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By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus Part 2

By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus Part 2

A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri — Part 2 (Chapters 5-7)


An Identification and the Critical Link

Several weeks after the LDS Church officially acquired the Joseph Smith papyri, it allowed sepia-toned photographs of all eleven fragments to be published in the Improvement Era magazine (February 1968). Though prior to this photographs of the papyri had been made available to selected Church scholars and some others,1 this was the first real exposure of these historic documents to the general membership and the public at large. The effect of this public unveiling -- for the members of the LDS Church at least -- was spectacular. Readers were brought face-to-face with page after page of impressive documents, and an article that seemed to completely answer even the most persistent critic. Thus, the membership was reassured that the Mormon Church and all that it taught had to be true. Why else, Mormons could reason, would the Church be willing to lay these things out before the world, unless, as they had always believed, there was absolutely nothing to hide? Recent events caused many Mormons to be grateful for this type of assurance from the Church. In what amounted to the latest round in the old "Could-Joseph-Smith-really-translate-ancient-Egyptian-or-was-he-just-faking" debate, an obscure document had come to light that had been nearly forgotten for a hundred and thirty years. Joseph had called it his ''Grammar & Alphabet of the Egyptian Language.''

Smith's ''Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,'' as it has come to be called, had never really been lost or missing. For a long time it was simply ignored, and more recently it had been considered restricted. It was among that portion of early Church records the Mormons managed to take with them when they left Nauvoo in 1846, and it was included in the list of materials recorded in the Church Historian's Office Journal as having been deposited in the Historian's fireproof vault in Salt Lake City in 1855. There the manuscript lay, apparently all but forgotten for eighty years, before being "rediscovered" in 1935 during the course of some historical research by Dr. Sidney B. Sperry of Brigham Young University, James R. Clark, a student of Sperry's, and A. William Lund, Assistant Church Historian at the time.2

These documents were not released for public examination or study, however. For the time being their discovery was not even announced.3 It was not until 1938 that Dr. Sperry was allowed to publish a pair of rather indistinct photographs of two pages from the Alphabet and Grammar notebook which contained part of a translation manuscript from the Book of Abraham. The existence of the entire Grammar was still only hinted at for many years, and only a select handful of scholars and authorities within the LDS Church were allowed access to the material.4 This, despite the great historical significance attached to it by LDS writers like William Berrett, who proudly described it as Joseph Smith's "most notable achievement . . . the development of a Grammar for the Egyptian hieroglyphic form of writing," and "the first Egyptian Grammar in America."5

Curiously, even as late as 1960 (by which time it had been known for some twenty-five years that the "Alphabet and Grammar" had survived and was in the Church's possession) Dr. Sperry remarked at BYU's Pearl of Great Price Conference that he did not know whether or not the Church authorities would yet allow it to be published, adding that he thought "it would be a little premature, perhaps, to do it now, until we can really do a good job of it."6

Others who had occasion to come into contact with the material apparently disagreed with the Church's reluctance in the matter. Late in 1965 a microfilm copy of the entire work was "leaked" to Jerald and Sandra Tanner of Modern Microfilm Company (now Utah Lighthouse Ministry). The Tanners were former Mormons who were rapidly gaining a reputation for printing documents relating to Mormonism that, though authentic, made Church officials uncomfortable. By 1966 the Tanners had produced the first complete photomechanical reprint and transcription of the entire Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.7

But contrary to what most Mormons evidently expected, publication of the Alphabet and Grammar in no way substantiated Joseph Smith's ability to translate ancient Egyptian. Quite the opposite, for the book turned out to be nothing but page after page of nonsensical gibberish. Though it had apparently succeeded at one time in impressing unsophisticated minds, the work was unable to withstand the scrutiny of experts.

Professional Egyptologists to whom the Alphabet and Grammar was submitted for examination were quick to point out that the material in Joseph Smith's notebook bore no resemblance at all to any correct understanding of the ancient Egyptian language. As one of them, I. E. Edwards, put it, the whole work was, "largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind of scientific value." He added that it reminded him of "the writings of psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to me."8 There were many similar verdicts, all confirming that the person responsible for what Berrett had glowingly called "the first Egyptian grammar in America" could not possibly have understood the ancient Egyptian language.

