Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2011), 217–43.
Many critics have claimed that Joseph Smith’s translation of Egyptian papyri and his interpretation of Egyptian drawings do not match with what Egyptologists would say about these things. Such critics thus call into question his ability to translate ancient records. A more careful examination reveals that these claims are based on false assumptions and bad information. Solid research supports Joseph Smith’s claims.
When I decided to earn a doctorate in Egyptology at UCLA, I did not intend to study or explain issues surrounding the Book of Abraham. I was aware of various controversies but found them neither compelling nor interesting at the time. I was just finishing a master’s degree in biblical Hebrew and was most intrigued by the Exodus and its Egyptian connection. I was also fascinated by Egyptological issues in and of themselves. Thus I began my PhD program with no plans to spend time on anything associated with the Book of Abraham.
During my doctoral work, as I taught institute classes on the Pearl of Great Price, I found the message of the Book of Abraham to be increasingly powerful and gravitational. I could never escape the sense that I was just scratching the surface, that there was so much I was not quite getting. The more I came to understand the messages of the Book of Abraham, the greater that feeling became.
Moreover, after a few years, various publications by other scholars came out on the topic I had chosen for my dissertation; it no longer seemed a viable focus for original research. While I was trying to decide on another dissertation topic, several events highlighted the need to look into some aspects associated with the Book of Abraham. A number of these events revealed that some Egyptologists held deep-seated feelings against anything associated with that wonderful book.
To some degree, I can understand the negative feelings held by a few of my colleagues. Egyptologists are constantly bombarded with wild ideas about how to interpret aspects of Egyptian symbols and beliefs. This was particularly true of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during which there was renewed interest in Egypt but a lack of academic ability to accurately understand ancient Egyptian culture.  I believe that this fervor of interest was at least partially inspired of the Lord. It resulted in the sudden arrival of mummies and papyri in America—some of which contained the Book of Abraham and made their way to Joseph Smith. Many scholars view Joseph Smith as merely a part of this nineteenth-century fascination with Egypt.  This perception leads to a particular focus on Joseph Smith’s use of Egyptian papyri.
To fully understand this perception, we must realize that except for Joseph Smith, none of those who claimed to be interpreting Egyptian artifacts during that time were even close to correct in their conclusions. If some of Joseph Smith’s religious contemporaries, such as Ann Lee, George Fox, or Alexander Campbell, claimed to have translated Egyptian papyri, I would not be inclined to give an ounce of credit to their claims. Egyptologists are used to this kind of assertion, but there is a significant difference between the claims of Joseph Smith and those of others from his era—Joseph still has millions of followers who accept his interpretations as correct. None of the others have any modern followers who believe in their ideas. Because without God’s help, no one in Joseph’s time and place could translate Egyptian, a few of my colleagues are amazed that anyone continues to believe that Joseph Smith could. They are joined, and perhaps spurred on, by people of other faiths who are bent on discrediting the Prophet.
During the same period that I was being exposed to this rancor, I found a number of good people who had become blinded by those with such vitriol. There are many honest truth seekers, both in and out of the Church, who do not know what to make of the anti-Mormon critics’ claims regarding the Book of Abraham. I came to realize that many members of the Church who struggled with issues surrounding the Book of Abraham are not necessarily people looking for an excuse to leave the Church. Many had simply encountered well-written (though not necessarily well-documented or well-researched) arguments against the Book of Abraham, and did not know how to answer the questions posed by these arguments. They, like Joseph Smith before them, did not know how to respond to the war of words around them, but honestly sought for truth.
At this same time, I began corresponding with a few of our Christian brothers who were publishing against the Book of Abraham. I found that almost all of them had good intentions and were simply trying to do what seemed right to them. I think very few people are aware that the things they write about the Book of Abraham are based on incorrect information and bad assumptions. They are misled by the mistakes, lies, and trash put out by a few, and unwittingly pass the misinformation along without really looking into their sources.  They do this because they earnestly believe the things they read, not knowing that they too have been deceived.
Because people believe these incorrect assertions, their logical conclusion is that they must help others realize what they have learned. These good, caring men and women are generally unaware that they need to be disabused of the false assumptions and supposed facts they have encountered.
All these factors convinced me that there was a real need for serious work to be done regarding the Book of Abraham, especially Egyptologically. I was aware that a few LDS scholars were working on this, most notably Michael D. Rhodes and John Gee.  But I also became convinced that more needed to be done.
One issue that intrigued me was based on intimations from some authors that human sacrifice did not exist in ancient Egypt.  Egyptologists largely denied the existence of the practice, sometimes with vehemence.  I had always accepted this line of thought, until a fellow Latter-day Saint in my doctoral program, Val Sederholm, pointed out one possible instance of human sacrifice in Egyptian history.  Neither of us felt that proof of human sacrifice in Egypt was necessary for the support of the Book of Abraham’s story about Abraham’s near sacrifice since Abraham made it clear that the priest who nearly sacrificed him represented an amalgamation of ancient Near Eastern religions (see Abraham 1:7). Some of the cultures represented certainly performed human sacrifice. Still, the whole concept of sacred violence fascinated me, so I set out to write my dissertation on the religious framework for sanctioned killing in ancient Egypt.  I did not have a particular axe to grind; I merely wanted to discover what had happened in Egypt regarding this matter.
For a year and a half, I dedicated almost all of my time—sometimes fourteen hours a day—to researching and writing about sacred violence in Egypt. What surprised me most was how well the Egyptian culture I was discovering matched the culture painted by the Book of Abraham, and also how this knowledge helped me to understand various nuances of that book. Here I can give only the briefest synopsis of my findings.
While the Egyptians may have had some kind of regular program of human sacrifice (slight bits of evidence suggest this but there is no conclusive evidence), at the same time they certainly did believe there were certain circumstances in which the only appropriate response was to ritually slay someone.  The most likely scenario for this occurred when an individual disrupted the religious or political order. The Book of Abraham indicates that Abraham had been preaching against idolatry (a concept that lay at the heart of almost every aspect of Egyptian belief and culture) and that this led to the local priest trying to sacrifice him (see Abraham 1:5–7). A large corpus of noncanonical tradition about Abraham agrees with that picture. 
Not only did the pictures fit together, but they augmented each other. For example, I had always found it curious that most non-canonical, ancient traditions held that Abraham was to be burned, while the Book of Abraham spoke of an altar—though it never specifies how he was to be killed on the altar. Facsimile 1 indicates a knife was being used. What I found in the few cases of Egyptian sacrifice (human or not) about which we have details is that typically the sacrificial victim was struck with a blade and then burned.  In hindsight that makes perfect sense. It is much easier to burn someone or something that is already dead. Nearly all animal sacrifices are done this way. This is likely what was intended for Abraham as well, to first be struck with a knife while on an altar (as pictured on the facsimile) and then to be burned. Thus the Egyptian sources helped make sense of the various elements of the Abraham story.
I discovered that thoroughly and correctly performing Egyptological research is a key to understanding the Book of Abraham. When we pull facts from carefully researched materials, they match perfectly with the information we receive from Joseph Smith. The picture the Book of Abraham paints dovetails neatly into the larger mural of Egyptian history and practice.
Having found that Egyptology solved one issue critics used to try to discredit the Book of Abraham, I wondered what else my discipline might offer in approaching and understanding that sacred volume. I was also intrigued by ancient ideas found within this book of scripture. As I started to look into various textual elements I not only found answers, but I also discovered that others had been finding these same answers. Many textual tidbits from the Book of Abraham had found historical support. Let me provide one example.
Abraham talks about a particular spot around Ur and Haran; while there is some disagreement about where Abraham’s Ur actually was, most Latter-day Saint scholars who have considered the evidence provided in the Book of Abraham think that the most likely candidate is somewhere just east of Haran.  Abraham names a spot nearby as the plains of Olishem (see Abraham 1:10). This is a name that no one had heard of during Joseph Smith’s day; but since the Book of Abraham uses a number of terms that no one has encountered elsewhere, Olishem did not stand out in any way at first. However, discoveries of ancient texts since Joseph’s day revealed two texts—one from before Abraham’s time and one roughly contemporary—name a location near Haran called Olishem.  The chances that Joseph Smith would make up a fictional, outlandish place that turned out to be accurate in name, time, and location are too astronomical even to be considered. I do not know how that fact could be interpreted as anything other than evidence that Joseph Smith was really translating an ancient document.
There are a number of foreign words in the Book of Abraham that we have found no ancient counterparts for—words such as Kae-e-vanrash, the explanation for figure 5 in Facsimile 2. Although this seems like evidence against the validity of the Book of Abraham, the case of strange words in the Book of Abraham is not unusual at all.  This is also true of a number of Egyptian texts that date from the same time period as the papyri; we frequently encounter names and words that make no sense to us. At the same time, a number of words from the Book of Abraham have found very real and viable counterparts that support Joseph’s translations.  These words, coupled with the name Olishem lead us to the conclusion that good research has turned the book’s wording—once a subject of criticism—into a strength.
Quite recently I began another research avenue that shed more light on the Book of Abraham than I had expected. I was aware that some work had been done on the use of biblical names and stories in Egyptian religious texts,  which interested me, especially because I excavate in Egypt in an area where there was a significant Jewish presence and where Christianity seems to have spread quite early. Because of my desire to understand the religio-cultural background that may have led to this quick conversion to Christianity, and because the Book of Abraham seems to have been owned by an Egyptian priest, I wanted to learn more about this topic. Hence, when the Russian Academy of Science invited me to participate in an Egyptological conference that would partially focus on intercultural interaction, I decided it was the perfect time to further investigate this topic. 
So I set out to further investigate a cultural phenomenon that might help me understand both the excavation and the history of the Joseph Smith Papyri better, not knowing where the evidence might lead. While I did Egyptological research, the evidence forced the conclusion that priests in Thebes had both biblical texts and nonbiblical stories about biblical figures in their possession by at least 200 BC, and that one of the characters they read the most about was Abraham. I presented this information at the conference and it found universal acceptance, so much so that  several specialists in the interaction between Jews and Egyptians from this time period sought me out after my presentation to tell me how much they agreed with my findings. The article has been solicited for publication in the proceedings, and I anticipate that within the next few years it will be published.
The striking thing is that, as will be discussed more fully below, the owner of Facsimile 1 was a priest from Thebes who lived about 200 BC. This fact is perfectly complemented by the discovery that priests from Thebes had biblical texts by 200 BC. I have been forcefully struck by how much the Egyptological evidence is in harmony with the Book of Abraham.
One of the most pressing questions concerning the Book of Abraham has to do with its very origin. What was the source of Joseph’s translation? This question became more important when the Metropolitan Museum of New York revealed that it had obtained some of the papyri Joseph Smith had owned, including Facsimile 1. They gave these papyri—known as the Joseph Smith Papyri—to the Church, and fervor over the Book of Abraham ensued. The texts on these papyrus fragments were translated as versions of common Egyptian funerary texts. The text adjacent to Facsimile 1 was a copy of the Book of Breathings, a composition which was designed to help the deceased reach his desired goals in the afterlife.
