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Home Book of Abraham Special Section Richley Crapo's Background Information on Finding the Mnemonic Device in the Book of Abraham

Richley Crapo's Background Information on Finding the Mnemonic Device in the Book of Abraham

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Richley Crapo's Comment's on the Joseph Smith Papyri

edited by Kerry A. Shirts

(Kerry's comment: Richley Crapo was the co-author of the Mnemonic Device article I have on my website. Here he gives his ideas and comments as well as expresses his faith. The value of this, in my opinion is to see how two scholars (Crapo and Tvedtnes) can both study the same subject, while both are faithful Mormons, and not necessary believe alike, or accept the same two conclusions. There is plenty of room to think in the Church, and realizing our incomplete knowledge on the papyri and the Book of Abraham is the only honest approach. Doors are not being closed here, as I see it, so much as remaining open as other work comes forth.)

John Tvedtness and I did some work on the Book of Abraham papyrii shortly after they were uncovered. I went down to the vault in the BYU library where they were housed at the time and examined them. I worked on translating them, but D. J. Greene beat me to the punch when it came to publishing a translation. John and I noticed that the heiroglyphs on one of the papyrii (one called the Sensen papyrus) matched both the form and sequence of some heiroglyphs that can be found in Joseph Smith, Jr.'s, notebook called the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, which seems to be the workbook that Joseph Smith, Jr., used when he was trying to interpret the papyrii. In the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, these heiroglyphs are written in a column, and each one is followed by a verse or part of a verse from the Book of Abraham. We noticed what we believed to be a series of semantic parallels between each hieroglyph (using its standard Egyptological translation) and key words in each paragraph. If what we noticed was not the result of mere chance, then it would suggest that the Prophet indeed had obtained some understanding of the Egyptian words. So we did a comparison of the same words with another document and were unable to find a similar set of correspondences. This seemed to confirm the idea that the Book of Abraham has a special, meaningful relationship with the heiroglyphics that is not enjoyed by other texts. Since the Sensen papayrus does have a conventional Egyptian meaning, a translation of which is NOT the Book of Abraham, and since the Sensen text did not exist until the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history (long after the time of Abraham) John and I developed the hypothesis that the words of the Sensen text served as a mneumonic device, a kind of memory jogger for an oral tradition (the text of which is the Book of Abraham). We presented our work and this suggestion at a Book of Abraham conference back around 1967-70 along with Hugh Nibley who presented his own views on the papyrii. The paper was later published along with the other papers from that conference. Todd Anderson reprinted the article (I believe) in his book on the Book of Abraham (which is probably out of print by now), and it has been referenced in a couple of other places as well. So far, the mneumonic device idea has not caught on. So I guess the idea wasn't generally well received.

Oliver Cowdery also says that there were "two rolls of papyrus...I may add that two or three other small pieces of papyrus ..were found with others of the Mummies." The pieces found in NY would not, I assume, be enough to constitute "two rolls". At least one other source indicates*three* rolls being found with the mummies. Although, as you indicate, Joseph Smith's collection may well have contained more material than the dozen fragments that we now have, it is interesting to note that the current papyrii have been identified as being parts of three original Egyptian books:(1) A copy of The Book of Breathings (Shait en Sensen) made for burial with the priest Hor--apparant source of the Book of Abraham(2) A copy of The Book of the Dead that belonged to the lady Amon-Re Neferimub(3) A copy of the Book of the Dead made for burial with Ta-Shert-Min, a daughter of Nes-Khens--apparant source of "The Book of Joseph", which Joseph Smith described as "the writings of Joseph in Egypt" and which he indicated he would also translate, but which did not appear before the Prophet's death.

Facsimile one is definitely in the collection the church received from the Metropolitan Museum. It is equally clear that facsimile three is not in the collection, and I have seen nothing that looks like facsimile two. The Facsimile of a round figure divided into smaller boxes in the BoA is accurate enough, however, to translate about two-thirds of the writing that runs around the ring on the outside, and a fair amount of the internal material. It is what is known as a Hypocephalus and was designed to be placed under the head of the mummy so that the head rested on it.There are a couple of other wrinkles that could be added. Being rather old, it is not surprising that the papyrii are not in perfect condition. The Facsimile of Abraham on an altar, for instance, has several missing sections in the existing papyrus. Interestingly, if one looks only at the parts of the Facsimile that would occupy these missing sections, the material in the Facsimile is *not* good Egyptian material. It appears, then, that Facsimile one is no more damaged now than it was when Joseph Smith had possession of it. The missing parts were filled in by someone not knowledgeable with Egyptian writing or art conventions. Normally, the priest standing over the figure on the altar would be expected to be wearing an Anubis (jackel) mask and holding both hands above the reclining figure instead of holding a knife.The other wrinkle, which I did not mention earlier, concerns the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. In addition to the column of heiroglyphics from the Book of Breathings, it contains studies of the individual strokes that form complete heiroglyphic figures or words. Each stroke has been associated with a collection of semantically related English words or phrases. For instance a line such as "l" might be associated in the Grammar with English words such as "a priest, an upright man, man of righteousness" or a stroke like ~ might be associated with words like "water, a pool, a river" [these are hypothetical and simply for illustration of the idea, since I don't have the Grammar in front of me.] If one then turns to the section in which individual hieroglyphics (each composed of numerous strokes) that are associated with the Book of Abraham verses, the meanings associated with the strokes in each hieroglyphic *are* found in the corresponding verses. That is, there is a consistent set of meaningful relationships between what is said in a particular verse and the strokes that happen to be present in its associated hieroglyphic. This gives us some insight into what Joseph Smith seems to have been doing as he searched for meaning in the hieroglyphics. In a sense, the BoA *is* a "translation" of the hieroglyphics--not of their meanings but of their forms. Make of that what you will. Hypothese non fingo.

The Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, which has all the hallmarks of Joseph Smith's "workbook" for "translating" the PoPG, contains the very Egyptian heiroglyphs in the same sequence that are found on one of the papyrii in the collection. The papyrus in question is the Sen-Sen document, part of the "Book of Breathings". The heiroglyphs in the EG&D are written in a column and each is followed by a "translation" which is nothing more or less than versus from--you guessed it--the Book of Abraham! Thus, the original papyrus from which the BoA was "translated" appears to be one of the existing papyrii and is not "lost". I have examined the papyrii personally and can attest that the above is the case. I have also translated the heiroglyphics in question.

Who currently has the Sen-Sen document?

A: To the best of my knowledge it is still in the possession of the Church. It was one of the papyrii recovered from the University of Chicago

Q: In a nutshell what is the Book of Breathings about?

A: It is an Egyptian document from the post-Abrahamic period (in the twenty-sixth dynasty) that is part of a series of prayers and incantations addressed to Osiris and that are intended to insure the resurrection of the dead person with whom they are buried.

Q: If you care to say, what is your understanding about the status of the Book of Abraham?

A: Are you asking how I think this affects the Book of Abraham? I regard it as scripture. I believe that Joseph Smith was inspired to write it.

Personally, I feel unconcerned about whether the Book of Mormon or Book of Abraham are "actual histories" of "real people". Whether they are or aren't, I believe that their contents are inspired and from God. But in saying this, I also mean that I feel no need to dispute their historicity. I see nothing that compels me to adopt a position at odds with the current Prophet of the Church. Given the connection between the contents of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, it would be very tempting for a purely secular investigator to conclude that the Sen-Sen document is what Joseph Smith was claiming to "translate" but his "translation" is not one that an Egyptologist would agree with as the correct meaning of the heiroglyphs it contains. As a believing member, how can I reconcile that fact with my religious belief that the book was the product of inspiration? I see several possibilities.(1) Conclude that the Book of Abraham is really a false translation and Joseph Smith's inspiration was wrong. This conclusion, however, privileges science over religion as the arbiter of "final truth", and leads thereby to apostasy. I choose, therefore, not to accept this view. It does not reconcile my religious commitments to my scientific ones, but sacrifices religion to science. Poor choice. (2) Conclude that the Book of Abraham is, indeed, a true history but its connection to the Sen-Sen papyrus is not as straightforward as the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar implies at first sight. One possibility has been suggested in an obscure publication years ago by Mssrs. Tvedtnes and Crapo in which they suggested that the Sen-Sen papyrus was developed as a mneumonic device, a kind of memory aid for helping in the recitation of a longer oral tradition--the Book of Abraham. We suggested that although the Sen-Sen words in question did not have the same meanings as the Book of Abraham verses each was associated with in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, each word *is* semantically connected to an idea found in the verse Joseph Smith penned following it. For instance (although this is hypothetical and for illusrative purposes only, since I don't have the article in front of me to locate the real examples), the Egyptian hieroglyph meaning "man" might be followed by a BoA verse reading "And the man, Adam, ......". We found a consistent set of such connections. We also made a similar comparison between those same words and other texts which we juxtaposed with them in similar manner to how Joseph Smith had juxtaposed the BoA (say "Little Red Riding Hood", for example) and *failed* to find the same kind of consistent semantic connections. The mneumonic device hypothesis was our effort to explain why there was a semantic relatedness between the BoA and the Sen-Sen document words, but not between the Sen-Sen document and other texts. This, by the way, is a testable claim, although no one has seen fit to attempt the formal test. Alas, this interesting, but obscure view has been completely uninfluential and, to the best of my knowledge, has gathered no following.(3) Conclude, as some have done with respect to the Book of Mormon, that the work is "inspired" but not "historical". In this view, the Sen-Sen document was the catalyst that set the Prophet's mind of questing for knowledge, and the result was the inspiration which resulted in the Book of Abraham. Actually, a modification of this view can be (4) that although the Book of Abraham is not a "translation" in the sense of an accurate rendering of the Sen-Sen document, the inspired story which God revealed to the Prophet's open mind is indeed historically true, not just "inspired fiction".Beyond rejecting the first "explanation", which I do because my religious commitment precludes it, I am willing to wait and inquire of the Lord what the "real truth" was after I have died. Until then, I will listen with interest to the speculations of others and will continue to speculate myself.

The papyrii which the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar demonstrates to have been Joseph Smith, Jr.'s, source for the Book of Abraham, were long thought to have been destroyed in a fire that occurred in Chicago. In reality, they had somehow found their way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as you say. A professor of Arabic, one Aziz Atiya, discovered their location and arranged for them to be returned to the Church. I knew Dr. Atiya from my student days at the U. of U. He was not LDS, but was as friendly toward the Church as someone could be who was not a member. My recollection is that some of the people at the Metropolitan had actually known that they had the Joseph Smith papyrii for some time (someone there having recognized them) before that but had taken no steps to make it known, since that would likely involve the Church's wanting to acquire them. The transfer occurred in 1967. I don't recall if the Church actually bought them or if they were returned to the Church as a "gift".For a while, they were housed in a vault in the library at BYU, where I had the opportunity to examine them. At that time I was given photographic copies that had been made of them for further study. Hugh Nibley, of course, was also invited to study them, since his background in Egyptology was well known and his loyalty to the Church unquestioned. I began translating the documents. John Tvedtnes, a friend of mine from the university and a student of Arabic, called to my attention the hieroglyphs that were found in both the Sensen papyrus in the collection and the figures in the Egyptian Grammar and Dictionary, which conceivably could be the very book Robert Woolley's recent post referred to as the one in which Joseph Smith was described as making notes in about the papyrii as he sat on the floor with them spread around him (a study habit I frequently indulged in myself in my student days, despite the presence of a table, so the description of Joseph Smith on the floor with the papyrii rings quite true to me).The Sensen papyrus in question, one of a number of individual papyrii in the collection (most of which once connected together as a single, larger document) was written to be placed inside the funeral wrappings of a dead man named Hor, a priest of the god Amon, who was the son of Osorwer (also a priest) and lady Tikhebyt (whose name means "Dancer"). Hor died sometime between 50 B.C. and AD 50. The portion of the Sensen document that Joseph Smith juxtaposed with the verses from the Book of Abraham in the EG&D read as follows: "[At] the great pool of water off [the moon god] Khonsu, [Osiris Hor, justified], born of Ti-khebyt, [a man] likewise. After [his] two arms are fastened to his breast, one wraps the Book of Breathings, which is with writing both inside and outside of it, with royal linen, it being placed [at] his left arm near his heart, this having been done at his wrapping and outside it. If this book be recited for him, then he will breathe like the soul[s of the gods] forever and ever." The Book of the Breathings referred to is the Sensen document itself, which was placed on the breast of the mummy inside the wrappings to asure that it would be revivified in the next life.

Although Joseph Smith's collection may well have contained more material than the dozen fragments that we now have, it is interesting to note that the current papyrii have been identified as being parts of three original Egyptian books:(1) A copy of The Book of Breathings (Shait en Sensen) made for burial with the priest Hor--apparant source of the Book of Abraham(2) A copy of The Book of the Dead that belonged to the lady Amon-Re Neferimub(3) A copy of the Book of the Dead made for burial with Ta-Shert-Min, a daughter of Nes-Khens--apparant source of "The Book of Joseph", which Joseph Smith described as "the writings of Joseph in Egypt" and which he indicated he would also translate, but which did not appear before the Prophet's death.

The Book of Abraham Facsimile of a round figure divided into smaller boxes in the BoA is accurate enough, however, to translate about two-thirds of the writing that runs around the ring on the outside, and a fair amount of the internal material. It is what is known as a Hypocephalus and was designed to be placed under the head of the mummy so that the head rested on it.There are a couple of other wrinkles that could be added. Being rather old, it is not surprising that the papyrii are not in perfect condition. The Facsimile of Abraham on an altar, for instance, has several missing sections in the existing papyrus. Interestingly, if one looks only at the parts of the Facsimile that would occupy these missing sections, the material in the Facsimile is *not* good Egyptian material. It appears, then, that Facsimile one is no more damaged now than it was when Joseph Smith had possession of it. The missing parts were filled in by someone not knowledgeable with Egyptian writing or art conventions. Normally, the priest standing over the figure on the altar would be expected to be wearing an Anubis (jackel) mask and holding both hands above the reclining figure instead of holding a knife.The other wrinkle, which I did not mention earlier, concerns the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. In addition to the column of heiroglyphics from the Book of Breathings, it contains studies of the individual strokes that form complete heiroglyphic figures or words. Each stroke has been associated with a collection of semantically related English words or phrases. For instance a line such as "l" might be associated in the Grammar with English words such as "a priest, an upright man, man of righteousness" or a stroke like ~ might be associated with words like "water, a pool, a river" [these are hypothetical and simply for illustration of the idea, since I don't have the Grammar in front of me.] If one then turns to the section in which individual hieroglyphics (each composed of numerous strokes) that are associated with the Book of Abraham verses, the meanings associated with the strokes in each hieroglyphic *are* found in the corresponding verses. That is, there is a consistent set of meaningful relationships between what is said in a particular verse and the strokes that happen to be present in its associated hieroglyphic. This gives us some insight into what Joseph Smith seems to have been doing as he searched for meaning in the hieroglyphics. In a sense, the BoA *is* a "translation" of the hieroglyphics--not of their meanings but of their forms. Make of that what you will. Hypothese non fingo.

Apparantly Hugh Nibley has argued that the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar was produced after the translation of the Book of Abraham, probably by someone other than Joseph Smith, Jr. who tried to reconstruct what the Prophet did. FARMS has disagreed with Nibley on this. Personally, I don't see how anyone can interpret the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar as anything but the notebook used in translating the Book of Abraham. It has all the hallmarks of such a notebook, containing as it does both heiroglyphics (in sequence) from the Sensen papyrus and Book of Abraham verses (in sequence) attached (sequentially) to each of the heiroglyphs. It also contains "translations" of the meanings of the individual pen-strokes that make up the hieroglyphs themselves, showing how various marks (the component parts of the larger hieroglyphs) are to be interpreted. The meanings of the marks that form a heiroglyph attached to a particular Book of Abraham verse are found within that English-language verse. So if it's not a workbook that developed as the translation was being made, then the only other possibility is that it was written afterwords to record how the translation was made--which amounts to the same thing: either way it is a "translation key" to the Book of Abraham.I find it more plausible that it arose during the translation rather than afterwards, since it embodies the kind of "working out" of the meanings of the heiroglyphics that Joseph Smith, Jr., would have to have gone through as he translated them. I think it is unlikely that he would not have set his thinking down on paper as he did the complicated work of imputing meaning to so many different shapes and forms, but then did so afterwards. However, as I said, either way the notebook does describe precisely how the decipherment was done, and that's the important fact about it, not whether it was written before, during, or after.

Re: [day-1] Kinderhook Plates -ReplyThe standard rejoinder to that is that the papyri found were only part of the collection JS bought along with the mummies, but the part from which the translation was made was lost.This explanation, of course, has the significant advantage (to its proponents) of not being falsifiable.------The Egyptian Grammar and Dictionary, which has all the hallmarks of Joseph Smith's "workbook" for "translating" the PoPG, contains the very Egyptian heiroglyphs in the same sequence that are found on one of the papyrii in the collection. The papyrus in question is the Sen-Sen document, part of the "Book of Breathings". The heiroglyphs in the EG&D are written in a column and each is followed by a "translation" which is nothing more or less than versus from--you guessed it--the Book of Abraham! Thus, the original papyrus from which the BoA was "translated" appears to be one of the existing papyrii and is not "lost".I have examined the papyrii personally and can attest that the above is the case. I have also translated the heiroglyphics in question. Richley Crapo.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 May 2010 12:52  

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