Jeff Lindsay is an LDS guy in Shanghai. Formerly of Appleton, WI, Jeff writes about the Mormon experience, life in China, and the joys of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.
There may be an important story hidden in one of the easily-overlooked details in the always puzzling Kirtland Egyptian Papers, especially the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) which many critics allege was used as the source for creating at least part of the Book of Abraham. The critics see it as an obviously worthless tool that was being used to assist in Joseph's translation of Egyptian papyri, while many LDS scholars argue that it was more likely derived from the revealed translation. There are strange, unexplained issues, though and clearly many relevant documents that are missing and explanations that are unavailable.
Some valuable information may be related to the order of the "Egyptian" words and their definitions in the GAEL. In my last post, a reader who goes by "Joe Peaceman" made a valuable point as he tried to explore what the text of the GAEL tells us about its construction. He pointed to an interesting correction that W.W. Phelps made throughout the various "degrees" of his document. The word "Beth-ka" had apparently been skipped early in his work, and so Phelps added a note on blank page calling for its insertion between two other characters. The word "Beth-ka" or "Bethka" or "Beth ka" in GAEL is variously said to mean "the greatest place of happiness" (GAEL, p. 2), "a more complete enjoyment— a more beautiful place" (p. 8), "a place of exceeding great beauty" (p. 12), "a larger garden— more spacious plain" (p. 17), and "A large garden, a large val[l]ey or a large plain" (p. 19).
We can see the Phelps' work of inserting "Bethka" in several parts of his document, including:
Page 2, where it is inserted between bars low on the page, with a note that it should be inserted above. See Figure 1 below.
Page 8, where it is the sole entry on what was one of the many blank pages left in the GAEL, with a note that it should be inserted on the opposing page. See Figure 2.
Page 12, which, as with page 8, is inserted on a blank page. See Figure 3.
Page 17, which has "Bethka" at the top of the page with a note that it should have been inserted between "Iota" and "Zub Zoal oan" on the previous page, page 16. The page is then filled with additional words and definitions.
Page 19, which has "Beth ka" at the top of a blank page and a note that it should "have been inserted between Iota and Zub Zaol aon on the opposite page," page 20.
Fig. 1. "Bethka" added out of sequence on page 2 of the GAEL.
Fig. 2. "Bethka" inserted on a blank page, page 8 of the GAEL.
Fig. 3. "Bethka" inserted on a blank page, page 12 of the GAEL.
In creating a dictionary or an "alphabet" of a foreign language, what is the importance of word order? If one is creating a versatile tool for translating texts, the order should enable one to easily look up a word to find its meaning. In Chinese-English dictionaries, for example, Chinese words can be arranged based upon alphabetic order of the transliteration, or based on characteristics of the characters (governing portions called "radicals" or number of strokes) that can make it easy ("easy" compared to having no order -- it still can be difficult) to find a word. Lists of words for language study can be grouped in other ways as well (common verbs, common nouns, etc.). But what is it about "Bethka" that requires it to be inserted not next to "Beth" but between "Iota" and "Zub Zoal oan"? Why would Phelps care about precise word order here when the words aren't being arranged alphabetically or based on common meaning, sound, or structure of the "Egyptian" character (typically not even Egyptian)?
Reader "Joe Peaceman" provides the most plausible answer, I think. He notes that in the sequence of words into which "Bethka" needs to be inserted in a particular place, the word order links them to the text of Abraham 1:1-2. Below is part of Abraham 1:1-2, where we have these phrases, in order, and their relationship to words in the GAEL in brackets:
1 ... at the residence of my fathers [1. "Beth" - described as a place or residence] I, Abraham, saw [2. "Iota" - see, saw, seeing, or having seen] that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence; [3. "Bethka" fits here, referring to a better place] 2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, [4. "Zub zool— oan"— which can mean "father or fathers"]
Phelps cared about the order and felt a need to insert "Bethka" throughout his document in a place that would make it line up with something. Line up with what? Why do that unless he was trying to use the existing text of the Book of Abraham translation as some kind of a tool, perhaps Kirtland's answer to the Rosetta Stone, to do the very kind of thing that Champollion was trying to do, namely, to create an "Alphabet" (that's a term that was frequently used in the press of that era to describe Champollion's work) to crack the mysterious Egyptian language? As "Joe Peaceman" puts it, "This is obviously aligned to Abraham 1, and it appears that Phelps saw the order that the cosmic journey/drama was about to play out in Abraham's life. How did he know without a text?"
If Phelps were just guessing at the meaning of various symbols (most of which aren't even Egyptian) to make some kind of dictionary, the work he did to insert "Bethka" in five parts of his document in a specific place would make no sense. But if there were an existing story line in an existing text that he was working with, perhaps for some aspect of his "pure language" interest, then the bits and pieces of the GAEL that align with the Book of Abraham make more sense. The purpose of the GAEL is still unclear, but what should be clear is that Phelps began this project in the GAEL with at least some and perhaps much of the Book of Abraham before him. Contrary to the assertions of some critics, the GAEL is more likely to be drawing upon the Book of Abraham rather than the other way around.
This episode also reminds us of the problem of some of our own scholars who insist that the Book of Abraham was the fruit of nineteenth-century Egyptomania without knowledge of one of the main aspects of Egyptomania: fascination with the news of Champollion and the Rosetta Stone. If Phelps and the early Saints were unaware of those widely known stories where much was said about the "alphabet" being prepared by Champollion based on the translation he had on the Rosetta Stone, and had no clue about the phonetic aspects of the Egyptian language revealed in that work, why would Phelps and his peers strive to also create an "alphabet" of the Egyptian language? But if they were creating an "alphabet," it stands to reason that they would start with a known translation and use it to try to decode the language, Champollion-style. They messed up terribly, of course, and raise numerous questions in the process, such as why they are using characters that usually aren't even Egyptian. That fact raises doubt about the project really being related to deciphering Egyptian. Perhaps they were trying to create their own "pure language" guide, or perhaps there is something to William Schryver's theory of making a reverse cipher, or perhaps there is something even stranger going on.
With many key documents clearly being missing and so many puzzles in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, it's hard to determine what they were trying to do. But there is evidence that helps us understand when they were trying to do it, and that seems to be after at least some of the revealed translation had been given. It's more logical to see the GAEL as dependent on the translated text, not as a source that was used to create it.
A number of critics of the Book of Abraham and even some LDS scholars have alleged that a pair of Book of Abraham manuscripts with a few Egyptian characters in the left margin give us a window into Joseph Smith's "translation" process. At the heard of their argument is alleged textual evidence that Joseph Smith is dictating live. The critical evidence is the fact that both scribes, Frederick G. Williams and Warren Parrish, make some of the same errors and corrections in the document, rather clearly showing that simultaneous dictation is taking place. Therefore, it is alleged, these manuscripts show Joseph Smith dictating and giving the new translation of Egyptian characters from the papyri.
Critics such as Dan Vogel have discussed portions of the textual evidence and considered it in light of their theory that Joseph was dictating the translation. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they generally do not seriously allow for the possibility of an alternate hypothesis: that the scribes were creating a copy of an already existing document. The idea of an existing document is typically dismissed with assertions of "no evidence." But the textual evidence they point to in support of their case needs to be evaluated in light of that alternate hypothesis as well in order to make a reasonable comparison of the merits of the two approaches, rather than hastily dismissing the alternative and declaring victory. Fortunately, now anyone can make that evaluation using the publication of high-resolution images and transcripts of the Book of Abraham documents in the Joseph Smith Papers website and in The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, edited by Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2018). For this, I'm truly grateful to Hauglid and Jensen and the many others who made this possible (in spite of my differences with the editors' apparent personal opinions on some Book of Abraham issues).
The twin manuscripts, reflecting two scribes both working at the same time, are Manuscript A by Frederick G. Williams and Manuscript B by Warren Parrish. Let's consider what the textual evidence tells us. First, consider the evidence from spelling. Textual Evidence, Category One: the Spelling of Unusual Names in the Twin ManuscriptsBelow are the proper names in each manuscript, excluding Egypt and Egyptian, Ham, Adam, and Noah. They are shown below in order and grouped by name in order of occurrence and showing corrections (here I draw upon data presented in a previous post).
