Charles Larson’s “…by His Own Hand Upon Papyrus” book review – a book about the Mormon Book of Abraham
This an excellent account of how the Book of Abraham is not a literal translation as Joseph Smith and the early church leaders claimed. It also includes the various LDS apologist “answers” as to why the translation doesn’t match. If you are unfamiliar with the Book of Abraham problems, you must get this book. Unfortunately, this book includes a bunch of Christian nonsense woven throughout–especially the end.
This book is worth the price for two major aspects. First, it contains beautiful color fold out photographs of the Joseph Smith Papyri, and second, it includes photocopies of several letters written by LDS archaeologist Thomas Stuart Ferguson. In the letters, Ferguson frankly admits that Mormonism, Christianity, & Judaism are a hoax of sorts, but that if he has to stick to one for social reasons it is Mormonism. (Ferguson’s family was LDS and he may have felt that openly leaving the church would do damage to them.)
A March 10, 1997 Salt Lake Tribune article on Larson being fired for writing this book.
Fired teacher blames bias from the BYU Daily Universe
The FARMS rebuttal (previously linked from this page) is no longer available for free on the internet. The major false statement FARMS makes is that Joseph Smith was able to translate Egyptian–yet they never demonstrate his translation ability except by citing a few random coincidences which they then stretch in order to supposedly make a small case for some sort of translation. FARMS almost completely ignores Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar in their review. The footnote that includes the statement, “Much of the Alphabet and Grammar is merely a means of giving ‘map coordinates’ for locating the symbols on the papyri” is about the best “scholarship” that they can apparently produce. Scholarship is indeed difficult when unchangeable conclusions are drawn before the evidence is weighed. FARMS devotes an entire section to “Avoiding the Issue” which is precisely what they are doing by not admitting that the Book of Abraham is not what Joseph Smith claimed it was (and what the church leaders still claim it to be).
He’s not as scholarly as I had hoped he would be, though. When he focuses his discussion on the Book of Abraham, and on Joseph Smith’s claim to be able to translate Egyptian and such things, he is riveting, and he succeeds very well. But too often he goes beyond that, and sets up the Book of Abraham as the very foundation of Joseph Smith’s credibility so that he can sweep it and Mormonism aside once the Book of Abraham’s modern origins are clearly established; and whenever he does, I think he betrays his second focus, one which I don’t think he meets nearly as well, and which, frankly, I would rather have done without.
His “second focus” becomes painfully apparent in the last chapter of the book, when it suddenly becomes clear that his book is not only aimed at telling the story of the Book of Abraham, but also at persuading me to confess Christ and be saved. I do wish he had left this aspect out of the book; if he had, this would have been a much better book — and I would have felt a lot better about recommending it to folks.
I mean, doesn’t it seem sort of oddly incongruent, immediately after having made an earnest plea to the reader to focus on evidence and rational common sense and to put away religious superstition that can’t be justified by observable facts, to then invite me to dive feet first into *yet* *another* *brand* of what amounts to pretty much the very same suspension of critical thought?
Oh well — in fairness, I guess if I were a theist, and he were trying to sell atheism in place of Mormonism, I’d be upset about that, too.