August 6, 2009

John Gee: "The Larger Issue"

Update: August 21, 2009- Transcript now available from FAIR here

Gee's PhD is from Yale, he specializes in Egyptology. The following info are my imperfect notes from the conference. I missed stuff and there are spelling errors, etc. I suggest not relying on my notes but instead reading the transcript available at

Some online critics with no training in Egyptology, who don't sign their names to their posts, are interesting to deal with. The BoA as coming from the "long roll" is wtinessed by friends and foes to the Church.

The scroll of Horus is the long scroll, it is long enough to contain one other text which is not unusual. So the Breathings need not be the BoA. If it is not the long scroll, then the Doc of Breathing, [sorry, he's going fast]

In many cases the argument about the BoA has become so complex that many people can't keep track of the larger picture and the implications their smaller arguments have.

1. It is not necessary to refute every statement by a critic.
One needs to understand the argument and refute the argument which may depend on one particular point, etc.

2. Not every point is worth defending.
We don't need to defend rumor, action, offhand opinion of every leader, apologist, member. Know the important issues. We do not need to defend mistakes, even widely held opinions.

3. Truth is not well served by a bad argument.
We do not need to repeat or shore up bad arguments.Some of Nibley's arguments are this way, including sacrifice of Abraham argument. We apologists and scholars are certainly not inerrent.

4. Believe in God, believe that He has all wisdom and power, and that man doth not comprehend all the Lord comprehends.
We thus do not expect to have all our questions answered in this life.

What are the important things that must be defended?

1. God exists.
2. Christ is his son.
3. He talks with men through Holy Ghost.
4. Jesus Christ atoned.
5. Atonement available through turst in Jesus, turning from sins, covenants, following Holy Ghost. Endure to end.
6. The BoM is true, a record of God's interactions with actual ancient people.

If these 6 things are not true, no point in the rest. If defense compromises the larger issues there is something wrong.

The BoA is not central to the Church. The first 50 years wasn;t even in the canon.

Something to keep in mind in BOA Apologetics: Church does not rise and fall on the varacity of the BoA.
Fundamental principles are of Christ. etc. All other things are appendeges. The BoA is an appendage.

Of the 102,037 scriptural citations in Conference since 1932, BoA cited 731 times, less than 1%. The D&C 38x as frequently. Etc.

For the critics, this may seem to be a vain superstition, but seem in not worthy of attack. What they attack is not important to LDS. This is not to say LDS can or should forgo the book, but to give an idea of relative importance. It is more important than some things, and less than others.

Research on the BOA takes place on 4 fronts each of which requires a certain skill set.

1. Its Coming Forth
Most apologetic action takes place here because most critics are not trained or relatively bright, so this is the only error they are really capable of dealing with though they ignore

2. Book of Breathings
It is not the BoA. Critics insist we must believe the breathings doc is the BoA, but we simply don;t believe that ad get to decide what we believe. The facsimiles are Polymaic [sic?] period vignettes, very few have researched these. Last month, a scholar put togehter 29 manuscripts and made some conclusions, since there are 2200 apx. manuscripts some rightfully questions some conclusions based on the smaller data set. there are still some surprises.

3. Various Tales told about Abraham that are similar to BoA
The book published a little while ago is somewhat incomplete, some accounts were missed, etc. More to be done.

4. Text of the BoA as record of Abraham's day.
This requires training and skills beyond what most Egyptologists have. The answer may be beyond the means of the method used. How JS produced the text should not be as relevant as how well the text itself holds up compared to Abraham's day. The evidence is not complete, archaeologists has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are limits to what can be discovered through scholarship.

Egyptians in Abraham's Record? 
Critics have seen the presence of Egyptians in Abraham's area in the BoA as an anacronism. 2 articles last year changed that picture. [See his text when it becomes available for these sources which point to a specific historical scenario for the time period of the BoA, a short 60 year time period that needs to be considered.] There are debates between when Abraham lived, etc. it is quite up in the air, little we know about Egypt the time that Abraham visited. The term Chaldean did not mean the same in JS's day. Presently they are associated with tribes of Kaldu? That lived in iron age. In JS's day it was Aramaic (Syrriac) and referred to those who spoke that language in mesopotamia, and was used as a synonym for "superstitious." [He spoke more about the title/name and where it could occur, in what contexts, etc.-BH]

Mention of human sacrifice after manner of Egyptians in the BoA? 
Archaeological evidence shows such things were practiced in areas outside of those which they dominated. Also, historical records describe the info. Almost none of this info was even available to Nibley, showing how much things can change. The historical records say they targeted rebels and apostates.

Astronomical explanation linked to spiritual things?
Plagiarism of Thomas Dick? etc. there's a good reason it doesn;t make much sense for us. It was not meant for us.The Lord said he showed Abr. these things so he could share them with Egyptians. Set time of lesse light is lower than the time of earths, etc. [Talked about the moon revolving, changing position in sky. Phases of moon, etc. ] Abr. told the times of reckoning, etc. Knew length of day, month, year, set times based on astronomical observation we used in a modified way today. These set times were according to times and seasons and revolutions thereof. Seen from the point of view of the earth upon which thou standest, which seems to have earth in center. Copernican revolution changed that, but not reflected in BoA. Kolob nearest to God, etc. Gradient of stars above others, compared to spirits being above others, etc. Lord God more intelligent of all. etc.

Why would he declare these things to Egyptians? Because the Lord talks to men in their weakness, so they might come to understanding. It is 4,000 years separate, so we need to strip away all the scientific discoveries between then and now. Egyptian astronomy in late middle kingdom. How did they understand it? [Mentions names I cannot understand]. A king that says "you have subdued all that the sun encircles." Pharoah was supposed to rule the whole world. This shows a geocentric view with sun going around. Encircles is a term refering also to governing, etc. [He goes on to talk more about various Egyptian understandings of spirits and stars, names were similar, etc.] The astonomy that Abraham propunds to them would make sense and fit in with what they knew. Another subtle point there: The Egyptian supreme god Ra [sp?] encircled the earth. Abraham taught that there was another greater light encircling all of that. Thus Abraham implicitly argued astronomically that there was a god anbove their oen chief god, but it wasn't wxplicit.

This is a sample of work that can be done and has been done on BoA to set it in the cultural historical place.

What have we learned?

1. The arguments have become so complex that critics argue the church's position: BoBreath is not the BoA

2. Critics don;t deal with aspects of the BoA that LDS actually care about.

3. How it was translated is unimportant.

4. Regardless of how translated, it is a remarkable document that tells us more about Abraham's day than JS would have known.

These issues overshadow the smaller quibbles critics propound.


Q: How can we defend JS as a prophet or his abilities if we can;t defend BoA?

A: Who says we can't? We can defend it. I am saying we must look at entire spectrum of issues, what is important must be considered. It is about determining relative importance. It is an appendage, not central point. We can certainly defend it, but keep it in perspective.

Q: You cite numerical frequency as the supreme criteria as the ranking of canonical works, where did the criteria come from?

A: It isn't the supreme criteria it is the measurable criteria that shows how scriptures are used in the church.We don't place as much emphasis as the critics do, etc.

Q: If LDS canon reduced to present interp of leadership how do you square this with claiming prophets are inerrent?

A: The bretheren are plenty wise, but they aren't infallible. I don't see that as a problem. One problem we face is similar to the way Alma faces Korihor. He accuses Alma of following a  practice of Nehor because his leaders etc. were paid. Leadership of Church under Alma was not. So what K accuses him of being paid to preach which wasn;t true. Currently we don;t make the claim that leaders are infallible the same way other groups claim that of the Bible etc. So we get tarred with that same brush, some think we believe our scriptures are perfect or leaders are. Moroni says "If there be faults they be the mistakes of men." We don't say they have to be false.

Q: SLC Temple astonomy markings connected to BoA?

A: Not that I know of.

Q:  My son would say if BoA was valuable, doesn't that discredit JS?

A: I tried to be very careful in my argument: the BoA is of less importance than the BoM. It is not the most important thing in the Church. If it were, we would probably hear from it more. How important is it relative to the others?

Q: Possible that not one word is taken from the scrools (excluding the fasc.)?

A: This is a theory, catalyst, that many good members believe. There are other theories. For years I couldn't determine if there is any evidence that would rule between these various theories and help us decide which was correct. I am currently not in favor of this theory I have another that is my fav, but I see no reason to attack it, there are faithful members who hold it, it seems to be a logically coherent, or a stable theory, that is fine. The evidence that decies between this one and the one I favor is not really strong. So it's possible, I don't exclude it.

To close, I think the BoA is true, Can be defended, should be defended. But it shouldn't be all end all of apologetics or scriptures.

[I advise seeing the text of this one to get the best of it. These notes are just a scatter-shot overview]


Chris said...

The notion that critics are making Gee's argument for him when we say that the Book of Breathings is not the Book of Abraham is downright absurd. Gee's position is that the Book of Breathings was not JS's source for the Book of Abraham. The critics argue that it was JS's source for the book, but that it is not in fact what JS claimed it was. Gee's failure to understand this distinction suggests that it is not we critics for whom the arguments have become too "complex" to follow.

Seriously: "most critics are not trained or relatively bright?" Thay "don't sign their names to their posts?" Nearly all Gee's major online critics are educated and intelligent, and use their real names as their monikers.

BHodges said...

Chris, be sure to check the actual paper when we have it available to see if the distinctions are there, remember these are just quickly typed notes. Also, from what I understand Gee was referring to folks who post on RfM etc. who clearly have no idea what they are talking about. Not all critics generally.

BHodges said...

IOW: I am rather ignorant of distinctions between BOA arguments, so consider that when reading my notes.

cinepro said...

I think the first question in the Q&A is the critical point. It's not that LDS emphasize or hold the BoA as inerrant. It's that it's really the only hope we might ever have to objectively judge Joseph Smith's claims regarding translation ability.

It's not the BoA itself; it's the implications.

Ben said...

"Ptolemaic" is the spelling you're looking for ;)

BHodges said...

haha thanks Ben! There will be a lot of things like that in these notes so people will want to check transcripts yes.

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