Meditations on Vogel

Welcome, gentle reader, to Meditations on Vogel, where I discuss Dan Vogel's video series called "The Truth of the Book of Abraham." Last edited 3/21/2022. Click here for original version. See Dan's responses and my replies, here and here.

First Meditation

In the climax of the opening segment of Dan Vogel's first Abraham video, he opines that Joseph Smith's translations "were fakes." As Vogel says this, his video zooms in on W.W. Phelps' manuscript:

(click on images in this post, to enlarge)

I beg to differ.

Now, I'm not proposing Joseph Smith was fluent in the Egyptian language, just like I don't think Seers of old, who saw our day, became fluent in English.  But Joseph apparently did receive some understanding of Egyptian, as I demonstrate below in my analysis of the Phelps manuscript (The characters in the left margin of Phelps' manuscript would take center stage in a grammar document Phelps later produced, indicating that document may have been an attempt to learn what he could from the experience they had with the Phelps manuscript, attempting to deduce information about other characters). While translating through the Gift and Power of God, Joseph may have had enhanced understanding which did not carry over outside his time spent in the sacred translation process.

The manuscript Vogel has onscreen (as shown above) may mark the beginning of the translation of the Book of Abraham. So this was evidently created while Joseph was in the midst of a revelatory process. If so, it could give us understanding into the access to knowledge Joseph had while receiving revelation, not just Joseph as a man limited to his own personal knowledge (as was more often the case).

Our first small clue could be that Phelps, as scribe, lines up an Egyptian character meaning "great," straight across from the word great in English. Our second clue should be that the verse it is lined up with uses the word "great" more than any other verse of scripture. Out of 40,000 verses of scripture, the one where the word "great" is used the most number of times is the one verse that has the word "great" written next to it in Egyptian. From this initial evidence, does it sound like it is worth seeing if there might be something bigger to investigate?

The character might not look much like the determinative for great, but Ed Ashment broke that down for us years ago (even though he didn't look deeply enough into other aspects of what was really going on). Here are a couple screenshots highlighting the relevant parts of what he said:


On a standard sign list for non-German speaking Egyptologists, this is known as Gardiner's sign A19. In addition to meaning great, the symbol can also mean old. The different uses are transliterated differently (in basic terms, this means the different uses of the symbol are spelled out differently).

To signify great, the symbol is transliterated as "wr." For old, it is transliterated as "i3w" or "iaw" (the 3 is an aleph, but more on that in a minute).

Phelps gives us "great" by lining the character up with the verse, as explained earlier.

But here's the astounding part. In addition to giving us "great," Phelps also gives us the "iaw," a direct transliteration of the character.

I realize some of this may be hard to keep track of, so let me back up for a second.

Here's a breakdown of the character, A19 on Gardiner's sign list. We can trace it back to a character on the papyrus which was part of the name "Wsir wr," which means "Osiris is Great." You can see "wr" in the image below, next to the description, "great one, chief" in the lower right part of the image, and the "i3w" in the upper right.

As we can see below, the character meaning "Great" is lined up with the English word "great" in the text.

As I will explain, what Phelps wrote constitutes the first ever transliterations of biliteral/triliteral Egyptian characters. This is something the great scholar Champollion had failed to do.

Let's start with the second character on Phelps' manuscript and discuss some rather brilliant wordplay, with Phelps no doubt basing what he was writing on information received from the Seer.

The first of Phelps' characters is usually transliterated as "i." The second character as "w." Together they are "iw," which gives us most of "iaw." It may be helpful for me to turn to page 84 of Robert Ritner's book, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri, and you can see how Ritner indeed transliterates the characters as i and w. You can also compare the characters in his book with the characters on Phelps' manuscript to see how Phelps' characters were derived from the other renditions.

Reminder: you can click images in this post, to enlarge them.

Again, they don't look exactly alike, and that makes it confusing, but there is no dispute that the characters Ritner transliterates as "iw" are the same as the first and second characters on Phelps' manuscript. Incidentally, you can see the first character has a "1" pinned to it, and the second character has a "2" pinned to it (a bit smudged), which Phelps uses to link the Egyptian characters to letters in the English text to the right. Those letters complete the transliterations.

Character 2 points us to the "A" in Abraham. Again, the Egyptian character is a “w” but Phelps uses it (correctly, I might add) in conjunction with the letter “a” in his transliterations (as we will see) and thus he is bringing the letter “a” into play by pinning it to the w.

So let’s take a wider view for just a second. On its face, Phelps has correctly given us the third character as the word “great,” and the first character as the letter “i.” The second character is the only ambiguous one, since it is pinned to an “a” - but it makes sense when we see how the “a” interacts with the w in the transliterations.

Helpfully, Phelps wrote a companion book which I alluded to earlier, as a grammar - often today called the "Grammar and Alphabet," or "GAEL," which breaks down this word, in a note about this character, for the purpose of showing us that the "A" is not to be read as it sounds in "Abraham" but is instead to be used as an aleph and/or ayin, as in "Ah" like in "Ah brah aam.” Clearly the breakdown of the word is intended to show the aleph sound, i.e. "ah" and the ending of "brah," as well as "aam" are demonstrations of aleph. 

As a side note, the GAEL also provides a helpful description next to the breakdown of the word, in which Phelps expounds and theorizes on the content of the transliterations he has made. In my preliminary research into this, it seems the GAEL frequently points us to content in the funerary papyri (much of which is non-extant, but enough exists to demonstrate that much of the content in the GAEL can be found in the Breathing Permit and Book of the Dead. They are not translations but appear to be shorthand references to the meaning of transliterations. We may not have the letters of those transliterations, but the GAEL leaves us with references to content in the Book of Breathings and Book of the Dead).

In other words, the GAEL is not primarily about the Book of Abraham but is about Joseph’s analysis of the mythology contained in the Book of Breathings and Book of the Dead. 

Vogel has suggested that the number "2," pinning Phelps' second character to the "A" in Abraham, was actually intended to pin the character to the entire word, "Abraham," as though the word "Abraham" were a translation of the character.

Although I partially agree, in the sense that the GAEL breaks down multiple uses of "ah" in Abraham, the purpose is clearly focused on giving us the aleph, and the "2" in Phelps' manuscript is appropriately tagged only to the "A." 

Phelps was not suggesting that anyone should go around pronouncing Abraham as "ah brah aam," which is what Vogel’s assumption would imply. Instead, the GAEL is breaking it down for demonstrative purposes. One would have to a priori assume Phelps didn't know what he was doing if they want to suggest that what he did had no practical value and was just intended to look fancy.

Vogel's conjecture was based on a priori assumptions. In reality, the transliterations in the Phelps manuscript allow us to see that the entry in the GAEL is not a definition but points to the appropriate Egyptian for transliteration, and explains the transliterations. As stated above, Phelps is not giving us the "meaning" of characters. He is expounding and theorizing on the content of his transliterations which involve the characters.

i.e. in the GAEL entry for the second character which Phelps tagged in his margin, Phelps expounds and then summarizes, as follows, the relevant transliterations: "A patriarch, a rightful heir, a high priest." The following transliterations are explained in more detail, further below:

"A patriarch" = "iaw" = "oldest official"

"Rightful heir" = "iwa" = "inherit"

"High Priest" = Phelps' third character is taken from the name of a High Priest on the papyrus, Wsir-wr, and was originally associated (in Alphabet documents) with the full name, and later shortened to "wr." Wsir-wr is specifically mentioned on the papyrus in the context of his role as High Priest and father, from whom Hor inherited his priesthood. A prompting about the parallels with Abraham, i.e. High Priest, father, inheritance and "great," may have been what made Joseph Smith stop and take notice of the character in the first place. These parallels may be what later spurred the transliteration of the character which took place while Joseph was attuned to the revelatory process during the translation, as recorded on Phelps' manuscript. Also of interest, "wr" was the title for High Priests in Hermopolis.

The GAEL entry for Phelps' third character says "Kiah brah oam" and includes some additional ideas, such as: "right by birth— and also by blessing, and by promise— promises made." So, this speaks of a birthright but also a right which can be obtained by blessing and promise. This brings to mind D&C 82:10, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say..." The Lord blesses according to His promises, which matches Phelps' transliteration of "isw," which I discuss further below, which in Egyptian means "rewards" and "wages" - Abraham was seeking God's reward, i.e. - Abraham tells us he "sought for the blessings of the fathers," then he explains that because he was righteous and had righteous desires, he was rewarded with the blessings he desired, i.e. he was able to become "a rightful heir." See also Romans 6:23.

I realize Dan has held his particular understanding of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers for a long time, and naturally it would be difficult for anyone in his position to step back and view things with fresh eyes. But Dan's understanding is not actually laid out in the GAEL, and it is very vulnerable. When Vogel takes time to understand the Egyptian transliterations, and views the evidence objectively, without precluding a priori that Joseph didn’t do something legitimate, he will see that his past assumptions were unwarranted. 

Here's the breakdown in the GAEL, showing us to use the A as an aleph.

When we take the "a" Phelps gives us and we put it between the first and second characters, we get "iaw," the transliteration previously discussed for Phelps' third character. Again, you can click to enlarge all the images in this post.
Even though "iaw" uses the character to denote old or "great of age" instead of great in a more general sense, iaw is still related to the verse in Abraham. It can be used in "the sense of oldest official," which matches the strong patriarchal significance of Abraham 1:1-3, i.e. the "fathers" back to Adam who was the "first father." I apologize for the reference being in German, but it is very much of interest in that it shows how iaw can mean "oldest official," or patriarch.

Now, this is where the wordplay comes in.

If, instead of placing the "a" between the two characters, we place it after them, we get "iwa," Gardiner's sign list F44 meaning "inheritance," as in Abraham 1:2 "...I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers."

Still, the wordplay goes a level deeper.

Notice in the above image that F44, the sign for "inherit," also transliterates as "isw," so it's not just "iwa." Like the second character, Phelps' first character is also pinned to letters in the English text, and I will demonstrate they transliterate F44, as "isw."

Let's take a second to look at the big picture. Phelps uses the "A," which the second character in the margin points us to, in order to transliterate both his third character, A19, "Great," and the character transliterated by the letters connected to the first character, giving us F44, "Inherit," covering both of the themes Abraham discusses in the text next to the characters. So, he provides multiple ways of verifying what he is doing with each of these three characters, or "three witnesses" to prove he is not doing this accidentally.

Okay, so let's discuss the first character.

The "I" in "In" is pronounced more delicately than "I" standing alone as a word. Phelps is perhaps telling us that in this transliteration the "i" represented by the reed character is the softer "i," to better approximate the Egyptian (perhaps also factoring in Phelps' New Jersey accent).

Next, he gives us the letter "s."

If we take the "i" and the "s" together, they can be used in some contexts to designate the "office and title of priest." This of course matches Abraham's declaration, in the associated English text, that he became a High Priest.

When we put the s between the i and w (Phelps' first and second characters), it gives us "isw," which takes us again to Gardiner's sign F44. As I mentioned earlier, the "isw" means "rewards" and "wages" which is highly relevant because Abraham was seeking God's reward, i.e. - Abraham tells us he "sought for the blessings of the fathers," then he explains that because he was righteous and had righteous desires, he was rewarded with the blessings he desired, i.e. he was able to become "a rightful heir."

