By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus Part 5
"All Is Well'' -- Creating An Appearance
Just as the level of exposure to the subject of the Joseph Smith Papyri varies among Latter-day Saints, so also do their responses to the controversy. Most know little about it, some have come across a few conflicts, yet choose not to think about them, and still others find themselves considering one or more of the various "intellectual" approaches discussed previously. It is interesting that it seems to matter little to Mormon belief which of these categories the individual member falls into.
Simple ignorance of the whole papyri issue helps perpetuate the traditional understanding of the Book of Abraham's origins. Confusion, on the other hand, can be a highly effective means of preventing questions from becoming too critical when problems are encountered. A person who finds a topic very confusing will often suspend judgment and keep right on believing in whatever he hopes is true. Over time, his questions lose urgency, and though not resolved, cease to become bothersome. Trust in a system will also help sustain a person through confusion until he reaches the point of no longer caring whether an answer is reasonable or not, or indeed, whether an answer even exists.
It is not surprising then, that the LDS Church heavily stresses the absolute necessity of trusting its system and leadership. Members are taught, for instance, that praying to know the truthfulness of a matter1 is a more sure way of determining its validity than thoughtful examination of the evidence. But in so doing, the very evidence God has provided to steer us to truth may be ignored. Contributing to the confusion is the fact that there is no "official" answer from the LDS Church that addresses the issues raised by the discovery of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Nor has there ever been. All approaches, theories, and defenses, including those proposed by Hugh Nibley and others in Church publications, have been offered solely at the author's own initiative, and as his own opinion. (In fact, the works of Mormon apologists almost universally include a disclaimer to the effect that the author does not write as an official spokesperson for the LDS Church.)
In the absence of official answers from LDS authorities, those with questions are left with only the efforts of the various apologists to provide solutions. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that occasional contradictions occur when a variety of approaches are used to give the impression that "all is well." A good case in point is the way the subject of the Joseph Smith Papyri have been treated in various LDS books and periodicals.
The "LDS Book"
It appears that the primary reason most LDS articles of an apologetic nature are written is to paint, at all costs, a favorable picture of the Mormon faith -- one that is "faith promoting." Accuracy and credibility seem to be distinctly secondary matters.
The following examples illustrate three techniques typically found in LDS apologetic writings: "Nothing has changed." This is the approach the casual reader of Mormon apologetic literature on the Book of Abraham is most likely to encounter. It is calculated to create the impression that the traditional viewpoint remains intact, almost as though the Metropolitan papyri collection had never come to light, and no questions or problems have ever arisen as a result.
This technique is especially common in the popular, non-academic books that are intended to present a favorable overview of Mormonism. These books generally contain a great deal of fluff, but little substance, and are often marked by serious inaccuracies and misrepresentations, as well as the omission of controversial details. Specific mention of newer material likely to challenge traditional perceptions is studiously avoided, and older works undergo only minor revisions, or none at all.
An excellent example of this is the book The Latter-day Saints: A Contemporary History of the Church of Jesus Christ, by William E. Berrett (Deseret Book Company, 1985). In Chapter 12, "Other Scriptures Come Forth," Berrett discusses "The origin of the Book of Abraham:"
In July 1835 Joseph Smith came into possession of some ancient records, the value of which is not even yet fully appreciated.
Sometime in 1828 a French explorer named Antonio Sebolo secured permission to make a certain excavation in Egypt. Three years later, having secured the proper license, he employed 433 men and began excavating a catacomb or tomb near the site of ancient Thebes. The tomb contained several hundred mummies, of which Sebolo took eleven, still encased. En route back to Paris, he put in at Trieste, where he died after a brief illness. The mummies were left by will to a nephew named Michael Chandler, who lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Some two years later Chandler took possession of them in New York. When he opened the caskets, he was disappointed to find no jewels or precious ornaments. But attached to two of the bodies were rolls of well-preserved linen, and within these coverings were rolls of papyrus bearing a perfectly preserved record in carefully formed black and red characters. When he could find no one in New York or Philadelphia who could translate the characters, Chandler began touring the country with the mummies. On July 3, 1835, he reached Kirtland, Ohio, where he sought an interview with Joseph Smith, who, he had been told, might be able to help translate the characters (op.cit., p. 105).
Almost every statement of fact in the foregoing, though adapted directly from the pages of Robert's History of the Church, is entirely inaccurate. This material is essentially unchanged from its appearance in Berrett's 1961 book The Restored Church (which for many years was used as an LDS high school Seminary textbook). This despite the fact that for nearly twenty years it has been well known among LDS researchers and historians that the explorer's name was Lebolo, not Sebolo (an error originally created long ago by someone mistaking a handwritten "L" for an "S"); that he was a Piedmontese (Italian) licensed through a French office, not a Frenchman; that he did his digging in Egypt in the early 1820's, not in 1831; and that he died not in Trieste, but at his home in Castellamonte in 1830.2 LDS genealogical researchers have long admitted that no record of a family connection between Lebolo and Chandler seems to exist, and when BYU's H. Donl Peterson reported his discovery of Lebolo's will in 1985, it made no mention of either Chandler or the mummies.
Although these errors are peripheral and have no real bearing on the true identity of Joseph Smith's papyri, Berrett's failure to correct mistakes in his book when more accurate information became available does point out a tendency of some LDS writers to persist in maintaining a picture of things exactly as they have "always been," regardless of whether that picture is correct. About the only item here that seems to apply to present concerns is the reference to "rolls of papyrus bearing a perfectly preserved record in carefully formed black and red characters." Of the "Missing Black and Red Scroll" theory, though, we have said enough already. The article continues:
When the Prophet was able to interpret some of the characters, Chandler responded with a letter of certification ...
Friends of the Prophet in Kirtland later purchased the four mummies together with the rolls of papyrus. Joseph Smith, assisted by W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, subsequently began to study ancient languages and to translate the papyrus ... it would appear that considerable translating had been done before the end of 1835, but the difficulties that faced the Church and the Prophet during the years immediately following prevented him from completing the work. In addition, no grammar of the Egyptian language had appeared in America by 1835. Thus the results of his labor become the more remarkable ...
The Prophet completed only part of the scrolls dealing with the life of Abraham. One of the rolls of papyrus containing the writings of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt, was apparently never translated sufficiently for publication. Publication of the Book of Abraham began in the newspaper Times and Seasons in March 1842 at Nauvoo, Illinois, along with facsimiles of certain portions of the papyrus" (Ibid., pp. 105-107).
All of this is a very traditional viewpoint in that it assumes a direct translation of a physical record that could actually be laid out on a table or held in the hand, not some intangible impressions received from seeing a scroll in a vision, or some such thing. And while the phrase "scrolls dealing with the life of Abraham" can be understood by the naive traditionalist to mean something that was actually penned by Abraham "by his own hand, upon papyrus," such an interpretation is not required. A reader knowing something of the theories that attempt to deal with the first-century date of Papyrus Joseph Smith I could interpret this as meaning something that was written on papyrus after Abraham's lifetime by someone else. The author provides no information that would clarify the matter or upset either view.
Berrett did make one concession to the 1967 rediscovery of the Joseph Smith papyri. Back in 1961, a statement inThe Restored Church read:
For years after the publication of the facsimiles, the original documents remained in existence. They were considered as the property of the Smith family and, after the Prophet's martyrdom, were retained by his wife, Emma. They were later sold by her to a museum at St. Louis, from whence they found their way into the Museum of Chicago. In the great Chicago fire, the museum was totally destroyed and with it the precious ancient manuscripts. (pp. 107, 1969 edition)
In the 1985 book, The Latter-day Saints, this material was placed in the back of the book as a footnote, and was changed to read:
For years after the publication of the facsimiles, the original documents remained in the possession of the Joseph Smith family. After the Prophet's death, they were retained by his widow, Emma. She later sold them to a museum at St. Louis, and they were subsequently found in the Museum of Chicago. In the great Chicago fire of 1871 the museum was destroyed, as were most of the precious ancient manuscripts it housed (p. 395, 1985 edition).
It is remarkable what the author leaves unmentioned here. If his readers are to learn that some of Joseph Smith's papyri survived, have been discovered, and have since become a source of controversy, they will not do so through Berrett's book.3
The Latter-day Saints is by no means a unique example of this type of presentation, nor is the Church's recent heavy emphasis on promoting such literature incidental.
Not long ago certain General Authorities, in particular Apostle Boyd K. Packer, criticized a number of prominent Mormon writers and historians for what he termed an "exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told."4 Packer felt that an objective approach to Church history "may unwittingly be giving 'equal time' to the adversary" since it "may be read by those not mature enough for 'advanced history,' and a testimony in seedling stage may be crushed."5 Elder Packer went on to insist that the role of Mormon historians ought to be mainly to demonstrate and affirm that "the hand of the Lord [has been] in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now." In effect, LDS writers were being told that they should produce only an accommodation history6 that would exclude anything not "faith promoting."
Even the late Apostle Bruce R. McConkie's widely respected Mormon Doctrine continues to withhold any information that might threaten the simplicity of a traditional view of the Book of Abraham, or lead to controversy. First published nearly a decade before the papyri were rediscovered, McConkie's Book of Abraham entry under the Pearl of Great Price heading still has not been revised or updated in the twenty years since their discovery.
And of course, this perpetuation of known inaccuracies can also be found in preface to the Book of Abraham, which still reads just as it has since 1878:
THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
TRANSLATED FROM THE PAPYRUS, BY JOSEPH SMITH.
A translation of some ancient records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. -- The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.
''Incredible New Insight.'' This is a second available approach LDS apologists resort to in attempting to defend things like the Book of Abraham. Here writers feel quite free to admit as much information as they feel comfortable with in order to intimate that now the reader has been exposed to an understanding of matters that probably everyone should have realized in the first place. Exposures of this sort serve a two-fold purpose. First, by proposing a way in which this new information justifies belief in the LDS system; second, by laying to rest any fears among Latter-day Saints that anyone in the Church should be concerned about such information.7 After all, many will reason, if the "best minds in the Church" have resolved matters and show no concern, why should the average member?
The best examples of this technique can be seen in the books and articles that have come about as a result of the "intellectual approaches" discussed earlier. As has been shown, these authors can take widely divergent and even contradictory positions, and yet each is equally dogmatic. In addition, many of these concepts are so elaborate and complex that many readers are probably unable to judge their worth or validity because they are so difficult to understand. Confused, the reader can only fall back on his trust in the system.
Many Latter-day Saints have an especially high regard for Hugh Nibley's writings, for example, and are impressed with his direct, pragmatic-sounding style. On the subject of the Joseph Smith Papyri Nibley has been especially prolific, setting forth his positions and pronouncements in the pages of Improvement Era, Dialogue, and BYU Studies, as well as authoring numerous other articles, books, and talks about them over a period of many years. There are probably few Latter-day Saints who would presume to question his conclusions -- which were invariably favorable to the Church -- yet this is exactly what Edward H. Ashment of the Church Translation Department finally did.
In a sixteen-page article in the December 1979 issue of Sunstone magazine, Ashment refuted, point by point, in scholarly detail, the greater part of Dr. Nibley's most basic contentions in defense of the Book of Abraham over the years. In a number of major areas, such as the question of the damaged condition of the papyri in Smith's day, the erroneously restored material on both Facsimile No. 1 (see pp. 101,102) and Facsimile No. 2 (see pp. 104-108), and Smith's involvement with the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar material, Ashment's frank admissions sided squarely with the charges that critics of the Book of Abraham have leveled throughout the controversy.
In his response to Ashment's article in the same issue of Sunstone, Dr. Nibley was not only forced to admit that he had been in error, but stated, "I refuse to be held responsible for anything I wrote more than three years ago. For heaven's sake, I hope we are moving forward here. After all, the implication that one mistake and it is all over with -- how flattering to think in forty years I have not made one slip and I am still in business! I would say that about four-fifths of everything I put down has changed, of course."8
Unfortunately, this tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement was probably read by only a fraction of those who read Nibley's Improvement Era articles. Sunstone magazine is one of only a handful of LDS-oriented publications that have attempted to discuss the Book of Abraham controversy in any depth. However, such publications are generally read only by the Church's intelligentsia. The controversial issues it raises are seldom encountered by the average Latter-day Saint because of its limited circulation. The "Red Herring" technique. This is the third, and most widely used method apologists have employed in responding to papyri difficulties. It is a diversionary tactic which consists of focusing attention on peripheral matters in order to "draw the scent away" from the real issue (as a herring is dragged across the trail of a fox to distract the pursuing dogs).
Much of Dr. Nibley's writing on the subject of the Book of Abraham papyri employs the "red herring" strategy. Good examples include his early series of Improvement Era articles stressing the "Any Egyptian Connection" theory and more recently his emphasis on the "Nobody Really Understands Egyptian Anyway" theory. The basic intent of these articles is to lead the reader away from the damaging evidence and on to inconsequential matters. For the novice, his efforts appear to have been quite successful; toward professionals, somewhat less so.
Another good example of the "red herring" technique is found in the 1981 book by Robert L. and Rosemary Brown entitled, They Lie in Wait to Deceive (Brownsworth Publishing Co.). Within just a few years of its appearance it had become a veritable mainstay for bishops, missionaries, priesthood leaders, home teachers, and anyone else needing a quick, simple "answer" to the complicated problems of the papyri controversy.
