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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Some Sources for the Kirtland Egyptian Paper's Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, Part One

One of the vital issues in Book of Abraham debates is the role of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, including the large and mysterious work, the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL). It is in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps (and a touch of Warren Parrish in some later entries). Some claim it was used to create at least part of the Book of Abraham. Others (myself included) view it as a derivative from an existing text -- not just the Book of Abraham, for the overlap in content is not extensive, but also possibly from some from other sources such as the Doctrine and Covenants. Some of the characters also come from sources other than the papyri, including some strange characters Phelps discussed in a letter written before Joseph ever saw the papyri that came to Kirtland.

For the related content in both the GAEL and the Book of Abraham translation, which came first? Some critics and some LDS professors suggest that the GAEL was used to create at least part of the Book of Abraham, such as Abraham 1:1-3. Those claims, as explored in my recent post on a problem in recent book by Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price, tend to be based on the assumption that similar content means derivation from the GAEL. But closer examination of multiple clues suggests it is just the opposite: it is more plausible that the related passages were based on derivation from the existing Book of Abraham translation.

Recognizing possible source material for the GAEL may help us better understand its purpose, its meaning, and its origins, which in turn may help us better understand what the Book of Abraham is or is not. So let's look at some of its content and see what we can learn.

I'll refer to the GAEL page numbers that follow those of the GAEL on the Joseph Smith Papers website and their printed volume, The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, eds. Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2018), hereafter JSPRT4. That means blank pages (and there are many since it was highly incomplete) aren't counted.

I'll look at the pages in the first section of the GAEL ("5th degree," first part) and make comments.  Other entries will be considered in a second post later on.

Page 1:
Page 1, like page 15, discusses some strange ideas about the grammar of Egyptian. Phelps discusses multiple degrees, perhaps drawn from his knowledge of Masonry (he was previously editor of an anti-Masonic newspaper) and the possible connection one might see on Facs, 2 with its sign of the compass and square in the lower right. Page 1 also introduces us to Phelps' column format, similar to the format he had in a May 1835 letter discussing the "pure language" and six strange characters, some of which are Masonic ciphers. These characters, strangely, show up in the Egyptian Alphabets and in his GAEL, though they, like many of the "Egyptian" characters in the KEP, are not Egyptian, or at least not from the papyri Joseph had as far as I know.

On page 1, as on page 15 and elsewhere, Phelps uses the terms "signification" (an unusual word in his day) and the phrase "parts of speech" (also not common in his day), which may indicate some reliance on a Hebrew book that Oliver Cowdery may have brought back to Kirtland in late November 1835, as discussed in my article at the Interpreter on the gaps in JSPRT4 (search for "parts of speech"). The book is Hyman Hurwitz, The Etymology and Syntax, in Continuation of, The Elements of the Hebrew Language, (London: John Taylor, 1831), available at Google Books. See also the 1835 2nd edition at Archive.org. Phelps describes 5 elements among the "parts of speech," but verbs are strangely omitted, perhaps reflecting Hurwitz' teaching that Hebrew verbs derive from nouns and that nouns should take precedence among the parts of speech. This, we might look to Hurwitz and Hebrew study as a potential influence on the GAEL.

Page 1 and page 2 also introduce us to the notion lines added above or below characters, a concept perhaps inspired by Phelps' familiarity with Hebrew and its points, including the uncommon rafe, a line above some letters.

Peripheral observation: The first character discusses, character 5.27 in the JSP volume, is said to be "in the fifth degree" and, interestingly, includes the simple structure of the "sign" of the fifth degree, second part, that the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts provide at the top of the first page as if it were a header or note. That sign, a vertical line with a short dash extending from the midpoint to the right, does not occur by itself in the GAEL, nor do the other characters on the twin manuscripts. But a related structure in this first character said to be in the fifth degree strengthens the case that the sign is related to the GAEL, and that the header of those twin manuscripts are telling us that their purpose was to continue what Phelps had begun with Abraham 1:1-3 in his Book of Abraham manuscript, namely, to associate key words or concepts from an existing Book of Abraham translation with some Egyptian characters (or concocted Egyptian in some cases, with the concocted characters tending to incorporate that sign in some way), as I have previously discussed. See "More on the Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Recent Explorations Based on Comments at The Interpreter."

Page 2:
Here we encounter the character said to be "beth," defined as a place of happiness, etc. This is much like the Hebrew letter beth which can mean "house."

Then comes what seems to he a Greek letter, character 1.14, "iota," though the transcript here has "iata," but elsewhere this is more clearly "iota." Phelps connects its meaning to "see, saw" and elsewhere is said to mean "eye." Is it a coincidence that the Greek letter for our "I" means "eye"? Perhaps. In my article on the gaps in JSPRT4, I also observe a possible relationship between Hebrew texts and the symbol for iota. Then we have character 1.18, "Zub zool-aan," dealing with concepts such as the first born, or the first man, or fathers. Then comes characters related again to "iota," "beth," and "Zub zool-aan."

Next up is character 2.16, "bethka," the "greatest place of happiness," with a note that it should have occurred between "iota" and "Zub zool-aan," a clear indication that something other than alphabetic order is driving the structure of this text. What could that be? We'll see in a moment, but for now, note that "bethka," like "beth," can relate to the concept of a better place that Abraham sought in Abr. 1:1-2, as he speaks of the need to "obtain another place of residence" (vs. 1). This is followed immediately by his statement about seeking "greater happiness" (vs. 2). This definition of "bethka" clearly relates to Abraham 1:1-2.

Finally we have character 5.28 defined as "Abraham, a father of many nations, a prince of peace," etc., obviously related to Abraham 1:2. 

It is well known that the characters shown here and on related pages are tied to Abraham 1:1-2, where Abraham speaks of his place of residence (like beth), that he "saw" a need to change, sought the blessings of the fathers, wanted to be a prince of peace, etc. So the words here on page 2 of the GAEL are clearly related to that passage of the Book of Abraham. But what's this about the need to change the order and put "bethka" between two other specific characters in a non-alphabetic order? That seems to have been overlooked in the past. As discussed here in my post of July 18, 2019, "Kirtland's Rosetta Stone? The Importance of Word Order in the "Egyptian" of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language," reader "Joe Peaceman" provides a plausible answer. He notes that in the sequence of words into which "bethka" needs to be inserted, the intended word order links them to the order of related text of Abraham 1:1-2. Below is part of Abraham 1:1-2, where we have GAEL-related phrases, in order, with 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 that he sought, combined with the following phrase that refers to "greater happiness"]
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? The existing Book of Abraham text for Abraham 1:1-2. We also know from a patriarchal blessing that Oliver gave around Sept. 1835, probably well before the GAEL was created, that Abraham 1:1-3 had already been translated and was well known to Oliver who paraphrases it in the blessing.  See Oliver Cowdery, “Patriarchal Blessings,” 1:8-9, cited in “Priesthood Restoration” at the Joseph Smith Papers website.

So already on page 2 we see important evidence that Phelps felt constrained in terms of word order by an existing text, clearly the related Book of Abraham translation. This is one of several important pieces of evidence that help us solve the chicken-and-egg problem for the Book of Abraham and the GAEL. The Book of Abraham translation was most likely one of the sources for part of the GAEL rather than its fruit.

Page 3:
At the top we have a character called "Kiah brah oam" with language again closely related to Abraham 1:1-2: "Coming down from the beginning— right by birth— and also by blessing, and by promise— promises made; a father of many nations; a prince of peace; one who keeps the commandment of God; a patriarch; a rightful heir; a high priest." Again, the Book of Abraham is a likely source.

Shortly thereafter is character 1.1, "Ah lish" said to be "The first Being— supreme intillegence; supreme power; supreme glory= supreme Justice; supreme mercy without begining of life or end of life comprehending all things, seeing all things: the invisible and eter[n]al godhead." This language relates to Abr. 3:19, where God explains that he is eternal and the greatest intelligence of all. But this also echoes language involving "comprehend" in Doctrine & Covenants 88, such as "he comprehended all things" (v. 6). The "first Being" in this definition may also resonate with Doctrine & Covenants 88:5's "Firstborn" to describe Christ. The five uses of "supreme" referring to God also seem to echo the only occurrence of "the Supreme Being" in the Doctrine and Covenants in Section 107:4 from April 1835 (this also occurs in the Book of Mormon in Alma 11:22).

Then several "Phah"-related names follow that may be related to the concept of Pharaoh, the first king of Egypt as described in Abraham 1:25-27.  Thus "Phah eh" can mean "The first man, or Adam coming from Adam. Kigs [Kings] or right over Patriarchal right by appointment." Abr. 1:4 speaks of "for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God." A "patriarchal" reign is described in Abr. 1: 25-26 and patriarchs are mentioned in Abr. 1:31. The language here is richly related to the words and themes of Abraham 1.