It is also likely the "w" in "saw" has a note instead of a comma, since the comma doesn't belong there.

Again I want to stress that. Phelps was a professional newspaper editor and he would not have placed a comma after “saw,” but it makes perfect sense as a “1” next to the “w” in saw. 

The comma does not belong there: 

Placing the 1 in that location next to the w makes the w an alternate to the "is" combination. Even though it looks like a comma (which it can’t plausibly be), the location can be explained in part by the fact that only Phelps needed to know what he was doing. It was not for the public. But why not just place it above the w? Because, as a professional editor, Phelps would have at all costs avoided making a word look like it was in quotation marks when it was not supposed to be, especially single quotation marks, which is how the word "saw" would have appeared if he had placed the note above the "w" instead of below it.

This is what it would have looked like.. nauseating to a professional editor.

If that is the case, then the three notes could give us "isw" without even using the characters in the margin. However, I believe the notes on "i" and on "w" are also intended to clarify their use. Today, many people leave the "w" in "saw" mostly silent, but in 1835, with Phelps' accent, I can picture a rolling, light "w" sound, distinctly different from the w in the word "was," for instance. Since the characters in the column are also an i and w, it could go either way.

So, we have strong indication that what Phelps did was real Egyptological transliteration and not fake.

Now, you may be wondering about the other extant Kirtland-era manuscripts, i.e. those in the handwriting of Williams and Parrish.

The manuscripts themselves are true translations. The characters someone came along and drew in their margins are a different story.

When investigating such a thing, our intuitions tend to act on what we think we already know, and since we think we know, intuition can feel like logic. But it is not logical to judge an inspired work by the work of a copycat who comes along later and tampers with things. As I will show, this is a case where Dan's intuition may have innocently led him to a premature conclusion. Considering we have no indication of Phelps' consent or involvement with the characters in the margins of the other manuscripts, and no way of verifying when some person(s) drew those characters, it would seem unfair to maneuver Phelps in with the characters in the other manuscript margins, and wildly unfair to take it a step further and directly attribute those characters to Joseph Smith.

Here's one way it might have happened, shown in the following line of questions and answers:

1. How many people over the years had access to the papyri and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers? At least some, possibly many.

2. When these people saw Phelps' manuscript, with three Egyptian characters drawn next to English text, would they likely think the English text was a translation of the characters? Most likely yes.

3.  Would these people not also assume that Phelps' sequence of three characters represents the start of the Abraham record, and assume that if they could locate those three characters in sequence on the papyrus then they will have found where the Abraham record starts on the papyrus and think they would therefore be able to see the rest of the Abraham record? Yes.

4. What would they have found if they then searched for that sequence of characters on the papyrus? They would have found Phelps' first two characters in sequence followed by a lacunae which would allow them to imagine the third character had been destroyed.

5. With no other candidates, based on their faulty ideas, would they not have thought they had found the start of the Abraham record? Indeed they would think they had.

6. Looking at all those characters, thinking they belong in sequence to the Book of Abraham, would they be curious as to how those characters line up with the text of Abraham? Yes they would be.

7. With possibly the GAEL and/or non-extant resources at their disposal, might some people plausibly attempt to make sense of things, trying to figure out where the characters line up in relation to the English text, and how to reconstruct the missing characters? Yes.

There are countless scenarios which may have played out.

Dan has provided some pushback on this point (see also here), which I think he needs to reconsider. In regards to inventing characters to replace the characters which were lost due to the lacunae, Dan said, in part, "We know how JS could do it, but by what process would these people invent characters and what would be accomplished by so doing?"

However, we could ask Dan's same questions about James Strang: "We know how Joseph Smith could do it, but by what process would Strang invent characters and what would be accomplished by so doing?"

Assuming this happened after Joseph Smith died, who would a person turn to if they were trying to figure out the characters ripped by the lacunae? The curious person(s) from the above questions may have enlisted the aid of someone claiming to be a rightful successor, (like Strang), who may have seen it as an opportunity to prove themselves.

For those who aren't familiar with Strang and his plates, see this link for an interesting analysis.

So, in the same climate where Strang's Plates of Voree were produced, and the Kinderhook Plates, we might think twice before saying, "It’s hard to imagine someone other than JS providing the missing characters."

The problem with narrowing down the possibilities is that too many data points are missing and too many plausible scenarios exist. As mentioned, after Joseph Smith was martyred someone could have drawn the characters in hopes of being able to claim they were a successor and could finish translating the Book of Abraham. Or, alternatively, someone could have knowingly drawn the wrong characters in order to test someone like Strang, who was claiming to be a Seer, in order to see if they could tell the difference - similar to how Martin Harris tested Joseph Smith by replacing the Seer stone with a similar-looking but ordinary stone (without knowing the context, someone could point out that Joseph Smith attempted translating with that stone and then claim this means Joseph Smith knowingly identified that stone as a Seer stone - even though he never said that - just like people claim today that Joseph Smith said the characters in the Parrish and Williams margins were from the Book of Abraham, even though he never said that. That's the problem with claiming to know what happened in a situation like this). Or, a well-meaning person could have prayed to know about the characters, and believed they were receiving guidance on the matter. Or, someone could have studied non-extant Kirtland Egyptian Papers and thought they could reconstruct the missing characters. There are simply too many possibilities.

It is not hard to imagine people identifying the characters in a manner similar to the example I outlined above, once we realize it is a question of human behavior. Consider the various hobbies people have and activities they engage in. Some people like to do things for a challenge, or because they hope it will make them look good, or they feel their efforts can make a useful contribution.

People watch birds, solve puzzles, play sports, collect rocks, learn to speak Klingon, plank, paint graffiti, practice extreme ironing, crochet, etc. etc. etc.

What methods would they have used? Anything and everything from a combination of studying currently non-extant GAEL-related notes and papers and other non-extant Kirtland and Nauvoo resources, to folk magic, prayer, and so forth.

Meanwhile, we have actual precedent for Joseph Smith translating scripture, and he did not have anyone draw characters from the Gold Plates into margins on the Book of Mormon manuscripts. We have Phelps doing something legitimate in the margin of his manuscript, which indicates what Phelps did should not be lumped in with the copycats. If Vogel wants to know why someone would come along later and do it, a better question is why Joseph Smith would want to do it in the first place, since it is clearly not a successful continuation of Phelps' legitimate transliteration. The idea that Joseph was responsible is also problematic for reasons I discuss in the Fifth Meditation.

In any event, the person who came along and drew the characters wouldn't likely have noticed:

What would look to them like a starting point was actually a stopping point. Joseph and his scribes had drawn characters sequentially from the Hor papyrus (they would likely have been more cautious with their personal use of the sacred record written by Joseph of Egypt which contained the writings of Abraham, out of reverence for the scripture) into their Egyptian Alphabet books. When they finished drawing the two characters which appear as Phelps' first two characters in the margin of his manuscript, they stopped at that point because they made a connection. Everything changed at that point. This is perhaps when they went back and wrote "Kiah broam = Kiah brah oam = zub zool oan" next to the characters they had earlier drawn. They changed projects and worked instead on what ended up as the Phelps manuscript.

Thus the illusion exists that those two characters were the start of a sequence when they were actually a stopping point.

Second Meditation

Vogel at various points mentions Joseph Smith calling the male mummy a king, "King Onitas."

Because this is an underlying issue, I would like to address this now.

First the basics, then the advanced.

The Basics:

Fact 1: Joseph Smith said the papyrus calls the mummy a king.

Fact 2: The papyrus says the mummy is a form of Osiris, who was a king, according to Egyptian theology.

Therefore, logically: the papyrus calls the mummy a king, which means Joseph Smith was right. To Joseph, Onitas was Osiris.

Robert Ritner says Osiris was "king of the universe."

Robert Ritner also says, “...Hor is repeatedly and explicitly stated to be deified, a member of the company of the gods, and a form of Osiris...” (Ritner, 2011, p. 97, footnote 85)

The logic is inescapable.

Most significantly, Joseph gives us specific information no one else in the world knew, which indicates he knew what he was talking about:

The Advanced:

1 - Osiris is placed at ~2436 BC, Onitas is placed at 2505 BC.

(Egyptologist Robert Ritner tells us the name Osiris is first attested at "about" 2436 BC. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery studied Josephus, who puts the date of creation at 5467 BC. The Valuable Discovery notebook says Onitas began to reign in the year of the world 2962, giving the BC date of 2505 in the Josephus timeline).

Of course, before Osiris was first attested at ~2436 BC, the name needed time to take root and form, which explains the waiting period between 2505 BC and when someone drew an image of Osiris ~2436 BC.

2 -  Right when we get to where Joseph Smith places us in the timeline, we find that the name of the king starts with the name "Osiris" ("Userkaf" = Usir/Wsir, which was the Egyptian form of the name Osiris). This was also only a few years before the god first took the name. According to Africanus, Userkaf reigned for 28 years.

So, 2505 BC places King Onitas right at the beginning of the Fifth Dynasty, under a pharaoh whose name starts with the name "Osiris," thus connecting King Onitas directly with a King named User which equals Osiris.

Joseph's scribes were clearly excited about this discovery, and produced a small, playful notebook in which they drew pictures and talked about King Onitas.

Remember, the fact that frontier Americans in the 1840s interpreted these things through a lens which evinces limited understanding of the Egyptian theological context, does not take away the fact that Joseph Smith correctly said the papyrus calls the male mummy a king. Egyptians took this literally, believing the male mummy had become a form of King Osiris.

Egyptian funerary documents also allowed females to become King Osiris, but that would have been way more difficult for Joseph to explain in frontier America. So, "royal family" is as close an understanding as we might expect people to have (although at least one eyewitness was under the impression that two of the mummies were kings, despite the fact that only one mummy was male).

3 - In the Valuable Discovery notebook, where King Onitas is mentioned, Cowdery intentionally wrote the name Osiris backwards in Egyptian and expounded on the name of Osiris. The way we know the writing of the name of Osiris backwards was intentional is because on another page we can see the name Osiris in the context of the surrounding characters, and it was written forward. So, they intentionally drew it backwards. The characters were possibly even written backwards in order to indicate they were the only characters "translated," and the "translation" of Osiris consisted of Cowdery expounding on the history of Onitas, who I argue is Osiris, and Katumin, who I argue is Khentimenty, which is a very early name for Osiris. The "translation" is symbolic in a lot of ways. The characters which were intentionally written backwards are both "Osiris" and the divine determinative for Osiris, separated from each other. Other characters were moved out of order, but only the characters referring to "Osiris" were copied backwards. Does anyone have a good reason for why Cowdery would intentionally copy the name Osiris backwards and the divine determinative for Osiris, but not copy anything else backwards? Not merely transposed, but copied backwards. This seems to only support the idea of a connection between Osiris and Onitas.

There is more going on than meets the eye, with the Valuable Discovery notebook. Oliver wrote out some Egyptian characters (Valuable Discovery, Page 2, col. 2, left column, reading from right to left) and then wrote underneath them, "The above were taken from beneath the figures of two persons - one the appearance of a male, the other female." Then, to the right of the first characters, some more characters are drawn (col. 1). And below them is written: "The above was taken from beneath figures like the first, standing a little to the left, and a little below." The problem is that today we can identify where the characters in the left column came from - they are from the Book of the Dead chapter 45 and chapter 46. And there were indeed figures above the characters, but those figures would have been Anubis and a mummy (chapter 45) and underneath would have been a drawing of the owner of the papyrus. Not two figures and definitely not "figures like the first." (chapter 46).

Robert Ritner tries to explain this by saying Joseph probably misunderstood:

But are we to believe that Joseph Smith thought calling a jackal figure and a mummy simply a male and a female was a fair description? Why would Joseph take the time to point them out and describe them if he was just going to offer a misleading description?

Then, supposedly Joseph goes on to say that another set of characters was taken from "beneath figures like the first?" A second vignette of Anubis and a mummy? We know better. Something else is going on.

Third Meditation

Update (March 21, 2022): Tim Barker made a valuable observation which renders Vogel’s argument here partly moot. It turns out Joseph Smith indicated  that he had not provided any translation of the characters which Vogel argues were the characters Joseph Smith claimed were the Book of Abraham. Thus, Joseph Smith contradicted the allegation (about 150 years before the allegation was made). 

The relevant initial facts here are that Joseph Smith directly commented on the characters in question, and that commentary consisted of him indicating that he had not provided a translation of those characters. 

It's like Joseph’s way of gently telling people in the future, “I know you’re going to speculate and assume that I made claims about these characters, but let me speak for myself.” And it’s significant for a couple reasons. 

First, of all the characters that could have been copied into the damaged hypocephalus area of facsimile 2, Joseph put characters that he is today, in the distant future, being accused of claiming (to his scribes) that he translated as part of the Book of Abraham. And for the record, Joseph Smith never claimed that.  It’s always been speculation and I have provided my ideas regarding those arguments, in my response to Vogel on this issue (below). 

The second reason Barker’s observation is significant becomes apparent if we consider that it makes no sense as fraud. In other words, if Joseph Smith had actually ever claimed, even just to his scribes, that these were the characters to the Book of Abraham, it would make no sense for him to go out of his way to put those characters "out there" publicly and say the opposite (especially by putting them on an intriguing looking image like Facsimile 2 that people would be looking at and talking about). Even more so because the scribes would have known that the hypocephalus was damaged and filled in with characters for the facsimile. So, if Joseph was trying to fool his scribes, why would he publicly deny something he had told them? And if, alternatively, the scribes were in on it, why did they not expose him when they left the Church? Parrish even recounted, after leaving the Church, that Smith was claiming to receive genuine revelation regarding the translation of characters on the papyrus. So, all of this only makes sense if these are not the characters. 


In his first video, you may note that Vogel offers a variety of good arguments to support his assertion that Joseph Smith intended certain characters in the margins to be lined up with English text. Below, I reply to Vogel's conjectures with conjectures of my own. Unfortunately, we have no actual commentary or explanations from people alive in Joseph Smith's day, so all we can do is conjecture. 

First conjecture: "At the top of this page, two characters had to be scraped off and repositioned at the beginning of the paragraphs."

Someone had been drawing quite a few Egyptian characters. They were not drawing them from memory, but were likely drawing them from copies they had already made of the characters on another sheet of paper. Where was this other sheet of paper? Right next to where they were drawing, so they could easily compare what they were doing with the pre-copied characters. This may mean they had the sheet of paper laying on top of and thus covering up the English text of the manuscript.

Since they weren't writing but were drawing, they could have just as easily had the papers positioned upside-down, sideways, etc. and this would make sense to avoid resting their hand directly on the manuscript while drawing, to avoid causing smudges and so forth.

The spacing of the characters on the sheet of paper would have been based on where the characters were positioned on another manuscript, and the other sheet of paper may have even been the page of the other manuscript, in which case their hand would probably have been resting on the table, with the manuscript pages tilted sideways, one covering the other. After drawing the characters, they removed the sheet of paper, to find they had drawn the characters slightly off from where they had intended. It's simple human error. So, they scraped the characters off and corrected their error. Completely understandable, and no need to assume anyone went through a complex process of predicting where characters were supposed to be and drawing them on a blank manuscript page before writing English text.

In fact, how would they have predicted where the paragraphs were going to start? My conjecture accounts for the evidence, while Vogel's conjecture raises additional issues.

Second conjecture: "One source for Parrish's longer document was his shorter document, which concluded with a character and no text. This implies the characters were written before the English text."

So, Vogel says the presence of the characters in the margin, that have no English text next to them, implies those characters were written before the English text. But this does not show the pattern Vogel seems to imply. If, as I would suggest, a person was going through and adding characters to the margins, from another sheet of paper, covering the English text in order to view them side-by-side, and this person went ahead and wrote another line of characters that had no English text next to them, that would say nothing about when the English text above (and to the right of) them was written. Even if the person knew there was no text, they alternatively may have copied the characters so they could use that page as a template for copying characters to other pages. Why would they not want their copied characters to be uniform across all the manuscripts they were copying to?

What would be a more difficult scenario to explain is why someone going back and forth between writing blocks of text and characters in the margin would decide to draw characters while knowing they were not going to be adding English text next to those characters.

Third conjecture: "On the last page of the Williams document, the text appears to curve in anticipation of the characters."

Frederick G. Williams shows this same tendency, to stray to the right, in other things he has written, but we need not assume he does so in anticipation of drawing characters.

In this case, the margin became especially wide because, as we can see, Williams forgot to draw a margin line on this one sheet of paper and when he realized his error he overcompensated then veered even further to the right. It was too late to stop and draw a margin line without interrupting the dictation.

Near the top, we can see that he makes a big jump to the right after realizing he had not drawn a margin line, so he's imposing a margin on himself:

It looks like a reasonable margin, and if he had stuck to it then I don't think anything about this situation would have stood out. However, Williams sometimes had a tendency to start veering right.

You can see here what happened in a different document as the handwriting of Orson Hyde ended and the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams began:

We need not assume in the above picture that Williams was making space for adding anything in the left space that naturally was created by his tendency to veer right.

So my explanation is that he consciously imposed on himself a margin, then sub-consciously expanded that margin out further and further, following his tendency. Moreover, his conscious awareness of forgetting to draw a margin line, in this important manuscript, probably exacerbated his sub-conscious tendency to veer right.

After we compensate for Williams forgetting to draw the margin line, and we start at his self-imposed, imaginary margin line, his tendency to veer to the right is no more pronounced than other instances:

click to enlarge

I think we can all recall a time when we made a mistake and tried to correct it, but ended up digging a deeper and deeper hole.

Near the end of the document, Williams seems to revisit the manuscript at a later date to add more text. Realizing how far he had veered, he seems to give up on the margin altogether.

Of course, all any of us can do is speculate. But there is no need to suppose he was trying to create room for characters. We are missing too many data points, and a simpler explanation is that he forgot to draw a margin line, jumped ahead, overcompensated and veered to the right.

Now permit me a quick note about the dittograph on this same page.

 If, as Dan suggests, Williams was copying from a document which already had characters in the margins, then why didn't Williams copy those characters, since he didn't realize he was copying down something he had already written? Why did he only copy the English text? Although this is difficult to explain in the context of Dan's theory, it is easy to explain if the characters in the margin had not been added by someone yet. Williams did not copy the characters, because there were none. Then, when someone later came along and added characters to the margins, they would have instantly realized that this page presented a unique situation. Looking it over, they would have thus realized that they were dealing with a paragraph that had been repeated, and seen no need to repeat the characters in the margin. Dan suggests, however, that it was Williams who saw no need to copy the characters. But this seems to directly conflict with Dan's other suggestion, that Williams thought the characters were so important that he went out of his way to create that excessive margin in order to ensure there would be room for the characters.

Fourth conjecture: "Also on this page, as with the other two manuscripts, the second to last character is aligned with a sentence fragment. Thus, 'who was the daughter of Haran' stands alone. Regardless of when the character was drawn, isolating this phrase on a line by itself and juxtaposing a character took planning ... it only makes sense in a translation scenario. Another example of this occurs right in the middle of another sentence. Here, Abraham is made to state, 'my fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments, which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshipping of the gods of the heathens' which is completed in the next paragraph, 'utterly refused to hearken to my voice.' Dividing a paragraph abruptly and incorrectly is a sure indication that the characters are not superfluous."

We don't have many examples of Joseph writing in his own hand, and in the examples we do have, he usually would just write one big paragraph without dividing into separate paragraphs, but we do have at least one example, in a letter to his brother Hyrum, where Joseph did just the type of thing Vogel talks about, and obviously he wasn't doing it to align with a character. 

Here, Joseph is talking about a need for Hyrum to "come into this country immediately," and Joseph says, "march forth," but he starts a new paragraph with "march forth," and obviously it does not belong to that paragraph. Joseph is obviously telling Hyrum to "march forth," as a close to the above paragraph, but he puts it at a start of a different paragraph as we can see:

So, does Vogel expect Joseph to use proper conventions of paragraphing, and if so, on what grounds? Especially if doing a live dictation of scripture and not knowing what was going to come next.

Now, let us address Vogel's first conjecture example, then his second.

As we can see, Vogel is proposing that the sentence, "Who was the daughter of Haran," belongs to a paragraph but was intentionally separated from the rest of the paragraph so that it could more directly be lined up with a particular character. However, I find it unclear what Vogel is basing this on. Unless the character itself is somehow special, which I see no reason to assume, it would appear there is only something special about the line written in English.

A few observations. First, we might note how different this would seem from the methodology evinced elsewhere in this margins project that someone at some point conducted. The person behind this project lines characters with large amounts of English text, with no apparent need to break down the association on a character-by-character basis. Why would this situation be different?

In two of the manuscripts, we find a period at the end of "wife" (the word at the end of the upper paragraph), indicating that was indeed intended to be the end of a sentence. In the third manuscript, the Williams manuscript, we find no punctuation after "wife." Also, in all three cases the "W" in "Who" is capitalized at the start of the sentence. What this means is that the scribes did not believe the words "Who was the daughter of Haran" were part of the sentence which left off at "wife," which thus indicates they viewed "Who was the daughter of Haran," as a separate paragraph. 

When we stop to consider that the person(s) writing these characters in the margins were generally placing them beside the start of paragraphs, we should not be surprised to see them continuing that practice by placing a character here. So, the presence of the character in the margin tells us nothing.

The person(s) are not placing the character because the line is short, but because it is a new paragraph. Even assuming they noticed the line was unusual, this would likely have only encouraged their decision to add a character in the margin there.

We need not assume the scribes wrote this sentence to accommodate the character. Imagine there had been no character in the margin: would we then find this line in the manuscript to be problematic, or merely idiosyncratic? Would we not just consider it to be idiosyncratic, with no need for an elaborate cause?

In the verse following this line, we discover that Abraham named the land in honor of his deceased brother, Haran. Also, Abraham repeatedly refers to Lot as not merely "Lot," but as "Lot, my brother's son." In light of these two facts, we should not be too surprised if Abraham designating Milcan as the daughter of Haran is not merely designed to inform us of a fact, but if Abraham intended this statement to stand on its own, to emphasize his love for his brother, the same as he emphasized his brother by naming the land after him and by repeatedly referring to Lot as "Lot, my brother's son." 

This would be a similar situation to 1 Nephi 2:15, "And my father dwelt in a tent," an exceptionally short paragraph, which for a long time was not actually recognized as being its own paragraph, but Nephi intentionally wrote it that way, as we can now see. He was drawing attention repeatedly to the fact that his father dwelt in a tent, because it was so extraordinary that a rich man would abandon his earthly treasures and go dwell in a tent. Obviously this meant something to Nephi, and he called attention to it for its own sake.

We don't need special circumstances to explain the short paragraph, "And my father dwelt in a tent." So, this situation could fall into the same category.

Now, let's discuss Vogel's second example where a paragraph is seemingly broken in two.

Here, much of what I said above applies as well. For example, we find another instance where two of the three manuscripts have a period at the end of the top paragraph, indicating a perception that a new paragraph was starting. If the scribes, while they were writing, believed they were breaking it apart to line up with a character, that should not affect punctuation.

One plausible explanation for this idiosyncrasy is that this happens near the beginning of their manuscripts, a significant fact considering this may have been the first time either of these scribes had ever had the honor of hearing and recording live translation of an ancient scripture. It is true that neither scribe capitalizes "utterly," but keep in mind neither scribe capitalizes "my" either, the word the sentence begins with in the published Book of Abraham. Also, the first two manuscripts do not have a period after the word directly preceding "my."

The scribes seem to be feeling their way through this, their first time writing ancient scripture, which was being translated in front of them. No one knew what the ancient scripture was going to say. Then, straightaway, they are faced with a complex paragraph. At first blush, it looks like a complete sentence and paragraph:

"I sought for ​mine​ appointment unto the priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed my fathers having turned from their righteousness and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathens."

Now, suppose Joseph at this time only translated up through "the gods of the heathens" (whether he was dictating to these scribes or someone was reading from a previous copy of what Joseph had translated) and the scribes believed that to be the complete paragraph. When translation resumed, they would have naturally started at a new line for a new paragraph. That explains the idiosyncrasy, with no need to explain it with special circumstances involving a character which was at some point added in the margin by an unknown person. Keep in mind also, if it was a case of Joseph himself dictating, the focus would have been on word accuracy, not paragraphing.

Fifth conjecture: "If the characters were decorations or an exotic method of organizing paragraphs, there would be no need to exceed the margin by making groups of several characters. The fact that the characters exceed the margin implies that the scribe was being particular about which characters went with which text, which can only be explained by a translation scenario."

Consider that, together, all of the characters in the Parrish/Williams margins constitute one long sequence on the papyrus (plus the invented lacunae characters). So, the person(s) drawing those characters in the margins are breaking the characters apart and spacing them. Why would they not be able to break apart these sequences and space them in order to avoid running over the margin?

On the contrary, if they believed the language to be as comprehensive as Vogel says they did, then there is no apparent reason for them to lump so many characters together at once. They should be able to divide them up and space them out. Instead, the characters are thrown on over the margin, and what this actually implies is that the person(s) doing this were unable to invent reasons for pairing specific characters with specific paragraphs, and at that point they were more caught up with drawing characters than with trying to figure it out.

Sixth conjecture: "Obviously, drawing on the Egyptian papyri for other than translation purposes doesn't require the invention of missing characters ... who, besides Joseph Smith, could fill in the lacunae, or gap, with invented characters?"

Vogel poses a rhetorical question. However, Vogel seems to be operating under the premise that the only candidates are Joseph Smith and his scribes. For his conclusion to be sound, Vogel would need to demonstrate that over the years no one else had access to these documents, no one else read through the GAEL and tried their hand at piecing things together, and so forth.

However, there was in fact a very poor chain of custody of these documents over the years. We don't know who had their hands on them and could have written characters in the margins and even invented characters. And we need not assume they did so on a whim, but may have carefully planned out what they were doing, according to whatever motives they had. 


Now,  one more thing to discuss at the close of this meditation. I do not mean to take a firm position on the question of when the "original" manuscript was produced or if it is extant. Remember that when Joseph Smith had Oliver Cowdery produce a copy of the Book of Mormon manuscript, Joseph wasn't even in town. The printer's manuscript for the Book of Mormon was produced after the original manuscript. For the Book of Abraham, Joseph may have ordered not just one but two copies of the manuscript, as an extra precaution, which would explain why one scribe could be reading to the other scribes, or even one scribe could be copying and reading out loud for the other scribe, as per Jeff Lindsay's theory. Is that not more of a streamlined process than one scribe writing out two copies of the manuscript? 

For my purposes, it is a side issue. However, we do have precedent for Joseph Smith having a scribe make a copy of a manuscript while Joseph Smith wasn't around.

There is of course an outside possibility that Joseph wanted the characters drawn. There's no real evidence for that, but even in that worst case scenario Joseph would have had a legitimate reason for putting them there.

It comes down to the issue of caution.

Joseph was actually commanded to have Oliver produce a copy of the Book of Mormon manuscript:

"In going to and from the office, he should always have a guard to attend him for the purpose of protecting the manuscript" and "a guard should be kept constantly on the watch, both night and day, about the house, to protect the manuscript from malicious persons, who would infest the house for the purpose of destroying it. All these things were strictly attended to, according to the commandment."

Such concerns about malicious persons attempting to destroy the sacred records and manuscripts certainly would have been relevant in Kirtland in 1835, as well.

The larger context here is that Joseph's first 116 pages of translation were stolen from him, in a conspiracy against him, and he was never going to forget that. Nor would he forget all the times people tried stealing the Gold Plates. 

The papyrus containing the actual Book of Abraham was likely never put on display, only the "Egyptian Records" as Joseph called them. 

By  Nauvoo, his concerns would have been lessened (although even then the Joseph/Abraham record itself was probably not displayed often). But Kirtland was a different story.

What length would he have gone to, to safeguard the Abraham manuscript, then? At the time, Joseph was using code names to protect the lives of Church members - so, with a proper understanding of that precedent, the characters could have had a similar safeguarding effect.

Orson Pratt wrote, regarding the code names:

"...the substitution of fictitious names for persons and places does not alter or destroy the sense or ideas contained in the revelations. But what the Prophet did in relation to this thing, was not of himself: he was dictated by the Holy Ghost to make these substitutions, for the time being, until it should be wisdom for the true names to appear..."

The characters in the left margins could have protected the sacred record by associating the text with a different roll. With the ancient scribe's adapted Abraham vignettes being on the Hor roll, it would be natural for people to assume the text for the manuscripts was also on that roll, thus setting up a natural safeguard protecting the actual roll containing the text.

What lengths is Joseph Smith known to go to in order to protect a sacred document? He is said to have hid the Gold Plates in a barrel of beans. And in Kirtland, there was a real threat of mobs coming through and ransacking the papyri. 

Even in 1832, in his own personal journal account of his First Vision, Joseph protected certain sacred details by simply saying the heavens were opened upon him (people underestimate what it means, as though Joseph just casually said the Heavens were opened upon him. He is saying the Heavens were literally opened upon him, the very Heavens in which Heavenly Father sits enthroned), which describes the whole experience without explaining details, perhaps to protect the information until it was time to reveal it to the world, in case his journal got into the wrong hands. 

He certainly had cause to be concerned: he wrote the account only a few short months after a mob broke into his home in the middle of the night, tarring and beating Joseph Smith, leaving him for dead and resulting in the death of his child.

What precautions would Joseph Smith take? A better question: what precautions would he not consider?

Additionally, the characters in the margins add a certain uniformity to the two manuscripts, which could be pointed to in case one was altered, even as a safeguard against the scribes themselves altering them, as most of the scribes did later turn on Joseph Smith.

In any case, that is the worst case scenario and still there is no real evidence against Joseph Smith.

Fourth Meditation

Early in his first video, Vogel states, "Joseph Smith announced that one of the scrolls contained the writings of Abraham, and another scroll, the record of the ancient Patriarch, Joseph."

In addition to discussing Vogel's above claim, this would be a good time to discuss a statement he made in his second video. According to Vogel, "Cowdery gave a detailed description of the record of Joseph that leaves no doubt that he was referring to Ta Sherit Min's Book of the Dead ... Joseph Smith therefore identified Ta Sherit Min's scroll with the record of ancient Joseph, just as he had identified Hor's scroll with the Book of Abraham."

The famous quote Vogel relies on in his first statement, about Joseph discovering that one roll contained the writings of Abraham and one roll contained the writings of Joseph, is often falsely attributed to Joseph Smith. As Vogel points out, it was written years later by Willard Richards, who was not a witness to any such statement. Richards joined the Church about a year after the fact and was nowhere near Kirtland when Joseph acquired the papyri.

The purpose Richards had for writing the paraphrase was not detailed accuracy, but was likely to add color to the narrative with an eye to writing the history.

While the history was very important to Joseph, he was probably not micro-managing Richards. It was a delegated task. In the process, small assumptions and details in phraseology which may have seemed benign to Joseph at the time could have slipped through and caused misunderstandings a hundred years later. This is because Joseph knew the context in which to properly interpret the wording, but people in the future would incorporate their own false assumptions which Joseph could not have anticipated.

The history was periodically read to Joseph Smith, but Joseph had many other things on his plate and on his mind at any given time, and I don't think he was hovering over the text.

From witness statements I discuss further below, the situation with the rolls is seen to be complicated enough that a description of the situation would have to make some sort of trade-off between avoiding misunderstanding and being concise and easily understandable. My evidence-based theory, laid-out below, aligns with Richards' imperfect statement, because there were in fact two rolls of relevance - primarily, the sacred record written by Joseph of Egypt, which contained a redacted set of Abraham's writings, and, secondarily, the Hor roll, which contained the vignettes which an ancient scribe adapted to the Book of Abraham.

Now, before delving into the other witness statements and how they affect my theory, let us first discuss Cowdery's statement.

Oliver Cowdery's letter, printed in the Messenger and Advocate (December 31, 1835), was actually two letters to a man named William Frye, which an editor took excerpts from and pieced together to publish as one letter.

These letters are not actually in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. They were copied by other people (James M. Carrel and possibly an additional person) and stored in at least one letterbook.  One page that I know of from one of the letters is currently available. I suspect the Joseph Smith Papers Project will acquire and publish the other parts of the letters.

The two most important words, "Joseph's Record," appear in parentheses in the Messenger and Advocate article. As a simple matter of fact, we might never be able to track down who wrote this. I'm not basing my argument on that, but it is a matter of fact. The words may have been in the original letter, which we no longer have. Or, they may have been added by the person who copied Oliver's letter. Or, as far as I currently know, they may have been added by the editor of the Messenger and Advocate.

Let us first consider what it would mean if Cowdery himself inserted this, and then address some complexities.

My explanation:

If we can identify a reason why Cowdery would think it necessary to add a clarification in this exact spot, it may help us paint a more accurate picture.

Sadly, previous analyses of the words "Joseph's record" in parentheses have largely ignored Cowdery's perspective as the writer, instead treating the details of  what he is saying as though they are insignificant. Yet this lies at the heart of the matter.

What, then, is the most likely explanation for why Cowdery would find it necessary to insert a clarification in this exact spot? Was there something in the text which made it necessary?

Cowdery had just told us that Enoch wrote a record. And Cowdery had been giving us details about it, saying it was a history and that Enoch placed this history into pillars, and Cowdery told us they were still around in Josephus' day.

