How is lying an improvement?

Book of Mormon God's Favorite Musical

In case you haven’t heard, LDS Inc has updated their scriptures.  Most of the changes are cosmetic, apparently, but Peggy Fletcher Stack notes some that aren’t so cosmetic: changes that reflect views on race and polygamy.  But what’s confusing me is the spin that’s going on with these changes.  In Stack’s article, almost everyone she interviews talks about how refreshing and helpful these changes are.  Yet, some of them are lies and half-truths.  Take the change in the heading to Official Declaration 2:

The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.

Okay, yeah, that’s a quote from the BofM, but the BofM also says dark skin is a curse from god.  But the big whopper is this line, “Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.”  Really?  That’s the best you can do?  So, the idea that blacks were less worthy in the pre-existence that was taught from the pulpit, was pervasive in the teachings of numerous prophets, and was largely considered doctrine, doesn’t count.  Huh?  That’s funny.

Now, I get that it’s not entirely clear why a formal policy was developed disallowing blacks from the priesthood right around the time Joseph Smith died.  But the justification that arose to defend the policy was everywhere, and there isn’t a hint of admission or recognition of or apology for that racist doctrine in this supposedly refreshing and “modern” version of the scriptures.

Another change appears to be a “victory” for reason and evidence, but it’s actually just an under-handed compromise.  The new introduction to the Pearl of Great Price now calls it “an inspired translation,” code for those in the know that it is really “completely fabricated and indefensible.”  This is a great compromise.  For the people in the pews who don’t know any better, they won’t catch the difference and will be none the wiser.  But for those who do know better, now they can say, “See, the church doesn’t claim Joseph was making a literal translation either.”  Ignoring the fact that all the evidence suggests he thought he was.

I’m sure some people are going to get on my case for criticizing these efforts.  They’ll say things like, “Come on, they’re making efforts.  Can’t you give them some credit?”  To those people I say, “No.  These aren’t efforts to be more open and honest.  These are efforts to cover their asses and more carefully hide the truth.  I’ll give them credit when they say, “The Pearl of Great Price was just made up by Joseph Smith.  It wasn’t any more a translation than the Book of Mormon the musical is a translation of the sealed portion of the golden plates” or when they say, “We used to teach really racist things.  We’re sorry.  The people who taught that obviously were not inspired or they would have known better.  We don’t speak with god any more than anyone else does.  We’re a bunch of old, white men running a corporation and carrying on a charade.”  When they say those things, then I’ll give them props.  No props for lies and half truths.

141 thoughts on “How is lying an improvement?

  1. The new introduction to the Pearl of Great Price now calls it “an inspired translation,” code for those in the know that it is really “completely fabricated and indefensible.”

    Wow!! I guess aerin was right. It also makes it look like the church beaurocracy is happy to let unofficial sources market-test ideas (like de-canonizing the BOA), then embracing the successful ones.

  2. Personally, I favor the view that Joseph actually did literally translate the Book of Abraham.

    That’s after having studied all the controversies.

  3. Let me guess. All the arguments that Joseph had some papyri that he literally translated, are substantial and well reasoned, whereas all the arguments that he simply concocted stuff were all so retarded that you could barely read them.

  4. Nope. The Book of Abraham is a complex topic. Hard to navigate. Holding a critical position here is not “retarded.”

  5. A metacomment: I want to make clear, for anyone not currently following other threads, that Parker is quoting and referencing Seth in his use of the word “retarded.” See

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t think that some of the criticisms being made against it are completely retarded. Especially when certain echo chambers are all enthusiastically back-slapping each other over the same retarded argument.

    In which case, yes, I’ll probably come in on the defense of “the corporation” out of sheer irritation at human online stupidity.

    The City Creek Mall being a good example. Just because I don’t support “the corporation” doesn’t mean that argument is not still completely idiotic.

  6. the Book of Abraham is only complex if one works assiduously to make it artificially so. One can of course reject the obvious, logical explanation for its origins and glaring inconsistencies and downright silliness, which is that it’s a far-fetched fiction of Joseph Smith’s creation. But one can do so only if one is willing to espouse ludicrous explanations that defy logic and sense, which is why virtually no one, including the hierarchy of the LDS church, believes or defends those explanations any more.

  7. It would be helpful to me if you would identify the simple question that you reject, and the complex question that you accept.

