Kerry Muehlstein: The Book of Abraham and Unnoticed Assumptions
Watching the presentations via video, definitely makes it easier to focus on the speaker (however, I miss rubbing shoulders with my fair weather FairMormon friends), and it was especially good for some of the sessions this morning.
The Book of Abraham has been a blessing for some, a curse for others, and a puzzlement for all. The layers of issues are as thick as a large onion, and just as painful to peel. However, Kerry takes some of the issues involved in the Book of Abraham and helps to clarify them.
Beginning with a basic history of the Abraham papyri, its discovery in Egypt, transfer to Americas, purchase by Joseph Smith in Kirtland, some translation history, its eventual transfer to Chicago, the destruction of most of the papyri, and then the finding of a few parchments in 1967, leads us to the issues Kerry chooses to focus upon.
When we look at the papyri, we assume certain things. First, we assume that the facsimiles are situated next to the text of the information regarding them. The problem here is Facsimile One sits next to a copy of the Book of Breathings, and ancient Egyptian text that has nothing to do with Abraham.
Kerry encourages us to double check our assumptions. In his studies, for example, he’s found that of the contemporary papyri to the Joseph Smith Papyri, only 53% have the text situated next to the facsimiles or pictures. He combines this with eyewitness accounts and scriptural support to show that it is most likely the facsimiles were not next to the text.
But then, he notes that in Joseph Smith’s translation projects, we have some very “unconventional methods” being used to translate. The Book of Mormon is translated with the use of Urim and Thummim and a seer stone, with little actual contact with the metal plates. Doctrine and Covenants 7 tells of a secret parchment, written by the apostle John, which Joseph did not have access to, but was still able to “translate.” Even the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible had Joseph reading an English version of the Bible and making another English version of the Bible, only with additional information that is not available anywhere else.
Kerry thoughtfully states that we may be dealing not only with a missing papyrus scroll(s), or Joseph using texts as catalyst for direct revelation, but he may be doing both! The Book of Abraham may be a combination of directly translating from lost papyri and the papyri being used as a catalyst for revelation. Personally, I have been a strong advocate of the catalyst theory for many years, as it describes well how Joseph can create scripture without even needing to look at the text in front of him.
Kerry ends by encouraging the audience to trust revelation as a safe source of knowledge.