Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mosiah 11 and the Elegant and Spacious Building

Let's be clear. The "great and spacious," or "large and spacious," building of Lehi's visionary dream, elite-thronged, is no mere echo-chamber, a bland and barren cityscape and a formless hollow, as we so often assume it to be. No. Inspired Mosiah, contributing thoughtfully to Scripture's additive record, calls the phenomenon the "elegant and spacious" building, chamber after charmed chamber. And he admonishes us that they are "many" and "of all manner." 

And whether it be in leaning out windows, "in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers" (as in Lehi's dream), or in resting cozily upon podiums or consoles in the attitude of "lying and vain words," the chilling effect upon "the joy of the saints" is the same. 

The Holy Ghost carries Mosiah's added admonition to our hearts: the mockers mocked, the haters hated, and the bloggers, seated all around us, and among us, and perhaps even over us--in their various degrees--multiplied "vain words" composed so very promptly and keyed so very, very often with the ever-wagging and oh-so-omniscient "finger of scorn"--"but we heeded them not."

Mosiah's King Noah and the Prayer of Shalmaneser I

As noted in former posts about the grain sheum and the metal ziff, the ornamentation of royal palaces, and the Ancient Near Eastern thematic constellation of building, planting vines, and marriage, the Assyrian evidence speaks directly to Mosiah's King Noah and his splendors. 

In yet another example, "the prayer of Shalmaneser I during the dedication of the Ehursagkurkurra" Temple forcibly recalls what Mosiah says of King Noah, of "his wives and concubines," of his priesthood, and "all their wives and concubines," of his golden throne and dais, and his palaces, temples, and towers: 
"When the Lord Assur enters into that house and his lofty dais sets up happily--My dazzling work, that house, may he see and rejoice. May he accept my supplications. May he hear my prayer. May a destiny for the well-being of my priesthood, and of my priestly progeny, and abundance during my reign from his honored mouth until far off days, greatly be declared" (A. K. Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions I, 536, cited in Jeremy Daniel Smoak, "Building Houses and Planting Vineyards" [UCLA dissertation, 2007], 53 n 119). 

Mosiah 11:8 "And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.
11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people."

For the still young Noah, who cherished "riotous living," the planting of a new priestly lineage, "new ones," a new cultural elite, including high priests seated snootily "above all the other" priests, and thus constituting a complete break from the dour past of his stern and overzealous father, the long-lived Zeniff, who was forever "causing" his people "to spin, and toil, and work, and work," was essential to the unfolding of his more happy reign.


4 "And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity."


The ancien regime was "put down," while non-elites were turned into mere props--yet weight-bearing--to be moved about; for Noah's smooth social engineering was as impressive as were any of his towers. These few ironic verses, with their carefully chosen words, give a sense of both the gravitational density and the airy loftiness that prevailed in the changed "affairs of the kingdom" and which found its fullest expression in the rhetorically resounding halls of Noah's "elegant and spacious buildings." 


And lest we forget, the "great and spacious" building of Lehi's visionary dream, elite-thronged, is no mere echo-chamber, a bland and barren cityscape and a formless hollow, as we so often assume it to be. No. Inspired Mosiah, contributing thoughtfully to Scripture's additive record, calls the phenomenon the "elegant and spacious" building, chamber after charmed chamber. And he admonishes us that they are "many" and "of all manner." 

And whether it be in leaning out windows, "in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers" (as in Lehi's dream), or in resting cozily upon podiums or consoles in the attitude of "lying and vain words," the chilling effect upon "the joy of the saints" is the same. The Holy Ghost carries Mosiah's added admonition to our hearts: the mockers mocked, the haters hated, and the bloggers, seated all around us, and among us, and perhaps even over us--in their various degrees--multiplied "vain words" keyed so very promptly and so very, very often with the ever-wagging and oh-so-omniscient "finger of scorn"--"but we heeded them not."

