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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

A Few Reasons Why Hugh Nibley Is Still Relevant for Book of Abraham Scholarship

I'm grateful to the Interpreter Foundation for publishing my lengthy, controversial, and painful (at least to me) article reviewing the Joseph Smith Papers' volume on the Book of Abraham, a volume that is a magnificent accomplishment in many ways, but also has some serious gaps. One of those gaps was the complete neglect of the foundation of scholarship laid by Dr. Hugh Nibley in many aspects of Book of Abraham studies and understanding of the related documents.

In response to the article, I was intrigued by the comments offered by Terry Hutchinson there:
Nibley’s research (as he would be the first to admit) was preliminary. I don’t think he needs to be cited if subsequent research has overtaken what he put out. Having said that, I view Nibley’s theories on the Book of Abraham in the same light as those he had for the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi codices, especially his observations about there being a consistent teaching of doctrine and rituals. When they [his writings and theories about the Scrolls and Codices being initiatory rites] came out, they were met with silence or scorn in the academic community. His observations about Egyptian practices, which he first published as a translation and commentary on the Egyptian Book of Breathings , (The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: an Egyptian Endowment, Deseret Book, 1975) were treated in a similar fashion. By the time a 2d Edition was published three decades later, things had changed.

From the Foreword to the 2d Edition (p. xxii): “Nibley’s long work on comparative religion sensitized him to recognize certain ritual patterns, and thus he saw in the Book of Breathings an initiation text at a time when the only Egyptologists who thought that initiation existed in ancient Egypt were Walter Federn, Claas Bleeker, and Gertrud Thausing, who were definitely on the margins of the discipline. Since that time [three decades], the topic of initiation has become mainstream in the discipline, although some Egyptologists still dislike the term and the subject.”

In that book, Nibley also took the original step of including Appendices containing excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [the Odes Of Solomon], an early Christian hymn known as the Pearl, the Pistis Sophia and quotations from an early Church Father, Cyril of Jerusalem. He finished with a few extracts from the Gospel of Philip [one of the Nag Hammadi Codices]. Nibley pointed out that the Book of Breathings had its predecessors in, “the Egyptian funerary and temple texts that go back to the beginning” which he dealt with in the main text of the book and, “after it comes an equally impressive succession of early Christian and Jewish writings that move on down through the patristic literature to our own day.”

In other words, using his comparative religion experience, Nibley placed his view of Egyptian initiatory rites in a direct line from an older history to our day. Nibley’s readings of these documents and postulating their relationship to “ordinances” [rituals] are becoming more plausible in light of modern scholarship. Nibley was one of the first to view Egyptian funerary rites as “initiatory”. His additional view of the Pistis Sophia, the Books of Jeu, the Gospel of Philip and other early Christian finds as “initiatory rites” or “ordinances” as he called them, was also considered on the “fringes” when he first published them.

Since 1997, however, modern scholars of these documents have moved in Nibley’s direction, as they did with the Egyptian example above. Erin Evans specifically identifies the Pistis Sophia and the Books of Jeu with Egyptian funerary rites and states that they are “initiatory” information passed to the living to prepare them for the afterlife. (See “The Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia as Handbooks to Eternity: Exploring the Gnostic Mysteries of the Ineffable, (Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2015)”; Hugo Lundhaug, has the same view of the Gospel of Philip. Lundhaug also, “shows how the text presents salvation and transformation through rituals and text, . . ..” see Lundhaug, Hugo, “Images of Rebirth: Cognitive Poetics and Transformational Soteriology in the Gospel of Philip and the Exegisis on the Soul, (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2010)”. Van Os specifically wrote a long thesis arguing that Philip is an initiatory rite. “van Os, Bas, Baptism in the Bridal Chamber: The Gospel of Philip as a Valentinian Baptismal Instruction, (Goningen, Netherlands: University of Groningen, 2007) available http://dissertations.ub.rug.nl/faculties/theology/2007/l.k.van.os/.”

While there are significant differences between Nibley’s Latter Day Saint interpretations and these recent efforts, modern scholars are closer to Nibley than to the long-established academic tradition of denying the initiatory aspects of these rituals. Nibley’s genius is still intact in many ways, and, in fact, is substantiated by more and more scholarship. That’s not to say that he hasn’t been superseded in some respects, but he certainly should be part of the equation rather than summarily dismissed.
Today there may be growing academic acceptance of Nibley's controversial proposal that the relevant Egyptian documents weren't merely funerary documents but were related to Egyptian rituals for the living. Robert F. Smith kindly followed up with a reply:
Yes, the mistake has so often been to portray Egyptian documents as funereal, as though they were only written to be deposited with the dead. That was never true in ancient Egypt.

All those rites of passage were constantly reenacted by the living in sumptuous temples, the words even engraved on the temple walls. Jack Finegan said that “the myths and related traditions were kept alive in ritual and cult, and reflected in architecture and art” (Myth & Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989], 15, citing C. J. Bleeker, Egyptian Festivals: Enactments of Religious Renewal, Studies in the History of Religions 13 [Leiden: Brill, 1967], 11-12).

The pharaoh and his people regularly engaged in ritual observances, and in grand festivals, just as the Hindus do in India today.
 If you want to understand how the Egyptian documents related to the Book of Abraham might have fit into an ancient ritual setting, Nibley is the place to begin, the foundational work that must be considered, or at least cited if one wishes to acknowledge past relevant scholarship for the Book of Abraham and the Joseph Smith Papyri. One may disagree, but it concerns me that a book seeking to provide scholars with tools to further work with the related documents would manage to not cite Nibley even once among roughly 1000 footnotes, where some of Nibley's critics are approvingly cited, but the most prolific scholar in that field has been excised from the record. Such a gap, and it's only one of many, I'm afraid. And no, I take no pleasure in saying that. It pains me, partly because I know there are so many great people who worked so hard to bring forth that volume who will also feel pained to see a negative review. 

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:

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Twin BOA Manuscripts: A Window into Creation of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language?

While I believe there is significant evidence showing that the twin manuscripts (Manuscript A and Manuscript B) of the Book of Abraham do not represent live dictation from Joseph Smith as he created new translated material (see my Interpreter article just published Friday and my "Twin Manuscripts" post),  there is still a good question that critics can ask: "If this is not a window into live dictation of a newly created 'translation,' then why would the scribes start their manuscripts at Abraham 1:4, exactly after the place where W.W. Phelps stopped in his Manuscript C?"

The argument is that the two scribes were continuing the live translation work that W.W. Phelps had already helped with. It would be strange, though, if Joseph had only been able to translate 3 verses during the months he had the papyri before the twin manuscripts are started sometime after Warren Parrish was hired on Oct. 29, 1835, probably in early November 1835. For a man who could dictate many hundreds of words per day when doing the Book of Mormon translation of reformed Egyptian, why would he slow to a frozen snail's pace for the Book of Abraham? The issue of translation pace is an important consideration we have discussed previously, but that doesn't deal with the question about why the twin manuscripts would start with verse 4 rather than verse 1.

I think it's fair to assume there's a connection between the twin manuscripts and the work that Phelps had done with Abraham 1:1-3 in Manuscript C. But what kind of connection?

If the twin manuscripts are simply copies for personal use, one would think the scribes would want to start at the beginning. But there's an important clue or two suggesting that the purpose of these documents was something much different than just making copies to read for their own benefit.

The twin manuscripts begin with a puzzling statement at the top that has no analog in Manuscript C: "sign of the fifth degree of the Second​  part." That label makes a clear reference to the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (the GAEL), W.W. Phelps' incomplete work, abounding in empty pages in a bound volume, that is split up into sections with titles based upon "degrees" and "parts"like "2nd part of the 3d degree." So the twin documents are explicitly linked somehow to the GAEL. Even more puzzling, when you go to the pages labeled with "Second part 5th Degree" (link is to the first of several pages in that section), you won't find the Egyptian (and non-Egyptian) characters there that are found in the margins of the twin manuscripts, and when you look at the "explanations" of the characters in that section, you won't find concepts that seem related to the translated text. There are some concepts that fit Abraham 1:1-3, and some of the cosmological material about planets and starts perhaps derived from Facsimile 2, but precious little related to Abraham 1:4 to 2:6. What's going on?

In fact, the characters in the margins of the twin manuscripts do not appear in the GAEL and certainly aren't defined there. Not a single one of the 19 Egyptian characters, character clusters, or contrived characters in the twin manuscripts appear in the GAEL. What's going on?

