A reader raised an interesting question after reading Dr. Royal Skousen’s C.V. at BYU, where he mentions a theory he is exploring that has not yet been published. Under the heading “scriptural studies,” Dr. Skousen proposes the following:
The Book of Abraham was a revelation given to Joseph Smith, who later (mistakenly thinking it was a translation from the papyri he had in his possession) tried to connect the revealed text to the papyri by inserting two sentences, verse 12c and verse 14, into Abraham 1. The secondary nature of these two inserted sentences can be directly observed in the photos of folios 1a and 1b in the document identified as Ab2. Verse 12c is totally inserted intralinearly, not partially (as incorrectly represented in the accompanying transcription – and without comment). Verse 14 is not written on the page as are other portions of this part of the text (instead, it is written flush to the left), which implies that it is a comment on the papyri and that it was added to the revealed text. Overall, these results imply that all the facsimiles from the papyri (1-3 in the published Pearl of Great Price) should be considered extracanonical and additions to the revealed text of the Book of Abraham, not integral parts of the original text of the book.
The reader asked for my opinion. He writes, “I personally like the idea. A follow up question: is there anything in the new Joseph Smith Papers volume that corroborates Skousen’s evaluation of those inserted verses that he mentioned?”
Great questions! I wasn’t aware of this proposal from Skousen and find it interesting. I agree in part: I think Joseph could have received the revealed text without being sure where it came from, but because Facs. 1 and 3 came from one of the scrolls, it’s plausible that he or his scribes thought the text must have some connection to that particular papyrus, the same one used for some of the characters that were placed in the margins of three early Book of Abraham Manuscripts (Manuscript A, Manuscript B, and Manuscript C at the wonderful Joseph Smith Papers Website, where you can review these documents at high resolution).
However, I think Skousen’s statements about the intralinear insertion of comments by Joseph need to be tempered. The text corresponding to our current Abraham 1:12c does look like Frederick G. Williams stuffed that phrase into some open space (see image below) and the JSP volume on the BOA recognizes that Williams has made an insertion of text there (JSPRT vol. 4, pp. 1954-195), but the twin manuscript being written by Parrish at apparently the same time does not show the same feature. Thus, it’s unlikely to represent a dictated on-the-fly correction by Joseph. As for verse 14, it does look like it has a different left margin at the top of page 2 of Williams’ manuscript, but that need not mean it was an afterthought for page 4 of his manuscript also begins with a margin shifted to the left as on page 2.
|Final lines on p. 1 of Frederick G. Williams BOA Manuscript A showing an apparent
insertion in the last portion of Abraham 1:12.
There is also adequate vertical space for that text, and if it were inserted after the following paragraph was already written down as some kind of afterthought, the amount of white space that would have been left in that scenario seems excessive compared to his other pages. So it may have been an insertion in Manuscript A but it’s unclear.
Further, the twin manuscript by Parrish has this text flowing nicely and showing no sign of being an afterthought from Joseph’s live dictation.
The really critical issue, though, is whether the apparent dictation represented live creation of newly translated text from Joseph, or whether the scribes were working with an existing translation. Skousen’s proposal only makes sense if Joseph were dictating either newly translated text or previously recorded text with live emendations. But given that there is significant textual evidence that the scribes were working with an existing manuscript and that most likely the reader was Warren Parrish, reading aloud for the benefit of his fellow scribe as they both created Book of Abraham manuscripts from an existing text, the two passages Skousen sees as Joseph’s insertion cannot accurately be said to have been improvised in the session where the twin manuscripts were recorded. Joseph may have made a correction in a previous manuscript, and the correction may have caused Parrish to stumble in his reading to Williams, resulting in the need to insert Abraham 1:12c in Williams’ document.
It is also important to recognize that the purpose of these twin manuscripts does not appear to have been creating new translated text, but creating new more material based on the existing translation to enter into W.W. Phelp’s Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. See
for whatever the purpose was of that abandoned and enigmatic document
filled with many characters that are not on the papyri and quite a few
that aren’t even Egyptian.
The Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham (JSPRT vol. 4) states that the two passages in question (v. 12c and v. 14) appear to be insertions in Williams’ Manuscript A, while Parrish’s Manuscript B does not show that for either, making the Williams manuscript unique (footnote 64 occurring on p. 239). I discuss those particular corrections and my take on them at https://www.arisefromthedust.com/2019/07/the-twin-book-of-abraham-manuscripts-do.html.
Phelps begins BOA Manuscript C by association one character with a short phrase and another with the name Abraham, using footnotes (1 and 2), but then drops that approach and has one character without footnotes associated with Abraham 1:3. He stops, and the work continues with BOA Manuscripts A and B by Williams and Parrish, respectively, who appear to be taking dictation simultaneously at first. But it’s important to recognize the extensive textual evidence that this was not live dictation of the original translation, but copying of an existing manuscript, and the reader appears to have been Parrish reading aloud for the benefit of Williams while he also makes a copy, up until Abraham 2:2, at which time Parrish quits (perhaps leaves due to his health issues) and Williams takes over, and then shows signs not of receiving dictation but copying visually (a massive dittography of Abraham 2:3-5). However, something is afoot with the verses mentioned by Skousen, perhaps because of editorial insertions in the original manuscript being copied, which may have caused Parrish to stumble in either reading or making his own copy, resulting in some corrections and disparities between the two writers.