Is The Source For The Book Of Abraham Totally Unrelated To Abraham?

“Egyptologists have found the source material for the Book of Abraham to be nothing more than a common pagan Egyptian funerary text for a deceased man named ‘Hor’ in 1st century CE. In other words, it was a common Breathing Permit that the Egyptians buried with their dead. It has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or anything Joseph claimed in his translation for the Book of Abraham.” (CES Letter)

Not The Source – The recovered papyri fragments from Joseph Smith’s collection were not what Joseph Smith used to translate. Joseph Smith likely used the Amenhotep Scroll, which perished in the Chicago fire of 1871.

CES Letter incorrectly assumes that the few recovered fragments from Joseph Smith’s papyrus, which date to the first century AD, are the basis for the Book of Abraham. There were at least four scrolls, and witness descriptions of the Abraham scroll match with the so-called Amenhotep Scroll, which has not been recovered.

  • Witnesses described one of Joseph Smith’s Egyptian scrolls as black, with fragments that she pasted into a book. A few sheets of this scroll were pasted into a book. These pasted pages were apparently later put under glass, but the sheets under glass must not have been very large, as they had first come from pages of a book:

    “[Lucy Mack Smith] produced a black looking roll (which she told us was papyrus) found on the breast of the King, part of which the prophet had unrolled and read; and she had pasted the deciphered sheets on the leaves of a book which she showed us.”

    (1846, Friends’ Weekly Intelligencer)

    But witnesses described a different kind of scroll. After the black scroll, Lucy Smith “opened a long roll of manuscript, saying it was ‘the writing of Abraham and Isaac.'” This other scroll was the source of the Book of Abraham.

    Witnesses said there was “a number of glazed slides, like picture frames containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglypics.” The lengthy sheets of papyrus under glass could have come from the “long roll of manuscript” which “contained the Book of Abraham.”

    The recovered papyri we have today contain only a few tiny fragments on book-sized paper, with only 18 characters from the Hor Book of Breathings. But witnesses describe “entire sheets of parchment” under glass, totally different than what we have today:

    “From this he drew forth a number of glazed slides, like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics. These had been unrolled from four mummies, which the prophet had purchased at a cost of twenty-four hundred dollars. By some inexplicable mode, as the storekeeper informed me, Mr. Smith had discovered that these sheets contained the writings of Abraham, written with his own hand while in Egypt.”

    (Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons 1842)

    “Some parchments inscribed with hieroglyphics were then offered us. They were preserved under glass and handled with great respect. ‘That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful,’ said the prophet.”

    (Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past, 1883)

  • A witness says the source for the Book of Abraham contained red and black ink, in perfect preservation:

    “Upon the subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph… This record is beautifully written in papyrus with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, in perfect preservation.”

    But the Hor Book of Breathings fragments with the Facsimile 1 vignette contains no red ink. The only fragments we have with red ink come from the Tsemminis scroll, and these fragments contain no facsimiles, and is also poorly preserved. The only other option is the lost Amenhotep Scroll.

  • The fragments we have today include messy handwriting. They are in very poor preservation. But Oliver Cowdery described the Book of Abraham scrolls as beautifully written and in great preservation:

    “The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is beautifully written in papyrus with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, in perfect preservation.”

    William I. Appleby likewise made it clear in his journal account that multiple scrolls were in Joseph Smith’s collection and that there was significant difference between the quality of preservation in the scrolls.

  • Some of the writing on the Book of Abraham scroll appeared to be in Hebrew, Appleby said. Well, Joseph Smith had lessons in Hebrew so he should have been able to recognize it. Hebrew certainly looks very different than Egyptians hieroglyphics to anyone. The rediscovered fragments contain nothing that resembles Hebrew. The only other option is the lost Amenhotep Scroll.