  8. Parker, I presume the “simple narrative” that you had in mind is that Joseph Smith bought a mummy, and was delusional enough, or dishonest enough to claim he could translate the scroll with it and told a “tall tale” about Abraham with it. A claim that is now debunked based on readings of independent Egyptologists that differ from Joseph’s.

    I find this to be unlikely on the evidence.

    You can correct me if I presume wrong about your narrative.

    My counter is that the Egyptologist’s only analyzed a small scrap of the scroll Joseph was actually working on – so we have little way of knowing the context that the pictograms were placed in. Which makes the traditional Egyptological readings of the facsimiles inconclusive at best. You have to get into a fairly involved reading of early Mormon history to determine scroll length and how Joseph handled it.

    So there’s one discipline someone who wants to master this debate has to be competent in – early Mormon history, and possibly even methods of determining scroll thickness, etc.

    Secondly, Hugh Nibley did a lot of his own Egyptological work pointing out how Joseph’s readings actually were OK from an Egyptological standpoint. This puts him at odds with the other Egyptologists and you can pick which you find more credible.

    I don’t really care much about Nibley’s work because his Egyptological readings don’t impact my own argument much one way or the other. But we have at least established a mastery of Egyptology as being necessary to master this debate as well. So there’s two disciplines.

    I tend to prefer Kevin Barney’s argument on the subject -which points out that asking for a traditional Egyptology reading of the Facsimiles is asking the wrong question in the first place – since this is a Canaanite story, not an Egyptian one.

    On this argument, a Canaanite scribe or scholar living in Egypt, or using Egyptian writing while living elsewhere, simply wrote down the Caananite story of Abraham and did a cut-and-paste job of traditional Egyptian funeral imagery to use in his own story. Possibly even drawing some of the images differently. Kind of like how commercial websites use stock photos to advertise. The scribe just thought – “hey that’s a neat Egyptian pictogram that basically more or less says what I want to say here… let’s use it!”

    So now you have to have a firm basis in how scribes operated in the ancient world and how they put together their writings to know whether this explanation works or not. Ancient textual analysis is another discipline we have to add to the list.

    And we have another – how would a Canaanite have viewed the Egyptian pictograms and altered them? So you have to have a mastery of ancient Canaanite languages and texts. Not to mention, you need this in order to discover if there are parallel narratives that match Joseph’s Abraham story in the ancient Middle Eastern milieu. That usually involves at least two or three languages, if not more.

    You also need to have a mastery of the old Jewish rabbinical tradition to know whether the Abraham story as told by Joseph fits or not.

    No, it’s not simple. It’s highly complicated.

    And quite frankly, no one with a mere mastery of Egyptology alone is competent to rule decisively on the question of the Book of Abraham’s authenticity. For instance – Robert Ritner – the Egyptologist who usually features prominently in modern half-baked expose videos on this topic.

  9. Why on earth would anyone need to be “competent” in early Mormon history to judge the accuracy of the purported “translations” Joseph supposedly made of the scrolls?

    That’s like claiming someone would need to be proficient in French cooking to determine whether someone else had made a reliable French translation of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.”

    You don’t have to know a thing about Mormonism, in 1840 or 2013 or at any point in between, to judge the accuracy of a translation made by a Mormon. That’s ludicrous.

    As for the rest of Seth @11–like I said, the book of Abraham is complex only if one works assiduously to make it so.

  10. You are right, I wasn’t presuming anything–or at least anything you discussed. You made a distinction between simple question(s) that you reject, and complex question(s) that you accept. I ask for a distinction between the two. You provided arguments to support the Book of Abraham as being what the Church claims it to be. I agree that arguments can be simple or complex, but your point was about questions being simple or complex, and that’s what I was (am)interested in–the question that you accept and the one you reject.

  11. I make no distinction between the word “argument” in this case and the word “question.”

    I meant question more the way you’d use the phrase “point at issue.”

  12. Well, as a generalization, I am reasonable confident that most will distinguishing between a question and the arguments made to answer the question, in this or any other case. So I am back to my original point: The Book of Abraham is not complex, nor is its origin. And that brings us to your response that you prefer the complex arguments to the reductionist simple ones (or at least I think that is what you intended to say). And that gets us back to your position that you favor the source of the argument not its substance. And, that just puts a damper on the discussion, doesn’t it.

