A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

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_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

Part THREE

The Book of Abraham



“Some things that are true are not very useful.”

--Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect”




- TWENTY-ONE -


Samuel Younger was happy, and he was in love. In the two years since his baptism into the Church, he’d been reborn. He was trim and fit from running 5 miles four times a week, along with his daily regimen of sit-ups and push-ups. His hair was neatly cut, very short in back and parted to the side. And his tattoos were gone, burned painfully from his skin so that only faint, ghostly smudges remained. His lungs felt clean and clear, and his mind was untroubled. The old person he had been was gone, a distant memory growing older and blurrier with each passing month.

It was mid-April and the weather had been warm for the past two weeks. In Reno, the last snows had melted from Peavine Mountain, and Sam had decided to plant a garden. On Friday after work, he stopped by the little nursery on Main Street and bought some seeds and a trio of fruit tree seedlings. Saturday morning, after breakfast, he went out to the side of the house and began working. The spring sunshine was warm on the back of his neck, and it felt good to be outside, digging in the cool earth.

Sam knew that he owed much—if not all—of his new life to the LDS Church. After his baptism, he had dated Sandy Richards for a brief time. They had gone out for burgers and milkshakes in Reno, just like they were teenagers out of some 1950s TV show (it was what she wanted to do), and they’d been to a couple of movies before they decided that they would be better off as good friends. It was a completely mutual decision, a very strange moment in Sam’s romantic life. They had been at the bowling alley in the Hilton with a group of other couples from church, and Sandy had just bowled a spare. When she sat down, they looked at each other, and for a moment it seemed that they would connect in some way: that they would kiss, or embrace, or that Sam would take her hand, but none of that happened.

She said, “You know what? We’ve got a great friendship going here.”

And Sam had immediately, almost involuntarily, agreed. In a way, it was a relief. He had felt a bit fumbling around her. It wasn’t that he didn’t find her attractive; it was that he felt a new sense of chivalry and responsibility concerning his behavior around women. As a priesthood holder, he knew that he was required to look after, protect, and honor women. In short, Sam was determined to get it right. The Church taught that the family was at the center of everything, and Sam knew that he needed to act in accordance with those teachings.

He was partly on his way already in achieving this goal. It turned out that Sandy Richards sometimes attended activities at the singles ward in Reno, and it was at one of these events—an ice cream social—that he met Emily Kimball. Emily had grown up in a suburb of Salt Lake, and she’d come to Reno to study environmental science at the university. She had long, thick blond hair, and there was a light smattering of freckles across her cheeks. To Sam, she looked fresh and delicate, like someone in need of protection, though there was nothing shy about her. The first time they met, she didn’t take her eyes off him. She kept finding excuses to touch his arm or his hand, and she flipped her hair over her shoulders more times than necessary. Sam knew that she was showing off. When she asked about the blurry scars on the back of his fingers and he told her they were the remnants of a tattoo, she seemed more intrigued than judgmental. In other words, she seemed drawn to the fact that he’d lived a life apart from Mormonism. Her world, as she described it, was as squeaky-clean LDS as one could imagine. “I’m totally B-O-C,” she said, which, he learned, meant “born in the covenant.” Both her parents were LDS, with her Mormon ancestry stretching clear back through the generations to the time of the pioneers and Brigham Young. One of her ancestors, in fact, had helped to build the temple in Salt Lake.

Sam fell for her immediately. As with Sandy, he was somewhat conflicted in his attraction and his newfound duties as a priesthood holder, but Emily’s vivaciousness helped to brush his concerns away. When he wasn’t quite sure how far to go, she let him know. They held hands, they cuddled, they kissed, and they pressed their bodies close up against one another, but they always stopped short of anything further, and Sam found that he rather liked the intense build-up of it all. Within a week’s time, they were calling each other and seeing each other every day. Sam brought her to sacrament meeting at his home ward in Lahontan and introduced her to all his friends at church. Everyone adored her and they all told him that they made a wonderful couple.

It was mostly smooth sailing, though there were a couple of bumps. Emily had a problem with his past. She asked how many women he’d been with, and though he didn’t like keeping things from her, he refused to tell. He pointed out that whatever he’d done prior to his baptism had been wiped clean, but she only partially bought this explanation. “I’m completely different now,” he said to her during one of these minor arguments. “But, yes: I do have a past, just like everybody else. If you want to focus on a past when I was a totally different person, that’s your choice, but I personally would rather think about the future. I’d rather think about what’s happening now, and about us.” In the end, she would always hug him and kiss him on the lips and everything would go back to normal.

After about a month, Emily invited him to meet her family in Salt Lake. It was uncomfortable, the sort of father-mother-boyfriend meeting at which the protective dad’s loaded shotgun wouldn’t have seemed out of place, but they all soon warmed to Sam. Emily’s father, Ed, a stocky, pudgy, bald-headed man, had spent his life working for the Anaconda mining company, and he appreciated the fact that Sam worked a physical job. “You’re not one of those yakkers,” he said. “You don’t speak up unless you’ve got something to say.” Sam smiled and said, “Am I supposed to say something now?” and Ed laughed. Emily’s mother, Arlene, taller than Ed and thin, but with Emily’s curves and with somewhat sad-looking eyes, remained more suspicious. It was clear that she didn’t like the fact that Sam hadn’t grown up in the Church. It seemed to bother her, too, when Sam said that he had a sister he wasn’t close with. “But family’s so important,” was Arlene’s reply. Luckily, Emily’s two younger brothers, Alan and Bert, kept things light. They were fourteen and seventeen, and they appreciated the fact that Sam would laugh at their locker-room jokes. Arlene shook her head and said, “Emily moves out, and I’m stuck with all these men. Can you imagine?”

All told, it was a pleasant enough visit, and on the drive back, as they were passing through the blinding emptiness of the Bonneville Salt Flats, Sam had the thought that Emily’s family would make decent in-laws. It was, he later realized, the first time he’d ever had so much as a half-serious thought about marriage. But it was enough to set things in motion, and in short order, he bought a ring and proposed to Emily, and she accepted. They were married and sealed six months later in the Salt Lake temple. Emily’s parents accompanied them through the endowment session, and some of Sam’s friends from his ward in Lahontan had made the drive out to participate. The Kimballs hosted a warm reception afterwards at their home in Sugar House. For their honeymoon, Sam and Emily went to Hawai’i. There, they lay beside one another on the beach (she was still getting accustomed to her new temple garments), and made languorous love in their hotel room. They ate grilled fish at Duke’s and let the moist air kiss their tanned bodies. When they got back to the mainland, Emily moved in to Sam’s house in Lahontan, and they settled into a routine as husband and wife.



He finished turning over the plot of earth with his shovel, having mixed in a portion of compost, and now he used a rake to level off the soil. Then he went down the rows and poked holes for the seeds. He planted zucchini and basil and tomatoes and cauliflower and watermelon. He dropped the seeds into the little holes and covered them with the soil, carefully patting it down so that they wouldn’t get blown away in the wind. By the time he was done he’d broken a sweat.

He picked out a set of spots in the backyard lawn and then he used his round-point shovel to cut out three holes for the fruit trees. He’d gotten a peach, a pear, and a bing cherry tree seedling from the nursery. He dug out the holes, putting the earth into his wheelbarrow, and then he cut the green plastic containers off the roots of the trees and planted each of them into the ground. He used the soil in the wheelbarrow to fill in the gaps around each tree, and he was careful to make sure that they were standing vertically. At one point, he considered going into the garage to get a level to make sure. Once all three trees were set, he replaced the sections of sod that he’d cut from the lawn. Then he stood back to look at his work. The trees were thin and reedy and looked very young. The guy at the nursery had said that it would be at least a couple of years before they began to produce edible fruit. But that was fine; it gave Sam something to wait for.

By the time he’d dumped the dirt out of the wheelbarrow and put all the tools away in the garage, it was time for lunch. In the kitchen, Emily was making turkey sandwiches. “Hi, honey,” she said when he came in. “Here you go.” She handed him a cold glass of caffeine-free Diet Coke. The ice clinked as he titled the glass back and drained it.

“Thanks!” he said. He set the glass down beside the sink and went behind her and looped his arms around her abdomen. She was into her second trimester, and her stomach had begun to bulge.

“Do you stink?”

“I don’t know,” he said, kissing the side of her neck. “So what if I do? You’re supposed to like my stink.”

She turned and kissed him on the mouth and told him to go sit at the table, so that she could finish making lunch. He went and sat down and looked over the paper. In the Sports section, he learned that the Giants were off to a good start this season. He read over the box scores while he waited for his sandwich.
“Hey,” called Emily from the kitchen. “Did you do your lesson plan yet?”

“No, I was going to do it after lunch.” She was referring to the lesson he was due to teach tomorrow at church. He had been called as the teacher for the deacon’s quorum, which meant that he had to give a lesson each Sunday to the young, 12- and 13-year-old boys. These were kids who had only just been given the Aaronic priesthood, and so they were only beginning to understand their roles within the Church, let alone their roles as future men and fathers. Sam enjoyed teaching them about the gospel. They were at the age where they were often too riled up and rowdy to listen, but they weren’t quite old enough to talk back, challenge him, or rebel against what he said. Plus, since Sam was only months away from becoming a new father himself, he liked to imagine that his teaching experience resembled fatherhood in some small way. The teaching itself wasn’t terribly difficult since the job came with a manual that the Church had designed, and it had the lessons and accompanying scriptures all laid out. But Sam took it very seriously, and he always made sure to carefully read over everything ahead of time, and he jotted down notes on how to expand upon the basic points that the manual provided. He tried to find ways to bring in anecdotes from his own life that the young deacons would connect with.

Emily came into the dining room with two paper plates. She’d portioned out potato chips and dill pickle slices on the plates beside the sandwiches. She set the plates down, and then they both folded their arms and bowed their heads and Sam said a blessing over the food, asking that they be given nourishment and strength, and that Heavenly Father look out for the baby in Emily’s belly. They said “Amen” and they both ate. Midway through, Sam thanked her for making lunch, and in return she thanked him for planting the garden. “I’ll come out and look at it after lunch,” she said.

“Well, there’s really not much to see yet,” he said, but he knew she would go out and look nonetheless.


...Next Time: Lessons on honesty....
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWENTY-TWO -

Sunday. Sacrament Meeting. Before services began, people huddled in the foyer outside the chapel, talking. Sam and Emily said hello to all their friends: to Ray Haas and his wife, Vicky; to Bishop Gladden and Barbara, who made joyful exclamations over Emily’s swelling abdomen; to Ariel Jergens, who was their visiting teacher; to Del and Regina Hines; to Nick and Nikki Fadden; to old Bro. and Sis. Templeton. Everyone was smiling and happy. Kids lingered impatiently at their parents’ sides. The deacons and teachers—the young male priesthood holders—hung together in groups, talking about the girls in their knee-length dresses. The light through the big, floor-to-ceiling windows on either end of the foyer was bright and sunny. Sam smiled at everyone, and shook the hands and slapped the shoulders of the other Melchezidek priesthood holders. Then, through the doors of the chapel, the organ music began and everyone began to file in for sacrament meeting. Prayers were said, hymns were sung, talks were given. The congregants ate the bread and drank the water. Then everyone said, “Amen,” and it was off to Sunday School classes. Sam walked Emily down to the other end of the building, since she was the chorister for primary, meaning that she led the singing for the youngest children in the congregation. He kissed her and then left to teach his deacon’s quorum class.

He walked into the classroom, where six of the seven deacons were seated in the metal folding chairs that had been formed into a half-circle. The room was very plain, with walls of cinderblock lacquered in cream-colored paint, with a narrow window in one wall, and no decorations. There was a chalkboard at one end, and a simple table. Sam took off his suit jacket when he entered and he hung it on the back of his chair. He set his quad—the book that contained his complete set of scriptures—and his lesson manual down on the table, and then he looked around on the little ledge on the chalkboard.

“Hey, Barry?” he said. “Would you run down to the library and get us some chalk? Thanks.”

Sam adjusted the chair so that it was closer to the table and he sat down and surveyed the deacons. They were in that stage of their lives where their bodies were beginning to drag them uncomfortably into adulthood. Their feet and heads were too big; their skin was greasy and dappled with acne; their voices cracked and broke when they spoke. “Hey, where’s Jeremiah?” Sam asked. “I thought I saw him passing the sacrament earlier today.”

“Uh, yeah, I think he went home,” said Tim Dinwiddie, a serious-minded kid with huge, almost bulging blue eyes. “He had a stomach ache or something and so I think his mom took him home.”

“Oh, all right,” said Sam. Just then, Barry came back in with the chalk and Sam thanked him. Then he turned to a boy sitting on the far right end of the semi-circle of chairs: “Well, Dave, will you pick someone to give us the opening prayer?” He nodded to Dave Hutchins, who had been called as the deacon’s quorum president. The idea in having one of the boys serve as a quorum president was to instill in them the notion of leadership, and to better acquaint them with the nature of hierarchy in the church. So, just as there was a bishop for each ward, there was a president of each quorum. It was basically a lower-level mirror of the structure of the First Presidency, which oversaw the entire church. But Dave Hutchins, as deacon’s quorum president, didn’t really do anything of significance. He just called on people to give the opening and closing prayer, and sometimes helped out with scripture readings, and so on. He called on Tim Dinwiddie to give the prayer, and Tim dutifully folded his arms, bowed his head, and gave the opening prayer.

After he finished, Sam said, “Okay,” and he took out five index cards that he’d made the day before, and he passed them out among the young men. “Take a look at these and think about them for a moment, and then we’re going to go through one by one and read them out loud. Okay? Why don’t you go ahead, Dave.”
Dave Hutchins cleared his throat and read from the card: “Biff asks Carl for a ride home, but Carl replies, ‘Sorry, only enough gas to make it to my place!’ even though he has a full tank.”

“All right, good,” said Sam, and he nodded to Trevor Sterrit.

“At the grocery store, Jimmy always helps himself to a few free grapes and free candies from the bulk bins. ‘It won’t hurt anything; they make more than enough money,’ he says.”

“Thanks, Trevor. Barry?”

“Christopher forgot to study for his math test last night, and so he looks over at Matthew’s sheet. ‘I’ll just do it this one time,’ he says.”

“And Seth?”

“Pops ate the last piece of Sonny’s birthday cake, but he tells Mother that he doesn’t know who ate it.”

“All right,” said Sam, trying slightly to suppress a laugh. There was a part of him who wondered who wrote the examples, which he’d taken straight out of the lesson manual. “What do all of these scenarios have in common?”

The boys were silent. They all stared at either the floor, or the ceiling, or out the window.

“Come on, now. Somebody? Dave?”

“Well, they all show people lying or fibbing in some way.”

“Yeah, that’s good,” said Sam. “These are all acts of dishonesty. Would you say that these are really bad sorts of dishonesty, or pretty minor?”

“They’re both minor and dumb.” This came from Cory Burger, the deacon who clearly wanted to be doing something else. He was a smart kid, and a smart aleck.

Sam laughed a little and smiled. “Yeah, I agree that they’re minor, but what makes you say that they’re ‘dumb,’ Cory?”

He shrugged and folded his arms across his chest. “I dunno,” he said. “They’re just stupid. Like, too simplistic. You know? I mean, I know what you’re getting at—” and he lowered his voice into a cartoonish mockery of solemnity “—we should all be honest. We shouldn’t tell lies.” He looked up into a corner of the room: “I mean, it’s so obvious, and we’ve heard this a thousand times already.”

Sam held up his hand: “Well, I sort of agree with you and I sort of don’t,” he said, and he glanced down momentarily at the manual, which offered up a useful tip. “The thing is, I think it’s easy to get caught up in this idea that small little white lies are okay. It’s easy to think, ‘Well, if I lie just this one time, it won’t hurt anything.’ But the point of our lesson today is that even these small lies start to add up. Even one little white lie, one instance of cheating on a test—these are all things that drive away the Holy Ghost. And the Lord has promised us that our lives will be blessed if we live honest lives. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?”

Cory Burger just shrugged; it was clear that he wasn’t interested in arguing.

Then: “Man, would you knock it the hell off?” On the other side of the room, Tim Dinwiddie’s shoulders were raised, he had a hand cupped over his ear, and he was leaning away from Seth Welch, who sat stone-faced and motionless beside him. To Seth’s left, Barry was trying to suppress a laugh.

“You’re such a little whiner, Tim,” said Cory.

“Shut the hell up, man,” said Tim, whose face was turning red.

Sam scanned the boys. “What’s the problem, Tim?” he asked.

“He frickin keeps licking his finger and putting it in my ear,” said Tim, his voice squeaking. “And it sucks, man. It’s nasty. I don’t want your nasty spit in my ear.”

The other deacons were muttering and chuckling. Sam couldn’t help but smiling a little at this. Tim Dinwiddie was a bit of a whiner and a weenie—there was no denying it. “What’s that called again?” he asked out loud. “A wet something or other?”

“A wet willie,” Dave offered.

“A wet willie. Right.” Sam laughed a little more while Tim sat there fuming, looking hurt over Sam’s failure to intervene, and then Sam said: “All right, Seth. You need to knock it off and leave Tim alone. All right?”

Still completely rock-faced, Seth, who was big, pudgy, and ugly, looked out the corners of his eyes at Tim, and then nodded in assent.

“Seriously, you guys,” said Sam, “this isn’t the locker room. This isn’t the school lunch room. This is church, and we need to make more of an effort to bring the Spirit into what we’re doing here.” He paused and let this sink in with all of them, and then he went on. “Okay, now, get out your scriptures. I’m going to have each of you read a verse or two aloud.”

And the lesson went on uninterrupted. Cory Burger didn’t offer up any more challenges, and Seth Welch kept his finger and his saliva to himself. Sam concluded things by reminding all of them that Heavenly Father sees and knows about everything they think, feel, and do. “Even if you think that no one will find out you’ve been dishonest,” Sam said, “Heavenly Father still knows.” He asked Dave to call on one of the deacons for a closing prayer, and that was it.



Next it was on to gospel doctrine class, and for this, Emily rejoined him. They gathered in the somewhat larger room, which was furnished and arranged in a way that was similar to almost all the other classrooms in the meetinghouse: burnt-orange carpet, mostly bare walls (save for a few framed images of typical Church imagery—Joseph Smith, Jesus, the Salt Lake temple, and President Baylor), and rows of metal folding chairs. After the opening prayer, the lesson got underway. When Sam first joined the Church, Bob Gompert had been the gospel doctrine teacher, but a few months ago, he was released from the calling and was replaced by Rick Pellegrini. Elder Pellegrini worked for the county District Attorney’s office, and he had a manner that was a combination of cool deliberation and cunning arrogance. In short, Sam had preferred Elder Gompert as a teacher, and so had Emily. That said, in general one couldn’t really fault Elder Pellegrini’s grasp of LDS doctrine. Sam always learned something new in his class, which admittedly was probably at least in part a consequence of his being a convert to the Church.

This week’s lesson dealt with the degrees of celestial glory. To begin the lesson, Elder Pellegrini, with his hand tucked into his pocket, stood near the blackboard and addressed the class: “Just to refresh everybody’s memories, we spoke last time about our three stages of existence: premortal life, mortality, and life after death. All of us began as spirit children in the preexistence, and we were given bodies to come down to earth so that we could be tested. What awaits us are the three kingdoms.” He drew three circles connected by arrows to help illustrate the journey through the three stages of life. “If you want to haul out your handy-dandy scriptures, we can review the key revelations on this topic. Basically, we would know scarcely anything about life after death if it hadn’t been for the Prophet Joseph’s revelations which are recorded in D&C 76.” The room filled with the sound of people flipping through the delicately thin pages of their scriptures.

Elder Pellegrini stroked his moustache and went on with the lesson. He emphasized the fact that D&C 76 is essentially about Joseph Smith’s testimony of Jesus Christ, and he called on Sister Christine Greenwood to read aloud several verses from the latter portion of the chapter. The passage described the three degrees of glory in Heaven: the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Telestial Kingdom, and it explained that the bulk of people living today would wind up in one of these three kingdoms. Pellegrini posed a question to the class:

“What are the distinguishing features between the three kingdoms? I.e., what would a person have to do to make it to one kingdom versus another?”

Hugh Wilson, one of the older people in the class, raised his hand and Pellegrini pointed to him. “I’ve always understood it to be that only members of the Church will make it to the Celestial Kingdom. It’s only those people who’ve been through the temple and who hold all the keys who’ll be admitted to the highest levels of glory.”

“Yes, that’s right. What about those who are righteous—other Christians, say, who live really good and positive lives, but who don’t have the fullness of the restored gospel?”

“Well, it would be the Terrestrial Kingdom for them,” said Hugh Wilson.

“Exactly. And the Telestial Kingdom? Anybody, anybody?”

Bob Gompert, the old gospel doctrine teacher, had raised his hand: “I wanted to add something.”

Pellegrini looked a tad uncomfortable, but he leaned forward and rested his palms on the table. “Yeah, hey, Bob—don’t let me stop you,” he said.

Gompert coughed and then went on. “The Terrestrial kingdom is for more than just righteous, non-LDS Christians. It’s for half-hearted members of the Church, too. Elder McConkie taught that righteous people who never learned anything about the gospel would wind up there, too, just like Hugh said. So, if you grew up in, say, Siberia, and never heard anything about the Prophet Joseph or the Book of Mormon, you would probably make it to the Terrestrial Kingdom. But what I think is important to point out, from a lesson perspective, on the Terrestrial Kingdom, is that we—all of us, in this room—” he shifted in his seat so as to gesture at all the other people in the class “—all of us have the choice as to whether we will end up in either the Celestial or the Terrestrial Kingdom. All of us have the opportunity to achieve the fullness and the richness of complete Celestial glory, and that just makes me so thankful for the restoration.”

A few people quietly said “Mmm-hmmm” in response.

“Good; thanks, Bob,” said Elder Pellegrini. “Now what about the Telestial Kingdom? The lowest kingdom? To review the D&C verses that Sister Greenwood read aloud, the scriptures tell us that the Telestial Kingdom will be for those who are liars, sorcerers, adulterers, and whoremongers, and whoever loves and makes a lie. In short: nobody who’s sitting here today.” He said this with a broad smile, and everybody laughed gently.

Sister Greenwood raised her hand: “I don’t get what it says in verse 84 about hell. How can the Telestial Kingdom be both a degree of glory and a kind of hell.”

“I can answer that,” said Bob Gompert in his big, stentorian voice. “The verse isn’t referring to hell in the way that people normally think of it. This is actually spirit prison. The unrighteous and those who refuse to accept the gospel will wind up in a kind of spirit prison when the Savior returns. It’s a kind of limbo where you go either if you were disobedient in your mortal life or if you reject the gospel.”

Sister Greenwood nodded. “So, a murderer would wind up in the Telestial Kingdom. Right?”

Bob Gompert nodded and Elder Pellegrini said, “Yeah, yes. That’s right. Really, we should clarify, though.” He got up and went to the board and wrote down two things:

PERDITION
OUTER DARKNESS

“I don’t want to dwell on this too much, but I suppose we need to cover this. These two things are basically the same. But if there is any real ‘hell,’ according to the gospel, it’s this—this perdition, or outer darkness. Could I get somebody to read from D&C 76 again, please? Verses 25-33.”

This time, Ray Haas raised his hand, and after being acknowledged by Pellegrini, he began reading: “And this we saw also, and bear record, that an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God, who rebelled against the Only Begotten Son whom the Father loved and who was in the bosom of the Father, was thrust down from the presence of God and the Son, and was called Perdition, for the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer a son of the morning.” The concluding verses clarified what Elder Pellegrini had been getting at: “Those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power—they are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; for they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity.”

“Okay, wow,” said Pellegrini. “Let me just ice the cake here. This is a bit further along in the chapter, verses 44 and 45:

Wherefore, he saves all except them—they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment—and the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows.

He paused and looked up. “Permanent torment. That’s bad, right?” and there was uncomfortable laughter scattered across the room. “What this revelation shows us is that there’s not really a ‘hell,’ per se, but there is this perdition, this outer darkness, where you’ll just be doomed to suffer forever. Basically, you wind up having to live in permanent torment with Satan and his angels. But the big question people usually have—and again, I don’t really want to dwell on this topic for too much longer—the big question people usually have is, ‘Who is going to wind up in perdition?’ And I think the answer is, hardly anybody.” Here he actually deferred slightly to Bob Gompert: “Is that your understanding of this, Bob?”

Elder Gompert cleared his throat and frowned: “Well, yes and no,” he said. “The scriptures are a little vague on that, but what they do seem to say pretty clearly is that you have to deny the gospel. Only those who have had the fullness of the gospel and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and who then turn around and reject and denounce those things—those are the people who’ll be cast out into outer darkness.” There was a tense quiet in the room as he said this.

Ray Haas, with a slight smirk on his face, pushed up his steel-wire-frame glasses and said, “Based on my readings, you can interpret the revelation at least two different ways. One is that the doctrine on the sons of perdition only applies to the very highest leaders in the Church—people who have literally seen Christ and Heavenly Father. The idea is that if you have a spiritual experience at that level, and then you still reject the Church, you deserve to go and dwell with Satan. But the other interpretation, and I suspect that Joseph Smith would agree with me on this, is that the sin of apostasy would qualify someone for outer darkness. So, if you’re a member of the Church, and you wind up turning away, for whatever reason, you will become a son of perdition.”

Sam, who was sitting next to Ray, saw the pale smile on his face. On the other side of the room, Bob Gompert piped up: “Well, hold on a second now, Ray. I wonder if you’ve got the doctrine hammered down just right, or if you’re being loose with your interpretation.”

Elder Pellegrini held up his hand: “I’m sure that we can have a conversation about this. The class is meant to help us come to a better understanding of these things. But, um, at heart, what I think we need to take away from all of this is that we all want to strive for the Celestial Kingdom. We can argue about whether apostasy qualifies you for outer darkness, but in the end it’s just speculation, and none of us needs to be contemplating apostasy anyways.”

“Boy, you are right about that,” said Bob Gompert, and he was nodding in vigorous agreement.

Pellegrini led the discussion back around to a conversation on the steps necessary to reach the Celestial Kingdom. So often, Sam had found, the lessons would touch upon some facet of doctrine, and then would circle back to a reinforcement of the choices and steps a person needed to take in order to stay on the path to eternal glory. It all added up into a richly complex and compelling puzzle, and still, these years after having first met with the missionaries, Sam was learning new things.

Sister Greenwood had another question: “Earlier you mentioned something about Satan’s angels,” she said, and Elder Pellegrini was visibly irritated that she’d brought the discussion back to the notion of perdition.

“Yes?” he said. “What about it?”

“Well, who are they?” she asked.

“Oh,” his face relaxed. “Well, it goes back to the war in heaven. You know, it was when Jesus was selected to come down as the Savior of mankind. This was prior to Adam and Eve, and all of that. Heavenly Father chose Jesus, and Satan was angry and rebelled, and there was a war. One third of the spirits decided to side with Satan, and so they were cast out of heaven. All those spirits became Satan’s angels.”

“Oh,” said Sister Greenwood.

“That’s where much of our temptation comes from,” said Bob Gompert. “These spirits have a real presence in our lives. They envy us our mortal bodies, and so they seek to tempt us to do bad things. We sided with Jesus and Heavenly Father in the pre-existence, and so these rebel spirits resent us for that.”

“Oh, okay,” she said.

Next to Sam, Ray Haas leaned in and whispered, “Gee, it’s a good thing she didn’t ask about the one third of spirits who were neutral in the war in heaven.”

Sam frowned: “What do you mean?”

“You know—the Curse of Cain. Black people were ‘cursed’”—he made the sign of quotation marks with his fingers around the word ‘cursed—“because they were neutral in the war in heaven. Some of the Brethren actually taught that.”

He wasn’t quite sure what Ray was getting at, but then again, Ray had some peculiar notions concerning Church history and doctrine. Of course Sam had learned by now about the Church’s old ban on Blacks receiving the priesthood, but he also knew that the ban had been lifted by revelation. What had been confusing to him were the doctrinal reasons that had justified the ban in the first place.

“What do you mean?” he whispered back to Ray, but Ray was shooshing him, as Elder Pellegrini called on sister Aubrey Danderson to give the closing prayer.

After everyone had said “Amen,” Ray turned to Sam: “Oh, I’m just messing around,” he said. “But some of the General Authorities really did teach that.”
“You know, I’ve never really understood the whole priesthood ban. What’s the scriptural justification for it?”

Ray snorted a bit. “Hey, why don’t you ask Pellegrini. I’m sure he’ll just tell you that we shouldn’t dwell on it too much, ha ha.” His eyes twinkled with a sort of malign glee, as they often did when he got on the topic of controversial or confusing Church doctrine. “No, sorry, Sam. You’re asking a sincere question. So I guess my sincere recommendation to you is that you just look it up in Church materials.” Ray’s wife, Vicky, had begun to tug on his shoulder. “You could start with the Book of Abraham, for example,” he said, showing his teeth, and he stood up to go.

