FairMormon Conference Thursday Morning Sessions

I’m not quite up to live blogging, so my coverage of FAIR will lag slightly behind the fact. I will be posting summaries of talks posted after completion rather than subjecting you to my sloppy notes in real time.

Kerry Muehlstein, Ph. D. Brigham Young University

Unnoticed assumptions about The Book of Abraham

While the assumptions discussed in this talk are applied to Abraham, they also have more general application.

What is apologetics?

Apologetics to some means to try to defend a certain assumption.

For Muehlstein, it means to try to understand what is true, what is accurate.

In our search for truth, we need not be afraid, we have nothing to hide, and everything can be put forward as in the exemplary Joseph Smith papers project.

No need for a strident tone in apologetics if we are seeking truth and working to disseminate it.


The beginning premise is crucial.

We (Muehlstein and LDS apologists generally) take as a premise that revelation may be a source of knowledge (unlike scholars outside of the faith)

1. Revelation is a valid source of knowledge.

2. With the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon he starts with assumption that these are true, then tries to fit any evidence that he finds within that paradigm, and uses that to filter all evidence that we find.

Key Assumptions:

  1. What was the source of the text for the Book of Abraham? Assumed it was the text adjacent to the facsimile 1, which is a fairly common funerary text by the weak argument of propinquity. To check this assumption:
    1. Check Contemporary Papyri. Text is associated with adjacent picture about 50% of the time.
    2. Abraham 1:12, 1:17. Verses refer to image at the beginning of the text. This suggests that the picture is not adjacent to the text.
    3. There were frequently lots of different texts on one scroll (accounts for Book of the Dead with the Book of Abraham)
    4. Eyewitness accounts. Most don’t say anything about the source of the Book of Abraham. A few are clear about the source. They agree that it is the long roll, not the text adjacent to fac. 1.
  2. Assumptions about translation generally:
    1. JS is translating the BoM. Note. JS is translating a text whose language he doesn’t claim to know, relying on the gift of tongues and inspiration. Using text in one language and producing a text in another language. The original text is important, but it is not the key to the resulting text.
    2. Parchment of John. D&C 7. Sees the text in vision.
    3. New translation of Bible (JS Translation). Looking at text in English, gives an English copy with new information.
  3. Assumptions about translation of the Book of Abraham, specifically the idea that Joseph sees papyri and starts translating.
  1. At least some of the text is in the papyri.
  2. The papyri serves as a catalyst, like English translation of the Bible.
    1. Note: The translation may not have correlated to the text on the papyri at all.
  3. “The astronomy of the ancients, as unfolded to his view.” Sounds like revelation.
  4. In the end, we don’t know.
  • Assumptions about the facsimiles:
    1. Assume we can figure out what these meant to the ancient Egyptians. But these were generally not labeled at the time period these were made (200 BC), and many assumptions made by Egyptologists are uncertain or wrong.
    2. Were ancient Egyptians the intended audience or reflect authorial intent? for example, How would ancient Jews, not Egyptians, have interpreted these drawings? No idea.
    3. Or what would a small group of ancient Egyptians, not the general population, have thought. A group of priests in Thebes who were collecting stories, applying them in new ways.
    4. We don’t know. Perhaps Joseph Smith was telling us what we need to get out of them.

We must return to the assumption that revelation is a valid source of learning.

We would be mistaken to assume that what experts say is safe. New information continually proves us wrong.  Limitations and progression of knowledge not apply to revelation, a safe source of knowledge.

Questions about translation distract us from the blessings of truth and light that come from the text of Abraham.


Marvin Perkins

Blacks in the Scriptures: Using the Word of God to Answer Questions of Blacks and the LDS Priesthood

My experience, when investigating the church almost 25 years ago, it almost kept me from joining the church. Members and missionaries were not good sources for answers, so this project was born.


1. Provide answers to valid questions on Blacks and the LDS Priesthood

2.Create a greater reliance upon studying the scriptures.

3. Rely on the Holy Ghost

To accomplish this, Perkins wants to shatter long standing paradigms, recognize that idioms are potential blockages to truth, and utilize the psychological, social and scientific knowledge.

All things testify of Christ.

Some things seem obvious on surface, but take another look to get deep meaning and value.

Consider idioms. Dictionary definition basically means, That doesn’t mean what I think it means.

Racism. definition. Is church, past and current policy racist?

When investigating years ago, the teachings were clearly racist, although people said it in the nicest possible way. Strong public perception outside of the Church of racism within the Church.

Cognitive dissonance is one of the blockages to truth. Some stop investigating when hit problems. Perkins chose to pray and act on the spiritual witness he received.

Leon Festinger in 1957 defined Cognitive Dissonance as trying to hold two conflicting views at once. This leads to great discomfort, and one must chose one or the other. Once chosen, then every subsequent experience is interpreted to support the chosen view and avoid contradictory evidence.

Matt 6:24 Two masters

Joshua 24:15 Choose whom ye will serve

Racism as a Social Construct

  • White shirts and skin tone. Skin is just different shades of brown, not white and black. We have white shirts and brown people.
  • Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, the father of scientific anthropology, wrote a doctrinal dissertation in 1775 that set up race categories. He later recanted, but that pandora’s box was opened.
  • How can you base priesthood on a race construct that is fictional?

Black and White skin in Science:

  • Brief discussion on two types of melanin in human skin and hair, melanin stimulating hormone and agouti signaling protein, eumelanin and pheomelanin.
  • These physical changes are a blessing from God for the benefit of people living in areas with different amounts of sun exposure.
  • The only difference between us is where our parents spent the most time.

Scripture or word of God/doctrine of the Church

  • Matt 22: 36-40 Love God and thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.
  • D&C 1:25-28 demonstrates that there have been errors in past thinking, they know they made mistakes and need to be humble.
  • Anybody who has a problem with the prophets and apostles making a mistake is not studying their scriptures on a daily basis. Compare current words with scriptures to develop a sense of what is true.
  • Plan of salvation.
  • If you restrict the priesthood, you have a big hole in the plan of salvation.
  • A curse is a separation from God, his path, and his ways due to sin. It may be removed through repentance. Compared the curses of Cain and Adam in Moses 5:36-39 and D&C 29:41.
  • Black and white terms in the scriptures
  • spiritual darkness, gloominess, dejected vs. righteousness and purity. LDS footnotes are helpful here
    • Jeremiah 8:21 black= Hebrew idiom for gloomy
  • Jeremiah 14:2 black= dejected
  • Consider alternate translations. Word for word vs. thought for thought
  • Joel 2:6 blackness=Hebrew idiom for gloom
  • Nahum 2:10 blackness=Hebrew idiom for gloom
  • 2 Ne 5:2 is often criticized for referring to skin of blackness, but this imagery is also in the Bible.
    • Job 30:30
    • Lamentations 5:10
    • 2 Ne 5:21
    • 10 idioms in 2 Ne 5:2: cursing, hardened hearts, white fair delightsome, skin of blackness enticing like unto flint
    • 2 Ne 30:6 new footnote for “skin”
    • “scales”=spiritual blindness. Lamanites never had dark skins, just spiritual darkness.
  • 1 Sam 16:7 look on the inside to judge
    • Jacob 3:8
    • 3 Ne 2:15
    • 2 Ne 5: 21
    • Alma 3:4-6 distinguished because had to mark themselves–indicates skin color is not a distinguishing factor.
    • Alma 55:8-9 had to search for a descendant of Laman-did not stand out obviously as would have if had different color skin. Lamanite is a culture, a belief system, not a race (and remember, race does not exist).
  • 2 Ne 26:33 is a beautiful passage
    • Compare to alma 1:30 and 11:44. Parallel patterns: black and white, out of the church, or in the church, and wicked and the righteous.
    • We all need to read, study, and compare.
  • 2010 new chapter headings and footnotes. Mormon 5, Moses 7:8,22

Who gets the LDS Priesthood?

  • For 1st 22 years of restored gospel, everybody was holding the priesthood. Black members were ordained. Church records were not clear; interpret this to mean there was no record of a revelation for restriction.
  • What qualifies one for the priesthood. D&C 4:5
  • D&C 36:4-5 calling and a commandment concerning all men, D&C 63:57
  • 121:21-23 is the only place that describes those who cannot have priesthood- those who persecuted the church, but even they can repent.


  • Race, ideas of  black and white were created in 1775.  There is no such thing as race.
  • Scriptures use terms black and white in a spiritual sense, not a literal “this is the color of your skin” sense.
  • How we got to different shades of skins is a blessing from God to help our bodies in different locations.
  • Idioms
  • Curse is a separation from God
  • Several direct revelations to give priesthood to all men.
  • Changes 1981, 2010, 2013 to scripture help resources (mostly footnotes and chapter headings rather than scriptural texts) make LDS understanding of scripture less racist.

Continuing revelation means we will have changes. We do not get it all at once.

Disclaimer: don’t believe a word that I have to say. You have to do the work on your own, study it out and get your own testimony.

I offer a guide to study, a way to help articulate your own prayers.

We don’t need to change the doctrine, just changing our understanding of it.

The Church was racist for decades, and the members are the last ones to say it. Admit it and move on. You don’t have to defend it; God doesn’t need you to steady the ark.


Barry Bickmore

Joseph Smith Among the Early Christians

Bickmore’s book Restoring the Ancient Church. Joseph Smith and Early Christianity has just been rereleased.

The Question:

How good can we make the case for the proposition that Joseph Smith restored something akin to the earliest form of Christianity?

Conflicts with other Christians have a lot to do with assumptions and background.

Bickmore got interested in historical studies of people who wrote the NT text.

Where to go to get information?

Mormonism and Early Christianity by Hugh Nibley. Fantastic, but it was a lot of work to try to understand what he was talking about. Other books end up being overly simplistic. So Bickmore wrote this book to fill the gap.

Mainstream Christians

  • God:
    • is a “unique spiritual substance”
      • “simple” (i.e., completely homogeneous)
      • immutable
      • immaterial
      • has always existed
    • Is composed of 3 distinct persons in a single being
    • (modalism is the heresy that one person is manifest in three different ways)
  • Humans:
    • Have a spirit, but it is fundamentally different than God’s.
  • created ex nihilo
  • Can become one in God, but this oneness is different than the oneness among the Trinity.
    • sometimes speak of becoming “gods”. (The idea of deification in some sense is not unique to LDS)
  • LDS Christians

    • God:
      • has a spirit and body, both material, and both in human form.
      • has always existed, but not immutable in every way
      • is spoken of as being both”one” (one Father, others one in will, love covenant) and more than one (multiple beings).
        • Son and Spirit subordinate to the Father in rank and glory
    • Humans:
      • Have spirits that are the literal offspring of God the same species.
        • These spirits have always existed in some form, but not immutable in every way.
    • creatio ex materia
    • Are capable of becoming “gods” in essentially the same way as the Father, although subordinate to Him

    How to build the case that the LDS interpretation of the scriptures are plausible?

    Go back and try to recreate the Original Jewish Christianity. Even early gentile converts had a very Jewish character and way of thinking. Late it split into splinters: Jewish Christianity, Gnostic Christianity (believed saved by knowledge, material world is evil so Christ was not really incarnate because that would be taking evil on himself, also very much into esoteric rites), and Hellenized Christianity (main branch, Greek influences strong cultural and intellectual tradition, worked to harmonize the gospel with elements from Greek philosophers). Jewish and Gnostic groups died out or were re-absorbed into the mainstream catholic Christianity which was derived from Hellenistic Christianity.

    Bickmore then picked doctrines about the nature of God and man’s relationship to God, and looked at Jewish and Hellenistic sources to determine original Christian doctrines.

    By looking at old accounts of apostasy, we can recreate what common beliefs were at the time.

    Quoted scripture, Jean Danielou, Plutarch, the Clementine Homilies, and Origen.

    Bickerson shared passages he has found to support the idea of the embodiment of God, subordination, God’s oneness, creation, premortal existence, God’s species (that men are made of the same stuff as God and not created ex nihilo out and are thus something completely different) and deification.

    We just take different things literally than other people.

    What we need now a history from LDS perspective of the apostasy by someone who knows what they are doing. When we dig into this, we can show great kinship between what we believe and what the early Christians believed.


    5 comments for “FairMormon Conference Thursday Morning Sessions

    1. faith rarely relies on fact. fact being something accepted as true. faith comes from a belief beyond fact. faith and belief merge somewhere but knowledge is something apart. when one states that ” I know —-” it is clearly not the current popular meaning of “know”, nor does it signify any commitment to action. just as with someone who says he/she knows that healthy diet and exercise are good.

      the attempts to rationalize elements of faith will not change the belief of the believer nor convince the ‘scientific’ mind. at some point the tower to heaven will collapse from it own overinvested baggage.

      i vote to let it all remain a little simpler.

    2. On behalf of those who are not able to attend, thank you so much for this able write up. Reading this has made me very excited for when the recordings come out!

    3. Thanks for the useful write-up, Rachel.

      Ah, Kerry Muhlestein, smoke and mirrors as usual. I really, really would love to see Kerry go face to face in a debate with Robert Ritner.

    4. No, Ritner and Muhlestein. Nibley may have dabbled in Egyptology, but he didn’t specialize in it like Muhlestein.

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