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I’m very grateful to be here. I’m very grateful for the invitation to speak. It’s hard to believe that this is the 20th annual FAIR conference. Not many here will remember that I was at the first one. That’s because we could probably fit everybody at that conference in the first two rows here in the center section. It was a lot smaller room. It is amazing what has happened in the meantime, in the last 20 years, and I think that is due to a great extent to the hard-working effort of Scott Gordon and his fantastic volunteers. And I’m grateful to all of you for coming. It’s very nice of you to show up. This is about siesta time. I won’t blame you if you nod off. You can just think of me as the High Council speaker.
To get a scope of what a fantastic audience this is and how impressive it is, you need to go to academic conferences. For example, this is easily three times the size of any academic conference I’ve been to, and that’s not counting those of you who are watching via streaming. So welcome to all of you.
The organizers of this conference have asked me to say something about my book that came out at the end of last year. It’s called An Introduction to the Book of Abraham. And then, rather than run scatter-shot through the entire book I thought I’d focus on a single chapter and I’m going to plagiarize myself a little bit here. Maybe a lot here. But I’m going to provide some additional commentary that we won’t find in the chapter. It covers the historicity of the Book of Abraham, and why it’s important. I’m actually going to throw in The Book of Mormon, too. Because there are similarities.
Now the advantage of living long enough to get gray hairs is that you can remember back a generation [when] the exact same issues were hashed out before. In a recent article one writer chides those who “…have almost universally assumed the ancient historicity of The Book of Mormon and so have staged their arguments by drawing on its ancient bearings”…since he claims that those particular features of the text like its genre “…would be all far more apparent to those uninterested in The Book of Mormon’s claim to an ancient origin”. Now I am going to quibble a little bit here. I grant that those who aren’t interested in The Book of Mormon’s claims to ancient origins may see things differently. I’m not sure this is necessarily an advantage. And in the particular case of genre [which] this person is invoking, the first person to notice the genre in question was an ardent defender of the historical authenticity of The Book of Mormon, and no one else in the previous 120 years had noticed the particular genre – especially those who weren’t interested in The Book of Mormon as an ancient book. But while I think the argument is flawed, the important thing is that he’s arguing that believing that The Book of Mormon is ancient is a handicap to understanding the text, and those who don’t care about whether it’s ancient have an advantage in understanding.
Now moving on to a different case, one reviewer praises another author for disposing of “…the old bugbear of historicity in studies of LDS scripture by casting Joseph Smith as heir to a long tradition of anachronistic revision by allusion that includes the authors of second Isaiah and Deuteronomy.”
Another reviewer took a different view of the exact same author, exact same book: “It is over this point that some of the writer’s audience, assuming an audience composed at least partially of believing Latter-day Saints, may balk, because they may feel that his thesis hues too closely to themes of anti-LDS writings which for years have claimed that Joseph Smith, rather than ancient prophets, is the actual author of The Book of Mormon”.
A non-Mormon individual doing Mormon studies notes the perpetual issue of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity. “When it comes to the New Testament one might debate whether the Gospel of John dates to the late First Century or early Second Century, but no one questions that it is indeed an ancient text. With the Book of Mormon and the books of Moses and Abraham one debates millennia not decades.” He notes “The fact that the vast majority of my students do not accept The Book of Mormon as an ancient text makes many reluctant to even discuss the use of The Book of Mormon by both 19th century and contemporary Latter-day Saints.” This is only to show that the issue of historical authenticity has not gone away even if some wish it would. The subject has a long history in the Church because it was addressed in General Conference back in 1874 by Orson Pratt, and it still continues with us today.
