Reformed Egyptian

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According to the Book of Mormon, that scripture of the Latter Day Saint movement was originally written in reformed Egyptian characters[1] on plates of "ore"[2] by prophets living in the Western Hemisphere between 600 BC and AD 421. Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the movement, published the Book of Mormon in 1830 as a translation of these golden plates. Scholarly reference works on languages do not, however, acknowledge the existence of either a "reformed Egyptian" language or "reformed Egyptian" orthography as it has been described in Mormon belief. No archaeological, linguistic, or other evidence of the use of Egyptian writing in ancient America has been discovered.[3]


Reformed Egyptian and the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon uses the term "reformed Egyptian" in only one verse, Mormon 9:32, which says that "the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, [were] handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech" and that "none other people knoweth our language."[4] The Book of Mormon also implies that its record is written in "reformed Egyptian" both because it took less space on the golden plates than Hebrew and because of the evolution of the language since the people left Jerusalem.[5]

Although accounts of the process differ, Smith is said to have translated the reformed Egyptian characters engraved on golden plates into English through various means including the use of a seer stone or the Urim and Thummim, or both.[6] When Smith finished the translation, he said that he returned the plates to the angel Moroni, and therefore they are unavailable for study.[7]

Mainstream scholarly view of reformed Egyptian

Standard language reference works contain no reference to "reformed Egyptian".[3] No non-Mormon scholars acknowledge the existence of either a "reformed Egyptian" language or a "reformed Egyptian" orthography as it has been described in Mormon belief. For instance, in 1966, John A. Wilson, professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, wrote, "From time to time there are allegations that picture writing has been found in America… In no case has a professional Egyptologist been able to recognize these characters as Egyptian hieroglyphs. From our standpoint there is no such language as 'reformed Egyptian'."[8] Klaus Baer, another Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, called the characters of the "Caractors" document nothing but "doodlings".[9] An early twentieth century scholar said that the "Caractors" document looked more like "deformed English." [10] Anthropologist Michael D. Coe of Yale University, an expert in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies, has written, "Of all the peoples of the pre-Columbian New World, only the ancient Maya had a complete script."[11]

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