Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Did Book of Mormon witnesses simply see the golden plates with their 'spiritual eyes'?

(by Daniel Peterson 5-22-15)

I continually encounter the confident declaration that the witnesses to the Book of Mormon didn’t really see or touch anything at all and didn’t actually claim to have seen or touched anything. They only “saw” the plates with their “spiritual eyes,” I’m assured, and “spiritual eyes,” to them, meant “in their imaginations.”

I responded to this assertion in a column published five years ago (see "Book of Mormon witness testimonies" published May 25, 2010). However, since the claim continues to be made, and given the fundamental importance of this issue, I address it yet again, in somewhat different fashion.

I’ll leave aside the question of whether it’s even remotely plausible that the witnesses sacrificed so very much for something they recognized as merely imaginary. Let’s look at their explicit verbal testimonies. Several of the 11 official witnesses were obviously confronted during their lifetimes with accusations that they had merely hallucinated, and they repeatedly rejected such proposed explanations.

In fact, David Whitmer, one of the initial Three Witnesses, could easily have been addressing today’s skeptics when he declared “I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!”

It’s difficult to imagine how he could have been any clearer.

In this column, though, I’ll focus on the experience of the Eight Witnesses, which seems to have included no explicitly supernatural elements but, rather, to have been a wholly matter-of-fact event.

In late 1839, Hyrum Smith wrote an account for the Times and Seasons newspaper covering, among other things, his four months of hungry and cold imprisonment in Missouri’s Liberty Jail, under recurring threats of execution, while his family and fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were being driven from their homes during the wintertime:

“I thank God,” he told the Saints, “that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to. … I can assure my beloved brethren that I was enabled to bear as strong a testimony, when nothing but death presented itself, as ever I did in my life.”

One might dismiss this declaration of willingness to die for his testimony as an empty boast, mere retrospective bravado, were it not for the fact that, less than five years later in Illinois, fully understanding the risk, he did in fact go voluntarily to Carthage Jail. There, with his prophet-brother, he died as a martyr — which, in ancient Greek, means “witness” — in a hail of bullets.

The accounts left behind by the Eight Witnesses are replete not only with claims to have “seen and hefted” the plates, to have turned their individual leaves and examined their engravings, but also with estimates of their weight, descriptions of their physical form and the rings that bound them, and reports of their approximate dimensions as well.

Wilhelm Poulson’s 1878 interview with John Whitmer provides an excellent summary:

“I — Did you handle the plates with your hands? He — I did so!

"I — Then they were a material substance? He — Yes, as material as anything can be.

"I — They were heavy to lift? He — Yes, and you know gold is a heavy metal, they were very heavy.

"I — How big were the leaves? He — So far as I can recollect, 8 by 6 or 7 inches.

"I — Were the leaves thick? He — Yes, just so thick, that characters could be engraven on both sides.
"I — How were the leaves joined together? He — In three rings, each one in the shape of a D with the straight line towards the centre. ...

"I — Did you see them covered with a cloth? He — No. He handed them uncovered into our hands, and we turned the leaves sufficient to satisfy us.”

William Smith, who knew the Eight Witnesses well — his father and two of his brothers were among them — explained “they not only saw with their eyes but handled with their hands the said record.”

Daniel Tyler heard Samuel Smith testify that “He knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for the prophet had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon.”

Those who seek to dismiss the testimony of the Eight Witnesses must, on the whole, flatly brush aside what they actually, and very forcefully, said.

For further evidence and analysis on this topic, see Richard Lloyd Anderson’s 2005 article “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses” online at


Monday, May 18, 2015

Much left to discover between archaeology and the Book of Mormon

(by Daniel Peterson 5-17-15)

Some critics dismiss the Book of Mormon because, they say, no archaeological evidence directly supports it. Archaeological evidence, though, is spotty, and it seldom shows up on cue.

Until Conrad Schick found the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter in the 19th century, for example, only the Gospel of John suggested the pool ever even existed. Some scholars used that fact to argue that John was late and at least partially fictional, written by an author unacquainted with the city.

Yet Palestine is far more intensively studied and easier to work in than Mesoamerica, with much better textual resources and a continuous tradition of geographical names.

Moreover, that word “directly” is problematic. Archaeology seldom “directly” settles controversial issues. Rocks don’t speak for themselves; decisive, unambiguous inscriptions are rare.

The first nonbiblical allusion to Pontius Pilate was found by Italian archaeologists at Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast, in 1981.

The first nonbiblical reference to David and the House of David — and just the fourth ancient inscription mentioning “Israel” at all — was found only during the 1993-1994 archaeological season at northern Israel’s Tel Dan. In some circles, it remains controversial.

A bulla or clay seal, the first tangible ancient artifact demonstrating the existence of biblical Bethlehem, was discovered just three years ago.

As William Hamblin explained in his still-important 1993 article on “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” the location of Jerusalem would have been difficult, if not impossible, to find were it not for a continuous geographical tradition that doesn’t exist in the Americas:

Canaanites knew the city as “u-ru-sa-lim,” which gave us Hebrew “Yerushalem” or “Yerushalayim.” But the settlement was also often called “the City of David” and “Zion,” which thus yields four distinct names for it in the Old Testament alone. The Greeks called it both “Ierousalem” and “Hierosolyma,” and later Latin speakers preserved that second name. However, following the Second Jewish Revolt in the early second century, the Emperor Hadrian renamed the city “Aelia Capitolina.” It regained its identity as “Jerusalem” only because when "Christians eventually came to dominate the Roman Empire, (they) changed the name back."

But then, following the Muslim conquests, the city was called “Aliya” (from the Roman “Aelia”), “Bayt al-Maqdis” and “al-Quds,” as it continues to be by Palestinians and other Arabic-speakers today. Had Christianity been exterminated, as the Nephites were, "rather than becoming the dominant religion of the Roman empire, what linguistic evidence would we have that al-Quds of today was ancient Jerusalem?"

Real archaeology bears little resemblance to an Indiana Jones movie; overwhelmingly, it’s a matter of painstakingly drawing inferences from such things as pottery fragments and partial building
foundations. And authors who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as John Clark, Brant Gardner, John Sorenson and Mark Wright, who very much believe the Book of Mormon to have solid footing within Mesoamerican archaeology, have long been engaged in such efforts. I commend their work to anybody who’s interested.

In order to make meaningful statements about the relationship between archaeology and the Book of Mormon, authors need to know both subjects well. It’s plainly insufficient to know just one of them. And among the very first questions that need to be answered are where the events of the Book of Mormon occurred, if they occurred at all, and what the overall dimensions of Book of Mormon territory might be.

Some critics declare that limited geographical models of the Book of Mormon — which include both the Mesoamerican geographies that I favor and the “Heartland” model that others advocate — have arisen in response to mounting threats from archaeological and genetic data and represent a retreat from a “shrinking” Book of Mormon with fictional peoples who will soon “vanish” altogether.

But limited geographical models were created because the Book of Mormon demands them. As Sorenson demonstrated in his seminal 1985 “Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon,” when all the travel distances and travel times given in the book are analyzed, it’s obvious beyond reasonable dispute that the Nephite/Lamanite/Jaredite lands were relatively small; they plainly didn’t extend from Patagonia on the southern end of South America to the Aleutian Islands between Alaska and Russia. And such models were on demonstrably public offer long before James Watson and Francis Crick discovered DNA’s double-helix structure in 1953, and decades before anybody was researching Amerindian DNA.

Many interesting questions remain; archaeology and the Book of Mormon still have much to say to each other.


Asael Smith grave

(by Kenneth Mays 5-6-14)
In 1638, a boy named Robert Smith left England and arrived in America and settled in the region of Topsfield, Massachusetts. Robert and his wife, Mary French, later had a son, Samuel.

Samuel Sr. and his wife, Rebecca Curtis, also had a son, Samuel. The younger Samuel and his wife, Priscilla, had a son, Asael, the father of Joseph Smith Sr. and grandfather of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Asael was born in Topsfield, Massachusetts, in 1744. He fought in the Revolutionary War and stressed to his family the importance of living a good life. Asael eventually moved to Tunbridge, Vermont, where his son Joseph would meet his future wife, Lucy Mack. Asael and some of his family later moved to St. Lawrence County, New York.

While there, he was introduced to the gospel restored by his grandson, Joseph Smith Jr. It was Joseph Sr. and his son, Don Carlos Smith who taught him. Asael died shortly after their visit in October 1830. He was buried in the Union Cemetery in Stockholm Township, St. Lawrence County, New York.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Real effort of LDS Charities is to build character, leader says

(by Sarah Jane Weaver 5-14-15)

The real, long-term effort of LDS Charities is to build character, said the worldwide leader of the humanitarian organization on Thursday evening.

Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities — the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — said she believes “every person can give something of value and every person can receive something of value.”

Humanitarian projects sponsored by LDS Charities are, at their core, about rescuing the seed “of what is finest down deep inside each person and giving it an opportunity to grow and flower,” she said.

Eubank offered the address at a "Pioneers in Every Land" lecture, hosted by the LDS Church History Library and titled “That They Might Not Suffer.”

The address, held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, featured the work of LDS Charities during the year the organization is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

During her remarks, Eubank referenced a 1985 invitation from then LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball inviting church members to fast for famine victims in Ethiopia. The fast marked the beginning of what would become LDS Charities.

In the 30 years since the Jan. 27, 1985, fast, the church has sent $1.2 billion in assistance to those in need. LDS Charities has also provided long-term aid through initiatives including wheelchairs, clean water, vision care, neonatal resuscitation training, immunizations, family garden projects and disaster relief, Eubank said.

She said there are three “foundational planks” in the platform of LDS Charities.
  1. Humanitarian acts “rooted in a desire to listen, to heal, to cooperate, to respect” are as potent agents for change as anything on the earth, she said.
  2. “Charity is more than aid,” Eubank added, noting that true charity emphasizes dignity, human worth, cooperation, unity, sacrifice and assurance that no one is too poor or too marginalized to contribute something of value.
  3. Humanitarian acts that foster real change come with a significant relationship, she said. “Everything is local. … Our most powerful acts are in the place where we live.”
As an example of why the LDS Church has a humanitarian outreach, Eubank referenced a story of Dutch Latter-day Saints who raised potatoes after World War II. She said the real horror of World War II began in Holland in late 1940 when German troops overran the country in five days, leaving 40,000 civilians dead and destroying 400,000 homes.

Despite this, Dutch Mormons — who grew potatoes in 1947 — determined to give their entire 70-ton crop to German church members. This generous act “would heal the hearts of bitter enemies.”
“It is one thing to talk about brotherhood. It is a different thing entirely to act in brotherhood,” Eubank said.

She said today there are “pioneers in every land” whose charitable work — like the work of the Dutch who shared their crop — does much to "build charity and capability in people.”

There is something every person can do to help another, she said. “If you will brave the frontiers of your own love … you will be a pioneer,” Eubank said. “This world needs pioneers.”


Mormon Temple in West L.A. lets its landmark lawn turn brown

The once-green grass in front of the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A. has become parched since the church stopped watering it about a month ago because of the drought.

Friday, May 15, 2015

KSL's Religion Today for April 2015

April 5th - Easter Sunday

April 12th - Where did the Book of Mormon take place? (part 2)

April 19th - Was Jesus deity?

April 26th - the LDS temple and Freemasonry

KSL's Religion Today for March 2015

March 1st - the life of the Apostle Paul

March 22nd - Mary, the mother of Jesus

March 29th - Where did the Book of Mormon take place? (part 1)

KSL's Religion Today for February 2015

February 1st - The New Testament books, when were they written?

February 8th - The Nag Hammadi and the Gospel of Thomas

February 15th - We believe the Bible to be the word of God as long as it is translated correctly

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Going up to Jerusalem

(by Daniel Peterson 4-29-15)

“After this there was a feast of the Jews,” reports John 5:1, “and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

That notion of “going up” to Jerusalem is much more interesting than it might at first appear. Indeed, it’s a very rich idea, and an ancient one.

Of course, it’s partly a matter of literal, physical climbing. The city of Jerusalem rests at approximately 2,500 feet above sea level on a relatively high mountain ridge; Nazareth sprawls between 1,000 and 1,500 feet lower, to the north. So Jesus would really have been climbing up to Jerusalem.

And so would virtually every other visitor to the city. The Mediterranean coast is 37 miles west of Jerusalem, and the even deeper Jordan River Valley and Dead Sea sit 22 miles to the east — forming a part of the overall Great Rift Valley that extends for 3,700 miles from Lebanon in the north down to Mozambique, in southeastern Africa.

Thus, when, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, “a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” (Luke 10:30), he was really going down. At 1,200 feet below sea level, Jericho is fully 3,700 feet lower than Jerusalem, although it’s only about 17 miles away. And anybody who’s ever driven the road from Jericho to Jerusalem — in very low gear for buses and trucks — knows how steep the upward grade is.

The Book of Mormon, incidentally, gets things exactly right when — clever boy, that Joseph Smith! — Lehi and the members of his family continually go down from Jerusalem into the wilderness and then return up to Jerusalem when they're sent back (as at 1 Nephi 2:5; 3:9-29; 5:1; 7:2-5, 15, 22).

But it’s not merely geography: Jerusalem was the site of the temple of God, “the Mountain of the Lord’s House.”

In medieval and modern Arabic, Jerusalem is known as “al-Quds,” “the Holy One,” which refers not to streets, hotels, intersections, office buildings, gas stations and cafes, but to the temple. It’s a shortened form of the still earlier Arabic name “Bayt al-Maqdis” or “Bayt al-Muqqadas” (“the Holy House”), which, in turn, reflects the ancient Hebrew term “Bayt ha-Miqdash.”

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?” asks the Psalmist, “or who shall stand in his holy place?” He then proceeds to cite some of the characteristics of those permitted to enter the temple (see Psalm 24:3-5; compare Psalm 15).

In fact, 15 of the biblical Psalms (120-134) bear the label “song of ascent” or, as the King James Version puts it, “song of degrees.” (They’ve also been called “songs of steps” and “pilgrim songs.”) Many scholars believe that these psalms were sung by worshippers walking up the road to Jerusalem for the three great pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost, or by priests as they climbed 15 steps for their service in the temple — symbolically ascending to God. Some have suggested that they were composed for Solomon’s dedication of the temple.

Lingering traces of the notion of “ascending” to Jerusalem persist. Still today, for example, nearly 2,000 years after the Romans destroyed the temple, even secular Jews who immigrate to Israel are said to be "making ‘aliyah,’” where “aliyah” means “ascent.” (Think of the Israeli national airline, “El Al,” which means “to the skies” or “skyward.”)

And, for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are more than merely lingering traces. In modern temples, for instance, the initial ordinance of entry into God’s kingdom, baptism, is performed on a lower floor, “in a place underneath where the living are wont to assemble” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:13). Thereafter, worshippers typically climb ever higher in the temples as they receive the ordinances of the Lord’s house, symbolically approaching the presence of God.

Finally, too, the notion of temple-related ascent forms part of the prophesied future:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (see Isaiah 2:2-3; compare Micah 4:1-2).

Friday, May 1, 2015

What is the Church's position on the Book of Abrham?

[This post originally appeared at Ploni Almoni.]

In his March 2015 letter to the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appealing his excommunication, John Dehlin claims there has been a “recent admission” on the part of the Church “that the Book of Abraham is not a translation of the Egyptian papyrus, as Joseph Smith claimed that it was.” Dehlin quotes the Church’s 2014 Gospel Topics essay “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” to wit:
None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments. Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.
Dehlin raises this point again later in his letter. One of the many “disturbing facts” he “stumbled upon” in his studies is that “by the LDS Church’s own admission, the Book of Abraham is not a translation of the Egyptian papyrus.” This, among other things, Dehlin says, was “deeply disturbing and destabilizing for [him].”

Dehlin’s allies Nadine R. Hansen and Kate Kelly also raise this point in the same letter. “The Church’s own essays openly and truthfully acknowledge this difficulty,” they write, “by stating, ‘None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham.'” Consequently, “While the Church may continue to maintain that the Book of Abraham is inspired, canonical writing, but it must do so while acknowledging that Joseph Smith’s early statement that it is Abraham’s writings, ‘by his own hand upon the papyrus,’ is not factbased.” (On this last point, see my article here.)

These authors are not alone in claiming the Church has made this “recent admission” about the Book of Abraham. Jeremy Runnells, in his anti-Mormon screed known conventionally as the CES Letter, remarks, “The Church conceded in its July 2014 Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham essay that Joseph’s translations of the papyri and the facsimiles do not match what’s in the Book of Abraham.”

With these statements from Dehlin and Runnells in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the Gospel Topics essay actually says about the Book of Abraham.

I. The nature of the surviving papyri fragments. On this matter, the Gospel Topics essay matter-of-factly states that the surviving papyri fragments do not contain the Book of Abraham. “Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.” However, this is by no means a “recent” admission or concession by the Church. In fact, what these authors fail to inform their readers is that the Church immediately identified the Joseph Smith Papyri fragments as copies of funerary texts when it received them from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967. In the January 1968 issue of the Improvement Era, the Church identified the recovered fragments as “conventional . . . Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies.” The Church has reaffirmed this simple fact in subsequent publications.
  • “Mormon Media” (1975): “Brother Nibley marshals a considerable array of talents in fulfilling the second and major purpose of the book, which is to discuss the meaning of the Joseph Smith papyri. Identifying Joseph Smith Papyri X and XI with the Egyptian Book of Breathings becomes a point of departure for Brother Nibley, rather than, as with other scholars, a final pronouncement.”
  • “I Have a Question” (1976): “Q: Are the three facsimiles related to each other? A: Definitely, by all being attached to one and the same document, namely, the Joseph Smith Papyri X and XI, which contain a text of the Egyptian Book of Breathings. Facsimile No. 1 is followed immediately on its left-hand margin by Joseph Smith Papyrus XI, which begins the Book of Breathings. Someone cut them apart, but the fibre edges of their two margins still match neatly. Facsimile No. 1 thus serves as a sort of frontispiece.”
  • “I Have a Question” (1988): “[Facsimile 1] can be connected with several of the other papyri fragments that relate to the text of an ancient Egyptian religious document known as the “Book of Sensen” or “Book of Breathings.”. . .  [F]rom paleographic and historical considerations, the Book of Breathings papyrus can reliably be dated to around A.D. 60—much too late for Abraham to have written it. Of course, it could be a copy—or a copy of a copy—of the original written by Abraham. However, a second problem arises when one compares the text of the book of Abraham with a translation of the Book of Breathings; they clearly are not the same.”
  • “Book of Abraham: Facsimiles From the Book of Abraham” (1992): “Only for Facsimile 1 is the original document known to be extant. Comparisons of the papyrus fragments as well as the hieroglyphic text accompanying this drawing demonstrate that it formed a part of an Egyptian religious text known as the Book of Breathings. Based on paleographic and historical evidence, this text can be reliably dated to about the first century A.D. Since reference is made to this illustration in the book of Abraham (Abr. 1:12), many have concluded that the Book of Breathings must be the text that the Prophet Joseph Smith used in his translation. Because the Book of Breathings is clearly not the book of Abraham, critics claim this is conclusive evidence that Joseph Smith was unable to translate the ancient documents.”
  • “News From Antiquity” (1994): “[Critics of the Church] point to the fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri that we now possess and claim that since the contents of these papyri bear little obvious relationship to the book of Abraham, the book is a fraud.”
  • Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual (2003): “In 1967 eleven fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri were rediscovered by Doctor Aziz S. Atiya, in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Studies of them have confirmed that they are mainly ancient Egyptian funerary texts of the sort commonly buried with royalty and nobility and designed to guide them through their eternal journeyings. This has renewed the question about the connection between the records and the book of Abraham.”
One might quibble here or there with the wording of these passages. For example, the Pearl of Great Price Student Manual mentions the late date of the papyri, but doesn’t explicitly mention that the papyri are fragments from the Book of Breathings and the Book of the Dead. Nevertheless, when these sources are combined, the basic point cannot be negated: the Church has straightforwardly taught that the surviving papyri fragments do not contain the Book of Abraham, but instead contain late copies of Egyptian funerary texts. Dehlin and Runnells are misleading their readers by claiming this “admission” is recent, or has just now been recognized by the Church in the 2014 Gospel Topics essay. In fact, the Church has acknowledged this fact since at least 1968.

II. On why the Book of Abraham is not contained in the surviving papyri. Dehlin and Runnells both conspicuously fail to alert their readers to the part of the Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham that explicitly addresses reasons why the Book of Abraham text was not recovered in the surviving papyri fragments. The essay clearly identifies at least two potential reasons. “It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession,” the essay notes. “Eyewitnesses spoke of ‘a long roll’ or multiple ‘rolls’ of papyrus. Since only fragments survive, it is likely that much of the papyri accessible to Joseph when he translated the book of Abraham is not among these fragments. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri.” In other words, the essay clearly recognizes the so-called “missing papyrus theory” as a possible explanation for why the surviving fragments don’t match the Book of Abraham.
The essay also mentions the so-called “catalyst theory” for the Book of Abraham as another possible explanation.
Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation. According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.
From this we see that Dehlin and Runnels have misled their readers by selectively presenting what the Gospel Topics essay claims about the relationship between the papyri and the Book of Abraham.

III. What about Elder Holland’s BBC Interview? Although not explicitly mentioned by Dehlin in his letter to the First Presidency (although it is mentioned and, not surprisingly, distorted by Runnells), it is worth quickly looking at Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s remarks on the Book of Abraham made in a 2012 interview with BBC reporter John Sweeney. When Sweeney pressed Elder Holland on the matter of the translation of the Book of Abraham, Elder Holland responded, “[W]hat got translated got translated into the word of God; the vehicle for that I do not understand.” What does this statement reveal? First, notice carefully that Elder Holland calls the Book of Abraham a “translation.” He also calls it the “word of God.” So Elder Holland, it appears, both accepts the Book of Abraham as an authentic “translation” and as inspired scripture. Second, notice that Elder Holland simply remarks that he doesn’t know the mechanism (“vehicle”) of the translation of the Book of Abraham. In other words, he doesn’t know precisely how the translation was performed. This is different from how Runnells and others have characterized Elder Holland’s remarks. Due to some obviously heavy editing of the original footage into what became the broadcasted program, it is impossible to know precisely what, if anything, Elder Holland said in addition by way of clarification. Notwithstanding, at the risk of speaking on behalf of Elder Holland, I believe it is safe to assume that he merely meant he didn’t know the precise nature of the translation (e.g. “missing papyrus,” “catalyst,” or something else), and wasn’t obfuscating in some way about the Church’s position.

IV. The Facsimiles. Dehlin and Runnells also omit the Gospel Topics essay’s comments on the interpretation of the facsimiles. The essay explains,
Of course, the fragments do not have to be as old as Abraham for the book of Abraham and its illustrations to be authentic. Ancient records are often transmitted as copies or as copies of copies. The record of Abraham could have been edited or redacted by later writers much as the Book of Mormon prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni revised the writings of earlier peoples. Moreover, documents initially composed for one context can be repackaged for another context or purpose. Illustrations once connected with Abraham could have either drifted or been dislodged from their original context and reinterpreted hundreds of years later in terms of burial practices in a later period of Egyptian history. The opposite could also be true: illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure.
The essay therefore provides an explanation for why images illustrating the Book of Abraham could’ve ended up attached to an Egyptian funerary text, and why there is otherwise disjunction between Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the facsimiles and Egyptologists’ interpretations. In fact, the essay goes on to further explain, “Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some distance from their associated commentary.” Thus, in order to fully appreciate the Church’s explanation of the facsimiles, one needs to keep this commentary in mind. To omit it is to ultimately distort a critical aspect of the Church’s apologia for the Book of Abraham.

V. The 2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price. Before concluding, it is worth highlighting the changes made to the 2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price. The pre-2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price identified the text as “[a] translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham.” By comparison, the 2013 edition characterizes the Book of Abraham as “an inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri.” Some have argued that this is another admission by the Church that the Book of Abraham isn’t really a translation. This seems unlikely, however, since the 2013 edition still retains the (slightly modified) header that has accompanied the Book of Abraham since its 1842 publication: “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” If the Church really was ceding ground on the Book of Abraham as a translation, one has to wonder why they left in this rather explicate superscript to the text.

Another overlooked change in the 2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price comes at the beginning of the introductory page. The pre-2013 edition explains that “[t]hese items [i.e. the contents of the Pearl of Great Price] were produced by the Prophet Joseph Smith and were published in the Church periodicals of his day.” The 2013 edition, however, reads, “These items were translated and produced by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and most were published in the Church periodicals of his day.” Notice here the word “translated” was deliberately added in reference to the materials found in the Pearl of Great Price, which would presumably include the Book of Abraham. Thus, far from backing away from the Book of Abraham as being a translation of some sort, the Church, it could be argued, has in recent years actually reinforced an understanding of the Book of Abraham as a “translation.” The new edition of the Pearl of Great Price simply affirms that the Book of Abraham is an “inspired translation of the writings of Abraham,” while omitting details of the exact process, which remains up for debate.

In conclusion, one would do well to eschew the mishandled and misleading presentations of the Church’s position on the Book of Abraham offered by Dehlin and Runnells. The 2014 Gospel Topics essay hasn’t “conceded” or “admitted” anything about the Book of Abraham. The contents of the essay have, by and large, been circulating in both Church materials and other Mormon publications for decades. On the other hand, Dehlin and Runnells have omitted important material that helps us better understand this remarkable scriptural work.