Joseph Smith's interpretation of the word "Translation"
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.
When Joseph was revising the Bible, he called it "translating,” but it had nothing to do with interpreting a foreign language. It was a revelatory process that Joseph never explained:
Behold, I say unto you that it is not expedient in me that ye should translate any more until ye shall go to the Ohio, and this because of the enemy and for your sakes (D&C 37:1 given December 1830; italics added).
And again, it is meet that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., should have a house built, in which to live and translate (D&C 41:7 given February 4, 1831; italics added).
When Joseph “translated” the Old Testament, he looked at pages of Genesis in his King James Bible and dictated the Book of Moses by inspiration. The Book of Moses is arguably more complicated and impressive than the Book of Abraham.
Similarly, Joseph Smith looked at the papyri and gave us the Book of Abraham. If it was through the same “translating” process that gave us the Book of Moses, then we would not expect the actual text of the Book of Abraham to be anywhere on the papyri.
One very valid theory is that the papyri was a catalyst for the Book of Abraham just as Genesis was a catalyst for the Book of Moses.
We don't know how the papyri are related to the Book of Abraham. Some Latter-day Saints in Joseph Smith's day apparently believed it was a literal translation of the part that is now the Book of Breathings. Yet we don't have any reliable testimony from Joseph that is so specific.
We do not have all the papyri that Joseph possessed so further evaluation of a relationship between the papyri requires speculation.
The CES Letter adopts questionable assumptions about Joseph Smith and "translation" and then judges him based upon those assumptions. Click here