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The Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Redux

3 posts in this topic

In light of Don Bradley's recent presentation I thought it would prove informative to take a walk down memory lane and see how recent discoveries have changed the debate. This is also a response to several requests from people asking me to "point out the errors without attacking the person" as well as a response to ldsfq's assertion that apologists are always the ones representing the truth while critics always rely on incomplete data to misrepresent the facts.

Four years ago Don Bradley engaged William Schryver on the matter of the Abraham manuscripts found within Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Will followed John Gee and Hugh Nibley's contention that there was no apparent correspondence between the Egyptian characters (left of the margins) and the English translation (to the right). The strategy was to claim the critics were wrong and that the LDS scholars had the upper hand because only they had "text-critical" evidence from high resolution scans of the documents. The critics were in "wait and see" mode, so this served the purpose of putting everything "on hold" until LDS scholars like Hauglid and Gee could get all these refutations published. Well, Hauglid finally published his volume in January, but it contained not a single text-critical argument. In fact, he made it clear to me he wanted nothing to do with the apologetic aspect of the Book of Abraham. In any event, years went by and we were left with William Schryver as the only apologetic figure willing to tackle these issues.

This is what William said to Don Bradley (emphasis mine):

The characters are not always associated with a discrete paragraph. It is especially evident with Williams' Ms. #2. The final two characters at the bottom of the first page are not clearly associated with the text. They appear to have been placed entirely at random in relationship to the text. They are not aligned with a paragraph break, nor the beginning of a sentence, nor even a specific line.

Do you even have access to any of the images? Or are you just going on what you've been told?

I'm sorry, but you don't know what you're talking about. The conditions you describe are simply not present throughout the manuscripts. Your description might be consistent with the handful of images from Ms. #3 that Metcalfe has posted on the internet, but they are not a valid description of Ms. #2, which is also one of the evidences that Ms. #2 is an earlier document than Ms. #3.

So, go convince Metcalfe to let you look at the photos of Ms. #2, or go up to the church archives and ask to view the KEP, and then come back and we can have a nice conversation about this stuff. Until then, you're just blowing smoke.

The insinuation was a popular one back then. William liked to float this meme about how the critics were deceiving people with manipulated photos. Suffice it to say - and you can check the link - Don and Chris were turned off by Will and Pahoran's attitude about this subject. At the time I was writing up responses on the other forum and inviting William to address my concerns, but his response was to attack me for criticizing his argument.

So is Will properly representing these documents or is he making it up? You be the judge, but keep in mind that if he is wrong, he has no excuse for being wrong since, as he loved to remind everyone:

I do have high-res images of the documents in question. I would love to post extracts from them in order to prove my point, but I don't have license at present to do so.

Will's problem was that we had high quality photos of the documents as well and these images made it perfectly clear that every single thing William said was dead wrong.

Consider the evidence. This is the page William referenced when he says the characters have absolutely no relation to their corresponding translation:


The characters with a blue circle correspond to new verses. The characters in red correspond to new paragraphs, and the character in green corresponds to a break in mid-sentence. What is most interesting about this is that the same phenomenon occurs in the Parrish manuscript at the same exact point:


In fact, all the manuscripts contain the same exact Egyptian characters placed before the same exact English text. Does this suggest they were placed "at random"? Of course not. So, contrary to popular apologetic claims, the placement of the Egyptian characters was crucial to this translation project. Below we can see the characters from the copied Ms2 were written, and then erased, and then written in again at different locations, in order to match up to the corresponding text.


So you be the judge.

In my view, there is every reason to believe these characters correspond to their English translations and there is every reason to believe the characters came first and were written in sequence from the Sensen text. The only mystery here is how WIlliam could have possibly misrepresented these documents to such an extent.

It is worth noting that all of these characters were taken in sequence from the Sensen text, or as the apologists maintain, "the wrong scroll." This begs several questions, not least of which is this. Why would those involved in the project, including Joseph Smith who supervised it, fail to understand that they were taking characters from the wrong scroll? How is it possible for Will's argument to be demonstrably incorrect on every single point he asserted, especially when he had total access to this document?

Edited by Xander

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Two years ago the argument was made on this forum - in what appeared to be a formal article prepared for publication - that the Book of Abraham derived from a missing "long roll." This issue has been raised recently in other threads and presented as a serious problem for critics. What follows is a response I wrote at the time.

In his article Schryver concludes that "The contemporary eyewitness reports of a 'long roll' are confirmed" and then scolds the critics because, "Critics don't like the Haven and Blanchard quotes (and others) that speak of the long roll." It appears Will hasn't bothered to read the Blanchard quotation he alludes to, one which he fails to provide for his audience. To be sure, it says nothing about its length. Incidentally, Will lifted that entire section of his article from John Gee's, "New Light on the Joseph Smith Papyri."

Emphasis mine, because I will show that while Will's presentation claims at least four accounts of a "long" scroll, in reality there is only one. Here is the portion he lifts from Gee, word for word:

"a quantity of records, written on papyrus, in Egyptian hieroglyphics,"32 including (1) some papyri "preserved under glass,"33 described as "a number of glazed slides, like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics";34 (2) "a long roll of manuscript"35 that contained the Book of Abraham;36 (3) "another roll";37 (4) and "two or three other small pieces of papyrus with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c."38

So why is there no citation provided from Blanchard? Could it have something to do with the fact that nothing in the citation supports this assertion? You be the judge. Here is the relevant portion from the source, found in Relief Society Magazine, January, 1922:

What fun we had with Aunt Emma's boys, Joseph, Frederick, Alexander and David. How we raced through the house playing hide and seek. My favorite hiding place was in an old wardrobe which contained the mummies, and it was in here that I would creep while the others searched the house. There were three mummies: "The old Egyptian king, the queen and their daughter. The bodies were wrapped in seven layers of linen cut in thin strips. In the arms of the Old King, lay the roll of papyrus from which our prophet translated the Book of Abraham"

Contrary to Will, there is nothing from this source to indicate the roll's length. Nothing.

So now let's move to the testimony of Charlotte Haven. I will do what Will fails to do by provding its context from Overland Monthly, "A Girl's Letters from Nauvoo," pp.623-624. What follows is a more detailed version of the testimony:

...we called on Joseph's mother, passing the site of the Nauvoo House, a spacious hotel, the first floor only laid. It is like the Temple in being erected on the tithe system, and when finished will surpass in splendor any hotel in the State. Here Joseph and his heirs for generations are to have apartments free of expense, and they think the crowned heads of Europe will rusticate beneath its roof. Madam Smith's residence is a log house very near her son's. She opened the door and received us cordially. She is a motherly kind of woman of about sixty years. She receives a little pittance by exhibiting The mummies to strangers. When we asked to see them, she lit a candle and conducted us up a short narrow stairway to a low, dark room under the roof. On one side were standing half a dozen mummies, to whom she introduced us, King Onitus and his royal household, -- one she did not know.

Then she took up what seemed to be a club wrapped in a dark cloth, and said, "This is the leg of Pharaoh's daughter, the one that saved Moses." Repressing a smile, I looked from the mummies to the old lady, but could detect nothing but earnestness and sincerity on her countenance. Then she turned to a long table, set her candlestick down, and opened a long roll of manuscript, saying it was, "the writing of Abraham and Isaac, written in Hebrew and Sancrit," and she read several minutes from it as if it were English. It sounded very much like passages from the Old Testament. - and it might have been for anything we knew - but she said she read it through the inspiration of her son Joseph, in whom she seemed to have perfect confidence. Then in the same way she interpreted to us hieroglyphics from another roll. One was Mother Eve being tempted by the serpent, who - the serpent, I mean - was standing on the tip of his tail, which with his two legs formed a tripod, and had his head in Eve's ear. I said, "But serpents don't have legs."

"They did before the fall," she asserted with perfect confidence. The Judge slipped a coin in her hand which she received smilingly, with a pleasant, "Come again," as we bade her goodby.

Amazingly, Will assures us that critics just, "want to diminish their reliability on the basis of the fact that these were young women who probably weren't really paying close attention to what was going on. I find that attitude condescending and naïve."

Will misrepresents the arguments from critics and LDS scholars alike. According to LDS scholar, Jay M. Todd:

One wonders if Charlotte is reporting accurately. Until more evidence is gathered, the sum and value of Charlotte's report remains clouded on several issues." (The Saga of the Book of Abraham, by Jay M. Todd, page 249)

The reason her testimony is considered questionable by reasonable standards of evidence, isn't because she was just a "young woman," but because we know her memory was clouded and she did not properly describe the material.

1) She says they were written in Sanscrit, which we know is false.

2) She says it included records of Isaac, which we know is false.

3) She mentions a roll with two records on it, which from the more reliable account of William I Appleby, we know to be false.

4) She also fails to correctly describe the snake with legs (it wasn't standing on its tail).

But Schryver is certain her usage of the word "long" must be dead accurate, assuming her perception of long is more than several feet.

It seems more likely that the papyri slides or sheets were laid out on the table back to back, appearing as one long roll. It is unrealistic to think Granny Smith would be constantly "rolling" and "unrolling" an eroding ancient document that was to be shown to strangers on a regular basis. The whole idea was to keep the collection preserved, and they were cut and glued to slides for preservation.

The apologetic versions of the Haven account never include the context and this probably has something to do with the fact that what Haven describes is clearly part of the extant material. This is important because it completely undermines any attempts to prove she was referencing missing material.

Schryver continues,

when you stop to consider what kinds of things an 18-year-old woman would most notice in such an experience, it would be the kinds of elements we read in Haven's account: the length of the roll and the nature of the illustrations on the papyrus itself.

Will says Haven has given us the length of the roll, but "long" doesn't tell us the length anymore than "heavy" gives us the weight. So how long is long? By what method does Will propose to determine Haven's concept of "long"? He doesn't say. It seems he's just content to imply long means very long or maybe outrageously long, when it could very well be just a few feet. That seems more likely since a few feet would appear long by comparison to the other scraps.

Given his straw man description of the critical view, Will appears completely unaware of the fact that the Haven account has been address on numerous occassions over the past three decades, and only recently has the Blanchard reference been thrown into the mix, leading impressionable folks to believe it somehow counts as a second independent witness for the supposed, "long" description. But it gets worse. Will also refers to "others" who testify to a "long" roll. He wants us to believe that there are at least four independent eye-witnesses who explicitly say "long" roll, and that he is providing only one of them for the sake of brevity. But in reality there exists only one.

Since Will wants to accuse critics of being "afraid" of the historical record, I suppose this would be a good time to ask him why John Gee finally got around to acknowledging the William I. Appleby account in 1999, but failed to provide the context that essentially refuted the argument he was trying to make. What follows is the full context of this statement from his journal entry of May 5, 1841:

To day I paid Br Joseph a visit. 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 in 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.

There are representations of men, beasts, Birds, Idols and oxen attached to a kind of plough, a female guiding it. Also the serpent when he beguiled Eve. He appears with two legs, erect in form and appearance of man. But his head in the form, and representing the Serpent, with his forked tongue extended. There are likewise representations of an Alter erected, with a man bound and laid thereon, and a Priest with a knife in his hand, standing at the foot, with a dove over the person bound on the Altar with several Idol gods standing around it. A Celestial globe with the planet Kolob of first creation of the supreme being - a planet of light, - which planet - makes a revolution once in a thousand years, - Also the Lord revealing the Grand key words of the Holy Priesthood, to Adam in the garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and to all whom the Priesthood was revealed.

Abraham also in the Court of Pharaoh sitting upon the King's throne reasoning upon Astronomy, with a crown on his head, representing the Priesthood as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven. And King Pharaoh, standing behind him, together with a Prince - a principle waiter, and a black slave of the King. 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."

The Male mummy was one of the Ancient Pharaohs of Egypt, a Priest, as he is embalmed with his tongue extended, representing a speaker: The females were his wife and two daughters, as a part of the writing has been translated, and informs us, who they were, also whose writing it is, and when those mummies were embalmed, which is nearly four thousand years ago.

Appleby goes into strenuous detail in explaining what exactly it was he saw. He confirms that there is a "perceptible difference" between the writings of Abraham and Joseph, pointing out that "Joseph was the better scribe." This clearly points to the Horus scroll as the source for the Book of Abraham, which Ed Ashment brought to everyone's attention two decades ago:

...despite Nibley, the evidence indicates that the Book of Abraham was developed from "that badly written, poorly preserved little text, entirely devoid of rubrics, which is today identified as the [breathing Permit of Hor]."

Contrary to Will's assertion, the abundance of eye-witness testimony describing the Joseph Smith Papyri collection points us directly to extant portions that we can clearly identify. So it doesn't really matter how much material is missing when all the historical evidence points to the extant portions. From explicit drawings and characters found in The Kirtland Egyptian Papers, to the eye-witness descriptions, everything clearly refers to some portion of extant papyrus. If there were missing papyri of any significance, then we would expect many, if not most of the eye-witness accounts to be describing things that cannot be identified in the extant materials. Here is another example from the Cleveland Whig:

There was found deposited in the arms of the old man referred to above, a book of ancient form and construction, which, to us, was by far the most interesting part of the exhibition. Its leaves were of bark, in length some 10 or 12 inches, and 3 or 4 in width. The ends are somewhat decayed, but at the centre the leaves are in a state of perfect preservation. It is the writing of no ordinary penman, probably of the old man near whose heart it was deposited at the embalming. The characters are the Egyptian hieroglyphics; but of what is discourses none can tell....There is also another book, more decayed, and much less neatly written - its character and import involved in like mystery.(Cleveland Whig, March 25, 1835)

Schryver didn't address this reference but LDS apologist Jeff Lindsay tried to use this as evidence for missing papyri on his website. According to Lindsay, "The physical description of the well preserved 'book' on 'bark' leaves - probably papyrus - does not fit either the Book of Breathings or the Book of the Dead from the Joseph Smith Papyri."

However, I beg to differ.


Using measurements from Gee's "Guide" I converted centimeters into inches and came up with roughly the same dimensions.

So it appears the missing scroll theorists have to come up with something better than Blanchard and Haven if they want to produce a credible alternative to the prevailing view among non-LDS, that the source for the Book of Abraham is indeed the Sensen text. In fact, virtually every LDS scholar involved at the time the papyri were rediscovered in 1967, all believed this was the source for the Book of Abraham. Only later when it turned out that these documents had nothing to do with Abraham, did the apologists take over and shape opinions on the matter by proposing missing papyri. Several years before the papyri were rediscovered, James R. Clark spoke on the Book of Abraham manuscripts found within the collection that would later become known as the KIrtland Egyptian Papers:

I have in my possession a photostatic copy of the manuscript of the Prophet Joseph Smith's translation of Abraham 1:1 to 2:18. This manuscript was bought by Wilford Wood in 1945 from Charles Bidamon, son of the man who married Emma after the death of the Prophet. The original of this manuscript is in the Church Historian's Office in Salt Lake City. The characters from which our present book of Abraham was translated are down the left-hand column and Joseph Smith's translation opposite, so we know approximately how much material was translated from each character (Pearl of Great Price Conference, December 10, 1960, 1964 ed., pp.60-61).

Apologists should stop with this nonsense and admit one thing or the other:

1. That James R. Clark was a covert anti-Mormon, or

2. This is not strictly an assumption derived by anti-Mormons nor does it require an anti-Mormon mindset to accept the logical premise.

No, there are very valid reasons why people would and should connect the Sensen text with the Book of Abraham, not least of which is the fact that the Book of Abraham (Abr 1:12-6) references Facsimile #1 leading into the Sensen text.


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In light of William's recent "response" to Don's presentation, I think a quick review of this thread will prove helpful for those trying to figure out who has a better grasp of the situation and who is more likely to represent the source documents more accurately.


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