On the other hand, the characters and concepts in Phelps' writing of Abraham 1:1-3 in Manuscript C are present in the GAEL, with many variations and lots of variant meanings in the different "degrees."

Here's a hypothesis to consider (may be wrong, but I wish to consider it for now): The purpose of these three manuscripts, A, B, and C, was not creation of the Book of Abraham translation, but creation (or more specifically, further fleshing out) of the GAEL, whatever its purpose was. It may be that Phelps already had a good start in making the GAEL after working with Abraham 1:1-3 and assigning various characters to portions of the text, but more work was needed to take additional translated text from Joseph's prior translation work, and link it with additional characters that could be added with explanations and variants into his still highly incomplete effort. Phelps was now too busy to keep working on the intellectual pursuits related to the Book of Abraham/Egyptian (or "pure language"?) project, which is why Parrish was hired according to Bruce Van Orden in his outstanding book, We'll Sing and We'll Shout (the definitive biography of W.W. Phelps), so I propose that the two scribes teamed up to continue the work Phelps had begun, perhaps at his suggestion and/or under Joseph's direction, who shared an intellectual interest in Egyptian as well as Hebrew. Their first step may have been to explore possible relationships between characters (largely taken from Joseph Smith Papyrus XI) and the translation, so they copied more characters and the next portion of the translation intending to support the insertion of further explanations and speculations in the GAEL, but the project fizzled out before those additional steps occurred.

The copies and the treatment of characters would be a first step to help the team select concepts to fill in some of the many blank pages left in the GAEL. There was no need to copy Abraham 1:1-3 because Phelps had already explored that thoroughly. But the new characters (some concocted) never made it into the GAEL.

This may help answer the question about why these manuscripts began at verse 4. It is consistent with the abundant evidence that the translation already existed and was being copied. If so, the twin manuscripts are not so much a "window into the translation of the Book of Abraham" as they are a "window into the creation of the Grammar and Alphabet" -- from an already existing translation.

There is still the excellent question about the choice of Joseph Smith Papyrus XI for this GAEL-creation work. Doesn't that mean that this is the scroll Joseph translated and that the text is his translation of each of the handful of characters? Not necessarily. The whole concept of translating hundreds of words from a single character doesn't fit Joseph's statements and actions, as we've previously discussed and as I discuss in my recent publication at The Interpreter.

There are several possibilities on the source and nature of the translation that others have raised. For example, the translation may have been given by revelation as it was with the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, meaning that it wasn't based upon staring at a particular scroll or plate and translating in a conventional manner, but simply dictating translation through revelation. If so, Joseph and the scribes might not have known which characters from which scrolls (if any) had been the source of the revealed text. The papyri may even have been a catalyst rather than a source for the translation. Possible, I suppose. Alternatively, there may have been reasons to suspect a relationship between characters on the selected papyrus fragment and the Book of Abraham even if the Book of Abraham came from another source. Ed Goble, for example, proposes that the characters were used somehow as wordplays to key words or concepts in the text of another scroll and may have adorned the margins of the original BOA scroll as they do the three BOA manuscripts in question (see one of his articles here and a blog here). (While Ed has some very interesting points, I'm not convinced based on what I've been able to digest so far, and fear the relationships may be too convoluted to be practical.) Others have spoken about possible mnemonic relationships, etc., and then we have William Schryver's interesting theory about a reverse cipher being at play, though there are still many questions about that, in spite of the fascinating and valid points he has made.

We clearly need more information to understand what the early Saints were doing with the GAEL and how it was supposed to be used. But it's important to understand it was not the source for the Book of Abraham translation and in many ways appears to be a derivative of the translation, not a precursor. If the Book of Abraham Manuscripts A, B, and C were initially intended as tools to support creation of further entries in the GAEL, they would likewise be derivatives of the existing translation and would not necessarily give us any kind of window into Joseph's live translation work.

We don't know exactly how Joseph translated or even what he translated from, but many of us believe that the translation was through the power of God, a revelatory process, not an intellectual and relatively "conventional" translation effort based on a concocted alphabet applied one character at time to a text. We can also believe, with many reasons to support that belief, that the resulting text reflects ancient origins, complex as they may be, rather than merely a fanciful nineteenth-century perspective about mysterious papyri where a single character could be unraveled to give worlds of meaning. Understanding that the translation was the source of much of the strange work in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers rather than the fruit thereof is an important step in understanding these documents, and one of the reasons why I am frustrated with the editorial choices and biases reflected in related publication of 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), the topic of my newly published review at The Interpreter.

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, July 18, 2019

Kirtland's Rosetta Stone? The Importance of Word Order in the "Egyptian" of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language

There may be an important story hidden in one of the easily-overlooked details in the always puzzling Kirtland Egyptian Papers, especially the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) which many critics allege was used as the source for creating at least part of the Book of Abraham. The critics see it as an obviously worthless tool that was being used to assist in Joseph's translation of Egyptian papyri, while many LDS scholars argue that it was more likely derived from the revealed translation. There are strange, unexplained issues, though and clearly many relevant documents that are missing and explanations that are unavailable.

Some valuable information may be related to the order of the "Egyptian" words and their definitions in the GAEL. In my last post, a reader who goes by "Joe Peaceman" made a valuable point as he tried to explore what the text of the GAEL tells us about its construction. He pointed to an interesting correction that W.W. Phelps made throughout the various "degrees" of his document. The word "Beth-ka" had apparently been skipped early in his work, and so Phelps added a note on blank page calling for its insertion between two other characters. The word "Beth-ka" or "Bethka" or "Beth ka" in GAEL is variously said to mean "the greatest place of happiness" (GAEL, p. 2), "a more complete enjoyment— a more beautiful place" (p. 8), "a place of exceeding great beauty" (p. 12), "a larger garden— more spacious plain" (p. 17),  "A large garden, a large val[l]ey or a large plain" (p. 19), and "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" (p. 34).  

We can see the Phelps' work of inserting "Bethka" in several parts of his document, including:
  • Page 2, where it is inserted between bars low on the page, with a note that it should be inserted above. See Figure 1 below. 
  • Page 8,  where it is the sole entry on what was one of the many blank pages left in the GAEL, with a note that it should be inserted on the opposing page. See Figure 2.
  • Page 12, which, as with page 8, is inserted on a blank page. See Figure 3.
  • Page 17, which has "Bethka" at the top of the page with a note that it should have been inserted between "Iota" and "Zub Zoal oan" on the previous page, page 16. The page is then filled with additional words and definitions.
  • Page 19, which has "Beth ka" at the top of a blank page and a note that it should "have been inserted between Iota and Zub Zaol aon on the opposite page," page 20.
Fig. 1. "Bethka" added out of sequence on page 2 of the GAEL.

Fig. 2. "Bethka" inserted on a blank page, page 8 of the GAEL.
Fig. 3. "Bethka" inserted on a blank page, page 12 of the GAEL.

In creating a dictionary or an "alphabet" of a foreign language, what is the importance of word order? If one is creating a versatile tool for translating texts, the order should enable one to easily look up a word to find its meaning. In Chinese-English dictionaries, for example, Chinese words can be arranged based upon alphabetic order of the transliteration, or based on characteristics of the characters (governing portions called "radicals" or number of strokes) that can make it easy ("easy" compared to having no order -- it still can be difficult) to find a word. Lists of words for language study can be grouped in other ways as well (common verbs, common nouns, etc.). But what is it about "Bethka" that requires it to be inserted not next to "Beth" but between "Iota" and "Zub Zoal oan"? Why would Phelps care about precise word order here when the words aren't being arranged alphabetically or based on common meaning, sound, or structure of the "Egyptian" character (typically not even Egyptian [some may be Egyptian, derivatives of Egyptian, or fragments of Egyptian characters that are not on the scrolls in their current state])?

Reader "Joe Peaceman" provides the most plausible answer, I think. He notes that in the sequence of words into which "Bethka" needs to be inserted in a particular place, the word order links them to the text of Abraham 1:1-2. Below is part of Abraham 1:1-2, where we have these phrases, in order, and their relationship to words in the GAEL in brackets:
1 ... at the residence of my fathers [1. "Beth" - described as a place or residence]
I, Abraham, saw [2. "Iota" - see, saw, seeing, or having seen]
that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence;   [3. "Bethka" fits here, referring to a better place and, on p. 34, "Another & larger place of residence"]
2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, [4. "Zub zool— oan"— which can mean "father or fathers"]
Phelps cared about the order and felt a need to insert "Bethka" throughout his document in a place that would make it line up with something. Line up with what? Why do that unless he was trying to use the existing text of the Book of Abraham translation as some kind of a tool, perhaps Kirtland's answer to the Rosetta Stone, perhaps being used to attempt the very kind of thing that Champollion was trying to do, namely, to create an "Alphabet" (that's a term that was frequently used in the press of that era to describe Champollion's work) to crack the mysterious Egyptian language? As "Joe Peaceman" puts it, "This is obviously aligned to Abraham 1, and it appears that Phelps saw the order that the cosmic journey/drama was about to play out in Abraham's life. How did he know without a text?"

