More Blatant Misrepresentations from Jeremy Runnells

Jeremy Runnells has a bad habit of misquoting people. As I showed on my blog a little while ago, he misquoted the printed endorsements of Brian Hales' three-volume Joseph Smith's Polygamy, for example. Most recently, he has misquoted both a dead and a living Latter-day Saint apologist, namely, B. H. Roberts and Daniel C. Peterson.

Allow me to explain.

Runnells Misquotes Daniel Peterson

In his reply to Peterson's 2014 FairMormon presentation "Some Reflections On That Letter To a CES Director," Runnells begins his characteristically sarcastic and dismissive polemic with a complaint that Peterson is a nasty apologist (any surprise?) who resorts to such lowbrow tactics as calling ex-Mormons who disagree with him "zombies." Runnells quotes Peterson as follows:

Notice how careful Runnells is to inform his readers that Peterson "compare[d] me and CES Letter supports . . . to zombies with no brains." 

Scandalous, right? Only a nasty apologist like Peterson would do such a thing.

Except, of course, Peterson wasn't calling Runnells or anyone else a zombie. He was calling the arguments (in this case the Spalding theory) that are used by anti-Mormons like Vernal Holley zombies. "The idea is that these just keep coming back," with the antecedent to "these" clearly being "the Solomon Spalding theory" mentioned right before. "I mean, you shoot them between the eyes and they don't stop," once again referring to the Spalding theory as the antecedent. This can also be ascertained by the relative pronoun "which" referring back to "the Solomon Spalding theory."  

I suspect why Jeremy might be confused. Peterson used a plural pronoun for a singular antecedent. We can forgive Peterson for his grammatical slip, as he was speaking somewhat extemporaneously. We cannot so easily forgive Runnells, however, since a quick look at Peterson's past publications will show he has used this metaphor a number of times before, and in no instance did he ever compare the zombies with any people, but with the arguments they make.

From Peterson's 2005 FairMormon address "Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism":
I will, as advertised, reflect on “secular anti-Mormonism.” I’m grateful for the assignment because, frankly, anti-Mormonism of the evangelical kind has come, with a few exceptions, to bore me intensely. It’s not only that it tends to be repetitious and uninteresting–I think I’ve mentioned here before the film that my friend Bill Hamblin and I have laughed about doing: Bill and Dan’s Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell. It’s not merely that the same arguments reappear ad nauseam, no matter how often they’ve been refuted, and that reviewing essentially the same book for the thirty-second time grows tiresome. (You’ve heard the definition of insanity as when you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, and expect to get different results.) It’s also the deep streak of intellectual dishonesty that runs through much of the countercult industry, the triumphalism that exaggerates and even invents problems on the Mormon side while effectively pretending that no problems remain to be addressed on the so-called “Christian” side. 
This was reprinted in the FARMS Review that same year as follows:
Anti-Mormonism of the evangelical kind has come, with a few exceptions, to bore me intensely. It is not only that it tends to be repetitious and uninteresting. (My friend and colleague William Hamblin and I have laughed about doing an autobiographical film entitled Bill and Dan's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell.) It is not merely that the same arguments reappear ad nauseam, no matter how often they have been refuted, and that reviewing essentially the same book for the thirty-second time grows tiresome.
Here's Peterson writing back in 1997:
I have joked about the film that my colleague William Hamblin and I want to produce: Bill and Dan's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell. Like others who occasionally feel called upon to survey the dreary precincts of the fundamentalist anti-Mormon demimonde, we are growing tired of the tendency—very widespread among these crusading ministries and publications—endlessly to repeat arguments that have been answered years ago, to ignore counter evidence and opposing interpretations, to proceed in blissful and sometimes even defiant ignorance of crucial data. 
Here is Peterson on his blog in 2012 once again clearly calling the theory the zombie, not the people making it. "Truly, the Spalding theory is very much like a zombie: Shoot it between the eyes and it just keeps on coming. Why? Because it has no brain." Speaking of a recently published rebuttal to the Spalding theory, Peterson once again called the theory "zombie-like," not its adherents. "A recent attempt to resuscitate the zombie-like Spalding Theory doesn’t fare too well, I’m afraid."