  13. The Book of Abraham was directly translated by the power of God from an Egyptian scroll in Joseph’s possession, which was subsequently lost or destroyed, perhaps in that one fire. We have a description of the scroll and it doesn’t match the surviving scrolls. So the Abrahamic scroll is lost or was destroyed. It’s as simple as that.

    If we didn’t have a description of the Abrahamic scroll, I could understand all the speculation, but the description establishes that it once existed and it is not in our collection. End of story.

    Eyewitnesses from the Nauvoo period (1839–1844) describe “a quantity of records, written on papyrus, in Egyptian hieroglyphics,” including (1) some papyri “preserved under glass,” described as “a number of glazed slides, like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics”; (2) “a long roll of manuscript” that contained the Book of Abraham; (3) “another roll”; (4) and “two or three other small pieces of papyrus with astronomical calculations, epitaphs, &c.” Only the mounted fragments ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and thence were given back to the Church of Jesus Christ. When eyewitnesses described the vignettes as being of the mounted fragments, they can be matched with the fragments from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; but when the vignettes described are on the rolls, the descriptions do not match any of the fragments from the Met. Gustavus Seyffarth’s 1856 catalog of the Wood Museum indicates that some of the papyri were there. Those papyri went to Chicago and were burned in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Whatever we might imagine their contents to be is only conjecture. Both Mormon and non-Mormon eyewitnesses from the nineteenth century agree that it was a “roll of papyrus from which our prophet translated the Book of Abraham,” meaning the “long roll of manuscript” and not one of the mounted fragments that eventually ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

    Then there’s this:

    “The Prophet Joseph himself has supplied us with the most conclusive evidence that the manuscript today identified as the Book of Breathings, J.S. Papyri X and XI, was not in his opinion the source of the Book of Abraham. For he has furnished a clear and specific description of the latter: ‘The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is (1) beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and (2) a small part red, ink or paint, (3) in perfect preservation.’…

    Since Joseph Smith actually possessed quite a number of perfectly preserved, beautifully written Egyptian manuscripts adorned with rubrics [red characters], there is no reason to doubt that he was describing such a document as the source of ‘the record of Abraham and Joseph.’ And there can be no doubt whatever that the manuscript he was describing was and is an entirely different one from that badly written, poorly preserved little text, entirely devoid of rubrics, which is today identified as the Book of Breathings. One cannot insist too strongly on this point, since it is precisely the endlessly repeated claim that the Book of Breathings has been ‘identified as the very source of the Book of Abraham’ on which the critics of Joseph Smith have rested their whole case….”

    The Abrahamic scroll itself shows two authors, not one, so it wasn’t written by Abraham himself. See

    This “second author” was essentially a scribal commentator — interjecting commentary where he/she felt it appropriate to add explanations.

    He got a hold of these records (of both Abraham and Joseph), or as he says, “the records have come into my hands | which i hold unto this present time” and “the records of the fathers | even the patriarchs | concerning the right of priesthood | the lord | my god | preserved in mine own hands.” Also, “a knowledge of [these things] | as they were made known unto the fathers | have i kept | even unto this day | and i shall endeavor to write some of these things upon this record | for the benefit of my posterity | that shall come after me.”

    So, it looks like some patriarch, who inherited these records, decided to write them upon these multiple scrolls, addressing himself to some unnamed person (perhaps both his name and the name of the person he was addressing were included in the scrolls that are missing), with the understanding that these scrolls would be for the instruction of his posterity, and he takes it upon himself to not just write the scriptures which he possessed, but to also expound them to his posterity, doing, essentially, what the Nephite missionaries did, reading and expounding the scriptures to their investigators, walking them through them from beginning to end.

    The scrolls then, would, of course, be copies of the writings of Abraham and Joseph. And since this is a mixture of scriptural quotation and commentary, there would possibly be portions, perhaps even great portions, dedicated to mundane matters, meaning just writings of the original author talking about things that do not have to do with sacred things. In other words, it may have been a group of scrolls that dealt in both secular and scriptural matters, for the instruction of posterity.

    Of particular emphasis, though, by this unnamed author, is his focus on the right of the priesthood, the creation, the stars and planets and delineating the chronology from him back to creation, almost as if these scrolls were to demonstrate that he, and his seed, were entitled by lineage to the right of the priesthood. (And because of this emphasis, I suspect the author was male.)

    Of the facsimiles the scribal author states, “i will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record,” meaning the first (mundane) scroll, not the Abrahamic scroll.

    This view very easily explains a whole lot of the mystery.

  14. @16:

    the description establishes that it once existed and it is not in our collection. End of story.

    Hardly. The church and the Metropolitan Museum of Art still have quite a few of the fragments of the source text, enough to establish that it was not what it claimed.

    How do you not know these things, anarchist?

  15. No, I find the substance of the simple argument to be unsatisfying.

    For instance, claiming that you have an accurate picture of the entire scroll Joseph was using, when multiple independent accounts describe it as extending through multiple large rooms when unrolled.

    I guarantee you nothing that big survived. Which makes it suspect at best to claim that any modern translation attempts have anything like a clear picture of what Joseph Smith was working with.

  16. RE #11: That was a beautiful illustration of two logical fallacies: moving the goal posts and the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Seth basically made it “impossible” for anyone to disprove the legitimacy of the Book of Abraham by giving ridiculous criteria for what would be required to understand the situation. I’m sure Seth will disagree for some reason I can’t imagine, but Occam’s Razor seems particularly apt here. Which is more probable: That a known fraud and charlatan made something up, or that there was a hidden, deeper message on that scroll?

    RE #18: I’m not going to debate this. Seth, take issue with the experts:
    And, FYI, these same authors responded to Barney’s criticism of their article in a recent issue of Dialogue and illustrated quite compellingly that Barney is a clueless moron.

  17. The LDS church, by it’s own definition ( “There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.” is NOT BEING HONEST.

  18. Too bad Will Schryver turned out to be such a jackass in his personal life that his work casting doubt on that entire paper couldn’t be published. His conclusions weren’t that bad. If he hadn’t been a raving misogynist online, perhaps the refutation could have reached a wider audience.

    Unfortunately, he was his own worst enemy – and I certainly couldn’t endorse publishing him with his online antics on record. Too bad though – the Dialogue article isn’t even remotely the last word on scroll length here.

  19. Since Abraham is not an actual person as portrayed in the Bible, it would be rather hard to translate his writings.
    A couple books I recommend– from 1975, “Abraham in History and Tradition” by John Van Seters, and from 2001, “The Bible Unearthed” by Isreal Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman
    If people are still writing (and filming) Sherlock Holmes stories, why not write be inspired to write Abraham stories?

  20. Suzanne, just about everyone in LDS apologetics isn’t under the impression we did have the actual documents held by Abraham himself. Carbon dating on the scroll decided that issue decisively enough. Most scholars (of whatever ideology) believe that if Abraham is a real person, we have what we have about him from oral tradition. Even the earliest documents mentioning him are hundreds of years after his death.

  21. So what did Joseph Smith literally translate?
    Did some drunk Egyptian from the first century get his jollies from making up stories about mythical people from other countries and stashing the stories in with funeral texts.
    Despite the impressions of LDS apologetics, the Book of Abraham wasn’t canonized because church leaders thought it was based on oral traditions written hundred of years after someone who may not have existed.
    And I don’t get why some people are so hell bent on proving a literal translation of some unknown dudes pseudepigrapha.
    I find it far more plausible, that Joseph Smith is the creator of the Book of Abraham which may or may not be inspired.

  22. Suzanne, if you’re not even going to read my explanation the first time, what’s the point of repeating it?

  23. And, FYI, these same authors responded to Barney’s criticism of their article in a recent issue of Dialogue and illustrated quite compellingly that Barney is a clueless moron.

    I’ve met Kevin Barney, and — while the argument attributed to him by Seth @11 is ridiculous — I wouldn’t say that Kevin Barney is a “clueless moron.”

    Do you have a link to the response? I’d be curious to read it.

    Seth has brought up this point on MSP before:

    On this argument, a Canaanite scribe or scholar living in Egypt, or using Egyptian writing while living elsewhere, simply wrote down the Caananite story of Abraham and did a cut-and-paste job of traditional Egyptian funeral imagery to use in his own story. Possibly even drawing some of the images differently. Kind of like how commercial websites use stock photos to advertise. The scribe just thought – “hey that’s a neat Egyptian pictogram that basically more or less says what I want to say here… let’s use it!”

