Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Few Observations on Ritner's Joseph Smith Papyri Book: Circumscribe all Truth

Once in a while I do lengthy reviews of research out there on Book-of-Abraham-related things and other times I present my own research.

Sometimes I reread through books I have already scanned through or read before to see if things jump out at me that didn't before.

This will be a post regarding a few things that I was pondering on as I read again through Robert Ritner's book The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition.

After the time I had read through this book last time, I had come upon the Mormon Discussions Podcast episode that featured Brian Hauglid, and how Hauglid mentioned Ritner's take on some of the apologetics other apologists have come up with surrounding items in Facsimile #2, for example.  I recall how Hauglid noted that Ritner did not believe that the apologists had come up with a good defense for any of the items in the Hypocephalus (Facsimile #2) explanations.  Yet, using my own critical thinking, I can't see how all of the defenses of Facsimile #2 that various individuals such as Michael Rhodes, Hugh Nibley and even John Gee so forth ought actually to be considered good, plausible and reasonable by good thinking individuals without an ideology to support.  And this is coming from me, a person that at many times is quite critical of these individuals in many cases.

So, I'm sitting there reading through Ritner's work again, and thinking how grateful I am that Ritner is here as a check to things that John Gee and others have put out that are atrocious.  And then after an awesome presentation made by Ritner of the forensic evidence (where Gee has things wrong), which is critical to the discussion, I focused in on statements from Ritner that I have seen before, yet kind of got irritated by them a little, in the same way that I often get irritated a little by what I read many times from Gee.  Not that this hasn't happened before as I have read ex- or Anti-Mormon literature pretending to present evidence or research on this, that or the other, especially from Ritner.  Its not that its entirely pretending because they believe what they are doing and what they are saying.  But they treat their conclusions on evidence as if they are the last word, and as if everyone else that is truly reasonable ought to agree with them in that conclusion, when there is ample room for disagreements on those points.  And in this, there is a certain amount of pretension, that nothing that the apologists ever come up with is of value.  That type of rhetoric doesn't serve for much more than a rallying cry for the troops of a certain camp, to get those who are in lockstep to fall in line using basically an appeal to emotion for groupthink.  I guess, what I'm saying is, Ritner ought to know better just like Gee ought to know better.  As I have equal-opportunity criticism on this blog for whatever scholar ought to be criticized, this time it is Ritner.  He says stuff like:

The fact that Smith's published interpretation of the papyrus is pure fantasy is indication not of a lost papyrus or section, but of the ultimate source of Smith's wording--his imagination . . .
Whether this assessment will have any impact beyond the world of scholarship is questionable, since Gee has noted that "members of the Church of Jesus Christ in general have no pretensions about holding any dialogue with critics.  They simply do not, for the most part, care what the critics say."   While that may well be true for many, it does not account for the extraordinary interest in the Joseph Smith Papyri among Mormons of all opinions, as evidenced by email, chatrooms, web postings, and the continued publications of Nibley, Rhodes and Gee himself.  Clearly FARMS has taken a direct interest in the Egyptological opinions concerning these papyri, and it aspires to scholarly acceptance, but where faith and scholarship are irreconcilable, the apologists defer to faith.  I prefer scholarship.  The reader may choose for himself.  (p. 143)
While Gee may not hold dialogue with critics, Brian Hauglid does.  Yet Brian Hauglid has sort of sided with Ritner on these points, rather than seeking some sort of middle ground, as evidenced in the recent Mormon Discussions podcast with Bill Reel last year.  This is where I have an issue with Hauglid.  Mormons are as interested in scholarship as we are in faith.  Its just that, there does happen to be differences in our conclusions about things where we can't be entirely open-minded.  We can't be open-minded on the issue of Book of Abraham historicity as a matter of faith, because we are committed by that faith to its authenticity and historicity.  This doesn't mean that we do not take scholarship extremely seriously.  We just aren't going to give in to Anti-Mormon demands for us to abandon our central claims based on faith just because someone is a critic.  Ritner claims to be entirely open-minded about things.  Yet, when he says he chooses scholarship, the fact is that by this what he is really saying is that he dismisses anything that he doesn't agree with his scholarship.  I'll give you some examples.

An example of where Ritner goes off on this kind of tirade is where he gives his treatment of the Joseph Smith (Sheshonq) hypocephalus (otherwise known as facsimile #2).  Ritner goes through and rightly finds issues with Rhodes translations.  But then he says stuff like, "As elsewhere, Nibley did not evaluate Smith's statements objectively, but sought out any possible defense, no matter how farfetched." (p. 221).  This was with regard to the ship of 1000, which is the Ship of Sokar, which indeed in many cases is associated with the number 1000, no matter what Ritner says, but Ritner won't admit that this is valid, calling it far-fetched.  Yet it is well-grounded in research from the LDS side that it actually checks out.  However, it seems from the interview with Bill Reel, that Hauglid is deferring to Ritner on this type of thing, which is a mistake.  Similarly, Ritner calls the translation of Figure 2 "nonsense," which is Oliblish, or in regular Egyptian, Wepwawet.  Wepwawet, like the explanation on Oliblish states, is the grand key, the Key-Holder, or Janus, his Roman equivalent.  Never mind that the Egyptian figure was an appropriate symbol to use for the Grand Key.  Nevermind that the ship of Sokar is indeed the Ship of 1000.  Then Ritner criticizes the names Kli-flos-is-es or Hah-ko-kau-beam, saying "as elsewhere these outlandish names are not Egyptian." (p.222).  As with the rest of the names in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and in the Book of Abraham, many of them are Semitic, like Ha-kokobim (the stars in Hebrew), the very word that Ritner dismisses.  He seems to have missed the fact that the claim wasn't explicitly made that all of these names purport to be Egyptian the way an Egyptologist would Transliterate or even form them.  But like the word Chalsidonhiash in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar is instead Kassite, a form of the Babylonian word Karduniash, an actual ancient place-name for Babylonia.  Comedically, Ritner criticizes the Khnum-Ra hieroglyph (Figure 2), otherwise known as Re-Atum, as Ritner identifies him, saying:
The central figure is not Kolob in Egyptian terms, nor is he the "first creation, nearest to the celestial, or residence of God."  Rather, the image is the creator god himself, not simply a figure near god. (p. 221)
Little does Ritner realize, but he unthinkingly pointed out the very fact pointed out on this blog quite a number of times, that the whole point was not that Joseph Smith was claiming that this was literally Kolob, but that rather it was a symbol that successfully stood for the theme which Kolob is associated with:  creation.  Ritner said it.  God of Creation = First Creation.  Not literally.  But he wouldn't even give Joseph Smith the credit he deserved for pointing out the fact that there is the theme of creation at work here.  As Robert F. Smith, an LDS scholar has recently observed:
Register 1 of the Shishak Hypocephalus (Book of Abraham facsimile 2) is identified by Joseph Smith’s explanation in part as, 
    a.  Kolob,
    b.  signifying the first creation,
    c.  nearest to the celestial,
    d.  or the residence of God.
    e.  First in government,
In Book of Abraham 3:3, “the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me”; 3:9, “Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God”; 3:16, “Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam . . , because it is nearest unto me.”  These repeated and specific references to the meaning of Kolob (even referring to it as one of the Hebrew Kokaubeem "stars") amplify the explanatory phrases in Fac. 2:1, “nearest to the celestial,” and Fac. 2:2, “near to the celestial,” and provide excellent justification for J. M. Sjodahl’s comparison with an Arabic word derived from the same root as Kolob, though we may appeal here more directly to the theophoric Hebrew epithet, Qarob “The-Near-One” (Psalm 119:151 ∥152 Qedem “The-Primeval-One”; cf. Pss 69:19, 74:12, 145:18; Arabic Qarib is cognate), which appears in the common qutl-form at Qumran (qwrb “midst”; 11QMelch 1:10 = Psalm 82:1; for Aramaic qrb see 1QapGen 22:18).  The word also appears in Akkadian and Ugaritic, but it is in Arabic that we find the root split into two variants, QLB/QRB, with closely related connotations.  Moreover, the -R- and -L- are regular dialectical variants in ancient Egyptian and Coptic – serving to tell us from which part of Egypt a word was most likely to have come.  The usage of these terms was certainly compatible with the usage of Kolob throughout the Book of Abraham.  Moreover, S. A. B. Mercer correctly identified this figure as the seated ram-god, Khnum-ʼAmun-Reʻ. Theodule Devéria, though unable to name this ram-god, was able to note the quadrapartite intent of the original (following Champollion), who may have been thinking of Janus quadrifons of ancient Rome.  He was also Reʿ of Memphis, the Sun-god (Speleers terming it “the soul of Re and his three forms”), and this Khnemu, the ram-headed Creator-Sun-god who sits with knees raised, as on the place of prominence on the Metternich Stele, can have either two or four heads – two heads being, artistically, as good as four.  Khnum, a member of the Enneads of Abydos and Philae, Lord of Antinoë (Hr-wr), the Ram (bЗ) of Mendes (Mntw), and living soul (bЗ) of Reʿ, was “the builder of men, maker of gods, and the father from the beginning.”  Khnum was the “maker of that which is, creator of what shall be, the beginning of beings, father of fathers, and mother of mothers,” shown as if a human with one or more rams’ heads, wearing a crown with horns, plumes, uraei, and disks (the triple diadem of the gods), and holding the  ʿnh, wЗś, and dd scepters (supporting heaven on four such pillars of scepters).
Kolob as “nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God,” is a fully Semitic as well as Egyptian term, though I ought to mention here that the notion of gods living in the sky was familiar to Egyptians from early times (cf. Pyramid Texts 251,357,531,882,929,935, 1364,1707,1295, etc.), as in Mesopotamia.  In Ugaritic, one finds qrb, “midst,” used to refer directly to the abode of ʼEl, i.e., the “cosmic mountain” known as Zaphon or HUR.SAG (= Huršan), as being in the “midst of the source of the Two Deeps.”  Of course, the Egyptian temple as the residence of the god was symbolic in the very sense described, as Klaus Baer made clear, but it was a regular function of temples throughout the ancient Near East to bridge the gap between the celestial and earthly spheres.
According to Jaroslav Černý, the Egyptians saw the stars as divine beings.  The Stars were divided into two main groups: ihmw-sk, “Indestructible-stars, Circumpolar-stars” ∥ʿЗw, “Great-ones, Circumpolar-stars” (Pyramid Texts 405a, 733, 782, 1123, 2051; Coffin Text I, 271), both being identical with Hebrew kokabe-'El, “Stars of God, Circumpolar-stars” (Isaiah 14:13 ∥II Nephi 24:13), symbolizing “eternity,” and identical with “the Mount of Council” or “Mt. Zaphon,” and referring to the Supreme Council of God and to his throne (Psalms 48:3, 148:3; cf. the “great one” in Enuma Elish V:1, and in Abraham 3:3).   (
So, as Smith shows, what Joseph Smith and the ancients were doing in the Book of Abraham recension we have, but also in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, was a mixture of not just Egyptian (which is not specifically Semitic, but still part of the same general family of Afro-Asiatic), but also of other Semitic and Middle Eastern languages, but even Greek (for example, the use of Hades in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, as "Hah-dees").  So, not only is Ritner equivocating on the fact that not everything in the Book of Abraham claims to be Egyptian, but it is very obvious that they are not, as Semitic scholars can readily see, because many of them are either Hebrew or other related Semitic languages, as Smith demonstrates above for Kolob.

And in the case of Oliblish too, it is not Wepwawet that is literally Oliblish, but rather, they are both the Great Key or Key Holder.  They share the central theme, making the Egyptian symbol of Wepwawet a suitable abstraction for the more solid or concrete assignment of meaning attached to it in the Explanation.  The explanation was not in fact claiming that these meanings were literal, but that there is a certain specialized type of symbolism going on here with these figures.  On these points, the LDS Scholars actually hit the bullseyes, while Ritner's critiques of them on these things are anemic and hard-headed with lack of scholarly charity.  But also there is a lack of thinking outside the box.  If Ritner was entirely honest, he would acknowledge the LDS finds on these things to be not only interesting, but on many levels, compelling, when one is entirely open to a number of possibilities and not just locked in to the idea that only current Egyptology has the answer.  Similarly, Hauglid, in the podcast with Bill Reel was critical of LDS scholars that suggest answers outside of Egyptology, that seek to suggest answers that come from a more multi-disciplinary approach.  If you pay close attention to what Robert Smith is doing above with his exegesis on the word Kolob, it is multi-disciplinary (taking into account the Semitic evidences), not strictly Egyptological.  And this is the approach Nibley takes as well.  This is where Ritner has failed, and where he is closed-minded, and where he has a measure of lack of honesty.  Because indeed, the LDS scholars do make good points that are likely to be true sometimes.  These things are of such quality sometimes that it is glaringly obvious that they are correct, and that Ritner and other Anti-Mormons are wrong.

And so, it is sad that Hauglid seems to have eaten up Ritner's criticisms on these points, and that, unfortunately, is a measure of gullibility on his part for deferring entirely to Ritner on these points.  Hauglid says that it is unlikely that there is something outside of current Egyptology where the answer would lie.  Well, it isn't so much outside of Egyptology, as the proper application of Egyptology as it now stands that things start to come to light.

When Ritner presents solid facts, he deserves deference.  When the LDS Scholars are in the right, and differ with Ritner, they deserve deference, and Ritner deserves criticism.  And so, interestingly enough, not one camp has all the truth on every point, as one would expect.  We need to find the truth wherever it's found, and side with it when it happens to be true, and call out whoever the people that are in the wrong, when they are wrong, in each issue where they are wrong.  We are only interested in truth, to circumscribe it into one whole.  We are not interested in ideologies, logical fallacies, or hard-headed Anti-Mormonism, or even hard-headed ideological Mormon Apologetics.  We just want the whole truth, and we want the parts of the truth that come from critics as well as the parts that come from apologists.  There must be an eclectic mix of where that which is true shines forth from whatever camp it comes in each issue.  Nothing less will do than to find the truth in every area where it exists and bring it all together.  Therefore, a correct approach on this is to bring together the good points from wherever they come, and let that which is false, regardless of where it comes from, fall by the wayside.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Vincent Coon's Article: The Tetragrammation and Earth

One of my partners in Book of Abraham studies, Vincent Coon, has a new article entitled The Tetragrammation and Earth:

Here is a link to it:

Tetragrammation and Earth

This has to do with the circle-and-cross symbol used in Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar to symbolize the Earth, and how the vocalization for this symbol is "Ja-oh-eh," something many scholars have either identified with or equated to the name Jehovah (pronounced Ya-Oh-Eh, Ia-Oh-Eh or Yahweh, depending on how you try to represent the vocalizations).

Friday, October 7, 2016

Observations on Kerry Muhlestein's Interpreter Article (Volume 22, 2016): "Assessing the Joseph Smith Papyri"

I applaud Kerry Muhlestein for being a faithful Mormon, a believer that is willing to defend the Book of Abraham.  All Book of Abraham scholars that are faithful Mormons ought to be congratulated for this.  I also congratulate Muhlestein in recognizing the vailidity of personal revelation as part of the epistemology for how one knows that the Book of Abraham is true, and for Mormons, the primary reason.  Yes, we have been accused for having that as our trump card to be able to dismiss other evidences, but that is not true.  Actually, it is true that as Mormons, our biases based on personal testimony lead us to know in our subjective selves that the Book of Abraham is in fact true and historical.  That doesn't mean that any evidence needs to be dismissed if it is truly taken into account properly, and has a proper explanation for it.  That doesn't mean that we will side with the critics in our ultimate conclusion about the historicity and truth of the text.  It only means that we must take all evidence into account and explain it as best as we know how.

Forensic Facts Matter, not old 19th Century Journal Entries and Newspaper reports

The difference between different types of apologists, however, as I have observed in other posts on this blog, has to do with the types of apologists that actually explain evidences in a Mormon faithful interpretive framework, versus Mormon apologists that EXPLAIN AWAY the forensic evidences in favor of some other fairy-tale worldview, or who give too much weight to evidences that are not forensic, but instead are documentary accounts that are either late reminiscences, or are given by people that have not forensically been able to establish the facts of what evidences there are, but who rather use hyperbole, exagerration, or who just plain don't get the facts straight in some other way.  While some apologists strive to be the former type of apologists (like for example Brian Hauglid), unfortunately, Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee continually seek to deliberately be the latter type of apologists, who evade evidence continually, and uphold discredited worldviews, and give Mormon Apologetics a black eye.  Until they choose to repent of this type of behavior, we will continue to have the problems that we have between apologists and critics with regard to fundamental disagreements about the nature of the forensic evidence before us.  Rather, I seek (as I think Brian Hauglid does), to have conversations with critics and come to a consensus among all scholars, critics and apologists alike, to come to a fundamental agreement on FORENSIC FACTS.  Interpretations of facts will always differ, as they must.  I have continually argued and called for such things, and called out Muhlestein and Gee for this kind of behavior, and asked them to stop.  Here are some samplings of these types of articles:

Muhlestein writes:
Combs sold most of the collection to a man who put them in the St. Louis Museum. For a long time, it was thought the entire collection was at the St. Louis Museum. As it turns out, at least two mummies and the two long papyri rolls (one described as the long roll, one as the short, though it still seems to be quite lengthy) were taken there . . . (emphasis added).
I have recently completed an extensive article which examines the eyewitnesses who saw the papyri and heard something about what Joseph Smith was translating from. This study concludes that the majority of people who saw the papyri and heard something about the source of the Book of Abraham did not specify whether that source was on the scrolls or the fragments, but about a dozen did. Based on the testimony of these eyewitness accounts, our only real historical evidence, it is clear that if the translations did indeed come from the papyri (an idea that is possible but not sure and to which we will return below), the long roll was the source of the Book of Abraham. While we cannot yet say what the source of the Book of Abraham is, we can say what it is not: according to the eyewitness accounts, it is not the text adjacent to Facsimile One. It is too early yet to tell how this evidence and argument will be received by the academic community.  (emphasis added).
Once again, Muhlestein, in his article, refers us to the same old reports from the 19th century that seem to allege that there was a papyrus that does not meet the description of the one that is before us, and he relies yet again on these things to try to establish that there was a Missing Papyrus, true to form, following Gee in this thing again.  While it is true that Muhlestein notes other possibilities, the Missing Papyrus theory still seems to be his favorite (else why argue so devotedly to the prospect of 19th century documentation), yet according to forensic evidence, it is not plausible.  An extremely remote possibility, yes, but not a plausible option.  Again, Kerry, go have a talk with John Sorenson about old 19th Century reports about Book of Mormon Geography and their reliability.  Then compare that with the situation where you are trying to use those types of evidences instead of forensic evidence of the papyri and the KEP that the critic Egyptologists actually pay attention to, and then come back to the discussion.

Muhlestein is correct that the Sensen Papyrus is not the source of the text of the Book of Abraham, but then he fails to ask the follow-up question:  is there ANOTHER ANCIENT reason that the Sensen symbols decorate the English text in the Book of Abraham manuscripts?  And so, if there is an ancient relationship, what is it?  This is the issue explored on this blog.  Everybody knows that the Sensen characters do not CONTAIN the text of the Book of Abraham.  That is plain to all.  What then is the relationship?  Well he could have known if he cared to pay attention to the research of other faithful LDS people working on this problem.

Muhlestein makes mention of William Schryver's theory on what the KEP is, but doesn't bother to mention other LDS people's work on the issue or the other possibilities that others have come up with.

The Battle of the PhD's Again

Since Muhlestein and company may apparently feel that it is below them to give any time of day to some guy on a blog that who only cares about evidence is their own problem.  I can't tell whether Muhlestein pays attention to this blog, but nevertheless, I gave a rebuke to Egyptologists who won't pay attention to their peers who are also Egyptologists, who disagree with Gee and Mulestein on the forensic evidence.  Whether Mulestein is responding to my rebuke or not, he did say this in his article, in yet another logically-fallacious appeal to the authority or supremacy (however you want to see it) of the LDS Egyptologists over Non-LDS ones:
Some have noted that many LDS Egyptologists put forth what appear to be convincing arguments but some readers later come to perceive that their credibility or authority is somewhat doubtful because non LDS Egyptologists who have written about the subject have disagreed with their point of view. It seems to have gone unnoticed that the vast majority of Egyptologists have said nothing at all about this matter. A very small minority has taken any kind of position regarding the Joseph Smith papyri controversy. Of those who have, it is certainly not their primary research concern, so they have typically put very little time into investigating these issues and the associated details. Thus it is important to note that LDS Egyptologists have spent more time studying the Egyptological issues associated with the Book of Abraham than any non-LDS Egyptologists, though this does not necessarily mean they are correct about everything they write. It is even more important to note that all scholars who say something about this topic are heavily influenced by their original point of view. Understanding the different points of view of these sources of authority is an important part of the epistemological process — the process of learning about the historiography of the study of the Book of Abraham. 
I recently found that FAIRMormon has also jumped on this type of bandwagon:

And yet again I say, Kerry, you ought to talk to Robert Ritner, who has spent a ton of time on this issue, who has authored a book on the issue, and who is highly respected by Brian Hauglid.  Once again, you are just simply making an appeal to authority, nothing more, nothing less, but this time, its an invented strategy of how to show the LDS scholars have supremecy over the non-LDS ones.  And all he can say is, that Ritner and those like him have not spent as much time on the issue.  Well, sorry, but Ed Ashment and Steven Thompson and Brent Metcalfe have spent decades on it, much longer than Muhlstien for sure,  when Muhlstien is a newcomer to the issue, having only received his PhD from UCLA only very relatively recently, in 2003, from the available reports.  Of course, many apologists look at the fact that Brent Metcalfe has no credentials to speak of and dismiss him out of hand, but Brian Hauglid has the good sense to pay attention to him and have interaction.

And how long has Mulestien been a fully-engaged apologist for the Book of Abraham? Certainly not as long as Ed Ashment has been a critic of it.  So, it boils down to, "well these critics aren't full-time critics on the issue, but Mulestien and Gee are full time apologists on it, so that means that they are better."  I doubt they are actually spending every waking hour on Book of Abraham apologetics issues.

While Book of Abraham Apologetics is important, until everyone gets fundamental facts straight and stops this "we are better than you because..." rhetoric, we will never get anywhere.

The KEP and Related Translation Project Pre-Dated the Acquisition of the Papyri

Kerry brings up the point that some of the KEP and the Adamic Language translation projects pre-date the aquisition of the papyri.  Fair enough, but that isn't evidence that the KEP is not indeed directly related to the Book of Abraham project once the acquisition was made.  Kerry tries to distance the KEP from the Book of Abraham again by noting all the times that there is a direct correspondence between the KEP.  Once again, he deliberately underestimates the correspondences and the direct translations of Sensen symbols lifted directly from the papyrus  But then, he would have known that if he had paid attention to the research of others that he doesn't value.

Once Again, Still Defending the Facsimile Explanation Translations ONLY, but Not the Translations in the KEP

Muhlstien writes:

The question that Spaulding, Deveria, and many others today have asked is about how Joseph Smith’s explanations of the facsimiles compares to those of ancient Egyptians. The question is more complex than it initially appears, and many have opted for simple answers instead of investigating the complexities. Here we will not be able to go in depth into these issues, but we can at least highlight some of the questions to be considered.
Even though it is obvious to ask whether or not Joseph Smith’s explanations of the facsimiles match those of Egyptologists, it is not necessarily the right question to ask; we do not know if Joseph Smith was trying to tell us what ancient Egyptians would have thought of these drawings. What if Abraham’s descendants took Egyptian cultural elements and applied their own meanings to them?
We know this happened in other cases. For example, Jesus himself did this when he gave the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which clearly draws from the Egyptian tale of Setne-Kamwas. The Apocalypse of Abraham and Testament of Abraham are two more examples of Semitic adaptations of Egyptian religious traditions. Therefore, maybe we should not be looking at what Egyptians thought the facsimiles meant at all but rather at how ancient Jews would have interpreted them . . .
Or perhaps Joseph Smith was providing an interpretation that a small group of Egyptian priests who were familiar with Abraham would have seen in this vignette. 
We know that from about the same time and place as when and where the Joseph Smith Papyri were created, there were priests very familiar with Abraham, who used him in their own religious texts and rituals. 
So here, to Muhestein's credit, he notes that Iconotropy is the most likely explanation for what is happening here, where someone applied their own meanings to the drawings.  While Abraham's descendants are one of the candidates who would have done this, what if Egyptians themselves who were syncretists who valued the stories of the Jewish Patriarchs were the ones that did it?  And again, to Muhestein's credit, he notes that it indeed could have been a small group of Egyptians that were aware of Abraham that did it.

The scholars like Muhlstien continue to defend the Facsimiles Explanations primarily with this principle, rightly, which continues to be the best and most plausible and well-established one.

Yet Muhlstien and the rest of the scholars like him continue to not realize or recognize the fact that textual hieroglyphics are still hieroglyphics.  In spite of the fact that they constitute "text," they are still fundamentally little pictures just like the big illustrations, the translations of which Muhlstien is willing to defend.  Why is Muhlstien still unaware, or unwilling, to defend the LITTLE PICTURES with the same principle:  adapting them to other meanings by the ancients?  Why doesn't Muhlstien notice that the little pictures also have the same types of adaptations for their definitions in the KEP, as the big pictures in the Facsimiles Explanations?  So this is my biggest criticism, pretty much as it always has been.  They are willing to defend the Facsimiles Explanations with this principle, but unwilling to extend the explanations to the little pictures in the text, which in their narrow-minded way, can only see as text.  And, they pay no attention to this criticism, so they continue to wallow in the hole that they are in with regard to this thing.  The same exact principle that explains the big pictures also explains every single problem in the KEP, and with the use of symbols from the Sensen Papyrus in it.  But they don't care, and they aren't paying attention.  If they would see it in this light, they would not have to keep applying nonsensical explanations to the matter like trying to say that the Sensen text doesn't belong with Facsimile 1, which it plainly does.  If the Sensen text are viewed as individual illustrations that were transformed to different meanings than they were used for in the context of a text, then all of the problems go away.

The exact same problem exists with regard to the text in Facsimile #3.  As Muhlstien writes
There is a key difference with Facsimile Three compared to the other two: the explanations for Facsimile Three label some of the hieroglyphs above the heads of the figures differently than the way I would translate them as an Egyptologist. As an LDS Egyptologist, it seems to me that the most likely explanation for this is that Joseph Smith was teaching either how ancient Jews or a small set of ancient Egyptians would have interpreted the drawings or how we should interpret them, after which he then assumed that the glyphs would translate that way. Again, Joseph Smith did not claim to be able to read hieroglyphs. This particular issue has not yet received much scholarly attention.
What about a way some Jews or a small set of Egyptians would have re-assigned little pictures in text with meanings that are not the original meanings?  Once again, the same exact solution is the answer.

Ryan Larsen's Recent Book of Abraham Articles: A Secret Combination to kill Abraham, and the Handwriting of Abraham

A fellow researcher on the Book of Abraham, my friend Ryan Larsen, has recently put up a couple of articles which are both very interesting:

In this one, Ryan suggests that perhaps the priest of Pharoah/Elkenah, or the person that did the sacrifices on the Lion Couch may have been not only the priest of Pharaoh, but also the Vizier of Egypt, the person in power that basically ran the government in behalf of Pharaoh.  This is essentially the station occupied by Joseph who was sold into Egypt when he became Pharoah's right-hand man.  These types of suggestions are plausible to me.  Because this may explain how such a person could travel far and wide to do what he pleases, as Ryan says.

Next, Ryan goes off into an interesting theory from there about the idea that the Priest of Elkenah being a person that was part of a conspiracy that didn't necessarily represent the laws of the land of Egypt or the laws of the land of Chaldea, but perhaps was some other group that was doing their own will.  In essence, it seems that Ryan is suggesting that a secret combination took it upon themselves to destroy whoever they pleased and do it in the guise of a religious practice of human sacrifice (but that perhaps this type of sacrifice was not necessarily according to the laws of the land or sanctioned by the government).  And so, in persecuting those of the true religion, or at least those who had loyalty to the monotheistic "Living" God (whether they knew correct doctrine about this Living God or not), they would sacrifice those upon the altar because they were perhaps intolerant of their religious beliefs.  As the Book of Abraham tells us, three young women were slain on that altar at once, who were the daughters of some person of the royal bloodline of Egypt, or at least the royal bloodline from Ham.  Ryan speculates that the word Elkenah, rather than being a word known to all, may have been a secret code-word or some other type of secret term among those of this combination.

Anyway, Ryan's suggestion is interesting because, by the time Abraham gets to Egypt, Pharaoh welcomes him at first.  If Pharaoh were in on the plan to have him killed, as the priest of Elkenah was, why did Pharoah welcome him to Egypt later?  Did he not know his identity, that he was the same man that the priest tried to sacrifice?  Perhaps he didn't, because maybe he wasn't in on it.

So, in summary, the suggestion that Ryan is making is an interesting one, that just because this priest of Pharaoh was some sort of government official or religious official that represented Pharaoh, that doesn't mean that he necessarily had the sanction of Pharaoh or the government of Egypt to do what he was doing in Chaldea, but rather, it may have been according to his own will, or the will of some secret group that he represented.  As Ryan points out, it is possible that it was the priest's own "custom" to do what he was doing, not necessarily a custom sanctioned by government.

As most who have read the Book of Abraham know, the name of the person whose daughters were slain by this priest was named Onitah.  Ryan suggests that this may have been one of the Pharaohs, and then makes some suggestions about who that may be.  In the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, this man's name is given as "Onitas" sometimes.

All of these seem to be plausible theories.

Next, Ryan makes some plausible observations that cast doubt on the idea that Joseph Smith was suggesting that Abraham's actual handwriting was on the papyrus.  He also makes some good suggestions that cast doubt on the idea that Joseph Smith was suggesting that the Sensen Papyrus was written by Abraham.  He focuses in on the fact that a "signature" could just mean a symbol, and is not necessarily someone's actual written "John Hancock" of their own name.  In the KEP, it identifies the "rope coil" or Egyptian hieratic letter W which looks like a comma as the symbol in the Sensen Papyrus that Joseph Smith identified as the symbol standing for Abraham's name.  So whatever Joseph Smith actually said about it, it was this symbol that he was pointing to when he said it.

Now, whether or not we put stock in Ryan's suggestion, or suggest that Joseph Smith didn't really know what was going on with every detail, I think we need to keep an open mind.  To me, it doesn't bother me much if Joseph Smith didn't know all the details of what the Sensen Papyrus actually was.  To me, it is enough to know that he got information that pointed to the fact that the Sensen Papyrus was part of the puzzle to re-hydrating illustrations and information for a version of the Book of Abraham in modern-day speech.  It is enough for me to know that the Sensen Papyrus was associated with Abraham anciently, and that the symbols in it were appropriated for use in an Abrahamic context.  Whether Joseph Smith actually knew with precision these details that modern research has shown is less important to me.  Anti-Mormons on the other hand, make Joseph an offender for whatever he did or didn't know, no matter what he did or said, when he did the best with what he comprehended and knew, and he did it with honesty and integrity.

The possibility that Ryan points out highlights the fact that we need to entertain multiple possibilities in our minds at once regarding the details, and that it is possible that Joseph Smith didn't think that the Sensen Papyrus was actually authored by Abraham.

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.