Towards the end of the comments on of Rock Waterman’s blog entry about October’s General Conference an individual going by the name ~Clint~ brought up the Book of Abraham.
He said, “The most glaring evidence against JS is that we know he did not translate the Book of Abraham correctly. There is rock solid evidence of this, and while there are apologetics, none of them claim correct translation; they just make excuses for why it is OK that it was not translated correctly.”
And you know what, he’s right. The Book of Abraham is not an Egyptian-English translation of characters on the papyri. I’ve known this for a while and part of that is what prompted me to get the book, “The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papers” which was complied by H. Michael Marquardt. This book contains images of the pages of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar that was written by the scribes of Joseph Smith. The intent of this book is yet another attack on the Book of Abraham. It seems to focus on the claims the Joseph Smith had nothing to do with the Grammar and it was the scribes that wrote it.
The book is fascinating. However the images of the pages are fairly poor quality. But it does have a transcription so that makes it easier.
After reading ~Clint~’s comments it got me thinking about the Book of Abraham again. I pulled my copy of the Egyptian Papers off the shelf. I opened its tan, self published cover and stared(yet again) at the mind boggling symbols and supposed translations.
Then while reading some of links ~Clint~ provided I read something on another website. A question posed, “How does a book go from being faith-promoting in the beginning of its life, to becoming faith-destroying 150 years later?”
This concept stuck in my mind for many days. And I wondered was it possible that someday the Book of Abraham might swing back to the other end of the pendulum and become faith promoting again? Often things experience that kind of shift back and forth. Could it happen to the Book of Abraham? I don’t really know.
Yet, all of these thought sort of culminated in a sort of “AHA!” moment. Call it inspiration, or whatever. But I thought of something. In all the arguments I have seen against the Book of Abraham pretty much all of them illustrate that Joseph Smith’s translation is not a correct translation of the Egyptian symbols on the papyri. To which apologists then state that the actual translation was not from the surviving pieces of the papyri. Or they say it was an inspired translation or something. Critics then have a variety of of comebacks. Etc, Etc, around it goes on and on.
But what I’ve never seen before is an attempt at determining the validity of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham, independent of external factors. What I mean is, does Joseph Smith’s translation make sense in and of itself? Some Apologists attempt to distance themselves from the Grammar and Alphabet by claiming that Joseph Smith didn’t have a hand in it. Or that the symbols were written in later to “decorate” the document.
My question is, “Does the translation of the symbols work when applied to the entire papyri fragments and itself?”
So I came up with a hypothesis which is, that by examining, dissecting, and applying Joseph Smith translation of the symbols to most of (if not the entire) Papryi I can come up with an intelligible translation that makes sense.
At most I may be able to identify the symbols used for the rest of the Book of Abraham; recover some sort of additional text of the Book of Abraham; and possibly even some sort of text of the Book of Joseph. At the very least this will be a huge disaster that will completely fall apart in my face. In truth, I’m expecting both options.
And so my journey for the past few weeks had begun. And I expect that this experiment will take much more time before completion. But since it is taking so much time I thought I would share some of my discoveries.
What In The…
Joseph Smith’s translation of the characters on the Egyptian Papryi are not simple. In fact each symbol has five “degrees.” And I admit I’m only beginning to understand what the “degrees” are. However my examination so far shows that usually the translation in these degrees are fairly similar. For Example:
|Symbol||Name||Fifth Degree||Fourth Degree||Third Degree||Second Degree||First Degree|
|Iota||See/ Saw/ Seeing/ Having seen||Me / Myself||Sight||To see||The eye|
However not all are so clear cut. Additionally the degree that is used depends upon the relation a symbol has to others around it. I haven’t quite figured it out.
Some people have claimed that this use of degrees allowed Joseph Smith to have a large amount of translated text while only using a small number of symbols. I don’t understand it completely, but I believe this accusation is actually mixing two parts of the translation; one, the system of five degrees, and two a system of numerical expansion that includes placing lines and other marks above or below the symbol to change it’s value. It also doesn’t address why Joseph chose to use only a small number of symbols for such a large translation. Why not give each symbol a smaller translation and use the rest of the symbols which are plentiful?
Another way symbols are used is by combining them to form another symbol. A couple of examples if this are given in the text. One is Kiah broam- kiah brah oam-Zub Zool oan.
This symbol is broken apart into five other symbols.
My first breakthrough came on October 25 while I was sitting in my institute class. I thought I would see if there were any other complex symbols I could dissect. I found a symbol called Ho-hah-oop-an.
an intercessor / one who has is been appointed to intercede for another / invocation
To me it seems that this symbol seems to somehow relate to Jesus Christ as in intercessor. Pretty much all of these definitions point to some attribute of Christ.
Ho-hah-oop-an can be broken down into four symbols: Iota, Toan, Jah-ni-hah, and Ja-ho-e-oop
With these translations taken together the meaning of Ho-hah-oop-an is created. Even the name Ho-hah-oop-an can be derived from the names of some of the symbols from which it is made: Ja-ho-e(Jah-ni-hah)-oop, Toan.
This relatively minor discovery was my first breakthrough in cracking Joseph Smith’s translation of the symbols on the Papryi.
A Partial Translation
What makes this project so hard is that the Alphabet and Grammar only represents about half the characters of Papyri XI and I. And out of those, only about half have an actual translation in the document. Therefore I’m going to have to discover values of known characters and from them determine the values of the unknown characters.
Only about half of the Book of Abraham is contained in the Egyptian Papers. Next to each section of the translation are written symbols corresponding to those on the papyrus. While some Apologists claim these were later written in to decorate the pages, the symbols are consistent through all three renderings of the first half of the Book of Abraham. To illustrate this I’ve included the images below:
These images illustrate that the Egyptian Papers symbols correspond to symbols on the Papyri. And that they are ordered just like they are on the papyrus.
The next question becomes, do the translation of these symbols match to the translation given them in the Alphabet and Grammar?
Here are a couple examples of what I have discovered so far.
Now I know what you’re saying. This are the symbols invented by Joseph Smith to fill the gaps. So of course the translation works. Ok fine, lets look at some actual symbols from the papyrus.
While my research is far from complete, and also far from making any conclusions as to the integrity of the translation Joseph Smith ascribed to the Egyptian symbols, it is intriguing. I’m fascinated by this and am looking forward to many more discoveries.
Lastly I want to say that I’m not trying to prove any theory as to the origins of the translation. Was Joseph Smith making it up? Is there some secret meaning to the Egyptian symbols? Where the symbols simply means to receive revelation like the seer stones. I really have no idea. I would guess though that if Joseph Smith was making it all up and thus assigning random values to the symbols we would find the result to be gibberish and would not make an intelligible translation. If the translation is genuine(whatever that means, excluding direct translation of actual Egyptian) then the translation would be consistent and would make a intelligible translation. We’ll see what happens.
As for later parts of this series I have no idea when I will be finishing them. If I make any major progress I’ll be posting it here.