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Radio Free Mormon: 188: Dr. Robert K. Ritner on the Book of Abraham part 1

Dr. Robert K. Ritner is a world renowned Egyptologist and professor of Egyptology at the prestigious Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  I am honored to have been invited by John Dehlin to engage in a multi-part interview with Dr. Ritner to explore his views on the Book of Abraham; a subject he is uniquely qualified to address.  This is part one of that interview.

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT! As you know, Dr. Ritner needs a kidney because his is failing. If you can help, call Dana McClain, Northwestern Medicine Transplant Coordinator, at 312-695-0828. Donors will be given an application asking for Dr. Ritner’s date of birth. It is 05-05-1953. Thanks so much!!! RFM


13 thoughts on “Radio Free Mormon: 188: Dr. Robert K. Ritner on the Book of Abraham part 1”

  1. Watched the entire video last night, RFM. Fascinating. If you haven’t read it already, Dan Vogel left some comments over at Mormon Stories. They were short, succinct and absolutely knocked me out of the water!

    1. As I stated below, in Sept. 2020 I began emailing Dr. Ritner. My feeling is that he has been misled by Critics. I’ve posted some of the emails here (Dehlin blocked me long ago).
      1- I’ve shown that Dr. Ritner hasn’t translated the source of the BofA and that the source, described by eyewitnesses, is still missing.
      2- Given the evidence for redaction, there are no anachronisms in the BofA.
      Thus, the critics’ (including Vogel) foundational scholarly means of attacking my faith minority group is false. : ) All that’s left is trying to make us seem weird and changing subjects 😊
      I invite any serious, open, thoughtful, discussion of these important issues (as I have repeatedly with Dr. Ritner, beginning in Sept.)

  2. RFM this was an amazing episode.

    Highlights included learning that 1) prior to Egyption translations being widely available, it was commonly believed that written Egyptian had an amazing shorthand quality whereby a few characters could express paragraphs of concepts in other languages (providing a potential rationale for Joseph Smith’s choice of “reformed” Egyptian as the purported original written language of the Book of Mormon; and 2) (slightly off topic) the significant connections between Egyptian religion and Christianity and Judaism.

    Like you and John, the Egyptian prayer/spell at 2:54:08 (from Book of the Dead 151) felt very familiar to me. My personal (uninformed) take on that is based on the (per Dr. Ritner) Egyptian influences on the Hebrew religion. So to me, the protections and blessings mentioned in the spell–relating to health, posterity and destruction of enemies, etc.–correspond to themes and passages in the Old Testament which were picked up by Joseph Smith when he created the washing and anointing and endowment ceremonies. (“I’m going with that”)

    Finally, the other thing that struck me was how the prevailing apologist arguments about the Book of Abraham are so blatently and shockingly dishonest. And to think there was a time when I considered Hugh Nibley a scholar?

    Thanks again.

  3. The idea that a spell or prayer written down and buried with the deceased, reminds me of the magic parchments owned by the Smith family. Like talismans, possession of these written magical documents was believed to empower the owner. Crazy how nothing is ever new in the world of myth, spirituality, and story.

  4. Yes, this is an incredible series. As high of value as ever given on RFM. But my mind is drawn much more to the status Dr. Ritner and his failing health. In that his current situation is quite precarious, I did a serious review of my own health status to assess whether or not I should pursue the vetting process. Unfortunately, my blood pressure issues don’t allow it. This is what is involved:

    It’s my deepest hope that someone in the ExMO community who is in good health will go through the vetting process.

    Even before this series while other Egyptologists remained disinterested, Dr. Ritner donated a massive amount of his time to dispelling the false assertions of Mormon apologists. Something that he didn’t have to do. Dr. Ritner is an amazing individual which only makes it sadder if no one in our community steps forward.

  5. Was he ever able to get his kidney transplant? I’ve been wondering about this yet I don’t think there was ever any follow up on how his health is these last several months.

