You are here

By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus Part 3

Printer-friendly version

By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus Part 3

A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri — Part 3 (Chapters 8-10)
Charles M. Larson

The Book of Joseph?

It will be remembered that when Joseph Smith first examined his new papyri collection in 1835, he reported that it included writings of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph:

... 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, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc., -- a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them.1

Recent discoveries have shown conclusively that the roll of papyrus Joseph had represented as the Book of Abraham was actually the "Book of Breathings for the priest Hor." But what of the "writings of Joseph of Egypt?" Is there any indication of what that scroll may have been?

The answer is yes. In fact, there is every indication that the scroll Joseph Smith identified as the "Book of Joseph," was in fact the "Egyptian Book of the Dead for the lady Ta-shert-Min, daughter of Nes-Khensu."

Joseph Smith apparently never produced any "translation" material for the "Book of Joseph" (as he did with his Book of Abraham),2 but fortunately we do have Oliver Cowdery's observations on the scroll that the Prophet identified as the Book of Joseph. Cowdery, longtime associate of Joseph Smith and one of the principle scribes involved with the papyri, gave an excellent description of this scroll in a letter that appeared in a Mormon publication of the day. He writes:

The language in which this record is written is very comprehensive, and many of the hieroglyphics exceedingly striking. The evidence is apparent upon the face that they were written by persons acquainted with the history of creation, the fall of man, and more or less the correct ideas or notions of Deity.

The representation of the god-head -- three, yet in one, is curiously drawn to give simply, though impressively, the writer's views of that exalted personage.* The serpent, represented as walking, or formed in a manner to be able to walk, standing in front of, and near a female figure, is to me, one of the greatest representations I have ever seen upon paper, or a writing substance; and must go so far towards convincing the rational mind of the correctness and divine authority of the holy scriptures ... as to carry away, with one mighty sweep, the whole atheistical fabric ... Enoch's Pillar, as mentioned in Josephus, is upon the same roll ... The inner end of the same roll, (Joseph's record,) presents a representation of the judgment: At one view you behold the Savior seated upon his throne, crowned, and holding the sceptres of righteousness and power; before him are assembled the twelve tribes of Israel and all the kingdoms of the world; while Michael the Archangel holds the keys to the bottomless pit in which Satan has been chained . . . (From a letter of Oliver Cowdery to William Frye, dated December 25, 1835, and published in the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate of the same month.)

A comparison of Cowdery's descriptions with scenes found on the recovered fragments of the Book of the Dead for Ta-shert-Min appears on the following pages. In addition, an important section of this scroll which is now missing, but which would surely have been included in the last part (inner end) of the Book of the Dead, is the scene from Chapter 125, where the deceased is led into the presence of Osiris (compare photo and examination of Papyrus Joseph Smith IIIA and IIIB on pp. 70,71; see also the color foldout on p. 34, which shows a large section of the Book of Joseph scroll). Cowdery's description of "the Savior seated upon his throne, crowned, and holding the scepters of righteousness and power," along with the other details he mentions associated with this scene, correspond very well to the major elements found in numerous similar scenes depicting the Court of Osiris.

It is quite apparent from the evidence Cowdery left us that he was indeed describing a typical scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead rather than a story penned by the patriarch Joseph, as he had been led to believe. Still, Cowdery's interpretation should not be considered unusual for the period, as he was dealing with then indecipherable manuscripts of undetermined origin and date (there being no true understanding of Egyptian mythology or funerary texts available during Joseph Smith's lifetime). Cowdery's impressions are merely common-sense speculations by a person with no expertise regarding the esoteric subject matter at hand. Joseph's scribe could easily have been describing almost any Book of the Dead scroll. Joseph Smith's papyri collection included at least one other Book of the Dead manuscript (that of Amon-Re Neferirnub)3 and possibly still another (according to notes made in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar material). But he was most likely referring to one that had been made for Ta-shert-Min. The picture of the ''serpent with legs standing near a female figure,'' for example, that had so impressed Cowdery, had been copied from Papyrus Joseph Smith V into the pages of a small notebook (included among the Grammar material) bearing the handwritten title "Valuable Discovery of hidden records that have been obtained from the ancient burying place of the Egyptians," followed by the signature of Joseph Smith, Jr.4

