If you were given a time machine and offered a one time “do-over” in life, would you take it? Would you fly back in time and ask the hot cheerleader to prom? Would you take back something you said to a parent or a friend that you have always regretted? Would you decide to serve an LDS Mission? Would you decide not to? Is there a moment in time that you could erase or change that would make your life better today? Is there something that would make life more simple?
When I first considered my answer, I thought way back to 2014 when I read an article on the Book of Abraham in that evil Anti-Mormon Apostate newspaper. . . “The Salt Lake Tribune”. I had always thought that the Book of Abraham was a bit odd. It contains words like Kli-flos-is-es, Kolob, Kokob (yes they are different) Egyptus and Shinehah. The book of Abraham is filled with racist drivel and crazy astronomy, but for the past 50 years it had been pretty easy for me to pile it all on my “shelf” and ignore it. It was sort of like the Old Testament, scripture that had become obscure and outdated.
As a kid I had been taught the standard Book of Abraham story. In 1835, Joseph Smith bought some mummies from a traveling show. He took the papyrus that was found inside and using the Urim and Thummim he translated them into what we now know as the Book of Abraham and the three facsimiles. It is a pretty amazing story of an inspired prophet being guided by the hand of God to purchase ancient texts, translate them and release them to the world. Unfortunately, the story is all a pile to steaming manure.
I’m not an Egyptian scholar or an expert in carbon-14 dating so I won’t spend too much time trying to explain the historic or scientific reasons why the Book of Abraham is so troublesome. There are hundreds of websites that explain the issues and another hundred that argue the apologetic side. All I can express is the way it makes me feel.
The Book of Abraham introduction says:
“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.”
The Salt Lake Tribune article I read told of an essay that the LDS Church had just released. In summary the essay said: The book is not a “translation”, and they were not “written by his own hand”. It called it “inspired commentary”. Here was the church backing off much of what had been said for 180 years but in a way which spun the truth to place no fault on Joseph Smith and made no apologies.
The book’s introduction, that has still never been changed, was and is deliberately deceptive. It is a LIE.
All this got me sliding down the slippery slope to apostasy. I asked myself, “What other lies did Joseph Smith tell and where does that leave the church today? Where does that leave me, my family and my relationship to God?”
The shorts answer is I’m still trying to decide.
Reading the Salt Lake Tribune article that day left a pit in my stomach. It made me dizzy and nauseated. It was one of the most profoundly emotional moments of my life. For the first time in my life I said to myself, “The Church might not be true”. To someone who was not raised LDS that probably makes no sense. What “non-Mormons” don’t realize is that Mormons look at everything in our lives through the lens of the Church. Expressions like, “What does the Prophet say about that?”, “Have you asked your Bishop?” or “What does the Strength of Youth Pamphlet say?” are common.
I suddenly had the realization that there might be other things about “The One True Church” that I didn’t know. The typical narrative goes from Googling LDS Church, to discovering John Dehlin’s “Mormon Stories” Podcast and then Mormonthink.com and falling into the Outer Darkness trap of the Mormon Expression podcast. My story is no different. I was exposed to stories about Vilate and Helen Mar Kimball, Mountain Meadow Massacre, Jane Manning and Baseball Baptisms. I heard about Book of Mormon anachronisms, cureloms, cumoms, Marinda Hyde, Angels with swords and polyandry.
I started to think about the scientific “logic” of Noah’s Flood, the Tower of Babel, the creation story, and Ammon cutting off the arms of all those Lamanite Robbers. As I continued my “wicked” slide I started to think more about social injustices that the Church. . .and I. . .had been a part of; refusing people of African descent the blessings of holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances, fighting gay marriage, calling native Americans a cursed people and not allowing women to have any significant leadership roles in the church.
So back to my time machine. If I was offered the chance to go back in time, to not read that article on the Book of Abraham, would I?
I could go back to thinking Joseph Smith was the 2nd greatest man to ever live. I could go back to thinking church meant ward barbeques with softball games, potato salad and lemonade. I would be able to continue to think of President Monson as a man in constant communication with Jesus Christ. I would not have to worry about the reaction of my family, friends and community if I have become a “doubter”.
In John 8: 31 – 32 it says, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Does that same promise not apply to me? I was (and am) working to live by Christ’s word. I am working to truly be a disciple of Christ, so shouldn’t I be granted the gift of knowing truth? And shouldn’t that truth set me free?
I feel very strongly that I was given a gift of intelligence and wisdom. I feel like “my gut” is pretty good at distinguishing between good and evil. I have studied, read, prayed and pondered for thousands of hours. How is it that something like polygamy can strike me as so vile, deceitful and Satanic? That the manipulation of teenage girls by a man who claimed to be their prophet can make me feel so sickened? How can I accept “truth” that my own conscience screams against? I cannot!
If I could change one moment in time, I would NOT change the fact that I had read that Tribune article. I’m glad I have learned of those things that the LDS Church has carefully hidden from me. I’m glad my eyes have been opened to the hard facts about Mormonism. If I was given a time machine I wouldn’t change anything in my life.
I’ve had an amazing life, with no regrets. My life in the church has been filled with happy memories and wonderful leaders and people. I met my wife because of the Church and I have wonderful children to a great extent because of the Church and the “Mormon Culture”.
I am convinced that how I choose to move forward from today in the Church and in my life will be my greatest test. My plan is to continue to learn, grow and seek truth and see where that takes me.
It will be exciting and challenging, and I am sure that in the end I will exclaim…”Wow!! What a ride!”
I’m giving my one shot at a trip back in a time machine away to some who really needs it.
Are we sure Joseph wrote the intro to the Book of Abraham?
I’m tired of the continual misrepresentations of the Church’s statement on the Book of Abraham. The statement does indeed consider the Book of Abraham a translation:
“Joseph Smith worked on the translation of the book of Abraham during the summer and fall of 1835 [i.e., right after the initial purchase] by which time he completed at least the first chapter and part of the second chapter.16 His journal next speaks of translating the papyri in the spring of 1842, after the Saints had relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois.”
“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. 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.”
“Only a fraction.” Here is the crucial blow to arguments denigrating the Book of Abraham: We don’t have the papyri Joseph Smith used. No one believes that the portions found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art constitute the entire papyri purchased in Kirtland. There is no basis for supposing, as some critics do (or chose to do), that the whole of the translation was made from those surviving fragments. The lion’s share is simply unavailable. Gone. We don’t have what the prophet was using. Until we do, maybe we should exercise a little caution before jettisoning the whole of it. After all, we may find ourselves standing before Abraham himself one day.
The Church did NOT call the Book of Abraham an “inspired commentary.” The term “inspired commentary” appears exactly once in the article and here it is:
“Joseph’s translations took a variety of forms. Some of his translations, like that of the Book of Mormon, utilized ancient documents in his possession. Other times, his translations were not based on any known physical records. Joseph’s translation of portions of the Bible, for example, included restoration of original text, harmonization of contradictions within the Bible itself, and inspired commentary.”
Nothing to do with the Book of Abraham, but rather with the Bible.
The contention that the Church is backing away from a translation of the papyri uses this for its support:
“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.”
Note the qualifying words, “alternatively”, “this view”, and “according to this view” – none of which you ever see quoted when “this view” is trotted out by the naysayers and misrepresented as the “Church’s view.” The paragraph does qualify what might count as a translation, but it is not a position statement. It is another view put out there. The Church’s position is that the Book of Abraham is “a translation of some ancient records.” And while we’re at it, why doesn’t D&C 7 cause the heartburn the Book of Abraham seems to? Here was a revelation that was “a translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself.” Not even a pretense of an available papyrus.
Why the Book of Abraham is so bothersome to some members I just don’t get. We have a Book of Mormon based on golden plates, an angel, and a Urim and Thummim – none of which are available to us. There isn’t even any definitive archaeological confirmation. Why isn’t this story a “pile of steaming manure”? And we have the Book of Moses – what “story” allows it to pass muster, while the Book of Abraham is to be seen as a stumbling block? The Book of Abraham is based on papyri we just don’t have anymore. Joseph looked at them, sought help from God, and produced a portion of Abraham’s biography and testimony that God wanted us to have. Joseph Smith produced a large body of scripture, with help from God, that God wanted us to have.
What’s wrong with that? Is the wisdom of this fallen world that impressive?
Thank you, Fred. I couldn’t have articulated my new found frustrations and concerns any better. Thank you. My life has been a wonderful journey and looks like it will continue to be. I’m grateful for the experience I’m currently having and am growing closer to the Lord. Starting to put my faith in God rather than man. “God bless us every one”.
It’s interesting to see how different people react to the same stimuli. I’ve done a fair amount of reading about the “dark side” or “under belly” of Mormonism and remain unimpressed. Book of Abraham controversy? Um, interesting.
One of my mission presidents told us once to be careful about what we based our testimony on. If, for example, later research found that THAT grove of trees was not THE grove Joseph Smith prayed in would our testimony be shaken? (In the 40 years since he used that example I’ve always wondered….) So, to me, which grove is immaterial as are the varying accounts of the first vision. Joseph was a prophet, there was a grove, there was a vision. Next.
The fact that I can’t explain the Book of Abraham or Noah’s flood or a mother’s love for her child does not make them untrue. It simply means the things I do know, or believe, give me the assurance that the small stuff (and almost everything is small stuff) will eventually make sense.
I remember when a minister handed me documentary evidence that, despite what I’d been taught, Joseph Smith had been convicted of money digging in upstate New York. (That was probably 40 years ago next month) Come next interview time I asked my mission president (a church historian) about it. His reaction, “I wondered when that would come out. It was just discovered last year.” We discussed the time, place, and circumstance and it all made sense.
I hadn’t been lied to by teachers who didn’t know better; no one knew better. I still hear the no conviction canard today. No one is being deceitful about it because they still don’t know better and I’m not going to be pedantic about it and correct a minor point unrelated to the lesson. It’s small stuff.
I can sweat and worry and obsess over the small stuff or not. My choice.
The big stuff – Joseph was a prophet, God lives, and Christ is my Savior – matter. The rest is commentary.
Lemuel, I always assumed that the intro was the work of John Taylor, who was basically running the Times and Seasons at that point, when the Book of Abraham was published in the March 1, 1842 Times and Seasons, even though Joseph Smith was still the editor in name, until later that year.
But I see on the Joseph Smith Papers website that similar, though not identical, language is also found as a preface on the 1835 Warren Parrish/William W. Phelps manuscript copy. This copy is not the original copy, so it isn’t clear whether such language was used in the original dictation or not. It could have been, but it’s not conclusive.
The JSPP also has an interesting description of the translation process that highlights (for me anyway) the fact that it may have been closer to what we would call a “revelation” of a long-lost document than to a literal translation of the papyrus sitting there is front of him:
“After JS’s death, JS’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith retained the mummies and papyri and showed them to visitors. According to the published 1846 account of a group of visiting Quakers, she described a process similar to that of Parrish, one that paralleled some accounts regarding how the Book of Mormon was dictated: “She said, that when Joseph was reading the papyrus, he closed his eyes, and held a hat over his face, and that the revelation came to him; and where the papyrus was torn, he could read the parts that were destroyed equally as well as those that were there; and that scribes sat by him writing, as he expounded. She showed us a large book where these things were printed, which of course sealed their truth to Mormon eyes and minds; but we had not time to read them.” (Friends’ Weekly Intelligencer, 3 October 1846, 211)”
I would change my major in college if I could go back in time, then I would have a better time getting a job