Saturday, March 14, 2015

Mark 1:41: Anger or Compassion? What Can We See? What Does Hope Show?


In Mark 1:40 "there came a leper" to Jesus, saying "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." According to most manuscripts, Jesus, "moved with compassion" (splanchnistheis), heals the leper (v. 41). Why does Codex Bezae say that Jesus was "moved with anger" or "angered" (orgistheis)? A few manuscripts leave out splanchnistheis (or orgistheis) entirely.

Charles C. Torrey long ago posited separate oral traditions, in Aramaic, for the story. That is to say, one Aramaic word or phrase conveyed "anger," the other, "compassion." Frederick C. Grant, writing in 1943, economically suggests for both manuscript traditions but one underlying Aramaic word, perhaps ragaz. Ragaz signifies anger but can express other powerful emotions (Frederick C. Grant, The Earliest Gospel, Chapter 5: "Was Mark Written in Aramaic?"; see also Nestle's An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the Greek New Testament (1901), 264-65. Bruce D. Metzger notes a Syriac confusable (ethraham and ethra'em, mercy v. anger) as another possible explanation for the divergent Greek tradition--a simple misunderstanding underlay the "anger."

Bart Ehrman will have none of that. He finds "completely mystifying" any explanation that posits an Aramaic Vorlage. Metzger's confusables become "merely accidental." No one knows whether the Gospels had an Aramaic Vorlage or whether Mark or his first copyists were themselves bilingual in Aramaic and Greek; yet to assert, as Ehrman does, that the Gospels belong to a wholly Greek scribal tradition is to sidestep a lot of philology.

Professor Ehrman goes on to make a case for the priority of orgistheis. The reading, he argues, fits especially Mark's portrayal of a Messiah whose personality and emotions transcend even Messianic expectations. The Jesus of Mark shows Himself paradoxical, unpredictable, iconoclastic. Never was a Prophet more startling to any generation. Putting the conundrum of Mark 1:41 to one side, I do see merit in what Ehrman says of Mark's larger message. It puts me in mind of what C.S. Lewis says of his own first encounter with the Jesus of the Gospels. Who are we to expect a Messiah that we readily comprehend? a King tailor-made? Elijah eludes us; Messiah must escape us. It will take effort to cast tradition away and come to "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."        

As might be expected in our fragile generation (we "fly to pieces like glass" at anything new, says Joseph Smith), debate over Ehrman's assertions and arguments both flourishes and rages. Mark 1:41, and the textual questions therewith associated, have now become a matter of common knowledge. The Internet sags under the critical load.

The Prophet Joseph prepared us for such startling views of a Jesus at once both emotionally charged and down-to-earth friendly. People misunderstand meekness, he taught, so I "will personify Jesus for a moment to illustrate the principle." Joseph then "cried out with a loud voice, Woe unto you, ye doctors, woe unto you, ye lawyers, woe unto you, ye scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites, etc." After the Jeremiad Joseph again "personifies" Jesus as saying "But you cannot find the place where I ever went that I found fault with their food, their drink, their house, their lodgings; no never"  (History of the Church 5:18).

The questions about the divine personality do not end with Mark 1:41, but the emotions of Jesus, as portrayed throughout the Gospels, cleanly escape our mortal imaginations--as our watery translations make clear. Speaking of Mark 1:43, in which the narrative tension still runs high, C.S. Mann notes: "The rare verb embrimaomai is a strong word, for which there is no satisfactory English equivalent." Reymond E. Brown, speaking of John 11:33, 38 and following Matthew Black and M.-E. Boismard, notes of embrimaomai (to sigh deeply within, to anger, to scold) and of tarassein (to shudder) "that these two Greek expressions are variant translations of the one original Aramaic expression which means 'to be strongly moved'" (Anchor Bible: John I: 426). The supposed Aramaic original of be "strongly moved"--and perhaps several like Aramaisms are in play in both John and Mark--may or may not be expressive of anger. The idea is a surge of sudden emotional energy the exact focus of which may not be discernible.

There clearly are several Aramaic words and phrases that may shed light on the strange Greek verbs expressive of emotional intensity in the Gospels. I see another such instance in the rare Hebrew idiom nikhmar raxamim, which I will discuss below. Yet given the absence of any surviving Aramaic or Hebrew manuscripts, as well as the difficulty of reconstructing an "original" Semitic diction and grammar for the individual units composing Mark, deciding which of the several possible idiomatic choices, if any, underlies either the divergent Greek reading of Mark 1:41 or any like places remains an open question.

Authorship of Mark's Gospel perforce required some act of cultural if not linguistic translation; whether more than one hand helped effect that translation we cannot tell. Neither do we have any means to date a supposed later scribal softening of "anger" into "compassion." In view of our ignorance, text criticism of Mark 1:41 cannot go much beyond the sort of thing that Nestle, Grant, or Metzger suggest. Should we brush aside the evidence from Aramaic and grant priority to "anger" in the textual tradition, we can ponder the implications without going into scholarly overdrive or asserting a righteous indignation.

And let's be very clear. Whether orgistheis or not, what Mark shows us of Jesus is no bland "righteous indignation," rather an emotion so dreadfully divine that the mountains melt at His presence. Mark himself is less than sure about the implications of the revelation: he believes he sees divine compassion, then "he" also claims to see anger (at least one early scribe so saw). Mark gives us but glimpses of the Divine; Jesus escapes us still.

The true question facing the reader of Mark 1:41 should not be whether Mark represents Jesus as quick to anger, but why Jesus was so painfully responsive to, even emotionally overwhelmed at, hope? I would say at suffering--but it was the hopeful to whom the Lord responded. The responsiveness that Jesus brought to bear on the hope that met Him easily overthrows any other man. Emotion at root cannot be so evenly parceled out between anger, compassion, love. One man hears the divine voice; another stops his ears at thunder. Whether orgistheis or splangchnistheis, what we meet in the Gospels is an emotional response that can only be characterized as Divine--the soul of the Son of God. No Greek participle suffices--we come to the edge of the ineffable. In other words, the anger of the Son of God both is and is not your anger; His compassion both is and is not--and never can be--your compassion. His silence is not your silence.


Emotion untranslatable to moderns often surges from Scripture. At times it overwhelms. Perhaps such scriptural outpourings come closest to reflecting the Divine.

Consider two familiar places in the Old Testament.

Genesis 43: 29 And he lifted up his eyes, and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother's son, and said, Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spake unto me? And he said, God be gracious unto thee, my son. 30 And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there.

1 Kings 3:24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other. 26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. 27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.

Each story pivots about a moment of extreme emotional intensity: "for his bowels did yearn upon his brother" (ki-nikhmeru raxamahav al axhiv); "for her bowels yearned upon her son" (ki-nikhmeru raxamehah al benah). Each story reminds us of the pure love of Jesus.

The idiom combines a rare and difficult verb k-m-r (to become black, to become hot, thus to burn black) with the noun rxm (womb, innards, bowels; raxamim, bowels, compassion). Genesis 43:30 thus tells us how Joseph's bowels blackened with intense heat, his bowels did burn. Nahum Sarna reads: "his mercies were heated up" (JPS: Commentary on Genesis); for E.A. Speiser, the literal meaning is: "to boil over with emotion" (Anchor Bible: Genesis). The Targum and Peshitta versions (both Aramaic) of Gen. 43:30 and 1 Kings 3:26 yield plenty of material paralleling the supposed Aramaic antecedent of splanchnisthies/orgistheis. The Septuagint, though also poignant, shows less color. In the Peshitta the true mother's emotions spin topsy-turvy (hpk gwl); the Septuagint speaks of a yearning in her metra. (The LXX tellingly uses a different noun in the Joseph story: ta egkata, innards.)

In both Genesis and 1 Kings the black heat within can only answer to pained yet positive emotions of deep yearning; anger doesn't fit the story line. Facing the same or similar idiom in a more complicated narrative a baffled translator might mistake a black-hot burning or a topsy-turvy emotion for an expression of anger rather than pity. But that is besides the point. Every reading becomes both riddling and translation. What the reader of Mark 1:40-45, and the like, anxiously seeks is the cultural understanding, and Genesis 43:30 and 1 Kings 3:24 do convey the constellation of emotion at its scriptural best.

Let's return to Mark's narrative.

Mark 1:40 And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

41 And Jesus, moved with compassion (or with anger), put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.

There are reasons for preferring orgistheis. Commonly held rules of interpretation favor the difficult as the best reading. Ehrman, despite the sole occurrence in the Greek textual tradition (along with some attestations in the Old Latin), is fond of pointing out that the gentling of anger into compassion meets psychological expectations; compassion heightened into anger would require unwonted energies. Besides, two verses later comes a verb expressing an intensity of emotion that defies translation: embrimesamenos from embrimaomai (groan, roar, snort within, brimo, be angry). Moments later we meet exebalen from ekbalo (He threw or drove him out).

Yet an angry reaction at the petition for mercy has never satisfied anyone. Ehrman is clear on this point: Mark means not to satisfy but to shock. His purpose is to portray "God manifest in the flesh," not to explain or to justify Him. We emerge from Mark's transforming Gospel reading and speaking "with a new tongue" (see 2 Nephi 31:14). He is, as Paul says, "manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels" (1 Timothy 3:16, the italic added).

And Jesus, his bowels yearning, or his bowels burning black with intense emotion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.

A countenance more in sorrow or in anger? For Ehrman, a single word triggers Jesus's response: "if." "If thou art willing." To question the Lord's willingness to save, not the sight of advanced leprosy, is what provokes the Healer. Might the idea find reflection in the words of Zenock?

Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son (Alma 33:16).

Bart Ehrman's view of a hotly jealous Lord strikes most readers as extreme. That's the idea but: Questioning mercy in the very request? Who can tell whether the seeker was cutting it close? I wouldn't wish to "be cut off while in the thought" (Moroni 8:14). We mustn't lose sight of the leper for the doubter or the cynic. Above all things, we long to "understand the mercies."

Jesus, groaning within, or sighing deeply, orders the blessed leper to "tell no man" but repair to the priest to fulfill the requirements of the law. He then drives him away. Given this burst of emotive verbs and solemn imperatives, the possibility for mistaking a Semitic idiom about burning within, even boiling over, with overwhelming emotion for an expression of anger fits. Its all one--forget textual priority. While the Hebrew expression certainly is not the Vorlage of any of the verbs found in Mark 1:40-45, it does form part of the cultural understanding the discerning student ought to bring to the text. Without such informed and in-gathered cultural understanding, no translation can meet its purpose. It is the compelling verbal energy rushing to meet the reader, not the particular choice of words or even translation, that matters. At the leper's approach, meek Jesus becomes the Word of God "manifest in the flesh."


Why does Jesus drive the man away? The human reaction would have been to drive a leper away, and the Law of Moses so requires it; Jesus drives away a man cleansed. In the paradox we see the humility and perfection of Jesus. He seeks no adulation, no praise from the cleansed leper; nor does He seek the fame that attends the working of wonders. As he groans within, deeply sighing, and chases the blessed away, just so does Jesus anger at adulation and praise. He drives fame and honor far from His face.

Mark catches the suddenness of the thing. The leper appears out of nowhere and vehemently pleads. Jesus, overwhelmed with a surging emotion, fervently echoes the plea--"I will"--and burning with the divine energy catches hold of the untouchable slave to disease. But the energy of mercy, the energy that then moves out to heal, cannot end with the cleansing: it tumbles into the world with a charge and a command. "See thou tell no man"; "Go." Should he tarry, the man would certainly wither in the continuing discharge of that energy. As the Targum of Genesis 43:30 shows, that energy is tightly rolled; its expression, the unfurling of waves. The Hand of Mercy also holds the sword of divine justice, turning every way. The moment of healing for this man also marks the moment of peril.

The man "full of leprosy," and therefore met by Jesus with emotional shock, was covered with compassion. Compassion, just as did Jesus' hand, "caught hold" and held him in a powerful grasp. Divine mercy also knows a letting go. Cleansed, the whole man may now face squarely the further tests of life. Just so with all mankind: released in love "from a more exalted sphere," "Thou hast placed us here on earth." Even in glorious premortality we met strivings and drivings. Release came, but the wrestle of choice continues. "I will; Be." The mask of leprosy removed, the natural man, however loved, however blessed, stood revealed before Jesus. Mercy had been fulfilled--and that was enough. There was not a moment to lose--"Dawn goes down to day"; "To day, if ye will hear his voice." When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, and the flaming sword fixed, the power to choose--"free forever"--determined the pathway.

