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As a caveat, the letter I wrote on my LDS page Dave linked to was written off the top of my head several years ago, and I'm vaguely embarrassed rereading it.

That said, I think a couple of my points still stand.

The particular arguments pro and con for the Book of Abraham are much more complex and fuzzier than other things brought to witness against Joseph Smith.

I say complex because of technical Egyptian arguments around whether something is being interpreted correctly, what picture or interpretation we "should" expect, etc.

I say fuzzy because of historical uncertainties that have not yet been, and perhaps cannot be answered by historical methods- Do we have all the papyri Joseph had? What is the relationship between the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Book of Abraham? How does Joseph receive revelation? Is he translating strictly or loosely?

I have read enough and argued enough that I think I understand both sides of the equation. Though I believe Joseph was translating SOMETHING, it may turn out at the eternal bar, that the relationship between the papyri and the translation will be more like the Book of Moses or D&C 7.

I also think that the best two articles arguing in favor of the authenticity of the BoA (which has nothing to say about the translation itself or the translation process) are

1)Gee, John, and Stephen D. Ricks. "Historical Plausibility: The Historicity of the Book of Abraham as a Case Study." In Historicity and the Latter day Saint Scriptures, edited by Paul Y. Hoskisson, 63-98. Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001.


2)Lundquist, John M. “Was Abraham at Ebla? A cultural background of the Book
of Abraham.” Studies in Scripture V.2 p. 225-235. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,

Both papers take the cultural details, place names, etc. of the BoA and examine them against the ANE.

In my mind, the BoA is simply not the silver bullet that many outside the Church thing or hope it is. That's not to say that I or anyone else have all the answers, but I have enough answers for myself that I am willing to take a 'wait and see' approach for the rest of my questions.

I listened to a lecture by [a BYU prof] concerning the topic and I'll have to go with Ben on his approach. Especially concerning [the] hypothesis that the BofA we have now in our scriptures is probably only about 15% of what Joseph had. If that is true then it's possible the pieces analyzed in 1967 could be part of something never originally published having nothing to do with what concerns us scripturally (though I often wonder how relevant it is for us to have that whole astronomy lesson). >:)

This issue combines with a few others for me. First, the primary-source accounts suggesting that Joseph Smith didn't directly use the physical Gold Plates in producing the Book of Mormon text. Second, the fact that Smith's translation of the Bible tends not to move away from the King James text in the same direction as ancient manuscripts--and also varies in meaningful ways from one draft to another. Third, the case of the Kinderhook plates, in which Joseph Smith evidently was able to read some meaning into fake plates created by his neighbors to trap him (this issue was "debunked" in the Ensign about twenty years ago, but the debunker failed to deal with the consistent and vivid report in the relevant testimony that Joseph said the author of the plates was a descendent of Ham).

In combination, these episodes suggest to me that Joseph Smith didn't do translation in any normal sense of the word: he didn't read a text in an original language, come to an understanding of its meaning, and try to render that meaning in the target language. Instead, he produced his texts through some much-less-mediated process. The issue then is whether this process was one of fraud or inspiration/revelation--and this issue isn't really an intellectual one at all.

It all boils down to what the word "translate" means. I have previously commented on the flexibility of that word. What does it mean that Joseph "translated" the Bible? He used the bible as a catalyst to receive the book of Moses and the JST - things that arguably have never been part of the Bible. Similarly, I believe that Joseph used the papyri as a catalyst to receive the Book of Abraham. I don't see a problem with the text actually never being on papyrus (even if Joseph thought it was).

I, believe this *is* a transcendent issue, because it has a significant bearing on my ability to trust in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. I've tried to find an approach to reconciliation that felt intellectually honest, but I run up against that axiom (named after some academic who I can't remember) that when faced with two possible explanations, where one is simple and straightforward and the other is complex and convoluted, that the simple one usually is more reliable. So, right now I believe that the papyrii found in 1967 do coincide with the Pearl of Great Price. Even if they did not, there are other indications that Joseph did not understand the characters he was translating. It is difficult for me to accept that he might have meant anything other than "translating" when he used that word. I'm sure translation can be done through the spirit, but I believe that if the papyrii were merely a catalyst that Joseph was sufficiently honest to say "this is a revelation" instead of "this is a translation." I find this a confusing issue, unless you already know which version you want to believe.

That said, how important is that for you to believe and participate in the church? What is revelation and how does it work? These are probably personal questions, and I have yet to find my own answers.

For myself, I tend to subscribe to a fairly loose theory of translation, and I think it would be a big mistake to decanonize the Book of Abraham, as it is the scriptural source for some key Mormon doctrines. (Also, I would very much miss Kolob.) With regard to the 1967 papyri, I think that people need to be a bit more cautious than they generally are. I have no problem with the claim that the papyri discovered were the source for the facimiles and that when translated they are part of the Book of Breathings and other funerary texts. However, John Gee makes a good case that what was recovered in 1967 was a comparatively small amount of the original papyri collection, most of which was destroyed in the great Chicago Fire. In other words, we actually don't have most of the papyri that Joseph was looking at in Kirtland in the 1830s.

I tend to agree that I think people focus too much on the method rather than the results. And with the results I think FARMS really has established it fairly persuasively even if they've been far less effective in dealing with the sn-sn texts and thus the origin and method of the translation.

I'd just caution people to be willing to recognize there's still a lot of information to come with regard to the Book of Abraham. Further there is a lot of new literature coming down the pipeline. Nibley's new book is forthcoming. I'd be surprised if it adds much to the debate, but you never know. But then there is the new Metcalf volume on the Book of Abraham and then FARMS expected rejoinders. There reportedly are a few other studies coming as well.

Anyway, I think it perfectly acceptable to say, "I don't know," yet think that most "definitive" answers on the matter (from either side) are highly questionable.

I'm with RT and J on this one. The question is not what the papryus said, but rather if the Book of Abraham was really given to Joseph by God or not. If it was given to Jospeh by God, and is thus an accurate account, then who cares about the papyrus? I'm willing to consider the idea that maybe Joseph got that (the contents of the actual papyrus) wrong but God didn't mind and revealed actual records of Abraham anyway. The Book of Moses was given as revelation from essentially no documents, so why not the same for the Book of Abraham? The fact is that it appears that the BoM was translated in a manner that essentially did not require the presence of the physical plates either -- they seem (at least to me) to have served mostly to bolster the faith of Joseph as he received the needed revelation of the Nephite history.


Comment/question: How do you deal with people like the guy who asked your advice if they're not willing to make that compromise. In other words, maybe the BofA isn't the most quoted, most significant, most widely read canonical book that we as Latter-Day Saints use. But it is supposed to be scripture.

For example, I can see supporting my wife by going to Weight Watchers weekly with her, or doing things that she likes to do that don't require me to lie to her and myself.

But it seems a stretch to say, just to preserve marital harmony, you need to stay active in the church (which, I would imagine involves occassional testimony bearing, holding a temple recommend, and taking a calling). And what if that calling was as gospel doctrine teacher to teach others the Pearl of Great Price!

Anyways, perhaps I read too much into your advice for the guy with the BofA question, but your answer to him seems to be, 'live a double life.'

I tried that for years, and eventually it wasn't good for me or my loved ones. Maybe it works for some, but it does require a moral compromise at least.

APJ, I did note that there are different perspectives to take. For some, readjusting one's beliefs to fit the facts works; for others, the adjustments don't work and a new set of beliefs is needed. Family ties and allegiances have some impact on how these choices play out, of course, and there's a limit to how much adjustment one can make.

Mormons tend to depict the sorts of social or family compromises that many people in a religiously plural society willingly make as deals with the devil, which makes intra-family accomodation of religious differences in an LDS family a tricky affair. Calling such intra-family compromises "lies" or "moral compromises" is unfair. Getting along with others whose beliefs differ from one's own is part of being a good Christian; it's called tolerance. I don't know why so many Mormons have such a problem with it. [I'm not suggesting APJ had such a problem, just noting that in the generic LDS family such compromises don't generally sit well.]

#9 (which, I would imagine involves occassional testimony bearing, holding a temple recommend, and taking a calling)

It depends on how open you can be with your leaders (and your spouse). I'm more active than many believers, but only one of the three behaviors you describe here applies to me.

Read my very old essay on BCC: Why do you stay if you don't believe? for more specific information.


I admit there are certainly different ways to deal with doubts of any nature, and family relations should be a definite consideration in how one handles those doubts. Obviously, you know the person you were giving advice (with the BofA questions) better than I do. So, let me amend a little: I'm not saying you gave him the worst advice for him. I'm saying, for me personally, that wouldn't work.

Also, I have to disagree with your definition of 'tolerance' a little bit. Although I'm not an 'active' member in most senses of the word, I would say that I'm tolerant. Tolerance of others does not require us to take on their beliefs as our own. When I admitted my doubts to my family/friends and discussed them, I went to great pains to do so in a respectful, tolerant way. And they were mostly respectful and tolerant in return.

Again, I'm not saying I know just how to handle the situation, and I possess no secrets. In fact, I often wonder if I handled the situation (aka, my doubts) in the most effective manner. But, for me personally, I can say that making that moral compromise was just too much for me. It was having detrimental effects on my personal and spiritual growth.

Thanks for letting me chime in.


Yeah, I admit I was just throwing out some common characteristics of being 'active.' And I agree people can be active in different senses of the word. Your comment reminds me of my aunt, who, after going through the temple, decided never to go back to the temple. But she reared all 4 kids to get married in the temple, and her 3 boys served missions. She always takes callings in areas that she's talented in (like pianist, chorister, Enrichment night stuff involving gardening, etc.). So I guess she's found a way to be active and yet stay 'true' to herself without compromising.

For me, the BoA issue wasn't really so much about what the meaning of "translation" is. It's not that I hold firmly to some idea that "translation" means X and not Y. I don't.

For me, it was more a feeling of profound disappointment, bordering on betrayal, that when I was a rank-and-file, mainstream "member in good standing," nobody ever told me that there was a BoA issue. I was a regular attender who always paid attention in Sunday School, seminary and BYU religion classes. I even got an A in the "Pearl of Great Price" class at BYU.

So why was I shocked to find out about the controversy over the BoA's resemblance to Book of Breathings, papyrus not (completely) destroyed in the Chicago Fire, etc.? Because none of those trusted teachers over the years had ever told me. That led to a huge loss of trust. It made me wonder what else I *wasn't* learning at church.

When I looked, I found many more uncomfortable truths that were never mentioned or dealt with through ordinary, official church channels. Because these things (BoA being only one of them) are not dealt with in a way that is clear, consistent, open and accessible to regular churchgoers worldwide (contrast with bloggernacle denizens, FARMS subscribers, and other gospel hobbyists), I decided that the LDS church would have to be removed from the list of organizations I wish to support.

Back in the Carter administration when I was a full-time missionary, I had a companion who told investigators straight-out that the papyri were just the catalyst that led to Joseph Smith recieving the translation of the BofA by revelation.

Yes, Left, a lot of strange things happened during the Carter administration. ;-)

The BoA brings up several things for me. I like much of what it says, but the way that the church handles it leaves me feeling much as Alex describes (#14). On this and other issues, it appears that the church offers little information. (I mean, when a priesthood/RS manual includes lessons on family life in the context of Brigham Young, but doesn't mention plural marriage, it leaves me feeling uneasy.)

This fact, combined with statements by Pres. Hinckley in interviews (Larry King, etc.) that either it is all true, or all a fraud, make me uncomfortable. Enough that I've curtailed my participation.

I'd love to see the BoA and other things dealt with more directly by the church. I recognize that my expectations may be too high — after all, continuing revelation is not the same as continuous revelation. But these things have deeply affected my relationship with the church and have, in turn, affected my relationship with my family, who are less troubled by them than I am.

Sorry to hear that, Ed. Personally, I'd be happy if they just decanonized the book, along with a short statement to the effect that further research showed problems with the canonized text or something like that.

On the other hand, I recognize that, unlike me, those running the Church have to deal with the consequences of such an action. Many members would be confused and troubled by such an action and some of them might withdraw partially or completely from activity, whereas those who are presently troubled by the Book of Abraham issue would likely not be entirely comforted by the change. For most of those people, it would be: "Fine, that takes care of Abraham. But what about the other 23 items on my list?"

So even if LDS leaders concluded there were serious problems with the book, they're not likely to do anything about it publicly, although they might make other changes. Like decide those of African descent aren't actually cursed and extend priesthood and temple access to them, for example.

Its interesting that the BOA still causes some heartburn among LDS. I saw it years ago as one reason among others why the LDS church was not God's church. I believe individual LDS must be saved, just don't accept Smith's extra scriptures.

There are 2 theories now, one the "still missing theory" and the other the "catalyst theory". Both IMO are not answers to the problem. If still missing why did Smith and his scribes place symbols from the BOB alongside the words of Abraham on the manuscripts? If a catalyst why the reference in Ab 1:17 to the Fac at the begining of the story? The whole issue must have given Nibley some heartburn. [edited to remove website reference]

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