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Phelps Role in Book of Abraham Civil War (Part 7 of 8)

W.W. Phelps assisted with the translation of the Book of Abraham.  Amongst believing scholars, there is a bit of a civil war over the Book of Abraham, and Phelps plays a role in that dispute.  Dr. Bruce Van Orden will discuss why believing scholars disagree.

GT:  I know we talked a little bit about the Civil War. It seems like there’s kind of the Kerry Muhlestein/John Gee camp that basically say there’s some missing papyrus and that’s the real Book of Abraham.

Bruce:  I would say the Kerry Muhlestein is not quite as firm on that. He says it’s a possibility. John Gee is really strong on the fact that they’re probably–he’s not 100% sure, either. But, John Gee does believe that there were other papyri.

GT:  Okay. Then, you have kind of the more Robin Jensen/Dan Vogel/Brian Hauglid that are kind of more of the catalyst theory, is that fair?

Bruce:  Hauglid and Robin Jensen, yes, I’m with them. Dan Vogel, of course, believes that Joseph Smith was not a prophet in the first place. [Vogel doesn’t believe this was] really from God, but [Joseph] concocted this based on what he thought he was coming up with Egyptian alphabet and so forth.

GT:  So, as far as the Egyptian alphabet, because I think that there’s a big issue on the timeline there. If I remember right, and correct me if I’m wrong, Muhlestein and Gee basically say, these Egyptian characters were just like an outline, and that’s not really a translation.

Bruce:. That’s what they believe. I actually agree with them.

GT:  Oh, you do?

Bruce:  On that, that the Joseph Smith dictated the verbiage that’s more or less in the Book of Abraham, now. I believe it came from God. It was inspired. I don’t say that every word was written by Abraham, ever. But I believe it’s inspired writing and the Egyptian alphabet was more of a side project. I do. I agree with that.

GT:  Okay, because I think Vogel says, “No, this is the Egyptian character, and this is supposed to be the translation.”

Bruce:  Except, it really isn’t, except for what he thinks is in Abraham 1:1-3. I think that Phelps put that in there. I think he [Phelps] thought it was that. I don’t think that Joseph Smith thought that was. We don’t know.

GT:  Yeah.

Bruce:  But that’s only three verses.

GT:  So you think the first three verses of the Book of Abraham are Phelps translation.

Bruce:  It’s in his handwriting. I don’t think it’s necessarily Phelps translation. But once it was put in there, I feel that he thought that this project that he was working on, then that Joseph Smith may have participated into a certain extent, the Egyptian alphabet was different from the translation experience, I think. Then, Phelps superimposed what he thought was from the Egyptian figures, hieroglyphics, to those first three verses. We don’t have any other evidence that there’s a connection, specifically.

What are your thoughts on the Book of Abraham translation and the civil war among believing scholars?  Check out our conversation….

There is a civil war among believing scholars over the Book of Abraham.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Bruce!

566: Phelps Role at Times & Seasons

565: Danites in Missouri

564: Mormon-Missouri War of 1838

563: Cleaning House in Kirtland: Phelps vs Marsh

562: Were Phelps Missouri Troubles Self-Inflicted?

561:  Jailed Before Joined

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Racism in Mormon Scripture (Part 5 of 7)

LDS Scriptures are unique in the fact that these scriptures have been used to enforce the priesthood and temple ban on black members.  Dr. Newell Bringhurst and Dr. Matt Harris weigh in on these scriptures and how the Race and Priesthood essay fails to address these issues.

Newell  1:43:35  I was going to say just a couple of general observations about the Race and Priesthood Essay. As Matt has very effectively pointed out, the inherent aspects of Mormon racism as articulated in Mormon scripture, is nowhere even mentioned or discussed in the Race and Priesthood Essay. I mean, the whole underpinning is Brigham Young being influenced by the racism within the larger American society. To some extent, Lester Bush was making a similar case in his seminal essay, that was published in Dialogue in 1973. He made a deliberate effort, because he was a believing Latter-day Saint, believing in the veracity of Mormon scriptures and Mormon scriptural writings. They had both the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, the Book of Abraham, the Book of Moses and I thought that was one of the major failings both of Lester Bush’s initial study and carried over in the Race and Priesthood Essay itself.

Newell:  A failure to acknowledge, that at the root of Mormon theological writings, was this belief that dark-skinned people, be they blacks, be they [American] Indians, were divinely cursed with a dark skin. That has, likewise, been reflected in the volume of Saints [Volume 2] that I went through. I thought one of the weakest parts of that volume was the way it handled the issue of blacks and the priesthood. It was standing in sharp contrast to the way it handled polygamy, which was more frank and much more open.  I was really disappointed with the way that Saints handled the issue. It’s almost like an echo of the omission that’s in the Gospel Topics Essays.

Matt:  I want to make one last point about the scriptures and race, and that is that the Book of Mormon–the scriptures don’t talk about Black people really. It’s interpreting these scriptures. They read blackness into some of these curses. I think that’s an important point to make. The other point is, the Book of Mormon, of course, talks about Lamanites, or Native Americans. So, when people talk about curses in the Book of Mormon, they’re talking about Lamanites, and so forth. But the point I want to make is that Black Latter-day Saints, when they read the Book of Mormon, when they’re in the process of conversion, for example, or even after they’ve been baptized, they read these Lamanite curses, and they wonder, “As a black man, how does this apply to me?” It’s really, really a tough issue for the Church to deal with. Because these racial tropes are all over, especially the Book of Mormon, when you get this racial fluidity. So, it’s a really challenging thing for the Church. Because really, if you were to rewrite these verses, I mean, you’re going to end up taking a pretty significant chunk of scripture out of the Book of Mormon. So it’s really a tough situation.

Matt:  So I want to acknowledge that in the Race and Priesthood Essay, I don’t know what the answers would be, I’m not sure how you would even explain these away, because it’s a real thing when you look at what the verses say, and how the leaders interpret them. There are some apologists for the church that just contort themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of these curses. It just means your spiritual soul, or it means animal skins, or any number of bizarre things. Really, when you look at what some, not all, but what some of the brethren are saying in private about these verses, it’s very clear that they think there’s going to be a literal transformation of skin change. Also, it’s very clear that in the 1950s and 60s, Latter-day Saints interpreted it as such.

Matt:  Let me give you just one example. At BYU in 1969, there were a couple of students that were doing some research for an English research paper. They did a survey in which they asked both faculty, students and people in their local wards about dark skin turning white. Overwhelmingly, these two students who did the two surveys, said that the majority of the people they surveyed thought that there was going to be a literal skin change from negros, as they put it in those days, to white people. It was pretty darn clear. One of the people doing the interview, after they compiled the data, he said, “This is what they said, but I’m not really quite sure how that works.” I mean, he’s musing about skin color changing.

What are your thoughts about how Mormon scripture has been used with regards to race?  Check out our conversation….

The Gospel Topics essay on race and priesthood ignores problematic Mormon scriptures dealing with race.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Matt & Newell!

456: Pros & Cons of Race Essay

455: Critiquing Polygamy Essays & Sources

454: Are Gospel Essays Hidden or Public?

453: Swedish Rescue & Gospel Topics Essays

 

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Critiquing Book of Abraham Apologetics (Part 9 of 9)

Historian Dan Vogel will conclude his discussion on the Book of Abraham.  He will tell why he thinks some apologetic arguments about the Book of Abraham just aren’t valid.

Dan: [Hugh] Nibley tried to say, and the current apologists repeat it, that, “Oh, these characters in the column is just an exotic way of organizing all three documents, so that they know where to go to each paragraph, that’s the same.” The problem with that is that they really don’t begin each paragraph. They begin each part of the translation.

When you look really close, it’s not a paragraph where each character appears. Sometimes the paragraphs are split right in the middle of a sentence and another character, or there’s a fragment of a sentence, just about five words to a character. So they’re dividing the text up to line up with the characters. They’re not arbitrarily put in there for decoration or an exotic way of organizing the paragraphs. It’s very obvious. At the top of the third translation of the Book of Abraham, the one that has three verses in the handwriting of W. W. Phelps. At the top says, “Translation of records have been found in the catacombs of Egypt.” And in the other column “character.” Then Phelps takes the first character and numbers it one, the second character he numbers it two. Then over here he underlines, Chaldea one. Abraham two.

Then there’s a third character he wrote, which is a real elaborate one that is dissected in the alphabet. But it doesn’t number it, because it has a lot of parts. The other two just have one part. This one has a lot of parts. You read all over the place trying to match it up. But the translation next to it, if you look in the grammar, and you find that character, that’s the translation given that character.

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Historian Dan Vogel critiques various apologetic arguments on the Book of Abraham.

Check out our other conversations!

294: Lost Book of Abraham?

293: How We Got Book of Abraham

292: First Vision Conflicts

291: 1835 Account of First Vision

290: Making a Case for Melchizedek Priesthood in 1831?

289: Methodist Visions

288: Why “Pious Fraud” Ticks off Everyone

287: Dan Vogel Was a McConkie Mormon!