stallioncornell

CES Reply: Polygamy – The Conclusion!

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

In an attempt to influence and abate public rumors of his secret polygamy, Joseph got 31 witnesses to sign an affidavit published in the LDS October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy.  Pointing to the above-mentioned D&C 101:4 scripture, these witnesses claimed the following:

“…we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.”

Nope. Quote the rest of it, please.

We the undersigned members of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and residents of the city of Nauvoo, persons of families do hereby certify and declare that we know of no other rule or system of marriage than the one published from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and we give this certificate to show that Dr. J. C. Bennett’s “secret wife system” is a creature of his own make as we know of no such society in this place not never did. [Emphasis added]

This was not, in fact, an affidavit “stating that Joseph did not practice polygamy.” It is an affidavit disavowing “Dr. J.C. Bennett’s ‘secret wife system,” i.e. the “spiritual wifeism” I described earlier, which was a flimsy pretext for adultery and antithetical to the principle of plural marriage as practiced by Joseph.

The problem with this affidavit is that it was signed by several people who were secret polygamists or who knew that Joseph was a polygamist at the time they signed the affidavit. In fact, Eliza R. Snow, one of the signers of this affidavit, was Joseph Smith’s plural wife.

She was also, if some sources to be believed, on the receiving end of John C. Bennett’s predatory “spiritual wife” advances. She would have every legitimate reason to come out in full force of Dr. Bennett’s gross distortion of the principle of plural marriage.

In addition, the fact that 31 witnesses could make this statement with a clear conscience undermines your implication that they saw a conflict between the predatory seduction they were denouncing and the principle of plural marriage they were practicing.

Joseph and Eliza were married 3 months earlier on June 29, 1842. Two Apostles and future prophets, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, were very aware of Joseph’s polygamy behind the scenes when they signed. Another signer, Bishop Whitney, had personally married his daughter Sarah Ann Whitney to Joseph as a plural wife a few months earlier on July 27, 1842; Whitney’s wife and Sarah’s mother Elizabeth  (also a signer) witnessed the ceremony.

So if this was such a blatant lie, why did no one object? Are we to assume that all of these people were as blithely dishonest as you suggest Joseph Smith was? The far more plausible explanation the idea that this affidavit was denouncing a practice that they believed was wholly inconsistent with the doctrine they were then living.

What does it say about Joseph Smith and his character to include his plural wife and buddies – who knew about his secret polygamy/polyandry – to lie and perjure in a sworn public affidavit that Joseph was not a polygamist?

It says that you have unwittingly misinterpreted this affidavit as perjury when it was not.

Now, does the fact that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and polyandry while lying to Emma, the Saints, and the world about it over the course of 10+ years prove that he was a false prophet?  That the Church is false?  No, it doesn’t.

Well, that’s mighty big of you, but it’s also a distortion of reality. Joseph practiced no polyandry – sealings, no marriage, no sex. You really have no idea what he told Emma. No question he was less than fully honest in discussing the practice with the world, but the fact that he still attempted to reconcile honesty with concern for the safety of the Saints speaks well of him.

Also, 10+ years is really stretching it. He was first married to a plural wife in late 1835/early 1836, and he was dead by 1844, so nine years is the best you can do. Given that almost all of Joseph’s practice of the doctrine took place in the two-and-a-half years of his life, that’s an unsustainable accusation.

What it does prove, however, is that Joseph Smith’s pattern of behavior or modus operandi for a period of at least 10 years of his adult life was to keep secrets, be deceptive, and be dishonest – both privately and publicly.

Is a bishop or stake president who refuses to discuss the private confession of an adulterer in public being secretive, deceptive, and dishonest? If you ask a bishop directly if Brother So-and-So had an affair, would he be wrong to try and find some way to deflect the question to protect the sanctity of the confidentiality to which he is bound? Should we applaud a bishop who blabs about such private matters because that bishop is being honest?

This is a line I have had to walk in my own family. Having been involved as a bishopric member in administering disciplinary councils, I learned things about my fellow ward members about which I cannot speak or even hint to own wife. When such things come up in passing, I try not to be dishonest, but I definitely do everything I can to skirt the subject. Does this make me a liar? By your definition, yes. From my perspective, I’m trying to balance the value of honesty with the value of protecting those who trust me to keep things confidential.

Just as I do not deny that polygamy is strange and even troubling, I think it is impossible for any remotely objective observer to deny that Joseph believed it to be the will of God, and that he practiced plural marriage as a religious principle, not as a vehicle for sexual predation. As such, he felt duty bound to keep such matters confidential in the same spirit that church leaders today do not publicize the confessional discussions they have with church members.

It’s when you take this snapshot of Joseph’s character and start looking into the Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook Plates, the Book of Mormon, the multiple First Vision accounts, Priesthood restoration, and so on that you start to see a very disturbing pattern and picture.

When you apply a single lens colored with a blanket assumption of dishonesty, then of course every pattern is disturbing. You’re like the citizens of the Emerald City who wear green glasses so that everything looks green. (That doesn’t happen in the movie, but it’s in the book.)

You’ve been unable to objectively demonstrate dishonesty in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, or the multiple – and consistent – First Vision accounts. All you’ve been able to do is show your own assumption of dishonesty in instances that are often based on your own misunderstandings and not the facts.

Do you really think this approach is exclusive to Joseph Smith?

If you assume from the outset that Martin Luther King or Gandhi were fundamentally dishonest (they both had extramarital affairs about which they lied), or that George Washington was inherently wicked (he owned other human beings), or that Barack Obama is a bloodthirsty killer (he ordered the murder of Osama bin Laden), then every perception of these largely decent and upstanding men is tainted, and they can do nothing right.

What’s truly disturbing to me is that every time it’s possible to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt, you choose not to grant it to him. In fact, you choose to interpret all of his actions in as harsh a light as possible. I think it would be wise to readjust your snapshot.

jeffs

Warren Jeffs is more closely aligned to Joseph Smith Mormonism than the LDS Church is.

Sorry to be crude, but this is like saying rape and marital intimacy are essentially the same thing.

How many of Warren Jeffs’ relationships were sealings, not marriages, with no sex? As repeatedly mentioned above, Joseph had no sexual relations with underage girls and was therefore no pedophile, and he had sealings/no marriage/no sex with any other men’s wives and was not an adulterer. The only new accusation in here is that Joseph, by marrying women who were related to each other, was in violation of the Law of Moses, a law fulfilled by the coming of Christ that we are no longer commanded to live. I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet Joseph ate shellfish on occasion, too, which, under the Mosaic law, constitutes “an abomination.” (Leviticus 11:12.) One more thing you can use to pile on, Jeremy.

But enough of my yakkin’. What else do the unreliable and inflammatory folks at Mormoninfographics.com have to say?

many wives

Again, we’re just retreading all the same ground here – so many of these are not sexual relationships and not even marriages, and simply repeating the same accusations graphically is kind of tedious, albeit a bit more colorful. Saying the same thing over and over doesn’t make it more true.

Interesting, however, that the graphic identifies Fanny Alger as a “housekeeper” and not a “foster daughter,” which is how you erroneously described here earlier. I do concede, however, that the (irrelevant) dream about Emma Smith poisoning Desdemona Fullmer is a nice touch if your goal is to think as poorly of Joseph Smith as is possible, which seems to be the purpose here. Context suggests that the recounting of the dream, which Fullmer recounted in 1868 when the Utah church was deeply suspicious of Emma, was more of an attempt to smear the RLDS folks than indict Joseph. Perhaps we should forgive her for such a slight, as Fullmer remained faithful throughout her life.

Tomorrow: Brother Brigham

CES Reply: Even More Polygamy

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

Joseph’s destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor that exposed his polygamy and which printing press destruction started the chain of events that led to Joseph’s death.

Yes. I remember listening to Truman Madsen’s hagiographic Joseph Smith tapes on my mission, where he describes this event in almost your exact words. Elder Ben B. Banks, former member of the presidency of the Seventy, told an audience at BYU Idaho that “both friends and enemies of the Prophet now agree that the act, legal or not, was unwise and inflammatory and was the major immediate factor that culminated in the Prophet’s death.”

Elder Banks was my first mission president and a beloved mentor. He performed my wedding in the Salt Lake Temple. A more kind, faithful – and orthodox – Latter-day Saint has never lived. If Ben Banks agrees with you here, I don’t think there’s anyone who would dispute this.

Marriages to young girls living in Joseph’s home as foster daughters (Lawrence sisters, Partridge sisters, Fanny Alger, Lucy Walker).

We’re back to the idea of “foster children” again, despite this not being a thing in America prior to 1853. None of these women would have referred to themselves as such. Fanny was a housekeeper, as were the Lawrence sisters. All of them were of marriageable age. You’re putting a modern label on them that they wouldn’t have recognized.

Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger was described by Oliver Cowdery as a “dirty, nasty, filthy affair” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323

He did. (Actually, he said “scrape” instead of “affair,” but that’s as much a quibble as saying Joseph said “light” instead of “fire” in describing the First Vision.) Although, as Rough Stone Rolling makes clear on the same page, Joseph made no effort to deny the relationship, but only to deny that the relationship was adultery.

Oliver’s life has always fascinated me. He was the first person baptized in this dispensation; he was indispensable in the translation of the Book of Mormon; he was one of the Three Witnesses; he saw John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John; he was side-by-side with Joseph when the Savior Himself appeared at the Kirtland Temple dedication. If all these miraculous experiences were nothing but frauds, Oliver could have profited tremendously by bringing down Joseph Smith’s house of cards. Yet even when his anger at Joseph drove him out of the Church, he never denied any of this, and he came back to the Church late in his life, after Joseph was dead and despite having no position of prominence or authority. Apparently, Oliver was ultimately able to accept that Joseph Smith’s character was not so soiled by plural marriage as to invalidate his prophetic role.

Joseph was practicing polygamy before the sealing authority was given. LDS historian, Richard Bushman, states: “There is evidence that Joseph was a polygamist by 1835” – Rough Stone Rolling, p.323. Plural marriages are rooted in the notion of “sealing” for both time and eternity. The “sealing” power was not restored until April 3, 1836 when Elijah appeared to Joseph in the Kirtland Temple and conferred the sealing keys upon him. So, Joseph’s marriage to Fanny Alger in 1833 was illegal under both the laws of the land and under any theory of divine authority; it was adultery.

The best evidence suggests that Joseph received the revelation now recorded in Section 132 sometime in 1831 when he was engaged in his translation of the Bible. Such a revelation would have given him the authority to perform a plural marriage for time only, but not for eternity until the sealing power was restored. So in the case of Fanny Alger, we have a case of a marriage – including sex – that was not a sealing. There were several other cases where this happened even after the sealing keys were restored. In addition, we don’t have a firm date on when the marriage took place, and some scholars place it after the Kirtland Temple dedication.

D&C 132:63 very clearly states that the only purpose of polygamy is to “multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.”

We’ve just been over this, and you got it wrong then, too. These are two very different things. See previous.

Why did Joseph marry women who were already married?

He didn’t. He was sealed to women who were already married, but not married to them. See previous.

These women were obviously not virgins, which violated D&C 132:61.

No violation. They were pure in the eyes of God. See previous.

Zina Huntington had been married seven and a half months and was about six months pregnant with her first husband’s baby at the time she married Joseph; clearly she didn’t need any more help to “bear the souls of men.”

Say it with me now: sealing, not marriage, no sex. See above.

Also, verse 63 states that if the new wives are with another man after the polygamous marriage, they will be destroyed. Eleven of Joseph’s wives lived with their first husbands after marrying Joseph Smith. Most of them lived on to old age. Why weren’t they “destroyed”?

The answer to your question, in a manner of speaking, can be found by taking a detour into the first verse of the Book of Mormon. Unlike the first verse of the First Book of Napoleon, it starts out something like this:

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents…”

This has been the subject of countless sermons about how goodly it is to have goodly parents. It is virtually canonized in songs our young’uns sing every Sunday.

“We have been born, as Nephi of old, to goodly parents who love the Lord…”

Mormons have all bought the idea that “goodly,” therefore, is synonymous with “good.” But if “goodly” means “good,” then why not use the word “good?” Nephi, the guy who calls his parents “goodly,” says it was a “good thing” that the children of Israel were brought out of bondage. (1 Nephi 17:25) After he built his ship, he tells us that “my brethren beheld that it was good.” According to LDS.org, the word “Good” appears 205 times in the Book of Mormon, and it always means what you think it would mean. The word “goodly,” however, never appears in the Book of Mormon again after that first verse.

Of course, you could argue that Nephi never used the words “good” or “goodly,” because the Book of Mormon is a translated document. But if you did that, you’d be playing right into my evilly hands, because “goodly” would therefore be reflective of the translator’s vocabulary, not the author’s. And what did the word “goodly” mean to Joseph Smith in 19th Century America?

The clue is in the next word after the clause in question.

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore…”

Aha! The word “therefore” establishes causality. The goodliness of Nephi’s parents led to some result, which is revealed in the subsequent clause.

“I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father;”

Nephi’s parents’ goodliness allowed for Nephi to receive a stellar education. How does one receive a stellar education? One pays through the nose for it using one’s goods. “Goodly,” in the 19th Century, meant “laden with goods,” or “wealthy.” But that screws everything up.

“We have been born, as Nephi of old, to wealthy parents who love the Lord…”

I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t have the same ringly to it.

So, to your point, “destroyed” is a goodly example of this principle. The 1830s Webster Dictionary defines “destroyed” as “to cause to cease; to put an end to.” Marital relationships that are not bound by the sealing power will ultimately be destroyed – i.e. ended. That’s goodly enough for me.

How about the consent of the first wife, which receives so much attention in D&C 132? Emma was unaware of most of Joseph’s plural marriages, at least until after the fact, which violated D&C 132.

Can you provide me a number of marriages of which Emma was aware? No, because you don’t know, and neither do I, and neither does anyone else. We know there are some marriages where she was aware and consenting. And D&C 132, as you noted earlier, makes a provision that the man is not subject to the “law of Sarah,” i.e. the consent of the first wife, if the first wife rejects the principle altogether. This put Joseph in the position of having to choose Emma or the Lord, and I doubt either you or I would have fared better in walking that line if placed in a similar predicament.

I’ve been asked once by an LDS apologist if I would be okay with Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry if I received a witness that God really did command Joseph Smith to participate in these practices. The question is not if I would “be okay with” God commanding Joseph Smith to secretly steal other men’s wives and to marry underage and teenage girls.

You’re right; that isn’t the question, because Joseph Smith didn’t steal other men’s wives or marry underage girls. One more time: sealing, not marriage, no sex.

The question is “Do I believe that God did such a thing?” The answer, based on comparing D&C 132 to what actually happened, along with my personal belief that there is no such thing as an insane polygamist god who demanded such sadistic, immoral, adulterous, despicable, and pedophilic behavior while threatening Joseph’s life with one of his angels with a sword…is an emphatic and absolute “no.”

That’s my answer, too. The difference is that I don’t think God did anything close to what you’re describing. No sadism, no immorality, no adultery, strange but not despicable, and absolutely no pedophilia. Also, in many cases, sealing, not marriage, no sex.

The secrecy of the marriages and the private and public denials by Joseph Smith are not congruent with honest behavior.

You and Immanuel Kant have a lot in common.

Kant was the philosopher who insisted that honesty was a “categorical imperative,” and that it was never appropriate to tell a lie under any circumstances. The famous example to illustrate this comes from the story of “Kant’s Axe,” where Kant posits that if an axe-wielding murderer shows up on your doorstep and asks where your best friend is so he can go kill him, the “categorical imperative” of honestly required you to answer him truthfully, even if it were likely to result in your friend’s grisly death.

From my perspective, an honest answer in that situation would be entirely immoral. Yes, honesty is important. But my friend is more important. In that situation, he represents a higher value – love trumping honesty.

There are plenty of other situations, most far less dramatic, where I feel another value can trump honesty. What did you think of my talk, Bishop? Well, Sister Jones, you had nothing interesting to say, and I had a hard time paying attention to you because I couldn’t take my eyes off of that honker you call a nose. Dad, did you enjoy my piano recital? Why, no, son, I thought it was deathly boring, and you may have been the worst one up there. Honey, does this dress make me look fat? Oh my, yes. You look like a whale in that thing!

In those examples, I believe kindness is far more important than honesty. Values are often competing priorities, and they can’t all be satisfied in every case.

The choices in mortality are seldom choices between good and evil. (Should I go to Church this Sunday or rob a bank instead? Maybe I’ll flip a coin.) They’re usually choices between less good and more good. Joseph firmly believed, and not without good reason, that the lives of many good people were in danger if he were to be fully forthright about polygamy. In hindsight, as you read his “carefully worded” denials, you can see the struggle and his attempt to be as honest as he felt was safe. You may have chosen differently in that case, but surely you wouldn’t tell an axe murderer where your best friend was.

Emma was unaware of most of these marriages.

Objection, your honor. Speculative. Also asked and answered.

She certainly did not consent to most of them as required by D&C 132.

Law of Sarah was waived. See previous.

The Saints did not know what was going on behind the scenes as polygamy did not become common knowledge until 1852 when Brigham Young revealed it in Utah.

Given that roughly 25% of the Church was practicing plural marriage as they crossed the plains, this is almost certainly untrue. The 1852 declaration of plural marriage was an announcement to the world, not a statement to the Church, which was living with the doctrine firsthand.

Joseph Smith did everything he could to keep the practice in the dark.

Actually, there are several incidences where Joseph tried to teach the principle and was disheartened by the Saints’ unwillingness to accept it.

In fact, Joseph’s desire to keep this part of his life a secret is what ultimately contributed to his death when he ordered the destruction of the printing press (Nauvoo Expositor) that dared expose his behavior in June 1844. This event initiated a chain of events that led to Carthage.

Nobody denies this.

Consider the following denial made by Joseph Smith to Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo in May 1844 – a month before his death:

“…What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.” – History of the Church, Vol. 6, Chapter 19, p. 411

Again, look at the actual text. As Bushman pointed out above, it’s “carefully worded.” Joseph full statement here is vigorously denying adultery, of which Joseph believed he was not guilty, as he was married to the women with whom he was having sexual relations. The seven wives reference in the thing is the only direct reference to polygamy, and Joseph is leaning on the idea that Emma is his only legal wife, which, too, was true. Misleading? Yes. But nearly as brazenly dishonest as you’re suggesting.

It is a matter of historical fact that Joseph had secretly taken over 30 plural wives by May 1844 when he made the above denial that he was ever a polygamist.

He’s denying he’s an adulterer, not a polygamist, and many of the wives were sealings, not marriages, no sex.

If you go to Familysearch.org – an LDS-owned genealogy website – you can clearly see that Joseph Smith had many wives.  The Church’s new October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay acknowledges that Joseph Smith was a polygamist. 

Those facts have been openly acknowledged by the Church for over 150 years.

The facts speak for themselves – from 100% LDS sources – that Joseph Smith was dishonest.

See previous. Joseph tried to walk the line between honesty and keeping himself and his family safe, and, like all human beings trying to satisfy conflicting values, he wasn’t always able to do.

The following 1835 edition of Doctrine & Covenants revelations bans polygamy:

1835 Doctrine & Covenants 101:4: “Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication, and polygamy: we declare that we believe, that one man should have one wife; and one woman, but one husband, except in case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again.”

There’s that careful wording again. Notice the use of the word “but” in reference to women, but not to men. Women are therefore explicitly prohibited from having more than one husband, while men “should have one wife,” without the explicit prohibition of having more than one. Also keep in mind that plural marriage, at least in the minds of the Saints, was not “polygamy” as understood by 19th Century folk – i.e. harems and concubines and seraglios. Even after plural marriage became public, the Utah saints went out of their way to distance themselves from those kinds of practices. This revelation is trying to put some distance between those two versions of polygyny, which, in practice, really were quite different from each other.

1835 Doctrine & Covenants 13:7:

“Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else.”

And? A polygamist would be in full agreement with this. A man cleaving unto a woman who is not his wife is adultery.

1835 Doctrine & Covenants 65:3:

“Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”

Yes. Notably, this uses the language of Genesis, which somehow did not stop many of the ancient patriarchs from practicing polygamy. It states the lawfulness of having one wife but makes no statement on the lawfulness of having more than one.

Joseph Smith was already a polygamist when these revelations were introduced into the 1835 edition of the Doctrine & Covenants and Joseph publicly taught that the doctrine of the Church was monogamy. Joseph continued secretly marrying multiple women as these revelations/scriptures remained in force.

The doctrine of the Church was monogamy. The Book of Mormon makes it clear that monogamy is the standard, and polygamy is the occasional exception. Joseph’s teaching on this subject was therefore correct, as anyone entering into plural marriage without priesthood authorization to do so would be guilty of adultery.

Tomorrow: Polygamy – The Conclusion!

CES Reply: Polygamy (Part II)

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

This is not the Joseph Smith I grew up learning about in the Church and having a testimony of.

That’s because this is not the Joseph Smith that is Joseph Smith. The Warren Jeffs-like Joseph Smith that you’re describing here is a grotesque caricature of the real thing.

Keep in mind that of the 34 women you’re talking about, 33 of them were married after 1841. By June of 1844, Joseph Smith was dead. All of these weddings, then, took place during a compressed three-and-a-half year time frame that was the busiest period of Joseph’s life, when he was doing a great many of the things you were telling people about on your mission. This was when he was building the second-largest city in Illinois and the largest religious building in the country, as well as leading a rapidly expanding church and, oh yeah, running for President of the United States. For most of these sealings, the wives got a ceremony and nothing more.

It’s noteworthy, too, that Joseph fathered nine children with Emma, yet, as far as has been verified, he had no children with any of his other wives. That alone is the basis for the specious RLDS claim that Joseph couldn’t have been a polygamist after all. While that doesn’t prove any such thing, it does suggest that sex was not the only or even the primary motivation for these marriages. It demonstrates that plural marriage does not negate everything else Joseph Smith was and did, and that you’re condemning him based on a series of assumptions that don’t match the record.

This is not the Joseph Smith that I sang “Praise to the Man” to or taught others about two years in the mission field.

Are you saying that when you served a mission, you didn’t know Joseph Smith was a polygamist? When investigators brought up polygamy, did you assume they were lying? That’s astonishing to me. I don’t know how anyone could spend more than a week in the mission field and not know this information.

A lot of members don’t realize that there is a set of very specific and bizarre rules outlined in Doctrine & Covenants 132 (still in LDS canon despite President Hinckley publicly stating that polygamy is not doctrinal) on how polygamy is to be practiced.

You’re getting very legalistic here. The context of President Hinckley’s statement suggests that he was not disavowing previous polygamy but, instead, drawing a distinction between the past and present. He was absolutely correct in saying that it is not doctrinal to practice plural marriage today. (I can think of no faster route to excommunication from the Church than becoming a polygamist.) His statement is consistent with the passage in Jacob 2: monogamy is the doctrinal norm, but there are periods in history where the Lord requires polygamous exceptions to the rule.

As for the “specific and bizarre rules,” I find that a puzzling construct. Aren’t rules, by their nature, supposed to be specific? There are specific rules as to how to play baseball, for instance. If there weren’t, the game would be unplayable. (“Rule 17: The batter should probably stop batting after he gets a bunch of strikes.”) As to the idea that “a lot of members don’t realize” what these rules are, one wonders why they can’t read the revelation itself, which the Church has been printing as scripture for 175 years or so.

As to whether the rules are “bizarre,” we’ll address those with the examples you provide below.

It is the kind of revelation you’d expect from the likes of Warren Jeffs to his FLDS followers.

No, it is the kind of revelation you’d expect from the likes of Warren Jeffs to his FLDS followers. Or, to be more precise, you provide a flawed analysis of the revelation because you deliberately misinterpret Section 132 to match your own expectations, which are rooted in inaccurate and distorted information. This tells me a great deal about your expectations and nothing about Section 132.

The only form of polygamy permitted by D&C 132 is a union with a virgin after first giving the opportunity to the first wife to consent to the marriage.

This is inaccurate, but before I point out why it’s inaccurate, I want to take several steps back and point out how far down the rabbit hole you’re going here.

Your accusations are premised on the idea that Joseph invented polygamy to have sex with a lot of women, including underage girls. That was John C. Bennett’s M.O. – his “spiritual wifery,” which had no accompanying revelation to justify it, involved him telling married women that they should sleep with him because they were “spiritually married,” so they could do as they pleased with their husbands none the wiser. That strikes me as a far more effective method to achieve easy sexual gratification – no rules, no boundaries, and no responsibility.

Joseph’s plural marriage, however, didn’t operate like this at all. Sex was not a part of most of these relationships. He married old widows who never saw him after the ceremony. He was sealed to married women who never had any significant relationship with him, sexual or otherwise, and who continued to live as wives to their existing husbands. And the revelation which authorized Joseph to do all this set very clear guidelines as to what was appropriate and what was not, including strict prohibition of the kind of polyandry of which you accuse him.

So now here you are, criticizing Joseph for practicing polygamy because of his supposed sexual licentiousness, and then you turn around and lay out reasons why Joseph wasn’t actually following his own revelation. Do you see the exasperating futility of what you’re doing? What if, for instance, it could be demonstrated – and I think it can be demonstrated – that Joseph’s behavior was consistent with the boundaries set in Section 132? Would you be okay with polygamy then? If not, then what’s the point?

You’ve settled on the idea that this is all just Joseph the Fraud creating a flimsy pretext to justify adultery, yet you then nitpick here and adopt a tortured legalistic interpretation of Section 132 to indict him for not living up to the rules of his own fraud. The fact that he made any rules at all is a clear argument against fraud. L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, once wrote a note to himself in which he said “All men are your slaves.” Surely Joseph could have given himself similar license if Section 132 was solely a product of his imagination. Maybe something like “Verily, I say unto you, my servant Joseph, that all women are given to you to do with as you will.” See how easy that was? Why would a sexual predator make things as difficult as Section 132 did for Joseph?

If it’s a fraud, then the rules don’t matter, and you’re just looking for more excuses to berate Joseph Smith.

This is one of the reasons why so many responses to your letter have been more dismissive than perhaps they should have been. Because all the questions you ask aren’t really questions at all – they’re indictments. They couldn’t get Al Capone on racketeering and murder charges, so they got him on tax evasion. Similarly, if you can’t tear down Joseph Smith on the basis of him being a simple pervert, then you can get him on the contradictory charge of not following his own revelation. You don’t care if people believe that Joseph plagiarized View of the Hebrews or the First Book of Napoleon just as long as they don’t believe the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be. This explode the premise that you’re “just asking questions.” You’re not inquiring; you’re carpet bombing. You’re throwing everything you can find at the Church in the hopes that at least something will stick.

If the first wife doesn’t consent, the husband is exempt and may still take an additional wife, but the first wife must at least have the opportunity to consent. In case the first wife doesn’t consent, she will be “destroyed”. Also, the new wife must be a virgin before the marriage and be completely monogamous after the marriage or she will be destroyed (D&C 132: 41 & 63).

You’re leaning pretty heavily on the word “virgin,” as if God expects every sealing to be preceded by a medical exam a la Princess Diana before her wedding to Prince Charles. I don’t think that interpretation of the word is at all consistent with the context or how the Lord views sexual purity.

Consider a victim of sexual assault, who, medically speaking, is no longer a virgin. D&C 132 still provides the doctrinal template for how monogamous sealings are performed today, and under your legalistic interpretation of this scripture, innocent victims would not be eligible to be sealed in the temple, despite the fact that they have done nothing wrong. The more appropriate contextual understanding of the word “virgin” here is a woman who is sexually pure in the eyes of God.  So even a repentant adulterer would not be disqualified, because the Lord has said that when we repent of our sins, he will “remember them no more.” (D&C 58:42)

As for wives being “destroyed,” no doubt that’s some pretty harsh language. Almost as harsh as “damned.” In the context of what’s being described, however, it has a unique spiritual application that you’re deliberately missing. D&C 132 outlines the nature of exaltation, which is a continuation of posterity throughout the eternities. But when a river is damned, it does not continue. So it is when a person is damned – their posterity is capped. The destruction being talked about here is not being hit by a meteor or run over by a bus. It’s the destruction of the opportunity to have eternal increase.

It is interesting that the only prerequisite that is mentioned for the man is that he must desire another wife: “if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another…”. It does not say that the man must get a specific revelation from the living prophet, although we assume today that this is what was meant.

Sorry for adding emphasis, but this last phrase is critically instructive. Are we wrong to assume that? Why? Generations of Latter-day Saints have read Section 132 and not reached the conclusion that just wanting more wives was all that was necessary to justify marrying them. But they’re all wrong, and you’re the only one smart enough to get it right? There are so many other qualifiers in this very complex and far-reaching revelation with regard to when marriage is appropriate, but you cherry-pick a single sentence and presume it simply obliterates everything else.

So much of your rejection of the church is rooted in the idea that every word in the revelations has a singular and self-evident meaning, so when anyone else interprets those words differently than you do, they’re obviously wrong. But if that were the case, then there would be no division in the Christian world, as everyone could read the Bible and never disagree about what it means. This is the reason living prophets are essential. Revelation is necessary not just to tell us new doctrine, but to give us greater understanding of the doctrine we already have.

D&C 132 is unequivocal on the point that polygamy is permitted only “to multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of men.” This would be consistent with the Book of Mormon prohibition on polygamy except in the case where God commands it to “raise up seed.”

There are a lot more words between “multiply and replenish the earth” and “bear the souls of me” that you fail to cite. Here is the text in its entirety, from verse 62: “for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men.” [Emphasis added.]

If you want to get legalistic, we can get legalistic. Just for fun, let’s parse the snot out of this.

This phrase begins with multiplying and replenishing as a primary justification. Then we get the word “and” thrown in there. You’re reading this as if it says “they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, in order to fulfil the promise…” But that’s not what it says. “And” suggests we’re about to get a second reason, not a clarification of the first. In fact, a tight, strict-constructionist reading of this verse reveals three different and distinct reasons for plural marriage, not “only” the replenishment of the earth, as you contend. (You also mistakenly assume that “bear the souls of men” is a reiteration of “multiply and replenish the earth.” That’s a pretty big mistake, as I will shortly demonstrate.)

So what are the three reasons?

1. Multiply and replenish the earth. You’re right; D&C 132 is unequivocal on this point, just as it is unequivocal on the two points that follow.

2. Fulfil “the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world.”

What promise? This seems to have reference to the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:21) Joseph often cited the need to restore ancient practices to prepare for the Second Coming as a justification for polygamy, and this verse provides a credible scriptural context for him to do so.

So just relying on this phrase – plural marriage is acceptable because it fulfills God’s promises – would be justification enough for the practice, at least according to D&C 132.

3. For “their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men.”

Oh, this one’s my favorite. Notice the emphasis I added on the “that.” The word appears there to create a conditional clause. You claim the bearing of souls is the same thing as multiplying and replenishing the earth, but the actual text insists that the bearing of the souls of men will only be made possible by “exaltation in the eternal worlds.” This is a promise of eternal increase, of bearing souls after the earth is no longer around to be replenished. Big, big difference.

And right here, with Reason #3, we have a clear rationale and justification for Joseph being sealed to women with whom he made no attempts to multiply and replenish the earth – i.e. no sex.

Again, looking at how polygamy was actually practiced by Joseph Smith:

Joseph married 11 women who were already married. Multiple husbands = Polyandry.

Sealings, not marriages. No sex. Not polyandry.

These married women continued to live as husband and wife with their first husband after marrying Joseph.

Which is compelling evidence that Joseph wasn’t sleeping with them.

Joseph’s polygamy also included:

Unions with teenagers as young as 14-years-old.

One fourteen year old, to whom he was sealed and not married. No sex.

Unions without the knowledge or consent of first wife Emma.

Also unions with the knowledge and consent of first wife Emma.

Unions without the knowledge or consent of the husband, in cases of polyandry.

Possibly not true. Almost all so called “polyandry” sealings – no sex in any of these – were done with the documented knowledge and consent of husbands. Miranda Hyde is the only possible exception, and the fact she was sealed to Orson, not Joseph, after her death suggests there was no sealing. Also no sex, regardless if it’s true or not.

A union with Apostle Orson Hyde’s wife while he was on a mission (Marinda Hyde).

Again, possibly not true. See above.

A union with a newlywed and pregnant woman (Zina Huntington).

From an interview with Zina Huntington in 1898:

Q. “Then it is a fact, Mrs. [Zina] Young, is it not, that you married Mr. Smith at the same time you were married to Mr. [Henry] Jacobs?”

A. “What right have you to ask such questions? I was sealed to Joseph Smith for eternity.”

Q. “Mrs. Young, you claim, I believe, that you were not married to him for time?”

A. “For eternity. I was married to Mr. Jacobs, but the marriage was unhappy and we parted.”

Married for time and not eternity means sealing, not marriage. Notice Zina corrects the questioner who claims she was married by saying she was sealed to Joseph and married to Mr. Jacobs. Not polyandry, and no sex.

Promises of salvation and exaltation for the girls’ entire families.

Yes.

Threats that Joseph would be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if they did not enter into the union (Zina Huntington, Almera Woodard Johnson, Mary Lightner).

No. Joseph claimed an angel with a drawn sword would slay him if he did not accept the principle of plural marriage in general. He never claimed he would be slain if Zina, Almera, or Mary did not marry him, nor did any of these women say that he did.

Threats of loss of salvation if the woman didn’t agree to the union with Joseph Smith.

No. If you have evidence of such a thing, you ought to provide it.

Dishonesty in public sermons, 1835 D&C 101:4, denials by Joseph Smith denying he was a polygamist,

Richard Bushman in Rough Stone Rolling refers to these as “carefully worded” denials, which is the accurate way to describe them. Joseph’s most vigorous denials were directed at the idea that he was an adulterer, which he insisted – and which he believed – he was not. He also leaned heavily on the idea that his only legal wife was Emma, which was true. I think it likely that a fraud wouldn’t have carefully worded anything and lied with impunity – the John C. Bennett and/or Donald Trump model – and taken no pains to craft evasive answers that were technically true but still misleading.

Understand, however, that I agree with you here to an extent. I don’t think there’s any question that Joseph was not fully honest in these statements. He justified it to himself by the belief that he was protecting himself, his family, and others engaged in plural marriage from physical harm. I like to think he took the “Abraham-said-his-wife-was-his-sister” approach. Even since the beginning, when Adam had to choose between not eating the fruit and having children, human prophets have been forced, like all of us, to make difficult choices between two bad options.

Tomorrow: Still more polygamy!

CES Reply: Polygamy (Part I)

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

Polygamy/Polyandry Concerns & Questions:

One of the things that really disturbed me in my research was discovering the real origins of polygamy and how Joseph Smith really practiced it.

This is an interesting way to describe your objections to polygamy. It implies that you’re not, in the abstract, upset that polygamy was practiced, but its “real origins” and Joseph Smith’s personal polygamy was uniquely and egregiously wicked in and of itself.

Seems like we’re going to be talking about plural marriage for quite awhile, so I thought I’d begin with my personal overview on the subject. My great-grandfather was Heber J. Grant, who had three wives. My grandmother was his youngest daughter, and she lived in hiding for twelve years, raised by her sister and unable to use her real name. It’s undeniable that the whole history of polygamy in the LDS Church is fraught with difficulty, and everyone would just as soon forget that it ever happened. That’s pretty hard to do, though, especially since it was the defining doctrine of the church for about half a century. So where there ought to be frank discussion, too often there’s awkward silence.

That’s mainly because modern Mormons find the practice abhorrent, including me. I had never met an actual polygamist until I moved to St. George and saw polygamous women crowding into the local Wal-Mart and Costco, their dowdy homespun dresses and strange, braided, non-bangs hair making them stick out like sore thumbs. I had been operating under the illusion that my ancestors weren’t nearly this weird, but that’s much harder to do when confronted with actual polygamists. My ancestors were probably were just as weird. Maybe even weirder.

Where does that leave me?

Still in denial, at least to a degree. Because, first off, my grandmother wasn’t weird. She was an accomplished woman who, to my knowledge, was never forced to wear an ugly burlap dress or yank her hair back in a strange, swooshy coiffure. I don’t know when dowdiness became part and parcel with the polygamy experience, but they could certainly do without it. And in the second place, I’ve seen no evidence that the systemic physical and sexual abuse that is rampant in these polygamous subcultures was part of polygamy back in the day.

Yet the modern practice of polygamy invites everyone to imagine the worst.

Every young Mormon missionary is deluged with questions about polygamy, and few of them give substantive or satisfying answers. Some talk about the glut of single ladies on the frontier who needed the protection of a land-owning husband, so Mormon men dutifully obliged them in a historical anomaly that vanished when conditions changed. I’ve never used that line, because, frankly, it’s not true. Polygamy was always a religious principle, and to minimize its importance in the early history of the church is the height of disingenuity. But it’s a principle that repulses me in practice, so how do I reconcile its previous sanction by my church with my present faith?

I do it the same way the Book of Mormon does.

Many anti-Mormons take delight in pointing out that the Book of Mormon rails on polygamy with more ferocity than anything in the Bible. The Lord condemns the unauthorized practice of polygamy as an “abomination” and refers to the taking of multiple wives as “whoredoms,” and then says the following:

“Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none.” (Jacob 2:27)

That seems to be a pretty clear-cut standard, which makes you wonder how Joseph Smith could possibly lead the church to go contrary to the plain language of the scripture he himself translated.

Until you read on to verse 30:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

In other words, monogamy is the norm, unless commanded otherwise by the Lord to “raise up seed” unto Him. That’s exactly what happened when the Church practiced polygamy in the 19th century. The doctrine bound the church together through a torturous time and raised up a large second generation to carry the gospel forward. And now, when it is no longer necessary, the Lord has commanded us to revert back to the norm.

Still, while the doctrine seems clear, the practice remains disturbing, to me and to most other Mormons I know. I appreciate the essays on this subject, and I view them as solid first steps towards coming to terms with our past.

So let’s see if we can confront this issue together.

Joseph Smith was married to at least 34 women.

Yes, no, and sort of. The Wikipedia list you link to includes several disputed names, but, more importantly it makes no distinction between marriages and sealings. That distinction is essential, because Joseph was married – i.e. sealed – to dozens of other women, most of them after his death. Heber J. Grant’s father Jedidiah M. Grant stood proxy as his wife was sealed to Joseph Smith. Much of the confusion over polyandry is explained by the fact that Joseph was sealed to other men’s wives but not married to them. We’ll no doubt discuss that crucial distinction going forward, because it’s one you repeatedly ignore.

Polyandry: Of those 34 women, 11 of them were married women of other living men.

Yep. There it is.

Joseph married lots of women, and some of them were, in fact, already married at the time. Yet in plural marriages where Joseph married other men’s wives, the supposed cuckolds knew about this arrangement, sanctioned it, and, what’s more, went on to live with their wives as they had before Joseph Smith came on the scene. Never mind Joseph Smith – what husband would allow such a thing? What on earth was going on?

The answer, as I foreshadowed earlier, comes from an understanding of the difference between a marriage and a sealing. Because there is a crucial difference, especially in the early years of the Church. And, not to put too fine a point on it, that difference is sex. (More on that later.)

The word “seal” comes from D&C 132:45, where the Lord says to Joseph Smith, “[W]hatsoever you [i.e. Joseph Smith] seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens.” This “sealing power” is thought by Mormons to be identical to the authority given to the apostle Peter in the New Testament as written in Matthew 18:18 – “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Binding/sealing a couple with this authority perpetuates family bonds beyond the grave.

Today, the word “sealing” is often synonymous with “marriage,” but not always. Children, for instance, are “sealed” in temple ceremonies to their parents. Joseph saw all of this as part of his role in the “restitution of all things” mentioned in Acts 3:21. That included restoring both the sealing, or binding, power mentioned earlier, along with the ancient practice of plural marriage.

Evidence suggests that what happened in the so-called “polyandry” was that Joseph drew a distinction between sealing and regular marriage. Some married women were sealed to Joseph, but, in this life, they stayed faithful to their husbands, who were aware of the sealing and consented to it. Many more women, including my own great-great grandmother, were sealed to Joseph after his death.

Back to the sexual question, the record indicates that Joseph had sex with women to whom he was both married and sealed. When Joseph was sealed to a woman but not married to her, sexual relations would have constituted adultery, and they were absent from the relationship. There is no solid evidence to suggest that Joseph slept with the women who remained married to other men, and not much in the way of flimsy evidence, either.

Those who claim that the doctrine of plural marriage was a convenient outlet for Joseph’s libido overlook the reality of how Joseph actually conducted himself in living this principle.

There were no orgies or harems. A large number of his plural wives got a wedding ceremony and nothing else. Offshoots of the mainstream LDS Church, notably the Community of Christ, insist Joseph couldn’t possibly have been a polygamist. After all, how could a man could be married to over two dozen women and father children with none of them? The answer is that Joseph did not view polygamy as a license for licentiousness, and how he lived this doctrine defies the modern caricatures that have sprung up around it.

Again, understand the narrowness of my point. I’m not saying polygamy is wonderful, and I concede it is strange and disturbing. What I am saying is that it wasn’t the sexual free-for-all that your suggesting with accusations of polyandry, and all this needs to be understood in its proper historical and theological context.

Also, I’m probably going to have to say the word “sex” a lot, mainly to deny its inclusion in Joseph’s non-marriage sealings. I know that, puritanically speaking, we got into trouble about this sort of thing when we had to acknowledge that God has genitalia, but the main objection to polyandry is the idea that Joseph was sleeping with other men’s wives, and Joseph wasn’t sleeping with other men’s wives. He was sealed to them in a religious ceremony, and then these women continued sleeping with their lawful husbands.

That’s an odd arrangement by modern standards, surely, but it’s not consistent with the caricature you’re trying to perpetuate.

Among them being Apostle Orson Hyde who was sent on his mission to dedicate Israel when Joseph secretly married his wife, Marinda Hyde.

Not true. Joseph may have been sealed to Marinda Hyde – the reports are conflicting, and they only come from antagonistic sources – but this would have been a sealing and not a marriage. Marinda Hyde continued to live with Orson Hyde long afterward, and she was sealed to him after his death, even though they had been divorced. It has never been church policy to seal a woman to two men, so the fact that Marinda was sealed to Orson and not Joseph suggests that the sealing of Joseph and Marinda may have been fabricated by church critics. Regardless, there is zero evidence that Joseph and Marinda had a sexual relationship.

Church historian Elder Marlin K. Jensen and unofficial apologists like FairMormon do not dispute the polyandry. The Church now admits the polyandry in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.

Not true, at least not in the context you suggest. Elder Jensen, FairMormon, and the Church’s essay admit to sealings, not to sex. Footnote 30 from the Church’s essay:

Polyandry, the marriage of one woman to more than one man, typically involves shared financial, residential, and sexual resources, and children are often raised communally. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith’s sealings functioned in this way, and much evidence works against that view. [Emphasis added.]

Out of the 34 women, 7 of them were teenage girls as young as 14-years-old.

Precisely one of the girls Joseph was sealed to – Helen Mar Kimball – was 14 years old. The rest were older than sixteen, which was marriageable age in the 19th Century. And the evidence suggests that the sealing to Helen Mar Kimball was a sealing only, not a marriage. She continued to live with her parents, who approved the sealing, and Joseph was dead a year later. No sex.

Joseph was 37-years-old when he married 14-year-old Helen Mar Kimball, twenty-three years his junior. Even by 19th century standards, this was shocking.

It’s also not true, at least in the way you’re implying. Joseph was sealed in a dynastic union to Helen Mar Kimball, not married in the shocking – i.e. sexual – sense. He never lived with her, and he never slept with her. Helen later married Horace Whitney when she was 18 and bore him eleven children.

The Church now admits that Joseph Smith married Helen Mar Kimball “several months before her 15th birthday” in its October 2014 Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo essay.

Using phrases like “the Church now admits” suggests that the prior to 2014, the Church didn’t acknowledge that this sealing had taken place. That’s simply not true. Helen herself wrote two manuals published by the Church in the late 19th Century in which she defends plural marriage and acknowledges her sealing to Joseph Smith. Official admissions by the Church took place over a hundred years before the Church’s recent essay.

Among the women was a mother-daughter set and three sister sets.

Well, at least they had someone to talk to at family reunions! Honestly, how does this make polygamy even worse? Would you have found polygamy acceptable if Joseph only married women who were unrelated to each other? This is just piling on for the sake of piling on.

Several of these women included Joseph’s own foster daughters.

Joseph didn’t have any foster daughters. The foster parenting system in the United States wasn’t instituted until 1853, so this would not have been a label anyone in Joseph Smith’s era would have recognized.

Some of the marriages to these women included promises by Joseph of eternal life to the girls and their families, threats of loss of salvation, and threats that he (Joseph) was going to be slain by an angel with a drawn sword if the girls didn’t marry him.

Promises of eternal blessings? Yes. Threats of loss of salvation? None. Threats that Joseph would be killed by an angel with a drawn sword if girls didn’t marry him? Wrong. You’re conflating a bunch of different and disparate events into one ugly mess to make Joseph look as seedy as possible.

Let’s address each one with the appropriate context.

No question Joseph promised eternal blessings to both his wives and their families should they consent to live this principle. Richard Bushman, in answering the question as to why a husband would consent to having their wives sealed to Joseph, said that the “only answer seems to be the explanation Joseph gave when he asked a woman for her consent: they and their families would benefit spiritually from a close tie to the Prophet.” (Rough Stone Rolling, p. 439) This kind of explanation demonstrates that these marriages functioned in a spiritual rather than a carnal context. If Joseph really were just trying to bed as many women as he possibly could, he constructed a very inefficient vehicle for that process.

As for threats of hellfire should a woman refuse him, there aren’t any. If you have them, you ought to produce them. Yes, there are second-hand accusations from critics of Joseph that were leveled long after the fact, but no woman to whom Joseph proposed or married provides a firsthand account of such a thing.

A columnist named Mike Adams, in order to smear Mormonism during the Mitt Romney campaign, thought he’d found one in the case of Lucy Walker. “I am sorry that after her mother died, Joseph Smith approached teenager Lucy Walker with a command that she marry Smith with the threat of eternal damnation as the punishment if she refused,” Adams wrote. “I am sorry that the year before Joseph Smith died, he said the following to Lucy: ‘I will give you until tomorrow to decide (whether to marry me). If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you.’”

Game over, right? Well, just like your accusation, there is much about this story that Adams isn’t telling you, because it doesn’t make for nearly as sordid a tale.

To begin with, I can find no direct quote with reference to this marriage citing eternal damnation, hell, or anything similar in either Lucy Walker’s writings or anyone else’s. It is unlikely, then, that Joseph said anything like that in his proposal, as, if he did, that would be the money quote that would prove, beyond question, that Joseph was a beast. The best Adams has got is this bit about “the gate will be closed forever.”

What gate?

The insinuation is that this is the “Pearly Gate,” the gate to heaven, and that, if he turned the prophet down, the door to paradise would be slammed in her face. But that’s a really odd formulation, especially since Mormon theology rejects a static heaven or hell. Something else is clearly going on here.

In addition, Joseph had recently excommunicated John C. Bennett – no relation to yours truly – because this was his M.O. in picking up ladies – he tried to make them “spiritual wives” and threatened hellfire if they didn’t sleep with him. Joseph found this reprehensible and booted him out of the church. Seems unlikely, then, that he would then turn around and apply the same tactics, especially since none of his other wives reported this kind of threat.

So what’s the full story?

It begins four months prior to the supposed hellfire ultimatum. He taught Lucy Walker the principle of plural marriage and then proposed to her, and she said no, absolutely not. “Oh that the grave would kindly receive me that I might find rest of the bosom of my dear mother!” she wrote, but four months before she consented, not 24 hours. Four months. And during that time, Joseph didn’t mention the proposal at all. He finally approached her and issued the money quote with the gate in it, which Lucy Walker refused emphatically. If she truly feared eternal torment as a consequence of her defiance, it was unlikely that she would be comfortable writing, as she did, that after she shut him down she would “emphatically forbid him speaking again to me on this Subject.”

Joseph, rather than bring out the fire and brimstone, did something else entirely. From Lucy Walker’s writings:

“He walked across the room, returned, and stood before me. With the most beautiful expression of countenance, he said, ‘God almighty bless you. You shall have a manifestation of the will of God concerning you; a testimony that you can never deny. I will tell you what it shall be. It shall be that peace and joy that you never knew.’”

“God almighty bless you?” Peace and joy? That’s not quite “Demons will feast upon your innards,” is it?

Incidentally, Joseph’s promise, according to Lucy Walker, was fulfilled to the letter. In her own words, with her own poor spelling:

“My room became filled with a heavenly influence. To me it was in comparison like the brilliant sun bursting through the darkest cloud… My Soul was filled with a calm, sweet peace that I never knew. Supreme happiness took possession of my whole being. And I received a powerful and irristable testimony of the truth of the marriage covenant called ‘Celestial or plural mariage.’ Which has been like an anchor to the soul through all the trials of life.”

So the entire denial-of-salvation case against Joseph in this case rests on one word – gate. What did Joseph mean that the gate would be forever closed? In context, it looks as if he’s talking about the opportunity to marry him. He’d given her four months; she’d put him off. He finally said, “Look, fish or cut bait.” And her refusal even on that occasion spurred Joseph’s kindness, not threats. Try as he might, Mike Adams can’t really shoehorn this experience into a John C. Bennett kind of nightmare. (Again, no relation. At all.)

The story of the angel with the drawn sword is especially dramatic, and it comes from several different sources. But absolutely no account exists where Joseph told anyone that an angel would slay him if a specific woman didn’t marry him.  The angel appeared due to Joseph’s reluctance to engage in plural marriage as a general principle. This story was never used as leverage to get a woman to agree to marry Joseph.

I have a problem with this. This is Warren Jeffs territory.

Actually, this is precisely the opposite of the way Warren Jeffs, a convicted pedophile, conducted the principle of plural marriage. Joseph saw plural marriage as a religious principle to bind families together, not a license for sexual adventurism. He was sealed to dozens of women with whom he had no sexual relations, and he did not have sexual relations with any underage women. There is no evidence of coercion, and there is solid evidence that he took no for an answer.  Jeffs, on the other hand, forced underage girls to marry and have sex with himself and other men or be damned forever. You’re trying to drag Joseph Smith into Warren Jeffs territory, but the facts don’t support you in that effort.

More polygamy tomorrow!

CES Reply: The Abrahamic Finale

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnell’s “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

8. There’s a book published in 1830 by Thomas Dick entitled The Philosophy of the Future State.

1830. A very good year, indeed. Same year, in fact, that the Church was organized and the Book of Mormon was published. Joseph was already pretty far down the road with Mormon theology by this point, so this book couldn’t have been included in all the stuff he supposedly plagiarized to write the Book of Mormon. Maybe this made for a bit of light reading after he was poring through View of the Hebrews, The Late War between the United States and Great Britain, The First Book of Napolean, oodles of Captain Kidd stories, and dozens of obscure local and African maps.

But, okay, here we go. One more accusation of plagiarism. Excuse me for not being staggered, floored, or astounded. You can only cry wolf so many times.

Joseph Smith owned a copy of the book and Oliver Cowdery quoted some lengthy excerpts from the book in the December 1836 Messenger and Advocate.

Indeed! And Oliver participated in the Book of Abraham translation process. Why would a plagiarist call attention to his source? A source which, just by reading the excerpt to which you link, clearly bears no textual resemblance to the Book of Abraham at all?

Klaus Hansen, an LDS scholar, stated:

Klaus Hansen? Am I supposed to know who he is? Why is it that the only LDS scholars you respect are those who agree with you, while those who disagree are just “unofficial apologists?”

But OK. What did the good Mr. Hansen state?

“The progressive aspect of Joseph’s theology, as well as its cosmology, while in a general way compatible with antebellum thought, bears some remarkable resemblances to Thomas Dick’s ‘Philosophy of a Future State’.”

That may be why Oliver chose to quote from him. I quote from C.S. Lewis on my blog all the time, because I’m thrilled to find a non-Mormon writer advancing what seem, to me, to be some very remarkable resemblances to Mormon ideas. To my knowledge, no one has accused me of plagiarism as a result, nor should it surprise us when people from different backgrounds arrive at similar philosophical conclusions. Because that’s what we’re talking about here – ideas that Thomas Dick had that bear some similarity to ideas in the Book of Abraham. Clearly none of Dick’s text can be found in the B of A, so insinuations of plagiarism are pretty silly.

Hansen continues:

“Some very striking parallels to Smith’s theology suggest that the similarities between the two may be more than coincidental. Dick’s lengthy book, an ambitious treatise on astronomy and metaphysics, proposed the idea that matter is eternal and indestructible…

Correct.

… and rejected the notion of a creation ex nihilo.

Incorrect.

“None but that Eternal Mind which counts the number of the stars, which called them from nothing into existence, and arranged them in the respective stations they occupy, and whose

eyes run to and fro through the unlimited extent of creation, can form a clear and comprehensive conception of the number, the order, and the economy of this vast portion of the system of nature.” [Emphasis added]

– Thomas Dick, Philosophy of a Future State, pp. 206-207.

Calling things from “nothing into existence” is the very definition of ex nihilo creation, which Dick clearly accepts and the Book of Abraham explicitly rejects. Mr. Dick has a bunch of other ideas that fly in the face of Mormon theology. His God is “a spiritual uncompounded substance, having no visible form, nor sensible quantities, ‘inhabiting eternity,’ and filling immensity with his presence, his essential glory cannot form an object for the direct contemplation of any finite intelligence.” (p.202) This deity also “existed alone, independent of every other being” for “[i]nnumerable ages before the universe was created.” (p. 56)

That’s about as un-Mormon – and un-Book of Abraham – as a God can possibly be.

Much of the book dealt with the infinity of the universe, made up of innumerable stars spread out over immeasurable distances. Dick speculated that many of these stars were peopled by “various orders of intelligences” and that these intelligences were “progressive beings” in various stages of evolution toward perfection.

Those, apparently, are the parts of the book that Oliver liked, which is why he quoted from them in the Messenger and Advocate. Like you, he apparently prefers to quote scholars when they agree with him.

In the Book of Abraham, part of which consists of a treatise on astronomy and cosmology, eternal beings of various orders and stages of development likewise populate numerous stars. They, too, are called “intelligences.”

Same name, yes, but with entirely different functions. Dick’s divine intelligence is completely and forever removed from every other intelligence, all of which is far too limited and weak to ever understand the Eternal Mind. Abraham 3, where God steps into the midst of intelligences and proclaims “These I shall make my rulers” is antithetical to Dick’s conception of deity.

Dick speculated that “the systems of the universe revolve around a common centre…the throne of God.” In the Book of Abraham, one star named Kolob “was nearest unto the throne of God.”

“Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” – Revelation 7:15

“And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.” – Matthew 23:22

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

Emphasis added in all above biblical passages. There are plenty more. The “throne of God” even makes several appearances in the Book of Mormon, which was published before Joseph got his hands on Philosophy of a Future State. Incredible as it may seem, this is proof that Joseph could have thought of using this three-word phrase without Thomas Dick’s help.

Other stars, in ever diminishing order, were placed in increasing distances from this center.” – Mormonism and the American Experience, Klaus Hansen, p.79-80, 110

I’d very much like to read the rest of this passage from Klaus Hansen, as the few articles I can find of his suggest that he’s a faithful Latter-day Saint. I don’t have a copy of his book, and the text is unavailable online. It would be interesting to see if these observations are tempered by a broader context that you neglect to cite, as I suspect they probably are.

9. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland was directly asked about the papyri not matching the Book of Abraham in a March 2012 BBC interview:

Sweeney: Mr. Smith got this papyri and he translated them and subsequently as the Egyptologists cracked the code something completely different…

Holland: (Interrupts) All I’m saying…all I’m saying is that what got translated got translated into the word of God. The vehicle for that, I do not understand and don’t claim to know and know no Egyptian.

Is “I don’t know and I don’t understand but it’s the word of God” really the best answer that a “prophet, seer, and revelator” can come up with to such a profound problem that is driving many members out of the Church?

Is paraphrasing Elder Holland to torture his words into sounding more ignorant than they actually were really the best way to make your argument?

Elder Holland didn’t say “I don’t know and I don’t understand but it’s the word of God.” What he said was that he didn’t understand “the vehicle for that,” meaning the means of translation, and that he didn’t know Egyptian. If you actually watched the documentary, which I did at the time, you’d recognize that Sweeney was about as obnoxious to Elder Holland as he could have possibly been. Elder Holland’s patience and grace under hostile fire was impressive by any objective standard.

This may be a tangent, but that documentary merits additional comment. Throughout the piece John Sweeney gets all the simple details wrong. For example, he constantly refers to chapels as temples; yet when he stands outside the Boston Temple, he claims Mitt Romney was “a bishop here.” Well, no. As any Mormon knows, regular meetinghouses and temples serve very different purposes. If someone’s going to warn the world about Mitt’s scary cult, which was the purpose of the piece, maybe they should get the little things right if they want us to trust the, on the big things.

It’s clear who Sweeney trusts, though – dissidents. He spends about twenty minutes interviewing modern polygamists who have zero connection to the church to which Mitt Romney belongs, and then another twenty or so interviewing unstable people who’ve left the church, one of whom claims to have been “followed,” although whether or not it was the church that was following him, he can’t be sure. Sweeney makes one offhand comment that the vast majority of the people who knew Mitt as a bishop really liked and respected him, but that comment comes before a lengthy interview with the one woman who didn’t.

That’s the approach. If you hate the Mormons, then you’re honest and credible. If you like them, then you’re hiding something.

Sound familiar, Jeremy?

At one point in Sweeney’s piece, some wackadoodle, random hairy dude claims that Mormon spies are trained by the CIA to learn how to snoop on church members’ private lives. Sweeney then cuts to a spooky shot of the Church Office Building and scarily intones that he has contacted a CIA agent “who refuses to reveal his name.” This CIA wannabe Deep Throat confirms… that the CIA does, in fact, employ Mormons. That’s it. That’s the smoking gun evidence of some secret Mormon spy network. No word if Lutherans who work for the CIA are also being trained to spy on parishioners.

After giving full hearing to reports by the angriest people imaginable about all the horrors of Mormonism, he then ambushes Elder Holland and asks him to deny these horrors, which he does, after which Sweeney presents some variation of “Oh, sure, Elder Holland. You may claim that you don’t follow people and shun people and cut them out of their families, but I’ve found thirty people” – Sweeney’s own, admitted number – “who beg to differ.”

That’s the tone of this piece – thirty loopy, ex-Mormon cranks vs. the entire faithful membership of the LDS Church, the whole of which gets about a fifth of the total screen time.

But you’re right – as he was being badgered by a hostile interviewer who was unwilling to give him time to respond, Elder Holland did not provide a comprehensive understanding of the Book of Abraham in the five seconds he was allotted before the next question. Or perhaps he did go on at length, and Sweeney left it on the cutting room floor. Making Elder Holland look good was not on John Sweeney’s agenda.

The following are respected Egyptian scholars/Egyptologists statements regarding Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham:

“…these three facsimiles of Egyptian documents in the Pearl of Great Price depict the most common objects in the Mortuary religion of Egypt. Joseph Smith’s interpretations of them as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.”

– Dr. James H. Breasted, University of Chicago

“It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations…” – Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie, London University

“It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith’s impudent fraud…Smith has turned the goddess [Isis in Facsimile #3] into a king and Osiris into Abraham.”

– Dr. A.H. Sayce, Oxford professor of Egyptology

Man. You left all the big guns for the end, didn’t you? If you had all these respected Egyptian scholars in your back pocket, why did you keep trotting out the guy who wrote Saturday’s Voyeur to make your case?

I’d like to see what else Dr. James H. Breasted has to say on the subject. Is he still teaching at the University of Chicago? No, he isn’t, probably because he’s been dead for over eighty years. Same with A.H. Sayce. Flinders Petrie is the kid of the group – he died in 1942. All these statements were made over a hundred years ago in the service of an anti-Mormon tract published by Franklin Spalding, an Episcopal bishop. All of them would have believed Egyptological ideas that modern scholars would now reject, based on the most current research available. Certainly all of them precede the flood of Book of Abraham scholarship that has taken place since the Joseph Smith Papyri were discovered in 1967.

Hugh Nibley, who I quote in fire red again, absolutely destroys these guys.

At that time it was claimed that the pronouncements of five of the greatest scholars of all time had “completely demolished” all grounds for belief in the divine inspiration or historic authenticity of the Book of Abraham and, through it, the Book of Mormon. It turned out, however, that Bishop Franklin S. Spalding, in gathering and manipulating the necessary evidence for his determined and devious campaign, had (1) disqualified the Mormons from all participation in the discussion on the grounds that they were not professional Egyptologists; (2) sent special warnings and instructions to his experts that made it impossible for any of them to decide for Joseph Smith; (3) concealed all correspondence that did not support the verdict he desired; (4) given the learned jury to understand that the original Egyptian manuscripts were available, which they were not; (5) said that Mormons claimed them to be the unique autobiographic writings and sketching of Abraham, which they did not; (6) announced to the world that Joseph Smith was being tested on linguistic grounds alone, specifically as a translator, though none of his experts ventured to translate a single word of the documents submitted; and (7) rested his case on the “complete agreement” of the scholars, who agreed on nothing save that the Book of Abraham was a hoax.

The experts (1) did not agree among themselves at all when they spoke without collusion; (2) with the exception of James H. Breasted, they wrote only brief and contemptuous notes, though it was claimed that they had given the documents “careful consideration”; (3) they admitted that they were hasty and ill-tempered, since they at no time considered anything of Joseph Smith’s worth any serious attention at all; (4) they translated nothing and produced none of the “identical” documents, which, according to them, were available in countless numbers and proved Joseph Smith’s interpretations a fraud. They should have done much better than they did since they had everything their own way, being free to choose for interpretation and comment whatever was easiest and most obvious, and to pass by in complete silence the many formidable problems presented by the three facsimiles. Those Mormons who ventured a few polite and diffident questions about the consistency of the criticisms or the completeness of the evidence instantly called down upon their heads the Jovian bolts of the New York Times, accusing them of “reviling scholars and scholarship.” A safer setup for the critics of Joseph Smith could not be imagined. And yet it was they and not the Mormons who insisted on calling off the whole show just when it was getting interesting. It was not a very edifying performance.

– From “A New Look at the History of the Pearl of Great Price” published in The Improvement Era, May, 1970.

Yeah, maybe the flying violin dude was your best bet after all.

The Church conceded in its July 2014 Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham essay that Joseph’s translations of the papyri and the facsimiles do not match what’s in the Book of Abraham.

Wrong. The Church announced to the world that the papyri did not match what’s in the Book of Abraham two months after the papyri were found.

From the cover story of the January 1968 edition of The Improvement Era

Some of the pieces of papyrus apparently include conventional hieroglyphics (sacred inscriptions, resembling picture-drawing) and hieratic (a cursive shorthand version of hieroglyphics) Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies. Often the funerary texts contained passages from the “Book of the Dead,” a book that was to assist in the safe passage of the dead person into the spirit world. It is not known at this time whether the ten other pieces of papyri have a direct connection with the Book of Abraham.

Emphasis added.

Since that time, there have been countless admissions that the text of the JS Papyri does not match the text of the Book of Abraham. I remember reading this article on my mission – “Why doesn’t the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?” It was published in the July 1988 edition of the Ensign. Your statement implies that the Church only first “conceded” these facts in 2014, which is demonstrably false. There has never been any attempt by the Church to claim that the Joseph Smith Papyri contains the text of the Book of Abraham. It is patently dishonest to suggest otherwise.

Of all of the issues, the Book of Abraham is the issue that has both fascinated and disturbed me the most. It is the issue that I’ve spent the most time researching on because it offers a real insight into Joseph’s modus operandi as well as Joseph’s claim of being a translator. It is the smoking gun that has completely obliterated my testimony of Joseph Smith and his claims.

This makes me very sad, indeed. It is always a tragedy when someone loses their faith, but I consider it especially tragic when someone’s testimony is obliterated because of misunderstandings, bad information, and logically fallacious assumptions like the kind you present in your letter. The gun is smoking because you have unwittingly shot yourself in the foot.

Tomorrow: Polygamy!

CES Reply: Even More Abraham!

Note: I’ve stopped posting a explanation at the top of these CES Reply posts, but that seems to be creating some confusion. So, for the record, this is an excerpt from my “Reply from a Former CES Employee,” which was written in response to Jeremy Runnells’  “Letter to a CES Director.” This is a line-by-line response, with Jeremy’s original words in green.

______________

The following is a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile 3 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists and modern Egyptology:

Facs abe 3

Oh, boy. Kevin Mathie again. Haven’t we beaten this dead horse long enough? All the stuff I said about Facsimiles 1 and 2 applies here, too.

I’ll add this comment about Facsimile 3 from a Mormon Egyptologist John Gee, who has degrees from Berkeley and a doctorate in Egyptology from Yale. Yeah, he’s a Mormon, so you’ll write him off, but surely his opinion should carry equal weight with a specialist in orchestral and hybrid music.

Here’s what Gee had to say:

“Facsimile 3 has always been the most neglected of the three facsimiles in the Book of Abraham. Unfortunately, most of what has been said about this facsimile is seriously wanting at best and highly erroneous at worst. This lamentable state of affairs exists because the basic Egyptological work on Facsimile 3 has not been done, and much of the evidence lies neglected and unpublished in museums. Furthermore, what an ancient Egyptian understood by a vignette and what a modern Egyptologist understands by the same vignette are by no means the same thing. Until we understand what the Egyptians understood by this scene, we have no hope of telling whether what Joseph Smith said about them matches what the Egyptians thought about them.”

Why should I presume John Gee is wrong and Kevin Mathie is right?

3. Egyptologists state that Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri and facsimiles are gibberish and have absolutely nothing to do with what the papyri and facsimiles actually are and what they actually say. Nothing in each and every facsimile is correct to what Joseph Smith claimed they said.

Nothing? How can you say that when even your own graphics above say otherwise? Four corners of the earth. God on his throne. Two bullseyes in Facsimile #2 that Joseph couldn’t possible have arrived at on his own. There are many, many others that Mormons have found, but since they’re Mormons, you can dismiss them ad hominem along with their very credible arguments, many of which can be found here.

Just saying they’re not there doesn’t make them go away.

Also, just to nitpick, I don’t think the word “gibberish” means what you think it means. The primary definition of “gibberish” is “unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing.” Joseph’s writing on this subject is both intelligible and meaningful. Even if it is incorrect, it’s certainly not “gibberish.”

Facsimile 1:

1. The names are wrong.

Not if the names are representative of an earlier interpretation of these symbols than the one Kevin Mathie is using.

2. The Abraham scene is wrong.

Not at all. You’re wrong to assume that the scene is consistent with other couch table scenes when it demonstrably is not, as most persuasively evidenced by the presence of a live body on the table and not a sarcophagus.

3. He names gods that are not part of the Egyptian belief system; of any known mythology or belief system.

For this to be definitively wrong, you would have to conclusively prove that these names didn’t exist. Since you can’t prove a negative, your assertion here is meaningless. (And, anyway, Mormons have found persuasive evidence of antiquity in these names, as seen here.)

Facsimile 2:

1. Joseph translated 11 figures on this facsimile. None of the names are correct as each one of these gods does not even exist in Egyptian religion or any recorded mythology.

What on earth do you mean he “translated” 11 figures? As mentioned earlier, art doesn’t “translate” the same way text does. No, Joseph presents the figures as they appear on the papyrus and offers names for them that you presume can be proven not to exist, despite the logical impossibility of proving negatives. You’re also presuming that symbols remain constantly and consistently interpreted over the course of thousands of years, which is rarely, if ever, the case.

2. Joseph misidentifies every god in this facsimile.

Good thing we have a non-Egyptological member of ASCAP who got it right, then, right? In a fallacious argument from authority, which is all you’re really offering here, shouldn’t the Mormon Egyptologist trump the non-qualified critics?

Facsimile 3:

1. Joseph misidentifies the Egyptian god Osiris as Abraham.

My theory is that he was originally Abraham, and that he was later misidentified by Egyptians as Osiris, much in the same way View of the Hebrews mistakes Quetzalcoatl for Moses. (See? Misappropriation of symbols. It happens even with non-Mormons, too!)

2. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Isis as the Pharaoh.

Same deal as above.

3. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Maat as the Prince of the Pharaoh. 

Ibid.

4. Misidentifies the Egyptian god Anubis as a slave.

Wait a minute. That guy’s Anubis? Isn’t Anubis the one with the jackal’s head in all your non-Facsimile 1-resembling couch scenes? Why does this Anubis look nothing like the other Anubises? He looks like an ancient Ed Grimley with that weird spurt of hair sticking out of his head.  Fact is, this interpretation, like all of the interpretations you offer, are far from definitive.

5. Misidentifies the dead Hor as a waiter.

What if he’s really Quetzalcoatl?

6. Joseph misidentifies – twice – a female as a male.

What if they’re just lovely men?

Sorry to be so flippant, but you’re presuming definitive interpretations of these figures where none exist. (See the quote from John Gee, above.)  If they did, you’d have a more credible source for them than Kevin Mathie.

4. The Book of Abraham teaches a Newtonian view of the universe.

Wholly incorrect. Sir Isaac Newton’s major contribution to our understanding of the nature of the universe was to advance heliocentrism – the idea that the earth revolves around the sun – definitely disprove geocentrism; i.e. the idea that everything in the universe orbits the earth. Yet the Book of Abraham has no mention of earth or anything else revolving around the sun. Rather, the text suggests that Abraham thought geocentrically, with planets and stars arranged in tiers “above” the earth, and everything cosmologically is compared to its relationship with the earth, implying a geocentric model, which was un-Newtonian as it is possible to be.

Yet even this is supposition. Neither geocentrism or heliocentrism is explicitly offered as a cosmological framework in the Book of Abraham. Simply asserting that the book is “Newtonian” cannot be sustained by any evidence from the book itself.

Its Newtonian astronomy concepts, mechanics, and models of the universe have been discredited by 20th century Einsteinian physics.

Given that the Book of Abraham offers no Newtonian astronomy concepts, mechanics, or models, your statement here is worthless.

What we find in Abraham 3 and the official scriptures of the LDS Church regarding science reflects a Newtonian world concept.

Really? Where? Please show your work. This statement is wholly false.

The Catholic Church’s Ptolemaic cosmology was displaced by the new Copernican and Newtonian world model, just as the nineteenth-century, canonized, Newtonian world view is challenged by Einstein’s twentieth-century science.

Also, the movie “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” featured the debut of the song “Puberty Love.” That fact is as relevant to a discussion of the Book of Abraham as your recitation of the history of physics.

Keith Norman, an LDS scholar, has written that for the LDS Church, “It is no longer possible to pretend there is no conflict.”

Keith Norman? Am I supposed to know who he is?

Your A-Team of LDS scholars consists of a lawyer who did some fundraising for a private archeological group (Thomas Ferguson), the guy in charge of the animated Killer Tomatoes series (Boyd Kirkland), the musical director for the Salt Lake Acting Company (Kevin Mathie), and now this Keith Norman guy, whose entire contribution to LDS scholarship seems to consist of a couple of articles written for Dialogue and Sunstone almost thirty years ago. The idea that his opinion represents a definitive deconstruction or even an accurate representation of LDS cosmology is more than a little silly.

Those troubled by Mr. Norman’s assertions would do well to read the whole article, to which you do not provide a link. In the piece, Norman himself is quite self-effacing and readily concedes that his academic credentials and skills are not up to the task of providing anything more than his personal speculation on this subject. “Astronomy has always held a fascination for me, but my mathematical abilities are awaiting the Millennium for development,” he says. (Norman’s degree is in early Christian studies, not any hard sciences.) Later, he admits he only has “a superficial knowledge of what has been going on in theoretical physics in this [the 20th] century. I can presume to offer no more than that, as I am still struggling with books on the subject written for the layman.”

He also qualifies his observations about Mormon cosmology with a concession that no cosmological framework in LDS theology has “ever [been] systematized,” which means that any conflicts he observes are only with his own personal theories of what that cosmology is. And right after he writes the sentence you quote above re: the conflict between cosmology and doctrine, he writes this sentence:

Given the dynamic nature of Mormon theology, and the mechanism of progressive revelation in accordance with our capacity to receive, such a reconciliation [between cosmology and doctrine] is by no means far- fetched.

He also offers no evidence that the Book of Abraham teaches a Newtonian view of the universe. He cites the B of A only once. Here’s the reference in its entirety:

The astronomical assertions in the Pearl of Great Price may indicate that God rules within our own galaxy, the Milky Way: “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” (Abr. 3:9; cf. facsimile 2, esp. fig. 5). Does each God have his and her own galaxy or cluster of galaxies?

A good question, and one that in no way undermines the cosmology of the Book of Abraham. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your proof-texting of Norman’s article suggests you didn’t actually read it before you cited it.

Norman continues: “Scientific cosmology began its leap forward just when Mormon doctrine was becoming stabilized. The revolution in twentieth-century physics precipitated by Einstein dethroned Newtonian physics as the ultimate explanation of the way the universe works. Relativity theory and quantum mechanics, combined with advances in astronomy, have established a vastly different picture of how the universe began, how it is structured and operates, and the nature of matter and energy. This new scientific cosmology poses a serious challenge to the Mormon version of the universe.”

Again, you’re presuming more than Mr. Norman himself does. There is no definitive “Mormon version of the universe” in cosmological terms, and Norman is only offering a personal theory of what that version is, frankly conceding he is unqualified to do so with any academic authority. And none of this has any bearing on the presence or absence of Newtonian physics in the Book of Abraham, an issue Norman doesn’t address at all.

Many of the astronomical and cosmological ideas found in both Joseph Smith’s environment and in the Book of Abraham have become out of vogue, and some of these Newtonian concepts are scientific relics. The evidence suggests that the Book of Abraham reflects concepts of Joseph Smith’s time and place rather than those of an ancient world. – Grant Palmer, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.25

Quite the opposite. The Book of Abraham implies geocentrism, which would have been right at home in the ancient world and entirely alien to Joseph Smith’s time and place. Citing specific examples of any supposed “scientific relics” from the book would be helpful. The reason neither you nor Palmer actually cites them is that they just aren’t there.

5. 86% of Book of Abraham chapters 2, 4, and 5 are King James Version Genesis chapters 1, 2, 11, and 12. Sixty-six out of seventy-seven verses are quotations or close paraphrases of King James Version wording. – An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p.19

The Book of Abraham is supposed to be an ancient text written thousands of years ago “by his own hand upon papyrus.” What are 17th century King James Version text doing in there? What does this say about the book being anciently written by Abraham?

This is just a reprise of the same issue you raised in your issues with Book of Mormon translation, and, once again, you demonstrate a fundamental ignorance of the relationship between an original text and its translated version. A modern translator’s word choices say nothing about the antiquity of a given text, and, absent copyright issues, there is nothing sinister about translators relying on existing translations of similar material to guide them in their translation.  When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he quoted from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, which was the most modern version then available. What does this say about the Old Testament as an ancient document? Nothing whatsoever.

Also, never forget that when King James Bible translated the KJV between 1604 and 1611, they were occasionally put their words into the text to make reading more English. (Note: That previous sentence was how Google Translate rendered one of Jeremy’s statements when translated from English to Hebrew and then back to English again.)

6. Why are there anachronisms in the Book of Abraham? Chaldeans? Egyptus? Pharaoh?

These look more like legitimate translation choices than actual anachronisms.

Re: Chaldeans: Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees, and so it’s not surprising that he also refers to his land as “Chaldea” and its inhabitants as “Chaldeans.” It’s clear from the text that the use of the term “Chaldeans” has reference to people from Ur, not people from the nation of Chaldea that came along much later. How else should Abraham have described the people from Ur of the Chaldees? Chaldeesians? Ur-ites?

Re: Egyptus: Prepublication versions of the B of A manuscript refer to Egyptus as “Zeptah,” which is similar to the chronologically appropriate and non-anachronistic “SЗt-Ptḥ,” which can be rendered in a Latinized version as “Egyptus.” This independent etymology actually strengthens the case for the Book of Abraham’s ancient origins.

Re: Pharoah: The fact that Egyptians didn’t use the word Pharoah to describe their kings until later than Abraham would have written his book doesn’t – and shouldn’t –  preclude a translator from using the commonly understood word in a modern translation.

7. Facsimile 2, Figure #5 states the sun receives its “light from the revolutions of Kolob.” We now know that the process of nuclear fusion is what makes the stars and suns shine. With the discovery of quantum mechanics, scientists learned that the sun’s source of energy is internal, and not external. The sun shines because of thermonuclear fusion; not because it gets its light from any other star as claimed by the Book of Abraham.

This one inspired me to set up a class action lawsuit against Stevie Wonder for his song “You Are the Sunshine of my Life” because, contrary to his scientifically inaccurate lyrics, the sunshine of his life is actually a product of thermonuclear fusion.

The comment on Figure #5 reads as follows:

Is called in Egyptian Enish-go-on-dosh; this is one of the governing planets also, and is said by the Egyptians to be the Sun, and to borrow its light from Kolob through the medium of Kae-e-vanrash, which is the grand Key, or, in other words, the governing power, which governs fifteen other fixed planets or stars, as also Floeese or the Moon, the Earth and the Sun in their annual revolutions. This planet receives its power through the medium of Kli-flos-is-es, or Hah-ko-kau-beam, the stars represented by numbers 22 and 23, receiving light from the revolutions of Kolob.

The phrase “is said by the Egyptians” ought to be a clue that this is a description of an Egyptian metaphor, not a literal scientific treatise. In other words, when we say “the sun rises in the East,” those words convey a valuable metaphorical meaning, even though they’re not at all scientifically accurate. The sun, of course, is well beyond the boundaries of the four cardinal directions, and it is the earth’s relative movement, not the sun’s, that accounts for this scientifically indefensible concept of “sunrise.”

On the other hand, I don’t see any reason why thermonuclear fusion couldn’t be a key component of “the medium of Kae-e-vanrash.”

Tomorrow: Abraham – The Finale!

 

CES Reply: The Book of Abraham (Part II – with a musical twist!)

The following is a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile 1 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists and modern Egyptology:

abe 3Ah, we meet again, MormonInfographics.com. This is the same outfit that thinks it’s a scandal that Joseph Smith couldn’t choose between the words “light” and “fire,” or that a nine-word reference to the First Vision needs to include every element found in the Pearl of Great Price version in order to be accurate. I don’t understand why you discount everything “unofficial apologists” have to say because they’re supposedly too biased to be credible, yet you accept nonsense like this without qualification because it comes from people who are critical of the church, which means they must be objective.

Do you really think that bias is a ratchet that only goes one way?

Okay, fine, never mind. Let’s wrestle with this latest goodie from our Infographical pals. To do so, we need to start out by admitting where all of us fall short. I’m not an Egyptologist, and neither are you. And neither, I might add, are the good people at MormonInfoGraphics.com. So who provides your authoritative “Modern Egyptological Interpretation” that makes its way into the graphic that provides the foundation of your argument?

The answer can be found in the link in the bottom left-hand corner of the graphic. There we find this link – http://bookofabraham.com/boamathie/BOA_6.html – which leads us to a piece on the subject by someone named Kevin Mathie. And who is Kevin Mathie? Is he an Egyptological authority upon whom we can readily rely? I visited his website to find out, and here’s what I found…

Abe 4Mathie’s Egyptological qualifications, as per his website:

Kevin Mathie is a professional composer, music director, and pianist who has more than 25 years’ experience working in the music industry. He specializes in orchestral and hybrid orchestral music (i.e., orchestral music combined with electronic instruments such as synths and guitar). 

His compositions have been featured on the television network SHOWTIME®, and have also been used in film, television, radio, and live theater. During his career, he has also led more than 100+ musical productions, and received numerous awards for his work, including:

Best Behind-the-Scenes Musical Theater MVPs (i.e., Most Valuable Player, 2013) – Salt Lake City Weekly’s 2013 Arty Award

Best Musical Score (2014) – Las Vegas 48-Hour Film Project, for the film Enthusiasm

Best Musical Score (2009) – Salt Lake City 48-Hour Film Project, for the film, S.H.A.T.

Kevin is currently the music director and arranger for Salt Lake Acting Company’s popular annual production of Saturday’s Voyeur, and also regularly composes for and performs at several other theaters. He is a member of both ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild of America.

Unlike your previous impeccable scholarly source Brad Kirkland, however, Kevin Mathie has apparently spent no time involved in productions that feature killer tomatoes.

So what on earth makes his opinion on this subject any more valuable than my own? After all, I have a prestigious BFA in Theatre from the University of Southern California, which was recently established to be the most expensive university in the country.  I have been active in the theatre for over four decades. I have at least as much musical theatre experience as Mr. Mathie does. I’ve even played Harold Hill in The Music Man – twice! By your standards, that makes me at least as authoritative an Egyptologist as Mathie, yes?

So, having burnished my Egyptological credentials, let me tell demonstrate why even a cursory review of the so-called “Modern Egyptological Interpretation” reveals it to be useless.

The problem is that you’re conflating art with text, as if both impart information in the same manner and with the same restraints. They don’t. The reason they say that “a picture is worth a thousand words” is that it takes at least a thousand words to textually describe an image, and even then, words are inadequate to the task.

For instance, take Kevin Mathie’s splash page, pictured above. Without actually providing the image, I can tell you that it features a large fellow with a beard seated at a grand piano on top of a mountain, with a host of other mountains in the background. He is surrounding by flying musical instruments, including a violin with wings, as well as sheet music that appears to be blown around by the high mountain air.

Now is that an accurate description? I think so. Is it a comprehensive description? By no means. There are a lot of elements left out – the musical score that seems to be following one of the violins, for example. And my description of the sheet music, while technically accurate, is obviously not how Mathie intended it to be interpreted. The music looks like it’s just blowing everywhere, but I get the sense that this is a visual representation of how music is supposed to sound. Like the historically inaccurate church art we reviewed earlier, he’s using iconography to emotionally convey a number of different ideas and feelings, and each element in the picture is fraught with symbolism that is subject to multiple interpretations.

Now suppose I were to ask you to “translate” Mathie’s picture into ancient Egyptian. Does the flying violin represent the beauty of music, or its ability to transcend space and time, or Mathie’s personal talent, or music’s innate spirituality? I think a case can be made for all those things. Does each image within the larger image have a single, static interpretation the way words do? Of course not.

So back to non-Egyptologist/Saturday’s Voyeur songwriter Kevin’s Mathie’s official “Modern Egyptological Interpretation.”  Let’s start at the end and see where that takes us.

Joseph Smith’s explanation of Item #12 is lengthy and involved, but Mathie assures us that “This is just the water that the crocodile swims in.” Um, okay. Why is there a crocodile in the first place? Why did the artist put water with a crocodile under a picture of a human sacrifice? This would be like looking at the winged violin in the Mathie splash page and interpreting the wings as “just the wings the violin uses to fly.” Well, yes. But why is the violin flying? Violins don’t generally fly – shouldn’t we assume some deeper symbolism there? By the same token, crocodiles swimming in bodies of water can’t usually be found underneath people lying on couches. Insisting that there is one, and only one interpretation of any of these images is something a real, non-musical theatre Egyptologist would likely reject.

Similarly, in items 5-8, Joseph provides detailed explanations for the jars under the couch, but Mathie insists these are only “Canopic jars containing the deceased’s internal organs.” That’s simply wrong on its face. In the first place, the guy on the couch clearly isn’t deceased. He’s raising his leg and waving his arm, which, as Nibley points out, indicates that this guy ain’t dead yet. That makes him completely different from the other images you provide, all of which are clearly King Tut-esque mummies with no movement at all. The lazy Mathie interpretation is predicated on the false premise that this is a corpse like all the other corpses in other pictures, while this picture is showing us something else entirely.

Also, why do these canopic jars have animal heads? What’s the significance of one being an eagle and one being a jackal, etc.? Are we to presume that there’s no way they could represent false gods, the way Joseph says they do? (Isn’t Anubis a false god? Doesn’t he have a jackal’s head?) Are we simply to assume this is just like the crocodile water, which is only crocodile water? Is there no other way to interpret a flying violin with wings as anything other than an actual flying violin?

This is what happens when you argue from authority, especially when the authority you’re invoking doesn’t really exist. The implication of the graphic is that this is an explanation providing by actual Egyptologists, when it’s actually provided by a musical theatre aficionado combing through articles he doesn’t understand and cherry-picking explanations he likes. There is no actual repudiation of the Book of Abraham by non-Mormon Egyptologists, because, frankly, they don’t care enough about the issue to pay any attention to it. To argue, then, as you seem to be arguing, that there has been a deliberate and definitive debunking of the Book of Abraham’s claims by contemporary Egyptologists is to overstate your case considerably.

People who dive into the Egyptological elements of the Book of Abraham tend to be Mormons, because the Mormons are the only ones who care. But no matter how cogent or brilliant these Mormons may be, you can just label them “unofficial apologists” and nonchalantly toss out everything they say without consideration, all the while placing your complete Egyptological confidence in the guy who won Salt Lake City Weekly’s 2013 Arty Award for Behind-the-Scenes Musical Theatre MVP. I don’t think that places you in an intellectual position of strength.

And it should be noted that there are, in fact, well-educated Mormon Egyptologists, trained outside of Brigham Young University, who do not view the facsimiles as problematic. In fact, they believe there are striking correlations between the facsimiles and the Book of Abraham with Egyptology and apocryphal Abrahamic traditions. If anyone’s interested in diving down that rabbit hole, they’re welcome to do so – here might be a good place to start. I’m not going to review the arguments they make, as I’m no more qualified to authoritatively evaluate them than either you or Kevin Mathie, but I think it appropriate to point out that there are serious and significant scholars making such arguments, and that calling them names or pretending they aren’t there isn’t the same thing as discrediting them.

Figure #3 is supposed to be the jackal-headed Egyptian god of mummification and afterlife, Anubis; not a human.

By that reasoning, Figure #4 is “supposed to be” a King Tut-like mummy, but he’s not. If one of these figures is clearly not what he’s “supposed to be,” why should we expect the expected from the other figure?

The following images show similar funerary scenes which have been discovered elsewhere in Egypt. Notice that the jackal-headed Egyptian god of death and afterlife Anubis is consistent in every funerary scene.

abe 5 Also notice that the figure on the couch, while consistent across all four of these examples, is entirely inconsistent with the figure on the couch in Facsimile #1. The extant version of this scene found in the Joseph Smith Papyrus repudiates your contention that this is just a commonplace image, as all of the comparisons you provide confirm Facsimile #1’s uniqueness.

Facsimile 2:

The following is a side-by-side comparison of what Joseph Smith translated in Facsimile 2 versus what it actually says according to Egyptologists and modern Egyptology:

Abe facs 2

And there’s the link in the left-hand corner of the graphic– it seems Kevin Mathie strikes again. All the problems I referenced with regard to our musical non-Egyptologist’s interpretation of Facsimile #1 apply here, too, as does the error of equating art with text as having a single, conclusive, and exclusive interpretation.

Also, were you just going ignore that Joseph Smith and Kevin Mathie both interpret item #6 in almost exactly the same way? How is that possible that Joseph Smith hit a bullseye so clearly that not even a hostile critic like Kevin Mathie can pretend otherwise?

A lot more going on here than either of us understand, and you’re placing far too much confidence in authorities who really don’t have the answers you think they have.

One of the most disturbing facts I discovered in my research of Facsimile 2 is figure #7. Joseph Smith said that this is “God sitting on his throne…” It’s actually Min, the pagan Egyptian god of fertility or sex. Min is sitting on a throne with an erect penis (which can be seen in the figure). In other words, Joseph Smith is saying that this figure with an erect penis is Heavenly Father sitting on His throne.

Sorry to crack a smile, but I don’t think this is a “disturbing fact;” I think it’s a delightful one. An aversion to acknowledging the existence of genitalia is more puritanical than doctrinal, and Mormons who believe in an anthropomorphic deity ought not be surprised to learn that such a god would be anatomically correct. Egyptian mores were clearly different from the Victorian ones that still linger in LDS Church culture, and I see this as nothing more than an (admittedly crude by today’s standards) acknowledgement that God has a body. (Although there’s also some debate over whether or not that’s a penis or an arm. Actually, I’m not sure which part is supposed to be the arm/penis. As far as pornography goes, this is pretty tame stuff.)

Regardless, Egyptologists and Joseph Smith both acknowledge here we have an anthropomorphic god on a throne. Joseph Smith says it’s God the Father; flying violinist Kevin Mathie cribs from Egyptologists and announces that it’s Min. Understanding that art can have multiple interpretations, it could easily be both. In any case, it’s pretty uncanny that both would see it as a god on a throne, because to my untrained eye, it looks like a goose running with a wooden crate on its back.

I think the great deal of the problems you have with the Book of Abraham originate from a false dichotomy – either everything Joseph Smith had to say about the facsimiles and the extant papyrus text can be objectively verified by modern academics, or the Book of Abraham is a complete fraud. But reality doesn’t fit into either of those categories very well. If Joseph is a complete fraud, why does he rightly recognize a god on a throne in an image that looks like a goose with a wooden crate? Why does he identify images that represent “the four corners of the earth” that Egyptologists agree is correct? How is it that his Abraham is consistent with apocryphal Abrahamic writings that weren’t published until after Joseph’s death? Yet, on the flip side, why would he make so many other interpretations of the material that no Egyptologist recognizes?

Personally, my answer is one rooted in a broader context – the idea of myths and symbols being appropriated and modified by different cultures for different purposes, especially over vast periods of time. Prior to World War II, the gammadion cross appeared on American military airplanes, and it was also a common symbol of peace and industry in Japan and among Native Americans. But since Hitler got ahold of it and made it the icon of the Third Reich, the gammadion cross, aka the swastika, now has an entirely different meaning and association that has swallowed up all non-fascistic interpretations forever.

If one assumes that Abraham wrote “on papyrus, by his own hand” the material Joseph used to translate the book that bears his name, one also has to assume that the handwriting took place at least two thousand years before the copyist who put on the Joseph Smith Papyri got ahold of it. Two thousand years is a very, very long time. What kind of additional or extraneous meanings would cultures have attached to those symbols in the interim, symbols which were ancient even in the time of the Pharaohs? It would be the most natural thing in the world for a culture to appropriate the inherent power of an ancient symbol to graft an icon of a false god onto the icon of a true one. (And maybe, just maybe, they added a penis because they were feeling naughty.)

I took a class in Intellectual Traditions of the West at the University of Utah back in 1990, where a teacher insisted that Jesus must have been a myth because his “hero’s journey” can be found in all kinds of disparate mythological traditions that preceded Christianity by hundreds or even thousands of years. This was also the position of famed Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who I consider to be entirely official and an honorary Mormon. Lewis’s youthful atheism was rooted in similar arguments.

I quote now from the Lewis biography “The Narnian,” written by Alan Jacobs, citation from page 48:

A different case against God, or at least against Christianity, is provided by The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazer’s massive, multivolume study of ancient religious practices in Europe and the Middle East… Frazer’s exploration of “dying-god myths” – along with other common religious practices that, Frazer argued, emerged from the cycle of the seasons – convinced many intellectuals that Christianity was a late, unoriginal, and not especially appealing version of an archaic religious habit… young Jack [aka C.S.]Lewis took Frazer’s argument for granted…[that] spiritual experience was only religion, religion was only myth, and myth was only an intellectual formulation of agricultural cultures’ need to adapt themselves to, and give meaning to, the changes of the seasons and the unpredictability of weather. Jesus Christ, Osiris, even Balder the Beautiful – they were all articulations of one of the basic features of material existence: that at one time of the year things come to life, and at another they sink into the earth.

Lewis later rejected this idea and devoted a great deal of his life to actively refuting it. He called the story of Christ “a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with tremendous difference [in] that it really happened.” [Emphasis in original.] He concluded that “the Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets.” The poets are echoing the truth of God in their stories, but “Christianity is God expressing himself through ‘real things.’” [The Narnian, p. 149]

Mormon theology allows us to take Lewis’s theory several steps further. We believe that the gospel of Christ was taught to Adam and has been part of the human family since the beginning of time. If that’s the case, then echoes of that story would have diffused into every culture and every civilization. Like a game of telephone, where children whisper a sentence into the ear of their neighbor through several iterations until the final sentence bears little resemblance to what was originally said, one should expect elements of truth to be mingled with myths that are passed down even through periods of apostasy. The fact that, say, the Legend of Gilgamesh has so many parallels with the story of Noah suggests that a true story was changed and embellished by the artistic license of the ancients.

So back to the Book of Abraham. If Abraham wrote his account “by his own hand” several millennia ago, and that account were to be passed down among Egyptian scribes for thousands of years, it would be unavoidable that scribes would borrow themes and symbols from the original story as they fashioned their own myths and legends. What seems likely to me is that whatever text and artwork was on the papyrus contained some kind of mixture of both truth and embellishment, and Joseph, via revelation, was able to extract the divine gold buried under the man-made dross. That would also mean that both Joseph and the Egyptologists are correct at the same time – the figure with the phallus represented Min, but thousands of years earlier, it represented God the Father, yet that interpretation was later modified and lost until Joseph the Seer was able to find it again.

That explanation, which does not tidily fit into the box of one of the three possible explanations I previously offered for the Book of Abraham, is the one that best matches the existing evidence. It’s why the Book of Abraham contains correct information and interpretations that Joseph couldn’t possibly have guessed by accident, but it also contains material that doesn’t jibe with a Saturday’s Voyeur’s “Modern Egyptological Interpretation.” I know the ambiguity troubles you, but honest academics are forced to acknowledge and accept that kind of uncertainty. No responsible scholar would ever claim that modern scholarship allows us to perfectly and definitively understand the ancient world.

Tomorrow: Even more Abraham!

 

CES Reply: The Book of Abraham (Part I)

Book of Abraham Concerns & Questions:

Oh, goody.

1. Despite Joseph’s claim that this record was written by Abraham “by his own hand, upon papyrus,” scholars have found the original papyrus Joseph translated and have dated it in 1st century CE, nearly 2,000 years after Abraham could have written it.

I know, right? It says the same thing in my Triple Combination, and scholars have found that, it, too, was not handwritten by Abraham. What’s more, scholars have dated the paper to early 21st Century, more than 4,000 years after Abraham could have written it. To add insult to injury, my Pearl of Great Price isn’t even made of papyrus at all!

The only other explanation is that Abraham did, in fact, write this stuff on papyrus with his own hand, and people later copied it onto papyrus around the 1st Century, and then someone else, later still, typed it up and printed it out. Should we be concerned that even the online version mentions being written “by his own hand?” Because I don’t think Abraham wrote any of the Internet by his own hand, although it’s been documented that Abraham and Mark Zuckerberg have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

2. Egyptologists have found the source material for the Book of Abraham to be nothing more than a common pagan Egyptian funerary text –

Stop right there. What did you say?

 – a common pagan Egyptian funerary text –

No, not that part. That first bit.

Egyptologists have found the source material for the Book of Abraham…

And there’s your problem. Or at least a very big chunk of it. Because it is an incontrovertible fact that Egyptologists have not found the source material for the Book of Abraham, and neither has anyone else.

Nearly all of the papyri Joseph had in his possession was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but a handful of scraps survived the flames and surfaced in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City nearly a century later. When the Church was given these fragments in 1967, they immediately published pictures of them in The Improvement Era, along with an article stating that the relatively small amount of extant text was clearly not the source material for the Book of Abraham.

Granted, that presents a number of problems that you subsequently address and to which I will subsequently respond, but it’s essential to note that everything else you write on this subject is tainted by the assumption that this meager amount of surviving material is, in fact, the “source material” for the Book of Abraham. It is not, and the Church has never once claimed that it is.

So before we dive into Egyptology and things that neither of us understand, it might be wise to outline the problem before we consider possible solutions. And the problem is this: why don’t the scraps we have match the text of the Book of Abraham? You see only one possible answer, which is that the Book of Abraham is a fraud. But as I see it, there are three other possible answers.

  1. Actually, they do match, and all Eyptologists are wrong, and the Book of the Dead as it appears in all other papyri is, in fact, the Book of Abraham.
  2. The material we have represents a small fragment – roughly 10% by most estimates – of all the papyri Joseph Smith had in his possession, and it does not match the description of the “long scroll” that included red as well as black ink that Joseph suggested was the source of the Book of Abraham. So the funerary texts were intermingled with the Book of Abraham, and the true source text used for the translation is lost to us.
  3. What Joseph had was, indeed, nothing more than common Egyptian funerary texts, yet these were the catalyst for a series of revelations that constitute the Book of Abraham, much in the same way the Book of Moses was received by revelation as Joseph read Genesis in the Old Testament.

So which of these positions is right? I don’t think it’s that cut and dried. My personal position has more in common with possibility #2 than any of the other two, but there are elements from #3, and even #1, that cannot be entirely dismissed.

There is a fourth alternative, too, one that probably represents the majority opinion of members of the Church. That opinion is as follows:

4. The Book of Abraham is scripture, and it doesn’t matter where it came from.

I do not share the second part of that opinion, but I emphatically share the first part. The Book of Abraham is arguably the most profound book of scripture we have in our possession, and the doctrines found therein define the relationship between God and his children in a way radically at odds with orthodox Christian thought and in a way that is wholly, uniquely Mormon. The importance of the idea that each of us, at our core, is co-eternal with God, cannot be overstated. The concept of pre-existence, the eternal nature of matter and the rejection of Ex Nihilo creation – all of that comes from the Book of Abraham, and, while hints of it can be found in the other standard works, nothing approaching the clarity and beauty of these magnificent truths can be found anywhere else.

The doctrine of Creatio Ex Nihilo, or Creation Out of Nothing, is central to much of the Christian world. As I understand it, the idea is that there was nothing in the universe, or even no universe itself. There was only God. And at one point, God decided He wanted there to be Something instead of Nothing. And so, out of Nothing, he made Something, and voila! Here we are!

This idea is also the source of much mischief.

Those who propose it think that any other explanation diminishes God’s omnipotence. In contrast, the Book of Abraham insists that to create is to “organize” that which already exists. It rests on the premise that elements are eternal, and that intelligence is eternal, too. In some form or another, each of us is a unique, eternal Intelligence, co-existent with God, and God has designed the universe and organized matter and intelligence to create a circumstance by which we can become more like Him. Ex Nihilists insist that the Mormon God, therefore, is not omnipotent, because he can’t create matter or intelligence out of nothing.

It’s because of this tension that there are some very pointless arguments to be had as to what the definition of omnipotence is. The most famous is the question, “Can God create a rock so large that He can’t move it?” Or, in other words, can God do something he can’t do? Answers to questions like these end up serving the same purpose as imponderables like, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Or “what would happen if everyone on earth flushed their toilet at exactly the same time?” (OK, that second one isn’t very profound. But it’s something to think about!)

Because of the Book of Abraham, I would define omnipotence, therefore, as the capability to do everything that can be done. Ex Nihilists reject this. They say there is nothing that cannot be done, because God can do everything. OK, fine. Then you have to answer questions that don’t make God look like a very pleasant guy.

For example: You, Mr. Ex Nihilist, you believe God can do anything? Then why didn’t he create a universe free of evil, pain, and suffering? Why did make us capable of sin? Why did he create a circumstance where a great deal of his supreme creations are doomed to spend an eternity in a lake of fire? What’s the point?

The famous literary figure Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide concludes that since this is the only world we’ve got, and God is perfect, then this is, by definition, the best of all possible worlds, so stop complaining. The problem, of course, is that this places certain limits on God, too. If this is the best he could do, and even us flawed humans can see there are significant problems, then he isn’t as omnipotent as Ex Nihilists think he is, is he?

Mormons don’t have all the answers about suffering and evil, but, thanks in large part to the Book of Abraham, they do have a context for it that the rest of the world doesn’t have. What’s happening in this life was colored by what happened in the eternity before it, and it will be mitigated by what happens in the eternity after. Many people use this truth to make rash assumptions about this life’s inequities. Clearly, if I’m stronger, happier, richer, or better looking than you, then I must have been a better guy before I got here, no? Well, no. We don’t know that. Maybe you were too big a wimp to be able to handle the rough life of someone else. We haven’t been given the information, but just knowing that there is more to the story helps us understand why some things don’t seem to gibe with what we ought to expect.

The point is that Ex Nihilo creation makes good squarely responsible for all the rotgut in the universe, and it’s no use saying otherwise. My understanding of a merciful and omnipotent deity doesn’t allow for that kind of nonsense. And that understanding is firmly rooted in the precepts found in the Book of Abraham.

All that is context for why it is so difficult to simply write off the Book of Abraham because of  the evidence you cite against it, which is both weak and circumstantial. There is too much substance in the book itself to simply write it off at the first sign of trouble.

Back to your objections, which I will let you state without interruption this time:



2. Egyptologists have found the source material for the Book of Abraham to be nothing more than a common pagan Egyptian funerary text for a deceased man named “Hor” in 1st century CE. In other words, it was a common Breathing Permit that the Egyptians buried with their dead. It has absolutely nothing to do with Abraham or anything Joseph claimed in his translation for the Book of Abraham.



Not so fast. 

First of all, the Joseph Smith Papyri contain excerpts from both the Book of Breathings and the Book of the Dead, which, while both are associated with Egyptian burials, are not, in fact, the same texts. This suggests that these fragments were not a single “common Breathing Permit” but, rather, part of a collection that could well include the Book of Abraham, too. 

More importantly, it is incorrect to say that the Book of the Dead has “absolutely nothing to do with Abraham.” The discovery of the Testament of Abraham in 1892 and the Apocalypse of Abraham in 1898 show remarkable parallels with the Book of Abraham, but also tie Abraham to Egyptian afterlife traditions. Hugh Nibley’s seminal work Abraham in Egypt shows the extent to which Abrahamic traditions are tied to the Book of the Dead. Quoting from Nibley:

The evidence that has led the experts in the past ten years to recognize the closest ties between the old Abraham apocrypha and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, especially with references to the pictures in the latter, effectively eliminates the one argument against serious reading of the Book of Abraham.

The whole thing is well worth reading and is chock full of specifics connections between the two documents and makes it impossible to blithely assert that Abraham and the Book of the Dead have “absolutely nothing to do with” each other.

Facsimile 1: 

The bottom left shows the rediscovered papyrus and what was penciled in by Joseph Smith and his associates. The right is the final draft that’s included in the canonized Book of Abraham.

Abe 1The following image is what Facsimile 1 is really supposed to look like, based on Egyptology and the same scene discovered elsewhere in Egypt:

abe 2

I know this wasn’t your intent, but I would be remiss if I didn’t personally thank you for resolving one of my main concerns about Book of Abraham with your flawed objection here.

I was first introduced to the idea you mention here by an architect who had done a great deal of work for the Church and was on his way out of full fellowship because of his concerns about the Book of Abraham. He told me that Facsimile 1, as found in the Joseph Smith Papyri, had been altered from what it was “really supposed to look like,” as you say, and that every time this scene appeared in other settings, the guy with the knife had a jackal’s head, and so of course this was just Joseph Smith messing around. I took the architect’s word on this, and I found it troubling. From those conversations, I assumed that the scene in Facsimile 1 must be so common as that it could be found in papyri from the same period.

But what’s you’ve shown me here is that there is no other scene in any existing papyri that matches Facsimile 1.

The picture that shows what Facsimile 1 is “supposed to look like” is a modern creation. You didn’t pull it from off of papyri; someone drew in the missing pieces thousands of years later in order to match your assumptions. If there really were a scene that matched Facsimile 1, you wouldn’t have to rely on someone to whip one up.  If it’s “supposed to look like” this, then why can’t you show me a scene from actual papyri that actually looks like this?

You show me a bunch of “funerary scenes” just a bit later in your letter, but what’s striking to me is how little they look like Facsimile 1, either the original or your modern “corrected version.” Yes, there’s a guy lying on a couch, but that guy looks like King Tut’s sarcophagus in most of them, and, really, nothing at all like the guy in Facsimile 1. Where’s the crocodile? Where’s the bird? Why is the jackal-headed dude leaning over in all the other pics but not in Facsimile 1?

As you pat yourself on the back for assuming that you know what this is “supposed to look like,” you skip over a number of very significant differences which make Facsimile 1 unique.

Hugh Nibley again:

The instant reaction of most professing Egyptologists to the sight of Facsimile No. 1 is to announce that it is the most- routine and commonplace object imaginable, that countless drawings identical with this one are to be found on tomb and coffin walls and papyri. Some of the better scholars were given pause, however, and right from the beginning T. Deveria insisted that the Mormons must have made drastic alterations in the sketches, because they were decidedly not as they should be. The main effort of the learned since the discovery of the original in a damaged condition in 1967 has been to reconstruct the missing parts in a way to show that they were really nothing out of the ordinary, while quietly ignoring the really impressive uniqueness of the parts that are not missing.

For instance, an eminent Egyptologist maintained that the fingers of the reclining man’s upper hand are really the feathers of a bird. In time, however, he yielded enough to declare that even if they were fingers it would make no difference to the interpretation. Wouldn’t it? If this turns out to be the only instance known of the man on the couch lifting two hands, that would indeed make a great deal of difference. But forget about the fingers and the feathers; in what other “embalming scene” does a priest with or without an Anubis headdress, lean over a corpse that is waving both an arm and a leg? That gesture, as a number of special studies have pointed out, indicates a stirring to life and a rising from the couch, not the utter quiescence of a corpse about to be laid away. And what about the big crocodial under the couch? Or the lotus stand? You will not find them in any of the other Lion-couch vignettes. This figure waving an arm and a leg is indeed quite uncommon among lion couch scenes, being rarely described, we are told because of its peculiarly sacred nature, but it does occur, and in a most significant context.

Turns out, then, that even the unaltered pieces we have don’t look at all the way they’re “really supposed to look like.” There’s clearly a lot more going on here that you’re too willing to ignorantly dismiss out of hand.

 Tomorrow: More Book of Abraham – and some musical theater!

CES Reply: The First Vision (Part II)

3. In the 1832 account, Joseph said that before praying he knew that there was no true or living faith or denomination upon the earth as built by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. His primary purpose in going to prayer was to seek forgiveness of his sins.

4. In the official 1838 account, Joseph said his “object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join”…”(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong).”

This is in direct contradiction to his 1832 First Vision account.

Two issues raised here. One is the idea that in 1832 he says he already knew that all churches were false before praying, while in 1838 he said that “it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong,” which you posit constitutes a direct contradiction between the two accounts.

The other issue is Joseph’s purpose for praying – in 1832 he says it is to get his sins forgiven, while in 1838 he says it is “to know which of all the sects was right.”  You insist that this, too constitutes a direct contradiction between the two accounts.

To adequately respond to the first issue, I think it’s helpful to begin by addressing the second issue and then circling back to the first with some additional context under our belts.

In the case of “Forgiveness of Sins v. Which Church is True,” FAIR and others maintain that this supposed discrepancy can be explained by the fact that Joseph, in fact, had two distinct items on his agenda when he knelt down to pray – 1. Which Church is the right one? and 2. As long as you’re at it, can I also get my sins forgiven while I’m here? As much as I respect FAIR, I don’t think that’s the right answer.

To understand why, we must, of course, turn to the uncorrelated wisdom of “Seinfeld.”

In the 130th Seinfeld episode titled “The Calzone,” which originally aired on April 25, 1996, Elaine makes a bet with a character named Todd Gack, with a free dinner put forward as the stakes. Todd says that Dustin Hoffman appeared in the movie “Star Wars;” Elaine says that’s nonsense. Elaine, of course, is correct, so she wins the bet, which means that Todd has to buy her dinner. Over the course of the episode, we learn that Todd has a system of making stupid bets with women in order to get them to go out with him without actually having to ask them for dates.

Todd Gack’s admittedly brilliant system is irrelevant to our discussion, but the “Star Wars” bet is not.

Even with a free dinner at stake, the impact of the bet’s outcome on Elaine’s life is insignificant. It’s a simple academic question, an empty exercise in curiosity. And the impact it has on her eternal salvation? None whatsoever.

True, even without a free dinner at stake, people engage in meaningless pop culture arguments like this all the time, sometimes getting quite heated about them. (“What do you mean Justin Timberlake was in NSYNC, you moron? Everyone knows he was one of the Backstreet Boys!”) But Google now provides instant resolution for most of them, and while the loser in the disagreement may be miffed for a moment or two, such incidents are, under most circumstances, quickly forgotten. (Although Justin Timberlake was, in fact, in NSYNC and not the Backstreet Boys. Google it if you don’t believe me.)

Turning back to the First Vision, saying that Joseph Smith had two different items on his agenda when he went to pray is to reduce the question about the which church is right to the equivalent of the status of Dustin Hoffman’s Jedi pedigree. Joseph wasn’t asking an academic question of idle curiosity; it was a question whose answer could be the difference between heaven and hell. Never mind dinner; in Joseph’s mind, his soul was at stake.

You see that in all of Joseph’s firsthand accounts. “[M]y mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the wellfare of my immortal Soul,” he wrote in 1832. “I considered it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involve eternal consequ[e]nces;” he wrote in 1835. “My mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness… my feelings were deep and often poignant… What is to be done?” he wrote in 1838. “I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future [i.e. eternal] state,” he wrote in 1842.

These are different words, to be sure, but there’s no mistaking the commonality of their underlying meaning. I believe that all these accounts show that Joseph’s deepest desire was to know what he had to do to be saved. That was the one and only item on his agenda in the Sacred Grove.

The question he asked, then, about which church he should join tells us about young Joseph’s theological assumptions. It’s clear in all accounts that salvation and church membership were inextricably linked in his mind. Even in 1832, where he doesn’t specify what question he asked the Lord before his sins were forgiven, he goes on at great length about his concern for the error he sees in all the churches. If they could travel back in time, many modern religionists would counsel young Joseph that a relationship with Christ and forgiveness of sins can happen without belonging to any church whatsoever, but that possibility doesn’t seem to occur to Joseph, nor would it have been likely to occur to anyone in the early 19th Century. Christ without a church in 1820? Who could imagine such heresy? Certainly not an illiterate farmboy who, at that point, had no inkling what the Lord had in store for him.

Why, then, did he ask which church to join? Because he thought he needed to belong to church to be saved from his sins. In Joseph’s mind, “which church is the right one” and “how can I get my sins forgiven” were variations on the same theme, and only minor variations at that. Rather than show inconsistency, the two accounts are remarkably united in their depiction of Joseph’s concern for his soul and his assumptions about what was necessary to save it.

So with that understanding, the apparent contradiction about whether or not he had decided that all the churches were wrong prior to praying becomes far less problematic. The 1832 account spends more time detailing the specific problems with all the churches than the 1838 account, indicating that Joseph still believed in the importance of joining a church to gain access to the atonement. True, he doesn’t explicitly say that any church membership is necessary, but he didn’t have to – those reading his account in 1832 would have had the same assumptions, and neither Joseph or his audience would have even considered the modern/post-modern idea of an effectual Christian life outside the boundaries of organized religion. Even if all the churches were wrong to one degree or another, surely Joseph would still have felt it necessary to join the best one – or the “most correct” one, to borrow a phrase from earlier in your letter and later in his life.

The other interesting thing about Joseph’s 1838 statement that “it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong” is that, if you apply the kind of legalistic standard necessary to make those words some kind of indefensible contradiction of the 1832 account, you would then have to say they are also a contradiction of what he had to say just eight verses earlier in the 1838 account.

Verse 10 of Joseph Smith History:

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? [Emphasis added]

What? He had previously considered the possibility that the churches could be “all wrong together?” But doesn’t he say just eight short verses later that “it had never entered into [his] heart that all were wrong?” Doesn’t this prove your point?

No, it reveals your assumptions, which are incorrect.

You approached this with the unspoken and unchallenged assumption that if the First Vision were true, every account of that vision would have to identical, or at least close to identical, which is seldom, if ever, how people recount similar events over long spans of time. Furthermore, you erroneously assumed Josephs’s accounts would have to conform with your own modern understanding of religious culture that are at odds with the culture in which Joseph found himself. No reader in 1832 would have read Joseph’s emphasis on forgiveness of sins in that account as any kind of contradiction with a desire to know which church to join. They “knew,” or assumed, anyway, that forgiveness of sins couldn’t happen outside the boundaries of a church.

So how does one reconcile JSH 1:10 with JSH 1:18? The key phrase, I think, is “entered into my heart.” He had clearly intellectually considered the possibility all churches were in error in verse 10 (and in the 1832 account,) but the idea doesn’t really sink in – i.e. enter into his heart – until verse 18. I think all of us have had this experience – things happen that we choose not to believe even when we get the information, but we don’t allow our intellectual knowledge to “enter into our hearts.” I’m betting you probably had a similar experience in researching church history – you’d stumble upon a distressing fact and say to yourself “That can’t be true!” and, after a period of struggle, and perhaps even mourning, there finally comes acceptance. It enters in to your heart.

When that happens, we can all identify with Amulek from the Book of Mormon, who once said of his own testimony, “I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know.” (Alma 10:6)

Make up your mind, Amulek! Did you know or didn’t you know?! That’s a direct contradiction!

5. Other problems:

The dates / his ages: The 1832 account states Joseph was 15 years old when he had the vision in 1821 while the other accounts state he was 14 years old in 1820 when he had the vision.

You are correct. Joseph’s incorrect age was written in by Frederick G. Williams as a marginal note above Joseph’s handwriting in the 1832 account. There’s no reason to assume it’s anything other than an honest mistake. If you’re expecting infallibility in the 1832 account, you’re in serious trouble. The grammar alone in that thing is truly atrocious.

The reason or motive for seeking divine help – Bible reading and conviction of sins, a revival, a desire to know if God exists, wanting to know which church to join – are not reported the same in each account.

Not to be rude, but this is a truly bizarre complaint with some very strange assumptions. In which account, for instance, does Joseph claim that he went into the woods to pray solely because of a revival? He also mentions his birthplace in both the 1832 and 1838 versions. Should this be interpreted as a claim that he was seeking divine help because he was born in Vermont? Because he left out his birthplace in the 1835 and 1842 versions, should we then presume that he couldn’t really have been born in Vermont because this was not “reported the same in each account?”

You act as if these elements, all of which come into play at different times in the overall story, are all completely unrelated non sequiturs – in a previous version of your letter, you said they were “all over the map.” No, “all over the map” would be one version where Joseph prayed because he was dared to by Hyrum, and another where he prayed because he thought that it would help him find buried treasure, and yet another where he thought prayer was the only way to ward off elephants. (Another mention of elephants! Could it be mere coincidence?)

Your elements aren’t all over the map; they’re all part of the same map, or at least different maps covering the same territory. Revivals lead to Bible reading, which leads to a desire to know more about God, which leads to a conviction of sins, which leads to a desire to know which church to join to be forgiven. All steps on the same journey; all plot points on the same map. True, some accounts/maps don’t have all the same plots pointed in the other accounts/maps, but all the points are consistent across the accounts. The fact that different maps drawn at different times don’t look like photocopies of each other shouldn’t be surprising at all. Your map of the “lands of Joseph Smith’s youth” don’t have all the same points on them that other maps of the same territory do. Does that make either of those maps contradictory or fraudulent? Does it mean that Jacobsburg doesn’t really exist?

Who appears to him – a spirit, an angel, two angels, Jesus, many angels, the Father and the Son – are all over the place.

Nonsense. One account only explicitly mentions one personage, and another mentions as an afterthought that angels were there, too. That’s the sum total of any differences. Hardly all over the place.

The historical record shows that there was no revival in Palmyra in 1820. There was one in 1817 and there was another in 1824.

That may be why none of Joseph’s First Vision accounts mention a revival.

There are records from his brother, William Smith, and his mother Lucy Mack Smith, both stating that the family joined Presbyterianism after Alvin’s death in November 1823 despite Joseph Smith claiming in the official 1838 account that they joined in 1820; 3 years before Alvin Smith’s death.

You’ll have to provide links to such records, as I can find no sources that offer any date whatsoever as to when the Smiths became Presbyterians. Even Joseph is vague on this point –  the 1838 account only says that Joseph’s family were Presbyterians as of 1820, not that this was the year that they joined. In fact, Joseph’s statement to his mother right after the First Vision that he had learned for himself that Presbyterianism was not true would suggest that the Smith family’s Presbyterian affiliation preceded the First Vision.

Why did Joseph hold a Trinitarian view of the Godhead, as shown previously with the Book of Mormon, if he clearly saw that the Father and Son were separate embodied beings in the official First Vision?

He didn’t. As shown previously in my reply, the Book of Mormon does not demonstrate that Joseph Smith held a Trinitarian view of the Godhead.

Like the rock in the hat story, I did not know there were multiple First Vision accounts.

This implies that the Church must have been actively withholding this information from you, which is demonstrably false. It was readily available for anyone interested in the subject. If I could find it on my mission from an Ensign in the late 1980s, it wasn’t hard to find.

I did not know its contradictions or that the Church members didn’t know about a First Vision until 22 years after it supposedly happened.

They didn’t? Even though Joseph began writing about it 12 years after it happened, was having documented conversations about it with non-members 15 years after it happened, and wrote a lengthy history of it 18 years after it happened that was later canonized as scripture?

I was unaware of these omissions in the mission field as I was never taught or trained in the Missionary Training Center to teach investigators these facts.

Facts aren’t the issue; your assumptions are. The facts as you taught them in the mission field are consistently represented in all four of these accounts. Yet you assume that all four accounts need to be identical, or near identical, to be accurate. If I apply that standard to my own missionary journal and my blog, I would have to conclude that most of my mission probably didn’t happen.

And then we have your graphic:

FirstvisionAgain, sorry to be so dismissive, but this graphic is irredeemably stupid.

To begin with, you have been discussing four accounts of the First Vision, but only three of them are represented by this graphic, which ignores the 1842 account in the Wentworth Letter. Instead, we suddenly get a mention of “Joseph to Erastus Holmes” in 1835, a nine-world journal entry written five days after the previous version cited in the graphic where Joseph, in his journal, made a passing reference to the experience as his “first visitation of angels.” Apparently, even in an off-handed reference own journal, he had to describe every element of the vision in order to demonstrate that it had actually happened. Given that he had, in fact, recorded all those elements in his journal just five days earlier, the obvious explanation here is that he didn’t feel the need to repeat himself in such a terse entry. By that reasoning, every time Joseph would have mentioned the vision in conversation even in passing, he’d be contradicting himself.

This graphic also maintains that Joseph didn’t mention the Father or the Son in the Nov. 9 1835 account. Even though two personages appear and the second forgives his sins the way that “the Lord” did in the 1832 account, we’re to assume these were only “angelic beings” and not the Father and Son because Joseph didn’t specifically label them here as “Father” and “Son.” But in the same text, after describing the two personages, Joseph goes on to say “and I saw many angels in this vision” as an addendum. Wouldn’t that suggest that the two identified personages were something other than angels? Isn’t it Christ who forgives sins? This graphic is trying to manufacture a contradiction that doesn’t exist.

Perhaps the pettiest distinction made in this goofy graphic is that Joseph included mention of a pillar of “fire” in some versions, but a pillar of “light” in others. Both words appear in the 1832 version, but the word “fire” is crossed out, suggesting Joseph was uncertain as to which would be the better word to use. The 1838 account uses “light” and not “fire,” yet it describes the light as “above the brightness of the sun,” which, in scientific terms, means “pretty darn bright – fiery, even!”

This is a meaningless distinction. It’s a writer choosing between two very similar words, not conspiratorial evidence of fraud.

Tomorrow: The Book of Abraham

CES Reply: The First Vision (Part I)

First Vision Concerns & Questions: 

“Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.”
– Gordon B. Hinckley, The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith

I have sympathy for a number of your issues, as some of them I found troubling when I first learned about them, too. But for the life of me, I cannot empathize with any degree of concern about the different accounts of the First Vision. I don’t know when I discovered that there were different accounts, as the information was completely untroubling to me.

I think it may have been on my mission, because we repeatedly showed the movie “The First Vision,” complete with Joseph throwing a handful of seeds in the air, and the narration of the movie drew from both the 1838 account and the 1842 Wentworth Letter, and I wanted to know where the non-1838 language had come from. This was in a pre-Internet world, and I would only have had access to official church stuff. I found an article, probably in the Ensign, that compared the accounts, and my reaction was along the lines of, “Oh, okay. So that’s where that stuff came from.” It didn’t occur to me that I should find this the least bit troubling. (It may be the 1832 account wasn’t in that piece – that’s the only one with anything that could be taken as a significant contradiction with the other accounts. We’ll get to that when you do later in your letter.)

You’ve heard the standard apologetic line, I’m sure – i.e. Joseph was writing for different audiences and therefore emphasizing different elements of the same experience – but to drive this point home in a way that would feel less like a FAIR article, I wanted to personalize it a bit.

I’ve been writing a blog for almost nine years now – has it really been that long? Wow! – and I cover a wide variety of topics. The Church comes up, of course, as do politics and pop culture, along with esoterically weird topics like the identity of William Shakespeare. (I believe William Shakespeare was a pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Please don’t hold that against me.)

Yet over the course of almost a decade, on only one occasion on my blog have I recorded a “mission story” from beginning to end. I did it early in the blog’s history – the first week, in fact. The story is not one of earth-shaking significance. I just think it’s pretty funny, and, to me, it illustrates the daily sorts of absurdities that missionaries have to deal with, and it humanizes my mission experience in a way I find delightful. Yes, it’s light and silly, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve told it over the years in all kinds of settings – in many conversations, in Sunday School lessons, even from the pulpit. It makes for a great icebreaker before talking about truly spiritual things – a good joke to tell before you get into the meat of your talk.

So here’s the story, as I recorded it online on August 19, 2007, a little more than 18 years after these events take place:

_________

A Religious Treatise

A Sunday blog entry requires some deep religious treatise, which calls to mind my Mormon missionary days in the land of Scotland lo these many years ago. I was training a new missionary in the paradise known as Drumchapel, a Glasgow slum where a guy sold drugs out of his sweetie van and the nighttime sky was aglow with flames from burning cars in the middle of the street. Needless to say, it was a pretty rough area, and the church building was right in the worst part of town. Missionaries dreaded being assigned to “The Drum,” and the office had even changed the name of the area to “Milngavie” to soften the blow of being condemned to the gulag of the Scotland Edinburgh Mission. It turned out to be no worse than any other place in Scotland. No matter where I was, the omnipresent rain always soaked me to the bone as I knocked on doors for ten to twelve hours a day. It wasn’t really that cold, but I was always wet, so there was no way to truly keep warm.

One day, my companion and I were invited in to the home of a church member after a long day of slogging through the streets, and he let us sit next to his freshly-lit coal fire in the living room. It was fairly late in the day, and the stifling warmth of the room was intoxicating. It also made it next to impossible for me to keep my eyes open.

We sat and listened patiently as he rambled on and on about something or other, and my mind started to wander. He wasn’t expecting either of us to speak, which was a welcome relief, but I also started to panic as my eyelids started to droop, and once the drooping begins, there’s no way to snap back into full consciousness. There are some techniques that produce some positive results, like tightening your sphincter as hard as you can, but their effects are only temporary. I struggled valiantly to stay alert, but I knew it was a lost cause. I’m not sure if I nodded off completely, but at some point in the middle of the conversation, I felt it necessary to make the following announcement:

“I have a cousin with Down Syndrome.”

I said this apropos of nothing, interrupting the church member in mid-ramble. Everyone in the room stopped and looked at me, which startled me back into the real world. My companion was aghast. I was aghast. It was an entirely inappropriate thing to say, and I wasn’t, at the time, even sure if it was true.

But, on the plus side, at least I was wide awake.

_________

All right, story over.

It just so happens that I anal-retentively wrote in my missionary journal every single day of my mission. My father, at the time, was the president of the company that is now FranklinCovey, so of course I had one of those ubiquitous Franklin Day Planners, which was little more than a glorified page-length calendar in a leather binder. Every day from September 2, 1987 to September 21, 1989 has at least a page-length entry, and some are even longer. I kept a pretty meticulous record which could probably come in quite handy if someone needed to prosecute me for anything I did between late 1987 and late 1989.

So as I tried to think of a response to your First Vision concerns, I thought I’d dig through my journals, specifically the three months in early 1989 when I served my time in the Drum.  I thought it might be helpful to see how the 1989 Jim Bennett and 2007 Jim Bennett recorded the same event in different versions separated by a long period of time.

But here’s the problem: this didn’t make it into my missionary journal at all!

I was genuinely surprised by this. I checked and double-checked, but there’s no hint of the story anywhere. Given how much emphasis I had placed on this story since I’d come home, I couldn’t imagine that this wouldn’t have merited at least a single sentence along the lines of “Almost fell asleep in a member’s house today – yikes!” But as I read the journal, I realize that goofy 1989 Jim Bennett thought that what ought to be recorded more than anything else was his stupid feelings. There are a whole lot of entries where that dumb kid gives whole entries about “Woke up discouraged, but that just told me I needed to exercise more faith. I’m always happier when I trust in the Lord…” blah blah and blah.

I also spend a lot of time bearing my testimony to myself and way way WAY too much time mooning over the girl who dumped me right after I got home. All of that now is completely useless to me.  As I sat there and I read through it, only snippets of actual events pierced the emotional weather report, and, even then, they were usually just catalysts for more emotional navel gazing – “So and so seemed upset with me tonight at the fireside, and I felt intimidated and insecure…” I don’t care what you felt, you dork! What fireside? Why on earth would I waste my time writing about being intimidated and insecure? Why did I think I would want to look back on all my post-adolescent mood swings, all of which sound drearily the same as they’re recorded over the space of twenty-four months? Maybe this wouldn’t have been useful in a court of law after all.

But the absence of this story demonstrates my point. When I tell this story over two decades after it happened, I do so because it constitutes one of my most precious mission memories. But it was so unimportant to me at the time that I didn’t even bother to record it in my meticulous daily journal. Using your logic, you could easily make the case that the story must not have actually happened – if this was such a big deal to me, why is there no written record of it until 2007?

We’ll likely return to this as we move on through your First Vision objections.

2. No one – including Joseph Smith’s family members and the Saints – had ever heard about the First Vision for twelve to twenty-two years after it supposedly occurred. The first and earliest written account of the First Vision in Joseph Smith’s journal was written 12 years after the spring of 1820. There is absolutely no record of a First Vision prior to 1832.

There’s a clear logical fallacy at work here. Specifically, your first sentence in this paragraph is in no way proven by your second and third sentences. Even if 1832 constitutes the first time there’s any written record of the event, that doesn’t mean that no one had ever heard about the First Vision until Joseph finally took pen to paper twelve years after it happened. If all people know is what they have written down, then most of us don’t know anything at all.

So why would there be no written record of the First Vision until 1832? Joseph gives some clear clues on that score in the 1838 account, which is canonized scripture in the LDS Church.

Beginning with Verse 20 of Joseph Smith History from the Pearl of Great Price:

When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was.

Here it is –  the first opportunity for Joseph to unburden himself of this great secret, and to the person to whom he was closer than anyone else in in the world, the one person more likely than any other to believe his astonishing tale – and what does Joseph do?

I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.”

Reticence to share was his initial reaction, which is not at all surprising when we remember that we’re talking about 14-year-old kid here, one who has just experienced something overwhelmingly difficult to process. And events shortly thereafter would make him even more gun-shy about spreading the word.

He finally gets up the courage to tell a Methodist minister about the vision, and the minister blows him off “with great contempt” and makes him feel foolish for sharing it. He soon discovers that talking about the vision brings him nothing but trouble.

Verses 21 and 22:

I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.

So when bullies are mocking you for talking about seeing God, what do you do? You stop talking about it. Certainly your family stops talking about it. But that doesn’t stop others for making fun of you for it, which, according to Joseph, they did – and some of it even leaked over into records of the time.

There’s a tidbit from The Reflector, a Palmyra newspaper that mocked the Mormons in February of 1831 for claiming that “Smith (they affirmed), had seen God frequently and personally.” Other possible earlier references pop up, too, although they’re more obscure than that. And, really, 1831 is just a year before 1832, so this doesn’t really move the needle much closer to a contemporaneous version. Why didn’t Joseph write something down about it at a time closer to his experience? Where’s the 1821 or 1822 account?

When you ask the question that way, you start to realize how shaky your premise is. The First Vision doesn’t appear in any 1821 or 1822 writings of Joseph Smith because there are no 1821 or 1822 writings of Joseph Smith. Joseph was 15 and 16 in 1821 and 1822, respectively, and he was, by his own description, “an obscure boy… of no consequence in the world” who was “doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor.” He was uneducated and essentially illiterate. He didn’t write anything down because he wasn’t capable of writing.

But those who were mocking and persecuting him weren’t all illiterate. Why don’t we have any contemporaneous accounts from them? After all, don’t most people make note in their journals all the scorn they heap on obscure boys of no consequence in the world? (“Dear Diary: Went back and teased that no-good Joseph Smith again today because he claims to have seen the Father and the Son in a vision, which, as we all know, violates Trinitarian doctrine..”) Don’t newspapers always publish investigative reports of the crackpot theories put forward by teenage day laborers? (Dateline: Palmyra, where obscure 15-year old Joseph Smith, a boy of no consequence in the world, has still not recanted his deistic blasphemies…) It isn’t until 1831 when The Reflector decides to throw in a First Vision-flavored jibe in its list of grievous sins against the Mormons, and the casual way it’s included in a laundry list of Mormon offenses suggests that the charge is nothing new, as if maybe people have been talking about it for a long time.

From 1820 until 1827, when Joseph started making rumblings about golden plates, nobody anticipated that this worthless kid was going to found a major religious movement, so records about him vary between scarce and nonexistent. And prior to 1830, the only written items we have from Joseph are the revelations he received in connection to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. In 1830, he receives a revelation, now D&C Section 20, that there is to be a “record kept,” so that’s probably the first time he gets a sense that maybe he ought to be writing more stuff down.

That revelation also includes this nugget of info in verse 5:

After it was truly manifested unto this first elder[ i.e Joseph Smith] that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;

And when was was it “truly manifested unto” Joseph that he had received a remission of his sins? In the 1832 account, Joseph says this happened when the Lord appeared to him. Quoting Joseph from his 1832 account:

“I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee.”

That would make verse 5 an 1830 direct reference to the First Vision, which negates your contention that there are no references to the First Vision until 1832. The 1838 account actually corroborates the idea in verse 5 that after the vision, Joseph was “entangled again in the vanities of the world.” Rather than contradicting each other, the references and account of the First Vision are actually quite consistent, even though they don’t all reference the whole experience in every account.

So with an 1830 commandment to start keeping a record, Joseph begins the process of recording revelations, but he still doesn’t begin keeping a personal journal until 1832.  And what’s one of the first things he writes about when he begins his personal history? The First Vision. That seems like an entirely reasonable timeline for discussion of the event.

Consider, for instance, that not only were there no written accounts of Joseph’s First Vision prior to 1832, there were no written accounts of anything in Joseph’s personal history. In the 1832 journal entry that constitutes the first account of the First Vision, he also states that he “was born in the town of Charon [Sharon] in the State of vermont North America on the twenty third day of December AD 1805.” Near as I can tell, this is the first time Joseph wrote about the date and place of his birth, and he waited until more than 26 years after the event to do it. So, using your logic, we should therefore presume that no one – including Joseph Smith’s family members and the Saints – had ever heard about Joseph Smith’s birth until 26 years after it supposedly occurred.

Tomorrow: First Vision – Part II