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I'm a Christian, married to a wonderful man, Steven, and mother to a wonderful little son. I have many interests and a few noteworthy journeys in life and I enjoy sharing them.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

The LDS church recently released an article on LDS.org with the same title as this post. It is one of a series of essays addressing historical issues within the church, all of which have caused people to question or even leave their faith.

The Book of Abraham isn't one of the ones that was much of a factor in my choice to leave, but the bit I've learned of it was one of the many nails in the coffin. When reading the essay on the church's website, I was flabbergasted at things they said, over and over, and many are worth noting.

Here's some quick background first (although you should just read the essay). The early Mormons purchased four mummies and some papyri from a travelling entrepreneur in Kirtland, and Joseph Smith declared the papyri to be the Book of Abraham, which he then began to translate. The Rosetta Stone had not yet been found, so Egyptian was as yet unreadable. Joseph Smith's translation process included writing out many of the hieroglyphs with their "meanings" next to them, which still exists. When the early Mormons left Nauvoo, the artifacts didn't travel with them, and eventually a portion of them were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, but the surviving pieces were later discovered at another museum and repossessed by the church.

Even before the fragments were rediscovered and reclaimed, Egyptologists had been asserting that Joseph Smith's explanations for the facsimiles were wrong. When the fragments were examined by Egyptologists, who by that time could translate ancient Egyptian, they were found to be merely ancient funerary texts commonly buried with mummies, and were dated sometime between 300 B.C. and 100 A.D; long after Abraham's time.

By His Own Hand...

The article asserts many hypotheses for the discrepancies between what is on the fragments of papyrus versus what Joseph Smith "translated" into the Book of Abraham. Most of these hypotheses are shut down by one statement in the introduction to the Book of Abraham.

"...written by [Abraham's] own hand, upon papyrus."

It is clear that Joseph Smith really did assert that the papyrus contained the actual Book of Abraham and that he was literally translating them, and wasn't just a catalyst for revelation. In the History of the Church vol. 2 pg 236, it says,

" I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.,—a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth." (emphasis mine)
 In light of these two statements, these assertions from the essay seem quite weak:

"...the fragments do not have to be as old as Abraham for the book of Abraham and its illustrations to be authentic."
"...the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri."

 Denial of Biblical Teachings and Legendary Embellishment

The essay asserts that,
"The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost."
Yet the Book of Abraham contradicts the Bible in a few ways. I was utterly floored when reading the essay when blatantly affirmed the denial of creation ex nihilo, which is made clear in the opening chapter of the Bible. The existence of preexisting matter would mean that God is not alone eternal and affirms the teachings of the church that there are generations of gods who have each formed their own "worlds," even though another of their essays denies that exact teaching.

There was a point that matter, time, and space did not exist. The Bible says so, and science and logic support this. To deny such a thing is a glaring error.

To make it worse, some of the "support" for the Book of Abraham given in the essay is from legendary embellishments on the stories of Abraham that date well over a thousand years after Abraham was in Egypt. We see in the legends that cropped up about Jesus a couple hundred years after his death that legendary, late stories are unreliable, yet this is exactly what the LDS church is using to support this book of "scripture."

And again, the Bible is denied when the Book of Abraham teaches about "Abraham’s being 62 years old when he left Haran, not 75 as the biblical account states."

Denial of both biblical truth and about scientific reality is a red flag if I ever saw one.

It's False, But You Should Believe It's True

That is exactly how the conclusion reads. After admitting the reality of the papyri being simply an Egyptian funerary text (and then downplaying that reality repeatedly), the essay concludes by essentially saying that the truth contained in the book--the Bible-contradicting, reality-contradicting "truths"--are the only way to tell if it's truly a book of scripture, and that that truth can't be found in history or scholarship.

I would bet that if it had been historically verifiable, they would be trumpeting the support for its truth.

Some of the best support for the Bible includes its historicity and it's manuscript evidence.The Book of Abraham is nothing like that, and even has reasons to disbelieve it's historicity and authenticity.

And yet we're supposed to believe it's true.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Gospel Topic Essays

Over the last few months, the LDS church has been releasing essays on sensitive historical issues within the church, all of which have caused people to begin questioning and even leave the church in the past. This is essentially the church's way of giving people a reason to stay when they find these issues, which has become a lot more likely with the plethora of information available on the internet. Many Mormons have been and would be shocked to know that some of these topics even need to be addressed, so firmly have the believed and so thoroughly have they been taught the official versions.

The essays include:

Are Mormons Christian?
First Vision Accounts
Book of Mormon Translation
Race and the Priesthood
Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah
Book of Mormon and DNA Studies
Becoming Like God
Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham

There may be a couple more in progress.

It is interesting to not a few things. First, that these are posted on the church's official website, www.lds.org. This means that these have almost certainly at least been reviewed and approved by some of the general authorities, perhaps even Monson, if not contributed to by any general authorities. Second, these have been produced by anonymous scholars.

In some instances, these essays being produced by scholars makes a certain amount of sense. There is history involved, after all, as well as DNA studies and other such things. But in some cases and in some areas of each issue, it would be easy for Monson or even an apostle to declare the matter decided by revelation. For instance, the Book of Abraham issue has a few competing hypotheses, and the correct one could be settled by revelation. And don't Mormons love to quote James 1:5, which says "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." They assert that this means that we can ask God about something that we need knowledge of (as opposed to wisdom) and that God will reveal it. Shouldn't that be even more true when it comes to God's mouthpiece on this earth?

But no. We see scholars writing anonymous essays, often glossing over the issues so that they seem as minor as possible and even giving multiple possibilities for the resolution of those issues. The merit of those possibilities is hardly examined.

The irony of these essays is that they have been causing people to leave the church in droves. It only takes a little thoughtfulness and perhaps some research to see the weakness of the proffered explanations or the contrast with the actual teachings and experiences during Sunday school and General Conference. I saw the greatest reaction, within my own circle of Mormon friends, from the Race and the Priesthood essay, which never actually apologizes for the church's racism and which essentially admits that the prophets who aren't supposed to lead the church astray because they're true prophets actually did lead the church astray for about a century, at least in this matter.

I'll be going over some of these essays in greater detail, but I would encourage anyone reading this--especially Mormons--to take a look at these essays and think very hard about what they're saying and what aspects of the church probably call for closer research in light of the content of the essays.