  6. Smith and peers were likely aware of Champollian long before your mistaken 1842 date (see Jeff Lindsay)* but, as you imply with your reference to Kircher—a noted founder of Egyptology, who also believed Adamic and Egyptian were related—the GAEL project, for Phelps, would have been carried out in accordance with their 19th C. Egyptology and “research” practices* employing his perceived gifts of “wisdom” for acquiring “understanding in all science and languages,”* to unravel, as Kircher and others had, lengthy hidden Egyptian code with its “mystical characters” deciphered by insight, shapes, marks, and so on.*

    The evidence supports that the GAEL, characters in the margins of JSPP manuscript copies 1-3, etc. represent their 19th C. scholarly or scientific efforts, rather than Joseph’s revelatory translations; and they (and “the rights of translation” in general), were not Smith “alone,”* as you seem to believe (OI); and the “Valuable Discovery” and “Notebook of Copied Characters” were not in Smith’s “own hand” as you claim (PM), and don’t represent his translation.*

    If you knew Joseph as we do, you’d understand that, from his experiences, he believed in and encouraged unique gifts in others, and frequently deferred leadership, especially in more secular and scholarly projects, as he was sensitive to his lack of education, skill, and so on. His peers did engage in translation efforts as shown by: D&C 8-9 (describing an early try by Cowdery and predictions of “other records” to translate in the future, etc.); apparent attempts to reverse translate the unique BofM script;* Phelps’s multiple translation projects including: helping develop the Deseret alphabet, attempting to explain untranslated BofM words, translating: the papyri, other artifacts, Bible passages, Hebrew, etc. He clearly translated, often disagreeing with Joseph Smith and working autonomously; and so on.*

    However, as early as 1826 Joseph began learning that his spiritual gifts weren’t to be used for less sacred pursuits: e.g. treasure seeking, finding thieves (as others apparently attempted in Nauvoo*), secular translations (e.g. Kinderhook plates, Aztec, etc.), and so on. As with other humans, he knew God frequently expected him to work with his own mind, and to cooperate with the skills and gifts of others.

    Therefore, it’s incorrect to assume that anything associated with his name or relating to “translation,” was actually him, or him alone, or him as prophet, by stone, and so on.

    It probably doesn’t matter who directed or worked on subsidiary BofA projects. However, the “alphabet” in Joseph’s hand most likely illustrates his scribing to the voice of another.* For example, it’s difficult to imagine that Joseph “dictated” the more educated “signifies” while he, alone, writes the less challenging “stands for,” and the others correctly hear, or copy “signifies.” Later, he attempts “Signifys” but no one else hears or reads it. Or, if “Smith’s EA was the original” as Ashment claims* (falsely building on: “EA JS originally lacks ‘Zub-sool-oan…’”* when EA JS has “Zub Zool oun” in Joseph’s hand…without doubt, from mishearing Phelps’s New Jersey accent, right Dan? oan, oun, chowder, chowdah, so oan, ; ) (I plan to make some of this available to Dan Vogel btw, and other critics) when it’s Phelps’s spellings in EA OC, EA WWP, and the GAEL. No, his neglect of significant lexemes and words—some recognized by Ashment—his unique spellings and apparent hindsight insertion of sounds (some which he doesn’t seem to hear correctly, or at all); the planning; copying; structure; organization by sound, shape, etc.; and so on, also signify that he’s copying and listening to someone reading, and that the three separate Alphabets cannot be simultaneous revelatory dictation and scribing by Joseph, and that they are reliant upon other documents.
    The flowery development for Beth, in the Plain, etc. seems to be Cowdery, and some of it only in EA OC, yet also in the GAEL, and apparently taken from Abr. 2:18, the plains of Moreh, as we’ll discuss.
    Also, contra C. Smith,* Phelps’s neglect of “1 times,” etc., likely indicates he was short on space due to guesswork while creating his draft (he attempted to finish above and below).* OC was also out of space due to descriptive inclusion, or at least, that is what I’m seeing.* If you have a better explanation I’m open. : )

  7. That’s all the system will allow today, however, the foundational argument of critics of the BofA is false. As will be shown as soon as I’m allowed. I’m completely open to all reasonable and thoughtful conversation refuting any of my claims… : )

  8. May have been too long:
    There is additional evidence supporting that Phelps was the director of some of these projects: e.g. as Gee points out (Joseph Smith and ancient Egypt), after Phelps read a letter that he wrote using the GAEL, Joseph asked to see “the Egyptian grammar.” Two days later Joseph suggested preparing a grammar of the Egyptian language, as if he questioned 1835 assumptions. But, again, as I say, project director, assumptions about Egyptian, etc. don’t matter much for the actual BofA, and much of that is beyond the scope of this email.

    More IMPORTANTLY for those honestly seeking to understand the BofA translation:

    What is clear from the History is that Joseph provided previously translated BofA material for the GAEL and Alphabet projects, and that significant translation of the BofA commenced before work on the GAEL began. And, that the Facsimile explanations are likely dependent upon Phelps’s work, as well as Joseph’s translations. And, while Phelps and others may have attempted to “translate” etc. by a 19 C. scientific method, Joseph had a more productive gift for ancient Biblical ekstasis. As with Joseph in Egypt (with his divining cup, which critics don’t seem to frown upon…for some reason : )), or David (etc.) with his critic approved (for unknown reasons ; )) stones, scriptures, and polygamy (they also don’t seem to frown upon Dehlin’s apparent polygamy but that’s for another day), or Peter with his scriptures, “lots,” visionary trances, or etc.—as with prophets, Joseph Smith was a seer, and created scripture without redundant characters in margins. And, it seems these are the scriptures that still stand against all attacks.

    The ESSAY is correct: Translation of the “record of Joseph” (including the BofA)* began “almost immediately,” early July, 1835. The copies with characters in the margins, which you and critics mistakenly believe are the treanslation, didn’t exist until November.

    Eyewitnesses imply an overnight translation session. Joseph met Chandler at 8am, was allowed to take the papyrus home, and returned the next day with multiple “leaves” or sheets translated. Some of the papyrus was reportedly written in characters that had been translated by eastern scholars (perhaps the reported Hebrew characters?), and the rest they couldn’t read. Joseph reportedly matched their translation without seeing it, and could translate both languages. Chandler produced the translation by a Professor (perhaps Anthon), and signed a certificate without being asked.*

  9. The History after is as follows:
    In early July 1835 enough had been translated for Whitmer to report:
    “Joseph the Seer saw these Record[s] and by the revelation of Jesus Christ could translate these records, which gavee an account of our forefathers, even Abraham Much of which was written by Joseph of Egypt…Which when all translated will be a pleasing history and of great value to the saints.”*

    The History reports—
    JULY 3-6: Joseph, “…commenced the translation…”*

    Before July 19 there is a readable text, since Phelps, in a letter to his wife dated July 19-20 informs that they were already rejoicing at “…reading the history of Joseph in Egypt…” as the records of J/A were sometimes called.*
    And the hindsight July History entry for after the 19th implies that:
    “Translating the Book of Abraham &c.​” is ongoing, and “&c.” seems to refer to being continually “…engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham…” i.e. to the existing BofJ/A text (emphasis mine).
    7 October, 1835 (after traveling and visiting members in Michigan, etc.):
    “This afternoon, recommenced translating the Ancient Records.”*
    In November:
    Work on the GAEL, manuscript copies, and translation of the BofJ/A text continued with Parrish finally being hired as scribe, as evidenced in the history and by his handwriting.*

    Thus, order of operations seem quite clearly established:
    -Translation began in early July and work on the GAEL began late July, at the earliest.
    -The history is clear that the GAEL was created “to the” existing “Book of Abraham.”*
    -Translating a GAEL “to the Book of Abraham” implies existing BofA text.
    -Before Parrish worked as a scribe, substantial J/A material is referenced in letters, blessings, the DaC, the GAEL, etc., as has been correctly pointed out by scholars.
    -These references include significant Abr. 1-2:18 material, to which the GAEL is aligned.
    -The GAEL is obviously permeated with and reliant upon previously existing material, especially the BofA.
    -GAEL alignment to the BofA is clearly thought through, not randomly dictated as “developing” BofA text.
    -The Nov. manuscripts are shown to be resulting copies and not original translations, as we’ll see.

    Early July translation clearly precedes mid/late July GAEL research; which comes before November manuscript copies 1-3 made by Parrish and Williams.

    That is reasonable and, without critical spin, it shouldn’t require lengthy defenses\apologetics for reasonable persons. So, you may not have received much. However, critical attacks seem unreasonable (as near as I can tell, even their persistent existence is highly questionable 😊, and their central claim (that you’ve translated the BofA source) is founded on scrambling and spinning this history).

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