Criticism of Mormonism/Books/No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith/Chapter 12

Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 12: Master of Languages"



A FAIR Analysis of: No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, a work by author: Fawn Brodie
Claim Evaluation
No Man Knows My History
Chart.brodie.ch12.jpg

Response to claims made in No Man Knows My History, "Chapter 12: Master of Languages"


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Response to claim: 170 - Joseph did not originally intend to translate the papyri "by inspiration as in the past," and instead attempted to formulate an Egyptian alphabet and grammar

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph did not originally intend to translate the papyri "by inspiration as in the past," and instead attempted to formulate an Egyptian alphabet and grammar.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The evidence contradicts the author's assertion that the KEP and Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar were produced prior to the Book of Abraham.


Articles about Book of Abraham

Articles about Joseph Smith

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide: "These papyri contain authentic Egyptian writings, but they do not date to the time of Abraham, nor do they contain the actual personally handwritten account of Abraham"

"Unit 31: Day 2, The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2013):

In 1966, 11 fragments of papyri the Prophet Joseph Smith once had were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These papyri contain authentic Egyptian writings, but they do not date to the time of Abraham, nor do they contain the actual personally handwritten account of Abraham. It is important to remember that only a few fragments and not all of the papyri that Joseph Smith possessed have been found. The book of Abraham may have been translated from papyri that have not been recovered. These lost papyri may have contained copies of Abraham’s writings.

At the present time we simply do not know the exact nature of the relationship between the book of Abraham and the papyri Joseph Smith possessed. There are various theories proposed as to how the prophet translated these writings, but we simply do not know the details. We do know that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God. [1]

How was the text of the Book of Abraham produced by Joseph Smith?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Insight #39: How Did Joseph Smith Translate the Book of Abraham?

The Book of Abraham was claimed to have been received by revelation

Richard Turley notes that the Book of Abraham was received by revelation:

"Very quickly, let me just say a few things about it very simple. Number 1, again, it was received by revelation."
Richard Turley, Questions Asked at 2010 Swedish Fireside

The questions surrounding the Book of Abraham are complex, and involve a number of disciplines and sub-disciplines, including: Egyptology (including Egyptian archaeology, Egyptian iconography, Egyptian religion, Egyptian history, papyrology, etc.), Syro-Palestinian archaeology, biblical studies, textual criticism, Mormon history, Mormon theology, English paleography and manuscript transmission, etc. As such, any approach to the Book of Abraham or the Joseph Smith Papyri must be conscious of how these various disciplines (with their respective methods) can be used, or misused, in studying the Book of Abraham.

19th century sources confirm that the text of the Book of Abraham was received by revelation

Consider these two quotes, the first from John Whitmer, who was Church Historian from 1831 until his excommunication in 1838, and the second from Warren Parrish, who was one of the scribes during the translation.

John Whitmer said,

"Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records . . . which when all translated will be a pleasing history and of great value to the saints." [2]

Warren Parrish said,

"I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks [sic] as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration from Heaven." [3]

A more detailed essay describing the translation of the Book of Abraham was done by Pearl of Great Price Central and may be found by following the link above.



Did Joseph use his seer stone to receive the text of the Book of Abraham in the same manner as he did for the Book of Mormon?

There is second-hand information that suggests Joseph Smith used his seer stone in the translation of the Book of Abraham

There is also second-hand information that suggests Joseph Smith used his seer stone (or what came to be called the "Urim and Thummim") in the translation of the Book of Abraham; though these accounts must be accepted carefully because of their secondary nature.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The Lord is blessing Joseph with power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the Urim and Thummim ancient records and hieroglyphics old as Abraham or Adam which caused our hearts to burn within us while we behold their glorious truths opened unto us." [4]

"The Prophet translated the part of these writings which, as I have said is contained in the Pearl of Great Price, and known as the Book of Abraham. Thus you see one of the first gifts bestowed by the Lord for the benefit of His people, was that of revelation-the gift to translate, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, the gift of bringing to light old and ancient records." [5]

The official position of the Church is that the Book of Abraham is "an inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri." [6] Anything beyond this is speculation, and does not constitute official Church doctrine relative to the Book of Abraham's origins. Nevertheless, it's clear from the historical evidence that Joseph Smith was not attempting a scholarly translation of the Book of Abraham à la Jean-François Champollion or other Egyptologists, but rather produced a revelatory translation (see Richard Turley's comments below). The exact nature of this revelatory translation is uncertain, with various theories having been offered over the years.

Do we have all of the papyri that Joseph Smith had?

There is no question that we are currently missing some papyri

Even critics of the Book of Abraham must acknowledge this. For example, we are missing the originals to Facsimiles 2 and 3. The question therefore is: how much papyrus are we missing? Professor John Gee has estimated, based on historical eyewitness testimony, papyrilogical considerations, and mathematical calculations, that we're missing a sizable portion of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Professor Gee further argues the likelihood that the text of the Book of Abraham translated (again, via revelation, and not by scholarly means) by Joseph Smith was contained in this missing portion of papyri. [7] Professor Gee is not without his critics, however, who argue instead that we're missing only a small portion of the original papyri. [8]

As such, this is still an open question. Further research is being conducted that will hopefully shed further light on this question. In the mean time, however, Professor Gee's so-called "Missing Papyrus Theory" cannot merely be dismissed. Those who struggle with the Book of Abraham controversy must deal with the evidence presented by Professor Gee.

How does the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) relate to the Book of Abraham?

The exact relationship between the documents referred to as the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" and the Book of Abraham have not yet been determined

Professor Brian M. Hauglid of Brigham Young University is currently undertaking a critical text edition of the so-called "Kirtland Egyptian Papers," or, more properly, the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (or GAEL), in conjunction with scholars at the Joseph Smith Papers. [9] Professor Hauglid has published some preliminary thoughts on his research, in addition to comments made by other Mormon scholars. [10]

Before we pass judgment on the GAEL, including it's relationship to the Book of Abraham text, we should be patient and see what Professor Hauglid and other scholars will release in the future, per Richard Turley's advice. This remains a relatively under-studied area of the Book of Abraham debate, and it would be foolish to jump to conclusions before all the relevant data is presented for scholarly scrutiny.

"Again, this concept of translation if you look at the 7th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, it’s a translation of a parchment sent up by the apostle john in the new testament. There’s no evidence it was anywhere around Joseph at the time that he translated it. OK, so again, translation is not character for character translation like you and I think about it, OK?"

Were the characters on the papyri written by Abraham himself?

[Brother Turley]: There are lots of theories on that. The church does believe that the book of Abraham is the word of God and if you read the book of Abraham, there are doctrines and principles you will understand that are important to you. That is the church’s position. Exactly how Joseph Smith did it? There are lots of scholarly debates going on about that. But there’s excellent work going on at BYU that should be out in the next year."

Does the Joseph Smith papyri consist of Egyptian funerary documents?

[Brother Turley]: The papyrus that we have we know what books those are from Egyptian.

Do the Joseph Smith papyri date back to the time of Abraham?

Richard Turley: "There’s a difference between the date of the copy and the date of the text"

[Brother Turley]: There’s a difference between the date of the copy and the date of the text. So the text, yes, we believe is older. The actual copy could be later."

This is a very important point to keep in mind. There is a difference between the date of a text and the date of a particular manuscript of a text. For example, biblical scholars recognize that even though our earliest manuscripts for the books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are currently found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to circa 200-100 BCE, the date of the composition of the text of the books themselves go back many centuries.

The same point applies to the Book of Abraham. As Professor Kerry Muhlestein explains:

Critics say that if this papyrus was written in the second century BC it could not possibly have been written by Abraham himself. In regard to this assumption, I ask, who said this particular papyrus was written by Abraham himself? The heading does not indicate that Abraham had written that particular copy but rather that he was the author of the original. What these critics have done is confuse the difference between a text and a manuscript. For example, many people have a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; each has a manuscript copy of the text that Tolkien originally wrote. A text, regardless of how many copies of it exist in the world, is written by one author. However, each copy of that text is a manuscript.

The earliest known copies of the book of Isaiah date to hundreds of years after the prophet’s death. Yet this has not led to the conclusion that Isaiah was not the author of the book of Isaiah. Clearly the manuscripts we have are copies of the original text that he wrote during his lifetime. We all know that when an author of the ancient world wrote something, if those writings were to survive or be disseminated, the text had to be copied again and again and again, for generation upon generation. When the heading states that the text was written by Abraham’s own hand, it notes who the author is, not who copied down the particular manuscript that came into Joseph’s possession. If critics had carefully thought through this issue, they would never have raised it.

These issues also highlight the question of how the Book of Abraham came to be in Egypt in the first place. There are a dizzying number of possibilities. Abraham himself was in Egypt, as was his great-grandson Joseph and all of his Israelite descendants for hundreds of years thereafter. After the Exodus, Israelites continued to travel to and live in Egypt. After the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, large groups of Jews settled in Egypt and created longstanding and thriving communities, even to the point that they built a temple. It was during this time period that Joseph Smith Papyri 1, 10, and 11 were created. Copies of these papyri could have moved back and forth between Egypt and Israel during any of these eras. [11]

Could Joseph Smith translate Egyptian?

At that time, nobody could translate Egyptian . The only way Joseph could translate would be through revelation.

Many students of the Book of Abraham have asked if Joseph Smith could have had access to means that he might learn Egyptian and translate the Book of Abraham and/or if he ever claimed to be able to translate Egyptian mechanically. Joseph couldn't translate Egyptian. At that time, hardly anyone in the United States could translate Egyptian. Jean-Francois Champollion would only recently (relatively speaking) be completing his transliteration of the Rosetta Stone. Joseph was able to receive the text of the Book of Abraham in the same manner that he did for the Book of Mormon, by revelation.

