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

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Geocentric Astronomy in the Book of Abraham? Dan Vogel's Refutation of LDS Scholars


Circumpolar star trails in a long-exposure photo of several hours, showing that stars closer to Polaris move on shorter trails, thus moving more slowly. The circumpolar stars always stay above the horizon. Courtesy of Wikipedia. By LCGS Russ - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In Dan Vogel's new book, Book of Abraham Apologetics (discussed in Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series), after stating that a knowledge of Egyptology is not necessary to address the issues regarding the Book of Abraham, he critiques LDS Egytpologists several times for their statements about ancient Egypt. While I believe amateurs should be able to challenge scholars and that good can come from anyone's reasonable critique or analysis of past scholarship, we amateurs should also recognize that those with formal training in their field may know what they are doing, so our critiques need to be backed with good evidence or logic and still may be wrong. In his attack on the views of John Gee and others regarding the astronomical content in the Book of Abraham, Vogel's critique strikes me as highly flawed.

One of the more subtle and interesting evidences that LDS scholars have offered for the antiquity of the Book of Abraham involves the astronomical information that the Lord gives Abraham in chapter 3 to prepare him for an encounter with Pharaoh. Only recently did LDS scholars note that the astronomical model that Abraham would use to teach Pharaoh makes the most sense when viewed as a type of geocentric model, one that Pharaoh could accept, in order to teach Pharaoh some important spiritual truths. The Lord seems to have given Abraham more advanced knowledge as well, but much of the discussion seems couched in terms of what one observes from the earth and with principles that could related well to the geocentric views of the Egyptians. See John Gee, “Abrahamic Astronomy,” in An Introduction to the Book of Abraham (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017), 115–120, and John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson, “‘And I Saw the Stars’: The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 1–16. (Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant is available online, either as one PDF of the entire volume or via links to individual PDFs of each chapter.)

In "Abrahamic Astronomy," Gee makes the basic case for a geocentric model that would Abraham could have used in talking with the Egyptians:

The astronomy in the Book of Abraham uses as its point of reference “the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:3, 5–7). It mentions various heavenly bodies, such as “the stars” (Abraham 3:2), among which is Kolob (Abraham 3:3–4). These provide a fixed backdrop for the heavens. Among the stars are various bodies that move in relation to the fixed backdrop, each of which is called a “planet” (Abraham 3:5, 8) or a “light” (Abraham 3:5–7), though since the sun and moon and certain stars are each also called a “planet,” we should not think of them as necessarily being what we call planets. Each of these planets is associated with “its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof” (Abraham 3:4). These lights revolve around something, and that is the fixed reference point, “the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:3, 5–7). The Book of Abraham thus presents a geocentric astronomy, like almost all ancient astronomies, including ancient Egyptian astronomy.

Each heavenly body, with its revolution, is associated with something called a “set time” (Abraham 3:6, 10) or “the reckoning of its time” (Abraham 3:5), which seems to be its revolution around the earth and for the earth, its rotation. The greater amount of time is associated with a higher orbit and thus being “above or greater than that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning, for it moveth in order more slow; this is in order because it standeth above the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:5). The higher orbits are larger and take more time to traverse; thus, the longer the time of revolution, the higher the light is above the earth.

The ancient Egyptians associated the idea of encircling something (whether in the sky or on earth) with controlling or governing it, and the same terms are used for both. Thus, the Book of Abraham notes that “there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, . . . which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:9, emphasis added). The Egyptians had a similar notion, in which the sun (Re) was not only a god but the head of all the gods and ruled over everything that he encircled. Abraham’s astronomy sets the sun, “that which is to rule the day” (Abraham 3:5), as greater than the moon but less than Kolob, which governs the sun (Abraham 3:9). Thus, in the astronomy of the Book of Abraham, Kolob, which is the nearest star to God (Abraham 3:16; see also 3, 9), revolves around and thus encircles or controls the sun, which is the head of the Egyptian pantheon.

The conversation between Abraham and the Lord shifts from a discussion of heavenly bodies to spiritual beings. This reflects a play on words that Egyptians often use between a star (ach) and a spirit (ich). The shift is done by means of a comparison: “Now, if there be two things, one above the other, and the moon be above the earth, then it may be that a planet or a star may exist above it; . . . as, also, if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other” (Abraham 3:17–18). In an Egyptian context, the play on words would strengthen the parallel.

With an interesting Egyptian wordplay, the purpose of the astronomical material being given to Abraham becomes apparent. By teaching Pharaoh about the order seen in astronomy, with one star near God governing all others because it is in order most high with the longest time of reckoning, so can the same principle be implied when it comes to souls, with God being higher than all. Using this roundabout astronomical approach to lay a metaphorical foundation, Abraham can help Pharaoh see that there is a God higher even than the Sun, higher than the Egyptian pantheon,  and higher than Pharaoh. Speaking such things directly could be seen as an attack on Pharaoh and Egyptian religion, a capital offense, but the  astronomical analogy could help Pharaoh learn the principle without getting Abraham killed. 

Vogel is not impressed. He begins a rather meandering discussion of astronomical issues with this:

However, the model they use to interpret Abraham Chapter 3 requires the earth to be spherical with the sun, moon, and planets revolving in concentric circles around it, a model that, in fact, dates many centuries after Abraham. Indeed, all (but one) of the authors’ examples range from the third century BCE (Greek philosophers) to fourteenth-century-CE Italy (Dante). (pp. 133-134, Kindle edition--the printed version may be around p. 112; emphasis added)
This is a very unfortunate misreading of Gee, Hamblin, and Peterson. Their argument absolutely does not require the advanced Ptolemaic version of geocentrism and, in fact, is compatible with flat earth models from ancient Egypt. Vogel's footnote at this point adds another argument or two:

The exception [the alleged "one" example relied on by Gee et al. not dating to many centuries after Abraham] is the Egyptian belief that the earth, personified by the god Geb, and sky, personified by the goddess Nut, are separated by Shu, god of air. While Gee et al. state that this concept of the cosmos "goes back at least as far as the Middle Kingdom (and thus to the approximate time of Abraham)," they do not explain that in the Egyptian cosmos the earth is flat and instead emphasize an Egyptian text which says the "Sun-disk encircles, that which Gen and Nut enclose" (Gee et al., "'And I Saw the Stars," 7). Thus they imply that Egyptians believed the sun revolved around the earth. In their description of the first of the four types of geocentricity, they state that the "sun, moon, stars, planets, etc.--surrounded and encompassed the earth in a single undifferentiated heaven" (ibid., 5). In the footnote they reference the "view of the heavens from the tomb of Seti I," which clearly shows the earth as flat with the heavens over it. The ancient Egyptians believed the sun (Ra) traveled on a barge at night to emerge in the east the next morning, and not that the sun revolved around the earth.

Vogel seems to assume that a flat earth model is contrary to a geocentric view, perhaps because he assumes that "geocentric" must refer to the latest, well-known versions of geocentrism with heavenly bodies acting as if connected to revolving spheres moving around a spherical earth. But more primitive flat earth models can accurately be described as geocentric. If it is the sun literally moving across the sky rather than the earth rotating on its axis, and if the motion of the stars each night is from their motion relative to the earth, we clearly have a geocentric model, regardless of how the sun gets back to its starting point each morning. 

Vogel chastises Gee et al. for only considering one piece of evidence from ancient Egypt. Here he has not carefully read the article he criticizes. Speaking of the ancient Egyptian views on astronomy, Gee et al. state that "numerous references make it clear that their worldview was fundamentally geocentric" (Gee et al., "I Saw the Stars," p. 7, emphasis added). Their footnote here cites James P. Allen, Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (New Haven: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 1988), pp. 3-7, a work that considers the astronomical implications of 16 Egyptian sources. It has significant evidentiary value in support of the point made in "I Saw the Stars." We'll come back to that in a moment. 

Vogel goes on to propose that Joseph Smith in his revelations was just borrowing from the modern cosmology expressed by authors such as Thomas Dick, an argument that is no more reasonable than when Fawn Brodie proposed it decades ago. See my treatment of that flawed proposal as a slight detour in "Joseph Smith’s Universe vs. Some Wonders of Chinese Science Fiction," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 29 (2018): 105-152.

In responding to Vogel's arguments against the geocentric features in the Book of Abraham proposed by Gee et al., I wish to first suggest that the pro-Book of Abraham articles discussing Egyptian astronomy might have been more clear if they had discussed the different types of stellar motion the Egyptians and other ancients saw in their stargazing and how that related to Egyptian belief. Of special interest, in my opinion, are the Egyptian views on the pole star and the nearby "circumpolar stars," depicted in the figure at the beginning of this scroll post. The circumpolar stars are the ones that stay in the north part of the sky and never set below the horizon (for those in the Northern Hemisphere), revolving around the pole star, currently Polaris (different stars in that region have been the pole star anciently as things slowly shift over time--Thuban was the pole star from the 4th to 2nd millennium BCE). In considering recent investigations of ancient Egyptian cosmology, it seems to me that the evidence for the Book of Abraham based on the astronomical passage in Abraham 3 may be even stronger than Gee et al. have indicated. 

I should also explain that while it appears that Abraham was given some advanced information about the nature of stars and perhaps the earth (speaking of the "set time" of the earth as well as other bodies itself implies that the earth rotates, for example), he is given information couched in terms of what is seen from the earth, as Gee, Hamblin, and Peterson note, including the  various times of "reckoning" which we now know were very important to the Egyptians. What I think is happening is that God is sharing some advanced information with Abraham, but giving him the terminology and perspectives to relate to what is observed from earth and the attendant geocentric model of the Egyptian court. Abraham will be able to discuss the various categories of stars and their differing "set times" and relate that and other details to the spiritual order with God as the Supreme Being, just as there are special slow-moving stars (relative to the horizon in the sky as seen on earth) in Egyptian mythology that are "immortal." associated with deity, and govern the cosmos.  Accurate details on observed set times and times of reckoning from a terrestrial perspective are not "wrong" but tailored for the paradigm of the Egyptians. Abraham may have shared more in his discourse, we don't know, but it's not accurate to frame Abraham 3 as the Lord lying to Abraham about the cosmos. He's revealing grand information, letting Abraham see important truths, but also enabling Abraham to relate his knowledge to terrestrial observations and the Egyptian's astronomical model. His purpose, of course, in the proposals of Gee et al., was not to upgrade Egyptian science but to use astronomy as a tool to discreetly share spiritual truths.  With that preface, we now briefly gaze at Egyptian astronomy. [This paragraph was added April 2, 2021.]

Let's begin with Bernadette Brady in her chapter "Star Phases: the Naked-eye Astronomy of the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts," in Fabio Silva and Nicolas Campion, eds., Skyscapes: The Role and Importance of the Sky in Archaeology (Oxford: Oxbow 2015), pp. 76-86, a chapter available via Academia.edu. Bernadette notes how many scholars have failed to recognized the meaning of seemingly confusing passages in the very ancient Pyramid Texts due to a lack of awareness of the different behaviors of stars that can be identified and categorized by simple visual observation. She categorizes star behaviors into four groups (pp. 78-79), showing that Ptolemy's various labels are reasonable: 1) stars that are always in the sky and never set (Ptolemy called these the circumpolar stars, which is the modern term as well); 2) stars that are visible every night, though they may sometimes descend below the horizon for a while (Ptolemy's "Circumpolar Curtailed Passage" stars); 3) stars that are sometimes visible, at some times of the year rising or setting during the night while at other times not seen at all during the whole night (Ptolemy's "Arising and Laying Hidden" stars), and 4) stars that never rise for a viewer at a given local (Ptolemy's  "Never Rises" category). She pays special attention to the third category, abbreviated as ALH ("Arising and Staying Hidden") stars, for which two different behaviors or "star phases" can be seen in their annual motions, elucidated in her Table 7.2 (p. 82), and then resolves some sources of confusion about the Pyramid Texts:

With an awareness of these two distinct star phases we can now consider the Pyramid Texts. Samuel Mercer (1956, 4) describes the texts as being, ‘remnants of much earlier literature than that of the historical period in Egyptian history.’ Thus although the first Pyramid Texts are dated to the pyramid of Unis (also written as Unas), whose reign is estimated to have been from 2375–2345 BCE, in terms of their contents, they are considered to have come from an earlier period, at least from the 4th Dynasty if not considerably earlier. According to Allen (2005, 9), at the time of the Old Kingdom the Egyptian sky consisted of a skyscape which was a reflection of their landscape: The Marsh of Rest or Offerings were located in the northern parts of the sky, The Marsh of Reeds occupied the southern sky, and the path of the sun was known as the Winding Canal. Located around these places were the stars. The Egyptians recognised three separate groups of stars, with three different sky-narratives, each defined by their relationship to these places. The Imperishable Stars, those that dwelt in The Marsh of Rest, were the circumpolar stars, and they were imperishable as they were never taken below the earth (Faulkner 1966, 156–157; Lesko 1991, 99). Joseph Bradshaw (1990, 38) refers to the holiness that the Egyptians attributed to the northern part of the sky and points out that their entire universe hung from the northern pole. Upon their death, the divine kings, not only had the right to re-join these stars but were required to do so for the cosmic health of the nation (Davis 1977, 164). Allen (2005) translates an utterance from Unis’ pyramid as, ‘The populace will cry out to you once the Imperishable Stars have raised you aloft’ (W147). Hence, in the 5th dynasty, the observation that the circumpolar stars remained visible for the whole night throughout the whole year and thus never touched the horizon was considered to be a statement of their divine nature. These stars were immortal beings who the king was destined to join and thus rule the cosmos. As Davis (1977, 166) puts it, ‘In the ascent, the King re-enters the realms of celestial divinity and is given royal authority, just as he entered the world of men and was invested with similar authority.’ (pp. 81-82)

Brady continues to relate other classes of star and their various phases to references in the Pyramid Texts, always with  religious meaning. 

Read the quote from Brady in light of what the Lord is seeking to teach Abraham and Pharaoh. The link between stars, souls, and deity is not a completely foreign concept that would puzzle Pharaoh. At least for Pharaoh, his destiny would be immortality, joining the gods in the sacred circumpolar realm near the polar star, a realm that governed the cosmos. A view that would seem to resonate well with Egyptian astronomy is the concept that a star that was slower in its time of reckoning than all the rest would be associated with ruling the cosmos. Abraham 3 is genuinely interesting!

So where did Joseph Smith get the idea of stars associated with deity, that moved more slowly, and that governed the cosmos? This was not something plucked from a local Methodist sermon or common knowledge among farmers on the frontier. Yet it fits some aspects of the ancient geocentric model of the Egyptians and their sacred cosmology, conveying information to Abraham in terms well suited for engaging with the Egyptians.

Here Hugh Nibley's grand and overly neglected work, One Eternal Round, should be consulted. Early in the book Nibley lays out the importance of starts to the Egyptians as sacred places that also represent our destiny, and the circumpolar stars were of special importance. See Chapter 2, especially pp. 41-52. Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes provide extensive analysis of the Book of Abraham, including details of the Facsimiles, giving what may be the leading source of fascinating apologetic information in support of the Book of Abraham (more on that later). How does Vogel address the extensive arguments Nibley's magnum opus? The book doesn't even get a mention. Nothing. For a book directed to LDS apologetics, to neglect the wealth of material in the richest source of Nibley's Book of Abraham work seems rather surprising. But at least Nibley gets mentioned a few times. [This and the previous paragraph were added April 5, 2021.]

The Egyptians long before Abraham's day were keenly aware of the different motions of celestial bodies, with the slowly rotating but never setting circumpolar stars being associated with immortality and deity. They equated the rising and setting of bodies such as the sun birth and death, with the sun being born each day as it passed over the earth -- of course this is heliocentric! -- only to be reborn again the next day. The immortal stars, the circumpolar ones, never seemed to set. The sun and the moon would rise and set daily, but both also had their own times describing their periodic motion relative to other stars, with the sun taking a year and the moon taking a lunar month. 

But, Vogel may object, if the sun returns to the east by sailing in a boat instead of revolving around a spherical earth on a celestial sphere, how can that be geocentric? Please note that the Egyptians were concerned with what they observed and their purpose was not to describe physical reality, but religious or mythological concepts (Allen, pp. ix-x). They conceptualized the sky as a goddess stretched over the earth, but that doesn't mean they literally thought you might be able to see a belly button or shoulders in the sky on a clear day. How the sun returned to be reborn from the east was explained in a couple of different ways, as we'll see in a moment, but however that happened, it was the sun that moved across the sky as they observed each day, not the earth rotating relative to the sun. Ditto for all other celestial bodies: they moved in different ways, at different speeds, relative to the earth, and some very special ones moved very slowly and never set. What else can this be called but a geocentric model? And not just any geocentric model, but one that makes Abraham 3 an ideal presentation of concepts that Pharaoh could understand. Concepts of concentric celestial spheres had not yet been worked out, and are not hinted at in Abraham 3. The models of Ptolemy or Dante or others are not needed to qualify as ancient and geocentric. In fact, it might be a strike against the Book of Abraham if such relatively modern geocentric formulations were inherent to Abraham 3, but one could argue that they might have been written later when the documents were physically prepared and when geocentric ideas were better fleshed out (though still before the enrichments Ptolemy would provide). But for my tastes, its neater if the astronomical concepts in the Book of Abraham really were at home in Pharaoh's court. It would be a primitive geocentrism that the Pharaoh of Abraham's day likely embraced, but may have still have been relatively sophisticated in terms of employing centuries of detailed astronomical observation.

Let's turn now to the primary source cited by Gee et al. as evidence of Egyptian geocentric views, James P. Allen's Genesis in Egypt: The Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (New Haven: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 1988), available at Archive.org. Exploring the first of his Egyptian texts, the Cenotaph of Seti I (ca. 1280 B.C.), Allen explains that the sun moves across the sky (the goddess Nut) after bring born anew each day, and at night enters the mysterious Duat and returns back to the east. Duat is sometimes described as being below the earth or it can be within the body of Nut:

The relationship between Nut and the Duat in this scene reflects an ambivalence m the Egyptian conception of the Duat. On one hand, the Duat is thought to lie inside Nut’s body, as in Text ICl and 1C4. This is a concept as old as the Pyramid Texts:

The sky has conceived him,
the Duat has given him birth. (Pyr. 1527a)5
On the other hand there are indications—equally as old—that the Duat was also envisioned as lying beneath the earth. The Pyramid Texts associate the Duat with the earth and its gods Geb and Aker, and the Coffin Texts refer to the “lower Duat.” This ambiguity is probably no more than a reflection of the fact that the Duat, though part of the world, is inaccessible to the living, outside the realm of normal human experience— though its topography and inhabitants are nonetheless conjectured in great detail in the Amduat and similar funerary “books.”

