One of the most interesting puzzles in the story of the Book of Abraham is the role of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, also called the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. These appear to be working papers used by Joseph's scribes and some say that they show Joseph's translation process. In these papers, Egyptian characters (and others) are on the left and text from the Book of Abraham is to the right. Yes, one might guess that the text is supposed to be a translation of the characters. But the crazy thing is that sometimes an entire paragraph is next to a single little character. The critics say that this shows just how ludicrous Joseph's translation was, using the assumption that the characters on the left are what Joseph was translating. There are problems with this, for careful examination of the papers shows that the English text was put down on the paper first and the characters were added after. A plausible explanation is that the documents were created after Joseph had completed his translation by others seeking to understand a relationship between his translation and the characters. But that still leaves plenty of questions.

Now, according to an important presentation by William Schryver at the recent FAIR Conference in Salt Lake City, careful examination of the documents and some surprising discoveries point to a new explanation for what the scribes were doing with the English text and the Egyptian characters. Rather than trying to translate Egyptian into English, they may have been doing just the opposite--creating a code or cipher from Egyptian and other random characters to represent English text. It was a strange experiment but one that fit in with some theories of the day.

This helps explain not only why English text was put down on paper first, but also why many of the once-presumably "translated" characters weren't even Egyptian at all.

Fascinating study. I look forward to further insight into this theory. Your thoughts? Any of you hear the actual presentation?

Instead of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers proving that Joseph was hopelessly inept at translating, they may actually just show that his scribes were hopelessly inept at secret codes.

Update, Aug. 15: Below are videos from William Schryver giving a version of his presentation. Fascinating content! However, Chris Smith has made some important points in his informal remarks to Kerry Shirts after the presentation. He notes the later chapters of the Book of Abraham had not been published and presumably were not yet translated when they were supposedly being used in 1835, according to Schryver's theory. If the translation of Facs. #2 and the later portions of the Book of Abraham did not take place until long after the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP) were produced, then the textual links between the Book of Abraham and parts of the KEP might plausibly be explained with the pre-Schryver hypothesis of the KEP as a translation tool for production of the Book of Abraham rather than as a post-translation cipher for English text. It's fair to ask if Schryver's intriguing theory moves us closer to the truth or is most valuable in stirring up healthy debate and fostering further discovery. I'm not sure at this time. There still remains John Gee's point that careful examination of key parts of the KEP appears to show that the English text was written first, with the characters being added to the margins later, as if an effort were being made by scribes to understand the translation or find relationships between characters and existing text. I look forward to further understanding from the scholars in this area.

The Meaning and Purpose of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers - Part 1 from William Schryver on Vimeo.

The Meaning and Purpose of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers - Part 2 (HD) from William Schryver on Vimeo.

P.S. I should note that it will be hard for me NOT to be biased in looking at Schryver's work. After all, the guy is a software engineer, plays the organ, speaks Italian, and lives in Cedar City--none of which I do, but all of which impress me. And he's done a lot of homework with some truly original thinking. Even if he ends up being wrong on some key points, he will certainly have done us all a great service and advanced understanding of the KEP and the Book of Abraham.
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