I received a kind email from Kyler Rasmussen in response to arguments I have made about the spelling in the book of Abraham manuscripts that are part of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (see "The Twin Book of Abraham Manuscripts: Do They Reflect Live Translation Produced by Joseph Smith, or Were They Copied From an Existing Document?"). As a reminder, there are three manuscripts, A, B, and C, written by the scribes Frederick G. Williams, Warren Parrish, and W.W. Phelps, respectively (Phelps begins manuscript C and Parrish later copies more onto it), each of which cover some of the initial verses of the book of Abraham and also have a few characters in the margins from one of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Manuscripts A and B are often said to represent two scribes simultaneously taking live dictation from Joseph Smith as he "translated" the characters in the margins to give impossibly long blocks of text for each character, sometimes as many as 200 words for one. I've argued that the spelling errors of difficult proper nouns support the argument that Parrish could see a manuscript that he was copying, rather than taking dictation from Joseph Smith as new scripture was being revealed (or "fabricated" if you prefer). There are other reasons as well to see these documents as copies of an existing translation rather than some kind of "window" into Joseph's live translation.

You can see these manuscripts at the Joseph Smith Papers website:

With that background, here's what Kyler Rasmussen shared this with me:

Elsewhere I've been discussing your spelling argument with critics, and they made the point that Williams' spelling appears to be a lot worse than Parrish's, which could explain why there's less consistency in the spelling of proper nouns for Manuscript A [written by Williams].  That argument prompted me to take a closer look at the spelling of words that weren't proper nouns in manuscripts A and B.  Here's the misspellings I found for each, with the number of times that variety of misspelling is included within parentheses:


alter (3)
begining (2)
distroy/ed (3)
reccord/s (3)
idolitry (2)

So they're right that Williams is making a ton of spelling mistakes. He is, however, consistent in his misspellings (with the exception of endeavor, on which he's apparently hopeless). He thinks he knows how to spell alter, distroy, and reccord, and nobody is correcting him (consistent with dictation). Parrish, by comparison, makes fewer but far more interesting mistakes:

strang (he spells strange correctly in other places)
preist (he spells priest correctly in other places)
harts (he spells hearts correctly in other places)

So he has fewer mistakes, but he's not consistent in making them. He doesn't actually know how to spell strange, priest, or heart, but he gets them right anyway in various spots. To me this is very consistent with the theory that there's an extant written manuscript keeping him on point (and occasionally correcting him, as is clearly the case with "harts").

I also took a look at Manuscript C, which I thought would be interesting given that we know Parrish was copying from another manuscript. Here are the errors in Parrish's portion of the manuscript:

sacrafice (spelled correctly in other places)
offiring (spelled correctly in other places)

Some of these are copied from the previous manuscript, but some of them are new, and appear at about the same rate as we have in Manuscript B. "Sacrafice" is a particularly interesting example, since he copies the error from Manuscript B, but then spells it correctly in the new material past 2:2. If he knew it was really spelled "sacrifice", you think he would have corrected it as he did some of the other errors in Manuscript B (e.g., priest, patriarch). There's nothing in the pattern of errors in Manuscript C that distinguishes it from B, and you'd think there'd be a ton to distinguish it if we were looking at a dictation vs. copying process.

Anyway, food for thought.  I think it's interesting that both the proper nouns and the other spelling errors are consistent with your theory. 

These are valuable insights. The spelling errors of proper nouns in Manuscript B suggest that Parrish could see a manuscript that was being copied, as I discussed in a previous post, but Rasmussen's analysis of other spelling errors from Parrish both in Manuscript B and in Manuscript C, where we know he was copying from an existing document, offer further support for Manuscript B being based on visual copying rather than live dictation of new scripture from Joseph Smith.

Thanks, Kyler!

The topics of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the meaning of the manuscripts are taken up in an excellent new article at Interpreter that just came out yesterday: John Gee, "Prolegomena to a Study of the Egyptian Alphabet Documents in the Joseph Smith Papers," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 77-98. I believe John see Manuscripts A and B as being individually copied by the scribes, whereas I think there's a possibility that there were copied in a joint session in which Parrish could see the document and may have been reading it aloud as he copied for the benefit of the other scribe. Hard to know for sure, but Gee offers some important new evidence for the dating of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers which rule out the theories that these manuscripts give us a window into Joseph's live translation.

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