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.


23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeff, if I'm reading you right, it seems we are to understand the cosmology of the BoA not as astronomical truth, but merely as a hueristic -- a tool for teaching metaphysical truths to Pharoah. (Of course, the text says "declare all these words," not teach Pharoah by means of a convoluted analogy that bears as much resemblance to and shares some key vocabulary with a 19th-century book that happened to be in Joseph's library but if one squints enough can be made to seem almost as similar to ancient Egyptian beliefs -- but set that aside.)

For the apologist this is quite helpful, because it removes the objection that the BoA's cosmology bears no resemblance to the facts of astronomy. It's just a teaching tool! Well, that and a way to stay out of trouble, like telling everyone your wife is your sister.

But here's what I don't get, Jeff.

According to Gee, "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."

So we have a geocentric model in which (1) the heavenly bodies either orbit the earth or travel across the dome of the firmament and then, after setting, take the celestial red-eye back to the place of their rising, and (2) the earth also rotates along its axis.

Since (1) by itself is enough to explain the movements of the heavenly bodies, (2) seems like overkill, even for a prescientific age, which one imagines is why it is absent from every other geocentric model I've ever seen.

To make matters even stranger, the Lord uses the same term, reckoning of its time, to describe two very different things, orbits and axial rotation.

It's all pretty confusing to us moderns. I'll bet it would have been just as confusing to Pharaoh had he raised his hand at this point and asked his teacher to elaborate on set times and reckonings as they relate to the other planets and the one on which he stands, and then tried to comprehend as Abraham, per Gee, described the earth as a big spinning ball. For Abraham's sake we hope Pharaoh was not that diligent a pupil. (Pharoah might well have found it hard to concentrate, what with his teacher's sister being so beautiful and prom coming up and all.)

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

Simple question: Why would god teach incorrect principles?

Anonymous said...

"Vogel's critique strikes me as highly flawed." I'm shocked! ... Why do I get the feel that before you even picked up his book his critique struck you as highly flawed?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Great question on the set time of the earth. One suggestion comes from J. Ward Moody, "Times of Reckoning and Set Times in Abraham 3," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 38 (2020): 1-14. He suggests that the times of reckoning, of course, are based on what one sees in the sky from the earth, the geocentric model, but, as Gee et al, suggest, the set time of the earth could involve a different measure that provided additional information to Abraham. This could mean, at least for the earth, the time of revolution on its own axis, which, of course, could be greatly enlarging Abraham's scientific knowledge and would involve more than the geocentric model alone, if that interpretation is accurate. Was that intended for Abraham only or would he use that in his conversation with Pharaoh? I don't know. But a combination of set times and times of reckoning would entail a much more complete knowledge of astronomical information.

On the other hand, "set times" might refer to something other than revolution and may not need to infer that something far more advanced that a geocentric model was being discussed. Moody suggests the set time for the sun could refer to its motion in the galaxy, requiring a "galactocentric" model. But based on what one sees on the earth, there are different times for many bodies. The sun has a time of reckoning of 24 hours, but also drifts through different zones of the sky, passing from one zodiacal constellation to another every month. Stars that revolve around the pole state every night may also take weeks to return above the horizon once they disappear completely, etc. There are times of revolutions and other times that can define their behavior. For the earth, did Abraham simply learn that the set time of the earth was 24 hours, just like that of the sun, without being told the physical reality behind that set time, leaving it as something to be figured out? Or was by definition equated with the all-important cycle of the sun without directly stating that the geocentric model was incomplete? I don't know. The earth's set time is certainly a weakness in any proposal that only geocentric information was being conveyed to Abraham, but what was discussed with Pharaoh may have been limited to the geocentric perspective. It's a good point you raise.

Jeff Lindsay said...

I also suggest you read Joanne Conman's article to better understand that the Egyptian model of astronomy was based on detailed and accurate knowledge of the motions of celestial bodies across the sky. Viewing astronomy as a science of compiling and organizing extensive long-term observations of what happens in the sky does not mean that it's wrong. In terms of relating to the observations from earth that the Egyptians knew, speaking of stars and their revolutions and set times makes sense. Start discussing Kepler's laws and you'll lose them instantly.

Our astronomy is based on better tools and much more data and math, but it accounts for only a small fraction of reality because our models have no idea what dark energy and dark matter are, and in God's eyes, any attempt at discussing the basics f the cosmos in terms of our modern knowledge may be just as incomplete as using the Egyptian's model as a way to have his prophet find a way to better engage with the Egyptians. The physical reality of matter and energy that we use to scan and compute the heavens accounts for about 4% of what's there, and we have no idea what the other 96% is all about, though we can infer it's there and giving some unexpected behaviors across the cosmos. Our models are better than the ancient Egyptians had, but still highly incomplete. But God can still talk to us, according to our understanding, or according to the understanding of the ancients. If knowing the astrophysics were important, he could reveal it, but He seems much more worried about how we treat each other and how we live than how accurate our cosmological models are.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

I am struggling to be charitable towards you right now. You critique Dan Vogel for saying that expertise in Egyptology isn't necessary to evaluate the BoA documents - but when a real, world-renowned expert in Egyptology (Dr. Ritner) provides an exhaustive analysis showing they're not ancient...suddenly expertise doesn't matter, and you hen-peck every possible deficiency you can find or make-up.

You have zero training in history, Egyptology, religious studies, and just about everything you write about, yet that doesn't stop you from criticizing people who actually do have such training, and who devote their time to these issues.

Help me to see your efforts and hypocrisy in a charitable light, please.

Kevin Christensen said...

Something first noted by Hugh Nibley, in The Three Facsimilies of the Book of Abraham, from Hamelet's Mill by de Santillana and Von Dechund. Hamlet's Mill is a study of ancient astronomy. In their scheme:
In ancient astronomy “ the earth was the ideal plane laid through the ecliptic.
Half the zodiac (northern band, reaching from vernal to autumn equinox) as “dry land.”
Half the zodiac (southern arc) as “waters below.”
“Flat earth applies to the band of the zodiac through which the planets move.”
The equinoxes and the solstices make up the four pillars or corners of the earth.

Nibley observes that:
In the Egyptian rites and the Old Testament, as also on our Hypcephalus, we find the strange conjunction of the Bull and the Ram, both of which are the supreme symbol of reproductive power.
On Facsimile No. 2, the Bull in the Rim is specifically designated as the Great Procreating Bull without equal., and is matched with the great mother Cow Fig 5.
On the other hand, the supreme ruling figures of the Upper and more glorious regions are both crowned with Ram’s horns, and the mystery of the lamb meets us in the three cryptograms behind Fig. 6.
G. Santilliana [Hamlet’s Mill] would find the declension of Bull to Ram in the precession of the equinoxes, which in the days of Abraham, move the sun from the constellation of Taurus into that of Aries, to remain there for the next 2000 years.

To understand what is cool about archaic astronomy, and eventually Kolob and the Book of Abraham, we have to think about the Precession of the Equinoxes.

It takes 26,000 years
This number shows up in many places in myths around the world. According to Joseph Campbell (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space), it is encoded in the ages of the patriarchs from Adam to Noah.
In terms of visible astronomy, the Sun rules the day, the Moon and stars rule the night, and the stars have their own hierarchy and set times, which times and starts all have an interlocking hierarchy of greater and lesser “set times,” Kolob’s time being the greatest of all the stars Abraham sees. Kolob governs the others.
The discussion of astronomy in Abraham leads a discussion of comparative hierarchies of time and scale which leads to a subsequent discussion of intelligences, and the grand council.

From page 73 of Hamlet's Mill, remembering that Hathor appears in Facsimiles 2 and 3:

The Godess Hathor is called…literally the lady of every heart circuit”
The determinative sign for “heart” often figures as the plumb bob at the end of a plumb line coming from a well known astronomical surveying device,, the merkhet.

"...the determinative sign for 'heart' often figures as the plumb line coming from a well-known astronomical surveying device. the merkhet [Lit. the "informer,"] that which causes to know!. Evidently 'heart' is same thing very specific, as it were the 'center of gravity.' And this may lead in quite another direction. The Arabs preserved a name far Canopus--besides calling the star Kalb at-teiman ('heart of the south'):
Suhail el wetn, 'Canopus Ponderosus, the heavy-weighting Canopus," i.e., "Canopus was the weight at the end of the plumb-line...(p. 73) by means of which this depth [of the universe] was measured." (p.271)

Of all the stars it alone was taken for static, exempted from the Precession" (p. 269, N. 16).

Hence it is "the primordial star. 'presented under the form of an Egg that contained all the things that were to be born...caIled 'l'etoile immobile'. It is near the Great Cloud which marks the South Pole of the ecliptic, and is NOT to be sought in the North." (p.269).

In light of all of this, and the obvious similarity in sound from Qualb to Kolob, and much common imagery in our Abraham, I think Canopus is a very good fit for Kolob.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, we know from Abraham 4:2-10, which mirrors the mythology of Genesis, exactly which cosmological model God described to Abraham. In that model, our world is a dry space surrounded by water. It was formed by separating the waters above from the waters below, those waters being held at bay by the firmament and the fundament, respectively. Hence the description of the flood we find in Genesis: "all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened." The water came from below as well as above.

In this model, the sun, moon, and stars are somehow "set in" the firmament. Beyond these heavenly bodies lies not huge expanses of empty space, but the chaotic raging waters that God tamed.

Can this model be reconciled with one in which the earth is a planet spinning like a ball? No. (Sorry, Professor Gee. The "set time" of the earth must refer to something else.)

Is this model compatible with the idea of limitless planets like our own populated by limitless beings like ourselves? No.

Of course if one wants to, one can say that none of this is to be taken at face value anyway because it is all just God's way of teaching higher truths to the Egyptians in terms they could understand. But then, why not come right out and use the dreaded m-word word and just say it's ancient mythology, and that ancient mythology was also God's way of teaching higher truths to ancient Jews in terms that they could understand? And why not say that about Cain and Abel, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the Resurrection, and other scientifically dubious stories in the Bible?

If mythic narrative and metaphor are such great ways of teaching the Egyptians, why would they not be great ways to teach others?

Why not say simply that the Book of Mormon, too, is not history, not even an ancient text, but rather a 19th-century attempt to teach higher truths to 19th-century American Protestants in terms they would understand?

Why not? What's good for ancient Egyptians is good for 19th-century Americans.

Why not say that what's good for explaining away problematic elements of the Book of Abraham's cosmology is also good for explaining away horses, KJV errors, Deutero-Isaiah, Protestant theological disputes, and inconvenient DNA?

Why tie yourself in apologetic knots over that stuff when such a superior resolution is right there in plain sight?

-- OK

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon @8:04: I am quoting Dan and agreeing with him that he as well as all of us laymen can argue about issues regardless of profession or degrees, if the arguments are sound. The arguments Dan makes in case after case are demonstrably flawed, such as claiming a geocentric model necessarily requires the use of concentric spheres, a late development in the history of geocentric astronomy. I don't need to be an astronomer to point out that Vogel's statement is painfully wrong. I don't need to be a specialist in documents to show that his model the twin manuscripts does not fit the evidence and that the dittography of Williams shows every indication of being from the same session and the same source as when he first wrote Abraham 2:3-5. There's no hypocrisy in pointing out the errant assumptions and the failure to consider some documents and evidences in Vogel's book.

Jeff Lindsay said...

It's entirely possible for the Lord to show Abraham real scenes of the cosmos and give factual information, while also giving him the terminology to discuss astronomy in terms of what is observed from the earth, from a geocentric perspective. Celestial bodies ("planets") that are above the seemingly flat earth appear to move in different ways, as observed by man, with the sun moving rapidly and some stars changing position more slowly and some seeming to stay in the northern sky all the time. Describing this as observed from earth, with an apparent geocentric model built in, is not necessarily wrong or deceptive, especially when Abraham is being told of the earth's set time. We don't know how much of what Abraham was shown was worked into his conversations with the Egyptians, but he was certainly well prepared to understand the various "set times" that were so important in Egyptian astronomy and would have been able to relate that to the spiritual teachings via the spirit/star wordplay in Egyptian.

Just as the Lord is able to give some basic information on the stars in a model possibly adapted for the Egyptians to understand to help them spiritually, so His description of the Creation looks like mythology rather than science to us in our day, but does teach some basics in ways that the ancients could understand. The core science is that there was a Creation that took place in multiple steps. The details that interest us are missing -- exactly how long, how was DNA introduced and tweaked, etc. -- but the simple model serves the purpose the Lord is after: teaching us that He designed and created it and it took a lot of work, with sacred purposes behind it all. I don't think we need to insist that how it was taught over 3,000 years ago all has to be scientifically precise for our era.

Jeff Lindsay said...

OK asks, "Why not say simply that the Book of Mormon, too, is not history, not even an ancient text, but rather a 19th-century attempt to teach higher truths to 19th-century American Protestants in terms they would understand?" Using simplified explanations of the relationships between stars and the way they move to teach people in terms they can understand does not turn the account of such teaching into fiction, any more than Christ using parables with possibly hypothetical scenarios makes the record of His life and teachings all myth. Abraham 3, in fact, shows God revealing some important truths to Abraham, but giving him at least terminology and perspectives ("set times" and "times of reckoning" and the differing behavior of stars as observed from earth) to be able to discourse with the Egyptians on astronomy in ways they can understand -- with tools to use that to convey spiritual truths.

The Book of Mormon does not fit any plausible model as a fictitious product of Joseph Smith. Numerous witnesses saw and even felt gold plates that he could not possible have fabricated. His dictation of the text without notes in a steady oral dictation was confirmed my many witnesses and by the intricate details of the surviving Original Manuscript. The ancient influences in it are dramatic and cannot be explained by just drawing upon Bible lore and language. The detailed evidence from the Arabian Peninsula, including new evidence for Shazer, the River Laman, Nahom, and Bountiful, has turned a seeming glaring weakness into a collection of impressive strengths that cannot reasonably be explained as Joseph's work. The fact that some ancient peoples struggled with theological questions related to those of our day does not make the text modern. We are not unique in the ability to wonder about issues such as the salvation of infants if baptism and faith in Christ are said to be required for salvation. We are not unique in wondering what the resurrection is or what role the Messiah plays. Our presentism does not trump the power and evidence for ancient Book of Mormon, in spite of being translated into a modern language with plenty of questions about the original text and some of the unexplained things in that text.

Joe said...


No reason to slide that far down Anon, pull on the reins a bit, it helps me... sometimes : ).

Great article Jeff, and great comments by all (yes even the slippery slopes).

Hopefully I don’t offend anyone, but I strongly support disagreeing with everyone who is likely wrong on important issues :).
And, it’s one thing to disagree with Muhlestein, Gee, etc. on Egyptian culture, quite another to disagree with Ritner on: Abraham, scripture, Church history, and etc. (especially when Ritner is wrong about so many things).

And, I don’t feel it’s necessarily true that Abraham couldn’t have taught what’s in the BofA, or that Egyptians believed the sky was an actual domed naked lady (as some claim), or that Hebrews could only believe that Hell was a fire beneath and the heavens were above a solid dome, and all water around everything (but it's ok if they did), and so on.


We don’t take everything in the scriptures, temple, etc. literally, they're not meant to be. The Lord gives in our language and according to our understanding.

On the other hand, it's important to know that the BofM, Bible, etc. are historical, and we are taught with parables. This is supported by the evidence.

Kolob at the heart, measuring degrees of arc in cubits, revolutions around a possibly invisible center (not necessarily spinning on an axis as some assume), set times, levels relating to time and governing power, comparing planets to gods/spirits, and so on, these are all ancient concepts.

Some of it may be symbolic (as with the temple, Genesis, Moses, Abraham, etc.), and things will naturally be explained from points of view that are understood and applicable...

On the other hand, I just quickly read through Abr. 3, and it seems to miraculously fit with my relativistic cosmology, with Abraham’s cosmology, and with Greco-Roman, and possibly others yet to be discovered.

And, none of it seems to be anachronistic. Am I missing something? Anyone?

Joe said...

Thanks Jeff, I had this open from last night and when I posted that comment your insights from this morning showed up...
Writing quickly...
Sometimes I’ve wondered:

Why would ancient Prophets imply that God’s throne is in the Northern sky (Zaphon typifying), and cherubim stars rotating to guard the path of life?
Why are Satan, Jesus, gospel, etc. related to stars?
Why would John’s revelation be given with pagan symbols from his time?
Why would Moses say the earth was originally Tiamat and Behemoth?
Why not explain photons and our understanding of stars, orders, rakia, etc.to Paul?
Why not give him a computer and an SUV so he could get more of the Lord’s work done?
Why would Jesus quote what was written to Satan, instead of writing scripture?
Why keep records at all?
Why would Mosiah need a large stone and not just give the history by revelation?
Why would Moroni quote scripture in outdated English (apparently) which varied from the KJV?
Why would he even keep a record, make a box (apparently recovered and used as a flower box by a local) and then, evidently, help (or have someone help) translate it into archaic English (with some phrases edited out as errors by 19 C. mortals)...as if someone learned English not many years after English speakers began immigrating to the Americas?
Why does the temple change?
And on and on....?

All things to ponder, but, for me, the more important Abraham questions are:
Is the astronomy/astrology Greco-Roman, ancient, 19th C. or a combination?

Is Ash’s “co-creative” model applicable (or procreative—God creates, helps the food and children, etc. grow, but we play a crucial role in creation... : ))?
Clearly there were redactors (including Ptolemaic), was the astronomy adjusted and made applicable? If so, was it only anciently, or also in the 19th C.?

Joe said...

As Jeff points out, if there are Greco-Roman elements in BofA astronomy, this adds further powerful evidence for the antiquity of the BofA. If it’s all from Abraham’s time, this also adds support, because not much was available to Joseph Smith on that day (or 2 days) in October 1835 (again, before Parrish was scribe). But, if it's a mixture of the two (ancient and Greco-Roman), then we have another bullseye.

There’s no legitimate evidence that Thomas Dick was a source for anything in the BofA. His language and thinking may have influenced Cowdery, Joseph Smith, etc. but the theology of the BofA, D&C, etc. clearly does not originate with or agree with Thomas.

Palmer, Dehlin, and others imply that Joseph read thousands of pages of Platonic philosophy to get a few words and concepts for the BofA. This is highly unlikely, of course. And, as usual, much of the alleged source material doesn’t exist, wasn’t available, or isn’t really in the BofA. However, if BofA astronomy actually does agree with details from Proclus, this lends support to the evidence that Ptolemaic elements exist in the BofA. Joseph Smith doesn’t seem to have guessed that the papyri dated to Ptolemaic times, and couldn’t have done so without revelation.


I understand that Joseph’s mind and culture were factors in translation. (As I mentioned, I also believe that Moroni (or another Nephite), played a role in the BofM English translation.) However, I don’t see anything anachronistic in BofA astronomy, especially when we remember there was almost certainly a Greco/Roman redactor.

We tend to read it from our points of view. We often think of rotation as being on an axis, seasons as related to tilt, not the rise of stars, and so on. As Jeff points out, this isn’t how ancients always thought. Ancients understood that the earth was round long before Ptolemy, and some also knew or guessed that the earth moves, and even rotates on its axis (still, even for Heracleides, this fits with a geocentric model), but the cosmos was generally viewed in symbolic and mathematical terms; the sun represented the Christ (or the sun and moon were father and mother respectively), the constellations were the 12 tribes, seasons, gates, etc.

Some saw the polar region as the throne of the everlasting (in this case, Kolob would be the heart since it’s near the currently dark polar region, but it could also be Sirius (the dog star Qlb?, as you know, but Joseph didn't), Jupiter, etc. as the dying one. In some cases Isis/Sirius, Orion/Osirus, or etc. would suffice as the throne, path, etc...we don’t have to be dogmatic about it : ), that can lead to becoming a critic : )).

Therefore, once again, it seems that a criticism is actually supportive...

Anonymous said...

Jeff, your response at 7:25 above suggests I need to clarify some of my remarks at 4:00 above.

You wrote, "Using simplified explanations of the relationships between stars and the way they move to teach people in terms they can understand does not turn the account of such teaching into fiction, any more than Christ using parables with possibly hypothetical scenarios makes the record of His life and teachings all myth."

I agree. But I didn't mean to suggest that Abraham's use of a fictional cosmology as a vehicle for teaching spiritual truth to Pharoah logically entails that the story of Abraham teaching Pharaoh must itself be fictional.

I did mean to suggest that what Abraham could do with his (ancient Egyptian) contemporaries, Joseph Smith could also do with his (19th-century American) contemporaries. Analogously to Abraham, Smith could use a fictional history to teach spiritual truth to 19th-century frontier Americans in terms those Americans could readily understand.

I did mean to suggest that what Jesus did with his stories of good Samaritans and prodigal sons, Joseph could do with his stories of Nephites and Lamanites.

All this is possible even if one agrees that Abraham, Jesus, and Joseph really existed.

Just as it doesn't matter that the Book of Abraham's cosmology is not scientifically accurate, and just as it doesn't matter whether the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son ever actually existed, so it shouldn't need to matter whether Nephites and Lamanites ever actually existed.

What matters in each case is the spiritual and ethical truths conveyed by the stories, and it is in the nature of stories that such truths do not depend one bit on a story's historicity.

Does slow and steady win the race? The truth of that statement has nothing to do with whether there was aactually some historical racing event in which a tortoise bested a hare.

There's no need to concern ourselves with the scientific accuracy of Abrahamic cosmology or the historicity of the prodigal son. So why do so many Mormons spend so much time and energy trying to demonstrate the historicity of the Nephites?

Is it to protect Joseph's character? Would it be too damaging to the faith to admit that Joseph not only composed the Mormon scriptures, but also made up the stories of their discovery and translation?

The Church has already told us that Joseph's character flaws don't matter because God uses flawed characters for his purposes, and because it's the spiritual truth that ultimately matters anyway, then why can't we admit the possibility that Joseph told a story about gold plates that was designed to reinforce the spiritual truths of the Nephite story by grounding it in terms that 19th-century frontier Americans could understand, i.e., in terms of folk magic, buried treasure, seer stones, etc.?

Once one distinguishes truth from fictional story designed to convey truth, all kinds of possibilities open up.

In any event the value of the Mormon scriptures, and the authority of the Church, ought to depend on the quality of the truths conveyed by the stories, not the historicity of the stories. At least so it seems to me.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Joe, why would you say Joseph Smith would not know Qlb as the Hebrew root for "dog"? I think even FAIR agrees that the Book of Abraham's Hebrew words come from Smith's study of Hebrew, which began in the fall of 1835.

In its entry on Producing Ancient Scripture ("available from the FairMormon bookstore"), Mark Ashurst-McGee says that "The chapter by Matthew Grey shows quite clearly that Joseph Smith drew upon his Hebrew textbooks for the Hebrew words that appear in the Book of Abraham. Grey lays out the evidence for this far better than anyone else ever has, and he does a great job of placing this usage within the context of Joseph Smith’s Hebrew study and his translation efforts."

Just sayin'.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

OK @ 10:58

This is very beautifully put. I can imagine that type of explanation helping me overcome my faith crisis as it began. If I had only received that type of explanation, instead of the dichotomous “either it’s everything it says it is or it’s a great fraud” rhetoric common at the time from church leadership, I may still be a practicing mormon today.

Anonymous said...

I waited for Jeff's response to OK's 4:00. I grinned when Jeff gave his 7:25. I thought, was OK really expecting a rational response? OK's 10:58 made me laugh. OK's attempt to clarify what was all ready clear indicated OK expected a rational response! OK, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

Joe said...

: ) let’s see...sorta confused as usual.
Thought Jeff said: "Using simplified explanations of the relationships between stars and the way they move to teach people in terms they can understand does not turn the account of such teaching into fiction"?

The evidence indicates that Nephites are historical, and the BofM, as a whole, is not allegorical or mythic, not in the same way that the Temple and ancient endowment scriptures are. The evidence also indicates that the BofA is ancient. Yet, we slip slide, somehow, to fiction because some feel it should be something more modern? BUt if modern, it would then also be fiction?
Either way, I suppose, as always, we can find a doubt or two to share...

Perhaps I mistakenly believed scripture wasn't concerned with giving science lessons. Maybe the Temple, Genesis, etc. aren't teaching deeper truths?

OH well.
For fun, I'll pretend that I've read all the anonymous comments and they've demonstrated that something (astronomy or not) didn't fit with today’s accepted science (whatever the special is today). If that happened and I missed it, I still don't know why we would expect an ancient BofA, or an ancient Abraham, or an ancient redactor, etc. to care about our science?

Some might have faith if Paul had the SUV I mentioned, or if the ancient BofA taught the theory of a big bang from singularity. Perhaps they understood the theory that Hawking helped develop? The Catholic Church (perhaps hoping to avoid further issues), adapted to it. LDS should also get in line, and the BofA should have been in line, or not, etc., fiction either way...oh, but then Hawking changed his mind and science moves on. Doesn't matter I suppose, not to us. But where does that leave Abraham when he goes to teach it to Pharaoh (if he did, and if it's not simply "purporting," or adapted for Egyptian, etc. audiences), surely the more educated Pharaoh would have known about Hawking?

What was it again that showed the BofA didn't agree with modern science, and is therefore a modern invention? Is it that Nahom was spelled Nahim and the map wasn't in the library when Joseph hobbled off to read it when only a lad? Or the river doesn't flow into the Red Sea anymore (the river, symbolic and historical, still not agreeing with modern times, so shouldn't have been used by Lehi to teach anything other than where to get a drink, or not)...

I might not have that all correct, just askin tho, and still luv ya, as always : )

Joe said...

Anon, I haven't read that book yet, but you’re correct, there is a small chance that Joseph gleaned “Kolob” from reading the lexicons that Cowdery brought around Nov. 20, 1835. I haven’t checked to see if they included qlb as the heart of heaven, near unto God and throne, dog star Sirius (the throne in Greco-Roman Egypt also), house of the north, etc. But, when Joseph began his Hebrew studies in 1836, he was mocked for his ineptitude and inability to correctly pronounce the Hebrew alphabet, so he prayed fervently for help. So it seems he was just beginning to work on the alphabet at that time, and had a difficult time with basics. Still, he may have adjusted some things in the previously translated BofA after studying with Seixas.

But, my understanding is that at least some of the astronomy portions of the BofA were revealed in early October, 1835. We don’t know for sure when the word “Kolob” was entered into the GAEL (which is clearly dependent upon the BofA, and followed translation, rather than creating it), but it was likely shortly after Parrish became scribe in late Oct., early Nov. 1835. Joseph would have to be pretty quick to dictate Elkener, Libnah, etc., from his hat in July, and Kolob in the fall of 1835, and to then begin studying and mispronouncing the Hebrew alphabet in 1836. Perhaps he was faking the ineptitude, knowing that future scholars, armed with libraries and computers, etc., might eventually guess that Kolob was Semitic for heart (rather than Egyptian), Elkener god of the west, etc., but, again, seems unlikely to me.
You’re free to disagree though : ), I'm willing to change my mind, and thanks for sharing.


Anonymous said...

Joe, you aren't helping. It might feel like it, but your writing is nonsensical and annoying.

Anonymous said...

“I'm willing to change my mind“

You mention this often but never demonstrate it in practice, even when your ideas are proven erroneous.

Joe said...

Thanks for the tip anon. : ). However, you may have misunderstood. I don't think Jeff needs help, and it's doubtful that critics will accept any help. So, I'm here to learn : ). And, if you could please remind me of a time when my "ideas are proven erroneous" and I was still unwilling to change my mind, then I will do my best to change my mind : )....how about U?

And, if you could inform me of the evidence (rather than referring me to an entire book as OK does) that Kolob wasn't understood by Oct. 1835, then I'll consider thoughtfully. Same with any evidence that BofA astronomy is anachronistic : ), same with the River Laman as Jeff discussed, and so on...

Thanks, hoping to do better at doubting everything good ; )