When a travelling Egyptian exhibit passed through Kirtland, Ohio in the 1830s, Joseph Smith encouraged followers to purchase some mummies and Egyptian scrolls. Did these contain the Book of Abraham? Historian Dan Vogel tells us more about these scrolls.
Dan: So Michael Chandler came into Kirtland, Ohio in late June 1835 or probably July, but about the 3rd of July, I think it is, Joseph Smith sees them. You have to pay to see them, so people are paying to see the mummies. Joseph Smith is interested in the papyri, but not the mummies. But Chandler doesn’t want to sell them separately, because he wants to sell everything and go home, probably. Joseph Smith arranges with–there’s like three parties that get together, one of them is him. But he has a problem paying, of course. $2400 is quite a lot to purchase all of those. He purchases them, and shortly thereafter, announces that there’s two scrolls. One scroll he identifies with the record of ancient Joseph, and another one with Abraham. The earliest account we have of that is a 19th of July. William W. Phelps, writes a letter to his wife, because he was in Missouri, and he came to Kirtland and he’s helping Oliver Cowdery with the printing. He’s also arranging the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants, and he’s Joseph Smith’s scribe, and he works in Joseph Smith’s office. He and his son are staying with Joseph Smith. So he writes. His wife mentioned that no one could read these writings and that Joseph Smith has identified them as the writings of Abraham and ancient Joseph.
But was it the Book of Abraham?
Dan: They were discovered in Thebes, Egypt. They found a huge catacomb of mummies and mummies usually have three kinds of records, actually. They could have a Book of Breathings or a breathing permit, on their chest, usually in their crossed arms, sitting there. There was a Book of the Dead, or hypoocephalus, that round Facsimile II, under the head to hold the body heat. The breathing permit is to breathe in the next life. So, there were 11 mummies that made their way to America, and somehow, this Michael Chandler got a hold of them.
The papyrus fragments believed to contain the Book of Abraham were lost for decades in the Great Chicago Fire. What happened to them? Are some still lost? Historian Dan Vogel will answer these questions.
GT: So I guess in a nutshell, the Hugh Nibley line of reasoning is we’ve got these Kirtland Egyptian papers. They don’t match. The translation is incorrect from what we have. We lost it in the Great Chicago Fire. But there was something that was lost, which I guess, could we assume that that’s the book of Joseph that was lost in Chicago?
Dan: No, we have the book of Joseph, which is the Ta-Sherit-Min papyrus, which is part of the ones that are chopped up onto the thick paper that we have.
GT Those are the Joseph scrolls?
Dan That was identified as Joseph. In December of 1835, Oliver Cowdery, in the Messenger and Advocate described that papyrus including the Pillar of Enoch; also, the three in one God. There’s a little drawing of three figures.
So we lost the part that was intact, the two feet. We have one foot of the beginning part, facsimile one, and the next one, and then another fragment. Then there was two more feet, probably, that were missing, that included facsimile three. And the reason why we know that is because when Emma sold the papyri to Combs, and then Combs sold part of it to the St. Louis Museum, there was an Egyptologist there. I’m not remembering his name right off. But he gave a description of the papyri for the museum’s catalog. And in there he mentioned facsimile three.
GT: So, have we lost anything, then?
Dan: The name Osiris was on it, because the name Osiris is on this.
GT: So that’s the only piece that we lost?
Dan: Or that we know of; that we can exactly say. We don’t know.
GT: But, we have essentially, what Joseph said was the entire Book of Abraham, the entire Book of Joseph. We have those that we can still look at today. But those are really the Hor scroll and the Book of Breathing scroll. Is that correct?
Dan: Right. So, we don’t have the Amenhotep fragments. They could have been there. Facsimile two, the hypoocephalus, the round one was already pretty damaged, because they made a drawing of it and there’s parts missing, and Joseph Smith had Headlock fill in the missing part to make it look nice and neat. I don’t think he’s being tricky. I just think they’re just too fussy about it looking good. But, so those could have been among the ones that were burned, or they could have just totally fragmented and that’s why they had them copy parts into these books.
Historian Dan Vogel concluded his discussion on the Book of Abraham. He tells why he thinks some apologetic arguments about the Book of Abraham just aren’t valid.
Dan: [Hugh] Nibley tried to say, and the current apologists repeat it, that, “Oh, these characters in the column is just an exotic way of organizing all three documents, so that they know where to go to each paragraph, that’s the same.” The problem with that is that they really don’t begin each paragraph. They begin each part of the translation.
When you look really close, it’s not a paragraph where each character appears. Sometimes the paragraphs are split right in the middle of a sentence and another character, or there’s a fragment of a sentence, just about five words to a character. So they’re dividing the text up to line up with the characters. They’re not arbitrarily put in there for decoration or an exotic way of organizing the paragraphs. It’s very obvious. At the top of the third translation of the Book of Abraham, the one that has three verses in the handwriting of W. W. Phelps. At the top says, “Translation of records have been found in the catacombs of Egypt.” And in the other column “character.” Then Phelps takes the first character and numbers it one, the second character he numbers it two. Then over here he underlines, Chaldea one. Abraham two.
Then there’s a third character he wrote, which is a real elaborate one that is dissected in the alphabet. But it doesn’t number it, because it has a lot of parts. The other two just have one part. This one has a lot of parts. You read all over the place trying to match it up. But the translation next to it, if you look in the grammar, and you find that character, that’s the translation given that character.
It seems that no matter your opinion on the Book of Abraham, most scholars seem to agree that the translation does not match the characters on the scrolls. What are your thoughts on the Book of Abraham?