Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Book of Abraham Fraud Explained

I've started this blog to share my debates in public. In the past few years, I've debated countless Mormons by email and through quick back and forth comments on my YouTube videos. I find myself repeating arguments to a lot of different individuals, so my hope is that a more open debate on this blog will save me some time and spread people's awareness of the faulty claims of the Mormon faith.
Below is a slightly modified version of my next video's script. My videos up 'til now have focused individually on the three facsimiles that Joseph Smith claimed were part of the Book of Abraham. Unfortunately, most Mormons attack my arguments on each facsimile as if they were in a vacuum, ignoring the larger picture. The script below addresses the whole picture and simultaneously refutes all of the major Mormon defenses of the Book of Abraham. It is not as detailed as my Book of Abraham page on my website, but does hit the major points.

In 1835, Joseph Smith acquired a collection of Egyptian papyri from a Mr. Michael Chandler, who was touring the eastern U.S. with a mummy exhibition. After examining the papyri, Smith stated:
"I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt." (History of the Church, Vol 2:236)
In 1842, Joseph Smith published the Book of Abraham in serial fashion in the LDS magazine, "Times & Seasons." He included copies of 3 vignettes found among the papyri and his interpretations of them. Labeled as Facsimiles 1 through 3, Smith claimed they too were part of the Book of Abraham.
The papyri used by Joseph Smith to produce the Book of Abraham were thought to be lost until some of them were discovered in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1966.
With the discovery and deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, ancient Egyptian texts can now be accurately translated by Egyptologists. They have translated the extant papyri and identified all of the remains as parts of the Egyptian funerary texts, the Book of the Dead and the Book of Breathings.
The most common Mormon response to this is to allege that the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt were contained in the papyri that are now lost. They insist that without the remaining papyri, there is not enough evidence in the extant papyri to discredit Joseph Smith's translation. Another Mormon theory attempts to explain away the use of the Egyptian funerary texts in Joseph Smith's translation efforts. Known as the Semitic Adaptation theory, it posits that the Egyptian funerary texts were adopted by an ancient Jewish redactor to illustrate the Book of Abraham story. And yet another prominent Mormon theory avoids the extant papyri altogether, suggesting that the Book of Abraham must be a true ancient text based on parallels that its authors have identified with other so-called ancient texts.
While we don't have all the papyri that was at Joseph Smith's disposal, we do have enough evidence to discredit these theories and to conclude with certainty that Joseph Smith was a fraud.
Very near to the beginning of the Book of Abraham, Chapter 1, verse 12, we see a reference to Facsimile 1: "And it came to pass that the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also, as they did those virgins upon this altar; and that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record."
Clearly, Joseph Smith believed that this portion of the papyrus was the commencement of the Book of Abraham, since from here he produced Facsimile #1.

Smith described the scene as showing the attempted human sacrifice of Abraham by the idolatrous priest of Elkenah. Egyptologists, however, say that it actually depicts the resurrection of Osiris. It is similar to a wall relief in the Dendera Hathor Temple Complex in Qena, Egypt (Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The standing figure is actually the Egyptian god Anubis and the canopic jars beneath the lion-couch were used by Egyptians during the embalming process to store and protect the mummy's organs. The hieroglyphic text to the right of the scene confirms that this papyrus is a Book of Breathings text prepared for an Egyptian priest named Hor. Michael Rhodes, a Mormon Egyptologist, provides the following translation:
"[The Osiris, God’s father, ] priest of Amon-Re, king of the gods, priest of Min, who massacres his enemies, priest of Khonsu, who is powerful in Thebes. . . Hôr, justified, the son of one of like titles, master of the secrets, god’s priest..." etc. etc.
If we look on the left side of the vignette, we see the purpose of this text. Michael Rhodes translates: "Beginning of the Book of Breathings which Isis made for her brother, Osiris to cause his soul to live, to cause his body to live, to rejuvenate all his limbs again...". The context provided by this text clearly show its purpose and demonstrate that the vignette is right at home in the papyrus as an Osiris resurrection scene.
The vignette, however, is not Smith's only use of this papyrus. Facsimile 2, for which we don't have the original source, is a hypocephalus, which was placed under the heads of Egyptian mummies to guide them in the afterlife.

The original, sketched in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, had missing portions (the red areas above), which Joseph Smith filled in from the Book of Breathings papyrus and a Book of the Dead papyrus.

