Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ed Ashment's Sunstone Article

Here is Ed Ashment's other article.

As Practiced by the Ancients: Why Ancient Egyptians were Definitely Involved in the Practice of the Alphabet and Grammar, not Just Joseph Smith

In 1843, it was written that Joseph Smith was “engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.”  Over and over again, we see this same type of claim manifest throughout the Egyptian materials of Joseph Smith.  He was doing things this way, because they were done anciently this way.  This is not, as William Schryver maintains, a modern effort without ancient precedent.  Enish-go-on-dosh, both in the Egyptian Alphabet materials, as well as in the Explanation for Facsimile #2 is "said by the Egyptians" to be the Sun.  Also, ". . .in relation to this subject, the Egyptians meant it to signify. . ." (Explanation for Facsimile #1, Figure 12).  Over and over again, the same type of claim is made.  Joseph Smith was reproducing practices from ancient times.  He did not invent the usage of the Sensen Papyrus in this way.  He was not the first to arrange a Grammar and Alphabet to a Sensen Papyrus, or in other words, an explanation for characters.  This explanation was a derivative or hybrid production between a custom way of using Sensen characters, and Abrahamic material.  There was probably some ancient document containing explanations for characters along these lines.  This is the reason the Ancient Interpreter Hypothesis must figure in to the picture along with the Modern Reconstruction Hypothesis.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ed Ashment's Article about Joseph Smith's Identification of "Abraham" in the Sensen Papyrus

If this gets moved or taken down, here is the web archive copy:

This one is another copy of essentially the same article from a different site:

These links are to Ed Ashment's Article Joseph Smith's Identification of "Abraham" in Papyrus JS 1, the "Breathing Permit of Hor"

The online article version has a slightly different title than the Dialogue article but has essentially the same information.

I, of course, believe that Ashment is somewhat on track for his analysis of the evidence.  However, like all critics, he is wrong about the central premise.  They claim Joseph Smith could not translate.  They claim he was not a prophet.  I say he could translate.  I say that he was a prophet.  So, this is not about my disagreement about the nature of the evidence, but rather, the interpretation of the evidence.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Modern Reconstruction Hypothesis and the Ancient Egyptian Interpreters Hypothesis

Another part of the picture, along with the Ancient Egyptian Interpreters hypothesis is the modern reconstruction scenario.  Both are true.  William Hamblin stated that someone engaged in iconotropy, and perhaps it was Joseph Smith.  Indeed, it was Joseph Smith, following what ancient people had done with these types of documents.  In other words, Joseph Smith was doing the same thing that the ancient people did:  they were creating derivative documents, that contained both Sensen characters, and Abrahamic meanings that were assigned to them.

I obviously am in favor the Ancient Egyptian Interpreter hypothesis, because it is most consistent with Joseph Smith's own assumptions at the time, that someone in ancient times regarded the Sensen Papyrus as an Abrahamic papyrus.  I am also in favor of the Modern Reconstruction theory because of the evidence for modern reconstruction of the missing portions of the papyrus.  These are both parts of the picture.  The modern reconstruction in the Sensen Papyrus is a reconstruction of what ancient people were doing in a derivative work employing Sensen characters, or modifications on Sensen characters.

Chris Smith shows a reconstruction of the characters that were used in place of missing characters in the lacuna:

These are shown within the red lines above.

This is an example that shows that Joseph Smith was attempting a modern reconstruction of missing material.  And this must be taken into account, even in a "catalyst" scenario.

For some reason, Joseph Smith was reconstructing things.  Portions of Facsimile 1 were reconstructed by just drawing in things the way the Prophet Joseph Smith felt they should be.  As for Facsimile 2, things were similarly reconstructed, but in this case, from other parts of the available papyri (some symbols from the Sensen Papyrus, and others from the Book of the Dead papyrus.  Here is a graphic showing what I'm talking about:

So, this is what I mean by "modern reconstruction."

