The Man who wrote the LDS Essay on the Book of Abraham was a fraud?

Well at least the conclusion that the Book of Abraham has

“parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies”.

Who wrote the essay?  I’m not sure, it’s unsigned, but what LDS scholar claimed this idea first?

To answer that we need to travel back to 1968 when the LDS church leadership asked Hugh Nibley to publish a set of articles in the New Era on the Joseph Smith Papyri, the Book of Abraham, and what it means.  Why in 1968?

In 1966, Dr. Aziz S. Atiya of the University of Utah noticed that these fragments were clearly part of Smith’s collection of papyri. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) acquired the fragments in 1967. “I Have a Question”. Ensign. July 1988. Retrieved July 9, 2014.)

The church now had the fragments due to a lucky find at The Met, and they needed someone to translate them.  So who better than Egyptologist Hugh Nibley? Except he wasn’t an Egyptologist yet.  He knew Arabic, Latin and Greek, but no Egyptian.  So he wrote a letter to a Dr. Dee Nielson,

How do we know that church leaders approved of Nibley doing this?  He published routinely his findings in Improvement Era, for example February 1968, pp. 40–40H.

With our readers, the staff of The Improvement Era will be looking forward with eager anticipation to additional developments in this fascinating story, and the unfolding of the meaning of the heiroglyphics and illustrations on these valuable manuscripts as they are given by Dr. Nibley in his articles.

And according to a memorandum from President Tanner’s office files photographs of the papyri were then given to Nelson “at the suggestion of Dr. Hugh Nibley” on January 5, 1968. (This was found by Wilbur Lingle on May 18th, 1977, after an “extensive search” because President Tanner had written to a member via telegram “In Reply to your inquiry, I say that I have never Authorized D. J. Nelson to translate the pearl ofGreat Price Papyrus. Signed: N. Eldon Tanner’ )

So what did Nelson Find?


That’s right, Nelson found that it was funerary text.  Just like the modern says:

“parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies”.

Hugh Nibley praised Nelson’s “preliminary work with the Facsimiles in the Papyri” in Brigham Young University Studies, Spring, 1968, p. 247 the same periodical that FAIRMormon and The Maxwell Institute apologists publish in now.

So why didn’t the church call this a victory and publish the essay back in the 1960’s or 70’s?  Because it spent 4 decades discrediting Nelson.

Apologist Jeff Lindsay’s blog states

“Dee Jay Nelson led the charge in the assault on the Book of Abraham following the 1967.  Incredibly, Nelson’s credentials were purely fraudulent. The source of his Ph.D. was a fraudulent ‘degree mill’ called Pacific Northwestern University. I’ve seen copies of his false degree (apparently purchased) from PNU and the documentation exposing that ‘university’ as a fraud” (see Robert L. Brown and Rosemary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive, vol. 1, Brownsworth Publishing, Mesa, AZ, 1981; see also vols. 2-4; you can see an online sample of the information in their book). has a list of his false PHD’s and phoney credentials

When the University of California was asked about Dee Jay Nelson, they responded that, “from the information given, we were unable to identify the name, Dee Jay Nelson, in the list of students who have ever attended the University of California, Berkeley, in regular or summer session.”

SHIELDS boldly states:

 Although it has been shown that Nelson had no expertise as an Egyptologist, some critics still cite him as an authority.

Yes, who would ever believe the claims of such a total, and absolute fraud… except an essay?  I know apologists and members will point out that lots of other scholars called it a funerary text besides Mr. Dee Jay Nelson, assistant to Dr. Hugh Nibley.

And they’re right, we need to know about Dr. Robert C. Webb

In 1912, when an Egyptologist published his translation of the facsimiles contained in the Book of Abraham, the church hired another expert. Webb’s scholarly-sounding articles about the Book of Abraham began appearing in Church publications in 1913 mostly claiming that no Egyptologist had seen the full papyri, a claim still made in the Essay on today.  It made no difference that the best “experts” criticized and ridiculed his writings as “full of errors,” “its own refutation,” and “ridiculous.” or that he added a “Dr.” to his title somewhere in the middle of his publications.

Fawn M. Brodie revealed that Webb’s real name had been J. E. Homans, and that he had never earned a Ph. D. in Egyptology or any other field.  He was also a fraud.

That’s two frauds (Nelson and Webb) the church hired to review the papyrus.  And both times to try and refute that the work was attached to a funerary text.

If only there weren’t phony scholars who reviewed the text, the church could have avoided these embarrassments.  Turns out that three scholars Baer, Parker, and Wilson published in Dialogue, the Journal of Mormon Thought in 1968 coming to the conclusion that it was a funerary text ( “The Breathing Permit of Hor: A Translation of the Apparent Source of the Book of Abraham”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 3 (3), retrieved 2008-02-01.)

The same year as Hugh Nibley started researching.

So who did write the funerary text portion inside the current church essay? Well it’s impossible to tell without any attribution, but I’d submit the church is likely to have used its own scholars it paid for (who were both frauds) over those who were qualified scientists publishing at the same time in a non-official source.

But maybe the church leans on outside scholars or non-official publications for its essays… and maybe you should too.

Namely University of Chicago Egyptologist Robert K. Ritner concluded in 2014 that the source of the Book of Abraham “is the ‘Breathing Permit of Hôr,’ misunderstood and mistranslated by Joseph Smith”,[87] and that the other papyri are common Egyptian funerary documents like the Book of the Dead… the Book of Abraham is “confirmed as a perhaps well-meaning, but erroneous invention by Joseph Smith,” and “despite its inauthenticity as a genuine historical narrative, the Book of Abraham remains a valuable witness to early American religious history and to the recourse to ancient texts as sources of modern religious faith and speculation.”


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Last edited by Mithryn on January 14, 2017 at 12:08 am

3 Responses to The Man who wrote the LDS Essay on the Book of Abraham was a fraud?

  1. Bob says:

    Mentioning one of the current “experts” in the Church’s employee is probably warranted. Muhlstein had been thoroughly disavowed by quite a few non-Mormon Egyptologists. Even after all this time, the church history department and Maxwell Institute are still playing the game.

  2. VFanRJ says:

    With 15 ordained seers as well as JS’s seer stone, why would Church leaders even need to look to others to verify the papyrus? If they are indeed magnifying their calling as ordained seers than not only do they ear have seer stones, but they’ve been practicing their scrying.

    While they are at it, since 1967 they’ve also had the Egyptian papyrus containing the Book of Joseph in their possession which still has not been translated and canonized. Could they be wicked and lazy seers?

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