    “Saw the Rolls of Papyrus and the writings thereon, taken from off the bosom of the Male Mummy, having some of the writings of ancient Abraham and of Joseph that was sold into Egypt. The writings are chiefly in the Egyptian language, with the exception of a little Hebrew. I believe they give a description of some of the scenes in Ancient Egypt, of their worship, their Idol gods, etc. The writings are beautiful and plain, composed of red, and black inks. There is a perceptible difference, between the writings. Joseph, appears to have been the best scribe.” (William I. Appleby Journal)

    This couldn’t be from the Book of Breathings roll on the chest of the Hor mummy. The other two mummies were female. So whose scroll was it? There was a second male mummy in Joseph Smith’s collection which contained the Amenhotep Roll, identified based on transcriptions in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. These transcriptions are not decipherable as any known Egyptian text, and no fragments or sheets from this roll have been recovered.

Based on witness descriptions, the source of the Book of Abraham was the Amenhotep Roll, not the rediscovered papyri we have today. It probably was written with black and red ink, was in good preservation, contained some Hebrew, and contained large sheets from a lengthy scroll.

What About The Facsimile In Recovered Papyri? – This is the part of the discussion where a skeptic points out that Facsimile 1 appears in the recovered papyrus, and the recovered papyrus dates to the 1st century AD. So that must be the source, right? Well, there are several reasons why this couldn’t be the case.

  • Facsimiles 2 is a Hypocephalus and that would never be in a Book of Breathings scroll, which is where Facsimile 1 can be found. So either each facsimile was also on the lost Amenhotep Scroll, or Joseph took the facsimiles from different scrolls.
  • The Hypocephalus in Facsimile 2 mentions a guy named Sheshonq, and none of the four mummies had this name. This strengthens the conclusion that Joseph took the facsimiles from different sources.
  • Fragments from all four rolls were placed under glass in the same collection as the Abraham sheets. Apparently they were important too, as they contained facsimiles that Joseph could use to explain derivative diagrams relating to Abraham.
  • Test is much easier to reproduce than illustrations. If this scroll was passed down over many generations from the days of Abraham, it is likely that they gave up copying the facsimiles along the way, and this is why Joseph used images in the other scrolls to derive Abrahamic concepts, as these Egyptian images were based on Abrahamic diagrams.
  • Only one facsimile was referenced in the Abraham text, yet Joseph produced three facsimiles. This strengthens the disassociation of the facsimiles with the Abraham text.”
  • Text from the facsimiles received lengthy consideration in the Grammar and Alphabet booklet, yet no hieroglyphs in any of the scrolls’ text are to be found.
  • The Abraham text describes the facsimile differently than the papyrus fragment shows it. Abraham describes the bedstead as standing “before” the idol gods. The facsimile shows the bed over the idols, but we don’t get a point of perspective whether they are in front of behind them. The priest’s foot is in front of the jars, so it looks to me like the jars are under the bed. Abraham’s text reads: “I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is… hieroglyphics.” There are no hieroglyphics in this Facsimile, and there is nothing to explain anything about this idols.

    If the author of the Abraham text had had this same facsimile in front of them, they would have described it to match how it actually showed. This indicates Joseph Smith did not write it and the facsimiles we have today are not what Abraham originally wrote in his book.

Not A Common Funerary Document – I don’t know why anti-Mormons are shocked that the Facsimiles are Egyptian. They contain Egyptian writing. They were found with an Egyptian mummy, which Joseph never claimed was Abraham. Why wouldn’t they be Egyptian? In his explanation of the Facsimiles, Joseph even pointed out that Egyptian meaning was different than the Abraham context. In Facsimile 2, Joseph explained some figures:

“…also a numerical figure, in Egyptian… said by the Egyptians to be the Sun…”

Those are definitions that are exclusively Egyptian, not from the original Abraham context. This indicates that the Facsimiles were drawn for an Egyptian context but were based on much older illustrations that had to do with Abraham, which was what Joseph was concerned with.

So why would Facsimile 1 appear in the Egyptian Book of Breathings with an Egyptian context if it is an illustration of Abraham? Well, the original Facsimile in the Book of Breathings showed Abraham being saved by God from human sacrifice. The Egyptians used it in the Book of Breathings to show the dead mummy being prepared for resurrection–a very similar and sacred context.

