Objections to the Book of Abraham

My focus over the last dozen posts has been in answering, even if only for myself, some of the more common objections to LDS doctrine or practices. One that you can find frequently in lists made by critics of the Church is the validity of The Book of Abraham as found in The Pearl of Great Price, part of the canonized scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject. I write this from the point of view of a common, regular member of the church. I don’t have a problem with the Book of Abraham and never have. To me it is scripture and I love the things I have learned from it over the years. I just want to understand what the objections are and how they can be easily answered by a simple kind of guy like me.

How we got the Book of Abraham

The Book of Abraham is a translation of some Egyptian papyri containing the writings of the prophet Abraham. The papyri came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835 and contain writings of the patriarch Abraham. The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois. See History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534.

In July 1835, an Irishman named Michael Chandler brought a traveling exhibition of four Egyptian mummies and papyri to Kirtland, Ohio. The papyri contained Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ability to translate Egyptian to English had not yet been discovered or developed. Chandler asked Joseph Smith to look at the scrolls and give some insight into what was written on them.

After reviewing the papyri and giving Chandler a description of parts of the scrolls, Joseph Smith and others purchased the four mummies and at least five papyrus documents. Joseph declared that two of the scrolls contained the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt. He translated the majority of the Book of Abraham text in July of 1835 with some minor revisions in 1842.

Loss and recovery of the papyri

After Joseph Smith’s death, his mother maintained the mummies and papyri, even showing them to interested visitors on occasion. After her death in 1856, Emma sold them to Mr. Abel Combs. Combs then sold two mummies with some papyri to the St. Louis Museum. In 1863 they went to the Chicago Museum, where they were apparently burned in the Great Chicago Fire.

The other mummies were lost, but some papyri survived. In 1947, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired some additional papyri from a daughter of Combs’s housekeeper. Aziz Suryal Atiya of the University of Utah found eleven fragments of the remaining papyri in May 1966, after he recognized the image of Facsimile 1 in the Pearl of Great Price on one of them.

The three main objections

Critics claim that the translation is a fraud. The original papyri containing some of the source material for the Book of Abraham has been found and translated. The content has been shown to be an Egyptian funeral text known as the Book of Breathings. There does not appear to be any connection to Abraham. His name does not appear anywhere in the papyri or the facsimiles.

Critics claim that the facsimiles are interpreted incorrectly. In fact, they do not seem to bear any similarity to translations provided by modern Egyptologists of the text in the figures. These critics claim that this proves that Joseph had no prophetic gift and was a fraud. They have called for the church to denounce the Book of Abraham as an embarrassment and stop covering it up.

Critics claim that the content of the Book is pure imagination. They claim that what is found in Joseph Smith’s translation is inconsistent with what we know about Abraham and ancient Egypt from the Bible and other sources. In the book are found many unique and important LDS doctrines, including the exaltation of man, plurality of gods, priesthood, and a pre-mortal life.

My three simple answers

I do not believe that the original source material used to translate the Book of Abraham has been found like the critics claim. What has been recovered was only part of the collection. The papyri that Joseph used to translate the Book of Abraham was either destroyed in the great Chicago fire or has yet to be found. There is also the theory that it was a revelation and not a translation.

I prefer to accept Joseph’s translations or interpretations of the figures and text in the facsimiles over what modern Egyptologists have produced. There are so many things that we don’t know about ancient Egypt. The discovery and study of the antiquities that are still being produced is a relatively new science. Perhaps the figures were symbolic and not to be interpreted literally.

As noted previously, I love the content of the Book of Abraham for the very reason that critics complain that it cannot possibly be correct – because it is not contained in creeds of orthodox Christianity. The Book of Abraham provides a rich and deep foundation for understanding the purpose of life. It truly is a blessing from God to have this scripture to increase my testimony.

Summary and Conclusion

I know the topic is so much more complex than I have presented in this brief post. This has been a subject of criticism for almost 150 years but one which the majority of the members of the Church have been unaware. Even those like me that are aware of the controversy don’t seem to be concerned or affected by the criticisms or the implied consequences if proven true.

For some, there are many unanswered questions about the Book of Abraham. I do not have any. For me, it is sufficient that Joseph said he translated the book from papyri that fell into his hands. I believe him. I can even accept the theory that he may have just used the papyri as a catalyst to trigger revelation. The Book of Abraham is scripture and I accept it as doctrine.

For more information please refer to Jeff Lindsay’s exceptional and exhaustive coverage of the controversy, including excellent answers to the objections and recent new favorable evidence. Two additional great sources are the Book of Abraham Project and the BYU Maxwell Institute.

Additional material from FAIR:

1. Book of Abraham FAQ
2. Summary and criticisms
3. Detailed response to criticisms
4. Encyclopedia of Mormonism

0 comments for “Objections to the Book of Abraham

  1. Anonymous
    April 24, 2008 at 12:38 am

    I just came across your post regarding the Book of Abraham. Doesn’t it strain common sense to the breaking point to assert that while all three facsimiles included in the Mormon church’s Book of Abraham were recovered in the papryi, none of the text of the Book of Abraham was recovered. In short, the odds are unbelievably low that the papryi containing the text of the Book of Abraham were destroyed, while the papryi containing the 3 facsimiles were not. Perhaps your bias is coloring your logic? Are you familiar with Occam’s Razor?

  2. Tim Malone
    April 24, 2008 at 6:40 am

    Let’s see, the principle of Occam’s Razor states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory.In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest entities.Source: WikipediaThat’s great if we were talking about the scientific method of determining the truth of something. In this case, we are not, or at least, I am not. You are correct. I do have a bias. However, you assume that I used logic to arrive at my conclusions. I did not.I know, it is illogical and seems like it is straining common sense to believe that the text translated from the papyri found with the facsimiles attached was not the same papyri used by Joseph to produce the Book of Abraham.I don’t know. I wasn’t there. The accounts I have read tell of many different pieces of papyri. Only a few fragments have been recovered. In fact, it is estimated that less than 13% of the original are known to have survived. So the odds that the papyri containing the Book of Abraham were destroyed are actually 87%. So my assumption is the best.But again, I’m not using that logic here as a reason for believing that Joseph told the truth about the Book of Abraham. My logic is based on all the other writings and revelations of Joseph. I don’t need to see any source document. How do you explain the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price?There was no source document for that. It was revelation, or as an unbeliever would say, straight out of Joseph’s imagination. That’s why I accept either theory. I personally believe that the papyri has not been found, but I am OK with believing that the papyri were only used as a catalyst anyway.In other words, my trust in Joseph Smith as a prophet based on all the other works he produced. I know the Book of Mormon is true and I do not have the source material for that. Therefore I believe that the Book of Abraham is also true.This isn’t about logic. It’s about faith and trusting in the promise of a prophet. I’m referring of course to the prophet Moroni in the Book of Mormon. It’s infallible. For those that humble themselves and ask with real intent, the Lord does indeed manifest the truth of the Book of Mormon to all who ask in sincere prayer.The same promise applies to the Book of Abraham, since the prophet promised that by the spirit of the Holy Ghost we can know the truth of all things. Yes, I am biased. I am a TBM – True Believing Mormon – and always have been. I take the whole package, including the tests of my faith that seem illogical.We invite others to do the same. You can choose to believe what you want about Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham. Me? I accept what he said at face value. I’m much more interested in the content of the Book. It is fascinating and adds so much to my knowledge of he things of eternity.Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post on how I feel about the Book of Abraham. If you interested in learning more from others who are much more expert than I am, I suggest a careful reading of the three references I included at the bottom of the post. They are much more logical and present way more information than I need to believe that the Book of Abraham is scripture.

  3. Amber
    May 11, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Tim,What are the readings you would suggest? I didn’t see them at the end of your posting.

