Did Joseph Smith Incorrectly Fill In Missing Parts Of Facsimile 1?

CES Letter claims missing portions of Facsimile 1 were “penciled in” by Joseph Smith incorrectly. These missing parts were different, “based on Egyptology and the same scene discovered elsewhere in Egypt,” they claim.

But this claim is illogical, because the lion couch scene in Facsimile 1 is so unique. How can they be sure how it should be drawn in? None of the other lion couch scenes show hands extended, the lying figure wearing garments, an offering table to the side, etc. Nobody can know how it was originally drawn.

And maybe Joseph Smith was guessing himself. How was he supposed to know what missing parts looked like? He was only giving the scene’s meaning and the 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? Discrepancies would only matter if they were substantially different. In fact, as we shall see, Joseph Smith’s fill-ins turns out to be more accurate than CES Letter‘s “modern Egyptology.”

Priest’s Head

In all other lion couch scenes, Anubis wears a solid colored mask. But in the papyrus we can see interspersed black and white markings behind his head where the mask continues. We see a long vertical white mark at the very back where it should be solid, and the Charles Larson drawing ignores this. But again, whether this character really showed a jackal head is not important, because this was a human priest filling this role wearing a mask.

Reclining Figure’s Hands

In CES Letter‘s drawing, taken from Charles Larson’s book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, it shows a second bird instead of the reclining figure’s upper hand. A second bird sometimes appears in lion couch scenes here, typically carrying an ankh symbol, the bringer of eternal life. This bird as a symbol would not be inconsistent with Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the Facsimile. But regardless, there are many reasons why this looks more like a hand than a bird.

  • Egyptians drew birds with solid wings, not frayed lines like we see here. The first bird on the papyrus, above the head, is drawn with a solid line outlining the wing. I have never seen an Egyptian bird with frayed feathers like on this papyrus. In the very rare example that does not have this solid line outlining the wing, each feather is meticulously outlined. They didn’t just scrawl squiggly lines for the feathers.
  • 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 had to draw a large bird because of the size of the squiggly lines, but an Egyptian artist would simply have made the bird smaller to fit in the space.
The reclined figure’s shoulder line is broken in order to give the arm more room to reach the crotch in Larson’s drawing. But Egyptians drew downward shoulders in cases of the arm reaching down, as we would see the shoulder behave naturally. They drew upraised shoulders in cases where the arm was reaching up, again as we see shoulders behave naturally. The angle of the Facsimile’s shoulder line suggests the arm is reaching up.

Below is Charles Larson’s drawing overlapped with the papyrus fragment. The red lines outlines the edges of the papyrus fragment. The blue lines are parts that Charles Larson draws in but are actually blank spaces on the papyrus. The green lines are parts that are drawn in on the papyrus but which Larson omits.

  • Again, he draws the shoulder line on the right side of the page different than what’s on the papyrus in order to cover up for the fact that the shoulder indicates a raised hand.
  • At the top right side, he fills in a horizontal line at hand in order to make it look like it continues horizontally to a bird instead of angling down to an arm.
  • On the bottom-left hand of the page, the hand that he draws extending to the crotch slightly overlaps to a blank space on the papyrus
  • On the upper-left hand of the page, the bird’s tail feathers slightly overlap to 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!
  • The arm of Anubis is moved up entirely. Larson adjusts the Anubis priest’s arm higher up so that it doesn’t overlap the bird’s feathers worse than it already does. But sorry, that’s blank papyrus there.

Take a closer look. Is the upper hand really a bird wing? Why does it resemble the other hand exactly, with five fingers? Why does one feather curl backwards like a thumb? Why does this style conflict with every other bird drawing in Egyptian literature–and even the other bird within the same drawing? Clearly, it is a hand.


Charles Larson draws some kind of beakless head for the bird on the right side of the papyrus, different than what 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 instead he draws some kind of striped dome.

There are two reasons why Larson wisely avoided adding 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 the specifics of how the bird looks is not important. The point is, it’s a bird. Actually, if it had a human head, it would strengthen Joseph Smith’s claim that it is a symbol for a human angel.

Notice that in every lion couch scene with multiple birds, the birds look the same. They are drawn the same and doing the same, or similar, actions.

Finally, notice the clear evidence of peeling on the papyrus after it was mounted. We see frayed paper and glue marks with tiny pieces still attached, indicating that the bird head was probably still there when this papyrus was mounted on paper. The bird’s head is not penciled in so the part of the papyrus was probably still there when the penciling was done.

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 used to hold 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.

We may never know. 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.

So there is a chance 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.

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 this investigation of Charles Larson’s drawing. He goes out of his way to throw in things that contradict the Facsimile 1 fill-in, but in every case Facsimile 1 is simpler and more likely what was originally there.

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 what CES Letter fails to understand is this is a scene of a real Egyptian ritual and this figure 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, CES Letter‘s illustration 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, not less unique?

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.

CES Letter‘s illustration 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.”
Circular Argument 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 falsely implies that these figures are the same as these sarcophagus examples.
Big Lie Tactic – Most anti-Mormons 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 lie that compounds as we delve into further investigation and leads to other lies. This is why CES Letter frames the discussion where the small fragment is definitely what Joseph Smith claimed to use–not a different scroll or different part of that scroll.

Creating SuperstitionCES Letter reinforces their narrative that Mormons need science to validate every single detail of their faith. Suddenly, they can go back in time and tell us exactly what the artist of this Facsimile was thinking. They frame the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham as a “model” that has no evidence for it–an easy trick for them to play when it comes to ancient history as they discount every piece of evidence as coincidence, forged, or unfounded.

This kind of narrative 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 anti-Mormons. Even if the legitimacy of the claim were proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, they would pass it off as coincidence.

After all, that’s what they do with the copy of the Facsimile 1 diagram which was discovered by archaeologists with the name “Abraham” under it. Anti-Mormons 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 CES Letter is trying to do. 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.

CES Letter can get away with this Big Lie claim 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.

Joseph Smith explained:

“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft.

…Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.”

Contradiction Strategy – In the previous arguments, CES Letter cherry-picked evidence to contradict the Book of Mormon. Then they cherry-picked evidence that Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Facsimile 1 is totally wrong. Now, in this argument they cherry-pick elements that once in a while show up in other lion couch scenes and fill those in instead of what Joseph Smith filled in.

This is how CES Letter works. They frame any discussion in a very narrow context where Joseph Smith must give completely testable physical evidence that we can prove. They do not allow the possibility that these missing parts of the papyrus will never be proven. So, they set 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? By treating Joseph Smith like some kind of wizard who either knows everything about everything or is a fraud, CES Letter sets up an unrealistic standard. Anyone who expects absolute perfection, a perfect magic trick, is going to lose their testimony of the gospel. Really, it is stunning that the Facsimile is filled in as correctly as it is.

CES Letter really poisons the well by using a rigid and unfair frame of what “translating” means to invalidate the facsimiles. Actually, exploration of the Egyptian context brings new and important understanding to the Abraham story. Clearly, one context derived from the other. Joseph Smith never claimed to give the Egyptian meaning.

CES Letter uses fake science–in this case phony assumptions–to point out an inconsistency regarding LDS belief, and then presents science as the superior alternative source for truth. CES Letter uses the Marxist contradiction strategy, as they appeal to “science” and deconstruct the outdated Mormon belief.

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 minds 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.

By invalidating the Book of Breathing as just some common Pagan funerary text, and totally ignoring its sacred and profound spiritual context, CES Letter 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.

  • A Broad Abroad

    If the Book of Abraham is a true record of Abraham, wouldn’t this be huge news to the nearly 4 billion people in the world who follow Abrahamic traditions? Why aren’t Christians, Muslims and Jews banging down the doors of the church’s headquarters to inspect these sacred documents?

    • Teancum

      Great question. The main problem is that we don’t have the original documents. We have the Book of Breathings fragments, but they don’t appear to be the basis of the LDS Book of Abraham text. It must have been some other scroll that was destroyed in the Chicago fire, or if it was from these fragments, it is some mystical method that we haven’t been able to find a connection for.

      We do have the fragment that contains this facsimile 1, but Egyptologists argue that Joseph Smith’s interpretation is totally wrong. There are lots of parallels, which I point out in other posts, but it comes down to lack of physical evidence and lots of unknowns. Joseph Smith did not explain why a vignette of the sed-festival lion couch relates to Abraham’s human sacrifice drama.