There are 43 thoughts on “A Precious Resource with Some Gaps”.

  1. In case you missed it, the JSP team has issued a response to my article and to John Gee’s related article. See Matthew J. Grow and Matthew C. Godfrey, “The Joseph Smith Papers and the Book of Abraham: A Response to Recent Reviews,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 97-104.

    For my rejoinder to Grow and Godfrey’s welcome, thoughtful, but insufficient response, see “A Welcome Response, but Flaws Remain,”
    Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 105-112. For John Gees response, see “Taking Stock,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 113-118. Also note the comments to Grow and Godfrey’s article, where a couple of my questions are posed but still unanswered. The comments to my rejoinder also contain some interesting issues raised by an ally of Brian Hauglid that you can weigh. Still no meaningful response from Hauglid and Jensen, as far as I know, though I’ve heard that one of them and/or some on the JSP team have said the mistake Gee and I are making is thinking that volume should be about Egyptology or apologetics, which really is not what we’re thinking or saying, and even if true, would not undermine any of the specific issues we’ve raised. So I’m still hoping for more of a response.

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  3. One note: one of the most vital issues in debates over the Book of Abraham is the interpretation of the evidence regarding Book of Abraham Manuscripts A and B, two manuscripts that show signs of being recorded simultaneously by Frederick G. Williams and Warren Parrish, apparently (for much of the text) as someone dictated (possibly Warren Parrish for the benefit of Williams, though it could have been anybody else). The editors of the JSP volume clearly lean toward the claim from critics that these documents were dictated by Joseph Smith and represent fresh, live translation from the characters in the margins. The paper gets into the multiple reasons to question those assumptions and to recognize that they are copied from an existing manuscript. But left unanswered in the paper is the question of why these copies were made, and why they would begin with Abraham 1:4 rather than Abraham 1:1.

    A hypothesis that may address that question and clarify several related issues proposes that these two documents are not windows into the creation of the Book of Abraham, but rather windows into the creation of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, continuing the work that Phelps had begin in Manuscript C with Abraham 1:1-3. That’s why both Manuscript A and B begin with an enigmatic reference to the “second part of the fifth degree”, while the concepts and associated characters in those manuscripts are not present in the GAEL. Looks like they were intended to be used to further flesh out the obviously incomplete GAEL, but the project must have fizzled out before those characters and associated concepts from the existing translation were entered in the GAEL. See Feedback would be appreciated.

  4. Nibley’s research (as he would be the first to admit) was preliminary. I don’t think he needs to be cited if subsequent research has overtaken what he put out. Having said that, I view Nibley’s theories on the Book of Abraham in the same light as those he had for the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi codices, especially his observations about there being a consistent teaching of doctrine and rituals. When they [his writings and theories about the Scrolls and Codices being initiatory rites] came out, they were met with silence or scorn in the academic community. His observations about Egyptian practices, which he first published as a translation and commentary on the Egyptian Book of Breathings , (The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: an Egyptian Endowment, Deseret Book, 1975) were treated in a similar fashion. By the time a 2d Edition was published three decades later, things had changed.
    From the Foreword to the 2d Edition (p. xxii): “Nibley’s long work on comparative religion sensitized him to recognize certain ritual patterns, and thus he saw in the Book of Breathings an initiation text at a time when the only Egyptologists who thought that initiation existed in ancient Egypt were Walter Federn, Claas Bleeker, and Gertrud Thausing, who were definitely on the margins of the discipline. Since that time [three decades], the topic of initiation has become mainstream in the discipline, although some Egyptologists still dislike the term and the subject.”
    In that book, Nibley also took the original step of including Appendices containing excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [the Odes Of Solomon], an early Christian hymn known as the Pearl, the Pistis Sophia and quotations from an early Church Father, Cyril of Jerusalem. He finished with a few extracts from the Gospel of Philip [one of the Nag Hammadi Codices]. Nibley pointed out that the Book of Breathings had its predecessors in, “the Egyptian funerary and temple texts that go back to the beginning” which he dealt with in the main text of the book and, “after it comes an equally impressive succession of early Christian and Jewish writings that move on down through the patristic literature to our own day.” In other words, using his comparative religion experience, Nibley placed his view of Egyptian initiatory rites in a direct line from an older history to our day. Nibley’s readings of these documents and postulating their relationship to “ordinances” [rituals] are becoming more plausible in light of modern scholarship. Nibley was one of the first to view Egyptian funerary rites as “initiatory”. His additional view of the Pistis Sophia, the Books of Jeu, the Gospel of Philip and other early Christian finds as “initiatory rites” or “ordinances” as he called them, was also considered on the “fringes” when he first published them. Since 1997, however, modern scholars of these documents have moved in Nibley’s direction, as they did with the Egyptian example above. Erin Evans specifically identifies the Pistis Sophia and the Books of Jeu with Egyptian funerary rites and states that they are “initiatory” information passed to the living to prepare them for the afterlife. (See “The Books of Jeu and the Pistis Sophia as Handbooks to Eternity: Exploring the Gnostic Mysteries of the Ineffable, (Leiden, Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2015)”; Hugo Lundhaug, has the same view of the Gospel of Philip. Lundhaug also, “shows how the text presents salvation and transformation through rituals and text, . . ..” see Lundhaug, Hugo, “Images of Rebirth: Cognitive Poetics and Transformational Soteriology in the Gospel of Philip and the Exegisis on the Soul, (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2010)”. Van Os specifically wrote a long thesis arguing that Philip is an initiatory rite. “van Os, Bas, Baptism in the Bridal Chamber: The Gospel of Philip as a Valentinian Baptismal Instruction, (Goningen, Netherlands: University of Groningen, 2007) available”

    While there are significant differences between Nibley’s Latter Day Saint interpretations and these recent efforts, modern scholars are closer to Nibley than to the long-established academic tradition of denying the initiatory aspects of these rituals. Nibley’s genius is still intact in many ways, and, in fact, is substantiated by more and more scholarship. That’s not to say that he hasn’t been superseded in some respects, but he certainly should be part of the equation rather than summarily dismissed.

    • Yes, the mistake has so often been to portray Egyptian documents as funereal, as though they were only written to be deposited with the dead. That was never true in ancient Egypt.

      All those rites of passage were constantly reenacted by the living in sumptuous temples, the words even engraved on the temple walls. Jack Finegan said that “the myths and related traditions were kept alive in ritual and cult, and reflected in architecture and art” (Myth & Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989], 15, citing C. J. Bleeker, Egyptian Festivals: Enactments of Religious Renewal, Studies in the History of Religions 13 [Leiden: Brill, 1967], 11-12).

      The pharaoh and his people regularly engaged in ritual observances, and in grand festivals, just as the Hindus do in India today.

    • Terry, terrific comments, thank you. That’s a very valuable overview on how Nibley has continued to be relevant and even vindicated in many ways, while some of his work, as with almost any scholar, has become dated or significantly revised.

  5. I think this recent anecdote from Henry J. Erying, President of BYU-Idaho, to have great wisdom in it:

    A particularly unsettling challenge came when I was a young law clerk.

    A supervisor who knew of my Church membership told me that new research had invalidated the Book of Abraham. I was shaken by that accusation. But I felt confident in a secret weapon. My father had recently been called as a General Authority. I was sure that he would have arguments to counter those I faced at work.

    It was in such a state of confidence that I called my father on the phone. I described my situation and eagerly awaited his answer. I was sure that he would refute the accusations about the Book of Abraham. But his answer surprised me. He simply asked, “Have you read the Book of Abraham?”

    “Yes,” I replied.

    He asked, “How do you feel when you read it?”

    “Good,” I admitted.

    “What else do you need to know?” he asked.

    Of course, that phone conversation didn’t help me much at work. But for the last thirty years it has caused me to reflect on my testimony of the Book of Abraham and the other works of scripture revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith, especially the Book of Mormon.

    I cannot prove to other people the divinity of these books. But, as I read them, they repeatedly prove themselves to me, through a warm feeling . . .

    As helpful as scholarship often is, and as welcome as Jeff’s analysis is, this is the real way to know the BofA isn’t a 19th century fictional work created by Joseph in his ignorance.

    • The problem with this view is that those who reject a historical Book of Abraham also say it is good in the sense you outline, the way Job is good. There are lots of theories for the text of course, with the various catalyst theories requiring minimal Abraham on any of the papyri, but potentially restoring true narratives about Abraham. I suspect it’ll turn out to be a mix. I wouldn’t be surprised to find there’s a mix of authentic Abraham narrative from when Abraham was alive along with more flawed representations including perhaps from the 1st century (which is when the papyri roughly date to). There may then be 19th century expansions as well tying things into that.

      • Those who reject the Book of Abraham also reject the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants (and many the Bible also) for the same reasons. I don’t know as “problem” is the best way to label it, more like they simply but unfortunately dismiss God’s test–the Holy Spirit in response to sincere faith-filled prayer.

        All any good Latter-day Saint scholarship is meant to do is support what the Holy Spirit has already told them. When such scholarship doesn’t do that, it becomes irrelevant, or worse for some: faith-diminishing. In Jeff’s “good faith” reasoning, which is a charitable way to look at all this, we hope these editors are not approaching irrelevance or faith-diminishment. I would like to know more of what Boilermaker hinted at.

        • AMEN! Those BYU/LDS scholars who love the learning-of-the-world more than the revelations of God are real-time examples of what Jacob warned about in 2 Nephi 9:28.

          28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.

          • Sam, what about the BYU/LDS scholars who love the learning-of-the-world as well as the revelations of God. I don’t see those two things as incompatible. Joseph Smith taught that we should learn by study and by faith.

  6. Great review Jeff. Thank you for going the extra mile in your analysis. Just a few comments:

    First, I think we’d have to yield to Robin Jensen’s handwriting identification capabilities to determine who may have been the scribe for old documents. I believe he and his colleagues have seen enough of the old church history documents to be the best options available in this area.

    However, Dr. Hauglid’s insulting dismissal of any BoA transmission theory other than his current one seems to be antithetical to one of the purposes of academia and unfitting for someone of his academic background. And to publicly link elbows with critics who take pride in opposing the Church is problematic in the context of this project.

    Also, the dismissal of Nibley’s work with the equivalent of a hand wave tends to damage the credibility of the editorial work for a project with such promise.


    • I agree on deferring to Dr. Jensen on those issues. My primary comment on that regard was that the printed volume doesn’t explain how the handwriting analysis was done, so I would have preferred that, largely out of curiosity — it’s not a major issue.

      Agree on the dismissal of Nibley and the unjustified certainty expressed when a host of debatable assumptions are behind that illusory certainty. He may be right, but I think he’s overlooking some important issues and evidences.

  7. Jeff:

    Thanks for taking the time to ensure broad perspectives are considered. I am not a BofA expert and have only recently took an interest in trying to better understand its origins. I listened to the Maxwell Institute podcast with Jensen and Hauglid and was disappointed at the smug tone conveyed by Hauglid. I know next to nothing of the politics around the Maxwell Institute. I do know that Brother Hauglid has been publicly rubbing shoulders with some some very prominent antagonists of the church (i.e. Dan Vogel and John Dehlin). While that is his business, I am concerned that he is in a position where those influences could bias his views and I don’t believe the access he’s been given and the responsibilities he has should be taken lightly.

    We all have biases. Such is the human condition. I hope that your paper will cause folks to consider the biases some involved in this work could have.

    Please forgive my mentioning of names. I am not attempting to make any personal attacks. I do, however, feel it’s important to be mindful of these things. No need to comment in return (unless it’s to correct any inaccuracies I might have conveyed 🙂

    • Thanks for the note. There are surely many behind-the-scenes events that may have shaded some of the developments in this interesting story. Politics and interpersonal issues are rife in academia, with the perplexing Facebook statement mentioned in the paper perhaps being just one visible clue of unusual developments. But the issues here are bigger than just those of one person, and may reflect broader issues such as, perhaps, a drifting of the Maxwell Institute away from its roots. I say that not with an intent to blame — I think we should assume that all parties, Hauglid included, have acted in good faith. I think the same can be said for many of our critics, who sincerely believe they are just sharing facts and truth to help wake us up. But good faith and sincerity coupled with strong personal biases and major flaws in scholarship does not necessarily advance the cause of light and knowledge.

  8. Thank you very much for this insightful review. Not being a scholar I would not and will not be reading the book but appreciate knowing what was written and certainly hope those responsible take quick corrective action. Scholars, along with us ordinary folk, often make the mistake of focusing on the minutia and ignoring the preponderance of evidence.

    • Thanks, Steve. We are all subject to errors, fallacies, biases, etc. There are surely many errors in my paper and my views, so I welcome further feedback and hope to understand things more clearly in the future. Thank you for reading!

