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.

Joseph Smith claimed that the papyri contained the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt, but modern Egyptologists have confirmed that it is a totally inaccurate translation, entirely unrelated to Abraham or Joseph of Egypt.

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 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.”

The LDS church admits on their website that the Book of Abraham is not a translation of the papyri Joseph claimed it was a translation of:

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.

The Book of Abraham also contains blatant translation errors, like listing drawings of women as men, and canopic jars as idols.

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?

Joseph Smith used the papyri that he claimed related to the Book of Abraham to earn his family money.

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:

More information in general, including sources for this post:


Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young
Zina Jacobs-Smith-Young would have been a millennial blogger, but she died in 1901. The wife of Brigham Young, and prior to that Joseph Smith, and prior to that Henry Jacobs, who was sent on a mission by Brigham before he married her, Zina loves writing, long walks on the beach, and playing the field.
  • Harrison Smith

    The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 and cracked in 1822 by Champollion. Joseph acquired the papyrus in 1835. Who writes the content on this site? Whoever does, clearly doesn’t care about accuracy.

    • Steve Tandberg

      While it was cracked in 1822, it wasn’t accepted in the United States for another 20-30 years.

    • SachmoJoe

      So that makes the Book of Abraham less of an obvious fraud?

    • Kimberly Anderson

      Yeah, Pretty much like Joe Smith I recon’. Does this mean you’ll be accepting everything written here as God’s truth too?

  • Stan Larson

    Michael D. Rhodes published his ninety-seven-page book, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation
    and Commentary, which was the second volume in the series entitled Studies
    in the Book of Abraham by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon
    Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University. Rhodes never comments on how his English translation of the Egyptian texts supports or does not support the Book of Abraham. However, we have an opportunity here to
    verify or not verify the Book of Abraham through Facsimile No. 1. Consider the following concerning Facsimile
    No. 1: Joseph Smith states that Fig. 1 is “The Angel of the Lord,” while Rhodes on p. 18 states that Fig. 1 is “a bird with outstretched wings. Most of the bird’s head is missing, but it seems to have had a human head.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 2 is “Abraham fastened upon an altar,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 2 is “A person (presumably the deceased) lies on a lion couch. He is bareheaded. His legs are spread and his two arms are held
    up in the classical gesture of praising or asking. He is wearing a knee-length kilt and has
    anklets around each ankle.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 3 is “The idolatrous priest of Elkenah attempting to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 3 is “a figure wearing a leopard skin and kilt. His left arm is extended over the person on the couch, although the hand is missing. The head too is missing, but the black coloring of the skin help us with reasonable certainty to identify the figure as Anubis.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 4 is “The altar for sacrifice by the idolatrous priests, standing before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 4 is “a lion couch.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 5 is “The idolatrous god of Elkenah,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 5 is “Oebehsenuef with a falcon’s head.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 6 is “The idolatrous god of Libnah,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 6 is “Duamutef with a jackal’s head.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 7 is “The idolatrous god of Mahmackrah,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 7 is “Hapy with an ape’s head.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 8 is “The idolatrous god of Korash,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 8 is “Imsety with a human head.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 9 is “The idolatrous god of Pharaoh,” while
    Rhodes states that Fig. 9 is “in the water is a crocodile.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 10 is “Abraham in Egypt,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 11 is “an offering stand with offerings on it surmounted by a lotus blossom.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 11 is “Designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 11 is “the niched structure typical of early dynastic palaces and tomb facades.” Joseph Smith states that Fig. 12 is “Raukeeyang, signifying expanse, or the firmament over our heads; but in this case, in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify Shaumau, to be high, or the heavens, answering to the
    Hebrew word, Shaumahyeem,” while Rhodes states that Fig. 12 is “a body of water indicated in the standard Egyptian manner with zigzag lines.” In summary, it does not look good for Joseph Smith’s ability to translate Egyptian.

  • Bill Johnson

    For those that really want to believe in the BOA, they can bring forth some sort of argument to combat the papyri and Joseph’s translations. The usual argument is that either (1) there’s still some missing papyri that is really the source of the BOA or (2) Joseph may have received direct revelation and not used the papyri at all. Although these arguments are sheer speculation that contradict much of the evidence, they cannot be proven 100% false.

    However, there simply is no explanation that makes any sense at all for explaining why Joseph’s interpretations of the three facsimiles are completely wrong according to modern-day understanding of Egyptology. Joseph was very specific in identifying the very Egyptian characters in the facsimiles that he gave translations for such as:

    Facsimile#3, explanation of figure 2, Joseph writes: “King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head.” What those characters above his head really say is: “The great Isis, mother of the god.”

    Again, Facsimile 3, explanation 4 reads: “Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand.” Above the hand it actually says “Ma’at, Lady of the West.”

    Again, Facsimile 3, explanation 5 reads: “Shulem, one of the King’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand.” What those characters actually say is “Osiris Hor, the justified forever.”

    How can anyone say Joseph was right on these specific translations when he identifies the very Egyptian characters that he is translating? Egyptologists are in total agreement that they mean something completely different than what Joseph claimed.

    The revelation theory doesn’t explain Joseph’s completely wrong explanations of the three facsimiles. God certainly would not have given Joseph incorrect revelation.

    • charles rivera

      Misidentifying figures and using titles like “King Pharaoh” and “Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt” are cringe-worthy enough. But to find out they are actually effin’ FEMALE…oy vey! How do people still believe Joseph’s $h!+?

  • Inquisitive

    Bill Johnson, there is no need to “combat” the papyri and Joseph Smith’s translations. There is only a need to explain them rationally, and embrace the papyri. Mormons aren’t wrong and the translations aren’t wrong. Mormons haven’t been giving good enough explanations, because they haven’t embraced the forensic evidence before, and seeking for the ancient context for those things, that is, until now.

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  • xlnja

    This is what brought down the house of cards for me… not only for JS’s faulty translation but for the church’s feeble explanations and attempts to bury the history of the rediscovery of the papyri in the 60s. I was always told the papyri burned in the Chicago fire only to find out in my 30s that the papyri had been rediscovered before I was born. If the church had tried to hide this from my generation, what other falsehoods were there?… And thus began the collapse of my belief in the church (and any religion).

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