Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

BYU: A Beautiful Solution for the Needs of Many Families and Students in China

I've come back to Utah for a few weeks to start an exciting and challenging new job. After having lived in China for 8 years, loving almost every day of it, it's hard not to think about China and its people almost every day.

One of the most pleasant parts of my time here has been regular trips to the campus of Brigham Young University for research and potential collaboration. I was a student there long ago, and many things seem familiar, but many things have changed. Was it this beautiful back when I was there? Some of the improvements in buildings and landscaping are really impressive, but so much, even the mountain setting, seems more beautiful than I ever recall noticing before. Maybe it's the contrast to mountain-free Shanghai, maybe it's the blue skies which are not all that common in populated parts of China, maybe it's the extra rich greenery from generous rains this year, but whatever it is, it's just a marvel to set foot on the campus and think of what a treasure this university is.









A few days ago visitor parking was packed, so I ended up parking by the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, and felt a need to step inside. Wow, what a treasure (the photos at the end of this post are from the museum, including works of Elder Boyd K. Packer). Much more interesting and beautiful than it was in my day. I was also touched by the artwork on display from Elder Boyd K. Packer, who was a master carver of wood who made lifelike birds and other animals. I had the pleasure of being in his home once or twice when I was a teenager and saw some of his carvings. They are even more beautiful now than I remembered.

As an aside, is there something going on with me, that familiar things from my past seem much more beautiful than they used to? It may be a trend, for it's happening closer to home as well. My sweet wife, who based on logic and science must be getting older, seems more beautiful to me now than when we were very young. If this is some kind of mental problem with me, it's a great one to have.

There is more than just the physical beauty of BYU that make it a beacon to the world. There are many people of all faiths, including no religious faith at all, who are looking for the things BYU stands for. There are people who want to study at a place where education and personal growth is the goal, not binge drinking and debauchery. There are many parents around the world who are looking for a place to send their children where they can not only get a strong education, but will be safe and less likely to be pressured to drink, do drugs, engage in immoral behavior, and mess up their life through the influence of depraved peers and predators. BYU has problems and dangers, like any place that has humans wandering about, but the wholesome environment, its salutary honor code, and the zealous efforts of university leaders to make BYU a safe and decent place make BYU a real gem, a beautiful treasure that invites people from all over the world to participate in one of the best and most helpful educational experiences available on the planet.

This brings me to China. China and the people of China need a place like BYU, in my opinion. So many parents who hope to send their children to get an education in the West are discouraged by what they learn about the debauchery that takes place in student dorms, the crass or perverted professors that influence thousands of young people, the warped sense of values among many university leaders that seem more interested in enforcing thought control or political agendas than in actually encouraging education and protecting the welfare of their students. But when they learn about BYU, there is often some excitement to learn that wholesome environments are possible where their children may be at much less risk.

I have been pleasantly surprised at just how well the values of BYU and its honor code resonate with the values that seem to be a natural part of the culture and mindset of many Chinese people. In spite of the negative things that are often said about China, this is a nation where the average person, in my opinion, really is decent, kind, and moral. It's a place where so many families seem wholesome and healthy, with basic family values. It's a place where the problems of fraud and corruption that the West often talks about are being zealously driven out, though there's much progress to be made. People with those values might be thrilled to learn about the values and environment at BYU. It's not for everybody and the fact that it's a religious university will be a concern for some, but the Chinese people I know who have gone there have generally cherished their time and are grateful for what they had in that environment. It's really a gem, and I hope it will continue to have good ties with China.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a BYU-like campus in China one day to make it even easier for those seeking something like BYU to have it more easily available? Wishful thinking for now, but I'm convinced that China and many Chinese parents need or at least will benefit from BYU, and that BYU needs China, a nation that treasures academic education as well as the moral development of its diverse people. Here's wishing for strengthened interaction between BYU and China in the future!
________________

Some scenes from the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum:









Some works of Elder Boyd K. Packer on display at the Museum:







Sunday, June 16, 2019

Update on Inspiration for W.W. Phelps' Use of an Archaic Hebrew Letter Beth for #2 in the Egyptian Counting Document

I previously noted that one of the Hebrew books Oliver Cowdery brought to Kirtland, Ohio near the end of 1835 showed an archaic form of the Hebrew letter beth which W.W. Phelps employed in the strange "Egyptian Counting" document of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, suggesting that the period of Hebrew study that followed had an influence on that document. Since then I've been looking for alternate sources that might have influenced Phelps. I've looked at Hebrew materials, Masonic materials, as well as information ciphers and scripts. I have found an alternate candidate in Thomas Astle, The Origin and Progress of Writing: As Well Hieroglyphic as Elementary (London: T. Payne & Son, B. White, P. Elmsly, G. Nichol, and Leigh and Sotheby, 1784), Table 1, p. 64; available at Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=mI3nAAAAMAAJ&&pg=PA64 (scroll down on page to see the table).

There in the upper right-hand corner, at the left end of the string next to the "B" on the right edge, is the character that is the same as the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document. There may be other sources as well, so if you run into any, please let me know.

This finding weakens my "smoking gun" for the influence of Moses Stuart's Hebrew book on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, for this character could have been seen in Thomas Astle's book or some other source -- the fact that Moses Stuart's book was surely seen by Phelps and contains that character could just be coincidence and need not force the date of the Egyptian Counting document to after Hebrew books came to town in Kirtland.

On the other hand, while Astle’s 1784 book was in the Library of Congress by 1840 and at Harvard by 1830, and probably in other locations in the U.S., it does not show up in nineteenth century catalogs of several other major or relevant libraries that I have searched (e.g., the 1884 Princeton Library from Phelps’ home state, the Pennsylvania State library in 1859, the vast library at Allegheny College in New York in 1823, the Rochester Atheneum/City Library in 1839, Brown University in 1843, the Ohio State Library in 1875, and other major libraries, though it was in the Cincinnati Public Library by 1884), suggesting it may not have been a widely available book.

Thomas Astle's book is actually quite interesting and, like many books displaying archaic Greek alphabets and variants of Phoenician, allows one to recognize a number of characters quite similar to other non-Egyptian "Egyptian" in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, perhaps due to influence of some Greek study among the brethren. That's a topic for a later post.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Inspired by Utah: A Warm and Encouraging Welcome for My Temporary Return





I've been in Salt Lake City, Utah for a few days as part of my transition to an exciting new job with a very young and promising consumer products company. Right before leaving China (temporarily -- will return for a while yet), I had a meeting with Shawn Hu, the head of the Utah-Qinghai EcoPartnership, and learned some great news about Utah's progress in building healthy ties to China. It seems that the leaders of Utah (especially Governor Gary Herbert) and also the leaders of universities in Utah recognize the value of building and maintaining connections with China in spite of the trade war and related high-level political tensions. One example of that was the May 31 and June 1 BYU Spectacular production at the stunning Shanghai Culture Square, arguably Shanghai's leading venue for high-end performances. This gigantic production showed BYU's commitment to friendship with the people of China regardless of political disputes above. It was well received and resulted in healthy media attention. Sorry I could not be there -- had to leave China a little earlier than I had expected to participate in some important meetings and events in Salt Lake.

