Mormon Church Letters Abbr
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Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Gray, and Andrew H. Hedges, editors
Mormon Church Letters Abbr
, edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), 474–511.
Source Weekly May 5, 2022 By The Source Weekly
In Kirtland, Ohio, just over two weeks after Joseph Smith hired Warren Parrish as his scribe (October 29, 1835),  Joseph reportedly prophesied that Parrish “shall see . . . ancient records, and shall know of hidden things, and shall be endowed with the knowledge of hidden languages.” These promises seem to have been realized not long after Joseph dictated to the scribe Parrish a translation of some ancient Egyptian papyri which had came into his hands three months earlier. This translation became known as the Book of Abraham, which first appeared serially under Joseph Smith’s direction in the Mormon Journal
In Nauvoo, Illinois, in March 1842. The Book of Abraham was later included in a larger collection of Joseph’s revelatory materials entitled The Pearl of Great Price, which has since become the authoritative scripture for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, alongside the Bible, Mormons book and Doctrine and Covenants.
The prophetic promise to Parrish that he would be “endowed with the knowledge of hidden languages” not only foreshadowed his own immediate future but, more importantly, reflected Joseph Smith’s deep longing to bring forth ancient records as well. After all, as a translator, Joseph had already produced two texts, which he saw as being of ancient origin: the Book of Mormon (1829) and the Book of Moses (1831). In addition, from 1830 to 1833, he undertook a revision of the Bible, which can at least be considered a form of translation.
From these earlier projects, Joseph Smith likely developed an apparent appetite for working with ancient languages, especially Egyptian, since the Egyptian connection can be traced to at least 1828 or 1829 when Joseph learned that the language of the Book of Mormon was a language referred to as Reformed Egyptian.[ 6] Joseph Smith’s confidence may have been boosted when, in June 1828, he copied characters from the gold plates onto a sheet of paper and instructed a friend to show them to a professional linguist for verification. According to the traditional Mormon account, the linguist, Charles Anthon, determined them to be legitimate Egyptian, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Arabic characters. Interestingly, three separate accounts tell of Anthon himself seeing the whole affair as a hoax to pressure Harris (not named in the account) into mortgaging his farm to finance the printing of Joseph Smith’s book. Nevertheless, for Joseph, the Anthon episode represents a complete success that was interpreted as a fulfillment of Israelite prophecy.
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Joseph’s future endeavors lend further credence to his fixation with ancient languages. For example, in addition to the work on the Egyptian papyri, which continued into the early Nauvoo period (1842), Joseph devoted considerable effort to formally learning Hebrew under the guidance of a professional Hebrew teacher during the first part of 1836.[ 10] In particular, Joseph Smith’s focus on ancient languages in some ways describes Joseph in a profane as well as a sacred sense; and at some point Joseph’s fascination with language is incorporated into a blurred bifurcation that is not easily, or at times possibly, distinguishable. This twofold ambiguity between the sacred and the profane seems to come into sharp relief with Joseph’s activities in working on the Egyptian papyri in the second half of 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio.
As early as July 1835, just a few days after Joseph Smith acquired the papyri, he stated that “one of the scrolls [in his papyri collection] contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt.” As mentioned above, “Abraham’s writings” finally the book of Abraham. However, around the same time as the translation of the Book of Abraham (in the second half of 1835), another ad hoc project took place that produced innovative, confusing, and apparently incomplete Egyptian alphabet and grammar documents. This Egyptian project has given rise to questions that generally focus on how much Joseph was involved in the project, and whether the Abraham translation and Egyptian projects inform each other in some way. If the Egyptian project can be considered separate from the translation project, the question remains as to what those involved in the Egyptian project were trying to do. The main task here is to find relational connections between the Egyptian documents and the larger corpus, including the Abrahamic documents. Exploring points of contact between the documents should help to contextualize the Egyptian project within the larger framework.
Examining documentary evidence related to Abraham and Egyptian projects, three main points emerge: (1) the language project (Egyptian) probably occurred before Joseph Smith acquired the Egyptian papyri; (2) the translation and language projects occurred at approximately the same time, and (3) the Egyptian project evidences a serious attempt to unveil the Egyptian language by means of an imaginative, intricate system linking the Egyptian alphabet documents to the grammar book and possibly The Abraham documents too.
As indicated above, the corpus of documents in this collection can be divided into two quite distinct parts: (1) those papers that focus primarily on the text of the Book of Abraham and (2) those that focus on alphabetic and grammatical material that the authors connected to the ancient Egyptian language. However, it should also be understood that the Abrahamic documents contain a certain amount of Egyptian material and the Egyptian papers include a certain amount of Abrahamic material. The table below shows that the Abraham documents consist of three 1835 manuscripts and one 1842 manuscript containing roughly the same text from the Book of Abraham (Abraham 1:1–2:18), as well as the 1842 explanations for facsimiles 1 and 2 and a page from 1842 which contains a few verses from Abraham 3.
Byu Humanities Magazine Spring 2019 By Byu Humanities
Note that there is no manuscript evidence for certain parts of Abraham 3, all of Abraham 4 and 5, or the explanation of facsimile 3.
The next table (below) shows the variety of manuscripts that make up the Egyptian part of this collection.
As we shall see, the three Egyptian alphabet documents contain largely the same material, while the rest of the Egyptian documents differ from the EA manuscripts, as well as from each other, in various ways. It is also notable that the EAJS contains the handwriting of Joseph Smith, which is quite rare, since Joseph’s general practice was to employ professional scribes. This seems to indicate that Joseph Smith had an interest in and contributed to the Egyptian project, which is further reinforced in his journal entries for 1835. But Joseph’s interest in the Egyptian project does not occur in a vacuum. Indeed, the Egyptian Mormon focus fits well within the larger nineteenth-century context of Egyptomania.
After Napoleon’s advance into Alexandria Egypt in 1798, a robust fascination with all things ancient Egypt became a characteristic of the first half of the nineteenth century in America. Artifacts increasingly began to appear in Europe and eventually in the United States, giving rise to a veritable Egyptomania in antebellum America. Much of that mania manifested itself in a related mummy mania, which began as early as April 1823 with the arrival of the mummy known as Padihershef. Throughout the nineteenth century, however, mummy mania led to “scientific” cranial investigations and to questionable commercial practices such as the use of mummy pulp as medicine, the manufacture of mummy paint, mummy paper, and mummy fillers. Egyptian iconography and discourse even made it easier to “deal with contemporary domestic conflicts arising from racial and race-based slavery policies.” 
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An increased interest in the Egyptian language also occurred with the rise of Egyptomania during the nineteenth century. Although Champollion had already decoded the Rosetta Stone in the early 1820s, his work was not fully known in America until the second half of the nineteenth century. A lack of Egyptian linguistics before the 1850s combined with a fervent Egyptomania thus perpetuated an almost ignorant zeal among some early nineteenth-century Americans. As an example, many followed Athanasius Kircher’s esoteric and imaginative
; some believed that Ancient Egyptian contained remnants of Adam’s pure language. It was in this kind of intellectual climate that Joseph Smith purchased four mummies and several rolls of papyri for $2,400.18 from Michael Chandler, an antiques dealer, who had arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, in late June 1835.
A family visiting the Sphinx in Giza, Egypt, 1924. This is just one of many examples of Egyptomania. Courtesy of the Wilbur A. Sawyer Papers.
As for the provenance of the four mummies and the papyri, they represent part of a larger cache of eleven mummies that the Italian Antonio Lebelo discovered in a tomb in Thebes, Egypt, sometime between 1817 and 1822. Sometime before his death in 1830, Lebolo arranged to have the objects shipped to the United States. The items were then