"That Great City Jacobugath": King Jacob's "Wine Vat-and-Press" (3 Nephi 7 and 9)

When a would-be Book of Mormon king sought to found a rival nation in the land Northward, the first official act of his reign, after being granted the royal name Jacob, was to plant a new capital bearing the name Jacobugath or Jacob Ugath = Jacob-wa-Gath, Jacob-and-Wine Press, Jacob-cum-Wine Press. Joseph R. and Norrene V. Solonimer first suggested the reading "Jacob with winepress" in I Know Thee by Name: Hebrew Roots of Lehi-ite Non-Biblical Names in the Book of Mormon (1995), but early Latter-day Saint readers, back in the 19th century, were already correctly commenting on the meaning of Gath. The online Book of Mormon Onomasticon also concurs with Jacob-and-Gath, but prankingly calls Gath a place name of "unknown meaning." Gath as Wine Press is a common and widespread place name in the Ancient Near East. (The spelling Jacob Ugath appears in the Printer's Manuscript, see Book of Mormon Onomasticon.) 

Because yeqeb/v also signifies Wine Press (or Wine Vat) in Hebrew, Yacov wa gath makes for a very nice play on words. On the other hand, the peculiar wording in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon: "king of Jacob," may well signify "king of the Wine Vat," or the "Wine Vat King" (3 Nephi 9:9). Technically, yeqev is the wine vat; gath, the press, even the yeqev-wa-gath: Jacob-u-gath. If yeqev refers to the lower excavated trough for the wine, then I also see a likeness to the foundation, by excavation, of a great city. The people of the Wine Trough King are described as being the most wicked of any people on the earth: it's a place of revelry, a Merrymount in the ancient land Northward. Compare the biblical place names: yikvei ha-melek, the Wine Vats of the King (Zechariah 14:10); "the winepress of Zeeb" (Judges 7:25).

The action of planting both city and vine follows the typical ceremony marking the foundation of a new reign, as duly noted in the unusual wording of the 1830 edition, which speaks of "the people of the king of Jacob," that is, the people of the New Jacob in remembrance of the Ancestral Jacob (3 Nephi 9:9). They "did gather themselves together, and did place at their head a man whom they did call Jacob; And they did call him their king" (3 Nephi 7:9-10). Nephite King Noah, who inaugurated a system vastly different from that of his soldierly and upright father Zeniff, likewise planted vineyards and dug presses (Mosiah 11; 22:10).

Cursing promptly follows the plantation: "That great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of the king of Jacob have I caused to be burned with fire," a fate which matches the eschatological doom of the vineyard in Jacob's Allegory of the Olive Tree. The destruction of Jacobugath in the Meridian of Time also fully portends the burning of the wicked at the end of the world. 



Jeremy Daniel Smoak's UCLA dissertation (2007), "Building Houses and Planting Vineyards: The Early Inner-Biblical Discourse on an Ancient Israelite Wartime Curse"--and note the curse--has much to add to our discussion of viticulture as Realia. The elite, even royal, nature of vines and wines may be found in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. For instance: "Vineyards and wine played an important role in different king's articulation of their power and prestige in Assyrian propaganda." Scenes decorating Sennacherib's palace thus "are particularly rich in their use of vineyards" (see pages 40-41). The royal theme again appears in Ecclesiastes 2:4-7, which describes nothing less than the establishment of a prestige business center, a world capital; indeed a "blessing" of "long life, agricultural fertility, and progeny"--planting and building and permanence--may have formed part of a public ceremony in the dedication of buildings (50ff.). 

The boasting of Ecclesiastes finds its match in King Noah's viticulture and lavish building spree, it is true: "I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth fruit;" but Nephi's cursory, and easily passed over, remarks on Jacobugath and King Jacob are no less telling. And Smoak's insistence on the powerful thematic combination of "houses, vineyards, and wives" in the Bible and beyond finds its match in Mosiah 11:13-15, though the building really begins in verse 8: "And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom. . . and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines [and] he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance." Here is not just a retelling of the Bible, of Ahab or of the Preacher's vanities, the compressed literary wonder which is Mosiah's Noah is a stand alone.



And is viticulture possible in Ancient America? "North America has the widest variety of wild grapes in the world, with around 20 native species that are found nowhere else in the world (Schott Sheu, "Grapes," citing C.T. Kennedy, "Grapes," The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Oxford University Press, 2003). The fine wine-making potential of these native American grapes is now well-known. "The Opata of northern Mexico made a red wine of native grapes; grapes were known in the Gulf Coast area and also among the Maya of Yucatan," John L. Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, 107, with sources given. Alejandro C. Martinez Muriel even "found seeds of Vitis vinifera, the wine grape known in Europe," in a Late Pre-Classic site "beside the Grijalva River in Chiapas," ibid., 107-108. Ancient Mexico was simply lousy with grapes. 



In the words of the inimitable Evan S. Connell: Vinland. Vinland.






Notes 

Grapes and Wine in the New World:

Scott Sheu: http://web.ku.edu/~aihd/foods/Grapes.html

For the delicious wine-making potential of some of the North American species, see:
http://palatepress.com/2010/06/wine/wine-indigenous-american-grape-varieties-a-primer/

Jacobugath:

https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php/JACOBUGATH 

http://clearldsdoctrine.neocities.org/ltltbom/3-ne/9.html

Joseph R. and Norrene V. Solonimer, I Know Thee by Name: Hebrew Roots of Lehi-ite Non-Biblical Names in the Book of Mormon (1995), has several thoughtful etymologies. For a pretentious and dismissive targeting of the book, which does have its faults, see John Tvedtnes, "What's in a Name? A Look at the Book of Mormon Onomasticon," FARMS Review of Books 8/2, 1996, 34-42. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Learning from The Book of Abraham: Our Choice

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 concerng the God of Heaven--in order to do that sd he--suppose we have two facts that supposes that anotr fact may exist two men on the earth--one wiser than the other--wod shew that antr who is wiser than the wisest may exist--intelligences exist one above anotr that there is no end to it." "Abra 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, who envisions the order of the stars and, by reasoning and by revelation, perceives a like order of intelligence among the spirit sons and daughters of God. Abraham thus 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 staircase 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 but continues the lesson; 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 at his house, the invitation to reason concerning the God of heaven now falls upon him. Then as Revelator, he turns over the task 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 papyrus in his keeping. That particular portion, however, is not in our keeping, though some of the hieroglyphs on Abraham Facsimile 2 match words and themes found in Chapters 1 and 3. (More on Facsimile 2 below.) While I can only surmise how prophets received, passed down, 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 [on 16 June 1844] 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 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. Scribe 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 in 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 such instance--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, Val Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808 and Its Cultural and Religious Setting, 166. 

"Indeed, how could writings of Abraham be considered anything but sacred?" asks Hugh Nibley (Approach to The Book of Abraham, 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 coequal 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.

The Book of Abraham and Scholarship: An Invitation

Why was a surviving physical instance of the ancient word, in plates or papyri, requisite for some of our scriptures and not for others? Must "all records of ancient date" 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? 

God chose such media for His own purposes, says Hugh Nibley, but inspired translation need not rely solely on them, and often not at all (Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri, p. 51). 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 an unremarkable scrap of papyrus (see JST Revelation 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).

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, forgotten palaces, secret societies, and stern prophetic warnings. They link us to glorious anticipations of the coming of the Son of God. And vitally, for the affirming of a new dispensation, Mormon's 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 them and to find out 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 readers 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 scraps 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. Sarah in Egypt, and in Egyptian idiom, so 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 words, phrases, and themes found on this and other hypocephali and words, phrases, and themes found throughout the chapters 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" in Abraham 3 answers to hieroglyphs labeling figure 1 of the hypocephalus: "The name of that great god."

Why gather such evidence? The marriage of history and scripture teaches us to better love both. 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.

Whereas 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 (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. 


See also: http://valsederholm.blogspot.com/2014/08/i-learned-it-by-translating-says-joseph.html

The Catalyst Theory of the Book of Abraham Examined

By revelation or translation, as the case may be

Nonsensical is the oft-celebrated but never elucidated idea of an object, say, some mummy or random papyrus roll, serving as a "catalyst" to revelation. Translations and translations qua transmissions of the past came to Joseph Smith as a gift, by the medium of revelation--so why would things be any different with the Book of Abraham? They aren't. Joseph Smith was indeed given the Book of Abraham by revelation, but the words of Abraham (he references our Chapter Three) were also inkbrushed into a specific papyrus in his keeping, as he made very clear in his last sermon at Nauvoo, on June 16, 1844: "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, including hieratic script. Do we have the same childlike capacity? "I learned a test[imony] concerning Abraham and he reasoned concerng the God of Heaven--in order to do that sd he--suppose we have two facts that supposes that anotr fact may exist two men on the earth--one wiser than the other--wod shew that antr who is wiser than the wisest may exist--intelligences exist one above anotr that there is no end to it." "Abra reasoned thus" (Grove East of Temple, Thomas Bullock reporting, The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, 380).

Mind and hieroglyph met; then the Spirit infused Joseph's mind with pure intelligence--but it has to be the right hieratic text or the right Egyptian vignette. For instance, what the Prophet saw in the Abraham vignettes gave specific and peculiar detail about Abraham's unique history, teachings, and blessings. That an Egyptian priest should later use the same vignettes to illustrate his own priestly offices and his own hopes of eternal life does not in the least nullify the gift to see "the root of the matter." The Seer did not translate the hieroglyphs on Facsimile 3 as they now stand; he translated writing as it once stood on an original stela or papyrus, from whence our version was taken (see Hugh Nibley, Abraham in Egypt). The gap yawns widely here, from Abraham to the Ptolemies, but the pure doctrine of the Book of Mormon prepares the mind. There, the tutoring about seers and their stones gets very specific: "things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known" (Mosiah 8:17). Receptivity reaches out not only to the unknown but also to the unknowable, including the lost. It's all for our benefit: "therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings" (Mosiah 8:18). The Lord encouraged Oliver Cowdery, in April 1829, to "translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred," even "engravings of old records" that would benefit all humankind as "parts of my scripture" (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1, 11). The concrete nature of the engraved ancient records is telling--and we again recall the 24 gold plates of Ether discovered by the startled troop sent by Limhi to discover something else. The troop did not find the city of Zarahemla, the temporal hope of welcome and of rescue, but they did find a record replete with the warning and admonition of the Lord. 

Receptive Oliver Cowdery, writing in 1835 to a newsy innkeeper in Gilead, Illinois, already dismissed the idea of the relics as "catalyst": "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" (The Messenger and Advocate, December 1835, p.237). That is to say, with all due respect to Howard Carter's "wonderful things," Abraham's name on papyrus came 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 papyrus, and understood by Joseph Smith, is making a claim. Claim and ink and papyrus and translation are one in Joseph's hands.

The Prophet, while taking the claim as occasion for rejoicing, needed no relic to awaken his mind to Abraham and Joseph. Already in 1831 Joseph Smith, for the New Bible, had translated what we might call books of Moses, of Enoch, and of Abraham, complete with remarkable textual expansions on Genesis. These expansions include an elaborate prophecy attributed to Joseph in Egypt, one showing striking variants from the very same prophecy as previously translated from the Book of Nephi. By 1835 there were already wheels within wheels.

This fresh Genesis Abraham forms part of Joseph Smith's 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?" Study of Scripture alone cannot prompt new Scripture transmitted directly from ancient texts predating our Bible. Small changes in Biblical wording aside, we should not speak of the New Translation of the Bible itself, but of the New Translation of prior gospel dispensations from concrete records long 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). Much of ancient Joseph's prophecy appeared on plates; God provided other means to reveal the rest.

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 by the medium of 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 solely in English. As Nibley puts it: The Book of Mormon is the only ancient text written and available in a modern language alone. The Book of Abraham, then, must be the only hieratic text found only 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 the ready and sufficient inspiration for the New Translation's sweeping views of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses, and Abraham?

catalyst denotes "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.

