| In the year 1835 at Kirtland, Ohio, Joseph Smith, Jr., leader of
the Church of the Latter Day Saints, dictated what he claimed was
a translation of an ancient Egyptian papyrus containing the writings
of Abraham. Through the years, whenever the Book of Abraham was
printed there were included with the printed text three drawings,
each designated as a "facsimile" from this alleged Book of Abraham.
In recent years the truth of such claims was shattered when some
of the actual Egyptian papyri which Joseph Smith had in his possession
were rediscovered and given to the LDS church. What does one do
when what was represented to be Abraham's writings turns out to
be totally unsupported by what is written in the Egyptian characters?1
The early LDS church leaders repeatedly claimed that the Egyptian
text contained the actual writing of Abraham. When William W. Phelps,
as a scribe for Joseph Smith, was writing in the latter part of
1835, he recorded that the record was a "Translation of the Book
of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the
Catacombs of Egypt."2 These words formed a preface
in the Phelps manuscript to the opening portion of Joseph Smith's
Book of Abraham (1:1 to 2:18) and clearly assert that the text that
followed was Abraham's own writing.3
When the church headquarters was moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, the
LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was given the responsibility of
managing the church publication called the Times and Seasons.
Wilford Woodruff, who was the business manager at the time, recorded
in his diary that
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 God4
Accordingly, the Quorum of the Twelve issued an announcement in
their periodical that the church wanted tithes sent to Nauvoo for
publications, including "the record of Father Abraham."5
When Joseph Smith himself took over as editor of the Times and
Seasons he dictated an article recorded by his scribe, Willard
Richards, which stated in part:
A considerable quantity of the matter in the last paper
was in type before the establishment came into my hands. . . . In
the present no. will be found the commencement of the Records discovered
in Egypt some time since as penned by the hand of Father Abraham
which I shall continue to translate & publish as fast as possible
till the whole is completed. . . .6
Only a small portion of this article was published, along with
a notice to subscribers of the paper that Joseph Smith now became
responsible for the publication's contents as the editor of the
Times and Seasons.7 For Wilford Woodruff and the
Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, there was no question that the long
awaited papyri writings which Joseph Smith had and was working on
would soon be published and made available to members of the church
and to all the world through their Times and Seasons press.
Willard Richards made a copy of the Book of Abraham text bearing
the following heading:
A Translation of Some ancient Records that have fallen
into our hands from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the
writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book of
Abraham, written by his own hand upon papyrus. THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM.8
This descriptive heading was then published in the Times and
Seasons along with the opening portion of the text that was
represented to be a book actually written by Abraham himself.9 In three separate issues of the church paper individual reproductions
or "facsimiles" from this "Book of Abraham" record were printed
from woodcut illustrations made by Reuben Hedlock. Mormon scholar
Edward H. Ashment has demonstrated that these original woodcut drawings
of Facsimile No. 1 (the lion-couch scene) and Facsimile No. 2 (the
round hypocephalus) were not copied correctly in all details and
include some incorrect restorations in damaged areas of the original
In the month of May 1844, Josiah Quincy and Charles Adams visited
Nauvoo and viewed the Egyptian mummies and talked to Joseph Smith
about the records. Charles Adams recorded in his diary:
He [Joseph Smith] then took us down into his mother's
chamber and showed us four Egyptian mummies stripped and then undertook
to explain the contents of a chart or manuscript which he said had
been taken from the bosom of one of them. The cool impudence of
this imposture amused me very much. "This," said he, "was written
by the hand of Abraham and means so and so. If anyone denies it,
let him prove the contrary. I say it." Of course, we were too polite
to prove the negative, against a man fortified by revelation.11
From Adams and others who viewed the mummies and asked about the
age of the manuscripts obtained with them it is clear that Joseph
Smith and the early Mormons represented the Book of Abraham to have
been penned by the very hand of Abraham himself. After Smith's death
in June 1844, Franklin D. Richards published a pamphlet in July
1851, entitled, The Pearl of Great Price. In this publication
was printed the little Book of Abraham, together with the three
About five years after the three facsimiles were published in the
Pearl of Great Price a young Egyptologist by the name of
M. Theodule Deveria, who was working at the Louvre Museum in Paris,
France, was asked to examine these facsimiles and comment on as
much of the poorly copied Egyptian characters as could be deciphered.
In commenting about Facsimile No. 3, Figure 5, he wrote:
The deceased led by Ma into the presence of Osiris. His
name is Horus, as may be seen in the prayer which is at the bottom
of the picture, and which is addressed to the divinities of the
four cardinal points.12
Deveria was the first Egyptologist to note that what Mormons had
published as a "Facsimile from the Book of Abraham" was really a
funeral illustration for a corpse named Horus.
Later, when the mummies and papyri which Joseph Smith had owned
were sold to the St. Louis Museum and put on display, Professor
Gustavus Seyffarth, who had devoted considerable study to Egyptian,
was also able to read the name of the person for whom Facsimile
No. 3 was made. The following mentions his visit and observations:
. . . according to Prof. Seyffarth, the papyrus roll is
not a record, but an invocation to the Deity Osirus, in which occurs
the name of the person, (Horus,) and a picture of the attendant
spirits, introducing the dead to the Judge, Osirus.13
In 1873 T. B. H. Stenhouse published his book, The Rocky Mountain
Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons, which republished
Deveria's study of the Book of Abraham facsimiles. His book was
republished four times by the year 1905.14 This
helped to circulate more widely the information that the Book of
Abraham material really was funerary in nature and that Facsimile
No. 3 was made for an Egyptian named Horus.
The second edition of the Pearl of Great Price was issued
in 1878, after Orson Pratt, Sr., had edited the work. It was here
that the words "purporting to be" were removed from the heading
of the Book of Abraham. George Reynolds during the following year
wrote and published a defense of the Book of Abraham as a divine
and ancient record.15 He apparently felt that
he had answered some of the criticism dealing with the Book of Abraham,
and on 10 October 1880, the Pearl of Great Price was voted
upon and canonized, along with Smith's revelations. The vote was
by General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints -- "The motion was seconded and sustained by unanimous vote
of the whole conference."16 This made the Pearl
of Great Price the fourth standard work of the LDS church and
accordingly was to be regarded as scripture by the church. Later,
in a new edition, it was again voted upon on October 6, 1902. The
LDS church by these actions locked themselves into having to defend
the Book of Abraham as an actual production of Abraham instead of
an Egyptian funerary text.
In 1912 the Rev. Franklin S. Spalding published his own independent
study of the Book of Abraham, which included letters from eight
Egyptologists and Semitists who had responded to his inquiry concerning
the interpretations of the three facsimiles published with the Book
of Abraham text.17 All eight scholars independently
reported that the facsimiles were funerary illustrations that had
no relationship with Abraham.
In the next two years rebuttal articles appeared dealing with the
scholars' findings published by the Rev. F. S. Spalding, attempting
to establish an Abrahamic origin for the Egyptian material. Except
for a few articles or books mentioning this controversy, nothing
of importance occurred until the 1960s. On 27 November 1967, some "newly discovered papyri" (which had been in the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in New York City) were turned over to the LDS church. With
these papyri was the original papyrus fragment from which the published
Facsimile No. 1 had been copied.18
Translations of the Egyptian characters connected with the three
Book of Abraham facsimiles have now been made by both Mormon and
non-Mormon scholars and published for all to read. Not since Prof.
Seyffarth and Deveria's time has the Book of Abraham material been
examined so closely.
Original of Facsimile No. 1
Dr. Klaus Baer was the first person to publish a translation of
the writing flanking the original of Facsimile No. 1. The following
translation starts from the outer right-hand column and identifies
it as an illustration intended to accompany the "Breathing Permit" written for a deceased named Hor(us), son of Tikhebyt:
Lines 1-3 give the titles, name, and parentage of the
man for whose benefit the Breathing Permit was written:
Dr. Baer also gave a helpful explanation of the figures on the
drawing made from the papyrus. The numbers in parentheses are those
on Facsimile No. 1 published by Joseph Smith, added by Dr. Baer
to facilitate comparison with Smith's comments upon various parts
of the drawing:
. . . the prophet of Amonrasonter, prophet [?] of Min
Bull-of- his-Mother, prophet [?] of Khons the Governor . . . Hor,
justified, son of the holder of the same titles, master of secrets,
and purifier of the gods Osorwer, justified [?] . . . Tikhebyt,
justified. May your ba live among them, and may you be buried in
the West. . . . Too little is left of line 4 to permit even a guess
at what is said. Insofar as I can make it out, line 5 reads: May
you give him a good, splendid burial on the West of Thebes just
like. . . .19
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 afterlife. 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),
Hapt (7), Qebeh-senuwef (6) , and Duwa-mutef (5) , 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 and two larger vases on the ground beside it.
The ba of Osiris (1) is hovering above the head.20
Facsimile No. 2
Michael Dennis Rhodes, a Mormon scholar skilled in Egyptian, has
translated the hieroglyphic writing of Facsimile No. 2, a copy of
an Egyptian hypocephalus, so-called because it was usually placed
under (hypo-) the mummy's head (cephalus).
Edge [Figure 18]: I am Djabty in the House of the
Benben in Heliopolis, so exalted and glorious. [I am] a copulating
bull without equal. [I am] that Mighty God in the House of the Benben
in Heliopolis . . . that Mighty God. . . .
Left Middle [Figures 11, 10, 9 and 8]: O God of
the Sleeping Ones from the time of the Creation. O Mighty God, Lord
of Heaven and Earth, the Netherworld and his Great Waters, grant
that the soul of the Osiris Sheshonk, may live.
Bottom [Figures 17 and 16]: May this tomb never
be desecrated, and may this soul and its possessor never be desecrated
in the Netherworld.
Upper Left [Figures 21, 20 and 19]: You shall be
as that God, the Busirian.
To the Left of the Standing Two-headed God [Figure
2]: The name of this Mighty God.21
This translation makes it clear that the material does not relate
to Abraham (or even to Horus as Facsimiles No, 1 and No. 3 do), but
to a deceased named Sheshonk.
Facsimile No. 3
Dr. Baer has also given an explanation of the figures on Facsimile
No. 3, together with a reading of some of the hieroglyphs as far
as he can recognize them from the woodcut copy.
"Facsimile No. 3" 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 of 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. Over the whole scene is a
canopy with stars painted on it to represent the sky. . . . The
texts, poorly copied as they are, carry us one step further. As
far as it can be made out, the lines of hieroglyphs below the scene
The same name Hor or Horus which Prof. Seyffarth read in
the 1850s and that Deveria read from the printed Facsimile No. 3
is now confirmed as being on that facsimile as well as appearing
in one of the columns of hieroglyphics of the original to Facsimile
O gods of . . . , gods of the Caverns, gods of the south,
north, west, and east, grant well-being to Osiris Hor, justified.
. . .
The characters above and to the left of the man [Figure
5] are probably to be read: "Osiris Hor, justified forever." Even
though Hor is a relatively common name in Greco-Roman Egypt, this
does suggest that "Facsimile No. 3" reproduces a part of the same
manuscript that "Facsimile No. 1" does. Hor's copy of the Breathing
Permit would then have two vignettes, one at the beginning and
another ("Facsimile No. 3") at the end, an arrangement that is found
in other copies of the same text. . . . a comparison with the photograph
shows that "Facsimile No. 1" was originally printed actual size,
so the fact that "Facsimile Nos. 1 and 3" are about the same height
may well be significant. It is what would be expected if they were
from the same scroll.22
A portion of the original papyrus text which accompanied the illustrations
used for Facsimile Nos. 1 and 3 was among the papyri recovered from
the museum's archives.23 It contains the Egyptian
characters that were copied down the left hand margin of the Book
of Abraham Translation Manuscripts. It has also been translated
by several scholars including Dr. Hugh Nibley, who has published
a word-for-word translation of what all authorities agree are actually
instructions for wrapping the mummy.
inside (of) the lake great (of) Chonsu born of Taykhebyt
justified likewise after clasp - ed (two) arms his upon breast his
being as wrap - ed like a book (or roll . . .): the Book of Breathings
. . . being written according-to-what is . . . in (the sacred) writing
(Books) on both inside and outside in linen (of) the king One places
(or is placed) arm left his vicinity of heart his, having-been-done
this for his wrapping on (the) side outer If makes one for him book
this, then breathes he like souls (of the) gods for time and eternity.24
Dr. Baer's translation of the same text smooths out the stiffness
of the Egyptian style into more flowing English, as follows:
Osiris shall be conveyed into the Great
Pool of Khons -- and likewise Osiris Hôr, justified,
born to Tikhebyt, justified -- after his arms have been placed
on his heart and the Breathing Permit (which [Isis] made and has
writing on its inside and outside) has been wrapped in royal linen
and placed under his left arm near his heart; the rest of his mummy-
bandages should be wrapped over it. The man for whom this book has
been copied will breathe forever and ever as the bas of the gods
From the above translations and explanations of the Egyptian writings
and drawings scholars have determined that rather than giving a
narrative story about Abraham, the texts indicate that they are
funeral in nature.26 The LDS church should realize that
identification of the Egyptian documents as the Book of Abraham
and the canonization of it as scripture in years past is no reason
to reject the identification of the rediscovered Egyptian papyri
and published facsimiles are strictly Egyptian funeral texts. It
is time accept the fact that the Egyptian papyri purchased by Joseph
Smith are not authentic Abrahamic records recorded by the father
of the faithful as was believed these many years.
Illustration 1 - Beginning of original papyrus scroll designated
as part of the Book of Abraham.
Above: Vignette from a Roman era funeral papyrus acquired by Joseph
Smith, Jr., in 1835. It is an illustration that accompanied a "Breathing
Permit" which was to enable the corpse to live and breathe again
in the next life. The hieroglyphic character encircled indicates
that the deceased was named Hor or Horus. Other hieroglyphics indicate
that his father was a priest named Osorwer and his mother was Tikhebyt.
Illustration 2 - Incorrect reconstruction of the beginning illustration
of the original papyrus prepared for Horus.
Above: In his periodical,Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith
identified the same illustration as a FACSIMILE FROM THE BOOK OF
ABRAHAM, showing that he mistakenly thought this "Breathing Permit" was actually the work of the patriarch Abraham some two thousand
Illustration 3 - Ending of papyrus scroll prepared for Horus. Reconstruction
designated as part of the Book of Abraham.
Above: This is a copy of Facsimile No. 3 as printed in the Times
and Seasons, issue of 16 May 1842, and represented to be from
the "Book of Abraham." Figure No. 5 (second from the right) is the
deceased person, identified as Horus in the characters above his
hand and in the prayer at the bottom of the picture. Both Theodule
Deveria and Gustavus Seyffarth read the name Horus in the 1850s.
In fact, Prof. Seyffarth saw and read the original papyrus from
which Facsimile No. 3 was copied. The reading of the deceased's
name as Hor, or Horus, has been reconfirmed by the late Dr. Klaus
Baer, Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute, Chicago, Illinois.
- The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,
while in their earlier years they used the Book of Abraham (though
never canonized by their conference), today consider this book
as a non-scriptural, speculative writing of Joseph Smith. See
W. Wallace Smith, Saints Herald 117 (March 1970):5; Richard
P. Howard, "The Book of Abraham, in the Light of History and Egyptology,"
Courage: A Journal of History, Thought and Action, Pilot
Issue (April 1970):33-47, and his articles entitled "Joseph Smith,
the Book of Abraham, and the Reorganized Church of the 1970s,"
Saints Herald 117 (October to December 1970), and republished
in A Decade of the Best (Independence, Missouri: Herald
House, 1972), 186-211. See also Richard P. Howard, Restoration
Scriptures: A Study of Their Textual Development, Second edition,
revised and enlarged, (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House,
- H. Michael Marquardt, comp., The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers
(Cullman, Alabama: Printing Service, 1981), 148; from Translation
Manuscript No. 1 of the Book of Abraham, p. 1.
- Jay M. Todd, The Saga of the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake
City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1969), 228, 324, hereafter cited
- Diary of Wilford Woodruff, entry of 19 February 1842, LDS archives;
also in Saga, 221.
- Times and Seasons 3 (1 March 1842):715.
- "Joseph Smith to the Times and Seasons," Joseph Smith Collection,
- Times and Seasons 3 (1 March 1842):710.
- Book of Abraham Manuscript No. 4, p. 1, LDS archives; see photo
in Brigham Young University Studies 11 (Summer 1971):389.
- Times and Seasons 3 (1 March 1842):704, Joseph Smith
as editor. Concerning the words "purporting to be," Dr. Hugh Nibley,
in Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.,
1981), 3-4, claims that these words were deleted in 1851. However,
it was actually the Book of Abraham published in 1878 that omitted
the words. This was the second edition of the Pearl of Great
Price published before canonization by the LDS church in 1880.
- Edward H. Ashment, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham:
A Reappraisal," Sunstone 4 (December 1979):33-48. The Times
and Seasons 1842 woodcut "facsimiles," though not correct
or clear in all details, were better than those later published
in edition of the Pearl of Great Price, by the LDS church.
It was not until 1976 that there appeared in printings of the
Pearl of Great Price either Facsimile No. 3 or all three
Times and Seasons reproductions of these woodcuts. With
the new 1981 edition of the Pearl of Great Price the facsimiles
have been replaced by those produced when Joseph Smith was editor
of the Nauvoo paper.
- Diary of Charles Adams, entry of 15 May 1844, in Proceedings
of the Massachusetts Historical Society 68 (1952):285.
- First published in French in Voyage au Pays des Mormons,
par Jules Remy, 2 vols. (E. Dentu, Paris, 1860), and in English
translation in A Journey to Great Salt Lake City, by Jules
Remy and Julius Brenchley (London: W. Jeffs, 1861), 2:539-46.
Published in parallel columns were Joseph Smith's explanations
of each facsimile with that of Theodule Deveria's interpretation.
This quote is from page 546.
- Catalogue of the St. Louis Museum, 1859, p. 45; cited in Saga,
p. 298. Prof. Seyffarth saw the actual papyri on display.
- T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints (New York:
D. Appleton and Co., 1873), 513-19. Republished in the years 1874
(London), 1878 (London), 1900 (New York), and 1904 (Salt Lake
- The Book of Abraham. Its Authenticity Established as a Divine
and Ancient Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News and
Publishing Establishment, 1879), 49 pp. This booklet, before it
was published in final form, had previously appeared in the Deseret
Evening News in serial form from December 1878 to March 1879.
While the words "purporting to be" were deleted in the 1878 edition
of the Pearl of Great Price, it has continued to be published
in the "History of Joseph Smith," written for the 1 March 1842
date at Nauvoo in 1845. See "Manuscript History of the Church,"
Book C-1:1,277; Deseret News 5 (8 August 1855):1; Millennial
Star 19 (14 February 1857):101, and History of the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt
Lake City, 1908), 4:524.
- Millennial Star 42 (15 November 1880):724. In 1886 Deveria's
examination of Facsimile Nos. 1 and 3 were published in W. Wyl
[Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal], Mormon Portraits . . . (Salt
Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886):221-23.
- Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator
(Salt Lake City, Utah: The Arrow Press, 1912). The brief comments
by the eight Egyptologists and Semitists on Facsimile Nos. 1,
2, and 3 are contained in their letters, which are published in
this booklet. While the Rev. Spalding was aware of Stenhouse's
The Rocky Mountain Saints and A Journey to Great Salt
Lake City, both of which included Theodule Deveria's examination.
Spalding decided to make his own study by writing letters to various
scholars. One of the scholars, Samuel A. B. Mercer, summarized
the controversy in 1913 in his article, "Joseph Smith As an Interpreter
and Translator of Egyptian," in The Utah Survey 1 (September
- For a short detailed study of the controversy surrounding the
Book of Abraham from the days of Joseph Smith to the first part
of the 1970s, see 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
- Klaus Baer, "The Breathing Permit of Hor," Dialogue: A Journal
of Mormon Thought 3 (Autumn 1968):116-17.
- Ibid., 118. The square bracketed numbers indicate that a number
of Egyptologists identify Qebeh-senuwef with Figure 5 and Duwa-mutef
- "A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus,"
Brigham Young University Studies 17 (Spring 1977):265,
with footnotes to the text. The bracketed "Figures" refer to the
numbers placed on Joseph Smith's reproduction of the hypocephalus
to facilitate his reference to various parts of the drawing.
- Baer, Dialogue 3 (Autumn 1968):126-27.
- H. Michael Marquardt, The Book of Abraham Papyrus Found,
2nd ed., rev. and enlarged (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co.
[now Utah Lighthouse Ministry], 1981), 36 pp.
- The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment
(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1975), 19-23.
- Baer, Dialogue 3 (Autumn 1968):119-20.
- Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham, Dialogue:
A Journal of Mormon Thought 28 (Spring 1995):143-60.