Search the Handbook


Mormon Handbook
Order Book | Download
$20                $5




Book of Mormon translation
« Pearl of Great Price | Book of Abraham Facsimile 1 »
Saturday
Mar262011

Book of Abraham

TIMELINE
1799
Rosetta Stone discovered
1835
Joseph Smith begins translating Egyptian papyri
1842
Translation published as Book of Abraham
1844
Papyri sold after Joseph's death
1858
English translation of Rosetta Stone complete
1860
Egyptologists identify Book of Abraham facsimiles as common funerary documents
1966
Original translation papers leaked from LDS church vault and published
1967
LDS church reacquire papyri from the Met, NY

Introduction

In the summer of 1835, a traveling exhibit of Egyptian mummies came to Joseph Smith's town. Inside the coffins in connection with two mummies were two rolls and fragments of papyri.
Joseph Smith On opening the coffins, he [Michael H. Chandler] discovered that in connection with two of the bodies, was something rolled up with the same kind of linen, saturated with the same bitumen, which, when examined, proved to be two rolls of papyrus, previously mentioned. Two or three other small pieces of papyrus, with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c., were found with others of the mummies.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
History of the Church 2:349
Since Joseph claimed to have translated Reformed Egyptian to produce the Book of Mormon (Mormon 9:32), and claimed to be a seer (D&C 124:125): being one who can translate all records that are of ancient date (Mosiah 8:13), he was approached to translate a few characters from the papyri.
Joseph Smith On the 3rd of July, Michael H. Chandler came to Kirtland to exhibit some Egyptian mummies. There were four human figures, together with some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and devices. As Mr. Chandler had been told I could translate them, he brought me some of the characters, and I gave him the interpretation.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
History of the Church 2:235
The church purchased the papyri and Joseph identified the origins of it:
Joseph Smith Soon after this, some of the Saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies and papyrus, a description of which will appear hereafter, 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 writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.—a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.

Joseph Smith - Mormonism founder
History of the Church 2:236
  • Joseph's translation of the 'Abraham roll' is published as the Book of Abraham, part of the LDS canon Pearl of Great Price.
  • Mormons believe that the characters of the papyri are written by Abraham's own hand:
    Wilford Woodruff Joseph the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light through the mercy of God.

    Wilford Woodruff - Mormon prophet
    Diary, February 19, 1842
    Joseph also told visitors:
    Josiah Quincy These receptacles Smith opened, and disclosed four human bodies, shrunken and black with age. "These are mummies," said the exhibitor. "I want you to look at that little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man in his day. Why, that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!" Some parchments inscribed with hieroglyphics were then offered us. They were preserved under glass and handled with great respect. "That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful," said the prophet. "This is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest account of the creation, from which Moses composed the first book of Genesis.

    Josiah Quincy
    Figures of the Past, p.386
    Also evidenced in the introduction to the Book of Abraham.
    Pearl of Great Price THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
    TRANSLATED FROM THE PAPYRUS, BY JOSEPH SMITH
    A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt.—The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.
  • Since Abraham lived before Moses, who wrote the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), it would make the Abraham papyrus older than the book of Genesis! A view endorsed by noted Mormon scholar Sidney B. Sperry:
    Sidney B. Sperry It is evident that the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, of which our printed Book of Abraham is a copy, must of necessity be older than the original text of Genesis.

    Sidney B. Sperry - Mormon scholar
    Ancient Records Testify in Papyrus and Stone, p.83


Verifying Joseph's Translation

  • The consequences are eternal: if Joseph Smith's translation of the papyri is accurate, it would confirm his claim that he possessed a supernatural gift. However, if his translation is inaccurate, then he is exposed as a false prophet who perpetuated a fraud. In that event it would cast doubt on his other "translation": the Book of Mormon.
  • When Joseph began translating the papyrus in 1835, no one at that time in America could verify the accuracy of it.
  • The Rosetta Stone was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics. The first English translation of the stone was completed in 1858 by the Philomathean Society of Pennsylvania.
  • Published in the Book of Abraham are three facsimiles copied from the papyrus along with Joseph's interpretations of them.

    Book of Abraham: facsimiles 1, 2 & 3 Book of Abraham facsimiles

Independent Examinations
No less than fourteen Egyptologists have examined the facsimiles and/or the original papyri. Their conclusions all lead to one answer: Joseph Smith was ignorant of the Egyptian script. Both LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists have identified the papyri as common Egyptian funerary documents belonging to the Book of the Dead, hence why the papyri were found in coffins. The papyri are dated about 1,500 years after Abraham lived.
Dr. W. M. Flinders Petrie,
London University
"... I have examined the illustrations given in the 'Pearl of Great Price.' In the first place, they are copies (very badly done) of well known Egyptian subjects of which I have dozens of examples. Secondly, they are all many centuries later than Abraham... the attempts to guess a meaning for them, in the professed explanations, are too absurd to be noticed. It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations... None but the ignorant could possibly be imposed on by such ludicrous blunders ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
James H. Breasted, Ph.D.,
Haskell Oriental Museum,
Univ. of Chicago
"... these three fac-similes of Egyptian documents in the 'Pearl of Great Price' depict the most common objects in the mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smiths' interpretation of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization... We orientalists could publish scores of these 'fac-similes from the Book of Abraham' taken from other sources ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
Rev. Prof. C. A. B. Mercer, Ph. D.,
Western Theological Seminary,
Custodian Hibbard Collection,
Egyptian Reproductions
"... the author knew neither the Egyptian language nor the meaning of the most commonplace Egyptian figures... it may be remarked that his explanations from a scientific and scholarly standpoint are absurd... the explanatory notes to his fac-similes cannot be taken seriously by any scholar, as they seem to be undoubtedly the work of pure imagination ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
Dr. Friedrich von Bissing,
Prof. of Egyptology,
Univ. of Munich
"... What he calls the 'Book of Abraham' is a funeral Egyptian text, probably not older than the Greek ages... Jos. Smith certainly never got a Divine revelation in the meaning of the ancient Egyptian Script, and that he never deciphered hieroglyphic texts at all ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
Dr. John Peters,
Univ. of Pennsylvania
"... The plates contained in the 'Pearl of Great Price' are rather comical and a very poor imitation of Egyptian originals... The text of this chapter, as also the interpretation of the plates, displays an amusing ignorance. Chaldeans and Egyptians are hopelessly mixed together, although as dissimilar and remote in language, religion and locality as are today American and Chinese. In addition to which the writer knows nothing of either of them ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
Dr. A. H. Sayce,
Oxford, England
"... It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud... I need scarce say that Kolob, etc., are unknown to the Egyptian language... Smith has turned the Goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
Dr. Arthur C. Mace,
Asst. Curator,
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York,
Dept. of Egyptian Art
"... The 'Book of Abraham,' it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication. Cuts 1 and 3 are inaccurate copies of well known scenes on funeral papyri, and cut 2 is a copy of one of the magical discs... Joseph Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end. Egyptian characters can now be read almost as easily as Greek, and five minutes' study in an Egyptian gallery of any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the clumsiness of the imposture ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
Dr. Edward Meyer,
University of Berlin
"... The Egyptian papyrus which Smith declared to be the 'Book of Abraham,' and 'translated' or explained in his fantastical way, and of which three specimens are published in the 'Pearl of Great Price,' are parts of the well known 'Book of the Dead' ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
John A. Wilson,
Prof. of Egyptology,
University of Chicago
"... From the standpoint of the Egyptologist the explanations given with these illustrations are incorrect. The Egyptian language on such documents is decipherable and has appeared in translation in various books ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
Richard Parker,
Dept. of Egyptology,
Brown University
"... The explanations are completely wrong insofar as any interpretation of the Egyptian original is concerned ..."
Full Statement [PDF]
M. Theodule Deveria,
Egyptologist,
Louvre Museum, Paris
Full Report [PDF]
Klaus Bear
Prof. of Egyptology
Oriental Institute
Univ. of Chicago
A Translation of the Apparent Source of the Book of Abraham [PDF]
John A. Wilson
Prof. of Egyptology
University of Chicago
The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: Translations and Interpretations
Michael D. Rhodes,
Assoc. Research Professor,
Dept. of Ancient Scripture, BYU
Translation of the Hor Book of Breathings [PDF]
Robert K. Ritner
Prof. of Egyptology
Oriental Institute
Univ. of Chicago
"The Breathing Permit of Hor" among the Joseph Smith Papyri [PDF]

The "Breathing Permit of Hor" Thirty-Four Years Later [PDF]
New York Times New York Times Article, December 29, 1912

Comparing Translations
A side-by-side comparison of Joseph's and Egyptologists interpretations.

Source Papyri & Translation Manuscripts

In additional to the published facsimiles in the Book of Abraham, we are able to examine additional source materials:

Book of Abraham Evidences Book of Abraham Source Materials

  • Translation Manuscripts
    These are the working documents of the translation process, linking the papyri script to the English text of the Book of Abraham.