Thursday, October 9, 2014

Clarifications of my Position on the Missing Papyrus Theory and on the Scribes Did It Theory

For anyone that has followed this blog, you have seen my criticisms of the Missing Papyrus Theory and the Scribes Did It Theory.

My problem with these theories has nothing to do with the fact that parts of the Sensen Papyrus are actually missing.  I get it.  There actually are portions of papyri missing from the originals that Joseph Smith had.  That is not the issue.  My issue is that a papyrus with the Book of Abraham text on it was never in Joseph Smith's hands, and was never among the collection of papyri that Joseph Smith originally had.  The physical evidence shows what he had, and what he was using.  So my issue is that I want apologists to stop conjuring up an imaginary papyrus and just stick with the physical evidence.  The papyrus that was in the hands of Joseph Smith included the Sensen Papyrus and the Hypocephalus and other Book of the Dead material.  He never physically had a document with the text of the Book of Abraham on it.

My problem is not the assertion that Abraham actually wrote a papyrus in ancient times that we do not have.  Of course he did write that kind of a document, and the English text of the Book of Abraham actually is a transmission of some of the text that Abraham's ancient book actually contained.  I agree that Abraham actually wrote a book in ancient times.  I agree that the Sensen Papyrus is not this book.  Of course the Book of Abraham is not a pseudepigraphon like some LDS apologists like David Bokovoy want to claim now.

I repeat.  My problem is with the standard absurd apologetic of the Missing Papyrus theory.  This is the standard claim coming from John Gee, Kerry Muhlstien, Mike Ash, et al.  They claim that either an original papyrus from the hand of Abraham or a copy of it was transmitted to Joseph Smith physically.  They claim that this missing papyrus that Joseph Smith had contains the actual WORD FOR WORD TEXT of the Book of Abraham.  It is true that Abraham produced this kind of a document in ancient times.  But this was never in the hands of Joseph Smith.  Joseph Smith simply never had a physical document like this in his hands.  He was reconstituting the contents of such a document in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.  And so, there is no need to imagine up such a papyrus, but to recognize that an ancient thing like that existed.  While we acknowledge that such a papyrus existed in ancient times, and disappeared, that is a different issue than claiming that such a thing was in Joseph Smith's hands.  There was no papyrus with the actual text of the Book of Abraham ever in Joseph Smith's hands.

The things that WERE in the hands of Joseph Smith are these:  the Book of Breathings/Sensen and the other documents that the evidence shows actually were in his hands.  What he actually did translate were characters from the Book of Breathings.  You can go to other parts of my blog to see what I am talking about.  These translations of characters from the Sensen Papyrus were not a translation of the intent of the Sensen Papyrus text as authored by the original author of the papyrus.  They were translations of the characters the way OTHER PEOPLE USED THEM in derivative compositions, in a way different from the intent of the original author of the document.  They were used pictographically and symbolically in this derivative composition.  In this way, these other people did not use them as a text.  But they were used to represent markers for sections of text of the Book of Abraham that was contained in this derivative composition, and they represent themes in those sections of text, something akin to chapter headings in our scriptures.  The text of the Book of Abraham was produced entirely by revelation, not by "extraction" of material from those markers.  At the most, those markers could clue someone in to a theme in the section of text that it marks.  As Joseph Smith said in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, they convey "subjects" in the text, not the text itself.

My problem with the Scribes Did It Theory is that John Gee, Kerry Muhlstien, Mike Ash, et al go to all lengths to deny that Joseph Smith was actually translating these markers as part of the revelation process when he got the text of the Book of Abraham revealed to him.  They follow the false traditions started by Hugh Nibley to say that the scribes were just playing around with the characters, and they weren't actual translations.

Some people are aghast that I could even dare to question the High Priesthood of Mormon Apologetics, and would dare to call into question the cornerstone of Book of Abraham Apologetics, and call Hugh Nibley out for what he did.  The facts of the matter have to be stated.

These people try to say that W. W. Phelps and others were responsible for or the masterminds of the Egyptian Alphabet project.  They try to say that Joseph Smith was not responsible for this corpus of documents.  They do this to distance Joseph Smith from the intent to translate the Sensen characters.  If they understood what these characters were actually being used for, they wouldn't have to resort to these absurd explanations, and would be able to actually embrace these things.  I am not afraid of the picture the evidence shows us.  There is nothing to be afraid of here, and it actually doesn't take all that much to vindicate Joseph Smith when you see what he was actually doing.

This is a concise statement of the problem that I have with the Missing Papyrus Theory and the Scribes Did It Theory.  Those two theories are a microcosm of everything that is wrong in LDS apologetics today.  Of course the Book of Abraham papyrus original is missing.  But it went missing in antiquity.  But that is not the point.  Joseph Smith never had it, and we must come to a proper understanding of just what exactly he was doing with what he did have.  My problem that I have with these explanations coming from these people has to do with the evasion tactics that try to explain away what Joseph Smith actually was doing, and what the Egyptian source material he did have actually represented.  When a proper understanding is had of all this, there is nothing to be afraid of, and nothing to evade, and nothing to explain away.  If we actually embrace the evidence and actually explain it, perhaps people would stop being so turned off by apologetics in general when they encounter bad apologetics.  We need to stop loss of faith that comes as a result of bad apologetics, sophistry and evasion tactics, because we can be better than that.  We DO have the ability to defend faith with real arguments and real, honest-to-goodness evidence.

I have never been able to entirely embrace regular LDS apologetics coming out of establishment circles, because a lot of it amounts to nothing but sophistry in the name of faith.  Some Anti-Mormons dismiss all apologetics, calling it pure ideological defensiveness rather than research.  I am not against apologetics.  I am against sophistry for the sake of defense of faith.  I am for defense of faith using good methods and I am also for good research.  If we embrace the evidence, that will go a long way into showing people that apologetics CAN be real research, even when its intent is still admittedly with the purpose to defend.