Notes: Joseph Smith Papers Conference and BYU Sperry Symposium

Below are notes on the 2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference, at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and on two of the talks at the 2018 Sperry Symposium at BYU the next day.

 

2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference Notes

Janiece Johnson, “Embracing the Book: The Material Record and Early Book of Mormon Reception”

For 1st gen. LDS, family history still gets written in Bibles, not BoM, though sometimes baptism into church goes there. “Stories enabled access to divinity.” Marginal notes in BoM tend to be keeping track of complicated new narrative. Some created a table of contents. Patience Cowdery uses manacles (pointers) to annotate “seed” and “ancestors,” plus an index she made in the back. Frederick G. Williams 1st edition made an index of doctrine and narrative, and a list of 20 “lost books” from the Bible. Apostle William M. McLellin annotated with doctrinal index and notes showing close reading over many years…also drawings!

Sherilyn Farnes, “‘Able to Translate Any Where in the Bible’: Translation and the Early Saints”

On Edward Partridge’s study of Hebrew. EP studies Hebrew to translate Bible, including with Kirkland school of prophets. Considered useful for preaching—impressive to hearers. Approaching Antiquity: JS and Ancient World, put out by RSC—check it out! Alfred Cordon journaled that people wanted to hear Greek or Hebrew and then they would believe! James Harvey Partridge (Edward’s younger brother) was eulogized as a “learned Biblical scholar.” “Do good, lay aside evil…render assistance to fellow men and glorify the Lord” as a purpose for learning Hebrew. JS said this learning would prepare people for the endowment. Language study led to history study. JS studies Hebrew AFTER his inspired revision of the Bible.

Stephen Smoot, “The Dynamics of Revelatory Translation in Early Mormonism: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study”

JS’s concept of translation was “idiosyncratic” by modern standards. 1. Zeptah/Egyptus—Earliest manuscript of BoA has Zeptah instead of Egyptus and Egyptes in place of another Egyptus. BoA may confuse Zaeptah’s/Egyptus’s gender in the same way some ancient records do for that lfigure. Is Hebrew in BoA because of JS knowledge of Hebrew (reflected in his translation) or from an ancient scribe? “Not a 1-for-1 unsullied Ur-text.” 3. JS use of Elohim in plural in BoA couldn’t come from his Hebrew tutor Seixas. JS’s knowledge and language influenced the nature of the BoA text.

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My YouTube Interview With a Christian Apologist About the LDS Church

Nick K. of the “Next Generation Saints” channel is a really awesome guy. He contacted me a couple of weeks ago wanting to do a live online discussion about the our respective beliefs. I’ve been wanting to do something similar for a while, so I gladly agreed. We streamed our discussion yesterday, and we both think it went great. In fact, we want to do more of these! I’m really grateful for this opportunity to share my testimony of Jesus Christ.

Two Things Joseph Smith Got Right About the Book of Abraham Facsimiles

I’ve been studying up on the Book of Abraham a bit lately, and as fascinating as all the scholarly, arcane parallels are, it’s even more exciting to see that some of Joseph Smith’s explanations of these symbols are easy to confirm in accessible pop culture. 

While critics have often had to come up with convoluted theories as to how Joseph got so many plausible details into the Book of Mormon, his equally startling “guesses” in the Book of Abraham are usually ignored…maybe because they are even more shocking.  How could Joseph have known what any of these old Egyptian hieroglyphics meant?  He didn’t know ancient Egyptian–hardly anybody in the world did!  The Rosetta Stone itself had barely been translated around the time that Joseph first started producing the Book of Abraham. 

And yet, what should have been wild shots in the dark hold up remarkably well nearly two centuries later, when the basics of Egyptian are so widely available, that a major hotel here in Las Vegas, the Luxor, makes them into a cute and easily recognizable theme. 

In Facsimile 1, there’s a weird creature shown near the bottom. 

The text defines it as “the idolatrous god of Pharaoh.”  Look closely–it’s a crocodile in the waters of the Nile.  So, did the Egyptians of Abraham’s time really identify Pharoah with a crocodile-god? 

They sure did.  His name is Sobek, Continue reading

The Purpose of Astronomy In the Book of Abraham

This post is not meant to explain the many astronomical references in the Book of Abraham.  I’m not a scientist; I’m an English teacher.  My interest is in analyzing why those astronomical references are there: what function do they serve?  After studying them, I find that they consistently testify of the doctrines of Christ.

The Pearl of Great Price itself is a fascinating text, and ironic.  By far the smallest of the standard works, this tiny anthology is not a series of testimonies, a record of covenants, or a detailed collection of exegesis and exhortations, like most other scriptural works are.  No, The Pearl of Great Price is far too ambitious for that.  Just about the only thing it does is reveal the most important saving truths of eternity, connecting us directly to the Lord. 

Consider that the Bible Dictionary identifies seven major dispensations throughout world history: those begun by Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.  Now glance through The Pearl of Great Price and notice whose records it amplifies: in order–Moses, Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jesus Christ, and Joseph Smith.  

Consider that in the Doctrines of the Gospel manual for church classes, the Pearl of Great Price, which comprises less than 2½% of the standard works (61 out of 2475 pages), represents about 10% of the scriptures cited in the index (nearly a whole page out of nine and a half printed pages), an impressively disproportionate total.  If The Pearl of Great Price were a basketball player, it’d be one foot tall and five times better than Michael Jordan. 

I labor this point because it relates directly to the use of astronomical information in The Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Abraham.  These often confusing ideas about space and time are not a primer for astronomy as much as they are meant to add to our understanding of those massive spiritual truths with which this volume was designed to enlighten us.

First, in Abraham 3:12-13, God shows Abraham an expansive vision of the physical universe Continue reading