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Home Book of Abraham Special Section Discussing the 1912 Attack Against the Book of Abraham PART 3 of 4

Discussing the 1912 Attack Against the Book of Abraham PART 3 of 4

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Comments on the Spaulding Pamphlet

BY JOHN A. WIDTSOE, A. M., PH. D.

IMPROVEMENT ERA 1913

Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, D.D., Salt Lake City, Utah.

My Dear Dr. Spalding—The pressure of official work has made it very difficult to find the time necessary to keep my promise to give you my opinion of your book, "Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator." I have, however, read the work several times and have given the matter with which it deals considerable thought. In the hour at my disposal I can only suggest some of the many thoughts that have come as I have followed your argument against the correctness of Joseph Smith's interpretation of the hieroglyphics printed in the Pearl of Great Price.

I may as well say at once that I am not convinced. Your argument has disappointed me, for I had hoped to find in your book an investigation that would be worthy of the steel of "Mormonism." Instead, I have come to the conclusion that you have only begun the inquiry, which you announce has been concluded.

Do not misunderstand me. You have given your word that you are sincere in this inquiry. That is enough. The apparent unfairness on some of your pages can well be charged to the aberrations of vision which beset every person who takes sides on any question.

Your title page is splendid. "Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator. An Inquiry conducted by Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, D.D., Bishop of Utah, with the kind assistance of capable scholars." It is full of promise. Especially do I like the word "inquiry" in the sub-title, which undoubtedly you are using in the scientific sense. The word is one which has become hallowed in the history of science. The great masters who laid the foundations of systematic knowledge were wont to entitle the reports of their classical investigations, patiently and exhaustively carried on for years, "An Inquiry" into this, that, or some other, natural phenomenon. It is with a feeling akin to reverence that I peruse any "inquiry" made by a learned man "assisted by capable scholars." "Mormonism" has had so few inquiries made into it in an unprejudiced, truly scientific spirit, that the few that have been made should receive respectful attention.

Your dedication is equally good—"To my many Mormon friends—who are as honest searchers after the truth as he hopes he is himself—this book is dedicated by the Author." The "Mormon" has been so persistently viewed through the eyes of narrow clerical projudice, that it feels good to have a leader of the cloth give "Mormons" credit for being at least as honest as are other people. I am a "Mormon" because I honestly believe "Mormonism" to be true. There are some hundreds of thousands who are equally honest in their belief. Your admission of this fact puts us on a footing of equality in the inquiry, the results of which you are submitting to the world. I thank you for the gracious words.

The thing in your dedication which especially appeals to me, however, is the statement that you and we, in this investigation, are searchers after truth, thereby confirming the opinion derived from the title page, that this inquiry is in reality an honest search after truth—that it is to be thoroughly scientific. Such inquiries are welcomed by the Latter-day Saints; their system of belief must stand every honest test of truth. To you and to me, truth is indeed "the sum of existence." Before truth we stand with shoes removed and heads uncovered.

The very first words in the text of the book explain why the inquiry must be an honest search after truth. "If the Book of Mormon is true, it is next to the Bible, the most important book in the world." You later explain that, according to your method of thinking, if Joseph Smith interpreted the Egyptian hieroglyphics in the Pearl of Great Price correctly, the Book of Mormon must be true; if incorrectly, must be false. With such an important matter at stake, the inquiry certainly must be an honest search, a thoroughly scientific investigation, for if the translation is wrong, it means the salvation from gross error of the half million souls in the "Mormon" Church; if right, the doubling of the holy books of all Christendom.

 

THE ESSENTIAL QUESTION.

I shall not consider at all the question whether your claim that one error in "Mormonism" makes the whole erroneous. Some of my fellow-believers have already expressed themselves vigorously on that point. The essential question is: Did or did not Joseph Smith translate the hieroglyphics in the Pearl of Great Price correctly? A fact is to be established. After that has been done it may be time to discuss the application of the fact. As I understand your book, that was the impelling motive in the inquiry.

I confess that your purpose thus clearly shown appealed to me immensely. To have a trained, capable mind apply itself with all the resources of the age, to a thoroughly scientific examination of a point in "Mormonism," put on edge my expectant appetite. Why did you not carry out your purpose? Can not a man carry to the end an inquiry concerning "Mormonism?" Instead of passing a direct opinion on the book, let me express it indirectly, in the form of some questions which I ask in all sincerity "as an honest searcher after truth," and in the hope that you may be persuaded to continue the inquiry.

Why did you secure opinions from eight men? Why not from eighty? This is not a matter which has been examined and re-examined until settled beyond dispute. As I remember I have heard you say that you are not an Egyptologist; neither am I. If, therefore, we are to rest our decided opinions concerning Egyptology upon the opinions of others, we should certainly follow the statistical procedure and reduce the probable error by bringing in all the possible witnesses. True, there is not an abundance of persons who claim the ability to read Egyptian hieroglyphics, but certainly many scores are found in the countries of the world. You have certainly used the statistical method in a most unscientific manner.

I note with regret, also, an element of haste in your important inquiry. It was impossible to secure evidence from Dr. Lythgoe because he was in Egypt. Mails pass regularly between Utah and Egypt every few weeks. In my own little correspondence I receive occasional letters from diverse places in Egypt, and we both have friends who go from Utah to Egypt and back in a few weeks. Haste is unscientific; the masters of "inquiry" take their time; what matters a year or two, if spent in the interest of truth? Since you decided to begin your inquiry by asking opinions, you greatly violated the scientific method by asking only eight—especially since the matter rested largely on individual interpretations of long-past days.

More surprising still is the fact that you assume that the answers of eight experts would settle this tremendously important question: The method of ipse dixit, "I have said it, therefore it is true," is not scientific. No reputable man of science uses it. If a layman desires some information on agricultural chemistry he may put a question to me and to other specialists, and if he have sufficient confidence in our soundness may govern his practices accordingly. Similarly, if a layman desires information concerning socialism he may apply to you and other expert students of the subject, and may make your views his own. However, the layman who thus secures information by the easy method of asking of convenient experts a few questions does not write a book on agricultural chemistry or socialism. That is done, or should be done, only by the man who has by independent research made himself a specialist on the subject. Yet that is precisely what you have done in the matter of Joseph Smith's translation of the Egyptian hieroglyphics. The method of the layman has been used by you in reaching conclusions of the specialists. In an inquiry defined as an honest search after truth, conclusions resting on such a method have no value. You have forgotten, in a scientific inquiry, to assure yourself that your data are correct. If a man of science should do such a thing he would soon acquire the title of pseudo-scientist. Why did you, a man trained in the learning of the day, adopt an unscientific method in a scientific inquiry? Do you carry such reverence for authority into all matter—say into the higher criticism of the Bible? I assure you that "Mormons," so frequently charged with slavish obedience to authority, establish their faith quite otherwise.

 

ACCEPTS DISCORDANT VIEWS.

It is yet more surprising to note that you accept the answers, obtained by the faulty methods of the layman, in the face of the patent fact that they do not agree. Your attention has already been called to the disagreement of the jury. It can not be denied except by speciousness, and I believe you will not do it. A layman, receiving from experts discordant answers to the same question, would simply be confused and lay the matter by with the thought that where the doctors disagree there is no help for him. A scientific inquirer, however, an honest searcher after truth, would not lose heart, but would set to work to discover why there was disagreement, whether it was apparent or real, and if possible would dig out the truth. Why did not you do this? Many books have been written on Egyptology, by men living and dead. Why were they not examined to harmonize, if possible, the discordant answers? The museums on both sides of the water, as we have both seen, are filled with papyri found with mummies that might have been examined to secure the counterparts of Joseph Smith's "hieroglyphics."

Out of your own mouth is the statement that this inquiry is in importance next only to one concerning the truthfulness of the Bible, yet you dare draw a final conclusion from an inquiry so loosely conducted that I can hardly believe that you, with your training, were really in charge. You remember, no doubt, the accuracy, the painful accuracy, with which the facts of science are established. If the relative weight of an atom of hydrogen is to be determined, a dozen men, in several countries, labor for years, with errors so small as to make a speck of dust look as large as a hill. The methods of the higher critics—I speak of the big work—are based upon the accurate study of minute differences and similarities.

The earnestly scientific method of higher criticism is, after all, the chief reasons why the questionable conclusions of the study have received such wide acceptance among scholarly men of your type. Yet in your own higher criticism of Joseph Smith's powers as a translator, north and south have apparently pointed in one direction.

Did you not notice in the letters received by you that some of the scholars were unable to read the characters surrounding the main picture, while one declares them to be the usual funeral inscriptions? Did you not know that M. Deveria seemed able to decipher many of them? As a scientific investigator, why did you not satisfy yourself and us on this point? The prints from the original wood cuts may be obtained from The Times and Seasons, numerous copies of which are available. Did you examine these? If you did not, and there is no evidence in your book that you did, you violated the method of science, and have discredited your conclusions.

Moreover, I must ask you what you would have us believe from the testimonial letters which are the only evidence for your argument. For instance, one of the "capable scholars" declares that the scene in Fig. 1 depicts the embalmer preparing the dead body for mummification. It is agreed that this scene occurs with thousands of funeral papyri. Do you ask us to believe that this representation was made with trouble and expense simply to perpetuate the method of embalming? That is, is it only a sort of record whereby embalmers of future years might acquire the modus operandi of the business? If so, it appears to me to be fearfully misleading. No self-respecting corpse should look so tremendously alive; and no clever embalmer should hold his knife so high in evident surprise. The notion of course is preposterous. The scene, naturally, is symbolical, as are the other figures in question. What do they symbolize—in essence? What hope, fear, conviction, made it necessary to place these representations with the dead? Who is Osiris, from the beginning, by the method of scientific inquiry? What is the place of Osiris in the theological system of ancient Egypt? Whence was the conception of Osiris, and how did it change through the years? Who and what were Isis and Horus and all the other gods of Egypt? Not by name and relationship, but as expressing the Egyptian's vision of the known and the unknown, the past, the present and the hereafter? What is the mighty symbolism of the writings of the dwellers by the Nile, the shakers and the makers of the empires of old? Did you go into all this in your honest search after a truth second only to the truth of the Bible? Your correspondents point out the shell of the thing, and hardly that. To them, Fig. 1 is of the embalmer at work, or of Osiris rising from the dead; Fig. 2, a magical disk; Fig. 3, the dead person appearing before Osiris or something similar, with not a word of explanation. Joseph Smith attempts the interpretation of the symbolical meaning, and if his translation of the hieroglyphics is read in connection with the Book of Abraham, a consistent beginning of explaining the whole symbolical system of Egypt is made. Why did you not examine the literature of this subject when you undertook this fundamentally important inquiry.

 

INQUIRY SHOWN TO BE LOOSE.

In science, similarities are as important as differences. Why is not a word of comment offered on the striking similarities between Joseph Smith's version and those of your correspondents, which have been publicly pointed out to you? Again, the inquiry is shown to have been of the loosest scientific nature.

