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Home Book of Abraham Special Section Joseph Smith's Restorations in Facsimile 1

Joseph Smith's Restorations in Facsimile 1

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Joseph Smith's Restorations in Facsimile 1

by Woody Brison

The Prophet Joseph Smith identified a papyrus roll he acquired in 1835 as the Book of Abraham.  He translated it, and in 1842 began to publish it serially in the LDS newspaper Times and Seasons. Along with it he published three "facsimiles" from various papyri that he had.  We don't have all the papyri Joseph had, but all three facsimiles are authentic pictures from more or less typical ancient Egyptian documents; and at least one and probably all three of the pictures came from different papyri than the one from which he translated the text.

Below left is Facsimile No. 1 with part of the Explanations given by Joseph.  In those days, printing was done on a manual press, with type set by hand, and pictures were usually printed with a woodcut process, as this was.  A slab of wood was carved, removing the "white" areas; the remainder was inked and pressed against paper to print the picture.  All three woodcuts for the Book of Abraham were done by engraver Reuben Hedlock under Joseph Smith's direction.

Did Joseph Smith Restore Facsimile 1 Incorrectly?

When Joseph Smith died, his papyrus collection was scattered, but in 1966 one of the Facsimile sources was discovered in the files of the New York Metropolitan Museum -- the source papyrus for Facsimile 1.  Below right, shown scaled to the same size as the facsimile, is the relevant part.  It is mounted on heavy cardboard, done some time in the late 1830's or early 40's by the LDS for display. The papyrus has three or four missing pieces (a gap like this in a papyrus is called a lacuna), and the cardboard backing has pencil sketch lines, somewhat different from the published facsimile.

Joseph Smith's Restorations in Facsimile 1

by Woody Brison

The Prophet Joseph Smith identified a papyrus roll he acquired in 1835 as the Book of Abraham.  He translated it, and in 1842 began to publish it serially in the LDS newspaper Times and Seasons. Along with it he published three "facsimiles" from various papyri that he had.  We don't have all the papyri Joseph had, but all three facsimiles are authentic pictures from more or less typical ancient Egyptian documents; and at least one and probably all three of the pictures came from different papyri than the one from which he translated the text.

Below left is Facsimile No. 1 with part of the Explanations given by Joseph.  In those days, printing was done on a manual press, with type set by hand, and pictures were usually printed with a woodcut process, as this was.  A slab of wood was carved, removing the "white" areas; the remainder was inked and pressed against paper to print the picture.  All three woodcuts for the Book of Abraham were done by engraver Reuben Hedlock under Joseph Smith's direction.

Did Joseph Smith Restore Facsimile 1 Incorrectly?

When Joseph Smith died, his papyrus collection was scattered, but in 1966 one of the Facsimile sources was discovered in the files of the New York Metropolitan Museum -- the source papyrus for Facsimile 1.  Below right, shown scaled to the same size as the facsimile, is the relevant part.  It is mounted on heavy cardboard, done some time in the late 1830's or early 40's by the LDS for display. The papyrus has three or four missing pieces (a gap like this in a papyrus is called a lacuna), and the cardboard backing has pencil sketch lines, somewhat different from the published facsimile.

Joseph Smith's Restorations in Facsimile 1

by Woody Brison

The Prophet Joseph Smith identified a papyrus roll he acquired in 1835 as the Book of Abraham.  He translated it, and in 1842 began to publish it serially in the LDS newspaper Times and Seasons. Along with it he published three "facsimiles" from various papyri that he had.  We don't have all the papyri Joseph had, but all three facsimiles are authentic pictures from more or less typical ancient Egyptian documents; and at least one and probably all three of the pictures came from different papyri than the one from which he translated the text.

Below left is Facsimile No. 1 with part of the Explanations given by Joseph.  In those days, printing was done on a manual press, with type set by hand, and pictures were usually printed with a woodcut process, as this was.  A slab of wood was carved, removing the "white" areas; the remainder was inked and pressed against paper to print the picture.  All three woodcuts for the Book of Abraham were done by engraver Reuben Hedlock under Joseph Smith's direction.