Small wonder then that the timely appearance of the papyri (especially the one containing Facsimile No. 1), and the apparent willingness with which the Mormon Church displayed them to the world, helped to bolster the sagging confidence of those who were perhaps still shaken by the Grammar episode. But things were not as simple as they used to be, and they were soon to become more confused. Up to this point, a small number of people within the Church had for many years been intrigued by what were apparently Egyptian characters written on the margin of a number of the original Book of Abraham manuscripts.*

Speculation as to their significance occasionally surfaced,9 but the figures were somewhat crudely drawn and it was apparently felt that little could be achieved by devoting much attention to them outside of scholarly circles. But with the growing number of people being exposed to the photographs of certain pages from the Grammar, it would now be only a matter of time before something startling was noticed: The figures on one of the Church's newly recovered papyrus fragments matched -- in order -- those found on the translation manuscripts! In other words, the original source (or at least part of it) from which Joseph Smith had translated the Book of Abraham had been identified!10 But perhaps it was best to be cautious, for no one could say with certainty who had drawn what appeared to be Egyptian characters in the margin of the manuscripts, when they had done so, or why they had chosen the figures from this particular, unadorned scrap of papyrus over the other samples available.11 Perhaps there was no real connection; if so, to proceed on such an assumption would invite a wild goose chase. Was there any other evidence to show that the fragment the Improvement Era article had labeled "Small Sensen Papyrus" could be unquestionably linked to the Book of Abraham? As it happened, there was.

Of the eleven papyri fragments, only one at first glance had any apparent connection to the Book of Abraham (that is, the original from which Facsimile No. 1 was copied). But now, with attention drawn to the "Small Sensen" papyrus as well, it became obvious to at least one of the professional non-Mormon Egyptologists studying the material, Dr. Klaus Baer of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute, that the two fragments had once been joined to form a single, larger section of a scroll. "They seem to have been cut apart after being mounted [on the backing paper]," Baer wrote after studying the photographs closely. Soon afterward he was able to confirm his theory by a physical examination of the fragments themselves. He found that the right edge of the "Small Sensen" papyrus (Papyrus Joseph Smith XI) had indeed originally been joined to the left edge of the fragment from which Facsimile No. 1 (Papyrus Joseph Smith I) had been copied.

In fact, Dr. Baer's discovery fits perfectly with descriptions of the Book of Abraham papyrus scroll that occur in the Book of Abraham, itself:

. . . and that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation [picture] at the commencement of this record (Book of Abraham 1:12).

A similar reference to Facsimile No. 1 is found two verses later:

That you may have an understanding of these gods [before which stood the altar just mentioned ], I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning [of the book] (Book of Abraham 1:14).

To appreciate the significance of these statements one must keep in mind that, in contrast to English, ancient Hieratic Egyptian (like Hebrew) was written from right to left, so that the story or message in a scroll begins at the right end and moves toward the left. Thus, the above statements tell us that a ''representation,'' or drawing, of an Egyptian altar and gods occurs at the of beginning, or right edge of the Book of Abraham scroll (the ''commencement of the record''), with the story then proceeding from right to left across the piece of papyrus material.

A look at the composite photographs of the Book of Abraham papyrus scroll on pages 33 and 51 shows that fragments I and XI of the Joseph Smith Papyri do in fact dovetail perfectly, as Dr. Baer discovered, and that piecing them back together results in just such an arrangement as is described in the Book of Abraham quotations above, with a drawing at the beginning, or right end, of the scroll.

Clearly Papyrus Joseph Smith XI -- the "Small Sensen" papyrus -- was as much a part of the Book of Abraham scroll as the Facsimile No. 1 fragment.

The Beginning of Disappointment

The stage was finally set for resolving the long, puzzling story of the Book of Abraham papyri: the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic language had been deciphered by scholars, Joseph Smith's original papyri had been rediscovered and were available for study, and the three translation manuscripts pinpointed the specific fragment from which the Book of Abraham text had been taken, as well as providing a guide to how the Prophet related the Egyptian symbols to the English translation. All of the requirements for validation which both LDS Church apologists and the critics had insisted on for the last hundred years had been met. The question of whether or not Joseph Smith was telling the truth could at last be determined.