Once the existence of the papyri had been made public, the immediate assumption was that text adjacent to Facsimile 1 must have been the text from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham. The idea that the text adjacent to Facsimile 1 was the source of the Book of Abraham was a tantalizing supposition. Because we now have the ability to translate such texts, this idea appealed to Mormon and non-Mormon alike; the former group anxious to have some palpable proof of the prophet’s inspiration and the latter wanting evidence against his revelatory ability. Although many in both groups are still unaware of it, their hopes were based on an assumption, and a problematic assumption at that. While at first glance it seems reasonable to assume that the text adjoining Facsimile 1 would be the place to look for the source of the Book of Abraham, there are many reasons to discard this assumption. The six most salient follow:
1. Even with modern publication software and technology, we often are not able to place an illustration right next to the text with which it is associated. Hence when textbooks say “see figure 3.2,” that figure is often on a different page. Even with the sophisticated electronic layout abilities we have developed, when I ask my students how many of them have textbooks in which this is the case, almost every hand goes up. This dissonance between text and picture is even more pronounced with ancient papyri; it is common to find the picture (on Egyptian papyri we call them vignettes) some distance from the text.  Such incongruity was especially endemic to the Ptolemaic era, the time period during which the Joseph Smith Papyri were created,  and to the type of text we find next to Facsimile 1.  In this case, the Joseph Smith Papyri turns out to be exactly like most papyri of its day.
2. Furthermore, during the time period in which the Joseph Smith Papyri were created, it was common not only for the text and its accompanying picture to be separated from each other, but also for the wrong vignette to be associated with a text, or for vignettes and texts to be completely misaligned on a long scroll.  The content of a vignette and the content of the text frequently lack any apparent connection.  This is particularly common in Books of Breathing, the type of text which is adjacent to Facsimile 1 on the Joseph Smith Papyri. 
3. There is no known case of any vignette remotely like Facsimile 1 that is associated with the type of text that is adjacent to it. No other copies of the Book of Breathings contain anything similar. Based on ancient parallels to the Book of Breathings, the most likely conclusion is that the picture next to the text was not associated with the text.
4. The Book of Abraham itself says that the fashion (or drawing) of the idolatrous gods is “at the beginning” (Abraham 1:14), presumably of the record or papyrus on which the text is recorded. This statement seems to indicate that the vignette depicting the altar and idols is not adjacent to the text, but some distance from it—at the beginning. We do not know whether it was Abraham or a later scribe who created the drawing and inserted the statement. Furthermore, in the oldest Book of Abraham manuscripts we have, this phrase was inserted after the rest of the text was written, meaning that Joseph or his scribes likely inserted it as they were preparing to publish the text. We cannot tell who wrote this line.
5. A few accounts indicate that the source of the Book of Abraham had some Hebrew characters on it.  None of the fragments we have today contain any Hebrew characters. Thus we must conclude that the eyewitnesses were describing texts other than those we now possess.
6. Finally, eyewitness accounts from Joseph Smith’s day agree that the Book of Abraham was on the long roll. Through museum documents we can corroborate that the long roll was sold to the Chicago museum. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1871.  The small portion on the outside of that roll seems to have been cut off and mounted for its protection (it is always the outermost edge of a scroll that is damaged the most, and Joseph must have felt that this damaged piece needed preservation efforts). Because this part of the scroll was glued to paper that dates back to the Kirtland period,  and eyewitness accounts agree that the Book of Abraham was translated from the large roll after the fragments had been cut off,  eyewitnesses of the papyri during the Nauvoo period did not think that the fragments we have today contained the Book of Abraham. Again, we are forced to conclude from the historical evidence at hand that the fragments we now have are not the source of the Book of Abraham.
Given the problems with the assumption that the text surrounding Facsimile 1 was the source of the Book of Abraham and the fact that we possess only a small percentage of the original papyrus roll on which Facsimile 1 was drawn (perhaps about 5 percent), we must conclude that it is most unlikely and foolhardy to insist that the text adjoining Facsimile 1 must be the text of the Book of Abraham. Yet critics insist on this faulty assumption.
This brings up the question of how much papyri Joseph Smith had, and especially how long the papyrus with Facsimile 1 might have been. The fragments we have today (which contain Facsimile 1 and the adjacent text) consist of less than two feet when pieced together. But how long was the scroll originally, and did it contain the source of the Book of Abraham?
We know from eyewitnesses that Joseph had “two papyrus rolls, besides some other ancient Egyptian writings.”  From the surviving papyri, we can identify five different ancient owners, indicating that there were at least five different sets of papyri. A variety of accounts establish that at least two of these were sizable scrolls. Other contemporary witnesses describe a number of fragments of papyrus contained under glass,  a “long roll” reportedly containing the Book of Abraham,  as well as “another roll.”  Thus our available historical evidence establishes the existence of a fair-sized scroll, another longer scroll, and several other pieces of papyri. The bulk of the writing must have been on the two rolls of papyrus.
As to size, we can no longer be certain of the rolls’ length. Various methods have been attempted to ascertain their length, but the most accurate likely comes from John Gee’s application of a mathematical formula (which has been used by other Egyptologists)  in which the circumference of the roll and how tightly it was wound can be used to calculate its original length. Employing this mathematical formula, Gee has estimated that the scroll anciently owned by Seminis (the shorter roll) would have been about twenty to twenty-four feet long.  The longer scroll (which contained Facsimile 1) was anciently owned by a priest named Horus. It is estimated to have been over forty-two feet long.  This combined evidence paints a convincing picture that Joseph Smith had a large quantity of papyrus in his possession. Because it t is very common for a papyrus roll to have writing on both sides, a conservative estimate approximates over eighty feet of text on the roll that contained Facsimile 1. These findings indicate that we have only about 2.5 percent of what Joseph originally had. Clearly there was room for the Book of Breathings, the Book of Abraham, and a host of other texts on the long roll. During that time, it was not uncommon to have multiple texts on a single papyrus.
