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About DonBradley

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  1. Tim, Your paper appears to be no longer linked above, but I'm interested. You and I are connected via email. Send it to me? I'd love to see what you've come up with. Ben, Your work on this is brilliant, and I use it in my book on the lost pages. Well done!
  2. - Decades before he was president of the church.
  3. Thank you, Calm! I actually thought Bill and RFM were quite cordial during the show, particularly RFM, who made quite a point to praise my work. Bill was a little hard-sell in getting me to call in and pressing his questions, but I think that was understandable. My only disappointment was with how Bill chose to spin our interaction in his written description of the show afterward. Oh well. Given that I had a cold and was definitely not prepared to go on air, it's good to know that I came across okay. I appreciate you letting me know. Don
  4. Incognitus, Good question. My first thought is to ask, what is at stake in Joseph's participation in the creation of the GAEL that would not also be at stake in his participation in the EA? Joseph wrote "Egyptian Alphabet, circa Early July–circa November 1835–A" by his own hand, demonstrating his involvement in the EA project. Given that the methodology of the GAEL and the EA appear to be largely the same, and that their contents overlap and intertwine, whatever is at stake in Joseph's participation in the GAEL is also at stake in his participation in the EA--which is demonstrable. So unless we are going to throw Joseph out for participating in the creation of the EA, it makes little sense to worry about his apparent participation in the creation of the GAEL. Nothing is at stake in the one that was not already at stake in the other, and few of us appear to have left the church simply because Joseph's hand appears in the EA. But that just gets at what is (or is not) at stake in Joseph's participation in producing the GAEL. What are the evidences that he actually did participate? Here are a few. (By the way, for the full arguments on the below and documentation, see Don Bradley and Mark Ashurst-McGee, "'President Joseph Has Translated a Portion': Joseph Smith and the Mistranslation of the Kinderhook Plates," in Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith's Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity (University of Utah Press, 2020). First, the conjecture that the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language in the handwriting of Joseph Smith's scribes was a creation of those scribes has always been a poor explanation. Given Joseph's status as the translator of the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham, he is the default translator for related works, particularly when the others involved in the related work were his scribes, and writing things down for him is, by definition, what his scribes are tasked to do. And Joseph's clear participation in the EA project further suggests his participation in the closely related GAEL. These considerations collectively make Joseph's participation in the GAEL project the default working hypothesis, which can then be strengthened or weakened by further lines of evidence. Second, Joseph's use of the GAEL to translate from the Kinderhook plates indicates that he gave credence to it and raises the question of why he gave credence to it. It is unclear why Joseph would have given the GAEL sufficient credence to use it as a translation tool if it were simply composed by W. W. Phelps and Warren Parrish, but it is clear why he would have given it such credence if he had been involved in working it out and it therefore represented his thinking. We all, axiomatically, believe our own beliefs, but those of others, not so much--at least not without good reason. Third, the eye-witness account of Joseph comparing the Kinderhook plates to the GAEL says, of Joseph's engagement with the characters on those plates, "He compared them, in my presence, with his Egyptian alphabet…and they are evidently the same characters. He therefore will be able to decipher them." (To read the original letter, as published in the New York Herald, see column 3, here.) The author of this letter, Nauvoo judge Sylvester Emmons, as a non-Mormon mistakenly connected this "Egyptian alphabet" with the Book of Mormon rather than the lesser known Book of Abraham, but it is evidently a reference to the GAEL, which bears the title "Egyptian Alphabet" on its spine and is identifiably the source of Joseph's translation of the Kinderhook plates character known in the GAEL as "ho-e-oop-hah." A key phrase to observe here from Emmons regarding the GAEL is that the letter identifies the GAEL as "his Egyptian Alphabet," suggesting that Joseph represented himself as the one who had derived the GAEL's contents. So, bringing together all these lines of evidence that Joseph took part in producing the GAEL, we find that 1) Joseph was the default translator for the church and on the Egyptian papyri, 2) Joseph demonstrably participated in the GAEL's parallel and overlapping project, the EA, 3) the GAEL is recorded by the hand of Joseph's scribes, whose duty as scribes (what it meant for them to be his scribes) was to record text for Joseph, 4) while Joseph would have presumably believed what was in the GAEL if he helped produce it, there is no obvious reason for him to have relied on it if it were the sole product of his scribes, 5) yet Joseph does rely on it to translate from the Kinderhook plates, with 6) an eye-witness reporting him representing it as "his Egyptian alphabet." Could one hold that Joseph Smith did not participate in the creation of the GAEL? Certainly, but only if one wants to bet on side of probably being wrong on the issue even though nothing new is at stake on it that wasn't already at stake in the issue of EA, and that wasn't already laid to rest with the issue of the EA when that text was found to be written out in Joseph's hand. Don
  5. St. B, I find your outsider perspective fascinating and illuminating. Thanks! Not being a regular here these days, I'm curious what religious tradition you have from--apparently Roman Catholicism? Don
  6. As Kevin has mentioned, I've presented and (with JSPP historian Mark Ashurst-McGee) published documenting that the text Joseph Smith derived from the Kinderhook plates was derived via matching a single character on the Kinderhook plates matching a single character in the GAEL that had substantially the same text as its assigned definition. This, as Mark and I have argued, shows Joseph Smith translating from the Kinderhook plates by way of comparing them with the GAEL. The most obvious implication of this is that Joseph translated from the Kinderhook plates via a very ordinary process of character matching, rather than by a revelatory process. This implication appears not to have much interested most critics. Another implication, which Mark and I noted on page 517 of our chapter, has interested critics much more. This is that if Joseph Smith used the GAEL to help him decipher the Kinderhook plates character, then he appears to have given the GAEL some credence. In advance of the Mormonism Live podcast on the Kinderhook plates the other day, Bill Reel messaged me asking if I thought this undermined certain Book of Abraham apologetics, originated by Hugh Nibley half a century ago, that the GAEL was produced independent of Joseph by his scribes, who did it to show that they could compete with Joseph in his translation work. (Later tweaks on this explanation have the scribes producing the GAEL by reverse-engineering it from the Book of Abraham text.) Bill was hoping I would appear to be interviewed on the show, which I was disinclined to. But I did watch the show, in which he argued that Joseph's use of the GAEL to translate from the Kinderhook plates refuted all apologetic explanations of the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the papyrus and the GAEL: 1) the idea that Joseph's scribes produced the GAEL apart from Joseph himself, 2) the idea that the GAEL was reverse-engineered from the already-revealed Book of Abraham text, 3) the idea that the part of the scroll containing the Book of Abraham is now missing, and 4) the idea that the papyrus served, not as a vehicle for the ancient Egyptian text of the Book of Abraham, but as a catalyst prompting Joseph to receive the Book of Abraham by revelation. Bill challenged me to come on the show and comment on all of this. Despite having not having planned or prepared to do so, I was willing to call in. I agreed with them only regarding idea #1 above--that Joseph Smith's scribes produced the GAEL apart from Joseph himself. As Mark and I noted in our chapter, "Many, if not most, Mormon scholars have been skeptical about Smith's involvement in the production of the curious Egyptian Alphabet documents. ... However, Smith's autonomous use of the Egyptian Alphabet book...in the translation of the Kinderhook plates thus calls for a reconsideration of Smith's relationship with this and the other Egyptian study documents." Regarding ideas #2-#4, I listened to Bill's arguments but remained noncommittal since I had not yet had time to give them full consideration. Having now had time to think these arguments through systematically, I've concluded they are each fallacious. I'm trying to decide if I want to post my responses to them to the Web or deliver them via podcast. Don
  7. Hey John! Good question. A "secular" process is used here in contrast with a revelatory process. As a starting pointing in distinguishing the two it may help here to identify an example of a process that would clearly be revelatory and an example of a process that would clearly not be revelatory. If, for instance, I report that God had shown me by vision how Joseph Smith translated from the Kinderhook plates, then I think we could agree that I'm figuring this out through a revelatory process. If, on the other hand, I report (as is the case) that I compared the characters on the Kinderhook plates with those in the GAEL to identify how Joseph Smith translated from the Kinderhook plates, then I think we could agree that I'm figuring this out through a non-revelatory process. Clear so far? Don
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