The Modern Reconstruction hypothesis of the Book of Abraham is that were there ancient people that were ancient interpreters.  But, it was Joseph Smith under the guidance of the Spirit who employed the ancient Egyptian ideograms outside of their original context.  And where there were gaps/lacunae where the documents were damaged, he made changes that were consistent with an Abrahamic interpretation. The Spirit may have led and directed Joseph Smith to reconstruct pieces consistent with the Book of Abraham out of raw Egyptian materials that never had anything to do with the Book of Abraham in the first place.  There is certainly evidence for modern reconstructions in the papyri for things where lacunae exist, where Joseph Smith took sections of other parts of the papyri to fill in the holes.  Some of the reconstructions make sense, and other parts seem to not fit very well, but were done for perhaps purely aesthetic purposes, to make it look nice.  Or, perhaps, they are things that we don't understand the purpose for yet.  So certainly, some type of reconstruction was happening in these cases, and these have some type of purpose, whether aesthetic or otherwise.

Somehow, Abraham has something to do with these papyri, and Joseph Smith knew it.  It makes sense to me that ancient people had something to do with it, not just Joseph Smith making stuff up, and that is my favored assumption.  Joseph Smith translated Egyptian in such a way that the hieroglyphs that he employed were done in an Abrahamically-correct way, restoring them to an Abrahamic usage, a custom way they were used anciently.  This is where this differs from the usual way people think that Egyptians used these characters.  This was a custom usage.

Our alphabet that we use comes from an ancient alphabet which was nothing but Egyptian pictures that people repurposed to have sounds (Proto-Sinaitic).  Frequently, they were used as literal pictures to represent literal things, as well as sounds.  Egyptian letters in the Egyptian Alphabet were no different, and were used to represent things.

An Egyptologist, Richard H. Wilkinson, PhD, University of Arizona, wrote that there is a "fluidity of Egyptian theology, which allowed and encouraged free association of ideas . . ."

And he writes:

Symbols in Egyptian art may also exhibit different meanings in different contexts in the same period of time . . . The Egyptians themselves were certainly conscious of the ambiguity in their own symbolism and even seem to have encouraged it . . . [T]here is often a range of possible meanings for a given symbol.  (Richard H. Wilkinson, PhD, Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art, pp. 11-13, emphasis added)

The same author went on to say:

Symbolism of form may be expressed at "primary" and "secondary" levels of association . . . In primary, or direct, association the form of an object suggests concepts ideas, or identities with which the object is directly related.  So in many works, an object associated with a specific deity thus suggests that god or goddess--or by extension, a concept connected with that deity . . . (ibid., pp. 16-17, emphasis added)

And again:

At the primary level, the symbolism is direct and objects are shown in the forms they are meant to represent.  Thus, the djed pillar, an ancient symbol associated with the god Osiris and sometimes said to represent the backbone of the god, symbolized both the deity and the concept of support and duration . . . (ibid., p. 30, emphasis added)

And this is why, Kolob, sharing the fundamental CONCEPT or THEME EVIDENT in the mythology for the god Khnum-Ra (i.e. creation), Kolob can therefore be represented BY the hieroglyph for Khnum-Ra.  And while some people object to the idea that text hieroglyphics could be used as pictures, Wilkinson assures us:

While Egyptian writing made use of all these different forms of expression in text and inscriptionsexactly the same communication principles were chosen when hieroglyphic forms were used in the construction of large-scale representations. (ibid., p. 157, emphasis added)

This is why, if somebody repurposed Facsimiles, it shouldn't surprise us that they also repurposed the little pictures too to represent things instead of being a text.  This is the mind-block problem or prejudice that scholars have against Joseph Smith's notebook, because people most often think of components of a "text" and focus so much on that idea that they think it doesn't translate.  That is absurd, when to the Egyptians there was no conceptual difference between big and small pictures.  Furthermore:

In fact the hieroglyphic signs form the very basis of Egyptian iconography, which was concerned with the function of making specific symbolic statements through pictorial rather than written means.  The embedded or "encoded" hieroglyphic forms also frequently interact to some degree with the texts or inscriptions with which they are associated . . .  (ibid., p. 152, bold, emphasis added)

And again:

The hieroglyphic signs essentially carried information of two types--sounds which could be used to write words phonetically, and visual images which could be used to portray objects and ideas pictorially.  The hieroglyph which depicted a reed leaf, for example, could signify the sound of the Egyptian word for reed (i), which might be used to write other words which contained the sound, or it could be used pictorially to signify the reed itself. (ibid., p. 154-155, emphasis added)

You will see in this blog why the reed is so critical, because it is used by Joseph Smith as a pictograph of a reed, which is used to represent Land of the Chaldees, yet Egyptologists that are Mormon and non-Mormon alike think that is not correct.  Yet here, we are assured by Wilkinson that it could stand to represent a reed, and that a hieroglyph that represents something could by extension and association represent something else because of the flexibility and free flow of ideas, so long as there is a conceptual tie between them, or some other kind of association.  As you will see, there is a fundamental thing that ties the Land of Chaldees to the picture of a reed, and it isn't crazy.


Some people think that this is some sort of "hidden" thing or encoded message.  Not so.  This is the usage of abstract symbols that are pictures with external context-helpers.  That means that things outside of them tell you what their intended meaning is.  That isn't really an encoding. This is just plain different from that type of thing, and it is not an encoding. An encoding means that something can be unencoded.  This type of thing cannot be unencoded on its own.  It requires something outside of itself to tell you what it means.

And so, try to think of the characters in the Sensen Papyrus this way:  A character shares something with the thing that it represents, but isn't literally that thing, but the reason it can represent it is because of the structure or pattern it shares with it.  Because its structure or pattern makes it fit with it.  This structure or pattern may or may not be something visual.  Or it may be a number of associations on a number of levels, where it not only somewhat resembles something but also has linguistic or thematic association.  It might be a pattern in it that is an aspect of its mythology, etc.  And so, you know that they fit together through the shared pattern.

An example or analogy of what I'm talking about:  A very pixelated and blurred picture can be derived from a high-res photograph.  And it can be demonstrated through the same process that it can be reproduced from it multiple times.  Therefore, it can be shown that it belongs with it, or is tied to it, because it still looks like it, even though it is blurred or pixelated.  Nevertheless, the reverse is not true.  If you don't already have the high res photograph, it cannot be reproduced or reversed from the blurred/pixelated photograph, because data has been lost in the process when the blurred/pixelated version was first created.  You simply cannot get a high-res photograph from a blurred/pixelated version of it.  Even though the blurred or pixelated version isn't literally the high res photograph, you can know that it fits with it.

So, this is not encryption.  This is something more along the lines in computer programming called a "hash" that is only a one way thing. The relationship of the literal thing to the symbol can be seen only if the literal thing is known, not the other way around. In other words, this is totally a one way thing, like hashing. If you care to see the technical difference between encoding and hashing, here is this:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why This Way? Why Didn't the Lord Just Preserve the Book of Abraham in Mechanical (Egyptological) Egyptian For Us?

There are a few principles behind the Lord's working in this thing.  Surely it was within the Lord's power to preserve a mechanical-Egyptian copy of the Book of Abraham for our day if it was in his plan, or perhaps a copy of it in Hebrew.  Now in saying this, it is possible that a copy of it in mechanical Egyptian is hidden up somewhere.  But we do not have it.  Surely the Lord could have preserved an unblemished Bible if he wanted to also.  But instead, his plan was to give us a book that had a "sealed portion" with the Bible that was preserved unscathed through the centuries, called the Book of Mormon.  And even this book, we do not have all of its contents, because of that "sealed portion."  We are still waiting for the promised day that the sealed portion will be given.  And why don't we have the sealed portion, or other things which have been held back yet?

And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.  And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation. (3 Nephi 26:9-10)

Similarly, anything Abrahamic about the Facsimiles and the Sensen Papyrus is "sealed."  These things are not made obvious to the casual translator.  It is difficult to see how those that invented and implemented this system would have desired for this to be interpreted at all the way a casual translator would have hoped.  Because it is entirely dependent on outside sources of information for its interpretation in this manner, because the "decipherment," if it can even be called that, is a one-way street.  In other words, if you have the information required to know its meaning outside of a symbol (an external dependency), then you can see how it fits with a symbol.  But if you do not have that information, the symbol itself is not of much use to you.  This is similar to a "hash" in computer science or cryptology.  It is a one-way thing.  You can know that something fits with something else external to it, but the thing external to it cannot be reconstructed from the hash.  So, you can't "translate" this papyrus.  You must already have the translation or intent, and once you have that, you can see how it fits with it if you reverse-engineer it.

It is as if it is from priestly group to priestly group, or from one priest to another priest.  If so, people outside the groups of those in the know did not necessarily have the intent for the uninitiated or outsiders to have access to their interpretation casually.  And so, the Lord's hand was potentially in this thing to give us a "sealed" version of the Book of Abraham.  To be meaningful, a priest would have to either have been taught this custom way of using the characters in the Sensen Papyrus, and known this mentally (i.e. would have this all memorized).  Or, he would have to have a custom-designed document that is a derivative composition, employing both these symbols from the Sensen Papyrus, lining them up with meaning assignments (like in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers).  This is the external dependency, or external key.  It is a derivative document with the Book of Abraham text and the custom, or enhanced usage of Sensen characters.

A sealed book and a seer stone both become, as it were, the stone of foundation to the faithful, and the stone of stumbling to the faithless.  This is so, with both the Book of Mormon as well as the Book of Abraham.  As Emperor Palpatine said to Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi, "Now, you will pay the price for your lack of vision!"  Indeed.  Those who have no faith in the power of God to do his work in these types of matters in the end may pay the price for their lack of vision and lack of faith.

For example, I fail to see how a Reed Symbol can casually be translated as "Land of the Chaldees."  It cannot be done.  Yet it does indeed mean that, as you will can see in my research, but only because of a value assignment, not because of an inherent meaning.  That is because the reed character is an abstraction, a one way street without an external dependency.  Without the background context, it is an empty pictograph of a reed, on its own, without hope of a translator being able to "extract" its meaning from anything obvious.

So, the fact of the matter is, unless one belongs to some ancient sect of Egyptian priests that were in the know (but one cannot, because they are all dead), someone has to first use a seer stone on the material.  If the Lord chooses to provide a context to the translator in this manner, then only after the fact, can someone come and examine methodically what the seer came up with in order to discern the underlying system for how it is so.  There does not seem to be a way to "decrypt" what is happening until afterward, because of not knowing the context beforehand.

Indeed, from an Egyptological/mechanical standpoint, there is nothing Abrahamic about these characters.  That is because they are empty templates in a generic form.  Anything Abrahamic about them must be imposed or assigned on them by the interpreter.  Or an outside KEY like the KEP/Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar must be provided to make any sense of anything, a derivative document, a hybrid document between the Sensen Papyrus characters and the Abrahamic meanings that are assigned.  This is why, an explanation about how they are Abrahamic must come from a core assumption that their Abrahamic nature does not come from the mechanical Egyptian way of reading them, but from an assumption that SOMEONE interpreted/repurposed them this way for some reason, and by virtue of that, they are what Joseph Smith claimed them to be, for all intents and purposes, and that aspects of them somehow go back to Abraham.  If they were RECONSTRUCTED (i.e. the Modern Reconstruction Hypothesis that I will speak of in other blog posts), then the RECONSTRUCTION somehow mirrors or represents authentically ancient material.

It is not in the Lord's plan to give us everything to satiate our desires for proof or evidence.  Certainly he does give us some evidences.  But nothing that is so earth-shattering, that it will not require faith to accept or appreciate.  So yes, to see meaningful Abrahamic things in the Book of Breathings and in the Facsimiles, and to accept the Book of Abraham, it takes faith.  We already know it isn't the mechanical Egyptian.  Everybody knows that.  So our purpose is to know, how does it relate then?  And that is the question that we continue to research.

High Res Pictures of Papyri and Egyptian Alphabet and Book of Abraham Manuscripts Made Available

Here is the link to the page that has links to all the Egyptian Materials on the Joseph Smith Papers site, including the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar):