Questions About the Book of Abraham, Part 2:
Evidences for Plausibility

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on the Book of Abraham, a volume of ancient scripture translated by Joseph Smith. This page deals with possible evidence that the work is not merely a clumsy fraud. Part 1 of the Book of Abraham FAQ deals primarily with questions about the source of the Book of Abraham, including a discussion of the original scrolls and the existing papyrus fragments, as well as the Egyptian papers. This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and is subject to all manner of human error and bias - but I try to be accurate.

New! Part 3, "Ancient Records Offer New Support for the Book of Abraham," looks at some of the vast body of ancient documents that confirm numerous details in the Book of Abraham that are not found in the Bible, and could not have been known to Joseph Smith. Also see "Evidence for the antiquity of Joseph's Book of Abraham" at Another major resource on the Book of Abraham is Kerry Shirts' Book of Abraham articles, featuring detailed refutations of many common arguments, and insightful analysis of evidence for the Book of Abraham. One excellent article, for example, is Kerry Shirts' discussion of a Book of Abraham video from I.R.R.. Also see "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri" (FARMS Review, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008) for details on the 3 Facsimiles.

Another new and helpful resource is "The Jewish Origin of the Book of Abraham" by Jonathan Moyer, a scholarly paper exploring the ancient Jewish roots of the Book of Abraham.

The Book of Abraham can be read online at, facsimiles included.

Index for Part 2:

What are the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Book of Abraham? To the index at the top

I would say the weaknesses of the Book of Abraham involve the Egyptian material and the interpretations offered by Joseph. Some of these are actually impressive strengths, as I discuss below, that suggest something more than fraud and guesswork was going on. However, there are some clear puzzles where it is hard to relate modern understanding of Egyptian elements with Joseph's comments. Interpreting one of the figures in Facs. 3 as "Shulem" is one of those trouble spots (discussed below).

I think the biggest strength of the Book of Abraham is in the text itself. The contents fit very comfortably in an ancient context, and in fact there are numerous details that have parallels in other ancient texts that Joseph Smith did not have. Many of these parallels are discussed in Part 3 of this project.

Concerning strengths and weaknesses, consider these comments from Kevin Barney's 2013 article, "The Book of Abraham":

When we come to the Facsimiles, there are two major issues. The first issue is whether the Facsimiles were correctly restored. And to that question in my view the answer is clearly "No." But I don't understand why anyone would expect anything different. We have the original of Facsimile 1, and we can see that the top was damaged. So, for example, the standing figure on the left originally would have had the jackal head of Anubis; the bald human head has been copied from the figure lying on the bier. We don't have the original of Facsimile 2, but we do possess a contemporary drawing of it, and it is clear from that drawing that there was a lacuna in the text running from the upper right side to the middle, and it is in precisely this location that hieratic text from elsewhere in the collection has been inserted in what is otherwise a hieroglyphic document. In the case of Facsimile 3, we have neither the original nor a contemporary drawing of it, but the head of the figure on the right is so misshapen that clearly there was damage to the papyrus at the time it was in Joseph's possession. To me, none of this is a big deal. Reuben Hedlock, the engraver of the Facsimiles, filled in lacunae in the papyri as best he could in order to present complete pictures for purposes of publication. This wasn't done to deceive anyone, but for stylistic reasons.... We wouldn't try to fill in the holes in a publication of the Facsimiles today, but it's unfair to judge what Hedlock did in his engravings by our modern sensibilities rather than those that prevailed at the time.

The second issue has to do with Joseph's proferred explanations of the Facsimiles, which in general do not match standard egyptological explanations. The traditional approach to this issue has been to focus on those that do match, or are at least arguably in the same ball park. For example, the explanation to Figure 6 in Facsimile 2 says that Figure "represents this earth in its four quarters." The Figure is an image of the four Sons of Horus, who do indeed stand for the four cardinal points. But most of the explanations have a greater distance from standard egyptological understanding than this one.

I have a different perspective on this issue, which I published in my article "The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources" in the book Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant [ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2005)]. In that article I began with a review of the circumstances surrounding the Spalding pamphlet and the Mormon responses to it. I observed that the Mormons of the time had made a number of facile assumptions about this material: that the papyrus underlying the Book of Abraham was an autographic document (meaning Abraham's hand had touched the very papyrus in Joseph's possession), that the vignettes underlying the Facsimiles were drawn by Abraham and were similarly autographic, and therefore that there was no ancient transmission of these documents. The Mormon respondents to Spalding quickly rejected these facile assumptions, but since so few people today have read this material, Latter-day Saints are unaware of this and tend to continue to hold to these assumptions. But the papyri in Joseph's collection do not date to the time of Abraham in the Middle Bronze Age; they date to the Ptolemaic era, or roughly what we think of as Greco-Roman times. So there was no autographic original in the cache, but at the most copies. Now, once we acknowledge that we're talking about copies and not autographic originals, the door is then opened wide to varous processes of ancient textual transmission with which scholars are familiar. These include copying of texts, translation from one language to antoher, copying from one medium to another, and redaction. Further, seeing a textual transmission involved also allows us to understand the text and the Facsimiles as having separate provenances.

So, I wondered, what if Abraham composed his text in, say, Akkadian written on clay tablets, which would make more sense for a Semite in the Middle Bronze Age than brush and ink on papyrus? And what if the vignettes underlying the Facsimiles had a separate provenance than the text itself? If the text came into the care of an Egyptian-Jew in the Greco-Roman era (and I fancifully labeled this hypothetical scribe J-Red, for "Jewish Redactor"), he may have adopted or adapted Egyptian vignettes as illustrations of the Abraham story contained in the text. This may sound fanciful at first, but I then went on to show several examples from that time and place where this is exactly what happened. For instance, in the Testament of Abraham, the vignette accompanying chapter 125 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead is reimagined in Semitic terms. Osiris sitting on the throne of judgment becomes Abel; the Egyptian gods become Semitic angels; the scribe Thoth becomes the biblical Enoch. So I posited as a possibility that, "As the vignette for chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead is to the Testament of Abraham, so are the Facsimiles to the Book of Abraham."

Another example I gave from this same time period was the Demotic Story of Setna, which is adapted into Jewish lore with seven rabbinic splinter stories, and ultimately finds its way into the Gospel of Luke as the story of Lazarus and the rich man. In that Gospel account, Abraham is used as a Jewish substitute for the Egyptian Osiris, just as we see in Facsimiles 1 and 3. So it was common for Jews living in Egypt around the turn of the era to adopt or adapt Egyptian iconography to their own purposes as illustrations of their own stories. Now, in my published paper I did not go this far explicitly, but let me make the point here that if it was acceptable for Jews to adopt or adapt Egyptian iconography to their own purposes, making Abraham a Semitic substitute for Osiris, why would it not be acceptable for Joseph Smith to do the very same thing himself?

Critics of the Book of Abraham like to focus on the exotic Egyptian material; that is the strength of their argument. But what of the English Book of Abraham? That had to come from somewhere, and it's an impressive text. Klaus Baer, Nibley's friend and mentor in Egyptian studies at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, was impressed by the Book of Abraham, and opined that if it had been rendered into standard modern English rather than King James idiom, it would have had every appearance of an ancient book. Much of the detail of the English Book of Abraham, having to do with such matters as the attempt to sacrifice the young Abraham and Abraham's teaching astronomy to the Egyptians, are things that are missing from the canonical, biblical text, but that are indeed preserved in other ancient religious texts. There is a very thick book published by the Maxwell Institute titledTraditions of the Early Life of Abraham that has numerous examples of material similar to what we have in the Book of Abraham.

So yes, there are strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses, though, may be due in part to revision of the text over the centuries including adapting Egyptian drawings for a Hebraic story, and in part due to damage to the text, along with the possibility of error or misunderstanding from Joseph on into our day. In light of the strengths of the Book of Abraham, I think there is not need for Latter-day Saints to abandon the book or their faith. Likewise, in light of its weaknesses, there is no need for those without faith to feel compelled to believe, which is how it needs to be. Faith is required, but there are intellectual rewards and exciting gems for those with a bit of faith willing to see what a true Pearl of Great Price we have in these scriptures.

Is there a link between Abraham and Egyptian writings? To the index at the top

For years the critics have also charged that the idea of stories about Abraham appearing in Egyptian documents was unfounded, and that scenes like Facsimile 1 could not possibly have anything to do with Abraham. There was simply no link in Egyptian writings between Abraham and the Egyptians, they contended.

These criticisms lost some of their force with the discovery of several ancient documents from Egypt, including several from the same time and place as Facsimile 1 (Thebes, about 2000 years ago), which increase the plausibility of Joseph Smith's comments on Facsimile 1. Michael Rhodes [Rhodes, 1992-a] mentions two recently discovered ancient documents (pseudepigrapha) in particular, the Testament of Abraham and the Apocalypse of Abraham. These texts show a relationship between Abraham and the Egyptians, refuting the claim of modern critics that there is no evidence for such a relationship. According to Rhodes,

"In the Testament of Abraham, Abraham is shown a vision of the Last Judgment that is unquestionably related to the judgment scene pictured in the 125th chapter of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, one of the major religious texts of the ancient Egyptians. One of the Joseph Smith Papyri is in fact a drawing of this judgment scene. "

See Testament of Abraham, recension A, 12-13, in [Charlesworth, 1983].

(As discussed in Part 1 of the Book of Abraham FAQ, I feel that there is an interesting relationship between the existing Joseph Smith papyri and the Book of Abraham, but they were not the original source for the translation.)

Rhodes also writes that,

"The Apocalypse of Abraham describes a vision Abraham saw while making a sacrifice to God. In this vision he is shown the plan of the universe, 'what is in the heavens, on the earth, in the sea, and in the abyss.' This is almost an exact translation of the Egyptian words in the left middle portion of Facsimile Number 2 of the book of Abraham (figures 9 and 10). He is shown 'the fullness of the whole world and its circle,' in a picture with two sides. This is a good description of the object depicted in Facsimile Number 2 (called a hypocephalus by Egyptologists). This document even describes the four animal-headed figures labeled number 6 in Facsimile Number 2 [Apocalypse of Abraham, p. 18]. The significance of these two ancient documents is that they are roughly contemporary with the hypocephalus and the other Egyptian documents purchased by Joseph Smith-and they relate the same things about Abraham that Joseph Smith revealed to us in the book of Abraham and in his explanation of the hypocephalus. "

These texts were not discovered until the turn of the century, long after Joseph Smith had been killed.

Other recently found ancient Egyptian texts contain references to Abraham, including an Egyptian lion couch scene like Facsimile Number 1. Several related examples are provided by John Gee [Gee, 1992], and you can see one important example from the Leiden Papyrus I in the online version of the article at and at ). These documents are not necessarily evidence that Abraham was known to the Egyptians of his time and may instead reflect much later Egyptian contact with Jews and Christians, but they do challenge several claims of our vocal critics.

Critics such as Jerald and Sandra Tanner have long argued that the Joseph Smith Papyri and related Egyptian documents (from the Anastasi priestly archive of ancient Thebes) could have no possible connection to a book of Abraham because they are nothing but pagan magical writings from the Greco-Roman period. Now that documents from that source have been found with the name Abraham on them, they argue that such writings can't have anything to do with Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham because they are nothing but pagan magical writings from the Greco-Roman period. But they miss the point: these recent discoveries show that the Egyptian writers of those documents did know something about Abraham. As John Gee notes [Gee, 1995, p. 72]:

That a Greco-Roman period priest wrote the name Abraham directly under a lion-couch scene and noted that they should both be copied together may simply be coincidence - why it is there has never been satisfactorily explained - but the idea of connecting a lion couch scene found in a Greco-Roman period Egyptian papyrus from Thebes with Abraham can no longer be dismissed as absurd, as critics have done for years. Therein is and always has been the significance of the Anastasi priestly archive for the book of Abraham; not that the archive authenticates the book of Abraham - for it does not and no one has claimed that it did - but that it shows that the idea that a Greco-Roman period Egyptian priest might have had a copy of the book of Abraham is not completely out of the question....

What the Anastasi priestly archive shows is that Egyptian priests (in Thebes) freely borrowed from Jewish and Christian sources; thus they must have had some sort of access to them....A minimal historical argument from this is that the existence of a Book of Abraham in Egypt at the time of the Joseph Smith Papyri were produced is well within the scope of reasonable scholarship.

Another review of several scholarly sources linking Abrahamic traditions to Egyptian sources is given by Kerry Shirts in his article, "The Book of the Dead and the Book of Abraham."

2004 Update: A helpful resource on the Book of Abraham is the paper, "The Jewish Origin of the Book of Abraham" by Jonathan Moyer, May 2003. Moyer takes a scholarly approach to examine the relationship of the Book of Abraham to other ancient texts. One of his conclusions is:

If BA were to have been found in other ancient manuscripts and translated by traditional scholarly means, then its contents would be recognized for what they are--accurate, faithful presentations of ancient Jewish traditions of Abraham. BA [the Book of Abraham] fits remarkably well into the milieu of Hellenistic Judaism, as it incorporates Egyptian imagery and cosmological elements while maintaining a traditional Jewish faith. Scholars should gratefully acknowledge the additional information BA provides on the trials of Abraham, as well as ancient views of preexistence and creation. There is nothing implausible in the idea of an ancient Abrahamic text with appropriations from pagan Egyptian texts being found in an Egyptian tomb. Ultimately, BA is not regarded as an ancient work because it was restored through miraculous means, and the world does not believe in "visions or revelations in these days", thus the book is dismissed out of hand.

The paper has over 200 footnotes and represents a great deal of research.

2007 Update: Understanding the Egyptian Facsimiles Through a Semitic Lens
See Kevin Barney's chapter, "The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources" [Barney, 2005, also note the PDF of the entire book with his article is online], where Barney considers precedents for Egyptian stories that have been assimilated in Jewish literature, with the Egyptian elements having been modified when viewed through a Semitic lens. He suggests that this approach helps explain some aspects of the Book of Abraham facsimiles. When the Semitic lens is applied to the Egyptian representations, Joseph Smith's comments make much more sense. Here are some brief excerpts:

Specifically, we will suggest that the facsimiles may not have been drawn by Abraham's hand but may have been Egyptian religious vignettes that were adopted or adapted by an Egyptian-Jewish redactor as illustrations of the Book of Abraham. We will illustrate general processes of Jewish adaptation of Egyptian sources and then describe in detail three specific examples from the Greco-Roman period (the same period when the Joseph Smith Papyri were produced) that each relates in some way to Abraham. We will suggest that such Jewish adaptation of Egyptian sources was common during this time period and would explain the adaptation of the facsimiles to illustrate the Book of Abraham, which may have come under this redactor's care as part of the ancient transmission of the text.

Having articulated this Semitic adaptation theory, we will examine Stephen Thompson's critique of Joseph's interpretations of the facsimiles, showing how this theory resolves the issues raised by Thompson.

I appreciate Barney's thoughts here. Understanding the possibility of Semitic adoption of Egyptian concepts adds new depth to our understanding of Joseph's translation of the Book of Abraham text and facsimiles, and helps us understand why the rejection of Joseph's work based on literal analysis of the Egyptian elements alone is inadequate.

Is there evidence of ancient origins that we can discern in the language of the Book of Abraham? To the index at the top

While translated into English, there are hints of ancient roots such as the presence of chiasmus and an Egyptian word play in what may have been part of Abraham's discourse to Pharaoh's court. For chiasmus, an ancient poetical structure characteristic of ancient Semitic writings, see Julie M. Smith, "A Note on Chiasmus in Abraham 3:22-23," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 8 (2014): 187-190. There is another example from Abraham 1:1-3 in Jeff Lindsay, "A Precious Resource with Some Gaps," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 33 (2019): 13-104. But these are fairly small structures and not the highly developed ones we see in the Book of Mormon. One might object that Abraham was probably not a Hebrew speaker and that chiasmus may developed after Abraham's day. But the text of the Book of Abraham may have been revised and rewritten much later (the scrolls themselves data to around 100 B.C.) by those familiar with Hebrew lore or influenced by the widespread use of chiasmus in the Near East.

Is there a link between Abraham and Egyptian writings? To the index at the top

Was there Egyptian influence in ancient Mesopotamia? To the index at the top

Critics of the Book of Abraham have frequently charged that the content of the book is implausible, apart from other concerns about translation or origin of the text. They base this argument on the "preposterous" report in the Book of Abraham that Abraham was almost sacrificed by a priest of Pharaoh in Mesopotamia. As reported in FARMS Insights, Oct. 1996, [FARMS, Oct. 1996], this line of reasoning was used as early as 1912 when John Peters argued that the book was false because "Chaldeans and Egyptians are hopelessly mixed together, although as dissimilar in language, religion, and locality as are American and Chinese" [Peters, 1912]. The interaction between ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was essentially unknown to scholars until many decades after Joseph Smith's day. Understanding of that interaction became more clear in 1971, when an Egyptologist, Georges Posener, published a study showing that Egyptian influence in Syria and Palestine had been significant [Posener].

Unfortunately, some modern critics who claim to be proficient in Egyptology continue to allege that there is no basis for Egyptian influence in Mesopotamia (e.g., Thompson, 1995).

Archaeological work at Ebla has provided further evidence of the Egyptian-Mesopotamian interactions revealed in Posener's work. Research by John Gee on this topic was summarized in Insights, Oct. 1996, from which I quote:

The cult of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek flourished during the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 B.C.), as is attested by royal and personal names during the twelfth (1991-1783 B.C.) and thirteenth dynasties (1783-1600? B.C.) [1], temple building [2], and commemorative scarabs [3] .

In the archaeological site of Ebla in Syria, also known as Tell Mardikh, were found several images of Egyptian gods stylistically datable to the Middle Kingdom, and dated by the archaeologists to MB II (1750-1650 B.C.) [4], the time period to which most scholars who believe Abraham existed date him. Among these gods were Osiris, Hathor, Horus, and Sobek. This evidence provides concrete archaeological evidence that Egyptian cults existed in Mesopotamia, Abraham's homeland. Thus the book of Abraham accurately describes an aspect of the ancient world about which Joseph Smith could have known little or nothing.

Footnotes for the above excerpt, as cited in Insights:

1. Jürgen von Beckerath, Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen (1984), 67-73, 159-61, 200-11, 220-2; William Kelly Simpson, Papyrus Reisner I (1963), 89-90; cf. Simpson, Papyrus Reisner II (1965), 59 and Papyrus Reisner IV (1986), 41-2; and William C. Hayes, A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (1955), 23-4.

