Detailed response to CES Letter, Book of Abraham

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Detailed response to CES Letter, Book of Abraham


Chart CES Letter book of abraham.png

Included below:


Response to claim: "scholars have found the original papyrus Joseph translated"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

scholars have found the original papyrus Joseph translated

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Scholars have found fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Among the fragments is the original for Book of Abraham Facsimile 1. The original papyri containing Facsimile 2 and Facsimile 3 is not among them. One cannot conclude that what we have today is the portion of the papyrus that Joseph translated.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "scholars...have dated it in first century AD, nearly 2,000 years after Abraham could have written it"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

scholars...have dated it in first century AD, nearly 2,000 years after Abraham could have written it.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The papyri fragments recovered date to after the Abrahamic period. The biggest thing to differentiate is a text and a manuscript. An original text may be ancient or have elements that date to an earlier date and a manuscript may be a copy of a copy of a copy that go to a later date.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "Egyptologists have found the source material for the Book of Abraham to be nothing more than a common pagan Egyptian funerary text"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Egyptologists have found the source material for the Book of Abraham to be nothing more than a common pagan Egyptian funerary text for a deceased man named “Hor” in 1st century AD. In other words, it was a common Breathing Permit that the Egyptians buried with their dead.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The author words his statement in such a way as to make it sound as if this is a recent event, and that this discovery was forced to light by non-Mormon Egyptologists. This is not the case.The facts: The Church announced in 1968 that the papryi fragments contained a funerary text in the official magazine, the Improvement Era.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "It has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or anything Joseph claimed in his translation for the Book of Abraham"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[The Joseph Smith papyri] has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or anything Joseph claimed in his translation for the Book of Abraham.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The existing fragments of the Joseph Smith Papyri are not related to the Book of Abraham with the exception of the original for Facsimile 1, a fact that the Church noted in 1968 in the official church magazine, the Improvement Era. There is evidence that helps us associate the to Abraham and traditions about him.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: Facsimile 1 "The Abraham scene is wrong"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The Abraham scene is wrong.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Facsimile 1 is one of the most studied and best attested of the facsimiles in antiquity.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "The following image is what Facsimile 1 is really supposed to look like"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

[The Charles Larson restoration] is what Facsimile 1 is really supposed to look like, based on Egyptology and the same scene discovered elsewhere in Egypt.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is false

The Charles Larson restoration has a number of inaccuracies.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "The following images show similar funerary scenes which have been discovered elsewhere in Egypt"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The following images shows the same funeral scene which has been discovered elsewhere in Egypt. (April 2013)

The following images show similar funerary scenes which have been discovered elsewhere in Egypt. (October 2014)

Notice that the jackal-headed Egyptian god of death and afterlife Anubis is consistent in every funerary scene.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: Facsimile 1 does not portray the preparation of a mummy by Anubis - the figure on the "lion couch" is alive and is wearing clothes.The facts: This type of scene is interpreted as the resurrection of Osiris. It therefore is not the "same funeral scene" that is illustrated elsewhere.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile #2 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The following ["mormoninfographic"] is a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile #2 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists and modern Egyptology.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

We don't know everything about facsimile 2 and how it was supposed to be translated. For now, we see that Joseph appears to have gotten a few things right.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "Joseph Smith said that this is 'God sitting on his throne'. It’s actually Min, the pagan Egyptian god of fertility or sex"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

One of the most disturbing facts I discovered in my research of Facsimile 2 is figure #7. Joseph Smith said that this is “God sitting on his throne…” It’s actually Min, the pagan Egyptian god of fertility or sex. Min is sitting on a throne with an erect penis (which can be seen in the figure). In other words, Joseph Smith is saying that this figure with an erect penis is Heavenly Father sitting on his throne.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: This is a point of mockery used by critics because they know that it offends 21st century sensibilities regarding the manner in which we ought to portray God.The facts: This wasn't a big issue as far as the Egyptians were concerned.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: Facsimile 3, "Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri and facsimiles are gibberish"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Egyptologists state that Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri and facsimiles are gibberish and have absolutely nothing to do with what the papyri and facsimiles actually are and what they actually say....Facsimile #3:


Joseph misidentifies the Egyptian god Osiris as Abraham.
Misidentifies the Egyptian god Isis as the Pharaoh.
Misidentifies the Egyptian god Maat as the Prince of the Pharaoh.
Misidentifies the Egyptian god Anubis as a slave.
Misidentifies the dead Hor as a waiter.


Joseph misidentifies – twice – a female as a male.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The fact that Joseph deliberately identified two female figures as male should provide a clue to the fact that he was applying a parallel interpretation to the figure, and that it won't match what Egyptologists would produce.The facts: It is significant, however, that Joseph correctly notes two concepts that are present in other ancient texts: Abraham being seated next to Pharoah, and that Abraham taught the Egyptians astronomy. Another cool evidence for the Facsimile can be read about here.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "86% of Book of Abraham chapters 2, 4, and 5 are King James Version Genesis chapters 1, 2, 11, and 12."

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

5. 86% of Book of Abraham chapters 2, 4, and 5 are King James Version Genesis chapters 1, 2, 11, and 12. Sixty-six out of seventy-seven verses are quotations or close paraphrases of King James Version wording. – An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins , p.19


The Book of Abraham is supposed to be an ancient text written thousands of years ago “by his own hand upon papyrus.” What are 17th century King James Version text doing in there? What does this say about the book being anciently written by Abraham?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There are significant differences in both text and narrative between the Genesis and Book of Abraham accounts of Abraham's life. Both narratives contain earmarks of antiquity. We have already responded to the author's question about "by his own hand on papyrus". KJV text can be included as part of the Book of Abraham as a functionally sufficient translation. That is, it can accomplish the purpose that God and Joseph Smith have for it adequately.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "Why are there anachronisms in the Book of Abraham?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Why are there anachronisms in the Book of Abraham? Chaldeans? Egyptus? Pharaoh? Abraham refers to the facsimiles in 1:12 and 1:14. These facsimiles did not exist in Abraham’s time as they are 1st century CE pagan Egyptian funerary documents.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

There are ways to understand alleged anachronisms in the Book of Abraham if we are open to it not representing, in every single respect, at this very moment, a first-person narrative written by the historic Abraham himself.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "the sun gets its light from Kolob...The sun shines because of thermonuclear fusion; not because it gets its light from any other star"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Facsimile 2, Figure #5 states the sun gets its light from Kolob. (April 2013)

Facsimile 2, Figure #5 states the sun receives its “light from the revolutions of Kolob.” (October 2014)

We now know that the process of nuclear fusion is what makes the stars and suns shine. With the discovery of quantum mechanics, scientists learned that the sun’s source of energy is internal, and not external. The sun shines because of thermonuclear fusion; not because it gets its light from any other star as claimed by the Book of Abraham.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Book of Abraham does not state that the sun "gets it light" or "receives its light" from Kolob or from "from any other star." It states that the sun will "borrow its light from Kolob". It is not talking about actual light in the form of photons. It is certainly not disputing the notion that photons are emitted from the Sun.

Logical Fallacy: Strawman—The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

  • The author avoids the implications of the term "borrow," which has nothing to do with visible light in the form of photons.
  • The author incorrectly reinterprets the argument to the Sun "getting" or "receiving" light from Kolob.
  • The author refutes his own simplified assertion.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "There’s a book published in 1830 by Thomas Dick entitled 'The Philosophy of the Future State'"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Joseph Smith owned a copy of the book [Thomas Dick's book Philosophy of a Future State.] and Oliver Cowdery quoted some lengthy excerpts from the book in the December 1836 Messenger and Advocate."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Joseph owned the book, but there is no evidence that it was used in the dictation of the Book of Abraham. Critics of the Church try to infer a connection without any evidence. There is, in fact, evidence of contrasting views.

Logical Fallacy: False Cause—The author assumes that a real or perceived relationship between two events means that one caused the other.

  • The author notes that Joseph Smith owned a copy of Thomas Dick's book Philosophy of a Future State.
  • The author concludes that Joseph must have used the book in the creation of the Book of Abraham.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was directly asked about the papyri not matching the Book of Abraham in a March 2012 BBC interview"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (April 2013 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was directly asked about the papyri not matching the Book of Abraham in a March 2012 BBC interview:

Sweeney: Mr. Smith got this papyri and he translated them and subsequently as the Egyptologists cracked the code something completely different…

Holland: (Interrupts) All I’m saying…all I’m saying is that what got translated got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that, I do not understand and don’t claim to know and know Egyptian.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Critics of the Church constantly promote the idea that General Authorities are dishonest, yet they complain when one says "I don't claim to know".The facts: Elder Holland was asked this question and honestly answered that he didn't understand the exact method by which the Book of Abraham was produced.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Response to claim: "Is 'I don’t know and I don’t understand but it’s the word of God' really the best answer that a 'prophet, seer, and revelator' can come up with to such a profound problem?"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (October 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

Is “I don’t know and I don’t understand but it’s the word of God” really the best answer that a “prophet, seer, and revelator” can come up with to such a profound problem that is driving many members out of the Church?

