Review of Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture

A new book related to the Pearl of Great Price has just been published by two well-known LDS scholars, Dr. Terryl Givens and Dr. Brian Hauglid, both currently associated with the Maxwell Institute at BYU. The book is The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2019). Givens, one of my favorite LDS thinkers and writers, is noted for intelligent treatments of Latter-day Saint scripture and life in works such as The God Who Weeps and By the Hand of Mormon, etc. Hauglid has years of experience in dealing with the Book of Abraham in particular and is one of the co-editors of the high-profile Book of Abraham volume from the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Unfortunately, I and John Gee have independently felt compelled to point out some serious gaps and biases in that volume, some of which appear to have been imported into The Pearl of Greatest Price (my review and John Gee’s review are both at The Interpreter, and I provide some additional information in an article for Meridian Magazine). The cover of The Pearl of Greatest Price indicates it is by Terryl Givens “with Brian Hauglid,” perhaps indicating that Hauglid’s contribution is secondary or perhaps largely focused on the Book of Abraham material.

The Pearl of Greatest Price explores the history and impact upon the Church for each of the several parts of the Pearl of Great Price, namely, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, the History of Joseph Smith, and the Articles of Faith. In general, these are presented with scholarly attention to detail, and with a broad awareness of how members and critics have responded to the content and occasionally misunderstandings about the content of these work. That alone makes the book a worthwhile read.

I offer praise for most of this work, in spite of occasional disagreement, particularly a few aspects of  the treatment of the Book of Abraham.

I particularly enjoyed the insights into how the Articles of Faith responded to the environment of persecution the Church faced and yet took strong stands on some issues that would further ruffle feathers of our religious critics, while avoiding a number of more sensitive issues.

The treatment of Joseph Smith’s history was also thorough and insightful. Givens plausibly suggests that Joseph initially saw his sacred experience as a very personal, private experience, but gradually saw the need to let others know some of what happened, in part at least to correct misinformation that his enemies were spreading about him. There is a tendency for some to interpret his various accounts as if Joseph were making the story up and simply adding grander embellishments over time. Here it might have been helpful to point to some of the early evidence showing that Joseph had shared key parts of his First Vision account that did not make it into his public written accounts until years later. There is no mention of an important work, Richard L. Anderson’s “Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences,” BYU Studies 9/3 (1969): 1-27, or a variety of other resources on the issue. If elements from the later versions of Joseph’s First Vision account were already known to some others years before they were put into print for the public, then skeptical hostile arguments about Joseph fabricating new embellishments to his story over time become less tenable. Of course, Givens is not seeking to resolve heated debates, but to explore Joseph’s teachings, his views and his journey as he shared different aspects of his experience over time. As such, his treatment is a worthwhile and interesting contribution to understanding the First Vision.

The treatment of the Book of Moses, as thorough and scholarly as it is, seems to take it as an evolutionary product of Joseph’s ideas rather than leaving the door open to the possibility that it might have been a revelation in some way related to an ancient text. Givens discusses the intertextuality of the Book of Moses with the Doctrine and Covenants, but would have been more complete if he had noted the surprising elements of intertextuality with the Book of Mormon that suggest a one-way dependency of the Book of Mormon with the Book of Moses, or perhaps an ancient related document on the brass plates that had a significant impact on several Book of Mormon writers, particularly Nephi, Jacob, Alma, and Mormon. The foundational work in this area was published by Noel Reynolds years ago and has recently been significantly expanded. If there were is an ancient Book of Moses related to ours that was had on the Nephite’s brass plates, then we may need to look at the Book of Moses as something more than Joseph’s personal but inspired or inspiring musings. See Noel Reynolds, “The Brass Plates Version of Genesis” (link is to a PDF of a scanned image of pages from a book) in John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday, 27 March 1990, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 2:136–173, recently republished in The Interpreter (I recommend the latter version for enhanced readability). For additional data extending Reynolds’ work, see Jeff Lindsay, “‘Arise from the Dust’: Insights from Dust-Related Themes in the Book of Mormon (Part 1: Tracks from the Book of Moses),” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 22 (2016): 179-232.

Givens recognizes the debate that exists regarding evidence for ancient origins of at least some of the content in the Book of Moses. He notes that there is an affinity with 1 Enoch, a text that Joseph theoretically could have encountered after its translation into English in 1821 in London, and cites voices on both sides of the debate. For the argument that Joseph must have had access to and relied on First Enoch, he cites Michael Quinn and Salvatore Cirillo’s 2010 thesis, while noting on the other hand that Richard Bushman finds it “scarcely conceivable” that Joseph could have known of 1 Enoch. Givens moves on and says he is not interested in resolving the debate but in “plumbing” the nature of the parallels between the Book of Moses and the Enoch tradition and the modifications that Joseph produced, “asking what they reveal about his prophetic project, and how they factored into the shaping of Latter-day Saint writings and teachings” (p. 47). Fair enough, but perhaps a word or two more on the debate would have been worthwhile.

What is overlooked is that while the relationships to the Enoch tradition include some interesting parallels to 1 Enoch, anyone examining that text will be hard-pressed to explain how it could have served as a source for Joseph. Its major themes and most striking elements are generally absent in the Book of Moses. Further, some of the most striking parallels to the ancient Enoch tradition are not found in anything Joseph could have theoretically accessed in 1830, but are found in later publications of ancient texts such as 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, and the Qumran Book of Giants. It is in these sources, especially the Book of Giants, where the strongest evidences for ancient origins in the Book of Moses may be found. Such evidence may have been overlooked to hastily. Givens does not mention, for example, the occurrence of the names Mahujah and Mahijah in contexts that are consistent with their ancient occurrence. Attempts to explain away the multiple detailed connections between the Book of Moses and ancient Enochian traditions fail on multiple counts, as explained in detail by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and Ryan Dahle in “Could Joseph Smith Have Drawn on Ancient Manuscripts When He Translated the Story of Enoch?: Recent Updates on a Persistent Question,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 305-374.

The treatment of the Book of Abraham, as noted above, was the primary source of disappointment with this generally useful volume.  I was disappointed but not surprised at the blind spots in the treatment of the Book of Abraham, given that many of these gaps were already identified in the approach of the recent publication by Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen as co-editors for Joseph Smith Papers Project volume on the Book of Abraham. Readers of this blog may already be familiar with my concerns. For a summary, see Jeff Lindsay, “A Precious Resource with Some Gaps,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 33 (2019): 13-104, and Jeff Lindsay, “Dealing with ‘Friendly Fire’ on the Book of Abraham,” Meridian Magazine, 2019. Many of the same problems are found here, resulting in flawed conclusions that suggest the Book of Abraham was more of a product of Joseph’s environment and own imagination than the product of actually translating or restoring something ancient, whether it was physically on the papyri or not.

One positive difference in this volume relative to the Joseph Smith Papers’ volume on the Book of Abraham, involves Dr. Hugh Nibley, the most prolific and arguably most influential LDS scholar to have tackled many aspects of the Book of Abraham, the papyri, and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. Nibley’s name is not mentioned once in any of the extensive commentary or 1000-plus footnotes of the Joseph Smith Papers volume that Hauglid co-edited, consistent with his recent “coming out” as one who finds LDS apologetics to be “abhorrent.” Fortunately, this gap has been overcome in The Pearl of Greatest Price. Not only is Nibley cited and discussed, but a few of the views of LDS apologists are also mentioned. For example, the book cites the views of Nibley, Stephen Smoot, and Quinten Barney on the relationship between ancient temple texts and practices and the Book of Abraham (p. 152). Also mentioned is the appearance of Abraham’s name in a variety of texts and ancient traditions related to temple worship, a pet theme of Nibley. He is mentioned many other times. That’s a welcome relief.

But many problems remain. Givens and Hauglid discuss 19th century Egyptomania and recognize that it was fueled by the artifacts Napoleon brought back to Europe, but fail to recognize that foremost among these artifacts was the Rosetta Stone, and that Egyptomania was fueled by the artifact in particular and especially by the widespread recognition that Champollion had to some degree cracked the code of Egyptian by seeking to translate it. This was big news and a quick search of early nineteenth-century newspapers in the US shows that Champollion’s name was a household item, even in Ohio, in Joseph’s day. I can’t fathom widespread Egyptomania in 1835 without Champollion and a basic understanding of what Champollion had done. However, the The Pearl of Greatest Price, like Hauglid’s volume for the Joseph Smith Papers, assumes that Joseph did not know that Egyptian had been determined to be a largely alphabetic language, and that Joseph somehow still clung to the very old notion that it was a mystical, oracular language in which one character could contain a world of meaning, thus explaining how Joseph allegedly and foolishly “translated” many dozens of English words from a single character, as critics claim Joseph Smith did and as the Joseph Smith Papers volume tends to suggest in its biased discussion of the Book of Abraham manuscripts that have some characters in the margins. Such notions are belied by Joseph’s own statements regarding “reformed Egyptian” and by the statements in the Book of Mormon about the nature of the language being used. I was disappointed that this flawed view persisted in this volume. Articles criticizing Hauglid’s errors in this regard and on many other issues had been published long before this volume came out, though he and Givens may not have noticed them or may not have had time to reconsider prior to the publication.

