excerpt – The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition

The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete EditionIntroduction
Robert K. Ritner

On or just before July 3, 1835, a touring exhibitor named Michael H. Chandler brought to Kirtland, Ohio, four Egyptian mummies and a selection of Egyptian papyrus documents. Kirtland resident Joseph Smith, Jr., founder and prophet of the Church of Latter-day Saints,1 who had produced The Book of Mormon five years earlier based on claimed translations from gold plates inscribed in “Reformed Egyptian,” took an immediate interest in the Egyptian texts and offered preliminary translations to the exhibitor. Within the month, members of the young church (“the brethren”) purchased Chandler’s exhibit for $2400.2 Copying the texts with the assistance of select “scribes,” Smith quickly recognized several biblically-themed compositions within the papyri, eventually including the Book of Abraham (P. Joseph Smith 1), the record of Joseph of Egypt (P. Joseph Smith 2 and 3) and a tale of an Egyptian princess Katumin or Kah tou mun (P. Joseph Smith 4). Only the first of these translations was ever published, beginning in serialized excerpts during 1842, well before Jean François Champollion’s correct decipherment of Egyptian was generally known in America.3

Smith exhibited the mummies and papyri in his and his mother’s Nauvoo (Illinois) cabins and in his “Mansion House” museum. A representative example of his banter is recorded for the May 15, 1844, visit to the museum by Josiah Quincy and Charles Francis Adams: “Opening pine presses along the wall, he disclosed four black, shrunken bodies. ‘These are mummies,’ he said. ‘I want you to look at that little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man in his day. Why that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!’ He pointed to various hieroglyphs on the papyri, which were preserved under glass. ‘That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful; this is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest accounts of the Creation, from which Moses composed the first Book of Genesis.’ ”4 In the same year, he made his last attempt at Egyptian translation (among 17 foreign languages): “Egyptian, Su-e-eh-ni (What other persons are those?)”5

Following Smith’s arrest and death in June 1844, the church divided, with most (but not all) of the Egyptian materials left behind by the dominant faction led by Brigham Young to Utah. As part of the collection The Pearl of Great Price, the full text of the Book of Abraham was published in pamphlet form in 1851 in Liverpool and reissued by the church in Utah in 1878. In 1880, it was adopted as canonical scripture by what is now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In contrast, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (based in Independence, Missouri and since 2001 the Community of Christ) treats the Book of Abraham as mere speculative writing by Smith with no formal scriptural status.

The brief tale of Abraham, only 15 printed pages including woodcut illustrations explicitly said to be part of the book, presents a curious narrative. Abraham is miraculously rescued from Chaldean priests in Ur, who commit human sacrifice “unto the god of Pharaoh … after the manner of the Egyptians”(!) on a hill named after the Egyptian Potiphar (1:6-15 and 20). The name Potiphar, taken from the Bible, employs a Late Egyptian grammatical construction (“The one whom Pre has given”)6 and the late form of the sun god Re’s name with the definite article (“Pre”), so that it cannot be contemporary with any date typically assigned to Abraham. The anglicized Latin term “Egyptus” is said to be Chaldean for “that which is forbidden” in reference to the cursed race of Ham who are denied the “right of Priesthood” (1:23-27), a statement that served as the basis for Mormon racial discrimination7 until a “revelation” during the modern era of civil rights legislation reversed the policy (but not the “scripture”) in 1978. A famine takes Abraham to Egypt, where he is ultimately shown “sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king,” “reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy.”8 The three woodcut illustrations purport to depict: (1) the “sacrifice” on an “altar” (wrongly restored from a scene of Anubis tending Osiris on the funerary bier), (2) an astronomical scene of planets (actually a hypocephalus), and (3) enthroned Abraham lecturing the male Pharaoh (actually enthroned Osiris with the female Isis). In the last image alone, Smith’s interpretation turns the goddess Maat into a male prince, the papyrus owner into a “waiter,” and the black jackal Anubis into a “slave.” As true ancient history, the Book of Abraham has no validity, yet the tale and the papyri that inspired it were to become a minor, if protracted, chapter in the history of American Egyptology.9

By 1861, Théodule Devéria had noted a series of anachronisms and absurdities in the supposed translation and woodcut vignettes, and in 1912 a solicitation for professional opinions on the matter of “Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator” by F. S. Spalding, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, drew uniformly derisive assessments from A. H. Sayce, W. M. F. Petrie, J. H. Breasted, A. C. Mace, J. Peters, S. A. B. Mercer, E. Meyer, and F. W. von Bissing.10 Apologetic response was muted, as the papyri no longer belonged to the church when it migrated west to Utah, and they were thought to have been lost, perhaps in the great Chicago fire of 1871. Aside from ad hominem attacks on the Egyptologists themselves,11 the matter generated little further discussion. “Faced by a solid phalanx of PhD’s, the Mormons were properly overawed.”12 A rebuttal of sorts did come from a certain “Robert C. Webb,” in a series of LDS publications beginning in 1913 and in “The Case Against Mormonism” published in 1915.13 Although posing as an unbiased “Non- ‘Mormon’ ” and a Ph.D., “Webb” was in fact a non-degreed writer for hire named J. E. Homans.14 “Webb”’s fraudulent expertise would be revived by Nibley in his attacks on professional Egyptology following the next major event in the saga of the Joseph Smith papyri.15

The state of affairs changed dramatically on November 27, 1967, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York made a gift to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of eleven papyrus fragments that had passed from the mother of Joseph Smith to an employee’s family before acquisition by the museum in 1947.16 Comparison of the papyrus illustrations with the woodcuts in the Pearl of Great Price confirmed that these fragments were those once owned by Joseph Smith and employed as the basis for the Book of Abraham.17 In January and February of the following year, sepia-toned photographs of the fragments were published in the official LDS magazine The Improvement Era,18 and on the basis of these photographs, the independent publication Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought commissioned translations and commentaries on the texts, now designated as “The Joseph Smith Papyri.” In the summer issue of 1968, Egyptologists John A. Wilson and Richard A. Parker identified fragments within Smith’s original collection as sections of a late mortuary text known as a “Book of Breathings,” copied for a Theban priest named Hôr, as well as portions from additional Books of the Dead.19

The rediscovery of the primary documents that inspired, but in no way corroborate, a canonical book of Mormon theology has resulted in more than a generation of confrontation between Egyptological scholars and Mormon traditionalists. Whereas earlier apologists had condemned Egyptologists for not translating the defectively copied hieroglyphs of the woodcuts, new translations of the actual documents were even more disturbing.20 Some religious Mormons have sought Egyptological degrees merely to pursue the argument with scholarly status. Attempts to salvage the Book of Abraham over the years have been varied, creative and ultimately desperate: 1) Egyptian hieroglyphs had multiple readings, unknown to modern Egyptologists,21 2) Smith used the Hôr papyrus merely as a “mnemonic device” for channeling inspiration, not as a true source of translation,22 and 3) the portion of the Hôr papyrus containing the original Book of Abraham is now lost, with only the words “Beginning of the Book of …” surviving.23

While recent disputes over this or that feature of Smith’s interpretation typically dominate these exchanges, often lost in the greater picture is the simple fact that the Mormon defense of the Book of Abraham has been lost for well over a century. Long past are the days when any speculation could be attributed to the Egyptian language or history; such fantasies are intellectual casualties from Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition and the decipherment of hieroglyphs by Champollion. As noted in the included essay by Christopher Woods, the depiction of Mesopotamian society in the Book of Abraham is no less problematic. The basic events of Smith’s romance do not correspond with either Mesopotamian or Egyptian history, and outside of Mormon confessional institutions, the Book of Abraham is not taught —or usually even noted— in studies of ancient history, religion or society.

If the Egyptian documents used by Smith in his composition of the Book of Abraham have been discussed and translated on several occasions (Papyrus Joseph Smith 1 and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq), the remainder of Smith’s papyri remains unedited, aside from the initial comments of Wilson and Parker in 1968. It is the purpose of this volume to provide the first, comprehensive edition of the papyri of Joseph Smith.

The impetus for the current volume derives from two sources: 1) an initial invitation in February 2004 by Gary James Bergera of the Smith-Pettit Foundation to produce a complete translation and transliteration of the Joseph Smith Papyri, with footnotes providing a synoptic comparison of all the varying published readings of the texts (Smith, Nibley, Baer, Rhodes, et al.),24 and 2) a steady stream of emails from both scholars and laymen requesting further information on the true nature of the Smith Egyptian papyri and their contents following my publications of “The Breathing Permit of Hôr” (2002-2003a). In 2004, Bergera also solicited discussions of the acquisition history of Smith’s papyri from H. Michael Marquardt and of the ancient ownership and dating of the papyri from Marc Coenen. The original proposal from the Smith-Pettit Foundation was not realized, but the current volume of studies is a direct result of that undertaking, and the contributions by Marquardt and Coenen are included here with sincere gratitude to Bergera and to the authors.25 Although the authors consulted in 1912 included the Assyriologist A. H. Sayce, comments on the Book of Abraham from a Mesopotamian perspective have been few, and I am indebted to Christopher Woods for revisiting this issue. Thus even the location of Abraham’s home, “Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11.28-31, 15.7, Nehemiah 9.7, Book of Abraham 2.4), is disputed, with sites identified at Uri (Mugheir/ Tell el-Muqayyar) in southern Babylon or near Harran/Haran in modern Turkey.26 In neither area, however, were (supposed) Egyptian sacrificial rites locally dominant.

Clearly, the need for a full edition of these texts is both justified and long past-due, and, given their importance in American religious and social history, the publication must be accessible not merely to Egyptologists but to non-specialists within and outside of the LDS religious community for whom the Book of Abraham was produced. This dual focus necessarily repeats older, and obsolete, translations of minor value for modern Egyptologists, but of great significance for the historiography of the papyri and for demonstrating to non-Egyptologists the evolving process of deciphering the fragmented documents. Rather than restricting these variant translations to footnotes, as originally suggested, the variants are provided in the body of the text for easy comparison. In return, the editions contain specialized transliterations and often complex notes establishing major or minor differences in the Egyptian readings and interpretations. Such minutiae have been largely confined to the footnotes so that the nonspecialist reader need not be detained.

The commentary on the accuracy of readings and interpretations of the Smith Papyri is a necessary feature of this volume provided in direct response to over seven years of (often anguished) requests. As such, these assessments are neither equivocal nor muted, but have no partisan basis originating in any religious camp, financial incentive or personal animus. Published criticism by Mormon apologists (often vituperative) is further treated in the notes (often bluntly), where they may be ignored by Egyptologists, who have little interest in such parochial matters. The footnotes thus contain specialized materials for either set of readers. It must be stressed that all opinions in the volume are those of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the publisher or co-authors.

Attentive readers may notice some minor inconsistencies in grammar, punctuation, reference citations, etc., in the essays that follow. Each of the essays was written more or less independently and so tends to reflect each author’s stylistic approach to such matters.

Robert K. Ritner
The Oriental Institute
The University of Chicago
Chicago, 2010


1. Popularly termed “the Mormon Church” by both members and the general public, the official name of the institution (since 1851) is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter abbreviated LDS). An intermediate 1838 revision had spelled “Latterday” as “Latter Day.”

2. An overview of the Mormon purchase in the context of American interest in mummies as “artifacts,” as well as possible identifications of surviving mummies, appears in Wolfe and Singerman 2009, “The Leg of Pharaoh’s Daughter, the One who Saved Moses,” pp. 96-131 and 136. One or more of the “lost Mormon mummies” —formerly in the Niagara Falls Museum— may now be found in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University. The date July 3 is noted in the official History of the Church, but correspondence suggests that the mummies arrived in Kirtland at the end of June; see ibid., p. 111. The history of Smith’s Egyptian project, and its intellectual and political motivations, is recounted in Brodie 1945, pp. 168-75. Smith later claimed that his mother had bought the Egyptian materials “with her own money at a cost of six thousand dollars”; see Brodie 1945, pp. 170 and 293. The Mormon mummies were apparently first found in a pit-tomb at Gurna by the Italian adventurer Antonio Lebolo; for whom see Dawson, Uphill and Bierbrier 1995, p. 241; Herbin 2008, p. 5; John A. Larson 1994, and the chapter by Marquardt, below. For Lebolo’s presence at Thebes, see his graffiti at the Ramesseum (“Lebolo 1820”) and Theban Tomb 32 (“Lebolo”) in De Keersmaecker 2010, pp. 35-36.

3. For Smith’s conflation of Egyptian and Greek, see Brodie 1945, p. 290. Champollion’s discovery was reported in the United States in the New York Herald, December 28, 1842. For its potential restraint on Smith’s future translations, see Brodie 1945, pp. 291-92 (regarding the falsified “Kinderhook plates” supposedly found in an Indian mound). Smith noted in his journal that he “translated a portion” of the plates, which he thought recounted the history of a person buried in the mound, “a descendant of Ham, through the loins of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” The translations of this hoax were not published.

4. Quotation in Brodie 1945, p. 293. See also Adams 1952 for the visit.

5. The Voice of Truth (1844), pp. 16-17; quotation in Brodie 1945, p. 292. Gee’s interpretation (1992, p. 114, n. 58) of Sue-e-eh-ni as s n¡m (“who is the man?”) is untenable phonetically (Sue-e-eh cannot represent s/ADD IMAGE OF TEXT and the final ADD IMAGE is preserved in all dialects) and grammatically (the proper sequence should be ADD IMAGE OF TEXT HERE). In the same appeal to the “Brave Green Mountain Boys” (Brodie 1945, p. 292), Smith attempted an extensive passage in Chaldean (a dialect of Aramaic). His rendition and translation is described by my colleague Gene B. Gragg, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Languages at the Oriental Institute, as incompetent and based on sources misunderstood or misrepresented; personal communication, September 14, 2010. Similarly, Rebecca Hasselbach, Asst. Professor of Comparative Semitics at the Oriental Institute, noted that the Chaldean “is Aramaic, but a pretty butchered version,” perhaps “because he (or his source) transliterated the gutturals as vowels instead of consonants and some of the forms seem to be made up”; personal communication September 17, 2010.

6. Ranke 1935, p. 123, no. 11. For the late date of the name, see Vergote 1959, pp. 146-48. Examples survive from Dynasty 21, and the form is not grammatically possible before Dynasty 18.

7. See Brodie 1945, pp. 172-74. The translated Book of Abraham conveniently served to resolve an abolitionist dispute within the developing Mormon community.

8. Facsimile No. 3, Explanation.

9. See the brief discussion accorded Joseph Smith in Trigger 1995, p. 22, in an article on Egypt and “the American Imagination.” The longest Egyptological treatment to date is John A. Larson 1994.