Besides, since the catalytic agent is, among other things, that element which "remains unchanged in the process," "the term [catalyst] will scarcely do for an active participant." Is the papyrus discovery "the event that sets it [translation] off?" No one ever said anything else: one discovery sets off another. The question remains How one discovery set off another?--How the Book of Abraham came into being and What the published or translated book has to do with Egyptian papyri purchased by the Prophet? (Wilson Follett, Erik Wensberg Modern American Usage: A Guide, 228).

I reframe the question: Did the Egyptian papyri play an active part in mediating the translation of the Book of Abraham? Yes. One need only consider the three distinct, though thematically related, Egyptian vignettes introduced into the body of the book. Each comes with point-by-point prophetic explanation--the matching numbers also etched onto painstakingly crafted facsimiles of the vignettes--that changes, even transfigures, pictures on papyrus into Scripture. The drawings themselves are not Scripture, insists Brother Nibley, though the accompanying explanations are. The vignettes, grafted onto Scripture, flourish with new life. Add to the transformation from vignette to annotated facsimile the reference found in Abraham Chapter One to the various figures depicted in the first vignette, and it becomes plain as a pikestaff--as Brother Joseph would say--just how active a role at least some of the papyri played in the making of Scripture.

The papyri, once the Prophet had translated the title the book of Abraham, did move him to take up "the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham" more quickly than he otherwise might have done. There's the catalyst: he promptly began to translate. The coming of Elias and Elijah in 1836 with priesthood keys also stirred him to doctrinal reflection. Did the papyri propel him forward? No. Joseph Smith took his time--seven full years--to study and to ponder before publication. Some catalyst!--a slow burn rather. Again, remember that the Prophet had already recorded startling details about Abraham's life, teachings, visions, revelations, and covenants in his New Translation of the Bible from other lost writings of Abraham. These revealed additions and adjustments to the biblical record, never published in Brother Joseph's lifetime, come as close to matching in length, as they certainly do in substance, the wee 14 pages of the Book of Abraham. Put simply, the Prophet spent over a decade pondering the good news revealed to Abraham. The papyri were as much retardant as catalyst to translation.

Two are the restored books of Abraham; two, the modes of translation, or transmission. Yes, but exactly how 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?). Now, there are worse things than catalyst: to wit, catalyst theory--I've shuddered at the phrase for decades. It comes to us not from chemistry but from sixties legalese. Anyone attuned to words gapes at monsters like the following: catalyst theory, catalyst theories(!), missing papyrus theory, redaction theory, retardant theory, just-about-any theory, Vorgang, process, bring about a process, catalyze a process, trigger an event, by pure revelation, translating word-for-word, literal translation. Scripture supplies: gift, sight, power, high gift, great power, provided a means, through faith, work mighty miracles, sealed up, in its purity.

Let's arrive at an axiom: seeric translation belongs to that class of things "babes in Christ" "cannot understand" (see 1 Corinthians 3:1; Jacob 4:14). We desire things we cannot understand and, in "the solemnity of science," summon words to "process" ideas rather than to ex-plain them (Follett, "Scientism," q.v.). We need a plain word: a mummy, a papyrus roll, a Scripture, does not catalyze; it prompts, hintssuggestsawesinvitesenticesinspires.

Even in the New Translation, 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 merely a symbol of the prophetic past, a Great Code to reference and to rework; it was for the first years his only available avenue to that past. No wonder he so treasured the gift of the Polyglot: it gave him wings! Joseph recognized his indebtedness to Jewish Masorete and Gentile Reformer alike, and he not only pored over Hebrew, he came to prefer Luther's Testament to the Authorized Version (see 2 Nephi 29:4). 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 (Bruce R. McConkie, "The Doctrinal Restoration," in eds. Monte S. Nyman, and Robert L. Millet, The Joseph Smith Translation: the Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, 21).


Treasure in the Field

There is a law of efficiency. We must ask why Joseph, most 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, Rough Stone Rolling, 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, not only did they manifest the prophetic word, they also 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.