Facsimile #1 & What Joseph Meant by "Translation"
CES Letter Core Question
The CES Letter repeatedly compares Joseph's "translation" to that of Egyptologists. Did Joseph use the term "translation" in the same way we think of it?
The CES Letter adopts questionable assumptions about Joseph Smith and "translation" and then judges him based upon those assumptions.
No one has proposed that Joseph Smith was familiar with the ancient Egyptian written language or that his "translation" would parallel that of modern translators.
Joseph Smith never translated a document as modern Egyptologists translate hieroglyphics. Compare these "translations" of Joseph Smith:
The Book of Mormon was translated with seer stones we call the Urim and Thummim, as well as another seer stone he found in his youth.
A parchment shown in vision originally written by John was translated (D&C 7).
The Joseph Smith Translation resulted from a study of the King James Bible. It is a “translation” that came as pure revelation. The physical text in front of him served as a catalyst only.
The Book of Abraham was “translated” after Joseph Smith acquired some Egyptian papyri. The “translation” process is not described, but likely included one of the following:
Joseph Smith by the power of God, translated a text that was written on the long scroll of papyri by Abraham. That scroll is now missing so there is no way to submit its contents to modern Egyptologists.
As Joseph opened his mind to God because of his curiosity about the text on the papyri, he received revelation about an ancient text not on the papyri but written by Abraham.
If Joseph “translated” the hieroglyphics on the facsimiles with the gift and power of God, what might we expect?
The resultant “translation” could be exactly as modern Egyptologists would produce. Since Egyptologists tell us the text is a pagan funerary document, God’s willingness to facilitate the translation through the Holy Spirit would be surprising.
The “translation” could be tied to the original meaning of the symbols. The Book of Abraham reports that the original Egyptian leaders believed in the true God (Abraham 1:25-26) leading to the conclusion that later gods were a perversion of those principles. If religious symbols experienced a similar perversion, then which of the meanings would Joseph produce through the Spirit?
No plausible explanations have been posed for explaining away the many striking consistencies in the Book of Abraham with nonbiblical traditions regarding Abraham.
While people from different backgrounds may disagree regarding Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham and the papyri, it would be unfortunate to make assumptions regarding the things we don’t know and then condemn Joseph Smith or the Book of Abraham based upon those assumptions.
The CES Letter assumes that Joseph Smith “translated” the Egyptian papyri in the same manner that a modern Egyptologist might, but it is a questionable assumption. Click here