    From what I’ve read, these Egyptian writings (that the Canaanite scribe supposedly cut and pasted) are copies of known works that were composed more than a thousand years later than Abraham’s time.

  24. @25 Suzanne,

    So what did Joseph Smith literally translate?

    It looks to me that Joseph Smith translated a record consisting of multiple scrolls made by someone (I’ll call him the scribal author) who lived long after Abraham and who copied the sacred writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt (which were in his possession) into his record, sacred writings (written by the power of the Holy Ghost) that are missing from the other books of scripture that we possess. The scribal author made the record for his posterity in order to teach them about God, divinely revealed astronomy and many other things.

    Joseph began translating the portion dealing with the writings of Abraham and was able to publish a small portion of the translation before his death as the Book of Abraham. The other larger portion of the translation went missing or was destroyed. The writings of Joseph of Egypt were never translated (written down) though Joseph Smith very well may have read them using the gift and power of God.

    After Joseph’s death the scrolls were scattered here and there, there was a fire, stuff was destroyed, but some Museum ended up having fragments that belonged to the original scroll collection. Unfortunately, the surviving fragments were not the Abrahamic scroll, so the sacred writings are still missing or have been destroyed. Like the Book of Mormon, which is an abridgment that is not even the hundredth part of the full account, the latter-day saints ended up receiving just a very small portion of what was on those sacred scrolls.

    The Book of Abraham is exceptional for a whole lot of reasons. It contains not only a unique theology found nowhere else, giving us more information about the things of God, but its astronomy accords with modern plasma cosmology, plasma mythology, the Saturn myth, etc., to a startling degree, all of which is yet more evidence that it is the real deal, a bona fide document of antiquity. There is no way Joseph could have known of these things or made this stuff up. Nobody is that good of a guesser.

    As Seth said above, it has been instrumental in making Mormon scholarship much, much better. And there are many other things that make the text exceptional, which I won’t get into here. In my estimation, the Book of Abraham is a real gem in the scriptural canon. Plus it’s fun to watch the anti-‘s knee jerk reaction to it!

  25. Plus it’s fun to watch the anti-’s knee jerk reaction to it!

    Anarchist, I hope you’re not talking about this discussion here. If we’re going to have a reasonable discussion about this, I object to dismissing the critical arguments with the loaded term “anti-“.

    The thing is that the facsimiles reproduced in the Book of Abraham aren’t just “pictograms”, they contain some actual writing — writing which can be read by people who know ancient Egyptian. They also contain notes by Joseph Smith pointing to actual bits of text, with Joseph Smith’s translation of what that text is supposed to say. For many of these JS said they are not to be revealed at this time, but for some he gave translations, and those translations are wrong. Perhaps this is a “knee-jerk reaction” but I would take that as a strong indication that Joseph Smith’s translation of the Egyptian scrolls that were in his possession is inaccurate.

  26. chanson,

    Critical arguments I’m all for. But I have yet to see a single one that invalidates Joseph’s translation of the facsimiles. There is simply no smoking gun anywhere. And yet, that is where there should be one: in the facsimiles. That is where all the critical arguments should focus and where the theory that the Book of Abraham is fake should be able to easily establish itself as fact. But it doesn’t, not even there.

    For every “the translation is wrong” pronouncement by an expert, there is also an “ah, but there is evidence that it could mean this another thing, also,” which other thing always happens to be the very thing that Joseph translated it as. Time and time again the song is the same, the end result always the same. After awhile it just sounds like whining, like grasping at any damn straw you can find to take Joseph down. But the critics have yet to do it. I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for years for the experts to prove the facsimiles wrong and each time they announce victory, new Egyptian research shows his translation is accurate. The more we learn about Egyptian, its language and culture, the more right Joseph is shown to be.

    Now, if you can, chanson, show me a smoking gun. Show me concrete evidence that Joseph’s translation is wrong. Evidence that has no contradictory evidence attached. No “it can be this and also that.” I just want something that everyone researching the document says it can only be this and so Joseph is wrong. Can you do that, chanson? Can you give me a smoking gun that no apologist has been able to answer, or that has no evidence of a possible other explanation?

    If you can, then cough it up. If you can’t, then admit that the theory that you and others here have that the Book of Abraham was made up by Joseph is just that: a theory, and one that has no concrete evidence to support it. In other words, your belief in it is a question of faith.

  27. I’ll tell you what. Let’s make Seth the apologist arbiter. Seth is a part of FAIR, right? You bring up something that hasn’t already been addressed by an apologist. We’ll then ask Seth if that has already been addressed and if there is an alternative interpretation which supports Joseph’s translation. If it has already been addressed, I’ll take a look at it, if it is online, and we’ll go from there.

    Surely there ought to be overwhelming, incontrovertible evidence that will convince this ol’ anarchist that he got hoodwinked, right? So, show me Joseph was wrong. Take him down, if you can.

  28. When I was at BYU, I bought a book by a Mormon Egyptologist that translated the hieroglyphs in the facsimiles. Even though the scholar was Mormon (and I bought the book at the BYU bookstore), it was pretty clear from what he wrote that JS’s “translations” were not close enough that any reasonable person would call them translations. (I think the author included an opinion that JS’s translations were closer than random guesses, but did not provide a statistical model for this assertion.)

    I wish I still had the book, but it actually shouldn’t be that hard to do this analysis ourselves. As I recall off the top of my head, in one of them, JS claims that the characters above the hand of one of the figures is a name (and he gives the name). If he’s right, that would be very impressive. The characters are right there — it shouldn’t be too hard to verify.

    Anyway, though, this tangent (is the Book of Abraham a literal translation of the papyrus studied by JS or not?) is a little bit ironic, considering the point of the OP. Let me remind you:

    The new introduction to the Pearl of Great Price now calls it “an inspired translation,”

    Which sounds like the CoJCoL-dS has just canonized interpretation (b) from the second-to-last paragraph of the article linked @19:

    the Breathing text served as a catalyst (rather than source text) for the Book of Abraham

    (Correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t that interpretation originally proposed by Hugh Nibley?)

    Anyway, if you are sure that the BoA is a literal translation of one of the Egyptian scrolls that Joseph Smith had in his possession — why bother convincing me? Looks like you should be trying to convince the correlation department of the church!

  29. Before we begin this, should you accept this challenge, chanson, I want to be clear on what I mean by incontrovertible evidence.

    You say that Joseph’s translations were wrong. Okay, but just saying they are wrong is not good enough. I want all the right translations as incontrovertible proof that he was wrong. That’s translations in plurality. In case you still don’t get my drift, I’ll spell it out for you.

    “[Richard H.Wilkinson, author of Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, Thames and Hudson, London, 1994] notes that ancient Egyptian signs and symbols were meant to be interpreted on many levels. He correctly argues that most of the material remains from ancient Egypt were made by and for the elite and would have been lost on commoners.

    “How is a modern person to understand the significance of ancient Egyptian visual representations? Wilkinson tries to provide a framework. But what we get, time after time, is an ‘either … or’ scenario in which Wilkinson himself vacillates between what may be the ‘symbolic significance’ of a representation or ‘simply the result of artistic convention.’ How is the student to decide…?”

    So, given that Egyptian is a mult-leveled language, it is not enough to give a basic-level machine translation, which gives a character by character meaning. No, I want all the levels of Egyptian, so that I have incontrovertible proof that what Joseph wrote doesn’t work on any level.

    Not all languages are multi-leveled like Egypt, but to give you another example, consider Hebrew. There are four levels to Hebrew understanding: simple (PASHAT), hint (REMEZ), search (DRASH) and hidden (SOD). The simple understanding will not be the hidden understanding. So, taking Hebrew as an example, were Joseph to translate a Hebrew text into its SOD meaning and you wanted to prove Joseph was a fraud, you would have to give me FOUR levels of meaning for the text to make your case. Giving me just the simple understanding and saying you won just proves that you are ignorant of Hebrew.

    The same applies to Egyptian. So, now that we know the ground rules, please enlighten me with the evidence of your faith.

  30. @34 So, you’re saying it doesn’t bother you in the slightest that the CoJCoL-dS doesn’t agree with you anymore on this point…?

  31. Looks like we were typing at the same time…

    Shulem, yes, I’ve already looked into that. (No need for Seth on this one.) There is already an explanation for that. It’s funny you would bring that up as the first one. Every time I talk to a disbeliever about Abraham, Shulem is the first thing that is brought up. And yet it has a fairly simple explanation.

    You got anything else?

    Re: the new intro, I think the scholars are just playing it safe. We don’t have the scroll (even though we have descriptions of it) and since part of the membership believes Joseph translated from the scroll, while a smaller part believes it was just a Book of Moses type revelation, they opted for something every believing Mormon could agree on: that it was inspired and that it came into existence at the time the scrolls were acquired. If the Abrahamic scroll ever is found, or even just a part of it that confirms the translation came from it, we’ll get yet another “adjusted” intro.

  32. The church doesn’t agree with me? I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Most in the church believe in a missing scroll. A minority believe the strict revelation theory. I’m in the majority on this one.

  33. Shulem, yes, I’ve already looked into that. (No need for Seth on this one.) There is already an explanation for that.

    Oh, well, if there’s already an explanation for that, then I’m satisfied.

    The church doesn’t agree with me? I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

    Did you read the original post? Here’s the part I’m talking about:

    The new introduction to the Pearl of Great Price now calls it “an inspired translation,”

    The point is that anyone who’s familiar with the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham knows that the main competing explanations are (as you say) “a missing scroll” and “the strict revelation theory”. The new (church-published) edition of the Pearl of Great Price has an introduction that endorses the latter theory. So you can sit here and debate the atheists about this all you want, but that ship has already sailed away without you.

  34. An update to #19…

    Seth kindly emailed me outside the comments to note that I got a reference wrong. Cook (co-author with Smith in the original) did not take issue with Barney but with Gee, who responded to them in Dialogue. He even provided the reference:

    Andrew W. Cook, “Formulas and Facts: A Response to John Gee,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 45/3 (Fall 2012): 1-10.

    So, I really meant to say, they made “Gee” look like a moron, not Barney. Thanks, Seth, for the kind correction.

  35. Chanson, LDS Anarchist has already dealt with the new introduction (#36). The “scholars,” i.e. prophets, seers and revelators, are just “play it safe.” If the Abrahamic scroll surfaces “we will get another ‘adjusted’ intro.”

    Doesn’t that answer all your questions, and strengthen your faith, knowing that the Brethren are playing it safe (as though that is news).

  36. Also, it seems like someone needs to say this…

    The “missing scroll” theory seems an awful lot like the “we have no idea where the Book of Mormon took place” theory. Initially, Mormons all thought the Book of Mormon took place in Central America, but, as evidence came to light indicating that was clearly not true, apologists began to claim that the location was “unknown.” The same appears to be happening with the Book of Abraham. Joseph Smith claimed to translate some of the Egyptian in the scrolls that we do have, and he got those translations wrong according to all reputable Egyptologists today. We KNOW that. But, rather than admit Joseph was a fraud (which was already established given his treasure seeking activities), the apologists are now suggesting “a new scroll” that I don’t recall being mentioned in the historical record (though I’m sure Seth and LDS Anarchist will find some obscure reference to these other scrolls in order to correct me).

    Both of these responses by apologists accomplish the same thing: They move the question from the realm of the empirical and falsifiable into the realm of the non-falsifiable. It’s quite convenient.

    Can we definitively illustrate that the Book of Mormon is not a record of the “primary” Native American ancestors? Yes. But can science definitively illustrate that the Book of Mormon is not a record of anyone’s ancestry? Well, no. Because who is “anyone”? Or, if we go with the limited geography model… Can science definitively illustrate that the Book of Mormon is not the record of a small group of people who popped into the Americas at some point and then had all of their genes largely wiped out, so as to be unidentifiable in the larger population of Americans? No. So, non-falsifiable.

    Can we definitively illustrate that the scrolls Joseph purchased and that were recovered in a Chicago museum are the Breathing Permit of Hor? Yes. But can we definitively illustrate that some other text that no longer exists was not the Book of Abraham? No. Because it no longer exists, just like the Book of Mormon. How convenient. The evidence is gone.

    By moving this issue out of the realm of the falsifiable, apologists can conveniently keep their hopes alive that Joseph wasn’t a fraud. To the independent observer, this makes the whole thing even more fanciful and improbable. But it works for the person who starts with belief, then changes the evidence and facts to align with belief.

  37. Isn’t it interesting how often “facts’ used to support one position, have to be changed to support a subsequent argument.

  38. By the way, I never said anything about a “missing scroll” – I neither endorse nor reject that idea. All I’ve said is that I don’t find it convincing that what survived today is the majority of what Joseph Smith was working with.

    As for convenient… yeah, certainly is.

    Almost as if God didn’t want you to have hard evidence to abdicate to, but rather make the decision based on faith. That makes a lot of sense to me. After all, a lot of the examples of people who God actually indisputably revealed himself to didn’t turn out well at all. We ought to be grateful he’s nice enough NOT to do something similar with us.

  39. Seth @43:

    After all, a lot of the examples of people who God actually indisputably revealed himself to didn’t turn out well at all.

    Except, of course, that there’s NO ONE whom “God actually indisputably revealed himself to.” There are only people who CLAIM God revealed himself to them–you know, like Joseph Smith. People do dispute that he saw God, you know, so it’s clearly disputable. Heavens, we can dispute it right here and now. Though I certainly won’t dispute that Joseph Smith didn’t turn out well at all.

  40. Parker @40:

    Chanson, LDS Anarchist has already dealt with the new introduction (#36). The “scholars,” i.e. prophets, seers and revelators, are just “play it safe.” If the Abrahamic scroll surfaces “we will get another ‘adjusted’ intro.”

    Doesn’t that answer all your questions, and strengthen your faith, knowing that the Brethren are playing it safe (as though that is news).

    Yeah, that drives me nuts. It’s an argument used to explain why we can’t talk about Heavenly Mother: “Oh, of course she’s real, but we can’t talk about her because we’ll be even more unacceptable to the rest of the world if we announce that we worship a goddess! People will think we’re even weirder!”

    I thought God’s servants were supposed to stand up boldly for the truth, no matter what the cost, not play it safe!.

    I mean, they could boldly stand against gay marriage and pay the cost in money, membership and respect that the their bankrolling of Prop 8 cost them, but they can’t stand up for Heavenly Mother or the Book of Abraham?

    What a bunch of cowardly losers.

  41. I’ve read various explanations. My point being what’s the big deal about the scrolls.
    Everyone in Nauvoo was all a twitter cuz they had the writings of Abraham.
    But if it’s just the inspired translation of a grocery list no matter how ancient, what’s the whoop?
    So what did Joseph Smith literally translate.
    I can have go at this inspired thing
    If I was a fair minded person, and I did a cross cultural comparison with certain Grecian vases, than any reasonable person can clearly see that figure 7 on facsimile 2 is Heavenly Mother with a dildo.
    Now that a whoop. I think I like LDS apologetics.

  42. Suzanne, are you going to give any indication that you read my first explanation of my views or not. So far, you don’t give any indication of having done so.

  43. @47: Seth frequently fails to give any indication that he’s read anyone else’s comments–or even paid attention as he’s written his own. And now he’s demanding to know if someone else has read his comments? Nuh-uh.

  44. I have given my views on on a so called Canaanite redactor or whoever else and his so called grocery list from who knows what so called missing scroll. Of which you neither reject or endorse.
    Maybe a future Tom Brown novel was sent back in time to be hidden in a mummy. God works in mysterious ways.
    People can make sorts of convoluted stories of how Joseph Smith translated the sacred fiction about Abraham.
    What’s so special about this fiction that God has to resort to such complicated means.
    It’s much simpler to me that a Book of Breathing turned up in Nauvoo, and it inspired Joseph Smith to create the Book of Abraham.

  45. Then your summary is incorrect Suzanne.

    Because no one is talking about making up anything. The Canaanite Redactor concept is one of a Canaanite scribe writing down the story of Abraham – either from already existing documents in his possession, or from an oral tradition, or perhaps a mixture of the two.

    No one was talking about him making up a story in the first place. Which was why I felt you hadn’t even read what I laid out.

    Besides, any Canaanite in exile period or before it educated enough to read and write in Egyptian wouldn’t have been “some drunk.” He would have been a respected intellectual elite of the day. Skills like that were highly prized in those days.

    Incidentally, if you stop trying to read the Facsimiles in an Egyptian context, but rather in a context of ancient Canaanite theology – Joseph’s interpretation is downright uncanny in its accuracy.

    In fact, the entire Book of Abraham demonstrates the sort of mastery of ancient Canaanite religion, cosmology and narrative that no man alive in Joseph Smith’s day possessed.

    Which is why – on the evidence – I find the “he made it up” explanation improbable. He didn’t have the education to do so – no one alive on the planet in his day did.

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