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A Challenge to Critics from John Gee


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Dear Moderators,

It has been more than a quarter of a century since I first started

studying ancient Egypt. I spent years in graduate school learning the

basic skills to do research in the area. I teach the subject now and

regularly publish and participate in professional conferences in my

field. Occasionally, I have friends who direct my attention to this and

other message boards where I am regularly vilified as incompetent by

people who in some cases have not attended college, and usually

masquerade behind pseudonyms. Yet, when I read their responses, I

wonder about the competence of these critics. They remind me of

something Nibley wrote long ago: "As if to prove that they have no

intention of pursuing serious investigations, these people have

conspicuously neglected to prepare themselves for any but the most

localized research; they are like a man setting out to explore a

wonderful cavern without bothering to equip himself with either lights

or ropes. We respect our local Gelehrten for the knowledge and

proficiency which they have demonstrated to the world, but when they go

out of bounds and attack the Church with specious learning they invite

legitimate censure. They are like dentists who insist on performing

delicate brain surgery, because that is more interesting than filling

teeth. Nice for them--but what about their patients?" I demonstrate my

knowledge and proficiency on a regular basis, but I never see the

critics on the message boards at these events and thus see no

demonstration of knowledge or proficiency from them.

So I am willing for the next month to conduct a little test of the

basic Egyptological skills needed for an intelligent discussion of the

Joseph Smith Papyri. I do not participate on these message boards and

rarely even look at them. I will pose the questions through you, the

moderators, requesting that you pin them for a month. Any who wish to

demonstrate their skills may send their answers to the following to me

at egyptiantest at byu.edu. All emails must include the person's real

name, daytime phone number, and pseudonym under which they post to this

board. All persons should submit a statement truthfully stating that

their submission is their own work. I will evaluate the results and send to the moderators, the pseudonym and the test results in the form of a score. My answers coincide with the standard published

Egyptological versions of these texts and images, so I am not introducing anything that is idiosyncratic.

The Test:

1. Egyptian is said to be at the heart of the issue, so here is a

simple bit of text that should demonstrate some basic competency.

Provide a transliteration **in Manual de Codage format* and translation.


2. Part of the Joseph Smith Papyri consists of portions of the Book of

the Dead in hieratic. Transliterate and translate the following passage

from a hieratic Book of the Dead:


3. Other portions of the Joseph Smith Papyri contain what are commonly

called funerary papyri. Transliterate and translate the following

passage from a funerary papyrus:


4. Facsimile 1 is often said to be parallel to scenes from certain

chapels in Dendara. Transliterate and translate the following passage

from those chapels:


5. The identification of various figures is also in question. Identify

the following figure from a funerary papyrus:<br>


6. There is also sometimes some question about the restoration of

various figures. What is the following:


It is also desirable to know the Egyptological literature.

7. Where is the standard typology of hypocephali published?

8. M. Coenen and R. Ritner both criticize H. Nibley for misreading one

of the names in the Joseph Smith Papyri. Who originated the misreading

of the name? Which name did Baer misinterpret and who first corrected


9. Where would you go for the fullest discussion of Facsimile 3 in the

Egyptological literature?

10. S. Quirke would like to redate a number of funerary papyri to the

Roman period. What is the methodological consequence of accepting his


Seyffarth Addendum:

11. How would Gustavus Seyffarth have transliterated and translated

question 1?

12. How would Seyffarth have transliterated and translated question 2?

13. How would Seyffarth have transliterated and translated question 3?

14. How would Seyffarth have transliterated and translated question 4?

15. How would Seyffarth have translated the Joseph Smith Papyri?

16. Are Seyffarth's and Champollion's translation methods compatible?

17. What were some of Seyffarth's criticisms of Champollion?

18. What were the Champollionist criticisms of Seyffarth's work?

19. Where are Seyffarth's papers located?

20. How much of Seyffarth's work have you personally actually read?

21. Compare and contrast the quality of Seyffarth's copies to his

translation work.

Late Magical Text Addendum (6/7/2007):

22. What is meant by the designation "late" in Egyptian chronology?

23. What is the Egyptologist's functional definition of "magical" as

applied to texts?

24. What types of texts are included by Egyptologists under the heading

"magical texts"?

25. What is the chronological distance between the Joseph Smith Papyri

(whichever Egyptologist you chose to follow on that issue) and the

so-called "magical" papyri on the one hand and the New Kingdom tombs on

the other?

26. Where in Egypt are the magical papyri from?

27. What other Theban texts fall in the chronological distance between

the Joseph Smith Papyri and the magical papyri?

Unique Text Addendum (6/7/2007):

28. What percentage of Middle Kingdom literature is found in only one


29. What percentage of Demotic literature is found in only one manuscript?

30. What percentage of Letters of Fellowship Made by Isis have other

texts appended to them?

John Gee

William (Bill) Gay Associate Research Professor of Egyptology

Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Brigham Young University

Email submissions to: egyptiantest at byu.edu

This post has been made with the permission of John Gee for the use on http://www.mormonapologetics.org site solely. This is a good opportunity for our posters to have some interaction with Gee concerning the Joseph Smith Papyri.


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The final post from Dr. Gee:

At the end of a class I taught a few years ago one of the students told

me that the class had the worst whining of any class she had ever

attended. The class did whine about the textbooks, the subject matter,

the essays, and the tests; I also know that they whined a great deal

about me behind my back. This message board beats them hands down. As

Elder Holland said this past conference: "no misfortune is so bad that

whining about it won't make it worse."

I am withdrawing the test; my workload has increased and I no longer

have time for it. I have asked the moderators to delete it from the

thread and close the thread. I am certain you can start another one to

grouse in.

Many construed the test to mean that if you did not know Egyptian you

could not discuss the Book of Abraham. This is utter nonsense, as they

all immediately went on to argue. Egyptian, however, is necessary if you

wish to discuss the Book of Abraham as a translation of Egyptian

(whether you think it was or wasnâ??t). If you wish to argue with those

who espouse the view that the Bible was originally written in Syriac,

you need to have some Syriac even if you take the contrary view.

Three things are interesting about the test:

(1) Few people seem to have read it all. For example, Mr. Vogel

complains that Joseph Smithâ??s interpretation of the Facsimiles should

have been addressed, but it was, in question 5.

(2) CaliforniaKid has taken the test. He and I have discussed his

results and I will not post them. No one else seems to have thought

about answering any of the questions. That is too bad, as the answers to

those questions might have taught them something about the debate and my

positions in it. Instead they merely spouted their opinions and claimed,

without basis, that I had done nothing to engage their positions. If

they had bothered to respond to the questions, even the bibliographic

ones, they would have realized how hard it is to answer certain

questions. The test was diagnostic of several skills, not just in

Egyptian, that are directly relevant to the debate. The test was an

invitation to a serious discussion, but no one is actually interested in

such. I put forth a riddle for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

(3) Most importantly, no one seems to have any interest in what the

texts actually say. This has been the irony of the whole debate as no

one else seems to care what either the Book of Abraham or the Letter of

Fellowship Made by Isis actually says and yet the debate rests on a

comparison between the two. The texts in the test were important too,

but no one seems to have realized it.

In the end, the test should have taught those who took it something

about faith. Who do we put our faith in, that is, who do we trust? Most

critics put no trust in me, whatever argument I might make on whatever

subject, because I am Mormon. They are willing to put their trust in

some surprisingly dubious sources because those sources tell them what

they want to hear (compare Helaman 13:25-28). In the end, it does not

matter whether anyone trusts me because they should trust God more than

me. I have found God trustworthy. I have also found his prophets

trustworthy--imperfect though they may be. If you trust God, you do not

need to have the answer to every little question; certainly not now and

perhaps not ever. If this or that sophistry seems persuasive or this or

that little thing bothers you and makes you doubt God, then you do not

have enough faith in him.

My test asked you not to trust me, but trust the texts; but they are not

important, at least not to you. That is why I find discussion on these

boards generally not to be worth my time.


John Gee

William (Bill) Gay Associate Research Professor of Egyptology

Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Brigham Young University

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