Of Crocodiles and Kings

In Lewis Carroll’s delightful poem, “The Walrus and The Carpenter” from Through the Looking-Glass, the loquacious Walrus and Carpenter talk a group of foolish young oysters out of safe waters into their grasp. Though professing kindness toward the oysters, they end up all being eaten. Some have suggested that the poem was meant as a critique of Christianity, with the Carpenter representing Christ, the (apparent) son of a carpenter, but good evidence suggests this was not intended by Carroll (see Wikipedia on this poem). As for reading unintended meaning into the poem, I think a slightly better case can be made (bear with me now) for the Walrus being a loving anti-Mormon minister leading young and inexperienced Mormons away from safety as they speak of impressive sounding topics aimed at capturing prey.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,

“To talk of many things:

Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–

Of cabbages–and kings–

And why the sea is boiling hot–

And whether pigs have wings.”

But instead of cabbages and kings, today let us consider anti-Mormon objections to crocodiles and kings. More specifically, let us consider the charge made against Joseph Smith regarding the Book of Abraham and his interpretation of the crocodile figure in Facsimile 1 which Joseph identifies as the “idolatrous god of Pharaoh.” One has merely to read Wikipedia’s article on Sobek, the ancient Egyptian crocodile god, to realize that the crocodile could symbolize many things other than what Joseph said. So Joseph was wrong and we should leave the Church, right?

First, I hope that your relationship with God, Christ, and the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is deep enough that you won’t fall apart in instances where you think or are sure that Joseph Smith or any other mortal made mistakes. I hope an apparent error, contradiction, or even major blunder will not obviate the majesty of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration, nor wipe out the reality of the Priesthood, the power and beauty of the LDS Temple experience, and the monumental blessings we have in the restored knowledge about the plan of salvation, the nature of God, our relationship to God, the purpose of life, etc. But that said, it is fair to wonder if Joseph got things right in the Book of Abraham. The answer is that we can see that he produced some astonishing bulls eyes beyond what anyone could have produced in his day, while also giving us some real puzzles and question marks where we don’t have a good answer. Yes, there are apparent problems, as I note in my LDSFAQ materials on the facsimiles (e.g., Part 2 of my LDSFAQ pages on the Book of Abraham). But regarding crocodiles and kings, we do have some information that may help you in understanding that the critics aren’t completely right in their attacks regarding Facsimile 1. In fact, Facsimile 1 offers some valuable evidence in favor of Joseph’s inspired insights into the ancient documents he used in producing the Book of Abraham.

For information on crocodiles and kings, Kerry Shirts has written a terrific article, “Powerful Egyptological Evidence for Book of Abraham facsimile 1, figure 9 Crocodile as ‘Idolatrous god of Pharaoh’” arguing that Soebek, the crocodile god truly can be described exactly as Joseph Smith stated.

Also see J. Hill, “Sobek,” 2010, at AncientEgyptOnline.com. An excerpt follows:

Sobek first appeared in the Old Kingdom as the son of Neith with the epithet “The Rager”. According to some myths his father was Set, the god of thunder and chaos, but he also had a close association with Horus. He was paired with a number of goddesses in different locations, most notably Hathor, Renenutet, Heqet and Taweret, and was sometimes referred to as the father of Khonsu, Horus or Khnum.

In some areas, a tame crocodile was worshiped as the earthly embodiment of Sobek himself, while in other places crocodiles were reviled, hunted and killed. It seems likely that Sobek began as a dark god who had to be appeased, but that his protective qualities and his strength were valued when they were used in defence of the Pharaoh and the people. He could protect the justified dead in the netherworld, restoring their sight and reviving their senses. Because of his ferocity, he was considered to be the patron of the army.

Sobek was sometimes considered to be an aspect of Horus because Horus took the form of a crocodile to retrieve the parts of Osiris’ body which were lost in the Nile. Yet Sobek was also thought to have assisted Isis when she gave birth to Horus. He also rescued the four mummiform sons of Horus (Imsety the human headed protector of the liver, Hapy the baboon headed protector of the lungs, Duamutef the jackal headed protector of the stomach and Qebehsenuef the falcon headed protector of the intestines) by gathering them in a net when they rose from the waters in a lotus bloom. However, he was also associated with Set, the enemy of Osiris. He was also worshiped as the manifestation of Amun-Re and was often depicted wearing either the headdress of Amun or the sun disk of Ra.

The strength and speed of the crocodile was thought to be symbolic of the power of the Pharaoh, and the word “sovereign” was written with the hieroglyph of a crocodile. It was thought that Sobek could protect the Pharaoh from dark magic. During the Twelfth and Thirteenth Dynasties, the cult of Sobek was given particular prominence and a number of rulers incorporated him in their coronation names.

If Sobek was actually a god in the religion of Pharaoh and associated with the protection of Pharaoh, could there be some merit in Joseph Smith’s characterization of the crocodile as the idolatrous god of Pharaoh? Just musing here–I think it’s always better to muse than to fall apart and leave the church, just my advice.

You might also be interested in the following item from the Maxwell Institute regarding archaeological evidence for the plausibility of Egyptian influence, indeed, for the worship of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, in ancient Mesopotamia in Abraham’s time. Interesting, eh? More to muse upon. The following, based on work by John Gee, comes from “The Crocodile God of Pharaoh in Mesopotamia,” FARMS Update No. 108, in Insights 16/5 (Oct. 1996), p. 2:

The Crocodile God of Pharaoh in Mesopotamia

In the famous anti-Mormon crusade against the book of Abraham in 1912, one of the individuals involved asserted that the book of Abraham could not be true because “Chaldeans and Egyptians are hopelessly mixed together, although as dissimilar and remote in language, religion and locality as are American and Chinese.”[1] This exaggerated opinion was seconded by the Reverend Samuel A. B. Mercer: “I challenge any intelligent person who knows Chaldean and Egyptian history to read the first chapter of said book [of Abraham] without experiencing the same feeling. Chaldea and Egypt are hopelessly mixed. . . . No one can believe that Abraham made such a blunder in his geography.”[2]

