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My JWHA Paper on the Egyptian Alphabet


Chris Smith

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There seems to be this idea floating around that Chandler was on a pilgrimage to get the papyri translated.

Gee...I can't imagine where that idea came from. It couldn't have anything to do with people advising him to do just that. It seems obvious that Kirtland would rank high on every showman's list given the renown affluence of the city and it being the hub of cultural and intellectual activities in the U.S. Certainly, were I prone to seeing con men behind every bush, I may believe this to be the case--not that it really matters much to the issue at hand. :P

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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Hi Wade,

Hi Brent,

I appreciate the information you gave earlier on the alleged Anthon facsimile. I wonder if there are any characters there that correspond with what is in the KEP?

I'm sure you've discerned that Warren Parrish's post-apostasy letter fundamentally contradicts the Will Schryver et al.
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Hi Wade,

*sigh!*

In all sincerity, my friend, do you even know what my last post was referring to?

Cheers,</brent>

I assumed that it had something to do with the portion of "Warren Parrish's post-apostasy letter" I quoted in the post to which you seemed to be responding. If it is not, then please be so kind as to specify?

I find, my good friend, that clarity works better than guessing games in discussions such as this. :P

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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Wade,

I think maybe you've missed a subtle distinction. Brent referred to Abr. 1-3. You are referring to Abr 1:1-3. William has not only argued that Abr. 1:1-3 was translated in July, but that in fact the July translation effort also encompassed all of Abr. 1-3. (Gee would undoubtedly agree. He thinks that four times as much text of the BoA as is currently extant was translated by the end of November. I'll see your forty feet of missing papyrus and raise you fifteen chapters of missing translation!)

Brent's point, I think, is that the only manuscripts we have containing Parrish's handwriting are those containing Abr. 1:4-2:18. If Will is to be believed, then all of this text had already been translated by July, and Parrish's manuscripts are mere copies. So that would mean that there is no extant manuscript evidence of Warren Parrish's having taken dictation for the BoA, as he claimed. Will can of course get around this by positing as many missing manuscripts as required to reconcile his hypothesis with the historical data. But a simpler solution would be to simply accept that Parrish took dictation for Abr. 1:4-2:18, which would mean this portion of the text was translated in November.

-Chris

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I don't see the faintest hint anywhere in the translation timeline that Phelps, Cowdery or Parrish attempted to reverse engineer anything. In contradistinction to this hypothesis, the accounts seem unanimous in their affirmation that "the prophet was the only mortal who could translate these mysterious writings."

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Wade,

I think maybe you've missed a subtle distinction. Brent referred to Abr. 1-3. You are referring to Abr 1:1-3.

Oh...what a difference a colon can make (3 chapters instead of three verses). ;)

William has not only argued that Abr. 1:1-3 was translated in July, but that in fact the July translation effort also encompassed all of Abr. 1-3. (Gee would undoubtedly agree. He thinks that four times as much text of the BoA as is currently extant was translated by the end of November. I'll see your forty feet of missing papyrus and raise you fifteen chapters of missing translation!)

As I recall, the arguments from Will and myself on this thread have consistently been about Abr. 1:1-3. Perhaps Brent had in mind an argument that he had heard from Will on some other thread. I first learned today, after reading footnote #78 of Hauglid's update to "The Meaning of Kirtland Egyptian Papers" that Gee thought that perhaps all of Abr 1-3 had been translated by the end of July. But, I wasn't aware that any arguments had yet been proffered in support thereof. So, I guess I can't rightly speak to Brent's question, nor is it clear why it was asked of me.

Brent's point, I think, is that the only manuscripts we have containing Parrish's handwriting are those containing Abr. 1:4-2:18. If Will is to be believed, then all of this text had already been translated by July, and Parrish's manuscripts are mere copies. So that would mean that there is no extant manuscript evidence of Warren Parrish's having taken dictation for the BoA, as he claimed. Will can of course get around this by positing as many missing manuscripts as required to reconcile his hypothesis with the historical data. But a simpler solution would be to simply accept that Parrish took dictation for Abr. 1:4-2:18, which would mean this portion of the text was translated in November.

I appreciate the clarification, though I detect a bit of well-poisoning in the way you characterized Will's anticipated argument (I trust that it was just a bit of good-natured chiding). I mean its not as if the existing data renders unreasonable arguments suggesting the plausibility of other non-extant manuscripts and/or that the extant manuscripts aren't dictations, but copies. In fact, given the presumably pursuasive arguments I have presented in relation to Abr. 1:1-3, there isn't much of a stretch in applying them to Abr. 1-3. :P

Anyway, I just want to make sure that neither Brent nor anyone else here is arguing against the possibility or plausibility of Abr. 1;1-3 having been translated prior to Parrish coming on the scene. Are they?

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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Anyway, I just want to make sure that neither Brent nor anyone else here is arguing against the possibility or plausibility of Abr. 1;1-3 having been translated prior to Parrish coming on the scene. Are they?

I don't know if Brent accepts the late July date I've proposed, but I'm almost certain that he would situate the translation of those verses prior to the beginning of Parrish's tenure as scribe. Beyond that, I'll have to let him speak for himself.

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I don't see the faintest hint anywhere in the translation timeline that Phelps, Cowdery or Parrish attempted to reverse engineer anything. In contradistinction to this hypothesis, the accounts seem unanimous in their affirmation that "the prophet was the only mortal who could translate these mysterious writings."

In my research I couldn't find any explicit references to "reverse engineering" or the like, but I think a strong argument can be made that with the exception of the Willard Richard manuscripts, the KEP in general, and the KEPE in particular, were intended for educational purposes (learning the language) rather than for translating scripture.

In addition to the arguments I have already presented, there are several related questions that occured to me last night, prior to reading the updated "Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Paper":

1) Why are there 9 discrete alphabet/grammar manuscripts?

2) How many alphabets/grammars would Joseph need were he to use it/them as the modus operandi for the BoA translation?

3) Wouldn't one alphabet/grammar suffice?

4) If so, then might the existence of multiple sets of alphabets/grammars reasonably suggest that the purpose for them wasn't to translate scripture, but instead they were a product of a number of students learning the Egyptian language, and this in much the same manner as Joseph and other leading Elders in the Church (Phelps, Williams, Cowdery, Parrish, etc.) learned Hebrew around the same time?

What I found fascinating when reading the arguments Nibley raised in his updated article, is that not only did they make sense in countering the proposition that the A&G was the modus operandi for translation, but also how well they fit what one might imagine finding in the notebooks of various students of dead languages, particularly back then. :P

Perhaps it would be of interest to walk through several of Nibley's more noted arguments to see if this is the case.

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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1) Why are there 9 discrete alphabet/grammar manuscripts?

2) How many alphabets/grammars would Joseph need were he to use it/them as the modus operandi for the BoA translation?

3) Wouldn't one alphabet/grammar suffice?

Not sure.

However, it turns out that the EAG manuscripts provide a functional translation key for the Anthon Transcript.

It's really quite remarkable when you work it out.

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Chris Smith:

Brent's point, I think, is that the only manuscripts we have containing Parrish's handwriting are those containing Abr. 1:4-2:18. If Will is to be believed, then all of this text had already been translated by July, and Parrish's manuscripts are mere copies. So that would mean that there is no extant manuscript evidence of Warren Parrish's having taken dictation for the BoA, as he claimed.

In fact, there is no extant manuscript evidence of the original translation of the Book of Abraham.

Nevertheless:

Question: Did Parrish say he took dictation of any of the text of the Book of Abraham?

Answer: No, he did not.

Will can of course get around this by positing as many missing manuscripts as required to reconcile his hypothesis with the historical data. But a simpler solution would be to simply accept that Parrish took dictation for Abr. 1:4-2:18, which would mean this portion of the text was translated in November.

A "simpler solution" it is not.

Nevertheless:

Question: Do the first three chapters represent the whole of the Book of Abraham?

Answer: No.

Question: Is there evidence that any hieroglyphics were translated to produce the Book of Abraham?

Answer: No. Indeed, there are relatively few hieroglyphics on the papyri. The vast majority of the text on the scrolls consists of hieratic text, which is distinctly different from hieroglyphics, and that distinction, along with illustrated examples of the three known types of Egyptian writing (hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic) was relatively common knowledge in 1835. I have identified several widely distributed and easily obtainable sources that describe in vivid detail the different kinds of Egyptian writing, as well as the methods by which Thomas Young and Jean-Fran

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Answer: No. Indeed, there are relatively few hieroglyphics on the papyri. The vast majority of the text on the scrolls consists of hieratic text, which is distinctly different from hieroglyphics, and that distinction, along with illustrated examples of the three known types of Egyptian writing (hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic) was relatively common knowledge in 1835. I have identified several widely distributed and easily obtainable sources that describe in vivid detail the different kinds of Egyptian writing, as well as the methods by which Thomas Young and Jean-Fran
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Honestly Will, given your professed interest in this topic I'm surprised you haven't discovered this by now. It's really quite clear once you grasp a few basic concepts. I'd explain them to you but I sense skepticism in your post. Until you open your mind and have a little faith in the prophet, I'm afraid your stupor of thought will persist.

