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.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Book of Abraham Fraud Explained

I've started this blog to share my debates in public. In the past few years, I've debated countless Mormons by email and through quick back and forth comments on my YouTube videos. I find myself repeating arguments to a lot of different individuals, so my hope is that a more open debate on this blog will save me some time and spread people's awareness of the faulty claims of the Mormon faith.
Below is a slightly modified version of my next video's script. My videos up 'til now have focused individually on the three facsimiles that Joseph Smith claimed were part of the Book of Abraham. Unfortunately, most Mormons attack my arguments on each facsimile as if they were in a vacuum, ignoring the larger picture. The script below addresses the whole picture and simultaneously refutes all of the major Mormon defenses of the Book of Abraham. It is not as detailed as my Book of Abraham page on my website, but does hit the major points.

In 1835, Joseph Smith acquired a collection of Egyptian papyri from a Mr. Michael Chandler, who was touring the eastern U.S. with a mummy exhibition. After examining the papyri, Smith stated:
"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." (History of the Church, Vol 2:236)
In 1842, Joseph Smith published the Book of Abraham in serial fashion in the LDS magazine, "Times & Seasons." He included copies of 3 vignettes found among the papyri and his interpretations of them. Labeled as Facsimiles 1 through 3, Smith claimed they too were part of the Book of Abraham.
The papyri used by Joseph Smith to produce the Book of Abraham were thought to be lost until some of them were discovered in the archives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1966.
With the discovery and deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, ancient Egyptian texts can now be accurately translated by Egyptologists. They have translated the extant papyri and identified all of the remains as parts of the Egyptian funerary texts, the Book of the Dead and the Book of Breathings.
The most common Mormon response to this is to allege that the writings of Abraham and Joseph of Egypt were contained in the papyri that are now lost. They insist that without the remaining papyri, there is not enough evidence in the extant papyri to discredit Joseph Smith's translation. Another Mormon theory attempts to explain away the use of the Egyptian funerary texts in Joseph Smith's translation efforts. Known as the Semitic Adaptation theory, it posits that the Egyptian funerary texts were adopted by an ancient Jewish redactor to illustrate the Book of Abraham story. And yet another prominent Mormon theory avoids the extant papyri altogether, suggesting that the Book of Abraham must be a true ancient text based on parallels that its authors have identified with other so-called ancient texts.
While we don't have all the papyri that was at Joseph Smith's disposal, we do have enough evidence to discredit these theories and to conclude with certainty that Joseph Smith was a fraud.
Very near to the beginning of the Book of Abraham, Chapter 1, verse 12, we see a reference to Facsimile 1: "And it came to pass that the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also, as they did those virgins upon this altar; and that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record."
Clearly, Joseph Smith believed that this portion of the papyrus was the commencement of the Book of Abraham, since from here he produced Facsimile #1.

Smith described the scene as showing the attempted human sacrifice of Abraham by the idolatrous priest of Elkenah. Egyptologists, however, say that it actually depicts the resurrection of Osiris. It is similar to a wall relief in the Dendera Hathor Temple Complex in Qena, Egypt (Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The standing figure is actually the Egyptian god Anubis and the canopic jars beneath the lion-couch were used by Egyptians during the embalming process to store and protect the mummy's organs. The hieroglyphic text to the right of the scene confirms that this papyrus is a Book of Breathings text prepared for an Egyptian priest named Hor. Michael Rhodes, a Mormon Egyptologist, provides the following translation:
"[The Osiris, God’s father, ] priest of Amon-Re, king of the gods, priest of Min, who massacres his enemies, priest of Khonsu, who is powerful in Thebes. . . Hôr, justified, the son of one of like titles, master of the secrets, god’s priest..." etc. etc.
If we look on the left side of the vignette, we see the purpose of this text. Michael Rhodes translates: "Beginning of the Book of Breathings which Isis made for her brother, Osiris to cause his soul to live, to cause his body to live, to rejuvenate all his limbs again...". The context provided by this text clearly show its purpose and demonstrate that the vignette is right at home in the papyrus as an Osiris resurrection scene.
The vignette, however, is not Smith's only use of this papyrus. Facsimile 2, for which we don't have the original source, is a hypocephalus, which was placed under the heads of Egyptian mummies to guide them in the afterlife.

The original, sketched in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, had missing portions (the red areas above), which Joseph Smith filled in from the Book of Breathings papyrus and a Book of the Dead papyrus.

As Michael Rhodes points out, the text in the red portion of the hypocephalus comes from lines 2, 3, & 4 of the Book of Breathings papyrus (source of Facs 1). The depiction of Re, the Egyptian sun god, was pulled from the Book of the Dead, shown above. If Smith really did have the Book of Abraham in front of him, why would he restore the missing parts of the hypocephalus using the Book of Breathings and Book of the Dead papyri?
Smith also incorrectly provided Hebrew interpretations of the Egyptian gods depicted in the hypocephalus, making errors that most Christians would consider blasphemous. Most notably, in scene number 7, Smith referred to the ithyphallic god Min, an Egyptian god who had sex with his own mother, as our God and due to the fading over the millennia, misconstrued the snake god Nehebka to be a dove representing the Holy Spirit. We know Smith was wrong because this scene is common on many hypocephali, as shown very clearly in the Leiden Hypocephalus on the right side.

As revealing as these errors are, it is in Facsimile 3 that Smith directly contradicts the hieratic text which he claims to be translating. According to Smith, it depicts “Abraham sitting upon Pharaoh’s throne, by the politeness of the king, with a crown upon his head, representing the Priesthood...”

Egyptologists identify this scene as the presentation of the dead to the Egyptian god of the underworld and judge of the dead, Osiris. This scene is not only common in the Book of Breathings, but prevalent in Egyptian artwork on temple walls, sarcophaguses, and stele. Below is a similar scene from the Book of Breathings of Ousirour (Photo courtesy of Amberinsea) and several other examples are shown on my website.

Michael Rhodes points out that Figure 1 is Osiris, not Abraham, that figure 2 is Isis and figure 4 is Ma'at, both female goddesses and not the pharoah and a prince, as Smith claimed. Figure 5 is Hor, the Egyptian priest for whom the Book of Breathings was prepared, not a waiter named Shulem. Figure 6 is the jackal headed god Anubis, and not a slave, as Smith claimed. This is not simply a difference in interpretations; the Egyptian gods are all identified or inferred from the text above their heads, text that Smith claimed he could translate.
There is not a single reference to Abraham or Joseph of Egypt in any of the extant papyrus or even the facsimiles purported to be part of the Book of Abraham. Every piece, however, does have a proper place in the Egyptian Book of Breathings or the Book of the Dead, as one would expect given that the papyri were found among a set of Egyptian mummies.
The papyri had nothing at all to do with Abraham, as Smith clearly believed. So even if an actual Book of Abraham were among the papyri in Smith's possession, he demonstrated that he would not be able to identify or translate it. This makes the primary defense of Mormon apologists, that the Book of Abraham may have been in the now missing papyri, irrelevant.
The Semitic Adaptation theory is similarly debunked, because the facsimiles show no attempt at adoption or adaptation by a hypothetical Jewish redactor. The scene depicted in Facsimile 1 is still attached to and clearly drawn for the Book of Breathings papyrus. The scene in Facsimile 3 still has the text identifying the traditional figures of this common judgment hall of Osiris scene. Finally, Facsimile 2 is clearly a hypocephalus, which by its nature, would have nothing to do with a Jewish text, especially with the prayers to Egyptian gods still intact. Also, consider would a Jewish scribe get access to the Hor Breathing Permit, the Book of the Dead, and the hypocephalus, all of which were prepared for and buried with different Egyptian mummies. He would either have to break into the tomb, which is absurd, or have access to them before they were buried. And who would let a Jewish scribe corrupt Egyptian religious texts that were just prepared for a priest's burial? Also, what rational person would go to those lengths to avoid drawing their own vignettes?
The Mormon theory of parallelism which ignores the extant papyri altogether really demonstrates the lengths that Mormons will go to deny the obvious truth. To support their theory, the authors of parallelism draw comparisons to a fictional Islamic text from the 13th century. These same authors scoffed at the idea that ONLY half of the Book of Abraham's verses had counterparts in the Book of Genesis...only half! The significant plagiarism of Abraham's story in Genesis by Joseph Smith, however, did not prevent him from making an incredible oversight. If you read Genesis, chapters 12 through 17, you'll find that Abraham was 99 years old when God gave him that name...up until that time, he was known by the name "Abram", which includes his short time in Egypt at the age of 75 to 76 years old. Therefore, if Abraham was truly the author of the Book of Abraham, it would be called the Book of Abram and no reference to the name Abraham would be in it.
The only reasonable explanation is that Joseph Smith used the facsimiles as visual cues to fabricate the parts of the Book of Abraham story that were not already described in the Book of Genesis. He is, therefore, a fraud and a false prophet.
You may be asking yourself, how can Mormons defend Smith's status as a prophet knowing how wrong he was. Unfortunately, most Mormons are unaware of this evidence, and those that are cling to these debunked theories in order to maintain their faith, even in the face of conclusive rational arguments.
In his article, "The Joseph Smith Hypocephalus...Twenty Years Later", Michael Rhodes stated: "Nevertheless, my purpose is not to 'prove' Joseph Smith was a prophet. That knowledge can and should come only from God, not from intellectual reasoning, and each individual must find it for himself or herself."
That dismissal of intellectual reasoning is the biggest challenge in convincing Mormons of the have to first convince them that while they may ask earnestly of God for the truth in prayer, God often guides us to His truth through intellectual reasoning.