LDS Discussions Blog
Announcing Our Upcoming Articles on the Book of Abraham
As we mentioned on Twitter, we have a series of articles coming up about the Book of Abraham. To us the Book of Abraham is the biggest "smoking gun" against Joseph Smith, and we are going to make our case using LDS documents, quotes from Joseph Smith and those around him, and the Book of Abraham itself.
We are excited because in addition to our work on the annotated Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham, for this project we are collaborating with work done by two Mormon apologists who have since left the church, one of which co-founded FAIR. Their work in being apologists for the Book of Abraham led to their further study into it's authenticity, and subsequently led to them leaving the church upon realizing it is not true. This is important because as we noted in our last blog post, it can be hard to find the space to consider that the church might not be true, but it is necessary. As these two apologists found, once they made that space and continued their research, they came to the conclusion the research led them to -- not a predetermined conclusion that the church often wants members to work from.
In addition to their work, we are going to look at the source materials that we do have, the official LDS Gospel Topics essay, and other LDS apologetic sources to paint a fuller picture of what different possibilities are presented for the issues with the Book of Mormon.
Last, we are going to look at the work of Egyptian expert Robert Ritner, who was a professor of LDS apologist John Gee's at Yale. This is important because the LDS Gospel Topics essay was almost certainly largely produced and influenced by Gee as he is their resident expert on the Book of Abraham. Ritner's work is accepted by all (non-LDS) Egyptian scholars, and he has written a response to the LDS Gospel Topics essay to address some of the possibilities laid out.
These articles will be released over the coming weeks, and will focus on the following:
1. The Lost Scroll/Long Scroll theory: Apologists often claim that the source for the Book of Abraham was not actually the facsimiles that are printed in the Pearl of Great Price, but part of a 'long' or 'lost' scroll that disappeared in the Chicago fire. Some of the more aggressive apologists even claim the Book of Abraham was on a completely different scroll such as the Amenhotep scroll. We are going to show using the actual photos of the Book of Abraham manuscript that the source of the Book of Abraham is in the papyrus that has been found, as well as explaining why the quotes that apologists have used are from second and third hand sources decades after they were supposedly said. It is imperative to establish this before we look at the facsimiles, because apologists try to deflect to the unknown because of the problems with Joseph Smith's translations of the facsimiles themselves. The bottom line is that the source of the Book of Abraham is right next to Facsimile 1 as you can see below. ("Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham" - A Response)
In addition, we will also discuss the studies that have taken the scrolls and compared them to other existing scrolls. This is important because we can now estimate the amount of papyrus that is missing, and the estimate is about 56cm of missing papyrus, which is about two feet. That alone negates the idea that there was a long scroll that spread across rooms, which is important to establish that we do have the source text for the Book of Abraham now.
2. Facsimile 1: We will take a close look at Facsimile 1 and how Joseph Smith's translations compare to what the scroll says in real Egyptian. As we've made clear in our annotated essay, Joseph Smith's transations are incorrect at every turn, and unfortunately for apologists this Facsimile is referenced in the Book of Abraham text itself: "That you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record." The fact that the Book of Abaraham refers back to this facsimile is further proof that we do have the source of the Book of Abraham, and we will further show the connections between the source material and Book of Abraham. (The infographics below for the three facsimiles are placeholders with regards to the interpretations of modern Egyptologists as we will go over interpretations/meanings as we release the different articles)
3. Facsimile 2: It is accepted by Egyptologists that Facsimile 2 is from a separate scroll that Facsimile 1 and is a Hypocephalus (funerary amulet), but Joseph Smith again incorrectly translated the figures and symbols. And just as he did with Facsimile 1, Joseph Smith filled in the missing portions of the Facsimiles, but as we will show with pictures, they do not match what the scrolls originally had nor do the translations make any sense in Egyptian terms.
As you can see in the second image, Joseph Smith took random hieroglyphics from the papyrus and inserted them in the open spots (even FAIR admits this to be the case). In the third picture, you can see what the actual missing figures should be. (The Book of Abraham: Criticisms, Defenses, and Implications)
4. Facsimile 3: For many who have left the church, Facsimile 3 is the biggest evidence against the Book of Abraham. Not only does Joseph Smith get the translations here wrong, but we have what looks like pretty clear evidence that he had the lead printing plate altered to cut the snout off Anubis because he believed the figure was a slave, likely because he was cursed with black skinned as the Book of Abraham would proclaim. In addition, Joseph Smith mistakes women for men and declares that what we now know is a libations table is actually the name Abraham written in Egyptian.
As you can see in the second and third image, it appears the area around the 'nose' of Anubis has been chiseled away. You can see the rough cut on the front of his face, and the clean chisel marks that would match what the nose would normally look like in Egyptian documents such as this. This was a discovery by former apologist Paul Osborne, and you can see more detail about this issue on his website. We will also be focusing on this issue in our article as it is a very new discovery after the high resolution images of the plates became available.
5. Source Materials and Anachronisms in the Book of Abraham: In addition to the translation issues, we want to look at the source materials that were used to write the Book of Abraham. Joseph Smith leaned heavily on Genesis, but also used other source materials including Thomas Dick's book Philosophy of a Future State, books from the apocrypha including Jasher and Josephus, and Thomas Taylor’s The Six Books of Proclus on the Theology of Plato. We know that Joseph owned these books as they were donated to the Nauvoo library in 1844, and Oliver Cowdery actually printed an excerpt from Thomas Dick's book in an 1836 Messenger and Advocate issue. Again, we cover these issues in our annotated Book of Abraham essay. There are also anachronisms in the Book of Abraham just as there are in the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, the papyrus itself is an anachronism as it was dated to about 1,500 years after Abraham's supposed lifetime.
6. "Written by his own hand, upon papyrus." We last want to highlight the statement by Joseph Smith and others around him at the time that Abraham himself was the author of this papyrus. Apologists have given different explanations to try and work around this issue, but we have quotes from Joseph and those close to him that establish very clearly that the belief at the time was that Abraham himself wrote on this papyri. This again is important to understanding Joseph Smith's ability as a prophet, and is another area where LDS apologists have lost faith upon researching, because the bottom line is that Joseph Smith taught others that this was literally written by Abraham, even as the church today proclaims that no one can know how the Book of Abraham came to be and what Joseph Smith experienced and taught.
We hope you will read our articles as they are finished, and we hope that those of you reading this who are believing members of the church can do so with an open mind. As we discussed in our post below, you have to let go (even if just temporarily) if you truly want to know the truth. If the church is true, reading our articles can not damage that truth. On the other hand, if the church is not true and Joseph Smith was not a prophet, we all deserve to know that as painful as it might be at first.
As we publish these articles we will post them up here as well as our on Twitter account. I hope that you will read these articles and let us know what you think - we are very excited about the sources we have helping with this project as noted above. We really hope that we can shed some light on this issue that will put to rest some of the recent apologetic articles about lost scrolls, long scrolls, or redefining what translation actually means.
In the meantime, if you have not read our annotated LDS Essay on the Book of Abraham, we highly recommend that to start with. It covers a lot of the topics listed above along with answering the possibilities that are presented by the church. We will be covering some areas in more depth here in the separate articles, but the essay gives a very in-depth overview of why the apologetics can not answer the problems with the Book of Abraham and Joseph Smith's claims to have translated by the gift and power of God.