It is common knowledge that Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Abraham came from his translation of some papyri acquired along with some mummies from a traveling show that passed through his town. What I think is not very well known are the details of that translation.
At the time in which Joseph Smith lived, there was very little knowledge regarding Ancient Egypt and everything that surrounded it was a mystery that intrigued many in the US. There was at that time, no real expert in reading Egyptian hieroglyphics but some were beginning to make small strides in understanding that civilization. When Joseph Smith saw the scrolls he had some of the members put together enough money to buy the mummies and scrolls for the sum of $2,400 which was a very large sum at the time. Joseph began translating the writings but it would take him many years to finish it.
As science has progressed, our knowledge of the Egyptians has increased substantially since the 1830’s. The discovery of the Rosetta Stone helped linguists discover the true meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphics. With the knowledge of today in both ancient writings and time dating, scientists have been able to evaluate the scrolls Joseph Smith used to create the Book of Abraham. The scrolls were believed to have been destroyed in the “great Chicago fire” of 1871 but in 1966 they were found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Many experts in Egyptology, from various parts of the world, have since inspected and reviewed the scrolls along with the three facsimiles found in the Pearl of Great Price and they have come to a very different conclusion regarding their origin and content. For the sake of time, I am not going to go into great detail on the specifics because they are too numerous to put here and I do not want to bore you all to death. There are many great books and web sites that do a good job of putting all of the information together for you. With a quick click on one of the links found on this blog you can read bout it in greater detail. 20 Truths About Mormonism has a very good accout of this and it also has the Mormon response to the issues surrounding the BoA.
Joseph claimed that the BoA was the writings of Abraham but according to those that have since reviewed the scrolls; the name of Abraham is not mentioned. The conclusion they all came to was that the scrolls were actually common Egyptian funerary documents for a man named Horus and that Joseph’s interpretations were far from accurate. The BoA has been identified as the Book of Breathings and time dating of the scrolls puts their creation at around the time of Christ which was approximately 2,000 years later then the time of Abraham. What Joseph Smith claimed to be the Book of Joseph was actually the pagan Egyptian Book of the Dead which dates to at least 1,500 years after the time of the biblical Joseph so it is not possible that he wrote it.
After reading all of the facts regarding the Book of Abraham, I have come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith did not know how to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics nor did he ever think that others would be able to, so he made up his own translation because no one would know the difference. His interpretation of the scrolls has been found to be no where close to the actual text by the scholars of today. Joseph has deceived the church regarding the Book of Abraham and the current leaders of the church choose to ignore the evidence against it.
If the Book of Abraham has been found to be a fraud, then could that same thing be said about the Book of Mormon? Unfortunately, without the actual plates, it would be impossible to make that assumption based on actual translation records alone but there are other issues in the Book of Mormon that I will get into later that lead me to believe it is no more accurate then the Book of Abraham.