A potentially troublesome flaw in the discussion of the Book of Abraham in the generally good book by Terryl Givens (with Brian Hauglid), The Pearl of Greatest Price, is its treatment of the relationship between the Book of Abraham and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP). Their chapter (Hauglid’s chapter?) on the Book of Abraham tends to follow the controversial publication on the Book of Abraham from the Joseph Smith papers, for which Hauglid was one of two volume editors. I briefly touched upon some of these issues in my generally positive review of The Pearl of Greatest Price, but given the importance of the topic, I would like to discuss in more detail the stance taken in the chapter on the Book of Abraham, which I presume was heavily influenced by Hauglid based on his recognized expertise in the Book of Abraham. After reading part of the chapter again today, it seems a little more problematic than I initially thought.
A key passage comes after mentioning two competing theories for the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the KEP, namely, that the Book of Abraham came first or that the Book of Abraham was derived from the KEP:
Both views have evidence in their favor, and the most likely scenario may be a simultaneous and interwoven development.
Initially, it would appear more logical to assume a process of working backward from the Book of Abraham, for three reasons. First is the fact that when Smith translated the Book of Mormon earlier, he streamed the dictated text as a finished product; he did not work from a self-produced grammar or lexicon. It is of course possible that Smith, growing in confidence and ambition, sought to implement more emphatically the Lord’s injunction to “study . . . out in [his] mind” the linguistic problem before him, and so he now worked to produce a key to decipherment prior to or along with his translation. Nevertheless, the possibility that he dictated the text in a flow of oracular inspiration cannot be entirely ruled out.
Second, comporting with this scenario, is the fact that Smith did produce a completed text (through Abraham 5: 21), whereas the grammar and alphabet documents are clearly fragmentary and represent a project that was aborted before reaching even a preliminary stage of completion. In fact, years after Smith had published his completed portions of the Book of Abraham, he still expressed the hope “of preparing a grammar of the Egyptian language.” That is not to say, however, that he had not developed in his own mind a sufficient grammar to accomplish his purposes.
Third, it is tempting to see the Book of Abraham as a prophetic production and the “grammar and alphabet” as an academic undertaking. In that case, the inspired production of the Book of Abraham would have priority and would be used as an authoritative source from which to deduce the principles of translation.
On balance, however, it appears that the two endeavors, translating the papyri and producing a “grammar and alphabet,” were too integrated and interdependent to separate in such fashion. For while we have no direct proof that Smith referred to this grammar and alphabet while translating the Book of Abraham [here an article by Chris Smith is cited that claims the choppiness of Abraham 1:1-3 is evidence that the GAEL was used to copy and paste definitions to create the choppy verses, which actually are far more unified that Chris Smith recognized, in fact being part of a chiasmus, as discussed in my review of the related JSP volume], there are indications that he did, and we do know that he was working on both projects simultaneously.
We find in the alphabet and grammar documents several textual similarities to parts of chapter 1 of the Book of Abraham, to parts of chapter 3, and to some of Smith’s explanations to Facsimile 1. Smith’s Egyptian alphabet document also contains a paragraph from the Book of Abraham that appears to initiate what Smith portrayed as a five-degree system in which the definition of a word is amplified through five “degrees” or levels of meaning from the most basic to the most elaborate. This takes place at the end of the Smith version in an inscription added by Cowdery: “in the first degree Ah-broam—signifies The father of the faithful, the first right, the elders second degree—same sound—A follower of rightiousness—Third degree—same sound—One who possesses great Knowledge—Fourth degree—same sound—A follower of righteousness, a possessor of greater of Knowledge. Fifth degree—Ah-bra-oam. The father of many nations, a prince of peace, one who keeps the commandments of God, a patriarch, a rightful heir, a high priest.” This five-degree text in Smith’s alphabet manuscript was incorporated in the bound grammar book and then plausibly reworked in the opening lines of the Book of Abraham: “I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same: Having been a follower of righteousness; desiring to be one who possessed great Knowledge; a greater follower of righteousness; a possessor of greater Knowledge; a father of many nations; a prince of peace; one who keeps the commandments of God; a rightful heir; a high priest.” Here it can be seen that the text of the Book of Abraham closely resembles the meaning of Ah-broam/ Ah-bra-oam in the fifth degree.
Another passage from early in the Book of Abraham with corresponding material in the grammar and alphabet documents concerns the origins of Egypt. In table 2.1, for the character called “Iota toues Zip-Zi,” the meaning of the character again generally increases in detail through the five degrees…[emphasis added]
Several points need to be made.
Hauglid states that there are “indications” that Joseph used “his grammar and alphabet” to create the Book of Abraham translation. The first indication is in a footnote in the midst of the first sentence in bold above where a publication critical of Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham is cited, just as the same article by Chris Smith was cited in the JSP volume on Abraham to support that claim that there is “some evidence” that the translation was derived from the KEP. On this point, Chris Smith’s work is more assertion and opinion than evidence, with arguments that do not merit the attention given the work by the JSP volume or this work. For details, see pp. 72-73 of my review of the JSP volume on the Book of Abraham, “A Precious Resource with Some Gaps” at Interpreter (search for “choppy” to find the discussion quickly). The reference cited by Hauglid in both of the volumes in question is Christopher C. Smith, “The Dependence of Abraham 1:1‒3 on the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 29 (2009): 38-54, available at https://www.academia.edu/2357346.
The other “indications” are based on similar words or phrases in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Book of Abraham translation. But how does that qualify as an “indication” that can differentiate the merits of the two competing theories? If the translation came first and was then used to create entries in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), how could the GAEL entries possibly not have a relationship to the translated text? In no way does the obvious relationship between the translation and some entries in the GAEL support Hauglid’s favored opinion over the alternative, a defect that was pointed out several times regarding the JSP volume many months before the publication of this volume. I am disappointed that the same error is propagated here.
A Question of Degrees
Did Joseph Smith really “initiate what Smith portrayed as a five-degree system” in the KEP?” There are three copies of the Egyptian Alphabet document, each of which has labels referring to different “parts” of the first degree, indicating of course that there is more than one degree. An addendum by Oliver Cowdery, not Joseph, shows how one word can have some variation in meaning across all five degrees. Was Smith initiating the concept of degrees and driving the show as to the content and format of the Egyptian Alphabets? That seems to be the assertion of Hauglid in this volume (not unlike what I see as biased framing and commentary in the JSP volume on the Book of Abraham). But examination of Joseph’s document and comparison to the other two Egyptian Alphabets by Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps suggest that Joseph is copying from something else, perhaps from both of the other documents. For example, in his fourth, fifth, and sixth entries on page 1 of Egyptian Alphabet A (Joseph’s), he writes definitions similar to the other two documents but without having first written the sounds of the words, requiring him to later jam them in as emendations above each of these lines. This is easily explained if he were copying something and he skipped a word or column, but is less likely if he were creating a dictionary with its various columns.
Likewise, in writing the definition for “Zool,” the 23rd entry on the first page of his Alphabet, Joseph writes about a “fixed period of time to the beginning” and later inserts “back” (Cowdery and Phelps both have “From a [or ‘any’] fixed period of time back to the beginning”) above the line between “time” and “to,” a natural copying mistake in which a word is skipped and then added, but less likely if he is writing his thoughts directly. Three sentences later he writes “spirits Sainnts” and then has to squeeze in the skipped “or” between the two words. Some similar errors occur on the next half-page of his writing, such as writing “Bethchu ain trieth the whole Earth or the largest <place> the greatest injoyment on Earth Ga[r]den of the Earth,” where “place” was skipped initially and then inserted above the line, as if copying from Oliver’s document that has for this entry, “The whole earth, or the largest place, the greatest enjoyment on earth— man’s resident in the garden of the earth.” It appears that Joseph skipped “place” and had to insert it, and that he still skipped Oliver’s “— man’s resident in the” before “garden,” giving a sentence missing something such as internal punctuation or the missing phrase from Oliver. In any case, it appears that this sentence is based on copying from Oliver’s document. Not every sentence comes straight from Oliver or Phelps, but it seems that they are collaborating with Joseph as well as writing on his document.
After sessions in the handwriting of Oliver and W.W. Phelps, Joseph wrote the name “Ki Abraoam” which is stricken out and replaced with a different spelling by Oliver Cowdery, which looks like he is following W.W. Phelps’ entry, and in turn has modified his own entry in his manuscript to also follow Phelps. If Joseph were calling the shots and were not largely drawing upon existing documents, why would Oliver strike out something Joseph had written to make it comply with what Phelps had?
Whose calling the shorts here? Chris Smith argues that Joseph is because a late addition of the word “Kolob” on Phelps’ manuscript is in the handwriting of Warren Parrish, as it is in Phelps’ GAEL, but the word Kolob has been added in Joseph’s own handwriting in the Egyptian Alphabet that was started by Joseph. That one clue can also be explained if Joseph’s document were the last one finished, or even the last one started, or if Joseph simply added it himself at some point after seeing it assigned in Phelps’ document. It seems that Joseph and his scribes were working together in his document to draw upon and extend their work, with Oliver going so far as to add a section showing variations in one character’s meaning from degree one to five. As for Kolob, we understand that Joseph gave us that word (with its plausible ancient roots), but who associated it with an Egyptian character? It could have been Joseph, but Joseph could have written “Kolob” next to a specific character based on the assignment already recorded in Phelps’ manuscript shortly after Parrish began taking over some work for Phelps and helping him to continue the GAEL. His handwriting for that word does not reverse the evidence that his writing is drawing upon other texts.
It is true that there are more complete definitions in his document, but it has contributions in the handwriting of all 3 people, Joseph, Oliver, and W.W. Phelps, and may have been the last one worked on, drawing upon (and copying from) the work of the other two scribes, including the W.W. Phelps’ May 1835 letter that has six characters from the “pure language” which appear in the same order in all three Egyptian Alphabets. Like many of the “Egyptian” characters in the KEP, those six are not Egyptian and their presence suggests these documents were intended for something other than translating the Egyptian papyri.
The format of these documents also tells us something. Phelps has columns for characters, letter (apparently a letter in the English alphabet related to the character), sound, and definition, but after two lines abandons use of the “letter” column. Oliver has the same number of columns but does nothing in the second column for letters. Joseph’s document drops that column completely, so it’s just character, sound, and definition. But while his columns are neatly drawn, unlike his scribes, he ignores the boundaries and writes definitions wherever they fit after the sound is written. This column format is first seen in Phelps’ pre-papyri “pure language” letter. Is that Joseph’s format? Is Joseph driving this structure? It seems unlikely, for he doesn’t even respect and follow the format before him. Joseph’s document has columns. Joseph’s work seems to rely upon Phelps and to some degree Cowdery, though he may have revised some wording.
And again, the definition that is expanded across all five degrees in his manuscript, said to show Joseph initiating the source of degrees, wasn’t even written by him but by Oliver Cowdery. Was Oliver channeling Joseph there, or Phelps, or something else? In fact, Oliver could have been copying new material from the GAEL at this point rather than creating material that the GAEL would use. To state that Joseph is the source of the degree system and that we can see him “initiating” it in this document, when it is a document he is at least to a large degree copying from somewhere else, requires questionable assumptions.
While it is possible that they are right, the chapter on Abraham in Givens’ and Hauglid’s book does not adequately support the claim that Joseph is the source of the system of degrees used heavily in the GAEL and to some degree in the Egyptian Alphabet documents, nor does it support the common assertion that Joseph was the one driving the whole KEP show.
Misunderstanding the Translation Process?
Regarding the claim that Joseph’s translation required him to study out Egyptian in his own mind before he could translate, I think the LDS community needs to reconsider the meaning of the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants about “study it out in your own mind,” especially in light of Stan Spencer’s definitive analysis of this passage, as published in the peer-reviewed journal of the Interpreter Foundation. See Stan Spencer, “The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 219-232, with the following abstract:
Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 is conventionally interpreted as the Lord’s description of the method by which the Book of Mormon was translated. A close reading of the entire revelation, however, suggests that the Lord was not telling Oliver Cowdery how to translate but rather how to know whether it was right for him to translate and how to obtain the faith necessary to do so. Faith would have enabled Oliver Cowdery to overcome his fear and translate, just as it would have enabled Peter (in Matthew 14) to overcome his fear and walk on water.
For years, Doctrine and Covenants 9:7–9 has been used to suggest that this revelation told Oliver Cowdery that the way to translate a completely foreign script is to think it over, propose a translation, and then get a spiritual confirmation that it is right or wrong. But for translation, that’s pretty much nonsensical, like a game of 20 questions but with tens of thousands of questions required for each word. With apologies, here’s how that futile, infeasible approach might work:
Hmm, here’s a squiggle. I wonder if it means aardvark? Studying this out … feels like a “no.” OK, how about abalone? No. OK, maybe antelope? After several hours of study, I’m feeling good about “antelope.” No. OK, but it’s at least an animal, right? No. A plant? No. A name. Maybe? A name and something else. Maybe? A verb and an object? Could it be “Aaron picked up a rod?” No. “Aaron picked up a baseball bat?” No. Let’s get back to that name. Does it involve Aaron? No. Oh, Abraham? No. Hank? Roger? Peter? Paul? Mary? Mohonri? Antelopus? Does it start with the letter A? B? C? … Ah hah, an O! Is it Oki? Or Okidoki? No. Omigosh? No. Is it Oliver? No. Does it start with “Oa” or “Ob” or … “Ol”? There’s that burning. Great. Ollie? Olisama? Ollikazaam? Olkawabanga? ….[several days of stupor later] Oliblish! That’s it. Got it! OK, is it “Oliblish picked up a rod?” No. Is there a verb? Does it involve a small fish? Anything related to an antelope? Is there an odor? Could it be….[Three years later, voila, yet another verse is done.]
