Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Few Observations on Ritner's Joseph Smith Papyri Book: Circumscribe all Truth

Once in a while I do lengthy reviews of research out there on Book-of-Abraham-related things and other times I present my own research.

Sometimes I reread through books I have already scanned through or read before to see if things jump out at me that didn't before.

This will be a post regarding a few things that I was pondering on as I read again through Robert Ritner's book The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition.

After the time I had read through this book last time, I had come upon the Mormon Discussions Podcast episode that featured Brian Hauglid, and how Hauglid mentioned Ritner's take on some of the apologetics other apologists have come up with surrounding items in Facsimile #2, for example.  I recall how Hauglid noted that Ritner did not believe that the apologists had come up with a good defense for any of the items in the Hypocephalus (Facsimile #2) explanations.  Yet, using my own critical thinking, I can't see how all of the defenses of Facsimile #2 that various individuals such as Michael Rhodes, Hugh Nibley and even John Gee so forth ought actually to be considered good, plausible and reasonable by good thinking individuals without an ideology to support.  And this is coming from me, a person that at many times is quite critical of these individuals in many cases.

So, I'm sitting there reading through Ritner's work again, and thinking how grateful I am that Ritner is here as a check to things that John Gee and others have put out that are atrocious.  And then after an awesome presentation made by Ritner of the forensic evidence (where Gee has things wrong), which is critical to the discussion, I focused in on statements from Ritner that I have seen before, yet kind of got irritated by them a little, in the same way that I often get irritated a little by what I read many times from Gee.  Not that this hasn't happened before as I have read ex- or Anti-Mormon literature pretending to present evidence or research on this, that or the other, especially from Ritner.  Its not that its entirely pretending because they believe what they are doing and what they are saying.  But they treat their conclusions on evidence as if they are the last word, and as if everyone else that is truly reasonable ought to agree with them in that conclusion, when there is ample room for disagreements on those points.  And in this, there is a certain amount of pretension, that nothing that the apologists ever come up with is of value.  That type of rhetoric doesn't serve for much more than a rallying cry for the troops of a certain camp, to get those who are in lockstep to fall in line using basically an appeal to emotion for groupthink.  I guess, what I'm saying is, Ritner ought to know better just like Gee ought to know better.  As I have equal-opportunity criticism on this blog for whatever scholar ought to be criticized, this time it is Ritner.  He says stuff like:

The fact that Smith's published interpretation of the papyrus is pure fantasy is indication not of a lost papyrus or section, but of the ultimate source of Smith's wording--his imagination . . .
Whether this assessment will have any impact beyond the world of scholarship is questionable, since Gee has noted that "members of the Church of Jesus Christ in general have no pretensions about holding any dialogue with critics.  They simply do not, for the most part, care what the critics say."   While that may well be true for many, it does not account for the extraordinary interest in the Joseph Smith Papyri among Mormons of all opinions, as evidenced by email, chatrooms, web postings, and the continued publications of Nibley, Rhodes and Gee himself.  Clearly FARMS has taken a direct interest in the Egyptological opinions concerning these papyri, and it aspires to scholarly acceptance, but where faith and scholarship are irreconcilable, the apologists defer to faith.  I prefer scholarship.  The reader may choose for himself.  (p. 143)
While Gee may not hold dialogue with critics, Brian Hauglid does.  Yet Brian Hauglid has sort of sided with Ritner on these points, rather than seeking some sort of middle ground, as evidenced in the recent Mormon Discussions podcast with Bill Reel last year.  This is where I have an issue with Hauglid.  Mormons are as interested in scholarship as we are in faith.  Its just that, there does happen to be differences in our conclusions about things where we can't be entirely open-minded.  We can't be open-minded on the issue of Book of Abraham historicity as a matter of faith, because we are committed by that faith to its authenticity and historicity.  This doesn't mean that we do not take scholarship extremely seriously.  We just aren't going to give in to Anti-Mormon demands for us to abandon our central claims based on faith just because someone is a critic.  Ritner claims to be entirely open-minded about things.  Yet, when he says he chooses scholarship, the fact is that by this what he is really saying is that he dismisses anything that he doesn't agree with his scholarship.  I'll give you some examples.

An example of where Ritner goes off on this kind of tirade is where he gives his treatment of the Joseph Smith (Sheshonq) hypocephalus (otherwise known as facsimile #2).  Ritner goes through and rightly finds issues with Rhodes translations.  But then he says stuff like, "As elsewhere, Nibley did not evaluate Smith's statements objectively, but sought out any possible defense, no matter how farfetched." (p. 221).  This was with regard to the ship of 1000, which is the Ship of Sokar, which indeed in many cases is associated with the number 1000, no matter what Ritner says, but Ritner won't admit that this is valid, calling it far-fetched.  Yet it is well-grounded in research from the LDS side that it actually checks out.  However, it seems from the interview with Bill Reel, that Hauglid is deferring to Ritner on this type of thing, which is a mistake.  Similarly, Ritner calls the translation of Figure 2 "nonsense," which is Oliblish, or in regular Egyptian, Wepwawet.  Wepwawet, like the explanation on Oliblish states, is the grand key, the Key-Holder, or Janus, his Roman equivalent.  Never mind that the Egyptian figure was an appropriate symbol to use for the Grand Key.  Nevermind that the ship of Sokar is indeed the Ship of 1000.  Then Ritner criticizes the names Kli-flos-is-es or Hah-ko-kau-beam, saying "as elsewhere these outlandish names are not Egyptian." (p.222).  As with the rest of the names in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar and in the Book of Abraham, many of them are Semitic, like Ha-kokobim (the stars in Hebrew), the very word that Ritner dismisses.  He seems to have missed the fact that the claim wasn't explicitly made that all of these names purport to be Egyptian the way an Egyptologist would Transliterate or even form them.  But like the word Chalsidonhiash in the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar is instead Kassite, a form of the Babylonian word Karduniash, an actual ancient place-name for Babylonia.  Comedically, Ritner criticizes the Khnum-Ra hieroglyph (Figure 2), otherwise known as Re-Atum, as Ritner identifies him, saying:
The central figure is not Kolob in Egyptian terms, nor is he the "first creation, nearest to the celestial, or residence of God."  Rather, the image is the creator god himself, not simply a figure near god. (p. 221)
Little does Ritner realize, but he unthinkingly pointed out the very fact pointed out on this blog quite a number of times, that the whole point was not that Joseph Smith was claiming that this was literally Kolob, but that rather it was a symbol that successfully stood for the theme which Kolob is associated with:  creation.  Ritner said it.  God of Creation = First Creation.  Not literally.  But he wouldn't even give Joseph Smith the credit he deserved for pointing out the fact that there is the theme of creation at work here.  As Robert F. Smith, an LDS scholar has recently observed:
Register 1 of the Shishak Hypocephalus (Book of Abraham facsimile 2) is identified by Joseph Smith’s explanation in part as, 
    a.  Kolob,
    b.  signifying the first creation,
    c.  nearest to the celestial,
    d.  or the residence of God.
    e.  First in government,
In Book of Abraham 3:3, “the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me”; 3:9, “Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God”; 3:16, “Kolob is the greatest of all the Kokaubeam . . , because it is nearest unto me.”  These repeated and specific references to the meaning of Kolob (even referring to it as one of the Hebrew Kokaubeem "stars") amplify the explanatory phrases in Fac. 2:1, “nearest to the celestial,” and Fac. 2:2, “near to the celestial,” and provide excellent justification for J. M. Sjodahl’s comparison with an Arabic word derived from the same root as Kolob, though we may appeal here more directly to the theophoric Hebrew epithet, Qarob “The-Near-One” (Psalm 119:151 ∥152 Qedem “The-Primeval-One”; cf. Pss 69:19, 74:12, 145:18; Arabic Qarib is cognate), which appears in the common qutl-form at Qumran (qwrb “midst”; 11QMelch 1:10 = Psalm 82:1; for Aramaic qrb see 1QapGen 22:18).  The word also appears in Akkadian and Ugaritic, but it is in Arabic that we find the root split into two variants, QLB/QRB, with closely related connotations.  Moreover, the -R- and -L- are regular dialectical variants in ancient Egyptian and Coptic – serving to tell us from which part of Egypt a word was most likely to have come.  The usage of these terms was certainly compatible with the usage of Kolob throughout the Book of Abraham.  Moreover, S. A. B. Mercer correctly identified this figure as the seated ram-god, Khnum-ʼAmun-Reʻ. Theodule Devéria, though unable to name this ram-god, was able to note the quadrapartite intent of the original (following Champollion), who may have been thinking of Janus quadrifons of ancient Rome.  He was also Reʿ of Memphis, the Sun-god (Speleers terming it “the soul of Re and his three forms”), and this Khnemu, the ram-headed Creator-Sun-god who sits with knees raised, as on the place of prominence on the Metternich Stele, can have either two or four heads – two heads being, artistically, as good as four.  Khnum, a member of the Enneads of Abydos and Philae, Lord of Antinoë (Hr-wr), the Ram (bЗ) of Mendes (Mntw), and living soul (bЗ) of Reʿ, was “the builder of men, maker of gods, and the father from the beginning.”  Khnum was the “maker of that which is, creator of what shall be, the beginning of beings, father of fathers, and mother of mothers,” shown as if a human with one or more rams’ heads, wearing a crown with horns, plumes, uraei, and disks (the triple diadem of the gods), and holding the  ʿnh, wЗś, and dd scepters (supporting heaven on four such pillars of scepters).
Kolob as “nearest to the celestial, or the residence of God,” is a fully Semitic as well as Egyptian term, though I ought to mention here that the notion of gods living in the sky was familiar to Egyptians from early times (cf. Pyramid Texts 251,357,531,882,929,935, 1364,1707,1295, etc.), as in Mesopotamia.  In Ugaritic, one finds qrb, “midst,” used to refer directly to the abode of ʼEl, i.e., the “cosmic mountain” known as Zaphon or HUR.SAG (= Huršan), as being in the “midst of the source of the Two Deeps.”  Of course, the Egyptian temple as the residence of the god was symbolic in the very sense described, as Klaus Baer made clear, but it was a regular function of temples throughout the ancient Near East to bridge the gap between the celestial and earthly spheres.
According to Jaroslav Černý, the Egyptians saw the stars as divine beings.  The Stars were divided into two main groups: ihmw-sk, “Indestructible-stars, Circumpolar-stars” ∥ʿЗw, “Great-ones, Circumpolar-stars” (Pyramid Texts 405a, 733, 782, 1123, 2051; Coffin Text I, 271), both being identical with Hebrew kokabe-'El, “Stars of God, Circumpolar-stars” (Isaiah 14:13 ∥II Nephi 24:13), symbolizing “eternity,” and identical with “the Mount of Council” or “Mt. Zaphon,” and referring to the Supreme Council of God and to his throne (Psalms 48:3, 148:3; cf. the “great one” in Enuma Elish V:1, and in Abraham 3:3).   (
So, as Smith shows, what Joseph Smith and the ancients were doing in the Book of Abraham recension we have, but also in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, was a mixture of not just Egyptian (which is not specifically Semitic, but still part of the same general family of Afro-Asiatic), but also of other Semitic and Middle Eastern languages, but even Greek (for example, the use of Hades in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, as "Hah-dees").  So, not only is Ritner equivocating on the fact that not everything in the Book of Abraham claims to be Egyptian, but it is very obvious that they are not, as Semitic scholars can readily see, because many of them are either Hebrew or other related Semitic languages, as Smith demonstrates above for Kolob.

And in the case of Oliblish too, it is not Wepwawet that is literally Oliblish, but rather, they are both the Great Key or Key Holder.  They share the central theme, making the Egyptian symbol of Wepwawet a suitable abstraction for the more solid or concrete assignment of meaning attached to it in the Explanation.  The explanation was not in fact claiming that these meanings were literal, but that there is a certain specialized type of symbolism going on here with these figures.  On these points, the LDS Scholars actually hit the bullseyes, while Ritner's critiques of them on these things are anemic and hard-headed with lack of scholarly charity.  But also there is a lack of thinking outside the box.  If Ritner was entirely honest, he would acknowledge the LDS finds on these things to be not only interesting, but on many levels, compelling, when one is entirely open to a number of possibilities and not just locked in to the idea that only current Egyptology has the answer.  Similarly, Hauglid, in the podcast with Bill Reel was critical of LDS scholars that suggest answers outside of Egyptology, that seek to suggest answers that come from a more multi-disciplinary approach.  If you pay close attention to what Robert Smith is doing above with his exegesis on the word Kolob, it is multi-disciplinary (taking into account the Semitic evidences), not strictly Egyptological.  And this is the approach Nibley takes as well.  This is where Ritner has failed, and where he is closed-minded, and where he has a measure of lack of honesty.  Because indeed, the LDS scholars do make good points that are likely to be true sometimes.  These things are of such quality sometimes that it is glaringly obvious that they are correct, and that Ritner and other Anti-Mormons are wrong.

And so, it is sad that Hauglid seems to have eaten up Ritner's criticisms on these points, and that, unfortunately, is a measure of gullibility on his part for deferring entirely to Ritner on these points.  Hauglid says that it is unlikely that there is something outside of current Egyptology where the answer would lie.  Well, it isn't so much outside of Egyptology, as the proper application of Egyptology as it now stands that things start to come to light.

When Ritner presents solid facts, he deserves deference.  When the LDS Scholars are in the right, and differ with Ritner, they deserve deference, and Ritner deserves criticism.  And so, interestingly enough, not one camp has all the truth on every point, as one would expect.  We need to find the truth wherever it's found, and side with it when it happens to be true, and call out whoever the people that are in the wrong, when they are wrong, in each issue where they are wrong.  We are only interested in truth, to circumscribe it into one whole.  We are not interested in ideologies, logical fallacies, or hard-headed Anti-Mormonism, or even hard-headed ideological Mormon Apologetics.  We just want the whole truth, and we want the parts of the truth that come from critics as well as the parts that come from apologists.  There must be an eclectic mix of where that which is true shines forth from whatever camp it comes in each issue.  Nothing less will do than to find the truth in every area where it exists and bring it all together.  Therefore, a correct approach on this is to bring together the good points from wherever they come, and let that which is false, regardless of where it comes from, fall by the wayside.