FAIR conference, day two: John Gee – ‘Book of Abraham, I presume’

John Gee is a professor of Egyptology and a senior research fellow at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU. He previously taught at Yale and worked in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Met in New York. He is one of the leading Egyptologists.

The relationship of the papyri to the Book of Abraham.

1)Book of Abraham was translated from the papyri. Almost no knowledgeable people in the Church believe this. This is a straw man.
2)Book of Abraham was translated from papyri that we no longer have. This seems to be the most likely.
3)Book of Abraham was translated using revelation only. This has less evidence.

The contents of the current fragments are irrelevant to the debate because of point 1.

Eyewitnesses mentioned other scrolls that Joseph Smith had. The “long roll of manuscripts” was probably the source of the Book of Abraham, and we don’t know where that “long roll” is.

Many discussions on this issue concentrate on the straw man of point 1, when almost no knowledgeable latter-day Saints believe this.

New sources of eyewitnesses have been discovered. One eyewitness says the Book of Abraham was on a large scroll. None of the fragments we have are related to the Book of Abraham.

The text of the Book of Abraham. There is an ancient Egyptian story about Pharoah wanting to sacrifice Abraham that corresponds well to the Book of Abraham. There are three clear cases of Egyptian human sacrifice similar to what is described in the Book of Abraham. The historical sacrifices are very similar to Abraham’s sacrifice. (Remember, that Ur was under Egyptian influence in Abraham’s day).

Why should we care about the Book of Abraham? It has had a deep and lasting effect on LDS culture. Only the Book of Abraham deals specifically and clearly with the pre-existence. (Abraham 3:22-23). Other scriptures can be interpreted other ways.

However, you do not need a spiritual confirmation of the Book of Abraham. You need a spiritual confirmation of the Book of Mormon and modern-day prophets. Gee says he trusts God but does not trust dissenters and anti-Mormons. He has had too many experiences with the latter.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

35 thoughts on “FAIR conference, day two: John Gee – ‘Book of Abraham, I presume’

  1. Gee spent a portion of his presentation claiming that Andrew Cook and Chris Smith made a mistake in their calculations on the length of the papyri. When asked what that was in the Q&A, his response: Cook and Smith made the mistakes, they to find and correct the mistakes themselves.

    Gee is a joke.

  2. In the interests of accuracy, narrator’s description does not describe what happened. Gee was asked for a long response to a long question, and he declined in the interests of time.

  3. I have long heard that there was a scroll that is no longer in existence or is lost.

    The question I would have is about the facsimiles. They do exist, and Joseph Smith translated parts of them, and they are included in the Book of Abraham. However Egyptological scholars translate the facsimiles entirely different than Joseph Smith did. To deal with this problem, some LDS scholars speculate that Joseph Smith did not “translate” in any kind of normal way, but rather the ancient documents fired Joseph Smith’s revelatory inspiration, where he drew from heaven, not from earth. This to me seems more rational than holding out hope that there is a lost scroll that, if it were found, would correspond to our superficial notions about what constitutes a “translation.”

  4. Nate, I think that is a reasonable approach and, based on his presentation, I don’t think John Gee would have a problem with that.

  5. “If Gee wants to be treated and seen as a serious scholar”

    There’s your issue, The Narrator. Too bad he IS seen as a serious scholar, both outside and inside the church.

  6. Um, it’s pretty obvious who the narrator is. He doesn’t really hide behind the pseudonym. Unlike, say, mormonchess. Not that I agree with his sentiment, but yeesh.

  7. “[Joseph Smith] then walked to a secretary, on the opposite side of the room, and drew out several frames, covered with glass, under which were numerous fragments of Egyptian papyrus, on which, as usual, a great variety of hieroglyphical characters had been imprinted. . . . There, said he, pointing to a particular character, that is the signature of the patriarch Abraham.”
    (“A Glance at the Mormons,” The Friend; a Religious and Literary Journal 13, no. 43 [July 25, 1840]: 342–43.)

    “Some parchments inscribed with hieroglyphics were then offered us. They were preserved under glass and handled with great respect. ‘That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful,’ said the prophet.”
    (Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past: From the Leaves of Old Journals, (Boston, Mass.: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 386.)

    “From this he drew forth a number of glazed slides, like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian inscriptions and hieroglyphics. These had been unrolled from four mummies, which the prophet had purchased at a cost of twenty-four hundred dollars. By some inexplicable mode, as the storekeeper informed me, Mr. Smith had discovered that these sheets contained the writings of Abraham, written with his own hand while in Egypt.”
    (Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons, or Three Days at Nauvoo, in 1842, 2nd rev. and enl. ed. [London: J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1843], 22.)

    “[Lucy Mack Smith] produced a black looking roll (which she told us was papyrus) found on the breast of the King, part of which the prophet had unrolled and read; and she had pasted the deciphered sheets on the leaves of a book which she showed us.”
    (M. to Friends’ Weekly Intelligencer, September 1846, in Friends’ Weekly Intelligencer 3, no. 27 [October 3, 1846]: 211-12.)

    Given these statements identifying the mounted fragments as the “deciphered portion” of Abraham’s writings, the hypothesis that the BoA was translated from a missing “long roll” appears problematic.

  8. Geoff, “The Narrator” is the individual that was mentioned by name three times by Dan Peterson during his presentation.

  9. Roger, I had to leave early so I missed Dan Peterson’s talk. I will read it and presumably I will find out who “the narrator” is. I simply can’t wait!!!

  10. Geoff, sorry, I wasn’t trying to be obtuse. I’m not mentioning his real name in this forum because he obviously doesn’t want to associate it with his vile comment about Dr. Gee. I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Gee a number of times during the course of the conference, and I really like the man.

    Dan’s talk was excellent. It was also very much to the point on certain issues. He did not pull any punches with regard to responding to one particular individual who has heavily criticized him online after the recent events at the MI. As soon as the transcript of his talk is available, we will post it on the FAIR web site. We already have several of the talks online, including Rosemary’s and Joshua’s.

  11. Roger, I had an absolutely wonderful time at FAIR conference. It was fulfilling intellectually and spiritually. I got to meet Dan, who is a very pleasant and charming person. I also got to meet most of the other people involved with FAIR, and, what can I say, they are simply an impressive and great group of people. Prof. Gee’s presentation was excellent. As I say, I simply must assume that narrator has some kind of axe to grind, and people should not take seriously the opinions of people like that.

  12. Geoff, I’m glad that you enjoyed it. I’ve been able to attend three FAIR Conferences so far. This one was one of the best I’ve been to. I was impressed with the quality of the presentations. (By the way, I’m the guy who spent most of the conference walking around handing out and collecting question cards).

    And yes, talking with Dan in person is a lot of fun. Right before he went up to give his presentation, I went over the the table and picked up an absolutely MASSIVE stack of question cards. I went over to where Dan was sitting and showed them to him and told him that I was now fully prepared for HIS presentation. 😉

  13. I was not hiding under a pseudonym. As John pointed out, I thought my ‘true identity’ was already well known. I told Gee to his face pretty much what I said here. He was a coward and a joke for mocking Cook and Smith while not providing the mysterios miscalculation. It took me several minutes of prodding him for it in the halley before you finally gave me a vague response that said nothing at all.

    As far as Dan’s punches go. Most anyone who has read my two papers he quoted should know that he misrepresented my position. When the FARMS Review became the MSR, Dan had the opportunity to say something insightful and pertinent about the intersection of Mormon Studies and apologetics. Instead he used his intro to resurrect and brag about the FARMS-Signature feud. Last night he had a similar opportunity. Instead he used it for petty jabs at persons he doesn’t like right now. Dan could have used a much better target than me to make whatever point his was trying to make (what that was is still unclear to me) but instead he chose to misrepresent my arguments to satisfy his personal grudge.

    I’ve publicly criticized my former friend Dan, so I guess it is only fair for him to do the same. I just wish he wouldn’t have wasted an opportunity to be relevant in doing so.

  14. Loyd, I’m going to allow this one comment, but just as I predicted (without knowing who you are or any of the inside baseball) you definitely have an axe to grind.

    You may have your own blog — go defend yourself there. Or start your own blog. I have no position on your personal feud, and it is sad to see LDS scholars attacking each other.

    This blog is not going to turn into scholars insulting each other. Make a substantive point or your comment won’t be seen.

  15. I thought that Dan’s presentation yesterday was both “insightful and pertinent about the intersection of Mormon Studies and apologetics.” It is a pity that Loyd only took away a feeling of “petty jabs at persons [Dan] doesn’t like right now.”

    Saying there is a disagreement with someone’s position, providing principled reasons for that disagreement, and addressing alternative views is neither jabbing nor petty. It is discourse.

    The bottom line, however, is that those who think that Mormon Studies has no place for apologetics (Loyd?) and that the NAMI was correct in its action can now practice their desired variant of Mormon Studies within NAMI and those who think that Mormon Studies should include apologetics (obviously Dan) can practice their desired variant within the newly announced Interpreter. It will be interesting to observe as time passes.

  16. There is a personal rule that I follow which has always applied to my online interactions. This is true regardless of the forum in which I post, even if it happens to be a forum in which critics are present. I am always polite. I never insult another human being by calling them names. I may disagree with them intensely, but I grant them the right to their opinion without the compelling need to insult them.

    At the FAIR Conference I met and conversed at length with an individual who is in charge of a countercult web site which is critical of the LDS Church. We actually had a very pleasant conversation, and I learned a few things from getting to know him. I would be happy to talk with him again, because I know him better now. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

    Anyone that goes into a public forum and insults the character of someone else isn’t worth talking to in my opinion. It doesn’t matter what they write in other venues, or how good it may or may not be. As soon as they post the insult, I’m done with them.

  17. Loyd, if you are still looking at this, I would like to offer some friendly advice from somebody who is not familiar with all of the inside stuff of who likes who and who doesn’t. My advice is: offer a substantive criticism. If you had started this post by saying: “I don’t agree with John Gee’s take on this subject for the following reasons” and then had gone on to list your areas of disagreement, it would have made for a lively, interesting discussion. Most people are open to new information. Chris above (see comment 11) does this. Why don’t you take that approach instead of calling Gee a “joke?” Gee obviously has credentials. Nobody is going to think he is a joke except the people who already think this, so your comment convinces absolutely nobody and is seen by neutral people like me as suspect. Scholars should concentrate on the information and discuss it, analyze it and refute it with facts, not go around calling each other names.

  18. WRT to the text that accompanies the facsimiles, I find it interesting that it is referred to, not as a “translation”, but as an “explanation”. This is the case for all three facsimiles.

    The choice of word indicates, at least to me, that Joseph was not doing a traditional or typical translation of the symbols and characters, but rather was explaining how the images fit into the narrative of the Book of Abraham.

    And, of course, Kevin Barney’s article “The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources” is required reading here.


  19. I made a very specific criticism. Gee (admittedly) mocked both Cook and Smith for a supposed miscalculation, and then refused to state what that miscalculation was. This would not stand in a actual scholarly setting, and heinous this. If Gee wants to speak as a genuine scholar, he needs to act like one.i

  20. Allen,

    “those who think that Mormon Studies has no place for apologetics (Loyd?)”

    To the contrary, in my piece that Dan quotes from (as well as lifts several other sources from, such as his quotation of Plantinga and of UNC-Chapel-Hill’s religious studies website), I am actually exploring a way in which faith-based apologetics can have an active role in Mormon studies.

  21. Loyd,

    I wasn’t aware that citing sources constituted “lifting” them.

    Are you referring to where Dan cites Plantinga in endnote #1 in his paper?

    [1] Alvin Plantinga, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” Faith and Philosophy 1/3 (July 1984): 271.

    Or when he verbally cites UNC-Chapel-Hill when he says

    “A corresponding entry for the religious studies program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill informs students that…”?

    Dan’s talk is now posted on the FAIR Website here:


  22. I quoted a prophet the other day, no idea I have “lifted” a quotation from him. Wow, those scholars sure do a lot of lifting!

  23. Roger, thanks for pointing out it is now online. And yes, when Dan pulls sources from my essay and uses them as his own, I consider that lifting. To be clear though, I am not accusing him of plagiarism.

  24. Actually, now that I have briefly compared my essay with Dan’s, it is pretty clear that Dan directly copied portions of my own words surrounding the lifted quotations. Had this been a student of mine, I would have had a word for it.

  25. Good bye Loyd. I have warned you repeatedly about personal attacks on other people. You have proven yourself not worthy of commenting on this site.

  26. The text immediately following the Plantinga endnote (listed as endnote 2) says “As cited by Ericson” and gives the name of Loyd’s paper. There may be a formatting issue here, as I can see that the text of the second endnote needs to be combined with the first. Endnote 2, I suspect, should not refer to Loyd’s paper but rather the Maxwell Institute. I will clear up the endnote confusion.

    If the text of endnote 2 is appended to endnote 1, then this is absolutely the correct way to cite a source used by someone else in their paper. Provide the citation, followed by “as cited by in .” I’ve used this form many times myself.

  27. Loyd – if you are still reading this, as a teacher of rhetoric, I can say you are arguing very badly and doing your side no favors. You come across as mean spirited and petty rather than substantive.

    I sometimes feel M* does get heavy handed with post moderation (but still feel it’s best to leave it to the post’s author), but in this case I wouldn’t mind. You insult while claiming to be just telling the truth.

    Had you been a student of mine, I would have returned the assignment ungraded and told you to start over.

  28. I should also note that Dan didn’t finish writing the paper until just a few minutes before he presented it, so I can understand why there may be a formatting issue.

  29. Ha! I have to laugh because I finally saw The Avengers for the first time just yesterday. That quote would have flown right over my head if you had posted it yesterday morning.

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