- Joseph presented at least one papyrus fragment as literally the writings of Abraham.
- “By his own hand” was meant to be taken as a literal statement.
- Joseph presented the Book of Abraham work as literally a translation of the hieroglyphics. “Translated” means what one would expect in this context.
- Joseph created a grammar and an alphabet where he grossly mistranslated the hieroglyphics.
Quotations in chronological order
Emphasis added. Date links to the transcript of the History of the Church from the Joseph Smith Papers Project unless otherwise indicated.
[Note by me, bwv549] The History of the Church was retrofitted in many instances, and this may be relevant to the reliability of these quotes (i.e., Joseph Smith may not have said some of these at all). See, for instance, Falsely Attributed to Joseph Smith.
“Chandler … brought me some of the characters, and I gave him the interpretation”
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 Hierogliphic, figures and devices. As Mr Chandler had been told that 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,1
[Kirtland July 6th 1835] 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, shewed to the most learned; And, from the information that I could ever learn, or meet with, I and that of Mr Joseph Smith, Jun, to correspondend in the most minute matters. (signed) “MICHAEL H. CHANDLER …”
“I commenced the translation of some of the characters … found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham”
Soon after this, some of the Saints at Kirtland, purchased the Mummies and Papyrus (a description of which will appear hereafter) and I, with W[illiam] W. Phelps and O[liver] Cowdery, as scribes, 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, &c., a more full account of which will appear in thier 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.
“continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham”
The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.
“labored on the Egyptian alphabet … principles … unfolded to our understanding”
This afternoon I [Joseph] labored on the Egyptian alphabet, in company with brothers O[liver] Cowdery and W[illiam] 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.
This is one of the ambiguous claims that *could support the apologetic view, if and only if one ignores the other evidence available.*
“brief history of the manner in which the writings of the Fathers Abraham, and Joseph have been preserved”
The Public mind has been excited of late by reports which have been circulated of late concerning certain Egyptian Mummies, and Ancient Records which were purchased by certain Gentlemen of Kirtland last July. It has been said that the purchasers of these antiquities pretend they have the body of Abraham, Abimelech, The king of the Philistines. Joseph who was sold into Egypt, &c, &c, for the purpose of attracting the attention of the multitude, and gulling the unwarry; which is utterly false. Who these ancient inhabitants of Egypts were I do not, at present, say. Abraham was buried on his own possession “in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, the Son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre,” which he purchased of the sons of Heth; Abimelech lived in the same country and for ought we know died there; and the children of Israel carried Joseph’s bones from Egypt, when they went out under Moses. Consequently could not have been found in Egypt in the nineteenth century. The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the Mummies, is beautifully written on papyrus with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, in perfect preservation. The characters are such as you find upon the coffins of Mummies; hieroglyphics, &c. with many characters or letters like the present (though probably not quite so square,) form of the Hebrew without points. “These records were obtained from one of the Catacombs, or in Egypt, near the place where once stood the renowned city of Thebes, by the celebrated French traveller Antonio Lebolo. in the year 1831. He procured license from Mehemet Ali, then Viceroy of Egypt, under the protection of Chevalier Drovetti, the French consul, in the 1828; employed 433 men, four months and two days, (if I understood correctly,) Egyptian or Turkish soldiers, at from four to 6 cents per Diem, each man: entered the catacomb June 7th 1831. and obtained eleven mummies. There were several hundred mummies in the same catacomb; about one hundred embalmed after the first order, and deposited and placed in niches; and two or three hundred after the second and third order; and laid upon the floor or bottom of the grand cavity; The two last orders of Embalmed were so decayed that they could not be removed, and only eleven of the first found in the niches. On his way from Alexandria to Paris he put in at Trieste, and after ten days illness expired. This was in the year 1832. Previous to his decease, he made a will of the whole to Mr Michael H. Chandler, (then in Philadelphia. Pa,) his nephew, whom he supposed to have been in Ireland. Accordingly the whole were sent to Dublin, and Mr Chandler’s friends ordered them to New York, where they were received at the Custom house in the winter or Spring of 1833. In April of the same year, Mr Chandler paid the duties, and took possession of his mummies. Up to this time, they had not been taken out of the coffins nor the coffins opened. On opening the coffins he discovered that in connection with two of the bodies, were something rolled up with the same kind of linen, saturated with the same bitumen, which when examined, proved to be two rolls of papyrus previously mentioned. Two or three other small pieces of papyrus with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c. were found with others of the mummies. When Mr Chandler discovered that ther[e] was something with the Mummies, he supposed, or hoped it might be some diamonds or valueable Metal, and was no little chagrined, when he saw his disappointment. He was immediately told, while yet in the Custom house, that there was no man in that city, who could translate his roll; but was referred by the same gentleman, (a stranger) to Mr Joseph Smith Junr— who, continued he, possesses some kind of power or gifts, by which he had previously translated similar characters.” I was then unknown to Mr Chandler, neither did he know that such a book or work as the record of Nephites had been brought before the public. From New York he took his collection on to Philadelphia, where he obtained the certificate of the learned, (see Mess. & Advocate p. 235,)— and from thence come on to Kirtland as before related in July. Thus I have given a brief history of the manner in which the writings of the Fathers Abraham, and Joseph have been preserved, and how I came in possession of the same, a correct translation of which I shall give in its proper place.
“shewed them the record of Abraham”
Saturday 30th. Attended school as usual, and waited upon several visitors and shewed them the record of Abraham. Mr [Joshua] Seixas, our Hebrew Teacher, examined them with deep interest, and pronounced them to be original beyond all doubt. He is a man of excellent understanding, and has a knowledge of many languages, which were spoken by the ancients, & he is an honorable man so far as I can judge yet.
“showed them the Records of Abraham”
Wednesday 3d. A.M. Attended our Hebrew lecture. P.M. Studied with Oliver Cowdery and Sylvester Smith. Received many visitors and showed them the Records of Abraham. My Father blessed three with a patriarchal blessing. President Alva[h] Beman handed in, seventy of his quorum, designed for another seventy if God will.
[I am slowly going through and finding original-ish manuscripts in the Joseph Smith papers project. I’ve done that for the above and am still working on the below… –bwv549]
Undated, in the history of the church, Vol 2.
The account here given of how the Prophet came into possession of the writings of Abraham, and of Joseph, the son of Jacob, was adapted from an article in the Messenger and Advocate, (Volume II, Number 3, pages 233, 236, bearing date of December, 1835) signed by Oliver Cowdery. The article is addressed to William Frye, Esq.. of Gilead, Calhoun County, Ill. The certificate of the “learned” referred to, is in the body of the article. it seems that Michael H. Chandler, the owner of the Egyptian mummies and the papyrus, exhibited his treasures in Philadelphia, and, while there, obtained the following opinion of several prominent doctors’
“Having examined with considerable attention and deep interest, a number of mummies from the catacombs, near Thebes, in Egypt, and now exhibiting in the Arcade, we beg leave to recommend them to the observation of the curious inquirer on subjects of a period so long elapsed; probably not less than three thousand years ago. The features of some of these mummies are in perfect expression. The papyrus covered with black or red ink, or paint, in excellent preservation, are very interesting. The undersigned, unsolicited by any person connected by interest with this exhibition, have voluntarily set their names hereunto, for the simple purpose of calling the attention of the public to an interesting collection, not sufficiently know in this city.” JOHN REDMAN COXE M.D., RICHARD HARLAN, M.D., J. PANCOAST, M. D., WILLIAM P. C. BARTON, M. D., E. F. RIVINUS, M.D., SAMUEL G. MORGAN, M.D.,
“I concur in the above sentiments, concerning the collection of mummies in the Philadelphia Arcade, and consider them highly deserving the attention of the curious. W. E. HORNER, M. D.”
Another paragraph in the article explains how it came about that Mr. Chandler gave the Prophet a certificate, concerning his belief in the Prophet’s ability to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphics of the papyrus–which certificate will be found at page 235, of this volume, under the date of the purchase of the mummies and papyrus by certain persons in Kirtland. From the paragraph referred to, it appears that on the morning that Mr. Chandler first presented his papyrus to the Prophet Joseph Smith, he was shown by the latter, a number of characters which had been copied from the Nephite plates, and found that there were some points of resemblance between some of the Nephite characters and some of the characters on the Egyptian papyrus. Mr. Chandler then asked the Prophet’s opinion concerning the antiquity of the Egyptian papyrus, and also requested him to give a translation of the characters. The Prophet gave Mr. Chandler a translation of some few of the Egyptian characters, which agreed with the interpretation given by learned men in other cities, where the mummies and papyrus had been exhibited, whereupon Mr. Chandler gave the Prophet a certificate. stating that fact.
Bonus: Usage of “his own hand” for comparable context:
First–That all licenses hereafter granted by these authorities assembled as a quorum, or by general conference held for the purpose of transacting the business of the Church, be recorded at full length by the clerk appointed for that purpose, in a book to be kept in this branch of the Church, until it shall be thought advisable by the heads of the Church to order other books and appoint other clerks, to record licenses as above; and that said recording clerk be required to indorse a certificate under his own hand and signature, on the back of said licenses, specifying the time when, and place where, such license was recorded, and also a reference to the letter and page of the book containing the same.
Note how the usage does not allow someone to delegate another to act as “his own hand”. This cuts off the apologetic claim that a copy of a writing is still written by Abraham, “in his own hand”
Other references from the JSPP, Joseph Smith’s Journal.
Sunday, May 6, 1838 showing a claim that this was supposedly the literal beliefs of Abraham, rather than an inspirational / fictional use case.
He [Joseph] also instructed the Church, in the mistories of the Kingdom of God; giving them a history of the Plannets &c. and of Abrahams writings upon the Plannettary System &c.95 In the after part of the day Prest.
March 1 & 4th, 1842 showing Joseph reviewed and made personal adjustments to the facsimile recreations prior to printing.
[1st] During the fore-noon. at his office. & the printing office correcting the first plate or cut. of the Records of father Abraham. prepared by Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock] for the Times & Season.113 and in council in his office in the P.M.
[4th] March 4 Friday Exhibeting the Book of Abraham. in the original. To Bro Reuben Hadlock [Hedlock]. so that he might take the size of the several plates or cuts. & prepare the blocks for the Times & Seasons. & also gave instruction concerning the arrangement of the writing on the Large cut. illustrating the principles of Astronomy.120 (in his office) with other general business
[8th] Commenced Translating from the Book of Abraham, for the 10 No of the Times and seasons—123 and was engagd at his office day & evening—
[9nth] Examining copy for the Times & Seasons presented by. [John] Taylor & Bennet [John C. Bennett].—124 and a variety of other business in this the Presidents office in the morning. in the afternoon continud the Translation 125of the Book of Abraham. called Bishop Nnights [Vinson Knight] & Mr the Post office <Mr [Amos] Davis’s> &c with the Re[c]order. & continued translating & revising. & Reading letters in the evening Sister Emma being present in the office
Joseph Smith Paper editors comment on Chandler’s certificate:
Chandler may have issued the certificate to ingratiate himself to the Latter-day Saints and increase the likelihood of a sale. In reality, though, modern Egyptological scholarship was so new that neither Chandler nor any other American at that time would likely have been able to make such an attestation authoritatively.