As Michael Rhodes points out, the text in the red portion of the hypocephalus comes from lines 2, 3, & 4 of the Book of Breathings papyrus (source of Facs 1). The depiction of Re, the Egyptian sun god, was pulled from the Book of the Dead, shown above. If Smith really did have the Book of Abraham in front of him, why would he restore the missing parts of the hypocephalus using the Book of Breathings and Book of the Dead papyri?
Smith also incorrectly provided Hebrew interpretations of the Egyptian gods depicted in the hypocephalus, making errors that most Christians would consider blasphemous. Most notably, in scene number 7, Smith referred to the ithyphallic god Min, an Egyptian god who had sex with his own mother, as our God and due to the fading over the millennia, misconstrued the snake god Nehebka to be a dove representing the Holy Spirit. We know Smith was wrong because this scene is common on many hypocephali, as shown very clearly in the Leiden Hypocephalus on the right side.

As revealing as these errors are, it is in Facsimile 3 that Smith directly contradicts the hieratic text which he claims to be translating. According to Smith, it depicts “Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood...”

Egyptologists identify this scene as the presentation of the dead to the Egyptian god of the underworld and judge of the dead, Osiris. This scene is not only common in the Book of Breathings, but prevalent in Egyptian artwork on temple walls, sarcophaguses, and stele. Below is a similar scene from the Book of Breathings of Ousirour (Photo courtesy of Amberinsea) and several other examples are shown on my website.

Michael Rhodes points out that Figure 1 is Osiris, not Abraham, that figure 2 is Isis and figure 4 is Ma'at, both female goddesses and not the pharoah and a prince, as Smith claimed. Figure 5 is Hor, the Egyptian priest for whom the Book of Breathings was prepared, not a waiter named Shulem. Figure 6 is the jackal headed god Anubis, and not a slave, as Smith claimed. This is not simply a difference in interpretations; the Egyptian gods are all identified or inferred from the text above their heads, text that Smith claimed he could translate.
There is not a single reference to Abraham or Joseph of Egypt in any of the extant papyrus or even the facsimiles purported to be part of the Book of Abraham. Every piece, however, does have a proper place in the Egyptian Book of Breathings or the Book of the Dead, as one would expect given that the papyri were found among a set of Egyptian mummies.
The papyri had nothing at all to do with Abraham, as Smith clearly believed. So even if an actual Book of Abraham were among the papyri in Smith's possession, he demonstrated that he would not be able to identify or translate it. This makes the primary defense of Mormon apologists, that the Book of Abraham may have been in the now missing papyri, irrelevant.
The Semitic Adaptation theory is similarly debunked, because the facsimiles show no attempt at adoption or adaptation by a hypothetical Jewish redactor. The scene depicted in Facsimile 1 is still attached to and clearly drawn for the Book of Breathings papyrus. The scene in Facsimile 3 still has the text identifying the traditional figures of this common judgment hall of Osiris scene. Finally, Facsimile 2 is clearly a hypocephalus, which by its nature, would have nothing to do with a Jewish text, especially with the prayers to Egyptian gods still intact. Also, consider would a Jewish scribe get access to the Hor Breathing Permit, the Book of the Dead, and the hypocephalus, all of which were prepared for and buried with different Egyptian mummies. He would either have to break into the tomb, which is absurd, or have access to them before they were buried. And who would let a Jewish scribe corrupt Egyptian religious texts that were just prepared for a priest's burial? Also, what rational person would go to those lengths to avoid drawing their own vignettes?
The Mormon theory of parallelism which ignores the extant papyri altogether really demonstrates the lengths that Mormons will go to deny the obvious truth. To support their theory, the authors of parallelism draw comparisons to a fictional Islamic text from the 13th century. These same authors scoffed at the idea that ONLY half of the Book of Abraham's verses had counterparts in the Book of Genesis...only half! The significant plagiarism of Abraham's story in Genesis by Joseph Smith, however, did not prevent him from making an incredible oversight. If you read Genesis, chapters 12 through 17, you'll find that Abraham was 99 years old when God gave him that name...up until that time, he was known by the name "Abram", which includes his short time in Egypt at the age of 75 to 76 years old. Therefore, if Abraham was truly the author of the Book of Abraham, it would be called the Book of Abram and no reference to the name Abraham would be in it.
The only reasonable explanation is that Joseph Smith used the facsimiles as visual cues to fabricate the parts of the Book of Abraham story that were not already described in the Book of Genesis. He is, therefore, a fraud and a false prophet.
You may be asking yourself, how can Mormons defend Smith's status as a prophet knowing how wrong he was. Unfortunately, most Mormons are unaware of this evidence, and those that are cling to these debunked theories in order to maintain their faith, even in the face of conclusive rational arguments.
In his article, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus...Twenty Years Later", Michael Rhodes stated: "Nevertheless, my purpose is not to 'prove' Joseph Smith was a prophet. That knowledge can and should come only from God, not from intellectual reasoning, and each individual must find it for himself or herself."
That dismissal of intellectual reasoning is the biggest challenge in convincing Mormons of the have to first convince them that while they may ask earnestly of God for the truth in prayer, God often guides us to His truth through intellectual reasoning.