But more was at stake than Joseph Smith's reputation; more even than the validity of the Book of Abraham. Hanging in the balance was the entire religious system established by Joseph Smith. Mormonism could at last be proven to be either true or false.

Opinions within the Church were divided at this point as to the best direction in which to proceed. Since, unfortunately, there seemed to be no qualified Egyptologists within the Church, Dr. Sperry and Dr. Clark from Brigham Young University both recommended a professional be consulted to work with the papyri. The University of Chicago's Dr. John A. Wilson, a brilliant man who had twice served as director of the University's Oriental Institute, was suggested, but LDS leaders were uncomfortable with allowing a non-Mormon scholar to do the translation. The papyri would remain under the Church's control at Brigham Young University, and by the end of 1967 the task of studying and translating them had fallen chiefly to BYU's Dr. Hugh Nibley.

From all appearances, the selection of Dr. Nibley for the project seemed an excellent one. An intense, deeply committed scholar, Nibley was perhaps more thoroughly versed in the study of ancient scripture than any of his LDS contemporaries. He was on familiar ground with the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Babylonian, Russian, French, German, Arabic, and Coptic languages. More importantly, he had produced a number of impressive books dealing with the interpretation of LDS scripture, doctrine, and responses to various "problem areas" raised by critics of the Church.1 However, Dr. Nibley was not an Egyptologist, as he himself was the first to admit. The ancient Egyptian language is a unique area of study that is extremely difficult to master. Nibley must have realized his expertise with other ancient languages would be of little help in working with the papyri, for shortly after learning of their existence (and long before their discovery was publicly announced) he had begun to study Egyptian in Chicago with Dr. John A. Wilson.2 This "head start" in the ancient tongue was doubtless helpful to Nibley, but it was nevertheless quite inadequate, and he found himself unqualified to deal with the papyri on his own.

Fortunately, help was soon to appear from within the Church. Sometime early in 1967, Nibley had started corresponding with a Mormon elder named Dee Jay Nelson. Nelson explained that he had been involved in the study of Egyptology for some twenty years and that he had acquired an excellent functional knowledge of ancient Egyptian through years of field work under the late Egyptian Egyptologist Zakaria Goneim. For many years Goneim had been Keeper of Antiquities at the Necropolis of Saqqara. It was obvious to Nibley that Elder Nelson was probably the only available Latter-day Saint with sufficient expertise to translate the papyri.3

In a letter dated June 27, 1967, Dr. Nibley told Nelson,

I see no reason in the world why you should not be taken into the confidence of the Brethren if this thing ever comes out into the open; in fact, you should be enormously useful to the Church . . . As you know, there are parties in Salt Lake who are howling for a showdown on the P.G.P. [Pearl of Great Price, of which the Book of Abraham is a portion]; if they have their way we may have to get together . . . 4

Which is just what they did, the two men finally meeting at BYU early in January 1968, where they examined the original papyri. By this time Dr. Nibley had probably been able to develop a sufficient background knowledge in elementary Egyptian to be a fair judge of Nelson's abilities. Apparently pleased and satisfied with Nelson, Nibley sent him, with a written recommendation, to meet with LDS Apostle N. Eldon Tanner at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. There Nelson was to obtain one of the special sets of papyri photographs which were then being selectively released for Church-related purposes only.5

Confident that a translation would soon be forthcoming, the editors of the Church'sImprovement Era magazine prepared the February 1968 issue, complete with an impressive collection of photographs of the Book of Abraham papyri, and the promise that in future articles Dr. Nibley would reveal "the meaning of the hieroglyphics and illustrations on these valuable manuscripts."6

Meanwhile, two things were becoming clear to those working with the papyri. First, two key papyri fragments belonged together to form one piece. And second, these fragments could be linked to the Book of Abraham. However, Nelson, who by now was close to finishing his translations, was learning something which greatly disturbed him: not only did the papyri (including Facsimile No. 1 and the Small Sensen fragment)not contain the Book of Abraham, there was not even the remotest connection between their contents and Abraham. They were simply ordinary Egyptian funeral documents; nothing more and nothing less.

