Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mormon visits: Episode 7

Read 6th visit

Text messages since last visit:

Me: Hi guys. Are you going to drop in this Egyptian stuff for me? Just thought, I can meet you and photograph it, that would take no time/effort at all. (June 24th)

(No reply)

My Mormon friends didn't turn up last Monday, it seems our weekly meetings may have come to an end. However, they turned up out of the blue tonight (June 25th). They apologised for turning up without arranging it with me first and reminded me that I said they could just turn up, I told them that I meant it and they are welcome to pop around any time they like.

USA guy took out a book and said he had something for me. I got excited and asked if it was the Egyptian stuff that Smith had translated. He told me that I shouldn't be too excited and that it probably isn't what I am expecting it to be. He showed me that he had a book called Doctrine And Covenants. I have no idea why he was showing me this, but he explained that it was a book of revelations on how to run the LDS church in the end days. I said I thought it was odd that it says "in the end days" rather than "until the last day" or something similar. I asked if that meant we are living in the end days, they said it did. I asked how long the end days will last, 5 years, 50 years, 5000 years? They said they didn't know, but what they do know is that when scripture is revealed to Moses etc it marks the start of what is called a "period of dispensation", and that we are now living in the last period of dispensation before Jesus returns.

I told them how I had read Islamic texts explaining how the first thing Jesus will do is to kill all the pigs. French guy was very surprised to hear that Muslims believe in the return of Jesus. I told him how they are essentially just another Judaism->Christian->Something Else variant of monotheism....just like Mormonism, except there are more of them. We had a little chuckle about how the anti-Christ was going to come a wreak havoc in wars etc, heralding the return of Jesus, but the first thing on his to-do list is to kill all the pigs.

We talked about how the scriptures of Abraham and Moses had come to Smith. USA guy said that he thinks the books of Abraham and Moses were divinely revealed. I told him that I had read something about finding some papyrus as part of a collection, along with some mummies. "Ah yes," he said, "that's right!" I forgot to say anything about how fragile this process of preserving revelation was, but in hindsight I don't think it would have carried much weight anyway and probably would have made me sound like a nay-sayer.

USA guy told me that it was the commandments (covenants) that had been divinely revealed, mostly during Smith's life-time but a few had come afterwards too. He said that it explains things like multiple marriages. I was surprised he brought it up to be honest. I had given up that subject as a lost cause, but he seemed to want some kind of approval or closure on the subject. I asked "What does it say about it? Do as I say and not as I do?" - I wonder if they feel bad later for laughing at the expense of their own prophet? I asked if they had talked to anyone about this subject, and they said they hadn't. USA guy said that he had heard something about people in the Old Testament marrying women if their husbands weren't worthy of them.

I said "I can't remember what her husband's name was. I remember her name was Zina, as I said, because it means something in Arabic. I think he was called Henry or something. Well, from what I read he was sent all over world or something doing missionary work."
"Was he actually doing missionary work?" USA guy asked.
"Yes," I told him, "he was representing the church."
"That doesn't make any sense" USA guy said.
"Well I suppose it does if you want to marry his wife and get rid of him" I joked. They laughed along.
USA guy said "None of that stuff makes any sense at all to be to be honest."

Next I brought up the subject of changes to the book. I told them that part of my job requires multiple people to work on the same text document and then to have to compare changes and deal with any conflicts, this means that text comparison software is really quite good these days. "What I have done is to take the text from the 1830's version and compare it to the 2005 version" I told them. "And it had loads of changes?" asked the USA guy.  "Well," I told him, "it's not so much that there are changes in the way words are written etc, but that there are entirely new sentences."  I looked up one of these, it was the 1st book of Nephi, chapter 20.

I said that the clause in the book in question had originally only included people who came out of the waters of Judah, but had later been changed to include anyone else who had been baptised. He explained to me that when they are baptised, Mormons consider themselves to have become part of the family of Israel. I said "That's fine. If it was originally written by humans as their understanding of things, and then later humans made their own decisions on what to change then it all makes sense. Do you still agree that is what happened?" They both confirmed that this is their position, I was surprised to hear this, and relieved that I didn't have to suffer the frustration of them back-peddling on their previous change of opinions.

I then said to them "Do you remember that you said none of the meaning of the book had changed?"
"Yes," they said.
So I told them "I found something in Nephi book 1, chapter 19. In the original book it says the Jews did not mock, but in the new edition it says the Jews did mock. Dropping the word 'not' makes it mean the exact opposite"
USA guy suggested "Maybe it means the same and that's just how they used to say things back then?"
"No," I said quite firmly, "did, and did not, are complete opposites. Either they mocked or they did not."