If Phelps were just guessing at the meaning of various symbols (most of which aren't even Egyptian) to make some kind of dictionary, the work he did to insert "Bethka" in five parts of his document in a specific place would make no sense. But if there were an existing story line in an existing text that he was working with, perhaps for some aspect of his "pure language" interest, then the bits and pieces of the GAEL that align with the Book of Abraham make more sense. The purpose of the GAEL is still unclear, but what should be clear is that Phelps began this project in the GAEL with at least some and perhaps much of the Book of Abraham before him. Contrary to the assertions of some critics, the GAEL is more likely to be drawing upon the Book of Abraham rather than the other way around.

Similar conclusions can be reached by examining the cosmological material in the GAEL, such as that on pp. 33-34, the last pages with definitions. There and elsewhere one finds Kolob, governing planets, cubits,  earth, moon, sun, and related cosmological references. It's plausible and logical that Facsimile 2 and Abraham 3 had already been translated when the GAEL was being produced.

This topic also reminds us of the problem when some of our own scholars who insist that the Book of Abraham was largely the fruit of nineteenth-century Egyptomania without knowledge of one of the main aspects of Egyptomania: fascination with the news of Champollion and the Rosetta Stone. If Phelps and the early Saints were unaware of those widely known stories where much was said about the "alphabet" being prepared by Champollion based on the translation he had on the Rosetta Stone, and if they had no clue about the phonetic aspects of the Egyptian language revealed in that work, why would Phelps and his peers strive to also create an "alphabet" of the Egyptian language? But if they were creating an "alphabet," it stands to reason that they would start with a known translation and use it to try to decode the language, Champollion-style. They messed up terribly, of course, and raise numerous questions in the process, such as why they are using many characters that aren't even Egyptian. That fact raises doubt about the project really being related to deciphering Egyptian. Perhaps they were trying to create their own "pure language" guide (where "Egyptian" is code for "pure language"), or perhaps there is something to William Schryver's theory of making a reverse cipher, or perhaps there is something even stranger going on.

With many key documents clearly being missing and so many puzzles in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, it's hard to determine what they were trying to do. But there is evidence that helps us understand when they were trying to do it, and that seems to be after at least some of the revealed translation had been given. It's more logical to see the GAEL as dependent on the translated text, not as a source that was used to create it.

Update, July 20, 2019: An important indication of the importance of word order to W.W. Phelps for a portion at least of his Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) was mentioned by Joe Peaceman that I wish to emphasize here. At the top of page 16 of the GAEL is this statement from Phelps: "This order should be preserved according to the signification of the degrees." Then follows the list of some key "Egyptian" words related to Abraham 1: Beth, Iota, Zub Zaol=oan, etc., with a note on the next page about the need to insert Bethka between Iota and Zub Zaol=oan. 

Joe Peaceman, speaking to Dan Vogel, then says:
We agree that the BofA wasn’t translated from the GAEL but, the precision of alignment logically indicates that, when they created the GAEL, it was either created "to" the BofA or the BofA was created to it.
This is an important issue. Was the GAEL based on, or created "according to" an existing Book of Abraham, or was the Book of Abraham created based on, or "according to" the GAEL? If the GAEL was Joseph's "inspired" tool to create the Book of Abraham, it or some other "alphabet" could come first, and then the Book of Abraham translation would be conducted somehow. The opposite scenario is that the GAEL was derived from the Book of Abraham, perhaps as an intellectual tool to understand Egyptian or as a tool to create some kind of writing system related to the "pure language" (the hypothesized Adamic language) that interested W.W. Phelps and Joseph.

Joe Peaceman astutely argues that if the GAEL came first, then the Book of Abraham should conform to it. But the recognition that something had been skipped or was in the wrong order in the GAEL seems to suggest that there was an outside control forcing that change, and that control would naturally be the dictated and revealed text of the Book of Abraham. The need for a particular order was important enough that the correction was made in multiple places of the GAEL after the initial list of these characters had been written down and copied several times without "Bethka" in the right place. So what the GAEL made based on the Book of Abraham or vice versa?

Joe Peaceman picks up on a subtle word choice in Joseph Smith's History from July 1835, p. 597. Here is the transcript from the Joseph Smith Papers Project website:
July 1835 <​Translating the Book of Abraham &c.​> The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients. [emphasis added]
It does not say that they were preparing the alphabet based on or for the Joseph Smith Papyri, but "to" the Book of Abraham, as if that came first. You can argue that the use of "to" is casual and ambiguous, but it still creates the logical though debatable presumption that the Book of Abraham is controlling the creation of the GAEL and not the other way around. It's not absolute proof, but it certainly must be considered as possible evidence, contrary to those who declare that there is absolutely no evidence that an existing translation came before the GAEL and the Egyptian Alphabet documents.

If Joseph were using the GAEL as an inspired tool to create the translation and left out the phrase related to Bethka, the reasonable next step would be to correct the dictated text rather than to rework the GAEL.  The choice to rework the GAEL (in five places) points to the existing translation as the controlling source, IMO. Given the primacy of a divinely translated text, it is natural that the GAEL would be reworked if this were a secondary document, part of an exercise from one or more of Joseph's scribes (with Joseph's support, of course) using the translation as a key. The subsequent intellectual exercise was a failure, but that tells us nothing about the value of the initial divine translation.

You may also argue that the statement from July 1835 is referring to the papyrus manuscript Joseph thought contained the Book of Abraham, but that position raises two questions: (1) What apparently missing manuscript was Joseph translating? (2) Why do so many of the characters for which order matters appear to not only not be on the papyri, but appear to not even be Egyptian? This is based on examining the "Comparison of Characters" section of Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations series on the Book of Abraham, edited by Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen (2018) and comparing the characters from the relevant portion of the GAEL. It seems that most or even all of these order-sensitive characters aren't on the papyri and might not even be Egyptian. So what's going on?

Here the "pure language" issue may be important. Since so much of the "Egyptian" in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is not even Egyptian (e.g., in the Egyptian Counting document, not a single character is actual Egyptian), William Schryver has offered the reasonable argument that "Egyptian" may be a code word for "pure language" in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. If the Saints involved in this effort were trying to create a "pure language" writing system or a "reverse cipher" (Schryver's preferred theory), then the characters would not need to be Egyptian. Many of the handful of characters on some Book of Abraham manuscripts are Egyptian and from one important papyrus, but as I recall only 3 of them have translations in the GAEL. It's all quite perplexing, but whatever those involved with the KEP were doing, the evidence points to the translation (at least of Abraham 1:1-2) coming first, before the GAEL was created. It simply was not meant to be the source for the Book of Abraham or a tool for its translation.

But some Egyptian characters are being matched from a papyrus to portions of the Book of Abraham in some manuscripts. Doesn't that prove that Joseph translated those characters to give the text? Recall that when Joseph translated the reformed Egyptian of the gold plates, he did not need to stare at specific plates to give the translation. The text flowed swiftly through revelation while the plates were not even opened up. Something similar may have happened with the Book of Abraham. We know there were other papyrus documents that were presumably burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Was the translated text of the Book of Abraham on them? Or on none of papyri? I favor versions of the missing scroll theory, but it's not the only plausible approach.

If Joseph had been able to keep the gold plates, Joseph and the scribes might be tempted to try to crack reformed Egyptian by using the translation as a key, but they might not immediately know which characters of which plates correlate to specific portions of the text. If the scribes didn't know which papyrus documents, if any, were the source for the specific words of the translated text, they might have made reasonable guesses, or perhaps they turned to the papyrus that had some related figures on it and assumed it might have text or "mnemonic clues" related to the text from elsewhere. Clearly we don't know what they were thinking or doing, but their intellectual efforts in all aspects of the KEP may tell us very little about how Joseph did the translation if the translation came first through revelation, similar to how he translated the Book of Mormon, with relatively little dependence on the plates. I think there is significant evidence from multiple fronts that the translation predates the GAEL, the Egyptian Alphabet documents, and the three manuscripts of the Book of Abraham that have Egyptian characters (and some non-Egyptian characters) in their margins.

