“Save Kolob”: Church News Says Book of Abraham “Not Central to the Restored Gospel”

AndrewMormon 85 Comments

High Priests Groups world-wide are still reeling at the Church News’ announcement that questions surrounding the accuracy and authenticity of the Book of Abraham are not as important as critics suggest because the book “is not central to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ” despite its inclusion in the canonized LDS Standard Works. (Read Church News article here.)

“I’m stunned,” said LaVerl Jensen, High Priest Group leader for the Spanish Fork 87th ward. “If the Book of Abraham isn’t all that important, why did God go to all that effort to make sure the Egyptian papyri containing Abraham’s writings, miraculously preserved for millenia, made it all the way across the ocean and into the Prophet Joseph’s hands so he could translate them through the gift and power of God for our day?”

More progressive-minded Mormons greeted the news enthusiastically, because in establishing that the Book of Abraham falls outside what is “central” to the restored Gospel, the Church News listed six narrow essentials presented by BYU Professor John Gee:

God exists; Jesus Christ is His Son; God talked and still talks with men through the power of the Holy Ghost; Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world; the Atonement is available to those who trust Jesus, turn from sin, make and keep sacred covenants, and follow the course throughout their lives; and the Book of Mormon is true, an authentic record of God’s interactions with actual ancient people.

“Now where is the Book of Abraham in this?” Dr. Gee concluded. “It isn’t. The Book of Abraham is not central to the restored gospel of Christ.”

“I’m ecstatic about what this means,” said Rulon Jeffries, a longtime subscriber to Sunstone and Dialogue. “For years I’ve been given grief by my LDS friends and family for having ‘unorthodox” beliefs about a whole range of issues. But now I can cite this article as proof that orthodoxy in the Church has been narrowed to these six ‘central’ points.”

* * * * *

Folks, for those who haven’t been able to figure out what I had thought would be obvious, the Church News article referenced above is real, but the responses are a spoof in the style of The Onion or some other satirical news source. I had hoped to raise, in a humorous way, a number of interesting issues that I think are raised by this Church News article:

1. The Book of Abraham is the key support for the LDS doctrine of the pre-existence, and the pre-existence is treated as a foundational doctrine in official Church curriculum. Indeed, the pre-existence has been and is often the starting-point when we introduce our Restored Gospel to those investigating or newly converted to our faith. It is the “first estate” of our existence as described in our familiar version of the “Plan of Salvation.” For example, in our Gospel Principles manual, elements of the pre-existence are covered in all of the first six lessons. And unsurprisingly, the Book of Abraham is cited in all six of the first six lessons of the GP manual. If the Book of Abraham is “not central” to the Restored Gospel, one wonders why its contents are found in the first six lessons of the official Church manual we use to teach investigators and converts the Restored Gospel.

2. It is interesting that the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon made it into Dr. Gee’s list of six “central” points, but that the historical authenticity of the Book of Abraham did not, and I personally wonder what the justification is for treating them differently. Both were deemed important enough by God to go to the trouble of revealing to Joseph Smith. And both books were represented by Joseph Smith to be genuine and accurate translations of ancient records accomplished by the gift and power of God.

3. Dr. Gee’s list of six “central” points is also interesting for the many core LDS beliefs that it does not include. For example, it does not even include a belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, nor does it even mention a belief in the Bible.

4. In determining the Book of Abraham is “not central,” Dr. Gee seems to overlook the close relationship between the Book of Abraham and the temple. So there is an interesting paradox in his list of six “central” points of doctrine: while he includes making and keeping covenants (and presumably temple covenants are included) on the list of six “central” doctrines, by saying the Book of Abraham is “not central to the restored gospel” it seems he downplays the significance of the book of scripture that creates the doctrinal foundation for many aspects of those temple ordinances.

5. Although we have a rich and well-established culture of belief that “the mantle is far, far greater than the intellect,” that “God’s foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men,” and that we need to rely on the “rock of revelation” rather than leaning on the “arm of the flesh,” it seems that increasingly the statements of past prophets, seers, and revelators are being disregarded by LDS scholars. For example, despite statements by Joseph Smith and others indicating that the Lamanites and Nephites ranged all over the North American continent, LDS scholars are now telling us that all the BOM action was confined to a very small area in southern Mexico and Guatemala. This shift in LDS scholarly consensus, as well as the DNA controversy, preceded the Church’s recent decision to revise the official Introduction to the Book of Mormon (authored by an Apostle who was sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator) to eliminate the claim that the Lamanites were the “principal” ancestors of the American Indian. When today’s LDS scholars are unable to develop satisfactory answers to challenges posed by critics, it seems the response is, increasingly, to downgrade the earlier revelation-based claims as being “not central”, rather than continuing in the faith that those revelations will ultimately be vindicated by scholarship. I’m not arguing over whether this is right or wrong; I’m just observing that it’s happening.

6. This recent Church News article represents an example of how this displacement of past revelation by modern scholarship is gradually occurring: by quoting LDS scholars in an official church publication like Church News or Ensign magazine. The Church News does not print everything that is said at every scholarly conference, so the fact that Dr. Gee’s statements were published in the Church News, rather than just being covered in the FAIR newsletter, suggests to Church members reading the Church News that Dr. Gee’s statements are endorsed by the Church. This process of allowing modern LDS scholarship to displace past revelation with the quasi-sanction of publishing LDS scholars’ statements in an official Church newspaper or magazine seems to ignore the long-established doctrine that the revelations of past prophets, seers, and revelators can be superseded only by the current President of the Church (but that doctrine didn’t make the list of six “central” points either).

7. Lastly, one wonders, will this evaluation of the Book of Abraham as being “not central” result in it being eventually removed from our Standard Works? Dr. Hugh Nibley once said that without the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, we would be “just another Church.” By stating the Book of Abraham is “not central to the restored gospel,” have Dr. Gee and Church News brought us one step closer to becoming just that?

* Thanks to Wade Nelson for pointing this Church News article out to me.