Together, sky, land and Duat comprise the world of the ancient Egyptian—a kind of “bubble” of air and light within the otherwise unbroken infinity of dark waters. These elements form the background to the Egyptian understanding of the cycle of life and I human destiny, determined by the daily drama of sunset and sunrise. They are also the starting-point for all Egyptian speculation on the origins of the universe. (Allen, pp. 6-7)

Later Allen again discusses the ambiguity the Egyptians had about Duat, nothing that it may be in the sky, below the earth, or both (p. 56). "The Duat is a dangerous region, yet full of the power of regeneration. Like a mother’s womb, it is where the sun, and the human dead, are reborn to rise into new life each dawn."

Allen also speaks of "the Egyptians’ concept of the universe as a limitless ocean of dark and motionless water, within which the world of life floats as a sphere of air and light. The texts describe this ocean as existing above the sky (Text lAl, 11)" (p. 4). This seems similar to the "firmament" of heaven in Genesis. 

Allen also reminds us that the cosmos of the Egyptian is not about things, but personalities. The sky, the sun, the earth, the air, the waters, Duat, etc., are all gods (p. 8). To understand the cosmos, one must understand the actors, the gods. I would then suggest that we should not expect sacred Egyptian texts to be written to explain their views on physical reality.

Interest in astronomy, however, also had some practical, non-mythological aspects. At least by the 24th century B.C., "star clocks" had been developed using the rising and setting of stars to assist in telling time. See R.A. Parker, "Ancient Egyptian Astronomy," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences 276, no. 1257, The Place of
Astronomy in the Ancient World
(May 2, 1974), pp. 51-65, https://www.jstor.org/stable/74274.  In spite of the star clocks Parker in this 1974 article seems to feel that astronomical knowledge in ancient Egypt was highly primitive, or "Egyptian astronomy, in a quantitative sense, was almost non-existant" (p. 65).  Later research would challenge that perspective and strengthen our understanding of how advanced Egyptian understanding was in terms of quantitative knowledge regarding the times of reckoning related to celestial bodies. See Joanne Conman, "It's about Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology," Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 31 (2003): 33-71, https://www.jstor.org/stable/25152883. Conman rejects the old "decanal belt" theory that had stood in the way of appreciating the physical reailty behind Egyptian documents describing the actions of stars and shows that Egyptian astronomical statements can make a great deal of sense. Conman concludes: 

They understood that time manifests itself through the continually changing sky, a concept that was personified by the goddess Nut. The constantly turning sky was not a stationary background but an active force that moved the sun and stars around. The sun was attached to the sky and functioned as a mobile meridian, so that time and direction were not easily separable concepts in ancient Egyptian thought. The star model from the tombs of Seti I and Ramses IV, as explained in the Carlsberg papyri, works properly only if stars are observed in the same location (the msqt region) in the same state (rising) at different times of the year. The Asyut coffins' decan lists are part of this same system, tracking stars during their "work" phase. Ancient Egyptian sacred texts were not and should not be mistaken for "primitive" astronomy.... (p. 68, emphasis added)
With an emphasis on the times of reckning in their astronomical work, the Egyptians, then, would likely appreciate Abraham's reference to the "times of reckoning" and the "set times" of celestial bodies (Abraham 3: 4-11). There also appears to be a spectrum of "set times" for the stars that vary with position as one looks toward or moves toward the location of Kolob:

7 Now the set time of the lesser light [the moon]  is a longer time as to its reckoning than the reckoning of the time of the earth upon which thou standest.

8 And where these two facts exist, there shall be another fact above them, that is, there shall be another planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still;

9 And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord’s time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.

I would suggest that this may be metaphorical or intended as a way of representing the hierarchies of the heavens in a way the Egyptians could relate to.

If the pole star was considered the most sacred star of all, the point upon which the sky is hung, the abode of the immortal ones and the destiny of Pharaoh, and was noted for not rotating in the sky or rotating only very slowly and, of course, never "dying" by passing below the horizon, it would seem to be a plausible fit to represent Kolob in the astronomical explanations being given to Abraham to aid in teaching Pharaoh. Everything in that passage is being referenced to the earth upon which Abraham stood, as also occurred in the Egyptian model.

Based on several factors, the Book of Abraham not only makes sense in terms of explanations being given in terms of a geocentric model, but also as an excellent way to engage with the Egyptian court and provide teachings in terms they would easily grasp but that could also help teach religious truth without committing a capital offense. It's a brilliant chapter, complete with an Egyptian word play that perfectly fits the scene, ideally crafted for the geocentric model of the Egyptians using concepts and terms that they would readily grasp. It and the writings of John Gee et al. on Abraham 3 deserve a little more respect.  


Update, 3/31/2021: One reader raised a good question about the references to the earth's set time, as if the revolution of the earth about its axis were involved. Yes, it seems to me that what was revealed to Abraham included much more than just the geocentric model that he may have needed for effective engagement with the Egyptians. On the other hand, it's also possible that the earth's "set time" was defined as equal to one day based on the all-important impact of the sun's journey on the earth, without necessarily revealing why it was the same. But it also appears that Abraham was shown some scenes through the Urim and Thummim that may have allowed him to have a better feel for the nature of the cosmos and the stars. So it's possible that what Abraham learned was complex and not limited to geocentric views, though I would guess that the advanced perspective was not part of what he shared directly with Pharaoh, thought it may have played a role in their discussion. We really don't know. But there is a reasonable case to believe that more than geocentrism alone was conveyed to Abraham, though I think all the terminology could fit well within Egyptian models except for the set time of the earth, unless its set time was viewed as a direct by product of the sun's effect and this equal to the sun's time of reckoning or set time.

Monday, March 29, 2021

A Highlight from Dan Vogel's Book: A Clever Explanation for the Most Obvious Evidence of Scribes Using an Existing Translation in Making the Book of Abraham Manuscripts

In my previous posts reviewing Dan Vogel's recent Book of Abraham Apologetics (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2021), including Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, I've noted that Dan has compiled a comprehensive, comprehensible compendium of seemingly compelling arguments against the Book of Abraham. While I strongly disagree with many of his arguments and much of his methodology, he deserves credit for what he has accomplished.  Perhaps the highlight for me in reading his book involved the very creative and almost elegant model he offers to overturn what may be viewed as the most clear-cut evidence that the "smoking gun" Book of Abraham manuscripts (the ones with Egyptian characters in the margins next to part of the Book of Abraham English text) were made by scribes using an already existing manuscript with the English text, contrary to the model of critics in which those documents represent a "window" to the method Joseph used to create the translation.

This evidence of copying from an existing manuscript--one of many such evidences, but probably the most dramatic and difficult to overlook--is the large copying error known as a dittography in Book of Abraham Manuscript A by Frederick G. Williams. A dittography is an error where a scribe accidentally copies text that was already copied, perhaps by mistakenly looking back to an earlier part of the original manuscript. This occurs on the last surviving page of Williams's manuscript

The Joseph Smith Papers website allows you to examine the details of the page with the dittography, Williams' Book of Abraham Manuscript A at page 4, where you can examine both the transcript and a high resolution photo of the document with a zoom function to expand the image. A screenshot of the lower portion of page 4 is below. Next to the characters in the margin, you can see "Now the Lord had said unto me Abraham...." You see the same text begin about two-thirds the way down on the screen shot, shortly before the left margin of the text shifts to the side of the page, creating a strange duplicate section (a dittography) wherein a lengthy section, corresponding to Abraham 2:3 to 2:5, is repeated. It would be highly unlikely, even virtually impossible, for Joseph Smith to accidentally redictate this much text word for word in a purely oral process, especially if he were composing it on the fly. But this kind of error could  occur if Williams were copying an existing document. Theoretically, it could occur in an oral process if the one giving dictation were reading from an existing manuscript, though that seems less likely than simply copying from a text one can see. In the latter case, there would be two minds working that could detect the repeat and catch the error in progress. So I think the only plausible way to view this is that Williams was looking at an existing manuscript as he was copying here. John Gee and others see this as clear evidence that Joseph Smith was not dictating and that the scribes were working with existing translation, totally undermining the proposal that live dictation and translation by Joseph is occurring here. To his credit, Vogel does not ignore this evidence and actually provides what I consider to be a very clever, if not brilliant, explanation that fits with his overall paradigm.

Vogel suggests that when Williams and Warren Parrish allegedly took simultaneous dictation from Joseph to create the similar "twin manuscripts" (Book of Abraham Manuscript A and Manuscript B, respectively), Williams for an unknown reason wrote an extra paragraph of dictation that Parrish did not write (our current Abraham 2:3-5). Parrish later copied that extra text from Manuscript A into Manuscript C, along with the text Parrish had from his own Manuscript B. Manuscript C had been started by W.W. Phelps and originally just had Abraham 1:1-3. It would become what Vogel sees as the "translation book" creating the key record for the early Book of Abraham translation. Then maybe a week later in late November 1835, Parrish took more dictation of new translated text from Joseph Smith for Abraham 2:6-18. For some reason, Williams later wanted to add some of the new material to his own manuscript. Since his manuscript originally ended with the word "Haran" in "Therefore he continued in Haran," he searched for "Haran" in Parrish's document (a word that occurs multiple times) and found the wrong place, Abraham 2:2, which ends with "Who was the daughter of Haran." Thinking he had found his target, he began copying from the following sentence, copying for a second time our current Abraham 2:3 and continued copying a full paragraph of material he had already written, not noticing the duplication. This is really a clever explanation. Kudos!

It's important enough that I will quote directly from Vogel to ensure that his nuanced argument is fully presented. This quotation comes from pages 43 to 46 of my Kindle edition (probably about 21 pages earlier in the printed book since the Kindle version has chapter 1 starting on p. 21):

There is a reconstruction of the events that best explains how the dittograph occurred, and once understood, it becomes clear that this repetition in no way threatens the oral dictation theory. 

When Parrish and Williams recorded from Smith’s dictation, probably on 19 and 20 November 1835, Williams wrote one more paragraph than Parrish. Parrish drew the last hieratic character, but left the remainder of the page blank. 

Next, Parrish copied the English text onto seven pages of the translation book following the half page Phelps had previously scribed, making some slight changes. After skipping a line, Parrish then copied the paragraph that had been dictated in his absence from the Williams document. At this point, Parrish again began writing from Smith’s dictation directly into the book, which, as previously discussed, is evident from the in-line corrections made in his new English text. This possibly occurred on 24 and/or 25 November 1835, which are the last two entries in Smith’s Kirtland journal in which translation is mentioned.

Later, Williams wanted to copy the new text from the translation book into his manuscript to make it complete. The paragraph that Williams last wrote ended with the word “Haran” on a line by itself. As he turned the pages of the translation book looking for a paragraph that ended with that word, Williams would first have come to the top of page 7 and would have accidentally began copying the paragraph that he had already recorded from Smith’s dictation. He was apparently unaware that the next paragraph also ended on the following page with “Haran”. 

What may have added to Williams’s confusion was the blank line before the paragraph and the possibility that either Parrish’s or Williams’s document or both did not have the characters in the margin next to the paragraph. As previously mentioned, Parrish had evidently copied the characters into the margin before copying the English text but, having miscalculated the number of lines, found it necessary to scrape off two groups of characters on page 7, precisely where the dittograph occurs. 

Because he was no longer a scribe recording from oral dictation and was merely recording a second copy of a text that had already been entered into the translation book, Williams saw no need to copy the characters or to maintain the margins and paragraphing. 

We may not know exactly how Williams introduced a paragraph-long dittograph into his document, but the scenario I have proposed explains more of the evidence and facts than Gee’s assertion that the entire document is a copy based on a repeated paragraph at the end. Gee’s explanation cannot explain the presence of clear evidence of simultaneous recording from dictation that appears in the document prior to the dittograph. Nor can it explain the change in Williams’s method of recording that occurs at the point of the dittograph.

The resolution is brilliant. Yes, of course there is a dittography, and of course it was created by copying from the wrong place in an existing manuscript. But the existing manuscript was one based on his own that was copied by Parrish into another document that had added translation from Joseph, so Williams wanted a copy of the new material, but instead started copying a long chunk of what he had just copied a few days earlier. 

This explanation looks good and has convinced a few people, but I'm afraid that those who were convinced didn't ask some of the basic questions or do some basic homework to explore whether Vogel's scenario, clever as it is, really explains the documents we have. 

Pause and reflect: if Williams's dittography were actually a made a week later and was a copy of Parrish's copy of what he had already written, what might we expect to find in terms of the appearance and content of the duplicated section? 

For example, if you keep a journal or a notebook in your own handwriting, do you ever see changes in the appearance? Based on my own journals and my experience in reading letters and documents from others, it's common to see the appearance of handwriting to change between writing sessions. The writer may be relaxed one day, rushed the next, or may be using a different pen, etc., all of which can make two entries from the same person look different. In 1835, scribes without the benefit of mass-produced consistent ball point pens used ink that could vary from one session to the next. Looking at the writing of various individuals in the photographs of the Joseph Smith Papers helps us see just how much the appearance of a scribe's writing can vary. 

Further, if the first time Williams wrote Abraham 2:3-5 was based on oral dictation, while the second time it was a copy of Parrish's copy of his own earlier version of that passage, what differences might we expect to see? 

I suggest there are three tests we can consider for Vogel's proposal, apart from any problems in the chronology that I may address later:

  1. Does the duplicate text, perhaps written several days later, show use of a different ink, different pen, different ink flow, different spacing or slant of the text, or does it look as if it were written in the same session  as the immediately prior text?
  2. Does the 1st occurrence of Abraham 2:3-5 show clear signs of oral dictation and essentially no signs of visual copying?
  3. Does the 2nd occurrence of Abraham 2:3-5 show signs of copying from Parrish's document rather than copying from what may have been (in the model of some LDS apologists) the document that was the source of the first occurrence (and the entire manuscript)?

Vogel failed to ask these questions. It's not enough to offer a clever but convoluted argument that in theory could account for some details when other important details clash with the proposal. Let's consider the three factors. Note that I am using the transcript from the printed Joseph Smith Papers volume on the Book of Abraham, which is considered the final version with some differences relative to the preliminary transcript on the website. Both have errors, but the transcript in the book is more detailed and catches some things that weren't noticed when the website version was done. Most of the corrections I mention for this passage are not shown on the website, only in the book.

1. Different appearance? As Williams begins the dittography, the ink flow, the appearance of the ink, the spacing and slant of his text all continue exactly as before, as far as I can see. I find it difficult to believe that this is inn a new session several days later, now in the new mode of copying from a manuscript when all was oral dictation before.  A change does crop up when Williams abandons the left margin he had been following, but that only occurs after he has copied for a few lines. Regardless of why he allows the margin to drift, his style and ink are indistinguishable from the text above. 

2. Signs of visual copying in the first occurrence? Yes, there are indications of making a visual copy in the first occurrence of the duplicated text, just as there are throughout the rest of the preceding text. For this specific passage, these apparent copying errors include (1) writing "the" instead of "thee," an easy copying mistake to make (dropping one or more letters from a word occurs in both Williams and Parrish, with two more examples of this in the 2nd occurrence when we know that Williams is copying visually--there he drops two letters in "kindred" and more in writing "bro" for "brother's"); (2) writing an "r" to begin the word "land" before changing it to an "l" (this is indicated in the printed book, not the website); (3) initially writing "dem" and changing it to "deno" followed by "minated" to create the word "denominated" (also not indicated on the website's transcript); and (4) initially writing an "s" and then changing it to a "d" for the word "dwelt," which can make sense as a copying error (cursive "s" with an elongated upper peak can look like a "d") but not as a likely error in oral dictation (also not indicated on the website's transcript). Further, this passage has much more punctuation than is typical of scribes, including Williams specifically, when taking dictation of revelation from Joseph Smith, as discussed in my previous post. In this short passage, we have by my count (relying on the printed transcript) 6 commas, 1 period, 2 colons, and 3 semicolons. It's more heavily punctuated than some other parts of Williams's manuscript. Both the errors and the punctuation mark this passage as one more typical of a visually copied text than a scribe taking oral dictation from Joseph Smith. 

3. Is the dittography copied from Parrish's Manuscript C? I find this issue especially interesting. Parrish's version of Abraham 2:3-5, probably copied from Williams, has some notable differences relative to the first occurrence written by Williams. For example, both instances of "therefore" in Parrish follow a comma, not the colons that Williams has, and both are in lowercase, while in Williams both are capitalized. So what happens when Williams allegedly copies the text from Parrish to unknowingly create his dittography? The result is closer to his first occurrence. Both occurrence of "therefore" are capitalized, and one follows a colon and the other a line break where a colon may have been overlooked. Williams's initial colon after "idolitry" and before "Therefore" may have been inserted, according to the transcript in the book, and is missing in the dittography, but there is a line break there followed by the capitalized "Therefore".  Parrish, on the other hand, has "unto his Idolitry, therefore..." which differs twice in capitalization and once in punctuation. 

If Williams were copying from Manuscript C for the dittography, why did he fail to copy the character in the margin where the dittography began? Later, why did he fail to follow Parrish's new paragraph that begins with "But I Abram" and also fail to use the character in the margin that Parrish has there? At the place where Parrish has stopped writing is where Williams creates a dittography and stops using characters -- perhaps they were working together in some way and things changed when Parrish quit and perhaps left (that was a consideration in my prior proposal that Parrish may have been reading aloud to help Williams in making his copy for a while).

It simply doesn't look like Williams has been copying from Parrish, but appears to be using the same source (a source that may have lacked characters), though his punctuation is inconsistent.  For example, a colon in his initial "many flocks in Haran:" becomes a comma in the dittography, with "many flock in Haran," and "many" being inserted above the line. Williams may be getting tired at this point as he is making a large number of errors such as dropping the word "after," writing "bro" for "brothers," writing "sarah" instead of "Sarai," skipping "many" and having to insert it, dropping the "s" on "flocks," and, when he gets to some of the allegedly new material on Parrish's document with a very clear "but I Abram and Lot," dropping the very visible "I" to render "but Abram and Lot." Fatigue and growing errors makes sense if this were all a continuation of a serious session, reaching the end of page 4, versus starting fresh to write down a short passage of new material. Page 4, though, is probably not the end of that session since it ends in the middle of a sentence. Surely there was a page 5 and perhaps more, but no more has survived. Many relevant documents in the translation may have been lost or destroyed, not just a significant portion of the original scrolls but also the text that Williams and Parrish were using to make their copies and perhaps continue helping Phelps by adding new speculative materials to his Grammar and Alphabet, the apparent purpose indicated by the headers on both of the twin documents that refer to the "sign of the fifth degree of the second part," not the kind of header we would expect from Joseph creating a revealed text.

Vogel's hypothetical scenario is interesting but seems to fail basic criteria that we might expect if it were true. Persistent evidence points to the use of an original manuscript during the creation of Book of Abraham Manuscript A prior to the obvious copying that occurred in the dittography. The source for Williams's scribal work doesn't appear to have changed when the dittography occurs. The details of the dittography do not point to Parrish's work in Manuscript C as the source used by Williams. And the appearance of page 4 of Williams's manuscript suggest a continuous session, perhaps with an increasingly weary Williams, rather than a fresh session several days later. 

The dittography and the rest of the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts actually do not fit with Vogel's complex model, offering too much evidence for use of an existing manuscript and a dittography that was a continuation of the same session as the original occurrence of Abraham 2:3-5. Vogel's clever theory does not withstand scrutiny. The dittography still stands as compelling evidence against Vogel's paradigm. Like Ptolemy's concentric spheres in his geocentric model of the cosmos (the topic of my next post in this series), sometimes elegant models that nicely fit some of the facts must be discarded in the end, though we can still admire the cleverness of the outdated model.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Missing Some of the Most Important Questions, Documents, and Evidences: Part 3 of My Review of Dan Vogel's Book

In Part 1 and Part 2 of my review on Dan Vogel's newly published Book of Abraham Apologetics (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2021), I objected to apparent neglect of several issues that are often important for his topic of LDS apologetics on the Book of Abraham. I pointed to the failure to consider information about Joseph's views on reformed Egyptian and data from the Book of Abraham manuscripts that clash with his theories. But there's much more that seems to be missing that really should at least be noted if dispassionate consideration of all the relevant documents is the goal, or if the book really is about responding to the defenses that believers have offered for the Book of Abraham. Some issues are minor and  may be peripheral, such as just how long some of the scrolls were, but in my view, too many issues seem to be conveniently overlooked. It's not just the failure to treat some relevant evidences that's the problem; there is also a basic failure to recognize the hurdles that his paradigm faces, including missing questions that need to be asked and issues that need to be addressed if the work is meant to be scholarly. 

To be clear, though, there's much to appreciate in the work Dan has done to put this together and to present his arguments in a comprehensive form. This kind of work can be helpful for defenders of the faith who wish to dig in and understand where past work needs to be revised or fortified and where more investigation is needed. I'd like the book better, though, if he didn't claim it as an objective, dispassionate work of historical scholarship and instead simply said that he was just presenting the best arguments he could find against the Book of Abraham.

A Missing Hurdle

One of the surprising missing issues involves Joseph Smith's comments about some of the Egyptian characters on the right side of Facsimile 2, characters that come from the very papyrus fragment that Vogel claims has been absolutely proven to the source of the Book of Abraham "translation." Tim Barker carefully examined this issue in an important presentation at the 2020 FAIRMormon Conference in "Translating the Book of Abraham: The Answer Under Our Heads." (The transcript and slides are available there.) I reviewed the implications of Barker's work in my Jan. 10, 2021 post, "A Gift From an Early "Anti-Mormon" Attack on the Book of Abraham: Clear Evidence About the Source of Joseph's Translation." The key point here is that a large gap on the damaged Facsimile 2 was filled in with Egyptian characters in preparation for publication, and those characters were taken from JSP XI, the papyrus fragment that was the source of most of the characters used in the margins of the three Book of Abraham manuscripts, said to be tell-tale evidence that Joseph Smith was using those characters as the source for his bogus "translation." About half of the characters from the Book of Abraham manuscript margins were used in filling in the gaps on Facsimile 2. Reuben Hedlock did this under the guidance of Joseph Smith, as Barker shows.

The inserted  characters are in three lines on the central right panel, labeled as Figures 13, 14, and 15 in our printing of Facs. 2, and the inserted characters in the rim, labeled as Figure 18, are all treated the same in Joseph's comments. The explanations for those characters "will be given in the own due time of the Lord." That declaration is followed by this statement that refers to all the comments made regarding Facs. 2: "The above translation is given as far as we have any right to give at the present time."

Whatever the scribes of those puzzling Book of Abraham manuscripts with characters in the margins thought they were doing with Egyptian characters added to portions of Joseph's revealed text, the explanations on Facs. 2 strongly suggest that Joseph had not used characters from JSP XI as the source for the book of Abraham translation. "Joseph clearly indicates that he did not translated JSP XI," Barker explains.

This is one of the first and most important hurdles to clear for Vogel's thesis. Will he jump over it, knock it over, or step around it? We won't know in this book, because he runs his race on a track where that hurdle is nowhere in sight.  

As happens in many heated debates on controversial issues, a single piece of evidence rarely creates a slam dunk argument and can often be attacked in various ways. Here one can wonder if Joseph really authorized the choice of characters (the record does indicate supervision by Joseph in this) and even if so, whether it's possible that Joseph didn't recognize which papyrus fragment he had translated (that seems unlikely) or didn't recognize the characters he supposedly had scrutinized for months back in 1835 (if the characters were presented to him without telling him which papyrus Reuben Hedlock selected as a source, I suppose that could be a problem). So of course, there are arguments one can raise against this piece of evidence that seems to undermine the entire case for the Book of Abraham manuscripts being something other than the smoking gun for how and what Joseph translated. But this is still vital evidence to consider if one wishes the book to be viewed as comprehensive and dispassionate. 

In objecting to missing elements, by the way, I am not saying that Dan deliberately left them out to hoodwink his readers. I believe him to be decent and striving to be scholarly in spite of his zeal against Joseph Smith as a prophet. While surely trying to be objective, I think he is so close to his own point of view that objections to his arguments may often seem irrelevant, trivial, and unworthy of time, just as an astrophysicist discussing his model of the cosmos doesn't need to respond to the latest data from geological surveys in Kansas offered as support for a flat earth theory. But if you are writing a book on the flaws and lunacy of flat earthers, better not ignore the buzz on the Kansas data. 

[CORRECTION, March 27, 2021: Here I originally had a second hurdle which was mistaken. I had looked at the dates scribes were writing for Joseph Smith in 1835, as listed in John Gee, "Prolegomena to a Study of the Egyptian Alphabet Documents in the Joseph Smith Papers," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 77-98, and concluded that Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps weren't working as scribes in July 1835 due to the absence of documents from them and the fact that Joseph was writing some things on his own in that month, but I received a note from a kind scholar who pointed out that July was a time when Joseph and both of those scribes were in town and so they could have collaborated. Gee's article refutes some of the dates given in the JSP volume on the Book of Abraham for various documents, but does not contradict Vogel on the possibility of collaboration then. But collaboration of all three on the GAEL seems unlikely since it has nothing in Joseph's or Oliver's handwriting. While July could have been a time of collaboration for the three who produced the Egyptian Alphabet papers, Gee's article argues that Oct. 1, 1835 was the likely time for that work since Joseph's journal does recognize the presence of Oliver and W.W. Phelps. The July 17, 1835 journal entry was actually written by Willard Richards in 1843, even though he was not present. It's been suggested that Phelps may have helped Richards with that entry, but the entry still doesn't say that scribes were assisting Joseph with that work. It's possible that Vogel makes too much of a potentially questionable journal entry.]

Failing to Distinguish Established Facts from Assumptions or Opinions

A primary problem is that Vogel tends to treat his opinions on hotly contested issues as established facts. Everything is clear cut, and the complexity of some issues is overlooked. Raising one problem with a pro-Book of Abraham theory is enough to dismiss it. For example, when he observes that some of the entries in the GAEL are not directly connected to the Book of Abraham, he claims victory over the "reverse translation" theory, when nobody that I know of claims that everything in the GAEL is from the Book of Abraham, only that the direction of dependency is from the translation to the GAEL, not the other way around. 

Likewise, his opinion that Joseph is responsible for virtually everything in the documents written by others related to the Book of Abraham is highly controversial, but he treats it as settled from beginning to end. When he observes that W.W. Phelps may have assisted Willard Richards in 1843 in writing a July 1835 journal entry for Joseph Smith's journal that mentions Joseph working on an "alphabet to the Book of Abraham" and "arrangeing a grammar," he assumes this refers to the existing Egyptian Alphabets and the bound GAEL (a highly controversial assumption based on scribal availability, as mentioned above--these documents most likely date to the Oct. 1, 1835 event mentioned by Joseph where he cites the presence of the other two scribes). He then takes this as conclusive evidence against Nibley, Gee, and others who claim that Joseph was not the driving force for the GAEL or the Egyptian Alphabet documents we have. "It also means that the Alphabets and Grammar preceded the translation of Abraham and that the reverse-translation theory must be rejected." That's a lot of mileage from what may have been Phelps involvement in a short statement in a journal written 8 years after the fact, mileage fueled by multiple assumptions that aren't carefully explained or evaluated, and ultimately mileage going in the wrong direction.

Objections to the Book of Abraham that he raises are often treated as if no Latter-day Saint has ever responded to them, making it sound like the issue is fully settled and Dan's view is the only possibility. For example, in attacking the value of recent evidence that Olishem mentioned in the Book of Abraham has been found in archaeological work in a plausible location, Vogel dismisses it by citing a negative comment from Robert Ritner's book and a short article that Christopher Woods wrote for Ritner's book. Vogel sees the matter settled by the objections in Ritner's book, but should be aware of the detailed evidence that neither Ritner nor Woods address that was raised in the relevant sources introducing the possibility of Olishem as a real place and in particular of the BYU Studies article that directly addresses the dismissal of Woods and Ritner. See Stephen Smoot, "'In the Land of the Chaldeans': The Search for Abraham’s Homeland Revisited," BYU Studies Quarterly 56, no. 3 (2017): 6-37 (you may prefer reading the PDF version). Stephen Smoot has written some important and scholarly pieces pertaining to the Book of Abraham and should be among the LDS writers considers in a book dealing with defenders of the Book of Abraham, but his name is entirely missing from Vogel's book. So are relevant works from several others who have provided important scholarship relevant to the antiquity of the Book of Abraham.

Yours truly, no more than an amateur blogger,  fared a little better. My name was mentioned and my very long article,"A Precious Resource with Some Gaps" (Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 [2019]: 13-104) was cited, but the brief discussion focused only on what Vogel saw as incoherent, perhaps justly so, in my discussion of why the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts are likely based on an existing manuscript and not live dictation of new scripture from Joseph. Here's what I wrote on pp. 63-64 of my article: 

A careful look at the twin texts A and B shows that what was being dictated [I should have said "dictated or copied"] was an already existing text, not one being created. Fortunately, the editors of another volume in the JSP series, Documents: Volume 5, January 1835–October 1838, recognize this: “Textual evidence suggests that these Book of Abraham texts were based on an earlier manuscript that no longer exists.” [Brent M. Rogers, et al., eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents: Volume 5, January 1835–October 1838 (Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2017), 74‒75.] The supporting footnote explains:

Documents dictated directly by JS typically had few paragraph breaks, punctuation marks, or contemporaneous alterations to the text. All the extant copies, including the featured text, have regular paragraphing and punctuation included at the time of transcription as well as several cancellations and insertions.

This point should have been made in JSPRT4, not out of a shameless desire to support apologetics, but to point out something distinctive and obvious about the manuscripts that, incidentally, weakens a common argument from Book of Abraham critics. The apologetic argument need not be explicitly raised, but the evidence pointing to the existence of an earlier manuscript is relevant and important and should not be brushed aside in favor of anyone’s personal theory that these documents show a “window” into the live translation process of Joseph Smith.

I then offered my perhaps questionable proposal that a dictation scenario that could explain the differences in spelling and a large dittography would be having Warren Parrish himself with the document in front of him read small portions aloud for the benefit of his fellow scribe as he also made a copy for himself. Errors in reading and corrections could then be reflected in both documents. 

In response to this point, Vogel writes:

LDS apologist Jeffrey Dean Lindsay criticizes Jensen and Hauglid because they did not mention the evidence of punctuation and paragraphing, but then asserts that it was Parrish, not Smith, who read aloud a pre-existing text as Williams and he recorded, presumably unaware of the contradiction. 

In fact, the argument based on punctuation and paragraphing never made good sense. When critically assessing a document, the presence or absence of punctuation is not a determinant of whether or not it was written from dictation. Instead, the determinant is whether the punctuation is inconsistent and confused, which is exactly what we find in the Williams and Parrish documents. As Edward Ashment noted years ago, “Punctuation in both [the Williams and Parrish documents] is sparse, resulting in numerous run-on sentences.” Commas also appear where there should be none. Parrish especially overused the comma, sometimes dividing the subject from its verb, which he sometimes corrected when he copied his document into the translation book. He also changed some commas into periods. Thus the sparse and inconsistent punctuation in the Williams and Parrish documents is consistent with the evidence for simultaneous dictation. We have already seen that the paragraphing was created to align the English text with the hieratic characters in the margins. There are only two paragraph breaks in the Parrish document that are not preceded by characters. The first was removed when Parrish copied the text into the translation book; and the second occurs in the middle of a sentence. Such ambiguous evidence cannot be used to support Hauglid’s earlier assertion that Parrish’s document is developed “well beyond the dictation phase,” and therefore defenders would do well to abandon this argument because it provides no evidence that the Williams and Parrish documents were copied from a pre-existing document.

So my 90-page or so article covering numerous issues is gently reduced to its essence: me being unaware of an obvious contradiction and offering an argument that "never made good sense." I was hoping for a little more engagement, but I suppose I should be grateful to have been cited at all when many much more important defenders of the Book of Abraham have not been cited at all.

My apologies, though, for still not being aware of my contradiction. My point was that the nature of the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts reflects use of an existing manuscript. It is in misreading or miscopying from a manuscript that one can easily make a variety of visual mistakes that are not typical of how an author dictates an account. An existing text may also have punctuation (original or added) that can influence the copy, and even if not, the act of reading it or copying it can provide an opportunity to decide where new punctuation may be needed. Vogel asserts that "the presence or absence of punctuation is not a determinant of whether or not it was written from dictation," but provides no scholarship to support that view in contradicting the assessment of Brent Rogers and the other editors of The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents: Volume 5 about Joseph Smith's writings.

Again, those scholars noted three issues (not just two) that would be unusual for live dictation of revelation from Joseph: paragraphs, extensive punctuation, and contemporaneous alterations (which, of course, are most easily identified with inline corrections rather than above line insertions). The paragraph issue may be ambiguous, but the multiple in-line corrections (and other possibly contemporaneous corrections) and the existence of much punctuation just don't look like Joseph's dictation of scripture in my opinion and apparently in the view of Brent Rogers et al. The low amount of punctuation and contemporaneous corrections are not only the case for the scribes of the Book of Mormon, but we can also see it in Frederick G. Williams scribal work as Joseph dictated revelation related to the Doctrine and Covenants.  Here is a screen shot from Revelation Book 2, p. 117, in the handwriting of Frederick G. Williams, except for Oliver's words at the top (click to enlarge):

Some of the insertions and occasional punctuation may have been added later. When it is in a different medium that the text (e.g., a graphite pencil), it is likely added later. I believe the transcript seeks to show the text as prepared originally by the scribe, not showing clearly later additions. In the transcript, there is essentially no punctuation nor can I find any corrections that would represent Joseph changing his mind or misspeaking. There are some that look like Williams missed a word or started repeating a word he had just written, catching himself right away.  We have similar results in the transcripts for the following pages from Williams, including p. 118, p. 119, and p. 120, where those closing lines have punctuation added to prepare for publication, but apparently no punctuation written by Williams acting as scribe. So I would suggest that Vogel hasn't done enough homework to support his contention that punctuation tells us nothing. And in any case, he's completely overlooked what I feel is an especially telling indicator: contemporaneous correction. There's a lot it in the twin Book of Abraham manuscripts, along with a lot of punctuation, erratic as it may be, giving these documents a different nature than the confident dictation of Joseph Smith in revelatory mode.

Unwarranted assumptions continue as Vogel assumes that Joseph is responsible for the entire set of papers related to the Book of Abraham, including the Egyptian-related material in what is often called the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. He offers several arguments, to be sure, but so much of the book has the feel of repeating assertions that are obvious to Vogel but debatable. I don't recall encountering cautious statements like, "If Joseph actually were the author of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language, as I propose, then...." But in spite of not having added a single word to it in his own handwriting, in spite of the many logical and logistic gaps in the way of any theory claiming Joseph used that in translating the Book of Abraham, it is repeated from beginning to end as if Vogel were simply citing an objective, established fact when it is a disputed position with contrary evidence that he fails to overcome and largely fails to even consider.

We have similar steps taken with Vogel's chronology of events, in which he seems to be unaware or certainly leaves the reader unaware of just how many major assumptions he makes in concluding what happened when. A foundation for his thesis is Joseph's  journal entry of July 17, 1835, shortly after Joseph acquired the scrolls and had begun at least a little of the translation:

July 1835 <​Translating the Book of Abraham &c.​> The remainder of this month, I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients. [emphasis added]
Vogel asserts that this passage refers to the three "Egyptian Alphabet" documents written by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and W.W. Phelps, "as well as a bound 'Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language" (GAEL), the greater portion of which is in the handwriting of Phelps" (52). The Egyptian Alphabet documents look like the initial, exploratory work one might expect from this entry and show Joseph's involvement. That bound GAEL draws upon that work, but is arguably a later derivative work done almost entirely by Phelps. Joseph's contributions to a grammar, if that were a document separate from the Alphabet, are unclear. 

Vogel asserts that this journal entry "is the best source for both the time and authorship of the Alphabets and bound Grammar" (53) and chastises Gee for not accepting that as the initial date of creation for those documents. The problem, though, is that the July 1835 journal entry only suggests that Joseph was working on that task. There is no hint that he was aided by his scribes. In fact, analysis of the historical data about when the scribes were present and assisting Joseph in taking dictation or writing documents shows that neither W.W. Phelps nor Oliver were acting as scribes for Joseph in July 1835, as John Gee shows in "Prolegomena to a Study of the Egyptian Alphabet Documents in the Joseph Smith Papers," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 77-98), though I wish he had more directly dealt with that journal entry more frequently in his works. It's not until October 1, 1835 that we see the likely date of the creation of the Alphabets when Joseph mentioned that he, Oliver, and W.W. Phelps were working together on the Egyptian Alphabet. That's the obvious date to consider for the creation of the three surviving Egyptian Alphabets. The Grammar and Alphabet, a more formal bound document that draws upon it, would surely come later still. 

So what did Joseph mean in his July 1835 journal entry? Note that he did not say he was working on an alphabet "for" translating the Book of Abraham, but one that was "TO" the Book of Abraham, as if it would be a companion, index, or guide based on already existing text. Of course, that's the only plausible way to understand the role of an "alphabet" or "grammar": they are tools developed once a language has at least begun to be deciphered or translated. Translation, whether from a Rosetta Stone or divine inspiration, needs to be available before one can then attempt to figure out how the language works and create an "alphabet" or dictionary. (See my Nov. 3, 2019 post, "An Alphabet TO the Book of Abraham: What Did Joseph Mean?.") Vogel has it the other way around: contrary to every other translation and revelation experience Joseph had had, for the Book of Abraham he now decided he would need to first create an impossibly illogical alphabet and grammar out of thin air in order to pursue the translation of the Book of Abraham. 

Strangely, under Vogel's theory, Joseph would focus on characters from one papyrus fragment (JSP I) and add a lot of characters that aren't even Egyptian to create the Alphabets and then the GAEL, only to turn to a different papyrus fragment (JSP XI) with different characters to create the Book of Abraham, for which only 3 characters are treated in the GAEL. If those documents really were about preparing to translate the Book of Abraham, switching to a different set of characters at the last minute seems simply inexplicable, and Vogel does not attempt to explain it. A sound theory, though, should have more explanatory power than that. It's a theory based on the preconceived notion that the Book of Abraham manuscripts represent a window into live translation of the Book of Abraham, but the theory fails in many ways.

It would seem that Joseph was intellectually toying with the fruits of revelation, working with some already translated material to see if it were possible to gain insight into Egyptian or perhaps something else. Both he and W.W. Phelps had an interest in the concept the ancient "pure language" that Adam spoke, and since we see some non-Egyptian characters that Phelps had written in a May 1835 letter to his wife, before the scrolls ever came to Kirtland, in the GAEL and the Egyptian Alphabets, perhaps an intellectual investigation into ancient language was inspired by the ancient scrolls that Joseph now had access to. Phelps may have played a very significant role in the development of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, but this is downplayed by Vogel. 

Did the Scribes Play Any Significant Role At All?

The idea that scribes such as W.W. Phelps may have been pursuing their own pet projects or doing work on their own is dismissed. Vogel sees Joseph Smith as the architect of virtually everything in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, served by a group of scribes who were merely meek, lowly, humble servants without ambition or pride. He chastises Nibley for thinking that the scribes were behind the GAEL or other key documents. Nibley's assertion is utterly without evidence, we are told. Vogel would apparently scoff at more detailed formulations of Nibley's assertion, such as the idea that scribes would want to translated or attempt translation on their own, or that they would want to produce scripture themselves or even use a seer stone themselves to receive revelation. In Vogel's world, these would seem to be ridiculous notions. Shame on Nibley for his desperate apologetic invention of fiction to save Joseph!

The historical record may present several relevant documents that those embracing Vogel's paradigms might be tempted to ignore, as he seems to have done (undoubtedly out of unawareness or viewing the contrary arguments to be unworthy of his time--I believe he is seeking to be responsible and fair in his work). These documents include:

Record #1: Sections 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where we learn of Oliver Cowdery's desire to translate from the gold plates like Joseph.

Record #2: Section 28 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where we learn of Hiram Page's sinful efforts to receive revelation from a seer stone. Oliver Cowdery is reminded here to to be influenced by such temptations but to recognize that only one is authorized to receive revelation for the Church. He is also told to talk to Hiram privately and let him know that his pretended revelations received through a stone were not of God. 

Record #3: Section 67 of the Doctrine Covenants, vv. 5-8, in which the Lord notes that some of Joseph's peers have been critical of the language Joseph has used in his revelations, and apparently feel they can do better. They are thus challenged to pick someone to go ahead and try their hand at writing a divine revelation and see if they can outdo the Prophet. William McClellin takes up the challenge, and fails. This revelation from the Kirtland era in 1831 shows that human nature with all its pride and jealousy was at play, as is often the case, even among people trying to do good. To have peers and associates critical of Joseph or thinking they could do better is nothing new and certainly fits the scenario Nibley sees in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. 

Vogel simply says that Nibley concocted the whole idea of scribes trying to show off or outdo Joseph and claims there is no evidence, overlooking these arguably relevant documents showing that possibility. The fact that Oliver Cowdery and Warren Parrish would both reject Joseph later in Kirtland is also relevant. They were able to challenge Joseph later. There's no reason to dismiss human pride and assume they would not wish to try their own hand at translation or revelation. Nibley's scenario is quite plausible.

An Impressive Book, But Is It Scholarship?

Dan assures us that he is dispassionately examining all relevant documents and approaching them with scholarly objectivity. Such a scholarly approach should be welcome, even if we disagree with the conclusions an author makes regarding the arguments raised in past scholarship. A characteristic of scholarship, of course, is that opposing views and conflicting evidence are recognized and considered, though we may disagree with the analysis. So how does Dan Vogel do in this regard? Evaluating how he deals with key arguments from opponents and key evidence used by Book of Abraham defenders is the first thing to check in evaluating the quality of the scholarship. I recognize he's not going to agree with what LDS defenders have been saying, but how he interacts with those arguments and the associated evidence and documents is the first test for this work. Are our arguments treated superficially or with awareness, fairness, and insight? Actually, the first question is this: Are they considered at all?

Strangely, Vogel seems to simply ignore much of what LDS apologists have identified as among the most relevant documents and most important arguments for understanding the meaning of the papers related to the Book of Abraham. (Again, I suggest these gaps are unintentional and probably driven by limitations in time and space but more importantly, limitations in perspective due to being too close to his own paradigm, making counter-evidence seem irrelevant.) These omissions include:

  • The added text on Facsimile 2 in which characters from JSP XI were used to fill in missing text from the original, as mentioned above, which shows us that Joseph said he had not translated these characters. Tim Barker's 2020 presentation on this issue  presentation was noteworthy and surely noticed by the critics but has been ignored in Vogel's book.
  • The Egyptian Counting Document, one of the earliest documents in the KEP that were relied on in the GAEL. This document gives us important clues about what was and was not being "translated" and clues related to the purpose of the project. Although the importance of this document was raised in at least one of the sources Vogel cites, he's silent on this issue.
  • The two manuscripts in which reformed Egyptian characters apparently from the Book of Mormon are translated, showing a very logical relationship in which two characters represent very short phrases. 
  • The abundant use of "translated" material in the GAEL that is taken from documents not closely related to the Book of Abraham, including many already existing revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants that are obviously alluded to or cited in portions of the GAEL. While several LDS writers have mentioned this, the greatest buzz came about 10 years ago in a presentation by William Schryver, in the course of arguing that the GAEL may have been intended to be a reverse cipher for encoding revelations to hide information from enemies of the Church. The theory has some gaps, as do all theories trying to explain what the GAEL was intended to do, but Schryver's theory should also have been cited as one of the several possibilities Latter-day Saints have raised regarding the strange GAEL. But whether Schryver's theory is mentioned or not, Vogel should at a minimum have engaged with the data Schryver and others (myself included) have presented about the influence of material from unexpected sources on the GAEL.
  • The use of non-Egyptian materials in the Alphabets and the GAEL, including characters from other languages in the Egyptian Counting Document.
  • The evidence from several documents that Joseph had provided at least some of the astronomical material related to the Book of Abraham during 1835
  • The abundant use of non-Egyptian materials in the Alphabets and the GAEL, including characters from other languages in the Egyptian Counting Document. 
  • Relationships between Hebrew study materials and the GAEL, such as the use of a Hebrew coin letter and its associated meaning that are both found in the KEP, along with some other indications of at least basic awareness of some Hebrew letters and words. This includes possible influence of statements on Hebrew grammar from one of the books that the Saints had for their Hebrew study.

I must give Vogel credit for occasionally tackling important arguments and evidences. One of these is the evidence from the Egyptian Alphabets, where Joseph's manuscript shows signs that he's not the ring leader behind the basic approach of having columns for characters, sounds, and translations. Joseph simply ignored the columns  for sounds and wrote over them. Further, the insertions at the beginning show us right away that he was not leading the effort, but probably copying or drawing upon another document. The documentary evidence points to Phelps as the mastermind behind the projects. Vogel mentions part of this evidence but dismisses it too hastily.

Vogel does have a chapter that explores some of the evidences Book of Abraham defenders have used to suggest the book has ancient origins. Here he shows relatively more engagement with LDS apologists, though almost exclusively John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein. For example, he argues that some of the evidences for antiquity in the Book of Abraham could have been known to Joseph Smith since they could be found in various books in Joseph's day. It's a fair argument. He also delves into the proposal that Abraham was using an ancient geocentric astronomical model, not one from Joseph's environment, to explain some spiritual principles to the Pharaoh in a way that he could understand. Here Vogel makes a valuable observation that a detailed geocentric model may not have been developed in the Old World in Abraham's day (though it would certainly have been available for redactors, Jewish or otherwise, in the era when the papyri were drafted), thus raising a fair question about whether such content would have been written by Abraham himself. He also argues that some aspects of Abraham 3 actually reflect knowledge from Joseph's day. I would simply say that the physical model in the Book of Abraham is not completely clear and the use of "revolutions" and "set times" and higher or lower orders in the Book of Abraham need not be assumed to describe a full-fledged classical geocentric model, but could also relate to other primitive models as well that at least recognized the motion of many heavenly bodies.  

Much more interesting than the details of any physical model Abraham or a redactor had in mind is the purpose of treating astronomy in the first place, and here we come to what I consider to be the most important evidentiary finding in Gee's analysis of the issue. By noting the Egyptian word play inherent in Abraham's discussion in Abraham 3, where the word for "stars" can also mean "spirits," Abraham's teaching that the planetary bodies have an order with a grand body, Kolob, being above them all, Abraham is paving the way to teach Pharaoh from the principles of astronomy that the same order applies to spirits, and the Lord is above them all -- meaning that Pharaoh is not the grandest, but God is. It's a teaching that Abraham could not blurt out directly without inviting capital punishment, but indirectly, in describing astronomy and then making the connection to the nature of souls as well, Pharaoh could be taught an important truth about God somewhat obliquely. What once seemed like a disjointed, illogical development in Abraham 3, suddenly jumping from astronomy to the nature of premortal souls, in light of a linguistic insight that could only come from an Egyptologist, we can now see that Abraham 3 is surprisingly reasonable in a way that Joseph could not have knowingly fabricated. On this issue, however, Vogel is silent. There's no awareness of this important aspect of Gee's argument on astronomy in the Book of Abraham.

While Vogel takes on some of the evidence used to support the Book of Abraham, his scope is surprisingly narrow and far too much is overlooked. The Pearl of Great Price Central has been offering a series of posts and videos on evidence pertaining to the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses. These don't seem to have come into Vogel's cross-hairs. And while Vogel seems to be focused on what Gee and Muhlenstein have to say, that focus is quite selective. One can get a feel for how little of the work of LDS apologists has been considered by comparing Vogel's book to an August 2020 review of recent developments related to the Book of Abraham by Kerry Muhlestein, In "Scholarly Support for the Book of Abraham" published by the Interpreter Foundation, Muhlestein summarizes some of the works that provide support for historicity of the text as well information on how to approach the facsimiles and the translation process:

John Gee and Stephen D. Ricks have outlined what is, to date, the most comprehensive methodological approach to evaluating the historicity of the Book of Abraham:

Their methodology has proven especially fruitful and has led to the publication of numerous pieces of scholarship touching on the historicity of the text. Some of these more noteworthy pieces include:

This body of scholarship has, in turn, been summarized and distilled in Insights #1–26 of Pearl of Great Price Central’s Book of Abraham series:

A few of the references are treated by Vogel. Gee's article on Olishem is treated and dismissed (prematurely, in my opinion, completely overlooking Stephen Smoot's detailed treatment of the critique that Vogel cites from Ritner's book), Gee's paper on geocentric astronomy is also critiqued, and Muhlestein's work on human sacrifice in Egypt is mentioned and attacked near the end of the book (not when the idea of human sacrifice is disparaged much earlier). But the highly relevant and salient works of Kevin Barney, Quinten Barney, and Stephen Smoot are never mentioned. Gee's articles on Idrimi and the "four idolatrous gods" are also not treated. Granted, not every publication can be considered, but some of the most prominent evidences for Book of Abraham authenticity include its treatment of the crocodile god, Soebek, the names and comments on the four sons of Horus (and the bulls-eye of associating them with "the four quarters of the earth" in Facs. 2, among others).

On the facsimiles, Muhlestein recommends these useful resources:

He also discussed the controversies around the explanations given for the facsimiles with this statement and further recommended resources: 

As explained in a Pearl of Great Price Central Insight (“Approaching the Facsimiles,” Insight #27), these different theories are “each compelling to varying degrees since they can account for the instances where Joseph Smith’s interpretations of the facsimiles align with other Egyptologists, but no single one of them can account for his interpretations in their entirety from an Egyptological perspective.” Still, this has not stopped Latter-day Saint scholars from insisting that there are demonstrable instances where Joseph’s interpretations of the facsimiles find plausible confirmation from attested ancient Egyptian and Semitic concepts. These instances have been discussed in Insights #27–36 on Pearl of Great Price Central:

Another test for scholarship is the ability to learn from other fields and recognize that some relevant disciplines might be outside one's expertise. Vogel, to my surprise, simply declares that a knowledge of Egyptian is irrelevant, dismissing the primary qualifications of his major opponents, John Gee and Kerry Muhlestein. We don't need any Egyptology, just his dispassionate review of the relevant documents. Through his refusal to recognize that a knowledge of Egyptian might somehow be helpful in dealing with Egyptian documents, he is unable to even recognize the importance of some other "relevant documents" and relevant arguments from LDS defenders, such as the Egyptological meaning of Shinehah -- meaning the sun, as indicated in the Book of Abraham, and in ancient Egypt, but essentially only during a period of time that just happens to overlap with the era of Abraham. A coincidence, perhaps, but to ignore this lucky coincidence rather than at least recognize it as a potential argument in favor of the opposing side, helps us more clearly determine if Vogel's goal is dispassionate scholarship or polemics.

Too many of the most important arguments and documents are simply ignored by Vogel. What he chooses to deal with is often done thoroughly, giving the appearance of detailed scholarship, as in taking pages to review the activities of Anson Call in a puzzling effort to suggest that his memory regarding the 2+ hours it took to read aloud the Book of Abraham translation in 1838 may not be reliable (he at least was wrong about Oliver Cowdery being the one who had read it). While he scores a variety of interesting points and has some good arguments on some issues, it is simply not scholarship when important evidence and arguments against your preconceived viewpoint are not addressed, especially when your stated purpose is to review and address the arguments of apologists. To not even mention some of the most important issues is really surprising. This is cherry-picked polemics, perhaps pedantic polemics, but it's not adequate scholarship and certainly not the dispassionate scholarship that Vogel claims for himself.

Vogel thus leaves unanswered important questions that have long been raised by defenders of Joseph Smith, such as why we should think the GAEL was used by Joseph to any degree to produce the Book of Abraham or to translate Egyptian:

(1) when so much of it is not Egyptian,

(2) when the Egyptian characters allegedly translated from JSP XI are generally not even considered therein, 

(3) when the English "translations" in the GAEL show a slight relationship with (arguably a dependency from) a few verses in the Book of Abraham but come nowhere close to being useful for translating the text, 

(4) when the characters allegedly used to create the translation are explicitly said by Joseph on Facsimile 2 to not have been translated, 

(5) when the GAEL shows no involvement of Joseph Smith, being entirely in the handwriting of W.W. Phelps apart from a few lines from Warren Parrish, 

(6) when Joseph's other efforts at translation show no relationship at all with the model Vogel thinks Joseph used,

(7) when Joseph showed that he could translate some of the papyrus by revelation essentially as soon as he received the scrolls and could see that there was information related to Abraham (so why would painstaking efforts to create an alphabet first and then a grammar be needed to continue with a revealed translation?), and

8) when significant material in the GAEL is drawn from other existing materials such as the Doctrine and Covenants? Vogel uses this to dismiss the reverse translation theory, but the complex nature of the GAEL may defy any simple theory for whatever Phelps was doing, whether it was reverse translation, coming up with clues to the 'pure language," or something related to Schryver's reverse cipher theory (not mentioned at all by Vogel). But the important issue is that drawing upon material from the Doctrine and Covenants raises valid questions about translation of Egyptian being the goal, especially in light of the non-Egyptian material in the characters. 

Many questions also remain on other basic topics that should also be raised in such a book:

1) Does the historical record about where Joseph and the scribes were on various dates fit the paradigms offered?

2) In any of the revelatory/translation scenarios Joseph had, did he do anything that corresponds with Vogel's model, i.e., first creating an alphabet with a small group of characters, then developing a grammar, and then working out the translation of characters that generally were not in the alphabet or the grammar?

3) Is there any reason anybody would pursue a translation the way Joseph did? Isn't the idea of creating an alphabet before anything is known of a language and then using that to create a grammar and then a translation simply insane and uncharacteristic of how Joseph worked? (It's especially bizarre when you realize that the characters allegedly used for the translation are almost entirely absent in the GAEL.) Can this really be explained as just trying to impress his peers and brainstorm to come up with a story line?

4) Does Vogel's model comport with the most basic statement Joseph made about his work with the alphabet, namely, that it was an alphabet "TO" the Book of Abraham, as if it were a guide or index related to existing translated material from the Book of Abraham, not an impossible translation key "FOR" translating the Book of Abraham? This quote is virtually a foundation for Vogel's approach, yet he fails to consider published arguments about why Joseph said "TO" rather than "FOR."

5) Given that there actually was a sizeable collection of materials that were sold after Joseph's death and apparently were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, how can we be sure that nothing related to the Book of Abraham could have been in that collection? Can we really be confident that materials we don't have could have only been ordinary funerary materials? 

6) If JSP XI was selected as the source of the Book of Abraham because it was close to Facsimile 1, why was there no interest in the columns of characters that actually are directly adjacent to that figure? If one character can equal a hundred or more words, there could be another short book between that figure and JSP XI.

Issues on the size of the Book of Abraham also are related. Vogel considers and quickly dismisses a commonly cited evidence for a larger translated text of the Book of Abraham than we currently have, the account from Anson Call of an evening in July 1838 in which it took over 2 hours to read aloud the translated manuscript (Anson Call, Manuscript, entitled “Copied from the Journal of Anson Call,” February 1879, MS 4783, Church History Library). Since our published Book of Abraham can be read in about half an hour, it would seem that much more had been translated by 1838 but not published. This is an important point that would be consistent with pro-Joseph views on the method of translation, the existence of Abraham 3 and more before the Nauvoo era, the relationship of the translation to the GAEL, etc. But the argument has a flaw that Vogel focuses on: Anson mentions that Oliver Cowdery was present at the gathering in July 1838, but he was excommunicated in April 1838 and thus would not have been present. 

Vogel uses that problem to dispose of the 2-hour reading session altogether. But in analyzing evidence, an error in a detail does not usually require dismissing the substance of a recollection. In Appendix 1 of Brian M. Hauglid, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute Publications, 2010), p. 218, Hauglid observes that "Call may be mistaken in remembering Cowdery’s name since he arrived in Missouri after Cowdery’s excommunication. The point here is the length of time it took to read through the Book of Abraham." That seems reasonable.

Many fair points are made in this journey, but the omission of so many aspects of the defense of the Book of Abraham overcomes too many hurdles for Vogel's hypothesis by only running on the hurdle-free parts of the track. This work does provide a valuable service by pointing to genuine gaps in some of the responses of defenders and by highlighting areas for more scholarship, but it would be unfair to believe that Vogel's polemical objective has been achieved and the irrationality of the Book of Abraham exposed. Maybe that will be done in the sequel, but for now, I believe that Joseph's abilities to reveal ancient text by the power of God did not evaporate when the scrolls were put before him. 

However the revelation was done, I think the most reasonable approach is to see the GAEL and related documents to be the intellectual derivatives of some early Saints seeking to understand more on their own based on clues from a revealed text. Whatever project was underway, it was aborted quickly, leaving us virtually no explanation about what the Kirtland Egyptian Papers were all about. The confusion of mortals puzzling things out on their own should not trump the power of revelation and the ancient text we have been given.