This page pertains to a prior version of the CES Letter. Needs updating

Egyptologist Quotes

The author of The CES Letter fails to inform his readers that these statements were made over a century ago by scholars whose work is now considered largely obsolete and out-of-date. He also fails to inform his readers that their comments were solicited by the Episcopal cleric Franklin S. Spalding–––hardly an unbiased source when it comes to evaluating the claims of Joseph Smith. Since 1912 there has been an avalanche of scholarly writing on the Book of Abraham that far supersedes the hasty and dismissive comments made by the 1912 scholars consulted by Spalding.

For example, the actual Joseph Smith Papyri resurfaced in the late 1960s, long after the 1912 scholars expressed their views. The rediscovery of the papyri launched Book of Abraham studies far beyond anything produced in 1912. By way of comparison, relying on the comments of the 1912 scholars to disprove modern Book of Abraham scholarship is akin to relying on statements made by Isaac Newton to disprove Albert Einstein on matters of cosmology and physics.

What's more, scholars have recognized serious problems with the bias exhibited by the scholars solicited in 1912. The Egyptologist John A. Wilson (a non-Mormon), for instance, characterized the comments of the scholars quoted by The CES Letter as “several off-hand and hostile opinions” that amounted to little more than “a lot of indignant snorts.” He based this opinion on the fact that these Egyptologists did not show due diligence in their investigations. Another non-Mormon Egyptologist, Klaus Baer, lamented that the 1912 scholars quoted by The CES Letter "behaved like pompous asses with a claim to infallibility [and] restricted themselves to ill-considered snap judgments in dealing with Mormons that they never would have ventured to produce if there had been a risk of critical examination by their colleagues, evaded problems, and insisted that the layman accept their opinions without qualifications."

Hugh Nibley also took these scholars to task for their bias and in some cases lack of qualification to deal seriously with the facsimiles and the Book of Abraham. He has exposed some fatal problems with the comments made by Spalding's panel of experts:

At that time it was claimed that the pronouncements of five of the greatest scholars of all time had "completely demolished" all grounds for belief in the divine inspiration or historic authenticity of the Book of Abraham and, through it, the Book of Mormon. It turned out, however, that Bishop Franklin S. Spalding, in gathering and manipulating the necessary evidence for his determined and devious campaign, had (1) disqualified the Mormons from all participation in the discussion on the grounds that they were not professional Egyptologists; (2) sent special warnings and instructions to his experts that made it impossible for any of them to decide for Joseph Smith; (3) concealed all correspondence that did not support the verdict he desired; (4) given the learned jury to understand that the original Egyptian manuscripts were available, which they were not; (5) said that Mormons claimed them to be the unique autobiographic writings and sketching of Abraham, which they did not; (6) announced to the world that Joseph Smith was being tested on linguistic grounds alone, specifically as a translator, though none of his experts ventured to translate a single word of the documents submitted; and (7) rested his case on the "complete agreement" of the scholars, who agreed on nothing save that the Book of Abraham was a hoax.

The experts (1) did not agree among themselves at all when they spoke without collusion; (2) with the exception of James H. Breasted, they wrote only brief and contemptuous notes, though it was claimed that they had given the documents "careful consideration"; (3) they admitted that they were hasty and ill-tempered, since they at no time considered anything of Joseph Smith's worth any serious attention at all; (4) they translated nothing and produced none of the "identical" documents, which, according to them, were available in countless numbers and proved Joseph Smith's interpretations a fraud. They should have done much better than they did since they had everything their own way, being free to choose for interpretation and comment whatever was easiest and most obvious, and to pass by in complete silence the many formidable problems presented by the three facsimiles. Those Mormons who ventured a few polite and diffident questions about the consistency of the criticisms or the completeness of the evidence instantly called down upon their heads the Jovian bolts of the New York Times, accusing them of "reviling scholars and scholarship." A safer setup for the critics of Joseph Smith could not be imagined. And yet it was they and not the Mormons who insisted on calling off the whole show just when it was getting interesting. It was not a very edifying performance.

These three scholars are not alone in noticing serious problems with Spalding's 1912 treatment of the facsimiles. Kevin L. Barney has likewise noted issues with Spalding's methodology that severely undermines the value of the commentary provided by the 1912 experts:

[A]s others began to look at the pamphlet more closely, it did not take long to discover that Spalding's fairness was superficial only, a veneer of sheep's clothing covering a wolfish anti-Mormon attack. Particularly vexing was the fact that Spalding never did release the correspondence he had used to solicit the experts' opinions, and the letters of the scholars showed indications of having been prejudiced against Joseph's interpretations by coaching in the solicitation letters (as opposed to a completely blind solicitation). Spalding's failure to trust his position implicitly, which apparently induced him to poison the waters with his scholarly correspondents, was a serious mistake that undercut his credibility with his Mormon audience.

Spalding made other mistakes as well. For instance, in my view, as a forensic matter, it was a strategic error to press an inferential case against the Book of Mormon rather than focusing his effort directly on the Book of Abraham itself. A review of the literature of the controversy discloses additional strategic errors, such as the following: (1) he failed to address the hypocritical double standard of attacking Mormon scripture on the backs of agnostic scholars while simultaneously defending the Bible from the very similar attacks of the higher critics; (2) he apparently was unable to convince his panel of the importance of the inquiry, resulting in the superficial, almost flippant correspondence he received from the experts (who simply made heavily authoritarian statements with little or no analysis or recitation of evidence); (3) he failed to address the apparent contradictions among the scholars in their statements; and (4) in general, his study lacked even the most fundamental scientific rigor.

The author of The CES Letter, in selectively quoting only snippets from the 1912 scholars, and ignoring any discussion of the background of their comments or the Mormon responses, leaves out glaring problems that undermine his argument. His appeal to the 1912 scholars is thus little more than a fallacious appeal to authority.

It should be noted too in passing that the present author is aware of forthcoming work on Spalding's 1912 attack on the Book of Abraham that sheds considerable light on the background of Spalding's undertaking, and largely vindicates the reservations articulated by Nibley and Barney. Of course, it would be unfair to blame the author of The CES Letter for being unaware of this unpublished work. That is not this author's intention. Rather, readers should be aware that work on this subject considerably more rigorous than anything produced by the author of The CES Letter is forthcoming, and that they would do well to set The CES Letter's treatment aside for this forthcoming work when it appears.

 


See:

Why Did 1912 Egyptologists Disagree with Facsimile Translations?

"A New Look at the Pearl of Great Price" (Improvement Era, January 1968–May 1970), reprinted in An Approach to the Book of Abraham. (Note: the chapters "Challenge and Response" and "Conclusion: Taking Stock" deal specifically with the 1912 controversy.) 

Joseph Smith and the Sources 

Joseph Smith and the Critics

The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources

 

Additional Book of Abraham Resources:

 Top Websites:

FAIRMORMON: Book of Abraham

Questions About the Book of Abraham by Jeff Lindsay 

 

Top Essays:

“Book of Abraham,” from LDS.org Essay

“Introduction to the Book of Abraham Manuscripts” JosephSmithPapers.org Essay

“Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: A Faithful, Egyptological Point of View,” by Kerry Muhlestein

“Thoughts on the Book of Abraham” by Brian M Hauglid

A Method for Studying the Facsimiles –  by John Gee

The Apocalypse of Abraham: An Ancient Witness for the Book of Moses,” (PDF) (2010 FAIR Conference) by Jeffrey Bradshaw

The Book of Abraham: Dealing with the Critics,” (PDF) (2003 FAIR Conference) by Michael D. Rhodes

Ancient Affinities within the LDS Book of Enoch Part One, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David J. Larsen

Ancient Affinities within the LDS Book of Enoch Part Two, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David J. Larsen

Revisiting the Forgotten Voices of Weeping in Moses 7: A Comparison with Ancient Texts, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw,Jacob A. Rennaker, and David J. Larsen

The Book of Abraham and Muslim Tradition by Brian M. Hauglid

“Look unto Abraham Your Father” –  by Brian M. Hauglid

A Faint but Interesting Christian Voice from the Dust of Egypt –  by John W. Welch

A New Resource on the Book of Moses –  by Brian M. Hauglid

A Powerful New Resource for Studying the Book of Abraham –  by E. Douglas Clark

An Egyptian Context for the Sacrifice of Abraham –  by Kerry Muhlestein, John Gee

And I Saw the Stars – The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy by John Gee, William J. Hamblin, Daniel C. Peterson

Approaching Understandings in the Book of Abraham –  by Kerry Muhlestein

Astronomy and the Creation in the Book of Abraham by Michael D. Rhodes, J. Ward Moody

Cedars and Stars: Enduring Symbols of Cosmic Kingship in Abraham’s Encounter with Pharoah by E. Douglas Clark

Egyptian Society during the Twenty-sixth Dynasty by John Gee

A Note on Chiasmus in Abraham 3:22-23” by Julie M. Smith 

Enoch Translated –  by John W. Welch

Enoch Translated –  by John W. Welch

Facsimile 3 and Book of the Dead 125 by John Gee

Notes and Communications: Two Notes on Egyptian Script –  by John Gee

On Elkenah as Canaanite El –  by Kevin L. Barney

Out of the Dust: Ancient Semitic in Egyptian Pyramids? –  by Paul Y. Hoskisson, Michael D. Rhodes

Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri –  by John Gee

Telling the Story of the Joseph Smith Papyri –  by John Gee

The Book of Abraham: Ask the Right Questions and Keep On Looking –  by Larry E. Morris

The Book of Abraham: Divinely Inspired Scripture –  by Michael D. Rhodes

The Book of Breathings in Its Place –  by Kerry MuhlesteinBook Notes –

The Facsimiles and Semitic Adaptation of Existing Sources by Kevin L. Barney

The Religious and Cultural Background of Joseph Smith Papyrus I –  by Kerry Muhlestein

The Larger Issue,” (2009 FAIR Conference) by John Gee

Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel,” (PDF) (2001 FAIR Conference) by John Gee

“Encirculing Astronomy and the Egyptians: An Approach to Abraham 3” by Kerry Mulestein

“Egyptian Papyri and the Book of Abraham: Some Questions and Answers” by Kerry Mulestein

“Teaching the Book of Abraham Facsimiles” by Michael D. Rhodes

“Abraham’s Creation Drama,” [Transcript] (1999), by Hugh Nibley

“Introduction to the Egyptian Materials” JosephSmithPapers.org Essay

Jeremy Runnells and the Book of Abraham by Brian Hauglid

 

Top Podcasts:

Marginal Characters in the Book of Abraham Manuscripts. by John Gee

Mormon FAIR-Cast 62: “A Most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Book of Abraham”

Facsimile 1 of the Book of Abraham– Evidence and Insights from the DVD Most Remarkable Book

The Book of Abraham- Interview with Brian Hauglid– Fair Mormon Podcast part 1

The Book of Abraham- Interview with Brian Hauglid– Fair Mormon Podcast part 2

FAIR Conversations, Episode 7: Brian M. Hauglid p.1, Brian M. Hauglid, 0:50:15A

FAIR Conversations, Episode 8: Brian M. Hauglid p.2, Brian M. Hauglid, 0:55:52

Mormon FAIR-Cast 62: “A Most Remarkable Book”, Tyler Livingston, 0:09:59

Mormon FAIR-Cast 139: “The Book of Abraham and the Prophetic Power of Joseph Smith,” Martin Tanner, 0:19:54

Top Videos:

“Joseph Smith and Ancient Egypt,” by John Gee (25min)

“Joseph Smith and Egyptian Artifacts: Towards a Preliminary Paradigm for Evaluating Prophetic and Mundane Ideas Regarding Aspects of the Ancient World,” by Kerry Muhlestein (25min)

 “Respondent to John Gee, Kerry Mulestein, and Brian M Hauglid” by John S. Thompson (15min)

Where did the book of Abraham come from? A Most Remarkable Book

How can Jewish Scripture be Associated with Egyptian text in the Book of Abraham?

Evidence for the Book of Abraham: Most Remarkable Book

Lion Couch Scene in the Book of Abraham: Evidence of Authenticity

Council of gods in the book of Abraham: A Most Remarkable Book

The Apocalypse of Abraham: An Ancient Witness for the Book of Moses by Jeffrey Bradshaw

Abraham 1:11

Book of Abraham evidence. Facsimile 2 fig. 6

Could Joseph Smith have written the book of Abraham?

How can we know the book of Abraham is true?

Did the Church try to hide the Joseph Smith Papyrus when it was found?

Could any scripture come from Egypt? By Allen Richardson

The Missing portion of the Abraham papyrus or Lacana: Evidence of the book of Abraham

What is the book of Breathings and book of the Dead?

Biblical Characters associated with Osiris and Egyptian Gods

Did the Egyptians Know about Abraham? Evidence of the Book of Abraham

The Egyptian Endowment

Egyptology, an Evolving Field- Book of Abraham

Most Remarkable Book: Evidences of the Divine Authenticity of the book of Abraham- Bonus Features

Challenge 1: Papyri Found and It Doesn’t Relate? Book of Abraham

Challenge 2: Facsimile 1 Not About Abraham? Book of Abraham

Challenge 3: The Three Facsimile Translations Wrong? Book of Abraham

Challenge 4: Joseph Smith’s Attempt at an Egyptian Grammar. Book of Abraham

Challenge 5: Translating Without Knowing Egyptian? Book of Abraham

Challenge 6: The Joseph Smith papyri were made nearly 2,000 years after Abraham. Book of Abraham

Challenge 7: Anachronisms? Book of Abraham

Challenge 8: Evidences. Book of Abraham

Challenge 9: Other Egyptologists Opposed? Book of Abraham

Challenge 10: Main Summary: More and More Questions? Book of Abraham

Challenge 11: What value is the Book of Abraham text itself? (extra)

Challenge 12: Are Egyptologists Joining the Mormon Church Book of Abraham YouTube original

Challenge 13: Are You, Kerry Muhlestein, Qualified Book of Abraham

Challenge 14: hat About the Internet Videos That Prove You’re Wrong Book of Abraham

Authentic Ancient Names in the book of Abraham by John Tvedtnes

The Microcosmic Egyptian Temple

An Odor of Sanctity: The Egyptian Incense

The Role of Violent Rituals in the Egyptian Temple

The book of Abraham: Dealing with the critics by Dr. Michael Rhodes

Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri by John Gee

Abraham Upon the Altar: The Role of Violent Rituals in the Egyptian Temple

A Most Remarkable Book: Evidence for the Divine Authenticity of the book Abraham- DVD preview

Facsimile 3 in the book of Abraham

The Book of Abraham

pt 1, Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri

pt 2, Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri

pt 3, Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri

pt 4, Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri

pt 5, Some Puzzles from the Joseph Smith Papyri

pt 1, Facsimile 3. The book of Abraham

pt 2, Facsimile 3, The book of Abraham

pt 3, Facsimile 3, The book of Abraham

pt 1, Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel

pt 2, Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel

pt 3, Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel

pt 4, Egyptian Influence in Ancient Israel

pt 1 An Odor of Sanctity: The Egyptian Incense

pt 2 An Odor of Sanctity: The Egyptian Incense

pt 3 An Odor of Sanctity: The Egyptian Incense

pt 1, The Role of Violent Rituals in the Egyptian Temple

pt 2, The Role of Violent Rituals in the Egyptian Temple

pt 1, Book of Abraham 201

pt 2, The Book of Abraham 201

pt 3, The Book of Abraham 201

pt 3, The Role of Violent Rituals in Egyptian Temples

pt 4, The Book of Abraham 201

pt 1 Investigating the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

pt 2 Investigating the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

pt 3, Investigating the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

pt 4, Investigating The Kirtland Egyptian Papers

pt 5, Investigating the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

pt 6 Investigating the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

pt 7 Investigating the Kirtland Egyptian Papers

pt 1, rebuttal to Lost Book of Abraham, by a faithful LDS

pt 2, rebuttal to Lost Book of Abraham, by a faithful LDS

pt 3, rebuttal to Lost Book of Abraham, by a faithful LDS

“Abraham’s Creation Drama,” by Hugh Nibley (1:20min)