Though in Mercer’s day scholars studied both Mesopotamian and Egyptian disciplines, they knew nothing of the interactions between the two cultures. In 1971, however, the Egyptologist Georges Posener completed a lengthy and detailed survey of the available evidence and concluded that cultural interactions and interference of Egypt in the area of Syria and Palestine were extensive, even though the precise nature of the “domination by the pharaohs” during the Middle Kingdom “still eludes us; fifty years ago it was barely suspected.”[3] Yet some critics who clearly should know better are still using the same arguments as Mercer and Peters.[4]

Confirmation of the connections that Posener discovered can be seen in recent archaeological evidence found at Ebla. The cult of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek flourished during the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 B.C.), as is attested by royal and personal names during the twelfth (1991-1783 B.C.) and thirteenth dynasties (1783-1600? B.C.),[5] temple building,[6] and commemorative scarabs.[7]

In the archaeological site of Ebla in Syria, also known as Tell Mardikh, were found several images of Egyptian gods stylistically datable to the Middle Kingdom, and dated by the archaeologists to MB II (1750-1650 B.C.),[8] the time period to which most scholars who believe Abraham existed date him. Among these gods were Osiris, Hathor, Horus, and Sobek. This provides concrete archaeological evidence that Egyptian cults existed in Mesopotamia, Abraham’s homeland. Thus the book of Abraham accurately describes an aspect of the ancient world about which Joseph Smith could have known little or nothing.

Notes

1. John Peters, letter to Franklin S. Spalding, in F. S. Spalding, Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator (1912), 28.

2. Samuel A. B. Mercer, “Joseph Smith As an Interpreter and Translator of Egyptian,” Utah Survey 1/1 (1913): 33.

3. Georges Posener, “Syria and Palestine c. 2160-1780 B.C.,” Cambridge Ancient History, 1.2:550, 549.

4. Stephen E. Thompson, “Egyptology and the Book of Abraham,” Dialogue 28/1 (Spring 1995): 156-60.

5. Jürgen von Beckerath, Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen (1984), 67-73, 159-61, 200-11, 220-2; William Kelly Simpson, Papyrus Reisner I (1963), 89-90; cf. Simpson, Papyrus Reisner II (1965), 59, and Papyrus Reisner IV (1986), 41-2; and William C. Hayes, A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (1955), 23-4.

6. Dieter Arnold, Die Tempel Ägyptens (1992), 97-8, 186.

7. Bulletin de l’Insitut Français d’Archéologie Orientale 56 (1957): 81-95; and 63 (1965): 197-200.

8. Paolo Matthiae, Frances Pinnock, and Gabriella Scandone Matthiae, Ebla (1995), 458-60, 476-7.

Also consider Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 151, where he discusses a period immediately after the Middle Kingdom during the 13th Dynasty in which six Egyptian kings took upon themselves titles involving Sobek (Sebek), and notes that even later in the 17th Dynasty, kings and queens still associated themselves with Sobek. A screen shot from Google Books follows:

So what does it all mean? Joseph’s interpretation of the crocodile, long held to be ridiculous by critics, has a rather strong air of plausibility to it. That plausibility persists not only for the general idea that the crocodile was an ancient Egyptian god soometime, somewhere, but that it was a god associated with royal power and the protection of Pharaoh, and that this god was known and worshiped not only during Abraham’s time, but also in the land where Abraham lived and where the Book of Abraham takes place. So, all told, I’d say this aspect of Facsimile 1 and the Book of Abraham is not a solid reason to reject Joseph Smith. It might have looked that way until a few years ago, though. Patience and faith—we’re never going to lose the need for both of these attributes when it comes to religion.

Now as to whether pigs have wings or not, I’ll save that discussion for some other day. Just be patient. But no, the Book of Mormon does not say pigs have wings, nor do BYU scholars insist that the horse of the Book of Mormon was a flying pig. Just to make that clear.

Update: For even more, see Quinten Barney, “Sobek: The Idolatrous God of Pharaoh Amenemhet III,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 22/2 (2013): 22–27.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

64 thoughts on “Of Crocodiles and Kings

  1. "I think it's always better to muse than to fall apart and leave the church, just my advice."

    Does it mean anything that a newcomer to Mormonism–who hasn't dedicated most of his life to it just yet–could look at this and the many other clearly false facsimile interpretations and fall prey to the thought that Smith could have made this up?

    I mean, it's just like looking at the clear falsehoods from some old Greek religion and tossing it aside despite all the punishments the gods might put on us

  2. Yes, it matters very much that someone could look at something like Joseph's interpretation of the crocodile and dismiss it as "clearly false", no better than made-up pagan religion, when a bit of sincere effort to understand might reveal that there is surprising depth and accuracy to the interpretation. Sure, at the most literal level, it's a crocodile, a flesh easting reptile, and that's not what Joseph said. But when you look at the higher meaning that was intended and associated with the scene, it becomes quite plausible that this could be used to depict a scene from the Book of Abraham, and it becomes clear that something other than pure gibberish is involved.

    The self-proclaimed experts dismiss this as an ordinary funerary scene, when a modest amount of examination reveals that the allegedly dead corpse being embalmed is actually rather alive. Remarkably, the position of the forward leg and upturned hands precisely define the Egyptian glyph for prayer–just as Joseph interprets the scene: Abraham praying on the altar. It's an ADAPTATION of a very ordinary scene, with some extraordinary elements that now make Joseph's interpretation look surprisingly plausible. A man is being sacrificed, in the attitude of prayer. He is being offered up on an idolatrous idol, and one of the gods depicted can indeed be described as the god of Pharaoh. Clearly false–only if you refuse to look, listen, and learn. And in that case, young new Mormon or experienced old anti-Mormon, it's fair for the rest of us to be worried. Not healthy.

  3. "The majesty of the Book of Mormon"?

    I rather agree with the characterization we find in the book itself: not mighty in writing.

    — Eveningsun

  4. When looking at the evidence: a group of texts taken from an Egyptian artifact (coffin, right? I'll go with coffin, it's been a while) which are commonly found in other Egyptian coffins; the reason and translation of which have been well-researched by now on, at the very least, a moderate level. I'm sure we're all familiar, by now, of Egypt's burial customs.