In the mean time, I'll just mention that the Johnson's were correct in that the Anthon text is essentially logographic. However, it is completely unrelated to any Native American writing system and has nothing to do with Ether 6:3-13. Rather, it appears to be a chapter of the lost Book of Lehi from Mormon's abridgment. I could post what I have so far if anyone's interested.

You can consider me interested. :P

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You're daft if you think Parrish would have known or cared to distinguish hieratic from hieroglyphics. I cannot find a single instance of anyone referring to the PJS script as hieratic prior to Gustavus Seyffarth in 1856. The term hieroglyphics, by contrast, was used very frequently, including by Joseph's closest associates. Let's not build fanciful historical edifices on irrelevant Egyptological technicalities, shall we?

They didn't need to refer to the script as "hieratic," and in fact would not have. They would have referred to it as "cursive" or "short hand" Egyptian. And there is very little reason to doubt that Phelps, at least, recognized the difference between the two distinctly different types of characters appearing on the scrolls. Beginning with the 1819 edition, the Encyclopedia Brittanica maintained a long and detailed entry under the head of "Egypt" which contained numerous plates with examples of the three kinds of known Egyptian script, along with Thomas Young's initial translation of some of the characters. In 1827, the American Quarterly Review, one of the most widely disseminated periodicals of the time (and certainly one W. W. Phelps would have read) published a lengthy summary of the work of Jean-Fran

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It is intriguing to me in looking through my historical research to note that back in 1833 the School of the Prophets was instituted primarily to educate the brethren in theological matters so that they would be better prepared when serving missions or fulfilling Church callings. And, it is little wonder that the theologically trained Sidney Rigdon would factor heavily in the instruction, especially in regards to the lectures on faith.

It is evident, then, that religious education was important to the prophet as well as to other leaders.

However, in 1835 there apparently emerged a heightened interest among the Church leaders in secular education, and foreign languages in particular. During the later part of that year the School of the Elders commenced in which they learned grammar and writing. A Dr. Piexotto had been engaged to instruct, and Oliver Cowdery was sent to New York to procure Hebrew and Greek grammars and lexicons. The Kirtland High School was "taught in the attic story, by H. M. Hawes, Esq., professor of the Greek and Latin languages. The school numbers from one hundred and thirty-five to one hundred and forty students, divided into three departments--the classic, where the languages only are taught; the English department, where mathematics, common arithmetic, geography, English grammar, writing, and reading are taught; and the Juvenile department, the last two having each an assistant instructor. The school commenced in November [1835]." (History of the Church, Vol.2, Ch.25, p.344)

And, later that year the renown Professor Seixas was employed to teach Hebrew, and his classes began on the 30th of January of the following year (1836).

So, what precipitated this heightened interest in learning foreign languages? Was it the arrival of the Egyptian artifacts in July of that year?

Perhaps.

I happen to believe that the thirst for secular and linguistic learning began to grow much earlier that year, when W. W. Phelps, who had a "good education which included the Greek and Latin classics," and who Nibley consider to be the foremost scholar among the members at that time (see "the Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers", p. 559), returned from a lengthy stay in Missouri to just happen to live for a year or so right in Joseph Smith's own home.

I think it not coincidental, then, that Phelps factored heavily in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, and I believe his participation in the enterprise lends support to my contention that KEP in general, and the alphabet and grammar in particular, were for educational purposes (learning the language) rather than for translating scripture. I will vet this connection further in posts to come.

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

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Starting on page 519 of Nibley's updated article, under the heading "Egyptian Mss. #3, #4, and #5", He states the following:

What I found odd about this is the inclusion of a column for "sounds". I had to ask myself what is the point of "sounds" if this alphabet/grammar was intended to translate scripture? There really is no need for sounds when translating scripture. Then it hit me, sounds are a key element in learning to read and speak languages. The existence of a column for sounds, then, suggest to me that the alphabet/grammar was intended for learning the Egyptian language, rather than to translate scripture. :P

Thanks, -Wade Englund-

Wade,

This an excellent observation. Sincere kudos. It deserves and will receive a mention in the forthcoming analysis of the grammar and alphabet pages. I will not forget who it was that first suggested it. Your name will appear in the accompanying footnote.

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Hi Wade,

This is what Will claims about Abraham 3 (as in chapter 3, not verse 3):

In fact, I am prepared to argue that ALL of chapter 3 was translated before July 17, 1835.

Hi Will,

If nothing else, you're a skilled phisherman and an adept baiter.

I'm currently revisiting and refining the dates for all of the manuscripts in the BoAbr collection, but I can say with considerable confidence that your July 1835 date for Abraham 1

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