We read in our scriptures that the Book of Abraham was written “by the hand Abraham upon papyrus.” Replicas of that original papyrus still exist as facsimiles in LDS scriptures.

Unsurprisingly, there are no non-LDS egyptologists (and almost no LDS egyptologists) who accept Joseph Smith’s translations of the facsimiles as correct.

Egyptologist, Dr. Peter Brand said:
“I would also agree with the mainstream Egyptological view that the Joseph Smith Papyrus is simply a Roman era set of Egyptian papyri with various Ancient Egyptian texts including sections of a “Book of the Dead” and another known as the “book of breathing”. There is no connection between these texts and any aspect of Christianity or Judaism.

“Outside of Mormon scholars, there is not any recognition of or belief in a ‘reformed Egyptian’ script or language. The photos of so called ‘reformed Egyptian documents’ that I have seen do not resemble genuine Egyptian scripts of any kind from any period of Egypt’s long pharaonic history including both hieroglyphic forms or the more cursive forms known as hieratic and demotic.

“They look like a modern person’s attempt at making cryptographic symbols of a modernly invented secret code in that they resemble nonsense ‘letters’ of an alphabet rather than pictorial symbols like hieroglyphs or even the much more varied and differently shaped ligatures of hieratic or demotic Egyptian cursive writing.

“There is simply no evidence that the Smith Papyri are anything more than mainstream Egyptologists have identified them as being– namely typical pharaonic funerary papyri from the last centuries of pagan civilization in Egypt.

“Despite years of study at BYU, no one has duplicated Smith’s ‘readings’ of the papyri as the ‘book of Abraham’ which strongly suggests it is a fictional invention of his imagination. This is not necessarily to say that he didn’t believe himself what he told to others. Who knows? People are as capable of deceiving themselves as they are of others.”

Other Egyptologists have weighed in on Joseph’s translation:

“It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations…”
–Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie, London University

“…these three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the Pearl of Great Price depict the most common objects in the Mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith’s interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.”

–Dr. James H. Breasted, University of Chicago

“None of these, either human or divine, who helped in Joseph Smith’s translation had any conception of the most commonplace Egyptian Characters.”

-Prof. C.S.A.B. Mercer, custodian of the Hibbard collection of Egyptian reproductions at the Western Theological Seminary

“The papyrus which Joseph Smith declared to be the Book of Abraham and explained in his fantastic way, are parts of the well-known Book of the Dead.”
-Dr. Edward Meyer of the University of Berlin and Dr. von Bissing of the University of Munich

The church and the apologists offer the suggestion that Joseph used the funerary text as a mere springboard for an independent revelation about the life of Abraham. However, this contradicts what Joseph said it.

On 5 July 1835, Joseph Smith recorded: “I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham. … Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth” (LDS.org, Pearl of Great Price Student Manual).

Joseph translated the papyri before scholars could confidently decipher the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta stone, so nobody could challenge his translation. That is not the case today.

Whether the book is doctrinally significant or not, it is apparent that Joseph was incapable of correctly translating Egyptian, and that either Joseph or the church is confused about how a translation actually works.

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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