On Tuesday, August 11th (2009) the “Authorized news web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Church News) showcased a lecture given by John Gee, “an associate research professor of Egyptology at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU” (the organization formerly known as FARMS).
“While critics of the Church often challenge the authenticity of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, they attach more importance to it than Church members do themselves, a Latter-day Saint Egyptologist said Aug. 6 at the annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR).” (“The Book of Abraham: The larger issue”)
Dr. Gee’s bedrock argument is that the Book of Abraham is “not central” and that its validity is not crucial:
“‘The Book of Abraham is true,’ said Brother Gee,…’I think it can be defended. I think it should be defended. But it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of either apologetics or research or the scriptures…’
“‘…if what is most important needs to be defended, what are some of the things that need to be defended?’ he asked.
“He suggested six: God exists; Jesus Christ is His Son; God talked and still talks with men through the power of the Holy Ghost; Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world; the Atonement is available to those who trust Jesus, turn from sin, make and keep sacred covenants, and follow the course throughout their lives; and the Book of Mormon is true, an authentic record of God’s interactions with actual ancient people…
“‘Now where is the Book of Abraham in this?’ he asked. ‘It isn’t. The Book of Abraham is not central to the restored gospel of Christ…
“…how the Book of Abraham was translated is unimportant. The Church does not stand or fall on the Book of Abraham.‘”
Joseph Smith began the “translation” of the text of the Book of Abraham in 1835. The translation was printed in LDS publications in 1842, 1851 and 1878. It was officially canonized as LDS scripture in 1880.
While giving lip-service to the claim that the Book of Abraham is true, Dr. Gee’s comments actually serve to place something Mormons recognize as sacred scripture on the ‘irrelevant shelf’ to gather the dust of neglect.
If Mormons believe the Book of Abraham is true, if they believe it is “the word of God as revealed to His inspired prophets,” and if continuing revelation is central to the restored gospel, how does Dr. Gee, and by extension the LDS Church, come to say it’s not all that important?
The implication here is that LDS leaders recognize that if the Book of Abraham really isn’t true—if Joseph Smith’s prophetic work known as the Book of Abraham is fraudulent—they will still encourage Mormons to sustain Joseph Smith as a true prophet.
Nevermind that Joseph Smith was acting as a charlatan, claiming to translate by the gift and power of God.
Nevermind that church membership, by “common consent,” was in error when it sustained the canonization of the Book of Abraham in 1880.
Nevermind that the LDS Church has been wrong to include it in the LDS canon of scripture for the last 129 years (What other things might be erroneously included in the LDS canon?).
Nevermind that doctrines that have arisen historically or have been solidified by the Book of Abraham are called into question, such as pre-mortal existence, the multiplicity of gods, and the co-participation in the work of “creation” between God the Father and “the gods” (including Adam).
Nevermind that Joseph Smith unnecessarily required great sacrifice on the part of the Latter-day Saints in 1835 when he solicited $2400 to purchase the Egyptian papyri.
Nevermind that prophets are supposed to represent God Almighty and that they should be held to higher standards than mere teachers or politicians or world leaders, particularly when doing something in the name of God.
Nevermind that people have left the “one true Church” over their loss of faith in the Book of Abraham. Nevermind that no one told them this LDS scripture was unimportant. The Church bid them fond farewell and as a result families have been split. Lives have been rocked. Tears shed. Hard words exchanged. Marriages broken. For what? For something that now, in 2009, doesn’t really matter anymore.
No apologies, no repentance, no major doctrinal reversals.
But how can we not be concerned? Jesus said, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)