Another issue is the tendency to favor the Book of Abraham as a translation produced in some kind of evolving intellectual process using the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language or the Egyptian Alphabet documents in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, though the authors at least recognize that the possibility that Joseph dictated the Book of Abraham “in a flow of oracular inspiration cannot be entirely ruled out” (p. 174). An examination of the texts in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, in my opinion, shows that the most plausible viewpoint is that the translation came first, followed by use of the translation to support whatever intellectual objective was being pursued with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers. For example, the “twin” manuscripts with characters in the margins and translated text in the right should not be seen as “windows” into how Joseph translated text in live dictation, as Hauglid has argued, but as a product of Joseph’s scribes as they work with an existing text of Book of Abraham translation to create more entries for a particular unfinished section of the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language. One of several important and hard-to-miss clues for that conclusion is the very title given at the top of the twin manuscripts. Given what we know from the translation process Joseph used to create the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses as well as the restoration of an ancient text in Doctrine and Covenants Section 7, there is no reason to believe that Joseph went about the translation of the Book of Abraham in any other way. The KirtlandEgyptian Papers do not give an window into his translation method, but tell us something else about an intellectual project whose objectives and reasons for abandonment are unclear. Further, Joseph’s journal mentions creating an alphabet “to” the Book of Abraham, not “for the translation of the Book of Abraham,” as if the translated text were the source for creating the alphabet.

Givens and Hauglid rely on the  common assumption that Doctrine and Covenants Section 9’s language about studying things out in one’s mind applies to the translation process, but this is another assumption that may be flawed. Important scholarship on this issue needs to be considered. See Stan Spencer, “The Faith to See: Burning in the Bosom and Translating the Book of Mormon in Doctrine and Covenants 9,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 18 (2016): 219-232. Also see my post, “It Depends on What the Meaning of ‘It’ Is: Reconsidering the ‘Burning in the Bosom’ and ‘Studying It Out’ in Doctrine and Covenants 9,” Mormanity, Dec. 12, 2018.

In By the Hand of Mormon, Givens evinces good familiarity with many of the evidentiary strengths of the Book of Mormon and shows no inherent aversion toward apologetics. For example, he discusses the discovery of the male name Alma in an ancient Jewish land deed and even shows an image of the document validating the much-maligned male name Alma in the Book of Mormon. He discusses apparent  Hebraisms, chiasmus, and other strengths of the Book of Mormon, and discusses recent findings that may fortify some of the potential weak spots. In The Pearl of Greatest Price, however, there seems to be somewhat less awareness of the evidence supporting the ancient roots of the Book of Abraham and the Book of Moses and perhaps more reluctance to point out the strengths of both, but perhaps that would be outside the intended scope of the work.

However, in the section on the Book of Abraham, Givens and Hauglid do mention the discovery of a plausible candidate for Olishem mentioned in Abraham 1:10 (p. 168) and note Kerry Muhlenstein’s work showing that human sacrifice did occur in several forms in ancient Egypt, adding plausibility to the account in the Book of Abraham (p. 168). Parallels to the ancient biography of Idrimi are also mentioned (p. 169). Awareness of these issues is much appreciated. Many more could be mentioned, such as the various issues that have been raised at Pearl of Great Price Central and many other sources.

Granted, Givens’ purpose is not to resolve debates on the origins of the Book of Abraham, but for some of the controversies and issues that are raised, I wish there had been slightly more awareness of the strengths of that text and the weakness in some of the arguments against it.

Overall, though, there is much to learn from The Pearl of Greatest Price and a few things for healthy debate. The book a valuable contribution, in spite of my objections on a few points.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

67 thoughts on “Review of Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture

  1. "then hostile arguments about Joseph fabricating new embellishments to his story over time"

    Fabrication usually involves a pattern of adding details overtime. Just a fact. And that is a pattern not just with the first vision, but other items such as the he visitation of John the Baptist etc. Acknowledging the similarity in appearance is just honesty, not hostility. Labeling it hostility is just an ad hominem and a form of hate that takes us further from Christ.

    Declaring the similarity in appearance less tenable or just an unfortunate coincidence is not new. The reasons vary, sometimes it is because it is highly personal experience or sometimes it because of a high amount of persecution at the time. All reasons acknowledge the way it appears, resorting to it is just being faith despite the way it appears.

  2. Thanks for the input. The reference to "hostile arguments" is meant to refer to the reality that attacks on the First Vision are a common tool of those who are manifestly hostile to our faith and wish to pull people away from it. There are non-hostile voices who can discuss how the published story may have evolved, but it's hard to ignore that those seeking to attack our faith commonly argue that Joseph was a liar and fabricated the whole story years later based on the differences between the published accounts.

    There are hostile voices. That doesn't mean all they say is wrong — much has some merit — but knowing that there are serious weaknesses in some of their arguments against the First Vision can be helpful for those investigating the origins of the Restoration. I'll stick with the recognition that there are hostile arguments against the reality of the First Vision, while there is plenty of room for others in good faith to explore how and why the published versions evolved. But in those explorations, it's good to understand the existence of the hostile arguments and to know some of the points in favor of an 1820 experience that wasn't made up many years later.

  3. “the tendency to favor the Book of Abraham as a translation produced in some kind of evolving intellectual process using the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language”

    “the most plausible viewpoint is that the translation came first, followed by use of the translation to support whatever intellectual objective was being pursued with the Kirtland Egyptian Papers”

    This is decidedly not the most plausible viewpoint if you consider the evidence available, especially Joseph’s journal which cites both translations (BoA and GAEL) occurring simultaneously. The first viewpoint above makes the most sense. It seems both documents were being created concurrently.

  4. “the Joseph Smith Papers, assumes that Joseph did not know that Egyptian had been determined to be a largely alphabetic language, and that Joseph somehow still clung to the very old notion that it was a mystical, oracular language in which one character could contain a world of meaning”

    From Oliver Cowdery:

    “When the translation of these valuable documents will be completed, I am unable to say; neither can I give you a probably idea how large volumes they will make; but judging from their size, and the comprehensiveness of the language, one might reasonably expect to see a [work] sufficient to develop much upon the mighty acts of the ancient men of God, and of his dealing with the children of men when they saw him face to face.”

    Cowdery believed that “the comprehensive[ness] of the language” would produce “volumes” (yes that’s plural). Was he more ignorant than JS? Where’s his reference to Chompollion and Egyptian as an alphabetic language? Where is the reference from any person within the church to either of these items of information that everyone was aware of and was common knowledge? You’re making assumptions based on no evidence—and actually contrary to available evidence.

  5. 6:06 –

    It is the natural man, not the Spirit, that encourages accusing others of bad faith and hostility.

    The reality is Joseph Smith, like all but one, was flawed and imperfect. Like all of us, he was a liar and fabricator. That is what our faith teaches. Our faith teaches that sometimes God commands lying and deceiving. God commanded Abraham to lie. God commanded Nephi to receive government officials after killing another. Such things are not biblically unprecedented, though they may be more elaborate. It is Mormonism's bright view that recognizes God can do such great things through our imperfections and fallibility.

    Memories are imperfect. That is why Moroni repeated things to Joseph Smith three times. As Mormons, we do not claim Joseph Smith repetitions were perfect or deprived of unwitting mortal embellishment. The authors that wrote Joseph Smith history in first person were not deliberately deceiving. As Mormons, we only claim evolution of the stories were done in good faith and that their details are not essential to our salvation.

    You may wish to view this as leading away from faith and attack and accuse others of hostility and bad faith, but that wish is not of the Spirit. As Mormons we only wish to invite others to come closer to Christ and that wish extends to yourself and there is zero reason to believe it leads you away from faith.

  6. As discussed previously here in an Aug. 2019 post, an 1831 newspaper story reports that Dr. Samuel Mitchill mentioned Egyptian hieroglyphics and Champollion's decipherment to Martin Harris. Whether Harris was correctly quoted or not, the newspaper article would certainly have been noticed by Latter-day Saints.

    As discussed in my article for The Interpreter and in various posts here, there is also abundant evidence from newspapers in the US prior to 1835 that Champollion was widely known. For those caught up in Egyptomania in the 1830s and 1840s to not know about Champollion would be like science fiction fans in our day not knowing about Neil Armstrong and the moon landing.

  7. Further, Joseph explained that reformed Egpytian was a "running language" like Hebrew, and indications in the Book of Mormon show it was a written language that people can learn, study, and apply in translation without the need for mystical oracular gifts. Oliver knew that the accessible portion of the gold plates contained the text of the Book of Mormon. If one character could give over a hundred English words, a couple of plates would have sufficed, not a thick stack. Further, the Anthon Characters document reflects a written language with common characters used repeatedly much as one would expect in a normal written language to tell a story. If each character is a story or a paragraph, you wouldn't expect to see many of the characters used repeatedly. Everything we can infer about reformed Egyptian and what Joseph would have known about reformed Egyptian defies the idea that he seriously thought one character or one portion of a character could generate a large block of text.

    1. You’re fighting an uphill battle here, Jeff. Just because you’ve posted about Champollion before, still doesn’t mean the the Saints were aware of him, let alone what his research and study had shown. During the timeframe we’re referring to, there was still debate as to whether or not his interpretation of Egyptian was correct.

      Another problem with your logic can be explained by making a comparison of a similar argument on a different pet apologetic point of yours: Nahom. You would have us believe that there is no way that Joseph could have known about the location Nahom, which appears in the Book of Mormon. It has been demonstrated that there were maps available in Joseph’s time showing the area of Nehim or Nahom. Despite this information being available you don’t believe Joseph could have known it. Here’s the way the logic works with Nahom and why it doesn’t apply to Champollion. Joseph used the place Nahom. There is mention of the location in the BoM, therefore we have proof that he was aware of the name. Your argument is that he was given the name through metaphysical means—the argument against is that he either viewed an extant map, or talked to someone who had viewed it and became aware of the name as a result. Either way, we have the name and it appears in print in the BoM. With Champollion, we know that his name was out there in the early-to-mid 19th century. You have provided us with several examples of him being mentioned in published materials. What you haven’t shown is 1) him being mentioned in any LDS publications of the era, nor 2) demonstrated knowledge that his interpretation of Egyptian as a written phonetic language was known to the LDS community. In this parallel, Nahom does not appear in print—we only have speculation that, because it was known in Joseph’s time, it may have been the name of one of the places described in the BoM.

      In fact, the exact opposite of your assertion appears to be true. We have Oliver Cowdery speaking of Egyptian as a “comprehensive language” that could fill “volumes.” We also have 2 documents that show an association between single hieroglyphs and multiple lines of English text. There is also a demonstrated rich traditional history that Egyptian, as an extremely ancient language, linguistically was closer to the Adamic tongue, and therefore purer and able to convey complex ideas through simple means. There were similar thoughts about Hebrew at the time.

      In the end, you’re arguing against solid proof with speculation and it just doesn’t work.

    2. In other words, there is a link between information being available with Nahom and it being manifested in print in an LDS work. With Champollion, we have proof that information was available, but no link showing that the information had been consumed or used in an LDS work.

    3. Also, keep in mind one of your preferred references from the BoM regarding language (and beliefs about language):

      “32 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.”

      What you generally fail to cite is the next verse that discusses the number of characters required to convey an idea in Egyptian (or reformed Egyptian in this case).

      “33 And if our plates had been asufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no bimperfection in our record.”

      The records are imperfect because they are written in reformed Egyptian, but they are also able to be smaller because they are written in reformed Egyptian. Apparently Moroni doesn’t agree with your interpretation of how “Joseph explained that reformed Egpytian was a ‘running language’ like Hebrew.” Obviously the BoM would lead us to believe that written Egyptian can convey more ideas in fewer characters than Hebrew.

  8. Jeff –

    Mormon hostility refers the reality that Mormon attacks on infant baptism (etc) is a common tool of Mormons who are manifestly hostile to Christian faiths and wish to pull people away from their faith in their Churches. It is hard to ignore Mormons seeking to attack other faiths commonly argue their professors are all corrupt and draw far God with the hearts.

    There are "hostile" Mormon voices (as you define hostile). That doesn't mean all they say is wrong — much has some merit — but knowing that there are serious weaknesses in some of their attacks against Christians such as lacking sincerity and real intent, or belonging to the Church of the Devil, can be helpful for Christians investigating the origins of their faith. I'll stick with the recognition that there are hostile Mormon arguments against the reality of Christian miracles, while there is plenty of room for others in good faith to explore how and why God does not want them to be Mormon. But in those explorations, it's good to understand the existence of the hostile Mormon arguments and know some of the points that indicate they are not lying when they say the Spirit does want them to be Mormon.

  9. If going door to door telling Christians they are apostates that are part the Great Apostasy is not hostility, then I do not know what hostility is.

  10. Jeff, you wrote, " Further, the Anthon Characters document reflects a written language with common characters used repeatedly much as one would expect in a normal written language to tell a story. If each character is a story or a paragraph, you wouldn't expect to see many of the characters used repeatedly."
    Jerry D. Grover, Jr, claims to have translated the "Caractors" document, and that the repetition of characters provided the key. Most of them are numbers that pertain to dates, and the document is a synopsis, or section heading. It is not found in Joseph Smith's translation, but was apparently on the lost 116 manuscript pages.
    I'd really appreciate your take on Grover's effort.

  11. 8:09 – So you are saying both sides of the chat show hostility. The non-missionaries appear to be better at reflecting the missionaries insincere and robotic style, which could be misconstrued as more hostile, but none of them appear to be non-members.

  12. On second thought, I've change the choice of wording from "hostile" to "skeptical," giving a broader sense of what the issue is. I could also have said "critical" or "contrarian." The point is that there are arguments that undermine the mainstream Latter-day Saint perspective on the First Vision, and it's useful for members of the Church who are to understand the limitations of those arguments.

  13. Listed on the Joseph Smith Papers website as "Appendix 2, Document 2a. Characters Copied by Oliver Cowdery, circa 1835–1836" is a document, in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery, that gives a few words of English, a transliteration of a supposed "Hebrew" translation, and then shows two pairs of Egyptian-like characters beneath a pair of English phrases: "(The Book of Mormon)" and "(the interpreters of languages)." Four characters that give four words (minus "the" and "of"). Not a page-long story with place names, dates, a few dozen verbs and so forth. Reformed Egyptian was compact, but a thick stack of plates, not a single plate, gave us the English text. The last plate gave us the title page of the Book of Mormon – a plate, not a single mystical character with worlds of meaning requiring miraculous skills to reveal. Reformed Egyptian was more compact than Hebrew but it was still a running language — Joseph described it as running from right to left in the same way as Hebrew, and the Book of Mormon states that it was a language that could be taught to one's descendants (Mosiah 1:4) and that it reflected their spoken language (Mormon 9:32). Is it reasonable that Joseph forgot what he learned and taught about reformed Egyptian and now thought one Egyptian character could give such enormous detail?

    1. Direction of text has no bearing on content. The ability to learn and pass it on has no bearing either. You have provided no evidence that he learned or thought that one hieroglyph couldn’t give enormous detail.

      Moroni states he was sacrificing facility with the language for space. Period. He makes it clear that it was a shorthand for his normal spoken language. This is born out in the treatment of the BoA translation. You seem to be choosing to ignore the evidence because you have so much invested in your own theory and what it means to your belief in Joseph’s credibility. There are other believing members who don’t have to make those mental sacrifices to their intellectual integrity who get along just fine.

  14. I especially liked these two exchanges:

    Inciter: “Why do your teachings lead to talk about forcing people. Isn't that a hostile topic?”

    Missionary: “We don't force people to do anything”

    Inciter: “You keep resorting to this unChristlike hostility suggesting that someone is asking you about forcing people when no one has done this.”


    Missionary: “our religion embraces other religions and our leaders work closely with other religious leaders to help people all over the world! What might be causing some of those concerns is that we do believe that our church is the true church of Jesus Christ and that the blessings we receive from our religion are immense! And so yes, we do want other people to receive those blessings, but our goal is not to draw others from what they believe in. We encourage all to follow and choose what's best for them.”

    Inciter: “Why so much hostility?”

  15. Anon – Those are good ones. Now that the inciter has decided he does not like his definition of hostility, we can look forward to similar exchanges, but now with skeptical and contrarian.

  16. For Nahom, keep in mind that this involves far more than just a random name. Nahom in the Book of Mormon doesn't just correlate with a name (Nehhem) from rare European maps or books that cannot be located anywhere near Joseph, but is a name that correlates with a remarkably plausible location accessible from Jerusalem by traveling the direction indicated in the Book of Mormon, a place that is just about the only location where one can make the surprising turn due East indicated in the Book of Mormon and not just survive, but then have possible access to a wadi that will lead you to a remote, isolated, and remarkable candidate for the wholly unexpected but now plausible site of Bountiful, a detail not available on any map in Joseph's day. Nahom is not just a name of place in exactly the right location, but a name represented the way ancient Jews might hear and write Nihm/Nehhem from the place of the ancient Nihm tribe. It is a name presented in the Book of Mormon with an apparent word play, a very appropriate and meaningful one, on the meanings of Nahom related to mourning, death, and murmuring. And it's a name that is now attested with archaeological evidence showing that it was present and prominent in Lehi's day. It's a remarkable find.

    If you think that obscure name, Nehhem, one of hundreds of minor names on a few rare maps of Arabia or Yemen, was selected by Joseph Smith based on his study of one of these rare, expensive maps, then can you explain why such a treasure of information would not be used for anything except one name? And why would any name be selected at all? The theory is usually that Joseph was trying to add local color or evidence. Then why did nobody in the Church ever tout that evidence or notice it until 1978, when a BYU professor noticed something like Nahom existed on a map? Why not mention Mecca and other recognizable names? Why not have an accomplice "discover" a rare map and make a big deal about the evidence for the Book of Mormon after it was published? Why pluck an obscure name that nobody would recognize — and manage to hit a bull's eye in the process, one that would include a nice apparent Hebrew word play in the verse the mentions Nahom, but one that nobody would notice in your lifetime? And why use it in just a single verse and not milk it and the resource of a rare map for something more? It just makes no sense, except that the evidence of ancient authenticity must be challenged at all costs.

    1. “why such a treasure of information would not be used for anything except one name? And why would any name be selected at all?”

      Easy explanation: the gist of the Book wasn’t Jerusalem/Israel—it was the new world and the traditional American belief that it was a new promised land reserved for the righteous. Also, any story teller knows that naming adds interest to a story.

      Further explanation for the rest of your questions in the remainder of the paragraph likely lie in the answer to this question: why did Joseph avoid talking about the details of the coming forth of the BoM for the remainder of his life? Why so dodgy about this “miraculous” experience?

      “It just makes no sense, except that the evidence of ancient authenticity must be challenged at all costs.”

      Paranormal intercession makes the most sense?

      The point is that there is much stronger evidence that Nahom was lifted from a map than that Joseph or his cohorts were aware of Champollion or his work. You have provided no documentation showing a link. There are multiple evidences pointing to the belief that Egyptian hieroglyphics could condense complex ideas.

  17. Robert Boylan, thanks for that very thoughtful review. I learned a lot from your scholarship — always appreciated. So much that many of us Latter-day Saints overlook in our sometimes overly simplified views of Christianity and the teachings of Luther and others.

  18. Did Mormography make that Wix website? The inciters all act exactly like him – even down to trying to force parallels between the Book of Mormon and Atlantis.

  19. ❤️❤️😊 Wonderful article and comments Jeff, as always. Still super busy but I read when possible. You’re a great scholar and hopefully Brian, Terryl, etc. are open to your (peer) reviews and possess the intelligence and humility needed to continue to move onward and upward—away from those conforming to more shallow, doubtful and negative thinking. Conformity to false intellectualism helped bring us the Great Apostasy. It’s why our critics are less active in good things.
    For example—You’ve shared sound evidence: all but proving that the BofA was revealed, not concocted; that much of it was already translated before the GAEL was created “to” it; that early LDS were aware of Champollion and his work (including publications containing LDS articles and articles referring to Champollion, together), although it doesn’t matter if they didn’t know, BofA is still ancient; etc. etc. There is also valid evidence supporting the belief that Joseph possessed an ancient BofA source, now lost; and supporting that a cursive reformed Egyptian would take less space than Nephite Hebrew; etc.; etc.

    On the other hand (as I love to say), critics, you are still working hard at “back flips” (as some of you say) rather than accept good and obvious truths.

    You know Joseph didn’t really have access to maps showing Nahom, Bountiful, Shazer, the turn, etc. (and yes, Nahom was listed on a map, but whether 50 miles from Joseph Smith (as your church has falsely claimed) or 400 miles, it was still in a restricted Library. We can avoid it all we want (pretending that, as he was translating, he met someone who met someone who happened to mention some great places to work into the BofM events, and symbols, and etc. etc.,) but after all these years of searching, the anti-faith Church has found no evidence that Joseph ever encountered any of the few who had access AND, even if he miraculously did (and they never took the opportunity to make big bucks on an expose) it’s still impossible for him to have known all the rest: the geography of Mesoamerica, the walls, fortifications, the symbols, the volcanoes, history, customs, overturned anachronisms, names, etc. (e.g remember our discussion of the Tree of Life, DNA, etc.)
    Sooo, why not just repent, critics, and return and join us in proclaiming the beautiful truths of eternal life? 😊❤️ It’s an easy yoke.

  20. “after all these years of searching, the anti-faith Church has found no evidence that Joseph ever encountered any of the few who had access”

    The proof is right there in print in the BoM for all to see. The burden of proof then falls to you to prove that he wasn’t able to get the name from an available source.

    1. Well, my anonymous friend, that’s not a bad argument…for a critic. And, along with that, the negative Church claimed Laban’s sword was anachronistic for about 100 years, until the Jericho sword (and others) were discovered. No problem for doubters though, the BofM gives proof (right there in print for everyone to see) that, while in Jerusalem, Orson Hyde saw the steel sword that was discovered a hundred years later. The inclusion in the BofM proves he buried it and told Joseph to include the part about Laban’s sword…
      We also have proof that Joseph traveled to Izapa and translated and reburied #5, and same with Pacal’s cross, etc. etc.
      : ) but, for me, the most logical solution (to explain the hundreds of BofM evidences) is Joseph Smith’s explanation, which the evidence (and the Lord) supports…it’s a translation of an ancient record. 😊

    2. Speaking of that sword, whatever happened to that thing? Why isn’t it on display at the family history museum or at the SLC temple? We know the church still has the seer stone. Why not anything else? The plates were taken away but what about all the other stuff that was in the box?

  21. A mystical language where one character tells a whole story or two hundred words of a story is divorced from the spoken language. It requires special oracular skills and isn't something you just teach to kids to pass on basic literary skills. Both of the related statements in the Book of Mormon defy the old pre-Champollion notion. As does the translation of 4 reformed Egyptian characters to give four distinct English words (plus some added the's and of's). As does the relationship between the English title page with a leaf of the Book of Mormon (not just a character or two). As does the nature of the Anthon Characters document, where we see many examples of the same characters being reused as if we are dealing with a phonetic language, a running language that is written much as Hebrew, as Joseph described. If one character can convey a whole story or hundreds of words, then we wouldn't expect to see that character being used over and over in the same brief excerpt. It was more compact that Hebrew, not ridiculously so or magically so, just as Chinese can be much more compact than English.

    1. “A mystical language where one character tells a whole story or two hundred words of a story is divorced from the spoken language.”

      You’re right, and I believe that is the point. The text of the papyri and the text that was produced had no real relationship. The text that we know was specifically derived from the remaining fragments is not translated correctly. They were making it all up as they went along. They were playing at an intellectual pursuit with Joseph as the ringleader.

    2. This seems to be the pattern with Joseph’s “translations”—the source document and the text produced have no real relationship with one another (for the sake if argument, this is granting that there was an actual source document for the BoM, for which there is no physical evidence). We know that the plates were mostly not referred to during the translation and many times weren’t even in the same room. Why is that ok but when the BoA text doesn’t match what was written on the papyri, it’s a big deal? Seems like a double standard on your part.

    3. This also got me thinking about the box these artifacts were all stored in. Whatever happened to that? It would have been a good way to prove to people that he had discovered ancient documents and other paraphernalia contained within it. We never hear of the box after Joseph’s retrieval.

  22. Anon 10:50 – I could have sworn Mormon archaeology says the New York hill Cumorah was name borrowing of the actual cave Cumorah somewhere in Mesoamerica. That cave is supposed to be full of the metal records from which Mormon created his abridgment. In the center of the cave is a table with the unsheathed sword of Laban with some inscription on it. Lara Croft stumbled upon the cave and then sheathed the sword causing an apocalyptic action scene where a mountain blew up burying the cave in the jungle forever, never to be found again, which of course proves the BoM is a translation of an ancient record.