The review of the final day of the outreach to Mormons at the British Mormon Pageant 2013, written by Jason Thickpenny, made mention of the controversy surrounding the long discredited Mormon “scripture,” The Book of Abraham. The subject had come up in discussion with Mormons and Jason commented, “They had no idea about the fact it had been proven to be falsely translated.” There was little more on the subject, simply a link through to the CARMS website where further research might be carried out.
The typical Mormon response to criticism is nicely summed up in a short conversation Jason reproduced for us:
“Right at the end we spoke to a Lady who said that we are in error because we don’t accept that today we have a priesthood. I showed her Hebrews 1:1-2, to which she said ‘your not using the Kings James Bible’ – I showed the side of it, and then showed her the front – to which she then said ‘well…that bit must not have been translated right’……..’you young man need to read the book of Mormon’, I said ‘with all due respect why would I need to when God has already given me the answer in the bible?’ She left pretty sharp after that!!”
There is so much that might be said but I want you to note how easily a Mormon dismisses the Bible. It is an attitude you will come across time and again and, as we consider the Book of Abraham controversy, keep in mind that a typical Mormon will even dismiss the word of God in Scripture rather than consider their prophets might be wrong.
No, No, No
Ned Scarisbrick is a Mormon of long experience who began his podcast, The 4th Watch, in March 2013. It is an apologetics programme to help Mormons better understand their faith and, to this end, he has produced, “a compilation response to several articles posted at the anti-Mormon web site, ‘Mormonism Investigated UK’…” (I will have more to say next week about “anti-Mormons” and other epithets so beloved of Mormons)
By the time you come to the end of his podcast, where he deals with the BofA, you are used to his avuncular style and the simple Mormon side-step of answering evidence with unsubstantiated assertions. “No, no, no” he insists as he refutes each challenge with barely more than unadorned denial. As he warms to the subject of the BofA he begins by making an ad hominem attack on the source cited, i.e. CARMS.
“CARMS? You trust CARMS? Matt Slick? No, no, no. It’s just not so.” declares Ned. Well, I carry no brief for Matt Slick but this is not about Matt Slick, it is about the Bof A. Does Ned have anything compelling to say that might disprove what Matt Slick and many others have to say about the Bof A? Well let’s see what Ned comes up with as he commits almost every Mormon faux pas and in mere minutes.
Ad hominem attack: “CARMS? You trust CARMS? Matt Slick? No, no, no. It’s just not so.” declares Ned.
Assertion: “It has not been proven false.”
Appeal to Biased Source: Ned sends us to FAIR, the people for whom he is producing these podcasts.
Opinion: “He wants us to take his own view as fact,” Ned says of Jason’s post, before going on to share his own opinion (another assertion), “But it is not falsely translated.”
False Trail: He then asserts that what manuscripts we have today are nothing to do with the Bof A, as demonstrated in Dr Hugh Nibley’s book, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri. Again, hardly an unbiased source since Hugh Nibley was the Mormon church’s go-to man for any and every expert opinion. This is the same Hugh Nibley who is quoted in the December 1967 issue of The Daily Universe, pb.BYU, “The Papyri scripts given to the church do not prove the Book of Abraham is true…The church has been caught flat footed by this discovery.”
Rewriting History: “The church,” Ned insists, “has never claimed these have anything to do with the Book of Abraham.” Yet, in the Improvement Era of January 1968 we read,
“Perhaps no discovery in recent memory is expected to arouse as much widespread interest in the restored gospel as is the recent discovery of some Egyptian papyri, one of which is known to have been used by the Prophet Joseph Smith in producing the Book of Abraham.
Included in the collection of 11 manuscripts is one identified as the original document from which Joseph Smith obtained Facsimile 1, which prefaces the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Accompanying the manuscripts was a letter dated May 26, 1856, signed by both Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and their son, Joseph Smith, attesting that the papyri had been the property of the Prophet.”
It certainly sounds like it it has something to do with the writing of the BofA and the official church Improvement Era says as much.
Lingua Obscura: This is a classic Mormon defence in which the message is – We don’t really know. This stuff is very hard and, after all, translating stuff isn’t easy; culture, language, idiom, historical context, hard stuff like that. Who knows? Lets leave it to the experts to thrash it out, remembering no two experts will give the same translation, nobody agrees, its pretty hopeless really, so just let the Spirit work. Just believe.
So many problems with what Ned is saying here. First, wasn’t there some talk of living prophets? The mantle of Joseph and all that? So, why doesn’t the prophet cut through all this speculation and simply get the job done? Come out and explain what this is all about and put people’s minds at rest for goodness sake.
Secondly, if translation is so fraught with pitfalls and imponderable difficulties how come we have the Book of Mormon in so many languages? That is supposed to be an ancient document. The Bible certainly is an ancient document and we get by somehow in producing modern translations and in different languages that pretty much agree with each other. So where’s the fire?
Thirdly, if you ask any and every Egyptologist worth his salt they will all agree on one thing. The Book of Abraham is a fraud. Do you want evidence of this? Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry has written a helpful article. (I know Ned wants to say, “MRM? You trust MRM? Bill McKeever? No, no, no.” but maybe he should look at what Bill actually brings to the table before judging. After all, that’s what Mormons would ask for their message)
Bill’s article can be found here. What is interesting is the list of scholars and their unanimous opinion. Here are their comments:
“It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith’s impudent fraud.”
Dr. A.H. Sayce, Oxford, England
“I have examined the illustrations given in the ‘Pearl of Great Price.’ In the first place, they are copies (very badly done) of well known Egyptian subjects of which I have dozens of examples. Secondly, they are all many centuries later than Abraham.”
Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie, London University
“Joseph Smith’s interpretation of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.”
“The ‘Book of Abraham,’ it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication.”
Dr. Arthur C. Mace, Assist. Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, Dept. of Egyptian Art
“The plates contained in the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ are rather comical and a very poor imitation of Egyptian originals.”
Dr. John Peters, Univ. of Pennsylvania
“…the explanatory notes to his facsimiles cannot be taken seriously by any scholar, as they seem to be undoubtedly the work of pure imagination.”
Rev. Prof. C.A.B. Mercer, Ph.D., Western Theological Seminary, Custodian Hibbard Collection, Egyptian Reproductions.
“The Egyptian papyrus which Smith declared to be the ‘Book of Abraham,’ and ‘translated’ or explained in his fantastical way, and of which are three specimens are published in the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ are parts of the well known ‘Book of the Dead.’ Although the reproductions are very bad, one can easily recognize familiar scenes from this book.”
Dr. Edward Meyer, University of Berlin
“A careful study has convinced me that Smith probably believed seriously to have deciphered the ancient hieroglyphics, but that he utterly failed. What he calls the ‘Book of Abraham’ is a funeral Egyptian text, probably not older than the Greek ages.”
Dr. Friedrich Freiheer Von Bissing, Professor of Egyptology in the University of Munich
Of course, for any true believing Mormon no amount of unbiased, expert opinion will be enough. Remember Jason’s conversation and how ready the Mormon lady was to reject the Bible. But the American theologian John Gresham Machen observed:
“Because argument is insufficient, it does not follow that it is unnecessary. What the Holy Spirit does in the new birth is not make a person a Christian regardless of the evidence, but on the contrary, to clear away the mists from his eyes and enable him to attend to the evidence.” (quoted in John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, p.59)