The Joseph Smith Papers and the Book of Abraham:
A Response to Recent Reviews

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Abstract: The Joseph Smith Papers welcomes engagement with its work and gratefully acknowledges the important work of various scholars on the Book of Abraham. Recent reviews in the Interpreter of Revelations and Translations, Volume 4, however, significantly misunderstand the purposes and conventions of the project. This response corrects some of those misconceptions, including the idea that the transcript is riddled with errors and the idea that personal agendas drive the analysis in the volume. The complex history of the Book of Abraham can be understood through multiple faithful perspectives, and the Joseph Smith Papers Project affirms the value of robust, respectful, and professional dialogue about our shared history.


[Editor’s note: We are pleased to present this response to two recent book reviews in the pages of Interpreter. Consistent with practice in many academic journals, we are also publishing rejoinders from the review authors, immediately following this response.]


The Interpreter recently published two reviews of a volume released last year by the Joseph Smith Papers Project: Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Documents.1 The volume reproduces the Book of Abraham manuscripts as well as the entire [Page 98]collection of extant documents associated with efforts by Joseph Smith and his associates to study the Egyptian language and translate ancient papyri. The volume provides, for the first time, high- resolution photographic facsimiles of all the relevant documents, along with a side-by-side transcription. We are proud to have published this volume.

The various volumes of The Joseph Smith Papers have received dozens of reviews over the years. The reviews have been very positive overall but not without critique. Following the tradition of academic scholarship, we have not responded to negative reviews. The reviews in the Interpreter by Jeff Lindsay and John Gee, however, appear to have misunderstood the goals and practices of the Joseph Smith Papers Project to such a degree that they have spread unfortunate misconceptions in various online discussions. Those misconceptions are serious enough that we feel compelled to supply clarification.

The reviews make two serious arguments to which we will respond: that an agenda that could be harmful to the faith of Latter-day Saints permeates this volume of The Joseph Smith Papers and that the book is riddled with technical errors. We reject both characterizations.

Does a Personal and Faith-Destroying Agenda
Permeate the Book?

The process of writing each volume of The Joseph Smith Papers ensures that no one personal viewpoint dominates any book. Each volume is prepared by a large team of professional historians, editors, and source checkers. Our volume on the Book of Abraham was then reviewed by at least six scholars in the Church History Department; the Joseph Smith Papers National Advisory Board, which includes seven experts in documentary editing, Latter-day Saint history, and religious studies, and at least eight external scholars, including Egyptologists and historians of the nineteenth century, both Latter-day Saints and not. In addition, the book was reviewed by a panel of General Authorities and approved for publication by Church leaders.

As is our practice with every volume, the team working on Volume 4 consulted the work of numerous scholars of various faiths and areas of expertise. Some of these scholars answered questions throughout the volume’s development, and some provided crucial feedback during a month-long review period. As we write in our acknowledgments, “Their expertise and insights improved the quality of our work.”2 While [Page 99]our task was primarily to present and analyze the documents in the volume in their nineteenth-century historical context, our work was made better by four Egyptologists — including John Gee — who helped us understand the ancient context of the papyri and other matters. We respect the expertise of our Egyptologist colleagues and acknowledge their significant contributions to scholarship on the Book of Abraham. We are only the latest in a long line of scholars to work on the Book of Abraham, and we are grateful for and have learned from the work of those who have gone before us. No single discipline — and certainly no single scholar — holds all the answers to the complex questions raised by the Book of Abraham.

Our engagement with the work of Egyptologists did not start with their review of our manuscript. Throughout our work, we closely consulted published works by Egyptologists. Indeed, Volume 4 cites nine of John Gee’s own works — more than any other author. When we received proposed revisions from Gee and other Egyptologists during their review, we carefully considered each comment and gratefully incorporated many of them. On some topics, we do read the historical evidence in Joseph Smith’s journal and elsewhere as well as the textual evidence in the manuscripts differently than Gee does. For instance, we believe the evidence suggests that Joseph Smith translated portions of the Book of Abraham in Kirtland and then later in Nauvoo, while Gee asserts that all of the translation occurred in Kirtland. However, contrary to the assertions of both Lindsay and Gee that a particular perspective was “assumed” and those of others were “ignored,” we carefully weighed many perspectives before making such decisions — and we qualify our explanations in terms of their probability. It has been a rich and rewarding process to see the training and expertise of multiple fields come together to produce this complex and valuable resource.

The reviews by Lindsay and Gee suggest that the volume takes a particular view on the theological question of precisely how and when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham. Over time, Latter-day Saints have proposed two basic ways of thinking about the relationship between the Book of Abraham text and the various documents produced in Kirtland to understand the Egyptian language. The first approach suggests that Joseph translated the Book of Abraham first and then used that text to “reverse engineer” an understanding of the Egyptian characters on the papyri. The second approach suggests that Joseph and his associates first studied the ancient papyri, producing documents [Page 100]as they puzzled over the meaning of the characters on the papyri. The second approach suggests that, as a result of this study, Joseph received the text of the Book of Abraham by revelation. The dating of the associated documents and their relationship to the Book of Abraham text thus become evidence for one position or another. Each of these approaches can be held by faithful Latter-day Saints. The question of how and when Joseph translated the Book of Abraham is a complex one — but it is not the question that this volume strives to answer.

Rather, we have attempted through detailed textual analysis to date the documents associated with the effort by Joseph Smith and his associates to understand the Egyptian papyri. But we also try to be clear as to the limits of our knowledge, repeatedly using words like “likely” or “perhaps” or “probably.” While we have placed the documents in what we judge to be the most sensible order, we are also clear that the order of the documents in the volume does not necessarily represent the relationship among the documents. The ambiguities in the historical record preclude such certainty. The dating of the documents and the order in which they appear do not close doors to any of the most prominent interpretations of the question of how and when Joseph Smith’s translation occurred. Nor does the volume preclude any theory regarding the relationship of the Book of Abraham text to the ancient papyri. We hold that either of the two prevailing theories of the Book of Abraham’s origins — either that the text of the Book of Abraham was on portions of the papyri that are now lost or that the papyri served as a catalyst for a revelation by Joseph Smith — is a faithful approach to understanding the book.

Lindsay laments that the volume does not provide adequate “first aid” for members struggling to understand the nature of the Book of Abraham translation. In so doing, he misunderstands the scope and purpose of the Joseph Smith Papers, which is to provide reputable and accurate transcriptions of Joseph Smith’s papers with contextual annotation for both Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint scholars. That is not to say the scholars in the Church History Department do not have an interest in providing information to increase the understanding and support the faith of Church members. Indeed, some of the same historians who contributed to this volume also helped prepare other materials, including the Gospel Topics essay on the translation and historicity of the Book of Abraham. We take very seriously the need to build faith in the restored gospel.

In a related argument, Lindsay implies in his review that there is a “ban” on citing the work of Hugh Nibley in our volume and states [Page 101]that the book ought to “recognize Hugh Nibley’s extensive work on many aspects of the Book of Abraham as a vital foundation that must be acknowledged.”3 This perspective asks the Joseph Smith Papers to engage in historiography, or reciting and evaluating the history of scholarship on a given topic. Because such discussions typically become outdated much sooner than a documentary edition’s featured transcripts go out of use, it is the long-established policy of the Joseph Smith Papers Project to refrain from historiographical discussions. We respect Nibley’s valuable work on the Book of Abraham and have cited his work in other Church publications, but in this volume we followed our practice of not including historiographic or bibliographic footnotes.

Let us be clear: this volume of The Joseph Smith Papers does not advocate an approach to the Book of Abraham that is antithetical to the faith of Latter-day Saints.

Is the Volume Riddled with Technical Mistakes?

While we value the contributions of many scholars of different backgrounds, the Joseph Smith Papers Project has a specific approach and a particular expertise to bring to bear on these documents. We operate within the conventions of both nineteenth-century history and documentary editing. In documentary editing projects, scholars collect, transcribe, annotate, and publish documents for other scholars to use in their own work. Our primary goal is and has been to make available these documents for any and all to read and analyze. We disagree with the implication in both Gee’s and Lindsay’s reviews that Egyptologists offer the most valuable or the only path to understanding the documents in Volume 4. Most of the documents were, after all, created in the nineteenth century, and even the ancient papyri were studied, preserved, and copied by nineteenth-century clerks.

Each volume of The Joseph Smith Papers includes a lengthy statement of editorial method, which is based on a systematic study of the American tradition of historical documentary editing. We were thus surprised that the Interpreter published two reviews that misunderstood the practices and aims of the Joseph Smith Papers. Many of their criticisms are a result of misaligned expectations. For example, Gee writes that we “provided no concordance of other major labels for the documents, as is standard in scholarly editions.”4 This may be standard in Egyptological editions, but it is not standard in the American tradition of historical documentary editing.

[Page 102]In his review, Gee complains of “numerous questionable editorial decisions.”5 The Joseph Smith Papers Project has robust conventions for presenting documents. Our experience with the entire corpus of Smith’s papers and our access to the actual documents has given our team deep expertise in document provenance, early church record keeping, scribal practices, handwriting identification, and transcription. While Gee alleges that there are numerous errors in the transcripts, the “errors” or “problems” he cites follow the Joseph Smith Papers style guide in every instance. Our thorough approach to transcription is laid out in our statement of editorial method:

To ensure accuracy in representing the texts, transcripts were verified three times, each time by a different set of eyes. The first two verifications were done using high-resolution scanned images. The first was a visual collation of these images with the transcripts, while the second was an independent and double-blind image-to-transcript tandem proofreading. The third and final verification of the transcripts was a visual collation with the original document. At this stage, the verifier employed magnification, ultraviolet light, and multispectral imaging as needed to read badly faded text, recover heavily stricken material, untangle characters written over each other, and recover words canceled by messy “wipe erasures” made when the ink was still wet or removed by knife scraping after the ink had dried.6

The editorial method further states:

Text transcription and verification is … an imperfect art more than a science. Judgments about capitalization, for example, are informed not only by looking at the specific case at hand but by understanding the usual characteristics of each particular writer…. Even the best transcribers and verifiers will differ from one another in making such judgments.7

Some of the transcription “errors” alleged by Gee are precisely these kinds of judgment calls. Gee implies that our frequent use of the hollow diamond character to symbolize an illegible character in the transcript is somehow a failure or the result of a lack of skill, stating that “the challenge of transcription defeated the editors.” On the contrary, if a character is ambiguous, the most [Page 103]responsible course is to make the reader aware of the uncertainty — to project more certitude than is warranted would be a failure indeed.

Two examples may illustrate why access to originals and understanding of our style guide are crucial to evaluating the accuracy of our transcripts. Gee states that our transcription of “{◊\B}ethcho” on page 58 is in error. In our editorial method, the diamond represents an illegible character and the braces (or curly brackets) represent a superimposition (or “writeover”). In this passage, the scribe wrote an illegible character and then inscribed “B” over the previous character. Gee states that “there is no overwriting on the character although there is some touch-up.” A careful examination of the original manuscript under magnification reveals that he is mistaken. A mark or character was written and then overwritten by a capital “B,” as our transcription indicates. In another instance, Gee writes that “descendant” on page 261 should be transcribed “{d\<d>}escendant”. Our editorial style, however, dictates that we not include writeovers when a letter is written over by a second instance of that same letter. While a few of Gee’s twenty-three alternative transcriptions may be correct under a different system of transcription, none represents an actual error in our volume, and many are likely the result of his working with images of the documents rather than the documents themselves.

Conclusion

Scholarship at its best is a conversation. We value dialogue with scholars of all fields, regardless of whether or not they agree with our conclusions, and we seek to be good citizens in the scholarly community by collaborating rather than competing, by continuing in good faith to learn from ongoing scholarship, and by taking seriously criticisms offered by our colleagues. We know that no book is perfect, and ours is no exception. Every volume of The Joseph Smith Papers has an online errata page at josephsmithpapers.org, where we list errors we find or are brought to our attention. As the reviewers point out, this volume did mistakenly include an upside-down image of a document. Such are the perils of publishing! When we were informed of the error before the book’s release, we corrected it online and pointed it out in an online errata sheet. We are not shy to correct our errors.

Scholarly communities thrive when their members engage in vigorous debates of ideas rather than attacks on the character of colleagues. We reject the notion that calling into question the faith of fellow Latter-day Saints has any place in public discourse — scholarly or otherwise.

[Page 104]As the Church’s Gospel Topics essay recognizes, there is ample room for a variety of faithful Latter-day Saint perspectives on the complex history of the Book of Abraham. We further believe that Revelations and Translations, Volume 4 can affirm faith in the extraordinary Book of Abraham. We believe in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and in the profound spiritual truths of the Book of Abraham. We believe that Joseph Smith’s record can stand up to scrutiny. That is why we are committed to publishing his documentary record in as transparent and professional a manner as we are able.


1. See Jeffrey Dean Lindsay, “A Precious Resource with Some Gaps,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019), 13–104, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/a-precious-resource-with-some-gaps/; and John Gee, “The Joseph Smith Papers Project Stumbles,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019), 175–86, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/the-joseph-smith-papers-project-stumbles/.
2. Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2018), 381.
3. Lindsay, “A Precious Resource with Some Gaps,” 22.
4. Gee, “The Joseph Smith Papers Project Stumbles,” 176.
5. Ibid.
6. Jensen and Hauglid, Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, xxxi–xxxii.
7. Ibid., xxxi.

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About Matthew J. Grow

Matthew J. Grow is managing director of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers. He served as director of publications at the Church History Department from 2010 to 2019. He has coedited two recent volumes from the Church Historian’s Press: The First Fifty Years of Relief Society and The Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844 January 1846. He has also authored or coauthored books with Oxford University Press and Yale University Press, including award-winning biographies of Parley P. Pratt and Thomas L. Kane. He was previously an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Indiana. Grow received his PhD in American history from the University of Notre Dame.
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About Matthew C. Godfrey

Matthew C. Godfrey is a general editor and the managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers. He holds a PhD in American and public history from Washington State University. Before joining the Joseph Smith Papers, he was president of Historical Research Associates, a historical and archeological consulting firm headquartered in Missoula, Montana. He is the author of Religion, Politics, and Sugar: The Mormon Church, the Federal Government, and the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, 1907–1921(2007), which was a co-winner of the Mormon History Association’s Smith- Petit Award for Best First Book. He is also the coeditor of The Earth Shall Appear as the Garden of Eden: Essays in Mormon Environmental History</eM (2018). He has published articles in Agricultural History, The Public Historian, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Journal of Mormon History, BYU Studies Quarterly, Mormon Historical Studies, and various collections of essays

23 thoughts on “The Joseph Smith Papers and the Book of Abraham: A Response to Recent Reviews

  1. Sorry about the multiple unedited “hapless layman” comments. I noticed Blake’s post on Jeff’s Blog and, while I respectfully disagree with some of it :), he’s helped clarify my thoughts.
    The bottom line for me is also the lean towards misleading “secular” scholarship, and especially when it’s under the guise of authority. This has crept into some circles at BYU, Maxwell, and so on.

    It’s apparent that conforming to misguided secular intellectualism brought us the “Great Apostasy,” and I’m thankful that Jeff, Brian, and others faithfully help us look in all directions. I hope we can continue to rejoice in our differing opinions as we search for truth.

    The JSPP is a “scholarly” endeavor, which reportedly “meets the requisite scholarly and documentary editing criteria…” In that spirit, editors could continue to examine evidence, seek criticisms, and remain open. They could always hesitate to publish personal opinions with the ring of authority (especially when those opinions agree with misleading critics and contradict much of the evidence).

    I don’t agree with everything Jeff says, but he is right to point out that intellectual freedoms don’t necessarily equal doctrine. We should remain free to disagree.

    As said, I have great respect for the JSPP Editors. I equally respect Nibley, Gee, Lindsay, etc. I don’t know where I’d be without them and their faithful scholarship. I thank God that they question and critique. I freely disagree with Jeff, John, and other so called “apologists” without rebuke from them. If we were all as open as Jeff Lindsay we would be much further along in our united quest for truth.

    My concerns arose independently. When I began reading the JSP “Book of Abraham and Egyptian Material” I was unaware of the “transformation” FB comments (apparently condemning Gee, Nibley, etc. and aligning with Critics: Vogel, Metcalfe, and so on) or that Jeff was seeking open discussion on his blog. From the JSPP, I expected either a neutral scholarly stance, or slight bias in favor of the faithful scholars who know more about the Book of Abraham material than anyone. Instead, I was puzzled by what appeared to be bias in favor of outspoken Critics of the Church.
    For examples—Ritner adds little more than himself and another translation to the discussion, but he seems to have more respect than Rhodes and other bright and thoughtful scholars.

    Chris Smith, another vocal Critic (who dismissed Gee because all “Mormons” can are taught to lie), is apparently favored over evidence from the JSP, Gee, etc.
    Two examples:
    1-It’s argued that— “evidence indicates that material from the Grammar and Alphabet volume was incorporated into at least one portion of the Book of Abraham.” Chris Smith is the only reference, but his primary evidence is “choppiness.” The abundant contrary evidence is not cited, although it sheds light on this very important issue (not to mention that Jeff and others have shown that Chris is wrong).

    2- There is ample evidence for a “long scroll” but a simple search of “Joseph Smith Papers” shows that Critics not only hope Brian is transforming into one of them (see header- “Brian Hauglid experiencing a faith transition?”), but critical sources, wishing to appear legitimate (e.g. Wiki, Huffington Post, etc.) have noticed that, rather than presenting both sides: “The editors of the LDS church funded Joseph Smith Papers project favored the shorter scroll theory, by relegating the longer scroll estimates to speculative footnotes.” Wiki

    For many Church members, all they need to hear is “”The editors of the LDS church funded…” or “reviewed by a panel of General Authorities and approved” and the conversation is over, no questions asked.

    The JSPP should be neutral, or give preference to faithful LDS scholars, unless there is solid evidence that they are wrong. In cases where there is disagreement, both sides could more fairly presented.

    Thanks
    Love you all :).

    • Joe, thanks for another characteristically insightful and valuable comment. That non-LDS sources are recognizing and noting that this volume is taking sides on controversial issues strongly confirms the reality of the problem and the seriousness of the mistakes that were made.

      I have previously expressed the view that no further action may be needed regarding the Book of Abraham volume now that the major issues have been pointed out for those who care, but now that the biased positions taken therein are being noted by those outside the Church and are being mentioned in highly visible sources, the bias in this volume will have a lasting effect on members of the Church and others, whether directly or indirectly. Thus, I need to revise my position. There is a serious problem that demands some form of action. Assurances of sound methodology and good intent are simply not enough.

      I hope that LDS scholars who recognize the seriousness of the problems in this volume can have a dialog with the JSP Team to encourage a reconsideration of their approach and look for ways to prevent further misunderstanding arising from this work.

      Is that extreme? Impractical? Too painful. Perhaps. Let me know what you think.

      • Jeff, I apologize, I haven’t located the HuffPost article, and can’t yet remember the keywords I used in searching. I read it a few months ago and captured the Wiki quote and mentioned the HP piece in an email to siblings. Unfortunately I didn’t capture the HP article. I’ll keep looking, but came across several other discussions and feel it’s important to share- This one references you as a counter argument to: “Brian Hauglid argues against missing papyri theory: ‘They were working off of the papyri that we actually have in the Church today’” it also includes a link to Robin’s discussion at Maxwell (I only watched the “especially..” part). Another shows Brian’s FB comment originally posted in comments giving support to Dan’s Videos, I was unaware of that….

        Before jumping in, let me repeat that: when I re-discovered your blog I had solid knowledge of the historical truth of the BofM. I was somewhat open to the BofA being a blunder. We all make mistakes. However, I was wrong, it’s an ancient record. I still believe the KEP are an honest, yet mistaken effort to retrofit. You’ve provided evidence for that. Robin seems to understand that this may try the faith of some, and shares explanations (in my opinion, intended to provide “first aid” :)). However, you’ve provided powerful evidence in support of the miraculous nature of the BofA. Nibley has helped me understand it and the papyri. Brian has helped me see that the BofA is ancient, and that JS couldn’t have made it up or known what he did without revelation. Rhodes, Ash, Muhelstein, Sederholm, Jensen, and others have shed much light on the BofA, and I thank God for each of you :).

        My hope is that you will all continue to move forward with your work.

        Relevant details:
        1- I don’t need a missing papyrus, but it’s awesome that scholars have provided evidence supporting the “missing papyri theory.” I don’t do math, so can’t check up on Cook vs Gee, but the missing papyrus doesn’t have to be attached to the Hor scroll. Gee has explained that eyewitness accounts give accurate details of a now missing “long” roll of papyrus. For examples: the black embalming salve or bitumen coating (btw I’ve asked a museum curator if any bitumen has been noticed on the Hor scroll and he didn’t notice any–either way, a missing “long” roll has been described). The snake whose tail forms a tripod is accurate, and clearly not the one on papyri in possession of the Church. And on and on. And we all know why critics feel driven to eliminate evidence for a missing papyri.

        2- And you (and others) have provided solid evidence that significant portions of the BofA were translated by revelation (from the missing long roll?) BEFORE work began on the pure language alphabet, twin documents (including WWP’s Abr 1:1-3)., etc. These don’t represent the translation. And, you’ve influenced Dan Vogel, who now somewhat agrees “Of course the GAEL draws on Abr. 1:1-3,…” Dan, Nov 30 9:22 reply. That is, the GAEL was created “to” BofA 1:1-3. So, I agree with Dan again–Abr. 1:1-3 came first (and C. Smith, JSPP editors, former Dan, and most other critics are wrong). Dan also argues that the valuable discovery document (Katumin), the woman, etc. came first. For many reasons, it defies all logic and history for anyone to argue that JS translated the first part of the BofA, the BofM, etc. without a GAEL, and the rest of the BofA came from the GAEL. Dan also explains “Anyone who reads the Egyptian Alphabets (EA) and GAEL can see that they do not deal with the BOA.” This isn’t quite true, but the answer is clear, the BofA isn’t reliant upon the GAEL, the GAEL doesn’t precede the BofA, it is created to it.
        Everything else is details, which you’ve done an excellent job explaining: (e.g. who translated the Katumin text? (contra Dan, we have solid evidence supporting that OC and others tried their hands at translating). At what point did JS begin to sort through the vignettes etc. allowing the Lord to unfold Abraham’s (or the Old Man’s, etc.) version of astronomy? (as you’ve noted, the historical record tells us, so that’s an easy one). And so on.
        Gotta get to work, love you all, and hope ya’ll continue to move forward in these exciting times 🙂

        And, I’d like to mention Robert Ritner’s name, even though this isn’t about him.
        Have a great day…love you all!

        • Reading what I wrote and noticed I didn’t list Bro. Gee (one of the greatest faithful scholars) and decided to cut to the point 😊: John, Jeff, Hugh, Kerry, and so on, have done so much good in strengthening many of us “average” faithful. We don’t know the names of many wonderful scholars in the Church History Department. We did know who Brian Hauglid was, but are a little worried about internet rumors and so on.

          Everyone seems to agree that it’s perfectly ok to faithfully believe that there was no long scroll (in spite of evidence), or that the GAEL was used to create the BofA (again, in spite of contrary evidence presented by Jeff, John, etc), or that none of papyri in Joseph’s possession had “anything to do with Abraham,” and so on. However, we are now finding ourselves in this situation where the JSPP editors seem to agree with Critics in these areas and Jeff, John, etc are providing evidence that the Critics are wrong.

          Dan Vogel has influenced the JSPP editors AND Jeff, John etc have stood firmly to question the Critics and now it appears that, for one example, evidence presented to Dan by Jeff (through conversations in his blog comments, etc) has influenced Dan and he has agreed with Jeff that the JSPP editors were wrong to agree with him previously and wrong to reference and agree with the accusatory critic Chris Smith etc.

          Evidently Jeff and John have pointed us to some encouraging and exciting truths and we should be rejoicing. They aren’t “abhorrent” after all, and maybe this is not my business, but perhaps an apology is due, and a big “thank you!”

          friends at first should be friends at last 😊😊❤️. Brian, we all love and admire you and I for one would love it if u would rejoin faithful abhorrent “apologists” Yay!
          I’m very excited about the things Jeff, John, and all are working on and don’t want anything slowing them down. Jeff, thanks so much for carefully reviewing the twin manuscripts and so on….John, etc. Robin, Brian, Kerry (way to stand against the haters) etc. please continue. People I love need your continued help.
          Thanks. Love you all. ❤️😊

  2. I should probably add that I’ve not noticed Jeff disagreeing with any Church leader. I feel he has been unfairly maligned, but has shown respect towards those he disagrees with.

  3. The fact that a response was seen to be necessary and that the editors and authors of the commentary did not respond is also enlightening. The truth is that the JPP has adopted a secular perspective and purpose. It is not in defense of faith or to even give points that would sustain faith. It is just another religious studies project from the same secular point of view.

    The points that Jeff made about the lack of apologetic appraisal and defense of the Book of Abraham as anything like what Joseph Smith claimed it to be are well taken. Brian Hauglid expressly admitted that he adopted the view of the critics of the Book of Abraham who have argued that it is essenteially a fraud. That such an approach would then be reflected in his editorial work and commentary is not surprising.

    That no response was made to these concerns — the real concerns — is both enlightening and telling. They say that the Book of Abraham was produced in both Nauvoo and Kirtland; what they miss is that the KEP and related documents were not Nauvoo products (and that is the real issue). They say that the evidence is not clear enough to tell when the KEP and related documents were produced and both the Kirtland only and both Kirtland and Nauvoo production are reasonable views, but they pontificate contra Gee: “For instance, we believe the evidence suggests that Joseph Smith translated portions of the Book of Abraham in Kirtland and then later in Nauvoo, while Gee asserts that all of the translation occurred in Kirtland.” They then back off and say that the that particular issue wasn’t really addressed. Really? These volumes take a definite stance on the relation between the KEP and related documents and the Book of Abraham. That is where the issue really lies and they avoid it completely.

    The claim that Jeff has called into question the faith of the editors is absurd. Jeff was careful not to do so. What Jeff did was quote what Brian Hauglid said and pointed out who he was in bed with. Anonymous must be taking that as an attack on his faithfulness. But it is absurd that say that Jeff called anyone’s faith in question — he just let Hauglid speak for himself. And it is clear that Hauglid was an apologist for those leaving the church over the Book of Abraham as a defensible position (not in the volume but in his comments to an audience describing his work). He was not an apologist for those who blelieve in the Book of Abraham (God forbid that the JPP depart from its secular purpose when it comes to shoring up belief).

    • Thank you, Blake, for kindly weighing in and clearly pointing out some core issues that need to be considered. And thank you for pointing out the problems related to the issue of Nauvoo vs. Kirtland for translation of much of the Book of Abraham. That was one of many issues I was not able to address in my rejoinder because it was required to be brief, not another full-length article (what I published was already on the long side, and was half the length of my original rejoinder), but it’s an important issue. It’s not just Gee they are contradicting, but also Kerry Muhlenstein and others. Muhlenstein mounts a massive mound of data pointing to pre-Nauvoo translation of much of what Jensen and Hauglid argue was done in Nauvoo, but his arguments are neglected in JSPRT4. The crucial writings on this topic aren’t even cited, such as Kerry Muhlestein and Megan Hansen, “‘The Work of Translating’: The Book of Abraham’s Translation Chronology,” in Let Us Reason Together: Essays in Honor of the Life’s Work of Robert L. Millet, ed. J. Spencer Fluhman and Brent L. Top (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: 2016), 139–62. Were Muhlenstein’s evidence and arguments genuinely considered by the team and discussed and thoroughly rebutted? Why not at least mention that work, then? Much more likely, it would seem that it was not raised since it is not cited, so how can we trust that the issue was thoroughly explored? I can imagine the co-editors explaining why they favored their conclusion, and unless there were specialists on BOA issues in the conversation who were familiar with the arguments of Gee, Nibley, Muhlenstein, and others, and who knew why those dates were significant, why would we expect anything else than a rubber stamp concurrence of an opinion made by a trusted scholar and expert responsible for managing all those details? But the specter of personal bias has been raised and must be considered, in retrospect, rather than assuming that the perceived consensus of the team really reflected a careful evaluation of neglected, uncited evidence and really delivered an unbiased result. In light of the data for personal bias that favors one side of multiple controversies that often aren’t even raised as controversies for readers to consider, it is overly optimistic to believe that unbiased scholarship has prevailed on some of these issues.

  4. I had the great pleasure to view the September 2018 Face to Face broadcast emanating from Nauvoo with the temple as a backdrop, in which Elder Quentin L. Cook, with participation from church historians Brother Matt Grow and Sister Kate Holbrook, spoke of Church History and the coming forth of the volumes of “Saints” to a group of young single adults. I thought Brother Grow’s inputs and responses were insightful and informed, revealing a deep knowledge and broad perspective of Church historical events. Thus, I hold a very positive view of Brother Grow’s abilities and appreciate his feedback in this response.

    Many years ago I likewise purchased the DVD set of Season 1 of the Joseph Smith Papers and enjoyed the tutoring and perspectives of the many historians participating in that project, including that of Brother Robin Scott Jensen. It is therefore a positive that he was involved as one of the editors of the JSPP, volume 4.

    The real concern for me, however, in the production of volume 4 lies with troubling public statements made by the other editor. Brothers Grow and Godfrey rightly condemn “attacks on the character of colleagues” and the “calling into question the faith of fellow Latter-day Saints”, and yet the other editor of this volume has done just that when (in November 2018) he accused his former BYU and other colleagues of being “outrageous apologists” and participants in “abhorrent scholarship” (he placed the word ‘scholarship’ in quotes apparently to emphasize his derision of their work).

    Next, this same editor publicly linked elbows with two individuals who are highly active in attacking, challenging and ridiculing many of the foundational claims of the Church. I do not consider pointing out this fact as “questioning the faith of a fellow Latter-day Saint.” I am glad for this knowledge and will it will definitely cause me to alter my approach to volume 4.

    I appreciate the clarifications given in this response by Brothers Grow and Godfrey. However, if anyone should be called out, it is the other editor. It is the product of his work that will carry the imprimatur of the Church, not the Interpreter reviews by Lindsay or Gee.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks, John. I’ve also had the pleasure of chatting with Bro. Grow and have heard outstanding things about him. I hope readers will understand that to have objections about JSPRT4 and the work of its two co-editors is not to disrespect the good man that he is nor to dismiss the outstanding work of the JSP Team in producing so many precious volumes.

  5. I have several observations for Grow and Godfrey, but unfortunately they seem to be absent from these exchanges. The first is: Their response to Gee regarding errors in transcription is that he was probably using “images” whereas their authors and staff were using the actual documents along with high quality images. If the purpose is to produce a book containing images that others may use in lieu of having access to the documents themselves, it sounds to me like they are admitting that the project has not succeeded and probably cannot succeed? Moreover, it appears that they are also arguing that we should trust the work they have done because of the quality of images they use along with the originals. Gee’s response was that he had more to say on the issue. I look forward to that evidence.

    On another issue, I thought their response about why Nibley is not cited was lame, especially since a vocal opponent of the Book of Abraham, was apparently cited 9 times.

    Most importantly, they completely dismissed the issue of the “assumptions” of the editors and yet Lindsay quotes Hauglid saying he reputed his former positions on the BofA, and was now in agreement with Vogle’s videos, and that people would see his new transformed view in the upcoming publication of this volume. He admits it is there, despite Grow and Godfrey saying the thing goes through so many hands one man’s view can’t be there. I just watched an interview of Kerry Muhlstein by Terryl Givens in which KM noted “assumptions” in the volume. So at least three fairly well informed people about the issues–Gee, Lindsay, and Muhlstein–could see them.

    • Thanks, Dan Bachman. The stance of the editors, evidenced by the unfortunate Facebook comment (hopefully just a glitch on a bad day awaiting clarification or retraction, which would be welcome) and public statements by both editors (seminars and a podcast) show that they do have a particular point of view on some controversies around the origins of the Book of Abraham that may be fine for a personal opinion, but should not be so strongly built into the volume as the Facebook comment suggests and as my review points out based on the content of JSRT4. The unrenounced Facebook comment remain an elephant in the room. I hesitated to mention it, knowing that I would be accused of attacking the character or faith of the editors instead of engaging in vigorous debate on the issues, but felt it was needed to explain the obvious external evidence of bias that helps us understand the abundant but subtle bias in the volume, although I believe it can all be completely unintentional. In choosing to mention the Facebook comment, I also choose to carefully explain that it was not my intent to question the faith of anybody, but to examine the possibility of improper bias in the volume and its scholarship. Such explicit statements may not have been noticed by some, but I stand by them and have openly chided a few who have then criticized the faithfulness of the editors. Let’s stay focused on the scholarship, but the admitted existence of a biased perspective influencing the volume is not data that should be ignored in evaluating the possibility of bias in the scholarship.

  6. Brothers Grow and Godfrey, I am curious about what led you to write this statement: “Scholarly communities thrive when their members engage in vigorous debates of ideas rather than attacks on the character of colleagues. We reject the notion that calling into question the faith of fellow Latter-day Saints has any place in public discourse — scholarly or otherwise.” I believed my original article made it clear that members of the Church can, in good faith, take a variety of views on the origins of the Book of Abraham, and that I was not calling anyone’s faith into question. As I read your reply once again, that statement comes across as an undeserved rebuke. Could you explain where I went wrong? I also don’t think John Gee wrote anything that could be interpreted as denying the faithfulness of the co-editors.

    My objective was to point out problems with bias and flawed scholarship, not to question anyone’s faith. Please let me know where I went wrong.

    • Jeff, I would take it a bit further. I see a pattern. Patterns are often clear, defined, and instructive. Scholars look for patterns, and note them. The pattern I see is that when scholars and writers produce wordcraft that sows doubt or deliberately allows for it—they play a card: Don’t fault me, keep me unaccountable, even unnamed. In any other arena of life we can consider the source. We can call a serpent a snake; we can refuse to drink from tainted fountains. How? Because we are allowed to identify them, name them.
      But not with Latter-day Saints. And Grow and Godfrey have played the card, interestingly, without even cause or red flag. It is the bizarre safe house for those who write rot: Don’t criticize me; I’m immune. Not even a side-eye. Because hey, that’s a personal attack.
      It’s con, and everyone falls for it or caves to it. Now when I walk through Deseret Book store and see the venerable outsized volumes, I will feel a damn betrayal; not even THEY are free of the taint of slant.

      • While I respect both of these fine men and appreciate their effort to respond, I’m puzzled that they seem to think my concerns are an attack on the character and faith of the editors. I felt that my article and John Gee’s are precisely the kind of “vigorous debates of ideas” that should be encouraged. Too vigorous? Let me know.

        If either of us has moved beyond issues of scholarship and bias into ad hominem assaults on faith and character, it’s a startling shock to me and I urge the JSP Team or my readers to let me know where I’ve gone wrong so I can issue a correction or retraction or whatever is needed.

    • I have a very hard time taking this comment seriously. You’ve been explicitly suggesting in your Interpreter posts and on your own blog that the positions throughout the volume you reviewed do damage to faith and help anti-Mormons. You and John Gee have facilitated exactly the kind of response you find below in Glen Danielsen’s comment, the idea that somehow the saints’ minds and faith are polluted if they read this volume because it represents a different opinion then the one you have come to. You might like to think that you allow differing opinions but your posts do not function that way. Instead, they have invited some of the most vicious public personal attacks against Mormon scholars for almost three decades.

      • James, I suspect you aren’t one of my few regular readers, because even my harshest critics there have acknowledged that I am rather liberal about allowing contrary views to be posted on my blog. I do delete comments occasionally, such as profanity or wildly off-topic rants, but in general I try to be respectful of those sharing alternate views though I don’t hesitate to debate them. My statements in my original article for The Interpreter and in my reply to Grow and Godfrey explicitly declare that I am not challenging the faithfulness of the editors, and recognize that faithful Latter-day Saints can hold the views that seem to be favored by Hauglid and Jensen. My objection is about the scholarship and bias in the volume, which, unfortunately, can have unintended consequences on others.

        The fact that Gee and I both felt a need to point out some serious gaps in this volume does not make us promoters of hate or intolerance. I am not accountable for the comment from Danielsen that you find so objectionable. But your paraphrase seems to be off the mark. His reply is not saying that views different than his must be censored because they would pollute the minds of the Saints. He is speaking about a much narrower issue.

        Grow and Godfrey imply that the footnotes in the JSP volume are not biased because Gee is cited 9 times. But citing Gee does not mean that he was properly included, consulted, or understood. His faithful perspective and scholarship is not reflected in this volume, IMHO, which ignores his assessment on dates, on relationships between the KEP and the translation, and on many other vital issues relevant to this volume.

        Danielsen’s point seems to be a fair one: citing Gee 9 times does not solve the problem of improper balance and biased scholarship, for one can insert 9 citations and then completely undermine or ignore the cited author by favoring or citing views of, say, critics. I wouldn’t use the word “pollutant” to describe views contrary to Gee’s, so maybe that’s too strong for my tastes, but Danielsen is not being unreasonable in explaining why 9 citations of Gee doesn’t make the treatment of LDS scholars fair and even-handed. I think it’s a legitimate gap, most obviously evident in the unjustified total absence of Nibley, the most prolific and influential scholar dealing with many of the issues they tackle in their commentary.

        I hope you don’t feel that Danielsen’s response, even if he meant what you say he meant, counts as one “of the most vicious public personal attacks against Mormon scholars for almost three decades” that you claim I have incited. Trusting that his statement is not what you referred to, might I ask what is? I find this truly puzzling and wonder what examples you are thinking of. Whatever harsh complaints you’ve seen that you think I’m accountable for, perhaps you might compare them to what people routinely say about, say, Daniel Peterson or John Gee (cf. a relatively mild comment from a certain BYU professor denouncing Gee for his “abhorrent” apologetics — also a tad harsh, perhaps). And I’ve had my share of harshly negative statements, including much of the profanity that that I do delete on my blog. If Hauglid and Jensen are getting harsher treatment, I’m very sorry, but that doesn’t mean I should remain silent.

  7. Grow/Godfrey state: “ Indeed, Volume 4 cites nine of John Gee’s own works — more than any other author.”

    Irrelevant, given the obvious fact that after the Gee inclusions, any amount of other pollutant views could be inserted, and were.

    • So youre suggesting after reading this that Jeff Lindsay and John Gee are more guided by the spirit to weed out “pollutants” than the general authorities and other church appointed historians are that worked on making sure the volume could be published under the church’s name? That’s a really strange position to find oneself, do you even have a testimony?

      • James, I suggest we all refrain from challenging the faith and character of others just because we disagree with them.

        I can appreciate your trust in the process that have us this JSP volume on the Book of Abraham, but it’s unreasonable to think that the numerous editorial decisions on secondary issues were scrutinized and given approval by the Church, especially when at least one key issue (was were the twin manuscripts original documents based on live dictation from Joseph) differs sharply from the assessment given in another recent JSP volume also published by the Church.

        The primary objective was to transcribe and publish key documents. Done. And done well. The secondary issues such as background commentary, footnotes, dates, etc., are for specialists and scholars, but also have importance. It’s not reasonable to assume that each of these were blessed by the Church. I don’t think that’s even remotely feasible.

        • Well, unfortunately you’re only highlighting your distance from how the project is done, who reads the manuscripts, and the conversations that the general authorities have with the historians at the Church Historian’s office. And you are utilizing your unfounded assumptions about that process to disparage accurate historical notes in the volume.

          • If you propose that the leaders of the Church had time and energy to scrutinize the peripheral details of these volumes and made sure they understood and agreed with each the thousands of subtle choices made, then how do you explain the significant differences in the commentary between this volume and JSP vol. 5 regarding the very important twin manuscripts of the Book of Abraham with Egyptian characters in the margins? JSP vol. 5 states that the format, punctuation, and emendations on the twin manuscripts indicate they were probably copied from an existing manuscript rather than being from live dictation of scripture by Joseph, while this volume on the Book of Abraham favors the notion that Joseph Smith was dictating these documents in creating or at least editing scripture, and the editors have given public presentations claiming that these manuscripts give us a “window” into Joseph’s translation methodology. So per your theory, did the Brethren, in their presumed hundreds of meetings to scrutinize all the details of each volume, decide to change their minds on this important issue? If so, why? Much more likely is that they focused on the big picture, i.e., the major deliverables of presenting key documents and transcriptions, and trusted those chosen as editors to handle the thousands of intricate details responsibly. I doubt anyone even noticed there was tension between the two volumes on this matter, but for those following the details of the debate on origins of the Book of Abraham, these details matter. Sadly, the current volume tends to reflect personal biases that are not always aligned with the best scholarship and that leave the door too widely opened for the positions of certain critics of the Book of Abraham, consistent with the “coming out” statement of one of the editors after this volume was edited.

          • I began reading Jeff’s Blogs after searching the JSPP material for Book of Abraham answers and feeling there were new biases. I spent many days on Jeff’s open blogs, conversing with him and, mainly, Critics of our faith. I respect and admire Brian and, from conversations with those close to him, I understand that he is an intelligent and faithful Saint. His scholarship is also highly regarded. I also believe Jeff greatly respects Brian, Robin, and so on. And, our respect for his position and work is related to the concerns of many.
            At stake is the future path and essence of faithful scholarship. Personal feelings and self-pride are less relevant. Our beloved Bro. Hauglid formerly agreed with so called “apologists” Nibley, etc. Now, he (reportedly) expresses disagreement with faithful peers, and, in some areas, agrees with Dan Vogel, and other critics. Dan reported that his videos have influenced Brian. As I’ve said many times, this is perfectly fine. Critics occasionally help us find truths. However, I’ve viewed the videos and found them to be lacking substance and honesty. I’ve discussed this at length with Dan.
            I would hope that Brian understands that some have concerns. Jeff is not wrong to mention personal experiences with those he knows and the questions they have. As I said on Jeff’s Blog- “Many of us would appreciate a firsthand clarification of [Brian’s] stance, and an open discussion of the evidence which led an honest scholar to disagree with greats such as Nibley, Gee, Muhlestein, and Lindsay, and (apparently) to agree with Dan Vogel. I fully support disagreement with anyone, and I even agreed with Dan once or twice myself :). However, after vigorous attempts, Dan (and anonymous friends at Mormonthink, etc.) have failed to provide scholarly evidence supporting their claims.
            On the other hand, solid evidence has been presented to support that:
            1-the BofA was at least partially translated before the GAEL was created “to” it, and that the GAEL doesn’t represent the BofA translation effort.
            2- the BofA is from, or based on, ancient texts.
            3- the papyri likely contained some Abraham material…”
            I have disagreed with Jeff many times and he responded with thoughtfulness (e.g.- I still believe that the “old man” was not Hor, and that the vignettes and etc. were gathered by a Ptolemaic Jew or Christian, etc….but I digress :)).
            Ultimately, Brian is amazing, and he has every right to agree or disagree with anyone, including Critics. Jeff should also have the right to disagree with anyone on matters of scholarship, including General Authorities.

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