Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part II

Continuing from the last post, in which was discussed how Joseph Smith obtained the papyri and mummies; after Joseph’s death in 1844, the mummies and papyri remained in the possession of his mother, Lucy Smith, until her death on 14 May 1856.
It was three years after Joseph’s death, and 9 years before Lucy Smith’s death, that in April 1847, President Young led an advance group of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children west to locate a new settlement where Church members could live and worship in peace. This advance group covered about 1,000 miles from Winter Quarters, and included eight of the Twelve Apostles, 72 wagons, 66 oxen, 89 horses, 52 mules, 19 cows, and 17 dogs, making its way across Nebraska and Wyoming, reaching the present-day border of Utah about 3 months later on 12 July. When the Mormon wagons rolled out of Nauvoo, Lucy stayed behind.
Left: An older Emma Hale Smith Bidamon living in Nauvoo; Right: William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish copy of Abraham Manuscript, Summer-Fall 1835
Two weeks after Lucy’s death, according to H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), pp 236, 243-47), on 26 May 1856, Emma Smith Bidamon, the remarried widow of Joseph Smith, sold the mummies and papyri to Abel Combs, and soon thereafter Combs sold two of the mummies and several of the papyri to the St. Louis Museum. In 1863, the St. Louis Museum closed and its collection was moved to the Chicago Museum, which was sold to Joseph H. Wood the following year and renamed the Wood’s Museum. The two mummies and some papyri remained on display until the museum was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 187l.
Contrary to many reports, Combs had not sold all of the papyri to the museum, but had kept some pieces that had broken off the main rolls and were later mounted in picture frames. When Combs died, he willed these papyri to his housekeeper, Charlotte Weaver Huntsman, who had nursed him during his final illness before his death. When Charlotte died, her daughter, Alice Combs Weaver Heusser, inherited the fragments.
In 1918, Alice approached the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art with the papyri in her possession; but the museum declined to accept them. When Alice died, her husband, Edward Heusser, inherited the papyri, and in 1947 he sold the papyri to the Metropolitan Museum. In May of 1966, Dr. Aziz Atiyali, a professor at the University of Utah, found the eleven papyri fragments in the museum, and recognizing Facsimile 1, said they were clearly part of the papyri that Joseph Smith had in his possession. These papyri were donated to The Church in 1967 by the museum and are now kept in the Church archives.
In addition, there was another fragment that Jay M. Todd, Editorial Associate for the Improvement Era (now Ensign) magazine, discovered that had been stored with the manuscript of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and had been in the Church Historian's archives since at least 1908. Todd referenced an entry in the Church Historian's Office files dated Wednesday, October 17, 1855 describing several items which were being transferred to the newly constructed Historian's Office, including "...three plates of the Book of Abraham" and a "red box with papers, blanks, journal, stereotype and plates."
Todd also discussed an entry from a personal journal dated Saturday, July 11, 1846, describing a meeting between “Brigham Young and the Brethren” and Chief Banquejappa of the Pottawatomie tribe during which the Chief gave Brigham Young “two sheets of hieroglyphics from the Book of Abraham” and a letter dated 1843 that had been given to them by Joseph Smith (at the time, Nauvoo was a prominent spot for Indians and was called by them Quashquema, as Indian burial grounds abounded in the area. The Potawatami Indians were there, being ever pressed westward by settlers since their expulsion from the area around Lake Michigan in 1833). Todd referred to the background of the Historian's fragment as “most puzzling” and stated that William Lund and Earl Olsen, assistant Church Historians, did not recall any information about the fragment except that it had been there with the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar throughout their service, which dated to 1911 (as historians) and to 1908 (Lund working in the office). This fragment was labeled IX by Hugh Nibley and appears on page 40-H of the Improvement Era article, with the text: “These Egyptian documents can be reliably dated to somewhere between 220 and 150 B.C. on the basis of the handwriting, the historical period in which the religious writings on these papyri were in use in Egypt, and the historical references to at least one of the original owners of the papyri” (Improvement Era, February 1968, pp 40-40H, full article: New Light on Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri, and Background of the Church Historian's Fragment, by Jay M. Todd, Editorial Associate).
Photographs of the original printing plates of Facsimiles 1,2,3 of papyrus drawings found in the Book of Abraham
For 110 years, between 1856 and 1966, the eleven papyri were out of the hands of the Church and, in fact, in unknown hands for some 95 years. Whether the papyri are the same or some clever copies or simply the originals, cannot be proven. Even so, the original Joseph Smith papyri fragments came from three separate papyri rolls containing ancient Egyptian religious texts. The first is a Book of Breathings belonging to a man named Hor, the son of Usirwer (by a musician, called a housewife). There are also two copies of the Book of the Dead, one belonging to Tshemmin, the daughter of Eskhons (one of the three wives of Mentuemhat), and the other to a women named Neferirnub (usually referred to as belonging to Tshemmin and Neferirnub). Although it was not found among the Metropolitan Museum of Art fragments, Joseph Smith also had a third Book of the Dead belonging to Amenhotep, son of Tanubs, and a document Egyptologists call a hypocephalus, meaning "under the head" (Facsimile 2), belonging to a man named Sheshonq (a name given to a number of Egyptian pharaohs of Libyan origin who ruled during the Third intermediate Period), which was a circular sheet of papyrus containing extracts from the 162nd chapter of the Book of the Dead stiffened with plastered linen and placed as an amulet under the head of an ancient Egyptian mummy in the coffin, said for the purpose of keeping the body warm.
There has been much criticism offered about the Book of Abraham, the papyri Joseph Smith translated, and providing different interpretations of the hieroglyphics involved. While most inferences today sound like all was and is understood about such matters, Egyptologists often are at odds with one another as to the meaning of these ancient engravings and inscriptions.
In the next post we will take a look at some of these criticisms to show that enemies of the Church, uninformed men, even professionals and linguists have attitudes and their own agendas that oft times involved in protecting personal views, opinions and status, as well as protecting jobs, careers, and reputations. 
A good example of this was shown in the story of Professor Charles Anton (left), a well-known classic scholar of Columbia College at Columbia University, who interpreted the characters Joseph Smith had placed on a small slip of paper for his translation. He not only interpreted them, but gave a written attestation to the character’s authenticity in writing to Martin Harris, then ripped it up after hearing the story of Joseph Smith and the plates. When questioned by colleagues, he later vehemently denied ever having done so.
While all answers to criticism are open to either agreement or disagreement, it should be noted that all criticism of the Book of Mormon and all found within its pages, have answers, whether a person wants to agree with them or not.
(See the next post, “The Book of Abraham and the Facsimile Image-Part III” for the beginning of these criticisms and our responses)

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