In previous posts (here and here) on the Book of Abraham and in my article for The Interpreter, I have noted that newspapers and other sources in the United States make it fairly clear that the story of Champollion seems to have been widely known by 1835, contrary to assertions in two volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. But one reader argued that relying on possible “common knowledge” of the day still doesn’t provide a direct link showing that the early Saints actually know of or spoke of Champollion. Could it be that they really hadn’t heard of the Rosetta Stone and Champollion’s
work, the cause of so much interest in all things Egypt? Perhaps! Maybe they were
gripped in Egyptomania without hearing the most basic news tied to that
With that fair objection in mind, I did another search this morning and found something that I hope will help clarify the issue. It involves the account of Martin Harris going to the East with a copy of Book of Mormon characters in hand, seeking academic validation for Joseph’s translation work. (See the related information in the “Scholar Gives New Insights on Martin Harris’s 1828 Visit to Charles Anthon,” based on Richard E. Bennett’s 2015 Sperry Symposium presentation.)
In 1831, James Gordon Bennett, a man who would become one of America’s leading journalists, gave a boost to his journalistic career with a sensational two-part article on the “Mormonites.” He interviewed a couple of people, apparently E.B. Grandin, printer of the Book of Mormon, and Charles Butler, a lawyer and friend of Martin Harris, and then prepared a two-part article sharing what he had learned and his views on the Book of Mormon story. Part 2 of this article was published in New York City in the Morning Courier and Enquirer, Sept. 1, 1831. The article was soon reprinted in several other newspapers. Since it mentioned Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, it was surely brought to Joseph’s attention. The story behind the article and the complete text of the two-part story are found in Leonard J. Arrington article, “James Gordon Bennett’s 1831 Report on ‘The Mormonites,’” BYU Studies, 10/3 (1970): 353-364. On p. 362, we see that Bennett claims that Dr. Samuel Mitchill mentioned Egyptian hieroglyphics and Champollion’s decipherment to Harris:
Larry E. Morris in his excellent Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (relevant portion viewable on Google Books) is not sure that the mention of Champollion in Bennett’s newspaper account came from the interviews or from Bennett’s embellishment of the story (he suggests embellishment is more likely), for the notes from the interviews in Bennett’s journal only mention Mitchill comparing the characters to hieroglyphics without mentioning Champollion. (The original newspaper story is document 1.13 in Morris, appearing on pp. 90-95, and is considered again on pp. 298-299, where Morris’s comment on Champollion occurs.) So it may be that Mitchill had mentioned Champollion, or perhaps he merely mentioned hieroglyphics and then Bennett extrapolated with the addition of Champollion to the story. In either case, though, the Saints of 1831 cannot be viewed as ignorant of Champollion. Whether Martin had been told about Champollion by Harris, or the Saints first learned the name from this article, it seems there’s little room to believe that they could have remained ignorant of the news after 1831, even if the only newspaper stories they ever looked at were the ones from their area talking about them.
The article, of course, treats knowledge of Champollion as old news that should be familiar to most people. If Joseph and his peers had not yet heard of him, surely they would start inquiring after this announcement, being relevant to the precious Book of Mormon.
Reprints of this story can be found in the Essex Gazette of Haverhill, Mass., Vol. V, No. 47, Nov. 19, 1831, under the title “History of Mormonism,” available at Uncle Dale’s Readings, and elsewhere (apparently including Ohio’s Hillsborough Gazette, Oct. 29. 1831, shown at GospelLink.com).
[Update, Dec. 10, 2019: Also see the Vermont Gazette of Bennington, Vermont, Vol. II, No. 37, Sept. 13, 1831, also provided at Uncle Dale’s Readings. That gives us newspaper coverage in at least New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Ohio.]
By the way, while my past posts and my article for The Interpreter provide a wide variety of sources from American soil in the early part of the nineteenth century dealing with Champollion and the Rosetta Stone, here are a couple others just as a reminder of the state of common knowledge in the States. First, Uncle Dale’s Readings in Early Mormon History offers this excerpt from the Ohio-based Presbyterian newspapers, The Observer and Telegraph, Oct. 21, 1830:
It is well known that the Champolions have by wonderful perserverance and extensive research, unlocked the mysteries of
the pyramids of Egypt, and disclosed the arcana of their interior, by decyphering the hieroglyphics which have perplexed
the investigation of the learned for centuries, and thereby furnishing additional testimony to the truth of sacred
history, and of the oppression of the ancient Israelites. The account of the investigations which led to the discovery
of these hieroglyphics, has been lately translated from the French, by Professor Stewarts son, of Andover, and is
illustrated by notes of the Professor. The work no doubt will much interest the curious, and particularly the biblical
scholar. [emphasis added]
Of course, since Joseph and other early Saints spent some time in Pennsylvania, we may also with to inquire there. The Pittsburgh Recorder on April 26, 1825 published this note, also courtesy of Uncle Dales’ Readings:
Discovery of very ancient Egyptian Archives, written several
ages before the Trojan war.
The learned are well acquainted with the important discoveries made by Young and Champollion in the art of decyphering
the sacred writing of the Egyptians. The latter is still engaged in pursuing this most interesting object, as will
appear from the following detail…. [emphasis added]
Or consider the open letter to Champollion published in Philadelphia’s Atlantic Journal in 1832:
First Letter to Mr. Champollion, on the Graphic systems of America, and the
Glyphs of Otolum or Palenque, in Central America.
You have become celebrated by decyphering, at last, the glyphs and
characters of the ancient Egyptians, which all your learned predecessors
had deemed a riddle, and pronounced impossible to read. You first
announced your discovery in a letter. I am going to follow your
footsteps on another continent, and a theme equally obscure….
Here is another from New York, from Palmyra, Wayne County, a place with obvious connections to the early members of the Church, published simply as “Items,” Nov. 4, 1829 in The Reflector, courtesy of Uncle Dales’ Readings:
M. CHAMPOLLION — in company with other learned Frenchmen, is now in Egypt investigating the
various subjects of antiquity. It is reported that this gentleman reads hierogylphics with as much
readiness as his native language. Much light will be thrown upon a dark period of ancient history.
What was well known in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York in the early 1830s was probably known also to the Latter-day Saints, and almost certainly would become known once the 1831 news story in New York linked the Book of Mormon characters to Champollion’s discovery with hieroglyphics from Egypt.
Understanding that Champollion’s story — the headlines, not the technical details — surely was known by key members of the Church by 1835 helps us better question the arguments that are repeatedly made about Joseph Smith thinking that Egyptian was a bizarre language where one character could contain vast treasures of information, enabling one character to become 200 words of text with names and other details all mysteriously embedded therein. It’s time to recognize that the Saints, like their follow Americans, did not experience Egyptomania without knowledge of the news that helped Egyptomania reach a fever pitch: Champollion was translating Egyptian, and those mysterious characters were often simply phonetic, making Egyptian a language just like the “reformed Egyptian” as described by Joseph and implied in the Book of Mormon itself — a running language.
70 thoughts on “Is There Direct Evidence that the Early Saints Had Heard of Champollion?”
Jeff, I find it heartening that you’re now grounding your arguments about Joseph’s epistemological environment in a reasonable understanding of the circulation of knowledge. I’m tempted to say, “But wait a minute—Joseph was just an ignorant farm boy! How could he possibly have known about Champollion without possessing a vast frontier library?!”
“I find it heartening that you’re now grounding your arguments about Joseph’s epistemological environment in a reasonable understanding of the circulation of knowledge.”
One very distinct difference here—all of the information available to Joseph out of his “vast frontier library,” showed up in his writing. There is no established link between Jeff’s examples above and early church documents.
In other words, he has shown that there was information available, but failed to show that it was 1) consumed, or 2) had any influence.
OK – You beat me to it. I was think the same thing.
These comments are so stupid and transparently deceitful. The library has to do with the particular knowledge Joseph would've needed in 1829 to produce the Book of Mormon. Champollion was a matter of wide general knowledge among American citizens in the 1830s, and of particular interest for believers in the Book of Mormon in the 1830s, so that increases the likelihood of their familiarity with him and hieroglyphics.
Lucubrator, the "particular knowledge Joseph would've needed in 1829 to produce the Book of Mormon" was also "a matter of wide general knowledge among American citizens."
This is true despite the apologists' many failed attempts to find particulars that were not widely known at the time. There's nothing in the Book of Mormon that someone like Joseph could not have written based on then-current general knowledge of the Bible, Native American antiquities, theological controversies, etc. Nothing. On top of that, there are items in the book that are not true but were thought to be true at the time. The book is obviously a 19th-century production.
Italicization does not make it so, OK. No matter how much you want it to. Keep asserting like you do, with magisterial handwaves to the "obvious", and I'm sure you'll do fine with Not-OK, but other than that your words are a tinkling brass and a sounding cymbal, devoid of rhetorical power to convince those who are not already in agreement with you. Your epistemology is not universal, nor is it a priori superior.
Hoosier – why do so many faithful LDS disagree with you then?
Words are marked 😊
Great job again Jeff! 🙂 I’m looking for a new job and etc., so even more busy than normal, but couldn't resist sneaking a peek. And, Critics, I hear ya, “We never said it.” OR “Case is closed for Ritner and I, Champollion was introduced late in 1842, or 41, or 38, or 31, or doesn’t really matter, since if Joseph didn’t preach about George Wasington, he didn’t know about George Washington. : ) This has been peer reviewed by Lighthouse, so no need to question.” : )
But, anyway, the thing that got my attention is the quick jump from “he didn’t know anything, even if everyone else in the 19th C. knew” to “he knew everything anyone knew or knows now” OR “…despite the apologists' many failed attempts to find particulars that were not widely known at the time. There's nothing in the Book of Mormon that someone like Joseph could not have written based on then-current general knowledge of the Bible, Native American antiquities, theological controversies, etc. Nothing. On top of that, there are items in the book that are not true but were thought to be true at the time. The book is obviously a 19th-century production.”
I’m a bit hesitant to go along with something like that. For examples, what books or newspapers did he read to help him figure out how to create the details of the “Tree of Life Vision”, or the Geography of the Middle East and Americas?
Also, what are the 2 most important “items in the book that are not true but were thought to be true at the time”?
Lucubrator – let me be as transparent and forthright as possible. The library does not exist because no "particular" knowledge is required. The library is as much a figment of imagination as the cave full metallic books with Laban's unsheathed sword. The library is built out of facts manufactured with statistical voodoo applied to massive assumptions.
You need to branch out, away from anti-Mormon and anti-Book of Mormon readings once in a while. Obviously there's a lot of particular knowledge evident in the Book of Mormon that the 1829 Joseph Smith would've known nothing about.
Interesting definition of anti. So to you anti means pro-truth?
After all, there are plenty of faithful Mormons that disagree with you. Or are they fake Mormons?
Lucubrator – you provide a powerful testimony of LDS theology's ability to turn otherwise decent people into hateful anger mongers.
"These comments are so stupid and transparently deceitful."
– Lucubrator, 11:31 am, August 25, 2019.
This is the only thing Lucubrator has said that could be interpreted, even vaguely, as imprecatory. If this is your standard of "hateful anger mongers", then Jeremy Runnells, the Tanners, most anti-Restored Church writers, and all the habitual anonymous commenters on this blog are indicted as well. Is "LDS theology" also to be blamed for the flaws in those who spurn it?
Then please explain what is Lucubrator claiming is anti-Mormon?
By suggesting that you branch out from anti-Mormon/anti Book of Mormon readings, all he is implying that there are writings which are opposed to the Church or the Book of Mormon. What is hateful or angry or even particularly fearful about that?
Hoosier – again,for the third time, what is anti-Mormon. Falsely suggestion that a person is reading something called anti-Mormon is pure fear hate and anger.
No, Lucubrator, there is not, though there are apologetical constructs made to appear such.
Mark my words, everyone. By the year 2050, LDS leaders will be hailing Joseph Smith as “the inspired author of the pseudepigrapha we call the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, in which he ushered in the Restoration by brilliantly fusing the King James style to concepts and issues perfectly attuned to the interests of his contemporary readership. Using the venerable technique of claiming scriptural authority by attributing his own inspired writing to an ancient author, Smith resolved a number of pressing 19th-century theological controversies and elevated the status of Native Americans by integrating their ancestors into the Christian mythos….”
Sound far-fetched? I don’t think so. Given a generation or two, “anti-Mormonism” has a way of reappearing as acceptable belief, if not doctrine. Cf. polygamy, evolution, Native Americans as literal descendants of Hebrews, black people and the War in Heaven, and a sizable percentage of Bruce McConkie’s original Mormon Doctrine.
"what books or newspapers did he read to help him figure out how to create the details of the 'Tree of Life Vision'”
It was a dream Joseph's own father had. Look it up. . .
It was a dream Joseph's own father had.
Ah, yes, the one that wasn't actually written until 1844. Using the critics' arguments against Joseph Smith's First Vision and ordination to the Priesthood, that means that Joseph Sr.'s dream was made up long after the Book of Mormon was published.
And besides, it's not like God can give different people similar visions, right?
So Smith didn't need books and newspapers to figure out the tree life of story?
I am still trying to figure out how this is like the first vision analysis. How many times did Lucy Mack tell her version of events and is the first time she describe it the most accurate?
“that means that Joseph Sr.'s dream was made up long after the Book of Mormon was published.“
According to Lucy’s account, Joe Sr had this dream in 1811. For it to have survived with such detail to her telling in 1844-45, she must have heard it more than once from Joe Sr. Remember there was no TV and no internet then—I imagine this was a story that was recounted from tim-to-time in the Smith family home in the evening before bedtime. There’s no indication that it was “made up” nor any reason to believe it would be.
I wonder if this will be any more effective than your debunking of the CES Letter? Remember how much time you spent on that?
And how many have chosen ex-Mormon lives in that time?
The debunking of the CES Letter was effective and helpful to me. And a thorough debunking it was.
Any victories you claim for the CES Letter are victories claimed by facile scandal-mongering masquerading as scholarship. Exposing the truth behind it is definitely worth the time.
No one claims victories for the CRS letter, but debunking FAIR's debunking, now there is a coup de grace
More of the same is not a coup de grace. Debunking FAIR's Debunking has itself recieved a number of responses, as has the most recent edition of the CES Letter.
Then you are clearly confused because it is impossible to more of the same.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hi Anonymous, welcome to (or back to) the blog. 😊I’m pretty new also.
Sorry but it seems that the dream of Joseph Sr. doesn’t really qualify.
1- as Ramer pointed out, it wasn’t in a book or newspaper until long after the BofM was published and, since Lucy had read the BofM, it can just as easily be argued that she was influenced by the BofM, rather than other way around. And, even if God gave Joseph Sr: a dream like Lehi’s, that still doesn’t explain how they knew the ancient American and Semitic details, nor does it show that they were readily available and “widely known” in Native American antiquities, etc.
2- Joseph’s dream doesn’t contain several of the important ancient American and Middle Eastern details, for examples: the BofM explains and describes the tree in the context of the ancient primordial hill, virgin goddess, cosmic tree/waters lifted up (represented as the rising Milky Way but it would take too long to explain that so I’ll leave it out :)) , filthy underworld waters, battle between good and evil, light and dark, pure waters and rod from the mouth, etc.
So, what about part 2? ….just another of those things you say hoping we’ll all fall? aaaahhh! everyone’s doing it, might as well abandon everything and join them in the spacious building……🤷🏽♂️ 😉
Joe your added significance to the dream is ridiculous and asinine. Those connections to not exist in a meaningful way, pal.
“Joseph’s dream doesn’t contain several of the important ancient American and Middle Eastern details, for examples: the BofM explains and describes the tree in the context of the ancient primordial hill, virgin goddess, cosmic tree/waters lifted up (represented as the rising Milky Way but it would take too long to explain that so I’ll leave it out :)) , filthy underworld waters, battle between good and evil, light and dark, pure waters and rod from the mouth, etc.”
Just reread the account of Lehi’s dream because I didn’t remember any of that from the many times I had read it. Guess what—my memory was right.
It might be fun to see you try to make the connections, though.
For a very long time now, Mormonthink has an open, unanswered question specifically for Jeff. What is the rigorous methodology for determing when something is a coincidence and when is it a connection. The silence is deafening.
Mormonthink has been in the business of drawing connections between the Book of Mormon and texts/Joseph Smith's environment for a while. If they want Jeff's "rigorous methodology", it's only fair that theirs is provided in return.
So you have no methodology. That is what we all thought. Mormonthink does not draw conclusion s it presents both sides. For example it may reference the sydeny rigdon collusion theory, but it also questions this methodology and consequently most objective analysis is Joseph Smith produced bom on his own. From boa to lectures on faith to DC Smith has demonstrated ability to produce. From several writings of the time and place Smith's productions are comparable. This methodology is no different to the many faithful Christians that acknowledge the jesus's story obvious ly fits the Herculean hero storirs around the hellenized Jews. Recognizing the eisegesis interpretation of the Messiah as an only begotten demi-God if miraculous birth does not make a faithful Christian anti-Christian. Even Ben Shapiro recognizes similar observations of religion (Judaism) matching it's time and place. Shapiro explains this as God working with his environment much like many faithful mormons.
However people in these threads are manufacturing something that says that Mormon s can not recognize that the bom or boa obviously matches a 19th century frontier American product . They are the ones boldly asserting reasonable observations make one anti-Mormon. But like you suggest, those people have no methodology for asserting this