There are 3 thoughts on “Fantasy and Reality in the Translation of the Book of Abraham”.

  1. On page 134 it states “The other addition, inserted into the upper margin of the manuscript in Williams’s hand, but included in the text, is harder to explain.”

    While both Gee and the JSPRT 4 editors (per the online edition) consider this an insertion, I’m wondering why? According to the JSP online source notes “The first leaf is unlined; the second is ruled”. There isn’t a ruled margin on the first leaf. The writing on BOTH the first and second pages starts near the top edge at approximately the same spacing from the top. If the “insertion” was not included, the margin on the second page would leave an uncharacteristically large margin at the top of the page, much larger than the size of any other margin in that manuscript.

    Visually, this does not look like an insertion. Is there some other reason for that assessment?

  2. A nice, careful reconstruction of the relevant historical sequence of events in Kirtland. One could go even further:

    Last August 2020 at the annual FAIR Conference, Tim Barker noted that William W. Phelps was already theorizing on the “mysterious characters or hieroglyphics” of ancient Egyptian a year earlier in July 1834, and he had already started his cipher-key work before the arrival of the Egyptian papyri and mummies in Kirtland (see the May 27, 1835, letter of Phelps to his wife). Tim Barker, “Translating the Book of Abraham: The Answer Under Our Heads,” FairMormon Conference lecture, Aug 2020, transcript note 20, online at conference/2020-fairmormon-conference/the-answer-under-our-heads .

    Brilliant and precocious as he was, Phelps could certainly have created the GAEL on his own.

    • Indeed he could have. We have decisive examples which demonstrate that William W. Phelps considered himself to be a genuine linguistic authority, even to the extent of disagreeing with Joseph Smith himself.

      I draw the following examples from Samuel Morris Brown’s “The Translator and the Ghostwriter: Joseph Smith and W.W. Phelps”.

      “In the 1860s Phelps would offer translations for a variety of the code names used in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. These late translations are inconsistent, as indicated by his varying definitions of “Shalemanasseh” and his failure to recognize “Shinehah” and “Olehah” from Smith’s scriptures. Still they are imaginative, particularly “a tried broken Pillar” and “everlasting helpmet.” – page 57

      “Phelps again tried his hand at deciphering “hieroglyphics or characters and Hebrew coin letters,” when an inscribed copper coin was found “on the Colorado river” in 1860. He informed the questioners that the coin was “a Nephite Senine or farthing” issued by a King Hagagadonihah in A.D. 95, and indicated that Hebrew-Egyptian hieroglyphics employed Arabic numerals, just as he had implicitly claimed in one of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers documents. The same year he made a similar claim about a relic from Ohio, providing an idiosyncratic translation of purported Hebrew.” – pages 57-58

      (Hoosier’s note: I find this anecdote particularly interesting because there’s nothing in the Book of Mormon which suggests that the Nephites had kings in 95 A.D or at any point after Christ’s visitation, though the institution of the monarchy could simply have been considered an unnecessary detail by Mormon. The monarchy had been gone for 200 years and they were in the middle of the post-visitation Zion era. Not sure where Phelps was going with this.)

      “Notably, though, [Phelps’] use of Enish-go-on-dosh (without Oliblish or Kae-e-vanrash) violates its prominent use in both the Grammar and Alphabet and the published description of Facsimile 2 in the Times and Seasons as one of a triumvirate of “governing creation” and this discordance with the published version may suggest Phelps’s relative lack of involvement with the facsimile legend.” – page 60

      I disagree with Phelp’s “relative lack of involvement” since he intentionally sought out the KEP in preparation for this same work. What emerges from the evidence is a picture of W.W. Phelps as an independent linguistic innovator who did not take pains to synchronize his work with the works produced by Joseph Smith. Not only could Phelps have spearheaded the GAEL on his own initiative, we have evidence that such an action would be quite in keeping with his tendencies and his somewhat cavalier attitude towards revelatory translation. It’s not for nothing that Brown has mentioned referring to him as “Wild Bill” Phelps.

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