Dee Jay Nelson and the Book of Abraham Assault

This page deals with an intriguing episode in the ongoing assault on the LDS Book of Abraham in which a prominent Egyptologist, so he claimed to be, made a name for himself in speaking out against the Book of Abraham. A minor episode, but one worth understanding.

This is part of the LDSFAQ (Mormon Answers) suite by Jeff Lindsay, my attempt to deal with many common questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My writings reflect my personal understanding and are not officially approved by the Church.

Dee Jay Nelson and the Book of Abraham Assault


With every major assault on the Book of Abraham, I find the critics ignoring important evidence. Professional anti-Mormons - who make their living attacking us (and often other religions as well) - work feverishly to tear down LDS beliefs. Is this out of a sincere desire to save our deluded souls? What is the agenda of the Book of Abraham critics? A brief look at the "father" of the modern assault on the Book of Abraham sheds interesting light into the world of professional anti-Mormonism:

The Curious Story of "Dr." Dee Jay Nelson

Dee Jay Nelson led the charge in the assault on the Book of Abraham following the 1967 discovery of a part of the original set of papyrus documents that Joseph Smith once had received from an 1831 find in Egypt. For 12 years, Nelson made a living by giving anti-Mormon lectures focused on the Book of Abraham. He claimed to be a professor with a Ph.D. in Egyptology whose credentials included being employed the last king of Egypt, King Farouk, who allegedly was so happy with Nelson's work that Nelson was awarded "a small collection of Egyptian antiquities."

Incredibly, Nelson's credentials were purely fraudulent. The source of his Ph.D. was a fraudulent "degree mill" called Pacific Northwestern University. I've seen copies of his false degree (apparently purchased) from PNU and the documentation exposing that 'university' as a fraud (see Robert L. Brown and Rosemary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive, vol. 1, Brownsworth Publishing, Mesa, AZ, 1981; see also vols. 2-4; you can see an online sample of the information in their book). Look it up yourself - you won't find it listed among any list of real colleges and universities. Inquiries to true Egyptologists in Egypt (such as Dr. El Zeini, associated with the Cairo Museum) and to the Egyptian government revealed the dishonesty of Nelson's claims to having been employed and recognized as an Egyptologist in Egypt.

During a speech in Mesa, Arizona on Feb. 22, 1980, Nelson said, "I'm either an Egyptologist of I'm fooling a lot of people....write these people that I mentioned and you will find out the truth of the matter." Usually such phony challenges are not acted on but are taken as proof of sincerity. Not so with Robert L. Brown and Rosemary Brown, who did contact Nelson's references and exposed him as a complete fraud in They Lie in Wait to Deceive, vol. 1, Brownsworth Publishing, Mesa, AZ, 1981; see also vols. 2-4). These volumes provide extensive and detailed documentation (copies of newspaper articles, letters, documents, ads promoting Dee Jay's lectures, etc.) of the deception and lies on Nelson's part. Nelson was exposed and put out of business, no longer recognized as an "expert" who could command large fees for his work (anti-Mormonism can be quite a lucrative business). However, his works - and methods - live on. Numerous anti-Mormon books continue to cite Nelson as an authority and use his tainted methods and push his errant findings. Examples include "Doctor" Walter Martin (another case of a self-proclaimed doctor who doesn't have a doctorate), Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Wayne Cowdrey, Howard A. Davis, Harry Ropp, Father William Mitchell, and others. Why? I feel the motive hasn't changed: there are big bucks to be made in the anti-Mormon "ministry," and in such a cause, the ends always seem to justify the means. Certainly there are many LDS critics who are sincere and do not have any monetary motive - but altruism seems absent among the "real pros," the ones making highly priced, sensational productions like "The God Makers" (just $85 for this hot video tape!) or the ones running organizations with multi-million dollar incomes like Walter Martin's CRI group.

Among the many lies of Nelson (still gleefully accepted by some anti-Mormon writers) is his claim that the LDS Church asked him to examine "the original documents" of the Book of Abraham and translate them. First, we don't have the original papyri - only a few fragments (and the papyri from which the Book of Abraham text was derived are apparently not among the fragments, as shown in Part 1 of my Book of Abraham page). Second, the Church placed the papyri on public display upon receiving them and allowed scholars to examine them. Neither Nelson nor anyone else was commissioned to make an official translation. In fact, it turns out that Nelson was quite incapable of translating Egyptian. But all of this doesn't matter to those intent on carrying out the profitable anti-Mormon crusade - nor does it matter that the findings of Nelson, apart from his deceitful methods - are utterly demolished by the simple fact that the existing fragments, only a small part of the original collection, could not possibly be the ones Joseph Smith used for his translation.

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Last Updated: March 15, 1998
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