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Please Criticize "by His Own Hand Upon Papyrus" By Charles Larson


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Ok, this needed a new thread. In the thread about Luke Wilson of the IRR having died, JWhitlock made some disparaging comments about the book "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus", by Charles Larson, which was published by the IRR.

JWhitlock seems to believe that this book is full of deceit and dishonesty, inaccuracy, and all that fun stuff.

I'd like to know, with some specifics, please, where the deceit, dishonest, and inaccuracy in that book lie.

Let's please confine ourselves to the subject of the Book of Abraham and Larson's arguments with respect to the BoA, and ignore the IRR bit at the end which says something like "Ok, now that you know that the Mormon Church isn't true, we invite you to come learn the really, honest-to-goodness, actually true flavor of Christianity that we believe over here." Obviously Mormons are going to disagree with that one.

So anyhow, let's have it.

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Let's start first with Gee's review of the book, which can be found here at the Maxwell Institute. That's a good starting point for discussion. What points that Gee makes concerning Larson and his book do you disagree with?

Second, I'll have to skim over BHOH online at IRR for some items. Some quick ones I find at first glance are:

In the forward:

The reader who stays with this book until the final sentence will find himself amply rewarded with a knowledge of all the facets of these most significant documents.

False. The pamphlet ignores viewpoints from the LDS side concerning the documents, except as limited straw men that can be set up and knocked down. All the facets are not covered in this book; it is being purposely deceptive in claiming such a total unbiased approach - which it is not.

As Gee notes, the initial tone of the book is to try to portray a sympathetic approach to the Church in order to lure the reader in. Just like a used car salesman. I found such an approach deceptive, especially since it's main purpose is to try to forge an emotional bond with the reader that can later be manipulated.

Further on in the first chapter, concerning Kirtland:

The growth of the Church became stagnant, and for a while it looked as though a stalemate was about the best that could be hoped for.

This is simply a blatant historical mischaracterization of Kirtland - and is only expressed this way as a foundation for claiming that Joseph "made up" the BofA as new revelation (what about the other revelations he had been receiving??) to stem the tide of people leaving.

Larson quotes Joseph Smith as receiving "rolls" of papyrus. However, if I remember correctly further on, Larson's claim is that the fragments found in New York were the claimed source of the BofA - which is one of the foundational bases of BHOH. However, this aspect has been hotly debated, and I personally find Larson to be on very shaky ground here. I think he ignored this aspect in the book - though I may find differently as I read through it more.

That's enough for now. You may want to limit this to just one or to significant points, to avoid diluting the thread.

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As Gee notes, the initial tone of the book is to try to portray a sympathetic approach to the Church in order to lure the reader in. Just like a used car salesman. I found such an approach deceptive, especially since it's main purpose is to try to forge an emotional bond with the reader that can later be manipulated.

You're undoubtedly correct in this one. I think it would have been far more effective and convincing if it had started off like this:

"Warning: what you are about to read was written by anti-Mormons who believe that Mormons will go to Hell if they don't repent. The point of this book is to deceive you, making you think that Joseph Smith couldn't have been a false prophet by making up the Book of Abraham, which we secretly know to be true, but our pact with the Devil prevents us from acting on that secret knowledge and joining the Lord's real Church. Oh, and we love babies. They taste like chicken."

I'm afraid it's been long enough since I read Gee's review that I'm going to have to go back and re-read it, a bit later on this evening perhaps. But, for the record, when I start a thread inviting people to share with us all evidence that the BHOH book was riddled with errors, written to deceive, etc. I kind of expect more than just to be referred to another guy's review of the book. Have you got anything specifically that you know was factually incorrect in Larson's arguments?

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You're undoubtedly correct in this one. I think it would have been far more effective and convincing if it had started off like this:

"Warning: what you are about to read was written by anti-Mormons who believe that Mormons will go to Hell if they don't repent. The point of this book is to deceive you, making you think that Joseph Smith couldn't have been a false prophet by making up the Book of Abraham, which we secretly know to be true, but our pact with the Devil prevents us from acting on that secret knowledge and joining the Lord's real Church. Oh, and we love babies. They taste like chicken."

Since you choose to ignore the real point with your sarcasm - which was that the book gave the impression that it was unbiased and covered all facets of the BofA situation (and again, that is being deceptive - because it doesn't do that) - it would appear that you don't think that it was deceptive in its approach.

I believe that it was DCP who noted that any scholarly work will be up front with its objective in a realistic way. BHOH does nothing of the sort, instead for several pages feigning some level of sympathy for Joseph Smith and the Church. The approach is deceptive; please point out in the beginning where it gives its orientation as anti-Mormon literature. Because most anti-Mormon writings can easily be noted as such very quickly. BHOH in its approach does not do that.

I'm afraid it's been long enough since I read Gee's review that I'm going to have to go back and re-read it, a bit later on this evening perhaps. But, for the record, when I start a thread inviting people to share with us all evidence that the BHOH book was riddled with errors, written to deceive, etc. I kind of expect more than just to be referred to another guy's review of the book. Have you got anything specifically that you know was factually incorrect in Larson's arguments?

Well, then you're going to have to wait. I noted earlier that I hadn't read it in a while, and I'd have to go back and look it over some more. However, I did make more initial comments than this; you didn't address the other points I made in my post, such as the mischaracterization of the "stagnant" situation in Kirtland.

Anyway, that's it for tonight.

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Jwhitlock,

Since you choose to ignore the real point with your sarcasm - which was that the book gave the impression that it was unbiased and covered all facets of the BofA situation (and again, that is being deceptive - because it doesn't do that) - it would appear that you don't think that it was deceptive in its approach.

In the foreword by Wesley P. Walters it claims to bring a mass of material into manageable form, to make the issues understandable, and to keep the "essential facts" before the reader's eyes. It also suggests that the papyri give us an opportunity to study the BoA claims "scientifically and objectively," though it doesn't sspecifically say that this book is such a study. Okay, so I grant you that objectivity is impossible. It is perhaps possible to be more objective than another person by trying to reflect a greater number of perspectives, but it isn't possible to divorce yourself from perspective altogether. Nor is it possible to cover literally "all the facets" of any one question, as the foreword claims. So insofar as Reverend Walters' foreword implies that the book is complete and/or objective, it is mistaken. The good Reverend would do well to read up on modern epistemology. But deceptive? I think we need to insulate what is very probably naivete from what is deliberately deceptive. I was taken to task on this very forum-- by about two dozen posters-- for suggesting that a gross misstatement in his Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri is an example of deliberate deception. If I have to give Gee the benefit of the doubt even in a case where he is clearly aware of strong evidence against his position but conveniently elides it, surely you can give the Reverend Walters the benefit of the doubt for making an overblown claim about his friend Charles' ability to consider this issue objectively.

If we're to be honest with ourselves, I think we have to admit that any author who sets out to prove a thesis is going to adopt the most scholarly and neutral tone possible. In our day and age, that is rule numero uno in the art of persuasion. Of course you and I know that no author is actually capable of objectivity, but we're not going to accuse them all of deception, now are we?

In any case, I think the real question is how well Larson addresses the issues and how useful his presentation is in accurately representing the substance of the controversy. I think he does that better than just about anyone else currently in print, although I do prefer Kevin Mathie's online presentation and I also think that the Tanner's BoA chapter in Shadow or Reality is some of their best work.

I believe that it was DCP who noted that any scholarly work will be up front with its objective in a realistic way.

The current standard in academic publishing is to include a fairly lengthy introduction in which one reveals all one's biases, along with one's grandmother's maiden name and the address of one's dog's hairstylist. Larson's book makes quite clear, however, that it is for a popular audience and that it is intended as a sort of Reader's Digest version.

BHOH does nothing of the sort, instead for several pages feigning some level of sympathy for Joseph Smith and the Church.

Believe it or not, this is pretty standard historiographical stuff. Larson recites the story of the coming forth of the BoA from a sympathetic perspective, as reported at the time. He then recounts the emergence of a controversy and very shortly places himself on the critical side of that controversy. There is nothing necessarily deceptive here; what he has done is crafted a compelling narrative. No one who reads Larson's book could possibly walk away with any illusions about which side he's on.

The approach is deceptive; please point out in the beginning where it gives its orientation as anti-Mormon literature. Because most anti-Mormon writings can easily be noted as such very quickly. BHOH in its approach does not do that.

I doubt Larson would have identified himself as an anti-Mormon.

Now, having said all this, I will grant that if these things are being dumped on Mormon doorsteps, it would be nice for there to be some kind of frontloaded, explicit disclaimer that this book as part of an evangelical proselytizing effort. One can even make the case that it was ethically wrong to anonymously deliver this sort of book to a people whose religious leaders advise them to stay away from hostile literature (although, from the EV ministerial perspective, one could argue that it was necessary). It does appear to be a sort of lie by omission, or at best an insensitive or poorly designed missionary approach (where have I heard that accuation before?). But let's take a step back from all that. Anyone who buys the book today is gonna know going into it that it's written from a critical perspective. It has a reputation now. So how about we evaluate the book's content rather than the missionary ethics of its distributors?

-Chris

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Jwhitlock, I'm incredibly sorry for doing this, and I don't mean to embarass you by this question, but I must clarify something here.

Have you read the BHOH book from cover to cover, or just Gee's review of it?

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I doubt Larson would have identified himself as an anti-Mormon.

Of course not. Anti-Mormons almost never do; it's as if someone had written a field manual, so that all anti's had to memorise the same mantra: "I am no anti, for there are none." However, on an occasion when he wasn't trying to put one over on some hopefully-naive Mormons, he let it slip. Not in so many words, of course, but in nine others:

"It's all over. It's all over. It's all over."

Regards,

Pahoran

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I'm afraid it's been long enough since I read Gee's review that I'm going to have to go back and re-read it, a bit later on this evening perhaps. But, for the record, when I start a thread inviting people to share with us all evidence that the BHOH book was riddled with errors, written to deceive, etc. I kind of expect more than just to be referred to another guy's review of the book. Have you got anything specifically that you know was factually incorrect in Larson's arguments?

I think you missed his main complaint, which was that the book was shipped for free to thousands of Latter-day Saint family's homes (without notice) under the false premise that it would be a faith promoting book. Much like the recent DVD, they tried to make it seem pro-LDS so that innocent people would read it without giving it a second thought. That's the main deception, and that's not even open for debate. They intentionally deceived Latter-day Saints into reading it, period.

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Must one?

If one intends to criticize it and point out its errors, yes. Otherwise, no.

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LDS Egyptologist Stephen E. Thompson spoke favorable concerning the book a few years ago. You can read the details here.

IMO the book addresses the issues and problems with the BOA quite well and I would suggest anyone interested in the subject read the book and FARMS responses and judge for themselves.

And for the record I was a little put off by the "come to the real Christianity" that the publisher, not the author, put at the end.

Phaedrus

//IIRC Thompson disagreed with his positive comments about the book being used by a anti-mormon ministry to promote it.

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Jwhitlock, I'm incredibly sorry for doing this, and I don't mean to embarass you by this question, but I must clarify something here.

Have you read the BHOH book from cover to cover, or just Gee's review of it?

Yes, I read it back in the mid 90's sometime, cover to cover. That's why I need to go back and look at it again, for specifics. Most of the details are gone from my mind at this point.

However, I do clearly remember my impressions of it at the time I read it and my impressions afterwards as I started to understand how deceptive it really was. For some reason, I happened to read it at a time when I was somewhat fragile in my faith, and I was also being hit by some other challenges. Once everything got back in order, I found that I was much stronger, both spiritually and temporally, and I understood that it had been a pruning time for me. I found it interesting that the Lord allowed me to read the book, getting all my fears out on the table, and then showed me how deceptive those fears were - in the context of this book.

So, in one respect, the book holds a special place in my heart - as clear evidence of the deceptiveness of anti-Mormons in working against the Church. In this case, the deceptiveness was in the specific approach used - along with, as I have noted before, the very selective nature of what Larson presented, despite the claimed unbiased approach of considering all aspects of the BofA.

Gee makes some excellent points concerning BHOH and they are a good starting point for discussion. That's why I referred to him in the first place. It will take me some time to work my way through it again, but I do want revisit it, given my very stark impressions concerning it in the 90's.

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The first thing that struck me after reading the Gee review, "A Tragedy of Errors," was: how many times can a person use the term "anti-Mormon" in one document?

What diffrence does this make on the arguement presented by Gee?

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Here are a few things that I find are interesting.