2. Dieter Arnold, Die Tempel Ägyptens (1992), 97-8, 196.

3. Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale, 56 (1957): 81-95; and 63 (1965): 197-200.

4. Paolo Matthiae, Frances Pinnock, and Gabriella Scandone Matthiae, Ebla (1995), 458-60, 476-7.

(John Gee later corrected the editors of the FARMS Insights newsletter by noting that ancient Ebla was not in the geographical area that we normally call Mesopotamia, being somewhat to the west in Syria. However, ancient Ebla was within the cultural scope of Mesopotamia and has provided many insights into ancient Mesopotamian culture.)

Facsimile 1 in the Book of Abraham shows an Egyptian priest of Pharaoh attempting to slay Abraham on an altar. The figure shows canopic vessels under the altar and beneath the feet of the priest is a crocodile. Joseph Smith's explanation of the crocodile, printed with the facsimile, is that it represents the "idolatrous god of Pharaoh." This may be the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, now known to have been venerated in Mesopotamia during what may have been Abraham's time. See Quinten Barney, "Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhet III," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, 22/2 (2013): 22�27; also see John Gee, "The Crocodile God of Pharaoh in Mesopotamia.". A story in the Book of Abraham and Joseph Smith's interpretation of at least part of Facsimile 1 now has increased plausibility. See also "How could Joseph know all of this?" by Daniel Peterson, which mentions evidence for Sobek as the crocodile god of Pharaoh. Also see my blog post, "Of Crocodiles and Kings."

Further information on ancient Egyptian influence in Mesopotamia comes from Daniel C. Peterson's article, "News from Antiquity," in the January 1994 issue of the Ensign:

The book begins with Abraham "in the land of Ur, of Chaldea." (Abr. 1:20.) It is obvious that this "Chaldea" was a place under strong Egyptian influence. It was there that Abraham's own fathers turned aside from worship of the true God to the service of "the god of Pharaoh, king of Egypt." (Abr. 1:6; facsimile 1, fig. 9.) Apart from a passing reference in Joshua 24:2 [Josh. 24:2], the Bible does not tell of the idolatry of Abraham's ancestors. However, their worship of false gods and Abraham's faithfulness in worshipping the true God, as well as his attempts to convert his family, are common themes of many very old Jewish and Christian stories. [2]

Where was Ur of the Chaldees? Since the nineteenth century, most authorities have identified it with the modern Tell al-Muqayyar, a site in southern Iraq. However, certain elements of the book of Abraham do not seem to fit well in southern Iraq; in particular, Egyptian influences appear to be lacking there during the time of Abraham (traditionally placed around 2000 B.C.). It is thus interesting to note that some recent reevaluations of the question locate Ur in the area known anciently as Aram-Naharaim, or northwestern Mesopotamia (northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey, in terms of modern geography). This was a region under Egyptian influence at the time of Abraham. [3] The book of Abraham mentions a place it calls "the plain of Olishem" (Abr. 1:10), which was apparently part of the land of Chaldea. No such place is mentioned in the Bible, but the name does occur in an inscription of the Akkadian ruler Naram Sin, dating to about 2250 B.C. Remarkably, it refers to a place located precisely in northwestern Syria. [4]

Footnotes for the above excerpt:

2. See, for instance, Jubilees 11:4, 7-8, 16-17; 12: 1-8, 12-14; English translation in James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983-85), 2:78-80; hereafter referred to as OTP. See also Jasher 9:6-19; 11:15-61; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.7.1; Apocalypse of Abraham 1-8 [OTP, 1:689-93]; Qur'an 6:75; 9:114; 19:42-51, 21:52-68, 26:70-83, 37:84-97; Macaseh Abraham Abinu, in Adolf Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, 6 vols. (Jerusalem: Wahrmann, reprint 1967), 1:26-27; Kebra Nagast 13, in E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Cave of Treasures (London: Religious Tract Society, 1927), pp. 145-47; Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1967-68), 1:209-15; 5:215.

3. For some non-LDS views of the question, see Giovanni Pettinato, Ebla: A New Look at History, translated by C. Faith Richardson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), pp. 24, 28-37, 58-60, 89, 129, 139, 155-56, 159, 168, which presents evidence to indicate considerable Egyptian influence in the general area of northern Syria even before the time of Abraham; Cyrus H. Gordon, "Where Is Abraham's Ur?" Biblical Archaeology Review, June 1977, p. 20. For Latter-day Saint discussions, with excellent references, see John A. Tvedtnes and Ross T. Christensen, Ur of the Chaldeans: Increasing Evidence on the Birthplace of Abraham and the Original Homeland of the Hebrews (Provo: Society for Early Historic Archaeology, 1985); Paul Y. Hoskisson, "Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?" in H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God (Provo: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1989), pp. 119-36; Paul Y. Hoskisson, Ensign, July 1991, pp. 62-63; John M. Lundquist, "Was Abraham at Ebla? A Cultural Background of the Book of Abraham (Abraham 1 and 2)," in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985), 2:231.

4. See Lundquist, "Was Abraham at Ebla?" pp. 233-35; Hoskisson, "Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?" p. 136, n. 44; John Gee, "A Tragedy of Errors," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 4 (1992):115, n. 64; I. J. Gelb and B. Kienast, Die altakkadischen Königsinschriften des dritten Jahrtausends v. Chr. (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1990), pp. 255-56.

From the above information, we already have indications of some interesting things that Joseph got right: the crocodile in Facsimile 1 as a god of Pharaoh known in Mesopotamia, the influence of Egyptian religion in ancient Mesopotamia, and Olishem as a place name in northwestern Mesopotamia, consistent with the Book of Abraham. But there are many more impressive correlations to consider.

Did Abraham really write the scrolls "by his own hand"? To the index at the top

One of the more diversionary arguments used against the Book of Abraham is the claim that Abraham could not possibly have been the author of scrolls, since they date to many centuries after Abraham's day, yet the Book of Abraham says that it was written "by his own hand." The key is understanding that this phrase, "by his own hand," is a way of attributing original authorship. It does not mean that the copy Joseph received was made by Abraham - only that Abraham was the original author of the text.

Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts offer further light on this topic [McGregor and Shirts, 1999, p. 203]:

It is obvious from reading the Hebrew Bible that the phrase by his own hand is a Hebrew idiom beyadh, which means "by the authority of," as we can clearly see in the Stuttsgartensian Hebrew text that Kohlenberger translates. He renders Exodus 9:35 as "just as the Lord said through Moses," while the Hebrew has beyadh, that is, "by the hand of."

A similar example occurs in 1 Samuel 28:15. Thus, it is possible that Abraham never even touched the original document that led to the manuscripts Joseph received. They may have been commissioned by him or authorized by him, with that authorization shown by the scribe writing "by his own hand." And that phrase could properly be reproduced in subsequent copies, no matter how far removed in time.

Taking that phrase way too literally gives our critics something to attack. (Wish they would be willing to take a few things in the Bible a little more literally - like God creating us in his image and speaking to Moses face to face.)

Our critics should also note that there is no need to assume that Abraham or his scribe wrote the original text in Egyptian. It may have been in Hebrew originally, and only much later translated into Egyptian, perhaps after being brought into Egypt by one of the various Jewish immigrations into Egypt that occurred anciently.

Further information on this issue is available in The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Anti-Mormon Claim - a paper by Ben McGuire on the Website. I highly recommend reading McGuire's article.

Don't you know that the mummy on the lion couch in Facs. 1 is identified as Osiris, not Abraham? To the index at the top

Critics charge that the figure on the lion couch in Facs. 1 cannot be Abraham, as Joseph Smith's translation indicates, because it has been identified as Osiris. But recent research has shown some blending of identities concerning Osiris, as McGregor and Shirts explain [1999, p. 205]:

Both John Wilson and Klaus Baer, Egyptologists who worked on the papyri, noted that one of the figures in the papyri, a little female, was considered Osiris, even though she could not be, literally speaking.

The one source critics usually ignore in their research is the most interesting in this respect. Roy B. Ward has noted something especially phenomenal.... Ward notes that in Luke 16:19-31, where Lazarus is taken to the bosom of Abraham, "The story is probably, as Gressman proposed, dependent on an Egyptian tale, whose closest descendant is the Demotic tale of Salme. The role of Osiris is in he Egyptian tradition has been replaced in the Lukan story by Abraham." [Roy B. Ward, 1976, p. 177]

Think about that: a New Testament story has Abraham in the role taken by Osiris in a related Egyptian story -an interesting parallel to the Book of Abraham. Having Abraham or others in the role of Osiris is hardly out of place at all in the ancient world, particularly in the context of Egyptian drawings. Ancient mummification rites associated with Osiris aim "at bestowing the fate of Osiris on the dead man" [R.B. Finnestad, 1989]. Other scholars, including Klaus Baer, have noted that the deceased can be identified with Osiris, as McGregor and Shirts show [1999, pp. 205-206]. From the Egyptian perspective, identities were not exclusive. A single figure could represent Osiris and Abraham and other concepts as well. Egyptian hieroglyphics likewise can have hidden meanings and play multiple roles. Simply noting that a glyph or figure has one meaning does not necessarily invalidate interpretations that rely on other meanings.

What about the missing jackal mask on the priest in Facs. 1? Isn't this an error showing Joseph was uninspired? To the index at the top

This figure in related drawings typically does have a jackal mask - but not always. Nibley has pointed out that at least three other Ptolemaic lion-couch scenes similar to Facs. 1 were drawn in which the embalming priest was without the jackal-mask. In one case the mask was deliberately erased. Nibley states, "We do not at present know why the Egyptians preferred here to dispense with the mask, but it is at least conceivable that the artist of Facsimile 1 had his reasons too. It will not do to attribute to the Mormons everything that puzzles us." [Hugh Nibley, 1968, p. 98]. Additional information refuting anti-Mormon arguments on the allegedly missing mask are given by McGregor and Shirts [pp. 209-212]. They observe that a shaved or bald head was a legitimate mark of certain Egyptian priests (something Joseph would not have known if he were fabricating that part of the drawing, as critics often allege). So, if the drawing of Facs. 1 is correct, Joseph would seem to be correct in identifying the bald man as a priest. And if the head really should be that of a jackal, what then? First, it could mean that Reuben Hedlock, the artist who made the woodcut, got something wrong. But the Facsimiles are not said to be sacred or divinely inspired. An error in the drawings poses little to fret about. But if the head should be that of a jackal, then Joseph would still be exactly right in identifying that being with a priest, as he did in his interpretation of the figure. It has long been known that priests wore masks of the gods they were impersonating, According to John Gee [John Gee, 1995, pp. 79-82]:

We have representations of priests wearing masks, one example of an actual mask, literary accounts from non-Egyptians about Egyptians wearing masks, and even a hitherto-unrecognized Egyptian account of when a priest would wear a mask. In the midst of the embalmment ritual, a new section is introduced with the following passage, "Afterwards, Anubis, the stolites priest ... wearing the head of this god, sits down and no lector-priest shall approach him to bind the stolites with any work." Thus this text settles any questions about whether masks were actually used. It furthermore identifies the individual wearing the mask as a priest.

MacGregor and Shirts offer the following, among other significant pieces of evidence [McGregor and Shirts, 1999, pp. 211-212]:

In a scene from Kerasher's mummy, the description by Faulkner reads: "The mummy is held upright by a priest wearing a jackal's head while water is poured over it." Note that the priest pouring the water is bald. [Faulkner (ed. Andrews), Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, p. 25]

So, mask or no mask, Joseph's interpretation appears to be correct: it is an Egyptian priest standing over the person on the lion couch. The arguments of Ashment and others about the allegedly missing mask are of no significance.

In Facs. 3, what about Joseph's blunder of mistaking Osiris for Abraham and - incredibly - women for men?? To the index at the top

Let's consider both charges. First, critics charge that Joseph's interpretation of Facsimile 3 is wrong because the enthroned figure is Osiris, not Abraham. As we have already seen in the discussion of Facs. 1, humans can represent Osiris. Indeed, McGregor and Shirts point out that Joseph has actually scored a surprising bulls eye here [McGregor and Shirts, pp. 213-214]:

Notice that Joseph Smith says figure 1 is "Abraham .... with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven." Now interestingly, in Facsimile 3 we have Osiris enthroned as Osiris Khenty-Amentiu. This name means, and I quote, "First (or President) of the Westerners" [Oman Sety and Hanny El Zeini, Abydos: Holy City of Ancient Egypt, Los Angeles: LL, 1981, p. 7]. Osiris, as Lord of the Dead, is called Khenty-Amentiu. Khenty means "Before, earlier," as the Egyptologist Alan Gardiner noted [Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd. ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982, pp. 130, 133, 156, 529, 585, 613], or preceding, that is, the president, as Hugh Nibley has noted. Joseph Smith is right on the money here.

Second, anti-Mormons also mock Joseph for identifying in Facs. 3 the obviously female figures 2 and 4 as males. Critics such as James R. Smith ask how Joseph possibly could have missed it - suggesting that such terribly blunders show how uninspired Joseph was. McGregor and Shirts provide several pages of information and documentation showing what is very well known about ancient Egypt [McGregor and Shirts, p. 214 - also see pp. 213-217], concluding with this:

The ancient Egyptians dressed in costume during their rituals, coronations, and funerals and took on the roles of the deities whose robes they wore, whether male or female. It is that simple. And there is rather an abundant amount of evidence to demonstrate this these days.

An excellent source on the very Egyptian nature of Joseph's interpretation of Facsimile 3 is found in Hugh Nibley's old but valuable work, Abraham in Egypt. See especially Chapter 13, "All the Court's a Stage: Facsimile 3, a Royal Mumming." With abundant documentation, Nibley illustrates that Egyptians indeed mixed gender roles and linked humans and gods in ritual scenes like that of Facsimile 3. Joseph's interpretation is patently absurd based on our standards and what any school child could see in Joseph's day or ours: those identified as a prince and a king by Joseph are clearly women. And the person on the throne should be the king, not Abraham, and an obviously important central figure should be someone important, not just a household waiter. But as absurd as Joseph's explanation sounds to us, it makes a great deal of sense in light of what we now know about the ancient Egyptians. Here is a brief excerpt from Nibley (but read his whole chapter):

Facsimile 3, Figures 2 and 4: Questions of Gender

Anyone wishing to demolish Joseph Smith's interpretation of Facsimile 3 with the greatest economy of effort need look no further than his designating as "King Pharaoh" and "Prince of Pharaoh" two figures so obviously female that a three-year-old child will not hesitate to identify them as such. Why then have Egyptologists not simply pointed to this ultimate absurdity and dismissed the case? Can it be that there is something peculiarly Egyptian about this strange waywardness that represents human beings as gods and men as women? We have already hinted at such a possibility in the case of Imhotep in which, to carry things further, we see both his wife and mother dressed up as goddesses, the latter as Hathor herself (fig. 70).128 Even more surprising, Dietrich Wildung notes an instance in which "we can identify Anat [the Canaanites' version of Hathor] as ʾAnat of Ramses [the king] himself in the shape of a goddess" (fig. 71).129 There you have it—the Lady Hathor, who is figure 2 in Facsimile 3, may be none other than Pharaoh himself. The two ladies in the Facsimile, figures 2 and 4, will be readily identified by any novice as the goddesses Hathor and Maat. They seem indispensable to scenes having to do with the transmission of power and authority. The spectacle of men, kings, and princes at that, dressed as women, calls for a brief notice on the fundamental issue peculiar to the Egyptians and the Book of Abraham, namely, the tension between the claims of patriarchal vs. matriarchal succession.

In the Book of Abraham, as in many ancient versions of the Abraham story, the hero in his youth challenges a king's assertion of divine authority (Abraham 1:5-6), claiming to have the true authority himself (Abraham 1:2-3). The king takes up the challenge and tries to make a ritual offering of Abraham as the well-known substitute king (Abraham 1:18 and Facsimile 1). Abraham's miraculous delivery converts the king, who petitions Abraham for his priesthood and offers his own honors in exchange—such is the burden of many legends and of Facsimile 3; he also covets Abraham's wife in hopes of establishing a priestly line in the true succession.130 Why was Pharaoh, "a righteous man, . . . blessed . . . with the blessings of wisdom" (Abraham 1: 26), denied that priesthood which he "would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham" (Abraham 1:27)? Certainly not because of Ham, "a just man [who] walked with God" (Moses 8:27), but rather because he claimed it through the wrong line, "that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood" (Abraham 1:27). What was wrong with it? Simply this: It was not the patriarchal but the matriarchal line he was following. Even while "seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations [what the Egyptians called the pawt], in the days of the first patriarchal reign" (Abraham 1:26), he nonetheless traced his descent and his throne to "a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, the daughter of Egyptus" (Abraham 1:23); this woman "discovered the land" and "settled her sons in it" (Abraham 1:24). Her eldest son became the first pharaoh, ruling "after the manner" of the patriarchal order (Abraham 1:25), which the king sought earnestly to "imitate." Thus the government of Egypt was carried on under the fiction of being patriarchal while the actual line was matriarchal, the queen being "the wife of the God and bearer of the royal lineage."131 But however noble it may be, a matriarchal line cannot claim patriarchal authority, even though all the parties concerned are sympathetically portrayed. In all of which there is no mention of race, though enemies of the church have declared with shock and outrage that these passages are proof of Mormon discrimination against blacks.