Did Joseph Smith Restore Facsimile 1 Incorrectly?

When Joseph Smith died, his papyrus collection was scattered, but in 1966 one of the Facsimile sources was discovered in the files of the New York Metropolitan Museum -- the source papyrus for Facsimile 1.  Below right, shown scaled to the same size as the facsimile, is the relevant part.  It is mounted on heavy cardboard, done some time in the late 1830's or early 40's by the LDS for display. The papyrus has three or four missing pieces (a gap like this in a papyrus is called a lacuna), and the cardboard backing has pencil sketch lines, somewhat different from the published facsimile.

Joseph Smith's explanation Fig 1 The angel of the Lord 2 Abraham fastene upon an altar 3 The idolatrous priest Elkenah 4 The altar

Abramo.jpg (45881 bytes)abramo1.jpg (17265 bytes)

Facsimile 1 from the book of Abraham                         Section of the ancient papyrus original. Penciled restorations by unknown artist

Woodcut was by Reuben Hedlock.

 

The Sketched In Parts

Who made the penciled lines on the cardboard?  Was it Joseph Smith?  Was it Reuben Hedlock?  This papyrus was mounted on the cardboard for public display; why would they scribble on their own display?  Were the sketch lines made by someone else later?  The papyrus passed through various hands over the course of a hundred years before it wound up in the Met.  It seems likely they were made by someone else, but the fact is we don't know.  We do know that Facsimile 1, however, is Joseph's finished output which he "signed up to".

As a starting point then in seeking to understand his restorations, let's pass over the pencil marks and look at the finished product.  On the right below is the same image showing just the papyrus; cardboard backing has been blocked out.  On the left is the facsimile again for easy comparison.

Abramo.jpg (45881 bytes) original papyrus.bmp (294274 bytes)

Facsimile 1                                                                      Original Papyrus isolated

Comparing the Facsimile Against the Papyrus

One thing we can easily verify is that Hedlock carved a very faithful facsimile.   Detailed comparison shows he was able to reproduce it line for line.  Points where they differ, therefore, are probably deliberate changes.

Points Where They Differ

1.  Below right I have placed Joseph's published restorations in the lacunae.   I had to tilt and stretch them slightly to get them to line up with the unmodified original: the facsimile wasn't made precisely "to scale".  We could call this a difference, whether intentional or not.  We should keep in mind that I don't have the original Facsimile there on the left, as printed in 1842 in Times and Seasons; what I have is from the modern version.  It might have been subjected to warps because of the printing processes used.  The most likely method for Hedlock to have used should have been for him to trace the picture, but we don't really know.

Abramo.jpg (45881 bytes)facsimile one restored.bmp (307434 bytes)

facsimile 1                                                                    Papyrus with facsimile 1 restored

 

2.  In the papyrus, the priest is in front of the couch but behind the man on it, an impossible geometry, sort of like an M.C. Escher paradox.  In Joseph's restoration, the priest has been moved back behind the couch.

3.  Where the couch was behind the priest it has been constructed in front of him.

4.  In the papyrus it appears that the priest's left arm is extended over the reclining figure.  In the facsimile, the priest at first glance has been swivelled around to put the knife in his right hand, but this is arguable; close inspection of the hand shows it may be either a right or left hand (see below).  Some will see him as left and some as right.  One could just as easily argue that he's a hunchback with only one arm, on the front of his chest.  Perhaps Hedlock sort of constructed the priest from what was there without a lot of worry about it, or made him intentionally ambiguous.
left hand.bmp (20278 bytes) facsimile hand.bmp (56054 bytes) right hand.bmp (16574 bytes)

left hand                facsimile hand                                   right hand

 

The priest is shorter than Abraham yet his head is larger, which supports the "not a lot of worry about it" theory.

Left-handers were not unknown in the ancient middle East, see Judges 3:15; and they were often thought to be evil -- in that delightfully gross story, Ehud, although divinely appointed, was a duplicitous sneaky assassin -- and the very word sinister used to mean left.   Either a right- or left-handed priest here would be appropriate thematically; he could have been drawn lefthanded to symbolize the fact that he's the bad guy.

5.  Abraham has been given black sandals.  This is not a matter of Hedlock blotting out a slip of the chisel; the wood was left in place to achieve this.

6.  Abraham's head is shaped slightly different.  I think the papyrus looked better.

7.  The bird's head differs slightly.  I think the facsimile looks better.

8.  There appears to be some writing around the priest which was not reproduced in the facsimile.

9.  The lion's mane is slightly longer, although trimmed neater.

10.  The arrangement of the vertical bars at the bottom differ slightly.   Close comparison shows that there is a small restoration at the lacuna.

For reference, the rest of Joseph's explanations are here.

Discussion of Criticisms

It has been pointed out that there are many ancient examples of this scene, and in most of them, it is a dead body being embalmed, not a live Abraham struggling to escape.   This is slightly reinforced by the text that was with this picture on this papyrus, it talks a little about embalming.  This idea has been seized upon by critics of Joseph Smith, as proving that he didn't restore the picture right.  Note however, that in this papyrus, the recumbent figure is not dead -- he's waving his legs; and he's dressed, which would not be the case if he was about to have his internal organs removed as part of the embalming process.  Nor is he wrapped for burial, his legs and head are bare.  Those details in the picture that are possibly about embalming -- the priest with the knife, and the four canopic figures under the bed -- are completely absent in the text next to it, and those elements in the text about embalming -- soaking the body in natron and wrapping it -- are completely absent in the picture.

It has also been proposed that there was a second bird above the reclining figure, the fingers being interpreted as wingtip feathers.  This has also been cited by the critics as proving that the Prophet misinterpreted the picture, but several things militate against this theory.  First, this particular artist has given us an example of his method of drawing bird wings, about as close as it could get: make the outline, then draw the feathers inside it.  There is no outline around these fingers.

Papyrus detail.bmp (57574 bytes)

papyrus detail

 

There are, however, four fingers and then a shorter thumb on each hand, just like Mother Nature makes 'em; both thumbs are curved the right way for a thumb, and the orientation is correct for a hand in normal use -- hands turned so that the thumb is closest to the face.  I don't think it's obvious that the Prophet interpreted this detail incorrectly.

A third criticism is based on the fact that in these scenes, the priest usually wears a mask of Anubis, which Joseph Smith did not include.  Anubis was the deity supposed to start the dead on their journey.  (That does pretty much describe what this priest was trying to do...)  But in ancient Egypt, priests shaved their heads, so Joseph's restoration of the priest's head as shaved makes sense, although he doubtless never saw an Egyptian priest.  Sometimes in these papyri the priest was shown not wearing the mask.  Joseph Smith has Abraham shaved also, but that was on this papyrus.  Abraham's great-grandson Joseph was shaved also, Gen. 41:14.

A fourth criticism is the left-right arm question on the priest, discussed above.

In general, the critics claim that Joseph didn't restore this picture to its typical state in the Egyptian tradition.  In spite of the weaknesses in their examples, I feel that this may well be true anyway. The Egyptian traditions down through history were different from their origins.  When Joseph was working on this picture with Hedlock, he had already translated the text, and that text talks about what this picture was about originally.  Joseph was therefore working to his understanding of the original by Abraham.  Therefore it is not all that germaine if his restorations did not conform to various cultural traditions that came later in  Egyptian history.

It has been pointed out that this papyrus has been dated to the first century AD.   This is consistent with its being an nth-generation copy of the original by Abraham.  This same scene was drawn many, many times, with much variation; around 400 examples have survived to the present.  I don't think there's any guarantee that this papyrus even preserves Abraham's original layout; it may just illustrate the scene in general terms.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 May 2010 13:10  

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