Mormon Stories - LDS

For more than a century Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham "translation" has been revered as holy scripture by devout Mormons, and denounced by all credible non-LDS Egyptologists as a 100% erroneous translation -- a combination of Joseph Smith's imagination and some plagiarism (much like the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, and the Mormon temple ceremony.

The first major scholarly analysis and critique of the Book of Abraham by world-class Egyptologists came in 1912 and was published in the New York Times.  Of course this article was neither appropriately considered nor adequately addressed by LDS church leadership, and ultimately the issue faded from LDS church membership consciousness for several more decades.

Beginning in 1966 with the rediscovery of the core Book of Abraham papyri fragments found in the archives of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (that were thought to have been lost in the 1871 Great Chicago Fire), Mormon apologists such as Hugh Nibley, John Gee, Daniel C. Peterson, Kerry Muhlestein, Michael D. Rhodes, etc. have attempted to employ apologetic tactics to rescue the Book of Abraham from a total loss of credibility - once credible translations of the papyrus demonstrated undeniably that Joseph Smith's "translation" was 100% inaccurate, and in fact, had nothing to do with Abraham at all.  In fact, the papyri were dated to be written over 1500 years after the time Abraham would have lived.

For decades questioning, doubting, and non-believing Mormons have engaged with Mormon apologists like Nibley, Gee, Muhlestein, and Rhodes to determine the historicity and legitimacy of the Book of Abraham - with the credibility of Joseph Smith and the LDS church restoration hanging in the balance.  In spite of the LDS church's century-long efforts to either hide or convolute the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham, many Mormons have lost their faith and left the church over the Book of Abraham, as it is often listed as one of the primary reasons that Mormons lose their faith.

While many orthodox, doubting, and post-Mormons have heard the opinions of pseudo-Egyptologists/Book of Abraham apologists like John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, and Michael D. Rhodes, few Mormons or post-Mormons have actually heard the opinions of a legitimate, world-class Egyptologist about the historicity and credibility of the Book of Abraham - until today.

Today, as a joint production of Mormon Stories Podcast and Radio Free Mormon podcast, we interview Dr. Robert Ritner.  Dr. Ritner is Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and was from 1991-1996 the first Marilyn M. Simpson Assistant Professor of Egyptology at Yale University.  Dr. Ritner is the author of over 100 publications on Egyptian religion, magic, medicine, language and literature, as well as social and political history. He has lectured extensively on each of these topics throughout the United States, Europe and Egypt.  Ritner has led Oriental Institute tours of Egypt for 30 years.  He is also the author of The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition, and an essay entitled “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” — A Response - written as a response to the LDS church's gospel topics essay on the Book of Abraham, which is deeply problematic according to Dr. Ritner.

In this three-part sit-down with Dr. Ritner, we will discuss his upbringing in Houston, Texas and his scholarly background and the events that led to him becoming interested in the Book of Abraham.  We will provide a contextualizing history to the Book of Abraham story, and discuss in-depth Joseph Smith's completely erroneous translation of Facsimiles 1-3 from the papyrus.  We explore the emergence of the Abraham Egyptian Papers in the mid 1960s, along with the discovery of the "lost" Book of Abraham papyrus.  We end this series by exploring some of the seemingly unscholarly and disingenuous tactics used by Book of Abraham apologists John Gee, Kerry Muhlestein, and Michael D. Rhodes to try to bolster belief in the Book of Abraham.

Finally, a HUGE thanks to Bruce MacArthur for making this interview possible. Also, a MASSIVE thanks to RFM for co-hosting, Bill Reel for all of his great work over the years, along with all of the amazing scholars who helped me/us prepare for this interview, including: Mike Brown of the Mormon Stories Truth Claims essays, MormonThink, Jeremy Runnells and the CES Letter, Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalfe, Letter for my Wife,, this super cool video, and much much more content than I could ever fully list here.


Sadly, Dr. Ritner passed away on July 25, 2021. He was one of the few non-Mormon Egyptology experts willing to address tough issues with the Book of Abraham and its apologists. He will always be missed.



Show Notes:


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Direct download: MormonStories-1339-RobertRitnerPt1.mp3
Category:Religion -- posted at: 3:58pm MST