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

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)?

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.

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 bedsted...." 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 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: 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.

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.


Monday, July 01, 2019

The New Hauglid and Jensen Podcast from the Maxwell Institute: A Window into the Personal Views of the Editors of the JSP Volume on the Book of Abraham

The Maxwell Institute recently revamped their website after roughly a week of downtime, introducing dramatic changes (and some painful losses). The new website currently gives pride of place to a new podcast featuring the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham, Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, volume 4 in the Revelations and Translations series (hereafter JSPRT Vol. 4), where they discuss their work and what they have learned during the course of preparing the volume on the Book of Abraham. See “MIPodcast #92—Joseph Smith’s Egyptian papers, with Robin Jensen & Brian Hauglid,” interviewed by Blair Hodges, Neal A. Maxwell Institute, June 27, 2019.

While JSPRT Vol. 4 is a fabulous scholarly tool, I have argued in a series of recent posts that some of the editorial decisions and commentary reflect apparent bias and a stance that often favors common arguments from our critics (though perhaps unintentionally so). After pointing out the lack of balance, and the apparent bias, including the puzzling failure to even acknowledge Hugh Nibley and his vast collection of publications related to the materials and hypotheses touched upon in JSPRT vol. 4, I was hoping that the editors might take a more balanced approach in subsequent public presentations rather than continuing to offer what I have called "friendly fire without the first aid." Unfortunately, the comments of both editors underscore some of the concerns that have been raised.

The risk of editorial blindness to many crucial issues relative to the Book of Abraham and the possible bias against or neglect of evidence supporting the Book of Abraham as a revealed work rooted in antiquity (the disreputable stance of “abhorrent” apologists, per Hauglid’s unfortunate Facebook comment in 2018) was first made clear to me when I heard of a damaged testimony from an LDS member who listened to Hauglid and Jensen’s January 2019 seminar at BYU for the Maxwell Institute. In that presentation, problems with the Book of Abraham and Joseph’s translation work were raised with no hint of “first aid.” After writing several blog posts with criticism of that presentation and of Hauglid and Jensen’s personal opinions that appear to have influenced comments, citations, and omissions in JSPRT Vol. 4, concerns that I am confident were made known to the editors, I was disappointed to find similar comments in the new podcast. The podcast presumably did not have the tight time constraints of the BYU seminar, which I initially hoped might have been the reason for the lack of discussion of the strengths of the Book of Abraham. It was not an official scholarly document that could possibly require strict rules against discussing faith-promoting material. It was simply an informal opportunity to discuss and share views from the authors and what they have learned from their study.

Several problems are apparent in this podcast. One is that an overly simplistic view of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is promulgated when Hauglid says:
In other words, they’ll take characters from the papyri, they’ll put them in the left column, and I think they tried to do a pronunciation guide with how to say this particular glyph or whatever. [emphasis added]
Later he adds:
Those documents [the Book of Abraham manuscripts with added characters] are unique because they have in the left margins characters taken from the fragment that was once attached to the vignette that we get Facsimile One from.
An important point that needs to be underscored is that many of the glyphs in the KEP and on some Book of Abraham manuscripts are not Egyptian at all and do not come from the papyri. As one can learn from examining the "Comparison of Characters" section in JSPRT Vol. 4, at best only 7 of the 62 characters given translations in the KEP are found on the key papyrus fragment. Some of the KEP characters come from a letter W.W. Phelps wrote about the “pure language” before the scrolls ever reached Kirtland, and some appear to come from other sources such as Greek, including archaic Greek, Masonic ciphers, etc. (and even, perhaps, one of the cipher systems used by Aaron Burr).

Only about 10% of the characters on the Book of Abraham manuscripts both have definitions in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) and are found on the papyrus, raising serious questions about the theory that the GAEL was an attempt to translate the papyri and was somehow used to translate the Book of Abraham. Some of the characters in the Book of Abraham manuscripts are not found on the papyri at all. To overlook the puzzling diversity of origins of the characters in the KEP is severe oversimplification that irons out some vital clues about what is or is not going on in the work with so-called “Egyptian” characters.

Another questionable viewpoint expressed in the podcast is that the Book of Abraham was an evolving product reflecting Joseph’s culture and theology, which began in 1835 for only Abraham 1 through 2:18, and then years later in Nauvoo as Joseph’s thinking evolved he added the remaining material. The editors are quite confident of this:
JENSEN: One thing that I find interesting, if you look at the Joseph Smith Papers volume, this volume we’ve been talking about, the majority of the documents were created in Kirtland in 1835. But if you look at just the Book of Abraham itself, the majority of the Book of Abraham was actually produced, translated in Nauvoo. I think that’s something that not many have realized, where this certainly was divided into two parts. Joseph Smith first began work in Kirtland and then he stopped, the temple was being built, he moved to Missouri, there were all sorts of problems in Missouri with non-Mormon neighbors, and then it took a long time to get things settled in Nauvoo trying to get that going.

HODGES: Why did that break matter? Why should anyone care that it had this break?

JENSEN: So I find it fascinating because Joseph Smith as religious leader—you can trace his developing, understanding of theology, of the things that he’s teaching to Latter-day Saints. So to know that the first portion of the Book of Abraham is in Kirtland, historians can better how the theology as found in the first portion of the Book of Abraham was read by Kirtland Saints and the theology that was, to that point, revealed to those Saints.

But then you look at the later portion of the Book of Abraham and, placing that in a Kirtland theological setting, doesn’t make as much sense. But when you look to the Nauvoo theological setting, Joseph Smith has revealed all sorts of new information that it fits better. There’s a better context to that in Nauvoo than in Kirtland.

HAUGLID: And Joseph Smith also incorporates Hebrew terms that he learned after his Joshua Seixas tutoring at the Hebrew school in Kirtland that come out after his tutoring experience in Nauvoo, where he put some of those in Abraham chapter three and there’s other things that you find with some Hebrew connections that he would have learned.

So I think we’ve kind of got it where we can see what’s going on in the Kirtland area there pretty well. The Abraham chapter one to chapter two, verse eighteen seems to fit just fine right in that time period. Then, as Robin said, when you get up to Nauvoo that also fits that context really well in terms of his theology, in terms of how they’re looking at the language, in terms of how they’re incorporating some of the Hebrew. It fits into that Nauvoo period. Plus, you also have some plain language coming out of Joseph Smith’s journal saying “we’re translating on March eighth and March ninth for the tenth number of the Times and Seasons.” So that fits as well. So you’ve got some historical backing there. [emphasis added]
This split scenario is countered by scholarship from one of the peers decried by Hauglid. In an important work that is not acknowledged in JSPRT Vol. 4 or in the podcast or seminar given by the two editors, Kerry Muhlestein and Megan Hansen have provided compelling reasons for accepting that much more than Abraham 1 and 2 had been translated by 1835. See Kerry Muhlestein and Megan Hansen, “'The Work of Translating': The Book of Abraham's Translation Chronology,” in Let Us Reason Together: Essays in Honor of the Life’s Work of Robert L. Millet, ed. J. Spencer Fluhman and Brent L. Top (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: 2016), 139–62.


If Hauglid and Jensen had been more open to the possibility that the Book of Abraham translation preceded the creation of the relevant portions of the existing Egyptian Alphabet documents and the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, then it might seem much more logical that those documents are drawing upon bits and pieces of the translation, including terms related to the supposedly later cosmological material and to the creation account, rather than providing a tool that could have been used for an imagined translation of the papyri. Again given that roughly 90% of the “Egyptian” characters translated in the GAEL and the Egyptian Alphabet documents are not even found on the papyrus fragment supposedly being translated, theories of Joseph using the GAEL to translate the papyrus may seem untenable.

Further, the use of Hebrew learned from Joshua Seixas in 1836 does not date the translation that employs those term to the Nauvoo era, nor does it even require that it occurred after 1836. Relevant Hebrew terms could have been added as late editorial glosses in preparing and revising the original 1835 material for publication. It was in 1835 when Joseph, while translating, indicated that the system of astronomy had been unfolded to him. (Joseph Smith History, Oct. 1, 1835, in “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” Joseph Smith Papers website.) That would be consistent with Facsimile 2 and Abraham 3 having been already revealed then.

Among the numerous evidences raised by Muhlestein and Hansen for the translation being largely done in 1835, one of them is the vastly different pace of translation required if Joseph had translated Abraham 2:19 through Abraham 5 in the day and a half allocated to translation in 1842. Compared to the days of known translation in 1835, he would have to have translated over 2,200 words a day in 1842 compared to an average of about 250 words a day in 1835, a pace 9 times greater. Rather than generating new verses in 1842, a more reasonable hypothesis is that Joseph was editing existing translation to incorporate some things learned from Hebrew study and to make other changes to prepare the manuscript for publication.

The prior scholarship of Muhlestein and Hansen, along with many others, should have been carefully and addressed in some way, both for the podcast but especially for JSPRT Vol. 4.

The editors seem to see Joseph’s later use of material related to the last 3 chapters of the Book of Abraham and Facsimile 2 as evidence that his theology (and cosmology) came first, then the “translation” with related material. Here the editors might better have considered the possibility that Joseph had been learning from what he translated and applied it in later discourses. To see his evolution in thinking as the cause for the additional material in Abraham 3–5 rather than being partly a response to what he learned from Abraham 3–5 reflects an overly humanistic, secular view on Joseph Smith’s work in creating scripture. It may be that the editors and other scholars associated with this project are comfortable with that approach, but it does not represent the only reasonable approach, it does not represent sound scholarship if other approaches from other scholars are not fairly considered, and it does not fairly represent the position of the Church and faithful members (including many LDS scholars) who see the ancient and the divine in Joseph’s translations of the Book of Abraham, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Moses.

Let us now turn to a critical issue. The editors reveal in this podcast that they are keenly aware that people have left the Church over arguments about Joseph’s allegedly failed translation of the Book of Abraham from the Joseph Smith Papyri. At that point, it would have been reasonable to offer some consolation and encouragement based on the strengths of the Book of Abraham and the many evidences for its antiquity and divine translation. Instead, they both take a stance which seems consistent with Hauglid’s “coming out” on Facebook (regarding his negative attitudes about "abhorrent" apologetics and his acceptance of some of Dan Vogel's critical views on the Book of Abraham):
HODGES: You’re just trying to make the documents themselves accessible so that people can then do work based on the documents.

HAUGLID: Right. It’s a resource for people. And so I agree. There’s plenty to talk about in terms of the content of the Book of Abraham.

JENSEN: I think increasingly you’re seeing less angst over the content of the Book of Abraham than you are with the context of the Book of Abraham. There’ve been people who may have left the church or felt frustrated with the historical narrative. It’s not so much about the content itself. It’s not about the actual narrative of the Book of Abraham. It’s about the way in which it was produced, and I find that interesting, not surprising at all that Joseph Smith as prophet, seer, and revelator, there’s a lot hanging on the Book of Abraham and what it means for Joseph Smith’s revelatory process, his translation. It’s been such an important symbol for Joseph Smith’s calling.

And when people look to the Book of Abraham and when people say, “I left the church because of the Book of Abraham,” that’s shorthand that I think almost everyone understands is, “It’s not the content. It’s “Joseph Smith produced this text from papyri. The papyri does not actually contain the Book of Abraham, therefore Joseph Smith is a fraud.” That is, frankly, a reasonable, logical conclusion to someone whose testimony is based upon this simplistic view of Joseph Smith’s translation. If we have simplistic views of how Joseph Smith produced his scripture, then it’s not going to take much to topple that simplistic understanding. So I think that producing a better understanding—kind of this nuanced understanding of production of scripture by Joseph Smith—is not only good scholarship, but I think it’s good for Latter-day Saints throughout the world.

HAUGLID: Let me just add that—maybe in defense of those who do leave—they were raised in the church. They were given the narrative they were given, that they were supposed to believe. There was no nuancing that was going on, really, with any of that as we’re trying to do now with what happened with the Book of Abraham. So yes, it’s a big decision that these people sometimes make, and perhaps there is a simplistic aspect to that, their testimonies, but I’m of the opinion that it’s not all their fault. [emphasis added]
Those believing Joseph’s translation to be divinely inspired are told that leaving the Church may be a “reasonable, logical conclusion” based on that expectation, but the expectation is said to be overly simplistic. The fault for people leaving the Church over the Book of Abraham is laid at least in part at the feet of the Church for teaching that Joseph actually translated the Book of Abraham through the power of God. The “translation” is not valid as those with “simplistic” testimonies had unwisely expected. Hauglid and Jensen seem to see the “translation” as Joseph’s (failed) human toying with the Egyptian on the Joseph Smith Papyri — there is no mention of other possibilities that many other LDS scholars have discussed at length, no mention of the clear evidences that something other than fraud and guesswork is behind the text, but an apparent acknowledgement that the critics have been right all along about the Book of Abraham, echoing Hauglid’s agreement with Dan Vogel.

Unlike JSPRT Vol. 4, Nibley is mentioned in the podcast, but only to dismiss his arguments regarding the possibility of translation from a missing scroll and his views on the KEP coming after the translation. The basis for the editors’ belief that they have largely “overturned” Nibley’s views is that they can see bits and pieces of the Book of Abraham translation, as if the Book of Abraham later worked out those concepts more fully. But that’s a subjective view. Why aren’t not the bits and pieces of Book of Abraham concepts found in the KEP point to derivation from the Book of Abraham?

They argue that since Joseph’s history speaks of work on the Egyptian alphabet, whatever that was (we don’t know that it was the same as the extant manuscripts – an assumption is involved in the editor’s argument), around the same time as the translation, that it was a concurrent process and that the alphabet was therefore used somehow in the translation, but that process could easily involve periods of revelatory translation followed by personal attempts to understand Egyptian and crack the code. There is no new evidence presented here that overturns the reasons offered by Nibley and others for the KEP to be a derivative work based on translated material.

Both editors call for a more mature “nuanced” approach, which seems to mean that as Joseph evolved over time, he injected his theological views into the framework of a fictional Book of Abraham from a failed but perhaps sincerely attempted “translation” of papyri that he could not understand. So to understand the Book of Abraham, we don’t need to look to antiquity, to ancient literature about Abraham, or to what Egyptian priests may have known and written about Abraham, but we should only turn to the nineteenth century and consider how Joseph perceived the papyri in his nineteenth century setting, the only context which determined the fruits of his work:
JENSEN: Yep. Intellectually you want to divide them. You want to say “well the papyri, that’s one thing. The nineteenth century setting, that’s another thing. They’re not together.” In some senses that is true. But in another way, we have to understand how Joseph Smith and others viewed the papyri, viewed them in their nineteenth century context, without trying to take on our own understanding. There’s been a lot of work in Egyptology since Joseph Smith’s day, obviously.

HODGES: I would say the vast majority of usable work has been.

JENSEN: So it’s very tempting to say “well, Joseph Smith didn’t know what he was talking about. Oliver Cowdery, Phelps, others, they were naive in thinking they could even make sense of this,” but for Joseph and his contemporaries this was a real effort. This was a real attempt to understand these papyri for what they were, what they could offer them, and what they could teach about the universality of human nature.

HAUGLID: Yes. That’s kind of where I was going to go. You have really a first response to all this Egyptomania stuff going on with all these papyri fragments and such coming in. We’re seeing Joseph Smith as one of those first responders in a sense to this material coming into their possession, and what they’re making of it is sometimes, for us we might say it’s off, it’s not Egyptology at all, and that’s okay, but just the fact that how they responded to it tells us things. It helps us understand where they’re coming from and this Egyptian material triggers that for us. So we get kind of a close-up view in a sense.

JENSEN: I also often tell people that Joseph Smith and other’s work in understanding, trying to decipher these papyri, tells us more about their own worldview than it does about the ancient world.
So in light of the apparent problems the editors emphasize, it’s “tempting to say Joseph was a fraud,” but he was really trying, rather sincerely, in “a real effort.”
This nuanced approach not only makes the translation of the Book of Abraham a pious fraud, but raises obvious questions about Joseph’s translation of the reformed Egyptian that yielded the Book of Mormon. We don’t even get the reassurance that since there are compelling reasons to accept the Book of Mormon as a legitimate translation of an ancient document through the power of God, then perhaps our approach to the challenges of the Book of Abraham should be given enough “nuancing” to recognize that there may be answers to the challenges it seems to face based on the “simplistic” assumptions used by critics.

Ironically, the dangerously “simplistic” approach that can cause so much harm is not that of believing Joseph could give revealed translations of ancient documents through the power of God, but it the overly simplistic approach taken by the critics: “the only papyri Joseph attempted to translated are the surviving fragments,” “no missing scrolls can account for anything,” “these twin documents from two scribes mean Joseph was dictating the translation live from these few Egyptian characters,” “the GAEL is the source of the translation,” etc. Hauglid and Jensen tend to lend credibility to those perspectives in their podcast, their Maxwell Institute seminar, and in their editorial work for JSPRT Vol. 4, and have excluded significant and well considered alternate possibilities, even going so far as to avoid any mention of some of the most important scholarship and scholars related to their work (e.g., a complete neglect of Hugh Nibley in JSPRT Vol. 4). This is not balanced scholarship, but, even if purely unintentional as it likely is, it reflects a biased and perhaps harmful perspective.

The issue of the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts by Frederick Williams and Warren Parrish is particularly concerning in the podcast. The hypothesis that Joseph Smith is dictating the Book of Abraham translation live to his scribes, based on “Egyptian” characters from the papyri in the margins (some of which are not Egyptian and not from the papyri at all!) is an old one from our critics, but is raised in response to Hodges’ question, “Did the Joseph Smith Papers research team uncover anything new that was previously unknown about these documents while putting this book together?” The contribution of the authors on this issue was realizing that the scribes were writing on paper from a common source, but the textual evidence of simultaneous work is already clear. The issue, though, is what was occurring in this process. Was it really dictation from Joseph Smith giving original translation?
JENSEN: So what we have is pretty compelling evidence that they’re there at the same time using the same piece of paper, creating this text, the Book of Abraham, that gives us a new appreciation to the dictation process. Usually when we hear about Joseph Smith dictating, it’s him dictating to one singular scribe. So it’s interesting to imagine to try to reconstruct what that would look like with Joseph Smith dictating to multiple clerks.

HAUGLID: It’s interesting that we’re now talking about this when years and years ago Ed Ashment proposed the same thing. It created a firestorm of rejection amongst our LDS scholars, but now here we are talking about this and agreeing with Ed Ashment.

HODGES: About having multiple clerks in particular at the same time?

HAUGLID: Receiving dictation, yeah.

HODGES: Why was that so controversial?

JENSEN: I have no idea.

HAUGLID: Probably because it was Ed Ashment that proposed it. [laughter]
Simultaneous writing, yes, but what is the evidence that they were “creating” the Book of Abraham in that moment? That is the argument of the critics, but one that is based on assumptions, not evidence. In fact, as I have previously reported, analysis of the text suggests that the most plausible scenario for this document is that Warren Parrish was reading from an existing manuscript until he ceased and probably left, at which time the other scribe began copying directly by himself and then committed a major scribal error known as dittography (copying three verses a second time by mistake, an error typical of copying visually but unlikely for oral dictation).

The twin documents and their interpretation is at the heart of some modern attacks on the Book of Abraham. It is a pivotal issue that Dan Vogel uses to undermine acceptance of the Book of Abraham as revealed text, one that has weakened the “simplistic” testimonies of many unprepared to see past the gaps in the argument.

Why is this controversial? Our editors say they have no idea. Could it be because if their assumptions are valid, it suggests that Joseph Smith was giving live translation for a handful of characters, translation apparently derived from the characters in the margins rather than characters being added by the scribes to an already existing translation (for reasons that aren’t clear).

This scenario is controversial because it suggests that we do in fact have the very characters that Joseph was translating (no mention, again, is made of the fact that several of these characters are not even Egyptian), that the Joseph Smith Papyri were the source of Joseph’s translation work, that he foolishly thought that one character could give over 100 words of translation, and that what the Church considers to be a revealed translation is idiotic and inept, with nothing of any value (although some faithful LDS people may see and value inspiring doctrines in a fictional framework). The inability of the editors to understand why their position is controversial and potentially harmful is deeply puzzling. But it’s consistent with the tone of their previous webinar, rich in presenting warts without first aid. For those who feel that Joseph translated the Book of Abraham with divine power from an ancient document of some kind, such unbalanced and overly simplistic negative information can be harmful.

It is true that the issues are complex, that warts exist, and that nuance is needed, but not the nuance that says, “The critics were right. The Church was wrong. But Joseph had some inspiring ideas in his fiction and it's cool to see how his evolving beliefs and ninetenth-century environment shaped the beleaguered Pearl of Great Price.” We need to strengthen our awareness of the other side of the story, of the positives around the Book of Abraham and the evidences of antiquity, to help those who struggle to have the balanced information needed to have a healthier, more nuanced testimony. “Friendly fire” that zealously overlooks, denies, or even decries the existence of “first aid” (i.e., "abhorrent" apologetics) is not the solution.