    Instead of realizing that skepticism is really healthy at this point, you're saying anything other than patience towards a Mormon interpretation of a common funerary scene unhealthy.

    We can debate meanings and interpretations and how off or on target we think he was, but let's face it. you might as well convince an Evangelical that the scholarship is dead on about there being a council of gods in the old testament.

    Defending a belief that was "revealed" instead of reached isn't healthy.

    Appealing to patience is healthy, though. And with patience, I'm sure you'll find more ways FAIR and Maxwell twist the findings to reach plausibility.

    But from the outside looking in, even being a lot more apathetic to the whole apologetic game than i once was, the scene is pretty tragic

  5. Oms, you said "when looking at the evidence…." But I get the impression you're not looking at the evidence at all, apart from a brief glance at anti-Mormon websites.

    Let's start with one other example, since the crocodile god of Pharaoh doesn't seem to be of any interest to you. How about Figure 6 in Facsimile 2, the four upside down critters? Modern scholarship recognizes that they are the four sons of Horus. Joseph said they represent the four quarters of the earth. Was Joseph wrong? You'll say yes, unless you look at the evidence, which is now very clear: the four sons of Horus are each associated with one of the four cardinal directions and, therefore, the four quarters of the earth. Bull's eye for Joseph.

    For example, see Richard W. Wilkinson's Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994). His discussion of the Sons of Horus clearly links them to the four quarters of the earth or the four cardinal directions. The glossary entry for the Sons of Horus explains that they "were four genii or minor deities connected with the cardinal points and which guarded the viscera of the deceased. Originally human-headed, they were regularly portrayed with the heads of different creatures: Imsety, human-headed (south); Duamutef, jackal-headed (east); Hapy, ape-headed (north); Qebesenuef, falcon-headed (west)" (p. 213). His section on the meaning of the number four notes that the four Sons of Horus were one of several groups of four commonly found in Egyptian art. Then he writes, "Frequently the number [four] appears to connote totality and completeness and is tied to the four cardinal points…. The four cardinal points are certainly an ancient concept…. Usually … the four areas represent the four quarters of the earth alone. This is the case in most religious rituals which find representational expressions" (pp. 133-134).

    OK, there's some evidence, one issue of many where it first looks like a blunder by Joseph but when one looks at the meaning and symbolism and context of ancient Egyptian rites, it's clear that something besides random guessing occurred. Would you have guessed "four quarters of the earth"? Doesn't that at least merit the raising of eyebrows? Even one eyebrow? No?

    Ancient Chinese saying (well, maybe one day it will be one): When the eyes open, the eyebrows can move.

  6. Jeff, I'm sorry. I should be posting under openminded, but i pressed enter too quickly and it came out as "oms". Do you think I give any weight to the blatantly anti-mormon sites? you know, the ones with a bone to pick and a Ph. D in self-deception to do it with? No, I don't give them much credibility. I understand where you get that impression from, though. I'm sure it happens all the time, unfortunately.

    As for your example, I think you do a good job of qualifying a bulls-eye. here's how a reasonable person might deflate it a notch:
    "the four corners of the earth" is a common religious phrase. It's commonly used by missionaries today "spreading the word to [insert phrase]", it's found in the bible (Isaiah 11), and it's even found in the book of mormon (where isaiah 11 is copied). furthermore, it's even found in the doctrines and covenants. [i had to go do something after typing this in, and so i looked into this issue before returning only to find my thinking isn't that original].

    So basically, we have Smith, who's trying to interpret things in the context of egypt, abraham, the pillars of heaven, etc, whilst already swimming around in his ultra-religious atmosphere, and ascribes "the four corners of the world"–a religious phrase he's used and been around–to four pots that sit among the pillars of heaven, abraham, an angel of the lord, and all in a religious context.

    Here's what a reasonable person might put forth instead: present in this facsimile are the four sons of horus, the crocodile god sobek, anubis, and what do these all have in common?

    Sobek was credited for catching the four sons of horus, and the four sons of horus alongside anubis are all parts of The Book of the Dead, the ancient Egyptian funerary text that came right along with whatever scrolls or text Smith found in the coffin.

    There's more than a plausible connection here, it's not even controversial. If this evidence was actually in support of the mormon position, you'd be ecstatic. because this is actual evidence, but it points to this facsimile having nothing to do at all with abraham being sacrificed on an alter.

    it's just part of an Egyptian burial tradition.

    Have I missed anything from your side that would go against this position?

  7. It's clear that something besides random guessing occurred. Would you have guessed "four quarters of the earth"?

    Well, yes. Confronted with a grouping of four similar-looking figures, I might very well guess "four quarters of the earth." But this would not be a random guess. It would not be a guess made in a vacuum. It would be a guess informed by the assumption that the document I was looking at had some kind of cosmic significance, by my knowledge of the use of the phrase in the Bible, etc. It would be what we call an "educated guess." (Ditto, BTW, for the identification of the crocodile with a god. That's an educated guess informed by the knowledge that the ancient Egyptians, being polytheists, had gods for just about everything.)

    To say that if such identifications were guesses they must have been "random" is pretty misleading. Jeff's rhetorical strategy, of course, is to suggest that they could not have been guesses at all. It reminds me a bit of the equally misleading creationist canard about the impossibility of molecules assembling themselves "randomly" into a cell.

    Now that I think of it, Book of Abraham apologetics strikes me as an LDS version of creationism. It's a hobbyhorse that prompts otherwise intelligent and rational people to check logic at the door and say some pretty embarrassing stuff.

    Here's BoA apologetics in a nutshell: "Out of the dozens of specific BoA claims made by Smith, a couple of them, with the help of a bit of friendly spin, can be construed as kinda sorta right. Therefore, we can just forget the fact that non-LDS Egyptologists find the great majority of the BoA's assertions to be not even in the ballpark. We can forget the similarity between the BoA and Smith's pronouncements about, say, the location of Eden or the history of Zelph the White Lamanite. Just ignore all that. Forget the big picture and focus on the occasional shred of evidence for.

    — Eveningsun

  8. Openminded, hello and thanks for a thoughtful, even imaginative response. Yes, it's possible for the four quarters of the earth to be guessed. I've gone a step past speculating and in several groups I've asked people to tell me what they think the four upside down characters could represent. I've already given them an edge in phrasing the question that way, because who says they belong together? There are four very different figures–different species, based on the heads. Why must they be a group and not four independent concepts, or two pairs? But go ahead and give people this advantage and quiz them, as I have, and see if you ever get anyone to guess "four quarters of the earth."

    If you go further and tell them to use phrases from the Bible, you might come closer to a lucky guess, but "four quarters of the earth" is actually not that common in the Bible. It's in Rev. 20:7-8 and Isaiah 11:12, and I think that's it (we could add the four corners of the earth from Rev. 7:1). It competes with "the four quarters of heaven" and the "four corners of heaven" in other parts of the Bible–a much more likely phrase for a diagram dealing with God and the afterlife. Four occurs in many other contexts in the Bible: the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the four winds, the four sides of the holy city and of the temple, four quarters of garments, four gold rings (not 5, as in a certain song), four angels, four mystical creatures in Ezekiel, four wings, four great beasts representing kingdoms, the four corners of the sacred court, etc. There are dozens of KJV phrases to choose from involving four and thousands of other possibilities. If you ever find anybody who makes the correct guess as a guess, let me know!

    Openminded, you don't happen to be a US patent examiner, do you? Inventors are frustrated to find out how examiners find every clever invention to be "obvious" based on their 20/20 hindsight. Dismissing the four quarters of the earth in this manner suggests you may have advanced legal skills that our government values.

    Yes, the texts come from a tomb and include standard Egyptian funerary concepts. But the Facsimilies are unique. There is nothing else identical to them, though others are similar in many ways. The obviously living person in Facs. 1, for example, puts us into entirely new territory: it's not an embalming scene. Standard Egyptian stuff has been adapted and tweaked for some other purpose. What is that purpose? What is the story being told? From the wedjet eye to the god of Pharaoh to the sacrifice of a Abraham to the four quarters of the earth and other plausibly interpreted concepts, there is much that demands more than a quick dismissal. The whole theme of Abraham being sacrificed for his opposition to idol worship and the involvement of his father in idolatry are concepts Joseph couldn't have extracted from the Bible, but which today have ample support in many ancient documents. There is evidence that is not intended nor designed to prove or convert, but, for those with a grain of faith, to at least help them past the temptation to casually Joseph as an incompetent fraud.

  9. Eveningsun, if you're making an informed guess based on the assumption that the document has cosmic significance (a bit of hindsight in that assumption?) and based on a desire to use Bible phrases, would a reasonable person really come up with "four quarters of the earth"? Don't fall into the trap of projecting the right answer using hindsight. Go out on the street and grab some Bible readers, point to the upside down critters on Facs. 2, and ask them what they might represent.

    Your best bet to get a correct lucky guess is to give them the list of all the occurrences of "four" in the Bible and ask them to pick from that. But Joseph was not using Bible phrases to create his comments on Facs. 2. Apart from knowing that "the four quarters of the earth" occurs a couple of times in the Bible, what would lead you to select Bible phrases in your thought experiment for how you would have come up with the right answer?

    Try this with people who don't know the correct answer and see how often they get it right. Also be sure to quiz them on the crocodile, the wedjet eye, the boat of 1000 cubits, the cow, the bird, the priest, and a few other things.

    Hindsight makes all things obvious, but what Joseph did becomes a little more interesting when we realize that no one knew anything about Egyptian art and religion in his day. Even recognizing that Facs. 2 is about eternity and the cosmos, or that Facs. 1 involves a priest, is something you can't take for granted without the help of modern knowledge.

  10. would a reasonable person really come up with "four quarters of the earth"?

    I'm tempted to say, "Who cares what a 'reasonable person' would come up with? We're talking about Joseph Smith." But seriously, we're talking about someone who is obsessed with the Bible. I'd guess that if we asked a bunch of people who were as biblically literate as Smith to free associate on the number four, most would come up with (in decreasing order of probability) the four quarters of the earth, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the four rivers originating in the Garden of Eden, or the four seasons of the year. Smith's familiarity with scripture predisposed him to a fairly limited range of guesses.

    It didn't predispose him to guess, "the canopic jars portraying Qebehsenuf, Duamutef, Hapy, and Imsety." (Now that would have been convincing.)

    Look, Smith makes many, many claims about the papyri. A few of those claims are kinda sorta in the ballpark. The question before us is how best to account for this: divine inspiration and textual authenticity (you), or the occasional lucky guess (me)?

    Your position looks plausible only if we ignore the many misses and focus solely on the hits, and that's bogus. We've got to look at the totality of the evidence. And, like it or not, the evidence includes the abundant instances (e.g., Zelph) in which we see Smith basically just making stuff up on the fly.

    Suppose I flip a coin a hundred times, and at one point I get a run of five heads in a row. Is that evidence that that there's something special about the coin? Of course not, though it might seem so if I divert everyone's attention from the 95 other flips, and then asked people on the street whether I thought it likely that I'd get five heads in a row by flipping a coin "at random."

    Have you ever honestly asked yourself why all this "evidence" you find so convincing cannot seem to convince any non-LDS Egyptologists? Are all those people just ignorant or obtuse?

    — Eveningsun

  11. Eveningsun put it plainly. There's a huge difference between today's religious laypeople and someone who was born into the revivalist culture of the 2nd Great Awakening, authored a religious text, lead religious followers, developed the doctrines and covenants with all the biblical interpretation it entailed, spoke to his people about you know what, and did so for at least a decade (roughly?) before interpreting the papyri.

    And then, while interpreting these papyri he claimed were written by Abraham, which–whether he was a fraud or not–required a convincingly Judeo-Christian-religious feel, he came up with the four corners of the earth.

    How could asking some random people who involve themselves in religion in today's culture with today's context and their own personal lives, which aren't even close to Smith's, be considered a good experiment?

    And furthermore, is there any evidence that the conopic jars actually represent "the four corners of the earth" in a funerary context?

  12. The simple fact that pretty much EVERYONE in Joseph's time (and for decades after) who didn't accept him as a prophet laughed at his interpretation is more significant than any experiment with people alive today.

    Seriously, if the last comments against this post had great merit, wouldn't we be able to find lots of scholars of Joseph's day who agreed that his interpretation was at least possible and not ludicrous? Find me those scholars who agreed with him, and we can have an intelligent conversation about how likely it would have been for someone else to come up with his version. Otherwise, Jeff has a really good point in this post.

    In this case, a lack of agreement pretty much establishes disagreement – even without the blatant statements of disagreement, which are the icing on the cake.

  13. "Find me those scholars who agreed with him, and we can have an intelligent conversation about how likely it would have been for someone else to come up with his version."

    We're not looking for how likely it would be for someone else to come up with these translations, we're looking at how likely Joseph Smith would. Or at the least, someone with a background story like Joseph Smith would do.

    our argument is that it's not as impressive as you're making it out to be because of Smith's highly religious life. We can bring it down to lucky-guess status because, judging from his many interpretations that completely missed the mark, Smith had no idea what he was talking about if the attempt was to translate an egyptian document.

    Find us scholars who think otherwise about at least half of his interpretations, and I'm very open to changing my mind.

    but can you even do that with Mormon Egyptologists?

  14. Great post, Jeff. Patience is clearly required as we sift through evidence and opinion in search of truth. Eventually truth prevails. The day will come when those who malign Joseph the Prophet will get to face him and receive a personal response. Knowing Joseph, I expect it might be filled with love and humor.

  15. I think a possibility is that writings and drawings of Abraham (not the originals, but copies of copies) could have been passed down as legend, and ended up in Egyptian funeral traditions.

    Look how the Bible (OT and NT) has been passed down, via copies of copies, for millennia, and is now part of so many traditions. There are at least several examples of pieces of older religions surviving as parts of newer created or "conglomerated" faiths. (The Christian elements of Santeria and Voodoo come to mind.)

    The Bible has been such an influential piece of literature, that it's concepts and phraess have infused Western civilization to such a degree that many non-religious people don't even realize it when they repeat many Biblical ideas or even exact phrases.

    So why should we be surprised if some of Abraham's religion survived as part of Egyptian beliefs?

    The problem with the naybobs who like to natter on Jeff's every apologetic musing is that they are trying to use the mundane to disprove the divine. However, the God of the Bible's trump card is that He's a miraculous God. He can disguise or hide His divine intervention, or even plant evidence that throws people off. The Bible even specifically says that He intentionally /hides himself/ from certain types of people.

    To assert that God could not possibly have been the inspiration behind the Book of Abraham or the Book of Mormon is to assert that God could not possibly be behind the even more far-fetched accounts of the Bible.

    The miraculous God of the Bible is no less "fantastical" than the God of the Book of Mormon, or of the Book of Abraham, or the God whom Joseph Smith claimed had given him instruction.

    To deny that the Book of Abraham could have miraculously survived in some form and could have miraculously been found in modern times in a collection of Egyptian funerary documents, and then be miraculously translated by a modern prophet, is to deny the type of miraculous God who is described in the Bible from beginning to end.

    (Even the Jews at one point had lost their Bible and re-discovered it during a temple renovation.)

    The only way to logically deny "Mormonism" is to simultaneously deny all sects of Christianity and perhaps Judaism as well.

    One cannot use archealogy or history to attack Mormonism, and not apply the same stick to the rest of Christianity.

    So at least let's be clear on that. The nattering naybobs of negativism here are not just anti-Mormon. Their anti-miracle screeds are against all faiths that have a miraculous God as their center. One cannot logically dismiss Mormonism on the basis of these attacts, and not, at the same time, dismiss the rest of Christianity.

  16. Bookslinger,
    Whether we reject miracles or not, there's a solid reason to reject the Book of Abraham as a miracle.

    As for patience, I don't see how you can talk about applying the same stick when you don't realize you could apply patience to every single religion out there.

    Not feeling the spirit in islam? Just have patience.

    Surefire evidence that Buddha was wrong? patience.

    You're a member of Westboro and you just don't see the point in doing what you do? have patience, it'll all come together with a wonderful reward in the end.

    Look, I don't select for Mormonism when I'm finding reasons why it just doesn't work out. Many, many of the arguments against your religion's texts apply to the bible. a lot of your opponents pretend that fact away, it's ridiculous.

    But patience can be applied to anything. Why do you claim patience is so important and then only apply it Mormonism?

  17. Open: My God, and my faith in my God, aren't limited by /your/ ideas of what miracles can or cannot be. It's that simple.

    As far as those other religions, well, see Article of Faith #11. (I've got my testimony (as per Moroni 10:4-5) about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. )

    Moreover, my testimony and my faith don't rely on your comparisons of any things to other religions.

    If you want to reference the truths or falsehoods of those other religions, then go to their blogs. If you think your anti-Mormon arguments are applicable to those religions, then go to their blogs to argue them, because your anti-Mormon arguments are essentially anti-RELIGION and anti-FAITH arguments.

    In essence, all your arguments are /moot/ to anyone who believes that God is a God of miracles who hides things from those who don't meet certain criteria He set for being found (see various passages in the Bible and Moroni 10:3-5 about that.)

    I believe God put things into the Book of Mormon knowing that the physical evidence for them would disappear over the millennia.

    I also believe it possible that God /purposely/ hid some physical evidence just to thwart the proud. (All archaelogical evidence of Hebrews in Egypt is conveniently absent too. Think of that.)

    So what if Amer-Indian DNA doesn't match what critics of the Book of Mormon think it should be. My God is capable of changing people's DNA. (Let alone the fact that critics may just be plain wrong about what Amer-Indian DNA "should" be according to Book of Mormon information.)

    I think you miss the whole point of faith in a /miraculous/ God.

    Plus, your arguments also overly rely on the assumption that all the relevant historical and archeological facts are known. They aren't. Much has been lost. And to come to your conclusions, based on thinking that all pertinent facts are known, is a huge leap in logic.

  18. Bookslinger, I hope that if you're ever called to serve on a jury you will explain your interesting views on evidence to the court. A God "capable of changing people's DNA"? Tell it to the judge and see what happens.

    I certainly wouldn't want you on my jury. (Unless, of course, your faith has already convinced you of my innocence!)

    It did occur to me that Bookslinger's theory might explain what happened to those WMDs in Iraq. They really were there, but then God hid them from our troops in order to discredit President Bush.

    Another mystery explained, thanks to the marvel of Mormon epistemology!

    Openminded, I see no sense in arguing with Bookslinger. I mean, if Bookslinger's God will stoop so low as to engage in evidence-tampering in order to mislead you, you haven't got a chance. (Seems to me that an evidence-tampering God is an immoral God, not to mention a God so pitifully weak as to be incapable of winning an argument fair and square, but there's no end to the nonsense people will believe nowadays.)

    — Eveningsun

  19. Evening Sun said: I'm tempted to say, "Who cares what a 'reasonable person' would come up with? We're talking about Joseph Smith." But seriously, we're talking about someone who is obsessed with the Bible. I'd guess that if we asked a bunch of people who were as biblically literate as Smith to free associate on the number four, most would come up with (in decreasing order of probability) the four quarters of the earth, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the four rivers originating in the Garden of Eden, or the four seasons of the year. Smith's familiarity with scripture predisposed him to a fairly limited range of guesses.

    How does this square with the rest of Joseph's comments on the 3 facsimiles? Are there any other basic Bible phrases employed anywhere? His comments on the figures were obviously not based on drawing upon random Bible phrases. So how is it that you can dismiss the direct hit with the four sons of Horus as something that he couldn't possibly miss? And even if for some reason he felt constrained to turn to the Bible and draw upon a phrase using four, why would it not be the "four corners of heaven"? As I recall, that occurs as often or more often than the four quarters of the earth — and would be a much better guess for something of cosmic/heavenly significance.

    Does the idolatrous god of Pharaoh not win any brownie points either since Pharaoh is also mentioned in the Bible and would be an obvious choice for Joseph? Likewise the association of the upside down cow with the moon – no eyebrows raised? All just words and phrases from the Bible?

  20. Like I said, Jeff, if I flipped a coin a hundred times and at some point it came up heads five times in a row, would you give me brownie points for that and count it as evidence that my coin is somehow magic?

    Or would you accuse me of ignoring all the misses in order to inflate the importance of the hits?

    You're cherry-picking.

    — Eveningsun

  21. P.S. Jeff, I'll tell you what raises my eyebrows. It's things like this from Doctrine and Coovenants:

    "And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law."

    OK. A man's wife has learned that her husband is "marrying" other women. She's justifiably upset, and I suspect not even you can really blame her. So what kind of a husband in that situation justifies his behavior by saying that if she doesn't like it, too bad, she'd bettter fall into line or God will destroy her?

    Doesn't that sort of thing raise your eyebrows? Or has your obedience inured you so much to basic human feelings as not to see that there's a problem with Joseph Smith's basic character?

    And yes, this gets straight to the question of Smith's character. This is a guy who, for whatever reason, reads cosmic significance into just about everything, including, sad to say, his own desires.

    Think about that little Zelph episode. Think about Adam-ondi-Ahman. There's a pattern here. Joseph Smith could routinely and creatively attribute cosmic significance to just about anything. Some ordinary stones become the very altar of Adam himself. An ordinary skull, one out of hundreds that might have been plucked from that burial mound, becomes the skull of a valiant ancient warrior.

    It reminds of the way that New Agers, when they imagine they have recovered some past life, always seem to have been royalty in that past life, never a commoner. Just like Smith, their fantasies are not random; they are predisposed into a certain pattern, a pattern that, surprise, just happens to be in some way self-serving. My Aunt Janice becomes the descendent of a medieval warrior-princess. Joseph Smith becomes a prophet of God. Same game, except that Smith was so much better at it. (Not as good as Mohammed, however.)

    The question is not Why is Eveningsun unimpressed by the occasional "bulls-eye." The question is Why is Jeff so blind to the totality of the evidence? How can he strain at a gnat and swallow the camel?

    — Eveningsun

  22. The Book of Abraham has gone from total gibberish, easily dismissed, to a surprisingly large number of "cherries' with plausible explanations. On Facs. 2, for example, the interpretations of MANY of the figures are quite interesting in light of Egpytian symbolism. When numerous lemons are actually cherries when unpeeled, there might be more than reckless cherry picking involved. I don't think you've read the pro-side of Joseph's work here. From numerous details in the text to many aspects of the figures (including specific names like Libnah and Kolob), there is a case that something more is going on here than random gibberish based on regurgitating Bible verses. Yet there are definite problems without good answers at the moment. Some plain old mistakes in the midst of an inspired text? Possible – I don't know. Certainly happened with other sacred texts. In any case, faith rather than scholarly proof will always be required, but some of the insights ought to raise inquisitive eyebrows at least, for those interested in seeing.

  23. Ah, time to play the ever-popular polygamy card. Yeah, I don't like it either. Not in ancient days or Joseph's. One of those issues where I'll have to wait for more insight someday. My testimony is rooted in the Book of Mormon, the scriptures, and many personal experiences with the Gospel. The problems of polygamy in ancient times or Joseph's day don't negate the reality of the Book of Mormon or the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They do leave questions that are unanswered for me. But in looking at the totality of evidence, those issues aren't the only major ones nor the weightiest, and the most open to confusion and uncertainty.

  24. How does one strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel? This seems to be the procedure:

    1. Mischaracterize the statements of your opponents. "Random gibberish based on regurgitating Bible verses"? Is that really what I said? I think you would agree that one can deny the authenticity and truth of, say, the Koran, and point out that Mohammed's words were heavily influenced by his milieu, without accusing him of uttering "random gibberish." In fact, to argue as I do that Smith's writings are largely determined by his desires and his conceptual universe is to argue that his statements are not random.

    2. Cite evidence for your position, but when your opponents point out contrary evidence, discount the value of evidence itself. Could be a corrupt text. Could make perfect sense in a way I'll discover in the sweet bye and bye. Could maybe even be God hiding things to test our faith.

    3. Inflate the evidentiary value of your subjective experiences. Testimony uber alles.

    4. Ignore just how perfectly trite and ordinary your religious experience appears to those who know the exact same kinds of experiences have been had by billions of other people of other faiths. Insist that unlike them, you are special. Unlike their experience, your experience is true. When your synapses start firing away to produce that special feeling, it's the work of the Holy Spirit. Theirs? Bogus. Maybe even the work of Satan!

    I understand going into these debates that, under these terms, rational argument cannot make make much of a dent. I don't expect to "win" by persuading Jeff or Bookslinger or PapaD into apostasy. Faith is strongly innoculated against persuasion. But I do "win" if I can persuade those sitting on the fence. And I also "win" (and have some fun) by sharpening my debating points.

    And what, you might ask, aside from the fun, is in it for me? It's simple, really. As someone working in the campaign for gay rights (including gay marriage), I have a political interest in undermining the political authority of my political opponents, one of which happens to be the LDS Church. And one way to do that is to hone my ability to undercut the theological premises on which the Church claims its authority in the first place.

    It's nothing personal; it's purely political. I don't go after the Amish or the Jehovah's Witnesses, because they stay out of politics. But I do go after the politicized churches (and not just yours).

    — Eveningsun

  25. Now I understand. Thanks for the clarification, Eveningsun.

    I have only one question, which is sincere but totally unrelated to this post – so please answer it and then we both can drop it on this thread:

    Would you stop commenting on Mormon blogs like this if the LDS Church stopped advocating against gay marriage – or even if it started advocating for the granting of all civil rights for homosexuals except "marriage" (perhaps even including civil unions?

    That's not a leading or dismissive question in any way. I really am sincere in asking it. I don't want a qualified answer, like, "That will never happen, so it's irrelevant." I really do want to know, since I really do want to understand you better.

  26. Testimony uber alles.

    Absolutely. Why? Because clever debaters may appear to defeat those who place less emphasis on clever debate tactics than on finding truth, but appearances are deceiving, and in the end truth will prevail. When that happens, clever debaters will be left out in the cold.

    I understand going into these debates that, under these terms, rational argument cannot make make much of a dent. I don't expect to "win" by persuading Jeff or Bookslinger or PapaD into apostasy. Faith is strongly innoculated against persuasion. But I do "win" if I can persuade those sitting on the fence. And I also "win" (and have some fun) by sharpening my debating points.

    That sounds like a good description of Lucifer. I wouldn't go there if I were you.

    As someone working in the campaign for gay rights (including gay marriage)…

    Yes, let's destroy society under the guise of protecting "rights". That's a moral issue, my friend, and the Church is right to defend marriage and society against the onslaught.

  27. … appearances are deceiving, and in the end truth will prevail. When that happens, clever debaters will be left out in the cold.

    Maybe, maybe not. It depends on whether the "clever debater" is right or not. Maybe it'll be the steadfast believers left out in the cold when they discover it was the Muslims whose testimony was right all along.

    That sounds like a good description of Lucifer. I wouldn't go there if I were you.

    What do I have to be afraid of? That your God will punish me for being disobedient?

    Yes, let's destroy society…

    All the evidence thus far suggests society will get along just fine. Has Massachusetts fallen apart?

    … under the guise of protecting "rights.".

    There's a right (not a "right") to gay marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment. Keep your eye on the arguments of that noted conservative solicitor and gay-marriage proponent Ted Olsen when he presents them to the Supreme Court. I predict his arguments will prevail, which is to say the U.S. Constitution will prevail over LDS theology and moral panic.

    That's a moral issue, my friend, and the Church is right to defend marriage and society against the onslaught.

    Of course it's a moral issue. It's also a political issue, and the Church has chosen to engage it in the political realm. The Church has thereby chosen, as some churches have not, to expose itself to political attack.

    — Eveningsun

  28. Pops asks, Would you stop commenting on Mormon blogs like this if the LDS Church stopped advocating against gay marriage – or even if it started advocating for the granting of all civil rights for homosexuals except "marriage" (perhaps even including civil unions?

    Yes. My side really does want the whole nine yards, but if the LDS Church were to do as you've said, and if the Catholic Church and conservative evangelical churches were to continue with their current level of political opposition, it would make sense to focus solely on them.

    That said, if the Church were to advocate for civil unions, it would still be engaging in politics and would have to expect politically motivated criticism, just not from my side.

    (What strikes me as silly about the "Romney's not a real Christian" rhetoric is that it's not about Romney's politics. It's purely theological. To me, it only makes sense to say that if a candidate will support my positions politically, of course his religion is irrelevant. Funny as it might sound, I'll cast a vote for Harry Reid on the basis of his politics even as I castigate his Church for its politics.)

    Anyway, as I said, the broader issue is not so much a matter of what the Church believes or teaches, but of whether it takes those beliefs and teachings into the political realm. I'm guessing the Jehovah's Witnesses are far more strongly opposed than the Mormons to gay marriage, but what do I care? I consider that to be their business, for the precise reason that they haven't made it the public's business.

    Thanks, BTW, for trying to understand me. I appreciate it.

    — Eveningsun

  29. I'm arriving late to this conversation but I can't help but notice a common theme in trying to explain away the "bullseyes" of Joseph Smith.

    After many signs and miracles occur the people say, "Some things [Smith] may have guessed right among so many but we know this great and marvelous work did not come to pass." (paraphrasing Helaman 16:16)

    I sometimes wonder how many times the BoM or BoA just happens to get things right before people drop that excuse. From my experience in finding literally hundreds of these "guesses" about ancient society and religion from Smith they will never satisfy the critic.

    Great post Jeff.

  30. Now I see the motivation that Eve Sun has for trying to bring temporal court-room style evaluation of physical evidence into the realm of faith and belief.

    Great deduction, Papa D. You nailed it. We now see ES's motives.

    Eve: your whole courtroom-style arguments and analogies are just moot. It's a matter of faith.

    Mormon faith claims are no more outrageous than ancient Christian claims that a Jewish carpenter from out in the sticks (Galilee) was actually the Son of God, healed the blind, raised the dead, walked on water, and came back to life himself after he was executed.

    Mormon faith claims are no more outrageous than the Jewish claims about Moses' and Elijah's miracles.

    I think the main mistake of Mormon apologists is allowing the anti-Mormons too much leeway in framing the issues. And perhaps the church has been remiss in not suing certain parties who have knowingly published false information in regards to the Book of Abraham, or at least widely publishing evidence of the critic's deceit.

    LDS apologists don't have to prove (in a temporal sense) that the Book of Abraham is fact; only that the LDS critics have published known falsehoods in attacking the BoA.

  31. There's a right … to gay marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    Not so. "Equal protection" means equal protection, not similar protection. Every man has the right to marry one woman. Every woman has the right to marry one man. It could hardly be more equal. What Evening Sun and associates seek is to create new rights, specifically the right of a man to marry a man and the right of a woman to marry a woman.

    Prop. 8 was overturned on the presumption that no benefit accrues to the state as a result of gender-specific roles in marriage. Fortunately, that argument doesn't hold water.

  32. I think it's always better to muse than to fall apart and leave the church, just my advice.

    Heh. Ain't that the truth?

    It's probably been about two years now that I engaged an anti-Mormon on a large blogging website and he persistently attacked the Book of Abraham. Before this engagement I had little to no idea ofthe several points of cotraversies behind the Book of Abraham and the relatively little information available which answers the various points of criticism. I forget who wrote this but I greed with one scholar which said it's the Mormon's fault for not having studied the Book of Abraham sufficiently in the early days ofthe Church and thus left handicapped ot answer today's points of criticism.

    But, despite all this, archeology and history have never been the source of knowing the truthfulness ofthe Resored Gospel of Jesus Christ, nor of the true mantle of prophet Joseph Smith. He truly did "commune with Jehovah" for our latter day.

    I always keep an eye out for the "latest developments" on the Book of Abraham. This post is a very good one, Jeff. Once again a criticism once made against Joseph smith turns out as a small vindication for him.

  33. oms @ 3:17 12/27/11

    "And with patience, I'm sure you'll find more ways FAIR and Maxwell twist the findings to reach plausibility.

    I've heard that before from anti-Mormons. If they twist truth nearly as much as they say they do then I have a very simple challenge for those who purport this about the FARMS: take the substance of their arguments and show where they err. You have four full paragraphs provided to you from the Maxwell Institute on the front page ofthis thread. I'm sure you can also goto FARMS' homepage and easily find the full article on The Crocodile God of Pharaoh in Mesopotamia.

    So, hop to it, if you desire. I'll wait.

  34. Openminded;

    "here's how a reasonable person might deflate it a notch"

    Dude, I'd say that takes the argument down not a notch but a mere nano-notch. In other words, its taken down only 1/1,000,000,000 of a notch. Tell me, how likely would you look at what's clearly four creatures in figure 6 of fascimile 2 and think, "these are the four corners of the earth"? Despite how frequent a term "four corners ofthe earth" is n Mormon literature, just because there's onlyfour creatures, they represent the four corners and apparently Joseph Smith was dead on correct?

  35. Every man has the right to marry one woman. Every woman has the right to marry one man. It could hardly be more equal.

    Sounds a lot like the way a lot of people thought before Loving vs. Virginia, back in the days when it was illegal for blacks to marry whites: Everyone, regardless of their race, had the right to marry a member of their own race. Whites had the right to marry whites, and blacks had the right to marry blacks.

    It could hardly have been more equal!

    But then that pesky Supreme Court went and ruled that a white person had the right to marry a black person, thereby inventing a new right!

    And as we all know, society was destroyed!

    A law that limits marriage to a member of the opposite sex works fine for straight people. But for gay people it means that the legal benefits of marriage are available only at the severe emotional cost of marrying someone you don't love. The law systematically extends a privilege to one group while effectively withholding it from another.

    That kind of discrimination against an entire class of people (especially when there's a long history of animus against that class) is permissible only when there's a compelling enough state interest to justify it. Mere animus toward gay people is not enough. Tradition is not enough. Religious belief is not enough. But as the testimony in the Prop 8 trial made abundantly clear, animus, tradition, and religious belief is all that gay marriage opponents have to justify the discrimination. They had abundant opportunity to demonstrate some compelling state interest in banning gay marriage, and (despite Pops' claim that "that argument doesn't hold water") they failed rather spectacularly to do so.

    It's one thing to make speeches and deliver sermons (and bloviate like we do in blog comments). It's quite another thing to make a compelling argument in a formally controlled courtroom setting* with cross-examination, etc. In that setting, the anti-gay-marriage argument fell apart.

    The Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case echoed Loving vs. Virginia, where no one could demonstrate any actual harm that would be caused by interracial marriage and it became painfully obvious that such marriages were banned solely because of tradition, religious belief, and social prejudice. (And anyone who truly believes in "limited government" does not want to see the government functioning as the enforcement arm of religious beliefs and social prejudices. Not that there are all that many small-government conservatives around.)

    Of course, we all know what Brigham Young said of interracial marriage: death on the spot! So now I'm curious. Does anyone here know what the LDS Church thought of Loving vs. Virginia?

    — Eveningsun

    * BTW, what does Bookslinger have against courtrooms? And does he truly think churches should go around suing their opponents for publishing heretical claims? Back in the 50s and 60s, should the Catholics have sued Bruce McConkie for publishing the claim that Catholicism is the Church of the Devil? Is it too late for a sort of class-action suit against Joseph Smith for claiming that all other religions are false? Could a Jewish congregation sue a Christian church for publishing a book (the New Testament) saying that the Jews are of their father the Devil?

    I truly don't get Bookslinger's reasoning. On the one hand, courtroom procedures, with their focus on silly things like actual evidence, are a terrible way to evaluate religious truth-claims. On the other hand, he thinks the LDS Church should fight back against its spiritual opponents by taking them into a…courtroom.