The natural man chooses praise, adulation, fame--emotion run amok. He chooses to "publish" and to "blaze." Jesus set the man free to pursue what men pursue.


Jesus' most overpowering emotional expression is silence. Jesus cherished conversation yet He always returns to stillness. Paradoxically, it is Jesus' silence that best helps us understand His raging compassion. Why is this so? Because that silence, often countering ferocity, best exemplifies His powers of control. But all who know Jesus also see how such discipline is not reserved for the trials before worldly rulers nor for the scourge or the cross. No. A like discipline undergirded all His tears. It undergirded His anger; it knew His compassion.

Jesus stands separate.

Art may serve where translation escapes us. Mihaly Munkacsy's Christ Before Pilate portrays Jesus on trial before assembled humanity. The debate rages on, the Divinity of Jesus Christ the "Great Question" on all minds (see Alma 34:5). Though at the center of the painting, as of the debate, Jesus stands increasingly unnoticed. Captivated by argument, germane or no, few now turn their gaze toward Him; certainly none penetrates the calm divinity of His mind. None disturb His silence. Pilate absorbed, attuned only to his own inner debate, looks on Jesus with a scowl. He doesn't really see Jesus. No one does. All are distracted or abstracted. At that very moment, stands Mankind Before Jesus.

Notes (Under Construction)

"So dawn goes down to day"--Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

I enjoy reading Bart Ehrman's commentary on Mark 1:41, as now published in many places. Ehrman has introduced a whole generation to this particular textual variant and to an inkling of its Nachleben, and for this he deserves our gratitude. My own training in the principles of text criticism focused on the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Egyptian texts--not the Testament. What, then, to say?

I sense an earnestness in Ehrman's treatment of variants where detachment may be more instructive to the novice. His insistent, rarefied logic will not adduce the best reading(s) for Mark 1:41. Neither do Ehrman's broad conclusions about the Jesus of Mark logically counter or linguistically contradict notions of an Aramaic Vorlage for the Greek texts. Let's continue to ponder the studies of Metzger, Brown, and company.

The paper I'm using in preparing the present essay, also found online, is "A Leper is the Hands of an Angry Jesus."

Proctor, M.A. (dissertation), "The 'Western' Text of Mark 1:41: A Case for the Angry Jesus."

Biblical Archaeology Review [Bible History Daily],  Does the Gospel of Mark Reveal Jesus' Anger or His Compassion?"

Cate, Jeff, "The Unemotional Jesus in Manuscript 1358," The Folio, Fall 2011, ABMC, Claremont.
Cate now shows that Codex Bezae, alone of Greek manuscripts, has the variant reading. What to make of the few corresponding Latin manuscripts?


Mann, C.S. The Anchor Bible: Mark (1986), 219:

"The more difficult reading of 'indignation' can easily be understood as being changed to 'compassion,' but it would be very difficult to imagine a change from 'compassion' to 'indignation.' Mann, as have others, sees the indignation as likely expressive of "an indignation at the Satanic disorder in God's creation."

Such anger may be of-a-piece with divine compassion--thus either translation serves to make a point about Jesus' saving love and mercy.

"43 sent him away: Literally, 'drove him away.' The emotion demonstrated here perhaps arises from exhaustion after a period of healing, or perhaps (and more likely in view of Jesus' words) from a desire on Jesus' part to protect himself from a reputation as a wonder-worker.

stern warning: The rare verb embrimaomai is a strong word, for which there is no satisfactory English equivalent."

See also 3 Nephi 17:14:

And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.

The Nephite language traces back to Hebrew; at any rate, following John 11:33, 38, we can guess how the phrase "groaned within himself" best reflects the Greek. Again, "troubled" echoes John 11:33: terassein (to shudder). And consider how "I am troubled," given the context, is the sort of reading which could be mistaken by a scribe for "I am angry": "I am angry because of the wickedness of the house of Israel." Anger, trouble, and compassion often flow together.

Elder James E. Talmage, in Jesus the Christ, views the haste of dispatch as mirroring the gathering storm. Should the man not quickly--and quietly--repair to the priests, rumors of disregard for the Law might fuel the hearts of Jesus' determined opponents. Such a view of Mark 1:40-45 not only resonates with Latter-day Saint history, with its legacy of persecution, but reflects Elder Talmage's own experiences. He knew whereof he spoke.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Blessing the Family: Joseph Smith's Prophetic Priority

Joseph Smith did not shrink from the imperatives of editors. Editors of Church periodicals, having at least his tacit approval, polished sermons, letters, epistles. While latter-day readers may be grateful for the polishing, what Brother Joseph originally dictated, rough and unpolished though it be, may yet exceed in expressiveness and significance, even doctrinal import, what made it into print.

Some of the original wording--the Rough Stone--sheds light on what Elder Russell M. Nelson calls "prophetic priorities" ("Sustaining the Prophets," Conference Report, October 2014). To get at the root of such priorities requires some digging, some study, comparison, reflection, and prayer--the kind of effort we all bring to our daily study of Scripture. Because the doctrine of the eternal nature of the family, that is, the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage between a literal son and a literal daughter of Heavenly Parents, is a prophetic priority in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, we gratefully receive any words of Joseph Smith and his apostolic associates that may encourage covenantal commitment to Father's plan for families. After all: "Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us" (Elder Russell M. Nelson).

The Lord's legitimate covenant Prophet today is President Thomas S. Monson.

Consider Joseph Smith's Epistle to the Twelve in England (15 December 1840). The Times and Seasons published extracts from the Epistle for its readership, nearly the entire letter in fact, and the extracts show considerable polishing. The following words about love are among the Prophet's best known:

"Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race," Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 426; 434 n. 2; History of the Church 4:227; Times and Seasons 1 January 1841, 258.

Now consider the same paragraph as originally dictated and as likely received by the Twelve. The famous words on love now center on home and family--indeed they considerably expand both the notion of family and our covenantal obligations thereto:

"Love is one of the leading characteristics of Deity, and ou[gh]t to be manifested by those who aspire to be the Sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the world, anxious to bless the whole of the human family. This has been your feeling and caused you to forego the pleasure of home, that you might be a blessing to others, who are candidates for immortality and who were but strangers to the principals [sic] of truth and for so doing I pray that Heavens choicest blessings may rest upon you."

"The whole human race," though once considered the polished edit, seems less reflective of Brother Joseph's prophetic priorities than does "the whole of the human family," or with a touch of editing, "the whole human family." The editors found the repetition of family awkward and dull; elegant variation was the norm. Yet the second occurrence of the word brings the idea to fruition in a fine periodic sentence. So far as I am concerned, one word, family for race, may make all the difference both in time and eternity.

A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone but ranges through the world anxious to bless the whole of the human family.

A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone but ranges through the world anxious to bless the whole human family.

Think of the mind that could dictate such a sentence as that. It's vivid, balanced, memorable. Think of the heart of the man.

Here is a man charged with the active "keys of the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham" (Doctrine and Covenants 110). In framing the idea of blessing the family, the Prophet Joseph places one sentence emphasis on how that blessing, ceaseless, moves from the one--alone--to the whole, and so evokes Abraham when he was called "alone" (ahad), blessed, and commissioned to extend his family blessing to all the earth (Isaiah 51:2). Joseph's repetition of the word family, the thematic emphasis, frames the whole in One Eternal Round. But in what sense were the Twelve, newly arrived in the first overseas mission and admittedly among "strangers and foreigners" an ocean away, also administering a family blessing?

Brother Joseph today invites us, as he then invited the Twelve, to see missionary work as family work. And, significantly, he chose this same occasion to introduce the Twelve to the doctrine of baptism for the dead, that is, for our kindred dead. Temple work is family work and "the field is the world" (Matthew 13:38). Apostles of Jesus Christ today emphasize that missionary work and temple work are One Work. Why is this so? Because the Father's Eternal Family is One Family. The Book of Mormon addresses "the whole human family of Adam" (Mormon 3:20). "One Lord, one faith, one baptism"--and one family.

In our English scriptures we find an array of choices in the wording of Abraham's Covenant, from "And in thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed" to "all the families of the earth," "all the nations of the earth," "all the kindreds of the earth," and even "all generations after thee." The translators of Genesis gave us both families and nations for mishpachot; Acts 3:25 renders patriai as kindreds. Then Elias appears to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and clarifies by all generations the staggering scope, both syn- and dia-chronic, of the whole (Doctrine and Covenants 110:12). Elijah next bursts upon our view, and the whole reduces to a heartfelt reunion of parents and children (Malachi 4:5-6).

"The salvation of the whole human family is interdependent and connected--like the roots and branches of a great tree" (Elder Quentin L. Cook, cited in R. Scott Lloyd, "Roots Tech Conference: 'Our Father's Plan is about Families,'" LDS Church News, 20 February 2015, italic added). It is as though Joseph Smith "being dead, yet speaketh": "Once we have received them for ourselves and for our families, we are obligated to provide the ordinances vicariously for our kindred dead, indeed for the whole human family" (Hebrews 11:4; Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Covenants," Conference Report, April 1987). The telling phrase, the whole of the human family, or the whole human family, signals both the doctrine and also the work of the Eternal Family and appears in the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, John A. Widtsoe, and the living prophets and apostles. Wilford Woodruff, in the dedicatory prayer of the Salt Lake Temple, petitioned "that as one great family united in thee and cemented by thy power we shall together stand before thee" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 178).

We live in a time of hastening: "Behold, I will hasten my work in its time" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:73). What work? The salvation and exaltation of the family. When Latter-day Saints fully grasp the work that lies at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the momentous power of family will revolutionize the world.

Anchored at home, "we move into the future with quiet confidence" (President Boyd K. Packer, "The Reason for Our Hope," Conference Report, October 2014). At times, brim with love, we "[forgo] the pleasure of home" to bring "home to God" the whole human family (see Alma 40:11). And in so doing our journey may not take us physically farther than the FamilySearch pages on our laptop or a nearby House of the Lord. Even so, in divine discontent, in Amulek-like anxiety (Alma 13:27), we consecrate our time and energy and entertainments and, at large with love, range through time and space to bless God's Eternal Family.

And so we fulfill the works of Father Abraham, the same are the works of love, the law of grace. A famous Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 39:2) sums up the matter:

"Why did Abraham have to go forth to the world?

At home he was like a flask of myrrh with a tight-fitting lid. Only when it is open can the fragrance be scattered to the winds" (see Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 442-443).


For the Epistle to the Twelve:
Joseph Smith Papers Project Web site
Dean Jessee, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, "To the Twelve," 15 December 1840.

Richard Bushman, Dean Jessee, "Smith, Joseph: The Prophet," Encyclopedia of Mormonism: The famous quotation restored to read "of the whole human family."

Restored to read: "the human family": History: "Joseph Smith and America's Future," The Joseph Smith and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society Web site, updated 12 February 2015.

The following paragraph expresses doctrinal ideas generally understood by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though I do not intend it to be understood as a complete, official, or authoritative statement of that doctrine:

"The dispensation of the gospel of Abraham" (Doctrine and Covenants 110:12) signifies the
dispensation of the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed to Abraham, or "the dispensation of the gospel in which Abraham lived," being that measure of revelations, covenants, promises, blessings, priesthoods, keys, and privileges associated with the gospel of Jesus Christ as delivered to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 155). The messenger who brought the keys of that dispensation, with all its covenantal promises, to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery bears the name Elias, the Greek transcription of Hebrew Eliyahu or Elijah.

Why Elias? Why don't we use one name for both messengers? Because the keys of the sealing power, brought by the Elijah of 2nd Kings and Malachi, are yet greater and embrace the fulness of the Priesthood. The Abrahamic Elias is thus a First Elijah whose commission comes to a fulness with the coming of the Second Elijah. Covenantal Promise precedes Covenantal Sealing. Baptism and Confirmation show a similar gospel pairing (See Elder David A. Bednar, "Clean Hands and a Pure Heart," Conference Report, October 2007, for discussion of the "dual requirements" of the "twofold blessing").

A Prophetic Priority

"The salvation of the human family": Joseph Smith (ed.) or John Taylor, "The Temple," Times and Seasons editorial (2 May 1842), History of the Church 4:608-610.

"The Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring"; Joseph Smith (ed.) or John Taylor, "Baptism for the Dead," Times and Seasons editorial, 15 April 1842, 759; History of the Church 4: 595-596.

"The Gospel will save the whole human family"--"if": Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 39.

"Reach the whole human family": Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 291 (Discourses of Brigham Young, 389).

