In my previous post, I noted that faithful members of the Church can hold various theories about the Book of Abraham, and one can even feel that it is “inspired fiction” without being considered an apostate. One anonymous person strongly objected and was shocked that I could say such a thing, fearing that the Church is losing its roots by decanonizing the Book of Abraham. I want to make sure people understand that neither I nor the Church (as far as I know!) are calling for decanonizing anything.
One can also see the story of Job as fictional but inspired, a story to teach us of God’s mercy and our need for patience in affliction. The very ancient era of the patriarchs is murky. All accounts about them have questionable and puzzling elements. Some faithful Jewish and Christian scholars aren’t sure there even was a historical Abraham (for the record, I believe there was). If not, a Jewish account that became an Egyptian text of interest to some Egyptian priests in ancient Thebes could have been translated in 1835 by the gift and power of God to give us a pseudepigraphical text (a text falsely ascribed to a particular source) that may have religious value, even scriptural value, and may be a true miracle in spite of some murkiness.
If a member believes that the Book of Abraham is inspired, even miraculous, but has some doubts about its literal historical accuracy, is that member on the path to perdition? Is that member’s faith in question? Should we add a question to the list of temple recommend questions to screen out such infidels? Of course not. One can believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and yet hold that he was mortal, that he made mistakes, and that his translation of the Book of Abraham has flaws, while still accepting that it is a vehicle that gives us revelation and truth. Flaws, murkiness, uncertainty in the mode of translation, the possibilities of human errors — these issues affect all scripture, unfortunately. There’s no need to panic or decanonize anything, but there may be a need to temper our expectations of perfection when it comes to prophets, ancient records, and even modern scripture. It’s a murky world.
If there are stories in the Old Testament that didn’t really happen the way they are recorded, it doesn’t mean we have to abandon the Bible. If Abraham’s account, even though translated by an authorized prophet using prophetic gifts, didn’t happen exactly as that text relates, it does not mean we need to abandon the Book of Abraham. A pseudepigraphical text can still be ancient, authentic, and contain precious and revealed truth, or can be a vehicle for a prophet to teach revealed truth. So it can be “inspired fiction” or, better said, a divinely provided tool to teach us inspired truths, even if Abraham didn’t actually teach astronomy in the Egyptian court. But, for the record, I personally think that he did. My testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not depend on that. My faith in God does not depend on that. If Abraham only taught astronomy to a few shepherds in Canaan, or if the astronomical material was edited into a Book of Abraham text by some well-meaning scribe with an inspired passion for cosmology, so be it. I’ll be OK, and hope you will, too.
Our records and our knowledge are incomplete, imperfect, and often murky. We anxiously look forward to more light and knowledge.
85 thoughts on “No, We Are Not Decanonizing the Book of Abraham”
One anonymous person strongly objected and was shocked that I could say such a thing…
Well, OBVIOUSLY this is because there are only two options: complete, absolute, perfectly accurate historical truth, and complete, absolute, perfectly INaccurate falsehood!!!!! It OBVIOUSLY doesn't matter if it's inspired or not, if it's not historical, it can't POSSIBLY be scripture!!!!!
Personally, I believe the Book of Abraham is describing historical events. I'm not sure where I stand on the book of Job (I've wondered about it before); it's a fairly self-contained book, without any references to external events or people that would place it in a historical context. The whole thing about "the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them" seems a little odd, too. The story is referenced in a few other scriptures, but this doesn't mean it couldn't still be "inspired fiction" (to use the shorter phrase).
Of course, my doubts on the historicity of Job doesn't put me in any danger of abandoning the rest of the Bible or the whole of Christianity. The book still teaches about righteousness, humility, and faith in a spiritually uplifting manner consistent with church teachings, so it doesn't ultimately matter that much.
Question, though – do you think this historicity argument is any different if it's applied to the Book of Mormon? I know some people would probably claim that the BoM can be considered "inspired fiction" as well, so…
The day will soon come when the mormon church will realize they can't have it both ways. They can't continue to cling to generations of prophets who insist things are black and white AND also allow their grip to loosen on things like the historicity of Joseph's books of scripture. The evidence is surmountable and easily findable nowadays. Any investigator or curious lifetime member with reliable internet access can see that things are NOT as black and white as the church leaders have claimed for so long. And if they fudge the truth about their scriptures, what else are they fudging the truth about? Turns out it's a lot!
Anon 1:28 – Yep. It is painfully obvious that is the masses bringing greater light and knowledge to generations of prophets, not the other way around.
Yet another person who believes in the infallibility of the masses on the internet. I'm still waiting for social media to cure cancer and resolve climate change.
You do realize that your statement is black and white thinking by definition… don't you? I especially love your "surmountable" evidence.
Anon 1:32 – You do realize those are strawman attacks? What threatens you? Insurmountable evidence that forces the LDS church to change the definition of bom is true from principal to among for lamanites ancestry means the internet masses are infallible? The LDS church's inability to cure cancer means it is wrong? Observing black white thinking means the observer is engaging in black white thinking. Weird stuff there 1:32
Members of the church believe all kinds of things about the church, church leaders, Book of Mormon, PofGP, D&C, church history/doctrine, and the Bible. That isn't the problem we're facing. In my mind, the problem we're facing is that too few are experiencing the fruits of the gospel (Holy Ghost and Gifts of the Spirit). Those who are experiencing the fruits and stay faithful will be just fine. Those who don't will eventually fall away.
I believe after nearly 200 years since the restoration started we're going to be tried and proven.
Heber C Kimball said it best:
This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand. Harold B. Lee quoting Heber C. Kimball, BYU, June 28, 1955; also in “We Believe” by Rulon T. Burton, p. 1038-39.
Jared – If it the Church was "true", then Mormons doing what the Church asks would be experiencing the fruits. As you say, they are not, proving the Church is not true.
Rhetoric from dead so-called prophets won't save anyone, Jared. Observing the actions (the lies, the half truths, the obfuscations, the back pedaling) of your living leaders WILL save you from wasting any more time in this religion. Life is so much better on the outside. True freedom awaits. Search your mind and your heart. You don't have to accept lies from leaders. You have the power to walk away and never look back. I did. You can. You should. We'll welcome you with open arms and you'll find the happiness you deserve.
By my count, fully 100% of our leaders have been mere mortals, and sometimes say things based on their own mortal knowledge and biases. This can be frustrating. It was that way when Christ left the Church in the hands of his Apostles and it was that way for all previous leaders and prophets in Israel. Plenty of frustrating moments when mortals are involved. But there's a revealed and divine core to the Gospel, full of divine vigor, that brings wonderful fruits to those who are grafted into its trunk. That core includes revealed truths about the nature of Christ and the deliverance He alone brings through repentance and faith in Him, our relationship to Christ and the Father, the plan of salvation, the mercy and justice of God with His plan to redeem the dead and treat all mankind fairly, the power and beauty of the Temple, the power of the Priesthood, the divine nature of families in God's plan, and the reality of the Restoration, including the divine, revealed nature of the Book of Mormon. its power as a witness for Christ and a witness for the reality of the Restoration has only increased with time. Things that seemed crazy in 1830 have been overturned in many cases as things that are actually plausible. The many confirmed details in 1 Nephi, especially for Lehi's Trail, does much to confirm that 1 Nephi cannot possibly be inspired fiction that Joseph made up based on his knowledge. But there's much beyond that book that calls for us to take this book seriously. The less clear and more confusing issue of the Book of Abraham is best handled in light of the stage that Joseph set by translation of the Book of Mormon, not the other way around. But both provide evidence that Joseph could not have concocted those accounts based on his environment. Both provide majestic teachings that are inspiring, even breathtaking. But in spite of the fascinating evidences, both require faith and come with plenty of opportunities for us to reject them, if we wish, as is the case with the New and Old Testaments as well. But those who take the scriptures seriously and look for revelations in them that can guide our lives today tend to find great fruits from the quest Fruits of joy, of knowledge, of peace, of greater closeness to the Savior. Those are wonderful fruits indeed.
"Things that seemed crazy in 1830 have been overturned in many cases as things that are actually plausible."
Lie. Just the opposite is true. Things like wandering Israelites being the pre-Columbian ancestors of the Native Americans were more than plausible in 1830 and now seem crazy.
"both require faith"
Make up your mind. Previously you have limited yourself to the vague, obscure notion of plausibility. Is it provable or not? Do you mean to say you have faith that the books are not explainable by the environment, or that the books provably contain elements that are not explainable by the environment and therefore must contain some sort of extra-human provenance. If it is provable, are you then falling desperately into psychological delusion that academia is in some massive conspiracy against you?
Everything in the 8:51 should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the author is the same Mormon that has declared the idea of prophet, seer, revelator frequently God face to face a dim view of prophethood and the bright view is mere administrator prophet.
If the claims of 1830 were true, then most definitely they should be more rational today. The reality is, the claims from 1830 are less rational today. There are new discussions about wordprint studies, chiasmus, etc, but those discussions did not exist in 1830.
"By my count, fully 100% of our leaders have been mere mortals, and sometimes say things based on their own mortal knowledge and biases. This can be frustrating."
Jeff, you know as well as I (a member for well over 40 years) that this is a very new way of speaking about leaders. Mormons have always been taught that their leaders are the mouthpiece of deity and that "whether by his voice or by his servants it is the same." You can't have it both ways.
"It was that way when Christ left the Church in the hands of his Apostles and it was that way for all previous leaders and prophets in Israel."
Only according to Mormons. There wasn't always a direct explicit implication that apostles and prophets spoke FOR God. That's just what you've been taught. It's not supported by the texts nor by scholarship.
"But there's a revealed and divine core to the Gospel, full of divine vigor, that brings wonderful fruits to those who are grafted into its trunk."
These fruits are available without an organized church.
"That core includes revealed truths about the nature of Christ and the deliverance He alone brings through repentance and faith in Him, our relationship to Christ and the Father, the plan of salvation, the mercy and justice of God with His plan to redeem the dead and treat all mankind fairly, the power and beauty of the Temple, the power of the Priesthood, the divine nature of families in God's plan, and the reality of the Restoration, including the divine, revealed nature of the Book of Mormon."
Look how complicated and convoluted you've made something that should be so simple!
"its power as a witness for Christ and a witness for the reality of the Restoration has only increased with time."
This is demonstrably false. Look at your church's conversion numbers. They're slipping precipitously. Why do you think they stopped publishing them? Ask any missionary how things are going. Not good!
"Things that seemed crazy in 1830 have been overturned in many cases as things that are actually plausible. The many confirmed details in 1 Nephi, especially for Lehi's Trail, does much to confirm that 1 Nephi cannot possibly be inspired fiction that Joseph made up based on his knowledge. But there's much beyond that book that calls for us to take this book seriously."
Not really, Jeff. You keep beating this same drum, but it's such a weak rhythm. No one is convinced by this stuff except you and your dwindling circle of bloggernacleites. The bloom is off the rose. No one's becoming more convinced of anything. Your word salads have wilted.
"The less clear and more confusing issue of the Book of Abraham is best handled in light of the stage that Joseph set by translation of the Book of Mormon, not the other way around."
The simplest explanation — that he bought a mummy and then made up a bunch of stories, just like he did with Zelph and with so many other fanciful notions — has got to be the true one. Your mental gymnastics can't hide the obvious truth.
"But both provide evidence that Joseph could not have concocted those accounts based on his environment."
This simply isn't so.
"Both provide majestic teachings that are inspiring, even breathtaking."
As has been said so very often: the things that make it good are not unique, and the things that make it unique are not good.
"But in spite of the fascinating evidences, both require faith and come with plenty of opportunities for us to reject them, if we wish, as is the case with the New and Old Testaments as well."
Absolute faith in the accepted canon are not required for a fundamental faith in Christ. Mormons haven't afforded themselves this, and so you're left clinging to the shreds of ridiculous notions long after the case of their authenticity is settled in the minds of reasonable minds.
"But those who take the scriptures seriously and look for revelations in them that can guide our lives today tend to find great fruits from the quest Fruits of joy, of knowledge, of peace, of greater closeness to the Savior. Those are wonderful fruits indeed."
There are better guides out their. Guides that aren't foisted on us by leaders who lie and hide the truth.
I am certain your church will walk away from these scriptures. They have to if they want to survive.
"But both provide evidence that Joseph could not have concocted those accounts based on his environment."
Allow yourself to believe for one split second that Joseph did not work alone and things become crystal clear.
The lengthy response of the various Anonymouses are just as monotonous as they claim Jeff is being. Your rhetoric has no power.
@ 11:02 My resistance to the idea that Joseph had accomplices is based in the fact that the best forensic data regarding the Book of Mormon manuscript and all associated historical accounts do not leave room for that hypothesis. It only becomes relevant when required to patch a hole in the critical paradigm. I'm interested in sticking with the historical data.
Your certainty isn't worth too much, regarding what the prophets choose to do or not. Thank you for your commentary, but it isn't particularly convincing especially since it's all just declarations ex cathedra. Perhaps I'm just a "bloggernacleite", but I don't find your declarations at all authoritative. Having served as a missionary within the past two years, honestly, it looked pretty good to me. Those who seek, find. Furthermore, your equivalency of "power as a witness" with "conversion numbers" is false.
"Look how complicated and convoluted you've made something that should be so simple!"
Why should it? Simplicity is an aesthetic preference but that doesn't mean that that's how all things ought to be, or even that such simplicity is inherently good. The real world is quite complicated. Nobody says that Einstein screwed up by introducing relativity into the relatively simple world of Newtonian physics.
I'm sorry for your experiences in the past with the Church. I hope you heal in whatever way you see fit. But your declarations cannot be considered authoritative and therefore are not convincing.
"My resistance to the idea that Joseph had accomplices is based in the fact that the best forensic data regarding the Book of Mormon manuscript and all associated historical accounts do not leave room for that hypothesis."
I demand proof of this. Show me exactly where and why you believe this. You've made the claim, now back it up. I don't care about anything else you said. Just this. Prove it or you are lying.
With pleasure. Jeff doesn't much like links in his comments, but if he assents I'd be pleased to post them. Sound good, Jeff?
Forensic analysis of the Book of Mormon manuscript provides a strong corroboration of the dictation accounts of the Book of Mormon, per the work of Stanford Carmack and Royal Skousen. It is not generally contested that Joseph Smith dictated to his various scribes the text of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. All witnesses to the act are united in stating that he was working with no manuscript. It's also pretty well supported in the historical record that he was inserting his face into a hat while dictating, ostensibly to block out the light. This is so well accepted that it is still used as ammo against the Church. I think it backfires in this usage, because it renders it impossible for him to have been reading from a manuscript for sustained periods of time without anybody noticing. However, if you're not concerned with people in the room noticing your fraud, why go through with the whole dictation act in the first place? Yet we have evidence that it was dictated. For Joseph to have memorized a manuscript and dictated it would have required eidetic memory, which he cannot be shown to have had. The evidence leads me to conclude that, whatever its nature as rubbish or revelation, it came from Joseph Smith.
You might be willing to dismiss witness testimony, both member and nonmember, but I am not. If we're making historical conclusions they have to be at least based on the historical data. I cannot with integrity say that I'm making a historical case while playing fast and loose with the data, and that includes witness testimonies.
The only reasonable candidates for the title of co-conspirator would be elements of the Three and Eight Witnesses. To expand it beyond their numbers is to cast a broad conspiracy net which is wholly unsupportable by the evidence. Yet I find their subsequent behavior quite unlikely for co-conspirators. Put aside the whole "never denied the testimonies" shtick which I find moving but you clearly do not. What's undeniable is that David Whitmer revered the Book of Mormon printer's manuscript as a divine token. Martin Harris gave outlandish financial support to a project which was mocked even more heavily then than it is now. Oliver Cowdery sacrificed a profitable law office and a burgeoning political career to try and rejoin the Saints, even though the body of the Saints was firmly led by Brigham Young, historically their opponent in church governance. These are not opportunistic moves, therefore I find it difficult to sustain the narrative that they were the sort of cynical opportunists required for fraud. Thus, I must conclude that there are not any reasonable suspects for this alleged ring.
In conclusion, the data from eyewitness testimony and forensic analysis of the manuscript indicate that Joseph could not have relied on external sources while dictating. Analysis of the actions of the Witnesses suggests that they are not likely candidates for conspiracy charges. Nobody else really had the means or opportunity within the historical record. Therefore, I cannot accept the hypothesis that Joseph Smith acted at the head of or at the behest of a conspiratorial clerical cartel.
Have you read Lucy Harris's affidavit, or do you only read approved sources that support what you want to believe?
I have read Lucy and Abigail's affidavits as recorded by D. Philastus Hurlbut, thanks for your consideration.
I find them much the same as I find the rest of Hurlbut's output: questionable. He came into it having made death threats against Joseph Smith and even E.D. Howe thought him unreliable. He wasn't even able to get his affidavits published and had to sell them to Howe before they could see the light of day. Furthermore, much of his work focused on enhancing the case for the now-discredited Spalding theory, so the quality of his work is in question. Abigail and Lucy's testimonies also differ on the consequential matter of Martin having admitted his indifference to the truth: Abigail's maintains it while Lucy doesn't mention it, which I find curious. On the whole I think these testimonies are underwhelming, especially since they are the only two sources implying a profit motive and in so doing confront legions of witnesses and a lifetime of lived evidence which suggests the opposite. Lucy and Abigail, to my knowledge, did not independently corroborate Hurlbut's account in any way, so I think it's questionable evidence at best.
What about Hyrum?
Hoosier – Most critics agree the exact text was not produced by an elaborate conspiracy.
1. Who gave Joseph Smith a memory test?
2. "These are not opportunistic moves, therefore I find it difficult to sustain the narrative that they were the sort of cynical opportunists required for fraud." I understand your point as applied to conspiracy, but not to fraud. The same could be said of any number of movements dismissed by Mormons as fraud. Anyone that has witnessed firsthand fraud perpetuated by a charismatic organizer has seen followers wittingly and unwittingly lie to in favor of the fraud.
Hoosier – Will you give us an example of something that was crazy in 1830 but today is not? You ought to have thousands of examples.
Anon 5:24 – I’m not Hoosier, and I doubt there are “thousands” of examples, but I can think of two off the top of my head:
Large cities in the ancient Americas, and writing on metal plates buried in the ground.
I’m sure there’s more, but those are the two that stand out to me at the moment.
Have you read the descriptions of Mexico and the Americas from that time period? Plenty of people were aware that large cities existed or had existed. Read the descriptions of the early settlers to the US regarding the population/civilization they encountered.
Have you ever heard of the longhouse?
Those were not crazy ideas on 1830.
Writing on metal may be easy w modern tech, but the idea that an ancient cultural had extensive system for doing do so in a repeatable fashion is far less rational today. The copper dead sea scroll etc all now demonstrate that it was a nice idea, but hard to do in reality. With the advantage of modern understand we now know the idea is not that rational. We did not know how unlikely it was before and that fact is more commonly understood now than before.
If those are the examples that stand out, then all examples exist in your head only. You are declaring ideas like large cities crazy in 1830 when they were not.
On the note of large cities, the population dynamics of the BoM have long been questioned and essentially conceded by modern apologist. That is apologist now say mixing w a pre-existing population explains the population growth and is more rational than how the BoM was originally "interpreted" in 1830.
"It will not be long before men forget that in Joseph Smith's day the prophet was mocked and derided for his description of the plates more than anything else."
– Hugh Nibley, 1952
Thank you for proving him right.
No, no, Ramer, thank you for proving me right. Backup for the Nibley 1952 claim (which is not 1830) has been thin. Now you know why it is no longer in vogue to use Nibley. Before the internet, guys like Nibley got away with a lot on the aire of their scholarship and supposed authority. Then with the internet it became evident they were turning single characters into whole paragraphs.
"I'm unaware of any of Joseph's contemporaries being opposed to the notion of ancient records being engraved on metal plates."
It is all in the tradition of Mormonism to create fictitious "wicked men" and then declared them vanquished, when the truth is the "wicked men" were just clever old ladies or never existed. As usual, the supposed "wicked men" are actually VALIDATED, not vanquished. As you know, the claim here is not that JS was not mocked, the claim here is awareness of the mocking and its correctness is more common knowledge now.
Ironically it is the apologist themselves that made this common knowledge. We actually have the apologist to thank for making the public aware that outside of the BoM, we do not have evidence of ancient Mediterranean cultures succeeding in breaking metal writing out of novelty use and into a repeatable fashion across generations. It less believable today then in 1830, end of story. But yes, thank you for proving me right.