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The KEP And The Historical Record Vs. The Critics


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The primary premise of the current critical arguments concerning the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is that the documents penned by Frederick G. Williams and Warren Parrish (known technically as KEPA Mss. #2 and #3 â?? or #1a and #1b according to the Metclafe naming convention) result from Joseph Smith dictating the â??translationâ? of the Book of Abraham which he pretended was drawn from characters taken from the Book of Breathings.

Another key argument in the criticsâ?? quiver is that the only part of the Book of Abraham produced in 1835 was Abr. 1:1 to 2:18 â?? just the first chapter and half.

Whether or not the Williams and Parrish manuscripts were produced at the same time, and as transcripts of Joseph Smithâ??s oral dictation, is a topic of much debate. But we can agree that the Parrish document (Ms. #3) does indeed show every indication of having been produced during a single session. This is an important fact to consider, because it seriously brings into question the second conclusion about how much of the Book of Abraham was produced in Kirtland.

Letâ??s undertake a careful examination of the historical record in order to adduce the relevant facts:

1. We know that Abr. 1:1 â?? 3 (at least) was produced prior to the employment of Warren Parrish as a scribe. In fact, it dates to no later than August 1835.

2. We know that Abr. 1:4 â?? 2:6 (at least) was produced during the alleged Williams/Parrish translation session.

3. We know that Abr. 2:7 â?? 2:18 was produced (in the hand of Warren Parrish) during a subsequent translation session.

And yet, the following seven translation episodes are recorded during the last half of 1835:

The earliest reference to â??translationâ? occurs in July 1835:

I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham â?¦a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them.

Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts, 2:, p.236

On July 19, 1835, we read the next reference to the record of Abraham:

The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.

Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts, 2:, p.238

Note that specific reference is made to working on â??an alphabetâ? and a â??grammar.â? We have the evidence of that work contained in the EAG (Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar) book contained in the KEP.

Between July 19 and October 1, 1835, there is no reference of which Iâ??m aware to work occurring on either the alphabet and grammar or a â??translation.â?

Finally, on October 1st, we read:

This afternoon I labored on the Egyptian alphabet, in company with Brothers Oliver Cowdery and W. W. Phelps, and during the research, the principles of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients unfolded to our understanding, the particulars of which will appear hereafter.

(Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts, 2:, p.286)

October 7th, we read:

This afternoon recommenced translating the ancient records.

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 38

Significantly, the entry mentions neither â??alphabetâ? or â??grammar,â? but specifically the â??records.â?

Indeed, we never hear again of any work being performed on an â??alphabetâ? or â??grammar.â? From this point on, we only find references to â??translationâ? of â??the records.â?

On October 29, 1835, we read:

Brother Warren Parrish commenced writing for me.

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 41

Parrishâ??s initial duties were to correct and render â??up-to-dateâ? Joseph Smithâ??s journal. Then, on November 14, 1835, Joseph Smith received a revelation in behalf of Warren Parrish, which reads in part:

He shall see much of my ancient records and shall know of hidden things and shall be endowed with a knowledge of hidden languages. And if he desires and shall seek it at my hand, he shall be privileged with writing much of my word as a scribe unto me for the benefit of my people. Therefore this shall be his calling until I shall order it otherwise in my wisdom. It shall be said of him in a time to come, â??Behold Warren the Lordâ??s Scribe, for the Lordâ??s Seer whom he hath appointed in Israel.â?

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 59

On November 19, 1835, we read:

I â?¦ spent the day in translating the Egyptian records.

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 66

Note, they are now translating the â??records.â?

The following day, we read this significant entry:

We spent the day in translating and made rapid progress.

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 66

â?Rapid progressâ? is now being made! And why not, he has a dedicated scribe for the work instead of a doctor (Frederick G. Williams) doing it on the side.

November 24, 1835:

In the afternoon we translated some of the Egyptian records.

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 67

November 25, 1835:

Spent the day in Translating.

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 67

Finally, on February 22, 1836, we read:

I spent the afternoon translating with my scribe, Elder W Parrish, at his house.

Scott H. Faulring, The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, p. 135

So, from the time that Warren Parrish commenced writing for Joseph Smith in November 1835 until the last entry in the diary that refers to translation in February 1836, we can accumulate the following approximate total translation time:

11/19/1835 â?? Full day

11/20/1835 â?? Full day (made â??rapidâ? progress)

11/24/1835 â?? Half day (â??afternoonâ?)

11/25/1835 â?? Full day

02/22/1836 â?? Half day (afternoon)

Of course, these are only the recorded translation sessions. The historical record is very fragmentary, and there could very well have been other translation sessions that we donâ??t know about. Nevertheless, at least three full days and parts of two other days were spent in â??translation.â? All five of these sessions were, almost certainly, scribed by Warren Parrish. The first four sessions occur during the first ten days following Warren Parrishâ??s employment as a scribe, and the fifth episode explicitly states that Parrish was the scribe.

Now, some have argued that they may have been translating something besides the text of the Book of Abraham during this period. The problem with this theory is that Warren Parrishâ??s handwriting does not appear in any of the other â??translatedâ? KEP manuscripts, and only in a minor entry (on â??Kolobâ?) at the very end of the Grammar and Alphabet. The other documents are almost entirely in the handwriting of W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery.

So, to review:

1. We know that Abr. 1:1 â?? 3 (at least) was produced prior to the employment of Warren Parrish as a scribe.

2. We know that Abr. 1:4 â?? 2:6 (at least) was produced during the alleged Williams/Parrish translation session.

3. We know that Abr. 2:7 â?? 2:18 was produced (in the hand of Warren Parrish) during a subsequent translation session â?? possibly two sessions.

The bottom line is that the historical record is not consistent with the claims made by the critics.

They argue that Warren Parrish wrote essentially the entire text of the Book of Abraham that was translated in the Kirtland Period, and that we have the record of it. However, the manuscripts comprise, at most, three relatively brief writing sessions â?? whereas the historical record informs us that Joseph and Parrish spent several days translating. It just doesnâ??t add up.

Also bear in mind that the total production of the Book of Abraham during the Warren Parrish scribal period (from November 1835 â?? February 1836) is alleged (by the critics) to consist of only 49 verses of text; 11 pages. Whereas Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery produced the entire Book of Mormon (over 500 pages) in less time, and Joseph Smith had dictated literally hundreds of pages of scripture during the Kirtland period prior to 1835.

And yet, we are asked to believe that Joseph Smith was suddenly tongue-tied when it came time to produce the Book of Abraham.

Again, it just doesnâ??t add up. The evidence in the historical record is far more consistent with the apologetic claim that at least the first three chapters of the Book of Abraham were produced in Kirtland.

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All five of these sessions were, almost certainly, scribed by Warren Parrish

I agree -- especially in light of the two "we" statements found below. I have checked with Dean Jessee's scribal notations for the Joseph Smith diaries and included them after each date.

I do believe, however, that based on the information provided below the suggested time amounts for translation may need to be adjusted somewhat less.

7 October 1835 (Frederick G. Williams is the scribe)

â??this afternoon recommenced translating the ancient reccordsâ?

19 November 1835 (Warren Parrish is the scribe)

â??went in company with Doct. Williams & my scribe to see how the workmen prospered in finishing the house [i.e, the temple]; the masons on the inside had commenced puting on the finishing coat of plastureing. on my return I met L[l]oyd & Lorenzo Lewis and conversed with them upon the subject of their being disaffected. I found that they were not so, as touching the faith of the church but with some of the members: I returned home and spent the day in translating the Egyptian records: on this has been a warm & pleasant day

20 November 1835 (Warren Parrish is the scribe)

â??in morning at home: the weather is warm but rainy, we spent the day in translating, and made rapid progress. At Evening, President Cowdery returned from New York, bringing with him a quantity of Hebrew books for the benefit of the school, he presented me with a Hebrew bible, lexicon & grammar, also a Greek Lexicon and Websters English Lexicon.â?

24 November 1835 (Warren Parrish is the scribe)

â??in the after-noon, we translated some of the Egyptian, records; I had an invitation to attend a wedding at Br. Hiram Smith's in the evening also to solemnize the matrimonial ceremonyâ?

25 November 1835 (Warren Parrish is the scribe)

â??spent the day in Translatingâ?

22 February 1836 (Warren Parrish is the scribe)

â??I spent the afternoon translating at with my scribe Eld[e]r W. Parrish at his house at 4. oclock. meet, Professor Seixas and the school committee at [the] printing office to make some arangements for the advancement of the several classesâ?

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William,

When we consider the evidence that JS had not translated past the first few chapters as of 1842 in conjunction with the evidence that he spent a fair amount of time translating them, it seems evident that he's doing something different than he did with the Book of Mormon. Something that takes longer. Using the Alphabet and Grammar as working papers, perhaps.

In any case, the diary entries certainly don't disallow Williams or even Phelps, who in early November became a member of the school of the prophets (though I haven't followed up yet on a possible Nov. 8th falling-out with JS or a possible illness at the time), having participated in the November sessions. Nor do they disallow the possibility of the work having been on other parts of the "records" besides the BoA. The evidence for what was being worked on in November is murky at best, so there's not much we can say with any certainty. What we can say with a high degree of probability is that the translation hadn't advanced beyond two or three chapters as of early March, 1842.

As I said before, I'm preparing a short article on the subject, in which my views on the November push will presented more fully. I will also endavor to identify what was worked on in July. Hopefully this article will be done within the month (but no guarantees) so until then I will limit my comments to the present post.

-CK

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