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John Gee: "The Joseph Smith Papers Project Stumbles"

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2 hours ago, Robin Scott Jensen said:

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.

Thanks. Your reticence to speak on behalf of Dr. Hauglid is welcomed. We don't see much of that around these parts. 

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I appreciate Bro. Jensen coming here (as well as the latterdaysaints subreddit) to address concerns.

I certainly don't know as much about the topic as him, but I've done a fair amount of research myself and in my opinion the JSP editors have done a very fine job with the Book of Abraham materials. When it comes to disagreements over the Egyptian alphabets, I think part of the problem is that some people are inclined to believe for what I presume are ideological reasons that either they somehow are actually literal translations of ancient Egyptian or that JS wasn't very involved in their production. The evidence just isn't there for either of these views, unfortunately. As Bro. Jensen mentioned, JS's handwrote one of the copies of the alphabet. He also mentions working on the project multiple times in his journals.

The interpretations of the hieroglyphics course are not accurate in a literal sense, and so I think it was the right decision to treat these documents as 19th century writings and consult mainly historians of American religion instead of Egyptologists, which I think was the point Hauglid was trying to get across. I'm not qualified to say how good of an Egyptologist John Gee is, but unfortunately he doesn't have a great track record with dealing with the evidence in the 19th century documents, and to me many of his arguments come off as stretching the evidence to fit his religious ideas.

The question over whether the Egyptian alphabets predate the Book of Abraham text or not I think is a false dichotomy, since it is pretty clear that they were both produced over the course of several sessions, and they only partially overlap in content. I feel confident in saying that the first few verses of Abraham 1 are based on the Egyptian alphabet documents, though.

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3 minutes ago, mapman said:

The question over whether the Egyptian alphabets predate the Book of Abraham text or not I think is a false dichotomy, since it is pretty clear that they were both produced over the course of several sessions, and they only partially overlap in content. I feel confident in saying that the first few verses of Abraham 1 are based on the Egyptian alphabet documents, though.

The direction of dependence between the KEP and the text of the Book of Abraham is of critical importance to those who advocate a missing scroll containing our current Book of Abraham. In simple terms, if the text of Abraham chapters 1 & 2 are dependent on the GAEL, and the GAEL is derived from extant papyri, there is no missing scroll on which the Book of Abraham might be found because then we would have the papyri that Joseph was using to produce the Book of Abraham.

The crux of the disagreement here is that one group is advocating a catalyst theory and another is arguing for a missing scroll. Not surprisingly we see the people who are focusing on the 19th century textual development of the Book of Abraham advocating for the former, and those with degrees in Egyptology promoting the latter.

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31 minutes ago, mapman said:

I feel confident in saying that the first few verses of Abraham 1 are based on the Egyptian alphabet documents, though.

Chris Smith's argument for this is available online for those interested. While I think this makes a compelling case for a dependency, the issue of how he built up the grammar and why he abandoned it after the opening verses remains unclear. 

11 minutes ago, CA Steve said:

The crux of the disagreement here is that one group is advocating a catalyst theory and another is arguing for a missing scroll. Not surprisingly we see the people who are focusing on the 19th century textual development of the Book of Abraham advocating for the former, and those with degrees in Egyptology promoting the latter.

While I make no claim of really following all the arguments, I believe at least some missing scroll proponents would allow for Joseph thinkin he was translating from our extant Hor sn-sn document. Some don't of course and have pushed for only Joseph's associates making the identification mistake. Honestly that seems pretty difficult to support these days though. If I understand it, those still espousing a missing scroll model think it the known missing Amenhotep scroll. I think it fair to say that an opportunistic argument since so far as I know we don't have any clue what was on it. It also has the problem of vignette 1 being off different document.

The problem for the catalyst theory, if I'm following it correctly, is the relationship of the grammar to the text. Although obviously that depends upon the particular theory in question. I take catalyst to be a very broad category.

Edited by clarkgoble
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So, I'm no scholar, not thoroughly versed with issues and available writings, and of no particular smarts in the first place. But I've made an observation, and am wondering if I'm the only one to make it.

If you take all the writings about LDS issues and arrange them by topic on a roadway, you'll have mostly lots of writings about LDS issues.  But when it comes to the book of abraham, you'll have an inordinate amount of writings about personalities, wrong approaches, calling foul about missing relevant data, folks feeling frustrated and disappointed in the scholarly work of others, and basically something that gives a high level view similar to that of a pack of 7 year old brothers fighting each other and calling names.

Does anyone else notice that?  I mean, when we talk about the Kirtland bank, or polygamy, or the history of the WoW, we don't have such passionate factions warring with each other about the definitions of words. I'm not talking about critics picking stuff apart, I mean the amount of infighting.

Is this an Egyptology thing in general, or just an LDS-specific Egyptology thing, or what?

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Dan Vogel has responded to Dr. Gee's review here.

I am copying and pasting it in what I hope was the intended order. Dan Vogel had to break up his response due to the length limits on posts.

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Gee argues, “In the documents in this volume of the Joseph Smith Papers the scribes’ intent and the authors’ intent are hotly debated. Transcribing according to the scribes’ intent is begging the question and subtly predetermining the outcome of the debate.” There are two instances in the Jensen/Hauglid transcription that fit Gee’s worry expressed here, only they actually follow what Gee has previously transcribed himself. In transcribing Frederic G. Williams’ Book of Abraham manuscript, Jensen and Hauglid have placed Abraham 1:12 and 14, which refer to the gods and altar in Facsimile 1, within angled brackets, indicating that they are later insertions. Gee and other apologists have suggested this because they know that the vignettes do not date to Abraham’s time and it is difficult to argue that Abraham’s record was appended to the Book of Breathings when it refers to “the representation that is at the commencement of this record.” Gee, Jensen, and Hauglid give as a pretext for this reading that the writing looks cramped. The first instance appears at the end of a paragraph and slants upward, which also happens at the end of the previous paragraph due to the page being unlined. These writers place the beginning of the insertion where the line begins to slant upwards, which makes the sentence incoherent. The second proposed insertion appears at the top of the next page, which these authors argue was inserted into the blank top margin in cramped writing. However, Williams had a habit of not maintaining a top margin and the writing is not cramped. All transcriptions have problems, even Gee’s, but readers and researchers should beware of this bias more than any of the others Gee has pointed out.

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Gee’s discussion of the different practices of ancient and American historians is not relevant since most of his examples do not deal with visual versus authorial intent. I find the attempt to avoid the problem of authorial intent to be an illusion that produces some very unreadable texts. It is one of the things about Royal Skousen’s transcriptions of the Book of Mormon manuscripts that I find unnecessarily annoying.

As someone who has transcribed thousands of pages of documents, let me tell you that it is not a science. The Joseph Smith Papers editors have clearly stated this: “Text transcription and verification is therefore an imperfect art than a science” (e.g., Vol. 1, p. lix of the Journals series). Most of the transcription errors Gee has listed are not due to a difference in methodology but are merely judgment calls. When I looked at Gee’s 23 examples, I found that only 7 were probably right, 9 were probably wrong, 5 were only possibly right, and 2 were undetermined.

In several of Gee’s examples, he wants to show overwrites of the same letters, whereas Jensen and Hauglid chose not to indicate them. This seems to be the reason for other transcribing differences such as where Gee reads “possession<s>” instead of “possessions.” Jensen and Hauglid evidently read the terminal “s” as an overwrite, whereas Gee sees it as an insertion. However, it might be a strikeout. Note also that Gee does not use the long-s in the two “ss” as one might expect of a transcription that “prioritizes what the scribe actually wrote.” In Willard Richards’ 1842 transcription, Gee wants to change “canaanites” to “canaanite<s>”. However, a close examination shows that the terminal “s” is touched-up as is also the first “a”.

There are several instances where Gee is less conservative than Jensen and Hauglid, when Gee deciphers characters that Jensen and Hauglid use diamonds. For example, Gee changes “I{◊◊\at}a” to read “I{to\at}a”—which I found was possible, although I remained uncertain and wondered how Gee could be so sure as to criticize Jensen and Hauglid. In his first example, Gee tells us to replace “{◊\B}ethcho” with “Bethcho” and criticizes Jensen and Hauglid because “there is no overwriting on the character although there is some touch-up.” In my judgment, Gee is overly confident that it is a touch-up instead of an overwrite. It doesn’t look like a normal touch-up and the result is an anomalous-shaped “B.”

Gee writes as if the issue of scribal intent can be avoided, but it can’t. Going by appearance only, Gee transcribes “desendemt fron” instead of “desendent from.” Trying to transcribe Willard Richards’ treacherous handwriting without considering authorial intent would be impossible, especially since he had a habit of amalgamating characters into something that was idiosyncratic and impossible to represent in type. In my view, for example, Jensen and Hauglid correctly transcribed “Behold Potiphars,” I suspect because they know Richards’ handwriting well, whereas Gee transcribes it “Behod Potiphas.” Those familiar with Richards’ habits know that his terminal “d” is often just the riser without first part so that “ed” can appear to be “d,” which in this instance is “ld” to the trained eye. Similarly, the terminal “rs” can appear to be just a large “s,” when in fact it is a standing “r” followed by a downward stroke.

All transcriptions have problems, even Gee’s.

Quote

Gee complains that equal time was not given to apologetic scholarship dealing with the reverse-translation, long-scroll, and disputed-authorship theories as if it were only a matter of interpreting the historical sources differently. It’s not. The scholarship Gee and others have produced on what is known as the Kirtland Egyptian Papers is unsound and cannot be recommended.

For example, Gee criticizes the date Jensen and Hauglid give for the Egyptian Alphabets—“circa Early July-circa November 1835”—which is as vague as you could get. Yet, Gee states, “This date provided for the Egyptian Alphabet documents by the editors does not match that provided by Joseph Smith’s journals, which indicate a specific date for these documents (1 October 1835)” (Gee, 179).

Joseph Smith’s journal states no such thing. On 1 October 1835, Oliver Cowdery wrote in Joseph Smith’s journal: “This after noon labored on the Egyptian alphabet, in company with brsr. O. Cowdery and W. W. Phelps: The system of astronomy was unfolded.” Because the astronomy appears in the bound Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), not the Alphabets, Gee has attempted to argue that working on the “Egyptian alphabet” and the unfolding of astronomy were separate activities. However, aside from a few brief discussions of grammar, the GAEL is mostly an expansion of the Alphabets into five degrees of meaning. There is no reason Cowdery could not have referred to the Grammar and Alphabet as simply the “Egyptian alphabet.” In fact, some of the pages of the Grammar have the heading “Egyptian Alphabet.” Gee’s contorted reading of the passage is unnecessary. Besides, the journal entry says nothing about when the document was begun, only that they were working on it.

Joseph Smith’s history states, “The remainder of this month [July 1835], I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients” (HC, 1:238). This tells us when the Alphabets were begun—in July, not October. It also tells us by whom—Joseph Smith, not Phelps. The passage is important because it was composed by Willard Richards on 16 September 1843, no doubt with the help of Joseph Smith and/or W. W. Phelps, two of the participants. In his recent book, Gee neglects to quote this passage as well as the previous statement that in July 1835 Joseph Smith, with scribes Cowdery and Phelps, “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, &c.” Yet, Gee asserts that all the Book of Abraham that we have and possibly more was translated in July 1835 without ever documenting that claim.

The only reason Gee wants the entire Book of Abraham translated in early July 1835 is so he can argue the old Nibley apologetic that the Alphabets and GAEL are attempts by Phelps to reverse engineer Joseph Smith’s translation. The problem with that theory is that the Alphabets and GAEL only relate to the Book of Abraham indirectly. In fact, they are translations of characters from Amerhotep and Ta-sherit-Min papyri as well as the columns from Joseph Smith Papyrus I that flank Fac. 1, whereas the characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscripts come from Joseph Smith Papyrus XI. Since the reverse translation theory cannot be maintained, there is no need to insist that the entire Book of Abraham was translated in July 1835.

Quote

Gee complains, “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” (Gee, 183). The only evidence Gee has given is his own misreading of a passage in Joseph Smith’s journal under 13 November 1843, which Gee thinks describes Joseph Smith going to Phelps’ house for the GAEL. His reading is incorrect, because it describes either Smith going to his own office where Phelps worked or Phelps going to the Mansion House where Smith lived. Besides, Phelps probably helped Richards compose the entry in Smith’s history that assigned authorship to Joseph Smith.

Gee objects to Jensen and Hauglid’s assumption that the translation in Kirtland in 1835 ended with Abraham 2:18, and complains that they “are ignoring a great deal of evidence that others have adduced for precisely the idea that Joseph Smith had translated more of the Book of Abraham than that at that time” (Gee, 184). Both Gee and Kerry Muhlestein have argued that the entire Book of Abraham was dictated in 1835, even the last three chapters that show signs of Joseph Smith’s Hebrew lessons in early 1836. Gee cites Muhlestein and Megan Hansen’s theory that the Hebrew words and other Hebrew influenced translations were added in Nauvoo before publication in 1842. There is no credible evidence that Joseph Smith inserted the Hebrew-inspired material in Nauvoo or that he translated beyond Abraham 2:18 in Kirtland, which he published in the first installment in the Times and Seasons (1 March 1842). His journal records that he and Richards were working on the next installment on 8-9 March, which appeared in the 15 March 1842 issue.

Gee attempts to provide evidence that the translation in Kirtland extended beyond Abraham 2:18 by pointing out the disparity between what Jensen and Hauglid believe was translated in Kirtland and what they think was produced in Nauvoo. “Joseph Smith’s Kirtland period journals record him translating on 7 October 1835, 19 November 1835, 20 November 1835, 24 November 1835, and 25 November 1835. This is a minimum of five sessions. In Nauvoo, there is only a day and a half of translation” (Gee, 184-85). Gee assumes that the Alphabets and Grammar were not translations by Smith, but derive from Phelps’ reverse engineering of the Book of Abraham. However, the entry in Smith’s history states that he was “engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham.”

Because of identical or nearly identical corrections in the Book of Abraham manuscripts scribed by Frederick G. Williams and Warren Parrish, it is clear that they wrote simultaneously from Joseph Smith’s dictation. The probable date for that to have occurred was 19-20 November 1835, when Joseph Smith’s journal mentions all three were together and toured the temple, after which “I returned home and spent the day in translating the Egyptian records” and on the next day “spent the day in translating, and made rapid progress.”

 

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Dan Vogels comments appears to inflate the baloon that Gee was pointing at in his article. I am left with the impression that Gee has shown Meldrumite behavior, and I have a hard time understanding the logic behind his approach. 

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1 hour ago, Maasta said:

Dan Vogels comments appears to inflate the baloon that Gee was pointing at in his article. I am left with the impression that Gee has shown Meldrumite behavior, and I have a hard time understanding the logic behind his approach. 

This definitely seems an unfortunate article to have published. If you're going to write something like this you better have your data all carefully checked. 

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4 hours ago, clarkgoble said:

This definitely seems an unfortunate article to have published. If you're going to write something like this you better have your data all carefully checked. 

I wonder if Fairmormon will continue to use Gees arguments in their main apologetics for the BOA, or if they will adapt a position that is more aligned with the avilable data. 

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On 8/29/2019 at 12:03 PM, LoudmouthMormon said:

Is this an Egyptology thing in general, or just an LDS-specific Egyptology thing, or what?

It's a Book of Abraham thing.  They're trying to come up with a faith-promoting explanation that holds up, but they can't.

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2 hours ago, Maasta said:

I wonder if Fairmormon will continue to use Gees arguments in their main apologetics for the BOA, or if they will adapt a position that is more aligned with the avilable data. 

I think a rethink of at least some of the arguments is in order. I think accepting that some things don’t work is in order. Ultimately I don’t think this a problem apologetically but I think people need to formalize carefully the alternative missing papyri theory along with variants of the catalyst theory including what I’ve called the deconstructive theory in which a text is “interrogated” rather than translated in a straightforward way. But right now no one has really tried to be rigorous on any of these. In theory this new JSP volume should make that easier by making the relevant documents more easily accessible.

My guess is that in five years or so we’ll have some interesting theories based upon all this.

As for FAIR my understanding is it’s all volunteers largely summarizing existing arguments. Some is good while some is weak depending upon who is writing it. Wish I had time to help but I don’t remotely have time.

Edited by clarkgoble

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On 8/26/2019 at 11:13 AM, Robert F. Smith said:

Sederholm and Muhlestein got their PhDs at UCLA before Dr Cooney joined the faculty.  I believe Antonio Loprieno was Dept Chairman then (Loprieno has lectured at BYU).  Muhlestein has been a contributor to the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, and he is the Director of the BYU Egyptian Excavation Project.

One needs to be very careful of emotional anti-Mormon folderol.

My recommendation to all who have questions is to go to a university and study the sources in formal classes, then draw fact-based conclusions.

Sederholm  does not seem to have published much other than his blog. Sederholm   http://valsederholm.blogspot.com/  He is on the adjunct  faculty  https://www.slcc.edu/history/faculty/adjunct-faculty.aspx

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An Egyptologist told me "Dr. Gee is not claimed or supported by Dr. Ritner in any way. And in the larger field, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with any weight. I repeat, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with ANY weight in our field.?

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20 minutes ago, aussieguy55 said:

And in the larger field, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with any weight

Why are his articles accepted for publication then?

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As head of a department in the field they must have been aware of any articles Gee had published. 

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50 minutes ago, aussieguy55 said:

As head of a department in the field they must have been aware of any articles Gee had published. 

Have you never known a professor let personal bias get in the way of their judgment?

(I have been hanging around professors for 40 years, I have no clue about Gee's standing in his field but I know enough about academics not to let my judgments rest on the opinion of a few.  Better to check out number of publications and what quality of journal they are published in as well as how often someone is cited by others in the field.)

Edited by Calm

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When one does a search on Google scholar the majority of entries are in Mormon apologetic publications. One can find entries relating to subjects nothing to do with the Book of Abraham just like I imagine LDS in the BYU archaeology dept write on the Mayan without mentioning the Book of Mormon.

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7 hours ago, aussieguy55 said:

An Egyptologist told me "Dr. Gee is not claimed or supported by Dr. Ritner in any way. And in the larger field, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with any weight. I repeat, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with ANY weight in our field.?

Not surprising based on the politics and anti-religious bigotry that I have seen in those letters. That an egyptologist would actually write a nobody like you(as in a random person who contacts them) and state those things shows a lack of professionalism

And I don’t agree with all or the majority of the Gee’s conclusions on the BOA or the surrounding documents, but he has published fine Egyptology work that has been published by academic journals 

Edited by Steve J
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It is also unprofessional to spread rumors about the sexuality of one's critics if you do not like their critique of one's work.

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The question  did Smith get his ideas in the Book of Abraham from sources readily available to him.

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16 hours ago, aussieguy55 said:

An Egyptologist told me "Dr. Gee is not claimed or supported by Dr. Ritner in any way. And in the larger field, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with any weight. I repeat, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with ANY weight in our field.?

From what I recall, Ritner has been after Gee ever since Gee requested a new advisor for his Dissertation committee and got one. So I wouldn’t give Ritner much credibility when it comes to his vendetta against a former student. 

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16 hours ago, aussieguy55 said:

An Egyptologist told me "Dr. Gee is not claimed or supported by Dr. Ritner in any way. And in the larger field, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with any weight. I repeat, Dr. Gee is not an Egyptologist with ANY weight in our field.?

Who was this Egyptologist?  And since you are quoting him verbatim, I assume he "told" you in writing.  Please publish the letteer/email here, so we can see it for ourselves.

Thanks,

-Smac

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