The next two entries, "Phaah" and "Phah ho e oop" relate to reigning with great "dominion,"  again suggestive of Pharaoh in Abr. 1. But the "king who has universal dominion, over all the earth" for the second name may also reflect the use of "dominion" in Doctrine and Covenants 76, such as in vs. 114 and 119, referring to the endless and supreme dominion of God.

The last entry on page 3 is for "Ho oop hah" said to mean "Queen Kah tou mun, Royal female lineage or descent." Katumin is the name of a princess given in one of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, the "Valuable Discovery" document and in a "Notebook of Copied Characters" document. In the few lines in those documents, she is said to be the daughter of Onitas, a king of Egypt. But apart from the name, this entry may also relate closely to Abraham 1:11, which tells us that an evil "priest had offered upon this altar three virgins at one time, who were the daughters of Onitah, one of the royal descent directly from the loins of Ham. These virgins were offered up because of their virtue...."

At this point, a primary source for the definition in this entry seems to be a toss up between the Book of Abraham and two other documents in the KEP, but the balance quickly shifts as we read the rest of the definition at the top of the next page.

Page 4:
The definition for "Ho oop hah" continues with some phrases right out of the Book of Abraham, tellig us that the royal female lineage is from "her [by] whom Egypt was discovered while it was under water, who was the daughter of Ham.— a lineage with whom a record of the fathers was intrusted by the tradition of Ham and accordding to the tradition of their elders; by whom also the tradition of the art of embalming in was kept." I don't know a likely source for the reference to the art of embalming, but Abraham 1:21-31 gives many other related details, speaking of the discovery of the land of Egypt by a woman, the daughter of Ham, who discovered it while it was under water (Abr. 1:23-24), and speaks of the ancient records that have come into Abraham's hands (Abr. 1:28) and specifically of "the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs" (Abr. 1:31). Apart from the name "Queen Kah tou mun," the definition of the word "Ho oop hah" overwhelmingly seems to derive the Abraham 1, it's most likely source.

The next three entries continue similar themes from Abraham 1. There is "Zi," describing someone who is virtuous and upright, like the daughters of Onitah. "Kah tou mun" follows, said to be "a lineage with whom a record of the fathers was intrusted by tradition of Ham," clearly relevant to Abraham 1, esp. v. 31 with its "record of the fathers." There is another mention of embalming there. Then comes "Zi oop hah," "A young virgin unmarried woman," like the daughters of Onitah.

"Ho-e-oop" follows, defined as "A prince of the royal blood a true desendant from Ham ... inheritor of the Kingly blessings from under the hand of Noah, but not according to the priestly blessing, because of the trangrissions of Ham, which blessing fell upon Shem from under the hand of Noah." This relates directly to the discussion in Abr. 1:26,27 of how Noah "cursed [Ham] as pertaining to the Priesthood" causing that his descendant, Pharaoh, was "of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah."

By the way, based on Abraham 1:2-3's discussion of the patriarchal rights that were passed down, I believe "right of Priesthood" must be understand as the right to preside over the priesthood and not whether or not one could hold it at all. Abraham 1:2-3 explains that Abraham sought
2 ... the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; ... I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
3 It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers ... even the right of the fistborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
Ham, not being the firstborn, did not have the "right of the firstborn" or the right to administer over the priesthood and be the leader of the priesthood as a rightful heir.

Getting back to page 4, next up is a strange grammatical comment for character 1.10, "Zip Zi-is": "the same of the fourth only increases or lessens five degrees." This is the shortest statement for any of the 5 statements across the 5 degrees, but apparently means it's the same as the long statement given in the 4th degree, page 10, where it is "Zip Zi" and said to mean "all women: it took its origin from the earth yielding its fruit. And from the first woman who bore children; and men were multiplied upon the earth, and is used in this degree as a numeral by being inserted above or below another character: it increases by b[e]ing drawn above, it and signifies above, more, greater, more glorious, and when inserted under signifies beneath less smaller least." The first woman who bore children appears to be a reference to Eve in Abraham 5. The "earth yielding fruit" relates to Abr. 4:11: "Let us prepare the earth to bring forth ... the fruit tree yielding fruit."

Next we get a definition for "Ha e oop hah":"honor by birth, kingly power by the line of Pharoah. possession by birth one who riegns upon his throne universally— possessor of heaven and earth, and [now from the top of page 5] of the blessings of the earth." This relates well to the discussion of the rights and kingship of Pharaoh in Abraham 1. The phrase "possessor of heaven and earth," however, comes from the story of Abraham's encounter with Melchizedek in Genesis 14: 19, 22. That portion of the story and that phrase may have been on the missing, more extensive text from the Book of Abraham translation, but that is purely speculative at this point. Alternatively, Doctrine and Covenants 50:27 has related wording, "he is possessor of all things ... both in heaven and on the earth." The phrase "the blessings of the earth" is found in only one place in the scriptures, the end of Abraham 1:26 describing Noah's limited blessings to Ham.

What we have covered so far shows the GAEL progressing steadily through Abraham 1, which appears to be the primary source for the concepts and phrases in the GAEL so far, and roughly proceeding in order.

Page 5:
There is a brief entry related to grammar and punctuation, followed by "Toan low ee tahee takee toues" which, as you probably guessed, is defined as "under the Sun: under heaven; downward; pointing downward going downward; stooping down going down into another place,= any place: going down into the grave— going down into misery= even Hell; coming down in lineage by royal descent, in a line by onitas one of the royal families of the Kings the of Egypt." Abr. 1 has the word "down" multiple times, but most clearly relevant is Abr. 1:3, which explains that the right of the priesthood "was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time." But later sections of that chapter treat Onitah and the lineage of the kings of Egypt, taking us toward the end of Abraham 1. Onitas is the name of the king, Katumin's father, in the brief Katumin-related text mentioned above in the KEP, so that name could be derived from that document, though it is also written initially as Onitah and then changed to Onitas.

Now we encounter some concepts we've already seen. "Iota" for "See, saw, seeing," wtc. Then "Iota toues Zip Zis" dealing once again with the discovery of Egypt while underwater by a daughter who settled it with her sons, per Abr. 1:24. We then have an odd entry that is hard to place: "Su-e-eh-ni" meaning "The same as the first." The Book of Abraham has abundant discussion of things that are first, but exactly what Phelps meant is unclear.

The last entry on page 5 is "Hoeoophahphaheh," which continues some solid Book of Abraham 1 themes involving patriarchs, government, authority, etc.: "Patriarchal government; or authority; a land governed according to the pattern or order given to the patriarchs or fathers; rules and laws ​of a goverment​ administered by the direction of Heaven or God. a people living under the laws of the gospel: or that law by which they may be sanctified and see the face of God." Several of these concepts in Abr. 1 have already been discussed above. The mention of the attempt to imitate the "order" of government of the patriarchs looks like a reference to Abr. 1:26, which states that Pharaoh sought "earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations." But what is the source for the final phrase, "that law by which they may be sanctified and see the face of God"? This appears to come from Doctrine and Covenants 84:23, in the context of discussing the priesthood, its transmission from patriarch to patriarch anciently, and the Gospel: "Moses ... sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God."  So this passage in the GAEL, like several others, appears to draw upon the Book of Abraham but also some of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Doctrine and Covenants 84 also speaks of the Gospel and administration: "teaching that the this greater priesthood administereth the gospel" (v. 19), and Moses' goal of having a people under the laws of the Gospel is implicit in this section. Further, in the scripture, the closest wording to the GAEL's "the laws of the Gospel" is "the law of the Gospel" in that occurs several times in the pre-Nov. 1835 portions of the Doctrine and Covenants, including  84:78, 88:78, and 104:18.

Page 6:
We continue with more of the definition of "Hoeoophahphaheh" (eerily similar to "phooey"): "A priestly government; a government administered by the authority of the priesthood up or under the patriarchal: it some times means any priestly governments whether by the dierection of heaven or by the tradition of the heaven." Government and authority of the priesthood have already been noted as themes in Abraham 1. The "direction of heaven" both here and at the end of page 5 may echo Doctrine and Covenants 78:16, "given unto him the keys of salvation under the counsel and direction of the Holy One, who is without beginning of days or end of life." "Direction" is used to describe priesthood administration also in Doctrine and Covenants 78:16 and elsewhere in that volume.

"Zub Zoal eh" follows with a definition again involving the ancient patriarchs discussed in Abraham 1 and the blessings they gave, concepts all previously discussed above: "In the days of the first patrarch of patriarchs In the reign of Adam; in the days of the first patriarchs; in the days of Nooh; in the blessings of Noah; in the blessings of the children of Noah; in the first blessings of men; in the first blessings of the church." This passage, of course, is strongly related to Abraham 1.

Next is "Zab eh" which is defined as "Having been within= in the earth= in the sea; in any thing; b[e]ing applied to any condition or situation, to express one thing or principle or being in another.       Zub a road or a highway; leading up or to: the time for going up to the altar to worship: going up before the Lord. bing caught up, going to be caught up, having been caught up." The issue of travel combined with an altar to worship God is a theme in Abraham 2:
16 Therefore, eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation, as we journeyed from Haran by the way of Jershon, to come to the land of Canaan.
17 Now I, Abraham, built an altar in the land of Jershon, and made an offering unto the Lord, and prayed that the famine might be turned away from my father’s house, that they might not perish.
18 And then we passed from Jershon through the land unto the place of Sechem; it was situated in the plains of Moreh, and we had already come into the 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 had already come into the land of this idolatrous nation.
19 And the Lord appeared unto me in answer to my prayers, and said unto me: Unto thy seed will I give this bland.
20 And I, Abraham, arose from the place of the altar which I had built unto the Lord, and removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched my tent there, Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east; and there I built another altar unto the Lord, and called again upon the name of the Lord.
21 And I, Abraham, journeyed....
Earlier in the definition, that which is "within the earth" may point to Doctrine and Covenants 88:77,78, a passage that is related to the last word on page 5 that we just discussed above (based on use of "law of the Gospel"):
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass...."
Last on this page is "Zab zoal":  "From the beinng [beginning] of the creation until now; pointing out or designating at the present time; having foreordained, or decreed or having before seen; For instance: Abraham haveing been chosen before was sent by commandment into the Land of Canaan: Having preached the gospel unto the heathen, was fore warned of God to go down into Ah=meh= strah, or Egypt, and preach the gospel unto the Ah meh strah ans." This also ties to the account iin Abraham 2, where we learn that Abraham had been preaching the Gospel while in Haran because fon his journey to Canaan, he brought along with him "the souls that we had won in Haran" (Abr. 2:15), a beautiful touch not found in the Genesis account. The name "Ah meh strah ans" may be derived from a similar term in Josephus.

Page 7
This section of the GAEL, the "5th degree" (first part), closes with the word "Zool," said to mean "from any or some fixed period of time back to the beginning of creation showing the chronology of the patriarchs the right of the priesthood, and the lneage through whom it shall be continu[e]d by promise, begining at Abraham signifying the promises made to Abraham saying through thy fruits, or the seed of thy loins, shall the gospel shall be preached, unto all the seed meaning from Noah, and unto all the kindreds of the earth." This is strongly related to the Book of Abraham. In Abr. 1:28, Abraham states that he will "delineate the chronology running back from myself to the beginning of the creation." An extremely close relationship to this GAEL definition. Other elements also tie to the Book of Abraham, such as the promises to Abraham's posterity and the "right of priesthood."

Thus ends the first section of the GAEL for the 5th degree, first part. Similar words and definitions are in the other degrees of the first part. Later we will look at the 5th degree, second part, and some other issues not already covered here.

The claim has been repeatedly made that the GAEL is largely based on translation of the Katumin-related documents, but apart from the name Katumin (spelled differently), the definitions here overwhelmingly connect to existing, published revelation that Joseph gave, primarily from the Book of Abraham and then from the Doctrine and Covenants. The related Doctrine and Covenants material clearly existed before the GAEL was created, and the Book of Abraham translation most likely existed also.

The GAEL is far too incomplete to have been of any use in creating the Book of Abraham. Rather, there is evidence that it was largely derived from bits and pieces of the existing translation of the Book of Abraham, and also from a few existing revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. A touch of the Bible, a bit of Hebrew knowledge (e.g., the name "beth" and its meaning of "house"), and perhaps Josephus for the name "Ah meh strah ans" and a few other sources may have influenced W.W. Phelps in this work, and there is a minor connection to a couple of brief passages about Katumin elsewhere in the KEP (primarily for the names of Katumin and her father, Onitas).

The characters Phelps is using have been discussed here before and show influences from several sources other than Egyptian papyri, such as Masonic ciphers, ancient Greek alphabets, etc.

A few conclusions so far: Whatever the purpose of the GAEL is, its failure to exclusively use Egyptian characters from the papyri tells us that it was for something other than translating the papyri (perhaps creating a guide to a hypothetical "pure language"?). It appears to have drawn heavily from existing revelation in the Book of Abraham but also from the Doctrine and Covenants, a point that will become more clear in the next installment, again suggesting that its purpose or scope was not solely tied to the Book of Abraham.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

A Christmas Surprise: An Ancient Jewish Temple at the Same Time as Solomon's Temple

The Dec. 23 newsletter from the Biblical Archaeology Society surprised me with a report about  another ancient Jewish temple outside of Jerusalem. See "A Rival to Solomon’s Temple" by Marek Dospěl (or read the full account in the Jan./Feb. issue of Biblical Archaeology Review).
In 2012, archaeologists made a stunning discovery: a temple within sight of Jerusalem in the period following the reign of King Solomon . Established around 900 B.C.E., and functional until the early sixth century B.C.E., this Judahite temple at Tel Moẓa defies everything we would have expected.
In article for the Biblical Archaeology Review, "Another Temple in Judah! The Tale of Tel Moza" by Shua Kisilevitz and Oded Lipschits (pp. 40-49), we read that this site at Tel Moza actually grew in importance around the time of Hezekiah and thereafter, expanding in significance in its administrative and economic roles. It had a Holy of Holies, two pillars outside the entrance, an altar for sacrifice in the exterior courtyard, and other features like Solomon's temple. But it's still a mystery.
Who really constructed the temple in the early ninth century B.C.E.? And were these people associated with the with the rise of Jerusalem and the emergence of the Kingdom of Judah? And how did this temple operate successfully throughout its entire lifespan, especially when the Bible makes no mention of any such temple and moreover, says all other shrines were destroyed?

All we know so far is that when it was constructed, the Moza temple was likely the undertaking of a local group, but by the Iron IIB period, it was clearly under Judahite rule and must therefore have been royally sanctioned by the realm.
The rest remains to be discovered. (p. 49)
Amazing, a Jewish temple operating with apparent royal sanction just outside of Jerusalem (about 4 miles away).  For many decades, a "slam dunk" argument against the Book of Mormon is that no self-respecting Israelite would dare to offer sacrifices outside of Jerusalem, much less dare to build a temple! What Lehi and Nephi did allegedly shows that Joseph was a complete biblical ignoramus. The kind of ignoramus who misses basic Bible facts that everyone knows (like Christ being born in Bethlehem, not in the "land" of Jerusalem!), only to later have archaeological evidence or other modern scholarship show that what was mocked was actually plausible after all, turning weaknesses into strengths. He was also the kind of ignoramus who manages to recognize and master chiasmus and other subtle forms of Hebrew poetry, and build dozens of apparent Hebrew word plays and Hebraisms into his text years before he could begin studying Hebrew. May we all be so ignorant. 

Fortunately, strong evidence to refute the old argument against a Nephite temple outside of Jerusalem existed before this latest amplification. I've previously mentioned the temple-like worship site at Elephantine in Egypt. Quite an interesting story.

There's also the temple at Arad, further outside of Jerusalem than Moza. Earlier this year, during the Chinese New Year we went with a number of friends from Shanghai to Israel and also briefly to Petra in Jordan. While there, my wife and I went to the National Museum in Jerusalem, one of many highlights of our trip, and learned about the ancient temple at Arad. It also had a Holy of Holies and was a site where sacrifices were offered. It was destroyed -- or rather, gently taken apart and buried -- during the reign of Hezekiah. It was not desecrated as one might expect from the Old Testament accounts of Hezekiah's and Josiah's reforms that centralized temple worship in Jerusalem.

One hypothesis for this apparently respectful treatment is that Hezekiah took apart the Arad temple and buried it to preserve the sacred site as the Assyrians were coming, much as the Latter-day Saints in Utah buried the ongoing work on the Salt Lake Temple when government troops were coming to possibly invade the city. In any case, the temple/shrine at Arad lends support to the notion that people like Lehi and Nephi could have dared to offer sacrifice outside of Jerusalem and even to later build a temple in the New World, just as Jews in Egypt did at Elephantine. Here are a couple of photos from the National Museum:




There are other sites of note outside of Jerusalem in ancient Israel that can also be considered. See "Israelite Temples outside Jerusalem" at the Pronaos blog.

I expect arguments about the impropriety or impossibility of sacrifices and a temple outside of Jerusalem will continue to be treated as unrefuted slam-dunks against the Book of Mormon in a variety of critical publications for years to come, but I hope the surprising evidence from multiple sites will at least open some eyes to the growing evidence that many of the "wrong" things in the Book of Mormon have become a lot less wrong over time, though there are still gaps and challenges that haven't been so clearly resolved yet.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Is the Book of Abraham Translation Dependent on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers? Revisiting The Pearl of Greatest Price

A potentially troublesome flaw in the discussion of the Book of Abraham in the generally good book by Terryl Givens (with Brian Hauglid), The Pearl of Greatest Price, is its treatment of the relationship between the Book of Abraham and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP). Their chapter (Hauglid's chapter?) on the Book of Abraham tends to follow the controversial publication on the Book of Abraham from the Joseph Smith papers, for which Hauglid was one of two volume editors. I briefly touched upon some of these issues in my generally positive review of The Pearl of Greatest Price, but given the importance of the topic, I would like to discuss in more detail the stance taken in the chapter on the Book of Abraham, which I presume was heavily influenced by Hauglid based on his recognized expertise in the Book of Abraham. After reading part of the chapter again today, it seems a little more problematic than I initially thought.

