Smoot discusses textual history of Abraham 1:12, 14.

Academic / Technical Report
Stephen O. Smoot

Stephen O. Smoot, "Framing the Book of Abraham: Presumptions and Paradigms," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47 (2021): 282–286

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship
Dan Vogel, Stephen O. Smoot
Reading Public

Critics of the missing papyrus theory are quick to point out that the text of the Book of Abraham actually mentions Facsimile 1:

And it came to pass that the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also, as they did those virgins upon this altar; and that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record. … That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics. (Abraham 1:12, 14, emphasis added)

Vogel contends that “these statements regarding Facsimile 1 create a serious problem for the long-scroll theory. Indeed, it is difficult to explain how the Book of Abraham can refer to the opening vignettes of the Book of Breathings as ‘the commencement of this record’” (188). In fact, although this claim has been popular with anti-Mormons since the 1960s, it actually isn’t very hard to account for these verses with the missing papyrus theory. Muhlestein has offered a perfectly plausible explanation, which Vogel ignores.

But more importantly, Vogel finds himself at odds with every other text critic who has look at the Book of Abraham manuscripts, and who agree that the damning lines from vv. 12, 14 are interlinear insertions in the Williams manuscript, and not original. Rather than being interlinear insertions, Vogel claims that “there is a general upward slant to all of Williams’ lines [on the first page of the manuscript], especially at the end of paragraphs,” and therefore v. 12 “was inserted into the space created by the upward angle of the previous line” (189). A careful look at the first page of the Williams manuscript, however, tends to refute Vogel’s claims. (See Figure 1.) Only the third and fourth paragraphs on that [Page 283]page might to an appreciable degree be described as slanting upwards, but certainly not “all of Williams’s lines” as Vogel claims. Crucially, the lines immediately before and after v. 12 do not appear to slant. The text “I will refer you to the representation that is at the … ” does slant upwards, but even if we grant that this was because of Williams’ scribal habit, and not because the line is an insertion, it does not explain why “… (commencement of this record” is directly underneath and does not begin at the left margin of the next line.

Vogel’s claim that “cutting out the entire reference to the sacrificial altar does not work, because doing so would create too much space between paragraphs, which was not Williams’s practice” (189–90) is also refuted by a look at the preceding paragraph breaks, which do in fact tend to leave considerable space between the end of the line and end of the page. (See Figure 2.) The first and third paragraph breaks, for example, occur before halfway down the line; the second and sixth paragraph breaks end about halfway down the line; and the fourth paragraph ends at about 3/4s down the line. If we suppose a fifth paragraph ending at “know¦ledge of this alter” on lines 36–37, it would, in fact, align very nicely with the first, second, third, and sixth paragraph endings. What’s more, the breaks at paragraphs one and arguably two occur mid-sentence in Williams’ text, posing no problem for the fact that the likely break at the fifth paragraph, as postulated above, also occurs mid-sentence.

Vogel has a better argument for why verse 14 may not be an interlinear insertion. He observes that “this page, like the previous one, is unruled; so there is no top margin that would have been left blank” (190–91). He also notes that “page 4 [of the Williams manuscript] also begins without observing the right margin” (191). What Vogel does not mention, however, is that page four of Williams’ manuscript also ends without observing the left margin, as shown in Figure 3, effectively making the entire page margin-less. (The first two lines and the last seven lines basically run from the left to right edges of the page.) The same is not true for page two, where the first four lines of v. 14 begin left of the margin that runs uniformly until the end of the page. Williams began and ended page four by following the same margins except for the middle of the page where he indented right to make room for marginal characters.

One could argue that the difference in indentation on pages two and four is because of the placement of the marginal characters. A cursory glance at the manuscript would seem to bear this out. Even so, if one were to follow Vogel’s argument, one would be hard-pressed to explain the cramped spacing of the first line on page two, which does not seem to appear at the top of the other three pages of Williams’ manuscript. This along with the fact that v. 12 almost certainly is not original satisfies me that “the content and spacing of this paragraph [at the top of page two], along with similar revisions to the line at the bottom of the previous page, suggest that this paragraph was inserted.” Gee is absolutely correct that “the Book of Abraham actually reads smoothly without these additions.” As revised to omit the lines in question, the text of Abraham 1:12–15 from Williams’ manuscript would read:

… and that you might have a knowledge of this alter[,] It was made after, the form of a bedsted such as was had among the Chaldeans and it stood before the Gods of Elk-keenah Zibnah Mah-Mach-rah — and als[o] a God like unto that of pharaoh King of Egypt[.] And as they lifted up their hands upon me that they might offer me up …

Whatever the ultimate implications this may have for the missing papyrus theory, the relationship between the text and Facsimile 1, or what was assumed by Joseph or his clerks to be the source of the Book of Abraham remains to be fully explored. For now, it is enough to say that Vogel’s appeal to Abraham 1:12, 14 in his attempt to refute the missing papyrus theory is not decisive.

Copyright © B. H. Roberts Foundation
The B. H. Roberts Foundation is not owned by, operated by, or affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.