As I flew over Utah at the end of May, I was so impressed with its beauty. There has been a lot of rain recently, so it's greener than normal, and I love that. My encouraging welcome back to Utah continued moments after I stepped off the plane, when a friend and visionary CEO, David G. Brown of Connext Broadband [name shared with permission], a thriving Internet company, met me and kindly gave me a ride to my destination, giving us time for a chat on his innovation and intellectual property goals for his company and his employees. I was inspired by this man's vision. He is looking for ways to use innovation and IP lift his employees, not just in Utah but in several other nations where wages are painfully low. His vision is that by inspiring employees to innovate and then benefit from their innovations, he can not only help his company grow but help employees create growth and business that will lead to much higher long-term income for them. He has some great concepts and a wonderful commitment to helping his employees grow. While my friend really stands out in a world that often seems dominated by pettiness and greed among leaders, I feel that his innovative, win/win spirit is surprisingly common among many businessmen in Utah.

My encouraging welcome back to Utah that day wasn't over! (Fortunately, I was experiencing no jet lag.) While visiting my parents that afternoon, I got a call from another of Utah's coolest CEOs, my own brother, Dave Lindsay of Avalanche Studios, who invited me to sit at the Avalanche Studios table that night at a dinner celebration sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, Giant in our City. I jumped at the chance. This  fabulous dinner event celebrated two significant figures in Utah and was held at one of the most beautiful hotels I've seen, the Grand America hotel, with over 1,000 people attending. The first honoree, recognized for selfless service in the community, was the remarkable Pamela Atkinson, an advisor to several Utah governors, an Elder in the First Presbyterian Church, and a steady advocate for refugees, the homeless and others in need. I was deeply touched by the video about her life that was played by attendees (produced, by the way, by Avalanche Studios). Then came many speakers praising the 2019 Giant in our City, Fred Lampropoulos, CEO and Founder of Merit Medical. His story of innovation and entrepreneurship was inspiring and entertaining. The event was well produced, inspiring, entertaining, and such a great way to begin my temporary return to Utah.

Utah has its issues, but I love the entrepreneurship, service, and compassion that I see here. And it's so beautiful! I'm also thrilled to be part of a vibrant new Utah company and to be part of one of the most inspiring teams of people I've known. More on that later, perhaps. But I'm so glad to be here and am inspired by what I see in Utah. More than just a lot of rain is behind that.



Friday, May 31, 2019

More Connections Between the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and Prior Documents

In a previous post, I discussed William Schryver's 2010 presentation that pointed out some surprising connections in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers that are related to the Book of Abraham project. Schryver's presentation, “The Meaning of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers” at the the 2010 FAIRMormon Conference is preserved in two Youtube videos, Part 1 and Part 2.  Schryver points to the many non-Egyptian characters in the KEP and also links some of the definitions in the KEP to the Doctrine and Covenants, both issues that show that translating the Book of Abraham from Egyptian scrolls probably was not the intent of the work. Rather, he sees some of the documents as an effort to create a reverse cipher for converting English into code. Whether the reverse cipher theory has merit or not, the observations about the nature of the “Egyptian” and relationships between various documents merit further scholarly attention.

Schryver points to Doctrine and Covenants 76 as a source for several consecutive KEP explanations. In the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, there are passages that refer to the Celestial Kingdom and two lesser kingdoms (parallel with the Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms in Section 76). Schryver's point seems valid: Phelps was drawing upon text from the existing Doctrine and Covenants for some of his explanation of "Egyptian" characters. Here is a screenshot of the relevant portion of the video, occurring around 2:00 minutes into the Part 2 video:



For those using volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations series (JSPRT) to study any of these issues, or using other sources to see the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, I should explain that Schryver is combining information from two documents. He's using the Egyptian characters in the order they appear in the Egyptian Alphabet C document ("Egyptian Alphabet, circa Early July–circa November 1835–C" in JSPRT vol. 4, Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts), and adding the more complete explanations for these characters in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL, the "Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, circa July–circa November 1835" in JSPRT vol. 4). His Characters #46 to #48 are labeled in JSPRT vol. 4 as Characters 2.23, 2.24, and 2.25, respectively. Like many of the "Egyptian" characters in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, these symbols don't appear to be on the papyrus fragments (relying here on the very helpful "Comparison of Characters" section in the back of JSPRT vol. 4). 

Since Schryver feels the order in Egyptian Alphabet C is important, it's worth noting that these characters aren't grouped together the same way in the GAEL. But since Phelps wrote these characters in Egyptian Alphabet C as well as in the GAEL, and since the Egyptian Alphabets generally are believed to be sources for the more complete GAEL, what we see in Egyptian Alphabet C may reflect Phelps' initial use of other sources that would later become compiled into the GAEL. So yes, the order as initially written by Phelps may reflect lifting concepts and language from Doctrine and Covenants 76, as Schryver argues.

His find of a parallel to Doctrine and Covenants 88:24 is also interesting. Continuing after the three characters related to Section 76, the next character in Egyptian Alphabet C, labeled Character #49 (of the EA C) by Schryver but Character 2.26 in JSPRT vol. 4, is another character that doesn't appear to be on the papyrus fragments. It has no explanation in the Egyptian Alphabet C document but is described as the "least kingdom, a kingdom without glory" in the GAEL, very similar to Doctrine and Covenants 88:24 which dates to Dec. 1832, long before the Egyptian scrolls were acquired in 1835.

Thus in succession in the Egyptian Alphabet C, from Character 2.23 through 2.26, are four characters whose description in the GAEL deals with the three kingdoms of glory, beginning with the "Celestial kingdom" and drawing upon Doctrine and Covenants 76, and then the fourth character pertains to a kingdom of no glory per Doctrine and Covenants 88:24. And none of that has anything to do with the Book of Abraham nor, apparently, with the scrolls that we have.

All very puzzling.

One connection that Schryver didn't mention involves the character right before his sequence, Character 2.22 (or Character #44 using his counting method). The name and explanation in the GAEL (p. 31 of the GAEL, p. 177 of JSPRT vol. 4) is:
Ebethkeeaimtriethe— a place beyond this earth a future place of existence, a place of residenden beyond this earth; the cecelestiale world; the heavenly bodies; the earth in its most sanctified state as it shall be= eternity.
Some of this language seems related to the first verse after Doctrine and Covenants 76, namely Doctrine and Covenants 77:1:
Q. What is the sea of glass spoken of by John, 4th chapter, and 6th verse of the Revelation?

A. It is the earth, in its sanctified, immortal, and eternal state.
It's building on the theme of the Celestial Kingdom in Section 76. But this language will also be used again in the 1843 revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 130, where verse 9 tells us that the earth in its "sanctified and immortal state" will be a Urim and Thummim to its inhabitants. Interesting connections.

Why was Phelps drawing upon language from the Doctrine and Covenants? Not sure. But it seems like something besides translating Egyptian from the scrolls is going on. I'm not convinced that a reverse cipher project was underway, and prefer to think this was some aspect of pursuing "pure language" work that was soon abandoned. Thoughts?

Update, June 8, 2019: One more connection may involve Character 2.40 in JSPRT vol. 4. According to W.W. Phelps in the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), Part 2, Degree 2 (see the transcript of the GAEL on the JSP website), this character refers to "a messenger having performed certain acts, having been delegated with supreme power for a fixed period of time: hereditary, coming down from father to Son: right of authority from eight days old: according to the law of priesthood." This seems to refer to Doctrine and Covenants 84:28, which speaks of John the Baptist (a messenger) who was ordained at the age of eight days:
28 For he was baptized while he was yet in his childhood, and was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power.
Related to the theme of divinely commissioned messengers, Doctrine and Covenants 93:8 speaks of Christ as "the Word, even the messenger of salvation," of which John the Baptist bore witness. Perhaps this related to Character 2.36 on p. 27 of the GAEL (p. 169 in JSPRT vol. 4):
Jah ni hah= one that with delegated and redeeming power, and second in authoraty; being a swift messenger going before, and having redeeming power, as second in authority: and stand next to on or on the right hand of power.
Is the authorized messenger "Jah ni hah" derived from the name John?

The same character on p. 24 of the GAEL (p. 163 of vol. 4 of JSPRT) is described as meaning:
Jah-ni hah: one delegated from the highest sons [?] acting in or b[e]ing clothed with the power of an other; one from sent from the Celestial Kingdom 
Here the delegated messenger sent from the Celestial Kingdom (a concept from Doctrine and Covenants 76) is "clothed with ... power," just as in Doctrine and Covenants 45:44 where Christ when He comes again will be "clothed with power and great glory."

Looking again at Doctrine and Covenants 93, verse 29 tells us that "man was also in the beginning with God," which relates to Character 2.2 in JSPRT vol. 4, where all four of the explanations in the KEP begin with "in the beginning with God." Another relationship related to beginnings involves Doctrine and Covenants 84:16, telling us how Abel received the priesthood "by the hand of his father Adam, who was the first man," which relates to Character 2.10, for which all four entries in the KEP give the explanation, "Adam or the first man, or first king."

Now consider Doctrine and Covenants 88 again in a passage talking about the divine roles of light and its power in governing God's creation and in affecting heavenly bodies:
7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. 
8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; 
9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; 
10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. 
11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; 
12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space— 
13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things....
45 The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God....
 90 And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
Compare this to p. 25 of the GAEL, for Character 2.39 (p. 165 of JSPRT vol. 4):
Flos isis— The highest degree of light, because its component parts are light. The gover[n]ing principle of light Because God has said Let this be the centre for light, and let there be bounds that it may not pass. He hath set a cloud round about in the heavens, and the light of the grand gover[n]ing of <​15​> fixed stars centre there; and from there its is drawn, by the heavenly bodies according to their portions; according to the decrees that God hath set, as the bounds of the ocean, that it should not pass over as a flood, so God has set the bounds of light lest it pass over and consume the planets.
The concept of bounds of the ocean in verse 90 may be too distant from the governing law of light in verse 13 to be clearly connected, but there are still interesting echoes of Section 88.

In sum, there appear to be noteworthy echoes of the Doctrine and Covenants in the KEP, primarily the GAEL, and especially for Sections 76, 77, 84, 88, and 93, all dating to before 1835.

Other parallels are found by considering some cosmological information in the Book of Abraham and comparing it to Section 121. Facsimile 2, Fig. 5 refers to the moon, earth, and sun and their "annual revolutions," while Abraham 3:6 speaks of "set time" of rotating heavenly bodies, namely, the earth, the moon (the lesser light), and the sun (the greater light). Compare this to Doctrine and Covenants 121:30-31, in light of the above-mentioned Character 2.39 with its reference to the bounds of the ocean that echo Doctrine and Covenants 88:90:
30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land [earth], or to the sun, moon, or stars— 
31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times.
Doctrine and Covenants 121 dates to March 20, 1839, after the 1835 translation work for the Book of Abraham, and appears to draw upon the unusual "set time" language from Abraham 3:6. Some argue that Abraham 3 and possible Facsimile 2 came later, around 1842, but John Gee and others have argued that most of the book was probably translated (at least a first draft) in 1835, though some Hebrew works in the transliteration system of Joshua Seixas may have been added later after the Saints studied Hebrew in 1836. The relationship the Abraham 3:6 and Doctrine and Covenants 121:30-31 suggest that Abraham 3:6 was translated before 1839, and thus probably in 1835 since there was very little done with the Book of Abraham between 1836 and 1842. 

Consideration of the intertextuality with the Doctrine and Covenants puts some bounds on the dating for the translation of the Book of Abraham, favoring much of the book having been translated early rather than in 1842. It also reminds us that whatever the purpose of the puzzling Kirtland Egyptian Papers, the presence of text from the Doctrine and Covenants, along with an abundance of "Egyptian" characters that are not Egyptian, indicates that its purpose may have been something other than trying to translated the real Egyptian on the scrolls.
This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How to Make a Chinese Woman Cry (Please Try This!)

Last night my wife and I had the pleasure of speaking with a large group of students from a US university who were touring China to learn about business and life here. I was with part of the group in one banquet room and my wife was with several others, and both of us were telling our story while they ate. We talked about how much we love living here, how great the people are, how proud we are of China's progress in IP and innovation, how wonderful my wife's Chinese students are, etc. There was no agenda to praise China, it's just impossible for us to talk about our 8 years here without recognizing that we love this place and the vast majority of the Chinese people we know.

While my wife was speaking, a highly educated Chinese woman, a professor living in the US, started crying and explained why: "It's been so long since I've heard anybody from the US say anything nice about China." She's heard so much bashing, so much hostility, and knows of Chinese people in the US who get told to "go back to your own country!" That very day they had met with a US government representative who rather openly said negative things about China. How sad that our few sincere words would be so rare that it made a woman cry. Know some Chinese people? Try this on them and let me know what happens. Say something nice and make the world a better place.

This week a large group of performers from Brigham Young University are coming to perform at what may be the nicest performance hall in Shanghai (the beautiful Shanghai Culture Square, site of many Broadway musicals and other high-end performances). It's a celebration of BYU's 40-year relationship with China. I'm so grateful to the leaders at BYU and the many students, coaches, and others that made this huge event possible. Doing this in the middle of tensions with the trade war is an important symbol of BYU's commitment to friendship in spite of whatever is happening with politics. I believe Utah itself also stands out as a place with high interest in China and other foreign countries, with a willingness to learn, to share, and to be friends. Please don't let the acrimony of politics destroy our ability to be friends with others from afar.

There is so much the West needs to learn from China, including its culture and history, its rise and rapid growth, its innovation, its people, its rich languages, its family values, and (please oh please oh please!) its food. A great Chinese meal brings tears to my eyes -- here's hoping some of you might make me cry when I'm back in the States for a while this summer!

Monday, May 27, 2019

He Whose Name Cannot Be Spoken: Hugh Nibley

Whether you agree with Hugh Nibley or not, those doing research on the Book of Abraham and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers must recognize that he was certainly the most prolific scholar to dig into those issues. While he would modify many of his early viewpoints on several issues and would surely withdraw or modify some, in light of ongoing discoveries, were he around today, much of what he discovered and published remains relevant and at least deserves to be considered.

In a recent conversation with an LDS graduate student digging into ancient languages including Egyptian, I learned that he had great respect for Nibley’s magnum opus on the Book of Abraham, One Eternal Round.  He felt it had a great deal of value that most LDS members and perhaps most LDS scholars have failed to consider. When my copy of The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts, edited by Robin Scott Jensen and Brian M. Hauglid (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Historian’s Press, 2018, hereafter JSP Vol. 4) finally reached me in Shanghai, I was anxious to see how this valuable volume would treat past scholarship on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers and the Book of Abraham. I was especially interested to see how it would respond to the intricate analysis presented in One Eternal Round and other voluminous works of Nibley, the first scholar to dig into the Joseph Smith Papyri and perhaps the most important scholar to have addressed numerous issues around the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (KEP), the papyri, the Facsimiles, and the text of the Book of Abraham.

To my amazement, as I read JSP Vol. 4, it seemed that every time there was an issue where I would expect a helpful reference to findings from Hugh Nibley or other scholars such as John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, or others, there was simply silence.   Turning to the list of works cited (pp. 340–349), I was even more surprised to see Nibley was completely missing. This volume has hundreds of footnotes: 205 in the section on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL), 215 in the section for the Egyptian Alphabet documents, 128 in the Introduction, 209 in the section on the Facsimile printing plates and published Book of Abraham, etc. JSP Vol. 4 is willing to cite a non-LDS critic to the effect that there is "some evidence" suggesting the Book of Abraham is derived from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, but chooses not to mention that there is abundant evidence from multiple scholars for the opposite conclusion, that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are derived from an already existing translation. What’s going on? This points to what may be a gap in the interpretive framework that is implicitly if not explicitly presented in JSP Vol. 4. Much more than just Nibley may have been overlooked.

Sadly, the editorial comments in the JSP Vol. 4 seem to avoid any hint that there may be antiquity or authenticity anywhere in Joseph’s translated text or in the comments on the Facsimiles, when the neglected works of Nibley and others, even if only cited by way of reviewing the past LDS responses to the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, could at least have pointed to help for readers wishing to understand the potential for authenticity. John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein are LDS Egyptologists and professors at BYU who have dealt with many of the thorny issues of the Book of Abraham and have been able to point to numerous fascinating details in favor of some ancient roots in the texts, while also recognizing the challenges. Their relative absence from this volume is disconcerting. [Update, May 29&30: (Deleted a contested sentence here after receiving further input.) Yes, I understand that for the purposes of presenting the documents for the JSP Project, there really is no fundamental need to cite any works of Nibley or other LDS scholars on what the documents do or do not mean. So I suppose that if there were no commentary in the volume pointing to the meaning and purpose of the documents, no attempts to guide the reader by presenting context and environmental influences and theories regarding the "translation," just the documents and their transcriptions and the barest of solid facts about who wrote what when, then there might be no imbalance in excluding Nibley's work. But this is a book that needs commentary and context!]

Fortunately, the important Introduction of JSP Vol. 4 does not fail to cite Gee and Muhlestein, treating them with better respect than Nibley. But not much more. Gee’s valuable Introduction to the Book of Abraham is cited on p. xviii regarding a tiny detail in the chain of events regarding the bringing of Egyptian artifacts to America. On p. xiv,  three of his works are cited on the issue of how long the scrolls were, but only after citing and accepting the views of others who claim they were much shorter than Gee’s calculation (that’s not to say Gee’s calculation was correct, but rather illustrates the general neglect of many weightier matters Gee addresses). That appears to be the extent of references in the Introduction to Gee’s work. Elsewhere, the occasional references appear to be about tiny details rather than to his overarching views and major contributions to the debate over the Book of Abraham. As for Muhlestein, he is cited once in the Introduction on p. xxv to the effect that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers have been found by scholars “to be of no actual value in understanding Egyptian.” That is certainly true, but Muhlestein, like Gee, has much more to say about the actual value of Joseph Smith’s work and how faithful readers can cope with some of the puzzles. On that, there is silence.

But perhaps I am misunderstanding something. Am I asking the Joseph Smith Papers to abandon scholarly credibility to pursue my apologetic fantasies?

The outstanding and brilliant JSP Project is clearly not about creating and publishing apologetics, but rather sharing documents for future scholarly work. But if the goal is not apologetics, neither can it be polemics. Unscholarly bias that supports positions that can undermine faith and weaken respect for the LDS scriptures must be avoided. Balance, openness, and scholarship must mean more than sharing only one perspective. Cited scholarship and perspectives on the complex interpretative issues around the KEP must not exclude and ignore relevant scholarship that refutes or undermines key positions of critics of the Church. Acknowledging such past scholarship should be a matter of course in a work like this, and could at least point readers to other ways of seeing the issues involved with the complex and puzzling documents that are presented.

It’s one thing to disagree with Nibley, but to pretend he does not exist reflects something other than openness and objective scholarship, IMO.

JSP Vol. 4 does much more than simply present and transcribe documents. There is extensive commentary and over a thousand footnotes, with each sentence of commentary and each choice of what to cite and what to ignore having the potential to reflect personal views of the editors. As is stated on the book cover and on the JSPP website,
The introductory material situates Smith’s efforts in the broader context of the nineteenth-century fascination with Egyptian history and culture, of his own effort to reveal truths from the ancient past, and of his other translation efforts. The annotation in this volume explores the relationships between and among the various manuscripts.  
The existence of extensive commentary and footnotes that identify (or ignore) relationships and create a “context” for the translation effort opens very large doors for editorial bias to influence the result. Unfortunately, the positions favored seem to support derivation of the Book of Abraham from the Kirtland Egyptian Papers rather than the other way around. They favor the critic's analysis of two related Book of Abraham manuscripts said to show Joseph Smith "translating" in live dictation, when there is strong evidence that those manuscripts were being copied by the scribes from an existing text, with Warren Parrish doing the dictation rather than Joseph Smith. They favor the "Egyptomania without Champollion" viewpoint where Joseph supposedly thought one Egyptian character could give huge chunks of text in a mystical "translation" process.

How the documents are presented and which perspectives are acknowledged and which are ignored is a critical issue that cannot be done with pretended obliviousness to the debates based on the documents in question.  Faithful Latter-day Saints have confronted the warts of the Book of Abraham and related documents for decades and have found ways to understand and cope with the issues without losing faith in the divine nature of the Restoration. Faithful Latter-day Saints have also seen great treasures in the Book of Abraham that point to the ancient roots of the Book of Abraham and the sacred value of the text, however it was revealed and crafted. A publication like JSP Vol. 4 that digs into the warts should, in my opinion, also not be afraid to hint, if only indirectly, at some of the beauty and not be ashamed to recognize the existence of scholarly perspectives of Nibley and others.  Nibley's responses to the Joseph Smith Papyri debates and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers are part of the history around the documents and a vital part of the broader context of the Book of Abraham story. It's a shame Nibley has been excised from the record. 



Monday, May 20, 2019

More on the Impact of Hebrew Study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers: Hurwitz and Some Curiousities in the GAEL

One of the many strange things in W.W. Phelps' Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language (GAEL) is his discussion of the "parts of speech." He shares some strange theories about how characters need to connect to the different parts of speech. But in discussing parts of speech, Phelps does not mention nouns. The word "pronoun" occurs once in the GAEL, but "noun" does not, while verbs are discussed a couple of times and mentioned as one of the "parts of speech." Here are two excerpts from the GAEL transcript at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website:
Page 1:
By counting the numbers of st[r]aight lines and preseving them, or considering them as qualifying adjectives we have the degrees of comparison There are five connecting parts of speech in the above character, called Za-ki an hish These five connecting parts of speech, for verbs, participlesprepositions, conjuntions, and adverbs. In translation translating this chara[c]ter, this subject must be continued until there are as many of these connecting parts of speech used as there are connections or connecting parts found in the character.

Page 15:
For instance, the first connection should be called Jugos, which signifies verb or action: and the second conneton should be called Ka=Jugos, which is a variation, according to the signification of the second degree: Kah Jugos sould <​be​> preserved in the second degree. It signifies an action passed: The third connection is called Kah pr=ga=os, which signifies an action to be receved or <​to​> come to pass. The fourth connection is called Ka=os-Ju which signifies connection and the fifth is called Ka-os=Juga=os and is used to qualify according to the signification of the fifth degree. whether for prepositions, verbs, adve[r]bs &c.

When I first read Phelps' comments in the always painful to read GAEL, I was puzzled about his apparent omission of nouns as a part of speech, when they clearly are present in the GAEL. A possible explanation might come from Phelps' study of Hebrew. 

Perhaps Phelps was influenced by the discussion of the relationship of nouns and verbs in some of the Hebrew books he may have encountered when the Saints began delving into Hebrew. Consider one of the major works on Hebrew in the early 1800s: Hyman Hurwitz, The Eytmology and Syntax, in Continuation of, The Elements of the Hebrew Language, (London: John Taylor, 1831); available at Google Books (Google Books also has a downloadable PDF; also see the 1835 2nd edition at Archive.org, but note that this begins after his 96-page The Elements of the Hebrew Language, 2nd ed. (London: John Taylor, 1835) -- the latter is more useful because it can be searched).

Hurwitz makes an argument over several pages that nouns tend to come from verbs and that verbs should take priority:
...it follows that these two species of words [verbs and nouns] must have formed the very rudiments of language. But, as if both could not have been invented at the same time, it has been made a question which of the two has a right to claim the priority. Most of the Oriental Grammarians have decided in favor of the Verb.  (p. 8)

...the class of words which grammarians denominate nouns, must originally have been verbal, (somewhat like the words called participles,) expressive of some property of circumstance by which the named object was characterized. And indeed, such is still the character of the far greater portion of Hebrew nouns, even of those which designate natural objects [here a list of examples is given including ra-ki-a, the firmament, and l'ba-nah, the moon, like Libnah in the Book of Abraham].(p. 10)

This being the case, we can easily comprehend how the same word would frequently be used both as a noun and as a verb.... (p. 12)

In all these examples it is evidence that there is no distinction whatever between the noun and the verb; but even in those where a distinction exists, it is so slight, as clearly to show the common origin of the words... (p. 13)
Both theory and fact lead me, therefore, to conclude that the Hebrew nouns were originally verbalia; and that verbs ought to be considered as the elements of speech, not on account of their priority of invention, but because they generally contain the primary signification of words. (p. 14)

Hurwitz also uses the phrase "parts of speech" eight times in his text, with "part of speech" occurring four times. This may seem like a common phrase, but a search in Google Books for "parts of speech" between 1700 and 1835 yields only 14 hits. The singular "part of speech" over that time period yielded 12 hits. These are miniscule numbers. "Parts of speech" may not be a very common phrase at all, yet Phelps uses it nine times in the GAEL (six times on the first page) and Hurwitz uses it almost as much in his book. Hurwitz's first use is in pointing out that verbs will be the starting place for treating the different parts of speech:
In treating of the different parts of speech, Orientalists generally begin with the verb. (p. vii)
The early Hebrew Grammarians reckoned only three parts of speech : 1) the name, in which they included nouns and adjectives : 2) the verb : 3) the particle in which they included the other classes. [Hebrew omitted] (p. 6)
Could Phelps' emphasis on verbs and omission of nouns as "parts of speech" derive from study of Hurwitz?

Another characteristic of the GAEL is the frequent use of the term "signification" to describe various aspects of the words being examined. There are 25 occurrences of this term in the relatively brief text. Hurwitz also uses that word dozens of times. It's more common than "parts of speech," though, so this is probably not a significant clue. Correction: It's not super common before 1835. On Google Books, there are only 19 hits between 1700 and 1835. So maybe it should be considered as another possible link between Hurwitz and Phelps. Not too much can be made of using a known but not highly common word, though. But in combination with "parts of speech" and the teaching of the priority of verbs over nouns, perhaps there's a basis for believing that Hurwitz's book has either directly or indirectly shaped Phelps during the early 1836 period of intense Hebrew study among the Latter-day Saints.

The possible relationships between Phelps' writings in the GAEL and a book on Hebrew by Hyman Hurwitz could be one more indication that the Kirtland Egyptian Papers cannot be understood without recognizing the impact of Hebrew study on their content.

We see hints not only from (1) the many terms in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers related to Hebrew letters including aleph, beth, daleth, gimel, he, and possibly ayin,  (2) awareness of the meaning and numerical value of beth and the numerical value of aleph, (3) apparent awareness of diacritical marks such as the lone dot to represent the vowel sound "i" ("iota") and dots placed in various positions relative to characters similar to Hebrew pointing, (4) use of at least one and possible several Hebrew coin letters from Moses Stuart, including the surprisingly appropriate use of the unusual coin letter form of beth for the number 2 in the Egyptian Counting document, and now (5) incorporation of Hurwitz's teachings on the lack of distinction of verbs and nouns with priority given to verbs, expressed in language referring to the "parts of speech."

It seems to me that the role of Hebrew study on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers needs more attention and research. It is true that Joseph ceased translating (or had already finished most of the translation) of the Book of Abraham a few days after Oliver returned to Kirtland on Nov. 20, 1835 with a batch of materials on the Hebrew language, which Joseph asked him to acquire, perhaps believing the study of Hebrew could strengthen the intellectual study of Egyptian. But the cessation of Joseph's translation work does not mean that his peers ceased their work on the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. In fact, the surviving documents seem to show various influences from their zealous Hebrew study.

Unfortunately, in Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers dealing with the Book of Abraham, it seems to be assumed that the work with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers was pretty much completed by the time serious Hebrew study started. There seems to be essentially no recognition of the impact of Hebrew study on the project or on the documents. This may have resulted in a missed opportunity to more accurately date the undated documents and to more fully understand the influences that shaped the study and speculations of early Latter-day Saints, however fallacious those purely human intellectual efforts were. But recognizing that at least significant parts of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were shaped by Hebrew study in early 1836 (ranging from the early Egyptian Counting document to the later GAEL, where Hebrew influence is seen from beginning to end) helps us recognize that those documents were probably prepared with an already translated (and revealed) text in hand and were probably not being used to "translate" the Book of Abraham in the first place. It may be time to seriously reconsider the Joseph Smith Paper's Project date of "circa July–circa November 1835" for the GAEL and other documents related to the apparent "translation" of "Egyptian" (I use quotes because many of the "Egyptian" characters aren't even from the scrolls, but may come from other influences that are not adequately considered in JSP Vol. 4, such as Masonic characters from W.W. Phelps, Hebrew coin characters and other versions of Hebrew letters published by Moses Stuart, etc.).



This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts:




Friday, May 17, 2019

John Hajicek on the Hidden Sacrifices Behind the Printing of the Book of Mormon

One of the really remarkable friends of the Church is John Hajicek (pronounced "high-check," I believe). John is an expert in documents and LDS history with vast resources of knowledge and treasures of documents and artifacts, with an abiding love of history. You can learn more about him at Mormonism.com and on his Facebook site (facebook.com/johnhajicek/). He shared the following post on Facebook, and kindly gave me permission to share it here. It's a fascinating and painful reminder of the sacrifices that have been made to bring forth the printed record of the Book of Mormon. Something to ponder!
 
The Book of Mormon. The greatest American grassroots work of literature, and most compelling Christian tale printed in America. The sacrifice was incalculable, and the book is priceless. The cotton-rag paper for the first edition was made in the town of Manchester, in the same town with the Hill Cumorah. The lead type was set one character at a time, from a manuscript without punctuation. One thousand sheep gave their lives for binding the first edition. But also, the printers of each of the first three editions (Palmyra: 1830, Kirtland: 1837, Nauvoo: 1840) gave their own lives so that you could read this book.

Printing ink was made of oil and charcoal, and caused “black lung” and tuberculosis among printers in the 1800s. (See James Alexander Miller, “Pulmonary Tuberculosis Among Printers”, 1908; and Margaret Cairns and Alice Stewart, “Pulmonary Tuberculosis Mortality in the Printing and Shoemaking Trades”, 1951.)

1. E. B. Grandin, the printer of the first edition Book of Mormon, was born in 1806, so he was 23 when he began printing 1830 publication. He died in 1845 of “pneumonia” at age 39.

2. Oliver Cowdery, the printer of the second edition Book of Mormon was also born in 1806, so he was 30 years old when he undertook to print the corrected edition of 1837. He died in 1850, at age 43, at the Whitmer home in Richmond, Missouri. For years, he was coughing up blood, diagnosed as “consumption” (pulmonary tuberculosis).

3. Nauvoo printers Don Carlos Smith and Robert B. Thompson both died in August 1841 from tuberculosis after printing runs of the third edition Book of Mormon, a revised version. “Consumption” is the cause given by mother Lucy Mack Smith. Don Carlos was the youngest brother of Joseph Smith Jr., born in the spring of 1816 (the year without a Vermont summer), and so he died at only 25 years of age. Thompson was born in England like John Taylor, emigrated to Toronto like John Taylor, and was baptized alongside John Taylor in Toronto in 1836—he died at age 29 (John Taylor lived to be a half-century older).

Nobody has ever told you what I tell you. Think about those young lives, if you think that the Book of Mormon is too much work to read. This is why I bought an original of one of these editions, when I was just a teenager—and I still work to discover, acquire, preserve, and share exemplary copies of these versions and other rare Mormon books from New England, New York, and the Midwest.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Egyptomania and Ohio: Thoughts on a Lecture from Terryl Givens and a Questionable Statement in the Joseph Smith Papers, Vol. 4

In a lecture I heard from Terryl Givens, one of my favorite LDS writers and thinkers, I was intrigued with his views on Egyptomania and its influence on Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham. His lecture is "Joseph Smith and Translation: Notes Toward a Theoretical Framework," The Mormon Translation Conference, Logan Utah, 16 March 2017, available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYkEPHH2xB8. Here's my transcription of a key segment from 14:15 to 15:50 in the video, as Givens explains how he thinks Joseph thought about Egyptian hieroglyphs:
We've had a few references today to Nineteenth Century Egyptomania. The point that I want to make is that the kind of Egyptomania that I think might have been most relevant to Joseph Smith's religious fashioning predates the Napoleonic engagement with Egypt. It goes back to the Early Modern period. And I'm going to just summarize this very quickly for you by saying this, that the notion of hieroglyphs in particular in the Enlightenment and Romantic circles carried echoes of priestly powers of expression and discernment. But the term was also taken to imply an almost mystical concision and economy of expression unknown to modern languages. Many language theorists working in the Nineteenth Century to try to trace language to its Adamic form were convinced that the further back you go, the more compressed and concise language becomes. By the time you get to the hieroglyph, ... you have the linguistic equivalent of a kind of neutron bomb, so that the notion being that here is a priestly emblem that has magically and mystically oracularly condensed within itself worlds of meaning which only a priestly power can unlock and allow to blossom into fullness. When I think of Joseph Smith laboring over the Egyptian Papyri and the whole Abrahamic cosmology that emerges out of this, it seems to me that we get a perfect understanding of how the hieroglyph was understood.
Interesting and eloquently expressed, but to me this seems painfully unaware of some essentials. Givens here places Joseph into the mindset prior to the Napoleonic engagement with Egypt, meaning, of course, that Given's feels Joseph and his brethren were somehow swept up in Egyptomania without being aware of the hottest news in the world of Egyptomania, namely, that the Rosetta Stone had been found showing Egyptian to be a running language like Greek, hot and widely discussed news from 1799, coupled with the 1822 news that Champollion had begun to decipher Egyptian. These were key drivers for Egyptomania in the 19th century, and cannot be so readily excised from Joseph's world. Givens' view arguably would divorce Joseph from his environment in 1835 and from the very Egyptomania that supposedly inspired him.

Even if the Joseph Smith of 1835 were still in "uneducated farm boy mode" and had been unaware of Champollion before purchasing the mummies and scrolls from Chandler, Chandler and the many other educated people who would come to Kirtland to see the artifacts and meet Joseph surely would have broken the well-known news to him: "What, you didn't hear? It's largely a phonetic language that can be deciphered; it's not all mysticism with vast treasures of text hidden within each character."

Givens' view, romantic as it may be,  also requires divorcing Joseph from the Book of Mormon. Joseph's views on Egyptian arguably should not depart wildly from the views expressed by Mormon in the manuscript Joseph translated. Mormon in Mormon 9:32 tell us that:
[W]e have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.
The reformed Egyptian of the Book of Mormon reflected speech. It must have been phonetic, or at least the reformed script Mormon referred to, like the reformed Egyptian script of demotic. That sensible view is wildly incompatible with the romantic notions Givens and others want to see in Joseph's approach to the Book of Abraham. But there's more to consider. On the Joseph Smith Papers website, you can see this quote from Joseph as he discusses the title page of the Book of Mormon, which came from the last plate (not the last character!) in the Nephite record:
I would mention here also in order to correct a misunderstanding, which has gone abroad concerning the title page of the Book of Mormon, that it is not a composition of mine or of any other man’s who has lived or does live in this generation, but that it is a literal translation taken from the last leaf of the plates, on the left hand side of the collection of plates, the language running same as ​all​ Hebrew ​ writing​ in general​. 
It was a running language. Not an utterly mystical one where each squiggle could be paragraphs of English. With his experience in reformed Egyptian behind him, does it stand to reason that once he saw the Egyptian scrolls in 1835, he would suddenly reverse course and see it as pure mysticism completely unlike Hebrew, no longer phonetic or a running language?

Further evidence against such a view comes from Joseph's comments on the meaning of the Facsimiles. The four hieroglyphs for the four sons of Horus become a remarkably concise "the four quarters of the earth," a statement that is actually quite accurate (but you aren't going to hear that from critics). Other statements he makes regarding the facsimiles and the characters tend to be equally brief. No sign of magical compactness with neutron bombs of meaning waiting to be unfolded. That idea died swiftly, though not universally, as news of the translation of the Rosetta Stone spread. It was old news when Joseph saw the scrolls.

Unfortunately, Givens' view may have been shaped by an unwarranted opinion from the editors of Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers, one of whom, Brian Hauglid, is a co-author with Givens on an upcoming book of the Pearl of Great Price (coming out in August), where, sadly, I expect the beleaguered Book of Abraham might receive a little more unnecessary beleaguering based on the popular model of Joseph erroneously seeing worlds of text in a few squiggles, and, if my fears come true, the Book of Abraham treatment will lack discussion of the many treasures in favor of its antiquity and in favor of other models of the translation. After all, Hauglid has openly expressed his hostility to "apologetics" and has denounced the LDS Egyptologists who have pointed to many important evidences which genuinely need to be considered. In Volume 4 of the Joseph Smith Papers, we read the questionable view that Champollion's work really wasn't well known until decades later and that it did not really changed the way typical people thought about Egyptian. Here's the statement from the opening pages:
Even after Champollion's groundbreaking discoveries, though, some continued to assert competing theories about Egyptian hieroglyphs, whether they rejected Champollion's findings or were ignorant of them. Indeed, in America in the 1830s and 1840s, Champollion's findings were available to only a small group of scholars who either read them in French or gleaned them from a limited number of English translations or summaries. (Volume 4, p. xviii)
That's an astonishing assertion. Americans in the 1830s had not heard of Champollion's work? Only a tiny group of scholars were in on the news? And should we also believe that news of the Rosetta Stone and its related implications had also gone unnoticed in the U.S.? Sure, the detailed scholarly work of Champollion was for scholars, but the headlines were for everyone. Was there Egyptomania or not?

Was Champollion an unknown in Joseph's day? If so, one clue might be found in books and newspapers that mention Champollion. Do they need to take several sentences to explain to all the non-scholars and non-French speakers just who he is and what the Rosetta Stone was in order to bring readers up to speed, or do they act as if everyone knows the man and what he did? Below is an 1828 newspaper from Delaware, not far from where the Saints were. The source is the Delaware Journal, October 10, 1828, page 2, available at the Library of Congress' Chronicling America site (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov):



Here it is taken for granted that readers know who Champollion is, and that his first name need not be given, just M. for Monsieur. It is taken for granted that readers know that he has translated Egyptian hieroglyphics, and even the Rosetta Stone need not be mentioned. That he can read an Egyptian scroll is taken for granted. That's not news -- the news is what might be on the scroll. This was an era when people knew of Champollion. How could there be Egyptomania without being aware of the most amazing news in the history of Egyptology, that Champollion had begun to decipher Egyptian? And what the Rosetta Stone shows us is that a reasonable number of Greek characters correspond to a reasonable number of Egyptian characters. 

Maybe folks in Delaware were up to speed on this, but perhaps you are wondering about the more remote netherworld of Ohio. Could those more rural folks, perhaps swept up in their own agrarian brand of Egyptomania, have heard anything of the Rosetta Stone and its translator? The following story from an Ohio newspaper in 1837 does remind us of the history of the Rosetta Stone, but assumes readers understand its multilingual nature. Champollion and Dr. Young are mentioned as if readers will know these famous men with no need to give their first names or the details of what they did regarding their "discoveries concerning hieroglyphic language of Egypt." The source is the Maumee Express, November 18, 1837, p. 2, also available at Chronicling America (hat tip to Val Sederholm):

(Click to enlarge)


Critics of the Book of Abraham and even some faithful LDS writers have proposed that crazed Egyptomania fueled the imagination of the early Latter-day Saints, leading them to believe that Egyptian was a purely mystical language where a single character could require paragraphs of text to convey the intricate details hidden within. Such thinking was rapidly overthrown by the 1799 discovery of the Rosetta Stone and especially the 1822 translation work. Val Sederholm does a great job in describing what that would mean for ordinary people in Ohio during the Kirtland era (the text below is an excerpt from his I Began to Reflect blog, "What did Joseph Smith say about the nature of Egyptian hieroglyphs?"):
What did Ohioans in Joseph Smith's day know about Champollion's cracking of the Egyptian hieroglyphic script?

The Maumee Express, dated 18 November 1837 (page 2), gives us the answer.

In a notice entitled "Antique," [shown above] we read that "The Currators [sic] of the Albany Institute [Albany, New York] acknowledge the donation of a copy in plaster of the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum, from Henry James Esq."

The notice, doubtless published in various states, goes on to say: "The interest of this piece of antiquity is increased by the fact that all the discoveries of Dr. Young and Champollion concerning the hieroglyphic language of Egypt, originated in a study of the inscription on it."

One thing to admire about this little notice is how it tosses off "all the discoveries of Dr. Young and Champollion" without elaboration. Ohioans, and other Americans, back in 1837 knew more about "all the discoveries of Dr. Young and Champollion" than do Ohioans today.


Professor John T. Irwin has written about how these sensational discoveries awoke American intellectual--and, yes, imaginative--curiosity among academics and the populace at large. "In 1829 Henry Wheaton, the noted legal historian and diplomat, published in the North American a twenty-five-page review of one of Champollion's works." By 1831 Edward Everett was already publishing lengthy, widely-distributed, articles on the question of Champollion's priority over Thomas Young, while at once dismissing Athanasius Kircher's older views about hieroglyphs as metaphysical emblem with snorts of disdain: "utterly baseless;" "laboriously absurd" (John T. Irwin, American Hieroglyphics, 4-5). On the other hand, "laboriously absurd" also perfectly describes the symbolic priestly writing at Dendara, a system of hieroglyphic writing students struggle to grasp even today. And at Dendara we find the great astronomical ceiling, the mapped Egyptian heaven, ironically the object of Everett's attention. 

I'm just looking over the shoulder of a typical Ohio farmer in 1837, as he opens his newspaper and nods knowingly. . .


Egyptology sprang from the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799. Because the stone bore a text in hieroglyphic, demotic, and Greek, the world thereafter knew that "the hieroglyphic language of Egypt" was a running script as Greek was a running script, or perhaps as Chinese was a running ideographic script. 1799 thus marks a clean break between timeless speculations about the metaphysical nature of the script and what scholars now plainly saw on the Stone. The news went everywhere--even to the American frontier.

And to the South--and on to Hawaii, where the work of Young, Champollion, and Rosselini was pondered beneath the palms of Kona and Waikiki (The Polynesian). 
The Edgefield Advertiser (South Carolina), dated 12 April 1838 (pg. 1), has much to say about the work of Champollion:


"The genealogical and chronological table of Abydos, discovered in 1818, by Mr. Bankes, so well studied, explained, and commented upon by Champollion [see, they knew a lot about all this], and which is universally regarded as the most interesting and precious monument which has been drawn from the ruins of ancient Egypt since the celebrated stone of Rosetta. . ." (the italic added).

Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/


The above sampling, easily multiplied, shows both keen interest and an easy familiarity--not to know about these breakthroughs in 1837 would be like not knowing about the railroad or the steam engine.

One thing is for sure: the documentary evidence upsets conclusions put forward by the editors of the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers (Documents 5): "Though French scholar Jean-Francois Champollion came to recognize the phonetic nature of Egyptian hieroglyphs during the 1820s and early 1830s, his ideas were not fully embraced or widely published until decades after his death in 1832" (p. 81, italic added). "Though news of Champollion's work had reached the United States by the 1830s, few Americans had access to it or understood the significance of his work on Egyptian hieroglyphs" (83 n. 354; Isaac Stuart's translation of Greppo's essay on Champollion, Boston, 1830, is mentioned). 

There is a need to sort out the basic difference between Champollions's written work and his winged ideas.

Professor Irwin hits the nail on the head: "The name Champollion appears in some of the most important literary works of the American Renaissance". . . "Yet for most modern readers, it is a name that requires an identifying footnote" (Irwin, ibid., 3). Ohioans in 1837 didn't need a Jean-Francois attached to their Champollion.
If we want a "a perfect understanding of how the hieroglyph was understood," we need to quit looking at the Book of Abraham and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers with a blurry romantic lens. We need to pay attention to what Joseph Smith actually said and did. The Kirtland Egyptian Papers, whose dates may be much later than the Joseph Smith Papers Project indicates (see "Moses Stuart or Joshua Seixas? Exploring the Influence of Hebrew Study on the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language"), simply cannot reflect the translation in process, no matter how appealing,  romantic, or scholarly that seems, but represent some strange and perhaps romantic effort after at least much of the translation was done, an exercise that was quickly abandoned. It's time we consider the data more fully and with the proper lens.

Though I disagree with some of the views that Dr. Terryl Givens has expressed, I remain a fan and am very appreciative of his many excellent LDS-related works. Things are complex with the Pearl of Great Price, though, and popular theories among scholars (and critics) can lead to blindness and painful errors. I've made many myself as I blog and write, and recognize that I also need to called to task when I blunder. That's how we learn and progress.

For Brian Hauglid, whose transformative journey has unfortunately challenged the faith of some impressionable Latter-day Saints, may I suggest that you step back and learn from the Book of Mormon before you reconsider what the Book of Abraham documents actually show.  Have a conversation with Jack Welch and the things he has learned about the early Book of Mormon manuscripts, especially the clues from the mistakes that scribes make when they are transcribing dictation versus copying an existing manuscript. Then evaluate the claims of Dan Vogel regarding the two manuscripts that Dan and you believe reveal Joseph Smith dictating fresh text for the Book of Abraham from a few characters in the margins. With that added awareness, it may become apparent to you that some important assumptions in your transformative journey was wrong. Then look at the influence of Hebrew study on the KEP, including Moses Stuart's strange Hebrew coin letter for letter #2, beth, which just happens to be exactly the same as the Egyptian Counting document for the number 2. That and the other obvious uses of Hebrew letters in the KEP strongly suggests that the dating of the GAEL and other key documents must be much later than you and our critics have been assuming. Reset your assumptions, drop the hostile accusations and recognize that your fellow mortals make all sorts of mistakes but may be acting in good faith, Joseph Smith included, and seek guidance on how you should balance the legitimate question marks with the significant body of non-abhorrent apologetic data that deserves more room than you've left for it in your recent remarks. The Book of Abraham is puzzling, but wonderful, and need not be recast as mere human error from a prophet who didn't know the first thing about translation. Indeed, the nature of his translation from the reformed Egyptian of the Book of Mormon suggests that at least when speaking as a prophet through the power of God, he somehow knew a great deal about that running language.


This post is part of a recent series on the Book of Abraham, inspired by a frustrating presentation from the Maxwell Institute. Here are the related posts: