Friday, January 31, 2014

More Comments Answered Part II

Continuing with more comments on our website and our responses:
    Comment #1: I understand that Stephen E. Thompson, in his work, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham" (Dialogue, 28, no. 1 (Spring 1995): pp 143-162), states that there was no connection between Egypt and Mesopotamia as your Joseph Smith claimed in his so-called Book of Abraham, with an Egyptian priest and as you have also discussed on your blog” Maxine O.
    Response: While it is true that the interaction between ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was essentially unknown to scholars until many decades after Joseph Smith's time, an understanding of that interaction became more clear in 1971, when Egyptologist, Georges Posener, published a study showing that Egyptian influence in Syria and Palestine had been significant. 
Since Mesopotamia culture bordered on Egyptian culture and both controlled most of the fertile crescent, it is hard to imagine why archaeologists never put the two together until the latter half of the 20th century
    Earlier, in the famous 1912 anti-Mormon crusade against the Book of Abraham, John Peters, in a letter to the Reverend Franklin S. Spalding, asserted that it could not be true because Joseph Smith had "Chaldeans and Egyptians hopelessly mixed together, although as dissimilar and remote in language, religion and locality as are American and Chinese." Spalding, of course, had asked the foremost scholars in Egyptology to examine the facsimiles in the Book of Abraham and provide comments—their responses resound even today, and although disagreeing amongst themselves as to the precise meaning of the vignettes, they were united in attacking the official interpretations appended to the facsimiles. Reverend Samuel A. B. Mercer was one of those agreeing with Peters, saying: "I challenge any intelligent person who knows Chaldean and Egyptian history to read the first chapter [Book of Abraham] without experiencing the same feeling. Chaldea and Egypt are hopelessly mixed. . . . No one can believe that Abraham made such a blunder in his geography."
Unfortunately, in Mercer's day, scholars studied both Mesopotamian and Egyptian disciplines, but knew nothing of the interactions between the two cultures. However, in 1971, Egyptologist Georges Posener (left) completed a lengthy and detailed 70 page survey of the available evidence and concluded that cultural interactions and interference of Egypt in the area of Syria and Palestine were extensive, even though the precise nature of the "domination by the pharaohs" during the Middle Kingdom "still eludes us; fifty years ago it was barely suspected,” (Georges Posener, J. Bottero, Kathleen M. Kenyon, "Syria and Palestine c. 2160-1780 B.C.," Cambridge Ancient History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1965).
    Another unfortunate issue here, is that, according to Stephen E. Thompson, some critics who clearly should know better are still using the same arguments as Mercer and Peters (Thompson, "Egyptology and the Book of Abraham," Dialogue 28/1 (Spring 1995), pp 156-60).
    Confirmation of the connections that Posener discovered can be seen in recent archaeological evidence found at Ebla, such as temple building and commemorative scarabs. According to Jürgen von Beckerath, the cult of the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek flourished during the Middle Kingdom (2040-1640 B.C.), as is attested by royal and personal names during the twelfth (1991-1783 B.C.) and thirteenth dynasties (1783-1600? B.C.) (A Papyrus of the Late Middle Kingdom in the Brooklyn Museum (1955), 23-4; Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen (1984), 67-73, 159-61, 200-11, 220-2; among others). According to the Matthiae and Pinnock the archaeological site of Ebla in Syria, also known as Tell Mardikh, were found several images of Egyptian gods stylistically datable to the Middle Kingdom, and dated by the archaeologists (1750-1650 B.C.), the time period to which most scholars who believe Abraham existed date him. Among these gods were Osiris, Hathor, Horus, and Sobek. This provides concrete archaeological evidence that Egyptian cults existed in Mesopotamia, Abraham's homeland. Thus the book of Abraham accurately describes an aspect of the ancient world about which Joseph Smith could have known little or nothing, and could not even be verified until archaeological work accomplished over 100 years later.
    Comment #2: “Don’t you consider it strange that no mention has ever been found of any Book of Mormon village, city, or land anywhere in the Western Hemisphere?” Carney.
Response: You may not know this, but the little Jewish village of Nazareth (left) is not mentioned in Jewish scripture, nor in the writings of the first century Jewish general Josephus, nor in the Talmud of later times. One might ask, how it was possible for the town to exist and yet to evade mention for so many centuries? But the fact that a city or settlement is not found, or is not mentioned, under archaeologist’s “Absence of evidence Reasoning,” that is, it is well known among archaeologists that “an absence of evidence” does not indicate “an absence of settlement,” and does nothing to provide positive evidence that it did not exist. 
    In this case, one could easily respond that the New Testament documents do, in fact, mention the city of Nazareth and those documents happen to be among the best-attested and most historically accurate ancient literature available, but only if one accepts them. The same could be said about the Book of Mormon, however, few outside the LDS community would claim that. In addition, the New Testament testimony about the city reveals that it was most likely small and possibly despised at the time. As has been noted: “Although the city name of Nazareth might not have been known in antiquity, it is also possible that Nazareth is simply not mentioned in these other writings because it was a small, out of the way village.” It should also be noted, that while this is accepted in the archaeological world dealing with the Bible lands, if this same statement were to be made abut the Book of Mormon, people would label it an “Apologists” answer and blatantly unacceptable.
    Comment #3: “Mormons believe that God restored the church in the nineteenth century through Joseph Smith. What was to prevent God from restoring the church in the second century, or in the third? Nothing, so far as I can see. If the Mormons are right, God could have restored the church and reopened the canon at any time. Since he did not, it seems reasonable to conclude that for about eighteen centuries the canon of Scripture was de facto closed, and that God approved of that situation…which sounds rather ridiculous to me” Ethan W.
Respond: I love what Einstein is thought to have said early in his life, “I am not interested in this phenomenon or that phenomenon. I want to know God's thoughts – the rest are mere details.” I would love to have an answer for you, my friend, but I have learned long ago that I do not know God’s thoughts, His reasoning, or His overall Plan. Consequently, I accept the fact that he chose to restore the “canon of scripture,” as you call it, when he did, in the 1820s. Why not before? Why not after? Well,first of all there had to be a falling away first, or an apostasy from the truthfulness of his gospel. Paul, in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, made that quite clear when he wrote regarding the second coming: “Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). This “falling away” comes before the day of Christ’s return. Deception is intimately involved with the “falling away” because this is what Paul warns the Thessalonians about when he says, “Let no man deceive you …” The timing of God’s Plan is his own and he is in charge. Let us not quibble over his choices of when he does things. There was an apostasy, and now there has been a restoration. Let us rejoice in this last fact.

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