I received an email from a reader who is a member "in good standing" with a devoutly Mormon wife, but he is puzzling over the Book of Abraham (BoA). After some research into its origins and status, he finds it to be "not at all related to the Egyptian writings" from which it was supposedly translated. He's wondering how I deal with the BoA issue. While many Mormons are largely ignorant of the whole BoA issue, I think most bloggers have some familiarity with it and have come to some settled opinion, so I'll just throw that out as a general question to everyone: How do you deal with the Book of Abraham issue? I'll give some links and add my own response below.
The Orthodox LDS View. There are a lot of resources giving the orthodox LDS response to the BoA issue. In a nutshell, fragments of the papyri Joseph used in his translation of the BoA were discovered in 1967, and upon inspection by competent Egyptologists, the characters turn out to have little to do with the text of the Book of Abraham. Hugh Nibley wrote the first major LDS response, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, in 1975, and controversy has swirled around it ever since. Here are two good LDS online resources:
1. Book of Abraham articles from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (at the All About Mormons site). I found nothing of substance in the five articles about the discovery of the 1967 fragments and the subsequent debate, however. Here's a link to the FAIR Book of Abraham page; I'm sure some of those articles address the modern debate more directly.
2. The excellent site Mormon Monastery probably has links to some nice Book of Abraham articles as well.
The Minority LDS View. This is best summarized by Grant Palmer as follows: "My conclusion is that a large body of evidence demonstrates that Joseph mistranslated a number of documents. I know of no substantial evidence to suport his claim to have ever literally translated any document, leaving me to appreciate his writings at face value rather than because of their antiquity." An Insider's View of Mormon Origins (Signature, 2002), p. 36. This is a controversial view (look where it got Palmer!) but it does resolve the BoA issue. He dealt with the Book of Abraham on pages 12-25 of Insider's View.
I don't see why anyone's activity in the LDS Church ought to be contingent on a bunch of Egyptian papyri that Joseph played around with in 1842. Joseph's texts were published in an LDS newspaper, not presented as LDS scripture, and in my opinion they should never have been officially republished (in England in 1856) or canonized (in 1880). If the Lectures on Faith could be decanonized, why can't the Book of Abraham? That seems like a reasonable response to what has transpired since the 1967 discoveries.
My Response. Okay, here's the email response I provided to the reader who asked for how I deal with the BoA issue. After giving links to the resources I noted above, I said: "I don't agree with the approach of those who seem to make their membership in the Church contingent on Joseph's ability to translate, but if that's the way you look at things, the above resources should help you. ... Personally, I think being active in the Church to keep your wife happy is a much better reason for activity than anything having to do with Egyptian hieroglyphics or 'Reformed Egyptian.'"
What's your response to the BoA issue? [Note: If your response is "I couldn't find a way to deal with it, so I left the Church," that's fine, just don't make it a rant, and I won't post links to "problems with the BoA" sites, as they are easy enough to find for anyone who wants to read them. And most of us have already read them.]