Besides simply noticing the context of Peterson's remarks in his FairMormon presentation, all Runnells needed to do was check out Peterson's use of this metaphor in the past to clearly see he was not talking about any individual, but arguments like the Spadling theory that anti-Mormons keep making against the Church as being like brainless zombies.

Given how badly he misquoted Peterson (making a cute little meme of him running away from a horde of zombies to really drive the point home), it is fairly awkward that Runnells titled his reply "A Zombie's Reflections on that Mormon Apologist's Reflections," as if to (presumably) deflect Peterson's nasty jab at him by wearing the (misapplied) zombie label with pride!

At this point I don't think I need to point out how badly this attempt at sarcasm has backfired on Runnells.

Runnells Misquotes B. H. Roberts

In response to Brian Hauglid's blog post at Rational Faiths on the Book of Abraham, Runnells enlists Elder B. H. Roberts with a damning quote that sets the tone for Runnells' attack on Hauglid.



Seems pretty bad, right? 

Well, at this point you probably know where this is heading.

Leaving aside the fact that Runnells introduced a typo in his quotation, it turns out that Elder Roberts has been badly misquoted. If you follow the citation provided by Runnells, you'll discover the context of Elder Roberts' remark.
In 1912 a widespread interest was awakened in the Book of Abraham by the publication of a brochure, by Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, D. D. Episcopal Bishop of Utah, under the title Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator. The bishop submitted the facsimiles of some of the parchment pages from which the Book of Abraham had been translated, (copies of which accompany this chapter) to a number of the foremost of present day Egyptian scholars. . . . Speaking of the result obtained from the submission of these facsimiles to these foremost Egyptologists, Bishop Spalding says: "It will be seen that there is practically complete agreement as to the real meaning of the hieroglyphics, and that this meaning is altogether different from that of Joseph Smith's translation." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). He also says that "The opinions were obtained from the scholars themselves, and in no case did one man know the opinion of another" (Ibid). The seeming triumph of the bishop's test of the "Mormon" Prophet's ability to translate ancient languages correctly by inspiration from God, was much commented upon throughout the United States, and especially by the religious press; and the "collapse of Mormonism" was confidently looked for in some quarters; for if Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon; and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught. "It is the belief," wrote Bishop Spalding, "that the honest searchers for truth among the Latter-day Saints will welcome the opinions of authoritative scholars, and, if necessary, courageously readjust their system of belief, however radical a revolution of thought may be required, that the following judgments of the world's greatest Egyptologists have been ascertained." (Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Translator, p. 19). 
Elder Roberts was paraphrasing the argument of Franklin Spalding, the anti-Mormon author/editor of the pamphlet referenced above, as well as the expectation of others that the Church would fall because of this new attack. He was not providing his own belief on the matter. In fact, Elder Roberts went on to say almost the exact opposite of what Runnells portrays him as intending.
Nothing of this kind happened however, "Mormonism" was not moved a peg by the critique. So far as known there were not a score of Latter-day Saints whose faith was affected by the Spalding brochure. There were no Egyptian scholars in the church of the Latter-day Saints who could make an effective answer to the conclusions of the eight scholars who in various ways pronounced against the correctness of Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian parchments that so strangely fell into his hands; but a number of articles were written by elders of the church pointing out the bias of the scholars and some evident defects in the treatment of the subject; and also reviews of Bishop Spalding's arguments.
So not only was Elder Roberts not concerned with these attacks, he also mentions material that he felt pointed out "evident defects in the treatment" of the Book of Abraham by Spalding.