Some have supposed that an eclectic collection of papers, sometimes known as the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, prove that the text adjacent to Facsimile 1 was the source of the Book of Abraham. This argument stems from a few sheets of papers, two of which exhibit a small amount of Joseph Smith’s handwriting, that show Egyptian hieratic characters in the margin and paragraphs from the Book of Abraham written out next to them. Some have supposed this means that the long paragraphs of the Abraham text are a translation of the hieratic characters next to them. Since these characters seem to come from the hieratic text next to Facsimile 1 on the Joseph Smith Papyri, some have argued that Joseph was translating from the papyri we currently have when he gave us the Book of Abraham.
There are a number of problems with this interpretation: (1) As was clearly explained above, evidence indicates that these papyri were not the source of the Book of Abraham. Because eyewitness accounts lead us to conclude that the source was elsewhere on the scroll, the characters on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers must serve some other purpose. (2) Transcription errors in all of these copies clearly demonstrate that these are not the original translation of the Book of Abraham. They are later copies of that book. If Joseph had originally written an Egyptian character in the margin and then either puzzled out or had the translation revealed to him, there would have been no need to continue to write down the original characters when making third or fourth copies of the scriptural text.  (3) We can document that Joseph Smith was not in Kirtland when many of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were created.  (4) Both the fact that the hieratic text was apparently overwritten onto the English Book of Abraham verses and evidence of specific scribal practices suggest that the hieratic was a late addition.  This indicates that they were written after the text had been completed, not copied beforehand and then translated. 
I do not understand the relationship between the Egyptian characters and the rest of the papers. I think the evidence drives us to conclude that the papers are not a record of the translation process, but I am at a loss to say what they might be a record of. Perhaps the Egyptian characters were placed beside the text to excite the minds of potential readers in hopes of increasing the book’s circulation; maybe they are merely a manifestation of the kind of fascination with languages and scripts we know W. W. Phelps often displayed.  Or the Egyptian figures could merely serve as fanciful and archaic bullet points. Probably none of these speculations are the answer. The important point is that the evidence we have does not support the conclusion that critics try to derive from these papers. In fact, it dictates that these conclusions are wrong.
Both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those of other faiths have often assumed that the statement, “The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus,” (Book of Abraham, Heading) means that Abraham himself copied the writings onto the papyrus acquired by the Prophet Joseph. Critics have attacked this assumption because we can date the papyri we have, including Facsimile 1, to a time period after Abraham. We know exactly who the owner of this papyrus roll was, what his priestly offices and duties were, that he served and lived in Thebes, and the names of several generations of his family. The man who owned (and likely created) Joseph Smith Papyri fragments 1, 10, and 11 (which constitute the beginning of the roll that contains Facsimile 1) was Hor (Horus in its Greek form)—an influential priest in Thebes around the time of the creation of the Rosetta Stone (approximately 200 BC). His father was a governor of Thebes and held the same priestly position as his son. Horus would have been highly educated, literate, and likely conversant in several languages; he also would have had access to the great libraries of the temples in Thebes.  I have already discussed the evidence showing that priests in Thebes during this time period had access to stories about Abraham. Thus the owner of this papyrus was an educated priest who probably had access to information about biblical figures. Interestingly, one of his priestly roles was associated with Egyptian execration rituals, which sometimes involved human sacrifice—something akin to what Abraham describes in the Book of Abraham and is depicted on Facsimile 1. 
Critics say that if this papyrus was written in the second century BC it could not possibly have been written by Abraham himself. In regard to this assumption, I ask, who said this particular papyrus was written by Abraham himself? The heading does not indicate that Abraham had written that particular copy but rather that he was the author of the original. What these critics have done is confuse the difference between a text and a manuscript. For example, many people have a copy of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; each has a manuscript copy of the text that Tolkien originally wrote. A text, regardless of how many copies of it exist in the world, is written by one author. However, each copy of that text is a manuscript.
The earliest known copies of the book of Isaiah date to hundreds of years after the prophet’s death. Yet this has not led to the conclusion that Isaiah was not the author of the book of Isaiah. Clearly the manuscripts we have are copies of the original text that he wrote during his lifetime. We all know that when an author of the ancient world wrote something, if those writings were to survive or be disseminated, the text had to be copied again and again and again, for generation upon generation. When the heading states that the text was written by Abraham’s own hand, it notes who the author is, not who copied down the particular manuscript that came into Joseph’s possession. If critics had carefully thought through this issue, they would never have raised it.
These issues also highlight the question of how the Book of Abraham came to be in Egypt in the first place. There are a dizzying number of possibilities. Abraham himself was in Egypt, as was his great-grandson Joseph and all of his Israelite descendants for hundreds of years thereafter. After the Exodus, Israelites continued to travel to and live in Egypt. After the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, large groups of Jews settled in Egypt and created longstanding and thriving communities, even to the point that they built a temple. It was during this time period that Joseph Smith Papyri 1, 10, and 11 were created. Copies of these papyri could have moved back and forth between Egypt and Israel during any of these eras.
The potential interpretations of the facsimiles are complicated and numerous, making it impossible to go into depth here regarding the many questions that arise in regard to the facsimiles. Yet some matters must be treated, especially one concerning attacks against the facsimiles based on a problematic assumption. Typically, people have asked how the Egyptians would have interpreted these drawings and how that compares with the way Joseph Smith interpreted them. But this question is usually answered not by examining Egyptian beliefs but instead by examining what modern Egyptologists say. This is understandable, as we do not have access to any ancient Egyptians. Yet we know that modern Egyptologists could be wrong concerning how Egyptians would have interpreted these drawings. For example, John Gee has demonstrated that the few times we have found Egyptian labels of various figures in hypocephali (drawings like Facsimile Two), the labels rarely match the labels Egyptologists gave the figures.  Moreover, we Egyptologists often use poor methodology when interpreting Egyptian symbols from the time period of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Most of our knowledge about what symbols meant in ancient Egypt comes from the Eighteenth Dynasty, around 1500 BC. We then often apply these meanings to similar pictures from any time period. However, the Joseph Smith Papyri date from over one thousand volatile years later, and almost certainly the interpretations of many images changed during that period of time. Thus one problem with criticizing Joseph’s interpretations of the facsimiles is that our only means of interpreting them is based on a faulty comparison.