Billed as "a study of anti-Mormon deception," They Lie in Wait to Deceive proposes to tell "the amazing story of how 'Dr.' or 'Prof.' Dee Jay Nelson, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and other anti-Mormons work to obstruct and distort the truth."9 Actually, the work focuses on the series of false claims and representations made by Dee Jay Nelson during the years he lectured against the authenticity of the Book of Abraham. It shows that he used fraudulent background information to promote himself, including a spurious Ph.D. (a certificate purchased from a "diploma mill" for one hundred and ninety-five dollars). Nelson is rightly portrayed as an opportunist of questionable character, bent on exploiting the LDS Church's vulnerability over the Metropolitan Museum papyri for his own profit. Others, especially the Tanners, are also condemned for their part in promoting Nelson's conclusions, and thus lending legitimacy to his reputation.
As an expose of Nelson, this work appears to be both appropriate and commendable. It is now well established that Nelson made a number of false and misleading statements about himself over a period of several years. This was very unfortunate, for in doing so he not only exploited the weakness of the Mormon position for personal gain, but also took advantage of the good faith of a great many people who had come to respect him, including a large number of non-Mormons and former Mormons. The Browns, however, did not stop with simply exposing an impostor. They went on to try to establish a kind of "anti-Mormon conspiracy," in which "lies, deception, partial truths, and misrepresentation" were the primary tools used whenever a challenge was made concerning the Book of Abraham's validity.10 Moreover, (and here is the red herring) they make it appear that the entire case against the Book of Abraham is dependent on the work and claims of a phony Dee Jay Nelson, thereby drawing attention away from the true facts of the case. They write, for example:
Mormons and non-Mormons alike need to be aware of the tactics used by the adversary ... This book contains a thorough investigation of the fraudulent credentials of 'Dr.' and 'Prof.' Dee Jay Nelson, 'World Renowned Egyptologist' -- this century's most outspoken foe of the Book of Abraham (and thus Joseph Smith) . . . Nelson has long been the No. 1 witness against the Book of Abraham according to Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Walter Martin, and other leaders in the anti-Mormon movement (Preface, p. i).
This man, Dee Jay Nelson ... has been busily engaged perpetrating his false credentials and a false story against the Book of Abraham ... His denunciation of the Book of Abraham is extensively quoted in nearly all anti-Mormon books (Introduction, p. iii).
It soon became obvious to this author that Jerald and Sandra Tanner had the most to gain from pushing Dee Jay Nelson into the forefront with regards to the Book of Abraham ... [this is followed by some speculation by Brown as to how much money the Tanners make]. Is this the reason why the Tanners were not eager to expose Nelson, their No. 1 witness against the Book of Abraham? (p. 162)
Do you think you can find out the truth about the Mormon church by asking people like Dee Jay Nelson or Jerald and Sandra Tanner? If you do, you have missed the point of this whole book! (p. 172)
So, according to the Browns' thinking, if Dee Jay Nelson can be discredited, then the entire file of evidence against the Book of Abraham should be stamped "case closed" as far as any Mormon is concerned. Since a disreputable man has attacked the Book of Abraham, the Book of Abraham must therefore be a reputable work.
The faultiness of such reasoning is obvious. To begin with, the "case against the Book of Abraham" is not something "discovered" or "established" by Nelson. It was spelled out long before the Metropolitan papyri ever surfaced, and the basic direction of the charges have changed little since the criticism of Deveria's time, when the study of Egyptology first advanced to the level where Joseph Smith's own drawings could be read and shown to have no relation to his translation.
Furthermore, the actual findings concerning the papyri -- what they were, when and why they had been written, and what they said -- which Nelson reported on, were not simply his own opinions or guesses. Whenever qualified people have studied the papyri, including such undisputed experts as Baer, Wilson, and Parker, they have always reached the same conclusions that Nelson did. However he may have misrepresented himself, the fact remains that Nelson's identification of the papyri was quite correct, and his descriptions of them were reasonably accurate.
Nor was it Nelson who was responsible for applying the papyri information to the issue of the questionable authenticity of the Book of Abraham. This application was universal, and inevitable. Back during the 1912 controversy Dr. Albert Lythgoe had commented upon the desirability of examining the original papyrus,11 and the following year LDS apologist John Henry Evans had insisted the original papyrus would have to be available before scholars or critics "would be warranted in saying that the entire Book of Abraham was not properly translated."12
Dee Jay Nelson, then, did not create the arguments being used to challenge the authenticity of the Book of Abraham, nor has his work ever, in any way, been an exclusive part of that challenge. What he did do was use the case against the Book of Abraham as a soapbox to gain attention for himself , and in the process made inflated and false claims about his credentials. This is quite different from what the Browns portray; they have tried to show him as using his false claims and credentials to give credibility to the case he presented against the Book of Abraham.