In yet another way does it seem to me that you have grossly forgotten the method of science in your study of the "Mormon" Prophet's power of translating Egyptian hieroglyphics. You are an earnest follower of many of the higher critics. Your views of the Bible are not those of the majority. The evidences upon which you base many of your views are of the internal kind. The tricks of phrase and the kind of imagery are means whereby information concerning authorship and date of composition is obtained. Why was not this method employed in your study of Joseph Smith as translator? The hieroglyphics in question were merely incidents in the longer translation of the Book of Abraham. Why was not this book carefully examined for evidences to establish or overthrow the claim to genuineness of the translation of the hieroglyphics? A complete scientific inquiry would not fail to employ all the means by which modern man ascertains truth, especially of a matter second only to one in importance to the followers of Christ. The omission of this test makes your book appear still more unscientific.

Why did you so carefully avoid any reference to the history of Egypt in its relation to semitic influences? You must have noticed the possibility of comparing the words of the Book of Abraham with the views of many leading scholars? Did you note the absurdity of the remark of one of your scholars concerning "Joseph Smith's monotheistic Abraham," in view of the doctrines actually set forth in the Book of Abraham? To omit any reference to this great subject is anything but scientific, if truth is desired.

Since the Book of Abraham is not used at all in your argument, and since you decided to institute an inquiry which should be an honest search for truth, why did you prejudice your jury by sending to them the Pearl of Great Price, as is evident from several of the replies? According to the method of science, every precaution should be taken to prevent the element of prejudice from entering the observations sought. "Mormonism," thanks to the efforts of sundry members of the Christian clergy, is not a popular system of theology. Egyptologists, even the most eminent, are men of flesh and blood, and subject to the common passions of the race. Why did you not, in this day of photo-engraving, spend the dollar or two necessary to secure cuts freed from the context of the Pearl of Great Price? It was not at all necessary, in a scientific inquiry, to let the jury know the source of the hieroglyphics; the question at issue was simply the meaning of them. The prejudicing of your witnesses, accidental as I hope it to have been, was distinctly unscientific, and reduces greatly the value of the testimony.

The letters themselves, with one or two exceptions bear evidence of having been thrown off lightly. They are the letters hastily though courteously dispatched, to correspondents of sufficient importance, by busy men who are anxious to get back to their work. It was not to be expected that these men, with only a most passing interest in Joseph Smith, should do more. It was your investigation, not theirs. Meanwhile, not one of the letters is a thoroughgoing statement concerning the questions which you asked, and which, peculiarly enough in a scientific inquiry, you do not print. Your correspondents give their offhand opinions, no more. I am fairly sure that none of them, were the facts set before him, would justify you in so unscientific a use as you have made of their letters in this book, even concerning so unpopular a subject as is "Mormonism."

 

THE ATTITUDE OF THE JUDGES.

May I ask you further, why, in an inquiry to be characterized by an honest search after truth, you did not call attention to the doubtful value of some of the opinions received as evidenced by the manifest prejudice and ill temper of the authors? Do you think Dr. Sayce was helping you in your honest search after truth when he opened his letter with the words, "It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud?" Was he in a frame of mind to render impartial judgment on the subject? The spirit of this opening sentence is not scientific, and evidently it had not been impressed upon Dr. Sayce that this inquiry was an honest search after the truth of one of the most vital matters before civilized man. I assure you that the authors of your letters were not half so much amused at "Joseph Smith's impudent fraud," as I was at the introduction of such opinions as the foundations of an important conclusion, into a book professedly embodying the history and findings of the scientific inquiry by a man liberally trained in the learning of the day.

The evening is closing. There are many other thoughts that have occurred to me, but which must be left unwritten. I can only repeat that I am unconvinced; and that your book, as an honest search after truth by one competent to conduct such an inquiry, is extraordinarily unscientific. It is not worthy of you. Your plan is excellent, but your method so loose and incomplete that your conclusion is unwarranted. You, yourself, would be the last to accept for yourself any conclusion based upon so rickety a method and so attenuated an evidence as are found in your book on Joseph Smith, Jr., as a translater. Why did you perpetrate it upon your "Mormon" friends?

You declare that the subject is of highest importance to all Christendom; nevertheless you proceed to base your conclusions on the opinions of eight scholars, when scores are available; you show an unscientific haste to get into print; you accept without question the authority of these men; you ignore the radical differences in their opinions; you fail to make the necessary minute comparisons and bibliographical researches; you virtually deny the symbolical meaning of all Egyptian funeral inscriptions; you refrain from mentioning the striking similarities between Joseph Smith's translation and your eight opinions; you disregard the possible internal evidences of the Book of Abraham in support of the prophet's translation; you are silent on the whole vital matter of Egypt and Abraham; you have prejudiced your witnesses, though probably unintentionally; your eight letters are not in the remotest sense studies of the matter under consideration; you have accepted at their face value letters that are clearly prejudiced and ill tempered. Were it not that you have said otherwise, I should be tempted to say from the internal evidences of the book, that you prejudiced the case and wrote the conclusion before the investigation began.

These changes should be made in the next edition of the book. On the title page should be added the words "The Plan and a Preliminary Study." On pages 18 and 19, all words that convey a conclusion should be eliminated. At the end it should be stated that the inquiry is being vigorously and scientifically continued.

 

EVIDENCE OF PROPHET'S INSPIRATION.

I trust you will receive this letter in the spirit in which it is sent. You want to know the truth; so do I. We want frankness in criticism. Continue the investigation in accordance with the methods of science, with which you are so thoroughly familiar. Final results may come slowly if the inquiry is carried on intensively, but as you have yourself explained, it is quite worth while.

Finally, permit me to say that, as a young man, I gave long and careful study to the books of Moses and Abraham, as found in the Pearl of Great Price, came out of the study with a conviction that they were splendid evidences of the divinity of the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Time has not altered this view. Your book has set me investigating the question concerning the accuracy of the translation of the hieroglyphics incidentally inserted with the Book of Abraham. As far as I have gone in the study, I have been happy to find that the evidence is wonderfully in favor of Joseph Smith's translation. I shall continue the study in my occasional spare moments. To me it is not a vital thing in "Mormonism," but it is interesting, and I am grateful to you for calling my attention to it again. I have no fear of the outcome when Joseph Smith is subjected to scientific study—but the study must be an "honest search after truth."

With best wishes, very sincerely yours, JOHN A. WIDTSOE.

P. S.—I may send a copy of this letter for publication to the editor of The Deseret News, so that if it is published it may serve as an answer to a number of people who have asked for my views of your book.

 

Scientists Not Always Correct fn

BY JUDGE RICHARD W. YOUNG.

IMPROVEMENT ERA 1913

Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan 10, 1913. Editor Deseret News:

The Right Rev. F. S. Spalding's willingness to sacrifice "Mormonism" upon the altar of scholarship is reminiscent of Artemas Ward's willingness to sacrifice his wife's relations on the altar of patriotism.

I do not venture this comparison flippantly, but with a sincere conviction that neither of the churches of Christendom, including the great organization of which Bishop Spalding is a distinguished member, is willing to submit to the determination of scholars the authenticity of its claims or the validity of any basic fact of its creed. I am not ignorant that in the conflict between science and theology victory has usually perched upon the banners of the scientists; nor do I forget that the path along which science has proceeded forth out of primitive darkness into present-day light is strewn with the skeletons of theories once deemed imperishable and of fictions once regarded as facts—and no one is so blind as not to be able to see that the pathway of science extends onward and upward into realms of positive knowledge, whose brightness will cause the tallow dips of today's speculations to pale into relative insignificance. And it is because of such considerations as these that the churches now are and ever have been unwilling to yield unreserved credence to every decree of science, the instant it is formulated.

The sciences of astronomy, chemistry, geology, zoology, medicine—in fact, all—have frequently discarded theories to adopt new ones. The Ptolemaic theory that the earth was the center of the universe very ingeniously explained nearly all of the phenomena of the heavens; and this theory was unquestioned for more than 1,500 years prior to the time of Copernicus. It was said that "the wise are witnesses that the heavens revolve in the space of 24 hours," and Copernicus was described as a fool who "wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy"—but Copernicus was right and the world, scientific as well as religious, was wrong.

Scientists once held that there were but four elements, fire, earth, air and water; but when I went to school chemistry taught as an ultimate and incontestable fact that matter was divided into some 60 odd distinct elements. It seems incredible that this theory has perished, and that "the tendency of all recent discoveries has been to emphasize the truth of the conception of a common basis of matter of all kinds." (Ency. Brit.)

The same eminent authority tells us concerning the dear old atomic theory, upon which we of an older generation were brought up, that "the atomic theory has been of priceless value to chemists, but it has more than once happened in the history of science that a hypothesis, after having been useful in the discovery and the co-ordination of knowledge, has been abandoned and replaced by one more in harmony with later discoveries."

It would have been scientific sacrilege not to have had implicit confidence in the physicians of fifty years ago, and yet they did not have the slightest conception that the world was filled with microscopic germs, the chief sources of disease, and their annihilation the chief hope for prevention and cure. Our helpful friends, the doctors, formerly starved where now they feed, the typhoid patient, and back a century or two ago bled patients for nearly every disease—a practice not only discarded but now held to be indefensible, even murderous.

This and many more instances, modern, medieval and ancient, might be cited as a sufficient justification of the caution and hesitancy with which religion accepts the conclusions of science. The Christian Churches will not accept the scientific dictum that there is no personal God; nor any theory of evolution which eliminates the creative act; nor the scientific denial of miracles, including the immaculate conception and that great central fact of Christianity, the resurrection of the body of our Savior; nor philosophical deductions as to the plan of salvation; nor expert historical opinion as to the authenticity of the books of Moses or Daniel or the four gospels (though clergymen here and there may be converts to higher criticism), etc., etc.

I scarcely believe that either Catholics or Protestants would be willing to submit their respective claims to the determination of historians, and conceive that the Church of England would not be willing to go out of business upon the adverse determination of eight or ten historians who might be called upon to examine the claims of that church to unbroken apostolic succession; and I further venture the suspicion that Bishop Spalding would not be willing to yield acquiescence to disinterested scholars respecting every tenet of his faith. It was with such considerations in mind that I suggested, in other words, at the beginning of this communication that perhaps the reverend bishop might not be willing to have measured to Christianity in general or to himself with what measure he meted to us.

Bishop Spalding asseverates that inasmuch as thinking and authoritative scholars declare that Joseph Smith translated certain hieroglpyhics incorrectly, "no thoughtful man can be asked to accept the Book of Mormon, but, on the other hand, honesty will require him, with whatever personal regret, to repudiate it and the whole body of belief, which has been built upon it and the reputation its publication gave to its author."

Despite the cocksureness of Bishop Spalding, I cannot, because of the considerations above mentioned and others noted below, with such thoughtfulness and honesty as I possess, accept the bishop's conclusions.

