Saturday, February 24, 2007

Book of Abraham: Joseph Knowingly Deceived

There are several lines of evidence that challenge the validity of the Book of Abraham as an inspired translation of ancient papyrus written by the hand of Abraham. Historians point out anachronisms in the text itself. Linguists show that words and names that should have been Egyptian have Hebrew origins instead. The Egyptian characters in the facsimiles are translated incorrectly. The scenes and objects in the facsimiles are interpreted incorrectly and show a complete ignorance of Egyptian culture and religion. The facsimiles were restored incorrectly. A real translation of the rediscovered papyri has no resemblance to the translation Joseph rendered. Unique concepts such as "intelligences" appear to be plagiarized from Thomas Dick. Rediscovered source papyri are actually common funeral texts and date from Roman times not Abraham's time. Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar shows no understanding of the Egyptian language. The translation papers show which characters from the papyrus were thought to correlate with which passages from the Book of Abraham text ruling out some apologetic theories, etc.

Mormon apologists have posited many different theories to try to account for that evidence in ways that are favorable to Joseph Smith. The theories are often presented as possibilities. Maybe there were other papyri that contain the Book of Abraham. Maybe the papyri just served as a catalyst for the revelation. Maybe Abraham's original story was changed over time and eventually became the Book of Breathings and Joseph restored what was supposed to be there originally. Joseph used the word translate differently than we do today. Maybe there are multiple levels of translation and Egyptian scholars just haven't discovered the hidden meanings yet. Maybe Joseph's Alphabet and Grammar was the failed attempt of Joseph's scribes to match the characters with the translation. Maybe the editor was responsible for the incorrect restoration of the facsimiles. Joseph got a few things right in his interpretations and there is no way he could have done that without the power of God. There is another ancient document that links Abraham's name with a lion couch. Another response has been to claim that there is no way to know what really happened, but they get inspiration from the text so it is scripture to them. The problem is none of these possibilities can adequately deal with all of the damning evidence.

Many books and webpages have been dedicated to this debate. I cannot do the arguments justice in this short essay. But, it is important to understand the details of the evidence and the arguments. Apologist arguments often seem like they might work on first glance. It is only upon closer inspection that one finds why the apologist explanations are not as impressive as they first seemed. For example, when one looks into the ancient document that "links Abraham's name with the lion couch," it is discovered that the document dates from after the time of Christ when the Mediterranean cultures were very familiar with each other's religious icons, and the context is a small lion couch drawn above a long list of religious people from different religions. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are among the names that appear. There is no link to the content of the Book of Abraham. Another example of the benefit of details is if you actually look at Joseph's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, you'll see how ridiculous and absurd it is, and you will see Joseph's own handwriting in part of it, showing that Joseph was involved in this endeavor. Nibley's "Joseph's scribes did it" theory does not work when you see Joseph's handwriting.

Anyway, I want to focus on just two lines of evidence that get to the heart of the issue. Regardless of the whole translation process, are we reading the words of Abraham when we read the Book of Abraham and if not, did Joseph know that he was misleading us?

We can know the Book of Abraham is not the word of Abraham by the presence of anachronisms, things that are out of place for the time period. Examples of anachronisms in the Book of Abraham include: Chaldea, Pharoah, Potiphar's Hill, Egyptus, and Facsimile #1. The following 3 links discuss this in detail.
Stephen Thompson's "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham"
Kevin Mathie's "Examining the Book of Abraham: Chapter 8 The Text of the Book of Abraham"
Equality's "The Book of Abraham: Did William the Conqueror Know Henry the VIII?"

Due to the anachronisms we know that the text of the Book of Abraham is not the word of Abraham. Now, did Joseph Smith know that the product of his mind, namely The Book of Abraham, was not true? It appears that Joseph borrowed and reworked ideas about the life of Abraham from the Bible and the writings of the historian Josephus, and about cosmology from Newton and Thomas Dick, including the concept of "intelligences". But, I suppose it is possible that these ideas might work in his imagination and he might mistake his thoughts for revelation.

However, there is what I believe to be a dead giveaway that Joseph knowingly tried to deceive us, and was not just following the false impressions that came into his mind. The evidence is contained in his restoration of Facsimile #2. (His restoration of Facsimile #1 is also incorrect according to Egyptologists and I agree, but he may have felt (thinking he was inspired) that what he drew was supposed to be there). However, with Facsimile #2, his restoration is more telling.

The drawing at left comes from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and is of the damaged hypocephalus that was the source of Facsimile #2. Now an honest man who had no special gift or knowledge to know what originally was in the damaged areas might have left those areas blank when he included this facsimile in his published translation of the papyri.

A man who followed the mistaken impressions of his mind thinking he was receiving revelation might notice a pattern, that there were supposed to be hieroglyphics there, and imagine some characters there and draw them in. Perhaps they would be true hieroglyphic characters from his memory of looking at the other true characters. We would expect to see a repeat of some of the existing characters on the hypocephalus. Or, perhaps he might be impressed to draw new characters from his imagination believing them to be real. (There is some evidence that Joseph may have done just that to fill in some missing characters from different papyri fragments as evidenced in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers). A true prophet might accurately restore this hypocephalus with the correct characters through revelation.

But, Joseph was neither an honest man (for he did not leave the area blank), a mistaken man following the impressions of his mind (for he did not put some random characters in the missing place), nor was he a prophet (for what he "restored" was not only incorrect judging by an actual Egyptian translation of the text, but the characters he "restored" were hieratic rather than hieroglyphic characters and from a different time period). No, Joseph was none of those things. He was knowingly deceitful because he filled in the missing sections of the figure by copying in order hieratic characters from a section of a different papyrus. It was not just an artistic restoration with some handy characters, for these characters were supposed to have meaning. In his guide to interpreting Facsimile #2, he says this regarding the meaning of those characters that they "will be given in the own due time of the Lord." Remember these characters are meant to complete the string of already existing characters in the outer ring of the figure. Joseph wanted us to think that he was restoring missing content, but he was actually plagiarizing characters from a separate and unrelated document. That is deception. I cannot see how he could honestly think those characters belonged there.

Interestingly, those characters came from what is known as the sensen papyrus. In the translation papers, the characters from the sensen papyrus are paired with verses from the text of the Book of Abraham. So these characters are reused. Once to fill a gap in Facsimile #2, and once as the source for verses in the text in the Book of Abraham.

In my opinion, Joseph knowingly, actively defrauded us in his "restoration" of Facsimile #2.
For those interested in learning more:

Photos of the recovered Joseph Smith Papyri fragments ( [bad link], Sepia colored ones are in the Feb. 1968 issue of the Improvement Era, and full-colored ones in the book "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus" by Charles Larson),

A modern translation of those papyri fragments (I recommend Robert K. Ritner, "The 'Breathing Permit of Hor' Thirty-four Years Later," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33 [Winter 2000]:101, ),

Kirtland Egyptian Papers including Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar (You will have difficulty getting a good copy of this, but you can view it online here [bad link], or you could buy a rather poor copy here).

Jim Day's "False Translation of the Book of Abraham"

Examining the Book of Abraham by Kevin Mathie

Link to "By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus" by Larson (Note: You really should get a physical copy of this book as the online version does not have the figures, letters, and pictures).

Short Essays on the Book of Abraham

Equality's links on the BoA Scroll down the page and look on the left for the links.

Tanner articles

More articles on BoA

Mormon Think BoA

Photos of JS Egyptian Papers [unavailable]

Saturday, February 17, 2007

My Patriarchal Blessing

First an intro: Sister Mary Lisa recently posted parts of her patriarchal blessing on her blog. I have decided to do the same. I used to believe in this document so much. I believed that God was personally telling me how much he loved me and how highly he thought of me and what he had in store for me and the mission he sent me to earth to accomplish. I even made my PB into Section 139 of my Doctrine and Covenants and divided it into verses and inserted cross references to other scriptures. It really is beautiful and inspiring and I think patriarchal blessings in general are good for raising people's self-esteem. But, that good does not make up for what I believe to be the misdirection it gives believers. Believers make very important life decisions based on this blessing, which would be great if it actually came from God, but since in all likelihood it is nothing more than the words of an old man inspired by nothing more than his own thoughts and experiences, it can be quite dangerous to put that much trust in one man's counsel and his imagination.

Psychologists discovered a long time ago what the term as the Barnum effect: the name given to a type of subjective validation in which a person finds personal meaning in statements that could apply to many people. Many believers will testify that their Patriarchal Blessing is spot on and that it accurately predicted many events in their lives. People do the same with their astrological readings, phrenology reports, and palm readings. I could easily see designing an experiment in which we created a Patriarchal Blessing and pronounced it upon the heads of several young people and they would all think it was God's personal communication just to them and try to live their lives to fulfill their sacred assignments not knowing that several people got the same blessing. I always thought it was a special treat to read other people's blessings because it was like I got a special look into who they really are and what God has planned for them. It was a really intimate thing. If it was an "apostate's" blessing, I was sad that they had given up their blessings. If any believers are reading, try not to get too disappointed. More patriarchal blessings can be found online here:

I now share with you my PB:

Brother "Hüffenhardt", through the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood I pronounce upon you your patriarchal blessing, declaring unto you that the Lord loves you and that you are one of his chosen sons which he has sent to this earth.

Your patriarchal blessing shall be a help and a guide to you as you go forward in life serving the Lord and blessing his children. You shall be blessed with health and strength enabling you to serve diligently and with full capacity in the callings in the church which shall come to you. You shall shoulder responsibilities of leadership. You shall counsel and be blessed with the spirit of revelation and prophecy in fulfilling the assignments which you receive from the Lord.

You shall be endowed from on high with faith to bring forth the blessings of heaven. You shall enjoy the gift of healing. You shall be given the opportunity to lay hands upon the heads of those who are sick and afflicted and through their faith and your faith and the will of the Lord restore them to health.

Your footsteps shall be directed in the paths of righteousness through the promptings of the Holy Ghost. You shall be watched over and protected in your going and coming in life. The Lord shall give you utterance in expression in declaring and proclaiming his gospel. You shall teach as one having authority and shall confound those who may attempt to distract the work of the Lord.

You shall bear a testimony of conviction that your Heavenly Father lives and loves all of his children. You shall bear a testimony strong and firm that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. There shall be many who hear your testimony and partake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You are of the house of Israel through the lineage of Ephraim. All the blessings which the Lord has promised to this house of Israel shall be yours if you are true and faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord.

You shall grow to maturity with control of your faculties. Your thirst for truth shall bring you peace and joy as you listen to the promptings of the still small voice which shall whisper to you and direct your searching. Not only shall the truths of the gospel come to you, but also truths of science which shall be for the benefit of mankind. The Lord shall use you as an instrument in his hands in bringing about his work upon the earth in establishing truths which will benefit and help his children in their daily lives.

You shall have the spirit of discernment to detect truth from error. You shall not be deceived by the cunning craftiness of the evil one. You shall use the priesthood to rebuke the powers of Satan.

Your influence for good shall be felt both far and near. You shall acknowledge the Lord in your daily living, giving him credit for the daily blessings which you enjoy. You shall bring honor to your loved ones through the example of your life and the good which you do. Many hearts shall rejoice through the kind acts and deeds of service which you render. You shall be sensitive to the needs of those around you and shall always be kind and gentle in your dealings with others.

I bless you with a healthy body and a good mind that you may truly serve the Lord and his children upon the earth. You shall be given opportunities of education and shall have employment suitable to sustain yourself and your family and loved ones. The material things of life which are needed shall be provided. You shall have wisdom in using the resources which the Lord shall place in your hands.

The day will come when you shall enter into the temple with a choice companion at your side and there be married for time and all eternity. You shall be blessed with children reserved by the Lord to come forth in the last dispensation. You shall be blessed as a father in Israel in teaching your children to obey the commandments of the Lord. Your home shall be watched over and protected from the elements of destruction. Through the priesthood you shall bless your home and the members thereof.

You shall find comfort and guidance and peace as you pray and ponder and search the scriptures. The Lord shall enlighten your mind and give you understanding of those things in life which will prepare you and others for eternal life.

I remind you, "Hüffenhardt", that the promises and blessings which are pronounced upon you this day shall be realized if you are true and faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord.

These blessings I declare unto you according to your faithfulness in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Recognizing our assumptions and subjective interpretations

In the Mormon Church I still hear many people testify that they "know" God lives or that they "know" Jesus is the Savior, etc. Some Mormons and other Christians also claim that God has "proven" his existence to them or that they know God exists because they have a personal relationship with him. Other Christians instead wisely say that they "believe" God exists or have faith that God exists.

There is a large distinction between knowing and not knowing, yet believing. It is my position that one cannot "know" that God exists and anyone who believes they know are likely forgetting or ignoring the assumptions and subjective interpretations that they are making about their experiences.

Now, these people who claim to know will often confess that they cannot prove God's existence to you, but that you must go to God to get your own proof as they have done. They often believe that we atheists have never had the kind of experiences they have had, but that if we did we would believe too. Or, sometimes they think we are too rash in dismissing personal experiences, since their evidence is not of the scientific kind. Allow me to clear up a few things. One, I have had the types of experiences that "knowers" and believers have had. Two, I accept those experiences as evidence, not proof, but I limit my acceptance to the raw experience only, not to the meaning that has been given to that experience. Let me give a few examples.

A woman claims that God spoke to her during her prayer last night. Upon further questioning it is discovered that she did not actually hear a voice, but instead had a thought that gave her peace and offered a solution to her problem that she believes could not have come from herself. I challenge the position that it was impossible for her to come up with the idea by herself. But, she just says she knows it was from God as an answer to her prayer.

What was the basic phenomenological experience? She had a thought accompanied by a feeling of peace while speaking about a problem. That is what I accept as evidence. All of the rest is conjecture, assumptions, and interpretations. One does not "know" that thought came from God. One did not experience God directly, all one did was have a thought accompanied by peace while speaking to an unseen being that might be real and might not. Might this be thought of and used as evidence for God's existence? Certainly. Might this be thought of and used as evidence for the natural power of the brain? Certainly. The experience itself proves nothing. It is not impossible that the thought and feeling of peace was entirely a creation of the brain. To any who claim that it is impossible, I ask "impossible? Impossible?" Surely it is possible, why would it be impossible? Regardless of the different probabilities we might assign to the possible explanations of the event, we both must admit that either interpretation is possible.

The existence of the earth and the variety of life upon it is often claimed to prove that there is a Creator. I will admit that if God did create it, it is evidence of his existence. But, is it not also possible that the universe and all that is in it came about by natural (uncreated) laws without the involvement of a Creator? It most certainly is possible. If you disagree, shall we review the law of large numbers, gravity, and evolution by natural selection? You may not think it likely, but logic demands you admit that it is possible even if you refuse to imagine it.

Look, all the "knower" has are raw experiences and events. Do not accept your interpretations, and assumptions as givens. For they are debatable and they are not part of the raw experience. You do not "know" that God changed your heart. You do not "know" that God answered your prayer. You may know that you experienced a change of heart, but you do not know that it came from God. That is but one interpretation that is often accepted as part of the experience, but it is an assumption that might be incorrect. If you have difficulty imagining or buying the possibility of a naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon (near-death experiences, prophecies, etc), ask a naturalist and they will explain until you get it.

"Knowers" have no proof. To prove something, you must be able to demonstrate that there is no possibility that any alternative explanation could adequately account for the phenomenon. Only then can you claim to know. Many scientists and philosophers have demonstrated that there is no experience you have ever had or event that has taken place that does not have possible alternative explanations. Therefore, you are not justified in claiming to "know" that God exists. You can believe it, but you cannot know it. Is the God hypothesis possible? Yes. Is the naturalistic hypothesis possible? Yes. Therefore, no one "knows".

The rest of the argument is about likelihoods and probabilities. I personally feel that the likelihood of a god existing is very low, but I am ok with believers believing that it is high. But, I really would like those who claim to "know" that God exists know that they cannot know and learn to separate in their minds the raw experience from the interpretation they give to the experience.

Friday, February 09, 2007

We are a Gentle, Angry People

Last Sunday, during our UU services, we sang a hymn I had never heard of before entitled, "We are a Gentle, Angry People". The words are written by Holly Near and are as follows:

We are a gentle, angry people

We are a gentle angry people, X 2
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a justice seeking people, X 2
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are young and old together, X 2
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a land of many colors, X 2
and we are singing, singing for our lives

We are gay and straight together X 2
And we are singing, singing for our lives

We are a gentle, loving people X 2
And we are singing, singing for our lives

I have thought a lot about this hymn during this week. There are some Mormons, even some liberal NOM's, that seem to look negatively on those in the DAMU that post while angry. I think a lot about anger, forebearance, and offense-taking. I can understand that people sometimes lose control of themselves while angry and let the emotion take control. I also have observed people who are consumed with anger for extensive amounts of time, that end up becoming nasty in all of their interactions and tax their bodies with stress. But I believe that there are appropriate times to get angry and that one can get angry without anger getting the best of them.

Anger can be an adaptive response in the face of injustice and unfair treatment. It protects us from allowing people to walk all over us or others and be taken advantage of. We should be angry when people that we trust are deceptive. We should be angry when homosexuals are victims of hate and intolerance. We should be angry when women are relegated as second class citizens. We should be motivated to act for justice and equality and honesty. Martin Luther King, Jr, showed us how to work for these things without letting the anger eat us alive and without lashing out in unproductive violence and provocation. So, let us be a gentle and angry people until those in power quit mistreating those without.