But what of the real issue, namely, the credibility of the Book of Abraham itself?
Only a minimal effort is made by the Browns in their book to deal with what they call "the truth about the Book of Abraham," and even this is done by merely falling back on a few of Hugh Nibley's more popular writings on the subject. Thus their "truth" turns out to be nothing more than an updated rehash of the "Scribes Did It" theory, followed by the "Missing Black and Red Scroll" theory.13 Both of these views had already largely fallen into disrepute even before the Browns' book was published.
In some cases, in fact, the Browns have mentioned works in which at least one of the above theories has been clearly shown to be based on faulty assumptions, though they appear to be unaware of this. H. Michael Marquardt's Book of Abraham Papyrus Found, for example, which is listed on the back cover of the Browns' book among "some anti-Mormon publications which have been endorsing Dee Jay Nelson," contains a very plain refutation (pp. 1,2) of the premise upon which Dr. Nibley developed his "Missing Black and Red Scroll" theory (see pp. 129-134 of this book). Still, the Browns -- who apparently failed to read the very books they list -- have rather blindly followed Nibley into this error, accepting his writings as unqualified fact.
There are a surprising number of similar instances. At one point a list of five LDS works is provided in order to "enlighten the reader on the subject of the Book of Abraham:"
1. Abraham in Egypt, by Dr. Hugh Nibley.
2. The Firm Foundation of Mormonism, by Kirk Holland Vestal and Arthur Wallace.
3. Improvement Era articles from January 1968 -- June 1970, by Dr. Hugh Nibley.
4. The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: an Egyptian Endowment, by Dr. Hugh Nibley.
5. BYU Studies, vol. 17, Spring 1977, article by Michael D. Rhodes.
The Browns caution the reader that the above "are scholarly books and are well-referenced. Scholars do not seem to write in easy, novel form. Therefore, the price for finding out the truth about the Book of Abraham may be to read and study these books more than once."14
This is good advice; but one could fairly ask if the Browns have followed it themselves. If they had, they would have known that Dr. Nibley's two books propose theories that contradict each other; that the Rhodes article confirms the identification of Facsimile No. 2 as a hypocephalus and makes no Abrahamic connection at all; that Hugh Nibley's Improvement Era articles (prepared back when, he admits, he was "skirmishing and sparring for time") all contain an abundance of outdated concepts and disproven contentions; that the Vestal-Wallace book relies heavily upon the writings of Dee Jay Nelson as an "authority" to help support its views!
It is disappointing to find that people claiming to be responsible researchers are apparently not on a familiar basis with the books and articles to which they refer others. It is possible that the Browns were so convinced their position was correct that they felt such precautions would not be necessary.
Failing to check carefully into their sources has led the Browns to use faulty approaches and reach flawed conclusions. Much of this is probably due to the difficulty they have in being objective. Their writing expresses continuous and undisguised hostility toward anyone threatening their image of Mormonism, and this attitude often colors their understanding of the subject matter about which they write. Rather than presenting a reasonably thorough account of Dee Jay Nelson's use of false credentials and exaggerated claims, they go to extremes in attempting to discredit the man from every imaginable angle. As a result of this approach their contentions are often seriously flawed, even to the point of being refuted by their own arguments elsewhere in the book.
Though their efforts may be dismissed by some as generally uninformed or perhaps even intentionally deceitful, Robert and Rosemary Brown nevertheless appear to be motivated by a genuine sincerity in their desire to defend the Book of Abraham. However, they also demonstrate that they are not above using omissions, misrepresentations, errors, partial truths, and obscuring of facts to present their case -- the very methods they accuse their "anti-Mormon conspiracy" of using.
Sadly, They Lie in Wait to Deceive amounts to little more than a superficial "defense of the faith" in which readers are expected to accept its statements at face value. It is this exploitation of the reader's trust which plays a major role in establishing the credibility of such works. The book is usually endorsed and recommended by Latter-day Saints who are unfamiliar with the actual facts behind the Book of Abraham controversy, a category of Mormons which seems to include even a great many in Church leadership positions, including Bishops, stake Presidents, LDS Seminary and Institute Instructors, etc.15
Because of its widespread influence among Latter-day Saints, some of the charges and claims found in They Lie in Wait to Deceive deserve to be examined in more detail than can be done here. A review of these issues can be found in the Appendix of this book.
A Faith Promoting Display at BYU
Besides the use of published sources, other methods have also been used to lend the impression that "all is well" regarding the Book of Abraham-Joseph Smith Papyri matter, and that everything has been dealt with satisfactorily as far as the LDS Church is concerned.
Faith promoting displays, similar to the one shown below and on the following pages, are a common sight on the campus of Brigham Young University.
BYU's 1983 Pearl of Great Price exhibit consisted of a large, four-sectioned display case filled with mounted photographs, notes, and letters. A final section displayed several books on this subject produced by various LDS authors over a period of several years.
The most striking portion of this display can be seen in the center of the photograph above, a comparison of Facsimile No. 1 from the Book of Abraham to the Papyrus Joseph Smith I drawing from which it was adapted. A casual viewer -- especially a young student -- unfamiliar with what Papyrus Joseph Smith I actually represents (a standard pagan funeral text dating from about the time of Christ) cannot help but be impressed by the points of superficial similarity. There is no mention here at all of the fundamental points of difference between the two drawings due to Joseph Smith's incorrect restoration of the missing areas (see chapter 10 of this book).
As a matter of fact, in the photograph at the top of this page, the small drawing set between Facsimile No. 1 and Papyrus Joseph Smith I shows a hieroglyphic figure (standing man with both arms raised) that was taken directly from Alan Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar, and which can be interpreted as "pray." The character is then turned sideways so that it resembles the figure in Facsimile No.1, and is pasted beside an underlined portion of the Book of Abraham, chapter 1, verse 15, in which Abraham "lifts up his voice unto the Lord his God." This incorrectly (yet, it seems, intentionally) gives the impression that Joseph Smith's "translation" must be correct -- in spite of the fact that the figure in Facsimile No.1 was never correct to begin with (see the discussion of Papyrus Joseph Smith I on pp. 62-65 for details of the discrepancies).
The most flagrant misrepresentation made here is found on the information card below Papyrus Joseph Smith I (see close-up photograph at the top of p. 157). The last sentence reads: ''ONLY ONE FRAGMENT OF THE ELEVEN HAD ANY OBVIOUS TIE TO THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM (I.E. THE ORIGINAL FROM WHICH FACSIMILE ONE WAS COPIED).''
However, as was demonstrated in chapter seven, there is at least one other fragment from the Metropolitan Museum which has a very close tie to the Book of Abraham, namely, Papyrus Joseph Smith XI -- the "Small Sensen'' text. Not only does this fragment connect directly to Papyrus Joseph Smith I, as shown in the picture at the bottom of the next page (see also the color foldout on p. 33), but its characters were used to supply the ''translated from'' figures on three separate translation manuscripts when the Book of Abraham was initially produced by Joseph Smith and his scribes. The fact of this connection between Papyrus Joseph Smith I and Papyrus Joseph Smith XI was not merely overlooked in this display; it was deliberately obscured. Papyrus Joseph Smith I (the Facsimile No. 1 papyrus) is shown standing alone (as can be seen in the photograph on p. 155) with a placard beneath it assuring the viewer that it is the "only" fragment of the eleven with "any obvious tie" to the Book of Abraham.
No hint is provided to suggest in any way that the "Small Sensen" fragment (Papyrus Joseph Smith XI) connects to, and is a part of the Facsimile No. 1 fragment (Papyrus Joseph Smith I); that in fact, it is the source of the Egyptian characters in the Book of Abraham translation manuscripts. Even if the originators of this display were to fall back on their use of the word "obvious" as a justification, such remarks must still be regarded as intentionally misleading.
The "Small Sensen" fragment is shown in this exhibit, however. Look carefully at the photograph on the top of page 158: to the right, on a shelf just below the prominent, impressive Facsimile No. 1 display, is a plain card bearing two small photographs of papyri fragments. The close-up of these two fragments at the bottom of page 158 shows that they are labeled simply "SENSEN PAPYRI," with "X LARGE SENSEN PAPYRUS" and "XI SMALL SENSEN PAPYRUS" being the only identification or explanation offered for the two fragments.
Look carefully again at the photo on the top of page 158. The "Sensen Papyri" are not only out of scale to each other, but both are shown much smaller in proportion to the Facsimile No. 1 fragment than they actually are. Moreover, the photograph of the "Small Sensen" fragment used is overexposed, making its tone, shading, and overall appearance (as well as its size) very dissimilar to the Facsimile No. 1 fragment. It seems fair to conclude that producers of the display deliberately masked the connection between Papyrus Joseph Smith I and Papyrus Joseph Smith XI because it was known to be damaging to the Mormon Church's version of how Joseph Smith produced the Book of Abraham. It has long been popular for Latter-day Saint writers to accuse the Church's critics of resorting to "omissions, misrepresentations, partial truths, and obscuring of facts" -- yet these appear to be the very methods used by Brigham Young University in this "faith promoting" display.