Now to be sure some of the writers were children back when the historical authenticity of The Book of Mormon was a hot button issue but some of them have also bragged about how they have not bothered to read the previous scholarly work on The Book of Mormon. I’m not sure that’s something to brag about. A generation ago an apostle actually weighed in on the issue. At that time, he noted that “…some who termed themselves believing Latter-day Saints are advocating that Latter-day Saints should abandon claims that The Book of Mormon is a historical record of ancient people of the Americas. They are promoting the feasibility of reading and using The Book of Mormon as nothing more than a pious fiction with some valuable contents.” One difference now is that instead of openly advocating abandoning the historical authenticity of The Book of Mormon, some Latter-Day Saints are merely advocating that the issue is unimportant and can or should be set aside. Others praise “…attempts to disarm the contentious question of the book’s historicity through more audacious attempts to deconstruct the very premise of the question”.
Now the apostle who weighed in on the issue back in 1993, Dallin H. Oaks, now a member of the first presidency, termed “The historicity, historical authenticity, of The Book of Mormon to be a fundamental issue related to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The term fundamental refers to the foundation of an intellectual position and thus something that is important and cannot be set aside. Whether it is wise to deconstruct a fundamental issue is an intriguing question.” Elder Oaks went on to say that “The issue of the historicity of Book of Mormon is basically a difference between those who rely exclusively on scholarship and those who rely on a combination of scholarship, faith, and revelation. Those who rely exclusively on scholarship reject revelation and fulfill Nephi’s prophecy that in the last days men shall teach with their learning and deny the Holy Ghost which given utterance.”
Since the issue is fundamental I think it may be worth exploring. Interest in the translation of the Book of Abraham or the relationship of the Joseph Smith papyri to the Book of Abraham are attempts to deal with a more basic question about the Book of Abraham. Is the Book of Abraham authentic? Did the events that are told in the text really occur? Did Abraham write it? Is it what is purports to be? These are different ways that the basic question can be asked. Most people would like a simple answer to the question. “Yes” or “no”. Others would like to find some middle ground between these simple answers.
Now for the purpose of clarification we can split the basic question into three specific questions.
- First, is the Book of Abraham inspired?
- Second, is the Book of Abraham ancient?
- And third, is the Book of Abraham authentic, i.e., was it actually written by Abraham?
My take on the subject owes much to Bill Hamblin’s analysis of the historical authenticity of The Book of Mormon. Since the Book of Abraham is slightly different from The Book of Mormon, the 3 questions cannot be reduced to a single question – Is the book ancient? – the way of The Book Mormon can.
Now theoretically one could take each of these three questions as independent and assign a different yes or no answer to each question. There would then be eight different possible combinations of answers to the three questions. But the questions are not independent and thus some of the possible combinations are not logically coherent. For example, if the text were actually written by Abraham it cannot be modern. So there are only four logically coherent positions.
The first position: The Book of Abraham is a [modern] fiction and a fraud. It is not inspired, not ancient, not authentic. Joseph Smith made it up. This is largely the position taken by those were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Second position: The Book of Abraham is inspired fiction. It is inspired but neither ancient nor authentic. Joseph Smith was somehow inspired to write it, whatever that may mean. Or there might be some inspiring parts of it but it is not historical.
Third position: The Book of Abraham is ancient pseudepigrapha. It is inspired and ancient but does not relate to actual historical events. The theory presupposes that some ancient author later than Abraham wrote a story about Abraham – like The Testament of Abraham as an example – and this was then translated by Joseph Smith who would have to have been inspired since he at least started the translation of the Book of Abraham before he had studied any ancient languages.
Fourth position: the Book of Abraham is ancient autobiography. It is inspired, ancient, and authentic.
Now positions about the historical authenticity of the Book of Abraham, those four, are somewhat independent of theories about how the Book of Abraham relates to the Joseph Smith papyri. I can refer you to the chapter in my book about that. For example, those who think that the Book of Abraham is derived from the papyri that we currently have might disagree on whether the Book of Abraham is modern fiction or ancient pseudepigrapha or ancient autobiography. On the other hand, those who view the Book of Abraham as a translation of papyri in Joseph Smith’s possession, whether or not we still have them and those that view the Book of Abraham as inspired restoration of writings of Abraham that were lost and destroyed after he wrote them might both agree that the Book of Abraham is authentic ancient autobiography written by Abraham. So these two sets of theories are somewhat independent of each other.
