Friday, June 10, 2022

More Than 1 Facsimile 1?

More than one? It might seem out of the question, black and white. It might seem like an open and shut case. But the fact is, the issue has never been explored. How can it be open and shut when it was never actually opened in the first place? 

In 1967, the Book of Breathings of a Priest named Hor, among other papyri, was returned to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And only then could we see there was a big hole (lacunae) in the Hor papyrus, ripping out the section of the extant vignette which corresponds to where the knife is drawn in Facsimile 1 and where the head is drawn on the standing figure. Those had been the most controversial parts of the facsimile, so it looked too convenient for the head and knife to be showing up in Facsimile 1.

Due to the obvious similarity between the facsimile and the recovered vignette on the Hor roll, everyone assumed the source had been found. And scholars were so busy trying to make sense of the flood of questions which the 1967 find brought in, that I don't think anyone had the time or inclination to even think about whether it was one and the same vignette. 

Still, some things were hard to explain. Like the fact that eyewitnesses said they saw a man holding a knife, depicted on the papyrus. How could they have seen that when the man’s hands are torn out by the lacunae on the extant vignette?

Many lion couch scenes were drawn anciently. Each one was unique. So, could there have been more than one rendering of the scene depicted in Facsimile 1? I would suggest that this question actually does merit investigation and thoughtful analysis. 

Consider the implications. If it were the case that a very similar vignette was on the non-extant papyrus containing the Book of Abraham, that could account for Abraham 1:12-14, and also account for the evident confusion which led people to draw characters from the Hor papyrus in the margins of the Parrish and Williams manuscripts of the Book of Abraham (the Phelps manuscript, on the other hand, which is the only one which actually labels a column for characters, demonstrates legitimate Egyptology, as I explained here).

So that would kill two huge birds with one stone.

Enter Ritner

Let’s talk about how it could have happened. Hor was an interesting case. He had both a Book of Breathings and a Book of the Dead made and buried with him. You might ask, why would he want both? Well, he was sparing no expense. He was prominent and wealthy and was probably buried with a number of other things as well.

And this is where it gets really interesting. Dr. Robert Ritner came to believe that the extant vignette from the Hor Book of Breathings was quite special and was copied from a scene on a temple wall. 

 Dr. Ritner discusses his theory here

Let's assume Ritner was correct. 

That would mean, in his words, "what we've got here is like a Kodak moment that's been taken of a now lost temple, and I think that makes this papyrus extremely valuable..." Ritner said he intended to announce this discovery at a future meeting with his colleagues, which evidently never happened due to his failing health. 

And that means there was more than one Facsimile 1, in the sense that there was more than one rendering anciently of the specific scene we see in Facsimile 1. 

And the vignette in the Hor Book of Breathings is not the original

It also means the scene on the wall was special to Hor for some reason. He wanted a copy or copies of it. 

How many copies? Well, this is the man who had both a Book of Breathings and a Book of the Dead made for himself. So if he's going to commission a scribe to travel to a temple and sit in front of a wall and draw a special scene that's on the wall, why not send more than one scribe and have them each make a copy? Doesn't it make sense that if he was going to go to such unprecedented effort to get this particular scene, that there was something special about this situation?

And what would the result be? The scribes would be rendering an image carved on a wall into a form that's fit for papyrus. Each scribe may have their own style, deciding what to leave out, what to embellish, what to change. 

So we would expect each copy to look similar but to be distinctly different. It's like if you and a friend each draw a picture of the same tree, we would expect your pictures to look similar but different when compared to each other. 

Different Drawings

The issue is not just that there are differences. 

The issue is that nothing at all is copied the same.  

It's hard to imagine Hedlock looking at the vignette while copying it and not getting a single line the same. Yet, he had to be looking at whatever he was copying, in order to copy it. 

It's like two different artists with different styles. Below are a few close-up comparisons, to show what I mean.

The next step in investigating this would be to break down the stylistic differences in Facsimile 1 and determine if they are real Egyptological variations, because Hedlock, the engraver, would have had no way of knowing how to correctly alter the image (and it seems doubtful he would have felt at liberty to turn it into his own drawing by making up details rather than attempting to copy the ancient document).








Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Abraham In Egypt

Offering table, depicting Abraham in Egypt 

A huge thank you to the philosopher and scholar, Blake Ostler, for informing me of this remarkable evidence. He told me about this after I shared a post regarding the alleged signature of Abraham on Joseph Smith’s papyri. This is by far the best candidate for anything Joseph Smith might have pointed to (if such occurred).

An Egyptologist named Bricarello, who was working at the famous Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, told Blake Ostler that the name of Abraham is spelled out on the offering table, alongside the lotus (in the lion couch scene on Joseph Smith’s papyri). 


I haven’t seen Brother Bricarello’s analysis (he had joined the Church), but I took a closer look at the figure, and the spelling becomes quite clear once we take some time to compare characters. 


For many years, we have known the lotus depicted on the offering table represents Upper Egypt (Joseph Smith would have had no personal way of knowing this, of course). But now the evidence becomes exponentially more remarkable as we realize the name Abraham is literally in the symbol of Egypt, making it Abraham IN Egypt, just as Joseph Smith told us. 


The explanation “Abraham in Egypt” always seemed odd. I mean, even if Joseph Smith had been a fraud (which he wasn’t), there would be no apparent reason for coming up with that description. And yet it fits. 


As we gain more knowledge, all of the other things that don’t “make sense” to our fragile mortal minds will start to be illuminated. It will be like learning how every magic trick in the world is performed, and the only thing we will be left to wonder is how we were ever fooled. 


The first sound in Abraham is pronounced differently in Hebrew than it is in Arabic, neither of which pronounces it as an “A” like we do in English. Fittingly, the scribe here gives us a flowering reed hieroglyph (reed “leaf”) with a light “i” sound. 


Next, the scribe gives us a “b” - which is the foot hieroglyph. 


This is followed in correct order, with the “r” - as the mouth hieroglyph. 


Lastly, we have a special hieratic form of “m.” Different scribes draw it differently, so I provide an example of how the scribe drew it in the text of this same papyrus. 


So we have “ab-ra-am,” Abraham. 


click to enlarge image

Any mistakes I may have potentially made in this post are my own, and do not reflect on Brother Bricarello’s Egyptological analysis.

For more on the reed leaf, see here

For more on the foot, see here

For more on the mouth, see here

For the identification of the hieratic “m” as drawn by the scribe, note that Robert Ritner and others translate the shape, when it appears in the text,  as “m” in their translations of the Hor Book of Breathings. 





 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Letter On Consciousness

The following letter is a recent reply I wrote to a friend in an ongoing discussion we had on consciousness. In this reply, I was able to clarify many of my views on this topic - a topic which can be very difficult to communicate about. 

Dear (friend),

Thank you for your thoughtful response on reddit, regarding consciousness. I always find your intellectual honesty refreshing in this world. 

An underlying concern I have in our ongoing discussion on consciousness is that I know it can be difficult to keep in mind that even though supernatural explanations are not accessible to science, that does not mean other explanations - especially problematic explanations - can be logically deduced as a result of  the supernatural possibilities being absent from the view of science. 

This is not to say that available evidence can’t lead to inferences. You don’t need any lectures from me on science, but it’s been a while since we’ve delved deep into the topic and I want to make sure that I make clear my stance. I feel like sometimes people take liberties when it comes to consciousness. I’m saying it’s important to evaluate evidence on its own merits, not through a lens of necessity. The old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention” should be avoided as far as the science aspect of our discussion goes, because, I think we would probably agree, science is inductive and is not a list where options can be narrowed down to arrive at truth. 

