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because the basic Egyptological work on Facsimile 3 has not been done, and much of the evidence lies neglected and unpublished in museums.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. 


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!)
CES Reply: The Abrahamic Finale

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