Skeptics say Joseph Smith penciled in portions of the Facsimile 1 papyrus incorrectly. These missing parts from the Egyptian papyrus originally looked different, says CES Letter, “based on Egyptology and the same scene discovered elsewhere in Egypt.” Here is how Anti-Mormon Charles Larson says it should look like (from his book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus):
Can’t Be Sure How It Looked Like
The lion couch scene in Facsimile 1 is very unique, with symbols and figures that are found in no other lion couch scene in Egyptian literature. So how can Anti-Mormons be sure how it should be drawn in? No other lion couch scene shows hands extended, the lying figure wearing garments, an offering table to the side, etc.
Joseph Smith Did Not Pencil It In
A professional engraver filled in the missing parts, not Joseph Smith. The engraver probably got direction on how it should be drawn, but maybe even Joseph Smith was only guessing. How was he supposed to know what missing parts looked like? Is Joseph Smith some kind of wizard who knows how things originally appeared? Did he ever claim to restore it to its original appearance? No, he only gave the scene’s meaning and Abrahamic context. That doesn’t necessarily mean he knew how the missing parts should look like.
What difference did it make if the priest on the side wore a jackal mask or not, for example? Why is that important for the Abrahamic teachings? Discrepancies would only matter if they change the symbolic meanings that Joseph Smith gave, and I don’t see anything in Charles Larson’s drawing that contradict any of these meanings. In fact, the fill-ins turns out to be more accurate than Charles Larson’s drawing.
Priest’s Head Or Jackal’s Head?
Joseph Smith’s fill-in shows a human head of a priest offering sacrifice. Charles Larson shows instead a jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis. In all other lion couch scene examples, Anubis has a solid colored jackal head. But in the Facsimile 1 papyrus we can see interspersed black and white markings behind his head where it should be solid dark. We see a long vertical white mark at the very back, which the Charles Larson drawing ignores. Well, perhaps this figure has a dark arm with a solid white head-dress above it? If so, then why are there dark marks all over the white head-dress?
But whether this character has a human head or a jackal head is irrelevant, because this was a human priest filling in the role of Anubis, wearing a mask, performing the Sed-festival sacrifice.
Raised Hands Or Wings
Joseph Smith’s fill-ins show arms raised above the face. In Charles Larson’s drawing, it shows a second bird in place the reclining figure’s upper hand. It is true that a second bird sometimes appears in lion couch scenes here, typically carrying an ankh symbol, the symbol of eternal life. Well, if it really was a bird instead of a hand, this would not be inconsistent with Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the Facsimile. But still, there are many reasons why a hand is more likely than a bird wing:
Shoulder Position Indicates Raised Arm – Charles Larson draws the shoulder lowered and sloped downward, but this is not how it appears on the papyrus. The papyrus shows a shoulder up and raised toward the head, the kind of posture we see when a person is raising their arm. Why would this shoulder be raised if the arm is reaching down to the leg? It wouldn’t. This is why Charles Larson lies about what appears on the papyrus. In other lion couch examples, we see downward-sloping shoulders when the arm is reaching down, and raised shoulders for arms that are reaching up. The angle of the Facsimile’s shoulder line suggests the arm is reaching up.
- No Solid Wing Line – Egyptians drew birds with solid wings, not frayed lines like we see here. We can see that the bird to the right is drawn with a solid line outlining the wing, and birds are always drawn consistantly within the same drawing. I have never seen an Egyptian bird with frayed feathers like on this papyrus, or birds in the same scene drawn in a different style. In the very rare example that a bird does not have this solid line outlining the wing, each feather is meticulously outlined. They didn’t just scrawl squiggly lines for the feathers.
- Excessive Overlapping – Egyptians were very careful to avoid overlapping the figures if they didn’t have to. The Charles Larson drawing shows the arm overlapping the ankh and the bird overlapping the priest’s hand. Egyptians would never draw it this way. Larson was forced to draw a large bird because the squiggly lines are so large, but an Egyptian artist would simply have made the bird smaller to fit in the space.
Charles Larson’s drawing in this area of the papyrus is full of errors:
- Red is the edge of the papyrus fragment.