Some critics believe that Joseph claimed he knew Egyptian.

Some critics believe that Joseph claimed to know Egyptian for a couple of reasons.

One of these is an 1844 publication entitled Appeal to the Freemen of the State of Vermont, the "Brave Green Mountain Boys," and Honest Men that was purportedly written by Joseph Smith and in which an appeal to the GAEL is made to provide a translation for an Egyptian-sounding phrase.[12] However, this publication has been demonstrated to have been ghostwritten by W.W. Phelps acting as Joseph Smith.[13] Additionally, it would have been written after all the translation of the Book of Abraham was complete thus making it so that, prior to and during the translation, Joseph would not have claimed to know Egyptian.

A second reason is the GAEL itself and Joseph's use of it when doing his one-character "translation" of the Kinderhook Plates. As Latter-day Saint historians Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst McGee have observed in their definitive treatment of the Kinderhook plates, "[Joseph] Smith’s autonomous use of the Egyptian Alphabet book...in the translation of the Kinderhook plates shows that he considered it a legitimate translation tool."[14] However, as the Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham has stated, the relationship of the GAEL to the Book of Abraham is not certain. Some have argued that the GAEL represents an attempt by Joseph Smith's scribes to reverse engineer the translation of the Book of Abraham to the papyri without the aid of revelation. If that is true, then Joseph Smith is not necessarily claiming by revelation to know how to translate Egyptian mechanically as academic translators do today with grammar books, dictionaries, etc. It simply means that Joseph received a translation of the papyri by revelation and then without the aid of revelation tried to discern the meaning of the characters on the papyri to try and learn Egyptian.

The final reason comes from the Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham on churchofjesuschrist.org which states the following:

Phelps apparently viewed Joseph Smith as uniquely capable of understanding the Egyptian characters: "As no one could translate these writings," he told his wife, "they were presented to President Smith. He soon knew what they were."[15]

This quotation from Phelps has been interpreted by critics to mean that Joseph Smith was claiming to know the Egyptian language.[16] However, it is clear from context that this did not mean that Joseph was claiming to have a working knowledge of Egyptian that he could use to translate documents mechanically, but that he was capable of discerning the meaning of the writings by revelation given to him because of his role and stewardship as prophet of God and President of the Church.

Are the statements of Abraham 1:12,14 about the altar and Gods at the "beginning of the record" significant for the Book of Abraham?

The earliest manuscripts of Abraham 1:12,14 have the text squeezed either between lines of the text or in the upper margin of the manuscript.

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There are several criticisms that attach themselves to Abraham 1:12,14. It is postulated that they require that Abraham be familiar with the facsimiles themselves, that they complicate the Missing Papyrus Theory, and so on.

The earliest manuscripts of Abraham 1:12 and 14 have the text squeezed either between lines of text or in the upper margin of the earliest manuscript of these verses. Abraham 1:12 is in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, one of Joseph's scribes.

Furthermore, reading the text of the Book of Abraham becomes smoother with the omission of these phrases. The translation retains coherency even without the textual insertions. Scholarly consensus is that these lines in Abraham 1:12 and 1:14 were later additions to the text—perhaps even with the approval of Joseph Smith.[17] Thus they are not significant to the integrity of the Book of Abraham.

Learn more about the Book of Abraham
FAIR links
  • Mike Ash, "'Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation and Modern Egyptology'," Proceedings of the 2006 FAIR Conference (August 2006). link
  • Michael Ash and Kevin Barney, "ABCs of the Book of Abraham," Proceedings of the 2004 FAIR Conference (August 2004). link
  • John Gee, "'Book of Abraham, I Presume'," Proceedings of the 2012 FAIR Conference (August 2012). link
  • John Gee, "Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel," Proceedings of the 2001 FAIR Conference (August 2001). link
  • John Gee, "The Larger Issue," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009). link
  • Kerry Muehlstein, "The Book of Abraham and Unnoticed Assumptions," Proceedings of the 2014 FAIR Conference (August 2014). link
  • Michael Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Dealing with the Critics," Proceedings of the 2003 FAIR Conference (August 2003). link
Online
  • Kevin L. Barney, "The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources," Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Studies in the Book of Abraham, No. 3), John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., (Provo: FARMS, 2006): 107–30.off-site
  • Michael Dennis Rhodes, "A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus [pdflink]," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (1977), 259.
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," Brigham Young University Studies 11 no. 1 (Summer 1971), 350–399.off-site
  • E. Douglas Clark, "A Powerful New Resource for Studying the Book of Abraham (Review of Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham)," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [91–95] link
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "Phase One," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 no. 2 (Summer 1968), 101.
  • Benjamin Urrutia, "The Joseph Smith Papyri," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 2 (Summer 1969), 129–134.
  • John Gee, "Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts," Ensign (July 1992), 60–?.
  • John Gee, "A Method for Studying the Facsimiles; Review of A Study Guide to the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007). [348–353] link
  • John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors (Review of By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4/1 (1992). [93–119] link
  • John Gee, "'Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob (Review of The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham: A Critical Review by Edward H. Ashment)'," FARMS Review 7/1 (1995). [19–84] link
  • John Gee, "Bird Island' Revisited, or the Book of Mormon through Pyramidal Kabbalistic Glasses: Review of Written by the Finger of God: A Testimony of Joseph Smith's Translations by Joe Sampson'," FARMS Review 7/1 (1995). [219–228] link
  • John Gee, "New Light on the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 19/2 (2007). [245–260] link
  • John Gee, "One Side of a Nonexistent Conversation (Review of The Papyri of Abraham: Facsimiles of the Everlasting Covenant)," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [81–85] link
  • John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20/1 (2008). [113–138] link
  • John Gee, "Telling the Story of the Joseph Smith Papyri (Review of The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Study of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri by James R. Harris)," FARMS Review 8/2 (1996). [46–59] link
  • Brian M. Hauglid, "Nibley's Abraham in Egypt: Laying the Foundation for Abraham Research," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [97–90] link
  • Quinten Barney, "A New and Most Welcome Resource for Book of Abraham Studies," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 56/6 (12 May 2023). [259–264] link
  • John Gee, "Fantasy and Reality in the Translation of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42/7 (29 January 2021). [127–170] link
  • John Gee, "Shulem, One of the King's Principal Waiters," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 19/15 (29 April 2016). [383–396] link
  • Mark J. Johnson, "Scriptures with Pictures: Methodology, Unexamined Assumptions, and the Study of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25/1 (7 April 2017). [1–60] link
  • Jeff Lindsay, "Book of Abraham Polemics: Dan Vogel's Broad Critique of the Defense of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47/4 (10 September 2021). [107–150] link
  • Kerry Muhlestein, "Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Introduction to the Historiography of their Acquisitions, Translations, and Interpretations," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 22/2 (23 September 2016). [17–50] link
  • Julie M. Smith, "A Note on Chiasmus in Abraham 3:22-23," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8/13 (31 January 2014). [187–190] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Framing the Book of Abraham: Presumptions and Paradigms," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47/8 (24 September 2021). [263–338] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Pressing Forward with the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 28/17 (20 April 2018). [299–308] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Temple Themes in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 60/6 (2 February 2024). [211–238] link
  • Adam Stokes, "The Hamites: The Pre-Restoration Monotheism of the Children of Ham in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59/2 (20 October 2023). [33–52] link
  • John S. Thompson, "'Being of that Lineage': Generational Curses and Inheritance in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 54/3 (2 December 2022). [97–146] link
  • Larry E. Morris, "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking ('Review of 'The ‘Breathing Permit of Hor’ Thirty-four Years Later' Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97–119)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2005). [355–380] link
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "'Approach to John Gee, Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Review of A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri)'," FARMS Review 13/2 (2001). [63–64] link
  • Michael D. Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture (Review of By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson)," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4/1 (1992). [120–126] link
  • off-site
  • Hugh Nibley, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," Sunstone 4:5-6 no. (Issue #17.18) (December 1979), 49–51. off-site
Video
Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation, and Modern Egyptology, Mike Ash, 2006 FAIR Conference
ABCs of the Book of Abraham, Michael Ash, Kevin Barney, 2004 FAIR Conference


Print
  • H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1995); ISBN 0875798462, ISBN 978-0875798462.
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "The Use of Mnemonic Devices in Oral Traditions, as Exemplified by the Book of Abraham and the Hor Sensen Papyrus," Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 120 (April 1970): 2–10.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus...Twenty Years Later."
  • Richley Crapo and John A. Tvedtnes, "A Study of the Hor Sensen Papyrus." Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 109 (25 October 1968): 1–6.
  • Richley Crapo and John A. Tvedtnes. "The Hor Sensen Papyrus as a Mnemonic Device: A Further Study." Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 114 (2 June 1969): 6–13.
  • Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, edited by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, (Provo: FARMS, 2005). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 3)
  • John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000).
  • Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, (Provo: FARMS, 2001). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 1)
  • Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 2nd edition, (Vol. 14 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by Gary P. Gillum, Illustrated by Michael P. Lyon, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000). ISBN 157345527X.
  • Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, edited by John Gee, Vol. 18 in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book / FARMS, 2009). ISBN 1606410547.
  • Hugh Nibley, One Eternal Round, edited by Michael D. Rhodes, Vol. 19 in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book / FARMS, 2009). ISBN 9781606412374 .
  • Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo: FARMS, 2005). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 2)
  • John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000).
  • Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd edition, (Vol. 16 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John Gee and Michael D. Rhodes, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), 1. ISBN 159038539X. 1st edition GL direct link
  • John Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri," The Disciple As Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo: FARMS, 2000).
  • Brian M. Hauglid, “Thoughts on the Book of Abraham,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 245–258.
  • Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 217–243.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles”, Religious Educator 4/2 (2003), 115-123.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, “The Book of Abraham: Dealing with the Critics”, FAIR Conference, 2003, xxx.
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Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. "Unit 31: Day 2, The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students, LDS.org (2013)
  2. John Whitmer, quoted in Karen Lynn Davidson, Richard L. Jensen, and David J. Whittaker, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Vol. 2: Assigned Histories, 1831–1847 (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 86.
  3. Warren Parrish, letter to the editor, Painesville Republican, 15 February 1838, cited in John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20, no. 1 (2008): 115, n. 4.
  4. Wilford Woodruff journal, February 19, 1842.
  5. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 20:65.
  6. The Pearl of Great Price–––Introduction (2013 ed.). Elsewhere official Church publications say concerning the Book of Abraham: "The book of Abraham is a translation that the Prophet Joseph Smith made from some Egyptian papyri." Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996), 1.
  7. John Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri," in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 175–218; "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," 115–123; "Formulas and Faith," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 1 (2012): 60–65; "Book of Abraham, I Presume," online at http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2012-fair-conference/2012-book-of-abraham-i-presume; See also http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Abraham/Size_of_missing_papyrus
  8. Andrew W. Cook and Christopher C. Smith, "The Original Length of the Scroll of Hôr," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 4 (Winter 2010), 1–42; Andrew W. Cook, "Formulas and Facts: A Response to John Gee," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 1–10.
  9. These documents are free to view online at the Joseph Smith Papers website.
  10. Brian M. Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2010), 1–20, 225–231; "Thoughts on the Book of Abraham," in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 245–258; Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence," 195–203; Hugh Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," reprinted in An Approach to the Book of Abraham, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 18, ed. John Gee (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2009), 502–568.
  11. Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View," in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, 230–31. See also http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Abraham/By_his_own_hand
  12. Robert K. Ritner, "'Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham'— A Response," <http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-book-of-abraham.htm> (21 May 2020).
  13. Samuel M. Brown, "The Translator and the Ghost Writer: Joseph Smith and W.W. Phelps," Journal of Mormon History Vol. 34, No. 1 (Winter 2008): 26–62; Bruce A.Van Orden, "William W. Phelps's Service in Nauvoo as Joseph Smith's Political Clerk," BYU Studies 32, nos. 1, 2 (1992): 81–94; Bruce A. Van Orden, We'll Sing and We'll Shout: The Life and Times of W. W. Phelps (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company; Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 356–60.
  14. Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee, "'President Joseph Has Translated a Portion' Joseph Smith and the Mistranslation of the Kinderhook Plates," in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, eds. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 517.
  15. W. W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, July 19–20, 1835, in Bruce A. Van Orden, "Writing to Zion: The William W. Phelps Kirtland Letters (1835–1836)," BYU Studies 33, no. 3 (1993): 555. Cited in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng> (21 May 2020).
  16. Robert K. Ritner, "A Response," (21 May 2020).
  17. John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2018), 143–46; Brent M. Rogers and others, eds., Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Joseph Smith Papers (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2017), 74–75; Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, Joseph Smith Papers (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2018), 195–96, 239 nn. 57, 64. See also the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers website and their comments here and here.
Articles about Book of Abraham

Articles about Joseph Smith

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide: "These papyri contain authentic Egyptian writings, but they do not date to the time of Abraham, nor do they contain the actual personally handwritten account of Abraham"

"Unit 31: Day 2, The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2013):

In 1966, 11 fragments of papyri the Prophet Joseph Smith once had were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These papyri contain authentic Egyptian writings, but they do not date to the time of Abraham, nor do they contain the actual personally handwritten account of Abraham. It is important to remember that only a few fragments and not all of the papyri that Joseph Smith possessed have been found. The book of Abraham may have been translated from papyri that have not been recovered. These lost papyri may have contained copies of Abraham’s writings.

At the present time we simply do not know the exact nature of the relationship between the book of Abraham and the papyri Joseph Smith possessed. There are various theories proposed as to how the prophet translated these writings, but we simply do not know the details. We do know that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God. [1]

How was the text of the Book of Abraham produced by Joseph Smith?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Insight #39: How Did Joseph Smith Translate the Book of Abraham?

The Book of Abraham was claimed to have been received by revelation

Richard Turley notes that the Book of Abraham was received by revelation:

"Very quickly, let me just say a few things about it very simple. Number 1, again, it was received by revelation."
Richard Turley, Questions Asked at 2010 Swedish Fireside

The questions surrounding the Book of Abraham are complex, and involve a number of disciplines and sub-disciplines, including: Egyptology (including Egyptian archaeology, Egyptian iconography, Egyptian religion, Egyptian history, papyrology, etc.), Syro-Palestinian archaeology, biblical studies, textual criticism, Mormon history, Mormon theology, English paleography and manuscript transmission, etc. As such, any approach to the Book of Abraham or the Joseph Smith Papyri must be conscious of how these various disciplines (with their respective methods) can be used, or misused, in studying the Book of Abraham.

19th century sources confirm that the text of the Book of Abraham was received by revelation

Consider these two quotes, the first from John Whitmer, who was Church Historian from 1831 until his excommunication in 1838, and the second from Warren Parrish, who was one of the scribes during the translation.

John Whitmer said,

"Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records . . . which when all translated will be a pleasing history and of great value to the saints." [2]

Warren Parrish said,

"I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks [sic] as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration from Heaven." [3]

A more detailed essay describing the translation of the Book of Abraham was done by Pearl of Great Price Central and may be found by following the link above.



Did Joseph use his seer stone to receive the text of the Book of Abraham in the same manner as he did for the Book of Mormon?

There is second-hand information that suggests Joseph Smith used his seer stone in the translation of the Book of Abraham

There is also second-hand information that suggests Joseph Smith used his seer stone (or what came to be called the "Urim and Thummim") in the translation of the Book of Abraham; though these accounts must be accepted carefully because of their secondary nature.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The Lord is blessing Joseph with power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the Urim and Thummim ancient records and hieroglyphics old as Abraham or Adam which caused our hearts to burn within us while we behold their glorious truths opened unto us." [4]

"The Prophet translated the part of these writings which, as I have said is contained in the Pearl of Great Price, and known as the Book of Abraham. Thus you see one of the first gifts bestowed by the Lord for the benefit of His people, was that of revelation-the gift to translate, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, the gift of bringing to light old and ancient records." [5]

The official position of the Church is that the Book of Abraham is "an inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri." [6] Anything beyond this is speculation, and does not constitute official Church doctrine relative to the Book of Abraham's origins. Nevertheless, it's clear from the historical evidence that Joseph Smith was not attempting a scholarly translation of the Book of Abraham à la Jean-François Champollion or other Egyptologists, but rather produced a revelatory translation (see Richard Turley's comments below). The exact nature of this revelatory translation is uncertain, with various theories having been offered over the years.

Do we have all of the papyri that Joseph Smith had?

There is no question that we are currently missing some papyri

Even critics of the Book of Abraham must acknowledge this. For example, we are missing the originals to Facsimiles 2 and 3. The question therefore is: how much papyrus are we missing? Professor John Gee has estimated, based on historical eyewitness testimony, papyrilogical considerations, and mathematical calculations, that we're missing a sizable portion of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Professor Gee further argues the likelihood that the text of the Book of Abraham translated (again, via revelation, and not by scholarly means) by Joseph Smith was contained in this missing portion of papyri. [7] Professor Gee is not without his critics, however, who argue instead that we're missing only a small portion of the original papyri. [8]

As such, this is still an open question. Further research is being conducted that will hopefully shed further light on this question. In the mean time, however, Professor Gee's so-called "Missing Papyrus Theory" cannot merely be dismissed. Those who struggle with the Book of Abraham controversy must deal with the evidence presented by Professor Gee.

How does the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) relate to the Book of Abraham?

The exact relationship between the documents referred to as the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" and the Book of Abraham have not yet been determined

Professor Brian M. Hauglid of Brigham Young University is currently undertaking a critical text edition of the so-called "Kirtland Egyptian Papers," or, more properly, the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (or GAEL), in conjunction with scholars at the Joseph Smith Papers. [9] Professor Hauglid has published some preliminary thoughts on his research, in addition to comments made by other Mormon scholars. [10]

Before we pass judgment on the GAEL, including it's relationship to the Book of Abraham text, we should be patient and see what Professor Hauglid and other scholars will release in the future, per Richard Turley's advice. This remains a relatively under-studied area of the Book of Abraham debate, and it would be foolish to jump to conclusions before all the relevant data is presented for scholarly scrutiny.

"Again, this concept of translation if you look at the 7th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, it’s a translation of a parchment sent up by the apostle john in the new testament. There’s no evidence it was anywhere around Joseph at the time that he translated it. OK, so again, translation is not character for character translation like you and I think about it, OK?"

Were the characters on the papyri written by Abraham himself?

[Brother Turley]: There are lots of theories on that. The church does believe that the book of Abraham is the word of God and if you read the book of Abraham, there are doctrines and principles you will understand that are important to you. That is the church’s position. Exactly how Joseph Smith did it? There are lots of scholarly debates going on about that. But there’s excellent work going on at BYU that should be out in the next year."

Does the Joseph Smith papyri consist of Egyptian funerary documents?

[Brother Turley]: The papyrus that we have we know what books those are from Egyptian.

Do the Joseph Smith papyri date back to the time of Abraham?

Richard Turley: "There’s a difference between the date of the copy and the date of the text"

[Brother Turley]: There’s a difference between the date of the copy and the date of the text. So the text, yes, we believe is older. The actual copy could be later."

This is a very important point to keep in mind. There is a difference between the date of a text and the date of a particular manuscript of a text. For example, biblical scholars recognize that even though our earliest manuscripts for the books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are currently found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to circa 200-100 BCE, the date of the composition of the text of the books themselves go back many centuries.

The same point applies to the Book of Abraham. As Professor Kerry Muhlestein explains:

Critics say that if this papyrus was written in the second century BC it could not possibly have been written by Abraham himself. In regard to this assumption, I ask, who said this particular papyrus was written by Abraham himself? The heading does not indicate that Abraham had written that particular copy but rather that he was the author of the original. What these critics have done is confuse the difference between a text and a manuscript. For example, many people have a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; each has a manuscript copy of the text that Tolkien originally wrote. A text, regardless of how many copies of it exist in the world, is written by one author. However, each copy of that text is a manuscript.

The earliest known copies of the book of Isaiah date to hundreds of years after the prophet’s death. Yet this has not led to the conclusion that Isaiah was not the author of the book of Isaiah. Clearly the manuscripts we have are copies of the original text that he wrote during his lifetime. We all know that when an author of the ancient world wrote something, if those writings were to survive or be disseminated, the text had to be copied again and again and again, for generation upon generation. When the heading states that the text was written by Abraham’s own hand, it notes who the author is, not who copied down the particular manuscript that came into Joseph’s possession. If critics had carefully thought through this issue, they would never have raised it.

These issues also highlight the question of how the Book of Abraham came to be in Egypt in the first place. There are a dizzying number of possibilities. Abraham himself was in Egypt, as was his great-grandson Joseph and all of his Israelite descendants for hundreds of years thereafter. After the Exodus, Israelites continued to travel to and live in Egypt. After the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, large groups of Jews settled in Egypt and created longstanding and thriving communities, even to the point that they built a temple. It was during this time period that Joseph Smith Papyri 1, 10, and 11 were created. Copies of these papyri could have moved back and forth between Egypt and Israel during any of these eras. [11]

Could Joseph Smith translate Egyptian?

At that time, nobody could translate Egyptian . The only way Joseph could translate would be through revelation.

Many students of the Book of Abraham have asked if Joseph Smith could have had access to means that he might learn Egyptian and translate the Book of Abraham and/or if he ever claimed to be able to translate Egyptian mechanically. Joseph couldn't translate Egyptian. At that time, hardly anyone in the United States could translate Egyptian. Jean-Francois Champollion would only recently (relatively speaking) be completing his transliteration of the Rosetta Stone. Joseph was able to receive the text of the Book of Abraham in the same manner that he did for the Book of Mormon, by revelation.

Some critics believe that Joseph claimed he knew Egyptian.

Some critics believe that Joseph claimed to know Egyptian for a couple of reasons.

One of these is an 1844 publication entitled Appeal to the Freemen of the State of Vermont, the "Brave Green Mountain Boys," and Honest Men that was purportedly written by Joseph Smith and in which an appeal to the GAEL is made to provide a translation for an Egyptian-sounding phrase.[12] However, this publication has been demonstrated to have been ghostwritten by W.W. Phelps acting as Joseph Smith.[13] Additionally, it would have been written after all the translation of the Book of Abraham was complete thus making it so that, prior to and during the translation, Joseph would not have claimed to know Egyptian.

A second reason is the GAEL itself and Joseph's use of it when doing his one-character "translation" of the Kinderhook Plates. As Latter-day Saint historians Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst McGee have observed in their definitive treatment of the Kinderhook plates, "[Joseph] Smith’s autonomous use of the Egyptian Alphabet book...in the translation of the Kinderhook plates shows that he considered it a legitimate translation tool."[14] However, as the Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham has stated, the relationship of the GAEL to the Book of Abraham is not certain. Some have argued that the GAEL represents an attempt by Joseph Smith's scribes to reverse engineer the translation of the Book of Abraham to the papyri without the aid of revelation. If that is true, then Joseph Smith is not necessarily claiming by revelation to know how to translate Egyptian mechanically as academic translators do today with grammar books, dictionaries, etc. It simply means that Joseph received a translation of the papyri by revelation and then without the aid of revelation tried to discern the meaning of the characters on the papyri to try and learn Egyptian.

The final reason comes from the Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham on churchofjesuschrist.org which states the following:

Phelps apparently viewed Joseph Smith as uniquely capable of understanding the Egyptian characters: "As no one could translate these writings," he told his wife, "they were presented to President Smith. He soon knew what they were."[15]

This quotation from Phelps has been interpreted by critics to mean that Joseph Smith was claiming to know the Egyptian language.[16] However, it is clear from context that this did not mean that Joseph was claiming to have a working knowledge of Egyptian that he could use to translate documents mechanically, but that he was capable of discerning the meaning of the writings by revelation given to him because of his role and stewardship as prophet of God and President of the Church.

Are the statements of Abraham 1:12,14 about the altar and Gods at the "beginning of the record" significant for the Book of Abraham?

The earliest manuscripts of Abraham 1:12,14 have the text squeezed either between lines of the text or in the upper margin of the manuscript.

]]

There are several criticisms that attach themselves to Abraham 1:12,14. It is postulated that they require that Abraham be familiar with the facsimiles themselves, that they complicate the Missing Papyrus Theory, and so on.

The earliest manuscripts of Abraham 1:12 and 14 have the text squeezed either between lines of text or in the upper margin of the earliest manuscript of these verses. Abraham 1:12 is in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, one of Joseph's scribes.

Furthermore, reading the text of the Book of Abraham becomes smoother with the omission of these phrases. The translation retains coherency even without the textual insertions. Scholarly consensus is that these lines in Abraham 1:12 and 1:14 were later additions to the text—perhaps even with the approval of Joseph Smith.[17] Thus they are not significant to the integrity of the Book of Abraham.

Learn more about the Book of Abraham
FAIR links
  • Mike Ash, "'Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation and Modern Egyptology'," Proceedings of the 2006 FAIR Conference (August 2006). link
  • Michael Ash and Kevin Barney, "ABCs of the Book of Abraham," Proceedings of the 2004 FAIR Conference (August 2004). link
  • John Gee, "'Book of Abraham, I Presume'," Proceedings of the 2012 FAIR Conference (August 2012). link
  • John Gee, "Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel," Proceedings of the 2001 FAIR Conference (August 2001). link
  • John Gee, "The Larger Issue," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009). link
  • Kerry Muehlstein, "The Book of Abraham and Unnoticed Assumptions," Proceedings of the 2014 FAIR Conference (August 2014). link
  • Michael Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Dealing with the Critics," Proceedings of the 2003 FAIR Conference (August 2003). link
Online
  • Kevin L. Barney, "The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources," Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Studies in the Book of Abraham, No. 3), John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., (Provo: FARMS, 2006): 107–30.off-site
  • Michael Dennis Rhodes, "A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus [pdflink]," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (1977), 259.
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," Brigham Young University Studies 11 no. 1 (Summer 1971), 350–399.off-site
  • E. Douglas Clark, "A Powerful New Resource for Studying the Book of Abraham (Review of Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham)," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [91–95] link
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "Phase One," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 no. 2 (Summer 1968), 101.
  • Benjamin Urrutia, "The Joseph Smith Papyri," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 2 (Summer 1969), 129–134.
  • John Gee, "Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts," Ensign (July 1992), 60–?.
  • John Gee, "A Method for Studying the Facsimiles; Review of A Study Guide to the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007). [348–353] link
  • John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors (Review of By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4/1 (1992). [93–119] link
  • John Gee, "'Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob (Review of The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham: A Critical Review by Edward H. Ashment)'," FARMS Review 7/1 (1995). [19–84] link
  • John Gee, "Bird Island' Revisited, or the Book of Mormon through Pyramidal Kabbalistic Glasses: Review of Written by the Finger of God: A Testimony of Joseph Smith's Translations by Joe Sampson'," FARMS Review 7/1 (1995). [219–228] link
  • John Gee, "New Light on the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 19/2 (2007). [245–260] link
  • John Gee, "One Side of a Nonexistent Conversation (Review of The Papyri of Abraham: Facsimiles of the Everlasting Covenant)," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [81–85] link
  • John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20/1 (2008). [113–138] link
  • John Gee, "Telling the Story of the Joseph Smith Papyri (Review of The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Study of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri by James R. Harris)," FARMS Review 8/2 (1996). [46–59] link
  • Brian M. Hauglid, "Nibley's Abraham in Egypt: Laying the Foundation for Abraham Research," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [97–90] link
  • Quinten Barney, "A New and Most Welcome Resource for Book of Abraham Studies," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 56/6 (12 May 2023). [259–264] link
  • John Gee, "Fantasy and Reality in the Translation of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42/7 (29 January 2021). [127–170] link
  • John Gee, "Shulem, One of the King's Principal Waiters," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 19/15 (29 April 2016). [383–396] link
  • Mark J. Johnson, "Scriptures with Pictures: Methodology, Unexamined Assumptions, and the Study of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25/1 (7 April 2017). [1–60] link
  • Jeff Lindsay, "Book of Abraham Polemics: Dan Vogel's Broad Critique of the Defense of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47/4 (10 September 2021). [107–150] link
  • Kerry Muhlestein, "Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Introduction to the Historiography of their Acquisitions, Translations, and Interpretations," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 22/2 (23 September 2016). [17–50] link
  • Julie M. Smith, "A Note on Chiasmus in Abraham 3:22-23," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8/13 (31 January 2014). [187–190] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Framing the Book of Abraham: Presumptions and Paradigms," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47/8 (24 September 2021). [263–338] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Pressing Forward with the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 28/17 (20 April 2018). [299–308] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Temple Themes in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 60/6 (2 February 2024). [211–238] link
  • Adam Stokes, "The Hamites: The Pre-Restoration Monotheism of the Children of Ham in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59/2 (20 October 2023). [33–52] link
  • John S. Thompson, "'Being of that Lineage': Generational Curses and Inheritance in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 54/3 (2 December 2022). [97–146] link
  • Larry E. Morris, "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking ('Review of 'The ‘Breathing Permit of Hor’ Thirty-four Years Later' Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97–119)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2005). [355–380] link
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "'Approach to John Gee, Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Review of A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri)'," FARMS Review 13/2 (2001). [63–64] link
  • Michael D. Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture (Review of By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson)," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4/1 (1992). [120–126] link
  • off-site
  • Hugh Nibley, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," Sunstone 4:5-6 no. (Issue #17.18) (December 1979), 49–51. off-site
Video
Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation, and Modern Egyptology, Mike Ash, 2006 FAIR Conference
ABCs of the Book of Abraham, Michael Ash, Kevin Barney, 2004 FAIR Conference