When looking for answers on the topic of consciousness, not everyone realizes the special place it holds in our sojourn of truth-seeking. It can’t be assumed to be “natural” - and is neither predicted nor accounted for in any naturalistic model of existence. Importantly, this should not be seen as a “gap” in naturalism, because calling it a gap supposes that a framework exists and that details just need to be filled in. That is false and in fact consciousness defies naturalist models. 

With consciousness, we are not talking about a detail but the very substrate through which all our presumed knowledge comes, and which nothing is known to exist outside of. So powerful is this that it could even be a trump card logically, in that brain is not known to exist outside conscious experience. Of course, we both believe brain exists and for all practical purposes our discussion assumes brain exists. But the point stands that we are not dealing with an ordinary topic. 

We have to be careful about unwarranted and unjustifiable assumptions about the way things “should” be, and attempt to analyze things the way they are. For instance, one correlation between brain and consciousness is that people don’t usually remember experiencing consciousness after a period of being “knocked unconscious.” I realize that your approach is able to predict this lack of memory, however I don’t think it is as powerful as one might suppose. Does a lack of memory show that consciousness did not exist during a given time? No. For example, a while ago a drunken man cried to me about the emotional pain he was in and we had a heartfelt talk, but the next day he didn’t remember any of the encounter. I naively assumed he would remember, because, after all, he experienced pretty painful emotions. Does the fact that he didn’t remember mean he had not felt those emotions? Of course not. 

Whatever complexities surround consciousness, the fact we don’t know anything about the framework is cause for pause and humility and recognition of the fact that we can’t draw conclusions as we could in a closed system - i.e. because consciousness is not explainable in a system of knowledge available to us, it tells us there is more to reality than we are aware - and that quite plausibly it could be a lot. I realize that your approach seeks to minimize this by supposing that what is unknown is limited to details about the nature of matter. I don’t find that limitation to be warranted or sustainable. I hope to elucidate my reasoning in this response. 

To begin with, I don’t think you have demonstrated that tension necessarily exists between correlations you cite and the belief that consciousness exists outside physical structures (for instance, I believe in spirits and a veil which prevents me from remembering eons of consciousness I experienced before my physical body. If the type of tension you seem to imply were actually necessary, I would have to reconcile my beliefs with the correlations - but no such tension exists - i.e. my religious beliefs do not contradict any scientific observation). 

Which is all the more reason to just start with “consciousness exists” and from there talk, cautiously but thoroughly, about the implications of correlations. 

While there is intractable tension between consciousnesses and naturalism, there seems to be no necessary tension if we hypothesize the relationship between brain and consciousness as similar to a glove and a hand. It doesn’t explain consciousness but it explains why we would expect correlations, i.e. consciousness, respected as a thing in its own right with potentially a framework unknown to science, allows us to postulate useful interaction between consciousness and brain - whereas treating consciousness as a physical structure of the brain does not allow for meaningful interaction between them (more on this in a bit).

A hand controls a glove, and a hand feels things through the glove, as they say, except the hand is not actually feeling anything either, and is itself being controlled. The hand is itself like a “glove,” for the brain, and the brain in turn takes on the role of the hand in this relay, but the question is, is the brain actually feeling anything either, or is it - like the hand - just another glove in the relay? 

This is an example of where my opening statements are quite relevant. It’s important to keep in mind that just because science can’t explore certain options, it does not mean they are ruled out logically, and does not mean other ideas, especially intractable ones, can be deduced and advanced just because there is a dearth of options within the limited scope of science. 

Our ability to observe the relay stops right after it is handed off to the brain, so we can’t really see what the brain does with it - we can’t watch the relay reach a conscious point, but we know it does. That’s a limitation of science, and it doesn’t mean we can assume the relay ends. It just means science doesn’t know how the relay gets to consciousness. 

I mean, what if all we could observe was the outer glove that’s on the hand? Would we assume consciousness was created by the glove, or define consciousness as the woven patterns in the fabric of the glove? I assume not. And we wouldn’t apply that thinking to the hand, either, if the hand was the limit of our ability to observe. No matter how strong the correlation. So, we shouldn’t apply that reasoning to the brain. 

You suggest we can use chemicals to influence the experience at the point of the brain. But we could also do things at the point of the hand or outer glove - set it on fire, expose it to poison ivy, novocain on half the hand, use tape or glue - all of which could likewise “cause” changes in the feeling that gets experienced. But that doesn’t mean the glove/hand creates the conscious experience (even if it were all we could observe and correlate with conscious thought). It would just mean (imply) a change in the content that gets relayed, and would tell us nothing about the end user or the point of consciousness in the relay. 

Now, in terms of your argument as presented most recently, what you seem to be addressing primarily is my claim that the most basic starting point for dealing with consciousness is simply saying consciousness exists. As I understand it, your current position is that the most basic starting point for dealing with consciousness is to declare that consciousness exists as part of physical structures, as though the physical structure claim is not an add-on but is inherent in any mention of consciousness. However, I would argue that it is demonstrably an add-on. Our own respective direct observation of consciousness predated and did not rely on you or me knowing about the existence of physical structures which you currently maintain create consciousness. You were in a position to begin to deal with consciousness (had a sense of self, knew about feelings, etc.) before you even knew about the physical structures. Therefore, those physical structures cannot be the most basic starting point for dealing with consciousness. Consciousness started as a thing in its own right. 

And it’s not just chronology, but the concept also. Observing physical structures does not and cannot help anyone learn that consciousness is a thing. One must first realize that consciousness is a thing, by observing it directly, before one can associate it with other things (and a small child who skins their hand might indeed associate the pain with the hand and not with the brain, because the hand is all they can observe in the relay. The same category error people make when projecting conscious experience like pain on the brain). Therefore, the physical structure claim is an add-on and you have a burden of proof. 

I don’t have a good answer as to how one would prove that consciousness must exist “as part of x,” since brain and consciousness are fundamentally different and separate observations. Consciousness of course is totally distinct as an observation (even given the fact that it is the substrate through which we observe and infer the existence of physical structures).

Now this alone does not, I think, make it impossible to prove that “consciousness must exist as part of x,” but any so-called “proof” would have to be unaffected by the discovery of a mysterious entity which the brain relays data to. Let’s say for instance that some new camera comes along that can capture images of the previously undiscovered objects - about which little is known but they are drawn to brains at a certain point of development in the womb and they sit on them like a cloud and exhibit behavior patterns which correlate with brain patterns and subjective experiences. We each have one and it stays with us from the womb until death. It does not come from the brain but is drawn to it. What would your reaction be to this discovery? If people started saying this thing might be our conscious experience, would you be able to stand up and say, “No, I’ve already proven that conscious experience exists as part of physical brain structures, and here’s my proof…” What would that proof look like? How would you justify calling it a proof? 

Now, you did describe your belief as a hypothesis, which doesn’t seem like a strong word, but you also suggest that it should be accepted as a default starting point for consciousness. 

Your approach has seemed to be about trying to demonstrate through correlation that consciousness emerges somehow from brain. However, I don’t see how that could be an inference from the correlations, since it does not at all explain the correlations (or vice-versa), so it appears you ruled out options that don’t fit science, and ended up with something that isn’t really relevant to the correlations. In other words, taking the consciousness, that is known to exist, and assigning it to physical structures, does nothing to bridge the gap between people experiencing consciousness and people talking about experiencing consciousness. It even makes the situation worse because it shackles consciousness with the limitations of matter, meaning it can only act in a way that says it is matter, which covers up the fact that it is a conscious experience, rendering it unable to make itself known as a conscious experience, which is the very thing it is required to do in order to achieve the correlations. So it creates an intractable problem and doesn’t make any progress towards explaining or solving anything. 

Consciousness has to have the ability to cause the brains of witnesses to make their bodies move in a way that outwardly communicates and bears witness to the reality of the conscious experience. But collective human wisdom can’t begin to explain objectively what conscious experience is like, even though we actually already know what it is like. So it doesn’t make sense that little mechanistic chemical brain processes, with no way of knowing anything, let alone what subjective experience is like, would encounter a neuron permutation with neurochemicals that somehow communicates what conscious experience is like. It only makes sense as a relay of data *to a conscious user and from a conscious user*, not as an identifier of conscious experience existing as part of physical structures. Everything about neurons is about relaying or strengthening/weakening relay signals, in order to accomplish tasks. 

Okay, so what about emergence? Well, my understanding is that, as far as matter is concerned, emergent properties are tidy descriptions, for our convenience, of the way particles/structures move and interact in relation to each other, and the related forces that affect their movement. Conscious experiences, like pain, the color red, the taste of cake, etc. would be complete novelties to that framework. So I feel like attempts to explain consciousness with emergence fail because they are smuggling consciousness into an explanatory framework which is for something totally different. What would be the reasoning behind lumping the taste of cake in with a bunch of descriptions of matter moving around? I realize that talking about the taste of cake involves movement of the body, and thus movement of matter, but that stems from the actual sensation of the conscious experience, which is not a description of matter moving. So the movement of matter in that way could be said to emerge from the conscious experience, which is the opposite of conscious experience emerging from matter. The conscious experience itself is invisible, totally undetectable to science. There is no movement of matter to explain in conjunction with the actual conscious experience. 

As far as I can tell, the reasoning behind the emergence idea is something like this:

1 - Some things can emerge from matter 

2 - Consciousness is a type of thing

3 - Therefore, consciousness can probably emerge from matter 

I can see how it might at first appear plausible. But upon closer inspection, it’s more like saying “things come from factories, and consciousness is a thing, so consciousness may have come from a factory.” In other words, a non-explanation:

1 - Some things that are fundamentally different than consciousness can emerge from matter

2 - Consciousness is a thing that we are totally unable to comprehend the nature of

3 - Therefore, consciousness can probably emerge from matter (?!) and this is the default explanation (?!) 

I realize the brain is like a big black box, so it’s easy to see how people can assume it’s capable of everything that gets projected onto it. But it really does make more sense as a relay device than as an end user. Relaying things is literally what neurons do, and is all they are known to do, as alluded to earlier. This can serve as “hardware” like a computer, and obviously gets put to use. But if you take consciousness out of the equation, computers have no value. A conscious end user is required. It can get confusing because a computer can be programmed to act like an end user. But the reason people assume computers can potentially think consciously is because people extrapolate that from the belief that brains can do it. But computers can’t ever do anything that would make the concept of consciousness helpful in explaining their behavior. If a computer talks about consciousness, for example, we can trace that behavior back to the programming and see that it does not reflect any actual experience the computer is having (this should also hold true if people attempted to use a computer to emulate a human brain, i.e. we should be able to trace everything the emulated brain does to the binary code, ultimately, and thus explain it all without room for consciousness to play a role). 

I realize I may be beating a dead horse, but the burden of proof for your add-on is heavy.  The idea that consciousness exists as part of physical structures makes all information about the subjective experience benign, unable to have any effect, meaning we would not be able to talk about it. Something else, a brain process outside the conscious experience, would have to be impacted by it in a physical way that somehow communicates that it is a conscious experience - but there does not seem to be any possible way to represent subjective experience in objective ways. I mean, imagine tasting a new food for the first time. The body relays patterns to the brain, which then creates a physical structure which houses the subjective experience of the taste? Okay, then your friend asks you to describe the taste. So you think about the flavor, but how? How do you communicate to yourself about the flavor as you are thinking how to describe it, when the experience of the taste is a physical structure that the mechanical chemical processes of your brain has no way of understanding? And this is even granting that the physical structure is a conscious experience, which itself doesn’t make any sense - and from there does nothing to account for the correlation. So, saying that a subjective experience is a physical object is not only not an explanation but creates an intractable problem. 

In contrast, the idea that the framework of consciousness is able to impact brain activity, is not intractable. Physical objects can be moved. We already know they can be, so the exact mechanism - while unknown - does not create a special problem, because the brain is simply acting as a relay device. 

But why is my explanation not an add-on with a heavy burden of proof? The impact of consciousness on the brain, while it raises questions and has implications, is not some unwarranted conjecture but is an inference from the fact that 1) we have conscious experiences and 2) we then use our brain to have our body talk about the experiences. That allows a direct inference of a relay between consciousness and brain and body. I’m not adding anything that isn’t inferred. 

And, again, the correlations you point to can be accounted for by the general idea of relay, while they can’t be accounted for by adding the idea that subjective experiences are physical objects (because your proposal fatally cripples the ability of conscious experience to participate in the inferred relay, without being helpful in any way). 

Let’s break each category down:

1 - Individual organism development. I’d like to use an analogy that I used back when we first started discussing consciousness. Since you have never met me in person, your experience of me has only ever been online. It started with some comments on reddit, then expanded from there. Your experience of “me” has changed over time, correct? And it has all been correlated with the internet. Every interaction. Does this indicate the internet created me? Of course not. And this is obvious to you because you independently know the relationship between people and the internet. But even though we don’t have that luxury with regards to consciousness and the brain, so it isn’t as obvious, the analogy still demonstrates that if correlations don’t justify the claim that people emerge from the internet, then correlations likewise don’t mean consciousness emerges from brain. Especially in light of the intractable problems. 

2 - Neuro-biological correlates. Again, like my usage of the internet. Electrical influences can alter your experience of me. Autocorrect, power outages, connection speed fluctuation, screen resolution, etc. but you still aren’t tempted to think the internet creates me. 

3 - Injury data and ablation experiments. If you were to block me on social media, it would change your experience of me. Or if you were to create a fake account and I didn’t know it was you I was interacting with, that would also change your experience of me. If you sent me a file that contained a virus and the virus made it so I could only use half the keys on the keyboard at times and the other half at other times, that would change your experience of me, etc. 

4 - Activity/inactivity of the brain. Activity/inactivity of electrical equipment correlates with your experience of me. We never contact each other when our equipment is off. 

5 - Evolutionary correlates. Society went from having no access to the internet, to having email, then message boards, then more advanced social media, smart phones, videos, etc. The experience people have of each other online has changed a lot over the years. 

.. 

In this message, I believe I have supported each of the following:

1 - Consciousness exists.

2 - The existence of consciousness implies the existence of a framework for consciousness.

3 - From correlations we can infer the existence of a relay between brain and consciousness.

4 - Number 3 indicates that the framework for consciousness is conducive to the relay with brain, but that may be the only thing we know about it.

5 - Conjecture about consciousness being a brain structure creates an intractable and unnecessary problem and is not an explanation at all. Nothing about it makes it any sort of candidate for being the framework of consciousness. One  might understandably intuit that it gets us closer to answers, because it puts consciousness close to the “action” (i.e. declaring consciousness to be literally part of the brain structures), but proximity doesn’t bestow understanding or explanatory power, and in this case hides consciousness inside a physical structure for no reason, thereby limiting it to the properties of a physical structure (and thereby preventing the subjective merits of consciousness from having any effect, which is highly problematic and irreconcilable with the fact that we talk about consciousness and therefore it does have effects).

6 - Speaking of consciousness as a thing in its own right is not adding conjecture or unnecessary speculation, but is simply acknowledging the fact of consciousness existing, *without* adding conjecture. This may be confusing when people are attached to their own conjecture to such an extent that when their conjecture is taken away they may *feel* as though conjecture is being added even though the opposite is the case.

7 - The only apparent reason to add conjecture about consciousness being a brain structure would be to try to anchor consciousness to a naturalistic worldview (naturalistic assumptions, either methodological or ontological).

..

In closing, it may be helpful to touch on a larger philosophical framework for our discussion. 

I asked you a while ago, and we briefly discussed, the following question:

Is there a logical way to determine which of the following statements is more likely to be true, and how much more likely it is to be true?

1 - Humans know about the vast majority of the types of things that exist

2 - Humans know about only a tiny fraction of the types of things that exist

We seemed to agree that it would be difficult to logically favor one over the other. Assuming this means that 2 should be treated as equally plausible, it seems to me that we should not approach the world with a philosophical bias towards 1. 

Now take it a step further. Imagine a boy has lived his entire life in an opaque box floating through space and knows nothing outside of it. He survives because a special symbiotic bacteria lives on him and keeps him hydrated and nourished. If that boy were to ask himself the above question (maybe not with words, but applying it to himself), what would be the most logical way for him to answer? Would 2 not make the most sense? 

Our situation is not identical to that of the boy, because we have a workable explanation for where our bodies came from, and he doesn’t. But, like him, nothing in our box can explain where we came from. What are “we?” We are experiencers of consciousness. 

Like the box, the contents of this conscious substrate is all we know. All our observations and inferences are on “this side of” the box. And nothing in the box can explain where the substrate itself is from or what it is.

If the boy can logically base his answer on reasoning which is similar to reasoning we can apply in our own case, then that has implications for us, and we may want to identify thresholds and principles, perhaps allowing us to apply Bayesian reasoning to the question at hand. 

I find it highly unlikely that any significant amount of what exists would be available to us for our review and observation as we float around on the pale blue dot. But other people however might think that the limits to what we can discover are a good indication (or a marker?) of us running up against the extent of what “is.” 

I think one of the reasons for the different intuitions may be different assumptions about how much we can comprehend and imagine, relative to what could ultimately be comprehended and imagined. 

As you might know, the U.S. Patent Office shut down at one point (1830) because some people believed that humans had already figured out everything of significance that could be invented. Now, I can see how that might have seemed to make sense. People could look out into the world and see all the familiar things repeated over and over - trees, rocks, rivers. New things were not really part of their everyday lives. 

I see an analogy between that and people who look out into the universe and think we’ve got a pretty good grasp on things. 

Without knowing what is possible, we can fall into the trap of a beginning chess player who learns how to do a 4 move checkmate and can beat all their friends with it - so they think they are a pretty good chess player. I think that sometimes academic credentials can provide that false sense of security (which is not to disparage academic achievement, but to recognize that it is of a significance that is tentative and relative).

Along similar lines, it may have once seemed like an obvious default for people to assume the earth was the center of the universe and that the burden was to prove otherwise. But that’s based on a fallacy. Similarly, I think it’s a mistake to assume that the true nature of existence is something we can comprehend. That’s putting the cart before the horse and putting our ego at the center of the universe. 

Science is a great tool relative to what we can access and comprehend, but it’s perhaps like an ant crawling around the White House. The ant can see the paint, and dust, crumbs, etc. and the ant is very good at finding things. But it has zero comprehension of the fact that the President is inside the Oval Office, addressing the world via satellite. It can’t even begin to understand any of that. 

Returning to the boy in the box, we can use the box as an analogy for the universe. Just because we are inside this thing, does that mean there is nothing outside of it? Or even that most things - almost everything, even - aren’t likely to be outside of it? If things can be outside, what are the odds that most things would be in here with us instead of out there? If nothing can be outside, then why not? See, we talk about the idea of a multiverse, partly because of implications of string theory but also because we are familiar with the idea of a “universe,” and we think there might be other things “like this” out there existing. But why do we assume things have to be inside a universe just because we are? It’s a little like if the boy in the box wonders if other boxes might exist. A box is all he knows, so he might find it hard to think outside of it. Just like it might be hard for us to envision other things. 

Of course, I’m not saying that existence is a free for all where we assume that anything we imagine must exist. But this is why it is so significant that consciousness is beyond our comprehension and yet we know it is real. It gives us a taste of something that is outside the laws of physics. Science can’t grapple with it. The key is to accept that fact and to consider the implications that it points to. It’s like a hidden clue that’s right in front of us that tells us there’s a lot  going on and points us to 2 if we don’t try to force it into 1. 

If we allow consciousness to point us to 2, which it naturally and logically does, we can reasonably posit other conscious beings and thus posit the pairing of our consciousness with our body as a meaningful act initiated by a conscious being. In fact, I think intentional pairing is not just idle speculation but a valid inference. 

In which case LDS theology makes sense of the fact that the being is not revealing itself to objective measures, and of the concept of faith as a consciousness based connection (see https://youtu.be/Pa4J8zivN-w for instance, on the logic of faith). 

Spiritual witness is much harder to criticize when we realize that we don’t know what consciousness is. If we dwelt with God for eons, and He allows us to recognize and remember His voice, even if we don’t remember details of the experiences, faith makes perfect sense. Underneath the noise from the brain is that underlying connection, still intact. Rather than a feeling that one tries to sort out the significance of, it’s an underlying knowledge of things as they are, but with details hidden from view. And it leaves open plenty of room for people to have different purposes in their lives, God speaking to each person’s understanding, etc. 

Thank you for continuing this discussion as time and interest permit. I hope we ultimately reach greater resolution.

As always, my friend, I welcome and look forward to any pushback/feedback.  Sorry this message is so verbose!

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

RFM and the Crème de la Crème

A couple years ago, I started from scratch and worked out a paradigm through which to view the Book of Abraham issues, but it's pretty long and I don't think anyone really had time to read it and really digest it and all the appendixes attached to it. I think it's a very good theory, but perhaps bulky and hard to follow. 

The reason I focused so heavily on Book of Abraham issues in the first place is because a lot of people have concerns on that topic and weren't satisfied with some of the answers that were available. This time, as I'm trying to carve out space for understanding, and find energy to get back again into apologetics, I realize it might be a process and that I can't just put all my thoughts in one spot for readers to sort out. 

So I wanted to start slowly but at the top - with the biggest challenge. This is sort of the David vs. Goliath approach, you might say - i.e. if one were to address a random facet of the Book of Abraham issues, then people say it doesn't matter because it's only one small piece of a larger puzzle. BUT if you take on the Goliath of the bunch, that can show people that every challenge can be addressed - and people are hopefully then willing to give you an opportunity to do so (although in the case of the Philistines, they fled after Goliath fell - and who can blame them).

Now, I'm just here to give it my best shot - or slingshot - and I'm sure my answer won't satisfy every single person. And that's okay. 

The first thing to do was to identify Goliath. So I enlisted the help of our friendly neighborhood RFM, a particularly bright former apologist who currently sees things through a more critical lense. RFM has always been very courteous towards me, in our limited interactions, and I want to publicly thank him for that, because he's just a good person with whom I happen to disagree (RFM is not his real name. His real name is Radio Free Mormon. It's like how Joseph Smith understood that Pharaoh was not the real name of the king, but a distinguishing term like RFM).

So I asked RFM  if he could elucidate what exactly the smoking gun looks like to him, with regards to the Book of Abraham, and told him that the reason I was asking is because I would like to dissect it on my blog and attempt to show reasonable doubt.

