Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where Did the Book of Abraham Come From?

Upon entering the MTC, I was “issued,” among other books, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder,” by LeGrand Richards. It was an amazing book to read, and it opened my eyes to many new gospel truths. After time, however, I realized that at least a few things are erroneously taught therein.

For example, in the book, Richards gives a brief history of how Joseph Smith acquired the papyrus to translate the Book of Abraham. He explains how a man named Michael Chandler inherited several mummies from his uncle, a French explorer named Antonio Lebolo. Upon accepting the Egyptian relics in New York City, Chandler discovered numerous rolls of papyri therewith and was allegedly told by “a stranger” that he should “seek out the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith, as probably the only man who could render a correct translation of the ancient manuscripts.” (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, LeGrand Richards, pg. 404) Richards continues to describe how Chandler sold the artifacts to the Prophet and how they eventually fell victim to the great fire of Chicago in 1871. I can’t begin to count how many times during and after my mission I had taught this story as I learned from Richards' book.

In 2001, however, I attended a lecture on the Book of Abraham at BYU, where Dr. John Gee briefly mentioned a few historical differences that I had never heard before and were not mentioned in Richards’ book. After his presentation I approached him and asked him about the contradictions - he opened my mind to the real story.

While most of the facts and information remain true today, Richards erred in a few respects. First, Chandler certainly was not of any relation to Lebolo, and Lebolo was not French but Italian. Chandler was simply a salesman who took advantage of an opportunity to make money by touring the northeast with mystic Egyptian artifacts. Secondly, as a salesman, Chandler purposefully crafted a sensational story of how he happened upon the artifacts, and how he was directed to seek out a Prophet of God. In reality, there was no “stranger” at the port of New York City, but it made Chandler’s story more appealing to the early Saints.

Lastly, because Richards’ book was printed in 1950, it did not contain the most significant change to the storyline wherein the LDS Church ultimately acquired 11 of the original papyri originally owned by Joseph in 1967. These 11 fragments are today in the exclusive possession of the Church and have been extensively translated and studied.

The following is, to my current knowledge, an accurate timeline of the acquisition, loss, and rediscovery of the Book of Abraham (or at least a portion thereof):

- 1818-1822: Antonio Lebolo worked as superintendent of the archeological excavations in Upper Egypt for the French consul general, Bernardino Drovetti. During this period he discovered 11 mummies in a tomb in Thebes.
- 1822: Lebolo returned to his native town of Castellamonte, Italy, taking these mummies with him. Sometime between then and his death, he arranged with the Albano Oblasser Shipping Company in Trieste to sell the 11 mummies.
- 1830: Antonio Lebolo dies. The 11 mummies are subsequently shipped to New York City to be sold.
- 1833: Michael H. Chandler purchases the mummies either for himself or acting as an agent for others. Chandler unwraps the mummies and discovered several papyri therein.

On opening the coffins,” the Prophet Joseph Smith tells us, “[Chandler] discovered that in connection with two of the bodies, was something rolled up with the same kind of linen, saturated with the same bitumen, which when examined, proved to be two rolls of papyrus.” These rolls of papyrus were beautifully written “with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation.”

- 1833-1835: Chandler travels throughout the northeastern United States displaying the mummies and selling one now and then as opportunity arose.
- 1835 (July): Chandler arrives in Kirtland, OH, to display the mummies and papyri there. At this point he only has 4 mummies left. Due to Smith's notoriety and claim to have translated the golden plates of the Book of Mormon, Chandler asks Joseph Smith to look at the scrolls and give some insight into what was written on them. The Prophet takes an interest in the papyri and purchases them and the mummies for $2400 (approx. $60,500 in 2008). Joseph chipped in $1800, Simeon Andrews $800, and Joseph Coe $800. Joseph stated:

... with W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc. — a more full account of which will appear in its place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them.” (History of the Church, vol. 2, pg 236.)

