Jerald ja Sandra Tanner. Salt Lake City Messenger N:o 82 Syyskuu
A book analyzing Joseph Smith's translation of the "Book of Abraham"
has caused a real stir in Utah. It is written by Charles M. Larson
and is entitled, By his Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look At
The Joseph Smith Papyri. We understand that before the book
was offered for sale, about 30,000 copies were sent without charge
to members of the Mormon Church. Almost all the homes in one stake
received a free copy.
One man told us that his bishop was so upset with the book that
he warned members of his ward not to read it. This, of course,
made the man very curious and he came to our bookstore to purchase
Mormon scholars seem to be very worried that Larson's book will
cause members to lose faith in the Book of Abraham. The Mormon
apologist John Gee, a researcher for the Foundation for Ancient
Research and Mormon Studies (F.A.R.M.S.), has written a review
of this book which is published in Review of Books on the Book
of Mormon, vol. 4, 1992. While Mr. Gee tries very hard to
find some way to belittle Mr. Larson and undermine his work, we
do not feel that he has successfully answered the major issues.
He, in fact, has made his own mistakes.
For example, on pages 93-94 of his article, Mr. Gee quotes from
a cover letter which was sent out with copies of Larson's books.
He notes that the letter says that the book contains "the first
ever published color photographs of the Joseph Smith papyri collection."
Gee then asserts that this claim is not true and goes on to state:
...the publishers... are mistaken in thinking
that they are publishing the first color photographs of the Joseph
Smith papyri. They are nearly a quarter century too late for that,
for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published
a complete set of color photographs of the Joseph Smith papyri
in the February 1968 Improvement Era.
While the photographs in the Improvement Era give the
appearance of being "color" reproductions of the papyri (we ourselves
once thought they were full-color photographs), the printing was
apparently done with sepia ink, a dark brown or reddish-brown
ink. This worked fairly well because papyrus is basically brown.
Unfortunately, however, some of the papyri contain "rubrics"--portions
written in red ink.
Wherever rubrics appeared on the papyrus, the characters did
not reproduce well in the church's magazine, The Improvement
Era. Instead of being red, they appear to be a very light
brown and sometimes fade out to the point that they are hardly
readable. In the photographs found in Larson's book, however,
real color printing has been used. Consequently, the rubrics come
out red and are very readable.
While Michael Marquardt believes John Gee is wrong about the
Feb. 1968 issue of the Improvement Era having real color
photographs of the papyri, he feels that the cover of another
issue did have a color photograph of one fragment of papyrus,
It is interesting to note that when the church received the
papyri on Nov. 27, 1967, church leaders only allowed four or five
black and white pictures to be published. Reed Durham, an instructor
at the LDS Institute of Religion at the University of Utah asked
if we could furnish photographs of all eleven pieces of papyri
for the library at the Institute. We replied we could not obtain
copies and wondered why he was not able to obtain them from his
own church. He stated that when he contacted the church's Deseret
News, he was told they had a large number of copies of photographs
of all the papyri, but had been ordered not to release them. Later,
however, Grant Heward was able to obtain photographs from another
source after being refused by the Mormon Church. When the Deseret
News learned that Mr. Heward had the photographs, it caused
a great deal of excitement, and word went out that photographs
had fallen into the hands of the enemies of the church. Mormon
leaders knew that if they did not release all the photographs,
we would print them.
Evidence seems to indicate that there were originally no plans
for any pictures of the papyri to appear in the Feb. 1968 issue
of the Improvement Era and that the publication of the
photographs of the papyri were inserted at the last minute in
a hasty and peculiar manner. In the table of contents on page
1 we read that pages "33-48" are devoted to a section called "Era
of Youth." In the midst of this section, beginning at page 40,
the Era of Youth abruptly ends and ten pages of photographs of
the papyri are inserted. After this the Era of Youth Starts again
and continues to page 48 as the table of contents indicated. Two
pages of the Era of Youth were deleted at the place where the
10 pages of photographs were added. This, of course, created a
problem in the page numbers. To solve this the photographs of
the papyri are numbered as pages 40, 40-A, 40-B, etc.
This unusual method of producing the February issue of the church's
magazine seems to show that once word got out that our friend
Grant Heward had photographs, the church rushed to get them into
print. Church leaders certainly did not want these photographs
to appear first in the Salt Lake City Messenger! This hasty
attempt to get the pictures into print may have made it expedient
to use sepia ink instead of going through the added trouble of
making full color pictures.
Although we do not have the space here to deal in depth with
John Gee's arguments, we will examine some of his work and also
his sensational claim that papyri have been found that contain
the name Abraham. Some of Gee's other arguments about Joseph Smith's
translation of the Book of Abraham have already been refuted in
our book Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? Chapter 22.
4,000 Years Old?
According to Mormon writers, the "Book of Abraham" was supposed
to have been written on papyrus by the Biblical patriarch Abraham
about 4,000 years ago! Mormon apologist Sidney B. Sperry said that
"the Book of Abraham will some day be reckoned as one of the most
remarkable documents in existence... the writings of Abraham...
must of necessity be older than the original text of Genesis." (Ancient
Records Testify in Papyrus and Stone
, 1938, page 83) Mormon
leaders felt the Book of Abraham was so important that they canonized
it as scripture and published it in the Pearl of Great Price
of the four standard works of the church.
The evidence shows that while Joseph Smith had the Egyptian
papyri, he allowed many people to freely examine them. This was
entirely different from the secretive attitude he had with regard
to the "gold plates" from which he translated the Book of Mormon.
He was very careful to keep those plates concealed from the general
Although Joseph Smith let some of his close associates look
at the plates, he never allowed experts to examine them. Naturally,
this caused many people to wonder if the Mormon prophet really
had the plates he described. Others suggested that he may have
had some plates which were fabricated to fool his friends and
family but that they were neither ancient nor made of gold. In
any case, Smith claimed that he eventually returned the plates
to the angel who had brought them. Consequently, there is no way
to check Smith's claim that he translated the Book of Mormon from
While one has to depend upon Joseph Smith's own story and the
testimony of the Book of Mormon witnesses concerning the plates,
in the case of the Book of Abraham it can be established with
certainty that Joseph Smith had some ancient Egyptian papyri which
were purchased from Michael Chandler while he was in Kirtland,
Ohio. While there is no question about the papyri's authenticity,
many people have had serious reservations regarding the accuracy
of Smith's translation.
Unfortunately, while Joseph Smith had the papyri in his possession
the science of Egyptology was in its infancy. Therefore, Joseph
Smith's work as a translator could not be adequately tested. To
make matters worse, after Smith's death the Mormon Church lost
control of the papyri and it was believed that they were destroyed
in the Chicago fire.
Since neither the gold plates nor the Egyptian papyri were available,
it appeared that Joseph Smith's ability as a translator would
never be tested. However, on November 27, 1967, the church's Deseret
News announced one of the most significant events in Mormon
NEW YORK--A collection of pa[p]yrus manuscripts,
long believed to have been destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871,
was presented to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
here Monday by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.... Included in
the papyri is a manuscript identified as the original document
from which Joseph Smith had copied the drawing which he called
'Facsimile No. 1' and published with the Book of Abraham.
After the papyri were recovered by the church, many Mormons
felt that Joseph Smith's work would be vindicated. Church apologist
Hugh Nibley, however, was not optimistic about the matter and
warned his people that there was trouble ahead. On Dec. 1, 1967,
the Daily Universe, published at Brigham Young University,
reported these statements by Dr. Nibley:
"The papyri scripts given to the Church do not prove
the Book of Abraham is true," Dr. Hugh Nibley... said Wednesday
night. "LDS scholars are caught flatfooted by this discovery,"
he went on to say.
Since Nibley was supposed to be the Mormon Church's top authority
on the Egyptian language, such a pessimistic assessment must have
jolted Mormons who read his comments. After all, anyone could
see that there were three rows of hieroglyphic writing on the
right side of the papyrus which Joseph Smith used as Facsimile
No. 1 in his Book of Abraham.
In addition, another row of hieroglyphic writing appeared on
the left side of the papyrus. Since the papyrus was surrounded
by Egyptian writing, how could it fail to prove the Book of Abraham?