On a related note, it is interesting to observe that Runnells introduces Elder Roberts as "LDS historian, General Authority and scholar." Elder Roberts was certainly all of these things, but notice what Runnells left out. He left out "foremost defender of Mormonism of the past century." I can only presume that Runnells omitted the fact that Elder Roberts was a committed apologist for the Church because Runnells despises LDS apologists and wants to portray Elder Roberts as a "historian" and "scholar" who agrees with him. After all, only "historians" and "scholars" agree with Runnells, and the people who disagree with him are merely "apologists." It's a clever rhetorical trick, but not, ultimately, very persuasive. 

At this point I've seen Runnells abuse enough of his sources that I cannot take any of his claims at face value. It would be one thing if Runnells was perhaps fudging on the wording of these sources, for example, but that he has misrepresented them so badly demonstrates a lack of rigor in his research and presentation.

To end on a note of irony, consider this comment at the beginning of Runnells' response to Peterson.


These two misrepresentations from Runnells may or may not be "deliberate" (Runnells may simply have been terribly sloppy in his research, as I suspect he was), but they are blatant misrepresentations nonetheless.

Comments

  1. Stephen,

    Whether intentional or not, Peterson is the one who muddied the comparison, which is why I find it odd that you blame Runnells instead. Peterson may have clarified this comparison on his blog in 2012, but it was not so clear before then and it was not clear from his FAIR presentation which Runnells responded to. Do you honestly expect Runnells to read everything Peterson has written about the anti-Mormon/zombie comparison? I'd bet the first time Runnells has even heard of that comparison was from Peterson's presentation at FAIR. I know it was the first time I had.

    I do agree that Runnells shouldn't use the B.H. Roberts quote to support the point he was making, or he should at least include the entire context.

    In summary, though, this is what I get from your blog post:
    1. You call Runnells' response dismissive polemics and ignore the fact that Peterson's FAIR conference response to "That CES Letter" is exactly that.
    2. Out of all the information Runnells prepared in response to Peterson, you point out two misunderstood quotes (I too do not believe Runnells intentionally misrepresented them). Hardly a thorough analysis, but I doubt that is your intent. Your intent seems to be providing yourself and others some reasons to dismiss everything Runnells has to say, whether those reasons are adequate to do so or not.
    3. You point out the multiple times Peterson has used the "Bill and Dan's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell" joke, ironically highlighting Peterson's quote about "the same arguments reappear ad nauseam". It seems the same joke reappears as well.
    4. You expect Runnells to review everything Peterson has written about the anti-Mormon/zombie comparison, whether published or on Peterson's blog, and yet give Peterson a pass even though he somewhat muddied the comparison.
    5. It is OK to misrepresent some things like the one lion couch scene apologists have found with the word Abraham written in Greek and not provide the entire context of this scene, yet it is not OK to not provide the full context of a B.H. Roberts quote or perhaps misinterpret an unclear reference that compares anti-Mormons and zombies in some way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Whether intentional or not, Peterson is the one who muddied the comparison, which is why I find it odd that you blame Runnells instead."

      I blame Runnells for (mis)using Dan's mis-contextualized remarks in such a sarcastic, snippy manner. If anything else, it shows the level of maturity that we can expect from Runnells (if that wasn't clear enough already).

      "Do you honestly expect Runnells to read everything Peterson has written about the anti-Mormon/zombie comparison? I'd bet the first time Runnells has even heard of that comparison was from Peterson's presentation at FAIR. "

      No, I don't. The whole thing about the stuff on Dan's blog from 2012 was an aside. It was meant to just point out that, given his use of the joke in the past, Dan almost certainly was not intending what Runnells ascribes to him. The real point was that Runnells was characteristically sloppy and misguidedly sarcastic in his attack on Dan. Just reading the comments in context from his 2014 FairMormon address would be enough to see what Dan was talking about. The stuff from his blog is just extra.

      "1. You call Runnells' response dismissive polemics and ignore the fact that Peterson's FAIR conference response to "That CES Letter" is exactly that."

      Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. We could debate that as a separate issue. The point of my post is to show two additional cases of Runnells abusing his sources.

