Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mike Ash's Problematic Explanation for the Usage of Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar in the Kinderhook Plates Episode

For this blog post, I am referring to the article below published in Meridian Magazine by Mike Ash, a prominent Apologist for FAIRMormon, and this post is a response to Ash's article:

Here is the web archive version of Ash's article:

Here, Mike Ash refers to a presentation at the FAIRMormon Conference a few years ago which was presented by Don Bradley:

Don Bradley, “‘President Joseph Has Translated a Portion’: Solving the Mystery of the Kinderhook Plates,” at

Here is the web archive version of Bradley's talk:

There are quite a number of problems with Ash's article here.  He says that  "LDS historian Don Bradley shared some much-needed light on the issue".

And what is this light shed by Bradley on the usage of the KEP/GAEL?  That "There is little doubt that the 'translation' of this single character (“portion”) came from the GAEL which was used as an academic lexicon."  And what is Ash's description of the process?  Ash tells us, based on Bradley's theory, that "Joseph apparently turned to his copy of the GAEL (the 'Egyptian Alphabet') in order to make an academic (non-revelatory) comparison to the Kinderhook Plates . . . Trying to find a matching lexicon-type character in the GAEL would have been as easy as turning to the second page of definitions assigned to characters."

Yet, Ash says "In the papers of that volume Joseph and his associates copied many of the characters from the Joseph Smith Papyri (the impetus for the Book of Abraham translation) and then attempted to connect those characters to the translation of the Book of Abraham. These characters were dissected into individual shapes, lines, and dots—each representing different characters. We have very little information as to what Joseph was doing and why, and the KEP and GAEL are still an enigma to modern scholars."

So, removing this entirely from the issue of the Kinderhook plates for a moment, on the one hand Ash tells us that the GAEL is an enigma to modern scholars.  On the other hand, he tells us that he has evidence that Joseph Smith used it as an "academic lexicon"?  Where then is the enigma?  Critics of the church have known for a very long time that Joseph Smith set up the GAEL as a "lexicon."  But the critics have also known that it was definitely not just "academic" to Joseph Smith, but that Joseph Smith thought of it as revelatory.  While critics believe it is a false translation, they still knew from the beginning that Joseph Smith himself believed it to be revelatory.  It is only LDS apologists since the beginning of time that have insisted that the GAEL is not a lexicon, but an enigma.  And it is also LDS apologists that have maintained that the GAEL is not revelatory.  And I'm not saying that critics are right about everything, but they are right about certain things, sometimes where Mormon Apologists have it wrong, and sometimes the claims of critics ought to be taken seriously, especially when a critic is a specialist or PhD in a certain area.  It's not that we should heed or agree with their ultimate conclusions about the core truthfulness of Mormonism.  But sometimes their observations of certain facts are spot on, in cases when apologists would rather evade or deny a fundamental fact.  Both the claims of critics and the claims of apologists ought to be held up to scrutiny.  While apologists ought to be applauded for their intentions and for the good they do, they need to be held to a high standard of scrutiny.  And so, we ought to take very seriously the fact that Joseph Smith not only thought of the GAEL as a lexicon, but that he also thought it was revelatory.  And this is why work is being done by some like me to demonstrate that it was not only a lexicon, but that it was indeed revelatory.

Yet Ash insists that a translation that Joseph may have attempted to do was "academic" in nature, and not "prophetic" or "revelatory"?  This follows the LDS apologetic establishment stance or ideology that the GAEL cannot be revelatory.  And this was Bradley's reason in the first place for making the claim at the FAIR Conference that it was merely "academic," because he wanted to cater to that ideology.  It is only because he catered to that ideology that his paper was presented at FAIRMormon.

While it is true that the word "academic" is being used by Ash in the sense that an academic person would be using a regular lexicon for help in translating, it seems to me that he also is using it to implicitly say that there was nothing revelatory at work.

Why is this insistence that it was only "academic"?  Because the Kinderhook plates are obviously frauds.  Yet, Ash and Bradley are willing to bring the Kirtland Egyptian Papers into this, which many scholars insist are not translations, but Ash and Bradley are willing to say that Joseph Smith was willing to treat as a lexicon of an ancient language.  Why then, is Bradley's take on the episode not precisely evidence of what Joseph Smith thought of the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar sections of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers?

What evidence is there that Joseph Smith here was not using the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar as it was intended to be used?  And what evidence is it that it is not precisely a *revealed* lexicon of the Joseph Smith Papyri?  There isn't any, only the machinations of LDS apologists that insist it isn't revealed.

Well, interestingly, the scholars on all said have said that Joseph Smith either couldn't or didn't translate the Joseph Smith Papyri.  Egyptologists on both sides say the same type of thing.  On the LDS side, they say that he didn't, but rather there is a missing papyrus.  On the side of the critics, they say that he couldn't.  And scholars on all sides say that that the Book of Abraham translation in the Book of Abraham Manuscripts, and the translations in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar are not correct translations.

Yet here, it is manifest by BOTH Ash and Bradley that Joseph Smith viewed the GAEL as a lexicon suited for consultation for translation.

Yes, Hugh Nibley said that the Sensen Papyrus in the Joseph Smith Papyrus is not the source of the Book of Abraham.  This is true, because it does not translate into the Book of Abraham in the conventional way.

This is because, for the GAEL, the best explanation of this is that Joseph Smith was transmitting to us a *non-conventional*, yet *ancient* usage of the Papyri that differs from the regular old "Egyptian" (i.e. regular Egyptological) usage that Hugh Nibley showed, where it translates into an Egyptian Endowment.  In other words, ancient Egyptians were doing something different with the Joseph Smith Papyri than scholars are used to, and Joseph Smith transmitted this *separate system* to us.  And the GAEL is the transmission of this *ancient system of usage* into modern day speech.

And so, Ash contradicts himself when he says that Joseph Smith was merely trying to do an academic translation, when he trusted in the GAEL as something that was suitable for consultation as a lexicon for the purposes of translation, yet it was an "enigma."  Joseph Smith held the information in the GAEL as if it was revealed information.  That is the ONLY reason he consulted it.  The implication of that is that it is indeed revealed information.  And needs to be treated as such.  If only Mormon Apologists would treat it as such, and do research toward that end.  And so, to pass this off as merely something where Joseph was attempting an academic translation is nonsense.  Rather, what is revealed in the KEP/GAEL is indeed revealed, and is indeed a separate, ancient system.  And Joseph Smith simply made a mistake when he tried to use it to help get himself started when trying to translate the Kinderhook plates.  However, Joseph Smith's mistake was not in his translation of the GAEL, which is indeed a transmission of ancient information.  His mistake was an attempt at translation of the Kinderhook plates at all, which he abandoned because indeed, it was simply a mistake.  And its best for us to simply say it was a mistake.  A bigger mistake than that made by Joseph Smith, though would be for us to continue to insist that Joseph Smith's work on the GAEL as non-revelatory.

And so, there is no mystery about what the GAEL is, if we take Joseph Smith's actions here as a guide as to what our thinking toward it ought to be, and simply let it be what it always had been to Joseph Smith and the early Mormons of his day:   a revealed lexicon, not just an academic one.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

New Foundational Articles on Blog

I have posted new foundational articles explaining my theory step by step in an attempt to lead a reader all the way through the logic to understand the foundation of the theory on my blog.  I have realized that the context behind the theory is something that is necessary to explain step by step in this manner, or those entirely unacquainted may not comprehend it.  So, now, here they are.  See the links on the top or on the side.  Thanks.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Clarifications on the Idea of Secondary Intent for the Sensen Papyrus as an Abecedarium

From the beginning of this blog, I have used phrases like Secondary Intent for the Sensen Papyrus, Ancient Context, and Ancient Interpreters and so forth.  My point was never to say that something was encoded IN the papyrus.  Nobody ever intentionally created a second level of understanding IN the papyrus itself for anything, or so it seems.

I have always stated, like in my previous post, that it is the way this papyrus was used by people that employed its symbols that was the important thing, and that this was an ancient practice transmitted by Joseph Smith, knowledge from ancient times transmitted to us by him.  He and his scribes didn't make it up, and it is not a modern thing, contrary to theories like that from William Schryver and John Gee, that put all responsibility on W. W. Phelps and others.

If there was ever any Secondary Intent FOR the Papyrus, or rather another purpose the papyrus was used FOR, it may have been the idea of a custom Alphabet, to begin with (i.e. a sign list, rather than text with a "message").  Again, please read this carefully:  this is NOT built IN to the papyrus.  This is something people were using it FOR, which may be alien to the original idea the papyrus was designed for.  This is something that people started doing with it a long time after it was written.

In certain parts of this blog, I have stated how the word Sensen itself was associated with the idea of an Alphabet.  The word Sensen is the idea of two bulls coming together and becoming one.  Sensen was the day when both the Sun and the Moon were seen in the sky during the day, the two bulls in the sky.  And so, furthermore, how this applies to alphabets is this.  The oldest Alphabets/Abjads and Zodiacs started with a bull (Aleph as an Ox or Aries the Ram) and end with a bull (Tav as a mark indicating ownership of cattle, or the cross mark indicating the Ecliptic crossing the Celestial Equator at the time of the Spring Equinox in Taurus the bull in the early time period of the Earliest Zodiacs/Constellation Lists/Calendars).  Some Zodiacs were Lunar calendars, and some were Solar.  In the case of the Sensen, the god Khonsu in the text is prominent, and he was the moon.  There may have been an association with the Lunar Zodiac.  And so, Zodiacs were a series of symbols or characters in the sky going in a circle, and the two bulls meet one another, where the series of symbols begin and end.  This is why Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  The two bulls are where it begins and ends.  In Egypt, the god Khonsu was the god of the sign lists, the god of the Lunar Zodiac (Constellation-based Calendar), the god of the two bulls.  This goes back to the earliest time periods of the earliest Alphabets and Abjads having been created as Zodiacs and Calendars, and certain lists of characters being used as Abecedaria (documents where people would practice writing ancient alphabets to learn them).  And so, from its creation, it is possible, that Ancient Egyptians used the writing of a document like the Sensen as an Abecederium.  And by this, I mean that not only do its characters "say" something (the Egyptian Endowment as Nibley showed), but they are ALSO a convenient grouping or list of Egyptian characters that people would use to practice writing out their ABC's in ancient times in Egyptian, because it was a relatively short document.

And so, by calling it Sensen, it is possible that they were cluing people in on this usage of it.  It is true that it does indeed "translate" the way Hugh Nibley and other Egyptologists showed us it does.  But if it had a second type of usage, it was this:  a custom abecedarium employed in a derivative document.  And so, since it became used as a sign list (i.e. one of the "orderings" for the Egyptian Alphabet, or one of the ways that Egyptian characters are listed together, its characters became useful for other things.

If you haven't understood my reasoning for going into studies about ancient Alphabets like the Proto-Sinaitic, which was a Semitic Adaptation of Egyptian characters in a different context than the characters started out with, this is a summary of my reasoning for it.  If you have not understood previously why I was fixated on trying to demonstrate that the Proto-Sinaitic was invented as a Zodiac or Calendar originally, this was my reasoning.  Because the tradition of Alphabets is the tradition behind the Sensen.  This is why Joseph Smith called it the Egyptian Alphabet.

And so, employing these characters as symbols for use in codes was one of them that they came to be used for in the Alexandria area in Greco-Roman times.  And so, I am not saying that a code is built into the characters of this papyrus.  I'm saying that these symbols in this papyrus became useful to people to employ as symbols for use in codes that have nothing to do with the original idea for this papyrus.  In order to assign specific meanings to them, they had to create documents where special meanings were applied to these symbols that are not the general meanings of them, but were for specific usages in specific codes.  One of these codes where they applied specific meanings for these characters was in a religious context for the story of Abraham.  It was some people in Alexandria that appear to have done this, because they knew the story of Abraham somehow.

So no, this is not the original document that contained the Book of Abraham that came down from the pen of Abraham.  This is a thing that contains symbols that somebody ended up using to represent his story, and this was used this way in some missing ancient document from ancient times.  It is in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers that Joseph Smith and his scribes were demonstrating the usage of the Sensen Papyrus characters in a code for Abraham, a reconstitution of this ancient information.  It's not that they generally translate this way.  It's that some ancient person from Alexandria or someplace like that used them this way.  And through reverse engineering, we can show that these translations are actually encodings, not regular Egyptian translations.  Nevertheless, they do have associations with the regular meanings of the Egyptian characters, and they were selected for use in these encodings deliberately.

People get so disappointed that the Sensen Papyrus either doesn't translate literally to the Book of Abraham, or that they don't find a code IN the Book of Breathings FOR the Book of Abraham.  Both of those things are the wrong things to be looking for in the first place.  The Sensen Papyus merely provides the symbols that were used for codes that were external to the Sensen Papyrus in other documents to begin with, a missing, derived document or documents.  And the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is a document that manifests the definitions for one of those codes.  Nevertheless, meaningful associations can be found between the definitions in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the regular Egyptian meanings of the symbols.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Some Clarifications and Vocabulary for Cryptography and Another Attempt to Communicate how the Kirtland Egyptian Papers Work

Over time, I have tried to figure out how to communicate how my theory works in various ways, because the theory is multi-faceted.  I have tried to show the various aspects to how things work with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and describe those differing aspects.  Some people may think I am repeating myself sometimes.  Perhaps, but, if I say things enough in different ways, maybe people will understand, because this subject is a difficult one for people to comprehend

So, what I mean by multi-faceted is the same thing physicists mean when they say that light is both a wave and a particle at the same time.  The thing itself is more complex than trying to reduce it to one description.  The two things are intertwined in the whole.  You cant separate the two, yet you can only describe the two aspects separately.  And so, while I say that the usage of these characters from the Sensen papyrus in the Book of Abraham manuscripts is like section markers, from another point of view, the usage is like a code.  I even used language calling it a word or letter puzzle, and a sign list that was used pictographically, where its characters were used independently of itself in other compositions pictographically.  This means that each character was separated out from other characters, and used in other compositions.  And by that I mean, compositions external to the Sensen Papyrus, like the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Facsimile Explanations, but that some of these compositions were ancient, not just modern ones from Joseph Smith.  The ones from Joseph Smith represent things transmitted to us in modern times that transmit the ancient intent from ancient times.

These things are not contradictory, nor are they mutually exclusive.  They are all part of a complete understanding of this thing, and there are even other aspects to this that are not contradictory either.  Such as saying that these are like variables, or like abstract symbols with concrete meaning assignments.  All of these descriptions are true, because they all describe various aspects of the whole.

So, as I said in various blog posts previous to this, from one point of view, the characters in the Book of Abraham text are section markers.  On the other hand, from another point of view, there seems to be a "code" involved, which in modern cryptological jargon, is not the same as a "cipher."  So, it is now necessary to get technical in my usage of these terms:
Some terminology: code (a word or phrase is replaced with a word, number, or symbol, e. g. codeword),cipher (each letter in a phrase is replaced by another letter, or number, or symbol), plaintext (themessage), ciphertext (the encrypted message) . . .
(, "THE CODE BOOK: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography," by Simon Singh, Freshman Seminar, Winter 2006, February 28, 2006, pp. 3-4)
So, what we are talking about here is not a a "cipher," in this sense, where letters or symbols are replaced by other letters or symbols.  What we are talking about here is word-based.  So, ideas in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are described or explanations for characters are given.  And so, these symbols are given meanings with words.  Similarly:
Cryptography takes two forms: "codes" and "ciphers". The distinction between codes and ciphers is commonly misunderstood. A "code" is essentially a secret language invented to conceal the meaning of a message. 
Codewords and codenumbers are referred to collectively as "codegroups". The words they represent are referred to as "plaintext" or, more infrequently, "cleartext", "plaincode", "placode", or "plaindata".  Codes are unsurprisingly defined by "codebooks", which are dictionaries of codegroups listed with their corresponding plaintext . . . 
In contrast to a code, a "cipher" conceals a plaintext message by replacing or scrambling its letters. This process is known as "enciphering" and results in a "ciphertext" message. Converting a ciphertext message back to a plaintext message is known as "deciphering". 
(, "A Codes & Ciphers Primer," v1.0.5 / 01 jun 15 / greg goebel)
So, in the case of the Kirtland Egyptain Papers, instead of codewords, symbols are used to represent groups of words.  And so, therefore, using this jargon described in these quotes, what we have is plaintext and plaindata being represented by Egyptian symbols, or assigned to them, much like a codeword is assigned to a meaning in a code.  Therefore, this is not a cipher, but is a code, so to speak.  And so, the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are a codebook, because it contains the key to the code.  And so, from one point of view, this is why characters in the KEP have associations with the meanings attributed to them, such as the reed symbol being used to represent Land of the Chaldees, which is the land of reeds.  The association between character and meaning/value assignment is clear.  But it isn't literal.  While it is true that the reed symbol has a good tie to Land of the Chaldees or Kiengi (land of reeds) by virtue of the reed as a symbol, a theme they both have in common, there is more to it.  And that is that it is a deliberate code.  Abstractions are being used for literal or concrete ideas, which are assigned to them.  And without a codebook, the symbol itself is too abstract for the thing it is meant to represent.  And by this, I mean, the codebook ties it down to precision to what it is meant to represent.  Again, the author of the Sensen Papyrus didn't hide this meaning in it.  This is a usage of these characters separate from their original intent.  And so, like a cryptographic hash, it is only one way.  Meaning, with the codebook, you know the intended meaning.  Without codebook the characters become pretty useless.   The symbols by themselves don't give you enough.  To know the intended meaning you need the key or codebook.  So, the group of documents called the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, from that point of view, could be called a "codebook."

Historically, people have also used the term "cipher" to describe a "codebook" or "dictionary."

So, what we are describing is a dictionary for the "system" or "code" used with Sensen Papyrus characters that is evident in the Kirtland Egyptian Paprs.  This is not to be confused with the regular Egyptian usage (i.e. Egyptological Egyptian) of hieroglyphic and hieratic characters.  This is a separate system defined by the evidence in the "code book" which describes their usage in this system.

And so, in some codes, other code words in a language are used as symbols to represent a "plain text" piece of data.  In this case, Egyptian characters are being used to represent them instead of code-words.

In summary, as I pointed out in other blog posts, this is similar to William Schryver's theory, with the exception that I am saying that Ancient people in Alexandria may have been doing it, not people in the nineteenth century, the way Schryver was saying.  So Joseph Smith was transmitting to us an ancient code system from Egypt that was separate from the regular Egyptian usage of characters.  Joseph Smith and his scribes did not make this system up.

This article referenced above shows how recently scholars have deciphered the documents from the Oculars, a secret society that seems to have been based off of Masonry from the 18th and 19th Centuries.  I am suggesting that cult groups or secret societies may have existed in Ancient Egypt, perhaps in the Alexandria area, that were obsessed with codes as well.  And Joseph Smith transmitted their ancient usage of Egyptian characters to us in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.  It therefore could be called a translation of an "Ancient Cipher," or of an "Ancient Codebook."

Now, the problem with many people is that they assume that I'm saying that somehow the Sensen Papyrus is the thing that "contains" the message.  No.  The Sensen Papyrus is merely the thing that provides the list of symbols that are drawn upon for the creation of things that are external to it for the use of this code.  It's like the Papal Code used by Catholics.  They would give people a bunch of symbols for a message, and the symbols meant nothing for the receiver of the message unless he had a key or a "code book" to understand the message.  There was nothing inherent in the symbols that suggests that some symbol ought to be interpreted as "Pope" or "Priest."

In the case of the Sensen papyrus symbols used in this system, there were clever associations between assignments to the symbols and the meanings assigned in a "code book."  this is not the case in some "codes" where substitutions have been made.  Sometimes the symbols or code words people use in various codes have nothing to do with the things that they are made to represent.

It is true that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is a collection of documents, some bound and some unbound.  Contrary to John Gee, I insist that they all belong in one whole, and are not to be separated.  And so, when I say they constitute one "code book," then I literally mean that, because they make one whole.  They describe one particular system of using the Egyptian characters for a code.  This is not to be confused with the regular Egyptian written language.

Some people may be confused that I am saying Egyptology is incomplete or that there is more to be found.  Well, in its own sphere, Egypology is complete, but this is a separate field really, that has to do with a lot of things outside Egyptology, but that also sort-of overlaps with certain portions of the Egyptology field.  And science is always self-corrective and needing to be tweaked when new information is known.  So, what I mean to say is, that it is unsurprising that Egyptology would not previously know about a code like this.  That does't make it deficient.  It make it something that is progressive like any other branch of knowledge.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Problem with Joe Sampson's work on the KEP ("Written by the Finger of God"): You can't Translate Text from an Ancient Verse Marking/Numbering System

John Gee wrote:

As for Sampson's dubious assumption that "Joseph Smith with 'Urim and Thummim' looked at the Book of Breatings[sen-sen] and saw the Book of Abraham encoded there" (p. 70), one would have thought that the critics had demonstrated the impossibility of that idea long ago.

I don't like a lot of what Gee writes, but his writings are a mixed bag, like anything else.  In this paragraph, John Gee is right.  The critics DID demonstrate the impossibility of the idea that the Book of Abraham is encoded in the Sensen papyrus.  The Book of Abraham is not encoded in the Sensen papyrus.  This is why Kabbalah (what Joe Sampson is trying to do) doesn't work on the Sensen papyrus.  I will tell you what Kabbalah IS useful for but it is going to be difficult, and I'm going to do it step by step.  But what it is not useful for is decoding the Book of Abraham or the Book of Joseph from the Sensen papyrus or from the Book of the Dead.

Try to understand this.  This is why what I'm saying and what I'm doing is fundamentally different from Joe Sampson.

Joseph Smith recovered the ancient information in the minds of ancient people about the story of Abraham.  The Sensen Papyrus didn't contain this ancient information.  But symbols from the sensen papyrus were used to help keep track of this information.  It contained markers like in an outline, or like a numbering or alphabetic marker system that helped them keep track of some of the concepts.  What I mean by that is, we have verse and chapter numbers in our scriptures that help keep track of things so that we know how to look them up.  The scriptures are not encoded in verse and chapter numbers.  The verse and chapter numbers are not helpful to know the content of our scriptures.  Joe Sampson is trying to show magically how to extract the scriptures from verse and chapter numbers and letters.  That is a problem, because verse numbers and letters used to mark verses do not contain content.

With Egyptian numbering systems using their alphabet as a numbering or marking system for text, they would have a relationship between the markers/numbering letters and the text.  But the text is not contained in the markers.  Without a document that shows you the content and how they line up with the markers or numberings, you wouldn't know that that's what they were used for.  The Kirtland Egyptian Papers is a thing that shows how ancient markers or numberings were used for text, and why those markers were chosen to mark that part of the text.  The markers have no real relationship to the text other than they were used as markers.

So, if you say, to someone in the ancient way of quoting from the book of Abraham:  Show me the verse from the Book of Abraham, Chapter 1, verse Reed Symbol.  That's like saying show me Abraham chapter 1 verse 1.  Reed Symbol didn't contain the Book of Abraham.  Reed Symbol marked a verse like the number 1 for us marks verse 1.  It's nice that Land of the Chaldees (Kiengi) means "Land of Reeds."  But that is the association I'm talking about, between marker/numbering and verse.  That is not content.  That is just a clever association:

You can't extract text from a verse numbering system.

This is the problem with Joe Sampson.  He is trying to extract meaning from a verse numbering/marking system.  I'm trying to show why symbols in the numbering system were chosen, and how there are associations between number/character and verse.  All I'm doing is to demonstrate that these associations were clever.  I'm not trying to show how the numbering system translates to the text.  Do you see the difference between what I'm doing and what Joe Sampson was doing?

So, when I say that it is an ancient cipher, this is what I mean, that there is an ancient relationship between verse numbers/letters and content.  I am not saying that the verse numbers/letters contain content.  I'm saying that they creatively marked their verses with things in the Egyptian Alphabet that had associations with content in the verses/sections of text.

So, when I say that the Book of the Dead was the Book of Joseph, I mean that symbols from the the Book in the papyrus of Ani, for example, were creatively used for verse/section markers in the Book of Joseph.  The order the alphabet/characters were used to mark text were used in the order they are in in the papyrus.  The same with the Sensen Papyrus, when it was used to mark verse sections in the Book of Abraham.  You can't extract the text from it.  You need an external document or key to show you content and context.  This is what I mean when I say "external content dependency."

The ancient acrostics in the Book of Psalms marks sections of text with Hebrew letters like verse numberings but that doesn't tell me the content.  Yes, there is an association between a letter and the verse that it marks or enumerates, but that doesn't mean it contains the content of the verse/section.  And it is clever how the ancient prophets used those acrostics.

Similarly, it is evident from the KEP that Joseph Smith never claimed that the Sensen Papyrus contained text from the Book of Abraham, but that it was used as an ancient marking/numbering system for sections of text, and he was trying to show people that.  He wasn't claiming that the text could be extracted from it.  He was showing associations between that content and the characters, and why it was clever for someone to use it for a marking/numbering system.  And so, my work on this blog is not to show how the Book of Abraham text is extracted from these characters.  My work is to show the underlying relationships between section markers/numbers and text, and how clever people chose these verse/section markers/numberings to mark/enumerate the text for various reasons.  I'm not saying that the markers/numberings translate to the text.  There is a big difference there.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Review of Brian Hauglid's "The Book of Abraham and the Egyptian Project" in "Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World"

In previous posts in this blog, I have criticized John Gee for his mistreatment of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and his deliberate attempts to distance Joseph Smith from them.  Here is the most recent one.

I believe in equal opportunity criticism:  that apologists, whether they have credentials or not, are not demigods, and are subject to mortality like the rest of us, and they deserve to be called out when their research or statements are not in line with facts.  This is also because I believe in EVIDENCE-BASED Apologetics.  This means that we ought to strive to whatever degree possible to base apologetics and research on evidence, rather than evading evidence.

So, in contrast to my criticisms of Gee, this post will be different.   In this post, I have almost nothing but praise for Brian Hauglid, whose work is a shining city on a hill in comparison.  Why is that?  Because Brian Hauglid cares about evidence.  Gee does not.  Or rather, perhaps it is better stated that John Gee, from the looks of it from his various writings, only cares about evidence when it suits him, and cherry picks it.  The manifestations of Brian Hauglid's fair and more scholarly and objective treatment of evidence started to manifest in his recent interviews in the Mormon Matters podcast, even before he wrote this article in question.  And he has appeared in other podcasts, where it is evident that he has made a concerted effort to reach out to those of other paradigms such as Brent Metcalfe, and has not treated his ideological adversaries with disdain in most cases as Gee does, but has treated them with respect, and has sought to acknowledge their points of view as rational.  Brother Hauglid has even given me notice in the past that he intends to review my material at some unknown point in the future.  If he follows through with that, and makes good on that statement, that will be nice.  One can only hope that he is serious about that.  As he notes in his article:

The main task here is to ascertain relational connections between the Egyptian documents and the larger corpus, including the Abrahamic documents.  Exploring points of contact between the documents should help to contextualize the Egyptian project within the larger framework.  (Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World, p. 476)

This is precisely what he manages to do, is to demonstrate that in some cases, it seems that some of the KEP documents are dependent on others, and so forth and so on.  I won't get in to a lot of that, but most of Hauglid's conclusions in these matters are reasonable, although I disagree with some of those conclusions.  However, this review isn't meant to be an exhaustive review of each and every claim in Hauglid's article.  He then notes that:

In examining the documentary evidence related to the Abraham and Egyptian projects three main points emerge:  (1) the language (Egyptian) project was likely going on before Joseph Smith acquired the Egyptian papyri; (2) the translation and language projects where occurring at roughly the same time, and (3) the Egyptian project evidences a serious attempt at unveiling the Egyptian language using an imaginative, intricate system that connects the Egyptian alphabet documents to the grammar book and possibly the Abraham documents as well.  (ibid. p. 476)

