Book of Abraham/Joseph Smith Papyri

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

The Joseph Smith Papyri

Summary: Joseph Smith had in his possession three or four long scrolls, plus a hypocephalus (Facsimile 2). Of these original materials, only a handful of fragments were recovered at the Metropolitan Museum. The majority of the papyri remains lost, and has likely been destroyed. There are a number of criticisms related to the recovered fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri. These criticisms are addressed below. [1]

Video published by the Church History Department.

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An example of what I am talking about is the recent discovery of the papyrus scrolls from which Joseph Smith was presumed to have translated the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Modern scholars, looking at the scrolls, found nothing they considered to be similar to that book. I remarked at the time that such a finding didn't bother me in the least. God doesn't need a crib sheet in the form of a papyrus scroll to reveal Abraham's thoughts and words to Joseph Smith, with any degree of precision He considers necessary for His purposes. If the only function of the scrolls was to awaken the Prophet to the idea of receiving such inspiration, they would have fulfilled their purpose.

—Henry Eyring, Reflections of a Scientist, p. 46
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Online source documents

The Joseph Smith Papyri: Source Quotes

Summary: A collection of source quotes related to the Joseph Smith Papyri

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Identity and nature of the papyrus in the Church's possession

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When did the Church disclose that the Joseph Smith Papyri were an Egyptian funerary text?

Summary: Critics often assert that the Church did not identify the Joseph Smith Papyri as an Egyptian funerary text until after Egyptologists examined them. They also claim that the Church is hiding or "covering up" the papyri's actual contents. Both assertions are incorrect. In fact, the Church ran a multi-part series with color pictures of the papyri in the Improvement Era (the predecessor to the Ensign) less than two months after they were received from the Metropolitan Museum. The series repeatedly affirmed that the recovered papyri contained Egyptian funerary materials and not the text of Book of Abraham.

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Why is the Book of Abraham text not on the papyri?

Summary: We do not claim to know why the text of the Book of Abraham (or the missing Book of Joseph) is not in evidence on the fragments of papyrus that were recovered. Critics, of course, simply assume this to be conclusive evidence that Joseph was a fraud. From a believer's perspective, however, there are several possible theories to account for this: 1) The text was revealed much in the same manner as that of the Book of Mormon, without the need for the actual papyri, 2) The text was present on portions of the papyri that are missing, and 3) The Book of Abraham manuscript was attached to the Book of Breathings manuscript and was lost. 4) Perhaps there was a way of understanding the Egyptian ideograms anciently that is unknown to Egyptology in our day, yet to be discovered, deciphered or acknowledged, that could yield an interpretation of a text that is different than the standard Egyptological reading.

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The facsimiles in the Book of Abraham

Summary: In the Book of Abraham, Joseph included three facsimiles of illustrations from the papyri, along with commentary about what the images and their individual parts represented. Some of Joseph's interpretations are similar to those of trained Egyptologists, but most are not. A number of criticisms relate to the three facsimiles associated with the Book of Abraham. It is noted that Joseph Smith's translation of the facsimiles does not agree with that provided by Egyptologists, and that some missing portions of the facsimiles were incorrectly restored before they were published.

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Preservation of the Ancient Core of the Book of Abraham

Summary: The papyri from which the Book of Abraham date to between 300 BCE - 100 AD. Some have asked how a story about Abraham, who is claimed to live in the year 2000 BCE, can possibly retain an ancient core given the long amount of time it would have to survive scribal transmission. These articles explore these charges.

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  1. Criticisms regarding the Book of Abraham and Joseph Smith papyri are raised in the following publications: “Universalism in Ohio,” Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate (Utica, New York) (12 September 1835): 291. off-site; Edward H. Ashment, The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham: A Critical Review (Salt Lake City: Resource Communications, 1993), 1–.; Charles M. Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Institute for Religious Research, 1992), 1–.; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, "Solving the Mystery of the Joseph Smith Papyri," Salt Lake City Messenger 82 (September 1992): 1–12.; Jerald and Sandra Tanner, The Changing World of Mormonism (Moody Press, 1979), Chapter 11.( Index of claims ); Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 3)