Friday, November 02, 2007

Egyptian Heiroglyphics, Joseph Smith, Book of Abraham, Oh My!

One of the interesting facets of Mormonism is the fact that Joseph Smith can be directly tested as a translator. Joseph Smith purchased two Egyptian papyrus scrolls from a traveling antiquities dealer named Michael Chandler. When he began translating some of the scrolls, he told his followers that he had discovered a scroll with a lost book of Abraham. Then, he said that the other scroll was a lost book of Joseph written by Joseph when he was in Pharoah's court in Egypt. Joseph Smith published his book of Abraham in Nauvoo, along with three facsimilies that he copied from the Egyptian papyri. However, he was murdered before he published more of the Book of Abraham, and the book of Joseph. The papyri were eventually lost, and forgotten.

However, in the 1960's they were rediscovered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They were bound to a kind of backing material, and this backing had maps of 1830's Kirtland, Ohio written on it. One of the sheets looked almost identical to Facsimile one from the set of facsimilies published by Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith had written some notes on the Papyri, and he had copied some of the characters in the exact order on which they were found in the papyri. That pretty much sealed the deal that these were the same papyri that Joseph Smith used in translating the Book of Abraham.

However, the disappointment came when Egyptologists went to translate the text. They were nothing more than scrolls from the Book of Breathings, a spell book which enabled an Egyptian man to make it into the afterlife after death.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints makes all of their scriptures available online including The Book of Abraham. I am not yet good enough in Heiroglyphics to translate the Book of Breathings. It is poetry, and poetry is the most difficult writing in any language to translate. However, I have been translating several Egyptian narratives, such as The Shipwrecked Sailor, and The Eloquent Phesant. Thus, I can say with certainty that the style of the Book of Abraham is not something that corresponds to the way Egyptian narratives are written. It sounds much more like a translation from Hebrew, which would make sense, since Joseph Smith was studying Hebrew at the time he "translated" the Book of Abraham. Dr Robert Ritner, a professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago who was commissioned to do an entire translation of Joseph Smith's scroll, makes the same observation when he says that "The narrative style of the Book of Abraham does not correspond to Egyptian verbiage" [From the Institute for Religious Research's video documentary The Lost Book of Abraham]. Also, my professor, who is both an Egyptologist and a Hebrew Scholar, has told me that scrolls of the Book of Breathings that were put in the coffins of deceased Egyptians was a practice that did not exist until around the time of Christ, thousands of years after Abraham.

It is an interesting, and very fruitful discussion to have with Mormon missionaries when they come to your door. Also, an excellent video documentary put out by the Institute for Religious Research called The Lost Book of Abraham is currently available online. Though it is around an hour long, it is very educational, and well worth the time to sit and watch it:


Ted Slater said...

Excellent post. I've long been concerned about the questionable founding of the Mormon religion.

FWIW (and apologies if this is too off-topic), I'm not afraid of a Romney presidency. I think it would invite a deeper look at the religion he embraces. It's my opinion that the facades could very well come crumbling down as the truth emerges.

singlechristianman said...

What interests me about Mormonism is how it propogates through a kind of "informational hygiene" -- basically, a kind of heavily reinforced culture -- an internally reinforced culture -- which seeks to expand itself. In this regard it is similar to many evangelical models of propagating memes and values This is troubling to me because in the long run, this is how we wind up with "KJV onlyism" or "biblical dating" etc. The nature of the Body of Christ on earth should always be to point to Him and to root people in Him individually and let the Holy Spirit play out His wishes in our common culture instead of trying to press everyone into the same mold.

Ted Slater said...

You lost me. How is the concept of "biblical dating," that is, a biblically-informed set of principles for those who want to move from singleness to marriage, related at all to the cult of Mormonism?

Your seeming distain for those who struggle to see how Scripture applies to the pre-marriage/marriage transition is just beyond me.

Or are you just fishing for comments?

