Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Caveat Lector

This is a follow-up to my last post. In reading the Introduction to the Loeb edition of Manetho, I encountered this:
Of the two chronographers, the founder of Christian chronography, Sextus Julius Africanus, whose Chronicle came down to A.D. 217 or A.D. 221, transmits the Epitome in a more accurate form; while Eusebius, whose work extends to A.D. 326, is responsible for unwarranted alterations to the original text of Manetho. (Introduction, xvi-xvii.)
The passages I cited were from Eusebius' Latin edition of Manetho. It is possible (though unprovable either way) that the material about Ham and Aegyptus is an interpolation by Eusebius. I really hope it isn't, but there's the possibility it is. (The detail about Mestraïm is most likely authentic, since it appears in a number of places in Manetho's work outside of Eusebius' edition.)

Still, even if it is an interpolation, it's coming from an early Christian source not far removed from Manetho. It wouldn't be as convincing evidence for a Hellenistic Book of Abraham, but it shouldn't be ruled out entirely either.

Of course, if it is an interpolation by Eusebius, then my comments about Manetho being exposed to the Hebrew Bible are to be disregarded.

So, like I said, I hope this material is original to Manetho. But in the mean time . . . caveat lector.

An Interesting Tidbit from Manetho

Anyone familiar with Ptolemaic Egypt, or indeed the study of Egyptian history at all, knows the name Manetho. Something really interesting that I stumbled upon in Manetho's Aegyptiaca this morning is the following.
Now, if you care to compare these figures with Hebrew chronology, you will find that they are in perfect harmony. Egypt is called Mestraïm by the Hebrews; and Mestraïm lived <not> long after the Flood. For after the Flood, Cham (or Ham), son of Noah, begat Aegyptus or Mestraïm, who was the first to set out to establish himself in Egypt, at the time when the tribes began to disperse this way and that. Now the whole time from Adam to the Flood was, according to the Hebrews, 2242 years.
Here is the text in Latin as it appears in the Loeb Classical Library (quoted above).
Atque haec si cum Hebraeorum chronologia conferre volueris, in eandem plane sententiam conspirare videbis. Namque Aegyptus ab Hebraeis Mestraïmus appellatur: Mestraïmus autem <haud> multo post dilvuvium tempore exstitit. Quippe ex Chamo, Noachi filio, post diluvium ortus est Aegyptus sive Mestraïmus, qui primus ad Aegypti incolatum profectus est, qua tempestate gentes hac illac spargi coeperunt. Erat autem summa temporis ab Adamo ad diluvium secundum Hebraeos annorum MMCCXLII.
In his next section, Manetho then explains, "Mestraïm was indeed the founder of the Egyptian race; and from him the first Egyptian dynasty must be held to spring." (Sane Mestraïmus generis Aegyptiaci auctor fuit, ab eoque prima Aegyptiorum dynastia manare credenda est.)

This passage stands out in a number of ways.

First, it is further evidence that Ptolemaic Egyptians were aware of Hebrew traditions. Being a priest at Heliopolis, and being fluent in Greek (which the Aegyptiaca was originally written in), Manetho was evidently aware of or otherwise had read (at least parts of) the Hebrew Bible. He almost certainly was reading the Septuagint (or another contemporary or slightly older Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and incorporated elements of the Hebrew proto-history in Genesis in his own reconstruction of Egyptian history. In fact, Manetho goes so far as to suggest that the Egyptians originally sprang from Mestraïm (Hebrew מצרים), a significant admission from a native Egyptian.

Second, I have toyed with the idea of the Book of Abraham being a Hellenistic-era pseudepigraphon. I am not arguing positively that such is the case, but I have not ruled it out entirely either. For many reasons that I won't get into here, the Book of Abraham works really well as a Jewish-Egyptian pseudepigraphon, and could easily fit in a Hellenistic Greco-Egypto-Jewish context. One thing that stands out to me that I believe reinforces this possibility is the name Manetho gives Mestraïmus––– Aegyptus–––and his discussion of the founding of Egypt. Or, if you prefer, Egyptus. Here is the relevant passage from the Book of Abraham.
Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land. Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. (Abraham 1:21–25)
The Book of Abraham provides a mythic Urgeschichte of the founding of Egypt that is striking in its similarity to Manetho's. In both cases a descendant of Ham settles in Egypt after the flood and establishes the Egyptian race. In Manetho's reckoning Aegyptus was a man. In the Book of Abraham Aegyptus was a woman. What's neat about the Book of Abraham account, however, is a potential pun or wordplay in the text. "When [Aegyptus] discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land." One of the common images in Egyptian creation mythology (e.g. at Heliopolis and in the Pyramid Texts) is the idea of the primeval hillock (the Benben stone or bnbnt, associated with the bnw phoenix-bird) springing or rising out of the waters of chaos at the time of creation. Could we be seeing a similar play on imagery here in the Book of Abraham?

Also, consider the fact that the earliest manuscripts of the Book of Abraham have the name Zeptah as the name of the daughter of Ham who discovered Egypt. 

William W. Phelps and Warren Parrish Copy of Abraham Manuscript, Summer–Fall 1835. Image from the Joseph Smith Papers website. Click to enlarge.
Zeptah could very easily be the Egyptian zꜣt-ptḥ or "daughter of Ptah." (The t in zꜣt may have been dropped because of the awkwardness of pronouncing a consonantal cluster such as tpt in English.) Ptah, of course, was the primeval creator god of Memphis, the great capital city of the Old Kingdom. The significance of this lies in the fact that the name "Egypt" (Aegyptus/Egyptus) derives from the Greeks attempting to translate Ḥw.t-kꜣ-ptḥ ("house/enclosure of the ka of Ptah"), the name of the great temple at ancient Memphis, which ended up as Αἴγυπτος.

In any event, I am just throwing all of this out to chew on. I think a good case can be made for the Book of Abraham at least being a Hellenistic pseudepigraphon. The interesting tidbit from Manetho above, I believe, reinforces this.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

One Mormon's Review of "Meet the Mormons"

This afternoon I watched the new Church-produced video Meet the Mormons. I was initially skeptical going into it, since it has been panned by film critics and what I did see and read about it before watching the actual film seemed to indicate that it'd be little more than an hour-long "I'm a Mormon" commercial. Would this just be another cheesy, feel-goody Church video without any substance? That was my initial concern, basically.

I'm happy to say that my initially pessimistic expectations were unmet. Although Meet the Mormons is by no means some kind of game-changing, oscar-worthy masterpiece, and while there is still good old Mormon cheese throughout the film, I actually liked it quite a bit. It was uplifting, positive, humorous, and charming. It was beautifully shot on location in the United States, Costa Rica, and Tibet, well-edited, well-paced, and featured a well-sung new single by David Archuleta ("Glorious").

Before I proceed any further, let me admit upfront that, as a Mormon myself, I realize I'm somewhat biased in this review. Anything that promotes the Church or awareness of it I welcome. So take my review with a grain of salt.

The film profiles the lives of six different Mormons and their families. It's meant to illustrate how diverse and multifaceted modern Mormons are and how the Gospel influences their lives. The Mormons profiled include Bishnu Adhikari, a Tibetan humanitarian, Ken Niumatalolo, head coach of the Navy Academy's football team, Carolina Muñoz Marin, a Costa Rican martial artist, Jermaine Sullivan, a bishop in Atlanta, Georgia, Dawn Armstrong, a "missionary mom" with a son serving in South Africa, and Gail Halvorsen, the famous Candy Bomber of the Berlin Airlift. Of the six vignettes, the most touching to me was that of the life and accomplishments of Brother Halvorsen. His story of "bombing" candy on the children of post-war Berlin was very inspiring, and given my interest in German history (including WWII history) I was especially captivated by Halvorsen's story.

The film is not about explaining Mormon history or doctrine. I don't even think Joseph Smith's name is mentioned once in the entire film, and the Book of Mormon is only briefly mentioned in one scene. That's why I think reviewers who have complained that the film doesn't delve into the intricacies (or controversies) of Mormonism are missing the point. It's a film about Mormons, not Mormonism. 

That being said, I do wish the film did say something about what makes us different doctrinally or historically. There is, admirably, an emphasis in the film on inter-religious cooperation and pluralism (especially within part-member families such as those in the film). But I wish there was more than just that. I understand that this wasn't meant to be an explicate proselytizing movie, and so distinct Mormon doctrine wasn't going to be emphasized. But still . . . 

I also thought it was kind of forced how often the official name of the Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is over-repeated again and again in the film. The narrator, and some of the interviewers, overplayed and overstressed the fact that "Mormon" and "Mormon Church" are just nicknames. We just needed to hear this fact once at the beginning, not repeatedly throughout the film. It came across as, again, forced and also somewhat desperate. (As if to say, "Hey, remember how 'Mormon' is just a nickname? Well, make sure you don't forget. Because our full name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not 'Mormon Church.' Got it? Okay, just making sure.")

But despite the few nitpicks I may have with the film, such as the ones above, in the end I enjoyed it. I don't care what some snooty film critic from the New York Times (much less the Salt Lake Tribune) has to say about any defects with the film. (I am amused that one reviewer even complained that the film was "relentlessly upbeat," as if being upbeat was a bad thing. Surly much?) I was inspired to try to be a better person and a better Church member because of the film, which is what I think ultimately counts. 

Given what the film was trying to accomplish–––giving the world a glimpse of what it's like being a Mormon–––I'd say it was successful. Go check it out!

Friday, October 10, 2014

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.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

New Day for the Book of Mormon

A new video on the Book of Mormon titled "New Day for the Book of Mormon" premiered after General Conference on BYUtv. It features interviews with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Terryl Givens, Stephen C. Webb, Paul Gutjahr, John W. Welch, and others. I wanted to transcribe a few of my favorite lines from the film, but there were so many good ones that I decided to just post the video in its entirety and encourage everyone to watch it for themselves. Really good stuff!

We Ever Pray for Thee, Our Prophet Dear

President Thomas S. Monson

I was touched by the concluding hymn that was just so beautifully sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

1. We ever pray for thee, our prophet dear,
That God will give to thee comfort and cheer;
As the advancing years furrow thy brow,
Still may the light within shine bright as now,
Still may the light within shine bright as now.

2. We ever pray for thee with all our hearts,
That strength be given thee to do thy part,
To guide and counsel us from day to day,
To shed a holy light around our way,
To shed a holy light around our way.

3. We ever pray for thee with fervent love;
And as the children's prayer is heard above,
Thou shalt be ever blest, and God will give
All that is meet and best while thou shalt live,
All that is meet and best while thou shalt live.

–––Evan Stephens, 1854–1930.

Given what's being said by a certain unsavory character (who shall remain nameless) about President Thomas S. Monson and his health, and given the strong emphasis during today's morning session on the importance of the living prophet(s) for our time,* I thought this was a fitting hymn to conclude with.

We do pray for you, our beloved President Monson. Thank you for your inspiration and guidance over the years. Whatever ailments of the mind or body you may be facing, may God continue to bless and keep you. Even if age and declining health may furrow your brow, yet still we see the light within you shining bright.

* I hope said character paid close attention to Elder Russell M. Nelson's remarks in the morning session.

Saturday, October 4, 2014


From my roommate.

October 2014 General Conference

It's not too late to watch tomorrow's concluding sessions!

Today I attended the afternoon session of the October 2014 General Conference with my former roommate and current friend Anthony Vera. It is always a delight and pleasure to attend General Conference, and today was no exception. Besides having the opportunity to sustain President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors, the talks I heard during both the morning and afternoon session were terrific.

I enjoyed all of the speakers, but hands down my favorite was Elder Neil L. Andersen, who bore powerful testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and gave wise remarks on how to confront the evil that is spoken of the Prophet today.

Elder Andersen's best line was (I'm paraphrasing here until the official transcript is released), "Those who criticize Joseph Smith usually reveal more about themselves than the man they're criticizing."

With professor Eric Huntsman (the advisor for my major) at Deseret Book, where he signed my copy of his new book "The Miracles of Jesus."

Waiting for the session to begin.

Singing "Redeemer of Israel" with the choir and congregation.

Conference selfie.

Conference selfie with Anthony.

Temple Square from the balcony of the Conference Center.