In (tentative) defense of “translation” (and other conceptual “abuses”)

“The life of the common law has been in the unceasing abuse of its elementary ideas.” So observed S. F. C. Milsom, a Cambridge legal historian and one of the greatest scholars of the common law.

It was important to the authority of the common law that it demonstrate continuity– so important that leading common lawyers and judges like Edward Coke and Matthew Hale could insist that the law had never changed. Its authority lay in the assumption that its precepts had always been there, “the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.” And yet the world changed drastically over the course of centuries, and it was essential that the law adapt in order to remain viable. How did it manage to maintain continuity but also adapt? By “abus[ing] its elementary ideas,” as Milsom says. By continuing to use many of the same terms and concepts, but using these in different ways (often supported by fictions), declining to notice or dwell on the abuses or adaptations. In this way, the magnificent achievement of the common law has been able to span centuries, always the same, always changing.

I suspect that something similar happens– and must happen– in any kind of living tradition. Old ideas and terms get “abused,” used in new ways, in order maintain the necessary connection with the past while also adjusting to new conditions and challenges.

Of course, this process invites criticisms, of different kinds. One kind of criticism (coming from what we might call the conceptual purist) points out the “abuses.” Equivocations are occurring. The whole thing may seem a bit dishonest. And yet the people doing the “abusing” are usually not being consciously dishonest: they are doing their necessary jobs, usually in good faith, using the terms that seem appropriate for those jobs, mostly unaware that they are engaging in any sort of equivocation. The transformations occur subtly and mostly inconspicuously– except to the detached critic.

A different, more sweeping kind of criticism comes from those who dislike or disdain the whole enterprise. They may think the common law, or whatever the tradition in question may be, is an illegitimate and oppressive thing. So to them, the small “abuses” are especially objectionable because they are employed in service of a larger grand abuse.

And it is always possible, of course, that these critics are right. Which is to say that whether the tradition or enterprise is a good thing worth maintaining is always a possible question. I think the common law is admirable for providing necessary social coordination and order over the centuries. But the point is debatable, obviously.

What prompts me to make these (perhaps mundane) observations here is the discussion yesterday of Jonathan Green’s post on “translation.” Jonathan suggests, if I understand him correctly, that we can understand the Book of Abraham as a “translation” if we appreciate that translation need not be a mechanical, word-for-word rendering of a text; it can be more creative than that, with a lot more input from the “translator.” Skeptical commenters suggested, to put it crudely, that this just isn’t translation; or at least it isn’t what Joseph or his followers have understood “translation” to be.

This was my initial reaction as well. And it may be my considered reaction; I’m not sure. One inclination is to think: “If you believe that the BofA is an inspired text, and scripture, fine. There’s a lot to be said for that conclusion. But why must you insist on calling it ‘translation’? Sure, you can call it that– nothing prohibits you from using words in any way you want to– but you’re just not using the word in the way that almost anyone concerned with the question uses it. You’re equivocating.”

That would be the “conceptual purist” objection. But maybe it’s a bit off the mark here, as it is with the common law or other living traditions. For some people and some purposes, it is important that the book be a translation. Something would be lost if we just came out and said, “It was an expression of Joseph’s prophetic imagination,” or something of that sort. The tradition would be impaired. And the larger point is that this sort of equivocation– or, if you like, abuse– just is the way living traditions maintain themselves.

Of course, others will make the more sweeping or disdainful criticism. They will regard the adaptations as dishonest measures in support of an illegitimate or oppressive tradition. And as always that presents a debatable question, about which people will disagree. But if you believe that, as I’ve sometimes put it here, God is at work in the church to bless people and to accomplish His purposes, you will be less sympathetic to this kind of criticism, perhaps more sympathetic to the “abuses” or adaptations that help to maintain a valuable tradition.

You might end up with a picture of God working in the world, in various mysterious ways and various places (including in the church) to accomplish His designs– working through fallible people (including prophets and saints) who rarely or never fully grasp those designs, rarely or never grasp just how God is using them His wonders to perform. It isn’t nearly as clean a picture as we might like. I can’t say I am fully comfortable with it. But does it fit with our experience of things? And maybe some adjusting of concepts like “translation”– and “apostasy,” and “restoration,” and “revelation”– is part of that process.

Just wondering . . . .

19 comments for “In (tentative) defense of “translation” (and other conceptual “abuses”)

  1. p
    March 27, 2020 at 1:43 pm

    Let’s just say that as a church we make a very big deal about the concept of TRUTH – as in, We have it and you don’t, at least not all of it. So these kinds of T&S conversations are a bit ironic to say the least.

  2. Wondering
    March 27, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    Yes. And I may invoke another comment on the law, applicable to both common law and legislative law, comparing the law-making process to sausage making. It is variously attributed, but according to one report

    “…Fred Shapiro, a longtime fixture in the library of Yale Law School, … editor of the Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations, among other lexicographic expeditions, debunks Twain and the Iron Chancellor as the original source [of the popular idea].

    The earliest-known source is the American poet John Godfrey Saxe, who, according to Shapiro, was quoted in the Daily Cleveland Herald on March 29, 1869, as saying: ‘Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire in proportion as we know how they are made.’ “

  3. Whitfield
    March 27, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    Sincere question: if the Book of Abraham is considered a translation, what is the concise explanation for what that is supposed to mean? I read Muhlestein, Gee, and others on the Book of Abraham and honestly it didn’t seem to clarify anything but only made me more confused. I also read Jonathan Green’s post, and I found it confusing as well. I speak Portuguese and have done some minimal translation, enough to know that there is some leeway and liberties that translators can take and that not every word’s connotation in one language will correspond with that in another, but there is a limit.

    If the word translation is unclear, then what is meant by translation? Render from one language to another, convey a more abstract set of ideas, experience a catalyst for a revelation? There are of course several connotations of the word translation, but there are only so many.

    If translation is meant as convey from one language to another, then what are we to understand Joseph Smith as translating? The facsimiles of the papyri? But those translations seem incorrect, and the facsimiles of the papyri including Facsimile no. 1 of which we found the original copy of the papyrus, containing the Breathing Permit of Hor, seem to have nothing to do with the text of the Book of Abraham. Are we to understand this as a text that Joseph Smith saw in a revelation but never actually obtained a physical copy of and that Joseph Smith and his followers mistakenly interpreted the facsimiles as the text that informed the BOA?

  4. p
    March 27, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    Well put, Whitfield. BoA is but one part of a Church-wide crisis of trust that I fear will combine into a devastating critique.

  5. SDS
    March 27, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    These are excellent questions, Whitfield, but I’m afraid I’m not the one to answer them. For the most part, I would have to defer these questions to those who are more knowledgeable both about translation and about the Book of Abraham. But my own tentative thought (which likely doesn’t capture the views of others who defend a “translation” account) would go something like this:

    Joseph obtains some papyrus documents, in Egyptian, and these serve as a “catalyst” that prompts an inspired rendering of theological truths in narrative form. He describes this (and perhaps understands it?) as a translation; and that becomes part of the tradition. Later, perhaps, it comes to appear that this wasn’t exactly a translation in the usual senses of the term, not even a relatively free form translation. The Egyptian documents were a catalyst but they weren’t exactly translated. We could at that point just say: the book wasn’t translated; it was revealed. Some of us would regard that as a perfectly acceptable and more accurate description. But then again, some of the tradition and authority might thereby be lost. So another possibility is to stretch the meaning of “translation”– or “abuse” it, if you like– thereby maintaining greater continuity with the tradition.

    I’m not especially comfortable with this description. But then I’m more used to taking the view of detached critic– and thus of noticing the slippages, and equivocations, etc. That’s what I basically do in my own profession. And I would say that this stretching of the term “translation” doesn’t strike me as all that different from similar stretchings of the (closely-related) term “interpretation” that are routinely done in the field of constitutional law, say, and that serve to legitimate all manner of decisions and practices that are not really “interpretations” in any conventional sense of the term. As it happens, I tend not to like those things either, but they’re a standard part of my world. Once again, it seems that this is just how living traditions work.

  6. Owen Witesman
    March 27, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    @Whitfield says he has done “enough [translation] to know that there is some leeway and liberties that translators can take”. Whitfield, there isn’t “some” leeway, there is all the leeway. Scripture is a genre of literature. Literary translation a creative process, and as such, the only boundaries are self-imposed. When I’m translating a book and I don’t think something will work for my audience, I check with the author (because my contract and current translation ethics say I should) and then I change it. The better a relationship I have with an author and the more I know about the subject matter, the less I ask and the more I just put on my author hat. When I hit a bit of poetry or song lyrics in a novel, I almost always have to create something completely new that serves a similar purpose. When I see weak character development that might have been good enough in Finland but won’t cut it in the UK, I do my best to improve it. If I don’t translate creatively, the final product will suck and people won’t buy it because it won’t accomplish the same purposes as the original work, which was create for a different audience than my audience. In my view and experience, what “translation” means is completely and utterly situational. What JS seems to have meant by the word certainly has relevance for these conversations, but since we don’t believe or claim that his genius was at the heart of the process, his views are not the final word. He didn’t know any of the languages he claims to have translated from, so he is an unreliable witness and wouldn’t have known if what he saw on the page (plates, papyri) and what he dictated to his scribe “matched” or not.

    My opinion about the BoA? I think JS revealed something earlier that the materials he had were derived from. Somehow he was able to see behind the materials he had, the same way I see echoes of the original text behind any translation I read even when I don’t know the source language. But that’s just my guess.

  7. March 27, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    @Whitfield says he has done “enough [translation] to know that there is some leeway and liberties that translators can take”. Whitfield, there isn’t “some” leeway, there is *all* the leeway. Scripture is a genre of literature. Literary translation a creative process, and as such, the only boundaries are self-imposed. When I’m translating a book and I don’t think something will work for my audience, I check with the author (because my contract and current translation ethics say I should) and then I change it. The better a relationship I have with an author and the more I know about the subject matter, the less I ask and the more I just put on my author hat. When I hit a bit of poetry or song lyrics in a novel, I almost always have to create something completely new that serves a similar purpose. When I see weak character development that might have been good enough in Finland but won’t cut it in the UK, I do my best to improve it. If I don’t translate creatively, my final product will suck and people won’t buy it because it won’t accomplish the same purposes as the original work, which was created for a different audience than my audience. What “translation” means is and has always been completely and utterly situational. What JS seems to have meant by the word certainly has relevance for these conversations, but since we don’t believe or claim that his genius was at the heart of the process, his views are not the final word. He didn’t know any of the languages he claims to have translated from, so he is an unreliable witness and wouldn’t have known if what he saw on the page (plates, papyri) and what he dictated to his scribe “matched” or not.

    My opinion about the BoA? I think JS revealed something earlier that the materials he had were derived from. Somehow he was able to see behind the materials he had, the same way I see echoes of the original text behind any translation I read even when I don’t know the source language. But that’s just my guess. I like the content of the Book of Abraham so much that I don’t really care.

  8. Whitfield
    March 28, 2020 at 1:11 am

    SDS, thanks for the insightful reply and the thought-provoking post.

    Owen, I’m a bit confused by your comment. For one, I’m not actually convinced that translation can be as loose as you’re saying it can be. I’m fairly sure that if I were to take any of many different translations of Harry Potter in whatever language and plug it into Google translate that we would find a rendering that is somewhat similar to the original English. Different in tone and style, yes. But the content, structure, and organization would still be there. I’m fairly sure I could sit down and read the original English side by side with the translation and mostly find English words, expressions, and phrases corresponding with those in the translation. There are phrases that are difficult to convey in another language, sure. But I’m pretty sure that the the translator will choose one word for “wand” and wherever the word “wand” appears in the English version it will appear in the translation. To say the translator is an author seems like a huge stretch. A sort of “author” of style at best, but creating content of structured ideas is really what makes the author, not just slightly modifying style of an already existing text.

    Second, if we are to accept that translation can come to the point where the translator is putting on an “author hat” as you say, then doesn’t that imply that Joseph Smith can be regarded as an author of the Book of Abraham? If so, doesn’t that undermine what church leaders have long said about Joseph Smith? I thought they were trying to avoid calling him an author who created scripture from his own thoughts. Isn’t that a give-away to the critics who have long accused Joseph Smith of just making stuff up?

  9. Mark
    March 28, 2020 at 9:21 am

    I too, just can’t get behind the idea that JS revealing something “behind the materials” is an acceptable definition of translation. I wish I could, it would sure make a lot of troubling thoughts go away.

  10. ReTx
    March 29, 2020 at 1:15 am

    Me as well. Makes me scratch my head a bit because even under Whitfield’s description of translating novels, there’s still more connective tissue between the original and the translation than there are changes. From what I can tell, there is little connective tissue between the papyri and the BofA. Nothing that has been written so far has bridged that gap for me.

    Right now, in common-usage English, translate is not a synonym for catalyst. Maybe it will be someday, but to argue the BofA is a translation because it is a catalyst just makes no sense to me.

  11. p
    March 29, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Finally, perhaps, I find Jos Smith’s temporal contiguousness with Byron, Keats, Shelly and Coleridge interesting. What is inspiration? What is genius? What is the source? Is there a “source” per se – because all 5 individuals were brilliantly creative. The “simple farm boy” portraits of Jos are wholly false. This man was an American genius first & foremost. This does not necessarily obviate his prophetic role.

  12. rickpowers
    March 30, 2020 at 12:18 am

    So, in this corner, wearing red trunks and weighing in at 250 lbs., is the world-champion Conceptual Puuurrist! And in the other corner, wearing blue trunks and also weighing in at 250 lbs., is the challenger and relative new-comer Prophetic Imaginaaation! This could be the battle of the pre-millennium. Conceptual Purist, while having faced tough opponents in the past – particularly in the years 1912 and the late 1960’s – still has the backing of the faithful community and establishment even though he is getting a little flabby with age. On the other hand, Prophetic Imagination – with his new trainer Terryl Givens (who, by my count, refers to his name at least a half-dozen times in his new book) – is a younger and more provocative challenger.

    In the past, Conceptual Purist has fought hard against such challengers as Plagiarist, Deceiver, and Dan Vogel’s favorite Pious Fraud.
    Only time will tell how this battle will play out in the ring. It should be a great bout.

  13. Whitfield
    March 30, 2020 at 2:12 am

    rickpowers, I’m not too sure there is a battle between conceptual purists and prophetic imaginationists. I think the latter is actually fighting a larger battle with skeptics, and is actually on the same side as the former. In order to fight this battle against skeptics, prophetic imaginationists oddly throw conceptual purists under the bus by trying to lump skeptics together with them. The aim is to accuse the skeptics of thinking in a black-and-white and unsophisticated manner like the conceptual purists and not considering Mormonism through any sort of nuanced prism. In so doing prophetic imaginationists attempt to claim that they have the most intellectual argument when it comes to Mormon truth claims. The problem is sometimes that in defending Mormon truth claims by nuance and qualification, they unwittingly cede a lot of ground to skeptics and push a narrative that doesn’t quite square with what authorities are saying. Even sometimes forgetting that they aren’t the authorities about what Mormons are supposed to defend as true. That would be the actual brethren. Too often I see prophetic imaginationists venturing off into a seemingly relativist narrative about truth. But the brethren seem to reject relativism and emphasize certainty in the church’s truth claims.

  14. Whitfield
    March 30, 2020 at 11:40 am

    p, you’re right. Point being that many of the defenders of the church are often so focused on battling skeptics and any assertions that particular truth claims are false that they neglect to come up with reasons why the truth claims are true. Most of the defense narratives about the Book of Abraham seem to be aimed at problematizing skepticism of it rather than providing clear and concise answers as to what we are to believe about the Book of Abraham and evidence for truth claims about it. Plus defenders of the Book of Abraham tend to posture that they are independent thinkers about the topic. The only reason that they defend the Book of Abraham is because that is what Mormon tradition dictates. If President Nelson announced that after prayer and revelation that the Book of Abraham was not true doctrine or scripture, I have every reason to believe that all believing scholars would immediately stop defending it.

  15. Blake Ostler
    March 30, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    Whitffeld:” If President Nelson announced that after prayer and revelation that the Book of Abraham was not true doctrine or scripture, I have every reason to believe that all believing scholars would immediately stop defending it.” Please forgive me if think that kind of comment is just bunk. Many defend it because they see it as defensible –and I am one of them. I have my own take (see my post on Jonathan Green’s OP. I am a bit surprised that there is all of this confusion about the relation between the papyri and the Book of Abraham. Joseph Smith gave us facsimiles and explained how they are related to the text of the book. Joseph did not give us the text of the Sen Sen papyri that he possessed and I suggest that he did not get his descriptions wrong in the least as an explanation as to how these facsimiles relate to Abraham and the text he gave us.

  16. Whitfield
    March 31, 2020 at 3:30 am

    Blake, I read your comment on Jonathan’s post. I did not find it particularly clear. And it leaves me with more questions than clarification. Joseph Smith created facsimiles that inspired him to have a revelation, and elements of which he got correct, but didn’t actually translate whatever appears to be Egyptian text on the facsimiles? What purpose did the facsimiles actually serve? Was it to correctly represent the papyri? That can’t be it. Facsimile 1 is not a correct drawing of the original papyri (from what we can confidently assume when comparing the papyrus with other myriad Egyptian papyri and art) and is filled in differently from parts of the papyri that are missing. Was it to inspire a revelation? Well, you seem to partly reject catalyst theory. But if that was the case, then why bother getting the papyrus and publishing facsimiles of it? Why not just claim that he had a revelation that Abraham said this or wrote these words a long time ago? It is almost as if you are trying to place your argument in such a position as to allow you to pivot easily to new positions depending on how the tides of the church narrative on the BOA go. You seek to have some distinction from the other intellectual defenders of the BOA, and then you make sure, as other intellectual defenders do, to not say anything that might be construed as running counter to the official church narrative. If the church leaders deemphasize the facsimiles, then you’re set. Part of your argument deemphasized them anyway. If church leaders continue to emphasize the facsimiles, then you’re set as well.

    I have a hard time believing that the church’s long defense of the Book of Abraham doesn’t play a significant role in influencing your defense and other believing intellectuals’ defense of the Book of Abraham. It isn’t as if you have arrived at your position independently without any of the stringent social dynamics that Mormon culture imposes upon its own. You’ve long written not to actually convince non-Mormon scholars of the validity of your argument, which would be a much more worthy goal, but only to set up a fence to make questioning Mormons think twice about rejecting the church’s truth claims. It is only in that area where your writings about the BOA have any sort of relevance. There is no way that what you or other believing intellectuals have written about the Book of Abraham would pass muster in any non-Mormon circles. It is a maze of unending nuance. A bottomless pit, if you will. And nuance not meant to enlighten and clarify, but nuance meant to obfuscate. The goal is not to enhance the understanding of the questioning member, but make that member confused and overwhelmed and cause them to throw up their hands and say, “it’s just too complex, I’ll just focus on the simple answers that the church leaders give me.”

  17. Blake Ostler
    March 31, 2020 at 12:12 pm

    Whitfiled: I believe that you are not correct about what would pass muster. I have shared with you what I arrived at after long study. So your musings and suggestions of motives about why I take the position I do are just erroneous — and frankly way off the mark. The purpose of the facsimiles is clear: they provided both content for the story and an illustration of what is being discussed in the text – in the same way that the authors of the Apocalypse of Abraham and Testament of Abraham used these same Egyptian documents. Not only would such identifications pass scholarly muster but there have been numerous scholarly articles and books addressing how these Egyptian texts were used in relation to Abraham in the Testament of Abraham and Testament of Abraham.

    With respect of Fac. #1, I do not believe that it is at all clear that it was restored incorrectly. First, we have the original facsimile and only the part above the hand is missing. Perhaps the officiating priest it should have an Anubis head — but it is irrelevant because a preist wore an Anubis mask and so saying that the figure is a priest is totally accurate. I contest the assertion that the Horus Hawk should be a ba’ spirit. So the Fac. is accurate. Moreover, the figure on the bier is certainly not being embalmed for a very simple reason. The feet are clearly striding forward and that is a uniform indication in Egyptian art that the figure is alive. The raised arms are also present and that is the hieroglyph for prayer just as Joseph Smith interpreted it. I grant that parts of Fac. #2 were likely not restored, but we know what is missing. Joseph Smith’s observations about the meaning of the figures is quite defensible.

    So why bother with the facsimiles and not the text? Because the facsimiles are the source of the revelation about Abraham and the content of the facsimiles are an illustration of the story. So your assertion that I somehow deemphasize the facsimiles is also erroneous. Rather, I place them in relation to the text and explain how they re related and why they are related to the story of Abraham told in the text.

    You are also wrong that somehow my view is driven by prior defenses and your supposed “stringent social dynamics” as to the text. My view is quite original and I published it in 1980 long before anyone had a similar view. Keven Barney has adopted this approach as well as Jared Ludlow since I stated it. As for your assertion that I am not writing to convince “non-Mormon scholars” but just to “set up a fence” is way off the mark. I am writing to persuade anyone who is willing to carefully consider the evidence. Your suggestion that I am writing just of obfuscate is not only erroneous, it is just an attribution of motives that demeaning and an ad hominem to avoid the evidence. Your comment is really just an ad hominem in its entirety. Can’t you do better than that?

  18. Whitfield
    March 31, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Blake,

    One correction. I did not know that you had had this view since the 1980s. I thought this was a relatively recent view of yours. My apologies.

    “I believe that you are not correct about what would pass muster.”

    You’ve had this view since the 1980s. Have you persuaded any non-Mormon experts in various fields related to the BOA (Egyptology, Religious History, US History, and others) that the BOA is worth serious consideration? I’ve never heard of anyone. I know you like to think of yourself as writing for a larger scholarly audience, but, really, your writings are mostly read by believing Mormons and geared towards them, and you know this.

    “So the Fac. is accurate.”

    Very hard to believe. Robert Ritner, a professionally trained and acclaimed Egyptologist with major clout in the Egyptologist community (which no believing Mormon Egyptologist who defends the Book of Abraham has), has written a whole book on the papyri associated with the facsimiles. They have nothing to do with the Book of Abraham.

    “Your comment is really just an ad hominem in its entirety”

    Well, grow some thicker skin. I didn’t intend it be. Look, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and I think your argument is based on insufficient evidence. To add to that, you belong to a belief community that is socially rigid, has a history of disciplining scholars who don’t represent the correct views (September Six), and has fostered and validated a culture that routinely reacts to loved ones leaving the church or pushing unorthodox views with shaming, ostracism, separation, and divorce, and in some cases loss of employment (there are thousands of stories published online attesting to these kinds of reactions ). Motives usually do not and should not matter. But on highly controversial views outside the mainstream, they do. I have studied the Armenian genocide, and it matters if you are an Armenian or a Turkish writer on the issue. Social dynamics in those cultures make it such. If a Turkish author denies the genocide or an Armenian author promotes the genocide it is expected. Turkish authors who have acknowledged the genocide have suffered social banishment and death threats, so those who write that it was a genocide know that they have to tread very carefully. What this has meant is that to make a compelling case on the issue, one needs to have copious amounts of evidence, lots of academic allies who are neither Turkish nor Armenian, and funding and support sources that are, again, neither Turkish nor Armenian. And such is the Book of Abraham. And I think that you’ve fallen short of the mark. Without non-Mormon allies (especially after having decades to gain such allies) and non-Mormon funding sources to study this, it seems like a lost cause. Even Brian Hauglid has denounced the defense narratives of Gee and Muhlestein as “toxic apologetics.” I don’t have high hopes for the future of the Book of Abraham defense narrative. I really think at some point the best the church could do is stop publishing the facsimiles and just say that the Book of Abraham was nothing more than a revelation like unto the D&C Sections and that Joseph Smith mistook the facsimiles to be something that they weren’t and that it can only be considered a translation of a text that he saw in a revelation. They’ve already sort of moved that direction, it is just a few steps away and then they’re there.

  19. Blake Ostler
    March 31, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    Whitfield: I don’t think that my noticing that your comments are an ad hominem is about me or my skin thickness; but about the soundness of your arguments and statements. Ad hominems are just bad form and prove nothing except that the person making them has extremely weak arguments. Your arguments continue to be ad hominem. You do not even address the evidence that I provided but continue to address irrelevant matters. Your argument has this fallacious form — well Galileo must have not been right because the vast majority of scholars in his day did not accept his views.

    The fact that non-Mormon scholars are not all convinced is not a good argument. It is the strength of the evidence that must be addressed. With due respect to Ritner (who is a decent Egyptologist except for the vicious and unprofessional way he responded to Gee) he does not have the background to assess the use of the Egyptian papyri in light of the pseudepigraphic literature. it is just beyond his competence and he does not even attempt to address it for the obvious reason that it way beyond his expertise. Only Mormons will take the time to see if there is something more there than the facial reading of the Egyptian text. Look at it this way, Ritner was the 4th person to translate the Sen Sen papyri and the facsimiles. His translation is like that given by faithful Mormons. What he does not address is the way that these same Egyptian sources were used to give content to and illustrate Abraham’s visions and experiences in pseudpigraphic texts. So your claim that his translation suggests that they have “nothing to do with the Book of Abraham” is just wrong and uninformed even after I have pointed out the evidence and rather clear connection.

    Just fyi I knew well an Italian Egyptologist (Bricarrello) who worked at the Turin Egyptian Museum who was persuaded by the Book of Abraham and by the kinds of arguments I gave. Perhaps it will just take some folks with egos a lot smaller than Ritner’s and with competence in other areas as well to see the point. (Unfortunately Fratello Bricarrello has passed away now; but he was well-loved in Torino).

    Your diversions to the Sept. 6 and so forth suggest to me that you are rather desperate to make a case by bringing up irrelevant and ad hominem points. If you cannot address the evidence I provided it appears that you attempt to divert attention by slandering “the community to which [I] belong.”

    Your reference to Brian Hauglid is also beside the point. He is dealing only with the KFP and related documents. He knows nothing of Egyptian, any ancient languages or the Jewish pseudepigrapha. He does not even attempt to address the issues that Gee and Muhlestein are addressing because he plainly lacks the competence to do so. Hauglid’s mere ad hominem statements about them is not a demonstration of what he is stating! I know what he said, but his mere opinion carries no wight because he is not competent to assess the evidence and hasn’t even attempted to do so. But he had not reason so do so in his editorial activities with the Joseph Smith Papers; he was just working with the documents and their presence in an early Mormon (1835-44) context. You should also note that the positions that Gee and Muhlestein argue for (and do so rather competently in my view) are not on point with the connection I point to between the Book of Abraham and the use of Egyptian iconography.

    I disagree with you about the future of the Book of Abraham. I do not put much stock in those who become soothsayers about the future like you have done here. For those who will look beyond the facial reading of the Egyptian texts and realize that Joseph Smith hit the nail on the head repeatedly in his explanations of the facsimiles and that his use of the papyri had ancient precedents and the text he gave us is very similar to those very ancient precedents, then maybe folks will not have the view that you do (at least to this point).

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