Daniel Peterson's article in the Jan. 1994 Ensign,

Ancient texts indicate that the idolatrous gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, and Korash, described in the book of Abraham (Abr. 1:6, 13, 17; facsimile 1, figs. 5-8), truly were worshipped in the ancient world, despite the fact that the Bible makes no mention of them. Link is here.

The above statement is very misleading. Enough critics must have complained so fellow LDS apologist Kerry Shirts provided this response on another web page:

On the Names of the Four Canopic Jars in Facsimile 1
by Kerry A. Shirts

A Note of Explanation:

Critics have said the names of these figures are not Egyptian and therefore not authentic.

This article takes a closer look.
We grant the critics a point in noting the four names of the four canopics under the lion couch are not necessarily Egyptian names. But they are names that are found in the ancient world, namely Egyptian combined with ancient
Syro-Canaanitish elements, and that is the point. This is not just gibberish. Abraham is pointing out the ancient Egyptian customs to a non-Egyptian audience of his in the Book of Abraham.
Link is here.

LDS apologist Kerry Shirts admits that they are not real Egyptian names so how does that possibly support Joseph's interpretation as claimed by Jeff Lindsay?

Note that neither Brother Lindsay nor Daniel Peterson provides any evidence (save a misleading footnote explained below) to show how these ancient names could be derived and possibly be interpreted by anyone to support Joseph's claims. If it made sense Lindsay would have simply shown evidence for these four names on his web site which would add to Joseph's credibility but he doesn't because it really doesn't support Joseph's claims when you analyze it.

The four names referred to by Joseph don't appear to be real ancient names at all unless you combine various parts of different words from different languages or perhaps alter the spelling of words that may be somewhat close. This is typical of some LDS apologist's efforts to find some sort of wild explanation to Joseph's translation of the facsimiles.

Even if they were real names, although certainly not Egyptian, Joseph (or another church member) may have simply got them out of a dictionary or encyclopedia. The only way this helps support Joseph's claims is if he identified the actual Egyptian names which was not known at the time but he failed to identify any Egyptian names.

You will note on Jeff Lindsay's site, he does not correct the original misleading statement. So any researcher that goes to Lindsay's site will be under the impression that the four gods named by Joseph on facsimile 1 were somehow correctly identified by Joseph.

Had Joseph Smith actually translated the papyri, he would have referred to the figures as the four sons of Horus and given their actual names of Imset, Hapt, Qebe-senuwef and Duwa-mutef. This would have stood as a powerful witness to the truthfulness of the BOA and to Smith's prophetic role but Joseph gave incorrect non-Egyptian names.

Rebuttal to Daniel Peterson's claims regarding the four gods in Facsimile 1

Daniel Peterson in his article News from Antiquity makes the following bold statement in an effort to show how Joseph was somehow correct when he identified the 4 gods as real Sumerian gods even though he got the names wrong and that they were not Egyptian gods:

Ancient texts indicate that the idolatrous gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, and Korash, described in the book of Abraham (Abr. 1:6, 13, 17; facsimile 1, figs. 5–8), truly were worshipped in the ancient world, despite the fact that the Bible makes no mention of them.5

Peterson does not show the proof in the article. He merely lists a footnote. The footnote (#5) only states "See Lundquist, "Was Abraham at Ebla?" p. 232; Tvedtnes and Christensen, Ur of the Chaldeans, pp. 32–33."

This is totally unacceptable. If you are going to make bold claims that challenge established views, then you can't simply write "See this book and that book" in the footnotes and expect to be taken seriously, especially when the sources you cite are not widely available. The reason he did this is clear.

This is an analysis from Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought on Peterson's claim:

From Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought by Stephen E. Thompson "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham" footnote 67. [Archived backup of article here]

67. John Lundquist has attempted to equate the names which Joseph Smith gave to the deities represented in Figures 5-8 of Facsimile 1 with names for Sumerian deities found in a list of names of such gods published by A. Deimel. He suggests that Elkenah corresponds to Sumerian Il-gi-na (the raised d, for dingir, indicating a divinity, has been omitted from this and the following names), Libnah to La-ban, Mahmackrah to Ma-mi-hi-rat, and Korash to Kurra- su-ur-ur ("Was Abraham at Ebla?" 232-33).

There are problems with the methodology used to arrive at these equations. First, Demeil's readings of these names cannot always be trusted. For example, the name which Deimel read as Ma-mi-hi-rat is actually to be read ma-mi-sar-ra-at (see A. Deimel, Pantheon Babylonicum [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1914], #2042, and E. Sollberger, Ur Excavation Texts 8, Royal Inscriptions, pt. 2 [London: British Museum, 1965], 19, #86). Ma-mi-sar-ra-at is actually not a god's name, but the name of a canal which connected the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with the sea (see D. O. Edzard, "Mami-sarrat," in Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archaologie, ed. D. O. Edzard et al. [New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), 7:329, and Sollberger, 19).

The divine element in this name is Mami, a Sumerian mother-goddess (see J. J. M. Roberts, The Earliest Semitic Pantheon: A Study of the Semitic Deities Attested in Mesopotamia before UR III [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972], 43-44). The name translates as "Mammi is queen." There is no deity Ma-mi-hi-rat. This illustrates one of the problems which can arise when one randomly compares names in a list of deities with those found in the Book of Abraham. When attempting to correlate a particular Near Eastern god with one mentioned in the Book of Abraham, four conditions must be met: (1) the correspondences between the names have to be reasonably explained on phonological grounds (in my opinion, Lundquist's Ma-mi-hi-rat and Kur-ra-su-ur-ur fail this test); (2) whether a cult of the god existed must be determined; (3) the date and location of the practice of this cult need to be determined and then compared with the likely dates and locations for Abraham; and (4) occurrences of the name in material available to Joseph Smith must be ruled out as a possible source before the name can be claimed to be derived from the ancient text Joseph was supposedly translating. Until these criteria are met, any equivalences proposed between ancient divine names and those found in the Book of Abraham are simply sloppy guesswork and carry no probative weight.

It should be noted that parallels to the divine names in the Book of Abraham can be found much closer to home. The name Libnah occurs several times as a place name in the Old Testament (see F. Brown, S. Driver, and C. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexikon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980], 526), Elkanah is a personal name borne by eight individuals in the Old Testament (see R. Youngblood, "Elkanah," ABD II, 475-6), and Korash could be a variant of the Hebrew name for Cyrus, Koresh, which occurs, among other places,
in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1.

A skeptical attitude must also be taken to Lundquist's postulated correlation between the Book of Abraham place-name Olishem and the Akkadian place-name Ulisum (Lundquist, "Abraham at Ebla," 234-35). Ulisum occurs in a text from the reign of the Akkadian king Naram-Sin (ca. 2250 B.C.), and apparently refers to a place in northern Syria. According to the Book of Abraham, Olishem was located in Chaldea, which is to be located in southern Mesopotamia. For this equation to be valid, one has to accept the considerably weak argument that Chaldea could refer to a place in northern Syria and overlook the fact that Ulisum is attested far earlier than the most likely dates for Abraham. This equation cannot bear the weight of proving the antiquity or historicity of the Book of Abraham.

Editor Comment: This shows the importance of actually looking at the footnotes and the research that writers use to support bold claims. In light of Thompson's comments on Lundquist's flawed reasoning, Daniel Peterson's comments about Joseph correctly identifying the four gods is not to be taken as evidence supporting Joseph.

Strange Astronomy in the Book of Abraham

Facsimile No. 2 of the Book of Abraham, which deals with discussions of astronomical issues, has the following commentary for figure 5:

Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.

There are two errors in this passage, the first being the identification of the sun as a "planet" which we know it is not. In fact, the Book of Abraham, 3:5 describes the moon as a "planet," another astronomical error in the supposedly "inspired" translation of Joseph Smith.

Note: Some claim that the term planet was sometimes used in ancient times in reference to the sun so perhaps that's not such a big deal. Link is here.

But now note very carefully the words I have highlighted in bold. The sun, according to the "inspired" Book of Abraham, receives its light from the revolutions of Kolob. According to the Book of Abraham 3:3, Kolob is the "great" star which governs (or governed) the earth. It is from this star, then, that the sun supposedly received its light.

But what does modern science tell us? The sun generates its own light and energy through the process of nuclear fusion. It has nothing whatsoever to do with "borrowing light" from some other star. The nonsensical astronomical account in the Book of Abraham is nothing more that the idle speculation of a 19th century religious leader who knew nothing of nuclear fusion and was merely relaying his own speculation on the matter. Joseph may have believed this as it was a scientific theory at the time proposed by some scientists.

True-believing member response: Some members have written about the existence of Kolob that perhaps defends these astronomical viewpoints. The Kolob Theorem, A Mormon's View of God's Starry Universe - archived (PDF).

More Discussion on the Sun getting it's light from Kolob and LDS apologetic response

"It is the process of nuclear fusion that makes the stars shine. With the discovery of quantum mechanics, scientists soon learned that the sun's source of energy is internal, and not external. The Sun shines, as we have seen, because of thermonuclear fusion. It does not get its light from any other star. And there is no star called Kolob that gives light to the stars, either. They all shine by nuclear processes, burning the nuclear fuel in their cores." p 116

"It's hard to imagine two ways of looking at the cosmos that could be more different than modern cosmology and LDS doctrine. For example, LDS doctrine regarding astronomy is permeated with references to time being measured, or "reckoned" according to a star's or planet's rate of rotation. Furthermore, this "reckoning of time" is a prime distinguisher in terms of "greatness." From the standpoint of modern cosmology, this makes no sense at all. Rates of rotation are largely arbitrary, and of little comment or concern from a fundamental point of view. There is little correlation between a planet's rate of rotation and either its size or mass.

Furthermore, for bodies like the sun, the question makes no sense at all because the sun, being a ball of plasma, rotates at different rates, depending on the distance from the center of the sun, and the latitude. (25.4 days at the equator and 36.0 days at the poles). In other words, the Sun does not have a well-defined rate of rotation. It depends. This is true for other stars as well; so talking about their rates of rotation as if this was some sort of special defining attribute makes little sense and is of little fundamental interest or value in cosmology.

Now, from Abraham, we are told that Kolob is great, rotates very slowly, and was the first star made (first creation). Yet (as we learned in the previous section) the largest (great) stars burn through their nuclear fuel very quickly, and end up as supernovae, typically leaving behind a neutron star that is unimaginable dense and rotating very fast. For Kolob to still be a star, and the first creation, and rotating very slowly, it must be a small star. Perhaps something like a brown dwarf, a star that's so small it can barely sustain any nuclear processes at all. As such, its mass and energy output would be relatively small. So it would hardly be "great" or control/govern any other bodies in the universe. In short, the idea that the first star is great, and still a significant star (not burnt out) is contradictory.

This is no trivial problem. The idea that the first star is still around, and has a very low rate of rotation, is inconsistent with what we know of stellar evolution. For that first star to be still shining, it must have been very small. Otherwise, it would have long ago burned all its nuclear fuel and would now be a black hole, or a very small neutron star that is rotating very quickly." p 110-114

"There is also an interesting and nonsensical correlation between a "day" and a "cubit.'" p 79

Farewell to Eden- Coming to terms with Mormonism and Science, Duwayne R. Anderson, 2003, First Books Library

To ponder: Why can't the Hubble Space Telescope see Kolob? Link is here.

LDS Apologist Response: The conclusion from the FAIR website "Until someone can make a convincing case that their interpretation of these things is the only reasonable one, any faith-promoting proof from Abraham's astronomy is a flimsy house of cards and any faith-destroying attack on some straw-man interpretation is laughable. "

Reference: Link is here.

Critic's Response: Let's review again what exactly Joseph said:

Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob." (Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure #5 explanation.)

FAIR suggests that the "light" mentioned in the Book of Abraham may refer to the light of Christ. Does this make any sense in the context of the above paragraph? Why would the Sun borrow the 'light of Christ' from a star known as Kolob? Doesn't it make more sense that someone might believe that a star could borrow its light, meaning the sunlight that shines from it, from another star? The primary benefit that a star provides to people is to provide light, meaning sunlight and has nothing to do with the light of Christ.

ALSO, the idea that our star got its light and power from another star was a theory known in Joseph's time. Joseph likely just believed what the scientists of his day believed and incorporated that into scripture. Reference: An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer, chapter 1.

The astronomical phrases and concepts in the Abraham texts were also common in Joseph Smith's environment. For example, in 1816 Thomas Taylor published a two-volume work called The Six Books of Proclus on the Theology of Plato. Volume 2 (pp. 140-146) contains phrases and ideas similar to the astronomical concepts in Abraham 3 and Facsimile No. 2. In these six pages, Taylor calls the planets "governors" and uses the terms "fixed stars and planets" and "grand key." Both works refer to the sun as a planet receiving its light and power from a higher sphere rather than generating its own light through hydrogen-helium fusion (cf. Fac. 2, fig. 5). LDS scholar R. Grant Athay, a research astronomer and director of the University of Colorado Observatory, has written, "At the time that the Book of Abraham was translated…the energy source of the sun was unknown," and "the concept of one star influencing another was also a common concept of the time." Grant Palmer


The Book of Abraham text

Some true believing members have criticized the analysis of the BOA because the critics normally focus on the translation of the BOA and not the text in the scripture itself. In response we added the following section which was taken entirely from the site:

Link is here.

Apologists since Nibley have said that critics do not address the text but focus only on the translation issues. Jeff Lindsay repeats this mantra on his web site. It is simply untrue, as will be demonstrated by this post and as is demonstrated by even a casual review of the materials linked in my sidebar. Second, the apologists presumably make this statement to imply that critics avoid discussion of the text because the text is immune to criticism. Of course, the apologists are wrong on this as well. The text itself presents numerous problems for those who assert that the Book of Abraham originated in antiquity. Among these problems is one which is, in my opinion, most devastating to the apologetic stance: anachronisms. 

In literature, an anachronism is "something located at a time when it could not have existed or occurred." A famous example of an anachronism is found in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in which the bell of a clock tower strikes on the hour. Striking clocks, of course, did not exist in Rome at the time of Caesar.  

An anachronism in a work of fiction, even one purported to be based on history, is understandable and forgivable. But with respect to documents that purport to be actual historical documents, anachronisms provide those seeking to authenticate such documents with the means of detecting forgeries. For example, let's say a document surfaces that purports to be written by William the Conqueror. It is a personal diary kept during the Battle of Hastings. The William Diary, as it comes to be known, is found by a young man with little formal education and contains details about the type of clothing worn by the soldiers in battle. Scholars who examine the diary say the details about the type and color of fastenings on the clothing are precisely correct descriptions of 11th-century clothing. Furthermore, professional historians acknowledge that the battle scenes described in the William Diary accurately depict what is known about the Battle of Hastings and such information is far from common knowledge. The young man who discovered the William Diary, most agree, was incapable of producing a document that includes so many accurate details about 11th-century England. Armed with only this information, many might be willing to accept the William Diary as genuine.  

But suppose the text of the William Diary also contains references to the Magna Carta, Henry VIII, and William Shakespeare? The Battle of Hastings occurred in 1066. The Magna Carta was signed in 1215. Henry VIII lived in the 15th and 16th centuries; Shakespeare about a century later. These are undisputed historical facts. So, what would these anachronisms tell us about the genuineness of the William Diary? It seems obvious: there is no possible way William the Conqueror could have been the author of the William Diary because it includes references to people and things that would not exist for hundreds of years after the time of its alleged authorship. And no matter how many details the forger "got right" about life in 11th-century England or the battle tactics of the warring factions in the Battle of Hastings, the presence of anachronisms in the text, alone, would rule out the possibility that the William Diary was written by William himself.  

Likewise, the presence of anachronisms in the text of the Book of Abraham would constitute unassailable evidence against its authenticity. Indeed, anachronisms in the text would be even more devastating to the authenticity of the Book of Abraham than the anachronisms in our hypothetical were to the William Diary. Why? Because no matter what theory of translation one postulates, any anachronisms in the text produced by Joseph Smith demonstrate that the Book of Abraham is not an ancient document. The traditional doctrine advanced by the leaders of the church is that the Book of Abraham was written by Abraham's "own hand upon papyrus." The initial publication of the Book of Abraham, under the direction of Joseph Smith, contained a statement to that effect, which was also included when the book was canonized in 1880. There is also some evidence that Joseph Smith told visitors that the papyri on display (for a fee payable to his mother Lucy Mack Smith) contained the actual writings of Abraham himself. The church has never retracted or corrected this notion. If correct, there could be no references in the text to people, places, or events that post-date Abraham's life. 

Because it is almost certain that the papyri that Joseph Smith possessed date only to the first or second century B.C.E. rather than the second millennium B.C.E., apologists in recent years have advanced the theory that the papyrus from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham contained not the writings of Abraham himself but rather copies of a book originally penned by Abraham. If so, that could explain anachronisms creeping into the text. Such is the likely explanation for the anachronisms in the stories about Abraham in the Bible. Scholars believe that the Genesis accounts of Abraham were likely first written and included in the Hebrew Bible around the 6th or 7th century B.C.E. The problem with that theory for the Book of Abraham, however, is that it was translated by Joseph Smith by revelation, not through traditional means of translation. For this reason, any anachronisms that may have been introduced to the text by scribes and copyists between the time of Abraham and the time the papyri were produced should have been excised by Joseph Smith who, presumably, would be revealing the original, pure text written by Abraham. 

To deal with this uncomfortable difficulty, apologists have even more recently advanced a more radical idea: that the text of the Book of Abraham had nothing whatever to do with what was written on the papyri. Instead, the Book of Abraham came fully formed from the inspired mind of Joseph Smith. Under this theory, the documents Joseph Smith purchased from the mummy merchant simply served as a catalyst for Joseph to receive a revelation. Whether Abraham actually wrote the original text or not, the text of the Book of Abraham is inspired and prophetic, having been given to Joseph Smith by direct revelation from God. To my knowledge, no General Authority of the church has endorsed this view. But while this theory flatly contradicts the canonized text of the Book of Abraham, which says the book was translated by Joseph Smith from the papyrus, it nevertheless may be the only answer to the consensus among Egyptologists that the words on the papyrus and symbols on the facsimiles bear no relation to the text produced by Joseph Smith. However, though this theory may help provide a possible explanation for problems Egyptologists have, if there never was an actual original text, either penned by Abraham or included on the papyri, then Joseph Smith produced the text by "pure revelation." If so, then God would be the author of any anachronisms found in the text. That God would inspire his Prophet to pretend to translate a record found on papyrus and include in the revealed text anachronisms, it seems to me, is an absurd proposition.  

Thus, there is no explanation for anachronisms in the modern text that does not call into question the ancient origin of the document or Joseph Smith's inspiration in producing the text of the Book of Abraham. If there are anachronisms in the text, they deal a fatal blow to the notion that the work is of ancient origin and that the text is an accurate portrayal of events as they actually occurred. Even one anachronism would be sufficient to prove that the text of the Book of Abraham is not a work of ancient origin. And no matter how many parallels one might find in the Book of Abraham to ancient Egypt, they are no more relevant to the question of the document's ancient origin than the things in our hypothetical William Diary that seemed to be accurate depictions of 11th-century England.

So, are there any anachronisms in the text of the Book of Abraham?  

It appears there are several, beginning with the very first verse: 

"In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence." Abraham 1:1.

According to the LDS Bible Dictionary, Abraham (first called Abram) was born around 1996 B.C.E. Scholars have debated whether Abraham was an actual historical individual, but those who believe he was place his life between 2400 B.C.E. and 1500 B.C.E. SeeLink is here..

As Stephen Thompson points out, the word Chaldea is a gross anachronism:

The first such term, Chaldea, occurs in Abraham 1:1, and subsequently verses 8, 13, 20, 23, 29-30, and 2:4. The Chaldeans (Hebrew kasdim) were a people who spoke a West-Semitic language similar to Aramaic and who appeared in the ninth century B.C. in the land south of Babylonia, and appear to have migrated from Syria. Westermann has noted that the city of Ur could be qualified as "of the Chaldees" only from the tenth to the sixth centuries, in any case, not before the first millennium.

Gary Greenberg concurs:

The Mesopotamian city of Ur has a history dating back to at least the third millennium B.C., but the association of the city with the Chaldees dates to only about the eighth century B.C. The name Chaldees refers to the "land of the people of Chaldea," located just south of Babylon in southern Mesopotamia. Little is known of Chaldea prior to the eighth century B.C. At this time, it temporarily captured the throne of Babylon and ruled the entire region, including Ur. From that time on, although it didn't rule continuously in Babylon, its name came to be associated with southern Mesopotamia. In 587 B.C., the Chaldeans conquered the kingdom of Judah and transferred the Hebrew elite to Babylon.

Confounding the situation further, the biblical Hebrew does not call the city " Ur of the Chaldees." The word translated as Chaldees actually reads "chesdim," meaning either the "people of Chesed' or " land of Chesed." The identification of this city with Chaldea in the King James Version derives from the Greek translation of the Bible, which used the name Chaldee… .

… Since Abraham was born only 290 years after the flood, there is no way that the Chaldees could have been associated with Ur in his time frame… .

… The anachronistic Mesopotamian genealogy of Abraham and his relatives shows that it was a late invention intended to place Hebrew origins in the cultural center of the powerful Mesopotamian empires that followed after the defeat of the Chaldeans by the Persians, and intended to enhance Hebrew prestige within the Babylonian community.

Gary Greenberg, 101 Myths of the Bible: How Ancient Scribes Invented Biblical History at 115-116. Available here.

So, the Book of Abraham not only mentions a group of people who would not come into existence for hundreds of years after the time of Abraham, it also incorporates into the text an error from the King James Version of the Bible. This anachronism alone shows that the Book of Abraham was not written by Abraham and is not an accurate history. There are other anachronisms: the use of the name Pharaoh; the use of the name Potiphar; the explanation for the etymology of the name Egypt; Hebrew names for Egyptian gods; Facsimile 1; and the depiction of human sacrifice as an Egyptian ritual.

The name Egyptus

Where does the word "Egyptus" come from? It's the Greek name for Memphis which was called, at that time, Het Ka Ptah--"home of the Ka of Ptah." Just like the Hebrew "Yeshua" became "Jesus" to the Greeks, "Het Ka Ptah" became "Aigyptus" which became "Egyptus." If you go to Egypt today they don't call it "Egypt."

This is interesting because Joseph Smith inserts the following in the Book of Abraham:

  1. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
  2. When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
  3. Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal."

--Abraham 1:23-25

"Egyptus" is not Chaldean it is not the proper name of a woman who "discovered" the land after the flood. It doesn't mean "forbidden." This word wasn't even in existence when Abraham was alive. It's a clear anachronism showing that the so-called "Book of Abraham" wasn't written by Abraham.

In sum, no matter what one says about the method Joseph Smith used to translate, no matter what one says about the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, the potential "missing" scrolls, or any problems related to an examination of the papyri, anachronisms in the text of the Book of Abraham argue convincingly against it being an ancient document of divinely inspired origin.


From another well-respected critic:

From Richard Packham's site: Link is here.

The Book of Abraham ("BoA") is Joseph Smith's translation of some Egyptian papyrus scrolls that came into his possession in 1835. He stated that one of the scrolls was written by the biblical Abraham "by his own hand." Smith's translation is now accepted as scripture by the LDS church, as part of its Pearl of Great Price. Smith also produced an "Egyptian Grammar" based on his translation.

Modern scholars of ancient Egyptian have also translated the scrolls, and they agree unanimously that the scrolls, which are now in the possession of the Mormon church, are genuine, but they are common Egyptian funeral scrolls, entirely pagan in nature, having nothing to do with Abraham, and from a period 2000 years later than Abraham. The "Grammar" has been said by Egyptologists to prove that Smith had no notion of the Egyptian language. It is pure fantasy: he made it up. (For details, see the links here.)

But even if we did not have the actual papyrus and the testimony of the Egyptologists, proving that it is a hoax, we could recognize the Book of Abraham as such because of the linguistic anachronisms in the text of Smith's "translation." In considering the material below, remember that Abraham supposedly lived somewhere between 2100 and 1700 B.C., according to most Bible chronologists.

I found the following linguistic anachronisms by my own careful reading of the text of the BoA and by researching the words in standard reference works. After I had completed my research I discovered that Stephen E. Thompson had already covered the same ground in his article "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham" in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 28:1:143, Spring 1995. I was gratified to see that my conclusions were confirmed by Thompson, who is a professional Egyptologist.


The BoA uses the word "Pharaoh" as the name of rulers of Egypt (Abr 1:6, 20, 26) and says that the meaning of the word (1:20) is "king by royal blood." The first ruler named "Pharaoh" is identified as a great-grandson of Noah (Abr 1:25).

The linguistic problem is that the word "pharaoh" originally meant "great house." It did not become a title for the king until the beginning of the New Kingdom (18th Dynasty), which began about 1567 B.C. That usage is unknown in Palestine until after 1000 B.C. According to Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Bible Dictionary, article "Pharaoh": "It is certain that in Abraham's time the kings of Egypt were not as yet called Pharaohs." At no time in Egypt was the word used as the actual name of any king. Of course, Genesis has the same anachronism (12:15), but no one has claimed that Genesis was written by Abraham or a contemporary of Abraham.


Abraham, according to the BoA, lived in the "land of the Chaldeans" (1:1) which was governed by Pharaoh (1:8-20). A place of sacrifice there had an Egyptian name, "Potiphar's Hill" (1:20).

There are multiple anachronisms here.

"Chaldeans" do not appear in history until the 12th century B.C., quite a few centuries after Abraham lived. The earliest mention of them in historical records is in the 9th century B.C., in Assyrian records. It was not until 721 B.C. that they established themselves, by seizing the throne of Babylon, ultimately establishing a Chaldean dynasty in Babylonia, which ruled from 625 to 539 B.C. It is only after this that the term "Chaldea" or "land of the Chaldees" came to be used for "Babylon".

This anachronism also occurs in Genesis (11:31), but, as noted above, no one has claimed that Genesis was written by Abraham or a contemporary of Abraham.

There is no historical evidence that Egypt controlled any part of Mesopotamia at any time when Abraham might have lived. Thus, it is a gross error to claim that Egyptian sacrifices were taking place in "Chaldea" at a sacrificial place with an Egyptian name.


The BoA says that "Egyptus" was the wife of Ham (the son of Noah) and the mother of Pharaoh who established the first government of Egypt. (Abr 1:23). The name "Egyptus" is obviously intended to be the source of the name of the country. But here is the linguistic problem: the name "Egypt" is not Egyptian, but Greek ('Aigyptos'), and thus was not used for the name of the country until the Greeks had contact with it, long after Abraham's time.

The Greek name is a corruption of an Egyptian name for the capital city of Memphis, 'Hat-kaptah'. Perhaps the real name of Ham's wife was Hat-kaptah? No, because Abr 1:23 says that "Egypt" is a "Chaldean" word (see previous section on "Chaldea"), and it means "forbidden".

The Hebrew word for Egypt and the Egyptians is 'Mizraim,' which adds to the confusion, because the Bible says that Mizraim was a son of Ham (Gen 10:6, 13) and the ancestor not of the Egyptians, but of the Philistines.

"Kolob" and "Kokaubeam"

"Kokob" and "Kokaubeam" appear at Abr 3:13, and are interpreted respectively as "star" and "stars". These are genuine Hebrew words. The other words in that passage ("shinehah" for the sun, "olea" for the moon) are not genuine. "Kolob" (Abr 3), which is supposed to be the "star" nearest to the throne of God, is perhaps intended to be the Hebrew word 'keleb' ("dog") and may refer to the star Sirius, nicknamed the "Dog Star" (Alpha Canis Majoris), the brightest star in the northern-hemisphere sky.

Do these Hebrew words provide weighty evidence in defense of the Book of Abraham? Hardly. At the time Smith was producing the Book of Abraham he was also intently studying Hebrew with a private tutor.

Here, too, Joseph Smith was perhaps trying to be too clever: Abraham lived at a time long before the Hebrew language had even developed. According to the article "Hamito-Semitic Languages" in The Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., Macr 8:592, Hebrew did not develop until the 13th century BC. Thus, Abraham could not possibly have spoken Hebrew.


Joseph Smith's Five Sources for Composing the Book of Abraham.

Almost all of the Book of Abraham can be accounted for in various texts that were available in Joseph Smith's time. The following comes from former CES educator Grant Palmer:

The content of the Book of Abraham is essentially one hundred percent accounted for by Joseph Smith's use of five, nineteenth-century sources. All of this evidence is detailed in An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, chapter 1:

Abraham 1; Facsimile #1, #3: Abraham's biographical information in Abraham 1 and Smith's claim of what these two Facsimile pictures portray comes from The Works of Flavius Josephus. Smith owned an 1830 edition of this book. Smith's detailed explanations for the individual Egyptian characters on these two Facsimiles in the Book of Abraham have been thoroughly discredited by Egyptologists.

Abraham 2, 4-5: Eighty-six percent of the verses in these three chapters came from Genesis, 1, 2, 12, and 11:28-29. This material came from a 1769 edition or later printing of the KJV, including its errors.

Abraham 3; Facsimile 2: The text of Abraham 3 and Facsimile 2 has some remarkable resemblances to the astronomical concepts, phrases, and other motifs found in Thomas Dick's, Philosophy of a Future State. Smith owned an 1830 copy of this book.

Abraham 3; Facsimile 2: Thomas Taylor's 1816 book, The Six Books of Proclus on the Theology of Plato, especially volume 2, also has most of the motifs in Abraham 3 and Facsimile 2. Dick and Taylor both contain a number of exact phrases found in Abraham 3 and Facsimile 2.Importantly, Smith's Newtonian astronomy concepts, mechanics, and model of the universe that he borrowed from these Newtonian books have been thoroughly discredited by Einstein's twentieth-century model of the universe.

Strange names: The few Hebrew names and phrases found in the Book of Abraham reflect Smith's study with Hebrew scholar Joshua Seixas during the winter of 1835-36, in Ohio.

Responses to these issues by true believers

The Age of the Book of Abraham

True believer's response

The papyri that we now have in our possession have been reliably dated to no older than about 100 BC whereas Abraham lived about 2000 BC. So perhaps when Joseph said that it was written 'By His Own Hand' he did not mean that literally. The term 'By His Own Hand' could be interpreted to mean that the author (Abraham) dictated to a scribe so it really was not penned by Abraham himself but rather by a scribe of Abraham.

Since Abraham lived around 2000 BC he could not have possibly written or even dictated these actual physical papyri that the church now possesses. However, it is possible that the Egyptians copied these writings from the actual writings that were physically done by Abraham. After 2000 years they would have had to be recopied, perhaps many times in order to preserve them. They would also need to rewritten in Egyptian from the original language Abraham used which would have likely been Hebrew. So if you interpret that these are the words of Abraham instead of the actual penmanship of Abraham then this reasoning could resolve the age of the papyri problem.

Reference: Summarized from the LDS Institute Manual for the Pearl of Great Price and various apologist web sites.

Critic's response

The preface to every copy of the canonized Book of Abraham makes it very clear that that it was actually written by Abraham upon papyrus.:



A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. - The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus."

In addition, Wilford Woodruff recorded in his diary on February 19, 1842 that the Book of Abraham was literally written by Abraham himself:

"Joseph the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light through the mercy of God." (Diary of Wilford Woodruff, entry of February 19, 1842, LDS archives; also in Jay M. Todd, The Saga of the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1969), p. 221)

Joseph's incorrect restoration of facsimile 1

The papyri as it existed when given to Joseph in 1835:

Joseph's restoration of facsimile 1

Joseph's restoration where he filled in the missing parts:

Facsimile No. 1

Modern reconstruction by Egyptologists of what the missing pieces likely contained, based on contents of similar funeral documents:

Modern reconstruction

Similar ancient Egypt facsimiles of Anubis:

Similar ancient Egypt facsimiles of Anubis

There are some notable differences, however. The head of the character that Joseph drew standing over the table was not the head of a jackal as it should have been in order to belong to the family of Anubis renderings. In addition, this figure was holding what Joseph Described as a knife, something that was also not consistent with the Anubis family of drawings. Egyptologists maintained, however, that the Facsimiles looked like a common configurations that might be found in an Egyptian "Book of the Dead".

True believer's response

Although some LDS faithful do believe that Joseph did indeed fill in the missing parts correctly most LDS apologists admit that the facsimile probably did originally have a jackal's head instead of a man's head as Joseph indicated. The reasoning given is that the jackal's head represents a mask anyway so Joseph wasn't trying so much as to restore the papyri as he was trying to just show the meaning. The restoration of the knife was likely correct and it perhaps wasn't a bird as shown in the modern reconstruction. No one really knows what was there originally as the missing pieces were destroyed. Another reasoning is that Joseph was merely filling in the pieces for aesthetic purposes for publication.

Reference: Summarized from various apologist websites including apologist Jeff Lindsay.

Critic's response

The problem is that a critical part of the Book of Abraham text is focused on Abraham almost being sacrificed by the Egyptians. The text in the Book of Abraham refers to the facsimile. If you take away the knife then you take away the story. We wonder how the Book of Abraham might be different if facsimile 1 was complete when given to Joseph and if it did not show the knife that Egyptologists believe was not there originally.

Prior to the rediscovery of facsimile 1, Egyptologists said since at least 1912 that something is wrong with the diagram of facsimile 1 in the Book of Abraham. Egyptologists said it should be a jackal-headed figure and he should not be holding a knife. They knew this from examining thousands of similar Egyptian funeral documents but the LDS faithful said the Egyptologists were wrong. Of course when the facsimile 1 was rediscovered it shows that the parts the Egyptologists questioned were not in the original facsimile. Joseph had to restore them on his own. It appears that the Egyptologists were correct regarding facsimile 1 despite the faith of the LDS believers. We see no reason to doubt the analysis done by Egyptologists for the rest of the papyri either.

Incorrect labeling of females as Pharaoh and prince of Pharaoh of facsimile 3

LDS apologist Michael Rhodes said:

With facsimile 3, as with the other two facsimiles, it is important to keep in mind that the interpretation given by Joseph Smith is for the original illustration made by Abraham, which is different than the form we now have. Some of the most obvious interpretations are the designation of the female (figures 2 and 4) as the pharaoh and prince of pharaoh. If we had the original drawn by Abraham, the figures would have matched the Prophet Joseph's explanation.

Reference: The Religious Educator, Vol. 4 No. 2, 2003 p 121

Critic's response

Rhodes' statement that "If we had the original drawn by Abraham, the figures would have matched the Prophet Joseph's explanation" is sheer speculation without anything to support it. There is no reason to believe that these facsimiles were copied from Abraham's time and completely altered, including details like the gender of two figures. It is much more likely that Joseph misidentified these figures. Nowhere does Joseph ever say or even imply that these drawings were anything other than the ones Abraham literally made and not merely copied over the centuries by Egyptians for some unknown reason.

Egyptologists' Translations of the Rediscovered Papyri do not match The Book of Abraham

True believer's response #1

The papyri that was rediscovered in the museum was not all that Joseph had. The portions that are still missing may have been the pieces that contained the writings of Abraham. Facsimiles 2 and 3 were never found. Some of the brethren tell of seeing the papyri being stretched out on the floor going across an entire room so we may have only just a portion of all that Joseph possessed. It is quite possible that the papyri that is still missing would match up with Egyptologists translations if it was ever found.

Reference: Summarized from various apologist websites such as FAIR.

Critic's response.

The belief that there is missing papyri that would be translated by Egyptologists and match Joseph's translations is a theory that has been around for a long time but it deserves further scrutiny for the following reasons:

  1. This does not explain why the translations of the three facsimiles by Egyptologists do not match Joseph's translations of the facsimiles. Why would the actual translations of the missing papyri match Joseph's translations but the actual translations of the facsimiles do not?
  2. Why would Joseph Smith and his scribes have bothered to put characters from the Sensen portion next to the translation in Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar if the Sensen fragment was not the source for the Book of Abraham?

    The documents referred to as the 'Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar by Joseph Smith show the translation of the Book of Abraham came from a piece of papyri known as 'the small sensen'. Although when the LDS Church put the papyri on display at Brigham Young University, they showed the 11 papyri pieces as a bunch of random fragments not connected to each other, the fibers of the papyri have been analyzed and show that they actually did fit together. The 'small sensen' portion was right next to facsimile 1, which Joseph said was the Egyptians attempting to sacrifice Abraham.

    It is logical to assume that the papyri immediately next to facsimile 1 would be referring to facsimile 1. In order to preserve the papyri Joseph had the papyri cut and pasted behind glass but they were all together before then. The 'small sensen' papyri, which was originally next to facsimile 1, has been translated by Egyptologists and they do indeed refer to facsimile 1 as you would expect since they were originally adjoined. Both the small sensen and facsimile 1 tell a story about someone named Horus and have nothing to do with Abraham.

  3. Why would Joseph Smith have used a piece of the papyrus as a source for the Book of Abraham that was not directly next to Facsimile 1 (which is where the Sensen portion is) when Facsimile 1 is what we have as the beginning of the Book of Abraham?
  4. Why would only the supposed papyrus from 2,000 BC be destroyed in the fire? In other words, if Joseph Smith supposedly purchased two sets of papyrus, some from 2,000 BC containing the writings of Abraham and some more recent than 500 BC containing the existing Book of Breathings, why aren't any of the 2,000 BC papyrus remaining when numerous portions from post 500 BC are?
  5. Why would the Book of Breathings be buried and unearthed with papyrus over 1,500 years older than it to begin with?
  6. Why were the "restored" portions of the facsimiles incorrectly restored and why aren't they translated correctly?
  7. How could Hebrew show up in a document that was supposed to be a translation of Egyptian?


Link is here.

More on The Missing Scroll Theory

Some members believe that portions of the papyri from which the Book is allegedly translated are really lost. The funeral papyri were scribed only with black ink, while the papyri of the alleged translation were much fancier, scribed with rubric or red markings. They gather this idea from some of the writings of Oliver Cowdery.

First off, some of the existing papyri does contain red ink as in papyrus Fragment VII

papyrus VII

Critic's response

Go to: Link is here.

Scroll down to the section titled "The Missing Black and Red Scroll Theory."

It is not surprising that the idea of a "missing scroll" -- one that had not yet been recovered by the Church -- would eventually be proposed as the true source of the Book of Abraham. For, if the goal was to rule out the Sensen papyrus, there would have to be an alternative Egyptian scroll from which the Book of Abraham was produced. However, making a case for a missing scroll would require reasons solid enough to counteract the convincing evidence that the ''Sensen'' papyrus was once attached to the Facsimile No. 1 fragment. It was clear that some sort of documentation to support the claim of a different scroll would be very helpful.

The documentation for this theory of a different source scroll appeared to exist in the History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 348:

The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is beautifully written upon papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation.

This statement appears to be in the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith himself, and therefore it was considered conclusive. The poor Sensen papyrus was surely not "beautifully written," was not in "perfect preservation," and showed no traces of "red ink or paint." So, it was quickly pointed out, this must mean that the original scroll for the Book of Abraham was still missing.

In his article, "Judging and Prejudging the Book of Abraham," written at the time his book The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment was in preparation, Nibley had this to say:

… The fact is that the manuscripts at present in the possession of the church represent only a fraction of the Joseph Smith papyri. As President Joseph F. Smith stood in the front doorway of the Nauvoo House with some of the brethren in 1906, the tears streamed down his face as he told how he remembered 'as if it were yesterday,' his 'Uncle Joseph,' down on his knees on the floor with Egyptian Manuscripts spread out all around him, peering at the strange writings and jotting things down in a little green notebook with the stub of a pencil. When one considers that the eleven fragments now in our possession can easily be spread out on the top of a small desk, without the straining of the knees, back, and dignity, it would seem that what is missing is much more than what we have.

Thus, the "Missing Black and Red Scroll" theory was born, its announcement being made in Hugh Nibley's 1975 book, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment. 27 Unfortunately, this new theory was a bit premature. Two pages later, in the History of the Church, at the end of the same entry in which "Joseph Smith's" description was given, a footnote by B. H. Roberts points out that the wording for the entire entry was not actually Joseph Smith's, it had only been written to appear so. Instead, the article had been adapted from a letter written by Oliver Cowdery published in the Messenger and Advocate. Cowdery, in turn, had developed his wording from a published placard provided by Michael Chandler. The placard quoted remarks made by persons in Philadelphia who were describing the appearance of the papyrus collection as a whole, and not any specific scroll that Joseph Smith would later identify as the Book of Abraham. (For more on this point, refer back to chapter 8, The Book of Joseph?, pp. 81-85.)

Moreover, through contemporary accounts it is very clear that the only papyri the LDS Church has ever possessed are the "two rolls of papyrus" (i.e. "the writings of Abraham and Joseph"), and "two or three other small pieces of papyrus, with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c."

Hugh Nibley's ideas have been examined; now consider the statements of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery concerning the papyri:

On the 3d of July, Michael H. Chandler came to Kirtland to exhibit some Egyptian mummies. There were four human figures, together with some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and devices. (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 235, emphasis added.)


Soon after this, some of the Saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies and papyrus…and with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation…and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another, the writings of Joseph of Egypt . . . (Ibid., p. 236, emphasis added.)

Before inferring that by the use of the words "two or more rolls of papyrus" Smith meant there were other rolls, we should carefully examine Oliver Cowdery's statements as they appeared (with Joseph Smith's direction and approval) in the Messenger and Advocate:

Upon the subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph, I may say a few words. This record is beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation. (Cowdery, op. cit., emphasis added.)

Cowdery, thus, understands that all -- not just a portion -- of "the Egyptian records" are "the writings of Abraham and Joseph," which he then refers to as "this record."

But there is more. When giving an account of Chandler's receiving the mummies in New York (evidently supplied by Chandler) Cowdery goes on to say,

On opening the coffins he discovered that in connection with two of the bodies, were something rolled up with the same kind of linen, saturated with the same bitumen, which, when examined proved to be two rolls of papyrus, previously mentioned. I may add that two or three other small pieces of papyrus, with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c. were found with others of the mummies. (Ibid, emphasis added)

Then in a postscript to the letter, he adds,

You will understand from the foregoing, that eleven mummies were taken from the catacomb, at the time of which I have been speaking, and nothing definite having been said as to their disposal, I may, with propriety add a few words. Seven of the said eleven were purchased by gentlemen for private museums, previous to Mr. Chandler's visit to this place, with a small quantity of papyrus, similar, (as he says) to the astronomical representation contained with the present two rolls, of which I previously spoke, and the remaining four by gentlemen resident here [in Kirtland] (Ibid, emphasis added).

Cowdery proves that there were two, and only two, "rolls of papyrus," which he believed, because of Joseph Smith's identification of them, were "the writings of Abraham and Joseph," though there were also a few fragments "similar to the astronomical representation" [i.e. Facsimile No. 2] with the papyri. Together these make up what are referred to as "two or more rolls of papyrus." Portions of the only two reasonably complete rolls they had have been recovered: Hor's Book of Breathings and the Book of the Dead for Ta-shert-Min.

Despite the evidence that contradicts it, the "missing black and red scroll" theory has been widely popularized and heavily circulated by well-meaning Latter-day Saints. As recently as the July 1988 issue of the Ensign (p. 51), Michael D. Rhodes was still suggesting it, and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, published in 1992, similarly implies that the papyri recovered in 1967 did not include the Egyptian source document from which Joseph Smith produced the Book of Abraham. However, a growing number of scholars, unable to accept the questionable advantage of such unreliable documentation as Nibley presents, have reluctantly felt compelled to abandon this theory.

In addition to Larson's treatment, I'll add two comments.

1. Joseph Smith made it perfectly clear that the papyrus fragments which contained the BOA are those which he had copied and published in the BOA, namely the three "facsimiles" and their associated hieratic text. So even if there were some "missing scrolls," they would be related to the alleged "Book of Joseph", rather than the BOA.

2. The larger question about the BOA is "Did Joseph Smith possess the ability to accurately 'translate' the papyrus as he claimed?" Considering that his "interpretations" of the existent fragments are completely bogus, and have been panned by every Egyptologist who has ever commented on them---even Mormon ones---then there's no reason to believe that Smith would have done any better with any supposed "missing scrolls."

Ex-Mormon critic Randy Jordan


Oliver Cowdery, in a letter written December 22, 1835

"Upon the subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph, I may say a few words. This record is beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, in perfect preservation. The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of mummies, hieroglyphics, &c. with many characters or letters exactly like the present, (though probably not quite so square,) form of the Hebrew without points." --The Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, Vol.2, No.3, p.234; December 1935.

Where did Cowdery get this information? Are these his words or is he paraphrasing someone else's description? Well further down in the letter we find that Cowdery has quoted some Chicago Scholars who gave Chandler a signed statement which stated:

"The features of some of these Mummies are in perfect expression. The papyrus, covered with black or red ink, or paint, in excellent preservation, are very interesting."

So the phrases "perfect expression," and "excellent preservation" in the scholar's statement seems to be motivation for Cowdery's "perfect preservation." The phrase "red ink or paint" is copied verbatim.

When the official "History of the Church" was compiled a lot of statements by people other than Joseph Smith were put in to Joseph Smith's mouth. One of those statements attributed to Joseph Smith is this:

"The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation. The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of mummies—hieroglyphics, etc.; with many characters of letters like the present (though probably not quite so square) form of the Hebrew without points. "
--History of the Church, Vol. 2, p.348

This along with the surrounding passages that were obvious reworking of the Cowdery letter show that these are not Joseph Smith's words but Cowdery's words as adapted by the editors of the "History" and attributed, falsely, to Joseph Smith

This didn't stop Hugh Nibley in the first edition of his "Joseph Smith Papyri, an Egyptian Endowment" from quoting it as Joseph's words and using this passage with an interesting alteration to make his spurious case that the sen-sen papyrus was not thought by Joseph to be the opening chapters of the BOA. Nibley quotes the "History of the Church" passage with ellipses in the place of "of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies," It then reads:

"The record . . . is beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation."

The impression that Nibley gives (intended I'm sure) is that Joseph Smith is here describing the Book of Abraham papyrus. The original un-mutilated passage makes it clear that it is a description of BOTH the writings of Abraham and the writings of Joseph. This is, basically, a description of the TWO papyrus scrolls that were with the mummies.

So if we take the original statement in "History of the Church" and even accept that Joseph Smith is the author of it (which he's not) it still doesn't say that there were red characters (called "rubrics" by Egyptologists) in the opening chapters of the Book of Abraham. The statement just says that there were SOME red characters in the TWO records. This in no way argues against JS thinking that the sen-sen papyrus [which lacks rubrics] was the beginning of the text of the BOA.

If we point out that this is just Cowdery paraphrasing the scholars' description of the two papyri then the whole argument becomes even more absurd.

A careful reading of Nibley's book will indicate that Nibley is not above using dishonest or slipshod scholarship when it agrees with the conclusion he is trying to reach.

And, yes, there are rubrics ["red ink or paint"] on the papyri that were returned to the Church as part of the Joseph Smith collection. And some of them match wonderfully Oliver Cowdery's description of the "Book of Joseph".

Comments by critic Baura

Note: You can see that there are rubrics or red ink on the color photographs of the rediscovered papyri in Larson's book.


Papyri stretched across the Floor

Many members often repeat a quote about how someone had seen the papyri and it stretched across a floor implying that it is much longer than the papyri we have today. Here is a critic's response to that:

There are basically three accounts that can reasonably be construed as supporting a long scroll:

1) A story attributed to Joseph F. Smith says that one of the papyrus scrolls, "when unrolled on the floor, extended through two rooms of the Mansion House." But this quote is known only from a casual comment by Hugh Nibley, who heard it from Preston Nibley, who heard it from President Smith, who was recalling a time when he was five years old or younger. And in addition to its rather incredible provenance, it differs substantially from Hugh Nibley's own earlier telling of the story, which had President Smith remember "Uncle Joseph" seated on the floor of the Nauvoo House (not the Mansion House) with "Egyptian manuscripts spread out all around him." Like the "one that got away", this tale seems to have taken on new proportions in Hugh Nibley's memory.

2) Charlotte Haven's account is stronger, but still not definitive evidence. Haven wrote to her mother about being shown the mummies and papyrus by Lucy Mack Smith in March, 1843. Haven related that Lucy "opened a long roll of manuscript" that she identified as "the writing of Abraham and Isaac." Since Klaus Baer's estimate of 60 cm for the interior portion of the Hôr scroll is hardly "long" by Egyptological standards, Haven's report seems to imply the presence of another text following the Document of Breathing on the scroll. What we must keep in mind, however, is that Charlotte was completely ignorant of Egyptological standards. She had no referent against which to judge what constituted a "long roll". Indeed, her use of the term "manuscript" to describe the papyrus may indicate that she evaluated the scroll's length relative to typical nineteenth-century paper manuscripts rather than to typical Ptolemaic papyrus scrolls.

3) In my paper I provide a third piece of evidence, which as far as I know has not been cited by apologists. An 1857 summary of the contents of Wyman's Museum mentions "papyrus scrolls," then clarifies, "some large fragments of Egyptian papyrus scrolls, with pieratic (priestly) inscriptions, and drawings representing the judgment of the dead, many Egyptian gods and sacred animals, with certain chapters from the old Egyptian sacred books." This reference, however, is vague, and it's unclear how large or fragmented the "scrolls" described are supposed to be.

This evidence would be enough to persuade me of the length of the missing papyrus if not for the contrary data. Several lines of evidence appear to contradict the hypothesis of a large missing Hor scroll. Briefly, they are as follows:

1) An early Egyptologist named Gustavus Seyffarth viewed the missing papyrus in 1856 and described only the Hor text and Facsimile 3. He gave no indication of another text on the scroll, and in fact explicitly denied that the scroll contained a record of Abraham.

2) Klaus Baer predicted that the missing portion of the Hor text would be around sixty centimeters. When Andrew Cook and I did our analysis of scroll geometry, our estimate of the missing length agreed almost exactly with Baer's estimate. We were actually rather shocked at how closely the two figures agreed. In fact, based on the Haven accounts and the museum catalog, I had actually expected to find the missing portion was longer than that.

I know some readers have felt I'm being too dismissive of the accounts that are favorable to a longer missing scroll, but I'm being only as dismissive as I feel the better part of the evidence requires me to be. The close agreement of Baer's estimate with our geometric analysis, coupled with Seyffarth's scholarly report on the scroll's contents, is far more specific and concrete than the vague nineteenth century references to a "long" roll or "large" fragments.

Anyway, the length of the missing portion of the scroll is pretty irrelevant from an apologetic standpoint, since there are also several lines of evidence agreeing that the extant fragments were the ones used to translate the Book of Abraham. I briefly describe that evidence in my JWHA paper.

California Kid on Mormon Discussions

Also, this video demonstrates how modern science can determine how long a scroll was: The Joseph Smith Papyri



Joseph's Alphabet & Grammar has been declared by Egyptologists to be completely wrong

True believer's response

The Alphabet & Grammar manuscripts that the church has in its possession were written by scribes that Joseph used. Since Joseph didn't actually write these (except for 4 pages of Egyptian Alphabet material) no one can prove 100% that Joseph actually dictated these manuscripts. This could be merely the attempts from scribes to try to figure out what Joseph was doing.

Reference: Summarized from various apologist websites such as FAIR.

Critic's response

Joseph almost always used scribes to dictate his scriptural writings. He dictated the entire Book of Mormon. How convenient is it to say that anything that is wrong was done by the scribes? If the material produced by the scribes was incorrect then why would Joseph allow them to be produced in the first place? As they were completely erroneous, why let the scribes believe they were doing it right?

Consider Joseph Smith's own words as recorded in B. H. Roberts' History of the Church:

[July, 1835] -- The remainder of this month I 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. (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 238)

Notice that Joseph is not saying he would someday like to put together an alphabet and grammar of the Egyptian language, as Nibley's writings imply, but that he claims that he actually is, in 1835, "engaged in translating an alphabet" and "arranging a grammar."

Again, from Smith's diary account:

October 1 [, 1835] -- This afternoon labored on the Egyptian alphabet, in company with Brothers O. Cowdery and W. W. Phelps, and during the research, the principles of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients unfolded to our understanding, the particulars of which will appear hereafter. (Ibid, p. 286)

Notice also that the "astronomy" Smith describes (a significant factor within both the Grammar material and the Book of Abraham subject matter) was "unfolded…during the research" -- not "received by inspiration" or as the result of "speculations," "probings," or "intellectual flights."

Another significant entry states,

November 17, 1835 -- Exhibited the alphabet of the ancient records, to Mr. Holmes, and some others" (Ibid, p. 316).

Joseph Speaking Egyptian

Additional evidence shows that Joseph Smith consistently represented the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and all the material related to it as a serious matter. A good example of this is found in a small pamphlet published in 1844 entitled The Voice of Truth. In it, Smith was quoted at length as he demonstrated his linguistic prowess by quoting brief phrases from seventeen different languages, in quick succession (emphasis added):

Were I a Chaldean I would exclaim, Keed'nauh to-me-roon lehoam elauhayauh dey - ahemayana veh aur'hau lau gnaubadoo, yabadoo ma-ar'gnau comeen tehoat sheamyauh allah (Thus shall ye say unto them: The gods that have not made the heaven and the earth, they shall perish from the earth, and from these heavens.) An Egyptian, Su-e-eh-ni (What other persons are those?) A Grecian, Diabolos basileuei (The Devil reigns.) A Frenchman, Messieurs sans Dieu (Gentlemen without God.) …

And on Smith goes, quoting brief clips of Turkish, German, Syrian, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Danish, Latin, and other languages. It is notable that the phrases Smith uses from various languages do not constitute the related thoughts of a single message, but appear to be randomly selected phrases from various dictionaries. Even the Chaldean quoted is no more than an approximate translation of the Hebrew of Jeremiah 10:11, apparently copied from Smith's Hebrew Bible. The "Egyptian" he quotes, however, comes directly from the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, page A: Sue-e-eh-ni "What other person is that? Who?"

Of course, a skeptic might question whether Joseph Smith actually uttered such strange words. Did he really write or talk in this manner?

Yes, the evidence shows that he definitely did. On November 13, 1843, Smith wrote a letter that appeared in the newspaper Times and Seasons (of which he had served as editor) which stated in part:

Were I an Egyptian, I would exclaim Jah-oh-eh, Enish-go-on-dosh, Flo-ees-Flos-is-is; [O the earth! the power of attraction, and the moon passing between her and the sun.]

These words were taken directly from pages 29 and 30 of the Grammar material:

Jah-oh-eh: The earth under the government of another or the second of the fixed stars, which is called Enish-go-on-dosh or in other words the power of attra[c]tion it has with the earth. Flo-ees: The moon -- signifying its revolutions, also going between, thereby forming an eclipse. Flos-is-is: The sun in its affinity with Earth and moon -- signifying their revolutions showing the power the one has with the other.

It is also interesting that the words Jah-oh-eh, Enish-go-on-dosh, Floeese, and Kli-flos-is-is occur in the "Explanation" of Facsimile No. 2 in the Book of Abraham.


A final thought on the missing papyri theory. Since all of the papyri that have been found, including facsimile 1, have been proven to be just common Egyptian funeral documents, having nothing at all to do with Abraham, do you really think that if the rest of the papyri that belonged to Joseph Smith were found that it would be interpreted any differently by modern-day Egyptologists? If the Metropolitan Museum called and said that they had found the rest of the Joseph Smith papyri collection, would you in your heart-of-hearts really think that those papyri would actually support Joseph or would you more likely start planning to endorse another theory to explain away Joseph's mistranslations of the Book of Abraham? We know of several faithful LDS that supported this theory but once they looked at the evidence and really thought about it, especially the facsimiles, they no longer supported that position. We don't know of anyone personally, who has looked at the BOA evidence, that still supports that there are or were papyri that if translated by Egyptologists would match Joseph's translations of the BOA. Apologist Jeff Lindsay seems to support this idea however.

True believer's response #2

The Book of Abraham may not have been 'translated' at all. Joseph may have received direct revelation as the source of the Book of Abraham. The papyri scrolls may have been merely a prop which inspired Joseph to inquire of the Lord.

Reference: Theory proposed by Michael Rhodes in The Ensign.

Critic's response.

How often do you hear the Book of Moses being disparaged by critics of the Church? The Book of Moses is almost never brought up by critics because The Church and Joseph Smith himself said he received the Book of Moses by revelation and there are no physical documents assigned to the Book of Moses. But Joseph very clearly said he translated the Book of Abraham as well as the Book of Mormon from some real tangible items.

This revelation theory doesn't seem to be valid for the following reasons:

  1. The Book of Abraham itself says it is a translation of the papyri.

    From the preface to the Book of Abraham:



    A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. - The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus."

    How much plainer can it be when the canonized Book of Abraham itself says it is a translation of papyri?

  2. Joseph said many times that he was translating from the papyri.

    As mentioned earlier, these are some of the directs quotes from Joseph's own diary:

    … with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. -- a more full account of which will appear in its place as I proceed to examine or unfold them (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 236).

    [July, 1835] -- The remainder of this month I 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. (History of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 238)

    Notice that Joseph is not saying he would someday like to put together an alphabet and grammar of the Egyptian language, as Nibley's writings imply, but that he claims that he actually is, in 1835, "engaged in translating an alphabet" and "arranging a grammar." Again, from Smith's diary account:

    October 1 [, 1835] -- This afternoon labored on the Egyptian alphabet, in company with Brothers O. Cowdery and W. W. Phelps, and during the research, the principles of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients unfolded to our understanding, the particulars of which will appear hereafter. (Ibid, p. 286)

    Notice also that the "astronomy" Smith describes (a significant factor within both the Grammar material and the Book of Abraham subject matter) was "unfolded… during the research" -- not "received by inspiration" or as the result of "speculations," "probings," or "intellectual flights." Another significant entry states,

    November 17, 1835 -- Exhibited the alphabet of the ancient records, to Mr. Holmes, and some others" (Ibid, p. 316).
  3. Why bother trying to decipher the Egyptian language?

    Why would Joseph or the Church scribes bother working on the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar book? If Joseph received direct revelation for the Book of Abraham why spend all that time and effort in producing the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar book? And if Joseph was going to make such a grammar book, why would he make one that was totally wrong?

    Joseph believed he knew how to translate Egyptian as evidence by his use of Egyptian terms in talks as mentioned above.

  4. Why pay $2,400 for the papyri?

    Furthermore, if, Joseph Smith received the Book of Abraham by revelation, not translation, why did he and his followers pay the then enormous sum of $2,400 for pagan Egyptian papyri that have nothing to do with the biblical Abraham?

  5. Why was this not the Church's position before the papyri were rediscovered?

    Prior to the rediscovery of the Joseph Smith papyri in 1966, the LDS Church's official position regarding the Book of Abraham was consistent and straightforward: Abraham, the biblical patriarch, had personally written a record of his experiences in Egypt, and had even illustrated it for clarity. This same record had been hidden up, preserved through time, and eventually delivered into the hands of Joseph Smith in the year 1835. Smith then translated the papyri by the gift and power of God, producing what is now known as the Book of Abraham. Prior to 1967, it seemed unlikely there would ever be reason for any Latter-day Saint to question this position.

    Why wasn't this ever the church's position before Egyptologists started questioning Joseph's translation? If the BOA was really brought forth by revelation and not translation then why didn't the church ever say that in the last 150+ years? Why did it take finding evidence that cast doubt on the translation method to have the church change their mind on the process? The church only seems to change their beliefs (like the limited geography theory of the Book of Mormon, The Kinderhook Plates, location of Hill Cumorah, American Indians as the principle ancestors of the Lamanites, etc.) when contradictory evidence disproves their history. This seems inconsistent with a church run by modern day prophets and continuing revelation.

  6. Revelation doesn't explain the facsimiles.

    If Joseph received everything by revelation then why are Joseph's explanations of the three facsimiles totally wrong? Would God give incorrect revelation to Joseph? Every non-Mormon Egyptologist that has examined the facsimiles has said that Joseph's translation of the three facsimiles is totally wrong regardless of whether he came up with his explanations via translation or revelation or some other method.

There is another theory we've heard from some LDS members trying to explain this. Essentially they say that the Egyptian language has degenerated over hundreds of years so that the original meaning and depictions of the facsimiles has been completely lost and Joseph was trying to give what they originally meant. Egyptologists find this explanation to be without any merit. Even the LDS Church will not endorse this argument.

Other intellectual theories are discussed in Chapter 11 of Larson's book.

What is the Church's Official Response to the Controversy?

In 2013 the Church began releasing essays addressing troubling issues in its history. An essay on the Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham was published on 8 July 2014 and is now in the topical guide of the website: The essay on is found here: Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.

Perhaps the most knowledgeable Egyptologist on the BOA papyri, Robert Ritner, has responded to the LDS essay. Please read his comments at MormonThink's response to the Book of Abraham Essay.

Prior to this, here are the most "official" responses we could find on explaining the problems with the BOA translation:


The closest thing is probably Michael Rhodes' article in the July, 1988 Ensign where someone asked 'Why doesn't the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?' This isn't necessarily doctrine but the articles in The Ensign are approved by the First Presidency.

Ensign article

Note: The title of the article alone should be somewhat disconcerting to LDS members.

Some highlights of the article with rebuttal by critic Randy Jordan:

>Abraham refers to a picture in the text of the book of Abraham (Abr. 1:12), and this picture is presumed to be the one we call facsimile one;

"Presumed to be" because Joseph Smith personally so labeled it and had it published as such in the newspaper which he owned and edited.

>therefore, some people have concluded that this Book of Breathings must be the text Joseph Smith used in his translation of the book of Abraham. However, there are some serious problems associated with this assumption.

Yep, there's a serious problem, all right: Joseph Smith wrote that the lion-couch vignette was found "at the beginning of *this record*"; thus, the fragment which Smith claimed to be the BoA had to be the one of which the vignette was a part.

>First of all, from paleographic and historical considerations, the Book of Breathings papyrus can reliably be dated to around A.D. 60-much too late for Abraham to have written it. Of course, it could be a copy-or a copy of a copy-of the original written by Abraham.

That's an absolutely silly theory, because Egyptian funerary documents were created as needed for specific decedents; the scrolls which Smith claimed to be the BoA contained the name of the particular decedents whose mummified remains they were interred with. Thus, Rhodes' theory is as silly as opining that a modern-day decedents' printed funeral program, which includes his name and other relevant personal information, is actually some completely unrelated document.

Furthermore, the lion-couch vignette was commonly-used imagery in the Egyptian funerary rites of the era; for apologists like Rhodes to theorize that a particular one somehow related to a story about the Biblical character Abraham is silly. It's sort of like if someone 1000 years from now unearths a 20th-century Catholic painting of Jesus with his sacred heart exposed, and opines that it actually depicts an ancient open-heart surgery, or something equally clueless.

>However, a second problem arises when one compares the text of the book of Abraham with a translation of the Book of Breathings; they clearly are not the same. Enemies of the Church have noted this and, without considering any other facts, have assumed that this proves the Prophet's translation to be a hoax.

It's not just "enemies of the church" who say that; it's every scholar of Egyptology who isn't a faithful Latter-day Saint. The reason we know that Smith's "translation" is a hoax is because of what *he* personally said and wrote---not what some "enemies of the church" have opined.

>Actually, there are two possible explanations why the text of the recently discovered papyri does not match the text in the Pearl of Great Price.One explanation is that it may have been taken from a different portion of the papyrus rolls in Joseph Smith's possession. In other words, we don't have all the papyri Joseph Smith had-and what we do have is obviously not the text of the book of Abraham.

It doesn't matter if we had every bit of papyrus that Smith owned; we have enough to know that Smith was clueless as to the documents' actual meaning and purpose. The apologists' problem is that Smith claimed that all three surviving "facsimiles" related to the BoA---but in fact, they all deal with ancient Egyptian funerary rites, and have nothing to do with the Judeo-Christian religion or "Abraham" in the least.

The hilarious thing about these apologists is that on the one hand, they'll say that "Smith's translations don't match the fragments, so the BoA must have come from other missing portions"; but then they'll turn around and defend some points of Smith's "interpretations" as being somewhat correct. They can't have it both ways.

Their arguments are like Maxwell Smart's "Would you believe…?" empty threats. Hey, if you don't believe silly theory #1, maybe you'll believe equally silly theory #2.

>In reality, the actual method Joseph Smith used is far less important than the resulting book of scripture he produced.

Translation: "Just because he made it up, doesn't mean it isn't true." :-)

>But here the Prophet's critics prefer to ignore the evidence of the text itself.

The text of the BoA proves it to be a fraud just as much as Smith's bogus "interpretations" of the papyrus fragments do. The story perpetuates the debunked myths of the young-earth creation and the global Noachic flood. The tale about Egypt being founded after the flood by "Egyptus" is nonsensical in light of the fact that ancient Egypt was populated and civilized for many thousands of years before the mythical flood, with no evidence of habitation interrupted by any catastrophic deluge.

Also, as I point out on a regular basis, the ancient Egyptians called their land "Kemet," meaning "black," in reference to the rich black soil of the Nile Delta. "Egypt" is the Anglicized version of "Aigyptos," which the invading Greeks named the land hundreds of years after the time of the mythical Noah.

So it doesn't really matter what religious ideas Smith put into his story; the BoA is obviously a modern fabrication, so nothing written in it could possibly be "true" or valuable to mankind.

>>In the final analysis, however, the proof of the truth of the Book of Abraham does not come by human means. As with all aspects of the restored gospel, "by the power of the Holy Ghost [we] may know the truth of all things." (Moro. 10:5.) I have studied the book of Abraham, and the truth of it has been made known to me in a way I can't deny. I know that anyone who earnestly wants to know if the book of Abraham is true can also receive this same witness and knowledge from God.

There you have it. If you don't get a burning bosom then it is your fault!

Ex-Mormon LDS critic Randy Jordan


What, exactly, is the purpose and significance of the facsimiles in the book of Abraham?

From the March, 1976 Ensign, Some highlights from the article:

What, exactly, is the purpose and significance of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham?

Today Abraham is being hailed by scholars of all denominations as the key figure, next to Christ, in the story of God's dealings with men. The facsimiles confirm the book of Abraham and place before our eyes a present and tangible tie with the patriarch himself. It is not farfetched. Joseph Smith's presentation is now receiving powerful confirmation from four directions: (1) the newly published Abraham documents and legends, (2) the classical sources which, now read in a new light, back them up, (3) the Egyptian ritual sources disclosing heretofore unsuspected riches, and (4) the vast spread of studies in comparative religion and literature, showing that the events set forth in the text and facsimiles of the book of Abraham actually belong to well-established routines found all over the ancient world.

Critic's response: The article says nothing concrete to show that Joseph translated the facsimiles correctly. Nibley's responses are just a bunch of random statements, in which minor points are bolstered by copious authorities (so they look academic and well thought out) and major statements are just put out and left dangling without any support in the hope that the appearance of scholarship will hide their essential nullity.

It doesn't make sense because it is nonsense. They deliberately write that way to make you feel like you aren't smart enough to understand what they know at their advanced level of academia. If they were REALLY smart, they would be able to communicate their knowledge to their actual audience, who are lay people. The fact that they won't makes an unbiased person think that they're hiding something, and they are. Where's the evidence?

Read it for yourself and see what you think.


The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Prepared by the Church Educational System, Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Salt Lake City, Utah; 1989, 1993, 2000, 2003 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

"In 1967 eleven fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri were rediscovered by Doctor Aziz S. Atiya, in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Studies of them have confirmed that they are mainly ancient Egyptian funerary texts of the sort commonly buried with royalty and nobility and designed to guide them through their eternal journeyings. This has renewed the question about the connection between the records and the book of Abraham. Joseph Smith did not explain the method of translating the book of Abraham, just as he did not explain fully how the Book of Mormon was translated. Nevertheless, like the Book of Mormon, the book of Abraham is its own evidence that it came about through the gift and power of God."


THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE Student Manual, (2000), 28–41

How Did the Prophet Translate the Ancient Writings?

On 3 July 1835 a man named Michael Chandler brought four Egyptian mummies and several papyrus scrolls of ancient Egyptian writings to Kirtland, Ohio. The mummies and papyri had been discovered in Egypt several years earlier by Antonio Lebolo. Kirtland was one of many stops in the eastern United States for Chandler's mummy exhibition. Chandler was offering the mummies and rolls of papyrus for sale and, at the urging of the Prophet Joseph Smith, several members of the Church donated money to purchase them. In a statement dated 5 July 1835, Joseph Smith, declaring the importance of these ancient Egyptian writings, recorded: "I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham… . Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth" (History of the Church, 2:236).

How Did the Prophet Translate the Ancient Writings?

The Prophet Joseph Smith never communicated his method of translating these records. As with all other scriptures, a testimony of the truthfulness of these writings is primarily a matter of faith. 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.

Why Did the Prophet Joseph Smith Say He Translated the Writings of Abraham When the Manuscripts Do Not Date to Abraham's Time?

In 1966 eleven fragments of papyri once possessed by the Prophet Joseph Smith were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were given to the Church and have been analyzed by scholars who date them between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. A common objection to the authenticity of the book of Abraham is that the manuscripts are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, who lived almost two thousand years before Christ. Joseph Smith never claimed that the papyri were autographic (written by Abraham himself), nor that they dated from the time of Abraham. It is common to refer to an author's works as "his" writings, whether he penned them himself, dictated them to others, or others copied his writings later.

What Did the Prophet Joseph Smith Do with His Translation?

The book of Abraham was originally published a few excerpts at a time in Times and Seasons, a Church publication, beginning in March 1842 at Nauvoo, Illinois (see Introductory Note at the beginning of the Pearl of Great Price). The Prophet Joseph Smith indicated that he would publish more of the book of Abraham later, but he was martyred before he was able to do so. Concerning the potential length of the completed translation, Oliver Cowdery once said that "volumes" would be necessary to contain it (see Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1835, 236).

In addition to hieroglyphic writings, the manuscript also contained Egyptian drawings. On 23 February 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked Reuben Hedlock, a professional wood engraver and member of the Church, to prepare woodcuts of three of those drawings so they could be printed. Hedlock finished the engravings in one week, and Joseph Smith published the copies (facsimiles) along with the book of Abraham. Joseph Smith's explanations of the drawings accompany the facsimiles.

What Happened to the Mummies and the Papyri?

After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the four mummies and the papyri became the property of Joseph's widowed mother, Lucy Mack Smith. At Lucy's death in 1856, Emma Smith, the Prophet's wife, sold the collection to Mr. A. Combs. Several theories have been offered regarding what happened subsequently to the mummies and the papyri. It appears that at least two of the mummies were burned in the great Chicago fire of 1871 (see B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vols. [1909-11], 2:380-382).

In the early spring of 1966, Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, a University of Utah professor, discovered several fragments of the book of Abraham papyri while doing research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These fragments were presented to the Church by the director of the museum on 27 November 1967. The current whereabouts of the other mummies and the other portions of the papyri are unknown (see H. Donl Peterson, "Some Joseph Smith Papyri Rediscovered (1967)" in Studies in Scripture, Volume Two, 183-85).

What Is the Significance of the Book of Abraham?

The book of Abraham is an evidence of the inspired calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It came forth at a time when the study of the ancient Egyptian language and culture was just beginning. The scholars of the 1800s had scarcely begun to explore the field of Egyptology, and yet, with no formal training in ancient languages and no knowledge of ancient Egypt (except his work with the Book of Mormon), Joseph Smith began his translation of the ancient manuscripts. His knowledge and ability came through the power and gift of God, together with his own determination and faith."

Reference: Pearl of Great Price student manual

Why are LDS scholars trying to answer these issues instead of the LDS leadership?

What is perhaps the most troubling issue to us is that when the papyri were found why wasn't it presented to the current prophet of the LDS Church at the time, David O. McKay, to have him inquire of the Lord regarding the papyri instead of having LDS scholars try to figure it out?

One of the things we really like about the church is the fact that we are led by modern-day prophets who guide us and receive revelation from God on important matters. We can't help but wonder why David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley or Thomas S. Monson has not asked the Lord why the translation of the BOA by Egyptologists does not match what Joseph said they did? Has revelation ceased? This is a very troubling and important matter that has been the catalyst for many people leaving the church and we think it deserves an answer by the leaders of the church instead of various differing opinions by LDS scholars with absolutely no authority to speak for the church.

We can only guess that the church doesn't really know what the answer is or they don't want to tell the members for some reason. They don't seem to want to talk about it at all. The issue is not found in the lesson books on the BOA. Yet the LDS scholars still continue to attempt to find explanations. I guess it is a win-win situation for the church because they let the LDS apologists fight the battles without committing to anything that might be disproved later.

It makes me wonder why conference after conference we sustain the president of the church as a prophet, seer and revelator when he never really prophesies, acts as a seer or receives any really meaningful revelation that the members ask for.

Did the gift of seer end with Joseph Smith?

Some may claim that the actual gift of being a seer ended with Joseph Smith, despite the fact that we sustain the current prophet twice a year at general conference specifically as a prophet, seer and revelator. Here's a sample of quotes from apostles many decades after Joseph died:

1878 Orson Pratt had seen fit to challenge the world on this subject, declaring in one of his sermons: "Have any of the other denominations got this gift among them? Go and inquire through all of Christendom…'Can you translate ancient records written in a language that is lost to the knowledge of man?' No…the universal reply of the Christian denominations, numbering some 400,000,000, would be that they have not the power to do it…you must give us credit," he had chided, "of at least professing to have these great and important gifts."

Nor was Apostle Pratt's point taken lightly by others in the Church; several decades later another Apostle, John A. Widtsoe, pointedly explained that if "records appear needing translation, the President of the Church may at any time be called, through revelation, to the special labor of translation."

And if ever there was a time when there were records needing translation, the Saints could reason, surely it was now -- for who but Heavenly Father could have orchestrated such a glorious opportunity? And if these fragments turned out to contain any of the original Book of Abraham -- well, who then could deny the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel?


The last argument usually given by the LDS faithful

If the papyri were translated by Egyptologists and found to match up 100% with what Joseph had translated into the Book of Abraham then we wouldn't need faith. Everyone would join the LDS church as we would have proof that Joseph was truly a prophet, seer and revelator because he could not possibly have been able to translate Egyptian at the time. The main underlying principle of the gospel is faith not proof.

Critic's response.

Do you really think everyone would join the LDS Church if Egyptologists verified Joseph's translations? We're sure they would have some more members but it would not dominate the world's religions for the following reasons:

  1. The Book of Abraham is a relatively minor work (only 5 chapters) compared to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants. Establishing the validity of this one, small work would not serve as proof that everything Joseph did was inspired from God. Many people believe he was a fallen prophet. Many of the original witnesses such as David Whitmer believed Joseph divinely translated the BOM but later fell from grace with God when he strayed from God's teachings. People may accept his translation of the papyri but that's a far cry from accepting the entire LDS religion.
  2. This still wouldn't satisfy everyone. Look at the story of Laman and Lemuel from our very own BOM. They saw the angel, were rebuked by the Lord many times yet they only believed for a little while - one of the themes of the BOM. Even the Israelites did not believe for very long after seeing all the miracles done through Moses. And what about the people that witnessed Christ's miracles? Even Christ's apostles lost faith so we don't think having Egyptologists verify one small set of scriptures from Joseph would cause a universal sustained conversion to the LDS church.
  3. There are still a lot of things that people find objectionable about the LDS faith - e.g. polygamy, belief in multiple gods, racism, God was once a man, men can become gods, temple ceremony, etc. These issues wouldn't go away with the verification of the BOA.
  4. Which Mormon Church would they join? There are scores of different sects of the church Joseph started. Although there is one dominant one far larger than the rest, the debate over which one would still remain. The Catholic Church is far larger than all the protestant churches combined yet the protestants are not willing to admit that the Catholic Church is true based on numbers alone. Up until about 50 years ago, the LDS church was just a speck on the total religions of the world and even now the current LDS church is less than 0.2% of the world's population.

Some of us think that if there was just a hint of some proof such as the word 'Abraham' being on just one of the papyri fragments then that would perhaps be enough to keep many people in the church but not be so overwhelming that we wouldn't still need a lot of faith. The problem with the BOA isn't a lack of evidence, which is why faith is needed, the problem is all the evidence contradicts everything the church has taught about the BOA since it was first published.

What do the LDS Apologists say?

LDS apologists are members of the church that defend the church. Some are employed by the church through the Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) which is now called the Neal Maxwell Institute and some work independently. Since the Church officials will not take an official stance on the BOA controversy, many LDS apologists have come up various defenses and answers to the Book of Abraham dilemma. The LDS apologists cannot agree on one theory so several contradictory theories have been formulated by them.

Hugh Nibley changed his mind so many times in his zeal to find an answer to this dilemma that he finally exclaimed; "I refuse to be held responsible for anything I wrote more than three years ago. For heaven's sake, I hope we are moving forward here. After all, the implication that one mistake and it is all over with -- how flattering to think in forty years I have not made one slip and I am still in business! I would say that about four-fifths of everything I put down has changed, of course." December 1979 issue of Sunstone magazine.

When the papyri was first discovered, many LDS people were very excited. One BYU professor exclaimed that now we will be able to prove to the world that Joseph could translate ancient documents. When the evidence started to look bad for the church, instead of examining the translation of the papyri, some LDS scholars like Nibley started instead to look for evidence of Abraham in Egypt. We don't know how this would prove whether or not Joseph's translation of the papyri was correct.

If you ask most LDS members or officials why the papyri doesn't match Joseph's translation, most quickly jump to 'it must have been by revelation or something'. They know enough to not try to discredit the science of Egyptology. Even Michael Rhodes, in his first Ensign article on the BOA, favored the revelation method since the papyri was so obviously not supporting Joseph Smith's translation.

However most of the apologists now seem to be trying to defend the papyri by saying that Joseph did use the papyri and that his translations of Egyptian are somehow accurate. Even Michael Rhodes seems to be backing off of his original belief that the papyri were not really used in producing the BOA.

We think the apologists are really stretching the limits of imagination in trying to say that Joseph's translations are correct when all the nonLDS Egyptologists say Joseph was completely wrong. It is no wonder that the church doesn't officially endorse their theories.

Here are some articles where these LDS apologists defend the Book of Abraham:

A comment on the LDS apologists

The concern we have with the LDS apologists is that they do not look at the Book of Abraham issues objectively. They have already concluded that the Church is true and any contradictory evidence that shows up must be wrong and they try to 'back in' to an explanation (any explanation) as to not upset their faith. (We have the same complaint about critics of the Church who also do not consider that their opponents may be correct.) We ask everyone to look at all the BOA arguments and then honestly ask what makes the most sense.

Many faithful LDS will briefly skim an article written by a prominent LDS apologist on the BOA. The article will likely be confusing and not fully understood by the average member but many will say that is good enough for them—simply the fact that it has been addressed faithfully will do. The article may not even really address all the issues but may sound impressive enough to pacify the questioning member. The reasoning is thus: "If this LDS scholar can accept the BOA, then so can I," even though they don't really understand the arguments and counter-arguments.

Ask yourself, did the apologist really answer the specific questions or just provide some interesting information. Here's some examples from The Book of Abraham Project (Link is here.). The apologist writes a long explanation defending the BOA. It sounds impressive. He lists many of the arguments accurately, then goes off on some tangents talking about the motives and other undesirable attributes of the so-called 'anti-Mormons'. What we want to know is why doesn't Joseph's translation of the facsimiles match what Egyptologists say they mean. His answer:

"Most of Joseph Smith's interpretations of the facsimiles have been shown to be in the general ballpark although "there has been little or no work done on [these types of texts by Egyptologists] since the end of the last century."

That's it? His answer to the question is a vague sentence with no details. He has a footnote that references some FARMS sources. If you go to those resources absolutely no where will you see any real explanation as to why Joseph said that was Abraham in the facsimile while the Egyptian symbols above the figure translates to Horus. None of these are even close to being adequately explained. This is a major issue and completely glossed over. The fact is Egyptologists have examined these types of facsimiles and the evidence clearly shows Joseph interpreted the facsimiles incorrectly.

"The book of Abraham has close affinities to a large number of apocryphal and Egyptian writings to which Joseph Smith could have had no access."

What is that supposed to mean? It sounds impressive, but where are the examples of these large number of 'affinities'? Nowhere does he show any information at all that supports his statement.

"The astronomy detailed in the Book of Abraham does not match the heliocentric astronomy of Joseph Smith's or our own time, but can be consistently interpreted as a geocentric astronomy like that characteristic of the ancient Mediterranean world."

Does that explain why Joseph believed them? The astronomy that the Lord showed Abraham is simply wrong. This deserves more explanation if there is one.

This is a pattern used by many apologists where they give a vague answer, reference some footnotes to make it sound like there is a more detailed, full explanation somewhere that explains everything and hope that satisfies the reader. If there was a good explanation they would simply say it in the article. Most of the footnotes reference other vague material that doesn't really answer the questions either. Unfortunately this strategy just leads to members prematurely concluding that there is good solid evidence proving their point when in fact there may not be. Simply put: did he really answer the questions?

Also the LDS apologists have absolutely no authority to speak for the church and unless the church leaders specifically endorse one of the apologists many differing theories as doctrine then these theories should be treated in the context of simply being another member's opinion.


From a former FAIR apologist

From Kerry Shirts (backyardprofessor) on Recovery from Mormonism website, May 19, 2013:

As a former apologist (NOT a former Mormon, I am just seriously inactive), I can say unequivocally, the PROBLEM with the assumption of apologists is that they BEGIN with the truth. Apologetics is about circling the wagons around the camp and defending the turf. It is not about learning, or discovering truth, or even analyzing new information. It is all about DEFENDING what one has, and that is simply, without question, THE TRUTH.

I was on the FAIR apologetics email list for decades, I KNOW how apologists think, and I argued with them at times about it. They can't help it, they have a specific task, and they dutifully carry it out.

As a researcher (and you CANNOT see this when you are on the inside, I swear this is the most shocking thing I have personally discovered for myself) you begin with the answer. Then you find anything and everything that simply supports your already arrived at answer. You truly for the most part, ignore anything of dissent apart from the conclusion you have already arrived at, and the carefully selected evidence you choose gets you to that conclusion as well. That is why in ANY organized religion, they all simply pick and choose which verse in the scripture is comfortable and then pretend like THAT is the whole context and whole Gospel. NO ONE SECT actually *believes* what the Bible says and means. It is always and forever self-interpreted with self interest in mind, without exception, even when they deny that is what they are doing.

I was one of the VERY best in that regard. My zeal just blew my knowledge out of the water. I could put together research papers of 55 pages, with well over 400 sources cited in just 2-4 weeks. It was a snap. Read through [hundreds] of articles until you found something that had even a sort of similarity to what you have concluded and throw it in there. It looks mighty impressive to see a paper with 400 footnotes!!!

It's all phony though. That isn't research. That doesn't lead us to anything realistic or actual. It leads us to the goal we already are determined to arrive at and it's quite frankly, simply wrong. But, and I stress this, unless you have actually been there you cannot fathom how this works, I cannot fathom it either, YOU DO NOT SEE YOURSELF DOING THIS!

Not one apologist in ANY area of religious research (take [your] pick of whatever sect you [want to] name) ever……EVER simply follows the evidence and lets it lead to the truth. Not in apologetics. In apologetics, the truth is already known and all research leads to that truth, or you are booted out. It's that simple….. and that silly.

This is WHY religion will not and actually simply cannot ever agree with each other. They are all correct….. in their own eyes, and all others are false, again in their own eyes, and they can PROVE it!……well, at least within their own apologetic bias for their own views.

So be charitable and easy on the apologists…….they cannot help it. Weird as this sounds, it's like a person who has Alzheimer's. They truly cannot help it, their brain is not functioning correctly. They have never been taught how to think accurately, correctly, or critically. They simply don't have that training. Organized religion teaches you to believe, not to think. And the apologist actually is far better at simply putting together sources that also teach you to believe in what you are told, not to get you to think through it critically, carefully, and with the full context. That's just the way I see it. This comes after decades of experience…



Some responses to the LDS apologists' explanations to the Book of Abraham issues

Here's a handful of some responses to the LDS apologists claims:

The Latest Apologetic Comments


On August 6, 2009, noted LDS Egyptologist John Gee gave a talk on the Book of Abraham called "The Larger Issue". It is available here. Although he defended the Book of Abraham, to our surprise he also said some things that made it sound as if maybe the Book of Abraham wasn't necessarily true:

The BOA is not central to the Church. The first 50 years wasn't even in the canon.

Something to keep in mind in BOA Apologetics: Church does not rise and fall on the veracity of the BOA.

Fundamental principles are of Christ. etc. All other things are appendages. The BOA is an appendage.

Of the 102,037 scriptural citations in Conference since 1932, BOA cited 731 times, less than 1%. The D&C 38x as frequently. Etc.


The following quotes were printed in the Church News:

The Book of Abraham is not central to the restored gospel of Christ.

To illustrate, he said that of all the scriptural citations in general conference since 1942, the Book of Abraham has been cited less than 1 percent of the time. Most of those citations are the seven verses in Abraham 3:22-29, which tell of the pre-mortal existence.

The Church does not stand or fall on the Book of Abraham.

It sure sounds like Gee is trying to cut a hole in the wall, to make a door to escape from having to defend the Book of Abraham any longer. "The Church does not rise and fall on the veracity of the BOA." That sure sounds like an escape hatch the church would be happy to use. Could this be a foreshadowing of how the church will someday treat the Book of Abraham?

NOTE: It wasn't just presented at a FAIR Conference, but most of Gee's talk was printed in the Church News. This appears to be some sort of endorsement of Gee's remarks by the LDS Church.

The strongest LDS apologist argument - The Lion Couch with Abraham's name on it.

The links to the apologist web sites in the section above give their individual defenses to why they think the BOA is scripture despite the noted problems. The strongest argument offered by the apologists appears to be the identification of the name 'Abraham' found on other Egyptian papyri that are not part of the papyri Joseph purchased.

The apologist argument is best described by LDS Egyptologist John Gee:

Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts

The critic's argument best refuting this as evidence is by LDS Egyptologist Edward H. Ashment:

The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham [archived backup here: Part 1 and Part 2]

Professor Robert Ritner addresses this in his response to the Church Essay:

The web posting notes also two writings by John Gee (notes 44 and 45), purporting to prove a memory of the sacrifice of Abraham by Pharaoh in later Egypt. It is not fully accurate to claim that the third-century Demotic papyrus cited by Gee "connects Abraham with an illustration similar to facsimile 1 in the book of Abraham." The text in question, a Leiden magical papyrus in Demotic Egyptian and Greek (P. Lugd. Bat. I 384 verso = PGM XII), does include a picture of a mummy attended by Anubis —mentioned by name— on a lion funerary couch (not an "altar"), but the text is a love compulsion spell intended to force a woman to submit to a male's sexual lust, not a reflection of the Book of Abraham. As accompanying magical words of power the speaker recites: "..aydyo oryx thambyto abraam o epy … planoyegxybyoth" etc. The string of abracadabra words does include "abraam," and this spelling has been corrected to "Abraham" in a recent edition.6 However, the name is just one of a string of magical names and no more relevant to the image than "oryx thambyto" or "planoyegxybyoth." Moreover, there is no intent here to represent a sacrifice, just Osiris tended by Anubis, who are both invoked to inflame the libido of the female victim of the spell. The body on the lion bed is certainly that of the deceased Osiris (as it is Hôr's vignette), not a threatened Abraham.

