Part 16: CES Letter Book of Abraham Questions [Section G]


by Sarah Allen


Facsimile 3, like Facsimile 1, is difficult to classify because it doesn’t have the standard features that it should if it was a “common” scene “discovered elsewhere in Egypt.” Once again, also just like Facsimile 1, there are accusations of the facsimile being “altered” and “wrong”. As Quentin Barney explains:

The assumption that parts of Facsimile No. 3 had been “changed” or “badly drawn” was held by the majority of individuals quoted in [Franklin] Spalding’s work. Archibald Henry Sayce, for example, argued that “the hieroglyphics, again, have been transformed into unintelligible lines,” and “hardly one of them is copied correctly.” William Flinders Petrie appeared to have trouble with both the text and the figures, stating that the figures were “badly drawn” and the text was “too badly copied.” Another claimed that “Cuts 1 and 3 are inaccurate copies of well-known scenes on funeral papyri.”

I haven’t mentioned Franklin Spalding yet, but his work will come up in a later post, so I wanted to take a quick moment to elaborate on that. Franklin Spalding was an Episcopalian Bishop who wrote to a bunch of Egyptologists about the Book of Abraham and then, in 1912, published the findings of those who responded that were critical of Joseph in a book titled Joseph Smith, Jr., as Translator: An Inquiry Conducted. B.H. Roberts, Joseph F. Smith, Hugh Nibley, and others rebutted this work, most notably in the February 1913 edition of The Improvement Era and in Nibley’s Abraham in Egypt. Jeremy Runnells quotes from several of these Egyptologists later, though, so we’ll discuss it all more than.

So, was the facsimile altered by Joseph or anyone else? We don’t know. We don’t have the original and there are no mentions of it being damaged or altered, but that’s yet another unanswerable question about the Book of Abraham. Anyway, these criticisms that the scene has been changed contribute to the fact that Facsimile 3 doesn’t fall neatly into categorization. Sometimes referred to as “the most neglected of the facsimiles,” much of what has been said about it has been incorrect.

John Gee stated:

Unfortunately, most of what has been said about this facsimile is seriously wanting at best and highly erroneous at worst. This lamentable state of affairs exists because the basic Egyptological work on Facsimile 3 has not been done, and much of the evidence lies neglected and unpublished in museums. Furthermore, what an ancient Egyptian understood by the vignette and what a modern Egyptologists understands by the same vignette are by no means the same thing. Until we understand what the Egyptians understood by this scene, we have no hope of telling whether what Joseph Smith said about them matches what the Egyptians thought about them. … Facsimile 3 came from the middle of a long roll belonging to a man by the name of Hor…. The first part of the long roll contained the man’s name and titles, followed by Facsimile 1, followed by the so-called First Book of Breathings, four of the six columns of which have been preserved. Facsimile 3 came next, followed by another text, the only portions of which have been preserved are the maddeningly elliptical opening words, “Beginning of the Book of ….”

Note: I included that last bit because it’s important to know that. On the “long roll,” it held both Facsimile 1 and Facsimile 3, and after Facsimile 3, there was another text. Unfortunately, the only Egyptologist who ever studied the full scroll, Gustavus Seyffarth, only copied down half of the title of the next book, “Beginning of the Book of …,” and then stopped. He never told anyone what that book actually was, and then the scroll was destroyed a few years later so no one else could continue translating it. We have no idea what other book was on that scroll, but it could have been the Book of Abraham. At least, we certainly can’t rule out that possibility.

