Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Question of Scribes: Did They Really Do It?

What are the motivations of Apologists in trying to say that Joseph Smith is not responsible for the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (or KEP, meaning Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and related documents that have to do with the Book of Abraham translations), and trying to pass all this off on his scribes?

Well, it pretty much boils down to several things:
1) There is a claim out there that the translations in the KEP are incorrect Egyptian translations.  This claim is demonstrably false from the research on this blog.
2) Since it is perceived that those translations are incorrect, if Joseph Smith was responsible for them, then apologists want to make it appear that he was not responsible, to maintain faith.
3) So, the strategy apologists have come up with is to say, "yeah, it looks like the translations are incorrect.  So we will just blame that fact on the scribes, because the translations would be correct if Joseph Smith was responsible.

Nevermind that the same EXACT type of issues that occur in the KEP are also manifested in the translations of the Book of Abraham facsimiles.  And apologists have gone to great lengths to demonstrate the correctness of those translations in the facsimiles.  Hugh Nibley during his lifetime dedicated a great amount of effort to this cause, and actually succeeded in demonstrating their correctness, producing thousands of pages of research, on mostly Facsimile #2 alone.  Why then should the apologists continue to waste time trying to say that the translations in the KEP are incorrect, and that the scribes are responsible?  Why don't they similarly VINDICATE the translations in the KEP, putting as much work into their vindication as they have the facsimiles?  It can be predicted that since the Facsimile #2 translations are something that can be and have been vindicated, that the same fact would be manifest in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, with enough work and faith in that project.  Some will not appreciate what I have to say about that, but I say that it is intellectually lazy to try to do away with the KEP by passing it off on Joseph Smith's scribes.  And so, I say that it is pure laziness and lack of intellectual rigor and desire on the part of apologists.  They have no motivation to want to have to actually do the work to vindicate the KEP.  How sad.  If one guy can do what I have done on this blog over time, think about what a bunch of apologists and Egyptologists at BYU could do, if only they were committed to vindicate the KEP.

W. W. Phelps (who was also one of the scribes who worked on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers/Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar) in a letter to William Smith stated:

Eternity, agreeably to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt has been going on in this system (not this world) almost two thousand five-hundred and fifty-five millions of years. (N. B. Lundwall, Temples of the Most High, Sixth Edition, p. 246, quoting from Times and Seasons, Vol. 5, pp. 757-61.)

I assert that Joseph Smith was responsible for the concept in this quote.  Just because W. W. Phelps wrote the statement doesn't mean that the idea is his!  Others say that William W. Phelps was essentially responsible for the project of the KEP  (Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar), not Joseph Smith.  Though this statement is not found in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, credence ought to be given to the idea that it originated with Joseph Smith, or at least the concepts in it.  Then, there is the oft quoted statement from Joseph Smith, which shows content that is not found in any other place except for the Kirtland Egyptian Papers:

"Were I an Egyptian, I would exclaim Jah-oh-eh, Enish-go-on-dosh, Flo-ees-Flos-is-is; [O the earth! the power of attraction, and the moon passing between her and the sun.]" (

Similarly, it is quite clear that all of the ideas contained in the astronomical and cosmological statements made in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers ultimately came from Joseph Smith.  About these astronomical concepts, Joseph Smith wrote that “in company with Brothers Oliver Cowdery and W. W. Phelps, and during the research, the principles of astronomy as understood by Father Abraham and the ancients unfolded to our understanding, the particulars of which will appear hereafter.” (History of the Church, vol. 2, p. 286).  Remember, those men were his scribes, and Joseph Smith himself stated, in a journal entry for March 3, 1843:  “On returning to my office after dinner, I spoke the following proverb:  'For a man to be great, he must not dwell on small things, though he may enjoy them;' this shows that a Prophet cannot well be his own scribe, but must have some one to write for him.”  (Leland R. Nelson (ed.), Journal of Joseph: The Personal History of A Modern Prophet, p. 213; History of the Church, 5:298).

Similarly, in a book review in BYU Studies of George D. Smith's book, An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, James B. Allen wrote:

Smith, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and other Church leaders often called on their scribes and secretaries to record their journals for them. No responsible historian presumes to publish such journals as part of the papers of the scribes who wrote them. Such journals are the journals of those for whom they were written. Smith correctly observes that when Stanley B. Kimball published the journals of Heber C. Kimball, he left this one out. That still does not legitimize publishing it here. If such a journal could be called a Clayton journal, then so could the journal Clayton wrote for Kimball while crossing the plains in 1847. That journal has been published twice-as a Heber C. Kimball journal. The temple journal is in exactly the same category. If it is to be published at all, it should be published with a Kimball collection, not a Clayton collection. (, emphasis added)

Yet, supposedly responsible individuals insist that it was the scribes that are responsible for the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.  In EVERY OTHER INSTANCE, nobody questions that the Prophet Joseph Smith was responsible for the writings he produced.  Only in this instance, they insist that W. W. Phelps was the mastermind.  Above, a historian was in no uncertain terms telling us that what is written by someone's scribe is actually the property of the person for whom it was written.  The person for whom it was written is the author.  That person is the one responsible alone for the content.  But, since the Scribes Did It Theory is a critical piece of the house of cards to uphold the Missing Papyrus Theory, certain individuals suggest that we should believe something that no responsible historian would believe in any other case!  We are supposed to suspend good judgement just in this one case, according to them.  Sorry, but Joseph Smith was the Prophet, the one with the keys.  W. W. Phelps was not some "mastermind" behind the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar project.  He was just a scribe.  That's like saying that Oliver Cowdery was the mastermind behind the translation of the Book of Mormon when he was just a scribe.  Joseph Smith Jr. was the revelator and translator.

As an example, Joseph Smith announced that he was the editor of the Church’s newspaper Times and Seasons, March 15, 1842.  The Prophet wrote:

This paper commences my editorial career, I alone stand responsible for it, and shall do for all papers having my signature henceforth. I am not responsible for the publication, or arrangement of the former paper; the matter did not come under my supervision, JOSEPH SMITH.

Why should the Kirtland Egyptian Papers be the exception because certain individuals try to strong arm us to believe it, without evidence, when all the evidence points in the opposite direction?