The Book of Abraham is a set of papyri that were purportedly translated by the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons) Joseph Smith and claimed by him to be a lost book of Abraham. These papyri were purchased by Smith and the church from a traveling Mummy exhibitor in 1835, several of the scraps were translated by Smith over time though there were more that were not. In 1871 the papyri were lost and presumed burned during a fire in Chicago. Thus it was that the translations performed by Smith could not be verified when decoding hieroglyphs became common place thanks to pioneering work by Jean-François Champillion.

In 1966 the papyri were rediscovered in New York’s metropolitan Museum of Art, finally the translations could be verified. Upon closer scrutiny by scholars of Egyptian writings, who had had the intervening 95 years in which to hone their craft, the documents were found to be common funerary text known as the “book of Breathings” that was often buried with mummies. Rather than dating from the time of Abraham as the Church had thought, the texts were actually discerned to be almost two thousand years younger, placing them at a mere few centuries BCE. Finally the text was greatly expanded in the Church’s translation, four lines of text on one papyrus became 49 verses in the book of Abraham.

My aim here is not to ridicule nor deride a particular set of people for their beliefs but to try and provide information on what some of those beliefs are founded on. On the whole I have found many that are associated with the Mormon church to be warm and genuine people and I would like to help them understand the origins of one of the (now) foundational documents of their movement.


Disclaimer: Finding unbiased references has proved difficult, the links that follow may be hosted on sites that are antagonistic to Mormonism in general. As such I would like to point out that I do not personally endorse the underlying ideologies of these pages.

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