Gee continues:

Egypt of the Greco-Roman period (332 B.C.—A.D. 642) is in some ways substantially different from the earlier periods of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms that most Egyptologists specialize in. For one thing, the language in use in the Greco-Roman period is Demotic, a very different language from the classical Egyptian that most Egyptologists know. Furthermore, most of the Egyptologists who have commented on the Joseph Smith Papyri have not had training in the Greco-Roman period to which the manuscripts date. In fact, one Demotic scholar [Dr. Robert Ritner] bids us, “Note how few Demoticists there are in [the] world, how few contemporary Egyptologists extend their interests past Tutankhamen and the New Kingdom ‘flowering.’ In the past, Demoticists have been considered almost ‘suspect’ to ‘mainstream’ Egyptologists.” If most Egyptologists think that those who study material from this time period are suspect, they obviously think even less of the material under study. Since everyone insists that the facsimiles come from the Greco-Roman period, the principal evidence to explain the facsimiles should also come from the Greco-Roman period, even if most Egyptologists lack the necessary training in that time period. Since Egyptology comprises four thousand years of history of all facets of a complex civilization, no Egyptologist can be a specialist in all facets of this civilization. The opinion of an Egyptologist who has no interest or ability in the time period of the Joseph Smith Papyri is therefore unlikely to be informed.

Most Egyptologists can’t read Demotic very well and have no training whatsoever in the time period in which the facsimiles were produced. And, as meanings of the figures used changed over time, what those figures represented in the past aren’t always applicable to what they meant during the correct time period. As Gee stated, most of the similar scenes from the right time period are gathering dust, unstudied in museum collections, because most Egyptologists aren’t familiar enough with the subject material to be able to study them.

It’s a little bizarre to me that most of the critics of the Book of Abraham don’t specialize in the time period from which the papyri came, don’t know what the figures would have meant during that time period, and can’t read the Demotic script on Facsimile 3 very well, yet have no problem attacking Joseph as a fraud for giving a different explanation than they would.

Originally, Facsimile 3 was deemed a “judgment scene,” wherein the deceased was being brought forth to Osiris and judged for his works. In the same paper linked above, Gee explains why that can’t be correct. And for those who’d rather watch the video than read the article, the presentation can be found here. This is helpful during the description of what judgment scenes are meant to contain, as he goes through a typical one and highlights all of the individual sections. I’ll quote from some of it here:

A general assumption, both inside and outside the church, is that “Facsimile 3 presents a constantly recurring scene in Egyptian literature, best known from the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead. It represents the judgment of the dead before the throne of Osiris.” … The judgment scene does occur in the Eighteenth Dynasty (1552-1401 B.C.), but when it originally appeared it was associated with Book of the Dead 30B, not Book of the Dead 125. … Taken as a whole, only a minority of Eighteenth Dynasty vignettes associate the judgment scene with Book of the Dead 125, and almost as many associate the judgment scene with Book of the Dead 30B. The switch in vignettes has caused many Egyptologists to identify examples of Book of the Dead 30B as Book of the Dead 125 because they apparently looked only at the vignette and did not read the text. … After the 26th Dynasty, the judgment of the dead vignette is consistently attached to Book of the Dead 125 in copies of the Book of the Dead. From this, we can conclude that vignettes can be used for texts other than those with which they were originally associated. Thus, the argument usually advanced by critics of the Book of Abraham, that because a vignette from a text is similar to a vignette from a funerary text it must therefore retain its full funerary meaning, is an invalid argument. This is quite telling, as both Facsimile 1 and Facsimile 3 are assumed to belong to the Book of Breathings Made by Isis because they accompanied the text in the Joseph Smith Papyri. … Instead of a scene like Facsimile 3, most Books of Breathings Made by Isis show a man with his hands raised in adoration of a cow. This indicates that the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham do not belong to the Book of Breathings.

And, as pointed out in an earlier section, Kerry Muhlestein stated that there are no other examples of a scene similar to Facsimile 1 ever being attached to a copy of a Book of Breathings. So, while the scenes are near the text of the Book of Breathings on the long roll, they are the wrong types of scenes that are associated with the Book of Breathings and assuming they’re related without any other evidence suggesting that is fallacious.

In the conclusion to a study titled “The Neglected Facsimile,” Quinten Barney suggests, “It may be, for example, that the vignettes included in the Hor Book of Breathings are intentionally unique because they were originally meant to serve as illustrations for multiple texts on the scroll.” In the corresponding footnote, he continues, “For example, the vignettes may have been meant by the original creator to serve as illustrations for both the Book of Breathings as well as the Book of Abraham, if it were in fact on the same scroll of papyrus as the Hor Book of Breathings. Multiple texts on a scroll is well attested, and at least ten of the thirty-three known copies of the Book of Breathings Made by Isis contained other texts besides the Book of Breathings. Determining the likelihood of a vignette serving as an illustration for more than one text on the scroll would require us to look for other examples of such phenomena.”

John Gee continues:

The problems with the theory that Facsimile 3 is the vignette from Book of the Dead 125 can be most readily shown by a single quotation from the latest known copy of the Book of the Dead, written in Demotic in A.D. 63. …[I]t has a written description of the vignettes demonstrating clearly what elements the Egyptians thought were essential in the judgment scene:

The forty-two gods [in front of] the deceased above the hall of the truths; a figure of Hathor, [lady] of the underworld carrying a was-scepter, protecting the man, while the two arms of the scale are straight and Thoth is on its left, to the right of its […] while Horus speaks, and Anubis grasps it on the side on which are the two truths (Maats) while he is opposite on the other side of the scale. Thoth reads the writings since a scroll is in his hand […Ammut] in whose hand is a knife and before whom are a sword and a sceptor, Anubis holding his hand. A lotus with two supports on which are the four sons of Horus. A chapel in which Osiris sits on his throne there being an offering table with a lotus before him. Isis is behind him praising, and Nephthys is behind him praising. …

If we compare this description with Facsimile 3, we find that the description does not match at all: Facsimile 3 lacks the forty-two gods. It is missing Hathor holding the was-scepter. There is no balance-scale. Thoth is missing from the left side of the nonexistent scale. Horus is missing. The figure generally identified with Anubis is not grasping the side of the scale, but the waist of the man. Since Thoth is not depicted, he cannot be shown reading anything. Ammut is absent, along with the knife, sword, and scepter. The lotus is missing the four sons of Horus atop it. Though Osiris is shown sitting, he is not depicted seated within any chapel. Almost all of the elements which the Egyptians thought were important for the scene are conspicuous by their absence from Facsimile 3. Significantly, these elements are present in a vignette accompanying Book of the Dead, chapter 125, found among the Joseph Smith Papyri, as well as other copies of vignettes of Book of the Dead, chapter 125. These elements are present in all the judgment scenes that the critics would compare with the Facsimile 3. The elements of the judgment scene as listed in the Demotic Book of the Dead are consistent with those of earlier judgment scenes. Their absence from Facsimile 3 indicates that Facsimile 3 is not a judgment scene and is not directly associated with Book of the Dead 125.

Far from being, as [Charles M. Larson] claimed, “the single most common form of Egyptian funerary scene known” (which is not even true of Book of the Dead 125), the real parallels to Facsimile 3 have not yet been publicly identified.

Facsimile 3 clearly can’t be a judgment scene because it lacks all of the things necessary to actually be a judgment scene. So, if not a judgment scene, what is it?

Pearl of Great Price Central tackled this question in one of their articles:

Recently, Quinten Barney performed a study of Facsimile 3 which compared it with similar throne scenes depicting the god Osiris from extant copies of the ancient Egyptian Book of Breathings. Barney categorized four types of throne scenes (Invocation, Weighing of the Heart, Presentation, and hybrid) from the Book of Breathings and compared them with Facsimile 3. After careful comparison, Barney concluded that while “Facsimile No. 3 does have much in common with those various throne scenes found in these texts, including those scenes from the Book of Breathings … several challenges present themselves as we begin to try classifying the Facsimile into one of the four categories of throne scenes presented above.”

In fact, when compared with other throne scenes from the Book of Breathings, Facsimile 3 contains a number of anomalous artistic elements that are not standard in other illustrations, and its original placement on the papyrus scroll obtained by Joseph Smith is likewise not standard for this type of text. So while “the type of scene with which Facsimile No. 3 compares best is that of the Presentation scene, which features the deceased being introduced into the presence of Osiris by one or more other Egyptian deities … there are several challenges with placing Facsimile 3 into this category.”

It’s most likely a presentation scene as far as we can tell today, but even that is difficult to say for certain because, as stated previously, Facsimile 3 has some unique features to it that other scenes don’t. It doesn’t fall neatly into any category, though the presentation scene category has the most similarities thus far.

As John Gee stated, “Facsimile 3 is often called a presentation scene. Parallel scenes on Egyptian temples are explicitly labeled as initiations. Known initiation rituals from Greco-Roman Egypt include instruction in astronomy as part of the initiation. Parallel scenes on grave stele usually included a formula about living in the presence of Osiris that in later times replaces the Egyptian god Osiris with Abraham. Thus, Facsimile 3 also has an ancient Egyptian connection between both teaching astronomy and Abraham. Abraham’s teaching of astronomy to the Egyptians is known from ancient accounts. These accounts may preserve ancient memories of the Book of Abraham.”

I wanted to take a moment to highlight something else Barney said in his study:

… [M]any scholars and Egyptologists have identified roughly the same figures in Facsimile 3, including (from left to right), Isis, Osiris, Maat, Hor, and Anubis. Though scholars as far back as Théodule Devéria have offered such explanations for these figures, it is worth noting that most of the explanations that have been given have been based primarily on the iconography of the scene, rather than an actual translation of the text.

Even Robert Ritner agrees that “additional readings are possible” due to continuing “Egyptological advancements.”

As stated, most Egyptologists are not very familiar with Demotic script and struggle with interpreting it. They mostly looked at the figures themselves and identified them according to what those figures meant in other scenes. Hugh Nibley points out the problem with this:

… [A] recent study of [Osiris] admonishes us that “one must never forget” that “there is such a variety of representations of Osiris with the crook, flail, and w3s-scepter … that no certain identification is possible” unless the picture is accompanied by a written text. It is only by the aid of specific written labels, another commentator asserts, that they can tell which god is which, what the context of the drama is, and just what activity is being indicated.”

And again, that’s assuming that Joseph was intending to give us the Egyptological explanation, and not a Jewish explanation or even a modern explanation where he was likening images to what he was translating because he saw similar themes. Anyway, now that we have a basic understanding of what Facsimile 3 is and is not, and the limitations we’re under for giving any definitive statements at this time, let’s move on to Joseph’s interpretations of the figures vs those of Egyptologists. Again, Joseph’s explanations come first, followed by the Egyptological explanation, followed by what I’ve found regarding them.

Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood, as emblematical of the grand Presidency in Heaven; with the scepter of justice and judgment in his hand vs This is Osiris. Writing above figure: “Recitation by Osiris, Foremost of the Westerners.” The “atef” crown also identifies him as Osiris.

Because I was trimming this entry for three hours and it still wouldn’t fit in a single post, and it was making me say words I’ll need to repent for tonight, I put the explanation for Figure 1 on a separate document.

King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his head vs This figure is female, not male. Writing above figure: “Isis the great, the god’s mother”.

My response to this one can be found here.

Signifies Abraham in Egypt as given also in Figure 10 of Facsimile No. 1 vs This is a libation table (wine, oils, etc.).

Again, Nibley shared his thoughts on this one:

The numerous studies of the Egyptian lotus design are remarkably devoid of conflict, since this is one case in which nobody insists on a single definitive interpretation. The points emphasized are (1) The abstract nature of the symbol, containing meanings that are far from obvious at first glance (2) the lotus as denoting high society, especially royal receptions, at which the presentation of a lotus to the host was obligatory and [signified] that the bearer had been invited; to be remiss in lotus courtesy was an unpardonable blunder, for anyone who refuses the lotus is under a curse, (3) the lotus as the symbol of Lower Egypt, the Delta with all its patriotic and sentimental attachments ; (4) the lotus as Nefertem, the defender of the border; (5) the lotus as the king or rule, defender, and nourisher of the land; (6) the lotus as the support of the throne at the coronation. It is a token of welcome and invitation to the royal court and the land, proffered by the king himself as guardian of the border.

So, the king offers a lotus to special guests as a gesture of welcome and invitation to his royal court and to Egypt itself. At the same link above, FAIR explains that, “Foreigners in Egypt, like Abraham was, are often represented by a Lotus Flower, the figure depicted here.” That would make sense, as it would be signifying that Abraham, who is a visitor/guest in Egypt, was welcomed to the court by the king as a favored guest.

Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, as written above the hand vs This figure is female, not male. Writing above figure: “Maat, mistress of the gods”.

Regarding this figure, Nibley suggested:

Since Hathor installs the king “as guarantor of the world order,” it is not surprising that she is also identified with Maat (our figure 4 in Facsimile 3) at the coronation, hailed as “Hathor the Great, the Lady of Heaven, the Queen of the Gods and Goddesses, Maat herself, the female son [sic].” … To signify his own wholeness of heart, the king presents the Maat-image to Hathor. Maat (the female son) is the younger of the two—indeed, who is not younger than the primordial mother? While “Isis the divine mother” says at the coronation, “I place my son on the throne,” the younger goddess standing by as Nephthys “the Divine Sister” says, “I protect thy body my brother Osiris.” Here the two ladies as Isis the venerable and Nephthys the maiden appear as mother and daughter, standing in the same relationship to each other as “Pharaoh” and “Prince of Pharaoh,” whom they embody in Facsimile 3 (figures 2 and 4 respectively).

Jeff Lindsay adds, “Maat’s role in coronation to renew the authority of the kingdom naturally points to the man who will serve as successor to Pharaoh, the prince. It is also interesting that the name of Maat was often used in special coronation names given to new kings at their coronation. … If Maat is the daughter of the great god and is a parallel to the Christian Logos and the son of God, then could this child could be considered a princess and thus again a symbol of a prince? … Thoth, the escort of Maat, may be a symbol of a successor to the throne, again pointing to the role of a prince at a symbolic level. … Maat, Thoth, son/daughter of the great god, and successor: if Isis can be a symbol for Pharaoh, could these associations allow an Semitic editor to also use Maat as a symbol for a prince?”

Shulem, one of the king’s principal waiters, as represented by the characters above his hand vs This is a deceased individual wearing the traditional cone of perfumed grease and lotus flower on his head. Writing above figure: “The Osiris Hor, justified forever”

As Pearl of Great Price Central explains, quoting a paper by John Gee, there are some interesting things we can guess about Shulem:

As John Gee has documented, this name [Shulem] is “widely attested in Semitic languages” from the time of Abraham. This includes attestations in Old Akkadian, Old Assyrian, Old Babylonian, Middle Babylonian, Eblaite, and Ugaritic. Additionally, Shulem’s title “the king’s principal waiter” is arguably attested in ancient Egypt. In particular, the title “butler of the ruler” (wdpw n ḥqꜣ) is a fairly close match to “the king’s principal waiter” and is attested during the time of Abraham.

It goes on to say that many Asiatic foreigners were moving into the area during the Fourteenth Dynasty, and were assigned all kinds of working and performing roles in Egyptian society, and many had Semitic names…including the rulers of the Dynasty. PGPC continues,

“So from Shulem’s name and title and we can surmise the following: From the form of his name, [it would appear] that Shulem lived during the late Middle Kingdom or the Second Intermediate Period [circa 1800–1600 BC]. Shulem was [likely] not a native Egyptian. He was probably a first generation immigrant. He [likely] served in the court of a Fourteenth Dynasty ruler, who was probably not a native Egyptian either.”

 There’s also no reason why this figure couldn’t have more than one meaning. Egyptians were famous for their figures representing different things to different people, after all.

Olimlah, a slave belonging to the prince vs Not a slave. This is Anubis, guide of the dead, who is there to support the deceased. Writing above figure: “Recitation by Anubis, who makes protection(?), foremost of the embalming booth…”.

The identification of this as Anubis is not definitive. Like with Figure 2, the hieroglyphs don’t match as closely as they should for it to be Anubis. In his study, Barney compares and contrasts the work of Robert Ritner and Michael Rhodes, both trained Egyptologists who have studied Demotic. The hieroglyphics wouldn’t copy and paste properly no matter how hard I tried, so I created a few screen caps. The first is here, and the second is here. To recap what they say, at least one of the glyphs is missing part of it, so it can’t be determined that it’s translated correctly; there are two other “determinatives” which are included in the word translated as “Anubis” that do not exist in any other spelling of the name of Anubis in any Book of Breathings; and one of the glyphs has two arms sticking out of it that cannot be located in any other jackal glyph anywhere. Therefore, this name may not be “Anubis” at all.

There are also allegations that this figure’s jackal head was replaced with a human head, just like Facsimile 1. But there’s nothing to compare it to, so we have no idea if its head was replaced or not. As it stands, it’s impossible to know if this is a black human figure or a drawing of Anubis. Because the name is not written as it should be, and it’s missing some things that should be in it and has other things added to it that should not be there, and the figure isn’t acting the way Anubis acts in any such similar scene, it’s also unclear whether that label above the figure is Anubis or something else. These discrepancies may be engraving mistakes, or they may have been present on the original illustration. There’s no way to tell at this point.

Joseph wraps up his entire explanation by stating, “Abraham is reasoning upon the principles of Astronomy, in the king’s court.” According to multiple ancient sources that were not available during Joseph’s day, which we will get into in that future installment talking about proofs, Abraham did teach astronomy in the Pharaoh’s court. In 1842, this was a controversial statement. In 2021, it is well-accepted by those who are familiar with ancient extrabiblical stories of Abraham. FAIR lists a few here.

I wanted to close out by sharing something Kerry Muhlestein said:

As I translate these hieroglyphs, they do not match Joseph’s interpretations. … I am not disturbed by Joseph labeling Figure 2 as a male when the picture and text identify a female. This happened more often in Egyptian papyri than one would think. Strikingly, the ancient owner of Facsimile 3 was pictured as both a male and female in his own Book of the Dead. Yet this does not fully satisfy my questions about how I understand the labels Egyptologically as opposed to how Joseph Smith understood them.

While I am not satisfied with the answer thus far, I am not concerned. During more than a decade of research on this subject, I have often found that I have misunderstood the Book of Abraham and made incorrect assumptions about it. Even more frequently I have found mistakes and inaccuracies in my own professional discipline, Egyptology. We are a fairly young discipline, and just as research on the Book of Abraham is a work in progress, so is Egyptology as a whole. Our history as a discipline is full of gaffes, mistakes, stumbles, and wonderful discoveries and corrections. Many of these corrections have been immensely helpful in my efforts to understand the Book of Abraham.

Thus, while there are questions which have not been fully answered, I know that the search for answers is part of scholarly progress. As an Egyptologist I have far more unanswered questions regarding Egyptian history than I have regarding the Book of Abraham. I was once dissatisfied with the question of human sacrifice as depicted in Facsimile 1, and no answer appeared to be forthcoming. But we have learned more, and now I am satisfied. I once was dissatisfied with explanations of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, but as we have done further research I have become satisfied (though I still have questions as to what they really represent). Claims of textual anachronisms once gave me pause, but research has answered each of these questions. How grateful I am that I did not abandon my faith over these questions, for they have now been answered so well. As we wrestle with these issues, undoubtedly both critics and defenders will make missteps along the way.

Most likely there will be questions for which we will not find answers in my lifetime. Perhaps we will in the next. We have eventually found answers to past questions, so I research furiously but wait patiently for answers to current ones.

I feel as he does, that more answers are coming all the time so we need to be patient and to study what’s out there. In time, everything will fit together and it’ll all make sense exactly as it’s supposed to. Having questions is normal. We all have them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Letting those questions lead you to doubts, though, is something we should all be avoiding. Developing patience while we wait for the answers is critical.



Sources in this entry:


Sarah Allen is brand new in her affiliation with FAIR. By profession, she works in mortgage compliance and is a freelance copyeditor. A voracious reader, she loves studying the Gospel and the history of the restored Church. After watching some of her lose their testimonies, she became interested in helping others through their faith crises and began sharing what she learned through her studies. She’s grateful to those at FAIR who have given her the opportunity to share her testimony with a wider audience.

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