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 the KEP usage of 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, in the sense that they were just rehydrating something that other people came up with, 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."