1. The book of Abraham has close affinities to a large number of apocryphal and Egyptian writings to which Joseph Smith could have had no access.63

2. Abraham claims that his story starts out near a place called "Olishem" (Abraham 1:10), and that place name is indeed attested in newly discovered inscriptions from approximately Abraham's time.64

3. There is no evidence to place Ur of the Chaldees in southern Mesopotamia, but there is good reason to locate Ur in the north, near the site of Olishem.65

4. Most of Joseph Smith's interpretations of the fac-similes have been shown to be in the right general ballpark although "there has been little or no work done on [these types of texts by Egyptologists] since the end of the last century."66

5. The astronomy detailed in the book of Abraham does not match the heliocentric astronomy of Joseph Smith's or our own time, but can only be a geocentric astronomy like that characteristic of the ancient Mediterranean world.67

6. David Cameron discovered an Egyptian lion couch scene much like Facsimile 1 explicitly mentioning the name Abraham.68 This last reference casts in a new light Larson's claim that "none of the book of Abraham facsimiles (or the papyrus drawings from which they were adapted) make mention of Abraham" (p. 110). "Up to the minute" research, indeed!

63. See Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981). Several of these writings are conveniently listed in E. Douglas Clark, "Abraham," in Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1:7-9, and Stephen E. Thompson, "Contents of the Book of Abraham," in ibid., 1:135. Thompson, incidentally, has a Ph.D. in Egyptology and is a visiting instructor in Egyptology at Brown University.

64. John M. Lundquist, "Was Abraham at Ebla? A Cultural Background of the Book of Abraham," in Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture (Salt Lake City: Randall Book, 1985), 225-37. The citation of

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What diffrence does this make on the arguement presented by Gee?

None, of course, when he actually gets to the point of criticizing the content. It just serves to create a tone of persecution by the excessive use of an emotionally loaded term, and what looks like a tendency to see an "anti-" under every bed.

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None, of course, when he actually gets to the point of criticizing the content. It just serves to create a tone of persecution by the excessive use of an emotionally loaded term, and what looks like a tendency to see an "anti-" under every bed.

WEll he is an anti. THere is no getting around that.

I agree though i did see it in the artilce quite a bit. Perhaps Gee should tone it down a bit. As far as an emotionally loaded term. I really dont fell anything when I hear or read the term "anit mormon". Do you?

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None, of course, when he actually gets to the point of criticizing the content. It just serves to create a tone of persecution by the excessive use of an emotionally loaded term, and what looks like a tendency to see an "anti-" under every bed.

So when people produce a book with the sole intent to destroy a religion and they intentionally deceive the members of the religion to whom it is sent (free and without solicitation) so that they think it will be faith-promoting, it should not be viewed as an attack of any kind. Is that what you are trying to say?

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Here are a few things that I find are interesting.

1. The book of Abraham has close affinities to a large number of apocryphal and Egyptian writings to which Joseph Smith could have had no access.63

"close" is a relative term.

2. Abraham claims that his story starts out near a place called "Olishem" (Abraham 1:10), and that place name is indeed attested in newly discovered inscriptions from approximately Abraham's time.64

The Semitic "Ulisum" (not equivalent to Olishem unless you assume a vowel shift) mentioned in Naram-sin's inscription may well be the port city the Egyptians called Ullaza, which is not aassociated with any toponym answering to "Ur of the Chaldees".

3. There is no evidence to place Ur of the Chaldees in southern Mesopotamia, but there is good reason to locate Ur in the north, near the site of Olishem.65

This is one of those baseless claims that apologists like to throw around. The truth is, there's no reason to think there even were people called the "Chaldees" until about 1000 B.C.-- well after the time of Abraham-- when they appeared in the region of Mesopotamian Ur (apparently from the south). "Ur of the Chaldees" is generally considered by scholars to be an anachronistic reference to Mespotomian Ur.

4. Most of Joseph Smith's interpretations of the fac-similes have been shown to be in the right general ballpark although "there has been little or no work done on [these types of texts by Egyptologists] since the end of the last century."66

While one can construe a picture however one pleases, Joseph's interpretations of the labels over the figures' heads in facsimile 3 are decidedly incorrect.

5. The astronomy detailed in the book of Abraham does not match the heliocentric astronomy of Joseph Smith's or our own time, but can only be a geocentric astronomy like that characteristic of the ancient Mediterranean world.67

This is not correct. Not only critics, but also some apologists believe that the BoA assumes heliocentrism. The Alphabet and Grammar is more explicit about this than the BoA. The latter is apparently based largely on the former.

6. David Cameron discovered an Egyptian lion couch scene much like Facsimile 1 explicitly mentioning the name Abraham.68 This last reference casts in a new light Larson's claim that "none of the book of Abraham facsimiles (or the papyrus drawings from which they were adapted) make mention of Abraham" (p. 110). "Up to the minute" research, indeed!

The lion couch scene happens to be placed near hieroglyphic text that mentions the name Abraham, but the association between the scene and the text is not at all clear, except that both appear to be used as magic talismans in the same spell (which is not surprising given the "Abra-" prefix in Abraham's name and the Greco-Roman era syncretism of Judeo-Christian and Egyptian mythemes).

-Chris

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"close" is a relative term.

The lion couch scene happens to be placed near hieroglyphic text that mentions the name Abraham, but the association between the scene and the text is not at all clear, except that both appear to be used as magic talismans in the same spell (which is not surprising given the "Abra-" prefix in Abraham's name and the Greco-Roman era syncretism of Judeo-Christian and Egyptian mythemes).

-Chris

Chris

I can really only address that witch I know or have studied. I dont speak egyptian. Heck I can barley speak english.

Im sure you have read the apocryphal books of abraham. THere are some direct parallels to what JS "translated" if you will. Obvously its not a word for word parallel. But the ideas are there. Here is the question. How did JS get those right? He didnt have access to them.

As far as the lion couch scene The only thing that concerns me is that Larson claims that "none of the book of Abraham facsimiles (or the papyrus drawings from which they were adapted) make mention of Abraham" (p. 110).

It seems Gee has a valid point. That is the only thing he is saying.

2 more things I though were interesting.

1: The profession redrawing of fac 1. Who did that redrawing. And how do you account for the eye witness tesimonies, who were not LDS btw, who claim to have seen the preist with a knife?

2: goes along with one. THe drawing of the birds. He put 2 birds above the person being mumified. There has been no known fac. like fac1 that look the way the "professional" redrew them. Further more Gee suggests that the way the birds wings were drawn were not drawn the way the other birds wings were drawn. I guess Im trying to say that there seems to be quite a problem with the placement of the 2nd bird.

Ill have to read up more on the rebuttels for it. I thought they were great. Im sure you have read them.

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"close" is a relative term.

How about this: there are literary motifs in the Book of Abraham that are identical to those found in certain ancient Abrahamic texts, and those uniquely ancient Jewish motifs were completely and totally unknown to Joseph Smith throughout his entire life.

The Semitic "Ulisum" (not equivalent to Olishem unless you assume a vowel shift)

Or if you recognize that transliteration systems in Joseph Smith's day are quite different than modern.

mentioned in Naram-sin's inscription may well be the port city the Egyptians called Ullaza, which is not aassociated with any toponym answering to "Ur of the Chaldees".

The Uri by Haran and Olishem is one of a few different candidates for Ur of the Chaldees, but the absence of a very unique and period specific name for a city does not at all preclude the identification of the local Uri with that mentioned in the Bible as "Ur of the Chaldees."

This is one of those baseless claims that apologists like to throw around. The truth is, there's no reason to think there even were people called the "Chaldees" until about 1000 B.C.

Correction: There were no people in southern Mesopotamia with that name until about 1000 B.C. They existed for quite some time prior to that in Syria, which is where Olishem is. Make sure your criticism is less baseless than the argument you're criticizing.

-- well after the time of Abraham-- when they appeared in the region of Mesopotamian Ur (apparently from the south). "Ur of the Chaldees" is generally considered by scholars to be an anachronistic reference to Mespotomian Ur.

Or a perfectly accurate reference to the Ur in Syria, which is actually right by Haran (and Olishem). Ur in southern Mesopotamia is still the most popular candidate for the same reason the Holy Sepulcher is still given any attention: it was the first candidate and it was vehemently advertised as the only candidate.

While one can construe a picture however one pleases, Joseph's interpretations of the labels over the figures' heads in facsimile 3 are decidedly incorrect.

Interpretations or translations?

This is not correct. Not only critics, but also some apologists believe that the BoA assumes heliocentrism.

So in the opinion of some apologists and critics, it's not correct.

The Alphabet and Grammar is more explicit about this than the BoA. The latter is apparently based largely on the former.

I disagree. I believe it's the other way around.

The lion couch scene happens to be placed near hieroglyphic text that mentions the name Abraham, but the association between the scene and the text is not at all clear, except that both appear to be used as magic talismans in the same spell (which is not surprising given the "Abra-" prefix in Abraham's name and the Greco-Roman era syncretism of Judeo-Christian and Egyptian mythemes).

So what does that say about the relationship of the text of the JS Papyri to the drawings right next to them? Does proximity dictate a relationship or not?

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