Belinda: Ay, but you know we must return good for evil.
Lady Brute: That may be a mistake in the translation.

Sir John Vanbrugh, (1664-1726), The Provok'd Wife [1698], Act I, sc. i
Joseph Smith and early Latter-day Saints believed that the papyri were the actual writings of Abraham. They were completely unaware that the Egyptian text was part of the Egyptian burial rites.

Joseph claimed he translated from the papyri the "writings" of Abraham and the records of Joseph. This is very clear from the History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 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 ..."

Joseph Smith claimed to have translated characters or hieroglyphics. Although it is obvious that he claimed to be using divine revelation to do this, he never denied that the writings were of Abraham. In fact, when a young lady doubted the age of the documents Joseph was angered. On a Saturday some young ladies came and visited to see the Egyptian records, "One of the young ladies who had been examining them, was asked if they had the appearance of antiquity. She observed with an air of contempt, that they had not. On hearing this, I [Joseph Smith] was surprised at the ignorance she displayed, and I observed to her, that she was an anomaly in creation, for all the wise and learned that had examined them, without hesitation pronounced them ancient. " (History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 329) Oddly enough the papyri has not been dated to the time of Abraham but to dating only after 500 B.C., around fifteen-hundred years off! (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.)

An interesting account with Joseph Smith was recorded in Josiah Quincy Figures of the Past (1883), pg. 386.: "And now come with me," said the prophet, "and I will show you the curiosities." So Saying he led the way to a lower room .... There are some pine presses fixed against the wall of the room. These receptacles Smith opened, and disclosed four human bodies, shrunken and black with age. "These are mummies," said the exhibitor. "I want you to look at the little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man in his day. Why, that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!" Some parchments inscribed with hieroglyphics were then offered us. They were preserved under glass and handled with great respect. "That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful." said the prophet. "This is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest account of the creation, from which Moses composed the first book of Genesis." The parchment last referred to showed a rude drawing of a man and a woman, and a serpent walking on a pair of legs."

Another relevant reference is Benjamin Ashby Autobiography, copy of holograph, BYU-S, pg. 8-9: "One day with my mother, I visited his [Joseph Smith's] house, he was not in but we spent an interesting time with his mother. She exhibited the mummies from which the Book of Abraham was taken as well as the original papyrus on which it was written."

Another supporting reference is Benjamin Johnson My Life's Review (1947) pg. 24: "In the course of that year, the Egyptian mummies were bought from Mr. Chandler, by whom they were received from Egypt. Great was our wonder in looking upon the bodies of those who, 4,000 years ago, were living princes and queens. And when the writings of Abraham upon papyrus, which accompanied them were taken from its ancient casket, it seemed marvelous indeed. And all rejoiced when the Prophet told us these writings would be translated, which are now, in part, in the Pearl of Great Price."

And even another supporting reference includes Warren Foote Autobiography, typescript, BYU-S, pg. 5-6: "In the afternoon we went into the [Kirtland] Temple, and saw the mummies and the records which were found with them (we went to the prophet's house to see him. This is the first I saw him, and shook hands with him). Joseph Smith Sen. explained them to us, and said the records were the writings of Abraham & Joseph, Jacob's son. Some of the writing was in black, and some in red. He said that the writing in red, was pertaining to the Priesthood."

Even when people raised questions about the mummies and the Egyptian papyri the response provided by the LDS Church described the "... 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." (History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 348)

Can there be any doubt that Joseph meant that the papyri had the "writings" of Abraham and Joseph? I do not think so. Although one can argue the definition of translation, one cannot argue the fact that papyri that the LDS Church now possess do not show a record of Abraham and Joseph. Now what about the missing scroll theory? Or should I say the missing TWO scroll theory? This is very very very unlikely because the papyri that we can now see is from two different scrolls. Anyone can look at the photographs of the papyri and match up the "threads" like a fingerprint and see that there are two distinctly different scrolls of papyri. Moreover there is no account of there being any possiblity of four scrolls from the personal recorded accounts.

Also, there are many references indicating that Joseph was translating the Egyptian text in the traditional sense of the word. For instance, Joseph remarked in History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 238, "The remainder of the month , I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients." Also as recorded in History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 286, "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."

To me, it is very clear that Joseph Smith used the Egyptian papyri to fool his followers. Take a look at the evidence and decide for yourself.

Joseph Smith Translates Egyptian Papyri
Last Updated February 14, 1996
Copyright © 1996, 1997, All Rights Reserved.
Created by James David,