Sam stood up, too. Behind him, Emily had gotten involved in a conversation with Ariel Jergens. Sam shook Ray’s hand and bid farewell to Vicky, and then he sat back down while he waited for Emily to finish her conversation. While he waited, he flipped open his quad to the Pearl of Great Price, and to the Book of Abraham, just as Ray had suggested. He recalled having been at one point very intrigued by the peculiar Egyptian drawings—or facsimiles, as they were called—contained in the book. “Translated from the papyrus, by Joseph Smith,” read the text on the front page. He’d read this before, of course, but it had never really struck him as being particularly significant or useful until now. Papyrus. What did that mean? That the Prophet Joseph had literally owned and translated this scripture off of an old, Egyptian papyrus? Sam was sure that there was no remnant from the Golden Plates—the source of the Book of Mormon—that was on a par with these facsimiles from the Book of Abraham papyrus. That is to say, there were no copies of the original Book of Mormon text, no representation of whatever the text on the plates had actually looked like. As he thought about this, and as Emily turned to him with her beautiful, high-cheekboned face, as they gathered their belongings to leave for home, he more or less forgot that he had originally meant to look into the issue of Blacks and the priesthood. Instead, there was a new mantra playing in his mind: papyrus…papyrus…papyrus…


...Next time: More Mormon folklore....
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWENTY-THREE -

My personal favorite is the one that has to do with the sister missionaries. Do you know that one? Well, it goes like this. These two sister missionaries are out tracting, just going from house to house in this suburban neighborhood. What? No, no, they tract sometimes, too. You’re right, it is usually just the guys, but the sister missionaries do some tracting as well. Just not as much. So, as I was saying, they are tracting in this normal, suburban neighborhood one day.

Well, it varies depending on the teller, but it could be Salt Lake, sure. I think I first heard of it taking place in Minnesota, but that’s neither here nor there. The location doesn’t really matter, apart from maybe making it easier to confirm or deny.

But quit interrupting me. The story—and I can’t believe you haven’t heard this one!—is that these sister missionaries are just going along, and they knock on this house, and this guy answers. He’s a normal, everyday-looking guy, but they get a very dark feeling as they’re standing there. They give him the usual spiel, tell him about the Book of Mormon, and he just kind of nods, but there’s this distracted look on his face, like his mind is elsewhere. In fact, it seems like he staring past these two sister missionaries. They look over their shoulders but there’s nothing there. So, is this guy crazy, or what?

They leave, and sort of forget about him. Then, about a week later, they’re in the same neighborhood again, and they round the corner to see all these police cars and news vans parked outside that same guy’s house. It turns out that the guy was this raging serial killer. In fact, as the investigation and trial all get underway, the guy admits to killing like, twenty young women or something like that. So that was his thing: young women. You know how serial killers will often have a “thing” of some kind. Well, this guy’s “thing” was young women.

But here’s the kicker. The sister missionaries talk to the police, and the police are flabbergasted to learn that they’d tracted at the guy’s house. “Did he invite you in?” says the detective, and they say, “No… Come to think of it, no… He didn’t,” which you’d have to agree was pretty odd, given his “thing.” So when the police get the guy into interrogation, they ask him about the two Mormon girls who came to see them. The interrogating officer says, “How come you left those two girls alone?”

Do you know what his answer was? Come on, you have to be able to at least guess. Heh. So he says, “There were these three huge Indian guys standing behind them. So I wasn’t about to do anything!” Ha! Classic!

What I really want to know is who comes up with this stuff? I guess that’s one of our problems, is that we’re too quick to pass around and latch onto stories like that. And it’s tough, because you want to believe. But you always have to be careful. In a sense, as stupid as it is, I think that a story like that has the potential to be warped into a kind of false doctrine.

Anyways, that’s just my two cents.



...Next time: "What's the Hinton Institute?"...
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWENTY-FOUR -

After church, Sam and Emily spent the rest of their Sunday in the usual way. They listened to classical music on the radio and Emily made an early dinner. Then they went for a long walk. The spring dusk was chilly and Emily had to take a sweater, and Sam draped his arm around her shoulders when she got cold. They walked over into the Sandia Manor subdivision and went down to a cottonwood-lined dirt road that ran parallel to the train tracks. They talked about minor things, about upcoming meetings, upcoming projects at work. But Sam kept thinking again and again about the Book of Abraham and the papyri.

Earlier, while Emily had been in the kitchen making supper, he sat at the table and looked over the text and images of the book more carefully. In the past he’d skimmed it, but hadn’t paid much attention to its contents. It was one of the texts in the LDS Church canon that didn’t seem to get a whole lot of coverage, perhaps in part because it was difficult to understand, and because it contained some peculiar doctrine. For instance, Chapter 3 made mention of the stars, and it said that the one “nearest unto the throne of God” was called “Kolob,” and this made Sam uncomfortable. It sounded to him like something out of science fiction, like the name of a planet in Star Trek, but he knew that in all likelihood he just wasn’t understanding the full spiritual significance of the passage. He could ask Bob Gompert or Pellegrini about it later. The intro for the Book of Abraham described the text as “A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham. The translation was published serially in the Times and Seasons beginning March 1, 1842, at Nauvoo, Illinois. See History of the Church, vol. 4, pp. 519-534.” So, that would be a good starting place in terms of tracking down the book’s translation history. And this was exciting to Sam. It would give him a better and clearer sense of how Joseph Smith had performed as a prophet of God. He wondered where he might get hold of a copy of the History of the Church. He’d seen the History mentioned in the Church lesson manuals before, but he’d never laid eyes on an actual copy of it.

As Sam and Emily continued along on their walk, with their footsteps kicking up tiny ghosts of dust, Sam said, “By any chance did you hear what Ray was telling me in Sunday School today?”

“No,” she said. “Why?”

“I was just wondering.”

“What’d he say?”

“He mentioned something about the Book of Abraham, and about blacks and the priesthood.”

“Oh,” she said, and she pinched her mouth together. “Well, I’m just glad that’s in the past.”

“Oh, yeah, me too,” he said. “It’s just that I’ve never quite understood why there was a ban in the first place.”

“Nobody really understands why. It was just God’s will. God decided that black people shouldn’t have the priesthood, and then, when it was time, he lifted the ban. So, who knows? Maybe it was just a test.”

“Yeah, maybe,” said Sam.

She pulled the lapels of her sweater in a bit more closely. Sam had gotten warm as they’d been walking, but apparently, Emily was still chilly. “Anti-Mormons always want to make a big deal out of the whole priesthood ban thing. You can ask my mom and dad—it was awful. Back in the ‘70s, with all of the protests. Throwing eggs at the BYU athletes. They were really horrible. I just don’t think it’s right to attack another person’s beliefs. If you want to disagree, that’s fine, but to be a bigot like that.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Sam, and to a certain extent he did. In the few years that he had been a full-fledged member of the LDS Church, he too had experienced some of the prejudice that went hand-in-hand with being a Mormon. If non-members knew, they sometimes treated you with suspicion. And if they didn’t know, they’d sometimes let slip some negative comments about LDS beliefs. At work, for example, one of the vendors had been carrying on one day about how the Book of Mormon was clearly just a rip-off of the Bible. Sam didn’t bother to tell him that he was, in fact, a Mormon. Not that it mattered: the guy was an idiot and was just being ignorant. Probably, he’d done little more than skim over a few of the pages before making up his mind. How could he be expected to know the truth of the book without having read it? Without praying about it?

Sam picked up where he’d left off: “But what I was mainly thinking about were the papyrus. Or is it papyri? You know: the things that the Book of Abraham was translated from. Does the Church still have those?”

Emily frowned. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe they have them in the vaults in Salt Lake, but I don’t know.”

“It’s interesting. We can’t look at the Gold Plates, for obvious reasons, but if the Church still has the source material for the Book of Abraham, I wonder if it’s possible for people to see them? You’d think they’d be on display at Temple Square.”

“Yeah, I don’t know, babe.” She didn’t seem interested. In fact, she seemed almost annoyed with the subject matter, so Sam decided to drop it. When they reached the end of the dirt road, they turned around and headed back home.



Later that night, around seven o’clock, Sam called Mort Tanner, who was the ward librarian. It turned out that there was indeed a copy of the History of the Church in the library. If Sam was interested, Mort could check it out to him tomorrow at around six, after work. So, Sam drove out to the meeting house at precisely that time, and he waited for a few minutes in the parking lot for Mort to arrive. Once he did, they went inside and Mort unlocked the door and led Sam into the cramped, one-room library. It smelled like chalk dust and crayons inside, and there were cluttered stacks of boxes pressed up against the bookshelves.

“Which volume did you say you needed again?”

“Volume 4.”

“Here you go,” he said. He had Sam fill out a library slip. “Just bring it back to me in a month or so, so it doesn’t get lost.”

“No problem,” said Sam.

“Can I ask what you’re reading about?”

“The Book of Abraham.”

Mort Tanner pushed his glasses up his nose and nodded and blinked his beady eyes. “That’s one of the antis’ favorite subjects,” he said. “You’ll probably want to look at Volume 2 as well. Once you’re done with that, you can look into some of the stuff from the Hinton Institute. I subscribe to the Review.”

“Oh, okay,” said Sam. “What’s the Hinton Institute?”

“That's the Turley J. Hinton Institute for the Defense of Mormonism up at BYU,” he said. “These are highly trained, well-published scholars who do research into these subjects. There’s a lot of anti stuff floating around out there and these guys bring their scholarship skills to the table to help rebut the false arguments. Just let me know when you’re ready and I’ll set you up with some of their stuff.”

“All right, Mort, that sounds great. I appreciate it.”

“No problem.”



He took the book home and began reading immediately, skipping ahead to the sections that dealt with the Book of Abraham. As he read, he learned that the book was, quite literally, a document that had been penned by Abraham, the prophet from the Old Testament. The History of the Church was essentially like a diary, and it gave an account of Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri. It told how he commissioned one Reuben Hedlock to make a “cut” of the “altar and gods” to be published in the local Nauvoo, Illinois newspaper. And this seemed significant. Sam knew that, after founding the Church in upstate New York, Joseph Smith and his followers had been bedeviled by persecution everywhere they went. They’d gone to Kirtland, Ohio, and then to Missouri, and each time they were attacked and driven out by violent anti-Mormon mobs. Women and children were killed; families were ripped apart; names were dragged through the mud. The history of Mormonism in the early 1800s was a case study in religious bigotry. It was, Sam had been told, part of the Lord’s means of testing the faith of the Saints.

He read on. The text asserted, again, that the Book of Abraham was the written product of the very same Abraham who appears in the stories of the Old Testament. The Book of Abraham, the History of the Church said, was “written by his own hand upon the papyrus.” So where was the papyrus? Sam opened up Volume 2 and scanned the table of contents till he found the portion that gave the account of the discovery of the papyri:

On the 3rd of July, 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 hieroglyphic figures and
devices. As Mr. Chandler had been told I could translate them, he brought
me some of the characters, and I gave him the interpretation, and like a
gentleman, he gave me the following certificate:

KIRTLAND, July 6, 1835. This is to make known to all who may be
desirous, concerning the knowledge of Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., in
deciphering the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic characters in my possession,
which I have, in many eminent cities, showed to the most learned; and,
from the information that I could ever learn, or meet with, I and that of
Mr. Joseph Smith, Jun., to correspond in the most minute matters. MICHAEL
H. CHANDLER,

Traveling with, and proprietor of, Egyptian mummies.


So who was Michael Chandler? A traveling salesman of some kind? It seemed a small miracle that the Egyptian documents would have found their way to Joseph Smith in this manner, but then the history of the LDS Church was filled with miracles. The account continued:

Soon after this, some of the Saints at Kirtland purchased the mummies
and papyrus, a description of which will appear hereafter, and with W. W.
Phelps and Oliver Cowdery as scribes, I commenced the translation of some
of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of
the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another the writings of
Joseph of Egypt, etc.,--a more full account of which will appear in its
place, as I proceed to examine or unfold them. Truly we can say, the Lord
is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth.



As far as Sam knew, there was no “Book of Joseph.” He wondered if Joseph Smith had been murdered prior to getting around to translating that portion of the scrolls. Of course, this still left the question of the papyri themselves. Where were they? They were obviously a crucial piece of LDS religious history. Why wasn’t there more mention of them, either in church lesson manuals, or just in talks among the membership? It didn’t make sense.

When he’d finished going over the two volumes of the History of the Church, Emily drifted in to the room and asked if he was coming to bed.

“Yeah, I’ll be in soon,” he said. And then: “Are you sure you’ve never seen the papyri for the Book of Abraham?”

She thought about it: “Yeah, I’m sure,” she said. “Is it really that important?”

He looked back at her for a while before saying, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that it is.”

She shrugged and went off to bed.


The next day, during his lunch break, he made a series of phone calls. First he called the Church Historical Department in Salt Lake City and asked about the papyri.

“And which institution are you with?” asked the person on the other end of the line.

“What do you mean?”

“Which university are you with?”

“I’m not with any university. I’m just an interested member of the Church.”

“Well, I’m very sorry, sir, but requests to look at sensitive materials like that usually need to be vetted by members of the Twelve.”

“So there’s no way I can see the papyri?”

“I’m sorry, no.” There was a pause. “May I ask why you’re so interested in seeing the actual papyri? There are facsimiles of them in every quad. Looking at the originals is unlikely to reveal anything more to you, especially if you're just a layperson.”

“I guess I don’t have a reason,” said Sam, “beyond simple curiosity.”

“I realize that,” she said, “but we can’t help you. I hope you have a pleasant day.” And she hung up.

Next he called Mort Tanner’s office, and he managed to catch him. He explained that he was trying to get a look at the papyri, and he told him what had happened with the Church Historical Department. Mort just laughed.

“Of course you’re not allowed to see those.”

“Well, aren’t there some photographs of them, or something like that?”

“No. What you have to understand, Brother Younger—heh Brother Younger, it’s like we should call you Younger Brother—what you have to understand is that the Church needs to protect things like that. Those are old, delicate materials.”

“I understand that, but isn’t there anything I can do? Are you aware of anyone who’s had a chance to look at them and study them? Someone I can talk to?”

“Well, Sam, I’ll look into it. But, you know, I gotta tell you, I was a bit hesitant to loan you those volumes of the History of the Church.”

