Good morning. It’s wonderful to be with you. What a great audience and a great opportunity! Just because we’re short on time, usually you kind of start out by telling a joke or an interesting story or something, but I think we’re just going to start moving so that we have time for some questions.
And today I want to talk about assumptions. Some of them will be specific to the Book of Abraham but many of the principles we’ll talk about apply to any of the issues that we often think about in relation to faith. And so I’m just going to start out with some assumptions that are general and then we’ll move into some assumptions about the Book of Abraham. And we’ll start off by talking… FAIR has apologetics in its name, so I’d just like to talk a little bit about some assumptions we make with that. For some people, apologetics means to try and defend a certain position and there is something to that. I take, at least personally, a little bit of a different approach which is to just try and understand what’s true; what’s accurate. And having great faith in the restoration, for me, I’m not afraid of any bits of facts or any points of view. I think in the end we’ll be supported and so we can look for any kind of source and be public about it and eventually we’ll come to understand how that fits into our faith perspective. I think that’s a view that’s being adopted more and more by Latter-day Saints and I think the Joseph Smith Papers project is a great example of this — where we’re saying we’re not afraid to put anything out there. There’s nothing to hide. This is all true and so we don’t have anything to hide. We can put everything forward. Sometimes people associate apologetics with a rather strident tone and I think that that’s not accurate either. Sometimes it is, and I think that’s unfortunate. I think that if we are honestly seeking truth there’s no need to be strident and I hope to maintain that. The aim is a little bit about what is apologetic. I hope that our aims are to just seek truth and disseminate it and sometimes that’s not what people assume.
But what I really like to spend my time on is how important the beginning premise or the beginning assumption is that people make and often we don’t realize this. It’s what frequently causes disagreement among people who are of different faiths or of no faith at all because they don’t realize what their beginning assumptions are. So let me use an analogy that may be useful. I’m not a physicist. I’m going to use a physics analogy. If someone here is a physicist and can tell me that I’m incorrect, I’d like to know that. But for a long time there was an assumption that [for] anything in the universe, we had either particles or we had waves. And something could not be both a particle and a wave. That was an assumption that we went with for a long time and then, with further research, we found that light had some characteristics of particles and some characteristics of waves. Now, if someone were so dedicated to that original assumption, that something is either a particle or a wave, they are now in the position where they will have to disallow certain kinds of evidence. If they are sure that light is a wave and it can’t also have characteristics of a particle, any evidence that suggests it is a particle has to be explained away. Similarly, if you’re sure it’s a particle, you’ll explain away evidence that it’s a wave.
I think this is a little bit akin to our assumptions about the validity of revelation as a source of knowledge. There are many people in the world who are certain that that is not a valid source of knowledge. And beginning with that assumption then anything having to do with the restoration and Joseph Smith as a prophet has to be discarded. They have to ignore any evidence that would support that and I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen people who are critical of Joseph Smith when something comes up that kind of supports something he had translated through inspiration; I’ve seen emails where they say, “Well, that can’t be true. He couldn’t have actually known that” even though it seems that he knew it. That’s their attempt to explain things away because it doesn’t fit in with their beginning assumption. So I’d like to be clear about my beginning assumption. I believe revelation is a valid source of knowledge. We should pursue things with our mind, but we should also pursue it with the part of our mind that listens to the Holy Ghost. And so I start out with an assumption that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon and anything else that we get from the restored gospel is true, therefore, any evidence I find I will try and fit into that paradigm. I don’t feel that I need to defend that paradigm, I feel that I want to understand the evidence that I find within that paradigm because to me it’s a given that it’s true. There are others who will assume that it’s not true and on these points we’ll just have to agree to disagree, but we will understand one another better when we understand how our beginning assumptions color the way we filter all of the evidence that we find. To that point we’ll return a few times as we go throughout these ideas about the Book of Abraham, but I’d just like to emphasize that to me, epistemologically, meaning our method of learning, includes revelation. I thinks that’s valid and we cannot give up that point as many people do.