Spencer’s excellent scholarship on the meaning of that passage in the Doctrine and Covenants fits well with other scholarship from Royal Skousen and others on the nature of the translation of the Book of Mormon. The evidence points to a breathtakingly rapid process, not one of painstaking guesswork, and a process in which Joseph in some way saw the translation, not just one where his guesswork gradually got confirmations. It was revelation, not trying to gradually figure out the basics of reformed Egyptian, that gave us the text of the Book of Mormon, and there’s no reason to believe that Joseph lost this power in translating the Book of Abraham.
The critics love to mock the impossibility of translating over 200 words with intricate story details from a single character of Egyptian, as they allege is demonstrated by the very few characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscripts in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Anyone familiar with foreign language or even basic logic would recognize the strangeness of such a proposition. Just as it is used to mock Joseph’s translation today, if Warren Parrish, who acted as a scribe for some of the translation large blocks of text paired with Egyptian characters had seen Joseph struggling to apply the GAEL to elicit hundreds of words per character (contrary to the usually brief definitions in the GAEL!), then when he turned against Joseph later and sought to tear him down, it would have been easy to complain that Joseph somehow imagined a whole story would be told with a few squiggles that he translated with a ridiculous translation tool that made no sense to anyone with a touch of education. Rather, in 1838 he simply said that “I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Heiroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven” (Letter to the Editor dated 5 February 1838, Painesville Republican, 15 February 1838, Vol. II, No. 14–15, as cited at FAIRMormon.org). Not as he insanely exploded one squiggle into 200 or 300 words using the incoherent and utterly useless GAEL as some kind of translation tool based on impossibly studying out Egyptian in his own mind, but, believe it or not, accept it or not, by something quite different, much more like what Joseph claimed to do with the Book of Mormon, by what Joseph claimed and which I believe was “direct inspiration of Heaven.”
As we also learn in Don Bradley’s recent book, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories (see my recent review), the early work in preparing the initial manuscript that Martin Harris would lose likely occurred at a pace not wildly different from his later translation work. Joseph did not need to slowly build up some kind of “Alphabet and Grammar of Reformed Egyptian” to get moving rapidly in his translation work for the Book of Mormon. He did not need to study Hebrew out in his own mind to dictate the contents of the Book of Moses. And in spite of the interest that he and his scribes had in some kind of intellectual exercise with the papyri and the romantic notion of the “pure language,” on many counts it is likely that the documents related to that exercise, documents in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, were derived from the revealed translation and not the other way around. I wish Givens and Hauglid had more carefully considered the evidence for the flow of translated text into the confused, incomplete, and quickly terminated work of the KEP, rather than accepting the hypothesis that the flow went the other way.
Cracking the Chicken and Egg Problem?
It turns out that the evidence Hauglid points to as “indications” for the dependency of the Book of Abraham translation on the KEP is no such evidence at all and fails to resolve the chicken and the eff problem before us. Hauglid seems convinced that there is evidence that Abraham 1:1-3 was derived from the GAEL, as Chris Smith has argued based on the alleged choppiness of that passage (with little more than his perception of choppiness as the evidence). Of course there are related phrases in the translated text and the GAEL, but the question is which came first? Is there any way of ruling out either of the possibilities? If Abraham 1:1-3 derives from the GAEL and was somehow used to create or was intertwined with the alleged dictation of the translation by Joseph to scribes to give us the Book of Abraham manuscripts around November 1835 (though this and other documents like the GAEL may have come later, as Gee has explained), then one way to evaluate such claims may come from a patriarchal blessing that Oliver Cowdery gave. Here, Chris Smith does make a valuable contribution in referring to that document. See Oliver Cowdery, “Patriarchal Blessings,” 1:8-9, cited in “Priesthood Restoration” at the Joseph Smith Papers website. The JSP site says that this was “probably recorded summer/fall 1835,” while Christopher Smith states it was Sept. 1835. In this blessing, Oliver states that:
we diligently saught for the right of the fathers, and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to admin in the same: for we desired to be followers of righteousness and the possessors of greater knowledge, even the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we repaired to the woods, even as our father Joseph said we should, that is to the bush, and called upon the name of the Lord, and he answered us out of the heavens, and while we were in the heavenly vision the angel came down and bestowed upon us this priesthood; and then, as I have said, we repaired to the water and were baptized. After this we received the high and holy priesthood: but an account of this will be given elsewhere.
Here Oliver draws upon several specific concepts and phrases in Abraham 1:1-3, strongly suggesting that these verses were already translated and well known to Oliver by roughly September 1835 or before. This is not necessarily fatal to the Hauglid’s scenario, but may stress it and favors the “translation first” viewpoint. I don’t think this relevant evidence is considered by Givens and Hauglid, nor by Jensen and Hauglid in their speculations on the origins of the Book of Abraham in their volume for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Update, Dec. 27, 2019:
There are at least two other tests to resolve the chicken and egg problem. One is from internal evidence in the GAEL itself. If it had been used to create at least Abraham 1:1-3, as Chris Smith alleges with an affirmative head nod from Givens and Hauglid as well as from Jensen and Hauglid’s JSP volume, then we would expect the related entries in the GAEL to act like dictionary entries, meaning they are not dependent on the translation and not constrained by it. Here is where we have a fascinating bit of data that was overlooked in the JSP volume, when it should have been considered for what it says. Special thanks to reader “Joe Peaceman” for paying attention and underscoring this important issue.
Five times in the GAEL, W.W. Phelps goes out of his way to indicate that he made a mistake and entered a character and its definition in the wrong order. He states that the character he calls “Bethka” should have been inserted between two others, “iota” and “zub zool.” See my post of July 18, 2019, “Kirtland’s Rosetta Stone? The Importance of Word Order in the “Egyptian” of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language.”
We can see the Phelps’ work of inserting “Bethka” in several parts of his GAEL, including:
- Page 2, where it is inserted between bars low on the page, with a note that it should be inserted above. See Figure 1 below.
- Page 8, where it is the sole entry on what was one of the many blank pages left in the GAEL, with a note that it should be inserted on the opposing page. See Figure 2.
- Page 12, which, as with page 8, is inserted on a blank page. See Figure 3.
- Page 17, which has “Bethka” at the top of the page with a note that it should have been inserted between “Iota” and “Zub Zoal oan” on the previous page, page 16. The page is then filled with additional words and definitions.
- Page 19, which has “Beth ka” at the top of a blank page and a note that it should “have been inserted between Iota and Zub Zaol aon on the opposite page,” page 20.
Photos of some of these notes from Phelps are in that July 18, 2019 post. As I wrote then:
In creating a dictionary or an “alphabet” of a foreign language, what is the importance of word order? If one is creating a versatile tool for translating texts, the order should enable one to easily look up a word to find its meaning. In Chinese-English dictionaries, for example, Chinese words can be arranged based upon alphabetic order of the transliteration, or based on characteristics of the characters (governing portions called “radicals” or number of strokes) that can make it easy (“easy” compared to having no order — it still can be difficult) to find a word. Lists of words for language study can be grouped in other ways as well (common verbs, common nouns, etc.). But what is it about “Bethka” that requires it to be inserted not next to “Beth” but between “Iota” and “Zub Zoal oan”? Why would Phelps care about precise word order here when the words aren’t being arranged alphabetically or based on common meaning, sound, or structure of the “Egyptian” character (typically not even Egyptian [some may be Egyptian, derivatives of Egyptian, or fragments of Egyptian characters that are not on the scrolls in their current state])?
Reader “Joe Peaceman” provides the most plausible answer, I think. He notes that in the sequence of words into which “Bethka” needs to be inserted in a particular place, the word order links them to the text of Abraham 1:1-2. Below is part of Abraham 1:1-2, where we have these phrases, in order, and their relationship to words in the GAEL in brackets:
1 … at the residence of my fathers [1. “Beth” – described as a place or residence]
I, Abraham, saw [2. “Iota” – see, saw, seeing, or having seen]
that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence; [3. “Bethka” fits here, referring to a better place and, on p. 34, “Another & larger place of residence”]
2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, [4. “Zub zool— oan”— which can mean “father or fathers”]
Phelps cared about the order and felt a need to insert “Bethka” throughout his document in a place that would make it line up with something. Line up with what? Why do that unless he was trying to use the existing text of the Book of Abraham translation as some kind of a tool, perhaps Kirtland’s answer to the Rosetta Stone, perhaps being used to attempt the very kind of thing that Champollion was trying to do, namely, to create an “Alphabet” (that’s a term that was frequently used in the press of that era to describe Champollion’s work) to crack the mysterious Egyptian language? As “Joe Peaceman” puts it, “This is obviously aligned to Abraham 1, and it appears that Phelps saw the order that the cosmic journey/drama was about to play out in Abraham’s life. How did he know without a text?”
So not only do we see that Oliver Cowdery was using Abraham 1:1-3 around September 1835, likely before Phelps worked with our current Abraham 1:1-3 in his Book of Abraham Manuscript A, but we also see that Phelps himself felt that there was a particular required order for the characters he was assigning to concepts from Abraham 1:1-3, and that order happens to line up with the order of the translation, but not with alphabetical order or any other readily explicable order. A dictionary for a bizarre foreign script doesn’t need some precise order, but Phelps felt constrained by what appears to have been the existing translation. The translation that existed before Oliver gave a blessing citing it in September 1835.
There’s another source we can turn to for insight on this chicken and egg problem, Joseph Smith himself. When he spoke of working on an alphabet, he did not say it was for translating the Book of Abraham Rather, he said it was “to” the Book of Abraham. After considering how others in Joseph’s era used similar language, an “alphabet … to” something, it’s clear that the “something” is not what will be generated by use of the alphabet, but something already in existence that will guide development of the alphabet. An “alphabet to” the Book of Abraham most likely means that as the translation was being developed, the translated concepts could be used to help create some kind of compiled information related to the Egyptian language, based on the human intellectual attempt to work with a text given by revelation. If so, the GAEL was not a tool for creating the Book of Abraham, but an intellectual (and futile) tool dependent on and drawn from the translated text.
The translation came fist. Inspiration came first, then came (failed) human efforts to do something intriguing but hopeless with the text. What was that something? Perhaps a guide to the notion of a pure language, but without the data and tools to have nay hope of moving forward. They may not have even known what characters from what scroll, if any, went with the revealed text Joseph had, just as Joseph and his scribes probably couldn’t show you what characters in the gold plates went with, say, Chapter 1 of the Book of Alma. It’s not that there was no ancient source, but that the translation was not meant to give a Rosetta Stone for reformed Egyptian, just as it seems the Lord’s intent in revealing the Book of Abraham was not to overwhelm future non-believing scholars with the amazing parlor trick of providing an American Rosetta Stone in Egyptan and KJV English to outshine Champollion and command accolades for Joseph from all. It is an amazing text, but one that requires faith and patience to accept, with rich reward for those who endure and study.
In short, we have three possible tests for determining whether the revealed text of Abraham 1:1-3 (and perhaps the rest of the translation) relied upon and came before the creation of the GAEL. These are Oliver Cowdery’s roughly Sept. 1835 patriarchal blessing quoting Abraham 1:1-3, the GAEL’s strange insistence on the importance of the order of the definitions related to (and probably drawn from) Abraham 1:1-3, and Joseph’s statement suggesting that the Alphabet he mentioned as “to” the Book of Abraham, not “for” its translation.
On balance, I’d say the evidence strongly weighs against the position taken by Hauglid in this volume and by Jensen and Hauglid in their JSP volume. There is no basis for claiming that the GAEL was ever used to generate anything in the revealed translation, and significant though perhaps subtle evidence that the GAEL depended upon the translation (and upon some other existing texts as well, including several portions of the already revealed Doctrine and Covenants, as previously discussed here and in my review of the JSP volume for the Interpreter).
Some relevant resources:
- Kerry Muhlestein, “Papyri and Presumptions: A Careful Examination of the Eyewitness Accounts Associated with the Joseph Smith Papyri,” Journal of Mormon History 42/4 (2016), 31-50; https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/facpub/3510.
- Kerry Muhlestein, “Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Introduction to the Historiography of their Acquisitions, Translations, and Interpretations,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, 22 (2016): 17-49. From the abstract: “New investigations suggest that, while the relationship between papyri and text is not clear, it is clear that the fragments are not the source and that the method of translation was not the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.”