Notes: Joseph Smith Papers Conference and BYU Sperry Symposium

Below are notes on the 2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference, at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, and on two of the talks at the 2018 Sperry Symposium at BYU the next day.


2018 Joseph Smith Papers Conference Notes

Janiece Johnson, “Embracing the Book: The Material Record and Early Book of Mormon Reception”

For 1st gen. LDS, family history still gets written in Bibles, not BoM, though sometimes baptism into church goes there. “Stories enabled access to divinity.” Marginal notes in BoM tend to be keeping track of complicated new narrative. Some created a table of contents. Patience Cowdery uses manacles (pointers) to annotate “seed” and “ancestors,” plus an index she made in the back. Frederick G. Williams 1st edition made an index of doctrine and narrative, and a list of 20 “lost books” from the Bible. Apostle William M. McLellin annotated with doctrinal index and notes showing close reading over many years…also drawings!

Sherilyn Farnes, “‘Able to Translate Any Where in the Bible’: Translation and the Early Saints”

On Edward Partridge’s study of Hebrew. EP studies Hebrew to translate Bible, including with Kirkland school of prophets. Considered useful for preaching—impressive to hearers. Approaching Antiquity: JS and Ancient World, put out by RSC—check it out! Alfred Cordon journaled that people wanted to hear Greek or Hebrew and then they would believe! James Harvey Partridge (Edward’s younger brother) was eulogized as a “learned Biblical scholar.” “Do good, lay aside evil…render assistance to fellow men and glorify the Lord” as a purpose for learning Hebrew. JS said this learning would prepare people for the endowment. Language study led to history study. JS studies Hebrew AFTER his inspired revision of the Bible.

Stephen Smoot, “The Dynamics of Revelatory Translation in Early Mormonism: The Book of Abraham as a Case Study”

JS’s concept of translation was “idiosyncratic” by modern standards. 1. Zeptah/Egyptus—Earliest manuscript of BoA has Zeptah instead of Egyptus and Egyptes in place of another Egyptus. BoA may confuse Zaeptah’s/Egyptus’s gender in the same way some ancient records do for that lfigure. Is Hebrew in BoA because of JS knowledge of Hebrew (reflected in his translation) or from an ancient scribe? “Not a 1-for-1 unsullied Ur-text.” 3. JS use of Elohim in plural in BoA couldn’t come from his Hebrew tutor Seixas. JS’s knowledge and language influenced the nature of the BoA text.

Brian Hales, “The Book of Mormon Translation Process: Four Theories”

Where do the words in the Book of Mormon come from? Intellect theory, revelation theory, seer stone theory (teleprompter theory!), but then…translator theory—combines other three. Urim & Thummim used with seer stone in a transition from scrying to translating plates. Imagine a “translation committee” (Nephites, JS, and “interim interpreter”) with historical basis and material, like the musical Hamilton!

Colby Townsend, “Translation as Expansion: The Method of Joseph Smith’s Revision of Genesis in Moses 1 and 7 and Its Implications for Understanding ‘Translation’”

How was Moses 7 composed? OT texts reflect multiple authors and editors—book of Moses indicates this, also. Moses 1 depends on Matthew 4? Also has echoes from BoM and D&C.

Kerry Muhlestein, “Hieratic Addling: What Comparing the Grammar and Alphabet of the Egyptian Language to Early Book of Abraham Manuscripts Can Tell Us about Translation Methods”

No match between BoA characters and GAEL characters with equivalent text—many examples of this, with some that are closer. Fig 3.11 from papyrus through GAEL A,B,C with same translations. Fig 3.11 matches Abraham 1:2, and related to figure 5.28 “in a way we don’t understand.” Dependence of / relationship between GAEL and BoA is unclear. So, for BoA matching GAEL: 96% no text and character match. GAEL is NOT used to produce the Book of Abraham.

Tod Harris, “‘He Hath Prepared Means for the Interpretation Thereof’: Illuminating Joseph Smith’s Translation Methods through the Experiences of Modern Scripture Translators”

How to translate “save some dough?” Martin Harris emphasized seer stone (teleprompter theory!). Three common items in descriptions: Physical tools, revelatory aspect, fairly literal style in writing. See Mosiah 8:12-13 for two stages, “look and translate.” “Lamb of God” in Navajo, must be modified from literal to prevent laughter! Story of the Icelandic D&C translation in the 90’s using a term for marriage that saved doctrinal views after political changes.

Daniel McClellan, “Abraham 1:1–3 and the Prophet Joseph Smith as Translator”

BoM and BoA source texts not always consulted during translation process. Language is a cognitive faculty. Examples: up is good, down is bad, truth is an object that can be handled. Evidence supports a looser theory of translation across JS works: “the prophet’s agency played a role.” See KJV Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make man…”) vs. Targum Ps-Jon vs Moses 2:26. JS often has long lists of appositives in writings, Alma 1:30, 32, 41:13-14, Ab. 1:1-3.

Samuel Morris Brown, “Hieroglyphs and Cosmic Harmony: New Views on Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Project”

Starts with “pretentious throat clearing” :) Translation: the movement of ideas from one language to another, and of people from one place to another. “For JS, translation is never not metaphysical.” New word: glossolalia. BoA is a re-reading of the Bible in a revelatory mode. GAEL are “graphic glossolalia.” Book of Abraham is a temple text: inhabiting Eden, worshippers speak the words and become the word. Participate in ch. 3’s vision.

Ben Spackman, “Translation, Creation, and Revelation: Implications of Textual Differences in the Pearl of Great Price”

“Absolutist” revelation is consistent, accurate, unmediated, and binary/polarized–not the best view! Texts were *not* just dictated to JS by God: Smith’s human cognition is involved. Gen, Mos, “firmament” vs. Abr “expanse” Gen, Mos “day” vs Abr “age.” JS word choices in Abraham reflect Seixas’s Hebrew teaching, including the worldview itself.

Bruce Van Orden, “The Irresistible Contributions of W. W. Phelps to the Translation and Publication of the Book of Abraham”

Check out a new biography of WW Phelps—an interesting life! His help has 5 footprints in KEP: copies of Egyptian characters, GAEL, etc…fell asleep, sorry :(

Ian Barber, “Whatever Happened to Zeptah? Ancient and Anachronistic Nomenclature, Textual Revision, and Joseph Smith’s Production of the Book of Abraham”

On race in BoA, Brodie vs. Nibley vs. Bushman. BoA reflects early modern world view: three-fold division. Like Smoot, mentions Zeptah (or Ptah) as precursor to Egyptus in BoA text; see also Biblioteca Classic by Charles Anthon, pg 43. Abraham 1:2,3 vs. Abr. 1:27—“oppositional narratives” Abr. 2: “priesthood unto all nations.” Fac. 3’s teaching of gospel includes full gospel as shown in Fac. 2. Fac. 3 fig 6 is Anubis, that’s why he’s dark. No name for Pharaoh’s family in Fac. 3, but servant and slave are named!

Matthew Grey, “Joseph Smith’s Use of Hebrew in His Translation of the Book of Abraham”

JS’s knowledge of Hebrew influenced his later understanding of Egyptian: see Aleph and Beth in GAEL. Did JS study Hebrew in school of prophets to better understand Egyptian? Evidence says so. Fac 1 & 2 use transliterated Hebrew words (“answers to the Hebrew”).


2018 BYU Sperry Symposium Notes

Brad Wilcox, “The Parable of the Talents: A Lesson in Receiving Grace”

Statistics about religion and suicide; people who understand grace have better mental and emotional health. Grace means “goodwill or favor given with compassion.” God’s grace blesses us as we strive to grow in grace. See DFU quote on “endowment” of grace: “divine help.” Grace is not waiting for us at the finish line, it’s the power that gets us there. It’s not a supplement to our works: it’s “the strength by which we GROW” (DFU). Our covenant relationship with God is greater than the sum of its parts. DTC quote on grace.
Grace is a little different from tender mercies: see grace even when we still don’t see the answers and tender mercies—grace is when heaven reaches into our hearts and changes our very nature. Grace is not giving up hope for change. The word we need to focus on is “saved.” “Have we been saved by grace?”
In “I Stand All Amazed,” confused means in awe of grace, and proffer means that grace is proactively given to us without our request—think of how the sacrament is administered. D&C 88 on a gift not received. It must surprise God to see His gift rejected! 2 Ne. 28:30 is about receiving grace—like getting a scholarship! Not a loan, but still has to be accepted. Bro. and Sis. Hafen: endowment is not to teach about the giving of the atonement, it’s about the receiving of it, through covenants.
Parable of the talents is about grace. “Because you have been faithful in reading this book, enter into my library!” Until we choose to accept and use the gift we’ve been given, we can’t get more. To be given too much at a time would be a burden. See D&C 71:6 on this about grace, then 2 Ne. 28:30 again.
“Good and faithful” in Greek is the same word; “wicked and slothful” describes the servant’s choices. The adjectives here aren’t judgmental declarations; they’re mere descriptions of what people have chosen to become. “Come as you are, but don’t expect to stay that way.” “The minute we make promises in the temple, hands are extended to help us keep those promises.” Water can be changed into wine because it has not free will, it doesn’t have to want to change—we are different. “Change without challenge is not change.” Instant makeovers are not substantial.
No matter where you sit on the bus, the bus is taking you home. Grace is not a prize for the righteous, it is the source of righteousness. Stay on the bus!


Richard Draper, “”By His Own Blood He Entered in Once into the Holy Place”: Jesus in Hebrews 9″

2 purposes of Epistle to the Hebrews: to expose the insufficient nature of OT sacrifices to awaken people to the pain in breaking moral law (9:9-10); and to stress that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice can fully cleanse us (9:11).
The author emphasizes blood, sacrifice, and cleansing. Levitical works only apply to external purification. Lev. 7:11 & Deut. 12:23 suggest that the power of atonement is in our own blood. In OT, blood gave power to sacrifice, in NT sacrifice gives power to blood. Greek “ephapax” in Hebrews 9:12 assures that Christ’s sacrifice is final and permanent. v 14 —where there is a cleansed conscience, they’e drawn to the Father and the Son. Atonement acts in mortality to empower the worshipper to serve and follow Him in the way He wishes to be served. v 15 — Greek “mesistes” mediator/guarantor…He is the *guarantee* that the promises will be realized. Jesus is the “surety” of the “better covenant.” See Mosiah 3:11-13 for the same thought about how previous failure is saved through Christ’s atonement. Hebrews uses a ransom/substitutionary model of the atonement. 2:10 notes that it was “fitting” for Jesus to made “perfect” by suffering. 9:16-18 notes that blood and only blood can bring forgiveness—an allusion to Lev.17:11, where atonement comes from Hebrew “kaphar” to cover over, make amends, putting a barrier between wrong deeds and ill effects. 9:23-24 says that Christ, like an OT high priest, has entered into the holy place, but the real one, not the earthly model. “Sacrifices” in v 23, plural, equates Christ’s atonement with the sacrifices of the OT.
Hebrews uses the need to cleanse the holy place as a metaphor for the need to cleanse ourselves through the atonement. 9:26 says that Christ abolished sin by His sacrifice. 9:28 contrasts the appearance here to atone for sin with the later appearance to save those who have followed Him in faithfulness.
“once and for all” is wrongly understood—it doesn’t mean “for everybody,” it means “for all time.” Also, the atonement cleanses the conscience. Greek and Hebrew mindset does not include our tainted concept of inherent wickedness, from the apostasy. Repentance means to change our mind or course of action. Greek word in Hebrews for repentance means to have a new view and move forward with it. Atonement allows us to move nearer to Christ: mature, whole, full. “Perfect” in this context means that, not never sinning.

One comment on “Notes: Joseph Smith Papers Conference and BYU Sperry Symposium

  1. Do you happen to have a recording of Matthew Grey’s talk on Joseph’s use of Hebrew in the Book of Abraham translation? Did he mention that Joseph Smith was anticipating that the Book of Abraham would shed light on the nature of the creation and the cosmos? And if so, do you remember his sources for that information? I heard he got it from journal entries made before the Hebrew class started. I’m writing a piece about the creation in Abraham, and would love to find the source material for that. Thanks!

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