We also make a lot of assumptions about the story of the Book of Abraham meaning how we got the Book of Abraham. And we keep finding that things that we once thought were true are not true and so on. Another assumption that I don’t want to make here is that everyone here is familiar with that story and so while we’re going to talk about other points, I want to very, very quickly go through this story so…
Antonio Lebolo in the early 1800s is working for the French government in Thebes and finds all sorts of things. He’s one of the people who found major sources of collections for libraries like the Turin Museum, the Louvre, and so on. But he also sometimes sold these small parts of what he found as private collections. One of these made its way to the US and eventually Michael Chandler ended up being associated with this. We’re not even sure if he owned them or if he was just acting as an agent for those who owned them, but eventually Michael Chandler ends up being associated with this. A man named Benjamin Bullock, who is not a member of the church but would later become a member of the church, convinces Chandler that as he’s been going around and showing these mummies and papyri and charging people to see them and is now working on selling them off (I don’t know if he’s bored with it or if it’s just proved to be not profitable) he convinces him to take the remaining part of his collection (he’s down to four mummies and a few scrolls and some other fragments of papyri) to Joseph Smith. And so he travels to Kirtland. Joseph Smith is inspired to acquire the papyri and Chandler won’t separate the papyri and the mummies, so he has to buy the mummies and the papyri. This is in July of 1835, and Joseph Smith begins translation then.
Before we get into the publication, he translates sporadically for a while. The month of November 1835 he spends a lot of time translating and then that translation for the most part stops early in December, as instead they hire a Hebrew teacher and he gives his time to studying Hebrew and the Egyptian studies and the translation of the book of Abraham largely stops. There will be some of it that picks up again in 1842 and right now we’re trying to decide how much was translated in 1842 and how much was translated in 1835.
So, from 1835 to 1842 a number of times Joseph Smith says he’d like to work on this again, but he never is able to. He does publish what we have as the Book of Abraham in three installments in the Times and Seasons in 1842 in Nauvoo and spends a few days, his journals talk about spending a few days translating during that period. It’s hard to know whether he’s actually translating or if that’s his word for making inspired editorial changes as he publishes this. In any case, it’s published in the Times and Seasons. Eventually Elder Richards takes his copies Franklin Richards takes his copies of the Times and Seasons with him when he serves a mission, as Mission President in England. He uses those to create a little booklet that he calls the Pearl of Great Price. The Saints in England take those with them, including the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies whom Richards passes as he’s going back to Salt Lake. They take them with them to Salt Lake. Other people think these are neat and eventually the Church puts them together in a book and in 1880 it’s canonized and that becomes the Pearl of Great Price. And that’s how we get the Book of Abraham as part of our scripture. So here you can see just a couple of pictures. March 1st  is the first installment in the Times and Seasons.
Now after Joseph Smith publishes these, his mother [Lucy] is making her living by showing the papyri and the mummies and charging people 25 cents to see them. When she dies, Emma and her new husband sell the papyri immediately, most likely to pay down some of the debt they’ve inherited. It goes, as far as we knew for a long time, it all went to a museum in St. Louis that was eventually sold to Chicago and that museum burned in the Great Chicago Fire. We can trace that it was there ahead of time and it wasn’t there after the fire and for a long time that was the entire collection. But it turns out that a small part of that collection had been given to a housekeeper who eventually her descendants sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of New York. And eventually they made contact with the Church and gave these fragments of papyri back to the Church. Here you can see a picture of N. Eldon Tanner receiving these from the Met and from Aziz Atilla who was a scholar at the University of Utah who helped facilitate that exchange. This is what brought the papyri we now have back to life. That was in 1967. So that’s the story very, very briefly. So now let’s look at some key assumptions.
This first assumption is one of the ones that cause some people the most problems. Most of the angst over the Book of Abraham comes from this first assumption and that is an assumption about the source of the Book of Abraham. As people asked what was the source of the Book of Abraham, there was an immediate assumption made that it was the text that was next to Facsimile 1 because you can see on the screen that one of the fragments of papyri that survived is the original that Facsimile 1 was made from and there are columns of text adjacent to it. Now this was a reasonable assumption that Joseph Smith would be translating from the text adjacent to it. And I want to be clear it’s not making assumptions that is problematic; we have to make assumptions, if we’re going to move forward in furthering our knowledge, we just have to test those assumptions and that’s where the process failed early on. Most people made the assumption that Joseph Smith was translating the text next to Facsimile 1 and didn’t ever bother to test it. And so many Latter-day Saints were very excited; they thought, “Good. Now that we can translate Egyptian, we can prove Joseph Smith is a prophet.” Other people who were critics of the Church were sure they could prove Joseph Smith was not a prophet. We translate the text next to Facsimile 1 and it turns out to be a fairly common Egyptian funerary document called the Book of Breathings. And because everyone had made the assumption that he was translating from the text adjacent to it, an argument that we call an argument of propinquity, which is not typically seen as a wonderful argument, but in any case this seemed like game over to many people. But the thing we should really do is check these assumptions. And the question is, how can we check the assumption whether or not Joseph Smith was translating from the text next to Facsimile 1?
Now, we could spend an hour on each of these topics that I’m now going to spend a minute on each; but I just want to go through this very quickly so you can see there are ways to check this. One of those is to look at contemporary papyri, papyri that were created at about the same time and see how often the text is associated with the picture it’s adjacent to. And it turns out it’s around 50 percent of the time. In fact the person who owned the ancient person who owned Facsimile 1, a person named Horus, we have his copy of the Book of the Dead and it’s about 53 percent of the time in his Book of the Dead that the text goes with the picture it’s next to. Now that seems strange to us but if you think about it, I’m sure you’ve all had a textbook or some other kind of a book that said see figure 2.3 and figure 2.3 was two pages away and that’s with fairly sophisticated publication software. They did not have that luxury. It just turns out that sometimes as you’re making a book and you have one person who’s a scribe and you have another person who is an artist, that the text and the picture that goes with it aren’t right next to each other. And so, given this way of checking with contemporary papyri, we can see it’s an assumption that may be true but it’s not necessarily true that Joseph Smith would be translating from the text adjacent to Facsimile 1. We can also look at Abraham 1:12 and Abraham 1:17. What we really are doing is checking the text itself. And these verses say that they will refer you to the picture at the beginning of the record. Now these verses are so close to the beginning of the record, and especially if it really is written in Egyptian in which case this takes up much less space than English because you don’t write any vowels and each character can represent anywhere from 1 to 5, usually about 3 consonants, it takes up much less space. This would be right next to the picture if he had been translating the text adjacent to Facsimile 1, the verses suggest that the picture is some distance. It’s at the beginning whereas the text is not at the beginning. And so it suggests that the picture is not adjacent to the text just from the text itself. So there’s another thing that, as we look at it, it doesn’t mean that this is a wrong assumption but it doesn’t mean that we can be safe in making this assumption.
The last way we can test this assumption is to look at the eyewitness accounts. What do the eyewitnesses, who see the papyri and hear either Joseph Smith or Lucy Mack Smith or someone else, say the source of the Book of Abraham is? What do they say it is? Most of them don’t talk about it at all. I’ve spent about six years and I just finished last week in fact, going through and double checking every source that I’ve been able to find. I’ve got 112 pages of just quotations and we’ve double checked to make sure we have them word-for-word and we’re working on getting this published. After going through 112 pages of people who saw the papyri or the mummies, most of them say nothing about the source of the Book of Abraham. Only a few do. And those who do are usually not very clear about exactly what the source is. There are a few, a very few, that are and they agree that the source is the long roll, the long roll of papyrus. And they are saying this after we know that Facsimile 1 and the text adjacent to it has been separated and mounted on paper and put under glass. So in essence they are saying it is not the text adjacent to Facsimile 1, it is a different text on the long roll or the scroll of papyrus. And so the last way of testing; the first two said this assumption may or may not work, we aren’t safe in making the assumption, but the last way of checking this tells us it’s a bad assumption. Joseph Smith is not translating from the text adjacent to Facsimile 1. But it is that assumption that has led so many people astray as they have thought, “Oh, Joseph Smith couldn’t be inspired because look, he said he translated this text and it says something else. That is not what Joseph Smith said he was translating.” And so that assumption is an important one to understand. Here we have it written just for your notes: Witnesses agree that the roll or the long roll is the source of the Book of Abraham. Now there actually may be some problems or mistakes with that and we’ll come back to that in just a minute as we deal with the next assumption which is the assumptions about the translation of the Book of Abraham.
We often feel like we understand the translation process and what is going on as Joseph translates things. I am not sure that we can make some of the assumptions that we make. What we should do is do our homework and look at the history of Joseph Smith’s translation projects. So let’s talk about the translation projects that we know something about.
The first one that we know, Joseph Smith is translating the Book of Mormon. He’s taking a text that he has in one language, a language that he doesn’t claim to know, and this is another assumption that people make; many people assume that you can only translate through a conventional manner meaning if you have studied a grammar then you can translate a text and they disallow the possibility of an inspired translation, of the gift of tongues. And for those people when we reach this point, the discussion kind of ends and you just have to part ways and we can do it amicably; but we have to say if you don’t believe that then you’re right. Joseph Smith did not know Egyptian in a conventional way, if your belief is that he can’t receive inspiration, we’ll disagree because I believe that he can translate through the gift of tongues. And that’s what he’s doing with the Book of Mormon; he doesn’t know the language that is on the text. He is using a text in one language and producing a text in a different language though he is frequently not looking at the physical record at all but rather using the Urim and Thummim, that set of seer stones, or another seer stone. And so the text is important but it’s not the key. It’s the inspiration he receives from God that is the key as he goes from one language to another.
In the middle of translating the Book of Mormon, he translates another text. We have this as section seven (D&C 7), this is the parchment of John; a text he never actually physically sees. He sees it in vision; I don’t know if he sees the words on the text or not, he just sees a text, maybe the words, maybe not, says nothing about the language, I don’t even know if he knows what language it is in, but receives through inspiration what that text says. Presumably it was in one language and he gives it to us in a different language.
Right after he publishes the Book of Mormon, as he finishes, he starts what he calls the New Translation of the Bible. We call it the Joseph Smith Translation. This is where he looks at a copy of a text in English and gives us another text in English except that for what he’s giving us in that second text isn’t on the first text. That’s not how we usually think of translation but that’s what Joseph Smith calls it. He is looking at an English copy of the Bible and giving us an English copy with new information. That’s for Joseph Smith translation.
So the question is how does he translate the Book of Abraham? Is it one of these methods, is it a combination of all of them or is it something completely different? In the end, we don’t know. We know that he receives the papyri and that he starts translating. He certainly at times refers to the papyri, which suggests one of two things, one, that at least some of the text is on the papyri in a different language, presumably Egyptian, that some of the text, at least some of it is on there and that he is translating from that papyrus to another. It’s also quite possible that the papyri serves as a catalyst just like the English text of the Joseph Smith Translation serves, that as he looks at the papyri, revelation just starts to come to him for what we need as the Book of Abraham. A book that I believe is a real book that was written but I don’t know if it was even on the papyri. It may have been and it may have been that it served to give him inspiration for what we needed just like the book of Moses is the Joseph Smith translation of Genesis only it’s a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t in Genesis the way we have it or the way that Joseph Smith had it. And there may be a combination of these things. Joseph Smith does talk about as he’s working on an Alphabet and Grammar, the principles of astronomy as understood by the ancients unfolding to his view. That sounds like revelation to me. I don’t know for sure but that’s language that indicates something revelatory is going on. And so it’s quite possible that he’s maybe getting some things that are on the papyri and some things that are not, but that he is receiving from God just as he did with the Joseph Smith Translation. In the end, we don’t know. We need to be careful about making assumptions that we do know.
Let’s take one final topic — Making assumptions about the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham. And the question is what was Joseph Smith comparing these to? People frequently want to see how Joseph Smith interprets the facsimiles to what ancient Egyptians would have said they meant. There is a number of problems with doing this. One is that we assume that we can figure out what ancient Egyptians thought these meant and that’s not necessarily so easy. For example, in most of these drawings they don’t label; not in the ones Joseph Smith had, not in any that we work with as Egyptologists. Most of them, they do not label what various characters are and what they mean. Sometimes they do. The time period they did this the most is what is called the New Kingdom – say roughly around 1600 to 1500 B.C. But the drawings that we have were created about 200 B.C. and so we have over a thousand years in between. The way that they might interpret these drawings certainly would change over a thousand year period. So the difficulty that we have as Egyptologists is trying to figure out what did ancient Egyptians think these drawings meant when we don’t have any ancient Egyptians from that time period that actually tell us what it meant. My colleague and friend John Gee once did find a hypocephalus, that the kind of drawing Facsimile 2 is, that did have some labels on it as to who these characters were and what they meant. And so he compared those to what Egyptologists had long been saying they meant and found out that most of the time we were wrong. So you see the problem with this assumption, if we want to compare what Joseph Smith said to what the ancient Egyptians would have said, we can’t do it because we’re assuming that Egyptologists can tell us what ancient Egyptians said. We don’t have any of them around to interview. So we go to Egyptologists and sometimes we Egyptologists just don’t know and sometimes we’re wrong in what we think we know.
But I think there’s a larger issue here. I don’t know that we should be comparing what Joseph Smith said these things meant to what ancient Egyptians would have thought they meant. It’s very possible that we should be asking how would ancient Jews have interpreted these drawings. We know they used Egyptian literary and visual motifs and gave them their own interpretation. Is that what we should be looking for? Is that what Joseph Smith was telling us — Is how ancient Jews around 200 B.C. would have interpreted these things? And in the end, we don’t know. And if that is what he was telling us, we don’t have any evidence at all as to what they would have thought about these and so we can’t make that comparison.
What if Joseph Smith was not telling us what ancient Egyptians in general would have thought of these but what a small group of ancient Egyptians would have thought? Because we do know that there was a group of Egyptian priests who around this time period, when these drawings were created, about 200 B.C., and the originals may have been created long before that but the copy that we have, Facsimile 1, was created around 200 B.C. It may be a copy of a copy of a copy, as I’m sure the text of the Book of Abraham is. But in any case, there was a group of priests in Thebes, Egyptian priests, who were collecting stories about biblical characters, in particular Abraham and Moses and Jehovah for divine characters. They were collecting stories about them and using them in their own rituals and these people certainly took Egyptian motifs and Egyptian spells and gave them a new twist as they applied them to Abraham and Moses and Jehovah. So is Joseph Smith telling us how this small group of Egyptians would have interpreted these drawings? In the end, we don’t know. Maybe Joseph Smith is telling us not how any ancient individual would have interpreted these but what we need to get out of them. That’s a very real possibility. In the end, we do not know. We have to be careful even in assuming that Joseph Smith understood fully his own translation process. He knew that he got these things as gifts from God. It was also very clear he would like to learn it on his own.
Sometimes it’s clear that he would receive revelation from God but wasn’t fully aware of even how that inspiration came to him. In the end, we’ll have to return to the initial assumption that I spoke about and that is the assumption that revelation is a valid source of learning. If we had more time, I could demonstrate to you all sorts of things that supported, from an ancient perspective, that supported what Joseph Smith tells us about Abraham, about the Book of Abraham, about the drawings and so on. There are all sorts of evidences that support what Joseph Smith said. There are also some things that don’t seem to match up given our current state of understanding as Egyptologists, although that state changes quite a bit.
And this is the important point. We would be mistaken to assume that what I know as an Egyptologist or other Egyptologists know is 100 percent safe. I can’t use my favorite textbook for teaching Egyptian history anymore because there’s too much information in it that is wrong, though 10 years ago I taught it as if it was absolutely, surely true. But as we do more research, we learn that many of the things that we taught 10 years ago were wrong. There are very few text books that are used in college that are more than a couple of years old because we keep finding new information and finding out that what we said before was wrong. While the academic process and our intellectual process is something I’m deeply invested in and believe in very much, it works best when we realize its limitations and understand that we will continually find out that things we thought were true today are not true tomorrow. That has never been the case with revelation as a source of knowledge. That’s a source of knowledge that when something I learned ten years ago I can still trust today. It’s a safe source of knowledge and that method of learning is one that I feel comfortable in trusting. It’s an assumption that I feel can be backed up. There are so many more things we could talk about.
I think the Mormon Challenges website has done a great job with dealing with some of these issues. I’ve got a CD I think that’s out there with the three hours of lecture, a little more than three hours of lecture, that you can go through more of these issues. And we’re continuing to produce articles and books and so on that address many of these, but I think as we get into the details about the Book of Abraham, the important thing is always to remember the assumptions that we bring with us as we go in.
I think it’s probably time to answer some questions. Is that correct? So, I think they’re going to bring some questions to me. OK. (Applause) Thank you.
Question & Answer Session
Ok, one of these is about our or my plans for writing (Oh, we’ve got some more questions coming in.) in answering these questions. That’s a topic that’s worthwhile. Not only myself but a number of others—John Gee, Bryan Hauglid and others are writing a lot of things about the Book of Abraham right now. I right now have four articles that have been submitted to various journals: the Journal of Mormon History, BYU Studies, and different places that I’m waiting for that to go through the review process. I have a small book that I’ve submitted to Covenant. I haven’t heard back from them on that yet. This is a small one basically going through some of what we’ve talked about more in depth. The big plan is to write two larger books. One would be an academic book addressed to the academy where I go through all of the issues, from the history, the eyewitness sources, the Egyptological aspects of the papyri, and facsimile’s interpretations of Egyptian drawings and so on, and try and deal with all the issues in there in an academic way while being clear about these various assumptions. The method I’m using as I do that is to take each topic that I’ll treat and write it as an article, get it out there, get feedback on that article, and then the book will be better. So, I’m getting close. In some ways the book is already written because I’ve got all these articles that have been done. But I’m getting close to actually formally putting those together. When that is done, then I want to write a lay version because that [academic version] will have a thousand details that will be like ether and put everyone to sleep and it should not be used while operating heavy equipment. So, I will then write a book that probably would go with either Covenant or Deseret Book or something like that to the lay audience that would address these same issues in, I guess, a more user-friendly way but would have the scholarship of the larger book to back it up. So, let me take just a minute more to read these questions.
Critics have argued that all the papyri were recovered, not just the fragments. The Church has the suppressed the remaining papyri and scrolls because they don’t directly translate into the Book of Abraham. What fragments remain exactly? That’s 100 percent not true. Any critics that are saying that just don’t have good information. I’ve seen all of the fragments that the Church has. I’ve traced from the catalogues in the museums and the advertisements in newspapers, and the news accounts in newspapers from people who went in and saw what had gone in these museums, that the vast, vast majority, the long scrolls were in the museum that burned. And that the only fragments that we know anything about are those. There are eleven fragments that you can find publications on. Michael Rhodes has translated almost all of these, maybe all of them, I’ll have to check. And you can get those from the Maxwell Institute at BYU. We know about all the fragments. It’s possible that some of them were given to someone else and if you find them in your grandmother’s attic at some point, I would be very interested in knowing that. But at this point, everything we know is either in those 11 fragments or in those large scrolls that were burned and we don’t know about anything else. It’s interesting. So this brings up another point. I was recently reading some notes that someone who has left the Church partially over issues with the Book of Abraham had made on this statement — I’m not sure if you’re aware, that the Church recently released on lds.org these statements about various gospel topics – one on the Book of Abraham. And as he was making notes on the text, he was saying that while we said that there was much more writings that Joseph Smith had, much more papyri that Joseph Smith had, he felt it couldn’t be true because we already had most of the Book of Breathings and so you couldn’t add very much to it. Again, this is making an assumption that the Book of Breathings was that entire scroll. It’s demonstrably not. It’s a small part of what eyewitnesses are telling us is a very long scroll. And so we have a very, very small percentage of the writings that Joseph Smith had.
So here’s a great question. Why would the Book of the Dead and the Book of Abraham be on the same scroll? Actually, we don’t know. We don’t know if either the Book of Breathings, which is the text surrounding Facsimile 1, we don’t know for sure. Here’s an assumption that I often make and have to backtrack and realize I’m making this assumption. My guess is that Facsimile 1 and that text around it, the Book of Breathings, is on the same scroll that the Book of Abraham is on. So I’ll get back to that question in just a minute. But we can’t be sure of that. In fact, one of the eye witnesses that saw the papyri talked about how the papyri that had been mounted, glued to paper, and if you want to read about the paper it was glued to and so on, Alex Baugh and I did an article in the Journal of Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture that came out earlier this year. You can find that. But he describes those as being tan in color with the scrolls being blackened in color. Now often scrolls will get black in color because they’re put on a mummy and as the mummy desiccates, the fluids turn the scroll black, usually it’s just the outside couple of rolls but this eyewitness is seeing it after these fragments have been mounted. So I’m in the midst of some research how often will these fluids turn a scroll black and it’s black on one side but you can open it up and still read the other side. And it’s not very often, I’m not sure if it happens at all yet; this is a research project I’m just starting because typically if it gets through one layer to the next, it colors that entire layer. And so it’s possible that the Book of Breathings was not on this long scroll that Joseph Smith is translating or, at least, it serves as the catalyst for translating the Book of Abraham or which all or some of the text of the Book of Abraham is on. But the question why would they be on the same scroll—there were frequently lots of different texts on one scroll, especially larger scrolls and we have lots of accounts that this is a longer scroll. Just to give you an example, the second scroll is the Book of the Dead as far as we can tell, it was the Book of the Dead. The Book of the Dead is a much larger text than the Book of Breathings but the witnesses tell us that that scroll is the small scroll and the other one is larger and so that suggests to us that the scroll that had, if Facsimile 1 was on that larger scroll, that that scroll had not only the Book of Breathings but a number of other texts, one of which could very easily be the Book of Abraham, because again, it was owned by a priest who was living in Thebes at a time when we know priests were collecting stories about Abraham and Moses and other biblical characters. So that’s a great question. I think we have time for just a few more.
Did Joseph Smith use the same stone for the Book of Abraham that he used for translating the Book of Mormon? That’s a really good question. So to be clear about this, we know that when Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, he used the seer stones that we often call the Urim and Thummim. But it talks about how those were a little bit difficult to use because of their size and, in fact, there’s an account that suggests that he may have… It talks about these being put in rims that were kind of like glasses and that he may have popped one out to try and use… it was a little bit easier to use that way. But it turns out that at least a good share of the time if not most of the time he was using another seer stone as he translated the Book of Mormon. Now the Urim and Thummim and this other seer stone, they’re all seer stones. What a blessed wonderful thing that the Lord provided aids for Joseph Smith to translate from! In fact, as I talk to my students about this, and they’ll ask, “Well, why would he need a seer stone at all?” I think it served, I don’t know, God hasn’t told us why and Joseph Smith hasn’t told us why but, it seems to me that it served as an aid to inspiration or revelation or translation in a way that Joseph Smith and his culture expected. When it says that the Lord speaks to us in our own language, I think that’s not just whether it’s English or Spanish, it is also in the manner we’re accustomed to communicating. And this is something that Joseph Smith would have expected in his day. We don’t expect it in our day. Our equivalent would be Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Celestial Room of the temple. When we need aid for inspiration, these are the things that make it easier for us to receive inspiration or revelation from God. For Joseph Smith it was a seer stone. Now, there are very few accounts that say anything about whether he used this seer stone in translating the Book of Abraham or not but there are a few that suggest that he did. Wilford Woodruff in his journal has a short time period where… he refers to Joseph Smith all the time, but there’s a short time period where he just keeps referring to him as Joseph the Seer. It’s in 1842, early 1842. It happens to be the same time period that Joseph Smith is publishing and doing at least some translation efforts on the Book of Abraham and publishing the Book of Abraham. That’s the same time period that Wilford Woodruff keeps calling him Joseph the Seer. As he talks in one entry about the Book of Abraham and Joseph bringing to light ancient scripture, he talks about the Urim and Thummim. Now at this point the Urim and Thummim has been given back and they call the seer stone the Urim and Thummim. And he says it’s the first time he’s seen it. And so that suggests…and there’s one other account from someone who says that Joseph Smith used that seer stone as he translated the Book of Abraham, but it’s an account that is written many years after, so you have to always be just a little bit careful with those kinds of accounts; take them with a grain of salt. But that suggests that probably Joseph Smith did use the seer stone at least a bit if not continually, as he translated the Book of Abraham. Again, just a marvelous gift. I think sometimes we underestimate the marvelous gift that we receive as Joseph Smith received the gift of tongues and was, through that gift from God, able to give us such amazing and powerful light.
So, maybe let me close. There are a lot of other questions that I’ll try and get to somehow, sometime. Just for your information, I’m also right in the middle of publishing a series of columns on the Meridian Magazine that I think FAIR is linking to on the Book of Abraham where some of these questions will be answered. But…now I can’t remember what I was saying before that. I’m getting old and senile. In any case–oh, yeah. One of the things that makes me sad is we spend so much time on the issues about the Book of Abraham that it takes away from our opportunities to talk about the text of the Book of Abraham itself, which is so rich and so marvelous and so powerful and which when we study, gives us the opportunity to receive that revelation that is such a valuable source of learning. I think that’s where we need to focus more of our efforts and I try and do it a little in this series of lectures on the CD but we need to focus more of our efforts on the blessings of truth and light that come from the text of the Book of Abraham that we receive fortunately because Joseph Smith is an inspired translator.
Thank you very much for your questions and your time and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.