If Joseph Smith really knew how to translate Egyptian, the writing
would prove that the scene found in Facsimile No. 1 showed "The
idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as
As it later turned out, when the writing found on the papyrus
was translated by Klaus Baer, Associate Professor of Egyptology
at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, it became clear
that the papyrus was a pagan document which had absolutely no
relationship to Abraham. The translation, in fact, revealed that
the papyrus was really made for a dead man named "Hor"--after
the Egyptian god Horus.
Experts who have examined this papyrus agree that it is drawing
of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, being prepared for burial
by the god Anubis. The fact that this is a funerary papyrus is
made clear in Dr. Baer's translation of the line on the left side
of the papyrus:
May you give him a good, splendid burial on the West of Thebes
just like... (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn
1968, page 117)
Since the text of Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham says that Abraham
survived the attempt to take his life, there would have been no
reason to speak of burial. Furthermore, the Egyptians would not
have given a sacrificial victim a "splendid burial on the West
Since the Egyptian papyri did not support Joseph Smith's Book
of Abraham, Hugh Nibley was not anxious for a translation to come
forth. In the Spring 1968 issue of Brigham Young University
Studies, page 251, Dr Nibley made this revealing comment:
We have often been asked during the past months why we did
not proceed with all haste to produce a translation of the papyri
the moment they came into our possession....it is doubtful whether
any translation could do as much good as harm.
We were very disappointed with Hugh Nibley's attempt to make
light of the importance of the Joseph Smith papyri. We turned
to Grant Heward who was studying Egyptian at the time. Mr. Heward
had been excommunicated from the Mormon Church because he dared
to question the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. Heward was
convinced that the papyrus Joseph Smith identified as the Book
of Abraham was in reality the Egyptian "Book of Breathings"--a
pagan document which was actually a condensed version of the "Book
of the Dead."
We were impressed with Heward's argument and printed his observations
in the March 1968 issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger. It
seemed like a bold move to make at the time, but within a few
months the identification was confirmed by leading Egyptologists.
In addition, Mr. Heward prepared the first rendering of some
of the text from the Joseph Smith Papyri which we printed in the
same issue of the Messenger. The portion he used was taken
from what Joseph Smith identified as the Book of Joseph. In reality,
however, Mr. Heward demonstrated that it was taken from the Egyptian
Book of the Dead. It related to a dead woman "Transforming into
It is interesting to note that even though the original Joseph
Smith Papyri had been found, leaders of the Mormon Church seemed
to have had no desire to produce a translation of the papyri for
their people. Like Dr. Nibley, they must have felt that it was
"doubtful whether any translation could do as much good as
harm." The three Egyptologists who allowed their work to be
published by Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought were
not commissioned by the church. Dialogue is actually an
independent publication which is not controlled by the church
and often prints articles that are disturbing to some of the top
leaders of the church.
A Devastating Find
While the discovery that the papyri Joseph Smith believed contained
the Book of Abraham and the Book of Joseph were nothing but pagan
Egyptian funerary texts came as a great blow to church leaders,
a far more distressing development occurred. Within six months
from the time the Metropolitan Museum gave the papyri to the church,
the Book of Abraham had been proven untrue!
The fall of the Book of Abraham was brought about by the identification
of the actual fragment of papyrus from which Joseph Smith claimed
to translate the book. The identification of this fragment was
made possible by a comparison with Joseph Smith's Egyptian
Alphabet and Grammar--handwritten documents we photographically
reproduced in 1966. Charles M. Larson gives this information about
Smith's 'Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,' as it has come to
be called, had never really been lost or missing. For a long
time it was simply ignored, and more recently it had been considered
restricted. It was among that portion of early Church
records the Mormons managed to take with them when they left
Nauvoo in 1846, and it was included in the list of materials
recorded in the Church Historian's Office Journal as having
been deposited in the Historian's vault in Salt Lake City in
1855....as late as 1960... Dr. Sperry remarked at BYU's Pearl
of Great Price Conference that he did not know whether or
not the Church authorities would yet allow it to be published,
adding that he thought 'it would be a little premature, perhaps,
to do it now, until we can really do a good job of it.'
Others who had occasion to come into contact with the material
apparently disagreed with the Church's reluctance in the matter.
Late in 1965 a microfilm copy of the entire work was 'leaked'
to Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Modern Microfilm Company (now
Utah Lighthouse Ministry). The Tanners were former Mormons who
were rapidly gaining a reputation for printing documents relating
to Mormonism that, though authentic, made Church officials uncomfortable.
By 1966 the Tanners had produced the first complete photochemical
reprint and transcription of the entire Egyptian Alphabet
But contrary to what most Mormons evidently expected, publication
of the Alphabet and Grammar in no way substantiated Joseph
Smith's ability to translate ancient Egyptian. Quite the opposite,
for the book turned out to be nothing but page after page of
nonsensical gibberish. Though it had apparently succeeded at
one time in impressing unsophisticated minds, the work was unable
to withstand the scrutiny of experts.
Professional Egyptologists to whom the Alphabet and Grammar
was submitted for examination were quick to point out that
the material in Joseph Smith's notebook bore no resemblance
at all to any correct understanding of the ancient Egyptian
language. As one of them, I. E. Edwards, put it, the whole work
was 'largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind
of scientific value.' He added that it reminded him of 'the
writings of psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to
me.' (By His Own hand Upon Papyrus, pages 42-43)
When characters in the original Egyptian papyri were compared
with those copied into the translation manuscripts of the Book
of Abraham, found in Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,
it became apparent that one piece of papyrus supplied the
characters which Joseph Smith claimed to translate as the Book
of Abraham! This papyrus was identified in the Mormon Church's
publication Improvement Era, Feb. 1968, p. 40-I, as "XI.
Small 'Sensen' text (unillustrated)."
We presented photographic evidence that Joseph Smith used the
"Sensen" text to create his Book of Abraham in the March 1968
issue of the Salt Lake City Messenger. In Mormonism--Shadow
or Reality? we have additional proof that Smith used this
papyrus. Surprisingly, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought,
asked us to work with Grant Heward to prepare an article presenting
the evidence. This article, "The Source Of The Book Of Abraham
Identified," was published in Dialogue, Summer 1968, pages
Egyptologist Klaus Baer accepted this identification without
question. Speaking of the "Sensen" papyrus, Dr. Baer wrote:
Joseph Smith thought that this papyrus contained the Book
of Abraham. (Ibid., page 111)
In footnote 11 of the same article, Professor Baer observed:
"This identification is now certain."
Mormon scholar Richley Crapo spoke of
the startling fact that one of the papyri of the Church collection,
known as the Small Sen-Sen Papyrus, contained the same series
of hieratic symbols, which had been copied, in the same order,
into the Book of Abraham manuscript next to verses of that book!
In other words, there was every indication that the collection
of papyri in the hands of the Church contained the source which
led to a production of the Book of Abraham. (Book of Abraham
Symposium, LDS Institute of Religion, Salt Lake City, April
3, 1970, p.27)
Although Mormon apologist Hugh Nibley later reversed his position
in a desperate attempt to save the Book of Abraham, in 1968 he
frankly admitted that Joseph Smith used the "Sensen" papyrus for
the text of the Book of Abraham. At a meeting held at the University
of Utah on May 20, 1968, Dr. Nibley made these comments:
Within a week of the publication of the papyri, students began
calling my attention...to the fact that, the very definite fact
that, one of the fragments seemed to supply all of the symbols
for the Book of Abraham. This was the little 'Sensen' scroll.
Here are the symbols. The symbols are arranged here, and the
interpretation goes along here and this interpretation turns
out to be the Book of Abraham. Well, what about that? Here is
the little 'Sensen,' because that name occurs frequently in
it, the papyrus in which a handful of Egyptian symbols was apparently
expanded in translation to the whole Book of Abraham. This raises
a lot of questions. It doesn't answer any questions, unless
we're mind readers.
At one point Dr. Nibley became so desperate to save the Book
of Abraham that he suggested the "Sensen" text may have a second
meaning unknown to Egyptologists (see Mormonism--Shadow or
In his article in Dialogue, pp. 111-113, Egyptologist
Klaus Baer set forth another serious problem confronting those
who would try to save the Book of Abraham: the papyrus Joseph
Smith identified as Facsimile No. 1 from the Book of Abraham was
originally part of the same scroll which contained the "Sensen"
text--i.e., they were both part of the Book of Breathings.
