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John Gee: "The Joseph Smith Papers Project Stumbles"

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The Church Historian’s Press is an imprint of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, and a trademark of Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

© 2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

See bottom of page:

https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/

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The Church’s name and logotype are key Church identifiers. They are registered as trademarks or are otherwise legally protected worldwide. They should be used only according to the following guidelines.

Local units may use the written name of the Church (not the logotype) when all of the following conditions are met:

The activity or function with which the name is associated is officially sponsored by the unit (for example, a sacrament meeting program).

The name of the local unit is used as a prelude to the name of the Church (for example, Canyon View Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

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The Church’s official logotype (see the front cover of this handbook) is to be used only for items approved by the Correlation Department at Church headquarters. Examples of these items are:

Official Church publications and stationery.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/handbook-2-administering-the-church/selected-church-policies-and-guidelines/selected-church-policies

The logo used on the JSP is of The Church Historian's Press.

Nothing here about oversight of First Presidency or Coorelation committee or the phrase "official church publication", or "official" or "church publication".

https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/new-publishing-imprint-set-to-boost-mormon-scholarship

https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/news-releases-stories/church-launches-joseph-smith-papers-project

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Scholars and librarians are the target audience for the immense endeavor. The Church expects the volumes will become valuable primary resources for writers, editors, scholars and educators, particularly those who specialize in American religious, social and cultural history....

“We believe The Joseph Smith Papers will be the most important Church history project of this generation,” said Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church historian and recorder. “I believe the volumes will become the seminal resource for scholarly work about Joseph Smith and the early years of the Church.”

Just to keep track of what I am disputing as an inaccurate description of the JSP, from the first page of the thread:

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The JSP are an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As such, they are to be considered authoritative statements on history and doctrine.  It troubles me to see Jeff so willingly criticize works that were published under the auspices of the First Presidency

 

Edited by Calm

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21 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

It seems like Abr 3 is a pretty well read chapter. Much more so than many other texts (IMO). The rest is pretty neglected, but that chapter is the only scripture tied to our theology of the council in heaven.

I know.  I should have added that the couple of verses in Abr 3 are referred to a lot.  I'd question whether one passage should sustain it.  Although, that is largely how scripture works.  Contradicting passages mean nothing due to interpretation, pick and choosing, ignorance, and neglect.  

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31 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

I know.  I should have added that the couple of verses in Abr 3 are referred to a lot.  I'd question whether one passage should sustain it.  Although, that is largely how scripture works.  Contradicting passages mean nothing due to interpretation, pick and choosing, ignorance, and neglect.  

I think it's more than just 3:25. Although heaven knows that's quoted a lot. However there's really a lot theologically in the chapter. Whereas the following chapters are mainly just the Genesis creation accounts. I think Abr 1 does get referred to as well, but again not nearly as much as 3.

The scripture citation index has 823 references to Abraham. To give perspective, the whole book of Jacob got 597 and 1 Nephi 1877. So it's a little less than half of a pretty popular text and more than one of my favorite books despite being considerably shorter. Of the chapters, I was a bit surprised. Chapter 3 gets 455 - obviously the most popular but chapter 1 has 125 and 2 has 110. Admittedly conference talks aren't necessarily a good way to judge use, but it really does suggest there's not the neglect as portrayed.

Edited by clarkgoble
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There has been a lot of things said here and I can't reply to them individually, but here are a few things that I'm sharing at various places throughout the internet:

With regard to the transcription of the Joseph Smith Papers volume: I have looked carefully at every one of Gee’s instances where he feels we are wrong and I have to disagree with his characterization that the volume is riddled with errors. In fact, none of the transcription errors he points to are errors. He further states that there are “213 unique instances in the documents where the editors admitted they could not read what the scribes wrote.” He makes this declaration as if it was a valid criticism of the quality of the volume. However, it would be nothing short of a miracle of this length and complexity had no illegible characters. The Joseph Smith Papers team feels that those “213 unique instances” of unknown characters are a strength of the volume. Our transcriptions carefully follow established documentary editing standards. They reflect the ambiguity in the documents and the reality that a transcription is an imperfect way of representing complicated manuscripts.

With regard to talk about revisions or updates or corrections: We have carefully looked at all the reviews of the fourth volume of the Revelations and Translations and have updated our errata sheet according to what we feel are legitimate mistakes. For those interested, they can see those updates here. We look forward to the continued peer-reviewed responses and online reaction to this volume. We’re confident in the volume and eagerly await the scholarship that the volume promises to prompt.

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25 minutes ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

With regard to talk about revisions or updates or corrections: We have carefully looked at all the reviews of the fourth volume of the Revelations and Translations and have updated our errata sheet according to what we feel are legitimate mistakes. For those interested, they can see those updates here. We look forward to the continued peer-reviewed responses and online reaction to this volume. We’re confident in the volume and eagerly await the scholarship that the volume promises to prompt.

Peer review?  Does this mean that hard copy publication is held off so people will have a chance to review it online and provide insights?  For how long?

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1 hour ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

There has been a lot of things said here and I can't reply to them individually, but here are a few things that I'm sharing at various places throughout the internet:

With regard to the transcription of the Joseph Smith Papers volume: I have looked carefully at every one of Gee’s instances where he feels we are wrong and I have to disagree with his characterization that the volume is riddled with errors. In fact, none of the transcription errors he points to are errors. He further states that there are “213 unique instances in the documents where the editors admitted they could not read what the scribes wrote.” He makes this declaration as if it was a valid criticism of the quality of the volume. However, it would be nothing short of a miracle of this length and complexity had no illegible characters. The Joseph Smith Papers team feels that those “213 unique instances” of unknown characters are a strength of the volume. Our transcriptions carefully follow established documentary editing standards. They reflect the ambiguity in the documents and the reality that a transcription is an imperfect way of representing complicated manuscripts.

With regard to talk about revisions or updates or corrections: We have carefully looked at all the reviews of the fourth volume of the Revelations and Translations and have updated our errata sheet according to what we feel are legitimate mistakes. For those interested, they can see those updates here. We look forward to the continued peer-reviewed responses and online reaction to this volume. We’re confident in the volume and eagerly await the scholarship that the volume promises to prompt.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing this info.

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1 hour ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

There has been a lot of things said here and I can't reply to them individually, but here are a few things that I'm sharing at various places throughout the internet:

With regard to the transcription of the Joseph Smith Papers volume: I have looked carefully at every one of Gee’s instances where he feels we are wrong and I have to disagree with his characterization that the volume is riddled with errors. In fact, none of the transcription errors he points to are errors. He further states that there are “213 unique instances in the documents where the editors admitted they could not read what the scribes wrote.” He makes this declaration as if it was a valid criticism of the quality of the volume. However, it would be nothing short of a miracle of this length and complexity had no illegible characters. The Joseph Smith Papers team feels that those “213 unique instances” of unknown characters are a strength of the volume. Our transcriptions carefully follow established documentary editing standards. They reflect the ambiguity in the documents and the reality that a transcription is an imperfect way of representing complicated manuscripts.

With regard to talk about revisions or updates or corrections: We have carefully looked at all the reviews of the fourth volume of the Revelations and Translations and have updated our errata sheet according to what we feel are legitimate mistakes. For those interested, they can see those updates here. We look forward to the continued peer-reviewed responses and online reaction to this volume. We’re confident in the volume and eagerly await the scholarship that the volume promises to prompt.

Brother Jensen,

 

First off thanks for taking the time to weigh in here. We are a in a bit of the small corner of the Mormon world here so remarks like this are greatly appreciated regardless of where we may fall in this discussion.

I wonder if you would care to comment regarding another issue that has been raised in a review by Jeff Lindsay here?

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The GAEL and the earlier Egyptian Alphabet documents from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are said by critics to show Joseph Smith’s translation process. It is frequently assumed, especially by our critics, that these documents preceded the translation of the Book of Abraham or show it in progress. However, the documents in question generally lack dates, and the vague statements from those who produced them do not identify when these specific documents were produced, nor do they explain why they were produced. Caution is needed in assigning dates. Unfortunately, the editors of JSPRT4 have assumed these documents were produced in the same time frame as the Kirtland-era translation of the Book of Abraham, which occurred from July to November 1835. This generous date range would enable the Kirtland Egyptian Papers to serve as sources for the production of the Book of Abraham, a theory favored either intentionally or unintentionally in the treatment of these documents in JSPRT4, consistent with the personal views at least one of the editors but not consistent with the unreferenced analysis of other scholars.

If these documents arose after November 1835, then that would strengthen the argument of apologists that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are derived from the revealed translation and not the other way around. The dates matter, at least to some people and for some issues. Unfortunately, textual clues indicate the assumed dates presented in JSPRT4 are in serious error (see Issue #3 above on the implications of Hebrew study on the dates of documents)

 

Again thanks for taking to time to respond here.

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1 hour ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

With regard to the transcription of the Joseph Smith Papers volume: I have looked carefully at every one of Gee’s instances where he feels we are wrong and I have to disagree with his characterization that the volume is riddled with errors. In fact, none of the transcription errors he points to are errors. He further states that there are “213 unique instances in the documents where the editors admitted they could not read what the scribes wrote.” He makes this declaration as if it was a valid criticism of the quality of the volume. However, it would be nothing short of a miracle of this length and complexity had no illegible characters.

That really ought undermine our trust in John's overall critique. Sad to say.

I do think at least mentioning the argument over date would be good. Even if one thinks the Nibley-Gee thesis wrong.

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1 hour ago, longview said:

Peer review?  Does this mean that hard copy publication is held off so people will have a chance to review it online and provide insights?  For how long?

I'm not sure I understand your question here. The way the Joseph Smith Papers has published books is that we have editors do their volume development work, it's reviewed by internal historians, by external historians (in the case of the BoA volume, we had John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, and others review advanced copies of our volume), and church leaders. Then it is published. Once it's released, it's traditional in academia to have reviews published in scholarly journals. Then historians read those reviews (and hopefully the book as well!) and move on to do their own scholarship. It's a slow (and exciting for us historians!) process. Particularly in reference works there are errata sheets that are circulated or posted online so that any errors can be "out there" for scholars who use the volume. That's the process we've done for this volume.

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[sorry, I apparently don't know how to use the quote function fully. This is in reply to CA Steve's question posted above.]

First, I'm not going to acknowledge a "critic" and "apologetic" divide in Book of Abraham studies. "critics say this" or "apologists say that." I don't work in those absolutes. I listen to scholars and those who have thought about these topics long and hard regardless of their faith background. In fact, I don't normally even know what their background is--it's just not something I worry about. Is this person representing the sources accurately, are his arguments logical, and does it make sense. In other words, I'm not scared off by someone saying that a theory I hold is similar to that of a "critic." 

The Joseph Smith Papers tends to be careful in its dating and we often give expansive date ranges when we don't know precise dates. I've looked quite carefully at Jeff Linsday's arguments about the dating of the documents and I'm not convinced that we are in error. I might even publishing something on my own thoughts one of these days, but the Joseph Smith Papers keeps me too busy right now.

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Brother Jensen, I just need to say again it is great you are willing to take the time to inform us of your process and point of view.

I will be up front and say I am not very educated in this area and I haven't read your work yet to even know if John Gee is accurate, so I don't follow all the arguments very well, but there was one point John Gee made that I could understand and made me wonder about the choice of the editors.  And I am assuming this is basic enough that if Gee was in error on placement, it would have been caught by Interpreter's editors, so it leaves me wondering about the reasoning behind the choice not to treat them as disputed.

Here is his criticism:

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One of the assumptions is that the authorship of the documents included in the volume belongs to Joseph Smith. In fact, the authorship of the documents is disputed, something the volume never acknowledges. Others have put forth historical arguments that W. W. Phelps, not Joseph Smith, authored many of the documents published in the volume. These arguments are ignored. The volume should have followed the standard practice of the Joseph Smith Papers Project and put most of the documents in an appendix as disputed.

Page 181, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/the-joseph-smith-papers-project-stumbles/

If you could explain the choice to not put them in an appendix, it would be appreciated by me...and maybe others.

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14 minutes ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

First, I'm not going to acknowledge a "critic" and "apologetic" divide in Book of Abraham studies. "critics say this" or "apologists say that." I don't work in those absolutes.

Which is important since there's typically large diversity of thought on both sides. Nothing is more aggravating then people lumping very different arguments together. All that should matter are the arguments themselves.

