Friday, September 30, 2016

Kinderhook, GAEL and the Hor Book of Breathings



In his excellent 2011 FAIR Mormon presentation, Don Bradley effectively neutralized the Kinderhook Plates argument against Joseph Smith. I invite the reader to view his presentation, because it provides a great deal of relevant background information.

Bradley used the following visual to illustrate the similarity between William Clayton's description of Joseph Smith's alleged translation of the Kinderhook Plates, and Joseph's description accompanying the GAEL's ho-e-oop-hah:



While the descriptions are not identical, we might reasonably allow room for Clayton's own interpretation and deduction.

Now, I would like to build on Bradley's comparison, by considering an additional document: the Hor Book of Breathings. It was in Joseph Smith's possession and on display in his house as part of his papyri collection, possibly even at the same time as the Kinderhook Plates, and as Bradley points out from Pratt's letter, a large number of people had compared the characters on the Kinderhook Plates with the characters on the papyri, many of which were copied from the papyri to the GAEL. So, the papyri is of direct relevance here.

It would be easy to get caught up in the fact that the Egyptian meaning of the boat-like character does not match the description Joseph associated with it in the GAEL, and to thereby deduce that Joseph did not derive said description from the Egyptological meaning of that character. This is well and good, however the fact that the character and description were not derived from each other does not mean the character and the description could not have both been derived from the same source - namely, the papyri. In fact, the papyri would seem to be the default candidate for such a source.

Ho-e-oop-hah: A Description Of Hor?

Let's compare what the Hor Book of Breathings papyrus says (Michael Rhodes translation), with the content of the GAEL's ho-e-oop-hah description.
Ho-e-oop-hah
Honor by birth 
Hor Papyrus
Hor, justified, the son of one of like titles, master of the secrets, god’s priest, Usirwer, justified, born of the house wife, the musician of Amon-Re, Taykhebyt
Explanation: The description of Hor being the son of a man and woman of high honor and distinction directly indicates "honor by birth."
Ho-e-oop-hah
Kingly power by the line of Pharaoh 
Hor Papyrus
You are on the throne of Osiris 
...established upon your throne in the Sacred Land
                   
May you, Osiris, Hor, abide at the side of the throne of his greatness
Explanation: Osiris is the dead Pharaoh. The idea was that a living Pharaoh would become Osiris after death, as would his successor, and so on. Becoming Osiris was reserved only for Pharaohs, for a long time. Eventually, other elites were allowed to also become Osiris. Thus, Hor is essentially being adopted into the line of Pharaoh, in order to become the dead Pharaoh, Osiris.
Ho-e-oop-hah
Possession by birth 
Hor Papyrus
Hor, justified, the son of one of like titles, master of the secrets, god’s priest, Usirwer, justified, born of the house wife, the musician of Amon-Re, Taykhebyt
Explanation: Rhodes explains in footnote 3: "In the Greco-Roman period sa mi nn means that the son was of similar priestly rank, not necessarily having the exact same titles." Hor was not merely a lay priest, but was a Prophet, and "possessed" his rights of a priest by virtue of his birth.
Ho-e-oop-hah
One who reigns upon his throne universally 
Hor Papyrus
You are the Great God, foremost among the gods
Explanation: Not merely the sentence I chose, but the entire Hor Papyrus, is about Hor becoming the Great God, Osiris. He certainly reigns upon his throne universally. The same could not be said of any earthly ruler.
Ho-e-oop-hah
Possessor of heaven and earth 
Hor Papyrus
Your soul is living in heaven every day 
May you go forth to the earth every day
Explanation: The Hor Papyrus is a match for both the heaven and the earth themes
Ho-e-oop-hah
...and the blessings of the earth
Hor Papyrus:   
May you assume again your form on earth among the living  
Your flesh is on your bones, made like your form on earth  
May your soul make for you invocation offerings of bread, beer, beef and fowl, libations and incense during the course of every day 
May you drink with your throat. May you eat with your mouth.  
Explanation: Not only is Hor able to live in heaven and on earth, but Hor is able to enjoy the earth with his earthly senses

How Clayton Makes The Book of Breathings Relevant 
Clayton's Journal
They contain the history of the person with whom they were found 
Hor Papyrus
The Osiris, God’s father, priest of Amon-Re, king of the gods, priest of Min, who massacres his enemies, priest of Khonsu, who is powerful in Thebes  . . .  Hor, justified, the son of one of like titles, master of the secrets, god’s priest, Usirwer, justified, born of the house wife, the musician of Amon-Re, Taykhebyt.
Explanation: The Hor Papyrus actually does contain the history of the person with whom it was found
Clayton's Journal
The plates were on the breast of the skeleton 
Hor Papyrus
the Osiris Hor, justified born of Taykhebyt, justified, after his two hands have been clasped to his heart. The Document of Breathing which made shall (also) be buried, which is written on both the inside and outside of it, (and wrapped) in royal linen, being placed under his left arm near his heart
Explanation: The Hor Papyrus actually was on the breast of the deceased