  4. Tim Malone
    May 12, 2008 at 1:49 am

    Hi Amber,Thanks for visiting my blog and reading my post on the Book of Abraham. The links are embedded in the blog text. Just click on the underlined text. I can understand they would not be available if you printed the blog posting and read it from there. I have also included the links here again:Jeff Lindsayhttp://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_Abraham.shtmlBook of Abraham Projecthttp://www.boap.org/BYU Maxwell Institutehttp://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/bookofabraham.php?selection=abr&cat=boa

  5. Michael from Cali
    August 17, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Hi Tim,Thanks for posting your perspective and sharing your thoughts and beliefs. As someone also interested in the subject, I apprecaite the opportunity to respond.You wrote: “I prefer to accept Joseph’s translations or interpretations of the figures and text in the facsimiles over what modern Egyptologists have produced. There are so many things that we don’t know about ancient Egypt.”With all due respect, accept what you like based on faith, but know this: While it’s true that there are many things still to be learned and discovered about ancient Egypt, the identity of the iconographic figures represented in facsimiles 1 and 2 would not be among them. These figures are nearly as well known to those with a basic knowledge of Egyptology as Christianity’s more famous icons are to those with a basic familiarity with that religion. It’s almost as ridiculous as if Joseph had made a facsimile of da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and assigned all new identities to those seated at the table. In fact, Joseph blew it in facsimile 3 so badly that one doesn’t even have to understand anything at all about Egyptology to know for certain that something is very wrong, absurdly wrong even, with the first prophet of the church’s interpretation of the illustration. All you have to be able to do is tell the difference between the essential body shape of a man from that of a woman! Joseph identified figure 2 in facsimile 3 as “King Pharaoh,” when in fact figure 2 is obviously a woman (indeed, she is Isis, the most important goddess in Egyptian mythology) and Joseph claimed figure 4 to the “Prince of Pharaoh, King of Egypt,” when figure 4 even more obviously is that of a woman (the goddess Ma’at, here representing the Ancient Egyptian concept of truth, order, law, morality, and justice. ). Again, I have no problem with anyone that wants to accept anything to do with their religion based on faith alone, indeed, as near as I can tell this is a basic requirement for those who follow any and all religions, and yet it’s clear to me that with regard to the origins of The Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith fell into a trap of his own making, it took a long time to play out, but it seems a fraud has definitely been revealed.

  6. Tim Malone
    August 17, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Michael,Thanks for commenting on my essay on the Book of Abraham. Your argument about the female figures actually works against you.To quote from Hugh Nibley: “I have asked very young children to point out the ladies in the picture, and they have never failed. So you may well ask, couldn’t Joseph Smith recognize a female when he saw one? Have you ever wondered why the Egyptologists who were so eager to get rid of Joseph Smith never pointed to this egregious indiscretion? I strongly suspect that it was because they sensed that he was very much on the right track.The “Prince of Pharaoh” here is the lady Maat, who can represent anyone while acting as “lieutenant” for Pharaoh and is the very embodiment of legitimate rule and succession. The woman designated as “Pharaoh” is the lady Hathor-Isis, mother, sister, and bride of the Pharaoh, and the ultimate source of his authority. These two ladies must be present in any coronation scene, when there is a transmission of royal power.” I suggest a reading of the complete article.What Hugh Nibley was pointing out was that women were expected to be present in a coronation scene, which is what is depicted in facsimile 3. Abraham, after having been miraculously delivered by the angel of the Lord, is placed upon the throne by Pharaoh and teaches the children of his court the principles of astronomy. If these women had not been present, the story would have been less plausible. That’s why most Egyptologists don’t bring it up.There is no fraud here. There are missing details of historical evidence, lost over time, but those who have really studied the facsimiles don’t bring up the point you have used because it goes against their own understanding of how things really were in Pharaoh’s court. The Book of Abraham is rich in wonderful doctrine and theology that makes our religion unique. We are not just any other church because we offer to the world the powerful doctrines found in the Pearl of Great Price.Like the revelations restored through Joseph in the Book of Moses, it contains truth, which anyone can discover for themselves by reading and praying about it. Isn’t that a wonderful promise of the Lord – that we can know for ourselves that it is true, in spite of what the critics say? Again, thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments.

  7. Kalvin
    October 26, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Whoa. That was one of the weakest arguments I’ve ever read. It basically amounts to “suspend disbelief”.

  8. Tim Malone
    October 27, 2008 at 4:04 am

    Hi Kalvin,Yes, it takes a lot of faith to accept the Book of Abraham as revealed scripture, just like it does to accept the Book of Mormon.Gratefully, the doctrines contained in the Book of Abraham answer so many questions for me that it is not hard to accept it based on faith.

  9. evangelical
    March 9, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Before commenting on this post, and its subsequent comments, I’d like to point out what I see as a general trend. Tim, you will say one thing in one post and something exactly opposite in another post. Take any two of your posts, in other words, and we find a contradiction. In “New Mormon History” you told Zelph that the Church has NOT been hiding its skeletons from its members. In this post you (I think in a comment) say that most LDS don’t know about the problems with the Book of Abraham. Contradiction?Ok, so I read what you said in the original post, what others said in response, and what you said in counter-response. I realise you have been engulfed in Mormonism since your earliest memories. So I understand it will be hard for you to accept what I am about to say.In another post I was speaking with you about the epistemological illegitimacy of the burning in the bosom. Your response there was essentially that the feeling was just really intense and I can’t understand how psycholocially satisfying it is because I’ve never experienced it. But this says nothing of the epistemological viability of the personal testimony. It may feel good and extremely powerful but is it true?Now we are talking about a different subject. Namely, the Book of Abraham. But it is related to the burning in the bosom because your defense (or apology, to use the Greek term) is to blow off the criticism and take refuge in your personal testimony. You FEEL the Book of Mormon is true, and that Joseph Smith was an honest and true prophet, so you naturally accept the Book of Abraham by default. You accept it, moreover, NO MATTER WHAT anyone says to you.So you have your subjective feeling and that shuts out even the consideration of contrary evidence of an objective nature.This is a real problem. Suppose I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and then somebody found his skeleton. Reputable DNA experts were unanimous that it was, with essential certitude, the corpse of Jesus. That objective evidence would destroy my faith.You are basing your acceptance of the Book of Abraham ultimately on a mere feeling. More than this, you are basing your unquestioning faith in a man (which is a common characteristic of suicide cult memebers is it not?) and your entire life and afterlife on a feeling. With all due repect-and I sincerely intend no offence here-there is no other word to describe this than “insanity”.So far as I can tell, there really is serious problem with the Book of Abraham. Enough of a problem that Mormons ought to at least take a serious look at the problem. Yet, by your own admission, this dirty little secret is not overly advertised in ward meetings. There is a reason why it is not brought up. The more I’ve read what the LDS apologists have to say about the Book of Abraham the more (not less) convinced I am that there is a very serious problem.So then, the Book of Abraham is falling-strike that, HAS fallen. With it Smith falls. With that, the Book of Mormon falls. And with that, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is revealed for the fraud she has always been.As I said above, this is a hard pill for you to swallow. You presumably have many fond memories of the Church growing up and your family ties and friendship ties are deeply rooted in Mormonism. Your whole life is Mormonism. I am asking you to leave that. Actually, that is not quite right. Rather, it is Jesus Himself who is asking you to “come out from among them.” It won’t be easy for you. And you shall likely not even try. Still, the invitation is there. If you do decide to listen to reason and “apostatise”, I will do what I can to help.Remember Cipher.