I would like to address point number three here.  There is no evidence in the KEP that the "intricate system" as Hauglid calls it was an attempt at unveiling the Egyptian language, but rather, as my research in this blog shows, it was an unveiling of an ancient system that is not the mechanics of the Egyptian language at all, but rather, an ancient pictographic system of communication that uses Egyptian symbols in already existing documents as abstractions, and uses external keys to make concrete meaning assignments to those symbols.  The evidence shows that there was no intent in the mind of the ancient originators of this system to confuse this system with the regular Egyptian language, or the regular usage of Egyptian symbols.  The reason this is perplexing to people is precisely because it is a system that is entirely separate system from the regular Egyptian language, and the only thing it has in common with it is the usage of Egyptian symbols.  But people are expecting that it must be the mechanical Egyptian language to be a valid usage of Egyptian symbols.  But the key here is the fact that is ancient, and it is not made up.  It is a transmission of ancient information.  And people need to stop assuming that it is the regular old Egyptian language itself that the KEP purports to represent.  Rather, it is better described as an ancient cipher system developed by ancient Egyptians, using Egyptian characters that relied entirely on external keys for dependencies and context.  And it is NOT a system built IN to the document.  In other words, the original author of the Sensen Papyrus didn't use the symbols in his papyrus this way necessarily.  It was a system of use applied to symbols from papyrus after the fact.  It is a system where symbols in an already-existing document (i.e. the Sensen Papyrus) were harvested to be used to create OTHER productions (i.e. symbols were lifted from it for use in external translation-key documents).  In other words, documents similar to the KEP and the Facsimile Explanations that give explanations for the usage of characters probably existed anciently, but are not extant, and the KEP is probably a reproduction of ancient information.  And this system probably originated in Alexandria among Syncretist cults that mixed and matched symbolism and content from many religions (including the religion of the Jews).  So the problem among the apologists is the lack of recognition of the fact that Joseph Smith's Egyptian system from the Sensen papyrus doesn't purport to be the regular old Egyptian language usage of Egyptian characters, but is, in fact, a different ancient system altogether that is still nevertheless ancient, and is still, nevertheless, Egyptian.

And what I mean by this, is it is an ancient VERSE MARKING system.  If what I have been saying has never been clear enough before to people, let me say it this way:

You can't translate text from an ancient way of marking verses in the scriptures.  The Sensen characters are verse markers, like how we use chapter and verse numbers in our scriptures.  The letters in the Sensen papyrus were verse/section markers.  You can't translate text from verse markers.  If somebody tells you to look up Abraham Chapter 1 verse 1 in modern times, you can't translate the text of the verse 1 from the Book of Abraham by only knowing that someone referenced it by saying "Abraham 1:1" or "Abraham Chapter 1 verse 1."  So, in the ancient way of marking the Book of Abraham, if I say, "Reed Symbol", or the Egyptian letter I, if you are an ancient Egyptian, you know that I'm talking about the Book of Abraham, verse 1, chapter 1, because that is the ancient verse numbering system.  It was nice that the Reed Symbol was chosen to mark it because it matches up with a theme in it (i.e. land of the Chaldees, creatively sort of has an association with reeds).  See this article on that:

So, when I say that it is ancient cipher, this is what I mean, that there is an ancient relationship between verse numbers/letters and content.  I am not saying that the verse numbers/letters contain content.  I'm saying that they creatively marked their verses with things in the Egyptian Alphabet that had associations with content in the verses/sections of text.

Anyway, contrary to Gee, Hauglid notes that Joseph Smith was indeed at least partly responsible for the KEP.  While he doesn't conclude that Joseph Smith was entirely responsible, as I believe the evidence shows, this is at least a step forward from Gee's bad conclusions.  Hauglid writes:

As we shall see, the three Egyptian alphabet documents contain basically the same material while the rest of the Egyptian documents depart from the EA manuscripts, as well as each other, in various ways.  It is also noteworthy that the EAJS contains the handwriting of Joseph Smith, something that occurs quite rarely, since Joseph's general practice was to hire professional scribes.  This would seem to indicate that Joseph Smith had interest in and contributed to the Egyptian project, which is further reinforced in his journal entries for 1835.  But Joseph's interest in the Egyptian project does not arise in a vacuum.  In fact, the Mormon Egyptian focus fits well within the larger nineteenth-century context of Egyptomania.  (ibid.  p. 479.)

The one thing that is an incredibly important step forward with Brother Hauglid's research is the fact that, contrary to Gee, he says things like this:

One more entry [from Joseph Smith's journals] dated the day after the last translation session on Nobember 26, 1835, refers to "transcribing Egyptian characters from the papyrus."  Unlike the word "translation," "transcribing Egyptian characters" here denotes the copying of Egyptian characters from the papyri to paper.  If this is the case, this entry may refer to the three 1835 Abraham manuscripts that have hieratic characters drawn from the first few lines of P. JS XI in the margins opposite text from the Book of Abraham.  These 1835 manuscripts (with one more from the Nauvoo period) roughly cover Abraham 1:1-2:18.
In sum, from available historical evidence, it appears that Joseph Smith (and his associates) made a literal connection between the Egyptian papyri [i.e. the Sensen Papyrus/Book of Breathings] and the Book of Abraham by translating specific characters on the papyri to produce both the Egyptian alphabet and the Abraham manuscripts. (ibid., p. 485-486, emphasis added).
So, contrary to John Gee and his Magic-Man Apologetics, not only does Hauglid refute Gee where Gee tries to say that Joseph Smith had nothing to do with it.  The fact is, Joseph Smith not only had something to do with it.  But the evidence shows, as has been known by critics and Anti-Mormons for a very long time, that Joseph Smiths very handwriting appears in the Egyptian Alphabet collection, showing Joseph Smith's direct involvement.  Gee conveniently leaves information like this out of his work.  Chris Smith, Brent Metcalfe, Ed Ashment, Robert Ritner, and many others who are critics have known these facts for a very long time, and for an LDS scholar to acknowledge these facts is not just a breath of fresh air, but it means that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and hope.  LDS scholars that care about evidence are finally starting to emerge.  And furthermore, Hauglid admits translation activity of characters directly lifted from the Sensen papyrus and that these characters are translated as Book of Abraham content.  But here is a problem again in Hauglid's interpretation of the evidence, where he states that:

If any of the Egyptian documents were to be examined by a modern Egyptologist, they would more than likely be deemed gibbrish.  However, it must be understood that Joseph Smith and his associates took their language study quite seriously.  That is to say, while approaching the Egyptian documents from a purely Egyptological standpoint yields minimal value, analyzing the systematic nature of the documents themselves can tell us something about those who created them.  In doing so, it becomes quite clear that Joseph Smith and W. W. Phelps, in particular, developed a complex, if not imaginative, system toward their apprehension of the Egyptian language.  (ibid. p. 487).
So, herein lies the crux of Hauglid's apologetic attempt at defense of Joseph Smith's Egyptian:  It isn't Egyptological at all and it's gibbrish, but hey, these guys were serious, so we need to take their seriousness seriously.  While this is certainly a step forward from Gee's nonsense, and it is reasonable to scholars that are uber-cautious about anything they say, it basically says that Joseph Smith's production wasn't a translation at all, and Joseph Smith couldn't translate.  While I congratulate Hauglid for an amazing step forward, and an amazing amount of admission about the forensic facts of the matter, Hauglid's assumption, like the rest of the scholars and Egyptologists that have dealt with this, is that for Joseph Smith's Egyptian system to be valid, it ought to match Egyptological Egyptian.  Well, that assumption is wrong, because it is wrong to presume that Joseph Smith knew what he was producing.  Joseph Smith never claimed that this was the regular old "Egyptian language," but rather, he stated such things like he was "translating an alphabet to the book of Abraham."  Joseph Smith never made the claim that he was directly translating text, but rather, as I have shown in other posts in this blog, he only claimed that the "subject" of the content was represented by the characters.  He never claimed this to be literal "text."  But rather, the content produced by Joseph Smith was NEVER CONTAINED in the papyrus.  Therefore, the system of representation that Joseph Smith described in the KEP is not a description of the Egyptological Egyptian language.  Rather, the ORIGINAL PAPYRUS that Abraham wrote in his own hand, that actually read mechanically as the Book of Abraham text is not this papyrus, but was something that was lost to antiquity.  The story from Abraham's book was known to some ancient people, and they used symbols in this papyrus to represent some themes from that story.  Therefore, there is no reason to presume that symbols from the Sensen papyrus in their Abrahamic usage were understood the way a regular Egyptian text reads.

This is the problem I have with Hauglid's work, as well as the work of other people.  They presume that the system in this papyrus purports to be the regular Egyptian usage, and that Joseph Smith was claiming to be recovering that.  Rather, since its obvious it is NOT that, why not give Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt that he produced something genuine and authentic, but different.  I don't see any indication that this was ever the claim in the KEP that it ought to be understood to be the regular way to use Egyptian.  Rather, the evidence in the KEP ought to be ascertained, as I try to do in this blog, and then we ought to demonstrate evidence from ancient times that shows that this system was indeed ancient.  This is why I continually say that this transcends regular Egyptological Egyptian.  It never claimed to be regular Egyptian.  It was never intended to be understood that way.  Joseph Smith never made that claim.  Egyptologists and other scholars that have examined Joseph Smith's material have assumed that Joseph Smith can't translate because they set up this straw man in the first place that Joseph Smith's Egyptian ever purported to be the regular system of the Egyptian language that was deciphered from the Rosetta stone.  Rather, it is its own animal in the way it uses Egyptian characters, and evidence shows it is ancient.  So, in the first place, scholars like Gee and Hauglid should remove the notion in their minds that this was ever intended to be the regular Egyptian language by the authors of the KEP.  The authors of the KEP didn't know what they were producing, and the ancient people that produced this system never intended it to be confused with regular old Egyptian that reads mechanically like any other language that a machine could translate, the way English or Japanese can be translated with Google translate.  It is not a mechanical thing like this.  It is a system where an already-existing document had its already-existing symbols lifted from it and used in a way different from the intent of the author of the document.  And the way they were used is context dependent, and the context is given in an external key.

So, in summary, Hauglid makes some huge steps forward from Gee, but Hauglid's work still doesn't go far enough in actually trying to uncover evidence of the ancientness of the underlying system in the KEP, as is done in this blog.  Until scholars start trying to use an approach similar to the one on this blog, they will continue to have to say things like this, that this seems to be gibbrish, despite the fact that they have finally started acknowledging the facts of the matter from the forensic evidence.  Joseph Smith did not produce gibbrish.  He produced a transmission of an ancient system that must be vindicated, a system that was never meant to be confused with regular, mechanical "Egyptological Egyptian."