Egyptian Records

The first records of God’s dealing with mankind were written by Adam and his immediate posterity. It was called “a book of remembrance” (Gen 3:14-all citations are to the Restoration Edition of scripture). That record was written in “a language which was pure and undefiled.” (Id.) We know those records existed when Abraham was alive thousands of years later. “[T]he records of the Fathers, even the Patriarchs, …the Lord, my God, preserved in my own hands.” (Abr. 2:4)

By the time of Moses, however, the original records were lost. Moses had to rewrite the record of the creation based on the revelation he received directly from the Lord. Moses was commanded, “you shall write the things which I shall speak. And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught, and take many of them from the book which you shall write, behold, I will raise up another like unto you, and they shall be had again among the children of men, among even as many as shall believe.” (Gen. 1:7)

Moses was raised by the daughter of Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s daughter named him, and treated him as “her son.” (Exo. 1:5) Accordingly, when Moses was commanded to write the record revealed to him by the Lord, he would have recorded it in the language he understood, the language his adopted mother taught him, or in Egyptian.

The record of the Old Covenants was re-recorded through revelation by Moses in Egyptian. This is why a copy of Moses’ account is described as “the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass” were composed “in the language of the Egyptians.” (Mosiah 1:1)

That Egyptian language had two earliest forms: the first to develop was hieroglyphic. This form was perpetuated to record religious texts and was the more formal or sacred form of their writing. A second developed thereafter, and while still early in Egyptian language development, called hieratic. This second form was cursive and was the more likely form used on the Brass Plates.

Understanding the formal, religious hieroglyphic language was completely lost, and has been only recovered in a small part through the work done after discovering the Rosetta Stone. In July 1799, French soldiers were rebuilding a fort near the town of Rosetta and discovered a stone inscribed with three scripts: hieroglyphs in the top register, Greek at the bottom and a script later identified as “Demotic” in the middle. Demotic was a later form of Egyptian writing and was the common form spoken at the time the Rosetta Stone was originally carved.

Using the Greek from the Rosetta Stone as a guide to decipher the hieroglyphs an attempt has been made to understand hieroglyphic Egyptian. The contents of the carving on the stone is a decree from Ptolemy V, and dates from 196 bc. This is very late in Egyptian history, during the Ptolemaic period, when Greeks controlled Egypt following Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 bc. General Ptolemy assumed control over Egypt following Alexander’s death. The likelihood that the 196 bc form of the hieroglyphic language is an accurate guide for their language millennia earlier is at best doubtful.

It is both foolish and arrogant to assume that this Ptolemaic era writing is a sound basis for projecting backward over three thousand years to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the end, the question must be asked: Do you trust scholar’s attempt to reconstruct antiquity using a partial record from 196 bc when it conflicts with the revelation given to Joseph Smith claiming to be a prophet, seer and translator?

It is interesting that Joseph Smith tied the records of the Brass Plates as well as the record of the Nephites (Mormon 4:11) to Egyptian. Since Joseph translated over 500 pages of Hieratic Egyptian text for the Book of Mormon, he read and understood the language better than any scholar, including all who have lived since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and all living today.

Since I accept Joseph’s claims of being a prophet, seer and translator at face value, it is easy for me to resolve conflicts over Egyptian texts in favor of Joseph and against the scholarly critics.