In combination with other borrowed Old Testament names, Abraham (in varying spellings) occurs as a name of power throughout the magical papyri, but there is no special connection with the lion bed. In PGM V, line 481, the magician invokes Zeus by declaring: "for I am Silthachoouch, Lailam," etc., mixing into the middle of the list a snippet of the Jewish blessing "Barouch Adonai, Eloi Abraam" ("Blessed be Jawhe, … god of Abraham").7 In PGM VII, line 315, the "famous name Abraam" begins a string of protective names combining Bes, Iabaoth, and "the son of the female falcon."8 Most commonly, Abraam is invoked together with Isaac and Jacob as in the long list of magical names in PGM XII, 287 (… Saphtha Nouchitha Abraan Isak Iakkobi …) or the probable targum extract in PGM XIII, 976.9 The latter papyrus also protects against the evil eye by declaring (among a string of magical names): "I have received the power of Abraam, Isak and Iakob, and of the great god, daimon IAO."10 Another love compulsion spell invokes the Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah and concludes with a list of names mixing archangels, abracadabra words and Abraham: "I adjure you by the great Pap Tapheiao Sabbaoth Arbathiao Zagoure Pagoure and by the great Michael Zouriel Gabriel Sensengenbarpharanges Istrael Abraam, attract her, NN to NN."11 The use of the name Abraham in all of these magical passages derives from late Egyptian knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and contemporary Jewish tradition, not from an apocryphal Book of Abraham.

In Jeremy Runnels, CES Letter, he explains it more simply:

This image actually comes from an Alchemy (magic) book written 300 years after Christ. Abraham was not an unknown. The same magical book that has this image in it also has Noah turning lead into gold. The magical book basically takes all of the biblical figures of significance and correlates them to Alchemy by rewriting their histories.

Yes, the book incorporates some Egyptian, but that writing with Abraham's name on it is in Greek. Right there in the picture. It is not Egyptian.

I emailed two respected Egyptologists, Dr. Kara Cooney of UCLA and Dr. Robert Ritner of University of Chicago. I forwarded the image and FairMormon's claim and asked them to share their professional opinion. Dr. Kara Cooney of UCLA graciously replied back to me on July 11, 2013:

Kara Cooney

ABRAAM is really there, yes. It's part of a list of names of power, but it doesn't connect to the lion bed at all, and it's not labeling anything on the bed. It's not a label or caption, in other words, but part of its own spell. It's written in Old Coptic with Greek letters, unlike the rest of the papyrus which is written in Egyptian Demotic. At this late Roman period date, Abraham was known. Jews had been living in Egypt since the 6th century BCE, so there was some understanding of Hebrew beliefs. Judaism and Christianity were both practiced in Egypt. Kerry Muhlstein [LDS Egyptologist/apologist] claims that the text says "the person on this couch is Abraham", but there is no truth to this. ABRAAM is simply written with a list of other names of power as part of a magical spell that has nothing to do with anything in the Mormon Book of Abraham or any human sacrifice or anything like that.

Dr. Robert Ritner has confirmed that the text is Roman in date. The Egyptians certainly knew about Abraham by then, but before Christianity, his name was invoked magically. It's a late text.

So, in brief: The name Abraham was written as part of a Coptic magical spell and was not connected to the lion bed at all. I've written to Dr. Robert Ritner, and he has also corroborated this. I hope this helps.

Dr. Kathlyn M. Cooney, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture
University of California, Los Angeles

[Note: “[LDS Egyptologist/apologist]” and links added to Dr. Cooney's email.]

What a book written in another language 2,500 years after the topic in question, which is clearly a work of propaganda for a particular belief system, has to do with the Book of Abraham or topic at hand, I have no idea other than that FairMormon is really grasping at straws here.

Mormon Egyptologist Stephen Thompson agrees:

It is simply not valid, however, to search through 3,000 years of Egyptian religious iconography to find parallels which can be pushed, prodded, squeezed, or linked in an attempt to justify Joseph's interpretations.

He continues in his footnote:

This is the approach taken in many of the apologetic treatments of the Book of Abraham. See, for example, H. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake: Deseret Book Co., 1981), and "The Three Facsimiles from the Book of Abraham" (Provo, UT: FARMS, n.d.), as well as James Harris, "The Book of Abraham Facsimiles," in R. Millet and K. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, vol. 2, The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: Randall Book Co., 1985), 247-86, and The Facsimilies of the Book of Abraham, A Study of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri (Payson, UT: by the author, 1990), and M. Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (henceforth RBBM) 4 (1992): 120-26. Recently, Daniel Peterson has summarized much of the information found in these works in his "Notes from Antiquity," Ensign 24 (Jan. 1994): 16-21.

What would have been really impressive is if “Abraham” was actually on Facsimile 1 and Joseph's translation was actually correct, which it isn't. As FairMormon correctly described above, Facsimile 1 is a Hor Book of Breathings. It has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham as Joseph claimed and it's dated close to 2,000 years after Abraham lived.

CES Letter - facsimile 3

A modern look at the papyri by a non-LDS Egyptologist

LDS Egyptologist John Gee, member of FARMS, was a student of Egyptology under Robert Ritner. What does John Gee's former mentor have to say about the papyri? University of Chicago Egyptology Professor Ritner wrote a fairly lengthy paper in 2003 which is probably the best, most recent and most professional review of the BOA by an Egyptologist, as well as an exposure of the deceitful tactics that LDS apologists use to defend it.

Dr. Robert Ritner, "'The Breathing Permit of Hor' Among the Joseph Smith Papyri," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, July 2003 issue, Volume 62, Number 3, pp. 161-180.

Professor Ritner indicated that his article was written at the request of several sources to "provide an impartial reassessment of Baer's translation [of the Joseph Smith papyri] in light of Egyptological advances in the past thirty-four years." In doing so, he examined not only Professor Baer's translation work, but also that of Professor Hugh Nibley, and Professor Ritner's own student, Dr. John Gee, author of several BOA articles and books published by the LDS Church. Professor Ritner is generally laudatory of Baer's work, but rather critical of that of Gee and Nibley. In addition, Professor Ritner pointed out an unjustified refusal by the LDS Church for customary scholarly access to the original papyri, and Dr. Gee's failure to follow the customary academic practice in Egyptology of having one's former mentor review articles and other publications in draft form. In the article, Professor Ritner noted, "With regard to the articles by my former student John Gee, I am constrained to note that unlike the interaction between Baer and Nibley, and the practice of all my other Egyptology students, Gee never chose to share drafts of his publications with me to elicit scholarly criticism, so I have encountered these only recently. It must be understood that in these apologetic writings, Gee's opinions do not necessarily reflect my own, nor the standards of Egyptological proof that I require at Yale or Chicago." Dr. Ritner also noted, "A customary scholarly request to examine the original Joseph Smith Papyri for this publication was refused by Steven R. Sorenson, Director of the LDS Church Archives."

In a footnote in the article, Professor Ritner noted a 1912 publication of professional opinion on the BoA's Facsimiles which "…drew uniformly derisive assessments …" from eight distinguished Egyptologists of the time. Professor Ritner said, "Apart from ad hominem attacks on the Egyptologists themselves [Cf. N. L. Nelson, _The Improvement Era_ 16(1913): 606 ff.: "…a jury of Gentiles, prejudicial, ill-tempered and mad with the pride of human learning."], the matter generated little further discussion."

Professor Ritner pointed out Nibley's colorful ad hominem attacks on the 1912 panel of Egyptologists. In a series of 1968 articles in 'The Improvement Era', Nibley called A.B. Mercer "a hustling young clergyman;" said that Sayce was a "spoiled dilettante;" said that Petrie "never went to a theatre;" that Meyer "lacked aesthetic sense" and had a rationalistic bent that "ineffectively [sic] disqualifies himself from the jury;" that Brested was "pro-German;" that von Bissing had "an uncompromising loyalty to a feudal society and feudal religion - hardly the man to look with a kindly eye on the supernaturalism…of a Joseph Smith." Professor Ritner went on to say that "Nibley's tactic has been adopted by his followers. The earlier version of this article produced internet discussions devoted not to the translation, but to scurrilous remarks concerning my own religious and personal habits. Let the scholar be warned."

Below are some excerpts from Ritner's article. Among other items, note that he utterly rejects Smith's assertion that Facsimile No. 1 depicted "Abraham" being sacrificed by a wicked Egyptian priest.

"Smith's hopeless translation also turns the goddess Maat into a male prince, the papyrus owner into a waiter, and the black jackal Anubis into a Negro slave."---page 162, note 4.

Dr. Ritner rejected Joseph Smith's "interpretation" of Facsimile 1 as depicting an attempted sacrifice of "Abraham" by an Egyptian priest by noting that "the most reasonable explanations of the vignettes" [facsimiles] were produced by Klaus Baer, Edward Ashment, and Stephen Thompson, rather than Mormon scholars Hugh Nibley, John Gee, or Michael Rhodes, adding:

"Human sacrifice in Egypt was rare and more properly political execution, never depicted as on the altered Book of Abraham rendition of P JS I…..The early assessments of this material by Egyptologists Breasted, Petrie, Mercer, et al. solicited by Spalding in 1912 remain valid in 2003, despite ad hominem attacks by Nibley, cited by Gee….." Page 168, note 41.

Referring to an article by LDS Egyptologist "Stephen E. Thompson, 'Egyptology and the Book of Abraham,' Dialogue Vol. 28 No. 1 (1995): 145-48", Ritner states:

"Gee's brief rebuttal (A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri, pp. 40 and 67, n. 17) is unacceptable. Reference to a costumed private individual in the Roman procession of Isis is not evidence that the figure of Isis here (no. 2) is 'King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head,' as published by Joseph Smith.

"Smith misunderstood 'Pharaoh' as a personal name (cf. Abraham 1:25), and the name above fig. 2 is unquestionably that of the female Isis. Osiris (fig. 1) is certainly not 'Abraham,' nor is it possible that the altar of Osiris (fig. 3) 'signifies Abraham.' Maat (fig. 4) is not a male 'prince,' Hor (fig. 5) is not a 'waiter,' nor is Anubis (fig. 6) a 'slave' (because of his dark skin).

"Such interpretations are uninspired fantasies and are defended only with the forfeiture of scholarly judgment and credibility."

Professor Ritner's interpretation of the papyri is typical of what every non-Mormon Egyptologist that has been asked to look at the papyri has stated. There are no non-Mormon Egyptologists that agree with Joseph Smith's interpretations of the papyri. Not one of the non-Mormon Egyptologists agree with any of the LDS apologists' reasoning either.

You can read the full article here: PDF provided at UTLM

Note: The server that this article resides on does not always show the article. It can be obtained from the University of Chicago. Email the editors of MormonThink if you desire a free copy.

How do the LDS Egyptologists' credentials compare to the nonLDS Egyptologists?

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.

Michael Rhodes, LDS Associate Research Professor in Ancient Scripture at BYU. Graduate work in Egyptology. Author of Ensign article on the papyri and probably the current most prominent LDS scholar on the Book of Abraham. From his web site click on his resume and see how he spent most of his career (in the Air Force). Link is here.

Robert Ritner, nonLDS Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago and Yale. Author of the paper 'The Breathing Permit of HOR' Among The Joseph Smith papyri. Also appears on the video, 'The Lost Book of Abraham - examining a remarkable Mormon Claim' available here: Link is here. LDS Egyptologist John Gee was a student under professor Ritner. Read his resume and see how he spent most of his career. Link is here.

A brief summary of some of the other scholars or prominent players that are often referenced when discussing the Book of Abraham:


Klaus Baer: Associate Professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute Egyptologist at the University of Chicago. Ritner's former professor. Wrote article for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968.

De M. Theodule Deveria: One of the pioneers in the field of Egyptology from the 1800s, Deveria was the first Egyptologist to examine the facsimiles.

Lanny Bell: Egyptologist that wrote a review of The Ancient Egyptian "Books of Breathing," the Mormon "Book of Abraham," and the Development of Egyptology in America. Available here.


Hugh Nibley: The church's leading historian who spent many years defending the Book of Abraham. He was a scholar but not an Egyptologist when he was asked to examine the papyri. Since that time he became very interested in Egyptology. We don't know if he ever obtained any certifications in Egyptology later in his career. He published many articles in the church magazine The Improvement Era regarding the papyri. He has written several books on the church including several on the Book of Abraham.

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. Link is here.

Michael Marquardt: LDS Historical researcher Link is here., Link is here.

Edward H. Ashment: LDS Egyptologist that disagrees with his colleagues at FARMS about their theories on explaining Joseph's translation of the papyri. Link is here., Link is here.

Dee Nelson: Church member that was one of the first to examine the papyri. He claimed to have a background in Egyptology but was later exposed for misrepresenting his credentials. However, his initial examination of the papyri was correct in that he concluded it was an Egyptian funeral document having nothing to do with Abraham. There is a rather long (kind of boring and not really that relevant) narrative in the appendix of By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus regarding his role in the BOA.

Stuart Ferguson: LDS archeologist that spent 20 years on a quest to discover some archeological 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. His story is told in the book 'Quest for the Plates' and talked about briefly in By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus. Link is here.

Stephen E. Thompson: Egyptologist and scholar. Link is here.

Jeff Lindsay: Not an Egyptologist, not a scholar. He is just an average member with no more authority or credibility than other members. He has a tendency to write long, elaborate, imaginative essays that really stretch the limits of creativity in order to attempt to find a connection between Egyptology and Joseph's translations of the papyri. He is affiliated with the FAIR website. See an example of his work above in the section 'Have any of the Egyptian names and terms identified by Joseph been verified as actually being Egyptian?'

Kerry Shirts: Not an Egyptologist but has made many videos defending the Church and the Book of Abraham. He is known in the videos as the 'Backyard Professor' and has made many interesting videos defending the Church. He is mentioned a few times on this webpage as a LDS apologist and member of FAIR. However, in 2013 Brother Shirts seems to have reversed his position on the Church. He is no longer an apologist for the LDS Church. He is still a member of the LDS Church but doesn't appear to believe in the historical truthfulness of the LDS Church as does the rest of the apologists.

Rationalizations by faithful LDS to explain the controversy

LDS members that are aware of the BOA issues usually form some sort of opinion to help them deal with the perceived problems associated with the controversy.

The following section was taken in its entirety from Charles Larson's book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus:

Those who do not apply these standards to investigating controversy must resort to rationalizing, rather than facing reality. Many Latter-day Saints seem willing to accept whatever rationalizations will permit their continued faith in the Book of Abraham.

So just what rationalizations are available? Stripped of all their excess verbiage, there remain only about a half dozen avenues open for the Latter-day Saint that will still allow Mormonism to be in some sense true. On a scale of the traditional to the increasingly radical, they are:

  1. Joseph Smith did just exactly as he said he did and as it has always been held: he obtained the actual, original writings of Abraham and did accurately translate them by the gift and power of God. Either modern Egyptology is completely wrong, or else God has allowed Satan to alter the materials we now have, perhaps to separate the truly loyal Saints from among the less sincere.
  2. Joseph Smith did have Abraham's original writings and properly translated them, but the originals have not been recovered. Either the true text of the Book of Abraham was from a different (lost) portion of the Book of Breathings scroll, or the Facsimiles were always on a different scroll, separate from Abraham's text, and Abraham's statements about them have been misunderstood. It is also possible that Satan has confused the world's scholars about Facsimile No. 1, and even altered the "Small Sensen" papyrus to make it look like it was once attached to it, though it never really was. Satan could also have altered the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar to make Joseph Smith look bad, and done the same with Facsimile No. 2, Facsimile No. 3 and the rest of the material.
  3. The papyri we have, as well as the Facsimiles, are what the Egyptologists say they are, but they are also the Book of Abraham --technically speaking. There is a deeper meaning to them, somewhat like a code, which has not yet been discovered by the world. Joseph Smith could determine this meaning by the gift and power of God, but he did not know about or simply did not mention the other more "common" meaning of the papyri. Joseph Smith may have even been mistaken about them having been penned by Abraham himself, but that is all right because the important thing was the coming forth of the inspired text encrypted within the originals and handed down in them as they were copied over and over again through the ages.
  4. Joseph Smith only thought he was translating Abraham's record from the papyri. Actually, some ordinary funeral papyri from Egypt functioned as a sort of spiritual catalyst to Joseph Smith's mind, so that he received the Book of Abraham as a result of direct revelation -- and God allowed him and everyone else to believe he was translating. God also allowed Joseph Smith to believe his Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar was authentic and worthwhile, when actually it was useless. Or perhaps Joseph only considered it a hobby and all the statements he made concerning it have been misunderstood. And, though Joseph never said so, his clerks were the ones responsible for stupidly placing the characters from the "Small Sensen" fragment (Papyrus Joseph Smith XI) on three of his translation manuscripts.
  5. The Book of Abraham is not an ancient scriptural contribution, but a modern one that has simply been placed in an ancient setting. As a modern revelation to Joseph Smith, its lessons, teachings, and values still apply, naturally, but it is a mistake to try to fit it into an historical context, such as the lifetime of Abraham. Better to just accept it for what it says, and not be concerned over what is said about it.
  6. The Book of Abraham is not really scripture at all, but merely the "speculative writing" of Joseph Smith. Again, perhaps he thought he actually was translating and producing authentic scripture, perhaps not. If he did, he was mistaken. Joseph was still capable and worthy of being a prophet in other areas. (This is largely the view of the Reorganized LDS Church,1 which is not affiliated with the larger, Utah-based LDS Church.)

It is remarkable that amid all the different suggestions proposed by LDS apologists (Nibley, Browns, Ashment, Crapo, Vestal, Barber, etc. ) virtually any position is acceptable and yet not one of them is "official." A person can be considered a good Mormon and hold to practically any variation of the first five views mentioned -- and even switch back and forth from one view to another -- as long as the end result is feeling good about the Church. LDS authorities, meanwhile, remain silent about the entire controversy.

Why don't faithful LDS seem to know or even care about the Book of Abraham controversy?

In a Sunday School class I was in not long ago we were discussing the Book of Abraham and someone asked what happened to the papyri. The teacher was knowledgeable enough about it to say it was found in a museum in the 1960s and is now back in the church's possession.

Someone in the class asked the natural question "Have Egyptologists looked at the papyri and what do they say about it?" The teacher said yes but there is a disagreement over the translation. That was it - end of story - move on to the next topic. That was the entire discussion on this. The teacher did not invite or encourage any further discussion on the topic and even seemed a bit annoyed that it was brought up at all. With this kind of brush-off it is no wonder people in the church hardly ever talk about it or even know about the significance of the issues.

From By His On Hand Upon Papyrus:


"All Is Well'' -- Creating An Appearance

Just as the level of exposure to the subject of the Joseph Smith Papyri varies among Latter-day Saints, so also do their responses to the controversy. Most know little about it, some have come across a few conflicts, yet choose not to think about them, and still others find themselves considering one or more of the various "intellectual" approaches discussed previously. It is interesting that it seems to matter little to Mormon belief which of these categories the individual member falls into.

Simple ignorance of the whole papyri issue helps perpetuate the traditional understanding of the Book of Abraham's origins. Confusion, on the other hand, can be a highly effective means of preventing questions from becoming too critical when problems are encountered. A person who finds a topic very confusing will often suspend judgment and keep right on believing in whatever he hopes is true. Over time, his questions lose urgency, and though not resolved, cease to become bothersome. Trust in a system will also help sustain a person through confusion until he reaches the point of no longer caring whether an answer is reasonable or not, or indeed, whether an answer even exists.

It is not surprising then, that the LDS Church heavily stresses the absolute necessity of trusting its system and leadership. Members are taught, for instance, that praying to know the truthfulness of a matter is a more sure way of determining its validity than thoughtful examination of the evidence. But in so doing, the very evidence God has provided to steer us to truth may be ignored. Contributing to the confusion is the fact that there is no "official" answer from the LDS Church that addresses the issues raised by the discovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Nor has there ever been. All approaches, theories, and defenses, including those proposed by Hugh Nibley and others in Church publications, have been offered solely at the author's own initiative, and as his own opinion. (In fact, the works of Mormon apologists almost universally include a disclaimer to the effect that the author does not write as an official spokesperson for the LDS Church.)

In the absence of official answers from LDS authorities, those with questions are left with only the efforts of the various apologists to provide solutions. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that occasional contradictions occur when a variety of approaches are used to give the impression that "all is well." A good case in point is the way the subject of the Joseph Smith Papyri have been treated in various LDS books and periodicals.

Please read the rest of Chapter 12 in By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus for a continuation of this topic and some good examples. Link is here.

Complete translation of the papyri by Robert Ritner.

The relationship between the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri continues to receive scholarly attention from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. For a century now, professors and LDS students from this leading institute of Egyptian studies have analyzed and debated the papyri and its relationship to Joseph Smith's translation. The translation was called "The Book of Abraham" and incorporated into the Pearl of Great Price which became the fourth foundational scripture of the LDS church.

Considered one of the country's foremost Egyptian scholars, Dr. Robert Ritner is the latest University of Chicago Egyptologist to turn his attention to the papyri. His book, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, includes the first ever complete translation of the papyri.

Available at Amazon in hard cover, soft cover and ebook formats:

The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, by Robert Ritner

Summary: This book marks the publication of the first, full translation of the so-called Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri translated into English. These papyri comprise “The Breathing Permit of Hor,” “The Book of the Dead of Ta-Sherit-Min,” “The Book of the Dead Chapter 125 of Nefer-ir-nebu,” “The Book of the Dead of Amenhotep,” and “The Hypocephalus of Sheshonq,” as well as some loose fragments and patches. The papyri were acquired by members of the LDS Church in the 1830s in Kirtland, Ohio, and rediscovered in the mid-1960s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They served as the basis for Joseph Smith’s “Book of Abraham,” published in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1842 and later canonized.

As Robert K. Ritner, Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, explains: “The translation and publication of the Smith papyri must be accessible not merely to Egyptologists but to non-specialists within and outside of the LDS religious community for whom the Book of Abraham was produced.” Dr. Ritner provides not only his own original translations but gives variant translations by other researchers to demonstrate better the “evolving process” of decipherment. He also includes specialized transliterations and his own informed commentary on the accuracy of past readings. “These assessments,” he notes, “are neither equivocal nor muted.” At the same time, they do not have a “partisan basis originating in any religious camp.”

The present volume includes insightful introductory essays by noted scholars Christopher Woods, Associate Professor of Sumerology, University of Chicago (“The Practice of Egyptian Religion at ‘Ur of the Chaldees’”), Marc Coenen, Egyptian Studies Ph. D., University of Leuven, Belgium (“The Ownership and Dating of Certain Joseph Smith Papyri”), and H. Michael Marquardt, author of The Revelations of Joseph Smith: Text and Commentary (“Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papers: A History”). It contains twenty-eight photographic plates, including color images of the primary papyri (with corrected alignment for Papyrus Joseph Smith 2) and other relevant items.

A few excerpts from the Mormon Chronicles article:

What parallels are there between the Book of Abraham and the papyri?

(Ritner) The only parallels between the Book of Abraham and the papyri are found in the Facsimiles (Ptolemaic in date [352-30 BCE.]) that are specifically described and referenced within the text of the [Book of Abraham (BoA hereafter)] itself. There is thus no possibility that the scenes, reworked from the papyri for the BoA, can be considered separate from the source of the BoA itself. Obviously, the papyrus containing the scenes is equally linked. The BoA just as clearly misunderstands these Facsimiles/Vignettes, with multiple confusions of standard imagery (for example: male vs. female vs. animal, specific deity images) and distorted interpretations of easily legible Egyptian text.

Some LDS scholars have suggested the source for the Book of Abraham may be on papyri that was lost or destroyed. How plausible is this proposal?

(Ritner) For the reasons given above, this idea is not possible. The various alternative theories for a "missing BoA text" are discussed in detail in my book, and all are shown to be false. Parallel texts, standard papyrus document size (not whole rolls manufactured for commerce), measurements of rolling, a supposed (but false) reference to a lost text by the early scholar Seyffarth, and internal BoA remarks on the Facsimiles all indicate that the "Breathing Permit of Hor" (P JS I) is the source of the fictional account of Abraham. The fictional nature of the tale is blatant not only from the Egyptian evidence, but also from Mesopotamian evidence, incorporated within this study for the first time.

How would you assess the work done on the Joseph Smith papyri by LDS scholars?

(Ritner) My parallel presentations [I.E. translations by other scholars for comparison] and copious notes indicate the range of problems with the LDS apologetic translations, but I would distinguish the contributions of apologists from those of other LDS scholars, such as Stephen E. Thompson or Edward H. Ashment, who have made very valuable and accurate studies of the Facsimiles. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the apologetic writings is the degree to which those translations support and often parallel Egyptological ones, demonstrating that the Joseph Smith interpretations are indefensible. Apologists can argue that the source text of BoA is lost, but they cannot deny the "translations" and "explanations" offered by Smith on the Facsimiles. Instead, they ignore them while translating the hieroglyphs as properly as possible, acknowledging Smith's published translations to be wrong. Michael D. Rhodes' treatment of the P.JS I Facsimiles [Facsimiles 1-3] is a classic example of this.

Mormon Chronicles


Introduction on Amazon by Ritner

On or just before July 3, 1835, a touring exhibitor named Michael H. Chandler brought to Kirtland, Ohio, four Egyptian mummies and a selection of Egyptian papyrus documents. Kirtland resident Joseph Smith, Jr., founder and prophet of the Church of Latter-day Saints, who had produced The Book of Mormon five years earlier based on claimed translations from gold plates inscribed in "Reformed Egyptian," took an immediate interest in the Egyptian texts and offered preliminary translations to the exhibitor. Within the month, members of the young church ("the brethren") purchased Chandler's exhibit for $2400. Copying the texts with the assistance of select "scribes," Smith quickly recognized several biblically-themed compositions within the papyri, eventually including the Book of Abraham (P. Joseph Smith 1), the record of Joseph of Egypt (P. Joseph Smith 2 and 3) and a tale of an Egyptian princess Katumin or Kah tou mun (P. Joseph Smith 4). Only the first of these translations was ever published, beginning in serialized excerpts during 1842, well before Jean François Champollion's correct decipherment of Egyptian was generally known in America.

Smith exhibited the mummies and papyri in his and his mother's Nauvoo (Illinois) cabins and in his "Mansion House" museum. A representative example of his banter is recorded for the May 15, 1844, visit to the museum by Josiah Quincy and Charles Francis Adams: "Opening pine presses along the wall, he disclosed four black, shrunken bodies. 'These are mummies,' he said. 'I want you to look at that little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man in his day. Why that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!' He pointed to various hieroglyphs on the papyri, which were preserved under glass. 'That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful; this is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest accounts of the Creation, from which Moses composed the first Book of Genesis.' " In the same year, he made his last attempt at Egyptian translation (among 17 foreign languages): "Egyptian, Su-e-eh-ni (What other persons are those?)"

Following Smith's arrest and death in June 1844, the church divided, with most (but not all) of the Egyptian materials left behind by the dominant faction led by Brigham Young to Utah. As part of the collection The Pearl of Great Price, the full text of the Book of Abraham was published in pamphlet form in 1851 in Liverpool and reissued by the church in Utah in 1878. In 1880, it was adopted as canonical scripture by what is now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In contrast, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (based in Independence, Missouri and since 2001 the Community of Christ) treats the Book of Abraham as mere speculative writing by Smith with no formal scriptural status.

The brief tale of Abraham, only 15 printed pages including woodcut illustrations explicitly said to be part of the book, presents a curious narrative. Abraham is miraculously rescued from Chaldean priests in Ur, who commit human sacrifice "unto the god of Pharaoh … after the manner of the Egyptians"(!) on a hill named after the Egyptian Potiphar (1:6-15 and 20). The name Potiphar, taken from the Bible, employs a Late Egyptian grammatical construction ("The one whom Pre has given") and the late form of the sun god Re's name with the definite article ("Pre"), so that it cannot be contemporary with any date typically assigned to Abraham. The anglicized Latin term "Egyptus" is said to be Chaldean for "that which is forbidden" in reference to the cursed race of Ham who are denied the "right of Priesthood" (1:23-27), a statement that served as the basis for Mormon racial discrimination until a "revelation" during the modern era of civil rights legislation reversed the policy (but not the "scripture") in 1978. A famine takes Abraham to Egypt, where he is ultimately shown "sitting upon Pharaoh's throne, by the politeness of the king," "reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy." The three woodcut illustrations purport to depict: (1) the "sacrifice" on an "altar" (wrongly restored from a scene of Anubis tending Osiris on the funerary bier), (2) an astronomical scene of planets (actually a hypocephalus), and (3) enthroned Abraham lecturing the male Pharaoh (actually enthroned Osiris with the female Isis). In the last image alone, Smith's interpretation turns the goddess Maat into a male prince, the papyrus owner into a "waiter," and the black jackal Anubis into a "slave." As true ancient history, the Book of Abraham has no validity, yet the tale and the papyri that inspired it were to become a minor, if protracted, chapter in the history of American Egyptology.

By 1861, Théodule Devéria had noted a series of anachronisms and absurdities in the supposed translation and woodcut vignettes, and in 1912 a solicitation for professional opinions on the matter of "Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator" by F. S. Spalding, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, drew uniformly derisive assessments from A. H. Sayce, W. M. F. Petrie, J. H. Breasted, A. C. Mace, J. Peters, S. A. B. Mercer, E. Meyer, and F. W. von Bissing. Apologetic response was muted, as the papyri no longer belonged to the church when it migrated west to Utah, and they were thought to have been lost, perhaps in the great Chicago fire of 1871. Aside from ad hominem attacks on the Egyptologists themselves, the matter generated little further discussion. "Faced by a solid phalanx of PhD's, the Mormons were properly overawed." A rebuttal of sorts did come from a certain "Robert C. Webb," in a series of LDS publications beginning in 1913 and in "The Case Against Mormonism" published in 1915. Although posing as an unbiased "Non- 'Mormon' " and a Ph.D., "Webb" was in fact a non-degreed writer for hire named J. E. Homans. "Webb's" fraudulent expertise would be revived by Nibley in his attacks on professional Egyptology following the next major event in the saga of the Joseph Smith papyri. The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyrii book excerpt

On page 94, Ritner summarizes:

Here, at least, there is agreement that the Smith explanations are untenable, and as the images are directly cited in the narrative itself, the underlying text of the Book of Abraham has been found and Smith's interpretation disproved. There can be no question of any “lost” section of the papyrus that contained an ancient text composed by Abraham, since the author of the supposedly pre-existent Book of Abraham both claims and depicts the Ptolemaic vignette as his own addition (Facsimile 1) to the tale. Abraham cannot have lived as late as the Ptolemaic era, the papyrus illustration of Hôr cannot be dated earlier than the Ptolemaic era, and no rational defense of the narrative is possible. Except for those willfully blind, the case is closed. As an episode in American religious history and early “Egyptomania,” the text is still of interest; no investigator seeking ancient evidence should waste his time. What follows in this and subsequent chapters are my original, annotated transliterations

The length of the missing papyri.

The following Dialogue article goes into extreme detail and complex calculations in order to accurately estimate the total length of the original papyri using the recovered papyri and markings on the papyri. This winding analysis indicates how big of a scroll the papyri were originally rolled into when they were put in with the mummies. This way they can estimate how much papyri can possibly be missing from the papyri as some apologists claim that the original scroll must have been very long and the papyri containing the text from which the BOA came from must be on the missing papyri.

Link to The Original Length of the Scroll of Hôr, from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter, 2010

BYU professor videos

Recently, BYU professor Kerry Muhlestein recorded a series of YouTube videos (1, 2, and 3 under the channel "mormonchallenges") where he defends the veracity of Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian papyrus as the Book of Abraham.

In these videos, Kerry makes many claims about how Egyptology is discovering new connections between ancient Egypt and the patriarch Abraham.

In February, 2013, YouTube author Flackerman approached three UCLA professors of Egyptology where Kerry received his PhD in Egyptology. In his email, Flackerman informed the professors:

"Dr. Muhlestein has recently been in a series of videos where he discusses his recent research on these papyrus fragments. His conclusions about the veracity of Smith's translation of these papyri, their related facsimiles, and the explicit connection between the ancient biblical figure Abraham, and the ancient Egyptian book of the Dead, are contrary to what I thought the scholarly consensus was."

He then asked them if they "could help me understand how non-LDS Egyptologists view the Joseph Smith papyri, his translation of the accompanying facsimiles, and how valid the claims that Muhlestein has been making in his recent videos are."

He received responses from all three. Particularly interesting was the reply from celebrity professor Kara Cooney, who was the star of the Discovery Channel's "Out of Egypt" TV series, and has appeared on the Craig Ferguson show a couple of times.

She wrote:

"I watched the three videos, and I don't agree with any of it. The ancient Egyptians had no concept of Abraham, so I don't know where he gets these comparisons… And No, most Egyptologists do not agree, despite what Kerry says. I know Kerry, but I do not have much respect for his work. Now I have even less. The fact that he is digging in Egypt is even more worrisome… This PhD was awarded before I arrived at UCLA, although I know that Kerry finished his text based dissertation after only two years of Egyptian language training, which is rather laughable.

"Have you read Robert Ritner's work about this in Journal of Near Eastern Studies? It's the best out there… Kerry is just spinning out the same Mormon rhetoric. What is different is: Mormons are funding PhDs in Egyptology and Biblical Studies and then funding positions at BYU and elsewhere and passing these people off as experts, when they are only ideologically driven researchers, not experts interested in actual evidence.

"Thanks for sending. It's important to know who these people are… I will send it on to Robert Ritner of U Chicago, if that is okay with you…"

He also received a response from professor Jacco Dieleman who wrote:

"I suggest that you consult Prof. Robert Ritner's new edition of the so-called Joseph Smith Papyri. His views are in line with mine. Robert. K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri. A Complete Edition (Salt Lake City 2011). I am indeed too busy to look at the videos."

And a response from professor Willeke Wendrich who responded:

"The translation and interpretation of the Joseph Smith documents are a religious, rather than a scholarly endeavor and as such I respect them."

When Professor Wendrich was informed that "Muhlestein is saying that the science of Egyptology is proving his religious conclusions and using his degree from your University to give his claims validity." Professor Wendrich responded, "You are right about that and I will discuss that with him."

Flackerman's Youtube video summarizing the event

The Book of Abraham Criticisms, Defenses and Implications

The following attachment is a pdf file which has another look at the Book of Abraham issues. The essay includes a lot of visuals and really breaks down the issue in a way that makes it accessible for the average member. Book of Abraham Criticisms. Defenses and Implications

Ending summary by critics

Although some LDS defenders dismiss the gravity of the Book of Abraham problems, General Authority and Assistant Church Historian B. H. Roberts understood it quite well:

"…if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be proven discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon, and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught." (Comprehensive History of the Church 2:138)

The major points are:

The translations of the facsimiles in every member's copy of the Book of Abraham by Joseph Smith are completely different than what Egyptologists say they mean.

Missing parts of the Joseph Smith papyri that pertain to the text of the Book of Abraham have been found and are in the church's possession. They have been translated by Egyptologists and determined to be common Egyptian funeral documents about a deceased man named Horus. They have nothing at all to do with Abraham.

We know that these fragments pertain to the Book of Abraham for the following reasons:

  1. The Facsimile No. 1 fragment belonged to the Book of Abraham. It is referenced in the text of the BOA.
  2. The "Small Sensen" fragment originally adjoined the Facsimile No. 1 fragment.
  3. The characters from the "Small Sensen" fragment appeared, in order, on three translation transcripts of the Book of Abraham text penned by Joseph Smith's scribes referred to as the Book of Alphabet and Grammar which is also in the church's possession.

The Book of Alphabet and Grammar by Joseph Smith must have come from Joseph and not simply his scribes due to the following reasons:

  1. The complexity and sheer detail that went into defining how the Egyptian language works could have only come from Joseph. His scribes, who were certainly not Egyptologists or anything of the kind, would have no idea about all the degrees, meanings, pronunciations, intricate details, etc. that are claimed in the book. Only Joseph would have had any credibility to the members as to how the Egyptian language worked. Of course the modern-day Egyptologists say everything in Smith's Egyptian Book of Alphabet and Grammar is nonsense.
  2. In at least two church publications Joseph is quoted as giving sermons where he specifically mentions some of the Egyptian words that are found in the Egyptian Book of Alphabet and Grammar. Su-e-eh-ni which Joseph said is Egyptian for 'What other persons are those?', Jah-oh-eh which Joseph said is Egyptian for 'The earth under the government of another or the second of the fixed stars', Enish-go-on-dosh which Joseph said is Egyptian for 'the power of attraction' and Flo-ees-Flos-is-is which Joseph said is Egyptian for 'the moon passing between her and the sun'.

Joseph obviously must have come up with the Book of Alphabet and Grammar for him to use those terms in public speaking. Those Egyptian words are not really found in Egyptology and are pure nonsense according to Egyptologists.

A possible profit motive

It's worth mentioning that Joseph allowed his mother to make a little money by charging tourists a quarter to view the Egyptian antiquities. Also the fact that 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.

Smith did lots of things like this to bring in money, just like modern-day televangelists sell "prayer handkerchiefs" or holy water straight from Jerusalem if you "give" them a donation.

Ex-Mormon LDS critic Randy Jordan: Link is here.

The Amazing Randi

James Randi used to be a magician and now has dedicated his life to detecting false claims. On his website he states the following regarding Nibley's rationalizations for the BOA:

The spirit of extreme charity must be invoked to accept such rationalizations, and the mind must be emptied of all logic to do so. There is no question of it: Joseph Smith was totally incapable of translating the Egyptian language. He needed a mysterious discovery to produce the Book of Abraham, and he invented a totally fanciful translation of some common papyrus scraps to perpetrate his deception. Now that it has been uncovered, those scientists who will not ever throw out the theory have turned to throwing out the facts. It is rationalization in a very obvious and infantile form. But in my opinion, it is far outdone by some modern parapsychologists.

Link is here. (archived copy)

The church leadership has never given any official explanation as to why Joseph's translations of the papyri are different than Egyptologists translations. This sounds strange to come from a church that claims to have a modern-day prophet, seer and revelator.

Many people consider the Book of Abraham issues to be the single greatest challenge to the validity of the LDS church. This has been the catalyst for thousands of people leaving the church so we encourage any LDS member to fully understand the issues before simply dismissing these very credible arguments against the Book of Abraham. The implications are obvious. If Joseph had the imagination to come up with the Book of Abraham then maybe he had the ability to come up with the Book of Mormon.

Editor Comments

Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:

The Book of Abraham issues are one of those things where a little bit of information can be a bad thing. Too many people only look at very little information on one side or the other and make a definitive decision without really looking at sufficient evidence to draw a valid conclusion. Critics may never consider any nonscientific alternative to Joseph's writings. Conversely, faithful Latter-day Saints all too often dismiss the seriousness of the critics' claims by simply saying 'well maybe Joseph received the BOA by revelation instead' or some other quickie explanation that may not at all be supported by the facts. We suggest that if anyone wants to really make a supportable conclusion on the Book of Abraham that they examine in some detail both sides of the argument. This doesn't mean that people need to be Egyptologists or church historians.

Do not be intimidated by what first seems to be a very complex undertaking. Some people make this seem a lot more complicated than it really is. A person with average intelligence can come to a pretty definitive conclusion by simply examining the issues. There are many resources with information presented in layman's terms by both sides. We also don't think you need to examine every single bit of information on this subject to arrive at a supportable conclusion. We recommend the following resources presented by both sides be at least looked at before anyone makes up their mind on this issue:

  1. Video: 'The Lost Book of Abraham - examining a remarkable Mormon Claim'. This 50-minute video gives a good introduction to the critics' arguments. Even faithful LDS members will enjoy the information presented on the origins of the papyri from Thebes to their remarkable journey into the prophet's hands. Faithful member responses are given to the critics' arguments but not by the LDS church (they naturally declined to be in the movie). We would have enjoyed seeing both LDS and nonLDS Egyptologists interviewed at the same time to get a side-by-side comparison of their viewpoints but we don't think that will ever happen anywhere. The video brings up a compelling argument in sufficient detail for a short movie but does not get into all the areas as could be covered by books and other media. Book of Abraham video or YouTube version
  2. Book: By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Charles Larson. This is considered to be the most prominent and comprehensive writing on the Book of Abraham. It is well researched and provides many details and referenced very well. It is critical of the Book of Abraham but we would not consider this to be a harsh so-called 'anti-Mormon' book at all. Faithful LDS should buy it simply for the excellent color photos of the papyri which is the best we've have seen in any book, even LDS books. This book does provide the most persuasive argument against the Book of Abraham. Larson, a former Latter-day Saint isn't trying to make money on this book, as it is available free ($2.00 shipping) to any LDS member that orders it. The entire book can be read online as well but lacks the illustrations and pictures. It's a necessary addition to any liberal LDS library, especially at the price. Larson goes in detail to fairly show both sides of the arguments but it is a very easy-to-read book. One criticism is the last chapter should not be in there. Rumor has it that Larson was forced to let the financial backers of the book add a chapter at the end of his book which is an evangelical spiel on accepting Christ. It does detract from the book's message somewhat.

    Dr. Stephen E. Thompson, an LDS scholar with a Ph.D. in Egyptology, has commented favorably on the book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, though he does not endorse all the book's contents. At the 1993 Northeast Sunstone Symposium in Boston, Dr. Thompson said of Larson's book,

    "In my opinion, it's the best source to go to if you want to know what's been going on with the Book of Abraham in [the] church. I mean, he has a pretty good summary of all the types of approaches that have been made. He does a pretty good job of explaining what they are, what the papyri are. He's [got] great pictures of the papyri. That's the nicest thing; you can really - really neat photos [sic] of the papyri themselves. And people worry about the accuracy, is this book accurate or not? Well I'll tell you, he's far more accurate than anything Hugh Nibley ever wrote on the subject, okay. So if you're willing to read Nibley, you can read this guy and not worry about it. I mean, because Nibley is far, far more free with his treatment of primary and secondary sources than this guy ever would be…. Nothing that's been written from an apologetic point of view comes close to it in accuracy."

    The text of the entire book is available online for free: Link is here.

  3. Ensign Article: The article written by Michael Rhodes in The Ensign called 'Why doesn't the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?' This is as close to an official church response as there is. The Ensign is almost considered scripture and the church leadership approves the articles. The article is a direct response to members' inquiries as to why the translations of the Book of Abraham papyri do not match what Joseph said they did. Although this is printed in The Ensign, Michael Rhodes is not a general authority and cannot speak for the church. He is just a member of the church like the rest of us but he is head of the Ancient Studies Department at BYU and therefore has scholarly credibility that the average member lacks. It is interesting to hear an LDS Egyptologist's take on this, as there aren't many of them. However his article is somewhat short and only covers a few of the areas or controversies. We wish he had addressed some of the more difficult issues. Link is here.
  4. LDS Apologetic Website: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship, formerly known as the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). This is an organization funded by the LDS church and is located at BYU's campus. Several FARMS researchers have given their various opinions on the Book of Abraham. There are numerous articles covering various facets from the Book of Abraham. The FARMS researchers are not general authorities of the church and are only giving their personal opinions based on their knowledge and unique scholarly approach as they are both members of the church and most of their authors hold academic credentials. Link is here.
  5. Mormon Expression Podcast: The folks at MormonExpression did an excellent podcast introducing the Book of Abraham issues. It is podcast #4 . In this episode the panel is joined by Mormon Scholar Chris Smith to discuss the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham. Topics discussed include the 19th century understand of Egyptology, Reformed Egyptian, the Egyptian and Hebrew languages, The Catalyst Theory, the Missing Papyri Theory, the Anthon Transcript, the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the theories of John Gee and Hugh Nibley. Introduction to issues surrounding the Book of Abraham
  6. Book: 'Examining the Book of Abraham' by Kevin Mathie. Although I have not read this entire book yet, I have perused it and it is referenced above. It is a very concise, well-written, easy-to-read book on the problems with the Book of Abraham. Examining the Book of Abraham - Kevin Mathie
  7. Video: This 23 minute video is one the best, most concise and neutral overviews of the Joseph Smith papyri. He gives an excellent summary of the history of the Book of Abraham, the problems and the apologetic explanations. The Joseph Smith Papyri
  8. Book: in 2012 Professor Robert Ritner wrote a very long, comprehensive book on the BOA called 'The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, which includes the first ever complete translation of the papyri. Professor Ritner is undoubtedly the most prominent Egyptologist to have ever examined the BOA papyri in depth and this is the most up-to-date, comprehensive and definitive book on the papyri.
  9. The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, by Robert Ritner

  10. Book of Abraham essay by the LDS Church: This essay was published by the Church on in 2014 which discusses, although not in great detail, the Book of Abraham and the papyri and translation issues. Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.
  11. MormonThink's response to the LDS Church essay: MT has responded to all of the Church essays. The BOA response includes Egyptologist Robert Ritner's response to the essay. MormonThink's response to the Book of Abraham essay.
  12. Dan Vogel's Egyptian Translation Documents videos: These are by far the best and most informative videos regarding the Egyptian translation documents that goes into detail about where the characters came from, what they mean, what documents are attributed to Joseph and the scribes, etc. From Vogel:

In this video I discuss Joseph Smith’s procurement of Egyptian papyri and mummies in July 1835 and explore the documents he produced while “translating” what he called the Book of Abraham. I also deal with the attempts of Mormon apologists to extricate Joseph Smith from clear evidence that he could not translate Egyptian. Dan Vogel

BYU TV program on the Book of Abraham

We watched a BYU special on the Book of Abraham. It's available at: Link is here.

Although the host, Robert Millet asked some difficult questions, the panel including Michael Rhodes, head of ancient studies at BYU, defended Joseph's explanations of the facsimiles as if Joseph had everything completely right and all that was needed was some simple clarifications.

Every 'hit' was some wild explanation that was extrapolated to the extreme in order to find some way Joseph could possibly be right. Rhodes would say something like Joseph said this figure is Kolob. He would then say there is a word in another language, not Egyptian, that sounds kind of like Kolob spelled QLB and that can be interpreted as the word 'near'. And near to God is what Joseph said is Kolob. Another direct hit for the uneducated Joseph.

They ignored the incorrect scientific claims like how our sun gets its light from another star as mentioned in the BOA and the many items that JS said couldn't be revealed to the world now even though Egyptologists have the exact translation. They also did not bring up Joseph's Book of Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. They ended the show with a quote from Nibley saying how changing science is but how unchanging the gospel is. 

LDS members, who are not really familiar with the strength of the critics' arguments regarding the BOA, will walk away from watching this program with a satisfied feeling that Joseph translated the papyri correctly into the BOA.

If the evidence proving Joseph's explanations of the facsimiles correct is as convincing as Rhodes says, then the church needs to have a press conference and prove to the world how Joseph was really a prophet by his 'correct' translations of the facsimiles. Interest in the church would surely soar after Rhodes shows how Joseph was correct every time.

However, we then read nonLDS Egyptologist Robert Ritner's article on The Breathing Permit of Hor and saw how he clearly showed how wrong these LDS apologists are. For example in Note 3 of his article Ritner says "Attempts to salvage these pseudo-Egyptian transcriptions reach desperate levels in suggestions by current apologists Michael Rhodes and John Gee to explain 'Jah-oh-eh' as 'O the earth', although this is impossible by both phonetics (with three hs) and sense 'arable field' is not used to indicate the whole earth). Similarly, Gee's interpretation of Sue-e-eh-ni as s nim ('who is the man?') is untenable phonetically and the final m of nim is preserved in all dialects and grammatically.

Note: the quote uses Egyptian writing which we cannot reproduce - please see Ritner's article (note 3) for his complete explanation.

Ritner concludes with:

"Such interpretations are uninspired fantasies and are defended only with the forfeiture of scholarly judgment and credibility."

Robert Ritner is not an ex-Mormon or anti-Mormon. He is a noted, respected Egyptologist that was simply asked to give his scholarly analysis of the Egyptian papyri. It's like asking a mathematician to solve an equation - there is no bias in his analysis of the papyri. Every nonLDS Egyptologist that has examined the papyri or facsimiles since 1856 has come to the same basic translations as Professor Ritner has done. None of the nonLDS apologists agree with any of Michael Rhode's or John Gee's explanations of how Joseph Smith could somehow be correct in his translations of the papyri or facsimiles.

Whose arguments are the most credible?

It's obvious that scholars from either viewpoint can fairly easily get non-Egyptologists to believe anything. Most of us can't effectively argue ancient languages with professionals. If only LDS and nonLDS Egyptologists would agree to be in the same interview. They can baffle us but not each other.

We doubt that will ever happen. In absence of this, we think it's best to examine both scholars' arguments objectively and decide for yourself whose arguments are most credible. If you only listen to the scholars that support one viewpoint, you will of course be convinced that their viewpoint is correct unless someone credible critiques their assertions.

LDS Apologist John Gee's final comments

"Of course, acceptance of the book of Abraham, like acceptance of all scripture, will always depend on faith (see 3 Ne. 26:6-12), and the only real proof of scripture can come only through the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moro. 10:3-5D&C 50:17-23).  

Those who seek to know the truth of the book of Abraham will have to wait upon the Lord." John Gee

Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts

Apostle Jeffrey Holland on the Book of Abraham

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.

Youtube Video on this segment: Link is here.

That is somewhat disturbing that an apostle can't give a better answer than that.

A final thought

In its 2013 update to the standard works, the Church altered the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price....The Previous description of the Book of Abraham read:

"A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham."

The updated description is more ambiguous about the nature of the text:

"An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri."

This is clearly an acknowledgement by the Church that the Book of Abraham is not a translation of the papyri (in any traditional sense of the word), as we were all taught.

But can merely changing the introduction to the scripture erase the problem when it has been clearly taught for almost two centuries that Joseph translated the papyri into the Book of Abraham scripture? What 's next, will they eventually remove the facsimiles as well to solve those problems?


We just finished reviewing all the material again by both sides of this issue. It truly is an interesting dilemma. If it was just a lack of evidence supporting the Book of Abraham, most of us think we could generate enough faith to fairly easily believe the BOA as being divinely brought forth by Joseph Smith. The problem is not that there's a lack of evidence, but that all of the evidence contradicts everything we have been taught by the church about the Book of Abraham.

For those that really want to believe in the BOA, they can bring forth some sort of argument to combat the papyri and Joseph's translations. The usual argument is that either (1) there's still some missing papyri that is really the source of the BOA or (2) Joseph may have received direct revelation and not used the papyri at all. Although these arguments are sheer speculation that contradict much of the evidence, they cannot be proven 100% false.

However, there simply is no explanation that makes any sense at all for explaining why Joseph's interpretations of the three facsimiles are completely wrong according to modern-day understanding of Egyptology. Joseph was very specific in identifying the very Egyptian characters in the facsimiles that he gave translations for such as:

Facsimile#3, explanation of figure 2, Joseph writes: "King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head." What those characters above his head really say is: "The great Isis, mother of the god."

Again, Facsimile 3, explanation 4 reads: "Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand." Above the hand it actually says "Ma'at, Lady of the West."

Again, Facsimile 3, explanation 5 reads: "Shulem, one of the King's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand." What those characters actually say is "Osiris Hor, the justified forever."

How can anyone say Joseph was right on these specific translations when he identifies the very Egyptian characters that he is translating? Egyptologists are in total agreement that they mean something completely different than what Joseph claimed.

The revelation theory doesn't explain Joseph's completely wrong explanations of the three facsimiles. God certainly would not have given Joseph incorrect revelation.

If there was just one nonLDS Egyptologist that supported Joseph's claims or any of the LDS apologists' ideas then that would be perhaps the particle of faith most of us would need to try to overcome the bigger issues that plague the BOA story we all were taught.

If we could have our modern-day prophet inquire of the Lord to answer just one troubling issue it would be to simply answer why Joseph's interpretations of the facsimiles and papyri do not match what Egyptologists say they mean? Perhaps it is in the church's best interest to be silent on this issue (except for the essay that barely scratches the surface on the issues) but there are many members that are very troubled by this and would like to hear a comprehensive, official response from the church. We think that without an official, comprehensive response from the church on the Book of Abraham problems, we are required to have more faith than anyone should be asked to have.

In an interview with Steve Benson (President Ezra Taft Benson's grandson), Apostle Dallin Oaks reportedly said that "the scholars" seemed to have evidence "in their favor," against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. We agree with Elder Oaks.


Supporting the critics:

Supporting the Church:



Mormon Expression - podcast #4 Introduction to issues surrounding the Book of Abraham

Mormon Expression - podcast #272 The Top 10 Goofiest Ideas in the Pearl of Great Price