Thanks for visiting and chiming in.

3 minutes ago, Calm said:

And I am assuming this is basic enough that if Gee was in error on placement, it would have been caught by Interpreter's editors, so it leaves me wondering about the reasoning behind the choice not to treat them as disputed.

I hate to say it because I find the Interpreter an invaluable resource particularly given how the Maxwell Institute has changed focus. However the last few months they've really let through some pretty questionable articles IMO.

Edited by clarkgoble

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3 minutes ago, clarkgoble said:

However the last few months they've really let through some pretty questionable articles IMO.

Do you find Gee's criticism of disputed authorship faulty then?  Perhaps it isn't as straightforward of a question as it appears to me (I get determining authorship can be difficult, I am referring to whether or not a particular work's authorship is generally disputed or not).

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45 minutes ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

(in the case of the BoA volume, we had John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, and others review advanced copies of our volume)

According to my understanding of what John has said, this was the only time egyptologists were brought in, and it was much too late for you to do anything with their feedback. Is that true?

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43 minutes ago, Calm said:

Do you find Gee's criticism of disputed authorship faulty then?  Perhaps it isn't as straightforward of a question as it appears to me (I get determining authorship can be difficult, I am referring to whether or not a particular work's authorship is generally disputed or not).

I don't feel I can really evaluate the claim. However if the claims about transcription are in error, then to me that suggests a level of carelessness that makes me skeptical of the parts I can't evaluate. It may well be of course that his other claims are solid. But sadly John's had a few recent claims like scroll length turn out to be at best deeply problematic.

I should add going the other direction that Hauglid's facebook comments praising Vogel's argument and condemning Gee make me question the objectivity there as well. There seems to be a lot going on behind the scenes the rest of us aren't aware. (Again noting that I don't feel like I can evaluate Vogel's argument too well since he hasn't put it in written form only in YouTube)

But the articles I was thinking of from the Interpreter that I'm surprised they let through where I can evaluate them were some of Duane Boyce's and Paul C. Peterson's articles. It's one thing to disagree, it's an other to just not even understand the argument. Egregiously bad and uncharitable readings are exactly the thing an editor should catch and get the author to revise. Again to be clear I think the Interpreter serves an important function but that means you have to get your arguments right. It's fine to be wrong of course - there's an element of speculation to all these sorts of things. However ones basic claims ought be defensible.

Edited by clarkgoble

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26 minutes ago, Calm said:

Brother Jensen, I just need to say again it is great you are willing to take the time to inform us of your process and point of view.

I will be up front and say I am not very educated in this area and I haven't read your work yet to even know if John Gee is accurate, so I don't follow all the arguments very well, but there was one point John Gee made that I could understand and made me wonder about the choice of the editors.  And I am assuming this is basic enough that if Gee was in error on placement, it would have been caught by Interpreter's editors, so it leaves me wondering about the reasoning behind the choice not to treat them as disputed.

Here is his criticism:

Page 181, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/the-joseph-smith-papers-project-stumbles/

If you could explain the choice to not put them in an appendix, it would be appreciated by me...and maybe others.

Documentary Editing is a robust field of scholarship that is often oversimplified--even by historians. I think we're dealing with several meanings of "authorship" or "authorizing." In the Joseph Smith Papers, we have two criteria for inclusion: Authorship and Ownership. So if a document was penned by Joseph or if it was owned by him (think incoming correspondence) than we feature them in the volume or online. By the ownership criterion, all the documents certainly belong in the volume--they were in his possession. But even by the authorship, I would argue that they belong. But in saying that, the JSP doesn't use "authorship" as strictly as modern readers might. Joseph Smith used ghost writers frequently and he surrounded himself with scribes. In other words, it's quite possible to feature a document that may not have even crossed Joseph's eyes, but was written (and signed!) by a clerk. We have significantly expended "authorship," in other words, to capture a lot of documents. For those who own Dean Jessee's PERSONAL WRITINGS OF JOSEPH SMITH know that if we limited Joseph's writings to holographs, you would have a single volume rather than 20+ volumes.

But even in saying all that, I think that there's a strong case to be made for a bit stronger evidence of "authorship" for these documents. Joseph's handwriting is on most of one of the alphabet documents (making it one of the rare holographs of that time period) and he was certainly interested in the study of language. It's not at all impossible to imagine a scenario where Joseph is involved in the creation of these documents. And I will urge people to read our volume. We actually are careful not to assign authorship to documents for which there is no evidence of such.

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25 minutes ago, Trevor said:

According to my understanding of what John has said, this was the only time egyptologists were brought in, and it was much too late for you to do anything with their feedback. Is that true?

As I've said elsewhere online: "From my perspective, Dr. Gee’s and Dr. Muhlestein’s assistance was crucial. We were very grateful to consult with multiple experts in the fields of Egyptology on the Joseph Smith Papers. Based upon their helpful reviews, we made many changes to the volume before its publication. I look forward to continued professional collaboration with both of them. They have tremendous things to offer in the field of Egyptology and to the text of the Book of Abraham."

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6 minutes ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

As I've said elsewhere online: "From my perspective, Dr. Gee’s and Dr. Muhlestein’s assistance was crucial. We were very grateful to consult with multiple experts in the fields of Egyptology on the Joseph Smith Papers. Based upon their helpful reviews, we made many changes to the volume before its publication. I look forward to continued professional collaboration with both of them. They have tremendous things to offer in the field of Egyptology and to the text of the Book of Abraham."

Where else have you been discussing this? Perhaps you've already answered the rest of my questions.

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On 8/25/2019 at 9:30 PM, 6EQUJ5 said:

Anything published by the Church represents official Church doctrine.

??? I've never remotely heard that. That seems completely unworkable given how much the Church publishes and how not all of it is examined carefully.

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2 hours ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

Documentary Editing is a robust field of scholarship that is often oversimplified--even by historians. I think we're dealing with several meanings of "authorship" or "authorizing." In the Joseph Smith Papers, we have two criteria for inclusion: Authorship and Ownership. So if a document was penned by Joseph or if it was owned by him (think incoming correspondence) than we feature them in the volume or online. By the ownership criterion, all the documents certainly belong in the volume--they were in his possession. But even by the authorship, I would argue that they belong. But in saying that, the JSP doesn't use "authorship" as strictly as modern readers might. Joseph Smith used ghost writers frequently and he surrounded himself with scribes. In other words, it's quite possible to feature a document that may not have even crossed Joseph's eyes, but was written (and signed!) by a clerk. We have significantly expended "authorship," in other words, to capture a lot of documents. For those who own Dean Jessee's PERSONAL WRITINGS OF JOSEPH SMITH know that if we limited Joseph's writings to holographs, you would have a single volume rather than 20+ volumes.

But even in saying all that, I think that there's a strong case to be made for a bit stronger evidence of "authorship" for these documents. Joseph's handwriting is on most of one of the alphabet documents (making it one of the rare holographs of that time period) and he was certainly interested in the study of language. It's not at all impossible to imagine a scenario where Joseph is involved in the creation of these documents. And I will urge people to read our volume. We actually are careful not to assign authorship to documents for which there is no evidence of such.

Thank you for the explanation.  Quite understandable.

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1 hour ago, clarkgoble said:

??? I've never remotely heard that. That seems completely unworkable given how much the Church publishes and how not all of it is examined carefully.

He is likely trolling this, imo.  A CFR is waiting to be answered.

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3 hours ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

As I've said elsewhere online: "From my perspective, Dr. Gee’s and Dr. Muhlestein’s assistance was crucial. We were very grateful to consult with multiple experts in the fields of Egyptology on the Joseph Smith Papers. Based upon their helpful reviews, we made many changes to the volume before its publication. I look forward to continued professional collaboration with both of them. They have tremendous things to offer in the field of Egyptology and to the text of the Book of Abraham."

Those are kind, charitable words. Dr. Hauglid’s on FB, not so much. Any idea why?

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15 hours ago, gtaggart said:

Those are kind, charitable words. Dr. Hauglid’s on FB, not so much. Any idea why?

Yeah, I have lots of ideas. But since they are based upon my own experiences, interactions, and conversations with Brian and will very likely not fully characterize Brian's own thoughts or position, I won't share them here. It's not my place to speak for Brian.

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17 hours ago, Calm said:

Thank you for the explanation.  Quite understandable.

I agree. Another thanks!

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