There was a pause. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, you’re still a relatively new member. A new convert to the Church, and some of that material is really pretty advanced, spiritually speaking. With the more complex doctrines of the restored gospel, you’ve sometimes got to take things a little easy. Just like with a young child, you have to give milk before you give meat. Not that I’m calling you a child or anything, but I’m sure you get my point. It’s just like with anything: if you’re studying math, you have to master basic arithmetic before you move on to calculus, and the same is true of the gospel. If you want my advice, and if you’re really interested in studying Church history and doctrine in more detail, I suggest that you get to know your Book of Mormon even better than you already do. I have a couple of books from the Hinton Institute that I can lend to you, too.”

“All right,” said Sam. He didn’t know what else to say. Why wasn’t Mort willing to help? It almost seemed like he was hiding something. “Are you sure there’s no one you can put me in touch with at BYU or something?” he asked.

Mort cleared his throat. “Now, Sam, I gotta ask you something. Have you been reading anti-Mormon literature?”

“What? No! All I want is to learn more about the papyri. And who the hell are you to tell me what I should and shouldn’t read?”

“Calm down,” said Mort. “I was just asking, that’s all. And you’re right: you’re welcome to read whatever you want. But you should know that, unless you’re spiritually prepared, that kind of stuff can have a detrimental impact on your testimony.”

“Well, you don’t have anything to worry about, Mort. Thanks for your time.”

“No problem,” he said. “Good luck.”



Sam made one final call, to the university in Reno. He had twenty minutes left on his lunch break and he spent the entirety of it being transferred from one department to the next. Eventually he wound up on the phone with a secretary for the political science department. It turned out that one of the assistant professors was a man of Syrian descent who had done some side publications on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. His name was Prof. Mahfouz. Sam figured that his last shot at getting answers lay in taking his copy of the Pearl of Great Price into this professor and having him look at the facsimiles. So, he arranged with the secretary to meet with Dr. Mahfouz during his office hours later in the week.



When he arrived, he parked and walked across campus and made his way into the building and up the stairs. Mahfouz’s office was at the end of a black-and-white tiled hall. The door was partially open, and Sam rapped on it, and Mahfouz said, “Please come in.”

The professor was seated behind his desk with a pair of reading glasses perched near the end of his nose.

“Hi, I’m Sam Younger,” he held out his hand and Dr. Mahfouz stood rather formally and shook it, bowing forward a bit at the waist.

“Henry Mahfouz,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”

Sam sat down in the arm chair and took a moment to glance around the office. There were books everywhere, along with some photographs and various knickknacks: a painted stone, a stress-reliever ball, a glass paperweight, a small bamboo bowl filled with paperclips. At Mahfouz’s back was a window that looked down onto a green, grassy, tree-lined courtyard.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” said Sam.

“It’s not a problem at all. The department requires that I hold these hours, and students seldom come by unless there’s a test or a paper due.” He smiled. He had an accent, but it wasn’t heavy. “So what can I do for you, Mr. Younger?”

Sam had brought along his quad, and he set it on the desk. “Well, he said, I was hoping I could get you to look at some ancient Egyptian symbols for me.”

“Of course.” He reached across the desk and hefted up the book and looked at the spine. “The Book of Mormon. Are you a Mormon?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” said Sam, hesitating a bit.

“Huh, that’s interesting,” said Mahfouz. “I know almost nothing about Mormonism. Beyond polygamy, of course.”

“Uh, yeah,” Sam chuckled. “We don’t do that anymore. There hasn’t been any polygamy in the Church for a hundred years.”

“I see,” said Mahfouz. “That must be quite a disappointment for you.” He waited, and when Sam didn’t react, he said, “That was supposed to be a joke.”

“Oh, right,” said Sam. “Sorry.” It might have been funny the first, second, or third time he’d heard a crack about polygamy, but by now the jokes were tired. Nonetheless, he offered up a smile for Mahfouz.

The professor had begun to page through the delicate pages of the quad. “So, where are these Egyptian hieroglyphics?” he asked.

Sam made a gesture to take the book back, and Mahfouz slid it across the desk. Sam flipped it back to the Pearl of Great Price, and to the facsimiles. The first of them depicted a scene with two human figures. One of them was lying on a table and the other stood near the first figure’s feet, holding what looked like a feather.

As soon as Mahfouz saw it, he said, “Oh, yes. The Book of Breathings.”

“What?” said Sam. “Do you mean the Book of Breathings from Abraham?”

“No, I mean the Book of Breathings. Period. It’s a common funerary document from the late period. It has spells and instructions and that sort of thing. They were buried with the deceased to help them pass into the next world.”

“I don’t understand,” said Sam. “It has nothing to do with Abraham?”

“Abraham the biblical prophet?”

“Yeah.”

“No, most definitely not.” He laughed, as if the suggestion was absurd. “At least, as far as I know, Abraham was not a member of Egyptian royalty.” He looked back down at the page—at the explanations and interpretations of the image. “No, no, no,” he said. “These are all wrong. They’re spectacularly wrong, in fact. I doubt that whoever provided these explanations was trained in Egyptology. They may as well have been invented from whole cloth.”

Sam looked down and the book and back up at Prof. Mahfouz. He could feel his face getting hot. “What about this one?” he said, and he pointed to the next facsimile, a round image containing a series of scenes and hieroglyphics.

“It’s another funerary document,” said Mahfouz. “It’s a hypocephalus.”

“A hypo- what?”

“A hypocephalus. It was placed under the head of the deceased.”

“Does it have a religious significance?”

“Yes, it does. But, once again, this explanation in your book here is totally and completely wrong. I’ve never even heard of this ‘Kolob.’”

“But there is a religious and spiritual significance to the image, you said?” It felt to him as if the air was very slowly being drained from the room, and it must have shown on his face, because the professor’s demeanor changed.

Mahfouz had been smiling with amusement earlier, but now his face was concerned. He rested his hands flat on the desk and sat up straight in his chair. “Yes,” he said. “There is a spiritual component to the image, but I think that what you’re really asking me is to affirm a matter of faith, and I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to do that.”

Sam looked at him. Though he hadn’t noticed it earlier, now he could detect the faint yet constant ticking of a clock on one of the bookshelves. “Why would the explanation say something other than what the hieroglyphics actually say?” he asked.

“I couldn’t tell you, Mr. Younger, and I don’t much want to speculate. I wonder if maybe that’s a question more appropriate for your pastor, or for one of the bible study instructors at your church. You do have such people in the Mormon church, I assume?”

Sam kept frowning, and he let out a frustrated sigh. “Well, are you sure that these are funerary documents, or whatever it was you said?”

“Yes, I’m quite certain. Of course, there is always the possibility that I could be wrong, but I have to tell you that I’ve seen the hypocephali at the British Museum, and some here in the U.S. as well.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense.”

By now Mahfouz had leaned back in his chair; Sam could see that he was making the professor uncomfortable.

“Well, you know,” he said, “I just wanted to get some answers, and I didn’t expect you to say what you said. I don’t really know what I expected you to say, but it wasn’t this.” He was half-mumbling.

“Perhaps your ecclesiastical leader can offer you some guidance?”

“What? Oh, yeah. Maybe so.” His mind was a blur. Through the window, a group of co-eds was tossing a Frisbee across the silent greenery of the quad. Sam stood up, but he kept staring out the window. He could feel the weight of his temple garments, slightly sweat-dampened, beneath his street clothes.

“Well,” said Dr. Mahfouz, beginning to fiddle with some of the paperwork scattered at the edge of his desk. “I really probably ought to get back to this work which has piled up on me.”

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry, just spacing out a little, I guess.” He scooped up the quad off Mahfouz’s desk and extended his hand. “Thank you so much for your time, professor. I appreciate it.”

“Glad to be of help.”

Sam turned to leave and as he walked out Mahfouz said something that sounded like “Ala mach,” but Sam didn’t fully catch it.


The rest of the day he struggled to fight off a dark feeling. What was happening? Why were the explanations for the Book of Abraham facsimiles so wrong? Had Joseph Smith made a mistake? And why was the Church so hesitant to let people view the papyri? Something wasn’t adding up. On one level, Sam wondered if he was simply being paranoid. He’d grown accustomed to the fact that he really knew very little about the Church, and so there was a very strong chance that he simply hadn’t yet been fully educated on this particular subject. Then he wondered, in a moment of anger, if Mahfouz had lied to him. It had probably been a mistake to announce that he was Mormon—there were thousands of people who hated the LDS Church, and now Sam was kicking himself over the fact that he’d failed to present the facsimiles without the Mormon context.

Upon further thought, though, that seemed absurd, too. Why would the professor make something like that up, even if he was an anti-Mormon? And what if he was simply wrong, or if he’d made an error in his reading? Ultimately, Sam came to the conclusion that he just didn’t know enough. Maybe there was something more in the Church’s doctrine and teachings that he needed to see—something that would help him to achieve the understanding that eluded him. What had Mort Tanner called it? Milk before meat. He’d used the analogy of giving milk to a baby, and maybe he was right, because Sam’s stomach hurt, and he couldn’t remember whether he’d eaten lunch or not.



That night, Sam made his first foray into telling Emily about what he’d learned. At first, she didn’t understand. He got out his quad in order to show her.

“See this?” he said, pointing to the explanations for the facsimiles. “I don’t think this is correct.”

“How can it be wrong?” she said. “It’s part of the scriptures.”

“I know that,” he said, “but what I’m trying to tell you is that this explanation doesn’t match with the imagery, with what it actually says—” he was pointing to Facsimile 1 “—is just a normal Egyptian funeral text. There were hundreds of them. The ancient Egyptians used to bury them with the dead.”

She still didn’t understand: “Yeah, so what?”

“So, this isn’t the ‘Book of Abraham.’ It’s supposed to be an actual text written by Abraham, the prophet from the Book of Genesis. But it’s not. It’s an Egyptian funeral text.”

“Well, wasn’t it written in Reformed Egyptian?”

“Huh? I don’t know. I thought it was just regular Egyptian.”

He had been staring down at the pages of the book and now he looked up into Emily’s face. She wasn’t smiling. A blush had come into her cheeks, and she had folded her arms around herself—around her swollen abdomen—as if she was cold. “What are you doing, Sam? Why this sudden interest in the Book of Abraham? And what do you know about Egyptian?”

He paused. He knew that it would be unwise to tell her about his visit to Mahfouz, given how badly he himself had felt after the meeting. It would upset her and she didn’t need that right now, in her condition. Then again, that was the basis of his views.

“I’m just curious,” he said. “It came up in sacrament meeting this past Sunday and I’ve just been thinking about things.”

“Well, I don’t really like the sound of some of the things you’re saying.”

Sam frowned: “What, am I not supposed to think for myself? Do you think I just made all this stuff up out of the blue?”

“Aren’t you saying pretty much the same thing about Joseph Smith? That he just ‘made up’ his translation of the Book of Abraham?”

“What? Honey, what the hell are you talking about?” He pushed away from the table and went to get the copies of the History of the Church that he’d gotten from Mort Tanner. When he came back, he saw that Emily was crying. “Babe… What? What is it?” He went over to comfort her.

“Don’t,” she said, holding up her hand. “Just don’t.”

“What? What is it? What did I do?”

His tenderness towards her only made her cry harder. “Please, Sam. What are you saying? That you don’t believe in the Church anymore?”

He moved over and leaned down beside her chair and his slipped his arm around her shoulders. “No, no—honey. Of course I still believe in the Church. I know that the Church is true and I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet. But something about this Book of Abraham issue just doesn’t make sense to me. And is it wrong for me to wonder about it, and to tell you things I find out? Isn’t a husband supposed to tell things to his wife?”

She was still crying, her eyes wetly scanning his face. She sniffled: “It just worries me, that’s all. And I do appreciate you and I’m glad you told me about the research you’ve been doing. I need the strength of the priesthood in my life and I love you so much. You just had me worried, that’s all.”

He hugged her. “Well, you don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll love you no matter what.”

They stayed there for a moment, not saying anything, just clinging to one another. Then Emily said, “Sam, will you go and talk to the bishop about the things you found?”

“Why do I need to do that?”

“Would you just do it? For me?”

“Yeah, if you insist, but I don’t see why it would matter.”

“It would just make me feel better, that’s all. I think you need to tell him about the questions you’re having.”

“All right, sweetie. If that’s what you want me to do, I’ll go ahead and do it.”

He used his thumb to brush the remaining tears from her face and he kissed her on the forehead, and then she got up to get ready for bed. He waited for her to finish in the bathroom and then he brushed his teeth and undressed and they both knelt beside the bed and said their evening prayers.

Sometimes, at night, as he lay in bed, Sam would try to listen for the promptings of the Holy Ghost: some sign that his prayers and worries had been heard and acknowledged. On this night, though, all he could sense was the beginning of some enormous fear, some horrible dread.


...Next Time: The waters of the temple....
_SteelHead
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _SteelHead »

Good stuff
It is better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener at war.

Some of us, on the other hand, actually prefer a religion that includes some type of correlation with reality.
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_Bob Bobberson
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWENTY-FIVE -

Baptisms for the dead. Sam and Ray sat up in the front of Ray’s van, while seven young men of varying ages sat on the bench seats in back. They were heading to the Oakland Temple to perform vicarious baptisms for people who had died without having a chance to accept the restored gospel during their lifetimes. Sam, the teacher for the Deacon’s Quorum (ages 12-14), and Ray, the teacher for the Teachers’s Quorum (ages 14-16) had been asked by Bishop Gladden to drive the young men. Behind them were Emily and Sister Higgins, driving in yet another van, this one filled with young women. Once they arrived at the Oakland Temple, the young men would do the proxy baptisms for the males, and the young women would do the proxy baptisms for the females. The ward always made at least one (and sometimes two) expeditions out to the temple to do this work each year. For this trip, Sam and Ray had managed to round up Trevor Steritt, Dave Hutchins, and Tim Dinwiddie from the Deacon’s Quorum, and Greg Benson, Tyler Jacobs, Mark Pyle, and Cole Sneddon from the Teacher’s Quorum. A couple of the young men had brought along their Gameboys. Others were listening to music on their CD and cassette players or reading magazines. Tim Dinwiddie had brought along the most recent issue of MAD magazine, and Cole Sneddon had immediately snatched it away from him. Ray and Sam both ignored Tim’s whining.

The road to Oakland was pleasant and beautiful. I-80 climbed up out of Reno and into the Sierra, where the dry desert mountains gave way to pine trees and rogue patches of alpine snow. After they hit the crest of the mountains and began the descent into California, they could feel the change in the air on their skin. It felt richer, heavier. The grays and browns and silvers and tans of Nevada gave way to the endless green and tawny gold of California. But Sam, who was driving, didn’t care. They neared Sacramento, which was close to where he’d grown up. He felt no nostalgia for that old part of his life.

Before long they stopped for lunch at McDonald’s. Sam stood in line with Emily, who told him that she was going to eat with Sister Higgins and the young women. The young men had already sat down with their meals in a trio of booths near the window. Sam got his food and went and sat down at a table with Ray. During the ride, they had exchanged small talk. Ray complained about his job (something to do with computers that Sam never understood) and about his wife, whom he always seemed merely to get along with, rather than to love or to even like. As they sat across from one another, apart from both the women and the young men, Sam told him about what he’d learned about the Book of Abraham. He told Ray about the meeting he’d had with Professor Mahfouz. Ray smiled very softly and nodded.

“Yeah, they don’t match up with the translation at all.”

“Well, Mort Tanner told me that he’s got some stuff that will explain all of it.”

Ray nodded. “It’s probably just some stuff from the Hinton Institute.”

“So, you’ve read it?”

“The Hinton stuff? Yeah, some of it.”

“And?”

Ray stared back, his blue eyes emotionless and impassive. “I don’t know if I should tell you, Sam. Everybody has to arrive at their own conclusions about the Church, and I don’t know if I should be influencing you.”

“What do you mean?”

Ray shrugged and dipped a fry into some kind of ketchup and mayonnaise mixture that he’d made.

“Are you talking about ‘milk before meat’?”

“No, I wouldn’t put it that way,” he said. He was staring out the window, thinking. Then: “So, did you tell Emily?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

“She flipped out.”

Ray nodded solemnly. “Ah, jeez. I’m sorry about that. Honestly, I didn’t know you would take me seriously when I brought up the Book of Abraham. You have to be careful doing that kind of thing, though. You’ll just wind up scaring her. She’ll think you’re drifting towards apostasy.”

“I’m not, though.”

“Sure,” said Ray. “But you still have to be careful.”

They didn’t say anything for a while, and then: “So what’s your opinion, Ray?”

“About what? About the Book of Abraham?” He wiped his mouth with a napkin and cleared his throat. “Well, I don’t really want to say too much until you’ve had the opportunity to look at the evidence for yourself.”

“I already have, though. Or are you talking about the papyri?”

“Oh, yeah, the papyri. Right. Well, no: you can’t see those. Those are off-limits.”

“Why is that?”

Ray let out a long, considered and deliberate sigh. “Well, Sam, look. You really should read the stuff that Mort Tanner recommended. In all honesty, I haven’t really kept up with the stuff that’s come from the Hinton Institute, so who knows? Maybe they’ve arrived at some explanation that makes sense. I’ll tell you what I think, but let me ask you this: based on what you know so far, what’s your take on the Book of Abraham?”

“Well, I guess my feeling about it is sort of divided. On the one hand, I believe what that professor told me. I don’t think those facsimiles are direct translations. But on the other hand, I feel like I’m missing something. Like I don’t understand all the angles. For example, I get that the text of the book doesn’t come from what the facsimiles show, so does that mean that it’s just the facsimiles that are wrong?”

Ray nodded: “That’s why you’re right to wonder about the papyri. Let me tell you a little story. See: back in Joseph Smith’s time, no one could translate Egyptian. The only way to do it was just as Joseph claimed that he did it: by divine inspiration and revelation. People weren’t able to translate Egyptian until later in the 1800s. You’ve heard of the Rosetta Stone, right?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Well, they found it sometime around 1799 or 1801 or thereabouts, and they had it over in England or France, and eventually it provided the means for them to be able to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. But the linguists didn’t fully get the hang of it until decades later. What this means is that by the time that the Joseph Smith papyri could have been translated by actual, professional linguists, the papyri had gotten lost. People thought that they’d been destroyed in a fire in Chicago. In other words, when Egyptologists finally got around to looking at the facsimiles, and when they pointed out that Joseph’s translations didn’t match, the explanation was that the translation is actually coming from some other portion of the papyri—the portion that was supposedly lost in this Chicago fire.

“So, fast-forward to the 1960s. It turns out that the papyri still exist. They turn up buried among a bunch of old artifacts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At first, there’s some question as to where these really are the same papyri that were owned by Joseph Smith, but they’ve got letters and other things to establish provenance. Some behind-the-scenes deal-making takes place, and the papyri are handed over to the Church, which is where they sit today, safely locked away in the Church’s vaults. Here’s the thing, though. The Church only recovered 11 of the papyri fragments. There may be as many as 19 more of them floating around out there somewhere, or destroyed. And that’s been the main point of the Hinton folks—that the actual text of the Book of Abraham is coming from one or more of these missing fragments.”

Sam sat there mulling this over for a moment before he said, “Is that what you think?”

Ray shrugged again. “I think the fact that the Church has this stuff locked up so tightly really says a lot. And it’s not a matter of fragility. You can go and look at the Constitution. The Church won’t even let you do that with the papyri.”

“Don’t you think it’s because they just want to protect it?”

“I dunno,” said Ray, and he slurped up the last dregs of his Sprite. “It’s just like I told you when you brought this up: I don’t want to influence you. You should do your own reading and your own research and come to your own conclusions.”

Sam nodded. “Emily wants me to meet with Bishop Gladden to discuss my questions.”

Ray snorted: “Oh, good grief. Have fun with that. While you’re at it, maybe you should ask ol’ Chuck where the Hill Cumorah is located.”

“Why do you say that? Isn’t in New York, where Joseph found the plates?”

“Ah. I don’t know. Don’t listen to me, Sam.” He got up and carried his tray off to the trash can, leaving Sam to finish off the remainder of his burger, which had gone cold.



Once they were back on the road, Tyler Jacobs began telling a story about his older brother, Kent, who’d been involved in a canoeing accident. He and a friend had been on a fast-moving river down near Lake Powell, and they got into trouble and their canoe capsized.

“So, my brother is there just trying to stay afloat. He’s thrashing all around and trying to keep his head above the water, but the current is really, really fast. He can kind of make out some rocks up ahead, and he’s afraid that he’s going to get smashed into them. And then, all of the sudden, he feels something grab the edge of his life jacket, and he’s getting pulled to shore. He’s on his back, and tries to see, but he can’t get a good look at whoever it is that’s doing this. Just as he gets pulled onto dry land, he gets a glimpse at the guy, and sees that his canoeing buddy is okay, too, and then he passes out. He just goes blank.”

“You mean the guy just left them there?” asked Cole Sneddon. “They never found out who he was?”

“No,” said Tyler. “It was like he just came out of nowhere.”

Ray, who was taking a turn driving, called back over his shoulder: “Gee, maybe it was one of the three Nephites.”

Tyler’s eyes were wide and credulous: “No, I’m serious, that’s what we all thought! It probably was one of the three Nephites.”

“Who are the three Nephites?” asked Tim Dinwiddie.

“They’re, like, these immortal guys who’ve been just walking the earth for the past 2,000 years or whatever,” said Cole Sneddon. “They like go around doing good deeds and stuff.”

Ray interjected: “They get mentioned towards the end of the Book of Mormon, in 3rd Nephi. Jesus tells them that they ‘shall never taste of death.’ So, like Cole says, they’ve just been living here on earth ever since.”

“Whoa,” said Tim. “Is that really true?”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know, but that’s awesome. How come they got immortality? What did they do to get blessed that way?”

“They were just righteous,” said Ray. “They did as the Lord commanded, and so he gave them eternal life.”

Cole, who was seated next to Tim, leaned forward: “So, if they’re immortal, does that mean that you could like shoot them and they’d just keep going? Do you think they ever fought in any wars?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Cole,” said Ray.

Sam, who’d been silent ever since they left the restaurant, had heard a few of the legends about the three Nephites, but he wasn’t very familiar with the doctrinal basis for the stories. Nevertheless, he threw in his two cents: “I would imagine that they try to keep a low profile,” he said.

“That would make sense,” added Ray.

Tim said: “But why don’t they show everyone that they’re immortal? That would prove to the whole world that the Church is true.”

“Well,” said Ray, “that’s exactly why they don’t. There wouldn’t be any need for faith if they did that. Plus, they’d be in defiance of the Lord’s commandments. In the Book of Mormon, it says that they’re forbidden from talking about what happened. They essentially took an oath of secrecy.”

“It was sacred,” Sam added, and the boys were quiet for the remainder of the trip.



When they arrived at the Oakland Temple, they disembarked from the vans and walked up into the temple. Sam and Emily had been sealed in the Salt Lake temple, but for proximity and population density reasons, they were assigned to do baptisms for the dead at the Oakland temple. He and Ray and Emily and Sister Higgins led the kids up the walkway and through the doors. They were given little baggies to wear over their shoes while they made their way to the changing rooms. What always struck Sam about the interior of the temples was their lavishness as compared to the ward meetinghouses. Whereas the church building back home was simple, utilitarian, and spartan, the temples were plush and well-appointed. The carpeting was softer and thicker and more colorful; the furniture seemed nicer; the mirrors were gilded and more expensive-looking. There were chandeliers, and embroidered curtains, and elaborate and beautiful tiles on the ceiling. There were large oil paintings on the wall, and a general sense of peace hung in the air. Sam held Emily’s hand as they walked. The kids craned their necks and were totally silent as they scanned the walls of the temple.

They reached the entrance to the changing rooms and the females split up from the males. Sam and Ray went in to what was in effect a large locker room, with tiled floors and lockers and shower stalls. Inside, they passed out sets of white clothes for all the young men, and then they got into their own set of white baptismal clothes: a pair of pants, and a plain, white collared shirt, just like Sam had worn when he’d been baptized into the Church.

This being the second time he’d led an excursion to do baptisms for the dead, he knew now what to expect.

“All right, guys,” he said to the teachers and deacons. “Let’s head on out to the baptismal font.”

They went out of the changing room and into a large room. The cold, black-and-white tile in this room adhered to their bare feet, and the noises they made—their clothes, their breathing, Tim Dinwiddie’s coughing—echoed off the glassily smooth stone walls. In the center of the room was the font, which was very different from the font Sam had been baptized in. This one was beautifully sculptured: at the bottom, holding the large baptismal basin on their backs, were twelve milky white marble oxen. Sam had learned at one point that they represented the 12 tribes of Israel, and he made quiet note of this to the deacons as they moved into the room. The ceiling in here was high; there was a painting depicting Christ and his apostles hanging high at one end. A few people—other LDS who were attending the temple that day, or perhaps temple workers—were sitting among the various chairs and benches in the room. No one spoke above a whisper.

Sam’s first impression of the rite of baptisms for the dead had been twofold. On the one hand, he found the ceremony beautiful and spiritual and moving. The sheer volume and scope of what they were trying to accomplish was overwhelming: they were attempting to enact baptisms for every last human being that had ever lived… It made him feel weak and small, and yet powerful on some level, too. But there was a consequence to this ambition, which was that the ordinance seemed slightly rushed. The colossal number of people in need of baptism-by-proxy meant that he, as priesthood holder, had to go rather quickly, in a somewhat robotic fashion.

It had been decided ahead of time that he would do the first round of baptisms, and so he climbed up the stairs and went around and got into the warm and pleasant water of the font. Ray had the boys get into a line, and then the first of them—Mark Pyle—came down the steps into the font, and Sam held out a hand to help guide him in. The water pooled around his abdomen, and the color of his skin was visible through the wet, white clothing. They moved to the center of the font, and then Sam turned and positioned himself so that he could look up. Quite near the font was a TV screen, and on it appeared the names of the dead people for whom they were performing the ordinance.

“Okay,” Sam said, very quietly, to Mark. “Do you think you can do twelve or so of these?”

“Sure, sure,” said Mark.

“Okay, good. We’ll just go one after the next, and then we’ll be done. It’s just like when you got baptized when you were eight. All right?”

“Okay,” said Mark.

Sam raised his arm to the square, palm out, and he looked up: the name on the TV screen was Ormsby Steward, and so he said, “Ormsby Steward: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen,” and he plunged Mark Pyle into the water and brought him back up. He glanced up at Ray, to make sure that the immersion had been complete, and Ray nodded. Sam put Mark back in position, read the next name, recited the prayer a second time, and plunged the young man once more under the water. Each time he did this, he knew, someone long deceased was being given the opportunity to receive the blessings of the restored gospel. Young Mark Pyle stood in as the proxy. Again and again, Sam performed the baptism. He plunged Mark beneath the water some 13 or 14 times, and then Mark got out and Cole Sneddon came down the steps, and Sam repeated the entire process.

It was a whole-day affair. When Sam’s skin began to prune up, he took a break and Ray took over. They alternated between work for deceased females and deceased males, with members of the appropriate sex always standing in as the proxies, since per Church doctrine, gender was eternal and determined in the pre-existence. Everything in the room was quiet, save for the sounds of the priesthood holders reciting the prayer, and the plosh of the water in the font. Sometimes they could hear the gentle susurrus of the air moving in the ventilation system.

Towards the end, when Sam was performing proxy baptisms with Trevor Steritt, he found his mind wandering slightly. He knew he should concentrate on the ordinance and its meaning, but he was getting tired and he couldn’t help it. The image of the Book of Abraham facsimiles flashed in his mind, and he remembered what he’d been told: that the Prophet Joseph hadn’t performed a legitimate translation. Joseph Smith hadn’t performed a legitimate translation. And yet the very prayer that Sam had been saying again and again this day, the prayer he’d now recited some two hundred times, had come directly from Joseph Smith via revelation and it had been canonized as official doctrine in the D&C. What if this revelation was “illegitimate,” too?

As soon as the thought entered his mind, Sam pushed it away. He tipped Trevor Steritt back into the warm water, and hoped silently that his ruminations wouldn’t have any effect on the ordinance.



...Next Time: Merlyn Young returns...
_Dr. Shades
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Dr. Shades »

Bob Bobberson wrote:...Next Time: Merlyn Young returns...

Curiouser and curiouser. It makes me wonder where, and how, the disparate story lines will converge.
"Finally, for your rather strange idea that miracles are somehow linked to the amount of gay sexual gratification that is taking place would require that primitive Christianity was launched by gay sex, would it not?"

--Louis Midgley
_Bob Bobberson
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWENTY-SIX -

The dog-days of summer. Sam had done an efficient job of fending off Bishop Gladden’s attempts to set up a meeting. But the people closest to him had begun to sense that something was wrong. A week or so after the trip to the Oakland Temple, Sam began looking in earnest for material on the Hill Cumorah, just like Ray had mentioned. Cumorah, he knew, was important for two reasons. It was the site in the Book of Mormon of the final battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites. It was there that the Nephites, who’d become wicked and unrighteous, were finally defeated and destroyed, leaving nothing but a society of pagans who would eventually become the American Indians. But the Hill Cumorah was important, too, because it was where Captain Moroni had buried the Golden Plates—the same plates that Joseph Smith was instructed to dig from the ground and translate. Sam recalled with vivid clarity the picture that the missionaries had shown him of Joseph in the sacred grove, shielding his eyes from the intense luminescence of Heavenly Father and Jesus.

Just as there were two key points pertaining to Cumorah, Sam was of two minds about what he was doing. A part of him wanted to know. It was plain curiosity—a desire to know more than was taught in Gospel Doctrine class. The other part was fear—a sense of dread. Ever since his experience with Dr. Mahfouz and the Book of Abraham, Sam had felt that something was wrong. Obviously, something was wrong—namely that Joseph Smith could not translate Egyptian. What was the reason for this? The Church maintained that the Book of Abraham was a real translation, and that it was real scripture. Why hadn’t they ever corrected this mistake? Was the Church hiding something? This was the sort of question that he immediately shook off; it was inappropriate and disobedient, and it made him fear the potential loss of his testimony. It also constituted a sort of speaking ill of the Lord’s anointed. The Brethren knew God’s will, and they had preached from the pulpit of General Conference that they would never, ever lead the Church astray. And Sam believed them. He’d seen them testify to this as recently as April, during General Conference. They weren’t lying. He was certain of it. These fifteen menwere serious, earnest, and pious men. They would do everything in their power to help the Saints. Sam knew this, believed it with all his heart.

But still the questions nagged at him. Things didn’t add up. He couldn’t go to Emily, nor to Bishop Gladden. Emily had shown that she wasn’t emotionally prepared to deal with any of these inquiries, and Sam knew via Emily (and things he’d heard through the ward grapevine) that the Bishop was on Emily’s side. There was only Ray, and Ray didn’t want to talk. Ray would only ever make subtle allusions to this or that puzzle, and so Sam was on his own. At times, he felt even that the Holy Ghost had abandoned him, which made him wonder if he was straying too far afield from the teachings of the Gospel. Sitting through sacrament meeting and Sunday school each week became a kind of trial. He always tried to listen carefully to the lessons and to open his heart to the promptings of the spirit, but he was plagued with questions, and with doubts. At times he wanted to speak up and ask questions of Elder Pellegrini in gospel doctrine class, but he never did. The darkness he felt was a thing that didn’t need to be shared with the rest of the Saints, he thought.

Nevertheless, in the weeks that followed the trip to Oakland, Sam began digging into the question of Cumorah. He looked in history books for information pertaining to the final Nephite battle, both at the local branch library, and at the main library at the university in Reno. He looked in books on ancient history and archaeology, and he turned frequently to the librarians for help in his research. His reasoning was as thus: since the Prophet Joseph had dug the plates from a glacial drumlin in New England, it followed that there would be archaeological evidence of the final, great Nephite-Lamanite battle somewhere in the rough vicinity, and yet Sam couldn’t find anything. There was no documentation or evidence whatsoever that any such events had taken place in the upstate-New York region, or anywhere else in North America, for that matter. As best he could tell, the only battles to have been fought in the relative area were skirmishes between Indians and the French and British colonizing forces. But obviously the Book of Mormon was referring to much older, more ancient wars, and for those, there was no evidence at all. Had the history books not heard of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon?

As he continued with his research, he realized other things. The Book of Mormon made mention of specific things: weapons made of steel, domesticated animals like horses, and of cultivated plants, like wheat. Once again, his inquiries turned up an enormous zero. When he left the libraries after having spent significant chunks of his weekends, he felt sick, as if some scoop had come along and removed portions of his guts. He felt empty—scraped clean. But he kept all of this completely to himself. He said not a word to Emily, whose mid-September due date kept creeping ever closer. When he left for the libraries, he always told her that he had Church-related business to take care of, which was true in a sense, and she always bought it, though it was possible that she was merely accepting it in order to avoid another argument. He would head out the door with her calling out requests for things for him to get from the supermarket: tomato paste, pistachio ice cream, cottage cheese, canned beets.

Throughout it all, he worried. He simply could not reconcile in his mind the difference between the spiritual witness he’d received prior to converting and many times since, and the new things that were coming to light in his research. It was bothering him more and more: his hair had begun to thin out, with tangled clots of it coming away in his fingers as he showered, and he would wake up in the middle of the night feeling upset, unable to recall the dream he’d been having. Then one day everything came to an abrupt standstill. Sam came home from work to find Emily sitting on the sofa, watching television—just like always. He went to her and kissed her on the cheek and asked her how her day had been, and she mumbled the usual reply. He went to the table where Emily always left the mail that was meant for him, and Sam found a 10x8 manila envelope with no return address. He tore it open and inside found a back-dated copy of the Journal of HIDM. He stared at it for a moment, turning it over and then flipping open to the front page. When he noticed the BYU logo, he remembered that Mort Tanner, whom he hadn’t seen in church for a long time, had mentioned it to him some months ago. For whatever reason, he felt an instant sense of relief. Why did I forget about that? he wondered. It all came back to him: Mort Tanner had offered to lend him books from the Hinton Institute on the Book of Abraham. All of these issues, Mort had implied, had been dealt with at length by the BYU scholars and Ph.D.s who ran the Hinton Institute. Sam scanned the table of contents, thinking that at last he would be getting some answers to his questions. But who had sent this to him? Had Emily or the Bishop ordered the journal? Or Mort? He was about to ask Emily when she said, “Oh, my…. Honey?”

He turned and moved over to where she was sitting on the couch. She had risen up to a half-seated position, and there was a circle of damp on the couch cushion.

“It’s time,” she said, smiling, clutching at her huge stomach, her eyes weary but wide. “It’s time, honey. My water just broke.”

“Okay,” he said. “You just stay there and I’ll go get the suitcase.”

“No, no, I need to change my outfit. I’m all wet.”

“Do you have time for that?”

“Sam, I’m not going clear to Reno all wet like this. Let me change.”

“Okay,” he said. His heart was racing. While Emily changed, Sam went and got the suitcase and took it out to the car. As he passed the table coming back into the house, he saw the Journal of HIDM lying on the table, and he grabbed it and stashed it on a high bookshelf where it would be out of sight. For the time being, his research would have to wait.

The next day, very early in the morning, Kaylee Samantha Younger was born. She weighed 7 pounds and 9 ounces, and she was red-faced and chubby-cheeked, with soft strands of dark hair. Health-wise, everything was normal. She was perfect. Sam stood near the window at St. Mary’s, holding her tiny, sleeping body in the crook of his big arm, watching the sun rise out of the hills in the east. He said a silent prayer as the desert lit up, thanking Heavenly Father for sending him such a beautiful daughter. Behind him, an exhausted Emily lay sleeping. Down in the hospital cafeteria, Ed and Arlene—Emily’s parents—were getting breakfast. They’d driven in from Salt Lake during the night, and had arrived at St. Mary’s only an hour before little Kaylee was born. Ed was thrilled, smiling from ear to ear, and he kept patting Sam on the shoulder, telling him what a great job he’d done. Arlene, with her hands clasped in front of her chest, kept saying what a blessing it was. “Such a lovely little spirit to come into this world,” she said. “Such a blessing!” They all washed their hands and took turns holding the baby, cooing at it and touching its tiny, delicate hands and feet.

Now, though, things had quieted down, and Sam was able to enjoy a moment of peace with his new daughter. He felt mindful, standing there. Five years ago he had been a criminal—a convicted thief. A drinker, a smoker, and a carouser. Directionless. Now he was married, holding down a secure and steady job, and in the best physical shape of his life. Reflecting on this, he was sure, just as he’d always been, that he had the LDS Church to thank for this. The restored gospel had literally changed his life, and as he thought about this, he felt the gentle weight of his child in his arms. She stirred slightly and made a tiny baby noise. Half the orange-red disk of the sun was visible over the hills. It was a new day. Everything was bright.



The doctors at St. Mary’s did not keep them long. Both mother and baby were completely healthy, and the delivery had gone off without a hitch, and so they were released in short order. They went back home, and Arlene stayed to help out around the house. Ed had to work, and so he drove back to Salt Lake. He’d be back in a couple of weeks, though, to help bless little Kaylee at sacrament meeting. In the meantime, Sam had been given some time off from his own job, and he spent his free moments loafing around the house, holding little Kaylee, helping to calm her when she cried, taking out the trash, and so on. In truth, he didn’t need to be at home. People from church arrived at the house in what seemed like droves. Women from Relief Society brought casseroles, jello salads, fresh-baked bread, pies, sides of green beans, jars of homemade salad dressing, cake, brownies, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, homemade lemonade, and all manner of food. It was enough to keep them fed well into October. Arlene doted on Emily and Kaylee, and she helped keep the house clean, vacuuming and dusting. She occasionally ran errands into town, or sat down to watch her soaps.

The time swept by in a whirlwind, and before he knew it, Sam had to return to work, which he regretted, since it would take him away from Kaylee. It was this move—the return to work, the return to his old routine—that triggered his thinking about his old questions. One day, remembering that he’d set it on the bookshelf, Sam retrieved the issue of the Journal of HIDM and took it with him to work so that he could read it on his lunch break.

He opened it up and scanned the contents. The bulk of it seemed devoted to reviewing books that had to do with Mormonism in one way or another. There was frequent use of the word “sic.” A couple of the articles, Sam noticed, were about the Book of Abraham. He turned to the first one, written by Alan Perry, entitled, “Scroll Length and Contents of the Joseph Smith Papyri.” It was written in a dense, hard-to-read style. There were a lot of endnotes and references to works that Sam had never heard of. Nevertheless, he was able to glean the author’s main point, which was that the Book of Abraham may have been translated from additional sections of papyrus. That is to say, though the Church might have recovered a portion of the Prophet Joseph’s papyri collection, it was believed that there was more, and no one knew what had become of it—just as Ray had said. The author of the piece, whom Sam learned was a professor of Egyptology, felt that the text of the Book of Abraham had been translated from a bit of papyrus that was no longer extant. So, did that mean that Mahfouz had been wrong? Something still didn’t make sense. Even if the Church had lost the real Book of Abraham source papyri, it had reproduced the hypocephalus—the strange, round, hieroglyphics-heavy image that was printed right there in the front section of the Pearl of Great Price. The interpretations of the hypocephalus were there, too, and Mahfouz had said that they were wrong. This Hinton Institute author hadn’t said anything about the hypocephalus. Sam looked again, just to make sure. What was the reason for this omission? Was Dr. Perry unaware of this? His biography said that he held a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. It seemed unlikely that he would overlook such a glaring problem. So was he simply ignoring the hypocephalus? And if so…Why?

Just before his break ended, Sam looked over a couple of the articles. The Editor’s Introduction had been written by Dr. Merlyn K. Young and it was littered with references to works Sam was only passingly familiar with: texts by P.G. Wodehouse, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, and Mircea Eliade. The Intro was quite long, and in it Dr. Young was making fun of a series of familiar anti-Mormon arguments, including the old saw about Mormons not being Christians. The article pointed out that “Jesus Christ” was a key part of the Church’s name. Dr. Young underscored the fact the Church treats the Bible as canonical (“as long as it’s translated correctly”), and that although the Church differed on some of the classical Christian creeds and doctrines (such as the Trinity), it was simply wrong to conclude that the LDS Church was not “Christian.” Then the article listed a series of excerpts from anti-Mormon pamphlets and books. The quoted bits were so stupid and silly that Sam marveled that they’d ever found their way into print. One of the authors, Dr. Young revealed, has actually purchased his Ph.D. diploma from some sort of bogus degree mill in rural Kansas. Consequently, whenever he referred to him, Young put “Dr.” in quotation marks: “According to ‘Dr.’ Leo Mitchum…” Sam got halfway through the introduction before it was time to get back to work.

Later that evening, Sam finished reading the rest of the Journal of HIDM issue. In general, he found the tone of most of the articles to be off-putting, as if the authors were more interested in nitpicking and finding fault than in offering insightful criticism. The two reviews of books that had been written by fellow Mormons were glowingly positive—obsequious, even—while the reviews of books critical of the Church’s claims were ridiculed and dismissed. The Hinton Institute authors seemed to relish the opportunity to attack petty things, like errors in grammar and spelling, which made no sense to Sam. If the Hinton Institute scholars in particular and the Church in general had the truth on their side, then why was it necessary to engage in attacks of this kind? Then again, Sam felt like it was possible that he was missing some of the more scholarly nuances in many of the articles. Clearly, these Hinton Institute people were highly educated—intimidating, even.

The end result of all of his reading was that he was as confused as ever, and so he relented at last to meet with Bishop Gladden. When he told Emily, she was relieved. She let out a long gush of air and said, “Oh, Sam, I’m so glad. I don’t know why you didn’t go to him for help to begin with.”

“I just wanted to do some of my own thinking,” he said. “But, I don’t really know where else to turn at this point, so I might as well go and meet with him.”

He tried to explain to her again what some of his problems were with the Church: that its history didn’t seem to add up, especially the evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. He told her about the Book of Abraham, too, and she just nodded. “Well you know,” she said, “it’s so easy for anti-Mormon authors to write things that are designed to trick us. It’s how Satan works. Put just a little bit of truth in and that’s enough to get us thinking, to get us doubting.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” he said.

“I know I’m right.” And with Kaylee sleeping on her shoulder, she leaned in gently and kissed him on the tip of his nose.



So Sam got in touch with the bishop and arranged to meet with him at his office on a Thursday night. To Sam’s surprise, Bishop Gladden said that he’d invited none other than Merlyn K. Young of the Hinton Institute to come down and address Sam’s doubts. “I told him about your concerns,” said Bishop Gladden over the phone, “and he said he’d be happy to stop in, since he’s on his way to a conference over in the Bay Area. So, we’re bringing in the big guns, just for you, Brother Younger.” Sam couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous, and flattered on some level, too.

When he arrived at the ward on Thursday night, the bishop and Dr. Young were both waiting for him. Sam went into the bishop’s office and both men stood up to shake his hand. Gladden had on a white shirt, brown tie, and brown sports coat, and Young, who was a great, bald-pated fat man, had on a blue blazer and a stylish collared shirt, with no tie.

“So we’re glad to at last have this opportunity to sit and address the concerns you’ve been having, Sam. I was explaining to Dr. Young here that you’ve been doing a lot of independent research, looking into Church history and whatnot. Which is good and fine, of course. But then again, as you know, I’ve been trying to set up this meeting with you for a long time, and you’ve seemed a little. . . Reluctant, is I guess how I’d put it. And I think you know that your blushing bride has been a little worried about you.”

Sam didn’t know what to say.

“Well, I suppose I should start out by offering you a hearty congratulations,” said Young. “I understand that you’re a new father.”

“That’s true,” said Sam.

“It’s so wonderful,” said the bishop. “It’s always great when we’re able to welcome a new member, a new spirit into our ward. It’s one of the real pleasures.” He turned and nodded to Merlyn Young. “Well, okay then. What do you say, Rich?”

Young had his big, gourd-like head cocked to one side. “Myself and Bishop Gladden go way back—back to our days at the MTC,” he said to Sam. “So I was happy to do him—and you—the favor of coming out here to talk with you.”

There was something about the posture and position of the two men—the way that Gladden was leaning forward over his desk; the way that Dr. Young had anchored his massive body in a chair near the big potted fern—that seemed vaguely confrontational. It was true that Sam had been in this office a number of times before—for tithing settlement, and for his annual worthiness interviews—but this felt different somehow. Perhaps it was simply on account of the presence of Young? Sam wondered if he should mention that he’d read Young’s piece in the Journal of HIDM.

“Well, Rich, should we get started?” asked Bishop Gladden.

Dr. Young kept staring at Sam, smiling: “How about we say an opening prayer?”

“Terrific,” said the bishop. The three men folded their arms and bowed their heads as Bishop Gladden asked the Lord to provide guidance and clarity. He made sure to emphatically thank Heavenly Father for the fact that Dr. Young had been able to make the long trip out from Salt Lake City. Then they all said, “Amen.”

Young cleared his throat and adjusted himself in his seat and leaned forward inquisitively. “So, Brother Younger. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your research? What kinds of questions have you been having?”

Sam felt uniquely uncomfortable. It was as if he was in school again, completely unprepared and being asked to answer an impossibly difficult question by the teacher. “Well,” he began, “I have some concerns about the Book of Abraham.”

Dr. Young nodded gravely, the fluorescent lights catching the smooth, slightly oily convexity of his scalp. “There are a lot of people who misunderstand the Book of Abraham,” he said. “Which is understandable, as you can imagine, since there aren’t that many people who can understand Egyptian. But tell me more. What was it specifically about the Book of Abraham that you had problems with?” Young wore thick glasses with very thin metal frames, and behind them, his eyes twinkled with something like mirth.

Sam thought back to what he’d been told by Dr. Mahfouz at the university. “One of the things I don’t understand is how Joseph Smith went from the papyri to the text of the Book of Abraham. I took my quad and showed the hypocephalus and translations to a professor over at the university up in Reno, and he said they were totally wrong.”

Dr. Young was smiling. “Oh, I bet he did. Is he a member of the Church?”

“Huh?” said Sam, who didn’t see why it was relevant. “No, he said he wasn’t. He didn’t really seem to know much about the Church.”

Bishop Gladden had taken out a small notebook and a pencil. “What’s the name of this professor?”

“Mahfouz,” said Sam, and Gladden and Young exchanged puzzled glances.

Young shook his head: “I’ve never heard of him. Is he a professor of Egyptology? I didn’t think that UNR had an Egyptology program.”

“No,” said Sam. “He was a professor of something else. Political science, I think, but he knows how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics.”

“So he says.” Young was grinning fatly. “If he hasn’t published in peer-reviewed journals on this subject, then I would suggest that the best course of action is to treat what he said with some measure of skepticism.”

Sam scratched at a spot on his leg. “Well, what I want to know is, was he wrong? And if not, why would he tell me that? I mean, he said pretty explicitly that the translations for the hieroglyphics on the hypocephalus are wrong. So are they?”

Young held up a hand: “Here’s the thing, Brother Younger. Anti-Mormon critics of the Book of Abraham have always wanted to use it as a means of attacking the Church. But the fact is that we don’t have all the papyri scrolls. There are eyewitness accounts that testify to the scrolls being some 40 feet long. It may be that the text of the Book of Abraham—and the facsimiles—came from elsewhere in those long scrolls. We just don’t know for sure, since we don’t have all the papyri. So to dismiss the Book of Abraham, which is a beautiful and important piece of scripture—richly complex, I think you’ll agree—would be a seriously wrongheaded and misguided move.” Young paused, clearly waiting for this to sink in.

“I’m sorry, I think I’m still misunderstanding.”

“Okay,” said Young, smirking.

“I still don’t understand how the facsimile of the hypocephalus could have gotten mistranslated. Even if it came from elsewhere in the papyri, even it was from some now-missing bit of scroll, it would still have the same figures that we see in the facsimile. Right? The same hieroglyphics? Because it’s a copy. That’s what I’m talking about. I mean, think of say, something written in Chinese, or French. An accurate translation of a French or Chinese phrase is going to be accurate—or inaccurate—regardless of where the original text came from. If I write out the phrase, ‘For whom the bell tolls,’ in French, the medium isn’t going to matter as to whether the translation is wrong or not. Right? Whether it was written on a cave wall, or a really old piece of paper, or in a contemporary book—if the translation is wrong, the translation is wrong. You know what I mean?” Sam could feel the bishop staring intently at the side of his head. “I just don’t understand why it would matter whether or not we’ve lost part of the papyri. We have a copy of a portion of it that’s right there—right there—in the pages of the scriptures, and the translation is wrong, and that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Young nodded. “I know exactly what you mean, Brother Younger. Believe me, I do translation work professionally, and have published in a number of journals. You seem to be really on the ball with this, but—and I don’t mean any offense by this—but my sense is that you’re a little naïve on the nature of languages and translation. Do you mind me asking: how many foreign languages do you speak?”

Sam frowned. “Well, none, but I don’t see how—”

“Now, wait just a second. Let me finish. I, personally, am fluent in four languages and am roughly conversant in two others. And Chuck, you still can speak, what, Portuguese, right? You did your mission in Brazil?”

“That’s right,” said the bishop, nodding emphatically, titling his head back slightly with his eyes closed. “That’s right, that’s right.”

“What I want to tell you, on the basis of my own personal experience and expertise, is that there’s not really any such thing as an ‘accurate’ translation. What you aim for is something that’s an idiomatic equivalent. But what you, or this Maloosh or Muvarez or whatever his name is, are suggesting just isn’t the reality in the world of professional translation.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” interrupted the bishop. “I don’t have near the grasp of languages that Dr. Young does, but I can tell you that it sure is easy to get your translations mixed up sometimes. That’s a true fact.”

Sam wiped his hands on the legs of his pants. “So,” he began. “You’re saying that Joseph Smith incorrectly translated the hypocephalus? Or that Mahfouz was wrong?”

“I don’t believe that Joseph Smith mis-translated anything. As to this Mr. Mahfouz—well, I don’t know the man or his work, so I can’t comment on his competence as a professional translator.” He swept his hand to the side, as if he was shooing away an insect.

“It could be that he’s an anti and you just didn’t realize it,” added bishop Gladden.

Sam’s head was spinning. He felt as if he couldn’t quite keep up with the turns of Dr. Young’s responses. It was true that he seemed to know all the angles, and yet it didn’t make sense to Sam that Dr. Mahfouz could be so plainly wrong. But that had to be the case. Either Mahfouz had totally bungled the translation (which, frankly, to Sam, seemed unlikely), or else Joseph Smith had made up, at the very least, the translation of the hypocephalus. Young seemed willing only to insist that the Book of Abraham had divine origins. The very possibility of it being a failed translation was, for better or for worse, completely off the table.

Young leaned to the side and clasped his hands together, rather like he was clapping. “Well, now that that’s been cleared up, is there anything else I can address for you?”

Sam was unsure whether he should say anything more, but he went ahead anyway. “The Book of Mormon.” He paused to gauge the reactions of Dr. Young and the bishop, but their faces were impassive and expressionless, and so he went on: “Well, I know this is a history, but what I don’t understand is why there’s no physical evidence for any of the things that happened.”

Gladden and Young both snorted and laughed at the same time as this. It was as if they were hearing some bad, familiar and disgusting dirty joke for the umpteenth time.

“What’d I say?” asked Sam.

“Oh, nothing—it’s nothing,” said Young. “Can I ask you something, though?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you been reading anti-Mormon material? Maybe something from Edward Decker?”

“No…” said Sam
.
“You can be honest,” said Bishop Gladden. “We’re here to help, after all.”

“Well, I haven’t read all that much, to tell you the truth. I read a copy of The Journal of HIDM, and have just kind of been hunting around at the UNR library, looking for historical or archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon.”

Young had leveled his gaze on Sam: “You didn’t tell me that you’ve been reading our little journal.”

“Huh?”

The Journal of HIDM. I’m the editor, you know.”

“Oh, yeah. Right.”

“I guess it didn’t answer your questions?” his voice had softened.

“Ah, I don’t know,” said Sam. “I guess not.” He laughed.

“I’m sure that’s a function of the issue in question and the nature of your questions,” said Young. “Anyhow. We’re getting off-track here. You mentioned the problem of Book of Mormon evidence, and I think I can address your concerns. First of all, what I want to point out to you is the nature of religious claims and historical evidence. It’s not always a cut-and-dried matter to find ‘legitimate’ historical evidence. I think that many people operate under the patently false assumption that there is such a thing as ‘objective’ history. There just isn’t. Historians are always operating under the pressures of personal bias, regardless of whether the individual historian is willing to realize it or confess to it or not.

“So your question is about Book of Mormon history and evidence. And there are two main points I want to communicate to you. The first has to do with the nature of historical evidence. Am I correct in assuming that you believe in the atonement of Christ, and in the Old Testament of the Bible?”

Sam nodded: “Yeah, of course.”

“And yet, the Bible tells of a global flood, and of Noah’s ark, and of the parting of the Red Sea, among many other things. Do you believe that these things really happened?”

He looked momentarily at the bishop, perhaps for a sign of encouragement or approval. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve always sort of assumed that they were mainly allegorical, and that their main value for us today was in the messages that they have buried in them.”

Young’s eyes had narrowed, but he was nodding. “Well, you should ask yourself, ‘Why do I think that?’ Perhaps your answer has to do with your perceptions of the empirical evidence. You think, ‘Well, this sounds extraordinary. This would never happen in my day to day life.’ And yet, Brother Younger, given that you believe in the atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it’s clear that you believe in miracles. You believe in the supernatural. You believe that Christ was raised from the dead. I’m willing to bet that you believe much of what’s discussed in the Gospels. Ergo, it’s worth asking: What is the basis for your belief that the global flood was merely ‘allegorical’? Do you have a reason, all things considered? Is it a function of our largely—or increasingly—secular culture?”

Sam frowned. “I feel like the issue with the Book of Mormon is different somehow, though.”

“Well, why is that?” asked Bishop Gladden.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It just seems closer somehow. Like it matters more whether there’s evidence for it or not. For example, the Hill Cumorah. This is where the final battle took place, right? So why is there no evidence for this battle?”

“It’s remarkable what time can do to a historical site,” said Dr. Young. “And this dovetails very neatly with what I said earlier about bias. I think that most of us are preconditioned in some sense to thing that everything lasts. That historical sites will be around decades and centuries—if not millennia—after the civilization in question has gone the way of the dodo. We think of the pyramids at Giza, the Parthenon in Athens, the Coliseum in Rome, and we imagine that all history will be preserved as neatly as these things, and that’s just not the case.

“Furthermore, we aren’t entirely sure that the Book of Mormon genuinely took place in North America. There are several persuasive theories suggesting that the principal events in the text occurred in MesoAmerica. And you’re aware, I’m sure, of the civilizations in that area? The Maya and the Olmecs and what have you?”

“Yeah,” said Sam.

“It could very well be that these civilizations represent the remnants of the peoples described in the text of the Book of Mormon.”

“I see,” said Sam. He sat there for a moment, staring at the floor. “Here’s something I don’t get, though—”

“Okay, okay,” said Young.

“If what you’re saying is true, and the Book of Mormon took place—where? Like, Central America?—then how did the Gold Plates wind up in New York, where Joseph Smith found them? Reading the Book of Mormon, you get the sense that everything happened right there. That Captain Moroni and everyone were living and fighting right in the same vicinity where Joseph eventually dug up the plates.” He paused, thinking about this further: “Why, if the final battle took place in Central America, would Captain Moroni walk clear up to New York just to bury the plates? That doesn’t make sense.”

Young nodded: “Apart from the plain and obvious fact that you seem to be confusing Captain Moroni with the prophet Moroni—the son of Mormon—there are a number of plausible theories,” he said. “It could be that he walked. He might have utilized overseas passage, up through the Gulf of Mexico. Or, as so often happens in matters like these, the Lord might have intervened. If we’re willing to acknowledge that Moroni appeared to the Prophet Joseph as an angel, and that we’ve been blessed by the atonement of Jesus Christ, and that we will rise from the dead in the Celestial Kingdom, then I see no reason why we should abandon faith in light of questions about the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

“You see: this is all ultimately a matter of faith. No matter which path you take, you will inevitably be forced to choose between faith or unbelief. Clearly, to me, the evidence points towards faith being the preferable and more logically sustainable option, but each of us has to make up his own mind.”

“Yeah, and Sam,” added Bishop Gladden, “I can testify to you that this is something that I, personally, have prayed over a great deal, and I’m willing to bear my testimony to you right here on the spot that the Book of Mormon is the inspired word of God, and that the book is a real and legitimate testament of Christ’s ministry in the Americas.” He was leaning forward across his desk, his face solemn.

“I’m a believer, too,” said Dr. Young. “I have a Ph.D., as do all my colleagues at BYU—many of them earned their degrees from Ivy League institutions. And all the so-called ‘evidence’ thrown at us by anti-Mormons over the years hasn’t been enough to shake our faith. We draw strength from our belief in the Church. If anything, my faith over the years has benefitted my scholarly work.”

Sam nodded yet again. What could he say to this? It seemed clear that they were wrapping up the conversation—the Q & A session had come to an end—and yet he felt as if they hadn’t answered his questions. True: Dr. Young had offered explanations, but in the end, as both he and the bishop had said, these had to be bolstered by faith. Well, then: what was the basis for faith? Faith itself? Sam wasn’t sure that he knew any more.

“Well?” said Bishop Gladden.

“Well, thank you,” said Sam. “Thank you, Dr. Young, for taking the time to come and speak with me.”

“You’re so welcome,” he said. There was a very light, almost imperceptible sheen of sweat on his head. He stood up, as did Sam and the bishop, and they all shook hands. “Good luck to you, Brother Younger,” said Dr. Young. He held Sam’s hand in both of his as he shook it. “Just have faith,” he said. “That’s all that matters. All your questions will be answered in the end. For now, they can be filed away on the shelf. It’s okay that we don’t know every last little thing.” Then he turned to his old friend, Bishop Chuck Gladden.

“Well, shall we?” Gladden said, and they all sat back down as the bishop gave the closing prayer. In it, he asked Heavenly Father to give strength to Sam in this time of doubt and uncertainty.

After that, they all exited the bishop’s office and went their separate ways. Sam got into his truck and drove home, out past Sandia Manor, the late-September stars clear and clean in the night sky, the moon like a discarded melon rind in the north. The temperature had dropped precipitously during the time he’d been in the bishop’s office. As he drove, he wondered what—if anything—they were saying about him. He worried that Young would conclude that he was stupid. Or weak. But was he? The things he’d learned about the Church weren’t adding up, and he couldn’t understand why. How was he supposed to rectify his own feelings? His own experience? Was that not God speaking to him? Was it just a delusion?

As he arrived home, he felt both more confused and more certain that he would have to make a decision, and that he’d have to make it sooner rather than later. Inside the house, Emily had put Kaylee to sleep, and there was a plate of food, covered with foil, waiting for him inside the warm oven. He hung up his jacket and went over to the couch, where Emily had fallen asleep, and against his better judgment, he kissed her on the cheek, and she woke up.

“Uh! Oh?” she said. Her face was puffy and red and indented from the corduroy on the couch pillows. “Oh, hi, honey!” she said, sitting up. “How was your meeting?”

“It was fine,” he said. “It was fine.” He stood there thinking, trying to articulate things. “I got to meet MerlynYoung. He’s a BYU professor.”

“Oh,” said Emily, and a smile crept across her face. “Well, I bet he answered all your questions.” She seemed relieved.

Sam stared at her and wondered what he should say next. He knew by now that saying the wrong thing would set her off. It would frighten her and make her upset. But he couldn’t lie to her—at least not indefinitely. Or was he wrong about her? Maybe if he logically explained all the issues to her step-by-step, she’d see the same inconsistencies in the Church’s history and doctrine that he had seen, and she’d wind up with the same questions. They could explore the problems together. They could lean on one another.

Just then, Kaylee, who’d been sleeping on a blanket on the floor, started into one of her mournful infant wails. Sam went around and picked her up and cradled her against his chest. Emily was still watching him, her legs tucked to the side.

“Well,” said Sam, as it was still clear she expected an answer of some kind. “He gave some really interesting theories and explanations. It’s something for me to think about, and I’m definitely going to have to pray about it. But we can talk about it later. Okay?”

He watched her, and she watched back, her eyes probing his face for signs of sincerity. Then she smiled, and it was as if he could breathe again. The odds of there being a fight at some point were no less, but he’d at least avoided conflict for now. He handed the baby over to Emily and went to fetch his dinner from the oven.



...Next Time: Mopping the floor with 'Dr.' Leo Mitchum...
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWENTY-SEVEN -

Editor’s Introduction: The Loki of Anti-Mormondom

Merlyn K. Young

The Journal of HIDM – Vol. 23, Issue 2 – Spring 1992 – pg. iv-xx
Orem, Utah: The Turley J. Hinton Institute for the Defense of Mormonism


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own, and in no way should they be seen as reflecting upon the official opinions, doctrines, or views of The Institute for Research into Mormonism and Antiquity, nor The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It will come as no surprise to loyal readers of the
Review of HIDM that talk over the recent kerfluffle involving a certain BYU editor and a garrulous anti-Mormon impresario and profiteer has persisted in certain circles. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, the zeal and aggressiveness of “Dr.” Leo Mitchum, of Crystal Savior Ministries, simply will not go gently into that good night. Part of this may stem from the fact that, in the pages of this journal, readers were informed of “Dr.” Mitchum having earned his “doctorate” at a degree mill in western Kansas. Of course, we believe in the importance of educational attainment, and as readers can easily observe in the bios of this issue’s contributors, we feature authors educated at such institutions as Yale University, Harvard University, the University of California, Berkeley, Washington University, and the University of Chicago. We recognize “Dr.” Leo Mitchum’s need to bolster his claims with the credibility that comes with a well-earned doctoral degree, but we wish he would have gone the normal route to achieve it. Instead, it seems that “Dr.” Mitchum believes that scholarly credibility can be had for a mere $350 dollars. (We checked to confirm the price, and even considered purchasing a doctorate of our own from West Kansas Theological University.)

But these are superficial matters. “Dr.” Mitchum’s fake doctorate amounts to a failed appeal to authority. What concerns us more here is his by now very stale claim that Latter-day Saints aren’t “Christians.” Obviously, this is nonsense. The name of the Savior is contained in the name of our Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We conclude our prayers with the phrase, “In the name of Jesus Christ,” and we take sacrament in honor of the Savior’s atonement. The plain and easy-to-understand facts are all predictably ignored by “Dr. “ Mitchum and his ilk. Instead, he opts to trot out the usual rote set of anti-Mormon complaints that all revolve around arcane interpretations of Biblical creeds. This is clearly part of a larger agenda to drive a wedge between believing Latter-day Saints and other Christian believers. “Dr.” Mitchum dispenses other bellicose rhetoric, labeling the “Mormon Church” a “cult” and so on. I’m sure that readers, like me, have grown weary of this sort of thing. One wonders why it persists in the light of strong efforts to dispel this nonsense.

In his trailblazing work on the use of the word “cult,” the Oxford-educated professor of antiquity, Gerhard Kirsch, points out that the term has its origin in the Greek word for….




...Next Time: The shelf breaks...
_Bob Bobberson
_Emeritus
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:39 pm

Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part III: The Book of Abraham

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWENTY-EIGHT -


The final “click” in his mind occurred when he was driving home from work. This was the moment that he would later locate as being the key moment when the truth dawned on him, when he at last allowed himself to acknowledge that he no longer believed the claims of the Church. He said to himself, out loud, in a whisper: “It just doesn’t make sense.” The Book of Abraham, the Book of Mormon—these were critically important, canonical texts, and he could no longer buy the Church’s claims about them. The Book of Abraham was not a literal translation. The Book of Mormon was not a historical text. These admissions felt like a relief in one sense and a horrible betrayal in another. He felt as if he was being torn in two—pulled ferociously in two different directions, trying desperately and very patiently to weigh the evidence from both sides, to compare his own spiritual revelations with the hard evidence that had been accumulated by professional scientists, historians, and archaeologists. But he had to ask himself whether this new realization was based on a real truth, or whether he was simply choosing to believe something else. Dr. Young had said that it was all a matter of faith in the end, and Sam couldn’t help but wonder if this applied to secular beliefs as well.

As the late, Indian summer days of September wore on, Sam’s feelings evolved, but they endlessly revolved around some unseen pole—some feeling or suspicion that he couldn’t articulate. He felt relieved, then betrayed, then angry, and then horribly, terribly sad. He felt like he’d been lied to—by the missionaries, by the bishop, by Merlyn Young—and like he was the biggest dupe in the world. How, he wondered, had he bought into something that was so patently absurd? Joseph Smith digging up a gold book, and then getting all his friends to sign off on the authenticity of it? Claiming that Jesus Christ magically materialized on the American continent? It was, the more he thought about it, completely ridiculous. He felt embarrassed that he’d ever believed it. He felt like a sucker. There was also the matter of his commitment: he’d made promises in the temple. He’d been paying ten percent of his income as a tithe, and who knows how many hours of his time he’d given to the Church in the form of activities with the young men’s group, church potlucks, home teaching, meetings, and everything else? He felt like he’d been asleep for the past couple of years, and like he was only now waking up to discover all of the waste that his cluelessness had caused. Then again, even if it was all a fraud, wasn’t it preferable to the life he’d been living before the missionaries knocked on his door?

And there were other things that still didn’t make sense. Why did people like Merlyn Young still believe? They clearly knew the facts and yet they persisted in their testimonies of the Church. And what about the General Authorities? Surely they had to know about the problems related to the Church’s history and truth-claims. Why did they carry on? What about Ray, who’d been pivotal in sending Sam down this path? The LDS Church was a real, thriving entity with close to ten million members worldwide. Had this many people been duped? Something wasn’t adding up, and throughout all of it, Sam brooded over the fact that at some point he would have to tell Emily about his concerns. He feared what she would do.

Ever since his visit with Dr. Young and Bishop Gladden, Emily had been pestering him about what had happened in the meeting. Sam generally found some way to parry her questions: he made excuses about having some errand to run, or some more pressing matter that needed attending-to. One night, with the house completely quiet, and with Kaylee having been laid down to sleep, Emily finally cornered him on the sofa and pressed him to give up the details. They had been sitting there, watching the TGIF lineup on ABC, and during the commercial break, Emily made her move.

“So are you ever going to tell me what happened in your meeting with the bishop? I know I’ve asked you this before, but it seems like you keep trying to avoid my questions.”

“Ah, I don’t know,” said Sam. “I mean, I think I told you that that BYU professor was there. Garland. Dr. Young. They gave me some answers and offered up some theories in response to my questions. I don’t know, 'em. It seems like it would take too long to explain all of it.”

“Well, I just want to know,” she said. “I’m just curious. I don’t mind if it takes a long time to explain.”

He sighed. “For starters there’s the Book of Abraham. I told you about this, remember?”

“Sort of.”

“Here.” He picked up his quad, which was sitting nearby on the coffee table. “Look.” He flipped over to the Pearl of Great Price, and to the images of the facsimiles. “The Book of Abraham is a translation of the Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith bought from this traveling salesman. Chandler was his name, I think. So, he gets these papyri, with Egyptian hieroglyphics on them, and he says that he’s literally translating them. The thing is, he did this prior to the Rosetta Stone, so nobody knew Egyptian at the time. No one could check to see if Joseph’s translation was right. After they found the Rosetta Stone, though, people were able to actually translate the hieroglyphics, and you can see that Joseph Smith’s translation isn’t correct.” He said all this in a rush, and he waited, carefully watching Emily’s face for a reaction. She just kept looking back at him, her eyes sweeping back and forth, looking into his own eyes. “What?” he said. “Does that not mean anything to you?”

“What does it mean to you?” she said. Her voice was affectless and almost robot-like.

“Well, it says that Joseph Smith was wrong. He was just making stuff up.”

Again her voice was firm: “But how do you know that?”

“What do you mean ‘how do I know that’? I know that because I went and consulted with a professor at UNR who knows Egyptian.”

She seemed to shrink when he said this. “You didn’t tell me that. I can’t believe you were off doing this sort of investigation and you didn’t tell me.”

“Huh? How does that matter?”

“Because,” she said. “How am I supposed to trust you if you’re out sneaking around, trying to find fault with the Church?”

“I wasn’t ‘sneaking around,’ and I wasn’t looking to find any fault. I was just curious about the Book of Abraham. What’s wrong with that?”

“There’s nothing wrong with being curious. But you weren’t just curious. You were out, finding fault with the Church, looking for ways to criticize Joseph Smith, and you never told me about it.” She was getting distressed, and a patch of redness had appeared on her neck. “Don’t you understand why that would bother me, Sam? I have to feel like I trust you!”

“Babe, you can trust me. I mean, it’s not as if I was out fooling around, going to a strip club or a bar or something.”

“How am I supposed to know that? Maybe you want to go back to that way of life. All the booze and strippers and whatever else. Porn. Is that what you want?”

“What are you talking about? I thought you wanted to know how my meeting went?”

Her voice was rising: “Sam, I’m worried. Do you not understand why I would feel that way? We made promises to each other in the temple. Covenants…” They stared at each other for a few uncomfortable moments, then she looked off into a corner of the room, and Sam looked to see what was on the TV, which had been muted.

“So you have a problem with the Book of Abraham,” she sniffled. “That’s it, then? Or is there something else?”

Sam sighed again. “Do you really want me to go on?”

“Yes! I want to know the truth. I have to tell you that it feels like you’ve been lying to me. Here we’ve been going on, living our lives, raising a precious little girl, and you’ve been keeping all these doubts from me. Don’t you think I have a right to know?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“But what?”

“I didn’t want to upset you.”

“What do you think would upset me more—that you were being honest about your doubts, or that you were lying to me?”

“Honestly, 'em—I didn’t know.”

She shook her head: “Who are you? I almost feel like I don’t know who you are anymore.” The redness on her neck had subsided, but she’d grabbed one of the couch cushions and she was holding it against her chest, as if it were a shield or a life preserver. “So what else, then?”

“The Book of Mormon. But I don’t know why I should even bother trying to explain what I—hey, isn’t that…?”

His attention had been drawn to what was happening on the TV. The camera was focused on the statue of Moroni atop the Salt Lake temple, and now it cut to what looked like a burned vehicle at the side of the street. The air was thick with smoke, like a fog had settled over everything. There were people milling about, walking briskly away from the source of the smoke, their mouths and noses covered with their hands, or with handkerchiefs. The text at the bottom of the screen read, “SALT LAKE BOMBING.”

“What?” said Emily.

“Where’s the remote?” He found it and unmuted the TV. The reporter was explaining what had happened—that a truck bomb had exploded on the outskirts of Temple Square. At least one person was dead and several others were injured. It was unclear what the motives were behind the attack, and the reporter was unsure if any Church leaders had been targeted.

“Sam?” said Emily.

“Just a second, 'em—let me hear this real quick.”

“Sam? Fine, ignore me then,” she said, and she got up from the couch and left the room.

Sam pulled his attention from the screen and looked up at her. She was hovering in the entryway to the living room. “I need a strong priesthood holder in my life, Sam. If you can’t offer me that much, then I don’t know what.” Her lips were trembling and she was ready to cry.

Sam stared at her for a few seconds and then turned his attention back to the TV. Now they were showing a photo of the young Church Security man who’d been killed. Sam kept hoping that they would cut to an interview with a police officer, or someone capable of commenting on the potential motives. Was this just some lone nut? Or was someone really out to attack the Church? The reporter went on to note that President Baylor had been in the vicinity of the explosion, and that he wasn’t seriously injured, but he’d been taken to the hospital for observations. So had the Prophet been the target of the attack, then? It wasn’t clear. Nothing was, in fact. The newscast cut to a commercial break and Sam looked back at Emily. She was still standing at the edge of the living room, waiting for him to say something, or to get up and offer comfort, and then Kaylee began to cry. Emily didn’t move. Sam waited a few seconds more, and then he got up and went past his stone-faced and motionless wife, moving deeper into the house in order to comfort his crying daughter.


...Next Time: About President Baylor's Vision...
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