Mormon News, July 4–July 11

In the News

The Joseph Smith Egyptian PapyriThis week the LDS church posted an article, “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham,” in which it sought to deal with the controversy surrounding Joseph Smith’s alleged translation of Egyptian papyri he acquired from a traveling curiosities dealer in 1835. Critics of the Book of Abraham have long pointed out that the content of the extant scrolls do not translate into the Mormon scripture published in 1842 and canonized in 1880 as part of the Pearl of Great Price.

The essay defends the divine origin of the Book of Abraham, claiming that the text “is consistent with historical knowledge about the ancient world.” The existing artifacts do not contain stories about Abraham, however: “None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mention Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham.” Even more starkly, the essay concedes that “Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham.” The essay holds out the possibility that the portion Joseph Smith used for the Abrahamic text may not have survived. In 1906 a reminiscence of Joseph F. Smith, which was nevertheless 63 years after the fact, included the memory of his uncle, Joseph Smith, studying long rolls of papyri at the Nauvoo Mansion House. For a response to this argument, see here.

Even if the papyri did not contain the ancient text of the Book of Abraham, Joseph’s interest in the papyri may have served as a catalyst for the revelation that provided the actual text of the book, the essay argues. Whatever the case, it is refreshing to see a decades-old controversy receive official attention.

It has been just over two weeks since Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly’s excommunication from the LDS Church. On Thursday, July 10, Peggy Fletcher Stack published an update on Kelly in the Salt Lake Tribune.

On the Blogs

A new blog, Strangers in Zion, invites people to request a “disciplinary hearing” from their bishops on the same basis as high-profile members have recently been expelled from the church for promoting gay rights and feminism. The blog says “that “there have been many courageous individuals who have stood for marginalized members of the LDS Church, and have tried to affect positive, progressive change within the community, institutions, and culture of Mormonism.”  These feminists, LGBT activists, “historians, anthropologists, authors, bloggers, podcasters, and numerous other individuals have bravely and openly discussed the troubling aspects of Church history and doctrine and have tried to broaden the tent of Mormonism to make room for those with doubts and concerns and to fight for a more pluralistic LDS community.” “Sadly” the blog reads, “over the years many of these activists, while navigating their paths of loyal opposition, have found themselves subject to Church discipline. The latest targets of this archaic tactic” are Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and Rock Waterman, but others have preceded them, the blog asserts, with a list of bishops’ names and addresses for those who haven’t been to church recently enough to know.

In Books

Released this week: another volume in Greg Kofford Publishing’s series, Contemporary Studies in Scripture, a volume titled Re-Reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem. The author, Michael Austin, is a BYU graduate and now provost and academic vice president of Newman University in Wichita. Austin observes that three great writers of the nineteenth century, Victor Hugo, Thomas Carlyle, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, shared an admiration for the biblical Book of Job, even while they distrusted the Bible and religion generally. Apart from his biblical scholarship, Austin has debunked the current ultra-right wing’s claims about what America’s founding fathers intended, in his book, That’s Not What They Meant!  He shows how the conservatives have reinvented the founding fathers in their own image. Good-on-ya brother Austin!

Compiled by Devery Anderson and Tom Kimball