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These records were torn by being taken from the roll of embalming salve which contained them, and some parts entirely lost; but Smith is to translate the whole by divine inspiration, and that which is lost, like Nebuchadnezzar's dream, can be interpreted as well as that which is preserved; and a larger volume than the Bible will be required to contain them.-William S. West (1837)1
The Story So Far
Early in the second century B.C., an Egyptian scribe copied a Document of Breathing Made by Isis onto a roll of papyrus for a Theban priest named Hôr.2 Near the beginning of the document, the scribe penned the following set of ritual instructions: "The Breathing Document, being what is written on its interior and exterior, shall be wrapped in royal linen and placed (under) his left armin the midst of his heart. The remainder of his wrapping shall be made over it."3 Hôr's mummy, with the Breathing Document enclosed, was buried in a pit tomb near Thebes, where it lay undisturbed for two millennia.
Sometime around 1820, Italian adventurer Antonio Lebolo exhumed a cache of mummies, including Hôr. After Lebolo's death in February 1830, eleven of hismummies were sold to benefit his children. The mummies were shipped to New York and then forwarded to maritime merchants in Philadelphia, where they were examined by medical doctors and exhibited in the Philadelphia Arcade. At some point, themummies were delivered to a traveling showman named Michael H. Chandler for further exhibition. 4 Chandler reportedly unwrapped them in search of valuables. On two of the bodies, he found papyrus scrolls wrapped in linen and saturated with a bitumen preservative.5 As he extracted the Hôr scroll from its sticky encasement, the edges were torn, thus imprinting a repeating pattern of lacunae in the papyrus.
Chandler eventually made his way to Kirtland, Ohio, where he sold the Hôr scroll, along with fourmummies, a Book of the Dead scroll made for a woman named TshenmÎn,6 a Book of the Dead fragment bearing the female name Neferirnûb,7 another fragment bearing the male name Amenhotep,8 and a hypocephalus belonging to a man named Sheshonk9 to Joseph Smith in July 1835 for $2,400.10 Shortly after the purchase, Smith claimed that one of the rolls in his possession contained a record of the biblical patriarch Abraham, which he began to translate by the gift and power of God.11 Although Smith died before he could finish the work, his partial translation of the Book of Abraham was canonized in 1880 as part of the Pearl of Great Price. In addition to five chapters of Jacobean English prose, the book includes facsimiles of three vignettes from the papyri: i.e., the hypocephalus of Sheshonk and the introductory and concluding vignettes of the Document of Breathing.12 The introductory vignette, labeled "Facsimile 1" in the canonized LDS Pearl of Great Price, is said in the text of the Book of Abraham to have appeared "at the commencement" and "at the beginning" of Abraham's record (Abr. 1:12, 14). This and other evidence points to the Hôr scroll as the papyrus from which Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Abraham.13
Prior to Smith's death, he or one of his associates glued the fragmented outer portion of the Document of Breathing onto stiff paper in an effort to preserve it. Some of the mounted fragments were then cut into shorter sections and preserved under glass.14 By mounting the outer sections, Smith et al. could work on translating the Egyptian characters without needing to roll and unroll the fragile scroll. After Smith was assassinated in 1844, the mummies and papyri were retained by his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and brief ly taken on an exhibition tour by Joseph's only surviving brother, William. When Lucy died in 1856, Joseph's widow, Emma, and her second husband, Lewis Bidamon, sold the artifacts to Abel Combs. Combs divided the collection into two parts. One …