- Blue are parts that Charles Larson draws in but are actually blank spaces on the papyrus.
- Green are lines that appear in on the papyrus but which Larson omits.
- The shoulder line on the right is drawn lower than what we see on the papyrus. This would indicate a raised hand.
- At the top-right, Charles Larson draws in a horizontal line to make it look like the hand-lines continue horizontally to a bird instead of angling down to an arm. Larson incorrectly adds this line into blank space to change the angle of the hand lines, to make them slope horizontally.
- On the bottom-left, Charles Larson draws the arm extending to the crotch. This slightly overlaps to what is a blank space on the papyrus.
- Charles Larson locates the crotch higher than is anatomically correct. Also, how does one grab the phalus while wearing a kilt? That’s quite a feat! It also is never depicted in any Egyptian literature we know of.
- On the upper-left, Charles Larson draws bird’s tail feathers that slightly overlap to what is a blank space on the papyrus. In his drawing, Charles Larson placed the bird and hand conveniently just inside the part missing from the papyrus, but they do overlap twice onto papyrus space that is actually blank. Oops!
- Charles Larson moves the arm of Anubis which extends from the left toward the reclining figure, up a good distance. Larson incorrectly moves the arm because otherwise it would overlap the bird’s wing (which is also incorrect) worse than it already does. But sorry, that’s blank papyrus there. Again, Egyptians did not overlap figures if they could help it. They would have drawn the bird smaller or moved one of the other figures out of the way.
Nothing Like A Bird’s Wing – If you don’t believe me about how Egyptians drew feathers, just take a closer look for yourself. Does this look like a hand or does it look like a bird’s wing? Why does it resemble the other hand exactly, with five fingers? Why does one feather curl backwards like a thumb? Why does the style in which it is drawn conflict with the other bird in this scene, and with every other bird drawing in Egyptian literature? Clearly, it is a hand.
Bird’s Head Or… Something
Charles Larson draws some kind of beakless head for the bird on the right side of the papyrus, different than the normal bird’s head that Joseph Smith drew in. What is that? A Mexican wrestling mask? A rugby helmet? Anti-Mormons have speculated that a human head belongs on this bird, but Charles Larson has enough sense to know that this would look ridiculous, because of the long neck and blank space where there would be a long beard. Yet Charles draws some kind of striped dome for a head.
There are two reasons why Larson wisely avoided a human head. First, no lion couch scene includes a human-headed bird in this position at the bottom of the bed. Second, the human heads tend to be large and bearded, and there is blank space on the papyrus where that would all go.
Joseph Smith put a beak above the long neck, but Larson instead includes no beak, no mouth. But again, the specifics of how the bird looked like is not important. What difference does it make to the Abraham meanings? The point is, it’s a bird. As a matter of fact, if it had been a bird with a human head, wouldn’t this strengthen Joseph Smith’s claim that it is a symbol for a human angel of the Lord?
Again, study how the wings of this bird are drawn. Solid outline. Nothing like the lines that Charles Larson claims are a bird’s wing instead of a hand.
Papyrus Shows Signs Of Modern Damage
There is clear evidence of peeling on the papyrus after it was mounted. There are frayed specks paper and glue marks with tiny pieces still attached, indicating that the part with the bird head was probably still there when this papyrus was mounted on paper. Also, some parts, such as the raised hand and bird’s head are not penciled in on the mounting paper, which means the papyrus was probably still there in these parts when the penciling was all done.
We see this kind of modern damage all over the mounting papers, which indicates that there was a lot more there, and much of what we think was filled in was plain to be seen when Joseph Smith looked at it.
Look at the edge of the paper. There are a few dark specks here and there. But now look around where the papyrus is missing. I see large specks of papyrus residue and dried glue that was used to hold the papyrus. How much of the missing papyrus flaked away after Joseph Smith looked at it? The bird head and priest’s hand with the knife is not penciled in, so we can guess those parts of the papyrus were still there (in which case the second bird couldn’t have been in the scene.) Dr. Hugh Nibley points out, “there was room on the papyrus for the complete head and hand of the priest” before it flaked away. There is a good chance he saw what the missing bird head, arms, and Anubis head originally looked like.
