CitationAbuse:Jeremy Runnells' Response and Rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid's Rational Faiths Essay:B.H. Roberts comment on the Book of Abraham

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    Jeremy Runnells' Response and Rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid's Rational Faiths Essay: B.H. Roberts comment on the Book of Abraham


Question: Why did the author of the Letter to a CES Director take a quote from B.H. Roberts in which Roberts was paraphrasing someone with whom he disagreed, and then make it appear as if it were Roberts' own opinion?

The citation: B.H. Roberts: "If Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be proven discredited..."

Jeremy Runnells' Response and Rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid's Rational Faiths Essay: "Jeremy Runnells and the Book of Abraham" presents a quote from B.H. Roberts in order to demonstrate that Roberts believed that if the translation of the papyri of the Book of Abraham was not validated by non-Mormon Egyptologists, that it would invalidate Joseph Smith's claim to have been a prophet. The author presents the quote as follows:

“If Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be proven discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon, and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught.” – Elder B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority, Comprehensive History of the Church 2:138

B.H. Roberts quote presented in Jeremy Runnells' Response and Rebuttal to Brian M. Hauglid's Rational Faiths Essay: "Jeremy Runnells and the Book of Abraham"

Note: The author of the Letter to a CES Director inaccurately transcribed the Roberts quote: The first occurrence of the word "proven" should not be there. The author appears to have simply copied it from another secondary source rather than examining the primary source.

The reality: B.H. Roberts: "The 'collapse of Mormonism' was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited...Nothing of this kind happened"

The quote from Roberts is actually a paraphrase of a criticism of the Book of Abraham offered in 1912 by the Rev. F. S. Spalding. This is not Roberts' opinion: it is Roberts phrasing of Spalding's opinion. Note in particular that Roberts was stating that Spalding's prediction that this would spell the "collapse of Mormonism" was unfulfilled:

[T]he "collapse of Mormonism" was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon; and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught. "It is the belief," wrote Bishop Spalding, "that the honest searchers for truth among the Latter-day Saints will welcome the opinions of authoritative scholars, and, if necessary, courageously readjust their system of belief, however radical a revolution of thought may be required, that the following judgments of the world's greatest Egyptologists have been ascertained." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). Nothing of this kind happened however, "Mormonism" was not moved a peg by the critique.

The full story

Here is Roberts' full quote, with the portion extracted by the author of the Letter to a CES Director highlighted in blue:

In 1912 a widespread interest was awakened in the Book of Abraham by the publication of a brochure, by Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, D. D. Episcopal Bishop of Utah, under the title Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator. The bishop submitted the facsimiles of some of the parchment pages from which the Book of Abraham had been translated, (copies of which accompany this chapter) to a number of the foremost of present day Egyptian scholars. These were Dr. A. H. Sayce, Oxford, England; Dr. W. M. Flinders Petrie, London University; James H. Breasted, Ph. D., Haskel Oriental Museum, University of Chicago; Dr. Arthur C. Mace, Assistant Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Department of Egyptian Art; Dr. John Peters, University of Penn., in charge of Expedition to Babylonia, 1888-1895; Rev. Prof, C. A. B. Mercer, Ph. D., Western Theological Seminary, Custodian Hibbard Collections, Egyptian Reproductions; two German scholars—Dr. Edward Meyer, University of Berlin; and Dr. Friedrich Freiheer Von Bissin, Professor of Egyptology in the University of Munich—eight in all. Speaking of the result obtained from the submission of these facsimiles to these foremost Egyptologists, Bishop Spalding says: "It will be seen that there is practically complete agreement as to the real meaning of the hieroglyphics, and that this meaning is altogether different from that of Joseph Smith's translation." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). He also says that "The opinions were obtained from the scholars themselves, and in no case did one man know the opinion of another" (Ibid).

The seeming triumph of the bishop's test of the "Mormon" Prophet's ability to translate ancient languages correctly by inspiration from God, was much commented upon throughout the United States, and especially by the religious press; and the "collapse of Mormonism" was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon; and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught. "It is the belief," wrote Bishop Spalding, "that the honest searchers for truth among the Latter-day Saints will welcome the opinions of authoritative scholars, and, if necessary, courageously readjust their system of belief, however radical a revolution of thought may be required, that the following judgments of the world's greatest Egyptologists have been ascertained." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). Nothing of this kind happened however, "Mormonism" was not moved a peg by the critique. So far as known there were not a score of Latter-day Saints whose faith was affected by the Spalding brochure. There were no Egyptian scholars in the church of the Latter-day Saints who could make an effective answer to the conclusions of the eight scholars who in various ways pronounced against the correctness of Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchments that so strangely fell into his hands; but a number of articles were written by elders of the church pointing out the bias of the scholars and some evident defects in the treatment of the subject; and also reviews of Bishop Spalding's arguments. [1]

Why does the author of the Letter to a CES Director consider B.H. Roberts a "scholar" in this case?

B.H. Roberts was the most notable LDS apologist of the early 20th-century

The author of the Letter to a CES Director, who considers all Latter-day Saint scholars merely "apologists" and not worthy of attention, calls B.H. Roberts a "scholar" in this case. Roberts was indeed a scholar, but he was also the most notable Latter-day Saint apologist of the early 20th-century.

Here's what the author of the Letter to a CES Director thinks of the distinction between "scholar" and "apologist" as he attacks Brian Hales' scholarship:

Hales is not a scholar. He's an anesthesiologist who hired Don Bradley to do his research for him. He then wrote 3 books using his employee's homework. Author? Sure. Apologist? Yes. Amateur? Yes. Scholar? No. He's an apologist disguising himself as a scholar. The real scholars in the field of polygamy have issues with many of Hales' conclusions and interpretations. Anyone with big bucks and writing skills can do what Brian did. All you have to do is hire guys like Don Bradley to do all the work for you and then you throw the stuff in a nice hardcover book with your name on it.[2]

Could it be because the author of the Letter to a CES Director in this case calls B.H. Roberts a "scholar" because thinks that Roberts said something that he agrees with...that is, after he modified Roberts' quote to remove the portions he disagreed with? Remember, B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority, said "The 'collapse of Mormonism' was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited...Nothing of this kind happened."


Notes

  1. B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, Volume Two, 138.
  2. Jeremy Runnells, author of the "Letter to a CES Director", Posted on "Who's the Real Amateur?," Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So's Mormon Blog (16 July 2014) off-site