Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Answering Letter to A CES Director #7

[This portion of my response to the Letter to a CES Director was written by my friend Stephen O. Smoot, who is currently pursuing graduate studies in Egyptology]

The Letter to a CES Director is a monument to the follies of the Internet Age. Its author and proprietor, Jeremy Runnells, has accomplished little more than to uncritically rearrange a pastiche of Internet memes and damning but simplistic soundbites. The issues raised in the Letter to a CES Director (popularly called the CES Letter) are real enough, true. But Runnells both presents and addresses these concerns so ineptly and with such facile reductionism that it is difficult to find anything commendable in his treatment.

This is clearly evident in how Runnells discusses the controversy surrounding the Joseph Smith Papyri and the Book of Abraham. Having followed the debate very closely for almost a decade now, and having even contributed a few thoughts on the topic,[1] I can attest that what Hugh Nibley famously called “a great fuss . . . being made about a scrap of papyrus”[2] is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. It is a problem that crosses interdisciplinary boundaries and involves not only Egyptology, and its various branches, but also Mormon history and theology, textual criticism, archaeology of the ancient Near East, comparative literary analysis, and other disciplines. Nibley perfectly articulated the crux of the matter.

Consider for a moment the scope and complexity of the materials with which the student must cope if he would undertake a serious study of the Book of Abraham's authenticity. At the very least he must be thoroughly familiar with (1) the texts of the “Joseph Smith Papyri” identified as belonging to the Book of the Dead, (2) the content and nature of mysterious “Sen-sen” fragment, (3) the so-called “Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar” attributed to Joseph Smith, (4) statements by and about Joseph Smith concerning the nature of the Book of Abraham and its origin, (5) the original document of Facsimile 1 with its accompanying hieroglyphic inscriptions, (6) the text of the Book of Abraham itself in its various editions, (7) the three facsimiles as reproduced in various editions of the Pearl of Great Price, (8) Joseph Smith's explanation of the facsimiles, (9) the large and growing literature of ancient traditions and legends about Abraham in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Greek, Slavonic, etc., and (10) the studies and opinions of modern scholars on all aspects of the Book of Abraham.[3]

Suffice it to say that the treatment offered by Runnells does not nearly account for this complexity, and so readers are left either lacking important information that balances the matter at best or outright misled about the issue at worst.

Take the proposed reconstruction of the vignette in P. Joseph Smith I (Facsimile 1) offered by Runnells on page 24 of the CES Letter. Here Runnells contrasts Joseph Smith’s rendering of the vignette, which Runnells asserts is in error, with a reconstruction he claims is “based on Egyptology.” What Runnells doesn’t inform his readers, however, is that this reconstruction was proposed by an Egyptology grad student (Ed Ashment) in the 1970s.[4] Since then other Egyptologists, including at least one prominent non-Mormon Egyptologist, have disputed Ashment’s reconstruction.[5]

Then there is Runnells’ criticism of Joseph Smith’s explanations of the Facsimiles. Rather than contributing any original critical analysis (because, I am certain, Runnells is not capable of doing so) of this iconography, he lazily copies and pastes three memes from an anti-Mormon infographics website. What Runnells does not do, however, is provide any justification for his methodology. Indeed, he doesn’t even raise the question of which interpretative methodology should be used at all in approaching the Facsimiles. He merely assumes the methodology he employs without considering why he’s using it.

Why is this significant? Consider these remarks by one Egyptologist who has look carefully at this question:

We do not know to what we really should compare the facsimiles. Was Joseph Smith giving us an interpretation that ancient Egyptians would have held, or one that only a small group of priests interested in Abraham would have held, or one that a group of ancient Jews in Egypt would have held, or something another group altogether would have held, or was he giving us an interpretation we needed to receive for our spiritual benefit regardless of how any ancient groups would have seen these? We do not know. While I can make a pretty good case for the idea that some Egyptians could have viewed Facsimile 1 the way Joseph Smith presents it, I am not sure that is the methodology we should be employing. We just don’t know enough about what Joseph Smith was doing to be sure about any possible comparisons, or lack thereof.

Similar points have been raised by other scholars, which Runnells (of course) ignores.[6]

In a number of instances Runnells levels criticisms against the Book of Abraham that really say more about himself than they do about the authenticity of the text. Take, for instance, Runnells’ “disturbing fact” he uncovered about Figure 7 in Facsimile 2. “It’s actually Min, the pagan Egyptian god of fertility or sex,” Runnells explains (but only partially correctly). “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.”

Whether it’s my training in Egyptian art and religion or the fact that Game of Thrones has completely desensitized me from these things, for reasons I have explained on my blog this actually isn’t nearly as big a deal as Runnells makes it out to be, and, frankly, only reveals Runnells’ own discomfort with sexual imagery. 

Runnells’ sloppiness can also be seen in his totalizing claim that “nothing in each and every facsimile is correct to what Joseph Smith claimed they said.” This is simply not true. Off the top of my head I can think of Figure 9 in Facsimile 1, which Joseph Smith identified as “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh.” This finds striking vindication from an ancient Egyptian perspective.[7] So too does Joseph Smith’s identifying Figure 6 in Facsimile 2 as “represent[ing] this earth in its four quarters.”[8] And Joseph Smith’s identification of (presumably) the figure Osiris in Facsimiles 1 and 3 (Figures 2 and 1, respectively) as Abraham has tantalizing parallels to known syncretistic practices by ancient Jews and Egyptians.[9]

To be sure, several of Joseph Smith’s explanations in the facsimiles do not currently have support from a modern Egyptological perspective. But is this because Joseph simply botched the entire affair, as Runnells would have us believe, or because we are not asking the right methodological questions, or because of the limited nature of the available evidence? These are crucial questions that Runnells never raises. The fact that we have a few instances (the three above are not the only ones, by the way) where Joseph Smith got something, anything right should urge caution before we abandon confidence in the Prophet’s inspiration.

Continuing on, after dismissively waving away the Facsimiles, Runnells makes a number of assertions about the text of the Book of Abraham itself. For instance, he claims “the Book of Abraham teaches a Newtonian view of the universe,” and that this model of the cosmos has been “discredited by 20th century Einsteinian physics.” The only citation Runnells gives to bolster this claim is to an article written 30 years ago in a popular magazine.[10] Once again, though, Runnells is out of date with his scholarship, as subsequent researchers have disputed whether the Book of Abraham’s cosmology is even Newtonian at all.[11] In fact, I personally have argued that the cosmology of the Book of Abraham nicely fits an ancient Near Eastern context.[12]

But thinking more broadly, what Runnells fails to provide is any rationale for why the Book of Abraham needs to have a scientific cosmology in the first place. If it is indeed an ancient text, then why would we assume it must have a scientific cosmology at all? In fact, wouldn’t it be rather suspicious if a purported ancient text feature modern scientific concepts? These and other questions about what assumptions we should bring to the text go unaddressed by Runnells.

Other unaddressed assumptions by Runnells includes the significance of supposed anachronisms in the text of the Book of Abraham. Runnells specifically points to “Chaldeans,” “Pharaoh,” and “Egyptus” in the Book of Abraham as anachronisms. The significance of these specific purported anachronisms for the book’s historicity is debatable, and while they are challenging to the Book of Abraham’s historicity, in my estimation they are not fatal to it. I have a forthcoming article that touches on the presence of the Chaldeans in the Abraham narratives in Genesis and the Book of Abraham. (Suffice it to say for now that the matter is too complex for me to summarize in a few short sentences.) On the issue of “Pharaoh” in the Book of Abraham, it is important to note that while the Egyptian pr-ˁȝ (from whence we derive the word pharaoh; “great house”) appears to have come around as a widely-used title for the monarch during the New Kingdom, use of the term as a catch-all for the estate or government of the monarch, as well as “on rare occasions refer[ing] to the king himself,” is documented as early as the Old Kingdom.[13] Similarly, recalling that the Joseph Smith Papyri can be safely dated to the Ptolemaic period, Egyptus could plausibly be explained as a Greek-Ptolemaic gloss (Αἴγυπτος) on the name Zeptah (perhaps Egyptian sȝt ptḥ; “daughter of Ptah”), as it appears in the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Abraham.[14] "Or it could be Joseph Smith providing the gloss for his modern readers who were more familiar with the name Egypt (Egyptus) than the heretofore unknown Zeptah.

Besides all of this, there is, again, the larger issue to consider. The appearance of anachronisms in a text may indeed indicate pseudepigraphical authorship, or it may alternatively indicate a complex transmission history of the text. Which conclusion should we arrive at in this instance? Runnells merely asserts that we should consider the Book of Abraham as being pseudepigraphical. The specific anachronisms raised by Runnells, however, can just as easily be explained as the result of transmission glosses or scribal updating of the language of the text, a well-known phenomenon of ancient Near Eastern scribal culture, and something Joseph Smith himself was clearly not averse to doing.[15]

Other claims made by Runnells, such as the alleged influence of Thomas Dick on the worldview of the Book of Abraham, are likewise disputable.[16] So too is how Runnells describes what he thinks is the Church’s official position on the Book of Abraham.[17] His fallacious appeal to authority by perfunctorily citing a few statements critical of Joseph Smith made by turn of the century (!) Egyptologists is also unpersuasive.[18]

I could go on, but for now the picture should be clear enough. Runnells repeatedly exhibits the annoying habit of simply asserting something must be true, maybe citing an outdated source to back him up (if he’s feeling generous), and then moving along as if the issue has been definitively settled. This might make for good ideology or polemics, but it is not responsible scholarship.

I really can’t blame Runnells too much, though. As a product of the Internet Age, his CES Letter is marked by the worst of what happens when an unqualified amateur armed with Wikipedia and some memes thinks he or she can authoritatively weigh in on a complex issue with a few computer keystrokes (mostly Ctrl + c and Ctrl + v). If it’s any consolation to Runnells, he is not the only one guilty of this, as modern Internet culture broadly has fallen prey to this sort of unfortunate behavior.[19]

My own recommendation to the reader is thus to bypass Runnells’ shabby treatment of the Book of Abraham entirely and focus on the academic work pertaining thereto that has been produced by both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars for nearly half a century.

[1]: Stephen O. Smoot, “Council, Chaos, & Creation in the Book of Abraham,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 28–39, online here; Stephen O. Smoot and Quinten Barney, “The Book of the Dead as a Temple Text and the Implications for the Book of Abraham,” in The Temple: Ancient and Restored, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and Donald W. Parry, The Temple on Mount Zion 3 (Orem and Salt Lake City, UT: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2016), 183–209.

[2]: Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd ed., The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 16 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2005), xxv.

[3]: Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 2nd ed. The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 14 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2000), 154–155.

[4]: Edward H. Ashment, “The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Reappraisal,” Sunstone 4 (December 1979): 39, pl. 3, online here. Ashment’s reconstruction was made popular by the non-Egyptologist counter-cult author Charles M. Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri (Grand Rapids, MI: Institute for Religious Research, 1992). For reviews of Ashment and Larson, see Hugh Nibley, “The Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham: A Response,” Sunstone 49–51, online here; reproduced in Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 18 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2009), 493–501; John Gee, “A Tragedy of Errors,” FARMS Review 4, no. 1 (1992), 93–119, online here; Michael D. Rhodes, “The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture,” FARMS Review 4, no. 1 (1992), 120–126, online here.

[5]: See John Gee, “Abracadabra, Isaac and Jacob,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7, no. 1 (1995): 79–82; A Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 38; Lanny Bell, “The Ancient Egyptian ‘Books of Breathing,’ the Mormon ‘Book of Abraham,’ andthe Development of Egyptology in America,” in Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko upon his Retirement from the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University June 2005, ed. Stephen E. Thompson and Peter Der Manuelian (Providence, RI: Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies, Brown University, 2008), 25–30.

[6]: See for example Kevin L. Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, ed. John Gee and Brian M. Hauglid (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2005), 107–130, online here; John Gee, “A Method for Studying the Facsimiles,” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 347–53, online here.

[7]: Quinten Barney, “Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhet III,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 22–27, online here.

[8]: Michael D. Rhodes, “The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Seventeen Years Later,” FARMS Preliminary Reports (1994): 11; Hugh Nibley and Michael D. Rhodes, One Eternal Round, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 19 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2010), 299–304.

[9]: Barney, “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources,” 119–121.

[10]: Keith E. Norman, “Mormon Cosmology: Can it Survive the Big Bang?” Sunstone 53 (December 1985) 19–23, online here.

[11]: See John Gee, William J. Hamblin, and Daniel C. Peterson, “‘And I Saw the Stars’: The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, 1–16; Michael D. Rhodes and J. Ward Moody, “Astronomy and the Creation in the Book of Abraham,” in Astronomy, Papyrus, and Covenant, 17–36.

[12]: Stephen O. Smoot, “Council, Chaos, & Creation in the Book of Abraham,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22, no. 2 (2013): 28–39, online here.

[13]: Ogden Goelet, “The Nature of the Term pr-ˁȝ During the Old Kingdom,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 10 (1989/1990): 77–90, quote at 90.

[14]: Brent Lee Metcalfe, “The Curious Textual History of ‘Egyptus’ the Wife of Ham,” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 34, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2014): 1–11.

[15]: Joseph made multiple editorial redactions and glosses in subsequent editions of the Book of Mormon and printed revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, for example.

[16]: See the commentary offered by Edward T. Jones, The Theology of Thomas Dick and its Possible Relationship to that of Joseph Smith, Master's Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1969, online here; Erich Robert Paul, Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 89–92.

[17]: See my blog post “Admission and Omission: What Is the Church's Position on the Book of Abraham?” online here.

[18]: Concerning these earlier scholars, the non-Mormon Egyptologist John A. Wilson disapproved of their attitude as “several off-hand and hostile opinions” that were little more than “a lot of indignant snorts.” John A. Wilson, Thousands of Years: An Archaeologist’s Search for Ancient Egypt (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), 175–176. Klaus Baer, Hugh Nibley’s non-Mormon Egyptology professor, likewise felt the scholars quoted by Runnells “behaved like pompous asses with a claim to infallibility [and] restricted themselves to ill-considered snap judgments in dealing with Mormons that they never would have ventured to produce if there had been a risk of critical examination by their colleagues, evaded problems, and insisted that the layman accept their opinions without qualifications.” Klaus Baer to Jerald Tanner, 3 August 1968, as quoted in Boyd Jay Peterson, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2002), 322.

[19]: See the illuminating commentary recently offered by Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), esp. 105–133.


  1. Since all of your references are LDS, when will we see one Mormon archeologist publish a peer (meaning expert/scholar non-LDS) reviewed article In a non Mormon scientific journal stating that Joseph's translation of the Book Of Abraham was valid. Will it will ever happen? Do they fear they would lose their professional reputation if they did?

    1. Unknown,

      Leaving aside that you just committed a textbook example of the ad hominem fallacy (attacking the character or background of an author rather than his or her argument), I'd like to point out:

      1. I actually do cite non-Mormon sources, such as in footnotes 5, 13, 14, 18, and 19.

      2. The reason I cited so many Mormon sources is because it has been Mormon scholars writing in Mormon venues that has lead the scholarly investigation into the Book of Abraham.

      3. These Mormons scholars often draw from mainstream non-Mormon scholarship to bolster their arguments.

      4. I am writing to a Mormon audience, and so I provided citations to things my Mormon audience could easily access (such as links to the Maxwell Institute website).

      Additionally, I don't think you're aware of what peer review is, based on your comment, but that's an issue for another time.

      I will also point out that speculation about somebody's motives in the absence of very clear or even suggestive evidence is not very constructive.

    2. I can't believe you have the balls to moan about an ad hominem. What did you actually say in that article that proves the 'translation' of the papyri, or facsimiles, is accurate?

    3. Dr. Smoot,

      Mr. Runnells makes the mistake of trying to prove a negative. Why? because "We just don't know enough" and history has significant limitations. It is very easy to defend anything when "we just don't know enough". It is not hard to find possibilities and even the answers we want to find. Our human brain evolved to find patterns, and sometimes we are too good at that.

      There are geologists that defend a young earth, there are engineers that defend 9/11 conspiracy theories, there are anthropologists that defend Bigfoot, there are historians that defend the Holocaust denial, there are ancient historians that (Richard Carrier) defend mythicism.

      Have you read about cognitive biases and the law of truly large numbers? I ask because I honestly don't see any value in finding possibilities to defend the Book of Abraham.

    4. Huh? How was Unknown's comment ad hominem? He did not attack your character or background at all, but questioned whether non-Mormon scholars would be used in support of the Book of Abraham. You, however, responded with a smug attitude of condescension and arrogantly criticized his intelligence and awareness. See, now THAT was more like ad hominem. :)

  2. When will we see all of these Mormon archeologists/Egyptologists/Scientists publish a peer reviewed article (reviewed by non-Mormons and therefore somewhat less biased) in a non-Mormon Egyptology scientific journal stating and defending that Joseph's translation of the Book Of Abraham was valid? Will it ever happen? I've yet to find one, anywhere in the literature. Are they afraid they would lose their professional reputation if they did? I don't understand why, if there is such good evidence, that this hasn't happened. As you say in the header, a wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. A real wise man proportions his belief to real evidence.

    1. Curiouser Than George,

      See my reply to Unknown above.

      I will mention, since you seem concerned about this, that it has overwhelmingly been the trend that both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars, when writing on the Book of Abraham, publish in Mormon venues. I can think of only a handful of exceptions to this trend since at least the 1960s.

      The reason for this is most likely because the non-Mormon academic world doesn't really care enough about the controversy surrounding the Book of Abraham to devote time, mental energy, and journal space to items addressing said controversy.

      At least that's my suspicion based on my experience in and view of the field.

  3. "My own recommendation to the reader is thus to bypass Runnells’ shabby treatment of the Book of Abraham entirely and focus on the academic work pertaining thereto that has been produced by both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars for nearly half a century."

    What do you think about Dr. Robert Ritner's (Professor of Egyptology in the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) "A Response to “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham”?


    1. Hi Greg,

      I think Professor Ritner raised some valid points in his response to the Gospel Topics essays, but also made some arguments that I disagree with.


  4. Stephen,

    On what basis does Kerry Muhlestein's assert that, "We do not know to what we really should compare the facsimiles"? In what realm does figure 7 of facsimile 2 (which the Egyptologists tell us is Min, an ithyphallic Egyptian god) represent the God of Abraham?

    The top of your page quotes David Hume's declaration that, "A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence." What evidence is there that there is a God-inspired basis for Joseph's interpretation of the facsimiles? Since the writing in the facsimiles is Egyptian, wouldn't a wise man believe we should compare the facsimiles to the understanding of third party Egyptologists?


    1. Zack,

      This is an interesting question that gets at the nature of religious syncretism in the ancient world.

      It is a widely attested fact that the ancients, living in their "polytheistic" world, freely syncretized various deities into either new hybrid forms of the deity, or appropriated the epithets and attributes of one deity and used them in talking about another.

      The Egyptians often did this, including with non-Egyptian (Semitic) deities. (Think of how Anat and Resheph found their way into Egyptian religion after the incoming of the Hyksos, etc.)

      In the case of the figure of Min-Amun (probably) in the hypocephalus, it's striking to me that Min shares many of the same traits as the Semitic deity El (the same deity worshipped by Abraham according to the Genesis narratives). This includes characteristics of fertility and virility, etc.

      It is also striking to me that Min (who is depicted in stark anthropomorphic imagery) finds resonance with Mormon conceptions of deity. I don't really care how shocked or outraged this might make pious sectarian critics (or Runnells, apparently).

      So in what realm might Min be identified as the God of Abraham? I can think of at least two syncretic realms where this might work.

      "Since the writing in the facsimiles is Egyptian, wouldn't a wise man believe we should compare the facsimiles to the understanding of third party Egyptologists?"

      Actually, this sort of thing is precisely what I am skeptical of, for reasons shared by John Gee as cited in footnote 6.

      Who in your estimation would be this "third party"? Do you think it would be possible to find somebody objective enough to give Joseph Smith an unbiased and impartial day in court? Franklin Spaulding thought so back in 1912, but I am personally very doubtful of such.

    2. Also, Zack, just to be clear, this is not my blog. This is my friend Tarik's blog. My blog can be found here: http://www.plonialmonimormon.com/

    3. Stephen,

      Thanks for responding. I realized it was Tarik's blog, but thought it appropriate to ask you the questions since he said it was written by you.

      So it seems reasonable to you that Abraham syncretized some other gods of the time or appropriated characteristics of some of these to represent God, correct? Can you give any other example of a believer in the God of Abraham using a symbol of an ithyphallic god to represent "the God of Abraham"?

      What do you mean by "Min . . . finds resonance with Mormon conceptions of deity"? When I first read this, I think I misunderstood it. Is this reiterating the characteristics they share in common that you mentioned before?

      You mentioned lack of concern that some are shocked by the erect phallus as part of a representation your God. Am I remembering correctly that the Church even removed the phallus from one edition of the Pearl of Great Price? If so, it seems it's not just the pious sectarian critics or Runnells that were put off by this (unless you have a more reasonable explanation for the removal?). I haven't explained the secular interpretation of this symbol to my devout Mormon wife, precisely because I'm very certain she would be shocked by it. I highly doubt the bishop of the ward I live in would like any devout LDS member to give an explanation of this to the ward as a whole or event to just all the adults. I'm pretty sure they'd find it quite shocking. But, I guess we'll have to disagree on that one; I'm not broaching the subject with my wife or her bishop.

      You've asked who that "third party" would be that I was referring to. I think I was a little too vague in my question. I asked "Since the writing in the facsimiles is Egyptian, wouldn't a wise man believe we should compare the facsimiles to the understanding of third party Egyptologists?" More specifically, wouldn't it be most parsimonious to compare the facsimilies to interpretations of these symbols as provided by Egyptologists who have interpreted the same symbols from other texts having nothing to do with the Book of Abraham papyri? If these symbols have been credibly interpreted by Egyptologists in settings having nothing to do with the Book of Abraham, wouldn't these interpretations be a natural place to compare? Why would we think there is something better to compare them to? Maybe you could give an example of a text written in one language where it is actually more viable, accurate, or appropriate to compare it to something other than credible interpretations of the language it was written in.

      For example, you indicated that "Figure 9 in Facsimile 1, which Joseph Smith identified as “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh.” This finds striking vindication from an ancient Egyptian perspective." To what is this compared to determine there was "striking vindication"?

      Again, thanks for your earlier response. If you think Tarik might better respond to any of this, I understand.

      Thank you,

    4. Stephen,

      I just noticed that you did not address this question:
      "What evidence is there that there is a God-inspired basis for Joseph's interpretation of the facsimiles?"

      Any thoughts on that?


  5. Stephen,

    It is quite humorous to read how degrading you are of Runnells character, when you are clearly a believing member and defender of a religion who claims to have a foundation of "...love(ing) thy neighbour as thy self". The incredibly arrogant tone of this article is expected, but nonetheless humorous.

    You have proven yourself to be an intellect, who has a specialized education on this subject of Egyptology and how it relates to the Book of Abraham. I am curious, however, if you have run this apologetic piece along with the rest of your beliefs by your professors at University of Toronto? I would love to know their feelings on the subject, and the LDS religion as a whole (sincerely, I would).

    Jeremy doesn't claim to be a historian, but does a great job of presenting the issues at hand. Yes, his methodology is clearly rudimentary, but at no time does he profess to be a scholar. The CES letter is a great starting point for those interested in researching the truth claims of LDS faith, but by no means an end point. Have you taken the time to read Jeremy's Debunking FairMormon's Debunking? This piece is significantly superior to the original CES letter. Have you taken the time to research all of the other problematic truth claims of the LDS church? If not, I encourage you to do so. With your demonstrated intelligence, and critical thinking ability, I am confident you will encounter information that will lead you to analyze and dissect your personal faith, and the foundation it is built upon.

    As far as the Book of Abraham goes, can you please explain to me these contradictions:

    The Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham Essay on LDS.org states:
    "NONE OF THE CHARACTERS on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham"

    "JOSEPH'S TRANSLATION WAS NOT A LITERAL RENDERING OF THE PAPYRI AS A CONVENTIONAL TRANSLATION WOULD BE. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, EVEN IF THAT REVELATION DID NOT CORRELATE TO THE CHARACTERS ON THE PAPYRI."

    The Book of Abraham summary in the Pearl of Great Price states:
    "A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, WRITTEN UPON HIS OWN HAND, UPON PAPYRUS."

    Can you please explain this contradiction? With my current logic, I am confused as to how the LDS church can state that the Book of Abraham can both be "..written upon his own hand, upon papyrus", while simultaneously not be a "literal rendering", and "not correlate to the characters on the papyri". I hope you can understand the mental gymnastics such reasoning takes for LDS members who lack a PHD in Egyptology (as well as for the vast majority of non-LDS Egyptologists). Looking forward to your response.

  6. > The Letter to a CES Director is a monument to the follies of the Internet Age.

    That doesn't sound unbiased at all.

    Better use of my time though: why are you completely ignoring http://cesletter.com/debunking-fairmormon/ ?

  7. Smoot "Runnells repeatedly exhibits the annoying habit of simply asserting something must be true, maybe citing an outdated source to back him up (if he’s feeling generous), and then moving along as if the issue has been definitively settled. This might make for good ideology or polemics, but it is not responsible scholarship."

    Runnels wasn't writing an academic paper nor did he present it as scholarship. Your argument here is meaningless.

    And if you intend to dispute the scholastic qualities of papers in your academic future, may I suggest you leave out the personal attacks. They call into question your professionalism and add nothing to your argument.

  8. You ask the right questions, Zack, and your proposed method is a good one -- the method I use in my "Brief Assessment of the LDS Book of Abraham,” version 8 online August 18, 2014, at http://www.scribd.com/doc/118810727/A-Brief-Assessment-of-the-LDS-Book-of-Abraham .