The two pieces had been cut apart in Joseph Smith's time and
mounted on paper, but Dr. Baer demonstrated that they fit together
perfectly. Dr. Hugh Nibley later acknowledged that they were both
part of the Book of Breathings:
It can be easily shown by matching up the cut edges and fibers
of the papyri that the text of the Joseph Smith 'Breathing'
Papyrus (No. XI) was written on the same strip of material as
Facsimile No. 1 and immediately adjoining it. (The Message
of the Joseph Smith Papyri: an Egyptian Endowment, 1975,
The text of the Book of Abraham itself demonstrates that the
drawing appearing as Facsimile No. 1 was supposed to be at the
beginning of the scroll just as Professor Baer's research has
revealed. The original manuscripts of the Book of Abraham, as
they appear in Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,
reveal that Joseph Smith was using characters from the "Sensen"
papyrus when he "translated" the first chapter of the Book of
In Abraham 1:12 the patriarch Abraham was supposed to have said
And it came to pass that the priests laid violence upon me,
that they might slay me also, as they did those virgins upon
this altar; and that you may have a knowledge of this altar,
I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of
It is clear, therefore, that the picture shown as Facsimile
No. 1 was the start of the papyrus scroll, and that Joseph Smith
was claiming to translate from the very next portion--the Small
A larger "Sensen" text follows the Small "Sensen" text. The
name "Abraham" does not appear on any of the three pieces of papyri.
On the other hand, the Egyptian name Hor appears on every piece.
We have found it in at least nine places. Although the original
piece of papyrus Joseph Smith used to prepare Facsimile No. 3
is missing, Egyptologists have also found the name "Hor" on the
printed facsimile. Professor Baer believes the scene shown in
Facsimile No. 3 ended the Book of Breathings which was prepared
for the man Hor who had died and needed the magical papyrus which
contained the charms which were necessary to reach the "world
of the hereafter."
Hugh Nibley was willing to concede that Facsimile No. 3 was
probably part of the original Book of Breathings scroll:
For the Book of Breathings is before all else, as Bonnet observes,
a composite, made up of 'compilations and excerpts from
older funerary sources and mortuary formulas.'...
Of particular interest to us is the close association of the
Book of Breathings with the Facsimiles of the Book of
Abraham.... the text of Joseph Smith Pap. No. XI was written
on the same strip of material as Facsimile Number 1, the writing
beginning immediately to the left of the 'lion-couch' scene.
The British Museum Book of Breathing[s], 'the Kerasher Papyrus,'
has both the 'lion-couch' scene... and a scene resembling our
Facsimile Number 3... This last stands at the head of the 'Kerasher'
text, and suggests that our Fac. No. 3 was originally attached
at the other end of the Joseph Smith Papyrus, coming after the
last column, which is missing....the Book of Breathings...contains
the essential elements of the Egyptian funerary rites from the
earliest times...The Book of Breathings is not to be dismissed,
as it has been, as a mere talisman against stinking corpses;
it is a sermon on breathing in every Egyptian sense of the word.
(Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1971, pp. 158,
160, 162, 164, 166)
All of the evidence adds up to the inescapable conclusion that
although Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Abraham
from the papyrus he had in his possession, the words that he dictated
came from his own imagination. That papyrus, in fact, contains
a pagan text having nothing to do with Abraham or his religion.
We have counted the names of at least fifteen Egyptian gods or
goddesses which appear on the papyrus, but it contains absolutely
nothing regarding the God of the Bible.
Since the Joseph Smith Papyri were rediscovered and translated
by Egyptologists, a number of prominent Mormon scholars seem to
have been living in a fantasyland with regard to the Book of Abraham.
Instead of facing the truth about Joseph Smith's work, they have
come up with a number of incredible explanations. Dr. Hugh Nibley
has led the parade by setting forth all sorts of reasons why a
person should go on believing the Book of Abraham even though
the evidence clearly shows it is the work of Joseph Smith's own
Since the discovery of the papyri in 1967, Professor Nibley
has stubbornly fought against the truth with regard to the Book
of Abraham. Although he put up many smoke screens to try to divert
attention from the real issues, he has not been successful in
silencing the opposition. In Sunstone, Dec. 1979, Edward
Ashment, a Mormon Egyptologist who has worked in the Translation
Department of the church, demonstrated that Dr. Nibley's work
on the Joseph Smith Papyri was filled with serious errors. He,
in fact, demolished Nibley's arguments at every turn.
In a response, published in the same issue, Hugh Nibley acknowledged
that "Since hearing Brother Ashment I have to make some changes
in what I have said already." (Ibid., p. 51) On page 49
of the same article, we find this startling statement coming from
the church's chief apologist for the Book of Abraham: "I refuse
to be held responsible for anything I wrote more than three years
Gee's Magical Papyri
One of the more desperate attempts to save the Book of Abraham is
the attempt to link it to late magical papyri. John Gee, the Mormon
apologist who has criticized Charles Larson's book, has been trying
very hard to promote this view. On page 116 of his rebuttal to Larson,
John Gee reported: "David Cameron discovered an Egyptian lion couch
scene much like Facsimile 1 explicitly mentioning the name Abraham."
Mr. Gee has provided research on this subject for an article published
by F.A.R.M.S. and has also prepared an article for the church's
magazine, The Ensign.
Color Photo from Charles M. Larson's ..By His Own Hand Upon
A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri.
The "lion couch scene" Gee speaks of is found in the Leiden
Papyrus I 384. The F.A.R.M.S. article concerning this matter caused
some Mormons to be very excited because it stated that the "lion
couch scene" shows "Anubis standing over a person..." (Insight:
An Ancient Window, September 1991, page 1)
Many were undoubtedly led to believe that the "person" on the
couch must be Abraham as shown in Facsimile No. 1 of the Book
of Abraham. Unfortunately for Mormon apologists, this has not
turned out to be the case. Mormon Egyptologist Edward Ashment
claimed that it was actually a woman who was lying on the couch.
In his article published in The Ensign, July 1992, p. 61,
John Gee acknowledged that this is the case: "The figure on the
lion couch in this papyrus is a woman."
While many Mormon apologists have argued that Facsimile No.
1 shows a priest with a human head attempting to sacrifice Abraham,
it has been obvious to Egyptologists for many years that the standing
figure is really the jackal-headed god Anubis preparing the deceased
for burial. The rediscovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri shows that
the head was missing on the original papyrus, and it is clear
that Joseph Smith made an imaginative restoration which is incorrect.
In the papyrus John Gee speaks of it is obvious that the woman
is being attended by the jackal-headed god. As we have shown,
the article in Insights plainly states that it is "Anubis
standing over a person..."
In The Ensign, Mr. Gee reveals that even the text speaks
of the jackal-headed god: "Later in the text we read, 'I adjure
you spirits of the dead, [by] the dead (pharaohs) and the demon
Balsamos and the jackal-headed god and the gods who are with him.'...
The 'jackal-headed god' is most likely Anubis, who usually officiates
in lion couch scenes..." It is obvious, then, that this papyrus
provides no support for the sacrificial scene found in Facsimile
If this papyrus were dated 2,000 years earlier, the discovery
of the name Abraham on it might be significant. It, of course,
would not prove the Book of Abraham to be true, but would merely
establish that the name "Abraham" was known in Egypt at that time.
One of the problems with the Book of Breathings Papyrus--the
text Joseph Smith believed was the Book of Abraham--is that it
is not old enough to have been written by Abraham. According to
Josiah Quincy, Joseph Smith claimed that the papyrus he had contained
the very handwriting of Abraham himself: "That is the handwriting
of Abraham, the father of the Faithful..." (See Mormonism--Shadow
or Reality? page 321 for additional evidence concerning this
matter). A number of Mormon scholars feel that Abraham lived in
the twentieth century B.C.
When the Joseph Smith Papyri were rediscovered, it soon became
obvious that they were not nearly old enough to support Joseph
Smith's claims concerning the Book of Abraham. Dr. Hugh Nibley
admitted that the Book of Breathings only dated back to the first
...It has now become apparent...that our Joseph Smith Book
of Breathings is one of a very special and limited and uniquely
valuable class of documents clustering around a single priestly
family of upper Egypt in the first century A.D. (The Message
of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 1975,
Since the Book of Breathings--which, of course, contains the
drawing Joseph Smith used for Facsimile No. 1 in his Book of Abraham--was
written about 2,000 years after the time of Abraham, the Mormon
Church is faced with a serious dilemma.