William Clayton made the Book of Breathings directly relevant to the Kinderhook Plates, in his journal entry, by claiming the Kinderhook Plates were on the breast of a skeleton. They actually were not, but the Book of Breathings was - on the breast of a mummy. Moreover, such Egyptian funerary documents are the only genre of document in the world which gets placed on a deceased person's breast. So Clayton was not only saying something which applies to the Book of Breathings, but he was in fact saying something which essentially applies only to the Book of Breathings and to similar Egyptian funerary texts.

The question is, where along the line did Clayton come to believe the Kinderhook Plates were on the breast of a skeleton? It's possible that Clayton had concluded on his own that the Kinderhook Plates were an Egyptian funerary text similar to the papyri, and thus assumed that the Kinderhook Plates were on the breast of a skeleton, just as the papyri had been. Or it's possible that a random person made that assumption and passed it along to Clayton. The problem with that explanation, however, is that nothing about the actual find would have associated the Kinderhook Plates with Egypt. In the first place, they were plates. That brings to mind the Book of Mormon, not the papyri. Second, they were found in an Indian mound. That again brings to mind the Book of Mormon, not the papyri. And third, they were found in the American heartland - which brings to mind a wandering Nephite, not a wandering Egyptian. It's true that a few scattered bones were also found, along with miscellaneous other items, but nothing pointing to Egypt.

The only known factor which points to Egypt in this situation is the GAEL's ho-e-oop-hah description. Which makes it probable that the way Clayton came to believe the Kinderhook Plates were on the breast of a skeleton was by talking with Joseph Smith. But this does not necessarily mean Joseph Smith himself made that assumption. It could instead mean that Clayton made the assumption based on statements Joseph made about the papyri.

The fact that Clayton spoke with Joseph does not mean Clayton perfectly understood everything regarding the papyri. To begin with, Clayton was not present during the initial excitement surrounding the papyri. The papyri arrived in 1835, while Clayton did not join the Church until 1837, and he emigrated to America in 1840, when the papyri was not a primary focus.

Difference Between Joseph Smith And William Clayton

Consider when Joseph showed Clayton the boat-shaped character on the GAEL, and compared it with the boat-shaped character on the Kinderhook plate, how differently the two men might have interpreted the situation. To Joseph, the matching characters may have represented an encouraging sign of authenticity, meriting further inquiry. While to the excited Clayton, the matching characters, along with the description in the GAEL, may have represented a clear translation.

Evidence of this difference between Joseph Smith and William Clayton is in the letter Bradley pointed out from "A Gentile," who confirms that Joseph found characters that matched, but goes on to say that Joseph "therefore will be able to decipher them." The future-tense seems to indicate that Joseph had not moved from authentication to translation. And this was a full week after Clayton's May 1 journal entry. That Joseph had not translated is also supported by Wilber Fugate's claim that Joseph "would not agree to translate them until they were sent to the Antiquarian society at Philadelphia, France, and England." Also, this is consistent with the Willard Richards account of Joseph exhibiting the Kinderhook Plates on May 7, which does not indicate any actual translation.

I realize I'm implying some confusion on Clayton's part, so let's consider just how plausible it is that a person in Clayton's shoes might get confused about ancient records. Don Bradley may have helped answer this already, when the FAIR Mormon audience seemed to accept Bradley's casual suggestion that "A Gentile" had confused the Book of Mormon with the Book of Abraham - and that "A Gentile" did so in a prepared letter to a major newspaper, which we might imagine "A Gentile" had put some thought into. If we can easily allow for that, then can we not allow for Clayton to make a false assumption? As for critics who might suggest that the FAIR Mormon audience granted too much plausibility to the idea of "A Gentile" being confused, I would remind them that the recovered Kinderhook Plate had sat in a museum, falsely labeled as one of the Gold Plates from the Book of Mormon! Confusion does happen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Purporting to be the writings of Abraham"

