Sometimes we assume that certain information is already known by people who visit our site, but that’s not always the case. Problems with The Book of Abraham, while semi-openly admitted (and whitewashed) by the church’s own online essay, are not widely known by members of the church. So, here’s a brief summary of the problems, written for your convenience.
Unfortunately for Joseph and modern-day Mormons, the papyri were literal objects that the church has possession of, and Egyptologists are now able to read them easily. According to every Egyptologist who has read the papyri (minus one LDS Egyptologist), they are ordinary funerary texts that were buried with mummies, completely unrelated to Abraham or Joseph of Egypt.
So what does the church have to say about that fact? Here’s an except from their LDS.org essay about it:
“The relationship of these documents to the book of Abraham is not fully understood.”
“Not fully understood”? But didn’t Joseph claim they were translations? Awkward.
They also admit that, “Neither the rules nor the translations in the grammar book correspond to those recognized by Egyptologists today.”
Also from the church’s website: “Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham”
As with the seer stone, the church is relying on its “we don’t really know exactly what translation entailed” excuse to attempt to explain away the obvious fraud that is The Book of Abraham. They also throw out the suggestion that perhaps if we had the lost papyri, we wouldn’t be in this pickle:
“It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri.”
Interesting that God would allow the only remaining parts of the papyri available to be total garbage and unrelated to everything Joseph claimed they were about.
Joseph also identified specific characters on the facsimiles and gave their translations that Egyptologists say are completely in error. If only he could have used his seer capabilities to learn about the future discovery of the Rosetta Stone, eh?
Joseph also appeared to be pretty weak, astronomy-wise.The sun does not borrow light from other sources—every modern-day scientist knows that. But in Joseph’s time, it was perhaps more feasible for people to believe that the sun borrows its light from a star named Kolob… right?
Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph’s mother, charged tourists a quarter to view the Egyptian antiquities. Joseph also originally published The Book of Abraham in the “Times and Seasons” newspaper (which he owned) in different parts, and told readers they needed to renew their (paid) subscriptions so they wouldn’t miss any cliff-hanging Abrahamic adventures in Egypt. (To borrow a phrase from Mormon Think!) Televangelism, anyone?
James Randi, a former magician who now devotes his life to detecting false claims, said this about The Book of Abraham:
“There is no question of it: Joseph Smith was totally incapable of translating the Egyptian language. He needed a mysterious discovery to produce the Book of Abraham, and he invented a totally fanciful translation of some common papyrus scraps to perpetrate his deception. Now that it has been uncovered, those scientists [referring to LDS apologists like Hugh Nibley] who will not ever throw out the theory have turned to throwing out the facts. It is rationalization in a very obvious and infantile form.”
More information about Joseph’s sources for the Book of Abraham: http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-abraham-issues.htm#sources
More information in general, including sources for this post: http://www.mormonthink.com/book-of-abraham-issues.htm#introduction