When he tells us they were around in Josephus' day, Cowdery says, "his," then inserts in parentheses, "Josephus," clarifying that he was talking about Josephus as opposed to Enoch. Then he says, "the inner end of the same roll" and realizes the reader might think he is still referring to Enoch's record, because he uses the phrase "the same," which is significant because the last record he had mentioned had been Enoch's (and, presumably, Enoch had written on rolls). Cowdery, a teacher aware of proper grammar, thus sees a need to let the reader know that he is no longer talking about Enoch's record but is again talking about Joseph Smith's roll which he had been describing before he entered a tangent on Enoch's record.

In other words, within the space of ten words he felt a need to clarify not only that he was not talking about Enoch, but also a need to clarify that he was not talking about Enoch's record.

So, in both parentheses, he clarifies that he is not talking about Enoch, and in those parentheses clarifies that he is instead talking about Josephus and Joseph Smith, respectively. Specifically, in the case of Joseph Smith, that he is again talking about one of Joseph's Egyptian records, i.e. "the same" one he had been describing just prior to talking about Enoch's record.

Since Cowdery's reader, William Frye, would have already understood that what Cowdery had been describing was one of Joseph Smith's Egyptian records, it makes sense for Cowdery to refer back to Joseph Smith. It would make less sense for Cowdery to refer "back" to Joseph of Egypt in Cowdery's contrast with Enoch, because Cowdery had not claimed to have been describing any drawings on Joseph of Egypt's record, so there is nothing to refer back to. Instead, Cowdery was expounding in the context of characters which Michael Chandler had asked Joseph to translate. That is the roll he is discussing.

Cowdery begins his analysis of that record, the record Chandler had asked Joseph to translate a small part of, stating: "the language in which this record is written is very comprehensive, and many of the hieroglyphics exceedingly striking..."

It is likely that Joseph's "translation" for Chandler was just his initial impressions of the vignettes, identifying a serpent and so forth, which is the only way to account for Chandler's claim, if truthful, that Joseph's interpretation matched the interpretations of others he had talked to.

Chandler, having something to sell, and not likely believing Joseph could actually translate, may have set it up as a softball for Joseph Smith, to avoid putting him on the spot, while using it as an opportunity to generate enthusiasm. If this had been Chandler's plan, I imagine he would have followed through regardless of what Joseph said about them. The consideration here is that the Chandler episode segues into Cowdery describing those vignettes.

Further complicating the issue at hand is the fact that Oliver's two letters to Frye were in reply to a letter from Frye to a woman named Elisha Groves, in which Frye apparently asked numerous questions. Cowdery was replying in her behalf. So, Oliver's statements in the letters do not stand on their own but are in response to a series of questions. However, we no longer have Frye's letter and we do not know what specifically he asked or how his phraseology may have affected Cowdery's wording.

Therefore, Cowdery's letters are, by definition, out of context.

The Messenger and Advocate printed Oliver's letters but Oliver did not write them as letters to the newspaper. Since Oliver's statements in those letters were answers to questions on content raised in Frye's letter, and since the editor would not have been aware of that content, this could lead to misunderstanding. For instance, Frye may have asked about the contents of Joseph Smith's record which he translated for Chandler, which would explain why Oliver in response may have mentioned Joseph by his first name only, which Frye would understand in the context of his question, but which may cause someone else, looking at only one side, to misunderstand the reference. Another observation worth noting is that the words "Joseph's" and "Josephus'" sound and look almost identical, and here we have both words appearing in parentheses in a short sequence of words. The presence of "Josephus" without a last name may have made the word "Joseph's" flow naturally without a last name as well, in addition to the fact that Cowdery was likely replying in a context Frye had already established regarding Joseph Smith, and thus no need for a last name.

Also, Joseph of Egypt can be expected to be referred to with qualifying language such as "Joseph of Egypt," "the Patriarch Joseph," etc. unless it is already firmly established. While, in contrast, Joseph Smith was often referred to simply as "Joseph" by early Saints.

Now, regarding the copy of Cowdery's letter. First we should point out that some types of alterations were considered acceptable.

Consider the copy, in that letter, of Michael Chandler's certificate. Following convention, the word "signed" is placed in parentheses. There is nothing dishonest about this, however the word "signed" almost certainly did not appear in Chandler's actual certificate. It is added in an attempt to clarify for the reader, following accepted conventions.

This example does not create uncertainty, because it is a clear-cut use of the convention, and the person copying Chandler's certificate understood that Michael Chandler was not merely writing his name but was signing a document.

However, editors and copyists do not always understand intent so clearly, and liberties they take can misrepresent source material.

If one wants to say that Cowdery's use (or possibly the copyists's use) of the words "Joseph's record" is unrelated to the description of Enoch's record, they would need to provide a better explanation for why he would feel a need to interrupt the flow of his letter to insert those words.

If Oliver supposedly thought the Ta-sherit-Min roll was written by Joseph of Egypt, that doesn't comport with him indicating that it is obvious from the illustrations that the people who drew them had an understanding of the gospel - because, of course, he had an understanding of the gospel. That should go without saying, hardly a revelation worth reporting on. And, he speaks of it being written by "persons," plural, which contradicts the notion that Joseph of Egypt personally wrote it.

Contra these problems, Oliver's only clear, explicit mention of Abraham and Joseph describes "the writings of Abraham and Joseph" as "this record," implying the text was on a single roll. Moreover, he started with a plural reference when referring to "the Egyptian records," but changed to referring to "this record," singular, right after he referenced "the writings of Abraham and Joseph." This indicates he understood there were multiple Egyptian records in the papyri, but one record containing "the writings of Abraham and Joseph":

Upon the subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph, I may say a few words. This record is beautifully written [Not "both are beautifully written"] on papyrus [Not "both on papyrus"] with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, [Not "both with black, and a small part, red ink] in perfect preservation. [Not "both in perfect preservation"] [Emphasis added]

It might seem strange for him to describe the writing as being in "perfect preservation," but this of course is relative to the various torn fragments Chandler provided, and may simply mean that the text inside the roll was still intact. This is similar to how the words "long roll" in Charlotte Haven's account are relative.

Very significantly, as shown above, Oliver then enforces the idea of the writings of Abraham and Joseph being on a single roll, by describing the writing of both patriarchs at the same time as beautifully written, with black and red ink, in perfect preservation. If he were indeed referring to two separate records, we would expect him to say "both are beautifully written," "both are written with black and red ink," "both are in perfect preservation," etc. So, he not only refers to them explicitly as a single record, but continues describing them as though they are a single record. It's true the Ta-sherit-Min roll is also written with red and black ink, but that was extremely common, and the point here is how Cowdery referenced them as a single record and continued doing so.

I believe Joseph's investigation into Egyptian mythology, as evinced in his Egyptian Alphabet, was, in part, an attempt to explore the true gospel roots of Egyptian theology, going back to Ham. It is in this context that I understand Oliver feeling at liberty to also speculate into Egyptian theology regarding Eve, Enoch, etc. Oliver made no attempt to attribute his speculations to Joseph Smith.

For all we know, Frye may have even asked in what ways the papyri demonstrated an Egyptian understanding of the gospel.

Remember, Joseph translated a portion of the Egyptian funerary papyri. So, the reality is probably more complex than the black-and-white thinking that "Oliver said something, so Joseph must have thought exactly the same thing," In reality, during the tumultuous Kirtland era, Joseph didn't even have a chance to finish translating the Book of Abraham. He had to set it aside and return to it years later. I think his limited time for interaction with the material, let alone educating others on the finer points, would have left plenty of room for people to speculate.

Things which on paper may seem to be obviously true do not always play out in real life. To make this relatable, I would like to use Dan's videos as an example.

Why We Can't Assume Joseph's Scribes Represent His Thinking 

Throughout most of the series, Dan refers to and portrays Brian Hauglid as an apologist. But before Dan even produced his videos, Hauglid had in fact undergone a transformation and no longer held to the views he had held as an apologist.

Of course, we would not, even on paper, expect Dan to automatically know this. The problem is that one of Dan's best friends, who Dan specifically acknowledges as one of two people who provided critique for his videos, was, in turn, specifically singled out by Hauglid as someone who could attest to his transformation.

And we could assume, on paper, that this friend of both men was watching the videos as they came out, in addition to providing critique beforehand.

Yet new videos kept coming out, repeatedly portraying Hauglid as an apologist.

Today, Dan has a note in the videos he posted up to that point, which reads:

"In a recent Facebook response, Brian Hauglid, one of the BYU 'apologists' featured in my Book of Abraham videos, clarified his current position and now wishes to disassociate himself from the views of John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein. As an endorsement of these videos and a service to Hauglid, I post a portion of his statement here:

“'For the record, I no longer hold the views that have been quoted from my 2010 book in these videos. ... In fact, I'm no longer interested or involved in apologetics in any way. I wholeheartedly agree with Dan’s excellent assessment of the Abraham/Egyptian documents in these videos. ... One can find that I've changed my mind in my recent and forthcoming publications. The most recent JSP Revelations and Translation vol. 4, The Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts (now on the shelves) is much more open to Dan’s thinking on the origin of the Book of Abraham.'” (Brian Hauglid, Facebook, 8 Nov. 2018)"

I can understand why Dan would publicize the change. In fact, when Hauglid made Dan aware on the public facebook comment, Dan responded by saying, "While I appreciate and empathize and welcome your clarification, I sincerely hope it doesn't cause you too much personal grief. I have taken the liberty to post a portion of your statement in the written description of each video. Best wishes." To which Hauglid responded, "Many thanks Dan." The mutual friend commented, saying in part, "I do regret that those viewing my friend Dan's videos may assume that you maintain the same intellectual posture as in a few of your previous publications. I can affirm that you don't." This mutual friend, who had been singled out by both of them, also posted a comment linking to a podcast in which Hauglid had discussed his transformation several years earlier.

The point is that, on paper, a person who is singled out as uniquely able to attest to something may be expected to set others straight on it, especially if they are also singled out as having critiqued the very thing which stands in need of the exact correction they are uniquely able to offer.

But in real life, things don't always go as we would expect on paper.

I'm comparing Brent Metcalfe to Joseph Smith, so please do not get the impression that I am in any way putting Metcalfe down. In fact, the point I'm making relies on the reality that Metcalfe is highly intelligent and detail-oriented. If he were supposed to be someone who was fumbling around, my point wouldn't stand.

If something like that can happen to Metcalfe, then what about a farmer-turned-Prophet on the American frontier who had ancient papyri thrown into his lap at a time when persecutions were raging, major projects were underway, and everyone he knew had questions and wanted answers about everything in life?

Even in Nauvoo, when those working on his history were reading it to him for approval, we can't assume he was hovering over every detail and ensuring every nuance of phraseology could not be misconstrued a century later. Instead, he was probably distracted by a dozen other thoughts, having sections summarized for him instead of read verbatim, requesting that the writers add color and simplify language for readability, etc.

We can't say, "Joseph would have corrected that."

And when it comes to the papyri, if Joseph had special understanding of the Egyptian theology, how was he supposed to convey that to others in a way they would understand? If his own understanding was line upon line, then all the more so for his fellow frontiersmen.

If, for instance, Joseph mentioned the Garden of Eden story contained on the Abraham roll, and Oliver asked about the snake on the Ta-sherit-Min roll, Joseph may have very well just told him he is free to interpret it how he'd like, rather than getting into details on Egyptian theology that he himself was in the process of discovering.

Key here is the discovery process. Perhaps the grammar and alphabet documents are best viewed as detective notebooks. These are not answers they were providing. These are clues they were gathering. Not a dictionary. A list, an attempt to document what they found in their quest to solve the mystery of the papyri, and the figure "Osiris," aka Onitas, and the relationship between ancient Egyptian mythology and its origins in true gospel roots - and how this all relates to Abraham's time in Egypt. A hybrid of guesses, hypotheses, contemporary sources of information, and knowledge Joseph Smith obtained as a Seer. What is it like to be a Seer? Still a human, having a mortal probation, but with a special gift to see additional things.

On what grounds would we view this as though Joseph were putting it forth as a revelation, when he in fact never did so?

Joseph never claimed to be fluent in Egyptian. So judging him on these things is a little complicated. Especially since the focus in the Alphabet documents and in Phelps' GAEL is on the very earliest days of Egypt, a time modern Egyptologists still know only a little about. They don't even have a way to know how much they don't know. The various Egyptological explanations he produced may have perhaps been aided by the Seer Stone, but that is not the same as revelation in the sense of bringing something forth that could be called the word of God. Joseph's use of the Seer Stone was not limited to official church endeavors.

In other words, Joseph may have seen some things through the Seer Stone but they were up to him to make sense of.

You might wonder why I attribute the GAEL to Phelps instead of to Smith himself, since Phelps was one of Joseph Smith's scribes. The reason is that this type of document could not have simply been dictated. Even if Joseph Smith had formulated it all in his head, he couldn't just speak and have a scribe write it down.

The nature of the document implies it is a culmination of research. And it is a field which Phelps enjoyed researching. The fact that Phelps was a scribe and was in fact living in Joseph Smith's house, means he had likely access to Joseph's special insights on which to draw from and to make inferences, adding his own conjecture, info from contemporary sources, etc. It would seem most likely that a document like the GAEL was added to over time - a little at a time. That being the likely case, it would be hard to explain why it is written almost exclusively in the handwriting of Phelps and not other scribes, unless it was primarily his.

Remember, it was not black and white, all or nothing.

Witness Statements

Now let's discuss each of the primary witness statements and how they inform our understanding of the rolls.

Parley P. Pratt

My theory takes at face value the narrative offered by Parley P. Pratt with respect to the origins of the sacred record which ended up in the hands of Joseph Smith.

Pratt wrote that "the record is now in course of translation ... and proves to be a record written partly by the father of the faithful, Abraham, and finished by Joseph when in Egypt. After his death, it is supposed they were preserved in the family of the Pharaohs..."

Note how Pratt refers to it as a single record, started by Abraham and finished by Joseph of Egypt. He also includes the plural, "they," perhaps in the sense that the record contained different writings even though it was a single record.

My theory considers it most likely that Joseph produced a redacted selection of Abraham's writings, most likely for his friend, the Pharaoh, as explained further in my analysis of Phelps' account.
The only area where my theory disagrees with Pratt is wherein he goes on to say the record was found with a female mummy. However, since 3 of the 4 mummies were female, it is easy to see how someone could make that mistake.

W.W. Phelps

W.W. Phelps said that, according to Joseph Smith, Joseph of Egypt's record was kept in Pharaoh's court. My theory takes this at face value, and it sees some implications. First, if the record was kept in Pharaoh's court, that would mean it was probably shared with Pharaoh, if not outright compiled for the purpose of being a gift for Pharaoh. Second, since Joseph was close friends with Pharaoh, it is not likely that Pharaoh would have thrown Joseph's record away. It seems quite plausible the record would have ended up stored securely, perhaps along with other rarities, for a long period of time.

My theory sees no reason why Joseph's record could not have remained in the hands of the priestly class during its time in Egypt. Which leads us to Robert Ritner's own book, in which Marc Coenen proposes that a certain high-class, priestly family may have had a vault in which they stored papyri and valuables (p. 65).

The family of which Coenen speaks is that of Hor, who was buried with papyri which fell into Joseph Smith's hands. Being wealthy, Hor was buried with multiple rolls. We don't know how many, but at least one Book of the Dead, which ended up in Paris, France. And, according to my theory, Joseph's redaction of Abraham's writings was among the papyri in Hor's family vault, and Hor included it among the valuables he wanted to be buried with. According to Robert Ritner, the Egyptians "had no problems with Semitic deities. They welcomed them, they worshipped them." Ritner uses the example of Ba'al, whom "they identified with Seth."

We know from the Bible that Joseph taught Pharaoh about the God of Abraham. Accordingly, my theory states that Joseph told Pharaoh about how Abraham had come to Egypt. This naturally made the Pharaoh interested, and Joseph compiled and redacted for Pharaoh a selection of Abraham's writings that were relevant to Egypt. This explains why the Book of Abraham focuses so heavily on Egypt. And since all of this fits naturally with Joseph Smith's claim (according to Phelps) about the record being kept in Pharaoh's court, my theory seems to me to be very plausible.

Phelps mentioned there being two rolls of relevance, but did not indicate that he knew many specific details. His letter (July 19 or 20, 1835) was written very shortly after the papyri were acquired, and a day or two after they very first started the alphabet project, which I suggest was an effort to better understand the papyri, so anything Phelps said at this early point would be with limited understanding. Phelps mentions a record being kept by Joseph, but instead of saying Abraham had a separate record, he says the rolls contain the "teachings of Father Abraham" and the Record of Joseph. He does not say that one roll is Abraham and the other roll is Joseph. They are not mutually exclusive. Instead, he simply tells us that the rolls contain Abraham's teachings and the record kept by Joseph. This seems consistent with the idea that the vignette for Facsimile 1 is, through Ptolemaic-era emendation, a part of the Book of Abraham, thus dividing things up between two rolls (and since the Hor roll had not been kept by Joseph of Egypt in Pharaoh's court, it is natural that Joseph Smith would mention it separately from that record). We don't have a quote from Joseph himself, but his own understanding of the situation would likely have been just taking root.

Incidentally, this theory may help explain Abraham 1:12-14 as it relates to Facsimile 1:

First, the vignette referred to in the text was drawn by Joseph of Egypt, and he's the one who referred to it. This is not the lion-couch scene, which is what we have today.

Second, since this vignette (not the one we have today, but the one drawn by Joseph of Egypt) was on the outer part of the roll (the "commencement"), it deteriorated into tatters over time (simply being stored for centuries in rooms that allow sunlight would have been enough to ensure this - as opposed to papyri stored in a dark tomb with a mummy).

Third, Hor's scribe (perhaps at the direction of Hor himself, before he died) created a restored version of the poor, tattered vignette, based on the description of it in Abraham, adapting Ptolemaic-era illustrations to fit the scene, placing it at the commencement of one of Hor's other rolls.

That is how I believe an adapted version of the vignette ended up on the Hor roll, and why the vignette has so many anomalies. Even Ritner admits the vignette does not belong where the scribe put it.

Now, you may wonder why an Egyptian would be buried with a text passed down for centuries about the God of Abraham. But this is entirely consistent with what we read in the Bible.

God planned it, just like He planned for the daughter of Pharaoh to raise Moses. In the same way, God may have utilized Hor, or may have had a scribe defy Hor's wishes just as God had the daughter of Pharaoh defy the king's order which would have had Moses killed. God may have even directly told Hor what to do, similar to how God told Ananias to help the Apostle Paul.

The document would be safely preserved the mummy's wrappings for God's purposes, on the breast, and no one would even know.

Also, like Ritner said, the Egyptians did not discriminate against Semitic deities: they "welcomed them, they worshiped them."

William Appleby

There exists a degree of ambiguity when it comes to the Appleby account, because, as Vogel points out in part 7 of his series, in September of 1841, the Christian Observer printed some extracts from Appleby's journal, which they mocked. Some of the phrasing is different than we find in Appleby's journal. They have him say he saw the "roll of Pappyrus and the writings thereon taken from off the bosom of the male mummies, being some of the writings of ancient Abraham, and of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt." According to this account of things, there was a single roll containing the writings of both Abraham and Joseph.

Although this would support my theory, it would raise the question of why Appleby would later change it to "rolls," plural, which I will discuss momentarily.

Appleby's account is based on a visit to Joseph Smith, but he did not say Joseph Smith personally showed him the mummies. Ellipses commonly used when quoting Appleby's account make this less clear, however he said: "Today I paid Br Joseph a visit. received instruction concerning 'Baptism for the Dead.' Read the revelation as given by the Lord last January concerning the same, and Recorded in the 'Book of the Law of the Lord.' Viewed four Mummies..." It seems unlikely that Joseph was the only person Appleby interacted with all day, but of course he would have been the most mentionable.

Appleby's account is not entirely about the writings of Joseph and Abraham, but does describe "the rolls of papyrus ... taken from off the bosom of the male mummy." Whether it always read "rolls" or he changed it later, William Appleby claimed that "rolls," plural, were "taken from off the bosom of the male mummy." This would make sense in the context of Hor and his scribe(s) wanting the record of Joseph/Abraham to be kept together with the Hor roll, since the restored vignette (the vignette for Facsimile 1) was drawn alongside the Breathing Permit.

Also, if these were bound together, that would help explain why they could be described as a single roll. The idea of the Abraham-and-Joseph-related papyri being bound together in what could be described as a roll is validated by another William, William West, who said "the records are those of Abraham and Joseph ... These records were torn by being taken from the roll of embalming salve which contained them, and some parts entirely lost." In other words, there was no uniform standard in frontier America for what constitutes a roll of Egyptian papyrus. Just like today we would call something a single "newspaper" even though it consists of different sections which are not physically part of one another, because we understand they were deliberately bound together.

William goes on to state in the same paragraph (Appleby's record), that these rolls that were on the male mummy contained both "the writings of ancient Abraham and of Joseph, that was sold into Egypt." This fits with the idea of the vignette restoration of the Book of Abraham being on the Hor roll and the handwriting of Joseph/Abraham being on the other roll -  i.e. both rolls contained parts of the Abraham/Joseph record, with the restoration on the Hor roll being the scribal emendation added later.

Appleby continued, offering descriptions of illustrations, which some may have assumed were descriptions of the Joseph/Abraham record, but in reality he segued into those descriptions with the ambiguous words, "there are also..." which unfortunately is a passive voice and is also not tied to the sentence preceding it. Moreover, his descriptions apparently include the hypocephalus, thus indicating he moved on to a broader description of the papyri.

Interestingly, Appleby spoke of mummy records existing on the Book of Abraham. He said,  "A Geneaology of the Mummies and Epitaphs on their deaths etc. etc., are all distinctly represented on the Papyrus." Indeed, the funerary papyri do identify the parents of the deceased, and constitute epitaphs. Appleby then tells us the papyrus is called the "Book of Abraham," which indeed the Hor Breathing Permit is part of, due to the vignette scribal restoration and emendation/adaptations.

Ponder on that for a moment. Appleby is telling us there was text about the mummies on a papyrus he says was called the Book of Abraham, implying people knew the text on the Hor roll was about the mummies, even though the Hor roll was considered part of the Book of Abraham (because it contained the scribe's restored, albeit adapted, vignette).

I would be interested in knowing how those who disagree with my analysis would argue that Joseph Smith did not understand that the papyri were funerary documents, considering how Joseph consistently gave people the correct impression that by translating them he would have discovered they are about the mummies, they contain geneaology of the mummies, and especially that they identify the mummies as royalty?

It bears repeating, that even the part about royalty is an accurate Egyptological description: the people Joseph spoke with had greatly limited comprehension of the Egyptian context and therefore assumed the mummies had been royalty while alive. But if they asked what the papyri said and Joseph told them, that is what we would expect their takeaway to be after having been confronted with accurate information about what the papryi says, i.e. "the papyri says they are royalty," since the papyri said extremely confusing things such as declaring the mummies to be King "Osiris," "the daughter of Min," "excellent ba-spirits in the house of Osiris," etc. etc.

Adding to this, Appleby states that the male mummy was not just a pharaoh but also a priest. And indeed, Hor was a priest.

To again reiterate: Despite the limited understanding of 1840's frontier Americans, which is the sort of limited understanding we would expect them to have when confronted with Ancient Egyptian theology, anyone who disagrees with my analysis is invited to explain how they maintain Joseph supposedly represented the text of what we now know to be the Hor Breathing Permit as the text of the Book of Abraham, when not only did he never say that, but he correctly said it was about the mummy (Hor), and gave the correct impression that it contained his geneaology, called him a king, called him a priest, etc.

Charlotte Haven

Much analysis by others of Charlotte Haven's account has focused on the words "long roll." For my purposes, I find more interest in two other aspects of her account.

First, she says Joseph's mother identified one roll as containing the writings of both Abraham and a second Patriarch. She said "Isaac," but the key here is that she is identifying a single roll as containing the scripture of two of the Patriarchs, even if she got the name wrong.

Second, she says that "another roll," about which she mentions nothing concerning Abraham, contained a depiction of a serpent with legs tempting Mother Eve. That sounds like the Ta-sherit-Min roll, yet Charlotte says it is a different roll than the roll said to contain the writings of the Patriarchs.

Joseph Smith III

For some time, I had viewed this account from 1898 as questionable, because the dishonest anti-Mormon R.B. Neal claimed to have received it (as part of a response from Heman C. Smith to a letter Neal had supposedly written to the headquarters of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

However, the quote may actually be legitimate, because in Part 7 of Vogel's series, he displays a portion of this quote and says it was in Saints Herald, a legitimate publication of the Reorganized Church.

The account may prove to be very informative.

The letter from Heman C. Smith prefaces Joseph Smith III's comments by saying: "In answer to your inquiry as to what became of the 'Book of Abraham,' or rather of the papyrus from which it was translated, I inclose a statement which I solicited for the purpose from President Smith."

Joseph Smith III then says, "In compliance with your request, the papyrus from which the Book of Abraham was said to have been translated by father, was, with other portions, found in a roll with some Egyptian mummies, pasted upon either paper or linen, and put into a small case of flat drawers, some dozen or sixteen in number."

So, he provides a sequential answer to the question of what became of the Abraham papyrus:

First: The Abraham papyrus was, with other portions, found in a roll that came with the mummies Joseph purchased.

Second: The Abraham papyrus was at some point pasted upon either paper or linen. He does not say whether this happened before or after Joseph Smith Jr.'s martyrdom.

Third: The Abraham papyrus was put into a small case of flat drawers which had a "dozen or sixteen " drawers.

Of course, the Abraham papyrus was not the only papyrus to be pasted onto paper, but he is not telling us about the various other papyri. He is giving us a specific history of what happened to the Abraham papyrus. The only other papyri he mentions here are the "other portions" which were only relevant to the question because they were in a roll with the Abraham papyrus when Joseph found them.

This of course bolsters my theory that the Abraham roll was kept together with the Hor roll, and that people referred to these together as a roll because they understood this set had been intentionally bound together on the male mummy's breast. Joseph Smith III is referring to the Abraham papyrus plus other portions of papyrus as together being "in a roll" that Joseph found with the mummies.

So, what happened next to the Abraham papyrus? It was moved about where Lucy Smith went. We might assume the other papyri went as well, but he doesn't say.

Then, at some point, "Uncle William undertook a lecturing tour and secured the mummies and case of records, as the papyrus was called, as an exhibit and aid to making his lectures more attractive and lucrative."

From this, we learn that at some point people started referring to the Abraham papyrus as the "case of records," in which it was kept. Other papyri may have been in there as well, but they would have been incidental.

Then, continuing sequentially: "Uncle William became stranded somewhere along the Illinois River, and sold the mummies and records with the understanding that he might repurchase them. This he never did."

So, William sold the Abraham papyrus. And possibly some other papyri with it. Confusingly, however, we are told that William sold the mummies. It's true that some eyewitnesses reported seeing more than 4 mummies, and Emma only sold 4, according to the bill of sale. Perhaps there were more than 4 and different numbers of them were on display at different times.

It's also true that Joseph Smith III was quite young when all these things happened, and quite a bit older when reporting on this.

In any event, Joseph Smith III is primarily telling us what happened to the Abraham papyrus, which is a detail he is more likely to remember. And it appears to have been sold by William Smith.

Fifth Meditation

In his opening segment to Part 7 of his video series, Dan Vogel explains his underlying rejection of a missing roll theory:

"After Joseph Smith's death, the mummies and Egyptain papyri were sold to Abel Combs in 1856, who immediately sold a large portion of the collection to the St. Louis Museum, which then sold it to the Woods museum in Chicago, where they were evidently destroyed in the great fire of 1871. When about a dozen fragments of Joseph Smith's Egyptian papyri were discovered in the New York Metropolitan museum and turned over the the LDS Church in 1967, it was quickly discovered that the group of documents not only included Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham, but one of the fragments contained the hieratic characters that appear in the margins of the three Kirtland translation documents, that they had been copied sequentially from the first four lines of what archivists have designated as Joseph Smith papyrus XI. It was obvious, to many, that the source of the Book of Abraham had been found ... when Egyptologists translated the characters on this portion of the papyrus, it said nothing about Abraham. But, instead, gave instructions on how the mummy was to be wrapped. Game over? Well, not quite. Mormon apologists began immediately to invent excuses to divert attention away from the obvious truth." 

Actually, Vogel appears mistaken. Logic dictates we should predict a missing roll. The Abraham papyrus wasn't sold by Emma. It's not on the bill of sale.

As far as I know, all of the papyri we have today passed through Emma's hands when she sold them (the bill of sale was also signed by her second husband and by Joseph Smith III, but since they had belonged to Joseph Smith, Jr., the choice to sell them would clearly have been Emma's alone). This is significant because, based on the bill of sale, she did not include the source of the Book of Abraham text as part of the collection she sold.

And it makes sense that she would not have sold it. After all, why would she sell a papyrus roll containing a sacred text of ancient scripture which had been preserved to come forth through the Prophet? It was probably not even displayed to most people, unlike the other papyri.

At the end of the day, the bill of sale constitutes the clearest, most reliable witness statement that exists concerning Joseph Smith's understanding of the portion of the papyri which is in our possession today (since what we have is a sub-set of what is on the bill of sale).

1. It makes no mention of Abraham or of Joseph of Egypt. This would be a glaring omission if Emma were really selling the roll that Joseph had identified as a sacred record of scripture written by those patriarchs.

2. Instead, it declares that what she was selling consisted of the mummies and the "records of them." That's it.

3. It specifically says Joseph translated the records of the mummies, i.e. the records she was selling. This understanding can help us interpret a variety of statements we find in the historical record. For example, Joseph spoke relatively often in his journal about exhibiting the "Egyptian records," but very infrequently spoke about showing anyone the "Abraham" record. He probably was not talking about the same thing when he used these different words. Another example: in a history draft for May 4, 1842, Willard Richards, writing as Joseph Smith, says, " my private office (so called, because in that room I kept the Sacred writings, translated ancient records, and received revelation)." Here, there seems to be differentiation made between the Joseph/Abraham record ("Sacred writings"), the funerary papyri, which he had translated ("translated ancient records" - note it does not say "translations" but is referring to the records themselves) and then, separately from those two things, he seems to lump together everything he had dictated to his scribes and they had written ("received revelation").

4. It says that through that translation of the papyri, Joseph discovered that the mummies were related to the Pharaoh, which is as correct of a take-away as we might expect 1840's frontier Americans to have when presented with the Egyptian theology contained on them. So, this is quite consistent with Joseph Smith correctly understanding the papyri.

5. The bill of sale states that the reason the mummies were highly prized by Joseph was because of "the importance which attached to the record which were accidentaly found enclosed in the breast of one of the Mummies." The word "were" here indicates plural, while "record" indicates singular, perhaps implying a somewhat complicated situation that was difficult to explain in such few words. She may perhaps be saying that although in one sense it was a single record, it was divided into more than one part - resembling my evidence-based theory that Joseph's sacred text (Joseph of Egypt's redacted version of Abraham's writings) was on one papyrus, and the restored vignette on a different papyrus, but both of them bound together and enclosed in the same breast. Of course, the Breathing Permit text constituted a second "record," however we need not suppose Emma is including that in the "record" of which she speaks, hence she is only speaking of a single record, since she is speaking only of the record which was "highly prized" by Joseph. Emma's reference to a record of "importance" is of course a reference to Abraham's record, even though she doesn't say that (presumably because she's not selling the sacred ancient text, and she's only mentioning it by way of explaining why Joseph purchased the mummies in the first place). Interestingly, those who assert that the record of Joseph and the record of Abraham were completely separate rolls would need to account for why Emma only attaches significance to a record associated with a single mummy.

With respect to the rest of Vogel's statement, it appears Dan has not considered an important implication of his theory.

Dan assigns responsibility to Joseph for the idea that the Book of Abraham text starts on JSP XI.

Dan's theory naturally raises the question of why Joseph Smith would try to claim the Book of Abraham started there instead of at the beginning of JSP I:

I assume Dan and I would agree that Joseph Smith knew where the roll started. I assume this for the following reasons. First, JSP-I was probably still connected physically to JSP-XI when Joseph received the papyrus roll. And, second, because Abraham 1:12 makes mention of a representation matching Facsimile 1 and says that representation is located at the commencement of the record, which is where Facsimile 1 is found. 

But if Joseph was trying to claim that the text on the Hor roll was the text of the Book of Abraham, and if Joseph understood where the roll began, then why would he not match up the start of the roll with the start of the Book of Abraham?

Of course, this could be explained if the characters were matched up at a later date (after JSP-XI was separated from JSP-I) by someone who didn't know what they were doing and who did not catch on to the Abraham 1:12 reference to the vignette on JSP I. This explanation would pose a problem for Dan's theory, however, since such a person would presumably not be acting under the direction of Joseph Smith (since Joseph knew where the roll started).

Alternatively, this could be explained if the person matching the characters with the manuscript text was under the impression that the Book of Abraham was not the first text on the roll but that, instead, the roll contained an additional record, a record which came first on the roll, with the Book of Abraham following afterward. In this scenario, the person would basically know enough about the situation to be "dangerous" but would not know enough to succeed in matching characters with text. This would be someone realizing the text surrounding Facsimile 1 was not the text of the Book of Abraham and knew the Abraham record started further down on the roll, but didn't know where. This theory poses the same problem for Dan's theory as the previous explanation, because this person would presumably not be acting under the direction of Joseph Smith.

No matter how we look at it, there is definitely a puzzle here for Dan to work on. If it were true that Joseph Smith really said the start of the Book of Abraham was JSP-XI, that would imply that Joseph claimed the characters in JSP-I are not the text of the Book of Abraham. Moreover, Dan maintains that Joseph Smith claimed each character can yield a large amount of text. So, what all of this together would imply is that Joseph claimed a sizeable text preceded the Book of Abraham on the roll. Is Dan prepared to accept this implication of his theory?

Whether it was an unknown person (my theory) or Joseph Smith (Dan's theory) who was responsible for mis-matched margin characters and English text, it seems apparent to me that a belief existed ~1840 to the effect that the "roll" contained at least two documents: the Book of Abraham, and another text. Furthermore, the other document was believed to come first on the roll.

The main differences in the implications of Dan's theory and my theory relate to Joseph Smith's understanding of how deep into the roll one must look before finding Abraham's text.

So, whoever drew the characters in the margins seems to have had the idea that the Book of Abraham was preceded by a different text on the roll. This would seem to pose a sizeable puzzle for Vogel to solve, and would seem to bolster the missing roll theory. The key here is that we have evidence that in Joseph Smith's day there existed the same belief that apologists today promote: that the roll at one point in time contained both the Book of Abraham and another document which preceded the text of the Book of Abraham. Of course, we know today that the first text is a Book of Breathings, and we don't have physical evidence of a second text. But Dan lacks direct evidence, or any good evidence, that Joseph Smith confused the Book of Abraham with the Book of Breathings.

Sixth Meditation: Epilogue

Knowledge comes forth "in the own due time of the Lord." Otherwise, we would not be able to exercise and strengthen our faith. Since this last conference, I, for one, have felt invigorated. What a wonderful time we live in, 200 years marked from the time God the Father introduced His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to a 14-year-old named Joseph Smith, in a Sacred Grove.  As our living Prophet has declared, big things are coming, and we are so fortunate to be able to live through this marvelous time and help prepare the world for the Second Coming.

As that 14-year-old showed, even prophets are here to learn and are experiencing a mortal probation. God never pronounced that prophets and parents are perfect, but that they have a place in His plan, pointing His flock to Him. God's plan is perfect, but is intended to be implemented by imperfect people, in a setting of powerful opposing forces. On one hand, perfection. On the other hand, purposeful imperfection.

By understanding that there is a purpose to imperfection, we can accept a "precept upon precept" approach, expecting some answers will come now, others later. This, the Gospel predicts. If we understand the fall of man and the Atonement, along with the role of faith and repentance, it only makes sense that we would struggle with challenges.

The Book of Abraham's set of challenges are widely considered to be among the top concerns God's covenant people face. The purpose of this meditation has been to help neutralize what is considered the most difficult issue, and thus provide precedent to help other issues be seen in their proper place as puzzles we can work on, rather than reasons for ceasing to pray, ceasing to exercise faith, or otherwise distancing oneself from our Heavenly Father.

Vogel often says LDS scholars who conduct apologetics on the Book of Abraham sometimes make statements out of apologetic necessity. There is truth to this. However, Vogel should perhaps recognize ways in which the analysis of these scholars is true to the broader evidence, which includes bold claims about the Heavens being opened to Joseph Smith, and the involvement of God and a great underlying plan. Such testimony is in fact evidence. Not direct evidence, but, it is evidence.

If one accepts D&C 76:1-10, for instance, it shapes the possibilities one is willing to pursue. This approach does not preclude scholarship, although the scholarly research operates within parameters. Those who think unkindly of this approach might not be aware of ways in which their dismissal of such evidence affects their own scholarship. When dismissing claims which point to Joseph Smith being a true Seer, one must be aware and upfront about whether or not they are imposing their own prejudices and thereby restricting the scope of their own scholarship. We may tend to think our own biases are just obvious facts. And that can lead to premises which we have not taken time to formally consider. We may also tend to think this is only a problem other people have which we don't have. Our own opinions, of course, are always the best. That's why we hold them.

Many who are interested in Book of Abraham issues have debated back and forth, with the faithful defending Joseph Smith, and the less faithful often arguing that Joseph lied.

With the integrity of Joseph Smith questioned by many, something is at stake here. I sympathize with the frustration Dan Vogel manifests when he doesn't see apologists giving up ground, as it were. But the unbeliever has something at stake, as well, and may be reluctant, for subjective reasons of their own, to adjust their thinking in ways which favor apologist arguments.

Differences in ways of viewing information may be unavoidable, because some assumptions may be required prior to the application of logic. Each individual's intuition plays a role in determining which assumptions they will make. It is important to remember that intuitions lead to assumptions which lead to premises which only then do we apply logic to. It is helpful to be aware of our intuitions and how they cause us to favor our chosen assumptions over alternate assumptions.

The existence of intellectual challenges is expected in LDS doctrine. These, along with other challenges, are even central to the Gospel; the Atonement of Jesus Christ being the greatest challenge and the centerpiece of the Gospel. We might not realize it but our challenge, our yoke, is mitigated through the Atonement, so that our challenge is limited to only what is necessary for our growth and our exercise of agency.

In an LDS view, we intentionally left a Heavenly home and intentionally had our knowledge of reality temporarily erased from our memory. We are meant to search. This is the intended context of our earth experience. Knowing this is the intended context helps us understand why God does not usually make Himself known through our external senses, but speaks instead to our hearts. Even when we are mentally and physically in a state of tumult, the veil allows us to choose for ourselves whether and how we will search out and follow that voice.

This unique LDS concept, of us choosing to come to earth with a "veil" over our minds, offers a theological explanation for the question our atheist friends pose: "if there is a God, why doesn't God just prove it is so?" From the LDS point of view, with the veil being part of the plan, the question can be answered with a question: "what would be the point of a veil that blocks our knowledge, if God were to simply turn around and reveal all that knowledge?" Instead, this world is intended to house varying degrees of understanding. Precious spirits are born into a variety of circumstances. Half of the world's population worships the God of Abraham, and over half of that group worship Jesus Christ as their Savior - and, among those Christians, a variety of interpretations and understandings exist. The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is itself far from completely revealed. Much more is to come.

We may at times wonder why sacrifice is necessary, and why God does not just give us the end result without the struggle. I suspect it might not be logically possible to know what suffering feels like without feeling it. The intellectual side we might be able to comprehend through reason, but the human side we might only be able to comprehend through experience. I believe this underlies the struggle in the war in heaven.

In accordance with God not generally revealing Himself directly to the world's physical senses, the purpose of life is not to figure out God with our intellect, like the Tower of Babel, trying to reach Heaven with human reasoning instead of God. What sense would it make for God to test our intellect? That is not the purpose for our coming here. Christ never required from us the wisdom of man. He chose a 14-year-old boy. He chose fishermen. He never said anyone must be "scholarly enough" to get into heaven. He's not impressed with our intellects. He said one must become as a little child. The idea behind coming to this earth is to give us opportunities to choose and to experience. As we are surrounded by a fog, God's voice speaks to our heart, a voice our spirit recognizes even though it doesn't remember why.

Even if we don't intellectually know that the voice is God, we hear it in our souls. The test of this life is to use our agency to determine how important that voice is to us. When we hear His voice and want to be closer to Him, even though we can't see Him, that is faith.

I believe that when we pass through the veil, and greet those who have gone before, we will see that Joseph Smith is sweet and kind and gentle, just as so many who knew him in life attested.
For now, there is a great deal of disagreement on what to believe. Why does God not just tell us in objective, scientific terms? Because the reason for believing matters. God does not just want people to believe, but to believe for the right reason. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:25, "I thank thee O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes." See also Matthew 13:10-13.

So, then, what do we make of challenges like the arguments against the Book of Abraham? Childlike faith, based on staying close to Heavenly Father, is paramount in dealing with issues we don't understand. But it is also understandable for people to want answers along the way, in the same way that knowing how some magic tricks are performed can give us a lens through which to interpret illusions we don't yet know the answers to. If you look at the best magic tricks in the world, not knowing how they are performed, they might seem to have no plausible explanation. But once you learn how a trick is done, it may no longer even be interesting. It may even seem like it should have been obvious and you may even be astounded by the fact that you were previously unable to see it. Such, I believe, will be the experience of each of us when we stand before God and see what was really going on and how many misconceptions we all had when we were on earth. And why it was necessary and why we chose before coming to earth for it to be that way.

Seventh Meditation: Appendixes

Appendix A: How the Kinderhook Translation Relates

Appendix B: Associations between Onitas and Osiris

Appendix C: Anubis

Appendix D: Zeptah

Appendix E: How Joseph Smith Got Shulem Right

Appendix F: Valuable Discovery

Appendix G: Robert Ritner

Appendix H: Purporting To Be

Appendix I: Human Sacrifice

Appendix J: The Alleged Handwriting of Abraham 

Appendix K: Egyptian Alphabet

Appendix L: Unsorted, Unused Notes


  1. On your fifth meditation, Ryan, I don’t follow your reasoning. Your statement that the 1856 bill of sale doesn’t specifically mention the Abraham roll is an argument from silence. It certainly implies that Emma sold all the mummies and records in her possession. The bill of sale states that the records she was selling “were highly prized by Mr. Smith on account of the importance which attached to the record which were accidentaly found enclosed in the breast of one of the Mummies.” We know that the approximately two foot portion that included Fac. 3 was among the records Emma sold and that Gustavus Seyffarth examined it later that year. Gee believes the roll Seyffarth examined was longer and included the Book of Abraham. So I don’t think you use of the bill of sale is useful.

    Your argument that it doesn’t make sense that Joseph Smith would start the Book of Abraham with JSP XI, instead of JSP 1, is not a problem. The characters at the beginning of the scroll are different. Besides being in a type of hieroglyphics, not hieratic, they are arranged in five columns, one of which is in the facsimile. This sets them off from the rest of the Book of Breathings. The Alphabets, one of which is in the handwriting of JS, copy these columns and translate a portion of them. The last two characters in the Alphabets are the first two on JSP XI and represent the beginning of the BofA. So JS was well aware of where the BofA began on the scroll. There’s no trying to make sense of it. Trying to build an argument on what seems reasonable in this situation where nothing makes any sense seems a little peculiar.

    In my response to Muhlestein, you will see where he tries to have the under-water character copied from the margin of the translation manuscripts into the Alphabets. This implies that JS was well-aware of the characters in the margins and copied them into this Alphabet. I don’t subscribe to that view. The best reconstruction is that the characters were copied at the time the translation was written, that is, except for some of the lacunae characters. They were added later. If someone was trying to match characters to the translation, why would they invent characters or copy characters to fill the lacunae? Why would they do it for all three documents, especially the one entered into the translation book? The characters are not copied by one hand; they were copied differently by Williams and Parrish. Phelps wrote his characters at the same time, why not Williams and Parrish? The idea that the characters were added to finished texts doesn’t work when it is discovered that some of the paragraphs begin abruptly and that Parrish’s shorter document ends with a character without text next to it.


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