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The Book of Abraham

I was thinking of writing a post about how ridiculous the Book of Abraham is and what an embarrassment it should be to members and Church leaders.  But rather than trying to rehash what has already been covered in great detail elsewhere, I suggest you go here or follow the link in the blogroll to a site that gives a great overview of the glaring issues with the BoA.

The BoA is a huge liability for the Church.  Unlike the vast majority of the Church’s sordid early years, which has been carefully sanitized and downplayed ever since, the BoA cannot be swept under the rug.  Joseph “translated” it, the Church canonized it, and professional Egyptologists have since examined and discredited it.

Here are a few of my favorite things about the BoA:

  • An Irish guy was traveling with mummies in Ohio in 1835 (you know, whatevs).  He had some papyri with hieroglyphics.
  • Joseph was delighted to discover that these were totally written by Abraham himself (“by his own hand upon papyrus”).
  • The source documents have since been examined by trained Egyptologists.  Here’s a sampling of their thoughts:

o   Dr. James H. Breasted, University of Chicago: “Joseph Smith’s interpretations of [the documents] as part of a unique revelation through Abraham, therefore, very clearly demonstrates that he was totally unacquainted with the significance of these documents and absolutely ignorant of the simplest facts of Egyptian writing and civilization.”

o   Dr. W.M. Flinders Petrie, London University: “It may be safely said that there is not one single word that is true in these explanations.”

o   Dr. A.H. Sayce, Oxford University: “It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith’s impudent fraud…. Smith has turned the goddess [Isis in Facsimile No. 3] into a king and Osiris into Abraham.”

  • Mopologist explanations of the BoA, notably from John Gee and Hugh Nibley, demonstrate the types of mental gymnastics that a critically-thinking member must perform to maintain sanity.
  • The BoA encapsulates the stunning arrogance of Joseph (just in case his telling unsuspecting women that God wanted them to marry him weren’t enough).
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My final reason for leaving the Church in good conscience was the unraveling of my faith in the veracity of the Book of Mormon.  By its own admission, the Church and its claims to revelation fall apart if the Book of Mormon is a modern fabrication.

Many of the arguments against the BoM point to anachronisms in the text, the circumstances of its translation, the absence of archaeological evidence for the sizable and advanced civilizations it describes, recent DNA studies of Native American populations, etc.  Though many of these points are convincing, I find the text of the BoM itself to be the most damning argument against its veracity.

It is significant that the King James Version of the Bible is so readily found in the BoM.  Most members of the Church are well aware of the Isaiah chapters quoted in 2 Nephi and the near-quoting of Matthew in 3 Nephi.  Apologetic responses to the presence of the KJV—a translation of the Bible that was completed in 1611—appearing in a text that was supposedly completed around 400 AD typically take one of two forms:

  1. When Joseph came to sections during the translation process that mirrored the content/intent of KJV translations, he turned to what was the most widely-available and accepted translation of the Bible in his day.
  2. God is unchanging, so it should come as no surprise that his word appears the same whether recorded by Nephites in the Americas from 600 BC to 400 AD or Bible authors writing in the Near East.

Though either or both of these arguments may placate the fears of members or investigators who want the Church to be true, they are both weak upon further scrutiny.

Argument 1 first requires you to accept the idea that God would prefer the world’s “most correct book” to contain a flawed 1611 English translation of the Bible to an original inspired source.  Even if you grant that such a decision was made for consistency’s sake given that the KJV was the Bible in circulation in 19th century America, it runs into a wall when the KJV problem is fully displayed.  As demonstrated in the table I have compiled, the KJV is overwhelmingly present in the BoM.  The presence of New Testament phrases in every single book of the BoM puts to rest any appeal to Brass Plates (in a future post I’ll discuss how limited the Brass Plates would have been had they contained Old Testament writings up to 600 BCE).  Moreover, Joseph clearly couldn’t have turned to the KJV in just a couple major instances during the translation process.  The scope of the problem isn’t merely limited to 2 Nephi and 3 Nephi—the KJV finds itself throughout every book of the BoM in a pervasive way.

Argument 2 then becomes the default apologetic response once Argument 1 has been laid to rest.  Those who accept it as a valid explanation for the KJV verses in the BoM display an extremely limited understanding of how and when the Bible was originally written and how it was copied and translated leading up to the 1611 KJV.  Consider the number of scribes and copyists who stood between original authorship and the KJV.  The changes that occurred along the way, primarily in style and word choice (but in some cases in substance too), have been well-documented in comparisons of early manuscripts.  Refer to my table and consider what proponents of Argument 2 have to assert: that in each of these instances the BoM author chose the exact same words and style as authors that were separated from them by hundreds of years and thousands of miles.  Another strategy for addressing Argument 2 is to turn it back on the apologist—if God is unchanging and we have modern day prophets whose words are effectively scripture, the implication is that a talk given by Brigham Young on the law of tithing would be expected to contain the same style and word choice as a talk given by Gordon B. Hinckley on the same subject.

I don’t presume that addressing these apologetic arguments will change the minds of those who truly refuse to think critically and objectively about the BoM.  Most members have invested years of service and tens (or hundreds) of thousands of tithing dollars to the Church.  Social lives and family relationships often hinge on faithful Church attendance and a corresponding testimony in the BoM.  For those who are ready and willing to take the difficult step back and reexamine the BoM, however, the reliance of the BoM on the KJV is convincing evidence that the BoM was written sometime after 1611.

KMA Book of Mormon

The inspiration for this site:

jeffrey

“For 179 years this book has been examined and attacked, denied and deconstructed, targeted and torn apart like perhaps no other book in modern religious history—perhaps like no other book in any religious history. And still it stands… I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon… If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages…then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.”

Thank you Jeff. Now that you’ve made it abundantly clear that there is no room for alternative views regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon in the LDS Church, you can count me out. If the Church requires an acceptance of the divine origins of the Book of Mormon for membership, it will have a hell of a time maintaining the membership of the critical thinking and intellectually honest.