      "2. Out of all the information Runnells prepared in response to Peterson, you point out two misunderstood quotes (I too do not believe Runnells intentionally misrepresented them). Hardly a thorough analysis, but I doubt that is your intent. Your intent seems to be providing yourself and others some reasons to dismiss everything Runnells has to say, whether those reasons are adequate to do so or not."

      My intent was indeed NOT to provide an exhaustive rebuttal to Runnells' sarcastic hit piece on Dan Peterson. Such would take an inordinate amount of my already precious time. Besides, what's there to respond to with such a petulant little screed? It's basically Runnells hyperventilating that Dan Peterson was mean and nasty to him (which he wasn't) with cute little memes thrown in to elicit guffaws from his ex-Mormon buddies on reddit.

      It also was NOT my intention to use this to dismiss everything Runnells has to say. FairMormon has provided more than enough reasons to dismiss Runnells. My point was to highlight further examples of simple mistakes Runnells made in his analysis.

      "4. You expect Runnells to review everything Peterson has written about the anti-Mormon/zombie comparison, whether published or on Peterson's blog, and yet give Peterson a pass even though he somewhat muddied the comparison."

      Again, all of that was basically to just drive home my point that whatever Dan meant in his 2014 remarks, which were clear enough despite his grammatical slip, it almost certainly was not what Runnells portrayed.

      Basically, Runnells is the Fox News to Dan's Barack Obama when he said during the last election campaign "you didn't build that." It's clear what the president meant, but he worded it awkwardly, which was enough for his critics to jump on him and rip apart his mis-contextualized words. Same with Runnells. He's attacking a straw man, nothing more.

      "5. It is OK to misrepresent some things like the one lion couch scene apologists have found with the word Abraham written in Greek and not provide the entire context of this scene, yet it is not OK to not provide the full context of a B.H. Roberts quote or perhaps misinterpret an unclear reference that compares anti-Mormons and zombies in some way."

      Where on earth do I ever discuss P. Leiden I 384 in my post? What does that have to do with anything, besides offering up a red herring that distracts us from the subject at hand, namely, Runnells' misquotations.

      Cheers!

      Delete
    2. "Do you honestly expect Runnells to read everything Peterson has written about the anti-Mormon/zombie comparison?"

      Why shouldn't that be expected? He clearly has the time to do so. It certainly does not speak well of the "depth" of his research, in any case.

      Delete
  2. Stephen, you stated "I blame Runnells for (mis)using Dan's mis-contextualized remarks in such a sarcastic, snippy manner. If anything else, it shows the level of maturity that we can expect from Runnells (if that wasn't clear enough already)."

    I think Runnells was matching the maturity level of Peterson's joke, which is unfortunate.

    "No, I don't."

    I'm glad to hear you say you don't. Yet, you stated this in your blog post which seems to contradict that: "all Runnells needed to do was check out Peterson's use of this metaphor in the past to clearly see he was not talking about any individual". As though you expected Runnells to do just that and implied he needed to do that to fully understand Peterson's use of the anti-Mormon/zombie comparison.

    "Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. We could debate that as a separate issue. The point of my post is to show two additional cases of Runnells abusing his sources."

    That you don't see Peterson's presentation clearly as dismissive polemics points to a double standard: It's not dismissive polemics if "my side" does it.

    "It also was NOT my intention to use this to dismiss everything Runnells has to say. FairMormon has provided more than enough reasons to dismiss Runnells. My point was to highlight further examples of simple mistakes Runnells made in his analysis."

    Thank you for referring to them as simple mistakes instead of blatant misrepresentations.

    Except you stated in the conclusion of your blog post: "At this point I've seen Runnells abuse enough of his sources that I cannot take any of his claims at face value." Please clarify what you meant by this if it was not your intention to use Runnells' simple mistakes to dismiss everything Runnells has to say.

    "Where on earth do I ever discuss P. Leiden I 384 in my post? What does that have to do with anything, besides offering up a red herring that distracts us from the subject at hand, namely, Runnells' misquotations."

    My point was to show a double standard. My apologies for not being clear.

    Does this FairMormon article provide the entire context of the P. Leiden I 384 lion couch scene? I already know it doesn't, nor does the linked source from Gee.

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Abraham/Joseph_Smith_Papyri/Facsimiles/Facsimile_1/Association_with_Abraham

    Criticizing Runnells for not providing the entire context for the B.H. Roberts quote while accepting FairMormon articles that also don't provide the entire context is a double standard. That is why I brought this up, to demonstrate this double standard. There are many other examples I could have used, I just chose this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous,

      "I think Runnells was matching the maturity level of Peterson's joke, which is unfortunate."

      Well, to each their own. I myself think Runnells and Peterson are worlds apart in maturity. Dan might be snippy at times, but he's nowhere nearly as mean-spirited, nasty, and immature as Runnells. Not by a long shot.

      "As though you expected Runnells to do just that and implied he needed to do that to fully understand Peterson's use of the anti-Mormon/zombie comparison."

      Perhaps I worded it awkwardly, but what I meant to say was that his use of the joke in the past is just further evidence that Runnells misunderstood him in this most recent instance, and that that would've benefitted Runnells to have been less knee-jerky and reactionary to Dan's joke, since he did not mean what Runnells took him to mean.

      Besides, as Neal pointed out, if Runnells is indeed the thoughtful investigator that his followers hold him out to be, he would've done more homework. Heaven knows the denizens of the ex-Mormon reddit and other apostate message boards obsess over Dan and his online material enough as it is. You'd think that with all of his "crowd sourcing" to the ex-Mormon reddit, someone would've tipped off Runnells.

      "Thank you for referring to them as simple mistakes instead of blatant misrepresentations."

      They are both. They are blatant ("obvious" or "glaring" are two good synonyms) misrepresentations that resulted from simple errors (not accurately checking the quotes).

      "Please clarify what you meant by this if it was not your intention to use Runnells' simple mistakes to dismiss everything Runnells has to say."

      I meant exactly what I said. I cannot take Runnells' claims at face value, meaning I will not accept a claim or assertion of his without scrutinizing his sources or citations. He's tripped up too many times for me to trust him with his use of his sources the way I can generally trust others (e.g. Bushman or Givens). I never said, though, that this means Runnells is now always wrong, or that we can dismiss him entirely. Only that we cannot trust his use of his sources.

      "Does this FairMormon article provide the entire context of the P. Leiden I 384 lion couch scene? I already know it doesn't, nor does the linked source from Gee."

      I fail to see what more context Gee needed to provide, given the brevity of his article that was published in a non-scholarly magazine. Gee notes, "There are dozens of references to Abraham in Egyptian texts, some of which have traditionally, been called 'magical,' although many scholars are not sure how to distinguish ancient magic from religion. The references occur in five different languages—Demotic, Old Coptic, Coptic, Greek, and Hebrew. Here, we mention six of the references to Abraham, dating to the third century A.D., most of which came from Thebes, the place where the Joseph Smith papyri were found. . . . The third mention of Abraham comes from the same papyrus as the first two references. It is accompanied by a picture, a lion couch scene similar to the one in facsimile no. 1 of the book of Abraham, but this picture is oriented in reverse. Part of the text, a love charm, reads: 'Let Abraham who … I adjure you by … and incinerate so-and-so daughter of so-and-so. Write these words and draw this image on a new papyrus.'"

      So what has Gee left out that you feel is so crucial? From my understanding of P. Leiden I 384 he's right: Abraham's name is mentioned in a love charm in association with a lion couch vignette. So where's the problem?

      Delete
  3. Stephen,

    I had to divide this into two parts. It is getting wordy, sorry. :)

    "Well, to each their own. I myself think Runnells and Peterson are worlds apart in maturity. Dan might be snippy at times, but he's nowhere nearly as mean-spirited, nasty, and immature as Runnells. Not by a long shot."

    Please note that I only referenced the maturity level of Peterson's joke, not Peterson himself. Why have you immediately started comparing the maturity of people? I don't know Peterson well enough to pass judgment about his overall maturity level, but I can for a joke he tells. The joke by itself may or may not be a significant enough reflection of his personal maturity (as you said, he can be "snippy"); same goes for Runnells.

    I'm sure if you knew Runnells on the same personal level that you do Peterson, you would not judge him the way you do.

    "Perhaps I worded it awkwardly, but what I meant to say was that his use of the joke in the past is just further evidence that Runnells misunderstood him in this most recent instance, and that that would've benefitted Runnells to have been less knee-jerky and reactionary to Dan's joke, since he did not mean what Runnells took him to mean.

    Besides, as Neal pointed out, if Runnells is indeed the thoughtful investigator that his followers hold him out to be, he would've done more homework. Heaven knows the denizens of the ex-Mormon reddit and other apostate message boards obsess over Dan and his online material enough as it is. You'd think that with all of his "crowd sourcing" to the ex-Mormon reddit, someone would've tipped off Runnells."

    Then you should correct the wording so people do not get the wrong idea, just as Peterson should correct his published presentation. It is very easy to misinterpret someone's words, especially when someone uses the two words "Anti-Mormon Zombie" together which can easily be interpreted as saying anti-Mormons are like zombies.

    I assumed Neal was not being serious, and I hope you are not as well. Researching whether an LDS apologist has shared a particular joke before is not the kind of research I would expect anyone to do and is not something I would think any scholar would seriously recommend someone do.

    Had Peterson not shared a muddied version of his joke in the first place, we wouldn't even be discussing this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "I meant exactly what I said. I cannot take Runnells' claims at face value, meaning I will not accept a claim or assertion of his without scrutinizing his sources or citations. He's tripped up too many times for me to trust him with his use of his sources the way I can generally trust others (e.g. Bushman or Givens). I never said, though, that this means Runnells is now always wrong, or that we can dismiss him entirely. Only that we cannot trust his use of his sources."

    So, let me try to capture the basis for what you're saying then. First, Runnells showed that many other scholars disagreed with at least some of Hales' conclusions regarding the early practice of polygamy and only showed the part of their words that indicated this disagreement. Even though if he had added quotes that have these same scholars showing appreciation for Hales' work it wouldn't change the fact they disagree with at least some of his conclusions, which was Runnells' point. Now, Runnells has misinterpreted an unclear joke and has not provided the context of a B.H. Roberts quote.

    "So what has Gee left out that you feel is so crucial? From my understanding of P. Leiden I 384 he's right: Abraham's name is mentioned in a love charm in association with a lion couch vignette. So where's the problem?"

    Well, first of all it is not a "love charm" in the sense that is implied. It is a spell to force a woman to give in to a male's sexual lust. As Mormons, we shouldn't be confusing love with lust or sex.
    Also, the full context of the spell is not provided. When it is, it becomes clear that the use of the word "abraam" is used as a magical word just as the rest of the words are: "... aydyo oryx thambyto abraam o epy...".

    The spells also borrow other Old Testament names because they were thought to provide power to the spell, something Gee doesn't mention. They even include Greek mythology, such as the name Zeus, in the spells.

    Gee also fails to point out that the use of the name Abraham and other Old Testament names comes from the fact that Egyptians had since become aware of the Bible at the time the magical papyri had been written. So, comparing the BoA Facsimile 1 to papyri dated hundreds of years later after the after Egyptians became aware of the Bible and the names contained in it is a very poor comparison. By not providing this context, however, Gee is able to make the "connection" or "link" between ancient Egypt, Abraham, and a lion couch scene appear better than it really is.

    There are other issues I could go into and even more with some other documents Gee and other apologists have published on this topic and others. By the way, is it common for FAIR to provide only one source from a non-scholarly magazine to back up their claims?

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment