Quest for the Gold Plates by Stan Larson
Chapter 3: Book of Abraham Papyri Rediscovered
Ironically, Thomas Stuart Ferguson spent the greater part of his
life studying Book of Mormon geography and the material culture of
the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica, but the catalyst to the abrupt
change in his theological views occurred in the late 1960s because
of the rediscovery and translation of some of Joseph Smith's
original papyri of the Book of Abraham.
The Joseph Smith
The front page of the 27 November 1967 Deseret News
announced that a portion of the Egyptian papyri once owned and
studied by Joseph Smith had been discovered. The article mentioned
eleven papyrus pieces and an 1856 certificate of sale signed by
Emma Smith Bidamon, Joseph Smith's widow.1 They had been brought to the attention of
Aziz S. Atiya, professor of Middle Eastern studies at the
University of Utah, while he was researching at the Egyptian
section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in May
1966; he arranged for them to be donated to the LDS Church.2 These eleven pages of
the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri were numbered and named as
follows:3 Joseph Smith Papyrus
IFacsimile No. 1, Joseph Smith Papyrus IIPlowing Scene,
Joseph Smith Papyrus IIIACourt of Osiris (on throne), Joseph
Smith Papyrus IIIBCourt of Osiris (Thoth recording), Joseph
Smith Papyrus IVFramed ("Trinity") Papyrus, Joseph Smith
Papyrus VThe Serpent with Legs, Joseph Smith Papyrus
VIThe Swallow, Joseph Smith Papyrus VIIMan with Staff
(entering into glory), Joseph Smith Papyrus VIII Inverted
Triangle, Joseph Smith Papyrus IXChurch Historian's
Smith Papyrus Xthe "Sensen" Papyrus, and Joseph Smith Papyrus
XISmall "Sensen" Papyrus.
By far the most significant item was the original papyrus of
what is generally known as Facsimile No. 1 (fig. 18), an
"explanation" of which, along with a translation of the Egyptian
text, Joseph Smith gave in the Book of Abraham, now part of the LDS
scriptural book, the Pearl of Great Price. Hugh Nibley, professor
of history and religion at Brigham Young University, placed the
importance of this discovery into perspective:
This [announcement] was a far more momentous transaction than
might appear on the surface, for it brought back into play for the
first time since the angel Moroni took back the golden plates a
tangible link between the worlds. What we have here is more than a
few routine scribblings of ill-trained scribes of long ago; at
least one of these very documents was presented to the world by
Joseph Smith as offering a brief and privileged insight into the
strange world of the Patriarchs.5
That "tangible link" is the original Egyptian papyrus of
Facsimile No. 1. In order to appreciate what was announced in 1967
it is necessary to understand clearly what materials were
originally in the possession of Joseph Smith. In the mid-1820s
Antonio Lebolo, an Italian excavator and adventurer, discovered a
number of mummies with associated papyri in catacombs near
were later acquired by Michael H. Chandler, an antiquities dealer,
who in 1835 brought the four remaining mummies to Kirtland, Ohio,
and showed them to Joseph Smith and the Mormon leaders. Joseph Coe,
Simeon Andrews, and some other individuals provided $2,400 to
enable Joseph Smith to purchase the mummies and papyri from
W. W. Phelps, who served as scribe to Joseph Smith during this
period, provided a contemporary account of this episode:
The last of June  four Egyptian mummies were brought here:
there were two papyrus rolls, besides some other ancient Egyptian
writings with them. As no one could translate these writings, they
were presented to President [Joseph Smith. He soon knew wheat they
were and said they, the "rolls of paperus," contained the sacred
record kept of Joseph in Pharaoh's Court in Egypt, and the
teachings of Father Abraham.8
The History of the Church, this part of which was
dictated by Joseph Smith in 1843, presented the following as his
account concerning the Egyptian papyri in July 1835:
There were four human figures [mummies], together with some two
or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and
. . . with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I
commenced the translation of some of the characters or
hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls
contained the writings of Abraham. another the writings of Joseph
of Egypt, etca more full account of which will appear in its
place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say,
the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.9
Joseph Smith here clearly stated that it was his translation of
the hieroglyphic charactersnot just looking at the
illustrationsthat led to the surprising discovery that one
scroll was the writing of Abraham and the other scroll contained
the writing of his great-grandson, Joseph, both of whom lived
sometime in the period from 2000 to 1500 B.C.10 In January 1836 Joseph Smith showed his
Hebrew teacher, Joshua Seixas, the Egyptian scroll of the Book of
Abraham and he "pronounced them [Abraham's records] to be original
beyond all doubt."11 Present day
scholars agree that these documents are genuine Egyptian
When the four Egyptian mummies were being exhibited a few months
earlier in Cleveland, a Mr. Farmer described the mummies and the
associated documents in a contemporary newspaper, the Painesville
No. 1[a human figure] 4 feet 11 inches [long],
female supposed age 60; arms extended, hands side by side in
front; the head indicating motherly goodness. There was found with
this person a roll or boole, having a little resemblance to birch
bark; language unknown. Some linguists, however, say they can
decipher 13-36, in what they term an epitaph; ink black and red;
many female figures.
No. 2Height 5 ft. 1 1/2 inch; female; supposed age 40.
Arms suspended by the side; hands brought in contact; head damaged
by accident; found with a roll as No. 1, filled with hieroglyphics,
No. 34 ft. 4 1/2 [inches]; male, very old, say 80; arms
crossing on the breast, each hand on its opposite shoulder: had a
roll of writing as No. 1 and 2; superior head, it will compare in
the ]region of the sentiments with any in our land; passions
No. 4Height 4 ft. 9 [inches]; female. I am inclined to put
her age at about 20 or 25, others call her an old woman; arms
extended, hands by her side; auburn hair, short as girls at present
in their new fashion. Found with her a braid of hair, three
stran[d]s of the color of that on her head and 18 inches long.12
Commenting on this 1835 list, Klaus Baer, professor of
Egyptology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago,
suggested that the first mummy (whose scroll Joseph Smith
identified as being the Book of Joseph) is "almost certainly
Tshenmîn" and proposed that the male mummy (whose scroll
Smith identified as the Book of Abraham) is perhaps Hôr.13 The Painesville
Telegraph account, with its indication of three scrolls,
helps to clarify the statement in the History of the Church
that with the four mummies were "some two or more rolls of
papyrus." Oliver Cowdery also mentions that when Chandler opened
the coffins in New York he found not only the two scrolls already
mentioned but also "two or three other small pieces of papyrus,
with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, etc."14 The most likely
resolution of the differing numbers is that there were two fairly
complete scrolls, damaged parts of a third scroll with the third
mummy, and perhaps fragments from other mummies.
After careful examination of the new papyri Baer concluded that
they are from three separate documents: (1) the Breathing Permit of
the priest Hôr, the son of Osorwêr and Tikhebyt; (2)
the Book of the Dead of the lady Tshenmîn, daughter of
Skhons; and (3) the Book of the Dead of the female musician
of Amon-Re Neferirnûb.15 There is evidence of at least two other Egyptian
documents. Facsimile No. 2, the original of which has not survived,
belonged to Sheshonq. In the "Valuable Discovery" booklet, which
has Joseph Smith's signature on the title page, there are
transcribed characters from the Egyptian papyrus which belonged to
Amenhotep, the son of Hôr, but again the original is not
available.16 Certainly the Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith possessed
from 1835 to 1844 were more numerous than the papyri fragments that
Ability to Translate Egyptian
Orthodox Mormons believe that Joseph Smith's acquisition of
Egyptian mummies with scrolls containing the Book of Abraham and
the Book of Joseph demonstrate conclusively the hand of God in
their preservation. Non-Mormons, on the other hand, skeptically
question the likelihood of the story. For example, a Gentile
observer in 1837 expressed his opinion:
Is it possible that a record written by Abraham, and another by
Joseph, containing the most important revelation that God ever gave
to man, should be entirely lost by the tenacious Israelites, and
preserved by the unbelieving Egyptians, and by them embalmed and
deposited in the catacombs with an Egyptian priest. . . I venture
to say no, it is not possible. It is more likely that the records
are those of the Egyptians.17
It is, however, not the theoretical probability or improbability
of the account about the mummies and papyri that is important, but
rather whether the translation of the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri
by Egyptologists provides dramatic confirmation of Joseph Smith's
translations and explanations, or whether the translation of
Egyptologists reveals texts with no connection to either Abraham or
Joseph. To Ferguson this was the key issue. One needs to examine
the actual Egyptian papyri (both text and illustration), not just
printed woodcuts of the three facsimiles published in 1842, before
being warranted to draw conclusions about the accuracy of Joseph
Smith's translation. Consequently, the discovery of any of the
original Egyptian papyri once in Smith's possession would be
immensely significant to the LDS people and provide a chance to
vindicate his claim.
This unexpected discovery allowed an independent test of the
accuracy of Joseph Smith's interpretation of the papyri. Ferguson,
the seeker after truth, considered this to be the acid test of
Smith's ability to translate ancient documents, and he seized the
opportunity to verify the prophet's translation of the Book of
Abraham. The announcement issued in November 1967 and the
developments which ensued not only required a radical change in
Ferguson's thinking, but also affected how Mormons viewed the Book
of Abraham. Its impact on the study of Mormon scriptures continues
to the present. Richard D. Poll, emeritus professor of history at
Western Illinois University, explained the effect of this
I turn now to a case of more traumatic dissonancea case in
which the discovery of documents has had substantial impact upon an
important faith-related historical myth. . . . It is "The Case of
the Book of Abraham." The rediscovery of some of the Egyptian
papyri associated with the Pearl of Great Price certainly.
challenged the LDS traditionthe historical myththat the
Book of Abraham is a literal translation of an ancient document.18
Ferguson did not wait for further information to filter down
through official church channels. As soon as the announcement came
out he wrote letters to various LDS leaders in Salt Lake City.
Ferguson asked Milton R. Hunter, a member of the LDS Church's First
Council of the Seventy, to tell him anything he could and inquired
whether the Church would release information about the papyri. He
also specifically asked Hunter whether any non-Mormon scholar had
translated the papyri, and if so, whether such a translation
resembled the Book of Abraham.19 Hunter answered that Hugh Nibley had told him that
"the scholars wouldn't touch them [the papyri] with a ten-foot
pole."20 As to whether the Church would release information about
the papyri, Hunter responded that President N. Eldon Tanner said
that they would when the documents were translated.