A key passage comes after mentioning two competing theories for the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the KEP, namely, that the Book of Abraham came first or that the Book of Abraham was derived from the KEP:
Both views have evidence in their favor, and the most likely scenario may be a simultaneous and interwoven development.

Initially, it would appear more logical to assume a process of working backward from the Book of Abraham, for three reasons. First is the fact that when Smith translated the Book of Mormon earlier, he streamed the dictated text as a finished product; he did not work from a self-produced grammar or lexicon. It is of course possible that Smith, growing in confidence and ambition, sought to implement more emphatically the Lord’s injunction to “study . . . out in [his] mind” the linguistic problem before him, and so he now worked to produce a key to decipherment prior to or along with his translation.  Nevertheless, the possibility that he dictated the text in a flow of oracular inspiration cannot be entirely ruled out.

Second, comporting with this scenario, is the fact that Smith did produce a completed text (through Abraham 5: 21), whereas the grammar and alphabet documents are clearly fragmentary and represent a project that was aborted before reaching even a preliminary stage of completion. In fact, years after Smith had published his completed portions of the Book of Abraham, he still expressed the hope “of preparing a grammar of the Egyptian language.” That is not to say, however, that he had not developed in his own mind a sufficient grammar to accomplish his purposes.

Third, it is tempting to see the Book of Abraham as a prophetic production and the “grammar and alphabet” as an academic undertaking. In that case, the inspired production of the Book of Abraham would have priority and would be used as an authoritative source from which to deduce the principles of translation.

On balance, however, it appears that the two endeavors, translating the papyri and producing a “grammar and alphabet,” were too integrated and interdependent to separate in such fashion. For while we have no direct proof that Smith referred to this grammar and alphabet while translating the Book of Abraham [here an article by Chris Smith is cited that claims the choppiness of Abraham 1:1-3 is evidence that the GAEL was used to copy and paste definitions to create the choppy verses, which actually are far more unified that Chris Smith recognized, in fact being part of a chiasmus, as discussed in my review of the related JSP volume],  there are indications that he did, and we do know that he was working on both projects simultaneously.

We find in the alphabet and grammar documents several textual similarities to parts of chapter 1 of the Book of Abraham, to parts of chapter 3, and to some of Smith’s explanations to Facsimile 1. Smith’s Egyptian alphabet document also contains a paragraph from the Book of Abraham that appears to initiate what Smith portrayed as a five-degree system in which the definition of a word is amplified through five “degrees” or levels of meaning from the most basic to the most elaborate. This takes place at the end of the Smith version in an inscription added by Cowdery: “in the first degree Ah-broam—signifies The father of the faithful, the first right, the elders second degree—same sound—A follower of rightiousness—Third degree—same sound—One who possesses great Knowledge—Fourth degree—same sound—A follower of righteousness, a possessor of greater of Knowledge. Fifth degree—Ah-bra-oam. The father of many nations, a prince of peace, one who keeps the commandments of God, a patriarch, a rightful heir, a high priest.” This five-degree text in Smith’s alphabet manuscript was incorporated in the bound grammar book and then plausibly reworked in the opening lines of the Book of Abraham: “I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same: Having been a follower of righteousness; desiring to be one who possessed great Knowledge; a greater follower of righteousness; a possessor of greater Knowledge; a father of many nations; a prince of peace; one who keeps the commandments of God; a rightful heir; a high priest.” Here it can be seen that the text of the Book of Abraham closely resembles the meaning of Ah-broam/ Ah-bra-oam in the fifth degree.

Another passage from early in the Book of Abraham with corresponding material in the grammar and alphabet documents concerns the origins of Egypt. In table 2.1, for the character called “Iota toues Zip-Zi,” the meaning of the character again generally increases in detail through the five degrees...[emphasis added]

Several points need to be made.

What Indications?
Hauglid states that there are "indications" that Joseph used "his grammar and alphabet" to create the Book of Abraham translation. The first indication is in a footnote in the midst of the first sentence in bold above where a publication critical of Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham is cited, just as the same article by Chris Smith was cited in the JSP volume on Abraham to support that claim that there is "some evidence" that the translation was derived from the KEP. On this point, Chris Smith's work is more assertion and opinion than evidence, with arguments that do not merit the attention given the work by the JSP volume or this work. For details, see pp. 72-73 of my review of the JSP volume on the Book of Abraham, "A Precious Resource with Some Gaps" at Interpreter (search for "choppy" to find the discussion quickly). The reference cited by Hauglid in both of the volumes in question is 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, available at https://www.academia.edu/2357346.

The other "indications" are based on similar words or phrases in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Book of Abraham translation. But how does that qualify as an "indication" that can differentiate the merits of the two competing theories? If the translation came first and was then used to create entries in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), how could the GAEL entries possibly not have a relationship to the translated text? In no way does the obvious relationship between the translation and some entries in the GAEL support Hauglid's favored opinion over the alternative, a defect that was pointed out several times regarding the JSP volume many months before the publication of this volume. I am disappointed that the same error is propagated here.

A Question of Degrees
Did Joseph Smith really "initiate what Smith portrayed as a five-degree system" in the KEP?" There are three copies of the Egyptian Alphabet document, each of which has labels referring to different "parts" of the first degree, indicating of course that there is more than one degree. An addendum by Oliver Cowdery, not Joseph, shows how one word can have some variation in meaning across all five degrees. Was Smith initiating the concept of degrees and driving the show as to the content and format of the Egyptian Alphabets? That seems to be the assertion of Hauglid in this volume (not unlike what I see as biased framing and commentary in the JSP volume on the Book of Abraham). But examination of Joseph's document and comparison to the other two Egyptian Alphabets by Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps suggest that Joseph is copying from something else, perhaps from both of the other documents. For example, in his fourth, fifth, and sixth entries on page 1 of Egyptian Alphabet A (Joseph's), he writes  definitions similar to the other two documents but without having first written the sounds of the words, requiring him to later jam them in as emendations above each of these lines. This is easily explained if he were copying something and he skipped a word or column, but is less likely if he were creating a dictionary with its various columns.

Likewise, in writing the definition for "Zool," the 23rd entry on the first page of his Alphabet, Joseph writes about a "fixed period of time to the beginning" and later inserts "back" (Cowdery and Phelps both have "From a [or 'any'] fixed period of time back to the beginning") above the line between "time" and "to," a natural copying mistake in which a word is skipped and then added, but less likely if he is writing his thoughts directly.  Three sentences later he writes "spirits Sainnts" and then has to squeeze in the skipped "or" between the two words. Some similar errors occur on the next half-page of his writing, such as writing "Bethchu ain trieth the whole Earth or the largest <​place​> the greatest injoyment on Earth Ga[r]den of the Earth," where "place" was skipped initially and then inserted above the line, as if copying from Oliver's document that has for this entry, "The whole earth, or the largest place, the greatest enjoyment on earth— man’s resident in the garden of the earth." It appears that Joseph skipped "place" and had to insert it, and that he still skipped Oliver's "— man’s resident in the" before "garden," giving a sentence missing something such as internal punctuation or the missing phrase from Oliver. In any case, it appears that this sentence is based on copying from Oliver's document.  Not every sentence comes straight from Oliver or Phelps, but it seems that they are collaborating with Joseph as well as writing on his document.

After sessions in the handwriting of Oliver and W.W. Phelps, Joseph wrote the name "Ki Abraoam" which is stricken out and replaced with a different spelling by Oliver Cowdery, which looks like he is following W.W. Phelps' entry, and in turn has modified his own entry in his manuscript to also follow Phelps. If Joseph were calling the shots and were not largely drawing upon existing documents, why would Oliver strike out something Joseph had written to make it comply with what Phelps had?

Whose calling the shorts here? Chris Smith argues that Joseph is because a late addition of the word "Kolob" on Phelps' manuscript is in the handwriting of Warren Parrish, as it is in Phelps' GAEL, but the word Kolob has been added in Joseph's own handwriting in the Egyptian Alphabet that was started by Joseph. That one clue can also be explained if Joseph's document were the last one finished, or even the last one started, or if Joseph simply added it himself at some point after seeing it assigned in Phelps' document. It seems that Joseph and his scribes were working together in his document to draw upon and extend their work, with Oliver going so far as to add a section showing variations in one character's meaning from degree one to five. As for Kolob, we understand that Joseph gave us that word (with its plausible ancient roots), but who associated it with an Egyptian character? It could have been Joseph, but Joseph could have written "Kolob" next to a specific character based on the assignment already recorded in Phelps' manuscript shortly after Parrish began taking over some work for Phelps and helping him to continue the GAEL. His handwriting for that word does not reverse the evidence that his writing is drawing upon other texts.

It is true that there are more complete definitions in his document, but it has contributions in the handwriting of all 3 people, Joseph, Oliver, and W.W. Phelps, and may have been the last one worked on, drawing upon (and copying from) the work of the other two scribes, including the W.W. Phelps' May 1835 letter that has six characters from the "pure language" which appear in the same order in all three Egyptian Alphabets. Like many of the "Egyptian" characters in the KEP, those six are not Egyptian and their presence suggests these documents were intended for something other than translating the Egyptian papyri.

The format of these documents also tells us something. Phelps has columns for characters, letter (apparently a letter in the English alphabet related to the character), sound, and definition, but after two lines abandons use of the "letter" column. Oliver has the same number of columns but does nothing in the second column for letters. Joseph's document drops that column completely, so it's just character, sound, and definition. But while his columns are neatly drawn, unlike his scribes, he ignores the boundaries and writes definitions wherever they fit after the sound is written. This column format is first seen in Phelps' pre-papyri "pure language" letter. Is that Joseph's format? Is Joseph driving this structure? It seems unlikely, for he doesn't even respect and follow the format before him. Joseph's document has columns. Joseph's work seems to rely upon Phelps and to some degree Cowdery, though he may have revised some wording.

And again, the definition that is expanded across all five degrees in his manuscript, said to show Joseph initiating the source of degrees, wasn't even written by him but by Oliver Cowdery. Was Oliver channeling Joseph there, or Phelps, or something else? In fact, Oliver could have been copying new material from the GAEL at this point rather than creating material that the GAEL would use. To state that Joseph is the source of the degree system and that we can see him "initiating" it in this document, when it is a document he is at least to a large degree copying from somewhere else, requires questionable assumptions.

While it is possible that they are right, the chapter on Abraham in Givens' and Hauglid's book does not adequately support the claim that Joseph is the source of the system of degrees used heavily in the GAEL and to some degree in the Egyptian Alphabet documents, nor does it support the common assertion that Joseph was the one driving the whole KEP show.

Misunderstanding the Translation Process?
Regarding the claim that Joseph's translation required him to study out Egyptian in his own mind before he could translate, I think the LDS community needs to reconsider the meaning of the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants about "study it out in your own mind," especially in light of Stan Spencer's definitive analysis of this passage, as published in the peer-reviewed journal of the Interpreter Foundation. See Stan Spencer, "The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9," Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 219-232, with the following abstract:
Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 is conventionally interpreted as the Lord’s description of the method by which the Book of Mormon was translated. A close reading of the entire revelation, however, suggests that the Lord was not telling Oliver Cowdery how to translate but rather how to know whether it was right for him to translate and how to obtain the faith necessary to do so. Faith would have enabled Oliver Cowdery to overcome his fear and translate, just as it would have enabled Peter (in Matthew 14) to overcome his fear and walk on water.
For years, Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 has been used to suggest that this revelation told Oliver Cowdery that the way to translate a completely foreign script is to think it over, propose a translation, and then get a spiritual confirmation that it is right or wrong. But for translation, that's pretty much nonsensical, like a game of 20 questions but with tens of thousands of questions required for each word.  With apologies, here's how that futile, infeasible approach might work:
Hmm, here's a squiggle. I wonder if it means aardvark? Studying this out ... feels like a "no." OK, how about abalone? No. OK, maybe antelope? After several hours of study, I'm feeling good about "antelope." No. OK, but it's at least an animal, right? No. A plant? No. A name. Maybe? A name and something else. Maybe? A verb and an object? Could it be "Aaron picked up a rod?" No. "Aaron picked up a baseball bat?" No. Let's get back to that name. Does it involve Aaron? No. Oh, Abraham? No. Hank? Roger? Peter? Paul? Mary? Mohonri? Antelopus? Does it start with the letter A? B? C? ... Ah hah, an O! Is it Oki? Or Okidoki? No. Omigosh? No. Is it Oliver? No. Does it start with "Oa" or "Ob" or ... "Ol"? There's that burning. Great. Ollie? Olisama? Ollikazaam? Olkawabanga? ....[several days of stupor later] Oliblish! That's it. Got it! OK, is it "Oliblish picked up a rod?" No. Is there a verb? Does it involve a small fish? Anything related to an antelope? Is there an odor? Could it be....[Three years later, voila, yet another verse is done.]
Spencer's excellent scholarship on the meaning of that passage in the Doctrine and Covenants fits well with other scholarship from Royal Skousen and others on the nature of the translation of the Book of Mormon. The evidence points to a breathtakingly rapid process, not one of painstaking guesswork, and a process in which Joseph in some way saw the translation, not just one where his guesswork gradually got confirmations. It was revelation, not trying to gradually figure out the basics of reformed Egyptian, that gave us the text of the Book of Mormon, and there's no reason to believe that Joseph lost this power in translating the Book of Abraham.

The critics love to mock the impossibility of translating over 200 words with intricate story details from a single character of Egyptian, as they allege is demonstrated by the very few characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscripts in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Anyone familiar with foreign language or even basic logic would recognize the strangeness of such a proposition. Just as it is used to mock Joseph's translation today, if Warren Parrish, who acted as a scribe for some of the translation large blocks of text paired with Egyptian characters had seen Joseph struggling to apply the GAEL to elicit hundreds of words per character (contrary to the usually brief definitions in the GAEL!), then when he turned against Joseph later and sought to tear him down, it would have been easy to complain that Joseph somehow imagined a whole story would be told with a few squiggles that he translated with a ridiculous translation tool that made no sense to anyone with a touch of education. Rather, in 1838 he simply said that "I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Heiroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven" (Letter to the Editor dated 5 February 1838, Painesville Republican, 15 February 1838, Vol. II, No. 14–15, as cited at FAIRMormon.org). Not as he insanely exploded one squiggle into 200 or 300 words using the incoherent and utterly useless GAEL as some kind of translation tool based on impossibly studying out Egyptian in his own mind, but, believe it or not, accept it or not, by something quite different, much more like what Joseph claimed to do with the Book of Mormon, by what Joseph claimed and which I believe was "direct inspiration of Heaven."

As we also learn in Don Bradley's recent book, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon's Missing Stories (see my recent review), the early work in preparing the initial manuscript that Martin Harris would lose likely occurred at a pace not wildly different from his later translation work. Joseph did not need to slowly build up some kind of "Alphabet and Grammar of Reformed Egyptian" to get moving rapidly in his translation work for the Book of Mormon. He did not need to study Hebrew out in his own mind to dictate the contents of the Book of Moses. And in spite of the interest that he and his scribes had in some kind of intellectual exercise with the papyri and the romantic notion of the "pure language," on many counts it is likely that the documents related to that exercise, documents in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, were derived from the revealed translation and not the other way around. I wish Givens and Hauglid had more carefully considered the evidence for the flow of translated text into the confused, incomplete, and quickly terminated work of the KEP, rather than accepting the hypothesis that the flow went the other way.

Cracking the Chicken and Egg Problem?
It turns out that the evidence Hauglid points to as "indications" for the dependency of the Book of Abraham translation on the KEP is no such evidence at all and fails to resolve the chicken and the eff problem before us. Hauglid seems convinced that there is evidence that Abraham 1:1-3 was derived from the GAEL, as Chris Smith has argued based on the alleged choppiness of that passage (with little more than his perception of choppiness as the evidence). Of course there are related phrases in the translated text and the GAEL, but the question is which came first? Is there any way of ruling out either of the possibilities? If Abraham 1:1-3 derives from the GAEL and was somehow used to create or was intertwined with the alleged dictation of the translation by Joseph to scribes to give us the Book of Abraham manuscripts around November 1835 (though this and other documents like the GAEL may have come later, as Gee has explained), then one way to evaluate such claims may come from a patriarchal blessing that Oliver Cowdery gave. Here, Chris Smith does make a valuable contribution in referring to that document. See Oliver Cowdery, “Patriarchal Blessings,” 1:8-9, cited in “Priesthood Restoration” at the Joseph Smith Papers website. The JSP site says that this was “probably recorded summer/fall 1835,” while Christopher Smith states it was Sept. 1835. In this blessing, Oliver states that:
we diligently saught for the right of the fathers, and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to admin 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: but an account of this will be given elsewhere.
Here Oliver draws upon several specific concepts and phrases in Abraham 1:1-3, strongly suggesting that these verses were already translated and well known to Oliver by roughly September 1835 or before. This is not necessarily fatal to the Hauglid's scenario, but may stress it and favors the "translation first" viewpoint.  I don't think this relevant evidence is considered by Givens and Hauglid, nor by Jensen and Hauglid in their speculations on the origins of the Book of Abraham in their volume for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Update, Dec. 27, 2019:
There are at least two other tests to resolve the chicken and egg problem.  One is from internal evidence in the GAEL itself. If it had been used to create at least Abraham 1:1-3, as Chris Smith alleges with an affirmative head nod from Givens and Hauglid as well as from Jensen and Hauglid's JSP volume, then we would expect the related entries in the GAEL to act like dictionary entries, meaning they are not dependent on the translation and not constrained by it. Here is where we have a fascinating bit of data that was overlooked in the JSP volume, when it should have been considered for what it says. Special thanks to reader "Joe Peaceman" for paying attention and underscoring this important issue.

