FairMormon Conf – Kerry Muehlstein on the Book of Abraham

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.

 

9 thoughts on “FairMormon Conf – Kerry Muehlstein on the Book of Abraham

  1. The problem with Kerry Muehlsteins approach and many others to the Book of Abraham is that they have already made their mind up that it is what Joseph Smith claimed it to be. They approach the question with a bias they are not willing to change. Instead of looking at the question of the BOA validity with an open mind, they have already made their mind up and they are trying to fit their belief to the evidence shown. The BOA is only a puzzlement for those who approach believing what they have been told to believe. Many people just look at the evidence presented and to them it is not a puzzle.
    The BOA is not like an onion. The only ones making it complicated are those trying to validate it.

  2. The Book of Abraham itself is amazing. Whatever explanation is given for its existence, to me and many others it has the ring of truth. I am a voracious reader and have done some writing as well. I know how difficult it is to create background and character. The somewhat distant character of Abraham found in the Old Testament comes alive for me in the Book of Abraham. I wish we had more. Many have tried to mock and deride the story of how the book came to be. They label those of us who regard it as true scripture as being credulous and easily led, but I regard that as their misfortune.

  3. King Lamoni,

    Do you conclude that an open mind necessarily precludes a person from believing that an individual can be a prophet and thereby receive revelation from God? Do you conclude that an open mind necessarily precludes a person from believing that such individual can receive revelation from God in a manner that may seem foolish to the critically trained eye? If one rejects the possibility that God can give a revelation in a manner that does not comport with the expectations of the scholars among us, is that what confers upon the individual the characteristic of open-mindedness? Do you associate believers of the principle set forth in 1 Corinthians 2:14 as closed-minded?

  4. King Lamoni, Kerry was being completely open minded. He offered three completely contrasting explanations, and didn’t espouse any particular one personally: Lost papyrus as “literal” translation source, papyrus as “inspiration” unrelated to the Book of Abraham in a factual way, or a mixture of both.

    Papyrus as “unrelated” is already the default anti-Mormon position, so I don’t know why you would accuse him of being close minded, when he has accepted BOTH your position, AND the orthodox potion as potentially true. That is the very definition of open-minded.

  5. “[Mormon apologists] approach the question with a bias they are not willing to change.”

    Which, of course, is nothing like how anti-Mormons have approached the Book of Abraham.

  6. Include me in the list of people who have no difficulty with the Book of Abraham. Now that doesn’t mean that I have all the answers, of course. But rather it means that looked at in total it is clear that the Book of Abraham is scripture.

    There are those who attack the Book of Abraham, but they really only try their attacks through impermissible burden-shifting. If the Book of Abraham gets things right that no one in Joseph Smith’s position could know (and they are extensive), these must be explained by anyone attempting to attack the Book of Abraham. Instead of doing this, they try to poke holes in the process, resorting to appeals to experts (see Nibley on just how futile that approach is), and steadfastly avoid all of the things that clearly demonstrate the prophetic nature of Joseph Smith as revealed through the text.

    The speaker identified explanations for the so-called “flaws” of the Book of Abraham (three possibilities in fact). Those “open minded” people on the other side have yet to present explanations for the things that the Book of Abraham got right. The only way they can prevail in the argument is to steadfastly argue only the one side and avoid the other side at all cost.

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