Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dishonesty by Mormon Apologists, Case #2: Michael Rhodes

One common argument that I hear from Mormons, regarding Facsimile 1 from the Book of Abraham, is that similar scenes have been found on other papyri with Abraham's name on it. In a recent debate, I asked the Mormon making such a claim to provide a reference. After weeks of waiting, I used Google to find the origin of his claim. In the article, The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus . . . Twenty Years Later, Michael Rhodes states:
Two demotic papyri discovered in Thebes in the early 1800s are of special interest...One of the papyri shows the drawing of a mummy lying on a lion couch with a figure of the god Anubis standing over it, quite similar to the scene depicted in Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham. Beneath this drawing are the words in Greek: Αβρααμ ὁ ἐπὶ . . .,” Abraham who upon . . .” (the remainder of the sentence is damaged but could be something like “the couch.”
In speculating on how the remainder of the sentence might continue, Mr. Rhodes is attempting to show independent support of Joseph Smith's claim that Abraham is the figure lying on the lion couch in Facsimile 1. Mr. Rhodes' reference is to a book called "The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation" and the pertinent parts of that book can be previewed on Google Books at the link. On page 171 of the book, you'll find the referenced lion couch scene and this paragraph referring to Abraham:
...AIDIO ORICH THAMBITO, Abraham who at ... PLANOIEGCHIBIOTH MOU ROU and the whole soul for her, NN [whom NN bore] ... the female body of her, NN [whom NN bore], I conjure by the ... [and] to inflame her, NN whom [ NN bore].
Notice that the author of the book translates the partial text to say "Abraham who at...", while Michael Rhodes claimed it translated to "Abraham who upon..." and then speculated that it could continue to say "the couch" in a blatant attempt to put Abraham on the lion couch. But perhaps both translations are valid, so let's look at the context of the paragraph. I find it very curious that Mr. Rhodes would ignore the multiple references to a female, including the mention of a female body, in order to allow for some connection to Abraham. However, it is strange that the name Abraham appears in the text, so what might explain that? On the top of page 62 of the same text, you'll find a spell for driving out "daimons", which begins by saying "Hail, God of Abraham; hail, God of Isaac; hail, God of Jacob..." A quick word search of the book reveals that the name Abraham was used frequently in spells. On page 268, a spell reads "I conjure you all by the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ..."  On page 191, another translated portion of text reads "...for I have received the power of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob..."  There are several other references to Abraham found in pages not available for preview, but the existing quotes provide a very simple explanation for the name Abraham on the papyrus. Unfortunately, Michael Rhodes didn't find it expedient to provide that explanation to his readers.
Does Rhodes' behavior make him dishonest? I believe so, but the reader can decide for himself or herself. At the very least, it demonstrates that he is willing to take evidence out of context to support his arguments. Like John Gee, Michael Rhodes' characterization of evidence is suspect and should be verified at the source.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dishonesty by Mormon Apologists, Case #1: John Gee

In my many years of debating Mormons, many of them have avoided making arguments themselves, instead resorting to simply forwarding articles from Mormon apologist sites like FARMS or FairLDS. Professor John Gee and Professor Michael Rhodes are among the most commonly referenced authors in these articles and a large number of Mormon claims rest on the veracity of these men's presentations of the evidence.  I am usually able to refute the arguments in a couple of sentences, due to the fact that their arguments tend to focus on side issues and weak evidence. In a recent debate, I took the time to verify the references that Mr. Gee used to make a case. To my surprise, I found blatant dishonesty by Mr. Gee in his representation of the evidence. When I pointed this deceit out to a Mormon opponent, he defended Mr. Gee and dismissed the blatant dishonesty. I shouldn't really be surprised, but it did motivate me to make this post in the hopes that Mormons will not simply rely on the propaganda created by Mormon apologists.
Of course, I don't expect you to take my word for it, just as I don't believe one should take Mr. Gee's word at face value. In his article, "Eyewitness, Hearsay, and Physical Evidence of the Joseph Smith Papyri", Mr. Gee warns his readers in the first couple paragraphs of the dangers of hearsay evidence. He states, "the Joseph Smith Papyri need careful treatment since discussions of the situation have generally been plagued by reliance on hearsay evidence or unwarranted thus needs to be taken to separate the eyewitness portions from the hearsay portions of any given witness's testimony." Given this warning, it is implied that Mr. Gee intends to take such care. However, a little further down, Mr. Gee discusses the "eyewitness" testimony by people that viewed the vignette contained in the Hor Book of Breathings prior to the publishing of Facsimile 1. His key witness is a Reverend Caswall, whom Mr. Gee describes as "a non-Mormon openly hostile to Joseph Smith." Mr. Gee claims that Caswall "describes JSP I as having 'that man standing by him with a drawn knife.'"  He goes on to argue that "the existence of the knife has been doubted by many because it does not conform to what other Egyptian papyri would lead us to expect, yet it has here been described by a non-Mormon eyewitness..." That eyewitness testimony, as Mr. Gee described it, would certainly be significant if it was an accurate characterization. Mr. Gee's reference to Reverend Caswall's statements comes from Reverend Caswall's book, "City of the Mormons," which is easily accessible through Google Books. On pages 22-23, Reverend Caswall very clearly attributes the statements describing the knife to a Mormon storekeeper: 
The storekeeper now proceeded to redeem his promise of obtaining for me access to the curiosities...Pointing to a figure of a man lying on a table, he said, "That is the picture of Abraham on the point of being sacrificed. That man standing by him with a drawn knife is an idolatrous priest of the Egyptians. Abraham prayed to God, who immediately unloosed his bands, and delivered him." Turning to another of the drawers, and pointing to a hieroglyphic representation, one of the Mormons said, "Mr. Smith informs us that this picture is an emblem of redemption..."
This is textbook "hearsay" evidence. Reverend Caswall makes it clear that the storekeeper provided the description about the knife and his description of the event suggests that his time with the "curiosities", of which he had no expertise, was quite brief.
So why did Mr. Gee mischaracterize Reverend Caswall's statements, especially after warning his readers of the dangers of mixing hearsay and eyewitness testimony? It is obvious that non-Mormon eyewitness testimony carries greater weight than Mormon eyewitness testimony in supporting Joseph Smith's claims about Facsimile 1. Mr. Gee couldn't find any non-Mormon eyewitnesses, so he mischaracterized Reverend Caswall's testimony to give greater weight to his arguments.
I expect most Mormons who read this to give Mr. Gee the benefit of the doubt and not attribute any dishonesty to his actions. That is certainly a normal response for loyal members of his church. I only ask that Mormons apply more scrutiny to Mr. Gee's articles and not accept them at face value.