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Friendly Fire from BYU: Opening Old Book of Abraham Wounds Without the First Aid

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Posted (edited)
29 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I haven't read Roberts linked analysis, I'm only commenting on what he said in this thread.  Look at it closer again.  He took issue with my quoting the gospel topics essay statement and is asserting that "Joseph was spectacularly successful in his identifications of the illustrations, and the text of the Book of Abraham is filled with authentic markers.".  Those statements sound out of touch with the essay and the evidence I've seen.

It is true that the essay doesn't spend a lot of time advocating for the strength of the vignette interpretations. But it does highlight a few of their strengths, which demonstrates that it isn't "out of touch" with Robert's position. As noted above (well, in my last post on the previous page now), your interpretation of the essay on the previous points is demonstrably incorrect. 

Edited by Ryan Dahle
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55 minutes ago, Exiled said:
1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I'm sure you can find those explanations readily if you look for them. I'm not going to try to explain them from the ground up, especially when it seems that you are biased against such strengths from the beginning. 

Of course you won't point out any specifics, because there aren't any, other than your subjective desires to believe that there are.  This is probably why you retreat to the time-tested bias accusation.

I think your bolded statement pretty well justifies my choice to disengage with you on this. 

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16 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Well, Prof Anthon gave a very odd description of what he saw.  He likely knew what Egyptian, Chinese-Japanese characters, and Arabic looked like, but he couldn't read the Egyptian.  Champollion was only just deciphering it at that moment.

This is an interesting statement Robert. Given your familiarity with the subject, I have a difficult time understanding how you make this claim about what Anthon could not do and the progress of Champollion's work in 1828. 

1st regarding what Champollion and many others had published by 1828 we have this from Richard Bennett's excellent article “READ THIS I PRAY THEE”: MARTIN HARRIS AND THE THREE WISE MEN OF THE EAST -See pg 191 Footnote 38

Quote

Among the better known published works on Egyptian hieroglyphics availablein 1828 were Jean-PierreRigord, Memoirede Trevoux(first published in 1704), Georg Zoega, Du Origine et Usu Obeliscorum (1797), Les Description d’Egypte (1809?), Thomas Young, Museum Criticum vi (1815), and Jean-Francois Champollion’s famous Lettre M. Dacier (1822) and his follow-up work, Précis du Systeme Hieroglyphique (1824). Champollion’s two worksprovidednotonlyfacsimilesofhieroglyphsbutcode-breakingtranslations.How many of these works on hieroglyphics Anthon or Mitchill had in their possession, or of which they were aware, is impossible to determine. See Maurice Pope, The Story of Decipherment: From Egyptian Hieroglyphs to Maya Script, rev. ed. (London: Thomas and Hudson, 1999), chaps. 2–3. 

So Champollion had already published quite a bit on the subject and had been doing so for a while and his were not the only works available in 1828. While some of his work was published posthumously after his death in 1832,   Lettre M. Dacier and Précis du Systeme Hieroglyphique were known and available.

Regarding your claim that Anthon could not read Egyptian we have this from Stanley Kimball's article The Anthon Transcript: People Primary Sources and Problems. Starting page 336

Quote

in respect to Anthon fortunately we have more to investigate while there is nothing germane to this study in his papers at Cornell university 27 a study of his publications is most rewarding we have noted that he produced many volumes and was considered the principal classical bookmaker of his time 28 21 most of this enormous output was however after February 1828 and therefore of little help in evaluating Anthon s acquaintance with the Egyptian language in 1828 but one very significant book was published in 1825 and went through six or more editions by 1828 in fact this was the book that established Anthon s reputation as one of the foremost classicists casts in America the work was "A Classical Dictionary by John Lempriere" first published 1788 corrected and improved by Charles Anthon.

Our interest in Lempriere s work is not important it is to the four thousand Anthon additions to the dictionary mentioned in the preface that we now turn our attention  because they may be used legitimately as a criterion of Anthon s learning and acquaintance with various subjects but in which of Anthon's four thousand added subjects are we interested and which have value in determining Anthon's acquaintance with Egyptian reading through his reference to Egypt is most disappointing it is only a short geographic sketch of the country in the preface however Anthon states the articles on which the most labour has been bestowed are the following Memnonium... Nilus... Pyramides... Thebae, turning to these and other entries in this classical dictionary we find Anthon referring to many writers and authorities including Bruce, Davison, Montagu, Salt, Belzoni, Lacrose, Labrose, Denon, Jablonski, and Mannert. He also cites Champollion's elaborate treatise on hieroglyphics of Egypt. Definite evidence that Anthon was aware of the early works of the French scholar Jean Francois Champollion the greatest student of the Egyptian language of the period and the man upon whose work much of subsequent advance in Egyptology was made. Anthon does not identify the exact title of this book by Champollion but the latter had written only one book by 1827 that could fit the above description his famous Precis du  Systeme Hieroglyphique Des Ancients Egyptians Paris 1824. The writer has been successful in locating Anthon's copy of the precis at Cornell University. Hopefully I searched it for marginalia in any way connected with Harris visit but nothing was found only Anthon s signature on the flyleaf
 

So Anthon had a copy of Champollion's work at least three years before Harris visits him. Perhaps Anthon could not read Egyptian yet when Harris showed up but certainly he could have consulted his own copy of Precis du  Systeme Hieroglyphique Des Ancients Egyptians or maybe even Lettre M. Dacier to compare against what Harris presented and offered his judgement on that basis. 

We are taking Harris's word here for what he claims Anthon said, something Anthon denied, so in fact I think it is likely that Anthon never offered an opinion on whether the translation was correct or not. According to other accounts Anthon claimed he could not translate them.

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45 minutes ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Your reading doesn't make any sense. The statement is obviously making a distinction between (1) the relationship between text of the BofA and the characters in the extant fragments and (2) the interpretation of the vignettes. It is true that part (2) of the statement doesn't qualify that Latter-day Saint scholars believe that a number of the interpretation of the facsimiles have ancient validation. But if you read throughout the essay, you will find that it does highlight these some apparently correct interpretations:

So your interpretation can't be valid in light of the entire essay. Moreover, scholarly discussions of these subjects generally make a distinction between the interpretations of the illustrations in the vignettes and the text of the BofA itself. The Gospel Topics essay, in the statements under scrutiny, reflects that common practice. 

I thought about this when I read the essay and I disagree that the statement is making a distinction.  The vignettes and their explanations, and the chapter and verse story of the BoA are closely tied together.  The essay doesn't make a distinction between the translations of the two, and never makes the claim that the vignettes have anything to do with Abraham.  It also never explicitly says that Joseph got any of those interpretations correct, but rather is very careful in its wording to avoid saying that.  Look at the part you quoted as an example.  "Explanations contain... earmarks of the ancient world".  The connections for the four figures and the crocodile aren't even referred to as any kind of correct translation by Joseph, instead these are interpretations argued by some scholars. 

They could be easily explained as a coincidence or perhaps a reasonable inference that Joseph makes.  Those items are so immaterial to the entire Abraham story, it still kind of astounds me that any apologist would attempt to consider these as evidence that Joseph got anything correct.  Those two items are a great way to highlight how Joseph had not clue how to translate Egyptian and how any claims that what he produced were a translation of the papyrus are honestly quite laughable.  

The BoA is not a translation of ancient papyrus that contained the story of Abraham, it is a creation of Joseph's, whether inspired or not is up to each individual to decide as that is a matter of faith and perspective, not a matter of scholarship.  

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Posted (edited)
26 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I thought about this when I read the essay and I disagree that the statement is making a distinction.  The vignettes and their explanations, and the chapter and verse story of the BoA are closely tied together.  The essay doesn't make a distinction between the translations of the two, and never makes the claim that the vignettes have anything to do with Abraham.

I'm obviously not up to speed on all the BoA arguments from the past decade. (I'd followed things in the 90's, then simply got busy on other subjects and haven't had the time to get up to speed since there's so many moving parts one has to keep track of) However it seems in most of these discussions the distinction between use and original meaning is lost. 

I can quote a text yet use it in a radically different fashion. For example we know that the gnostic texts 1 Jeu and 2 Jeu make extensive use of the Book of Breathings and Coffin Texts yet in a quasi-Christian context dealing with heavenly ascents. They even copy drawings from the Egyptian source, albeit in a slightly more abstract fashion. If we're talking use of the vignette's rather than their sense in the original Egyptian then all those arguments of what the hieratic text purporting to be Abraham's name and so forth don't really matter.

We know that this sort of thing was going on in the context when our papyri were written. (Roughly middle Roman era during a period of heavy syncretic use) It's somewhat odd to me that this whole issue gets neglected. Now I'm not remotely qualified to speak on these things in their Egyptian setting. However if we're dealing with 1st century syncretic religious use which the text demands then a lot of the arguments are beside the point.

Now the key argument of course is how to prove we're dealing with syncretic use. Just because the produced text demands this (Jewish narrative in Egyptian texts) doesn't mean the papyri support this. That was always why the missing papyri model was so attractive for apologists. It'd be a way to argue for such use. Right now none of the extant texts appear to be anything other that standard native Egyptian texts with no syncretic elements. At best apologists can point to similar texts that are syncretic. 

So I'm not arguing that one must embrace the syncretic model. But it still seems like a live possibility even if the missing text theory is less plausible now. (I've seen some now switching from a missing portion of our sn-sn text to it being on the Amenhotep papyri)

1 hour ago, Kevin Christensen said:

And Nibley's An Egyptian Endowment, which goes into what our little Hor Book of Breathings papyrus actually offers in its own right.

It's worth noting again that the Book of Breathings and Coffin Texts were appropriated by other traditions. I mentioned 1 Jeu above. Apologists were quoting 1 Jeu for a long time noting the similarities to our endowment as well as Jewish texts from the early medieval era or late antiquity. Yet 1 Jeu had little good analysis by scholars until fairly recently where its connection to Egyptian works was noted. (See Erin Evan's The Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia as Handbooks to Eternity) Nibley was quoting these works back in the 60's and 70's. The problem always was that quasi-gnostic and quasi-masonic ascents/rituals just aren't in our Book of Abraham. So in a sense Nibley's An Egyptian Endowment is wildly beside the point. The closest we have in our Book of Abraham is the appropriation of Genesis 1 and the mention of stars in Abr 3:3-10 which parallels in some ways platonic ascent literature.

Historians who typically stay out of apologetic wars on Abraham, have also noted the influence of the hermetic tradition on Joseph Smith, these hermetic and masonic elements in the work on the papyri independent of our text, and so forth. So I don't want to say there's no connection. But it really doesn't help at all for chapters 1-2. Chapter 3 has more parallels to gnostic, hermetic and platonic texts.

While the hermetic texts (basically platonic paganism mixed with a veneer of Egyptian myth) are an obvious example of syncretic works, there are lots of others from late antiquity.

 

Edited by clarkgoble
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21 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

This is an interesting statement Robert. Given your familiarity with the subject, I have a difficult time understanding how you make this claim about what Anthon could not do and the progress of Champollion's work in 1828. 

1st regarding what Champollion and many others had published by 1828 we have this from Richard Bennett's excellent article “READ THIS I PRAY THEE”: MARTIN HARRIS AND THE THREE WISE MEN OF THE EAST -See pg 191 Footnote 38

So Champollion had already published quite a bit on the subject and had been doing so for a while and his were not the only works available in 1828. While some of his work was published posthumously after his death in 1832,   Lettre M. Dacier and Précis du Systeme Hieroglyphique were known and available.

Regarding your claim that Anthon could not read Egyptian we have this from Stanley Kimball's article The Anthon Transcript: People Primary Sources and Problems. Starting page 336

So Anthon had a copy of Champollion's work at least three years before Harris visits him. Perhaps Anthon could not read Egyptian yet when Harris showed up but certainly he could have consulted his own copy of Precis du  Systeme Hieroglyphique Des Ancients Egyptians or maybe even Lettre M. Dacier to compare against what Harris presented and offered his judgement on that basis. 

We are taking Harris's word here for what he claims Anthon said, something Anthon denied, so in fact I think it is likely that Anthon never offered an opinion on whether the translation was correct or not. According to other accounts Anthon claimed he could not translate them.

The Egyptologists are very direct.  James H. Breasted stated that “if Joseph Smith could read ancient Egyptian writing, his ability to do so had no connection with the decipherment of hieroglyphics by European scholars.”  Referring to the Grammaire égyptienne by J.-F. Champollion, published from 1836 through 1841, he added that “it would have been impossible for any American scholar to know enough about Egyptian inscriptions to read them before the publication of Champollion’s grammar.”  John A. Wilson agreed, stating that “nobody in the United States could read Egyptian in 1835.”  In other words, Anthon could not have read a transcript from the BofM plates.  In fact, Anthon himself described what he saw and offered no translation:

Anthon himself described the paper given to him by Harris:

Quote

This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends of the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”

Anthon also told a Church Rector named Coit the following (according to Rev Coit):

Quote

. . . a certain paper, marked with various characters, which the Doctor confessed he could not decipher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained. A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns, like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew and all sorts of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfulness or from actual design, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac.

As Stanley Kimball stated:

Quote

“Champollion himself was just beginning to ‘break’ the language and could actually translate little more than royal titles and demonstrate the inner relations between the hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic systems with Coptic.”

 

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9 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

They could be easily explained as a coincidence or perhaps a reasonable inference that Joseph makes.

Champollion's and other's works on deciphering Egyptian had been know in the US going back more than a decade when  Chandler started touring with and selling off the Lebolo's collection in 1833 to 1835, one of the largest collections the country had ever seen. When Joseph Smith presented Chandler with a "sample decipherment" of some of the characters Oliver Cowdrey had copied, Chandler affirmed that Smith's translation corresponded "in the most minute matters' to other knowledge he had gleaned "in many eminent cites [from] the most learned." And, Chandler was known to have "obtained in some small degree the translations of a few characters" when he was in Philadelphia at the very beginning of his tour. By the end of his tour newspapers were praising him for "intelligent conversation" on the exhibition.

It is very likely that at least some of the explanations the Joseph got right on the artifacts he purchased from Chandler were explanations Joseph learned from Chandler himself.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

The vignettes and their explanations, and the chapter and verse story of the BoA are closely tied together.  The essay doesn't make a distinction between the translations of the two

Yes it clearly does. The article states:

Quote

Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments.

How do we know the second half of the statement (the bolded part) is a different topic than the first half? Well because the first part states that there is a consensus about a certain matter (the relationship between the characters on the fragments and the BofA), whereas the second part says there is not a consensus about a different matter (the proper interpretation of the vignettes). Moreover, they are separated by the word "though" which is used to show contrast.

2 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

It also never explicitly says that Joseph got any of those interpretations correct, but rather is very careful in its wording to avoid saying that.  Look at the part you quoted as an example.  "Explanations contain... earmarks of the ancient world".  The connections for the four figures and the crocodile aren't even referred to as any kind of correct translation by Joseph, instead these are interpretations argued by some scholars.

In an academic approach to the illustrations of the BofA, there is actually no way to prove that anything is "correct" or "incorrect." All anyone can do is show how well Joseph Smith's interpretations agree with what is understood by scholars with relevant training and expertise. All academic research ultimately boils down to "interpretations argued by some scholars," as you put it. So trying to downplay the essay's support for these ancient connections by drawing attention to its scholarly tone is not an effective argument. 

2 hours ago, hope_for_things said:

They could be easily explained as a coincidence or perhaps a reasonable inference that Joseph makes.  Those items are so immaterial to the entire Abraham story, it still kind of astounds me that any apologist would attempt to consider these as evidence that Joseph got anything correct.  Those two items are a great way to highlight how Joseph had not clue how to translate Egyptian and how any claims that what he produced were a translation of the papyrus are honestly quite laughable.

Well, its often the "immaterial" items, as you put it, that provide the best clues for evaluating a text's historicity. Besides both the interpretations of the vignettes and the actual BofA text itself contain plentiful evidence of antiquity. The items discussed in the Church essay are only a sampling of the evidence.

The essay doesn't' say there isn't more evidence to be discussed. In fact it points to a number of sources that treat these and further connections in greater depth. Robert has repeatedly mentioned his paper to you on this subject, which contains many more items. Nibley has lots of material on the facsimiles. Rhodes has tackled the topic. Others have weighed in. And, of course, the narrative itself is full of corroboration from relevant ancient documents. I'm guessing you have addressed the details of virtually none of this information, which, if my guess is accurate, means that your concluding statement that the "BoA is not a translation of ancient papyrus that contained the story of Abraham" is not informed. Nor does your interpretation accurately reflect the tone or intent of the essay, no matter how much you may want it to agree with your worldview. 

 

 

Edited by Ryan Dahle
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1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

I think your bolded statement pretty well justifies my choice to disengage with you on this. 

I don't know, maybe try and prove me wrong?  Even so, my guess is that it is like how one feels about a work of art or a school play.  These can be the most inspiring or not depending on one's point of view and desires to believe what the group says.  If your responses were in that vein, then perhaps there is nothing to discuss as you have your opinion regardless of whatever objective evidence exists or doesn't exist and probably your view of the evidence is steeped in subjectivity?

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21 minutes ago, Exiled said:

I don't know, maybe try and prove me wrong?  Even so, my guess is that it is like how one feels about a work of art or a school play.  These can be the most inspiring or not depending on one's point of view and desires to believe what the group says.  If your responses were in that vein, then perhaps there is nothing to discuss as you have your opinion regardless of whatever objective evidence exists or doesn't exist and probably your view of the evidence is steeped in subjectivity?

Not interested. 

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59 minutes ago, Robert F. Smith said:

The Egyptologists are very direct.  James H. Breasted stated that “if Joseph Smith could read ancient Egyptian writing, his ability to do so had no connection with the decipherment of hieroglyphics by European scholars.”  Referring to the Grammaire égyptienne by J.-F. Champollion, published from 1836 through 1841, he added that “it would have been impossible for any American scholar to know enough about Egyptian inscriptions to read them before the publication of Champollion’s grammar.”  John A. Wilson agreed, stating that “nobody in the United States could read Egyptian in 1835.”  In other words, Anthon could not have read a transcript from the BofM plates.  In fact, Anthon himself described what he saw and offered no translation:

Robert,

Breasted, a giant in his field at the time, is writing in 1912 in a response that was published in Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator. 56 years later, in the Improvement Era, Nibley will take him to task over and over again for his "high and authoritarian attitude...in dealing with the Book of Abraham." , Nibley concludes that "as knowledge increases, the verdict of yesterday must be reversed today, and  in the long run, the most positive authority is the least to be trusted. Few have been more positive than Breasted..." As you no doubt know, Breasted here is talking about Grammaire égyptienne by J.-F. Champollion, published from 1836 through 1841. The question is; did Breasted know that Anthon had his own copy of Precis du  Systeme Hieroglyphique Des Ancients Egyptians or maybe even Lettre M. Dacier ? He probably did not know.

I am not arguing that Anthon could read Egyptian in 1828 or even if he knew enough to provide a comparison to the characters Harris presented him. I think we don't know enough to claim either way. Certainly without the actual copy of what Harris showed Anthon, we cannot judge. Further we are assuming that "reformed Egyptian" is close enough to some form of Egyptian to make sense of it, a big assumption to be sure. But let's assume you are right, that Anthon could not read it; what does that say about Harris and his claim that Anthon could and did? Harris' testimonies are a vital part of the foundation of Mormonism, if he made the Anthon story up, what else did he make up?

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There is a big picture item to this topic that nobody has mentioned. One of the frequent criticisms of FAIR and the old FARMS approach is that they actually hurt people's faith, either through their supposedly faux academics and mental gymnastics, or through their supposedly mean and nasty online behavior. (I've addressed both criticisms at length here: http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2017/10/on-mental-gymnastics.html and here: http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2018/10/a-very-mean-and-nasty-apologetic-post.html) If we accept Lindsey's account that this was the straw that broke the camel's back for this member, then we have a very clear example of the new direction approach at the Maxwell Institute hurting more than helping. Personally, I believe that every faith crisis is different, and the various methods and publications are simply tools that can either help or hurt depending on the person, and not any supposed deficiencies in approach or methodology. I point out this example of damaging apologetics to suggest that critics who so frequently cite the two things above might stop holding it as an article of faith used to attack those from a different school. As Lindsey reported, their "superior" approach isn't a cure all either. 

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52 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

But let's assume you are right, that Anthon could not read it; what does that say about Harris and his claim that Anthon could and did? Harris' testimonies are a vital part of the foundation of Mormonism, if he made the Anthon story up, what else did he make up?

I think there's another issue you need to bring in here:  Why did Martin go ahead and mortgage his farm [quite against his wife's wishes and without her knowledge] to pay for the BoM's publication immediately after his encounter with Anthon?  Which version of this "he said/he said" encounter best matches Martin's later actions?

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1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:
Quote

Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments.

How do we know the second half of the statement (the bolded part) is a different topic than the first half? Well because the first part states that there is a consensus about a certain matter (the relationship between the characters on the fragments and the BofA), whereas the second part says there is not a consensus about a different matter (the proper interpretation of the vignettes). Moreover, they are separated by the word "though" which is used to show contrast.

I think this is basic English here, although I'm not an English major.  The simplest way to reduce the confusion is to eliminate the words after the commas as they are descriptions of the first part of the sentence, and not qualifiers in the way you're saying "though" is not being used to show contrast in my opinion.  The sentence should read like this: "Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham... about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments."  

Here is how I would paraphrase to give greater clarity.  Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments (fragments including the vignettes) do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham (BoA including the vignettes as they are part of the BoA).  However, there is not a unanimity among scholars about the proper interpretation of all of these fragments (again including the vignettes).  Unanimity is pretty hard to get in the scholarly world, there could be a consensus or a strong majority but unanimity is very difficult.  

1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

In an academic approach to the illustrations of the BofA, there is actually no way to prove that anything is "correct" or "incorrect." All anyone can do is show how well Joseph Smith's interpretations agree with what is understood by scholars with relevant training and expertise. All academic research ultimately boils down to "interpretations argued by some scholars," as you put it. So trying to downplay the essay's support for these ancient connections by drawing attention to its scholarly tone is not an effective argument. 

What?  Are you saying there isn't an academically correct translation of ancient Egyptian?  As I mentioned in the earlier comment, it may be difficult to get unanimity on exact wording, but its not like Joseph's translation was even close, it wasn't even in the ball bark.  He knew nothing about Egyptian, and his guesses prove that to be the case. 

The church would be thrilled if scholars vindicated Joseph's translations if they were even close to accurate.   The church would be rightfully proclaiming from the rooftops that a 19th century prophet used the power of God to correctly translate ancient Egyptian, it would be an amazing miracle if any of it were true.  Since its not, that is why the essay and the apologetics are what they are.  The BoA isn't a translation of Egyptian at all.  Mormon and non-Mormon scholars agree on that.  At least that's what I thought until this message thread where I'm seeing some pretty strained arguments against this idea.  Who knew...

1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Well, its often the "immaterial" items, as you put it, that provide the best clues for evaluating a text's historicity. Besides both the interpretations of the vignettes and the actual BofA text itself contain plentiful evidence of antiquity. The items discussed in the Church essay are only a sampling of the evidence.

It doesn't' say there isn't more evidence to be discussed. In fact it points to a number of sources that treat these and further connections in greater depth. Robert has repeatedly mentioned his paper to you on this subject, which contains many more items. Nibley has lots of material on the facsimiles. Rhodes has tackled the topic. Others have weighed in. And, of course, the narrative itself is full of corroboration from relevant ancient documents. I'm guessing you have addressed the details of virtually none of this information, which means that your concluding statement that the "BoA is not a translation of ancient papyrus that contained the story of Abraham" is not informed. Nor does your interpretation accurately reflect the tone or intent of the essay, no matter how much you may want it to agree with your worldview. 

Now you're claiming historicity to the BoA?  I hate to make a general comment about all the apologetic arguments that you're mentioning.  Suffice it to say that they aren't convincing and they don't consist of legitimately peer reviewed scholarship, which in this case while we're talking about Egyptology and translation of documents available for all to evaluate, is very important.   

 

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2 hours ago, CA Steve said:

Champollion's and other's works on deciphering Egyptian had been know in the US going back more than a decade when  Chandler started touring with and selling off the Lebolo's collection in 1833 to 1835, one of the largest collections the country had ever seen. When Joseph Smith presented Chandler with a "sample decipherment" of some of the characters Oliver Cowdrey had copied, Chandler affirmed that Smith's translation corresponded "in the most minute matters' to other knowledge he had gleaned "in many eminent cites [from] the most learned." And, Chandler was known to have "obtained in some small degree the translations of a few characters" when he was in Philadelphia at the very beginning of his tour. By the end of his tour newspapers were praising him for "intelligent conversation" on the exhibition.

It is very likely that at least some of the explanations the Joseph got right on the artifacts he purchased from Chandler were explanations Joseph learned from Chandler himself.

Interesting point.  Also, as I understand it, much of the BoA production that happened in Nauvoo contains content that would have been learned during Joseph's working with Hebrew.   It makes sense that anyone he may have talked to or any writings he may have gotten a hold of, could have influenced the ideas that he had.  We also know he was using Clarke's bible commentary during his work on the Bible.  Joseph was curious and I believe was an explorer of sorts.  

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1 hour ago, CA Steve said:

Robert,

Breasted, a giant in his field at the time, is writing in 1912 in a response that was published in Joseph Smith, Jr., As A Translator. 56 years later, in the Improvement Era, Nibley will take him to task over and over again for his "high and authoritarian attitude...in dealing with the Book of Abraham." , Nibley concludes that "as knowledge increases, the verdict of yesterday must be reversed today, and  in the long run, the most positive authority is the least to be trusted. Few have been more positive than Breasted..." As you no doubt know, Breasted here is talking about Grammaire égyptienne by J.-F. Champollion, published from 1836 through 1841. The question is; did Breasted know that Anthon had his own copy of Precis du  Systeme Hieroglyphique Des Ancients Egyptians or maybe even Lettre M. Dacier ? He probably did not know.

I am not arguing that Anthon could read Egyptian in 1828 or even if he knew enough to provide a comparison to the characters Harris presented him. I think we don't know enough to claim either way. Certainly without the actual copy of what Harris showed Anthon, we cannot judge. Further we are assuming that "reformed Egyptian" is close enough to some form of Egyptian to make sense of it, a big assumption to be sure. But let's assume you are right, that Anthon could not read it; what does that say about Harris and his claim that Anthon could and did? Harris' testimonies are a vital part of the foundation of Mormonism, if he made the Anthon story up, what else did he make up?

Breasted, Wilson, and Kimball all agreed that Anthon could not have translated Egyptian when visited by Harris.  The early comments of Champollion simply were not enough to bridge that gap.  Beyond that, Anthon's personal descriptions make it clear that he saw no Egyptian on the Harris document.  Attacking Breasted will not get you out of that hole.  If you really want to understand the full situation, see my .  “Martin Harris’ Visit With Charles Anthon: Collected Documents on Short-Hand Egyptian,” FARMS Preliminary Report STF-85a (Provo: FARMS, 1985); 73pp.  A 1990 revision is online at https://publications.mi.byu.edu/pdf-control.php/publications/PreliminaryReports/Farms-Staff-Martin-Harriss-Visit-with-Charles_anthon-Collected-Documents-on-the-Anthon-Transcript.pdf .

In his descriptions, Anthon contradicted himself, so it is possible that he lied to Harris as well.  Harris may have told the truth about what Anthon did.  Why would he make something up?  Whatever happened, Harris returned convinced of the authenticity of the characters he had, and was willing to mortgage his farm for the cause.  Not the actions of a dishonest man.

 

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20 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I think this is basic English here, although I'm not an English major.  The simplest way to reduce the confusion is to eliminate the words after the commas as they are descriptions of the first part of the sentence, and not qualifiers in the way you're saying "though" is not being used to show contrast in my opinion.  The sentence should read like this: "Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham... about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments."  

Here is how I would paraphrase to give greater clarity.  Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments (fragments including the vignettes) do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham (BoA including the vignettes as they are part of the BoA).  However, there is not a unanimity among scholars about the proper interpretation of all of these fragments (again including the vignettes).  Unanimity is pretty hard to get in the scholarly world, there could be a consensus or a strong majority but unanimity is very difficult. 

Well I am an English major, and I'm telling you that you're reading it wrong, as will be further demonstrated in my next comment.

23 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

What?  Are you saying there isn't an academically correct translation of ancient Egyptian?  As I mentioned in the earlier comment, it may be difficult to get unanimity on exact wording, but its not like Joseph's translation was even close, it wasn't even in the ball bark.  He knew nothing about Egyptian, and his guesses prove that to be the case. 

The translation of the characters on the extant papyri is a different ballgame than the interpretations of the vignettes. It is true that there is some Egyptian text on the vignettes, but most of the interpretations provided by Joseph Smith are of the illustrations. The idiogrammatic nature of the illustrations makes their meaning far less static than the Egyptian script. There is no absolutely "correct" interpretation of any of the illustrations. They are picture symbols, and their meaning could easily shift depending on time period, location, genre, and other contextual adjustments. Moreover the Egyptological interpretations of such illustrations sometimes turn out to be different than the explanations discovered on ancient documents. It is by no means an exact science, and is far less certain than a philological assessment of the Egyptian characters. 

The essay is clearly emphasizing the less certain nature of the interpretations of these symbolic images, in contrast to the more certain translation of, for example, the Book of Breathings which has been translated by Rhodes, Ritner, and others, and which all parties agree don't match the text of the Book of Abraham (although, of course, this text's true relationship to the BofA is still being debated). 

38 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

Now you're claiming historicity to the BoA?  I hate to make a general comment about all the apologetic arguments that you're mentioning.  Suffice it to say that they aren't convincing and they don't consist of legitimately peer reviewed scholarship, which in this case while we're talking about Egyptology and translation of documents available for all to evaluate, is very important.   

Yes. I'm saying there is good evidence of its historicity. 

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4 hours ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Yes it clearly does. The article states:

How do we know the second half of the statement (the bolded part) is a different topic than the first half? Well because the first part states that there is a consensus about a certain matter (the relationship between the characters on the fragments and the BofA), whereas the second part says there is not a consensus about a different matter (the proper interpretation of the vignettes). Moreover, they are separated by the word "though" which is used to show contrast.

In an academic approach to the illustrations of the BofA, there is actually no way to prove that anything is "correct" or "incorrect." All anyone can do is show how well Joseph Smith's interpretations agree with what is understood by scholars with relevant training and expertise. All academic research ultimately boils down to "interpretations argued by some scholars," as you put it. So trying to downplay the essay's support for these ancient connections by drawing attention to its scholarly tone is not an effective argument. 

Well, its often the "immaterial" items, as you put it, that provide the best clues for evaluating a text's historicity. Besides both the interpretations of the vignettes and the actual BofA text itself contain plentiful evidence of antiquity. The items discussed in the Church essay are only a sampling of the evidence.

The essay doesn't' say there isn't more evidence to be discussed. In fact it points to a number of sources that treat these and further connections in greater depth. Robert has repeatedly mentioned his paper to you on this subject, which contains many more items. Nibley has lots of material on the facsimiles. Rhodes has tackled the topic. Others have weighed in. And, of course, the narrative itself is full of corroboration from relevant ancient documents. I'm guessing you have addressed the details of virtually none of this information, which, if my guess is accurate, means that your concluding statement that the "BoA is not a translation of ancient papyrus that contained the story of Abraham" is not informed. Nor does your interpretation accurately reflect the tone or intent of the essay, no matter how much you may want it to agree with your worldview. 

 

 

The correct translation concerning fac2 figures 8 - 21 are so important that the q15 works on these every Th meeting (rumor I heard).  Scholars around the world are hoping some day to arrive at a concensus on these deep mysteries.

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My view is simpler,  I have watched people who are qualified to read the inscriptions on tombs in Egypt read them out loud on several different programs.  There is no way that the civilization that built the pyramids said stupid things like that.  So for me I am for Joseph Smith's translations as I am convinced that we are fooling ourselves and we cannot read what is really there.

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1 hour ago, Ryan Dahle said:

Well I am an English major, and I'm telling you that you're reading it wrong, as will be further demonstrated in my next comment.

The translation of the characters on the extant papyri is a different ballgame than the interpretations of the vignettes. It is true that there is some Egyptian text on the vignettes, but most of the interpretations provided by Joseph Smith are of the illustrations. The idiogrammatic nature of the illustrations makes their meaning far less static than the Egyptian script. There is no absolutely "correct" interpretation of any of the illustrations. They are picture symbols, and their meaning could easily shift depending on time period, location, genre, and other contextual adjustments. Moreover the Egyptological interpretations of such illustrations sometimes turn out to be different than the explanations discovered on ancient documents. It is by no means an exact science, and is far less certain than a philological assessment of the Egyptian characters. 

The essay is clearly emphasizing the less certain nature of the interpretations of these symbolic images, in contrast to the more certain translation of, for example, the Book of Breathings which has been translated by Rhodes, Ritner, and others, and which all parties agree don't match the text of the Book of Abraham (although, of course, this text's true relationship to the BofA is still being debated). 

Yes. I'm saying there is good evidence of its historicity. 

I don’t have anything new to add other than what I said earlier.  It’s clear that we disagree on what the essay says and on Joseph’s ability to translate Egyptian documents.  

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23 hours ago, Robert F. Smith said:

Hi Dan.  Long time no see.  😎

A degree in Egyptology is certainly not required, but one must at least be conversant with the nature of Egyptian language, iconography, and with the nature of the broader biblical world.  Unless you have taken the time to learn that material, you literally do not know what you don't  know.  I'm not talking about acquaintance with the Joseph Smith Papers and associated documents.  We have had a number of debates about that on this board in the past, and there were a number of discussants who brought with them some pretty sophisticated illustrations and diagrams.  I've watched this sort of thing develop from the time in the old days when Chuck Larson came out with his book on the BofA (with the help of my friend Mike Marquardt) here in Provo.  Trouble was, he had no idea what he was doing, and he made some horrendous errors (without really knowing why).  Sincerity just wasn't enough.

By the way, talking about the videos:  I'm not the only one on this board who would like to read your full transcript with illustrations in book form.  Do you have one planned?  Thus far, I have had to recommend Jeremy Runnells for those on here who want to read something in print (online).  Do you have a better print recommendation?  I tend to write extensively on this subject, with full documentation, so I am very interested in citing published sources.  If you are the best available source, I would certainly like to cite you.

Meantime, do you have a helpful critique of my "Brief Assessment of the LDS Book of Abraham,” version 10, Mar 21, 2019, online at https://www.scribd.com/document/118810727/A-Brief-Assessment-of-the-LDS-Book-of-Abraham

Bob, you make no sense. Since Gee and Muhlestein have written on topics that do require their degrees in Egyptology, responding to them also requires no degree in Egyptology. I refer to their nonsense about a long scroll; their assertion that the entire BoA was dictated in July 1835; that W. W. Phelps authored the Grammar and Alphabet; that references in the text of the BoA to Fac. 1 were later insertions, etc. Once you get that right, parallels to Egyptian and Abrahamic legends no longer matter, especially since there are other explanations. What I show is that Gee and Muhlestein don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to early Mormon history and the JS Egyptian papers.

 

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1 hour ago, Dan Vogel said:

Yes, I plan to do a little book similar to Gee's. 

Any idea on a release frame? I'll look forward to it. While we obviously disagree, I've actually bought all your books going back to the 90's and enjoyed them. I think it'll push forward the discussion.

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1 hour ago, Dan Vogel said:

Bob, you make no sense.

Thanks, Dan, but I was hoping for a bit more detail -- something substantive, and an actual reply to my comments.  Instead, I get "no sense."  Some people on here, and some elsewhere (Hauglid, for example) seem to think that you make an excellent case.

1 hour ago, Dan Vogel said:

Since Gee and Muhlestein have written on topics that do require their degrees in Egyptology, responding to them also requires no degree in Egyptology. I refer to their nonsense about a long scroll; their assertion that the entire BoA was dictated in July 1835; that W. W. Phelps authored the Grammar and Alphabet; that references in the text of the BoA to Fac. 1 were later insertions, etc. Once you get that right, parallels to Egyptian and Abrahamic legends no longer matter, especially since there are other explanations. What I show is that Gee and Muhlestein don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to early Mormon history and the JS Egyptian papers.

And, do you have a book or detailed article planned, in which you make your formal, substantive case?  If not, why not?

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On 3/22/2019 at 11:39 AM, hope_for_things said:

I haven't read Roberts linked analysis, I'm only commenting on what he said in this thread.  Look at it closer again.  He took issue with my quoting the gospel topics essay statement and is asserting that "Joseph was spectacularly successful in his identifications of the illustrations, and the text of the Book of Abraham is filled with authentic markers.".  Those statements sound out of touch with the essay and the evidence I've seen.  

That is why you need to read Robert's essay.

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