Five times in the GAEL, W.W. Phelps goes out of his way to indicate that he made a mistake and entered a character and its definition in the wrong order. He states that the character he calls "Bethka" should have been inserted between two others, "iota" and "zub zool." See my post of July 18, 2019, "Kirtland's Rosetta Stone? The Importance of Word Order in the "Egyptian" of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language." 

We can see the Phelps' work of inserting "Bethka" in several parts of his GAEL, 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
Photos of some of these notes from Phelps are in that July 18, 2019 post. As I wrote then:
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?"
So not only do we see that Oliver Cowdery was using Abraham 1:1-3 around September 1835, likely before Phelps worked with our current Abraham 1:1-3 in his Book of Abraham Manuscript A, but we also see that Phelps himself felt that there was a particular required order for the characters he was assigning to concepts from Abraham 1:1-3, and that order happens to line up with the order of the translation, but not with alphabetical order or any other readily explicable order. A dictionary for a bizarre foreign script doesn't need some precise order, but Phelps felt constrained by what appears to have been the existing translation. The translation that existed before Oliver gave a blessing citing it in September 1835.

There's another source we can turn to for insight on this chicken and egg problem, Joseph Smith himself. When he spoke of working on an alphabet, he did not say it was for translating the Book of Abraham Rather, he said it was "to" the Book of Abraham. After considering how others in Joseph's era used similar language, an "alphabet ... to" something, it's clear that the "something" is not what will be generated by use of the alphabet, but something already in existence that will guide development of the alphabet. An "alphabet to" the Book of Abraham most likely means that as the translation was being developed, the translated concepts could be used to help create some kind of compiled information related to the Egyptian language, based on the human intellectual attempt to work with a text given by revelation. If so, the GAEL was not a tool for creating the Book of Abraham, but an intellectual (and futile) tool dependent on and drawn from the translated text.

The translation came fist. Inspiration came first, then came (failed) human efforts to do something intriguing but hopeless with the text. What was that something? Perhaps a guide to the notion of a pure language, but without the data and tools to have nay hope of moving forward. They may not have even known what characters from what scroll, if any, went with the revealed text Joseph had, just as Joseph and his scribes probably couldn't show you what characters in the gold plates went with, say, Chapter 1 of the Book of Alma. It's not that there was no ancient source, but that the translation was not meant to give a Rosetta Stone for reformed Egyptian, just as it seems the Lord's intent in revealing the Book of Abraham was not to overwhelm future non-believing scholars with the amazing parlor trick of providing an American Rosetta Stone in Egyptan and KJV English to outshine Champollion and command accolades for Joseph from all. It is an amazing text, but one that requires faith and patience to accept, with rich reward for those who endure and study.

In short, we have three possible tests for determining whether the revealed text of Abraham 1:1-3 (and perhaps the rest of the translation) relied upon and came before the creation of the GAEL.  These are Oliver Cowdery's roughly Sept. 1835 patriarchal blessing quoting Abraham 1:1-3, the GAEL's strange insistence on the importance of the order of the definitions related to (and probably drawn from) Abraham 1:1-3, and Joseph's statement suggesting that the Alphabet he mentioned as "to" the Book of Abraham, not "for" its translation.

On balance, I'd say the evidence strongly weighs against the position taken by Hauglid in this volume and by Jensen and Hauglid in their JSP volume. There is no basis for claiming that the GAEL was ever used to generate anything in the revealed translation, and significant though perhaps subtle evidence that the GAEL depended upon the translation (and upon some other existing texts as well, including several portions of the already revealed Doctrine and Covenants, as previously discussed here and in my review of the JSP volume for the Interpreter).

Some relevant resources:
  • Kerry Muhlestein, "Papyri and Presumptions: A Careful Examination of the Eyewitness Accounts Associated with the Joseph Smith Papyri," Journal of Mormon History 42/4 (2016), 31-50; https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/3510. 
  • Kerry Muhlestein, "Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Introduction to the Historiography of their Acquisitions, Translations, and Interpretations," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 22 (2016): 17-49From the abstract: "New investigations suggest that, while the relationship between papyri and text is not clear, it is clear that the fragments are not the source and that the method of translation was not the Kirtland Egyptian Papers."

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Breakthrough in Understanding the Book of Mormon: Don Bradley's Brilliant Sleuthing on the Lost 116 Pages (or Lost 400 Pages!)

Don Bradley's new book, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon's Missing Stories (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2019), is something I've been looking forward to for many months. Even before I finished reading it, I purchased several copies as Christmas gifts. The moment I finished reading Bradley's riveting final chapter that summarizes what he learned about the Book of Mormon in his exploration of the lost manuscript and the role that played in bringing him back to the Church, I was so impressed that I sent a Kindle edition to another family member that I felt would also love and gain much from this work.

Bradley's has done outstanding research and draws out many subtle details from the existing Book of Mormon text coupled with numerous finds in other documents that shed light on what may have been in or almost certainly was in the lost manuscript.

To get a feel for the quality of Bradley's work, one of his 15 chapters has been provided as a stand-alone article at The Interpreter. See Don Bradley, "A Passover Setting for Lehi’s Exodus," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 34 (2020): 119-142. I can't think of a better way to prepare for studying the Book of Mormon in 2020 than by reading this article today (and then buying the book ASAP).

In Bradley's volume, you'll learn to appreciate the Book of Mormon in several new ways, and also understand the significance of Joseph's trauma over the loss. One of the surprising discoveries in reading Bradley's thoughtful analysis was learning that based on several independent approaches for estimating the size of the lost manuscript, it is clear that it was actually much larger than 116 pages, greatly amplifying the pain of the lost work. The 116 number appears to have been a placeholder based on how many pages were occupied by the translation of the final material from the small plates of Nephi, and not an actual count of the original lost pages. Bradley's treatment of this issue from several angles is one of several big "ahah!" moments in this book.

You will also learn just how remarkably Jewish the Book of Mormon is. It is not all like the caricature described by our critics of a crude attempt to import the New Testament and modern Christianity into New World. What we learn from the clues we have about the lost manuscript greatly rounds out our appreciation of the Book of Mormon as a book that integrates the New and Old Testament and shows how the message of the Bible expands across hemispheres. As Bradley writes in his "Conclusion":
One of the most striking and startling things about both the coming forth and the content of the Book of Mormon’s lost text is how Hebraic, and even specifically Jewish, they were. In the buildup to the lost manuscript’s translation, the watershed events in its coming forth were keyed to Jewish festival days (Chapters 1-3). The narrative history within the book itself appears to have begun with one of those feasts (Chapter 7). It also began at the opening of the great shaping condition of Jewish life across millennia: the Diaspora, the dispersion of Jews—whose very name means people of Judea—across a wider world. Although it appears to have largely escaped note, the Book of Mormon tells us that it began in the literal very first days of the Diaspora (Chapters 6-7). The lives of Lehi and Nephi were consequently devoted to solving, in part, the problem of Diaspora or Exile: if they could not remain perpetually in Judea could they create their own Judea and restore the wholeness of the original Jewish commonwealth that had existed there? The problem Lehi and Nephi sought to solve was thus a distinctively Jewish problem.

There is an academic idea that during the Book of Mormon’s coming forth the Restoration was very Christian primitivist—focused selectively on the New Testament and restoring the primitive church like many movements around Joseph Smith at the time (such as the Stone-Campbell movement from which Sidney Rigdon emerged).  When we look at the earliest part of the Book of Mormon—the first half of Mormon’s abridgment that was lost—we do indeed find a restorationist program being enacted by Lehi and Nephi; but rather than trying to build the New Testament church, they were trying to rebuild “Old Testament” Israel! The contents of the lost pages thus entirely buck scholarly expectation that the Book of Mormon will behave as a New Testament-focused, nineteenth-century Christian primitivist text.

One of the great benefits of Bradley's work is the detective work to determine what might have been on the lost manuscript. There are extensive clues, such as details Mormon treats as if they will be well known to the reader but are not, or important story elements that seem like they should be there but are missing. In noting these elements and seeking to understand what we can, Bradley often illustrates the benefits of a deep reading of the text and time after time illustrates the integrity of the complete Book of Mormon text. Often such analysis shows there is more than meets the eye in the Book of Mormon.

One minor example is the kingship of King Mosiah1. A little detail that some might see as a contradiction or an oversight by Joseph Smith as fabricator is the failure of Mosiah1 to bear the name supposedly given to all Nephite Kings, Nephi. Bradley plausibly argues that the Nephite dynasty was overthrown, and that a new person not of the royal lineage became king. Indeed, the text tells us that Mosiah1 "was made king" (Omni 1:12), suggesting that he was not the natural, rightful successor. This happened when the majority of Nephites were destroyed, and Mosiah1 as prophet led away the few that would believe him in a second Nephite Exodus. The details of what happened are missing, but we read of prophecy and fulfillment for something dramatic, and the result is a new line of kings.

When I first heard of this book, I wondered what could possibly justify a whole book on a manuscript we don't have, but Don Bradley has truly surprised me with some of the most important information I've encountered about the Book of Mormon. This book does much more than simply pull together and analyze many clues about the contents and nature of the lost manuscript. It helps us see the unity, the antiquity, and the Jewishness of the intended complete text, along with its persistent focus on the Messiah, the deliverance provided by the Messiah, and the sacred temple. He gives us valuable new ways of understanding the surviving text and the intent of Mormon in compiling it.

Bradley's detailed scholarship and clever sleuthing helps bring many new threads of evidence together that most of us never suspected were there. Years of digging and analyzing have gone into this. Until some or all of the lost pages were found, this work helps fill in some  gaps and solves a number of puzzles that will help both typical readers and future scholars in seeing the text in new ways. But I"m still hoping to see the joyous day, if possible, when all or even a tiny portion of the missing manuscript will be found.

Flaws? Not many. Sometimes Bradley may seem too speculative on some possibilities where the evidence is murky. Other times some passages could be more compact. But his style is highly engaging and readable and I feel will sustain reader interest throughout. In addition to stimulating reader interest and respect for the Book of Mormon, I believe this work will also stimulate new scholarship as his ideas and proposals are refined or further tested and revised, as needed.

Overall, this is a remarkable breakthrough and a valuable resource for any student of the Book of Mormon. It is a wonderful albeit sometimes tentative tool for a more intelligent approach to the incredible text, both the intended text and the text that we now have.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Preliminary Thoughts on the Accusation that the Church Violated Tax Law

In response to the news stories about a whistleblower's complaint to the IRS regarding the Church's failure to properly pay taxes on investment returns in a fund managed by Ensign Peak Advisers, a good summary from an expert on the US tax law relative to religious organizations is written by Sam Brunson, a respected tax expert, in the post, "Some Thoughts About Ensign Peak Advisers and the Church" at By Common Consent. It's a good example of clear-headed analysis rather than sensationalized claims. Yes, there could be real problems and a need to change how excess funds are deployed, though it's not clear at the moment. In any case, I expect greater transparency in finances will result from this.

A key issue is whether the limited knowledge of the accuser is actually comprehensive and accurate regarding the alleged failure of to use funds from Ensign Peak Advisers for charitable purposes. If  the investment returns have not been used for charitable purposes in recent years, as claimed (based on the whistleblower not knowing of such use), it seems like a serious problem. If the accuser is wrong, the allegations of tax fraud may be groundless, but the details may still be quite unsatisfying. I would be surprised if any clear requirements of the law were not met or if serious steps were not taken to meet them (it's often hard to know just what tax law means -- many of you are probably felons without knowing it!). Given the uncertainties in tax law, there's also the risk that even if good faith efforts were taken, an adverse ruling could be made that would be extremely painful for the Church. I hope not, of course.

Update, Dec. 24, 2019:
Daniel Peterson in his "LDS, Inc." series at Sic et Non (see especially "LDS, Inc., Part 17") makes some valid observations, after having over the past few weeks shown us a series of tongue-in-cheek photos of purported General Authority mansions remarkably similar to the Vatican, Versailles, the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany (the prototype Disney castle and alleged model for Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf's home) castle and other manors of the super wealthy to remind us, in his own way, of just how the Church's funds are not being used: to enrich leaders of the Church. The Church teaches its members to save diligently to be prepared for future challenges. For the Church to have a substantial rainy day fund is hardly immoral, but rather wise. If it were being used to enrich leaders, that would be a different story. But to strengthen its future, ongoing ministry and its ability to do charitable work is a sound practice, even if the amount saved is more than I and others expected.

Peterson also points to some who are not shy about criticizing the Church who recognize that the Church does take great pains to manage money properly. 

I greatly appreciated the perspective shared by Aaron Miller at Public Square (hat tip to Daniel Peterson). Miller teaches nonprofit management and ethics in the Romney Institute at BYU. In his article, "The $100 Billion ‘Mormon Church’ story: A Contextual Analysis," he directly addresses the charges levied by the whistleblower. Here's an excerpt (please read the whole article):

Are the Church’s reserve funds illegal or somehow evading taxes?
For tax purposes, as an integrated auxiliary, the investment arm of the Church, Ensign Peak Advisors, is under no obligation to make minimum distributions. The allegations appear to stem from the whistleblower’s misunderstanding of tax law. For unknown reasons, the whistleblower apparently didn’t hire an attorney or a tax expert to help write this report.

One can only assume this is why so many of the conclusions in the whistleblower report diverge from the law. Not only does the whistleblower report misconstrue the definition of “charitable,” but it also applies something called the commensurate test (explained below) in a way never before applied by the IRS, and it fails to give enough evidence to demonstrate that two alleged investment disbursements were in fact improper.

For starters, the federal tax code does not have a minimum disbursement requirement for what are called “public charities,” a category of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Churches are public charities by default.

There is a requirement that all 501(c)(3) entities carry out charitable activities that are “commensurate in scope with their resources.” This ostensibly means that a charity cannot merely accumulate assets and remain a charity. The law does not set a fixed threshold for this though, and the IRS instead takes it on a case-by-case basis, applying the commensurate test very rarely. But, even by the whistleblower’s own admission, each year the Church is in fact spending $6 Billion a year on its tax-exempt activities.

There is an interesting wrinkle in this case, though, that the whistleblower’s claim relies on. Ensign Peak Advisors, the legal entity where the LDS Church holds these investments, is exempt as a separate 501(c)(3) Supporting Organization. (Notably, the whistleblower also disputes this status, but without directly addressing how Ensign fails to meet the legal definition. He instead focuses on the “spirit” of the status.) As a Supporting Organization, Ensign is an independent nonprofit. The whistleblower claims that this requires Ensign to pass the commensurate test all on its own – and not as part of the larger whole of the Church.

But according to the IRS’s own definition, Ensign is also an “integrated auxiliary” managed by the Church, a legal treatment that combines their activities in certain ways. This is a critical detail that the whistleblower report only briefly mentions and seems to misunderstand.

If the Church directly held these investments, it would likely pass any legal tests without concern. Does it make a legal difference if Ensign does the investing for the Church as an integrated auxiliary? This difference—a relatively narrow and technical one—has never been questioned by the IRS or a court, according to Sam Brunson, a Latter-day Saint and Loyola law professor who specializes in tax-exempt organizations.

After looking at the facts and allegations involved, Peter J. Reilly, a non-Latter-day Saint CPA and tax specialist, observed in Forbes that “Ensign is not a private foundation. It is an integrated auxiliary of a church. And there is nothing in the tax law that prevents churches from accumulating wealth.” Reilly reached out to Paul Streckfus, another tax expert who runs a trusted publication focusing on tax-exempt organizations. He too concluded that the “matter does not merit IRS attention.”
Based on Miller's comments, the charges from the whistleblower may be irresponsible, though I also recognize that tax law can be murky and this matter could be more complex and painful than we would hope, even if Miller is 100% correct. At the moment, however, I think it's fair to recognize that the sneering attacks of some anti-Mormon activists based on the whistleblower's claims may be highly unreasonable. 

Update, Dec. 27, 2019:
Much of the carefully-stoked furor  over these stories arises from the alleged shameful greed of a Church that asks for tithing from all of its members, even the poor, when it has adequate reserves to cover its needs for several years without accepting any tithing at all. "How dare you," etc. 

In case you missed it, the Owner of the biggest stash of precious metals on earth and the Owner of the greatest real estate portfolio ever seen (including large tracts of prime real estate all over this planet and countless others), most of which is, shockingly, completely untaxed and not even disclosed to relevant government agencies, didn't stop a poor widow from quietly paying her tithing when her money truly was not needed. He even held her up as an example. 

There's something strange about the principle of tithing that isn't about how much money God gets, but how much faith and commitment His children develop. God could tell us to all just party and do our own thing because He's got the whole cosmos as collateral for anything He needs, but in fact He wants us to sacrifice, to be frugal, to pay tithing, and to put Him first -- and, as a matter of sound financial planning, when possible, to save diligently rather than go into debt. That the Church should also follow such wise counsel should be no shocker. May we all strive to follow that example and save diligently.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Points to Consider in the Concoted "Egyptian" Characters in the KEP

Update, Dec. 24 and 26, 2019: The statement describing the papyri originally occurs in a letter signed by Oliver Cowdery, so it is his, not Joseph's description. Perhaps because it was included in the History of the Church it has been said to be Joseph's in several sources. I should have caught this. Some corrections follow. The statement can be found in the entry for Dec. 31, 1835 in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 675, available at the Joseph Smith Papers website
The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the Mummies, is beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, in perfect preservation. The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of Mummies; hieroglyphics, &c. with many characters or letters like the present (though probably not quite so square,) form of the Hebrew without points.
While the volumes of the History of the Church were compiled from 1838 to 1856, I believe vol. 2 was compiled during Joseph's lifetime and with his approval. The statement in Oliver's letter is the same except as the published statement above except for minor differences in the first two sentences (the full text of his 1835 letter is at Wikisource.com):
Upon the subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph, I may say a few words. This record is beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, in perfect preservation. The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of mummies, hieroglyphics, &c. with many characters or letters exactly like the present, (though probably not quite so square,) form of the Hebrew without points.

Oliver Cowdery Joseph Smith, in describing the Egyptian characters on the scrolls related to the Book of Abraham, compared them to Hebrew letters, but without the points. Without the points -- that's a noteworthy distinction. Joseph knew what points were and knew that the Egyptian characters lacked that feature. Why, then, do points abound in the characters that were supposedly translated to give the Book of Abraham?

Oliver's Joseph's statement followed a description of the papyri that is commonly cited in debates about what scroll or papyri fragments, if any, might have been used in producing the Book of Abraham.  In a letter dated Dec. 22, 1835 and later included in various Church publications (and sometimes assumed to be Joseph's statement or at least published with his consent) be said,  “The record … found with the mummies, is beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation.” (History of the Church, 2:348.) That statement is often used to raise the possibility that the source of the Book of Abraham that he may have been working with was not to be found among the existing fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri because they don't seem to match that description.

But his next sentence may merit some attention as well: "The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of mummies, hieroglyphics, &c. with many characters or letters exactly like the present, (though probably not quite so square,) form of the Hebrew without points" (emphasis added). Like "Hebrew without points," a phrase indicating that Oliver and presumably Joseph were then  familiar with the appearance of Hebrew and the use of points to guide pronunciation. Joseph had already begun exploring the Hebrew books that Oliver brought to Kirtland from the East at Joseph's request and had tried teaching Hebrew to others using these books, quickly leading to the recognition that a qualified Hebrew teacher was needed.

Points, by the way, are marks such as dots that go beneath or above Hebrew letters to indicate the vowels, but Oliver's description may have also included the dagesh, a dot that can appear inside a Hebrew letter to modify its sound. Joseph's Hebrew instructor who came in Jan. 1836, Joshua Seixas, included the dagesh among the points in his A Manual Hebrew Grammar for the Use of Beginners (Andover, MA: Gould and Newman, 1834), as shown on p. 7. Perhaps more importantly, one of the few Hebrew books that we know Oliver brought to Kirtland at the end of November 1835, Moses Stuart's A Grammar of the Hebrew Language, states that "Daghesh is a point in the bosom of a letter." This occurs on p. 32 of his 4th edition from 1831 and p. 35 of his 5th edition from 1835. Stuart also describes the mappiq, another dot that can go inside a final letter he, as a point on p. 40, as Seixas does on his p. 7. So dots in, above, or below a letter can be considered points and are something Joseph recognized were present in Hebrew but not present in the Egyptian on the papyri he had.

Why is the lack of points in Egyptian writing of interest? Because many of the so-called "Egyptian" characters in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers have dots around or in them, much like Hebrew points, sometimes lots of them. Not the real Egyptian characters on the scrolls, but the concocted "Egyptian" characters that are found on the critical Book of Abraham manuscripts (Manuscript A, B, or C) that some claim show us how Joseph translated Egyptian and that are found in the other parts of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, namely the Egyptian Alphabet documents and the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL). If Joseph knew that the Egyptian characters on his scrolls lacked points, then the presence of points in concocted characters would seem to indicate that they were not viewed by Joseph as real Egyptian, and perhaps that they were not his attempt to make something that "looked" Egyptian.

On the other hand, if someone like W.W. Phelps who was familiar with the basics not only of Hebrew letters and their points but also letters in other scripts such as ancient Greek, were borrowing various characters from many sources and also concocting a few where needed (e.g., filling in missing characters from the scroll that was the source for much of the Egyptian on the Book of Abraham manuscripts with characters in the margins), and if that person were seeking, say, to create insights into a "pure language" that had remnants in ancient languages such as Hebrew and Egyptian, then it is possible that he would import the concept of Hebrew points into his catalog of characters in the GAEL and, contra Joseph, give us "Egyptian" characters laced with points.

Here are some of the concocted characters in the Book of Abraham manuscripts that correspond to gaps (lacunae) in the papyrus being used as a source these characters in the margins of the English manuscript:




The two leftmost units of this are related to something on the papyrus. The rest corresponds to a
lacuna was apparently concocted, perhaps using a Greek theta, the symbol
of the "sign of the fifth degree, second part," and something else with a couple of "points."






There are also may be points in the GAEL, such as the forms of "iota" and related characters that comprise it (e.g., see p. 10, which has a character that is a close match for the left portion of the last character above). Some of these characters, such as the last one, appear to composites that draw upon two or more entries already in the GAEL owned by and largely in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps, again pointing to W.W. Phelps as a possible source for these characters (though others could still have used the GAEL or other means to make up these strange characters). There may also a touch of Greek influence in these characters as well as in the GAEL (forms of theta, phi, delta, heta, and maybe lambda), and again, Phelps with some prior study of Greek could be the candidate to bring in that knowledge.

John Gee once explained some reasons for seeing the GAEL as the creation and property of W.W. Phelps, not Joseph Smith, though some critics of the Book of Abraham try to claim that it is Joseph's work that was dictated to W.W. Phelps, with no evidence for such a dictation process. Gee wrote in "Joseph Smith and Ancient Egypt" (a 2015 article):

Joseph Smith’s journal also seems to indicate that the documents in Phelps’s archive belonged to Phelps. After Joseph Smith heard W. W. Phelps read a letter that Joseph Smith had him write for him that quotes from the documents, afterwards Joseph Smith “called again and enquired for the Egyptian grammar.” Yet two days later he “suggested the idea of preparing a grammar of the Egyptian language” apparently because he did not agree with Phelps’s treatment. Thus the provenance, the format, and Joseph Smith’s treatment in his journals indicate that the majority of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers belonged to Phelps. So they cannot be used to reconstruct Joseph Smith’s knowledge of Egyptian, only that of W. W. Phelps.
Joseph was clearly interested in the Egyptian language and its study, and had copied something apparently from Phelps' Egyptian Alphabet document when he wrote a couple pages in one of the Egyptian Alphabet documents, just about the only thing he clearly did in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. But after copying some of that Egyptian Alphabet document (perhaps before or near Nov. 1835), we have no record of Joseph doing anything with the GAEL or any of the KEP documents from Nov. 1835 until 1842, as Gee explains. The Kirtland Egyptian Papers were from the Kirtland Era, not the Nauvoo era, and Joseph seems conspicuously absent in the work, in spite of the claims that the Book of Abraham manuscripts were created by live dictation from Joseph (no, they show strong evidence of being copied from an existing document and show none of the typical characteristics of live dictation from Joseph Smith). If they were needed for the translation effort and if the translation was mostly done in 1842, as many critics claim, it is surprising that Joseph's involvement with the documents in the KEP, especially the GAEL, is so minor and did not expand after the Kirtland era rather than completely disappear.

Joseph's statement about the lack of points in Egyptian is not decisive, of course, and we should not make too much about that point. I suppose whoever concocted additional characters need not have felt any restraints in what they drew. But it is a factor that may weigh against him as the "obvious" source for the concocted characters in the Book of Abraham documents and the GAEL.

By the way, please refer to my previous post where I discussed the "sign of the fifth degree, second part" mentioned at the top of the "twin manuscripts" of the Book of Abraham. That sign, a vertical line with a horizontal stroke emerging from the middle and of the vertical line and going toward the right, seems to be present somewhere in many of the concocted characters (or rotated 90 degrees in the first one shown above), suggesting again some link between the characters being considered and the sign in the heading or annotation at the top that I believe indicates the intended use of these documents: not capturing live dictation of new scripture from Joseph Smith, but copying existing text and associating them with "Egyptian" characters for use in somehow fleshing out additional material for the GAEL, especially in the designated section for the second part of the fifth degree. Why and how that would help is unclear -- the project never went any further, and work on the GAEL and other KEP documents appears to have ceased in Kirtland. But these little clues may help us better understand what strange things were being attempted in the KEP projects, which appear to be human, intellectual, and futile works derived from the existing inspiring translation of an ancient text.