When I first heard that the papyri used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Abraham had been found and that Joseph Smith’s translation didn’t match up with the true translation that Egyptologists can read today, I dismissed the problem when someone told me that it was because the part where Joseph translated was not among the papyri found.
I didn’t even look into it. That sounded reasonable to me, so I dismissed the concern.
Recently I looked into it again and found out that the exact 3 vignettes (Facsimilies) found in the Pearl of Great Price were among the papyri found. Also that they had been translated by Joseph Smith incorrectly and that the papyri were funeral scripts that were not anywhere as near as old as Abraham. I also discovered that in Abraham 1:12 of the text he directly refers to the first facsimile. The vignette mis-translations were unexplainable problems enough, but the textual reference to the vignette meant that I could not seperate the text from the vignettes. Also, I discovered that Joseph and his scribes wrote a dictionary and grammar book of Egyptian and it was all just a bunch of garbage. He clearly didn’t know how to translate Egyptian and he had no idea what the papyri were about.——————————————————————————–
“The section of the papyri used by Joseph Smith (Facsimile No. 1 and Facsimile No. 3 are part of the Scroll of Hor, which contained Joseph Smith Papyrus I, X and XI) to “translate” the Book of Abraham was from a document called the Book of Breathings. It contained the specific name of the deceased individual it had been prepared for, and would have accompanied that person in their burial setting to provide them guidance in the after life, as it included “spells” which the deceased could use in the afterlife to learn to “breathe” again. Other papyrus fragments from the collection were from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, an earlier collection of writings with a similar purpose. The Book of Breathings was an abbreviated version of the Book of the Dead, used in the later eras of Egyptian history. There would have been no reason to bury the books of Abraham or Joseph with their pagan dead.
From Joseph’s Journal: The remainder of this month (July, 1835) 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.”
Professional Egyptologists to whom the Joseph Smith’s ”Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,” book was submitted for examination were quick to point out that the material in Joseph Smith’s notebook bore no resemblance at all to any correct understanding of the ancient Egyptian language. As one of them, I. E. Edwards, put it, the whole work was, “largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind of scientific value.” He added that it reminded him of “the writings of psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to me.” There were many similar verdicts, all confirming that the person responsible for what Berrett had glowingly called “the first Egyptian grammar in America” could not possibly have understood the ancient Egyptian language. The book turned out to be nothing but page after page of nonsensical gibberish. Though it had apparently succeeded at one time in impressing unsophisticated minds, the work was unable to withstand the scrutiny of experts.”
-Excerpts from Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus
Defense of the book of Abraham by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The reason that Joseph Smith’s translation has nothing to do with the actual interpretation of the facsimiles or the text surrounding it is because he interpreted the documents by revelation through the use of his seer stone, rather than a standard “translation” of text from one language to another, in a process similar to his translation of the Bible. Joseph received a direct revelation instead of actually translating, so the text of the Book of Abraham should have little or nothing to do with the physical papyri Joseph purchased.
Critics assert; however, that the “Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar” book written partially in Joseph’s own handwriting, indicates that Smith did attempt a direct, literal, comprehensive, translation. Critics interpret Smith’s statements to mean that the Book of Abraham is a conventional translation of an original handwritten manuscript and not a revelation.
If Joseph didn’t use the actual papyri facsimiles and text to translate, why did he include the facsimiles in the scriptures and why did he purchase the papyri? With this logic he could have written the book of Abraham without them. Also, why does the text (Abraham 1:12) refer to the vignette if the facsimilie and it’s incorrect translation has nothing to do with the text? There were no eyewitness accounts of Joseph using a seer stone during the translation of the Book of Abraham. It appears that he dictated the book in the presence of multiple scribes, without any special tools. There are several quotes that indicate he was making a literal translation:
History of the Church(2:235) describes Chandlers visit and the exhibit itself:
“On the 3rd of July , Michael H. Chandler came to Kirtland to exhibit some Egyptian mummies. There were four human figures, together with some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroglyphic figures and devices. As Mr. Chandler had been told I could translate them, he brought me some of the characters, and I gave him the interpretation, and like a gentleman, he gave me the following certificate:
“‘This is to make known to all who may be desirous, concerning the knowledge of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., in deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic characters in my possession, which I have, in many eminent cities, showed to the most learned; and, from the information that I could ever learn, or meet with, I find that of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., to correspond in the most minute matters.
“‘Michael H. Chandler
“‘Traveling with, and proprietor of, Egyptian mummies”
History of the Church continues (2:236)
“…with W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, 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, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc., — a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.”
“Tuesday, [November] 17th Ex[h]ibited /the Alphabet/ of the ancient records to Mr. Holmes and some others. Went with him to F[rederick] G. Williams to see the Mum[m]ies.”
“Thursday, [November] 19th […] I returned home and spent the day in translating the Egyptian records.”
“Thursday, [November] 26th At home. We spent the day in transcribing Egyptian characters from the papyrus.”
“Monday, [December] 7th …a number of brethren called this Evening to see the records. I ex[h]ibited and explained them to their satisfaction.”
“Thursday, [December] 10th This evening I spent at hom[e]. A number of brethren called to see the [Egyptian] records which I ex[h]ibited to them. They were much pleased with their interview.”
“Wednesday morning [December] 16th […] Returned home, Elder McLellen, Elder B[righam] Young and Elder J[ared] Carter called and paid me a visit with which I was much gratified. I ex[h]ibited and explained the Egyptian Records to them and explained many things to them concerning the dealings of God with the ancients and the formation of the planetary System.”
“Tuesday morning, [January] 12th  […]This after noon a young man called to see the Egyptian manuscripts and I ex[h]ibited them to him. He expressed great satisfaction and appeared verry anxious to obtain a knowledge of the translation.”
Another theory from those defending the authenticity of the Book of Abraham is that the facsimiles in Egyptian funerary scrolls may have been a mnemonic device. God used these pagan documents to prepare Joseph’s mind for the revelation.
The facsimiles were not penned by Abraham, but by a Jewish redactor many centuries later. The papyri is dated at A.D. 60 which is too late for Abraham to write it, so it may be copies of originals, or copies of copies of which were originally written personally by Abraham. Why would pagan Egyptians concern themselves with writings of Abraham? Because they loved antiquity and so preserved the writings for over 2,000 years and buried their dead with them?
Another possibility is that there were secret messages and meanings (a code) embedded in the text along with the Egyptologist’s translations that are unknown to us, and could be where Joseph Smith found his message and interpretation. The church has pretty much dismissed this theory.
The church does assert that two demotic papyri discovered in Thebes in the 1800s contain images that associate the name Abraham with a lion couch and the Wedjat eye of Horus, and the parallel is drawn with Facsimiles, No.1 and No. 2. Although there is no way to know if this Abraham word has any connection with the Abraham we commonly refer to.
The most common theory is that the remaining papyrus fragments are only part of the complete original, (and much longer) papyri, so the text could have come from a giant missing section (the number of English words used require an extremely long missing section) or the fragments may have been a starting point for reconstruction. However, critics argue that there is a direct textual reference to Facsimile No. 1 in the Book of Abraham (Abraham 1:12). Why would Joseph refer directly to the facsimile in the text of the Book of Abraham if the text was not directly associated with the picture?
The final defense of The Book of Abraham is that it is similar to other texts about Abraham, even some that have come out after Joseph’s “translation”. However, all of these texts are similar to the apocryphal stories of Abraham which Joseph could easily have heard and known about. A Bible Dictionary published by the American Sunday School Union that was available during Joseph Smith’s day summed up many of the apocryphal elements which Joseph could have read. (Rough Stone Rolling by Bushman pg. 292)
Even though the Book of Abraham is considered a hoax by all experts in the field, including Mormon scholars who left the church over this, all except for currently staunch believers in the Mormon faith, a person should dismiss this and go on faith alone. Ask for a witness from the Holy Ghost and you will not be able to deny it.
Does this sound rational to you?