On December 29, 1912, the New York Times headlines about
Joe Smith's Book of Abraham blared, "Sacred Books Claimed to
Have Been Given Divinely to the First Prophet Are Shown to be Taken
from Old Egyptian Originals, Their Translation Being a Work of
The headlines were based on the book Joseph Smith, Jr., As a
Translator by F. S. Spalding (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Arrow
Press, 1912). In the book, eight experts on Egyptian antiquities
found Smith's explanations of the Facsimiles in the Book of
Abraham false. All universally respected Egyptologists who have
since examined the matter have pronounced Smith's translation of
papyri and explanation of Facsimiles completely incorrect. Here are
the scholars who caused the 1912 headlines and who showed Smith's
translation to be an embarrassment:
"It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's
impudent fraud. His fac-simile from the book of Abraham No.
2 is an ordinary hypocephalus, but the hieroglyphics upon it have
been copied so ignorantly that hardly one of them is correct. I
need scarce say that Kolob, etc., are unknown to the Egyptian
language. Number 3 is a representation of the Goddess Maat leading
the Pharaoh before Osiris, behind whom stands the Goddess Isis.
Smith has turned the Goddess into a king and Osiris into Abraham.
The hieroglyphics, again, have been transformed into unintelligible
lines. Hardly one of them is copied correctly."
Dr. A. H. SAYCE,
(F. S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator, Salt
Lake City, Utah: The Arrow Press, 1912, p. 23)
"I have examined the illustrations given in the Pearl of
Great Price. In the first place, they are copies (very badly
done) of well known Egyptian subjects of which I have dozens of
Secondly, they are all many centuries later than Abraham. On
Number 2, I think there isso far as the copy shows itthey name
of Shishak, a popular name in Egypt from about 950 to 750 B. C.,
and such seems to be about the date of the other figures.
Third, as to the real meaning of them: Number 1 is the well
known scene of Anubis preparing the body of the dead man: 1. Is the
hawk of Horus. 2. Is the dead person. 3. Is Anubis. 4. Is the usual
funeral couch. 5, 6, 7, 8 are the regular jars for embalming the
parts of the body, with the head of a hawk, jackal, ape and man, of
which dozens may be seen in the museums. 10. Are the funeral
offerings covered with lotus flowers.
Number 2 is one of the usual discs with magic inscriptions
placed beneath the head of the dead. Three fine ones of the same
nature you can see in my Abydos 1 LXXVII, LXXIX. The figures are
well known ones in Egyptian mythology.
Number 3 is the very common scene of the dead person before the
judgment seat of Osiris, which occurs in most copies of the funeral
1. Is Osiris in the usual form. 2. Is Isis behind him. 3. Is
the stand of offerings with lotus flowers. 4. Is the Goddess Nebhat
or Maat (too badly drawn to know which). 5. Is the dead person. 6.
Is the God Anubis, the conductor of the souls of the dead.
The inscriptions are far too badly copied to be able to read
To any one with knowledge of the large class of funeral
documents to which these belong, the attempts to guess a meaning
for them, in the professed explanations, are too absurd to be
noticed. It may be safely said that there is not one single word
that is true in these explanations.
If any one wishes to verify the matter, they have only to ask
any of the curators of Egyptian museums. Prof. Breasted of Chicago,
Dr. Lythgoe of New York, or any one else who knows the subject.
None but the ignorant could possibly be imposed on by such
Pray make any use you like of this letters."
Dr. W. M. FLINDERS PETRIE.
(Ibid., pp. 23-24)
"I have been greatly interested in the documents you have sent
me regarding the connection of Joseph Smith with the Egyptian
materials purchased by his people in 1835, and concerning the whole
situation I should like to make the following statement:
"In 1822 Champollion published the first successful steps in
the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was only very
gradually after this that he gained the ability to read the simpler
and clearer sentences in hieroglyphic records. Little of the
language, comparatively speaking, was understood when he died in
1832. He left in manuscript an elementary grammar, which was
published by the government, beginning in 1836, and reaching
completion in 1841. It would have been impossible for any American
scholar to know enough about Egyptian inscriptions to read them
before the publication of Champollion's grammar. I may add at this
point that American Universities have never until recently given
such studies any attention, and there is still only one
professorship of the science in the United States, though it is now
taught in the leading American Universities.
"It will be seen, then, that if Joseph Smith could read ancient
Egyptian writing, his ability to do so had no connection with the
decipherment of hieroglyphics by European scholars. Now, according
to the statements of Joseph Smith himself, the three Egyptian
documents which he publishes in connection with the Book of
Abraham in 'The Pearl of Great Price,' were secured by some of
his followers, together with some mummies, purchased at Kirtland in
1835. The point I wish to bring out is that the three fac-similes
from the Book of Abraham were associated with mummies. This
fact is in complete harmony with the further fact that the three
fac-similes are part of the usual equipment of the dead in the
later period of Egyptian civilization before the Christian era. The
three fac-similes in question represent equipment which will be and
has been found in unnumbered thousands of Egyptian graves. In
accepting them, then, as parts of the Book of Abraham, let
it be understood that they were in universal use among the pagan
Egyptians, and that for some reason the doctrines of Joseph Smith's
monotheistic Abraham were universally accepted and used among the
polytheistic Egyptians. In accepting these fac-similes as part of
the Book of Abraham it remains then for any one who so
accepts them to explain why they were thus universally employed by
a people who knew nothing of Abraham's God or Abraham's religion.
The point, then, is that in publishing these fac-similes of
Egyptian documents as part of an unique revelation to Abraham,
Joseph Smith was attributing to Abraham not three unique documents
of which no other copies exist, but was attributing to Abraham a
series of documents which were the common property of a whole
nation of people who employed them in every human burial, which
they prepared. This was, of course, unknown to Smith, but it is a
fact not only of my own knowledge, but also a commonplace of the
knowledge of every orientalist who works in the Egyptian field.
"Taking up these fac-similes now, let us discuss them in order.
Number 1 depicts a figure reclining on a couch, with a priest
officiating and four jars beneath the couch. The reclining figure
lifts one foot and both arms. This figure represents Osiris rising
from the dead. Over his head is a bird, in which form Isis is
represented. The jars below, closed with lids carved in the forms
of animal's heads, were used by the Egyptians to contain the
viscera taken from the body of the dead man. This scene is depicted
on Egyptian funeral papyri, on coffins and on late temple walls,
unnumbered thousands of times. If desired, publications of
fac-similes of this resurrection scene from papyri, coffins, tomb
and temple walls could be furnished in indefinite numbers.
"Fac-simile Number 2 represents a little disc, sometimes made
of metal, sometimes of papyrus, sometimes of woven goods with a
smooth stucco surface. It is commonly called among Egyptologists a
hypocephalus. It was placed under the head of the mummy and the
various representations upon it were of a magical power designed to
assist the deceased in various ways, especially to prevent the loss
of his head. These did not come into use until the late centuries
just before the Christian era. They did not appear in any Egyptian
burials until over a thousand years after the time of Abraham. They
were unknown in Egypt in Abraham's day.
"Fac-simile Number 3: This scene depicts the god Osiris
enthroned at the left, with a goddess, probably Isis, behind him
and before him three figures. The middle one, a man, led into the
presence of Osiris by the goddess Truth, who grasps his hand,
accompanied by a figure represented in black, the head of which
probably should be that of a wolf or a jackal, but which is here
badly drawn. A lotus-crowned standard (numbered 3) bearing food,
stands as usual before Osiris. This is the judgment scene, in which
the dead man, led in by Truth, is to be judged by Osiris. This
scene again is depicted innumerable times in the funeral papyri,
coffins and tomb and temple walls of Egypt. No representation of it
thus far found in Egypt, though we have thousands of them, dates
earlier than 500 years after Abraham's age; and it may be stated as
certain that the scene was unknown until about 500 years after
"To sum up, then, these three fac-similes of Egyptian documents
in the Pearl of Great Price depict the most common objects
in the mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith's interpretation of
them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore,
very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the
significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the
simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization. Not to repeat
it too often, the point I wish to make is that Joseph Smith
represents as portions of a unique revelation through Abraham
things which were commonplaces and to be found by many thousands in
the every-day life of the Egyptians. We orientalists could publish
scores of these 'fac-similes from the Book of Abraham' taken
from other sources.
"For example, any visitor in a modern museum with an Egyptian
collection can find for himself plenty of examples of the four jars
with animal headsthe jars depicted under the couch in fac-simile
number one. It should be noted further that the hieroglyphics in
the two fac-similes from the Book of Abraham (Nos. 2 and 3),
though they belong to a very degenerate and debased age in Egyptian
civilization, and have been much corrupted in copying, contain the
usual explanatory inscriptions regularly found in such funerary
JAMES H. BREASTED. Ph.D.,
Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago.
(Ibid., pp. 24-27)
"I return herewith, under separate cover, the Pearl of Great
Price. The Book of Abraham, it is hardly necessary to
say, is a pure fabrication. Cuts 1 and 3 are inaccurate copies of
well known scenes on funeral papyri, and cut 2 is a copy of one of
the magical discs which in the late Egyptian period were placed
under the heads of mummies. There were about forty of these latter
known in museums and they are all very similar in character. Joseph
Smith's interpretation of these cuts is a farrago of nonsense from
beginning to end. Egyptian characters can now be read almost as
easily as Greek, and five minutes' study in an Egyptian gallery of
any museum should be enough to convince any educated man of the
clumsiness of the imposture."
DR. ARTHUR C. MACE
Assistant Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Department of Egyptian Art.
(Ibid., p. 27)
"The plates contained in the "Pearl of Great Price" are rather
comical and a very poor imitation of Egyptian originals, apparently
not of any one original, but of Egyptian originals in general.
Apparently, the plate on page 50 represents an embalmer preparing a
body for burial. At the head, the soul (Kos) is flying away in the
form of a bird. Under the bed on which the body lies are the
canopic jars to hold the organs and entrails removed from the body
in the process of embalming. In the waters below the earth I see a
crocodile waiting to seize and devour the dead if he be not
properly protected by ritual embalming against such a fate.
"The latter (page 62) is also connected with burial, a
representation of the life of the deceased on earth. The
hieroglyphics which should describe the scenes, however, are merely
illegible scratches, the imitator not having the skill or
intelligence to copy such a script.
"The name 'reformed Egyptian' is, if I forget not, a term used
in the early days of Egyptian study, before much was known, by
certain persons to designate one form of Egyptian script. The text
of this chapter, as also the interpretation of the plates, displays
an amusing ignorance. Chaldeans and Egyptians are hopelessly mixed
together, although as dissimilar and remote in language, religion
and locality as re today American and Chinese. In addition to which
the writer knows nothing of either of them."
DR. JOHN PETERS,
University of Pennsylvania. In charge of expedition to Babylonia,
(Ibid., p. 28)
"After examining 'The Pearl of Great Price,' by Joseph Smith,
Salt Lake City, Utah, The Desert News, 1907, and in particular the
three fac-similes, Nos. 1, 2 and 3, I am convinced that the
following are facts:
"1. That the author of the notes on the three fac-similes had
before him Egyptian inscriptions, either on papyrus or some other
material, or else fac-similes of such inscriptions. Compare, for
example, No. 2 with the fac-similes of similar hypocephali in W. M.
F. Petrie's Abydos, Pt. 1, 1902, Plate LXXVI, LXXVII and LXXIX, in
which are sections exactly corresponding to sections in this
fac-simile (No. 2).
"2. That the author either knew Hebrew or had some means of
arriving at, at least, an elementary knowledge of that language.
Compare for example, the transliteration and translation [ayin yod
qoph resh] in No. 1, note 12, although the transliteration
'Rankeeyang' is far from accurate.