While each of the four positions that I’ve covered on the historical authenticity of the Book of Abraham is logically coherent, not all of them are intellectually stable. This is a different concept. Historically, the middle ground positions, that is, inspired fiction and pseudepigrapha, have not been stable. Now let me explain what I mean by that. Sometimes individuals have held particular intellectual positions about the Book of Abraham but over the course of time, their own intellectual position has drifted. They are not stable that way. Or, they have been unable to pass their intellectual position on to their students or their children. So it might not be intellectually stable that way. In all these cases those in the middle ground positions have tended to move toward seeing the Book of Abraham as modern fiction. Because all the positions are internally logically coherent it may seem a little bit odd that middle ground positions have been incapable of being handed down to succeeding generations. Those intermediate positions may depend on too fine a distinction or too subtle a nuance than the simple yes or no answers to the question of historical authenticity of the Book of Abraham. Or it may be that once one has surrendered the idea that Joseph Smith received revelation of actual authentic ancient content there is no longer an anchor for one’s faith to keep it from drifting. Be that as it may, in the past, only the positions of ancient autobiography or modern fiction have proven intellectually stable and transmissible to the next generation. And so those are the major positions and the middle ground positions vaporize.
Now the lack of a coherent or stable middle ground on this issue like that of the historical authenticity of The Book of Mormon has proven difficult to those who would like some sort of rapprochement or dialogue between the two poles. A dialogue requires some common ground – something that can be agreed upon. And on the basic issues of historical authenticity there is no agreement whatsoever. For those who view the Book of Abraham as modern fiction the discussion of archaeological or ancient evidence for the Book of Abraham makes no sense. For them they are fictional and just never existed and it makes no sense to treat it as real, to go looking for ancient evidence, or to even consider it if someone brings it forward. Now non-believers might be willing to debate whether or not the works are inspired because the term is malleable. It can mean different things to different people. They might see its source of inspiration as God or the Devil or Joseph Smith’s imagination, his environment or something else. But the idea that the work might be ancient and that Joseph Smith’s inspiration could have some actual authentic content is usually something that non-believers are unwilling to consider or discuss. Consequently, debate on the Book of Abraham has always centered on the process of translation rather than on the text itself. In this area there’s a somewhat common set of facts and some feel they can settle the question of historical authenticity in the negative without ever having bother to read the actual text.
Now to those interested in discussion or dialogue with non-believers, discussions of historical authenticity of the ancient scriptures revealed through Joseph Smith are obstacles that get in the way of the common ground that they wish to cultivate. Some might prefer to bracket those issues – that is, they agree not to discuss them – or otherwise exclude them from discussion. Others wish to adopt or be seen as adopting a neutral stance. And others might just not be interested in them. And still others may have just tacitly surrendered. Now whichever position that those who wish for dialogue with non-believers take, the effective result is that discussion of historical authenticity of ancient scriptures is out of the question. Whether intentionally done or not, the historical authenticity of ancient scriptures is surrendered in the interest of dialogue.
Now sociologists have actually studied those who engage in inter-religious dialogue and have published some interesting results. They note that “Interaction with religious others results in dilution of traditional religious commitments or production of stronger boundaries.” The sociologists quote one participant in religious dialogue that claimed that he had very little in common with those of his own denomination. “I feel my real community to be among progressive-minded people. Really I would say the biggest defining issue among religion is not now Jew, Catholic, Protestant. It’s fundamentalist religion, or what I would call a status quo hierarchical vision of religion, versus progressive, non-hierarchical, non-fundamentalist. The differences are the most profound between those two camps, not between Jews and Muslims or Muslims and Christians. I can sit in a room with progressive religionists from whatever faith and feel like I’m perfectly at home with them because we share that common view of what religion should be.”
Now in this individual, identified as a rabbi, [who] has more in common with progressive religionists than with his fellow Jews, one might wonder if some sort of conversion has taken place. A number of years ago a prominent scholar actually used that term to describe what happens to graduate students enrolled in a program devoted to studying religion and religious texts. “Reading applications for the doctoral program whose faculty I had only recently joined, I was struck by the frequency on the autobiographical statements of a pattern that a form critic might call ‘the conversion narrative’. Sometimes this narrative assumed a doubled form. First the conversion into a robust but uncritical Christian faith, and then usually in college or seminary, a second conversion, marked by acceptance of the historical critical method, and an abandonment of the doctrines of inerrancy and the like, though never in Christianity itself. At other times candidates narrated only a conversion to the first sort or otherwise gave an account of their lives that showed no awareness of the nature of the historical criticism of the Bible, the only approach that our doctoral program utilized.
“Worried about the suitability of such applicants for the program I broached the issue to a senior colleague who immediately sought to allay my anxieties. ‘Don’t worry’, he said, ‘a lot of our students start out like that, but they change after they have been here two weeks.’”
So here we have a professor, who at the time of writing this was a professor in religious studies at Harvard, describing the adoption of a religious studies discipline in graduate school as a conversion, even though the individuals never formally abandoned their religion.
Sociologists noticed that “Movement activists may blur the boundaries between their individual faith traditions in the spirit of creating a shared culture that will support and advance their political goals without facing scrutiny from outsiders who may disapprove of these actions.” By ‘outsiders’ the sociologists mean not those outside of the denomination, but rather, those inside the denomination who are outside the interfaith relations process. Thus it is not surprising that one proponent of these inter-religious dialogues conducted under the auspices of religious studies warned “…against the tendency of some Mormon scholars to play the role of orthodoxy police within the faith.” Policing orthodoxy is, presumably, a bad thing. Those who wish to blur the boundaries see those who wish to maintain the boundaries as a threat. Nevertheless, there is a reason for the boundaries in the first place, and for those who police the boundaries.
I’ve long used a different metaphor. Defending the faith is a lot like having a job defusing land mines. The job is to protect others, but one never knows if a new bomb is instead going to blow up on the one trying to defuse it. Unfortunately, I know a number of casualties. From this perspective, those who think that participating in academia gives one a license to [experiment] with any and all pyrotechnics are dangerous – to themselves and to others. Continuing the metaphor, much as we might marvel at an individual’s abilities of seeing how many live hand grenades he can juggle, doing so is irresponsible. And the juggler almost never takes responsibility when the grenades start flying off and going off in the audience. Some even appear to enjoy the resulting chaos and carnage.
If that metaphor seems a little extreme, consider the following statement by Elder Boyd K. Packer: “One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for ‘advanced history,’ is, himself, in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be accountable. And I want to say in all seriousness that there is a limit to the patience of the Lord with respect to those who are under covenant to bless and protect his church and kingdom upon the earth but do not do it.”
Or consider the more recent counsel of Elder Jeffrey R Holland: “To lead a child (or anyone else!), even inadvertently, away from faithfulness, away from loyalty and bedrock belief simply because we want to be clever or independent is license no parent nor any other person has ever been given. In matters of religion a skeptical mind is not a higher manifestation of virtue than is a believing heart, and analytical deconstruction in the field of, say, literary fiction can be just plain old-fashioned destruction when transferred to families yearning for faith at home. And such a deviation from the true course can be deceptively slow and subtle in its impact.”
The sociological dichotomy between those who dilute their religious commitment and those who produce stronger boundaries is useful on a very practical level, but I do not have time to explore the implications further here, because my subject is historical authenticity to which I return.
Because questions of historical authenticity interfere with finding common ground, those who prioritize engaging in dialogue sometime manifest hostility towards those who wish to support the historical authenticity of ancient scriptures. President Oaks noted this tendency: “Those who deny the historicity of The Book of Mormon cannot settle for a draw. They must try to disprove its historicity or they seem to feel a necessity to do this. And in this they are unsuccessful because even the secular evidence viewed in its entirety is too complex for that.” The Book of Abraham provides an example of this tendency to manifest hostility. Abraham refers to the record of his “…fathers, even the patriarchs concerning the right of the Priesthood, [which had come into my hands, which I hold even to this present time]” [Abraham 1:31]. These records contain “…a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and [of] the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers….” [Abraham 1:31] From which Abraham could delineate the chronology running back “… from myself to the beginning of creation”. [Abraham 1:31]
So Abraham took these records to be historical, reliable, and true. Because of these records Abraham both “…sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed” [Abraham 1:4]; and recognized that his fathers had “…turned from their righteousness and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen….” [Abraham 1:5] This worship was mandated both by custom and by the court of Pharaoh. Abraham sought to persuade his fathers of their errors. He found, however, that “…their hearts were set to do evil, and were wholly turned…” [Abraham 1:6] to the fashionable gods of the day, whom Abraham characterized as “these dumb idols” [Abraham 1:7].
He also found that his fathers “…utterly refused to harken to my voice.” [Abraham1:5] Instead they “…endeavored to take away my life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah,” [Abraham 1:7] who represented the civil power, and the civic religion as priest of Pharaoh. In Abraham’s case those who were more interested in getting along with the customs of those in power at the time, rather than following the historical records that testified otherwise, sought to kill Abraham.
Some claim that those interested in historical authenticity are trying to prove the scriptures are true beyond any doubt. This is not usually the case. Over half a century ago, Hugh Nibley dealt with the idea that establishing plausibility or arguing for historical authenticity was trying to prove the scriptures are true – something better left up to the Holy Ghost than to the scholars. He wrote: “The two greatest nuisances in the church are (a) those who think they know enough to disprove the claims of Joseph Smith, and (b) those who think they know enough to prove them.” Actually, nobody knows nearly enough either to prove or disprove the gospel. President Oaks concurred with this assessment: “…it is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”
So what was Nibley doing? Well, Nibley thought his project was “…the acquisition of basic knowledge, especially languages, for the avowed purposes of aiding the spreading of the gospel. At once, an agonized cry goes up from the faculty: ‘How can you be so narrow, so biased, so prejudiced as to begin your researches by assuming that you already have the truth?’ While on sabbatical I got a letter from a BYU professor who gave me to know that because I believe the Book of Mormon, I am not really qualified to teach history, and who ended his harangue with the observation that while I claimed to know the truth, the gentlemen of the history department, like true scholars, claim only to be searching for it. A noble sentiment truly, but a phony one. Are they really searching? For one thing they don’t believe for a moment that the truth of the gospel can be found and have only loud cries of rage and contempt for any who say they have found it. They are as sure that it doesn’t exist as we are that it does; which is to say that our dedicated researchers for the truth are dead sure that they have the answer already. As if to prove they have no intention of pursuing serious investigation, these people have conspicuously neglected to prepare themselves for anything but the most localized research. They are like a man setting out to explore a wonderful cavern without bothering to equip themselves with either lights or ropes. We respect our local [?] for that knowledge and proficiency which they have demonstrated for the world but when they go out of bounds and attack the Church with specious learning, they invite legitimate censure. They are like dentists who insist on performing delicate brain surgery because that is more interesting than filling teeth. Nice for them, but what about their patients?”
George McDonald warned that it is often incapacity for defending the faith they love which turns men into persecutors. No scholarly test can prove a suspect document authentic. Scholarly tests can show the document to be fake or it can be inconclusive, but it cannot show that it is authentic – something I try to tell every person who comes to me with an ancient artifact wanting me to authenticate it. This point was made clearly and explicitly by the forensic examiner who detected the Hoffman forgeries years ago. But you can also find it in Nibley’s writings or in the classicist Friedrich Blass years before.
The best that can be done is to show that a document is plausible in the setting that it claims for itself; this is called historical plausibility. This is done by comparing the document with other textual and archaeological evidence from the correct time and place to see if it fits within the setting that it claims for itself. To test the claims of the Book of Abraham one needs to compare what it says with other evidence from Abraham’s time and place. In this matter small details such as the form of names and the location of places become extremely important. Historical plausibility is established by showing that the details are correct. But it does not preclude the existence of alternative hypotheses or explanations.
In the course of the second half of my book, I touch on a number of cases where archeological evidence establishes the historical plausibility of the Book of Abraham. I do not have time to into all of these here, but the archaeological case for the Book of Abraham is much stronger than it was when I first started researching this subject. I mention here the fact that over a hundred years after Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Abraham another autobiography from approximately the same time and place was dug out of the ground – that began with the same four parallel phrases. I have another example which unfortunately I have not published yet, so there’s more to come. Now by comparison, there’s more archeological evidence for the Book of Abraham than there is for the documentary hypothesis which is so prevalent among Old Testament scholars.
Discussion of the ancient background of the Book of Abraham or other ancient scriptures requires some knowledge of the ancient world – something that not everyone possesses. People can only compare the scriptures against a background that they know, which for the modern person is, first and foremost, a modern perspective. If one is versed in 19th Century history then one will see 19th Century parallels. To recognize 19th Century BC parallels one would have to know something about the world in the 19th century BC, which is very different from the19th Century AD – a period much closer to the world in which we live. Those who look at a text only through a 19th Century AD background will thus only see 19th Century parallels and will tend to conclude that the text is from the 19th Century and thus modern by default.
Some argue that historical details are irrelevant and that the only important thing is the doctrine or teachings or theology of a book of scripture. Now while the doctrine or teachings may be the most important thing, they are not only important thing. And the theology is certainly not. The scriptures are a record of dealings of God with certain men and women who kept records. They contain some general statements or statements that can be made general about ways for us to become closer to God and to know what His will is that we can then apply in our own lives. But these statements are embedded in a historical context of how other individuals applied them in their lives. The story is thus part of the message and the details are part of the story. Part of the value in seeing general rules in the scriptures is seeing the actual application of those rules. The rules lose their validity if the stories in which they are said to apply did not occur.
For example, the Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ. It tells how Jesus Christ ministered to people in ancient America. If the Book of Mormon is merely fictional, then its witness of Jesus Christ is a false witness. One cannot trust or have faith in stories of God’s deliverance if those stories are not in fact true. Thus while the teachings of scripture may be the most important thing, those teachings lose their force if those teachings are not historical, if they are not true. Historical authenticity is thus not a minor issue or one that can be neglected. This is also the case with the Book of Abraham.
The Book of Abraham and its teachings are inextricably woven into the fabric of Latter-day Saint thought. Its veracity and historical authenticity cannot be rejected without major consequences. Surrendering the historical authenticity of the Book of Abraham or the Book of Mormon undermines teachings of vital importance to Latter-day Saints to help them navigate their way in the modern world. The Book of Mormon does not in fact permit itself to be considered as true but not historically authentic. Consider the following passage that Moroni wrote: “…the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?… And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.” [Moroni 10:27 & 29]
Now if Moroni was not an actual historical person who really lived and wrote these words, then he would not appear at the bar of God and the writer of the words was lying. The Book of Mormon is either ancient and historical or it is a lie. It does not leave the possibility of being pious, inspired, or inspiring fiction, open for itself. What happens when you bracket or consistently bracket or reject or refuse to deal with historical authenticity? Then you are bracketing or rejecting or refusing to deal with an issue that President Oaks has said is fundamental. This demonstrates a lack of integrity. Research indicates that lack of integrity is one of the two major causes of cynicism. The other is lack of competence. We have scriptural examples for each of these. For lack of integrity think of Alma’s rebuke of his son. “Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.” [Alma 39:11] For competence, think of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. People came to Rehoboam and asked for relief from an oppressive tax burden. The older men advised Rehoboam to cut the taxes. Rehoboam, the entitled brat that he was, asked his fellow entitled brats their opinion and they responded he should ask for more. This I believe is referred to as the “art of the deal”. and is typically a negotiating maneuver used by unions. Rehoboam followed this advice with predictable consequences. The ten tribes rebelled and Rehoboam ended up with less money to spend than if he’d cut taxes in the first place. This demonstrates gross incompetence not only of Rehoboam but his advisors. So that’s competence.
Now we can see in the Church sometimes the results of local leaders or other individuals who are either incompetent or lack integrity. The results can be a disillusionment resulting from failure of specific institutions to meet high expectations. When people trust and that trust is exploited, they become more cynical. Common to most definitions of cynicism is the belief that others lack integrity and cannot be trusted.
The observation of self-interested behavior on the part of leaders leads to a sense of betrayal and is also caused when someone perceives that the organization has failed to meet its obligation, such as the violation of organizational procedures, which leads to reactions such as anger, outrage, distrust and resentment. It can also be caused when an individual holds unrealistically high expectations which are subsequently unmet. Those who have lost trust often accuse the Church of failing to communicate important information. Honest and frequent communication generates perceptions of fairness and trust. Failure to communicate important information, in contrast, particularly during times of organizational unrest, violates the contract, resulting in unmet expectations, fear, distrust and ultimately cynicism. Moreover, attempts by management to deny well-crafted rumors serve only to exacerbate individuals’ contempt and distrust toward management.
Although individuals may feel that the Church has been hiding something, in most cases it is not a matter of the Church failing to communicate, but the individual’s failing to pay attention. This is general – not specific. More prominent for members of the Church in loss of trust is taking offense. Individuals consider the nature of their treatment as a criterion for fairness. Honesty, ethicality, politeness, and respect in interpersonal dealings are prominent factors in perceptions of justice. When these standards are not honored, perceptions of interactional injustice will result thus leading to negative attitudes such as dislike and distrust toward the purveyors of the discourteous treatment. Members of the Church and especially local leaders who are dishonest or who fail to live the teachings of the Church demonstrate a lack of integrity in their behavior and invite cynicism. The Lord has warned that those who wish to exercise power and influence must be without hypocrisy and without guile. Some in the Church have tried to use various gimmicks or techniques to combat the effects of either their own or others’ breeches in integrity. These may not be particularly effective as “the goal of management techniques continues to be control and manipulation”.
Members of the church have been warned that attempts to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in any degree of unrighteousness are counterproductive. Those who have demonstrated lack of integrity often contribute to others, who have integrity, lack of commitment. They attribute this lack of commitment to obstinacy or some irrational resistance to change even though no compelling case to change has been presented to them. Presenting a compelling case is what the scriptures call persuasion.
Now I understand being offended by failures of integrity and competence. A number of Church members I have run across over the years have through lack of integrity or competence done a lot of things to offend me. But I do not have to shut myself out of heaven just because they want to go to hell. Although I find their actions extremely offensive, I refuse to allow their offensive behavior to interfere with my keeping my covenants. Covenants, after all, are not something that gets in the way of what we are trying to do – they are what we are trying to do. If the records of the covenants given to Abraham are not historically authentic, or the records of the keeping of covenants or God’s fulfillment of the covenants, what basis do we have for assuming that God will fulfill His promises to us? If those who deny the historical authenticity of the scriptures really believe that, why on earth would they expect God to keep his promises to them? This issue, as President Oaks has pointed out, is fundamental. If we consistently bracket, reject, or refuse to deal with historical authenticity in order to appeal to those in the great and spacious building, we legitimately invite the cynicism which will surely greet such efforts. In doing so we sell our birthright – scriptures that are historically authentic – for a mess of plaudits. Elder Packer addressed this directly: “Do not yield your faith in payment for an advanced degree or for the recognition and acclaim of the world. For what profiteth it a man if he gain his degree and lose his soul?” Above all we should defend historical authenticity because the events in scripture actually took place. These are records of real people who really spoke with God and really saw God and really made covenants with God and really kept covenants with God and really received the promises of God. We should defend the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham because it is defending the truth. Why would we want to bracket the truth?
Q 1: At [FairMormon] five years ago you said you had a spiritual testimony of the Book of Mormon, but not of the Book of Abraham. How do you feel about your testimony of the Book of Abraham today?
A 1: Yes, I have received a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon – I don’t ever recall having received one of the Book of Abraham, but that doesn’t make it not true. And for most people, nobody gets up in testimony meetings and bears their testimony of the Book of Abraham. They bear their testimony of the Book of Mormon. Why? Because the Book of Mormon is instrumental in conversion and getting that revelation and that spirit of witness. The Book of Abraham has a different purpose. It’s not designed, as the apostle Franklin D. Richards said when he published it in the Pearl of Great Price the first time – it is not designed as an instrument of conversion. It’s designed for people who already have that witness. I don’t think that you particularly need one. I don’t think that it’s bad to have one. And the other thing is, okay, I’m a scholar, and an Egyptologist, I work in ancient history all the time. The Lord expects me to do a lot more homework on this than he does you. But the Book of Abraham is true, you don’t need to worry about that.
Q 2: What do we know about the source documents of the Book of Abraham? Have they been lost? And specifically about the papyri.
A 2: Well, I’m going to send you to my book. I discuss that issue. I’ve discussed it at [FairMormon] here a number of times. I thought I’d do something a little bit differently [this] time. The short story is in the remaining papyri fragments that we have of the papyri that Joseph Smith had, we don’t have the source of the Book of Abraham. That is missing. There are a couple of different theories about why that’s so. I go through them in my book. You can take whichever one appeals to you.
Q 3: To recapitulate, what is your opinion regarding the inspiration, ancient nature, and authenticity of the Book of Abraham?
A 3: Well, I take the fourth opinion. It is inspired, ancient, and authentic. And I hope there’s no question about my opinion on that.
Q 4: (This is a good question, it’s a technical question. I’ll read the question and then maybe I’ll have to explain it.) How do we respond to investigators who note that the Church changed its position on the Book of Abraham in 2013 from literal translation directly from the scrolls to specifically as ‘not literal’?
A 4: I don’t think they did that. Yes, you can read the introduction to the 2013 edition of the scriptures and the introduction to the Book of Abraham in that edition as saying that. I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that there are many members of the Church who… so there are two positions you can take on… there are three actually, though one of them is the non-Mormon position largely, so we’ll talk about the two major positions. So one of them is that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham from papyri that he had that we don’t. And the other is that Joseph Smith received it from direct inspiration from heaven. For a long time in my research I couldn’t find any evidence that allowed me to determine which of those theories most closely fit the evidence, because the evidence seemed to support either. I did find one – this is discussed in my book – I think that translating from an actual papyrus is [a] better fit [with] the known evidence than the other one, at the current time. I think they may have changed that to allow both of those positions which are both held by faithful members of the Church to continue to be held by faithful members of the Church – anyway, that’s my speculation. That’s me talking, not Salt Lake. Salt Lake wrote that, I didn’t. And it says [that] despite the introduction of the book that says it was written by the hand of Abraham upon papyrus, which is still in the scriptures. The introductions are not scripture – the scriptures are. This is in scripture and I believe it. Did that answer the question?
Q 5: Do you or one of your colleagues plan on responding to Robert Ritner’s review of the gospel topics essay?
A 5: I can’t speak for my colleagues. I don’t really have any intention of doing that. I don’t know. Does a non-Catholic scholar really feel it in his purview to criticize a papal bull? Or something like that. I think Professor Ritner is out of line and why does he care? But I don’t really have any intent on responding because I thought his review was – besides being in poor taste – rather weak. If you want to, I guess you could suppose my book is a response. But that wasn’t why it was written. But I don’t have any plans on doing that formally. Because as far as I can tell, who cares?
Thank you very much!