Here's a thought. Why don't you present your own set of principles for "biblical dating?" Please write a blog where you identify some specific relevant biblical principles. If you don't like that term, maybe just provide some biblical principles that singles might consider as they determine how best to move from singleness to marriage. That would be helpful.

Ted Slater said...

PuritanCalvinist -- I see you've included some principles in your blog post, "20 Theses for a Reformation in Christian Relationships."

Brother, some of those look like they were published on Boundless. Your points 16, 17 and 18 pretty much sum up our position.

singlechristianman said...

Ted said: "You lost me"

If I "lost you" it was because you didn't "hear" me. So I'll try again.

First, let me tell you this, younger brother: I've raised a son to responsible adult christian adulthood who prays daily, has experienced the leading of the Holy Spirit, seeks out fellowship, and is serious about walking in holiness in his relations with women. You might check out his 'blog musing about this. You might also consider that I might have something to say.

The "heart" of my comment was about "social conditioning" -- "informational hygiene." To put it another way, and to use more concrete notions for you, things like attacking questioners in some way or conditioning people to be afraid of examining certain things, or certain questions. This is done with guilt, fear, and ostracization to keep certain questions "off the table."

It is possible to go to a church-sponsored university and get a degree from a place holding onto KJV-onlyism with a death grip. Yet, this is clearly an idea that is intellectually bankrupt and certainly not "biblically" required, even though I've had a pastor (you know, a bible-school educated pastor, with the same professional title that you have) quote me a passage at the end of Revelations - written before English existed as a language - to justify his ideas about this. This was specious, just as many so-called "biblical" dating models* depend upon specious readings and avoiding certain questions. So I was talking about what I said I was talking about -- cultural conditioning in churches. As a quick aside, I'll note that I would probably be in some kind of disobedience to his authority if he were my pastor.

How can this be, that educated believers can press for KJV-onlyism? It's because of using guilt and fear to keep people from looking at self-evident questions. But life happens.. someone learns another language and they go hmmmm.. or reason for themselves through the incongruities put to them.

So, to come back to Mormonism: You can find people who have just drifted away from it. You can also find people who have been, basically, traumatized a bit by the experience of leaving Mormonism because of the heavy conditioning they have been given. That conditioning -- to feel guilt or shame, or fear, is not unlike that which some people have described feeling when they have left the Evangelical faith of their childhood. Some of the Holiness sects in particular seem to have a lot of these types who crop up. Not just a few months ago I was a bible study while a ernest woman was reduced to tears in fear because she had left a Oneness Pentecostal church and had been receiving a great deal of condemnation from her former pastor and congregants. It was good that she left that man's "authority", wasn't it?

So all of those words are about what I was trying to convey: That Evangelicals sometimes do something like what Mormons do, and this troubles me.

You are incorrect to speculate that I have "disdain" for anyone seeking to apply the scriptures. I am one of them. But I don't have much tolerance for things self-evidently specious.

* At the writing of my comment I had in mind Doug Wilson, whose book I recently critiqued, and which seems to be quasi-theonomistic.

Ted Slater said...

singlechristianman -- you wrote, "If I 'lost you' it was because you didn't 'hear' me."

That's really not helpful. Check the attitude. It takes two to communicate, and as I learned in grad school there are numerous things that could "go wrong" in the communication process.

Your calling me "younger brother" doesn't help much either. You're only six years older than I am, which isn't a significant age difference. In any case, I'm not sure the relevance of your "younger brother" comment other than to "put me in my place."

Whenever I've seen you use the term "biblical dating," it's been in reference to Boundless articles. You've clarified that your problem isn't with Boundless, but with Doug Wilson. I'll assume that your concern about "attacking questioners" is also in reference to Doug Wilson, and not with Boundless.

It does concern me, though, that you diminish the concept of "biblical dating" in your comment. I'd think we'd both want to have a biblical understanding of dating (e.g., "biblical dating). I'd be interested in seeing your model for biblical dating -- I imagine it'd be pretty similar to what Boundless (and puritancalvinist) has to say.