In 1842, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) acquired writings in Egyptian hieroglyphics.These writings were genuine hieroglyphs and were the bases for his translation, the Book of Abraham (see sample in Wikipedia). But, after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, linguists ascertained that Joseph Smith's translation of the hieroglyphs was not only inaccurate, but better described as fraudulent. His hieroglyphs contained no theological information and nothing about the biblical Patriarch Abraham. Thus,the main question arises,if Joseph Smith fraudulently translated his Book of Abraham, then what is the probability that he also committed fraud in his Book of Mormon, the very centerpiece of LDS?

  • 2
    That's a long question. Who are the "distinguished experts"? A reference is likely available about some expert opinions, but the question still seems worded in an adversarial manner. The term "fraudulently" could be better said as "incorrectly" if it is under question as fraud is more of a legal concept.
    – zanlok
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 16:21
  • 5
    I think there are elements here that could make for a good question on this website, but currently it is written without neutral language and also covers a few different topics. For instance, I think a question along the lines of "With the rediscovery of the Joseph Smith papyri in the 1960s, the text of the papyri has been shown to be unrelated to the text of the Book of Abraham as translated by Joseph Smith. How do members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints interpret the papyri and the Book of Abraham in light of this fact?" would make for a good question.
    – lish
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 16:55
  • 3
    "As later research proved" — what later research? "scholars ascertained" — which scholars, and where? "They proved" — who proved and how did they prove? This question is based on weasel words and vague accusations. Before anyone can respond to "if Joseph Smith …?", there needs to be a solid foundation to support that "if". I'm not saying that the claims are false, only that the question provides no support for the claims whatsoever. Without that support, it's unlikely to get many serious answers. The downvote (not mine) isn't because it's a bad question, but because it's badly asked. Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 0:23
  • this answer seems to answer part of it, I believe if you get an answer it will be along the same lines (4th paragraph)
    – depperm
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 0:47
  • 1
    Correct me if I am wrong, but most of the papyri were destroyed in a fire. What is left is not necessarily what was translated. It's in bad faith to claim that, definitely, there was no such document as claimed and only the "shopping lists".
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 7:12

2 Answers 2


Shamelessly copying from this answer:

Modern analysis of fragments of papyri believed to be those which Smith had in possession shows that they portray a standard Egyptian burial, as such scholars generally reject Smith's translation. It is also worth noting that many LDS scholars also agree that the papyri do not contain a translation as produced by Smith. They have, however, produced excellent apologist work in defense of the Book of Abraham and have posed multiple theories as to how it could have been produced. One such is the fact that the majority of the papyri were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, and therefore it is contended that perhaps the translation is based on papyri which have been lost. Some of the apologetics are based on an analysis of the content of the work and not of its origin. Much of this work can be found at BYU's Maxwell Institute online.

Due to the parts of the papyri being lost, it is impossible to say with certainty that the papyri Joseph had didn't actually contain the Book of Abraham. The only thing we can say is that, if it existed, it seems like that part didn't survive the fire.

The church has in recent years released a video regarding the Book of Abraham. It mentions two different theories regarding the origin:

  • it was translated (by revelation) from parts of the papyri that are now lost
  • it wasn't translated as we commonly use the word, but rather received by revelation, with the papyri only acting as catalyst. Joseph may have thought what he was receiving was a translation, while it really was unrelated. Note that there are many other examples for this: The Book of Moses, Doctrine and Covenants, and if we are being honest also the Book of Mormon (he couldn't really "translate" as in read and understand the text as far as I am aware, what he called "translation" amounts to receiving the english text by revelation) - we of course would expect that the Book of Mormon is really a translation, but the process is not what we would normally call translation.

I don't really like the second theory, but since parts of the papyri are lost, it's not really possible to decide which one is right. It's honest to say the surviving fragments don't contain the Book of Abraham, but dishonest to say this means definitely none of the papyri that got destroyed did. In any case, neither theory really discredits him, the second one merely showing, if it were true, some ignorance on Josephs part with regards to what this "translation" was that he was receiving.

  • The Joseph Smith Papyri (JSP) are not entirely lost, according to Wikipedia in the Great Chicago Fire. Some were eventually acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1947. "The museum knew the importance of the papyri to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and, in 1966, reached out to church leaders to notify them of their collection. The LDS Church acquired the fragments in 1967. The rediscovery of the papyri sparked renewed interest and scholarship. Due to the importance of the papyri to the Latter Day Saint movement, they have been heavily studied and debated."
    – mhidek
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 13:34
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    @mhidek The same page says "Because the collection was later sold and divided and parts of it were lost in the Great Chicago Fire, its exact contents are unknown." I never claimed they are entirely lost, but (possibly large?) parts of it are. I don't know where the tables connecting the Book of Abraham to specific scrolls come from, Personally I would be careful pointing at anything from the collection and claiming anything as I am no expert. I think my answer stands.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 14:41
  • @mhidek I replaced the claim a "majority of the papyri" were lost with "parts of the papyri" were lost. I don't really know and I don't think it affects the answer but it's a less bold claim. Does that help with your concerns regarding the answer?
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 13, 2021 at 14:57

While I agree with kutschkem answer, the question asks If Joseph Smith "inaccurately" translated Egyptian hieroglyphs in his Book of Abraham, does this cast doubt on his translation, the Book of Mormon?

The answer is potentially, I'd personally say no. The four cases are (really only two, if OP assumes Book of Abraham is translated incorrectly, see #2,4):

  1. Book of Mormon translated correctly and Book of Abraham translated correctly

    Since Joseph Smith was able to translate the Book of Mormon1 by the power of God, he should also be able to translate other texts. See kutschkem answer for further response.

  2. Book of Mormon translated incorrectly and Book of Abraham translated incorrectly

    A few thoughts:

    • Even if the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham were works of fiction, that does not imply the same method of fraud would have been used (To be clear I don't believe this to be the case-these books being works of fiction/fraud. There are multiple witnesses to the Gold plates, various miracles surrounding the translation, and I believe the Book of Mormon speaks for itself among other reasons)
    • if a person writes two books and the second one was fiction, that does not imply anything about the first (it could be non-fiction; yes it could be fiction too, but the second one doesn't mean anything about the first)
  3. Book of Mormon translated incorrectly and Book of Abraham translated correctly

    Seems the biggest stretch. You'd have to accept the apologist response2 (or similar theory) and then reject similar ability on earlier work by Joseph Smith. I don't think anyone would believe this option. Why they would this be believed?

  4. Book of Mormon translated correctly and Book of Abraham translated incorrectly

    See thoughts on #1

    A few thoughts:

    • The Book of Mormon was a different language (reformed Egyptian1) than the Book of Abraham. So potential mis-translation of one doesn't correlate to a mistranslation of another (if the translation was done without the power of God and more of a scholarly work. Being able to translate Spanish does not mean you can translate French(or similar example, I'm not a linguist))
    • If Joseph Smith was able to translate a 500+ page book he should be able to translate a 10+ page book by the same power. Not being able to do so, to me seems unlikely
    • After the Book of Lehi was lost Joseph Smith lost the ability to translate for awhile1, it could be argued that a similar situation happened (and Joseph did make the Book of Abraham fraudulently) and if that is the case would not cast doubts on the Book of Mormon translation as this would imply Joseph Smith had the power to translate the Book of Mormon and lost it later (also, one can tell the truth in the past and a lie in the present without the past truth being false)
    • Or if reader really believes the Book of Abraham is a work of fraud (for the sake of argument) it could in fact cast doubt on the Book of Mormon ('cast doubt' does not mean false, just potential), but I'd argue there is already doubt by many readers. The Book of Mormon introduction invites readers to ask God for themselves:

    We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost.

1 Book of Mormon Translation

2 Book of Abraham Translation

  • I think point 2 should read "Book of Mormon translated correctly and Book of Abraham translated incorrectly"?
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 9:54
  • @kutschkem that is 4, did I mix something up
    – depperm
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 11:27
  • Oh sorry, you are right.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 14, 2021 at 11:50

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