However, in the controversy at issue, we Latter-day Saints are not compelled to rely entirely, as we may in consistency, upon the aforesaid and other general considerations, but we feel that we may urge special objections to the evidences offered by the bishop in support of his case, I shall not attempt to point out the discrepancies among the scholars cited by Bishop Spalding—that has been done by Elder B. H. Roberts and others—further than to call attention to the fact that these discrepancies are quite numerous and involve such diametrically conflicting translations as the version, on the one hand, by Petrie and Peters that plate No. 1 represents Anubis or an embalmer preparing a body for burial, and, on the other hand, the statement of Breasted and Deveria that the plate represents Osiris rising from the dead. The jury palpably disagrees and the indictment must either be dismissed or the defendants be granted a new trial—surely the arbitrary contention that every honest and thoughtful man must vote for conviction, under such circumstances, finds no analogy in law or logic.

Being quite curious to ascertain just why these students of Egyptology differ among themselves, I consulted the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and in the article on Egypt, page 58, found a statement prepared by an Oxford professor, and presumably a student of the Rev. Prof. Sayce, which seems to furnish a complete explanation of these discrepancies, and at the same time to deprive Bishop Spalding's savants of the title to absolute and incontestable verity which he ascribes to them.

This is the statement (the capitals being mine:

"At present Egyptologists depend on Heinrich Bruegsch's admirable but somewhat antiquated WORTERBUCH and on Levi's useful but entirely uncritical VOCABULIARO. ... Apart from their philological interest, as giving the state of a remarkable language during a period of several thousand years, the grammatical studies of the last quarter of the nineteenth century and afterwards are BEGINNING to bear fruit in regard to the exact interpretation of historical documents on Egyptian monuments and papyri. Not long ago, the supposed meaning of these was extracted chiefly by brilliant guessing, and the published translations of even the best scholars could carry no guarantee of more than approximate exactitude, where the sense depended at all on correct recognition of the syntax. Now the translator proceeds in Egyptian with SOME OF THE SURENESS with which he would deal with Latin or Greek. The meaning of many words may be still unknown, and MANY CONSTRUCTIONS ARE STILL OBSCURE; but at least he can distinguish fairly between a correct text and a corrupt text. Egyptian writing lent itself only too easily to misunderstanding, and the writings of one period were but half intelligible to the learned scribes of another. The mistaken reading of the old inscriptions by the priests at Abydos (table of Abydos), when attempting to record the names of the kings of the first dynasty, on the walls of the temple of Seti I., are now admitted on all sides; and no palaeographer, whether his field be Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian or any other class of Mss., will be surprised to hear that the EGYPTIAN PAPYRI AND INSCRIPTIONS ABOUND IN CORRUPTIONS AND MISTAKES. The translator of today, can, if he wishes, mark where certainty ends and mere conjecture begins, and it is to be hoped that advantage will be taken more widely of this new power. THE EGYPTOLOGIST WHO HAS LONG LIVED IN THE REALM OF CONJECTURE IS TOO PRONE TO CONSIDER ANY SERIES OF GUESSES GOOD ENOUGH TO SERVE AS A TRANSLATION AND FORGETS TO INSERT THE NOTES OF INTERROGATION WHICH WOULD WARN WORKERS IN OTHER FIELDS FROM IMPLICIT TRUST."

And so the cat is out of the bag! The studies of the past are now "beginning to bear fruit in regard to the exact interpretation of historical documents on Egyptian monuments and papyri;" brilliant guessing has been the rule of the past and the Egyptian translator now proceeds "with some of the sureness with which he would deal with Latin or Greek;" "many constructions are still obscure;" "the writings of one period were but half intelligible to the learned scribes of another;" "Egyptian papyri and inscriptions abound in corruptions and mistakes;" and the Egyptologist "is too prone to consider any series of guesses good enough to serve as a translation." Really, are not trifles, light as air, held by the Reverend Bishop to be more strong than proofs of holy writ?

In passing, it may not be malapropos to the contention that Joseph Smith must be rejected because he is repudiated by the scholars, to refer to the fourth verse of the eighth chapter of St. Matthew, wherein Jesus said, "Show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded"—the reference being to Leviticus. But the scholarship of higher criticism proclaims that Leviticus was not written by Moses, nor until centuries after his time. Christ's statement was unqualified; he did not say "as Moses is believed to have written" or "as is contained within the writings ascribed to Moses," etc., but uses the words "that Moses commanded." And in view of this flat controversy between Christ and the scholars, one shudders at the sentence that must be imposed upon Christ and Christian pretentions.

There is another thought respecting this controversy, that seems to be germane—a consideration that permits us to assume that Dr. Spalding's jury is right, and, if you will, even unanimous, in the interpretation of the papyri submitted, namely that Abraham, in seeking to represent the attempt of the priest of Elkenah to offer up Abraham as a sacrifice, and, again, in seeking to represent the occasion that Pharaoh politely permitted Abraham to sit upon the Egyptian throne, would not violate the analogies by substantially copying scenes familiar to the populace of his day and in employing the images of Egyptian deities—even though such scenes and images might be used to represent meanings quite different from their ordinary significations.

Orators, poets, and painters, in their appeals to the public, have ever employed the simile, the metaphor, the idealistic and the symbolical. Figures of speech and conventionalities of a like character in painting have never failed to add interest and conviction "to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." We talk to children in the language of childhood and appeal to the aborigine in the picturesque imagery of nature. Benjamin West, the American who became president of the Royal academy, in his "Death of Wolfe," introduced figures with modern costumes and thus became the first of English painters to abandon classical draperies in historical paintings—and one can imagine how conclusive would be the unanimous testimony of such a flood of paintings, if recovered from a perished civilization, that the great men of England, as late as the eighteenth century, were garbed in the habiliments of ancient Rome.

In 1911 I visited the Vatican in Rome, and there, in the Sistine Chapel, beheld Michael Angelo's great conception of the "Last Judgment," the central figure of which being the Great Judge. Upstairs, somewhere in that wilderness of rooms, I saw Raphael's impressive picture of the Eternal Father. These pictures are found in the palace, the very home, of the Roman Pontiff. Let it be supposed that these and innumerable other representations of God in human form, were recovered by Macauley's New Zealander, or by some other representative of a civilization yet to be born, from the ruins of the Vatican or other ruins of the present age and submitted to the Sayces and Petries of his day, in order to ascertain the Roman Catholic conception of the personality of God—can we doubt that the unanimous verdict would be that the Roman church held that God was in the express physical image of man; and this, despite the protestations of the truly initiated that these figures were merely symbolical and were employed by the artist to enable them to appeal to their generations in a language that would be understood.

And so—is it more unreasonable or inexplicable that Abraham should employ the figures of the Conopic jars to depict certain of the Gods represented by him, or Osiris, or of Seti, or what not, to represent himself or the idolatrous priest than for Angelo to copy the face of a Roman peasant or Raphael that of a "Bavarian Toy Maker" to represent a spiritual essence, a divinity without body or parts.

I shall not contend that my religious beliefs have been free from uncertainties—uncertainties, however, quite as great, even greater, in respect of the fundamental conceptions of Christianity as in respect of tenets peculiar to "Mormonism;" and I find some support in the conviction that the difficulties thus besetting me are no greater than those besetting the great body of Christians, including perhaps the author of "Joseph Smith as a Translator." But objections to Christianity in general, though often difficult or impossible to explain, become negligible to the devout Christian when viewed in conjunction with the innumerable and obvious evidences of the truth of Christianity; and so to the converted Latter-day Saint, the objections contained within the Bishop's brochure, though involving some puzzling facts, sink into relative insignificance when viewed in the light of the splendid truths proclaimed by and through Joseph Smith, Jr.—truths, as we believe, vindicating God from the aspersions of theological error and ennobling mankind as the possessor of embryotic divinity. "Truth," says Bacon, "is the daughter of time," and we feel that in respect of the objections now considered we can afford to await the vindication of the years. Such partial vindication has already come to the Book of Mormon through the discovery of the great ruins of Central and South America, the fossil horse, etc., and in the opinion of a government expert, given in one of the reports of the Bureau of Ethnology that the mammoth ranged over certain parts of America as late as 1,500 years ago.

Yours respectfully,

RICHARD W. YOUNG.

 

"Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator"

The Unfair Fairness of Rev. Spalding fn

BY BISHOP OSBORN J. P. WIDTSOE S. B., A. M.

IMPROVEMENT ERA 1913

The Latter-day Saints are by this time undoubtedly well aware of the fact that the Rt. Rev. F. S. Spalding, bishop of Utah, has put forth a pamphlet entitled, "Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator," in which the bishop has tried to prove that the Prophet Joseph Smith failed as a translator of ancient languages, and, therefore, failed also as a prophet of God. Many of the Latter-day Saints have had the privilege of reading the bishop's pamphlet, itself. Those who have not read the pamphlet have at least read the notices of it, and the replies made by thoughtful, scholarly men. And perhaps most of us think that the bishop has already received a sufficient answer. What came to the younger men and women of Zion as a shock, has passed harmlessly by. The source of strength has been sapped—the bishop's battery is wrecked, the force of his cunningly wrought argument is broken. Really, there remains little to be done except to clean away the wreckage of another unsuccessful attack upon the stronghold of "Mormon" faith, and to proceed triumphantly on our way. Yet, while the case is really won, I beg leave to present the following thoughts, that it may be, perhaps, the more securely clinched in the minds and hearts of the youth of Zion.

 

THE BISHOP'S APPARENT FAIRNESS.

Bishop Spalding's present attack on "Mormonism" seems to differ from all other attacks in the frankness and the fairness of its approach. Those who have replied to the bishop's pamphlet have all commented on this apparent attitude of openness and candor. And it is one of the most notable things in the bishop's inquiry. The pamphlet is dedicated thus:

"To my (his?) many Mormon friends—who are as honest searchers after the truth as he hopes he is himself—this book is dedicated by

 

"THE AUTHOR"

It is not always that we are credited with being as honest searchers after the truth as a bishop of the Episcopal church.

In the body of the work, again, the bishop deals with his subject—apparently—with the utmost candor and fairness. He quotes Orson Pratt and B. H. Roberts and pays them high tributes for their ability and for their fair play. He admits that "it is inexcusable that the book (of Mormon) has never had the serious examination which its importance demands." He acknowledges that in the controversies between the Latter-day Saints and their defamers "the Latter-day Saints set an example of dignity and courtesy which their opponents rarely followed." He asserts that, since there was no scholar living in the early days of the Church who could read Egyptian, the Saints did the right thing to get the testimonies of witnesses. "This was the logical method of procedure, because there was no scholar living whose opinion would have been of real value, even had all the plates been submitted for his inspection." He affirms that, while the questions he propounds are most critical, "yet, if the thoughtful Latter-day Saints of today are like those of the past, they will welcome them, because they have always invited investigation." And he is very careful to form in the reader's mind the impression that now, at last, is there conducted an inquiry into the claims of the Prophet Joseph Smith, with the utmost candor, frankness, and fairness.

What is to be said against the bishop's method? Only this: His fairness is but surface deep; the actual method of his investigation and the real spirit o fhis inquiry are as unfair as he would have the reader believe them fair. The difference, then, between Bishop Spalding's "inquiry" and other anti-"Mormon" literature is only apparent.

