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

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Royal Skousen's Interesting Theory on the Book of Abraham and Its Relationship to the Papyri

A reader raised an interesting question after reading Dr. Royal Skousen's C.V. at BYU, where he mentions a theory he is exploring that has not yet been published. Under the heading "scriptural studies," Dr. Skousen proposes the following:
The Book of Abraham was a revelation given to Joseph Smith, who later (mistakenly thinking it was a translation from the papyri he had in his possession) tried to connect the revealed text to the papyri by inserting two sentences, verse 12c and verse 14, into Abraham 1. The secondary nature of these two inserted sentences can be directly observed in the photos of folios 1a and 1b in the document identified as Ab2. Verse 12c is totally inserted intralinearly, not partially (as incorrectly represented in the accompanying transcription – and without comment). Verse 14 is not written on the page as are other portions of this part of the text (instead, it is written flush to the left), which implies that it is a comment on the papyri and that it was added to the revealed text. Overall, these results imply that all the facsimiles from the papyri (1-3 in the published Pearl of Great Price) should be considered extracanonical and additions to the revealed text of the Book of Abraham, not integral parts of the original text of the book.
The reader asked for my opinion. He writes, "I personally like the idea. A follow up question: is there anything in the new Joseph Smith Papers volume that corroborates Skousen's evaluation of those inserted verses that he mentioned?"

Great questions! I wasn't aware of this proposal from Skousen and find it interesting. I agree in part: I think Joseph could have received the revealed text without being sure where it came from, but because Facs. 1 and 3 came from one of the scrolls, it’s plausible that he or his scribes thought the text must have some connection to that particular papyrus, the same one used for some of the characters that were placed in the margins of three early Book of Abraham Manuscripts (Manuscript A, Manuscript B, and Manuscript C at the wonderful Joseph Smith Papers Website, where you can review these documents at high resolution).

However, I think Skousen’s statements about the intralinear insertion of comments by Joseph need to be tempered. The text corresponding to our current Abraham 1:12c does look like Frederick G. Williams stuffed that phrase into some open space (see image below) and the JSP volume on the BOA recognizes that Williams has made an insertion of text there (JSPRT vol. 4, pp. 1954-195), but the twin manuscript being written by Parrish at apparently the same time does not show the same feature. Thus, it's unlikely to represent a dictated on-the-fly correction by Joseph. As for verse 14, it does look like it has a different left margin at the top of page 2 of Williams’ manuscript, but that need not mean it was an afterthought for page 4 of his manuscript also begins with a margin shifted to the left as on page 2.

Final lines on p. 1 of Frederick G. Williams BOA Manuscript A showing an apparent
insertion in the last portion of Abraham 1:12.

There is also adequate vertical space for that text, and if it were inserted after the following paragraph was already written down as some kind of afterthought, the amount of white space that would have been left in that scenario seems excessive compared to his other pages. So it may have been an insertion in Manuscript A but it's unclear.

Further, the twin manuscript by Parrish has this text flowing nicely and showing no sign of being an afterthought from Joseph's live dictation.

The really critical issue, though, is whether the apparent dictation represented live creation of newly translated text from Joseph, or whether the scribes were working with an existing translation. Skousen's proposal only makes sense if Joseph were dictating either newly translated text or previously recorded text with live emendations. But given that there is significant textual evidence that the scribes were working with an existing manuscript and that most likely the reader was Warren Parrish, reading aloud for the benefit of his fellow scribe as they both created Book of Abraham manuscripts from an existing text, the two passages Skousen sees as Joseph's insertion cannot accurately be said to have been improvised in the session where the twin manuscripts were recorded. Joseph may have made a correction in a previous manuscript, and the correction may have caused Parrish to stumble in his reading to Williams, resulting in the need to insert Abraham 1:12c in Williams' document.

It is also important to recognize that the purpose of these twin manuscripts does not appear to have been creating new translated text, but creating new more material based on the existing translation to enter into W.W. Phelp's Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. See https://mormanity.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-twin-boa-manuscripts-window-into.html, for whatever the purpose was of that abandoned and enigmatic document filled with many characters that are not on the papyri and quite a few that aren’t even Egyptian. 

The Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham (JSPRT vol. 4) states that the two passages in question  (v. 12c  and v. 14) appear to be insertions in Williams' Manuscript A, while  Parrish's Manuscript B does not show that for either, making the Williams manuscript unique (footnote 64 occurring on p. 239). I discuss those particular corrections and my take on them at https://mormanity.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-twin-book-of-abraham-manuscripts-do.html.

Phelps begins BOA Manuscript C by association one character with a short phrase and another with the name Abraham, using footnotes (1 and 2), but then drops that approach and has one character without footnotes associated with Abraham 1:3. He stops, and the work continues with BOA Manuscripts A and B by Williams and Parrish, respectively, who appear to be taking dictation simultaneously at first. But it’s important to recognize the extensive textual evidence that this was not live dictation of the original translation, but copying of an existing manuscript, and the reader appears to have been Parrish reading aloud for the benefit of Williams while he also makes a copy, up until Abraham 2:2, at which time Parrish quits (perhaps leaves due to his health issues) and Williams takes over, and then shows signs not of receiving dictation but copying visually (a massive dittography of Abraham 2:3-5). However, something is afoot with the verses mentioned by Skousen, perhaps because of editorial insertions in the original manuscript being copied, which may have caused Parrish to stumble in either reading or making his own copy, resulting in some corrections and disparities between the two writers.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Ignoring Christian Refugees from Iraq

While many people seem to think that the US has liberated Iraq, first from Saddam Hussein and then from the Islamic State, for the Assyrian Christian community in Iraq, one of the world's most ancient Christian communities, the liberation has been less than successful. They have been devastated by persecution  and many have had to flee the land where they have survived for many centuries. Sadly, the thousands of refugees have received very little attention and assistance.  Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut describes the situation in "The Latest UN Horror Show: Christian Refugees Ignored," published Aug. 4, 2019 by the Gatestone Institute. Here are is a brief excerpt:

Since the 2014 invasion and genocide by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, at least 16,000 Assyrian Christians from Iraq have become refugees in Jordan. Most are still suffering economically and psychologically there, under extremely difficult circumstances....

Lorance Yousuf Kazqeea, a Christian originally from Baghdad, for instance, has been an asylum seeker in Jordan with his wife and two children since September 2017, and is still trying to immigrate to the United States. He told Gatestone:
"The greatest challenge for us here is that Iraqi Christian refugees can't work legally. I was an IT (information technology) specialist in Baghdad. Many Christians from Iraq used to have a good job or business there. But we have lost everything. How are we supposed to support our families now? We rely on aid from charity organizations, churches and family members outside of Jordan. And in special and rare cases refugees get monthly salaries from the UNHCR.
"Christians from Iraq want to move to the West for safety and stability. But since January, the process has become even slower and more difficult. The UNHCR has not even granted newcomers refugee status since. They just give them an appointment date, then they cancel the date and give them a new one. So we all keep waiting."
The UNHCR was approached by Gatestone for a comment but has not replied.
Juliana Taimoorazy, founding president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, which has been active in Jordan since 2015, told Gatestone:
"Assyrian refugees in Jordan have lost everything in Iraq. One of the victims that our organization has been trying to help – a Christian mother in her 50s – used to have a hair salon in Iraq. ISIS terrorists attacked her, knifed her, destroying her abdominal area. The terrorists then set fire to her salon, home and everything else she owned. She and most of her family had to migrate to Jordan to seek asylum. They then applied for resettlement in Australia but were refused four times. However, their situation is even more tragic now. Her youngest children contracted an eye virus and are losing their eyesight gradually. Every 6 months, they have to renew the treatment and get new glasses. Her oldest daughter died recently in Iraq. Her teenage daughter, who was an excellent student in Iraq, has been unable to go to school for the last four years because she does not have the appropriate paperwork to go to school in Jordan. And because of that, she is suffering from severe depression. Around 50.000 Assyrians that have had to leave Iraq and have become refugees in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere have similar painful stories."
Taimoorazy made a plea to help the Christian victims of ISIS:
"We've been told ISIS has been militarily defeated, but will we leave the victims of ISIS alone? The aftermath of the ISIS genocide in Iraq is more important for the world to pay attention to. The victims are still suffering.
"The past atrocities... are unfolding before our eyes every day. Because of the refugee situation they are in, the Christian victims of ISIS have still not been liberated. For example, at least three children from one family are about to lose their eyesight because the parents are not able to provide money for their treatment. And their hope is diminishing. But we have more power than we are willing to admit. You can contact the local UNHCR office in your country and demand answers – why Iraqi Christians have been waiting for resettlement for years and why the West continuously rejects them. Western NGOs and churches can also have a local representative in Jordan. Every single individual can make a difference. The wounds of the victims of ISIS are still bleeding. Let us not stand on the sidelines."
Per Wikipedia's article on the Assyrians:
Most recently, the post-2003 Iraq War and the Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, have displaced much of the remaining Assyrian community from their homeland as a result of ethnic and religious persecution at the hands of Islamic extremists. Of the one million or more Iraqis reported by the United Nations to have fled Iraq since the occupation, nearly 40% were Assyrians even though Assyrians accounted for only around 3% of the pre-war Iraqi demography.
The plight of Christian refugees does not seem to get adequate attention from the UN and other nations. Maybe your voice and compassion can help change that.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Ifs, Ands, or Buts: A Reminder on the Origins of the Book of Mormon

In a past Maxwell Institute publication, Daniel Peterson made a great point about the nature of the language in the Book of Mormon that seems to defy theories of Joseph Smith as its author. See Daniel C. Peterson, "Mormonism as a Restoration," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 389–417. The article is no longer available at the Maxwell Institute's website, but is at the Scholar's Archive at BYU (PDF form only -- the numerous HTML-format articles at the Maxwell Institute did not survive the recent changes there).
A number of details from the Book of Mormon text appear to support a view of the book as a rather literal translation from an ancient document. In an ancient Hebrew idiom, for example, arrows are “thrown” (see, for example, Alma 49:22). Also, just as in ancient Hebrew and other Semitic languages, in a construction known as a “cognate accusative,” the word denoting the object of a verb is sometimes derived from the same root as the verb itself. “Behold,” says the prophet Lehi, “I have dreamed a dream.” Similarly, the (to us) redundant that in such expressions as “because that they are redeemed from the fall” and “because that my heart is broken” is a Hebraism (see, respectively, 2 Nephi 2:26 and 4:32).

But some Hebrew constructions that appeared in the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon have been erased from later printings, in a bid to make the book read more smoothly as English. One striking example of this involves a series of conditional sentences in Helaman 12:13–21. Such sentences, in English, typically feature an if-clause (either using the word if itself, or something equivalent), which expresses a hypothetical condition, and a result clause that describes what will occur if the hypothetical condition comes about. For example, “If you don’t study, you will fail.” The result clause may contain a word such as then, but commonly does not. By contrast, the result clause of a conditional sentence in ancient Hebrew can be introduced by the word wa (and), so that the sentence takes what might be termed an if-and form. The occurrence of if-and conditionals in the 1830 Book of Mormon seems to indicate that it did not originate in the mind of a native English-speaker, but is a quite literal translation from a Hebrew original:
13. yea and if he saith unto the earth move and it is moved. 14. yea if he say unto the earth thou shalt go back that it lengthen out the day for many hours and it is done.
16. and behold also if he saith unto the waters of the great deep be thou dried up and it is done.
17. behold if he saith unto this mountain be thou raised up and come over and fall upon that city that it be buried up and behold it is done.
19. and if the Lord shall say be thou accursed that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever and behold no man getteth it henceforth and forever.
20. and behold if the Lord shall say unto a man because of thine iniquities thou shalt be accursed forever and it shall be done.
21. and if the Lord shall say because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence and he will cause that it shall be so. (Helaman 12:13–14, 16–17, 19–21, 1830 edition)

4. and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart with real intent having faith in Christ and he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4, 1830 edition)
It is difficult to imagine a native speaker of English (such as Joseph Smith, though poorly educated at the time, indisputably was) producing such sentences. Yet they represent perfectly acceptable Hebrew.
Since that time, further research from Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack suggests that there is a persistent thread of Early Modern English in the text, some of which has been edited out to make the grammar more standard for our era. Whatever the cause for this, it's unreasonable to believe it was just Joseph's Yankee dialect at work. It's a fascinating complex of details about the translation of the Book of Mormon, a book that upon closer examination readily overturns many of the theories that have been offered to explain it as a modern product of Joseph Smith's environment.

On the other hand, the evidences mentioned above can be over-simplified. Not everything is Early Modern English or Hebraisms. It's a complex text.

Update, Aug. 6, 2019: Perhaps more interesting or more persuasive than the interesting oddities of grammar is the existence of legitimate Old World names in the many Book of Mormon names that are not found directly in the KJV.  For starters, consider this brief 2013 article from Stephen D. Ricks at The Interpreter: "Some Notes on Book of Mormon Names." But there is much more that could be said. Also consider Matthew Bowen's many articles at The Interpreter on the intelligent use of wordplays associated with Old World names in the Book of Mormon. You can see some information about numerous other Book of Mormon names in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon at BYU.edu, though in some cases there may be recent discoveries that have not yet have been entered into the data presented there.