I could see clearer into much of Joseph Smith's thinking with his grammar than from any other source.
The Source of the Book of Abraham Identified
by Grant S. Heward and Jerald Tanner
Taken from Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3 (Summer 1968):92-98.
Used by permission.
It now appears that the papyrus fragments recently recovered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints include the text used by Joseph Smith in his efforts to translate the Book of Abraham. The fragment in question (see illustration No. 1) was identified in the February, 1968, Improvement Era (bottom of p. 40-1) as "XI. Small 'Sensen' text (unillustrated)."
ILLUSTRATION NO. 1
A photograph of the right side of the papyrus fragment identified in the IMPROVEMENT ERA, Feb. 1968, as "XI, Small 'Sensen' text (unillustrated)." Joseph Smith used this as the basis for the Book of Abraham.
It would seem that Joseph Smith studied this fragment and concluded that it was written by Abraham. Then Joseph, or his scribes, copied down a character or two at a time and to the right of each character rendered a translation of its meaning. These translations comprise the original manuscript version of the Book of Abraham. (See illustrations Nos. 2 and 3.)
ILLUSTRATION NO. 2
A photograph of page q of the "Book of Abraham" manuscript. This portion is found in the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 1:13-18.
ILLUSTRATION NO. 3
A comparison of the characters that were photographed from one of the handwritten manuscripts of Joseph Smith's "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" (in rectangles around border) with the characters as they appear on the first two lines of the papyrus shown in Illustration No. 1 (material in center of illustration)
Dr. James R. Clark of Brigham Young University provides this description of the manuscripts:
As a matter of fact there are in existence today in the Church Historian's office what seem to be two separate manuscripts of Joseph Smith's translations from the papyrus rolls, presumably in the hand writing of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery; neither manuscript contains the complete text of the Book of Abraham as we have it now. One manuscript is the Alphabet and Grammar.... Within this Alphabet and Grammar there is a copy of the characters, together with their translation of Abraham 1:4-28 only. The second and separate of the two manuscripts contains none of the Alphabet and Grammar but is a manuscript of the text of the Book of Abraham as published in the first installment of the Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842.1
All of the characters in the first two rows on the papyrus fragment shown in illustration No. 1 can be found attached to the portion of the Book of Abraham in Joseph Smith's "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar." Illustration No. 3 provides a comparison of characters from one of the handwritten manuscripts with the characters as they appear on the original papyrus.
A photograph of the first page of the second manuscript of the Book of Abraham is found on page 179 of James R. Clark's Story of the Pearl of Great Price. Dr. Clark writes,
I have in my possession a photostatic copy of the manuscript of the Prophet Joseph Smith's translation of Abraham 1:1 to 2:18. This manuscript was bought by Wilford Wood in 1945 from Charles Bidamon, son of the man who married Emma after the death of the Prophet. The original of this manuscript is in the Church Historian's Office in Salt Lake City. The characters from which our present Book of Abraham was translated are down the left-hand column and Joseph Smith's translation opposite, so we know approximately how much material was translated from each character.2
This manuscript begins with the statement, "Translation of the Book of Abraham written by his own hand upon papyrus and found in the catacomb[s] of Egypt." This manuscript is more extensive than that in the "Alphabet and Grammar." Illustration No. 4 compares characters from this manuscript with those in the third line of the papyrus fragment.
ILLUSTRATION NO. 4
The third line of the papyrus fragment (above) compared with the characters traced from the longer Book of Abraham manuscript (below), located in the LDS Church Historian's Office.
Joseph Smith apparently translated many English words from each Egyptian character. The characters from fewer than four lines of the papyrus make up forty-nine verses of the Book of Abraham, containing more than two thousand words. If Joseph Smith continued to translate the same number of English words from each Egyptian character, this one small fragment would complete the entire text of the Book of Abraham. In other words, the small piece of papyrus pictured in illustration No. I appears to be the whole Book of Abraham!
This evidence raises several problems. One is that the Egyptian characters cannot conceivably have enough information channels (component parts) to convey the amount of material translated from them. Another is that the papyrus fragment in question dates from long after Abraham's time, much nearer, in fact, to the time of Christ. But most important, the Egyptian has been translated, and it has no recognizable connection with the subject matter of the Book of Abraham. The February, 1968, Improvement Era identifies the fragment as a small, unillustrated "Sensen" text. Sensen means "breathings," and the papyrus fragment has been identified by reputable Egyptologists as a portion of the "Book of Breathings," a funerary text of the late Egyptian period.
It is interesting to note that not only the manuscripts of the Book of Abraham but also Facsimile No. 2 includes portions of this "Book of Breathings." Evidently the original of Facsimile No. 2 was damaged. That portions of it were unreadable or had fallen away is evident from a drawing found in Joseph Smith's "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" (see illustration No. 5A). The missing areas on this drawing have been filled in with insertions from other documents to make Facsimile No. 2 as it now exists (see illustration No. 5B for a photograph of Facsimile No. 2 as it was published in the Times and Seasons in 1842; notice that the missing areas have been filled in). The area at the top showing a god in a boat was evidently copied from the fragment of papyrus labeled in the February, 1968, Improvement Era (p. 40-D) as "IV. Framed ('Trinity') papyrus."
The Egyptian words meaning "Book of Breathings" have been inserted into other blank areas shown in illustration 5A. These words come from line four of the same fragment of papyrus which Joseph Smith used as a basis for the text of the Book of Abraham. Illustration 5B shows that characters have been copied from lines two and three of the same papyrus fragment. One group of characters from line two was copied twice along the edge of Facsimile No. 2. The characters which follow around the edge were taken from line three.
ILLUSTRATION NO. 5A
A drawing of Facsimile No. 2 as it appears in Joseph Smith's "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar." The missing areas would seem to indicate that portions of the original of Facsimile No. 2 were either unreadable or had fallen away. When Facsimile No. 2 was first printed the blank areas were filled in from portions of other documents. Notice that line 4 of Illustration No. 1 was added in up-side-down.
ILLUSTRATION NO. 5B
Facsimile No. 2 as it was first printed in the Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, March 13, 1842. Notice that the characters along the right hand edge have been filled in up-side-down from the same papyrus Joseph Smith used for the text of the Book of Abraham. See Illustration No. 1, lines 2 and 3.
Facsimile No. 2 seems to have been reconstructed in a peculiar way. First, areas that are blank in the "Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar" have been filled in with characters from other documents. Second, lines of hieratic and hieroglyphic writing are joined together in a strange way--introducing foreign and unrelated thoughts. Third, to add to the confusion, the hieratic writing is inserted upside-down in relation to the hieroglyphic text on the same lines.
1. James R. Clark, The Story of the Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City, 1962), pp. 172-173.
2. James R. Clark in Pearl of Great Price Conference, December 10, 1960 (Brigham Young University, Extension Publications, 1964 Edition), pp. 60-61.
Comment by Dieter Mueller:
The authors demonstrate that Joseph Smith used one of the recently rediscovered fragments from the "Breathing Permit" of Hor as the source for the Mormon Book of Abraham (Annual Egyptological Bibliography ... 1968 [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973], 84).
I highly recommended the article by Robert K. Ritner, currently Associate Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago "The 'Breathing Permit of Hor' Thirty-four Years Later," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33 (Winter 2000):97-119.
The latest book on this topic is Robert K. Ritner, The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition. Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2011. Limited edition.