The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers



Filed together in a gray cardboard box in the Church Historian’s Office is a strange batch of early Church papers, all in the handwriting of men associated with Joseph Smith in Kirtland in 1837, and all classified for one reason or another as “Egyptian.” We shall therefore call them “the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.”* Along with a number of odds and ends are two impressive documents, one a bound manuscript commonly and falsely designated as “Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar,” and the other what appears to be a translation of the first chapter of the Book of Abraham from a number of accompanying hieratic symbols.

A photographic record of some of these documents was made on a single film strip by the Historian’s Office some years ago, but nothing was put on the strip to indicate the nature, number, or relationship of the various items included. So when the film was purloined, reproduced without permission, and copies sold in Salt Lake City in 1966, the publishers had no means of knowing what they were dealing with, but joyfully accepted the signature of Joseph Smith on one piece of paper as proof that the whole batch was his own handiwork. The public was only too glad to go along with the ruse, which went unchallenged by the Mormons, who had unconsciously laid the foundation of a massive misunderstanding many years before.


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