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Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Becoming Gods/Chapter 3
Response to claims made in "Chapter 3: Thus Saith Joseph"
A FairMormon Analysis of: Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century MormonismA work by author: Richard Abanes
- Response to claim: 84, 370n9-11 - The revelations in the Book of Commandments were modified because they were "showing their age"
- Response to claim: 85, 371n14 - Mormons view divine truth as "not absolute or fixed; it is changeable, flexible"
- Response to claim: 87, 370n23 - Joseph received a "false revelation" through his seer stone to go to Toronto, Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright
- Response to claim: 89, 372n28 - After translating the Book of Mormon he was not supposed to become a prophet or organize a Church
- Response to claim: 89, 372n29-30 - Joseph modified what is now D&C 8:6-9 to hide Oliver Cowdery's use of a divining rod
- Response to claim: 90, 372n34, 375n35 - Apostle William E. McLellin left the Church because he was "shaken by the changes made in the revelations"
- Response to claim: 94 - Joseph Smith turned the "Book of Breathings" into the "Book of Abraham"
- Response to claim: 94-98 - The restoration of the missing portions of Facsimile 1 were "terribly wrong"
- Response to claim: 99 - LDS apologists' main purpose is to explain away "any and all criticisms that might damage the validity of Smith's writings"
- Response to claim: 100 - One or two words in Egyptian were expanded to entire paragraphs in English
Response to claim: 84, 370n9-11 - The revelations in the Book of Commandments were modified because they were "showing their age"
Response to claim: 85, 371n14 - Mormons view divine truth as "not absolute or fixed; it is changeable, flexible"
Response to claim: 87, 370n23 - Joseph received a "false revelation" through his seer stone to go to Toronto, Canada to sell the Book of Mormon copyright
Question: After receiving the revelation to attempt to sell the Book of Mormon copyright in Canada, did Joseph Smith later claim that the revelation was false?
David Whitmer, years after he left the Church, claimed that Joseph said that the revelation did not come from God
David Whitmer claimed that Joseph Smith received a revelation and prophesied that Oliver Cowdery and Hiram Page should go to Canada where they would find a man willing to buy the copyright to the Book of Mormon. When they failed to sell the copyright, Whitmer states that Joseph admitted that the revelation had not come from God.
David Whitmer was not a participant in the trip to Canada
The primary evidence supporting the negative aspects of the Canadian Mission story comes from David Whitmer, who was not a participant in the event, and who had left the church many years before. With the discovery of the Hiram Page letter of 1848 showing that the actual participants involved in the trip felt that Joseph Smith delivered an accurate revelation of what would transpire on the Mission, and in fact even found the event uplifting rather than negative, it is evident that no individual contemporary to the event felt that this represented a false prophecy by Joseph Smith. What we do see is excellent evidence in fulfillment of the teachings of Deuteronomy 12 and 18 that Joseph Smith was perceived as a true prophet of God by those involved in the Mission to Canada in early 1830.
Response to claim: 89, 372n28 - After translating the Book of Mormon he was not supposed to become a prophet or organize a Church
Question: What are the reasons for the changes to the Doctrine and Covenants?
The Doctrine and Covenants was changed in order to correct errors or mistakes due to the human process of writing down revelations, as well as integrate new revelatory material
Wrote Elder Marlin K. Jensen in 2009:
One of Joseph Smith’s tasks in reviewing the manuscripts prior to their publication was to “correct those errors or mistakes which he may discover by the Holy Spirit.” Joseph knew from experience that the human process of writing down revelations, copying them into manuscript books, and then passing them through various hands in preparation for publication inevitably introduced unintentional errors. Sometimes changes were required to clarify wording. Occasionally, later revelations would supersede or update previously received revelations, necessitating the editing of documents to alter previous versions. Various other changes were also made from time to time. Most of these, such as dividing the text into verses or clarifying meaning, did not involve substantive corrections.
Joseph seemed to regard the manuscript revelations as his best efforts to capture the voice of the Lord condescending to communicate in what Joseph called the “crooked, broken, scattered, and imperfect language” of men." The revealed preface to the published revelations also seems to express this principle: “I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language” (DC 1:24).
Joseph and his associates were appointed by the actions of Church conferences to prepare the revelations for publication by correcting the texts. Recent analysis of both manuscript revelation books reveals how and when many of the changes were made. For example, some changes were made before selected items were published in Missouri, while others were made in Ohio before the 1835 publication of the Doctrine and Covenants.
One common example involves changes made by Sidney Rigdon. He often changed the language in the revelations from the biblical “thee,” “thy,” and “thine” to the modern “you,” “your,” and “yours.” Many of these changes were later reversed. He also corrected grammar and changed some of the language to clarify and modify words and meaning.
In a few cases, more substantive changes were made as revelations were updated for the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. For example, section 20 was originally received in 1830, before much of the leadership structure of the Church as we know it today was revealed to Joseph Smith. By 1835 Joseph had organized many offices and quorums by revelation. To include this newly revealed ecclesiastical order, several text changes and additions were incorporated into section 20. Our current verses 65–67 on ordaining men to priesthood offices, for instance, had been revealed after the 1833 publication and were subsequently added to the 1835 publication.
Joseph Smith reviewed many of his associates’ editorial changes and made slight alterations in his own hand before A Book of Commandments was published in 1833. He made additional changes, including adding surnames to individuals mentioned in the revelations, just before the Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1835.
Sometime around 1834–35 in Kirtland, Ohio, Revelation Book 2 was used for the preparation of the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and all but eight items in the manuscript book were published in that 1835 volume. In contrast, just three of the revelations copied into the book were published in A Book of Commandments in 1833. Two of the manuscript book’s revelations were first published in the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants.
Subsequent editing changes through the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants involved occasional word changes, but the major substantive changes occurred under the Prophet Joseph’s guidance for the 1835 edition. 
Response to claim: 89, 372n29-30 - Joseph modified what is now D&C 8:6-9 to hide Oliver Cowdery's use of a divining rod
Revelations in Context on history.lds.org: "Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod"
Revelations in Context on history.lds.org:
Oliver Cowdery lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, language and practices. The revelation’s reference to Moses likely resonated with him. The Old Testament account of Moses and his brother Aaron recounted several instances of using rods to manifest God’s will (see Ex. 7:9-12; Num. 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery's day similarly believed in divining rods as an instrument for revelation. Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod.
Question: Did Joseph Smith attempt to "cover up" Oliver Cowdery's work with a divining rod by changing this revelation?
The edits to this portion of the revelation were actually performed by Sidney Rigdon, likely with Joseph's approval
A revelation received by Joseph praised Oliver Cowdery's gift of using divining talents. The revelation was published in the Book of Commandments in its original form, then subsequently modified in the Doctrine and Covenants. We do not know why Sidney Rigdon chose to alter the wording of the revelation, but he is the one that actually changed the wording to "rod of nature."
We know based upon the text of the revelation that Oliver possessed a gift of working with something alternately referred to as a "sprout," "thing of nature," or "rod of nature." We also know that the Lord approved of Oliver's use of this gift. The reference was later changed to the "gift of Aaron," but we can only speculate as to the exact reason why. According to the Church History website, the "rod" referred to by Sidney Rigdon when he edited the revelation was likely a divining rod. It is possible that "gift of Aaron" was substituted as the revelatory device because if carried fewer negative connotations than "divining rod." However, a "cover up" is not usually done by committee, and it is clear that multiple individuals assisted in editing the revelations before they were to be published in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is also difficult to claim a "cover up" since "rod of nature" was to be published in the Book of Commandments in 1833, only two years before change to "gift of Aaron" was published in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants.
We do know that Oliver's gift had to do with receiving revelation, and that Oliver attempted to employ it during the period in which the Book of Mormon was being translated. We also know that Oliver's experience in attempting to translate produced one of the lasting lessons which continues to be taught in Church even today—the knowledge that one must study things out in their mind in order to know the truth of something.
Question: How was the wording of the "rod of nature" revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants 8:6–8 altered over time?
The revelation was edited by several individuals, including Sidney Rigdon
The original wording of the revelation along with revisions performed by Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, John Whitmer, and another unidentified editor is recorded in the REVELATION BOOK 1 (April 1829-B [D&C 8]). The original revelation reads as follows:
...remember this is thy gift now this is not all for thou hast another gift which is the gift of working with the sprout Behold it hath told you things Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands. 