Print
  • H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1995); ISBN 0875798462, ISBN 978-0875798462.
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "The Use of Mnemonic Devices in Oral Traditions, as Exemplified by the Book of Abraham and the Hor Sensen Papyrus," Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 120 (April 1970): 2–10.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus...Twenty Years Later."
  • Richley Crapo and John A. Tvedtnes, "A Study of the Hor Sensen Papyrus." Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 109 (25 October 1968): 1–6.
  • Richley Crapo and John A. Tvedtnes. "The Hor Sensen Papyrus as a Mnemonic Device: A Further Study." Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 114 (2 June 1969): 6–13.
  • Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, edited by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, (Provo: FARMS, 2005). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 3)
  • John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000).
  • Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, (Provo: FARMS, 2001). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 1)
  • Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 2nd edition, (Vol. 14 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by Gary P. Gillum, Illustrated by Michael P. Lyon, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000). ISBN 157345527X.
  • Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, edited by John Gee, Vol. 18 in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book / FARMS, 2009). ISBN 1606410547.
  • Hugh Nibley, One Eternal Round, edited by Michael D. Rhodes, Vol. 19 in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book / FARMS, 2009). ISBN 9781606412374 .
  • Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo: FARMS, 2005). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 2)
  • John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000).
  • Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd edition, (Vol. 16 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John Gee and Michael D. Rhodes, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), 1. ISBN 159038539X. 1st edition GL direct link
  • John Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri," The Disciple As Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo: FARMS, 2000).
  • Brian M. Hauglid, “Thoughts on the Book of Abraham,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 245–258.
  • Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 217–243.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles”, Religious Educator 4/2 (2003), 115-123.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, “The Book of Abraham: Dealing with the Critics”, FAIR Conference, 2003, xxx.
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Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. "Unit 31: Day 2, The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students, LDS.org (2013)
  2. John Whitmer, quoted in Karen Lynn Davidson, Richard L. Jensen, and David J. Whittaker, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Vol. 2: Assigned Histories, 1831–1847 (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 86.
  3. Warren Parrish, letter to the editor, Painesville Republican, 15 February 1838, cited in John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20, no. 1 (2008): 115, n. 4.
  4. Wilford Woodruff journal, February 19, 1842.
  5. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 20:65.
  6. The Pearl of Great Price–––Introduction (2013 ed.). Elsewhere official Church publications say concerning the Book of Abraham: "The book of Abraham is a translation that the Prophet Joseph Smith made from some Egyptian papyri." Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996), 1.
  7. John Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri," in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 175–218; "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," 115–123; "Formulas and Faith," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 1 (2012): 60–65; "Book of Abraham, I Presume," online at http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2012-fair-conference/2012-book-of-abraham-i-presume; See also http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Abraham/Size_of_missing_papyrus
  8. Andrew W. Cook and Christopher C. Smith, "The Original Length of the Scroll of Hôr," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 4 (Winter 2010), 1–42; Andrew W. Cook, "Formulas and Facts: A Response to John Gee," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 1–10.
  9. These documents are free to view online at the Joseph Smith Papers website.
  10. Brian M. Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2010), 1–20, 225–231; "Thoughts on the Book of Abraham," in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 245–258; Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence," 195–203; Hugh Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," reprinted in An Approach to the Book of Abraham, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 18, ed. John Gee (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2009), 502–568.
  11. Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View," in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, 230–31. See also http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Abraham/By_his_own_hand
  12. Robert K. Ritner, "'Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham'— A Response," <http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-book-of-abraham.htm> (21 May 2020).
  13. Samuel M. Brown, "The Translator and the Ghost Writer: Joseph Smith and W.W. Phelps," Journal of Mormon History Vol. 34, No. 1 (Winter 2008): 26–62; Bruce A.Van Orden, "William W. Phelps's Service in Nauvoo as Joseph Smith's Political Clerk," BYU Studies 32, nos. 1, 2 (1992): 81–94; Bruce A. Van Orden, We'll Sing and We'll Shout: The Life and Times of W. W. Phelps (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company; Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 356–60.
  14. Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee, "'President Joseph Has Translated a Portion' Joseph Smith and the Mistranslation of the Kinderhook Plates," in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, eds. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 517.
  15. W. W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, July 19–20, 1835, in Bruce A. Van Orden, "Writing to Zion: The William W. Phelps Kirtland Letters (1835–1836)," BYU Studies 33, no. 3 (1993): 555. Cited in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng> (21 May 2020).
  16. Robert K. Ritner, "A Response," (21 May 2020).
  17. John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2018), 143–46; Brent M. Rogers and others, eds., Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Joseph Smith Papers (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2017), 74–75; Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, Joseph Smith Papers (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2018), 195–96, 239 nn. 57, 64. See also the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers website and their comments here and here.

Question: Were the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar produced prior to the Book of Abraham?

The Kirtland Egyptian Papers were produced after the Book of Abraham was dictated

A key assertion claimed by critics of the Church is that these documents were produced prior to the Book of Abraham manuscript, and that they therefore constitute a "smoking gun" that proves that Joseph was making up translations for Egyptian characters taken from the existing fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Critics often refer to these papers as the "translation documents" for the Book of Abraham, and believe that they were used specifically to produce the first three verses in Abraham, Chapter 1.

However, the earliest document in the KEP (pre-dating the recovery of the Joseph Smith Papryi from which the Book of Abraham was produced) assigns meanings to non-Egyptian characters, and a later document assigns new meanings to these same characters.

The earliest datable document in the collection is a letter from W. W. Phelps to his wife describing a selection of the "pure language". It is dated to May of 1835. The document contains a sequence of six characters, three of which may belong to a Masonic cipher. Each character is also given a name, a pronunciation and an explanation. However, what is significant is that all six of these characters appear in an identical order in other KEP documents, except they are given different names, sounds and explanations. None of these six characters come from the Papyri.

Some source material used in the KEP is taken from sections of the D&C

In the KEP, when a character in the Grammar is given multiple degrees, it does so usually by taking the source text and break it up into consecutive pieces. So, the first line might be the first degree, the second line the second degree, and so on. There is evidence that some of the source material in these explanations comes from sections of the D&C rather than the Book of Abraham.

Some of the Kirtland "Egyptian" Papers do not contain Egyptian at all

The "Egyptian Counting" document which is part of the KEP, like the grammar documents, has a character, a sound, and an explanation for each, yet none of the characters are Egyptian. Nor do they contain a single character from the Joseph Smith papyri.

The placement of a translation of the Book of Abraham prior to the production of the KEP renders the entire discussion regarding which document came before which other documents irrelevant

The production of the KEP after the Book of Abraham indicates that the KEP does not represent "translation documents" documenting a physical process by which translation was attempted.

It should be noted that this does not change the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the Joseph Smith Papyri. It does not address the issue of whether or not the text of the Book of Abraham was actually present on the Scroll of Hor (the "long scroll" theory), or whether the scroll was simply a catalyst for revelation (the "short scroll" theory).


Articles about Book of Abraham

Articles about Joseph Smith

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide: "These papyri contain authentic Egyptian writings, but they do not date to the time of Abraham, nor do they contain the actual personally handwritten account of Abraham"

"Unit 31: Day 2, The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2013):

In 1966, 11 fragments of papyri the Prophet Joseph Smith once had were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These papyri contain authentic Egyptian writings, but they do not date to the time of Abraham, nor do they contain the actual personally handwritten account of Abraham. It is important to remember that only a few fragments and not all of the papyri that Joseph Smith possessed have been found. The book of Abraham may have been translated from papyri that have not been recovered. These lost papyri may have contained copies of Abraham’s writings.

At the present time we simply do not know the exact nature of the relationship between the book of Abraham and the papyri Joseph Smith possessed. There are various theories proposed as to how the prophet translated these writings, but we simply do not know the details. We do know that the Prophet Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God. [1]

How was the text of the Book of Abraham produced by Joseph Smith?

Pearl of Great Price Central, Insight #39: How Did Joseph Smith Translate the Book of Abraham?

The Book of Abraham was claimed to have been received by revelation

Richard Turley notes that the Book of Abraham was received by revelation:

"Very quickly, let me just say a few things about it very simple. Number 1, again, it was received by revelation."
Richard Turley, Questions Asked at 2010 Swedish Fireside

The questions surrounding the Book of Abraham are complex, and involve a number of disciplines and sub-disciplines, including: Egyptology (including Egyptian archaeology, Egyptian iconography, Egyptian religion, Egyptian history, papyrology, etc.), Syro-Palestinian archaeology, biblical studies, textual criticism, Mormon history, Mormon theology, English paleography and manuscript transmission, etc. As such, any approach to the Book of Abraham or the Joseph Smith Papyri must be conscious of how these various disciplines (with their respective methods) can be used, or misused, in studying the Book of Abraham.