"God feels interested in the welfare of the whole human family": John Taylor, 9 October 1881, Journal of Discourses 22:291.

"The whole human family, from eternity to eternity": President Joseph F. Smith, Deseret News, 7 May 1883, 98, cited in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, Chapter 47.

"To be not only saviors for ourselves but measurably, saviors for the whole human family": Elder John A. Widtsoe, The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine (October 1934), 189.

As these familiar citations make clear, the phrase, the whole of the human family, expresses consistent, foundational doctrine in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Copyrighted by Val H. Sederholm, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015

Joseph Smith's Letter to Israel Daniel Rupp: By Proving Contraries? "Goe to now, and prove contrarieties"

On 5 June 1844 the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote to thank Israel Daniel Rupp, an historian of Pennsylvania counties and immigrants, who had mailed the Prophet a book: He Pasa Ekklesia [The Whole Church]An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States. Rupp had long projected a work in which sectaries all and sundry would set forth--in their own words--the various religious creeds and practices; the Prophet, with the help of W.W. Phelps, had contributed a chapter. Here is the sound and beneficial -emic approach: the raw data, free of editorial controls. As Rupp says in the preface (p. vi):

In the history, and especially in the creed of the different denominations, the unpredjudiced (sic) reader has a subject for candid investigation, and will be able to draw his own conclusion from authentic data. Though truth and error may be conmingled [sic], still the lover of free inquiry will have nothing to fear. It must be admitted, that many opinions are presented which cannot be maintained by 'Thus saith the Lord;' but as the projector has done his part in giving each sect an opportunity of telling its own story, and in its own way he thus leaves it to a liberal and discerning public.

One wonders whether the Latter-day Saints are among those whose opinions "cannot," by any stretch of the imagination--"it must be admitted"--enjoy the imprimatur of 'Thus saith the Lord'? No matter: Rupp justifies himself by "giving each sect an opportunity of telling its own story" and leaving it for the reader--"the lover of free inquiry"--"to draw his own conclusion from authentic data."

The student may benefit from reading the first sentence or two of each chapter. Joseph Smith's opening sentence takes away the breath:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was founded upon direct revelation, as the true church of God has ever been, according to the scriptures (Amos iii.vii; Acts i.ii).

Original Draft, Redaction, and Nachleben

My purpose is to set forth the plain meaning of Joseph Smith's Letter to I. Daniel Rupp. By comparing the original draft and the redactions, I will show how both editorial interference and scholarly interpretation have obscured that meaning. I also wish the reader to ponder the ease with which Joseph Smith drops references to scripture and proverb alike, abbreviated marks of navigation by which he assures Daniel Rupp of both his love of fair play and his love of truth.

Following the lead of Eugene England (a man we all knew and admired), some attribute to one proverb found in the letter--by proving contrarieties, truth is made manifest--a meaning far beyond what the context warrants. The saw surprisingly has become enshrined as a moment of epistemological profundity on the part of Joseph Smith--a summing-up of his entire experience as seeker of truth.

The claim cannot withstand scrutiny. Yet matters of documentary Nachleben can catch the imagination, so I will first give the familiar 1905 redaction of the letter as it appears in B.H. Roberts's edited History of the Church VI, 428; then, the redaction as it previously appeared in the History of Joseph SmithThe History of Joseph Smith, originally composed by official scribes as the Manuscript History of Joseph Smith, including Willard Richards's History Drafts, and later edited by George A. Smith and others, ran as a serial in both the Deseret News and The Millennial Star. Another offical running chronology, the Journal History, includes an undated clipping of the letter taken from the Deseret News and has the note: "original on file." By further comparing these two redactions, the first made under the direction of George A. Smith, the second by Roberts, with the draft made by Willard Richards and preserved in the official record of correspondence (as also noted in his History Drafts 5 June 1844--"Nauvoo (see file) Smith"), the reader will safely grasp what the Prophet is saying. (For a discussion of primary sources underlying the serialized History of Joseph Smith, see the Joseph Smith Papers Web site.)

Though much has been made of the Rupp letter by England and others, I find evidence for use of only the poor 1905 redaction. The 5 June 1844 archived draft copy will doubtless soon appear, transcribed and annotated to a perfection, in the appropriate volume of the the Joseph Smith Papers. A partial transcription may in fact be found on the Joseph Smith Papers Web site. For now, the curious may consult the digitized draft online. (For some reason or other, the letter does not appear in Dean Jessee's fine edition of the Prophet's known letters: The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.)

History of the Church, 1905

Dear Sir, He pasa Ek klesia, etc., [with ampersand] together with your note, has safely reached me, and I feel very thankful for so valuable a treasure. The design, the propriety, the wisdom of letting every sect tell its own story, and the elegant manner in which the work appears, have filled my breast with encomiums upon it, wishing you God speed.

Although all is not gold that shines, any more than every religious creed is [not] sanctioned with the so eternally sure word of prophecy, satisfying all doubt with 'Thus saith the Lord'; yet, 'by proving contraries,' truth is made manifest,' and a wise man can search out 'old paths, wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, and were exalted through obedience.

I shall be pleased to furnish further information at a proper time and render you such further service as the work and the vast extension of our Church may demand for the benefit of truth, virtue, and holiness.

Your work will be suitably noticed in our papers for your benefit.

With great respect, I have the honor to be,

Your obedient servant,


History of Joseph Smith, serialized in the Deseret News and Millennial Star, 1861, p. 736.

Wednesday, 5.
I received a book entitled "The Book of Denominations," and wrote the following acknowledgment:----"Nauvoo, Illinois, June 5th, 1844.

Dear Sir,----He pasa Ek-klesia,' etc., together with your note, has safely reached me; and I feel very thankful for so valuable a treasure. The design, the propriety, the wisdom of letting every sect tell its own story, and the elegant manner in which the work appears, have filled my breast with encomiums upon it, wishing you God speed.

Although all is not gold that shines, any more than every religious creed is sanctioned with the so eternally sure word of prophecy, satisfying all doubt with 'Thus saith the Lord;' yet, 'by proving contrarieties, truth is made manifest,' and a wise man can search out the 'old paths' wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, and were exalted through obedience.

I shall be pleased to furnish further information at a proper time, and render you such further service as the work and vast extension of our church may demand for the benefit of truth, virtue, and holiness.

Your work will be suitably noticed in our papers for your benefit.

With great respect, I have the honour to be

Your obedient servant,


Willard Richards Draft (as kept in the official record of correspondence: "Nauvoo (see file) Smith"):

Dear Sir: 'He pasa Ekklesia,' etc, together
with your note, has safely reached me; and I
feel very thankful for so valueable a treasure.
The design, [is good; = words crossed out] the propriety, the wisdom
of letting every sect tell its own story; and
the elegant manner in which the work
appears, have filled my breast with encomiums
upon it, wishing you God's speed. Although
all is not gold that shines, any more than
every religious creed is not sanctioned with
the so eternally sure word of prophesy [prophisy?] satis-
fying all doubt with "Thus saith the Lord,
yet, 'by proving contrarieties, truth is made
manifest," and a wise man can search
out the "old paths," wherein righteous men
held communion with Jehovah, and were
exalted, through [t?= crossed out] obedience, which is better than, easier than, men = [man =?]
made creeds.

First Paragraph

The original draft changes everything; I breathe a sign of relief at 'He pasa Ekklesia': goodbye, the monster 'Ek klesia.' I savor, too, the little things that never made it into print: the underlined Dear Sir. Such underlining conveys attentiveness; I can hear the Prophet's hearty voice all but demanding such notation for moments of emphasis. "Wishing you Gods speed" comes straight from Brother Joseph's heart.

Reading Paragraph Two--the long sentence

History of the Church

Although all is not gold that shines, any more than every religious creed is [not] sanctioned with the so eternally sure word of prophecy, satisfying all doubt with 'Thus saith the Lord'; yet, 'by proving contraries,' truth is made manifest,' and a wise man can search out 'old paths, wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, and were exalted through obedience.

History of Joseph Smith

Although all is not gold that shines, any more than every religious creed is sanctioned with the so eternally sure word of prophecy, satisfying all doubt with 'Thus saith the Lord;' yet, 'by proving contrarieties, truth is made manifest,' and a wise man can search out the 'old paths' wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, and were exalted through obedience.

The reader will note the differences both in placement of quotation marks--unfolds a strange punctive dance--and, particularly, in the reading of contraries as contrarieties. A contrariety is quite a different thing than a contrary.

Willard Richards Draft

Although all is not gold that shines, any more than every religious creed is not sanctioned with the so eternally sure word of prophecy satisfying all doubt with, "Thus saith the Lord," yet, 'by proving contrarieties, truth is made manifest," and a wise man can search out the "old paths," wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, and were exalted, through obedience, which is better than, easier than, man-made creeds.

I love the way the long sentence reads prior to editorial tampering. Yes, we can understand why George A. Smith deleted the underlined not in the second phrase: it's a clumsy double negative. But I love its power: not "every religious creed is not sanctioned."

Less clear is the need for eliminating the final relative clause--"which is better than, easier than, man-made creeds"--though it's a bit tricky to pin down the antecedent. The antecedent is neither "obedience" nor does it at first appear to be "old paths": "the 'old paths' wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah." The true antecedent may be found by a slight adjustment in the number of the verb found in the relative clause: "the 'old paths' wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, which are better than, easier than, man-made creeds." As we shall presently see, the wording about the "better" and the "easier" "paths" reflects what one of the old prophets calls the "good way," which leads to "rest for your souls." Try this: "the 'old paths,' with its 'good way' wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah, which ('good way') is better than, easier than, man-made creeds [the byways]." The path may climb but the soul will not wander: the ease comes from the sureness of the tried way as well as from the joy of communion. The kingly clause rounds out the periodic sentence and much recalls Minnie Hawkins' poem, "The Gate of the Year," in which God's guiding hand--communion--serves "better than light and safer than a known way."

The Prophet, in composing the letter, responds to, even quotes, Rupp's preface and, perhaps, Rupp's lost note. In other words, he responds not only in kindness but in kind. The long sentence consists of snippets of quotations serving as navigational hints: an interlocking posy of proverbs and prophets. Just as the Arab cannot open his mouth without quoting the Qu'ran, so the inheritors of Western Civilization knew no speech free of the seasoning grace of wit and Scripture. We would choke on such speech; it does not accord with our style--had we any style. We are glimpsing a semiotics, a peek into how everyday Westerners once organized their universe: how they arranged speech and, by so doing, arranged a cosmos. But it is for us, with our advanced learning and proven capacity for analysis, to decode the prophetic sentences and thence to learn to navigate the stream of the spiritually-minded generation that is no more.

Let's at least sort out when the Prophet is quoting and when he is not. Only then can we get at the germ of the idea:

Although "all is not gold that shines," any more than every religious creed is not sanctioned with the so eternally "sure word of prophecy" satisfying all doubt with, "Thus saith the Lord," yet "by proving contrarieties, truth is made manifest," and a wise man can search out the "old paths," wherein righteous men held communion with Jehovah and were exalted through obedience, which [paths and communion] is better than, easier than, man-made creeds.

The periodic sentence places emphasis on the communion and exaltation of the righteous with their God. Direct revelation from God trumps man-made creeds.

This sentence--one sentence--yields five quotations, two of which are proverbs, three Scripture. What could be more commonplace than "all is not gold that shines"? or "by proving contrarieties, truth is manifest"? The proverbs carry things along; Scripture carries the point: "Thus saith the Lord" stands for the prophetic mandate, what Peter calls "a more sure word of prophecy" (2 Peter 1:19). The proverbs bid us compare and test the coin of religion; Scripture assures us that on some money the imprimatur of God shall be found: the more sure word, the seal, of prophecy.

All this has something to do with certain "old paths," but what are they? Why does the Prophet reduce all wisdom to a pair of words surrounded by quotation marks? Wouldn't that be obscurantist? even Blakean? Not at all!

When I first saw "old paths," nothing came to mind. Not so, with our amazing 19th century countrymen: Daniel Rupp recognized the hint in a trice--he knew his Jeremiah cold:

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls (Jeremiah 6:16; Thomas S. Monson, "Ponder the Path of Thy Feet"; "Guided Safely Home" in Conference Report, October 2014).

Here we are instructed to find the more "sure word", even the "Thus saith the Lord": and this is the word of the Lord---forget the man-made creeds and ask instead for the old paths and the good way, for both iron rod and Liahona. Jeremiah communed; Joseph Smith communes. "God did not speak: He speaks!" Mormonism is not, as we now everywhere hear, 'a new religion as religions go'--aggiornamento pending. No. Mormonism walks the old paths. Here is the testimony of Joseph Smith couched in the words of Jeremiah--inspired utterance that dropped from the lips of the Prophet at the very moment of dictation--words he walked by, and by which he found rest to his soul despite the roar of opposition.