Sidney Rigdon edited the passage to read like this:
...remember this is your gift now this is not all for you have another gift which is the gift of working with the rod Behold it has told you things Behold there is no other power save God that can cause this rod to work in your hands. (emphasis added)
In the Book of Commandments (the predecessor to the Doctrine and Covenants), the revelation underwent an additional revision by a publication committee of the First Presidency (Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Frederick G. Williams). The Book of Commandments stated:
Chapter 7:3—Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God. (emphasis added)
In the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, this was revised to read:
D&C 8:6–8—Now this is not all thy gift; for you have another gift, which is the gift of Aaron; behold, it has told you many things; Behold, there is no other power, save the power of God, that can cause this gift of Aaron to be with you. Therefore, doubt not, for it is the gift of God; and you shall hold it in your hands, and do marvelous works; and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands, for it is the work of God. (1921 edition, 8:6–8.) (emphasis added)
Thus, "working with the sprout" and the "thing of Nature" were changed to "the gift of working with the rod," which was again later revised to "the gift of Aaron." It has been assumed on the basis of this that Oliver Cowdery was a "rodsman," or someone who used a divining rod to search for treasure, water, or other things hidden.
Evidence used to support this assertion is the fact that in 1801, a religious sect led by the Wood family enjoyed a brief popularity, and they sought for treasure with divining rods.  The Wood group was reportedly taught this skill by a counterfeiter/forger named either Winchell or Wingate. Winchell/Wingate had been a guest at the home of Oliver's father, William. Attempts have been made to tie William Cowdery to the Wood group, but there is no evidence that he had any connection with them aside from knowing Winchell/Wingate. As Richard L. Anderson observed:
An 1828 newspaper history of the Wood episode refers to neither the mysterious counterfeiter nor Cowdery. The main group of Middletown survivors of the 1800 period--"more than thirty men and women"--were interviewed up to 1860, and they said nothing of a counterfeiter or of Cowdery. The 1867 recollections of a minister who visited the group in the final weeks of their movement include mention of the counterfeiter but not Cowdery--when a disciple was asked where the criminal stayed, he answered: "He keeps himself secreted in the woods." Frisbie's own claims about the Cowdery connection to the Wood group are both unclear and unsupported. This is the patchwork of folklore, not tightly woven history. 
It is therefore not clear whether Oliver used a rod for treasure seeking. The critical association of Oliver's possible use of a rod with the activities of local "rodsmen" seeking treasure is used to imply that Oliver was also a treasure seeker.
Response to claim: 90, 372n34, 375n35 - Apostle William E. McLellin left the Church because he was "shaken by the changes made in the revelations"
Response to claim: 94 - Joseph Smith turned the "Book of Breathings" into the "Book of Abraham"
Gospel Topics on LDS.org: "Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham"
"Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:
The discovery of the papyrus fragments renewed debate about Joseph Smith’s translation. The fragments included one vignette, or illustration, that appears in the book of Abraham as facsimile 1. Long before the fragments were published by the Church, some Egyptologists had said that Joseph Smith’s explanations of the various elements of these facsimiles did not match their own interpretations of these drawings. Joseph Smith had published the facsimiles as freestanding drawings, cut off from the hieroglyphs or hieratic characters that originally surrounded the vignettes. The discovery of the fragments meant that readers could now see the hieroglyphs and characters immediately surrounding the vignette that became facsimile 1.
None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments.—(Click here to continue)
Question: What is the relationship of the Joseph Smith Papyri to the Book of Abraham?
In July 1835, Joseph Smith purchased a portion of a collection of papyri and mummies that had been discovered in Egypt and brought to the United States
Believing that one of the papyrus rolls contained, "the writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt," and "purportedly written by his own hand, upon papyrus," Joseph commenced a translation. The Book of Abraham was the result of his work.
The translated text and facsimiles of three drawings were published in the early 1840s in serial fashion in the LDS newspaper Times and Seasons. The entire work was published in 1852 in England as part of The Pearl of Great Price, which was later canonized as part of LDS scripture.
Joseph Smith had in his possession three or four long scrolls, plus a hypocephalus (Facsimile 2). Of these original materials, only a handful of fragments were recovered at the Metropolitan Museum. The majority of the papyri remains lost, and has likely been destroyed. Critics who claim that we have all, or a majority, of the papyri possessed by Joseph Smith are simply mistaken.
Other than the vignette represented in Facsimile 1, the material on the papyri does not include the actual text of the Book of Abraham
The Egyptian characters on the recovered documents are a portion of the "Book of Breathings," an Egyptian religious text buried with mummies that instructed the dead on how to successfully reach the afterlife. This particular Book of Breathings was written for a deceased man named Hor, so it it usually called the Hor Book of Breathings.
Other than the vignette represented in Facsimile 1, the material on the papyri received by the Church, at least from a standard Egyptological point of view, does not include the actual text of the Book of Abraham. This was discussed in the Church publication, the New Era in January 1968.
Question: What happened to the papyri after Joseph's death?
The original papyri were thought to have been completely destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871, but some fragments were discovered in 1966
After Joseph's death, the collection was eventually sold and split up. The original papyri were thought to have been completely destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871. Fragments, however, including the illustration represented in Facsimile 1, were discovered in 1966 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, who gave them to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November 1967.
Question: What do the Joseph Smith papyri fragments consist of?
There are eleven fragments of the original papyrus owned by Joseph Smith. The initial labels given the fragments came from Hugh Nibley's work.
The fragments that exist and their source are described in the table below, as are other materials of interest to students of the Book of Abraham:
Response to claim: 94-98 - The restoration of the missing portions of Facsimile 1 were "terribly wrong"
Question: Does Facsimile 1 show a hand, or does it show the wing of a second bird?
The high-resolution photos of the papyri clearly show that it was a hand, not a wing
The Larson restoration presumes that the upper hand represented in Facsimile 1 is instead the wing of a bird. There are several elements which disprove this.
- It is clear that the Egyptian artist drew wings in a specific manner, as can be observed by the wing of the bird on the right.
- The two hands have distinct thumbs.
- The assumption that ink spots on the hand represent spots on the birds wing is disproven by close examination of the original, which shows ink traces that indicate that the lines were originally connected.
- It is also clear that the missing ink correlates with cracks in the papyri. Note that the cracks extend across all fingers, and that the ink has flaked off along the cracks.
- Note that the index finger (the one next to the thumb) is continuous in the original, but was broken into two parts in the Larson restoration.
Bell: "the questionable traces above the head of the Osiris figure are actually the remains of his right hand"
(non-Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell
Let me state clearly at the outset my conviction that the questionable traces above the head of the Osiris figure are actually the remains of his right hand; in other words, Joseph Smith was correct in his understanding of the drawing at this point. Ashment 1979, pp. 36, 41 (Illustration 13), is very balanced in his analysis of the problem, presenting compelling arguments for reading two hands; Gee 1992, p. 102 and n. 25, refers to Michael Lyon in describing the "thumb stroke" of the upper (right) hand; cf. Gee 2000, pp. 37-38; and Rhodes 2002, p. 19, concludes: "... a careful comparison of the traces with the hand below as well as the tip of the bird's wing to the right makes it quite clear that it is the other hand of the deceased."...An important clue is provided in the orientation of the thumbs of the upraised hands toward the face. This is the expected way of depicting the hands of mourners and others when they are held up to (both sides of) their heads or before their faces.
Question: Should the restoration of Facsimile 1 include a phallus?
The Larson restoration adds a phallus on the reclining figure, something that is never seen on a clothed Osiris figure
The Larson restoration adds a phallus on the reclining figure, something that is never seen on a clothed Osiris figure.
- The assumption appears to be that the hash marks on the legs represent breeches. One can also observe this assumption on the Hedlock restoration contained in the Book of Abraham. However, an examination of the original papyrus shows that the legs of the figure were drawn, and that a wraparound Egyptian kilt was then drawn over them. The clothing is not a pair of breeches. This detail is not even in the Larson image, as the two lines distinguishing the legs and the kilt are merged into a single, fat line.
- It can be seen in the closeup detail that the hash lines of the kilt extend beyond the lines of the leg, intersecting the outer line of the kilt.
- It can also be seen that the kilt is curved, whereas the legs are straight.
- The Larson restoration adds a phallus (which we have chosen to obscure) in the location of the figure's navel, based upon the location of the intersection of the legs and an estimate of where the top of the kilt would appear.
Bell: "there would not be enough available space to restore the hand of Anubis, the erect phallus of the Osiris, and the body and wings of Isis"
(non Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell:
[T]he representation of an ithyphallic figure wearing a kilt would not be unparalleled. However, judging from the position of the erect phallus of the reclining kilted earth god Geb in a cosmological scene on Dynasty 21 Theban coffins now in Turin and Bristol, there would not be enough available space to restore the hand of Anubis, the erect phallus of the Osiris, and the body and wings of Isis in P.JS I: Anubis would have to be grasping the phallus himself and assisting Isis in alighting on it—which is unimaginable. . . .In this area, I believe the Parker-Baer-Ashment reconstruction (with its "implied" erect phallus) is seriously flawed.
Question: Was the original head of the priest in Facsimile 1 actually the jackal head of Anubis?
The high-resolution photos show evidence that the head of the priest was originally the jackal-head of Anubis
The head of the priest in the Hedlock restoration appears to simply copy the head of the reclining figure. An examination of the papyrus, however, shows evidence that the head was originally that of Anubis. In this case, the Larson restoration appears to be correct.
- Note that there is a portion of the back of Anubis's headdress visible in the original.
- It is more likely that the back of the headdress showed hair rather than a solid as represented in the Larson image.
Response to claim: 99 - LDS apologists' main purpose is to explain away "any and all criticisms that might damage the validity of Smith's writings"
Response to claim: 100 - One or two words in Egyptian were expanded to entire paragraphs in English
Question: In the Kirtland Egyptian Papers, why is each Egyptian character matched to an entire paragraph of English text?
The KEP may have been an attempt to "reverse engineer" the Book of Abraham translation against the Egyptian papyri
Once the Book of Abraham translation was complete, a unique opportunity existed to use the completed translation in an attempt to match it against the Egyptian characters on the papyri and produce a correlation between English and Egyptian. The Church addresses this possibility on LDS.org:
Some evidence suggests that Joseph studied the characters on the Egyptian papyri and attempted to learn the Egyptian language. His history reports that, in July 1835, he was “continually engaged in translating an alphabet to the Book of Abraham, and arrangeing a grammar of the Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients.” This “grammar,” as it was called, consisted of columns of hieroglyphic characters followed by English translations recorded in a large notebook by Joseph’s scribe, William W. Phelps. Another manuscript, written by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, has Egyptian characters followed by explanations.
- Marlin K. Jensen, "The Joseph Smith Papers: The Manuscript Revelation Books," Ensign (July 2009), 46–51. off-site
- Jeffrey G. Cannon, "Oliver Cowdery's Gift," Revelations in Context on history.lds.org
- Revelation, April 1829–B [D&C 8], in Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Stephen C. Harper, eds., Manuscript Revelation Books, vol. 1 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), 17. (emphasis added)
- Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 1:599–621.
- Richard L. Anderson, "The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure Searching," Brigham Young University Studies 24 no. 4 (1984). PDF link
Caution: this article was published before Mark Hofmann's forgeries were discovered. It may treat fraudulent documents as genuine. Click for list of known forged documents.
Discusses money-digging; Salem treasure hunting episode; fraudulent 1838 Missouri treasure hunting revelation; Wood Scrape; “gift of Aaron”; “wand or rod”; Heber C. Kimball rod and prayer; magic; occult; divining lost objects; seerstone; parchments; talisman
- "History of William E. McLellin," Millennial Star 26 (1864), 808.; see also Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:31. Volume 3 link
- D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Signature Books, 1994), 44.
- "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics (8 July 2014)
- Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:235, 236, 348–351. 236, 348 Volume 2 link
- (non-Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell, "The Ancient Egyptian 'Books of Breathing,' the Mormon 'Book of Abraham,' and the Development of Egyptology in America," Egypt and Beyond: Essays Presented to Leonard H. Lesko upon his Retirement from the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University June 2005, (ed. Stephen E. Thompson), Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies, Brown University, 2008, p. 28.
- (non Mormon) Egyptologist Lanny Bell, "The Ancient Egyptian 'Books of Breathing,'", p. 29.
- "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham," Gospel Topics (8 July 2014).