  9. Thank you for a careful review. You have done a great service. The assumptions the editors cling to flabbergast me. And where they lead are disheartening. Apparently, it is the editors’ view that it is logical for those who have a too simplified view of Joseph’s translating gift to leave the Church? Are these people simply “casualties of war”? It is not comforting for one of the editors to pooh pooh this by saying it’s not the fault of people who go ahead and leave. In fact, it is appalling. I am at a loss to understand why a scholar would not want to acknowledge their assumptions, point out alternatives, and endeavor to treat this complex topic with the careful attention it deserves. That is not apologetics (as if apologetics deserves to be smeared as one of the editors would have it). It is good scholarship. This book demands a second edition.

    • Thanks, Brett. The editors, however, may sincerely be seeking to share the simple truth that they feel is needed to have a nuanced approach to the Book of Abraham, but I fear they may not recognize the limitations of their perspective and the role that hidden biases may play. They may see the apologetic treatments of the Book of Abraham as so backward and foolish that it may be impossible for them to see the merits of such work, for some reason. Or perhaps they are right and I’m just missing a lot of key points due to my own biases. There’s more work and pondering to be done, and no need for anyone to get angry or up in arms. But there is a need for members to take a more intelligent approach in understanding our scriptures so that challenges to them can be handled in stride without shaking core components of a testimony.

      • Thank you. You are gracious in your response and work. I certainly don’t want to change the editors’ views and respect their right to see things as they do. BUT, I do think it more than incumbent that they recognize assumptions when they are assumptions and report them as such. I am not fearful of members making good choices when armed with the full context of a given situation. But if a person who understand an assumption to be a fact when it is not, or a belief as a fact when it is one of several possible (albeit not equal) alternatives, then the ability to choose adequately decreases. At least it seems that way to me. Editorial choices in all its forms result in unavoidable consequences. Again thank you for your time and input. It is appreciated.

  10. Thank you for your remarkable work, Jeff. As always, you are one of the best. Thank you for your thorough investigation. The anonymous commenters on your blog may baselessly deride your scholarship, but in my eyes your work completely vindicates you.

    In my experience, those who worship at the altar of objectivity tend to over-correct for their own biases, leading to a final product with less balance than its well-intentioned creator hoped for. I’m grateful for Interpreter, FAIR, and other organizations who recognize the limits of the quest for objectivity and provide the balance so needed in today’s dialogue.

    • Thank you, Hoosier. You’re too kind, though. There are defects in the paper pointed out above, and undoubtedly more to come, which is one of the most important reasons to publish: to bring in many other perspectives that can help us eventually understand things more correctly. So I really appreciate feedback here and on my blog to point out errors or alternate ways of looking at the data.

      You make an interesting observation about over-correcting for one’s own biases to be objective. That may really explain some of the puzzling things we occasionally see from scholars who are also faithful members of the Church. Trying a little too hard to be objective. I wish some our critics had the same compulsion!

  11. Mr. Lindsay. My name is Ed Goble. We have talked over messaging a little through Linkedin, and I left some messages on your blog. I submitted a paper to Interpreter last fall, only to have it fall on deaf ears, and withdrew it. I tried to bring my paper to your attention. My blog has been up for a number of years now. There are a number of factual errors in this paper, that could have been avoided, if only the reviewers and yourself had been aware of my research, or paid attention to my research. You claim that many of the characters are not Egyptian, but that they are derived from other sources. This is not exactly true, but many of the characters are derived from “dissections” of Egyptian characters from the Hor papyrus, as the GAEL explains. I have explained the derivations of the Egyptian number characters on my blog as being derived from Hieratic and Indo-Arabic, and the vocalizations as being derived from Sino-Tibetan and Indo-Iranian, pointing to an connection to the Himalayas for some reason with Egypt. I also explained to you recently how the Chalsidonhiash (Zakioanhiash) character is the Egyptian letter I (the reed character), and that it is a visual pun with the Sumerian name for Land of the Chaldees being “Land of Reeds” or Kiengi in Sumerian. And that the Chalsidonhiash name is a variant of the Kassite place name Karduniash that was pointed out by John Tvednes. Then there is the comma-looking character, which is the rope coil/quail character in Egyptian which you suppose is not Egyptian, which is a pun on the name of Abraham, as I explain in my paper. While there is some merit to some things here that you present, other problems could be avoided had your reviewers brought your attention to my paper, or to my research on my blog so there could be proper factual balance in YOUR paper, had the existence of my research merely been shown to you prior to your writing this. But Interpreter and FAIRMormon and apologists on the Mormon Dialogue board have demonstrated over and over again how they refuse to take my research seriously even though they are quite well aware of it, and how I and my partner Vincent Coon have solved much of the problem that we face with how the Hor Papyrus is linked to the Book of Abraham, and how my research explains why Hauglid is right about Joseph Smith’s being the mastermind of the GAEL project. Failure to adequately understand my presentations and argument has led to a lop-sided understanding of facts. I embrace the truth in both Hauglid’s understanding and Nibley’s understandings, and my theories bring them both together in one whole. Failure to understand properly what I am saying, and refusal to acknowledge the value of my research in this puzzle will continue to cause a state of affairs where people continue to lose faith on this matter, where they think that there is only truth on one side or the other, instead of bringing all truth together for proper understanding. Once again, I invite Interpreter scholars to take me and my research seriously, and we can fix this state of affairs. All of you have been notified in various ways over and over again to its existence, and the fact that you ignore me and pretend that I do not exist doesn’t make me or the facts that I have found cease to exist, even though in some of your minds, you have imagined up for yourselves a magical, fanciful universe in which I and my research do not exist.
    Thank you.

    • I have followed your arguments and read what you have wrote. I’m not an expert, but i appreciate your contributions to the discussion.

    • Thank you, Ed. I relied on JSPRT4’s “Comparison of Characters” section in determining which characters were on the key papyrus fragment and which were not. It seems that some of the characters not associated with the key papyrus in the volume might be hieratic after all, such as the reed symbol you discuss, or at least a possible version of it, which you point out was on the key papyrus fragment originally but has since flaked off. The relationship you propose between that character, the reed character, and the land of Chaldea is intriguing and may have merit.

      The argument that the hieratic symbol corresponding to the sound “W” (Gardiner G43) can be a pun for Abraham seems way too convoluted, though (referring to You go from the hieratic for “W” to the quail chick hieroglyph behind the symbol, pronounced chennu, and then find a related sound in Akkadian meaning “to coil, to crouch, cower or squat,” then link it to a cognate in Hebrew meaning “to bend the knee,” and then translate that meaning back to Egyptian to get a word pronounced “abrek or abrech,” which is said to be a pun on the name Abraham. That’s hard to follow even when it’s explained in detail. Would a sharp multilingual reader really be able to make all those connections and think of Abraham when seeing the hieratic letter for W? Seems like too many degrees of freedom here, too many steps, making it possible to see all sorts of connections that might not be intended. But if there are related real examples of this kind of punning adorning the margins of Egyptian documents elsewhere, that would be fascinating. Or if the Hebrew word for quail chick was similar to “Abraham,” that would be a more plausible pun. Having to translate back and forth, going from meanings to sounds to cognates to new meanings and sounds is just too much for me, but I’m no linguist.

      If I understand correctly, you propose that an original Book of Abraham scroll had margins adorned with punning characters, the same characters in the margins of the Book of Abraham manuscripts. I like the idea that there could be puns or relationships between those characters and some key words in the corresponding text, but are there examples of other Egyptian or even Hebrew documents using this kind of punning system to adorn the margins of a manuscript?

      I also think there may be merit to your thoughts on the word iota. There’s more I need to digest, but I appreciate you calling my attention to some interesting work. I’ll take another look. Thanks!

  12. Incisive, erudite work that may eventually prove historic, Jeff. Appreciated the balance between the nuanced, quite generous, commentary and plain speaking when the latter was warranted, complete with names, dates and quotes.
    For me it raised questions that were not within your purview to answer: how was such extensive bias – present in bucket loads – not picked up and addressed by editors and project administrators? What does that say about the oversight of the Historian’s Office?
    Obviously it raised, again, the role of the Maxwell Institute in providing multiple forums for that bias without any balance or correction, so soon after Elder Holland’s pivotal address to the MI about it’s role and direction.
    And, if we needed it, it is another reminder that the sophistry in sheep’s clothing that 3 Nephi 14:15 warns of is alive and well among us.
    Warren Aston

    • Thanks, Warren. There are multiple ways to look at these issues. I suggest we all hesitate to assume that those things that I see as bias, if real, represent bad faith actions. I don’t think anybody is deliberately trying to undermine testimonies, and in fact they may be striving to build more nuanced testimonies based on a more liberal, healthy (in their view) understanding of the Restoration. However, even with sincere and decent efforts to pursue scholarship, if one prematurely closes down consideration of other views for being backward or moronic without giving other viewpoints a fair shake, one’s own errant assumptions and biases can easily be missed. Sometimes one person with unrecognized bias can influence others or select other like-minded people to be part of a team that looks diverse but actually is somewhat monolithic. I’ve also found that politics and feuds too often play a role in academia, something that can be really surprising to outsiders, and that could be another dimension to consider.

      Whatever the cause, the issue of bias may seem clear once it has been pointed out, but intellectually honest and highly intelligent reviewers looking at the details on each page and paragraph might never recognize the cumulative signs of trouble such as a failure to mention Nibley (who would even consider such a thing under normal conditions and consciously look for such statistics?). Further, unless those reviewers have been paying attention to what some critics say (few LDS people worry about those details), they might not recognize how significant and harmful some of the editorial positions might be, such as judging the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts to represent Joseph Smith’s live dictation as new scripture was being generated, or how much was being omitted in the decision to focus on the nineteenth century only in explaining the origins of the Book of Abraham. I don’t feel we should be looking to assign blame to the fabulous team in charge of this project. I think it’s possible everyone acted in good faith, the two editors included, but a combination of subtle secular influences, errant assumptions, interpersonal politics, group think, the aura of authority from some scholars, and other factors contributed to a marvelous volume with some painful gaps. These things happen. The issue, in my opinion, is not who to blame, but what steps we can take to build a healthier approach to the Book of Abraham, and perhaps how to strengthen the Maxwell Institute so that there is more sensitivity to some of the concerns raised. I suggested an addendum of some kind in my article, but now I think that would be problematic and won’t fly — it would raise a host of sensitive issues and look like a reprieve to people who have done a wonderful job, in spite of the serious gaps.

      Actually, what I would most like would be a new discovery of some important relevant documents that help settle many issues currently left to speculation or inference. Such a find could require an update to the documents published, and could be a chance to bring in a variety of other relevant documents that we already have, with some added scholarly perspectives that could truly advance studies of the Book of Abraham. Wishful thinking, I know, but given the painful confusion over the Book of Abraham, it would be a welcome tender mercy in this era.

      I would welcome other thoughts.

      • I would also suggest that the Historian’s Office can’t be expected to question minute details of trusted historians who are obviously doing a terrific job in fulfilling their primary task of making key documents available for the world to use. That was done wonderfully with meticulous care in photography and transcription, etc. It is in the secondary aspects of the work, the commentary and footnotes, where we have subtle but significant problems. I would not expect those doing high level management of the project to notice those issues unless they were also dealing with the attacks on the Book of Abraham from outside critics and knew what issues were vital topics. I think it’s best to assume good faith and competent efforts at all levels, but the result in this case is frustrating.

  13. An excellent review, Jeff, distinguished by some brilliant sleuthing.

    As to the notion that Joseph and his friends were wholly ignorant of Champollion, Young, and Akerblad, please note what we said in our 1985 FARMS Preliminary Report “Martin Harris’ Visit With Charles Anthon: Collected Documents on Short-Hand Egyptian,” and in our summary FARMS Update for May 1985, reprinted in John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The F.A.R.M.S. Updates (Provo: FARMS/SLC: Deseret Book, 1992), 73-76, online at ,

    “. . . in 1831 W. W. Phelps wrote a letter in which he reported that Anthon had translated the Book of Mormon characters and declared them to be ‘the ancient shorthand Egyptian’. This is a most telling clue, for where else, except from Anthon, would Harris and hence Phelps have gotten this precise phrase, the phrase shorthand Egyptian? It was not part of Harris’s environment or education. Indeed, the phrase is so singular that it appears only this one time in [early] LDS history.
    “On the other hand, this precise term was known to scholars, Anthon included. In 1824, Champollion had used an equivalent term, ‘tachygraphie’, in his landmark Préçis du système hieroglyphique des anciens Égyptiens (a copy of which Anthon owned), to describe hieratic Egyptian script. In June 1827, this book was reviewed in the American Quarterly Review, calling hieratic Egyptian script ‘short-hand’ Egyptian. Anthon knew this review: He owned a copy and he cited it in his Classical Dictionary. Anthon would have read this review only months before Harris’s visit.
    “Thus it becomes highly probable that Phelps indeed heard this peculiar phrase from Harris, who in turn got it from Anthon, the only person involved who was likely to have known it. Anthon probably mentioned shorthand Egyptian because he was struck by certain obvious similarities in the transcript to hieratic or demotic Egyptian.”

    In his 1834 Mormonism Unvailed, pages 269-274, E. D. Howe explored whether “reformed Egyptian” and “short hand Egyptian” were perhaps much the same thing, and presented letters from both Anthon and Phelps for our consideration. It is absurd to suggest, as Givens does, that Joseph Smith and the Brethren were not conversant with what Champollion and others had done, or that they were unable to understand how a space-saving Egyptian logogram could be translated with one or two words (not entire paragraphs).

    • Fascinating information, thanks! I note that use of the word “shorthand” in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is generally strongly linked to an alphabet-like, phonetic system for representing words efficiently. The phrase “Egyptian shorthand” would seem, to some degree, to convey a sense that the writing system can phonetically represent words, but in a condensed, efficient way.

    • It’s worth noting that Champollion’s work was often discussed in the papers and even relative to Joseph’s papyri. For instance here’s the Whig standard with a discussion from April, 1844. In criticizing the papyri work they finish with “there is no Champollion or Deron among the Mormons of Nauvoo to convict their prophet of fraud…” The idea that people weren’t raising Champollion’s ideas in the 1840’s seems difficult to accept. Admittedly that issue is obviously after the extant BoA translation. However there are newspapers from the 1830’s talking about Champollion’s work on the Rosetta stone. “ this latter age, when Champollion has deciphered the hierogliphies of Egypt…” (North-Carolinian Oct 24, 1840) The Maumee Express (Nov 18, 1837) talking about the discovery of the Rosetta stone talks of “the discoveries of Dr. Young and Champollion concerning hieroglyphic language of Egypt, originated in a study of the inscriptions on it.”

      We also know that Sallier in hyping his papyri (he sold the Joseph Smith papyri) apparently invoked Champollion for the sale and this was discussed in papers.

      “M. Champollion jr who is about to embark at Marseilles for Egypt having inspected a valuable collection of ancient manuscripts in the possession of M. Sallier, an inhabitant of Ai, has discovered two rrolls of papyrus relating “The History and wards of the Reign of Sesostes the great.” These manuscirpts are dated the ninth year of that Monarch’s reign. Sesostirs Rhames or the Great, according to the calculations of the German chronologists lived in the time of Moses and was the son, as is supposed, of the Paroah, who perished in the Red Sea, while pursuing the Israelites.

      This remarkable document, which, after a lapse of more than three thousand years, M. Champollion has discovered, as by a miracle, may contain details the interest of which will be readdily imagined, on the sense of the grandest incidents of Sacred Hisstory. On the 2cd inst. the Acadamical Society of Aix received the report of M. Sallier relative to this discovery. A third roll has also been found, treating either on atronomy or astrology but more probably on both these sciences combined. It has not yet been opened: but it is hoped that it will throw some additional light upon the conceptions of the heavenly system entertained by the Egyptians and Chaldeans, the first people who devoted themselves to that study” (Delaware Journal, Oct 10, 1828)

      I raise these not to suggust Joseph must have read them but merely to point out that Champollion’s work was well known and even used by Sallier to sell his work. It is unlikely Joseph wouldn’t have heard in at least a vague way of Champollion’s discoveries.

    • Dennis, many thanks! While digging into the issues here, there were several times when I recalled some of your previous comments cautioning against some of the things that even popular and respected LDS scholars sometimes teach. There are complex issues here and a diverse set of viewpoints to consider on issues that aren’t crystal clear, but I think it’s fair to say that the realm of scholarship and the realm of faith are healthiest and most useful when they are thoroughly blended and emulsified to form a stable, compatible mixture.

  14. Thanks, Jeff, for your thoughtful analysis and addition to the conversation about all the issues. I appreciate your thoughts about W. W. Phelps and his desire to learn about the “pure language” along with characters that predated the arrival of the papyri in Kirtland. You cited my biography of Phelps, but gave my name erroneously as “Bruce Orden.” My surname has Dutch origins and consists of two words. My name as printed on the book is Bruce A. Van Orden.

    • Ouch, so sorry! But the staff at The Interpreter have already made that correction. Finding your book and the valuable information about W.W. Phelps only happened in final later stages of preparing the paper in responding to some comments from reviewers, making it easier for my blunder to slip through. A shame, though, because I’ve heard your name many times and recently listened to a great podcast you gave, so I really should have been more accurate with your name. Thanks for such a great contribution in understanding the fascinating W.W. Phelps!

      • Thanks, Jeff. Great to be associated with you as fellow researcher and friend. God bless you in all your labors and with your family. For the staff, footnote #83 still needs to be changed from “Orden” to “Van Orden.”

  15. I am so impressed with Lindsay’s further investigation of the topic. Rather than laying down and accepting the somewhat obvious conclusions the editors provide on the “The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts”, he has a) called them on some of their assumptions, b) done the further digging they should had done, c) and found the weaknesses in some of their arguments that must call into question their depth of research/scholarship and/or particular agenda. I will be printing this review out and including it with the volume.

    Thank you, Jeff, for your analytical skills, faithfulness and courage to say (and do) something.

    • Thank you for reading and for the kind words! My viewpoints here are not definitive, of course, and may have many flaws. But I hope I am at least raising questions and topics for further investigation. I hope that those seeking to understand the Book of Abraham and LDS scripture in general will recognize that even very bright scholars can take unbalanced approaches that can lead unintentionally lead to some serious errors and unsupported conclusions that may be harmful to others. Rather than relying on the authority of scholars, the tools available to us today (including the marvelous tools of the JSP Project) allow us to explore issues on our own and allow any of us to raise questions when there appear to be gaps.

      I am grateful to the Interpreter Foundation for being willing to risk publishing this rather controversial paper, one that I regret feeling compelled to write. I can take no pleasure in offer criticism of such a marvelous work as JSPRT4, a Church publication representing diligent work from so many and a bold, inspired vision. But perhaps some things in this paper needed to be said.

    • As I understand things, Hauglid has long been supportive of a nineteenth century environment or, perhaps we could say, social constructionist model (somehow inspired nonetheless) and does not accept the BofA as an authentic ancient document, or that the text of the BofA is a translation of an actual ancient text Joseph had in his possession.

      Hence, the noted “unwarranted assumptions” and unbalanced nature of the presentation of evidence. The seemingly endless doubt, skepticism and stubborn desire to reduce the BofA from that which Joseph himself claimed for it and the Church has always taught it to be, including among some of the church’s own intelligentsia, seems to have a long half-life.

      It does contain perhaps the deepest and most profound, expansive doctrine of the restoration, and so this, perhaps, has a connection to the perennial desire by so many to show it to be less than it is.

      • Thanks, Loran, for a valuable perspective.

        I’ve been awaiting some kind of substantial response from the editors. Jensen did make a comment on my Mormanity blog that the JSP team has carefully considered all of my comments and determined that no mistakes have been made and that nothing needs to be corrected in their work. But no response from the volume editors to any of the specific issues that I’ve seen. I’ve heard rumors that Hauglid or others on the team have told people that John Gee and I fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the volume because we think it should be about Egyptology or apologetics or something, and we get a touch of that kind of dismissal in the official response finally offered by the JSP team here at The Interpreter. See Matthew J. Grow and Matthew C. Godfrey, “The Joseph Smith Papers and the Book of Abraham: A Response to Recent Reviews,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 97-104. They declare that I “significantly misunderstand the purposes and conventions of the project.” In one of the very few specific issues they address, my complaint about the complete neglect of the most prolific and influential scholar on the Book of Abraham, the Joseph Smith Papyri, and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, Hugh Nibley, not cited once in over 1,000 footnotes while some critics of the Book of Abraham are cited or mentioned, they assure us that my view is an inappropriate call for historiography, reflecting my misunderstanding of the purpose and scope of the project. I think that is a serious misunderstanding on their part, but it’s not fair to expect leaders over the JSP Project to dig into the details of my lengthy response or even to have time to understand it. That should have been handled by the volume editors.

        For my rejoinder to Grow and Godfrey’s welcome, thoughtful, but insufficient response, see “A Welcome Response, but Flaws Remain,”
        Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship
        34 (2020): 105-112. For John Gees response, see “Taking Stock,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 113-118. Also note the comments to Grow and Godfrey’s article, where a couple of my questions are posed but still unanswered.

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