Comments 85

  1. This posting has to be a joke, right? Is this from “The Sugar Beet” website? I cannot believe that anyone would not consider the Book of Abraham “central to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ”. As a 30 year convert to the Church, the BoA is most central to our understanding of the restored gospel, the pre-mortal existence, and the life of one of God’s greatest prophets.

    You really are joking, aren’t you?

  2. “…the Church News’ announcement that questions surrounding the accuracy and authenticity of the Book of Abraham are not as important as critics suggest because the book “is not central to the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ” despite its inclusion in the canonized LDS Standard Works.”

    To me, this seems like someone at FAIR stating an opinion more than a Church News announcement. I don’t know the inner workings of the church and FAIR, however. I look forward to reading from those who may know such things and the real meaning of this story.

  3. #1 It’s no joke… but it’s not quite as controversial when read in the context it was given:

    “So if what is most important needs to be defended, what are some of the things that need to be defended?” he asked.

    He suggested six: God exists; Jesus Christ is His Son; God talked and still talks with men through the power of the Holy Ghost; Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world; the Atonement is available to those who trust Jesus, turn from sin, make and keep sacred covenants, and follow the course throughout their lives; and the Book of Mormon is true, an authentic record of God’s interactions with actual ancient people…

    “Now where is the Book of Abraham in this?” he asked. “It isn’t. The Book of Abraham is not central to the restored gospel of Christ.”

  4. Michale,

    If you read the article you see that the whole thing is a kanard.

    Do you know what else isn’t on his list of central things which must be defended? Apologetics! ~

  5. I see a missinterpretation of what John Gee was attempting to say about how LDS apologists should deal with critics of the book of Abraham. And, now, John Gee may have to clarify what he said. However, John Gee did state: “The Book of Abraham is true.”
    Just because John Gee mentioned 6 central points of belief does not free Rulon Jeffries and others for having “unorthodox” beliefs “about a whole range of issues”.
    I don’t see where the importance of the Book of Abraham was diminished by John Gee. Perhaps he could have used better terminology when he expressed his views. But I don’t see the need to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

  6. I think Andrew has taken some very entertaining creative license by mixing the factual story of Bro. Gee’s FAIR speech with fictitious respondents. Good one!

    Having just sat through a Sunday School lesson yesterday on the contributions of Joseph Smith to the gospel and mankind’s salvation, during which some key doctrines contained in the Book of Abraham were discussed, I’m surprised to learn that the Book of Abraham has been relegated to lesser status by Bro. Gee.

  7. Madam Curie:

    Permit me to clarify. This is a post where someone made something out of nothing. However, ‘nothing’ – is the empty space between 2 measurable particles, – which is a state that may not exist.

  8. #5 “I see a missinterpretation of what John Gee was attempting to say”

    Me, too. What I think he was attempting to say was:

    “We can have our cake and eat it, too. When critics make ungrounded accusations about what is behind the curtain, we can use the rational rules of scholarship and debate to discredit them. When a critic peaks behind the curtain and tells us he saw no God, we can use legalism to show that it doesn’t prove that there is a man pulling strings. If it ends up happening that a critic pulls back the curtain and we see the man pulling strings for ourselves, we can just say that it was not important in the first place.”


  9. Well, let’s look at Andrew’s post for anything that could be considered hyperbole or fiction:

    First clue: “High Priests Groups world-wide…” Andrew would have to have quite a polling organization at his disposal.

    Next clue: “High Priest Group leader for the Spanish Fork 87th ward.” Spanish Fork may have that many wards, but I doubt it.

    Another clue: This one is marginal, I admit. “Rulon” and “LaVerl.” Both great names but both in the same post gives it away to me.

    Final clue: “…proof that orthodoxy in the Church has been narrowed to these six “central” points.” Yeah, right. Don’t forget the earrings.

    I may have missed any other subtleties.

    Brilliant post, Andrew.

  10. Clay Whipkey:

    However, when the critic peaked behind the curtain – did the critic use any tools, such as D&C 91, when making an analysis?

  11. Darn. I was hoping it was going to say we finally get to stop taking *one* thing so freaking literally, but all it says is that we should stick our fingers in our ears and say “It’s true! It’s true! La la la la la, I can’t hear you!”

    Why oh why is there no metaphor or myth allowed in this church!?! Why do we have to accept everything as fact, even when it clearly isn’t?

  12. Just hoping the GD teacher in the ward I was visiting when the BoA came up sees this. He wasn’t happy when I said that Abraham hadn’t written the papyri, and that what was written on them wasn’t the Book of Abraham.

    Not sure when I’ll be back in that ward, if ever, but it would be nice if he wasn’t busy thinking I’m an apostate over that.

  13. Quote of the day: “Why oh why is there no metaphor or myth allowed in this church!?! Why do we have to accept everything as fact, even when it clearly isn’t?” I’m going to call it Mytha’s Lament. Very appropriate given your moniker. I’m with you — we can do without so much literalism.

  14. Mr. Gee is using the famous “it isn’t essential to my salvation” argument. He may very well be correct if we are moving from a position which accepts that the Church is true in the first place. In other words, we accept the “restored gospel” as being real in some form or another. Unfortunately that is not the place where critics of the Church are coming from, rather they are challenging the “restored gospel”, particularly Mr. Gee’s third point that “God speaks to man by the power of the Holy Ghost”, ie, Joseph Smith, restorer of the Book of Abraham by the power Holy Ghost. While theologically speaking the Book of Abraham is not intended to function in the same manner as The book of Mormon, by serving as a witness/evidence to the claim that Joseph Smith was called of God, it nevertheless represents a religious body of work claimed to have been brought forth in a similar mystical fashion. Therefore when speaking to non-members and critics it is not sufficient to argue away complexities surrounding the origins of the Book of Abraham by appealing to Mormon theological arguments, ie, “it really isn’t central to our message”. In other words, regardless of how mainstream the doctrinal themes contained in the Book of Abraham have been to LDS discourse in past sixty years, the fact remains that the book stands as more evidence to Joseph Smiths claims to prophetic legitimacy in either the affirmative, or to the contrary. In short, the credibility of the Book of Abraham is tied to directly to Mr. Gee’s third point that men (Joseph Smith) are able to recieve revelations from God. In this way, the Book of Abraham is every bit as essential as The Book of Mormon, given that neither book has yet become a recognized historical narrative.

