Egyptologists vs Joseph Smith
The claims in The CES Letter regarding what “Egyptology” would say about Egyptian vignettes are problematic because Egyptology is a changing discipline with multiple interpretations often advanced by researchers.
An Egyptologist may assert what Facsimile 1 is “really supposed to look like,” but it would constitute only an opinion.
Recent Egyptological analysis has shown that the matter of identifying and interpreting Egyptian art and iconography is much more complex than The CES Letter author lets on.
Critics are quick to point out understandable inconsistencies with his explanations of the Facsimiles. However, they do not attempt to deal with these significant instances of consistency. Each of the three Egyptian representations in the facsimiles that Joseph Smith said were associated with Abraham actually was associated with him by ancient Egyptians. This reality does not prove the Prophet to be correct, but it should give critics pause.
A candid evaluation of the known facts reveals that a number of elements about the Facsimiles and text of the Book of Abraham are puzzling, a number are quite plausible, and a number are compelling.
British Egyptologist Ian Shaw recently wrote, “If ancient Egyptian culture as a whole is often difficult to comprehend, then Egyptian religion is among the most difficult of the topics that Egyptologists have tackled. A great deal of surviving Egyptian art is connected with religion, but usually it is much easier to describe and to categorize than to analyze or interpret effectively.” Given this, some level of epistemological humility is therefore wise.
While The CES Letter alleges the penciled portions are inaccurate, it fails to evaluate the importance of those alleged inaccuracies. It ignores the possibility that Joseph Smith was transforming the drawing to conform to the Book of Abraham, which he received by revelation much as he had received the Book of Moses while “translating” the Old Testament.
Latter-day Saint scholars have stressed the importance of using sound methodological tools in any reconstruction of the facsimiles. This includes taking into consideration historical evidence such as eyewitness accounts of the papyri, comparing Facsimile 1 with other known lion couch scenes from the same time period (Ptolemaic Egypt) and location (in and around ancient Thebes) and not, as the author of The CES Letter has done, to random times and places from ancient Egypt (thus maintaining some sense of historical and iconographic propinquity), and accounting for differences between Facsimile 1 and other lion couch scenes.