Here are the spellings of names in Manuscript A by Frederick G. Williams:
Chaldeans, Chaldeans, Chaldea ["in the Chaldea signifies Egypt" - Chaldean is meant, same error here as in Manuscript A],
Potiphers hill, Potiphers hill
Kahleenos [The canonized text has "Rahleenos." Since a cursive capital R often looks much like a K, it would be easy to read "Rahleenos" on an existing text as "Kahleenos." Williams also wrote "Kahleenos." Perhaps the original text had Kahleenos, or it may have had "Rahleenos" which Parrish or someone else misread.]
Abram, Abram, Abram
ur, Ur, Ur
Parrish is not a great speller, giving us "preist," "sacrafice," "fassion" (fashion), "patraarch," "govermnent," "pople" (people), "Idolitry," "deliniate," "runing," and "smiten," but he spells names consistently, with the exception of capitalization and one typo for Pharaoh. Williams, on the other hand, has significant variation in his spelling of unusual words, suggesting that he was writing down what he heard for the most part, while Parrish might have been looking at what he was writing or was able to see it when needed if someone else were dictating, so his unusual words are spelled accurately and consistently.
Williams spells names with the kind of variation we would expect for an oral copying process: Mah-mackrah and Mah-Mach-rah, Haran and Haron, Elk=Kener and Elk-keenah, Chaldea and Chaldeea. Chaldeans and Chaldians, etc. But Parrish, a poor speller, outdoes his fellow scribe with remarkably consistent spelling of difficult names. This strongly suggests that Parrish could see a document that was being copied. If Parrish could see the document, could he have been the one that was dictating aloud so that he and his fellow scribe could make copies? It's a possibility that needs to be considered as we examine the next category of textual evidence, the typographical errors and corrections. Thus, we will consider two hypotheses: 1) Joseph Smith was dictating and creating a translation as two scribes simultaneously copied what he spoke, and 2) the two scribes worked were simultaneously copying from an existing manuscript, with Warren Parrish able to see and dictate aloud from the manuscript as he and Frederick Williams then copied what Parrish read aloud. Another hypothesis, that someone was reading to both scribes from an existing manuscript, could also be considered, but may be indistinguishable from Hypothesis 2 in analyzing errors and corrections in Category Two.
Textual Evidence, Category Two: Typographical Errors and Corrections in the Common Text of the Twin ManuscriptsHere we consider each of the errors and corrections, in order, for the common text written by by both scribes, namely, Abraham 1:4 to 2:7, the point where Parrish stopped writing. Unless otherwise stated, the errors and corrections shown occur in both manuscripts. Corrections made by only a single scribe (mostly Williams) are not shown. Insertions are put between <brackets>. Deletions are marked as strikeouts. In the comments, we consider whether the error is more consistent with Hypothesis 1 (live translation being dictated by Joseph Smith) or Hypothesis 2 (two scribes working together as they copy text from an existing manuscript, possibly with Warren Parrish reading aloud and then both Williams and Parrish writing what has been read).
Errors and Corrections
(1) "sign of the fifth degree of the first <Second> part"
A correction made above the line after writing the full designation, apparently when one of the scribes recognized that it should be "first" rather than "second." On an existing document being copied, this designation may not have been written, but could have been a note from the scribes. Of itself, this correction could be consistent with with Hypothesis 1 or 2.
(2) "I sought for <mine> the appointment"
The final sentence here has both "mine appointment" and "the appointment" right after it. When copying by hand from an existing text or reading aloud from an existing text, skipping ahead (or looking back) to a similar phrase and momentarily confusing the two is an easy and common mistake to make. Switching a nearby "the appointment" for the immediate "mine appointment" would be completely understandable, if one were working from an existing text. It's also possible that a reader were not used to "mine" in front of a noun could also subconsciously make it more natural by reading "the" for "mine." In any case, looking at an existing text and copying or reading could readily result in this error, whereas if one had decided to speak of "my appointment" but in old fashioned language, it's unlikely that one would slip and just say "the" instead, when the context of the sentence demands a possessive. This is an error most likely due to working with an existing text. This favors Hypothesis 2.
(3) "whereunto unto the priesthood"
How could "appointment unto" become "appointment whereunto" if one is dictating one's own words and ideas? This mistake, however, is very natural when reading from an existing text. The conversion of "unto" into "whereunto" makes sense as a reading error given that "whereunto" was just used in a similar context earlier in Abraham 1:2, assuming that that verse was present on the hypthesized existing manuscript or had been read recently by the reader. This favors Hypothesis 2.
(4) Williams: "and that you might have a knowledge of this alter <I will refer you to the representation that is at the commencement of this record>"
Parrish: "and that you might have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation, that is lying before you at the commencement of this record."
Williams' text looks as if he is cramming the inserted words into the speace between the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next, as if he has missed these words and later learned of the need to add them after the next paragraph had been started, which begins with, "It was made after, the form of a bedsted...." Parrish, however, continues writing "I will refer you..." smoothly, but has a deletion not found in Williams' text. These facts are difficult to fit into a Hypothesis 1 scenario but could fit a Hypothesis 2 scenario. Parrish may struggled with confusing markings on the original text, writing a phrase that had been marked for deletion before continuing with the correction, and while so doing failed to read this portion until after he had read the next line associated with a new character. When he read the resolved passage aloud, there was no error for Williams to correct, but he had to cram the passage into the limited space left before the new paragraph already begun. Hypothesis 2 is favored.
(5) Parrish: "the daughters of Onitah, one of the regular royal descent directly from the loins of Ham"
Only Parrish makes the error of writing "regular" instead of "royal." It would seem highly unlikely to hear "royal" and write "regular" instead, but this would be an easy visual mistake to make since the first five letters of a cursive "regular" can look very much like "royal." In a Hypothesis 2 scenario, Parrish may have first written the word "regular" then immediately noted and corrected mistake before reading the sentence properly to Williams, or may have dictated the text correctly, and then visually looked back to review what he had just read, leading to the visual copying error. In any case, this error favors Hypothesis 2.
(6) Williams: <That you may have an understanding of their gods I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the begining which manner of figures is called by the Chaldians, Kah-lee-nos.—>"
The editors of JSPRT Vol. 4 plausibly classify this passage as an insertion because it appears to have been squeezed into the top of a page (see foonote 64 on p. 239). This text is inline in Parrish's manuscript. For Hypothesis 1, this might mean that Williams didn't pay attention and missed a section that he later had to fill in. Under Hypothesis 2, if Parrish had already been distracted and failed to read a phrase out loud just moments before, it might have happened again here, especially since the text is again making a possibly confusing reference to a previous figure. Both could be plausible. However, since significant single-scribe errors of this kind tend to be those of Williams, that is consistent with a Hypothesis 1 scenario where Parrish is able to see the manuscript and thus does not miss significant passages that Williams succeeds in recording. Also of note are the details of Williams' initial spelling of Keh-lee-nos, not shown in the transcript on the website but given on p. 197 of the book, where we see that he initially spelled the name with "Ca" instead of "Ka." Indeed, it appears he wrote "Cale" first, then, perhaps after asking how to spell it, reworked the letters to become "Kah-" followed by "lee-nos," again consistent with Williams' writing names with the uncertainty of oral dictation, while Parrish, in contract, spells them with great regularity (see point 7 below).
(7) Parrish: "which manner of figures <is> was called by the Egyptians Chaldeans, Kahleenos
Of note here is Parrish's error of writing "Egyptians" instead of Chaldeans initially, which he strikes out immediately and then continues inline with "Chaldeans." This appears to be a mental error in logically expecting "Egyptians." This could happen under wither scenario. Since Williams wrote it correctly, that must have been what was dictated. Under Hypothesis 2, Williams could have dictated it before or after making the written mistake. Also of note, Parrish here spells "Kahleenos" without stumbling, and spells Chaldeans correctly, while Williams erred (at least initially) on both (see point 6 above), further strengthening the evidence under Category One for Hypothesis 2.
(8) "because their harts are turn they have turned their hearts away from me" [Parrish writes "turn" before striking out "their hearts are turn," while Williams writes "turned."]
This error is easily compatible with Hypothesis 1, wherein Joseph could have adjusted a phrase on the fly, revising "their hearts are turned" to "they have turned their hearts." However, there is an interesting twist to this example that we learn from John Gee in his Introduction to the Book of Abraham, p. 31. He explains that these two phrases are equivalent in Egyptian, and could be translated either way, a possible hint at the Egyptian language origins of this change. That could again be consistent with Hypothesis 1. It could also occur under Hypothesis 2 if the original manuscript Parrish was seeing had the initial phrase only lightly stricken out or with a penciled in correction that caused initial confusion about the editorial intent. However, for this issue, Hypothesis 1 is favored.