The tension between patriarchal and matriarchal authority (to be discussed below) meets us at every step in the royal inscriptions as one of the dominant notes in Egyptian civilization. The old matriarchal tradition is clearly announced in Facsimile 3 by the presence of Hathor (figure 2) in her usual position immediately behind the throne. She is Ht-hr, the "house" (womb) from which Horus, the legitimate heir to the throne, must emerge; she is "both the King's mother, his wife [as such called his sister] . . . par excellence the goddess of the Kingship."132 Her horned headdress with the sun's disk—the new king appearing between the horns of the mother cow—appears all the way from prehistoric glyphs on canyon walls down to paintings on the walls of Christian Coptic monasteries.133 The same crown may be worn by any goddess functioning in her capacity, for as the old Mediterranean Mother-goddess, to whom kings were merely consorts, she has countless ways of appearing. "It was quite impossible," wrote E. A. Wallis Budge, "for any worshipper of Hathor, however devout, to enumerate all the forms of the goddess which existed."134 She is the heavenly cow, the mother of the sun-god himself, and also his daughter; she is Nut the Sky-goddess and also the daughter of Nut.135 She has things both ways: She is the ruler and the ruled, with alternating assertions of patriarchal and matriarchal priority. Acting in her capacity of Queen Mother as the oldest daughter of Geb, she is the regent with full right to the title of Rpʿt.136 Indeed, it is her throne upon which the king sits by her favor as Lady of the Mysteries;137 no one enters the pharaoh's presence without her approval; it is she "according to whose plans the royal office is passed on," and "he is chosen whom her heart desireth to sit upon the throne!"138

In her special capacity as the one closest and dearest to the king, Hathor is identified with Isis, who is "the divine mother and princess, . . . the female Sun."139 Like Hathor, Isis commands the throne, for in the words of Siegfried Morenz, "She is the embodiment of the Throne, . . . is the Egyptian Kingship itself, which is embodied in the living King Horus, at whose death it enters into Osiris."140 With the idea of the Great Lady actually "embodying" the king, the incongruity of figure 2 as "King Pharaoh" begins to dissolve. "The throne 'makes' the king," wrote Frankfort; "the term occurs in Egyptian texts—and so the throne, Isis, is the 'mother' of the king. This expression might be viewed as a metaphor, but the evidence shows that it was not."141 To the king she says: "I reward thee with my throne as king of all the lands. . . . I give to thee the office of Atum on the throne of Shu."142 True, the son must succeed his father, but who knows who his father really is? It is the mother alone who holds the sure keys to that all-important legitimacy on which patriarchal succession depends; it is Isis "the Lady of Life" who represents and guarantees the continuity of the line;143 only when Mother Hathor greets the new king as Horus at the coronation is "the king acknowledged as legitimate and is free to receive the crown."144 As the king rows his mother in a boat at the feast of Opet (cf. Abraham 1:24), she reminds him that she is his mother, and that all the power and authority he possesses come from her.145 If only because it is the mother who has the last word in matters of legitimacy, divine authority is transferred by women rather than men in Egypt.

Nibley continues to explore the blending or switching of male and female roles in Egyptian lore, and sums up:

To summarize, during family night at the palace we behold the family renewing coronation rites in private, with the queen functioning as the high priest, "anointing the king, putting the flower wreath around his neck and shaking the sistrum before him," the sistrum being the exclusive scepter of Hathor.183 At the same time Wr.t-?k?w is on hand, "specifically the goddess of the coronation . . . holding in her hand the symbol of life . . . while she conducts the king to Hathor who makes the nyny gesture,"184 a good description of our Facsimile 3--what Joseph Smith's critics mistakenly took for a star in Hathor's hand is an ankh-symbol of life. Our figure 4 is, of course, Wr.t-?k?w, or can be, for there are other such scenes in which Wr.t-?k?w appears "playing the role usually assigned to Maat."185

Joseph's description of the figures reveals a genuinely Egyptian touch. In fact, if he were a fraud, he certainly would have no motivation to make such an obvious blunder, identifying a clearly female character as a male, just like he would clearly have stated, with respect to Alma 7:10 in the Book of Mormon, that Christ was born in Bethlehem, and not in the land of Jerusalem. Both "blunders" evoke guffaws from the critics - yet, being surprising "bulls eyes" from the ancient world, they actually serve as strong evidence that Joseph was not making things up.

In fact, the related evidence for ritual role playing in the ancient world (including females playing the role of men and vice versa) is so well known and has been published for so long in both LDS and non-LDS sources that the real question, according to McGregor and Shirts [1999,p. 217], is not how Joseph missed a seeming incongruity, but how contemporary critics, wearing the mask of erudition, have missed all this. Of course, there are tough questions about Facs. 3 that are still unanswered, but we should at least recognize that something interesting is going on in what Joseph offered the world.

By the way, some very inaccurate statements have been made by some critics about what Facsimile 3 is. John Gee reminds us of what it is not: it is not a common scene from the Book of the Dead.

What about Shulem? Didn't Joseph blunder by identifying the great god Osiris in Facsimile 3 with a common butler named Shulem? And doesn't Joseph error in saying Shulem is written in characters above the alleged butler?To the index at the top

Related resources:

This is an excellent question. In spite of abundant new evidences for the Book of Abraham having origins other than Joseph just making up stuff, there are some tough questions and apparent weak spots. The issue of Shulem may be the weakest and most problematic, and if you're looking for a quick reason (prematurely quick) to reject Joseph Smith, this is one of the best. Yes, there is a problem here and I don't have a good answer when it comes to the name Shulem. Of this figure, Figure 5 on Facsimile 3, Joseph identifies it as "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand." But the characters do not refer to Shulem but to "The Osiris Hor, justified forever."

First, consider the name Shulem. Others have already noted that it can have a meaning related to the divine ascension theme that is related to the Book of Abraham and the Egyptian scene depitcted in Facs. 3 (see Val Sederholm, "Shulem or Ladder, One of the King's Principal Waiters"). Ryan Larsen offers an interesting observation and hypothesis in a preliminary post on Facebook, "My Perspective On Book Of Abraham Arguments". He relates Shulem to the Hebrew word shulam, related to the Hebrew word for peace and completeness, shalom. Shulam can have the meaning of "fully paid for," corresponding to "justified" in Joseph Smith's commentary. He also observes Joseph's original comment referred to "kings" without an apostrophe, and he feels that was intentional. Then, observing that Hor, the priest, would have a role as a servant to Egyptian gods, including preparing ritual meals and other duties, it would be fair to call that priest a "waiter" to the gods = "kings." Thus, the justified man serving the gods/kings could be related to Shulem, a principal waiter of the kings. In other words, Joseph Smith's comment may actually have been inspired and worded in a way that would be accurate for those willing to exercise a little faith, but not such an impossibly amazing direct hit that it would remove any need for faith. That's actually how much of the Book of Abraham is: impressive, if faith is present, and easy to reject otherwise. I'll say more about Ryan Larsen's views in the future. I think they have merit.

Stepping back for a moment, I need to point out that the interpretation of the Facsimiles, if there is anything to the Book of Abraham, requires considering high-level symbolism rather than the basic, literal translation. For example, the women in Facsimile 3 are obviously women at the literal level, but may represent male authorities at a higher level, or the lotus on Facsimile 3 is obviously NOT a human being at the literal level, but can plausibly be associated with Joseph's interpreation of Abraham in Egypt, as Nibley shows in "Chapter 13 of his classic work, Abraham in Egypt." That source also provides this enlightening section on Shulem:

Why Shulem?

But where does Abraham come in? What gives a "family-night" aspect to our Facsimile 3 is figure 5, who commands the center of the stage. Instead of his being Abraham or Pharaoh, as we might expect, he is simply "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters." To the eye of common sense, all of Joseph Smith's interpretations are enigmatic; to illustrate his story best, the man on the throne should be Pharaoh, of course, and the man standing before him with upraised hand would obviously be Abraham teaching him about the stars, while figure 6 would necessarily be Abraham's servant (Eliezer was, according to tradition, a black man).252 But if we consult the Egyptian parallels to this scene instead of our own wit and experience, we learn that the person normally standing in the position of 5 is the owner of the stele and is almost always some important servant in the palace, boasting in the biographical inscription of his glorious proximity to the king. Hall's collection of biographical stelae includes a Chief of Bowmen, Singer of Amon, Chief Builder, Scribe of the Temple, Chief Workman of Amon, Fan Bearer, King's Messenger, Guardian of the Treasury, Director of Works, King's Chief Charioteer, Standard Bearer, Pharaoh's Chief Boatman, Intendant of Pharaoh's Boat-crew, Warden of the Harim, the Queen's Chief Cook, Chief of Palace Security, etc.253 All these men, by no means of royal blood, but familiars of the palace, have the honor of serving the king in intimate family situations and are seen coming before him to pay their respects at family gatherings. Some of them, like the King's Chief Charioteer, have good Syrian and Canaanite names, like our "Shulem"—how naturally he fits into the picture as "one of the King's principal waiters!" The fact that high serving posts that brought one into close personal contact with Pharaoh—the greatest blessing that life had to offer to an Egyptian—were held by men of alien (Canaanite) blood shows that the doors of opportunity at the court were open even to foreigners like Abraham and his descendants.

But why "Shulem"? He plays no part in the story. His name never appears elsewhere; he simply pops up and then disappears. And yet he is the center of attention in Facsimile 3! That is just the point: These palace servants would in their biographical stelae glorify the moment of their greatest splendor for the edification of their posterity forever after. This would be one sure means of guaranteeing a preservation of Abraham's story in Egypt. We are told in the book of Jubilees that Joseph in Egypt remembered how his father Jacob used to read the words of Abraham to the family circle.254 We also know that the Egyptians in their histories made fullest use of all sources available—especially the material on the autobiographical stelae served to enlighten and instruct posterity.255 Facsimile 3 may well be a copy on papyrus of the funeral stele of one Shulem who memorialized an occasion when he was introduced to an illustrious fellow Canaanite in the palace. A "principal waiter" (wdpw) could be a very high official indeed, something like an Intendant of the Palace. Shulem is the useful transmitter and timely witness who confirms for us the story of Abraham at court.

Taking Facsimile 3 and one of those family-night coronation games in the palace in which the various parts of the play were freely exchanged among the household, we are reminded that all the world was summoned to coronation ceremonies to give the new king their recognition and submission,256 true to which rule each of the five figures in our Facsimile 3 represents a different social stratum, from divinity to slave, though (and this is important) all belong to the same universe of discourse—it is all the same family. In all of Pharaoh's doing, "the subordinates, to the degree to which they approach the king, are participants in his condition, receiving thereby a parcel of divinity."257 There is no limit to individual glory, for by virtue of "participating in the king" an individual, "since the King is Re, . . . participates on the next level with Re himself. He is by participation, Re himself."258 "For every participant, taking part in sacred rites" entails "a certain sanctification of the individual." All the world got into the act, for when small-scale dramatizations of the coronation were celebrated at local festivals in the provinces, the local "great ones" of the land were summoned to do honor, like the four local idols in Facsimile 1, while all the common people joined in the feast.259

At the most exalted level, it was "through the 'democratization' of the king's initiation plainly made possible through the 'democratization' of the priesthood, that the individual initiate ... was included in the kingly ideology and becomes even as the king answerable to Maat."260 After all, that is Maat (figure 4) who holds the center-stage position in the little drama of Facsimile 3, and there is no reason why the principle should not apply in this case, though, of course, nothing is proven one way or the other, save that the story that Joseph Smith tells is by no means that "impossible event" that his critics have declared it to be....

So identifying Osiris with a high-ranking butler is plausible in Egyptian lore. But why did Joseph say Shulem's name is on the Facsimile, when it isn't? I don't know. Perhaps it's a mistake. Perhaps something has been switched or lost that would clarify things. Perhaps Joseph was just dozing here, while still getting inspiration on many aspects of the story.

Could there be some aspect of correctness in what Joseph said about Shulem? Joseph's comment regarding Figure 5 is "Shulem, one of the king's principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand." What does "represented" mean? Is a symbolic representation of the waiter sufficient, or does it need to literally spell out Shulem? I don't know. I lean toward the possibility that Joseph understood the scene that was meant to be conveyed by the editors of the Book of Abraham with their adaptation of an Egyptian drawing, but that Joseph made a mistake in assuming that Shulem's name was written on the facsimile by his hand. However, if subsequent information reveals that there was another drawing that Joseph's comments better fit, or that Shulem's name is somehow represented in other ways on that drawing or on the orignal drawing that went with the Book of Abraham, then I'll be OK. For now, in light of abundant evidences that Joseph understood some broad and counterintuitive Egyptian concepts associated with the facsimilies, I'm not going to dump the Book of Abraham or Joseph Smith because of an apparent minor error. But if you're looking for a reason to abandon both, this is as good as any--and yet I think you'd be making a mistake far more serious than Joseph's.

When Joseph identified a black figure in Facs. 3 as Olimlah, a slave, doesn't that blunder show the Book of Abraham comes right out of nineteenth century America and not ancient Egypt? To the index at the top

One critic on my Mormanity blog alleged that Joseph "massively misidentified" a figure in Facs. 3 as "Olimlah, a slave," which he said shows that this "was 19th-century America talking, not ancient Egypt." My response:

Those reading your comment might mistake your point and think you are suggesting that Joseph's view on how Facsimile 3 was being applied the documents before him was wildly anachronistic, as if you meant that slavery was not known in ancient Egypt, especially the enslavement of Africans, and that a scene with a black slave must necessarily be out of Joseph's day and not the ancient world.

Just to avoid misunderstanding, slavery was known in ancient Egypt (Wikipedia). The Egyptians did make servants/slaves out of their subjects and yes, black Nubians were among the subjects of the Egyptians (per the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago) and thus, if course, Egyptian slavery was a problem for those from Sudan.

Some might also think that you mean that Joseph reflexively assumed that a drawing in dark color must necessarily be a slave rather than a divine being or representative of such a being, but in response we must note that in Facsimile #1 the black-toned Anubis or priest of Anubis (whose head may have been poorly restored) is not a slave but much more properly a priest.

Some may also mistakenly assume that you meant that ancient Egyptian drawings with people drawn in a darker color could not reflect racial characteristics (like, say drawings of African subjects or of Nubian slaves), and that any such labeling would be "massively misidentified," although we must admit that African slaves in Egypt might not have been as common as slaves of other races.

Other might think that your criticism is with the name Olimlah, as if it were an impossible and ridiculous name for an Egyptian figure, servant or not, of high enough status to be in a royal court. They would not recognize, of course, that Olimlah is a pretty good Egyptian name for which one plausible meaning is "Great is Amun-Ra."

This issue may be in the same category as the crazy name "Onitah" in Abraham 1:11, discussing three sacrificed daughters of Onitah, when Onitah turns out to be a reasonable name related to the goddess Neith as explained by Val Sederholm: "perhaps from '3 Nit, 'Great is Neith.'" Sederholm reminds us that Abraham 1:11 states that Onitah was "one of the royal descent" who was "known for his three daughters, who are, by default, daughters of Neith, as is every princess of Egypt (Abraham 1:11). Onitah also calls to mind First Dynasty ruler, Anedj-ib; '(n)Dj, the Sound of heart; Sound or Hale is also an attested Middle Kingdom name." It is not yet in the same category, though, as another "O" name given us in the Book of Abraham, Olishem, which goes the extra mile by providing us not only with plausible meaning but also with apparent archaeological finds not only establishing Olishem as a place name in the right place for the Book of Abraham account.

Some might also think that your point is that scenes such as this can only have one meaning, so what is Anubis or someone else in one application cannot plausibly be used by later priests in Egypt to describe other scenes -- contrary to what Nibley has argued for with evidence regarding Facs. 3. In fact, anyone can see that what is clearly a woman is here described as man, yet this shifting of roles is something that has precedent in who some Egyptians did things.

But I think you probably mostly meant that the Egyptian text on Facs. 3 doesn't fit the story and names Joseph gives, which certainly raises a serious question. But there are possibilities to consider, such as the possibility that an existing figure has been adapted and repurposed or simply referred to by ancient copyists of an Abraham text to describe a scene in a new story, or that the original one was lost and a similar one has been attached in another document. But of course, one can also argue that it just means Joseph got it wrong and was a fraud. But there are enough curious things going right in the Book of Abraham account -- the idol worshipping father, the attempted sacrifice of Abraham, the crocodile god of pharaoh (Soebek), the place Olishem, the figure on the altar making the Egyptian symbol of prayer, the recognition of a link between the four sons of Horus and the "four quarters of the earth," the link between the solar barque and 1000 cubits, the significance of the wedjet eye, and much more -- that we have to be more open to the possibility that some other than ignorant fraud is going on here, and if so, what and why?

Why didn't Joseph correctly identify the names Isis and Maat for figures 2 and 4 in Facsimile 3? Doesn't that rule him out as a prophet? To the index at the top

Another apparent horrific blunder in Facsimile 3 involves Figures 2 and 4, which Joseph identifies as Pharaoh and the prince, respectively, but which are obviously female. In fact, the characters above those figures state that they are Isis and Maat, two female deities, but Joseph said that Figure 2 (Isis) is "King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head" and that Figure 4 (Maat) is "Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand." As the critics say, here we have a simple test of his ability to read Egyptian, and it would have been easy here for God to simply prove to the world that his prophet could read Egyptian by inspiring him to write something like "The goddess Isis" and "The goddess Maat" for these figures. Instead, we have a "translation" that not only misreads the literal text, but also totally misses the obvious gender of the drawings. Any ordinary farmboy could at least have gotten the gender right, but not Joseph. End of story?

If you're looking for a reason to reject Joseph and the Book of Abraham, this is the perfect place to start. Yes, he failed to render the names Isis and Maat. The actual text above the figures says "Isis the great, the god's mother" and "Maat, mistress of the gods." He got the genders wrong. But is that the end of the story? No--see the discussion above about females sometimes representing males. But even if we accept that, Joseph renders the names incorrectly. How do we deal with that? First, if one has already determined through the Book of Mormon or other means that Joseph was a prophet of God and that the Restoration is real and divine, then what are we to make of an apparent blunder in the Book of Abraham? Latter-day Saints recognize the possibility of human error whenever mortals are involved, and understand that Joseph and other prophets make mistakes. Is that the case here? Perhaps. But there may be something more interesting. Perhaps Joseph's exercise was not about the literal representation of these figures, otherwise he surely would have said something about women rather than men. Perhaps he is seeking to understand what Facsimile 3 symbolized rather than its literal meaning.

Again, it is OBVIOUS that they are women, so what was Joseph thinking? If we step back for a moment and recognize that he wasn't blind, and open ourselves to the possibility of Joseph looking at levels of meaning beyond immediate, literal representation, then we can at least explore the possibility that in some way these female figures are serving as figurative representations of something else. Is it even remotely possible that Isis could represent Pharaoh and Maat a prince?

Isis and Pharaoh: Any Connections?

Could Isis be linked to Pharaoh? Wikipedia's article on Isis provides our first clue:

The name Isis means "Throne". Her headdress is a throne. As the personification of the throne, she was an important representation of the pharaoh's power. The pharaoh was depicted as her child, who sat on the throne she provided.

Suddenly, the guffawing of critics seems a little less embarrassing for Joseph. The word "Isis" written above Figure 2's head can, without delicate mental gymnastics, be rather directly linked to Pharaoh--rather precisely as stated by Joseph. Again, not literally--obviously not literally, because she is female, of course--but in a rather direct and simple metaphorical link. Isis = throne = symbol of Pharaoh. Not too tricky. In the Turin Papyrus, Isis learns the secret name of Ra and gains power over him (see R.A. Ritner, "The Legend of Isis and the Name of Re: P. Turin 1993.") This is a powerful goddess well suited to personify the Pharaoh and his power. offers this commentary on Isis:

Isis was a member of the Helioploitan Ennead, as the daughter of Geb (Earth) and Nut (Sky) and the sister and wife of Osiris and the sister of Set, Nephthys and (sometimes) Horus the Elder. However, because of her association with the throne Isis was sometimes considered to be the wife of Horus the Elder -- the patron of the living Pharaoh. Ra and Horus were closely associated during early Egyptian history, while Isis was closely associated with Hathor (who was described as the mother or the wife of Horus or Ra) and so Isis could also be considered to be the wife of Ra or Horus.

However, when Ra and Atum (the Ennead of Helipolis) merged, Isis became both the daughter of Atum(-Ra) and the wife of (Atum-)Ra. This situation was clarified by crediting Isis as the granddaughter of Ra-Atum, the mother of Horus (the child) and the wife of Osiris.

Here is more about Isis and her complex roles, also from Wikipedia:

During the Old Kingdom period, Isis was represented as the wife or assistant to the deceased pharaoh. Thus she had a funerary association, her name appearing over eighty times in the pharaoh's funeral texts (the Pyramid Texts). This association with the pharaoh's wife is consistent with the role of Isis as the spouse of Horus, the god associated with the pharaoh as his protector, and then later as the deification of the pharaoh himself.

But in addition, Isis was also represented as the mother of the "four sons of Horus", the four deities who protected the canopic jars containing the pharaoh's internal organs. More specifically, Isis was viewed as the protector of the liver-jar-deity, Imsety. By the Middle Kingdom period, as the funeral texts began to be used by members of Egyptian society other than the royal family, the role of Isis as protector also grew, to include the protection of nobles and even commoners.

By the New Kingdom period, in many places, Isis was more prominent than her spouse. She was seen as the mother of the pharaoh, and was often depicted breastfeeding the pharaoh. It is theorized that this displacement happened through the merging of cults from the various cult centers as Egyptian religion became more standardized. When the cult of Ra rose to prominence, with its cult center at Heliopolis, Ra was identified with the similar deity, Horus. But Hathor had been paired with Ra in some regions, as the mother of the god. Since Isis was paired with Horus, and Horus was identified with Ra, Isis began to be merged with Hathor as Isis-Hathor. By merging with Hathor, Isis became the mother of Horus, as well as his wife. Eventually the mother role displaced the role of spouse. Thus, the role of spouse to Isis was open and in the Heliopolis pantheon, Isis became the wife of Osiris and the mother of Horus/Ra. This reconciliation of themes led to the evolution of the myth of Isis and Osiris.

Her role was complex and shifted over time, but her association with the throne and the Pharaoh, either directly or through her connection to Horus, again points to a plausible symbolic meaning that an Egyptian/Semitic editor could see between the female Isis and Pharaoh. Could it be that Joseph recognized the symbolism here and saw that the deeper meaning of Pharaoh was symbolically given in the characters that mention "She of the Throne," Isis? I think that possibility needs to be considered.

Maat and the Prince of Pharaoh

If a female deity can represent Pharaoh, can another represent a prince? Does Maat have associations that could make sense of Joseph's statement? To me, this is not as clearcut and remains a fair question. Here is what Wikipedia says about Maat:

Maat or ma'at ... was the ancient Egyptian concept of truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. Maat was also personified as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation. Her (ideological) counterpart was Isfet.

The earliest surviving records indicating Maat is the norm for nature and society, in this world and the next, were recorded during the Old Kingdom, the earliest substantial surviving examples being found in the Pyramid Texts of Unas (ca. 2375 BCE and 2345 BCE).

Later, as a goddess in other traditions of the Egyptian pantheon, where most goddesses were paired with a male aspect, her masculine counterpart was Thoth and their attributes are the same. After the rise of Ra they were depicted together in the Solar Barque.

After her role in creation and continuously preventing the universe from returning to chaos, her primary role in Egyptian mythology dealt with the weighing of souls that took place in the underworld, Duat. Her feather was the measure that determined whether the souls (considered to reside in the heart) of the departed would reach the paradise of afterlife successfully. Pharaohs are often depicted with the emblems of Maat to emphasise their role in upholding the laws of the Creator. . . .

The sun-god Ra came from the primaeval mound of creation only after he set his daughter Maat in place of Isfet (chaos). Kings inherited the duty to ensure Maat remained in place and they with Ra are said to "live on Maat", with Akhenaten (r. 1372-1355 BCE) in particular emphasising the concept to a degree that, John D. Ray asserts, the kings contemporaries viewed as intolerance and fanaticism. Some kings incorporated Maat into their names, being referred to as Lords of Maat, or Meri-Maat (Beloved of Maat). When beliefs about Thoth arose in the Egyptian pantheon and started to consume the earlier beliefs at Hermopolis about the Ogdoad, it was said that she was the mother of the Ogdoad and Thoth the father.

Perhaps I'm grasping at straws here, but I find it interesting that Maat is the daughter of the great sun-god Ra and that some kings incorporated Maat into their names. And not just kings: there was also an Egyptian prince, Nefermaat, whose name was based on Maat's.

But what I find more interesting is her role in renewal and preserving cosmic order, a topic that brings us to the issue of coronation of new kings (the former prince). On this issue, Ernst Wurthwein in "Egyptian Wisdom and the Old Testament" in Essential Papers on Israel and the Ancient Near East, ed. Frederick E. Greenspahn (New York: New York University, 1991), p. 134, cites H. Brunner, Handbuch der Oreintalistik I, 2 (1952), pp. 96ff:

As a goddess, Maat belonged to the Heliopolitan religious system, where she appeared as the daughter of the sun-god. She came down to men in the beginning as the proper order of all things. Through the evil assaults of Seth and his comrades, this order was upset, but restored through the victory of Horus. As the embodiment of Horus, each new king renews this right order through his coronation: a new state of Maat, i.e., of peace and righteousness, dawns.

Maat's role in coronation to renew the authority of the kingdom naturally points to the man who will serve as successor to Pharaoh, the prince. It is also interesting that the name of Maat was often used in special coronation names given to new kings at their coronation. One reference on this point is Emily Teeter, "Egypt," in The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Mediterranean Religions, ed. by Barbette Stanley Spaeth (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 24-25:

One of the king's main obligations to the god was to rule the land in accordance with maat, the interconnected concept of cosmic balance and truth that was personified by the goddess Maat. The commitment to maat is illustrated by offering scenes where the king presents a figure of the goddess Maat to the deities as a visible affirmation of his just rule and the acknowledgement that he will uphold the tenets inherent in maat. In the New Kingdom, the king's coronation name was often compounded with Maat, another indication of the association of the king and principle of truth. Some New Kingdom kings are shown presenting a rebus of their name captioned "presenting Maat," suggesting that the king himself was imbued with or personified, Truth.

David Leeming, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), offers this information about Maat (p. 243):

Maat in Egyptian mythology, the goddess Maat (Ua Zit), the wife of Thoth, a god associated with wisdom, and daughter or aspect of the high god Atum, is at once a goddess and an idea, the personification of moral and cosmic order, truth, and justice . . . that was as basic to life as breath itself, which in the Coffin Texts Maat also seems to personify. Pharaohs held small models of Maat to signify their association with her attributes. Maat gives breath itself--life--to the kings, and so is depicted holding the symbol of life, the ankh, to their noses. Maat represents the proper relationship between the cosmic and the earthly, the divine and the human, the earth, the heavens, and the underworld. It is she who personifies the meaningful order of life as opposed to the entropic chaos into which it might easily fall. It some stories it is the sun god Re who displaces Chaos with Maat. . . .

Maat was essentially in all Egyptian gods and goddesses as the principle of divinity itself. The goddess Isis acknowledges the qualities of Maat, as signified by the maat (ostrich feather) she wears behind the crowns of upper and lower Egypt.

Maat might be seen as a principle analogous to the Logos, divine reason and order. As Christians are told "In the beginning was the Word [Logos] already was" (John 1:1). Atum announces that before creation, "when the heavens were asleep, my daughter Maat lived within me and around me."

If Maat is the daughter of the great god and is a parallel to the Christian Logos and the son of God, then could this child could be considered a princess and thus again a symbol of a prince?

Wikipedia, as quoted above, indicates that Maat is paired with Thoth, having the same attributes. Regarding Thoth, Claas Jouco Bleeker in Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion (Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1973), p. 119, writes:

There was a close connection between Thoth and Re. In the previous section we became acquainted with him as son of Re. The sun-god placed so much confidence in the capacities of Thoth that he appointed him his deputy, his vizier. The pertinent text relates how Re sent for Thoth and gave him a place of honour next himself. Thereupon Re spoke: "Thou shalt be writer in the nether-world.... Thous shalt take my place as deputy, thou shalt be called Thoth substitute of Re."

Another text adds that he was even appointed successor to Re. Thoth fulfilled his task so well that he was given the epithet "the one with whose word Atum (the primeval god at Heliopolis who later acquired solar significance) is content."

In his office Thoth performs invaluable services for the sun-god. He is "the perfect secretary." is said that his pen protects Re. Just what this expression implies is made clear in a hymn to Re which runs: "Daily Thoth writes Ma-a-t for thee." [emphasis added]

Thoth, the escort of Maat, may be a symbol of a successor to the throne, again pointing to the role of a prince at a symbolic level.

Regarding Thoth, Maat's husband, Leeming writes (p. 381):

Thoth was the moon god as well as the god of wisdom in Egypt. . . . In Hermopolis he might sometimes have been seen as a creator god. For some, Thoth was the son of Re, Re in this case being the sun, the right eye of Horus, whose moon eye had been ripped out by Seth. His consort was Maat. . . .

Maat, Thoth, son/daughter of the great god, and successor: if Isis can be a symbol for Pharaoh, could these associations allow an Semitic editor to also use Maat as a symbol for a prince? This doesn't answer all the questions or objections to the identities offered by Joseph Smith on Facs. 3, but may suggest that there is "something interesting going on" besides random guessing coupled with gross inability to recognize a female in a drawing.

Didn't Joseph blunder by filling in missing details of Facsimile 1, like the idea that the priest is holding a knife? To the index at the top

The existing remnant of Facsimile 1 is missing part of the papyrus, which is currently filled in by hand drawings. For example, critics allege that Joseph filled in lines to represent a knife that was never there in the original. However, we have accounts from eyewitnesses of the original document who apparently saw the knife before that part of the document fell off. Here is an excerpt of the a discussion on this topic by Kerry Shirts from his discussion of a Book of Abraham video from I.R.R. (the transcript of a presentation he gave in 2002):

First, John Gee in his article "Eyewitness, Hearsay and Physical Evidence" in the Richard Lloyd Anderson Festschrift notes that the journal of William Appleby in 1841, Appleby said, "There are likewise representations of an Altar erected, with a man bound and laid thereon, and a Priest with a knife in his hand[...]" [op. cit. 184] So here are the elements of the published Book of Abraham. There are also descriptions of scenes from the papyri that are not published and the knife is depicted in the hand of Figure 3, Facsimile 1. Now, Henry Caswell, he visited Nauvoo in 1842, and he says one vignette contained the figure of a man lying on a table, accompanied by a man standing by him with a drawn knife. It's interesting, too, that Caswell, who was a non-Mormon -- he was hostile to Joseph Smith -- was looking for any evidence to say anything bad against him, doesn't mention the man without a knife, he mentions the man with a drawn knife. The existence of the knife has been doubted by many because it doesn't conform with what many other Egyptian papyri would lead us to expect, and this is Ritner's approach [in the video], you see.

Yet it has been here described by a non-Mormon eye witness whose description matched the contemporary accounts. Charlotte Haven, in 1843, says this, too. She says that there was a man with a knife also. What is the significance of this knife? There's many eye witnesses in Joseph Smith's day that the knife was on Facsimile No. 1 and now our original document now is damaged to where there is no knife in it. There's a lacuna, that is, there's a gap, and this refutes the Egyptologists' other stance, that the papyri we have today are in pretty much the same shape as they were in Joseph Smith's day. That's not true. Eye witness accounts in Joseph Smith's day mention this priest with a knife, but we don't have that now -- the papyri has been damaged since Joseph Smith's day. And that's a pretty serious, significant gap in the facsimile.

Steve Smoot makes a further point based on observation of the original facsimile from the Joseph Smith papyri (email received Dec. 27,2007, used with permission):

You correctly note that several eye witnesses detailed a knife being held over who Joseph Smith identified as Abraham. One piece of information that you may wish to add is the fact that the current JSP I, which contains the original to Facsimile # 1 [see color photo at], has no clear sketch marks of a knife being held over Abraham. Now this is quite telling. Notice how our critics, i.e. Ashment, Larson, etc. continually assure the Latter-day Saints that Joseph Smith simply "drew in" the missing portions of Facsimile # 1 and that really there should be a second ba-bird and an erect phallus in the lacuna above who Joseph Smith identified as Abraham as well as a the Jackel head, etc. But notice how there is no sketch in JSP I of the knife. If you look at a photograph of JSP I, you will see that there is no knife that has been drawn. In other words, Facsimile 1 correctly reflects what JSP I originally contained. The eye-witnesses detail a knife. Had they been looking at Joseph's supposed "Sketchings" then why did they describe a knife? There is no knife that has been drawn. This can only mean that they were describing Facsimile 1 and thus Joseph Smith has been vindicated, yet again.

Another detail that is questioned is the hands of the person on the altar, raised above the body. The forearms are missing in the existing fragment of the facsimile, but it does have the lines of the fingers of the hands, near the bird. Some critics have suggested that these lines actually are feathers from an outstretched wing from a god standing over the body and do not belong to hands at all. Non-LDS Egyptologist Lanny Bell explains that Joseph was correct in identifying hands and not wings for that part of Facs. 1. See A FairMormon Analysis of: By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, which shows details of the original papyrus and provides clear analysis confirming that we are dealing with two hands, not wings. John Gee also demonstrates that hands are the only reasonable possibility for these lines in "The Facsimiles," a chapter in his excellent book, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri [Gee, 2000, p. 38]. (Note: the online version of Gee's book lacks the images of the printed book, which is much more helpful.) First, Gee notes that wings were not drawn this way at the time the papyrus was made. Second, there is a clear thumb stroke at the bottom of both hands, quite unlike drawings of wings. Both hands are can be superimposed on top of each other, further indicating that they were meant to be hands and were not lines extending from a sloppily drawn wing of some kind.

Photos of the existing Facsimile 1 and of related Egyptian drawings can be seen in Kerry Shirts' excellent article on this issue, "On Thumbs and Wings and Other Things," which explodes a popular attack on the accuracy of Facsimile 1. The Egyptians were very particular about thumbs and wings, and examination of many related drawings confirms that the lines of interest in Facsimile 1 are thumbs, not feathers. (Kerry's analysis and documentation is outstanding, so I give his paper two thumbs up.)

Again, Facsimile 1 is quite different than the common figures it is related to, and this contributes to the confusion of some who want to force it back into a more comfortable form that would be unrelated to anything in the Book of Abraham. But in spite of some presently missing details on the facsimile, eye-witness accounts confirm the existence of a knife, and a careful look at the facsimile confirms that hands are drawn above the body of the person on the altar. There is no reason to believe that Joseph made up incorrect details on the document, but there is reason to believe that the document lost one or more parts after its initial discovery and viewing. (Also see "Book of Abraham Papyri" at

Information on the facsimiles and Joseph's "translation" To the index at the top

There is much about the Book of Abraham and the facsimiles that is unconventional and not readily explained. For details and some intriguing answers, see "Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri" by Dr. John Gee (FARMS Review, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008). There is some evidence that Joseph's explanations should be taken seriously. Those comments are not translations of hieratic writing, but an interpretation of what various figures symbolized.

The comments are written in the third person, not in the first person as is the text of the Book of Abraham. The facsimiles are not said to be authored by Abraham, but have been attached as illustrations relevant to the text. All three facsimiles are said to be "from the Book of Abraham," but Facsimile 2 apparently was not a part of a scroll but was a separate document on its own. Facsimile 1 was taken from part of the Book of Breathings. The source of Facsimile 3 is unknown, though it could have been the Book of Breathings as well.

Since the 1850s, critics have said that Joseph interpreted the facsimiles incorrectly. I will agree that a literal translation of the Egyptian characters does not necessarily provide the commentary or "translation" that Joseph added with the figures, but in many cases his comments show surprising correlations with what some scholars have learned in recent years. We must keep in mind the complex and multifaceted nature of symbols in ancient Egyptian religious writings, which scholars are still struggling to really understand. Let me explain by citing a passage I encountered in a review of several books on Egyptian religion and magic [Bianchi, 1995]:

"[Richard H.Wilkinson, author of Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1994] notes that ancient Egyptian signs and symbols were meant to be interpreted on many levels. He correctly argues that most of the material remains from ancient Egypt were made by and for the elite and would have been lost on commoners.

"How is a modern person to understand the significance of ancient Egyptian visual representations? Wilkinson tries to provide a framework. But what we get, time after time, is an 'either ... or' scenario in which Wilkinson himself vacillates between what may be the 'symbolic significance' of a representation or 'simply the result of artistic convention.' How is the student to decide...?"

This is what Hugh Nibley has been saying for years: the literal translation or common understanding of glyph or symbol may be only one of many levels of meaning, and understanding that in terms of what was truly meant is far from the trivial exercise of looking up words in a dictionary.

In fact, beyond just appealing to unknown "higher levels" of meaning beyond what modern scholars have recognized in the facsimiles, there is exciting evidence that Joseph Smith's commentaries are consistent with reasonable meanings of the symbols on the oft-discussed Facsimile No. 2 and other facsimiles. Let's consider the facsimiles in order and consider Joseph's comments, the correlations to modern knowledge about such figures, and a discussion of critical comments. My work will only scratch the surface. For details, please see [Nibley, 1980] and Nibley's book, Abraham in Egypt. Also see a table summarizing a few aspects of the facsimiles and their interpretation.

