Update, April 23, 2019: Doubly wrong! When I wrote this post earlier today, I was examining the very light “ink” with the words “in part” on a key manuscript by W.W. Phelps (“Notebook of Copied Characters, circa Early July 1835“) that equates three lines of Egyptian to four lines of English. I argued that based on the extremely light appearance, it seemed that Phelps has changed his mind and attempted to scrape off the ink, as has been done elsewhere in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. However, Dan Vogel kindly dropped by to say that according to the book by Hauglid and Jensen, the “in part” is actually pencil. (That doesn’t appear to be stated in the source note and associated information for this document on the Joseph Smith papers website. Could someone provide the page number and an image of their statement in the book for clarity? I don’t have the physical book over here in China.) If so, that’s good to know — thank you, Dan — and was one of my initial guesses mentioned in my comments on my previous post.
Based on the appearance, yes, it could be pencil. It does show more nonuniformity, which I assumed was due to the scraping action on the textured paper, but can easily be due to pencil scraping over the paper instead. I suppose in good light one can see the difference clearly between pencil and partially removed ink. Is there certainty that it’s pencil? I assume so, but want to check. Other examples (here and here) I’ve seen with pencil and pen on the same document have the pencil with fairly uniform line widths and can seem a little clumsier than the inked text, so it’s still fair to check.
If Phelps added “in part” later in pencil, my comparison of ink densities and other erasures is moot — but the significance of this document is unchanged. This does not make the document irrelevant, but simply puts us back to my previous view that “in part” was a late addition, and the use of pencil instead of ink only increases the sense of distance between what Phelps was thinking as he penned his translation and whatever he was thinking when he added “in part.”
The fact that he wasn’t even using his pen and ink when he added that suggests it may have been hours, days, or even weeks after he wrote the Egyptian text and the English “translation.” Why did he choose to use a pencil at that later time? Most importantly, why did he want to add “in part”? Was it because he later added the drawings that accompany the text? Did his “pure language” aspirations later lead him to hope that one might extract more hidden meaning from the basic translation of the Egyptian?
While some voices will continue to chant the mantra that it’s obvious that Joseph thought he was translating the Book of Abraham from a few single characters, this requires a series of assumptions about what the scribes were thinking they were doing as they added characters to the margins of the already existing text they were copying. We have no statement from them that their work gives us any insight into the actual translation and actually flies in the face of the most direct information we have. When Phelps put ink to paper in July 1835 and wrote these pages, he clearly was indicating that three lines of Egyptian yielded four lines of English text. That’s valuable information. Later he seems to have added “in part” in pencil. Was there more Egyptian on the page now from added drawings? Was there more meaning to be eked out? Had he forgotten to write a final line of the translation? Whatever his meaning was, there’s no evidence here that he now felt that many pages of text could be created from a few characters. That position comes from forcing the assumption to override the plain meaning of what Phelps first wrote in permanent ink. The pencil doesn’t erase that proposition and compel us to believe that now he realized that only one character had been translated.
Now my original and partly moot, largely wrong post follows:
Update, April 30, 2019: Today I noticed there is another document from Oliver Cowdery mentioning Katumin and giving the same English text that Phelps provides. The document is listed as “‘Valuable Discovery,’ circa Early July 1835.” Interestingly, Cowdery places some of the same Egyptian characters in line with the English. His document, from a notebook signed on the cover by Joseph Smith, associates only 6 or 7 characters with the English text, which may explain what he means when speaking of the “comprehensive” nature of the Egyptian and may indicate that Phelps believed he had only provided part of the translation of the Egyptian after all. I may have been wrong in my analysis below, at least in part.
Cowdery, like Phelps in his notebook, spells the names without the added “h” after some vowels that would become more common after Joseph and his brethren began study Hebrew at the end of 1835 and especially in 1836 when Joshua Seixas came to Kirtland at Joseph’s request. These spelling clues may be one of the most important things about these documents, showing how spelling changes after Joseph and his brethren began zealously learning Hebrew from Joshua Seixas in early 1836, which has the surprising implication that the dates many people have assumed for the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are simply too early, and may need to be reclassified as 1836 works, thus coming after the translation of at least much of the Book of Abraham had been completed. Further research is needed on this issue. See the discussion on my following post from April 30, 2019, “Two Important, Even Troubling, Clues About Dating from W.W. Phelps’ Notebook with Egyptian ‘Translation’.”
My original post here follows. Take it with a grain of salt, though it may still apply to what Phelps initially thought.
Readers, please forgive me for my sloppy conclusions driven by my amateur apologetics orientation. It’s time to admit I’ve made a significant blunder in evaluating the W.W. Phelps document that I discussed in my previous post, “Notebook of Copied Characters, circa Early July 1835.” That document, which occurs in a bound notebook, provides three lines of Egyptian text and four lines of English text, and calls the English a translation of the Egyptian — as if Phelps understood that it might take around 40 or so Egyptian characters to equal 50 English words, not one character for a hundred or so words. However, I think I blundered when downplaying the emendation to the text. As a reminder, here’s the image of the English text from Phelps, complete with the emendation:
Here is a closeup of “in part”:
When looking at this manuscript and the beginning of the Book of Abraham Manuscript C, shown below, where the very dark verses 1-3 are in Phelps’ handwriting followed by much lighter writing by Warren Parrish, it seems that Phelps liked writing with strong ink. So why is “in part” so light?
Here’s the Egyptian text that Phelps wrote on the next page of this notebook, also showing his penchant for writing in dark ink:
For his English comments, here is the transcript of page 1 as provided by the Joseph Smith Papers website for their Volume 4 on the Book of Abraham, as presumably edited by Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen:
A Translation of the next page <in part>
Katumin, Princess, daughter of On=i=tas <King> of Egypt, who reigned began to reign in the year of the world, 2962.
Katumin was born in the 30th year of the reign of her father, and died when <s>he was 28 years old, which was <the year> 3020
Unfortunately, I think this is wrong. I’ll show in a moment why I think a more accurate transcript would read as follows, with my changes highlighted in yellow:
A Translation of the next page in part
Katumin, Princess, daughter of On=i=tas <King> of Egypt, who reigned began to reign in the year of the world, 2962.
Katumin was born in the 30th year of the reign of her father, and died when <s>he was 28th years old, which was <the year>
I realized this once I learned that scribal errors in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were sometimes corrected by scraping off the ink and rewriting. Dan Vogel, for example, calls attention to the correction made by scraping off ink and repositioning a couple of Egyptian characters in the margins of the page 7 of Manuscript C in the handwriting of Warren Parrish. He makes a fair point that this shows attention to detail in aligning these characters with the text. What’s interesting is that you can still see the ink after it has been scraped, but now it is much lighter:
Given that Parrish’s writing was not as black as Phelps’, it makes sense that an attempt to scrape away ink would leave a heavier stain in Phelps’ case. We can see a correction in action in his English “translation” of Egyptian on page 1 of the notebook mentioned above. There’s an obvious grammar error when he begins to write “she was 28th years old.” It seems that he immediately realized that it should be 28, not 28th, and so, probably before he started “years,” he took his knife or whatever he used to scrape ink, and scraped away the heavy “th” that he had just written. The ink appears to have still been wet, for he smears it downward, and a little pool is still left at the bottom of the scraping path. The result of this obvious emendation is that the “th” is still plainly visible, but so much lighter that we should readily understand it represents text that has been deleted. This is why, when I provided a transcript of the English in my previous post on this letter, I did not write “28th.”
We can also see related corrections in his writing near the beginning of Manuscript C:
According to the transcript, Phelps wrote “desiring one <to be> one”. Instead of striking out the premature “one” and commencing after the strike out, it appears that “one” has been made lighter, presumably by scraping, allowing him to just write over it with “to be.”
Turning our attention back to Phelps’ emendation of “in part”, note that it has about the same darkness as this scraped “one” above and the scraped “th” from “28th,” though it lacks the smearing of the latter, probably because the ink was more dry when he changed his mind. When did that change occur? When I look at the backside of the notebook page in question, I can see ink that has gradually diffused into the paper for much of his writing (but probably not the scraped “th” of “28th”). This process, in my experience, takes a number of days with good paper. There is no sign of ink bleeding through from “in part,” which to me suggests it happened fairly soon after being written, but not immediately as in the “28th” error.
In any case, I believe the best way to treat “in part” as an emendation is to recognize that it is a deletion, consistent with other scraped deletions he has made, not an insertion in what might be unusually light ink for Phelps. [Correction, April 23, 2019: I have since learned that the very light “in part” may actually be pencil, which would indicate that it was in fact added some time — days? weeks? — after Phelps penned his original statement. See my update at the top of this post for discussion of the implications. The Phelps document remains critically important.]
Why did Phelps change his mind? Perhaps he was going to write more Egyptian on the next page, and instead just stuck with what he thought he or someone else had translated. Perhaps he was going to write less English, but decided to show the whole text. I’m not sure, but I think it’s fair to read this as a deletion of “in part,” not an addition.
For confirmation, I think we should do some microscopic analysis. There are some light spots that show up in the scraped “in part” as if the high parts of the paper are being scraped more effectively than the low spots. More scientific analysis of the document could surely confirm the nature of the “in part” text, but for now, I feel the best hypothesis is that this emendation represents a deliberate deletion.
This may be a disappointment to those who insist that “everyone knows” that Phelps and Joseph Smith thought a single character could represent hundreds of English words. But remember, Joseph Smith or a scribe (probably with his approval, of course) spoke of “characters” in the plural representing a name in the comments on Facs. 3. And when Joseph saw the four Egyptian figures that we now know are the sons of Horus on Facsimile 2, he did not say that these characters represented a huge chunk of text, but said that they were “the four quarters of the earth,” which is one of the interesting bulls-eyes in the comments on the Facsimiles. The explanations of the figures and characters on the Facsimiles are short and sweet, not pages of text. And when Phelps discusses actual translation of Egyptian, he equates 40-something characters to around 50-words of English. Still compact, comprehensive, impressive, but not bizarre.
Many thanks to a kind anonymous reader whose comments called me out for underplaying the “in part” that W.W. Phelps had written. I hope you’ll understand that my mistake was understandable, for his “in part” was so light, it was easy to miss and really looked like it was written long after he had penned his original statement in bold, dark ink. So naturally but wrongly, I made too much of the difference in inks and argued that there must have been a long delay after writing the translation of the Egyptian text before he began thinking that maybe there was more to translate. But it was probably the same ink after all.
So again, my apologies for being absolutely wrong about the emendation by Phelps. “In part” did not come later, as I thought, but most likely was written in the same sitting as the rest of that page in his notebook, and indicates that his four lines of English do, apparently in full, represent the three lines of Egyptian characters that followed. While he may have thought there would be more Egyptian on the following page, or less English that he could share, he appears to have changed his mind. And so, a bit embarrassed but hoping for your forgiveness, I admit I was wrong once again.
Update, April 23, 2019: In my comments about Joseph Smith’s views on the translation of Egyptian, I’ve drawn upon some posts from Val Sederholm’s blog, I Begin to Reflect:
1. “What did Joseph Smith say about the nature of Egyptian hieroglyphs?,” May 17, 2017. This essay makes two important points. (1) The editors of the Joseph Smith Papers are seriously wrong when they say Joseph thought Egyptian was a primal language that could give vast meaning in a single character and when they say that Champollion‘s “ideas about the nature of Egyptian were not well known in the United States until “decades after his death in 1832,” and (2) Joseph’s own translation of the Book of Mormon from reformed Egyptian reveals that it was or at least included a phonetic system. Moroni 9:32, for example, tells us that “
2. “Running from the Truth about Joseph Smith, the Book of Abraham Translation, and Little Red Riding Hood,” Jan. 25, 2017. Here Sederholm connects more dots from the Book of Mormon, which cannot be ignored if we are to understand what Joseph thought he was doing when he translated ancient characters, especially “reformed Egyptian”:
Now note how the Prophet Joseph Smith describes the title page of the Book of Mormon. When speaking of the particular gold plate that made up Moroni’s ancient title page, the Prophet correlates one plate to one page. And bear in mind that each plate was 6″ in width, 8″ in length, and that the English translation of the title page comprises a heading and two paragraphs. Again, here is no mystical, pre-decipherment “reading” of hieroglyphs as Symbol in which each sign contains of itself sufficient capacity to supply many sentences of esoterica or of Scripture.
But the drumbeat continues: Joseph Smith held that a single Egyptian sign packs in a verbal outpour. That’s what everyone believed back then, we are told. He accordingly wrestles with each little character, for each unfolds vistas of narrative, vision, and doctrine.
That may describe Athanasius Kircher (it doesn’t); Joseph Smith can speak for himself. And his comments on the Book of Mormon title page date from 1838/1839, three to four years after he translated the first chapter of the Book of Abraham, and three years before he translated the rest! Brother Joseph, who compares the Egyptian writing on the last plate to “all Hebrew writing in general,” sees all hieroglyphs, formed or reformed or whatever, as a “running” script. That’s his word. “Running”: nothing could be more clear (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 60-61; History of the Church 1:71-72 = “History of the Church,” Book A-1, 34-35.).
For Joseph Smith, then, should we follow his own crystalline descriptions of the nature of Egyptian writing, the 11 pages of unbroken narrative that make up the content of the published Book of Abraham would have been translated from several continuous, and presumably intact, sheets of papyrus (the translations tellingly show no gaps). Now, that’s not theory (“the missing roll theory“), that’s how Joseph Smith himself describes the nature of hieroglyphic text.
The fragmentary Book of Breathings thus has nothing to do with the making of the Abraham narrative.
3. “Is the book of Abraham ‘All Wrong’? Can the Critics be answered?,” June 15, 2018. Useful observations with some criticism of the weaknesses in the Church’s essay on the Book of Abraham, as well as criticism of Professor Ritner’s response.
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:
- “Friendly Fire from BYU: Opening Old Book of Abraham Wounds Without the First Aid,” March 14, 2019
- “My Uninspired “Translation” of the Missing Scroll/Script from the Hauglid-Jensen Presentation,” March 19, 2019
- “Do the Kirtland Egyptian Papers Prove the Book of Abraham Was Translated from a Handful of Characters? See for Yourself!,” April 7, 2019
- “Puzzling Content in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,” April 14, 2019
- “The Smoking Gun for Joseph’s Translation of the Book of Abraham, or Copied Manuscripts from an Existing Translation?,” April 14, 2019
- “My Hypothesis Overturned: What Typos May Tell Us About the Book of Abraham,” April 16, 2019
- “The Pure Language Project,” April 18, 2019
- “Did Joseph’s Scribes Think He Translated Paragraphs of Text from a Single Egyptian Character? A View from W.W. Phelps,” April 20, 2019
- “Wrong Again, In Part! How I Misunderstood the Plainly Visible Evidence on the W.W. Phelps Letter with Egyptian ‘Translation’,” April 22, 2019
- “Joseph Smith and Champollion: Could He Have Known of the Phonetic Nature of Egyptian Before He Began Translating the Book of Abraham?,” April 27, 2019
- “Digging into the Phelps ‘Translation’ of Egyptian: Textual Evidence That Phelps Recognized That Three Lines of Egyptian Yielded About Four Lines of English,” April 29, 2019
- “Two Important, Even Troubling, Clues About Dating from W.W. Phelps’ Notebook with Egyptian “Translation”,” April 29, 2019
- “Moses Stuart or Joshua Seixas? Exploring the Influence of Hebrew Study on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language,” May 9, 2019
- “Egyptomania and Ohio: Thoughts on a Lecture from Terryl Givens and a Questionable Statement in the Joseph Smith Papers, Vol. 4,” May 13, 2019
- “More on the Impact of Hebrew Study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Hurwitz and Some Curiosities in the GAEL,” May 20, 2019
- “He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken: Hugh Nibley,” May 27, 2019
- “More Connections Between the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and Prior Documents,” May 31, 2019
- “Update on Inspiration for W.W. Phelps’ Use of an Archaic Hebrew Letter Beth for #2 in the Egyptian Counting Document,” June 16, 2019
- “The New Hauglid and Jensen Podcast from the Maxwell Institute: A Window into the Personal Views of the Editors of the JSP Volume on the Book of Abraham,” July 1, 2019
- “The Twin Book of Abraham Manuscripts: Do They Reflect Live Translation Produced by Joseph Smith, or Were They Copied From an Existing Document?,” July 4, 2019
- “Kirtland’s Rosetta Stone? The Importance of Word Order in the ‘Egyptian’ of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language,” July 18, 2019
- “The Twin BOA Manuscripts: A Window into Creation of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language?,” July 21, 2019
- “A Few Reasons Why Hugh Nibley Is Still Relevant for Book of Abraham Scholarship,” July 25, 2019