Oh, you mean the hoax, right?
The claim is that a group of people made up some fake golden plates, took them to Joseph Smith and asked him to translate
them. Knowing that it was a hoax, they proved that Joseph was not a prophet of God.
Apparently uninformed regarding the Church's more recent determination of these plates, many people claim
Joseph Smith translated the inscription and never refers to the 1981 Ensign article which explains the history of the
Church's role concerning the plates. It was quite some time before it was positively acknowledged by scholars,
through an electronic and chemical analysis, that the one remaining plate is a hoax. More important, contrary to popular articles
written by anti-Mormon writers, Joseph Smith did not make a translation of the fraudulent plate. The translation attributed
to him has proven to be an excerpt from a journal of William Clayton. In fact, after viewing the Kinderhook plate, Joseph
Smith never showed any interest in it.
What about the "Joseph Smith Papyri?"
the Joseph Smith Papyri are the pieces of transcript which the prophet Joseph Smith jr. used to translate
the Pearl of Great Price or a.k.a The Book of Abraham. Many anti-Mormons state the fact that they papyri have been
found. Yes, some of them were found. Most of them have yet to be found. A so-called Egyptologist
named Dee Jay Nelson was the one who "translated them," or so he thought.
Evidently, many anti-Mormons are unaware (or unwilling to demonstrate awareness of the fact)
that Nelson was discredited as an Egyptologist and lied about his academic credentials. Robert L. and Rosemary Brown exposed
Nelson's falsehoods in their 1982 book, They Lie In Wait To Deceive, volume 1. In an 8 August 1968 letter to Jerald
Tanner, who printed Nelson's works, Egyptologist Klaus Baer wrote that "D. J. Nelson . . . needs more practice in late hieratic."
In another letter written to Tanner five days later, he wrote, "On the whole, I was not favorably impressed by Nelson's work,
not because he makes a lot of mistakes (who doesn't?) but because he seems so convinced of the infallibility of his judgment."
In the same letter, he also wrote, "Nelson is not a skilled Egyptologist; I think he is the last person to accuse someone
of a 'superficial' knowledge of Egyptian."
The book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price periodically comes under criticism by non-Mormons as a prime
example of Joseph Smith's inability to translate ancient documents. The argument runs as follows: (1) We now have the papyri
which Joseph Smith used to translate the book of Abraham (these are three of the papyri discovered in 1967 in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York and subsequently turned over to the Church; the papyri in question are Joseph Smith Papyri I, XI,
and X). (2) Egyptologists have identified these three papyri as being the text of the Book of Breathings, an ancient
Egyptian religious text. (3) A translation of the Book of Breathings shows that it is not the book of Abraham. (4)
This proves that Joseph Smith could not translate Egyptian. (5) Therefore Joseph Smith was a false prophet, and the Church
he founded also cannot be true. The book . . . By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri,
by Charles M. Larson, is the most recent publication to take up this argument. These arguments are not valid. In fact
there is a growing body of research that supports the authenticity of the book of Abraham, and I will cover some of the more
important findings of this research.1
The key point on which the above argument against the authenticity of the book of Abraham rests is whether
the papyri we now have are indeed the very ones that Joseph Smith used in his translation of the book of Abraham. The evidence
the critics use is that of the four manuscripts of the book of Abraham now in existence, three of them have characters taken
from the Book of Breathings papyrus, apparently demonstrating that this is the text Joseph Smith used to translate
it. The three manuscripts with the Egyptian characters in the margin are part of a collection of documents dating to the year
1835 and are known as "the Kirtland Egyptian Papers." Hugh Nibley has made an exhaustive study of these papers in BYU Studies.2 I will just cover a couple of the most important points he makes in this article.
First of all, none of these manuscripts of the book of Abraham is in Joseph Smith's handwriting. They are
mostly in the handwriting of William W. Phelps, with a few short sections written by Warren Parrish. Nowhere in the documents
is Joseph Smith designated as the author. Moreover, the Egyptian characters in the left hand margin were clearly written in
after the English text had been written. These cannot be the working papers of a translation process. Instead, Phelps
and Parrish seemed to have copied down the text of the book of Abraham and were then attempting to correlate that translation
with some of the scrolls in the Church's possession. These documents are most likely that preliminary stage of investigation
and exploration the Lord prescribed in D&C 9:8 to "study it out in your mind." The Lord expects us to first do all we
can to understand something (and in the process discover our own limitations) before we seek for direct revelation from him.
This is what Phelps and Parrish were apparently doing, although their efforts were short-lived and unsuccessful. In fact these
same men shortly after this began to turn away from the Prophet Joseph and fell into apostasy. If they had been parties to
some fraudulent process of producing the book of Abraham, they would surely have denounced Joseph Smith for this, but they
The papyri that the Church now has in its possession are clearly not all that Joseph Smith had. There is no
reason to assume that any of those we now have is the original of the book of Abraham. In fact, there is good reason to think
that we in fact do not have the original. In 1842, the fragments we now have were described as being mounted in "a
number of glazed slides, like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics."3 The next year, in 1843, Charlotte Haven, a nonmember, visited Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and wrote
a letter to her own mother about it, saying: "Then she [Mother Smith] turned to a long table, set her candlestick down, and
opened a long role of manuscript [italics added], saying it was "the writing of Abraham and Isaac written in Hebrew
and Sanskrit,' and she read several minutes from it as if it were English."4 Thus a contemporary source indicates that the scroll of the book of Abraham was not part of the papyri
fragments now in the possession of the Church.
One of the major problems with all anti-Mormon efforts to disprove the divine origin of the book of Abraham
is that they never look at the book of Abraham itself. They concentrate on showing that Joseph Smith's method of translation
(as they envision it) could not possibly have worked, and yet they completely ignore the evidence of the text itself. An analogous
situation would be one in which some seemingly crackpot inventor, with not even a high school diploma, should announce that
he had discovered a process for converting lead into gold. A large number of scholars and scientists would then come forward
with detailed explanations showing how this process could never work, because it was not in accord with the laws of science—all
the while refusing to test the gold this man produced to determine if it was in fact real gold. I'll now turn my discussion
to the "real gold" in the book of Abraham—the mounting internal evidence of its authenticity.
As before, I will limit my discussion to some of the most important findings. There has been a huge amount
of evidence accumulated over the past fifteen years or so, and I can cover only a small part of it.
Many critics of the book of Abraham have claimed that there is no connection between Abraham and ancient Egyptian
religious writings. Recent discoveries have shown rather the opposite. Two pseudepigraphic5 texts dealing with Abraham were discovered after Joseph Smith's time and shed some interesting light on the
relationship between Abraham and the Egyptians. In the Testament of Abraham, Abraham is shown a vision of the Last
Judgment that is unquestionably related to the judgment scene pictured in the 125th chapter of the Egyptian Book of the
Dead,6 one of the major religious texts of the ancient Egyptians. One of the Joseph Smith Papyri is in fact a drawing
of this judgment scene. The Apocalypse of Abraham describes a vision Abraham saw while making a sacrifice to God. In
this vision he is shown the plan of the universe, "what is in the heavens, on the earth, in the sea, and in the abyss."7 This is almost an exact translation of the Egyptian words in the left middle portion of Facsimile Number 2 of
the book of Abraham (figures 9 and 10). He is shown "the fullness of the whole world and its circle," in a picture with two
sides.8 This is a good description of the object depicted in Facsimile Number 2 (called a hypocephalus by Egyptologists).
This document even describes the four animal-headed figures labeled number 6 in Facsimile Number 2.9 The significance of these two ancient documents is that they are roughly contemporary with the hypocephalus
and the other Egyptian documents purchased by Joseph Smith—and they relate the same things about Abraham that Joseph
Smith revealed to us in the book of Abraham and in his explanation of the hypocephalus. And, most important, they first came
to light near the turn of this century—Joseph Smith could not have known about them.
There are also a number of other ancient Egyptian texts that contain references to Abraham, including a recently
discovered Egyptian lion couch scene like that of Facsimile Number 1 of the book of Abraham that explicitly mentions the name
of Abraham.10 Anti-Mormon critics have been quick to point out the absurdity of associating Abraham with this pagan Egyptian
scene, and yet now we have clear proof that this association is an ancient one. Again, these things have only been recently
discovered, and Joseph Smith could not have known about them nor had access to them.
Another thing that anti-Mormon critics have scoffed at is the supposedly gibberish names used in the book
of Abraham. The place name "Olishem" mentioned in Abraham 1:10 is a good example of this. And yet this name has now been found
on a newly discovered inscription dating approximately to the time of Abraham.11
Let's turn now to Facsimile Number 2, the hypocephalus, and compare Joseph Smith's interpretations of some
of the figures with those of modern Egyptology.12
Figure 1. Joseph Smith says that this is "Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial,
or the residence of God." To the ancient Egyptians, this was symbolic of God, endowed with the primeval creative force, seated
at the center of the universe. The name Kolob is right at home in this context. The word most likely derives from the common
Semitic root *QLB, which has the basic meaning of "heart, center, middle." In fact the Arabic form of this word, qalb,
forms part of the Arabic names of several of the brightest stars in the sky including Antares, Regulus, and Canopus.
Also in his explanation of figure 1, Joseph Smith states that the Earth is called Jah-oh-eh by the Egyptians.
The Egyptian word for the Earth is 3h.t, which is approximately pronounced "yoh-heh."
Facsimile 2 from the book of Abraham, redrawn by Michael Lyon on papyrus.
Figure 3. Joseph said this represented God, sitting on his throne clothed with power and authority; with a
crown of eternal light on his head. The scepter which the figure holds in its hand represented to the Egyptians the power
and authority of a god or king. The circular object on the figure's head is the Sun, which certainly qualifies as a crown
of eternal light. The two large eyes located on either side of the seated figure are known as wedjat-eyes by the Egyptians
and, among other things, represented the divine wisdom or intelligence by which God oversees and cares for all of his creations.
It is not unreasonable to see in this "the grand key words of the priesthood" as Joseph Smith describes it. ("The glory of
God is intelligence," D&C 93:36.)
Figure 4. Joseph Smith explains that this figure represents the expanse of the heavens, the revolutions of
Kolob and Obilish, and that it also signified the number 1,000. This is the hawk-god, Horus-Sokar. Horus was a personification
of the sky, and Sokar was associated with the revolution of the Sun and other celestial bodies. Finally, the ship here shown
is described in Egyptian texts as "ship of a thousand." Joseph Smith hits it right on the mark.
Figure 6. Joseph Smith describes these four standing figures as representing "this earth in its four quarters."
These are the four Sons of Horus. They were the gods of the four quarters of the earth, and were also regarded as presiding
over the four cardinal points.
These are representative of Joseph Smith's interpretations of all three of the book of Abraham facsimiles.
The majority are supported by our modern understanding of Egyptian culture and religion. Even the remaining explanations,
although not directly confirmed, are in no case contradicted by what we know. This can hardly be dismissed as mere chance
or lucky guessing. Joseph Smith simply could not have come up with this on his own—the knowledge of it was not
even available to the best scholars of his time. He can only have received this knowledge from God, as he claimed. But the
certain knowledge of Joseph Smith's divine calling as a prophet comes not from scholarly proofs, but from the workings of
the Holy Ghost upon the heart and mind of people willing to humble themselves and seek the Lord's conformation of it in prayer.
I have done that and can firmly and unshakably testify that I know beyond any shadow of doubt that Joseph Smith was
indeed a prophet of God and that the book of Abraham is divinely inspired, as is the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants,
and the other parts of the Pearl of Great Price, which Joseph Smith revealed to us in these latter days.13
By: Michael D. Rhodes