Facsimile 1 To the index at the top

Facsimile 1: A priest attempts to slay Abraham on an Egyptian altar as Abraham prays to God for help. Critics say this is an ordinary funerary scene in which a dead person is being mummified. Note the legs: this one is alive and kicking. Or at least praying. Interestingly, Abraham's stance, rotated 90 degrees, is the hieroglyph for prayer.

Facsimile 1 (see it online at depicts a man lying on a lion couch (a table that has a lion's head carved onto it at one end, where the man's head lies). He has a raised leg and raised hands, as if trying to escape. A bird in the air is above his head. Another man stands over the table with a knife. Under the table are four jars decorated with different heads (jackal, hawk, etc.). (These are "canopic" vessels which were used to store organs from the embalmed person; they also symbolized various gods and were commonly associated with the four sons of Horus.) A crocodile is depicted in a patterned area beneath the scene. Joseph Smith said the scene represents Abraham fastened on an altar, where an idolatrous priest of Pharaoh is trying to sacrifice him. The bird is said to represent the angel of the Lord. A lotus symbol is said to represent "Abraham in Egypt." The four canopic vessels are said to represent idolatrous gods. Beneath that is a crocodile, apparently in water, said to represent the idolatrous God of Pharaoh, and lines beneath that are said to be "the pillars of heaven."

Before we get into the issue of whether a sacrifice is depicted or not, we must note that Joseph has made some pretty impressive comments. First of all, there is simply no question that the four vessels beneath the lion couch do indeed represent Egyptian gods. These canopic vessels represent the four sons of Horus. According to E.A. Wallis Budge:

In the pyramid texts we find a group of four gods with whom the deceased in closely connected in the "other world": these are the four "children of Horus" . . . originally they represented the four pillars which supported the sky, or Horus. Each was supposed to be the lord of one of the quarters of the world, and finally became the god of one of the cardinal points. [Budge, 1967, pp. cxxiv-cxxv, emphasis mine]

We later find that these same gods are represented in Facsimile 2 also, where Joseph has correctly identified them as also representing "the four quarters of the earth." Joseph gives particular names for these gods (Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, and Korash), which are plausible names, according to Kerry Shirts' article, "On the Names of the Four Canopic Jars in Facsimile 1." For details on the interesting evidence supporting the plausibility of the name Elkenah, see Kevin Barney, "On Elkenah as Canaanite El," Journal of the Book of Mormon, vol. 19, no. 1 (2010): 22-35. Also see the article "The Four Sons of Horus (Facsimile 2, Figure 6)," Book of Mormon Central, January 17, 2020.

Budge (1967) also indicates that the term "pillars of heaven" is a known Egyptian concept. (Some information about Egyptian pillars is available in an article on the site.)

Further support for Joseph's interpretation of several elements in Facs. 1 comes from Daniel Peterson's article, "News from Antiquity," (archived) from the Jan. 1994 Ensign:

Ancient texts indicate that the idolatrous gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, and Korash, described in the book of Abraham (Abr. 1:6, 13, 17; facsimile 1, figs. 5-8), truly were worshipped in the ancient world, despite the fact that the Bible makes no mention of them. [5] Furthermore, ancient texts suggest that the ensemble of four figures depicted as figure 6 of Facsimile 2 could indeed "represent this earth in its four quarters" in the ancient world, as the explanation to the facsimile in the book of Abraham says. [6] Ancient texts also support the interpretation given in the book of Abraham of figure 11 of facsimile 1 as "designed to represent the pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians." In fact, the phrase "pillars of heaven" occurs in Egyptian literature. [7] The angled lines below the lion couch in facsimile 1 are identified as "the firmament over our heads" (fig. 12), which must seem rather strange to any modern reader. It only makes sense when we realize, in light of recent research, that the lines represent the waves of the water in which the crocodile is swimming, and that one way the ancient Egyptians conceived of heaven was as "a heavenly ocean." [8]

One noteworthy element of the religious situation portrayed in the book of Abraham is the identification of a crocodile as "the idolatrous god of Pharaoh." (Facsimile 1, fig. 9.) Although this may have seemed strange in Joseph Smith's day, discoveries in other ancient texts confirm this representation. Unas or Wenis, for example, was the last king of the fifth dynasty (circa 2356-2323 B.C.), and his pyramid still stands at Saqqara, south of modern Cairo. Utterance 317 of Unas's Pyramid Texts includes the following: "The King Appears as the Crocodile-God Sobk," and "Unas has come today from the overflowing flood; Unas is Sobk, green-plumed, wakeful, alert. . . . Unas arises as Sobk, son of Neith." [9] One scholar observes that "the god Sobk is . . . viewed as a manifestation of Horus, the god most closely identified with the kingship of Egypt" during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom era (circa 2040-1640 B.C.), which includes the time period that tradition indicates as Abraham's lifetime. [10]

Intriguingly, Middle Kingdom Egypt saw a great deal of activity in the large oasis to the southwest of modern Cairo known as the Faiyum. Crocodiles were common there, and Sobk (or Sobek) was the chief local deity. The last king of the twelfth dynasty, which may include the period of Abraham's life, even adopted the name of the crocodile god, calling himself Nefru-sobk ("Beautiful is Sobk"), and five pharaohs of the next dynasty, the thirteenth, took the name Sebek-hotpe ("Sobk is content").

Footnotes for the above excerpt:

5. See Lundquist, "Was Abraham at Ebla?" p. 232; Tvedtnes and Christensen, Ur of the Chaldeans, pp. 32-33.

6. See Rhodes, "A Translation and Commentary of the Joseph Smith Hypocephalus"; John Gee, "Notes on the Sons of Horus" (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991). See also Apocalypse of Abraham 18, OTP, 1:698.

7. See, for example, Adriaan de Buck, The Egyptian Coffin Texts, 7 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1935-61), 61 I 263; Adriaan de Buck, Egyptian Reading Book (Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1963), 53.15, 57.10; Dieter Arnold, "Pfeiler," in Wolfgang Helck and Hartwig Altenmüller, eds., Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 7 vols. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1977-89), 4:1008-9; Heinrich Balez, "Die altägyptische Wandgliederung," Mitteilungen des deutschen Archäologischen Instituts in Kairo, 1 (1930):57-62.

8. Erik Hornung, "Himmelsvorstellungen," Lexikon der �gyptologie, 2:1216.

9. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings, 3 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975-80), 1:40.

10. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, 1:201.

Regarding the crocodile as the "idolatrous god of Pharaoh" on Facsimile 1, also see "Powerful Egyptological Evidence for Book of Abraham facsimile 1, figure 9 Crocodile as "Idolatrous god of Pharaoh" by Kerry Shirts (2010). Here is one excerpt (see Shirts for the references):

The Egyptologist Alan Gardner demonstrated that the kings and queens of the XVII dynasty bore the name "Sebekemsat (Sobk is his protection), and this proves that "the crocodile-god was still thought of as somehow connected with the monarchy."[22] In the earlier XIII dynasty, Gardner noted several kings bore the name "Sbk-htp -- Sebkhotep."[23] The Amherst Papyri "from the Fayyum depicts the crocodile not as Pharaoh but as the god of Pharaoh. According to Bonnet, the submission of Pharaoh to the crocodile down to the latest times is attested by the association of the crocodile with the royal image on the monuments and in annals."[24] With Sobek absorbing the god of the king into himself, Bonnet says this is why "hymns of praise to the king and his crown can be addressed directly to Sobek -- that is, the croc is the god of Pharaoh."[25] And Suchos is often referred to as a "living image" of Re, in other words, the Ka of Re, the spirit of the sun god Himself! And this agreement (Einigung) with Re for the understanding of Sobek has always remained fundamental (grundlegend).

Yes, the crocodile can be the idolatrous god of Pharaoh--an impressive direct hit by Joseph.

"Experts" insist that this is a typical funerary scene in which a dead person is being embalmed, not sacrificed. While insisting that Facsimile 1 is a garden variety funeral scene, many importance differences are glossed over. For example, is there any other scene in which a dead person being embalmed is raising a leg and both arms? Dead mummies are always depicted as lying flat, to my knowledge, but this one has his arms raised and a leg raised. What does that mean? The figure, according to chapter 1 of the Book of Abraham, depicts Abraham as he was about to be sacrificed. In verse 15, Abraham explains what he did then: "I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard. . . ." He was miraculously delivered from the murderous priest as he prayed to the Lord. So here we have the learned critics scoffing at the Book of Abraham and the ignorant Joseph Smith, who thought that Facs. 1 somehow depicted the living Abraham who, according to the text, was praying to the Lord. Of course, "everyone knows" that this was an ordinary depiction of a dead person. Alas, they have overlooked an important detail: the person with the raised arms and extended leg is drawn in the exact posture used for the hieroglyph meaning "to pray," but rotated 90 degrees to be on the table or altar. The drawing is clearly and deliberately intended to depict a live person PRAYING - just as the Book of Abraham suggests.

For evidence, turn to the highly respected work of Sir Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Being An Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd Ed. (Oxford University Press, London: 1966), p. 32, paragraph 24, where we find this (many thanks to Stan Barker for sending these figures):

Gardiner: glyph for supplicate
Gardiner: glyph for death
The glyph above for death shows a figure depicted in the normal manner for funerary scenes: clearly immobilized and wrapped up, quite unlike the most unusual depiction in the Book of Abraham. A couple of other portions of Gardiner are also relevant. The figure below comes from Gardiner, page 445, paragraph 30:
Gardiner: glyph for supplicate
The man with outstretched arms is used in the following excerpts to help convey prayer, praise, and supplication:
Gardiner: glyph for death

Critics, stop and think about this. Is it just a coincidence that Joseph Smith's interpretation of the figure makes a lot more sense than that of his learned critics? Was it just dumb luck that Joseph understood the more plausible meaning of the facsimile? (The issue about whether or not the hands of the figure are actually raised in the original drawing is discussed earlier on this page, and in great detail by Kerry Shirts in "On Thumbs and Wings and Other Things." Also see the FAIR Wiki article on the Book of Abraham.)

We must not forget that Facs. 1 is far from an ordinary funerary scene. Is there any other lion couch scene in which the reclining person is fully clothed with the garment and slippers shown in Facs. 1? Related figures show mummies or nudes, but nothing identical to our Facs. 1. What is the significance of this? The symbolic meaning fits well with the Book of Abraham text, as Kerry Shirts shows on his page about the garment of Abraham. Nibley also asks in what other such scenes do we find a crocodile as in Facs. 1, or the lotus stand by the lion couch? Multiple significant elements are unusual or unique. We must not simply assume that the meaning of this figure is the same as all other related diagrams, as our critics have done for so long.

Rather than depicting a dead mummy on the couch, Facs. 1 shows a person who is very much alive and is praying - completely consistent with the Book of Abraham story. Abraham, dressed in a covenant garment of the true priesthood, is about to be sacrificed by a priest in a priestly garment of a false priesthood, and Abraham, carefully drawn to represent a symbol for prayer, is indeed praying for deliverance. This is no garden-variety drawing.

In addition to assuming that Facs. 1 is not about a sacrifice, it is also commonly alleged that it can't possibly have anything to do with Abraham. However, the recent discovery of an ancient Egyptian document linking Abraham's name to a lion-couch scene should not be rashly ignored (see Gee, 1992, especially the important example from the Leiden Papyrus I, which you can see in the online version online version). Yes, the most interesting figure from the Leiden Papyrus I, in which Abraham's name is directly beneath a lion-couch scene, does depict a woman, not a man, on the lion couch, and she appears to be dead. But it is now incorrect to say that there is no evidence linking Abraham (or at least his name, which is clearly the Abraham of the Bible in the context of the document) to a lion couch scene.

Further, as Kerry Shirts has noted, Eugen Strouhal's book Life of the Ancient Egyptians (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1992, pp. 232-233) provides evidence that the lion couch was used as a sacrificial altar. Strouhal provides a photo of an alabaster offering table in the form of a lion couch, with the lions (one for the front and one for the back of the table) "supporting a tray sloping towards [a] deep vessel at the back, where the blood of the slaughtered animal was collected to avoid desecrating a holy place." The artifact dates to the end of the 2nd or beginning of the 3rd dynasty.

As to the rarity of the figure raising arms and a leg, Nibley notes that this does occur in lion couch scenes depicting an event where the king is ritually put to death and restored to life (the Sed festival). "An important part of the Sed festival was the choosing of a substitute to die for the king .... So in pictures resembling this one we do indeed have a situation such as that described by Joseph Smith" [Nibley, 1980].

The July 1969 Improvement Era [Nibley, 1969] contains an impressive discussion by Nibley of Egyptian documents and monuments related to Facsimile 1, including several that deal with the return to life of one who was on the lion couch. The hawk plays a prominent role in such scenes. Interestingly, the lion couch can be a bed, an altar of sacrifice, or an embalming table. These can't "prove" Joseph was right, but do show ample room for finding plausibility in what Joseph Smith said.

Concerning the four canopic vessels under the lion couch, an excellent and scholarly paper is "Notes on the Sons of Horus" by John Gee [Gee, 1991]. The four canopic vessels represent the four Sons of Horus, who also are said to guard the canopic jars. Each Son of Horus has its own unique name, its own animal head, and its own cardinal direction. Gee shows that these figures have connections to the concept of resurrection, to the symbolic sacrifice of the mummified person, and to other concepts relevant to Joseph Smith's interpretation of Facsimile 1. Also see "The Four Sons of Horus (Facsimile 2, Figure 6)," Book of Mormon Central, January 17, 2020.

There have been many objections as to whether the priest should be wearing a mask (the Anubis head) or not. The argument is made that all priests standing over the embalming table must be wearing the mask; since he is not, someone has recently falsified the drawing, which now has a portion missing where the priest's head is. Nibley's response:

"In the Era for July 1969 [p. 98] there is a reproduction of a figure in exactly the same position of our Anubis and with the identical costume, but he has a human head. The point is that it does show that a figure standing in the position of Anubis wearing the same outfit Anubis does, does not have to be Anubis or have his head. However, in this case I think it was.

"The point is that the man with the Anubis head is a priest; he is the priest of Pharaoh and he is sacrificing. That is Anubis' business: he is to wrap up the dead and send him on his way, and this is regarded as a form of sacrifice, too. With the incision he makes, the embalming priest is performing a sacrifice. The person has to follow the example of Osiris being sacrificed..."[Nibley, 1979].

As we argue over what the figures mean and whether the priest should be wearing a mask or not, let us not forget what Joseph Smith definitely got right: the person standing over the couch/altar is a priest of Pharaoh.

Previously, at least one eminent Egyptologist objected to the idea of the hawk as a messenger, or "the angel of the Lord" as Joseph calls it in Facsimile No. 1. He said that concept was alien to the Egyptians. Nibley notes how just as this scholar was making that criticism, "an article appeared in the Zeitschrift fur Aegyptische Sprache on the subject of the Hawk as a Messenger in Egyptian tradition" [Nibley, 1980].

As for the supposed unanimity of Egyptologists in proclaiming Facsimile 1 to be a perfectly ordinary and well understood figure, we should note that these experts cannot even agree among themselves as to its supposedly obvious meaning. Even basic issues, like what the man on the couch represents, or what the bird represents, are the subjects of much disagreement. (For some details, see Kerry Shirts' discussion of an anti-Mormon video on the Book of Abraham, around 60% of the way down in the text.) Is understanding Facsimile 1 really so easy for these experts? Is it really the same as the "ordinary" versions of lion couch scenes? Can they really be sure that it could have nothing to do with the text of the Book of Abraham?

Facsimile 2 To the index at the top

Facsimile 2: A hypocephalus loaded with deep religious meaning. Joseph's explanations of the figures make a lot of sense in terms of the deep meaning, not necessarily at the superficial or literal level.

Facsimile 2 (see it at is an Egyptian hypocephalus, a figure placed under the head of a deceased person to provide light and guidance to help him through the night of death into the day of resurrection. Ancient Egyptian documents from Thebes show that "the name Abraham can be plausibly connected with hypocephali inasmuch as Abraham is called 'the pupil of the wedjat-eye' in one of the passages [Gee, 1995], p 76 - available online], and the scholar Edith Varga provides three examples of hypocephali to show that the pupil of the wedjet eye is the god associated with the hypocephalus [Gee, 1995, pp. 77-78]. Varga writes that with the help of a hypocephalus, "the deceased assumes the attributes of the divinity, they are his functions which he executes in order to share his departure and so that, at the daily rebirth of the sun, he himself is also reborn into the new life" (Varga, "Fragment d'un hypocephale egyptien,' pp. 13-15, as cited by Gee, 1995, p. 78). The imagery of a typical hypocephalus is often based on the nighttime journey of the sun in the lower half of the figure, and on the morning sun in the upper half. It does not depict the daily cycle of the sun, since the Egyptians only want to die and be resurrected once, "but is simply designed to get one through the long night of death until the morning of the resurrection" [Gee, 1995, p. 79, citing Varga, p. 14]. Noting that early Christians in Egypt called the underworld the "bosom of Abraham," Gee suggests it only logical that some would also call Abraham "the pupil of the wedjet-eye." Facsimile 2 contains impressive evidence that Joseph Smith wasn't simply guessing when he made comments on the meaning. Michael D. Rhodes demonstrates this in his article The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus: Twenty Years Later.

Let's consider several examples:

Figure 5: the Cow and the Sun

Figure 5 in Facs. 2 is a cow, which is upside down in the inverted lower half of the facsimile. If Joseph were just making things up based on his knowledge as a farm boy, he might say it was the god of eternal cheese or perhaps the great symbol of holy butterfat. Instead, he links it to the sun ("said by the Egyptians to be the Sun"), and says that the Egyptians said it borrowed its light from Kolob. A cow linked to the sun? But Joseph Smith has offered a reasonable interpretation. Indeed, as discussed immediately above, the two halves of the hypocephalus portray sun imagery, with the lower half representing the nighttime passage of the sun. Joseph C. Campbell discusses the image of Hathor, the "cosmic goddess Cow" in his The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology [Campbell, 1962, p. 53]:

"Hathor stood upon the earth in such a way that her four legs were the pillars of the four quarters. Her belly was the firmament. Moreover, the sun, the golden solar falcon, the god Horus, flying east to west, entered her mouth each evening, to be born again the next dawn. Horus, thus, was the 'bull of his mother,' his own father. And the cosmic goddess, whose name hat-hor means 'house of Horus,' accordingly was both consort and the mother of this self-begetting god, who in one aspect was a bird of prey."

Nibley cites the scholar De Horrack about the lower half of the hypocephali, which represent the nocturnal sky "where the Sun marks the beginning of time." De Horrack says that the cow "is the celestial mother by whom the Sun is reborn" [Nibley, 1980, p. 60]. More than just being the mother of the sun, Nibley cites Rochemonteix for an instance at Opet where Hathor was the cow who is called "the Sun of Two Worlds."

There is further evidence that the cow can represent the sun [McGregor and Shirts, 1999, pp. 224-225]:

Hathor is also called ... Hathor, the cow of gold. [Bonnet, Reallexikon, p. 279]. She is the Weret-Hekau, crowned with the sun disc. We know there were four goddesses on the "First Occasion." These goddesses were figured as cows. Is it any surprise at all at this juncture we find Joseph Smith also saying that the cow figure is a "governing power"?

Hathor was also the Eye of Re, which is the sun-god.... In the Coffin Texts Hathor is actually said to be shining herself. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Chapter 17, Hathor is described as the Sacred Eye, which represents the "waters of the sky.... It is the image of the Eye of Re [the sun] on the morning of its daily birth. As for the Celestial Cow, she is the Sacred Eye of Re." [Raymond O. Faulkner, trans., The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day, San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1994, under plate 9].... We are also told that "Hathor is the sun because she was the sun's eye, hence the sun." [Bonnet, p. 280].... "In the end the goddess who bore the sun was herself equated with the sun, being regarded as the solar eye." [M. Lurker, The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt, trans. B. Cumming, London: Thames and Hudson, 1982, p. 59, emphasis mine]

Joseph Smith was familiar with cows, but it is hard to see how he could have simply guessed about their association with the sun if he were not acting as a prophet. (Even if he knew that some kind of astronomical entity was represented by the cow, the logical guess for a farm boy would probably have been the MOOn.)

While linking the cow to the sun as Joseph Smith did seems remarkably impressive, in my opinion, it is not enough to give pause to the critics. For example, Stephen E. Thompson criticizes Joseph Smith's interpretation of Figure 5, offering the following argument about the cow goddess [Thompson, 1995]:

"These goddesses were thought of as the Mother of Re, the sun-god....It is important to note that, while this figure is associated with the sun, i.e., as the mother of the sun-god, it is never equated with the sun. Joseph Smith's interpretation might be adjudged close by some, but in my opinion it cannot be judged as 'generally correct.'"

I find this fascinating. Instead of wondering how Joseph could get anywhere close to the meaning of one of the most important and essential concepts of the hypocephalus (symbolism of the sun and its journey), Thompson quibbles over what I feel is a technicality. I think he is wrong in saying that Hathor NEVER represents the sun, if Rochemonteix actually does provide an instance where Hathor was the cow who is called "the Sun of Two Worlds," as I noted in Nibley's 1980 article, or if Hathor can be the Eye of Re. (And Hathor was not only mother of the sun, but also the wife of the sun and the medium through which the sun passed at night, as I understand, making her the central figure of the lower half of the hypocephalus, which deals with the sun in its night journey.) In fact, the quotation five paragraphs above from M. Lurker in The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Egypt (1982, p. 59m as cited by Nibley) directly contradicts Thompson: "In the end the goddess who bore the sun was herself equated with the sun, being regarded as the solar eye." (See also [Budge, 1967, p. cxx.)

Figure 6: the four quarters of the earth

Figure 6 is the same as the four canopic figures under the lion couch of Facs. 1 and is said by Joseph to represent "this earth in its four quarters." How many farmers would have guessed that four little statues represented such a thing? But it is an entirely plausible explanation based on a modern understanding of Egyptian, and fits nicely into the themes of the hypocephalus. E. Wallis Budge explained, "These jars were under the protection of Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Serqet, and represented the south, north, east, and west respectively" [Budge, 1904, 1:210]. In the forward to Budge's translation of the Book of the Dead, Budge wrote that the four "children of Horus" were each "supposed to be lord of one of the quarters of the world, and finally became the god of one of the cardinal points" [Budge, 1967, p. cxxiv, emphasis mine]. Joseph was absolutely correct. Also see "The Four Sons of Horus (Facsimile 2, Figure 6)," Book of Mormon Central, January 17, 2020.

According to John Gee [Gee, 1991], the four canopic vessels represent the four Sons of Horus, each of which has its own unique name, its own animal head, and its own cardinal direction. The link between the Sons of Horus and the cardinal directions was first established in 1857 [Brugsch, 1857], so Joseph could not have drawn upon scholarly knowledge in saying that they represented the four quarters of the earth. Indeed, there was essentially no valid knowledge of Egyptian to draw upon in 1842 when the Book of Abraham was published.

Stephen E. Thompson criticizes Joseph Smith's interpretation of Figure 4 [Thompson, 1995]. Concerning the claim of LDS scholars that the fours sons of Horus represent the four quarters of the earth, Thompson objects:

"As far as ancient Egypt is concerned, there is no evidence currently available to support this claim. There is only one context in which the sons of Horus are associated with the cardinal directions, i.e., 'the earth in its four quarters.' They were sent out, in the form of birds, as heralds of the king's coronation....I must emphasize that it is only in this context, and in the form of birds, that these gods were associated with the cardinal points. In the funerary context no such relationship is evident. Furthermore, the fact that these gods are sent to the four quarters of the earth does not mean that the Egyptians equated them with these directions. There is no evidence that they did so."

Thompson's approach fascinates me. Instead of marveling at how Joseph could have guessed even a remotely plausible meaning for the canopic figures, he quibbles. After flatly stating that there is no evidence for a link to the four quarters of the earth, then he admits that there is only one context -- coronations -- in which such a link exists. He then denies the relevance of that link, alleging that Facsimile 2 is only a funerary scene. I wonder if he is unaware of what Hugh Nibley has been writing about Facsimile 2 for many years: that it is centers around the concept of the endowment, which is the "coronation" of the resurrected soul in the kingdom of God. Indeed, non-LDS scholars acknowledge that figures of this type (the hypocephalus) are concerned with the life after, with a triumphant resurrection and entrance into eternity. It seems entirely reasonable to me to place Facsimile 2 into the context of a coronation scene, the one scene for which Thompson says the sons of Horus are linked to the four quarters of the earth. But Thompson can allow no room for plausibility in anything Joseph says.

I also disagree with Thompson's stance that only one context permits a relationship between the sons of Horus and the cardinal directions. John Gee provides others in his article. For example, in the Pyramid Texts, "the Sons of Horus are associated with the orientation of the four corners of the earth and used to orient the Pyramid" [Gee, 1991, p. 38]. They are also connected to winds from the four corners of the sky.

I feel that identifying the "four quarters" with the sons of Horus in Figure 6 is especially appropriate, since the four legs of the adjacent cow, Hathor = 'house of Horus', have a similar meaning mentioned in the quote from Campbell above.

Still puzzled about Thompson's allegation, I borrowed a copy of Richard W. Wilkinson's Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art [Wilkinson, 1994] from our local library. The discussion of the Sons of Horus in Wilkinson clearly links them to the four quarters of the earth or the four cardinal directions, with no hint at all that this connection only occurred during coronation ceremonies. For example, Wilkinson's glossary entry for the Sons of Horus explains that they "were four genii or minor deities connected with the cardinal points and which guarded the viscera of the deceased. Originally human-headed, they were regularly portrayed with the heads of different creatures: Imsety, human-headed (south); Duamutef, jackal-headed (east); Hapy, ape-headed (north); Qebesenuef, falcon-headed (west)" (p. 213). His section on the meaning of the number four notes that the four Sons of Horus were one of several groups of four commonly found in Egyptian art. Then he writes, "Frequently the number [four] appears to connote totality and completeness and is tied to the four cardinal points...The four cardinal points are certainly an ancient concept.... Usually ... the four areas represent the four quarters of the earth alone. This is the case in most religious rituals which find representational expressions" [Wilkinson, 1994 , pp. 133-134, emphasis mine]. He does cite the coronation of the king as well as the jubilee ceremony as examples involving the cardinal directions, but there is no hint that the connection between the four Sons of Horus and the four quarters of the earth only occurs in a narrow and limited context.

Page 145 of Wilkinson shows a photograph of canopic jars (shaped as the Sons of Horus, containing human viscera) in a decorated chest (22nd Dynasty). Each side of the chest also has one of the four Sons of Horus on it, being protected by the goddesses Isis, Nephthys, Neith, and Selket. This concept is discussed on pages 70-71 in the context of placement of coffins, which were sometimes oriented with the cardinal directions (head to the north, with the body sideways facing east). The four Sons of Horus were sometimes placed on the long sides of the coffin, with two on the west side and two on the east. Wilkinson then notes that the Son of Horus are sometimes represented on the four sides of the chests in which canopic jars were stored. Again, the Sons of Horus are linked to directions in a context other than coronation rites alone. Joseph's "four quarters of the earth" remains a "direct hit," in my eyes. Now how can the critics explain that? If Joseph were a fraud, why the direct hits?

Also see E. A. Wallis Budge, The Mummy: A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology revised and enlarged edition (New York: Cosimo Classics, 2011, originally published 1925), p. 240, available at Google Books, which describes the association of the son of Horus with the cardinal directions.

The Wedjat eye, Figs. 3 and 7

As a further example, consider the "wedjat" eye in Facs. 2 (the stylized Egyptian eye). At a basic dictionary level, this may mean unity or power or the number one (as I recall), which seems inconsistent with Joseph Smith's comment that it represents the grand key words of the priesthood. However, the deeper meaning of this word becomes very agreeable with that "translation," as Hugh Nibley has explained in writing and once demonstrated to a stunned Sunday School class in Provo, Utah. I was sitting in that Gospel Doctrine class, filled with people of many backgrounds, when he launched into an hour-long, high-speed discourse on the "wedjat eye," citing authority after authority on its extensive symbolism. I recall his quotes from various authors showing that it can represent the power of God, his authority, his unity, his omniscience, and many other terms which align very well with the LDS understanding of relating to the priesthood. After hearing that presentation, the wedjat eye seemed to me to be a wonderful and beautiful way to represent that concept, though it won't be found in a dictionary - and would only be understood by one who knows the "mysteries" of the kingdom. The punch line, though, is that only a couple of people in that class had any idea what the wedjat eye was. Dr. Nibley forget to point it out on the facsimile, assuming that everyone would know what he was talking about. For many, it was a very long hour.

Solar disks in Figures 3, 22, and 23

A minor but noteworthy point is that Joseph appears to have understood the significance of the circles drawn over the heads of several figures. The circle is the solar disk, representing the sun and the associated concept of light. In Figure 3, the figure is said to have a "crown of eternal light upon his head," which seems to be an entirely appropriate explanation of what the solar disk meant when drawn over someone's head. Joseph also said the baboons with solar disks over their heads represent stars receiving their light from the central figure symbolizing Kolob. These apes have a crown consisting of a moon symbol and a sun symbol (though it hardly seems obvious to my Western eyes), which puts them nicely into the astronomical context of Joseph's comments. Nibley has written about the Egyptian symbol of baboons receiving light from the sun [Nibley, 1980, pp. 69-70], noting that hundreds of drawings show these creatures facing the sun with arms raised "as if to receive its first warming rays after the cold desert night." In some cases "the Ape sits atop the supporting column of Egyptian scales holding the plumb-line with its heart-shaped (Kolob) bob to make sure that the balance is perfect. It is also the Ape who sits on Egyptian water clocks to tell the precise hours of the day and night. The Apes in Facsimile 2 are said to represent the principle of borrowed light and energy in the immediate presence of Kolob, the Great center of things. Both their upraised hands receiving light and life and their double headdresses showing the sun-moon dependency [the moon receiving its light from the sun] illustrate the point."

Kerry Shirts has written about the surprising accuracy of Joseph Smith in identifying the apes with stars and associating them with the measurement of time as well. See his online article, "The 'Star-Apes' of Facsimile 2: Egyptian Correlations."

Figure 4

Figure 4 in Facsimile 2 is a figure that Joseph said represents the expanse of the heavens, the revolutions of Kolob and Oliblish, and also signified the number 1,000. According to Rhodes [Rhodes, 1992-a, p. 126], "This is the hawk-god, Horus-Sokar. Horus was a personification of the sky, and Sokar was associated with the revolution of the Sun and other celestial bodies. Finally, the ship here shown is described in Egyptian texts as 'ship of a thousand.' Joseph Smith hits it right on the mark." (Note: I have been told that a published non-LDS text that linked an Egyptian boat to the number 1,000 was the result of a translation error. I will discuss this below, giving Thompson's critique. However, there are other texts mentioned below which link various aspects of Figure 4 to the number 1000. Any of you Egyptologists care to comment?)

Nibley [1980] cites multiple sources to show that outstretched wings above a boat represent the sky ("the Sunship on the Wings of the Sky," according to Kees), or that outstretched wings alone represent the heavens or the sky. Joseph Smith is right on target when he says it represents "expanse, or the firmament of the heavens." Rudolph Anthes also notes that the wings of Horus were equated with the sky. While "the Egyptians regarded the sun as a falcon flying in heaven," the "idea that his wings represented the sky was incidental and naturally accepted in spite of any logical objections" [R. Anthes, "Egyptian Theology," p. 171, as cited by MacGegor and Shirts, 1999, pp. 223-224]. Outstretched wings can also symbolize Nut the Sky-goddess - although I have been told that the hawk wings are different that the wings representing Nut, in which case some of the following correlations may be in error. On the other hand, Nut is also linked to a boat, possibly as in Figure 4. Dealing with the context of Nut, we again find references to numbers and stars, providing tentative correlations to what Joseph Smith stated ("also a numerical figure, in Egyptian signifying one thousand; answering to the measuring of the time of Oliblish, which is equal to Kolob in its revolution and in its measuring of time"). Nibley writes:

This woman whose outspread wings shield the dead in countless coffins, has the same name as that of the ship in Fig. 4: "The One with a Thousand Souls" (Bonnet 537), being so called because the stars are her children (Kees). A Pyramid text says, "Nut receives the gods to herself and lets them sink [a nautical term is used] as 'One with a Thousand souls {Kha-ba-s), lest they depart from thee as stars; so may NN not be removed from thee in his name of the Distant One (the Sky). She has counted her children...." (Kees, Lesebuch, 24; PT 784-5). The stele of one Nebipusenwasret ends: "Ye shall be as an Imperishable Star, a star that is in the Khabas," concerning which Blackman comments, that "Kh3-b3-s must mean 'thousand is her soul(s)' and refer to the countless stars appearing by night in the body of Nut" (Blackman)....[The] famous funeral stele of a great princess, a daughter of Psammetichus II, ... reads "Behold ye Khabasu of Heliopolis...the God is who can take the helm. Osiris A. (the Princess) ... will take along Osiris in his Ship of a Thousand, even with two heads, so that by it he can mount to heaven and to the counter-heaven" (Sander-Hansen). This is our Figure 4. According to the Woerterbuch (III,230), Khabasu means
  1. the expanse of the starry heavens as observed from Heliopolis;
  2. the stars are those that provide the reckoning of Time at the New Year;
  3. their collective name is written with the ideogram of a Ship;
  4. the word means literally "a thousand = 1000, b3 = spirit, soul, -s = her or its,"
  5. the thousand in this case refers specifically to 'the collectivity of the starry hosts.'
Faulkner's dictionary renders khabas as 'the starry sky"; Budge's Dictionary p. 530 as "a star or luminary" ....
[Nibley, 1980, pp. 59-60]

However, a respected LDS scholar recently e-mailed me to say that he now thinks that "h3-b3-s" might just be syllabic writing for "hbs" (meaning "lamp"), but he also felt that critics of the Book of Abraham overlook the possibility of a pun in the writing system, since it is clearly a designation for the stars.

Nibley then notes that Professor A. Piankoff has "observed that the outstretched Egyptian wings signify the same as the Hebrew raqiha [my transcription of the typeset term], which Joseph Smith renders phonetically as Raukeeang." The many parallels between Joseph Smith's comments on Figure 4 of Facs. 2 and scholarly interpretations of related figures are worthy of consideration. He chooses a reasonable word (Raukeeang); says that it signifies expanse, or the firmament of heavens; notes a link to the measurement of time; and finds a connection to the number 1,000.

Stephen Thompson [Thompson, 1995] criticizes the alleged correlations for Figure 4 (pp. 150-152). Thompson first notes that certain identification of the bird figure is impossible; while some say it is Sokar or other forms of a falcon, he says the figure does not exactly match any known falcon god. Then he writes:

...there is no evidence that the ancient Egyptians ever depicted the sky ... as a ship of any sort. In order to get around this, Mormon apologists dissect the wings of the bird in the ship and compare them with depictions of the sky as outspread wings. Rhodes [1992-a] identifies the bird in Figure 4 as Horus-Sokar and claims that "Horus was a personification of the sky." It should be pointed out, however, that Joseph's interpretation of the figure apparently applies to the whole figure, not to only a part of it. I can see no justification for removing a part of the figure and then claiming to find interpretations which can be forced to agree with Joseph's explanation."

I find Thompson's criticisms fitting into a pattern: a) In Figure 4, the bird with outstretched wings cannot symbolize the sky, since that would be dissecting the outstretched wings (which do represent the sky) from the figure; b) In Figure 6, the sons of Horus don't represent the four quarters of the earth, since they only represent such for coronations; and c) the cow goddess can't represent the sun, only the mother of the sun. The consistent unwillingness to grant any leeway to Joseph Smith is most curious. I also think it is unnecessary to "dissect" the wings of the bird to see a connection to the sky, if the bird represented really is connected to Horus, for Wilkinson describes Horus as "the ancient falcon god of the heavens, whose eyes were the sun and moon and whose speckled plumage was the starry sky..." [Wilkinson, 1994, p. 134].

Thompson continues, now turning to the connections of Figure 4 to the number 1,000:

In order to support Joseph's identification of this figure as the number 1,000, reference is made to a supposed Egyptian "ship of 1000" found in a passage from a sarcophagus dating to the Egyptian 26th Dynasty. There we find the expression wi3.f n h3 r tpwy.fy, which Sander-Hansen renders as ... "his ship of 1,000 up to its two heads." In Sander-Hansen's discussion of this passage, he notes that he understands this phrase to mean a ship 1,000 cubits in length. This text is a later version of the Book of the Dead Spell 136a. Recent translators have recognized that "h3" in this phrase does not refer to the number 1,000 but to the word "h3" meaning flowers or buds. T.G. Allen, in his translation of the Book of the Dead, renders the phrase as "the bark with blossom(s) at its ends," and Faulkner, in his translation, renders it as "the bark ... which has lotus-flowers on its ends." In connection with this spell, Milde notes that "lotus-shaped prows are very common in various vignettes." In other words, there is no Egyptian "ship of 1000," only a ship with lotus-shaped prows."

To his credit, Thompson does provide a footnote which alludes to an alternate translation by P. Barguet, which he only provides in French: "une barque, dont une myriade est a sa tete (avant) et une myriade a sa tete (arriere)." I would translate this as: "a boat, upon which is a myriad at the [front] head and a myriad at the [rear] head." It appears that at least one recent scholar chooses to translate "h3" in a manner designating a large number (though "myriad" is given, which can mean "numerous," "countless," or can also mean 10,000). Curiously, this translation by Barguet is from a 1986 publication, making it the most recent of the several translations Thompson cites for the passage in question.

One LDS professor sent me an email with an additional suggestion on this issue:

While Thompson's interpretation is plausible for a barque with lotus flowers at both ends, it is an interpretation rather than a correction of an error. The word in question that relates to this image is h3, which is related to the lotus, but not the word for lotus. Lotus is sshn, while h3 specifically refers to the rhizome, stem, and lotus leaf (not the bud). This symbol was, in fact used in Egyptian numbers to represent 1,000. So while a sprouting lotus can be symbolically connected to the idea of a "lotus barque," its actual meaning is the one Joseph Smith, not Thompson gave.

Excellent point! You can verify his claim on the page, "Ancient Egyptian Numbers," which states:

The symbol for a thousand is the lotus or water lily. It shows the leaf, stem and rhizome or root. It seems odd not to show the flower, but you can eat the root.

I think Thompson is wrong in saying that there is no evidence to support Joseph's commentary on this figure.

Figures 1 and 2: Kolob (and a comment on "Jah-oh-eh")

Figure 1 is in the very heart of the round Facsimile 2 and to me, looks like the focal point of the facsimile. Joseph Smith said Figure 1 represents "Kolob, signifying the first creation, nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God."

Joseph has scored another impressive bulls eye. McGregor and Shirts [1999, pp. 218-220] explain that the flat, curly ram's horns on the figure show that it Khnum, the creator god [Budge, 2:49]. Khnum as "the type of the great primeval force" [Budge, 2:51], who created the "first egg," made the "first man" on the potter's wheel, was "god par excellance of the First Cataract" where the "first city that ever existed" was, making him literally the god of "the first creation" [see Budge, 2:50, 53, 65]. And what did Joseph say of this? That is represents the "first creation." Bingo. Joseph also used the words, "first in government" and "first in measurement," and McGregor and Shirts provide more evidence illustrating these concepts [McGregor and Shirts, 1999, pp. 219-220]. Joseph was amazingly correct.

Now do typical Americans get ideas about "first creation" and "first in government" when looking at a ram's head? Nothing in Joseph's cultural environs would have led to that conclusion, as far as I can tell. So how do the critics explain this direct hit? We still wait for a sane answer.

Joseph also linked figure 1 to the measurement of time, with one day of celestial time equal to 1000 years of time on this earth. He also says that this earth is called "Jah-oh-eh" by the Egyptians. The name "Jah-oh-eh" for the earth is plausible. According to modern understanding (see Rhodes, 1992-a) , the Egyptian word for the Earth is approximately pronounced "yoh-heh". Coptic versions of the name (eiahe and ohe) are similar. Critics say that Jah-oh-eh was just guesswork based on the word "Jehovah," but why would Joseph think that the word Jehovah would serve as an Egyptian word for the earth?

As for the name "Kolob," critics suggest that it is simply derived from Hebrew "Kokob," meaning star. Rhodes, however, notes correlations for Kolob as a star based on the Semitic root *QLB, which has the meaning of "heart, center, middle" and its Arabic form, qalb, is part of the Arabic names for several of the brightest stars in the sky. The Arabic "qalb" does not have a similar Hebrew root - so Joseph's study of Hebrew is not likely to be the source for the highly appropriate word "Kolob."

Nibley's discussion on Kolob is especially interesting [Nibley, 1980, pp. 53-54]. After discussing Egyptian ideas about the "hypocephalus as a preserver and transmitter of light and heat between the worlds," he suggests that "these ideas are best expressed by the word Kolob, the cosmic governing power to which Figures 1 and 2 are most closely related." Among the meanings of "qalb" from Lane's Dictionary are [Nibley, 1980, p. 54]:

Nibley then quotes from G.E. Santillana on the significance of the heart-star to the Egyptians, which was a central location, a primordial star, static, and related to the weight on a plumb-line, "the means by which this depth [of the universe] was measured." Indeed, the heart-star was represented by drawing a human heart as the bob on a cosmic plumb-line, according to Nibley. He also shows a connection between the apes in the center of all hypocephali (such as Facs. 2) and plumb-lines and measurements, including the measurement of time, suggesting another possible link to the Kolob/qalb concept (p. 55). Many other aspects of Hebrew and Egyptian cosmology show links to the concepts of a cosmic heart which show parallels to Joseph's comments on Facsimile 2.

The correlations to a primordial star, to the heart of the universe (as well as to the heart of the astronomy-rich Facsimile 2), and to the measurement of time, all lend remarkable plausibility to Joseph Smith's comments on Figure 1 and to the name he gave, Kolob.

Facs. 2 and links to other ancient texts

Several LDS scholars have noted extensive parallels between Facsimile 2 and recently discovered Abrahamic literature. Nibley writes [Nibley, 1980]:

"The best approach to Facs. No. 2 is surprisingly supplied by an episode in the Testament of Abraham discovered in 1880, supported by the Apocalypse of Abraham, which first appeared in England in 1898 in the pages of the Improvement Era. The Testament deals with the death of Abraham and his ascent to heaven; the Apocalypse with a terrifying sacrificial rite on a mountain in which Abraham is plainly the victim - in this account he also mounts up to heaven. In both stories a shining figure descends from heaven to take away the hero with him. In the Testament (A ix), Abraham ... wants to make a trial-run: 'I want to see the whole world, and every created thing in it,' he says, '...then I can make the transition without regret!' In the Apocalypse (XII) the journey takes off from the altar, when the angel says: 'behold the altar upon the mountain ... the dove give to me, for I ascend upon bird's wings to show you that which is in heaven and upon earth... the circuit of the whole world; for you shall behold all' (XV)....

"In both accounts the purpose of the journey is to give Abraham instructions in cosmology - how the universe is constructed....In both Abraham is shown the heavenly court of judgment in which scholars have been quick to detect obvious dependence on the Egyptian 'Psychostasy' scenes from the Book of the Dead. In Apocalypse XVIII Abraham sees 'beneath the throne, four fiery, living was like a lion, one like a man, one like an ox, and one like an angel.' These are the four Canopic figures that appear before the throne of Judgment in the Joseph Smith Papyri No. IV, as well as beneath the altar-bed in Facs. No. 1 (Figs. 5,6,7,8), and as Fig. 6 in Facsimile No. 2, correctly explained in this context as representing "this earth in its four quarters." To find these four old friends at home in the Apocalypse of Abraham is an undeniable link between the Book of Abraham and the Book of the Dead.

"In the Book of Abraham also we are told that the plan of the cosmos, represented by Facs. No. 2, was 'revealed from God to Abraham as he offered sacrifice upon an altar, which he built unto the Lord" (Facs. 2, Fig. 2)....

"Abraham's angelic guide promises him, in the Apocalypse (XII), a view of the 'fullness of the world and its circle,' and in the process of the journey showed him 'the firmaments... the creation foreshadowed in this expanse... the times (aeons) prepared... the earth and its fruits, and all that move upon it.... the power of its men... and their dispensations...' (XXI). He was shown all this in a picture, a graphic representation in which he sees 'men and women and children, half of them on the right side and half of them on the left side of the picture.'"

Nibley goes on to discuss the significance of a round divided picture, and notes many other parallels in Facsimile 2 to other ancient documents and myths.

Facsimile 3 To the index at the top

Facsimile 3 is available at According to Michael Rhodes [Rhodes, 1992-b],

Facsimile 3 presents a constantly recurring scene in Egyptian literature, best known from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris. It is likely that it came at the end of the Book of Breathings text, of which Facsimile 1 formed the beginning, since other examples contain vignettes similar to this. Moreover, the name of Hor, owner of the papyrus, appears in the hieroglyphs at the bottom of this facsimile.

Joseph Smith explained that Facsimile 3 represents Abraham sitting on the pharaoh's throne teaching principles of astronomy to the Egyptian court. Critics have pointed out that the second figure, which Joseph Smith says is the king, is the goddess Hathor (or Isis). There are, however, examples in other papyri, not in the possession of Joseph Smith, in which the pharaoh is portrayed as Hathor. In fact, the whole scene is typical of Egyptian ritual drama in which costumed actors played the parts of various gods and goddesses....

A number of pseudepigraphic texts purporting to be accounts from the life of Abraham have come to light since Joseph Smith's day, such as the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Testament of Abraham, documents that exhibit notable similarities with the book of Abraham. For example, in chapter 12 of the Testament of Abraham there is a description of the judgment of the dead that matches in minute detail the scene depicted in Facsimile 3 of the book of Abraham and, incidentally, chapter 125 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In fact, parallels to almost every verse in the book of Abraham can be found in the pseudepigraphical writings about Abraham.

Nibley and others have suggested that this judgment scene has been adapted to portray an earthly event in a manner known to occur frequently in Egyptian art (depicting people as being dressed up like Egyptian gods). Some critics insist that Facsimile 3 can represent nothing but a judgment scene and argue that it is perfectly ordinary among judgment scenes. It certainly has strong parallels to the Book of the Dead, but even Klaus Baer has said that "Facs. No. 3 is not a judgment scene and exact parallels may be hard to find" and "The 1912 Egyptologists certainly went too far in claiming that Facsimiles 1-3 in PGP were ordinary scenes of which dozens of examples could be found" (Baer, letter to Nibley, 13 September 1968, as cited by Gee, 1995 , p. 100).

Joseph said this facsimile is about Abraham, sitting on Pharaoh's throne by the courtesy of the king, explaining the principles of astronomy to the Egyptians. Joseph said Abraham is wearing a crown, representing the Priesthood. The idea that Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy is found briefly in Josephus, and in the more recently discovered text, Pseudo-Eupolemus, according to E. Douglas Clark [Clark, 1992]. According to Clark,

Pharaoh's recognition of Abraham's priesthood was unknown in any other ancient source until the 1947 discovery of the Genesis Apocryphon, purporting, like the book of Abraham, to contain an autobiographical account of Abraham but continuing the narrative into Egypt (Genesis Apocryphon 20:8-34): When Pharaoh took Sarah to the palace, Abraham tearfully appealed to God, who immediately protected her by afflicting Pharaoh. The affliction worsened, but Pharaoh finally had a dream of Abraham healing him; the patriarch was then summoned and, laying hands on Pharaoh's head, restored him to health. This is the only known instance in the Old Testament or related pseudepigrapha of a healing by laying on of hands, and it sets the stage for the book of Abraham scene. Together these two sources explain why the ancients considered Abraham's encounter with Pharaoh "a crucial event in the history of mankind" (Nibley, 1981 [citing Wacholder], p. 63).

The figure on the throne is holding a scepter and wearing a crown which do signify authority, justice, and judgment, consistent with Joseph Smith's explanation that the crown represents the Priesthood and the scepter was "the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand" [Nibley, 1988, p. 336]. Nibley [Nibley, 1980] has also argued that the lotus before the seated figure was a symbol of a foreigner come to Egypt (though the lotus symbol can be used in many other ways), making it a plausible symbol for "Abraham in Egypt," as identified by Joseph Smith. Of course, there is plenty of room to dispute that interpretation.

A difficulty with Facsimile 3 is the specific people identified in the drawing. The figure Joseph identifies as the Pharaoh is obviously a woman, as is the figure identified as the "Prince of Pharaoh." Certainly puzzling. Nibley cites examples of in other Egyptian art where men or women are represented in some scenes by those of the opposite sex (e.g., Nibley, 1988 ). According to Nibley, coronation scenes typically made reference to the "Two Ladies" who were the source of authority for the Pharaoh's line. The depiction of the Pharaoh and his sons as women is more than an obvious mistake that any fool would catch: it appears to be an intentional act consistent with a body of Egyptian lore.

Thompson [Thompson, 1995] notes that Facsimile 3 is about the deceased Horus being introduced before Osiris by the goddess Maat and the god Anubis (Fig. 6), with the wife of Osiris behind him. Thompson finds none of Joseph's interpretations to be consistent with ancient Egyptian thought. Nibley provides a lengthy discussion of confusion of identities [Nibley, 1988], noting that anyone sitting on the throne of Osiris had to be represented as Osiris himself, regardless of his true personal identity. While Nibley has compared this scene to similar scenes in which the depictions of these gods flexibly represent many different domestic scenes on earth, Thompson argues that Nibley is using scenes from a thousand years or so before the time of Facsimile 3, making them inapplicable.

Multiple impressive correlations between Joseph's comments and modern understanding of ancient Egyptian themes and symbols suggest that Joseph was not just making up gibberish.

Other issues to consider... To the index at the top

Unusual words in the text To the index at the top

Both Rhodes and Gee note that some specific words and names in the Book of Abraham - words criticized as gibberish by critics - have received tentative confirmation of authenticity. For example, the place name "Olishem" in Abraham has now been found on an inscription dating roughly to the time of Abraham. We have already mentioned the interesting correlations for Jah-oh-eh meaning "the earth," as Joseph Smith said, and Kolob as an excellent Arabic term for a central star related to the measurement of time. Just random guesses? (Competent people have not yet thoroughly considered the issue of Egyptian names and the huge differences between various transliteration systems. Much remains to be explored here.)

Enoch's Pillar To the index at the top

A puzzling issue arises concerning Oliver's mention of the pillar of Enoch, which was described in his lengthy quote in Part 1. He said that "Enoch's pillar," an ancient monument with astronomical significance, "as mentioned by Josephus, is upon the same roll" and then gave some of the background provided by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, Chapter II, Section 3 (page 27 of my copy). A pillar or column does appear in a figure on one of the Joseph Smith papyri, but the astronomical connections that were plain to Oliver are not evident on that fragment, which I have already argued was not the scroll Oliver was describing. What was Oliver describing, and how does it relate to Josephus?

Modern critics allege that Joseph Smith got some ideas for the Book of Abraham from Josephus (which does curtly say that Abraham taught astronomy and mathematics to the Egyptians). However, Josephus does not speak of Enoch's pillar, but of two pillars made by the descendants of Seth, son of Adam. Josephus, however, was in error. The modern footnote to this passage in my edition of Josephus (page 27) says that Josephus was wrong in connecting the pillar to Seth the son of Adam, for it actually was Seth or Sesotris, king of Egypt, who erected the pillar in the land of Siriad after the flood.

Josephus said the two pillars of Seth helped preserve the discoveries of Seth's descendants about the order of heavenly bodies - a reference to astronomy. Oliver connects Enoch and astronomy via a pillar. Interestingly, the connection between Enoch and astronomy today is well known from the Enoch literature - but it not evident in anything I've seen in Josephus (Enoch is only briefly mentioned).

Thus we see a pillar related to astronomy said by Cowdery, on the basis of the Book of Abraham scroll, to be the pillar of Enoch, the same Enoch who dealt heavily with astronomy, as did Abraham, and this pillar is said to be represented on an Egyptian document written by Abraham in Egypt. Josephus incorrectly describes the pillar as being from Seth the son of Adam, when in fact it is an Egyptian pillar made by an Egyptian king. I assume that the footnote in my edition of Josephus (from an 1867 translation) was not in the text to which Oliver had access.

Oliver sees a parallel to Josephus, yet there is no evidence the latter was a source for the view that it was the pillar of Enoch being portrayed. To me it sounds plausible that Oliver learned of an astronomical pillar of Enoch (not Seth) and its relation to astronomy from a scroll (as translated or explained by Joseph Smith), not from Josephus. Not adopting Josephus's mistake and making the connection between Enoch and astronomy (without the benefit of the recently discovered Enoch literature) implies to me that Joseph had learned something valid from the scrolls - and was not just borrowing from other sources.

What does all this mean? I'm not sure. It's an interesting indirect piece of evidence - nothing big, but interesting.

I have learned that a form of Masonry (Royal Arch Masonry) has a tale about the pillars of Enoch, and thus I expect someone will say that Oliver got the idea from that source. However, my understanding is that the Masonic pillars of Enoch do not deal with principles of astronomy but have inscriptions on "the principles of the liberal arts" and Masonic brotherhood [Webb]. Further, neither Joseph nor Oliver had any connection to masonry prior to 1835, when Oliver's letter was published. Masonry has some ancient roots from the Middle East, so vague common relationships among concepts is not necessarily surprising. I continue to be intrigued by Oliver's mention of the pillar (not pillars) of Enoch in an astronomical and Egyptian context. I'd like to hear other ideas on this minor issue.

The death of Terah and the Dead Sea Scrolls To the index at the top

An interesting issue in the Book of Abraham concerns an apparent problem in the Old Testament account of Terah, Abraham's father. Genesis 11:31-32 says that Abraham and Terah came to Haran and that Terah died there at age 205. Four verses later, Genesis 12:4, Abraham departs from Haran at the age of 75. The text seems to present events in chronological order: Terah goes to Haran, Terah dies, Abraham leaves. Indeed, in Acts 7:4, Stephen has obviously read the text in that way, for he states that Abraham left Haran after Terah's death. The problem is that Genesis 11:26 says Terah was 70 when Abraham was born. If Abraham left Haran after Terah was 205, Abraham must have been at least 135 years old, not 75. The Book of Abraham, however, strongly implies that Terah was still alive when Abraham left Haran. There is no mention of Terah's death, but Abraham prays "that the famine might be turned from my father's house, that they might not perish" (Abr. 2:17).

The Genesis account need not be corrected if we follow the implication in the Book of Abraham and assume that Terah lived on in Haran after Abraham's departure, where he reached the age of 205. Genesis 11:32 thus jumps ahead to finish with Terah and switches back to the main character, Abraham, in subsequent verses.

New support for this view comes from a Dead Sea Scroll text which I recently encountered (the text is 4Q252, cited by Eisenman, 1992, pp. 80,88,89). The text says "Terah was 140 years old when he left Ur of the Chaldees and came to Haran. And Ab[ram was se]venty, and Abram lived in Haran for five years, and after [Abram] left [for] the land of Canaan, (Terah lived) sixt[y-five years ...]". I think that it should be "sixt[y years]" instead of "sixt[y-five years," but the idea is clear that Terah lived on after Abraham's departure, consistent with the Book of Abraham and eliminating an apparent error in Genesis. It does suggest that Stephen made a minor and logical error in his interpretation of the Genesis account.

What does all this prove? Probably not much. It's interesting to me largely because I found it (in a book I got for Christmas, in fact), but I am curious as to other explanations or views on this matter.

Many more issues in the text need to be considered - and have been, by writers such as Nibley and others. There are many factors in the text which are given plausibility by recently discovered documents. To me, the text, though brief, is fascinating and profound, and worthy of serious study.

Relationships to other documents To the index at the top

I have mentioned several instances above where items in the Book of Abraham or in the commentary on the facsimiles show interesting connections to other ancient documents. Some of these documents, such as Josephus, were available to Joseph Smith, but others, such as the Apocalypse of Abraham, were not. Here is a brief summary from Steven Thompson in Volume 1 of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

Many themes of the book appear in other ancient literatures, including Abraham's struggle against idolatry (Jubilees 12; Charlesworth, Vol. 2, pp. 79-80), the attempted sacrifice of Abraham (Pseudo-Philo 6; Charlesworth, Vol. 2, pp. 310-12), and Abraham's vision of God's dwelling place, events in the Garden of Eden, and premortal spirits (Apocalypse of Abraham 22-23; Charlesworth, Vol. 1, p. 700). God's instruction to Abraham to introduce Sarai as his sister is echoed in the Genesis Apocryphon (column 19) as having come through a dream. Abraham's teaching astronomy to Egyptians (Book of Abraham Facsimile 3) is described in Pseudo-Eupolemus 9.17.8 and 9.18.2 (Charlesworth, Vol. 2, pp. 881-82) and in Josephus (Antiquities 1.8.2).

In the same volume, Dr. H. Donl Peterson discusses the issue of Abrahamic literature from Egypt:

It has become clear that some Abrahamic literature exhibits links with Egypt. For example, the Testament of Abraham--likely first written in Greek--almost certainly derives from Egypt. Substituting a biblical figure such as Abraham in Egyptian hieroglyphic scenes is a Jewish technique known from the Hellenistic period (Grobel, pp. 373-82). Thus, it is not surprising that Egyptian texts are somehow linked to the appearance of the Book of Abraham....

According to some Egyptologists, the writings of Abraham acquired by Joseph Smith are to be dated to the early Christian era. Such dating is not without precedent. The Testament of Abraham, edited initially by M. R. James in 1892, was described by him as "a second century Jewish-Christian writing composed in Egypt" (Nibley, pp. 20-21).

Did Joseph just get his ideas from the Koran and other available sources? To the index at the top

I have received e-mail from critics of Joseph Smith saying that the parallels to the Book of Abraham in recently discovered ancient texts are irrelevant since he could have borrowed similar ideas from documents existing in 1830. The Koran in particular has been cited as being a possible source for the story about the attempted sacrifice of Abraham. I have looked through my copy of the Koran and found several consistent references to a related story, but the Koran accounts show little evidence of being the source for anything in the Book of Abraham. In the Koran, there are multiple references to Abraham speaking out against idol worship and having the idolaters then threaten his life - but they threaten to burn him, not to slay him with a knife as a sacrifice on a lion couch. Here are the references I've found (in the Penguin Classic printing, translated by N.J. Dawood, Penguin Books, 1974 - which present passages in a somewhat scrambled order):

In 37: 80-98 (p. 171), Abraham mocks idols and the people are angry. "They replied: 'Build a fire and cast him into the blazing flames.' Thus they schemed against him: but we balked their plans." In 29: 10-30 (pp. 197-198), Abraham again condemns idol worship, and "Abraham's people replied: 'Kill him! Burn him!' But the fire from Allah delivered him." In 21:50-70 (pp. 300-301), Abraham again taunts idolaters who cried: "'Burn him' ....'Fire,' We said, 'be cool to Abraham and keep him safe.' They sought to lay a snare for him, but they themselves were ruined." In 6:73-83, Abraham "said to Azar, his father, 'Will you worship idols as your gods?'...." But here there is no indication that his father threatened Abraham or tried to have Abraham sacrificed.

The Koran does tell that Abraham opposed idol worshipers and that his life was threatened - but in every case I have found, the people (not a priest) threaten to burn him, not to stab him with a knife. The idea of an Egyptian priest attempting to sacrifice Abraham on an altar is nowhere to be found. If I have missed a relevant passage, please let me know. The Koran may have been referring to existing legends which stemmed from the true story of Abraham, but I see no reason to conclude that Joseph used the Koran for anything. (And is there any evidence that he ever studied it?)

It is also commonly alleged that Josephus was a source for the Book of Abraham. The only non-Biblical information therein that I find relevant is the single sentence that says Abraham taught astronomy and mathematics to the Egyptians (Antiquities of the Jews, Book I, Chapter II, Section 3, page 27 of my copy), which is a concept in treated in Facsimile 3. The brief passage in Josephus does nothing to account for anything in the Book of Abraham itself (the published portion of the Book of Abraham ends right before Abraham enters into Egypt) and does not explain the correlations with more recently discovered ancient texts. (It appears that Joseph had much more translated, and did promise to publish more in the future, though his martyrdom and the chaos of the exodus of the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo interfered with those plans. His more complete manuscript appears to be have been lost or destroyed.)

Summary To the index at the top

We have much to learn yet about Abraham in Egypt and the meaning of related ancient documents. Even if one insists on considering only intellectual factors, there is evidence which suggests - in my opinion - that it may be rash to simply dismiss or ignore the Book of Abraham.

For those who want to investigate the authenticity of the Book of Abraham by purely intellectual means, I suggest you do it by examining the text and comparing it to other related ancient documents. In doing so, you may find fascinating support for the Book of Abraham in other documents that were unearthed after the time of Joseph Smith. The writings of Hugh Nibley are valuable in this regard, though he admits that his work is always tentative - as is the case for all scholarship. Please see his book Abraham in Egypt and also The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (1975), along with many other articles.

No amount of evidence can prove a sacred writing to be true, but it is possible to determine whether something is plausible. Thus, priestly writings from Thebes which are now known to mention Abraham many times do not prove that the papyri Joseph received from Thebes actually did contain writings about Abraham, but help to establish the plausibility of that claim - a claim that had been ridiculed as impossible for many years. Recent research showing evidence of Egyptian cults in Mesopotamia during Abraham's time (apparently) also lend plausibility to the Book of Abraham (especially evidence showing veneration of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek), while undercutting some common and very old attacks on the book.

In considering plausibility, the critical method requires more than nitpicking at the weakest links, but also accounting for the strongest. Perhaps our current understanding of some part of the Book of Abraham does not square with what scholars say, but that is not necessarily evidence that the book is wrong. The decades have reversed many of the scholarly criticisms leveled against the book. Before we reject it, we must be able to account for the strong points in the claim to authenticity. Are the evidences that provide plausibility to the text and the comments on the facsimiles purely due to lucky guesses from a nineteenth century farmboy? That question must be addressed head on before we condemn Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham.

For those really interested in whether Joseph Smith was a prophet of God or not, my advice is to focus on the Book of Mormon. Read it prayerfully, study it intensely, and seek to know by the power of God if it is of Him or not. Careful, prayerful reading of the Book of Mormon (and the Bible) was the foundation of my personal witness that Christ truly lives and that He still speaks today through living prophets and apostles, one of whom was Joseph Smith.

The real proof that the Book of Abraham is authentic must be based on a spiritual witness obtained through study and prayer, not from the commentary of man. Those who know, through the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph was a true prophet called to restore the Church of Christ, should not be swayed by the seemingly powerful attacks of critics. On a purely intellectual level, these attacks can be rejected or put on hold pending further data. On a spiritual level, the Book of Abraham contains valuable truths that deserve our attention.

Certainly many questions remain, so let's keep looking for answers - patiently.

Bibliography To the index at the top

Kevin L. Barney,"The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources," in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (Studies in the Book of Abraham, No. 3), edited by John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2005), pp. 107-130. Barney's article is included in the free download of the entire book at ScholarsArchive. The article is also reproduced here.

Robert S. Bianchi, "Magic and Religion in Ancient Egypt," Archaeology, 48, no. 2 (March/April 1995): 72-73.

E. Wallis Budge, Gods of the Egyptians, or Studies in Egyptian Mythology 1 (1904), as cited by Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 1992, p. 148; and 2 (1969), New York: Dover, as cited by McGregor and Shirts, p. 218.

E. Wallis Budge, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, (New York: Dover, 1967, originally published 1895).

H. Brugsch, Die Geographie des alten Aegyptens, Leipzig, 1857, pp. 30-37, as cited by [Gee, 1991].

Joseph C. Campbell, The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, (New York: Penguin Books, 1962).

James H. Charlesworth, editor, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1 (Garden City: Doubleday, 1983), pp. 889-890.

E. Douglas Clark, "Abraham," in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan Publ., 1992).

Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1992).

FARMS, "The Crocodile God of Pharaoh in Mesopotamia," Insights 16/5 (Oct. 1996), also FARMS Update No. 108, Oct. 1996, Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah.

R.B. Finnestad, "The Pharaoh and the 'Democratization' of Post-Mortem Life," in The Religion of the Ancient Egyptians: Cognitive Structures and Popular Expressions, ed. G. Englund, Uppsala, Sweden: Almqvist and Wiskell (1989): 91, as cited by McGregor and Shirts, p. 206.

Sir Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Being An Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs, 3rd Ed. (Oxford University Press, London: 1966).

John Gee, "Notes on the Sons of Horus," FARMS paper GEE-91, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991.

John Gee, "Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts," Ensign (July 1992): 60-62 (available online at and at archived here).

John Gee, "Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 7, no. 1 (1995a): 19-84. (This is a review of Edward H. Ashment's book, The Use of Magical Papyri to Authenticate the Book of Abraham.)

John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri, (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000).

Russell C. McGregor and Kerry A. Shirts, "Letters to an Anti-Mormon," FARMS Review of Books, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 11, no. 1 (1999): 90-298.

Jonathan Moyer, "The Jewish Origin of the Book of Abraham." (Argues that the Book of Abraham is a work of Hellenistic age Judaism, originating in Egypt, among one of the numerous Jewish communities there.)

Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute Publications, 2010, orig. publ. 1957).

Hugh Nibley, "As Things Stand at the Moment," BYU Studies, 9, no. 1 (1968): 98, as cited by McGregor and Shirts, p. 209.

Hugh Nibley, Improvement Era (July 1969): 97-111.

Hugh Nibley, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," Sunstone, 4 (Dec. 1979): 49-51.

Hugh Nibley, "The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham," FARMS paper N-FAC, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1980.

Hugh Nibley, Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 5, Part 3, Ch. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988).

John Peters, letter to Franklin S. Spalding, in F.S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (1912), p. 28, as cited in FARMS Update No. 108, Oct. 1996.

Georges Posener, "Syria and Palestine c. 2160-1780 B.C.," Cambridge Ancient History, 1.2:549,550, as cited in FARMS Update No. 108, Oct. 1996.

Michael Rhodes, "The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 4 (1992-a): 120-126.

Michael Rhodes, in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan Publ., 1992-b).

Stephen E. Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham," Dialogue, 28, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 143-162.

Roy B. Ward, "Abrahamic Traditions in Early Christianity," in Studies on the Testament of Abraham, ed. George W.E. Nickelsburg, Jr., Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press (1976): 177, as cited by McGregor and Shirts, p. 205.

Richard W. Wilkinson, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994).

Webb, Freemason's Monitor, pp. 246-247, as cited by W. Hamblin et al., Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 6, no. 2 (1994): 52.

Walter L. Whipple, "The St. Louis Museum of the 1850s and the Two Egyptian Mummies and Papyri," BYU Studies, 10/1 (Autumn 1969): 57-64.

Related resources To the index at the top

Web Sites

Items related to the Book of Abraham include:

"Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham"
The Church's 2014 statement on the Book of Abraham at the Gospel Topics section of The brief statement with 46 footnotes makes several important points. It reminds us that we do not know how the translation was done though there are several possibilities to consider. It also gives reasonable responses to several common objections such as the lack of Abraham-related text in the papyrus fragment that contains Facsimile 1. It also discusses evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Abraham, including a few of the topics raised above.

The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus: Twenty Years Later
This article by Michael D. Rhodes provides an excellent discussion of Facsimile #2 and the amazingly reasonable commentary of Joseph Smith, which could not have been fabricated based on scholarly knowledge in the 1830s. Critics will have a hard time explaining how Joseph Smith was able to offer such plausible commentary.

Kevin L. Barney, "Elkenah as Canaanite El," Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, 19/1 (2010): 22�35.

The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Anti-Mormon Claim
This paper by Ben McGuire on the Website presents a review of an anti-LDS film entitled The Lost Book of Abraham: Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim. An excellent review!

Kerry A. Shirts' "Mormonism Researched" Site
A tremendous resource is back online at last! Kerry offers a bundle of valuable information on the Book of Abraham and other LDS topics. See, for example, his article, "Abraham 3:13 - Shinehah - the Sun: Joseph Smith Shines Through on This One Also." Can the critics explain this one away? Also look at his discussion of a Book of Abraham video from I.R.R..

The Book of Abraham Project
A major project at BYU dealing with the documents and criticisms of the Book of Abraham. Be sure to see the page Criticisms of Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham, which refutes most of the attacks made on the Book of Abraham.

John Gee's review of Charles M. Larson's book, By His Own Hand upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri, (Grand Rapids: Institute for Religious Research, 1992).

Michael Rhodes' review of By His Own Hand upon Papyrus. (NOTE: When the FARMS page comes up, you can click on "Continue to article without a log in" to read the article for free, if you don't have an account.)

Hugh Nibley's talk on the three facsimiles of the Book of Abraham
Nibley discusses many relationships to other documents and events.


Several books are also available, other than those mentioned above by Hugh Nibley. A fascinating work of scholarship on the origins of the papyri and how they got to Joseph Smith is found in The Story of the Book of Abraham by H. Donl Peterson, published by Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1995 (ISBN 0-87579-846-2, List $21.95).

Peterson, a scholar who spent years on this topic, offers an extensive treatment of what is now known and still unknown about the discovery, loss, partial destruction, and rediscovery of some of the Joseph Smith papyri. He provides a detailed examination of the roles of those involved in the discovery and transmission of the documents (Chandler, Lebolo, and others), shedding much new light on what still remains something of a mystery: exactly where did the papyri come from and how did they get to Joseph Smith? The text shows that three sets of scrolls and other fragments existed, enough to potentially provide volumes of text. What had been translated seems to have been much more than what we now have in the LDS canon. The surviving fragments need not contain any of the translated or inspired text. The authenticity of Joseph Smith's translation per se is not treated in any depth.

LDSFAQBack to the LDS FAQ Index

Part 1 of the Book of Abraham FAQ

Update from Aug. 2002: Part 3: Ancient Records Offer New Support for the Book of Abraham - A brief survey of the vast body of ancient documents that confirm numerous details in the Book of Abraham that are not found in the Bible, and could not have been known to Joseph Smith. The primary source for this page is Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, edited by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2001), which I strongly recommend. This book provides easy access to many dozens of ancient documents to let the reader see if the details in the Book of Abraham were primarily random fantasies of Joseph Smith, or if it is related to information about Abraham known in ancient times. The evidence for authenticity is truly noteworthy.

"The Jewish Origin of the Book of Abraham" by Jonathan Moyer.

The Book of Abraham at

Kevin Barney's 2013 article, "The Book of Abraham" gives an excellent overview of major issues.

"Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri," (FARMS Review, vol. 20, no. 1, 2008) for details on the 3 Facsimiles.

The "Star-Apes" of Facsimile 2: Egyptian Correlations - an online article by Kerry Shirts.

"The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources" by Kevin L. Barney, from Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, pp. 107-130. Barney argues that we shouldn't be focused on what the Egyptian facsimiles meant to Egyptians, but what they might have meant to a Hebrew redactor. Understanding the symbolism in light of Hebraic lore and paradigms infuses new insights into the meaning of the facsimiles. A fascinating approach that may be shed additional light on the impact of Jewish thought in the application of Egyptian motifs in the Book of Abraham.

"A Day to a Cubit" - article by Hollis R. Johnson for the Mormon Interpreter that shows how Joseph Smith's statement about a day equaling one cubit in a facsimile of the Book of Abraham may actually make sense in the ancient Egyptian framework.

The 'Adat El, "Council of the Gods" & Bene Elohim, "Sons of God": Ancient Near Eastern Concepts in the Book of Abraham by Kerry A. Shirts. Scholarly insights showing that the detailed Council of the Gods theme in the Book of Abraham is an authentic Near Eastern concept that Joseph could not have fabricated based on the scholarship of his day.

"The Plain of Olishem and the Field of Abram" by Val Sederholm--analysis of the place name Olishem that appears in the Book of Abraham.

YouTube video: Evidences of the Book of Abraham: Historicity (Pearl of Great Price Central). A 10-minute overview of some evidences for the ancient nature of the Book of Abraham.

My Book of Mormon Evidences Page

Intro to the Book of Mormon

Introduction to the LDS Church

Jeff Lindsay's home page

Index of pages on this site

Judging and Prejudging the Book of Abraham by Hugh W. Nibley.

Comments on My Book of Abraham Pages (via Facebook) To the index at the top

Curator: Jeff Lindsay ,   Contact:
Last Updated: Feb. 5, 2018
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