He asked me if I had any idea of its meaning. I replied, that I believed it to be a Greek Psalter; but that I should like to hear his opinion. "No", he said; "it ain't Greek at all; except, perhaps, a few words. This book is very valuable. It is a dictionary of Egyptian hieroglyphics." Pointing to the capital letters at the commencement of each verse, he said: "Them figures is Egyptian hieroglyphics; and them which follows, is the interpretation of the hieroglyphics, written in the reformed Egyptian. Them characters is like the letters that was engraven on the golden plates."
Lots of effort on both sides has been expended to either capitalize on Caswall's report to make Joseph Smith look bad, or to cast doubt on Caswall's report. For example, FAIRMormon seeks to discredit Caswall as a reliable source.
However, what if Caswall was actually telling essentially the truth of the incident, although he had tried to make Joseph Smith look bad, using language as if the Prophet was a country bumpkin? What facts can be extracted from this report if it is essentially true?
What if Joseph Smith was focused on his Egyptian work at the time, and was reporting what he thought he saw, off the cuff, without getting clear revelation on the subject? FAIRMormon has entertained Don Bradley's theory on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Kinderhook plates, where Don believes that Joseph Smith may have tried to use contents of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers as a dictionary to try to translate one of the characters on the Kinderhook plates.
What if Joseph Smith, without revelation, off the cuff, saw in the structure of the Greek Psalter the same structure of the Egyptian "dictionary" he created in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers called the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar?
What is the structure?
By all appearances, Joseph Smith is lining up characters on the left hand side with an English explanation or interpretation of characters on the right hand side. Why is this strange if it is a "dictionary" of the sort we are used to in our culture? Well, first of all, we may question whether it is something from our culture. Because Joseph Smith himself, according to his history, stated that he was "continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.” The first question we may logically ask, is if it is a "dictionary" of the sort we are used to, then why was it done according to the pattern "as practiced by the ancients"? If the ancients could read their own languages, then what use would there be in making a dictionary for the ancients in the language of the ancients, if it were just a regular old dictionary? In other words, what is the use of an Egyptian dictionary written in Egyptian, for Egyptians, that already read their own language? Stick with me and I will explain what I mean.
Let's review Caswall's reported statement from Joseph Smith again, and see if we will notice something particularly strange. Again, Caswall, trying to make Joseph Smith sound like a bumpkin, states, "Them figures is Egyptian hieroglyphics; and them which follows, is the interpretation of the hieroglyphics, written in the reformed Egyptian." Why would it be necessary for there to be an interpretation of hieroglyphics written in a different type of Egyptian script when Egyptians can read both hieroglyphics as well as some other sort of Egyptian script such as hieratic or demotic? Again, Caswall focuses on the fact that Joseph Smith was making a differentiation here between the first characters of the line, which were reportedly capitals, and the characters trailing them which were not capitals. He was therefore interpreting them as two different types of presentations. One was a presentation of a "hieroglyphic" and the other was a presentation of an "interpretation" of that hieroglyphic. If one could read the hieroglyphic itself, being an Egyptian, why would one need an interpretation of it lined up with it in another type of script? This is the true mystery here. That is because in Joseph Smith's mind, there is a differentiation between something he calls "hieroglyphics" and the text that gives an interpretation of it.
Joseph Smith makes the same type of differentiation between what he calls "Rahleenos" in the Book of Abraham, and the text that gives its interpretation. We read:
That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics. (Abraham 1:14).Now, keep in mind that the "fashion" of "these gods" in "the figures at the beginning" is without a doubt to be identified as the pictures on the Hor papyrus, because the pictures in facsimile #1 are the figures or pictures from the Hor papyrus. Therefore, in Joseph Smith's mind, the "figures" in the Hor papyrus are "hieroglyphics" that require a "dictionary" to give the interpretation of them. This dictionary, given by Joseph Smith, for these characters, are the explanation for Facsimile number one of the Book of Abraham. If a figure is a "hieroglyphic" and on its own can be "read," then why does it require a section of text that accompanies it furnishing an "explanation" or an "interpretation"? In the case of the Greek Psalter, which Joseph Smith was presumably mistaken about, he said that the characters on the left (i.e. the "hieroglyphics") constitute something in need of interpretation, and the characters on the right contain the plain message which is the interpretation.
However, Joseph Smith didn't stop there. Because the same pattern is evident in Facsimile #2, where we have some characters that would be considered "Rahleenos" or "hieroglyphics," and characters that furnish the explanation in English. And the same for Facsimile #3. And the same for a number of other "hieroglyphics" lifted from the Hor papyrus, and given "explanations" in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.
In other words, if it was plain what a "Rahleenos" picture or figure means to the person that wrote it or painted it, why would it require an interpretation? In the case of the Greek Psalter in Joseph Smith's mind, the structure is composed of a "Rahleenos" or Hieroglyphic picture accompanied with its explanation. There is a pairing between the two. One element is abstract and is not an information container (i.e. it is a character that furnishes no explanation, and is essentially decorative art), and the other element furnishes an explanation for why this decorative art was selected for its purpose by an author or compiler.
Therefore, a figure that is understood to be mere "Rahleenos" was never meant by the original author of a document to contain information or to convey information without its accompanying explanation it is paired with. Separated from that explanation, the "Rahleenos" figure remains abstract, and cannot be "translated" on its own.
Now, this means that Joseph Smith's explanations in English of these figures are not translations of "Rahleenos" figures at all, but are restorations of material in the English language of missing Egyptian content from ancient documents we do not have, which accompanied the Hor Papyrus and the Hypocephalus of Sheshonq. The "Rahleenos" figures on the Hor papyrus include the so-called text on this papyrus. In other words, in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, each character on the Hor papyrus is treated as an abstract decoration to accompany other content, not text at all. This is like in the Psalter report, how one character is on the left, and the explanation for it is on the right. In Joseph Smith's mind, a character on the left is an artistic decoration that contains no information on its own, an abstraction, which requires explanation. And the content that accompanied it gives the actual message.
Therefore, Joseph Smith's English production is not a translation of the Hor papyrus at all, but of the missing content from non-extant documents that provided explanations for the characters used as decorative art that is found on the Hor papyrus. What then does the content of the Hor papyrus have to do with the Book of Abraham? Nothing. This is because the characters on the Hor papyrus were used as mere decorative artwork to accompany the actual documents that were the actual text that we care about. The Hor papyrus characters have been misidentified by the Anti-Mormons as information containers in a Book of Abraham. They are nothing of the sort. Because, in that context, they were merely recycled as artwork to go along with original Egyptian explanations that we do not have.
What is the difference between a "Rahleenos" Hieroglyphic figure, and a text hieroglyphic? Nothing. It depends on usage. If something is used as art, or as a decoration, it qualifies as a "Rahleenos" figure. If it stands for text, it is text. It is true that many of the characters on the Hor papyrus were originally text in their original usage. In Joseph Smith's usage in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, they are recycled as art decorations, not text, to accompany other text which contains the actual message. This is why the Anti-Mormons accuse Joseph Smith as not being able to translate. They believe that the English translations provided by Joseph Smith are translations of artwork that accompanies them. Again, I stress that this is not so. They are translations of missing content from non-extant documents, and the Hor characters are merely recycled as artistic decorations that go along with that non-extant Egyptian text!