"3. That the author knew neither the Egyptian language nor the
meaning of the most commonplace Egyptian figures; neither did any
of those, whether human or Divine, who may have helped him in his
interpretation, have any such knowledge. By comparing his notes on
fac-similes Nos. 1, 2 and 3 with any elementary book on Egyptian
language and religion, and especially by comparing the notes on No.
2 with the explanation of the above named plate on page 49 ff. of
the work of Petrie already named (the explanation is by A. E.
Weigall, Chapter V), this becomes unquestionably evident.
"In general, it may be remarked that his explanations from a
scientific and scholarly standpoint are absurd. Compare No. 1, note
1: No. 2, notes 4, 8, etc.: No. 3, notes 2, 4, 5. The word
'Jah-oh-eh' in note 1 of No. 2, which he calls an Egyptian word (!)
is his faulty transliteration of the Hebrew [heh vav heh yod]. If
Abraham wrote anything while he was in Egypt, it would most likely
have been written in the Cuneiform, as that was the langua franca
of his day and his own native language.
"Many proofs of the correctness of the above three conclusive
points may be offered if desired. A criticism in his explanations
could be made, but the explanatory notes to his fac-similes cannot
be taken seriously by any scholar, as they seem to be undoubtedly
the work of pure imagination."
REV. PROF. C. A. B. MERCER, Ph.D.
Western Theological Seminary, Custodian Hibbard Collection,
(Ibid., pp. 28-29)
"The Egyptian papyrus which Smith declared to be the 'Book
of Abraham,' and 'translated' or explained in his fantastical
way, and of which three specimens are published in the Pearl of
Great Price, are parts of the well known 'Book of the Dead.'
Although the reproductions are very bad, one can easily recognize
familiar scenes from this book: 'the body of the dead lying a ba'
(bier). The canopic jars containing the entrails under it; the soul
in the shape of a bird flying above it, and a priest approaching
it, or Osiris seated on his throne, Isis behind him, the Goddess of
Righteousness with the feather on her head awaiting the deceased
from the throne of Osiris."
DR. EDWARD MEYER.
University of Berlin
(Ibid., pp. 29-30)
"I have been interested since a long time in the Mormons and
Joseph Smith's supposed translations of Egyptian texts. A careful
study has convinced me that Smith probably believed seriously to
have deciphered the ancient hieroglyphics, but that he utterly
"What he calls the Book of Abraham is a funeral Egyptian
text, probably not older than the Greek ages. His figure 1 should
be commented upon as follows:
"The dead man (1) is lying on a bier (4) under which are
standing the four canopic jars (5-8) and before which is standing
the offering table (10). The soul is leaving the body in the moment
when the priest (3) is opening the body with a knife for
mummification. Fig. 3 may be part of the same papyrusthe Goddess
Maat (Truth) is introducing the dead (5) and his shadow (6) before
Osiris (1) and Isis (2) before whom an offering table stands
"It is impossible from Smith's bad fac-similes to make out any
meaning of the inscriptions, but that they cannot say what Smith
thought is clear from the certain signification of the figures 1-5.
6 only may be interpreted in different ways, but never as Smith
"Fig. 2 is copied from a hypocephalus of the ancient Egyptians,
a magical book on which Dr. Birch has often written in the
proceedings of the Biblical Archaeological Society, and Dr. Leamans
in the Actes des Congress des Orientalistes of Leyden. None of the
names mentioned by Smith can be found in the text, and he has
misinterpreted the signification of every one figure: Fig. 5 is the
divine cow Hathor, 6 are the four children of Horus as the Canopic
Gods, 4 is the God Sokar in the Sacred Book, etc.
"I hope this will suffice to show that Jos. Smith certainly
never got a Divine revelation in the meaning of the hieroglyphic
texts at all. He probably used Athenasius Kirsher the Jesuit's
work, and there found a method of reading the old Egyptian signs
very much like his own."
DR. FRIEDRICH FREIHEER VON BISSING
Professor of Egyptology in the University of Munich
(Ibid., p. 30)