Who Filled It In?
As we can see, the penciled in parts look different than the official published Facsimile 1. Why would Joseph Smith pencil in something different than what he published? There is no evidence Joseph Smith was the one who penciled that in, and he certainly wasn’t the one who made the final Facsimile 1 illustration. That was done by a professional engraver named Reuben Hedlock.
Maybe Reuben Hedlock filled it in the best way he could guess, based on Joseph Smith’s general description of Abraham on an altar, a priest sacrificing him, and a bird over his head. Or maybe Joseph Smith closely told him what to draw. We don’t know.
Whoever it was that filled it in, it is quite amazing how well they did! Even modern Egyptologists have a hard time figuring it out, as we can see with Charles Larson’s many mistakes. Joseph Smith in 1835, before anything was known about Egyptology, still confounds modern-day “experts,” with more accurate fill-ins of how it “should look.” Charles Larson goes out of his way to throw in things that contradict Joseph Smith’s fill-in, but in every case Facsimile 1 is simpler and more likely what was originally there. Is this all just coincidence?
CES Letter Logical Fallacies
|Falsehoods||CES Letter uses Charles Larson’s illustration of what “Facsimile 1 is really supposed to look like,” but it is full of mistakes–additions that don’t show up on the papyrus and parts on the papyrus that he omits. He tries to fit contradictions into the part that is missing from the papyrus.
CES Letter incorrectly claims figure 3 is not supposed to be “human,” but this is a scene of a real Egyptian ritual and this figure was indeed was a human priest.
CES Letter incorrectly claims that pencil markings behind the papyrus and the final engraving were “penciled in by Joseph Smith and his associates.” Joseph Smith wasn’t an engraver and it is unlikely he made the pencil markings as they are different than the engraving that he approved.
|Argument From Ignorance||
In order to prove that this was a “common” scene in Egyptian literature, the illustration in CES Letter adds things that are not to be found in any Egyptian literature, such as squiggly marks for feathers, a bird with a Mexican wrestling mask for a head, and an Anubis head mask that wraps around the front of arms but not the back. Wouldn’t all of this make the Facsimile more unique, and therefore more likely to associate with Abraham? Think about it.
But the truth is the smartest Egyptologist in history can’t know what was in those missing parts. And Joseph Smith and his engraver may have been guessing as well. All Joseph Smith claimed to know, from inspiration, was the Abrahmic meaning of the Facsimile.
The illustration in CES Letter includes columns of hieroglyphic text around the Facsimile, to suggest that Joseph Smith somehow made a mistake not including them in the Facsimile engraving.
|Repetition||CES Letter brings up several times the alleged problems with the “facsimiles.”|
CES Letter points out “Anubis is consistent in every funerary scene,” and they show examples of Anubis with a sarcophagus. But Facsimile 2 isn’t a scene with a sarcophagus, but with a moving person. Also, Anubis isn’t consistent here at all, as he stands between the moving deceased figure and the lion couch, which does not happen in any other lion couch scene. Also, this figure isn’t always Anubis, but often Isis or someone else. Interestingly, CES Letter locates this illogical argument not at the discussion of how the scene should be filled in but at the part where they discuss what the scene means, which could imply that these figures are the same as these sarcophagus examples.
Oh, and if Anubis is “consistent” with a jackal head in “every funeral scene,” why does CES Letter call out a figure with a human head in Facsimile 3 as Anubis–a Facsimile that clearly isn’t funerary?
Narrative – Many skeptics I talk to say that the Book of Abraham is the “smoking gun” that disproves Mormonism. But that is just because they assume that the recovered papyri fragments are the source for the Book of Abraham. It is a big narrative that compounds as we delve into further investigation and leads to other narratives. They typically frame the discussion where the small fragment is definitely what Joseph Smith claimed to use–not a different scroll or different part of that scroll.
This nitpick about how Joseph Smith filled in this Facsimile which builds greater association with the Book of Abraham and this recovered papyrus fragment that happens to contain Facsimile 1. But really, the only association is that Facsimile 1 shows the Sed-festival sacrifice ritual and this is the same ritual sacrifice that Abraham talked about in his book. That’s it.
Superstition – Do Mormons need science to validate every single detail of our faith? Suddenly, Antimormons can go back in time and tell us exactly what the Egyptian artist of this Facsimile was thinking? Are the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham a “model” that has no evidence for it. Well, this is an easy trick to play when it comes to ancient history as one can discount every piece of evidence as coincidence, forged, or unfounded.
This kind of obsession with physical evidence for spiritual faith led the crusaders to seek out physical objects from the holy land to validate the bible, pieces of the cross or the cup of Jesus Christ. It always leads to superstition, because no amount of science can prove without reasonable doubt that a historical object is what it purports to be. The Shroud of Turin? I mean, there is a mountain of evidence that correlates the Book of Abraham. Since the day of Joseph Smith, ancient book after ancient book has been discovered and translated into English that says the same thing as the Book of Abraham. No amount of scientific testing would convince the Antimormons. Even if the legitimacy of the claim were proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, I think they would pass it off as coincidence.
After all, that’s what some skeptics do with the copy of the Facsimile 1 diagram which was discovered by archaeologists with the name “Abraham” under it. Antimormons may reply, “well that doesn’t really say ‘Abraham.’ Just a name very similar to Abraham.” Yeah, uh huh.
Actually, I think it would be detrimental to Mormonism if undeniable evidence were found, because it would shift our narrative away from matters of faith toward un-spiritual confirmation of a historical event from physical evidence. And that’s what this comes down to. The shift away from faith serves Satan’s intentions because a person who relies on superstition is not practicing personal agency, but being total reliant on others for his beliefs and actions.
They can get away with this narrative because it is the consensus among so many people that the lion couch scene has nothing to do with Abraham, and because it takes so long to explain the evidence. It is like claiming that the Library of Alexandria never really existed because we have no physical evidence today, apart from some alleged ancient tales. An archaeologist can give plenty of convincing evidence, but it would take hours.
Contradiction – We should not frame any discussion in a narrow context where Joseph Smith must give completely testable physical evidence that we can prove. Can the missing parts of the papyrus be proven? No. So, this sets an impossible standard where Joseph Smith needs to know everything and explain it perfectly, even if it is irrelevant to the point he was getting across. Who cares if the priest wears a jackal mask or not? Why is that important? By treating Joseph Smith like some kind of wizard who either knows everything about everything or is a fraud, they set up an unrealistic standard. Anyone who expects absolute perfection, a perfect magic trick, from Joseph Smith is going to lose their testimony of the gospel. Joseph Smith was only explaining how this vignette related to Abraham, not giving a word for word translation of its Egyptian context. Really, it is stunning that the Facsimile is filled in as correctly as it is.
So we should be careful not to set a rigid and unfair frame of what “translating” means. Joseph Smith never claimed to give the Egyptian meaning. But I think actually the exploration of the Egyptian context brings new and important understanding to the Abraham story. Clearly, one context relates to the other. I don’t think there is anything wrong with exploring and critically investigating physical evidence, such as the recovered papyri from Joseph Smith’s Egyptian collection that have survived. It is an exciting opportunity. The danger is when we use faulty logic and leap to wild, simplistic conclusions. There is a smart and vibrant group of LDS scholars investigating the evidence and making great discoveries, which will increase what we learn from the Book of Abraham. They are careful not to become superstitious and search for holy grails to confirm their faith. They do not replace faith with a dependence on only what we can see.
Invalidating Ancient Scripture – Invalidating the Book of Breathing as just some common Pagan funerary text, and totally ignoring its sacred and profound spiritual context could further pours gasoline on any kind of faith in ancient scripture. Actually, the fact is the Book of Breathing is one of the most important books ever made. It was one of the first Egyptian writings, one of the first translated into English, and was immediately an object of wide fascination. LDS can glean powerful wisdom by pondering why it was deposited alongside the Book of Abraham scroll. The Facsimiles and Book of Abraham stand solidly as miracles and a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
(All claims in this article are personal opinion and speculation. Quotes regarding CES Letter are derived the March 2015 version of CES Letter and may not reflect more recent versions.)