Once Joseph and Jeremiah navigate the reader onto the "old paths," the plain message of the letter stands revealed. We commune with Jehovah--Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah--and enter into our exaltation.

Proving Proving Contrarieties

We come now to the case of proving contraries, that is, proving contrarieties, and the philosophical spin first put on that crystalline phrase by Professor Eugene England. England acknowledges the Prophet's praise of Rupp "for letting each church 'tell its own story' and then putting those presentations together for comparison, because By proving contraries, truth is made manifest." So far, so good.

England leaves firm ground when he goes on to say: "For me this is a climax of tragic awareness in the man. . . Part of the Prophet Joseph's moral and spiritual heroism is focused for me in his growing insight (and willingness to risk all, including his life, on that insight) that tragic paradox lies at the heart of things and that life and salvation, truth and progress, come only through anxiously, bravely grappling with those paradoxes, both in action and in thought. In the next few days, after facing in writing the 'contrary' nature of existence, he grappled in violent action with perhaps the central human paradox, public responsibility versus private integrity--community versus individual values, and he paid with his life," Eugene England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel, ix.

Though these are wild words, that the Prophet decisively faced constant opposition is not in dispute, and the reader may profit by the questions here raised. Yet England's insights into paradox, and his adoption of Proving Contraries as motto, may prove to be less descriptive of Joseph's mind than of his own: "I have been as true to his example, as I know how as I have chosen what experiences to grapple with," ibid., ix.

Eugene England's open-ended, "philosophical" reading of the contraries has proved influential and popular, and examples abound in print and on the Internet. Some now see everything in Mormon culture and theology as exemplifying a gloriously indefinable proving of contraries. We have the supposed "contrary"--soon to be "proved" or "reconciled" or whatever--of "Mormon" and "Feminism" in an activist and disloyal "Mormon Feminism." The phrase purportedly also hastens the work in which--by dint of a blameless intellectual sorting out of contraries--the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage will be reinterpreted to draw the perfunctory applause of an old and fleeting world. Another oracle of Jeremiah comes to mind: "For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (2:13; see now Elder Quentin L. Cook, "Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage," Conference Report, October 2013).

Even more surprising is the misattribution: the saying is now without hesitation ascribed to Joseph Smith--the one "quote" everybody knows. An article on "Intellectual History" so enshrines the epistemological breakthrough: "The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that it is 'by proving contraries that truth is made manifest,'" Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

As one of two quotations introducing his thoughtful book about the Latter-day Saints, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture, Brother Terryl Givens supplies:

"By proving contraries, truth is made manifest"--Joseph Smith.

According to Brother Givens, "there was something deliberate and almost systematic about Joseph Smith's working by contraries. I have always been fascinated by Hegel's view of a tragic universe as one in which the highest Goods often come into fatal collision with each other. This view seems amply borne out in Joseph's thought" ("Reflections on People of Paradox by the Author," 28 Nov. 2007 interview of Givens by Ben Huff, "").

Again: "Yet Mormonism, a system in which Joseph Smith collapsed sacred distance to bring a whole series of opposites into radical juxtaposition, seems especially rife with paradox--or tensions that only appear to be logical contradictions," Givens, People of Paradox, xiv.

I think I know what the author is saying here. Given the oppositions framing creedal Christianity--spirit and flesh, heaven and earth, God and man--a new Christian vision in which all these (apparent!) oppositions collapse certainly shall shut the mouths of kings (see Isaiah 52:15). . . Some shutting of mouths, some shock reverberating through two millennia of scholastic enterprise, does seem prerequisite to grasping Joseph's vision. For Latter-day Saints that shock both resides and resounds in the symbolism of a trumpeting Moroni--a blast, like Gabriel's, sufficient to wake the dead!

Back to our busy little saw.

As these instances show, "proving contraries" represents, for many, either a theologoumenon or an epistemology, the conscious, and consciously mysterious, summing-up of the Prophet's life and thought. And represents is the operative verb, for it is as Symbol that the utterance works its magic. Brother Joseph was, at the last, promoting paradox; for through paradox the (perforce intellectual) Christian disciple comes to truth. Nothing of the sort.

The motto proving contrarieties smacks of truism. The phrase reduces ideas about contrariety bruited about for centuries by the philosophers and theologians: Aristotle and his Medieval commentators, Tertullian, Pascal, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Given that deep origin, proving contrarieties retains the idea of setting out the irreconcilable or, sometimes, merely an opposition; degraded into proverb, it may also connote any consideration of opposing argument. In other words, worlds separate enantiosis and probare contrarium from our proving contrarieties.

When Professor Neander (writing in 1851) tells us that Marcion tries to prove a contrariety between the Old and New Testaments, he means that Marcion, heretic, seeks to establish an irreconcilable (see Augustus Neander's History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles, vol. 2). And as we shall see, that old Scot, John Knox, foxes out the inherent ambiguity of the phrase in flat challenge to the reader whether any of God's unaccountable dealings with men can ultimately prove to be an irreconcilable.

Yet how odd to take a little snippet set in quotation marks, misread or ignore its plain contextual meaning, and make of it a governing philosophy for a Prophet who gave us whole books of new scripture. The Book of Mormon teaches that truth is made manifest by the power of the Holy Ghost to every humble soul who prays with real intent, having faith in Christ. Revelation flows to the prayerful, not to the victor in the battle of philosophical reasoning over conundrums.

Rosalynde Welch nails it: "Gene used ["the 'proving contraries' quote"] as the basis for a theory of holy dissent; Givens seems to want to use it as the basis of an organizational system for a somewhat disorganized corpus of revelation. I've never actually seen the quote in situ, and it strikes me at first reading that it could mean something quite different from what either has proposed" (from comments section in "Reflections on People of Paradox by the Author").

In light of Sister Welch's astute comment, we observe how England starts with the plain, proverbial reading of proving contraries, veers from that plainness by directly adding "or paradoxes," and ultimately changes the sense of "proving" or "testing" into something resembling a corrida de toros (i.e., the horns of a dilemma):

"And there we have, clearly stated, I believe, the heart of the tragic quest. We do indeed live in a universe where it is only by proving, or testing, contraries or paradoxes, that truth is made manifest. Fifty years earlier, William Blake, certainly another prophetic tragic quester, had said, 'Without contraries is no progression, ' and warned, 'Whoever tries to reconcile [the contraries] seeks to destroy existence,'" Dialogues with Myself.

Blake and Lehi join minds here; not Blake and the truism. England notes something of Blake in what he calls "Lehi's law": "It must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (2 Nephi 2:11); he incorrectly ascribes a truism to Joseph Smith.

Again: "Joseph Smith, also with inspired perception, wrote, in a letter just before his death, 'By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.' By 'prove' he meant not only to demonstrate logically but also to test, to struggle with and to work out in practical experience," Why the Church is as True as the Gospel, 4 ("Lehi's law," 2).

"The suffering and loss--and ultimate gain--that are made possible by testing fundamental paradoxes certainly defines the tragic events of Joseph's life," Eugene England, "Joseph Smith and the Tragic Quest," Dialogues with Myself,  10 (and p. 11).

While innocent of philosophy, I do know better than to confuse a contrariety with a paradox. A good dictionary might help us here. It's also unclear how anyone can know that for Brother Joseph prove signifies: 1) reconcile, 2) test, 3) demonstrate, 4) struggle with, 5) work out practically.

While the fundamental oppositions of which Lehi and Brigham Young speak flow clear as night and day, I can't grasp what England means by testing a paradox--does he mean it in Blake's sense of a risk-it-all quest to undo the existent? or in finding that a given paradox is none at all?--and just how well does England grasp Blake's dark saying? Neither do I see how any such testing, or reconciliation, can bring about both loss and gain. Perhaps an answer to the last may be found in the revelation about Oliver Granger, one of the least, who rises again, "when he falls" (Doctrine and Covenants 117; see President Boyd K. Packer, "The Least of These," Conference Report, October 2004).

We must not over think such things. Sunny Joseph, as his friends relate, was ever fond of saw and wit and verse. Let's see: "A stitch in time saves nine"--Joseph Smith. When Rachel Ivins demurred at a request to sing on the Sabbath, Brother Joseph joked "The better the day, the better the deed." I love the wit; he learned the saw at his parents' knees. We don't speak Scripture, parley proverb, or tattle in truism today--but here's the point: the denizens of the 19th century not only spoke in the homely way of homily, they set their course by it. What talk do we set our own course by?

That there are paradoxes in Mormonism nobody denies. Joseph Smith once put forth a little florilegium of his own proverbs and paradoxes--and these are paradoxes indeed--though he never put out the document as a revelation. And for ought I know, People of Paradox rightly titles a study of Mormon culture. Yet as nearly all readers of the Rupp letter must see and certainly have seen, "proving contraries" means nothing more nor less than "putting opposing religious opinions to the test." We take up Rupp's book, and sit down and dispassionately read. Here Joseph spells out no tragic Hegelian vision, no coincidentia oppositorum, no cabala--nor even paradox. Even so, paradox attends all lives: another truism.

At 12 Joseph wrestled with the different religious propositions as also with the individual proposition of profession versus practice--and the wrestle lasted for years--but at the last, he "had found the testimony of James to be true--that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided," Joseph Smith--History 1:26. A man might obtain Truth--Absolute Truth (cf. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "The Inexhaustible Gospel," 18 Aug. 1992, BYU Speeches, for the idea of various "orders" of independent truths).

Truth may be manifest and known through the testing, assessing, weighing, or "proving" of contrary or opposing propositions or systems of belief: "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21; prove comes from Wycliff). Professor England also latches on to this place as a theologoumenon about an never-ending work of paradox in which a contrary of "certitude" v "doubt" takes center stage. He accordingly unpacks "The paradoxical words of Paul" with fervor: "'Prove all things': consider all things; look at all possibilities; examine your inherited prejudices and evaluate again even your cherished beliefs; be open to what might be a new understanding--a new faith . . . give yourself to the possibilities that begin to prove out; live the faith that is given you in your seeking--however deeply you continue to test that faith and examine others," Dialogues with Myself, 39.

Such a rhetorically charged reading moves the reader--intellectually; yet we must never forget Paul's follow-up: "Quench not the Spirit." Though finding much to admire in Brother England's reading of Paul, I hold to a tenet of Latter-day Saint doctrine: Faith is not a matter of a never-ending round with doubt. Faith and Doubt do not coalesce in the Christian mind. If we "Quench not the Spirit," Faith Quenches Doubt. That's Paul. That's Joseph Smith: a man more simple than we know, a man whose simple faith passeth all understanding (see also Galatians 5:17 and its "contrary").

In his parting counsel to the Thessalonians, Paul is not setting forth theology. No. The finishing touch comes from the store of proverb and of scripture. Paul is quoting. That is to say, a word or two before you go: Rejoice evermore. Always give thanks. Never stop praying. Don't discount prophetic gifts [yet] Test all things, keep the good. Don't quench the Spirit's fire, etc. ("Early Christian writers thought Paul was dependent on a saying of Jesus not recorded in the NT," Abraham J. Malherbe, Anchor Bible 32B: The Letters to the Thessalonians, 333; the supposed saying reads: "be practiced money-changers"; "quench not the Spirit" matches language used of the Delphic Oracle, 335).

Authorship, Originality, and Putting Claims to the Test

"Try the spirits" pleads an essay in the Nauvoo periodical, Times and Seasons, written during the Prophet Joseph's tenure as its editor. Such pieces may or may not have been penned by Joseph Smith; others, most notably John Taylor, may have collaborated or even composed the whole. Authorship, in such cases, becomes an either/or: the doctrine was one, the editorial purpose was one--and no contrariety.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter:

The phrase about proving contrarieties was current at Nauvoo, as divers places in the Times and Seasons and Nauvoo Neighbor make clear:

1. "By proving contrarieties truth frequently appears. So with the religion of Jesus, its beauties and glories often shine, when its revilers are endeavoring to expose what they may denominate, its deformities" ("Opinion," Times and Seasons, 1 September 1842, vol.3, no. 21, p. 901).

The piece is unsigned. Joseph Smith was the editor of the journal in 1842, and pieces were often signed ed, but the authorship of even these signed contributions remains something less than clear. Did the Prophet write the little opinion piece as well as the various editorials? Did Taylor? Did they collaborate?