RFM kindly replied, as follows (he said I could quote him when I make this post):

I feel that Egyptology has advanced to the point where it is clear that Joseph Smith was unable to translate Egyptian.  This is pretty indisputable from Facsimile Three alone where Joseph translates the hieroglyphs above   the figures incorrectly.  This has been known for a long time because we have had the facsimiles with us since their initial publication in 1842.  The 64-dollar question is, "What is the king's name?"  This is so devastating to apologists that they have had to come up with an argument that Joseph Smith wasn't responsible for the translations of the figures in Facsimile 3.  I think this is the main point.  It gets rid of all arguments about missing scrolls, etc.  I would call the interpretations in Facsimile 3 the smoking gun on the Book of Abraham.

Okay. So this is the crème de la crème of anti-mormon criticism. If we take all the issues, Book of Abraham is at the top, and the Facsimile 3 translations are at the top of that, and the very top king of the hill is the 64-dollar question, "What is the king's name?" 

I thought about this off and on through the holidays, but didn't get a chance to really focus. Fortunately, I ended up in the hospital in early January and had a lot of time to stare at Facsimile 3 while sitting in my hospital bed. Finally, a chance to think. And read the scriptures and seek inspiration.

One nurse in the ICU wasn't too happy about me taking off the oxygen monitor from my finger (which I did because it impeded my use of the laptop). But, first world problems, as they say. 

Now, a lot of people don't realize that the Egyptologist translations of Facsimile 3 characters are largely translations of other papyri. In other words, they aren't really translating what is there. I didn't realize this until I read Quinten Barney's thesis, and then I confess that I saw a certain irony in people making fun of Joseph Smith for the way he used the word "translation," when they rely on Robert Ritner having translated things that weren't even on the item that he was translating. Ritner was a great Egyptologist, but it's funny that the tools of Egyptology treat the word "translation" so loosely even as some people mercilessly mock Joseph for the same thing, while saying that the Egyptological translations of the characters are an example of what real translation looks like. I wrote a response to Ritner, but I just want to say that he seemed like a really good person and I am glad he got involved in the Abraham discussion. Criticism I offer of his methods is not intended to be personal but just reflects the fact that Joseph Smith-related issues are more involved than he in some cases treated them. 

Okay, now that we have identified Goliath, let's size him up. Joseph Smith said that the name of the king is given in the characters. No matter how you dice it, that sounds very straight-forward. Unlike the figures themselves, which could be adapted (like how Christians adapted images of Isis to depict Mary, or how Egyptians adapted images of Semitic deities), we would expect that the characters are going to be pretty explicit. And that makes it a true test. Whereas most arguments against Joseph Smith are based on testimony of people who could be mistaken or lying, or on incomplete context, we seem to have a clear test with the 64-dollar question. That's what makes it Goliath. 

So, what do the characters say? Well, the first character has been a bit of a mystery but I think it looks like one in particular and that's what I would like to talk about first. 

My theory posits the seemingly reasonable idea that Reuben Hedlock, the printer, was drawing something that was on the papyrus. And since the papyrus is damaged, which I don't think anyone disputes, it seems like the most obvious explanation for why the character looks the way it does is that the character is damaged - because the papyrus is damaged. We have plenty of examples of that with characters on this papyrus. The illustration itself is missing, but there are plenty of "extant missing parts" of the roll (as opposed to the "missing" missing parts, you might say). 

Okay, so we are left with a Cinderella slipper, or a fingerprint, and if we try to see if it fits any hieroglyph, it looks to me like it fits exactly one: falcon on the standard. 

The foremost Egyptologist on the falcon (Horus) on the standard, Racheli Shalomi-Hen, explains the consistent association between falcon on standard and the king: 

click to enlarge 


The Evidence 

I am presenting the evidence through the use of slides, since most of the evidence takes the form of visually similar features. 

The downside to presenting the evidence this way is that the reader has to pay close attention to what the slides are showing. But the upside is that the evidence should be easy to follow if the reader does pay attention. 

I think you should be able to click to enlarge each of these. 

The first slide shows two classic examples of what falcon on the standard should look like, and visually compares them with the extant character. I hope that makes sense. To put it another way, we’re seeing if the Cinderella slipper at least looks like a fit. The other slides which follow will show more definitively how the slipper is a custom-made match. 


Hopefully you can see what I did there, and will take some time to look over that image and determine whether or not you think falcon on the standard can at least potentially wear that slipper. 

Next, let’s have a look at a falcon, to see what the parts of the body “in context” are, which you will see depicted soon thereafter. 


Okay, so next let’s look at a piece of evidence which should be very clear. The first picture on the slide shows,  on the left, the tip of the character from the papyrus, juxtaposed right up against  the corresponding tip of an actual falcon on standard. You’ll notice they are almost exactly the same shape and that they uniquely curve. 

After that, the slide shows an interesting feature on the falcon on standard, which can be seen right next to the tip - and the slide shows how, yet again, the character on the papyrus has a corresponding match. So, the finer points of evidence are starting to build up. Below that, larger pictures of the images are provided so that the reader can have greater context. 


The key is that the line on the far side not only slants at about the same angle, but the very far tip comes out and turns sharply, all with the same approximate proportions. 

Next, I make the case that the extra piece discussed in the above slide does in fact belong as part of the larger character. And I discuss some of the implications of that. 

The claw comes next, which is found on the papyri character exactly as it is found on the falcon on standard examples. This is just a fine point and such a delicate little mark found in just the right spot, precisely. To me it is very powerful evidence and I’d be interested to know how anyone would be able to see it as anything other than a precise convergence.
Again we have another interesting convergence showing that what we would expect to be in a precise spot actually shows evidence of being there. 
The next slide shows that confusion can be cleared up over the appearance of wing feathers. A break in the line causes ink to push forward and get in the way of seeing leg feathers. But the leg feathers are there, and that is one more solid piece of evidence showing that the character is falcon on standard.  

When I first posted this, I left out the tail feathers slide. It's one more convergence on top of everything else:


The next slide is the last of the falcon on standard slides. It clears up a little issue that could otherwise cause confusion. 

Now, that’s the evidence. It adds up, and together seems very strong to me. If I am right about it being falcon on standard, then I think there are some strong implications. It seems to prove that the scribe was in fact adapting the illustration for a unique purpose. 

It also means column 1 is about the king.  

Now let's move on to what I think the King's name is. I think column 1 reads something like: "The Great Narmer."

Here's a representation of Narmer dated to the First Dynasty:


Here's the character (damaged, according to plausible explanation):


Here's a visual comparison:


Here's what I propose is a plausible bottom part of a chisel:


And a chisel that looks similar:


And perhaps damaged remnants of the top of the chisel:


I think it would be difficult to rule out the explanation I have given, but I would be interested in seeing any pushback or feedback anyone has. Narmer is the Pharaoh who first organized the government of ancient Egypt as we know it, which could have a great deal of relevance to Abraham 1:25 and would help explain why he would be the named king.

Of course, Horus given in the falcon on standard, and Horus is actually the Pharaoh (they would actually take Horus names), so that's a parallel which may have some relevance but isn't my favored explanation. 

I need to head to work now. It's 2/2/2022, so 200 years from today perhaps someone will look back and have a lot more answers and wonder what we were up 2. 

Remember, we're all on the same team!








Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Burden Of Proof

To the extent that our critic friends attempt to disprove something, the burden of proof is on them. Likewise, to the extent a believer attempts to prove something, the burden of proof is on the believer. And so forth.

For instance, if the believer asserts that details in the text of the Book of Abraham correlate with details in other ancient stories about Abraham, and cites this as evidence that the Book of Abraham is authentic, the critic can counter this if they can show that contemporary sources of that information were likely available to Joseph Smith. The critic does not need to prove that Joseph used those contemporary sources, only that it is plausible that Joseph used them, in order to show that the believer's deductive argument is not sound (of course, if enough examples pile up, and if the only plausible sources are obscure, the critic may need to account for how Joseph could have acquired the sources and had time to study them, etc., and that could potentially affect the plausibility which the critic needs to show). 

However, this goes both ways.

For instance, if the critic asserts that believers can never theorize a "loose" translation of the Book of Mormon, because David Whitmer described the process by saying Joseph would see English words appear and then read them out loud, believers can counter this by pointing out that the burden is on the critic to demonstrate that Whitmer's understanding is not only reliable but is incompatible with a loose translation.

When either believer or critic is cornered like this, they may find it tempting to simply say that their conclusion is clearly the only logical one. Ironically, when they say something like this, they are actually appealing to intuition rather than to logic. I think this is the point where constructive communication often breaks down.

In the loose translation case, the critic could demonstrate reliability by pointing out that Martin Harris, apparently independently, provided a somewhat similar, though not identical, description of the translation process. However, neither man claimed to know why each specific set of words would appear, rather than different sets of words. We can't assume they had a complete understanding. Even Oliver did not understand. In D&C 9, the process seems to involve studying it out in his mind and then finding out if the wording he has come up with is acceptable to God.

We don't know what Joseph experienced during the translation process. We don't know if he even remembered all of it, or if it was like a dream he only recalled faint bits and pieces of. And, importantly, we don't know what criteria God used for approving Joseph's translation. Given that human language is inherently flawed, God may have approved Joseph's word choices based on how well they reflected Joseph's best efforts, rather than how close to "perfection" they came (see Ether 12:25-26). So, Joseph could have plausibly chosen the wording and then, if God approved, the wording would appear for him to read.

Some critics might say there wasn't enough time for Joseph to choose words. But, again, it is their burden to demonstrate this. Neither Harris nor Whitmer specified, and although we could get into calculations of how many pages were translated in certain amounts of time, and how long it might take a scribe to write each sentence, and so forth, ultimately it is not the believer's burden. Still, this may be a good opportunity to illustrate how intuition can be flawed. Since Joseph performed his translation through the gift and power of God, time is somewhat moot. An Interpreter article by Roger Nicholson reports this insight from Matthew B. Brown: “Joseph Smith reportedly said in 1826, while under examination in a court of law, that when he first obtained his personal Seer stone he placed it in his hat, and discovered that time, place, and distance were annihilated; that all intervening obstacles were removed, and that he possessed one of the attributes of Deity, an All-Seeing Eye." Brown goes on to note that Brigham Young confirmed this view: "When Joseph had a revelation he had, as it were, the eyes of the Lord. He saw as the Lord sees.”

At this point, a critic might characterize a believer's reliance on "loose translation" as an argument from absence unless the believer can prove it. But, again, context does matter here. If a believer is responding to a critic's attempt to disprove, then the believer is free to stipulate something like loose translation, given that it is at least plausible, because the burden of proof is on the critic. However, if a believer makes an argument trying to prove something about the Church, but the argument is only sound if loose translation is true, then no matter how valid the argument is, it will only hold weight against the critic to the extent the believer is able to provide evidence that a loose translation model is viable.

To illustrate this, imagine you own a bank, and you only share the vault combination with the manager. One day, a large sum of money is missing from the vault. Would it be logical to accuse the manager of either stealing it or sharing the combination with someone else? Seemingly so. But what if someone claims that the Great Pumpkin could have stolen it without unlocking the vault? Doesn't matter, right? Because, even though it is being offered in defense, the Great Pumpkin explanation has not been shown to be plausible. However, what if someone points out that there's a huge hole in the wall of the vault, cut from the outside? Would your deductive case against the manager still hold up unless the manager is able to actually prove that the burglar came in through the hole? Or, would the mere existence of the hole blow a hole in the deductive argument against the manager? The manager would not need to show that the burglar actually came in through the hole. 

Now, as an aside, what's the difference between believing in God and the Great Pumpkin? Well, where does one's knowledge of God come from, and where does one's knowledge of the Great Pumpkin come from? The difference is revelation.

In all the world, only the God of Abraham has left not just written stories or myths but documents that actually detail His ongoing interactions with man, recorded by the very societies of people (a "chosen people") who experienced the events, like a journal, as these events unfolded over hundreds and thousands of years. This same God promises to speak directly to us individually, and millions of people bear record that He has done so. Believing because of revelation is not blind faith. I saw an article saying “blind faith in religion” destroys critical thinking. I think these people may be confusing their personal intuition with objective logic. Can they calculate the probability of a personal God existing? I don’t think so. With science mostly now believing in a multi-verse, where infinite things are possible, including things which defy our laws of physics, and with infinite unknowns and inherent limits on man’s ability to comprehend, there’s no way to objectively calculate the probability of a personal God existing. What we can deduce however is that if a personal God exists, that being is choosing to not reveal Himself to us in a scientific, objective fashion. That does not mean He is not revealing Himself, however. Why would anyone think such a being would be incapable of revealing Himself to individuals, making Himself known on His terms? The default position is not “no God.” The default position should simply be, “we humans ought to be humble about how little we know - we can’t even comprehend what space, time, energy, matter or consciousness are - we can only observe aspects of how they interact. The fact that intelligence exists is inductive evidence that more intelligence can exist. The fact that matter, time, energy, consciousness, etc. exist is inductive evidence that other forms of these things can exist other than the forms we have been exposed to in our limited ability to observe reality.”

Thursday, September 10, 2020

LDS Simulation Theory

In the following video, Neal deGrasse-Tyson discusses the probability that we are living in a simulation. He ends up calling it a 50/50 chance (if the video fails to load, you can watch it here):

I would like to point out some similarities between the simulation idea and the LDS concept of "mortal probation."

First, both ideas accept the plausibility of beings existing which are far more advanced than ourselves.

Second, both ideas posit that these advanced beings created a controlled set of circumstances which they could monitor, observe and adjust as they desire (through a veil or advanced technology, respectively). 

Third, in both cases conscious beings are placed into the controlled circumstances and allowed to act out lives.

Fourth, in both cases the advanced beings intentionally limit the amount of knowledge available to the conscious beings who are acting out lives under the controlled circumstances. They are intended to act with limited knowledge.


Now, some questions arise, here.

First, there are ethical questions. The simulation idea faces the ethical problem of creating conscious beings and then making them suffer. The mortal probation idea, however, does not face this problem because it says the conscious beings chose and prepared to enter the controlled circumstances, in advance, in order to gain understanding prerequisite to special rights and privileges, such as the ability to form special family bonds in eternity and the right to serve others as a parental leader within those family connections.

Second, the question arises as to why our knowledge is limited. The mortal probation paradigm answers this naturally, because the "veil," which keeps our knowledge limited, does not block our relationship with God, even though we don't remember the details of it. What this means is that we can and do communicate with God, whether we know it or not. God entices us to make certain choices, while other factors entice us to make different choices, and we decide what we will do. Our knowledge therefore is limited in order to allow for this special process. In the First Estate, we chose based on greater knowledge. In this probationary period, we exist in a world of confusion and ignorance and we still feel God and we choose based on a direct relationship with God, without our memories of God, and that is called faith.

Third, there's the question of consciousness. The simulation theory assumes consciousness can be produced with software. This assumption is based on the idea that a neural network can be emulated with different substrates. However, this relies on the assumption that neural networks can actually create consciousness in the first place, which is problematic because consciousness is categorically different from anything in the empirical model of existence.  It is a mistake to think we have deduced that the brain creates consciousness. For instance, it is true that someone can be "knocked unconscious" from the perspective of brain activity, but this does not mean the person is actually not conscious during that period. Instead, it only means the person does not remember later being conscious during that period. This fits perfectly with the concept of a veil of forgetfulness. In this context, brain patterns can be seen as perhaps a language through which the mortal body communicates with the spirit body. 

In its proper context, consciousness is inductive evidence that the empirical model of existence is as a metaphorical bubble. Consciousness is akin to a ray of light shining into that bubble, indicating to us that things exist outside the bubble. 

Fourth, both simulation theory and the idea of a mortal probation require and implicate the idea of Intelligent Design. To read my post on Intelligent Design, click here

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Did Oliver Cowdery Really Claim There Was A "Book of Joseph?"

My theory, as explained in my response to Dan Vogel, is based on a careful reading of witness statements. In the Fourth Meditation, I go through each of the primary witness statements and discuss their implications. It appears Joseph of Egypt wrote a record containing some of Abraham's writings, and from this Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham. The account from Joseph Smith III is particularly interesting, because he recounts what happened specifically to the papyrus containing the writings of Abraham, as opposed to the papyri collection as a whole. Significantly, he implies that when Joseph Smith found the papyrus it was in a roll containing another papyrus (it was bound together with the Book of Breathings?) and he also states clearly that it was sold by William Smith (as noted in my response to Vogel, the bill of sale for the papyri collection does not include the papyrus containing Abraham's writings).

For purposes of this post, I'm focusing on Oliver Cowdery's statements.


According to Vogel, "Cowdery gave a detailed description of the record of Joseph that leaves no doubt that he was referring to Ta Sherit Min's Book of the Dead ... Joseph Smith therefore identified Ta Sherit Min's scroll with the record of ancient Joseph, just as he had identified Hor's scroll with the Book of Abraham."

Oliver Cowdery's letter, printed in the Messenger and Advocate (December 31, 1835), was actually two letters to a man named William Frye, which an editor took excerpts from and pieced together to publish as one letter.

These letters are not actually in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. They were copied by other people (James M. Carrel and possibly an additional person) and stored in at least one letterbook.  One page that I know of from one of the letters is currently available. I suspect the Joseph Smith Papers Project will acquire and publish the other parts of the letters.

The two most important words, "Joseph's Record," appear in parentheses in the Messenger and Advocate article. As a simple matter of fact, we might never be able to track down who wrote this. I'm not basing my argument on that, but it is a matter of fact. The words may have been in the original letter, which we no longer have. Or, they may have been added by the person who copied Oliver's letter. Or, as far as I currently know, they may have been added by the editor of the Messenger and Advocate.

Let us first consider what it would mean if Cowdery himself inserted this, and then address some complexities. People have assumed Cowdery was referring to Joseph of Egypt. However, as I will argue, the context would indicate he was referring to Joseph Smith.

Being in parentheses, the words "Joseph's Record" are clearly intended to be a clarification. If we can identify a reason why Cowdery would think it necessary to add a clarification in this exact spot, it may help us paint a more accurate picture.

What, then, is the most likely explanation for why Cowdery would find it necessary to insert a clarification in this exact spot? Was there something in the text which made it necessary?

Cowdery had just told us that Enoch wrote a record. And Cowdery had been giving us details about it, saying it was a history and that Enoch placed this history into pillars, and Cowdery told us they were still around in Josephus's day.

My explanation, based on the text: when he tells us they were around in Josephus's day, Cowdery says, "his," then inserts in parentheses, "Josephus," clarifying that he was talking about Josephus as opposed to Enoch. Then he says, "the inner end of the same roll" and realizes the reader might think he is still referring to Enoch's record, because he uses the phrase "the same," which is significant because the last record he had mentioned had been Enoch's (and, presumably, Enoch had written on rolls). Cowdery, a teacher aware of proper grammar, thus sees a need to let the reader know that he is no longer talking about Enoch's record but is again talking about Joseph Smith's roll which he had been describing before he entered a tangent on Enoch's record.

In other words, within the space of ten words he felt a need to clarify not only that he was not talking about Enoch, but also a need to clarify that he was not talking about Enoch's record.

So, in both parentheses, he clarifies that he is not talking about Enoch, and in those parentheses clarifies that he is instead talking about Josephus and Joseph Smith, respectively. Specifically, in the case of Joseph Smith, that he is again talking about one of Joseph's Egyptian records, i.e. "the same" one he had been describing just prior to talking about Enoch's record, which is why he wrote, "the same," before realizing that the last record he had mentioned was Enoch's.

Since Cowdery's reader, William Frye, would have already understood that what Cowdery had been describing was one of Joseph Smith's Egyptian records, it makes sense for Cowdery to refer back to Joseph Smith. It would make much less sense for Cowdery to refer "back" to Joseph of Egypt in Cowdery's contrast with Enoch, because Cowdery had not claimed that the drawings he had been discussing were on Joseph of Egypt's record, so there is nothing to refer "back" to. Instead, Cowdery couched his descriptions in the context of characters which Michael Chandler had asked Joseph to translate. That is the roll from Joseph Smith's collection which he had been discussing.

Cowdery begins his analysis of that record, the record Chandler had asked Joseph to translate a small part of, stating: "the language in which this record is written is very comprehensive, and many of the hieroglyphics exceedingly striking..."

It is likely that Joseph's "translation" for Chandler was just his initial impressions of the vignettes, identifying a serpent and so forth, which is the only way to account for Chandler's claim, if truthful, that Joseph's interpretation matched the interpretations of other people he had talked to.

Chandler, having something to sell, and not likely believing Joseph could actually translate, may have set it up as a softball for Joseph Smith, to avoid putting him on the spot, while using it as an opportunity to generate enthusiasm. If this had been Chandler's plan, I imagine he would have followed through regardless of what Joseph said about them. The consideration here is that Oliver segues the Chandler episode into describing those vignettes.

Further complicating the issue at hand is the fact that Oliver's two letters to Frye were in reply to a letter from Frye to a woman named Elisha Groves, in which Frye apparently asked numerous questions. Cowdery was replying in her behalf. So, Oliver's statements in the letters do not stand on their own but are in response to a series of questions. However, we no longer have Frye's letter and we do not know what specifically he asked or how his phraseology may have affected Cowdery's wording.

Therefore, Cowdery's letters are, by definition, out of context.

The Messenger and Advocate printed Oliver's letters but Oliver did not write them as letters to the newspaper. Since Oliver's statements in those letters were answers to questions on content raised in Frye's letter, and since the editor would not have been aware of that content, this could lead to misunderstanding. For instance, Frye may have asked about the contents of Joseph Smith's record which he translated for Chandler, which would explain why Oliver in response may have mentioned Joseph by his first name only, which Frye would understand in the context of his question, but which may cause someone else, looking at only one side, to misunderstand the reference. Another observation worth noting is that the words "Joseph's" and "Josephus'" sound and look almost identical, and here we have both words appearing in parentheses in a short sequence of words. The presence of "Josephus" without a last name may have made the word "Joseph's" flow naturally without a last name as well, in addition to the aforementioned fact that Cowdery was likely replying in a context Frye had already established regarding Joseph Smith, and thus no need for a last name.

Also, Joseph of Egypt can be expected to be referred to with qualifying language such as "Joseph of Egypt," "the Patriarch Joseph," etc. unless it is already firmly established. And in this case, it was not established at all, let alone firmly established. While, in contrast, Joseph Smith was often referred to simply as "Joseph" by early Saints.

Now, regarding the copy of Cowdery's letter. First we should point out that some types of alterations were considered acceptable.

Consider the copy, in that letter, of Michael Chandler's certificate. Following convention, the word "signed" is placed in parentheses. There is nothing dishonest about this, however the word "signed" almost certainly did not appear in Chandler's actual certificate. It is added in an attempt to clarify for the reader, following accepted conventions.


This example does not create uncertainty, because it is a clear-cut use of the convention, and the person copying Chandler's certificate understood that Michael Chandler was not merely writing his name but was signing a document.

However, editors and copyists do not always understand intent so clearly, and liberties they take can misrepresent source material.

If one wants to say that Cowdery's use (or possibly the copyists's use) of the words "Joseph's record" is unrelated to the description of Enoch's record, one would need to provide a better explanation for why Cowdery would feel a need to interrupt the flow of his letter to insert those words.

If Oliver supposedly thought the Ta-sherit-Min roll was written by Joseph of Egypt, that doesn't comport with him indicating that it is obvious from the illustrations that the people who drew them had an understanding of the gospel - because, of course, Joseph of Egypt had an understanding of the gospel. That should go without saying, hardly a new revelation worth reporting on. And, Cowdery speaks of it being written by "persons," plural, which contradicts the notion that Joseph of Egypt personally wrote it.

Contra these problems, Oliver's only clear, explicit mention of Abraham and Joseph describes "the writings of Abraham and Joseph" as "this record," implying the text was on a single roll. Moreover, he started with a plural reference when referring to "the Egyptian records," but changed to referring to "this record," singular, right after he referenced "the writings of Abraham and Joseph." This indicates he understood there were multiple Egyptian records in the papyri, but one record containing "the writings of Abraham and Joseph":

Upon the subject of the Egyptian records, or rather the writings of Abraham and Joseph, I may say a few words. This record is beautifully written [Not "both writings are beautifully written"] on papyrus [Not "both on papyrus"] with black, and a small part, red ink or paint, [Not "both with black, and a small part, red ink] in perfect preservation. [Not "both in perfect preservation"] [Emphasis added]

It might seem strange for him to describe the writing as being in "perfect preservation," but this of course is relative to the various torn fragments Chandler provided, and may simply mean that the text inside the roll was still intact. This is similar to how the words "long roll" in Charlotte Haven's account are relative.

Very significantly, as shown above, Oliver then enforces the idea of the writings of Abraham and Joseph being on a single roll, by describing the writing of both patriarchs at the same time as beautifully written, with black and red ink, in perfect preservation. If he were indeed referring to two separate records, we would expect him to say "both are beautifully written," "both are written with black and red ink," "both are in perfect preservation," etc. So, he not only refers to them explicitly as a single record, but continues describing them as though they are a single record. It's true the Ta-sherit-Min roll is also written with red and black ink, but that was extremely common, and the point here is how Cowdery referenced the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt as a single record and continued doing so.

I believe Joseph's investigation into Egyptian mythology, as evinced in his Egyptian Alphabet, was, in part, an attempt to explore the true gospel roots of Egyptian theology, going back to Ham. It is in this context that I understand Oliver feeling at liberty to also speculate into Egyptian theology regarding Eve, Enoch, etc. Oliver made no attempt to attribute his speculations to Joseph Smith.

For all we know, Frye may have even asked in what ways the papyri demonstrated an Egyptian understanding of the gospel.

Remember, Joseph translated a portion of the Egyptian funerary papyri. So, the reality is probably more complex than the black-and-white thinking that "Oliver said something, so Joseph must have thought exactly the same thing," In reality, during the tumultuous Kirtland era, Joseph apparently didn't even have a chance to finish translating the Book of Abraham. He had to set it aside and return to it years later. I think his limited time for interaction with the material, let alone educating others on the finer points, would have left plenty of room for people to speculate.

Things which on paper may seem to be obviously true do not always play out in real life. To make this relatable, I would like to use Dan's videos as an example.

Why We Can't Assume Joseph's Scribes Represent His Thinking 

Throughout most of the series, Dan refers to and portrays Brian Hauglid as an apologist. But before Dan even produced his videos, Hauglid had in fact undergone a transformation and no longer held to the views he had held as an apologist.

Of course, we would not, even on paper, expect Dan to automatically know this. The problem is that one of Dan's best friends, who Dan specifically acknowledges as one of two people who provided critique for his videos, was, in turn, specifically singled out by Hauglid as someone who could attest to his transformation.

Moreover, we could assume, on paper, that this friend of both men was watching the videos as they came out, in addition to providing critique beforehand.

Yet new videos kept coming out, repeatedly portraying Hauglid as an apologist.

Today, Dan has a note in the videos he posted up to that point, which reads:

"In a recent Facebook response, Brian Hauglid, one of the BYU 'apologists' featured in my Book of Abraham videos, clarified his current position and now wishes to disassociate himself from the views of John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein. As an endorsement of these videos and a service to Hauglid, I post a portion of his statement here:

“'For the record, I no longer hold the views that have been quoted from my 2010 book in these videos. ... In fact, I'm no longer interested or involved in apologetics in any way. I wholeheartedly agree with Dan’s excellent assessment of the Abraham/Egyptian documents in these videos. ... One can find that I've changed my mind in my recent and forthcoming publications. The most recent JSP Revelations and Translation vol. 4, The Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts (now on the shelves) is much more open to Dan’s thinking on the origin of the Book of Abraham.'” (Brian Hauglid, Facebook, 8 Nov. 2018)"

I can understand why Dan would publicize the change. In fact, when Hauglid made Dan aware on the public facebook comment, Dan responded by saying, "While I appreciate and empathize and welcome your clarification, I sincerely hope it doesn't cause you too much personal grief. I have taken the liberty to post a portion of your statement in the written description of each video. Best wishes." To which Hauglid responded, "Many thanks Dan." The mutual friend commented, saying in part, "I do regret that those viewing my friend Dan's videos may assume that you maintain the same intellectual posture as in a few of your previous publications. I can affirm that you don't." This mutual friend, who had been singled out by both of them, also posted a comment linking to a podcast in which Hauglid had discussed his transformation several years earlier.

The point is that, on paper, a person who is singled out as uniquely able to attest to something may be expected to set others straight on it, especially if they are also singled out as having critiqued the very thing which stands in need of the exact correction they are uniquely able to offer.

But in real life, things don't always go as we would expect on paper.

I'm comparing Brent Metcalfe to Joseph Smith, so please do not get the impression that I am in any way putting Metcalfe down. In fact, the point I'm making relies on the reality that Metcalfe is highly intelligent and detail-oriented. If he were supposed to be someone who was fumbling around, my point wouldn't stand.

If something like that can happen to Metcalfe, then what about a farmer-turned-Prophet on the American frontier who had ancient papyri thrown into his lap at a time when persecutions were raging, major projects were underway, and everyone he knew had questions and wanted answers about everything in life?

Even in Nauvoo, when those working on his history were reading it to him for approval, we can't assume he was hovering over every detail and ensuring every nuance of phraseology could not be misconstrued a century later. Instead, he was probably distracted by a dozen other thoughts, having sections summarized for him instead of read verbatim, requesting that the writers add color and simplify language for readability, etc.

We can't say, "Joseph would have corrected that."

And when it comes to the papyri, if Joseph had special understanding of the Egyptian theology, how was he supposed to convey that to others in a way they would understand? If his own understanding was line upon line, then all the more so for his fellow frontiersmen.

If, for instance, Joseph mentioned the Garden of Eden story contained on the Abraham roll, and Oliver asked about the snake on the Ta-sherit-Min roll, Joseph may have very well just told him he is free to interpret it how he'd like, rather than getting into details on Egyptian theology that he himself was in the process of discovering.