The magical texts which John Gee uses as evidence for the Book
of Abraham present an even greater problem. In the article published
in Insights, p. 1, it is claimed that the texts "date to
about the same time as the Joseph Smith papyri." According to
Edward Ashment, however, they were not written until the third
century A. D. In his article published in The Ensign, p.
60, Mr. Gee agrees they date "to the third century A. D...." As
we will show, they are so far removed from the time of Abraham
that they are of no value.
In 1978 Morton Smith published a book entitled, Jesus The
Magician. While we disagreed with his conclusion that Jesus
was a magician (see Salt Lake City Messenger, Jan. 1986),
Professor Smith presented a great deal of material concerning
the type of magical papyri we are dealing with here.
Although we know that Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt,
the Bible indicates that many of them desired to return. By the
fifth century B. C. there was a colony of Jews living at Elephantine
in Egypt. Even though these Jews built a temple, it "has been
argued by some scholars that the Jerusalem priests regarded the
Jews in Egypt as semi-heretical, and therefore did not encourage
them in their apostasy." (The Bible and Archaeology, by
J. A. Thompson, 1962, page 226)
In any case, we know that by the time of Jesus there was a large
Jewish population in Egypt, which was at that time a Roman province.
Jesus, himself, was brought to Egypt by his father and mother
to escape the rage of Herod. On page 62 of his book, Jesus
The Magician, Morton Smith says that "There was a long standing
legend that the god of the Jews was a donkey, or donkey-headed....
The Jews were among the largest groups of foreigners in Egypt,
so their god, Iao, was identified with Seth."
F. F. Bruce says that "Philo of Alexandria estimated about A.
D. 38 that there were at least a million Jews in Egypt and the
neighboring territories. We may subject this figure to a substantial
discount, but the Jewish population of Egypt was certainly very
great. In Alexandria itself at that time one out of the five wards
of the city was entirely Jewish and a second was very largely
so." (New Testament History, 1980, page 136) Bruce felt
that "Christianity had found its way to Alexandria by A. D. 41."
(Ibid., p. 294)
It is obvious that there would have been a good deal of information
available in Egypt concerning the God of Israel and important
Biblical characters long before the magical papyri were written.
It is no surprise, then, that the names of prominent individuals
mentioned in the Bible turn up in the magical texts written in
the third century A. D. Many of those who practiced magic wanted
to use the names of as many gods and religious leaders as possible
and seemed to have little concern about mixing the Hebrew God
and Biblical characters with Egyptian gods.
C. K. Barrett observed: "Those in particular who practiced magic
were willing to adopt from any source names and formulas which
sounded impressive and effective." (The New Testament Background:
Selected Documents, by C. K. Barrett, 1987, page 34)
On pages 34-35, Barrett quotes from the Paris Magical Papyrus,
written about A. D. 300. This text tells how to exorcise demons.
We cite the following from this lengthy text:
The adjuration is this: 'I adjure thee by the god of the Hebrews
Jesu [Jesus], Jaba, Jae, Abraoth, Aia, Thoth, Ele, Elo, Aeo,
Eu, Jiibaech, Abarmas, Jabarau, Abelbel, Lona, Abra, Maroi...
I abjure thee by him who appeared unto Osrael [Israel] in the
pillar of light and in the cloud by day, and who delivered his
word from the taskwork of Pharaoh and brought upon Pharaoh the
ten plagues because he heard not. I adjure thee, every daemonic
spirit, say whatsoever thou art. For I adjure thee by the seal
which Solomon laid upon the tongue of Jeremiah and he spake....
I adjure thee by the great God Sabaoth, through whom the river
Jordan returned backward...
The reader will notice that the author mixed Jesus in with the
Egyptian god Thoth. It is hardly surprising, then, that we would
find the name Abraham--one of the most important characters in
the Bible--mentioned in the magical papyri. On page 114 of his
book, Morton Smith pointed out that, "Jesus' name was used in
spells as the name of a god. So were the names of Adam (PGM
III. 146), Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of Moses and Solomon
who were famous as magicians."
On page 63, Morton Smith quotes PGM IV, line 1233:
'Be blessed, God of Abraham. Be blessed, God of Issac. Be
blessed, God of Jacob. Jesus Christ, holy spirit, son of the
Father, who art under the Seven and in the Seven, bring Iao
Sabaoth. May your power increase...until you drive Out this
evil demon, Satan.'
On page 69, we find this statement by Smith:
The Jews's God, Yahweh...was particularly famous for his usefulness
in magic. In the magical papyri (which contains a sprinkling
of Jewish spells, but are mainly pagan documents) his name outnumbers
that of any other deity by more than three to one." Smith quotes
the following from "an invocation of the world ruler the Good
Demon": "For I have taken to myself the power of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob and of the great god-demon Iao Ablanathanalba."
In the article published in The Ensign, page 60, John
Gee notes that there is a similarity between a verse in the Bible
and what is found on the papyrus with the "lion couch scene":
The first reference occurs in a chapter on how
to make a signet ring. One of the steps is to 'bring a white stone'
and 'write this name upon it...: Abraham, friend of m[an].'" This,
of course, is similar to Revelation 2:17, which speaks of "a white
stone, and in the stone a new name written...
It is interesting to note that this is the only mention of "a
white stone" in the entire Bible.
The fact that both documents mention "a white stone" with a
"name" written on it seems too close to be a coincidence. The
book of Revelation, of course, was not written until about A.
D. 90. This would be around 2,000 years after the time of Abraham.
The implications of this quotation from the book of Revelation
in the papyrus are clear: the author of the text in the magical
papyrus must have either seen or heard someone read from the book
of Revelation. Once it is conceded that the author was acquainted
with the book of Revelation, then it is also easy to believe that
he or she had access to other information contained in Bible manuscripts
and would have known about Abraham. It should also be noted that
the magical papyrus speaks of "Abraham, friend of m[an]." This
sounds like a quotation from the book of James, which speaks of
Abraham as "the Friend of God." (James 1:23)
Speaking of the same papyrus, John Gee says that the "second
instance of Abraham's name occurs in a description of how to use
a ring to obtain 'success and grace and victory.' As a part of
his invocation, the petitioner says, 'O mighty god, who surpassest
all powers, I call upon thee, Iao, Sabaoth, Adonai, Elohim, [six
other names], Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, [82 more names].' The first
four names are Hebrew for 'LORD of hosts, my Lord, God.'" (The
Ensign, July 1992, page 60)
The brackets found in the quotation above appear in the original
publication. From this it is clear that the name Abraham in this
section of the text was only one of ninety-five names that were
being invoked! It would appear, then, that the name Abraham was
just one of many magic names needed so that the person who recited
the spell would be able to use "a ring to obtain 'success and
grace and victory.'"
There seems to be no evidence that the name Abraham came
from any ancient Egyptian source or that it had anything to do
with the Book of Abraham. Although John Gee's writings may have
given some members of the Mormon Church the idea that evidence
had been found to support Joseph Smith's translation, when the
facts are known, it is clear that the magical papyri, dating to
the third century A. D., provide absolutely no support for the
Book of Abraham.
Mr. Gee's attempt to make a case from these second-rate papyri
tends to show how empty-handed Mormon apologists are when it comes
to defending the Book of Abraham. Mormon scholars cannot find
the name of Abraham on any part of the papyrus which Joseph Smith
claimed was written by Abraham himself and even contained Abraham's
own signature. Therefore, they have turned to magical papyri which
were written two centuries after the text Smith translated as
the Book of Abraham. We find it especially strange that they would
make an issue of the name Abraham on other papyri, when it cannot
be found on the papyrus scroll Joseph Smith designated as the
Book of Abraham.
On page 62 of his article in The Ensign, John Gee acknowledges
that the texts he has cited do not really inform us about Abraham
or his history:
Though these texts tell us nothing directly about Abraham,
they do tell us that there were traditions circulating in Roman
Egypt. Traditions we must remember, often stem from older truths....
Even if we had a manuscript for the book of Abraham in Egyptian,
dating to Abraham's time, the critics still would not accept
the book of Abraham. Those who seek to know the truth of the
book of Abraham will have to wait upon the Lord.
Michael Rhodes' Work
Although the Mormon Egyptologist Michael D. Rhodes translated
Facsimile No. 2 of the Book of Abraham, he found nothing regarding
Abraham. Nevertheless, he has still tried to defend Joseph Smith's
work. Writing in the church's magazine, The Ensign, July
1988, pp. 51-53, Rhodes tried to answer the following question:
Why doesn't the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in
1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great
In this article Michael Rhodes clearly laid out the problem which
faced the church:
First of all, from paleographic and historical considerations,
the Book of Breathings papyrus can reliably be dated to around
A.D. 60--much too late for Abraham to have written it.... when
one compares the text of the book of Abraham with a translation
of the Book of Breathings; they clearly are not the same.
Rhodes then proceeds to give "possible explanations why the
text of the recently discovered papyri does not match the text
in the Pearl of Great Price." One of Rhode's suggestions is that
the "copy of Abraham's record" which Joseph Smith used "possibly
passed through the hands of many scribes and had become editorially
corrupted to the point where it may have had little resemblance
to the original..." For this reason Joseph Smith may have used
the "Urim and Thummim, or simply through revelation" revealed
what Abraham had originally written.
Michael Rhodes was chosen to write two articles for the Encyclopedia
of Mormonism. In vol. 1, page 136, Rhodes set forth the idea
that Joseph Smith chose pagan drawings as illustrations for his
Book of Abraham:
In summary, Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, and Facsimile
3 the end of a document known as the Book of Breathings,
an Egyptian religious text,... The association of these facsimiles
with the book of Abraham might be explained as Joseph Smith's
attempt to find illustrations from the papyri he owned that
most closely matched what he had received in revelation
when translating the Book of Abraham.
In a letter to a member of the Mormon Church who was troubled
with regard to the origin of the Book of Abraham, Michael Rhodes
spoke of a theory he proposed in his article in the Ensign,
July 1988, page 51--Rhodes had stated that it was possible
that the Book of Abraham "may have been taken from a different
portion of the papyrus rolls in Joseph Smith's possession." In
the letter, however, Rhodes made it clear that he no longer considered
that as a very promising option. He went on to give more information
concerning the idea that the Book of Abraham did not really come
from the papyrus scroll in Joseph Smith's possession:
Before I start, let me say that I... like you, definitely
favor the second; namely that Joseph Smith did not have the
actual text of the Book of Abraham before him, but that it was
revealed to him... The first option I proposed seems pretty
unlikely to me now. There is no doubt that the original Papyrus
of Facsimile Number 1 belongs to the Book of Breathings text.
The name of the owner of the Papyrus, Hor son of Userwer, is
found both on this papyrus and in the text of the Book of Breathings...
although we do not have the original of Facsimile Number 3,
the name Hor can clearly be read in the hieroglyphs on this
facsimile, and it seems very probable that this illustration
was originally located at the end of the Book of Breathings
papyrus now in the Church's possession. I am not ruling it out
completely, but I think it is unlikely that Joseph Smith ever
had the actual text of the Book of Abraham in his possession....
This still leaves us with the problem of how Facsimile Number
1, a commonly found representation of the god Anubis preparing
the body of Osiris (or the deceased) for burial, that is part
of an Egyptian funerary document that was produced nearly 2000
years (about 60 A. D.) after Abraham, can possibly be the illustration
Abraham refers to in his book. The best explanation I have for
this is that in the original papyrus Abraham, had drawn an illustration
of himself being sacrificed on an altar by the priest of Elkenah.
In the process of translation, this illustration was revealed
to Joseph Smith and he saw that it was similar to the one found
at the beginning of the Book of Breathings. Joseph Smith therefore
used it (with some modifications) as Facsimile Number one. One
of the most obvious modifications is the changing of the head
of the god Anubis (who has a jackal's head) to that of a man.
Another is putting a knife in the standing figures hand.
(Both the head and the knife are missing in the papyrus as it
Joseph Smith may have used the other facsimiles found in the
Book of Abraham similarly.
I certainly don't claim this is the only possible explanation;
it is simply the best I have been able to come up with so far.
(Letter by Michael D. Rhodes, dated July 10,1988)
This extraordinary letter gives the reader an idea of how far
some Mormon scholars will go in their attempt to save the Book
of Abraham. It is also interesting to note that after writing
this letter, Michael Rhodes seems to have changed his mind again
concerning the question of whether Joseph Smith really had the
Book of Abraham papyrus.
In his article published in The Ensign, July 1988, p.51,
Rhodes had held out the hope that the Book of Abraham may "have
been taken from a different portion of the papyrus rolls
in Joseph Smith's possession"--a portion which has since disappeared.
By the time he wrote the letter cited above, however, he had
decided that Smith probably "did not have the actual text of
the Book of Abraham before him.., I think it is unlikely
that Joseph Smith ever had the actual text of the Book of
Abraham in his possession." To our surprise, when we read an article
by Michael Rhodes printed in Review of Books, vol.4, 1992,
we discovered that he seems to have reverted to the idea that
Joseph Smith may have had a roll of papyrus. On page 122, Rhodes
claimed that "a contemporary source indicates that the scroll
of the book of Abraham was not part of the papyri fragments now
in the possession of the Church."
He cites from a letter written by Charlotte Haven in 1843. Haven
claimed that Joseph Smith's mother "opened a long roll of manuscript,
saying it was 'the writing of Abraham and Isaac, written in Hebrew
and Sanscrit,' and she read several minutes from it as if it were
English." Because the papyri the church now has in its possession
were supposed to have been cut into sheets by this time and therefore
could not have been a "long roll of manuscript," Rhodes seems
to conclude that there was a third roll of papyrus which has been
lost. This interpretation, which is also held by John Gee, is
erroneous. Significant evidence points to the conclusion that
there were only two rolls of papyrus. Joseph Smith's History
contains this information: "On opening the coffins, he [Mr.
Chandler] discovered... something rolled up... 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." (History
of the Church, vol. 2, page 349)
Although the text mentions that there were "Two or three other
small pieces of papyrus," Joseph Smith never identifies a third
roll of papyrus. Furthermore, while Charlotte Haven's statement
contains some interesting information, it contains a number of
factual errors. She says that Mother Smith told Haven that the
roll contained the "writing of Abraham and Isaac, written in Hebrew
and Sanscrit" Mormon leaders have never claimed that the Book
of Abraham was written in "Hebrew and Sanscrit." Joseph Smith's
History makes it abundantly clear that the Book of Abraham
was supposed to be written in "Egyptian characters." (History
of the Church, vol. 2, page 320)
While Haven's account says that the roll was written by "Abraham
and Isaac," to our knowledge, Joseph Smith did not claim that
Isaac wrote anything in the Book of Abraham. As early as 1969,
the Mormon scholar Jay M. Todd saw the discrepancies in Haven's
account and made this observation:
One wonders if Sister Smith were not just throwing
out names of languages she had heard; or, one wonders if Charlotte
is reporting accurately. Until more evidence is gathered, the
sum and value of Charlotte's report remains clouded on several
issues. (The Saga of the Book of Abraham, by Jay M. Todd, page
Jay Todd also noted the discrepancy with regard to Haven's claim
that Lucy Smith opened a roll of papyrus. The preponderance of
the evidence shows that both rolls had been cut up by the time
Charlotte Haven saw them. Her statement, of course, could be reconciled
by claiming that what she meant was that Lucy Smith laid out the
various pieces of the document side-by-side so that it appeared
in the same order as when the roll was first opened up.
In our book, The Case Against Mormonism, vol. 2, pages
121-122, we give four different accounts by people who saw the
original papyri in Nauvoo. Besides citing the letter by Charlotte
Haven, we have included accounts by Josiah Quincy, Henry Caswall
and an account appearing in a newspaper known as The Quincy
Whig. These accounts are written in the period from 1840 to
Charlotte Haven's account is the only one which talks of "a
long role of manuscript" being opened. Because the manuscripts
were so very fragile (a number of pieces had already broken off),
it would not seem reasonable that Lucy Smith would unroll them
time after time to display them to the many visitors who came
to see the papyri.
As early as 1840, The Quincy Wig, reported that there
were "numerous fragments of Egyptian papyrus" which were in "several
frames, covered with glass.' The same paper reported that Joseph
Smith said: "'These ancient records... have been unrolled and
preserved with great labor and care." (The Quincy Wig, Oct
17, 1840, as cited in Ancient Records Testify in Papyrus and
Stone, pp. 51-52)
When Caswall examined the papyri in 1842, he found the rolls
had been cut into "sheets of papyrus" and were kept in "glazed
slides, like picture frames." (The City of the Mormons; or,
Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, pp. 22-23)
Both these accounts were written before Charlotte Haven's letter
was penned in 1843. The other account, however, was written by
Josiah Quincy, who visited Joseph Smith in 1844. He also claimed
that the papyri "were preserved under glass and handled with great
respect." (Figures of the Past, 1883, as cited in Among
the Mormons, page 136)
In his article in Review of Books, pp. 121-122, Michael
Rhodes used a statement made by Caswall to support his argument
that there may be a third role of papyrus containing the Book
In 1842, the fragments we now have were described as being
mounted in a number of glazed slides, like picture frames, containing
sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics.