Also significant is the presence of rubrics on the Ta-shert-Min scroll. Again, it is Cowdery who identifies this feature for us in the article previously cited:

Upon the subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph, I may say a few words. This record is beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation. (emphasis added)

Cowdery's understanding that two of these "records" were the "writings of Abraham and Joseph" must be attributed to the fact that Joseph Smith identified them as such, since the Mormon leader never felt it was necessary to correct Cowdery's published descriptions. However, it should also be noted that some of the key phrases in Cowdery's description were derived from the published placard Michael Chandler used to help promote his traveling mummy exhibition. According to a statement by several prominent Philadelphia doctors who had viewed Chandler's exhibit, the placard read in part:

The features of some of these Mummies are in perfect expression. The papyrus, covered with black or red ink, or paint, in excellent preservation, are very interesting.5 (emphasis added)

It can be seen, then, that Cowdery's reference to "a small part red" does not mean to say that throughout the entire collection of papyri there was uniformly scattered a small number of rubrics, but rather, that of the two rolls, just one had this feature of writing in red. Regarding this collection, which did include some papyri with black and red writing, he believed one roll to contain the writings of Abraham, and a different roll the writings of Joseph. The crucial point is that of these two rolls, there was only one with black and red writing.* Since the "Book of Breathings for the priest Hor" (the scroll identified by Joseph Smith as "writings of Abraham") does not contain rubrics, the scroll identified by Smith as the "writings of Joseph" should. And, indeed, it does. The "Book of the Dead for Ta-shert-Min," which matches so perfectly Cowdery's detailed description of the Book of Joseph is the only text among the recovered papyri that has these rubrics.* (The rubrics are clearly visible in the color foldout picture of the Book of Joseph scroll on p. 34.)


As this chapter has demonstrated, the papyrus fragments which Joseph Smith identified as the writings of the biblical patriarch Joseph correspond perfectly to the six papyri in the Joseph Smith Papyrus collection rediscovered in 1967: Papyrus Joseph Smith II, IV, V, VI, VII, and VIII (shown together in the composite photograph on p. 34). In light of Joseph Smith's identification of these papyri as the writings of the Hebrew patriarch Joseph, it is remarkable that the Mormon Church has failed to translate them through its self-proclaimed gift of Seer -- described by Apostle Orson Pratt as a unique sign of the One True Church, the ability to translate ''ancient records in any language'' by the gift and power of God, just as Joseph Smith had done (see p. 37). Surely any manuscript of such antiquity and authored by such an illustrious person would be of inestimable archeological and spiritual significance. In Mormon Doctrine, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, writing before the Joseph Smith Papyri were rediscovered, predicted that, ''But the day shall come when the Book of Joseph shall be restored and its contents shall be known again.''6 Since the papyri which Joseph Smith identified as the Book of Joseph are now available, it is fair to ask, Why does the Book of Joseph remain untranslated through the gift of Seer which is claimed to reside in the First Presidency of the Mormon Church?

Translating Egyptian: A Comparison

As mentioned earlier, the ancient Egyptian language was a virtually unbroken code to all but a handful of scholars in Joseph Smith's day. Half a continent and an ocean away from the Mormon prophet, a painstaking effort was underway that would unlock the secrets of the Rosetta Stone (a trilingual Egyptian-Greek inscription discovered in 1799 which played a key role in the deciphering of ancient Egyptian), and rediscover the grammatical elements of hieroglyphic language. As the decades passed and scholars persisted in their efforts, the understanding of the ancient Egyptian language took on more precise definition.

Before any comparison can be made between Joseph Smith's methods of translation and those used in the science of Egyptology, it will be helpful to understand a little about how the Egyptian language works.

Ancient Egyptian writing is composed of both phonograms ("sound-signs") and ideagrams (signs that convey their meaning pictorially). In this language a word was usually expressed by using one or more phonograms, followed by an ideagram. In this arrangement the ideagram is called a determinative, because it "determines" the meaning of the foregoing sound-signs and defines their meaning in a general way.1

To illustrate this, examine the word "sensen" as it appears in Papyrus Joseph Smith XI (picture below). To read this word one must start at the right side and read to the left.2 The first letter that appears is a phonogram [ ], and has the sound corresponding to the letter "s" The next letter, written below the first, is also a phonogram [ ], and represents the sound of the letter "n". These two letters are then repeated, resulting in "snsn.'' There are no written vowels in Egyptian, so Egyptologists usually insert the letter "e" when appropriate.3 Thus, we have the word sensen, which means "breathe." (On this papyrus it is used as part of the name of the scroll, i.e., Book of Breathings). The last part of the word is an ideagram-determinative [ ], in this case a picture of a sail. It does not enter into the sound of the word, but is supplied merely to show that the word has something to do with wind, breath, or air.

While some Egyptian words need no determinative, many have more than one; some words even require as many as three determinatives to express a single thought. Egyptian writing was thus cumbersome to use, and lacked any true depth of abstraction. That it was able to survive for more than three millennia was due more to its use within a stagnant society, than to any special merit of its own. Eventually its vast inferiority to other forms of writing, such as Greek or Hebrew, led to its disuse and ultimate disappearance.

But no one realized any of this in Joseph Smith's time. The whole matter of Egyptian language was a blank book, where one theory, speculation, or dogmatic pronouncement regarding the translation of an ancient Egyptian document would have seemed as valid as another.

In order to appreciate the methods of "translating" Egyptian used by Joseph Smith, remember that this was not the first time he claimed experience in working with Egyptian writing. The golden plates of the Book of Mormon, wrote Smith in 1842, had been "filled with engravings, in Egyptian characters."4 According to an account within the Book of Mormon (Mormon 9:32,33) the language which appeared upon the plates was more properly called "reformed Egyptian," for it had been modified somewhat by the Nephites "after their manner of speech." A man named Mormon explains in this passage that if their plates had been larger they would have preferred to write in Hebrew. From an LDS understanding, then, this passage,

... suggests that it must have required less space to write reformed Egyptian than to write Hebrew. This helps us to better appreciate just how efficient the reformed Egyptian language must have been. Compared to English and many other Western languages, Hebrew is very compact. A typical English sentence of fifteen words will often translate into seven to ten Hebrew words ... We have no indication of what size characters Mormon or Moroni wrote, but obviously if they rejected Hebrew because the plates were not 'sufficiently large' (Mormon 9:33), then reformed Egyptian must have been a language remarkable for its ability to convey much information with few words. (From Book of Mormon Student Manual, prepared by the Church Educational System, published by the LDS Church, 1979, pp. 13-14.)

Thus, "reformed Egyptian" has always been regarded among Latter-day Saints as a remarkably efficient and compact writing form, a kind of ancient shorthand.5 But did Joseph Smith attribute this same characteristic of compactness to the older Egyptian of his papyri as he did to the "reformed Egyptian" of the gold plates from which he claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon? At least two collections of early LDS documents -- Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar material and his Book of Abraham translation manuscripts -- illustrate that he definitely did.

First, consider briefly the Grammar material. The opening page bears the heading "Grammar & Alphabet of the Egyptian Language," and it begins by expounding a few of the basic "rules" for Egyptian, giving a symbol on the left side of the paper, with an explanation to the right, a format that is followed throughout the notebook.6 With spelling and punctuation corrected, it reads:

This is called Za Ki-oan hiash, or chaslidon hiash. This character is in the fifth degree, independent and arbitrary. It may be present in the fifth degree while it stands independent and arbitrary. That is, without a straight mark inserted above or below it. By inserting a straight mark over it thus, (2) it increases its significance five degrees; by inserting two straight lines thus, (3) its signification is increased five more. By inserting three straight lines thus, (4) its signification is again increased five more degrees than the last. By counting the number of straight lines, or considering them as qualifying adjectives, we have the degrees of comparison. There are five connecting parts of speech in the above character, called Za Ki-on hish. These five connecting parts of speech [are] for verbs, participles, prepositions, conjunctions, and adverbs. In translating this character, the subject must be continued until there are as many of these connecting parts of speech used as there are connections, or connecting points, found in the character. But whenever the character is found with one horizontal line, as at (2), the subject must be continued until five times the number of connecting parts of speech are used, or the full sense of the writer is not conveyed. When two horizontal lines occur, the number of connecting parts of speech are continued five times further -- or five degrees. And when three horizontal lines are found, the number of connections are to be increased five times further. The character alone has 5 parts of speech increased by one straight line thus: 5 x 5 is 25; by two horizontal lines thus: 25 x 5 =125; and by three horizontal lines thus: 125 x 5 = 625. When this character has a horizontal line under it reduces it to the fourth degree, consequently it has but four connecting parts of speech. When it has two horizontal lines, it is reduced into the third degree and has but three connecting parts of speech, and when it has three horizontal lines it is reduced into the second degree and has but two connecting parts of speech.

As may be surmised from the above, almost any symbol could be (and was) given virtually any depth of interpretation, depending on which supposed "step," "degree," or "class" the translator decided the symbol belonged to. From this same notebook, consider the following figure with its five progressive "degrees" of meaning:

First Degree (p.21)
Iota toues Zip Zi: "The land of Egypt"

Second Degree (p.18)
Iota toues Zip Zi: "The land which was discovered under water by a woman"

Third Degree (p.14)
Iota toues Zip Zi: "The woman sought to settle her sons in that land. She being the daughter of Ham"

Fourth Degree (p.1)
Iota toues Zip Zi: "The land of Egypt discovered by a woman who afterwards settled her sons in it"

Fifth Degree (p.5)
Iota toues Zip Zi: "The land of Egypt which was first discovered by a woman while under water, and afterwards settled by her sons, she being a daughter of Ham -- Any land over flown by water -- A land seen when over flown by water - land over flown by the seasons, land enriched by being over flown -- low marshy ground"

Compare this "fifth degree interpretation" with verses twenty-three and twenty-four of the first chapter of the Book of Abraham text. Joseph Smith actually incorporated many of the explanations of symbols as they appeared in his Grammar material into the text of the Book of Abraham. A number of the symbols appearing in the Grammar notebook were transcribed, in order, directly from the sides of the vignette on Papyrus Joseph Smith I (i.e., the ''fifth part of the first degree,'' pages F and V*, is taken from column 5, Papyrus Joseph Smith I; the ''fourth part of the first degree,'' pages E,O, and U*, is taken from column 1, Papyrus Joseph Smith I; the ''third part of the first degree,'' page E, O, and U*, is taken from column 2, Papyrus Joseph Smith I, and so forth). In the same way, most of the symbols that appear in the translation manuscripts were taken from the first four lines of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI, column 1 (except for three or four symbols which occur where gaps are present in the papyrus, and which appear to be imaginary reconstructions -- but which were translated, nevertheless).7

Joseph Smith clearly took his Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar material very seriously. His numerous diary entries (recorded in History of the Church) 8 mention the considerable labor he devoted to it, and he often quoted from it to demonstrate his understanding of Egyptian before various public and private audiences.9 Also, Smith used many of the Egyptian "words" from the Grammar, along with their "interpretations," in his inspired explanations of the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham. Words such as Kolob, Jah-oh-eh, Oliblish, and Enish-go-on-dosh, were used, indicating that he presented such words and meanings to be equally as God-given and correct as the Book of Abraham text he produced. (In light of this clear evidence, a statement in the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism that, "the purpose of the Alphabet and Grammar is obscure,"10 is difficult to understand. See pp. 137, 138 for further comment on this point.)

Joseph Smith made it clear that the text of the Book of Abraham was to be considered an actual translation of the Egyptian writing contained in his papyrus collection, and not information he received by some supernatural, visionary means. This fact is established by many of his own diary entries from the latter half of 1835, later transcribed during his lifetime (1843) into the official History of the Church. It is further supported by personal remarks he made over a period of years to close associates, visiting dignitaries, and family members, which were recorded in letters, journals, newspapers, books, and magazines (see examples on pp. 124-126), and even the published references to the first installment of the Book of Abraham as it appeared in Times and Seasons in 1842, edited by Joseph, himself. All of these records show that he intended the text of the Book of Abraham to be regarded as nothing less than a direct, literal translation, which he had taken from Abraham's own papyrus record.

On this crucial point the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism apparently disagrees. It comments that,

it was principally by divine inspiration rather than his knowledge of languages that [Joseph Smith] produced the English text of the book [sic]* of Abraham. His precise methodology remains unknown.11

This statement unfortunately deflects attention away from the clear implications of the evidence: namely, that while Joseph Smith presented himself as able to translate and understand ancient languages, and specifically, while he claimed to have produced the Book of Abraham by translating the ancient Egyptian text from one of his papyrus scrolls, we now know that the Joseph Smith papyri are in fact pagan Egyptian documents unrelated to the biblical Abraham (see pp. 137,138 for further comment on this point). Furthermore, if, as the 1992 Encyclopedia of Mormonism maintains, Joseph Smith received the Book of Abraham by revelation, not translation, why did he and his followers pay the then enormous sum of $240012 -- over $28,000 in 1992 U.S. dollars13 -- for pagan Egyptian papyri that have nothing to do with the biblical Abraham?

For the papyrus record, according to the Book of Abraham translation manuscripts still in existence, was, in reality, the Book of Breathings for the priest Hor. The photos on page 94 compare all the figures from translation Manuscript No. 1 with those found on Papyrus Joseph Smith XI.

It is impossible to ignore the decidedly different methods and results of Joseph Smith's approach to translating ancient Egyptian and that of the science of Egyptology. Fortunately, we can compare the results of both methods as regards a single Egyptian text, Papyrus Joseph Smith XI.

The charts on pages 97-99 show, on the left side, a number of figures taken from the margin of translation Manuscript No. 1, along with photographs of the characters they correspond to on Papyrus Joseph Smith XI to the right. The English translation of Egyptologists appears above them. The right side gives the text from the Book of Abraham, presented by Joseph Smith as a translation of the same characters.

As can be seen, on some occasions Joseph Smith separated a single Egyptian word to derive characters for his "translation," while at other times he combined more than one Egyptian word into a single set of characters. In all cases his translation attributes a far more complex explanation to the Egyptian letters and words of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI than do professional Egyptologists, and Smith ascribes meanings to words which are totally unrelated to their actual denotation. Thus, Joseph Smith's "translation" is completely incorrect in both method and content.

These results have obviously proved disappointing to those Latter-day Saints who had been expecting the vindication of their prophet. Perhaps the first great wave of frustration they felt was best expressed by Dr. Nibley, who, as soon as the results were in, wrote defensively:

... Did he [Joseph Smith] really think he was translating? If so, he was acting in good faith. But was he really translating? If so, it was by a process which quite escapes the understanding of the specialists and lies in the realm of the imponderable . . . Today nobody claims that Joseph Smith got his information through ordinary scholarly channels. In that case one wonders how any amount of checking ordinary scholarly channels is going to get us very far (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer, 1968, p. 101).

A Close Look at the Facsimiles

The Mormon people have always had a high regard for scriptural writings, as well they should, for they have many of them. Besides recognizing the sixty-six books of the Bible, they also accept as inspired scripture the fifteen books within the Book of Mormon, the one hundred and thirty-eight sections now found in the Doctrine and Covenants, and the three books which make up the Pearl of Great Price. The ninth LDS article of faith states:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

Most Latter-day Saints interpret this as an "open door" to an ever-increasing supply of scripture, be it through new revelation, or the discovery of older writings. Many even consider some of the ancient apocryphal works, including portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to be scriptural in nature. But among all of these various texts, one interesting feature sets the LDS Book of Abraham apart. It alone features illustrations, it alone has inspired pictures.

These pictures were supposed to have accompanied the original manuscript, being intended by the ancient author to help clarify his writings.2 Translated, the three pictures, known as "facsimiles," are considered an inspired portion of the Book of Abraham as a whole.

Scholars since Deveria's day (1856) have challenged Joseph Smith's ''inspired'' explanations of these drawings. This chapter gives some idea of just how much disagreement there is.

Joseph Smith identified the drawing shown on page 103 (Facsimile No. 2) as "Facsimile from the Book of Abraham," and offered with it the elaborate "inspired explanation" shown. It is actually a rather common funerary amulet termed a hypocephalus, so-called because it was placed under (hypo) a mummy's head (cephalus). Its purpose was to magically keep the deceased warm and to protect the body from desecration by grave robbers. According to Dr. Nibley, as of 1968 there were "about a hundred" such hypocephali known, a good many of which can be traced to the sun-worship cults centered around Heliopolis during the seventh century B.C. and later.

Egyptologists recognize Facsimile No. 2 as simply a hypocephalus, but there are also problems with that identification. As with the drawing of Facsimile No. 1, the restored parts of the Mormon hypocephalus do not correspond to genuine ancient Egyptian hypocephali.3 Also, just as with Facsimile No. 1, an incorrect restoration (by Smith) of a damaged original was suspected as the explanation for the differences.

While no photograph of the original papyrus from which Facsimile No. 2 was taken is presently available, it is still possible to determine whether Joseph's hypocephalus was damaged at the time it came into his possession. This is so because when the collection of Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar papers was first published in 1966, one page was found to contain a fairly good pen and ink drawing of the Facsimile No. 2 hypocephalus. However, there was one important distinction, for this drawing showed a damaged, incomplete hypocephalus, with much of the right edge left blank, including a wedge-shaped empty space on the upper right that extended to the object's center. Just as with Facsimile No. 1, those portions of Facsimile No. 2 which had long been questioned as being "wrong" or "suspicious" were found to match the areas of this sketch where the original papyrus was either damaged or missing.

Some of these differences may seem minor to the inexperienced, but they are very noticeable to an expert. References to numbered "Figures" (i.e., Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.) correspond to the reproduction of Facsimile No. 2 found in the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith numbered each section or figure to serve as a guide for his explanation (see caption of Facsimile No. 2 on p. 103).

The round faced creature in (upside-down) Figure 7 lacked a definable body, for instance, so the stylized body of a bird was innocently provided (it should have been an ithyphallic serpent with legs). The central seated figure (Figure 1) ordinarily has four rams heads, but perhaps only enough of the damaged papyrus flakes remained here to show Joseph that more than one head belonged, so it must have seemed logical for him to simply copy the profile of the two-headed Egyptian god Par (Figure 2) directly above it. Possibly a trace of a boat showed in the space where Figure 3 is. Two boats -- a small one above a larger one -- belong here; but not knowing this, Joseph copied the boat figure found at the bottom of Papyrus Joseph Smith IV (see comparison on p. 105). This, however, is a drawing of the sun-god in his solar bark, and is improper for a hypocephalus.

The most dramatic error found on Facsimile No. 2 though, is the restoration of the missing writing. While never offering an actual translation in his ''explanation,'' Smith nevertheless implies that this writing contains great and mysterious secrets pertaining to God and the Temple (see caption of Facsimile No. 2, Figs. 8-10;12-21, on p. 103). We now know the restored writing to be a mixture of two unrelated texts from different works written hundreds of years apart. The restored text includes different styles of handwritting, one being hieroglyphic, and the other hieratic, and some characters are even placed upside down in relation to one another! In all cases figures from the right column of Papyrus Joseph Smith XI (the ''Small Sensen'' text) were used indiscriminately to fill in the missing area (see comparison on p. 106).

Variations of the scene shown on page 109 (Facsimile No. 3) are probably the single most common form of Egyptian funerary scene known -- the deceased being led into the presence of the Court of Osiris, god of the underworld. Eventually the major elements became standardized into chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead, and the particular version in the Joseph Smith papyri is from a later, simplified text. The deceased, wearing the traditional perfumed cone and lotus flower on his head, is led by Maat, goddess of justice (identified by the plume within the orb on her head) into the presence of Osiris. He is supported from behind by Anubis, guide of the dead, who has helped him complete his journey (and assisted him in the use of the spells that were contained in his funeral book). Osiris wears his double-plumed crown, holds the royal flail and crook across his chest, and sits before the ever present libation platform that is common in nearly all drawings containing major god-figures. It is topped by the customary stylized papyrus blossom. Behind him stands his wife Isis, identified by her solar disc and cow horn. The object in her hand is probably an ankh, symbol of life and resurrection.

There are no glaring discrepancies or false reconstructions evident in this drawing. And, allowing for the slightly different style expressed by the person responsible for copying it, the scene is probably represented much as it originally was on the papyrus, indicating there was little damage to it. This could be expected, since it was located on the innermost end of the scroll where it would be the least likely to suffer damage.

Enough of the hieroglyphics depicted here are legible to determine that this scene comes from the same scroll as the Facsimile No. 1 drawing -- the Book of Breathings for the priest Hor, son of the priest Osower and the lady Tikhebyt. The lines of characters below the scene read, as closely as can be made out: "O gods of ... gods of the caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant well-being to Osiris Hor, justified ...   "5

As the preceding pages have shown, when properly interpreted, none of the Book of Abraham facsimiles (or the papyrus drawings from which they were adapted) make any mention of Abraham, his life, travels, teachings, religion, or anything even remotely resembling the detailed explanations given of them by Joseph Smith. Instead, all three are common examples of well-known, late Egyptian funeral texts. The only points of difference are those portions of the facsimiles which Smith mistakenly reconstructed by guesswork, and inserted in places where the original papyri were already damaged when he obtained them.

Some LDS writers6 have recently attempted to lay blame for these differences or errors on Reuben Hedlock, the Latter-day Saint who prepared the original woodcut engravings of the scenes in 1842. (His hallmark -- ENG. BY R HEDLOCK -- appears on two of the three drawings as they were originally published in Times and Seasons; this signature was absent from all editions of the Pearl of Great Price until quite recently, when it was restored.) Such reasoning is difficult to accept, however, in light of Joseph Smith's own statements of responsibility for their accuracy:

Thursday, March 1, 1842 - During the forenoon I was at my office and the printing office, correcting the first plate or cut [note: this would be "Facsimile No. 1"] of the Records of Father Abraham prepared by Reuben Hedlock, for the Times and Seasons . . . (History of the Church, Vol. 4, p. 519) Friday, March 4, 1842 -- At my office exhibiting the Book of Abraham in the original to Brother Reuben Hedlock, so that he might take the size of the several plates or cuts, and prepare the blocks for the Times and Seasons; and also gave instructions concerning the arrangements of the writing on the large cut, illustrating the principles of astronomy [this would be Facsimile No. 2] (Ibid., p. 543).

The three Facsimiles from the Book of Abraham -- errors included -- and their interpretations, appear in the Pearl of Great Price exactly as Joseph Smith directed.



Part 1   Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6    Part 7    Part 8