10. Spalding 1912. Reaction to the Egyptologists’ condemnation is found in “Helping Out the Mormon,” Life (February 10, 1916), vol. 67, issue 1737, p. 265: “The papers say the younger Mormons have taken notice of this discrepancy to the dismay of their elders, and that it is one thing that led to the recent flare-up in the University of Utah, when four Gentile professors were dismissed and fourteen members of the faculty resigned in protest.” See also “Are the Mormon Scriptures Based on Fraud?,” Current Opinion (February 1913), vol. LIV, no. 2, pp. 134-35.

11. Cf. Nelson 1913, pp. 606 ff: “… a jury of Gentiles, prejudiced, ill-tempered and mad with the pride of human learning” (as cited in Nibley 1968-70 [January 1968], p. 24, n. 6).

12. Nibley 1968-70 (January 1968), p. 23. Within this and continuing installments, Nibley undercuts this “appeal to authority” by a series of personal attacks: Mercer, “a hustling young clergyman” (ibid., p. 21), is extensively attacked in May 1968, pp. 55-57, and June 1968, 18-22, not “primarily to discredit the authority” of the scholar, but to illustrate “the limitations and pitfalls of Egyptology in general” (June 1968, p. 22). Presumably for the same reason, Nibley notes that Sayce was a “spoiled dilettante” (July 1968, p. 50), that Petrie “never went to a theatre” (ibid.), that Meyer “lacked aesthetic sense” (ibid, p. 51) but had a rationalistic bent that “ineffectively (!!) disqualifies himself from the jury” (p. 52), that Breasted was “pro-German” (p. 54), and that von Bissing had “an uncompromising loyalty to a feudal society and feudal religion —hardly the man to look with a kindly eye on the supernaturalism … of a Joseph Smith” (p. 54, emphasis added). European “feudal religion,” of course, presupposed the reality of supernatural intervention, but Nibley’s logic is peculiar in these tracts circulated only among the faithful. The Egyptologists are stigmatized as being idiosyncratic and aloof, which should make their unified assessment even more compelling. In any case, Nibley wanted a sympathetic audience, not Egyptological fact. The August 1968 continuation derides the careers of T. Devéria, J. Peters, A. C. Mace, A. M. Lythgoe, G. Barton, E. Banks and E. A. W. Budge. Nibley’s tactic has been adopted by his followers. In 2002, however, the New Yorker signaled exhaustion with the topic: “Today, even Nibley seems weary of the effort to authenticate the Book of Abraham” (Lawrence Wright 2002, p. 53). Nibley’s zealous involvement with the Smith papyri would later be blamed in a family tragedy; see Scott Gordon‘s LDS review (2005) of Martha Nibley Beck’s 2005 biography, Leaving the Saints: “Beck accuses her father of putting on an Egyptian costume and ritually abusing her, something all seven of her siblings deny … Martha claims (p. 147) that her father dressed up as the Egyptian god Amut the Destroyer by putting on a costume with an alligator head and a lion’s body and molesting her between the ages of 5 and 7… Martha blames the whole incident on the stress of having to defend the Book of Abraham when  Nibley knew it was a fraud.”

13. The Spalding volume is disputed in Webb 1915, pp. 26-34. For a list of contemporary Mormon responses to the Spalding publication, see Kevin L. Barney 2005, pp. 109-10, n. 9.

14. His true identity was revealed in Brodie 1945, p. 175n: “Webb, whose real name is J. E. Homans, is neither an Egyptologist nor a Ph.D.” For the Spalding episode and its aftermath, see Charles M. Larson 1992, pp. 27-30. In his 1915 book, “Webb” consistently misspells Spalding’s name as Spaulding, and this has influenced Larson on p. 30 (only).

15. See Nibley 1968-1970 (January 1968), p. 24, nn. 2 (equating Webb with J. C. Homans), 5, 11, 16 and 22; (February 1968), p. 21, nn. 45, 47, 52, 56, 58, 68, 80 and 94.

16. MMA 47.102.1-11 (acquired through the Rogers Fund). The papyri were accompanied by documents of sale, indicating that they had formally passed from church ownership; see Howard 1968, p. 91, with reference to Dialogue 2/4 (1967): 57 note. For the early history of the papyri, see n. 2, above.

17. The Book of Abraham is subtitled: “Translated from the Papyrus by Joseph Smith,” and the initial vignette of P. Joseph Smith 1 reappears (in altered form) in the Book of Abraham as “A Facsimile From the Book of Abraham. No. 1.”

18. Subtitled “The Voice of the Church” and described as the “Official organ of the Priesthood Quorums, Mutual Improvement Associations, Home Teaching Committee, Music Committee, Church School System, and other agencies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (p. 1).

19. John Wilson 1968, and Parker 1968a and 1968b (partial translation).

20. See Nibley 1968-70 (March 1968): 20, for Mormon complaints that the 1912 reviewers did not translate the (hand copy) inscriptions. For an overview of the negative reactions to the papyrus translations of 1968, see the quotations selected in Mormon Quotes, “Book of Abraham.”

21. So George Reynolds 1879, p. 44: “Egyptian hieroglyphics had at least two (but more probably three) meanings, the one understood by the masses — the other comprehended by the initiated, the priesthood.” Quotation also in Brodie 1945, p. 175n. The argument was revived by Nibley in 1968; see Charles M. Larson 1992, pp. 114-16.

22. So Crapo and Tvedtnes 1968 and 1969; Tvedtnes 1970; and Urrutia 1969. The argument (disputed in correspondence by Baer with Jay Todd) was adopted by Nibley later in 1968; see Charles M. Larson 1992, pp. 116-19. Tvedtnes complained about his “unfair treatment” in Baer’s correspondence in Gee 1992, pp. 109-10, n. 48, but admitted that Baer remained unconvinced by the mnemonic theory. Crapo and Tvedtnes 1968 and 1969 are cited in Charles M. Larson 1992, p. 233, nn. 4-5, contra Gee 1992, p. 109, n. 48.

23. So Gee 2000a, p. 10, 2000b, p. 212, n. 57, and 2005, p. 96. For discussion of Gee’s reasoning and “sources,” see the description of the size of the P. JS 1 manuscript in the relevant chapter on “Comparative Transliterations and Translations,” below. A variant of this theory, that the Book of Abraham was on another, now-missing scroll, was adopted by Nibley in 1975 (p. 2); for this and other defenses, see Ritner 2003a, p. 166, n. 31; and Charles M. Larson 1992, pp. 119-40.

24. A new volume by Michael D. Rhodes, Books of the Dead Belonging to Tshemmin and Neferirnub, Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2010, reached me (February 25, 2011) while my manuscript was in press, too late to be incorporated in my study.

25. I am particularly indebted to Bergera, Brent Lee Metcalfe and Edward H. Ashment, whose forwarded encouragement, articles and photographs have benefited this volume greatly.

26. For “Ur of the Chaldees,” see Pinches 1909, Hastings, Grant and Rowley 1963, p. 1019, Margueron 1992, and Kobayashi 1992. Gee 1992, p. 116, prefers a northern location, but this cannot justify the supposed Egyptian sacrificial rites practiced in the area. See further the chapter by Christopher Woods in this volume.

Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papers: A History
H. Michael Marquardt

The Joseph Smith Papyri (The Book of Abraham)During the years 1817 to 1822, an unspecified number of Egyptian mummies and other artifacts came into the possession of Giovanni Pietro Antonio Lebolo (b. 1781). Lebolo was an associate of Bernardino Drovetti (1776-1852), France’s Consul General to Egypt from 1803 to 1814. For several years, Lebolo had assisted Drovetti in looking for ancient Egyptian relics. When Lebolo returned to Italy in 1822, he took with him a collection of at least eleven mummies and some additional artifacts. The mummies had been found in catacombs near Thebes, about 400 miles south of the Mediterranean Sea on the Nile River. In 1830, Lebolo died in Castellamonte, Piedmont (now Italy). The eleven mummies and various antique objects were subsequently sent to New York City with instructions that they be sold and that the proceeds benefit Lebolo’s heirs.1

Lebolo’s eleven mummies may constitute the largest shipment of Egyptian mummies to America up to that time. Only a small number of public exhibits of mummies had been previously reported in major American cities. A man named Michael H. Chandler (1797-1866) reportedly secured Lebolo’s mummies in early 1833 and started to exhibit them, beginning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, though to date there has been no independent confirmation of this.2 What can be documented is that from early April to June 1833, the mummies and some papyri were displayed in the Masonic Hall and the Philadelphia Arcade. Adults were charged 25 cents, children 12½ cents. An early advertisement read:

The largest collection of EGYPTIAN MUMMIES ever exhibited in this city, is now to be seen at the Masonic Hall, in the Ches[t]nut Street above Seventh. They were found in the vicinity of Thebes, by the celebrated traveler Antonio Lebolo and Chevalier Drovetti, General Council of France in Egypt. Some writings on Papirus [Papyrus] with the Mummies, can also be seen, and will afford, no doubt, much satisfaction to Amateurs of Antiquities.3

Next on the mummies’ tour was Baltimore, Maryland, from mid-July to mid-August 1833. By this time, however, the eleven mummies had been reduced to six. Two had been sold to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia; another was reported to have been stripped of its wrappings in New York.4 In December 1833, Dr. Samuel George Morton conducted a dissection of the two mummies sold to Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. The following certificate was issued by a group of medical doctors:

Having examined with considerable attention and deep interest, a number of Mummies from the catacombs, near Thebes, in Egypt, and now exhibited in the Arcade, we beg leave to recommend them to the observation of the curious inquirer on subjects of a period so long elapsed; probably not less than three thousand years ago. The features of some of these Mummies are in perfect expression. — The papyrus, covered with black or red ink, or paint, in excellent preservation, are very interesting. The undersigned, unsolicited by any person connected by interest with this exhibition, have voluntarily set their names hereunto, for the simple purpose of calling the attention of the public to an interesting collection, not sufficiently known in this city.


I concur in the above sentiments, concerning the collection of Mummies in the Philadelphia Arcade, and consider them highly deserving the attention of the curious.


The traveling exhibition, featuring the remaining six Lebolo mummies–by now, clearly in Chandler’s possession–continued to Lancaster, then to Harrisburg, and on to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By the end of 1833 and into 1834, the relics were on display in Cincinnati, and in January and February 1834 they were at the Louisville Museum in Kentucky. Before leaving Louisville, Chandler sold two more of the mummies, this time to the Louisville Museum.6

Early the next year, Chandler was in Ohio. In February 1835, his exhibit was in Hudson, and by March had reached Cleveland, some twenty miles north. A description of Chandler’s remaining four mummies appeared in the nearby Painesville, Ohio, Telegraph. There were three female mummies and one male mummy. Rolls of writings were associated with three of them. Of particular interest is the male mummy: “No. 3. — Height 4 ft. 4½. — Male, very old, say 80; arms crossing on the breast, each hand on its opposite shoulder; had a roll of writing as No. 1 & 2; superior head, it will compare in the region of the sentiments with any in our land; passions mild.”7

A Cleveland newspaper–reporting that the mummies were three males and one female–described the writing found in “the arms of the old man” to measure in length “10 or 12 inches, and 3 or 4 [inches] in width.” Continuing, the article said, “The characters are the Egyptian hyeroglyphics; but of what it discourses none can tell.”8 The publication of these two newspapers accounts shows the difficulty in identifying the gender, age, and condition of the four mummies. This problem continued throughout the years by those who examined the mummies.

As the Cleveland newspaper noted, no one in America at this time could provide a reliable English translation of these or any other Egyptian hieroglyphs. Books such as J. G. H. Greppo’s Essay on the Hieroglyphic System of M. Champollion, Jun. (Boston, 1830) contained some rudimentary ideas. Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), a young French scholar, helped to decipher the Rosetta stone, which contained the same text written in hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Classical Greek.9 But at his death, he left his important works on translation to be published posthumously in Paris. His ground-breaking books Grammaire égyptienne [Egyptian Grammar] (1836) and Dictionnaire égyptienne [Egyptian Dictionary] (1841) together with the studies of other scholars led eventually to the successful decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

 Acquiring the Egyptian Papers

On June 30, 1835, Chandler’s tour arrived with its four mummies and rolls of papyri in Kirtland, Ohio, headquarters of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (later Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-44), the twenty-nine-year-old prophet-president of the five-year-old Church, was shown the Egyptian artifacts. According to a promotional flyer Chandler had prepared, the mummies “may have lived in the days of Jacob, Moses, or David” and the papyri with their ancient writing “will be exhibited with the Mummies.”10

Five years earlier, in March 1830, Smith had published the Book of Mormon, an account of the immigration of a Hebrew family to the Americas circa 600 B.C.E., which, according to Smith, had originally been engraved upon golden plates in a language said to be “reformed Egyptian.”11 Having seen Chandler’s relics, Smith was especially interested in the papyri–extant in two rolls and some fragments. He took some of the papyri home and, examining them, believed he knew who had written them. William W. Phelps (1792-1872), a scribe for Smith, reported that the Mormon Prophet considered some of these records to relate to the lives of the legendary Old Testament patriarchs Joseph of Egypt and his forebear Abraham who, according to Genesis, also had lived for a time in Egypt.12 Chandler asserted that he had previously been able to obtain “in a small degree, the translation of a few characters.”

John Whitmer, to whom Smith had dictated some of the Book of Mormon text as well as his subsequent revision of the Bible, recorded that “Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records, which gave an account of our forefathers, even abraham Much of which was written by Joseph of Egypt who was sold by his brethren Which when all translated will be a pleasing history and of great value to the saints.”13

In mid-July 1835, Phelps explained to his wife:

Last evening we received your first letter after an absence of twelve weeks and twelve hours. … Brother Joseph [Smith] remarked that it was as easy to shed tears while reading that letter as it was when reading the History of Joseph in Egypt. …

The last of June [1835] four Egyptian mummies were brought here; there were two papyrus rolls, besides some other ancient Egyptian writings with them. As no one could translate these writings, they were presented to President [Joseph] Smith. He soon knew what they were and said they, the “rolls of papyrus,” contained the sacred record kept of Joseph in Pharaoh’s Court in Egypt, and the teachings of Father Abraham. God has so ordered it that these mummies and writings have been brought in the Church, and the sacred writing I had just locked up in Brother Joseph’s house when your letter came, so I had two consolations of good things in one day. These records of old times, when we translate and print them in a book, will make a good witness for the Book of Mormon. There is nothing secret or hidden that shall not be revealed, and they come to the Saints.14

Smith believed that one of the papyrus rolls contained the writings of Abraham and the other the writings of Joseph. He also showed Chandler some characters on the papyrus he said were similar to the characters found on the Book of Mormon golden plates.15 For these reasons, Smith decided to purchase the relics. Chandler presented the following certificate to Smith before the purchase was made:

Kirtland, July 6th, 1835.

This is to make known to all who may be desirous, concerning the knowledge of Mr. Joseph Smith, jr. in deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic characters, in my possession, which I have, in many eminent cities, shown to the most learned: And, from the information that I could learn, or meet with, I find that [i.e., the translation] of Mr. Joseph Smith, jr. to correspond in the most minute matters.

(Signed) Michael H. Chandler.

Travelling with, and proprietor of Egyptian Mummies.16

Chandler’s asking price for the items was $2,400, a substantial amount considering the expenditures Smith’s church was incurring in constructing the large meetinghouse to be known as the Kirtland House of the Lord, or Kirtland Temple. According to Joseph Coe, arrangements were made to make the purchase before Chandler left Kirtland. Coe said eight years later, in 1844, that Chandler was merely the agent for the real owners of the relics: “Previous t[o] closing the contra[c]t with Chandler I made ar[r]angements with S[imeon]. Andrews for to take one third part and your self [Joseph Smith] & Co. one third leaving one third to be borne by myself. … Chandler was only an agent acting for some men in Philadelphia.”17

As noted, Smith believed the papyri were the records of Joseph and Abraham. Oliver Cowdery (1806-50), another of Smith’s early confidantes, related that the “beautifully written” papyrus, which included writing in red ink, was that of Joseph.18 The more damaged record was of Abraham, father of the Hebrew nation.

An emphasis on priesthood authority was an important topic in the LDS Church in 1835. Smith’s father, Joseph Sr., had been appointed as the Church’s first patriarch by December 1834 to give patriarchal blessings to Church members. Smith wanted to trace the Church’s new office of patriarch back to biblical times. He taught that the patriarchal priesthood “was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made.”19 A listing, including the line of this heavenly authority from Adam to Noah, was reportedly “written in the book of Enoch.”20

In addition, since 1830, Smith had been working on a new “translation” of the King James Version of the Bible. By June 1835, he had edited his revision of Genesis to adjust the ages of some of the Old Testament patriarchs who lived before Noah, and was preparing to “print the New Translation [of the Bible].”21 In fact, on June 21, shortly before Chandler’s arrival, Smith publicly “preached in Kirtland on the evangelical [i.e., patriarchal] order.”20 Given Smith’s interest in priesthood, patriarchs, and the translation of ancient texts, the arrival in Kirtland of Chandler’s traveling exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts was fortuitous.

An “Egyptian Alphabet”

Shortly after acquiring Chandler’s mummies, papyri, and other ancient Egyptian writings, Smith embarked upon preparing an alphabet of the Egyptian characters to help him translate what he believed was the Abraham papyrus. The end result of this so-called “Egyptian Alphabet” is contained in a bound book used by Smith to record his translation and interpretation of Egyptian characters and other symbols. Only thirty-four pages of Smith’s “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1 have writing on them. The majority of the handwritten pages were recorded in July 1835. The original book is preserved today in the archives of the LDS Church.23

Smith worked closely with Cowdery and Phelps on this Alphabet. Smith regularly used scribes to help him write important records. These include the Book of Mormon, his revelations, his revision of the Bible, many of his letters, and his personal journal entries. While Smith’s own handwriting sometimes appears in texts produced by him, the majority of his writings were dictated to and/or recorded by scribes. That a document is not in Smith’s hand does not mean that it was not produced by him. Smith’s translation of the papyri, the “Book of Abraham,” was dictated to scribes.

The “Manuscript History of the Church,” also known also as the “History of Joseph Smith” or History of the Church, contains the following two entries for the month of July 1835:

I [Joseph Smith], with W. W. Phelps and O. Cowdery, as scribes, commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics.24

The remainder of this month, I [Joseph Smith] 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.25

The surviving manuscripts of this Alphabet (see below) contain the Egyptian characters copied by Smith, Cowdery, Phelps, and later in November 1835 by a third scribe, Warren Parrish (1803-77). Some of the characters were copied directly from the original papyrus–from the vignette (or illustration) of what Smith published in 1842 as Facsimile No. 1 of his “Book of Abraham” translation. Smith, Phelps, and Cowdery first worked together on manuscripts 3 to 5. Phelps then recorded Smith’s interpretations for each degree on manuscript 1. Later, Parrish briefly wrote in manuscript 1 for Smith. While Smith’s Alphabet does not provide accurate English translations of the Egyptian characters, it does offer insight into the way Smith approached the papyri prior to dictating the “Book of Abraham” text.26

Joseph Smith’s “Egyptian Alphabet” Manuscripts

Ms. 1: “EGYPTIAN ALPHABET” on outside spine; also labeled at top of 1st to 4th degree “Egyptian Alphabet”; inserted on first page of 5th degree above first line is “Grammar & A[l]phabet of the Egyptian Language”; Egyptian characters with English interpretations; in Phelps’s handwriting, with additional entries by Parrish; bound book with handwriting on 34 pages, 184 blank pages remaining. No date on manuscript, progressive order: 1st to 5th degree. Approximate division: pp. 1-22 (first part) written July 1835; pp. 23-34 (second part) written October-November 1835.

Ms. 3: “Egyptian Alphabet”; in Phelps’s handwriting, with an entry by Parrish; 4 pp., lettered C, D, E, and F. No date, written July, October-November 1835.

Ms. 4: “Egyptian Alphabet” labeled at top of four pages; in Smith’s handwriting, with additions by Cowdery; 5 pp. lettered B, T, U, V, and W (9 leaves). No date, written July, October-November 1835.

Ms. 5: Untitled (but probably “Egyptian Alphabet”); in Cowdery’s handwriting; 4 pp., lettered A, X, I, and unlettered p. 4. No date, written July, October 1835.

Smith and his scribes also produced some additional working papers in conjunction with his “Book of Abraham” project.27 These are:

Other Egyptian Materials in Joseph Smith’s Possession

Ms. 2: “Egyptian Counting”; characters with English interpretations; in Phelps’s handwriting; 2 pp., lettered G and H. No date, written July-November 1835.

Ms. 6: “Valuable Discovery of hid[d]en records that have been obtained form the ancient bur[y]ing place of the Egyptiens [Egyptians] Joseph Smith Jr”; title probably in handwriting of Frederick G. Williams (a fourth scribe), with Smith’s signature; English contents in Cowdery’s handwriting; 4 pp.: title, pp. 1-3 (hieratic characters copied from Amenhotep papyrus, with translation on p. 3), remaining 9 pages blank; small notebook. No date, written July-October 1835.

Ms. 7: Untitled; cover reads “FGW” and “Williams” (for Frederick G. Williams); English contents in Phelps’s handwriting; 3 pp. (pp. 1-3, with remaining 9 pages blank); small notebook. P. 1: “A Translation of the next page” with “in part” added; p. 2 contains hieratic characters copied form Amenhotep papyrus and drawings from other vignettes; p. 3 contains characters also copied, but upside down. No date, written July-November 1835.

Ms. 8: Untitled; hieratic characters copied from what is now known to be the “Book of the Dead” (of Ta-sherit-Min); one page folded.

Ms. 9: Untitled; hieratic characters copied from what is now known to be the “Book of the Dead” (of Ta-sherit-Min); partially copied from Joseph Smith Papyrus IX.

Ms. 10: Untitled; loose pieces of Egyptian papyrus adhered to sheet of paper; same as Joseph Smith Papyrus IX; known as “Church Historian’s Fragment.”

The English text of the majority of the thirty-four-page “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1 clearly reflects Smith’s dictation to Phelps and Parrish. On page 1, there is mention of “In translating this character,” showing that Smith was giving his interpretation. The book is divided into two sections. In the first, the Egyptian characters are interpreted as relating to ancient Egypt. The second section continues the same general topic, but also mentions a type of astronomy said to have been practiced by the Egyptians.

The English “translation” of each Egyptian character is presented according to five “degrees” of interpretation. Each degree represents a level of interpretation. In some cases, the interpretation relates to grammar, such as parts of speech. Below are some examples of how Smith studied the Egyptian characters. First, the characters were copied by his scribe onto the left side of the previously blank page in the record book. Next appears in English the presumed sound of the word-symbol, followed by the English interpretation, appearing at the right. Sometimes a character is dissected into its smaller constituent pen strokes and each stroke is then interpreted. (In the examples cited below, page numbers of Smith’s “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1 are given in parentheses.)

A number of Smith’s interpretations relate to how he believed Abraham’s record had been preserved with an Egyptian mummy since the time of Genesis. Smith believed the records had been hidden in Egypt according to the “tradition of Ham and according to the tradition of their elders: by whom also the art of embalming was kept” (4). Years later, the records were deposited with one the royal Egyptian families, being placed with those embalmed individuals and buried in Egypt, like Joseph, son of Jacob/Israel, who was first buried in Egypt (Gen. 50:26).

That Smith believed the records were preserved among the Egyptians is further referred to in the Alphabet’s 5th Degree. The sound “Kah tou mun” is interpreted to mean: “a lineage with whom a record of the fathers was intrusted [sic] by the tradition of Ham, and according to the tradition of their elders, by whom also the tradition of the art of of [sic] embalming was kept” (4). The sound “Toan tau ee tahee tahes toues” is explained: “Under the Sun; under heaven; downward; pointing downward going downward; stooping down going down into another place, = any place: going down into the grave — going down into misery = even Hell; coming down in lineage by royal descent; in a line by onitas one of the royal families of the Kings of Egypt” (5).

An interpretation from the 3rd Degree for the sound “Zub zool” means, according to Smith, “pointing to the end of a fixed period[.] A road which leads to some particular place for instance: from Chaldea I travelled to dwell in the land of Canaan” (14). Another character sounding “Ho-oop hah” is shown in each of the five degrees to mean:

1st Degree: “Crown of a princess, or unmarried queen” (21).

2nd Degree: “Corwn [Crown] of a married Queen” (17).

3rd Degree: “Crown of a widowed queen” (13).

4th Degree: “Queen who has been married the second time” (9).

5th Degree: “Queen Kah tou mun, a distinction of Royal <female> lineage or descent, from her whom Egypt was discovered while it was under water, who was the daughter of Ham — a lineage with whom a record of the fathers was intrusted [sic] by the tradition of Ham and according to the tradition of their elders: by whom also the tradition of the art of embalming was kept” (3-4).28

Smith did not work every day on the Egyptian records. In fact, except for the later additions by Parrish, and because of the small number of pages of the four Alphabet manuscripts (Mss. 1, 3-5), one concludes that only a short time period was involved. The first part of each of the five degrees on all of these documents was recorded in July 1835 prior to and in connection with the bound “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1.

Even before September 1835, work on the “Egyptian Alphabet” had come to a standstill. Phelps wrote to his wife, Sally, on September 11: “Nothing has been doing in translation of the Egyptian Record for a long time, and probably will not for some time to come.”29 Smith’s personal journal for 1835 begins on September 22. The first entry was recorded by Cowdery; entries for the next two days were written by Smith himself. Cowdery started recording again on September 25. On October 1, Cowdery wrote: “This after noon labored on the Egyptian alphabet, in company with brsr [brothers] O. Cowdery and W. W. Phelps: The System of astronomy was unfolded.”30 This “unfolding” is contained in the second part of the Alphabet. The last symbols in each of the five degrees contain Smith’s description of the system of ancient Egyptian astronomy, including the relationship between the Earth, moon, sun, and fixed stars or planets.

For example, the symbol (meaning the Earth) is given the sound “Jah-oh-eh.” The beginning of its explanation according to the 5th Degree includes these words: “The earth under the governing <powers> of oliblish, Enish go on dosh, and Kai-e van rash, which are the grand governing Key or in other words, the governing power, which governs the fifteen fixed stars … that belong governs the earth, sun & moon, (which have their power <in> one) with the other twelve moving planets of this system (24).”

This “System of astronomy” is what Phelps recorded in the “Egyptian Alphabet” on October 1, 1835, under Smith’s dictation. Six days later, on October 7, Frederick Williams (1787-1842) wrote: “this afternoon recommenced translating th[e] ancient reccords.”31 This was Smith’s first opportunity to return to work on the “Egyptian Alphabet” and related pages since the afternoon of October 1.

One scholar has suggested that Smith’s diary entry for October 1 “provides a date for the progress achieved to that point in the translation of the Book of Abraham, a point further along in the Book of Abraham than was ever published.”32 In fact, what we find is that “Egyptian Alphabet” Mss. 3-5 contain characters and symbols recorded on each document. Cowdery and Phelps were clearly working closely with Smith. Phelps then records the fuller explanation of astronomy onto the pages of the bound “Egyptian Alphabet” volume (Ms. 1).

The following comparison indicates the close relationship between Ms. 3 (written by Phelps) and the final recording (also by Phelps) on October 1, 1835, as the system of astronomy was unfolded to Smith. The Egyptian-like symbol in this case is nowhere found on the original papyrus, now labeled as Joseph Smith Papyri I (hereafter JSP followed by Roman numeral[s]).33 The example that follows shows that Phelps wrote “Moh nit tish” on both Mss. 3 and 1, then crossed it out on both and subsequently added “Flo-ees” with the interpretation expanded according to the five degrees in Ms. 1.

Ms. 3 (Phelps scribe): Moh nit tish Flo-ees
“Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1
1st Degree, 2nd part:
Moh nit tish Flo ees: The moon in its affinity with the sun, and the earth (34)
2nd Degree: Flo-ees The moon, signifying that which borroweth light, lendeth light, it being the lesser light (31)
3rd Degree: Flo-ees: The moon — signifying its revolutions, also going between, thereby forming an eclipse (30)
4th Degree: Flo-ees. The moon in its revolutions with earth, showing or signifying the earth going between, thereby forming an eclipse (27)
5th Degree: Flo-ees The moon, the earth and the sun in their annual revolutions (25)

Parrish was not appointed to assist Smith until October 29, 1835. Cowdery had left Kirtland and returned on November 20, being gone about two weeks, and brought with him some Hebrew, Greek, and English books. There is no record that Smith did any additional work on the Alphabet from October 8 to October 31. A revelation to Smith given on November 14, 1835, mentions Parrish’s calling as a scribe, and states, in part:

behold it shall come to pass in his day that he shall see much of my ancient records, and shall know of hid[d]en things, and shall be endowed with a knowledge of hid[d]en languages, and if he desires and shall seek it at my hand, he shall be privileged with writing much of my word, as a scribe unto me for the benefit of my people, therefore this shall be his calling until I shall order it otherwise, in my wisdom and it shall be said of him in a time to come, behold Warren the Lord[‘]s Scribe, for the Lord[‘]s Seer whom he hath appointed in Israel34

According to this revelation, Parrish should see “my ancient records.” The revelation documents Parrish’s call in connection with the Egyptian records. Later, Parrish records on the topic of astronomy, for example, adding the word “Kolob” to Ms. 3. His handwriting also appears on the final pages in the second part of the each of the five degrees in Ms. 1, bringing to a close the written explanations in the bound book.

As an additional scribe to Smith, Parrish also recorded entries in Smith’s journal. Parrish wrote entries for part of October 1835, for all of November 1835 (except for part of a letter copied in the journal by Frederick Williams under the entry of November 16), and for all of December 1-18, 1835. Smith attended the School of the Prophets (a kind of adult education for male LDS Church members) from November 2 to November 13, 1835. A revelation given on November 8 states that Phelps and John Whitmer, editor of the Messenger and Advocate, were “under condemnation before the Lord”35 (the condemnation lasted only a short time). On November 17, Smith “ex[h]ibited <the Alphabet> of the ancient records to Mr. [Erastus] Holmes and some others.”36 All indications are that Smith’s scribes–Phelps, Cowdery, Williams, and Parrish–took dictation as they worked closely with him on the Egyptian papers project.

The “Book of Abraham”

The next entries in Smith’s personal journal record the work done on translating the text of Abraham papyrus, or “Book of Abraham,” during four days in the second half of November 1835.

[November 19:] I returned home and spent the day in translating the Egyptian records

[November 20:] we spent the day in translating, and made rapid progress

[November 24:] in the after-noon, we translated some of the Egyptian records

[November 25:] Spent the day in Translating37

The story, according to Smith, concerns Abram (or Abraham). Abram’s father is an idolater. A priest binds Abram and attempts to have him serve as a human sacrifice. Abram is rescued by an angel. The King (Pharaoh) of Egypt is descended from Ham and has Canaanite blood. All Egyptians come from this Canaanite lineage. The story of the discovery of Egypt by Zeptah (or Egyptus) is told, and a brief explanation of the government of Egypt is provided. The rights of the priesthood–the patriarchal lineage–are explained as coming from Noah. These same elements figure prominently in Smith’s “Book of Abraham” translation (Abr. 1:26-27).

In either October or November 1835, Smith dictated to Phelps the opening sentences of what Smith would publish less than seven years later as the “Book of Abraham”:

Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the Catacombs of Egypt

In the land of the Chaldeans, at the residence of my fathers, I, Abraham, saw, that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence, and seeing there was greater happiness and peace and rest, for me, I sought for [the] blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same: Having been a follower of righteousness; desiring to be one who possessed great Knowledge; a greater follower of righteousness; <a possessor of greater knowledge;> a father of many nations; a prince of peace; one who keeps the commandments of God; a rightful heir; a high priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers, from the beginning of time; even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time; even the right of the first born, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through <the> fathers, unto me.38

Smith’s dictation is found in the three Translation Manuscripts of the “Book of Abraham” (Translation Mss. 1-3, below). The scribes for Smith were Phelps, Parrish, and Williams. A point of interest is that by comparing the three manuscripts, one concludes that Parrish and Williams wrote simultaneously as Smith dictated. At the top of each translation manuscript are the words “Sign of the fifth degree of the second part,” clearly indicating a connection to the “Egyptian Alphabet.” After taking dictation from Smith, Parrish transferred his text from Translation Ms. 3 to Translation Ms. 1 beginning on page 1 (below some text recorded by Phelps) and continuing to page 7. After this text was transferred, Smith continued to dictate to Parrish the remainder of pages 7 to 10 (of Translation Ms. 1). These pages have words crossed through and occasionally words added above the line, indicating that Parrish was taking dictation again directly from Smith. Smith believed the writings he was “translating” had been written by Abraham (see Abr. 1:1, 12, 14, 28, 31).

To the left of the original of the Egyptian papyrus illustration subsequently published as “Book of Abraham” Facsimile No. 1 (1842) is writing in two columns (JSP XI, see below). Copies of the Egyptian characters in the first column nearest the illustration appear on all three of Smith’s Translation Manuscripts. They come from the first three lines of the Egyptian text. There is an exception, however; where there is a lacuna (gap or break) in the original, there were no characters available to copy. To rectify this, restorations were drawn by Smith or his scribes to fill in the missing area.39 Smith believed that line 1 of the original Egyptian papyrus was the commencement of the “Book of Abraham” text.

Joseph Smith’s “Book of Abraham” Translation Manuscripts, 1835

Translation Ms. 1: “Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the Catacombs of Egypt”; English text of Abraham 1:1-2:18; in Phelps’s and Parrish’s handwriting. No date, written October-November 1835. 10 pp. grouped as follows:

1. First half of p. 1 recorded from dictation by Smith to Phelps.
2. Second half of p. 1 copied from Ms. 3 (below) by Parrish.
3. P. 2 to part of p. 7 mostly copied by Parrish from Ms. 3 (below).
4. Part of p. 7 to p. 10 recorded from dictation by Smith to Parrish.

The above pages have Egyptian characters and proposed “restored” symbols in left-hand margins. Source of Egyptian characters for JSP XI, column 1, lines 1, 2, 3, and part of 4. Column 1 immediately adjoins left-hand side of original of Facsimile No. 1 and is part of same papyrus roll.

Translation Ms. 2: English text of Abraham 1:4 to 2:6 (2:3-5 repeated); in Williams’s handwriting; 4 pp., lettered J, K, L, and M; recorded from dictation by Smith at the same time as Ms. 3 (below) was recorded. “Sign of the fifth degree of the second part” with Egyptian characters and proposed “restorations” in left-hand margin. No date, written November 1835. Source of Egyptian characters in JSP XI, column 1, lines 1 and 2.

Translation Ms. 3: English text of Abraham 1:4 to 2:2; in Parrish’s handwriting; 6 pp., lettered S, R, W, P, N, and O; recorded from dictation by Smith at the same time as Ms. 2 (above) was recorded; copied into Ms. 1 (above) by Parrish. “Sign of the fifth degree of the second part” with Egyptian characters and proposed “restored” symbols in left-hand margin. No date, written November 1835. Source of Egyptian characters: JSP XI, column 1, lines 1 and 2.

Printer’s and Other “Book of Abraham” Manuscripts, 1842

Printer’s Ms. 4: Abraham 1:1-9, 12-31, 2:1-18; no date, transcribed ca. February 1842; Abraham 3:18-26; transcribed March 1842; in Willard Richards’s handwriting; 16 pp., one of which (i.e., p. 4) is presently missing.

“A Fac-Similee [sic] from the Book of Abraham — Explanation of the <above> cut”: twelve explanations of Facsimile No. 1 in Richards’s handwriting; 1 p.; no date, transcribed February 1842.

“Cut 2”: 21 explanations of Facsimile No. 2 of “Book of Abraham” (Fig. 20 skipped); in Richards’s handwriting; 3 pp.; no date, transcribed March 1842.

Drawing of damaged original of Facsimile No. 2 (hypocephalus, to be placed under the head of the deceased).

From the entries of November 19-20 and 24-25, 1835, in Smith’s personal journal, recorded by Parrish, it appears that Smith on these days dictated the final text of what is now Abraham 1:1 through Abraham 2:18. Parrish was the last scribe to have recorded in “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1 and in Translation Ms. 1, which ends at what is now Abraham 2:18.

On November 26, Parrish recorded in Smith’s diary: “we spent the day in transcribing Egyptian characters from the papyrus.”40 This entry only mentions copying characters, not “translating.” Smith and Parrish were both battling colds, and no work was done in connection with the “Book of Abraham” translation on November 27. Smith’s journal entry for November 28 reads, “I am conciderably [considerably] recovered from my cold, & I think I shall be able in a few days to translate again, with the blessings of God.”41 In fact, Smith did not immediately return to his work on the “Book of Abraham,” though he did continue to speak about the project.

A year later, on November 25, 1836, returning to Kirtland from a proselytizing mission, Wilford Woodruff and missionary companion Abram O. Smoot went to the House of the Lord (Kirtland temple), accompanied by Warren Parrish, to view the Egyptian records and mummies. Woodruff, later ordained an LDS Church apostle, subsequently wrote in his journal: “visited the upper rooms & there viewed four Egyptian Mum[m]ies & also the Book of Abram [Abraham] Written by his own hand & not ownly [only] hieroglyphicks [sic] but also many figures that this precious treasure Contains are Calculated to make a lasting impression upon the mind which is not to be erased.”42 Smoot recorded in his personal journal for the same day: “we had the privilege of beholding the great wonders of Egypt, the mummies that were taken from the Calicomes [Catacombs] in Egypt; these were the greatest wonders I ever saw. I had also a view of the records that came with them, the Book of Abraham which was written by his own hand in Hyrogliphics [sic].”43

Non-Mormon William S. West of Braceville, Ohio, came to Kirtland to learn firsthand about the Latter-day Saints. After paying twenty-five cents to see the temple, including the Egyptian mummies and records, he returned to examine the objects again the next day. He later reported:

They say that the mummies were Egyptian, but the records are those of Abraham and Joseph … These records were torn by being taken from the roll of embalming salve which contained them, and some parts entirely lost, but Smith is to translate the whole by divine inspiration, and that which is lost, like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, can be interpreted as well as that which is preserved; and a larger volume than the Bible will be required to contain them. … Is it possible that a record written by Abraham, and another by Joseph, containing the most important revelation that God ever gave to man, should be entirely lost by the tenacious Israelites, and preserved by the unbelieving Egyptians, and by them embalmed and deposited in the catacombs with an Egyptian priest[?] … I venture to say no, it is not possible. It is more likely that the records are those of the Egyptians.44

Of his experience as a scribe for the “Book of Abraham,” Parrish recalled not quite three years later: “I have set [sic] by his [Joseph Smith’s] side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks [sic] as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration from Heaven.”45 Parrish’s statement indicates that he, and presumably the other scribes, sat alongside Smith as he interpreted and dictated the Egyptian characters.

The following chart chronicles the work done on the “Egyptian Alphabet” and on the “Book of Abraham,” as well as Smith’s occasional exhibitions of his Egyptian relics and study of biblical Hebrew, during the second half of 1835, into 1836, and finally the publication of Smith’s “Book of Abraham” in early 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois. (A more detailed account of 1842’s activities is given farther below.)

A Time-Line of Joseph Smith’s Involvement with the Egyptian Papers


June 30 Michael H. Chandler arrives in Kirtland, Ohio, with four Egyptian mummies and some papyri. Smith examines the papyri and determines they include the writings of biblical patriarchs Abraham and Joseph.
July 6 Chandler gives Smith a certificate relating to his knowledge of the writings. Shortly afterwards, the mummies and papyri are purchased from Chandler.
July 7-31 Smith, Cowdery, and Phelps work on “Egyptian Alphabet.”
August No known work on the Egyptian papers.
September No known work on the Egyptian papers.
October 1 Smith, Cowdery, and Phelps work on the astronomy portion of the “Egyptian Alphabet”; “The System of astronomy was unfolded.”
October 3, 19, 24, 29 Smith exhibits the Egyptian artifacts, and offers explanations of their meaning.
October 7 Smith, and presumably Phelps, recommences translating the ancient Egyptian records.
October 29 Parrish starts writing for Smith.
November 14 Revelation for Parrish to be a scribe.
November 17, 23, 30 Smith exhibits the Egyptian artifacts, and offers explanations of their meaning.
November 19, 20, 24, 25, 26 Smith spends most of each day “translating,” and on the 26 “transcribing” the Egyptian records.
November 20, 21, 23, 27 Cowdery returns from New York with books. Smith studies Hebrew.
December 4-5, 7-8, 14, 26, 30 Smith studies Hebrew.
December 7, 10, 12, 14-16, 20, 23 Smith exhibits the Egyptian artifacts, and offers explanations of their meaning.
December 23 Smith studies Greek.


January 12, 30 Smith exhibits the Egyptian artifacts.
January 4-6, 8-9, 14, 18-21 Smith attends Hebrew school. There is no teacher.
January 26 Joshua Seixas of Hudson, Ohio, arrives in Kirtland to teach Hebrew.
February 3, 11, 16 Smith exhibits the Egyptian records.
March 29 Last day of Hebrew school taught by Seixas.
March 27 Dedication of the Kirtland temple.


February 19 The first installment of “Book of Abraham” is typeset for publication in the Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Illinois).
February 23 Smith gives engraver Reuben Hedlock instructions to make a cut (or engraving) “for the altar & Gods in the Records of Abraham” for the Times and Seasons.
February 24 Smith explains the records of Abraham.
March 1 This issue of the Times and Seasons prints Abraham 1:1-2:18, plus Fascimile No. 1.
March 2 Smith proofs the Times and Seasons (issue dated March 1); issue is mailed ca. March 4.
March 4 Smith exhibits the original papyrus to Hedlock for several illustrations, and gives instructions for engraving Facsimile No. 2.
March 8 Smith commences translating for next issue of the Times and Seasons.
March 9 Smith continues translating “Book of Abraham.”
March 15 This issue of the Times and Seasons prints Abraham 2:19-5:21, plus Facsimile No. 2. The issue is mailed ca. March 19.
May 16 This issue of the Times and Seasons prints Facsimile No. 3.

In summary, Joseph Smith’s Egyptian papers project began about July 7 and ended on November 26, 1835, then resumed again with preparations for publication, and the actual publication, of the text and engraved facsimiles of the “Book of Abraham” from February 19 to May 16, 1842. Smith dictated most of the text from “Book of Abraham” chapter 1 through chapter 2, verse 18, in about three and a half days. W. W. Phelps’s work as scribe on Translation Ms. 1 may have extended into November 1835. Frederick G. Williams’s work occurred about November 19-20, 1835; and Warren Parrish’s on November 19-20 and 24-26, 1835. Six years later, with the help of Wilford Woodruff, another scribe (Willard Richards), and an engraver (Reuben Hedlock), Smith’s “Book of Abraham” text and explanations of three facsimiles (of illustrations from the papyri) were published in the Times and Seasons (see below).

The “Egyptian Alphabet,” Genesis, and the “Book of Abraham”

The “Book of Abraham” text contains ideas that clearly depend upon material found in “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1. In the examples below are some of the ideas and wording that were first interpreted in the Alphabet and subsequently incorporated into the text of the “Book of Abraham.” This is especially evident where there is new information regarding Abraham. Included in the Alphabet are some Egyptian-like characters nowhere found on the papyri. The English explanations in the “Book of Abraham” are found in their fullest context in the Alphabet’s 5th Degree. For example, in Abraham chapter 1, the name “Abraham” comes from a character in the Alphabet having the sound “Ah broam” or “Ah brah-oam” which is interpreted through the Alphabet’s five degrees to mean:

1st Degree: “The Father of the faithful. The first right — The elder” (20)

2nd Degree: “a follower of righteousness” (16)

3rd Degree: “one who possesses great knowle[d]ge” (13)

4th Degree: “a follower of righteousness a possessor of greater knowledge” (9)

5th Degree: “a father of many nations a prince of peace, one who keeps the commandments of God. A patriarch a rightful heir, a high priest” (2)46

The corresponding “Book of Abraham” text (1:2) reads:

having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I [Abraham] became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.47

According to the “Egyptian Alphabet,” another character has the sound “Iota toues-Zip Zi.” This character described how the land of Egypt was discovered:

1st Degree: “The land of Egypt” (21)

2nd Degree: “The land which was discovered under water by a woman” (18)

3rd Degree: “The woman sought to settle her sons in that land. She being the daughter of Ham” (14)

4th Degree: “The land of Egypt discovered by a woman who afterwards sett[l]ed her sons in it.” (10)

5th Degree: “The land of Egypt which was first discovered by a woman <whter [while?] under water>, and afterwards settled by her sons she being a daughter of Ham” (5)

The corresponding “Book of Abraham” text (1:23-24) reads:

The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham … When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.48

For another character, having the sound “Zub Zool eh,” the Alphabet’s 5th Degree explains:

In the days of the first patr[i]archs In the reign of Adam; in the days of the first patriarchs; in the days of Noah; in the blessings of Noah; in the blessings of the children of Noah; in the first blessings of men; in the first blessings of the church. (6)

The corresponding “Book of Abraham” text (1:26) agrees:

in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his [Ham’s] father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.

While the meaning of this passage may not be entirely clear, the theme had already been developed in the “Egyptian Alphabet”: Shem obtained the priestly blessings (that is, the right to the patriarchal priesthood) from his father, Noah. Smith’s Alphabet interpreted the character with the sound “Ho-e-oop” in the 5th Degree to mean: “A prince of the royal blood, a true des[c]endant from Ham, the son of Noah, and inheritor of the Kingly blessings from under the hand of Noah, but not according to the priestly blessing, because of the tran[s]gressions of Ham, which blessings fell upon Shem from under the hand of Noah (4).”49

From the “Egyptian Alphabet,” Smith proceeded to explore other topics also found in the “Book of Abraham” text. Thus, Abraham 1:26 is more understandable when compared to what Smith dictated to Phelps regarding the blessing and cursing of Ham who could not officiate in the patriarchal priesthood.50

While dictating “Book of Abraham” chapter 2, Smith used the King James Version of Genesis as a guide. In fact, the actual wording of Smith’s “translation” relies heavily on Genesis in forming part of the text. Smith believed that Genesis had been written by Moses after the time of Abraham. (It may be of some interest that the wording from Genesis begins where Smith left off editing Genesis 11:16 in his Bible revision.)51 The “Book of Abraham” account is represented as being a first-person autobiographical record. The name “Abraham” was spelled “Abram” in a number of places when Smith’s “translation” was first published in the Times and Seasons (1842), but currently appears as “Abraham” in the 1981 text (published by the LDS Church) below.52 It seems clear that Smith had the Bible open to Genesis as he dictated this section of the “Book of Abraham.” Smith’s additions to the Genesis account are shown in bold (except for the name Abraham and some other minor variations).53

Abraham 2:1-2:Now the Lord God caused the famine to wax sore in the land of Ur, insomuch thatHaran, my brother, died; but Terah, my father, yet livedinthe land of Ur, of the Chaldees.And it came to pass that I, Abraham, took Sarai to wife, and Nahor, my brother, took Milcah to wife, who was the daughter of Haran. Genesis 11:28-29:And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
Abraham 2:3:Now the Lord had said unto me: Abraham, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee. Genesis 12:1:Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
Abraham 2:9:And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations; Genesis 12:2:And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
Abraham 2:11:And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal. Genesis 12:3:And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Abraham 2:14-15, 18:So I, Abraham, departed as the Lord had said unto me, and Lot with me; and I, Abraham, was sixty and twoyears old when Ideparted out of Haran.And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldea, and Lot, my brother’s son, and all our substance that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents as we came on our wayAnd then we passed from Jershon through the land unto the place of Sechem; it was situated in the plains of Moreh, and we had already come into the borders of the land of the Canaanites, and I offered sacrifice there in the plains of Moreh, and called on the Lord devoutly, because we had already come into the land of this idolatrous nation. Genesis 12:4-6:So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.

The “Book of Abraham” next includes what was dictated by Smith in March 1842 and continues its narration of what took place prior to Abraham’s going to Egypt. This explains why the corresponding text from Genesis stops before the first mention of Pharaoh (Gen. 12:15).

Abraham 2:19-25:And the Lord appeared unto me in answer to my prayers, and said unto me: Unto thy seed will I give this land.And I, Abraham, arose from the place of the altar which I had built unto the Lord, and removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched my tent there, Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east; and there I built another altar unto the Lord, and called againupon the name of the Lord.And I, Abraham, journeyed, going on still towards the south; and there was a continuation of a famine in the land; and I, Abraham, concluded to go down into Egypt, to sojourn there, for the famine became verygrievious.And it came to pass when I was come near to enter into Egypt, the Lord said unto me: Behold, Sarai, thy wife, is a veryfair woman to look upon;Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see her, they will say–She is his wife; and they will kill you, but they will save her alive; therefore see that ye do on this wise: Genesis 12:7-13:And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was greivous in the land.And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon;Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
Let her say unto the Egyptians, she is thy sister, and thysoul shall live.And it came to pass that I, Abraham, told Sarai, my wife, all that the Lord had said unto me–Therefore say unto them, I pray thee, thou art my sister, that it may be well with me for thy sake, and my soul shall live because of thee. Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.

Abraham next mentions the stars, the moon (lesser light), and the sun (greater light). He also describes spirits that are intelligent, have no beginning and no end, and were organized before the formation of the Earth, which was created from already existing materials. He explains that a great star named Kolob is nearest the throne of God. According to Abraham, a day to the Lord is a thousand years (3:4; compare Ps. 90:4 and 2 Pet. 3:8), while the time of the moon is longer than that of the Earth (Abr. 3:7).

In the text of the “Book of Abraham” dictated in Nauvoo, Smith followed very closely the transliteration pattern given on page 6 of a Hebrew grammar book used in Kirtland in 1836. The following are the Hebrew words Smith used: kokob for a star (Abr 3:13), kokaubeam for stars (Abr. 3:13, 16), and gnolaum for eternal (3:18). When Smith worked on the explanations of Facsimiles 1 and 2, he used some additional Hebrew words: raukeeyang for expanse or firmament (Fac. 1, Fig. 12; Fac. 2, Fig. 4), shaumahyeem for heavens (Fac. 1, Fig. 12), and hah-ko-kau-beam for the stars (Fac. 2, Fig. 5).54 This indicates that Abraham chapter 3 and Smith’s explanations were written after Translations Mss. 1-3.

In addition, the basic narrative in Abraham chapters 4-5 concerning the creation of the Earth draws upon Genesis chapters 1-2. Note in the Abraham text the use of the plural form of God. The author of the Kirtland Hebrew grammar would probably not have agreed with Smith’s interpretation of Genesis as including a plurality of gods.

While incarcerated in Liberty Jail, Clay County, Missouri, in 1838-39, Smith gave instructions to the Church that included a shift from a belief in monotheism (one god) to polytheism (many gods). God, explained Smith, would reveal knowledge not previously revealed. There would be “a time to come in the which nothing shall be with held whither [whether] there be one god or many gods they shall be manifest all thrones and dominions, principalities and powers shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have indured [endured] valiently [valiantly] for the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Smith told the Church in 1839:

if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas or to the dry land or to the sun, moon or starrs [stars] all the times of their revolutions all their appointed days, month[s] and years and all the Days of their days, months and years, and all their glories, laws and set times shall be reveal[e]d in the days of the dispensation of the fullness of times according to that which was ordained in the midst of the councyl [council] of the eternal God of all other Gods before this world was.55

Later, a year prior to recommencing his work on the “Book of Abraham,” Smith made use of his study of Hebrew in sermons he delivered in Nauvoo. On March 9, 1841, he said:

This earth was organized or formed out of other planets which were broke up and remodelled [remodeled] and made into the one on which we live. … The sun has no beginning or end, the rays which proceed from himself have no bounds, consequently are eternal. … In the translation, “without form and void” it should read “empty and desolate.” The word “created” should be formed or organized.56

In revising the text of Genesis in 1830, Smith had retained the wording: “the earth was without form and void” (Moses 2:2). But in 1842, his new teaching about the formation of the Earth was incorporated in the “Book of Abraham.” What Smith brought to Abraham was a developed understanding of Genesis based on his study of Hebrew in 1836.

On May 4-5, 1842, Smith introduced the temple endowment ceremony to the founding members of his Quorum of the Anointed. Smith’s new ceremony included an account of the council of the creation gods. The next month, June 1842, Smith told Rev. George Moore: “We believe in three Gods, equal in power and glory. There are three persons in heaven, but those three are not one.”57 When the endowment was later fully administered in the Nauvoo temple, the names of the three gods involved in the planning and organization of the Earth were identified as Eloheem [Elohim], Jehovah, and Michael.58

When revising the Bible in June 1830, Smith had reported that God (singular) was the Creator.59 While the teaching of one god is found in the Book of Mormon (1829-30), by the time Smith worked on the last chapters of the “Book of Abraham” twelve years later in early March 1842, he had come to accept polytheism.60 There are forty-eight references to the plurality of gods in Abraham chapters 4-5. (Again, bold type signals Smith’s additions to the Genesis account.)


Abraham 4:1-31:And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning, and they, that is the Gods, organized and formed the heavens and the earth.And the earth, after it was formed, was empty and desolate, because they had not formed anything but the earth; and darkness reigned upon the face of the deep, and the Spirit of the Gods was broodingupon the face of the waters.And they (the Gods)said: Let there be light; and there was light.And they (the Gods) comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided, from the darkness.And the Gods called the light Day, and the darkness they called Night. And it came to pass that from the evening until morning they called night; and from the morning until the evening they called day; and this was the first, or the beginning, of that which they called day andnight.And the Gods also said: Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and it shalldivide the waters from the waters.And the Gods ordered the expanse, so that it divided the waters which were under the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so, even as they ordered.And the Gods called the expanse, Heaven. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and this was the second time that they called night and day.And the Gods ordered, saying: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the earth come up dry; and it was so as they ordered;And the Gods pronounced the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, pronounced they, Great Waters; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed.And the Gods said: Let us prepare the earth to bring forth grass; the herb yielding seed; the fruit tree yielding fruit, after his kind, whose seed in itself yieldeth its own likeness upon the earth; and it was so, even as they ordered.And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth grass from its own seed, and the herb to bring forth herb from its own seed, yielding seed after his kind; and the earth to bring forth the tree from its own seed, yielding fruit, whose seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind; and the Gods saw that they were obeyed.And it came to pass that they numbered the days; from the evening until the morning they called night; and it came to pass, from the morning until the evening they called day; and it was the third time.And the Gods organized the lights in the expanse of the heaven, and caused them to divide the day from the night; and organized them to be for signs and for seasons, and for days and foryears;And organized them to be for lights in the expanseof the heaven to give light upon the earth; and it was so.And the Gods organized the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; with the lesser light they setthe stars also;And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause todivide the light from the darkness.And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time.And the Gods said: Let us prepare the waters to bring forth abundantly the moving creatures that have life; and the fowl, that they may fly above the earth in the open expanse of heaven.And the Gods prepared the waters that they might bring forth great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters were to bring forth abundantly after their kind; and every winged fowl after their kind. And the Gods saw that they would be obeyed, and that their plan was good.

And the Gods said: We will bless them, and cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas or great waters; and cause the fowl to multiply in the earth.

And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and it was the fifth time.

And the Gods prepared the earth to bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind; and it was so, as they had said.

And the Gods organized the earth to bring forth the beasts after their kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after its kind; and the Gods saw they would obey.

And the Gods took counsel among themselves and said: Let us go down and form man in our image, after our likeness; and we will give them dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.

And the Gods said: We will bless them. And the Gods said: We will cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

And the Gods said: Behold, we will give them every herb bearing seed that shall come upon the face of all the earth, and every tree which shall have fruit upon it; yea, the fruit of the tree yielding seed to them we will give it; it shall be for their meat.

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, behold, we will give them life, and also we will give to them every green herb for meat, and all these things shall be thus organized.

And the Gods said: We will do everything that we have said, and organize them; and behold, they shall be very obedient. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning they called night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that they called day; and they numbered the sixth time.

Genesis 1:1-31:In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.And the evening and the morning were the third day.And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the dearth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Abraham 5:1-7:And thus we willfinish the heavens and the earth, and all the hosts of them.And the Gods said among themselves: On the seventh time we will end our work, which we have counseled; and we will rest on the seventh time from all our work which we have counseled.And the Gods concluded upon the seventh time, because that on the seventh time they would rest from all their works which they (the Gods) counseled among themselves to form; and sanctified it. And thus were their decisions at the time that they counseled among themselves to form the heavens and the earth. And the Gods came down and formed these the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were formed in the day that the Gods formedthe earth and the heavens,According to all that which they had said concerning every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew; for the Gods had not caused it to rain upon the earth when they counseled to do them, and had not formeda man to till the ground.But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.And the Gods formed man from the dust of the ground, and took his spirit (that is, the man’s spirit), and put it into him; and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. Genesis 2:1-7:Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Abraham 5:8-10:And the Gods planted a garden, eastward in Eden, and there they put the man, whose spirit they had put into the body which theyhad formed.And out of the ground made the Godsto grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; the tree of life, also, in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.There was a river running out of Eden, to water the garden, and from thence it was parted and became into four heads. Genesis 2:8-14:And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone.And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates.


Smith probably decided not to include Genesis 2:11-14, which named the four rivers flowing out of Eden (and which he retained in his 1830 revision of Genesis),61 in the “Book of Abraham” because he now believed that Adam had lived in what is now the state of Missouri.62 On July 8, 1838, Smith received a revelation that contained the following question: “Is there not room enough upon the mountains of Adam Ondi Awmen [Ahman], and upon the plains of Olah[a] Shinehah, or in the land where Adam dwelt.”63

In a new settlement named Adam-ondi-Ahman (shortened to Diahman), LDS Church members later recalled, Smith discovered what was believed to be the remains of an altar on which Adam offered sacrifices.64 The name Adam-ondi-Ahman was used prior to 1838 as the place of Adam’s residence. It was used in Kirtland; and a hymn composed by W. W. Phelps bore the same title. This may explain why the names of the rivers were omitted in preference to the new location revealed in 1838.

Abraham 5:11-14:And the Gods took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it.And the Gods commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat,But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the time that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die. Now I, Abraham, saw that it was after the Lord’s time, which was after the time of Kolob; for as yet the Gods had not appointed unto Adam his reckoning.And the Gods said: Let us make an help meet for the man, for it is not good that the man should be alone, therefore we will form an help meet for him. Genesis 2:15-18:And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

The text of Abraham now follows Genesis in wording except for the substitution of “Gods” instead of “Lord God.” Besides two verses from Genesis 2 being rearranged (verses 19-20), the text of the “Book of Abraham” follows Genesis closely.

Abraham 5:15-21:
And the Gods caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and they took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in thestead thereof;And of the rib which the Gods had taken from man, formed theya woman, and brought her unto the man.And Adam said: This was bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; now she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man;Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.And out of the ground the Gods formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof.And Adam gave names to all cattle, to the fowl of the air, to every beast of the field; and for Adam, there was found an help meet for him.
Genesis 2:21-25, 19-20:
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.

The Abraham revision of Genesis 2 concludes at the last verse of chapter 5. In all, nearly half of the “Book of Abraham” clearly reflects a dependency upon the King James Version of Genesis. As David P. Wright, a professor of the Bible and Ancient Near East at Brandeis University, observed of Smith’s “translations”: “in all his work there is a consistency in approach and method: he is not working in any of them with ancient languages (except for the bit of Hebrew in Abraham) and in all of them there is attention (to a greater or lesser degree) to revising or responding to the KJV.”65

An Earlier Attempt at an Alphabet

When dictating the text of the Book of Mormon (1828-29), Joseph Smith reportedly transcribed an alphabet he said was found on one of the Book of Mormon golden plates. The characters were to be shown to those who professed knowledge in languages other than English. Lucy Mack Smith (1775-1856), Smith’s mother, recalled in her history (dictated in 1844-45) the following concerning the year 1827:

It soon became necessary to take some measures to accomplish the translation of the record [the Book of Mormon] into English but he [Joseph Smith] was instructed to take off a fac simile of the alphabet Egyptian characters <composing the alphabet which were called reformed egyptian> Alphabetically and send them to all the learned men that he could find and ask them for the translation of the same.66

Lucy continued her narrative concerning the Book of Mormon’s “reformed Egyptian” alphabet:

Joseph started [in] Dec[ember]. [1827] for Penn[sylvania] it was agreed that Martin Har[r]is [another early scribe] should follow him as soon as he <Joseph> should have sufficient time to transcribe the Egyptian alphabet which Mr. Harris was to take to the east and through the country in every direction to all who professed linguists to give them an opertunity [opportunity] of showing their talents67

Lucy added in comments to LDS Church members in October 1845 that she had been called “upon by Joseph to go & tell Martin Harris & family that he [Joseph Smith] had got the Plates & he wanted him [Martin] to take an a[l]phabet of the Characters & carry them to the learned men to decypher [decipher].”68

Smith’s father understood that the last engraved golden plate of the Book of Mormon contained an alphabet. As he explained to Fayette Lapham about 1830: “The remaining pages [of the golden plates] were closely written over in characters of some unknown tongue, the last containing the alphabet of this unknown language.”69

One of the learned persons whom Martin Harris visited in 1828 with the transcribed characters was Professor Charles Anthon (1797-1867) of Columbia College in New York City. In two letters, Anthon wrote that the sheet of paper looked to him as though the characters came from various alphabets. The first extract is from an 1834 letter, the second from an 1841 letter:

This paper … consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets.70

… the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetic characters, and had in my opinion no meaning at all connected with them. 71

The above references indicate that one of the first things Smith did was to prepare an alphabet to the Book of Mormon. This consultation with Anthon was used to explain that the learned could not read the writing or book but the unlearned man, Smith, could.

In April 1829, Smith received a revelation for Oliver Cowdery. Cowdery evidently tried to translate some words of the Book of Mormon text but had failed. The revelation explained:

But, behold, I say unto you [Cowdery], that you must study it [the meaning] out in your mind; then you must ask me if it [the meaning] be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me. 72

If this is also a description of how Smith approached the “translation” of the Book of Mormon, then it may offer some insight into the production of Smith’s revelations, restoration of biblical texts, “Egyptian Alphabet,” and “Book of Abraham.” Whatever interpretation entered Smith’s bosom (mind and heart) and was then dictated was considered to be revelatory.

As he would later do in producing the “Book of Abraham,” Smith also used the Bible in dictating the Book of Mormon. In 1829, when he “translated” portions of the Book of Mormon, he read directly from the common Bible of the day, the King James Version. Passages in the Book of Mormon, when compared to passages in the King James Version, show that the Bible was used when certain portions of the Book of Mormon were being dictated and recorded. 73

The “Book of Abraham” Published

That portion of the “Book of Abraham” produced in November 1835 was finally published in early March 1842 in the Church’s new headquarters, Nauvoo, Illinois. 74 Smith also published some additional “Book of Abraham” text, which he had recently dictated to scribe Willard Richards (1804-54). This included “explanations” based on the three illustrations–or facsimiles–from the Egyptian papyri Smith said contained the “Book of Abraham,” and which accompanied the 1842 publication of the same.

In early 1842, Smith and an engraver, Reuben Hedlock (1809-69), worked on re-rendering the three original illustrations for publication. Accompanying the “Book of Abraham” text, they are known today as Facsimiles Nos. 1, 2, and 3. From the “Egyptian Alphabet” and Smith’s published explanations, we know that Smith believed the illustrations represented teachings regarding ancient Egyptian astronomy. As Facsimile No. 1 was being prepared for publication, the hieroglyphs in the columns on the original papyrus were omitted and the damaged papyrus was “restored.” The original illustration of Facsimile No. 3 was evidently on the inside of the papyrus roll, and thus was better preserved. The head of Figure 6 (in Fac. 3)–“a slave belonging to the prince”–was altered by Smith or Hedlock (with Smith’s approval) and included the original Egyptian characters that accompanied the illustration. Facsimile No. 2–the hypocephalus (which would have been placed under the head of the mummy)–was re-drawn as a complete circle with “restored” portions inserted from a number of places. Characters from the Egyptian papyrus used in preparing the three Translation Manuscripts were also added to an area of the damaged document. To a casual reader, Facsimile No. 2 probably does not appear to have been once damaged. However, persons comparing it with the sketch of the original easily see it as fragmented. These three “restored” and “reconstructed” illustrations have since appeared in almost all subsequent printings of the “Book of Abraham.” 75

Smith spent some additional time in early 1842 working on the “Book of Abraham” text and preparing his explanations of the three “restored” facsimiles. They first appeared in the LDS Church periodical the Times and Seasons, published semi-monthly in Nauvoo. Apostle Wilford Woodruff helped set some of the type for the “Book of Abraham.” Woodruff wrote a summary statement in his journal:

Joseph [Smith] the Seer has presented us some of the Book of Abraham which was written by his [Abraham’s] own hand but hid from the knowledge of man for the last four thousand years but has now come to light through the mercy of God. Joseph has had these records in his possession for several years but has never presented them before the world in the English language untill now. But he is now about to publish it to the world or parts of it by publishing it in the Times & Seasons, for Joseph the Seer is now the Editor of that paper & Elder [John] Taylor assists him in writing while it has fallen to my lot to take charge of the Business part of the esstablishment [establishment]. I have had the privilege this day of assisting in setting the TIPE for printing the first peace [piece] of the BOOK OF ABRAHAM that is to be presented to the inhabitants of the EARTH in the LAST DAYS. 76

The Council of the Twelve Apostles–a presiding quorum second only in authority to Smith’s First Presidency–issued a notice asking the Church’s local congregations to send their tithes to the Trustee in Trust (Smith) to support various works, including the “new translation of the bible, and the record of Father Abraham [be] published to the world.” 77 The March 1, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons states, “This paper commences my [Joseph Smith’s] editorial career, I alone stand responsible for it.” The original version of Smith’s editorial, as written by Willard Richards, contained the following:

In the present no. [number] 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. — and as the saints have long been anxious to obtain a copy of these records, those [who] are now taking the Times & Seasons, will confer a special favor on their brethren, who do not take the paper. 78

A volume entitled “The Book of the Law of the Lord” kept by Richards recorded Smith’s activities in the latter half of February and early March 1842. Under the date of February 23, Richards writes that Smith “gave R. Hadlock [Reuben Hedlock] instructions concerning the cut for the altar & Gods in the Records of Abraham. As designed for the Times and Seasons.” The next day, Smith “was explaining the Records of Abraham To the Recorder [Willard Richards].” On March 4, Smith exhibited the “Book of Abraham” “in the original, To Bro[ther] Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock]. so that he might take the size of the several plates or cuts. & prepare the blocks for the Times & Seasons. & also gave instruction concerning the arrangement of the writing on the Large cut. illustrating the principles of Astronomy.” 79 The “Large cut” refers to Facsimile No. 2 and was printed in the Times and Seasons as a two-page fold-out. Though represented as “A Fac-simile from the Book of Abraham,” the illustration was larger in size and not from the same papyrus scroll as Facsimiles Nos. 1 and 3.

The “Book of Abraham” begins with the deaths of three virgins upon an altar because they would not worship gods of wood or stone. As an aid to the reader, the text notes in reference to “this altar” (Abr. 1:12): “that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record. It was made after the form of a bedstead” (vv. 12-13), meaning Facsimile No. 1. The text also indicates that it was Abraham himself who drew the original of this illustration: “That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning” (v. 14).

Facsimile No. 1

Sometime soon after the original papyri were purchased by Smith (and others) in mid-1835, the original of this papyrus vignette was glued to a piece of backing paper, presumably for support. On the backing paper someone filled in the missing pieces of the illustration by drawing a head and a knife for the standing figure (Fig. 3) to hold. In his engraving, Hedlock did not use this sketch. Instead, he had Fig. 3’s head (white attached to an apparently black-skinned body) resemble Fig. 2’s head. (According to Smith, Fig. 3 is an idolatrous priest, whereas Fig. 2 is Abraham.)

The characters on the side of the original illustration were not included in Hedlock’s engraving in order to fit the illustration vertically into the text block of the Times and Seasons page without having to turn the page horizontally. Though the original illustration was damaged, the reproduction as engraved by Hedlock was printed as though the original was complete and not damaged.

Various newspapers subsequently reproduced Facsimile 1 according to the Times and Seasons engraving. While there was interest in what Smith was doing, virtually none of the newspapers took his translation work seriously. Smith said that Facsimile 1 represented Abraham on an altar about to be sacrificed.

Facsimile No. 2

In publishing Facsimile No. 2, which dealt with Egyptian astronomical beliefs, Smith paid careful attention to fill in the missing areas in and around the hypocephalus. The damaged parts were filled in from other papyri in order to make the hypocephalus appear complete.

Smith spent a total of two days in early March 1842 working on the “Book of Abraham” text, evidently producing the material from Abraham 2:19 through 5:21. Richards recorded for March 8, 1842, that Smith “Commenced Translating from the Book of Abraham, for the 10 No [Number] of the Times and Seasons-and was engaged at his office day & evening.” The next afternoon, Smith “continued the Translation of the Book of Abraham. … with the Recorder [Willard Richards]. & continued translating & revising.” 80 The same day, March 9, Smith wrote, “I am now very busily engaged in Translating,” 81 and Richards told his brother he was “writing the translation of the Book of Abraham in which I am engaged today.” 82

Facsimile No. 3

Two months later, Smith’s explanation of Facsimile 3–the last of the three facsimiles–was printed in the May 16, 1842, issue of the Times and Seasons. The original papyrus illustration is not extant. Three of the figures (nos. 2, 4, and 5, see below) on Facsimile 3 point to Egyptian writing above the illustration. Under the various explanations is: “Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of astronomy, in the king[‘]s Court.”

Fig. 2. “King Pharaoh; whose name is given in the characters above his head.”
Fig. 4. “Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt; as written above the hand.”
Fig. 5. “Shulem; one of the king[‘]s principle waiters; as represented by the characters above his hand.” 83

In giving the above explanations, Smith has his interpretations closely aligned with the original papyrus illustration. This confirms that the Egyptian records Smith purchased in 1835 were associated with Smith’s interpretation of the characters and the “restored” symbols.

Though Smith promised “further extracts from the Book of Abraham” to subscribers of the Times and Seasons, this did not materialize. 84 In mid-May 1844, a month before Smith’s death on June 27, Josiah Quincy Jr. (future mayor of Boston) and his cousin Charles Francis Adams visited Nauvoo, viewed the Egyptian mummies, and talked to Smith about the ancient records. 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. … `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.'”85

From Adams and others, it is clear that Smith continued to believe that the “Book of Abraham” had originally been written by Abraham himself. The text of the “Book of Abraham” states that Abraham retained the records, was going to write on them, and that they were in his possession at the time he was writing: “for the records have come into my hands, which I hold unto this present time” (1:28). In fact, these preserved records are the very ones Abraham is now writing on: “But the records of the fathers … the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers, have I kept even unto this day, and I shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record, for the benefit of my posterity that shall come after me” (v. 31).

The “Book of Abraham” after Joseph Smith

After Smith’s death on June 27, 1844, his younger brother William (1811-93) and mother, Lucy, continued periodically to display the Egyptian records and mummies to visitors. In August 1851, newly appointed Church Apostle Franklin D. Richards (1821-99) published a small pamphlet in England entitled The Pearl of Great Price, which featured the text of Smith’s “Book of Abraham” and the three facsimiles, which had been re-engraved. Some five years later, Théodule Devéria (1831-72), a young artist, photographer, and student of Egyptology working in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France), examined the “Book of Abraham” facsimiles. In commenting on Facsimile No. 3, Fig. 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.” 86 Devéria was thus the first to observe that what Joseph Smith had published as a “Facsimile from the Book of Abraham” was actually an ancient funeral illustration for a deceased Egyptian man named Horus.

Less than two weeks after Lucy Smith’s death in May 1856, her son Joseph’s Egyptian papyri and mummies were purchased by a man named Abel Combs (1823-92). The bill of sale gave a brief history of the artifacts including: “From translations by Mr. [Joseph] Smith of the records, these [four] mummies were found to be in the family of Pharo [Pharaoh], king of Egypt.” The bill was signed by Lewis C. Bidamon, his wife Emma Hale Smith Bidamon (Joseph Smith’s widow), and her eldest son Joseph Smith III. 87

Combs subsequently sold two of Smith’s mummies and some of the papyri to Edward Wyman’s St. Louis Museum (in Missouri) and kept the others. When the museum placed some of the items on display in 1856, Gustaf Seyffarth, a visiting professor at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis County who had studied Egyptian, also read the name of the person for whom Facsimile No. 3 had been made: “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, Osiris.” 88

The mummies and papyri were eventually resold to Joseph H. Wood, owner of the popular Col. Wood’s Museum in Chicago (the museum changed its name a number of times). They were on exhibit and were probably destroyed in the Chicago Fire in October 1871. 89 This is the last known location of the two mummies and artifacts. Also after Lewis Bidamon’s death in 1891, his son Charles Edwin Bidamon retained in his possession the ten pages of “Book of Abraham” Translation Manuscript 1. This manuscript, together with other historical items, was later sold by Bidamon to LDS collector Wilford Wood in July 1947. Wood afterwards donated the pages to the LDS Church.90

In 1873, T. B. H. Stenhouse, a dissident Momrmon, published this book The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons, which reprinted Deveria’s comments on the “Book of Abraham” facimiles. Stenhouse’s book was republished at least four timesby 1905.91 These republications circulated more widely Devéria’s observation that some of the “Book of Abraham” material was funerary in nature and that Facsimile No. 3, in particular, had originally been made for an Egyptian named Horus.

The second edition of the Pearl of Great Price, as edited by LDS Apostle Orson Pratt (1811-81), was issued in 1878. It was here that the words “purporting to be” were removed from the heading description of the “Book of Abraham,” thereby cementing the assertion that Abraham himself wrote the “Book of Abraham.” George Reynolds, another LDS Church official, the next year published a defense of the “Book of Abraham” as a divine and ancient record. 92 Then, on October 10, 1880, the Pearl of Great Price, including the text of the “Book of Abraham,” was publicly canonized by LDS Church members as official scripture together with the Holy Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants. 93 Later, in a new edition, the Pearl of Great Price was again publicly voted upon as official scripture on October 6, 1902. 94 (Until 1981, the LDS Church printed the text of the 1902 edition of the “Book of Abraham,” which relied on re-engraved copies of the facsimiles first published by Franklin Richards in 1851. Beginning in 1981, the Church returned to printing all three facsimiles as originally engraved by Reuben Hedlock in 1842.)

In 1912, the Rev. Franklin S. Spalding (1865-1914), Episcopalian Bishop to Utah, released his own independent study of the “Book of Abraham.” Spalding’s work printed letters from eight prominent Egyptologists, Orientalists, linguists, and historians who had responded to his inquiry regarding Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the three facsimiles. 95 (The published facsimiles provided at the time the only means for evaluating the accuracy of Smith’s “translations.”) All eight scholars independently reported that the facsimiles were ancient Egyptian funerary illustrations and bore no relationship to the English text of Smith’s “translation.”

In the intervening years, a few rebuttal articles appeared in LDS Church periodicals dealing with Spalding’s book, and attempting to establish an ancient origin for the “Book of Abraham.” Except for a handful of articles or books mentioning the controversy, nothing of importance occurred again until the 1960s.

As it turned out, Abel Combs retained in his possession the bill of sale and some of the papyri he had purchased from Lucy Smith’s estate in 1856. After his death in 1892, these items passed to his nurse Charlotte Benecke Weaver. The papyri and bill of sale eventually ended up in the possession of Weaver’s daughter Alice Combs Weaver Heusser, who approached the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City about selling them in 1918. At the time, the museum was not interested in acquiring the materials. Almost three decades later, however, the museum revisited its decision and purchased the papyri artifacts in 1947 from Edward Heusser, Alice’s widower. 96 (The fate of the two remaining Chandler mummies is unknown, though Combs probably sold them to another museum or private individual.)97

By the mid-1960s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had decided to raise funds by selling some of its less unique holdings. Coincidently, Aziz S. Atiya, a Coptic studies scholar at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, was shown the papyri while researching some of the museum’s collections in 1966. 98 Though not a member of the LDS Church, Atiya knew of the papyri’s importance to Mormons and soon was in touch with N. Eldon Tanner of the Church’s First Presidency. Negotiations with the museum began a few weeks later. Eventually, an anonymous patron agreed to make a donation to the museum to cover the cost of the transfer, thereby facilitating the museum’s “gift” of the items to the LDS Church on November 27, 1967. 99

The museum’s transfer included eleven pieces, or fragments, of papyri–including the original of Facsimile No. 1–which once belonged to three separate papyri. These fragments have since been numbered as JSP (Joseph Smith Papyri) I-VIII, X-XI, and may be described as follows: 100

Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Papyri (JSP) Transferred to LDS Church in 1967

JSP Numbers TextDocument Date of Composition
I, XI, X, part of IV; Facsimile No. 1 from JSP I “Book of Breathings Made by Isis” Papyrus of Horus (also Horos, Hor) ca. 150 B.C.E., oldest dated Book of Breathings
VII, VIII, V, VI, IV, II “Book of the Dead” Chapters 3-6, 53-54, 57, 63, 65, 67, 70, 72, 74-77, 83, 86-89, 91, 100-101, 103-106, 110, 125 Papyrus of Ta-sherit-Min (also Tsemminis) after 500 B.C.E.
III a-b “Book of the Dead” Chapter 125 Papyrus of Nefer-ir-nebu (also Neferirtnub, Noufianoub) after 500 B.C.E.


These eleven fragments joined a twelfth fragment of pieced-together papyri long-held by the LDS Church and known as the “Church Historian’s Fragment” (now JSP IX, originally part of Ta-sherit-Min’s “Book of the Dead”). The LDS Church subsequently published photographs of all of these papyri in the February 1968 issue of its official Improvement Era magazine. Scholarly translations by Egyptologists John A. Wilson and Klaus Baer of some of the papyri followed in the independent LDS periodical Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in its summer and autumn 1968 issues. 101 Their translations again confirmed the status of the papyri as Egyptian funerary materials.

In addition to the fragments listed above, there are other Egyptian documents known to have once been in Joseph Smith’s possession, the present location of which, if any, is not known.

Other Egyptian Documents Known to Have Beenin Joseph Smith’s Possession


Document Contents Presumed Status Prepared for
Papyrusof Amenhotep “Book of the Dead” Chapter 45 and other texts Destroyed in Chicago fire of 1871? Amenhotep (also Amenophis)
Original of Facsimile No. 2 Hypocephalus of Sheshonq Destroyed in Chicago fire of 1871? Sheshonq (also Shashaq, Sesonchis)
Original of Facsimile No. 3 Vignette from Horus “Book of Breathings Made by Isis” Destroyed in Chicago fire of 1871? Horus (also Horos, Hor)


The “Book of Abraham” Today

The conclusion of all scholarly studies of the Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers–beginning in 1859-60 and continuing to the present–is that Smith, like other Americans of his time, had no knowledge or understanding of ancient Egyptian language(s). Before the Egyptian papyri were relocated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, most Latter-day Saints believed that Smith could accurately translate Egyptian. Since 1967, most analyses of the “Book of Abraham” by LDS Church members no longer argue for the work as a literal translation of an ancient text. The papyrus that contains the Egyptian characters appearing on the three Translation Manuscripts is today preserved in the LDS Archives.

There has been a variety of Church-related responses to the “Book of Abraham.” The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, published in 1992, proposed: “Since it is not known just how Joseph Smith translated, it is reasonable to postulate that, when studying the Egyptian papyri purchased from Michael Chandler, Joseph Smith sought revelation from the Lord concerning them [the papyri] and received in that process the book of Abraham.” 102 Eight years later, a study guide published by the LDS Church recommended: “The greatest evidence of the truthfulness of the book of Abraham is not found in an analysis of physical evidence nor historical background, but in prayerful consideration of its content and power.” 103

LDS historian Glen M. Leonard, in his history of the LDS Church in Nauvoo (published in 2002), referred explicitly to the “Book of Abraham” as a “revelation,” explaining: “Joseph Smith’s biblical studies relied more upon supernatural knowledge than earthbound book learning.” 104 Some other faith communities originating with Smith, such as the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), approach the “Book of Abraham” as a work of theological speculation and do not include it in their own scriptural canon. 105

While Joseph Smith may be “the first native-born American who is known to have made an effort to translate writings and to interpret vignettes found on ancient Egyptian funerary papyri,” his translations, according to John A. Larson of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in 1994, “can, at best, be described as unorthodox.” Nevertheless, Larson continues, “the position of the Mormon prophet is secure within the early history of American speculation about ancient Egypt. As a manifestation of American interest in the culture of ancient Egypt, the story of Joseph Smith and his ancient Egyptian mummies and papyri is one of the more curious chapters in the early history of American Egyptology.” 106Egyptologist Lanny Bell, formerly of the University of Chicago and more recently of Brown University, adds:

Smith’s approach to the translation of ancient Egyptian documents ranks him squarely in the tradition of the esoteric interpretation of hieroglyphics … [Given the] disagreement[s], even rancor, over the decipherment of hieroglyphics persisting among Egyptologists until well after his death in 1844, we should hardly expect Joseph Smith to have been able to familiarize himself with Champollion’s work, properly assess its validity, and possibly incorporate it into his own translation of the papyrus he had before him. 107


1. H. Michael Marquardt is an independent historian. He is the author of, among other works, The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844, The Book of Abraham Revisited, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers, and (as co-author) Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record. He lives in Sandy, Utah. For their suggestions and advice, he thanks Edgar C. Snow and Gary James Bergera.

H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995), 78-79, 83. Peterson’s book–part history, part autobiography–is a good introduction to the topic.

2. See “Mystery of the Mummies: An Update on the Joseph Smith Collection[:] Interview with Brian L. Smith by Philip R. Webb,” Religious Studies Center Newsletter (Brigham Young University), 20/2 (2005): 3.

3. U.S. Gazette, Apr. 3, 1833, Philadelphia, in Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 89.

4. Ibid., 92.

5. “Egyptian Antiquities,” Times and Seasons 3 (May 2, 1842): 774, Nauvoo, Illinois. See also “Egyptian Mummies–Ancient Records,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2 (Dec. 1835): 235, Kirtland, Ohio.

6. See Brian L. Smith, “A Book of Abraham Research Update,” Religious Studies Center Newsletter (Brigham Young University), May 1997, 5-8; and “Mystery of the Mummies: An Update on the Joseph Smith Collection[:] Interview with Brian L. Smith by Philip R. Webb,” Religious Studies Center Newsletter (Brigham Young University), 20/2 (2005): 1-5.

7. “Mummies,” Telegraph 13 (Mar. 27, 1835), Painesville, Ohio. See Jay M. Todd, The Saga of the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969), 134; and Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 117. The comments regarding the head of the mummy reflect an awareness of phrenology.

8. “A Rare Exhibition,” Cleveland Whig, Mar. 25, 1835, Cleveland, Ohio, in Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 112. In fact, the writing is both Egyptian hieroglyphs and hieratic.

9. Egyptian hieroglyphs feature pictures that represent meaning(s) or sound(s) or combination(s) of both. They were used during the period 3100 B.C.E. to 400 C.E. Hieratic writing emerged in tandem with hieroglyphs and features a simplified cursive script used primarily by priests. Demotic texts (beginning about 650 B.C.E.) are written in a simplified form of hieratic.

10. “Egyptian Antiquities,” Times and Seasons 3 (May 2, 1842): 774.

11. See 1830 Book of Mormon, 538; LDS Mormon 9:32.

12. It would be a major discovery if the papyri contained mention of the patriarch Abraham and Joseph of Egypt. In fact, they would constitute the oldest authentic documents ever found regarding them.

13. “The Book of John Whitmer Kept by Commandment,” 76, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri; also Bruce N. Westergren, ed., From Historian to Dissident: The Book of John Whitmer (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 167.

14. William W. Phelps, Letter to Sally Phelps, July 19-20, 1835, in Leah Y. Phelps, “Letters of Faith from Kirtland,” Improvement Era 45 (Aug. 1942): 529. See Bruce A. Van Orden, ed., “Writing to Zion: The William W. Phelps Kirtland Letters (1835-1836),” BYU Studies 33 (1993): 554-56.

15. Oliver Cowdery, Letter to William Frye, Dec. 22, 1835, Oliver Cowdery Letterbook, 72, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California; published in Messenger and Advocate 2 (Dec. 1835): 235.

16. Ibid.

17. Coe, Letter to Joseph Smith, Jan. 1, 1844, Joseph Smith Collection, Archives, Family and Church History Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; hereafter LDS Archives. It is not known how the one-third share was finally disposed of and how the Smith family retained the mummies and papyri. Joseph Smith replied to Coe, “I have got your Deed … for all the interest you ever held in the Mummies” (Smith, Copy of letter to Coe, Jan. 18, 1844, LDS Archives; see Dean C. Jessee, comp. and ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Rev. Ed. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co./Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002], 593).

18. Cowdery, Letter to William Frye, Dec. 22, 1835, Oliver Cowdery Letterbook, 69; Messenger and Advocate 2 (Dec. 1835): 234.

19. H. Michael Marquardt, The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 269; LDS D&C 107:40.

20. Marquardt, Joseph Smith Revelations, 270; LDS D&C 107:39-57. Joseph Smith was said to recover, while revising Genesis, the lost book of Enoch mentioned in Jude 1:14. He now provided the line of patriarchal authority.

21. Smith, Letter to “Dear brethren in the Lord,” June 15, 1835, LDS Archives. See Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 363.

22. Manuscript History, Book B-1:595, LDS Archives; Joseph Smith Jr. et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Period 1, Brigham H. Roberts, ed., revised and enlarged, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 2:234, hereafter History of the Church.

23. See Church Historian’s Office Journal, Oct. 17, 1855. See also Todd, Saga of the Book of Abraham, 286.

24. Manuscript History, Book B-1:596; History of the Church, 2:236. In January 1843, Smith “gave some instructions about Phelps & [Willard] Richards uniting in writing the history of the church” (Joseph Smith, Journal, Jan. 20, 1843, LDS Archives). These scribes wrote in Smith’s name and with his authorization. The information was based upon Phelps’s recollection as he was in Kirtland at the time working with Smith. The two entries for July 1835 were actually written in September 1843.

25. Manuscript History, Book B-1:597; History of the Church, 2:238.

26. I retain the numbering of the manuscripts as found in Hugh Nibley, “The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers,” BYU Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 351. The original manuscripts are in LDS Archives.

27. At one time, there was a sample of some Arabic writing (provence unknown) with the manuscripts.

28. Angled brackets here and elsewhere indicate interlinear insertions in the original.

29. W. W. Phelps, Letter to Sally Phelps, Sept. 11, 1835, William Wines Phelps Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. See Van Orden, “Writing to Zion,” BYU Studies 33 (1993): 563.

30. Joseph Smith, Journal, 3, LDS Archives; Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith: Journal, 1831-1842, Vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992), 45; Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008), 67 (hereafter Joseph Smith Papers: Journals). In 1843, the following clarifying words were added at the end of the journal entry: “and 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” (Manuscript History, Book B-1:622; History of the Church, 2:286).

31. Joseph Smith, Journal, 7, LDS Archives; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:50; Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, 71.

32. John Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” in Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, eds., The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History of Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS], Brigham Young University, 2000), 200. Gee believes that “The Kirtland Egyptian Papers are at best a by-product of the translation” (203) of the “Book of Abraham.” A comparison of the text shows that some of the ideas in Abraham Chapter 1 come after the interpretations given in “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1.

33. See Klaus Baer, “The Breathing Permit of Hôr: A Translation of the Apparent Source of the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Autumn 1968): 128.

34. Marquardt, Joseph Smith Revelations, 276; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:79; Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, 99-100.

35. Marquardt, Joseph Smith Revelations, 275; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:68; Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, 86.

36. Joseph Smith, Journal, 45; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:85; Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, 105.

37. Joseph Smith, Journal, 47, 49-50, written by Warren Parrish; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:87-88, 90; Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, 107, 109-10.

38. Translation Ms. 1, 1, LDS Archives. See H. Michael Marquardt, comp., The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers (Cullman, AL: Printing Service, 1981), 147-48.

39. See Baer, “The Breathing Permit of Hôr,” 129-32.

40. Joseph Smith, Journal, 50; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:90; Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, 110-11.

41. Joseph Smith, Journal, 51; Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:91; Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, 112; not included in History of the Church, 2:321.

42. Wilford Woodruff, Journal, Nov. 25, 1836, LDS Archives; Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Typescript, 9 Vols. (Midvale, UT/Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1983-85), 1:107.

43. Abram O. Smoot, Journal, Nov. 25, 1836, Perry Special Collections.

44. William S. West, A Few Interesting Facts Respecting the Rise, Progress and Pretensions of the Mormons (Warren, Ohio?, 1837), 5-6.

45. Parrish, Letter to the Editor, Feb. 5, 1838, Painesville Republican 2 (Feb. 15, 1838). Parrish, for a variety of reasons, had left the LDS Church by this time.

46. See also the 5th Degree for “Kiah abran oam,” in “Egyptian Alphabet” Ms. 1, 3.

47. The wording differs slightly from that in Translation Manuscript No. 1, 1. In quoting the published version of the “Book of Abraham,” I cite the 1981 edition published by the LDS Church which follows the 1902 division into chapters and verses. The versification in the 1981 version differs from the paragraph numbering that was first published in the Times and Seasons.

48. For the use of Noah’s curse to support slavery, see Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

49. The 1830 manuscript for Smith’s revision of Genesis 9:26 reads, “And he [Noah] said blessed be the Lord God of Shem and Canaan shall be his servent [servant] and a vail [veil] of darkness shall cover him that he shall be known among all men” (Old Testament Manuscript 1, 25, Community of Christ Archives). See also Messenger and Advocate 2 (Apr. 1836): 290, in The Essential Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 87.

50. In Smith’s day, the patriarchal priesthood was understood to mean the LDS Church priesthood office of presiding Church Patriarch. It was a hereditary office that passed from father to son. See LDS D&C 107:40 and H. Michael Marquardt, comp., Early Patriarchal Blessings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2007), vii-xvi.

51. Old Testament Manuscript 2, 34, Community of Christ Archives. See Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, eds. Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2004), 587, 635.

52. After Abram returned from Egypt, his name was changed to Abraham in Genesis 17:5. In the “Book of Abraham,” as published in Times and Seasons, both names appear. For example, using current versification, Abraham 1:1; 2:2, 20-21, 25; 3:1, 6, 11, 15, 22-23; and 5:13 contained the longer name, while 1:16-17; 2:3, 6, 14, and 17 originally had the shorter.

53. Smith usually added words to biblical texts. See H. Michael Marquardt, The Four Gospels According to Joseph Smith (Longwood, FL: Xulon Press, 2007).

54. Louis C. Zucker, “Joseph Smith as a Student of Hebrew,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968): 51; J[oshua]. Seixas, A Manual Hebrew Grammar for the Use of Beginners (2nd ed., Gould and Newman, 1834), 12, for raukeeyang, and 78, for the Hebrew form of raukeeyang with the definition “an expanse.”

55. Marquardt, Joseph Smith Revelations, 297, epistle of Joseph Smith Jr. et al. “To the church of Latter-day Saints at Quincy[,] Illinois and scattered abroad and to Bishop Partridge in particular,” March 20, 1839; LDS D&C 121:28-32. When the letter was printed, the edited version omitted the words “of all other Gods” (Times and Seasons 1 [May 1840]: 103).

56. “Extracts from William Clayton’s Private Book,” as cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comps. and eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 60. See Seixas, A Manual Hebrew Grammar, 85.

57. George Moore, Journal, entry for June 3, 1842, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. See also “A Visit to Joe Smith,” Times and Seasons 3 (Sept. 15, 1842): 926.

58. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:380. See Devery S. Anderson and Gary James Bergera, eds., The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846: A Documentary History (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005), 5, 21, 23n20.

59. Old Testament Manuscript 1, 3, Community of Christ Archives; Moses 2:1.

60. For essays on the LDS concept of God, see Gary James Bergera, ed., Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990).

61. Old Testament Manuscript 1, 5, Community of Christ Archives. See Faulring, Jackson, and Matthews, Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible, 89; Moses 3:11-14.

62. Brigham Young, second LDS Church president, said he heard about the location of the biblical Garden of Eden from Joseph Smith. Wilford Woodruff reported Young saying, “Now Jackson County is the garden of Eden Joseph has declaired [declared] this & I am as much bound to believe it as much as I am to believe Joseph is a prophet of God” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 5:33, entry for Mar. 15, 1857; see also 7:129).

63. Marquardt, Joseph Smith Revelations, 294; LDS D&C 117:8.

64. For example, see Benjamin Franklin Johnson, “A Life Review,” 30, LDS Archives; Benjamin F. Johnson, See My Life’s Review (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Co., 1947), 36.

65. David P. Wright, “`In Plain Terms that We May Understand’: Joseph Smith’s Transformation of Hebrews in Alma 12-13,” in Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed., New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), 211. See also Wright, “Isaiah in the Book of Mormon: Or Joseph Smith in Isaiah,” in Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds., American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 157-234.

66. Lavina Fielding Anderson, ed., Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2001), 393.

67. Lucy Mack Smith, Manuscript Draft, LDS Archives; see Anderson, Lucy’s Book, 402.

68. Norton Jacob, Journal, Oct. 8, 1845, LDS Archives. See Ronald O. Barney, The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob’s Record (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2005), 53.

69. “The Mormons,” Historical Magazine 7 (May 1870): 307. See Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, 5 vols. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996-2003), 1:462-63.

70. Charles Anthon, Letter to Eber D. Howe, Feb. 17, 1834, in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH: Printed and Published by the Author, 1834), 271; Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:380.

71. Anthon, Letter to Rev. T. W. Coit, Apr. 3, 1841, The Church Record 1 (1841): 231; Vogel, Early Mormon Documents, 4:384-85.

72. Marquardt, Joseph Smith Revelations, 37; LDS D&C 9:8-9.

73. See H. Michael Marquardt, Literary Dependence in the Book of Mormon: Two Studies (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Institute for Religious Research, 2000).

74. See Times and Seasons 3 (Mar. 1, 1842): 704-706, Joseph Smith, editor.

75. For more, see Edward H. Ashment, “The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Reappraisal,” Sunstone 4 (Dec. 1979): 33-48.

76. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:155, entry for Feb. 19, 1842. The text of the “Book of Abraham” was published in Times and Seasons 3 (Mar. 1, 1842): 704-706, paragraphs 1-13 (Abr. 1:1-2:18, written in Oct.-Nov. 1835), and ibid. 3 (Mar. 15, 1842): 719-22, paragraphs 14-32 (Abr. 2:19-5:21, written in Mar. 1842).

77. “Temple Friends,” Times and Seasons 3 (Mar. 1, 1842): 715; History of the Church 4:517. The new translation (revision) of the Bible was not published in Joseph Smith’s lifetime.

78. The draft editorial is in the handwriting of Willard Richards, with spelling of words by Richards completed (“Times & Seasons,” Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Archives). Only a portion of the editorial (first paragraph reworded) was published in Times and Seasons 3 (Mar. 1, 1842): 710. Richards had been appointed recorder for the Nauvoo temple and scribe for President Joseph Smith on December 13, 1841.

79. “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” as cited in Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:360, 366. Regarding Facsimile No. 1, Richards wrote that Smith was at “the printing office correcting the first plate or cut. of the Records of father Abraham. prepared by Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock] for the Times & Seasons” (ibid., 2:363-64, entry for Mar. 1, 1842). The next day, Smith “Read the Proof of the `Times and Seasons’ as Editor for the first time, No.9-Vol 3d in which is the commencement of the Book of Abraham” (ibid., 2:364).

80. Jessee, Papers of Joseph Smith, 2:367; History of the Church 4:548.

81. Smith, Letter to Edward Hunter, Mar. 9-11, 1842, Joseph Smith Collection, LDS Archives; in Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 550. A copy of the letter was recorded in Joseph Smith Letterbook 2:229.

82. Willard Richards, Letter to Levi Richards, Mar. 7-25, 1842, in Joseph Grant Stevenson, ed., Richards Family History (Provo, UT: Stevenson’s Genealogical Center, 1991), 3:88. This portion of the letter was written on March 9. Richards’s manuscript (Ms. 4) contains Abraham 1:1-2:18 and 3:18-26, English text only.

83. “Explanation of Cut on First Page,” Times and Seasons 3 (May 16, 1842): 784.

84. “Notice,” Times and Seasons 4 (Feb. 1, 1843):95.

85. Charles Francis Adams, Diary, May 15, 1844, emphasis retained, Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; “Charles Francis Adams Visits the Mormons in 1844,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 68 (1952): 285.

86. First published in French in Jules Remy, Voyage au Pays des Mormons, 2 vols. (Paris: E. Dentu, 1860), and in English in Jules Remy and Julius Brenchley, A Journey to Great Salt Lake City (London: W. Jeffs, 1861), 2:546.

87. The bill of sale is dated May 26, 1856, LDS Archives. See Todd, Saga of the Book of Abraham, 290; Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 203. The bill was printed in “The Mormon Prophet’s Mummies,” Daily Missouri Democrat, June 12, 1857, St. Louis, Missouri.

88. As cited in Catalogue of the St. Louis Museum (1859), 45, in Todd, Saga of the Book of Abraham, 298. See also Stanley B. Kimball, “New Light on Old Egyptiana: Mormon Mummies, 1848-71,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 (Winter 1983):73-74.

89. See Kimball, “Mormon Mummies,” 77-82; “Mystery of the Mummies,” 4-5.

90. Todd, Saga of the Book of Abraham, 326-31.

91. T. B. H. Stenhouse, The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons … (New York: D. Apppleton and Co., 1873), 513-19. Republished in 1874 (London), 1878 (London), 1900 (New York), and 1904 (Salt Lake City).

92. See George Reynolds, The Book of Abraham. Its Authencity Established as a Divine and Ancient Record (Salt Lake City: Deseret News and Publishing Establishment, 1879). This forty-nine-page booklet had previously appeared serially in the Deseret Evening News, Dec. 1878-Mar. 1879.

93. See Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 42 (Nov. 15, 1880): 724. Six years later, Devéria’s examination was published in W. Wyl [pseud. Wilhelm Ritter von Wymetal], Mormon Portraits or the Truth about Mormon Leaders from 1830 to 1886 (Salt Lake City: Tribune Printing and Publishing Co., 1886), 221-23.

94. This edition was prepared by James E. Talmage and contains chapters and verses to the text of the “Book of Abraham.”

95. Franklin S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (Salt Lake City: Arrow Press, 1912); Roger R. Keller, “Episcopalian Bishop Franklin S. Spalding and the Mormons,” Utah Historical Quarterly 69 (Summer 2001): 244-45. While Spalding was aware of The Rocky Mountain Saints and Journey to Great Salt Lake City, he solicited his own independent evaluations.

96. Peterson, Story of the Book of Abraham, 242-47.

97. Stanley Kimball concluded in 1983: “If they indeed exist, they are probably in storage, unknown, unidentified, and forgotten. Would the papyri be with them? Probably not” (“Mormon Mummies,” 90).

98. Also in April 1966, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, critics of the LDS Church, published a photographic reproduction (based on a microfilm copy) and a transcription of Joseph Smith’s various Egyptian alphabet manuscripts: Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar (Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm Co., 1966).

99. “An Interview with Dr. [Henry G.] Fischer,” conducted by Norman Tolk, Lynn Travers, George D. Smith Jr., and F. Charles Graves, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 2 (Winter 1967): 64.

100. Hugh W. Nibley numbered the papyri in Improvement Era 71 (Feb. 1968): 40, 40-A to 40-I; see also John Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” in Ricks, Parry, and Hedges, eds., The Disciple as Witness, 188-89; and Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 10-11. For the dating of JSP I, X, and XI, see Marc Coenen, “The Dating of the Papyri Joseph Smith I, X and XI and Min Who Massacres His Enemies,” Egyptian Religion: The Last Thousand Years, Part II, Studies Dedicated to the Memory of Jan Quaegebeur (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, vol. 85), eds. Willy Clarysee, Antoon Schoors, and Harco Willems (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies, 1998), 1103-15. For the dating of JSP II, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII, see John A. Wilson, “A Summary Report,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968): 70.

101. For later translations, see Robert K. Ritner, “The `Breathing Permit of Hôr’ Thirty-four Years Later,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33 (Winter 2000): 97-119; Ritner, “The `Breathing Permit of Hôr’ among the Joseph Smith Papyri,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 62 (2003): 161-80; and Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (Provo, UT: FARMS, Brigham Young University, 2002). Ritner’s publication in Dialogue is dated 2000, but was actually completed in 2001 and was printed in March 2002. Rhodes’s work was published several months later in 2002.

102. Michael D. Rhodes, “Facsimiles from the Book of Abraham,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The History, Scripture, Doctrine and Procedure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols., ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992), 1:136. Smith himself said that it was by revelation that he concluded that the two papyri scrolls contained the writings of Abraham and Joseph. That the Egyptian records that illustrate the “Book of Abraham” were copies and not written by Abraham and other arguments concerning the revelation worked out by Joseph Smith are interesting topics for future research.

103. Church Educational System, The Pearl of Great Price: Student Manual Religion 327 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000), 28.

104. Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, A People of Promise (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co./Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), 210-11.

105. See Richard P. Howard, Restoration Scriptures: A Study of Their Textual Development, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House, 1995), 192-210.

106. John A. Larson, “Joseph Smith and Egyptology: An Early Episode in the History of American Speculation about Ancient Egypt, 1835-1844,” in David P. Silverman, ed., For His Ka: Essays Offered in Memory of Klaus Baer (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1994), 160.

107. Lanny Bell, “The Ancient Egyptian `Books of Breathing,’ the Mormon `Book of Abraham,’ and the Development of Egyptology in America,” in Stephen E. Thompson and Peter Der Manuelian, eds., Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko upon His Retirement from the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University, June 2005 (Providence, RI: Brown University, Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies, 2008), 30, 33.