Ferguson immediately set out to put these new discoveries to the
test. Since Aziz S. Atiya was mentioned in the newspaper
announcements, Ferguson decided to write directly to him about the
I am a Mormon and recognize immediately that your discovery has
a strong bearing upon the validity of the foundations of the Mormon
Church. Since today Egyptologists can read and translate the
documents on which the Book of Abraham is based, we can readily
determine whether, as of July 3, 1835 (the date when Joseph Smith
claimed the manuscripts included writings of Abraham and Joseph)
Joseph Smith was fabricating, lying, and conjuring up "scripture"
for the Church. If the manuscript material which you found is
nothing more nor less than a bit of one of the Book of the
Dead, such would be the required deduction as to Joseph Smith
as of 1835. . . The Book of Abraham has been suspect to me for some
time. On the other hand, 99.99% of the Book of Mormon has held up
wonderfully wellin my opinion. This now presents a strange
quandary to me. And it is interesting that the foundation for the
policy of the church toward the Negro [i.e., barring black males
from priesthood ordination] is predicated upon the validity of the
Book of Abraham and it appears to be in direct conflict with the
Book of Mormon.21
This letter provides insight into Ferguson's thinking about the
Book of Abraham and reveals that in early December 1967 Ferguson
already had some doubt about its authenticity, due mainly to the
denial of priesthood authority to blacks, who were believed to have
inherited the curse of Ham (Abr. 1:25-27). Ferguson was still 99.99
percent in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and even
considered seriously the possibility that Joseph Smith was a true
prophet of God in 1829 when he translated the Book of Mormon, but
had become a fallen prophet by 1835.
the Egyptian Papyri
Because no Egyptologist had yet studied the papyri, Ferguson
made his own arrangements to have them examined and translated by
Egyptologists who were available to him in the San Francisco Bay
area. The day after Christmas in 1967, Ferguson tried to contact
Leonard H. Lesko, an instructor in Egyptology at the University of
California at Berkeley. Not reaching him, he left a note, saying
that he wanted him to translate some Egyptian hieroglyphs.22 The next day Ferguson tried again and this
time met Henry L. F. Lutz, emeritus professor of Egyptology at the
University of California at Berkeley. Ferguson asked him to examine
some Egyptian hieroglyphs he had clipped from the "Church Section"
of the Deseret News for 2 December 1967.23 They spent one and a
half hours together, and Fergusonbeing careful not to
influence his opinion in any waydid not indicate where the
hieroglyphs "came from or that they had any significance to the LDS
people. He [Lutz] gave me a perfectly candid and honest opinion,
that all are from the Book of the Dead."24 This identification
of the papyri caused Ferguson to become "very upset
specificallynot at the Church, of course, but at Joseph Smith
Not content with just one Egyptologist's opinion, Ferguson again
approached Lesko to translate the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Newspaper
reproductions were unsatisfactory, so Ferguson contacted Hugh B.
Brown, first counselor in the LDS First Presidency, and received
from him enlarged photographs of the papyri.26 Ferguson sent these
photos to Lesko with a request that he translate them.27 After having the
material for a month, Lesko gave his opinion that "all of these are
spells [magical incantations] from the Egyptian Book of the
In November 1968 Ferguson ordered a copy of the controversial
publication The Joseph Smith Papyri from Modern Microfilm
Company of Salt Lake City, complimenting the "gentlemen" there for
"doing a great thinggetting out some truth on the Book of
Abraham."29 At this point Ferguson was
not aware that this company was run by a husband and wife team of
former Mormons, Jerald and Sandra Tanneronly distantly
related to N. Eldon Tanner. Other than the two Egyptologists whom
Ferguson contacted directly, he studied the published translations
of two others who worked on the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri: Klaus
Baer, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago,30 and Dee Jay Nelson of
Billings, Montana, a member of the LDS Church and a self-taught
translator of Egyptian.31 This
procedure provided Ferguson with four independent assessments of
the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri, particularly Facsimile No. 1 with
Abraham shown on a lion couch. In the 1970s Ferguson distributed
photocopies of Baer's article to people with whom he discussed the
Book of Abraham. Summarizing the disparity between Joseph Smith and
the Egyptologists, Ferguson discussed the problem from the
standpoint of a lawyer examining the credibility of evidence and
Joseph Smith announced, in print (History of the Church,
Vol. II, page 236) that one of the rolls contained the writings of
Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt. . . " Since four
scholars, who have established that they can read Egyptian, say
that the manuscripts deal with neither Abraham nor Josephand
since the four reputable men tell us exactly what the manuscripts
do sayI must conclude that Joseph Smith had not the remotest
skill in things Egyptian-hierglyphics.32
The contact that amateur Dee Jay Nelson had with the papyri cost
him his membership in the LDS Church. In January 1968 at BYU Hugh
Nibley showed Nelson new color photographs of the Joseph Smith
Egyptian papyri and they compared them with the original papyri.33 Then Nibley
wrote a note of introduction, which Nelson was to take to N. Eldon
Tanner.34 That same day Nelson
traveled to Salt Lake City and talked to Tanner, who had some 8 by
10 photographs made for Nelson to use to make his translation. Even
though he was not a professional Egyptologist, the amateur Dee Jay
Nelson was able to finish his translation about two months later.
Since his translation did not support the Book of Abraham, Tanner
suggested to Nelson that it was his duty as an Elder in the Church
to handle the matter in a way that would be sympathetic to LDS
doctrine, but Nelson refused to make any alterations to his
translation. Because N. Eldon Tanner would not publish his
translation, Nelson had it published by Jerald and Sandra Tanner
through their Modern Microfilm Company as a booklet entitled The
Joseph Smith Papyri. Nibley hailed Nelson's translation as "a
conscientious and courageous piece of work . . . supplying students
with a usable and reliable translation." Nibley had become aware
that translations of the papyri were not confirming the Book of
Abraham, and commented that "it is doubtful whether any translation
[of the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri] could do as much good as
December 1975 Nelson resigned from the LDS Church. Nelson earned
his place in Mormon history as the first to translate any of the
Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri discovered at the Metropolitan Museum
Facsimile No. 1 of
the Book of Abraham
Of all the newly discovered Egyptian papyri, Ferguson's main
interest focused on Facsimile No. 1. Joseph Smith had been proud of
the illustration of Abraham on the lion couch, displaying it and
its associated text to many Nauvoo visitorsboth members of
the Church and nonmembersin the early 1840s. In April 1840
Smith showed the Egyptian papyri to a newspaper correspondent, and
then, pointing at a particular hieroglyph, he said, "That is the
signature of the patriarch Abraham."37
In May 1844 Smith showed the papyri to two
distinguished visitors, Charles Francis Adams, a member of the
Massachusetts legislature and a son of John Quincy Adams, and
Josiah Quincy, who the following year would become the mayor of
Boston. Adams quoted Smith as saying: "This . . . was written by
the hand of Abraham and means so and so. If anyone denies it, let
him prove the contrary. I say it."38 Quincy reported
Smith's words as: "That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father
of the Faithful."39
In the March 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons Joseph
Smith gave the following twelve "explanations" concerning Facsimile
No. I (fig. 19):
Fig. 1. The Angel of the Lord.
2. Abraham, fastened upon an Altar.
3. The Idolatrous Priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham
as a sacrifice.
4. The Altar for sacrifice, by the Idolatrous Priests, standing
before the gods of Elkenah, Libnab, Mahmachrah, Korash, and
5. The Idolatrous God of Elkenah.
6. The Idolatrous God of Libnah.
7. The Idolatrous God of Mahmachrah.
8. The Idolatrous God of Korash.
9. The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh.
10. Abraham in Egypt.
11. Designed to represent the pillars of Heaven, as understood by
12. Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament, over our
heads; but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians
meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens: answering
to the Hebrew word, Shaumah-yeem.40
In order to make a comparison with Joseph Smith's explanations,
Ferguson asked Leonard H. Lesko particularly concerning the papyrus
original of Facsimile No. 1, without indicating "any relationship
of the manuscript material to the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, Book
of Abrahamor whatever."41 In response to this, Lesko gave the following
explanation concerning the lion-couch scene, or Facsimile No.
of Abraham papyrus, lion couch illustration, Joseph Smith Papyrus
I, discovery announced in 1967. Courtesy of Deseret
Fig. 19Facsimile No. 1, Book of Abraham. Reproduced
from "The Book of Abraham," Times and Seasons
The scene in which you are most interested is darker and being
surrounded by often poor hieroglyphic rather than hieratic signs
should be the only piece in this group of a very late copy of the
Book of the Dead. The owner of this was a man whereas the
owner of the others was a woman. The vignette [illustration] should
be related to spell 151the deceased  on a bier  on whom
Anubis lays hands. The restoration is incorrect as the god
should be the jackal-headed Anubis (god of embalming). I have not
been able to find the deceased depicted so elsewhere though it is
not too unexpected; usually the figure is a mummified human or
fish. The Ba (soul) bird  can be more easily explained from
spells 85 and 89, also cf. L. V. Zabkar's book.42 to appear this year
in the series: Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization. Canopic
jars beneath the bier contained the deceased's internal organs and
represent the four sons of the god Horus, i.e., Imesti [i.e.,
Imseti] , Hapi , Duamutef , and Khebeksenuef .43
No statement has been located which was written by Henry L. F.
Lutz, who was the first Egyptologist that Ferguson met. However,
the following is the explanation given by Richard A. Parker,
professor of Egyptology at Brown Universitywhich undoubtedly
was read by Ferguson since it was published in Dialogue:
This is a well-known scene from the Osiris mysteries, with
Anubis , the jackal-headed god, on the left ministering to the
dead Osiris  on the bier . The penciled (?) restoration is
incorrect. Anubis should be jackal-headed. The left arm of Osiris
is in reality lying at his side under him. The apparent upper hand
is part of the wing of a second bird which is hovering over the
erect phallus of Osiris (now broken away). The second bird is Isis
and she is magically impregnated by the dead Osiris and then later
gives birth to Horus who avenges his father and takes over his
inheritance. The complete bird represents Nephthys , sister of
Osiris and Isis. Beneath the bier are the four canopic jars with
heads representative of the four sons of Horus, human-headed Imseti
, baboon-headed Hapy , jackal-headed Duamutef , and
falcon-headed Kebehsenuf . The hieroglyphs refer to burial,
etc., but I have found no exact parallel in the time at my disposal
and the poor photography precludes easy reading of the whole. I see
no obvious personal name.44
Dee Jay Nelson, who published the first translation of these
documents, said the following concerning the original papyrus of
Facsimile No. 1, which he incorrectly referred to as Ter Papyrus,
Fragment No. 3:45
It shows Osiris , lying upon a funeral bier , being
embalmed by Anubis The ba or soul of Osiris flies above his head
in the form of a hawk . Below the bier are four canopic jars
[5-8] which will receive the viscera of Osiris. In the waters below
the bier Set, the brother and murderer of Osiris, waits in the form
of a crocodile .46
Klaus Baer said the following concerning the original papyrus of
Facsimile No. 1:
The vignette shows the resurrection of Osiris (who is also the
deceased owner of the papyrus) and the conception of Horus. Osiris
(2) is represented as a man on a lion-couch (4) attended by Anubis
(3), the jackal-headed god who embalmed the dead and thereby
assured their resurrection and existence in the hereafter. Below
the couch are the canopic jars for the embalmed internal organs.
The lids are the four sons of Horus, from left to right Imset (8),
Hapi (7), .Qebeh-senuwef (6), and Duwa-mutef (5),47 who protect the
liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach, respectively. At the head of
the couch is a small offering stand (10) with a jug and some
flowers on it. The ba of Osiris (1) is hovering above his
John A. Wilson, professor of Egyptology at the Oriental
Institute of the University of Chicago, wrote the following about
Facsimile No. 1: "About the embalming scene . . . I am comforted to
see that the standing figure has no head. I am sure that it never
had a human head, as all of these illustrations show an animal
head. In Ryerson, Pl. xlviii, the vignette for B.D. [Book of the
Dead] 151 shows the jackal-god Anubis bending over a couch,
with his hands on a recumbent human figure."49 Four years later Wilson summarized the
situation: "What Egyptologists see as the god Anubis embalming a
corpse, he [Joseph Smith] declared to be 'the idolatrous priest of
Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice.'"50 More recently Stephen
E. Thompson, an LDS Egyptologist at Brown University, confirmed the
opinions of the earlier Egyptologists:
Papyrus Joseph Smith 1 . . . depicts the god Anubis  . . .