The header for the original 1842 printing of the Book of Abraham reads:
A TRANSLATION
Of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the BOOK OF ABRAHAM, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.
     First, we need not suppose that the word "translation" confines Joseph Smith to what is literally on the papyrus. It is well known that Joseph used the word "translation" in a much broader sense than we typically do today.
     Second, the word "purporting" indicates there is more going on than meets the eye. Here we have a situation where the words “purporting to be” are inserted to indicate something, yet the word “purporting” has negative connotations. That word was only used in the Times and Seasons in reference to things that had not been verified as true, and usually it was used as a means of denying the authenticity of the items in question.
     For instance, the December 1, 1842 edition contains the following excerpt, which uses the word to cast doubt on a “lost book,” which parallels the Book of Abraham:
We have lately seen a pamphlet, written, and published by James C. Brewster; purporting to be one of the lost books of Esdras; and to be written by the gift and power of God. We consider it a perfect humbug, and should not have noticed it, had it not been assiduously circulated, in several branches of the church.
     Another example (out of several which exist) is found in the September 2, 1844 edition:
Whereas Elders James J. Strang and Aaron Smith have been circulating a "revelation." (falsely called) purporting to have been received by Joseph Smith on the 18th of June, 1844: and through the influence of which they have attempted and are attempting to establish a stake, called Voree, in Wisconsin Territory, thereby leading the saints astray: therefore, the said James J. Strang and Aaron Smith are cut off from the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this 26th day of August, 1844.
     So, what should we make of the use of the word “purporting” in the Book of Abraham header? Well, we know Joseph is not trying to cast doubt on the authenticity of Abraham's writings which he translated. But he does seem to be casting doubt on the idea that the ancient records in his possession are themselves the plain, uncorrupted writings of Abraham. 

Regarding the Alleged Handwriting of Abraham

     The Book of Abraham puzzle is cluttered with a lot of assumptions. One of these is the idea that Joseph Smith claimed Abraham personally held and wrote on the papyrus which Joseph Smith had in his collection. If Joseph Smith did make that claim, it would be problematic, because his papyri collection dates to many centuries after Abraham lived.
     Most LDS apologists seem content with just chalking it up to Joseph Smith not knowing any better, and attributing it to Joseph Smith's secular efforts to understand the papyri's relationship to the inspired Book of Abraham translation.
     That's all well and good if it's true. But I don't think we should just assume that it's true. Such an assumption, if false, could taint our overall understanding of the Book of Abraham issues, possibly making it more difficult for us to find real answers to Book of Abraham challenges.
     So, let's have a look at the cases where Joseph allegedly claimed that Abraham personally wrote on the papyrus.

     I know of five such cases. One is in the handwriting of Willard Richards, possibly dictated by Joseph Smith, and the others include Josiah Quincy, Charles Adams, an anonymous person referenced in the National Intelligencer, and someone referenced in Supplement to the Courant. Let's look at these individually, starting with the most well-known example.

Josiah Quincy
"And now come with me," said the prophet, "and I will show you the curiosities." So saying, he led the way to a lower room, where sat a venerable and respectable-looking lady. "This is my mother, gentlemen. The curiosities we shall see belong to her. They were purchased with her own money, at a cost of six thousand dollars;" and then, with deep feeling, were added the words, "And that woman was turned out upon the prairie in the dead of night by a mob." There were some pine presses fixed against the wall of the room. These receptacles Smith opened, and disclosed four human bodies, shrunken and black with age. "These are mummies," said the exhibitor. "I want you to look at that little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man
in his day. Why, that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!" Some parchments inscribed with hieroglyphics were then offered us. They were preserved under glass and handled with great respect. "That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful," said the prophet. "This is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest account of the creation, from which Moses composed the first book of Genesis." The parchment last referred to showed a rude drawing of a man and woman, and a serpent walking upon a pair of legs. I ventured to doubt the propriety of providing the reptile in question with this unusual means of locomotion.
     This account of a visit to Nauvoo, which took place shortly before Joseph's Martyrdom, was published in 1883 and compiled from Quincy's journal entries and letters written in 1844. Quincy was certainly not acting as a scribe for Joseph during the visit, and it is doubtful that, by the time Quincy sat down to compose his journal entries and letters concerning the variety of experiences he had at Nauvoo, that he actually recalled the words which Joseph had said. Rather, he seems to be caricaturing the types of things which were said, in order to convey the general spirit of his experience. For instance, he says Joseph Smith's mother purchased the papyri, which is not true, and that the price was 6,000 dollars, which is also not true. Here it looks like Quincy combined two separate ideas - that the papyri had been purchased and that Joseph's mother owned them – into a single claim. And, he did so without attention to the finer details.  
     Quoting Joseph's exact words was evidently not Quincy's concern, since, in his words, "the blasphemous assumptions of Smith seemed like the ravings of a lunatic."
     Are the "ravings of a lunatic" significant enough to remember word-for-word? He even compared Smith to inmates at an insane asylum, "victims of the sad but not uncommon delusion that each had received the appointment of vicegerent of the Deity upon earth." Quincy does not seem to hold this against Smith personally, but rather is taking pity on him, while at the same time marveling that such a man could accomplish all that Joseph Smith had accomplished.
     Moreover, Quincy's journal entry is less reliable because it was apparently rewritten decades later to make it more suitable for publication. In his introduction, Quincy states:
... a friend, who had read my journals with interest, offered me his most valuable aid in what may be called the literary responsibilities of the undertaking. My narratives have gained in grace of expression as they passed beneath the correcting pen of my obliging critic, and I am confident that a stern exercise of his right of curtailing reflections and omitting incidents has been no less for the reader's advantage.
     We might reasonably suppose that any of Joseph Smith's detailed, clarifying remarks, which Quincy may conceivably have originally written down, would have been edited out as part of that "stern exercise of his right of curtailing reflections and omitting incidents..."  
     In further support of this view is the included statement, "This is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest account of the creation, from which Moses composed the first book of Genesis." Since this was May of 1844, Joseph had long since already translated both the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham. But Quincy and his friend appear not to realize that the Book of Moses had in fact come from a translation of the Bible, not from a translation of the papyri, so in print it ended up in a narrative of the papyri - and this is perhaps the type of liberty which Quincy calls the “grace of expression” in the introductory excerpt to his book, cited above.

Charles Francis Adams
He [Joseph Smith] then took us down into his mother's chamber and showed us four Egyptian mummies stripped and then undertook to explain the contents of a chart or manuscript which he said had been taken from the bosom of one of them. The cool impudence of this imposture amused me very much. "This," said he, "was written by the hand of Abraham and means so and so. If anyone denies it, let him prove the contrary. I say it." Of course, we were too polite to prove the negative, against a man fortified by revelation.
     Perhaps the most telling words in the Adams account are “so and so.” Like Quincy, Adams is clearly not interested in what Smith was saying, but is “amused” at what he calls an “imposture.” Adams believes that he (and Quincy) could have proven the “so and so” wrong, but were simply too polite to do so – and yet he still declines to do so in even his journal entry, where politeness is no longer at issue, which perhaps means that he had forgotten what the “so and so” was. In any event, it appears Joseph simply explained how  the Book of Abraham came down to us, and that Adams took away very few of the details.

Joseph Smith
A considerable quantity of the matter in the last paper was in type before the establishment came into my hands.— Some of which went to press without my review or knowledge and a multiplicity of business while entering on the additional care of the editorial department of the Times and Seasons must be my apology for what is past.—
In future I design to furnish much original matter which will be found of inestimable advantage to the saints,—& all who desire a knowledge of the kingdom of God,—and as it is not practicable to bring forth the new translation of the Scriptures & various records of ancient date & great worth to this generation in the usual form by books I shall permit specimens of the same in the Times & Seasons as fast as time and space will admit,—so that the honest in heart may be cheered and comforted and go on their way rejoicing,— as their souls become exposed.—& their understanding enlightened by a knowledge of God's work through the fathers in former days as well as what He is about to do in latter days to fulfill the words of the fathers.— 
In the present no. will be found the commencement of the Records discovered in Egypt some time since as penned by the hand of Father Abraham which I shall outline to translate & publish as fast as possible till the whole is completed and as the saints have long been anxious to obtain a copy of these records those [who] are now taking this Times Seasons will confer a special favor on their brethren who do not take the paper by informing them that they can now obtain their hearts.
      This was a rough draft of a statement which was in the process of being prepared for the Times and Seasons, in the handwriting of Willard Richards on behalf of Joseph Smith. This unpublished statement was written before the publication of the Book of Abraham, when Joseph was perhaps still deciding how to explain the relationship between the record of Abraham and the papyri without detracting from the message of the scripture. 
     One of the routine duties of Joseph's scribes was to adjust his grammar and phraseology to conform to professional standards. In the process of them performing that duty, some meaning can however be lost. 
     Richard Bushman illustrates how William Clayton as scribe was “more alert to doctrine” than Willard Richards, citing differences in how they recorded a statement made by Joseph Smith on April 2, 1843:
Richards recorded one famous epigram as “The earth in its sanctified and immortal state will be a Urim & Thummim for all things below it in the scale of creation, but not above it.” Clayton elaborated the sentence to read “The earth when it is purified will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim & Thummim whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom on all kingdoms of a lower order will be manifest to those who dwell on it.”
     We might contrast the unpublished statement written by Richards for Joseph Smith, with the introductory note which ended up on the Book of Abraham when it was finally published. The note does not say the papyrus Abraham wrote on was the same papyrus Joseph Smith purchased, or even a papyrus roll that still exists, or anything of the like.
     The header for the original 1842 printing reads:
A TRANSLATION
Of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the BOOK OF ABRAHAM, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.
     First, we need not suppose that the word "translation" confines Joseph Smith to what is literally on the papyrus. It is well known that Joseph used the word "translation" in a much broader sense than we typically do today.
     Second, the word "purporting" indicates there is more going on than meets the eye. Here we have a situation where the words “purporting to be” are inserted to indicate something, yet the word “purporting” has negative connotations. That word was only used in the Times and Seasons in reference to things that had not been verified as true, and usually it was used as a means of denying the authenticity of the items in question.
     For instance, the December 1, 1842 edition contains the following excerpt, which uses the word to cast doubt on a “lost book,” which parallels the Book of Abraham:
We have lately seen a pamphlet, written, and published by James C. Brewster; purporting to be one of the lost books of Esdras; and to be written by the gift and power of God. We consider it a perfect humbug, and should not have noticed it, had it not been assiduously circulated, in several branches of the church.
     Another example (out of several which exist) is found in the September 2, 1844 edition:
Whereas Elders James J. Strang and Aaron Smith have been circulating a "revelation." (falsely called) purporting to have been received by Joseph Smith on the 18th of June, 1844: and through the influence of which they have attempted and are attempting to establish a stake, called Voree, in Wisconsin Territory, thereby leading the saints astray: therefore, the said James J. Strang and Aaron Smith are cut off from the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this 26th day of August, 1844.
     So, what should we make of the use of the word “purporting” in the Book of Abraham header? Well, we know Joseph is not trying to cast doubt on the authenticity of Abraham's writings which he translated. But he does seem to be casting doubt on the idea that the ancient records in his possession are themselves the plain, uncorrupted writings of Abraham. 
        
National Intelligencer
To the disgrace of the age this wicked imposture flourished. As a specimen of its grossness, we may mention a fact, stated by an extremely respectable gentleman of this city, as one within his personal knowledge. Being on a tour to the West, he visited Nauvoo from curiosity. In the temple he was shown a collection of curiosities, and among them were one or two mummies, which had been imported from Egypt by Joe Smith. The attention of the visitor was called by Smith to the mummy clothes and the writing upon them. "There," said Smith, "that's the hand writing of the patriarch Abraham, and I am the only man that can read it," which he then proceeded to do!
     This article was a piece of anti-Mormon propaganda, arguing against statehood for “Deseret.” Aside from that, the article may have simply been referring to Josiah Quincy:

     Quincy: "That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful,"”
     Intelligencer: "that's the hand writing of the patriarch Abraham...”

     Quincy fits the description of an “extremely respectable gentleman,” who had been “on a tour to the West,” and “visited Nauvoo from curiosity.” He was also “of this city,” meaning Washington, D.C., where the Intelligencer was published, in the sense that his father, Josiah Quincy III, became a United States Congressman two years after the younger Quincy was born, and served for eight years in Washington, D.C. 

Supplement to the Courant
The embalmed body that stands near the centre of the case, said he, is one of the Pharaohs, who sat upon the throne of Egypt; and the female figure by its side, was probably one of his daughters. It may have been the princess Thermutis, I replied, the same that rescued Moses from the waters of the Nile. It is not improbable, answered the prophet; but my time has not yet allowed me fully to examine and decide that point. Do you understand the Hebrew language, said he, raising his hand to the top of the case, and taking down a small Hebrew Grammar of Rabbi Sexias. That language has not altogether escaped my attention, was the reply. He then walked to a secretary, on the opposite side of the room, and drew out several frames covered with glass, under which were numerous fragments of Egyp-tian papyrus, on which, as usual, a great variety of hieroglyphical characters had been imprinted. These ancient records, said he, throw great light upon the subject of Christianity. They have been unrolled and preserved with great labor and care. My time has hitherto been too much taken up to translate the whole of them, but I will show you how I interpret certain parts. There, said he, pointing to a particular character, that is the signature of the patriarch Abraham. It is indeed a most interesting autograph, I replied, and doubtless the only one extant. What an ornament it would be to have these ancient manuscripts hand-somely set, in appropriate frames, and hung up around the walls of the temple which you are about to erect in this place. Yes, replied the prophet, and the translation hung up with them.
     The first thing I want to address is a recurring theme, an example of which we find here, of Joseph telling people that one of the mummies was a “pharaoh” or a “king.”
     The details of the accounts differ and provide contradictory information, but among these accounts is even an 1846 statement attributed to Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, by someone known as “M.”
[Lucy Mack Smith] produced a black looking roll (which she told us was papyrus) found on the breast of the King, part of which the prophet had unrolled and read; and she had pasted the deciphered sheets on the leaves of a book which she showed us.
     It's possible that “M” could be relying on someone in addition to Lucy for this information, but it sounds like Lucy is talking about the Book of Breathings papyrus, and that she explained something about it being found on the breast of “the king.” It was, in fact, found on the breast of Hor, who was a priest but not a king. The only way Hor could be called a king is either by mistake or in the context of the Book of Breathings content, which tells Hor that he has become Osiris (a king and god) and tells him, “you are on the throne of Osiris.”
     Osiris was believed by Egyptians to have been the first king/pharaoh of Egypt, as well as a god and king of the afterlife. We wouldn't expect people to understand or remember a detailed explanation from Joseph regarding these matters, but they would certainly remember the word “king,” leading to people thinking, “Joseph said the mummy was a pharaoh.” 
     And it's important to keep in mind that Joseph and his mother were showing people the Egyptian papyrus, not the English translated Book of Abraham. So in that context, it would be natural for Joseph to speak of the Book of Breathings in a similar fashion as how he addressed it in response to William Clayton's questions on the plates found in Kinderhook, Illinois, according to my theory on the Kinderhook Plates.

     The second, but primary, issue I wish to discuss here is the word “signature,” in this visitor's reference to Joseph mentioning the signature of Abraham.

     Webster in 1828 defined “signature” in the first entry as:
1. A sign, stamp or mark impressed. The brain being well furnished with various traces, signatures and images. The natural and indelible signature of God stamped on the human soul.
     The relevant definition for “mark,” is “any note or sign of distinction.”
     The relevant definitions for “stamp” are:
3. To impress; to imprint; to fix deeply; as, to stamp virtuous principles on the heart.
4. To fix a mark by impressing it; as a notion of the Deity stamped on the mind.
     All of these are useful to us, but the first word Webster used, in the first definition for “signature,” is “sign.” In turn, the first definition he gives for “sign” is:
1. A token; something by which another thing is shown or represented; any visible thing, any motion, appearance or event which indicates the existence or approach of something else. Thus we speak of signs of fair weather or of a storm, and of external marks which are signs of a good constitution.
     Joseph, then, was perhaps not pointing to any instance of Abraham having actually personally written on the papyrus, but instead to something on the papyrus which signifies Abraham, i.e. “something by which another thing is shown or represented.”
     Most likely, Joseph's reference to a signature was part of a larger explanation, as it seems unlikely that Joseph would have just out of the blue pointed to a certain character and said it was the signature of Abraham, but the image of him pointing at the papyrus is what stood out in the visitor's memory.
    Of course, the visitor goes on to call it an “autograph,” indicating the visitor's own, perhaps limited, understanding of Joseph's explanations. Joseph evidently declined to comment on the visitor's use of the word “autograph,” but focused on the visitor's remark about the external beauty of the papyri, using it as an opportunity to turn the conversation towards the English translation of the Book of Abraham: “Yes, replied the prophet, and the translation hung up with them.”
     It's hard to imagine what it must have been like to be in Joseph's shoes, having a great understanding of heaven and God, and so many other things, yet leading people who themselves have great variance in their levels of understanding. I am reminded of the scriptures:

I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now (John 16:12).

0 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth (D&C 50:40).

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Rethinking the "Book of Joseph"

     As my friends and readers know, I like to question things - exploring new ideas and trying not to take anything for granted.
     One example is the belief that Joseph Smith said that his papyrus collection contained both a book of Abraham and a Book of Joseph.
     The reason this sort of information is important is because it sets the tone for how we interpret other facts. For instance, the theory that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham from papyrus which is now missing takes a hit if Joseph claimed there were two separate rolls for Abraham and Joseph- because that would mean two rolls are missing which need to be accounted for, not just one - which makes the theory less plausible.
     Alternatively, the missing papyrus theory would be bolstered if Joseph Smith was referring to only one document. This would allow for the possibility that Abraham had written a book and then Joseph of Egypt redacted a small part of Abraham's book, and the small redacted version is what ended up in Joseph Smith's papyri. From that small redacted version, Joseph Smith could then have restored the full Book of Abraham - the book written as Joseph Smith said, "by his own hand."
     If that's what Joseph Smith was talking about, then it could go a long way toward solving the Book of Abraham puzzle. A small redacted excerpt could more easily have fit on the missing end of the Hor papyrus scroll.
     So let's explore the possibility.      

     There is little evidence that Joseph Smith personally said that Abraham's writings were on one roll and Joseph's writings were on a separate roll. For one thing, Joseph Smith was not keeping a journal at the time of his alleged statement. It's easy to see how if Joseph Smith said something about the papyri containing the writings of "Abraham and Joseph," people could assume he meant that the writings of the two Patriarchs were on separate rolls (since we tend to perhaps think of scripture in terms of each prophet having his own separate book).
     In the context of my theory, one possibility is that Joseph of Egypt put together a few things Abraham had said about the Egyptians, for the purpose of talking with Pharaoh about Abraham's time in Egypt and about Egyptian history. 
     This would seem to square with a statement from Parley P. Pratt:

The record is now in course of translation by the means of the Urim and Thummim, and proves to be a record written partly by the father of the faithful, Abraham, and finished by Joseph when in Egypt.

     Pratt is talking about a single record which both men (Abraham and Joseph of Egypt) contributed to, and the wording of Pratt's statement is consistent with the redaction idea. This would account for why Joseph Smith never really talked about the contribution from Joseph of Egypt, due to the fact that Joseph Smith restored the original Book of Abraham, the one written by Abraham's own hand, not the redacted excerpt passed down perhaps in the extra space on the Hor roll. 
     We only have one account of Joseph Smith mentioning a connection between Joseph of Egypt and the papyri, a statement made soon after the purchase of the papyri. This one statement attributed to Joseph Smith reads:

… with W. W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt

     This quote is from History of the Church, which was written in a first-person style as if Joseph was himself speaking, but was actually a compilation of statements which were primarily written by others. 
     Howard C. Searle explains:

Although little of the subsequent history was dictated or written by the Prophet himself, writers used his diaries where available and retained the first-person narrative style throughout.

      Although unfamiliar to us today, this first-person editing practice for compiled materials was quite common and acceptable at the time. Historian Michael D. Quinn observes:

Our present standards concerning plagiarizing, footnoting, and editorial adherence to the original manuscript did not begin to penetrate even professional historical writing in American until nearly fifty years after the original composition and editing of Joseph Smith's history, and were not generally reflected in non-professional histories until long after B.H. Roberts prepared the second edition of that history in 1900. 

     So, the quote attributed to Joseph actually appears to have come years later from W.W. Phelps, which means the quote reflects only his understanding of the situation and his memory of what Joseph said. Unfortunately, it was a complex situation. And Joseph's method of translation does not require us to assume that he was even looking at the rolls of papyrus or explaining to his scribes which roll(s) he was talking about when he identified that the papyrus contains the writings of Abraham and Joseph. Moreover, the account from Phelps could also be tainted by the public perception about the rolls as it developed over the intervening years. In any event, Phelps does not inform us of anything Joseph himself actually said, and instead Phelps gives his own account wherein he chooses to talk about the scribes, and takes liberties such as the phrase "much to our joy," etc. 
     In a letter to William Frye, Oliver is known to have made a statement describing his understanding of the Book of Joseph. In the history of the Church, this statement was also wrongly attributed in first person to Joseph.
     The letter written by Cowdery states in part:

The inner end of the same roll (Joseph's record) presents a representation of the judgment. At one view you behold the Savior seated upon His throne, crowned and holding the scepter of righteousness and power, before whom also, are assembled, the twelve tribes of Israel, the nations, languages and tongues of the earth, the kingdoms of the world over which Satan is represented as reigning, Michael the Archangel, holding the key of the bottomless pit, and at the same time the devil as being chained and shut up in the bottomless pit.

      It's not surprising that Oliver took occasion to “study it out in his own mind,” in accordance with the commandment which had been given specifically to him in D&C 9:8. In no way does Oliver attribute this information to Joseph Smith, or claim that it was an actual translation. Rather, Cowdery states that it is self-evident: “The evidence is apparent upon the face, that they were written by persons acquainted with the history of the Creation, the fall of man, and more or less of the correct ideas of the notions of the Deity.”
     Cowdery's letter was printed in The Messenger and Advocate, of which Cowdery was editor, and, accordingly, I believe that's where the rumor of the roll of Joseph started. Cowdery plainly believed the Tshemmin roll was doctrinally significant, and since the writings of Abraham were being translated from the other roll, it would be reasonable to deduce (in Cowdery' s shoes) that the Tshemmin roll contained the “writings of Joseph” which Joseph Smith had evidently said something about. Again, I believe Joseph most likely said something about the papyri containing the writings of both Abraham and Joseph, but we have no way of knowing what his exact phraseology was.
     Some people may still choose to assume that Joseph Smith said the Tshemmin roll contained the writings of Joseph of Egypt. But if Joseph Smith was on trial, there would be no direct evidence to make that case. The only people who are known to have claimed that the Tshemmin roll contained the writings of Joseph of Egypt are people who would have had no personal means of knowing.
     These people can't be witnesses to any particular roll being the Book of Joseph, or being a record of anything else, unless they had the ability to translate. And the only one who did claim to have that ability, Joseph Smith, appears silent on the matter except for a quote which is attributed to him in a history known for routinely attributing statements to him which he did not make.
     One might wonder, if a misconception existed then why didn't Joseph correct the misconception? Well, if he became aware of the problem, then perhaps he did correct it – at least to anyone asking him about it in person.. But the question is when or if he became aware of the problem. He had a lot happening in his life.
     Did anyone ever ask him to clarify? I don't know that they saw any need. Once Joseph said something to the effect of finding the writings of Joseph and Abraham, and people could see for themselves that there were two rolls, the people could have seen that as sufficient grounds for their assumption, and then Oliver's publication of the letter, with those two words, “Joseph's record,” solidified the assumption.
     But wouldn't it have come up frequently in conversation? Not if Joseph only talked about the Book of Abraham. It's easy to say that everyone should have gotten together and talked about every conceivable misunderstanding and gotten them all cleared up, but that's hindsight - how many misunderstandings took place which were in fact cleared up, but we don't know about because they were cleared up before anyone wrote about them?
     Perhaps there is information of which I am unaware, but I see no reason to assume that Joseph Smith associated the Tshemmin roll with Joseph of Egypt.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Critic's Chair

A number of years ago, my dad shared with me a parable about a grandfather. It goes something like this.

Many centuries ago, a certain young man was visiting his grandfather for the summer. After a few weeks had passed, the boy grew restless and asked his grandfather if they could go into town. The grandfather thought it was a fine idea, so off they went, with the old man on his donkey and the young man walking alongside.

As they passed some strangers, they heard whispers... "Can you imagine a grown man making a child walk while he rides comfortably on a donkey? That poor boy."

Feeling embarrassed, the grandfather switched places with his grandson.

Soon, they passed another group of strangers. "What a spoiled child. That old man is trudging along while a perfectly healthy lad rides a donkey!"

Once again embarrassed, the grandfather decided there was room for both of them on the donkey.

They passed another group of strangers. "Look! That donkey is carrying two people! Are they trying to kill it? That poor thing."

At his wits end, the grandfather decided they should both just walk alongside the donkey.

Soon, a group of strangers was pointing and laughing. "A perfectly good donkey, and neither of them has the good sense to use it!"

The moral of the story here is that you can't please everyone. I would also add: You can't always be pleased. At least, as long as we live in an imperfect world and we have imperfect knowledge, we will always be able to find fault with others.

In particular, I think of the countless criticisms engineered against Church leaders.

Do we not realize that Church leaders also live in this imperfect world, and their options are limited like the rest of us?

For example, some people are offended that the LDS Church built a mall (using investment funds only, not tithed funds), on it's property to the south of temple square. Personally, I see it as a great way to prevent inner city entropy, to beautify the area and to engage the public and tourists. That's in addition to it being a good investment. But to anyone offended, I would ask what the Church should have instead done with that property which it owns? Should the land just be a field for antelope to roam?

I'd like to see a criticism-proof idea, complete with cost/benefit analysis demonstrating with certainty that something else would have been a better use of the property.

This is the problem with many critics. They are like children throwing a fit over adult concerns that they don't understand. "But I want to have ice cream for dinner!" "You are mean because you won't buy me that toy!"

Which brings me to another example. From time to time, I hear someone complain about a Church leader flying First Class on an airplane. But what is the cost/benefit breakdown? First, the cost. General Authorities preside over a worldwide Church and spend a great deal of their time traveling. What arrangement do they have with the airline? And then, benefits. General Authorities have security and privacy concerns. They have heavy workloads, and limited time. They also need rest, to allow them to perform their duties in the many areas to which they travel.

No critic can deny that first class airfare offers greater opportunity for work and productivity during a flight, for resting as needed and for more security and privacy.
And critics don't know the cost, because we don't know what arrangement the Church has with the airline (although critics call that a lack of transparency, it is really none of their business).

These are practical concerns, in the real world. The critics might as well criticize themselves for owning cars - paying for gas,  repairs, insurance, etc. - despite the option of public transportation. Why not get rid of their cars and donate the saved money to the charity of their choice? Do the critics not realize that people are starving in the world, while they drive their air conditioned vehicles?