Nelson said as much when he submitted the results of his work to the LDS Church, sending copies by mail to both Nibley and Tanner.*

The church declined the offer to publish Nelson's findings, however, unless substantial revision or explanation of them was made beforehand, conditions Nelson felt he could not accept.7 Still, Dr. Nibley praised Nelson's work (and even quoted a portion of it) in the Spring 1968 issue of the publication Brigham Young University Studies, calling it a "conscientious and courageous piece of work," and pointing out that it supplied students with "a usable and reliable translation of the available papyri that once belonged to Joseph Smith." But when pressed as to why a translation was not forthcoming from the Church -- indeed, why they had not proceeded with all haste to produce such a translation -- Nibley puzzled his readers by admitting that "it is doubtful whether any translation could do as much good as harm."

Such comments from Nibley, and his remarks concerning Nelson, were probably prompted by the fact that Nelson's translation work had been in print since the first of April, despite the fact that the LDS Church had refused publication. When his own church had refused his work, Nelson offered his translation and conclusions to Jerald and Sandra Tanner, who were pleased to publish this work, as they had the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, earlier. While it would have been pointless for Nibley or anyone else to challenge a translation certain to be verified by others as time passed, it was still a sore spot among many LDS people that a press considered "hostile" to the Church had been the first to publish a translation of the papyri. Even publication by neutral, non-Mormon scholars would have been preferable to that!

It was at this point, and with this thought in mind, that the editors of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, decided to approach a number of renowned Egyptologists, requesting their interpretations of the Joseph Smith papyri.8 This was a dramatic and daring step, for Dialogue is not an official publication of the LDS Church. Rather, it is a privately controlled magazine used as a vehicle by Mormon "intelligentsia" to discuss controversial topics not explored in depth by Church-controlled publications, such as the Improvement Era. On more than one occasion in the past Dialogue had presented articles dealing with "touchy" subjects such as polygamy and the Adam-God teachings of Brigham Young, and in doing so had focused the displeasure of various General Authorities on members of its editorial board. (One of Dialogue's editors later admitted that he had feared just such a confrontation with Church authorities over the plan to publish translations of the Joseph Smith papyri. As it turned out, the Church remained silent on the matter and the article was not opposed.9)

Just the same, Nibley was quick to caution the Saints against attributing too much significance to the interpretations of the scholars. When the reports began to come in -- from Dr. John A. Wilson (University of Chicago), confirming the identification of all the fragments as funerary texts, and from Dr. Klaus Baer (University of Chicago) and Professor Richard Parker (Brown University), each providing translations of the "Small Sensen" papyrus, they agreed in all essentials with Nelson's. At this point Nibley began to shift the focus of his own work. Instead of stressing an objective study of the papyri themselves, he began to develop various theories on how the Book of Abraham could have been produced other than as the result of "a 'translation' in any accepted sense of the word."10 After Wilson and Parker's translations and comments were published, Nibley wrote in an article in the Summer 1968 issue of Dialogue,

Today nobody claims that Joseph Smith got his information through ordinary scholarly channels. In that case, one wonders how any amount of checking along ordinary scholarly channels is going to get us very far.

Nibley's articles in the Improvement Era ran for more than two years (January 1968 - May 1970). In them, his rather lavish display of scholarship portrayed him as confident and capable, and this created many favorable expectations within the Church. But contrary to what LDS readers were promised, Nibley never provided a translation of any of the papyri in these Improvement Era articles. Meanwhile Nelson, armed with his published translations, a flair for public speaking, and a penchant for showmanship, began lecturing on his exclusive work with the Book of Abraham papyri. And the longer he lectured the more he embellished his list of credentials and past accomplishments.11 Thus, while Nibley and Nelson set out on very different courses, the actions of both men served to obscure the one vital issue in the controversy that mattered: the actual evidence of the papyri themselves.

The Evidence of the Papyri

When the opportunity was extended to several Egyptologists to examine and comment on the eleven papyrus fragments from the Metropolitan Museum, the same papyri that once belonged to Joseph Smith and from which he claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham, each of them arrived at the same conclusion: the papyri were common funeral texts, all clearly dating after 500 B.C.,1 fifteen-hundred years or more later than Abraham's time, and having no connection whatever with the biblical patriarch Abraham. Dr. Baer of Chicago's Oriental Institute identified the eleven fragments (and also an additional fragment from the Church Historian's office that had been included with Smith's Alphabet and Grammar material, for a total of twelve) as belonging to portions of three original papyrus volumes:2

Book of Breathings (also known as Shait en Sensen) "Breathing permit" for the priest Hor, son of the priest Osorwer and the lady Tikhebyt, as found on Papyrus Joseph Smith I, X and XI.
Book of the Dead belonging to the lady Amon-Re Neferirnub, as found on Papyrus Joseph Smith IIIA and IIIB.
Book of the Dead for the deceased Tshenmin (or Ta Shert Min; Ta-Shere-Min), daughter of Nes-Khensu, as found on Papyrus Joseph Smith II, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX (the fragment from the Alphabet and Grammar).
Photographs and examinations of all twelve of the Joseph Smith papyrus fragments appear on the following pages. The piece labeled Papyrus Joseph Smith I (the Facsimile No. 1 fragment) is given first, followed by Papyrus Joseph Smith XI (the "Small Sensen" text fragment), since the two were originally directly adjoining pieces of a single scroll, identified by Joseph Smith as ''the writings of Abraham.'' Papyrus Joseph Smith X, another fragment from the same scroll, is given next. Next is Papyrus Joseph Smith IIIA and IIIB, and finally the remainder of the papyri. The numerical designations used are those which were originally given the papyri by Dr. Hugh Nibley in the February 1968 Improvement Era.

(The color foldout on pp. 33, 34 shows how a number of the fragments originally fit together to make up sections of two papyrus scrolls, identified by Joseph Smith as ''the writings of Abraham," and ''the writings of Joseph of Egypt," respectively. These are the first published, color photographs of the Joseph Smith papyri.)

Papyrus Joseph Smith I

This fragment (p. 64) bears a mortuary vignette, flanked by hieroglyphic writing. It is the opening portion of an Egyptian Shait en Sensen, or Book of Breathings. The Book of Breathings, a late and abbreviated funerary text that grew out of the earlier and more complex Book of the Dead, first appeared sometime near the beginning of the Ptolemaic (Greek) Period, in the late fourth or early third-century B.C. Written on a scroll, sealed with bitumen, and placed inside the coffin with the deceased, the Book of Breathings contained a series of magic spells to be recited by the spirit of the corpse after burial in order to teach itself to "breathe," and thus be prepared for its existence in the afterlife.

This particular scroll was prepared (as determined by handwriting, spelling, content, etc.) sometime during the late Ptolemaic or early Roman period (circa 50 B.C. to A.D. 50).3 When it was originally unrolled in Kirtland in 1835, major portions of the book were damaged, as may be seen in the photograph. (Egyptologists have been critical of Joseph Smith's interpretation of this vignette, and have pointed out that there are serious errors in his reconstructions of missing portions. A professional reconstruction is compared to that of Smith, on pp. 64, 65.)

The five vertical columns of hieroglyphic figures on the papyrus confirm the funeral nature of the vignette (see p. 102 for an explanation of the Egyptian mythology represented here), giving titles, name, and parentage of the man for whose benefit the scroll was originally prepared. Translated by Dr. Baer,4 from right to left they read:

Lines 1 - 3 -- ". . . the prophet of Amonrasonter, prophet [?] of Min Bull-of-his-Mother, prophet [?] of Khons the Governor . . . Hor, justified, son of the holder of the same titles, master of secrets, and purifier of the gods Osorwer, justified [?] . . . Tikhebyt, justified. May your ba live among them, and may you be buried in the West . . ."
Line 4 -- too little remaining to translate.
Line 5 -- "May you give him a good, splendid burial on the West of Thebes just like . . .''

The differences between these final two drawings are significant. In Smith's version, a human-headed figure holds a knife; in the professional reconstruction this is a jackal-headed figure without a knife. Also, in Smith's reconstruction the flying bird at the right has a bird's head, while in the professional reconstruction the bird has a man's head (notice the beard stroke coming down from the chin in front of the hair in the picture, and compare this with Smith's Facsimile No. 1). In Smith's the man lying down has both hands raised; in the other a bird is hovering over a man who has one hand raised, there being too many lines in the upper hand in the photograph to represent fingers. The man lying down is also shown as an ithyphallic figure in the professional reconstruction -- this is explained further on page 102.

Before Joseph Smith's reconstruction of the drawing was published in the Mormon periodical Times and Seasons, he took special pains to insure that those portions missing from the papyrus itself were depicted exactly as he intended. He supervised the preparation of the woodcut,5 approved the cut when it was completely finished, and provided the "inspired" explanation of the scene -- including explanations of the parts he had restored. All this indicates the drawing of Facsimile No. 1 as it appears in the Book of Abraham is precisely as Joseph wanted it to be.

The rediscovery of the original papyrus has confirmed what Egyptologists had long suspected -- that Joseph Smith produced Facsimile No. 1 by copying a scene from a genuine but damaged Egyptian papyrus, and that the errors in Facsimile No. 1 correspond to the missing portions of the original, which Joseph Smith incorrectly filled in. None of the reconstructions supplied by Smith are vindicated by the study of Egyptology. Instead, all of them have been shown to be erroneous.

Papyrus Joseph Smith XI

This single fragment is unquestionably the most significant of the eleven recovered by the LDS Church in 1967-- more important than even the instantly recognizable "Facsimile No. 1" fragment. It was from the Egyptian characters on the right hand side of this "Small Sensen" papyrus that Joseph Smith claimed to derive the translated text of the Book of Abraham.

The right edge of this papyrus was once connected to the left edge of the "Facsimile No. 1" papyrus (see foldout, p. 33). The larger scroll section they formed was cut apart after it was glued to backing paper in the nineteenth century. A translation shows it to be the opening portion of a first-century A.D. Book of Breathings that had been prepared for Hor, a deceased priest of the Egyptian God Amon.

Divided into two columns, the figures on the right half give instructions to those embalming Hor's body on how to properly wrap up the collection of magic spells (that is, the Book of Breathings) so they are included in the mummy wrappings over his breast. (Translation by Richard A. Parker.)6

Line 1 -- [. . . .] this great pool of Khonsu
Line 2 -- [Osiris Hor, justified], born of Taykhebyt, a man likewise.
Line 3 -- After (his) two arms are [fast]ened to his breast, one wraps the Book of Breathings, which is
Line 4 -- with writing both inside and outside of it, with royal linen, it being placed [at] his left arm
Line 5 -- near his heart, this having been done at his
Line 6 -- wrapping and outside it. If this book be recited for him, then
Line 7 -- he will breathe like the soul[s of gods] for ever and
Line 8 -- ever.

The left side of the fragment begins the series of spells to be recited.

Papyrus Joseph Smith X

Usually referred to as the "Large Sensen" papyrus, this fragment is a continuation of the same Book of Breathings scroll just examined (Papyri Joseph Smith I, XI; see foldout, p. 33). Prepared for a priest of the Egyptian god Amon, named Hor, son of the priest Osorwer and the lady Tikhebyt, it continues the spells begun in the second column of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI. The entire text deals with common themes from pagan Egyptian mythology and bears no similarity whatever to the subject of Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham.

Much of the right-hand portion of this brittle fragment has now flaked away from the backing paper to which it was mounted. There is, however, an impression of the papyrus that remains in the outline of glue, which allows us to see how much of it was originally present when it was unrolled. When all three fragments (Papyrus Joseph Smith X, XI and I) are lined up in order, an outline of their top edge shows a perfectly repeating pattern of dips and gouges, demonstrating that these missing portions once overlapped each other when the scroll was rolled up, and that they broke off and were lost together when the scroll was first unrolled. This point is particularly important since the major differences between Joseph Smith's version of the scene in Papyrus Joseph Smith I and the expert restoration are all found in the areas reconstructed by Smith. Joseph Smith could not have seen what was on those missing pieces, so that responsibility for the rendition of Facsimile No. 1 is entirely his own.

Papyrus Joseph Smith IIIA and IIIB

These two fragments are simply one scene cut into two pieces. Shown is an illustration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Chapter (or Spell) 125 -- Osiris judging the dead. The deceased woman for whom this book was prepared, a female musician named Amon-Re Neferirnub,7 is being led before the throne of Osiris, god of the underworld, by Maat, goddess of justice, while Toth (bottom center) is weighing her merit against her fault, on a balance. The deceased wears a perfumed cone and lotus flower on her head, in accordance with Egyptian festival attire. Osiris sits before a libation platform topped by a stylized papyrus plant and bearing jars of wines and oils, wearing the double-plumed crown and holding the royal flail and crook. This is a very common Egyptian funerary scene.

It is not known whether Joseph Smith ever made any particular identification of these fragments, or any other portions of this copy of the Book of the Dead.

Papyrus Joseph Smith IV

This fragment and the six remaining fragments which follow, are all part of a single scroll, an illustrated Egyptian Book of the Dead prepared for a woman named Ta-shert-Min, daughter of Nes-Khensu, sometime in the second half of the Ptolemaic period.8 This was after hieratic writing had evolved from the more elaborate hieroglyphic form, but before the Book of the Dead was generally replaced by simpler funeral texts (such as the Book of Breathings). The book is divided into many short chapters, or "spells," which are readily identifiable and often accompanied by vignettes to illustrate them. The scenes contain the same basic material and occur in the same order typical of the Book of the Dead during this late period. For example, shown on this fragment are portions of Chapters 99, 100, 101, 103, 104, 105, and 106. In addition, several small fragments from a completely different work -- the later "Book of Breathings for the priest Hor" -- have been glued haphazardly over stains and gaps that appear on the original fragment, apparently as a cosmetic measure to make the fragment appear more attractive. It is not known who may have done this or when, but it appears that whoever attached these additional flakes had more of the Book of Breathings scroll available to him than the three fragments from the Metropolitan Museum collection. While at least two major flakes can be traced to Papyrus Joseph Smith X and at least one to Papyrus Joseph Smith XI, the large flake in the upper left corner (which is upside down) comes from neither, though it unquestionably has its origin in the Book of Breathings. Also, a tiny flake atop the large flake directly in the center (also glued on upside down) appears to contain design elements similar to the upper border of "Facsimile No. 3 from the Book of Abraham" (the papyrus original of this scene has not been located).

Papyrus Joseph Smith VI

Another portion of the Egyptian Book of the Dead for Ta-shert-Min, this fragment contains chapters 83, 86, 87, 88, and 89. It fits between Papyrus Joseph Smith V on the right, and Papyrus Joseph Smith IV on the left, and contains several sets of rubrics, or writings in red. A large flake with writing from a different papyrus has been glued upside-down over a bare spot in the upper right corner of the backing paper.

Papyrus Joseph Smith VII

This is actually two small, unconnected fragments, though they were once very close together on the original scroll. The fragment on the left attaches along the upper right-hand edge of Papyrus Joseph Smith V. Egyptian Book of the Dead for Ta-shert-Min, Chapters 53, 54, 63, and 65. Rubrics are visible on the left fragment only.

Papyrus Joseph Smith VIII

Egyptian Book of the Dead for Ta-shert-Min, Chapters 57, 67, 70, and 72. This fragment fits into the scroll on the lower right edge of Papyrus Joseph Smith V, immediately below the portion of Papyrus Joseph Smith VII. It also contains rubrics.

Papyrus Joseph Smith IX

It is unclear how the LDS Church came to be in possession of this fragment, since no papyrus fragments were believed to have been taken west by the Mormons when they left Nauvoo. Some believe that this mounted fragment may have been given to an Indian chief as a token of respect by Joseph Smith while he was still living, and later returned to Brigham Young by the same Indian when the Mormons were moving west after Joseph's death.9 In any case, it found its way long ago into the collection of notes and manuscripts that made up Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar material in the Church Historian's Office. There its existence was known of at least since Sperry's "rediscovery" in 1935, though scholars coming across it were instructed by the Church Historian's office to keep it as "a matter of confidence." This they apparently did until a microfilm of the Grammar material reached the Tanners of Modern Microfilm Company (now called Utah Lighthouse Ministry) in 1965 and was published by them in 1966. The existence of this fragment was finally acknowledged by the LDS Church two years later in the February 1968 Improvement Era. The article announced as an "interesting development," the "locating of another fragment in the vaults at the Church Historian's Office."

Known as the "Church Historian's fragment," this badly damaged papyrus is also a part of the Egyptian Book of the Dead belonging to Ta-shert-Min, and was located on the original scroll somewhat nearer the beginning of the book (to the right) than the other, better preserved fragments recovered from the Metropolitan Museum.

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