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: Elder Holland did not say anything equivalent to "I don’t know and I don’t understand but it’s the word of God."The facts: Elder Holland said that "what got translated got translated into the word of God," meaning that he knows that Joseph received the text of the Book of Abraham through revelation. Elder Holland then stated that he did not know or understand "the vehicle for that," meaning that he does not know the exact method by which the revelation of the Book of Abraham was accomplished. Elder Holland believes that the Book of Abraham was revealed to Joseph - he does not claim to know the mechanism by which this was done.

Logical Fallacy: Strawman—The author sets up a weakened or caricatured version of the opponent's argument. The author then proceeds to demolish the weak version of the argument, and claim victory.

  • Elder Holland stated "what got translated got translated into the word of God" and that he did not claim to know or understand "the vehicle" by which it was translated.
  • The author restates and simplifies Elder Holland's position as "I don't know and I don't understand but it's the word of God."

Response to claim: "The Church conceded in its July 2014 Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham essay that Joseph’s translations of the papyri and the facsimiles do not match what’s in the Book of Abraham"

The author(s) of Letter to a CES Director (October 2014 revision) make(s) the following claim:

The Church conceded in its July 2014 Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham essay that Joseph’s translations of the papyri and the facsimiles do not match what’s in the Book of Abraham

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The Church did not "concede" in its essay that "Joseph's translation of the papyri and the facsimiles do not match what's in the Book of Abraham."The facts: The Church noted that "Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham." The Church actually acknowledged this in 1968 in the official Church magazine, the Improvement Era, over 47 years ago. Since then it has received mention in the Ensign, it has been studied vigorously by scholars including Hugh Nibley, John Gee, Brian Hauglid, and others and published about in BYU studies, FARMS, and other organizations. Nibley's work has been available in Deseret Book. It's really not new.


Longer response(s) to criticism:

Citation abuse in Jeremy Runnells' Response and Rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid's Rational Faiths Essay: B.H. Roberts comment on the Book of Abraham

Citation abuse in the "Letter to a CES Director":

"Elder B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority, Comprehensive History of the Church 2:138"

FairMormon Response


“That was excellently observed’, say I, when I read a passage in an author, where his opinion agrees with mine. When we differ, there I pronounce him to be mistaken.”

—Jonathan Swift

Question: Why did the author of the Letter to a CES Director take a quote from B.H. Roberts in which Roberts was paraphrasing someone with whom he disagreed, and then make it appear as if it were Roberts' own opinion?

The citation: B.H. Roberts: "If Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be proven discredited..."

Jeremy Runnells' Response and Rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid's Rational Faiths Essay: "Jeremy Runnells and the Book of Abraham" presents a quote from B.H. Roberts in order to demonstrate that Roberts believed that if the translation of the papyri of the Book of Abraham was not validated by non-Mormon Egyptologists, that it would invalidate Joseph Smith's claim to have been a prophet. The author presents the quote as follows:

“If Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be proven discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon, and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught.” – Elder B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority, Comprehensive History of the Church 2:138

B.H. Roberts quote presented in Jeremy Runnells' Response and Rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid's Rational Faiths Essay: "Jeremy Runnells and the Book of Abraham"

Note: The author of the Letter to a CES Director inaccurately transcribed the Roberts quote: The first occurrence of the word "proven" should not be there. The author appears to have simply copied it from another secondary source rather than examining the primary source.

The reality: B.H. Roberts: "The 'collapse of Mormonism' was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited...Nothing of this kind happened"

The quote from Roberts is actually a paraphrase of a criticism of the Book of Abraham offered in 1912 by the Rev. F. S. Spalding. This is not Roberts' opinion: it is Roberts phrasing of Spalding's opinion. Note in particular that Roberts was stating that Spalding's prediction that this would spell the "collapse of Mormonism" was unfulfilled:

[T]he "collapse of Mormonism" was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon; and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught. "It is the belief," wrote Bishop Spalding, "that the honest searchers for truth among the Latter-day Saints will welcome the opinions of authoritative scholars, and, if necessary, courageously readjust their system of belief, however radical a revolution of thought may be required, that the following judgments of the world's greatest Egyptologists have been ascertained." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). Nothing of this kind happened however, "Mormonism" was not moved a peg by the critique.

The full story

Here is Roberts' full quote, with the portion extracted by the author of the Letter to a CES Director highlighted in blue:

In 1912 a widespread interest was awakened in the Book of Abraham by the publication of a brochure, by Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, D. D. Episcopal Bishop of Utah, under the title Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator. The bishop submitted the facsimiles of some of the parchment pages from which the Book of Abraham had been translated, (copies of which accompany this chapter) to a number of the foremost of present day Egyptian scholars. These were Dr. A. H. Sayce, Oxford, England; Dr. W. M. Flinders Petrie, London University; James H. Breasted, Ph. D., Haskel Oriental Museum, University of Chicago; Dr. Arthur C. Mace, Assistant Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Department of Egyptian Art; Dr. John Peters, University of Penn., in charge of Expedition to Babylonia, 1888-1895; Rev. Prof, C. A. B. Mercer, Ph. D., Western Theological Seminary, Custodian Hibbard Collections, Egyptian Reproductions; two German scholars—Dr. Edward Meyer, University of Berlin; and Dr. Friedrich Freiheer Von Bissin, Professor of Egyptology in the University of Munich—eight in all. Speaking of the result obtained from the submission of these facsimiles to these foremost Egyptologists, Bishop Spalding says: "It will be seen that there is practically complete agreement as to the real meaning of the hieroglyphics, and that this meaning is altogether different from that of Joseph Smith's translation." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). He also says that "The opinions were obtained from the scholars themselves, and in no case did one man know the opinion of another" (Ibid).

The seeming triumph of the bishop's test of the "Mormon" Prophet's ability to translate ancient languages correctly by inspiration from God, was much commented upon throughout the United States, and especially by the religious press; and the "collapse of Mormonism" was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon; and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught. "It is the belief," wrote Bishop Spalding, "that the honest searchers for truth among the Latter-day Saints will welcome the opinions of authoritative scholars, and, if necessary, courageously readjust their system of belief, however radical a revolution of thought may be required, that the following judgments of the world's greatest Egyptologists have been ascertained." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). Nothing of this kind happened however, "Mormonism" was not moved a peg by the critique. So far as known there were not a score of Latter-day Saints whose faith was affected by the Spalding brochure. There were no Egyptian scholars in the church of the Latter-day Saints who could make an effective answer to the conclusions of the eight scholars who in various ways pronounced against the correctness of Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchments that so strangely fell into his hands; but a number of articles were written by elders of the church pointing out the bias of the scholars and some evident defects in the treatment of the subject; and also reviews of Bishop Spalding's arguments.[1]

Why does the author of the Letter to a CES Director consider B.H. Roberts a "scholar" in this case?

B.H. Roberts was the most notable LDS apologist of the early 20th-century

The author of the Letter to a CES Director, who considers all Latter-day Saint scholars merely "apologists" and not worthy of attention, calls B.H. Roberts a "scholar" in this case. Roberts was indeed a scholar, but he was also the most notable Latter-day Saint apologist of the early 20th-century.

Here's what the author of the Letter to a CES Director thinks of the distinction between "scholar" and "apologist" as he attacks Brian Hales' scholarship:

Hales is not a scholar. He's an anesthesiologist who hired Don Bradley to do his research for him. He then wrote 3 books using his employee's homework. Author? Sure. Apologist? Yes. Amateur? Yes. Scholar? No. He's an apologist disguising himself as a scholar. The real scholars in the field of polygamy have issues with many of Hales' conclusions and interpretations. Anyone with big bucks and writing skills can do what Brian did. All you have to do is hire guys like Don Bradley to do all the work for you and then you throw the stuff in a nice hardcover book with your name on it.[2]

Could it be because the author of the Letter to a CES Director in this case calls B.H. Roberts a "scholar" because thinks that Roberts said something that he agrees with...that is, after he modified Roberts' quote to remove the portions he disagreed with? Remember, B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority, said "The 'collapse of Mormonism' was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited...Nothing of this kind happened."


LDS Truth Claims: The Book of Abraham


Notes

  1. B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 6 vols. (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1976), 2:138.
  2. Jeremy Runnells, author of the "Letter to a CES Director". Posted on "Who's the Real Amateur?" Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So's Mormon Blog, July 16, 2014, https://www.plonialmonimormon.com/2014/07/whos-real-amateur.html.