Dealing with Book of Abraham Issues: Michael Ash on YouTube

LDS scholar Michael Ash, author of the Shaken Faith Syndrome, presented a lecture on the Book of Abraham that is captured here in four parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). Some heavy stuff, but helpful.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

21 thoughts on “Dealing with Book of Abraham Issues: Michael Ash on YouTube

  1. Ai, yi, yi. It’s all so convoluted, it makes my head spin. I’m glad I have a testimony of Joseph Smith Jr as a prophet.

  2. So, basically he’s saying that it’s a mistake to view the papyrus Joseph used as documents penned directly by Abraham himself. But rather as Jewish documents penned in Egyptian at a much later date.

    Did I get that right?

  3. Seth:

    What I take from it is:

    1. They’re copies, not originals from Abraham’s day. That’s totally acceptable to me. I don’t think there are any originals of the Bible (neither OT nor NT) extant either. We don’t have the original BoM plates, nor the entire original English BoM manuscript either. (I think the CoC has the printer’s manuscript, and the original manuscript had a good percentage destroyed when it was encased in a metal box in the cornerstone of one of the temples, and the box leaked.)

    2. The papyrus that Joseph translated and identified as the Book of Abraham is not among the existing papyri. It was possibly destroyed in the fire in Chicago.

    3. Some critics of the church have pointed to the existing papyri and say “Aha! Experts have translated all these and none match up with the Book of Abraham.” Well, duh. See #2.

    4. Additionally there was a long break in the chain of custody, and the documentation thereof. We don’t know for a fact that all the papyri in Joseph’s posession survived. We don’t know that the existing “set” is the “complete” set. In fact, there are clues that this is an incomplete set. (Jeff’s apologetics page in re the Book of Abraham goes into more detail along these lines.)

    5. It looks like some people, even if they did it innocently and unwittingly, did a little switcheroo with the graphics. Taking the graphic that corresponds to what we believe is the Book of Abraham, and inserting it into a papyrus that contains the funerary text.

    6. Dealing with that time frame, I think it more correct to say “Hebrew” or “Israelite” than “Jewish”. The Jews were just one of the tribes.

  4. Re #5 in Bookslinger’s list:

    I’m not an expert in all of this but I’ve heard BYU Prof. Michael Rhodes say that was quite common for the Egyptians to use a single figure (like Facsimile 1) for multiple purposes. The Book of Abraham text refers to Facsimile 1 specifically, but that doesn’t preclude the use of Facsimile 1 for other purposes by whoever prepared the rest of the papyrus.

  5. HI All,

    Not to be rude here, or to come across as an anti, but doesn’t it concern any of you that you have to do so much explaining when you’re referring to the Book of Abraham. It seems to me, that if you have to go through all these covolutions just to defend this book, that maybe there’s a problem here.

    For example, the suggestion made is that its a mistake to view the papyrus JS used as directly penned by Abraham, but instead should be viewed as Jewish documents penned in Egyptian. This is the first time I’ve heard that suggestion, but it seems problematic in that its a reversal of the position your church has taken on these writings for the last 150 years. Its like saying, we said this, but we meant that when we said it.

    From a common sense perspective, it seems that if you have to make this much effort to defendthis book, then maybe there are veracity problems with the book. Just my two cents, take it for what its worth.


    Catholic Defender

  6. Catholic Defender,

    That position would work… if I did not already find the book so powerful and compelling IN CONTENT. It’s a powerful piece of scripture for me. When I read it, it reveals God to me.

    Next to that personal fact, questions about origin, and Joseph’s character are decidedly of secondary importance.

  7. How is it that JS’s character and the origins of the Book of Abraham, and the BOM are not relevant inquiries. These are the crux of the matter. If JS isn’t credible, then everything that he wrote about the origins of the BOM, and everything he said he was told by God is rendered suspect. Seems to me his character is at the heart of the matter. Either he’s telling the truth, and you have a prophet, or he isn’t and you have false doctrine. In either case though, JS’s character is relevant.

    Catholic Defender

  8. It’s not that Joseph Smith’s character is irrelevant. For me at least, the content of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham becomes a powerful witness of Joseph’s good character—the fruits of his prophetic calling—and this witness changes how I see all the other details.

  9. I believe that Joseph told the truth and that he was an admirable person when all is said and done.

    That said, even if you could prove to me that he was not, it would not make much difference to my belief in the scripture he revealed.

    Even if you could prove that the text he had in his possession had nothing at all to do with the scripture he revealed, that still not enough for me to reject the scripture itself.

    There is a long and grand tradition in human cultures of God using the insane to speak to us, for example.

    Just claiming that Joseph was generally a “fibber” is not enough to keep me from examining what he wrote solely on its own merits.

    Address the text – not the man.

    The man is irrelevant. It is what he produced that counts.

  10. CD:

    Point #1: No, Mormons aren’t getting convoluted, it’s the anti’s who got all convoluted by twisting the facts involved in the BoA papyri. The LDS apologists are responding to the accusations. So if someone makes a real convoluted accusation, it takes a lot of unraveling to get it straightened out.

    Point #2: I don’t think JS ever said the papyri documents were originals. So I don’t think there’s any reversal there. Same thing with the first five books of the Bible that Moses wrote, Moses’ originals likely disintegrated long long ago. In fact, Moses likely summarized from previous documents handed down to him. How did Moses know what happened from Adam down to Jacob? Was it all by revelation, or did he have source documents?

    You’re using real circular logic here. All it would take is to get real convoluted in accusations, then, when the defenders respond point by point, accuse them of being convoluted. Well, either circular or hypocritical.

    The bottom line is that the papyrus that got translated as the Book of Abraham has either been lost or destroyed since JS’ day. Although most of that group of papyri survived, if you’ll go read Jeff’s other BoA pages, you’ll see that there’s evidence that it’s not a complete set.

    As to JS’s character, was he ever _convicted_ any of the umpteen times he was dragged to court on false charges? But the people who accused him have been proven false so many times, that JS comes out as a paragon of virtue, even on that score alone

  11. Uh, yes, Joseph Smith was convicted of “glass-looking,” in 1826. He was released on the condition he leave the area.

    I don’t believe any other charge reached a successful trial. Certainly his arrest at the end of his life for destruction of property (i.e. William Law’s printing press) never reached trial. I would’ve been surprised had he not been convicted, however; the evidence was against him.

  12. Actually Mel, the New York court documents you are referring to have no actual conviction in there. All they say is that he was arraigned for trial. That’s it. No conviction.

    And as I said earlier, I don’t really give a flying fig one way or the other.

  13. Catholic Defender,

    Thanks for posting, we appreciate civil disagreements.

    You have suggested that the mere fact that certain apologetic explanations are long and complicated render the issue suspect.

    I submit to you that Catholicism suffers equally in that regard. The notable Catholic apologist Karl Keating has said, speaking of attacks on Catholicism:

    “It must be admitted they enjoy a certain tactical (if short-term) advantage in that they can get away with presenting bare-bones claims such as these; they wear out Catholicism’s defenders by inundating them with short remarks that demand long explanations.”
    Keating (1988): 75.

  14. CD:

    I just want to say thank you for your always careful and thought out comments. You are always respectful of our views even though you obviously don’t agree with some of them. I grow tired of reading mindless regurgitations of mulled over twists and lies spat out by some people I know who have left the church and who oppose it. Thanks for always being civil and for bringing up good points that make us all really think about the issues at hand.

  15. what is the reference to the supposed quotation where Joseph claims that the papyri were in Abraham’s own hand writing?

  16. CD –

    I too would like to thank you for your respectful manner in which you asked your questions.

    In short, I believe that because there is no official or revelatory position of the Church of the nature of the papyri or its age, we are free to speculate and come up with out own individual ideas based on other means such as scholarship. And the scholarship does seem to show that the papyri date long after Abraham’s time.

    Now, even if Joseph Smith did think that the papyri were autographs of Abraham, I do not see this as any sort of undermining of the Prophet’s credibility. He, as a human being, is free for his own speculation, ideas and thoughts on these issues, even as a Prophet. And maybe he was mistaken. So what? The Prophet Joseph never claimed infallibility, in fact the quite opposite (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 368). So I really see this as a non issue.

    Now, some might think that these answers are convoluted, but others, such as myself, see them as necessary. Remember that Mike Ash is presenting this information to a general audience with varying degrees of familiarity of the issues, not a group of experts like John Gee or Michael Rhodes or Brain Hauglid. Therefore, he has to go into detail.

    I think that the quote by Keating posted earlier is very apropos. Sometimes these short questions like “Why did Joseph Smith blow it with the Book of Abraham?” require long answers because of the nature of the debate.

  17. Good Morning All,

    Thank you for the compliment. I generally have diplomacy problems, and often say what I think, without thinking about what I’m saying. As a result, I tend to offend without intending to offend.

    Steve said “Now, even if Joseph Smith did think that the papyri were autographs of Abraham, I do not see this as any sort of undermining of the Prophet’s credibility.” Also, you pointed out that JS never claimed infallibility. While its true that JS never claimed infallibility, he did claim to be a prophet, and that he was accurately translating the Word of God. Herein lies the problem that I see.

    If JS is a prophet, and he is accurately translating what he is being told is the gospel of the Lord, then claims that he is working from the actual papyri go directly to his credibility. For example, JS claims to have translated the BOM from the original golden plates. He tells everyone that he had those plates, translated them, and then they were taken from him. Correct me if I’m wrong here, because I may not have this completely accurate. In any event, in JS is asking folks to believe that he translated the BOM from those plates, sight unseen. Now, he also asks folks to pray about it and let the Holy Spirit testify of the truthfulness of the gospel. The problem is, if JS’s credibility is compromised, and you don’t believe that he is telling the truth about translating those original plates, then you don’t go to step two, which is praying about it. That takes you back to the Book of Abraham (BOA).

    If JS claims that the BOA is penned from the original text, and it is not, then he has made an inaccurate statement. Whether an intentional misleading statement, or an innocent inaccuracy, the claim of translating from the original text becomes an untrue claim in this scenario. That effects JS’s credibility. And if he’s not credible, then you don’t get to step two, praying about the BOM.

    That actually is one of the problems I have with your church. There are others, but JS’s credibility is compromised to me because there is so much explaining that has to be done about his actions, including statements about translating the BOA.

    For example, someone brought up the charges in New York in 1826. I’ve done some research on those, and what I’ve found is that there’s no accurate record of what happened. Unfortunately our early courts didn’t keep copious notes. Some sources say JS was convicted, some say JS was acquitted, some say it never happened, and some say the charges were dropped before it went to trial. Bottomline is no one really knows what happened, other than there seems to be some truth to the idea that JS was suspected of some type of fraudulent activity. But the fact that he may have been charged with some type of fraud adds to his credibility problems. I’ll likely expand more on that when I have more time, I have to get back to work.

    Catholic Defender

  18. CD: I don’t think JS ever claimed that the BoA papyrus was an _original_. As far as I know, the question of original versus copy (of a copy of a copy, etc) never came up back then.

    As to the BoM plates, 11 witnesses did claim to have seen them, 8 of those 11 actually handled them, and none of the 11 ever recanted that testimony, even those who had a falling out with Joseph.

    When I was converted to Christianity in an evangelical type church in 1972, and accepted Christ as the Savior as part of that conversion, the preacher(s) there never used physical evidences of a historical or archealogical nature, nor did they use arguments based on historical or archaelogical analyses (I think that’s the plural) performed by others.

    No research of any historical or archealogical evidence was asked of the converts or of people who were considering converting to Christianity, and considering accepting Christ as the Savior and as the Son of God.

    None of them said that I was supposed to trust Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, James, etc due to archealogical evidences. None of them said anything like “hey, trust me, I’ve studied this out, and I know based on all the historical and archaeloogical evidence that Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, Peter, Paul, etc, are right.”

    That’s just not part of the preaching and conversion process of any Christian religion that I know of.

    Even then, the preachers suggested sincerely praying the sinners prayer or sincerely _asking_ Christ “into your heart” and seeing what happens.

    I didn’t pray exactly that, but I prayed. And, I got an answer! I had a spiritual experience that I treasure to this day.

    Fast forward 10 years, and I investigated the Mormons. The missionaries also didn’t use scholarly or historical or archealogical arguments.

    They said, basically, “Read this, 3 Nephi Chapters 11 – 26. Read Moroni 10:4-5. Then _pray_ to know if it’s true. And, as before, I KNEW that God could answer prayer, so I prayed to know if it was true. No research or advanced degrees in archealogy or history were needed, just like in my old evangelical church.

    And, as before, God answered my prayer.

    So, when atheists come along and use sophisticated arguments to try to “undo” my 1972 conversion, and convince me that there is no God or Jesus, I still know that the spiritual answers I received from God trump anything mere men can come up with.

    So it’s the same as when non-Mormons come along and use sophisticated arguments to try to “undo” my understanding of additional truths. The spiritual answers I received in regards to the Book of Mormon were so powerful that they trump anything that mere men can come up with.

    Shortly after the earlier “first step” conversion to Christianity, it was later followed by an even more miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, as a confirmation of the steps of faith I took when I converted and accepted Christ.

    By the time I got around to investigating “Mormonism”, I then knew a little of how the Spirit worked in communicating truth. So I recognized “the voice” telling me the Book of Mormon was true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet.

  19. CD: If you do want to use an intellectual argument, then follow this logic:

    How are the billions of people on the planet who don’t have the ability to research history and archealogy supposed to figure out the truth? What about the vast uneducated and even illiterate masses? When missionaries from hundreds of different churches, and dozens of different religions, go to Africa, Asia, or South America, how are the local people supposed to figure out who’s telling the truth? Or who has the “best” religion/church?

    The only real way for God to reach everyone in a way that is not “respecting persons”, is via personal revelation, via answers to sincere prayer.

    All this bla-bla-bla is just a waste of time if it doesn’t lead people to ponder and pray for an answer.

    Not everyone gets an answer to their first “sinner’s prayer.” Many people recite the “I hereby accept Jesus as my Savior” prayer and nothing happens. Only God knows the reasons. We can only guess. Maybe the person wasn’t sincere. Maybe the person just wasn’t ready. Maybe they weren’t ready to change and actually _follow_ the Savior.

    Part of the formula to getting a prayer answered seems to have to be willing to actually _follow_ whatever answer you get. I don’t think God will answer the “Are you there God?” type prayers if the person isn’t ready to actually _follow_ God and at least attempt to walk a Godly walk.

    Same with a “God, is the Book of Mormon true?” prayer. If you aren’t willing to join the church even _IF_ you get a “yes” answer, then you won’t get any answer.

    To honestly pray the sinner’s prayer, or the accepting-Jesus prayer, and get an answer, you first have to believe that it’s _possible_ that there is a God and a Jesus.

    To get an answer about the Book of Mormon, you first have to believe it’s _possible_ for it to be true. That’s the purpose of Mormon apologetics, to explain that yes, it’s possible. All the so-called evidence that the anti’s throw out never has formally or logically disproved it.

    You know that God is a God of miracles. So, using His miraculous power, everything in the Book of Mormon, and everything in the account of how Joseph Smith said it came about is _possilble_.

    It’s also possible that the anti-Mormons have deceived you in their scholarly attempts at disproving it. Yet, you know that God is smarter than atheists. God and Christ exist in spite of all the “evidence” that atheists throw out.

    Don’t you also think that God would also be smarter than anti-Mormons?

    Sincere seekers pray to know if there is a God and Christ, in spite of all the negativity from atheists.

    Sincere seekers should also pray to know if the Book of Mormon is true and if Joseph Smith was a prophet, in spite of all the negativity from anti-Mormons.

  20. HI Bookslinger,

    I have to say that much of the concern with JS that I've seen, doesn't come from the anti-literature I've read. Much of my concern comes from LDS Church Sanctioned materials, and the inconsistencies therein. The anti-literature tends to be disproportionate and distorted in areas, but on the same note so is much of the pro-LDS literature.

    I'll give you an example of an inconsistency in your LDS doctrines that causes concern. Polygamy…this isn't an attack on former polygamist roots to your church. D & C 132 basically says that polygamy is a commandment from God, and should be followed. Read the preface to D & C 132 which gives the date that revelation was recorded. Crossreference that with LDS geneology records pertaining to JS and his wives. If you look at the dates, JS was practising polygamy well before he received the revelations that it was sanctioned by God. This is a problem. But, your church covers that problem with the Preface to D & C 132 which indicates that JS likely recieved that revelation several years before recording it as church doctrine. This causes one to go….hmmmm, what's going on here? It seems rather convenient that about same the time that JS was taking heat for practising polygamy, that he'd have a revelation from God that would allow him to practise polygamy. Something smells bad here…and this is all documented by your church's records.

    I hope you see the point I'm making. It goes back to my original post and concerns that the LDS church just seems to have to do a lot of explaining.

    I know that God lives…of that there is no doubt. I do believe he answers the God, are you there prayers? I also recognize the plausibility of JS's account. I recognize this possibility because very similar revelations came to St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and the children of Fatima. But it also is the fact that those revelations occurred, that causes me doubt with JS.

    It actually isn't an unwillingness to join your church if its true that causes me not to. Quite honestly I've taken the discussions and have sat through enough meetings to be fairly versed in LDS doctrine. My wife would love for me to join, and the path of least restistence in my life would be to just say the church is true, and JS was a prophet, and I have testimony of this gospel. But, I can not say those things because at each turn of my sincere prayers about the truthfulness of the BOM, I am left with the firm conviction in my heart that very little of what JS professed to be true, is actually true.

    Over the years my faith has taken me in and out of my own church. Along the way I've looked at other churches, and other non-christian religions. I've experienced many things. But the one conviction that I've been left with, is that the Catholic teachings are closer to the truth than any other religion out there. Others will disagree…probably most of you on this blog. That's okay. Its also okay for all of you to follow your LDS faith and teachings. I say that because I've learned one other thing along the way. God loves all of us, and he has a plan that gets us all back to him regardless of how and where we say our prayers. Of that I am certain.


    Catholic Defender

  21. Oh, golly gee, so complicated, so complicated! NOT! My lord, the human mind has many deep valleys that we have yet to understand. The lack of cognitive dissonance with respect to religious belief and reason is simply astounding. Astounding!

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