I previously noted that one of the Hebrew books Oliver Cowdery brought to Kirtland, Ohio near the end of 1835 showed an archaic form of the Hebrew letter beth which W.W. Phelps employed in the strange "Egyptian Counting" document of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, suggesting that the period of Hebrew study that followed had an influence on that document. Since then I've been looking for alternate sources that might have influenced Phelps. I've looked at Hebrew materials, Masonic materials, as well as information ciphers and scripts. I have found an alternate candidate in Thomas Astle, The Origin and Progress of Writing: As Well Hieroglyphic as Elementary (London: T. Payne & Son, B. White, P. Elmsly, G. Nichol, and Leigh and Sotheby, 1784), Table 1, p. 64; available at Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=mI3nAAAAMAAJ&&pg=PA64 (scroll down on page to see the table).

There in the upper right-hand corner, at the left end of the string next to the "B" on the right edge, is the character that is the same as the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document. There may be other sources as well, so if you run into any, please let me know.

This finding weakens my "smoking gun" for the influence of Moses Stuart's Hebrew book on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, for this character could have been seen in Thomas Astle's book or some other source -- the fact that Moses Stuart's book was surely seen by Phelps and contains that character could just be coincidence and need not force the date of the Egyptian Counting document to after Hebrew books came to town in Kirtland.

On the other hand, while Astle’s 1784 book was in the Library of Congress by 1840 and at Harvard by 1830, and probably in other locations in the U.S., it does not show up in nineteenth century catalogs of several other major or relevant libraries that I have searched (e.g., the 1884 Princeton Library from Phelps’ home state, the Pennsylvania State library in 1859, the vast library at Allegheny College in New York in 1823, the Rochester Atheneum/City Library in 1839, Brown University in 1843, the Ohio State Library in 1875, and other major libraries, though it was in the Cincinnati Public Library by 1884), suggesting it may not have been a widely available book.

Thomas Astle's book is actually quite interesting and, like many books displaying archaic Greek alphabets and variants of Phoenician, allows one to recognize a number of characters quite similar to other non-Egyptian "Egyptian" in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, perhaps due to influence of some Greek study among the brethren. That's a topic for a later post.

This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:

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