Officiating in the embalming rites for the deceased individual,
Horus . . . , shown lying on the bier. This scene does not
portray a sacrifice of any sort. To note just a few instances in
which Joseph Smith's interpretations of these figures differ from
the way they are to be understood in their original context,
consider the fact that Figure 11 . . . which Joseph Smith
interprets as "designed to represent the pillars of Heaven, as
understood by the Egyptians," is actually a palace facade, called a
serekh, which was a frequent decoration on funerary objects.
The serekh originally depicted "the front of a fortified
palace. . . with its narrow gateway, floral tracery above the
gates, clerestories, and recessed buttresses." . . In fact, these
strokes [of Fig. 12] represent water in which the crocodile ,
symbolizing the god Horus . . . , swims.51
Restorations to the Book of Abraham Papyrus
The original of Joseph Smith Papyrus I has missing material
along the top edge of the papyrus and a controversy rages over the
restorations of two heads in Facsimile No. 1. It involves the head
of the bird known as Figure 1 and the head of the standing person
known as Figure 3. Ordinary logic would suggest that a bird's body
has a bird's head and a human body has a human head, but
conventional canons of Egyptian art require a human head for the
babird and a jackal head or mask for the god Anubis.
BYU professor Hugh Nibley argued that in the background of an
old painting of Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph Smith's mother, is her
"most prized possessionthe original of Facsimile 1. . . . It
[the painting] matches our printed reproductions, and not the
proposed restoration."52 Countering
Nibley's view James Boyack of Marblehead, Massachusetts, pointed
out that "the standing figure is behind the couch in the painting
and the facsimile but [it is] between the couch and the legs of the
reclining figure in the original." Boyack noticed several other
details, all of which align the painting and facsimile together
against the original papyrus.53
Joseph Smith identified Figure 3 in Facsimile No. 1 as "the
idolatrous priest of Elkenah," but Egyptologists identified that
individual as the jackal-headed god Anubis. Nibley admitted: "Well,
you do go so far as to assume without question that the priest in
Facsimile No. 1 should have a jackal's mask. And you are quite
righthe should have, and the human head is an
error."54 Nibley later argued that the
human head on Figure 3 was "not missing when the Mormons still had
the thing in their possession."55
Egyptologists identified Figure 3 as Anubis, and Baer, Lesko,
Parker, and Wilson specifically indicated that Anubis should be
jackal-headed, not human-headed. Edward H. Ashment, a doctoral
candidate in Egyptology at the University of Chicago, found clues
that the standing person is the god Anubis: "The narrow stripes
clearly are the bottom edge of Anubis's headdress."56 Some clues still
survive to help discern a bearded human head on the bird identified
as Figure 1 of Facsimile No. 1.57
Commenting on the opposing viewpoints of Nibley and Ashment,
Richard D. Poll said:
So let me say that I find Ed [Ashment]'s arguments persuasive,
both as to the relationship between the Prophet's work with the
sn-sn text [Joseph Smith Papyrus XI] and the Book of Abraham
and the limitations of Dr. Hugh Nibley's effort to handle the
dissonances involved. Collection, Accession 1472, Manuscripts
Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt
Klaus Baer concluded that the papyri "neither say nor depict
what Joseph Smith claimed they did, and . . . they were damaged and
Joseph Smith supplied restorations, apparently from his imagination
in some cases."59 Thus, Facsimile No.
1 shows Horus (the owner of the papyrus) in the form of Osiris with
his human-headed babird above his head being embalmed for
the next life on a funerary lion-couch by a jackal-headed Anubis,
and not Abraham with an attending angel of the Lord being
sacrificed on an altar by the idolatrous priest of Elkenah. In
spite of these discrepancies one Mormon writer inexplicably
affirmed that "the Prophet's explanations of each of the facsimiles
accord with present understanding of Egyptian religious
practices,"60 but such an assertion does not survive scrutiny.61
The Importance of
the Book of Breathings Papyrus
Joseph Smith Papyrus XI is the second most significant piece
among the recovered papyri. The Joseph Smith Papyri X and XI are
two parts of the Sensen Papyrus. The Egyptian word "sensen," which
is more properly transliterated without vowels as "sn-sn," means
"breathing," and this text is known as the Book of
Breathings, or the Breathing Permit of Hôr.62 The Book of
Breathings, which is a later and shortened version of the
Book of the Dead, was composed about the third or fourth
century B.C., but this manuscript dates to the two-hundred-year
period covering the first century B.C. through the first century
In 1968 Hugh Nibley conceded that "Joseph Smith had them [the
papyri], that he studied them, and that the smallest and most
insignificant-looking of them [Joseph Smith Papyrus XI] is
connected in some mysterious way to the Pearl of Great Price."64 It is helpful to
understand how these pieces of Egyptian papyri were originally
connected. Klaus Baer's study demonstrated how the original of
Facsimile No. 1 and the papyrus of the Book of Breathings
(Joseph Smith Papyrus XI) fit together as the beginning sections of
a single scroll.65 The fragile
papyrus roll had first been glued to the backing paper and then
later cut into individual pieces. The cut edges match perfectly
when they are placed next to each other. Just before Baer's article
was published he had the opportunity to examine the actual papyri,
permitting him to state: "The fiber patterns show that the papyri
were adjoining parts of the same scroll and not simply mounted on
adjoining pieces of paper."66 Utilizing the published findings of Baer, Charles
M. Larson in his book, By His Own Hand upon Papyrus,
provided a visual demonstration of how the available papyri of the
Book of Abraham scroll fit together. The long foldout sheet,
entitled "The Book of Abraham Papyrus Scroll," shows how (from
right to left) three papyri were connected: Joseph Smith Papyrus I,
then Joseph Smith Papyrus XI, then a small section missing, then
Joseph Smith Papyrus X (fig. 20).67
Hôr or Horus, the son of Osorwêr and Tikhebyt, was
the priest-owner of this papyrus roll, and his name occurs six
times in the hieratic text of Joseph Smith Papyri X and XI. The
identity of the owner is important to determine. Facsimile No. 3 is
the only place in the Book of Abraham in which Joseph Smith
identified and translated specific Egyptian hieroglyphs. In the
explanation to that facsimile Joseph Smith asserted that Figure 5
is "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by
the characters above his hand."68 The
first professional Egyptologist to interpret the illustrations in
Facsimiles No. 1-3 and translate their hieroglyphs and hieratic
characters was Théodule Devéria, a young French
scholar, who in the late 1850s translated the indicated hieroglyphs
as Horusnot Shulem.69 Likewise,
over a century later Klaus Baer, professor of Egyptology at the
Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, translated these
particular hieroglyphs as identifying and describing the owner of
the papyrus as "Osiris Hôr, justified forever."70 This identification
supports the conclusion that Facsimile No. 3 was located at the end
of the same Book of Breathings scroll of which Facsimile No.
1 was the beginning.
Consequently, we now know that the original of Facsimile No. 1
was at the beginning of the scroll and adjoined to it was the
Book of Breathings papyrus (Joseph Smith Papyrus XI). Thus,
when this lion-couch scene is described in 1842 as "A Facsimile
from the Book of Abraham," it implies a connection between
the illustration and the text of the Book of Abraham.71 This implied
connection is supported by the text of the Book of Abraham, for in
the first chapter Abraham makes the following statement:
And . . . that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I
[Abraham] will refer you to the representation at the commencement
of this record. It was made after the form of a bedstead, . . . and
it stood before the gods of Elkenah, Libnab, Mahmackrah, Korash,
and also a god like unto that of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. That you
may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the
fashion of them in the figures at the beginning (Abr. 1:12-14).
20The Reconstructed Scroll of the Book of Abraham.
Reproduced from Charles M. Larson, By His Own Hand Upon
Papyrus (1992), courtesy of Institiute for Religious
Only Facsimile No. 1 contains a representation of the altar and
the gods Elkenah, Libnab, Mahmackrah, and Korash, so this statement
strikingly confirms that that particular illustration was located
at the beginning of the scroll before the hieratic text of Joseph
Smith Papyrus XI.72
Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar
The available documents associated with Joseph Smith's work on
the Egyptian papyri in Kirtland were published in 1966 as Joseph
Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.73 This publication
contains two manuscript copies of most of the first chapter and the
beginning of the second chapter of the Book of Abraham, one in the
handwriting of W. W. Phelps and the other in the handwriting of
Warren Parrish. In 1937 Wilford C. Wood gave the LDS Church another
Book of Abraham manuscript, containing the text of Abr.
1:12:18 in the handwritings of W. W. Phelps and Warren
Parrish.74 All three of these manuscripts have associated Egyptian
hieratic characters in the left column.75 The first to publish the fact that these
characters, in exactly the same order, were also located in the
first two rows of the first column of the papyrus of the Book of
Breathings (Joseph Smith Papyrus XI) were two
non-Egyptologists, Grant S. Heward and Jerald Tanner.76 Hugh Nibley admitted
that the arrangement of hieratic characters on the left and
paragraphs of the English text of the Book of Abraham on the right
indicated "a definite connection" between the two, but he was
unsure exactly what was intended.77 Nibley later
clarified his position that, though the exact connection was
unknown, he was sure that "the relationship between the two texts
was never meant to be that of a direct translation."78
To avoid problematic evidence of which there exists genuine
differences of interpretation, one can examine an instance in Book
of Abraham Manuscript #1 which identifies precisely the Egyptian
character and the corresponding English translation.79 It so happens that it
is an appropriate example for the study of the Book of Abraham,
since it is Abraham's own name. W. W. Phelps, Joseph Smith's
scribe, attached a number 2 to the Egyptian wloop character
and likewise to the word "Abraham" in the associated English
text.80 However, the
wloop character does not refer to Abraham and has no meaning
on its own, since it is simply a consonantal letter functioning as
part of thousands of Egyptian words. Now that all the Joseph Smith
Egyptian papyri have been translated, it can be stated that neither
the story found in the Book of Abraham nor even the name of Abraham
is found anywhere among the papyri.81
Ferguson suggested to James Boyack that he read the Egyptian
Alphabet and Grammar,82 which was
made by Joseph Smith "during his struggle with the Egyptian
papyrus."83 Smith's diary for 1 October 1835 indicated that he
"labored on the Egyptian alphabet in company with Brs. O[liver]
Cowdery and W[illiam] W. Phelps."84 The beginning of Egyptian Manuscript #1
illustrates a grammatical explanation in the Egyptian Alphabet
This [character] is called Za ki-on hish, < or > chalsidon
hish. This character is in the fifth degree, independent and
arbitrary. It may be preseved [perceived] in the fifth degree while
it stands independent and arbitrary: That is, without a straight
mark inserted above or below it. By inserting a straight mark over
it thus (2), it increases its signification five degrees: by
inserting two straight lines thus: (3), its signification is
increased five times more. By inserting three straight lines thus
(4), its signification is again increased five times more than the
last. By counting the number of straight lines, or considering them
as qualifying adjectives, we have the degrees of comparison. There
are five connecting parts of speech in the above character, called
Zaki on hish. These five connecting parts of speech [are] for
verbs, participles, prepositions, conjunctions, and adverbs. In
Translating this character, the subject must be continued until
there are as many of these connecting parts of speech used as there
are connections or connecting points found in the character.85
Reading distinctions of meaning into mere horizontal lines
either above or below a character is not true for the Egyptian
language, nor has it ever been encountered in any known human
language. The pure speculation in this document is in no sense a
grammar of the Egyptian language.86
Hugh Nibley asked a rhetorical question about the relation of the
Book of Abraham to the hieratic characters of the Sensen Papyrus:
"How on earth could Joseph Smith or anybody else have derived a
condensed and detailed account of fifty [rather, eleven] pages from
less than twenty hieratic signs?"87
If the rule which states "in Translating this
character, the subject must be continued until there are as many of
these connecting parts of speech used as there are connections or
connecting points found in the character" were followed, then it is
certainly conceivable that a very expanded translation would be the
result. Also, Oliver Cowdery, one of Smith's scribes during this
period, expressed his opinion that the Egyptian language "in which
this record is written is very comprehensive."88
While most of the pages in the Egyptian Alphabet and
Grammar are in the handwriting of Joseph Smith's scribes, some
parts are written by Smith himself. His handwriting occurs
throughout the "Egyptian Alphabet" known as Egyptian Manuscript #4
(fig. 21).89 Joseph Smith used the
names "Kolob," "Jah-oh-eh," "Flo-ees," and "Kli-flos-isis" from
this manuscript in an 1843 display of erudition in which he quoted
phrases from six foreign languages, and as a seventh instance of
his learning quoted what purport to be Egyptian words describing a
solar eclipse followed by his translation: "Were I an Egyptian, I
would exclaim Jah-oh-eh, Enish-go-on-dosh, Flo-ees-Flos-is-is; [O
the earth! the power of attraction, and the moon passing between
her and the suni."90 Some of these words also appear in the explanation to
Facsimile No. 2.91 Joseph Smith's signature appears on the title page to a
little booklet entitled "Valuable Discovery of hid[d]en records
that have been obtained from the ancient bur[y]ing place of the
I. E. S. Edwards, keeper of the Egyptian Antiquities at the
British Museum, said that the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar
"is largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind of
scientific value."93 In a similar way
Egyptologist Richard A. Parker expressed the opinion that "the
interpretation of signs purported to be Egyptian have no
resemblance to the meanings ascribed to them by Egyptologists."94 Tom Ferguson
claimed that by study of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar
and the recently discovered papyri "it is perfectly obvious that we
now have the original manuscript material used by Jos. Smith in
working up the Book of Abraham."95
21Egyption Alpahabet, Egyption Manuscript #4, in the
handwriting of Joseph Smith, with the names, "Kolob," "Jah-oh-eh,"
Flo-ees, " and "Kli-flos-isis" appearing in Facscile No. 2.
Reproduced from Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Joseph Smith's
Egyption Alphabet and Grammar (1966), courtesy of Utah Lighthouse
The Book of Joseph
among the Egyptian Papyri
In 1835 W. W. Phelps stated that Joseph Smith identified one of
the scrolls as being "the sacred record kept of Joseph in Pharaoh's
Court in Egypt."96 Some of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art's donation of papyri appear to be from
this long-lost Book of Joseph. Milton R. Hunter told N. Eldon
Tanner, second counselor in the First Presidency, how some of the
newly discovered papyri seemed to be from the Book of Joseph, and
then reported that conversation back to Ferguson:
One plate [i.e., illustration on the papyrus] was very
interesting to me. Look at it in the Deseret News. It has
the serpent walking on two tall legs. I told President Tanner that
Oliver Cowdery wrote to William Fry[e] and told him that the Book
of Joseph told the best story of the creation that he had ever seen
and that it depicted the serpent walking on its legs before it had
to crawl on its belly. I suggested [to Tanner] that that page might
be from the Book of Joseph. He [Tanner] didn't want that suggestion
made and that information to get out, so I wouldn't say that (if I
were you) to anybody, but just for your own curiosity look at it.97
Consequently, as early as December 1967 both Tanner and Hunter
were aware of the relationship between the Book of Joseph and some
of these Egyptian papyri that were once in the possession of Joseph
Smith. However, the advice of a member of the First Presidency was
that he did not want it even suggested that some of the papyri may
be from the Book of Joseph.
22Illustration of the Serpent with Legs (top) and
illustration of Enoch's Pillar (bottom), Joseph Smith Papyrus V,
from the document Joseph Smith identified as the Book of
Joseph. Reproduced from Thomas Stuart Ferguson Collection,
courtesy of Marriott Library, University of Utah.
Oliver Cowdery said that with the Egyptian mummies were two
papyrus scrolls, which he identified as "the writings of Abraham
and Joseph."98 From Cowdery's
description at least three illustrations in the newly discovered
papyri can be identified as part of the Book of Joseph. Cowdery
said concerning the Serpent on Legs (fig. 22, top) that "the
serpent, represented as walking, or formed in a manner to be able
to walk, standing in front of and near a female figure, is to me
one of the substance."99 In May 1844 when Josiah Quincy asked Joseph Smith about a
serpent having legs, Smith is reported to have made the following
comment: "Before the Fall snakes always went about on legs, just
like chickens. They were deprived of them, in punishment for their
agency in the ruin of man."100
The representation of the serpent walking on legs is located in
chapter or spell 74 of the Book of the Dead. John A. Wilson
explained that in the illustration "the dead woman stands beside a
two-legged serpent, a symbol of earth, since snakes live
underground."101 Wilson translated
the associated text as:
The speech for stretching the legs [and going forth from earth.
Words to be spoken] by the Osiris T-N:102 You will do what
you should do [against him], O Sokar, Sokar, who is in his cave,
who is the obstructor in the necropolis. I shine as the one who is
over this district of heaven. I climb upon the sun's rays, being
weary, weary. I have gone, being weary, weary in the necropolis,
upon the banks of taking away their speech in the necropolis. My
soul is triumphant in the house of Atum, lord of
Wilson also commented concerning "The Serpent with Legs":
One of the illustrations . . . shows a walking snake. It is just
above three other illustrations all of which occur in regular order
in late Books of the Dead. Papyrus Ryerson (about 500-200 B.c.) and
Papyrus Milbank (about 350-100 B.C.), both in the Oriental
Institute, published by T. George Allen, The Egyptian Book of
the Dead (Chicago, 1960),104
with the texts here noted on plates xxiv-xxv
and lxviii. In each papyrus, vignette of a man with a stick, along
with a snake walking on two legsvignette for Book of the
Dead, chapter 72 .105
Richard A. Parker said concerning this same illustration:
The fragment with the snake walking on two legs is surely from
some chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I doubt that the
name Joseph occurs anywhere in it. It could, of course, be claimed
that it was written by someone named Joseph.106
Parker's comments were made in January 1968, and now that all
the hieratic characters have been read it can be stated that the
name Joseph was never located in the papyri.
Cowdery said concerning Enoch's Pillar (fig. 22, bottom)
that "Enoch's Pillar, as mentioned by Josephus, is upon the same
scroll. . . . Josephus says . . . that, in consequence of the
prophecy of Adam that the world should be destroyed once by water
and again by fire, Enoch wrote a history or an account of the same,
and put [it] into two pillars one of brick and the other of
stone."107 Wilson explained that the
text adjacent to this illustration is the Book of the Dead,
spell 75, which "shows the dead person standing beside a column,
which is the hieroglyph for Heliopolis." Wilson translated the
associated text as follows:
The speech for going forth to Heliopolis and taking a place
there. Words to be spoken by the Osiris T-N: "I have gone forth
from the underworld. I have come from the limits of the earth. I
shine upon the water. I understand about the entrails of a baboon.
I have taken the ways to the holy gates. I occupy the places [of
the pure ones] who are in [shrouds]. I break into the houses of
Remrem. I have reached the seat of Ikhsesfi. I have penetrated the
sacred areas upon which Thoth stepped in pacifying the two
warriors. I go, I go to Pe; I come to Dep."108
23Illustration of the Trinity, Joseph Smith Papyrus IV, from
the document Joseph Smith identified as the Book of Joseph.
Reproduced from Thomas Stuart Ferguson Collection, courtesy of
Marriott Library, University of Utah.
Concerning the illustration of the Trinity (fig. 23) Cowdery
said that "the representation of the god-headthree, yet in
oneis curiously drawn to give simply, though impressively,
the writer's views of that exalted personage."109 This fragment was
described as the "Framed ('Trinity') Papyrus," because at the time
of the donation by the Metropolitan Museum of Art this papyrus was
in a frame, which possibly had been done during Joseph Smith's
lifetime.110 Wilson explained
that this illustration, which is a part of spell 104 in the Book
of the Dead, "shows a normal vignette of the deceased sitting
with the gods." The associated Egyptian text refers to "the great
gods," as shown by Wilson's translation:
[The speech for sitting among] the great gods. Words to be
spoken [by the Osiris] T-[N: "I sit among] the great gods. [I] have
passed [by] the house of the evening-barque. It is a butler, the
porter of Horus, son of Isis, who comes to me on business of Re.
Food and sustenance are at the proper place, to provision the
offering bread for the great gods. It is a fowler whom he has
brought." As for the one who knows this speech, he sits among the
Jay M. Todd, editor of The Improvement Era, after quoting
from these descriptions of parts of the Book of Joseph by Oliver
Cowdery, admitted that "scenes somewhat similar to these verbal
descriptions [of Cowdery] seem to be on the papyri rediscovered by
Dr. Atiya."112 Though Joseph Smith
identified one of the two main scrolls as being the Book of Joseph,
he never produced a translation of the Book of Joseph, as he did
for the Book of Abraham. On the back of his photograph of Joseph
Smith Papyrus V, Ferguson expressed his opinion that this
illustration is "clearly . . . part of the hieroglyphic manuscript
described by Joseph Smith as the Book of Joseph. . . It is
part of the Book of the Dead and has nothing to do with
'Joseph.'"113 Egyptologists have read
all these papyri and find nothing about the life or writings of
Denial That the
Book of Abraham Papyrus Has Been Found
Ferguson insisted strongly that the original papyri used by
Joseph Smith had been found and competent translations were
available, but he predicted that "of course the dodge as to the
Book of Abraham must be: 'We don't have the original
manuscript from which the Book of Abraham was translated.'"114 Interestingly
Nibley used precisely this argument, claiming that the Book of
Breathings papyri discovered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
were not used by Joseph Smith in translating the Book of
Whatever exercises, discreet or indiscreet, the brethren in
Kirtland may have engaged in, the Prophet Joseph himself has
supplied us with the most conclusive evidence that the manuscript
today identified as the Book of Breathings, J.S. Papyri X and XI,
was not in his opinion the source of the Book of Abraham.
For he has furnished a clear and specific description of the
latter: "The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies
is (1) beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and (2) a small
part red, ink or paint, (3) in perfect preservation."115
Nibley's source for this purported quotation from Joseph Smith
is the History of the Church, which at this point is
actually derived from Oliver Cowdery's 1835 account.116 Cowdery's
Messenger and Advocate account contains an important
sentence previous to the one quoted by Nibley, showing that Cowdery
was speaking about the works of both Abraham and Joseph: "Upon the
subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham
and Joseph, I may say a few words."117 One must examine Nibley's three points.
The first can be disposed of quickly, since how beautiful the
Egyptian hieratic characters are was based upon the personal
opinion of Cowdery. Likewise, the third point represented Cowdery's
estimation of the papyrus's physical condition, which was reworded
from an earlier certificate written by five medical doctors in
Philadelphia. In this case Cowdery added the adjective "beautiful"
and upgraded the condition of the papyrus from their description of
"excellent" to "perfect."118
The hieroglyphs and hieratic characters in Egyptian papyri are
written in black or red ink, with the black ink being made from
soot and the red ink from finely ground burnet ochre, both mixed
with papyrus juice.119 Nibley
expanded on his second point about the red ink by saying:
In the second place, the text which Joseph Smith [actually,
Oliver Cowdery] relates, directly or indirectly, to Abraham
contained the rubrics or brief notations in red ink common to
Egyptian manuscripts. He is plainly describing a real manuscript
and a rather typical one; and since no one could read it, there is
no reason why he should not have described it correctly. Hence, the
face that there is not the slightest indication of rubrics in the
J. S. Papyri X and XInot so much as a speck of red ink,
though such rubrics are common in the other Joseph Smith
manuscriptsis alone enough to disqualify it as a candidate
for the Abraham source.120
Nibley misinterpreted the Cowdery quotation since the discussion
is about both scrollsthe Book of Abraham and the Book of
Joseph. Cowdery indicated that these documents as a group contain
both black and red ink, not that each page of both scrolls contain
both colors. At this point it is appropriate to reexamine the 1835
description in the Painesville Telegraph, which stated that
the first mummy, a female, had a scroll with "ink black and red"
and with "many female figures."121
This matches the two colors and many
illustrations found in Joseph Smith Papyri II and IV-VIII, which
have been titled "The Untranslated Book of Joseph Papyrus
Scroll."122 The third mummy, a
male, had a scroll, but the Painesville Telegraph mentioned
no special ink color. This was the only male mummy and Klaus Baer
translated his name as Hôr as it is found in Joseph Smith
Papyri I, X, and XI, and concluded that "Joseph Smith thought that
this papyrus contained the Book of Abraham."123
John Gee claimed that the first color photographs of the newly
discovered papyri were published in the February 1968 issue of
The Improvement Era.124 It is,
indeed, to the credit of the LDS Church that good reproductions
were soon published of all the papyri. However, for some reason
they were not color but two-toned sepia reproductions. Accordingly,
there is no way for a reader to see where the distinctive red ink
occurred in the originals. Twenty-five years after the announcement
about the papyri Charles M. Larson published color photographs of
the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri. This book, By His Own Hand
upon Papyrus, is unique for the beautiful full-color foldout,
providing reproductions of the papyri measuring 9 by 22 inches.125 Examination of
this publication shows the Book of Joseph with sets of red-ink
characters scattered throughout the black text and the surviving
parts of the Book of Abraham solely in black ink. Thus, the
evidence does not support Nibley's theory that the Book of Abraham
papyrus had red ink.126
Another tactic is to claim that Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham
was not a translation of Egyptian papyri but rather is an inspired
document produced by revelation from God. Nibley admitted that the
Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri contain hieroglyphs, hieratic
characters, and pictorial illustrations that have symbolic
meanings, but asserted that Joseph Smith in the Book of Abraham
"dealt only with the third type," that is, with the symbolic
pictures.127 This strategy effectively denies a connection between any
of the hieratic texts and the Book of Abraham. Nibley ignored
Joseph Smith's assertions about translating the Egyptian characters
on the papyri and claimed that the Book of Abraham was produced "by
Ferguson was not impressed with Nibley's arguments.
of Nibley's Interpretations
Hugh Nibley, though not an Egyptologist, is a wide-ranging
polyglot who took upon himself the role of defender of the faith
with respect to the Book of Abraham. From 1968 to 1970 Nibley
published in The Improvement Era a series of twenty-seven
erudite articles on the Book of Abraham.129 In March 1971
Ferguson expressed his opinion to James Boyack about these articles
written by Nibley:
Nibley's Era articles on the Book of Abraham aren't worth
a tinkerfirst, because he is not impartial, being the
commissioned and paid defender of the faith. Second, because he
could not, he dared not, he did not, face the true issue: "Could
Joseph Smith translate Egyptian?" I clipped every one of His
articles and have them in a single fileand I have reviewed
themlooking in vain for that issue.130
Ferguson charged that Nibley unfailingly reached the
pre-established conclusion about Joseph Smith. Ferguson was
convinced that Nibley deliberately avoided the central question and
his articles in The Improvement Era were simply a smoke
screen to divert attention from the real issues. This perception
was not in Ferguson's imagination, for Nibley admitted that in his
articles written during the late 1960s he "frankly skirmished and
sparred for time."131 Ferguson is not the only one to criticize Nibley's
methodology. Stephen E. Thompson said:
The approach taken in attempting to support Joseph's
interpretations of these figures is to compare them with figures
found in other historical and textual contexts. It is simply not
valid, however, to search through 3.000 years of Egyptian religious
iconography to find parallels which can be pushed, prodded,
squeezed, or linked in an attempt to justify Joseph's
Ferguson felt that Nibley's attempt "to explain away and dodge
the trap into which Joseph Smith fell" was absurd.133 Samuel W. Taylor, a
free-lance writer on Mormon topics, remembered what Ferguson told
him concerning Nibley's effort:
Nibley's articles in the Era were beautifully written,
making an impressive display of literary erudition, bolstered by
voluminous footnotes. Yet as Ferguson studied the pyrotechnics of
Nibley's articles, he was puzzled. Amid the rocket's red glare and
the bombs bursting in air, Tom Ferguson failed to find authentic
facts to support the splendid literary fireworks, and his faith
wasn't still there. In fact, Ferguson suspected it was all
Nibley has espoused conflicting explanations about the Book of
Abraham. It is surely significant that previous to the discovery of
the Joseph Smith Egyptian papyri at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
there was a consistent explanation in Mormonism that Joseph
Smiththrough the gift and power of Godtranslated
Egyptian characters into the English language resulting in a
modern-day restoration of Abraham's record. Only after the 1967
announcement of the discovery of the papyri and their subsequent
translation has the traditional explanation been replaced by a
variety of contradictory theories.135
Conclusions on the Book of Abraham
In December 1967 before the papyri had been translated, N. Eldon
Tanner of the LDS First Presidency was cautious about not
overstating exactly what the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri were.
However, he told Milton R. Hunter that "the important thing was
that we have part of the manuscript of the Book of Abraham which
certainly sustains the fact that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of
Abraham from ancient papyri manuscripts."136 Now that all the
papyri have been translated and not a single trace of Abraham has
been found, even Tanner's minimal position has been abandoned. In
1970 Ferguson told some friends that he "entirely repudiated the
Book of Abraham."137
Michael D. Rhodes, a researcher in ancient scriptures at BYU,
offered two different explanations as to why the translation of
these Egyptian papyri does not coincide with the text of the Book
of Abraham: either the Book of Abraham "may have been taken from a
different portion of the papyrus rolls in Joseph Smith's
possession" or "instead of making a literal translation, as
scholars would use the term, he used the Urim and Thummim as a
means of receiving revelation."138
Rhodes's first suggested explanation ignored three facts: (1)
Baer's reconstruction of how the original of Facsimile No. 1 and
the Small Sensen Papyrus of the Book of Breathings (Joseph
Smith Papyri I and XI, respectively) are now known to have fitted
together, (2) the hieratic characters from the first two lines of
the Book of Breathings papyrus being discovered in the left
column of the three earliest manuscripts of the Book of Abraham
(Book of Abraham Manuscripts #1, #2, and #3), and (3) the
hieroglyphics surrounding the original of Facsimile No. I being
found in Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.
Rhodes's second explanation reversed the consistent claim of Joseph
Smith that he was, with the inspiration of God, translating the
characters on the ancient scroll, not just receiving inspired
revelation in response to looking at the Egyptian characters or
illustrations. Joseph Smith dictated that "with W. W. Phelps and
Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of
the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one
of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the
writings of Joseph of Egypt."139
Rhodes's proposed explanation presents a seemingly faith-promoting
alternative, but it does so at the expense of Joseph Smith's clear
statement that he was in fact translating Egyptian characters.
A third possibility existsthough unstated by Rhodes
which is that the first two parts (i.e., Joseph Smith Papyri I and
XI) of the actual papyrus utilized by Joseph Smith have been found,
but that his interpretation concerning Abraham has no relationship
to the now-translatable Egyptian text. As a result of
investigations using four independent witnesses, Ferguson, the
lawyer, decided that the third option was correct, since these
Egyptian authorities "all agree that the original manuscript
Egyptian text translates into the Breathing Permit of
In the summer of 1970 an LDS scholar felt that the Joseph Smith
Egyptian papyri "may well represent the potentially most damaging
case against Mormonism since its foundation."141 According to one of
Ferguson's friends, the discovery and translation of these Egyptian
documents was absolutely devastating to his faith.142 Ferguson concluded
that there was no real connection between these Egyptian papyri and
the Book of Abraham. He was "very upset by the discovery that it
was only a [copy of the] Book of the Dead."143 Ferguson wrote to a
non-Mormon friend that "the Egyptian papyri showed that Joseph
Smith could not read Egyptian and simply faked it when he was
presented with a MS."144
In March 1976 John W. Fitzgerald, a retired elementary school
principal, wrote Ferguson a letter concerning Dee Jay Nelson, who
first translated the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri. Fitzgerald
claimed that N. Eldon Tanner, second counselor in the First
Presidency, first requested Nelson to translate these papyri with
the commitment that the Church would publish his translation, and
then reputedly, when the LDS church leader learned that Nelson's
translation "was not supportive of Joseph Smith's rendition of the
Egyptian, they refused to publish it."145 The developments
concerning the translation of these papyri were close to Ferguson's
heart and he promptly replied: "I wonder what really goes on in the
minds of church leadership who know of the data concerning the Book
of Abraham, the new data on the First Vision, etc. I guess we'll
never know. It would tend to devastate the church if a top leader
were to announce the facts."146 A forthright
attitude by the LDS Church leaders about the Book of Abraham and
the First Vision would radically alter the perceptions of most
members, but Ferguson probably overestimated the reaction when he
suggested that such admissions "would tend to devastate" the LDS
Church. When Ferguson was asked if it was true that most
Egyptologists "agree that a correct translation of the ancient
papyri owned by Joseph Smith has absolutely no connection or
similarity" to the Book of Abraham, he answered succinctly,
Wesley P. Waiters, a Presbyterian minister in Illinois, obtained
Ferguson's permission to relate the story of his disillusionment
concerning Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham,148 but Ferguson did
not allow Walters to divulge his name:
One life-long defender of Joseph Smith made his own independent
investigation of Joseph's ability as a translator of Egyptian
records, utilizing recognized Egyptologists without telling them a
word about the issues that were at stake. Their verdict agreed with
the findings of Mr. [Dee Jay] Nelson and Dr. [K]aus] Baer.
Consequently, he came to reject the Book of Abraham and the claims
put forth by Joseph Smith as a translator of ancient languages.149
Ferguson concluded that Facsimile No. 1 did not depict the
biblical Abraham being sacrificed on an altar by the idolatrous
priest of Elkenah but rather the Egyptian god Osiris being embalmed
by jackal-headed Anubis for the next life of Egyptian mythology. In
January 1983just two months before he passed
awayFerguson told an LDS Church employee that the Joseph
Smith papyri were nothing more than various kinds of Egyptian
"funeral texts."150 Thus, Ferguson's
original excitement in 1967 about the opportunity of authenticating
the Book of Abraham turned into a nightmare. Ferguson's former
belief system nurtured and sustained from
childhoodcould not withstand the shock of this
disillusionment. Everything in his theological world came crashing
down. This forced Ferguson to reexamine his assumptions not only
about the Book of Abraham, but also concerning Joseph Smith and the
Book of Mormon. This process thrust Ferguson into a completely new
approach to religious questions in his life.
1. Jack E. Jarrard,
"Rare Papyri Presented to Church," Deseret News, 27 November
1967, A-1, A-3.
2. Glen Wade, "A
Conversation with Professor Atiya," Dialogue: A Journal of
Mormon Thought 2 (Winter 1967): 51-53. Keith Terry and Walter
L. Whipple, rom the Dust of Decades: A Saga of the Papyri and
Mummies (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 104, pointed out
that in 1962 Whipple received photos of the Joseph Smith Egyptian
papyri from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but "he did little with
his discovery and is now at a loss as to why."
3. Hugh Nibley
provided the names and numbering to the papyri illustrations
associated with Jay M. Todd, Background of the Church Historian's
Fragment, The Improvement Era 71 (February 1968): 40a-40i,
4. By the time Hugh
Nibley assigned the numbering for the papyri the two pages of the
Court of Osiris were given the same number (J.S. Pap. IIIa and
IIIB) and the Church Historian's Fragment (which was not part of
the donation from the Metropolitan Museum of Art) was designated as
J.S. Pap. IX. See Hugh Nibley, Fragment Found in Salt Lake City,"
Brigham Young University Studies 8 (Winter 1968):
5. Hugh Nibley,
"Prolegomena to Any Study of the Book of Abraham," Brigham Young
University. Studies 8 (Winter 1968): 171.
6. H. Donl Peterson,
The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and
Mormonism (SaltLake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995), 36-75. Cf.
Warren R. Dawson and Eric P. Uphill, Who Was Who in Egyptology,
2d ed. (London: The Egypt Exploration Society, 1972), 166.
7. Milton V. Backman,
Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day
Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.,
8. William W. Phelps,
letter to Sally Phelps, 19-20 July 1835, partially printed in Leah
Y. Phelps, "Letters of Faith from Kirtland," The Improvement
Era 45 (August 1942): 529. Oliver Cowdery, writing in the
Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate, described the
materials as follows: "Upon the subiect of the Egyptian records, or
rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph, I may say a few words.
This record is beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a
small part, red ink or paint, in perfect preservation. The
characters are such as you find upon the coffins of mummies,
hieroglyphics, etc. with many characters or letters exactly like
the present (though probably not quite so square) form of the
Hebrew without points.
9. B. H. Roberts,
ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
Period I: History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet by Himself.
(Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904), 2:235-36.
10. Stephen E.
Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham," Dialogue: A
Journal of Mormon Thought 28 (Spring 1995): 153-54, said: The
answer to this [i.e., when Abraham lived] is by no means simple,
and scholarly estimates for the age of the patriarchs range from
2200 to 1200 B.C. . . Others would argue that while it is not
possible to assign a date to the lifetime of Abraham, it is
possible to situate chronologically the so-called 'Patriarchal
Age.' Many scholars would place this sometime during the first half
of the second millennium, i.e., 2000-1500 B.C., while others would
narrow the time frame within this period." Thompson's suggested
five-hundred-year period encompasses the dates given m the LDS
Bible Dictionary, where Abraham's birth is 1996 B.C. and Joseph's
death is 1635 B.C. Some scholars consider Abraham to be a mythical
character. See Henry J. Flanders, Jr., Robert W. Crapps, and David
A. Smith, People of the Covenant: An Introduction to the Old
Testament, 3d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988),
11. Scott H.
Faulring, ed., An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and
Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,
12. The Painesville,
Ohio, Telegraph, 27 March 1835, quoted in John A. Larson,
Joseph Smith and Eyptology: An Early Episode in the History of
American Speculation about Ancient Egypt, 1835-1844," in For His
Ka: Essays Offered in Memory of Klaus Baer, ed. David P.
Silverman, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, no. 55
(Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago,
1994), 162. James R. Harris, The Facsimiles of the Book of
Abraham: A Study of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri (Payson,
UT: Harris House Publication, 1990), 19, incorrectly gave the date
as July 1835.
13. Klaus Baer,
letter to [Jay M.] Todd, 20 December 1968, in the H. Michael
Marquardt Collection, Accession 900, Box 78, Fd 1, Manuscripts
Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt
Lake City; hereafter abbreviated to Marquardt Collection.
14. Cowdery, letter
to Frye, 234.
15. Klaus Baer, "The
Breathing Permit of Hôr: A Translation of the Apparent Source
of the Book of Abraham," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought 3 (Autumn 1968): 111, with the Breathing Permit of Hot
being found in J.S. Pap. I, X, and XI, the Book of the Dead
of the Tshenmîn being found in J.S. Pap. II, IV-IX, and most
of IV, and the Book of the Dead of Neferirnûb being
found in J.S. Pap. IIIA and IIIB. See Raymond O. Faulkner, trans.,
The Ancient Egyptian Book of theDead, ed. Carol Andrews,
rev. ed. (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1985).
16. 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, in
Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 94.
17. William S. West,
A Few Interesting Facts respecting the Rise, Progress, and
Pretensions of the Mormons ([Warren, OH], 1837), 6.
18. Richard D. Poll,
"Dealing with Dissonance: Myths, Documents, and Faith,"
Sunstone 12 (May 1988): 20.
19. Thomas Stuart
Ferguson, letter to Milton [R. Hunter], 30 November 1967, in the
Thomas Stuart Ferguson Collection, Accession 1350, Manuscripts
Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt
Lake City; hereafter abbreviated to Ferguson Collection, UU.
20. Milton R.
Hunter, letter to Ferguson, 4 December 1967, in Ferguson
21. Ferguson, letter
to Aziz S. Atiya, 4 December 1967, in the Aziz S. Atiya Collection,
Accession 480, Manuscripts Division, J. Willard Marriott Library,
University of Utah, Salt Lake City.
22. Ferguson, note
to Leonard H. Lesko, 26 December 1967, in Ferguson Collection,
23. Jack E. Jarrard,
"Church Receives Joseph Smith Papyri," Deseret News, Church
News, 2 December 1967, 7-10.
24. Ferguson, letter
to [addressee unknown], 28 December 1967, partially printed in
Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic
Archaeology, no. 105 (1 March 1968): 9.
25. Pierre Agrinier
Bach, interview with author, 25 May 1993, transcript in Everett L.
Cooley Oral History Project, Accession 814, Manuscripts Division.
J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah. Salt Lake City;
hereafter abbreviated to Bach Interview in Cooley Oral History
Project. Bach remembered this as being maybe a week after the
announcement, but it is more likely. about a month.
26. Ferguson, letter
to James Boyack, 13 March 1971, in Ferguson Collection, UU.
27. Ferguson, letter
to Leonard H. Lesko, 31 January 1968, in Ferguson Collection,
28. Leonard H.
Lesko, memorandum to Ferguson, 4 March 1968, in Ferguson
29. Ferguson, letter
to Modern Microfilm Co., 12 November 1968, in Ferguson Collection,
30. Baer, "Breathing
31. Dee Jay Nelson,
The Joseph Smith Papyri: A Translation and Preliminary Survey of
the Ta-shert-Min and Ter Papyri (Salt Lake City: Modern
Microfilm Co., 1968); The Joseph Smith Papyri, Part 2:
Additional Translations and a Supplemental Survey of the
Ta-shert-Min, Hor and Amen-Terp Papyri (Salt Lake City: Modern
Microfilm Co., 1968); Joseph Smith's "Eye of Ra": A Preliminary
Survey and First Translation of Facsimile No. 2 in the Book of
Abraham (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., 1968); and A
Translation and Study of Facsimile No. 3 in the Book of Abraham
(Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., 1969).
32. Ferguson, letter
to Boyack, 13 March 1971.
33. Dee Jay Nelson,
letter to Mr. [Jerald] Tanner, 17 April 1968, in Box 72, Fd 2.
34. Hugh Nibley,
note [to N. Eldon Tanner], 4 January 1968, in Box 72, Fd 2,
35. Hugh Nibley,
"Getting Ready to Begin: An Editorial," Brigham Young University
Studies 8 (Spring 1968): 247, 251. Nibley, ibid., 254,
concluded his article with the comment that "to Mr. Dee Jay Nelson
goes the credit of being the first to make the plunge."
36. In May 1978
Nelson purchased for $195 a spurious Philosophiae Doctor degree
from a Seattle diploma mill known as Pacific North-Western
University, and for his false claim of having a Ph.D. degree Nelson
has been justifiably condemned. See Robert L. Brown and Rosemary
Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive: "A Study of
Anti-Mormon Deception" (Mesa, AZ: Brownsworth Publishing Co.,
1981), 1:1-44, and Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner, Mormonism:
Shadow or Reality, 5th ed. (Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse
Ministry, 1987), 309-11. The Browns are orthodox defenders of
Mormonism, while the Tanners are anti-Mormon publishers.
37. "A Glance at the
Mormons," The Quincy Whig 3 (17 October 1840): 1,
quoted in Jay M. Todd, The Saga of the Book of
Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, Co., 1969), 211.
38. Henry. Adams,
"Charles Francis Adams Visits the Mormons in 1844," Proceedings
of the Massachusetts Historical Society 68 (1952): 285,
transcribing Charles Francis Adams's diary entries, with emphasis
in original. By ignoring all contemporary evidence of those who
were shown the papyri by Joseph Smith, Hugh Nibley, "A New Look at
the Pearl of Great Price, The lmprovement Era 71 (February
1968): 20, can assert that "Joseph Smith never claimed that they
[the Facsimiles] were autographic manuscripts or that they dated
from the time of Abraham."
39. Josiah Quincy,
Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals (Boston:
Roberts Brothers, 1883), 386.
40. "A Fac-Simile
from the Book of Abraham, No. 1," Times and Seasons 3 (1
March 1842): 703. According to Louis C. Zucker, "Joseph Smith as a
Student of Hebrew," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3
(Summer 1968): 51, Joseph Smith's formal Hebrew classes from 26
January to 31 March 1836 affected the text of the Book of Abraham,
where one finds the following Hebrew words (usually according to
the transliteration of Seixas) and the correct English meanings:
Kokob "star," Kokaubeam "stars," Hah-ko-kau-beam "the
stars," Raukeeeyang "firmament" or "expanse,"
Shaumahyeem "heavens," and gnolaum '"eternal." These
four different Hebrew words and numerous other Hebrew-like names
which Zucker cited to show the influence of Smith's instruction in
Hebrew are located in the first three chapters of the Book of
Abraham and Facsimiles No. 1 and 2. Zucker, ibid., 52, indicated
that this contrasts with the polytheism found numerous times in the
Book of Abraham, chapt, ers four and five, which probably date to
the Nauvoo period. Zucker's essay in Dialogue is reprinted
as the introduction to J[oshua] Seixas, A Manual Hebrew
Grammar for the Use of Beginners, 2d ed. enl. and improved
(Andover, MA: Gould and Newman, 1834; reprint, Salt Lake City:
Sunstone Foundation, 1981).
41. Ferguson, letter
to Boyack, 13 March 1971.
42. Louis V. Zabkar,
A Study of the Ba Concept in Ancient Egyptian Texts,
Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization Series, no. 34 (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1968).
memorandum, 1968, in Ferguson Collection, UU. Bracketed numbers are
added in this and the following quotations in order to more easily
compare with Facsimile No. 1 of the Book of Abraham.
44. Richard A.
Parker, "The Joseph Smith Papyri: A Preliminary Report,"
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968):
45. Nelson, Smith
Papyri, Part 2, 2, following the translation of Richard A.
Parker, corrected his mistaken "Ter" to the name "Hor."
46. Nelson, Smith
Papyri, 24; cf. 42-45.
47. Baer here
reversed the identifications of Qebeh-senuwef and Duwa-mutef, but
John Gee, Notes on the Sons of Horus (Provo, UT: Foundation
for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), 43-44, pointed out
that such variation is known.
48. Baer, "Breathing
Permit" 118. Baer added the numbers in parentheses in order to
allow comparison with Joseph Smith's explanation, but Baer did not
explain number 9.
49. John A. Wilson,
letter to Marvin Cowan, 5 January 1968, in Box 78, Fd 7, Marquardt
50. John A. Wilson,
Thousands of Years: An Archaeologist's Search for Ancient
Egypt (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972), 174. In a
noncommittal statement John A. Wilson, "A Summary Report,"
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968): 68,
said only that J.S. Pap. I "shows a scene of a man lying upon a
bed, while another figure leans over him."
"Egyptology," 144-45. Cf. Daniel C. Peterson, "News from
Antiquity," The Ensign 24 (January 1994): 18.
52. Nibley, "New
Look," 71 (September 1968): 78. Nibley felt that the artist
provided "a rapid, fairly accurate, and unbiased sketch of what the
papyrus looked like before it was damaged."
53. James Boyack,
letter, quoted in Todd, Saga, 214. Boyack also indicated
that the artist copied the numbers designating the different
figures in the published Facsimile No. 1, none of which appear on
the original papyrus.
54. Hugh Nibley, "As
Things Stand at the Moment," Brigham Young University
Studies 9 (Autumn 1968): 98, with emphasis in original. Nibley
attributed the lack of a jackal's mask to the original Egyptian
artist of J.S. Pap. I, not to Joseph Smith or anyone else in the
early nineteenth century.
55. Nibley, "New
Look," 71 (September 1968): 72. Nibley, ibid., 80n32,
suggested that the "pencilled restoration" of Figure 3 was done
sometime during the 111 years of the "post-Mormon" periodthat
is, from 1856 to 1967.
56. Edward H.
Ashment, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Reappraisal,"
Sunstone 4 (December 1979): 36. For a response to Ashment's
analysis, see Hugh Nibley, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham:
A Response [to Edward H. Ashment]," Sunstone 4 (December
"Facsimiles," 38; also, cf. his illustrations 20, 21, and 22
on p. 43. In a last-minute addition between footnotes 34 and 35,
Baer, "Breathing Permit," 118n34*, explained: "One tends to
see what one expects to see. So far as I know, Nelson, The
Joseph Smith Papyri, p. 42, was the first to point out that the
bird above the head of Osiris clearly, has a human head and
therefore must be his ba. In 'Facsimile No. 1,' it is drawn
with a falcon's head, and I must confess with some embarrassment
that I also 'saw' the falcon's head before reading Nelson's
58. Richard D. Poll,
"Dealing with Dissonance: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study,"
typescript, 1984, 1, in the Richard D. Poll Collection, Accession
1472, Manuscripts Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University
of Utah, Salt Lake City.
59. Klaus Baer,
letter to Mr. [Jerald] Tanner, 8 August 1968, in Box 78, Fd 1,
60. Michael D.
Rhodes, "Facsimiles from the Book of Abraham," in Encyclopedia
of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan
Publishing Co., 1992), 1:136-37. Cf. 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, in Review of Books on the Book Of Mormon
4 (1992): 126.
"Egyptology," 160, responded to Rhodes's assertion by saying: "I
sere no evidence that Joseph Smith had a correct conception of
'Egyptian religious practices or that a knowledge of such was
essential to the production of the Book of Abraham."
62. Baer, "Breathing
Permit," 109-34. Cf. Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph
Smith Papyri: an Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book Co., 1975), 75.
63. Baer, "Breathing
Permit," 111, gave a date of about 100 B.C.
64. Hugh Nibley,
"Phase One," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer
65. Baer, "Breathing
66. Ibid., 134.
67. Charles M.
Larson, By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph
Smith Papyri, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Institute for
Religious Research, 1992), 33.
68. That Joseph
Smith is indicating the characters he is translating is further
supported by his wording for fig. 2 "whose name is given in the
characters above his head" and fig. 4 "as written above the
Devéria, "Fragments of Egyptian Funerary Mss. Considered by
the Mormons to be Autograph memoirs of Abraham," in Jules Remy and
Julius Brenchley, A Journey to Great-Salt-Lake City (London:
W. Jeffs, 1861), 2:546.
70. Baer, "Breathing
Permit," 127. Baer is understandably a little tentative, since the
original to Facsimile No. 3 is not available. Baer continued that
this facsimile "shows a man (5), his hand raised in adoration and a
cone of perfumed grease and a lotus flower on his head (ancient
Egyptian festival attire), being introduced by Maat (4), the
goddess off justice, and Anubis (6), the guide of the dead, into
the presence of Osiris (1), enthroned as king of the Netherworld.
Behind Osiris stands Isis (2), and in front of him is an
offering-stand (3) with a jug and some flowers on it." Baer's
identifications should be compared with the six explanations
offered by Joseph Smith for Facsimile No. 3.
71. "A Fac-Simile
from the Book of Abraham, No. 1," Times and Seasons 3 (1
March 1842): 703, with emphasis added.
72. In an attempt to
overcome the problem of the illustration of J.S. Pap. I being at
least fifteen hundred years later than Abraham, Nibley, "As Things
Stand," 78, suggested that "in fact, the remark [at Abr. 1:14] may
well be the insertion of a later scribe." Concerning Nibley's
explanation of this difficulty, Wesley P. Walters, "Joseph Smith
among the Egyptians: An Examination of the Source of Joseph Smith's
Book of ABraham," The Journal of the Evangelical Theological
Society 16 (Winter 1973): 39, responded that this leaves the
reader wondering how a scribe could insert a remark into the
Egyptian manuscripts of the Book of Abraham when Dr. Nibley has
already concluded that the papyri 'did not contain any of the text
of the Book Abraham as we have it.'"
73. Jerald Tanner
and Sandra Tanner, eds., Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and
Grammar (Salt,,Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., 1966).
74. Richard L.
Evans, "Illinois Yields Church Documents," The Improvement
Era 40 (September 1937): 543, 565, 573, though the handwriting
is incorrectly identified as Joseph Smith's.
Facsimiles, 31, incorrectly stated that the fourth Book of
Abraham manuscript, in the handwriting of Willard Richards and
dated to 1841, also has hieratic signs in the left column.
76. Grant S. Heward
and Jerald Tanner, "The Source of the Book of Abraham Identified,"
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968):
92-98. Nibley, "Getting Ready," 246-47, rightly criticized the
inadequacies of Heward's translation of Egyptian, as published in
the March 1968 issue of The Salt Lake City Messenger.
"Phase One," 100.
78. Nibley, "As
Things Stand," 102.
79. This page is
reproduced in Evans, "Church Documents," 543.
80. The currelation
of this wloop character with the name Abraham is further
supported by Egyptian Manuscripts #1, #3, #4, and #5, where the
character is identified as "Ah-brah-oam" (with slightly varying
spelling and hyphenation). Confirming this connection to Abraham,
Hugh Nibley, "The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers,"
Brigham Young University Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 384,
said: "Throughout all the Grammar and Alphabet papers . . . the
loop or 'w' symbol is always said in some way or other to refer to
81. Bruce A. Van
Orden, "The Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith Papyri,"
typescript, 1983, 1, in the Max H. Parkin Collection, Accession
1539, Manuscripts Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University
of Utah, Salt Lake City, admitted that "the Book of Abraham is not
a direct translation from any of the existing twelve papyri. In
fact there appears to be very little, if anything, that relates in
a direct textual way to the Book of Abraham. The name Abraham does
not ear on any of the papyri." John Gee, "References to Abraham
found in Two Egyptian Texts," Insights: An Ancient Window,
no. 5 (September 1991): l, a doctoral student in Egyptology,
proclaimed the discovery of Abraham s name in Egyptian documents
and put forth an example which hints at Abraham on a lion couch,
for "immediately below the scene are written the Greek words, 'Let
Abraham who . . . upon . . . wonder marvelously." Gee also stated
that "much of this compares closely with Joseph Smith's indication
that Facsimile 1 from the Book of Abraham is an illustration of
'Abraham fastened upon an altar' to be sacrificed by idolatrous
priests." In his next publication on this Ragan text Gee,
Horus, 28n168, repeated the same translation of the
Greek words, adding his wonderment in a footnote: Oddly enough,
this is considered a love charm!" In his third publication John
Gee, "Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts," The Ensign
22 (July 1992): 60, explained that this reference occurs in a
love spell and it is a woman lying on the lion couch and translated
the same passage as: "Let Abraham who . . . I adjure you by . . .
and incinerate so-and-so daughter of so-and-so." In contrast to
Gee's view, Edward H. Ashment, The Use of Egyptian
Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham: A Critical
Review (Salt Lake City: Resource Communications, 1993), 14),
another doctoral candidate in Egyptology, argued that this
lion-couch scene does not illustrate a sacrificeeither of
Abraham or of the womansince its real purpose was intended to
inflame a woman with passion." This magical incantation, among its
abracadabra words, does indeed contain the name of Abraham, but
there is no connection with the Book of Abraham, and the love charm
intends that the woman will burn with passion, not literally be
82. Ferguson was
referring to the 1966 edition of Tanner and Tanner, Egyptian
Alphabet. For a more up-to-date edition of these documents, see
H. Michael Marquardt, comp., The Joseph Smith Egyptian
Papers (Cullman, AL: Printing Service, 1981). For a
transcription of the English texts, see William S. Harwell, ed.,
Joseph Smith's Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian
Language, Doctrine of the Priesthood, vol. 5, no. 10 (Salt Lake
City: Collier's Publishing Co., 1992). For an effort to make sense
of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, see Joe Sampson, Written
by the Finger of God: Decoding Ancient Languages, A Testimony of
Joseph Smith's Translations (Sandy, UT: Wellspring Publishing,
83. Ferguson, letter
to Boyack, 13 March 1971. Dean C. Jessee, comp. and ed., The
Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book
Co., 1984), 650n16, described the "Grammar and A[l]phabet of
the Egyptian Language" as "the product of early study of these
Prophet's Record, 35. Joseph Smith also mentioned the
alphabet and grammar of the Egyptian language at 17 November 1835
and 13 November 1843 (Faulring, ibid., 65, 427).
85. "Grammar and
A[l]phabet of the Egyptian Language," 1, in the handwriting of W.
W. Phelps, reproduced in Tanner and Tanner, Egyptian
Alphabet and Marquardt, Egyptian Papers. The word "or"
enclosed in angle brackets was added above the line in the
manuscript. The words "and preseving [perceiving] them" were
written and then deleted from the sixth sentence of the
"Egyptians," 42-43, presented an example of interpretation from
pages 5 and 21 of the "Grammar and A[l]phabet of the Egyptian
Language" to its developed form on p. 5 of Book of Abraham
Manuscript #1: "The EAG [Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar] says that a
straight horizontal line is pronounced 'Zip Zi' and means a woman
married or unmarried, or daughter; signifies all or any woman.' A
,curved line like a smiling mouth signifies 'beneath' and is
pronounced 'tou es,' while a dot is 'iota' and means either 'the
eye, or I see.' When the three are joined together it is pronounced
'Iota tou es Zip Zi' and comes to mean the land of Egypt which was
first discovered by a woman while under water, and afterwards
settled by her sons, she being a daughter of Ham.' Consequently
when this sign combination is found in the margin of the Book of
Abraham manuscripts, the following translation occurs: 'The land of
Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of
Ham, and the daughter of Zeptah which in the Chaldea signifies
Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden. When this woman
discovered the land it was under water, who after settled her sons
in it, and thus from Ham sprang that race, which preserved the
curse in the land' [cf. Abr. 1:23]. With the Prophet utilizing such
an erroneous method of Egyptian translating, it is quite pointless
to try to show that he actually understood the Egyptian text and
derived the correct meaning from it."
87. Nibley, Smith
Papyri, 1. Cf. H. Michael Marquardt, The Book of Abraham
Papyrus Found: An Answer to Dr. Hugh Nibley's Book "The Message of
the Joseph Smith Pqpyri: An Egyptian Endowment" As It Relates to
the Source of the Book of Abraham, 2d ed., rev. and enl. (Salt
Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., 1981).
88. Cowdery, letter
to Frye, 236. Cowdery explained: "Neither can I give you a probable
idea how large volumes they [the translation of the Book of Abraham
and the Book of Joseph] will make; but judging from their size, and
the comprehensiveness of the language, one might reasonably expect
to see a sufficient [volume] to develop much upon the mighty acts
of the ancient men of God."
89. Nibley, "As
Things Stand," 70, and Nibley "New Look" 73 (May 1970): 83, denied
that any of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers included Joseph Smith's
handwriting. Nibley, "Egyptian Papers," 351, corrected these
90. Joseph Smith,
"Reply" [to James Arlington Bennett], 13 November 1843, in Times
anal Seasons 4 (1 November 1843): 373, with Smith placing his
translation in square brackets.
91. Walter L.
Whipple, A Concordance and Dictionary to the Egyptian Alphabet
and Grammar in Parallel with the Book of Abraham (Glendale, CA,
1972), 167, said that "there is more than a passing relationship
between the Book of Abraham and the Egyptian Alphabet, especially
for Abraham chapters 1 and 3 and Facsime number 2."
"Egyptian Papers," 351, indicated that the entire title is in the
handwriting of Joseph Smith, but probably only the signature is by
93. I. E. S.
Edwards, letter to Grant S. Heward, 9 June 1966, in Box 78, Fd 2,
Marquardt Collection. Edwards added that the whole documents [the
Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar] reminds me of the writings of
psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to me."
94. Richard A.
Parker, letter to Marvin Cowan, 9 January 1968, in Box 78, Fd 7,
Marquardt Collection Nibley "Egyptian Papers" 367, stated that
Smith s efforts in Egyptian Manuscrlpt #4 were "a perfectly sane
and rational approach to a problem."
95. Ferguson, letter
to Boyack, 13 March 1971.
96. W. W. Phelps,
letter to S. Phelps, 529.
97. Milton R.
Hunter, letter to Ferguson, 4 December 1967, in Ferguson
98. Cowdery, letter
to Frye, 234.
99. Ibid., 236.
"Summary Report," 77.
abbreviation "T-N" used the initials in the constantly recurring
formula "Tashere-Mm, triumphant, born to NesKhonsu,
"Summary Report," 77.
104. T. George
Allen, ed., The Egyptian Book of the Dead: Documents in
the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago,
Oriental Institute Publications, vol. 82 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1960).
105. Wilson, letter
to Cowan, 5 January 1968. The top part of the page is from the
Book of the Dead, spell 72, but the section next to the
serpent illustration is spell 74, as corrected in brackets in the
106. Parker, letter
to Cowan, 9 January 1968.
letter to Frye, 236.
"Summary Report," 77-78. The biblical 'õn, On, which is the
Hebrew name for Heliopolis, is mentioned in Gen. 41:45, 50;
letter to Frye, 236. Cowdery also said that the hieroglyphics were
written by persons acquainted with the history of the creation, the
fall of man, and more or less of the correct ideas of notions of
110. D[oyle] L.
G[reen], "New Light on Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri: Additional
Fragment Disclosed," The Improvement Era 71 (February 1968):
"Summary Report," 82.
statement, located on back of his photograph of J.S. Pap. V, in
Ferguson Collection, UU.
letter to Boyack, 13 March 1971, with emphasis in original.
Smith Papyri, 2, with emphasis in original. Michael
D. Rhodes, Why doesnt the translation of the Egyptian papyri found
in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great
Price?" The Ensign 18 (July 1988): 51, followed Nibley's
argument that the Book of Abraham scroll had red ink.
History of the Church, 2:348. Roberts, ibid., 2:350n,
explained that this account was adapted from Oliver Cowdery letter
as printed in the Messenger and Advocate.
letter to Frye, 234.
ibid., 235, quoted that certificate later in his letter:
"The papyrus, covered with black or red ink, or paint, in excellent
preservation, are very interesting"; reprinted in Roberts,
History of the Church, 2:350n.
Strouhal, Life of the Ancient Egyptians (Norman, OK:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 219.
Smith Papyri, 2. Three pages later Nibley referred to
Roberts's note in the History of the Church, so Nibley knew
that Cowdery really wrote this description he attributed to Joseph
Painesville, Ohio, Telegraph, 27 March 1835, quoted in J. A.
Larson, "Egyptology," 162-63.
122. C. M. Larson,
By His Own Hand, 34.
"Breathing Permit," 111.
124. Gee, "Tragedy
of Errors," 108-109.
125. C. M. Larson,
By His Own Hand, 33-34.
126. Gee, "Tragedy
of Errors," 106, critic!zing C. M. Larson's "Missing Black and Red
Scroll" Theory, asserted: The most recent non-LDS Egyptologist to
write on the subject, to my knowledge, said that the Pap. Joseph
Smith XI and X containing the Book off Breathings were wrongly
identified by others with Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham.'"
However, this is not an Egyptologist's opinion about the source of
the Book of Abraham, for Gee failed to quote the first four words
of the sentence. What L. M. J. Zonhoven, biblioraphic entry no.
77562, in Annual Egyptological Bibliography/Bibliographie
égyptologique annuelle, 1977, comp. Jac. J. Janssen
(Warminster, England: Aris and Phillips, 1981), 180, said is: "He
[Nibley] makes clear that the Pap. Joseph Smith XI and X containing
the Book of Breathings were willingly identified by others with
Joseph Smith s Book of Abraham." Accordingly, Zonhoven's annotation
merely summarized Nibley's own argument in The Message of the
Joseph Smith Papyri.
"Fragment Found," 192.
128. Hugh Nibley,
Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co, 1981),
129. Nibley, "New
Look," 71-73 (January 1968May 1970). Concerning Nibley's
articles Egyptologist John A. Wilson, Thousands of Years,
said: "Mormon theologians have mounted a counterattack against our
[John'A. Wilson's and Klaus Baer's] translations. In a series of
articles published in 1968-69 in the magazine Improvement
Era, Dr. Hugh Nibley pointed out at some length that
Egyptologists differed in their interpretations of the material
upon which they worked. He therefore suggested that we were
unreliable. . . In this case Egyptologists may disagree as to
whether the trace left at the edge of a break shows fingers of a
man's hand or feathers of a flying bird's wing, but they will all
agree that we have here normal ancient Egyptian Books of the Dead
and a normal 'Breathing Permit.'"
letter to Boyack, 13 March 1971.
131. Hugh Nibley,
"An Intellectual Autobiography," in Nibley on the Timely and the
Timeless: Classic Essays of Hugh W. Nibley, ed. Truman G.
Madsen, Religious Studies Monograph Series, vol. 1 (Provo, UT:
Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1978),
"Egyptology," 146. Technically, Thompson did not attribute this
flawed methodology to Nibley, since the quoted statement is a
general principle that could apply to anyone. However, in the
immediately following paragraph Thompson began to cite specific
examples from Nibley.
letter to Boyack, 13 March 1971.
134. Samuel W.
Taylor, "The Case for Carping Criticism: Report from the Dog
House," typescript, Sunstone Symposium, 12 August 1993, 15, in the
John Taylor Family Collection, Manuscript 50, Box 73, Fd l,
Manuscripts Division, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of
Utah, Salt Lake City.
135. C. M. Larson,
By His Own Hand, 114-40, surveyed eight different
explanations: (1) The "Hidden Meaning Theory, (2) The "Mnemomc
Device" Theory, (3) The "Any Egyptian Connection" Theory, (4) The
"Scribes Did It" Theory, (5) The "Missing Black and Red Scroll"
Theory, (6) The "Mistaken Identity" Theory, (7) The "Catalyst"
Theory, and (8) The "Nobody Really Understands Egyptian Anyway"
136. Milton R.
Hunter, letter to Ferguson, 4 December 1967, in Ferguson
Collection, UU. Hunter added his own comment"This part is
very important"after quoting N. Eldon Tanner's words to
137. Jerald Tanner,
letter to Dee Jay Nelson, 18 December 1970, in Ferguson Collection,
138. Rhodes, "Why
doesn't the translation," 51-52, with emphasis in original.
Concerning Rhodes's suggestion that the Book of Abraham was not a
literal translation but an inspired revelation, Parker, letter to
Cowan, 9 January 1968, said: "It is possible to claim that the
Egypto-logical text has an obvious and a hidden meaning but I know
of no Egyptologist who would support such a claim."
History of the Church, 2:236.
letter to Boyack, 13 March 1971. Ferguson identified this Hôr
as an "Egyptian god." Technically, Hôr is the name of the
Egyptian priest, though according to Baer, "Breathing Permit,"
111n8, the name itself means "[the god] Horus."
141. Klaus J.
Hansen, "Reflections on The Lion of the Lord," review
of The Lion of the Lord: A Biograpy of Brigham Young, by
Stanley P. Hirshon, in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought
5 (Summer 1970): 104.
142. Claude Heater,
letter to author, 13 June 1994, in author's possession.
Interview, 25 May 1993.
144. George F.
Carter, letter to author, 3 July 1989, in author s possession.
Ferguson, letter to George F. Carter, 24 May 1977, in Ferguson
Collection, UU, stated concerning the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri:
"The leaders and aides to the Prophet [Joseph Smith] were told by
the Prophet that he could read it and that it was 'The Book of
Abraham,' written by Abraham. . . At the insistence of the top
aides he was pressured into coming up with his 'translation,'
published and canonized by the Churchand still scripture in
the Church. . . Joseph made the mistake of not destroying the
Egyptian after producing his 'translation.' . . [Egyptologists]
identfied the original MS of the Book of Abraham as 'The Breathing
Permit of Hôr.' Nothing whatever to do with Abraham or
anything relating to Joseph Smith's fraudulent version and
translanon. . . Joseph Smith didn't know one glyph from
anothera complete sham on his part. That the Breathing Permit
MS is the one Joseph Smith had is beyond all questions. For in his
English 'translation' he 'blew it' by copying into and publishing
vignettes from the originaland there they are on the MS from
145. John W.
Fitzgerald, letter to Ferguson, 4 March 1976, in the John W.
Fitzgerald Collection, Manuscript 102, Box 1, Special Collections,
Milton R. Merrill Library, Utah State University, Logan, UT;
hereafter abbreviated to Fitzgerald Collection.
letter to John W. Fitzgerald. 6 March 1976, in Fitzgerald
Collection; photocopy in Ferguson Collection, UU.
147. J. Don
Cerchione, fetter to Ferguson, with handwritten response by
Ferguson, 21 July 1976, in Ferguson Collection, UU.
148. Wesley P.
Walters, letter to Ferguson, 23 June 1971, in Ferguson Collection,
150. Ronald O.
Barney, interview with Thomas Stuart Ferguson, 4 January 1983,
typed on 19 April 1984, in Box 77, Fd 13, Marquardt
This excerpt is presented by permission of the author. One can buy Quest for the Gold Plates here.