Book of Abraham – Part 2

What became of the papyrus scrolls - that the Book of Abraham was translated from.

What became of the papyrus scrolls – that the Book of Abraham was translated from.

Once Joseph Smith was killed in 1844, the papyri collection remained in the possession of his widow, Emma.  Remember she refused to follow the leadership of Brigham Young, and remained in Nauvoo with her children while the Saints moved west to the Utah Territory.

In October of 1880, the Book of Abraham was included in The Pearl of Great Price which was officially canonized at the Church’s semi-annual General Conference in Salt Lake City. 

The Introduction to the Book of Abraham reads, “The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”

Allow me to fill in a crucial time gap.  Nearly forty years passed from the time Joseph translated the Book of Abraham, until it was officially recognized as sacred Scripture of the LDS Church.  However, during that period something occurred which neither Joseph nor any of his contemporaries could have foreseen. 

After many years of dedicated work on the Rosetta Stone, scholars were able to decipher the ancient Egyptian language.  It was now possible for scholars to translate accurately Egyptian texts and to understand their contexts. 

Initially, it did not appear likely that this new development would impact the isolated Mormon Church in Utah. 

What happened to the papyrus scrolls that Emma had?

Those scrolls and mummies were eventually sold by Emma in 1856, making their way to the Museum of Chicago.  They were then presumed destroyed in the great Chicago fire of 1871.  But those papyri had not been destroyed.  Lost, yes – but not forever.  They were to one day reappear. 

One Spring day in 1966, a professor of Arabic Studies from the University of Utah entered one of the vault rooms of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, seeking material for a book he was writing.  Dr. Aziz Atiya came across a file that contained a forgotten collection of Egyptian papyri.  The papyri had been glued to stiff backing paper in the 19th-century in an, effort to preserve them.  The reverse sides of the paper contained such things as architectural drawings of a temple and maps of Kirtland, Ohio.

Was Dr. Atiya was nor a mormon, but he recognized the collection as having a connection with the history of the LDS Church.  Dr. Atiya arranged for the LDS Church to acquire this collection from the museum.     

On November 27, 1967 the Salt Lake Deseret Newspaper announced the discovery of the original papyri from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham. 

Questions quickly rose – Would the arguments of critics be overcome and silenced at last?  Would Joseph’s work finally be justified before the eyes of a skeptical world?  The Saints waited expectantly and held their breath.

We can only imagine the anticipation since the LDS Church had been criticized all those years for not having the Gold Plates to validate the Book of Mormon, and the ancient Egyptian papyri to validate the Book of Abraham. 

Finally there were highly educated Egyptologists who could translate the writings on the papyrus to let everyone know if it was truly what Joseph claimed it to be – the Book of Abraham.

Next time we meet, I will share with you how that turns out. 

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