"I expect someone has already done all of this" USA guy said.
"Yeah," I told him, "but this is me. I don't like to accept other people's conclusions, I like to look at what led them to their conclusions to see if they lead me to the same place."

I brought up the issue of "doubt your doubts before your faith". I told him that doubting your doubts is a great thing to do because it makes you check them. It's suppressing your doubts that is the problem. There is nothing wrong with doubts, doubts help you to reach the truth. I then asked about the hieroglyphics.

USA guy said he doesn't think there are any. French guy said "Yes there are, it's the pictures".  "Oh, is it those things?" USA guy asked.  Then the USA guy opened his book to a specific page


I said it was really exciting that we know what the original image looked like, because obviously they didn't have photocopiers back then so we are fortunate a manual copy was made. I then non-judgementally read out what each part was supposed to be according to Smith. "Do you have something with hieroglyphs too?" I asked. USA guy showed me this.


I told him I had no idea whether or not those were valid Egyptian hieroglyphs but it would be interesting to find out. I said though that this isn't as exciting as I had hoped because in the first photo we have Smith's writings but no hieroglyphs, and in this photo we have hieroglyphs but no direct translation. French guy then showed me this


I must confess that I nearly did a little wee wee because of the excitement. I pointed out that this has Smith's explanation of what it is, and some hieroglyphs that might give us a clue as to whether or not he was correct. I read through each one, getting the Mormon guys to point to which part of the picture the note was referring to; just to make sure they were mentally involved in the process rather than just being told stuff by me.

As I read number two I had a genuinely massive grin on my face. "It says 'Whose name is given in the characters above his head'. This is exactly what I've been looking for!" Then I read on. "Number four and number five both also explicitly state what the hieroglyphs say".

"I don't understand" French guy said.
"Well," I told them. "I told you last time that hieroglyphs were cracked back in about 1822. By 1830 hardly anyone in the world knew how to read them, and none of those people would have known how to read them completely. There was literally nobody on the planet who could successfully translate the Egyptian hieroglyphs into English." They were in agreement, so I continued. "I always wondered why these brass plates were supposed to have been written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, it made no sense to me. They didn't write in Egyptian, they would have used an Aramaic alphabet or something."

French guy said "I heard Egyptian was probably used because it takes less space".
"That's incorrect," I told him, "Aramaic is far more compact than hieroglyphs. It's just little lines with circles and dots and stuff. Nowhere near as complex as a picture of a man or an eagle or something. Aramaic would not only take up less space, it would be much quicker to write and would have been what they were already familiar with."

They looked at me a bit confused, one of them said "Not sure why it would be in Egyptian hieroglyphs then".
"When it comes to God and prophets do you think everything happens for a reason?" I asked.
"Yes" they confirmed.
"Well perhaps the reason for it being in Egyptian hieroglyphs was precisely because nobody on the planet could translate them at the time? What if they were written with hieroglyphs because God knew that in the future we would be able to translate them, which we can, and then it would be obvious that Joseph Smith must have received divine help." They were nodding in agreement. Then I added "Of course, the other thing that occurred to me is that if you were making all this stuff up then using an alphabet nobody understood would be a good trick, because then nobody could read it and tell you that you are wrong" - we all giggled, but I could see they knew it was true.

French guy said "But whether or not this is right is not as important as if you pray and receive testimony". I was dismissive of this, telling him that it simply doesn't work. They might feel like it works for them, but people from all other religions also believe it works for them too. He told me "God knows how to convince you, if you pray then he will answer".

So I put this to him. "That is exactly what this is. I said I believe God would know how to convince me even if I don't know myself, and now I know what that is! This isn't just some picture that Cowdery or someone else drew from memory years later. This is a picture drawn by a prophet of God himself, copied directly from the papyrus he translated. Not only does the picture contain hieroglyphs but it we have an explicit statement from Smith himself telling us what those hieroglyphic words mean."
"But they are not translated word for word" French guy said cautiously.
"They don't have to be," I told him. "The hieroglyphs only need to say the names that Smith claims they say. Number two should be the name of the Pharaoh, number four should be the name of the prince, and number five should be the name Shulem. If this is what they say then we have a deal clincher."

"You would become a Mormon?" French guy asked.
"Yes," I told him.
"Even without testimony?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "The problem with testimony is that it tells so many people so many different things. Regardless of how real the testimony I previously had felt to me, I cannot accept it was real because of my subsequent investigations. I have no way of knowing what to listen to and what is to ignore because it is simply happening in my mind. Hindus are told they are right, Sikhs are told they are right, Muslims are told they are right."

USA guy was nodding in agreement, listening quite deeply, but French guy was still insistent that personal testimony through prayer is the only way to go and should come first. I said to them "We are in agreement that the book was written by humans, and later edited by humans based on what they thought should change without divine instructions, right?"
"Yes" they both said.
"Well in that case the ONLY point at which divine intervention can occur is the translation from hieroglyphics into English. If these translations are correct then I have objective proof that Smith correctly translated them when nobody in the world should have been able to. I have previously been in touch with an Egyptologist who makes TV documentaries, I can write to her and ask her what they say."

I could see by this point they both felt uncomfortable with this. "You might find some stuff that says it is right and some stuff that says it is wrong" USA guy said. "But that doesn't matter," I told him, "we have the original hieroglyphs and Smith's translations. We can know for certain if he was right or wrong. If Smith was a messenger of God then God has allowed this to happen. A picture drawn by the hands of one of his prophets has been allowed to survive until we can test if it is right or wrong. If it is right then it would be absolutely remarkable, practically on the miracle scale. In this case it's better than those other miracles, instead of us having to rely on historical accounts, which can morph into myths over time, we actually have physical evidence of something we can check."

They were still unsure, they both said how they have never really been that interested in looking for evidence. So I put this to them. "If you guys weren't Mormons and I was, and we had just discovered this together, would you be curious?"
"Hmm" they said.
"You would wouldn't you? You'd at least want to know if it was correct or not, not to check would simply be denial wouldn't it?" They both agreed.

Again French guy tried the personal testimony approach. I asked if they thought God would require anything more from people than to desire the truth and to genuinely ask to receive it. They both said they thought that was all that was needed according to their religion. I asked if praying in the wrong way or anything like that might annul the request for guidance, USA guy told me that God doesn't punish people for what they don't know, so if they were praying in the wrong way or something it wouldn't matter as long as they were genuinely asking him for guidance.

"Do you know what happens on Saturday?" I asked.
"No" they said.
"Saturday is the first day of the Islamic holy day of Ramadan." I told them. "Millions, if not over a Billion, Muslims will be fasting from sun rise to sun set as a sign of their devotion to God, the same god that you believe in, the god of Abraham, Moses, and all the others. They will be giving extra money to charity. Despite fasting some of them will still cook food in kitchens and then take it out to feed homeless people out on the streets. At the least they will be praying five times a day, some of them will pray for a majority of the day. They pray to give thanks and to request guidance. Do you think that is a valid way to ask God for guidance, even if they happen to be facing Mecca or something?"

"Yes" they said.
"So being born into a society that tells you to pray in a certain direction won't matter?" I asked.
"No" they said.
"So," I smiled, "how many of those Muslims do you think God will tell to look into the story of Joseph Smith?"
They both thought for a while. "How many of them will ask?" French guy challenged.
So I told them "There are possibly millions of Muslims in this world who have never even heard the name Joseph Smith. They can't be expected to ask about a specific person they have never heard of. I thought that all God required was for us to desire guidance and to sincerely pray for it?"
"That's right" they said.
"So," I repeated, "out of over one billion Muslims, how many do you think will be told to read about Joseph Smith?"

They thought for a while and then USA guy said "That's why we are here, to tell people about our prophet". I pointed out that God doesn't need humans to tell the story of Joseph Smith before he is able to give them some kind of experience with the Holy Spirit. They said that unless they know of Joseph Smith they won't know what the testimony is that the Holy Spirit is giving them. I pointed out that this is exactly the problem, this testimony from the Holy Spirit means whatever the person receiving it believes it to mean based on their social upbringing and life experiences.

I could see a lot of watch checking had now started so I shook their hands and told them it had been a pleasure talking to them as usual. "It will be really interesting to see what those hieroglyphs say" USA guy said with a smile. "Won't it just be fantastic if the translations are right?" I asked. "Yes" he said, grinning even more.

It was time to go. It occurred to be that again we had talked without an opening prayer. French guy asked if he could lead one to close the meeting. It consisted of the usual thanks for being born and for being able to spend time with me. I don't think he asked for guidance or anything, it was quite a quick prayer and I think I may have missed some of it.

Tomorrow I will dig out the contact details for that Egyptologist. I won't rely on what web pages tell me, I like to check things properly.

Read 8th visit

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