Update on Inspiration for W.W. Phelps’ Use of an Archaic Hebrew Letter Beth for #2 in the Egyptian Counting Document

I previously noted that one of the Hebrew books Oliver Cowdery brought to Kirtland, Ohio near the end of 1835 showed an archaic form of the Hebrew letter beth which W.W. Phelps employed in the strange “Egyptian Counting” document of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, suggesting that the period of Hebrew study that followed had an influence on that document. Since then I’ve been looking for alternate sources that might have influenced Phelps. I’ve looked at Hebrew materials, Masonic materials, as well as information ciphers and scripts. I have found an alternate candidate in Thomas Astle, The Origin and Progress of Writing: As Well Hieroglyphic as Elementary (London: T. Payne & Son, B. White, P. Elmsly, G. Nichol, and Leigh and Sotheby, 1784), Table 1, p. 64; available at Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=mI3nAAAAMAAJ&&pg=PA64 (scroll down on page to see the table).


There in the upper right-hand corner, at the left end of the string next to the “B” on the right edge, is the character that is the same as the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document. There may be other sources as well, so if you run into any, please let me know.

This finding weakens my “smoking gun” for the influence of Moses Stuart’s Hebrew book on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, for this character could have been seen in Thomas Astle’s book or some other source — the fact that Moses Stuart’s book was surely seen by Phelps and contains that character could just be coincidence and need not force the date of the Egyptian Counting document to after Hebrew books came to town in Kirtland.

On the other hand, while Astle’s 1784 book was in the Library of Congress by 1840 and at Harvard by 1830, and probably in other locations in the U.S., it does not show up in nineteenth century catalogs of several other major or relevant libraries that I have searched (e.g., the 1884 Princeton Library from Phelps’ home state, the Pennsylvania State library in 1859, the vast library at Allegheny College in New York in 1823, the Rochester Atheneum/City Library in 1839, Brown University in 1843, the Ohio State Library in 1875, and other major libraries, though it was in the Cincinnati Public Library by 1884), suggesting it may not have been a widely available book.

Thomas Astle’s book is actually quite interesting and, like many books displaying archaic Greek alphabets and variants of Phoenician, allows one to recognize a number of characters quite similar to other non-Egyptian “Egyptian” in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, perhaps due to influence of some Greek study among the brethren. That’s a topic for a later post.

This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:

Author: Jeff Lindsay

12 thoughts on “Update on Inspiration for W.W. Phelps’ Use of an Archaic Hebrew Letter Beth for #2 in the Egyptian Counting Document

  1. You’re way ahead of me as usual, but it seems there were other matches (maybe also to the BofM characters). I’ll try to look into it, but right now you have me thinking about something else….
    I know I’m slow because I’m just realizing this (and you probably have blogged on it elsewhere) but, if there’s no sign of Seixas’ influence in the GAEL, or even any other KEP, then that pushes the creation of the GAEL and BofA translation dates back, and gives a timeline that could make more sense. It also lands responsibility for the GAEL and etc on WWP and maybe OC.
    It’s starting to make more sense to me in different ways. Could be wrong but I’m glad we had this cool nversatio. I’ll post more another time gn all, including critical friends

  2. So, I know I’m a bit off topic but your discussion of “Beth” got me thinking. And, as usual, I could be wrong, and you may have discussed this (I don’t have much free time, and enjoy spending it with anonymous critics ; )), so I apologize if I'm repeating, but I’m going to throw out some thoughts, maybe in random order—

    It struck me that the counting document uses B as #2, which is correct for Hebrew, and not a big deal. The GAEL also uses B. As you know, Aleph, the Ox represents #1, God, etc. (“Ahlish”?). Beth, the pregnant mother/ primordial house of mankind, is #2. The GAEL gives its deeper meaning as man’s first residence. And, as discussed previously, there are other signs of some knowledge of Hebrew. The evidence indicates that this was beyond Joseph Smith’s knowledge in 1835, and early 1836.

    However, Phelps reportedly used some Hebrew in publications before this time, actually, let me grab some quotes from ““The Word of the Lord in the Original”: Joseph Smith’s Study of Hebrew in Kirtland”–

    “Following the…Book of Mormon in 1830, Joseph Smith did not directly refer to Hebrew for over five years..Joseph’s writings in the early 1830s did include some Hebrew words and phrases such as Zion and “Lord of Sabaoth,” …likely learned these words from his reading of the King James Bible..represent the extremely limited (almost nonexistent) extent of Joseph’s interaction with the language before 1835….W. W. Phelps in particular, were interested in Hebrew and occasionally used Hebrew words in…editorials…fn 24 “For example, W. W. Phelps—who was celebrated by the early Saints as an amateur linguist—interpreted…1832…discussed Hebrew names…occasionally published…eastern newspapers…discussions of Hebrew words…It is unclear where Phelps acquired his own very limited knowledge of Hebrew words by this time. For a consideration of Phelps’s linguistic interests, see Samuel Brown, “The Translator and the Ghostwriter:…” (I haven’t read that yet, so may be way off base, feel free to let me know, just thinking out loud with my keyboard :))

  3. So, that, along with your other evidences, lends support to your theory that WWP is the GAEL’s author.
    Then, in October, months AFTER the Papyri came to town, and after Joseph had begun translating significant portions of the BofA, Oliver contacts Lucius Parker, discussing teaching a Hebrew class. Quoting Grey again- “Parker indicated…could only teach the basics…Cowdery replied, “We have those who could teach us the rudiments of the Hebrew, but we wished an accomplished scholar.”[48] It is not clear who…Cowdery felt was qualified to teach “the rudiments,” but …inquire after Daniel Peixotto, a Jewish doctor who taught…” and so on. “Joseph immediately sent Oliver…books for the school.”…Peixotto fell through.[60]…Without an instructor, Joseph…studying his new Hebrew books [on his own], examining his new Greek lexicon, and continuing work with the Egyptian papyri…unlikely that Joseph learned much beyond the various alphabets…”
    Zucker “…November 20, Oliver Cowdery presented…textbooks……"examining my books and studying the Hebrew alphabet."…On January 5…Joseph divided the Hebrew students into classes…argument with Orson Pratt "over the sounding of a Hebrew letter.’” …After a month of study, Joseph prays: "O may God give me learning, even language; and endow me…"
    From Grey: "February 4, Joseph reportedly says- "We have a great want of books, but are determined to do the best we can. May the Lord help us to obtain this language, that we may read the Scriptures in the language in which they were given."
    This indicates that Joseph didn’t have an understanding of the Hebrew alphabet, and others didn’t view him as being able to pronounce the letters correctly, in late 35 and early 36. But, WWP was looked upon as having some knowledge of languages much earlier.

    If Seixas didn’t influence the GAEL, etc. this pushes its date of creation back (as you’ve already pointed out). It also emphasizes the idea that Phelps was the creator and director of the alphabet project, and supports Schryver, Gee, Lindsay, etc. for an earlier BofA translation date. : )

  4. Most of our critical friends (Vogel, C. Smith, Ritner, Orbiting, etc.) base their translation arguments on their own critical beliefs that JS was responsible for everything, everywhere–and especially if it was related to Spiritual gifts. Their GAEL translation arguments, if followed, seem to include– that before translating the BofA in a way that the ex-Mormon WP would view as direct inspiration (so evidently NOT looking at the Phelp’s GAEL), JS created the EA’s (acting as his own scribe with face in hat while doing so?) and subsequently or previously created the GAEL, by dictating (or describing?) characters so they could be drawn, and throwing out Hebrew words, letter meanings, etc. and miraculously associating them with random sections of an intricate and authentic BofA story line which didn’t yet exist. Then, later (but before Sept.) he looks at the GAEL (as best evidenced by “choppiness” per C. Smith) and works those words etc. into an ancient and amazingly coherent text, which would, much later, amazingly be supported by over 100 texts, which weren’t yet available to JS, WWP, etc.. < That, of course, is even more miraculous than the method of translation that JS actually used on scripture (but, interestingly, maybe not the Kinderhook forgeries, which is further evidence of his genuine beliefs, and honesty, etc., (a fraud would more likely admit he couldn’t do it, or simply make something up with his seer stone), and this was before he decided it was time to create a better GAEL :)). That seems quite impossible at the moment.
    Continued…. daughter has a birthday party to attend : )

  5. K, have a few minutes– That, plus other evidence, reveals a translation scenario that significantly differs from the impossible non-historic versions fabricated by proponents of anti-mormonism. These evidences include (as they come to mind, as usual, and generally from memory, unless noted):

    1- Some of the Semitic root words and concepts indicate a depth of Hebrew understanding. I’ve mentioned Ayin (meaning eye, formed from Zayin, and the hand/yod (the hand or iota dot, as shown in the KEP), interpreted as seeing, etc. but others are much more important and were almost certainly recorded after the system of astronomy sections were translated (as discussed in the BofA and understood by the ancients). But, there are better examples- Kolob, for instance (the heart of Heaven, Amun, Sirius, etc.), plays a key role in how the Lord reveals Himself to Abraham as He prepares him to visit Pharaoh. This section of the BofA shows an understanding of ancient astronomy, Egyptian culture, and Semitic thinking that was well beyond anyone in the 19th Century. It also shows Ptolemaic influence and yet, could be interpreted in non-offensive ways by an intelligent Pharaoh, a 21st Century Saint, or a person Orbiting Kolob (if such wished to show an intelligent and sensitive side :), luv ya). The idea that this was just thrown in willy nilly bits and pieces into the EA, and then later worked into the BofA, seems silly, in my humble opinion, no offense to anyone who thinks that way– and I am willing to change my mind, if given evidence that I’ve missed (and there is a lot).

    2- WWP, WP, and OC, were very interested in translating. JS believed they could, since he had, and encouraged them in developing their unique gifts (again, I would suppose that a fraud would be more likely to discourage others, since their failures, or apparent successes, would put him at greater risk of being caught.)
    As we know, Cowdery had tried to translate years before and then, after JS translated at least some of the BofA, and had possibly acted as scribe in creating EAJS and apparently participated in helping WWP create an alphabet, Cowdery was relieved of some duties and was put in charge of recording Blessings. In Sept. of 1835 it is thought that Oliver redacted his previously given blessing to include that, due to his superior intelligence (was he already “miffed”?), he’d be an “instrument in the hands of his God, with his brother Joseph, of translating and bringing forth to the house of Israel”. Also, at that time, he added parts of the already translated BofA to his Blessing (and some things from Joseph in Egypt, which may be from the BofJ, but not sure if anyone has looked into the possibility that JS had progressed to that point, that early, and it’s assumed that it was a revelation to JS or maybe JS Sr. or something? not clear yet.).

    Critic C. Smith (did I say “as referenced in the JSP”?) argues that, by Sep. the GAEL had already been used to translate those first BofA verses, (I take most things by him with a Great Salt grain. I’m sure there’s no bias, since he also argues things such as “Mormons are all raised to lie and deceive from childhood. I know this because I lied as an evangelical but not now, as an activist, but this proves Gee is wrong on his translation..” not an exact quote but close 🙂 :), but still… ). The simpler, more logical conclusion, is that the BofA was already translated, but I digress.

  6. Joe you need an editor. Your posts are too long and come across as rambling. Call me a critic it you will, but I can't really respond to something presented so nonsensically. Take the time to write it clearly and concisely, unless you feel your ideas are not worth clear presentation.

  7. Hi, I’ve been out of town and looks like I left mid thought, after moving some comments to the appropriate Jeff Blog. So, yes, there's more, my critical friends, glad you missed me. Feel free to edit in helpful ways, Mr. smarty pants critic 😉 (Guess that's Orbiting, since he’s supposed to be the smart one of the 3, right? Except this prob won’t be on IRR or whatever…, so no discussion of content?). ; )❤️…I’m new at studying the KEP, and, as always, helpful criticisms and disagreement are accepted with a smile:).

  8. So, what I was saying, I think, was that Jeff has adeptly shown me (and anyone interested in knowing) that the KEP Abraham manuscripts were copied from an existing BofA manuscript, complete or not. Sometimes someone read from it and, at other times, there was evidently direct copying leading to dittography and other signs of copying.

    This only adds to the evidence that the critical claims of leading anti-Mormon groups and individuals are impossible. For example, Dan Vogel (sophist extraordinaire?), puts in long work hours trying to manipulate us from our sealings (ultimately) by pushing the scenario that makes Joseph Smith responsible for everything (and I’m sure he knows better), implying that JS miraculously described and dictated: Egyptian characters, made up characters, valid Egyptian names, valid history, ancient culture, the BofA, etc. etc….from his hat (where the previously dictated GAEL and or EA, were hidden from the watchful eye of future bitter apostates WP, etc.?). He seems to piggyback on the work of scholars from the Church of Jesus Christ, but then spins things in all kinds of directions, with the result always leading us carefully to “Joseph bad”. He may relate well to his imagined Joseph, who seeks to manipulate souls into his power web….but, while this might be Dan, it clearly isn’t the real Joseph, as even Dan must know. Dan will say “JS said such and such,” (not an exact quote : )J, but gives no reference, then uses his bad guy voice, perhaps trying to lead us to believe that faithful scholars are doing what he does (sort of like some of Jeff’s anonymous friends, which are now my friends : ), and that comment is all they’ll address here ;), or not…watch), or he’ll attribute outdated opinions to scholars (as everyone knows, if a Church member said it, it’s forever…no eternal progress for the critics, unless it suits them ;)), or he’ll go in for a close up and “fail to mention” that the word leading to another dittography is a line or so above and would easily have drawn the eye after looking back at the original, and so on.. I’ll return to this, maybe. But no, it’s not an attack on Dan, it’s an analysis and response to his attack on faithful scholars or “apologists”, and my faith and family…that’s what this is all about ultimately. We all know that.

  9. Jeff has also given us evidence that the GAEL could predate Seixas. If I remember previous blogs correctly, John Gee felt there was some evidence for the influence of Seixas in the GAEL, or at least the EA. Others (including non-believers) have pointed out the evidence for Seixas’ influence in pronunciations and spellings in the BofA. These were later developments, as far as I know. Each theory (Jeff or John, etc.) supports the BofA in a different way and, either way (WWP Hebrew or Seixas Hebrew), it would not have been possible for JS to have authored any of the KEP before Seixas, and it would not have been possible for JS or any of his peers to have authored the BofA at any time BUT, one thing I’m getting at is—after watching through most of the not-truth of the BofA parts 1-3(most of 3 is all the hotel’s cold-caffeine could keep me awake for :), I’m even more convinced that the BofA was translated first, and probably some of the BofJ, and THEN the EAs and GAEL, even if all, or some of this was simultaneous. However, it’s logically clear that the very first translation session was substantial enough to recognize a BofA and BofJ…that’s not just a couple of characters, as Dan would have us believe. JS had 2 scribes recording. He wouldn’t have done that if it were a simple skim for names .
    (Here I edit for my anonymous readers)- Meaning, in summary, they translated an intro, and Abr. 1:1-?, could be through 3 or whatever. And they likely looked ahead to some sort of break, which could be another scroll but not necessarily, depending on which eyewitnesses are correct (one woman assumed there was a handwriting difference, but this isn’t necessarily for the BofJ. OC sees part of one roll as being written by someone who only “more or less” has an understanding of God, etc. but the terms “another” and “inner” roll could mean a couple of things, and so on). Then, WWP and Co. break concepts apart and associate them with characters, or try to, then give up. Sometimes this is done by shape, sometimes by order relative to Hebrew, etc.
    But following after the BofA.

  10. Other people are critical of you besides OK, whom I am not.
    Your follow up posts have done nothing to clarify anything at all. It's impossible to criticize your ideas when they're delivered in such a nonsensical fashion. Take the time to edit yourself or no one will take the time to read what you write. Do us all a favor. It's just basic communication, Joe.
    Try bullet points, simpler words, and complete avoidance of specialized vernacular (especially when it's specialized specifically to Jeff and this blog) if you want to be read and/or taken seriously.

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