More Evidences of “Reformed Egyptian”

Despite mountains of evidence, critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have for years claimed that Joseph Smith wrote a piece of fiction known as the Book of Mormon. For this blog entry I want to examine one of those critiques: the ever popular reformed Egyptian debate.

In the book of Mormon sometime between the years of A.D. 401-421 Moroni, the son of Mormon (for whom the entire volume of sacred writ was named), wrote:

And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. Mormon 9:32

One of the extremely popular criticisms relating to this verse is that “there is no evidence in Egyptology of something called ‘Reformed Egyptian,’ and that the Book of Mormon’s claim to have been written in this language is therefore suspect.”

When I was a freshman in college I took a linguistics class and got interested in dead languages, an interest that has always culminated around Egyptology. Though I have not ever given serious focus on this fascination of mine, I do enjoy nuggets of historical information relating to Egyptian script and how it relates to the Book of Mormon. I will discuss just one of the many examples of “reformed Egyptian” that scholars may not refer to as being “reformed,” yet it is as reformed as reformed gets.


In the preceding verse Moroni is clear as day when he says “the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian”. Of course, Moroni did not write or speak in English so the actual term that was translated by Joseph Smith into the English phrase ‘reformed Egyptian,’ whatever it was called, was only known to the Nephites. I don’t understand this argument because obviously the Egyptians never called some version of their writing ‘reformed Egyptian.” (In fact, the Egyptians called it sš n š?.t).

Side note: I presume the Lamanites didn’t use the term as it was most likely a priestly (religious) script and not used in every day writings. Verse 33 actually eludes to the idea that every day writing among the people was done in a form of, shall I be bold as to call it, “reformed Hebrew:”

And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us alsoMormon 9:33

Over the years secular egyptologists and linguists have discovered that Egyptian hieroglyphic writing underwent three different changes since its creation somewhere near 3000-4000 BC. The word hieroglyphic is a Greek word (hieroglyphikos) meaning ‘sacred writing or carving.’ The first of these transformations among the Egyptian priests occurred during the Protodynastic Period of Egypt (ca. 3200 BC to 3000 BC). Hieratic derives from the Greek phrase grammata hieratika, which literally means “priestly writing.” This first example of reformed Egyptian was developed so the scribes were able to take notes or write laws, decrees, or religious texts with a reed brush on papyrus, and allowed them to write quicker than the time it took them to engrave glyphs.

After centuries of using hieratic to write their religious texts, the Egyptians developed the demotic script, which was coined by the Greek historian Herodutus demotikós, a Greek word meaning popular. This popular script was called by the Egyptians sš n š?.t (“document writing”) and was a highly cursive script, used for everyday writing, not strictly for religious practices or just by the priests or the ruling class. It is presumed that eventually many of the common Egyptians used this form of writing. This is the script that is found in the middle section of the famous Rosetta Stone (pictured at right), which resides in the British Museum. Demotic emerged on the scene roughly around the later part of the 25th Dynasty (760 BC to 656 BC). This is extremely important because, according to the Book of Mormon, Nephi begins his summary on the plates with “I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” Further on he states that his father, Lehi, began prophesying “in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah” (ca. 597 BC), meanwhile demotic was already in use by the Egyptians 60 years prior to Lehi’s prophetic call.

With the arrival of the Greeks in the 1st century, Egyptian writing underwent it’s final “reformation,” into what scholars call Coptic. However, for our time frame with the Book of Mormon I’m going to focus on demotic.

It’s been shown the demotic, a cursive and highly popular form of “reformed Egyptian” was in use by as early as the 8th century BC, and Nephi tells us himself in the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon that he was writing in the language of the Egyptians. So then, if demotic existed circa 600 BC, and if Moroni claimed that the Book of Mormon was written in (what the Nephites termed ‘reformed Egyptian’ – using a Nephite word for it, of course), there must be some evidence of correlation between the characters that were engraved onto the gold plates (from which the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God through Joseph Smith) and published demotic script in the secular world, right?

Wouldn’t you know it, there are!


Anthon TranscriptThe Anthon Transcript was a sheet of paper upon which Joseph Smith copied a few of the “reformed Egyptian” characters from the plates of the Book of Mormon. In the winter of 1828, Martin Harris showed these characters to Dr. Charles Anthon of Columbia College (now Columbia University), and hence the name (Encyclopedia of Mormonism).

Fast forward to the 20th century…

Between 1897 and 1970 the official magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was entitled “The Improvement Era.” In 1942 Ariel L. Crowley (1905-2005) was a contributor to The Era and wrote an excellent three-piece series comparing characters from the Anthon transcript to well-documented Egyptian demotic characters in other publications. I have listed direct links to the PDFs below. Part II is where the fun stuff is!

Beginning on page 4 of Part II Crowley lists characters from the Anthon transcript in the left column and an extremely similar, if not identical, Egyptian demotic character in the right column, complete with source. The two main sources that Crowley cites and wherein he located demotic characters that matched up with characters found on the gold plates are:

I listed the printing of both books for those critics who love to claim that somehow an uneducated farm boy with no more than a third grade education must have done a ton of research to come up with the story of the Book of Mormon. Notice that both of these German (Joseph didn’t speak or read German) titles were printed after Joseph Smith died in 1844.

Update (1/6/2011): I have actually been to the Library of Congress and searched through the book by Spiegelberg and have seen with my own eyes the demotic characters in that book that correlate to the characters on the Anthon Transcript.

I don’t know how much more similar the proof of the evidence of “reformed Egyptian” characters individuals need, but I do know that if it was part of the LDS gospel that 2+2=4, there would always be those who tried to say that is a lie and any who believed that, despite evidence to the contrary, were doomed to hell.

For centuries critics have come up with all kinds of calumny and aspersion against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon, and the prophet Joseph Smith. All kinds of falsehoods, lies, and deceptions have been perpetrated with regards to the truthfulness of the Restored Gospel, but if one will sincerely show an interest in learning more and do so with an open heart, without preconceived notions, sincerely desiring to know if it is true or not, as Moroni says in his epilogue, God “will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)”


I know that the Book of Mormon is sacred writ, painstakingly engraved upon gold plates by ancient prophets on the American continent for us in these the latter-days, and that is was translated by a poor, uneducated New York farm boy only by the gift and power of God. I have discovered far too many evidences of its truthfulness to discount (and all but ignored by LDS critics), but none greater than the personal revelation I have received from the Holy Ghost that it is a second testament of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The Standard of Truth has been erected. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, and calamy may defame. But the Truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every climb, swept every country and sounded in every ear. Till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say, “The work is done.”

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11 Responses so far.

  1. You may be interested to know that the Mickmack (sp?) tribe of the northeastern United States and Eastern Canada had a written language that anthropologist Barry Fell identified as “a type of reformed Egyptian” that was easily identified from the Lybian Dynasty in Egyptian history, if memory serves. This was and is contrary to current scholarly thought, which claims that Native Americans had no written language. Fell found the text in a Canadian library, but scholars dismissed it as a fraud. (Sound familiar?) Fell said the symbols were clearly Egyptian, as were many of the place names in the area. You may wish to read his “Saga America” or “America B.C.” for more information.

  2. Jettboy says:

    I want you to know that I have enjoyed reading this blog and have included it in My personal list of Faithful blogs. Thank you.

  3. bkb says:

    Helaman, I found this to be most interesting. I am grateful for the background information.

  4. bkb says:

    Helaman, You may want to check out some podcasts online at Patheos.com by Ben Spackman under the LDS Gospel Doctrine podcast archive. I have listened to one so far on Psalms and plan to listen to me. Sometimes it is nice to give the eyes some rest. He did Doctorate work in Hebrew. I have known him slightly longer than you and find him to be very altruistic. I am glad to see some new posts here.
    bkb´s last [type] ..Omaha Table Talk to Host February Ethnic Potluck Dinner and Music Discussion

  5. Kay says:

    I am in my first year of studying archaeology at Columbia University (Yes Anthon Charles’ Columbia). And let me state emphatically that such a civilization as described in the BoM could not exist without leaving behind mounds and mounds of physical evidence. It is simply an impossibility that such a large and sophisticated civilization could have existed, including having such a written language, temples, chariots, without leaving 1 iota of evidence to support it. Unless you — like the creationists who believe that God placed dinosaurs and fossils to test their faith — believe that God took all the evidence away to test the faith of Mormons. Many Atheist and Agnostic archaeologists have absolutely no problem admitting that many civilizations mentioned in the Bible are true because the evidence is in abundance and undeniable, There are literally hundreds of sites being excavated across the Middle East and Northern Africa to prove that these peoples existed, including thousands upon thousands of fragments of their written languages. I am not a Bible believer myself, but the evidence is there to prove those various kingdoms and civilzations existed…as for the miracles etc, that is a matter of faith which I do not share in. Do you think that honest archaelogists (regardless of their faith or lack thereof) would not be only too happy to acknowlege the historicity of the BoM if the evidence presented itself? Where are the reputable Non-Mormon archaeologists vouching for one iota of evidence? They are nowhere to be found, because the cold, hard truth is that there is none. Reputable archaeologists are embarassed by the amateur nonsense put forward by the LDS as proof of the BoM civilizations’ existence….I am not anti-Mormon, just very pro-science, and it pains my heart to see lies and half-truths being put forth as legitimate archaeological proof when no reputable, unbiased expert would vouch for any of it. How do you build amazing temples and cities and not even the foundations can be found? Impossible. How can you fight major wars and no swords, wheels, even water vessels or one sandal has been found? For people who do not understand that humans leave lots and lots of trash behind, there is no way that a civilization that big (millions of people) would not leave major evidence. Again, my concern is as a budding scientist, with no religious angle whatsoever. But as a lover of truth I cannot tolerate falsehoods and right out lies.

  6. Kay says:

    Don’t mean anything personal…

  7. LDSguy says:

    First off Kay, let me say that since you are approaching this with an atheistic view I do not think that I nor anybody will be able to persuade you as to where you are wrong. However, in the hopes that perhaps somebody else who is not of our religion, yet understands the principle of faith, and how one must first exercise faith before anything else, it is my hope that they will read your scientific attack (which is nothing new and has been answered and debunked many many times before) and then read the following which can shed some light for those truly seeking answers and not just looking to disprove things without trying to understand all the evidence.

    Prominent LDS blogger, Jeff Lindsay, has an excellent personal website which answers many misunderstandings and false attacks against the LDS faith. In lieu of “beating a dead horse” I will post his replies to these accusations here:

    Why is there lots of archaeological evidence for the Bible but little for the Book of Mormon?

    You may also be interested in these other attempts at debunking the Book of Mormon:

    Why hasn’t a single Book of Mormon site been identified?
    How can we believe the Book of Mormon without having the original plates?

    Others can be found here.

    Furthermore, please read this wiki article on The Book of Mormon vs. Archeological Evidence.

    If you have read those links then I’m glad. These are just a few examples of many evidences and apologetics written on this subject. There are a lot of ancient civilizations in Central America (the most highly believed location for the Book of Mormon peoples) that date to the 1000 year period that the Book spans. Yes, there are temples from that time frame, there are cities unearthed, there are shods of pottery, etc. There are many, many books written on this subject. Please do not just take a pro-science, non-religious view on this and disregard any pro-religious attempt at answering these accusations. You end your post by saying that your concern with the LDS is as a “budding scientist, with no religious angle whatsoever.” You will never learn serious answers to serious inquiries about a religion if you only take a pro-science, non-religious angle.

    I hope that you will truly look into the links and do some non-scientific reading and study it out in your own mind, without the academic angle.

    Have you ever read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover? If you haven’t I ask that you get a copy (they are FREE) and read it and then pray about it with an open mind. The Book contains a promise that if you will do these things, sincerely wanting to know for yourself if the book is true, that you WILL know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. I’ve taken that challenge a number of times in my life, as have millions of others, and I can no more deny its truthfulness than I can deny that the sun does not shine.

    But you must first exercise faith.

    God bless.

  8. Jeff says:


    I recently spent time with the Missionaries who I invited into my home to learn about the LDS faith. There were many areas of LDS Doctrine that they didn’t know about, and reformed Egyptian was one of them. Since that time, I’ve found http://www.ldsces.org as a more consistent resource for my questions.

    I do find it fascinating that the Book of Mormon had many changes other than the standard grammatical changes. This does concern me on a number of levels. First, I was told by the Missionaries that Joseph Smith translated the golden plates with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Why then would so many corrections need to be made, and why does LDS Doctrine change?

    Please understand that I’m really trying to understand what the LDS Church teaches. I’m not trying to be nit-picky or cast dispersions on your religious beliefs. I’m an extremely analytical person that has run into many what appear to be contradictions in the present day Doctrine as opposed to the very early Doctrine.

    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    The Lord make His face shine
    upon you and be gracious to you;
    The Lord turn His face toward
    you and give you peace

    Numbers 6:24–26

    God bless you all

  9. LDSguy says:

    Thank you Jeff for your candid comment and your willingness to “go to the source” about LDS questions, that is other LDS members, instead of to those who would distract you from getting an honest answer.

    Your questions are valid and have been raised many times before. I can understand why someone outside of the faith, who may be investigating the faith, has these questions.

    Regarding your concern over the textual changes there are a number of people who have been able to explain this far better than I ever could. So here are some links that I hope will clarify it for you.



    Another excellent resource for your questions should be http://mormon.org/beliefs/book-of-mormon. There other Latter-day Saints answer questions many have asked for years. You can even chat live with missionaries on the site!

    Jeff – I know the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t serve to replace the Bible in any way, shape or form, but rather adds additional witness to the divinity of the Savior, His mission on earth, His gospel, and what we must do in order to return to live with Him one day. I am grateful for the Bible and I am also grateful for the Book of Mormon. It clarifies a LOT of misunderstandings caused by hundreds of translations of the Bible. It also helps us, in today’s world, to know what we need to do. It was written for US – for you and for me. As President Ezra Taft Benson, a former prophet of the church, taught:

    “The Nephites never had the book; neither did the Lamanites of ancient times. It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.”


    Perhaps you will enjoy this short video as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eigSBVj6C08

    I know we don’t know each other but i testify to you, Jeff, that God knows you. The Book of Mormon is the word of God written by ancient prophets in the Americas thousands of years ago, for those who would read it after Joseph Smith was led to the gold plates and translated it by the power of God (with the guidance of the Holy Spirit). It WILL change your life for the better, more than ANY other book. Through honest study and humble prayer, you too can know for yourself that the Book of Mormon really is the word of God. (see http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/moro/10.3-4?lang=eng#2)

    I hope that you will read those links and watch the video. God bless you as well.

  10. Don says:

    Fell’s theories have been pretty much destroyed by the people at the Smithsonian and they’ve been refuted since the 70′s, when the book came back. Fell himself seemed to backtrack his original theories in his second book on the topic (American Saga, or something like that).

    Other than that, it is interesting how the church membership tries so hard to explain this kind of thing, but the authorities are conspicuously quiet in this matter and any other controversial topic, which is a shame. As a consequence, we have to deal with amateurs trying to interpret very, very complicated themes such as linguistics and archaeology.

  11. Don says:

    Sorry, “Since the book came out”

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