Not Really “Translated”

If I had to endorse any piece of anti-Mormon material, it would be “The Lost Book of Abraham“. It’s produced with excellent production values and doesn’t try too hard by trying to imply more than it should. I think it’s real excellence comes with the fact that it sticks to ONE issue. It explores one topic and takes the time to do it well rather than going for the shotgun approach.

I recently discovered that the Ensign brought up these issues long before the video was made. This article comes from July of 1988. Ensign Link

Part of the article is quite Clintionian by asking everyone to question the definition of the word “translation”. But I think Joseph Smith made it quite clear what he meant by claiming it was a translation. The fact that he started to write out a Egyptian alphabet to aid him in translating the papyrus seems to indicate that the papyrus wasn’t just a source of spiritual inspiration for him.

The other issue the article brings up is the “missing scrolls”. There in fact could be missing scrolls, but it seems obvious that facsimile #1 matches up with the scrolls that we do have. So claiming that some of the scrolls are missing doesn’t really solve why Joseph’s attempt to fill in the gaps on the facsimile are so wrong. Nor does it explain what ancient Jewish scripture is doing in the middle of a funerary script.

Thoughts? Am I way off base here? Does it matter?


6 thoughts on “Not Really “Translated”

  1. I think you’re operating from some assumptions that aren’t necessarily valid–that Joseph Smith made the grammar, that he made it to aid him in translation, that he attempted to fill in the gaps or that it was done incorrectly. Critics of Joseph Smith’s translation consistently ignore the items he publicly claimed to translate: the facsimiles. Instead that go to the breathings text and assume that the grammar preceded the translation. There is much more involved in the production of the English text of the Book of Abraham than the facile explanations offered by these critics. Consider the fact that Oliver Cowdery quoted Abraham 1:3 in 1834 – months before the papyri arrived on the scene. Consider also that critits claim that facsimile #1 is a common scene found in scores of other documents. Hugh Nibley suggested that these critics show even one such scene where the individual on the lion couch is A) alive B) clothed and C) praying.

    On another topic, I called the Frank Pastore show yesterday and he pulled a typical Walter Martin, claiming to be reading from a citation that didn’t exist. I called him on it and he insisted that he had the source right in front of him. He didn’t. After we hung up, he reiterated that his source was valid and that I was mistaken. I emailed him about it. What do you think the chance is that he’ll reply or come clean that he was using a doctored citation?

  2. This is one of the things that still perplexes me. I haven’t really heard a satifactory answer to the critics of the Book of Abraham translation. I plan on reading Hugh Nibley’s book (probably the source of friuliveneto’s comments) in hopes that it can satify me. Right now I’m just having to go on faith because it doesn’t really make sense.

  3. What source did he cite? I seriously doubt Pastore had an original source in front of him. It was likely a reprint found in something else. Whether it was a real citation or not, would be something we would need to look up.

    I don’t think shifting the focus to the facsimile’s offers any better explanation. (if not worse) The papyrus that Joseph owned was missing parts of facsimile #1. Joseph filled in the gaps on that facsimile. Because that facsimile is common, we know that he got it wrong. His explanation of the facsimile came from his own inaccurate rendering of it.

  4. He said he was quoting from Journal of Discourses volume 1 “verse” 50, and read these words, “Jesus Christ was a polygamist, Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus were his plural wives.'” I said it wasn’t from Brigham Young and it certainly wasn’t from page 50 of volume one. He claimed he was reading it from the source. (I have posted a picture of that page from the JD on my blog.) The citation was just bogus.

    Whoever filled in the missing parts of the papyrus is yet to be determined. It may have been Joseph Smith, or it may have been Reuben Hedlock or any of several others who worked on the parchment. What most people assume he got wrong (the person’s head and hand) may or may not be wrong; because as I said above, it isn’t a common facsimile. It’s a common motif, but I’ve seen many lion couch scenes in books and museums and not one besides the BOA facsimile has a living, clothed person lying on the couch in the glyph representing prayer. For people to say, “Well, Joseph Smith got this wrong because there are hundreds of these vignettes and they all are the same…” is playing fast and loose with the facts. I think it’s incumbent upon those who say it’s such a common diagram to find at least one other with the same elements before announcing the case is closed and no more discussion is possible.

    His explanation is only wrong if you assume a priori that it’s an embalming or resurrection scene rather than a sacrifice. I would be interested to know of any other lion couch scene where the individual is alive and clothed. That would go a long way to demonstrating that Joseph Smith was way off in his description.

  5. friulivento,
    good point I never thought about the figure on the couch being clothed. It would be great if someone would show lion couch scenes all next to each other so that people could see the difference between the BOA facimile and other representations of this common motif.

  6. John Gee at BYU has done so much work on this recently that he needs to publish a book with Signature or something just to address these sorts of problems. Until he does, no one with enough real experience in Egyptian in the church has ever tackled the issues in print for us to defend ourselves on this front.

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