Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monday, May 20, 2019

More on the Impact of Hebrew Study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Hurwitz and Some Curiousities in the GAEL

One of the many strange things in W.W. Phelps' Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) is his discussion of the "parts of speech." He shares some strange theories about how characters need to connect to the different parts of speech. But in discussing parts of speech, Phelps does not mention nouns. The word "pronoun" occurs once in the GAEL, but "noun" does not, while verbs are discussed a couple of times and mentioned as one of the "parts of speech." Here are two excerpts from the GAEL transcript at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website:
Page 1:
By counting the numbers of st[r]aight lines and preseving them, 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 an hish These five connecting parts of speech, for verbs, participlesprepositions, conjuntions, and adverbs. In translation translating this chara[c]ter, this subject must be continued until there are as many of these connecting parts of speech used as there are connections or connecting parts found in the character.

Page 15:
For instance, the first connection should be called Jugos, which signifies verb or action: and the second conneton should be called Ka=Jugos, which is a variation, according to the signification of the second degree: Kah Jugos sould <​be​> preserved in the second degree. It signifies an action passed: The third connection is called Kah pr=ga=os, which signifies an action to be receved or <​to​> come to pass. The fourth connection is called Ka=os-Ju which signifies connection and the fifth is called Ka-os=Juga=os and is used to qualify according to the signification of the fifth degree. whether for prepositions, verbs, adve[r]bs &c.

When I first read Phelps' comments in the always painful to read GAEL, I was puzzled about his apparent omission of nouns as a part of speech, when they clearly are present in the GAEL. A possible explanation might come from Phelps' study of Hebrew. 

Perhaps Phelps was influenced by the discussion of the relationship of nouns and verbs in some of the Hebrew books he may have encountered when the Saints began delving into Hebrew. Consider one of the major works on Hebrew in the early 1800s: Hyman Hurwitz, The Eytmology and Syntax, in Continuation of, The Elements of the Hebrew Language, (London: John Taylor, 1831); available at Google Books (Google Books also has a downloadable PDF; also see the 1835 2nd edition at Archive.org, but note that this begins after his 96-page The Elements of the Hebrew Language, 2nd ed. (London: John Taylor, 1835) -- the latter is more useful because it can be searched).

Hurwitz makes an argument over several pages that nouns tend to come from verbs and that verbs should take priority:
...it follows that these two species of words [verbs and nouns] must have formed the very rudiments of language. But, as if both could not have been invented at the same time, it has been made a question which of the two has a right to claim the priority. Most of the Oriental Grammarians have decided in favor of the Verb.  (p. 8)

...the class of words which grammarians denominate nouns, must originally have been verbal, (somewhat like the words called participles,) expressive of some property of circumstance by which the named object was characterized. And indeed, such is still the character of the far greater portion of Hebrew nouns, even of those which designate natural objects [here a list of examples is given including ra-ki-a, the firmament, and l'ba-nah, the moon, like Libnah in the Book of Abraham].(p. 10)

This being the case, we can easily comprehend how the same word would frequently be used both as a noun and as a verb.... (p. 12)

In all these examples it is evidence that there is no distinction whatever between the noun and the verb; but even in those where a distinction exists, it is so slight, as clearly to show the common origin of the words... (p. 13)
Both theory and fact lead me, therefore, to conclude that the Hebrew nouns were originally verbalia; and that verbs ought to be considered as the elements of speech, not on account of their priority of invention, but because they generally contain the primary signification of words. (p. 14)

Hurwitz also uses the phrase "parts of speech" eight times in his text, with "part of speech" occurring four times. This may seem like a common phrase, but a search in Google Books for "parts of speech" between 1700 and 1835 yields only 14 hits. The singular "part of speech" over that time period yielded 12 hits. These are miniscule numbers. "Parts of speech" may not be a very common phrase at all, yet Phelps uses it nine times in the GAEL (six times on the first page) and Hurwitz uses it almost as much in his book. Hurwitz's first use is in pointing out that verbs will be the starting place for treating the different parts of speech:
In treating of the different parts of speech, Orientalists generally begin with the verb. (p. vii)
The early Hebrew Grammarians reckoned only three parts of speech : 1) the name, in which they included nouns and adjectives : 2) the verb : 3) the particle in which they included the other classes. [Hebrew omitted] (p. 6)
Could Phelps' emphasis on verbs and omission of nouns as "parts of speech" derive from study of Hurwitz?

Another characteristic of the GAEL is the frequent use of the term "signification" to describe various aspects of the words being examined. There are 25 occurrences of this term in the relatively brief text. Hurwitz also uses that word dozens of times. It's more common than "parts of speech," though, so this is probably not a significant clue. Correction: It's not super common before 1835. On Google Books, there are only 19 hits between 1700 and 1835. So maybe it should be considered as another possible link between Hurwitz and Phelps. Not too much can be made of using a known but not highly common word, though. But in combination with "parts of speech" and the teaching of the priority of verbs over nouns, perhaps there's a basis for believing that Hurwitz's book has either directly or indirectly shaped Phelps during the early 1836 period of intense Hebrew study among the Latter-day Saints.

The possible relationships between Phelps' writings in the GAEL and a book on Hebrew by Hyman Hurwitz could be one more indication that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers cannot be understood without recognizing the impact of Hebrew study on their content.

We see hints not only from (1) the many terms in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers related to Hebrew letters including aleph, beth, daleth, gimel, he, and possibly ayin,  (2) awareness of the meaning and numerical value of beth and the numerical value of aleph, (3) apparent awareness of diacritical marks such as the lone dot to represent the vowel sound "i" ("iota") and dots placed in various positions relative to characters similar to Hebrew pointing, (4) use of at least one and possible several Hebrew coin letters from Moses Stuart, including the surprisingly appropriate use of the unusual coin letter form of beth for the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document, and now (5) incorporation of Hurwitz's teachings on the lack of distinction of verbs and nouns with priority given to verbs, expressed in language referring to the "parts of speech."

It seems to me that the role of Hebrew study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers needs more attention and research. It is true that Joseph ceased translating (or had already finished most of the translation) of the Book of Abraham a few days after Oliver returned to Kirtland on Nov. 20, 1835 with a batch of materials on the Hebrew language, which Joseph asked him to acquire, perhaps believing the study of Hebrew could strengthen the intellectual study of Egyptian. But the cessation of Joseph's translation work does not mean that his peers ceased their work on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. In fact, the surviving documents seem to show various influences from their zealous Hebrew study.

Unfortunately, in Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers dealing with the Book of Abraham, it seems to be assumed that the work with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers was pretty much completed by the time serious Hebrew study started. There seems to be essentially no recognition of the impact of Hebrew study on the project or on the documents. This may have resulted in a missed opportunity to more accurately date the undated documents and to more fully understand the influences that shaped the study and speculations of early Latter-day Saints, however fallacious those purely human intellectual efforts were. But recognizing that at least significant parts of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were shaped by Hebrew study in early 1836 (ranging from the early Egyptian Counting document to the later GAEL, where Hebrew influence is seen from beginning to end) helps us recognize that those documents were probably prepared with an already translated (and revealed) text in hand and were probably not being used to "translate" the Book of Abraham in the first place. It may be time to seriously reconsider the Joseph Smith Paper's Project date of "circa July–circa November 1835" for the GAEL and other documents related to the apparent "translation" of "Egyptian" (I use quotes because many of the "Egyptian" characters aren't even from the scrolls, but may come from other influences that are not adequately considered in JSP Vol. 4, such as Masonic characters from W.W. Phelps, Hebrew coin characters and other versions of Hebrew letters published by Moses Stuart, etc.).



This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:




Friday, May 17, 2019

John Hajicek on the Hidden Sacrifices Behind the Printing of the Book of Mormon

One of the really remarkable friends of the Church is John Hajicek (pronounced "high-check," I believe). John is an expert in documents and LDS history with vast resources of knowledge and treasures of documents and artifacts, with an abiding love of history. You can learn more about him at Mormonism.com and on his Facebook site (facebook.com/johnhajicek/). He shared the following post on Facebook, and kindly gave me permission to share it here. It's a fascinating and painful reminder of the sacrifices that have been made to bring forth the printed record of the Book of Mormon. Something to ponder!
 
The Book of Mormon. The greatest American grassroots work of literature, and most compelling Christian tale printed in America. The sacrifice was incalculable, and the book is priceless. The cotton-rag paper for the first edition was made in the town of Manchester, in the same town with the Hill Cumorah. The lead type was set one character at a time, from a manuscript without punctuation. One thousand sheep gave their lives for binding the first edition. But also, the printers of each of the first three editions (Palmyra: 1830, Kirtland: 1837, Nauvoo: 1840) gave their own lives so that you could read this book.

Printing ink was made of oil and charcoal, and caused “black lung” and tuberculosis among printers in the 1800s. (See James Alexander Miller, “Pulmonary Tuberculosis Among Printers”, 1908; and Margaret Cairns and Alice Stewart, “Pulmonary Tuberculosis Mortality in the Printing and Shoemaking Trades”, 1951.)

1. E. B. Grandin, the printer of the first edition Book of Mormon, was born in 1806, so he was 23 when he began printing 1830 publication. He died in 1845 of “pneumonia” at age 39.

2. Oliver Cowdery, the printer of the second edition Book of Mormon was also born in 1806, so he was 30 years old when he undertook to print the corrected edition of 1837. He died in 1850, at age 43, at the Whitmer home in Richmond, Missouri. For years, he was coughing up blood, diagnosed as “consumption” (pulmonary tuberculosis).

3. Nauvoo printers Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson both died in August 1841 from tuberculosis after printing runs of the third edition Book of Mormon, a revised version. “Consumption” is the cause given by mother Lucy Mack Smith. Don Carlos was the youngest brother of Joseph Smith Jr., born in the spring of 1816 (the year without a Vermont summer), and so he died at only 25 years of age. Thompson was born in England like John Taylor, emigrated to Toronto like John Taylor, and was baptized alongside John Taylor in Toronto in 1836—he died at age 29 (John Taylor lived to be a half-century older).

Nobody has ever told you what I tell you. Think about those young lives, if you think that the Book of Mormon is too much work to read. This is why I bought an original of one of these editions, when I was just a teenager—and I still work to discover, acquire, preserve, and share exemplary copies of these versions and other rare Mormon books from New England, New York, and the Midwest.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Egyptomania and Ohio: Thoughts on a Lecture from Terryl Givens and a Questionable Statement in the Joseph Smith Papers, Vol. 4

In a lecture I heard from Terryl Givens, one of my favorite LDS writers and thinkers, I was intrigued with his views on Egyptomania and its influence on Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham. His lecture is "Joseph Smith and Translation: Notes Toward a Theoretical Framework," The Mormon Translation Conference, Logan Utah, 16 March 2017, available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYkEPHH2xB8. Here's my transcription of a key segment from 14:15 to 15:50 in the video, as Givens explains how he thinks Joseph thought about Egyptian hieroglyphs:
We've had a few references today to Nineteenth Century Egyptomania. The point that I want to make is that the kind of Egyptomania that I think might have been most relevant to Joseph Smith's religious fashioning predates the Napoleonic engagement with Egypt. It goes back to the Early Modern period. And I'm going to just summarize this very quickly for you by saying this, that the notion of hieroglyphs in particular in the Enlightenment and Romantic circles carried echoes of priestly powers of expression and discernment. But the term was also taken to imply an almost mystical concision and economy of expression unknown to modern languages. Many language theorists working in the Nineteenth Century to try to trace language to its Adamic form were convinced that the further back you go, the more compressed and concise language becomes. By the time you get to the hieroglyph, ... you have the linguistic equivalent of a kind of neutron bomb, so that the notion being that here is a priestly emblem that has magically and mystically oracularly condensed within itself worlds of meaning which only a priestly power can unlock and allow to blossom into fullness. When I think of Joseph Smith laboring over the Egyptian Papyri and the whole Abrahamic cosmology that emerges out of this, it seems to me that we get a perfect understanding of how the hieroglyph was understood.
Interesting and eloquently expressed, but to me this seems painfully unaware of some essentials. Givens here places Joseph into the mindset prior to the Napoleonic engagement with Egypt, meaning, of course, that Given's feels Joseph and his brethren were somehow swept up in Egyptomania without being aware of the hottest news in the world of Egyptomania, namely, that the Rosetta Stone had been found showing Egyptian to be a running language like Greek, hot and widely discussed news from 1799, coupled with the 1822 news that Champollion had begun to decipher Egyptian. These were key drivers for Egyptomania in the 19th century, and cannot be so readily excised from Joseph's world. Givens' view arguably would divorce Joseph from his environment in 1835 and from the very Egyptomania that supposedly inspired him.

Even if the Joseph Smith of 1835 were still in "uneducated farm boy mode" and had been unaware of Champollion before purchasing the mummies and scrolls from Chandler, Chandler and the many other educated people who would come to Kirtland to see the artifacts and meet Joseph surely would have broken the well-known news to him: "What, you didn't hear? It's largely a phonetic language that can be deciphered; it's not all mysticism with vast treasures of text hidden within each character."

Givens' view, romantic as it may be,  also requires divorcing Joseph from the Book of Mormon. Joseph's views on Egyptian arguably should not depart wildly from the views expressed by Mormon in the manuscript Joseph translated. Mormon in Mormon 10:32 tell us that:
[W]e have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.
The reformed Egyptian of the Book of Mormon reflected speech. It must have been phonetic, or at least the reformed script Mormon referred to, like the reformed Egyptian script of demotic. That sensible view is wildly incompatible with the romantic notions Givens and others want to see in Joseph's approach to the Book of Abraham. But there's more to consider. On the Joseph Smith Papers website, you can see this quote from Joseph as he discusses the title page of the Book of Mormon, which came from the last plate (not the last character!) in the Nephite record:
I would mention here also in order to correct a misunderstanding, which has gone abroad concerning the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is not a composition of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation, but that it is a literal translation taken from the last leaf of the plates, on the left hand side of the collection of plates, the language running same as ​all​ Hebrew ​ writing​ in general​. 
It was a running language. Not an utterly mystical one where each squiggle could be paragraphs of English. With his experience in reformed Egyptian behind him, does it stand to reason that once he saw the Egyptian scrolls in 1835, he would suddenly reverse course and see it as pure mysticism completely unlike Hebrew, no longer phonetic or a running language?

Further evidence against such a view comes from Joseph's comments on the meaning of the Facsimiles. The four hieroglyphs for the four sons of Horus become a remarkably concise "the four quarters of the earth," a statement that is actually quite accurate (but you aren't going to hear that from critics). Other statements he makes regarding the facsimiles and the characters tend to be equally brief. No sign of magical compactness with neutron bombs of meaning waiting to be unfolded. That idea died swiftly, though not universally, as news of the translation of the Rosetta Stone spread. It was old news when Joseph saw the scrolls.

Unfortunately, Givens' view may have been shaped by an unwarranted opinion from the editors of Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers, one of whom, Brian Hauglid, is a co-author with Givens on an upcoming book of the Pearl of Great Price (coming out in August), where, sadly, I expect the beleaguered Book of Abraham might receive a little more unnecessary beleaguering based on the popular model of Joseph erroneously seeing worlds of text in a few squiggles, and, if my fears come true, the Book of Abraham treatment will lack discussion of the many treasures in favor of its antiquity and in favor of other models of the translation. After all, Hauglid has openly expressed his hostility to "apologetics" and has denounced the LDS Egyptologists who have pointed to many important evidences which genuinely need to be considered. In Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers, we read the questionable view that Champollion's work really wasn't well known until decades later and that it did not really changed the way typical people thought about Egyptian. Here's the statement from the opening pages:
Even after Champollion's groundbreaking discoveries, though, some continued to assert competing theories about Egyptian hieroglyphs, whether they rejected Champollion's findings or were ignorant of them. Indeed, in America in the 1830s and 1840s, Champollion's findings were available to only a small group of scholars who either read them in French or gleaned them from a limited number of English translations or summaries. (Volume 4, p. xviii)
That's an astonishing assertion. Americans in the 1830s had not heard of Champollion's work? Only a tiny group of scholars were in on the news? And should we also believe that news of the Rosetta Stone and its related implications had also gone unnoticed in the U.S.? Sure, the detailed scholarly work of Champollion was for scholars, but the headlines were for everyone. Was there Egyptomania or not?

Was Champollion an unknown in Joseph's day? If so, one clue might be found in books and newspapers that mention Champollion. Do they need to take several sentences to explain to all the non-scholars and non-French speakers just who he is and what the Rosetta Stone was in order to bring readers up to speed, or do they act as if everyone knows the man and what he did? Below is an 1828 newspaper from Delaware, not far from where the Saints were. The source is the Delaware Journal, October 10, 1828, page 2, available at the Library of Congress' Chronicling America site (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov):



Here it is taken for granted that readers know who Champollion is, and that his first name need not be given, just M. for Monsieur. It is taken for granted that readers know that he has translated Egyptian hieroglyphics, and even the Rosetta Stone need not be mentioned. That he can read an Egyptian scroll is taken for granted. That's not news -- the news is what might be on the scroll. This was an era when people knew of Champollion. How could there be Egyptomania without being aware of the most amazing news in the history of Egyptology, that Champollion had begun to decipher Egyptian? And what the Rosetta Stone shows us is that a reasonable number of Greek characters correspond to a reasonable number of Egyptian characters. 

Maybe folks in Delaware were up to speed on this, but perhaps you are wondering about the more remote netherworld of Ohio. Could those more rural folks, perhaps swept up in their own agrarian brand of Egyptomania, have heard anything of the Rosetta Stone and its translator? The following story from an Ohio newspaper in 1837 does remind us of the history of the Rosetta Stone, but assumes readers understand its multilingual nature. Champollion and Dr. Young are mentioned as if readers will know these famous men with no need to give their first names or the details of what they did regarding their "discoveries concerning hieroglyphic language of Egypt." The source is the Maumee Express, November 18, 1837, p. 2, also available at Chronicling America (hat tip to Val Sederholm):

(Click to enlarge)


Critics of the Book of Abraham and even some faithful LDS writers have proposed that crazed Egyptomania fueled the imagination of the early Latter-day Saints, leading them to believe that Egyptian was a purely mystical language where a single character could require paragraphs of text to convey the intricate details hidden within. Such thinking was rapidly overthrown by the 1799 discovery of the Rosetta Stone and especially the 1822 translation work. Val Sederholm does a great job in describing what that would mean for ordinary people in Ohio during the Kirtland era (the text below is an excerpt from his I Began to Reflect blog, "What did Joseph Smith say about the nature of Egyptian hieroglyphs?"):
What did Ohioans in Joseph Smith's day know about Champollion's cracking of the Egyptian hieroglyphic script?

The Maumee Express, dated 18 November 1837 (page 2), gives us the answer.

In a notice entitled "Antique," [shown above] we read that "The Currators [sic] of the Albany Institute [Albany, New York] acknowledge the donation of a copy in plaster of the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum, from Henry James Esq."

The notice, doubtless published in various states, goes on to say: "The interest of this piece of antiquity is increased by the fact that all the discoveries of Dr. Young and Champollion concerning the hieroglyphic language of Egypt, originated in a study of the inscription on it."

One thing to admire about this little notice is how it tosses off "all the discoveries of Dr. Young and Champollion" without elaboration. Ohioans, and other Americans, back in 1837 knew more about "all the discoveries of Dr. Young and Champollion" than do Ohioans today.


Professor John T. Irwin has written about how these sensational discoveries awoke American intellectual--and, yes, imaginative--curiosity among academics and the populace at large. "In 1829 Henry Wheaton, the noted legal historian and diplomat, published in the North American a twenty-five-page review of one of Champollion's works." By 1831 Edward Everett was already publishing lengthy, widely-distributed, articles on the question of Champollion's priority over Thomas Young, while at once dismissing Athanasius Kircher's older views about hieroglyphs as metaphysical emblem with snorts of disdain: "utterly baseless;" "laboriously absurd" (John T. Irwin, American Hieroglyphics, 4-5). On the other hand, "laboriously absurd" also perfectly describes the symbolic priestly writing at Dendara, a system of hieroglyphic writing students struggle to grasp even today. And at Dendara we find the great astronomical ceiling, the mapped Egyptian heaven, ironically the object of Everett's attention. 

I'm just looking over the shoulder of a typical Ohio farmer in 1837, as he opens his newspaper and nods knowingly. . .


Egyptology sprang from the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799. Because the stone bore a text in hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek, the world thereafter knew that "the hieroglyphic language of Egypt" was a running script as Greek was a running script, or perhaps as Chinese was a running ideographic script. 1799 thus marks a clean break between timeless speculations about the metaphysical nature of the script and what scholars now plainly saw on the Stone. The news went everywhere--even to the American frontier.

And to the South--and on to Hawaii, where the work of Young, Champollion, and Rosselini was pondered beneath the palms of Kona and Waikiki (The Polynesian). 
The Edgefield Advertiser (South Carolina), dated 12 April 1838 (pg. 1), has much to say about the work of Champollion:


"The genealogical and chronological table of Abydos, discovered in 1818, by Mr. Bankes, so well studied, explained, and commented upon by Champollion [see, they knew a lot about all this], and which is universally regarded as the most interesting and precious monument which has been drawn from the ruins of ancient Egypt since the celebrated stone of Rosetta. . ." (the italic added).

Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/


The above sampling, easily multiplied, shows both keen interest and an easy familiarity--not to know about these breakthroughs in 1837 would be like not knowing about the railroad or the steam engine.

One thing is for sure: the documentary evidence upsets conclusions put forward by the editors of the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers (Documents 5): "Though French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion came to recognize the phonetic nature of Egyptian hieroglyphs during the 1820s and early 1830s, his ideas were not fully embraced or widely published until decades after his death in 1832" (p. 81, italic added). "Though news of Champollion's work had reached the United States by the 1830s, few Americans had access to it or understood the significance of his work on Egyptian hieroglyphs" (83 n. 354; Isaac Stuart's translation of Greppo's essay on Champollion, Boston, 1830, is mentioned). 

There is a need to sort out the basic difference between Champollions's written work and his winged ideas.

Professor Irwin hits the nail on the head: "The name Champollion appears in some of the most important literary works of the American Renaissance". . . "Yet for most modern readers, it is a name that requires an identifying footnote" (Irwin, ibid., 3). Ohioans in 1837 didn't need a Jean-Francois attached to their Champollion.
If we want a "a perfect understanding of how the hieroglyph was understood," we need to quit looking at the Book of Abraham and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers with a blurry romantic lens. We need to pay attention to what Joseph Smith actually said and did. The Kirtland Egyptian Papers, whose dates may be much later than the Joseph Smith Papers Project indicates (see "Moses Stuart or Joshua Seixas? Exploring the Influence of Hebrew Study on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language"), simply cannot reflect the translation in process, no matter how appealing,  romantic, or scholarly that seems, but represent some strange and perhaps romantic effort after at least much of the translation was done, an exercise that was quickly abandoned. It's time we consider the data more fully and with the proper lens.

Though I disagree with some of the views that Dr. Terryl Givens has expressed, I remain a fan and am very appreciative of his many excellent LDS-related works. Things are complex with the Pearl of Great Price, though, and popular theories among scholars (and critics) can lead to blindness and painful errors. I've made many myself as I blog and write, and recognize that I also need to called to task when I blunder. That's how we learn and progress.

For Brian Hauglid, whose transformative journey has unfortunately challenged the faith of some impressionable Latter-day Saints, may I suggest that you step back and learn from the Book of Mormon before you reconsider what the Book of Abraham documents actually show.  Have a conversation with Jack Welch and the things he has learned about the early Book of Mormon manuscripts, especially the clues from the mistakes that scribes make when they are transcribing dictation versus copying an existing manuscript. Then evaluate the claims of Dan Vogel regarding the two manuscripts that Dan and you believe reveal Joseph Smith dictating fresh text for the Book of Abraham from a few characters in the margins. With that added awareness, it may become apparent to you that some important assumptions in your transformative journey was wrong. Then look at the influence of Hebrew study on the KEP, including Moses Stuart's strange Hebrew coin letter for letter #2, beth, which just happens to be exactly the same as the Egyptian Counting document for the number 2. That and the other obvious uses of Hebrew letters in the KEP strongly suggests that the dating of the GAEL and other key documents must be much later than you and our critics have been assuming. Reset your assumptions, drop the hostile accusations and recognize that your fellow mortals make all sorts of mistakes but may be acting in good faith, Joseph Smith included, and seek guidance on how you should balance the legitimate question marks with the significant body of non-abhorrent apologetic data that deserves more room than you've left for it in your recent remarks. The Book of Abraham is puzzling, but wonderful, and need not be recast as mere human error from a prophet who didn't know the first thing about translation. Indeed, the nature of his translation from the reformed Egyptian of the Book of Mormon suggests that at least when speaking as a prophet through the power of God, he somehow knew a great deal about that running language.


This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Moses Stuart or Joshua Seixas? Exploring the Influence of Hebrew Study on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language

I was intrigued by a statement from John Gee about the apparent influence of Joshua Seixas on the spelling of names in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, but after reviewing the two books on Hebrew written by Seixas, I don't see evidence to support John's theory that using "h" after long vowels came from his influence. However, there may be evidence that one of the Hebrew books brought to Kirtland by Oliver Cowdery in late November 1835 may have influenced the content of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.

I've looked over Seixas' 1830 book on Hebrew grammar at Archive.org and his later edition, available at Google Books, and just don't see a system where long vowels are followed by an "h." There still may be a connection to Seixas, but I don't see the evidence. Of course, transliterations of Hebrew do tend to have many words with "eh" and "ah," somewhat similar to the KEP, so there could be a link.

Matthew Grey mentions some of the specific Hebrew books that we know Oliver Cowdery brought to Kirltand in November 1835. See his chapter, "'The Word of the Lord in the Original,'" in  Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 249–302. One possibility is the 1830 edition of A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (link is to the 1824 edition) of Wilhelm Gesenius and Josiah Gibbs, but it has very little transliteration if any. The 1831 Biblia Hebraica lacks transliteration. But I think Moses Stuart's A Grammar of the Hebrew Language could have played a role in influencing the Kirltand Egyptian Papers. For one thing, it seems to have a lot of h's with words like bah-hel and ruhh-hhats. But look at the very beginning, where the Hebrew alphabet is presented:


[Note, May 12, 2019: I just realized that the figures here come from the 1838 6th edition of Stuart's book at Google Books, whereas Cowdery brought the 1835 5th edition. Google Books also has the 1835 5th edition, where you can see the chart above is essentially the same but cleaner and still on the same page, p. 10.]

Here we have the letters of the Hebrew alphabet transliterated as Aleph (unlike auleph from Seixas), Beth, Gimel, Daleth, He, etc. Now look at the document in the Joseph Smith Papers Project that is named, "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, circa July–circa November 1835." Here is page 33, with screenshots followed by the transcription, wherein I've made some parts bold that may be related to Moses Stuart's alphabet:





Transcription from the Joseph Smith Papers Project:
✦ Ahme=as= God without begining or end
✦ Alkibeth minister of God under or the less
Baethkee The first next from Adam, one one ordained under him, a patriarch or the right of the first born.
Bethka another place of residence, made so by extension so by appoinment.
Bethka— Another & larger place of residence made so by appointment. by extension of power; more pleasing, more beautiful: a place of more complete happiness, peace and rest for man.
Bethku=ain-tri=eth: The whole earth, or the largest place, the greatest enjoyment an earth the garden of the earth
Dah tu Hah dees: Hell another Kingdom; the least kingdom, or kingdom without glory; the whole kingdom and dom[a]in of darkness, with all its degrees and parts. governed by the Doagrass him who is an enemy to G<​o​>od.
Gahmel:— a fair prospect of anthing: Landscape; a place or country: face of The face of the country; beautiful scituated; an country under a promantory= a promising situation for man.
✦ Jah=ho ni hah; One delegated with redeeming power; a swift messenger; one that goes before another; one having redeeming power, a second person in authority;
✦ Jah=oheh: The earth including its affinity with the other planets, with their govering powers: which are fifteen: the earth; the sun, and

The first word seems to draw upon Ahman that Joseph Smith had previously given and that W.W. Phelps used in his May 1835 "pure language" letter with six strange characters, written before Joseph ever saw the scrolls. "Ahme=as" as God (similar to Ahmen, a name for God in Joseph's revelations) could fit the concept of Aleph, the First. Aleph also may be hinted at in the "Alkibeth" name that seems to link man to God, or beth to aleph. Then we have a series of beth-related names, some of which imply a "secondary" nature (like beth itself as the second letter), such as "The first next from Adam, one one [sic] ordained under him" or "another place of residence, made so by extension." "Another place of residence" seems to combine the concept of second/secondary with house, both related to Hebrew beth.

Next come two names arguably related to daleth and gimel: "Dah tu hah dees" ("dah" for daleth) and "Gahmel." Then we have two names that may draw upon he. On one page, we see links to aleph, beth, gimel, daleth, and he, in almost the same order. This page, in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps, may be drawing upon his study of Hebrew using a Hebrew book by Moses Stuart that came to town in late Nov. 1835. Joseph and his brethren began studying Hebrew on their own at this point, and the translation of the scrolls was dropped. They soon realized they needed help and in early 1836, hired Joshua Seixas to teach them. But it seems that the details of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers may have already been influenced by Hebrew before they learned his transliteration system.

If Moses Stuart has indeed influenced the content of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers through the Saint's vigorous study of Hebrew on their own before Seixas arrived, it would suggest that these documents, dated as July to November 1835 by the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers, may need to be reconsidered. A date of December 1835 to roughly March 1836 may be more appropriate.

Perhaps the most important clue here is that the Hebrew coin letter for beth, the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet given by Stuart on the right-hand side of his page 10, is identical to the non-Egyptian symbol for the number 2 given in the KEP's strange Egyptian Counting manuscript, dated by the JSPP as from July 1835 to Nov. 26, 1835. Very odd. Here's a close-up of the Egyptian Counting document's numbers 1 and 2, and Stuart's coin letters for aleph and beth:




The Egyptian Counting number for 2 matches Stuart's leftmost Hebrew coin letter for the second letter beth and is similar to the other one shown and to the Samarian letter shown. That seems to be rather strong evidence for a link between Stuart's book at the KEP, especially when the sound beth is used with meaning similar to "secondary". The Egyptian Counting number for 1 does not resemble the coin letters for aleph, but looks related to (an upside-down version) of the leading "Egyptian" word introduced on page 3 of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language which is said to be "Ahlish," a name similar to aleph, with a meaning to match:


The transcription reads: "Ah lish  The first Being— supreme intillegence; supreme power; supreme glory= supreme Justice; supreme mercy without begining of life or end of life comprehending all things, seeing all things: the invisible and eter[n]al godhead". (There's enough of a squiggle after the "r" in "eternal" that I think the author, W.W. Phelps for this part of the document, should be credited with "eternal" rather than a typo that requires an editorial addition of [n], but that's a minor issue.) The point here is that the "Egyptian" number for 1 here could be based on a Hebrew coin letter for aleph, which also seems related both to the sound and the meaning assigned to the character in the KEP. That detail suggests that awareness of the Hebrew alphabet influenced the KEP in some way, though not necessarily anything from Stuart.

The case for Stuart's specific influence is greatly enhanced by noting that the "Egyptian" number for 2 appears to be taken from Stuart and is not likely to be due to random chance since it's an unusual and more complex character, is used without any significant modification like inversion, and the associated Hebrew name of beth is used in "Egyptian" words in the KEP with a reasonably related meaning pertaining to secondary concepts. I don't think chance alone can explain these parallel, along with the previously discussed connections to the first five letters of the Hebrew alphabet as presented by Stuart. 

To me, it seems that Stuart's book may have influenced both the Egyptian Counting manuscript and the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. Could those document both date to after Hebrew study had begun with Moses Stuart's book in hand? The latest listed possibility of Nov. 26 in the JSPP for the Egyptian Counting document might work, but still seems a bit early.

By the way, one of the strange things that struck me looking at Stuart, perhaps just a coincidence, is Stuart's listing of "O" as the Hebrew coin character symbol on the same line as the "k" sound (see the upper right portion of the second image from Stuart's page 10 above), though it's really associated with ayin shown at the right of that column, but something that could easily confuse someone (or at least confuse me). A similar "O" symbol was also the sign associated with the name "Katumin" in Phelps' July 1835 letter that lists some Egyptian and a "translation." Are we sure about July 1835 as the date of Phelps' notebook? But I think that's just a coincidence and I suspect someone trying to study Hebrew would quickly realize that the "O" is not linked to a "k" sound after all. 

Update, May 10, 2019: The Joseph Smith Papers website provides "Gahmel" in the transcription of page 33 of the Grammar and Alphabet document discussed above, but a closer look suggests that this is another minor error in the transcription. (There are actually quite a few such error in this manuscript that I may discuss later.) I think it should be "Gahmol." Comparing other examples of "el" and "ol" on this page suggests to me that "ol" is the better fit. The minor error, if it is an error,  slightly strengthens my case for a relationship, but in either case,  the word written is clearly similar to and possibly cognate with Stuart's "Gimel."

Update, May 11, 2019: If W.W. Phelps were inspired by the Hebrew alphabet in constructing an Egyptian alphabet, there may be other correspondences to consider.

For example, what if the first character considered were somehow associated with aleph? Notice Stuart's "coin letter" versions for aleph, one of which is essentially our letter "V" with a line through it, like an inverted letter "A." This has much in common with the first character listed by Phelps on page 1 of the Grammar and Alphabet:


Then come some beth-related words on page 2, where we learn that "beth" is a place of happiness, which fits nicely with the Hebrew meaning of the letter beth, "house."

After "beth," we then have a mysterious character on page 2 that is said to be "Ah brah-oam" (though the JSPP has Ah brah-aam). That character looks a lot like the Arabic alphabet letter corresponding to Hebrew daleth, as shown by Stuart above.



Further, the mysterious "iota"character, presented as just a round dot on page 3, may be related to the Hebrew letter yodh, which can function as a "y" sound or as the vowel "i". There might be a connection to the Syriac alphabet version of yodh from Stuart at the far right in the Stuart image below:



Glancing through the GAEL and the various Egyptian Alphabet manuscripts, there does seem to be this odd pattern of sections that include "A"-related words like "aleph" itself, "ah-lish," etc., then a transition to words involving "beth" or "baeth," followed by words beginning with "d" as in daleth, and then a word that sounds like gimel. That alone suggests that someone was using Hebrew to help them study Egyptian, which in turn suggests that that these documents were at least still being drafted after November 20, 1835, when Oliver brought a collection of Hebrew books including the work of Moses Stuart to Kirtland, Ohio, sparking intense interest in Hebrew. But the apparent use of some of the unusual characters from Moses Stuart's page 10 in some portions of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, especially the Hebrew coin symbol for the second letter, beth, as the number 2, and perhaps also the Arabic character for daleth helps suggest Stuart was an actively used source for some of the thinking (crazy at it may have been) by the scribes composing the KEP.

Related issues can be further explored by examining the facsimile volume for The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, edited by Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2018). Especially helpful is the final section, "Comparison of Characters," pp. 350-380, where one can see groupings of (nearly) every distinct character from the GAEL,  the Egyptian Alphabet documents, and the Book of Abraham manuscripts.

Looking through that book, it is rather startling to see how very few of the many characters considered in the GAEL are actually used on the Book of Abraham manuscripts, and especially startling to see how few of the 28 characters on the Book of Abraham manuscripts are actually found in the GAEL or the Egyptian Alphabet documents. Of those 28 characters, I see only 3 (labeled characters 3.11a, 5.27, and 5.28) that are in the GAEL or the Egyptian Alphabet documents, one of which is part of the 18 characters said to be found on the scroll called the Fragment of Breathing Permit for Horus-A, with 8 characters apparently not found on the scrolls or in the GAEL or Egyptian Alphabet documents. If the GAEL supposedly shows us how Joseph did the translation, it seems to apply to only about 10% of the characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscripts. The numbers raise serious doubts to common theories about how the translation was done. One can claim that the GAEL wasn't needed since we can see evidence of Joseph translating on the fly from the characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscripts A and B, which show evidence of two scribes simultaneously copying down text that someone was reading. However, a careful look at the two texts shows clear evidence that what was being dictated was an already existing text, not one being created. Further, the evidence suggests that one of the scribes was reading aloud for the benefit of the others. Once that scribe left, the other scribe continued on his own and made a classic scribal copying blunder that is very unlikely if someone is dictating newly composed text. These issues are discussed in my previous post, "The Smoking Gun for Joseph's Translation of the Book of Abraham, or Copied Manuscripts from an Existing Translation?"

On p. 380, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, one of the characters (part of a two-character pair) in the margins of some Book of Abraham manuscripts is said to be found on the papyrus fragment labeled as Fragment of Breathing Permit for Horus-A, which is shown on p. 9 of the book. Even higher resolution is possible by viewing this fragment on the JSPP website on page 19 of the collection of papyrus fragments (although pages without English text are generally all listed as page 0 on the slider for page selection). Here we compare the characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscript C with an enlarged view of the portion of the scroll said to be the source:




The character on the left from the papyrus fragment has ink that appears to have already come to an end near the end of the lacuna suggesting that upper part of the character may not be a good match. [Update, May 20, 2019: An earlier photograph in Matthew Rhodes' 2002 book, The Hor Book of Breathings, shows the ink reaching to the edge of the lacuna more fully. Perhaps a piece of the manuscript flaked off between that photo around 2000 and the photography session 15 or so years later for the Joseph Smith Papers Project. If that is correct, then the drawn character may adequately reflect what was on the scroll. Still a cool coincidence that the Moses Stuart Hebrew coin letter would be identical. Maybe that means something.] The distribution of ink in the lower half also does not closely fit the character drawn on the Book of Abraham manuscript. While speculative, consider the possibility that this character might have come from one of the Hebrew coin or Aramaic versions of a Hebrew letter from Stuart's book, in this case the Hebrew letter mem. The two characters on the left are Hebrew coin letters, the Aramaic version is in the central column, and the Hebrew is on the right:


That seems like a perfect fit for the character drawn by one of Joseph's scribes. The other character on its right is a fairly common one in the scrolls and similar characters occur in the GAEL, so this pairing could have happened, though the two together do weight for the papyrus scroll being the source of the concept, and perhaps the modern scribe just copied it poorly.

An apparently compound character is on p. 6 of Manuscript C:


The leftmost part might have a relationship to Stuart's Hebrew coin characters for the Hebrew letter tsadhe:

But that may not be a great fit. The most interesting issues, in my opinion, involve the use of names related to the letters aleph, beth, gimel, daleth, and possibly yodh, coupled with the surprising link to Stuart's Hebrew coin letter for beth as the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document, and possibly a few other relationships involving the KEP and Stuart's page 10.

In any case, for further research, I think we need to more carefully consider Moses Stuart and not just Joshua Seixas when exploring the impact of Hebrew study in the KEP. And we also may need to reconsider the dates that have been listed by the editors of Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers, for at least many portions of the KEP may not have been written until well after Hebrew study had commenced at the end of 1835 or the beginning of 1836. That also would raise new challenges for those looking to the KEP as evidence of how Joseph translated. If they were prepared after the translation was already done or largely done (a hypothesis already supported by textual evidence), then they may tell us about W.W. Phelps' thoughts on "pure language" or tell us about attempts to cipher English text (per William Schryver) or tell us about some kind of failed attempts of mortal men to figure out how to understand Egyptian by working with an already translated text or show us how some scribes sought to find hidden clues in one part of the papyrus that had thematic links to what Joseph had translated, but they would not tell us how the revealed translation was done in the first place.

Update, May 20, 2019: The presence of Hebrew letter names does not require Hebrew study, of course, since these names can be picked up from the KJV itself in Psalm 119.  But why use Hebrew characters at all in the first place? The push for Hebrew study seemed to be driven by the need to better understand ancient language in order to better understand Egyptian. Combined with the other evidences for ties to Hebrew study materials discussed here and in my May 20 post, I think there is a collective case that requires us to at least be open to the possibility that Hebrew study sparked significant portions of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. The May 20 post is "More on the Impact of Hebrew Study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Hurwitz and Some Curiousities in the GAEL."

This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:

Monday, May 06, 2019

Sights from a Trip to Israel and Jordan

One of the advantages of working in China is having long national holidays like the Chinese New Year, making it easier to take interesting trips to other lands. There's a big incentive to do so, for staying in the country while several hundred million people are traveling can be quite challenging for foreigners not used to coping with the world's biggest mass exodus ever. For New Year's holiday in February, we joined a group of friends from Shanghai and made a temporary exodus to Israel, the original Promised Land (not the current one in Shanghai, China, which is truly the most exciting place I've ever lived and perhaps ever visited). In addition to Israel, we also made a brief journey in Jordan to see one of the wonders of the world, Petra in the beautiful nation of Jordan. Here are some scenes from the trip and a few observations on particularly interesting things I saw with relevance to issues sometimes discussed here at Mormanity.

Here's what you see while attending sacrament meeting (on Saturday) at "Mormon University" in Jerusalem, also known as the BYU Center, near the Mount of Olives. I've never attended a sacrament meeting with a more stunning view behind the pulpit. 

What you see while attending sacrament meeting at Mormon University.

The arches of Mormon University, easily visible from the Old City of Jerusalem.

It's interesting that one place where the name "Mormon" will continue being used in all its glory to refer to the Church and its operations is "Mormon University." Mormon University is the name the officials want to be used and it is prominently displayed on some road signs leading there. It presents much less trouble that having the official name of the Church be displayed in a land where there are great sensitivities over religion and even tougher rules against proselyting than we face in China. In Israel, to attend a religious service at Mormon University, you need to already be a baptized member in addition to having a foreign passport (as China requires). In China, though, we are free to invite other foreigners to our services, and local Chinese members can in some major cities have their own services. Things are very strict in Israel, so be careful and don't stir up trouble when you go by attempting any missionary work at all. Be respectful of the rules there!


There is so much to see in Israel. One of the things I have long yearned to see was the document with these words, “Alma son of Yehudah” (אלמא בן יהודה), showing that the long-mocked name Alma is not merely a Latin female name sloppily plagiarized by Joseph Smith, but an authentic ancient man's name. I wasn't able to see the document in a museum, but could see a photo of it in a book I just purchased. Here is the document, a deed from the era of the Bar Kochba revolt found by Yigael Yadin, one of the most famous archaeologists of Israel. The name "ALMA" is underlined with white in this photo (click to enlarge).



The source is Yigael Yadin's classic work,  Bar-Kokhba: The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the second Jewish Revolt against Rome (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 177, which depicts a deed from around 132 A.D. A more complete black-and-white image of the full deed is also shown in Terryl L. Givens' book, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), p. 140: 
 Here is what the document looked like before it was opened (also Yadin, p. 177):




See also Yigael Yadin, "The Expedition to the Judean Desert," Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 12, no. 3/4, 1961 (1962), pp. 227-257, especially pages 252 and 253.  

The translation from Yigael Yadin of the relevant text reveals that Alma was the name of a Jewish male in antiquity, not merely the female Latin name that some critics have criticized for decades:


On the twenty-eighth of Marheshvan, the third year of Shimeon bar Kosiba, President of Israel; at En-gedi. Of their own free will, on this day, do Eleazar son of Eleazar son of Hitta and Eliezer son of Shmuel, both of En-gedi, and Tehina son of Shimeon and Alma son of Yehudah, both of Luhith in the coastal district of 'Agaltain, now residents of Engedi, wish to divide up amongst themselves the places that they have leased from Yehonathan son of Mhnym the administrator of Shimeon ben Kosiba, President of Israel, at En-gedi. ... [Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kokhba (New York: Random House, 1971): 176].

Long ago I read that this document featuring the name Alma was prominently displayed in the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem, so seeing that museum was high on my list of things to do while there. Sadly, it is no longer on display there. Not sure where it is now. I asked some of the staff there and in the adjoining National Museum but could not find it. If you know where to see it, please let me know. 

Another highlight of our visit was the chance to see with my own eyes the earliest scriptural text discovered so far, a brief excerpt from Numbers that dates to the time of Lehi and Nephi, around 600 B.C. This little text was written on thin silver, a silver scroll serving as an amulet of some kind. How interesting that the earliest scriptural text was written on precious metal, akin to the Book of Mormon and the brass plates. Further, this precious find shows that a passage of Numbers long held to be a late creation from after the Exile was actually known in Lehi's day (reducing the impact of arguments against the Book of Mormon for relying on passages in the Pentateuch that allegedly were late creations). Here is what I saw in the Israeli National Museum:




No, they don't look like the gold plates or brass plates, but they do represent an ancient tradition of preserving scripture, and the choice of a precious metal is entirely logical.

Also at the National Museum, we learned about the ancient temple at Arad, a place outside of Jerusalem that also had a Holy of Holies and was a site were sacrifices were altered. It was destroyed -- or rather, gently taken apart and buried -- during the reign of Hezekiah. It was not desecrated. One argument is that he took it down and buried it to preserve the sacred site as the Assyrians were coming, much as the Latter-day Saints in Utah buried the ongoing work on the Salt Lake Temple when government troops were coming to possibly invade the city. In any case, the temple/shrine at Arad lends support to the notion that people like Lehi and Nephi could have dared to offer sacrifice outside of Jerusalem and even to later build a temple in the New World, just as Jews in Egypt did at Elephantine.



We also saw the following example of a tablet with a wax coating for writing, an instrument that may be the "sticks" of writing from Ephraim and Judah mentioned in Ezekiel 37.



Another interesting exhibit deal with crucifixion. Here a nail through an ankle shows how crucifixion may have been done for many. Not quite the way I always imagine it.




While in Israel, we also took some time to visit Jordan and see the remarkable wonder, Petra, where a vibrant community 2,000 years ago carved numerous edifices out of sandstone. Simply amazing. I was deeply moved by the friendliness and hospitality of the Jordanians I met and am anxious to return.






Did Johnny Depp get inspiration from Petra? I sure did!

Can't wait to return! Loved Israel and Jordan, including the people, the food, and the sites. Fabulous places!