2. "The Infidels have advertised for a convention at New York on the 4th of May next.--All in order: men ought to prove contrarieties and bring out the truth thereby," (Times and Seasons, 15 April 1845 Vi, 7, 878, John Taylor [ed.]). John Taylor shows no concern whatsoever about giving atheism its day; absolute truth will make manifest through debate and study.

3. Again, from the Nauvoo Neighbour, 1844 (History of the Church VII, 177), speaking of the new Mormon periodical in New York City, The Prophet: "Nor should the country be less magnanimous: by comparing opinions, and proving contrarieties, truth manifests itself,"  John Taylor (ed.).

4. Times and Seasons, Sept. 2, 1844:

"In 1835 there was published in London, a 'Book of the Denominations.' This publication, of about 700 pages, contains an account of nearly sixty different sects, all serving God under various creeds, ceremonies and expectations. Truly was it said, 'when the shepherd is smitten the sheep will scatter.' To obviate the objection, however, so often made to revelations, as believed by the Latter Day Saints, we have though [sic] it advisable to make an extract from the writer's preliminary remarks. It is not all gold that shines, neither is every pile of rubbish destitute of jewels: By proving contrarieties, truth often manifests itself so clearly that he that runs may read, and he that reads may understand."

What of this Book of the Denominations? In the "preliminary remarks," we read "of the differences and contrarieties of opinion" (John Styles, The Book of the Denominations; or, the Churches and Sects of Christiandom, in the nineteenth century, "Preliminary Essay," p. 3). (Note the title, Book of the Denominations, in the redaction of the Rupp letter in the History of Joseph Smith--a clear error.) "Contrarieties of opinion"? Perhaps Styles wrote the Rupp letter.

From this last piece, as from all this accumulated evidence of John Taylor's fondness for phraseology about gold not being all that shines as well as for "proving" sectarian, even infidel, "contrarieties," we might with reason conclude that Brother Taylor also wrote the letter to Mr. Rupp. Taylor must, at very least, have contributed to the letter or, on the other hand, have been profoundly influenced by it. Still, I don't think he composed the letter--there's something of Joseph Smith in the style (or Styles!)--but I have no doubt Taylor heard the letter read.

"Proving contrarieties" was often at the tip of the tongue at the Times and Seasons--and clearly at all times and seasons--and it makes not a whit of difference whether the editor was, at one time, Joseph Smith or, at another, John Taylor--or whether both together. The Rupp letter is Joseph's, but it might as well have been Taylor's--and no contrariety here.

Here's one scenario: The book arrived by post; the question of its being advertised immediately arose; Taylor was invited to the office to hear Rupp's note read, together with a reading of Rupp's preface and of the chapter on the Latter-day Saints; whereupon, the Brethren entered into a brief discussion of the book's merits; Brother Joseph, delighted with the book, then dictated a letter to Willard Richards; Richards read the letter aloud, then edited for corrections. Joseph was off to the prairie to show land for the balance of the day (as Willard Richards's "draft notes" reveal), so the book was put into Taylor's hands in preparation for advertisement in the Neighbor. The letter may have included a phrase a two of Taylor's contribution, or perhaps culled from Rupp's note--as from his preface, At any rate, both book and note were forthwith put into Taylor's hands, for in the Nauvoo Neighbor, under date of 26 June 1844, we find the following advertisement:

"We take pleasure in announcing the above valuable work, by J.D. Rupp, as worthy an extensive patronage. It certainly exceeds all the histories extant, in point of intrinsic merit, as to the true creeds, beliefs, discipline, and multifarious modes, by which men try to serve God; even the 'Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,' speaks for itself, as organized by direct revelation. The wisdom of the work consists more especially in giving every denomination an equal chance to furnish their own 'reason for a hope hereafter,' whether the Lord hath revealed the secret according to Amos the prophet, or not. Every sect is its own witness. Such a work is actually worth its weight in gold. The author has our blessing for his success."

There you have it--in what are presumably Taylor's own words, and in quotations of his own choosing--yet not a hint of shining gold or proving contrarieties. So much for our scenario. (We do have valuable, wisdom, gold, however.) The wording of the advertisement differs entirely from that of the letter, though the general run of the ideas is the same. At any rate, without the letter in hand, or well in mind, the advertisement would not read as it does. Though the idea of Taylor as author of the Rupp letter has merit, other scenarios, including the possibility of other sources for the phrase about contrarieties, do come to mind.

The proverb mandating assessment of contrarieties was perhaps everywhere current--we'd have to read a lot of 19th century journalism to find out. Consider John Knox's "On Predestination," a very old work quite current to Americans of Joseph Smith's day, in which the verb of proving applies to contrarieties: "Goe to now, and prove contrarieties," (David Laing (ed.), The Works of John Knox, "On Predestination," V:371, and also see 370; Edinburgh, 1895, orig. pub. 1560).

In the treatise Knox compares his ministry with that of true prophets; that of his Christian adversaries with false. God allows both to thrive, but no contradiction in His will--for, after the proving, it will all redound to the blessing of His elect.

"Is there, therefore, any contrarietie in God's will? None at all. For the divers respectes and endes being considered, the same consent shall now be found in this apperent contrarietie, which hath remained from the encrease of God's church. For in all ages hath God willed his true Prophetes, with all boldness and constancie, to susteine the cause of his simple veritie, how odious that ever it was unto the world. And in their contrarie, he hath raised fals prophetes, to whom he hath given the efficacie of errors (for contrarie purposes I grant), to witt, that his people may be tried, his faithfull servantes exercised and humbled, and, finally, that such as delyte not in veritie may be given over to beleve lies. Goe to now, and prove contrarieties."

John Knox, sensitive to the various connotation of contrariety, gives the Christian reader both an arduous challenge and a fine play on words: Goe to now, and try to prove an irreconcilable contradiction in God's will (if you can) in His raising up prophets both false and true and Goe to now, and prove all prophets, hold fast to the good.

Goe to now, and prove contarieties.

Love of Fair Play

Joseph Smith's Nauvoo letters open a window onto his teachings, thoughts, and character. The letters are not preachy but businesslike and decorous--with the occasional jolt of emotion. They evince a marked politeness, demonstrate that the respondent has read and weighed the sender's letter, and smilingly conclude with an encomium of virtue and honor--the high note--no peroration but a jot of homily. A comparison of these letters ultimately becomes essential to understanding any one of them. Further insights into the Rupp letter can be gleaned by comparing it to others sent to Joel H. Walker, James A. Bennett, and so forth.

Joseph Smith dealt quickly with matters of business, and letters were hurriedly composed--a first thing to keep in mind: "and according to my custom I answer off hand," he writes to Joel H. Walker. The phrase suggests hurried dictation rather than delegated scribal composition, though we cannot tell how much was dictated, how much composed or touched up by his scribes. By "off hand," Joseph means "off the cuff," and the phrase carries nothing of the nuance it has today. The next thing that stands out is the Prophet's polite manner of including snippets from the sender's letter in his answer. The custom shows that he attends--a rare virtue--that the letter was fresh in his mind, and that he hoped, however pressed for time, to address specifics set forth in its contents.

Mr. Rupp struck the Prophet as being about as fair-minded a man as anyone could be. And in his attentive reply to Rupp, as elsewhere, we find a fundamental characteristic of Joseph Smith, perhaps the most fundamental characteristic: he responded to fair play. He celebrated the "honest in heart" and the tolerant, those willing to give him, or anyone else, a courteous hearing. Joseph Smith believed in the marketplace of ideas. He rejoices over the idea of the thoughtful reader carefully and logically working through each chapter of Rupp's -emic book, comparing sect by sect--and all to scripture. "Without compulsory means" sums up the Prophet's views on the exercise of both power and reason (see Doctrine and Covenants 121: 46).

This particular window onto character--love of fair play--may seem an old familiar view to the Saints, but if so, it bears repetition as being most valuable. Few who have heard the name of Joseph Smith would so imagine him. How could a prophet-founder also be a proponent of free, careful, and logical thought and speech? Why would a man having his own message to propound encourage all to study the doctrines and creeds of the Baptists, Presbyterians, Millerites, and a dozen others? Wouldn't that be counter-productive? Yet Joseph Smith never sought to limit inquiry or reflection.

"Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls."

The 11th Article of Faith, which duly appears in the submitted article, "Latter Day Saints," enshrines the love of tolerance and fair play: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

An Update--and Updating Rupp

1. For a current official statement about the principles enshrined in the 11th Article of Faith, see 27 January 2015, News Release, LDS Newsroom: "Mormon Leaders Call For Laws that Protect Religious Freedom." Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contributes four principles of religious freedom and tolerance.

Here are the first two:

We claim for everyone the God-given and Constitutional right to live their faith according to the dictates of their own conscience, without harming the health or safety of others.

We acknowledge that the same freedom of conscience must apply to men and women everywhere to follow the religious faith of their choice, or none at all if they so choose.

2. Nevertheless, disciples of Jesus Christ who live godly--yes, even those who play fair--will suffer persecution. "There will yet be martyrs. The doors in Carthage shall again enclose the innocent" (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "The Coming Tests and Trials and Glory," Conference Report, April 1980).

A second edition of Rupp's book (1849), entitled, A History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States, shows editorial comments, signed I.D.R. In the comments Rupp quotes from the final paragraph of Joseph Smith's letter of 5 June 1844, a quotation exactly matching the draft copy: "I shall be pleased to furnish further information, at a proper time, and render you such service as the work, and vast extension of our church may demand, for the benefit of truth, virtue, and holiness. Your work will be suitably noticed in our paper, for your benefit."

The idea of any "demand" for further information arising from the "vast extension" of the church stirred Rupp's sense of irony: "Smith never redeemed his promises." Days two and twenty parted Promises and Martyrdom. Was there fated, then, to be no Nachleben for the Rupp letter?

Rupp, despite himself, editorializes over how Joseph Smith's choice to quash the Nauvoo Expositor was both "illegal procedure" and "riot," a deed which only built on "a former [that is, longstanding] disregard to the authority of the state": "From a former disregard to the authority of the state on the part of Smith, the people of the vicinity of Nauvoo became much excited--and the question whether Smith, though esteemed a prophet by his own, should set the laws and authority of the state at defiance, became one of fearful import!" The whole thing reads like the Acts of the Apostles: Paul, rioting everywhere, turns the world upside-down. So much for fair play, but it was pretty much over for Mormonism anyhow: "This is the end of prophet Smith. The fate of his followers is reserved for the future historian" (348-349).

"Fate" marks the inevitability of doom--a bad end for all: "But there is this--a year ago our position looked forlorn, and well nigh desperate, to all eyes but our own. Today we may say aloud before an awe-struck world, 'We are still masters of our fate. We still are captain [under God] of our souls'" (House of Commons, 9 September 1941, Winston Churchill).


The ideas found in the above online essay are my own. Doubtless many have noted the same, and I would be glad to so acknowledge, but I do not wish to convey the notion that any of my essays, in any way, reflect an official statement of the teachings or practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Neither am I an employee of the Church or of any of its educational organizations.

What anyone writes on a Web page that allows for editing is not only subject to change, it is very easy to change. And I often purposely put out an unfinished symphony just to have something to have a go at later on. All of which makes of this Web page a rehearsal, a classroom, an open studio, a painting done al fresco on the plaza wall.

Source of Letter to I. Daniel Rupp in the Church History Library (a library of "vast extension" indeed):

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church History Library
MS 155: Joseph Smith collection 1827-1844
Correspondence, 1829-1844
Letters sent, 1844 June
Box 2, folder 8, pages 1-18
1 June 1844-16 June 1844
Digitized Images 5-7

See also

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Foundations of Faith: Treasures from the Historical Collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

It is Tuesday, September 2, 2014. I came to the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to look at a copy of Personal Writings of Joseph Smith.

The inside doors were closed because guests were visiting, and I was requested to return at 1:30pm.

To my surprise a new exhibit was on display, and members of the general authorities had been the visitors. The entire First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ and most of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles came to launch the exhibit. Relief Society leaders came in an hour or so later.

The Brethren seemed to be enjoying the visit, lingering about the treasures. When the doors opened about 1:40, I went to find my book. But I couldn't resist peeking at the treasures fitted into little black cases tucked up against the far wall. Drawing near to one, lights came on in a flash--treasures!

Because I was first in, I might as well jump a review of Foundations of Faith. The press comes tomorrow, and Friday marks the official opening, but I have a few thoughts of my own I wish to share.

To select from the vast archives but a very few treasures clarifies the matters of deepest import to every member of the Restored Church: the Foundations of Faith. Copies of translations of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, at the end of the exhibit, suggest how Latter-day Saints may continue to build on those firm footings.

Most lovely of all seems to me the battered 1832 record book of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Here, in bold character, written partly in Brother Joseph's own hand, we glimpse the first record of the Visitation of God--"I am the Lord of Glory"--of Moroni declaring the coming forth of new scripture, and of other heavenly messengers restoring priesthood authority. I had seen the book before. Here it is again!

Next comes a page written in the hand of Oliver Cowdery: the dictated Book of Nephi, translated from the golden plates by the "sight and power" of God.

I found printing plates for the facsimiles of the Book of Abraham. I had seen these before, along with a papyrus showing Min's Daughter tete-a-tete with a strolling snake (Oh the glory!) in a prior, untrumpeted exhibit. I saw a copy of Elder Franklin D. Richards' first edition (1851) of what he called the Pearl of Great Price. The booklet was opened to Abraham Chapter 3; facing, was a large unfolded page with the hypocephalus and its Explanation: A Fac-simile from the Book of Abraham. No. 2. Franklin Dewey Richards is my lineal ancestor, and I rejoice at his love for the translations and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In his last doctrinal discourse, June 16, 1844, Joseph Smith quoted from Abraham Chapter 3 and said he got it "by translating the papyrus now in my house."

The exhibit booklet also prominently features Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, and states:

"The Pearl of Great Price was canonized by unanimous vote at the general conference on October 10, 1880."

It continues as Scripture today.

The exhibit will last five years. After these expire, the Book of Abraham, including Joseph Smith's inspired Explanation of Facsimile 2, will still be "canonized" by The Church of Jesus Christ.

Facsimile 2 of the Book of Abraham, life-size both in plate and print as a big bold circle, stands forever as one of the Treasures of The Church of Jesus Christ. Its accompanying Explanation is inspired Translation, and is Scripture.

I am put in mind of the last book of Hugh Nibley (posthumously completed by Michael Rhodes).

One Eternal Round opens with a question: The Fatal Mistake?

"From time to time various critics of the Prophet Joseph have triumphantly announced the discovery of his most egregious blunder. All proclaim that the supreme indiscretion of Smith was the publication of three Egyptian documents, Facsimiles 1, 2, and 3 of the Book of Abraham, along with his own supposedly inspired interpretation of them. Even more daring, though attracting less attention, was the accompanying autobiography of Abraham to which the facsimiles were illustrations. And yet every one of these attempts to discredit the Prophet has struck out."

Hugh Nibley calls, one by one, the three strikes of 1860, 1912, and 1967. While much criticism, both triumphantly announced and supremely proclaimed, continues in 2014, it but repeats the previous attacks, especially that of 1967. That last attack "was supposed to deliver the fatal blow to the Book of Abraham. Instead, it opened astonishing paths of research that vindicate its authenticity," One Eternal Round, 2.

The exhibit, officially opening Friday to the public and free of cost, affirms the foundational claims of The Church of Jesus Christ. Online videos about the exhibit and the history of the Church will also be available starting Friday.

After reviewing both treasures and booklet--and I leave the visitor to discover the specifics--I come to one conclusion: the following true points of doctrine lie at the heart of the Restoration forever:

Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in 1820.

Moroni came to Joseph Smith as a messenger of restoration and further witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Divine messengers restored priesthood authority so that saving ordinances might be shared with all who have faith unto repentance through the atonement of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon is the Word of God, and many translations of this additional Testament of Jesus Christ flood the earth today

The Doctrine and Covenants contains the revelations of Christ to Joseph Smith and his prophetic successors.

Joseph and Hyrum Smith were unjustly and unlawfully persecuted and put to death for "telling the truth": bearing testimony of Jesus Christ and proclaiming His Word.

The Pearl of Great Price teaches the Father's Plan of Happiness and testifies of Jesus Christ as Creator and foreordained Redeemer of all mankind.

Abraham, Enoch, Adam, and Moses were ancient prophets who saw Jesus face-to-face. From Him they received essential and saving truths about the organization of the earth and other heavenly places in Christ as the Eternal Home of the Father's spirit sons and daughters. These prophets taught their posterity about the universal Creator and His "worlds without number."

The Book of Abraham, written in Egypt on papyrus, is true--a "correct translation" says Joseph Smith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will never back away from that eternal truth.

Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ teach and warn today as anciently (Elders Franklin D. Richards, Parley P. Pratt, and Wilford Woodruff, later President of the Church, are examples).

The Relief Society is an order or organization set up under prophetic direction and operating with
priesthood authority.

Brigham Young held the keys of the priesthood after the death of Joseph Smith, and was a prophet of God and apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

President Thomas S. Monson, prophet and apostle, holds and exercises the same priesthood keys in our day.

As Robert Frost says: "You come too."

2 September 2014
Church History Library

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I learned it by translating: Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham: Or, Just How Boring Can 'Scholarly' Condemnation Really Be? Yawn.

I  Reasoning, Learning, and Revelation
"I learned it by translating," Joseph Smith told his hearers at the Grove eleven days before his Martyrdom: "I learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house." Here we see Joseph's childlike capacity for receiving knowledge from any channel God might open for investigation and advancement. "I learned a test[imony] concerning Abraham and he reasoned concern[in]g the God of Heaven--in order to do that s[ai]d he--suppose we have two facts that supposes that anot[he]r fact may exist two men on the earth--one wiser than the other--wo[ul]d shew that an[o]t[he]r who is wiser than the wisest may exist--intelligences exist one above anot[he]r that there is no end to it." "Abra[ham] reasoned thus" (16 June 1844, Grove East of Temple, Thomas Bullock reporting, The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, 380).

Translation required of Joseph re-flection: to bend his mind to reasoning upon spiritual truth. That same pattern--"I began to reflect"--led to the First Vision of the Father and the Son. Further knowledge lay ever ahead. He must "study it out in [his] mind" (see Doctrine and Covenants 9). His mind must reach the mind of Abraham.

Abraham envisions the order and governance of the stars and, by reasoning and by revelation, perceives a like order of intelligence among the spirit sons and daughters of God. He reasons concerning the God of Heaven.

In the Book of Abraham itself, it is the Lord who reasons with Abraham in fatherly yet focused tutelage:

"Now, Abraham, these two facts exist". . . "And where these two facts exist". . ."If two things exist". . ."Now, if there be two things". . . "These two facts do exist."

Abraham 3: 16-19: "If two things exist, and there be one above another, there shall be greater things above them."

Reasoning leads to a spiral stairway of "Revelation upon Revelation" by which we ascend to a "Fulness of Light and Truth":

19 And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.

It is indeed a tutoring Lord who does the reasoning--yet Joseph saw it clearly, for the Lord requires that we reason right along with Him. Should Abraham stop reasoning, even for a moment, about the God of heaven, the vision is closed. It is Abraham's record. The Action of writing continues the lesson in reasoning; the pupil struggles to get it all down and to get it right. As the Seer, in his turn, struggles, under inspiration, to read the hieratic characters on the papyrus, the invitation to reason concerning the God of heaven now falls upon him. Then as Revelator, he turns the task over to us. Abraham may be the starting point, but God "sendeth an invitation unto all men" (Alma 5:33).

New Scripture brings new covenantal obligation.

And what have we done with the responsibility? Shall the vision close? If we will exercise our own capacity to "reason out of the scriptures" and pray to the Father in faith, we also may continue to learn truths about God's eternal order (see Acts 17:2). We may gain further light about the purposes and messages of prophets, seers, and revelators. Perhaps we, like Joseph, may learn a testimony about Abraham--and his book.

II  The Sacred Record 

So it is that in his last Sabbath sermon, Joseph claims that Abraham Chapter 3 was translated from some portion of the Egyptian papyri in his keeping. That particular portion, however, is not in our keeping, though themes appearing in the hieroglyphs on Abraham Facsimile 2 match themes found in Chapters 1 and 3. (More on Facsimile 2 below.) While I can only surmise how prophets received, wrote, or translated any of our scriptures--and scripture remains an article of faith--I don't see wiggle room here: Joseph is quoting Abraham 3:16-19. As Professor W.V. Smith concisely puts it: "Joseph Smith references the papyri as the source" (A Joseph Smith Commentary on the Book of Abraham, Book of Abraham Project Web page, 112 n. 212).

The specificity about Chapter 3 and "papyrus now in my house" calls to mind a journal entry, written in the Prophet's own hand, under date of Sunday, 20 December 1835: "Brothers Palmer and Tailor Came to see me I showed them the sacred record to their Joy and sati[s]faction [the f in satifaction likely doubles for both s and f]" (Joseph Smith Papers, Journal I: 135). The entry tells us what Joseph himself, not his scribes or associates, called at least that portion of the papyri which purported to be "The Book of Abraham, written by his own hand on papyrus": The Sacred Record. William W. Phelps, writing to his wife, calls that same portion both the "sacred record" and the "sacred writing." "From the very beginning," notes Hugh Nibley, the Saints "viewed and discussed" the hieratic Record of Abraham (a label also appearing in the journal) "as authentic scripture" (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 514). The record, said Joseph, penning a note to Sister Phelps with his own hand, reflected scriptural promises of "'hiden things of old times,' even 'treasures hid in the sand' (citing Deuteronomy 33:19)" (Nibley, Approach, 514 and n. 38).

Brother Joseph likely considered the entire Egyptian purchase sacred by virtue of its wonderful antiquity alone--a voice from the sand; he understood some of it as voicing Scripture. "I, Abraham" catches the breath away. Imagine translating that! For Hugh Nibley, the phrase sounds a trumpet blast. Sharon Keller speaks in ecstatic tones of stumbling across the wording of the Priestly Blessing of the Hebrews in hieroglyphs. I could show Professor Keller another like parallel--but "I, Abraham"!

Sharon R. Keller, "An Egyptian Analogue to the Priestly Blessing," M. Lubetski, et al. (eds), Boundaries of the Ancient Near Eastern World, 338-345; for a spell also recalling the Priestly Blessing, see The Spell for the Protection of the Face of a Newborn, V. Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808 and Its Cultural and Religious Setting, 166. 

Sacred Record signifies Scripture, and Abraham's record was to be a Scripture no less holy, no less binding, than the books collected in the Bible or in the Book of Mormon. "Indeed, how could writings of Abraham be considered anything but sacred?" (Approach, 515). By so designating the Abraham papyrus, Joseph Smith was making plain his intent to add its future translation to the bursting canon as scriptural co-equal with all that came before. The intent to finish never realized, we might expect bitterness in Brother Joseph's last sermon: Abraham lost again! The Prophet instead glories in a verse or two, as if he had just emerged from his Translating Room with the fresh news from heaven. The Latter-day Saints, even now, have hardly glimpsed the treasures of Joseph Smith's Translating Room.

III  This High Gift

No matter who does the translating, no matter the method, we're going to get "I, Abraham" from whatever portion of the papyri it was that Joseph called the sacred record. Words on papyrus remain words on papyrus. Yet when we come to visions, revelations, and doctrines, any translator other than a seer must fall short. Scripture must be transmitted even as it was once "sealed up"--"in its purity." How Joseph read, how Joseph learned, and then, how he translated cannot be grasped. The Book of Mosiah calls prophetic translation "this high gift": "And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can." "For he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date" (Mosiah 8: 13, 14, 16). Such mysteries of God, as Nephi learned, can only be revealed by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Nephi 10:17-19). Because seeric translation remains an undisclosed prophetic protocol, I cherish the counsel of Elder Quentin L. Cook: "Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed [such as] exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures, will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress. These are matters of faith" (Conference Report, April 2012).

Elder Cook's inspired counsel accords with the wisdom of Hugh Nibley:

"Latter-day Saints are constantly asking, How did Joseph Smith translate this or that? Do we still have a seer-stone? Will we ever get the Urim and Thummim back? What about the sealed parts of the plates? Do we have the original text of the Book of Abraham? Where is the Book of Joseph?--etc., etc."

"This writer views all such questions as totally irrelevant to establishing the bona fides of the Prophet. They do not even make sense as expressions of normal human curiosity, since Joseph Smith made it perfectly clear that the vital ingredient in every transmission of ancient or heavenly knowledge is always the Spirit, which places his experiences beyond the comprehension and analysis of ordinary mortals" (Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd ed., 65).

