Saturday, February 24, 2007

Book of Abraham: Joseph Knowingly Deceived

There are several lines of evidence that challenge the validity of the Book of Abraham as an inspired translation of ancient papyrus written by the hand of Abraham. Historians point out anachronisms in the text itself. Linguists show that words and names that should have been Egyptian have Hebrew origins instead. The Egyptian characters in the facsimiles are translated incorrectly. The scenes and objects in the facsimiles are interpreted incorrectly and show a complete ignorance of Egyptian culture and religion. The facsimiles were restored incorrectly. A real translation of the rediscovered papyri has no resemblance to the translation Joseph rendered. Unique concepts such as "intelligences" appear to be plagiarized from Thomas Dick. Rediscovered source papyri are actually common funeral texts and date from Roman times not Abraham's time. Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar shows no understanding of the Egyptian language. The translation papers show which characters from the papyrus were thought to correlate with which passages from the Book of Abraham text ruling out some apologetic theories, etc.

Mormon apologists have posited many different theories to try to account for that evidence in ways that are favorable to Joseph Smith. The theories are often presented as possibilities. Maybe there were other papyri that contain the Book of Abraham. Maybe the papyri just served as a catalyst for the revelation. Maybe Abraham's original story was changed over time and eventually became the Book of Breathings and Joseph restored what was supposed to be there originally. Joseph used the word translate differently than we do today. Maybe there are multiple levels of translation and Egyptian scholars just haven't discovered the hidden meanings yet. Maybe Joseph's Alphabet and Grammar was the failed attempt of Joseph's scribes to match the characters with the translation. Maybe the editor was responsible for the incorrect restoration of the facsimiles. Joseph got a few things right in his interpretations and there is no way he could have done that without the power of God. There is another ancient document that links Abraham's name with a lion couch. Another response has been to claim that there is no way to know what really happened, but they get inspiration from the text so it is scripture to them. The problem is none of these possibilities can adequately deal with all of the damning evidence.

Many books and webpages have been dedicated to this debate. I cannot do the arguments justice in this short essay. But, it is important to understand the details of the evidence and the arguments. Apologist arguments often seem like they might work on first glance. It is only upon closer inspection that one finds why the apologist explanations are not as impressive as they first seemed. For example, when one looks into the ancient document that "links Abraham's name with the lion couch," it is discovered that the document dates from after the time of Christ when the Mediterranean cultures were very familiar with each other's religious icons, and the context is a small lion couch drawn above a long list of religious people from different religions. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are among the names that appear. There is no link to the content of the Book of Abraham. Another example of the benefit of details is if you actually look at Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, you'll see how ridiculous and absurd it is, and you will see Joseph's own handwriting in part of it, showing that Joseph was involved in this endeavor. Nibley's "Joseph's scribes did it" theory does not work when you see Joseph's handwriting.

Anyway, I want to focus on just two lines of evidence that get to the heart of the issue. Regardless of the whole translation process, are we reading the words of Abraham when we read the Book of Abraham and if not, did Joseph know that he was misleading us?

We can know the Book of Abraham is not the word of Abraham by the presence of anachronisms, things that are out of place for the time period. Examples of anachronisms in the Book of Abraham include: Chaldea, Pharoah, Potiphar's Hill, Egyptus, and Facsimile #1. The following 3 links discuss this in detail.
Stephen Thompson's "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham"
Kevin Mathie's "Examining the Book of Abraham: Chapter 8 The Text of the Book of Abraham"
Equality's "The Book of Abraham: Did William the Conqueror Know Henry the VIII?"

Due to the anachronisms we know that the text of the Book of Abraham is not the word of Abraham. Now, did Joseph Smith know that the product of his mind, namely The Book of Abraham, was not true? It appears that Joseph borrowed and reworked ideas about the life of Abraham from the Bible and the writings of the historian Josephus, and about cosmology from Newton and Thomas Dick, including the concept of "intelligences". But, I suppose it is possible that these ideas might work in his imagination and he might mistake his thoughts for revelation.

However, there is what I believe to be a dead giveaway that Joseph knowingly tried to deceive us, and was not just following the false impressions that came into his mind. The evidence is contained in his restoration of Facsimile #2. (His restoration of Facsimile #1 is also incorrect according to Egyptologists and I agree, but he may have felt (thinking he was inspired) that what he drew was supposed to be there). However, with Facsimile #2, his restoration is more telling.

The drawing at left comes from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and is of the damaged hypocephalus that was the source of Facsimile #2. Now an honest man who had no special gift or knowledge to know what originally was in the damaged areas might have left those areas blank when he included this facsimile in his published translation of the papyri.

A man who followed the mistaken impressions of his mind thinking he was receiving revelation might notice a pattern, that there were supposed to be hieroglyphics there, and imagine some characters there and draw them in. Perhaps they would be true hieroglyphic characters from his memory of looking at the other true characters. We would expect to see a repeat of some of the existing characters on the hypocephalus. Or, perhaps he might be impressed to draw new characters from his imagination believing them to be real. (There is some evidence that Joseph may have done just that to fill in some missing characters from different papyri fragments as evidenced in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers). A true prophet might accurately restore this hypocephalus with the correct characters through revelation.

But, Joseph was neither an honest man (for he did not leave the area blank), a mistaken man following the impressions of his mind (for he did not put some random characters in the missing place), nor was he a prophet (for what he "restored" was not only incorrect judging by an actual Egyptian translation of the text, but the characters he "restored" were hieratic rather than hieroglyphic characters and from a different time period). No, Joseph was none of those things. He was knowingly deceitful because he filled in the missing sections of the figure by copying in order hieratic characters from a section of a different papyrus. It was not just an artistic restoration with some handy characters, for these characters were supposed to have meaning. In his guide to interpreting Facsimile #2, he says this regarding the meaning of those characters that they "will be given in the own due time of the Lord." Remember these characters are meant to complete the string of already existing characters in the outer ring of the figure. Joseph wanted us to think that he was restoring missing content, but he was actually plagiarizing characters from a separate and unrelated document. That is deception. I cannot see how he could honestly think those characters belonged there.

Interestingly, those characters came from what is known as the sensen papyrus. In the translation papers, the characters from the sensen papyrus are paired with verses from the text of the Book of Abraham. So these characters are reused. Once to fill a gap in Facsimile #2, and once as the source for verses in the text in the Book of Abraham.

In my opinion, Joseph knowingly, actively defrauded us in his "restoration" of Facsimile #2.
For those interested in learning more:

Photos of the recovered Joseph Smith Papyri fragments ( [bad link], Sepia colored ones are in the Feb. 1968 issue of the Improvement Era, and full-colored ones in the book "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus" by Charles Larson),

A modern translation of those papyri fragments (I recommend Robert K. Ritner, "The 'Breathing Permit of Hor' Thirty-four Years Later," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33 [Winter 2000]:101, ),

Kirtland Egyptian Papers including Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar (You will have difficulty getting a good copy of this, but you can view it online here [bad link], or you could buy a rather poor copy here).

Jim Day's "False Translation of the Book of Abraham"

Examining the Book of Abraham by Kevin Mathie

Link to "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus" by Larson (Note: You really should get a physical copy of this book as the online version does not have the figures, letters, and pictures).

Short Essays on the Book of Abraham

Equality's links on the BoA Scroll down the page and look on the left for the links.

Tanner articles

More articles on BoA

Mormon Think BoA

Photos of JS Egyptian Papers [unavailable]


Bull said...

I would agree that that is pretty damning. In fact, the Book of Abraham is as close to an open/shut case against JS as anything out there. The problem is that the one theory that Mormons are completely unable to consider is that Joseph made it up and was a fraud.

The more I learn about JS the more I believe that he was a conscious fraud. I simply can't understand how he could have believed that he was on the up and up. Some of the things he did required way too much conscious effort.

Of course, Mormons, like most con victims, have trouble believing that such a wonderful man could have looked them in the eye and lied in a very Clintonian fashion. Except Joe was worse, "I do not, and never have practiced polygamy. Our church specifically forbids and condemns the practice." Blows Bill's Lewinsky out of the water for the audacity and brazeness of the lie.

Sideon said...

Thank you for the wonderful statement regarding gender and genetics that you made on Otterson's "We Can't Abandon Fundamental Moral Laws."

Be well.

Chris said...

It's a pleasure to read somebody who understands the BoA issues so well. Considering how very damning this issue is, it's remarkable that it doesn't get more attention. I heartily second your recommendation of Kevin Mathie's online book. You might also be interested in a post on my blog, which I think is the simplest way to hit Joseph Smith's BoA soft pitch out of the park. Best to you,


Chris said...

Sorry, forgot the link. It's

Chris said...

That didn't work either. Try this: Link

Cal said...

You are basing your entire theory on the missing portions of the hypocephalus, whose origin is disputed. It is currently unknown who filled in these areas. Did Joseph do it himself? Theorized, but uncertain. All that we know is that SOMEONE filled them in, and that that someone obviously didn't know Egyptian. But who did in those days? After all, the Rosetta stone hadn't been translated yet.

So since it is uncertain, I would suggest looking at the portions that CANNOT be questioned either way. The Facts. Although there are many interpretations of Egyptian writing in general, I think you'll find that Joseph correctly interpreted them.

Here's are two short examples:

Facsimile No.2: (the one you mentioned in your post)
Fig 6: "represents this earth in its four quarters."
Scholar interpretation:
The sons of Horus: Gods of the four quarters of the earth. North, South, East, and West.

Fig 4: "firmament of the heavens"
Scholar interpretation:
Horus: Personification of the sky

So he was right very specifically on at least two accounts.

I would suggest reading more thoroughly into the subject before decided that it's completely wrong--simply based on a few disputed areas whose origin is unknown.

I like to deal with facts, not theories.

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