[This is an update to a post from August 25, Raising the Abrahamic Discourse: An Essay on the Nature of Dialogues About the Book of Abraham]
I believe that academic dialogue is important and can be fruitful. There are many scholars who are academically interested in the Book of Abraham, its translation, and its content. Some scholars have even made such study their life’s work. (This is not unusual in many specialized subject areas.)
Regardless of the area of study, all scholars approach any topic with their own sets of existing beliefs. It is impossible for a scholar to be a “blank slate” when it comes to any field of study. It is no surprise that my existing beliefs are consistent with what I view as the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. It is likewise no surprise that others, including Professor Ritner, start with a set of beliefs that preclude divine involvement in the work of Joseph Smith.
With that in mind and because I am truly interested in academic dialogue about the Book of Abraham, before I posted any kind of response online, I personally contacted Professor Ritner. I suggested that we work together on creating an academic volume on the subject. I suggested possible guidelines for doing so, possible academic venues, possible editors, and even a potential table of contents. I modeled it after volumes on contested issues that have been successfully done in academia elsewhere. The goal would be to have a balanced approach observing the highest academic rigor and tone, creating a dialogue with each other rather than having parties who speak past each other. If done correctly, I believe that such an approach can lead to real progress.
Dr. Ritner graciously declined, citing his current health circumstances. This is very understandable. I have responded, letting him know that I am open to other options as long as we can find something that would adhere to appropriate academic standards. I have also offered to fly to Chicago, once pandemic conditions have stabilized, to discuss this matter with him.
Finally, I hope that no one will speculate about Professor Ritner’s reasons for declining my invitation. The best thing for all of us is that others do not presume they know what either his or my intentions are, and that we are both given a reasonable space to work towards something together in the midst of his difficult circumstances. I believe it is possible to make true academic progress in this matter, and will continue to work towards making that happen.
Kerry Muhlestein, September 2, 2020
Kerry Muhlestein received his BS from BYU in psychology with a Hebrew minor. He received an MA in ancient Near Eastern studies from BYU and his PhD from UCLA in Egyptology. He taught courses in Hebrew and Religion part time at BYU and the UVSC extension center, as well as in history at Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA. He also taught early-morning seminary and at the Westwood (UCLA) institute of religion. His first full-time appointment was a joint position in religion and history at BYU–Hawaii. He is the director of the BYU Egypt Excavation Project. He was selected by the Princeton Review in 2012 as one of the best 300 professors in the nation (the top .02% of those considered). He was also a visiting fellow at the University of Oxford for the 2016–17 academic year. He has published six books and over fifty-five peer-reviewed articles and has done over eighty academic presentations. He and his wife, Julianne, are the parents of six children, and together they have lived in Jerusalem while Kerry has taught there on multiple occasions. He has served as the chairman of a national committee for the American Research Center in Egypt and serves on their Research Supporting Member Council. He has also served on a committee for the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and currently serves on their board of trustees and as a vice president of the organization. He is the co-chair for the Egyptian Archaeology Session of the American Schools of Oriental Research. He is also a senior fellow of the William F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research. He is involved with the International Association of Egyptologists, and has worked with Educational Testing Services on their AP world history exam.