The Criteria for Rationalization
At this point one might easily wonder how any Latter-day Saint can be aware of these things and still manage to maintain belief and trust in the Book of Abraham, and through it, the entire Mormon belief system.
The key word here, of course, is aware. As has been noted earlier, many Mormons are relatively uninformed of any controversy concerning the validity of the Book of Abraham; or if they become aware controversy exists, will tend to fall back on the trust they have in their system, and avoid further investigation.
Of course, there are some LDS members who are more active, and there are various reasons why members become active. Commitment to any group or cause can be inspired by any number of personal factors which may have little or nothing to do with having a " testimony" that the cause is true. These factors usually come down to vested interests, such as cultural preference, a sense of appreciation for tradition, family relationships, economic advantage, a desire to exercise authority, or even a feeling of superiority brought on by being part of a select group (these are certainly significant values, but they should never cause us to compromise eternal truths). Given enough vested interests, we often simply do not care whether an objection is valid or not. They have what they want, are comfortable with it, and do not wish to be disturbed. This can hold true within any group; it is an altogether human condition.
One would hope, though, that the primary reason we are actively committed to something is because, above all else, we are sincere. In their commitment to Mormonism, Latter-day Saints may develop this sincerity in one of two ways: (1) there are those who, because they are convinced the LDS Church is true, feel a need to dedicate themselves to God, (2) there are others who, because they already feel a strong dedication to God and are Mormons, believe the LDS Church must therefore be true.
In the first case, confidence in the system leads to trust in God; in the second, trust in God causes faith in the system. Either will produce sincerity, but in both cases what makes this sincerity valid and vital is the person's trust in God. This trust in God needs to be recognized as a matter that is separate from the issue of whether or not the LDS Church is true. Until a Latter-day Saint grasps this distinction, he will usually be reluctant to question the validity of the Church as an organization, for fear of threatening his relationship with God.
But to respond constructively to issues that challenge our existing views, we must meet three conditions:
1. We must be knowledgeable of the objective evidence in the controversy. Fortunately, most of the topics dealing with Mormonism, including the Book of Abraham controversy, are not as complicated as they are made to appear by some apologists. A person does not need to become an Egyptologist to understand what a funeral papyrus is. Any person of average intelligence is capable of understanding such things without great difficulty. But since we sometimes allow feelings and emotions to overrule incontestable facts, a further quality is necessary.
2. We must be reasonable enough to consider the implications involved. God has given us the faculty of reason as a means of discerning truth and error. An examination of the facts is not a threat to true faith. A person who closes his mind to issues he is uncomfortable with and refuses to allow for the existence of any possibility other than his own attitude of "I am right -- what I want to be so is so,'' is running roughshod over the God-given gift of human reason. Such a person cannot expect others to respect his position. More importantly, he runs the risk of being deceived by counterfeit spiritual claims. But there is also a final ingredient.
3. We must be honest enough with ourselves to care about what the truth really is, even if it goes against what we want. The desire to accept and act upon this truth must outweigh any vested interests.
Those who do not apply these standards to investigating controversy must resort to rationalizing, rather than facing reality. Many Latter-day Saints seem willing to accept whatever rationalizations will permit their continued faith in the Book of Abraham.
So just what rationalizations are available? Stripped of all their excess verbiage, there remain only about a half dozen avenues open for the Latter-day Saint that will still allow Mormonism to be in some sense true. On a scale of the traditional to the increasingly radical, they are:
1. Joseph Smith did just exactly as he said he did and as it has always been held: he obtained the actual, original writings of Abraham and did accurately translate them by the gift and power of God. Either modern Egyptology is completely wrong, or else God has allowed Satan to alter the materials we now have, perhaps to separate the truly loyal Saints from among the less sincere.
2. Joseph Smith did have Abraham's original writings and properly translated them, but the originals have not been recovered. Either the true text of the Book of Abraham was from a different (lost) portion of the Book of Breathings scroll, or the Facsimiles were always on a different scroll, separate from Abraham's text, and Abraham's statements about them have been misunderstood. It is also possible that Satan has confused the world's scholars about Facsimile No. 1, and even altered the "Small Sensen" papyrus to make it look like it was once attached to it, though it never really was. Satan could also have altered the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar to make Joseph Smith look bad, and done the same with Facsimile No. 2, Facsimile No. 3 and the rest of the material.
3. The papyri we have, as well as the Facsimiles, are what the Egyptologists say they are, but they are also the Book of Abraham --technically speaking. There is a deeper meaning to them, somewhat like a code, which has not yet been discovered by the world. Joseph Smith could determine this meaning by the gift and power of God, but he did not know about or simply did not mention the other more "common" meaning of the papyri. Joseph Smith may have even been mistaken about them having been penned by Abraham himself, but that is all right because the important thing was the coming forth of the inspired text encrypted within the originals and handed down in them as they were copied over and over again through the ages.
4. Joseph Smith only thought he was translating Abraham's record from the papyri. Actually, some ordinary funeral papyri from Egypt functioned as a sort of spiritual catalyst to Joseph Smith's mind, so that he received the Book of Abraham as a result of direct revelation -- and God allowed him and everyone else to believe he was translating. God also allowed Joseph Smith to believe his Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar was authentic and worthwhile, when actually it was useless. Or perhaps Joseph only considered it a hobby and all the statements he made concerning it have been misunderstood. And, though Joseph never said so, his clerks were the ones responsible for stupidly placing the characters from the "Small Sensen" fragment (Papyrus Joseph Smith XI) on three of his translation manuscripts.
5. The Book of Abraham is not an ancient scriptural contribution, but a modern one that has simply been placed in an ancient setting. As a modern revelation to Joseph Smith, its lessons, teachings, and values still apply, naturally, but it is a mistake to try to fit it into an historical context, such as the lifetime of Abraham. Better to just accept it for what it says, and not be concerned over what is said about it.
6. The Book of Abraham is not really scripture at all, but merely the "speculative writing" of Joseph Smith. Again, perhaps he thought he actually was translating and producing authentic scripture, perhaps not. If he did, he was mistaken. Joseph was still capable and worthy of being a prophet in other areas. (This is largely the view of the Reorganized LDS Church,1 which is not affiliated with the larger, Utah-based LDS Church.)
It is remarkable that amid all the different suggestions proposed by LDS apologists (Nibley, Browns, Ashment, Crapo, Vestal, Barber, etc. ) virtually any position is acceptable and yet not one of them is "official." A person can be considered a good Mormon and hold to practically any variation of the first five views mentioned -- and even switch back and forth from one view to another -- as long as the end result is feeling good about the Church. LDS authorities, meanwhile, remain silent about the entire controversy.
This same grasping for rationalizations is a typical response to many other problem areas within Mormonism, whether it be the Book of Abraham, discrepancies between archaeology and the Book of Mormon,2 the Adam-God teachings of Brigham Young,3 the historic origins of the LDS movement,4 or the magic and occultic practices of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and others.5 There always seems to be a superficial popular view, plus a range of increasingly radical approaches available to those who have come across things others do not know about yet. Gather a group of Latter-day Saints together and compare their respective views on any one of these subjects. It is disheartening to see the wide disparity that exists among the "true" positions offered to explain the "One True Church." There is, of course, one other alternative explanation: that Joseph Smith did not produce legitimate scripture by translation through the gift and power of God or by any other means; he only pretended to do so. He lied, in other words, to justify the new doctrines and teachings he had been introducing among his people, and to uphold the image of a prophet of God he had created for himself. The methods of deception he used in doing this were more or less typical of all he professed to do in the name of God, for he never was a genuine prophet of God. Thus, the Mormon Church, which he founded on his calling as a prophet, is in reality a man-made organization; it cannot be God's "one true Church" restored to earth as it claims to be.
This conclusion is further reinforced when one considers the very essence of God's nature as revealed in the Bible. God took great pains throughout the Old Testament to dissuade the children of Israel from any contact with the false gods and idolatrous practices of their pagan neighbors. He ordered the Israelites to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan when they conquered the land, lest they should mingle His holy name with pagan deities, and so pollute the truth of divine revelation. Likewise, God admonished His people through Moses to repudiate and completely forsake the gods of Egypt, to whom they had been exposed during their years of captivity there. And the Old Testament records that every time the children of Israel fell into pagan idolatry, they experienced God's chastening.
Since the Joseph Smith Papyri have been identified with absolute certainty as prayers to pagan Egyptian gods, it is inconceivable, given God's holy nature and character as revealed throughout the Bible, that He would associate Himself or His revelation in any way with these pagan religious documents. Regardless of which of the above views of the Book of Abraham one holds, it is surely inconceivable that the God of the Bible would compromise his exclusivity as the one, true God by co-mingling His revelation with the idolatrous pagan teachings and rites of Egypt as expressed in the Joseph Smith Papyri.
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8