Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Putting on the Ritner

I promised over a month ago to provide a second blog reply to the LDS essay on the Book of Abraham Translation. Since my first reply, Dr. Robert Ritner, Professor of Egyptology in the Oriental Institute, housed at the University of Chicago, has given such a thorough smashing of the essay, I can hardly add to it. 

Instead, I will try to briefly outline the wonderful response Dr. Ritner gave.  If you can wade into it and read it, I think you will find satisfaction that many of the LDS claims bubbling up from their internally funded “Egyptologists” are answered by Ritner.

What did I mean when I say “internally funded ‘Egyptologists’”?  Dr. Kara Cooney, a media darling and real Egyptologist at UCLA is quoted (by FAIR no less) as saying:  “Mormons are funding PhDs in Egyptology and Biblical Studies and then funding positions at BYU and elsewhere and passing these people off as experts, when they are only ideologically driven researchers, not experts interested in actual evidence.”


If you read through the entire BoA LDS essay, you reach a point at the end where several very revolutionary (in the field of Egyptology) claims are made.  These include support for “human sacrifice” under Egyptian rule over offenses of not worshipping their idolatrous gods (notes 35-36); post Egyptian Coptic texts which connect Abraham to Egyptian history (so far, Abraham is not found in any ancient Egyptian papyri) (note 44); and Coptic texts stating that Abraham taught Pharaoh celestial astronomy (note 45).  Do these claims stack up to the actual evidence or are they ideologically driven by BYU researchers?

As a general summary to Dr. Ritner’s view of the LDS essay, he stated:  “the LDS paper attempts to engage in scholarly debate from a one-sided position, repeatedly citing in the footnotes the same limited set of apologists who are primarily church employees at BYU in Provo.” 


He also concludes: 
"With the Book of Abraham now confirmed as a perhaps well-meaning, but erroneous invention by Joseph Smith, the LDS church may well devote some reflection to the status of the text..."

Ritner quickly puts the BoA facsimiles in their place.  His last facsimile comment is worth repeating: 
“Smith also misunderstands “Pharaoh” as a personal name rather than a title meaning “king,” so he reads “king king” for a goddess’s name that he claims to have understood on the papyrus!”  (Someone should let Daniel C Peterson in on yet another misuse of “Pharaoh” since he seems to believe its use in Facsimile 1 supports Smith’s translation claims.)

The body of the BoA poses similar problems for Ritner.  “The problems are by no means limited to the Facsimiles, since the text itself includes anachronistic and impossible expressions.”  These include (Ritner’s list):  “Potiphar’s Hill” (Abra. 1:10), Egyptian “human sacrifice” (Abra. 1:11-12), “Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham” (Abra. 1:25) [Pharaoh is a title, not a name, Egyptus is the primary temple in Memphis], and so on.  That’s just in the first chapter of Abraham.

The LDS essay uses its BYU and church funded Egyptologists like Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee to produce numerous articles littered with obfuscating language to purport support for the Smith translation of the papyrus into the BoA text.  These prolific experts tend to leave most faithful LDS members with the impression they are true “experts, when they are only ideologically driven researchers, not experts interested in actual evidence” (in the words of Dr. Cooney).  But Ritner cuts through their BS.

Probably the most significant claim by Muhlestein as cited in the LDS essay (notes 35-36) is that “People who challenged the standing religious order, either in Egypt or in the regions over which it had influence (such as Canaan), could and did suffer execution for their offenses.”  

In other words, evidence that the Egyptians practiced human sacrifice is shown in that they practiced capital punishment.  Ritner cuts this at the knees, stating that Muhlestein ‘intentionally avoids the term “human sacrifice” in favor of “sanctioned killing”.’  Ritner clarifies that ‘there is no parallel to the Book of Abraham’s intended “martyrdom” for refusing to worship the images of Egyptian gods. That would happen under Roman prosecution of Christians, but personal worship (or its refusal) was not a basic concern of the ancient Egyptian state.’

The LDS essay cites John Gee’s work (note 44) to show support that “A third-century papyrus from an Egyptian temple library connects Abraham with an illustration similar to facsimile 1 in the book of Abraham.”  

However, writes Ritner, “The text in question, a Leiden magical papyrus in Demotic Egyptian and Greek … does include a picture of a mummy attended by Anubis —mentioned by name— on a lion funerary couch (not an “altar”), but the text is a love compulsion spell intended to force a woman to submit to a male’s sexual lust, not a reflection of the Book of Abraham… there is no intent here to represent a sacrifice, just Osiris tended by Anubis, who are both invoked to inflame the libido of the female victim of the spell.” 

Did you see that?  We’ve seen over and over that Joseph Smith confused pictorials of females for males in the three facsimiles, but now John Gee is doing it too!  In true tradition of "Mormon Egyptology" (and their bias against ordaining women and gay rights) the LDS “experts” have a real problem with gender dysphoria.

The LDS essay cites another of Gee’s works (note 45) to claim that “A later Egyptian text, discovered in the 20th century, tells how the Pharaoh tried to sacrifice Abraham, only to be foiled when Abraham was delivered by an angel. Later, according to this text, Abraham taught members of the Pharaoh’s court through astronomy.”  

Ritner clarifies that, “The text that Gee presents is a Sahidic Coptic panegyric praising a Christian saint… recounts the attempted martyrdom of a saint, but not necessarily the patriarch, Abraham.”  Gee first got his genders confused, now his eras are confused.  What’s next?  Ritner continues, “Gee’s article is not honest in its title, its suppression of prior important scholarship, and its presentation of the principal actors. Gee never acknowledges that the Abraham of the text is not —or even that he might not be— the patriarch Abraham.” 

Dr. Ritner rightly suggests questioning Gee’s honesty.  Just as Dr.  Cooney had opined, these men are funded to acquire doctorates in Egyptology for positions at BYU campuses to support statements and footnotes in essays that obfuscate the true evidence in order to shield the doubts of common members.  What a sham.

(For a fun read, visit this Mormonthink page about "astronomy" in the Book of Abraham.)

The LDS Essay does admit the existence of the papyri, the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar  guide created from the papryi (by Joseph Smith and his scribes), but they try to dismiss their connection to the translated work called The Book of Abraham, saying, "The relationship of these documents to the book of Abraham is not fully understood. Neither the rules nor the translations in the grammar book correspond to those recognized by Egyptologists today."

To those not familiar, my understanding is the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar book that Smith and his scribes created appears to have developed as Smith claims to translate the papyri.  He wrote an Egyptian character in the (I believe) left margin, and a sentence or whole paragraph of the translated meaning of the single glyph.  Critics (like Ritner) have said this is completely erroneous is both translation and even use of hieratic.  LDS Apologists (including the new LDS essay) have told members that the translation probably didn't use Smith's Grammar book, and that it was probably his scribes trying to reverse-engineer Smith's translation, not Smith's development of the translation.

Ritner contends: 
"[I]n contrast to the new LDS statement, it is not true that “no eyewitness account of the translation survives.” Smith’s secretary Warren Parrish wrote in an 1838 letter in the Painesville Republican: “I have set (sic) by his side and penned down the Egyptian hieroglyphicks (sic) as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration from heaven.” Smith’s “divine inspiration” was not, however, divorced from a direct attempt to translate the characters of the Egyptian papyrus, as is clear from surviving manuscript pages of the evolving text of the Book of Abraham. These pages, unmentioned in the new LDS church posting, were published in 1966 in microfilm reproductions and in transcription by Jerald Tanner as Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, Salt Lake City, Utah Lighthouse Ministry. These microfilm pages are the “smoking gun” evidence that resolves the history of the Book of Abraham translation process."

On the one hand the LDS Church wants to show you evidence from their experts while refusing to show the evidence (held in microfilm) that ties Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar guide to the translation he purported.  Honesty from Salt Lake?  Hm.

Will the LDS Church History department release the complete set of Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, as it was microfiched in about 1966 by Jerald Tanner?  This version is more complete than what the LDS Church has released so far, and the Tanner copy has evidence of the evolution of the Book of Abraham "translation".  The copy includes Egyptian script on the left corresponding to lengthy English on the right. The English is the text of the Book of Abraham as it was being modified and would be published, with obvious deletions and revisions in the handwritten English text.

If the LDS History dept wants to be honest, they would publish these and let all members decide for themselves once and for all about the source of the Book of Abraham.

In conclusion, let me just quote Dr. Ritner at length, because it is so choice (to quote Ferris Bueller, another fellow from Chicago). 
“Scholarly rejection of the authenticity of the Book of Abraham is not new and has continued unabated since the study by Jules Remy and Théodule Devéria in 1861, with multiple scholars (including A. H. Sayce, Arthur Mace, Flinders Petrie, and James H. Breasted) dismissing the book’s validity in 1912. With the rediscovery of the papyri at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1967, analysis by John Wilson, Richard Parker and Klaus Baer (all 1968), and even the LDS apologist Hugh Nibley (in 1975) disproved any possibility that the Book of Abraham could be an acceptable translation of the surviving Egyptian papyri. My own works on the papyri (in 2002, 2003, 2011 and 2013) showed the same result, as did the LDS-sponsored translations by Michael Rhodes (2002) and the 2005 revision of Nibley’s volume. Thus has arisen a host of alternative defenses for the Book of Abraham, questioning the meaning of the word “translation,” the length of the original papyri, the possibility of a now-lost section with the Abraham text, etc. Many of these defensive positions are referenced in the new LDS church posting. However, clear links between the papyri and the published woodcut illustrations of the Book of Abraham are unmistakable, and the woodcuts contain explicit “explanations” by Joseph Smith, as even the new LDS position paper acknowledges: “Facsimile 1 contains a crocodile deity swimming in what Joseph Smith called ‘the firmament over our heads’ (emphasis added).” Smith also explained the images on the published “Facsimile 2,” writing as follows: “The above translation is given as far as we have any right to give, at the present time” The Book of Abraham itself is specifically subtitled “translated from the papyrus, by Joseph Smith.”

In other words: Real scholars have studied the Book of Abraham and accompanying papyrus and found Joseph Smith to be a real fraud.

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