19th century sources confirm that the text of the Book of Abraham was received by revelation

Consider these two quotes, the first from John Whitmer, who was Church Historian from 1831 until his excommunication in 1838, and the second from Warren Parrish, who was one of the scribes during the translation.

John Whitmer said,

"Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records . . . which when all translated will be a pleasing history and of great value to the saints." [2]

Warren Parrish said,

"I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks [sic] as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration from Heaven." [3]

A more detailed essay describing the translation of the Book of Abraham was done by Pearl of Great Price Central and may be found by following the link above.



Did Joseph use his seer stone to receive the text of the Book of Abraham in the same manner as he did for the Book of Mormon?

There is second-hand information that suggests Joseph Smith used his seer stone in the translation of the Book of Abraham

There is also second-hand information that suggests Joseph Smith used his seer stone (or what came to be called the "Urim and Thummim") in the translation of the Book of Abraham; though these accounts must be accepted carefully because of their secondary nature.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The Lord is blessing Joseph with power to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to translate through the Urim and Thummim ancient records and hieroglyphics old as Abraham or Adam which caused our hearts to burn within us while we behold their glorious truths opened unto us." [4]

"The Prophet translated the part of these writings which, as I have said is contained in the Pearl of Great Price, and known as the Book of Abraham. Thus you see one of the first gifts bestowed by the Lord for the benefit of His people, was that of revelation-the gift to translate, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, the gift of bringing to light old and ancient records." [5]

The official position of the Church is that the Book of Abraham is "an inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri." [6] Anything beyond this is speculation, and does not constitute official Church doctrine relative to the Book of Abraham's origins. Nevertheless, it's clear from the historical evidence that Joseph Smith was not attempting a scholarly translation of the Book of Abraham à la Jean-François Champollion or other Egyptologists, but rather produced a revelatory translation (see Richard Turley's comments below). The exact nature of this revelatory translation is uncertain, with various theories having been offered over the years.

Do we have all of the papyri that Joseph Smith had?

There is no question that we are currently missing some papyri

Even critics of the Book of Abraham must acknowledge this. For example, we are missing the originals to Facsimiles 2 and 3. The question therefore is: how much papyrus are we missing? Professor John Gee has estimated, based on historical eyewitness testimony, papyrilogical considerations, and mathematical calculations, that we're missing a sizable portion of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Professor Gee further argues the likelihood that the text of the Book of Abraham translated (again, via revelation, and not by scholarly means) by Joseph Smith was contained in this missing portion of papyri. [7] Professor Gee is not without his critics, however, who argue instead that we're missing only a small portion of the original papyri. [8]

As such, this is still an open question. Further research is being conducted that will hopefully shed further light on this question. In the mean time, however, Professor Gee's so-called "Missing Papyrus Theory" cannot merely be dismissed. Those who struggle with the Book of Abraham controversy must deal with the evidence presented by Professor Gee.

How does the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) relate to the Book of Abraham?

The exact relationship between the documents referred to as the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" and the Book of Abraham have not yet been determined

Professor Brian M. Hauglid of Brigham Young University is currently undertaking a critical text edition of the so-called "Kirtland Egyptian Papers," or, more properly, the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (or GAEL), in conjunction with scholars at the Joseph Smith Papers. [9] Professor Hauglid has published some preliminary thoughts on his research, in addition to comments made by other Mormon scholars. [10]

Before we pass judgment on the GAEL, including it's relationship to the Book of Abraham text, we should be patient and see what Professor Hauglid and other scholars will release in the future, per Richard Turley's advice. This remains a relatively under-studied area of the Book of Abraham debate, and it would be foolish to jump to conclusions before all the relevant data is presented for scholarly scrutiny.

"Again, this concept of translation if you look at the 7th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, it’s a translation of a parchment sent up by the apostle john in the new testament. There’s no evidence it was anywhere around Joseph at the time that he translated it. OK, so again, translation is not character for character translation like you and I think about it, OK?"

Were the characters on the papyri written by Abraham himself?

[Brother Turley]: There are lots of theories on that. The church does believe that the book of Abraham is the word of God and if you read the book of Abraham, there are doctrines and principles you will understand that are important to you. That is the church’s position. Exactly how Joseph Smith did it? There are lots of scholarly debates going on about that. But there’s excellent work going on at BYU that should be out in the next year."

Does the Joseph Smith papyri consist of Egyptian funerary documents?

[Brother Turley]: The papyrus that we have we know what books those are from Egyptian.

Do the Joseph Smith papyri date back to the time of Abraham?

Richard Turley: "There’s a difference between the date of the copy and the date of the text"

[Brother Turley]: There’s a difference between the date of the copy and the date of the text. So the text, yes, we believe is older. The actual copy could be later."

This is a very important point to keep in mind. There is a difference between the date of a text and the date of a particular manuscript of a text. For example, biblical scholars recognize that even though our earliest manuscripts for the books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are currently found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to circa 200-100 BCE, the date of the composition of the text of the books themselves go back many centuries.

The same point applies to the Book of Abraham. As Professor Kerry Muhlestein explains:

Critics say that if this papyrus was written in the second century BC it could not possibly have been written by Abraham himself. In regard to this assumption, I ask, who said this particular papyrus was written by Abraham himself? The heading does not indicate that Abraham had written that particular copy but rather that he was the author of the original. What these critics have done is confuse the difference between a text and a manuscript. For example, many people have a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; each has a manuscript copy of the text that Tolkien originally wrote. A text, regardless of how many copies of it exist in the world, is written by one author. However, each copy of that text is a manuscript.

The earliest known copies of the book of Isaiah date to hundreds of years after the prophet’s death. Yet this has not led to the conclusion that Isaiah was not the author of the book of Isaiah. Clearly the manuscripts we have are copies of the original text that he wrote during his lifetime. We all know that when an author of the ancient world wrote something, if those writings were to survive or be disseminated, the text had to be copied again and again and again, for generation upon generation. When the heading states that the text was written by Abraham’s own hand, it notes who the author is, not who copied down the particular manuscript that came into Joseph’s possession. If critics had carefully thought through this issue, they would never have raised it.

These issues also highlight the question of how the Book of Abraham came to be in Egypt in the first place. There are a dizzying number of possibilities. Abraham himself was in Egypt, as was his great-grandson Joseph and all of his Israelite descendants for hundreds of years thereafter. After the Exodus, Israelites continued to travel to and live in Egypt. After the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, large groups of Jews settled in Egypt and created longstanding and thriving communities, even to the point that they built a temple. It was during this time period that Joseph Smith Papyri 1, 10, and 11 were created. Copies of these papyri could have moved back and forth between Egypt and Israel during any of these eras. [11]

Could Joseph Smith translate Egyptian?

At that time, nobody could translate Egyptian . The only way Joseph could translate would be through revelation.

Many students of the Book of Abraham have asked if Joseph Smith could have had access to means that he might learn Egyptian and translate the Book of Abraham and/or if he ever claimed to be able to translate Egyptian mechanically. Joseph couldn't translate Egyptian. At that time, hardly anyone in the United States could translate Egyptian. Jean-Francois Champollion would only recently (relatively speaking) be completing his transliteration of the Rosetta Stone. Joseph was able to receive the text of the Book of Abraham in the same manner that he did for the Book of Mormon, by revelation.

Some critics believe that Joseph claimed he knew Egyptian.

Some critics believe that Joseph claimed to know Egyptian for a couple of reasons.

One of these is an 1844 publication entitled Appeal to the Freemen of the State of Vermont, the "Brave Green Mountain Boys," and Honest Men that was purportedly written by Joseph Smith and in which an appeal to the GAEL is made to provide a translation for an Egyptian-sounding phrase.[12] However, this publication has been demonstrated to have been ghostwritten by W.W. Phelps acting as Joseph Smith.[13] Additionally, it would have been written after all the translation of the Book of Abraham was complete thus making it so that, prior to and during the translation, Joseph would not have claimed to know Egyptian.

A second reason is the GAEL itself and Joseph's use of it when doing his one-character "translation" of the Kinderhook Plates. As Latter-day Saint historians Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst McGee have observed in their definitive treatment of the Kinderhook plates, "[Joseph] Smith’s autonomous use of the Egyptian Alphabet book...in the translation of the Kinderhook plates shows that he considered it a legitimate translation tool."[14] However, as the Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham has stated, the relationship of the GAEL to the Book of Abraham is not certain. Some have argued that the GAEL represents an attempt by Joseph Smith's scribes to reverse engineer the translation of the Book of Abraham to the papyri without the aid of revelation. If that is true, then Joseph Smith is not necessarily claiming by revelation to know how to translate Egyptian mechanically as academic translators do today with grammar books, dictionaries, etc. It simply means that Joseph received a translation of the papyri by revelation and then without the aid of revelation tried to discern the meaning of the characters on the papyri to try and learn Egyptian.

The final reason comes from the Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham on churchofjesuschrist.org which states the following:

Phelps apparently viewed Joseph Smith as uniquely capable of understanding the Egyptian characters: "As no one could translate these writings," he told his wife, "they were presented to President Smith. He soon knew what they were."[15]

This quotation from Phelps has been interpreted by critics to mean that Joseph Smith was claiming to know the Egyptian language.[16] However, it is clear from context that this did not mean that Joseph was claiming to have a working knowledge of Egyptian that he could use to translate documents mechanically, but that he was capable of discerning the meaning of the writings by revelation given to him because of his role and stewardship as prophet of God and President of the Church.

Are the statements of Abraham 1:12,14 about the altar and Gods at the "beginning of the record" significant for the Book of Abraham?

The earliest manuscripts of Abraham 1:12,14 have the text squeezed either between lines of the text or in the upper margin of the manuscript.

]]

There are several criticisms that attach themselves to Abraham 1:12,14. It is postulated that they require that Abraham be familiar with the facsimiles themselves, that they complicate the Missing Papyrus Theory, and so on.

The earliest manuscripts of Abraham 1:12 and 14 have the text squeezed either between lines of text or in the upper margin of the earliest manuscript of these verses. Abraham 1:12 is in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, one of Joseph's scribes.

Furthermore, reading the text of the Book of Abraham becomes smoother with the omission of these phrases. The translation retains coherency even without the textual insertions. Scholarly consensus is that these lines in Abraham 1:12 and 1:14 were later additions to the text—perhaps even with the approval of Joseph Smith.[17] Thus they are not significant to the integrity of the Book of Abraham.

Learn more about the Book of Abraham
FAIR links
  • Mike Ash, "'Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation and Modern Egyptology'," Proceedings of the 2006 FAIR Conference (August 2006). link
  • Michael Ash and Kevin Barney, "ABCs of the Book of Abraham," Proceedings of the 2004 FAIR Conference (August 2004). link
  • John Gee, "'Book of Abraham, I Presume'," Proceedings of the 2012 FAIR Conference (August 2012). link
  • John Gee, "Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel," Proceedings of the 2001 FAIR Conference (August 2001). link
  • John Gee, "The Larger Issue," Proceedings of the 2009 FAIR Conference (August 2009). link
  • Kerry Muehlstein, "The Book of Abraham and Unnoticed Assumptions," Proceedings of the 2014 FAIR Conference (August 2014). link
  • Michael Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Dealing with the Critics," Proceedings of the 2003 FAIR Conference (August 2003). link
Online
  • Kevin L. Barney, "The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources," Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Studies in the Book of Abraham, No. 3), John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., (Provo: FARMS, 2006): 107–30.off-site
  • Michael Dennis Rhodes, "A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus [pdflink]," Brigham Young University Studies 17 no. 3 (1977), 259.
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," Brigham Young University Studies 11 no. 1 (Summer 1971), 350–399.off-site
  • E. Douglas Clark, "A Powerful New Resource for Studying the Book of Abraham (Review of Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham)," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [91–95] link
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "Phase One," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 no. 2 (Summer 1968), 101.
  • Benjamin Urrutia, "The Joseph Smith Papyri," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 2 (Summer 1969), 129–134.
  • John Gee, "Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts," Ensign (July 1992), 60–?.
  • John Gee, "A Method for Studying the Facsimiles; Review of A Study Guide to the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007). [348–353] link
  • John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors (Review of By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4/1 (1992). [93–119] link
  • John Gee, "'Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob (Review of The Use of Egyptian Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham: A Critical Review by Edward H. Ashment)'," FARMS Review 7/1 (1995). [19–84] link
  • John Gee, "Bird Island' Revisited, or the Book of Mormon through Pyramidal Kabbalistic Glasses: Review of Written by the Finger of God: A Testimony of Joseph Smith's Translations by Joe Sampson'," FARMS Review 7/1 (1995). [219–228] link
  • John Gee, "New Light on the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 19/2 (2007). [245–260] link
  • John Gee, "One Side of a Nonexistent Conversation (Review of The Papyri of Abraham: Facsimiles of the Everlasting Covenant)," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [81–85] link
  • John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20/1 (2008). [113–138] link
  • John Gee, "Telling the Story of the Joseph Smith Papyri (Review of The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Study of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri by James R. Harris)," FARMS Review 8/2 (1996). [46–59] link
  • Brian M. Hauglid, "Nibley's Abraham in Egypt: Laying the Foundation for Abraham Research," FARMS Review 15/1 (2003). [97–90] link
  • Quinten Barney, "A New and Most Welcome Resource for Book of Abraham Studies," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 56/6 (12 May 2023). [259–264] link
  • John Gee, "Fantasy and Reality in the Translation of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42/7 (29 January 2021). [127–170] link
  • John Gee, "Shulem, One of the King's Principal Waiters," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 19/15 (29 April 2016). [383–396] link
  • Mark J. Johnson, "Scriptures with Pictures: Methodology, Unexamined Assumptions, and the Study of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 25/1 (7 April 2017). [1–60] link
  • Jeff Lindsay, "Book of Abraham Polemics: Dan Vogel's Broad Critique of the Defense of the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47/4 (10 September 2021). [107–150] link
  • Kerry Muhlestein, "Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Introduction to the Historiography of their Acquisitions, Translations, and Interpretations," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 22/2 (23 September 2016). [17–50] link
  • Julie M. Smith, "A Note on Chiasmus in Abraham 3:22-23," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8/13 (31 January 2014). [187–190] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Framing the Book of Abraham: Presumptions and Paradigms," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47/8 (24 September 2021). [263–338] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Pressing Forward with the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 28/17 (20 April 2018). [299–308] link
  • Stephen O. Smoot, "Temple Themes in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 60/6 (2 February 2024). [211–238] link
  • Adam Stokes, "The Hamites: The Pre-Restoration Monotheism of the Children of Ham in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59/2 (20 October 2023). [33–52] link
  • John S. Thompson, "'Being of that Lineage': Generational Curses and Inheritance in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 54/3 (2 December 2022). [97–146] link
  • Larry E. Morris, "The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking ('Review of 'The ‘Breathing Permit of Hor’ Thirty-four Years Later' Dialogue 33/4 (2000): 97–119)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2005). [355–380] link
  • Hugh W. Nibley, "'Approach to John Gee, Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Review of A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri)'," FARMS Review 13/2 (2001). [63–64] link
  • Michael D. Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture (Review of By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri by Charles M. Larson)," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4/1 (1992). [120–126] link
  • off-site
  • Hugh Nibley, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," Sunstone 4:5-6 no. (Issue #17.18) (December 1979), 49–51. off-site
Video
Book of Abraham 201: Papyri, Revelation, and Modern Egyptology, Mike Ash, 2006 FAIR Conference
ABCs of the Book of Abraham, Michael Ash, Kevin Barney, 2004 FAIR Conference


Print
  • H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1995); ISBN 0875798462, ISBN 978-0875798462.
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "The Use of Mnemonic Devices in Oral Traditions, as Exemplified by the Book of Abraham and the Hor Sensen Papyrus," Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 120 (April 1970): 2–10.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus...Twenty Years Later."
  • Richley Crapo and John A. Tvedtnes, "A Study of the Hor Sensen Papyrus." Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 109 (25 October 1968): 1–6.
  • Richley Crapo and John A. Tvedtnes. "The Hor Sensen Papyrus as a Mnemonic Device: A Further Study." Newsletter and Proceedings of the SEHA 114 (2 June 1969): 6–13.
  • Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, edited by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid, (Provo: FARMS, 2005). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 3)
  • John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000).
  • Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee, (Provo: FARMS, 2001). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 1)
  • Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 2nd edition, (Vol. 14 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by Gary P. Gillum, Illustrated by Michael P. Lyon, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000). ISBN 157345527X.
  • Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, edited by John Gee, Vol. 18 in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book / FARMS, 2009). ISBN 1606410547.
  • Hugh Nibley, One Eternal Round, edited by Michael D. Rhodes, Vol. 19 in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah: Deseret Book / FARMS, 2009). ISBN 9781606412374 .
  • Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo: FARMS, 2005). (Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol. 2)
  • John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000).
  • Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd edition, (Vol. 16 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John Gee and Michael D. Rhodes, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), 1. ISBN 159038539X. 1st edition GL direct link
  • John Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri," The Disciple As Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo: FARMS, 2000).
  • Brian M. Hauglid, “Thoughts on the Book of Abraham,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 245–258.
  • Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 217–243.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, “Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles”, Religious Educator 4/2 (2003), 115-123.
  • Michael D. Rhodes, “The Book of Abraham: Dealing with the Critics”, FAIR Conference, 2003, xxx.
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Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Notes

  1. "Unit 31: Day 2, The Coming Forth of the Pearl of Great Price," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students, LDS.org (2013)
  2. John Whitmer, quoted in Karen Lynn Davidson, Richard L. Jensen, and David J. Whittaker, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Histories, Vol. 2: Assigned Histories, 1831–1847 (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 86.
  3. Warren Parrish, letter to the editor, Painesville Republican, 15 February 1838, cited in John Gee, "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," FARMS Review 20, no. 1 (2008): 115, n. 4.
  4. Wilford Woodruff journal, February 19, 1842.
  5. Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 20:65.
  6. The Pearl of Great Price–––Introduction (2013 ed.). Elsewhere official Church publications say concerning the Book of Abraham: "The book of Abraham is a translation that the Prophet Joseph Smith made from some Egyptian papyri." Old Testament: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996), 1.
  7. John Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri," in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), 175–218; "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," 115–123; "Formulas and Faith," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 1 (2012): 60–65; "Book of Abraham, I Presume," online at http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2012-fair-conference/2012-book-of-abraham-i-presume; See also http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Abraham/Size_of_missing_papyrus
  8. Andrew W. Cook and Christopher C. Smith, "The Original Length of the Scroll of Hôr," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 43, no. 4 (Winter 2010), 1–42; Andrew W. Cook, "Formulas and Facts: A Response to John Gee," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 45, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 1–10.
  9. These documents are free to view online at the Joseph Smith Papers website.
  10. Brian M. Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2010), 1–20, 225–231; "Thoughts on the Book of Abraham," in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 245–258; Gee, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence," 195–203; Hugh Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers," reprinted in An Approach to the Book of Abraham, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 18, ed. John Gee (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2009), 502–568.
  11. Kerry Muhlestein, "Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View," in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, 230–31. See also http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Abraham/By_his_own_hand
  12. Robert K. Ritner, "'Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham'— A Response," <http://www.mormonthink.com/essays-book-of-abraham.htm> (21 May 2020).
  13. Samuel M. Brown, "The Translator and the Ghost Writer: Joseph Smith and W.W. Phelps," Journal of Mormon History Vol. 34, No. 1 (Winter 2008): 26–62; Bruce A.Van Orden, "William W. Phelps's Service in Nauvoo as Joseph Smith's Political Clerk," BYU Studies 32, nos. 1, 2 (1992): 81–94; Bruce A. Van Orden, We'll Sing and We'll Shout: The Life and Times of W. W. Phelps (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company; Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2018), 356–60.
  14. Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee, "'President Joseph Has Translated a Portion' Joseph Smith and the Mistranslation of the Kinderhook Plates," in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, eds. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020), 517.
  15. W. W. Phelps to Sally Phelps, July 19–20, 1835, in Bruce A. Van Orden, "Writing to Zion: The William W. Phelps Kirtland Letters (1835–1836)," BYU Studies 33, no. 3 (1993): 555. Cited in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," <https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/translation-and-historicity-of-the-book-of-abraham?lang=eng> (21 May 2020).
  16. Robert K. Ritner, "A Response," (21 May 2020).
  17. John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2018), 143–46; Brent M. Rogers and others, eds., Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Joseph Smith Papers (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2017), 74–75; Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, Joseph Smith Papers (Salt Lake City: Church Historian's Press, 2018), 195–96, 239 nn. 57, 64. See also the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers website and their comments here and here.

Response to claim: 171 - Joseph picked up the idea that there were plural gods when he learned in Hebrew class that Elohim was plural

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph picked up the idea that there were plural gods when he learned in Hebrew class that Elohim was plural.

Author's sources:
  • Author's opinion.
  • Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply the author's opinion.


Response to claim: 171 - Joseph developed the concept in the Book of Abraham that the earth was organized out of existing matter from Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph developed the concept in the Book of Abraham that the earth was organized out of existing matter from Thomas Dick's Philosophy of a Future State.

Author's sources:
  • Author's opinion.
  • Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The is simply the author's opinion.

Question: Could Joseph Smith's theology as described in the Book of Abraham have been influenced by Thomas Dick's book The Philosophy of a Future State? Question: How do the theological concepts of Joseph Smith actually compare to those of Thomas Dick?

Response to claim: 171 - Joseph developed the idea that matter was "eternal and indestructible" from Thomas Dick's work

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph developed the idea that matter was "eternal and indestructible" from Thomas Dick's work.

Author's sources:
  • Author's opinion.
  • Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This is simply the author's opinion.

Question: Could Joseph Smith's theology as described in the Book of Abraham have been influenced by Thomas Dick's book The Philosophy of a Future State?

Response to claim: 172 - Joseph's concept of Kolob being "near the throne of God" and its control of the reckoning of time came from Thomas Dick

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph's concept of Kolob being "near the throne of God" and its control of the reckoning of time came from Thomas Dick.

Author's sources:

FAIR's Response

|authorsources=

  • Author's opinion.
  • Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State.

}}

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph's concepts actually contradicted many of those put forth by Thomas Dick.

Question: How do the theological concepts of Joseph Smith actually compare to those of Thomas Dick?

Response to claim: 173 - Joseph wrote the Book of Abraham in order to justify denying the priesthood to Blacks

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph wrote the Book of Abraham in order to justify denying the priesthood to Blacks.

Author's sources:
  1. Author's opinion.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph actually conferred the priesthood upon several black men. The Book of Abraham talks of the lineage of Pharaoh being denied the priesthood.

Response to claim: 174 - Joseph taught that "one third of the spirits had been neutral" in Heaven

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

Joseph taught that "one third of the spirits had been neutral" in Heaven.

Author's sources:
  1. Orson Hyde, "Speech before the High Priests," Nauvoo, April 27, 1845 printed as a pamphlet by the Millennial Star office, July 1845, p. 27.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Joseph Smith never taught that blacks had been "neutral" in Heaven.


Question: Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [1]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [2]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [3]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.


Response to claim: 175 - The Book of Abraham facsimiles are ordinary funeral documents

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

The Book of Abraham facsimiles are ordinary funeral documents.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The Church announced in the official Church magazine, the Improvement Era, that the papyri were Egyptian funerary documents in 1968.


Question: What did the Church announce in 1968 when the Joseph Smith papyri fragments were discovered?

The Church noted that the papyri fragments did not contain the Book of Abraham, except for Facsimile 1

The Improvement Era described the papyri, but never claimed they represented the source for the Book of Abraham, except the original of Facsimile 1:

Perhaps no discovery in recent memory is expected to arouse as much widespread interest in the restored gospel as is the recent discovery of some Egyptian papyri, one of which is known to have been used by the prophet Joseph Smith in producing the Book of Abraham.

The papyri, long thought to have been burned in the Chicago fire of 1871, were presented to the Church on November 27, 1967, in New York City by the metropolitan Museum of Art, more than a year after Dr. Aziz S. Atiya, former director of the University of Utah's Middle East Center, had made his startling discovery while browsing through the New York museum's papyri collection.

Included in the collection of 11 manuscripts is one identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith obtained Facsimile 1, which prefaces the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Accompanying the manuscripts was a letter dated May 26, 1856, signed by both Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and their son, Joseph Smith, attesting that the papyri had been the property of the Prophet.

Some of the pieces of papyrus apparently include conventional hieroglyphics (sacred inscriptions, resembling picture-drawing) and hieratic (a cursive shorthand version of hieroglyphics) Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. Often the funerary texts contained passages from the "Book of the Dead," a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world. It is not known at this time whether the ten other pieces of papyri have a direct connection with the Book of Abraham.[4]

Egyptian.papyri.rediscovered.funeral.documents.improvement.era.jan.1968.p12.jpg


Response to claim: 179 - It was reported that some of the men were drunk during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple

The author(s) of No Man Knows My History make(s) the following claim:

It was reported that some of the men were drunk during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There is no actual evidence of drunkenness at the Kirtland Temple dedication. Ironically, during the first Pentecost, the Apostles were also accused of being drunken. "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." (See Acts 2:13-15)


Question: Was the "Pentecost" at the Kirtland Temple dedication actually a drunken orgy?

There is no contemporaneous evidence of drunkenness at the Kirtland temple dedication or associated events

Were there really spiritual manifestations attending the dedication of the Kirtland temple? There have been allegations that it was in fact a drunken orgy. [5]

There is no contemporaneous evidence of drunkenness at the Kirtland temple dedication or associated events. There is extensive evidence from both leaders and lay members of a miraculous spiritual outpouring. An early apostate, John Corrill, minimized or dismissed accounts of drunkenness. Another apostate, Winchester, continued with the Church until Nauvoo, and only later reported the drunkenness about which he mentioned nothing for five years. McLellin is the richest source for the charges of drunkenness, but an examination of his account makes it clear that he speaks of only one meeting in the temple, and the problem was at worst confined to a few members who unintentionally fell under the influence of wine on an empty stomach.

Subsequent critical authors have often relied on Wyl or accepted such remarks uncritically, and have ignored a rich vein of contemporary source material attesting to the Pentecost of Kirtland. While the critics are anxious to dismiss reports of spiritual manifestations by any means necessary, theories of mass drunkenness are simply not up to the task.

At the first Pentecost, the Apostles were also accused of being drunken

It is ironic that critics refer to the Kirtland Temple dedication as some form of "Pentecost" for the early Church, when, at the first pentecost, the Apostles were also accused of being drunken. "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." (See Acts 2:13-15)

4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

5 And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.

6 Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.

7 And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?

8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?

9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,

10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,

11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

12 And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?

13 Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine. Acts 2:4-13 (emphasis added)

In November 2002, an early account of the dedication of the Kirtland temple surfaced, confirming the spiritual outpouring. This account provides an excellent contemporary window into the event:

Sunday evening after joseph spoke opened & told them the day of penticost was continued the the [sic] Brethren began to to prophesy many prophesied in the name of the Lord then began speaking in tongues and it filled as it were the whole house, perhaps there were forty speaking at once cloven tongues of fire was seen to sit on many of them an hand was seen laid upon one when he spake in tongues to the lamanites many Visions seen, one saw a pillow or cloud rest down upon the house bright as when the sun shines on a cloud like as gold, two others saw three personages hovering in the room with bright keys in their hands, and also a bright chain in their hands....[6]

There is no contemporaneous record of drunken behavior associated with the Temple dedication

Significantly, there is no contemporaneous record of drunken behavior associated with the dedication. A great deal was written about miraculous events, but the stories of drunkenness occur only later. One LDS historian noted:

...Latter-day Saints, like so many other Christians of the 1830s, regarded intemperance as a serious transgression, and there is no evidence that any of the visions described by numerous witnesses followed the consumption of large amounts of wine. Contemporary testimonies of these events are so numerous that they cannot be dismissed with such an oversimplification.[7]


Notes

  1. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  2. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  3. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  4. Jay M. Todd, "Egyptian Papyri Rediscovered," Improvement Era (January 1968), 12–13. off-site (emphasis added)
  5. This criticism is advanced by Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 179. ( Index of claims ); William E. McLellin, multiple accounts; Benjamin Winchester, "Primitive Mormonism," Salt Lake Tribune (22 September 1889): 2; Wilhelm Wyl, Mormon Portraits Volume First: Joseph Smith the Prophet, His Family and Friends (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886), 308–309. (citing McLellin); Theodore Schroeder, "Mormonism and Intoxicants," American Historical Journal 3 (1908): 238-249 (citing Wyl).
  6. Steven C. Harper, "Pentecost Continued: A Contemporaneous Account of the Kirtland Temple Dedication," Brigham Young University Studies 42 no. 2 (2003), 4–.
  7. Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830–1838 (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1983), 309. ISBN 0877479739 GospeLink