  15. Andrew Ainsworth:

    You have done more damage than you imagine with your ‘spoof’. But I’m glad you cleared it up.

    Hymn 331:

    Good eye!

  16. First of all, I applaud the Church News – and by extension – the Brethren for dealing with something that has been self-evident since at least 1912: i.e. that there are parts of the Book of Abraham (particularly chapter 1 and the first 20 verses of chapter 3, and the interpretation of the facsimiles) that are problematic. I don’t want to get into it in detail because this will obviously be a sensitive topic to some. I, personally, have taken solence in the fact that, although it was printed in the Nauvoo newspaper (Times and Seasons?), Joseph Smith never presented it for canonization – something that was done long after his death.

  17. sxark: To the contrary, by juxtaposing fact and fiction Andrew illuminated the current dilemma with the Book of Abraham. Nice use of literary license. No damage done in my view. Nice of Andrew to elucidate his points in the follow up clarification, but he made his point (to me) very well in the original post.

  18. Is it really news to anyone on here that the Book of Abraham wasn’t necessarily “translated” from the papyri, but “inspired” by the presence of the papyri? It can still be an important book, however, as that’s much the same way that the Book of Mormon was “translated”. Accounts suggest that the plates remained covered, and sometimes weren’t even in the same room, when Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon. Perhaps this is a type for how God reveals things to prophets – that it’s not necessarily a “translation” but more an “inspiration”.

  19. Andrew…for your sanity, I’ll say that *I* knew what you had intended without needing to read the caveat (the name Rulon clued me in).

    But regarding your serious analysis, I agree with your points and I have made these statements (nearly all of them, in one way or another) in other discussions on other sites. What can you say…I guess great minds are named alike?

    That being said, I do think this is an example of an apologist getting too far ahead of himself (it’s unfortunate that this was said in such an “official” capacity.) There probably won’t be deemphasizing or elimination of the BoA from our standard works (for some of the reasons you already mentioned — the heart of certain Mormon doctrines are here)…although perhaps just like the BoM’s preamble was slightly changed (the Nephites and Lamanites are just some of the inhabitants…), maybe something like that would happen with the BoA? The Brethren are clever at that.

  20. Andrew,

    You make some excellent points.

    For what it’s worth, there were several threads on MADB about this, and there was significant disagreement about what exactly Gee was trying to communicate. I was even accused of dishonesty at one point for saying that Gee was trying to downplay the BoA. His closest acolytes seem to believe that his purpose was to downplay the significance of the method of translation (on which so much controversy has focused) as compared to the truth and content of the book. But if that was his point, then in my opinion he communicated it rather poorly.


  21. Hymn331:

    However, if you didn’t point out that fact was mixed with fiction – would Andrew’s clarifying addendum be added?

    The internet is “fast”. And many conservative LDS members still discourage members from engaging in this form of communication, where ideas of ‘apostasy’ run amok.
    The ‘stand alone’ original preamble, containing fact and fiction – that was unknown by many, only reinforces the conservative LDS viewpoint.

  22. …the place where critics of the Church are coming from, rather they are challenging the “restored gospel”, particularly Mr. Gee’s third point that “God speaks to man by the power of the Holy Ghost”, ie, Joseph Smith, restorer of the Book of Abraham by the power Holy Ghost.

    I’m not sure this is always the place that critics are coming from. Its a bit of a false dichotomy that one is either in support of LDS truth claims or else they are against all faith. Its entirely possible to support the idea that God speaks to human beings via some kind of spiritual power, but also challenge the idea that God spoke exclusively through Joseph Smith when his revelations contain some flaws. Its also possible to respect Joseph’s human access to spiritual inspiration at the same time as challenging that his inspiration is authoritative for anyone else.

    To the point of sxark in #12: Have you ever heard of circular logic? i.e. In order to determine if scripture is true, you have to measure it against scriptural standards. In order for that measurement to have any validity for you, you have to start by assuming it is true, and thus you are not actually testing it at all. So how do you really test scripture? Through a spiritual conversation with God, via the Holy Ghost, right? What if such a spiritual conversation results in you deciding that a piece of scripture, or a prophet, or a doctrine, is *not* true? That is quite the puzzle, and there are more people who live in that conundrum than you might realize.

  23. Clay Whipkey #25:

    I lean to the viewpoint that revelation depends on the power of the ‘Sender’ to send, and the power of the ‘Receiver’ to receive. And it may, indeed, be ‘quite the puzzle’.

  24. Clay Whipkey:

    I may not have been clear in comment. I was intending to suggest that “critics” generally stand in opposition to faith in all of it’s forms, rather I was specifically referring to critics of Joseph Smith or the LDS Church. I for one am not opposed to the idea that God could speak to man, however I don’t believe Joseph Smith’s claims to have done so. To put a finer point on it, Gee suggests six points that concern his view of the “restored gospel” where apologists should concentrate their efforts in defense of the Church. He suggests that the debates surrounding the authenticity/origins of the Book of Abraham have become tired and confused, and that furthermore they really do not pertain to any one of his six points. Third on his list is the idea that God communicates to man via the Holy Ghost. I am assuming that even though his wording here allows for a domain much broader than just the Prophet and Church executive councils, this issue also has particular reference to the resoration, ie, the First Vision among other revelations. I am arguing that the Book of Abraham and it’s origin is directly tied to his six points. In other words, Church critics are challenging point number 3 as it relates specifically to Joseph Smith, though not necessarily the broader notion that God communicates to man much more generally than the LDS Church.

  25. FYI, my first sentence in the previous comment should read:

    “I was NOT intending to suggest that “critics” generall…”

    Where’s that old edit feature?

  26. He said that is not to say Church members can or should forego the Book of Abraham, “but simply to give an idea of its relative importance. It is more important than some things and much less important than others.”

    Brother Gee gave these summary points:

    “First, the arguments about the Book of Abraham have become so complex that even the best and brightest of critics end up arguing unwittingly in favor of the LDS position. “The Document of Breathings made by Isis is not the Book of Abraham, and most Latter-day Saints have never claimed it was,” he said. “Can we agree on that issue and move on?

    “Second, the critics do not deal with the issues arising from the Book of Abraham that Latter-day Saints care about. In that sense, their approach is legerdemain and bait-and-switch.

    “Third, how the Book of Abraham was translated is unimportant. The Church does not stand or fall on the Book of Abraham.

    “And fourth, regardless of how the Book of Abraham was translated, it is a remarkable document that tells us more about Abraham’s day than Joseph Smith could have known.”

    He concluded: “These larger issues overshadow the often petty issues that we deal with as apologists, and it is high time we paid attention to the larger issue.”

    Reading that part of the article, which bears quoting, makes more sense of the whole thing.

    The Book of Abraham is an endowment text (which the Book of Breathings also is, btw). As a result, I would not say Dr. Gee seems to overlook the close relationship between the Book of Abraham and the temple — that is one of the things that makes the Book of Abraham much more authentic than most critics are willing to acknowledge. Dr. Gee doesn’t seem to be fading that at all.

    But, returning to focus on Christ, that is important, and well worth saying from time to time.

  27. A neat quote from the talk itself:

    Another example of how the Book of Abraham matches its day is the mention in the Book of Abraham of human sacrifice after the manner of the Egyptians. We know from archaeological evidence that the Egyptians practiced human sacrifice at that time, in areas that they dominated outside of Egypt. This archaeological evidence corresponds in practice to later ritual texts that describe how do human sacrifice. It also corresponds to historical records from Egypt that detail the circumstances under which human sacrifice occurred in Abraham’s day. Almost none of this material was available even to Nibley. This shows how much the picture can change in a few years. We also know the type of people targeted for human sacrifice: sbi, rebels or apostates (the term is used for both). Abraham says that his “fathers . . . utterly refused to hearken to my voice” (Abraham 1:5) when he condemned them for “having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given them , unto the worship of the gods of the heathen” (Abraham 1:5), instead they “endeavored to take away my life” (Abraham 1:7). There was no separation of church and state in ancient Egypt and the Pharaoh was the head of both. So to revolt against his authority, whether religious or political, made someone a rebel and subject to a ritualized death penalty. Archaeological evidence for this practice was first discovered about fifty years ago, but more archaeological evidence has appeared in the last ten years.

    The talk is well worth reading.

  28. From Gee’s talk. “What they attack is simply not important to Latter-day Saints.”

    I am a Latter-day Saint. What is important to me is that when the founding person said he translated something from ancient records he actually translated something from ancient records. The integrity of Joseph Smith is a central issue to me. If he was a liar, he was a liar-not a prophet. The authenticity of the Book of Abraham is as important to me as the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

  29. Let’s face it, much of what we talk about in Church and care about as individual members is not central to the gospel either.

  30. 32 – “The authenticity of the Book of Abraham is as important to me as the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

    As claims of BoM historicity become harder and harder to defend, there may be more of an emphasis on its *message* as central to the gospel, and not its origins.

  31. Amen, Holden (#32). How can Bro. Gee say that the Book of Abraham, as an object of attack, is “simply not important to latter-day saints?” He doesn’t speak for me. If Joseph said he translated it, why can’t we all be assured he meant the traditional method of translation? If it was direct revelation, say that. Saying that his use of the term “translation” meant something different seems disingenuous. In the words of Robert Frost (“Choose Something Like a Star”), “use language we can comprehend.” Or, in the language of the D&C (1:24), “given unto my servants…after the manner of their language.” What complicates things more is that the first edition of the Book of Mormon shows Joseph as “author and proprietor,” when we are told that he was the translator there as well. We now know it was some form of direct revelation through the Urim and Thummim, or straight to “The Seer” as noted by Richard Holzapfel (“Horseapples” as we affectionately called him as our seminary teacher in Orange County in the mid-eighties) in his recent address (see BYU Education Week address, currently reported on Mormon Times).

  32. “If Joseph said he translated it, why can’t we all be assured he meant the traditional method of translation?”

    Maybe because that’s not what he actually claimed.

  33. I’m curious if anyone knows if Gee is regarded in LDS scholarly circles with the same respect as Nibley? Who else would be the leading apologist for Egyptian studies?

  34. Ray – please fill me in. I’m just going off the Book of Abraham Title Page, which states “Translated from the Papyrus, by Joseph Smith,” and “A Translation (note, with a capital “T”) of some ancient Records…”

  35. No doubt some things are more central to the church’s mission than others. Consider the volume of plates that Mormon went through to come up with what we have today. Much was necessarily left out. And even then, most of what was on the plates was sealed and Joseph was instructed to leave them sealed.

    Apparently, what we have is enough in the mind of a God to serve its purpose.

    That said, I think Bro Gee needs to be careful to say that what he states is his opinion and he isn’t speaking for the church.

    The Lord allowed the difficulties that exist with the Book of Abraham for His own purposes.

    Maybe it has something to do with the following scripture, I don’t know, but I suspect it does:

    …Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.

    (Book of Mormon | Jacob 4:14)

    The question I have is why would he want them to stumble? I answer this question because he loves them. If he didn’t give them something that aiding their stumbling His judgment at the last day would necessarily be more severe. This allows Him to extend greater mercy which is what the Savior died for.

    The Lord has no pleasure in melting out punishment.

    1 ¶ Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
    32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye
    (Old Testament | Ezekiel 18:31 – 32)

  36. Great Post Andrew never let it be said that lawyers don’t have senses of humour Rulon and Laverl lol.

    Did anyone mention the reference in the Book of Abraham to denial of the Priesthood now being discarded or outmoded or even forgotten?

  37. #32 & #35: Holden and Hymn331

    I would be careful in how much weight you place on the word “translation”. In common use today, we think of “translation” as someone actually looking physically at characters, determining what they mean, and expressing the same thought in another language. This can also be done orally, etc. Using the traditional use of the word “translation”, the Book of Mormon would come forth much like the pictures we have used in the Church for decades, of Joseph actually studying the plates and having their meaning revealed to him directly.

    In reality, it seems that “translation” is used with a much looser definition than that above. There are a number of references if you’re interested that are easily found (including a relatively recent talk by Russell M Nelson to mission presidents) but it appears from most eye-witness accounts that Joseph actually looked into either the Urim & Thummim or a stone in a hat for the Book of Mormon translation. The plates appear to have been covered with a cloth while this was going on, and at times, they weren’t even physically present in the same room as Joseph and the scribe. He would read words off the stone and the scribe would write them down. This doesn’t deny the fact that the process was done through inspiration from God and are holy words, but it isn’t quite the same as we would typically define “translation” in our day. It’s basically just semantics, but I would consider this more that Joseph was “inspired” as he dictated the Book of Mormon. I would also assume that the words he was inspired to write corresponded in some way to what was on the plates. This may bother some people, but if we accept that Nephi or Moses or any other prophet could be inspired by God to write truth, why not in the case of Joseph Smith?

    Accepting this, it is also relatively easy to accept the Book of Abraham as containing truth, with Joseph Smith being inspired as he wrote/dictated them, yet not assuming that they are a direct “translation” that directly correspond to the characters on the papyrus.

    My only fear is that if you base your testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet on the fact that he directly “translated” the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham according to how we understand “translation”, you may ultimately be disappointed. I think the whole point of the article is a slow acceptance of that fact and a focus on the message.

  38. Mike S. Let’s not play the party line and agree to change the definition of a word, then or now. Let’s consider that JS went out of his way to have BoM caricatures “translated”. Please note the record. vs 64 of JSH. “I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters.” There is no evidence I have seen to suggest an alternate understanding of translation in the early church.

  39. To me it is interesting to see how the message changes somewhat from Bro Gee’s The book of Abraham is true, the big picture, that is not to say Church members can or should forego the Book of Abraham and so on to what is the main thrust of this post.

    But I think I see what you are getting at. Personally it would probably be a deal breaker to see the church remove the book of Abraham from the standard works or even to see some academic water it down. Losing things like they the Gods, Kolob, or thou wast chosen before thou wast born or this is my work and my glory would be absolutely devastating for a passionately believing Mormon like myself.

    Concerning the BoM I suppose he means that if we accept it as a literal record of an ancient people then it follows that Joseph Smith didn’t just make up the standard works. But it all starts with accepting the BoM as true.

  40. Just as a reminder, the heading to the Book of Abraham in the official LDS version of the Book of Abraham reads: “A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt.—The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. See History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 235, 236, 348—351.”

  41. #23 Chris Smith ~ I would say it sounds like he’s trying to downplay the BoA myself, but I’m not the least bit surprised you’d get a hostile reaction to that assessment from the MADB crowd.

    His list of six essential things is interesting because so little of it is unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here’s what I would agree with as an evangelical Christian:

    God exists; Jesus Christ is His Son; God talked and still talks with men [and women] through the power of the Holy Ghost; Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world; the Atonement is available to those who trust Jesus, turn from sin, make and keep sacred covenants, and follow the course throughout their lives; and the Book of Mormon is true, an authentic record of God’s interactions with actual ancient people.

    The part in brackets is what I would add. I’m sure that’s what Gee intended, but come on, it’s the 21st century. Time to make gender-inclusive language a habit.

    The part in italics is iffy. I don’t strictly disagree with it, but it’s worded in a rather works-oriented fashion that I don’t like.

    The part I’ve struck out is what I definitely disagree with. Everything else I agree with, and that’s a lot of what Gee deemed as “essential.” So believing in modern-day prophets and apostles, priesthood authority, and temple work isn’t essential?

    Sweet! This is exactly the direction I want Mormonism to go in. Proceed. 8)

  42. I was at the FAIR Conference on the day John Gee spoke. On the whole, I didn’t think he said anything all that controversial. While stating an opinion (not reiterating any official stance), he did say the Book of Abraham was less important than the other Standard Works though. I found his evidence–ie, that it is cited the least–to be flawed, however. I can’t remember if he accounted for its relative size, but I would argue Abraham is the least cited because it is the least understood of all our Standard Works. It’s really the kind of book you study and ponder at home…not good Sunday School material.

  43. Frankly, for me the big news is that it is published on this website. Seems to me that a whole lot of Mormons who weren’t even aware of the controversy might be introduced to it inadvertently (or intentionally?)

    If intentionally, is this an attempt to innoculate people against the more aggressive information on the internet?

  44. Mike S.–“This may bother some people, but if we accept that Nephi or Moses or any other prophet could be inspired by God to write truth, why not in the case of Joseph Smith?”

    My concern there is that not only did Joseph Smith say he translated the plates and from the papyrus, all succeeding prophets and apostles have said the same thing. I really don’t care what the process was. However, if what is in these books is not what was on the plates/papyrus that would go against what every member of the church has been led to believe since day one.

    “My only fear is that if you base your testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet on the fact that he directly “translated” the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham according to how we understand “translation”, you may ultimately be disappointed.”

    Since my testimony is already lost you need not fear on my behalf, although honestly I appreciate your concern for all. I am still a Latter-Day Saint, but my heart is elsewhere. There are those here who call me an apostate. The importance of truth or falsehood is still relevant to me, however.

    To me, it seems that the real issue regarding Gee’s talk is why the Church News decided to print it. That, I think, we would all like to know.

  45. Holden,

    Trial balloon perhaps? As we are the Community of Christ once was, and as they are we can and are becoming. Emma’s final revenge……

  46. Holden Caulfield:

    The power of revelation should be considered [#26]. Joseph Smith was a ‘special’ person, whos gift of revelation was considered to be great. There is no doubt that the Sender has even greater power to ‘send’. Revelation is mysterious enough that it would not be unusual for Joseph Smith to gaze upon an artifact, with writing on it, from Abraham’s or Moroni’s time period and thru a combination of vision and translation come up with a true interpretation that could not be duplicated by science or anyone else that did not have the gift of revelation.

  47. Holden,
    I’m not aware of previous LDS positions on the scrolls (not surprisingly, LDS sources are silent), but Gee is postulating a dramatic reversal in what I perceived to be apologetics. Gee’s words

    “Contemporary hostile non-Mormon eyewitnesses (surely the gold standard of evidence for present-day hostile non-Mormon critics) as well as Mormon eyewitnesses identify the Book of Abraham as coming from the long scroll in Joseph Smith’s possession. The eyewitnesses force us to focus on the long roll, whichever that may be. (And I have actually changed my mind in the past about which roll that was.) If the scroll of Horos is the long scroll (my current position), then, given the length of the Seminis scroll, it is long enough to contain at least one other text, which is not unusual for Documents of Breathing Made by Isis, so the Document of Breathing Made by Isis need not be the Book of Abraham. If the scroll of Horos is not the long scroll (my former position), then the Document of Breathing Made by Isis cannot be the source of the Book of Abraham, and Ptolemaic period Books of the Dead are known to include all sorts of other compositions. Under neither scenario does the attempted matching of eyewitness statements to Egyptological description pose a problem for the argument that the Document of Breathing Made by Isis is not the Book of Abraham. So, if one is going to argue that the scroll of Horos is the source of the Book of Abraham (as critics are desperate to do), then it will not do to attack the scroll of Horos as not being the long scroll and thus not the source of the Book of Abraham. Yet that is precisely what this particular critic was doing. One simply cannot have it both ways. The critics have mistaken an attack on a theory connecting nineteenth century eyewitness statements with modern Egyptological assessments for an attack on the Book of Abraham. They have not understood the argument. And I have found the whole episode rather amusing.”

    The short version is, the extant scrolls are not authentic to Abraham, therefore we DO NOT HAVE the scrolls that were translated by JS. You don’t need to be an egyptologist to see this as a retreat to a “god of the gaps theory”.

  48. Working Mother:

    What would be the objection to having all of the Mormons who weren’t aware of the controversey, to be suddenly introduced to it?

  49. Holden and Ron:

    As a “cousin” I have hesitated to say anything on what is clearly a topic important to “closer family”. However, the RLDS/CofChrist tradition got along perfectly well for more than a century believing that Joseph “stumbled” by trying to fill in the blanks and extrapolate what God had previously revealed.

    So it is clearly possible to detach the Restoration from the Book of Abraham and its theological derivatives. Of course, it’s a lot harder to do now than it was in the 1840’s.

    Not so much Emma’s revenge as Emma’s prayer?

    Nothing condescending here. Perhaps you can still keep us from plunging down the opposite side of the mountain.

  50. Working Mother (48), acknowledging “the controversy” regarding the Book of Abraham here is hardly a newsworthy thing in itself. “The controversy” has existed for decades. LDS scholars have acknowledged it for decades. Nibley and others have written scores of books about the controversy. FARMS and FAIR openly acknowledge the controversy on their websites. Pearl of Great Price students at BYU and Institute are often made aware of the controversy. The shelves of Deseret Book contain books acknowledging the controversy. And as most recently evidenced here, the Church News is acknowledging the controversy in an official church publication being sent to subscribing LDS members.

    With Church News articles acknowledging the controversy, one can hardly suggest the controversy is some big secret. So a post like this that acknowledges the controversy isn’t something you should be surprised about.

  51. Cowboy:–“What would be the objection to having all of the Mormons who weren’t aware of the controversey, to be suddenly introduced to it?”

    At lunch yesterday, I raised this issue with my wife because I am fascinated by it. I started off asking her what she knows about the Book of Abraham. She is 56 and a life-long member. After she told me the little she knows, I started in on the controversy. It only took a minute for the foggy look to appear. I laughed as I borrowed Gee’s, “Never mind. It’s not important.”

    Firetag–I wish it was within me to view the prophet so liberally. I envy those who can. Try as I have over the years, I have been unable to do that. I am an accountant. Need I say more?

  52. Holden:

    This week I’m working on four tax returns for me, my mother, my mother’s estate, and my mother’s trust. Today I’m very much in envy of accountants.

  53. #54, Sxark,

    I could not agree more! One single authentic straw is all that is needed. There is nothing like direct open revelation and further light and knowledge to send all of us yappers scurrying like cockroaches from the blinding light. So we have current prophets and apostles who are special witnesses and we sustain Pres. Monson as prophet SEER and revelator. What do we have to worry about because the Lord knows the answers to these questions and they can communicate it through His special witnesses and seers.

  54. #61,

    Yes. the Lord can and will communicate through our Seers to clear this all up—just because he hasn’t since July of 1835 does not mean that he will not clear it up now. And if he doesn’t, well then it is because it is not because the urrim and thummin is rusted shut nor because the brethren do not already know the answer, but rather because we the people are not worthy of further revelation—or better this is a test to see if we can make now make bricks without straw (not even one straw)

    do I need to add a “winkey” emoticon to make myself clearer?

  55. Reading Gee’s article in The Farms Review from 2007, he collected reports from various church members who were witnesses to the papyri and summarized their reports in 4 descriptions:

    1. Papyri preserved under glass
    2. A long roll of manuscript
    3. Another roll
    4. Two or three other small pieces of papyrus with astronomical calculations, epitaph’s,

  56. Pingback: LDS Church backing away from the “Book of Abraham?”

  57. Mike S. Let’s not play the party line and agree to change the definition of a word, then or now

    Except, of course, the word has several meanings and several historical uses. Consider Bible “translations” – none of which are from the original texts.

    But Mike S., lets not play the typical anti-Mormon game and claim that there is only one straw man meaning and then take cheap shots, ok?


  58. Continuing from #63, Gee’s article reports from eyewitness accounts that the Book of Abraham was translated from a long roll of manuscript, which is not among any of the items recovered.

    If people are concluding that “what is in these books is not what was on the plates/papyrus” AND one of the items of papyrus is not among the items recovered, is the argument that:

    1. There never were more items of papyrus, so what exists now cannot explain the BoA?
    2. The modern translations of the fascimiles don’t match the translations produced by JS, so all of the Book must be in error?
    3. All of JS “translations” were fraudulent, therefore BoA is too?

    Has the report that items of papyrus logged in the Wood Museum in 1856 were destroyed by the Great Chicago fire been debunked?

  59. Rigel (65): The purpose of this post was not to challenge the authenticity of the BofA, but simply to comment on the Church News and Dr. Gee’s decision to take the position that the BofA is “not central to the restored gospel” in response to the numerous challenges to the BofA’s authenticity. As the man who one could say stands in the shoes of the late Dr. Nibley regarding BofA issues, Dr. Gee’s statement is certainly a stark contrast to Dr. Nibley’s previous statement that without the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, we are “just another church.”

    I think I’m aware of the main challenges to the BofA authenticity, but I don’t want to go into them here and now in response to your question in #65. People can go to the FARMS or FAIR websites to find out all about that. However, I’d be happy to privately discuss those challenges I understand them, as well as the apologetic responses to them. I’ll shoot an email to the email address you used when posting your comment.


  60. Andrew Ainsworth:

    It appears to me, that Dr. Gee’s comments were only in line with D&C 19: 29-33, which doesn’t mention the Book of Abraham.
    I still maintain my position in #5.

  61. Sxark (68), Gee’s list of six “central” points goes beyond D&C 19:23-33 to include things like the literal historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. As I mentioned in my original post, that’s what is particularly puzzling to me. If you’re going to go beyond the minimalist language of D&C 19 and so many other minimalist scriptural definitions of the Gospel, why include the literal historical authenticity of one book of revealed scripture but not another?

  62. Andrew Ainsworth:

    I’ll say something I don’t know about. Could it be that that the Book of Abraham contains to reference to Christ, But the Book of Mormon does? and that’s the reason.

  63. Sxark (70): The Book of Abraham not only refers to “God” but also “the Lord” over 20 times. In addition, the Book of Abraham refers to a person that Latter-day Saints recognize as Christ in these verses:

    “And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.”

    This scripture is cited often to established that Christ was chosen as our Savior in the pre-existence.

    So I don’t see a lack of reference to Christ as the reason for including the BOM but not the BofA in the list of what’s “central” to the restored gospel. The explanation that Dr. Gee proffered was that the BofA has been cited less than 1% of General Conference talks for the past several decades. In my view, excluding a book of revealed scripture as “not central” based on frequency of citation in General Conference talks is an insufficient justification because: (1) General Conference talks are only a small slice of official Church publications, and as I explained in the original post, the BofA is treated as “central” in our Gospel Principles manual; (2) it’s not really fair to compare just the number of times the BofA is cited when you consider how much shorter it is than all the other books of scripture; that would be like saying the book of Fourth Nephi isn’t central to the restored Gospel because of how seldom it is cited. In fact, if you compared how often the BofA is cited taking into account its length, I bet you’d find it’s cited a disproportionately high number of times for how short it is. You can always use statistical exercises to demonstrate something is either less important or more important according what you want it to be; (3) regardless of how long the BofA is, or how often it is cited, the fact remains that Joseph Smith said that it is a translation by the gift and power of God of the writings made by Abraham’s own hand, and I think it’s safer to assume that if God determined it was important enough to reveal a book of scripture to mankind through the Prophet who ushered in the Restoration, we ought not dismiss it today as “not central to the restored gospel”.

  64. Andrew Ainsworth:

    Sorry to belabor the point. Your reference concerns the pre-existance, whereas, The Book of Mormon refers to the Atonement.
    And I don’t recall Abraham having any reference to that.–except, I think I see my error, Abr. 2: 8-11 looks like it describes ‘the blessings of the Gospel’. Therefore, your point may have validity.

  65. Sxark (72), your original question in 70 asked whether the BofA contains “references to Christ,” so I provided references to Christ. And I think it’s fair to say that BofA was Atonement-related, because it relates to Christ volunteering and being chosen to perform the Atonement.

  66. Andrew Ainsworth:

    However, as a stand alone book, no-one would know what all the principles of the Gospel were from the Book of Abraham.
    Dr. Gee is correct when stating that the Church would stiil survive without Abraham. Since there are only scant references to the Gospel in Abraham, I can see why Dr. Gee did not include the book in his 6 points.

  67. Sxark (74), there are very few books of scripture, defined in the narrowest sense of “book” (e.g., Book of Abraham, Book of Esther, Book of Job) that would meet the criteria of containing “all the principles of the Gospel”. But that doesn’t seem to have been Dr. Gee’s criteria anyway, nor can I see any basis for the arbitrary assumption that a book of scripture must contain “ALL the principles of the Gospel” (whatever those principles are, since we can debate all day about whether something is a principle, and debate which definition of “the Gospel” we should use). Dr. Gee obviously could not have been including or excluding books from his list of six “central” points based on whether they contain “all the principles of the gospel” because he did not even include the Bible in his list of six central points, and you CAN find a fullness of the Gospel in the Bible (read the Introduction to the Book of Mormon).

    So once again, the search for Dr. Gee’s criteria for including or excluding books of scripture from his list of six central points proves elusive. Back to his cited percentage-of-times-quoted-in-General-Conference justification for excluding the Book of Abraham, whenever you use such a criteria, you inevitably raise the question: What percentage-of-times-quoted is the dividing line between inclusion and exclusion in a list of “central” components of the gospel? 75%? 50%? 25%? And most importantly, who in our church has the authority to decide such issues: the President of the Church, or a scholar?

  68. Andrew Ainsworth:

    So is a ‘mountain being made of a mole hill’ with this issue? Or do you think the membership is being ‘preped’ for a major reduction in the Standard Works?

  69. I don’t think a mountain is being a mole-hill here; this is a significant change from what we’ve been told previously about the Book of Abraham. But based on the pace of changes within the Church historically, I don’t think the membership is being prepped for a major reduction in the Standard Works either. We may be seeing the beginning of a change, but we won’t know for a few more years.

  70. Andrew Ainsworth:

    Well,..the manner in which all this has been communicated to the world certainly has created a reaction. Serious critics of the Church can’t stop laughing to yet make a coherent response. While LDS members run around in circles trying to justify Dr. Gee’s statement.
    Your attempt [#67] to silence/control Rigal [#65] works today, on this post. But there may be [today] a thousand other ‘Rigals’, worldwide, discussing the same issues.
    Words – have impact!

  71. “that would be like saying the book of Fourth Nephi isn’t central to the restored Gospel because of how seldom it is cited”

    That logic makes it difficult to defend Gee’s statement. Perhaps a Church News writer will be looking for a new job, or transferred to manage a Deseret Books store in Abilene, Texas. If we are, however, being prepped for a change, the removal of the fascimiles from the PoGP would seem the most likely move. It really isn’t helpful for new converts (or long term members for that matter)to study the Egyptian hieroglyphs and their interpretations. They can simply be placed with the Lectures on Faith as inspired teachings that do not need to be published with the scriptures.

  72. RE: #62, “it is not because the urrim [sic] and thummin is rusted shut . . .”

    How does a rock rust shut?

    Returning recently from vacation, I have the opportunity from this post of learning about the Gee article and of seeing these comments all at once. The thing which strikes me most strongly is the difference between people who take a data/historical approach to the dilemma, and people who seem to use whatever they have received in an existentialist feel-good, make-it-work approach. Whichever approach one may prefer, I think if we could visit Joseph Smith in the 1840s, there would be little if any ambiguity about the literalness of his translation claims. “After he had shown us the fine grounds around his dwelling,” reported an anonymous visitor to Nauvoo in late April 1840,

    he conducted us, at our request, to an upper room, where he drew aside the curtains of a case, and showed us several Egyptian mummies, which we were told that the church had purchased, at his suggestion some time before, for a large sum of money.

    The embalmed body that stands near the centre of the case, said he, is one of the Pharaohs, who sat upon the throne of Egypt; and the female figure by its side, was probably one of his daughters.

    It may have been the princess Thermutis, I replied, the same that rescued Moses from the waters of the Nile.

    It is not improbable, answered the prophet; but my time has not yet allowed me fully to examine and decide that point. Do you understand the Hebrew language, said he, raising his hand to the top of the case, and taking down a small Hebrew Grammar of Rabbi Sexias [sic].

    That language has not altogether escaped my attention, was the reply.

    He 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.

    These ancient records, said he, throw great light upon the subject of Christianity. They have been unrolled and preserved with great labor and care. My time has hitherto been too much taken up to translate the whole of them, but I will show you how I interpret certain parts. There, said he, pointing to a particular character, that is the signature of the patriarch Abraham.

    It is indeed a most interesting autograph, I replied, and doubtless the only one extant. What an ornament it would be to have these ancient manuscripts handsomely set, in appropriate frames, and hung up around the walls of the temple which you are about to erect in this place.

    Yes, replied the prophet, and the translation hung up with them. [“From the Alexandria Gazette. A Glance At The Mormons,” in Supplement to the Courant. Published Every Other Week for the Subscribers to the Connecticut Courant (Hartford, August 29, 1840 [VI:18]), p. 140]

    Joseph Smith conceived Abraham writing Hebrew centuries before that language came into being – and with Egyptian characters, quite in harmony, as Joseph would have understood it, with general ideas of Elias Boudinot, Ethan Smith, and even Moses Stuart, America’s greatest exegetical Bible scholar at the time. Such linguistic appropriation was not only a current concept, but it would excuse any inconsistencies which mortal learning might discover in Joseph’s renditions – just as surely as with the translation of “reformed Egyptian” characters from the Book of Mormon’s golden plates.

    The 1840 account just quoted found independent verification four years later when Josiah Quincy and Charles Francis Adams visited Joseph Smith shortly before Joseph’s death. Both of these distinguished men remembered the mummies and the papyrus. Each remembered Joseph declaring that the hieroglyphs included actual handwriting of ancient Bible patriarchs. Here was the son of Harvard’s president since 1829, together with the son of the man who, three years earlier, had pled the case of the Amistad slaves before the Supreme Court of the United States (former President John Quincy Adams). These were highly educated, reputable men of character. Their testimony should not be trivialized . . .

    “That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful,” said the prophet [as Mr. Quincy reconstructed the conversation from his journal notes taken at the time]. “This is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest account of the Creation, from which Moses composed the First Book of Genesis.” The parchment last referred to showed a rude drawing of a man and woman, and a serpent walking upon a pair of legs.” [Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past from the Leaves of Old Journals. By Josiah Quincy, (Class of 1821, HARVARD COLLEGE). (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1883), 386]

    Joseph made something of a show to the two men, doing impromptu “translations” from a polyglot Bible which he had on hand. “Our position as guests,” observed the well-mannered scholar,

    prevented our testing his powers by a rigid examination, and the rendering of a few familiar texts seemed to be accepted by his followers as a triumphant demonstration of his abilities. It may have been an accident, but I observed that the bulk of his translations were from the Hebrew, which, presumably, his visitors did not understand, rather [p. 385 ends] than from the classical languages, in which they might more easily have caught him tripping. [Quincy, 385-86. For background on Josiah Quincy, see MP 345. “Ten closely written pages of my journal describe my impressions of Nauvoo,” explained the careful chronicler of the account from which I quote above, “and of its prophet, mayor, general, and judge; but details, necessarily omitted in the diary, went into letters addressed to friends at home, and I shall use both these sources to make my narrative as complete as possible.” (Quincy, 378)]

  73. Ditto to #81. Rick, Thank you for details. As to my #60 and #62 comments. Both were poorly crafted satire….my apologies to satire and Poe’s law.

  74. Regarding point #6:

    The Church News is a news outlet, published by the Deseret News. It does not even come close to being an official Church publication. It definitely is not reviewed by the correlation committee.

    Deseret News may be owned by the Church, but that’s as far as the official connection goes. I see the report on Gee’s comments as simply a news report. He is a BYU professor, and to hear a BYU professor say something like that is news, even if only because it is such a controversial statement.

    If the article were in the Ensign, it would be a different matter….

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