March 8, 2011

Review: Hauglid, "A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions"

Title: A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions
Author: Brian M. Hauglid
Publisher: Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship
Genre: Textual Criticism
Year: 2010
Pages: 306
ISBN13: 978-0-8425-2774-3
Binding: Hardcover
Price: $79.95

Some of the best books in recent Mormon Studies consist primarily of primary sources. Royal Skousen’s exhaustive study on the extant Book of Mormon manuscripts and editions,1 the original manuscripts of Joseph Smith’s “New Translation of the Bible,”2 manuscripts of revelations in the Joseph Smith Papers project3—each of these brings some of the prestige of the archive to the home bookshelf. Brian M. Hauglid situates his own new book, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions, within this movement; scholars are increasingly interested in “examining the textual history of restored scripture from the period of Joseph Smith to the present” (vii). Hauglid’s book is the fifth in the “Studies in the Book of Abraham Series” by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.4 Above all, Hauglid wanted to make the actual sources—which have been the subject of intense scrutiny and debate for decades—as openly available as possible.

It’s important to understand what the book contains and what it doesn’t contain—all archives are partial and selective, whether due to the ravages of time or otherwise. Hauglid’s book focuses strictly on the history of the actual text of the Book of Abraham and it tells a complex story, especially considering the length of the text (a mere fifteen pages in the current LDS edition of the Pearl of Great Price, eleven without the facsimiles, balloons into over 300 pages in this volume, not to mention the large body of materials written about the Book of Abraham since its original publication). This means the book does not include the other so-called “Kirtland Egyptian Papers,” which include what look to be attempts at deciphering an Egyptian alphabet. Some readers might be disappointed that these additional documents were not included, but a tantalizing footnote may ease the pain: “A documentary edition and analysis of the Egyptian manuscripts will be published through the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship” (viii, fn8).5

Hauglid also includes excerpts from the other Egyptian documents in the footnotes where relevant. In his view, the scattered textual connections between the Book of Abraham manuscripts and the Egyptian manuscripts “can be helpful in seeing contemporary secondary readings and viewpoints of various Abraham topics” (23). At the same time, he skillfully avoids direct engagement with “competing theories concerning the relationship between the Abraham manuscripts” (23). He stays above the fray by simply referring readers to the ongoing discussion between researchers present and past, including Edward Ashment, John Gee, Christopher Smith, Hugh Nibley, and others.6 To tide researchers over Hauglid compiled a side-by-side comparison of all the shared text between the Book of Abraham and the Egyptian manuscripts in Appendix 2 (225-231).

A Textual History is divided into three sections and five appendices, which I will describe in turn.

1. History of the Book of Abraham

Hauglid devotes a page to describe the content of the book and the discovery of the papyrus from which it is said to originate. The five chapter narrative, three of which contribute information not attested in the current biblical account, discusses the life of the patriarch Abraham. It also includes three Egyptian vignettes, or facsimiles, which purport to depict certain aspects of Abraham’s life. The papyri from which the book is purported to have been translated was discovered in Egypt, along with a pair of mummies, by Antonio Lebolo between 1817 and 1821. After Lebolo’s death they found their way to Michael Chandler, an antiquities displayer and dealer, who sold them to Joseph Smith for $2,400 in 1835 (1).

In regards to the actual translation process and timeline, things get murky and Hauglid cites conflicting theories in the footnotes, leaving room for disagreement while mapping out a tentative timeline (2). For instance, entries in the History of the Church cite translation work as occurring in July 1835, and seven specified days in late 1835. These entries were “likely added when W.W. Phelps edited the history in 1843,” calling into question their exactness (2). References to sermons, scripture, journal entries and other documents are included to flesh things out (2-5), while Appendix 1 contains a full and exhaustively annotated “Translation and Publication Timeline” (213-223). The actual text was published in the church-owned Times and Seasons newspaper between March and May 1842.7 In February 1843 the paper reported that Joseph Smith promised “to furnish us with further extracts from the Book of Abraham,” but no extant records contain any further excerpts (6).

An important subsection describes and accounts for the actual manuscripts of the BoA text, three from 1835 and four from 1841-2. As noted above, Hauglid makes “a clear distinction…between the Book of Abraham manuscripts and the [nine] Egyptian manuscripts” (6, see also 24). Collectively, all of these manuscripts have been referred to in the past as the “Kirtland Egyptian Papers” or KEP, “KEPA” for the Abrahamic texts and KEPE for the Egyptian alphabet, etc. Hauglid argues that this appellation is misleading in three ways: First, not all of the manuscripts were created at Kirtland. Second, some of them deal exclusively with the Book of Abraham text “while other manuscripts focus on speculative areas such as Egyptian alphabet, grammar, and counting” (6). Third, some confusion has resulted from grouping unlike documents under the same names.8 As a result of these difficulties, Hauglid proposes new designations for all of the Book of Abraham and Egyptian manuscripts (see Appendix I of this review). A useful cardstock bookmark is included in the book which lists the new abbreviations, as well as the transcribing symbols used throughout the book.

One of the most significant points Hauglid raises in the book regards the nature of the manuscripts themselves. Were they dictated orally, as can be seen in the partial Book of Mormon manuscript, or were they copies of earlier dictation, or a combination of the two? Hauglid argues that the Book of Abraham manuscripts are not the results of dictation, but bear the marks of being copies from a now-unknown “earlier exemplar” he calls “Ab0” (7, 21). Through textual analysis, comparison of spelling, handwriting, punctuation, etc., he lays out his evidence for this theory. The full transcriptions of each manuscript which appear later in the book can be used to check out his theory. Introductions to each transcription point out clues which Hauglid believes uphold his theory (for instance, see 58).

The rest of the first section gives an overview of some of the more significant differences between the Times and Seasons edition, the Millennial Star edition, and the editions published in 1851, 78, 79, 82, 88, 91, 1902, 1921, and 1981, respectively.9 This section is particularly useful in laying out some of the changes over time in one concise location, whereas all of the variants are spread throughout the text in section two.

2. Historical Text of the Book of Abraham

Unfortunately, a single hand-written manuscript of the entire Book of Abraham is not known. Manuscript evidence exists only for Abraham 1:1-2:18; Abraham 3:18b-26a; and explanations for Facsimiles 1 and 2 (21). Thus, Hauglid uses the first published version of the Book of Abraham from the 1842 Times and Seasons as his base text. He retains the paragraphing and orthography from the original publication and maps all variants from all known manuscripts and published editions in the footnotes (22-51). According to Hauglid, Joseph Smith oversaw the Times and Seasons publication but, as far as can be seen, Smith “had no [direct] influence on the text after this publication and up until his death in June 1844” (22).

3. Book of Abraham Transcripts: Manuscripts 1-7

This section includes transcriptions of the seven known manuscripts containing portions of the Book of Abraham (54-199). Additionally, photos and a transcription of William I. Appleby’s Journal Entry, 5 May 1841 are included here because the entry may reflect a full pre-publication manuscript (201-209). The transcription appears side by side with black-and-white photographs of the actual manuscripts. No overt interpretive information is given in this section, it is strictly a transcription making use of the manuscripts themselves, high resolution images, X-Ray Fluorescent technology to identify ink and paper chemicals, ultraviolet lighting, and other methods employed to analyze primary documents (53). The black-and-white images are for quick reference; printing it this way lowered the overall cost of the book. Importantly, complete color images of the manuscripts and the lead plates created to imprint Facsimiles 1-3, are included in Appendix 3 (233-276).10 Appendix 4 contains color images of Appleby’s journal entry (277-282). Each of the seven manuscripts is introduced by an editorial note listing the catalogue number from the Church History Library archives, the location, date, scribes, provenance, measurements, and a physical description. The transcription symbols “generally follow those employed in the transcriptions in the Joseph Smith Papers Project” (53).

Lacking any formal training in documentary editing I identified a few readings that seemed strange to me during my cursory read-through. One example demonstrates the weight that can weigh on a single letter. Ab6 Folio 2 Line 30 is transcribed as “So mote it be,—Amen” (191) whereas I might have rendered it “So mite it be—, Amen” (color image on 270). This little difference brings home how meticulous one must be in preparing a transcription. The letter they transcribe as “o” seems more like an “I” to me, although the stroke slightly curves back before going into the “t” immediately following it. Other places where “i” connects to “t” on the same manuscript seem to lack the small bump, but the stroke leading into it doesn’t look like the “o”’s elsewhere on the page. It is also lacking an obvious dot above.

“Mite” makes more sense to me and it was changed to “let it be” in the Times and Seasons edition (49). Hauglid notes “So mote it be” is “an archaic phrase meaning ‘so may it be” (191). Evidently the phrase is related to Freemasonry; it is said to be spoken at the start and finish of Masonic lodge meetings, a point which might invite further discussion.11


In addition to the appendices described above, Appendix 5 concludes the volume with full color images of James E. Talmage’s 1888 edition of the Book of Abraham (283-306). Talmage used the edition to update the Book of Abraham for the 1902 edition of the Pearl of Great Price, where it has remained in the LDS canon to the present. Talmage divided up the text into the now-familiar verse structure, inserted paragraphs, changed some spelling and grammar, and made other minor adjustments.

Some of his contemplated changes were not used. For instance, Abraham 3:26 reads: “and they who keep not their first estate, shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate...." Talmage crossed out “keep” and wrote “kept” in the margin in blue pencil. "Kept" was subsequently crossed out of the margin with black pencil and today the text still reads “keep” (299).

A puzzling change was made to Abraham 1:19. In the current edition, based on Talmage’s change, God tells Abraham:

“As it was with Noah so shall it be with thee; but through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God.”

As seen in the manuscript, this originally read:

“As it was with Noah, so shall it be with thee, that through thy ministry my name shall be known in the earth forever, for I am thy God” (289).

Evidently, Talmage wanted to differentiate Abraham from Noah in that he felt God’s name was not known in the earth forever through Noah. An explanation for the change is not given in the book.


Hauglid’s hope, as stated in the preface, is that “this volume will increase appreciation for the rich textual history of the Book of Abraham” (ix). As you can see, I’ve already started having some fun with the Book of Abraham in comparing it with the notes, spellings, changes, transcriptions and editions included in this beautifully-designed and sturdily-bound volume. Hauglid assists with future discussion on the Book of Abraham not simply by providing the stuff from which research can grow, but also by proposing a slightly less confusing system of reference for the manuscripts. Above all, Hauglid has provided a meticulously compiled source book for future researchers, and an interesting volume which Latter-day Saints can use to read the Book of Abraham in a different light.


1. Royal Skousen, The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001), and The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon, 2 vols. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001).

2. Scott Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2004). A DVD-ROM edition of these manuscripts is forthcoming from the BYU Religious Studies Center and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Hauglid hopes to see a DVD-ROM of the manuscript images in the coming years, as noted in the second part of my interview with Hauglid. See "FAIR Podcast, Episode 7: Brian M. Hauglid,"

3. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, Richard L. Bushman, The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Manuscript Revelation Books (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2009) and

4. The other volumes in the series include John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, John Gee, eds., Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham (2001), Michael D. Rhodes, The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary (2002), John Gee, Brian M. Hauglid, Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant (2005), Michael D. Rhodes, Books of the Dead Belonging to Tshemmin and Neferirnub (2011). See

5. From a practical standpoint this also seems to keep the book shorter and less expensive for those who are mainly interested in the Book of Abraham text proper, without concern for the other Egyptian documents.

6. The book does not include a bibliography or index. It would be awkward to compile an index for a source book like this, but a bibliography would help keep track of the scholarship Hauglid cites. Thus I compiled a bibliography of secondary sources to assist in navigating those to which Hauglid refers. See Appendix II below.

7. The first installment was published on 1 March 1842, the third on 16 May 1842 (5-6). The second installment was published on 15 March 1842 (22, 222). Missing here (and from the appendix timeline) is a potentially relevant source indicating that Joseph Smith assigned two men to raise funds to “help translate and print” the Book of Abraham in November 1837, as referred to in H. Donl Peterson, “Book of Abraham: Translation and Publication of the Book of Abraham,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism,, accessed 1 March 2011. Unfortunately Peterson does not identify the source itself.

8. Hauglid cites “KEPA 4” as an example, which “currently refers to both the manuscript that contains Abraham 1: 1-2:18 and one that includes Abraham 3:18b-26a. These two manuscripts should be catalogued separately” (6).

9. Absent are the foreign language translations of the Book of Abraham. Researcher William V. Smith ( notes the following editions: German (1882), Danish (1883), Dutch (1911), Hawaiian (1914), Maori (1919) and Swedish (1927). Additional translations include French, Spanish, Tagalog, Japanese and Russian.

10. The book does not include images of the Times and Seasons publications, which I would have liked to see included. Fortunately, these can be seen online at the Harold B. Lee Library Digital Collections, parts 1, 2, and 3.

11. See John K. Young, Barb King, The Everything Freemasons Book: Unlock the Secrets of This Ancient And Mysterious Society (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2006), 56, 179.

The "Kirtland Egyptian Papers" are commonly abbreviated as "KEPA" for the Abraham papers and "KEPE" for the Egyptian papers. Hauglid proposes new designating names for future researchers. (From pages 6-7.)

Abraham Manuscripts:
KEPA 1 = Ab1 (Abraham 1:1-3 [1835]; scribe: W.W. Phelps [folio 1a, lines 1-21 of Ab4])

KEPA 2 = Ab2 (Abraham 1:4-2:6 [1835]; scribe: Frederick G. Williams)

KEPA 3 = Ab3 (Abraham 1:4-2:2 [1835]; scribe: Warren Parrish)

KEPA 1 = Ab4 (Abraham 1:4-2:18 [1835]; scribe: Warren Parrish)

KEPA 4 = Ab5 (Abraham 1:1-2:18 [1842]; scribe: Willard Richards)

Folio 2b of Ab5 = Ab5a (Facsimile 1 explanation [1842]; scribe: Willard Richards)

KEPA 5 = Ab6 (Facsimile 2 explanation [1842]; scribe: Willard Richards)

KEPA 4 = Ab7 (Abraham 3:18b-26a [1842]; scribe: Willard Richards)

Egyptian Manuscripts 
KEPE 3 = EAWP ("Egyptian Alphabet" in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps [1835])

KEPE 4 = EAJS ("Egyptian alphabet" in the handwriting of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery [1835]) 

KEPE 5 = EAOC (Probably titled "Egyptian alphabet" in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery [1835])

KEPE 2 = ECWP ("Egyptian Counting" in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps [1835])

KEPE1= GAEL ("Grammar and aphabet [sic] of the Egyptian Language" in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps [1835/36/37])

KEPE 6 = EN1 (Egyptian notebook with signatures of Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams; contents in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery [1835])

KEPE 7 = EN2 (Egyptian notebook in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps [1835])

KEPE 8 = EH1 (Egyptian hieratic and three drawings in an unknown hand)

KEPE 9 = EH2 (Egyptian hieratic in an unknown hand)

The proposed designations of titles for the Egyptian papers are based on their original titles on the manuscripts and the scribes whose witing is found on them (7).

[Does not include primary sources such as contemporary newspaper accounts on the translation/publication, journals, manuscripts, etc.]

Ashment, Edward H. “Reducing Dissonance: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study,” in The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture, ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990) 221-35.

Ehat, Andrew F. and Lyndon W. Cook. The Words of Joseph Smith, (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980).

Faulring, Scott. An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989).

Gee, John. “Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence,” in The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew Hedges (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 196-203.

Jackson, Kent P. The Book of Moses And The Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts, (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2005).

Jessee, Dean C. Papers of Joseph Smith vol. 2 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992).

Jessee, Dean C., Ronald K. Esplin. The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, vol. 1 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2008).

Jessee, Dean C., Ronald K. Esplin, Richard L. Bushman. The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2009).

Lund, Christopher C. “A Letter Regarding the Acquisition of the Book of Abraham,” BYU Studies 20/4 (1980): 402-404.

Lundwall, N.B. Temples of the Most High (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962).

Nibley, Hugh W.  “The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers,” in An Approach to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2009), 502-68.

Peterson, H. Donl. The Story of the Book of Abraham: Mummies, Manuscripts, and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995).

Smith, Christopher C. “The Dependence of Abraham 1:1-3 on the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 29 (2009): 38-53.

Van Orden, Bruce. “Writing to Zion: The William W. Phelps Kirtland Letters (1835-1836),” BYU Studies 33/3 (1993): 542-582.

Westergren, Bruce N. From Historian to Dissident: The Book of John Whitmer, (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995).

Whipple, Walter L. “An Analysis of Textual Changes in ‘The Book of Abraham’ and in the ‘Writings of Joseph Smith, the Prophet’ in the Pearl of Great Price” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1959).

Journal of Discourses

History of the Church


Ben Park said...

You're a prince, BH; this is awesome.

WVS said...

Wow. Great review.

BHodges said...

thanks guys.

J. Stapley said...

Extraordinay, BHodges. Thank you.

BHodges said...

Thanks J. Stapley.

BHodges said...

UPDATE: Brent Metcalfe contacted me with the reference mentioned in footnote 7.

...after administering the sacrament, The Church was called upon to Know if they would sanction the appointment of the Presidents in authorizing Brother Richards & Brother Hadlock, to transact the buisne És of the Church in procuring means to translate & print those records taken from the Chatocombs of Egypt, now in the temple, the vote
was full & prompt to confirm the same

P.. Richards Clerk Pro.. Tem..

From the Kirtland High Council Minutes, 5 November 1837, p. 259, handwriting of Phinehas (sometimes spelled Phineas) Richards, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, available on Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 2002), DVD 19.

Thanks Brent.

dltayman said...

Phinehas Richards is my wife's great great great, etc Grandfather. As a first generation convert with an interest in Church History, I find that family link pretty cool.

BHodges said...

Brent, when I looked more closely at "mote" comparing the letter to earlier i's and o's I became persuaded that "mote" was correct. I couldn't find another example of an "i" without the dot above it, which is another reason I think "mote" is correct.

BHodges said...

That is odd, Brent's comment has gone missing.

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