There are 6 thoughts on “Fantasy and Reality in the Translation of the Book of Abraham”.

  1. Pedro, the name Shinehah was later added to a scrap of paper and pinned to the recorded revelation where that word would be added, as happened for several other portions of the Doctrine and Covenants that were printed in August 1835. None of the original revelations have the code names in them. As for when they were added, see Christopher C. Smith, “The Inspired Fictionalization of the 1835 United Firm Revelations,” Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies 1, no. 1 (April 2011): 15–31, online at https://www.academia.edu/2357317/The_Inspired_Fictionalization_of_the_1835_United_Firm_Revelations. Quoting from pp. 18-19:

    The changes to Sections 93 and 96, which appear in the handwriting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, could theoretically have been made as early as the spring of 1834, when these men were appointed to a committee to publish the 1835 D&C. This too is unlikely, however, because changes made by Cowdery to Section 86 and by Phelps and Smith to 75 and 98 cannot have been made until Phelps and Revelation Book 1 arrived in Kirtland on May 17, 1835. Probably all five revelations were altered within a few days or weeks of each other.

    Not until Phelps’s arrival did work on the D&C begin in earnest. The “Six first forms” (48 leaves or 96 pages) of the D&C were printed by May 26, and printing proceeded rapidly until its completion sometime around August 17. The revelations containing code names appear near the end of the printed book, so the changes could theoretically have been made as late as early August. A date in May or June seems more likely, however. Certainly Phelps and Smith seem to have been reading the “Sample of pure Language” on or before May 26, when Phelps copied an expanded “specimen of some of the pure language” into a letter to his wife. The “Sample” immediately preceded Section 75 in Revelation Book 1. The emendations to 75 are in Phelps’s handwriting and include the word “Ahman” from the “specimen”. Perhaps the idea to substitute fictitious names in these revelations was first conceived in order to address the concerns implied by John Whitmer’s scrawled note at the top of the Section 75 manuscript: “Not to be published now.”

    So it’s possible that the slip of paper pinned to Section 96 mentioning the codeword Shinehah was prepared after initial translation efforts for the Book of Abraham had begun and before printing commenced on Aug. 17. It would be in October 1, 1835, per Joseph’s journal, when “The system of astronomy was unfolded,” which is often taken to mean that either Facs. 2 or Abraham 3 had been translated by that date. If Abraham 3:13, identifying Shinehah as the sun, was not translated until Oct. 1, I suppose it’s still possible that Shinehah as an Egyptian term had been revealed to Joseph in his earlier work with the scrolls. But it’s also possible that Abraham 3 was translated before Aug. 17 and the “unfolding” of astronomy refers to translating Facs. 2, or perhaps just understanding the import of what had been translated in Abraham 3. Whatever the sequence of events, the real bottom line is that against all odds, Abraham 3:13 declares that an unusual word, Shinehah, is the sun, and in fact that’s an actual Egyptian word for the sun that applied during a narrow span of about 6 centuries comprising the likely time of Abraham’s life.

  2. Inasmuch as I am not a historian, nor a linguist, nor trained in any forensic work, this article by John Gee is fairly difficult for me to completely understand. I do understand the value of his efforts, though, as they reveal an almost cavalier approach to the historical renderings of Hauglid and Jensen for this JS paper’s project. I do not personally know Gee, Hauglid or Jensen, but could it be any wonder that there might be a certain amount of friction between them? I mean, assuming that Hauglid and Jensen fabricated this theory of timelines and what came first, “the alphabet or the translation…” no wonder they get their dander up when someone like John Gee tears their theory apart. After all, they were supposedly the subject’s experts, having first-hand access to all the primary as well as secondary evidence available. That Gee could tear their theory apart so easily speaks volumes for the reasons WHY they might have continued forward with their theory regardless of the evidence. I suspect there are far more conclusions why they went the way they did than what my poor lack of reasoning can produce, but I see at least these logical conclusions:

    1) They had an agenda and were willing to follow it regardless of the evidence.
    2) They had an agenda and wanted to desperately force that agenda into their final draft regardless of the lack of evidence.
    3) The didn’t have an agenda, but they allowed slip-shod and inferior research to conduct their outcomes.
    4) They didn’t have an agenda originally, but became so enamored with their “supposed” brilliant deductions that they ignored (or suppressed) the contrary and warning evidence and conclusions of other experts. (I mean, why did they refuse to consult with LDS apologists, and instead rely almost single-handedly on nay-sayers, detractors and non-LDS experts? (See the footnotes of their work for affirmation of this claim.))

    What other conclusions can one come up with when Gee has so remarkably demonstrated the obvious fallacy of their supposed theory? This is pretty damning evidence regardless of their explanations regarding the outcome.

    Finally, having witnessed Brian Hauglid’s contempt for any and all LDS apologists (including or perhaps especially including John Gee) and then having witnessed his determination to express his opinion that Joseph was not inspired to translate the Book of Abraham, it becomes readily apparent that ulterior motives and personal agendas were definitely and absolutely involved.

    I don’t care where valid research leads. I don’t even care if Joseph Smith were to have made up the Book of Abraham “whole cloth.” What I do care about is that the research be valid and impartial. The responsibility of those tasked with his story should NOT have been reduced to invalid assumptions and unprovable hypothesis as readily pointed out in this article. This is disturbing beyond explanation, for anyone can make unsubstantiated claims or bend history in order to prove their own point. Worse, if history is bendable, then assaults upon belief becomes as easy as “he-said, she-said,” without a semblance of fact, evidence or reliability to back-up imaginative fabrications. Perhaps this is why we rely on the Spirit as opposed to the teachings of men.

    Thank you, John Gee, for having taken the time, the energy and the effort to recognize, substantiate, validate and then publish this amazingly adroit rebuttal. It is most certainly, an “eye-opener.”

  3. 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?

  4. 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 https://www.fairmormon.org/ 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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