Because of these problems, using modern Egyptologists’ interpretations of the facsimiles to judge the validity of Joseph’s interpretations is ineffective. If we were to label Joseph’s interpretations as X, Egyptologists’ interpretations as Y, and what the ancient Egyptians believed as Z, most would like to say that if Joseph is correct, then X should equal Z. But to find out if X does equal Z, they compare X to Y. Because we do not know if Y is equal to Z, that comparison might be meaningless.
Furthermore, we cannot even be sure that the Egyptians would have known how to interpret the symbols in the Book of Abraham. We do know that, on many occasions, Abraham’s descendants took Egyptian elements of culture and applied their own meaning to them.  Hence we must ask if we ought to be looking for a Jewish interpretation rather than an Egyptian one. We must consider the possibility that the original artist first drew in a Jewish artistic style, but when an Egyptian recopied the drawing in the second century BC, the artist redrew it according to his artistic customs. Then where should we look to know how to interpret these drawings?  It is apparent that there are serious problems with trying to verify Joseph’s explanations of the facsimiles by comparing them to Egyptological explanations.
That being said, it is still worthwhile to see how the facsimiles fit into what we know of their Egyptian context; there is a chance we could learn something this way. We start with Facsimile 1. We have already established that it is not associated with the Book of Breathings. But if it is not a Book of Breathings vignette, what is it?
Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham. Typically, people have asked how the Egyptians would have interpreted these drawings. But this question is usually answered not by examining Egyptian beliefs but instead by examining what modern Egyptologists say.
Some have suggested that it is a typical embalming scene. Yet it is at least as different from embalming scenes as it is similar. The only similarities are that a person is on a lion couch with another person standing nearby. Others would suggest that the closest parallels of this scene are in the temple of Denderah and that the figure on the couch ought to be associated with Osiris. Recently John Gee has closely examined these Denderah depictions. He has noted that only one of these has a winged figure in it, somewhat similar to Facsimile 1. This scene is accompanied by a text which says that Bastet, an Egyptian goddess not even pictured in the scene, “is your protection every day; she commands her messengers to slaughter your enemies.”  Thus we find a perfect textual sibling for the closest iconographic match to Facsimile 1 in that both are about someone who was in danger and received protection. There are other similar texts accompanying similar scenes in Denderah.  Other lion couch scenes at the temple include scenes of Anubis and the Sons of Horus defending someone from his adversaries, or list Shesmu, a god associated with human sacrifice, as part of the scene.  Accompanying texts describe the person on the altar being killed, his confederates being stabbed, and “his flesh being ashes, the evil conspirator destined for the lion couch/
However, it should be noted that Facsimile 1 is unique in many ways.  In this scene the figure is neither in mummified form, nor naked, as is the case in most of the supposed parallels. The figure on the couch has two hands raised, in a position that almost certainly denotes a struggle. And while one cannot tell this from the printed facsimile, on the original papyrus it is clear that the priest is standing between the altar and the legs of the person on that altar. In other words, the person on the altar is only part way on, because the priest is occupying the space between both of the victim’s legs and the altar. I can imagine no reason for this unless the person on the altar was trying to get off. If the priest were helping him get on the altar, he would not be between his legs. Clearly this depiction is unique, and denotes some kind of movement that is not found in any parallel.
Moreover, it is worth noting that we have found a papyrus depicting a person on a lion couch whom the Egyptians labeled as Abraham.  Here we see that the Egyptians themselves associated the scene with Abraham.
As has already been discussed, the sacrificial story depicted in Facsimile 1, contrary to most publications, depicts something we have by now established to be congruent with practices within Egypt.  While Facsimile 1 is unusual in many ways, Joseph Smith’s interpretation of it is corroborated by well-done Egyptological research.
Similar arguments can also be made for the other two facsimiles. Egyptians themselves textually identified parallel scenes with Abraham at some point in time.  Each has elements that match up well with Joseph’s interpretations, and each has typically been very misunderstood by critics. Some aspects of the facsimiles still puzzle me, but because I understand the relationship between my questions and revealed knowledge (see below) they do not trouble me. Thus far, any time something Egyptological has seemed at odds with revealed knowledge, careful Egyptological research has supported what I already knew through revelation. Egyptology is continually evolving and advancing. Every year we decide that something we previously taught is incorrect. Such is not the case with revealed knowledge. Hence, while I have a great deal of respect for knowledge gained through the tools and skills of my discipline, I do not find it as trustworthy as knowledge gained from the Holy Ghost.
Here I have only been able to address a few questions about the Book of Abraham. But ultimately, one principle can answer all of the questions that are—or will be—connected with this book of scripture. This principle is understanding how to value various forms of learning.
While I was at UCLA studying for my PhD in Egyptology, I developed a sharp pain in my knee. It became so acute that I could wear only the loosest of pants, I could not kneel, and I flinched whenever my children moved toward my leg for fear that they might touch my knee. I could feel a small bump below the skin that was grinding against a nerve or something else. I went to see UCLA medical school physicians. They tried to feel this bump themselves and took various kinds of X-rays and MRIs. Nothing showed up. None of the many doctors who saw me believed there was anything inside my knee; they thought it must be some other problem. Some even tried to treat other imagined problems. Finally I was referred to the head of orthopedic medicine, who said he was willing to make an incision and see if he could find anything. Through this incision, he found a piece of cartilage that had been chipped off and had started to gouge the surrounding tissues. Its removal completely cured me.
The point of this story is that according to the best practices and technology available, there was nothing in my knee. Because most of the doctors would trust only what they themselves could feel or see or what technology told them, they did not believe there was an actual, physical object causing me pain. Yet with senses available to me but not to them, I could feel that something was inside me. That others could not detect it neither changed the fact that it was there nor the fact that I could feel it and be sure that it was there. It did not lessen the very real effects it had in my life. In the end, my senses (which were not available to empirical processes) were right.
I know that Joseph Smith was an inspired prophet through similar means. I have learned through senses available to me (but not to science or technology), that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet. The fact that others cannot prove this does not make it untrue or any less real to me. Therefore, it seems foolish to question the Book of Abraham because of anything that Egyptology might tell me. I know that during my lifetime Egyptologists will change their mind about most of the things they are so sure of now. Egyptologists know that they are quite often wrong. Yet that which I have learned from the Spirit has never been wrong. Why would I accord more weight to what Egyptology can tell me than to what prophets can? That would be like believing the doctors who told me there was nothing in my knee. I refuse to be so foolish.
Even with this surety, I am anxious to learn more about the Book of Abraham. I hope to do this both through personal revelation and through the inspiration that is available to my colleagues and myself as we apply our best efforts, training, and thinking. I have been fortunate that I have not been alone in my study of Egyptology and the Book of Abraham; many others have been pushing forward on this front, most notably John Gee and Michael Rhodes. I have enjoyed a rich collaboration with these men and with others. We are currently in a period of intensive research regarding the Book of Abraham. It seems that each month yields new and exciting information. We are blessed to live in a time when answers and opportunities exceed our energies and time for continued research.
Most of the material on both sides of this issue has been filled with poorly done work. Some Latter-day Saints have offered arguments to support the Book of Abraham that are just as riddled with problems as the arguments they were attempting to refute. We have been especially sloppy in our efforts to find proof of the book’s legitimacy through parallel materials, and I think we have done as much damage as good in many of these attempts. Perhaps the worst work has been done by well-meaning Latter-day Saints who genuinely want to understand the Gospel more fully, and somehow come to the conclusion that a bad understanding of Egyptian religion and symbols will help them come to a better understanding of the true Gospel. Such practices have been used in both print and verbal teachings. In regards, to this, we need to do better. 
And yet there are many things we are doing well.  I anticipate that Latter-day Saints will do increasing amounts of good Egyptology over the next ten to twenty years. It has been my experience that when we do, thorough Egyptology correctly, what we learn supports things that many of us already believe, and often allows us to expand our understanding just a little. Such studies contain many findings that confirm faith. Though there are many questions to be answered, the years ahead look promising.
 See Kerry Muhlestein, “European Views of Egyptian Magic and Mystery: a Cultural Context for the Magic Flute,” BYU Studies 43, no. 3 (2004): 137–48.
 Kerry Muhlestein, “Prelude to the Pearl: Sweeping Events Leading to the Discovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” in Prelude to the Restoration: From Apostasy to the Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2004), 130–41.
 See Kerry Muhlestein, “Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: Questions and Answers,” in Religious Educator 11, no. 1 (2010): 91–107.
 For example, see Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary, Studies in the Book of Abraham, vol. 2, ed. John Gee (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), and John Gee, A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000).
 See, for example, Nigel Davies, Human Sacrifice in History and Today (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1981); Alberto Ravinel Whitney Green, “The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East” (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1973); J. Gwyn Griffiths, “Human Sacrifices in Egypt: The Classical Evidence,” ASAE 48 (1948).
 For examples, see Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum Press, 1995), 134; and Gertie Englund, “Offerings: An Overview,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, vol. II, ed. Donald B. Redford (London: Oxford University Press, 2001), 568.
 See Robert Ritner, “The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice,” Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 54 (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1993), 161–65.
 See Kerry Muhlestein, “Violence in the Service of Order: The Religious Framework for Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2003).
 See Muhlestein, “Violence in the Service of Order,” 382–90; and Kerry Muhlestein, “Royal Executions: Evidence Bearing on the Subject of Sanctioned Killing in the Middle Kingdom,” in The Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 51, no. 2 (2008): 181–208.
 See Brian Hauglid, “The Book of Abraham and Muslim Tradition,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, Studies in the Book of Abraham, vol. 3, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 131–46, and Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham, Studies in the Book of Abraham, vol. 1, ed. John Tvedtnes, Brian Hauglid, and John Gee (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001).
 See for example, lines X+28–30, as in Donald B. Redford, “The Tod Inscriptions of Senwosret I and Early 12th Dynasty Involvement in Nubia and the South,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 17, nos. 1 and 2 (1987): 42 and fig. 2; Bubastite Portal, Annals of the High Priest Osorkon, inscription of Year 11 of Takelot II, columns 35–36, as in Harold Hayden Nelson, Reliefs and Inscriptions at Karnak (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1936), 18–19, and pls. 16; also see Ricardo Caminos, The Chronicle of Prince Osorkon (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1958), 48; Penelope Wilson, A Ptolemaic Lexikon (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 839; Anthony Leahy, “Death by Fire in Ancient Egypt,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 27, no. 2 (1984): 202 and n. 42; Kenneth A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 B.C.), 2nd ed. (Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1995), 331; and Kerry Muhlestein, “Violence in the Service of Order,” 245–49.
 For example, see Paul Y. Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur of the Chaldees?” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 119–36.
 See Benjamin R. Foster, Before the Muses: An Anthology of Akkadian Literature, 2 vols. (Bethesda, MD: CDL, 1993), 1:53–53; also John Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,” in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7, no. 1 (1995): 26–27, and John Lundquist, “Was Abraham in Ebla?” in Studies in Scripture, vol. 2: The Pearl of Great Price, ed. Robert L. Millet and Kent Jackson, (Salt Lake City: Randall, 1985), 234–35. See also Hoskisson, “Where Was Ur?,” 136.
 See Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,” 77.
 See Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus—Seventeen Years Later,” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994).
 See Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,” 29–46, 72–75, in which he discusses at least twenty examples. For another example, see David E. Aune, “PGM V.459–89,” in The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation including the Demotic Spells, vol. 1: Texts, ed. Hans Dieter Betz (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1986), 109–10); and Kerry Muhlestein, “The Use of Biblical Figures in Egyptian Religion, a Survey,” presentation Achievements and Problems of Modern Egyptology conference, Moscow, Russia, September 2009, publication of proceedings forthcoming.
 I do not mean to imply that I was unique in being invited to participate in this conference. The invitation was widely circulated among respected and practicing Egyptologists, particularly among those who were known to have interests in these areas.
 Muhlestein, “The Use of Biblical Figures.”
 See Marc Étienne, “Livre des Morts au nom de Hor,” in La mort n’est pas une fin: Pratiques funéraires en Égypte d’Alexandre à Cléopâtre, ed. Alain Charron (Arles: Musée de l’Arles antique, 2002), 145, and Jean-Claude Goyon, Le Papyrus du Louvre N. 3279 (Cairo: IFAO, 1966), 2.
 See Marc Coenen, “Horos, Prophet of Min Who Massacres His Enemies,” Chronique d’Égypte 74 (1999): 257–59; Malcolm Mosher Jr., “The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead in the Late Period: A Study of Revisions Evident in Evolving Vignettes, and the Possible Chronological or Geographical Implications for Differing Versions of Vignettes” (PhD diss., University of California at Berkeley, 1989), 1:53–54; Étienne, “Livre des Morts,” 145; and Jean-Claude Goyon, Le Papyrus du Louvre N. 3279 (Cairo: IFAO, 1966), 2; and Valérie Angenot, “Discordance entre texte et image. Deux exemples de l’Ancien et du Nouvel Empires,” Göttinger Miszellen 187 (2002): 11–21.
 Marc Coenen, “The Dating of the Papyri Joseph Smith I, X and XI and Min who Massacres his Enemies,” in Egyptian Religion: The Last Thousand Years (Leuven: Peeters, 1998), 1123.
 Mosher, “The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead,” 1:53–54.
 Étienne, “Livre des Morts au nom de Hor,” 145, and Goyon, Le Papyrus du Louvre (IFAO, 1966), 2.
 Coenen, “Dating of the Papyri Joseph Smith,” 1123.
 Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, December 1835, 234; William I. Appleby Journal, May 5, 1841, MS 1401 1, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
 H. Donl Peterson, The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995), 215–16, and John Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” 123.
 It seems that these scratch papers were not carried to Nauvoo, not only because the Saints did not carry a tremendous amount with them from Kirtland, but especially they had difficulty getting any of their papers out of Missouri. The documents they wanted they carefully hid and transported, making it unlikely that scratch paper would be among these guarded hoards of paper. Thus the logical and most likely conclusion is that the papyrus fragments were glued to these papers before leaving Kirtland and almost certainly before they arrived in Nauvoo. Research regarding the date of the gluing is ongoing.
 Henry Caswell, “The Mormons,” The Visitor or Monthly Instructor for 1842 (1842): 406, describes Facsimile 1 as being already under glass by at least 1842. Similarly his traveling companion, Josiah Quincy and Charlotte Haven, both say that they were told (one by Joseph Smith the other by Lucy Mack Smith), that the Book of Abraham was written on the long roll. Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 386; and Charlotte Haven to her mother, February 19, 1843, in “A Girl’s Letters from Nauvoo,” Overland Monthly, December 1890, 624. Thus we must conclude that the prophet did not feel that any of the fragments we have are the source of the Book of Abraham.
 W. W. Phelps, letter dated July 19–20, 1835, as printed in Improvement Era 45 (1942): 529.
 Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons; or, Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842 (London: Rivington, 1842), 22; and Quincy, Figures of the Past, 386.
 Charlotte Haven letter; and Jerusha W. Blanchard, “Reminiscences of the Granddaughter of Hyrum Smith,” Relief Society Magazine, September 1922, 9.
 Charlotte Haven letter. See also John Gee, “Eyewitness, Hearsay and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Andrew Hedges, Donald W. Parry, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 175–217.
 Friedhelm Hoffmann, “Die Länge des P. Spiegelberg,” in Acta Demotica (Pisa: Giardini Editori e Stampatori, 1994), 151.
 John Gee, “Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri,” FARMS Review 20, no. 1 (2008): 120–21.
 Gee, “Some Puzzles.” Moreover, Hugh Nibley recalls his father being told by Joseph Smith’s nephew, Joseph F. Smith, that when the Prophet worked on the scroll in the mansion house it was long enough to extend through two rooms. See Hugh Nibley, “Phase I,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 3, no. 2 (1968): 101.
 For all of this and more, see Brian Hauglid’s article in this volume and Brian M. Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions, Studies in the Book of Abraham, vol. 5 (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies, 2010).
 Some of the papers are in W. W. Phelps’s handwriting, but the majority are in that of Warren Parrish. Parrish later left the church and attacked Joseph vigorously, but his attacks were never based on any point having to do with the translation of the Book of Abraham nor the Egyptian alphabet and grammar. See John Gee, “A Tragedy of Errors,” in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 4 (1992): 112–13.
 Gee, “A Tragedy of Errors,” 113.
 It is worth noting that in previous articles (such as Kerry Muhlestein, “Joseph Smith Papyri and Translations”), I wrote that the hieratic characters on one sheet skipped around rather than following the order in which they appeared on the papyri. A careful study by Brian Hauglid and myself in which we used the highest quality photographs enlarged several times) has now convinced me that this is not the case.
 See Arnold K. Garr, “Joseph Smith: Candidate for President of the United States,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History, Illinois, ed. H. Dean Garrett (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1995), 153.
 Coenen, “The Dating of the Papyri,” in Egyptian Religion: The Last Thousand Years (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 1998), and John Gee, “History of a Theban Priesthood,” in Proceedings of “Et maintenant ce ne sont plus que des villages . . .” Thèbes et sa région aux époques hellénistique, romaine et Byzantine (Brussell, forthcoming); and Marc Coenen, “Horos, Prophet of Min Who Massacres His Enemies,” Chronique d ‘Égypte 74, no. 148 (1999): 257–59.
 Gee, “History of a Theban Priesthood,” 9–11; Kerry Muhlestein, “Violence in the Service of Order,” 86–93; Kerry Muhlestein, “Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt” in CLIO World History Encyclopedia (forthcoming); John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein, “Human Sacrifice in the Middle Kingdom,” forthcoming; and UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, “Execration,” http://
 John Gee, “Towards an Interpretation of Hypocephali,” «Le lotus qui sort du terre»: Mélanges offerts à Edith Varga, Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts Supplément-2001 (Budapest: Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 2001), 325–34.
 Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, Studies in the Book of Abraham 3, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 107–30.
 Kerry Muhlestein, “Approaching Understandings in the Book of Abraham,” in The FARMS Review 18, no. 2 (2006): 239.
 Text in Sylvie Cauville, Le temple de Dendara: les chapelles osiriennes vol. x (Cairo: French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, 1997), 232. I am indebted to John Gee and a group of several Egyptologists at BYU who have been going over these texts for providing and collaborating in this translation.
 Cauville, Le temple de Dendara.
 Cauville, Le temple de Dendara.
 “Dendera X 200” in Cauville, Le temple de Denara, 1:227; translation based on John Gee’s translation as in Gee, “Some Puzzles,” 132–33.
 The latest Egyptologist to not this is Lanny Bell in “The Ancient Egyptian ‘Books of Breathing,’ the Mormon ‘Book of Abraham,’ and the Development of Egyptology in America,” in Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko upon His Retirement from the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University June 2005, ed. Stephen E. Thompson and Peter Der Manuelian (Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 2008), 28.
 See John Gee, “Research and Perspectives: Abraham in Ancient Egyptian Texts,” Ensign, July 1992, 60–62; and John Gee, “References to Abraham Found in Two Egyptian Texts,” Insights: An Ancient Window (September 1991): 1, 3.
 Besides the references cited above, see also Kerry Muhlestein, “Empty Threats? How Egyptians’ Self-Ontology Should Affect the Way We Read Many Texts,” in The Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 34 (2007): 115–30; and “Death by Water: The Role of Water in Ancient Egypt’s Treatment of Enemies and Juridical Process,” in L’Acqua Nell’antico Egitto: Vita, Rigenerazione, Incantesimo, Medicamento, ed. Alessia Amenta, Michela Luiselli, and Maria Novella Sordi, (Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider, 2005), 173–79. As for public presentations, both national and international in nature, see Kerry Muhlestein, “Smashing, Stomping and Spitting: The Protection of Egypt Through the Execration Ritual,” lecture, Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities Annual Scholars Colloquium, Royal Ontario Museum and University of Toronto, November 2007; Kerry Muhlestein, “Smiting, Smashing, Sailing, and Sacrifice: The Evolution and Manifestations of Some Violent Rituals in Ancient Egypt,” lecture, American Research Center in Egypt, North Texas Chapter, July 2007; Kerry Muhlestein, “Sanctioned Killing in Ancient Egypt,” presentation, ARCE Conference, Toledo, April, 2007; Kerry Muhlestein, “The Persistent Question of Human Sacrifice in Ancient Egypt: Was It Real and Unperceived?,” presentation, ARCE Conference, New Jersey, April 2006; Kerry Muhlestein, “The Smiting Scene Referent Reconsidered,” presentation ARCE Conference, Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 2005; and Kerry Muhlestein, “Death by Water: the Use of Water in Ancient Egypt’s Treatment of Enemies and Juridical Process,” presentation, First International Conference for Young Egyptologists: Water in Ancient Egypt: Life, Regeneration, Incantation, and Medical Prescription, Chianciano Terme, Italy, October 2003.
 Michael Rhodes, “Hypocephalus 17 years later;” and John Gee, “A New Look at the ankh p’ by Formula,” in Proceedings of IXe Congrœs International des ?tudes D?motiques, forthcoming. Also, Gee, “Some Puzzles,” 136.
 For more on this, see John Gee, “A Method for Studying the Facsimiles,” in Farms Review 19, vol. 1 (2007): 347–53; and John Gee, “One Side of a Nonexistent Coversation,” in Farms Review 15, vol. 1 (2003): 81–85.
 Besides the many articles noted thus far in this paper, for a few other examples, see Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary, Studies in the Book of Abraham 2, ed. John Gee (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002); John Gee, “Non-Round Hypocephali,” Aegyptus et Pannonia III (Budapest, forthcoming), 41–58; John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks, “Historical Plausibility: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study,” in The Historicity of the Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University 2001), 63–98; Jared Ludlow, “Reinterpretation of the Judgment Scene in the Testament of Abraham” in Proceedings of the Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation and Reinterpretation Conference, ed. John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein; Peter C. Nadig, “‘We Beg You, Our King!’ Some Reflections on the Jews in Persian and Ptoelmaic Egypt,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, 83–94; and Brian M. Hauglid, “On the Early Life of Abraham: Biblical and Qur’anic Intertextuality and the Anticipation of Muhammad,” in Bible and Qur’an: Essays in Scriptural Intertextuality, ed. John C. Reeves (Leiden: Society of Biblical Literature & E. J. Brill, 2003), 87–105.