Beyond comprehension? After first looking into the Urim and Thummim, Joseph exclaimed, "I can see anything" (so Joseph Knight reports, Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith, 60). What might further use reveal beyond that "anything"? The Seer eventually came to possess what Brigham Young called "the eye of the Lord." Wilford Woodruff thus delights in recalling how Joseph Smith did not require the Urim and Thummim to translate the record of Abraham from the papyri. Joseph the seer could "see anything." The vision of the Almighty is all Urim and Thummim: "The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim" (Doctrine and Covenants 130:8).

Though Joseph Smith never discloses how the "high gift" of "sight and power" effected the translation of either the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham, the two share the element of the tangible. Different, at first blush anyhow, appear the translations of the Bible (including the Book of Moses), the Parchment of John (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 7), Sections 45 and 93 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and so on. Hugh Nibley deems these last to be translations in the best dictionary sense of translation as transmission, that is, transmissions of lost records not in the keeping of the Prophet Joseph. Prophetic translations of tangible records are also no more nor less than transmissions; the same word applies to any other translation made by any other person. Here is no stretch: Hugh Nibley's definition of translation as transmission comes from the dictionary and is denotative. Whatever we call the inspired reading, the essence of it all becomes the meeting of mind with mind--a meeting to which any reader is earnestly invited. But the transmission or meeting or reading, however mediated, always reflects the word once concretely engraved, penned, painted. Beyond the record, there were also the "hints of things" in the Prophet's mind--the transmission of ancient ideas perhaps never spoken nor recorded--ideas that belong to what the Pearl of Great Price calls "the record of heaven" (see Hugh Nibley, "Translated Correctly?," The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyrus: An Egyptian Endowment--the classic essay about Joseph Smith and translation as transmission).

IV  Records of Ancient Date

So do "all records of ancient date" have to be physically present in order to be translated? Did Mosiah require the 24 gold plates to produce the world of the Jaredites? Did his own father need to go through all the fuss of "a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it" to interpret said engravings "by the gift and power of God"? (Omni 1:20)? If Joseph Smith could translate without the Interpreters, did he need the papyri? The stela and the 24 gold plates stirred undreamt of questions; they awakened a lively sense of doom in hearts whose "lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness" (see Jacob 7:26). The Latter-day Church, also "born in tribulation" and about to be cast into the wilderness, likewise required for her escape from the dragon "ready to devour" something more than a random mummy or scrap of papyrus (see JST Revelations 12:4-5). There required a "welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children." Without some physical link, or tie, or bond to Abraham--though it demands the trial of faith to see even the translation as such--we could not be made perfect (see Doctrine and Covenants 128: 18).

Are Latter-day Saints today likewise required, by trial and faith, to acknowledge at least some of the papyri once in Joseph's keeping as Abraham's record? There is no such requirement. Faith is in the keeping of one's own heart. Faith, even by trial, need never be a bridge too far. In the spirit of Elder Cook's counsel, I affirm the simplicity of faith and doctrine in Christ.

Though Hugh Nibley always insisted that Joseph Smith did have in his keeping the "sacred record" in the form of a papyrus roll, it is precisely like questions about the requirement of physical plates or papyri for inspired translation which he found so startling for Latter-day Saints endowed with the gift of the Holy Ghost. Yet in the case of both the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, Joseph had in his keeping at very least a trace of the pertinent ancient records. Whether these were complete or fragmentary or abridged or botched in writing or lacunose (that is, in the case of the papyri), we cannot know. We do know one thing: He had plates and he had papyri (see Michael D. Rhodes, "I have a question," Ensign, July 1988, 51-53; Hugh Nibley, Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, Chapter 3).

Joseph also had a ponderous King James Bible and, for a fleeting, visionary moment, the Parchment of John--or at least the idea of such a parchment. So translation, for Joseph, ever anchors in either direct contemplation, or at least in the idea, of text. (The word idea derives from the verb for seeing--as in video.) There always had to be text, the touch or trace of the human mind; however fragmentary, lacunose, recopied, reworked, redacted, translated to death, corrupt, or otherwise humanly imperfect--or even lost--that text might have been. Text and Sight--and Power; Human Text and the Divine Word; Prophet reaching to Prophet across the distance of both man's time and the special reckoning of seers (see Doctrine and Covenants 130:4-8).

Joseph translated by, in, and through what Paul calls "the Mind of Christ." Accepting that, glibly pouring on adjectives about "conventional" or "literal" or "word-for-word" or "scholarly" translation, which do not shed light on any kind of translation whatsoever, amounts to little. The adjective supplied by either the Prophet or his scribes in the Manuscript History of the Church is correct: "a correct translation" of the "preserved" "writings of the Fathers" of which he was "in possession" (History of the Church 2:348ff = Joseph Smith Papers Web site, Manuscript History of the Church, vol. B-1, 31 December 1835). "For the records have come into my hands"--here's yet another concrete statement about records; though, in this case, the words are Abraham's, not those of his latter-day double. "The records of the fathers, even the patriarchs. . . the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands" (1:28, 31). Joseph, so translating, knew whereof Abraham spoke. "Preserved" is the word best describing the Record of Abraham in Joseph's hands. Accident or miracle, the Lord can do such things. As He told aged Abraham, He delights in the impossible, which is why prophets call him "a God of miracles."

"Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14)

V  Genuine Translation

Joseph Smith describes the title page of the Book of Mormon as "a literal translation," even "a genuine and literal translation" of the last plate in the bound record. In only one other instance does the Prophet identify the original locus of a particular chapter of scripture: his statement about translating Abraham Chapter 3 "from the papyrus now in my house." In other words, Visit my house, and I'll be glad to show you the very hieroglyphs. And note how Joseph, more or less, correlates one plate to one page. Here is no mystical, pre-decipherment "reading" of hieroglyphs as symbols, wherein each contains of itself sufficient capacity to supply many sentences of esoterica. No. Joseph, comparing the Egyptian writing on the plate to "all Hebrew writing in general," sees all hieroglyphs, formed or reformed or whatever, as a "running" script. "Running": nothing could be more clear (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 60-61).

So we do see Joseph Smith taking pains to supply the right adjectives. "The English version" "of the very last leaf" of "the original Book of Mormon" is a "genuine and literal translation" from the Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Book of Abraham aims to be "a correct translation." Further, the English version of the Book of Mormon title page "is not by any means a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man." Some Church members wonder whether Joseph Smith himself composed the Book of Abraham solely as an inspired vehicle for introducing a transcendent doctrine--a symbolic link to a symbolic rather than an historical past. Those few so supposing would describe prophetic "trans-lation" as an ingenious re-imaging or re-imagining of the ancient scriptural heritage--a justifiable theological enterprise--and, by so describing, think to save and detach inspired comment and composition from the imperatives of scholarship. It doesn't take much imagination, though, to hear the Prophet's frank response: Neither is the Book of Abraham "a modern composition, either of mine or of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation."

As for the revealed explanations of the three Book of Abraham facsimiles, these, too, are not a composition "of any other man who has lived or does live in this generation"--the imprimatur of Joseph the Seer lies powerfully upon them.

We are not talking about translation of correspondence or of state or legal documents from, say, Italian into Spanish, a labor which may seem to be conventional, or at times, perhaps, even literal. No. We are talking about translation from ancient and classical languages, what we term dead languages. For the remainder of the children of men, those whom angels, says Moroni, do not visit, translation from dead languages requires training in the use of dictionary and grammar (however fragmentary and often misleading) and ever involves the student in leaps of imagination.

Scholarly translation of dead languages thus often amounts to spectacular guesswork. The hundreds of Bible "translations" so attest. And Hugh Nibley, citing the "experts," shows how such intuitive leaps especially apply to those who work with Egyptian ("Translated Correctly?"). Yet other ancient scripts defy even decipherment. (Scholarly translation also connotes the dryasdust.)

Where the salvation of the human family is at stake, neither scholarly "translation" nor scholarly bafflement will do. The difference between all others who translate from dead languages and the Prophet Joseph is that living touch with mind, with idea, with gospel truth, which requires neither dictionary nor grammar. The God of Abraham is not the God of the dead but of the living. Joseph translated the languages of the Living, and with living tongues of fire.

Not that the merely human endeavor deserves despite. Joseph Smith studied Greek, Hebrew, and German; he also pondered and preached from Elias Hutter's old polyglot New Testament (Nuremberg, 1602): Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German. A convert had given Brother Joseph the Testament in Nauvoo, and he seemed to treasure it in the same way he treasured the papyri. He naturally tried his hand as student translator and even at emending unclear places, an irresistible game for any student of Biblical languages, and he made his mistakes as all students must. But even while wrapped in study, he sought the further inspiration of God.

Study weds faith in the journal entry of 19 January 1836: "Spent the day at school; the Lord blessed us in our studies. This day we commenced reading in our Hebrew Bibles with much success. It seems as if the Lord opens our minds in a marvelous manner to understand His word in the original language." A breathtaking prayer follows: "And my prayer is that God will speedily endow us with a knowledge of all languages and tongues" (see Joseph Smith Papers: Journal I:164). "All languages" evokes Mosiah's "all records which are of ancient date"--and beyond.

The Nauvoo discourses show several such translations, emendations, or transcendent explanations of Greek, Hebrew, and even German words and phrases. Salvation becomes a matter of heaven and hell; yet "salvation," "heaven," and "hell" bear interpretive cargoes of connotation and comment. Joseph sought to set words free. He wondered about the origin of paradise: "find the origin of Paradise--find a needle in a hay mow" (11 June 1843, Willard Richards report, The Words of Joseph Smith, 211). The word comes from the Persian (a walled garden), but Joseph didn't need to know that to translate. Knowledge of Persian, could he have attained to that grace, would have availed nothing. Translation required translation: Joseph, like Paul, knew a man who had been caught up to the spiritual world--and that rapture more than sufficed. Paradise signified "a world of spirits," not heaven, as the divines would have it.

Words like paradise and hell--and perhaps a dozen other English words in the Authorized Version--with all their accumulated signatures, were, at essence, made-up words: "a modern word," he says. They were signifiers pointing to nothing a seer might glimpse yonder. "Five minutes" scanning heaven would overthrow all dusty books, he claimed. Uninspired translators foisted such words on the language, and in the language they were destined to remain as stumbling blocks. If the Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is, then surely hell is what the ministers describe. Here is translation short-circuited, a parody of itself: cultural tradition not thought, not transmission.

To get at the true meaning of translation requires cutting new channels of thought. "You must study it out in your mind," while waiting on the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 9). We encounter Sheol, a word which the eager Hebrew student translates, well, Sheol. . . or grave or pit. "Sheol--who are you? God reveals. means a world of spirits--I don't think so says one. Go to my house I will take my lexicon" (211). We go with Joseph and look at his lexicon: "the lower world, the region of ghosts, the orcus or hades of the Hebrews" (Josiah W. Gibbs lexicon; see Journals I:107 n. 159). Note the marriage of lexicon and revelation, "by study and also by faith" (Doctrine and Covenants 88). "A world of spirits," in place of grave or pit, may not seem an earthshaking translation of Hebrew Sheol, but it opens upon a brave new world. Sheol is not hell; Paradise not heaven--both signify another place along the way to immortality and eternal life. Joseph saw Sheol, knew Sheol--and that seeric certainty, now confirmed by the lexicon, is what he translates. It remains for us to wrestle with the implications. And note how such fascination for Hebrew words of fundamental doctrinal significance, words to be grasped in their purity, matches his attention to the Hebrew words in Book of Abraham Chapter 3 and in the Explanations of the facsimiles. For Brother Joseph, even use of a lexicon should carry the seeker beyond translation by tradition--the mere dictionary entry; we look for a purer realm of language, a realm free from the splintered light show of learned commentary, a realm where signifiers point at what seers saw--then God reveals.

Many Germans congregated at the grove where he preached. But that only encouraged Joseph to translate Luther's Bible in startling new ways. He would boldly ask his German hearers to weigh-in, even on his pronunciation, and they would respond.

Joseph never claimed to speak German, though he daringly read from the Hutter polyglot before thousands; neither did he fuss over the possibility of contradiction from some crotchety grammarian. There is some fun in it all--yet, without hesitation, he shared his surmisings about this or that verse. He is clear, when so discoursing, about the two-step act of prophetic translation; even when the second, spiritual step, interwoven as it is with sessions of prayerful thought, can neither be reached nor replicated, unless his listeners also work by faith.

The method remains mysterious, as mysterious as thought itself, though the result of such translation recalls the lost-wax technique of casting precious metal objects. We are left with the treasured wonder alone, a substantial idea that can be weighed, tested, admired. The Prophet simply could not rest with the fragmentary knowledge and imaginary flights of scholarship; he always sought greater light and knowledge; worked at it until he got it; then freely shared his revelations and translations with a spiritually thirsting world (see Neal A. Maxwell, "How Choice a Seer," October Conference 2003; For the Hutter polyglot, see ).

VI  By revelation or translation, as the case may be

Just so nonsensical as the revolving door of adjectival qualification appears the oft-celebrated but never elucidated idea of an object, say, some mummy or random papyrus roll, serving as a "catalyst" to revelation or translation. Oliver Cowdery, writing in 1835 to a newsy innkeeper in Gilead, Illinois, already dismissed the idea (The Messenger and Advocate, December 1835, p.237): "Though the Mummies themselves are a curiosity, and an astonishment, and well calculated to arouse the mind to a reflection of past ages. . .yet I do not consider them of much value compared with those records which were deposited with them." In other words, with all due respect to Howard Carter's "wonderful things," Abraham came along as a sweeping surprise! The records, says Joseph, "have fallen into our hands"--accident or miracle--and, astonishingly, "purport to be the writings of Abraham, while in Egypt." The word purport, as every reader notes, clarifies the relation of papyrus to Abraham: something penned on the papyri, and understood by Joseph Smith, is making a claim. Claim and papyrus and translation are one in Joseph's hands.

The Prophet did not need to contemplate costly papyrus to evoke Abraham and Joseph. Already in 1831 he had revealed a book of Abraham, complete with remarkable textual expansions on, and emendations of, Genesis. These expansions also included an elaborate prophecy attributed to Joseph in Egypt and showing striking variants with the same document as previously translated from the Book of Nephi. By 1835 there were already wheels within wheels.

This fresh Genesis Abraham forms part of his New Translation of the King James Bible from the King James Bible. But do such changes to the Genesis narrative also prove the Bible to have served as some sort of metaphorical "catalyst?" Small changes in Biblical wording aside, I think we need to say: his New Translation of prior gospel dispensations from concrete records lost to view. The language of the Translation more or less recalls the English of the Authorized Version, but the remove of the New Reading from the Old makes up a mighty span. The Old Bible alone could never bridge that gap.

Joseph translated with a clear idea or two in mind: 1) the English Bible is often obscure and even obscurantist; 2) the Bible does not contain all the prophetic word necessary for our salvation. Beyond the tangles of transmission, translation, and archaic English, there were precious writings lost. Nephi lays out the matter in great plainness. God always stands ready to reveal more Scripture to generations who treasure up His word. And though Joseph in Egypt prophesied the restoration of much of God's word, he never said to expect plate-bearing angels at every turn (2 Nephi 3).

While Hugh Nibley insists on Joseph translating from tangible plates and papyri, no matter how he did it and no matter whether he--"taking flight"--saw and translated beyond the extant records, the "true meaning" of translation accords with Joseph's role as transmitter. Joseph Smith brings the words of truth, temporally and spatially scattered throughout all nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples, back again. (He also "brought the Priesthood back again.") The missing records, found on various media and written in various tongues, were all once as tangible as the plates and papyri, but through the miraculous transmission we have them in English alone. For that matter, with the sole exception of one Egyptian vignette, the facsimiles of two other vignettes, and a transcription or two of a few reformed Egyptian characters--all traces of the genuine article--we have Mormon and Abraham in English alone. As Nibley puts it: The Book of Mormon is the only ancient text written in a modern language. The Book of Abraham then must be the only hieratic text composed in English. Even so, an Egyptian idiom peppers it. (See Message of the Papyri, Chapter 3: "Translated Correctly?")

Joseph Smith's lifelong study of scripture repeatedly opened the windows of heaven--from 1820 on. When young Joseph read James 1:5, the Holy Ghost, prompting, impressed upon him the desire to pray for wisdom, but shall we label the Epistle of James the catalyst of the Restoration? Is the King James Bible properly the catalyst of, or ready and sufficient inspiration for, the New Translation's sweeping views of Adam, Noah, Enoch, Moses, and Abraham?

A catalyst, you will recall, "is a substance that alters the rate of reaction with other chemicals, but does not itself undergo any permanent change." Joseph changed the Bible. Though "widely used in metaphor to suggest any agent of change," catalyst lends itself to misuse, which prompts a new style guide to warn: "Beware this weasel word" (The Wordsworth Dictionary of Modern English Grammar, Syntax and Style for the 21st Century). Fancy words replace the need for thought.

Two are the restored books of Abraham; two, the modes of translation; yes, but where and how exactly does the catalyst come into play in either case? The notion of either printed Bible or penned papyri as catalyst dissolves into thin air. Catalyst assumes its pride of place among "Words owing their vogue to the joy of showing one has acquired them" (Fowler, "Vogue Words," q.v.). When it comes to papyri and Abraham that joy simply exceeds all bounds. Why? One word, evoked as if by magic, solves all--in catalytic flash--rendering further thought unnecessary. Another "joy": "pure revelation" (as opposed to what?) also fails to hit the mark. Let's arrive at an axiom: Prophetic translation belongs to that class of things we "cannot understand" (see Jacob 4:14). We desire things we cannot understand and, in "the solemnity of science," concoct words to "process" ideas rather than to ex-plain them (Follett, "Scientism," q.v.). We need a plain word: the sacred record does not catalyze; it prompts, hints, suggests, awes, inspires.

Even in the New Translation of the Bible, the Prophet worked from text seen and from (the idea of) text unseen. Had he then known Hebrew, had a critical text of the Hebrew Bible or anything even remotely like an Urtext or Laban's Brass Plates been available to him, he certainly would have worked with the better texts. The English Bible was not just a symbol of the prophetic past; it was his only available avenue to it at the time. No wonder he so treasured the gift of the Polyglot: it gave him wings! He came to prefer Luther's Testament to the Authorized Version. As for Abraham, a scribal copy of his own writings on papyrus happened to be extant; then available, sold, bought, and read--even "by revelation or translation, as the case may be," as Elder Bruce R. McConkie puts it with plainness. And there we can let it rest.

VII  Treasure in the Field

There is a law of efficiency. We must ask why Joseph, inefficiently, "encouraged some of the Kirtland Saints to purchase four mummies and the papyri for $2,400, a large sum when money was desperately needed for other projects" (Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith, 186). Couldn't the catalyst have quickened things up? inspiration struck? Might not even a fleeting aroma of papyrus and mummy wake the Patriarchal Age? Couldn't an angel have brought the rolls, perhaps Abraham himself, rather than the shadowy showman, Chandler? A righteous man from Abraham's day visited the Kirtland Temple just months later; he could have brought Abraham's record, when he restored Abraham's priesthood keys. Or, could not a visionary glimpse of a concrete but lost autobiography of Abraham serve the prophetic sight so well as purchased papyri? Yes, and yes--but no. We mustn't miss the point. The papyri signified: like the plates, they came as link and sign.

Joseph purchased the costly rolls and mummies solely because some bold writing on the rolls, even a specific title which he claimed to understand, purported to contain the writings of Abraham while in Egypt: The Book of Abraham Written by His Own Hand upon Papyrus. That's the ancient title as worded in the ancient idiom, says Hugh Nibley. And he with the "high gift" read that title and--"for joy"--went out and raised $2,400.

VIII  The Records Have Fallen into Our Hands: Now What?

Why was a surviving physical instance, in plates or papyri, of the ancient word requisite for some of our scriptures and not for others? Gold plates attest to the reality of a lost and fallen people. There is a pattern: the 24 gold plates left in plain sight by Ether attest the Jaredite fall. The records, solid and surviving, vividly link us to wipe outs, past dispensations, and the prophets of Christ. And vitally, for the affirming of a new dispensation, the plates also served as the objective evidence to the 11 men permitted to stand as Book of Mormon witnesses.

As for the papyri, Joseph Smith, in good faith, put them on public display in both Kirtland and Nauvoo. All were invited to examine the papyri and to find out for themselves what the hieroglyphs and figures conveyed. Hugh Nibley makes much of the matter of the open display and forthright invitation. If Brother Joseph had lived to see the closing decades of the 19th Century, many of the learned men of the times would have had the opportunity to see the collection, discuss it with the Mormon Prophet, and chime in on its significance.

The papyri proclaim to the world that Joseph Smith had 1) nothing to hide, 2) was willing to have his ideas and translations weighed in the balance of the learned, and 3) welcomed the participation of the learned in the open-ended quest for further light. He knew that Ancient Egypt was now open to the modern view. Though never describing or disclosing his method, Joseph Smith also never hesitated to publish his readings to a world agape. He never feared the test. Nothing about the Prophet's publication of the Book of Abraham shows contempt for scholarly method or for the 19th Century discovery of Ancient Egypt. He played fair--and the papyri so attest.

Some fuss over the lack of reference to Abraham in the extant Joseph Smith papyri, including the three facsimiles of Egyptian vignettes. Though descriptions of the roll containing Abraham's writings do not, at all, match the scrap we call the Book of Breathings, Hugh Nibley does note a parallel, peculiar and specific in wording, tying the title of that book to Abraham 2:24-25. (Joseph Smith emphasizes titles.) Isis makes a Book of Breathings for her brother, Osiris, so that his soul may live. Just so, Sarah in Egypt, and in Egyptian idiom, intervenes for Abraham that his soul may live. As for Facsimile 2 (the hypocephalus), its hieroglyphic text 1) addresses the god as both "noble" and "great"; 2) features (so Nibley) a prayer for rescue, that is, resurrection; and 3) hints at "the name of that great god" (Figure 1), who came into existence in; 4) "the first time" and thence; 5) "came down" to save Osiris so-and-so. The match between the prayers and labels on this and other hypocephali and the phraseology and themes of Abraham again partakes of the peculiar and the specific. I don't think so, says one. Go to my house, and I'll take up the lexicon: "The name of the great one is Kolob" answers to "The name of that great god," which labels figure 1 of the hypocephalus.

Why gather such evidence? The marriage of history and scripture teaches us to better love both scripture and history. Love of truth "as it really is" heralds no injurious purpose, breathes no coercive air (see Doctrine and Covenants 93). In the pursuit of the things of the Spirit, all sorts of surprises turn up. Nowhere in Hugh Nibley's writings do we find the word apologist. A better label for the man is sharer. Of evidence, Brother Nibley simply says: We need to show we're still in the game, so the honest in heart will be willing to take a second look.

While Latter-day Saints have no obligation to prove anything to anybody, we are not going to stand by while persons learned and unlearned drum boring, self-righteous condemnation. And after 50 years the repetition of answered objections does start to bore. Besides, such repetition has never moved the scriptural foundation of faith. Abraham talked with God face-to-face.

We invite thorough, thoughtful, patient assessment of every particle of data and of every thread of argument. Forget the label apologist. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shouldering a mandate to share His Gospel with the world (Matthew 28:19-20).

You might as well attempt to terrify God upon His throne (to borrow a phrase from Brigham Young), as to terrify Latter-day Saints with the "consensus" or the "conclusions" of scholarship. Hectoring cannot replace quiet thought or balanced discussion. Scripture endures--and as the Book of Abraham itself shows, it can span the millennia.

No matter how it was read, and no matter just how much of Abraham's or of Joseph's writings Joseph Smith had in his keeping, Abraham did deposit a record in Egypt. What we now have in translation is the fragment of a record claiming to have been built up by Abraham around yet older books, themselves divinely preserved: "the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood"--a trace of library, as Borges would have it (Abraham 1:31). And that is why the papyri, drawn inexorably to the Latter-day Joseph and held in his hands as tangible sign of Restoration, had to contain a portion of the words of the fathers.

One thing exceeds all else in importance. Both plates and papyri, reflections the one of the other, came to light as modern, tangible testators of the resurrection. Jesus Christ is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: And "He is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Mark 12:32, and see esp. JST Mark 12:32). No matter how the Prophet translated plates, parchment, papyri, no matter the instruments he used--or whether he used any at all--no matter the lacunae; the very survival and attestation of at least some of the writings of Nephi and Moroni and of Abraham and Joseph, though merely abridgments, copies, or even traces, stand as material witness of a new dispensation and as an earnest of the resurrection. The recovered vignette of Facsimile 1 so concretely depicts Abraham's deliverance from death on the altar. And as cloud cumulus, all the Joseph Smith papyri, which came to light after being hid for millennia in a Theban tomb, also serve as witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Other like scriptural witnesses will yet make their like appearances.

Copyrighted by Val Sederholm, 2014