Reformed Egyptian

English: Joseph Smith translating the Book of ...
Hard at work
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago, I talked with some Mormon missionaries who were working our neighborhood. Most people prefer to avoid proselytizers of any sort, but I find conversations with them to be interesting. It must have been an odd experience for the two missionaries, as I must have been one of the few non-Mormons they encountered who had actually read the Book of Mormon and knew something of Mormon theology. I had an interesting talk with these two young men.

If you talk with Mormon missionaries for any length of time, they will give you a copy of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is supposed to be a history of some Jewish emigrants to America led by a man named Lehi. This expedition began just before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians around 587 BC. Various historians made records of their experiences and the last of these, one Moroni, collected these accounts that had been engraved on golden tablets and buried them around AD 421. In 1823, Moroni, now an angel, showed Joseph Smith these tablets and had him translate them using the “urim and thummim” or seer stone. After this task was done, Moroni took them back to Heaven.

The language that was engraved on these golden plates is supposed to have been “Reformed Egyptian“. The story of the golden plates written in reformed Egyptian makes the Book of Mormon unique among the sacred texts of the various religions. If I want to read the Bible in its original languages, I have only to study Koine Greek and Hebrew. These exist many old manuscripts of both the Old and New Testaments, as well as many writings and inscriptions in both languages. If I want to read the Koran in its original language, I can study Arabic. It is true that the Arabic of the Koran is not the Arabic spoken in Cairo or Baghdad, and the language is difficult for even native speakers. It is also true that there are few inscriptions and writings from the first century of the Islamic Era, making the ancient Arabic more obscure. I could study it though. The same thing could be said of the Sanskrit of the Vedas, the ancient Chinese of Confucius and Lao Tse and many others. I cannot say the same of the Book of Mormon. There is not a single scrap of Reformed Egyptian to be found anywhere. There are no inscriptions, no fragments of parchment or papyrus, nothing. The golden tablets are gone. For this reason, most non-Mormons consider Reformed Egyptian to be a product of Joseph Smith’s fertile imagination.

It might be worth considering the matter, though. The hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt were a complicated system of symbols. These symbols included ideographs and phonetic symbols representing syllables or consonants. There were also symbols at the end of words which were mute but indicated grammar. The phonetic symbols worked a little like a rebus, a picture of an object was used to indicate the sound associated with that object. For instance, to indicate the word belief, I could draw a picture of a bee and a leaf. An eye could mean the pronoun I. This is, in fact, where the letters of our alphabet originated. The earliest versions of ABC were diagrams of objects that started with those sounds in the Phoenician language. The Egyptians never managed to take the step of creating a full syllabary or true alphabet.
Hieroglyphics were sacred writing, used mostly for inscriptions on stone. The Egyptians used two other systems, based on Hieroglyphics. Hieratic was a somewhat simplified version of Hieroglyphics used for writing on sheets of papyrus. It was invented about the same time as Hieroglyphics. It was used for many purposes, but gradually became associated with religious uses. Demotic was a variation of Hieratic invented around 660 BC. It was widely used for everyday purposes and became the script most familiar to Egyptians and foreigners.

Hebrew is, of course, written with a true alphabet (or abjad if we want to be pedantic). It worked fairly well for representing Hebrew  I am not sure why any speaker of Hebrew would use another system. The Book of Mormon explains it;

32 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.

33 And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record. (Mormon 9:32-33)

That really doesn’t work. I cannot imagine that any Egyptian script would be more concise than Hebrew. The Hebrew letters work just as well for modern Hebrew as for Biblical Hebrew and the Jews also used them to write in Yiddish, a dialect of German. Aramaic uses similar letters, as does Samaritan. For that matter, our own Latin alphabet, as well as the Greek alphabet derive from the same source. Since the various alphabets derived from the ancient Phoenicians can be used to represent many different languages, there is no reason why some modified form of the Hebrew alphabet couldn’t be used to represent the language of these American Jews, no matter how much their language evolved.

So, why Reformed Egyptian? Well, Joseph Smith could hardly claim to have translated Hebrew. Any skeptic could have simply produced a

English: The Rosetta Stone in the British Muse...
English: The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. Français : La Pierre de Rosette, dans le British Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

paper written in Hebrew and demand he translate it. It was safer to translate from a language no one could read. Knowledge of how to read the writing of Ancient Egypt had been lost many centuries ago. The Rosetta Stone had only been found in 1799 and Jean-François Champollion had just finished translating it in 1822. Even if anyone in the United States knew about his work, it was not likely they would possess a copy of his translation. Besides, being one of the oldest civilizations in history, Egypt was mysterious and exotic. Even the Greeks and Romans felt this attraction. Whatever his faults might have been, Joseph Smith was a good showman. Proposing that the Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Jews was exciting enough for potential converts. Adding in the splendor of Ancient Egypt was too much for him to resist.

Of course, Joseph Smith’s career lasted until his death in 1844 and sooner or later the knowledge of how to read Hieroglyphics was going to cross the ocean. There was always the danger that someone might ask Joseph Smith to translate a scroll or a wrapping off a mummy. In fact, someone did make such a request of Joseph Smith, providing him an opportunity to use his imagination once again. The results turned out to be very embarrassing for the Church of Latter Day Saints, thought the truth wasn’t known for over a century. That is a story for another time.


Mormon Special



I see that NBC is planning to air an episode on Mormons and the LDS Church on its Rock Center show I am sure it will be a fair and balanced presentation on a sometimes controversial religious sect. Strangely, I must have missed all of the specials they did on the Trinity United Church of Christ back in 2008. I am sure that would have made quite an interesting show.

I do not agree with much of Mormonism’s doctrines and theology but I have a feeling that their preachers never say this in the pulpit.




Anti Mormons

Now that Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee for President, he faces an uphill struggle to win the election. I know that this has not been a good week for President Obama, and he is likely to have more bad weeks in the immediate future. Still, it is hard to unseat an incumbent president. One of the difficulties Romney is likely to have is overcoming prejudice against his Mormon faith. It seems that evangelical Christians, in their usual close-minded, intolerant way, are reluctant to vote for him and are becoming even more anti-Mormon in their attitudes.

Oh, wait. I read that wrong. Evangelicals are just fine with Romney’s Mormonism. It is the open-minded, tolerant Liberals who won’t vote for him based on his faith.

Americans’ aversion to voting for Mormons has spiked since Mitt Romney’s first presidential bid in 2007 — and that the people most wary of Mormon candidates are not Evangelicals, but rather political liberals and non-religious voters, according to new research from a leading scholar of anti-Mormon attitudes.

The overall increase in anti-Mormon attitudes among liberals may be an unanticipated consequence of the “the continuing candidacy of Mitt Romney and Mormon activism against same-sex marriage,” the study suggests. And its findings may be alarming to the Romney campaign because among the study’s other findings is that voters’ perceptions of Mormonism are closely tied to whether they’ll vote for him.

According to American National Election Studies, nearly 35 percent of national respondents said in February they were “less likely” to vote for a Mormon. That’s up nine points from 2007, when Pew found 26 percent of voters expressing concern about pulling the lever for a Latter-day Saint.

The uptick in anti-Mormon voter attitudes may come as a surprise to those who predicted Romney’s candidacy would have a mainstreaming effect on his faith. But as University of Sydney scholar David Smith, the paper’s author, writes, just as President Obama’s successful candidacy didn’t put an end to tense race relations in America, Romney’s political assent hasn’t cured the country of anti-Mormonism. In fact, as the data shows, Romney’s rise may have lead to increased anxiety about his religion among his natural political opponents.

According to the paper, concern about Mormonism has remained relatively stable among Evangelicals, with 36 percent expressing aversion to an LDS candidate in 2007 and 33 percent doing so in 2012. But among non-religious voters, that number shot up 20 points in the past five years, from 21 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in February. There were also substantial increases in Mormon-averse voters among liberals — 28 percent in 2007 and 43 percent in 2012 — as well as moderates, who went from 22 percent in 2007 to 32 percent this year.

“Aversion to Mormons is still an important force in American public opinion, and one that seriously affects Romney’s chances even if he ultimately overcomes it,” Smith writes in his paper, available online here.

Smith is the author of a detailed analysis on anti-Mormonism in the 2008 election, which suggested that the belief that Mormons aren’t Christian was tightly linked to opposition to Romney among Christian conservatives.

I don’t have much use for Mormon theology, but the fact is, that Mormonism, like the more conservative Protestant sects and Catholicism, at least in theory, is a religion that makes demands on its adherents. That is to say, it teaches that some actions are right and others are wrong, regardless of what might be popular or expedient. Liberals, whether Christian, Jewish, or nonreligious have long ago given up the worship of God for the worship of the State and the idea that there should be any standards above that of the state or of the whims of the moment is simply hateful to them.

There are some Conservatives who are wary of voting for a Mormon.

Perhaps most potentially distressing to Romney’s campaign is the study’s finding that conservatives who said they were less likely to vote for a Mormon were much more likely to say they were undecided or would not vote at all in a contest between Obama and Romney. Pundits have been predicting for months that anti-Mormon Republicans would stay home in November; this study reaffirms that idea.

The paper comes with an important caveat: the survey data was collected in late February and early March — in the heat of the Republican primaries. At that point, Romney was the clear frontrunner, but far from the presumed nominee. Since his opponents dropped out, Romney has earned plaudits from Republican operatives and activists for uniting the right behind him with his combative campaign style.

I hope they will come around. As I said, I have little use for Mormon theology and don’t really consider them Christians. But, as Martin Luther is supposed to have said, “I would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian”. Whatever you might think of Romney’s religion, he has to be a better ruler than that fool we have in the White House now.

Romney Wins the Nevada Caucus

Mitt Romney easily won the Nevada caucus with 48 % of the vote. Gingrich was a distant second 23% and Ron Paul was third with 19%. These results were expected and the large number of Mormon voters in Nevada probably supported Romney. I think that there is little doubt that Romney will be the eventual nominee, though Gingrich and especially Paul will continue the fight.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of voters are coming to prefer a third choice. As Reuters reports,

He won’t be in this Sunday’s Super Bowl and his Denver Broncos are already 50-to-1 longshots for next year’s National Football League title, but if Tim Tebow swapped the pigskin for politics, he just might be a shoo-in for the White House.

Asked which NFL playoff quarterback they would choose for president of the United States in the coming election, more than one in four voters go for Tebow, according to the results of a new Reuters/Ipsos poll of likely voters released on Friday.

Tebow’s success on the field in the past few months helped to make him a media sensation as he turned a struggling Denver Broncos team around. His open and oft-professed religious faith gained him huge support in the evangelical community.

Of course he has never run anything in his life and has no executive experience, but then neither did Obama. It would be hard to argue that Tebow could do a worse job than Obama, and he is certainly more appealing than Romney.


English: Tim Tebow, a player on the Denver Bro...

Mitt or Newt?

Here is a cartoon in USA Today that neatly illustrates the dilemma I feel about the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination.

I feel like a woman who must choose between two lovers. Mitt is the nice, dependable boyfriend. He seem to be the steadier, safer of the two. Newt is the bad boy. He is more exciting, but maybe more dangerous.  I should prefer the safer choice. But, I keep having the nagging feeling that these are not the times for safety.

Meanwhile, Ann Coulter has been spending the last few columns promoting Romney. She clearly has no use for Newt Gingrich. She makes a good case but the truth is that neither man is clearly superior in terms of Conservative credentials or even, I think, electability. Coulter is right in noting that Gingrich is far more the Washington insider than Romney, but that isn’t really the point. Romney is the clear favorite of the Republican establishment, whoever that might be exactly, simply because they feel he is more electable. They may well be correct, but they really haven’t had a stellar record in picking winners in the past.

Coulter concludes her column with this observation.

Romney is the most electable candidate not only because it will be nearly impossible for the media to demonize this self-made Mormon square, devoted to his wife and church, but precisely because he is the most conservative candidate.

No, it won’t be impossible for the media to demonize this Mormon. The Mormons have a number of beliefs and practices that to non-Mormons seem weird or even cultish. There are certain aspects of the history of the LDS church that are not very positive. Something like that could perhaps be said of any religion, which is why decent people today do not mock other peoples’ religions. The liberals in the media feel no such decency. The only religion they are reluctant to criticize is Islam and that is out of cowardice. They have never forgiven the Mormon church for supporting Proposition 8 in Califoria This is, of course, no reason not to vote for Romney, but if he ends up being the nominee, we had better be prepared for media exposes of the Mormons and late night comedians making jokes about magic underwear.

Also, for a look for what might have been, check out Mitch Daniel’s response to Obama’s State of the Union address.


I wish he had chosen to run.


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