The New York Times
Sunday, December 29, 1912

Museum Walls Proclaim Fraud of Mormon Prophet

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The New York Times
Sunday, December 29, 1912
Museum Walls Proclaim Fraud of Mormon Prophet

Sacred Books Claimed to Have Been Given Divinely
to the First Prophet Are Shown to be Taken from
Old Egyptian Originals, Their Translation Being a
Work of the Imagination---What a Comparison
with Metropolitan Museum Treasures Shows.

    The sacred books of the Mormon Church, which this wholly American cult proclaims to have been given divinely to the first Mormon prophet as a solemn addenda to the known Scriptures, have now been in circulation in Mormondom for about seventy years. On their faith that the texts were really produced through the gift and power of God, hundreds of thousands of devotees have hailed Joseph Smith as the "prophet, seer and revelator" of God, and God's spokesman on earth. His successor, Joseph F. Smith, the present prophet, they hail by the same title, and so strong in their faith that the prophet wields unlimited power in politics, in finance and in religion in at least two Western States.

    Within three months the only one of these sacred writings in which the test of scholarship could be applied has been submitted to such a test and its authenticity has been destroyed completely. The walls of the Egyptian rooms of the Metropolitan Museum proclaim it to be a fraud. Dr. Albert M. Lythgoe, Curator of the Egyptian department, voices unequivocally the condemnatory evidence of the mute Egyptian drawings and hieroglyphics. Two eminent scholars in England, two scholars in Germany, and four of the most noted Egyptologists in this country join without a dissenting paragraph in the condemnation.

    The sacred Mormon text was susceptible of accurate and complete analysis from the simple fact that it was taken from a genuine Egyptian original. The translation was a work of the Mormon prophet's curious imagination.

    Within a few weeks all leading officials of the Mormon Church will receive from the Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, the results of an extended inquiry among the scholars of the world as to the accuracy of the Prophet Joseph Smith's work on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics [Web-editor: See Why Egyptologists Reject the Book of Abraham]. Bishop Spalding has collected the opinions of the scholars for distribution among the Mormons themselves. He writes to the Mormons in a kindly mood, and describes the ideas of their prophet and founder as "self-delusions" instead of using a shorter and an uglier word.

    Much of Bishop Spalding's work was done in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in this city. The ten rooms of the Egyptian collection yielded proof in such abundance that any layman, even in Egyptology, can take the drawings as published in the sacred Mormon record and reproduced on this page of THE TIMES, and find dozens of duplicates of certain figures in them on the walls of the Museum and in its cases of Egyptian objects.

    A certain picture in the Mormon work representing Abraham "sitting on the throne of Pharaoh by the politeness of the King," really represents a scene depicted in the Museum's hieroglyphics a score or more of times. Father Abraham, therefore, must have been one of the best known Egyptian characters.

    If a bit of Egyptian writing, again, represents what the Mormon prophet says it does, then practically every mummy that has been dug out of Egypt had a bit of the writings of Abraham tucked away beneath its head, and the mummy, buried with a religious service calling for the worship of many gods, was thus put to rest with a reverential prayer made to the one God whom Abraham recognized.

The "Sacred" Writings.

    The sacred writing of the Mormons which Bishop Spalding holds up to the merciless light of modern scholarship is known among Mormons as "The Book of Abraham," and is published in a sacred volume entitled "The Pearl of Great Price." The other two books which the Mormons consider sacred are "The Book of Mormon," which purports to be a history of the American Indians and a white race which formerly dwelt on this Continent with them, and "The Doctrine and Covenants."

    The "Doctrine and Covenants" consists of the laws which God, in His infinite wisdom laid down directly by word of mouth to the Prophet Joseph Smith. No witnesses were called in to testify that any of its messages from on high were actually delivered, so that the Mormons accept this work, with its divine order authorizing polygamous marriage, upon their general credence in their prophet.

    The "Book of Mormon" was written, as Smith proclaimed, from golden plates delivered to him from a hill in New York State by an Angel of the Lord. He translated these plates by divine power, as he asserted, and then gave the originals back to the Angel. But, first, to give his book a credible standing, he had three men look over the golden plates, heft them, and hear the words of the Angel of the Lord concerning them. Also he had eight men look over the plates and heft them, but he did not admit them to the presence of the Angel. Each group made affidavits, and in Mormondom they are famed as "The Three Witnesses" and "The Eight Witnesses."

    Their testimony is printed in the prefatory pages of the work with each edition as a notice to the world of its importance. The third sacred book, "The Pearl of Great Price," differs from the others in that it at least has a source that is traceable, and is taken from documents that are capable of translation by scholars in the field of Egyptology.

    The reason why it took seventy years for this test to be applied to this important Mormon writing, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of devout believers to the Mormon cult, is explained by Bishop Spalding in a simple manner. When the Mormon prophet published his translation and proclaimed it divine, there was no one to challenge him because there was no Egyptian scholarship amounting to anything at that time. The working out of the Egyptian alphabet was a matter of more recent accomplishment, and the scholarship that has grown up in its wake has not had an opportunity to overhaul and submerge the Mormon claim to the divine origin of its sacred work.

    It should be mentioned that in addition to their own particular three divine works the Mormons accept the King James version of the Bible, but with the proviso that they accept it only "so far as it is translated correctly." Their other sacred books they accept without any qualifications whatever.

    In fact when the "Book of Mormon" first appeared it was pointed out in its behalf that it contained in their original purity certain early sections of the Bible which the original settlers of this Continent brought here with them from Jerusalem and kept with their records. It was also said that the Mormon prophet gained access to them through Divine favor. The "Book of Abraham" they especially delighted in because it gave to the Mormons without the corrupting influence of any Christian translation a new history of the world's formation direct from Abraham himself through the medium of an Egyptian mummy.

    The Egyptian mummy and the papyrus inside of it were genuine enough, as is well attested through the scores of duplications of it which the Metropolitan and other museums contain. As Bishop Spalding concludes, and as Dr. Albert M. Lythgoe, head of the Department of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum, pointed out to the TIMES reporter, there is nothing so certain as that the Mormon prophet got hold of pictures showing the common mortuary ritual of the Egyptians and that these pictures recur time and time again throughout the whole period of Egyptian burials.

    When the Mormon prophet obtained his mummy and the papyrus that went with it his followers were in a frenzy of delight over his powers as a divine translator. The mummy, in fact, was brought to him because of his reputation as a translator, gained through the use, as a boy, of his "seer stone" in place of the water witch to locate wells, and through the production of his "Book of Mormon."

    As his followers already had a good deal of new scripture in his own special revelations, and from the writing on the gold plates he had given back to the Angel, it occurred to the prophet to oblige them with still some more scripture, produced from an Egyptian mummy.

    When Bishop Spalding was obtaining data as in the real significance of the papyrus obtained by the Mormons, Dr. Lythgoe was absent from the Metropolitan Museum on an Egyptian expedition. He was found at the Museum last week, and a copy of the Mormon work, with drawings from the original of the Mormon papyrus, was shown him.

Palpable Mistakes.

    "Sad copies of very familiar papyrus," he said, "and a sadder, a much sadder, translation. Come upstairs with me and I will show you several pictures that duplicate the figure that the Mormon prophet says is Abraham sitting on the throne of Pharaoh. It is merely Osiris, god of the underworld. And I will show you more duplicates of the figure the Mormons declare to be Pharaoh. It is Isis, wife of Osiris, who is always with him. And when it comes to the Mormon picture of 'God on His Throne, signifying the Grand Key-Words of the Holy Priesthood as revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden,' why that is a sad joke.

    "The representation is the most common of all in Egyptian papyri. It is the view of the 'Sun god in his boat.' The Mormon version is right in that this is the picture of a god, but it is the chief god of a polytheistic people instead of God, who was worshipped by monotheistic Abraham, and pictures of him were among the widely distributed pictures in Egypt."

    An examination of the Mormon explanation of the three pictures from the papyrus, which the Mormons printed in their "Pearl of Great Price," indicated that at times the divine power of the prophet left him, because under some of the figures a legend was written in lieu of a translation, saying that it "ought not to be revealed at the present time," and "will be revealed in the fullness of the Lord." A weirdly concluding line after one part of the translation was this: "The above translation is given as far as we have any right to give it at the present time." Under another section was this: "This ought not to be revealed; if the world can find out these numbers so let it be. Amen."

    The things that puzzled the inspired Mormon translator were no puzzle at all to Dr. Lythgoe. They were simply snatches of a hymn to the Sun god inserted on every flat disk that was put, for its magical effect as a charm, under the head of the ordinary mummy. The pictures were very badly drawn in the Mormon version, but still were near enough to the originals for their character to be known.

    A picture that Prophet Joseph Smith declared to stand for "the earth in its four quarters" was found to stand, in fact, for the four genii of the Egyptians—the four sons of Horus, whose pictures occur time and time again—one with the head of a hawk, one with the head of a baboon, one with the head of a jackal, and one with the head of a human. The familiar "hawk of Horus" of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, which was used always to symbolize the soul, became to the Mormon prophet, in one instance, a dove, engaged in presenting the Holy Ghost as a sign to Abraham by God's order, and in another instance, it became an Angel of the Lord, hovering near Abraham as he lay fastened upon an altar.

    The first of the three pictures from the Mormon work submitted by THE TIMES reporter to Dr. Lythgoe was that of Abraham about to be sacrificed on an altar, with a figure bending over him, knife in hand. Beside the altar, in the Mormon version, stood four figures which Prophet Smith styled the four idolatrous gods of Elkenah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and Pharaoh. Near these was a figure which Prophet Smith declared to represent Abraham in Egypt.

    Dr. Lythgoe led the way from his office to the main Egyptian department. First he took up the portraits of the four idolatrous gods. It was clear that, although poorly drawn, one had a hawk's head, one a jackal's head, one a baboon's head, and one a human head. And the lower part of all were jars.

    "Here is a fine representation of the same," said Dr. Lythgoe, leading the way to a highly colored wooden box, covered with gaudy Egyptian drawings.

    "This box," he explained, "we obtained from a niche in the side of a tomb some four years ago. In the box we found four stone jars. Here they are." And Dr. Lythgoe pointed to the jars standing beside their original containers. They were clearly the originals that the Egyptian artist had pictured upon the Mormon papyrus.

    The lids contained the pictures of the four genii for handles.

    "You see," explained Dr. Lythgoe, "they couldn't retain the soft parts of the body when they prepared it for mummification and so they placed the organs in these jars. The jars were part of every well ordered burial. We have quite a number of sets of them here."

Wrong Period of Development.

    Dr. Lythgoe led the way to other sets, varying in size, but only in design when they represented radically different periods of Egyptian development. There were three stages of this development. In the earliest, when Egyptian art consisted of things made from Nile mud, the jars had ordinary flat lids. Afterward they contained the head of a single human as a stock design for the lid, and afterward the heads of the four sons of the mythological god, Horus, appeared on the lids.

    But Dr. Lythgoe pointed out that every feature of the Mormon drawings indicated that they belonged to the late period of Egyptian life. For one thing, the men in the earliest period wore a short skirt, and in the later period a longer skirt, and were so represented in all the art of each period, respectively. In the Mormon pictures the skirts were long, corresponding to the kind of characters shown upon the covers of the funeral jars, or idolatrous gods to whom Isaac was being sacrificed, according to Prophet Smith.

    The figure of "Abraham upon the altar" of the Mormon version, Dr. Lythgoe explained, was merely the usual scene of the mummy upon its bier. The idolatrous priest bending over him, to sacrifice him, according to the Mormon version, was, Dr. Lythgoe explained, merely the familiar figure of the god Anubis, "protector of mummies." Dr. Lythgoe pointed out the figure on a papyrus showing the progress of one Ani of the eighteenth dynasty toward final judgment by Osiris, god of the underworld. The picture of the god Anubis was shown in every picture where the mummy was shown and always he was leaning over it in a position as if to keep it from harm.

    To make very clear just how great a hoax the Mormon prophet perpetrated upon his people, it was only necessary to gain a slight knowledge of the use the Egyptians made of their funeral papyri.

    In the first place, the Egyptian religion grew up along the banks of the Nile. There they saw the jackals prowling about their burial grounds in the desert and saw the hawks flying over them. They observed the baboons in the forests. When it came to making up a religion they made the god of the dead jackal-headed. The soul that flew away from the mummy they pictured as the familiar hawk of the burial grounds. In their papyri the Egyptian undertakers used stock and stereotyped scenes. Osiris, according to their legends, had been the first mortal to die, and had been revived partly, and so went to become king of the dead. In seeking an explanation of the whereabouts of the dead they had also to seek an explanation of the whereabouts of the sun during the time it was below the horizon. It grew up in their legends that the sun, between sunset and sunrise, was lighting the caverns of the dead, and so Osiris, king of the dead, came to be known as the king of the west, or king of the underworld.

    Each dead person, according to the religious notion, was led before Osiris and his wife, Isis, and there admitted to the Realm of the Dead after Osiris had passed judgment upon him. The scenes pictured on the papyrus buried with each mummy were the scenes supposed to occur along his progress after death toward final judgment by Osiris. They were thus stock scenes and in no way were individual to any particular mummy, except in rare instances where Kings died and a record of their deeds was inscribed on papyrus and buried with them.

Stock Papyrus for Funerals.

    The undertaker reserved a space in his stock papyrus for the name of the particular person with whose body it was laid away. Dr. Lythgoe was able to point out such blank spaces with the name in obviously different writing from that comprising the stock scenes and the characters drawn in as border vignettes.

    The usual papyrus begins with a scene of the dead man on this bier. Then follows a picture of the body being drawn on a sledge toward its tomb, with dancing girls, professional mourners, and priests going before it. A picture shows the interment in the tomb, and then begins a series showing the wanderings through the underworld toward the final judgment at the throne of Osiris.

    And in the Mormon pictures it was clear that the first one of these stock scenes had been copied off, and also the last one. The third piece of writing published with the Mormon "Pearl of Great Price" was on a circular disk and this disk Dr. Lythgoe went over carefully.

    "Egyptian scholars give this particular disk a name," he said. "They call it a 'hypocephalus,' which means literally 'under the head.' Like the length of garment on the figures and the kind of lids on the stone jars this disk shows that the Mormons gained possession of a mummy and papyrus from the comparatively late Egyptian period. During our work in Egypt last Winter we obtained some of those disks that were nothing but slabs of Nile mud.

    "Here is a disk of exactly the same sort," Dr. Lythgoe remarked, as he turned to a volume on Egyptian religion by Adolf Erman.

    On Page 188 of this volume a drawing was found of a circular disk, which was almost exactly a duplicate of the disk from which the Mormon prophet took a record of Abraham in the act of receiving God's word.

    Dr. Lythgoe took up some of the slight discrepancies in the Mormon pictures from the Egyptian originals. He expressed the wish that he might see the original papyrus that the Prophet Smith translated or a photograph of it, instead of drawings made from it. In the first of the Mormon figures the god Anubis, bending over the mummy, was shown with a Humna and a strangely un-Egyptian head, instead of a jackal's head usual to such a scene. And a knife had been drawn into the god's hand. Thus he was made into a shape from which it became possible to glean the idea of the attempted "sacrifice of Isaac."

    In the third picture, again, the leading of the dead man's soul before Osiris and Isis contained an incongruity in one of the figures—that of the black man. Dr. Lythgoe explained that the Egyptians in their drawings made the undraped parts of their women in yellow coloring matter and the undraped portions of the men in dark red. He expressed the belief that the Mormon artist had obtained his black figure by making in black what was dark red in the original and that he had also marred the head which was meant to be the unshaven head of a priest. In many pictures Dr. Lythgoe indicated the manner in which the heads of ordinary people were shown wearing wigs, while the heads of priests were shown as shaved.

    In the museum room in which the latest accessions to the Egyptian collection are kept an offering table was found in the original stone. It was a gift from J. Pierpont Morgan, and corresponded in design to a figure that appears three times in the Mormon drawings. The Mormon prophet translated the object twice as "Abraham in Egypt," once as the throne of God. Actually, it is the offering table, covered with lotus flowers, which was a part of the regular furniture of a tomb, and was depicted on practically all papyri as standing beside the coffin or in front of a god to whom offerings were being made.

Opinions of the Scholars.

    Bishop Spalding excuses the Mormons for never attempting to have the scholarship of their prophet tested before accepting his translation on the grounds that the Egyptian grammar of Champollion was not completed until 1841, and an adequate knowledge of Egyptian hieroglyphics was not achieved until years later than this. From the diary of the Mormon prophet himself a full account is to be had of the gusto with which he received the Egyptian papyrus and proceeded to give it forth in an English version. He received the mummies and "two or three rolls of papyri" from Michael H. Chandler, who promptly gave a certificate of accuracy when he heard the prophet's translations. This certificate he signed as "proprietor" of the mummies.

    "Soon after this," the prophet wrote in his diary, "I commenced the translation of some of the characters of hieroglyphics and, much to our joy, found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt. Truly, we can say that the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth."

    "The remainder of the month," the prophet wrote again in 1835, "I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet of the Book of Abraham and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients."

    The drawings from the Egyptian papyrus printed by the Mormon prophet, together with his translation, were submitted by Bishop Spalding to leading scholars throughout the civilized world. Their comments do not vary in any consequential particular from the comment of Dr. Lythgoe of the Metropolitan Museum.

    "It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud," wrote Dr. A. H. Sayce of Oxford University. "The fac simile from the Book of Abraham No. 2 is an ordinary hypocephalus, but the hieroglyphics upon it have been copied so ignorantly that hardly one of them is correct. I need scarcely say that Kolob, &c., are unknown to the Egyptian language. Smith has turned the goddess Isis into a king and Osiris into Abraham."

    Dr. Flinders Petrie of London University wrote that "they are copies of Egyptian subjects of which I have seen dozens of examples. They are centuries later than Abraham. The attempts to guess a meaning for them in the professed explanations are too absurd to be noticed."

    Dr. James H. Breasted of the Haskell Oriental Museum, University of Chicago, reviewed the situation at length.

    "If Joseph Smith could read ancient Egyptian writing," he wrote, "then his ability had no connection with the decipherment of hieroglyphics by European scholars. In publishing these fac similes as part of a unique revelation to Abraham, Joseph Smith was attributing to Abraham not three unique documents of which no other copies exist, but was attributing to Abraham a series of documents which were the common property of a whole nation of people, who employed them in every human burial which they prepared. The little disks for use under the head did not appear in any Egyptian burials until 1,000 years after the time of Abraham. They were unknown in Abraham's day."

    "A Figaro of nonsense," was the way Dr. Arthur Mace, Assistant Curator of the Metropolitan Museum, who is now in Egypt, summed up the Mormon translations.

    Dr. John Peters of the University of Pennsylvania, who conducted an expedition to Babylonia in 1888, could find nothing but amusement in the Mormon prophet's work. "The interpretation of the plates," he wrote, "displays ignorance."

    "None of these, either human or divine, who helped in Joseph Smith's translation had any conception of the most commonplace Egyptian Characters," wrote Prof. C. [S.] A. B. Mercer, custodian of the Hibbard collection of Egyptian reproductions at the Western Theological Seminary.

    Two noted German scholars—Dr. Edward Meyer of the University of Berlin and Dr. von Bissing of the University of Munich—added their opinions to the general chorus of exposure and condemnation.

    "The papyrus which Joseph Smith declared to be the Book of Abraham," wrote Dr. Meyer, "and explained in his fantastic way, are parts of the well-known 'Book of the Dead.' "

    Bishop Spalding hasn't much hope of reaching the ordinary variety of faithful Mormon who "sustains the authorities" in all things, including politics and tithing offering, with his little pamphlet of exposure. But he hopes that Mormons who have been trained in the universities and have some conception of the integrity of scholarship and the inscrutability of evidence, such as that presented in the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum, will have open hearts, and so will receive the plain truth presented to them. The breaking up of Mormonism through the desertion of the intelligent part of its membership is the future for the Prophet Smith's church which Bishop Spalding foresees. It is for that reason that he prefers to address the Mormons as his friends rather than to attack them.

    Advance copies of Bishop Spalding's exposure of the Mormon prophet's translations, when they reached the dignitaries of the Mormon Church, caused something more than the stir that might normally have been expected. The official newspaper of the Church, The Deseret Evening News, spent its entire editorial page reviling scholars and scholarship. Brigham H. Roberts, the best known scholar of the Church, and its chief living defender, publicly thanked Bishop Spalding for the moderation of tone characterizing his work and for its scholarly and judicial spirit.

    Confessing himself to be frankly a layman on all things having to do with Egyptian funerary customs and hieroglyphics, Mr. Roberts appealed to the young people of his church to postpone reaching final convictions. To the Church in general he addressed a plea "for a bar of conclusions," on the grounds that it was obviously impossible to answer the assertions of the scholars offhand. The one thing Mr. Roberts felt confident enough to do was to point out such discrepancies as the fact that one scholar called the hawk in the bier scene "The Hawk of Horus," while another called it "Isis": another said "it ought to have a human head," and still another said it stood for "the soul."

    At the Metropolitan Museum examples are shown of where the hawk stood for all these things. The legend was that Isis took the form of a hawk to escape the enemies of Osiris, her husband, and that as a hawk she became the mother of Horus. Thus the hawk, when used to represent the soul, came to be known as "The Hawk of Horus," and, as the "Ba-bird," (soul bird,) was represented in papyri as human-headed.

Reprints of
Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator
by F. S. Spalding, D.D.
Joseph Smith As An Interpreter and Translator of Egyptian
by Samuel A. B. Mercer, Ph.  D.

Why Egyptologists Reject the Book of Abraham


Go to Topical Index: Book of Abraham

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