- 1844: Joseph Smith dies. Sometime after Joseph’s death, Emma marries Lewis C. Bidamon. The mummies and papyri remain in the possession of his mother, Lucy Smith, until her death. They display the artifacts in Nauvoo for an admission price for some time.
- 1856 (May): Lucy Smith dies on the 14th, and on the 26th Emma Smith Bidamon sells the artifacts to Abel Combs. Ten weeks Combs sells two of the mummies and some of the papyri to the St. Louis Museum.
- 1863 (July): The St. Louis Museum was closed and its collection moved to the Chicago Museum.
- 1864: The Chicago museum is sold to Joseph H. Wood, and renamed as Wood’s Museum.
- 1871: The 2 mummies and the papyri were destroyed in the great fire of Chicago.

Contrary to what LeGrand Richards claims in "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder," Abel Combs had, in fact, not sold all of the papyri to the St. Louis museum but had kept some pieces that had broken off the main rolls and were later mounted in picture frames. When Combs died, he willed these papyri to his housekeeper, Charlotte Weaver Huntsman, who had nursed him during his final illness before his death. When Charlotte died, her daughter, Alice Combs Weaver Heusser, inherited the fragments.

- 1918: Alice Heusser approached the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art with some papyri in her possession; the museum declined to accept them. Alice later dies and the papyri are inherited by her husband, Edward Heusser.
- 1947: Edward Heusser sells the papyri to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- 1966 (May): Aziz Suryal Atiya, a non-LDS distinguished professor of history at the University of Utah, discovered 11 papyri fragments in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art archives when he recognized one as the vignette known as Facsmile No. 1 from the Pearl of Great Price.
- 1967: An anonymous donation to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art made it possible for the LDS church to acquire the papyri.

The 11 papyri fragments that the LDS Church has in its possession today came from 3 separate rolls containing ancient Egyptian religious texts:

1) A Book of Breathings – A sort of abbreviated Book of the Dead, that belonged to a man named Hor the son of Usirwer.
2) A Book of the Dead – Belonging to Tshemmin, the daughter of Eschkons
3) A Book of the Dead – Belonging to a woman named Neferirnub.

Although not found among the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Prophet also owned a third Book of the Dead belonging to Amenhotep son of Tanub, and the hypocephalus (Facsimile 2), that belonged to a man named Sheshonq.

(NOTE: The picture accompanying this text is extant papyri showing the original vignette considered to be the source of Facsimile 1)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Was “Adam’s Transgression” Actually a Sin?

This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin in the strict sense, for it was something Adam and Eve had to do” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:115).

Most Latter-day Saints have either taught or heard the distinction between Adam’s partaking of the forbidden fruit as a “transgression” rather than a “sin.” We even have an Article of Faith that states that we will not be punished for “Adam’s transgression,” instead of “Adam’s sin” (AofF 2). This belief has been a longstanding point of criticism by those not of our faith who contend that failure to abide by any of God's laws inherently constitutes sin.

As explanation, the LDS typically qualify Adam’s actions as a transgression of the law and not a sin, since he had no knowledge of good or evil. It has also been explained, by some, that Adam’s actions constitute a transgression and not a sin because he was the recipient of two conflicting commandments, where one commandment would have to be broken to fulfill the other. Since he was compelled to violate one command to fulfill the other, God could hardly hold him accountable for this as a sin.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that “the use of the term transgression lays emphasis on the violation of the law or rule involved, whereas the term sin points up the wilful nature of the disobedience” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 804). In the present context, does this mean that Adam was incapable of willful disobedience in the Garden of Eden and thereby incapable of sinning? We know that Adam was specifically told not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and, presumably, he willfully disobeyed that command.

In their arsenal of attack, critics typically use the above-quoted reference by Joseph Fielding Smith in conjunction with 1 John 3:4 wherein John teaches that “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” James further distinguishes this concept when he said, “therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Does this mean that sin is only a sin when the person is aware of goodness, yet denies it? Until he partook of the fruit, according to the account in Genesis, Adam did not know the difference between good and evil (right or wrong). Therefore, James’ definition of sin apparently parallels the LDS explanation.

In the Bible, the fall of Adam is almost universally referred to as a transgression. In fact, the first time the Bible even mentions sin is in context with Cain, the first biblically attested transgression after mankind knew the difference between good and evil. In the only instance in which Adam’s action is referred to as a sin, it is concurrently referred to as an offence and a transgression:

12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.
15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

One may assume, therefore, that Paul used these terms interchangeably. This is further bolstered by Paul's reference to Judas' obvious sin as a transgression as found in Acts 1:25.

What is more, several Old Testament passages consistently refer to, on the one hand, one’s sins and, on the other hand, to their transgressions, thus illustrating a clear difference between the two. For example, Psalms 25:7 states “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions,” and Joshua 24:19 states “he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” Therefore, biblical writers consistently either used the terms interchangeably or specifically made reference to both as distinct nouns.

Critics of the Church take special issue with the LDS belief of conflicting commandments in the Garden. The one, “Be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), could be fulfilled only if Adam and Eve were mortal, since before the Fall (for whatever reason) they were incapable of having children (see Moses 5:11, 2 Ne. 2:23). Yet they were commanded not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:3), which was the only way to become mortal.

Although the eternal plan for the salvation and exaltation of God’s children required a mortal existence in a situation where there was opposition, God, being perfect, could not place Adam and Eve into such an imperfect, fallen world. They had to make that choice for themselves, or else God would have effectively limited their agency.

In any event, the key point here is that Adam and Eve knowingly disobeyed a commandment of God. Were their actions in accordance with the divine plan and, therefore, not a sin but a transgression? Or do you adhere to the strict interpretation found in 1 John 3:4?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wednesday Afternoon Poll - Is Osama bin Laden Right?

This is going into a more random topic that has come to my thoughts lately. I will try to keep it brief.

With the recent worldwide economic problems, we seem to have forgotten about the long-bearded one, Osama bin Laden. The financial crisis, however, actually makes me think more about him. For some time now, he has waged his war against the West, knowing that he will not win on the battlefield, but can win in the pocketbook. He learned this from his experience in fighting an expensive Soviet incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980's, bankrolled by the US taxpayer of course.

I am sure that at this moment, Bin Laden thinks he has us on the run. And if he were standing in front of most of our banks, he would definitely be right that if they weren't on the run, there is most likely going to be a run on them (I just came up with that in like five seconds, seriously!). This leads me to wonder more about his cause.

In 1999, before Bin Laden became the bogeyman of the American imagination, he granted an interview with ABC to discuss his grievances with the West and the recent attacks on US Embassies in East Africa. In this and other interviews he has conducted, Bin Laden has highlighted his main grievances as:

1) Foreign armies (comprised of Christians and Jews) in the land of the two Holy cities, namely Mecca and Medina. Of course he speaks of the US base in Saudi Arabia. According to a moderate Arab friend of mine, this is to a Muslim what having a Muslim army located in Temple Square would be to a Mormon.

2) Support of Israel. I don't think I need to go here, but the last incursion into Gaza didn't do Israel any public relations favors. Yes, they certainly have the right to defend themselves, but responding to rock throwing with an F-15 is not going to win you sympathy points. Let's leave this out of the comments for argument unless it is a substantive comment.

3) Exploitation and death of Muslims. By supporting corrupt regimes who brutalize their own people (i.e. Egypt, Algeria, etc.) for cheap oil, the US is attacking Muslims, or so he says. Our most recent stroll into Iraq, on faulty premises, doesn't exactly help the West's denial of these points.

So, (and I am finally getting to my point) does Osama bin Laden have a legitimate grievance. Perhaps he does. But does this excuse horrific violence of innocent people? Or is he to us what American Colonists were to George III?

See also this article from CNN about an al-Jazeera interview from 2004 where he states that he wants to bankrupt America. I guess that's not hard when we do all the work for him. Well played Osama, well played.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Impending Earth-Shattering Calamity?

I usually don’t peruse non-LDS blogs, but this one caught my attention – mainly because it was a featured article on the DrudgeReport. Apparently, David Wilkerson, a respected pastor and founder of a Christian ministry to New York City teens, has recently predicted an imminent "earth-shattering calamity" centered in New York City. He describes this in more detail on his personal blog.

Wilkerson warns that this calamity, which will be so frightening that "we are all going to tremble – even the godliest among us," will spread to major urban areas across the country and around the world – part of what he sees as a judgment from God.

"It will engulf the whole megaplex, including areas of New Jersey and Connecticut. Major cities all across America will experience riots and blazing fires – such as we saw in Watts, Los Angeles, years ago. There will be riots and fires in cities worldwide. There will be looting – including Times Square, New York City. What we are experiencing now is not a recession, not even a depression. We are under God’s wrath. In Psalm 11 it is written, 'If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?'"

While I feign to espouse Wilkerson’s thoughts completely, his words do remind me of a statement made by Wilford Woodruff who addressed a conference in Logan, Utah, on 22 August 1863. Speaking directly to the youth in attendance, he declared:

"Now, my young friends, I wish you to remember these scenes you are witnessing during the visit of President Young and his brethren. Yea, my young friends, treasure up the teachings and sayings of these prophets and apostles as precious treasure while they are living men, and do not wait until they are dead. A few days and President Young and his brethren, the prophets and apostles and Brothers Benson and Maughn, will be in the spirit world. You should never forget this visitation. You are to become men and women, fathers and mothers; yea, the day will come, after your fathers, and these prophets and apostles are dead, you will have the privilege of going into the towers of a glorious Temple built unto the name of the Most High (pointing in the direction of the bench), east of us upon the Logan bench; and while you stand in the towers of the Temple and your eyes survey this glorious valley filled with cities and villages, occupied by tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints, you will then call to mind this visitation of President Young and his company. You will say: That was in the days when Presidents Benson and Maughn presided over us; that was before New York was destroyed by an earthquake; it was before Boston was swept into the sea, by the sea heaving itself beyond its bounds; it was before Albany was destroyed by fire; yea, at that time you will remember the scenes of this day. Treasure them up and forget them not."

President Young followed and said: "What Brother Woodruff has said is revelation and will be fulfilled." (In Lundwall, Temples of the Most High, pp. 97-98.)

Elder Woodruff’s talk was based, at least in part, on D&C 84:114 which says: “Nevertheless, let the bishop go unto the city of New York, also to the city of Albany, and also to the city of Boston, and warn the people of those cities with the sound of the gospel, with a loud voice, of the desolation and utter abolishment which await them if they do reject these things.” Shortly after this revelation was received, the Prophet Joseph Smith accompanied Bishop Newel K. Whitney on a hurried journey to Albany, New York City, and Boston.

While in New York City the Prophet wrote Emma a few of his thoughts upon seeing the great city. Joseph noted the great buildings and material achievements of the city for which he said the Lord could not be displeased: "only aganst man is the anger of the Lord Kindled because they Give him not the Glory." He warned that "their iniquites shall visited upon their heads and their works shall be burned up with unquenchable fire." Joseph found repulsive the worldliness he saw beneath the surface: "nothing but the dress of the people makes them look fair and butiful all is deformity their is something in every countinance that is disagreable with few exceptions." Nevertheless, he refused to condemn these people prematurely, saying, "When I reflect upon this great city like Ninevah not desearning their right hand from their left yea more than two hundred souls my bowels is filled with compasion towards them and I am determined to lift up my voice in this City and leave the Event with God." (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, pp. 252-253)

The Prophet wrote that in 1832. I wonder what he would say about New York City today. . .

I believe we have already reached the point of impending destruction as we learned from President Woodruff: “Wickedness and abominations of every kind have increased a hundredfold within the last few years, until the whole earth is filled with murders, whoredoms, blasphemies and every crime in the Black Catalogue that was manifest in the antediluvian world or Sodom and Gomorrah . . . the heavens weep and all eternity is pained and the angels are waiting the great command to go forth and reap down the earth. This testimony I bare to all nations under heaven and I know it is true by the inspirations of the Almighty God.” (Epistle of Wilford Woodruff, Millennial Star, April 21, 1879.)

The angels spoken of by President Woodruff are the same four destroying angels seen by John in his Revelation. See Rev. 7:1.

Fifteen years later, in reference to D&C 86:5, he spoke these somber words: “God has held the angels of destruction for many years, lest they should reap down the wheat with the tares. But I want to tell you now that those angels have left the portals of heaven and they stand over this people and this nation now . . . . And from this very day shall they be poured out.” (President Wilford Woodfruff, Temple Workers Excursion Salt Lake City Tabernacle Sunday, June 24 1894.)

I would like to hear your thoughts on whether you think something (i.e., a catastrophe, pandemic, etc.) will strike our nation. If so, when do you believe this will occur? Do you believe there are things that still need to come to pass before we have our “destruction made sure”? Do you think this economic crisis has anything to do with it?