The Book of Breathings is not just some common funerary document. The Book of Breathings is a condensed version of the Book of the Dead, which was a guide for the deceased to reach exaltation. It is one of the oldest religious writings in history, and it was one of the first Egyptian books to be translated into English, as it was greatly revered by 19th century Theosophists. It provided “spells” and direction for an initiate in the Egyptian temple to pass through the gates of heaven and achieve rejuvenation.

It is the Egyptian version of the Mormon endowment ceremony which we practice in the Mormon temple. Hugh Nibley details the similarities in his book Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment. He details now the Book of Breathings relates to Abraham. Yes, relationships to Abraham have been discovered.

Considering the Book of Abraham credits Abraham as the author of astronomy and religious elements of Egypt, it makes sense that the vignettes in this temple book descend from Abraham. It also makes sense that a transcription from some of Abraham’s text accompany this important book. Appleby clarified that the mummy only had “some of the writings” of Abraham. Maybe this Book of Breathings descended from another book of Abraham? Or maybe the Abraham text was on the same scroll as the Book of Breathings, in a part that didn’t survive the Chicago fire?

Possibly, but remember Appleby wrote that “a genealogy of the mummies, and the epitaphs and their deaths, etc., etc., are also distinctly represented on the Papyrus which is called the ‘Book of Abraham.'” Why would a scroll written by Abraham contain such funeral information about a totally different person? Joseph Smith never claimed that any of these mummies were the corpse of Abraham. Appleby’s account therefore confirms that Joseph Smith knew these were funeral documents, that the mummy was not Abraham himself, and that they were not the original Book of Abraham document. It also provides further evidence that the Book of Breathings scroll was not the Book of Abraham scroll. There is nothing on the recovered fragments, or in any other Book of Breathings scrolls in Egypt, that would appear to contain genealogy or epitaphs of mummies, even to those unfamiliar with Egyptian.

CES Letter Logical Fallacies

False Dilema There are several possibilities that CES Letter doesn’t allow room for. One theory is that Joseph discerned some kind of cipher. Another theory is that he received inspiration for the text based on the scrolls and that the scrolls never actually contained the text. I think it is more likely that he simply used a different scroll.
Argument From Ignorance There is no way to know if the document that Joseph Smith used for the Book of Abraham text is the recovered fragment that dates to the 1st century AD. The document that perished in a Chicago fire is a much more likely candidate, according to witness descriptions.
Strawman Fallacy CES Letter downplays the Book of Breathing as just some common “Breathing Permit” or Pagan funerary text, but it was a lot more.
Guilt By Association CES Letter denies any relationship between the Book of Breathing and the Book of Abraham, but they definitely are related, as Hugh Nibley exhaustively pointed out. At the very least, a book about resurrection and exaltation in heaven is obviously related to the themes in the Book of Abraham.

CES Letter calls the papyrus “Pagan” to push their ridiculous black magic narrative. If it was Egyptian then obviously it was Pagan. There was no need for this dramatic language, except to further insinuate that Joseph Smith was into black magic.

Shifting Goalposts CES Letter tried to hard to find parallel themes between the Book of Mormon and 19th century books, to suggest the Book of Mormon derived from these books. But the glaringly obvious parallel between the Book of Breathing and the Book of Abraham are now ignored.
Repetition CES Letter repeats the phony “funerary document” narrative twice (p. 29, 44).

CES Letter repeats “common” within this same argument.

Big Lie Tactic – Most anti-Mormons agree 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.

Every argument about the Book of Abraham hinges on the lie that Joseph Smith’s translation was based on the recovered fragment of papyrus.

This lie is easier for the CES Letter reader to believe after all those earlier arguments that attached the same narrative about the Book of Mormon. If Joseph Smith used the same “peep stone” that he used to look for buried treasure to translate the Book of Mormon, doesn’t that make it easier to believe Joseph used a “common funerary document,” as anti-Mormons incorrectly call the fragment, to create the Book of Mormon? CES Letter says in both cases science disproves the claim of prophesy:

“This is a testable claim. Joseph failed the test with the Book of Abraham. He failed the test with the Kinderhook Plates. With this modus operandi and track record, I’m now supposed to believe that Joseph has the credibility of translating the keystone Book of Mormon? With a rock in a hat?”

This big lie is very dishonest because CES Letter is approaching from the point of view that Joseph Smith made the whole thing up. So then, how could they logically restrict which document Joseph Smith pretended to translate from? They further frame the discussion that this particular fragment must completely resemble the English translation or it is totally invalid. No in-between; the “pagan” Egyptian book either contains the exact text or it is totally unrelated. This frame allows CES Letter in further arguments to make the ridiculous claim that a hieroglyph of Osiris couldn’t possibly be interpreted to stand for Abraham.

It’s like those crazy anti-Mormons who criticize the pentagram star on the Nauvoo temple because ‘it is witchcraft and a symbol of evil’ which couldn’t possibly be interpreted as anything else. It was clever of CES Letter to set up this false dilemma in their previous argument by taking an idiom literally: “by his own hand.” The only way anti-Mormons can attack the Book of Abraham is to demand a word-for-word translation from this tiny fragment of papyrus and to call anything else a “hoax.” That is the Contradiction Strategy that CES Letter uses; they restrict the argument to a binary and squeeze out anything that doesn’t fit their narrow definitions.

Creating SuperstitionCES Letter reinforces their narrative that Mormons need science to validate every single detail of their faith. 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 unspiritual 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 Abraham did not write this book, 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.

By providing zero evidence to support their own claim, CES Letter makes the initial Big Lie appear self-evident, like the Book of Abraham must be false because it takes so long to explain it.

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. In this argument they cherry-pick papyrus fragments.

This is how CES Letter works. They give a few bits of incorrect leading evidence; the reader connects to dots in their mind; and CES Letter pushes it to a sweeping generalization. If there were any evidence for the Book of Abraham, why is this Egyptian papyrus talking about Egyptian stuff instead of Abraham? Um, maybe because it’s Egyptian?! People are much more likely to believe CES Letter‘s incredibly insensible string of logic because hey connected the dots out on their own, subconsciously. They are also more likely to believe the evidences for that deduction, which in this case are falsehoods.

Notice that instead of “1st century AD,” CES Letter says “1st century CE.” CE stands for “common area,” and was created by atheist scientists because they didn’t want to date things according to the death of Jesus Christ–they wanted to distance science from Christianity. So this is a subtle circular fallacy by CES Letter, as it implies the ‘scientific way’ of dating events is superior to the Christian way… even though CE is exactly the same thing as AD.

CES Letter uses fake science–or in this case a ridiculous assumption–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 by narrowing a physical issue down to a binary context: either this recovered papyri fragment talks about Abraham or the Book of Abraham was made up. No other choices. They then appeal to “science” and deconstruct the outdated Mormon belief.

Anti-Mormons typically present evidence for their binary context as self-evident and irrefutable, with no need for further explanation, and then they rapidly move on to other attacks that bolster the constrained definition. The purpose is not really to discuss Book of Abraham evidences, which would actually be an interesting discussion, but to shift the narrative from faith to binary science, and quickly move on to more effective attacks to strengthen this narrative.

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.

CES Letter‘s attack on the Book of Abraham invalidates all ancient writing, which is quite convenient for Satan’s followers. Archaeology and historical science is only as useful as it can invalidate faith for them and momentarily be twisted to support Marxist ideas, such as the idea that mankind evolved from monkeys without a spark of divinity in them. They hold religions to the highest standards of skepticism, yet place blind faith in Marxism.

The Satanic substitute for religious scripture is the national-standard science textbook that jumps to wild politically correct conclusions and requires revising every year. It is the Bill Nye Science show that one day teaches kids that chromosomes determine your sex identity, rather than eternal spirit nature, and then the next day erases that segment from Netflix and teaches kids that sex identity is totally fluid. For followers of Satan, truth is only the narrative, and the narrative changes however it needs to in order to support the ideology in new circumstances.

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.