  10. Tim Malone
    March 9, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Hello again Evangelical,It appears that we are going to have a regular dialog with your comments on some of my past essays. I welcome your comments and appreciate the time you have taken to share them. Based on what I have read from you so far and specifically what you write in the last paragraph of your comments here, you do not have any desire to understand my faith. As you stated, it is your intention to destroy my faith. You are adversarial to my beliefs.You suggest a contradiction between my comment to one reader that the church does not hide its history (you call it skeletons) and my comment elsewhere that most members of the LDS church do not know or care about the problems that critics have with the Book of Abraham. These two facts are unrelated. It appears that your interpretation of my comments is based on a desire to create a perceived contradiction that was not intended.Having grown up as an active member of the LDS faith, I have never, ever encountered any evidence of suppression of our history. Of course I have read reports to the contrary from others who claim to be LDS scholars. For the most part, these individuals had left the church or were never members. What they are pointing out is that the more difficult aspects of our history are not emphasized in great detail in our standard curriculum.In my experience, our history is taught openly and is available to all who desire to search it out. The reality is that most members of the church do not care to search it out because they are satisfied with the basics they receive in their Sunday school and other classes. And yes, what is taught in our authorized curriculum is intended to be uplifting and faith-promoting, an approach which I fully endorse as being helpful and satisfying.Most members of the LDS faith do not know or hear about the problems that critics of our faith have with the Book of Abraham. That has changed in recent years as critics like you have become more active in attempting to reach the average LDS member. I am not your average member of the LDS church. Most Mormons do not write blogs about LDS doctrine, social or historical issues and most of them do not read essays like mine.Your average Mormon growing up in the church will learn about the Book of Abraham through Primary, Sunday school, Seminary and perhaps Institute classes. If they attend a church school like BYU they will also probably have at least one class on the subject of the Pearl of Great Price. But for the most part, your typical Mormon will have done very little, if any, critical studying of the Book of Abraham outside of the walls of the church. So to your average Mormon, there is no problem with the Book of Abraham, or at least they are not aware of any. What the critics have written is not taught in our classrooms. We do not have any kind of class that uses critical essays of our scriptures as a basis for study. The scriptures themselves are our only text. The instructor has a few resources written by approved curriculum writers and possibly commentary from CES material.Having grown up with this method of learning the doctrine and history, I can tell you that it does the job well. I am a product of this instruction and consider myself to be a faithful believer who has benefited from a faith-promoting education. However, I am also the product of a mother who was a professional educator. She subscribed to the idea that we should be exposed to critical material and tutored me in that kind instruction in our home.Thus I think I have read just about everything the critics have written about the Book of Abraham over the years. The latest stuff to come out just rehashes the old stuff but in a more inflammatory manner, each trying to outdo the last, claiming to have found some new damning evidence that destroys the faith of the Mormons. We just quietly ignore it and go about our business of declaring the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.To address your opening point, which is a really a response to my last comment on the essay about the burning of the bosom, I am impressed with your usage of such an esoteric phrase as “epistemological illegitimacy.” Oh, please. Just say that you reject the idea that God can and will send his spirit to bear witness to the truths found in modern revealed scripture. True religion is not philosophy, or at least not the religion in which I believe.How else can we know what is true about God and his doctrine unless he reveals it to us? No matter how much we talk about or write about it, we know nothing of God unless he reveals Himself to us or to one of his servants, the prophets. I can participate in that revelatory process through the “really good feelings,” as you call them. For those who have experienced them, they know that they accompany knowledge revealed from God.I understand how infuriating it can be to people not of my faith when we try to express our certainty of things like the Book of Abraham by referring to our personal testimony. You cannot relate because you have not experienced what we have. It is not actually my feelings that override what others may say in opposition to my beliefs, it is the knowledge that I received when I prayed about these things that is impossible for me to deny.I think that’s where most people like you get a little confused when we “take refuge” in our personal testimonies. Yes, it’s easy for us to retreat there when we are confronted with ideas expressed that are critical of our beliefs, but that’s only because it’s just such a comfortable place. When we go there, we remember the sacred feelings of comfort and peace that accompanied the revelation we received at the time we asked for a witness.Your description of how it works is pretty accurate. However, I think you underestimate the power of that subjective experience. That’s why I have seen many critics of young Mormon Missionaries throw up their hands in exasperation. After presenting what they feel is uncontroversial evidence that Joseph Smith was a fraud, they are amazed as the young missionary simply smiles and quietly says, “If you only knew what I knew.”Even though your example is flawed, I get your point about this being a real problem for people who base their faith on an intellectual understanding of things. I would not have a problem if someone presented certified DNA evidence that they had found the body of Jesus Christ. The Lord could have taken his body up from any of the materials that he created. The resurrection will take place even for those who have been cremated.I don’t base my belief that the Lord was resurrected on what I read I the accounts of the Bible. Therefore any supposed modern uncontroversial scientific evidence that the body of Jesus had been found would not destroy my testimony and personal conviction that the Lord has indeed been resurrected. I base my faith in a resurrected Jesus on two things: 1) the witness of Joseph Smith and others, and 2) Revealed knowledge from God in prayer.When Mormons refer their personal testimonies, they are referring to the knowledge that they received via revelation, and not just to the feelings that accompanied that revelation. If what I received from God in prayer was nothing more than a feeling, I too would not be hesitant to endorse your comments that basing one’s life on mere feelings alone is a form of insanity. But that’s the real miracle of our religion. It’s more than a feeling.We do not base our acceptance of the Book of Abraham on a mere feeling. Our faith in the prophet Joseph Smith is also so much more than following a charismatic man. It is not the feelings that are the basis for our testimonies, it is knowledge received directly to our souls when we asked for it in prayer. In know, I know, you say we can be deceived. Again, until you experience it for yourself, you will never really understand this process.I reiterate that I do not have a problem with the Book or Abraham as our critics have. I have read their criticisms and have found them to be unfounded and meritless. We do not know all the details of how the Book of Abraham came forth, but even if the papyri were found and shown to be completely different than what Joseph Smith brought forth, I and millions of other faithful Latter-day Saints would not be troubled.There are no “dirty little secrets” with the Book of Abraham. There are only accusations from those who do not believe Joseph Smith. As I said in the essay, even if the Book of Abraham came completely from the mind of Joseph Smith (imagined as the critics claim and revealed as he claimed), I still accept it without question because I accept his claim that he was called as a prophet of God. He said it came from God, and I believe him.This is not a hard pill to swallow for me. I don’t know where you got that idea. I can see how it can be difficult for those not of our faith to accept and understand. I do indeed have many fond memories of growing up in the LDS Church. Yes, a very large part of my life is focused on my faith. It saddens you that you would ask me to leave my faith. The Savior has asked us to come out of the world, not from our faith in His prophets.

  11. evangelical
    March 11, 2009 at 5:01 am

    I want to thank you Tim for more fully explaining “the burning in the bosom” (elsewhere). I really do wish to understand your POV. Thanks for your patience. Not surprisingly, however, I do not think I can really agree with you. And we do not, of course, always have to agree on everything. We are living in a free country after all.So you are claiming, in accord with what the Book of Mormon explicitly says, that we have to study it out in our minds first. Only then can we pray for confirmation. I’m am not sure how serious you are taking your own advice. Please let me explain.If you were visiting my home as a missionary you would suggest I pray about the Book of Mormon. If I told you I prayed about it and recieved a good feeling you would, I presume, reply by saying that was the Holy Ghost speaking to me. The feeling itself, it seems, is the revelation.But let us focus in on the Book of Abraham. You believe it because you believe Smith because of your personal testimony. As part of your testimony, you seem to be saying, you studied it out first. Now, the average Church member has to proactively seek it out. The official curriculum is faith-promoting. Only in college are people, who do not actively seek out such knowledge on their own, exposed to the criticisms. When the Da Vinci code came out (and Talpiot and any other number of hair-brained money-grubbing schemes) that is the first thing to be addressed in Protestant church services. Similarly, when Arius, and other heretics, came along in the early church the fathers convened councils to help protect their flock from deception.In contrast, LDS folk, who are supposed to prize education, and “study it out in their minds” BEFORE they recieve personal revelation, don’t recieve anything until college (if they go to BYU) unless a. they actively seek it out or b. their mother exposes them to it.But let us think about this some more. What is it that is being studied out? There are two, and only two, answers which I think can be given to this question. Either one is studying out what sympathetic fellow-Mormons have to say about, for example, the Book of Abraham. Or, contrarily, what the critics have to say about it. Yet the objective claims of the critics are methodologically disallowed from influincing a negative decision.I had mentioned the DNA scenario to explain something within my own faith that would objectively destroy it. The reason why I was appealing to my own faith was so that it wouldn’t sound like I was especially biased against the Mormon view. In other words, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Then, you explicitly say that the body of Jesus being found would not affect your faith at all. I was trying to keep it focused on me (or faith in general) not on Mormonism in particular. But then you go on to say that objective evidence against the Book of Abraham also would not affect your faith. How is this studying it out in your mind? It seems you first “stack the deck” before you pray for revelation.Moving on, “epistemology” is a perfectly fine, and neutral, word. It simply means “the study of knowledge”. It asks the question of how we come to know what we think we know. It is my belief that facts are most important, when it comes to epistemology, then comes our knowledge of those facts, and, last of all, comes our feelings about our knowledge. It seems (though things are not always as they seem) that you, as a Mormon, wish to put the three in reverse order. This I think is a mistake.But philosophy is esoteric and your religion is down to earth and practical, you say? Philosophy is right thinking about the foundations which undergird all other areas of life. There is philosophy of science, philosophy of history, philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of religion. If a philosopher of religion has something to say to an average (or not so average) religious person then the latter would do well to listen to the advice of the former. At least, this is my own view.Anyone can believe a particular doctrine. And that belief may just so happen to be true. But is the belief justified? If I believe that AIDS kills only because I have had a dream that somebody I know has died of AIDS, am I justified in that belief? I don’t think so. Similarly, even if the Book of Abraham is from God and accurately translated by Smith, a Mormon person is not justified in holding to that belief in the absense of sufficient justification. Since there is good justification (i.e. the translations of Egyptologists of the papyri) against the belief in the Book of Abraham, the epistemological position of the Mormon is made even worse. One ought to give a reason for the objective evidence being inconclusive then an additional justification for the positive acceptance of the belief.The scriptures themselves are NOT the only thing you study in your ward meetings. Ensign magazine, general conference, “The Teachings of the Prophets,” etc. are also covered. These may be based ultimately upon the standard works (just like the councils/creeds are based on the Bible-so there is no problem with them either-which you have apparently come to admit).Next, when I appeal to the problems within the Book of Abraham, I am not trying to speak sensationalistically or pretend to say something new that hasn’t been said before. Rather, I am pointing to legitimate problems, apparently fatal to Mormonism, which have been known to LDS scholars for a long time and which, nevertheless, so far as I can see, have never really been answered by them in any convincing way.Steve Smoot (whom you may not know of) accused me of bringing up the same old criticisms of Mormonism that have been answered long ago by LDS scholars. Hold on a minute. The standard criticisms of Mormonism are continually brought up to Mormons because they do not answer them. Your response to the criticisms to the Book of Abraham was essentially, “I (Tim) have unquestioning faith in Joseph Smith, no matter what, and maybe somebody has or will find out where the critics are wrong someday-but even if they don’t, I’ll hold on tenaciously, even irrationally, to my subctive conviction.”There is always an escape for a person who is not afraid to reduce his reason to a desparate ad hoc grasping at straws. Maybe somebody did sew the Book of Abraham into the middle of the Book of Breathings then that part was conveniently destroyed in the Chicago fire. That is possible but it is unlikely. And when you add all the other many criticisms to Mormonism it is impossible to maintain one’s personal testimony if one is going to be rational.And then, God being omnipotent (at least on my view) He certainly can confirm His revelational truth to us. However, all truth is God’s truth and truth cannot contradict truth. There is no need to pray about the truthfulness of Mormonism since it contradicts the teaching of the Bible (e.g. grace alone and trinitarianism). No matter how good we feel about Mormonism, no matter how certain we are God told us it is true, no matter how similar the language in the Book of Mormon is to the Bible or how many time Isaiah is quoted in it, the simple fact remains that Mormonism’s teachings are diametrically opposed to the Bible’s. Since I accept the Bible, I CANNOT accept Mormonism.When God revealed Himself to us in the Bible, that CANNOT contradict a later purported revelation by an angel or an uneducated farm boy. If the former is of God, to repeat, the latter simply cannot be. I am not sure why you bring up the point about God having to reveal Himself to us. That is not in question here.You speak about some being infuriated at missionaries who smile and say, “if you only knew what I knew.” You are right. It is infuriating. Infuriating because they will not listen to reason. Ever hear about the man who thought he was dead? Hise family was very concerned about his delusional perspective. They tried to reason with him. He just smiled at them and said, “if you only knew what I knew.” They took him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was an especially patient man. He tried for many sessions to persuade him that he was, in fact, alive. Finally, he became impatient and asked the man a question. “Do does a corpse bleed?” he asked the patient. “Of course not,” he heard back in reply. Just then he took a sewing needle and stuck it in the patient’s arm. Of course, the delusional man started to bleed as he cried out in pain. “I guess you are right after all doc,” he said, “dead men do bleed after all!”The fact is, dear Tim, I have studied Mormonism and I can tell you that there are MANY problems with it. Nobody who takes an open and objective look at all the facts can remain a Mormon. The problem with the Book of Abraham is one of a plethora. In my conversations with Mormons, I’ve found that ultimately they only have subjective experience to ground their faith in. In contrast, Christians (and Mormons are NOT Christian on my view) do have objective reasons to ground their faith in.Within the Bible (and the other standard works too, so far as I can tell) there is an appeal to reason. Paul reasoned in the syngagogues with the Jews and in the marketplaces with the Gentiles. Luke wrote of “many infallible proofs” in the Acts. God empowered Moses to perform miracles so the Old Testament people would know to follow him. He enabled prophets to predict the future to authenticate their theological messages. We are instructed to be able to give a defence for the hope which lies within us at all times. Faith, in other words, is not a blind leap in the dark. There is ideally objective evidence behind it.In contrast, LDS people are, it seems, merely subjective (like almost all religion persons seem to be). What have ye more than unbelievers? In conclusion, Joseph really did claim what was later found to be the Book of Breathings was the Book of Abraham. You need to deal with the fact that he lied to us about that. We may not like it. We may find it hard to accept. But it is true. I am telling you this as a friend. Please take it as such.Thank you for your time.

  12. Peripheral Visionary
    March 11, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    There is a very simple problem with respect to the academic criticisms of the Book of Abraham: they aren’t telling you everything.That, to me, is a fatal flaw for the critics of the Book of Abraham. If they were so certain that they were correct, why would they have any problem with mentioning something like the existence of the Apocalypse of Abraham?The Church never made any effort to hide the papyri, nor even to hide the various scribblings of some Church leaders regarding attempts to decipher the Egyptian language, but it would be a rare day indeed to hear a critic of the Book of Abraham concede that its content, style, and structure follows an ancient (and by 1830, forgotten) tradition of testimonies attributed to Old Testament patriarchs. The Book of Abraham and the Apocolypse of Abraham are not the same book, but cover much of the same material, and in a format unknown to theologians of Joseph Smith’s time but now well-known to scholars of apocryphal writings. I cannot speak to the Egyptology of it, but from a textual perspective it is on rock-solid ground.If they are neglecting to mention the existence of the Apocalypse of Abraham, what else are they neglecting to mention? That is why I place more credence on the scholars who defend the Book of Abraham then those who attack it–the former will recognize all the points made by the latter, but not vice versa.I am not an Egyptologist, but my experiences have been shaped by my readings on a very different subject, DNA evidence, where I have seen a consistent pattern of enemies of the Church distorting complex, difficult issues to suit their own arguments: dramatic oversimplification combined with a highly selective approach toward the facts. That’s something, but it’s not honest academic inquiry. DNA “experts” who have lent their testimony against the Church are not to be trusted (and I have a few questions about some of the Church’s supporters on the issue!), and I expect the same is true of Egyptology. What do we not know that the critics aren’t telling us?

  13. Tim Malone
    March 11, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Evangelical,I think it is obvious that we are at odds with one another on this issue so I’m not sure what good it will do to continue this dialog. But for the sake of any who might read this later, I’ll pursue it. There are two issues we’re discussing. He first is how we can know something – epistemology – and the second is the Book of Abraham – how we got it and what it contains. I’ll focus on the first in this response.The good feelings we receive when praying about something are not the actual revelation. I’ve tried to explain this more completely in a recent essay, Critical thinking among faithful Mormons. While the revelation may be accompanied by intensely powerful feelings and thus a strong emotional reaction, characterized by euphoria and sometimes uncontrollable weeping, the feelings are not the revelation.Over a lifetime of hearing other members of our church describe how they receive revelation, I think my own experience is typical. Frankly, it does not come easy. It takes a real effort to get oneself into a state of mind and more importantly, a state of spiritual preparation, to receive revelation from God. It is rarely an automatic or unbidden thing. For me, it usually takes fasting along with much prayer.I contend that the philosophical ideas of how we can know something – epistemology – do not apply to the process of knowing something by direct revelation from God. When one receives true revelation from God, it is always accompanied by a self-confirming witness that verifies the authenticity of what is being communicated. In other words, when God speaks to you, you know that it came from God.Now you and I are both aware of people who have claimed that they received a revelation from God on something or other that we just know isn’t right. How do we know? We know because it doesn’t square with what we find in the scriptures or from pronouncements from the prophets of our day. In your case, since you do not accept modern prophets, all you can compare it to is what is in the Bible.I’ve tried to put myself in your shoes or in the position of anyone else that hears about or reads about someone claiming to have received a revelation from God. Of course I would be skeptical. I would want to know the background of the individual and what his or her associates had to say about them. When they produce repeated revelations and claim them to be scripture, well, this is highly unusual.So yes, Joseph Smith is a real enigma to some people because they dismiss him as a crackpot and his followers as being naïve, uninformed and gullible. And yet you and I know perfectly sane and normal people who are intelligent and “mainstream,” but they continue to profess that Joseph Smith was a modern-day prophet called of God. Hmmm…this requires serious investigation. How can this be?You’ve either got to continue with the original idea of rejecting him and his followers as crackpots or do some serious investigation and consideration of his claims. If you decide to reject him, it’s going to probably bug you that millions of others accept him and his claims, year after year after year. If he’s such a crackpot, then why do all these people follow him? They can’t all be deluded or just as crazy.If you decide to take his message seriously, then it soon becomes obvious that if what he claimed is true, then it invalidates a whole lot of foundational beliefs of your faith. That is a real problem. So you decide to find the holes in his claims and bring them to the attention of others so they can also be freed from his insanity. Yet when you point out the holes, they continue to defend him. That’s crazy!Am I understanding your position correctly?

  14. Tim Malone
    March 12, 2009 at 4:05 am

    Answer to Evangelical, part two:Perhaps I can help you understand a little better how a typical LDS person growing up in the church would be exposed to the Book of Abraham. From their earliest days in Primary classes the teacher shares Bible stories that include references to the Pearl of Great Price, which includes the Book of Abraham. So from early childhood, the Book of Abraham is introduced to be just like any scripture.Quotes from the Book of Abraham are made from over the pulpit throughout the year. Sunday school classes will have lessons that use scriptures from there, especially when studying the life of Abraham. There would probably also be Family Home evening lessons that quote from the Book or that use it as primary source material for the lesson. In short, LDS children are very comfortable with the book.The familiarity continues throughout High School years with seminary classes that include multiple lessons from the book. Once in college, there are full semester classes on the Pearl of Great Price which study the doctrines and history that are found in the books in great detail. By the time an LDS adult marries or goes on a mission, they should have a fairly detailed knowledge of the book.However, more to the point you are making, it probably doubtful that the average LDS member is exposed to literature that is critical of the book unless they read it on the Internet or a friend of another faith gives it to them. In fact, I know of some LDS adults, members all their life, who have never heard that there are people who have problems with the Book of Abraham or how it came forth.So how can I maintain that such individuals have a testimony of the validity of the Book of Abraham if they have never read any opposing viewpoints? Does this summarize your main objection clearly? Perhaps I can refer you to an essay that I wrote about one of my early revelatory experiences entitled, A call for more personal revelation. In there I describe revelation I received about LDS church history.When I prayed to receive a confirmation that what I had read and studied was true, I was surprised that the answer included so much more. In my heart and mind I received, as a direct answer to my prayer, after several days of fasting, an understanding that Joseph Smith told the truth, and yet that he did not and could not reveal everything that he had received. That amazed me, but I understood why it was so.When I was much younger I had a similar experience with the Book of Mormon. I was exposed to and was very familiar with the book all through my childhood and youth. However, I wanted to formally put the promise in Moroni 10:3–5 to the test. So after completing yet another reading of the Book, I knelt down in prayer one night and specifically asked for a witness of the spirit that the book was true.The answer that came to me right away this time was unmistakable. The spirit whispered to my soul, and I heard in my mind, not through my ears, these words, “You already know it’s true. Everything that you have been taught about it is true. You also know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that everything else he brought forth, he did so as he was commanded. You can testify that this is true.”I don’t know how else to explain it to you. I did not need to specifically study what the critics have said about the Book of Abraham or the Book of Mormon, even though I had been exposed to some of it even in my teenage years. I knew the Book or Abraham was exactly what Joseph Smith said it was without having to read what the learned scholars of the world had to say about it. I knew otherwise.That kind of knowledge is priceless to me. It is incredibly comforting and powerful. With the strength of that testimony I was able to go out into the world – Central America to be exact – and for two years, share that testimony as I proclaimed the message of the restoration. I taught of the life and mission of Joseph Smith with confidence that came from the spirit of the Lord, not from studying critical essays.So yes, I maintain that a person can know that the Book of Abraham contains the word of God without having to study the opposing critical viewpoints expressed by those who do not believe this. Once you have the kind of witness I have described above, what else matters? People can throw all kinds of things at you that appear perfectly logical, but that do not matter because of the revelation received.Thus my point that a calm and sweet testimony shared by a humble 19-year old missionary can just be infuriating to those who do not understand how anyone so young can say that they “know” that the Book of Abraham came forth just as the prophet Joseph Smith said it did. But to those who listen with a humble heart, the spirit whispers the same thing to them as they hear it from the young missionary.It’s an amazing process that results in baptisms and converts. It is a process that is not understood or accepted by the wise and educated of the world, those who pride themselves on living their lives by logic alone. It takes faith to accept this kind of testimony from missionaries who are ordained and sent forth to share it, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is not blind faith. It is knowledge.I’ll conclude this part of my response with a visit back to your favorite word – epistemology. There are other ways of knowing something that are not included in the philosophical model to which you refer. Direct knowledge from God, in answer to prayer, confirming a decision made, is a kind of knowledge that is worth more than to me any of the other methods of obtaining knowledge combined.

  15. Papa D
    March 12, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Let me add one more caveat, with a direct question to Evangelical first: “Why are you so sure that the Bible is the word of God? How did you come to that conviction?” 1) I believe it is, but I’m interested in why you believe it is – how you came to that conclusion.2) My own take on the Book of Abraham comes both from my spiritual reaction to its content AND my intellectual understanding of how Joseph Smith “translated” in general. What most people (frankly, even most LDS members) don’t realize is that Joseph didn’t translate in the typical manner of which we think when we use that word. In the profound words of a great Spanish philosopher, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” When we think of “translating”, we nearly always think of a technical process that is comprised of looking at one language and recording the symbols that express meaning in that language into symbols that mean the same thing in a new language. We literally think of “transposing” from one language to another, word-for-word what we see on a page or screen or whatever. Joseph Smith, otoh, didn’t claim to have translated the Book of Mormon that way. According to his account, at first he looked directly at the plates through the Urim and Thummim and dictated the words he saw appear before his eyes. Very early on in the process, however, he stopped looking at the plates altogether and simply dictated the words that appeared before his eyes as he looked through the seer stones. He wasn’t even looking at the record he was “translating”. He referred to this process as “translating through the gift and power of God” – which, if it is true, it had to have been. I mention that process in this context to highlight an important point. Very quickly, Joseph turned to what can be called one of his fundamental gifts – that of “visionary translator”. I understand completely how hard is to even consider, much less accept, for someone outside the Mormon faith, but it is quite common among ancient prophets – seeing a vision and recording it, including messages from God. The overall process isn’t unique to Joseph in any way. Given that fundamental foundation, I look at the Book of Abraham in the same general light – a visionary translation inspired by a stimulator (in this case, the papyri) from God to man. I couldn’t care less if the papyri actually contained the account Joseph recorded, just as I don’t care one whit if the gold plates weren’t written in 19th Century KJV English (or if a “scholarly, word-for-word translation” of those plates would have yielded very different wording than we have in the Book of Mormon). I also don’t care one whit if Joseph thought he was “translating” in the classic sense of transcribing a word-for-word account. I care about the process and the result, and I see consistency in the process and LOVE the result. All of that is secondary to my spiritual experiences with the texts of both, so my acceptance is primarily spiritual/experiential and secondarily intellectual. Back to my original question for you: “Why are you so sure that the Bible is the word of God? How did you come to that conviction?”

  16. Tim Malone
    March 12, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Answer to Evangelical, Part three:I know you’ve already got an outstanding request from Papa D for a response, but I would like to respond to a few more of your points that are more specific to the subject of the essay – the Book of Abraham. I acknowledge your point about reversing the order of how we know things. I hope my previous two responses have provided some understanding of how and why we do that.You point out that there are three parts to epistemology – facts, knowledge of the facts, and our feelings about our knowledge. We ascertain that what we call our testimony does not fall into the third category of feelings, but into the first category of facts. Remember, a true testimony is not the feelings, but the revealed knowledge through the Holy Spirit, thus they are indeed facts.You write that there are “legitimate problems, apparently fatal to Mormonism,” with the Book of Abraham. You also suggest that they have never really been answered in any convincing way. In particular you refer to the Book of Breathings, or Book of the Dead, the text that was found with the papyri fragments that were discovered and given to the church in late 1967.Oh please, this has been answered so many times and in so many ways by a plethora of scholars and lay members of the church for the last forty years every time it comes up. Steve Smoot was right. The critics of our faith keep claiming that they have discovered some new evidence and breathlessly announce that it is fatal to Mormonism. You have apparently bought into that trap.The Egyptian characters on the recovered documents are a portion of the “Book of Breathings,” an Egyptian religious text buried with mummies that instructed the dead on how to successfully reach the afterlife. This text was found to be included in the small portion of the fragments that were recovered. We do not have all of the lost papyri so we do not know all that was on them.The Book of Abraham may have been on the papyri in Joseph Smith’s possession, but the portion recovered from the Metropolitan Museum doesn’t include it. The recovered portion is less than 13% of the total material held by Joseph. Witnesses say that the length of the papyri in Joseph’s possession was much more extensive than the fragments now held by the Church.As I and Papa D have pointed out previously, The Book of Abraham also may not have been on the papyri at all. Joseph received the text by revelation, with the papyri acting as a catalyst. This is a possibility because Joseph used the word “translation” to mean several things, including the process of receiving pure revelation. As I have noted before, I can accept either explanation.You note that you have studied Mormonism and that you have found many problems with it. I don’t know how long you have been studying our religion, but I would like to point out that I too have been a student of Mormonism all of my life. I think I may have had an advantage of having studied it from the inside – among the ranks of the faithful and those who truly believe it.You say that nobody who takes an open and objective look at all the facts can remain a Mormon. Now that’s quite a broad and blanket statement. It is easily contested by the millions of active Latter-day Saints who do look at the facts objectively and continue to remain faithful, believing Mormons. I am one of those millions that believe it. Would you like to retract your statement?Using your words in conclusion, Joseph really did bring forth the Book of Abraham just as he said he did from papyri that he had at the time, which we do not have today. You need to deal with the fact that he told the truth. You may not like it. You may find it hard to accept. But it is true. I am telling you this as a friend. Please take it as such. Thanks for adding to the dialog.

  17. evangelical
    March 13, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Dear Tim, your subjective experience suggests that the Book of Abraham is authentic and my subjective experience suggests it is inauthentic. Which one of us is correct and how could we tell? By appeal to objective criteria. And I see that you are rightly trying to give objective reasons to justify your beliefs about the Book of Abraham. This is as it should be.You also rightly point out that Mormons have been answering the allegations against Abraham for 40 years. I remind you that it was not my contention that there were NO answers at all but only no GOOD answers. Let us look at the traditional answers so we know exactly what we are talking about. If I leave any out, please point them out to me.1. Maybe Abraham, in the autograph, had two different interpretations. The Egyptologists, on this view, are giving on interpretation wereas Joseph Smith had access to a deeper meaning and that is what the Book of Abraham in English is.My response: this is ad hoc and, thus, prima facie implausible.2. Smith may have used the papyri as a catalyst.My response: In addition to being ad hoc it is explicitly contradicted in the Pearl of Great Price. We read there that it is a translation FROM PAPYRI. And why would Joseph speak of “something other than translation” as “translation” in the first place? This calls into question his honest. For example, in the Articles of Faith he speaks of the Bible as the word of God “insofar as it is correctly translated” but what he really seems to mean is “insofar as it is correctly COPIED”. If everything in Mormonism means something different than what it really does mean, is that being totally honest with outsiders?3. The part of the papyri that was lost contained Abraham on it.My response: In addition to being ad hoc, and a little too convenient, this is very implausible. In Abraham we read of the picture at the beginning of the scroll. That picture, facsimile 1 as I recall, IS in the surviving papyri fragments and those paypri fragments ARE of the Book of Breathings even according to LDS scholars. While it is possible that for some odd reason somebody would randomly add Abraham to Breathings, this is not very likely. It is made even less likely by the Kirtland papers. In those papers we see what appears to be an incorrect translation of a part of the Book of Breathings which was eventually published as the English version of Abraham.So we see that in every case the answer is not very plausible. This provides a strong probabilistic argument against Abraham’s authenticity. And this case ought to be taken seriously by LDS scholars (and laity) since it is the only inspired translation of Smith’s which we can test in this way and it really does appear to fail the test.So then, our subjective experiences cancel out and the objective facts do seem to point very clearly away from Abraham’s authenticity.So with gaining knowledge in general (epistemology 101) a person normally stops believing something when they have a. no positive reason for believing it and b. one or more defeaters. The only reason you seem to have for holding it is your subjective experience but that is cancelled out by my contrary subjective experience. And the defeater in this case would be the translation of the papyri by qualified Egyptologists.Now I think there is a confusion at this point which I need to clear up. Epistemology is the study of knowledge in general. I see no problem with the attainment of knowledge by direct revelation. I actually affirm that as an acceptable epistemic mode. At the same time, though, I DO have a problem with logical inconsistency. If we know X through subjective means and we also know not-X through other means then something is wrong. We can know, in my estimation, that Mormonism is NOT what it claims to be. For example, Abraham is almost certainly inauthentic. That is “not-X”. We have many reasons, objectively, to reject Mormonism and really only one reason to accept it. And you have implied that you systematically exclude ALL the objective evidence contrary to the Mook of Mormon. I mean, you are disobeying the Book of Mormon because it tells you to study it out in your mind (as opposed to just blowing it off and ignoring it).And this brings up an interesting point. You said in part 2 that God told you that you already knew it was true when He answered your prayer. If you already knew it was true then you did not need to pray. And if you didn’t already know it was true, you would study it out in your mind thus reaching a rational conclusion like non-LDS people do. So the prayer was superfluous. No harm in praying, of course, but you apparently were able to find out, originally, without praying at all. And in your searching, it seems, you were really only considering the positive side of things. Finally, if a person is already a true believer prior to recieving the personal testimony, then even in an atheistic universe they are of course going to get an affirmative answer, so they think, from God. It is good to have all the subjectivity offset by objectivity.Now, you say you know that personal revelations among Mormons are the real deal-as opposed to a crazy person who thinks God wants him to murder somebody, for example-because you compare it with scripture. The scripture is objective and something we all have access to so that is good.Of course, you accept more as scripture (and more people for prophets/apostles) than I do. You are right that I may only appeal to the Bible, in that case. But when I appeal to the Bible I see unmistakable contradiction between it and the more contemporary revelation. It is not that there is new information revealed or old information more fully explained in LDS scripture but that LDS scripture contradicts the Bible. My analysis of Joseph Smith is based on the historical record. For example, there were two women living in his house, friends of his wife Emma, whom he married behind her back. Later on he received a revelation that polygamy was a good thing and that it was of the utmost importance to Emma’s spiritual health that she accepted the doctrine. AFTER this he had a marriage ceremony, again, to the same two women in front of Emma. When outsiders asked about plural marriage it was apparently denied however secretly Smith and others were practicing it. This sounds less than honest to me. Can we trust a dishonest prophet?So while a lot of sane people do follow him today in spite of the evidence, that in no way changes the historical record of Joseph Smith. That record tells us he is rather untrustworthy. In my experience, LDS people have a vwery distorted and idealised picture of Smith. When the historical Smith is pointed out to them, I think, they compare it to there picture of him and react with a persecution complex. But the real Joseph was quite a scoundrel. It is easy to blow this allegation off as anti-mormon propaganda but, I maintain, the facts of his life are fairly clear.Okay, so I covered a lot of territory here and we may be at the point of moving on to other matters. So I’d like to conclude with a summary of of the conversation so far, as I see it. We are discussing the Book of Abraham. You believe it is correct based on what you think is personal revelation from God. I called that into question and offered objective reasons for my claim. While you are aware of the criticisms of the book, your main defence of the book is appeal to subjective experience. My subjective experience is that the book is inauthentic so that nullifies your subjective experience. We are left with objective appeals. My objective case is quite strong and I don’t think you have really provided much of an objective case (you have, of course, said that part of the scroll is missing and it may be on that part but I explained why that is implausible). So the ball is in your court. I would be interested in hearing a better case for authenticity and hope you shall take me up on it. In any case I have enjoyed our discussion of the Book of Abraham and the alleged (by me) problems which it contains.

  18. Peripheral Visionary
    March 13, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Re: Evangelical”Can we trust a dishonest prophet?”An important question for anybody who considers Abraham to be a prophet. Given his representations to the king, and given his polygamous relationships, does Abraham qualify as a prophet who can be trusted or not?If Joseph Smith is to be rejected because of his perceived dishonesty and because of his polygamous relationships, where does that leave Abraham, Jacob, and Moses?”I would be interested in hearing a better case for authenticity and hope you shall take me up on it.”I will take a different line of reasoning than Tim, and address the authenticity of the book on its content.I realize modern scholars have become increasingly focused on provenance of antiquities, and rightly so; had they paid more attention to provenance, it is entirely possible that they would have spotted any number of frauds, most notably the White Salamander Letter. But critics of the Book of Abraham have focused entirely on its provenance, on whether or not it matches the description of its origin, while virtually ignoring its actual content.And the story that the internal evidence tells is a simple one: the Book of Abraham resembles in no way any document produced by anybody other than Joseph Smith in his era, and has strong resemblances to ancient documents whose origin is lost in antiquity, and which Joseph Smith had no access to. Unlike the Book of Mormon, which has hints of modernity to it (although I would argue that there are reasons for that), Abraham has no hint of modernity to it; its style, content, and view is fully consistent with an origin in antiquity.I realize that will mean little or nothing to those who doubt the Book of Abraham’s authenticity, and who rely on the Egyptologists to support their doubt. I do not believe that the internal evidence is enough to prove the Book of Abraham to be correct; and indeed, internal evidence is rarely enough to prove much of anything. But I do believe it is enough to, in the words of Hugh Nibley, give the book a chance. I do not have any carbon-dated 3rd Century BCE document to compare it to to show: see, it really is authentic. But it is, according to what I have seen in my studies, close enough to writings known to be authentic that I feel it should be taken seriously.I realize that you see inconsistencies that are problematic for you. I actually see the same inconsistencies, but to be honest, they are not problematic for me. That is because the ultimate determination for me is a spiritual one; and while I may have questions of a temporal nature, my experience thus far is that temporal answers have consistently followed my spiritual feelings. I have had my questions in other areas answered satisfactorily, and I trust that my questions here will be answered as well.You mentioned that Mormon scholars have been answering critics’ questions for decades, but not to the satisfaction of the critics. I would point out that Christian apologists have been answering critics’ questions since Origen first penned an answer to Celsus’ polemic; but if the questions have continued, it is not because the answers of Origen and his successors have fallen short, it is because Celsus and his ilk have refused to accept them regardless of their merits. But for Christians of the true faith, the debate is an academic one; they follow their feelings, and trust that the full truth will be revealed in due time.

  19. Tim Malone
    March 13, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    For Evangelical:The Book of Breathings found in two of the recovered fragments (X and XI) is not the source for the Book of Abraham. Since the fragments were recovered and made public in late 1967 and early 1968, this has been known and repeatedly reported, but our critics continue to overlook this evidence.Joseph described the record of Abraham as “beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation.” That does not match the description of the recovered fragments containing the funerary text, which are clumsily drawn, contain no red ink and are damaged.This is objective evidence. You can read Joseph’s statement describing the papyri from which he translated the Book of Abraham in the History of the Church, volume II, Chapter 25, page 348. You can also read it online here if you would like: http://www.kristus.dk/jkk/text.php?id=90074Compare that description with the photographs of the fragments which the church published in the January 1968 issue of the Improvement Era. I have not found a PDF source for the Improvement Era online, but the Wikipedia article on the Joseph Smith Papyri has good copies of the photos available.My conclusion, based on the objective evidence, is that we do not have the original papyri that Joseph described and from which he translated the Book of Abraham. The Book of Breathings that we have is badly written, poorly preserved and devoid of rubrics. It is therefore, an entirely different manuscript.As far as your point about facsimile number one being placed alongside the Book of Breathings, a little research will reveal that it is a common Egyptian practice to place illustrations elsewhere in the scrolls, usually at the beginning, and then refer the reader back to the illustration somewhere later in the text.You know from the Kirtland Papers that some of the early leaders of the church tried their hand at translating and failed. We also know that when they mounted the papyri that they placed what they thought was the text of the Book of Abraham next to facsimile number 1. It was not there originally.I maintain that the original papyrus used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Abraham has not been found. Please don’t confuse the poor copy of the Book of Breathings that we do have with what Joseph described as the original manuscript. They are not the same. The original has not been found.Seriously, you’ve got to realize that these things have all been figured out a long time ago. I know they must be new to you. Either you are just discovering them or you are regurgitating them from any number of anti-Mormon sources. But for those who have studied this stuff, it’s all old information.My objective research supports my subjective experience in prayer, which I have described for you previously, but which I want to reemphasize as being of greater importance to me than all the objective research in the world. I base my faith on my subjective experiences. They are more real to me.I contend that for someone who is trained or experienced in only considering objective material from both viewpoints before reaching a conclusion, you will never be able to discover what it is that we are talking about when we describe our testimonies. And that revealed testimony is the basis for our faith.There will always be those who object to our claims. If you base your faith on being objective, you will spend all your life trying to answer them or seeking someone else to answer them for you. We don’t have that kind of time in our lives. There are more important things to do with our time.

  20. Tim Malone
    March 14, 2009 at 3:01 am

    For Evangelical (once again),You’re right. We need to move on to something else. I can’t answer all your objections. I just don’t have the time. Besides, I know you’re not serious about wanting to know the answers. You have made it clear that you want to destroy my faith when you invited me to leave it.Are you a former Mormon? I’ve never seen regular Evangelical Christians fight with such tenacity about something. Most either don’t have the interest or the background. You seem to be very familiar with our doctrine and what the anti-Mormons have raised over the years.I made it clear in the essay that I don’t have a problem with the Book of Abraham and never have. Most LDS people do not. In fact, I don’t know of any active member of the LDS Church who has ever said, “You know, I just can’t accept the Book of Abraham as scripture.”We voted as a church to canonize it a long time ago so to us, it contains the word of God. We accept it as revelation, written under the spirit of revelation and translated in like manner. It came to us from God through a man whom we revere as a prophet, imperfect as he was. I am very grateful to have the Book of Abraham for the many unique doctrines that it contains, some of which are not found in the Bible, or if they are, they are very vague and misunderstood. I especially appreciate the doctrines about pre-earth life, exaltation and other inhabited worlds.Joseph Smith and his works are not on trial. We are. We are being tested to see what we will do with what he brought forth. There has never been a prophet like him who had both the vision and the scope of revelatory experiences that he left us to ponder and decide how we will use.I suggest the real objection here is if Joseph Smith was really a prophet called of God as he claimed. If he was, then we will be held responsible for how we respond to his declarations. We also will be accountable for what we do with his invitation to join the true church of Christ.I can see why it might bug people when we reassert what Joseph said God told him at the time of the First Vision about all the other churches being wrong. They say that we are arrogant for continuing to maintain that we are the only true church of Jesus Christ upon the earth today.Nevertheless, after a lifetime of study of Joseph Smith and what he brought forth, I am amazed at the depth and breadth of what he taught. I can only conclude that he was indeed an instrument in the hands of God, in spite of his mortal imperfections. I will always revere him as a prophet.We invite all people to study the works of this prophet and decide for themselves if he was a man of God or a liar and scoundrel as Mr. Evangelical has decided. I choose to believe him and very much look forward to meeting him when I enter the spirit world after my mortal life is concluded.Like John Taylor, I assert that Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of mankind than any other, save Jesus Christ himself. He brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God and the revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants. Amazing!

  21. evangelical
    March 16, 2009 at 4:55 am

    Some concluding remarks (with respect to the dialogue over the Book of Abraham).First, I have never been a Mormon. I know about Mormonism because of personal studies. Mormonism is open to examination to all and I have taken advantage of its availability. I have a passion, in my heart, to reach the Mormons with the biblical (as opposed to LDS) Christ. Eternity is enough motivation for this passion but, perhaps, God has given me a special calling in this area.Second, I really am interested in hearing a good defence of Mormonism. But I have not heard that-at least not when it comes to the Book of Abraham problem. Mormons have prayed about it and experienced what they describe as “personal revelation” or “burning in the bosom” to affirm it. That is subjective. All of us can have subjective experiences but to really prove something, we need to consider the objective evidence as well. When I do I can only conclude the Book of Abraham to be a fraud. Tim, and others, have not refuted the claims, grounded in objectivity, which I’ve been making.Third, the person Abraham may not have been perfect just as Joseph Smith is not perfect. However, all of Judaism/Christianity does not rise or fall with his dishonesty. In contrast, all of Mormonism does ultimately rests on whether Joseph was truthful. If there are instances of dishonesty in him in other areas, it is more plausible that he might have been lying about Moroni, the plates, etc. Since we essentially have to take his word for EVERYTHING in Mormonism we are in real trouble if he is known to stretch the truth on ocassion.Fourth, I do not think Mormons are arrogant when they say that they are right and I, along with everybody else, is wrong. For truth has always been scandalous in its particularity. If the LDS people actually had a reason for the hope which is within them then, by all means, convict me of error. So everybody in religion thinks they’ve got it right and the rest have got it wrong. That is fine. But I am glad to see that you, Tim, are openly admitting that you believe that. Oftentimes, in my experience, Mormons tend to downplay that aspect of their faith and avoid telling outsiders about it. So I thank you for your honesty and straitforwardness.Next, I was asked why I should believe in the Bible. This is a very large question which my small answer shall not do justice to. However, the basic idea is that we may trust the Bible because the apostles and prophets who wrote it were authenticated by prophesy and miracles. Notice how objective this evidence is. It was not a matter of prayer or feeling or just knowing after prayer.Finally, I wish to thank Tim, and the rest of you, for being so very cordial in our dialogue together (and taking the time to give responses). I look forward to continuing our dialogue on other points. Thanks again and bye for now.

  22. Peripheral Visionary
    March 16, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Re: EvangelicalYou may have signed off, but I still feel the need to respond to a couple of points. :D“However, the basic idea is that we may trust the Bible because the apostles and prophets who wrote it were authenticated by prophesy and miracles. Notice how objective this evidence is. It was not a matter of prayer or feeling or just knowing after prayer.”Thank you for your thoughts on the Bible. While I agree with your views regarding the authenticity of it, I should point out that our understanding of the miracles comes down to us through the writings of the early Christians–and whether or not you believe the early Christian writers is entirely subjective! I do agree that prophesy is a more objective source (e.g., the return of the Jews to Israel as prophesied of by Isaiah), but we as Mormons have our own prophesies to point to.“Third, the person Abraham may not have been perfect just as Joseph Smith is not perfect. However, all of Judaism/Christianity does not rise or fall with his dishonesty.”On the contrary. If Abraham was a liar, that calls into question the assertion that God made his covenant with him, and undermines the entire foundation of Judeo-Christian and Islamic belief. The same is true of Moses and the foundation of Judeo-Christianity.“In contrast, all of Mormonism does ultimately rests on whether Joseph was truthful. If there are instances of dishonesty in him in other areas, it is more plausible that he might have been lying about Moroni, the plates, etc. Since we essentially have to take his word for EVERYTHING in Mormonism we are in real trouble if he is known to stretch the truth on ocassion.”We do not take Joseph Smith’s word for everything. Joseph Smith had three additional witnesses who saw the angel and the plates; he had eight additional witnesses who saw the plates; he had additional witnesses who saw visions in conjunction with him and confirmed that they had seen what he had seen. At every turn, there are scores of witnesses who confirmed the divinity of the revelations he had received, and who maintained those testimonies throughout their lives; even those who turned against him did not deny that he had been a prophet. This is not just about the credibility of Joseph Smith; there are a veritable mountain of witnesses to his prophetic calling.I do not rely on such witnesses for my own feelings regarding his prophetic calling; but to me they, like the apostles and other Christians of old, are invaluable in establishing the reality of God and the divine authority of his servants.

  23. Nathan
    March 19, 2009 at 12:25 am

    Evangelical: We may trust the Bible because the apostles and prophets who wrote it were authenticated by prophesy and miracles.I have heard this reason before, and I think it’s a good support for believing a prophet’s words. However, here is what seems to me to be a limitation: What about the individuals who lived before a prophecy was fulfilled? What reason did they have to believe a prophet’s words? For example, if the Lord intended us to base our knowledge of the scriptures’ truth on objective evidences like fulfilled prophecy, then what reason for believing did an Israelite have who lived, say, during the captivity in Egypt before Moses’s day? What objective evidence did he have? This is one reason that personal revelation makes so much sense to me. It’s a source of knowledge that is available to every individual, in all ages, in all places.

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