(9) Williams: "and to distroy him, who hath lifted up his hand against thee Abraham <m> my son to distroy thy take away thy life,"
Here Williams makes and quickly corrects two errors that Parrish does not make. He changes "Abraham" to the dictated "Abram," an easy mistake to make when taking diction, and then, having just written "distroy" in this phrase, writes it again in "distroy thy" for the similar meaning of "take away thy life." This could happen under both Hypothesis 1 and 2, but since Parrish does not make the mistake, consistent with being able to see the text that he dictates and thus able to have relatively fewer errors incuding fewer errors with names. Hypothesis 2 thus may be slightly favored.
(10) Williams: "the Lord broke down the alter of Elk-Keenah and of the gods of the land, and utterly distroyed them gods of the land and smote the priests that he died"
Parrish: "the Lord broke down the altar of Elkkener, and of the gods of the land, and utterly destroyed these them, and smote the priest"
Williams repeats the phrase "gods of the land" after "utterly distroyed them." At that point, "gods" is right above the space where he continues to write, and its appearance may have triggered the repeated phrase. Parrish does not make this error, but does write "these" and then corrects it. Under Hypothesis 2, it is possible that Parrish misread this passage as "them gods of the land," visually jumping back to the phrase "gods of the land" as he read, then mentally correcting the grammar to "these" as he wrote, after which then realized he had misread the phrase in time to have Williams strike "gods of the land."
The errors of the two scribes here could be random individual errors consistent with either Hypothesis 1 or 2, but Hypothesis 2 may explain a non-random relationship between them, possibly giving Hypothesis 2 the edge here for explanatory power. Note also the presence of additional punctuation in Parrish's text (commas) that is lacking in Williams', an issue consistent with Hypothesis 2 to be discussed under Category 3 below.
(11) "And thus from Ham sprang the that race which preserved the curse in the land. Now the <first> government of Egypt, was established by Pharaoh"
Both scribes write "the" and then change it to "that" by writing "at" over "e," a correction that could have been done immediately or later. This could be consistent with either hypothesus. In the following sentence, both scribes insert "first" above the written line. This could happen under Hypothesis 1 if Joseph, after dictating a sentence about the origins of Egypt, felt he needed to add first afterwards. But the thought being expressed seems somewhat off without the "first," possibly suggesting that it's more likely to be the kind of mistake that was made by a reader who skipped a word rather than a speaker who didn't think of the word until later. This could work with either hypothesis, but Hypothesis 2 may be slightly favored.
(12) "in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam; and also Noah his father, for in his days, who blessed him, with the blessings of the earth, and of <with> the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the priesthood" (punctiation and capitalization here is from Parrish, slightly different from Williams)
Both scribes write "for in his days," indicating that the speaker spoke those words. In Williams' text, there is a period after "for in his days" followed by a capitalized "Who" that is then changed to a lower case "who." This is relatively hard to fit under Hypothesis 1, but may fit under Hypothesis 2, for the similar phrase "in the days" leads this passage and could have influenced the reader after seeing those words above to add a related phrase. Upon noticing and reading "who blessed him," the incongruity would have been noted and the error detected. Williams may have heard "who blessed him" as a new sentence since it didn't fit as a continuation suitable for "for in his days" and thus began a new sentence. When Parrish explained the error, Williams then changed "Who" to "who." Parrish, having seen and written the correct case for "who," did not have to make such a change. This correction seems to favor Hypothesis 2. The other correction, changing "of" to "with," is also consistent with a scribal error made by seeing another nearby word. Note that "of" occurs right before ("of the earth") and after ("of wisdom") the intended "with," making this an easy copying mistake and but an unlikely error for Joseph expressing thoughts in his own words. In both cases, Hypothesis 2 is favored.
The scribal errors and corrections are said by Vogel and others to provide compelling evidence that Joseph Smith was ditacting and creating live but utterly ridiculous "translation," giving us a window into Joseph's "translation" process. But in nearly every instance of significant scribal errors and corrections in the commonly treated text, when the alternative possibility of copying from an existing text is considered, that alternate possibility, our Hypothesis 2, appears to have more explanatory power. Hypothesis 1 is favored in one case, and the two hypotheses may be equally suitable in a couple of cases, but in a majority of the cases there are plausible reasons for favoring Hypothesis 2. On the whole, the evidence in both Category Two and Category One favors a pre-existing manuscript that was being copied, with dictation possibly by Warren Parrish to assist his fellow scribe as both made copies for some reason. Claims that there is "no evidence" for an existing manuscript being used by the scribes fall flat. That's an assertion, not a scholarly conclusion based on detailed textual analysis. We still have question marks about what the scribes are doing and what the purpose of the characters in the margins is. They see a relationship, of course, but if they are copying from an existing manuscript, these "smoking gun" manuscripts are not giving us a window into Joseph Smith's live translation.
Next up will be Category Three of our textual evidence dealing with format and punctuation, a lesser but still noteworthy issue, and then Category Four, analyzing the text Williams produced after Parrish left or stopped writing. Finally, we will look at Book of Abraham Manuscript C and consider what it tells us or doesn't tell us about the twin manuscripts A and B and other Book of Abraham issues.
The Maxwell Institute recently revamped their website after roughly a week of downtime, introducing dramatic changes (and some painful losses). The new website currently gives pride of place to a new podcast featuring the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham, Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, volume 4 in the Revelations and Translations series (hereafter JSPRT Vol. 4), where they discuss their work and what they have learned during the course of preparing the volume on the Book of Abraham. See “MIPodcast #92—Joseph Smith’s Egyptian papers, with Robin Jensen & Brian Hauglid,” interviewed by Blair Hodges, Neal A. Maxwell Institute, June 27, 2019.
While JSPRT Vol. 4 is a fabulous scholarly tool, I have argued in a series of recent posts that some of the editorial decisions and commentary reflect apparent bias and a stance that often favors common arguments from our critics (though perhaps unintentionally so). After pointing out the lack of balance, and the apparent bias, including the puzzling failure to even acknowledge Hugh Nibley and his vast collection of publications related to the materials and hypotheses touched upon in JSPRT vol. 4, I was hoping that the editors might take a more balanced approach in subsequent public presentations rather than continuing to offer what I have called "friendly fire without the first aid." Unfortunately, the comments of both editors underscore some of the concerns that have been raised.
The risk of editorial blindness to many crucial issues relative to the Book of Abraham and the possible bias against or neglect of evidence supporting the Book of Abraham as a revealed work rooted in antiquity (the disreputable stance of “abhorrent” apologists, per Hauglid’s unfortunate Facebook comment in 2018) was first made clear to me when I heard of a damaged testimony from an LDS member who listened to Hauglid and Jensen’s January 2019 seminar at BYU for the Maxwell Institute. In that presentation, problems with the Book of Abraham and Joseph’s translation work were raised with no hint of “first aid.” After writing several blog posts with criticism of that presentation and of Hauglid and Jensen’s personal opinions that appear to have influenced comments, citations, and omissions in JSPRT Vol. 4, concerns that I am confident were made known to the editors, I was disappointed to find similar comments in the new podcast. The podcast presumably did not have the tight time constraints of the BYU seminar, which I initially hoped might have been the reason for the lack of discussion of the strengths of the Book of Abraham. It was not an official scholarly document that could possibly require strict rules against discussing faith-promoting material. It was simply an informal opportunity to discuss and share views from the authors and what they have learned from their study.
Several problems are apparent in this podcast. One is that an overly simplistic view of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is promulgated when Hauglid says:
In other words, they’ll take characters from the papyri, they’ll put them in the left column, and I think they tried to do a pronunciation guide with how to say this particular glyph or whatever. [emphasis added]
Later he adds:
Those documents [the Book of Abraham manuscripts with added characters] are unique because they have in the left margins characters taken from the fragment that was once attached to the vignette that we get Facsimile One from.
An important point that needs to be underscored is that many of the glyphs in the KEP and on some Book of Abraham manuscripts are not Egyptian at all and do not come from the papyri. As one can learn from examining the "Comparison of Characters" section in JSPRT Vol. 4, at best only 7 of the 62 characters given translations in the KEP are found on the key papyrus fragment. Some of the KEP characters come from a letter W.W. Phelps wrote about the “pure language” before the scrolls ever reached Kirtland, and some appear to come from other sources such as Greek, including archaic Greek, Masonic ciphers, etc. (and even, perhaps, one of the cipher systems used by Aaron Burr).
Only about 10% of the characters on the Book of Abraham manuscripts both have definitions in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) and are found on the papyrus, raising serious questions about the theory that the GAEL was an attempt to translate the papyri and was somehow used to translate the Book of Abraham. Some of the characters in the Book of Abraham manuscripts are not found on the papyri at all. To overlook the puzzling diversity of origins of the characters in the KEP is severe oversimplification that irons out some vital clues about what is or is not going on in the work with so-called “Egyptian” characters.
Another questionable viewpoint expressed in the podcast is that the Book of Abraham was an evolving product reflecting Joseph’s culture and theology, which began in 1835 for only Abraham 1 through 2:18, and then years later in Nauvoo as Joseph’s thinking evolved he added the remaining material. The editors are quite confident of this:
JENSEN: One thing that I find interesting, if you look at the Joseph Smith Papers volume, this volume we’ve been talking about, the majority of the documents were created in Kirtland in 1835. But if you look at just the Book of Abraham itself, the majority of the Book of Abraham was actually produced, translated in Nauvoo. I think that’s something that not many have realized, where this certainly was divided into two parts. Joseph Smith first began work in Kirtland and then he stopped, the temple was being built, he moved to Missouri, there were all sorts of problems in Missouri with non-Mormon neighbors, and then it took a long time to get things settled in Nauvoo trying to get that going.
HODGES: Why did that break matter? Why should anyone care that it had this break?
JENSEN: So I find it fascinating because Joseph Smith as religious leader—you can trace his developing, understanding of theology, of the things that he’s teaching to Latter-day Saints. So to know that the first portion of the Book of Abraham is in Kirtland, historians can better how the theology as found in the first portion of the Book of Abraham was read by Kirtland Saints and the theology that was, to that point, revealed to those Saints.
But then you look at the later portion of the Book of Abraham and, placing that in a Kirtland theological setting, doesn’t make as much sense. But when you look to the Nauvoo theological setting, Joseph Smith has revealed all sorts of new information that it fits better. There’s a better context to that in Nauvoo than in Kirtland.
HAUGLID: And Joseph Smith also incorporates Hebrew terms that he learned after his Joshua Seixas tutoring at the Hebrew school in Kirtland that come out after his tutoring experience in Nauvoo, where he put some of those in Abraham chapter three and there’s other things that you find with some Hebrew connections that he would have learned.
So I think we’ve kind of got it where we can see what’s going on in the Kirtland area there pretty well. The Abraham chapter one to chapter two, verse eighteen seems to fit just fine right in that time period. Then, as Robin said, when you get up to Nauvoo that also fits that context really well in terms of his theology, in terms of how they’re looking at the language, in terms of how they’re incorporating some of the Hebrew. It fits into that Nauvoo period. Plus, you also have some plain language coming out of Joseph Smith’s journal saying “we’re translating on March eighth and March ninth for the tenth number of the Times and Seasons.” So that fits as well. So you’ve got some historical backing there. [emphasis added]
This split scenario is countered by scholarship from one of the peers decried by Hauglid. In an important work that is not acknowledged in JSPRT Vol. 4 or in the podcast or seminar given by the two editors, Kerry Muhlestein and Megan Hansen have provided compelling reasons for accepting that much more than Abraham 1 and 2 had been translated by 1835. See Kerry Muhlestein and Megan Hansen, “'The Work of Translating': The Book of Abraham's Translation Chronology,” in Let Us Reason Together: Essays in Honor of the Life’s Work of Robert L. Millet, ed. J. Spencer Fluhman and Brent L. Top (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: 2016), 139–62.
If Hauglid and Jensen had been more open to the possibility that the Book of Abraham translation preceded the creation of the relevant portions of the existing Egyptian Alphabet documents and the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, then it might seem much more logical that those documents are drawing upon bits and pieces of the translation, including terms related to the supposedly later cosmological material and to the creation account, rather than providing a tool that could have been used for an imagined translation of the papyri. Again given that roughly 90% of the “Egyptian” characters translated in the GAEL and the Egyptian Alphabet documents are not even found on the papyrus fragment supposedly being translated, theories of Joseph using the GAEL to translate the papyrus may seem untenable.
Further, the use of Hebrew learned from Joshua Seixas in 1836 does not date the translation that employs those term to the Nauvoo era, nor does it even require that it occurred after 1836. Relevant Hebrew terms could have been added as late editorial glosses in preparing and revising the original 1835 material for publication. It was in 1835 when Joseph, while translating, indicated that the system of astronomy had been unfolded to him. (Joseph Smith History, Oct. 1, 1835, in “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” Joseph Smith Papers website.) That would be consistent with Facsimile 2 and Abraham 3 having been already revealed then.
Among the numerous evidences raised by Muhlestein and Hansen for the translation being largely done in 1835, one of them is the vastly different pace of translation required if Joseph had translated Abraham 2:19 through Abraham 5 in the day and a half allocated to translation in 1842. Compared to the days of known translation in 1835, he would have to have translated over 2,200 words a day in 1842 compared to an average of about 250 words a day in 1835, a pace 9 times greater. Rather than generating new verses in 1842, a more reasonable hypothesis is that Joseph was editing existing translation to incorporate some things learned from Hebrew study and to make other changes to prepare the manuscript for publication.
The prior scholarship of Muhlestein and Hansen, along with many others, should have been carefully and addressed in some way, both for the podcast but especially for JSPRT Vol. 4.
The editors seem to see Joseph’s later use of material related to the last 3 chapters of the Book of Abraham and Facsimile 2 as evidence that his theology (and cosmology) came first, then the “translation” with related material. Here the editors might better have considered the possibility that Joseph had been learning from what he translated and applied it in later discourses. To see his evolution in thinking as the cause for the additional material in Abraham 3–5 rather than being partly a response to what he learned from Abraham 3–5 reflects an overly humanistic, secular view on Joseph Smith’s work in creating scripture. It may be that the editors and other scholars associated with this project are comfortable with that approach, but it does not represent the only reasonable approach, it does not represent sound scholarship if other approaches from other scholars are not fairly considered, and it does not fairly represent the position of the Church and faithful members (including many LDS scholars) who see the ancient and the divine in Joseph’s translations of the Book of Abraham, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Moses.
Let us now turn to a critical issue. The editors reveal in this podcast that they are keenly aware that people have left the Church over arguments about Joseph’s allegedly failed translation of the Book of Abraham from the Joseph Smith Papyri. At that point, it would have been reasonable to offer some consolation and encouragement based on the strengths of the Book of Abraham and the many evidences for its antiquity and divine translation. Instead, they both take a stance which seems consistent with Hauglid’s “coming out” on Facebook (regarding his negative attitudes about "abhorrent" apologetics and his acceptance of some of Dan Vogel's critical views on the Book of Abraham):
HODGES: You’re just trying to make the documents themselves accessible so that people can then do work based on the documents.
HAUGLID: Right. It’s a resource for people. And so I agree. There’s plenty to talk about in terms of the content of the Book of Abraham.
JENSEN: I think increasingly you’re seeing less angst over the content of the Book of Abraham than you are with the context of the Book of Abraham. There’ve been people who may have left the church or felt frustrated with the historical narrative. It’s not so much about the content itself. It’s not about the actual narrative of the Book of Abraham. It’s about the way in which it was produced, and I find that interesting, not surprising at all that Joseph Smith as prophet, seer, and revelator, there’s a lot hanging on the Book of Abraham and what it means for Joseph Smith’s revelatory process, his translation. It’s been such an important symbol for Joseph Smith’s calling.
And when people look to the Book of Abraham and when people say, “I left the church because of the Book of Abraham,” that’s shorthand that I think almost everyone understands is, “It’s not the content. It’s “Joseph Smith produced this text from papyri. The papyri does not actually contain the Book of Abraham, therefore Joseph Smith is a fraud.”That is, frankly, a reasonable, logical conclusion to someone whose testimony is based upon this simplistic view of Joseph Smith’s translation. If we have simplistic views of how Joseph Smith produced his scripture, then it’s not going to take much to topple that simplistic understanding. So I think that producing a better understanding—kind of this nuanced understanding of production of scripture by Joseph Smith—is not only good scholarship, but I think it’s good for Latter-day Saints throughout the world.
HAUGLID: Let me just add that—maybe in defense of those who do leave—they were raised in the church. They were given the narrative they were given, that they were supposed to believe. There was no nuancing that was going on, really, with any of that as we’re trying to do now with what happened with the Book of Abraham. So yes, it’s a big decision that these people sometimes make, and perhaps there is a simplistic aspect to that, their testimonies, but I’m of the opinion that it’s not all their fault. [emphasis added]
Those believing Joseph’s translation to be divinely inspired are told that leaving the Church may be a “reasonable, logical conclusion” based on that expectation, but the expectation is said to be overly simplistic. The fault for people leaving the Church over the Book of Abraham is laid at least in part at the feet of the Church for teaching that Joseph actually translated the Book of Abraham through the power of God. The “translation” is not valid as those with “simplistic” testimonies had unwisely expected. Hauglid and Jensen seem to see the “translation” as Joseph’s (failed) human toying with the Egyptian on the Joseph Smith Papyri — there is no mention of other possibilities that many other LDS scholars have discussed at length, no mention of the clear evidences that something other than fraud and guesswork is behind the text, but an apparent acknowledgement that the critics have been right all along about the Book of Abraham, echoing Hauglid’s agreement with Dan Vogel.
Unlike JSPRT Vol. 4, Nibley is mentioned in the podcast, but only to dismiss his arguments regarding the possibility of translation from a missing scroll and his views on the KEP coming after the translation. The basis for the editors’ belief that they have largely “overturned” Nibley’s views is that they can see bits and pieces of the Book of Abraham translation, as if the Book of Abraham later worked out those concepts more fully. But that’s a subjective view. Why aren’t not the bits and pieces of Book of Abraham concepts found in the KEP point to derivation from the Book of Abraham?
They argue that since Joseph’s history speaks of work on the Egyptian alphabet, whatever that was (we don’t know that it was the same as the extant manuscripts – an assumption is involved in the editor’s argument), around the same time as the translation, that it was a concurrent process and that the alphabet was therefore used somehow in the translation, but that process could easily involve periods of revelatory translation followed by personal attempts to understand Egyptian and crack the code. There is no new evidence presented here that overturns the reasons offered by Nibley and others for the KEP to be a derivative work based on translated material.
Both editors call for a more mature “nuanced” approach, which seems to mean that as Joseph evolved over time, he injected his theological views into the framework of a fictional Book of Abraham from a failed but perhaps sincerely attempted “translation” of papyri that he could not understand. So to understand the Book of Abraham, we don’t need to look to antiquity, to ancient literature about Abraham, or to what Egyptian priests may have known and written about Abraham, but we should only turn to the nineteenth century and consider how Joseph perceived the papyri in his nineteenth century setting, the only context which determined the fruits of his work:
JENSEN: Yep. Intellectually you want to divide them. You want to say “well the papyri, that’s one thing. The nineteenth century setting, that’s another thing. They’re not together.” In some senses that is true. But in another way, we have to understand how Joseph Smith and others viewed the papyri, viewed them in their nineteenth century context, without trying to take on our own understanding. There’s been a lot of work in Egyptology since Joseph Smith’s day, obviously.
HODGES: I would say the vast majority of usable work has been.
JENSEN: So it’s very tempting to say “well, Joseph Smith didn’t know what he was talking about. Oliver Cowdery, Phelps, others, they were naive in thinking they could even make sense of this,” but for Joseph and his contemporaries this was a real effort. This was a real attempt to understand these papyri for what they were, what they could offer them, and what they could teach about the universality of human nature.
HAUGLID: Yes. That’s kind of where I was going to go. You have really a first response to all this Egyptomania stuff going on with all these papyri fragments and such coming in. We’re seeing Joseph Smith as one of those first responders in a sense to this material coming into their possession, and what they’re making of it is sometimes, for us we might say it’s off, it’s not Egyptology at all, and that’s okay, but just the fact that how they responded to it tells us things. It helps us understand where they’re coming from and this Egyptian material triggers that for us. So we get kind of a close-up view in a sense.
JENSEN: I also often tell people that Joseph Smith and other’s work in understanding, trying to decipher these papyri, tells us more about their own worldview than it does about the ancient world. So in light of the apparent problems the editors emphasize, it’s “tempting to say Joseph was a fraud,” but he was really trying, rather sincerely, in “a real effort.”
This nuanced approach not only makes the translation of the Book of Abraham a pious fraud, but raises obvious questions about Joseph’s translation of the reformed Egyptian that yielded the Book of Mormon. We don’t even get the reassurance that since there are compelling reasons to accept the Book of Mormon as a legitimate translation of an ancient document through the power of God, then perhaps our approach to the challenges of the Book of Abraham should be given enough “nuancing” to recognize that there may be answers to the challenges it seems to face based on the “simplistic” assumptions used by critics.
Ironically, the dangerously “simplistic” approach that can cause so much harm is not that of believing Joseph could give revealed translations of ancient documents through the power of God, but it the overly simplistic approach taken by the critics: “the only papyri Joseph attempted to translated are the surviving fragments,” “no missing scrolls can account for anything,” “these twin documents from two scribes mean Joseph was dictating the translation live from these few Egyptian characters,” “the GAEL is the source of the translation,” etc. Hauglid and Jensen tend to lend credibility to those perspectives in their podcast, their Maxwell Institute seminar, and in their editorial work for JSPRT Vol. 4, and have excluded significant and well considered alternate possibilities, even going so far as to avoid any mention of some of the most important scholarship and scholars related to their work (e.g., a complete neglect of Hugh Nibley in JSPRT Vol. 4). This is not balanced scholarship, but, even if purely unintentional as it likely is, it reflects a biased and perhaps harmful perspective.
The issue of the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts by Frederick Williams and Warren Parrish is particularly concerning in the podcast. The hypothesis that Joseph Smith is dictating the Book of Abraham translation live to his scribes, based on “Egyptian” characters from the papyri in the margins (some of which are not Egyptian and not from the papyri at all!) is an old one from our critics, but is raised in response to Hodges’ question, “Did the Joseph Smith Papers research team uncover anything new that was previously unknown about these documents while putting this book together?” The contribution of the authors on this issue was realizing that the scribes were writing on paper from a common source, but the textual evidence of simultaneous work is already clear. The issue, though, is what was occurring in this process. Was it really dictation from Joseph Smith giving original translation?
JENSEN: So what we have is pretty compelling evidence that they’re there at the same time using the same piece of paper, creating this text, the Book of Abraham, that gives us a new appreciation to the dictation process. Usually when we hear about Joseph Smith dictating, it’s him dictating to one singular scribe. So it’s interesting to imagine to try to reconstruct what that would look like with Joseph Smith dictating to multiple clerks.
HAUGLID: It’s interesting that we’re now talking about this when years and years ago Ed Ashment proposed the same thing. It created a firestorm of rejection amongst our LDS scholars, but now here we are talking about this and agreeing with Ed..
I noted with some anxiety last week that my many hundreds of links to archived articles, books, and other scholarly materials at the Maxwell Institute (mi.byu.edu) all became dead as the site went down for several days. A tragedy for the Institute and its fans and users in a world where dead servers and dead links are sorely punished by Google. I contacted the Maxwell Institute and learned that they were down for a while to prepare for a new, improved website.
"Improved" is an adjective that increasingly causes anxiety in my life. Blame it on age and a failure to adapt, but over the years I've noted that what many marketers, politicians, bureaucrats, doctors, and others tout as "improvements" can be serious steps backwards. Improved packaging with 30% less food for the same price; improved software that is now slower and less functional, improved health care plans that costs twice as much and cover less, etc. I am walking today because as I was being prepped for surgery to "repair" and "improve" a damaged meniscus in my knee, I heard a clue from the surgeon's assistants indicating that the real plan was to simply remove my meniscus. "Remove? The surgeon said he wold repair it." "Repair, remove -- it's actually much easier for us to just remove it." (This was in China, but a similar need for caution applies to America's increasingly frustrating health care system, which actually lacks much of the freedom and flexibility we have in China.) I got up and walked before they could impose their improvements on me, and am still walking vigorously today, five years later. Incidentally, I learned a valuable tip for medical success in China from a physical therapist friend that day: to see if you really need surgery, take your records (an MRI in my case) to another surgeon and say that you are going to go back to America to get surgery if it's needed, and all you are paying them to do is to give you an opinion: do you need surgery or not? I did that and quickly learned that physical therapy actually was all I needed. After one session with my friend, my knee was 80% better, and after a few more it was pretty much back to normal.
So when I heard that the Maxwell Institute was improving their website, in a move so big and bold that it required days of dead time, my doubting heart sank because I've been burned several times before when they revamped the website and broke every single link to archived material like FARMS publications, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Insights, etc. My LDSFAQ website and my Mormanity blog links to hundreds of articles and free only books there, and changing those links by hand, as I've had to do four or five times already, is an exhausting chore. I don't want to do it again and had been told previously by the Maxwell Institute that it was now stable and that they understood how important it was to preserve links and not break everything again. Could it possibly be the case that this improvement would break links again, and force my to once again search for the archived materials at the Maxwell Institute with new URLs? "Stay calm, Jeff, I'm sure everything will be fine. And improved."
After several inquiries to a variety of people that I thought would know, I heard from the Maxwell Institute and gradually determined that yes, indeed, all links would be broken (and not are broken) -- and not because the material was being given new URLs at the Institute, but because it was being removed from their website altogether. Ouch! But don't worry, I was told (you can see some of this on Twitter), everything has been safely moved to the Harold B. Lee Library's website, the BYU Scholars' Archive (https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/), where I can now poke around and gradually find everything myself once again. Well, tragic and frustrating as that was (and as their alleged heaviest user, there was a touch of a sense of betrayal, after being assured this wouldn't happen again), I was relieved to know that it was all somewhere, safe and sound, for what would now surely be a final solution.
Unfortunately, this solution, like too many improvements in the world, was not quite as advertised. I am sure that the Institute believed all was well and all data had been preserved, but for this kind of major change, a gradual process with some beta testing before pulling the plug and purging everything might be a good idea.
I soon realized that the Scholars Archive was not archiving the readable, somewhat mobile-friendly HTML files that the Institute had for most of its publications. Rather, it's a PDF-only world at Scholars Archive, not very easy for mobile users especially, making information harder to read, find, and search. Speaking of search, the search engine is pretty poor, in my opinion, and brings far too many unrelated hits. It's now much harder to find things than in the past, IMO. HTML files aren't the only loss. The FARMS Insights publication is no longer there, but someone at the Maxwell Institute said they are looking for ways to bring it back. Hope it will be back soon. But there are deeper problems that cropped up with just a few minutes of probing.
At the Scholars' Archive, a search for publications by John Sorenson (not easy to do with their limited interface, far inferior to what the Institute offered -- but after finding some of his articles, I found a hyperlink under the title on some individual pages for him as an author) reveals that the new site has 36 links for material from John Sorenson. However, looking at the old Institute website using Archive.org, by going to the Authors page and then clicking on John Sorenson, I see this page of results with 4 books, 28 book chapters, 32 journal articles, 5 transcripts, and 1 multimedia (video) presentation. The 36 links in the new site represent a tad more than 50% of the 70 links in the old. Clearly the new site is not capturing everything.
How about Hugh Nibley, one of the fathers of intellectual defense of the LDS faith? At the old Maxwell Institute page for Hugh Nibley as an author, I see 24 books, 12 book chapters, 53 articles, 36 transcripts, and 17 multimedia presentations, a total of 142 links to some of the most fascinating material from a true giant in faith and scholarship. How does the new website do? The Scholars Archive proudly touts a whopping 46 links to Hugh Nibley's material. The new site has 46 of the 142 Nibley items from the prior Maxwell Institute site -- that's about 32%, less than one third of what used to be there. Am I missing something? Am I searching improperly or missing extra links? Are there some secret Easter egg features that bring out the full Nibley? I really hope this is just another case of stupid user error. Here's hoping that I'm just being stupid once again! Make my day, expose my stupidity and show me that BYU hasn't let a lot of great data from the Maxwell Institute's past slip into oblivion. Yes, I realize that much of it may be recoverable on Archive.org. But that doesn't provide the visibility and ease of access that the world needs (and it's not accessible in China, while BYU.edu is, for one minor thing).
Here's hoping that the Maxwell Institute can regenerate a mirror site for their historic website and provide redirects so that all former links take you to the mirror site (one with HTML files, multimedia, Insights, and every article and chapter and transcript that used to be part of the Maxwell Institute).
I've come back to Utah for a few weeks to start an exciting and challenging new job. After having lived in China for 8 years, loving almost every day of it, it's hard not to think about China and its people almost every day.
One of the most pleasant parts of my time here has been regular trips to the campus of Brigham Young University for research and potential collaboration. I was a student there long ago, and many things seem familiar, but many things have changed. Was it this beautiful back when I was there? Some of the improvements in buildings and landscaping are really impressive, but so much, even the mountain setting, seems more beautiful than I ever recall noticing before. Maybe it's the contrast to mountain-free Shanghai, maybe it's the blue skies which are not all that common in populated parts of China, maybe it's the extra rich greenery from generous rains this year, but whatever it is, it's just a marvel to set foot on the campus and think of what a treasure this university is.
A few days ago visitor parking was packed, so I ended up parking by the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, and felt a need to step inside. Wow, what a treasure (the photos at the end of this post are from the museum, including works of Elder Boyd K. Packer). Much more interesting and beautiful than it was in my day. I was also touched by the artwork on display from Elder Boyd K. Packer, who was a master carver of wood who made lifelike birds and other animals. I had the pleasure of being in his home once or twice when I was a teenager and saw some of his carvings. They are even more beautiful now than I remembered.
As an aside, is there something going on with me, that familiar things from my past seem much more beautiful than they used to? It may be a trend, for it's happening closer to home as well. My sweet wife, who based on logic and science must be getting older, seems more beautiful to me now than when we were very young. If this is some kind of mental problem with me, it's a great one to have.
There is more than just the physical beauty of BYU that make it a beacon to the world. There are many people of all faiths, including no religious faith at all, who are looking for the things BYU stands for. There are people who want to study at a place where education and personal growth is the goal, not binge drinking and debauchery. There are many parents around the world who are looking for a place to send their children where they can not only get a strong education, but will be safe and less likely to be pressured to drink, do drugs, engage in immoral behavior, and mess up their life through the influence of depraved peers and predators. BYU has problems and dangers, like any place that has humans wandering about, but the wholesome environment, its salutary honor code, and the zealous efforts of university leaders to make BYU a safe and decent place make BYU a real gem, a beautiful treasure that invites people from all over the world to participate in one of the best and most helpful educational experiences available on the planet.
This brings me to China. China and the people of China need a place like BYU, in my opinion. So many parents who hope to send their children to get an education in the West are discouraged by what they learn about the debauchery that takes place in student dorms, the crass or perverted professors that influence thousands of young people, the warped sense of values among many university leaders that seem more interested in enforcing thought control or political agendas than in actually encouraging education and protecting the welfare of their students. But when they learn about BYU, there is often some excitement to learn that wholesome environments are possible where their children may be at much less risk.
I have been pleasantly surprised at just how well the values of BYU and its honor code resonate with the values that seem to be a natural part of the culture and mindset of many Chinese people. In spite of the negative things that are often said about China, this is a nation where the average person, in my opinion, really is decent, kind, and moral. It's a place where so many families seem wholesome and healthy, with basic family values. It's a place where the problems of fraud and corruption that the West often talks about are being zealously driven out, though there's much progress to be made. People with those values might be thrilled to learn about the values and environment at BYU. It's not for everybody and the fact that it's a religious university will be a concern for some, but the Chinese people I know who have gone there have generally cherished their time and are grateful for what they had in that environment. It's really a gem, and I hope it will continue to have good ties with China.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a BYU-like campus in China one day to make it even easier for those seeking something like BYU to have it more easily available? Wishful thinking for now, but I'm convinced that China and many Chinese parents need or at least will benefit from BYU, and that BYU needs China, a nation that treasures academic education as well as the moral development of its diverse people. Here's wishing for strengthened interaction between BYU and China in the future!
Some scenes from the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum:
Some works of Elder Boyd K. Packer on display at the Museum:
I previously noted that one of the Hebrew books Oliver Cowdery brought to Kirtland, Ohio near the end of 1835 showed an archaic form of the Hebrew letter beth which W.W. Phelps employed in the strange "Egyptian Counting" document of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, suggesting that the period of Hebrew study that followed had an influence on that document. Since then I've been looking for alternate sources that might have influenced Phelps. I've looked at Hebrew materials, Masonic materials, as well as information ciphers and scripts. I have found an alternate candidate in Thomas Astle, The Origin and Progress of Writing: As Well Hieroglyphic as Elementary (London: T. Payne & Son, B. White, P. Elmsly, G. Nichol, and Leigh and Sotheby, 1784), Table 1, p. 64; available at Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=mI3nAAAAMAAJ&&pg=PA64 (scroll down on page to see the table).
There in the upper right-hand corner, at the left end of the string next to the "B" on the right edge, is the character that is the same as the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document. There may be other sources as well, so if you run into any, please let me know.
This finding weakens my "smoking gun" for the influence of Moses Stuart's Hebrew book on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, for this character could have been seen in Thomas Astle's book or some other source -- the fact that Moses Stuart's book was surely seen by Phelps and contains that character could just be coincidence and need not force the date of the Egyptian Counting document to after Hebrew books came to town in Kirtland.
Thomas Astle's book is actually quite interesting and, like many books displaying archaic Greek alphabets and variants of Phoenician, allows one to recognize a number of characters quite similar to other non-Egyptian "Egyptian" in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, perhaps due to influence of some Greek study among the brethren. That's a topic for a later post.
I've been in Utah for a few days as part of my transition to an exciting new job with a very young and promising consumer products company. Right before leaving China (temporarily -- will return for a while yet), I had a meeting with Shawn Hu, the head of the Utah-Qinghai EcoPartnership, and learned some great news about Utah's progress in building healthy ties to China. It seems that the leaders of Utah and also the leaders of universities in Utah recognize the value of building and maintaining connections with China in spite of the trade war and related high-level political tensions. One example of that was the May 31 and June 1 BYU Spectacular production at the stunning Shanghai Culture Square, arguably Shanghai's leading venue for high-end performances. This gigantic production showed BYU's commitment to friendship with the people of China regardless of political disputes above. It was well received and resulted in healthy media attention. Sorry I could not be there -- had to leave China a little earlier than I had expected to participate in some important meetings and events in Salt Lake.
As I flew over Utah at the end of May, I was so impressed with its beauty. There has been a lot of rain recently, so it's greener than normal, and I love that. My encouraging welcome back to Utah continued moments after I stepped off the plane, when a friend and visionary CEO of a thriving Internet company met me and kindly gave me a ride to my destination, giving us time for a chat on his innovation and intellectual property goals for his company and his employees. I was inspired by this man's vision. He is looking for ways to use innovation and IP lift his employees, not just in Utah but in several other nations where wages are painfully low. His vision is that by inspiring employees to innovate and then benefit from their innovations, he can not only help his company grow but help employees create growth and business that will lead to much higher long-term income for them. He has some great concepts and a wonderful commitment to helping his employees grow. While my friend really stands out in a world that often seems dominated by pettiness and greed among leaders, I feel that his innovative, win/win spirit is surprisingly common among many businessmen in Utah.
My encouraging welcome back to Utah that day wasn't over! (Fortunately, I was experiencing no jet lag.) While visiting my parents that afternoon, I got a call from another of Utah's coolest CEOs, my own brother, David Lindsay of Avalanche Studios, who invited me to sit at the Avalanche Studios table that night at a dinner celebration sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Giant in our City. I jumped at the chance. This fabulous dinner event celebrated two significant figures in Utah and was held at one of the most beautiful hotels I've seen, the Grand America hotel, with over 1,000 people attending. The first honoree, recognized for selfless service in the community, was the remarkable Pamela Atkinson, an advisor to several Utah governors, an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church, and a steady advocate for refugees, the homeless and others in need. I was deeply touched by the video about her life that was played by attendees (produced, by the way, by Avalanche Studios). Then came many speakers praising the 2019 Giant in our City, Fred Lampropoulos, CEO and Founder of Merit Medical. His story of innovation and entrepreneurship was inspiring and entertaining. The event was well produced, inspiring, entertaining, and such a great way to begin my temporary return to Utah.
Utah has its issues, but I love the entrepreneurship, service, and compassion that I see here. I'm also thrilled to be part of a vibrant new Utah company and to be part of one of the most inspiring teams of people I've known. More on that later, perhaps. But I'm thrilled to be here and am inspired by what I see in Utah. More than just a lot of rain is behind that.
In a previous post, I discussed William Schryver's 2010 presentation that pointed out some surprising connections in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers that are related to the Book of Abraham project. Schryver's presentation, “The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers” at the the 2010 FAIRMormon Conference is preserved in two Youtube videos, Part 1 and Part 2. Schryver points to the many non-Egyptian characters in the KEP and also links some of the definitions in the KEP to the Doctrine and Covenants, both issues that show that translating the Book of Abraham from Egyptian scrolls probably was not the intent of the work. Rather, he sees some of the documents as an effort to create a reverse cipher for converting English into code. Whether the reverse cipher theory has merit or not, the observations about the nature of the “Egyptian” and relationships between various documents merit further scholarly attention.
Schryver points to Doctrine and Covenants 76 as a source for several consecutive KEP explanations. In the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, there are passages that refer to the Celestial Kingdom and two lesser kingdoms (parallel with the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms in Section 76). Schryver's point seems valid: Phelps was drawing upon text from the existing Doctrine and Covenants for some of his explanation of "Egyptian" characters. Here is a screenshot of the relevant portion of the video, occurring around 2:00 minutes into the Part 2 video:
For those using Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers to study any of these issues, or using other sources to see the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, I should explain that Schryver is combining information from two documents. He's using the Egyptian characters in the order they appear in the Egyptian Alphabet C document ("Egyptian Alphabet, circa Early July–circa November 1835–C" in JSP Vol. 4), and adding the more complete explanations for these characters in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL, the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, circa July–circa November 1835" in JSP Vol. 4). His Characters #46 to #48 are labeled in JSP Vol. 4 as Characters 2.23, 2.24, and 2.25, respectively. Like many of the "Egyptian" characters in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, these symbols don't appear to be on the papyrus fragments (relying here on the very helpful "Comparison of Characters" section in the back of JSP Vol. 4).
Since Schryver feels the order in Egyptian Alphabet C is important, it's worth noting that these characters aren't grouped together the same way in the GAEL. But since Phelps wrote these characters in Egyptian Alphabet C as well as in the GAEL, and since the Egyptian Alphabets generally are believed to be sources for the more complete GAEL, what we see in Egyptian Alphabet C may reflect Phelps' initial use of other sources that would later become compiled into the GAEL. So yes, the order as initially written by Phelps may reflect lifting concepts and language from Doctrine and Covenants 76, as Schryver argues.
His find of a parallel to Doctrine and Covenants 88:24 is also interesting. Here the next character in Egyptian Alphabet C, labeled Character #49 (of the EA C) by Schryver but Character 2.26 in JSP Volume 4, another character that doesn't appear to be on the papyrus fragments, has no explanation in the Egyptian Alphabet C but is described as the "least kingdom, a kingdom without glory" in the GAEL, very similar to Doctrine and Covenants 88:24.
Thus in succession in the Egyptian Alphabet C, from Character 2.23 through 2.26, are characters whose description in the GAEL deals with the three kingdoms of glory, beginning with the "Celestial kingdom" and drawing upon Doctrine and Covenants 76, and then the fourth character pertains to a kingdom of no glory per Doctrine and Covenants 88:24. And none of that has anything to do with the Book of Abraham nor, apparently, with the scrolls that we have.
All very puzzling.
One connection that Schryver didn't mention involves the character right before his sequence, Character 2.22 (or Character #44 using his counting method). The name and explanation in the GAEL (p. 31 of the GAEL, p. 177 of JSP Vol. 4) is:
Ebethkeeaimtriethe— a place beyond this earth a future place of existence, a place of residenden beyond this earth; the cecelestiale world; the heavenly bodies; the earth in its most sanctified state as it shall be= eternity.
Some of this language seems related to the first verse after Doctrine and Covenants 76, namely Doctrine and Covenants 77:1:
Q. What is the sea of glass spoken of by John, 4th chapter, and 6th verse of the Revelation?
A. It is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state.
It's building on the theme of the Celestial Kingdom in Section 76. But this language will also be used again in the 1843 revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 130, where verse 9 tells us that the earth in its "sanctified and immortal state" will be a Urim and Thummim to its inhabitants. Interesting connections.
Why was Phelps drawing upon language from the Doctrine and Covenants? Not sure. But it seems like something besides translating Egyptian from the scrolls is going on. I'm not convinced that a reverse cipher project was underway, and prefer to think this was some aspect of pursuing "pure language" work that was soon abandoned. Thoughts?
This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:
Last night my wife and I had the pleasure of speaking with a large group of students from a US university who were touring China to learn about business and life here. I was with part of the group in one banquet room and my wife was with several others, and both of us were telling our story while they ate. We talked about how much we love living here, how great the people are, how proud we are of China's progress in IP and innovation, how wonderful my wife's Chinese students are, etc. There was no agenda to praise China, it's just impossible for us to talk about our 8 years here without recognizing that we love this place and the vast majority of the Chinese people we know.
While my wife was speaking, a highly educated Chinese woman, a professor living in the US, started crying and explained why: "It's been so long since I've heard anybody from the US say anything nice about China." She's heard so much bashing, so much hostility, and knows of Chinese people in the US who get told to "go back to your own country!" That very day they had met with a US government representative who rather openly said negative things about China. How sad that our few sincere words would be so rare that it made a woman cry. Know some Chinese people? Try this on them and let me know what happens. Say something nice and make the world a better place.
This week a large group of performers from Brigham Young University are coming to perform at what may be the nicest performance hall in Shanghai (the beautiful Shanghai Culture Square, site of many Broadway musicals and other high-end performances). It's a celebration of BYU's 40-year relationship with China. I'm so grateful to the leaders at BYU and the many students, coaches, and others that made this huge event possible. Doing this in the middle of tensions with the trade war is an important symbol of BYU's commitment to friendship in spite of whatever is happening with politics. I believe Utah itself also stands out as a place with high interest in China and other foreign countries, with a willingness to learn, to share, and to be friends. Please don't let the acrimony of politics destroy our ability to be friends with others from afar.
There is so much the West needs to learn from China, including its culture and history, its rise and rapid growth, its innovation, its people, its rich languages, its family values, and (please oh please oh please!) its food. A great Chinese meal brings tears to my eyes -- here's hoping some of you might make me cry when I'm back in the States for a while this summer!
Whether you agree with Hugh Nibley or not, those doing research on the Book of Abraham and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers must recognize that he was certainly the most prolific scholar to dig into those issues. While he would modify many of his early viewpoints on several issues and would surely withdraw or modify some, in light of ongoing discoveries, were he around today, much of what he discovered and published remains relevant and at least deserves to be considered.
In a recent conversation with an LDS graduate student digging into ancient languages including Egyptian, I learned that he had great respect for Nibley’s magnum opus on the Book of Abraham, One Eternal Round. He felt it had a great deal of value that most LDS members and perhaps most LDS scholars have failed to consider. When my copy of The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, edited by Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2018, hereafter JSP Vol. 4) finally reached me in Shanghai, I was anxious to see how this valuable volume would treat past scholarship on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Book of Abraham. I was especially interested to see how it would respond to the intricate analysis presented in One Eternal Round and other voluminous works of Nibley, the first scholar to dig into the Joseph Smith Papyri and perhaps the most important scholar to have addressed numerous issues around the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP), the papyri, the Facsimiles, and the text of the Book of Abraham.
To my amazement, as I read JSP Vol. 4, it seemed that every time there was an issue where I would expect a helpful reference to findings from Hugh Nibley or other scholars such as John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, or others, there was simply silence. Turning to the list of works cited (pp. 340–349), I was even more surprised to see Nibley was completely missing. This volume has hundreds of footnotes: 205 in the section on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), 215 in the section for the Egyptian Alphabet documents, 128 in the Introduction, 209 in the section on the Facsimile printing plates and published Book of Abraham, etc. Some critics are cited, and outspoken critic Brent Lee Metcalfe is credited in the Acknowledgments (p. 381), but there seems to be a ban on Nibley. JSP Vol. 4 is willing to cite a non-LDS critic to the effect that there is "some evidence" suggesting the Book of Abraham is derived from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, but chooses not to mention that there is abundant evidence from multiple scholars for the opposite conclusion, that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are derived from an already existing translation. What’s going on? This points to what may be a gap in the interpretive framework that is implicitly if not explicitly presented in JSP Vol. 4. Much more than just Nibley may have been overlooked.
Sadly, the editorial comments in the JSP Vol. 4 seem to zealously avoid any hint that there may be antiquity or authenticity anywhere in Joseph’s translated text or in the comments on the Facsimiles, when the neglected works of Nibley and others, even if only cited by way of reviewing the past LDS responses to the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, could at least have pointed to help for readers wishing to understand the potential for authenticity. John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein are LDS Egyptologists and professors at BYU who have dealt with many of the thorny issues of the Book of Abraham and have been able to point to numerous fascinating details in favor of some ancient roots in the texts, while also recognizing the challenges. Their relative absence from this volume is disconcerting.
Fortunately, the important Introduction of JSP Vol. 4 does not fail to cite Gee and Muhlestein, treating them with better respect than Nibley. But not much more. Gee’s valuable Introduction to the Book of Abraham is cited on p. xviii regarding a tiny detail in the chain of events regarding the bringing of Egyptian artifacts to America. On p. xiv, three of his works are cited on the issue of how long the scrolls were, but only after citing and accepting the views of others who claim they were much shorter than Gee’s calculation (that’s not to say Gee’s calculation was correct, but rather illustrates the general neglect of many weightier matters Gee addresses). That appears to be the extent of references in the Introduction to Gee’s work. Elsewhere, the occasional references appear to be about tiny details rather than to his overarching views and major contributions to the debate over the Book of Abraham. As for Muhlestein, he is cited once in the Introduction on p. xxv to the effect that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers have been found by scholars “to be of no actual value in understanding Egyptian.” That is certainly true, but Muhlestein, like Gee, has much more to say about the actual value of Joseph Smith’s work and how faithful readers can cope with some of the puzzles. On that, there is silence.
But perhaps I am misunderstanding something. Am I asking the Joseph Smith Papers to abandon scholarly credibility to pursue my apologetic fantasies?
The outstanding and brilliant JSP Project is clearly not about creating and publishing apologetics, but rather sharing documents for future scholarly work. But if the goal is not apologetics, neither can it be polemics. Unscholarly bias that supports positions that can undermine faith and weaken respect for the LDS scriptures must be avoided. Balance, openness, and scholarship must mean more than sharing only one perspective. Cited scholarship and perspectives on the complex interpretative issues around the KEP must not exclude and ignore relevant scholarship that refutes or undermines key positions of critics of the Church. Acknowledging such past scholarship should be a matter of course in a work like this, and could at least point readers to other ways of seeing the issues involved with the complex and puzzling documents that are presented.
It’s one thing to disagree with Nibley, but to pretend he does not exist reflects something other than openness and objective scholarship, IMO.
JSP Vol. 4 does much more than simply present and transcribe documents. There is extensive commentary and over a thousand footnotes, with each sentence of commentary and each choice of what to cite and what to ignore having the potential to reflect personal views of the editors. As is stated on the book cover and on the JSPP website,
The introductory material situates Smith’s efforts in the broader context of the nineteenth-century fascination with Egyptian history and culture, of his own effort to reveal truths from the ancient past, and of his other translation efforts. The annotation in this volume explores the relationships between and among the various manuscripts.
The existence of extensive commentary and footnotes that identify (or ignore) relationships and create a “context” for the translation effort opens very large doors for editorial bias to influence the result. Unfortunately, the positions favored seem to support derivation of the Book of Abraham from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers rather than the other way around. They favor the critic's analysis of two related Book of Abraham manuscripts said to show Joseph Smith "translating" in live dictation, when there is strong evidence that those manuscripts were being copied by the scribes from an existing text, with Warren Parrish doing the dictation rather than Joseph Smith. They favor the "Egyptomania without Champollion" viewpoint where Joseph supposedly thought one Egyptian character could give huge chunks of text in a mystical "translation" process.
How the documents are presented and which perspectives are acknowledged and which are ignored is a critical issue that cannot be done with pretended obliviousness to the debates based on the documents in question. Faithful Latter-day Saints have confronted the warts of the Book of Abraham and related documents for decades and have found ways to understand and cope with the issues without losing faith in the divine nature of the Restoration. Faithful Latter-day Saints have also seen great treasures in the Book of Abraham that point to the ancient roots of the Book of Abraham and the sacred value of the text, however it was revealed and crafted. A publication like JSP Vol. 4 that digs into the warts should, in my opinion, also not be afraid to hint, if only indirectly, at some of the beauty and not be ashamed to recognize the existence of scholarly perspectives of Nibley and others. Nibley's responses to the Joseph Smith Papyri debates and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are part of the history around the documents and a vital part of the broader context of the Book of Abraham story. It's a shame Nibley has been excised from the record.