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, July 04, 2019

The Twin Book of Abraham Manuscripts: Do They Reflect Live Translation Produced by Joseph Smith, or Were They Copied From an Existing Document?

A number of critics of the Book of Abraham and even some LDS scholars have alleged that a pair of Book of Abraham manuscripts with a few Egyptian characters in the left margin give us a window into Joseph Smith's "translation" process. At the heard of their argument is alleged textual evidence that Joseph Smith is dictating live. The critical evidence is the fact that both scribes, Frederick G. Williams and Warren Parrish, make some of the same errors and corrections in the document, rather clearly showing that simultaneous dictation is taking place. Therefore, it is alleged, these manuscripts show Joseph Smith dictating and giving the new translation of Egyptian characters from the papyri.

Critics of the Book of Abraham have discussed portions of the textual evidence and considered it in light of their theory that Joseph was dictating the translation. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they generally do not seriously allow for the possibility of an alternate hypothesis: that the scribes were creating a copy of an already existing document. The idea of an existing document is typically dismissed with assertions of "no evidence." But the textual evidence they point to in support of their case needs to be evaluated in light of that alternate hypothesis as well in order to make a reasonable comparison of the merits of the two approaches, rather than hastily dismissing the alternative and declaring victory. Fortunately, now anyone can make that evaluation using the publication of high-resolution images and transcripts of the Book of Abraham documents in the Joseph Smith Papers website and in 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). For this, I'm truly grateful to Hauglid and Jensen and the many others who made this possible (in spite of my differences with the editors' apparent personal opinions on some Book of Abraham issues).

To get started, in the Table of Contents for Volume 4 of The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, we can see links to the three key BOA manuscripts in question. These are:
The twin manuscripts, reflecting two scribes both working at the same time, are Manuscript A by Frederick G. Williams and Manuscript B by Warren Parrish. Let's consider what the textual evidence tells us. First, consider the evidence from spelling.

Textual Evidence, Category One: the Spelling of Unusual Names in the Twin Manuscripts

Below are the proper names in each manuscript, excluding Egypt and Egyptian, Ham, Adam, and Noah. They are shown below in order and grouped by name in order of occurrence and showing corrections (here I draw upon data presented in a previous post).

Here are the spellings of names in Manuscript A by Frederick G. Williams:
  • Elk=Kener, Elk=Kener, Elk=Keenah, Elk-keenah, Elk Kee-nah, Elk-Keenah, Elkkeenah
  • Zibnah, Zibnah, Zibnah
  • Mah-mackrah, Mah-Mach-rah, Mah-Mach-rah
  • Pharoah, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaohs
  • Chaldea, Chaldea, Chaldeea, Chaldea, Chaldea, chaldees, chaldees, chaldees
  • Chaldeans, Chaldians, Chaldea ["in the Chaldea signifies Egypt" - Chaldean is meant]
  • Shag=reel, Shag-reel
  • Potipher<​s​> hill, Potiphers hill
  • Olishem
  • Onitus Onitah [Williams spells it improperly, crosses it out and continues with the correct spelling, while Parrish spells it correctly]
  • Kah-lee-nos [note that the canonized text has Rahleenos]
  • Abram, Abram, Abraham <​Abram​>, Abram, Abram, Abram
  • Ur, Ur, Ur, Ur, Ur
  • Cananitess, cannites
  • Zep-tah
  • Egyptes
  • Haran, Haron, Haran, Haran, Haran, Haran, Haran
  • Terah
  • Sarai, Sarai, sarah
  • Nahor
  • Milcah
  • canaan, canaan
  • Lot 
Manuscript B by Warren Parrish has these proper names showing corrections, as displayed in the transcript at the Joseph Smith Papers site:
  • Elkkener, Elkken[er][here the edge of the paper is damaged obscuring the final r, but it appears that he wrote the full word, Elkkener], Elkkener, Elkkener, Elkkener, Elkkener
  • Zibnah, Zibnah, Zibnah
  • mahmachrah, Mahmachrah, Mahmachrah
  • Pharoah, Pharao[h], Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharoaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Pharaoh
  • Chaldea, Chaldea, Chaldea, Chaldea, Chaldea, Chaldeas
  • Chaldeans, Chaldeans, Chaldea ["in the Chaldea signifies Egypt" - Chaldean is meant, same error here as in Manuscript A], 
  • ​Shagreel​, Shagreel
  • Potiphers hill, Potiphers hill
  • Olishem 
  • Onitah
  • Kahleenos [The canonized text has "Rahleenos." Since a cursive capital R often looks much like a K, it would be easy to read "Rahleenos" on an existing text as "Kahleenos." Williams also wrote "Kahleenos." Perhaps the original text had Kahleenos, or it may have had "Rahleenos" which Parrish or someone else misread.]
  • Abram, Abram, Abram
  • ur, Ur, Ur
  • canaanites, Canaanites
  • Zeptah
  • Egyptes
  • Haran, Haran
  • Terah 
  • Sarai
  • Nahor
  • Milcah
Parrish is not a great speller, giving us "preist," "sacrafice," "fassion" (fashion), "patraarch," "govermnent," "pople" (people), "Idolitry," "deliniate," "runing," and "smiten," but he spells names consistently, with the exception of capitalization and one typo for Pharaoh. Williams, on the other hand, has significant variation in his spelling of unusual words, suggesting that he was writing down what he heard for the most part, while Parrish might have been looking at what he was writing or was able to see it when needed if someone else were dictating, so his unusual words are spelled accurately and consistently.

Williams spells names with the kind of variation we would expect for an oral copying process: Mah-mackrah and Mah-Mach-rah, Haran and Haron, Elk=Kener and Elk-keenah, Chaldea and Chaldeea.  Chaldeans and Chaldians, etc. But Parrish, a poor speller, outdoes his fellow scribe with remarkably consistent spelling of difficult names. This strongly suggests that Parrish could see a document that was being copied. If Parrish could see the document, could he have been the one that was dictating aloud so that he and his fellow scribe could make copies? It's a possibility that needs to be considered as we examine the next category of textual evidence, the typographical errors and corrections. Thus, we will consider two hypotheses: 1) Joseph Smith was dictating and creating a translation as two scribes simultaneously copied what he spoke, and 2) the two scribes worked were simultaneously copying from an existing manuscript, with Warren Parrish able to see and dictate aloud from the manuscript as he and Frederick Williams then copied what Parrish read aloud. Another hypothesis, that someone was reading to both scribes from an existing manuscript, could also be considered, but may be indistinguishable from Hypothesis 2 in analyzing errors and corrections in Category Two.

Textual Evidence, Category Two: Typographical Errors and Corrections in the Common Text of the Twin Manuscripts

Here we consider each of the errors and corrections, in order, for the common text written by by both scribes, namely, Abraham 1:4 to 2:7, the point where Parrish stopped writing. Unless otherwise stated, the errors and corrections shown occur in both manuscripts. Corrections made by only a single scribe (mostly Williams) are not shown. Insertions are put between <brackets>. Deletions are marked as strikeouts.  In the comments, we consider whether the error is more consistent with Hypothesis 1 (live translation being dictated by Joseph Smith) or Hypothesis 2 (two scribes working together as they copy text from an existing manuscript, possibly with Warren Parrish reading aloud and then both Williams and Parrish writing what has been read).

