Friday, January 2, 2015

Result of a Recent Thread on a Message Board: Questions and Answers

On a recent message board, a commenter that seemed genuinely interested in understanding the very basics of my theory (which is a different attitude than I usually get from some people) posed the following question:

Are you saying that someone, anciently, took the Egyptian breathing permit [Sensen Papyrus] and then created a separate code/legend so that someone with that legend could look at the breathing permit document and "read" the Book of Abraham? 

My answer: Somewhat close.  I'm saying that someone, anciently, used the Sensen Papyrus and created the legend for it so that someone could "read" themes from the Book of Abraham in the Sensen papyrus when using the characters as abstractions.  The Sensen Papyrus does not contain the "text" of the Book of Abraham, and the text cannot be extracted in this manner.  The themes in the Book of Abraham can be translated from the symbols in this manner with the legend/key, in the same manner that the pictures in the Facsimiles are given meaning through the explanations for them.  The meanings for the characters are not somehow "contained within" context in the document.  When used this way, the meaning for the characters are not "extractable."  To get the meaning, you have to rely on something outside of the document that contains the usage.

It is my belief that a key of this sort probably existed in ancient times.  The KEP is Joseph Smith's translation/"modern reproduction" in the English language of part of that ancient key/legend, just as the explanations for the Facsimiles are likely to be a translation of ancient material, or at least, ancient intent.  This is, I believe, what he meant when he said he was translating an alphabet "To" the Book of Abraham.  Even if such a key/legend in ancient times never existed, the KEP is a reproduction on paper of the intent of the people that used the Sensen Papyrus this way, and has this function.

Joseph received all his translation information by revelation.  The evidence shows that something ancient was actually translated in that revelation process, according to the traditional intent of the word "translation":  the idea that something ancient in an ancient document was being transmitted to the modern day.  That, in my mind, is different than pure revelation using something as a catalyst, as if it is just a talisman, that is entirely unrelated, which makes this different than the catalyst theory.  And that makes Joseph Smith's claims more consistent.  To me, that consistency with what he was claiming is an important thing, but that is something that the catalyst theory and the pure revelation theory are willing to give up.  Its not something that is necessary to give up, and so it ought to be explained.  To me, we ought to take anything we can get that bolsters his claims, and not abandon that type of evidence in hope for overly simple explanations.  A better approach, to me, is to actually explain all the evidence in one great whole, not assume that because there are things that are hard to understand, that they don't demand explanation.

The commenter also asked:

So what was the point, anciently, in using the Sensen Papyrus this way... as opposed to simply writing down the themes of the BoA someplace else?  Is there any reason the Breathing Permit served as a good piece of material to do this for?

My answer:  Any time the Egyptians were doing out of the ordinary things, it was because it was a work of art that they were attempting to make.  Their art was magical to them.

The Sensen Papyrus was viewed as a holy thing.  And each hieroglyph in it was viewed by them as a magical thing on its own, that could be purposed magically on its own.  Much like the Wedjat Eye hieroglyph was art.  The "dissection" of it was magical, and the different sections of the wedjat eye magically took on their own meanings when it was dissected.  Similarly, someone was trying to do something "magical" with the other characters in this papyrus in the same way.

Sensen papyri were common funerary literature that many people in that culture were familiar with.  The ordering of the characters in this papyrus was also a convenient ordering for phonetic/alphabetic characters (i.e. uniliteral, biliteral, triliteral, determinative), much like any other alphabetical ordering.  In other alphabets, we have the North Semitic ordering like Hebrew, and the South Semitic.  Our alphabet ordering for our characters in the Latin alphabet descends from the North Semitic, by way of Phoenician and Greek.  So, when Joseph Smith called it the Egyptian Alphabet, it is because he recognized that the hieroglyphic and hieratic characters in the text part of the papyrus were indeed usually phonetic characters making up parts of an alphabet, and that this ordering in this papyrus is yet another ordering for alphabetic characters.  However, as I said in other posts, he recognized that the usage in the context of something Abrahamic was pictographic.

The coincidence of the way the characters appear one right after another in the core pictographic meanings of the characters lines up nicely with the themes of sections in the text of the Book of Abraham, which is why early Mormon scribes juxtaposed them as section markers in the Book of Abraham English manuscripts.  Much like the acrostics in the Psalms, where an alphabetic character would mark a section of text, these characters also are "alphabetic" and and mark sections of text.  They are somewhat of an alphabetical acrostic in this way.  The difference between the acrostics in the Psalms and the Sensen acrostic though, is that every character in the Hebrew alphabet in the Psalms acrostics match the first letter of the section of text that the text starts with.  In the Sensen acrostic, the match is thematic instead.

Then he stated:

Are you saying that the characters themselves on the papyri could have been understood to represent the themes of the BoA even without such a key?

My answer:  No.  That's the difference between an abstraction as a piece of art and something that is mechanically reproducible, like the regular usage of an Egyptian document.  Regular Egyptian usage of documents is reproducible with a consistent translation.  Something abstract cannot be reproducible without knowledge of its usage.  So, one possible scenario would be, If someone was "trained" in how someone originally purposed the usage of the various hieroglyphs/hieratics as Book of Abraham themes, then yes, they could do it.  I have no idea how many people were trained in this, or how many people had a key.  But more likely than training, like I said, if someone had something like the KEP anciently, then they don't have to be "trained" to do this.  They can just refer to the key/legend.  So while I am open to this option of people being "trained," I think it is more likely that there was an ancient key.  I acknowledge both possibilities, but it is just more likely that there was a key.

Then he stated:

Do you believe that JS knew he was doing what your theory states?  Do you believe he thought the papyri was non-Ambrahamic if translated normally from Egpytian, but that it contained the themes of the Book of Abraham in this coded way?

My answer:  Joseph Smith knew this much: he was translating themes, not text, from this papyri.  He knew that the details of the text had to be gotten by revelation, and that the themes were just telling him about the basics of the story.  I can show and have shown this fact in the various posts in my blog.  I demonstrate from the details in the "grammar" parts of the KEP, where Joseph writes about the "subject" and how the "subject" must be elaborated upon for such and such amount of text, depending on various factors.  He thought it was the original by Abraham's own hand, or perhaps an actual copy.  Joseph Smith knew nothing about regular Egyptological Egyptian because at that time, it was just barely something that the world started to know about, and Joseph didn't know about it.

My theory is attempting to explain evidence, to see how that evidence can harmonize with the basic premise that Joseph Smith knew something was Abrahamic about the papyri.  It is clear that Joseph Smith's beliefs on the matter of the papyri were literalistic after the same manner that he believed literalism with Freemasonic myth.  So you can't really blame Joseph Smith for not knowing all the details.  What is important is that he knew enough to do his job.

So, I am treating this matter after the same manner as I treat Freemasonry.  I know that there are authentic pieces of ancient Temple worship in Freemasonry.  I know that it contains what Joseph Smith said it did (ancient Temple relics), although the way they got there was not how Joseph thought they got there.  Similarly, Joseph thought the papyri were the actual original Book of Abraham, but my theory is attempting to harmonize how the evidence shows it is not that way in the literal sense that Joseph thought.  But, now, it is evident from the evidence that the papyri are still Abrahamic after a certain manner, and still contain what Joseph Smith said they contained, but that the technical way they contain it is different than Joseph Smith could imagine with the limitations of his knowledge.

So, in summary, this is less about what Joseph Smith thought, and more about the fact that knowledge comes to the world line upon line.  It is important that Joseph Smith sensed it was Abrahamic, and that it was necessary to use it in a translation.  His assumptions about literalness and so forth are not as important as the fact that he knew that by using it, he could get the Book of Abraham.  Joseph Smith knew it was the Book of Abraham, not details of how it is the book of Abraham.  The Spirit gave him the amount of information he needed to fulfill his part of the process.  We can come along after the fact and analyze it and see the details to the degree that the evidence allows.  And my theory shows detail about how it is still the Book of Abraham through this transformation by way of the key and the abstract system, not from the literal translations of the mechanical, Egyptological intent of the document.  I show a number of examples of the abstractions I am talking about, and how they are logical containers for the values that Joseph Smith was applying to them.

Finally, the commenter said this:

One thing I do admire about your theory is that you don't discount the KEP as some messing about by the scribes and JS had nothing to do with it. 

To which, I replied, Thanks.

It was refreshing actually having a conversation with someone that genuinely wanted to understand the theory.