He then proceeded to quote Charlotte Haven's letter to support
his thesis of a third roll. If Rhodes had cited more of Caswall's
statement, his argument would have fallen apart. Henry Caswall
made it very clear that the very sheets that had been cut up contained
the Book of Abraham. We quote the following from Caswall's book,
The storekeeper... drew forth a number of glazed slides, like
picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian
inscriptions and hieroglyphics. These had been unrolled from
four mummies, which the prophet purchased at a cost of twenty-four
hundred dollars. By some inexplicable mode, as the storekeeper
informed me, Mr. Smith had discovered that these sheets contained
the writings of Abraham, written with his own hand while in
Egypt. Pointing to the figure of a man lying on a table, he
said, 'that is the picture of Abraham on the point of being
sacrificed. That man standing by him with a drawn knife is an
idolatrous priest of the Egyptians.
It seems obvious from this that Joseph Smith did not possess
another roll of papyrus.
John Gee uses the exact argument found in Rhodes' article on
page 107 of his review of Larson's book. Like Rhodes, Gee fails
to provide the important context. He does, however, use the last
two sentences of the quote we have cited from Caswall five pages
earlier in his article while trying to prove another point (see
page 102). Unfortunately, however, even on page 102 he uses ellipsis
signs (dots) to omit the statement that "Mr. Smith had discovered
that these sheets contained the writings of Abraham, written with
his own hand while in Egypt." Because of the amount of material
between the two quotes and the omission of the important portion
regarding the fact that the Book of Abraham roll had been cut
into sheets, it is doubtful that one person in a thousand would
ever know that Gee's quotation actually refuted what he was trying
Many Mormon scholars would probably charge us with dishonesty
if we did this sort of thing. In any case, an examination of some
of the wording in Gee's quotation with that found in Rhode's article
seems to show that one scholar borrowed from the other. Below
is a comparison:
In 1842, the fragments we now have in the Joseph
Smith Papyri were mounted in 'a number of glazed slides,
like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with
Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics.' The next year,
in 1843, a nonmember named Charlotte Haven visited
Lucy Mack Smith and wrote a letter to her own mother about
it: 'Then she [Mother Smith] turned to a long table...
John Gee, Review of Books, page 107
In 1842, the fragments we now have were described
as being mounted in 'a number of glazed slides, like
picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian
inscriptions and hieroglyphics.' The next year, in 1843,
Charlotte Haven, a nonmember, visited Joseph Smith's
mother, Lucy Mack Smith and wrote a letter to her own
mother about it, saying: 'Then she [Mother Smith]
turned to a long table...
Michael Rhodes, Review of Books, pages 121-122
It would appear from the comparison above that one of these two
authors did the original research on this quotation but failed
to realize that if the quote from Caswall was taken in its entirety,
it would refute the entire argument that there was another roll
of papyrus. The other author then blindly followed the first into
the ditch. We, of course, do not know who made the original mistake,
but feel that it resulted from an overzealous attempt to save
the Book of Abraham.
Even if Rhodes and Gee could have established that there was
a third papyrus, it would not have solved the serious problem
faced by the church. The reader will remember that in the Book
of Abraham, 1:12, Abraham was supposed to have said that he included
a drawing of the attempt to slay him "at the commencement of
this record." Now, it is obvious to all who examine the matter
that the drawing in the Book of Abraham matches the drawing found
in Hor's Book of Breathings. Both John Gee and Michael Rhodes
acknowledge this to be true.
If, then, Joseph Smith had another roll of papyrus which really
contained the Book of Abraham, why did he not use the drawing
which Abraham himself said he placed at the beginning of that
roll? Why would Smith switch over to the pagan Book of Breathings
and use an illustration (Fac. No. 1) from that roll?
The problem goes even deeper: why would the prophet include
Fac. No. 3 at the end of the record? The reader will remember
that Michael Rhodes said that "the name Hor can clearly be read
in the hieroglyphs" on Fac. No. 3 and that this drawing was probably
"originally located at the end of the Book of Breathings papyrus."
In addition, Smith added Fac. No. 2 in the middle. As we have
shown, this is also a pagan document. In the first printing of
the Book of Abraham in the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith
called every one of these drawings "A Facsimile From The Book
The thesis set forth by Rhodes and Gee would actually lead one
to believe that the prophet rejected the drawing Abraham himself
put at the beginning of his record and added a substitute and
two other drawings created by idol worshipers! This in itself
would show that Joseph Smith was not inspired when he produced
the Book of Abraham.
Brigham Young University scholar James R. Harris concluded that
the papyri rediscovered in 1967 did not vindicate Joseph Smith's
work and turned to the idea that the Book of Abraham came through
revelation, not through a translation of the papyrus scroll. He
even warns members of the church against holding out the hope
that a papyrus manuscript may yet he found that will confirm Joseph
Facsimiles 1 and 3 were created from separate vignettes of
a single Sensen text. Facsimile 2 was created from a disk-shaped
amulet that was placed under the head of the deceased...
It is important to understand, precisely speaking, that in
their original context, these illustrations have no connection
with the Book of Abraham. The three facsimiles are, in fact,
reproductions of real Egyptian documents. (The Facsimiles
of the Book of Abraham, A Study of the Joseph Smith Egyptian
Papyri, 1990, page 5)
These two scrolls appear to have been regarded by Church leadership
as scrolls of Abraham and Joseph. An understanding of the content
of the papyrus fragments and the manner in which they were used
by Joseph and Oliver, makes it very improbable that there are
now or ever were any other Abraham or Joseph scrolls in the
Joseph Smith Egyptian collection.
If we had some of the missing fragments of these documents
there is every reason to believe that they would contain more
of the same material as that on the present fragments: spells
and formulas to protect the deceased and insure his or her continuation
in the future state....
As a caution, if the hope of acquiring an Egyptian text of
Abraham is perpetuated as a major possibility', the perpetrators
may be guilty of leaving future generations of Latter-day Saints
with the same vulnerability that has resulted in many spiritual
casualties in this generation. It is to the end that such casualties
be diminished that I have undertaken this study. (Ibid.,
The suggestion that Joseph Smith may have obtained the Book
of Abraham by way of direct revelation and not from the papyrus
is now held by a number of prominent Mormon scholars. The problem
with this attempt to escape the serious implications of the evidence
furnished by the papyri is that it flies in the face of everything
Joseph Smith ever wrote or allowed to be published about the subject.
In the History of the Church, Smith made it clear that
he had the very writings of Abraham and Joseph in his possession.
He even claimed that he received this material through translating
Soon after this, some of the Saints at Kirtland purchased
the mummies and papyrus... 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... (History of the Church,
vol.2, page 236)
Joseph Smith not only said that he was going to translate the
records, but he also maintained he produced a "correct translation"
of the documents:
The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mnmmies [sic]
is beautifully written... I have given a brief history of the
manner in which the writings of the fathers, Abraham and Joseph,
have been preserved, and how I came in possession of the same--a
correct translation of which I shall give in its proper place.
(History of the Church, vol.2, pp.348, 350-51)
In his History, Joseph Smith indicated that in 1835 he
spent a good deal of time working on his translation of the Egyptian
The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in
translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging
a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the Ancients."
(History of the Church, vol 2, page 238)
October 1.--This afternoon I labored on the Egyptian alphabet...
during the research, the principles of astronomy as understood
by Father Abraham and the ancients unfolded to our understanding,
the particulars of which will appear hereafter." (Ibid.,
Tuesday, [Nov.] 24.--...In the afternoon we translated some
of the Egyptian records....
Thursday, 26.--Spent the day in translating Egyptian characters
from the papyrus... (Ibid, page 320)
At the beginning of the handwritten manuscript of the Book of
Abraham, Joseph Smith asserted that it was a "Translation of the
Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found
in the catacombs of Egypt." (see photograph of the first page
of the manuscript in Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? page
The introduction to the Book of Abraham still maintains that
it was "Translated From The Papyrus, By Joseph Smith" (Pearl
of Great Price, The Book of Abraham, Introduction).
In spite of Joseph Smith's many statements that he translated
the Book of Abraham from the Egyptian language, Mormon apologist
Hugh Nibley made this astounding assertion:
"Joseph Smith never pretended to understand Egyptian, nor that
the Book of Abraham was a work of his scholarship..." (Brigham
Young University Studies, Winter 1968, page 176)
In the same article Nibley said that he had "never spent so
much as five minutes with the Egyptian Grammar"--i.e., Joseph
Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.
A Pagan Book?
The attempt by Mormon scholars to escape Smith's own statements
that he translated the Book of Abraham from the papyrus appears
to be a flight from reality. It is clear that they realize there
is no way to defend Smith's work as a translator of Egyptian writing.
Consequently, they are forced to resort to some kind of a theory
that allows Smith to be a prophet even though his translation
does not coincide with what is found on the papyrus. The idea
that there was another papyrus scroll which Joseph Smith never
had in his possession and that God revealed the text of that papyrus
to Smith by revelation seems to stretch one's credulity beyond
the breaking point.
Even if a person could accept this theory, it raises another
insurmountable problem: why would God allow his prophet to use
three pagan documents (the facsimiles) to illustrate his Book
of Abraham? The facsimiles are filled with pictures of and praises
to these heathen gods. For example, Mormon scholar Michael Rhodes
has translated Facsimile No. 2 and admits that the text "seems
to be an address to Osiris, the god of the Dead, on behalf of
the deceased..." (Brigham Young University Studies, Spring
1977, page 274)
On page 270 of the same article, Rhodes acknowledges that the
same facsimile has a drawing of the "Hawk-headed Re"--the Egyptian
sun god. Numerous other gods and pagan scenes are shown on the
facsimiles. Rhodes himself admits that there is a "strange assortment
of gods, animals, and mixtures of both" on Facsimile No. 2. (Ibid.,
page 273) To have such an array of pagan gods and activities
in a book purporting to have been written by Abraham appears to
be in direct contradiction to the first commandment:
I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the
land of Egypt, out of the bouse of bondage. Thou shalt have
no other gods before me. (Exodus 20: 2-3)
Charles Larson makes some interesting observations concerning
this matter in his new book:
Quite early in the game Dr. Nibley had given the impression
that he felt that Mormon people ought to be willing to accept
any association that could be found--even to pagan Egyptian
mythology if need be--as long as it left open possibilities.
However, Nibley's approach in this regard is certainly in
sharp conflict with the Bible, one of the four LDS standard
works. Throughout the Old Testament it is abundantly clear that
God took great pains to dissuade the children of Israel from
any contact with the false gods and idolatrous practices of
their pagan neighbors.... God specifically admonished his people
to repudiate and completely forsake the gods of Egypt, to whom
they had been exposed during their years of captivity there
(Joshua 24:14). The Old Testament records that every time the
children of Israel fell into pagan idolatry, they experienced
God's chastening (Judges 2:2, 3, 11-15).
The New Testament likewise teaches the same principle that
God does not use pagan or ungodly vessels to bear His truth....
Since the Joseph Smith Papyri have been identified with absolute
certainty as prayers to pagan Egyptian gods that, by biblical
definition are ripe with occultism, it is inconceivable, given
the holy character of God, that He would associate Himself or
his revelation in any way with these pagan religious documents.
This fact alone is ample grounds for totally rejecting the Book
of Abraham as a revelation from the one True and Living God.
(By his Own Hand Upon Papyrus, pages 119-120)
John Gee argues that the Book of Breathings "is addressed
to no Egyptian gods; rather, it is addressed to a human individual
and reminds him of promises made to him and things he has experienced."
(Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, vol.4, p. 100)
While this diversionary tactic may be technically correct, those
who take the time to read the text will find that the deceased
is promised help from Re (the sun god), Uto (the cobra goddess),
Nekhbet (the vulture goddess), Geb (the earth god), Shu (the god
of air), and other gods and goddesses. (See Klaus Baer's translation
in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968,
pp. 116-126.) As noted earlier, we found at least fifteen pagan
gods and goddesses mentioned on this papyrus!
Moreover, we have shown that the Mormon scholar Michael Rhodes
has translated Facsimile No. 2 of the Book of Abraham and acknowledges
that the text "seems to be an address to Osiris, the god of the
Dead, on behalf of the deceased..." In addition, the rest of the
Joseph Smith Papyri contains prayers to pagan deities.
We have to agree with Charles Larson's statement on page 166
of his book: "...It is surely inconceivable that the God of the
Bible would compromise his exclusivity as the one, true God by
co-mingling His revelation with the idolatrous pagan teachings
and rites of Egypt as expressed in the Joseph Smith Papyri."
Figure 7 of Facsimile No. 2 of the Book of Abraham has caused
some embarrassment to Mormon officials. In fact, it was considered
so "explicit" that it was falsified in some printings of the Pearl
of Great Price. In 1981, however, it was restored to match
the original woodcut prepared under Joseph Smith's direction.
(In Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? pp.341-43, 369-D, we
discuss this pornographic drawing in detail and give photographic
evidence of the falsification.)
Joseph Smith stated that "Fig. 7. Represents God sitting upon
his throne, revealing through the heavens the grand Key-words
of the Priesthood; as, also, the sign of the Holy Ghost unto Abraham,
in the form of a dove." It is actually an extremely crude representation
of the pagan fertility god Min!
We have previously spoken of a letter written to Michael Rhodes
by a member of the LDS Church who was troubled with regard to
the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. In this letter, dated
June 30, 1988, we find the following: "...how do you account
for the Explanation of the Facsimiles?... Figure 7 of Facsimile
2 is described by Joseph as being Heavenly Father (with an erection?),
whereas it is really the Egyptian god Min."
Michael Rhodes did not mention the problem with regard to Fig.
7 in his response. However, in his article published in BYU
Studies in 1977, he gave a very honest explanation of this
part of Facsimile No. 2:
7. A seated ithyphallic god with a hawk's tail, holding aloft
the divine flail.... The seated god is clearly a form of Min,
the god of the regenerative, procreative forces of nature, perhaps
combined with Horus as the hawk's tail would seem to indicate....
The procreative forces, receiving unusual accentuation throughout
the representation, may stand for many divine generative powers,
not least of which might be conjoined with the blessings of
the priesthood in one's posterity eternally. (Brigham Young
University Studies, Spring 1977, page 273)
The Mormon writer Ian Barber responded to our work with regard
to the god Min. He tried to defend the Book of Abraham but had
to admit that Fac. 2, Fig. 7, shows an "ithyphallic" god:
The seated god Min in Figure 7... is an ithyphallic deity.
The Tanners call this 'a pornographic representation,' and remark
that it is 'hard to believe that Abraham would draw an obscene
picture of God.'... For the Egyptians, the ritual portrayal
of the phallus was not understood to be obscene, but rather
symbolic of the divine, regenerative powers, and it was even
respectfully mummified on occasion. The Tanners are correct
in implying that such an emphasis would be inappropriate in
our contemporary Western culture, and that the explicit portrayal
offended Mormon sensibilities is evidenced by the fact that
the phallus has been removed from several printings of the Pearl
of Great Price... (What Mormonism Isn't, page F-5)
In his book, Abraham in Egypt, Dr. Hugh Nibley acknowledges
that Min was an Egyptian sex god who indulged in promiscuity and
incest with his family and even his own mother:
"As the supreme sex symbol of gods and men, Min behaves with
shocking promiscuity. 'The Egyptians,' wrote Plutarch, 'are
accustomed to call Horus "Min" meaning visible,' referring to
the symbol of reproduction publicly paraded at his festival....
The Greeks identified him with the lustful Pan... His sacred
plants were aphrodisiacal... and he is everywhere represented
as indulging in incestuous relationships with those of his immediate
family.... The rites of Min were secret, and the Chief Priest
was 'the Director of the Mysteries of the god in his character
of Kamutef,' literally the Bull of His Mother.... His special
bull titles always denote his too-intimate relationship with
his mother.... For he is the divine beast, the irrepressible
rampart bull ready for anything. In this regard he is the double
of Seth, the two occupying prehistoric shrines directly opposite
each other... Their outstanding characteristic, as Te Velde
describes it, is their insistence on going 'beyond the bounds'
of discretion and morality, completely unrestrained in their
appetites and passions....
"The whip that the Min-images hold with upraised arm is always
viewed as a fertility symbol... some Egyptologists have maintained
that it signifies that Min took advantage of his mother by brute
force, seizing the matriarchal rule of the land by violence
and incest.. What suggested that was his commonest epithet,
Ka-mut-ef, 'Bull of his Mother,' the title that the youthful
successor to the throne went by at the coronation..." (Abraham
in Egypt, 1981, pages 210-211)
That Joseph Smith would identify this promiscuous god who engaged
in incest with his own mother as "God sitting upon his throne"
shows a complete lack of inspiration.
Unfortunately for Mormon apologists trying to save the Book
of Abraham, the problem with regard to the ithyphallic god Min
spills over onto Facsimile No. 1. As we have shown, Dr. Nibley
has pointed out that the expression "Bull of his Mother" is applied
to the god Min. When the Egyptologist Klaus Baer translated the
original papyrus from which Fac. No. 1 was taken, he found these
words: "Min Bull-of-his-Mother." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought, Autumn 1968, page 116)
The problem may even go much deeper: Egyptologist Richard A.
Parker pointed out that the portion of the original papyrus which
was missing when the Mormons obtained it was incorrectly restored
by Joseph Smith. According to Professor Parker, the papyrus really
contained a sexual scene before the papyrus was damaged:
This is the 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 pencilled (?) 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... (Dialogue: A Journal
of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, page 86)
The Egyptologist Klaus Baer agreed with Professor Parker: "He
[Osiris] was almost certainly represented as ithyphallic, ready
to beget Horus, as in many of the scenes at Dendera." (Dialogue:
A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1968, page 119)
Since Facsimile No. 2 shows the ithyphallic god Min, it seems
possible that a sexual scene would be shown on Facsimile No. 1.
Dr. Hugh Nibley argues against this interpretation, but we have
shown that his reasoning is fallacious (see Mormonism--Shadow
or Reality? page 350). Nibley acknowledges, however, that
there are "a number of procreation scenes in which the mummy is
begetting his divine successor or reincarnation" (Improvement
Era, October 1968, page 78).
In his book, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, page 102, Charles
Larson restores the scene according to the interpretation given
by Egyptologists. Below his restoration, he comments as follows:
"Isis, meanwhile, has taken the form of a falcon and hovers over
the groin of Osiris who holds his phallus (hence this is known
as an ithyphallic drawing) in anticipation of the procreative
act which will make Isis pregnant with their son Horus."
John Gee argues that the reconstructed drawing appearing in
Charles Larson's book makes no sense: "Not only is his restoration
of Joseph Smith Papyrus I obscene, it is impossible... the reconstruction
is too crude to have been done by a good artist." (Review of
Books on the Book of Mormon, vol. 4, pp 101-102)
While Mr. Gee labels Larson's reconstruction as "obscene"
and "impossible," he neglects to mention the fact that
it was based on the statements of two noted Egyptologists, Klaus
Baer and Richard A. Parker. (It is interesting to note that when
Professor Parker translated the important portion of the Book
of Breathings, Dr. Hugh Nibley publicly stated that he was "the
best [Egyptologist] in America for this particular period and
style of writing.")
As to Gee's statement that the drawing in Larson's book is obscene,
most Christians would feel that it is more obscene, even blasphemous,
to have a drawing of the ithyphallic god Min identified in the
Book of Abraham as "God sitting upon his throne" (see Facsimile
No. 2, Figure 7).
Instead of attacking Larson's restoration, John Gee should be
discussing the false restorations in the facsimiles found in the
Book of Abraham. The fact that Joseph Smith instructed Reuben
Hedlock to make incorrect restorations in the woodcuts of the
Book of Abraham facsimiles is acknowledged by noted Mormon scholars.
James R. Harris, who felt that Joseph Smith sometimes operated
under the power of inspiration, admitted that this was not always
When he was not inspired, and consequently operated on his
own wisdom, Joseph Smith did not demonstrate an ability to interpret
or to make appropriate restorations of damaged portions of the
documents. (The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, A Study
of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, page 4)
We have already quoted Michael Rhodes concerning the "obvious
modifications" in Facsimile No. 1. Edward H. Ashment also frankly
discussed Joseph Smith's false restorations:
It can be clearly ascertained that portions of Reuben Hedlock's
Facsimiles 1 and 2 were conjecturally restored. Moreover, according
to the diary entry for Friday, March 4, 1842, in the History
of the Church, it is apparent that the prophet was connected
with their production.... he probably was not as concerned with
having historically accurate restorations of Facsimiles 1 and
2 as he was with having complete pictures to publish in the
Times and Seasons. Neither he nor Reuben Hedlock would
have known that a standing human body would have a dog's head
(Facsimile 1, Fig. 3), nor that a bird would have a human head
(Facsimile 1).... It seems that they completed each damaged
section with what was to them logical or important for whatever
reason: a man's head on a man's body... a bird's head on a bird's
body... (Sunstone, Dec. 1979, page 44)
The evidence against the Book of Abraham is absolutely devastating.
That Mormons would continue to endorse the Book of Abraham in
the face of this evidence is almost beyond belief. Charles M.
Larson made this comment concerning the sad state of affairs which
Sometime during the mid-1850s... an LDS Apostle named Orson
Pratt confidently laid a dramatic challenge before the world:
...convince of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by
reason, by logical arguments, or by the Word of God, and we
will be ever grateful for the information, and you ever will
have the pleasing reflection that you have been instruments
in the hands of God of redeeming your fellow beings from the
darkness which you may see enveloping their minds.
Orson Pratt was no doubt confident that a successful case
against the claims of Mormonism would never be presented because
one simply did not exist. Over a century-and-a-half of close
scrutiny, though, has proven the opposite to be the case. It
is this fact which probably best explains why the contemporary
LDS Church has shifted from the bold, confrontational stance
of Pratt's day, to one of cautioning members to 'rely on faith
and not on historical fact'... The message coming from LDS spokesmen
today appears to be more and more one of accommodation: If facts
fail to justify faith (what one wishes to believe), then
faith should overrule facts. This sort of thinking is evasive,
and must be set aside if any real reckoning with the facts is
to take place.
But going back to Pratt, the challenge he made is a valid
one, and the tendency of contemporary LDS figures to rationalize
away problems instead of confronting them only underlines the
fact that serious problems do exist. If error or falsehood within
a religious system exists, it should be exposed, and
using reason and the Word of God to do so makes a great deal
of sense. Exposing error is the right thing to do, as
only good can be the ultimate result of people learning the
We are not only justified, then, in examining the
evidences challenging the truth of the Book of Abraham which
God has graciously allowed to come forth, we are firmly obligated
to do so. And it is quite possible that the case against
the Book of Abraham is the strongest evidence ever provided
to test the truthfulness of Joseph Smith's claims....
"One by one, virtually every Mormon belief about the Book of
Abraham once considered essential to its support and regarded
as faith promoting, has been shattered by the facts.
Not one trace of reliable evidence has appeared that would
support the LDS view of the Book of Abraham as an authentic
scripture, while an enormous amount of evidence is available
to show that it is a man-made production of the nineteenth century,
created by Joseph Smith to support his claim among his people
to be a 'prophet, seer, and revelator.'... When an individual
fails to respond openly and honestly to such a problem it only
passes the problem--and the pain of dealing with it--to someone
else, multiplying ignorance and hurt in the process....
So much potential pain to loved ones and future generations
could be avoided! How? By placing truth ahead of convenience,
by being honest with ourselves and with others.
The question of meeting challenges to our faith really does
matter, because truth matters. The Bible gives us the promise
that 'the truth shall make you free' (John 8:32)--and that includes
being free from delusion. (By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus,
pages 169, 171, 175, 181)
We highly recommend Charles Larson's new book. We feel that
he has done a very good job of presenting the case against the
Book of Abraham. He has also examined and refuted some of the
theories Mormon scholars have brought forth in their attempts
to save Joseph Smith's work. Besides taking a very close look
at mistakes made by Dr. Hugh Nibley, he also deals with misrepresentations
and errors in the book written by Robert and Rosemary Brown.
This is the first full-size book devoted almost entirely to
presenting the evidence against the Book of Abraham. In addition,
it contains beautiful color photographs of nine pieces of the
Joseph Smith Papyri. By His Own hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look
At The Joseph Smith Papyri is available from Utah Lighthouse