Can this be shown? Easily. And when it is shown, what then? Surely, it destroys the argument so deftly wrought in cunningness. Fairness, we are told, implies, negatively, the absence of injustice or fraud; positively, the putting of all things on an equitable footing. without undue advantage to any. If the bishop has violated this definition of fairness, he has not been fair in his inquiry, and his inquiry is unvalidated by so much. Let us conduct an inquiry into his inquiry. The points to which I shall call your attention are not specially arranged, but are treated in the order in which they appear in the bishop's pamphlet.

 

SCIENCE NEED NOT BE REVISED.

In the first chapter of "Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator," Bishop Spalding declares that "if the Book of Mormon is true, it is, next to the Bible, the most important book in the world." Then he points out that the Book of Mormon would be of great value to students of the life and teachings of Jesus; that it would shed a flood of light upon the whole question of church origins; and that it would be of great value to the archaeologist—if it is true. All this may be granted without further question. But, then, in the midst of this fair statement of the case, occurs the following surprising paragraph:

"The Book of Mormon, were it shown to be true, would give important information to scientists. The account of the convulsions of nature, which occurred in America at the time of Christ's coming, would compel the geologist to re-examine his theories as to the formation of land and sea, and the astronomer to adjust his laws of the heavens to the wonderful three days' darkness. The botanist and zoologist would have to rewrite the account of the flora and fauna of America."

The implication of this general statement is manifestly unfair. To one who knows the Book of Mormon but slightly, and to one who knows it not at all, it would appear that there are, in the Book of Mormon, descriptions of convulsions and cataclysms of nature radically opposed to natural law, and that the animals and plants of the book are really foreign to American soil. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the Book of Mormon to compel any scientist to re-examine his theories, or to adjust his laws, or to rewrite his science. True, we do not know the details of the natural phenomena described. We cannot tell in just what way the convulsions came about. But Central and South America have been centers of geological activity for ages. Such things as are described in the Book of Mormon can be accounted for in many natural ways. Moreover, phenomena as wonderful as those of the Book of Mormon have happened almost within our own memories—but we have not found it necessary therefore to revise the sciences.

In the scholarly treatise on "Physiography," by Prof. Rollin D. Salisbury, the following interesting description occurs: "One of the most violent and destructive volcanic explosions of which there is historical record was that of 1883, in Krakatoa, a volcanic island in the Strait of Sunda, between Sumatra and Java.

"Previous to the great eruption, the island had been shaken by earthquakes and minor explosions for some years. On the morning of the 27th of August there was a series of terrible explosions, the sound of which was heard in southern Australia, 2,200 miles away. About two-thirds of the island was blown away, and the sea is now 1,000 feet deep where the center of the mountain formerly stood. Enormous sea-waves were formed which traveled half-way around the earth. On the shores of the neighboring islands the water rose 50 feet, causing great destruction. More than 36,000 persons perished, mostly by drowning, and 295 villages were wholly or partially destroyed. The sky over the island and the bordering coasts became black as night from the clouds of dust. It was estimated that steam and dust were shot up into the air 17 to 23 miles. The explosion produced great air-waves which traveled three and more times around the earth."

This account of the volcanic explosion of Krakatoa is as wonderful as any account of a convulsion of nature described in the Book of Mormon. Shall we therefore re-examine our theories of the formation of land and sea and of the cause of darkness? Surely, the bishop will not require it. And yet, instances of this kind might be cited almost without number. If space would permit we might describe such disasters as that of San Francisco, in 1906, when there occurred a fault of from eight to twenty feet, traceable for 300 miles; and that of Charleston, in 1886, when numerous fissures were formed in the earth from which were forced streams of water, mud and sand; and that of a part of the delta of the Indus river in 1819, when "an area of some 2,000 miles in extent subsided so as to be covered by the sea, while a neighboring belt, 50 miles long and 16 miles wide, rose about 10 feet," and many other convulsions in which cities and villages were destroyed, and the land was submerged in the sea, and thousands of persons were killed. Yet, it does not become necessary to revise our known laws of science. And in like manner, did space permit, we might make an exhaustive study of the flora and fauna of the Americas, only to find that the botanist and the zoologist may leave their accounts of American life-forms as they have written them, for all that the Book of Mormon teaches to the contrary.

Why, then, did the Bishop make so unfair an implication concerning the contents of the Book of Mormon? Was it because he was playing absolutely fair? Since we have been able to show that the implication is unfair, how are we to know—applying the Bishop's own logic—that he is not unfair elsewhere in his inquiry? And if his argument is thus built up on unfair, and even false, implications, of what value is it either to "Mormon" or to non-"Mormon?"

 

THE EIGHTH ARTICLE OF FAITH.

In writing of the relative positions of the Bible and the Book of Mormon in the "Mormon" Church, Bishop Spalding says:

"The eighth article of faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints distinguishes between the correctness of the translation of the Bible and of the Book of Mormon. While the Bible is accepted as the word of God, 'so far as it is correctly translated,' there is no such caution with reference to the Book of Mormon, but the statement, 'We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God,' is without qualification.

"In thus placing the inspiration of the Book of Mormon on a higher plane than that of the Bible, the Latter-day Saints are logical. The Book of Mormon was translated by one man, and he was accepted by them as an inspired prophet of God—using the Urim and Thummim."

Here again we are confronted by a manifestly unfair implication. The Bishop begins by discussing the fact that the Latter-day Saints distinguish between the correctness of the translation of the Bible and of the Book of Mormon. And the Latter-day Saints do make a distinction. But then the Bishop very subtly changes from the idea of the translation to the idea of the inspiration, and declares that the Latter-day Saints are logical in placing the inspiration of the Book of Mormon upon a higher plane than that of the Bible. To the non-"Mormon" this can mean only one thing: The Latter-day Saints assert without qualification the divine inspiration of the men who wrote the books of the Book of Mormon, but they deny in part at least the divine inspiration of the men who wrote the books of the Bible. That is, the impression is very cunningly given out that the Latter-day Saints place not only the translation but also the original inspiration of the Book of Mormon upon a higher plane than that of the Bible. If this be really true, it is no wonder that other Christians refuse to affiliate with the "Mormons," and that they denounce them for putting forth another Bible.

But the implication, I repeat, is unfair. The eighth article of faith asserts really the divine inspiration of the sacred books of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. As far as the divine inspiration of these two sacred records is concerned, it may be asserted that the Latter-day Saints recognize also this fact, that, while the Book of Mormon was translated from the original plates through the gift and power of God, the Bible was translated by uninspired men, not from the original manuscripts, but from copies made from other copies. Into the copies crept undoubtedly many copyists' errors, and into the translation have crept many translators' errors. Surely, it is both logical and right to hold to the reservation provided in the eighth article of faith. So, again, therefore, the Bishop's argument is based on a false impression, on a false premise. There is not here a total absence of injustice, nor is there a putting of all things on an equitable footing, without undue advantage to any. The bishop's argument is really not fair, and consequently it is of little force.

 

THE PROPHET'S CLAIM TO LEADERSHIP.

The real crux of Bishop Spalding's inquiry is this: "Did Joseph Smith, Jr., translate the plates correctly?" "Was the Book of Mormon translated correctly?" The bishop accepts for argument's sake, the story of the finding of the plates of the Book of Mormon. The real question with him is, "Is the translation of the Book of Mormon correct?" He proposes to test Joseph Smith as a prophet of God, therefore, by his ability to translate ancient languages correctly. And if it can be shown that Joseph Smith made mistakes in translation, then the bishop would have all men repudiate the Book of Mormon "and the whole body of belief, which has been built upon it and upon the reputation its publication gave to its author."

Writing further of this troublesome question, Bishop Spalding says: "It is surely clear to the reader that the correctness of the translation of the Book of Mormon is a most important question. It was the conviction that he had been selected by the Almighty to give to mankind this book which won for Joseph Smith, Jr., the attention of earnest men and gave him leadership over them. If the translation of the plates is inaccurate he did not deserve that leadership. However sincere he may have been in believing in his mission, if the translation he gave to mankind is false, he is shown to have been self-deceived."

Now, there are altogether too many irrefragable evidences of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, and of the divine inspiration of the translation, for Latterday Saints to begin to think of repudiating it. At the same time, Bishop Spalding places undue emphasis upon the importance of the Book of Mormon, and upon Joseph Smith's powers as a translator. Indeed, we are confronted again by an unfair implication. While the crux of "Mormonism" may be, to Bishop Spalding, Did Joseph Smith translate the plates correctly? and while the question is admittedly important, it is not true that Joseph Smith gained his leadership because of his powers as a translator, nor that the "Mormon" system of belief is built upon the Book of Mormon.

It will be impossible in the brief space of this review to consider in detail the real source of divine leadership in the life-work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The most that can be done is to point out, in passing, a few of the things that made Joseph Smith a prophet of God—even without the Book of Mormon—and thus to correct the subtle impression given out in the bishop's pamphlet. First, in this day when there are many contending creeds and claims, Joseph Smith received divine authority from on high to officiate in God's stead. Upon him and Oliver Cowdery were conferred the keys and the authority of the Holy Priesthood. And from them, the keys of the priesthood have been passed to all deserving men who have accepted the restored gospel of the Lord Jesus. Secondly, Joseph Smith instituted a perfected Church polity—the Church of Jesus Christ, with divinely appointed officers and divisions. That Church organization persists, the wonder of the world. Thirdly, Joseph Smith promulgated a perfect system of Church doctrine and religious philosophy. Even the defamers of the Prophet have declared that Mormonism is the most nearly perfect system of philosophy with which they have ever become acquainted. Then, the blessings of the gospel have accompanied the believers. Many miraculous gifts and manifestations have been displayed in the Church. Finally, the testimonies of thousands declare that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. And all these things have been accomplished outside of, and besides, the Book of Mormon. While the translation of the Book of Mormon was a wonderful achievement, it was after all but an incident in the establishing of the Church of Christ and in the promulgating of his gospel, Joseph Smith was accepted as a leader, not merely because he translated the ancient Nephite record, but because he was really a divinely appointed prophet. What he has given to the world in the way of divine authority, and Church organization, and Church doctrine, forms really the basis for his claims to leadership. And all this he would have given even had there been no Nephite record. That record confirms his divine inspiration.

What is to be gained, then, by shifting the responsibility for Joseph Smith's greatness from the real achievement of his life-endeavor, to some important, yet minor, accomplishments in the fulfillment of his mission. I can see no purpose in it other than to create the impression that Joseph Smith has no other claim to greatness than that of translator. And if there can be found a flaw in his translations, then we are asked, may, required as intelligent men and women, to repudiate all that constitutes really his great life-work, in which he has been surely proved a prophet of God. Nay, bishop, the implication is unfair, the premise is false. And if the argument so far has been built up on unfair implications and false premises, how are we to know—applying again the bishop's own logic—that the whole argument is not unfair, that both premises and conclusions are not false?

The next step in the bishop's inquiry is the great and final one, by means of which the bishop hopes to make the whole structure of "Mormonism" and the "Mormon" Church topple to the ground. Let us see if he has been any more fair and just and accurate in the real point of his argument than he has been heretofore.

 

THE FAC-SIMILES ARE NOT THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM.

The crux of the "Mormon" question, as Bishop Spalding sees it, is, "Did Joseph Smith translate the plates of the Book of Mormon correctly?" Upon the accuracy of his work as a translator, Joseph Smith must stand or fall, in the bishop's opinion, as a prophet of God. "If the Book of Mormon was not a correct translation," asserts the bishop, "and yet Joseph Smith thought that it came to him by insipration and revelation from God, thoughtful men cannot be asked to accept other revelations which Joseph Smith, Jr., asserted were also given him by the Deity." This argument is clearly fallacious, but we need not consider it now. The question before us is, if the bishop's test question is just, how shall we determine whether or not the translation of the Book of Mormon is correct? Bishop Spalding answers the question thus: "Joseph Smith's competency as a translator of ancient languages can be ascertained in but one way. The original texts, together with his interpretations, must be submitted to competent scholars, and if they declare his translation to be correct, then it must be accepted as true." Conversely, of course, if scholars should declare the translation to be incorrect, then it must be rejected as untrue.

It might be interesting to comment on the weakness of this argument, too. Such comment would hardly be in place, however, in the purpose of the present review. All the discussion and the preliminary arguments that have gone before—arguments that are in every instance based on unfair implications and false premises—have but led up to this "test" question. The effort has been, plainly, to impress on the reader's mind the importance of the translation of the Book of Mormon, and to attempt to base upon the correctness of the translation the final test of the Prophet's divine inspiration. If all the arguments that have gone before were founded in fairness on correct premises, the climax of the Bishop's inquiry might appear formidable. As it is, we step fearlessly forward into the bishop's master-point to discover his method of procedure there.

How is the accuracy of the translation of the Book of Mormon to be tested? If he could, the bishop would of course hand over the original plates to such men as he would consider competent scholars. And if it were possible to do so, the Latter-day Saints would not hesitate nor fear to submit the plates to competent scholars "But the plates are not available," says the bishop. "They are kept by 'the heavenly messenger' who delivered them to the prophet, and to whom they were again delivered up, 'and he has them in his charge unto this day." Evidently, then, the test of Joseph Smith's competency as a translator can not be applied directly to the Book of Mormon. What is to be done?

Our friend, the bishop, is resourceful. In the Pearl of Great Price he finds a book called the "Book of Abraham." Accompanying the "Book of Abraham," he finds three facsimilies of Egyptian texts. Subjoined to the fac-similes, he discovers interpretations made by the Prophet Joseph Smith of some of the inscriptions on the fac-similes. The case is clear. Since we cannot apply the test of competency as a translator to the Book of Mormon directly, "Our purpose will be served equally well if the other translations of the prophet referred to can be examined, and fortunately one of these translations together with the original text is available. We refer to 'The Book of Abraham,' translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith. 'A translation of some ancient records, that have fallen into our hands, from the catacombs of Egypt; the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt called the Book of Abraham written by his own hand, upon papyrus.' "

Commenting further upon this very important "find"—in the bishop's estimation—the bishop says. "The Book of Abraham, with three fac-similes of the original text of Abraham 'written by his own hand, upon papyrus,' together with the prophet's explanation and the translation, is a part of the 'Pearl of Great Price.' " and, again, he declares, almost exultantly, "It is now clear that in the translation of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, known as the 'Book of Abraham,' we have just the test we need of Joseph Smith's accuracy as a translator. The original text with the prophet's translation are available for our investigation." And so the bishop hands the "Book of Abraham," with the three fac-similes, to eight competent Egyptologists. Their testimonies are recorded in the final chapter of the bishop's inquiry. Mormonism imagines the bishop is overwhelmed: the Church is laid in ruins.

But the bishop has, after all, built up a very poor argument. It is not my purpose here to inquire carefully into the verdict of the jury of eight. That has already been done by others. But I have shown successfully. I believe, that all the preliminary arguments in the bishop's case are founded on unfair implications and false premises. In considering now the bishop's great, final point—the climax of his argument—I discover that the bishop is again guilty of an unfair and unjust implication, that he has based the crucial point of his argument upon a false premise.

As one reads Bishop Spalding's development of his crushing stroke against Mormonism, one infers from the bishop's statement of the case that the original manuscript of the "Book of Abraham" is available. Note carefully these statements: "Fortunately one of these translations together with the original text is available" (ch. 5, p. 13;) "the original text with the prophet's translation are available for our investigation" (ch. 6, p. 18;) Again, one would infer from the bishop's statement of the case that the Book of Abraham was translated from the three facsimiles accompanying the book. Note these passages: "The Book of Abraham, with three facsimiles of the original text of Abraham ... is a part of the 'Pearl of Great Price' " (ch. 5, p. 13); "it is now clear that in the translation of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, known as the 'Book of Abraham,' we have just the test we need of Joseph Smith's accuracy as a translator" (ch. 6, p. 18). And, finally, one would infer from the bishop's statement of the case that the three facsimiles accompanying the Book of Abraham—constituting in the bishop's implied explanation the original text of the Book of Abraham from which it was translated—were written by Abraham's own hand. Note this passage with its subtle wording. "The Book of Abraham, with three facsimiles of the original text of Abraham 'written by his own hand, upon papyrus,' ... is a part of the 'Pearl of Great Price' " (ch. 5, p. 13). And it was these inferences, undoubtedly, that the learned jury of eight drew from the documents submitted to them. It is unfortunate, and I may say, again, unfair, that the bishop has not included in his pamphlet his own letters to the competent scholars who were to sit in judgment upon the divine inspiration of the Prophet Joseph Smith. We might then be able to judge of the fairness of the bishop's statement of the case to them. However, it is quite evident from their letters to the bishop, that they got the unfair understanding of the case that he would have the readers of his pamphlet get. Thus, Dr. Sayce writes, "It is difficult to deal seriously with Joseph Smith's impudent fraud." I presume he means in foisting upon the world the Book of Abraham as an alleged translation of the facsimiles; for he admits that the facsimiles themselves are Egyptian. Dr. Petrie says, "They are all many centuries later than Abraham." Evidently he was made to understand that, according to the prophet's claims, they were all written by the hand of Abraham himself. Dr. Breasted says, "The point, then, is that in publishing these facsimiles of Egyptian documents as part of an unique revelation to Abraham, Joseph Smith was attributing to Abraham a series of documents which were the common property of a whole nation of people who employed them in every human burial, which they prepared." Again, this learned man was given to understand from some source that the facsimiles were the Book of Abraham, and should therefore form a unique manuscript written by Abraham himself. Dr. Mace writes that "the 'Book of Abraham,' it is hardly necessary to say, is a pure fabrication;" because, undoubtedly, he cannot interpret the facsimiles as the text of the book itself. And so with all the learned doctors: they seem to have labored under the impression that the original manuscript of the Book of Abraham was available, that the three fac-similes accompanying the Book of Abraham constitute that original manuscript, and that the inscriptions on those facsimiles were "written by his (Abraham's) own hand."

To one who is acquainted with Church history, there could be made no representation farther from the truth than this of Bishop Spalding's concerning the Book of Abraham. Instead of the Abrahamic manuscript's being available, it is entirely unavailable—as much so as the original plates of the Book of Mormon. In fact, the original manuscript of the Book of Abraham has been destroyed, so far as we know. Instead of the three facsimiles' forming the original text of the Book of Abraham, they really constitute no part thereof. They were merely found with the mummies. Instead of the facsimilies, being written in Abraham's own hand, and thus recording a unique revelation to Abraham, it is undoubtedly true that they are facsimilies of "a series of documents which were the common property of a whole nation of people." It does not affect the importance of the facsimilies, therefore, if they belong to a period centuries later than that of Abraham. It might have proved unfortunate if the doctors had declared them much more ancient than Abraham.

Now, without going into tedious details, the simple facts in the case are these: "On the 3rd of July (1835,) Michael H. Chandler came to Kirtland to exhibit some Egyptian mummies. There were four human figures, together with some two or more rolls of papyrus covered with hieroghyphic figures and devices." The papyri were rolled, we are given to understand, in the usual Egyptian manner. The Saints became interested and purchased the mummies and the papyri. "I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphies," writes the prophet "and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc." And since these were true Egyptian mummies, buried according to Egyptian custom, I have 'no doubt that there were found with them hypocephali and other documents "which were the common property of a whole nation of people who employed them in every human burial, which they prepared."

But these hypocephali and other devices were not the source of the Book of Abraham, though they may have depicted scenes from his life. It was one of the papyrus rolls that contained the Book of Abraham. This particular roll may or may not have been written by Abraham's own hand. Possibly it was a copy of Abraham's original manuscript. However, this roll the prophet translated in part—but in part only. The translation of part of the papyrus roll forms the Book of Abraham. It was not taken from the facsimiles accompanying the book. For these the prophet prepared the special appended interpreations, and published them with the translation of the part of the Book of Abraham which he had mastered. Now, after the prophet's martyrdom, the mummies and the papyri passed into the hands of a St. Louis syndicate. Some years later they were sold to a museum in Chicago. During the great fire of 1871, the museum in which the mummies were displayed was destroyed, and, presumably, the mummies also, and the papyri. All, therefore, that Bishop Spalding would imply in his subtle statements concerning the Book of Abraham is controverted by the facts of history. The original manuscript of the Book of Abraham is unfortunately not available. The three facsimiles accompanying the Book of Abraham are certainly not the original manuscript of the Book of Abraham. There is no evidence that Abraham himself wrote in his own hand any part of the papyri found with the mummies, certainly not the hypocephalus. But at the same time, there is no evidence that the inscriptions and devices on the three facsimiles did not originate in the experiences of Abraham, who probably became the object of a kind of hero-worship in the mythology of the Egyptians.

What, then, happens to the bishop's carefully and cunningly wrought argument? It is robbed utterly of its force. It falls broken and harmless to the ground. Not only is every preliminary argument based on a false premise; but the great climactic point to which the argument builds, and which is intended to overwhelm the claims of Joseph Smith, is founded on premises that are absolutely false.

The Book of Abraham itself has not been touched. The Book of Mormon is left intact. The claims of Joseph Smith for recognition as a Prophet of God remain unanswered. "Mormonism" is yet unaccounted for by the learned. The conclusion Bishop Spalding would have us deduce from his argument, that since Joseph Smith failed as a translator of ancient languages he failed also as a prophet of God, does not follow since every premise leading to such a deduction is false.

 

WHOSE TRANSLATION IS CORRECT?

But I suppose the Reverend Doctor Spalding will not rest content with this summary disposition of his crafty but fruitless argument. "Let it be granted," says he, "that I made a mistake about the original text of the Book of Abraham; there remain yet the facsimiles with the alleged translation." Ah; but that is quite another matter. The translation of the Book of Abraham was not accomplished in the same manner as was that of the Book of Mormon. The difference has been clearly pointed out by Elder J. M. Sjodahl. The translation of the hieroglyphics and devices on the facsimiles, too, was accomplished in a different manner from that of the Book of Mormon; and, perhaps, even from that of the Book of Abraham. When the prophet came into possession of the papyri, he began a serious study of Egyptian. As he progressed in his understanding of the hieroglyphics, he recorded has findings. Gradually he gained somewhat of a mastery of the peculiar form of writing. Under date of July 17, 1835, the prophet made the following entry in his journal: "The remainder of this month I was continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arranging a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients." Evidently, then, while the prophet worked under the inspiration of God—as have the prophets in all ages—yet his translation of the Book of Abraham, and of the accompanying facsimiles, was very largely the result of careful study and investigation. The translation of the Book of Abraham we believe is absolutely correct. Is the translation of the fac-similes also correct? Who shall say? Bishop Spalding insists that his jury of competent scholars shall render the final decision. But the doctors do not agree upon any one thing, except upon denouncing the "impudent fraud" of Joseph Smith. Nearly all of them say that the devices are incorrectly copied—that they should be thus, or so. All of them recognize the facsimiles—whether correctly or incorrectly copied—as copies of common Egyptian devices. But while one doctor interprets a certain figure to be but recently dead and to be undergoing the rite of embalming, another doctor interprets the same figure to be rising from death. While one doctor declares that "the hieroglyphics which should describe the scenes . . . are merely illegible scratches," another doctor, experiencing apparently no difficulty in deciphering the inscriptions, declares that "it should be noted further that the hieroglyphics in the two fac-similes from the 'Book of Abraham' (Nos. 2 and 3), though they belong to a very degenerate and debased age in Egyptian civilization, and have been much corrupted in copying, contain the usual explanatory inscriptions regularly found in such funerary documents." And so I might continue from point to point. The disagreement between the doctors is so marked, and so wide, that their opinions in the case are rendered wholly worthless. However, it is not my purpose here to study critically the opinions of the learned jury of eight. That has been done by others.

I am reminded of an amusing experience of my own. I have a friend who prides himself on the correctness and the purity of his English. He is, in fact, an excellent student of modern English but, unfortunately, he knows nothing about the earlier periods of the mother tongue. My friend came to my room one day when I was reading Wiclif's translation of the gospel of Saint Matthew. I had just begun the fifth chapter, which runs thus:

"Jhesus forsothe, seynge companyes, wente up into an hill; and when he hadde sete, his disciplis camen nighe to him. And he, openynge his mouthe, taughte to hem, sayinge, 'Blessid be the pore in spirit, for the kingdam in hevenes is heren. Blessid be mylde men, for thei shuln welde the erthe. Blessid be thei that mournen, for thei shuln be comfortid."

I handed the book to my friend and asked, "Can you read that?" He read the passage over, then replied, "Well, I see that it is intended to be the Sermon on the Mount, but it is an abominably poor copy. The man who printed that knew very little about spelling didn't he? And some of those words are entirely wrong; they should be quite different. Let me see your King James Bible."

I fancy that a little lesson may be gained from this experience. While the bishop's learned doctors are not so ignorant of Egyptian as was my friend of Middle English, yet I am quite sure that the last word has not yet been spoken on the interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is asserted that Egyptian can now be read almost as easily as Greek: and yet, from a jury of eight learned men, we can select no two who agree in their interpretation of the three fac-similes accompanying the Book of Abraham.

Whose translation then, is correct? In view of the great mass of cumulative evidence that supports the claims of Joseph Smith as a prophet of the living God, I am justified in believing that his interpretation of the Egyptian devices is at least as nearly correct as that of any one of the disagreeing learned doctors. And it may be, that, when the doctors shall learn to read Egyptian a little bit better than they now do Greek, they will find that these same fac-similes had their origin in the experiences and teachings of father Abraham. Until that time, the opinions of the learned doctors concerning the fac-similes affects the Book of Abraham not at all. But the bishop's argument depends—pivots, if you will—upon proving the Book of Abraham incorrectly translated. The bishop's arment, then, fal's forlornly to the ground, helping by its fall to support the claims of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

 

CONCLUSION.

In conclusion, it may be interesting to summarize something of what has been done. When Bishop Spalding went about to prepare his little pamphlet, "Joseph Smith, Jr., as a Translator," he hoped to throw into the "Mormon" camp a bomb that would destroy "Mormonism" forever. Let us see why the feeble explosion of the bishop's bomb has failed to do damage. In a number of excellent papers contributed by thoughtful men, it has been shown clearly that the verdict of the jury in the case is worthless since the jourymen could not agree; that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon are not exactly parallel cases; that the doctors disagree and have often been wrong; that there are many things in Egyptian mythology supported by the fac-similes; that the doctrines of the Book of Abraham have, in some cases, been borne out by the discoveries of modern science, and, even, that the Prophet's translation is at least more nearly correct than that of the doctors. Others have pointed out the weakness in the bishop's argument. Bishop Spalding would have us reject all that Joseph Smith did, if it can be shown that he failed in one thing. The argument should work the other way Poseph Smith should be accepted as divinely inspired in all that he did, if it can be shown that he was inspired in any one thing. Dr. Pack points to predictions fulfilled, to work accomplished, and to the great revelation, the Word of Wisdom, which has gained wonderful support from the invéstigations of modern science. If we apply Bishop Spalding's logic strictly, there should be no hesitancy in accepting the divine inspiration of Joseph Smith in all things. Now, any one of the replies made to the bishop's pamphlet was sufficient. Together they have so shorn the argument of its strength, and nave so deadened the explosion of the bomb, that it has become harmless. Finally, I have shown—not ineffectively, I hope, in this hasty review—that while the bishop appears to treat his subject with fairness, that while he tries to impress his reader with his openness, his frankness, his candor, his honesty, yet his every argument is based upon some unfair implication, some false premise. Therefore, by every rule of logic, his conclusion must be false. In fine, the bishop has no case aginst the Book of Abraham, no case against the Book of Mormon no case against Joseph Smith, no case against "Mormonism"—the restored gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Latter-day Saints have nothing to fear. They need only to clean away the wreckage of another unsucessful attack upon the strong-hold of "Mormon" faith; and to proceed triumphantly on their way.

 

An Open Letter to Bishop Spalding.

BY PROF. N. L. NELSON

IMPROVEMENT ERA 1913

 

My Dear Reverend Sir:—If in these days you hear—and overhear—a certain familiar quotation from an ancient prophet, you will probably have an uneasy feeling that somehow you yourself have furnished the latest occasion for bringing it forward.

The passage occurs in Isaiah 29, a prophecy believed by Latter-day Saints, to refer to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The quotation here given refers to some of the after effects:

"Wherefore the Lord said, for as much as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precepts of men; therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people even a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid."

Moreover, if you should keep your ears alert for current comments on this famous passage, you would probably find many a "Mormon" elder just now classing your late jury of savants among the "wise men" there referred to. You yourself would doubtless be placed among the "prudent men," for up till your latest move among us, that was the mental quality which distinguished you from the rest of your clerical brethren. Let us hope that this fine talent is not to be "hid" very long.

My dear fellow-worker, for a month my bones have been aching for one of our three-hour chats, especially along the lines of your recent pamphlet; but living as I do just now in the very heart of the desert, I must resort to this one-sided and therefore somewhat unsatisfactory method of "crying out in the wilderness," after having fired your broad-side at us—think, man, of the "imprudence" of it! without a declaration of war, and in a time of profound peace. You must be much oppressed with curiosity to know the exact psychological effect on a "Mormon" elder of being "hit."

Let me assure you, then, that as regards three-fourths of us, the effect was purely spectacular—a compound of smoke and noise. Like Nathaniel of old such is the assurance with which their shield of faith protects them, that they stop neither to ask nor to entertain negative questions. It is of this type particularly that the Lord has said: "My grace shall be sufficient for you."

As for the rest of us, however, the case is unfortunately different. Our faith, I hope, is no less ardent than theirs; but, Thomas-like, we must make the findings of our heads coincide with the findings of our hearts before we can be completely at peace.

Speaking for myself, I may say that while this discussion has been going on, I have been distinctly at a disadvantage; for contrary to your past vogue, you neglected to furnish me with the "document" in question. I read, therefore—let me confess it frankly—with a growing sense of disturbance, the first three or four articles by the defense; and when you pamphlet finally reached me. and I had before me the full verdict of your learned jury, that disturbance deepened into a profound disappointment.

"Was it possible?" I asked myself, "that Joseph Smith had presumed upon his reputation as a translator, to set down here the vagaries of an undisciplined imagination? To what purpose?" I asked myself. For these Egyptian cuts and the findings on them, have only an incidental relationship to "Mormonism." The Book of Abraham," like the Book of Mormon, is a vital contribution to our sacred literature; but these curious drawings and their desultory and fragmentary decipherment—what purpose did the prophet have in giving them to the world?

Then I recalled, that as to their translation, it came about differently from that of the Book of Mormon—and for aught I know, from that of the Book of Abraham. In those books the revelation proceeded in a stream, without break or hesitation; but in these superficial bits, Joseph studied diligently and worked the figures over, bit by bit, quite as an uninspired translator might have done.

Did he merely "guess," then, at the meanings he set down? If this jury of experts is to be trusted, he must have done so. But again the question rises, why did he translate these Egyptian plates at all? To gratify vanity? Hardly; for so sure does he seem to be of his work, that he transcribes and publishes in fac-simile the translated scrolls—in effect, throws down the gauntlet to the whole world.

Again, to assume that he guessed at the meanings, would be to credit him with a vanity amounting to fool-hardiness, and certainly, foolhardiness is a quality not to be found in the history of his work as a church builder. Indeed, viewing the prophet in the latter capacity, must we not credit him with the very oposite qualification, that of scientific constructiveness?

On the other hand—this verdict! And so cock-sure do these "savants" seem, that their investigation of the matter appears trivial to them—too "dead easy" to occupy more serious time than the tooth-pick interval after a hearty meal. Nay, one is led to believe from their letters that the veriest tyro in Egyptology, the mere connoisseur if any one of a score of museums, could overthrow the prophet's position.

True, the lazy complacency and irritableness of these experts is a suspicious ingredient in their verdicts; for it is a mental attitude too often formed in so-called intellectual (?) critics of "Mormonism." On the other hand, the cuts themselves lend a most tantalizing plausibility to these swift, off-hand verdicts.

In the midst of such perplexities the wise man leaves his convictions in statu quo. I concluded to wait.

At this point I am willing to gratify what must be a very natural curiosity on your part as to what was then my mental attitude towards Joseph Smith's divine mission; especially in relation to the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price and the system of belief and conduct based as you affirm, upon them. I will answer by this comparison:

Suppose you had looked day after day upon a glorious landscape, sunflooded, and perennially renewed before your eyes. Then comes a fog which blurs or blots this view temporarily from your mind. Do you therefore doubt that this landscape is a realty or that the sun is still shining, and will in fact soon dispel the mist?

Well, there is your answer. The sacred books of "Mormonism" and the principles of the gospel set forth therein are in a very definite sense, independent of Joseph Smith; just as the Bible is its own vindication, without reference to high critics or low. For behind the fogs which men may create, shines forever the Sun of righteousness who makes clear to each soul whatever of truth in these divine records is fitted for your soul's assimilation or mine.

"God is his own interpreter,

And he will make it plain."

This aspect of my letter will receive further attention later on; for indeed it is my central, if not my only, reason for writing to you at all. Here, however, it will be apropos to resume my narrative, as to the effect of your pamphlet on a sample "Mormon" elder.

The fog your critics spread did not hang long. Dr. Robert C. Webb's masterly explication of these plates restored to me more than your destructive criticisms took away. For up till the data of this discussion, I had given only the most casual attention to this part of Joseph Smith's work as translator. I therefore had no definite convictions with reference thereto. Never having sought the testimony of the Spirit concerning them I held these fragments from the lore of Egypt out in that boundless category of things yet to be investigated. But following Dr. Webb's careful paper, as best I could, by aid of dictionary and encyclopedia, I obtained gratifying glimpses into the mythology of Egypt, and every bit of insight so obtained was a new step in the direction of vindicating Joseph Smith.

The effect upon me was that of a feeling of pure joy—a sense of spiritual triumph, which keeps welling up and overflowing, whenever in thought I review Dr. Webb's findings.

Remember, the needs of my faith require neither a complete nor an infallible translation of these plates by Joseph Smith. No Egyptologist living is able to give that, as the variations among these experts sufficiently indicate. It should suffice, therefore, for the faith of any honest man, if it be made plain that the prophet has shown real and profound insight into the records of this dead and buried age, of the world; and such an insight Dr. Webb shows Joseph Smith to have had at a time, moreover, when he could derive no aid from the work of scholars.

Dr. Webb has, indeed, vindicated the prophet better than he knew himself. Let me attempt to make plain at least a single instance of this.

After mentioning that one of the critics, Dr. A. M. Lythgoe of New York, found "snatches of a hymn to the Sun God" on the hypocephalus, or second of the said cuts, Dr. Webb proceeds to quote one of these ancient Egyptian hymns at length. It is sufficient for my purpose to reproduce this quotation only in part:

"Hail to thee, O Amen-Ra Lord of the world's throne. The king of heaven and sovereign of the earth. Thou Lord of things that exist; thou establisher of creation; thou supporter of the universe. Thou art one in thine attributes among the gods. ... thou chief of all Gods. Lord of truth, Father of the Gods; Creator of men. ... Thou One, thou Only One whose arms are many. All men and all creatures adore thee and praises come unto thee from the height of heaven, from the earth's widest space and from the depths of the sea Thou One, thou Only One, who has no second, whose names are manifold and innumerable."

Now, inasmuch as Joseph Smith declares figure 3 in the second plate "to represent God sitting upon his throne clothed with power and authority; with a crown of eternal light upon his head; representing also the grand keywords of the holy priesthood," Dr. Webb is led to remark that if the prophet could really read such "snatches of a hymn to the Sun God," he might well discover symbols typifying the "grand key word of the priesthood."

It is concerning the meaning of this very expression that I desire to enlarge. If a key-word means anything, it must mean that which unlocks a deep mystery. That mystery, faces us in every word of this hymn, and for that matter in all the God-literature of the Bible. How can there be at once many Gods and yet only one God?

Now, in the sense of Godhood, that is to say of the fullness of the priesthood, there can be only one God in the universe—one truth, one power, one authority, which when wielded by the perfected man, makes that man God. You will please note, my dear doctor, that God as unity may thus be represented as any one or all of the pure abstractions, viz., as truth, power, authority, as noted above, or as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and so on to the end of the category of divine attributes.

But such an abstraction could not even begin to act in the universe; for while the divine office contains all there is of power and authority, it remains inert and indifferent so far as creating and controlling are concerned without an executive wielding the office. Your own definition of deity as a being "without body, parts or passions" is a fairly good description of this same ineffective abstraction.

Note, now, in the phrase of the hymn above quoted, how superior is the Egyptian definition: "Thou Only One. whose arms are many." Jehovah and Jesus Christ are two examples of such "arms" or executives of the "Only One;" in short, of perfect men now wielding the fullness of priesthood, or in other words, Godhood. Such in brief is the contribution of "Mormon" philosophy to the world's concept of God. But to resume.

In the phrase above noted: "Thou Only One, whose arms are many," or in any of a score of other expressions in this Egyptian hymn, Joseph could have discerned the "grand key-words of the holy priesthood."

In another place, Dr. Webb educes the ideas of authority and truth from the hieroglyphics. "It is respectfully submitted for determination," he then asks, "whether these qualities fully represent the priesthood, or emblem the governance of God." The answer is that they do most fully, and consequently give point to Joseph's translation, viz., "emblematic of the grand presidency in heaven."

Indeed the more carefully one studies Dr. Webb's exposition, the more strongly one is convinced that Joseph Smith read the deeper or esoteric meaning of these symbols; while your panel of experts read the surface or exoteric meaning only; whence Isaiah's words above quoted stand justified: viz., "the wisdom of their wise men shall perish;" that is, come to naught. For no man now honestly investigating "Mormonism," need stumble because of your late contribution to the subject.

It remains to point out in further detail, how the "understanding" of at least one of the "prudent men" was "hid;" for as intimated in the opening of this letter Isaiah's phrase, in my estimation, fits exactly the role you have played in this whole business.

In the first place, consider the indictment brought against you for "unfair fairness" by my friend Elder Osborne J. P. Widtsoe. If it is a just indictment, as it seems to be, it surely indicates a temporary eclipse of your well known prudence. As has been pointed out over and over again, the fac similes published in the "Pearl of Great Price" were no integral part of the ancient manuscripts of the Book of Abraham. They were pages superficially attached to this manuscript, and the translation forms no part of the revelation known as the Writing of Abraham.

As quoted in your pamphlet, page 16, George Q. Cannon says:

"Attached to two of the bodies (mummies) were rolls of linen . . . . Within the linen were rolls of papyrus bearing a perfectly preserved record in black and red characters, carefully formed."

These constituted the writings of Abraham—the text by Abraham's own hand; though there is nothing to show that this text had not been widely copied, and that this particular Ms. may not, in fact, have been a copy 500 years after Abraham's day.

As to the fac-similes under discussion, consider this further remark by Elder Cannon in the same extract: "With other of the bodies were papyrus strips bearing epitaphs and astronomical calculations." Does not this better describe the probable source of these Egyptian cuts?

Be that as it may, I have the testimony of one who handled the Mss. of the Book of Abraham scores of times. This was Dr. John Riggs of Provo, at whose house I lived three years during my student days in the Brigham Young academy. Dr. Riggs was distinguished for a memory almost photographic in its exactness of details. As a boy in Kirtland he had constant opportunity of being present with visitors at the "Museum," a room in Father Smith's house, where the mummies were on exhibition. As I recall his testimony, the Mss. were in the form of a pad about six by eight inches and half an inch thick, and were found lying transversely over the region of the mummy's stomach, directly underneath his hands.

The point of all this, as insisted upon also by Elder Widtsoe, is that your learned jury were not fairly in possession of the facts, otherwise they would not have presumed to pass judgment on the Book of Abraham, calling it a "pure fabrication," etc. They should have been informed that the Mss. of this book were probably destroyed in the great Chicago fire, and that what they were expected to pass upon was only incidentally related thereto. This lapse on your part, whether through an advertence or by design, comes to the same thing, in helping to discredit your jury, and is an illustration of how the "understudy" of a really prudent man may be "hid," when he tries his hand at overthrowing the work of God.

This, however, becomes a trivial instance, when compared with the collossal result you anticipate from the verdict of your panel of Egyptologists, viz., the repudiation by every thoughtful and honest Latter-day Saint, "with whatever personal regret,"

(1) Of the Book of Mormon, and (2) of "the whole body of belief, which has been built upon the reputation its publication gave to its author."

The more I contemplate this gigantic assumption on your part, my dear reverend sir, the more astounded I am at your lapse of mental values. What! are my spiritual intuitions, which are the voice of God to me—nay, are the testimonies of the Spirit to half a million souls—to be counted fact or fiction, according as a certain historical incident shall be passed upon by a jury of Gentiles, prejudiced, ill-tempered and mad with the pride of human learning?

I can find no relief for my amazement, save in the restaging of your proposition, with new but I believe, fairly analogous terms:

"Many years ago a certain noted traveler discovered, floating down the headwaters of the Mississippi a some what curious object, which he described as an overturned Indian canoe, much battered. The incident received considerable emphasis at the time from the fact that people took sides as to the correctness of this description. After three-quarters of a century a certain reverend gentleman, desirous of vindicating the truth, discovered this object floating in the Gulf of Mexico, and promptly laid it before a jury of eight expert woodmen, who, though they differed among themselves as to just what the object really was, all agreed in ridiculing the interpretation of the traveler; whereupon the reverend gentleman, by a curious eclipse of 'undersanding' or common sense, made this demand; that every honest and thoughtful person, not only repudiate, 'at whatever personal regret, the original interpretation of the object but also discredit the reality of the Mississippi river (the river of faith and spiritual intentions) which had served to keep the object afloat, and carry it out into the sea of worldly speculation!"

Here is another parallel:

"Once upon a time a lover of fine fruit proceeded to plant a noted garden which in time, and by the aid of his successors, became the livest and most fruitful orchard in the whole world. At length a certain wiseacre in ministerial broadcloth came along, and out of pure envy, as some averred, or pure love of truth as he himself maintained, proceeded to throw discredit upon the fruit and upon all the workers in the orchard.

"For I have discovered, said he, by delving into a certain incident of his life, that the founder had but a poor and imperfect knowledge of botany, a science absolutely necessary to the true propagation of fruit; which deplorable ignorance of said founder I have established by a jury of eight scientific men: and I consequently call upon every honest and thoughtful man, 'at whatever personal regret,' not only to repudiate the said founder but to deny that said fruit is good and beautiful, and also forthwith to abandon said orchard. Yea, verily. Amen."

Let me now proceed to uncover the adroit and subtle rhetorical approaches whereby this preposterous assumption was made to seem plausible—first as regards the repudiation of the Book of Mormon.

You start out by commending the logic—from the Latter-day Saint point of view—which places the Book of Mormon before the Bible in point of "correctness." Next you quote from Elder Orson Pratt:

"This book must be either true or false. If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God to man. ... If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deeplaid impositions ever planned upon the world."

In order to enhance further the idea that a revelation from God must be "perfect" and flawless, you next quote that splendid burst of eloquence in a speech by Elder B. H. Roberts:

"I am willing to repeat my statement that the Book of Mormon must submit to every test—literary criticism among the rest ... to historical tests, to the tests of archaeological research, and also to the higher criticism. ... The Book is flung down in the world's mass of literature, and here it is: we proclaim it true, and the world has the right to test it to the uttermost in every possible way."

There are many other deft little touches, tending to build up the idea of a necessary flawlessness in every divine revelation, which space forbids me to touch upon here. Finally you are prepared to bait your hook, and here is how you do it. I have taken the liberty of placing the barb of that hook in capitals:

"It is surely clear to the reader that the correctness of the translation of the Book of Mormon is a most important question. It was the conviction that he had been selected by the Almighty to give to mankind this Book, which won for Joseph Smith, Jr., the attention of earnest men and women, and gave him leadership over them. If the translation of the plates is inaccurate, he did not deserve that leadership. However sincere he may have been in believing in his mission, if the translation he gave to mankind is false, he is shown to have been self-deceived. More than this. This reliance placed upon the witnesses who testified that God's voice assured them that the translation was 'by the gift and power of God' is broken down. They, too, were self-deceived. They did not hear God's voice; BECAUSE GOD'S VOICE COULD NOT HAVE ASSURED THEM THAT AN INCORRECT THING WAS TRUE."

Once your antagonist accepts the proposition I have placed in capitals—and ordinarily who would have the courage not to do so?—your part of the argument is done. You have merely to turn on him the crank of the logic mill, and he is figuratively reduced to sausage.

For instance, the first edition of the Book of Mormon had in it about 2,000 mistakes in spelling and grammar, which have since been eliminated; moreover, the present edition is very far from being flawless, if judged by the best literary standards; especially as regards grammar and rhetoric.

Turn now the logic crank, bishop, Here is the way it will go:

Can God's voice have proclaimed as "true," a translation so very "incorrect" in spelling, grammar, and rhetoric? Again, when the Book of Mormon shall come to have the crucial examination invited by Elder Roberts' outburst of enthusiasm—and every "Mormon" elder welcomes it, just as did Elder Roberts—it is more than probable that the book will fail to measure up to the standard of modern truths in botany, zoology, astronomy, geography, history and many other departments of human endeavor; of which it is at least the indirect record among an ancient people. Indeed, if it be not found full of inaccuracies in details of this type, it will be counted a suspicious document to the real critics; those that realize, once for all, that no ancient document can be more perfect than the best of the life it reflects.

Yet, you with your false standard of correctness have only to say: "God being perfect, whatever comes from his hands, cannot possibly have inaccuracies in it." It is this same foolish logic that you will try to turn on us, when you find Joseph Smith's translation "incorrect" because forsooth, your experts unite in ridiculing him. You seem really to think that there is such a thing as "correctness" in an absolute sense. Which then of your eight witnesses is the "correct" one? Your answer must condemn the other seven.

Is it not about time, my dear fellow worker, that we gave up that foolish proposition, which forms the back-bone of your inquiry, viz., that any document put forward as a divine revelation must be "flawless" by all the human standards that happen to be in vogue at the time?

Suppose a given revelation, touching upon controversial matters, were in fact pronounced flawless by the best human learning of the day; would it not still be full of "inaccuracies" to advanced intelligences, like the angels, or even to earth-people who are to live a century in the future?

Again, if God's perfection must be mirrored in every document which his voice proclaims to be "true;" then we should have a revelation utterly meaningless to man till such time as he shall attain to the same perfection. To make this plain, we have only to suppose the modern geological explanation of creation to have been given to the ancients instead of the account in Genesis. What meaning could it possibly have had for them? Such a bit of modern truth injected out of relation with all the rest of the thoughts and experiences of the race for several thousand years to come? But could God not have revealed a sufficient are of creation, as modern science now understands it, so as to bring the ancients nearer to truth?

The answer is no. First because to do so would violate the fundamental principle of divine education, the absolute need of self-effort to psychic development; and second because the more truth he would reveal, as moderns see truth, the more would the mental life of the ancients have been confused; just as the truths now known to intelligences a million ages in advance of us, would, were they imposed upon our intellects by divine flat, serve only to blight our spiritual development. For though we might hold such "truths" reverently, they would not be "true" to us, any more than a stone would be digestible, because held in the stomach. That only is true to any one, which can be felt to be true; i. e., which can be assimilated, and incorporated with the body of his experiences. Man may and should hold reverently many things, because of the authority that utters them; but they will become true to him only when the time comes that they can be woven into the tapestry of his soul-life.

In the third place, any considerable revelation of modern science, could not have been made to the ancients, out of sheer failure to find a being able to voice it. Nay, even the symbols necessary to convey the thought were not in existence.

Consider as an illustration the case of the Prophet Mormon himself, Suppase, after God had commanded him to make, from the tomes of Nephite records at hand, the abridgment now known by his name—suppose, I repeat the divine Spirit guiding him, had held him up, whenever there came into his mind an aspect of botany, zoology, geography, astronomy, or any other such Nephite experience, the expression of which would not be up-to-date with what the Spirit might foresee would be known of these things in the twentieth century. Would not his pen have been paralyzed every little while? Suppose the Spirit of Inspiration had then, against his will, seized his hand and written those passages wherein his knowledge failed to measure up to what would be the exactions of modern truth—would he, Mormon, have stood for such passages? Would they not have seemed unintelligible, not to say false, to him? And would they not have been essentially false, as a portrayal of the life of an ancient people?

Now, such a supposition is foolish, from the fact that divine inspiration could not thus have seized the ancient writer's hand, for that would have been violating man's free agency. The Book of Mormon may thus be "true," both as reflecting truly, by its very inaccuracies, an imperfect people, and as being fitted, even by its very short-comings, for assimilation by the poor and lowly of another people 1,500 years in the future.

That is true for us which is fitted to awaken and keep growing our soul-life, however incorrect it may be as measured by a more perfect standard. Genesis was therefore the "truest" document concerning the creation that could have been revealed to the ancient world: and considering the class of souls God meant to draw together for the foundation of his Church in this dispensation, the Book of Mormon is also "true"—truer, indeed, than a more perfect revelation—a revelation classic in diction and flawless as to scientific concepts—could possibly have been.

The vindication of the truth, as to whether God's voice did or did not speak to the witnesses, lies, therefore, not in your dinky little verdict of experts, but in the tremendous fact of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself.

And this thought, viz., that in your judgment that litle pop-gun of opinion had potency enough to blast down the mighty mountain of faith in this ancient record—a faith, mind you, based mainly on the internal evidence of the book itself—brings me to my last topic, viz., the mistaken idea you seem to have concerning the nature and constitution of the Church itself.

To you "Mormonism" is evidently merely a "body of belief built upon it [the Book of Mormon] and upon the reputation its publication gave to its author." Perhaps it was this very feeble estimate of its internal strength, which gave you the confidence, Don Quixote-like, to attack it with a single spear. You probably reasoned: The Book of Mormon is sure to fall; and if it falls, the prophet must also fall; but as it is his reputation as a prophet which—Atlas-like—holds up the whole Church, that also must come down with a crash. One is constantly tempted to smile at the way the "understanding" of a certain prudent man was "hid."

Permit me, my dear fellow-preacher, to enlighten you as to the real genius of "Mormonism."

In a previous paragraph of this letter I state that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was in a very definite sense independent of Joseph Smith. The time is now opportune to explain that the relation between the two is like that between the planter of a tree and the tree itself. Observe that without the planter and his care during the early part of its life, there would have been no tree at all; nevertheless its life comes not from the planter but from God; its growth may be promoted or retarded, and its fruit be scrubby or luscious, according to the care it receives from the husbandmen, but the fact that it lives and bears fruit at all is due ultimately to the Creator.

So also of the Church. It will always stand indebted to Joseph Smith both as founder and protector, but to God and to him only for the spirit which is its life. Nor is this life of the spirit merely a collective possession of the Church, with its voice in the living oracles; it is likewise, or may become, the peculiar endowment or each member.

As for the sacred books of "Mormonism," they are all profitable as sources of truth and guides to correct living; but should they all be taken away at once, the Church would live on by virtue of God's guidance of each member through the medium of the Holy Spirit. So also of its historical relation of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or any other of its past leaders. Their names might go into oblivion—which God forbid—yet the life of the Church still go on.

Paul points out the true source of the Church in a single phrase: "The power of God unto salvation," inherent in each true member. Not intenet, therefore, nor doctrine, nor ordinance, nor ceremony, nor organization, must we look for the secret of its strength, lent in the "power of God unto salvation." In other words to the Holy Spirit poured out upon each member.

Instead of its organigation making it strong, the converse is more nearly true; its strength is what makes for a perfect organization. "And as for you," so wrote John to the early Saints, "the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any teach you; but as this anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him."

When each member is thus directly "taught of God" (see John 6:45), do you see how incongruous it is to represent the Church as resting upon a single pillar, and that an historical one? Nor does the Church rest upon 12 or 15 pillars—the presidency and quorum of apostles—as is so often maintained. It rests on thousands of pillars. Indeed, every member with a testimony of the gospel is such a pillar; and new pillars of divine grace are going heavenward every day. Rather a formidable forest of columns—is it not?—for any man to attack with the fragile spear of intellectual negation!

In such a broad foundation of common sense, in such a widely shared superstructure of spiritual intentions, lie that internal strength and cohesiveness.

Bishop, you expect too much from your little flash in the pan. And that brings me to my final word with you. What is your ultimate purpose in hoping to overthrow "Mormonism?" It is surely not a negative one—that of pure destructiveness, for that would brand you at once as an emissary of the "spirit that denies."

Yet what have you and your sectarian confreres to offer, that would in any way compensate for the child-like and simple faith of the Latter-day Saints, their unfeigned trust for daily guidance in spiritual intuitions, and the virile strength of the social life in every ward throughout Zion?

Let me answer for you: All your religious efforts—what do they culminate in?

Chapel services! Exquisitely, beautiful and artistic, no doubt, but still only chapel services.

"Mormon" faith culminates in "Mormon" works; here is the program: "Be ye fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it"—the very first command given to the race. Yours culminates—in singing and praising the Lord! You can't develop enough of "works" among you to gather the tithes necessary for your missions, but must rely upon contributions from abroad.

A week ago the house of Brother Hamblin of this place, burned down. Not a shred of anything was saved. A family of 14 members was left destitute and homeless. Today the roof is being put on a comfortable four-roomed cottage, Bishop Hansen of Roosevelt leading out in the splendid work. This house will be finished in three more days, and presented to the stricken family in the name of the Lord.

The day after the fire nearly $200 had been collected and the sisters of the ward met at Sister Collet's as a sewing bee to clothe the naked family. That is a sample of the works which demonstrate our faith.

How would any of your fashionable congregations have handled the situation? How—but through the medium of a pink tea! Fancy yourself, Bishop, and a score of your immaculate fellow ministers, like our bishop and his gang of elders at this minute, clad in overalls and jumper, with trowel in hand, daubing a log-house in mid-winter!

Oh, come out of her, my brother! Drop once for all the effete and fruitless refinements of scholarship and the higher criticism. The truth of religion is to be felt, not reasoned about. Embalm and lay down gently for ever, in the mauscleums misnamed chapels, a religion which at best is but a Sunday veneering upon life; and come into one which is life itself!—horny-handed, blood-red palpitating life!

You are too good a man to be forced semi-annually into a situation where, like the notorious Dr. Iliff, you must stuff your eastern audiences with whoppers about "Mormonism," in order to milk them. Drop the whole academic, high flying out-of-relation business, which can never yield you divine love and joy and the peace that passeth understanding, drop it, and seek the kingdom of God.

The way is very simple—so simple, indeed, that I fear me much your very learning will prevent you from seeking it. Here it is: "Except ye become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of God."

Do you know why our Lord chose that figure? Here is the reason: A little child looks always for things to believe; not for things to disbelieve—quite a radically different method from that which you are just now pursuing.

N. L. NELSON.

Roosevelt, Utah, Feb. 3, 1913.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 May 2010 13:16  

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