Errors and CorrectionsComments
(1) "sign of the fifth degree of the first <​Second​> part"A correction made above the line after writing the full designation, apparently when one of the scribes recognized that it should be "first" rather than "second." On an existing document being copied, this designation may not have been written, but could have been a note from the scribes. Of itself, this correction could be consistent with with Hypothesis 1 or 2.
(2) "I sought for <​mine​> the appointment" The final sentence here has both "mine appointment" and "the appointment" right after it. When copying by hand from an existing text or reading aloud from an existing text, skipping ahead (or looking back) to a similar phrase and momentarily confusing the two is an easy and common mistake to make. Switching a nearby "the appointment" for the immediate "mine appointment" would be completely understandable, if one were working from an existing text. It's also possible that a reader were not used to "mine" in front of a noun could also subconsciously make it more natural by reading "the" for "mine." In any case, looking at an existing text and copying or reading could readily result in this error, whereas if one had decided to speak of "my appointment" but in old fashioned language, it's unlikely that one would slip and just say "the" instead, when the context of the sentence demands a possessive. This is an error most likely due to working with an existing text. This favors Hypothesis 2.
(3) "whereunto unto the priesthood"How could "appointment unto" become "appointment whereunto" if one is dictating one's own words and ideas? This mistake, however, is very natural when reading from an existing text. The conversion of "unto" into "whereunto" makes sense as a reading error given that "whereunto" was just used in a similar context earlier in Abraham 1:2, assuming that that verse was present on the hypthesized existing manuscript or had been read recently by the reader. This favors Hypothesis 2.
(4) Williams: "and that you might have a knowledge of this alter <​I will refer you to the representation that is at the commencement of this record>"

Parrish: "and that you might have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation, that is lying before you at the commencement of this record."
Williams' text looks as if he is cramming the inserted words into the speace between the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next, as if he has missed these words and later learned of the need to add them after the next paragraph had been started, which begins with, "It was made after, the form of a bedstead...." Parrish, however, continues writing "​I will refer you..." smoothly, but has a deletion not found in Williams' text. These facts are difficult to fit into a Hypothesis 1 scenario but could fit a Hypothesis 2 scenario. Parrish may have struggled with confusing markings on the original text, writing a phrase that had been marked for deletion before continuing with the correction, and while so doing failed to read this portion until after he had read the next line associated with a new character. When he read the resolved passage aloud, there was no error for Williams to correct, but he had to cram the passage into the limited space left before the new paragraph already begun. Hypothesis 2 is favored.
(5) Parrish: "the daughters of Onitah, one of the regular royal descent directly from the loins of Ham" Only Parrish makes the error of writing "regular" instead of "royal." It would seem highly unlikely to hear "royal" and write "regular" instead, but this would be an easy visual mistake to make since the first five letters of a cursive "regular" can look very much like "royal." In a Hypothesis 2 scenario, Parrish may have first written the word "regular" then immediately noted and corrected mistake before reading the sentence properly to Williams, or may have dictated the text correctly, and then visually looked back to review what he had just read, leading to the visual copying error. In any case, this error favors Hypothesis 2.
(6) Williams: <​That you may have an understanding of their gods I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the begining which manner of figures is called by the Chaldians, Kah-lee-nos.>"The editors of JSPRT Vol. 4 plausibly classify this passage as an insertion because it appears to have been squeezed into the top of a page (see foonote 64 on p. 239). This text is inline in Parrish's manuscript. For Hypothesis 1, this might mean that Williams didn't pay attention and missed a section that he later had to fill in. Under Hypothesis 2, if Parrish had already been distracted and failed to read a phrase out loud just moments before, it might have happened again here, especially since the text is again making a possibly confusing reference to a previous figure. Both could be plausible. However, since significant single-scribe errors of this kind tend to be those of Williams, that is consistent with a Hypothesis 1 scenario where Parrish is able to see the manuscript and thus does not miss significant passages that Williams succeeds in recording. Also of note are the details of Williams' initial spelling of Keh-lee-nos, not shown in the transcript on the website but given on p. 197 of the book, where we see that he initially spelled the name with "Ca" instead of "Ka." Indeed, it appears he wrote "Cale" first, then, perhaps after asking how to spell it, reworked the letters to become "Kah-" followed by "lee-nos," again consistent with Williams' writing names with the uncertainty of oral dictation, while Parrish, in contract, spells them with great regularity (see point 7 below). 
(7) Parrish: "which manner of figures <​is​> was called by the Egyptians Chaldeans, KahleenosOf note here is Parrish's error of writing "Egyptians" instead of Chaldeans initially, which he strikes out immediately and then continues inline with "Chaldeans." This appears to be a mental error in logically expecting "Egyptians." This could happen under wither scenario. Since Williams wrote it correctly, that must have been what was dictated. Under Hypothesis 2, Williams could have dictated it before or after making the written mistake. Also of note, Parrish here spells "Kahleenos" without stumbling, and spells Chaldeans correctly, while Williams erred (at least initially) on both (see point 6 above), further strengthening the evidence under Category One for Hypothesis 2.
(8) "because their harts are turn they have turned their hearts away from me" [Parrish writes "turn" before striking out "their hearts are turn," while Williams writes "turned."]This error is easily compatible with Hypothesis 1, wherein Joseph could have adjusted a phrase on the fly, revising "their hearts are turned" to "they have turned their hearts." However, there is an interesting twist to this example that we learn from John Gee in his Introduction to the Book of Abraham, p. 31. He explains that these two phrases are equivalent in Egyptian, and could be translated either way, a possible hint at the Egyptian language origins of this change. That could again be consistent with Hypothesis 1. It could also occur under Hypothesis 2 if the original manuscript Parrish was seeing had the initial phrase only lightly stricken out or with a penciled in correction that caused initial confusion about the editorial intent. However, for this issue, Hypothesis 1 is favored.
(9) Williams: "and to distroy him, who hath lifted up his hand against thee Abraham <m​> my son to distroy thy take away thy life,"Here Williams makes and quickly corrects two errors that Parrish does not make. He changes "Abraham" to the dictated "Abram," an easy mistake to make when taking diction, and then, having just written "distroy" in this phrase, writes it again in "distroy thy" for the similar meaning of "take away thy life." This could happen under both Hypothesis 1 and 2, but since Parrish does not make the mistake, consistent with being able to see the text that he dictates and thus able to have relatively fewer errors incuding fewer errors with names. Hypothesis 2 thus may be slightly favored.
(10) Williams: "the Lord broke down the alter of Elk-Keenah and of the gods of the land, and utterly distroyed them gods of the land and smote the priests that he died"

Parrish: "the Lord broke down the altar of Elkkener, and of the gods of the land, and utterly destroyed these them, and smote the priest"
Williams repeats the phrase "gods of the land" after "utterly distroyed them." At that point, "gods" is right above the space where he continues to write, and its appearance may have triggered the repeated phrase. Parrish does not make this error, but does write "these" and then corrects it. Under Hypothesis 2, it is possible that Parrish misread this passage as "them gods of the land," visually jumping back to the phrase "gods of the land" as he read, then mentally correcting the grammar to "these" as he wrote, after which then realized he had misread the phrase in time to have Williams strike "gods of the land."

The errors of the two scribes here could be random individual errors consistent with either Hypothesis 1 or 2, but Hypothesis 2 may explain a non-random relationship between them, possibly giving Hypothesis 2 the edge here for explanatory power. Note also the presence of additional punctuation in Parrish's text (commas) that is lacking in Williams', an issue consistent with Hypothesis 2 to be discussed under Category 3 below.
(11) "And thus from Ham sprang the that race which preserved the curse in the land. Now the <first​> government of Egypt, was established by Pharaoh"Both scribes write "the" and then change it to "that" by writing "at" over "e," a correction that could have been done immediately or later. This could be consistent with either hypothesus. In the following sentence, both scribes insert "first" above the written line. This could happen under Hypothesis 1 if Joseph, after dictating a sentence about the origins of Egypt, felt he needed to add first afterwards. But the thought being expressed seems somewhat off without the "first," possibly suggesting that it's more likely to be the kind of mistake that was made by a reader who skipped a word rather than a speaker who didn't think of the word until later. This could work with either hypothesis, but Hypothesis 2 may be slightly favored.
(12) "in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam; and also Noah his father, for in his days, who blessed him, with the blessings of the earth, and of <with> the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the priesthood" [punctuation and capitalization here is from Parrish, slightly different from Williams]Both scribes write "for in his days," indicating that the speaker spoke those words. In Williams' text, there is a period after "for in his days" followed by a capitalized "Who" that is then changed to a lower case "who." This is relatively hard to fit under Hypothesis 1, but may fit under Hypothesis 2, for the similar phrase "in the days" leads this passage and could have influenced the reader after seeing those words above to add a related phrase. Upon noticing and reading "who blessed him," the incongruity would have been noted and the error detected. Williams may have heard "who blessed him" as a new sentence since it didn't fit as a continuation suitable for "for in his days" and thus began a new sentence. When Parrish explained the error, Williams then changed "Who" to "who." Parrish, having seen and written the correct case for "who," did not have to make such a change. This correction seems to favor Hypothesis 2. The other correction, changing "of" to "with," is also consistent with a scribal error made by seeing another nearby word. Note that "of" occurs right before ("of the earth") and after ("of wisdom") the intended "with," making this an easy copying mistake and but an unlikely error for Joseph expressing thoughts in his own words. In both cases, Hypothesis 2 is favored.

The scribal errors and corrections are said to provide compelling evidence that Joseph Smith was dictating and creating live but utterly ridiculous "translation," giving us a window into Joseph's "translation" process. But in nearly every instance of significant scribal errors and corrections in the commonly treated text, when the alternative possibility of copying from an existing text is considered, that alternate possibility, our Hypothesis 2, appears to have more explanatory power. Hypothesis 1 is favored in one case, and the two hypotheses may be equally suitable in a couple of cases, but in a majority of the cases there are plausible reasons for favoring Hypothesis 2. On the whole, the evidence in both Category Two and Category One favors a preexisting manuscript that was being copied, with dictation possibly by Warren Parrish to assist his fellow scribe as both made copies for some reason. Claims that there is "no evidence" for an existing manuscript being used by the scribes fall flat. That's an assertion, not a scholarly conclusion based on detailed textual analysis. We still have question marks about what the scribes are doing and what the purpose of the characters in the margins is. They see a relationship, of course, but if they are copying from an existing manuscript, these "smoking gun" manuscripts are not giving us a window into Joseph Smith's live translation.

Next up will be Category Three of our textual evidence dealing with format and punctuation, a lesser but still noteworthy issue, and then Category Four, analyzing the text Williams produced after Parrish left or stopped writing. Finally, we will look at Book of Abraham Manuscript C and consider what it tells us or doesn't tell us about the twin manuscripts A and B and other Book of Abraham issues.

Update, July 7, 2019

Textual Evidence, Category Three: Format and Punctuation

While critics insist that there's absolutely no evidence for the existence of a Book of Abraham that could have been used by the scribes when they created Book of Abraham Manuscripts A and B (the twin manuscripts), this is an argument of polemics and not a scholarly evaluation. Whether one finds it compelling or not, there certainly is evidence to consider when the blinders come off. Vol. 5 of the Joseph Smith Papers, a volume that at least one of the "no evidence" critics has cited by way of illustrating the groundless assertions made by apologists regarding the existence of an earlier manuscript, does more than just assert that an earlier document existed, but points to meaningful  evidence: "Documents dictated directly by JS [Joseph Smith] typically had few paragraph breaks, punctuation marks, or contemporaneous alterations to the text. All the extant copies, including the featured text, have regular paragraphing and punctuation included at the time of transcription, as well as several cancellations and insertions." Rogers et al., The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 5, footnote 323, pp. 74–75. In other words, the formatting and punctiation of the twin manuscripts suggest they were not created the same way as typical documents from Joseph's live dictation.

An example of Joseph's dictation without punctuation until it was added later is seen in the Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon and in typical dictation for the Doctrine and Covenants, such as the vision recorded in our current Section 76. You can see how the scribes wrote that on the Joseph Smith Papers website.

The critics can argue that paragraphs in the twin manuscripts were necessitated by the placement of Egyptian characters. That's a reasonable argument. However, the existence of punctuation and marking for revisions in the text may favor the theory that the scribes were working with an existing document. In Parrish's Manuscript B, there are 130 commas, 30 periods, 5 semicolons, and 1 colon. In Williams' Manuscript A, there are only 46 commas, 16 periods, 7 colons and 8 semicolons for the text up to Abraham 2:2, where Parrish ends. Williams has much less punctuation that Parrish. This makes sense if Parrish is looking at a document that has punctuation and is trying to follow that, whereas Williams is hearing an oral reading and trying to occasionally add punctuation where it seems needed.

If, however, the scribes are copying an existing manuscript, then the real question is whether that manuscript was based on original translation from Joseph and whether it had characters on it at the time of dictation. The document being copied may have had characters added later by a scribe, or may have had notes about where one might wish to insert characters, or may have said nothing about characters. It's unclear from the manuscripts when the "Egyptian" characters were placed in the margins: all at once, one or two at a time after adding the English text for the previous characters, or some other system. Parrish stops Manuscript B after he has written a character in the margin with no English, so he may have been writing characters before the English. In Manuscript C, there are two characters that Parrish scraped off to reposition them to be better aligned with the text (see the image below from page 7 of Manuscript C), suggesting that the position of the characters was importnat to him, although this was a case where Parrish was copying text and characters he had previously written in Manuscript B, so it doesn't tell us much about what Parrish was thinking and seeking to do when he prepared Manuscript B. For Manuscript C, it's possible that two adjacent characters were just sloppily placed and then later adjusted. In any case, understanding that two characters were scraped off and repositioned in Manuscript C tells us nothing new about Manuscripts A and B, even if they did represent live dictation from Joseph Smith. But it's reasonable to assume that the placement of the characters by the scribes was important to them and reflected some kind of association with the specific blocks of text they were next to. But if the text was copied from an existing manuscript, the twin manuscripts don't necessarily tell us much about how Joseph did the translation that generated the missing existing document.

Textual Evidence, Category Four: Williams' Dittography After Parrish Stopped Writing

Williams' Manuscript A at page 4 ends with a strange duplicate section where a lengthy section, Abraham 2:3 to 2:5, is repeated. This phenomenon, "dittography," is characteristic of copying a text and mistakenly looking back at a previously copied phrase or region as one continues. It's a common scribal error. It would be highly unlikely, even virtually impossible, to redictate this much text word for word in a purely oral process, especially if one were in the process of making it up on the fly. But this kind of error could easily occur if one were copying a document. But yes, it could also occur in an oral process -- if the one giving dictation were reading from an existing manuscript, though that seems less likely than simply copying from a text one can see.

If Manuscript A and B reflect dictation and an oral process, it is natural to assume that Joseph or someone else was dictating to his scribes. Joseph did often dictate to scribes (or rather, to one scribe at a time, not two at once as far as I know) when receiving revelation and performing "translation" by whatever means. But we should also consider another possibility. It is not necessary that Joseph or anyone else was reading out loud to the two scribes. One of the two scribes could have done that, as noted above. Warren Parrish, based on spelling issues, appears to be a likely candidate for the one who was dictating. 

With a document in front of him, Parrish could have been reading aloud for the benefit of Williams, alternately reading a few words at a time and copying what he just spoke. Whatever was going on, it didn't last, for Parrish, the scribe working on Manuscript B, stopped early after writing "who was the daughter of Haran" from Abraham 2:2. However, Frederick G. Williams kept on writing on Manuscript A. It was at this point where something changed, as is visible in the image above (Manuscript A, p. 4), perhaps due to Parrish's departure and a change or interruption associated with that. Perhaps the key change was that Williams could now just copy text directly without hearing the spoken text and without thinking about what he had just heard. It was at this point where Williams writes Abraham 2:3-5, and then creates a massive dittography blunder by copying those three verses again, word for word (with a couple of minor typos and "bro son" instead of "brother's son"). The change also includes writing all the way to the left margin of the page instead of respecting the column holding occasional Egyptian. Williams may have recognized or assumed that there were no new characters to write for this added text or may have wanted to cram in the rest of his text onto this page, and so he chose to write text in the left margin, no longer leaving that space open for characters.

Dan Vogel has offered an interesting theory for this dittography in his video at youtube.com/watch?v=AtJT_xjIgdM. He suggests that when the twin manuscripts were produced, Williams (for an unknown reason) wrote an extra paragraph of dictation that Parrish did not write (our current Abraham 2:3-5). Parrish later copied that into Manuscript C and then in late November 1835 added new dictation from Joseph Smith for Abraham 2:6-18. Williams later wanted to add some of the new material to his manuscript. Since his manuscript originally ended with the word "Haran" in "Therefore he continued in Haran," he searched for "Haran" in Parrish's document (a word that occurs multiple times) and found the wrong place, Abraham 2:2, which ends with "Who was the daughter of Haran." Seeing "Haran" there, he began copying our current Abraham 2:3 and continued copying a full paragraph of material he had already written, not noticing the duplication.

Vogel's theory has the benefit of recognizing that a dittography of this nature likely does require that a scribe was copying from an existing manuscript. Here the existing manuscript was Parrish's new Manuscript C. Vogel also speculates that since Williams was copying from an existing text instead of acting as a scribe from Joseph's live dictation, he now saw no need to copy the characters in the margin of Parrish's document, which otherwise would have resulted in the same character being copied twice in the margin. That reasoning is unclear, in my opinion, but nothing is terribly clear when it comes to guessing what the scribes were doing and why with the KEP.

On the other hand, the nature of the ink mix being used, the density of the ink and the details of spacing, slant, etc. in the handwriting of Williams all seem identical before and after the supposed break of multiple days between the first time and second time Abraham 2:3-5 were written. Visually, it appears that Williams just kept writing in the same way with the same ink and pen. That could happen naturally even with a lengthy break and a new mix of ink, I suppose, but there doesn't seem to be the kind of break one might expect.

But something has changed, as evidenced by Williams' change in margins. The change may be related to a change in environment or a lack of input about additional characters to add, or coming to the end of a page and seeking to fit the upcoming material onto his page. We don't know what Williams was considering when he disregarded the previous left margin, but clearly something significant had changed. That change may have been related to Parrish's departure and the need to use the existing manuscript on his own. 

Vogel admits that his theory is complex and relies on some bad luck and sloppiness in picking the wrong Haran, versus the more "straightforward" but still sloppy error of a "straightforward" dittography based on looking at the wrong part of document during a single copying session. Given the lack of visual evidence of an interruption in time in the middle of the dittography, it seems that the simpler, more straightforward explanation would be a dittography in one setting while visually copying an existing manuscript. There are questions for either theory, though. While either Hypothesis 1 or 2 may be tenable,  I think Hypothesis 2 is slightly favored for its simplicity and for the lack of visually discernible evidence of a lengthy break of multiple days before the dittography occurred.

What We Learn from Manuscript C

Manuscript C begins with Abraham 1:1-3 written by W.W. Phelps in his characteristic heavy black writing. This text is often said to date from Nov. 1835, and In some theories, the opening verses are said to have been written after Parrish and Williams received the supposed live dictation from Joseph Smith for Abraham 1:4 through 2:7. Parrish then copied his text into the notebook that Phelps had begun, and then Dan Vogel and others tell us that Parrish began receiving additional live dictation from Joseph Smith as he "translated" more characters to give us more text up to Abraham 2:18.Vogel tells us that the mistakes Parrish makes after Abraham 2:7 shows evidence of live dictation rather than copying from an existing text.

The November 1835 date generally offered by critics for the creation of Abraham 1:1-3 is strongly contradicted by Oliver Cowdery's usage of that passage in a recorded blessing he gave in the summer or fall of 1835, apparently penned in September 1835: 
But before baptism, our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer to know how we might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit, according to the order of God, and we diligently saught for the right of the fathers, and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to admin[ister] in the same: for we desired to be followers of righteousness and the possessors of greater knowledge, even the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we repaired to the woods, even as our father Joseph said we should, that is to the bush, and called upon the name of the Lord, and he answered us out of the heavens, and while we were in the heavenly vision the angel came down and bestowed upon us this priesthood; and then, as I have said, we repaired to the water and were baptized. After this we received the high and holy priesthood….
[Oliver Cowdery, Patriarchal Blessings, 1:8–9, cited in “Priesthood Restoration,” Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/site/priesthood-restoration. The JSPP site states that this was “probably recorded summer/fall 1835,” while Christopher Smith states it was Sept. 1835. See Christopher C. Smith, “The Dependence of Abraham 1:1—3 on the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 29 (2009): 38–54, citation at 52; https://www.academia.edu/2357346/The_Dependence_of_Abraham_1_1-3_on_the_Egyptian_Alphabet_and_Grammar. The flaws in Smith's analysis of Abraham 1:1-3 will be discussed in more detail in a future report.]

Oliver is using language from Abraham 1:2, where Abraham “sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same … desiring also to be … a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and … I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” Christopher Smith recognizes that Cowdery is drawing upon the Book of Abraham, not scattered phrases from the GAEL, and thus properly concludes that Abraham 1:1–3 must have been completed before Sept. 1835. However, he improperly concludes that the GAEL therefore must have been completed before Sept. 1835, maintaining the assumption that the GAEL must have come first.  It’s much more reasonable to recognize that it came later and was drawing upon the translation for whatever its purpose was.

The important thing for now, though, is that Abraham 1:1-3 was available for Oliver to cite well before November 1835, greatly strengthening the case that translation of at least part of the Book  of Abraham had occurred that summer and that an existing document was available. Why Parrish and Williams did not choose to copy that portion or why they did not have that portion before them when they copied their manuscripts is unclear. But Abraham 1:1-3 was in existence already at that time.

Vogel argues that in the new material Parrish added, the mistake of writing "the" instead of "thee" is consistent with a hearing error from live dictation. But he overlooks the important evidence from Parrish's copying of Abraham 2:3 from his own prior manuscript where Parrish now writes "Abram, get the out of thy country" when "thee" is meant. (The transcript from the JSP is "Abram, get the[e] out of thy country" where [e] indicates an editorial correction to show what was obviously meant.) So this establishes that writing "the" for "thee" is exactly the kind of visual copying error that Parrish can make. It seems highly unlikely that a scribe, upon hearing "thee" in a context where "thee" or "you" is clearly needed, would think that "the" had been dictated and write it that way. It's a visual copying error.

Here is the transcript from the Joseph Smith Papers website for the portion of Manuscript C that contains new material not found in Manuscript A or B, material that Vogel and others say represent live dictation from Joseph Smith of newly "translated" material:
But I Abram and Lot my brothers son, prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me, arise and take Lot with thee, for I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of the[e] <​a>​ minister to bear my name unto a people which I will give in a Strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee, for an eternal memorial everlasting possession <​when>​ if they hearken to my voice.

For I am the Lord thy God, I dwell in heaven, the earth is my footstool. I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot, I say to the mountains depart hence and behold they are taken away by a whirlwind in an instant suddenly, my name is Jehovah, and I know the beginning the end from the beginning, therefore my hand shall be over thee, and I will make of thee, a great nation and I will bless thee, above measure, and make thy name great among all nations.

And thou shalt be a blessing, unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and priesthood unto all nations, and I will bless them, through thy name, for as many as receive this gospel, in Shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as unto their father, and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in thee and in (that is in thy priesthood.) and in thy seed, (that is thy pristhood) for I give unto the[e] a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee, (that is to say thy literal seed, or the seed of thy body,) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.

Now after the Lord had withdrew from speaking to me, and withdrew his face from me, I said in my heart thy servant has sought thee, earnnestly, now I have found thee, thou didst send thine angel to delivr me, from the gods of Elkkener, and I will do well to hearken, unto thy voice, therefore let thy servant arise up and depart in peace so I Abram departed, as the Lord had said unto me, and Lot with me, and I Abram was sixty and two years old, when I departed out of Haran.

And I took Sarai, whom I took to wife in Ur of Chaldeea wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldeea, and Lot my brothers Son, and all our substance, that we had gathered, and the souls that we had won in Haran, and came forth in the way to the land of Canaan, and dwelt in tents, as we came on our way, therefore eternity was our covering, and our rock, and our salvation, as we journeyed, from Haran, by the way of jersh Jurshon, to come to the land of canaan.

Now I Abram, built an altar unto the Lord, in the land of Jurshon and made an offiring unto the Lord and prayed that the famine, might be turned away from my fathers house, that they might not perish; and then we passed from jurshon through the land unto the place of Sichem, it was situated in the plains of Moreh, and we had already, come into the land
<​borders>​ of the <​land of the>​ Canaanites, and I offered sacrifice there, in the plains of Moreh, and called on the Lord devoutly because we <​[we]​> had already come into the land of this Idolitrous nation.
A couple of these could make sense as changes made by Joseph during live dictation, especially changing "eternal memorial" to "everlasting possession."  On the other hand, that could be an example of a "false memory" where the scrine reads a phrase, understands the meaning, and accidentally writes something similar in their own words, a mistake which I frequently catch myself making. Another good candidate for a live dictation scenario, in my opinion, is deleting "unto a people which I will give" and then writing "in a Strange land which I will give". But this could still be an error from visual copying since both phrases have "which I will give." Parrish may seen "to bear my name ... which I will give" and mentally reconstructed it as bearing his name to a people "which I will give." That's a fairly big mistake, though, but not an impossible one.

Most of the other errors involve words that occur nearby in the text that could have resulted in the scribal error by jumping ahead or behind to the matching word. Thus, "in thee (that is in thy priesthood) and in thy seed, (that is thy pristhood)" could have resulted in accidentally inserting the later "and in" before the first parenthetical remark by visual copying. Likewise, "into the borders of the land of the Canaanites" could have been written as "into the land of the Canaanites" and "took to wife when I was in Ur, in Chaldeea" could easily have been copied visually as "took to wife in Ur of Chaldeea" (a haplography). Several of the corrections, including "the" for "thee", are not likely to have been resulted from oral dictation, while most make good sense as visual copying errors, with the most serious weakness being the insertion of "unto a people" before the "which I will give." But such an error is still within the scope of the possible mental errors people make when copying text.

Based on textual analysis, there is not a slam-dunk case that live dictation with the creation of new material has occurred in Manuscript, either for the allegedly new material from W.W. Phelps at the beginning, or in the allegedly new material being written at the end of the document by Warren Parrish. Manuscript C does not undermine the existence of a prior document that contained the translation of the Book of Abraham for at least Abraham 1:1 to Abraham 2:18.

Update, July 18, 2019 & July 21, 2019: One further area of evidence is from the material from Abraham 2:3-5 that Williams has in Manuscript A before the dittography. Williams makes the same scribal error that Parrish makes twice in Manuscript C, writing "the" for "thee" -- a mistake that makes the most sense as a mistake of visual copying rather than of hearing. But there are some other interesting corrections suggestive of visual copying that are shown in detail in the book on the Book of Abraham documents, Volume 4 of The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, p. 201. There we see that "land" in "unto a land" was initially written with "t" as the leading letter, and then written over or converted to "l" but with the cross stroke of "t" still visible. Confusing a "t" for an "l" is unlikely when taking verbal dictation but not hard to imagine when copying visually. Later, the "dwelt" in "tarried in Haran and dwelt there, as there" was initially written with an "s" instead  of a "d", a mistake that is very hard to imagine when taking dictation. However, if Williams were visually copying, note that "dwelt there" is immediately followed by "as there", a phrase that connects an "s" sound before "there." I can imagine that the "s" before the following "there" could have been spotted in visual copying, looking at the wrong "there", resulting in momentary confusion. It looks like the error was immediately caught and the "s" was turned back into a "d" before finishing the word "dwelt." I'm not sure how the mistake happened, of course, but it's not a likely hearing mistake. It points to copying from an existing document.

Adding this to the previously discussed material prior to Abraham 2:3-5, the common material written by Parrish and Williams, we see a strong trend that undermines theories based on Williams and Parrish taking live dictation of newly created material from Joseph Smith. There most likely was an existing manuscript that was being used to make two copies of a portion of the text for some purpose.

[July 21 update begins here.]
Further, in considering the repeated material in Manuscript C, the dittography of Abraham 2:3-5, while everyone should agree that this repeated text has been copied visually, there is a question as to what was being copied. The uniformity in writing suggests to me that this was copied in a single sitting and thus would be from the same manuscript from which both Parrish and Williams had been making a copy. Dan Vogel, on the other hand, argues that the dittography was made later when Williams sought to add new material that Joseph allegedly had dictated to Warren Parrish in Manuscript C, but then started at the wrong spot, copying text he already had. Can we see evidence that the repeated text closely follows Manuscript C?

In Manuscript C, Parrish writes, "Now the Lord had said unto me Abram, get the[e] out of thy country, and from thy Kindred, and from thy fathers house." He has made the same mistake that Williams made in the first writing of Abraham 2:3-5, leaving the second "e" off of "thee." But the second time, when supposedly copying the Parrish text of Manuscript C, Williams gets it right. But he may have just been paying attention and recognized it had to be "thee."

More interesting is what happens at the end of this sentence. Parrish has "house" and it's clear, with an unmistakable "s". In the image below from Manuscript C, you can see "house" in the lower right, and also Parrish's errant "the" at the top and a normal "thee" at the bottom, for comparison. Notice how clear "house" is. There is no way this should be mistaken for "home," which is what Williams has written. Changing "home" to "house" can be a memory error, reprocessing a word heard orally for a similar word when writing it down moments later, but Williams has "home" both time in writing Abraham 2:3. It seems unlikely that he is copying Parrish's version. (Another hat tip to Joe Peaceman on this point.)

Portion of Parrish's Manuscript C showing his
error of "the" for "thee" and the use of "house," not "home."
I believe the editors of Vol. 4 of the JSP Revelations and Translations series on the Book of Abraham are correct in identifying Williams' text as saying "home" in both cases, though they add a note saying it could be house. However, looking at other examples of Williams' writing words with "se" in them, it seems clear that he is not writing "house" but "home." His letter "s" even when sloppy generally has a bit of a slope to the left on the downward stroke; other times it is very clear. See the "these things" on the same page, shown below. But an example of a confusing word with "se" in it is also shown from "God caused." But once we recognize the the cursive "d" is somewhat split, tracing out the letters makes it clear where the "s" is and it has that slight leftward return on the downstroke. Williams appears to be writing "home" both times, and thus is not likely to be copying Parrish's distinct "house" for the repeated text. Whatever text he is copying may actually have had or intended "house" as does our current Abraham 2:3, but it's possible that it also had clarity issues and may have looked like "home" to him both times when he copied it.

In the scenario where a reader other than Parrish is reading to the two meen, the reader may have left when Parrish did, leading to Williams making a visual copy with the huge dittography, or the reader may have kept reading for the first round of Abraham 2:3-5 and then left or just gave the manuscript to Williams to copy for himself, at which point he might have made the kind of mistake that Dan Vogel proposes, looking for the word "Haran" as the marker for where he left off, but seeing the wrong "Haran" and thus starting at the wrong place, resulting in the dittography. In such a case, Willilams like the reader would have also read "home" instead of "house." Of course, the document that Parrish and Williams were copying may have had "home," which became "house" through a scribal error or editorial change later on.

In any case, the textual evidence in several ways challenges Vogel's proposal that the dittography was a later effort of Williams to copy from Manuscript C. There is no change in style or ink flow, a failure to repeat Parrish's mistake of "the" for "thee" and apparent failure to copy Parrish's "house." None of these are absolute proofs and each can be debated, but cumulatively they create prima facie evidence that Williams is not copying a later manuscript from Parrish.

F.G.W.'s second occurrence of "fathers home" from Abraham 2:3.
F.G.W.'s second occurrence of "fathers home" from Abraham 2:3.
Example of "se" in F.G.W.'s "these things" from the same page as the dittography.
F.G.W.'s confusing but still discernible "caused" in "God caused" from the same page as the dittography.

Also consider Williams' "women" from page 1 of Manuscript A. You can see the "ome" looks very similar to the letters in his second "home," strengthening the case that it is indeed "home" and not "house."

Update, July 19, 2019: 
In Book of Abraham Manuscript A, one of the factors suggesting that the dittography from Frederick G. Williams occurred in a single session (contrary to the creative theory of Dan Vogel about later copying the repeat section from Manuscript C) is the strong uniformity of appearance of the first and second occurrences of Abraham 2:3-5. The ink itself, the ink flow, the slant and general style of the two sections appear to be remarkably uniform, as if it were done in a single sitting. Or perhaps he  always wrote just like that?

To get a feel for the variability that may occur in writing from Williams, consider these samples of other documents in the handwriting of Williams made at other times, found by searching for "handwriting of Frederick G." on the Joseph Smith Papers Project (JSPP) website, JosephSmithPapers.org.

First consider this letter from around the same time as Williams' work with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: "Letter from Harvey Whitlock, 28 September 1835."

Here Williams is obviously making a copy of an existing text. Note the scribal error he makes by jumping ahead to a later portion of the letter and writing "unbosom my feelings." The transcript of this portion has:
...plainness of sentiment with which I wish to unbosom my feelings write. For know assuredly sir to you I wish to unbosom my feelings, and unravil the secrets of my heart: as before the omnicient Judge of all the earth.
When he crossed out the erroneous words and continued writing, the ink or the ink flow seems to change, resulting in somewhat darker text. There may have been a break or pause before this point, or simply a refreshing of his ink source, though it's hard to know. In any case, it illustrates that his writing can vary within a single document and how easy it is to make mistakes when visually copying a document.

Here is a document from October 7, 1835, listed in the JSPP website as "Blessing to Newel K. Whitney, 7 October 1835," where we see a relatively high slant angle:

Below is the opening portion of a document in the JSPP website listed as "Letter to the Church in Clay County, Missouri, 22 January 1834." Here we see relatively dark ink and a high slant angle:

Another example of very dark ink is seen in his "Letter to Lyman Wight and Others, 16 August 1834":

Here is a document listed in the JSPP website as "Revelation, 5 January 1833":

There is plenty of variability in Williams' writing. That his Book of Abraham Manuscript A is so uniform across the large dittography is significant evidence that it occurred in a single setting, right after Parrish left, as if he were no longer taking dictation (from Parrish or anyone else) and was no copying from a manuscript visually. While I think it's most likely that Parrish was the one giving dictation, it's possible someone else was reading and left when Parrish did or after reading the first portion of Abraham 2:3-5. Williams was certainly copying from an existing text when he repeated Abraham 2:3-5, and it most likely was the same text from which the earlier portions of his document came from.

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: